Dear My Friends: Episode 2
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” so they say. The complicated relationship between mothers and daughters is never easy, especially when children are seen as the promise of fulfillment that the older generation was never able to achieve in their youth, yet somehow they still seem doomed to repeat the sins of the past. Perhaps, there’s an ocean’s worth of baggage when one realizes that they are the person on whom their mother’s entire world pivots. But when both parties have strong and stubborn personalities — and secrets they are keeping from each other — it’s questionable whether or not Wan and Nan-hee can have the aspirational loving, open, and comfortable mother-daughter friend-like relationship.
EPISODE 2: “I can do it by myself. I can live alone.”
It’s chaos at Choong-nam’s as the women tussle with each other. They’re finally separated and everyone is sent on their way. As he drives them home, Suk-gyun grumbles to his wife and Hee-ja that Nan-hee was the one who overreacted — Young-won didn’t do anything wrong. The women stand up for their friend, and Hee-ja remarks that Nan-hee holding a grudge for thirty years doesn’t seem all that long considering Suk-gyun’s inferiority complex has lasted for sixty years.
Well, Hee-ja is one to talk, considering she locked her husband in the closet and starved him to death. Hee-ja is shocked at hearing that rumor, even though Jung-ah does her best to stifle it. In another car, Choong-nam apologizes to Young-won for making the situation worse by mentioning the phone call, but she also tells Young-won to stop constantly apologizing to Nan-hee. One might think she was the one who slept with Nan-hee’s husband.
As Wan drives them home, Nan-hee vividly remembers the moment when she arrived home after grocery shopping, surprised to see an unfamiliar pair of shoes by the door and strange noises from the bedroom. The young Nan-hee cautiously opened the door to reveal her husband in the arms of another woman, and she gasped as her knees buckled in shock.
Back in the present day, Wan informs her mother that she won’t be attending any more reunions, no matter how much Nan-hee asks. Nan-hee wonders why Wan is more supportive of Young-won than her own mother, and Wan reminds her that while she has her mother, Young-won has no family of her own. Nan-hee: “What’s the point in having a daughter if she’s not on your side?” Even though Granny loves Young-won, it’s clear what side she’s on as she reveals the handful of hair she pulled from Young-won’s head.
In her empty house, Hee-ja wakes up. It’s only 3am, but the strange sounds of the house at night seem more eerie than ever before. It doesn’t help that she suddenly has the image of locking her husband into the closet at bedtime. She calls Jung-ah, who sleepily tells her everything’s okay. But Hee-ja’s now obsessed about the fact everyone knows about her husband dying in the closet, and Jung-ah just sighs as she hangs up, knowing there’s no way to r.
By the time morning rolls around, Hee-ja takes her daily medication and supplements, and then notices that it’s 8am. She peeks out the window to see her handsome neighbor working out, and this time he makes kissy faces at her. She asks the busy Jung-ah to come by when she has a chance, downplaying her concern and telling her it’s nothing serious.
Noticing the lightbulb that had burst a few nights ago, Hee-ja decides to fix it. Standing on a chair, she carefully removes the shattered bulb and then replaces it with a new one. She’s incredibly proud of herself, but then she loses her footing and topples to the floor. The new lightbulb shatters, scattering pieces of glass.
As a way to teach Jung-ah a lesson about punctuality, petty Suk-gyun drives away before his wife has a chance to get in the car. He stops at a store to drop off a huge wad of cash outside, leaving a message that it’s for the owner’s hospital bills and her son’s college tuition.
Hee-ja calls her son Min-ho to tell him about her fall, and that thanks to the broken lightbulb, her hands and feet are now all cut up. He’s too busy at work to get away, telling her to just call 911 since everyone is too busy to help her right now.
She apologizes for calling, insisting she’s fine — she doesn’t want to use an ambulance if it could help people who are in more dire need than her. Min-ho goes back to work, but he can’t focus on the car he’s repairing, and with a frustrated growl, he gets in his car and starts to back out of the alley — only to crash into a car turning in behind him.
