Because This Life Is Our First: Episode 13
It’s a difficult episode for many of our characters as we delve deeper into someone’s painful past, someone’s complicated present, and someone’s uncertain future, and learn about the ways in which people retreat, run, or push back against the parts of themselves that they’d rather not face honestly. As always, this show offers some profound words of wisdom and, perhaps more importantly, some compassion for our characters and ultimately for us viewers. Because this life is our first, after all, and no one gets it right all the time.
Episode 13: “Because this is my first time visiting your room”
Se-hee asks Ji-ho if she would like to sleep together, and she accepts.
Meanwhile, Won-seok asks Ho-rang to break up, explaining that he isn’t confident that he can make her happy. He tells her that he’ll stay at Sang-gu’s to give her some space, which leads to her railing at him for asking her to wait five more years to get married, but now suddenly saying that he has no confidence to see through his promise.
With tears welling in his eyes, he screams at her not to wait for him, and asks why she always talks of their seven-year relationship as if she’s the victim.
He says that he gave up on his dreams for the sake of their marriage, and feels suffocated every day because of it. He says that button-down shirts and ties are uncomfortable, then storms out.
Back at the apartment, Se-hee waits for Ji-ho in her room with Cat. Ji-ho returns with some tangerines, and Se-hee remarks that it’s the first time he’s been in her room since their wedding. She says regretfully that she should have cleaned beforehand, but he says that her room is very like her, and smells like her too.
Alarmed, she asks if the room smells, then discreetly sniffs herself. Cute. The conversation kind of peters out awkwardly, until Se-hee picks up a book from her table and reads the title: Going to Room 19.
She explains the plot to him, describing a perfect couple. One day, the wife wanted a space of her own, so the husband made a room solely for her usage. But over time the room became like any other room, with other family members entering and exiting as they pleased.
Therefore, the wife booked a room at a cheap motel without telling anyone, and would occasionally go there for a few hours and do nothing because she felt happy just being in the room.
Se-hee says that the wife was happy because the room was space where she could be perfectly alone. He adds that getting married means that your own time and space disappears. The wife’s happiness of being alone is something that he can understand, and he calls the book a good story.
Ji-ho grows thoughtful and remarks, “I think it’s also a sad story.” She admits that she thought of Se-hee while reading the book, and reminds him of something he had said long ago about not getting married because the only things he could be responsible for are his house, Cat, and himself. Though she understands the logic of his thinking, she asks if living that way gets lonely.
He concedes that he never thought about being lonely. Instead, he thought it would be better to be alone than to involve himself with others.
She recalls something else he said, about one love being enough in a person’s life. Internally, she wonders if that one love he spoke of has already passed for him, and whether love ever start again for him.
He suggests they go to bed since it’s getting late, then steps out for a moment to retrieve his pillow, which gives Ji-ho time to do a smell check, spritz her room, and grow nervous.
She gives herself a pep talk, but then once Se-hee knocks on her door, she pretends to be asleep. He very sweetly and quietly gets into bed next to her, then asks if she’s sleeping. She automatically responds that she is (then silently admonishes herself), but soon they are staring into each other’s eyes, and Se-hee asks if he can hold her.
He pulls her close, and he repeats his comment about the smell of her and she grows self-conscious again, but this time he clarifies that he’s referring to her scent, rather than something bad-smelling.
He strokes her hair then says that he’s glad that she stopped being a scriptwriter, which catches her off-guard. He says that it was a joke, then he confesses to not being very good at jokes and worried that she’s upset after she stares at him wordlessly.
Instead of answering, she asks if she can kiss him, and he says, “Yes,” and so they do.
Internally, Ji-ho narrates: “Maybe it isn’t love, but it’s all right even if it isn’t. Today’s the first day that he visited my room—and that’s enough.”
The next morning, Se-hee gets up first and leaves before Ji-ho wakes. He pauses to glance back at her and note her roaring snores before nodding to himself, then making a note of it on his large spreadsheet containing observations about all his tenants broken down by day.
Next, he researches recipes on how to cook omurice, then gets cooking. His cooking technique is pretty much all flash, and it honestly seems like he’s just making a mess, but eventually he produces something and leaves it covered on the table for Ji-ho with a note.
