Answer Me 1994: Episode 6
Romance is afoot! The pendulum swings in Chilbongie’s favor today, but given that we’re only at 6 of 20 episodes, I fully expect that pendulum to swing back (and forth, and back, and forth) a few times yet. The show does answer one big question today… but as usual, raises a lot more new ones.
SONG OF THE DAY
푸른하늘 (Blue Sky) – “우리 모두 여기에” (All of us here), used toward the end of the episode. [ Download ]
EPISODE 6: “Introduction to Gift-Giving”
2013. Na-jung makes a cup of coffee and Chilbongie takes it from her naturally, like this is a familiar occurrence. A hint, or a red herring? (At this point, I’d argue that everything is a red herring.) He and Na-jung sit in the kitchen while the rest of the gang pokes fun at the wedding video.
Chilbongie wonders what Teenage Mystery Boy is doing out so late, and chides Na-jung not to swear so much. She reminds him that he used to like it, and he grumps that twenty years ago he didn’t know any better.
We cut to said teenager (nicknamed—of course he has a nickname—Sooksookie), and he’s on the phone with Mom, telling her not to nag. Note that we did not see Na-jung on the phone so his parentage is still a question mark, although his (girl)friend makes a comment about his father being famous.
Back to 1994. Chilbongie plays catch with Garbage, giving him tips on his throwing technique, and Dad joins them on his way home. Chilbongie compliments Garbage for throwing the best among all the non-players he’s known, which prompts Dad to ask, “What about me?”
Ha, so then Dad hunkers down and orders Chilbongie to throw him a hard pitch, no holding back, threatening to ban him from the house if he disobeys. Chilbongie’s loath to go all-out and hesitates, but at Dad’s heckling he lets one fly. Upon making the catch, Dad complains that he won’t get anywhere with such wimpy pitches… then turns around and gingerly walks away, his hand immobilized. Heh.
But what is that look on Garbage’s face as he regards Chilbongie? Sadness? Jealousy? Hm, do you see him as a rival after all?
Dad offers Chilbongie a glove as a gift so he can practice more, and that segues into our title for the day: “Introduction to Gift-Giving.” (Written to mimic the title of that first-love-in-college-in-the-’90s film Introduction to Architecture.)
Na-jung’s back starts acting up again, and Chilbongie offers her the use of his special medical belt. His team doctor massages his back when it gets sore, and she wishes she had such services available right now… then looks up at Chilbongie with hopeful, pained eyes. I’m pretty sure her slow, dramatic collapse to the floor is as much about guilting him into it as it is about real pain, and he hurriedly agrees to help.
So Na-jung lies down on the floor as Chilbongie moves her legs in slow stretching exercises. One pose has him pushing her bent knees against her chest, which brings him directly on top of her… and a flicker of awareness flits between them as they both hastily look away. Gulp. Nervous chatter.
He moves on to the last exercise, his gaze landing on the hip right in front of his eyes… and she farts in his face. Hahaha. That had me laughing out loud. They both pause for a moment, but he just moves on to the other side like nothing happened, all nice and pro-like. And then she farts again. Okay, I laughed for a good minute.
In the parents’ room, Mom is cranky for no apparent reason, snapping at Dad to turn down the TV, change the channel, turn on the fan, turn off the TV, and so forth. Dad blows up at her nagging, and Mom blinks back tears, says sorry, and lies down for a nap. Dad hovers in sweet concern, then asks, “Is it… that time of the month?” She kicks him over. Yeah, he earned that one.
Dad retreats to the terrace, joining Garbage and complaining that Mom’s turned into a mood-swingy, hot-tempered person all of a sudden. Garbage wonders if it’s menopause and urges Dad to be nicer to her, as she may be susceptible to depression. Garbage uses Cha In-pyo as an example of the husbandly ideal—the drama of the moment is You In My Arms starring Cha and future real-life wife Shin Ae-ra, which is funny since he was also in the drama of the moment in Answer Me 1997 (Star In My Heart). What can ya do? Cha In-pyo was The Perfect Hero of the ’90s.
