What does it mean to grow older, and is it ever too late for love? This is the overriding theme of SBS’s newest weekend drama Second To Last Love, which addresses these existential questions with a bright tone and some fun, quirky humor. Add in compelling characters and you have a show that, while it may fly under many people’s radars, promises to give those of us who come along for the ride some wonderful laughs with our cathartic tears.
Note: This is just a first-episode recap.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In the bustling city of Seoul, a woman rides in a taxi and talks to a friend on the phone. The subject is a person who kissed the guy who cheated on her and broke up with her, and the woman in the taxi gets frustrated and hangs up.
This is our heroine KANG MIN-JOO (Kim Hee-ae), and as she walks the last, dark leg of her journey home, she hears someone coming up behind her and grows scared. The person follows her, so she pulls out her phone and pretends to call her husband, and she’s so freaked out that she trips and stumbles. The man behind her stops to ask if she’s alright, and Min-joo screams and kicks him right in the jewels.
And then the guy’s wife arrives, and things get pretty awkward (and HAHA, it’s real-life couple Lee Eun-hyung and Kang Jae-joon from comedy show People Who Seek Laughter). Min-joo ends up in the elevator with them, apologizing repeatedly — and to make things even more uncomfortable, they’re Min-joo’s neighbors, and they now think she’s the weirdo.
In another city named Woori, a man in a sharp suit, who we’ll come to know as GO SANG-SHIK (Ji Jin-hee) cheerfully bikes to work, but he drops his bike when he sees his friend BONG DEOK-GO about to cross the street against the light. The friend flashes a racy magazine cover at him, making him turn away prissily, and Deok-go tells Sang-shik to ditch the bike and get a car like a real adult.
At lunch with friends, Min-joo tells the story of her encounter with her neighbors the night before. The three woman complain about getting older, but they accept their aging with grace (and who wouldn’t, when they’re all three so stunning!). Min-joo admits that she likes her life the way it is, but sometimes she wishes something exciting would happen.
Sang-shik and his subordinate CHA SOO-HYUK (Kim Kwon) check out a bungee-jumping site that they’ve recently invested in (and Sang-shik hilariously squeals and grips a pole when Soo-hyuk barely touches him, hee). Sang-shik seems to be a pessimistic guy who plays everything safe, while Soo-hyuk is a bit more of a risk-taker.
They get back to their office to find that their department, Environmental Facilities, will be merged with the Local Tourism department. Sang-shik narrates that that was the start of a huge storm entering his peaceful life.
Min-joo’s day is also falling apart — she’s a television producer, and it seems as though everything is breaking down all at once. She gets to work in full damage-control mode, deftly handling multiple issues at once… mostly by lying through her teeth and threatening reporters, ha.
Min-joo terrorizes the director of a show whose leading actor has run off, blaming him for the actor’s awful acting and disgusting kiss scenes. She gets so worked up that she has a dizzy spell, but she quickly recovers, and is called into her boss’s office.
Morale at Sang-shik’s workplace is low with the announcement of the departmental merge, and it doesn’t help that someone they call King Grumpy (for all the complaints they lodge on their website) turns out to be a woman. She announces herself to them as NA CHUN-WOO (Moon Hee-kyung), the new deputy mayor. Well, crap.
In the meeting with Min-joo’s boss, Director Gook, they discuss a current plagiarism scandal involving one of their drama writers. Min-joo argues that they should just admit fault and apologize — even though the writer claims they never saw the show they’ve supposedly copied, the entire concept and plot, even down to the costumes, is the same.
Her partner JUNG-SHIK (the man she was talking to on the phone last night) doesn’t agree, but Min-joo just whispers that this is how you get away with it, hee. Jung-shik thinks they should let the other side sue them and put the burden of proof on them. Min-joo offers to go meet with them and convince them to drop the charges, on one condition — they help her cast Song Joong-ki in her next drama. HAHAHA, she’s a fangirl. Join the club.
She narrates that getting older taught her that life is decided based on your choices, though you don’t know the results of your choices until after you make them.
Sang-shik meets with the new deputy mayor, Chun-woo, who allows that he’s a hard worker and has done well by increasing their budget, but she wants more. He shows her his new arboretum plans, but when she takes a look, she’s greeted with the sleazy magazine Deok-go slipped into Sang-shik’s folder. Heh, she actually flips through it before giving it back.
