Ooh, I love how things are shaping up. I really appreciate that this drama can be emotionally stirring, but without the grand melodrama that usually accompanies this genre. It’s full of emotion, without wallowing in it or offering it up as some sort of glorious misery. At least not where it counts (mothers and aunts can be excitable, sure): namely Seo-yeon, who faces her crisis with such a realistic mix of feeling — coolness that turns to fear, calm that erupts in panic — that I’m just captivated by her struggle.
Ratings are creeping up, with this episode hitting 15.1% and remaining in first place. (Kye Baek and Poseidon scored 13.1% and 7.1%, respectively.)
SONG OF THE DAY
Baek Ji-young – “여기가 아파” (This is where it hurts) from the Thousand Day Promise OST. [ Download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
We start off the episode with a study in contrasts, breakfast being the theme of the day. In her small apartment, Seo-yeon eats a bowl of cereal alone, lost in memories of her breakup with Ji-hyung and her worry over her deteriorating memory.
Next door at Aunt Chatterbox’s house, the family gathers around the table for a conventional Korean-style breakfast (rice, kimchi, etc) while Seo-yeon’s aunt natter-natter-natters on about insignificant things, until finally landing on a topic of (our) interest: Why hasn’t Jae-min set up his little cousin with a nice man?
Myung-hee butts in to tell her mother to lay off the pressure, because her request is no picnic and is stressing him out. After all, Seo-yeon is poor, has no family, and has little to attract a decent man. Wow, I know that’s what the snooty chaebol half of this drama might say, but you too, cousin dearest? Mom argues that these days all a woman really needs is a good character. Myung-hee retorts, annoyed with idealistic Mom, “Hers isn’t all that, either!” Wow, and I again I say, wow. And here I was all set to like you.
At least Mom doesn’t take her seriously, smirking that Myung-hee probably thinks she’s better than Seo-yeon. Mother and daughter talk with their mouths full, spitting food at intervals, cutting kimchi with bare fingers. Quintessentially ordinary and middle-class.
The men remain quiet throughout breakfast, waiting until they’re both heading out to work to speak. Dad tells Jae-min that his mother is worried, and checks in with him that he won’t “make that kind of decision ever again.” Jae-min says no, and Dad advises, “Go on and forgive. That’s how you’ll forget.” Hm, seems there’s some kind of heartbreak in Jae-min’s past.
Breakfast at Ji-hyung’s, by comparison, is an elegant affair. Western-style toast and fruit, washed down with coffee served in china. Ji-hyung’s parents discuss wedding plans; in this merging of two friendly but competitive families, it’s like The Honeymoon has taken on deep symbolism, which might explain why everyone’s so damn obsessed about it except for the people actually going on it.
Dad is dissatisfied with Ji-hyung’s choice of a five-day trip to Hokkaido, like he’s a common salaryman. Then there’s the matter of where the couple will live. All these choices reflect the parents’ status, and Ji-hyung’s parents are conscious of looking shabby in front of Hyang-gi’s richer, more powerful parents. For instance, Director Noh (Hyang-gi’s father) has given them an expansive villa to live in, but Mom objects; the groom shouldn’t live in the bride’s parents’ home, which is the total reverse of tradition.
Ji-hyung’s dad says they can give their spare apartment to the couple (what, you don’t have one of those lying around?), but Mom protests that they can hardly trade the bride’s villa for a smaller, cramped apartment, can they? No, they’ll have to find a way to supply an appropriate home, even if they have to sell off a property or two. Ah, first world problems.
Hyang-gi calls the house as Ji-hyung readies to get to work, so he tells her he’ll call right back. That spins him off into a flashback:
A fishing trip. Over the years, apparently Ji-hyung had called Seo-yeon once or twice a year to check on her. He hadn’t had feelings for her — or perhaps it’s that he hadn’t realized them — because he hadn’t understood his own reasons for calling: “I was just concerned.” Seo-yeon had answered his calls curtly, always asking, “Why do you want to know?” as though he had no business caring about her. They laugh about it now, and Seo-yeon admits that she’d kept her crush on him well under wraps because she’d known he was out of her league.
I appreciate the way the scenes are layered thematically in this drama, although it’s done in a subtle way that doesn’t necessarily trumpet the connections. Breakfast is one such example, and here’s another, contrasting Ji-hyung’s inexplicable desire to keep calling Seo-yeon with his deep reluctance to call Hyang-gi.
He’s driving when Hyang-gi calls again, not able to wait for him to return her call. We (along with Hyang-gi’s parents) only hear the conversation from her side, though it takes little imagination to suppose Ji-hyang’s answers are vague and noncommittal. She wants him to come meet her friends and buy them dinner, as all her friends’ fiancés did. Her mother listens with growing frustration as it becomes clear Hyang-gi’s not going to press him, especially when she cheerfully accepts his brush-offs with a happy, “I love you!”