Su-ji walks her mother out of the apartment, and uses the opportunity to beg her mom to quit working and live in Seoul with her. Mom tells Su-ji to move back to Namhae instead, but Su-ji is just concerned about Mom traveling back and forth the long distance to visit.
Mom assures Su-ji that she’s fine, but when Mom tries to go to the bus terminal by subway instead of letting Su-ji take her—insisting that Su-ji hurry to work after overhearing her being scolded over the phone by her boss—Su-ji protests. Right then, Sang-gu appears and offers Mom a ride, introducing himself as Su-ji’s boyfriend.
Su-ji doesn’t look happy, but Mom does, and calls the two a perfect match because of their height. Sang-gu repeats his offer to take Mom to the bus terminal, and though Su-ji rejects him outright, Mom ignores her and goes with Sang-gu.
During the car ride, Mom and Sang-gu seem to be hitting it off, as Sang-gu proudly tells Mom about his CEO status at his company, and his friendship with Se-hee (known to her as Ji-ho’s husband), but things hit a snag when Mom finds him to be a bit older than expected. After a beat, Mom decides that it’s fine after all, and it seems like Sang-gu has gotten her approval.
Back at the apartment, Ji-ho finally wakes. As she thinks to last night, we see that after their kiss, Se-hee stepped out for a moment. She giggled alone—giddy with excitement—certain that she wouldn’t be able to sleep anymore, while Se-hee grabbed some beers for them.
Alas, when he returned Ji-ho was already fast asleep and snoring thunderously. In the present, Ji-ho beats herself up for squandering their perfect opportunity.
She finds Se-hee’s note and perfectly circular omurice, complete with a ketchup smiley face. She takes a bite, but instead of sautéed vegetables, she’s confused to find a mouthful of raw onion.
Later at the bus stop, she smiles to herself as she looks at the photos of the omurice, but her smile fades when she sees a promo poster for this alternative-universe version of Let’s Eat—written by her old boss, writer Hwang, and directed by Yong-seok.
Ji-ho arrives at the cafe, where Bok-nam hands her a business card bearing the name “Go Jung-min.” The man who gave him the card said Ji-ho would know what it was for, although it doesn’t ring any bells. Go Jung-min works for an entertainment company, with credits that are amusing tweaks of tvN titles we know: I Remember, I’m a Fool (Ho-gu), Ghost Fighter.
At the restaurant, Ho-rang handles all her server duties like a pro, but her red eyes and runny nose betray her, and we see her sobbing in the break room. She looks at her long list of messages to Won-seok that have been read but gone unanswered.
Won-seok stares at a certain male user’s profile in their app that clearly states his desire to get married. We flashback to the play where Won-seok had broken up with Ho-rang, and see that while Ho-rang had gone to the bathroom, he read cordial messages between Ho-rang and that male user. Ack!
Won-seok receives another message from Ho-rang, whose voiceover sounds resigned as she asks to talk, acknowledging his wishes to end their relationship. This time he replies and designates a meeting place.
Ji-ho looks at the business card between tasks, which floods her mind with traumatic memories of Yong-seok’s sexual assault, and that godawful dinner afterward. She crumples up the business card and hardens her resolve, then throws it out.
Just then, someone retrieves the card from the trash. Ji-ho’s eyes widen to recognize the woman from the cafe—or, as we know her, Se-hee’s ex Jung-min.
Jung-min officially introduces herself as the CEO of the production company, wondering if their previous run-in was fate, and explains that the man who dropped off her business card was one of their directors.
Ji-ho asks how she found out where she works, and learns of Bok-nam’s meddling after she’d ignored the director’s messages. Jung-min explains that she read Ji-ho’s script Turtle Gosiwon and wants to work with her.
Ji-ho explains that she quit her job as an assistant writer, and quit writing. She explains that she got married, and works part-time at the cafe because it’s boring being at home all day. She apologizes for wasting Jung-min’s time and politely bids her farewell.
But Jung-min asks why Ji-ho’s reasons sound like a sad excuse instead of a real reason. She tells Ji-ho to give her a call if she ever feels like telling her the truth, even if it’s just to get a drink.
After work, Su-ji waits for Sang-gu with a grim expression. She doesn’t exchange pleasantries and drives all the way to the Han River, then angrily gets out without speaking. Sang-gu joins her outside, and takes her hand before she pulls away.