When Dad brings Mom a cold drink, she’s back to buoyant spirits, humming over the laundry. Outwardly he puts on his best supportive husband face, but inwardly he’s creeped out at her constant change of mood.
Garbage finds Na-jung outside and starts massaging her shoulders, which fills her with both giddiness and agonizing—such a relatable moment for any girl who’s ever nursed a crush on somebody close. He advises her to be nice to Mom while she’s feeling sensitive. When asked how he knew about her menopause, Garbage quips, “I understand women’s feelings amazingly well, you know. Can’t fool me.” (So he knows. Why is he feigning ignorance about her feelings?)
It’s a rough next morning for Mom, who keeps a smile on her face despite getting her feelings hurt several times in quick succession. Samcheonpo is upset that she forgot to wake him early, Binggeure uncharacteristically snaps at her for talking to his father about him on the phone (they have a strained relationship), Haitai’s hungover hometown buddies join in on breakfast with less than the appropriate amount of gratitude, and Yoon-jin asks Mom to stay out of her room after Mom had cheerily cleaned it yesterday.
Through it all, Na-jung notes her mother’s hurt feelings.
Na-jung’s voiceover: “We’ve all gotten friendlier, closer, more familiar. By the same degree, apologies have become less important and gratitude more hazy. And Mom has become taken for granted. The early summer of 1994 scratched at Mom cruelly. Mom was hurting.”
Na-jung barges in on Oppa to complain that he ate the special marshmallows her friend sent from Japan, which he denies emphatically. Then he motions her closer so he can tell her something, which sets her heart pounding. She leans in, all anticipation… and he spoils the story of the manhwa she’s reading. And after she’s gone, he pulls out the marshmallow stash he in fact did steal. Sometimes you are such an oppa, Oppa.
Haitai runs into Na-jung at school, and she waits (making piggy faces) while he calls his hometown girlfriend. We don’t hear her side of the conversation but its contents are clear: Based on Haitai’s responses, she’s upset that he’s not paying her enough attention.
He sighs to Na-jung about how every day is a trial, and how his girlfriend of three years doesn’t trust him and calls every day to check up on his doings. He asks what the right thing to do is, but while he’s caught up in his romance drama, Na-jung is fixated on her Pepero sticks and grumbling stomach. Haitai complains, “You have a talent, yunno. Even when you’re stuffing your face, your stomach can growl.” Hey, I also have that talent.
Binggeure finds himself playing go-between for Samcheonpo and Yoon-jin, who are still bickering. (He tells her to fix her hair-curtain, and she snaps at him to apologize for his face, lol. This ends with Samcheonpo approaching threateningly, then very nonthreateningly retreating while clutching his privates, since Yoon-jin is quite capable of self-defense.)
The two groups convene, and Haitai asks for everyone’s advice. It’s his girlfriend’s birthday on Friday, but because of exams he can’t visit home until Saturday. She told him not to bother coming on Saturday and got upset, which makes the boys wonder at this mystical language of women while the ladies wonder if he’s dumb to not understand. To clarify, Na-jung explains that the girlfriend wants an expression of his caring—the actual day is unimportant.
The boys can’t get past the question of Friday versus Saturday, though, so Na-jung explains with a fictional example: A couple moves into a new home. With doors closed the paint smell gives the woman a splitting headache, but opening the doors makes her cough up a storm. So the woman asks her man whether to open or close the door—and the correct response is for him to worry over her health. The boys, however, miss the point again and fixate on whether the door should be open or closed.
The girls roll their eyes, but Haitai swears that any normal person would answer his way, not hers. This turns into a bet, and we cut to later as the gang anxiously awaits Garbage’s response.
Garbage thinks, then decides, “You should open the door.” The boys are hilariously gratified.
Chilbongie walks in, and Yoon-jin poses the same question, saying that Na-jung’s room has just been painted. Chilbongie replies, “Hm, wouldn’t it be better to close the door?” LOL. The boys nod approvingly and declare that he’s a man.
Then Chilbongie turns to Na-jung, wondering, “But are you okay?” The girls smile, and Yoon-jin approvingly deems Seoul boys different from those countrified bumpkins.
