Cheese in the Trap: Episode 3
Cheese in the Trap has all the makings of a crack drama and pop-culture sensation, which the ever-climbing ratings only serve to confirm. But more than a sweet, potentially giddifying romance with appealing characters, I’m really responding to the thread of thoughtfulness running through the show, and the development of the characters beyond the romantic. You’ll never hear me complain about romantic development as a bad thing, but you’ll also never hear me complain about a romance that suggests hidden layers and emotional depth. When you get them both together, you’ve got something special, and while it’s still very early to make definitive conclusions, Cheese does hint at something special.
SONG OF THE DAY
Tearliner with Yozoh – “I Am Love” from the Cheese in the Trap OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Jung’s face is stony as he tells Seol she’s “just like everyone else” for approaching him with ulterior motive in mind, leaving her feeling bad for springing the set-up date on him.
The next day in class, Jung ignores Seol entirely, and she notes that he’s back to being as cold as he was last year. She approaches him and apologizes for the night before, and he acknowledges her with pleasant indifference, as though nothing happened or mattered.
Their professor announces that team projects will be their next assignment, and warns that team cooperation is crucial—nobody had better coast by on their teammates’ efforts. She directs that at Seol in particular.
The reason becomes clear when we see Seol’s team, which includes bossy sunbae Sang-chul, who’s eager to foist things off on her. The other members are just as happy to name her leader.
Seol leaves class preoccupied by Jung’s chilly reception, telling herself everything should be settled, since she apologized and he acknowledged it. Recalling his words about Seol being like everyone else, she thinks, “Was he expecting me to be different from other people? Why me?”
She has lunch with hoobae Ah-young, who describes how strange things got after Seol left them—Jung got silent and withdrawn, and she’d felt for the first time that he was cold and scary. Ah-young shares her hunch that Jung likes Seol, explaining that his demeanor changed after she’d mentioned Seol’s blind date. Seol immediately laughs off the thought, but Ah-young is pretty sure she read him accurately as jealous and angry.
Seol can’t shake off the thought, even as she tells herself it’s ridiculous. Her buddies Bora and Eun-taek assume her mood is directed at them because they pushed her into the blind date, and while she is annoyed about that, it’s not as bad as they’d feared.
Seol explains about losing her phone and uses Bora’s phone to call her own, then heads over right away to meet the person who answers—In-ho, who insists she join him at dinner before handing it over. He makes her spit-take by asking point-blank if she’s dating Jung, but her reaction confirms that as a no, and he supposes she’s not Jung’s type anyway, calling her hairstyle “dog hair” and her bangs “pig tails.”
But when Seol asks what In-ho’s relationship is with Jung, he has to think and can only reply, “I don’t know.”
In-ho sticks her with the hefty dinner bill (adding that she owes him two more meals) before returning her phone, then comments that her glare hardly seems like a grateful enough response. He throws in an extra tip: “Be careful of Yoo Jung. He’s not all he seems.”
As she walks home deep in thought, Seol is mulls over how In-ho knows Jung well enough to say that about him. She makes a frustrated sound, and it’s only now that she and In-ho become aware of each other—she’s been trailing behind him all this time. She asks in surprise if he’s been following her, while he points out who’s in front and who’s behind.
He guesses she lives on the same street, and she lies and hurries off in the opposite direction. She sneaks into her room, not thrilled to be living nearby the guy who seems determined to weasel more money out of her, and is further alarmed when he texts her: “See you again, Dog Hair.”
The next day, Seol meets with her group for the class project, and already it looks like she’ll be doing more work than she should: sunbae Sang-chul is hungover and half-asleep, another classmate asks Seol to reduce her workload, and mousy Min-soo doesn’t even know where to start with the research.
A group of sunbaes walks in, not realizing a group was already in there, and their leader, Do-hyun, introduces himself to Seol. Jung is with them and continues ignoring Seol and her offer to give up the room soon.
Jung offers to do much of the preparation work for his own team, and his sunbaes appreciate having their time freed. Do-hyun expresses his interest in Seol, saying that model student types like her can have a really hot hidden side. Spoken like a true douchebag.
Jung remains silent despite being bothered by the leering, and his other teammate comments that Seol and Jung are actually very alike, busy taking care of other people to their own detriment. Jung is one thing, he says, but how is Seol going to manage Sang-chul, knowing his personality?
As expected, Sang-chul wastes no time trying to get out of doing his work, telling Seol she’ll get an A if she does more. The rest of the team is no better, and Seol finds herself moaning, “Why am I doing everything?!”
Then everybody flakes on their team meeting, hitting her up with excuses. Sang-chul even posts pictures of himself drinking with his buddies, which sends Seol charging over to the nearby bar.