Su-ji asks why he’s intruding on her private space and making her miserable. He’s stunned by the sharpness of her words, and explains that seeing each other’s family is normal between couples.
She argues that she hates “normal” questions that inquire about her family. She adds that she knew he would say he didn’t know it upset her so much because that’s what everyone else in the world does, and she hates that.
He tells her that he wants to brave the world together, so she humors him and asks him to envision what their married life will be like. She asks if he can live with her mother, and after he says that they can, she asks what he will tell his parents when he marries “a girl who doesn’t know who her father is, and whose mother is disabled.”
Su-ji’s eyes grow wet as she tells Sang-gu that her mother worked at a restaurant and raised her alone. Su-ji is finally in the position to support her mother in return. She explains that she doesn’t know what it’s like to live in a normal family like Sang-gu probably does, because the only person her mom has is her.
She tearfully warns Sang-gu not to give her false hope and be sweet to her, since it makes her want to be part of his world. Su-ji turns her back toward him, and doesn’t see his hand hover over her shoulder before falling back down.
As the sun sets, Ji-ho narrates that in the novel Going to Room 19, the main character’s husband discovers her hidden room, and the wife lies and tells her husband that she’s been having an affair. When she’d read the book at twenty, she couldn’t understand the wife and wondered, “Is the room’s existence more important than lying about an affair?”
Ji-ho had asked Su-ji that same question, and Su-ji replied that she understood: “Because that room means nothing if people find out about it.” She explained that sometimes it’s easier to say something crazy than something that people can’t understand, because it’s better to be crazy than to be pathetic. Wow, that’s powerful.
At the bus stop in the present, Ji-ho looks over the book and wonders why, when Jung-min asked if she still writes, she answered that she got married.
Ho-rang and Won-seok meet, and Won-seok asks if she thought things through. She says that she was wrong for getting mad at him, and complaining about the sofa, and pressuring him to get married.
He doesn’t seem pleased with her answer and asks what will be different if they got back together, and if it means that she won’t ask to get married anymore. She sadly promises not to if he hates it, which makes him explode; he asks why, if she wants to get married, she would hold back just because of him.
Ho-rang explains that she wants to marry him, but he isn’t so sure, which confuses her. So he tells her about the messages he saw on the app, and Ho-rang hurries to explain that she was just trying it out because it’s his work. She swears that it meant nothing, but Won-seok doesn’t fully believe her, since she wants to get married, and so does the app guy.
Won-seok tries to point out to her that given the state of their relationship, and his inability to marry her and give her what she wants, even if she doesn’t love someone else, her talking with someone else might be an indication of something changing inside of her. He hopes that she can be honest with herself, since it’s becoming clear they can’t satisfy each other.
He begins to leave, but she frantically hugs him from behind, begging him not to go since she can’t live without him. Through tears he assures her that in time she’ll be fine without him, then removes her hands and walks away.
On the bus, Ji-ho and Se-hee exchange sweet accounts of their day, after which Ji-ho shows Se-hee Jung-min’s business card.
Ji-ho tells him about Jung-min’s offer, but admits that she isn’t sure what she’s going to do yet. She begins describing Jung-min as a strong woman who seems like she would use her strength to protect people rather than hurting them.
Ji-ho calls Jung-min a unique person with a common name, and though it looks like there are some glimmers of recognition in Se-hee’s eyes as Ji-ho describes Jung-min, he assures himself with the thought that the name is a common one.
Right then, Ji-ho receives an SOS from Su-ji about Ho-rang and heads immediately over to console her. Su-ji is already there, but Ho-rang looks lost in a trance, and refuses to go inside because she can’t be in “that room.”
Se-hee joins Sang-gu and an already wasted Won-seok at a bar. Won-seok explains how Se-hee’s advice pointed out that his sentences all began with “I,” and how after he changed the subject of his sentences to “Ho-rang,” he was able see that he has only been trying to make himself happy for the last seven years.
After Ho-rang falls asleep, Ji-ho tells Su-ji about Jung-min’s visit, and her puzzling lie about stopping her writing because she got married. Su-ji reasons that Ji-ho probably didn’t want to explain herself, since marriage can sometimes be a good shield in society.
Ji-ho shares that she felt cowardly in that moment with Jung-min, but Su-ji defends Ji-ho and says that sometimes a person just wants to feel like everyone else, because in life people need a shoulder to lean on.
