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Answer Me 1997: Episode 15

Fallout time. Now that everyone knows everything (thanks Truth Chair), it’s time to face the music. The love triangle finally comes to a head in this episode, and though it’s not my favorite plot thread, this show does what it does so well. It subverts expectation and stabs me in the heart, over what else, but family.


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EPISODE 15: “While You Were Loving”

Summer 2005. Yoon-jae gets to his desk in the morning to find a stack of resumes… for a bride. Pfft. How’s that for a good morning? He rifles through them and asks his assistant what they’re for.

She says his sunbae left them, insisting that with his specs, he could get a giant apartment and a nice car out of it, like he’s going dowry shopping or something. Yoon-jae throws them in the trash, and says with a huge smile, “I already have an apartment, a car… and a girlfriend.” Squee.

He gets a call from Hyung asking for a favor to meet someone’s daughter. Yoon-jae refuses, thinking it a blind date, but Tae-woong insists it’s not and urges him to go. Yoon-jae says he has a girlfriend, but Hyung laughs that he has nothing of the sort and won’t take no for an answer.

Hm, is he doing this before or after the big revelation?

Tae-woong then takes a call from Shi-won, and he’s still in his hospital bed after the surgery. She tells him about the contraband can of peaches she put in his drawer and he grabs it to go eat somewhere secret, and then Joon-hee arrives just a minute behind him with a tray. Ah, so before then.

Tae-woong sits down in the stairwell with his secret peaches, as Joon-hee answers the call from Shi-won. He smiles at first to see Joon-hee, but then overhears the thundering words: Yoon-jae likes you… first kiss… eight years… he thinks you’re pretty…

And then the nail in the coffin: “Shi-won-ah, I have another call, I’ll call you later.” Oof. It was already painful the first time.

He flashes back to all the times Yoon-jae had avoided going home for holidays—the sick excuses, the last-minute work. And how Shi-won had seemed unsurprised and resigned every time.

He once tried to have dinner just the three of them, and kept waiting for Yoon-jae’s call. Shi-won told him that Yoon-jae wouldn’t come, and said they’d had a fight. Now it dawns on him just how much was going on between them that he never knew.

In the days that follow, Yoon-jae, Shi-won, and Tae-woong each brood in their own corners, worried about the others. Tae-woong avoids a call from his brother, not ready to talk to him yet.

Shi-won has a work emergency when the guest they cast for a talk show segment (geared towards high school students taking their college exams) falls through at the last minute. The PD and writer ask if she doesn’t know anyone successful who could fill the spot. She smiles.

Enter Yoon-jae, getting primped to go on the air. Everyone fawns over him and they wonder if he really came because Shi-won called him. The show’s MC declares that she’s going to seduce him in under ten minutes, and Shi-won just smiles to herself. Heh.

Yoon-jae joins them and show’s host pulls out all the stops in her tiny dress to impress him, but he just looks right past her and talks to Shi-won, grabbing the drink out of her hand and sipping it in his usual familiar way.

They ask how they know each other—family? Friends? Yoon-jae: “I’m her boyfriend.” They gape. Shi-won blusters that he’s kidding, but he repeats it, adding that there’s no other reason he’d push a case to show up here.

I love the bitter look on the host’s face. Yoon-jae sees the marker streak on Shi-won’s face and licks his finger to wipe if off in front of everyone, and Shi-won grabs his hand to drag him away in embarrassment.

Yoon-jae returns to his hometown accent the second they’re alone and he’s nagging her. So cute.

Hak-chan and Yoo-jung hang out at the same café where he once ditched her with her friends, and even still he darts around to make sure her friends aren’t going to pop out from somewhere.

She complains about his inability to act normal around her friends, and he promises that he’ll be good about everything else, just not that one thing. Hak-chan heads downstairs first, and then runs into Mom. Again?

Haha, it cracks me up that he asks the same thing we’re thinking: Why do I keep running into you here? She says her friend lives down the street.

Yoo-jung comes running down and links her arm in his, and then shrinks back when she sees Mom standing there. Mom asks who it is, and Yoo-jung hangs her head nervously.

But this time, Hak-chan takes her hand and links it back on his arm, “She’s my girlfriend.” He introduces them to each other, and Yoo-jung beams.

Someone prepares for a memorial, and judging from the insane amount of food on the table, it has to be Shi-won’s parents. Holy crap, that’s a lot of food.

It turns out to be for Shi-won’s grandpa, and Dad says his father will explode from all this food and die all over again. Mom wonders if they should expect Uncle to come, but Dad figures he won’t show.

