Madam Antoine: Episode 1
The last of cable’s new weekend shows is JTBC’s quirky rom-com Madam Antoine, an opposites-attract comedy about a phony fortuneteller and a psychologist whose worlds collide. Though the first episode jumps through some hoops to force our two leads together, they make a pretty entertaining pair, matched point for point in intuition, fast-talking wit, and petty pride. I already like the heroine and the hero is surely due to get his big comeuppance for being a know-it-all. Because you know what happens to drama heroes who say they don’t believe in love…
Note: This is just a first episode recap.
SONG OF THE DAY
Zion.T – “마담” (Madam) [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
People start gathering around a tall tree on a busy street and look up at a woman perched on one of the branches covered in streamers. She shouts, “I love you!” as we cut to a man watching this footage later. He explains the obvious—that this woman is in love—but adds, “No, I made it so that she’d fall in love.”
This is psychologist CHOI SOO-HYUN (Sung Joon), who tells his TV interviewers that this was a psychological test he conducted about love. Six months ago, he had three different men approach this woman acting as real suitors, without her knowing she was being experimented on (gee, that doesn’t seem even a little ethical).
Soo-hyun says that she eventually believed that these men really loved her, and would do the most ridiculous things that they asked of her. Case in point: love declaration from tree. Soo-hyun’s question is, what on earth is love that it makes people this crazy?
He says that this was just the first experiment of the series, featuring a woman in her twenties. Next up is a thirtysomething woman, and he’ll begin with a pool of 500 prospects. The interviewer asks how he got permission from his subjects, and Soo-hyun explains that the women think they’re participating in research about their ideal mates, and that it’s not ethically wrong if they consented to an experiment.
Soo-hyun says that in the end, the first subject chose the man with lots of money, and his conclusion is that a woman’s love basically amounts to material goods: “In the end, there is no such thing as true love to a woman.” Seriously, you have a PhD in clinical psychology and this is your conclusion?
He doesn’t seem like a quack though, because we see him stop to help a man who’s sitting in the middle of the street counting cracks in the crosswalk and having some kind of breakdown.
Soo-hyun expertly calms the man down and gets him to talk about his trauma—losing his wife when he fought a burglar in their home—that was triggered by an exhibition poster across the street. Soo-hyun tells the man that it wasn’t his fault and hands out his card for further assistance, and curiously his email address says “Madam Antoine.”
At Madam Antoine Café, we meet fortuneteller GO HYE-RIM (Han Ye-seul), who goes by the psychic name Madam Antoine. We can hear her thoughts as she guesses why an ajumma came to see her, and lays the groundwork for her psychic “abilities,” aka her expertly-honed skill for cold-reading people.
She says that Marie Antoinette came to her in a dream one day and they’ve had a psychic connection ever since. In the middle of the consult she answers a call from “Byung-heon” and advises him not to take that movie part, and lets the lady assume she’s talking to Lee Byung-heon.
There’s a disruption that brings her outside, and Hye-rim is appalled to see her café’s sign in pieces on the ground, and a worker is putting up a new sign for her new upstairs neighbor—a psychologist’s counseling office called, strangely enough, Madam Antoine.
She can’t believe the two businesses have the same name and calls the landlord grandpa to complain, but there’s nothing to be done about it. People are already arriving in droves to the grand opening reception upstairs, and even Hye-rim’s little sister YOO-RIM comes down after having eaten their food.
Yoo-rim says she heard that the psychologist upstairs went to Stanford, and Hye-rim scoffs that it’s probably the name of an academy down the street, not Stanford University. Hye-rim grits her teeth and decides that the fight is on.
Meanwhile Soo-hyun meets with an assistant about the new office and tells him to leave the downstairs café as it is, and to change the furniture upstairs to be more inviting. He takes issue with all the artwork, declaring them the choices of someone with lots of family problems.
CHAIRMAN KIM, the building landlord who chose the art, grumbles to hear Soo-hyun’s assessment of him. He’s an investor and president of a cosmetics company who’s interested in Soo-hyun’s research, and when he hears that there are lots of cosmetics companies lining up to sponsor his research into the woman’s mind, Chairman Kim says he wants the exclusive even though he doesn’t know what the experiment is actually about.