Sang-shik takes his new grumpy attitude out on his team, calling them out for not working hard and blaming them for all their department’s many problems. He yells at Soo-hyuk, saying that he can’t get any work done because he’s too busy fixing all their mistakes.
Soo-hyuk bravely fires back that Sang-shik lives too cautiously. He doesn’t think it’s a good alternative to making mistakes, if you never take any risks at all. Taken aback by Soo-hyuk’s vehemence, Sang-shik argues that it’s their job to make sure no accidents happen. Then he ruins his own flounce by dropping the sexy magazine and shocking everyone, pfft.
There’s an argument going on among protesters outside the building, between a group who want to eradicate the feral cat population, and those who want to save them. They ask Sang-shik to pick a side, but it’s his job to stay neutral, which just makes both sides even angrier.
Min-joo finds a brand-new mountain of problems on her desk, and her biggest problem is that their drama-shooting location shut them out when the leading actor went missing. He’s back now and they need the location, so she fires off an email to the pertinent city official to ask for it to be re-opened — who just happens to be Sang-shik. But Sang-shik is in a grouchy mood, and it doesn’t help that Min-joo’s matching bad mood resulted in her email accidentally coming off sounding pretty rude.
He sends back an equally snarky refusal to re-open the location, and Min-joo is horrified when she re-reads her email and realizes how it sounded. She sends back a contrite and apologetic message, but Sang-shik is in feeling downright aggressive now and has found a target for his frustration.
His nasty response irritates Min-joo, and soon they’re lobbing cranky emails back and forth, neither willing to back down. Sang-shik threatens Min-joo for threatening him, she tells him to do his job, and it all turns very petty and childish. Min-joo finally calls Sang-shik, but they end up just yelling insults down the line at each other, and Sang-shik hangs up on her.
Soo-hyuk kicks the film crew off the location in person, and Min-joo’s coworker advises her to just let this one go. Min-joo pulls out Woori’s city tourism pamphlet, and the beauty and serenity of the place look pretty good to her. She imagines herself there, and it’s enchanting, but she soon finds herself back in her stuffy stressful office.
Min-joo overhears as her partner Jung-shik asks his new interns their favorite drama. One of them mentions a show called Paradise of Youth which Jung-shik directed, but its mention makes both Jung-shik and Min-joo falter. The intern recalls that the drama got high ratings but ended early because of an incident, but Jung-shik quickly changes the subject.
Min-joo has been looking more and more ill as the day goes on, and now she grows dizzy again and spills her coffee. Her coworkers catch her, but she swears she’s fine and stumbles on her way.
Over in Woori, the anti-feral-cat group leader loses his marbles, and starts screaming and waving around bottles he’s made into gas bombs. Inside, Soo-hyuk apologizes to Sang-shik for losing his temper earlier, but they’re interrupted by people running and screaming from Crazy Cat Guy.
Something in Sang-shik snaps and he approaches the guy, grabbing his hands so he can’t throw the bombs. He makes him drop one and orders Soo-hyuk to get everyone out, and keeps grappling with Crazy Cat Guy while he demands to see the mayor.
The psycho drops the other gas bomb and starting punching Sang-shik, and Soo-hyuk grabs the fire extinguisher — but not to put the fires out. He lifts it to knock out Crazy Cat Guy, but Sang-shik yells, “NO!!” and swings around to protect the man, taking the blow himself.
Sang-shik goes down hard, and as he lies on the floor he sees old memories of another fire, and himself hanging out a window and screaming, grasping someone’s hand. Crazy Cat Guy is arrested, and Sang-shik passes out.
Min-joo is unhappy about a script they’re received from a new drama writer, but she calms herself a bit before going in guns blazing. The writer is a pretty woman, young and idealistic, and though Min-joo tries to be polite, she criticizes the script aggressively and makes her own people cringe and the writer cry.
Min-joo suddenly starts to heave and rushes to the restroom to toss her cookies, and she has a realization and starts to count days. She can’t be… can she?