Looks like Wan spent the night at Mom’s, and in the morning she gets a message from Young-won to not talk about what happened last night, but promising to meet up with her soon. Nan-hee is still a little prickly about Wan’s declaration to never attend another reunion, and her current determination not to interfere with her mother’s friends lives. Which means she won’t drive her to Hee-ja’s.
Nan-hee says she put up with the painful years of child-rearing in the hopes that she and her daughter could be friends, hanging out and having a conversation with a beer or two. Wan teasingly agrees — fine, they can be friends. That means she only has to see Mom once a month, like she does with her other friends, instead of every day like a daughter. She affectionately tells Mom she’ll see her next month, friend, before leaving.
Nan-hee calls Young-won to order her to stop coming to the reunions. The next time, she might not be able to restrain herself from just pulling hair. But Young-won tells her that she’s the one who should go if she doesn’t want to see Young-won, adding that Nan-hee should just give up while Young-won is feeling generous.
After she hangs up, Nan-hee is irritated that Young-won would pull such a two-faced act — being nice around the other friends but then giving her a threatening ultimatum in private.
Min-ho carefully cleans up the shards of glass, then tenderly takes care of his mother’s wounds. He’s such a good son, although he’s also an exhausted one, and as he sprawls out on the floor he used to lie on as a kid, he apologizes that he hasn’t been around much lately. Hee-ja knows that he’s been busy, and that his wife has also had her own family burdens taking care of her own mother who’d had a stroke — which is something she vaguely worries about as she gets older, too.
Jung-ah finally arrives after her full day of taking care of her own children. She holds out an ice cream bar as a peace offering, but Hee-ja is determined to know if Jung-ah is the one that told their other friends about her husband dying in the closet.
However, she accepts the ice cream and they relax on the sofa to watch Thelma & Louise. It’s Hee-ja’s favorite film, but Jung-ah doesn’t approve of the women’s violence and smoking. But Hee-ja asks if she sells the house, would Jung-ah would go on a “Thelma and Louise” type road-trip with her.
Speaking of trips, she wonders if Suk-gyun will take Jung-ah on her world tour like he’s promised. Even if he doesn’t, Jung-ah is determined she’ll go on her own. She doesn’t want to be like her mother, who slaved away her life taking care of her family only to collapse from a stroke and be put in a nursing home. Jung-ah’s not going to wait for death in a nursing home — she’ll die on the road. Even though Hee-ja is charmed by that romantic notion, she points out that Jung-ah actually has ended up with a life like her mother’s after all. Jung-ah dreamily adds that her mother’s wish after she dies is to become a bird and fly freely in the sky.
The clock strikes three, and Hee-ja scurries to the window to point out her handsome neighbor who always works out at 8am, 3pm, and 8pm, and each time he smiles at her. Jung-ah dismisses Hee-ja’s concerns, thinking it’s ridiculous that he’s looking at her. If it bothers Hee-ja so much, she should just keep the curtains closed.
But once Jung-ah realizes that this is another one of Hee-ja’s obsessions, she declares she’ll take care of this punk who dares to stare at an old lady. The ladies cross the street to his studio apartment, and Hee-ja adds that he always takes off his shirt when he looks at her — she doesn’t think he’s handsome because his body is “too bumpy, and his chest is as big as yours.” But Jung-ah cackles that must mean he’s worth looking at. Hee!
The handsome (and fully dressed) neighbor answers the door, and when it’s clear he doesn’t understand Korean, the ladies attempt to explain in their limited English that he looks at Hee-ja’s house every day. Realization dawns, and he invites them in to explain the situation. Jung-ah is delighted, but Hee-ja takes wary steps.