Now there’s a face you don’t want glowering your way, although Hyang-gi isn’t fazed. Mom rips into her, saying that she ought to be firm and decisive, hating to see her daughter wheedling and being treated as an afterthought. Hyang-gi just smiles, “I must have no pride where he’s concerned.” Or perception, or brains, as far as I’m concerned. (Is she actually blind or just willfully ignorant, so as to maintain the veneer of bliss?)
Seo-yeon returns to the hospital, minus the guardian her doctor had told her to bring. She tells him she has no family and says she’ll be fine to hear this alone. Right off we know this is serious, because he compares her brain scans to that of “a normal elderly brain.” He has her diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s.
She can’t believe it; she’s only 30. He tells her that it’s unusual, but not unheard of. There’s no cure, but there are ways to delay its advance. Grasping at straws, she starts listing her symptoms again, like her headaches and her stress may have led to misdiagnosis.
The doctor tries to assuage some of her fears, saying that Alzheimer’s itself won’t kill her, but that’s no consolation for Seo-yeon: “As my memory erases, that means I’m being erased. Then what becomes of me? Where do I go, where will I be?”
The doctor advises her to return with somebody to act as guarantor — a close friend, a relative. She says firmly, “There’s nobody. I have nobody.”
As she leaves, Seo-yeon tries to calm herself down, telling herself to get a grip, “You’ll be okay, you’re okay.”
She takes a seat on the hospital’s outdoor bench, watching patients go by. In the cab home, she gets a call from brother Moon-kwon, who is adorably programmed into her phone as “Superman.” He’s checking up on her because she’d taken time off work to go to the dentist and changed her phone number without telling anybody except for her aunt. (She’d figured Aunt would spread the word to the family.)
Moon-kwon has to hang up quickly, and steps in to mediate a fight between his cousin and her husband (Myung-hee accuses him of taking up smoking again, which would ruin all their product since he’s the one baking all the bread, while he insists he hasn’t).
Jae-min takes Seo-yeon to lunch and asks if she’s okay; she’s acting fine, but he knows her too well to believe she’s really okay. She tells him she’s decided to be fine, and therefore she’ll have to be fine. A Seo-yeon-like statement.
He asks how much she makes at her job, and brings up the topic of her taking time off to write her own books. It’s a sentiment he shot down from Ji-hyung for being wildly inappropriate given their circumstances (her accepting Ji-hyung’s money would be tantamount to taking a payoff to end an affair), but as her oppa, Jae-min would like to support her writing.
She immediately guesses that he’s been talking to Ji-hyung, though he awkwardly denies it. Jae-min says it’ll be his “investment” which she can repay once she’s got a bestseller on her hands. Seo-yeon thanks him but declines. Not knowing there’s more behind her denial, he urges her to have confidence. Seo-yeon tells him seriously, “I can’t do it,” explaining merely that she’s ruined her creativity by writing for others.
His kindness brings her to tears, though, and she jokes that people will think he dumped her, and no amount of assuring “No, he’s just my oppa” would dispel the impression.
That leads to another set of related flashbacks. In the first memory, Seo-hyun had decided they needed to change the way she addressed him. She argues that it feels incestuous to continue calling him oppa, as she has done since childhood, suggesting this is probably very early in the relationship, right after their shift from acquaintances to lovers.
The next is a flashback of her prodding him to tell her how he feels and he complies: “I love you. I like you.” The memory had taken place in a bathroom, and is prompted by Ji-hyung washing his hands in the bathroom.
The mothers meet for tea, talking over their plans with Hyang-gi’s mother fishing for some compliments on her recent plastic surgery. Ji-hyung’s mother obliges, saying, “Two more trips and you’ll look like my daughter-in-law,” which thrills Hyang-gi’s mother despite being blatantly false. Ha. I love how vain she is, and how frank she is about it.
Ding-dong — er, Myung-hee’s son — races into the bakery to take home some sandwiches for dinner, since Grandma’s too tired to cook today. His father balks that he needs rice, and the boy says with his precocious wisdom that he already made one bowl for Dad, sighing that Grandma sure fought him on it, saying that Dad could stand to skip one rice dinner. He speaks with such resigned ajumma-ness that everyone giggles, charmed.
Seo-yeon sits in the dark, swilling soju that night. She sits simmering in fury at Fate itself, her resentment piling on in waves:
Seo-yeon (voiceover): “This, too? Was it not enough for you? Were you disappointed? You couldn’t just pass by — you couldn’t leave things alone? If you were going to do this, why did you not just kill me then? Are you toying with me? What have I done that was so wrong? What crime have I committed that you need to be so cruel? Is it because I stole someone else’s man, without compunction? Is that why?”
She laughs humorlessly:
“Don’t make me laugh. That man was mine from the time I was sixteen. I only turned him away because I was dirt-poor. I thought he wasn’t mine to have. I tried to forget.”
“No, no, I didn’t try — that’s a lie. But is that such a big mistake? Fine, strike me down with lightning instead. Burst my heart open! Do you think I’ll lose? That I’d get on my knees and beg? That I’d surrender? NO!”