Sang-chul is infuriatingly flippant about missing the meeting, while Douchey Do-hyun sizes her up and insists she stay for a drink. Sang-chul goads her with soju, offering to work extra hard if she drinks it up. Fuming, she grabs the glass and chugs it down.
Jung is working on his project when he realizes he and Douchey Do-hyun have mixed up their papers. Upon calling, he hears the guys chanting in the background for Seol to drink, and offers to go to Do-hyun to exchange papers. He acts indifferent to news of Seol being there, but can’t hide his unease when his friend calls it a “dangerous” situation for her—Do-hyun has a reputation of getting girls drunk and taking them to motels. Jung heads out in a hurry.
At the bar, Seol is pretty drunk and Do-hyun eyes her lecherously, waiting to make his move. When she gets up to leave, he offers to take her home—just as Jung arrives and volunteers himself for the errand instead.
He holds her firmly by the arms and leads her away, berating her for not being able to say no and not taking care of herself. She’s more bewildered than anything by his behavior, unable to protest as he pushes her into a cab and pays the driver. He sends her off with the warning to come to her senses.
Do-hyun confronts him outside, peeved at the cock-blocking, not to mention the follow-up lecture. But when Do-hyun starts to challenge him, Jung gets steely, making a veiled threat to ruin the internship Do-hyun has lined up. Do-hyun asks if this is because of Seol, and Jung merely replies, “It makes me sick to watch. If you’ve understood me, you’d better be careful—unless you want to spend your whole life an unemployed loafer.”
Do-hyun’s the bigger asshole, but Jung… there’s real menace behind those words, and what’s scarier, a sense of power. Do-hyun gets the message.
Seol makes it back home and stumbles into bed, where she mumbles sleepily, “Come to my senses? What did I even do?”
At school the next day, Seol rushes for the closing elevator and barely makes it, only to make eye contact with Jung inside. Instead of getting on, she quietly turns and walks away.
Jung receives a call from his father the chairman, who then also calls In-ho. Dad addresses In-ho warmly, wanting to see him after so long, and despite In-ho’s reluctance to go, he agrees to drop by the house to see him.
In-ho and noona In-ha arrive at the mansion just moments before Jung pulls up in his car, and the air is immediately tense between the boys. In-ha grabs each boy by the arm, talking brightly, but they both shake her off and head inside separately.
They keep up appearances for the sake of Chairman Yoo, who looks fondly on the siblings and is pleased to have In-ho back in the fold. He offers his help to the siblings and encourages Jung to do the same, and In-ha chatters about how she’d love living with the Yoos forever. (In-ho hisses at her to shut it.)
Chairman Yoo speaks to In-ho individually, telling him he understands why In-ho would feel upset, and encourages him to forget the past and start up with piano. In-ho tells him, “I have no interest in the piano anymore, so you don’t have to worry about me.”
He says he’s young and can figure out what to do with his life, and is grateful that the chairman took care of him all this while. He politely but firmly declines the chairman’s offer of assistance, says he was happy to see him again, and excuses himself.
Even so, he can’t stop himself from pausing at the sight of the piano on his way out the door.
In-ha is pretty shameless about her place in this family, and isn’t fazed when Jung asks how long she’s going to mooch off his family, which can’t happen forever. She fires back, “This is all I can do—do you think I’ll quit? If you don’t like it, you should treat me well. If you just do that, everyone will be more comfortable.”
In-ha takes off in a taxi alone, stranding her brother at the house. Jung scoffs at In-ho showing up when he acted like he’d never see them again, and In-ho retorts that his father seems to feel differently from Jung: “After his well-to-do son ruined someone’s life, he must be feeling sorry.”
Jung replies, “It’s someone else’s fault through and through, is it? And it’s Father’s fault for saving you two from that terrible place. And your hand being messed up is my fault. But if you really want to blame somebody, shouldn’t it be you, who disappeared when I offered to pay for rehab?”
That makes In-ho angrier: “Rehab? You can even say that word to me?” Jung’s cold response inflames him more, and In-ho launches himself at Jung’s car, kicking off the side mirror.
He asks how Jung dares to look down on others: “Do you think everything will happen in this world the way you want it?!” Is it such cause for anger and outrage that some pitiable kids took a bit of food they were given? He goads Jung to hit him: “Don’t manipulate people from the back like a coward and hit me now, you bastard.”
Jung kicks him in the shin, calls it payment for the car, and drives off coolly, ignoring In-ho shouting furiously after him.
Seol’s team doesn’t turn in their parts or respond to her messages, with only one night before their group presentation. She gives up with a sigh, figuring they can all fail together… for all of two seconds, before she turns back to the project, telling herself that anger won’t do anything when it’s the grade she needs. She resigns herself to just doing it all herself.
