Marriage Not Dating: Episodes 1-2
Now that my recap slate has freed up, I can finally turn my attention to something new. Marriage Not Dating is the newest Friday-Saturday offering from tvN, and I’ve been enjoying it immensely for its witty banter, laugh-out-loud humor, and its refreshing take on romance. Not to mention that there’s a hilarious contract relationship in the mix, and some fantastically committed comedic performances from Han Groo and Yeon Woo-jin. I was planning to just weigh in on the show once in a while when I had the time, but LollyPip has graciously offered to tag-team the recaps with me, so that tipped the scales. (Thank her in the next recap!) We’re hard at work, so please be patient—we’ll be caught up in no time.
SONG OF THE DAY
Ben – “연애는 이제 그만” (No More Dating) for the Marriage Not Dating OST
[ Download ]
EPISODE 1: “The polite way to break up”
In a courtroom, a judge calls JOO JANG-MI (Han Groo) to the stand. The charge: stalking. How does she plead? As a man runs down the street and races up the steps to the courthouse, she lets out a laugh that grows crazed, and then she finally speaks: “I’m a crazy bitch. I must’ve been insane…”
The man gets stuck getting through security, and he tells the guard he has to testify for someone. The guard asks his relationship to the person, and we cut back to Jang-mi: “I said to that bastard…” The man declares to the guard: “She’s the person I’m going to marry.” Jang-mi: “…Let’s get married.” As she says it, the man busts into the courtroom, and her eyes grow wide.
Rewind to the fairly recent past, as our heroine Jang-mi flits her way through preparations for the proposal she’s planning to spring on her boyfriend tonight. She goes totally overboard, with heart-shaped balloons, rose petals, too many candles to count, and the perfect outfit for her perfect day. This is going to be so disastrous.
She calls her boyfriend, and we see a call go unanswered in a plastic surgeon’s office. The clinic belongs to GONG KI-TAE (Yeon Woo-jin), who turns out to be the man who raced to the courtroom in the opening scene. After a procedure, he finally answers and sounds annoyed, but promises to be there.
He arrives in the hotel lobby, and says into his phone that a strange woman is waving at him. He sizes up the situation in about two seconds—he’s been blindsided by a blind date, and it’s only now that we see he’s been talking to someone else the whole time. His buddy LEE HOON-DONG (Heo Jung-min) cackles on the phone and says he couldn’t say no to Ki-tae’s mom—no one can.
Hoon-dong is actually upstairs in the same hotel, because he’s got a date of his own. He arrives at a suite, and there’s Jang-mi, who greets him with her namesake rose between her teeth. But as soon as Hoon-dong steps inside, his eyes dart around the room as the warning signals blare like neon lights: balloons, cake, candles… even a slideshow.
He starts to sweat bullets, and she lays down obvious hints about how she wants to be together all the time. Her words flash across the screen in happy pastel colors, only to be heard by Hoon-dong like a slo-mo horror death-knell. He’s scared witless, and scans the room for the nearest exit.
He runs to the bathroom and locks himself in, and texts Ki-tae for help. Ki-tae is unmoved by his plight, and works his way through his blind date in what can only be described as rote rudeness—it’s clearly a routine that’s been rehearsed and refined for maximum offense in minimal time.
He turns every question the woman asks into a barb back at her for only being interested in money, all while negotiating (via text) the terms of whether or not he’s going to help Hoon-dong get out of his mess. He’s a new tenant in Hoon-dong’s commercial building (or really, his mother’s building), and Hoon-dong finally agrees to give his clinic free rent for three years.
His blind date asks Ki-tae what he’s doing, and he says he actually has someone waiting for him upstairs in a room, and he’s currently weighing his options. Pfft. What’s even funnier is that he knows so well when the glass of water is coming at his face that he has time to put his phone and glasses down on the table before bracing for impact.
With Date #1 down, he heads up to Hoon-dong’s room to crash Date #2, playing the part of the clueless best friend who doesn’t know that he’s ruining a romantic evening. He pops their balloons, drinks their champagne, and eats their cake, all while Hoon-dong dances around in the background and Jang-mi strains to keep herself from wringing Ki-tae’s neck.
With excuses that he can’t possibly leave his bro hanging in his time of need, Hoon-dong escapes, leaving Jang-mi utterly deflated on her big day. As they walk out, Ki-tae warns his friend to end things cleanly. Hoon-dong swears he will, which I find hard to believe.