“I’ll rebel. I won’t collapse! I’ll shake off this curse and shove it in a cesspool! I’ll tell it to go to hell! I’ll spit right at it!”
The last she roars out loud at her empty room.
And then, she sits shivering under the covers, partly from cold, mostly from fear.
On the other side of town (and the emotional universe), Ji-hyung tries to work while Hyang-gi suffocates him with her presence. She’s backhugging and pouting, and tells him he always makes her feel like she’s a nuisance, even when she’s not interfering. That’s because your very existence is an interference to his happiness, princess.
They go off to grab a fancy sushi dinner, while Seo-yeon eats alone at home. She goes over her to-do list of things for tomorrow, ticking off each item as she does it. With her memory so unreliable, she’s trying to keep a grip on her life, to keep it in order.
But even in the midst of this exercise in proving she can regain control of her life, Seo-yeon finds herself forgetting what she was doing with the soup, and ends up standing with her eyes glued to the pot lest she forget again. Moon-kwon points out that the soup she declared done is hardly done at all, and she covers by saying she was going to add those ingredients in the morning. Then she forgets where she kept the garlic and can’t think of the word for scissors.
Moon-kwon jokes that she’s too young to be going senile, and she turns on him, overdoing the defensiveness to cover her panic. She scares him with her outburst, and he apologizes through the door while she cries in her room.
Flashback: Six-year-old Seo-yeon at the neighborhood market, deciding not to steal a packet of ramyun at the last minute. Instead she offers 4-year-old Moon-kwon a bowl of water, but he wants food and cries for Mom.
It’s then that her aunt and uncle had dropped by just in the nick of time and carried them home, crying over their circumstances and cursing their mother. And then when the rain started pouring down on them, Aunt had cried, “It’s your father, crying from heaven.”
Back to the present: Seo-yeon’s aunt sends her a text message asking about the kimchi she’d sent them, and Moon-kwon replies for his sister that it was delicious. It’s adorable how excited the aunt gets at the text reply, since the phone is her newfangled toy of the moment, and she brags about the message to the rest of her family.
Aw, she may be an incessant talker, but her simpleminded warmth is so endearing; no evil stepmother she, when usually these stories of abandoned kids involves a resentful caretaker of some sort.
Ji-hyung stumbles home drunkenly after dinner, miserable as ever. His resolve crumbles and he dials a familiar number, only to be told that it no longer exists. Aw, you’ll be feeling that way again soon, and for the rest of your life.
Seo-yeon goes around reminding herself of the names of household items, as though each correct answer is one more block of sanity that gets rebuilt in her brain. Looking into the mirror, she labels herself:
Seo-yeon: “Lee Seo-yeon. Thirty years old. Team leader at book publisher Space. From years 2005 to 2006, employed at Munhwa newspaper, novel division. Writer. Fuck you, Alzheimer’s.”
Wooo. I love the type of emotion this drama brings out — intense, real, but not hysterical. You can have energy when something explodes or spews or fires in a big giant fireball of chaos. But you can also have energy when there are two strong forces shoving up against each other, not moving, but exerting pressure on each other just the same. It’s that kind of simmering, just-about-to-bubble-to-the-surface energy that I feel here, where one move from either side can send everything bursting in chaos. Precarious balance, always on the verge of eruption. Seo-yeon feels that way to me, her control giving way to these momentary bursts of panic and horror.
I love that she gets angry, and that she rages at her illness and Fate. Her diagnosis sucks, and it’s depressing, and even if it’s not a literal death sentence, it’s tantamount to that when it chips away at your sense of self by degrees. But she’s determined to keep it together, and I find myself respecting her reaction, even admiring it at points.
In fact, the direness of her condition so overshadows the lost romance that I almost don’t care about that right now. I actually really like the fact that Ji-hyung’s so weak — I don’t like his character, but it makes for a very interesting dynamic — and appreciate that his character’s got a long (loooong) way to go to redeeming himself. (Isn’t that part of the fun of the challenge?) But yeah, for right now I’m content to watch him squirm in the hell of his own making, because that strong, independent, tough-as-nails woman you gave up? She’s living a hell someone else gave her, and my sympathies are all tied up thataway.
Ji-hyung’s problem is that he can’t make a choice. He thinks he has no choice, but that’s just his cowardice talking. But once Seo-yeon really starts to deteriorate and he decides what truly matters, I think we’ll see more of what he’s made of — and I mean the good stuff this time. Despite his misery now, I think the part when he realizes Seo-yeon’s fading actually seems like the less painful part of this whole deal.
As to structure: This drama does an interesting thing, which girlfriday previously touched upon, in giving the flashback a sort of ambiguity as to origin. Each flashback does have a present-day anchor telling us who’s thinking it at this moment, but you could say they’re all shared memories; both Seo-yeon and Ji-hyung are living more in their past these days than they are in their bleak presents, and no doubt many of these memories overlap and coincide.