Twenty Again: Episode 9
I love it. The problems in Twenty Again aren’t huge or dramatic, but the show has a knack of making the situations pay off in highly satisfying ways. And where we are in the story right now, we’re getting lots of satisfaction, whether it’s good people finding productive solutions or silly folks being hoisted by their own petards. It’s satisfying when main characters deliver comeuppances directly, but there’s also something amusingly rewarding in watching people being knocked down a peg by nothing more than their own doing. Sometimes we just have to feel there’s justice in the world, y’know?
SONG OF THE DAY
Jung Joon-il – “좋은날” (Good day) from the Twenty Again OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 9 RECAP
The Bounce dance performance is a shocker for most of our cast: Woo-chul and Min-soo gape at this new hip-hopping side of Nora, and Hyun-seok looks like he’s finally recognized his feelings consciously.
It sends Hyun-seok flashing back to high school, when he and Nora had organized an overnight trip doubling as dance practice. The trip takes them to Nora’s old house in the country, and Hyun-seok makes plans to go to the store with Nora to prepare a surprise party for the group, looking particularly happy to get alone time with her.
During a break in rehearsal, Nora finds him at the creek—this is the scene we’d seen earlier, when she predicts he’ll be a famous director in twenty years. He scoffs at the idea, but she proposes a bet to see whose future prediction is closer.
They agree to put the notes in a time capsule, and Hyun-seok steals glances at Nora as they write their entries. At the last minute, Nora crosses something out on her note. It’s her name on the signature line—hm, what does that mean?
The night of their first public performance rolls around, and Hyun-seok gives the dancers a pep talk minutes before they’re set to go onstage. At the last moment, though, his pager goes off and he finds out that his father collapsed. He literally bumps into Woo-chul on his way out, who’s here on his last night before studying abroad in Germany. Hyun-seok lingers, wanting to watch the show, but is forced to hurry off.
His classmates begin their performance, and mid-dance Nora is nearly taken out when a teammate steps on her shoelace and pulls the shoe off her foot. She just continues barefoot, while Woo-chul watches her dance, wide-eyed and slack-jawed… which is exactly the expression on his face now as he sees Nora with her Bounce crew.
Onstage, Nora scans the crowd for Hyun-seok and smiles when she finds him, but he turns away looking troubled and storms off. Why am I not surprised that his first reaction is grumpiness? Goodness knows Hyun-seok never found an emotion he could welcome gracefully.
Backstage, Soon-nam gives Nora a big ol’ bear hug and tells Nora to pick the place for their celebration (adorably, she’s now been upgraded to “noona hoobae-nim”). She decides on the food tent that her department is running.
Yi-jin and Woo-chul intend to take the administrator they’re trying to impress to a fancy restaurant, but he’s enjoying the festive atmosphere so much that he decides to eat here at the festival.
Min-soo reels from the shock of seeing his mother onstage, but supposes that’s where his dancing genes came from. He parts ways with Hye-mi, who’s working a shift at department tent—and so, conveniently, we’ve got most of our main characters neatly collected for the next bit.
Woo-chul finds his gaze drifting over to Nora as she laughs with her classmates, completely checking out of his conversation.
Still riding the high, Nora texts Hyun-seok a thank-you message for giving her the courage to perform. He stares at the message, deep in thought, and pulls out an old keepsake box that night. Inside is an old note addressed to Nora, which reads: “At first I was happy just to be friends, but not anymore. Ha Nora! I like you. Cha Hyun-seok.” Ah, and we see that when Teenage Hyun-seok had asked Nora to go shopping, he must have been planning to make his confession.
In the present, Hyun-seok repeats the words aloud, feeling the truth as he says, “Ha Nora, I like you.”
Nora returns to the stage after everyone has cleared out, picturing her teenage self dancing there. She wells up with tears, bursting into sobs as she stands there alone on the empty stage.
Woo-chul can’t sleep that night, wondering where Nora is and why she isn’t hurrying home to see his reaction, assuming she put on the show for his benefit. He marvels that she looked the same way onstage this time that she did twenty years ago.
In the morning, he wakes up to find Nora busily packing lunches for Hyun-seok. His initial reaction is jealousy, until he remembers Hyun-seok declaring that he has no interest in Nora, saying she’s enamored with her husband—and that means in Woo-chul’s simple little mind, everything she’s doing is meant to provoke jealousy and keep his interest. Psh. His delusions of grandeur crack me up.