He prods her to do the ceremony early so they can go see the fireworks and *wink-wink* have some alone time, so they finish up quickly and grab some of the octopus off the table to take with them. Heh.

But just when they’re ready to leave, Uncle walks right in the door, spoiling the party. (Cameo by Go In-bum.) He plops himself down on the couch, and Mom and Dad cringe. He even decides they should hurry and do the thing so they can see the fireworks after. Well there goes their night.

Yoon-jae drops Shi-won off at home, and he climbs out after her (I just love that he has to use the passenger door to get out). She yanks him by the collar this time to ask where he thinks he’s going.

He asks why he can’t go upstairs to have a cup of coffee and she laughs and calls bullshit. He gets all defensive and his accent comes back, as he accuses her of overreacting, all why can’t we have a cup of coffee and aren’t we close enough for coffee. All this coffee talk is making me blush.

She points out that his accent comes right back when he’s backed into a corner and asks if he thinks she’s an idiot. She knows what coffee means.

She calls him out for being pervy and they go through this hilarious round of nuh-uh, uh-huh like little kids. His what-omg-I’m-SO-NOT face cracks me UP.

She tells him to stop spinning his wheels and pings him in the forehead to go home, and he finally gives up. He leans in, “Then a kiss instead.” He closes his eyes and puckers up, just standing there waiting. It’s so adorable.

He waits and waits and she cups his face in her hands, and then turns his head away and hugs him.

He’s still got his eyes closed and his lips puckered, and she points out that he should probably stop, ’cause it’s bound to be embarrassing by now. Pffft. She slaps him on the lips and runs off.

Yoon-jae comes home to find Joon-hee already packing up his things, and he sighs at the thought of having to live alone for the first time ever. Aw, they’ve been roomies for so long.

Joon-hee says that it’s probably best for Yoon-jae to have the place to himself—wouldn’t it be more convenient if he were to have Shi-won come over? Yeah… he couldn’t even manage to get invited up for coffee, so I think that’s a ways off.

Yoon-jae lights up at the thought and jokes that he should leave right now, and Joon-hee threatens to stay forever. Stay!

Joon-hee asks why he doesn’t just move her in right now, and Yoon-jae says he’d love to, but his heart sinks, “There’s something I have to do first.”

Shi-won gets a call from Tae-woong that night, asking her to dinner tomorrow. She agrees to meet him, though it’s clearly a conversation she’s not looking forward to. He tells her to dress up and look pretty, and tells her where to meet him.

Dad sets up the memorial all over again, and Uncle complains that there’s no octopus, which was his brother’s favorite thing. He starts to complain that it’s useless having kids, and Dad quickly says it’s on the way.

Cut to Mom and Dad staring at the octopus, legs already chopped off intending to be snacked on. Dad gets the bright idea to put the legs back on with chopsticks, insisting that Uncle won’t notice. They are so cute.

It doesn’t go as planned, but they manage to hide it amongst the other dishes and get on with the ceremony. Uncle takes out one simple loaf of pound cake and puts it on the table.

Yoon-jae shows up unannounced at Tae-woong’s office the next day, asking to go get coffee. Tae-woong braces himself, knowing what’s to come.

They sit over a pair of those friggin’ extra-whip mochas, and Yoon-jae admits he has something to say. He hedges, and then finally starts, “Actually…”

But Tae-woong says it for him: “You like Shi-won?” His jaw drops. Tae-woong says he found out only recently—that he likes Shi-won too, that he liked her first. Why didn’t he say something?

Yoon-jae asks what he would’ve done if he did tell hyung: “Would you have given up on Shi-won? Like me? Did you give up on her?”

Tae-woong: “No.” Oh damn. Not the answer he was expecting. He continues, “You’re the person I love most in this world and I’d give up everything for you… but not a woman.” That floors him.

You know, outside of the fact that it’s not what Yoon-jae wants to hear or that it’s extra heartbreaking for Tae-woong who’s bound to get crushed, I find his reasoning compelling. It’s what I would’ve wanted Yoon-jae to do, six goddamn years ago. You don’t give up on love. Because doing that to be noble does no one any good.

He says that the choice is up to Shi-won, and that he’ll make one last effort, and if she says no for good, he’ll give up cleanly, and even let Yoon-jae tease him for the rest of their lives.

He’s good-natured about it, though he speaks with the confidence that he’s always had—that it could go either way. And it’s that assured confident side of Tae-wong that sends Yoon-jae back to his teenage self, suddenly terrified that he’s back to square one and his hyung will win the girl.