The polite way to break up No. 1: Submersion.
After a few days of no contact, Hoon-dong is sure Jang-mi will have gotten the hint, and for good measure, he changes his online status to: “Because it changes… it’s love.” But Jang-mi is nowhere near his passive-aggressive hint, and wonders when to propose next, deciding that this time they’ll go to an island so that no one can interrupt.
Jang-mi is a sales associate at a high-end department store, and she spends her whole shift calling Hoon-dong repeatedly. Her friend and co-worker NAM HYUN-HEE (Yoon So-hee) is appalled to see that she’s still using an old flip-phone and couldn’t stalk her boyfriend online if she wanted to.
After three days of “submersion,” aka disappearing and cutting off contact, Hoon-dong thinks it’s safe to turn on his phone. But as soon as he does, it rings again, and he finds over 300 calls from Jang-mi. Eep.
A week later she’s still calling, but Hyun-hee tells her that no response means he’s giving her clear signals that it’s over. Hoon-dong says that she must’ve gotten the hint by now, only to have Ki-tae point out that Jang-mi is headed towards Hoon-dong’s restaurant right this minute.
Hoon-dong goes running like the weasel that he is, and crouches behind the counter. Jang-mi walks in, and the tall handsome waiter gets his own entrance music as he struts over to greet her. Hello, there.
The waiter is HAN YEO-REUM (Jung Jin-woon), and he gives her a puzzled look when she asks for Hoon-dong, who owns the restaurant. Yeo-reum: “Most people come here to see me.” He assures her that the boss, while not doing much of anything in the workplace, is fine and well. Haha.
Ki-tae saves Hoon-dong yet again by running interference, and stands in Jang-mi’s way so she can’t see him. He gets a call from his aunt who nags him about embarrassing the family on his blind date, and asks about the woman he had waiting up in the hotel room.
He looks Jang-mi up and down as he says that woman was desperate to get married too, and shouts into the phone that he isn’t going to marry ever, so they should just give up. But it’s too late—Aunt is on her way with Mom right now.
He panics and runs to the door, but Jang-mi holds him back, wanting to know if something’s going on with Hoon-dong oppa. He tells her to stop because she’s becoming pathetic: “It’s over.”
The polite way to break up No. 2: Breakup news via third party.
She chases him all the way into his car, and demands an explanation—did she do something wrong? Is Hoon-dong oppa… terminally ill? Pwahaha. Ki-tae wonders how she could be so obtuse, and says plainly (and coldly, but at least honestly) that she reeked of wedding hopes and Hoon-dong cut and ran.
Poor thing finally hears the truth and a tear rolls down her cheek. He has to drag her out of his car, and Mom and Aunt arrive just in time to hear them arguing. Jang-mi asks if that’s just his opinion and wants to know where Hoon-dong is, and Ki-tae blows up at her, scoffing that he’s never felt sorry for Hoon-dong until now—who wouldn’t run away from a girlfriend so clingy? Ouuuuuch.
He leans in to twist the knife further, and says that just like she dated Hoon-dong for his money, he dated Jang-mi for her face and her body. Angry tears start to pool in her eyes, and just then, Yeo-reum comes out with the juice Ki-tae ordered. In one swift move, Jang-mi pops the lid and throws it with a satisfying SMACK in Ki-tae’s face. She surprises him even further with the tearful declaration that at least for her, it wasn’t money: “It was love.”
Mom and Aunt watch the whole scene unfold and jump to the conclusion that Jang-mi was the other woman Ki-tae had up in the hotel room, and Mom finds her crying down the street. When Mom asks if her son is running away from her while she has thoughts of marriage, Jang-mi naturally assumes she’s Hoon-dong’s mother, and accepts Mom’s invitation to dinner.
Ki-tae is pissed at Hoon-dong for being a weasel, and asks what Jang-mi was to him: “She seemed sincere about you.” Hoon-dong says that was the problem since he couldn’t handle the weight of her sincerity.
Hoon-dong is ever so quickly distracted by the entrance of a hot girl in a red dress, and is surprised when Ki-tae says Hoon-dong already knows her. When she comes out of the dressing room, his jaw drops as he watches Ki-tae walk away with her, and mutters aloud, “Are they still seeing each other?”