When she sees the portraits of elderly people covering his walls, Hee-ja assumes that he must have killed him. Pfft. But Jung-ah points out the cameras — he’s actually a photographer. Once they reach the rooftop patio, the neighbor explains that he feeds the stray cats on the street the same time that he works out, and so the smiles he makes is for the kitties outside Hee-ja’s house — not her.
Hee-ja seems mildly deflated by this pragmatic reveal and, without a word, leaves to go back home. The neighbor tries to ask Hee-ja if he can take her picture, but she ignores him. Jung-ah is thrilled to have her picture taken, though, and is super cute as she happily poses for the camera.
When she returns to Hee-ja’s house, Jung-ah dismisses her concerns, scoffing that she must have Alzheimers or something. This spurs Hee-ja to insist that they must see a doctor right away. She is worried about Jung-ah, too, since she had to have been the one who told everyone about Hee-ja locking her husband in the closet. Jung-ah must be used to Hee-ja’s dramatics, because she just sighs and says they’ll visit a doctor the next time she has a free day.
While Young-won oversees the placement of a painting that Choong-nam brought her, Choong-nam quietly eavesdrops on Wan and Dong-jin, who’s given Wan a ride to Young-won’s place. Their conversation is flirtatious and friendly, but Dong-jin turns down her request for him to wait to give her a ride home, since he’s waiting to hear about one of his children in America who’s sick and in the hospital.
As Wan enters Young-won’s house, she’s nearly startled out of her skin by Choong-nam standing there in full judgmental auntie mode. She asks if Wan is trying to seduce a married man, but Wan just ignores her.
Young-won is delighted to have Wan over for a cup of tea, and while the two women are happily distracted by their conversation, Choong-nam steals Wan’s phone from her purse. As they set out the cups of tea, Choong-nam warns Wan to tell her mother that if she tries to interfere with Young-won again, Choong-nam won’t just stand idly by.
Back in the day, Nan-hee used to defend Young-won from the bullies that would torment her because she was the daughter of a mistress, and Young-won and her mother used to provide shelter for Nan-hee and her mother when her father would abuse them. Choong-nam adds that Nan-hee can be too obsessive and possessive — she probably considers Young-won to be her slave, and Wan, her toy.
She finishes by pointing out that due to Young-won’s efforts to keep Nan-hee’s husband from running off with the woman he was having an affair, she kept Wan’s parents together. Young-won is annoyed that Choong-nam is telling her all this, but Wan says that the reason her father didn’t leave with Sook-hee (the “other woman” and Young-won’s best friend) back then was because he couldn’t bear to leave his daughter.
Choong-nam agrees. He loved Wan more than other women, but of the women, he loved Sook-hee best. She tells Wan that this is all so she can better understand her mother — what she most wants is attention. Annoyed, Wan retaliates by telling Choong-nam that the paintings she buys are worthless, but she spends tons of money on them to feel accepted by the artsy intelligentsia.
After Wan storms out of the house, Choong-nam uses the passcode she saw earlier to open Choong-nam’s phone. She returns it to Wan, who’s waiting for a bus, telling her she left it behind. She’s curious about Dong-jin, warning her to be careful. Wan’s like a daughter to her. But Wan has enough of a burden being her own mother’s daughter — she refuses to be Choong-nam’s, too. As she rides the bus home, Wan scoffs about Choong-nam’s words, but in voice-over, Wan adds that it was uncomfortable because Choong-nam was correct about everything.
Alone in her restaurant late at night after losing money to her staff in a friendly game of Go-Stop, Nan-hee opens another bottle of beer. She sees her musician regular walking by, and she calls out to him, asking if he’s really a musician. He just smiles and continues on his way.
In voice-over, Wan explains that her mother never received attention. Her father ignored her, her mother’s favorite child was the son she had when she was fifty-years-old (and who subsequently had an accident at work, leaving him permanently disabled), Wan’s father had Sook-hee, and even though Wan loves her mother, she just wishes she could be happy on her own.
