Manhole: Episode 9
With missing snail mail sparking some serious misunderstandings, Pil is determined to simultaneously clear the air and keep heartaches to a minimum. But making his love abundantly clear carries the risk of losing the friendship of someone near and dear to him. Pil must now choose between love and friendship, but it seems like someone may have beaten him to it…
EPISODE 9: “Sometimes, friendship hurts more than love”
As quick cuts of Pil rescuing Soo-jin from various situations (from gangsters, a beach fire, etc.) appear, Pil narrates about the futility of it all: “Even if I save you from danger, you can’t remember any of it.” Despite his video confession and Soo-jin’s in-person confession, Pil narrates that it’s as if neither happened, since everything that transpires gets reset, and ironically, his past actions actually made Soo-jin grow closer to Jae-hyun. “Soo-jin, what should I do now? How can I get you back?” Pil wonders.
We find Pil suspended beneath the manhole where it’s dark as light pokes in through the holes of the manhole lid. He’s puzzled by his current state, and even more so when scenes from Soo-jin’s wedding day play out in front of him, complete with Jae-hyun beaming at the sight of his pretty fiancée. Pil panics, figuring that the wedding is taking place in the present, but all he can do is yell his discontent into a dark void.
Next, we see Pil murmuring about the wedding in his sleep before waking up and finding himself in the familiar study hall. Seok-tae’s studying right next to him and pointedly informs Pil that it’s the year 2014 when Pil frantically asks. Pil remembers 2014 as the year of his military discharge and wonders why he witnessed Soo-jin’s wedding all of a sudden.
As Pil’s wrapping his head around this new trip to the past, Seok-tae carefully drafts a birthday card for Jin-sook. Pil asks for an update on Soo-jin, and Seok-tae answers that she’s working as an assistant at a photo studio. Seok-tae then asks what Pil’s getting for Jin-sook’s birthday, and Pil frowns, reminded of her tearful admission that she liked him ever since high school.
Pil frets, since he needs to change Jin-sook’s mind and is wary of facing her. Meanwhile, Seok-tae writes in the birthday card that he really likes Jin-sook and asks if if she’d marry him, heh.
Elsewhere, Jin-sook is sleeping at home, and Soo-jin’s there to cook up a meal for her best friend.
Pil returns to the manhole and complains that he wasn’t transported to his high school days when he really could’ve made a difference. Now he sighs, unsure where to even begin.
Back at Jin-sook’s place, Soo-jin surprises Jin-sook with a homemade breakfast spread. Jin-sook’s touched by the sweet and generous gesture, especially since her grandma worried that she’d spend her birthday alone, but Soo-jin assures her that she’ll celebrate every birthday with her. Jin-sook quips that Soo-jin shouldn’t, since her boyfriend (whenever she acquires one) will take over birthday duties.
While the two best friends laugh and enjoy their meal, Pil sadly watches them from a distance. He leaves and wonders how he’ll clear Soo-jin’s misunderstanding and change Jin-sook’s mind. He also worries about how he’ll retrieve his letters from Jin-sook, but then remembers that he’s in the past, which means her interception may have reset.
He runs into Soo-jin’s mother, who says that ever since he returned from the army, Soo-jin bristled at every mention of his name. She requests that the two patch things up and get along again.
Pil concludes that Soo-jin’s anger stemmed from never receiving any replies to her letters, so he decides to go and retrieve those first.
Soo-jin’s outdoors, eagerly directing a married couple to pose for pictures, which is when Jae-hyun arrives with lunch and greets Soo-jin’s boss. He then steps in front of Soo-jin’s camera, surprising her with his sudden appearance.
Despite Soo-jin’s protests, her boss encourages Soo-jin and Jae-hyun to grab lunch together, and Jae-hyun mentions that he brought food. It’s clear, however, that Soo-jin feels uncomfortable that she’d solely be dining with Jae-hyun.
After Jin-sook steps out of her home, Pil heads to her rooftop and searches for the spare house key. He remembers what it looks like and locates it under some nearby bags.