Soo-hyun’s research assistant WON JI-HO seeks out the twentysomething subject from their first experiment and brings her in for more tests. They basically show her pictures of different men and read her vitals, and then Soo-hyun sits her down to explain that she’s been dating a fake experiment boyfriend, and that’s why he never showed up that day when she shouted her love from the tree.
Soo-hyun just says all this without an ounce of empathy, either not knowing or not caring that he’s breaking a woman’s heart right now. He actually seems a little clueless as he thanks her for loving her experiment boyfriend so much, and proceeds to rattle off question after question at her about when she fell in love and how much she loved him.
He encourages her to use actions to express herself if she can’t use words, not noticing that she can’t say anything because she’s so upset and fuming with angry tears. She finally erupts and smacks him in the face with her purse and answers, “This much, you crazy bastard,” and walks out. Well that was satisfying.
Soo-hyun just scoffs as he wipes at his bloody nose and tells assistant Ji-ho to write it all down. He asks about the fake suitors they have lined up for their thirtysomething subject, and Ji-ho says he’s found an older man with a high-paying job and a prickly personality, a twentysomething student in their department with a good physique and low income, and he’s still looking for the pretty flower boy.
Soo-hyun tells Ji-ho to be the flower boy, and adds that he has a bit of a weird personality, but that’s better for inciting her motherly instincts anyway. Ji-ho asks if there’s really no such thing as love, and Soo-hyun doesn’t hesitate at all to say that love is just hormones playing tricks on the mind.
Ji-ho adds that they had a cancelation today, because the man they helped in the street the other day saw someone else for treatment and is all better. Soo-hyun meets with him and is incredulous to discover that he spoke to a fortuneteller who works out of the café downstairs.
In flashback, we see that Hye-rim approached the man while he was waiting for his appointment with Soo-hyun, and began jabbering in French (to ask where the Eiffel Tower is, lol). The man was skeptical, but she guessed that his wife died because of something he did, and Hye-rim brought tears to his eyes by passing along the message that his wife wanted him to live a happy life.
She tells Yoo-rim about it later, how she saw that the man had two wedding bands on and guessed that his wife had died. She coos at a picture of her daughter, who’s studying abroad in America, and Yoo-rim tattles to the photo that Mom is a phony fortuneteller.
Soo-hyun argues with his patient that a fortuneteller just uses cues to make guesses and invents nice-sounding things about people in heaven wishing you well, but there’s no such thing as heaven and he hasn’t technically recovered from his trauma because this is just a band-aid. But the man looks crushed and asks what’s so wrong with that, if he’s happier.
Soo-hyun leaves in an angry huff and calls JI-ho to meet him at the fortuneteller’s café, and he struts in there looking for a fight. (Ha, the café menu has a sticker on it that discourages people from overpaying for the upstairs counseling center when they could get their fortunes read here.)
Little Sis Yoo-rim warns Hye-rim that this customer looks educated, and that’s when we learn that Hye-rim has been getting all her information on Marie Antoinette via comic books. Oh noes. Not even Wikipedia?
Hye-rim enters the room and sits down across from Soo-hyun, who just smiles smugly at her and offers not a clue about himself. They both sit there smiling pleasantly on the outside, but struggling to get a read on the other person.
Meanwhile, Ji-ho goes up to the counter to get a coffee refill from Yoo-rim, and takes one glance at the receipts sprawled out in front of her and gives her the total in two seconds. Well that’s odd.
Hye-rim can’t get a read on anything, and Soo-hyun calls her out on feeling nervous when she draws out time by sipping water. She admits to having trouble seeing anything because he’s so closed off, and then catches him off guard when she says, “Tell me the truth. You’re not here to get your fortune read, are you?” He says he came because he was curious and asks her to guess.
When Yoo-rim calculates the receipts and sees that Ji-ho was right, she searches “math genius” and realizes that this is why he looked so familiar when he walked in the door. There are articles about Ji-ho as a boy genius who went to college at age 7. She glances over at him, and he’s solving a Rubik’s Cube in mere seconds.
Soo-hyun totally flips the situation around and starts reading Hye-rim, guessing that she was loved by her parents and has had some hardships, but is overall very happy and confident. He guesses that she was popular when she was young, and she starts agreeing and talking about herself before she realizes what’s happening.