Flashback to a young Wan and her mother making their way across a field in the middle of the night, and Wan crying as she insists she doesn’t want the yogurt drink her mother gives her — but she drinks it anyway. Wan’s voice-over continues: “My mother makes me very uncomfortable.”
Despite it all, Wan calls her mother as she rides the bus home. “just because.” But she starts to panic when she realizes that Mom is on the way over to her house to bring her kimchi. After Mom hangs up on her, she grumbles that every time she tries to be nice, her mother has to ruin it and make her angry again.
As she rushes from the bus and runs down the sidewalk, trying to beat her mother home specifically so she can hide her cigarettes, Wan says in a voice-over that every attempt for a friendly mother-daughter relationship is ruined by her mom.
She barely makes it in time, but it helps that she changes the passcode right before Mom can get there. As she lets her mother in her apartment, she scrambles to clean up the mess, refusing to let her mother touch anything — it’s more out of worry she’ll find the cigarette wrappers in the trash than anything else.
Except Mom finds packs of cigarettes in the freezer, and Wan awkwardly explains she keeps them on hand for when her publishing buddies visit. Mom’s curious, though — does she have any male visitors who aren’t involved in publishing?
Wan points out that there’s nothing wrong with having a man over. After all, she’s approaching forty, and if Mom wants her to get married, she’ll have to have men coming over. Mom doesn’t care, though — she’s fine with any man, except for two types: men who are married, and men who are handicapped like Wan’s uncle.
Those words seem to hit something deep within, and Wan orders her mother out so she can get to work. Mom’s in no rush — she’s still insistent that Wan should write about the elderly. Wan’s first book was about her grandmother, which was well received, so just imagine how successful a book will be about Nan-hee’s friends. They could call it something like, oh, perhaps “Dear My Mother’s Old Friends”?
When Wan points out that she’s a grown woman who doesn’t have to listen to her mother, Mom reminds her that she’s barely making a living as a translator. Wan grumbles that not everyone has to work twenty-four hours a day like Mom does. Is there something so wrong with a carefree life?
But Mom yells at her, pointing out that it’s not because she loves her job that she works so hard at it. Yeah, Wan knows that it’s because of her, but she’s also made a point of paying her back in her own way — even though she wasn’t very smart, she worked hard to to graduate from one of Korea’s top colleges. She studied abroad, she even grew her hair out and only wore pants since Mom wanted her to. She just needs to accept that that’s the extent Wan can go. If she wants the perfect daughter, she can go find someone else.
Wan’s attitude hasn’t always been like this, though, and Mom wonders what happened in Slovenia to make her change so much. Was it because she broke up with Yun-ha? Instead of answering, Wan leaps to her feet and yells that maybe she was just tired of being sweet all the time.
Just as Mom leaves, scoffing at Wan throwing a fit, Wan’s phone rings — it’s Yun-ha. She cradles the phone to her chest as she fights her urge to cry, and then answers with a smile on her face. He happily tells her that he’s sent her an email — it’s a video Wan took of their time together in Slovenia. As she watches, tears silently fall down her face. She remembers their happy days together.
Yun-ha also sends her a picture that she took of him. He was headed home, unaware that Wan was waiting for him. Originally she told him that she wouldn’t date him because he didn’t want to get married, but she surprises him by telling him she’s going against her mothers wishes and will move in with him — no wedding required.
Those memories should be joyful, but instead Wan weeps as she gently touches her screen while Yun-ha playfully asks if his legs look good in that photo. She doesn’t answer him as she rolls over in her bed and continues to cry.
Church is in session, and Sung-jae slides into the empty spot next to Hee-ja. She gets a text from Jung-ah telling her that they’ll go to the doctor’s today, and as she steps around him to get out, he grabs her arm, telling her it’s him, Lee Seung-jae. But she just dismisses him as though that name means nothing. Has she forgotten him?