Today when Nora asks if Min-soo wants one of her lunches, he tells her yes, which makes her so sweetly excited. As an added bonus, she snatches the lunch Woo-chul is casually trying to sneak right out of his hands. Muahaha.
When Nora finds Hyun-seok on campus, he mumbles a hasty excuse and hurries away, now awkward because he doesn’t know what to do with his feelings. She intercepts him anyway and hands him the lunches as thanks for getting her to stand onstage: “Thanks to that, I realized a lot of things.” Isn’t that the truth for everyone today.
Then she asks for his opinion on her dance, since he never got to see it twenty years ago. He says it made him see how she must have danced back then, and then practically jumps out of his skin when she pats his shoulder.
Hyun-seok sits down to eat Nora’s lunch in his office, and is almost grumpy to find it startlingly delicious. I notice he eats Sang-ye’s portion too, stuffing his face adorably. It’s worth it just to see his chipmunk cheeks and boyish satisfaction.
Yoon-young drops by campus as students stop to compliment Nora on her dancing. (Aw, they’re all calling her noona now.) Yoon-young asks how it felt to be onstage, and Nora sighs wistfully that it made her realize that her dream of dancing has passed her by. But when asked whether she regrets leaving her dream behind for Min-soo, she replies that your children aren’t something you can regret.
Min-soo happens by as he sees them chatting, and now remembers Yoon-young telling him previously that his mother used to be a good dancer. I’m guessing he dismissed it then, but understands better now what it meant. When Hye-mi comes by, he ushers her away to have lunch in an empty classroom, since their bench outside is no longer safe from Dad’s eyes.
Hye-mi remarks that Nora unni is amazing for bouncing back from being ostracized, not quitting school as everyone predicted. Min-soo’s upset to hear that Nora was treated as an outcast, not having known any of his mother’s troubles.
In marriage class, it’s time to swap partners, and each student lists one negative and five positive traits about their partner. Nora’s description of Soon-nam is super-cute and makes him smile—he’s caring, courageous, a good leader, passionate, humorous, and makes a cranky first impression.
Nora reads what Soon-nam has said of her: “She takes on challenges amazingly well, is pure, righteous, has a hidden charisma, and is pretty.” Her flaw is that she doesn’t say enough of what she’s thinking, which seems right on the nose. The class breaks out into a chant urging them to date, which is cute. Yi-jin wraps up the lesson by saying that you want to be around people who focus on the praise rather than picking on the criticisms, and Nora nods in agreement.
I love how Soon-nam and Nora are a little sad about their partnership ending, and he’s not even hiding that he likes hanging out with her now. They joke that they’ve both got cute new partners now, and their repartee is such a turnaround from their beginning that I can’t even stand how cute they are.
Woo-chul pitches the original version of his theater therapy project (the version Hyun-seok rejected) to a large corporation (Sungsam, hur, a stand-in for Samsung), arguing persuasively that it would be an image-booster for the corporate sponsors. I’m sure this has to be breaking the rules, since Woo-chul is still an official advisor for Hyun-seok’s project. Not that I put it past him to steal ideas or outmaneuver a rival.
Yi-jin instructs Hyun-seok that the project has been approved for an overnight team-building retreat. He doesn’t want to spent a trip with Woo-chul, but he’s stuck since the idea was his own, proposed to fulfill Nora’s bucket list entry about going on an MT. But when Sang-ye asks if Nora will be going, he barks that of course she won’t.
Nora is indignant when her first paycheck is reduced by her convenience store boss, who argues that it’s totally normal and legal for new employees to only get 80 percent pay during their probationary period. She argues that it’s not even minimum wage, but he takes advantage of her ignorance and barks that all college students know this, and ultimately she accepts his answer and her reduced pay.
Hyun-seok overhears from outside, having dropped by to return Nora’s lunch containers. He stops himself from interfering at the last moment and hangs back like a proper stalker, feeling conflicted as she wonders what to do with her very first paycheck. He’s reminded of Yoon-young’s words about Woo-chul being Nora’s whole universe, and walks away glumly.