He reminds Yoon-jae about meeting his teacher’s daughter tonight, and leaves. Yoon-jae sits in that same spot for hours and hours until nightfall, reeling.

He gets a text from Shi-won saying that she’s meeting Tae-woong for dinner tonight, which feeds into his worst fears. He chucks the phone to the ground in a rage.

Dad takes his uncle to the bus terminal, and they reminisce about his father. These two actually look like they could be family; they’re so cute together. Dad remembers how close Uncle and his dad were, and how much Uncle cried at the funeral.

He asks now if Uncle loved his hyung that much, and Uncle sighs, “I hated him.” Pffft. It’s equally poignant and funny.

Yoon-jae sits in his office stewing in the dark at his hyung, and then finally decides to go on that not-a-blind-date after all.

Shi-won visits Joon-hee in the hospital and he greets her bleary-eyed from working a double shift. He’s tired, but says he gets cursed at a lot less these days, and Shi-won marvels that anyone would curse at him, while Yoon-jae getting cursed at, she gets.

She asks when Hak-chan and Yoo-jung are due up for their visit, and wonders if they aren’t too sorry to face their friends (for being so happy with their first loves and all). Joon-hee counters they’re not as bad as her and Yoon-jae. Touché.

He says Sung-jae’s coming too, so all four guys will be staying together. She laughs that they won’t get any sleep, not with all that porn to watch. She names Hak-chan’s latest movie that she saw on Yoon-jae’s computer last time, and Joon-hee is stunned silent.

“How did you know? Does Yoo-jung know?!” She laughs and says Yoo-jung doesn’t suspect a thing, and says coolly, “What does it matter if you guys watch? You’re not kids.”

He gives her an Oooooooh, impressed. She says Hak-chan is one thing, but she didn’t expect it of Joon-hee. He admits he doesn’t care for them (obviously) but there’s someone who likes them a LOT.

She guesses Sung-jae, but he corrects her—Yoon-jae. Suddenly her smiley demeanor hardens, “Aiiiiiisssssh.” Hahaha. She grabs her phone muttering, “You’re dead.”

He laughs, reminding her that she said it was fine, but now she’s up in arms about how he’s always attached to that damned laptop of his, and calls Yoon-jae. But he doesn’t pick up, and hasn’t all day. We se him driving, having taped his phone back together, but still not picking up.

Shi-won tells Joon-hee about meeting Tae-woong tonight, and he asks, “Are you going to tell him?” She nods yes, but admits she doesn’t know what to say, or how.

She says that Tae-woong oppa is really important to her, and she doesn’t want them to be awkward or distant because of this, but can’t lie either. Joon-hee starts to say, “The teacher that I know…” but doesn’t finish the thought.

As Shi-won leaves, he says to himself, “…isn’t the average person.”

Uncle tells Dad about how much his parents favored his hyung, and how as a child the day his hate went full-force was when Mom brought home a loaf of pound cake just for Hyung, who wouldn’t share even one bite.

He swore to be better than him, and while Hyung took the civil service exam, he started his own business and was so proud, having become more successful. But it only lasted a month and he went belly-up, having been conned.

With no way to repay the money, he went to jail, and a month later Hyung visited him there to ask he wanted to come live with him. He had repaid all his debts. Uncle says that even then, he hated his brother, and said all manner of horrible things to him, accusing him of showing off.

Uncle: “Do you know what Hyung said? Do you know what he said to me?”

Then we cut to the big night, as Tae-woong, Shi-won, and Yoon-jae each head out to dinner. We see Yoon-jae’s not-a-blind-date (cameo by G.NA) waiting at her table.

Yoon-jae stops and calls Tae-woong. “I’m not going to give up either. I won’t give up.”

He says that he folded right away when Hyung told him he liked Shi-won, without a second thought. Because he’s his hyung. And even when they broke up, he knew he wouldn’t give up on Shi-won so easily, so he ignored his feelings.

Tae-woong just listens steel-faced, and asks, “So?” Yoon-jae: “A person’s heart can’t be turned on and off like a switch. Once it’s turned on… it won’t turn off. I like Shi-won. I sincerely want to marry her.”

And then he repeats what he learned by watching Hyung: “You’re the person I love most in this world, and I can give up everything for you, but I won’t give up on Shi-won.”

Good for you. He says that he’ll go on this date tonight because he promised he would, but to stop setting him up from now on. He hangs up.

Yoon-jae and Tae-woong each head inside their respective restaurants. The two girls wait at their tables.

A door opens, and Tae-woong arrives. Shi-won looks up. Yoon-jae arrives. His date looks up…

Back to Uncle and Dad. Uncle: “Do you know what Hyung said? He said sorry. ‘Hyung is sorry.’ That’s what he said!”