She tells herself not to fall for his ploy and to start digging with the basics. So she asks about his mother, which he immediately comments on as a good strategy—going for the parents when you can’t get a read on a person.
She says something harmless about mothers in general to gauge his reaction, and notices him talking more and being more standoffish. That’s a sign, and she asks, “You’ve waited for your mother a long time, haven’t you?”
Soo-hyun scoffs that his parents are doing fine in Switzerland, but again she throws him off when she says she wasn’t talking about physical distance. She guesses that he’s been waiting every day for thirty years, and Soo-hyun is about to cut her off and tell her the truth when suddenly a memory flashes in his mind: him as a little boy, crying near a carousel and screaming for his mother.
Hye-rim continues down that road and asks if the little boy inside of him is still angry at Mom, and that brings up another memory of him eating an ice cream cone as a child. Hye-rim reaches out for his hand just as a drop of ice cream falls on his hand in his flashback, and he yanks away from her violently. He tells himself to calm down and not lose focus, and this time Hye-rim smirks because she thinks she’s got him figured out.
Yoo-rim approaches assistant Ji-ho and introduces herself as a freelance VJ who heard about him through a writer friend. She sees him reading a psychology text and asks why he’s studying that when he already went to med school, and he answers matter-of-factly, “I don’t know people.”
Yoo-rim answers a call from the landlord grandpa (aka Chairman Kim), who has a message for the upstairs counseling center because they’re not answering their phone. Ji-ho just takes the receiver, startling her.
Soo-hyun marvels at Hye-rim’s skill and acknowledges that he has no memories of his youth before the age of 6, but she just managed to help him retrieve a few. He asks if he should go upstairs to the counseling center, but she advises him not to waste his money on an overpriced session just to hear nice things. She says shrinks are just good talkers, and he lets her think he’s agreeing for a minute, and then whips out his business card.
Yoo-rim runs in to warn Hye-rim, but she’s already caught up, and Soo-hyun describes a famous clown at a circus who was extremely skilled at reading people: “But it turned out he was just a con artist.” He calls her a fraud who simply says generic things that apply to all people, and points out that hearing the voices of dead people is commonly a side effect of drugs (lol). He asks what drugs she takes, and Hye-rim scoffs, “Vitamins!”
Then it’s her turn to interrogate him, and she asks why he copied her Madam Antoine name. He claims it’s the nickname he’s always used, and argues that it’s not against the law for them to have the same name or to hang a sign up for his office.
He gets up to walk away, so Hye-rim quickly acts like she’s hearing voices and warns him that he’ll hear a noise tonight, and that he shouldn’t look into any mirrors because he can’t handle what he’ll see.
Soo-hyun scoffs at the notion of ghosts and tells Ji-ho to call the landlord to get rid of the downstairs café. But when he arrives in his office alone, his door keeps creaking open on its own, and it starts to spook him out. Ha, after all that bluster, are you afraid of ghosts?
Hye-rim takes her anger out on a dried fish and admits to making up the stuff about mirrors and late-night noises, scoffing, “There’s no such thing as ghosts.” But Soo-hyun is spooked enough to feel wary about the bathroom mirror, and actually ducks to crawl over to the toilet. Okay, that cracked me up.
Hye-rim meets with landlord grandpa Chairman Kim in person to ask if he can kick Soo-hyun out, but he says they already signed a contract so they’ll just have to live with it. Hye-rim and Chairman Kim are on really friendly terms, and she advises him about what ajummas want in their cosmetics and such. She actually just thinks he’s a small-time landlord grandpa and doesn’t really believe that he’s the president of a corporation, and seems to humor him.
Soo-hyun goes to Chairman Kim and asks him to kick Hye-rim out of the building, and tries to convince him that she’s a quack. Chairman Kim just wonders why a clinical psychologist would be threatened by a fortuneteller, making Soo-hyun fume impotently.
Meanwhile, Hye-rim gets thrown a curveball when someone runs off with thirty thousand dollars that she’d invested in a private fund. It was meant as a fund for her daughter’s tuition and board, and she wonders if she’ll have to vacate the café and her home just to scrape money together and get by.
Soo-hyun happens to overhear the crisis on his way in, as Hye-rim berates herself for being a fortuneteller who couldn’t see herself losing her life savings. Soo-hyun is happy to take advantage of the situation and calls Chairman Kim.