She’s Ki-tae’s ex, KANG SE-AH (Han Sun-hwa), a plastic surgeon who apparently gets her work done by Ki-tae. I suppose you can’t operate on yourself. For being exes they’re shockingly nonchalant about him examining her breasts, but she doesn’t really seem the shy type anyway.
She tries to coax him over to her hospital, but he says there are plenty of better doctors than him. She sighs that he said the same thing about finding a better man when he broke up with her three years ago.
Hoon-dong still isn’t answering any of Jang-mi’s calls, and she wistfully remembers the good times when they were first starting out. Hoon-dong seems like the class clown type, and though his faults are many, when he’s sweet he’s very sweet and he makes her laugh.
Hyun-hee sees her crying again at work and suggests she go see his mother if she really wants to marry him, but Jang-mi says it’s over. Cut to: her pacing back and forth at someone’s front door, changing her mind every two seconds about going in.
She gets spotted by a snooty ajumma who turns out to be Hoon-dong’s mother, since Jang-mi of course went to his house looking for the wrong mom. His mother calls her a stalker and regales her with the terrible things Hoon-dong said about her, including the hotel proposal that terrified her poor son.
It leaves Jang-mi mortified, but she stands her ground and retorts that the bastard is hiding behind friends and his mother, all because he can’t break up with her in person. Ki-tae arrives to apologize about the blind date, and happens to witness another of Jang-mi’s heart-crushing moments.
Meanwhile, Ki-tae’s mom sets out an elaborate dinner hoping for a houseguest. Grandma sighs that Ki-tae hasn’t been home in three years, so what makes them think his girlfriend will show?
Jang-mi’s parents run a little chicken and beer shop, and are currently going through a silent phase where they converse (abundantly) via doodling board and text message. When Jang-mi is around they talk through her, and she screams at them to fight instead. The latest trouble is because Mom worries that her parents’ bar will make Jang-mi look bad to her restaurateur boyfriend.
Jang-mi gets a text that suddenly sends her reaching for a bottle of soju, and to her parents’ shock, she downs the whole bottle in one go. She shows up at Hoon-dong’s restaurant drunk, and gulps down another beer.
Hoon-dong tries to run away like the rat that he is, but Jang-mi fiiiiinally corners him for the first time since the hotel proposal. He asks if she didn’t get his text, and she recites it for everyone including Ki-tae and Se-ah to hear: “Thank you. I’m sorry. Be happy.” Hahaha.
This time Ki-tae ignores Hoon-dong’s pleas for help, and Jang-mi rails at him for turning her into a fool with just three lines in a text and reducing her love to this. As the argument gets heated, she raises the beer bottle in her hand as if to strike him, and Ki-tae grabs her arm to block her and Hoon-dong cowers to the ground in terror. He flees to the bathroom and calls the cops to say that he’s being attacked by a stalker.
Ki-tae says he’s interfering this time for Jang-mi’s benefit, and she scoffs that she knows she’s hit rock bottom right now, “But I can’t be clean and cool and polite like you people!” I love how the words are positive but she says them like insults. She cries that she has to see the person she wants to see and say the things she wants to say—it may be messy, but that’s the right thing to do.
She stifles back sobs, and Ki-tae finally tells her to go ahead. Hoon-dong hides in the bathroom like a coward, and she accidentally knocks the beer bottle into Ki-tae’s nose while banging on the door. Jang-mi doesn’t even notice and cries for Hoon-dong to just show his face once—perhaps if she just saw his eyes, she’d understand. She whimpers, “We loved together, but do I have to break up alone?”
She finally gets the door open, and Hoon-dong cowers under the sink, terrified of what she might do. And the second she sees his eyes, she drops the bottle and the sobering tears come: “Now that I see your face I get it. I loved alone.”
Ki-tae is the one to accompany her to the police station, where the cop tries to explain the stalking charge to the drunk girl. Jang-mi slurs that she just wanted to see and touch him, and a drunk man nearby agrees wholeheartedly that the double standard is unfair and it’s romance when you do it and sexual harassment when someone else does it.
But when the cop explains that the ajusshi is here because he repeatedly groped a woman, Jang-mi cries in realization, “Ah, I see… I’m a stalker!” Lol. She wails and then suddenly asks the officer to find a person for her—the mom who invited her over acting like Hoon-dong’s mom, only she wasn’t his mom at all. She asks why someone would do that, and decides she’d like to meet her and find out. This whole drunken interrogation is priceless.