Shi-won looks up at her door in surprise. And standing in her doorway of course, is Yoon-jae. Awwww. I knew Tae-woong would do something to make me cry!

He just stands there, stunned, only now realizing his hyung’s love. At the same time, Tae-woong arrives on Yoon-jae’s date, making apologies for the bait-n-switch.

Yoon-jae just sits at the table, crying without a word, suddenly understanding so much with that one gesture. And then he gets a text: “Hyung is sorry.” *TEARS*

He bursts into sobs.

Back to Uncle’s story: after saying sorry, his hyung took a pound cake out of his bag and handed it to him. He said after all those years, that he was sorry about eating the whole thing when they were little kids.

He sighs, “I didn’t know. But Hyung loved me a lot. I just hated him alone. Just me.”

Yoon-jae breaks down in tears, now realizing the exact same thing.

Fast forward to 2013. Mom and Dad pace in the maternity ward, and then finally the doctor comes out and asks for the father. Shi-won keeps asking for him. Dad frets, and then Tae-woong comes bursting down the hall, out of breath.

And then Yoon-jae arrives just behind him.

Are we still playing this game?


In general I like the framework of the overarching who’s-the-baby-daddy mystery, but I do feel like we’ve been going through the motions on that front, pretty much as soon as we find out where Shi-won’s heart is. But it’s the macguffin they set up and when you build your show around something like a How I Met Your Mother meta-question, there are casualties you get in exchange for the fun, whether it’s because we already know the answer or because the audience gets tired of waiting.

Thankfully the reason I love this show has nothing to do with that, so it’s been a fun mystery, mostly because it’s clear that the writers are having fun with the infuriating clues. Once we see Tae-woong’s choice in this episode, it seems silly to remind us that he might still be the father, but with one episode left we’ll all play along.

While I am glad that we get more of 1997 if just by splitting Episodes 15 and 16, I do think this episode could’ve been trimmed to its usual length and been better for it. Part of what I love about this show is the economy of its storytelling, and it seemed less impressive when allowed to meander for longer than necessary. If there’s one thing I wish they would’ve fixed from the get-go, it’s that tvN should’ve just aired it like a regular 45-minute Monday-Tuesday drama.

I missed the ’90s flashbacks and the characteristic narration in this episode, though I understand the choice to focus on the immediate fallout between the brothers in the present. It just didn’t have the same color as the rest of the series, which I think could’ve been salvaged with one short voiceover from Yoon-jae.

What I did love was the way the Uncle/Grandpa story dovetailed so nicely with Yoon-jae and Tae-woong, which is what this drama does so nicely, without being overly saccharine or bombastic. At first when Uncle puts a measly little pound cake on the table for Grandpa’s memorial we think he’s being cheap, in comparison to Mom’s gigantic spread and after all that nagging over octopus. But then his story is so great—poignant, but not delivered emotionally. He just tells it like a story an old man would tell his nephew, in that gruff fatherly way that gets at my heart because it’s the most realistic.

And then we realize that this episode is really about the love of a hyung. So maybe the title isn’t a bitter While you were in love I was a fool, but from a little brother to his hyung, after realizing that he never knew the extent of his brother’s love: While you were loving me, I was hating you.

It dawned on me that I never once doubted the choice Tae-woong would make, until the moment they pulled the misdirect at the coffee shop. And even in that moment I didn’t hate him even though I was surprised. His attitude towards love being the one thing you don’t give up on was great; it’s just that I had expected him to realize Shi-won’s choice sooner. We know in retrospect that he does, because he’d have to be a dummy not to. And there’s a fine line between giving something your all and hanging on past the point of reasonable denial.

But when we revisit the events knowing that Tae-woong has already set the two of them up to meet that night, the conversation turns into something else entirely—a hyung teaching his little brother about what you do and do not give up on in life, and how he should’ve fought for her then, and now. It’s beautiful, and lovely, and not at all the thing you expect to come out of this awkward love triangle.

So when Yoon-jae makes that call, it’s both awesome and horrible. He finally, FINALLY does the thing he should’ve all those years ago and says that nothing will make him back down or give up on the love of his life. But he does it angry at his brother, hating how much he’s always lost to him his entire life. And then of course it’s another blow when he comes to find out that a little brother’s complex toward his perfect older brother is a one-sided hate. Hyung has loved him unconditionally all this time, and will say sorry, even when he’s the one whose heart is ripped to shreds. That’s family. And the fact that the brothers’ relationship is what we walk out of this episode with is why I love this show.


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