He steps inside Jin-sook’s home and feels apologetic for going this far, but he vows to not invade her privacy too much and leave as soon as he finds his letters.
He pulls open a drawer and finds pictures of him and Jin-sook together during their high school days, wondering aloud why Jin-sook likes a guy like him.
Suddenly, Jin-sook enters, and Pil quickly grabs a pot. She wonders what he’s doing here, and he says he came to make her seaweed soup for her birthday. Jin-sook sees the empty pot devoid of seaweed, so Pil explains that he left the seaweed at home and plans on going back and getting it.
Jin-sook doesn’t buy it and reaches for his pockets to see if he’s really here to steal her secret savings, but in doing so, the two fall to the floor and end up locking eyes with each other, their faces mere inches apart. Pil quickly leaves, and Jin-sook touches her flushed face. She walks over to different set of drawers, and underneath her sweaters are the filched letters from Pil to Soo-jin.
At Gu-gil’s home, his father (who’s alive in 2014) coughs severely and takes deep swigs from a soju bottle for the pain. Yeesh, soju is not medicine. Gu-gil snatches the bottle away and pleads with him to get treated at the hospital, but his father stubbornly refuses.
Gu-gil trudges up the steps to his billiards room and finds Dal-soo and Jung-ae waiting for him. They ask about his father, and Jung-ae (who’s not as glued to Dal-soo as before) shows concern for Gu-gil’s weight loss and suggests that they eat lunch together since she brought food.
While Soo-jin’s munching on Jae-hyun’s homemade sandwiches, Jae-hyun can’t take his eyes off her. He says he put in extra effort in making lunch knowing that Soo-jin would eat it, and Soo-jin coughs, discomfited by his comment. She asks him what he does on his days off since working at the pharmacy can be stifling, and Jae-hyun answers that he doesn’t do much.
Soo-jin suggests he take up some hobbies so he can go out more, but Jae-hyun says he’ll need a companion for that and asks if she’ll join him. His directness catches her off guard, but then her phone rings, so she gets up to answer it.
While she’s on the phone, Jae-hyun spots her diary poking out from her bag and takes it. (Uh… excuse me? RED FLAG.) He opens it and finds a group picture of her, Jin-sook, and Pil sitting on the bleachers as high school students.
He drops Soo-jin off at her studio and tells her he decided to follow her advice. He asks if she’ll watch a movie with him tonight, but Soo-jin apologizes and explains that tonight is her friend Jin-sook’s birthday party. He remembers Jin-sook as the restaurant owner and sheepishly admits that the party sounds fun before asking if he can attend, too. Wow. This. Guy.
Soo-jin’s slightly thrown by this, but agrees to call Jin-sook to check and figures that more may be merrier. Pil arrives, still worrying about how he’ll get his letters back, but his mood sours further when he spots Jae-hyun around Soo-jin. Pil places his arm around her shoulder in front of Jae-hyun, but Soo-jin pushes him off and asks if he’s crazy.
Unfazed, Jae-hyun introduces himself and extends a hand. Pil grabs it and clenches tightly with all his might, and the two men grimace while enduring the painful handshake. With neither relinquishing, Soo-jin breaks apart their grip and tells Jae-hyun that she’ll keep him posted.
Pil follows Soo-jin to her studio and explains that he knows why she’s upset at him, and that it’s all due to a misunderstanding. He admits that he did send responses to her letters, but that she never received them because of delivery issues, which Soo-jin finds hard to believe. She wonders if someone stole the letters then, and Pil says yes; he can’t reveal the perpetrator, but he promises to bring her evidence before the day’s over. Fed up with him, she orders him to go study and stop wasting her time.
It appears that Jin-sook has transitioned from a food truck to a brick and mortar establishment. She supervises while her employees set up before opening and calls the headquarters for more shipments of the popular “Bong Pil skewers” dish.
Pil returns to Jin-sook’s place, but the keys aren’t in the usual spot. Meanwhile, his parents stop by the study hall and are dismayed to find Pil’s desk neatly empty, even though Pil said he’d be studying there all night. Seok-tae’s also absent, and they figure Pil’s negative influence is to blame.