Sometime later, Ki-tae relaxes with a bath and thinks back to Jang-mi’s moments of heartbreak, calling her dumb for going there and having to hear it for herself. In flashback we see that when she fell asleep at the precinct, he lied and said he wasn’t a victim of the attack, and asks for the charge to be taken care of with a fine. But the cop says Hoon-dong’s mom wants her charged with stalking, so it’ll have to go to court. Ki-tae remembers that today is her court date.
Ki-tae gets a rude awakening of his own when a real estate agent starts showing his house unannounced, and he sits down with Mom for the first time in years. He refuses to give up that house, and she wonders why when it’s not like they had good memories there.
When she says it doesn’t look good for him to live away from home, he snaps back that she’s the one who lives for the outside world’s approval, not him. She lays down the law and says he has until 10:00 tomorrow morning—either bring that girl home to meet the family or have his bags packed to move back in. Now Ki-tae realizes what the heck Jang-mi was babbling about at the police station—it was his mother who invited her over.
With little time left to spare, he dashes to the courthouse, and we catch up to the opening scene. When he makes it inside the courtroom, Jang-mi mutters that it’s that bastard again, but he shocks her by testifying that his friend never once made his intentions clear. The judge agrees to drop the assault charge, but can’t let the drunken disturbance go, and rules for a low 50,000-won fine.
She holds the bill up as she pays her fine, and muses that the punishment for her love is somewhere between jaywalking and an act of violence. She walks out of the courthouse wondering if she’ll ever love again, and then two steps later, she finds her path blocked by Ki-tae.
She tries to walk around him, but he asks her to come to his house to meet his mother. She doesn’t see why on earth she’d do that, but he says with a sly smile, “The mother who invited you over was my mother.”
EPISODE 2: “Widespread advantageous kindness: Maintaining your fishpond”
As the clock winds down to doomsday, Mom reminds Aunt that if Ki-tae doesn’t show up, she signs over his apartment on the hour. Ki-tae races through traffic, as his aunt’s hand hovers over the contract…
He makes it in the door just in time, and Mom calls off the real estate hostage negotiations. Mom, Dad, and Grandma all come out to greet him, and their expressions all morph into looks of horror as Jang-mi finally steps out.
She looks like something the cat dragged in after a night of clubbing: ripped cut-offs, a bare midriff, a see-through shirt, and a tangled mess of hair. Even more hilarious is the way she smiles, as if she’s SO pleased to meet them, and not mortified.
Rewind to 17 hours ago, in front of the courthouse. Jang-mi doesn’t understand why he wants to bring her home to meet his parents—did she seem that desperate to marry? She says she wouldn’t marry him if he were the last man on earth, and he jumps on that as his very reason to bring her home: she won’t marry him, and he won’t marry her.
She sees what he’s playing at—he brings home a girlfriend, which gets Mom to back off on the blind dates, while he gets to remain single. She isn’t interested in helping him trick his family though, while he sighs that if he could’ve handled it with a talk he would’ve; it’s not that kind of family.
He offers to pay her, which she shoots down, so then he offers to help her get back together with Hoon-dong, which she refuses even more vehemently. Ki-tae: “I could give you a whole new face! I’m a plastic surgeon! Don’t you want to get revenge?” Hahaha.
But she fails to be impressed and blames him for causing so much of this mess in the first place, and yells at him to get lost. Instead, he trails behind her silently like a lost puppy, no matter how many death glares she sends his way.
She’s on her way to meet her co-worker Hyun-hee for sympathy makgulli, but Ki-tae follows her all the way there and smoothly introduces himself as Jang-mi’s friend and gets invited along. It’s pretty funny how they decide to go clubbing ’cause that’ll make her feel better, even though she’s standing right there shouting that it won’t.
Off they go to a club, where Hyun-hee has fun dancing and Jang-mi drowns her sorrows in martinis. Ki-tae surprises her by sincerely apologizing—he says he assumed some things about her and was wrong, though he points out that she messed things up for him too. Hyun-hee tries to get Jang-mi to forget that jerk Hoon-dong and have some fun, so Jang-mi takes to the dance floor. She goes along with Hyun-hee and even dances with a guy (with their backs turned), before turning around and coming face to face with Hoon-dong. Yeeek.
The music comes to a screeching halt as the foursome starts arguing, and it’s pretty great the way Hyun-hee sticks up for her friend. Hoon-dong accuses her of stalking him again, and Jang-mi pokes at him defiantly: “Why, can’t someone like me come to a club? Is it cool for you and a crime for me?”