She meets her friends after work and goes all gooshy over the puppies her friend’s dog gave birth to today. Then she turns melancholy, and tells her friends that she thinks she’s started menopause. They react with appropriate horror and support, then joke that she’s just an old fart now, hee. As the friends laugh and cry together, Min-joo wonders if there will be no more love in her life — did she let her last love pass and not even know it?
Sang-shik is rushed to the hospital and in his unconscious mind, relives that past fire over and over, while Soo-hyuk looks on guiltily. Meanwhile Min-joo writhes in her bed, crying out in pain, and eventually she manages to call for help and is also taken to the hospital. She’s placed in a bed right next to Sang-shik, both of them passed out.
In voiceover, Min-joo wonders if she’s moving at the correct pace now, while Sang-shik wonders when things started to go wrong. He asks what his choices have gotten him, and Min-joo questions why she’s alone.
Min-joo overhears the doctors discussing whether they should “remove it,” and her first thought is for her breasts or uterus. But it’s just gallstones making her so ill, thank goodness. She’s rushed to surgery, barely aware of what’s happening and thinking she’s dying, which really shouldn’t be this funny.
Sang-shik is back at work soon like nothing happened, but the deputy mayor Chun-woo draws attention to the incident and embarrasses him. She’s even giving him an award for his bravery.
Min-joo is also on the mend, and she heads out to the drama shooting location to check on things. She finally gets to visit the beautiful places in Woori that she wanted to see, and relaxes in the warm sunshine. She’s captivated by a beautiful fountain and takes her shoes off to play in the water, not seeing the sign warning people to stay away.
Sang-shik happens to be leading a tour there, and they notice the strange lady splashing around like a child. Sang-shik sends them to a different area and marches over to confront Min-joo, who by now is soaking wet and whooping like a loon. She trips over an unfinished part of the fountain and loses a button from her blouse, and she’s thoroughly embarrassed when she’s caught by Sang-shik.
She notices him staring at her, uh, missing button, and now they’re both blushing. Sang-shik starts to yell again when he sees the bricks Min-joo knocked loose, and he calls a subordinate to fix the fountain and change out all the water, as if Min-joo tainted it.
He takes her to get dried off and gives her a red cloak, since she never found her button, telling her it’s a special cloak given to single women traveling alone. The two snipe at each other the whole time she dries off, Min-joo taking offense at Sang-shik’s prissy attitude and him grouching about her thinking she can do whatever she wants. Sang-shik leaves with a parting shot warning Min-joo not to steal the towel, ha.
BWAHAHA, the “special cloak” turns out to be a giant “Look at me!” sign, complete with white fluffy pompoms, a Pororo applique, and kitten ears. Min-joo is almost immediately approached by a handsome young man on a motorcycle, who we’ll officially meet later (but who’s played by Kwak Shi-yang). He just smiles and tells her to hop on and he’ll give her a ride.
He tells her that the cloak is actually a souvenir the arboretum gives to children, and I’m DYING over here. Sang-shik totally punked her. She agrees to a ride just to the main road, and demurely tries to keep her hands to herself, but ends up clutching the young man around the waist when he guns the motorcycle.
Sang-shik and Soo-hyuk arrive at the drama-shooting site to stop the proceedings again, angry that they’re causing a tourism spot to be ruined for the tourists. Min-joo shows up, still in her Pororo cloak (and with a flute trill sound cue that cracks me up) and tells Sang-shik with utter seriousness that she’s in charge of this shoot.
Sang-shik realizes that this is the woman he was so recently exchanging hateful emails with, and he scoffs in her face. When she realizes who he is, she loses a bit of confidence, but she still refuses to cancel the drama shoot. She slips and calls him “ajusshi,”, which sends him into a fury, and he whips the Pororo cloak off her head and threatens to report her for filming without permission.
Min-joo defiantly produces her permission documents, straight from Woori City Hall. She tells her team to start filming, leaving Sang-shik fuming.
He heads back to City Hall to complain to the deputy mayor, who granted the permission. He wants her to withdraw her permission to shoot the drama there, and when she asks if he’s seen the show, he says he doesn’t watch “things like that.”
Chun-woo points out that the ratings are very high, and their historic site could get a lot of attention for being on the show and bring in more tourists. She advises him to watch dramas some time, as they can be comforting and moving.