Yoo-rim has the same idea, though it’s because she thinks maybe Chairman Kim can help. Hye-rim thinks there’s no way he’s actually a chairman, but Yoo-rim remembers Ji-ho calling him by his title, and hopes that maybe he at least owns multiple buildings. Soo-hyun calls the chairman first and says that Hye-rim will ask to borrow money, and he’s about to see her true face. Sure enough, Hye-rim calls a minute later.
She arrives at the Bella Cosmetics building and asks the front desk where she can find Grandpa, only to be told that the chairman is waiting. She’s shocked to learn that he really is the president of the company, and rushes to the bathroom to gather her bearings.
She turns off the lights and sits in the dark for a moment, and we hear her think in voiceover that she’s in a moment of true desperation, and this is just like doing a stage play in college—when the lights turn on, she’ll transform into a gumiho (she means metaphorically, of course).
She flips the lights on and then meets with Chairman Kim and does the one thing she shouldn’t do—lies that he’s about to encounter trouble with his investments, and that giving Marie Antoinette money will fix the problem. You can see the disappointment on his face because he’d defended her, but she’s doing exactly what Soo-hyun had warned.
But Chairman Kim obviously has a soft spot for her and pretends to fall for the whole story, agreeing to give her money. She walks out of the office feeling like scum, and her daughter happens to call.
Hye-rim wants to talk but is on the verge of tears, and in the end she has to hang up because she breaks down in sobs in the hallway, crying, “I’m sorry, I conned someone. I’m sorry that your mother is this kind of person! Mom is so ashamed and sorry!”
After wailing on the floor, she heads out and sees Chairman Kim on his way to the car and runs over, calling him Grandpa again. He can see that she’s been crying, and she apologizes for having lied to him just now. She tells him the whole truth, and he says that he didn’t like it when Soo-hyun called her a con artist, but assures her kindly that everything is fine now because she proved herself to be the trustworthy person he always thought she was.
He asks if she has a way to take care of her money problems, and she says she’ll have to move out of her house and leave the café, and move to Daejeon where she can work at a fortunetelling café she knows. She promises to say goodbye before moving and runs off to the police station to deal with the investment theft.
Soo-hyun signs the contract with Chairman Kim’s company to sponsor the counseling center, and afterwards he asks about the clause that says Chairman Kim will have an employee who works there. The secretary says it’s an advisor position, someone who will participate in meetings and sessions. Soo-hyun doesn’t like the sound of that at all and asks who this counselor is and where he can read their dissertation, and the secretary says it’s the “life coach” he met downstairs. Ha.
Hye-rim is shocked to be told the same thing by Chairman Kim over the phone. He tells her that this is payback for lying to him, and tells her to keep the café and work upstairs at the counseling center, and he arranged for her to live on the third floor of that building too. Hye-rim argues that she’s not up to the task of psychological counseling, but Chairman Kim just ignores her protests and hangs up.
Soo-hyun blows up at being ordered to treat people alongside a fortuneteller, and stomps downstairs to confront Hye-rim about it. She’s not keen on the idea either, but then he gets in her face and accuses her of being a con artist parasite who feeds off of other people by tossing them nice words to make them happy.
He says she probably thinks she’s helping people too, when really they’re all too stupid to reflect on themselves. He argues that the people who come upstairs are there to see him, so why should they be dragged into her crude life? Well that’s an assy thing to say.
Soo-hyun takes out his phone and demands that Hye-rim pull out of the arrangement, prodding for her to admit that this is beyond her level. Hye-rim doesn’t say a word through any of this, and dials Chairman Kim’s office. She leaves a message with the secretary that she’d be happy to work at the counseling center and looks right at Soo-hyun as she says, “I think I’m perfectly suited for the job. It’s going. To. Be. Fun.” Hee.
In no time, Hye-rim and Yoo-rim arrive with a moving truck. Soo-hyun watches with displeasure from his window and Ji-ho tells him that he’s been searching for their next test subject, and Hye-rim is the ideal candidate.
Soo-hyun imagines her sitting up in the tree confessing her undying love (to him, lol), and him arriving to announce publicly that this was all an experiment and he never loved her. I love the giddy expression on his face as Imaginary Soo-hyun shouts, “You were completely fooled! BY ME!”