But then Ki-tae breaks through the crowd and throws his arm around Jang-mi and coos that he’s been looking for her everywhere. He pretends not to notice Hoon-dong until their eyes meet, and says nonchalantly, “Oh did I forget to tell you? I’m seeing Jang-mi.” The look on Hoon-dong’s face is so satisfying.
Ki-tae follows her out of the club and says he’ll help her get revenge—he’ll make it so that Hoon-dong falls in love with her, so she can kick him to the curb. She stops and wonders if she can become cool and detached like other people, and he promises that if she follows his lead, she can.
It’s now five hours before the inciting incident, and Jang-mi stuffs her face with food while arguing that meeting the parents is still a bit much. But he points out that she doesn’t love him, so there’s no need to look good or say the right things.
She spends the next few hours stumbling around drunk, insisting on finding something to bring to his parents. They run out of time and he shoves her into the car, insisting that she doesn’t need to change. That’s how she ends up at his parents’ house still drunk, where Mom receives her coldly and Dad looks her up and down with lascivious eyes. Ew, Dad.
Jang-mi tells the family that they just started dating and need time to figure things out on their own, and she doesn’t see why adults get the final say when they’re the ones who have to be responsible for the relationship. Ki-tae just grins the whole time. He sure picked the right girl to get his parents off his back.
Mom calmly starts to tell Jang-mi about the family, but it bores her so much that she falls asleep on Mom’s shoulder. Ki-tae nearly busts a gut, and she just sprawls out in his lap and snores. They leave with cheerful goodbyes, and Jang-mi worries that his parents were so nice to her that they might want them to marry after all.
He assures her that Mom will never approve—this is just her way of working people to get exactly what she wants. She remains polite but detached, and waits for the other person to get exhausted and give up, never once getting blood on her own hands, and forever remaining the good guy.
He calls it maintaining her fishpond, which Jang-mi points out is used to refer to dating tactics (keeping everyone on the hook and playing the field). He says it’s the same principle in basic human interaction, and she should take a page out of Mom’s playbook.
He takes her to his clinic to begin Operation: Fishpond, and gets his own petty revenge by marking up her face with all the things to fix. They decide on a wardrobe makeover instead, and even Ki-tae is a little impressed at how good she looks in the clothes he picks out. He insists they keep up appearances in front of her friends too, so Jang-mi reluctantly lets him pay for the clothes in front of Hyun-hee.
Next stop: Hoon-dong’s restaurant, where Yeo-reum the flirty waiter greets her with newfound interest. With Ki-tae’s fishpond maintenance rules popping up in her head to guide her, she smoothly offers to help him pick out clothes, making sure to use Ki-tae’s key noncommittal word: “Sometime.”
Hoon-dong arrives and doesn’t miss the chance to hit on a pretty girl, only to back up when she turns around to face him. She ignores him and walks out, and he’s floored yet again when she steps into Ki-tae’s car. She maintains her composure for about three seconds before congratulating herself on the awesome performance.
Thankfully for us, Ki-tae’s family is so nuts that his aunt is currently following them, so they have to go on a date to keep up appearances. Over dinner and wine, Ki-tae notices how Jang-mi is constantly going out of her way to help others and muses that she lives for approval and probably gets used often.
She doesn’t see what’s wrong with wanting to be loved, and tells him to be nicer to his mother, who clearly wants his love. She says that as soon as she gets her revenge, she’s done with him, because she dislikes everything about his attitude. He gripes that every time she gets a little liquor in her she cuts down to banmal, and vows not to drink with her again. He drops her off at home and invites her to a charity auction party on the weekend, solely for the purposes of making their relationship public so that Mom buys that it’s real. He makes sure to lean in so that Aunt thinks they’re kissing goodnight.
Yeo-reum comes by the department store unannounced, and Jang-mi doesn’t seem very eager to help him shop, that is until she spots Hoon-dong spying on her. She takes Yeo-reum away for his shopping makeover, while Hoon-dong stews jealously in their wake. Jang-mi helps Yeo-reum pick out a suit, and does her best to follow Ki-tae’s rules of engagement. Yeo-reum jokes (or fishes?) for her to pay, and she’s suddenly reminded of Ki-tae chiding her for letting people use her. In the end he pays for it himself.