At school, Min-soo’s bummed at his less-than-stellar exam score, and further dejected when he’s kicked out of his exclusive club. His sunbaes have seen him with Hye-mi and consider dating a waste of time and energy better spent preparing for their future. Are you sure you’re forbidding it because you don’t want to date, and not because you can’t?
So when Hye-mi suggests they go out for a couple dance competition to win a trip to Jeju, Min-soo says he has to turn his efforts back to studying. The contract with his father would send him to army service not only for dating but also for earning low marks. Hye-mi asks what would happen if Dad threatened to send him off to army and Min-soo refused to go. Min-soo literally stops to think, struck with the notion: “I’ve… never thought of that.”
When Hyun-seok arrives at his office loft, Nora’s there working and offers to make him dinner. He tells her not to act like an ajumma, and she says sunnily that it’s okay because she is an ajumma, and a good cook too. She asks Sang-ye how her lunch was the other day, and Hyun-seok can’t admit he ate it all so he lies that it was so bad he couldn’t share it with Sang-ye.
Nora asks what he did with the food, and now that he’s caught in his lie (I love when he’s caught in his lies), he says he threw it away. Affronted, she asks if she did something wrong, not understanding why he’s being so avoidant all of a sudden, unable to meet her eyes: “It’s like when you were a high schooler.”
She smiles that he was just like this, saying it’s nice to see his old self again. Hyun-seok makes an excuse about just being busy and wrapped up in his work, and Nora good-naturedly accepts the explanation, even apologizing for the bad lunch. Feeling bad, he says he didn’t actually throw it away, but forced himself to choke it down. Ha. I love that with him, that is an improvement in gallantry.
On the morning of the retreat, Sang-ye and Hyun-seok make plans to go there separately. She’s noticed how odd he’s been around Nora lately and wonders at it.
Nora meets with her homework team, and for their next assignment, they decide to find a personal twist on Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” conundrum—for instance, choreography versus civil servanthood for Soon-nam. Nora asks Seung-hyun about taking out school loans to supplement her income, although when they ask questions about her, Nora changes the topic. The other two wryly note that she’s skirting questions again.
Nora’s at the loft when Sang-ye drops by to pick up some materials, and Nora comments on how hard-working and busy she is. She asks if Sang-ye wants to marry, and Sang-ye asks if Nora likes being married herself. Nora answers that it depends on the person, not getting too specific about her situation.
Sang-ye hesitates before deciding something, then fakes a phone call and asks Nora to drop something off with Hyun-seok. Hm, is she playing matchmaker?
So Nora takes a bus to the retreat location, basking in the sunshine on the ride up.
Min-soo comes home to an empty house and slips into his father’s office, where he finds the contract he’d signed, wanting to confirm the GPA he has to maintain. He checks the number (3.8), and when he starts to return it to its place, he sees that other form in the drawer—his parents’ agreement to divorce, dating back two years.
At the retreat (which is more like a fancy vacation getaway), dinner is a stilted and quiet affair, with Yi-jin doing most of the talking and Hyun-seok and Woo-chul trading barbs when forced to speak. That’s when Nora arrives to deliver documents to Hyun-seok (who seems to know something’s up when he hears Sang-ye’s excuse for sending Nora), and somehow Nora gets roped into dining with them, mostly at the request of Yi-jin, who only knows her as her plucky student.
Hyun-seok tries to get Nora out of it since he knows the full tangled web, while Woo-chul’s eyes dart around hilariously to have his wife dining with his mistress. Yi-jin compliments Nora’s dancing at the festival, and Nora explains going onstage at the last minute due to a teammate’s injury—which Woo-chul is surprised to hear, since he thought everything was about him.
Yi-jin is under the impression that Nora is unmarried, and nobody disabuses her of the notion. Instead, Hyun-seok redirects the focus away from Nora by serving Yi-jin and being attentive, while Nora just stuffs her face relentlessly until she’s battling indigestion. Hyun-seok notices her discomfort and directs everyone else inside while he tends to her, and Woo-chul can only stare from a distance. He does, however, stop to ask the caretaker for antacids.
Hyun-seok massages Nora’s arms and apologizes for putting her in this situation, chiding her for eating so forcefully. She explains that she’d agreed to preserve Woo-chul’s public image and pretend not to know him at work, and says she chose Woocheon University when he was still at his prior school. Hm, Hyun-seok finds that a curious fact.