Chilbongie assures them that he has no training today, but a cut to his baseball team shows that they’re at practice as usual. He’d used his mother’s wedding as an excuse, but the coaches belatedly realize he’s already used that one.
With Yoon-jin and Samcheonpo still at each other’s throats, the gang turns to trickery to effect reconciliation. They play a game where they draw numbered sticks, and the “king” gets to issue orders. That’s Binggeure, and with some cheating by the others, he calls Yoon-jin and Samcheonpo’s numbers and orders them to kiss.
Everyone giggles in anticipation, but Yoon-jin and Samcheonpo both grab drinks and chug, opting for the punishment rather than the order. Haha.
More rounds are played, the cheating continues to single out Samcheonpo and Yoon-jin every time, and they keep choosing to drink. Even when beer glasses are swapped for bowls and then tureens—dammit, no way they’re kissing. Chug chug.
Everybody gets drunker and drunker, to the point where they give up on the cheating. Two random numbers are called to kiss, which turn out to be Binggeure and… omo omo, OPPA?
Oppa decides he’d rather not drown himself in beer and turns to Binggeure, giving him an easy smack on the lips. Nobody bats a drunken eye, except maybe Binggeure, who’s freaking out a little on the inside—adorably, he clings to his sticks like they’re some lifeline and has to be ordered to give ’em up.
Last round. The guys note that Na-jung’s winking has started, which is the step right before biting. She sends Chilbongie these lopsided winks, and I absolutely love how he grins at her foolishly (not knowing about her dog habit).
The last kissy couple turns out to be Chilbongie and Na-jung. She’s nodding off as they speak, but Chilbongie looks awwwwfully invested in this round.
And then, he just goes in for the kiss.
Half the group is passed out and hardly anybody even registers the moment… until we pan over to Oppa, watching with this look on his face. He still wears that look a bit later as he watches Na-jung sleep, while over at the baseball field, Chilbongie puts in his punishment for skipping practice, wearing a big ol’ smile on his face.
School lets out for summer vacation, and Haitai prepares a package to send home to his girlfriend. Oh man, all the ’90s trivia packed into this scene: the Zam song on the mix tape, the Walkman, Lee Young-ae-endorsed lipstick, Sac Sac orange drinks…
At home, Na-jung watches TV with Chilbongie, who spends the whole time looking at her. I could watch him watching her all day. Oppa comes home and watches with a hangdog expression, although Na-jung leaps up to see him and links arms right away. And then it’s Chilbongie’s turn to look left out as she follows Oppa to his room. Garbage changes right in front of her—more abs!—and she tries to play it cool.
Dad has taken Mom on a weekend getaway for a pick-me-up, but when they get home that night it’s clear the trip didn’t do much for her spirits. She spent the whole time shut in their room, and Garbage suggests a trip to the doctor.
Dad is hilariously terrible at preparing himself to face his menopausal wife, but the thing about him that I love is that he has a way of rising to the occasion. Sometimes clumsily, but always with heart.
So he doesn’t freak out when Mom sighs, “I’ve received my death sentence. God has seen me and told me to stop being a woman.” Instead, Dad just says that everyone gets older and that it’s all right. What’s the good in being young again? He says, “Every morning when I open my eyes, I’m amazed. You and I, we’ve lasted till now, living under one roof, lying under one blanket, living like this.”
It’s exactly the thing to make her smile, and also cry. And yes, me too. He muses, “Is it such a sad thing to hear the word menopause? In my eyes, you’re forever my woman.”
Na-jung resumes her narration: “In the early summer of 1994, Mom prepared to say farewell to the womanhood that she’d taken for granted for decades.”
The next morning, all is back to normal. But today, the family steps in to give the boarders what-for when they start in on Mom: Samcheonpo huffs at Mom for not ironing his shirt, and Dad huffs right back at him for expecting Mom to do so. Yoon-jin asks Mom about her blouse, and Dad snaps that she’d told Mom to stay out of her room. Haitai complains that the soup is salty, and Na-jung thwacks him on the head. And when Binggeure starts to complain that Mom talked to his family again, Garbage swoops in to shut him up. Aw, this family. Luff luff luff.