Seok-tae’s picking a birthday cake for Jin-sook at a bakery when he receives a text saying he passed his civil service exam. He’s ecstatic and can’t wait to share the news with Jin-sook.
Over at BongBong Pub, the owner worries about paying bills and rent and is less than thrilled to see Seok-tae’s dad arrive, order his usual cheap beer, and try to woo her.
Meanwhile, Pil arrives at Jin-sook’s restaurant and is impressed by her booming business, as customers ask for more Bong Pil skewers. When he spots Jin-sook, he asks if they can talk.
Outside, Pil asks her why she locked her house when he said he’d come back to make her seaweed soup, and Jin-sook replies that he never had seaweed to begin with — plus, they’ll be celebrating her birthday tonight at the pub with the whole gang.
She assumes he feels bad for not being able to afford a birthday gift, but he tells her he left something behind at her place, so Jin-sook readily gives him her key so that he can retrieve whatever it is. After he runs off, she smiles and wonders if he’s planning a birthday surprise of sorts.
Once inside Jin-sook’s place, Pil locates the letters in the correct drawer, much to his relief.
Meanwhile, Jae-hyun decides on an outfit in his ominously lit room. He stares intently at the photograph he stole(!) from Soo-jin’s diary before ripping it down the middle to separate Soo-jin from Jin-sook and Pil. He sticks the photo of Soo-jin on the wall and crumples the other half before leaving.
The camera pulls out from the photo of Soo-jin to reveal a whole collage of photos featuring Soo-jin that Jae-hyun stealthily snapped when she was at the outdoor garden, at a cafe, and walking home at night. Yikes.
We find Gu-gil, Dal-soo, and Jung-ae at the BongBong Pub setting up for Jin-sook’s birthday party. Pil arrives soon after, and Jung-ae yells at him for showing up after they finish decorating. Seconds later, Soo-jin arrives with Jae-hyun. Pil glares at Jae-hyun, and Gug-il warns him not to ruin this night for Jin-sook, but Pil replies that on this birthday, someone will definitely die, lol.
Jae-hyun steps out to answer a call, and Pil follows him. Pil confronts Jae-hyun and says his travels through time and space have confirmed that Jae-hyun is truly evil. Pil warns him to get away from Soo-jin if he doesn’t want to be humiliated tonight.
But… Jae-hyun rejoins the party inside, and Pil continues to give him the stink-eye, which makes him and everybody else feel uncomfortable, haha. Everyone’s weirded out by the awkward atmosphere, and Soo-jin shoots him warning looks, but Pil doesn’t let up on the intense stares. Sensing everyone’s discomfort, Jae-hyun eventually offers to leave, and the gang scolds Pil for his impertinence.
Soo-jin follows Jae-hyun out and apologizes, but Jae-hyun smiles and says her friends seemed like a fun bunch, even denying that Pil said something to upset him. Jae-hyun explains that he has to leave due to obligations, but Soo-jin doesn’t believe him, since he was the one who asked her if he could attend the party. But Jae-hyun continues to be a good sport and says he’ll get to know her friends better next time.
Birthday girl Jin-sook finally arrives, but Seok-tae’s still absent. The gang sing “Happy Birthday” to her and shower her with love. Meanwhile, Seok-tae, dressed in a suit, carefully hurries over with a cake in his hands, eager to see Jin-sook.
At the pub, everyone gives Jin-sook a gift, and Pil panics when he can’t locate his. Everyone think’s he’s fibbing since he’s broke, but Pil insists he brought a gift. As he’s looking for it, Dal-soo plucks the letters sticking out of his pocket and inquires about them. Dal-soo announces that it’s military mail, letters from him to Soo-jin, and Jin-sook’s face falls while Soo-jin appears befuddled.
Everyone’s confused by the letters, and with the party atmosphere ruined, Jin-sook leaves, ignoring Seok-tae just as he arrives and informs her that he passed his exam.
Outside, Jin-sook concedes to Pil that she stole his letters and urges him to swear at her if he wishes. But Pil apologizes to her instead, which angers her even more, since she’s the one at fault. Without a trace of bitterness, Pil says he knows why she did it and apologizes for not realizing her feelings sooner. As she’s exiting the pub, Soo-jin overhears their conversation.