He chuckles to himself as he imagines it, and Ji-ho points out that he can kill two birds with one stone this way and get revenge. Soo-hyun argues that he wouldn’t mess up an important experiment with his personal revenge (yeeaaaaah right), and tells Ji-ho to keep Hye-rim on the list as a possibility as they continue looking.
Soo-hyun has Hye-rim come upstairs and rattles off clinical diagnoses in English to scare her and make it clear that she’s out of her league with this job. He warns her not to speak to any of his patients, and she argues that she can talk to anyone downstairs in the café because they’re her customers too.
He tells her to keep it downstairs then, because upstairs isn’t a place for ghosts to be running around. She smiles at that and asks if he’s recovered his memories from childhood yet, and just that mention triggers the same flashback that made him jump the first time.
He says it’s not really the kind of thing a few words from a fortuneteller can let loose, but she points out that just a mere word from a fortuneteller triggered the memory again. He snarls and asks if her daughter knows she’s a con artist, and offers free treatment for the trauma that it’ll cause her when she finds out. He leaves Hye-rim fuming and walks away with a smirk knowing he won that round.
On his way home, Ji-ho mentions a call from someone named CHOI SEUNG-CHAN (Jung Jin-woon), and Soo-hyun makes sure he didn’t give Seung-chan his cell phone number. But when they pull up, Seung-chan is there waiting outside his house and runs up to Soo-hyun calling him “hyung.”
Ji-ho says he gave out his home address instead, and recognizes Seung-chan as a famous baseball player. Seung-chan bounds up like an energetic puppy and greets Soo-hyun happily, wondering why Hyung didn’t call when he came to Korea. Soo-hyun asks coldly why he’s here, and Seung-chan says he’s here to eat dinner. Also to live with him, “Because we’re brothers!” Lol, you don’t seem like brothers.
Soo-hyun just shakes him off and gets back in the car to avoid him, and Seung-chan asks if he doesn’t even feel sorry for him because he got injured and had to quit baseball. Soo-hyun continues to ignore him, and Seung-chan threatens to tell the press that Hyung didn’t learn his multiplication tables till the third grade. Soo-hyun kicks him to the curb, literally, and drives off.
Hye-rim tries to tell Chairman Kim that she’s just not suited for psychological counseling, but Chairman Kim shows her one of his company’s ad campaigns and explains how much psychological research helps them figure out the best way to market their products. He says that Soo-hyun in particular is an expert in women, and tasks Hye-rim with just one thing, which we don’t get to hear.
Hye-rim heads to a bookstore to buy an introductory psychology textbook, and pauses in front of a TV when she sees a gymnast getting ready to compete in nationals. Little Sis Yoo-rim is there as a VJ and ignores Hye-rim’s request for an autograph, and Soo-hyun is there too as a consultant.
The gymnast is a rising star and the country’s pinned its Olympics hopes on her, and she seems fine until she’s up for her event, and her vision suddenly blurs. She shakes it off and does her vault jump… and falls on her landing.
The next day the gymnast and her staff are at Soo-hyun’s office because she checked out fine medically and there’s no physical reason for her blurred vision. Soo-hyun sits her down for a consultation alone, and when she gives him a sullen attitude, he challenges her to leave because he’s not about to force anyone to get treatment.
That gets her to stop being a brat, and Soo-hyun finds it odd that she doesn’t seem to care about the possibility of going blind. He has her walk back and forth in his office and places objects in her path, which she avoids without a problem.
Afterwards, he shares his thoughts with Ji-ho about the gymnast’s conversion disorder, purposely throwing in as many complicated diagnoses as possible to make Hye-rim sweat. She tries her best to write things down and look them up, but she has to ask Soo-hyun to clarify what a conversion disorder is.
He argues that he might’ve agreed to her being present at the meetings but isn’t about to spend his time teaching her, and when she says she’s trying to learn but is struggling wih the jargon, he simply says she should leave.
She asks if he’s that black-and-white about everything, with no middle ground. She doesn’t see why he isn’t using her, pointing out the hundreds of people she’s seen as a fortuneteller. She calls him out on his childish behavior, throwing around fancy jargon just to show off and then telling her to leave if she doesn’t understand.