She stays up all night, slaving away, and even prepares her team’s parts of the presentation. She’s peeved but gives them their parts, and when the presentations begin, she finds them all promising for being messy and flawed—maybe their group isn’t tanked, then.
Jung does leads his team in a professional presentation that earns applause and awe, but Seol feels optimistic about her chances of an A as they take their places to start.
But it quickly becomes clear that her team has no idea what they’re presenting, and the professor easily figures out that the team didn’t do the work. She asks each member questions, and Seol’s the only one who knows any answers. So while the professor deems the report well-done, she reminds everyone of the team nature of the assignment—and gives them each D’s and the designation as the worst team project in her class’s history.
As soon as class is over, her team starts in with the half-assed apologies and pointy fingers at each other. Seol sits there silently fuming, and when she sees that her teammate wrote her individual project—despite being too “sick” to do the team work—that just makes her angrier.
She appeals to the professor, saying she worked really hard on the assignment. The professor recognizes her solo efforts, but adds, “Don’t you know that’s the biggest problem?” She says that Seol probably things she’s very hard-working, and figured that nobody would work hard and gave up and did everything herself. But the real world isn’t like that, and her business major hinges on communication.
She’s in a deep funk afterward when Bora and Eun-taek find her, chattering on about their vacation plans. Seol tells Bora to pick whatever she wants, and when Bora keeps talking, she snaps at her before explaining about her grade and scholarship woes. Bora’s hurt, though, and doesn’t let her off the hook, saying that Seol always keeps everything bottled up inside and never says what she’s really thinking.
Feelings hurt on both sides, the girls head off in opposite directions, and Seol trudges on with heavy heart. Jung watches her walk by, looking sympathetic for once, and calls out to her. But she doesn’t hear or register him, just listening to music as she walks on. (Background song sings, “I haven’t been able to say it yet / When I see you, I act like nothing’s happened / like I have no interest / that’s how I’ve been.”)
So Jung follows on foot as she walks through town, keeping his distance. I’m not sure whether he’d approach her, but he doesn’t get the chance because In-ho spots her in the street and joins her, and Jung stops in his tracks. He just watches, growing smaller in the distance as In-ho walks Seol home, asking if something’s wrong.
Seol starts to ask a question, but only asks it in her head: “Everybody tells me I’ve been living wrong. But what am I supposed to do in times like this?”
In-ho holds up a cold drink to her forehead, telling her to cool her head and let sweets help with the gloom. For what it’s worth, it appears In-ho does lift Seol’s spirits, and she manages a smile.
Jung stares, alone in the distance. I’m sure I’ll love you later, or even very soon, but: Serves you right.
Jung comes to a decision and calls his father to suggest helping the Baek siblings become self-sufficient, rather than just giving them aid. To that end, he proposes getting In-ha a job at the company, and his father is pleased at Jung’s show of interest in them.
Jung calls In-ha about it, but she scoffs at the idea of taking a class to get the requisite certificate. While she’s whining his ear off, he just tells her warningly, “Listen up, Baek In-ha. This is your last chance.” He hangs up without checking or caring that she’s heard.
He settles back with a sigh, saying, “Yeah, this is the right way. There are too many things that went wrong.”
Seol blinks back tears and mulls over her professors’ words, thinking of her busy life working multiple part-time jobs: “I had no chance to even look to the side. To keep from falling, I had to keep my gaze looking forward, and thought that I worked harder than anybody.” Her professor had said she thought she worked harder than her team, and Seol asks herself, “What was it that went wrong? If everything wasn’t other people’s fault, but a problem with me…”
At school, she has an awkward moment when she runs into Bora, who wishes her well on her exam politely, but leaves without anything further. Seol wonders where she has to start in straightening everything out, feeling adrift, not knowing what she can do.
She stops by the vending machine and inserts a coin, then fumbles to find another one. Another hand beats her to it, dropping a coin into the slot for her, and she realizes, “What I can do… is doing right now what needs to be done.”
She turns to see Jung walking away, and calls out to him. His eyes widen in surprise, and he turns back.
They head outside to talk, and she starts by bowing and apologizing for springing that set-up date on him. “But I hope you won’t misunderstand. I didn’t spend time with you because of Ah-young. After growing closer with you, I thought you were a good person, and that’s why I introduced you two.”
He looks softer today, and surprises her by apologizing too. “To be honest, I acted like a kid and it embarrassed me and felt frustrating.” Seol wonders internally what would have frustrated him, while he smiles and suggests that they forget anything that made them feel bad about each other, and she agrees.
Then she asks him to dinner tonight, promising to buy something really proper and expensive. He asks how much, and she tells him to pick what he wants.
Which leads them to… more triangle kimbap. Aw, that’s super adorable. This time, he figures out the knack of opening the package and is proud of himself for it, admitting he practiced “a lot.”