Hoon-dong, meanwhile, gets cut down to size by Hyun-hee, who gives him backhanded compliments that he doesn’t seem nearly as bad as Jang-mi made him out to be, since she called him the worst pathetic loser on the planet. Ha. Still, Hyun-hee is flirting in her own way, and smiles when he buys a bunch of wallets to contribute to the charity auction.
It turns out that Yeo-reum’s suit was paid for by Se-ah, who invited him to her charity party and wanted him looking his best. Hoon-dong gets peeved that he seems friendly with Jang-mi too, and Yeo-reum just reminds him that they’re broken up. Hoon-dong counters that she’s just nice to everyone, so it’s not what he thinks.
Jang-mi arrives dressed for the party and runs into Hoon-dong out in the street, and he apologizes sincerely, wanting to talk. But Ki-tae arrives to whisk her away, and has to stop her from running back to Hoon-dong. Se-ah is surprised when Ki-tae tells her that he’s going to the party with someone else, and arrives to see them leave together. She takes Hoon-dong to the party instead, both of them feeling the sting of rejection. Jang-mi is sure that Hoon-dong was about to say something important, and Ki-tae chides her for caving so easily at one apology. He reminds her not to get caught showing her true feelings if she wants to maintain her pond.
They arrive at the pool party, where they just run into Hoon-dong and Se-ah all over again. Jang-mi realizes that Hoon-dong only wanted to bring her here, and sees through his so-called apology. Hoon-dong makes a point of asking Ki-tae if it’s weird that he’s here with Se-ah: “But you’re not one to be ardently attached to the past, are you?” Ki-tae pulls Jang-mi close: “What matters isn’t the past, but the present.”
Jang-mi sighs to see Ki-tae mingling with the other doctors and looking good by Se-ah’s side, but then she perks up when Yeo-reum arrives wearing the suit she picked out. Ha, I love that he always enters a room to a dedicated power strut theme song. It’s hilarious. He’s surrounded by girls the second he walks in, but he smiles and waves back at Jang-mi… only to walk right past her and go straight to Se-ah, who’s waving at him behind her. Ouch. Jang-mi sighs that even Yeo-reum belonged to a different farm altogether.
Hyun-hee arrives outside to deliver the wallets that Hoon-dong ordered, and angles for an invite. He brings her inside and takes the wallets over to Se-ah, but she tells him it’s not that kind of auction. Yeo-reum finds Jang-mi at the buffet and steals all the food she wants, pouting that he heard she’s just nice to everybody. She counters that he wasn’t interested in her either, but he surprises her by giving her the plate of food and saying that it’s because he doesn’t like seeing her become someone like Hoon-dong.
It’s time for the auction to start, and to Ki-tae’s horror, he finds out that it’s a bachelor auction and they’ve all been invited to be sold off like cattle. HA. Yeo-reum already knows, hence the new suit paid for by Se-ah, while Ki-tae has to be forcibly pushed onto the stage to do his part, yunno, for charity. Se-ah doesn’t look all that interested in having Hoon-dong participate, but he volunteers.
The MC pits Ki-tae against Yeo-reum to raise the bids, and Ki-tae acts like this is the worst punishment known to man, while Yeo-reum enjoys the attention and handily dances his way to a cool 5,000,000-won bid.
Ki-tae is about to bow out at a low price, so he finally caves and says he’ll dance. It’s the cutest thing, his reluctant, mortified dancing, but it does the trick and the bids go up. Suddenly Se-ah’s hand shoots up and she shocks the crowd with a 10,000,000-won bid, and claims her prize. Hm, I didn’t think you were too bad until you did that.
Hoon-dong is forgotten about and put up for auction last, and no one bids on him. Jang-mi raises her hand for the first time all night, and she bids 180,000 won, or ship-pal man won, which she pronounces pointedly as “shibal [fuck] man won.” Ha.
Hoon-dong makes every effort to sing and dance for more bids, but it gets uncomfortably pathetic. Finally the MC suggests he jump in the pool, and Hoon-dong agrees, making sure to say vaguely that he’s jumping for “her,” and she knows who she is. The guys see his player tactics from a mile away.
He leaps into the pool and lands in a huge belly flop, and suddenly he seems extra pathetic, standing there shivering in the water with no one to bid on him. The MC offers to give him away for free (ouch) if anyone is willing to jump in with him, and to everyone’s surprise, Jang-mi makes her way through the crowd and steps into the water.