That seems to get through to him, because when she gives up and turns to go, he throws her a bone and explains that the gymnast isn’t faking her condition—it’s real that she can’t see, but the cause is psychological, stemming from a trauma. Hye-rim wonders what could’ve caused it.
Later, Soo-hyun looks over the fake boyfriend candidates for the experiment with Hye-rim in mind as their next test subject, and he complains that Ji-ho isn’t trying hard enough to find better men. He argues that if they really do go with Hye-rim, she’s far too sharp and good at reading people not to see right through the whole charade.
Ji-ho complains that they’re out of people, and there aren’t exactly a lot of options out there for nice, handsome, young men with good bodies who aren’t already celebrities.
Soo-hyun thinks a moment and decides, “There is one person…”
I hope he means himself, though he’s probably talking about his little brother. I do think that once the love experiment gets going with all the boys romancing our heroine, the drama will have a much stronger pull in the romance department. As long as they can carry the same antagonistic, competitive dynamic in the experiment, it’ll only mean good things for us when they refuse to lose to each other and push the boundaries of faux courtship. It’s a promising setup, though I did feel like some of the maneuvering was overkill in the first episode. Do they really need to work together on top of the experiment, when they’re already competing for customers as neighboring businesses? (I did crack up at the idea that a fortuneteller and a psychologist’s office are competing for clients though.) I don’t think they really needed her to be robbed of her life savings or be saved by a benevolent chairman when she and Soo-hyun could’ve just remained competitive neighbors. That relationship is funny enough as it is.
I’m not really taken with Soo-hyun yet, but he’s being set up for a big fall, so I’m okay with him being full of himself and spouting nonsense about love and women as long as he’s going to eat every last one of his words. I’m confused as to how someone with so little empathy could’ve become a clinical psychologist, but I suppose how he got licensed is beside the point. It’s already clear that he’s speaking from the perspective of someone who’s never really been in love and thinks himself superior because he’s never been brainwashed by his own hormones, when in truth he’s closed off and stunted in his own way. A shrink with childhood trauma is already a typical drama hero at this point (the setup is really similar to Heart to Heart, actually), so he’s not a huge draw as a character, but there’s a funny hapless streak in him that I like. It came out in moments with Hye-rim and especially with his little brother, and my favorite was Soo-hyun imagining how he’s going to make Hye-rim fall in love with him and get his revenge. That side of him makes the banter fun, and the character a more interesting choice for Sung Joon. I’m hoping for some outlandish comedy from him, just to see if he can pull it off.
But I do think this one is Han Ye-seul’s show. She’s perfectly cast as the warm, bubbly fortuneteller who’s somehow a total fraud and yet not at all a con artist. Hye-rim is just lovable and endearing, and she made me care for her the moment she came back and apologized to the chairman for scamming him. I like that she’s sharp and insightful, to the point that even Soo-hyun has to acknowledge her skills, and that despite lying about the psychic abilities, she does actually help people find healing and peace over their problems. Obviously there is a limit to what she can do without clinical training, but already we’re seeing that she’s just as good at talking to people and rooting out their problems as Soo-hyun is, and she has expertise of her own. In the scheme of things I find it more problematic that Soo-hyun is lying to women in the name of science than the fact that Hye-rim is making a living as a phony psychic (because to me the phoniness is rather inherent in the job description and I would guess that most people who see psychics know that and go anyway). But if they stopped we’d have no drama.
The tone is light and fun, and I think the show will be even better when the experiment gets going in earnest. I mean, the experiment itself is whack and I can’t believe he’s wasting all that time and money to draw such ridiculous conclusions about women just wholesale as a gender, without ever once experimenting on a man in the same way. Also, I find it offensive and scientifically unsound that he’s chosen candidates based on external factors like money and looks, and then decided that women choose mates based on superficial factors. YOU chose them for superficial factors, you goose! Anyway, I don’t think that necessarily makes the show any less watchable, because Soo-hyun is clearly wrong and we’re here to see the transformation through the romance. And so far, the couple has a great fast-talking, witty repartee (their dialogue is really a mile-a-minute in this show, it’s crazy), which keeps their energy fresh and their antagonism playful. I don’t know about love yet, but I am keen on seeing his petty revenge plan go spectacularly awry, right in his smug little face. And for now I plan to keep watching, to see where that leads.
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