Jin-sook tears up and asks if Pil’s plan was to show Soo-jin the letters. She says that even if Pil knew how she felt, he would’ve continued to hurt her, because he’d still only have eyes for Soo-jin. Jin-sook admits that she’s too ashamed to face him right now and too sorry to face Soo-jin.
As she leaves, Pil turns around and finds Soo-jin standing there, reeling from what she overheard. Pil says he hasn’t the slightest idea where to begin explaining, but starts off by handing her his letters that should’ve gone to her. She now understands what transpired, but asks, “What’s the use of getting these now? These letters are nothing.”
Pil explains that they drifted apart because she never received the letters and wanted to clear up her misunderstanding, but Soo-jin calmly tells him that he truly knows nothing, because there’s never been a misunderstanding between them. Pil doesn’t understand, and Soo-jin tells him that Jin-sook has liked him for a while. “I want you to not break Jin-sook’s heart,” she says as she fights back tears.
Pil wonders if she gave up on him because of Jin-sook, and Soo-jin answers, “Sometimes, friendship hurts more than love. Let’s end this here.”
Seok-tae arrives at Jin-sook’s rooftop and finds her sitting dejectedly on the bench. She feels sorry for ruining the mood for everyone, and Seok-tae says he’s disappointed in her because he bypassed his father just so she would be the first to hear about his passing the civil service exam and congratulate him.
Jin-sook sincerely apologizes and congratulates him, but Seok-tae says she doesn’t care either way, since she wouldn’t be this way with Pil. Seok-tae says he wanted to become a public official because she once said she wished her future husband would be one, and that he even wore insoles because she preferred tall men. “My world revolves around you, but why aren’t you giving me a chance?” Seok-tae asks.
Jin-sook tears up and reminds him that he already knows who she likes, but Seok-tae says that just like she can’t let go of Pil, he can’t let go of her, and he thought she’d understand him better. But then, he takes her hand to show her something.
Jin-sook waits outside his house, and Seok-tae hands her a thick stack of letters that Soo-jin wrote to Pil since high school. She asks him why he has them, and he says that at the time, he hated Pil because he felt like he was getting ignored because of him, which is why he intercepted the letters. He says that if Jin-sook reads the letters, she’ll know that Pil’s crush isn’t one-sided and wonders if she could just give up Pil for her best friend’s sake.
Jin-sook answers frustratedly that she can’t control her feelings and would reverse them if she could: “I didn’t know I’d be so sorry to so many people for liking someone.” With that, she thrusts the letters back to Seok-tae and walks away.
In her room, Soo-jin opens Pil’s letters, and we glimpse Pil’s army life. He wrote that training everyday was tough, but his tone was optimistic as he mentioned that he missed Soo-jin the most. He kept a picture of her in his uniform, and looking at it made him smile.
Soo-jin wrote letters to Pil while he was in the army and had expressed concern since he never replied to her. She even decided to visit him one weekend and asked him to call her when he received her letter.
The day of the visit, Soo-jin cooked up a storm and brought lunch to the army base, figuring that Pil never responded to her letters because he was busy. She wrote “girlfriend” under the relationship section of the visitor form, but reconsidered and crossed out “girl.” Unfortunately, while waiting, she was told that Pil was already out with another visitor.
Disappointed that she came for nothing, she had wondered about who had come to visit him on her way out. As she had walked outside, she spotted Pil and Jin-sook down below, enjoying each other’s company over grilled meats. Stunned, Soo-jin watched in silence as Jin-sook fed Pil lettuce wraps, and with that, she had walked away.
Back in the present, looking utterly defeated, Soo-jin reflects on that memory and starts crying. “Pil, it’s just too late for us,” she says internally.
Pil returns to the manhole, crestfallen that Soo-jin already decided to give up on him. “What else can I do at this point?” he wonders. The lamp post flickers, and Pil turns transparent before fully disappearing.