Ji-ho wonders if Su-ji’s shoulder to lean on is Sang-gu, but she just smiles and says that she doesn’t need to depend on anyone because she has her mom’s support.
After Won-seok passes out, Sang-gu asks Se-hee why he would give Won-seok such advice. Se-hee corrects him and says that Sang-gu actually gave that advice first, twelve years ago.
We go back to that time, following Se-hee’s break-up with Jung-min. Sang-gu had said that men are selfish—and although Se-hee wanted to hang onto Jung-min, she was no longer happy to be held on by him, which was why she left him.
Back in the present, they reminisce and marvel at the passage of time. Sang-gu asks if he knows what happened to Jung-min, but she cut off contact with their friends and disappeared. Se-hee says he doesn’t know, and when Sang-gu leaves the table, he pulls out Jung-min’s business card and looks pensive.
When Su-ji brings Ho-rang to her apartment, they run into Sang-gu waiting in the parking lot. The couple drives somewhere nearby to talk, and Sang-gu confesses to following her that day, thinking she might be meeting another man, and saw her with her mom.
He agrees that he doesn’t understand her world, because he came from ordinary circumstances. “But I must really like you,” he says, explaining that even as her sharp words pierce him and hurt him, he feels glad if by stinging him she can feel at ease. He promises not to invade her privacy again, or act like he knows everything about her life.
However, he adds that he hopes she will face the world head-on, instead of running away or hiding behind excuses or cursing the world. His words bring tears to her eyes, and he adds, “And when you start to do that, I’m ready to stand there by your side.”
He decides to stop the conversation there before it can turn into a scolding from Su-ji, and retreats. Su-ji watches him leave, then turns around and sees an apple (as in, apology) from Sang-gu tucked in the seat belt with her doll.
Ji-ho wraps up the scene in voiceover: “Everyone has a Room 19 of their own. No matter how close they are with others, they don’t want them to find out about that room. No matter how comfortable they feel around others, they can’t invite them to that room.”
At their apartment, Se-hee and Ji-ho watch soccer again, and this time Se-hee asks why Ji-ho always sits on the floor. She says the floor is more comfortable, but she’d sat on the sofa in the beginning because she found the house and Se-hee a bit uncomfortable.
Later, they say goodnight and Se-hee hands Ji-ho back the business card. He expresses his hope that their marriage isn’t making her hesitate in accepting Jung-min’s offer, because as he had promised her mother, he doesn’t want to get in the way of her future.
In her room alone, Ji-ho thinks, “Maybe both he and I need to rest in our own Room 19 today.” She thinks for a moment, then hurries to open her laptop and views her scripts.
The next morning, Won-seok and Ho-rang run into each other at their apartment, as Ho-rang packs her things (notably, Ho-rang’s hair is shorter). Won-seok insists that he’ll move out and she should stay, but Ho-rang prefers to move out. She calmly tells Won-seok that he was right about her, and that it’s time for her to try and be honest with herself.
She heads downstairs with her suitcase, and when Won-seok peers down, he sees the guy from that app waiting for Ho-rang and taking her things into his car. Aw, man.
Ji-ho also decides to be honest with herself, so the next day she goes to see Jung-min. She isn’t sure what kind of story Jung-min wants, but says she wants to write a good story that only she can tell. Jung-min assures Ji-ho that she’s interested in exactly that kind of story.
Before they begin their partnership, Ji-ho tells Jung-min that she was assaulted by a former colleague, and wants to deal with that matter before she’ll be able to write.
Jung-min looks surprised, but ready to help, and recommends one of two tactics: sue him, or “get rid of him.” Jung-min assures Ji-ho that her employees are good at handling such matters. Jung-min clocks Ji-ho freaked-out expression and admits that it was a joke, and asks to discuss actual options in detail over lunch. Ji-ho smiles then and remarks that Jung-min is not good at making jokes, and Jung-min replies that it’s part of her charm.
They sit down for lunch with some drinks and soon the conversation shifts to Ji-ho’s husband, whom Ji-ho describes as a peculiar person whom she has never seen drunk before. Jung-min assesses that the couple is still being careful with each other, and Ji-ho confirms it and explains that they each have a “Room 19.” Jung-min finds that trait of their relationship enviable, and explains that married people need to be careful to protect each other’s personal space.