Woo-chul spies them sitting together and is immediately indignant at how cozy Hyun-seok is, patting his wife on the back and sitting rather close. He ducks away before he’s seen, and once Nora’s burped he fixes her a cup of soothing tea and tells her to spend the night in Sang-ye’s room, since it’ll be a long trip back home.
When Hyun-seok steps aside to make sure Nora’s room is ready, Woo-chul steps into his path to glare at him and accuses Hyun-seok of running his hands all over his wife. Hyun-seok just retorts that if he’s so bothered that a friend was looking after his wife, Woo-chul should look after her himself. Woo-chul shows him the antacids, and asks point-blank: “Director Cha, do you like my wife?”
Hyun-seok replies, “If I like her, what are you going to do about it?” Woo-chul takes a threatening step closer. Hyun-seok matches him with another step. Woo-chul’s hand clenches. They glare like animals. (Really childish, wimpy, petty animals.)
One of my favorite parts of this episode (apart from all of it) was the Min-soo moments—I don’t know that I care too much about him as an individual character, but he’s clearly everything to Nora. So to have him open his eyes to Mom in this gradual awakening is a really satisfying, heartwarming process, and completely true to life. How many of us saw our parents as auxiliary beings for the first two decades of our lives, merely out to antagonize and control us and make us do things we didn’t want to, not realizing they’re fully realized people with their own inner lives outside of us? It’s about the time we hit adulthood that many of us start to see our parents as adults and people rather than parents, and Min-soo has for so long not seen his mother at all.
Keeping Nora’s relationship to him a secret is doubly satisfying because now he gets to see Nora through the lens of other people—like, for instance, hearing his girlfriend talk about her as a cool older sister instead of a stuffy mom. I’m super excited that he found the contract, because I really want to see his father as a separate person too—by which I mean, flawed and selfish and responsible for his mother’s difficulties.
Nora’s moment onstage was also a nice glimpse of her conflicting emotions, because as she told Yoon-young, she knows her dream days are over. It’s not to say she can’t continue to dance, but the dreams she had at eighteen are completely unfeasible now, and it’s time she made peace with it. She’s lived so long by rote, just going with the momentum of others in her life, that she hasn’t had the chance to process what exactly she gave up. I think she needed to have her chance in the spotlight to properly say goodbye, and I’m glad she had that moment of recognition.
I have to say that I really enjoy Woo-chul and Yi-jin as… well, they’re not villains, and they’re certainly not evil. Antagonists may be the better word, although they’re so ineffectual that I find them annoying and harmless more than anything, and funny in the way they’re clearly living in a different world than the rest of the cast. They’ve got a whole furtive secret life going on, but the difference between how much it matters to them and how much it matters to everyone else is more comical than anything.
It’s not to say that there aren’t hurtful things they’ve done, or that we should let them off the hook, since a four-year relationship absolutely makes them adulterers. If they’d started dating after Nora signed the agreement I could see cutting them a little slack, but in this case we’re looking at the classic cheater scenario. And Woo-chul has definitely superiority issues and can be quite demeaning in his quietly dismissive way. Certainly Nora suffered, being chipped down to a shadow of her former self over the years—though in that, I do think she bears responsibility for diminishing herself and never saying what she felt.
In any case, I like Woo-chul as a character (less as a human, but at least I don’t have to live with him in the real world), and love that he’s rediscovering his attraction to Nora now, when it’s far too late to do anything about it. I find it hilarious that he thought Nora was doing everything to keep him in the marriage, and as a plot device this misunderstanding does great things for Hyun-seok, because believing Nora loves Woo-chul gives his conflict now a new poignancy. I mean, WE all knew ages ago that he was completely gone over her, but having him actively aware of it puts a lovely, affecting spin on his angst.
It’s funny how many different shades of grumpy Lee Sang-yoon has been showing us, with each one a little different than the one before. He was a little infuriating when he was being all hot and cold, mean then nice, and barking at Nora when she hadn’t done anything to deserve it. But now, he knows he’s in love with her so his disgruntlement is turned all inward—Hyun-seok being the world’s most awkward grumpypants will always be welcome, but I’m glad he’s not outright mean anymore. With Nora starting to see traces of the old Hyun-seok now, I hope means we’ll be seeing more of the bashful dork as well, because as far as Lee Sang-yoon is concerned, I can never get enough dork.