He walks her home that night, and catches her looking at him. He asks why, and she says she’s glad they made up, because it was really uncomfortable being on the outs. Jung admits that he felt the same, and when she says it didn’t seem like he did, he says, “I acted like I didn’t.”
She recalls In-ho’s warning about Jung and asks if he knows the guy. He doesn’t explain, but warns her against talking to him and says she should just ignore him, making Seol think there’s more, but that she ought not ask.
Jung notes that it’s a dark and potentially dangerous neighborhood, and offers to walk her home from now on. She assures him that it’s fine and makes it to her front door, thanking him for walking her home. But he just stares at her intently, not saying anything, and makes her uneasy.
Then he reaches out to take her wrist to keep her from leaving. He asks, “Seol-ah. Want to date?”
Wow, that happened a lot faster than I was expecting, but that’s not a complaint. In fact, it’s something of a relief, because when it’s clear the characters are feeling something, and starting to clue into it themselves, it can be frustrating to wait forever for a drama to do anything about it. We knew right off the bat that these two were going to date—not just because this is a romance drama and duh, but because the webtoon description pretty much introduces the two as a couple. And apparently there’s plenty of story material to feed the plot after they become a couple, so I’m only too happy to get there quickly and explore what happens next.
(Speaking of the webtoon, it’s only natural that fans of the source material would come into the show with that background and want to compare it to the new version, but my policy is always to discuss the material at hand, not the stuff that exists outside this drama’s inner world. So I’m pretty much ignoring anything outside of the drama at this point, and while I won’t tell anybody else to do the same, I will ask that we keep most of the discussions to the drama itself. I apologize and thank you in advance!)
I’m pleased with the development of this drama, which I wasn’t sure would live up to its hype—how could it, when the hype was astronomical? But what this drama has done right is in somehow finding its voice and sticking to it without getting stuck in the trap of trying to cater to what they think the audience wants. Of course it’s important to be in tune with your viewership, otherwise you risk alienating them entirely, but there’s a fine line between going too far in either direction. And I feel safe in putting my faith in the show to continue, knowing that they’ve already written up to Episode 14 and will be wrapping filming soon—the show already knows what it is, and won’t be deviating too far from that.
What I was struck with most in today’s episode was actually less the romance and more its coming-of-age sentiment, with its suggestion of an emotional journey for our heroine. The episode did contain some rewindable relationship moments and I’m definitely all about the romantic build-ups, but it’s nice to think that the drama’s heart is about more than a love story. Coupled with the drama’s sense of melancholy and wistfulness (a directorial touch I particularly appreciate), we’re looking at a more introspective kind of rom-com, which is refreshing.
As for the characters, I was so all set to feel the sting of Second Lead Syndrome—and pleasantly surprised at Seo Kang-joon stepping it up for this role, because, um, he hasn’t always been this engaging—because when you present me with a wounded wild spirit and a repressed, potentially sociopathic one (okay, Jung’s probably not a sociopath… but I’m only 95% sure of that. Maybe 90%), it’s not hard to feel pangs of empathy for the lost boy.
After all, even with my brain jumping through mental hoops to explain (or excuse) Jung’s behavior, he did tick me off with his cold dismissal of Seol and immediate shut-down. I could offer up any number of explanations for it, like maybe he was too hurt, or maybe he felt like his rare attempt to put himself out there got trampled, or maybe oppa just didn’t mean it, okay? But at the end of the day he was exactly as In-ho described, all high and mighty and sneering down at people less fortunate that him—it’s almost like he considers himself in his fortunate position through pure merit and not, say, tremendous amounts of privilege and luck. So that’s a little infuriating, no?
But then he turned it around, admitted he was being childish, apologized for his behavior, and made it up to Seol with triangle kimbap! Dramaland is full of supercilious heroes who can’t cop to their mistakes that readily, so points for that. And it warmed my heart that he matched his desires to Seol, for a few reasons: One, it grates my nerves when rich heroes treat poor heroines to finery without batting an eye, as though they’re “elevating” her somehow, and two, because it shows him making an effort through an action that doesn’t fall back on his privilege and gobs and gobs of money. I mean, sure she can enjoy the gobs and gobs of money… eventually… down the line when they’ve both done the work of meeting each other and showing understanding for each other. That can be the icing on the Cheese cake. (Badum-ching!) (I apologize for nothing.)
- Cheese in the Trap: Episode 2
- Cheese in the Trap: Episode 1
- Oh Snap! Everybody say cheese
- Fortunes of romance and fate for Cheese in the Trap
- Character posters for Cheese in the Trap’s campus crew
- First official still from tvN’s Cheese in the Trap
- Campus drama Cheese in the Trap completes cast
- Cheese in the Trap casts Nam Joo-hyuk, delays broadcast
- Cheese in the Trap finally has a heroine in Kim Go-eun