Jin-sook returns home and talks to her grandma on the phone, assuring her that she had a good birthday with her friends and that Soo-jin made her food. She brings up the idea of moving out and living with grandma, saying that she’s tired of her neighborhood.
After Jin-sook hangs up, she spots a gift bag on the counter. Inside it, she finds a box containing a pretty hair accessory, and the card indicates that this was a gift from Pil. Earlier, Pil had entered her home with the gift and had forgotten to take it with him after he located the letters.
With Pil’s gift in her hand, all Jin-sook can do is sigh.
Epilogue. We flash back to one evening, during which Jin-sook and Soo-jin happily drank beer on the rooftop. Soo-jin had asked if Jin-sook had any plans this weekend and if she wanted to go somewhere with her — aw man! — but Jin-sook answered that she had a prior engagement, so Soo-jin decided she’d just go alone. Jin-sook asked her where she was going/if she was off to meet a guy, but Soo-jin had quipped that she’d reveal everything after she returned.
Every single episode of Manhole has been so unpredictable, and even though we’re past the halfway mark, I still have no idea which direction the show is heading. Unexpected and oftentimes arbitrary character and plot developments take place, and all I can do is accept them — albeit not readily or as eagerly as I’d like — just to keep up with the meandering story.
Fortunately, in spite of some seemingly pointless trips to the past, this trip to 2014 made a lot of sense to me, and the stolen letters situation finally came to a head, and not a moment too soon. I would’ve hated if this conflict had been dragged out even longer, and it was a relief to know that the feelings of Soo-jin, Jin-sook, Pil, and Seok-tae were finally out in the air to the people they mattered most to.
I know people were shipping Jin-sook and Pil for obvious reasons, but the maturity Pil and Soo-jin — especially Soo-jin — exhibited in this episode with regards to Jin-sook showed me that the two aren’t an incompatible pairing. I was touched by how much Soo-jin genuinely cared for Jin-sook, and her deep bond with Jin-sook only made Soo-jin’s relinquishment of Pil that much more difficult to watch.
Soo-jin did what only the best of best friends do by going the “sistas before mistas” route, even though it pained her tremendously to do so. I also respected Pil’s understanding of Jin-sook and his refusal to out her as the letter thief. When an apology was the first thing he uttered to Jin-sook, who probably felt so rotten and embarrassed in that moment for stealing his letters, it was clear to me that Pil may be a directionless slacker, but his heart is definitely in the right place.
The switch from Jae-hyun the pretty cheater to Jae-hyun the pretty stalker was abrupt, but it does raise the stakes for Soo-jin’s upcoming marriage to him if Present Jae-hyun is Stalker Jae-hyun since that would mean that Soo-jin’s life and not just her future is in danger. Admittedly, I’m not clear on what’s transpiring in the present timeline since it’s been so long since we were there, but the thought of Soo-jin marrying a stalker with access to drugs is unsettling. The choice to paint Jae-hyun as a full-on villain does gives actor Jang Mi-kwan more to do, which I appreciate, and if Jae-hyun’s stalker tendencies remain intact for Pil’s next manhole trip, then it sets up the perfect parameters for Pil to rescue Soo-jin again. However, I don’t know that another rescue mission will bring Pil closer to Soo-jin’s heart, since as it stands, Jin-sook is the one standing between Pil and Soo-jin.
Overall, I quite enjoyed this episode, and I feel as though our four main actors shine the most in dramatic moments. I thought the love vs. friendship theme was explored sufficiently, and it was poignant to see how each character suffered differently and/or similarly all because of a tricky little thing called love.
- Manhole: Episode 1
- Premiere Watch: Manhole, Live Up to Your Name
- Jaejoong goes back to high school for Manhole
- Manhole gang’s funky new character posters
- Manhole goes retro for the ultimate beach holiday
- UEE and Jaejoong cozy up under the sun in new Manhole stills
- Cast of Manhole throws dignity out the window for new dance teaser
- First look at Jaejoong’s time-slip rom-com Manhole
- News bites: July 1, 2017
- Baro up for Jaejoong and UEE’s time-slip rom-com Manhole