Garbage is off on a school trip to Japan, and after a brief attempt to hint at him to buy gifts by saying NOT to buy gifts, they make outright requests. Na-jung: “Cosmetics for me! If you don’t know what, just get the most expensive one!” Dad: “There’s a lot of luxury stuff in Shinjuku, don’t go there!” Wink-wink.
Garbage tells Mom he’s sorry he can’t be here today of all days, which makes Na-jung and Dad wonder what today is. Shrug.
Mom returns to a mountain of dirty dishes, her endless stream of unthanked toil confronting her yet again. She finds another note left for her, but today it’s a happy one: Haitai has written a happy birthday note that also apologizes for their immature behavior, saying that “Seoul Mom” is their one source of comfort in this strange city.
He supposes they’ll hurt her feelings more in the future too, in which case he gives her free rein to think of them as her own kids and beat some sense into them. The note comes with a gift from Haitai, Samcheonpo, and Yoon-jin (who has rescinded her Do Not Enter request): a gold ring that brings tears to Mom’s eyes.
Na-jung: “All relationships grow more familiar and eventually get taken for granted. The strongest power of a gift is its ability to take that familiar and expected relationship and infuse it with excitement and gratitude once again. Through picking out a gift and writing the card card and considering that person, that person becomes new again. And those feelings are certain to be conveyed.”
Haitai gets a large package in the mail from his Suncheon girlfriend, and opens it with anticipation… only to find coupley items from their relationship, now returned to him. This includes her half of their couple ring set, while his is still on his finger.
“But if that familiar and expected relationship breaks down, now gifts or belated efforts become meaningless. Like a neglected orchid left to wither in the corner of a balcony, to whom belated water or care is pointless. The gift must be given and feelings conveyed before you wither, before you grow indifferent to one another.”
It’s a sad, late lesson for Haitai, who perhaps only realizes now how he feels about the girlfriend he’d underappreciated.
Mom goes in for her doctor’s appointment, but the news is quite different than the one expected: She’s pregnant. (I knew it!) (Teenaged boy is Na-jung’s brother!)
“There’s no fun in receiving a gift that you know about beforehand. The surprise is the lifeblood of giving gifts. The gift that flies in with uncanny timing is therefore even more moving. Even without a sender’s name or address, we knew who sent that gift.”
Mom and Dad walk out of the doctor’s office floating on clouds, and Dad decides that he will start dyeing his graying hair after all, despite resisting suggestions all episode long.
Back to 2013: Teenaged Sooksookie talks on the phone again with his naggy mother, whose voice we now confirm is Mom’s. He heads back home—he lives with Na-jung and her husband—and gets nagged at by all his uncles. Mom orders Sooksookie to hand the phone over to Na-jung’s husband, and he holds out the phone… to a room full of guys, narrowing down our choice NOT ONE BIT.
Back to 1994. The family looks blank-faced at the gifts Garbage brought back from his trip. The makeup was expensive, but… kinda tacky?
On the other hand, Chilbongie gets a much more receptive reaction for his tasteful gift, Chanel No. 5. Dad’s a little sniffy at being left out until Chilbongie sneaks him his own gift, a bottle of fancy liquor that has Dad nearly in tears. He says he’d love to marry Na-jung off to Chilbongie, and Chilbongie quips only half in jest, “I’d love that myself!”
Na-jung sprays herself with No. 5 that night, muttering that Garbage could stand to pick up a clue or two… until she sees an extra gift waiting for her. It’s the manhwa book she’d been looking for (that he’d spoiled) and a bag of marshmallows (sold in Japan but not Korea). Awwww.
It’s World Cup day, which means that the household gets up at an ungodly hour to catch the U.S.-Spain game. (Adorably, everyone treats pregnant Mom like she’s both a queen and a fragile porcelain doll, which warms my heart.)