Young-won spends time with Granny and her family. Nan-hee’s once terrifying father is rendered harmless due to a mental disability, and it’s a peaceful family afternoon in the countryside. Granny apologizes for pulling Young-won’s hair, but Young-won understands — it’s only right for a mother to support her daughter.
At the hospital, Jung-ah thinks they’ve probably wasted their money getting tested for Alzheimer’s, but the doctor reveals to them that one of them does have have a slight delusional disorder. Hee-ja looks at Jung-ah in pity, but Jung-ah is like, “He’s talking to you.”
Hee-ja’s reaction to this diagnosis is to install surveillance cameras in her home to monitor her activity and remove suspicions she might have. She also posts a handwritten note to memorize, stating that she can live on her own and then followed by a list of rules. Those rules are: to not become a burden to her family or those around her; to not complain if she is sick and instead go to the hospital by herself; if she should end up in a nursing home, she will go to there with a smile on her face; and lastly, if she does have Alzheimer’s, she should listen to her friends and family.
In her 4D way, she talks to the surveillance cameras, asking if they’re doing their job, and then scrolls through the video feeds to see if something’s amiss. She stops when she realizes that last night no one turned on the lights and was walking around the house, like she thought there was. Does this mean she really does have Alzheimer’s?
She reassures herself that even if she dies now or later, she has nothing to fear. She just hopes that death will come quickly and painlessly.
This leads up to the opening moments of the first episode, where she drinks her coffee and gazes around at the skyscrapers. She finds the perfect one — security that will be easy to bypass, and with a high enough roof. Staring down at the street far below, she says it would be perfect to die here, but then decides it won’t work — she might accidentally hurt someone if she fell on them.
Instead, she sits at a bus stop, eating bread and drinking milk. The hours pass by, and still she sits, watching the traffic. Finally, she stands up and walks into the middle of the street. Raising her arms, she plants herself in the middle of the road, ready to accept her fate as a truck barrels towards her.
I suddenly have so many questions. Okay, not so many, perhaps, but definitely I have the same questions that everyone else seems to have. First, what did happen with Hee-ja’s husband? I feel like she’s an unreliable narrator, and therefore I’m uncertain if there was something truly nefarious or if it’s just her overactive paranoid imagination. I do trust Jung-ah, though, and find it somewhat suspicious that she refuses to answer Hee-ja when she asks about who knows what really happened. It makes me wonder if Hee-ja knows what happened or if her truth is a made up delusion in her mind.
I also see that first scene from the first episode in a whole new light. Knowing what I do of Hee-ja now, the fact that this woman who has been so cautious to not seem like a burden to anyone, and who is also a bit of a neat-freak, would purposefully leave behind her empty coffee cup for someone else to clean up suddenly sends up major red flags. While I know that she can’t die in the crosswalk (because she has to live on so she and Jung-ah can have their “Thelma and Louise” adventures), it does make me wonder if she’ll survive until the end of the show.
Second: Yun-ha. Is he… alive? I’m pretty sure there has to be a very serious reason he’s no longer in Wan’s life. Her reactions to his phone call made me wonder if it’s a voicemail she’s saved and replays like clockwork, trying to convince herself that he’s still near. It would explain why she had such a personality change when she returned to Seoul, because surely the grief is still strong if she’s reacting the way she is.
As we continue to get to know the characters, it’s clear that they are all very flawed human beings — but it’s also clear that we’ve yet to get the full story on anyone. While it would be easy for me to pass judgement on their actions or attitudes, there’s a part of me that also realizes that I am no saint myself. There’s a history here, too, that we the viewers are not yet completely privy to, and we must be patient as the truth is gradually revealed and prejudices are stripped away to reveal the original wounds from which the women had to learn to build protective barriers — be it delusions, or a desperate desire for attention, or to cling to a past relationship that, for whatever reason, did not end well.
However, I’m happy to be patient, since in this kind of drama, the journey is more important than the destination.
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