She makes her way toward him, and it’s incredibly romantic despite the fact that he doesn’t deserve to be rescued. Ki-tae doesn’t like what he sees, though Yeo-reum smiles to see that Jang-mi hasn’t become so jaded after all.
A tear falls as she approaches, and she takes Hoon-dong by the wrist and leads him out of the pool. She lets go once they’re outside, and he looks over at her, sincerely moved. She brings him a towel to dry off and he thanks her for the rescue.
She sees now that he was never truly sorry to begin with, and Hoon-dong just breezes that he thought they could be friends. She tells him that she doesn’t want to be friends or see him ever again, because her feelings for him were sincere and the more she knows of him, the more embarrassing that sincerity becomes.
She limps over to Ki-tae wearing only one shoe, and says she wants to call the whole thing off. He goes to get her a robe, but while he’s gone, Yeo-reum arrives like Prince Charming with her other shoe, and stoops down to put them both back on her feet.
She thinks to herself that in that moment, it didn’t matter whom that kindness was for, or whether it was fishpond maintenance—it was enough that someone was by her side. Ki-tae comes back and watches them with a long face.
Yeo-reum asks Jang-mi to dinner and when she asks when, he says, “Now.” Se-ah comes up to Ki-tae and does the same, and inside, Hyun-hee asks Hoon-dong the same thing. The question of “now” versus “sometime” lingers in the air for all three couples.
Yeo-reum puts his jacket over Jang-mi’s shoulders and leads her away, when she suddenly gets a phone call. She answers it and after a moment, shouts, “WHO’s there?” She whips around to face Ki-tae, who’s answering a call of his own with, “You went WHERE?”
What a fun opening, full of surprising twists and turns, genuinely interesting characters, and a lightness that feels like a breath of fresh air. I love how this show is directed—it’s comedic but not infantile, and weighty when it wants to make the sincerity land, for instance with Jang-mi’s heartbreak. No matter how foolish Hoon-dong is, Jang-mi’s heartache feels real—embarrassing in that familiar way that makes you cringe but want to hug her. Jang-mi is such a fantastic character, and I’ve never loved Han Groo as much I do here. She’s throwing everything into the comedy, and makes me laugh with every physical gesture. And she does crazy eyes so well.
What keeps both Ki-tae and Jang-mi from being the classic and staid rich prickly ass and poor bumbling heroine is that they’re both delightfully witty and outspoken. She takes nothing lying down, and speaks her mind with a sharpness that always leaves me satisfied and in her corner rather than feeling sorry for her, no matter how embarrassed she might have been at the outset. And Ki-tae isn’t just an irrational jerk—he’s brutally honest, but he knows when to recognize someone’s sincerity and when to apologize for his assumptions. The smart-mouthed wit goes a long way in making his demeanor less jerky, since half the time I’m laughing at the comeback he’s got whipped up, and not thinking that it’s rude (even though it often is). And most of all, I like that he often doesn’t get his way, despite all his blustering about knowing exactly how to work people.
Even Hoon-dong, who could’ve just been a simplistic villain, is given some dimension. I enjoy that everyone, down to his employees, knows that he’s a pathetic weasel. He doesn’t upset me because he’s not fooling anybody, unlike so many drama villains who wear two faces. He’s openly superficial and even his friends think he’s kind of a dumbass, and for all of his many, many, many flaws, he’s sympathetic in his own way. And part of that is in keeping him from being too sympathetic, which is what I like about the writing. Just when you think he might be genuine, there’s just more surface underneath that surface.
It’s nice to watch a drama that carries you along on a journey that feels purposeful and assured, and even better when you can feel yourself being surprised by the wit in a story that on paper sounds very obvious. The contract relationship actually manages to escape the usual trappings, and I like very much that I’m not going into the drama wanting Ki-tae to change his personality. So often the rom-com hero is such a jerk that we’re just waiting for him to get a lobotomy of love, but Ki-tae actually seems like a normal guy who’s just highly motivated to stay single. So… a normal guy.
The crisscrossed pairings six ways makes for some great possibilities, and I’m already eager to see Yeo-reum fall for Jang-mi and make Ki-tae think twice about not marrying her ever. It’s nice to know that even in a story about the cool contemporary dating rules of the young and unattached, there’s enough genuine affection and love that creeps up on them despite it all. Fishing is all fun and games until you’re hooked, good ‘n’ proper.