As everyone gathers bleary-eyed in front of the television, Na-jung thinks:
“Present. In English, it has two meanings: a gift, and also the current moment. It may be that the most precious gift to us is the present, the time in front of us now. True, we may always be bickering with each other, but we leaned on each other and were happy together. 1994 was like a gift to us. And exactly eight years later, an unbelievable gift came to Korea—of all days, on that day.”
We fade in on 2002, at the wedding of Na-jung and her groom, Kim Jae-joon. Bride Na-jung wonders where everybody’s gone, only to hear that they’re all busy watching the game—once again, between the U.S. and Spain.
She complains to her bridegroom that she just knew they should’ve waited till after the World Cup, and (as expected) we only get to see a bit of his chin. (I’m sure that’ll have everyone rewinding to examine whose chin it resembles. But you know, I’d bet a chunk of change that the groom here is a stand-in, just to confuse us even more.)
The groom’s face remains predictably out of view as all the wedding-goers cheer the game results, which clinch South Korea’s place in the quarterfinals.
(And… ohmayah, is that the Neukkim theme song I hear playing over next week’s preview? I may not survive this.)
Aw, I love that the teenage kid is Na-jung’s brother. It was a pretty clear possibility from the outset so not a surprise, but the reveal was worked into the 1994 plotline in a really lovely way; I love the way Mom gets her moment to be her own person and deal with her own identity crisis, when most of the time she’s so busy mom-ing the cast of youngun’s that you forget she has her whole inner life too.
That’s something this series does particularly well, and in fact I think it does that better than its predecessor. It’s true that 1997 did do a solid job of giving each friend a moment to shine, but that drama was more about its central romance and love triangle. This series is less about a single central through line, and more about the way all these lives at the boardinghouse weave together, and I really enjoy that. That is a way in which slice-of-life storytelling really works, because there’s a central force holding the vignettes together even when that force isn’t necessarily a plotline. The framework of the boardinghouse provides enough structure to become something of a narrative device in itself.
So in that way, a diminished cohesion in the story is not necessarily a loss for the series. It’s part of the character of the show, and I am fine with that. I do think that there are losses, though, and that’s mostly to do with the editing, which I think actually takes energy away from the storytelling. But I’ve said my piece on that.
A random though I had while watching this episode is how much I enjoy that Go Ara always seems to be acting, even when she’s just in the background. There are moments where the script doesn’t mention her, when she’s sitting around listening while a few other characters get to carry the dialogue, but she’s completely there in that moment, as though she’s really Na-jung living out her life regardless of which camera has her in its sights. It’s a small detail but one I appreciate (often with greener actors, you see them just hanging back waiting for their line, their one moment to turn it on).
Also: Dad gets famous? I’m guessing he must get famous as a baseball coach; apparently he’s a household name in the present day.
Today’s episode seem to indicate that Garbage is aware of Na-jung’s feelings (though it hasn’t confirmed whether he believed her confession or not), and that perhaps he has feelings back. Previously, I’d been wondering what possible motivations Garbage could have for playing ignorant, and supposed that the likeliest answer is that he didn’t want to actively reject her. Which would suggest that he didn’t feel the same way, but loved her too much as friend-sister to change their relationship.
But after seeing the way he looks askance at Chilbongie, I’m wondering all over again, because he sure does look bummed at the possibility of romance brewing on that front. And why would he push her away if he likes her, and then look sad and moony over not getting to have her? Puzzles, puzzles.
As for the husband: I can’t figure out which guy it is, but at this point I think the series is clever enough to purposely jerk our chains. I personally still lean toward Chilbongie (especially since it looks like Na-jung is starting to become aware of him), but would be unsurprised if things suddenly took a turn in the other direction. There are some honest clues hidden in the mix, but I do think most of them are meant to be ambiguous and double-edged, and interpreted in more than one way. This is not a case where all the facts are laid in there and a careful viewer will be able to figure it out—this is a case where the producers are purposely messing with us.
So I’m going to sit back and not try to parse the details, and just accept them as they come. Because you can’t outsmart a show that’s deliberately working to throw you off the scent and has the luxury of changing its mind at any point without us being any the wiser.