Things aren’t going well on the drama set, though — the male lead may have been rained in, but now the female lead is pitching fits about jumping off the bungee platform. Min-joo goes up to give her a pep talk, but nothing helps until she asks if the actress wants her career to tank again. The girl steels herself, and gets it together.
But she loses her nerve again the moment she looks down, but she says she might be able to do it if someone else goes first. Everyone on the platform goes silent, so it’s up to Min-joo. She gets suited up in the bungee-jumping gear, but notes that it feels uncomfortable and requests a different kit. Oh no, it’s the one Sang-hyuk noticed was in disrepair.
Sang-shik arrives back at the location and tells the crew that it’s not safe — the bungee facility hasn’t been cleared by safety regulations, yet. He’s shoo’d away by the director, as if he has no idea what he’s talking about.
Up on the platform, Min-joo gets ready to jump. She tells herself that she’s been through a lot in her life. “You’ll continue to be lonely, but love yourself despite being alone. I promise myself that I’ll live well and be healthy.” And then she jumps.
Everything goes fine, and the cord stops her fall and she flies through the air. But then the strap breaks on her harness, and Min-joo free-falls towards the water, screaming in fear. The impact stuns her, and the entire cast and crew panic when she doesn’t surface.
It’s Sang-shik who unfreezes first and dives into the river, looking around frantically for Min-joo. Finally he sees her unconscious under the surface of the water, and he swims to her rescue.
I just loved that final scene, and its imagery to live life to the fullest, no matter what. Your life may not be what you expected, or even what you wanted, but you can always make the best of what you have and make life exciting. Of course it didn’t go well for Min-joo this time, but she’s tough as nails, and I already adore her.
I hadn’t seen much in the way of promos for this drama, so I honestly wasn’t planning on watching it, but it only took ten minutes of this premiere episode to change my mind. I like the bright, upbeat tone, the cute characters, and the clever, mature humor a lot. The theme of moving from one phase of life to the next, and all the angst and humor that you experience on the journey, seems like a rich minefield to be explored, and I really hope the show spends a lot of time discussing what it means to leave your youth and move into the next stage of living. Min-joo and her friends already discuss aging, both physically and mentally, and I think that’s an area that dramas haven’t given much attention that could really offer a lot of humor as well as tears. The show has a surprisingly light and unexpectedly humorous tone, but it also appears ready to delve into some pretty serious questions about life. What affect do our choices have on our lives? How do people end up alone as they age, and what does aging itself mean to your life? Is it ever too late for love, or is it better to maintain the status quo and live a life that’s mostly pretty okay?
But my favorite thing about the show, hands-down, is our spunky independent heroine Min-joo. As someone who is single and ~coughcough~ closer in age to these characters than the characters in most rom-coms, I think it’s going to be fun to watch forty-somethings navigate new love, especially as it balances out with work and social responsibilities. It’s easy to get settled into your life at this age, and to give a mistrustful eye to anything that threatens a comfortable status quo while at the same time wishing for something, anything new and interesting to happen, and I like that the show addresses that right off the bat. Min-joo states bluntly that she likes her life and wouldn’t change a thing… but a little excitement wouldn’t go amiss, either. I can really relate to that feeling, so that makes me want to get to know more about this woman right away.
I really like the dichotomy between Sang-shik and Min-joo, and how really and truly opposite they are in personality. Sang-shik is a straight-laced, walk-the-line kind of guy, never taking risks and always working by the book (and so cute on his safe little bike), while Min-joo is a loose cannon, reacting on her emotions and taking risks even when everyone is telling her to just calm down and accept things as they are. Based on their already volatile outbursts the two times they’ve encountered each other, I’m very much anticipating the fireworks that are going to go off when they start to become attracted to each other. Kim Hee-ae and Ji Jin-hee have great chemistry already, so I think their antagonistic relationship is going to spark like crazy. And though I’m gleefully looking forward to their upcoming fighting, I’m also excited to see them stop fighting and start loving. Sang-shik may be a rule-following goody-two-shoes, but he’s got a hot temper under that perfectly pressed suit, and I can’t wait to see Min-joo unleash that side of him.