Ji-ho asks why Jung-min isn’t married, and Jung-min says that she’d done “something like marriage” once before, when she was college and living with her boyfriend. She adds that they were dating and she had gotten pregnant, so they promised to get married, but lived together first.
Jung-min continues that eventually she miscarried and so they broke up, which was easy since his family was against their marriage anyway. She’s surprised by her own candor, and chastises herself for drinking, and Ji-ho apologizes for prying.
But Jung-min replies that “a privilege of getting older is that painful experiences are just memories now.”
After Se-hee’s calls to Ji-ho goes unanswered, he heads out to find her, just as Ji-ho and Jung-min ride in a cab toward her neighborhood—totally wasted, and totally vibing.
Ji-ho narrates: “Maybe I already knew it then. That this person is his Room 19, and maybe he knew it too—that he would one day have to face his room.”
Ji-ho gets out of the cab near her apartment, needing to urgently pee. She finds a bathroom, while Jung-min waits for her, and muses to the designated driver what a nice person Ji-ho is. Similarly, in voiceover Ji-ho asks herself, “Why do nice people all come at once?”
She comes out of bathroom in time to see Se-hee wander by and run right into Jung-min—and they both freeze in recognition and surprise. Ji-ho narrates, “Why are fateful connections, which we can’t see coming, always so sad? His Room 19 and mine have opened.”
This is probably one of the most emotionally intelligent dramas I’ve seen in a long time. Rare is a show that is so fluent in the language of human emotion, interaction, and self-exploration. It’s funny because often whenever a show has its characters frequently quoting books or dropping wisdom in voiceovers, it can feel very soapbox-like, and needlessly abstract, and characters begin to feel like naive mouthpieces for the writer. But with this show, I think the writing successfully keeps the quotes thematic to the episode, and beautifully weaves its analogy between the three couples as they progress and grow.
On that note, the writing is masterfully evocative when painting the emotional landscape of our characters’ feelings and struggles. Like with Ho-rang’s story of the woman and the red coat, the usage of the Room 19 analogy provided so much depth of understanding in describing the various circumstances of each couple. I often feel like I’m watching dear friends go through their struggles, dealing with problems that don’t always have a right and perfect answer despite their best intentions. As a result, at the end of every episode I have this feeling that all I can do for these characters is simply to listen to them and be there for them as they try to work things out, just as I would do for a friend, and maybe learn some things about myself along the way.
I love these characters so much, and while I know it’s important to be critical of their bad choices and cyclical patterns of behavior, I think it’s also important to be kind to them, and in turn, be kind to ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made in our lives. I feel like that’s the real intention of this story, because for all these characters’ flaws and shining successes, it always feels to me like the writer is treating every character with kindness and understanding, and rooting for them to try to be a little better each time. You can’t force a friend to see the error of their ways, but you can be there for them when they’re ready to.
This show does a really good job of capturing the unpredictability of life, and the impossibility of truly ever fully knowing a person to their core, or predicting how they will react to a given situation, but also the importance of letting people surprise you, as Se-hee has done for us again and again. I don’t think I leave nearly enough space in my life to let people (or dramas for that matter) surprise me. It reminds me of something I heard recently of how being cynical and pleasantly surprised is not more sophisticated than being too idealistic and disappointed. In a way, I feel like Ji-ho is teaching me that it’s okay to be idealistic and disappointed even if things don’t work out, or if you make a fool of yourself, because you remain open to letting other people surprise you and enter your life.
I loved the thought Ji-ho expressed at the end about “nice people coming all at once,” because Jung-min is really a lovely person, and it makes sense that someone as sensitive and careful as Se-hee would fall in love with someone kind and caring. I don’t know why, but I don’t see Jung-min as a threat to Ji-ho and Se-hee’s budding relationship. I feel like Ji-ho’s relationship with Jung-min is a crucial one that will help her return to her dream and become an important career support system that she never had before, and help her become the writer she’s always hoped to be. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe there’s another skeleton in the closet about Se-hee and Jung-min’s past that will come back and shock Ji-ho into letting him go, but I feel like any revelation will only bring them closer, and make them stronger than before. Also, I feel like Ho-rang and Won-seok may have fulfilled the “break-up and come back together” quota for this stage in the drama.
Speaking of, I was surprised to find Ho-rang and Won-seok’s break-up scenes so moving. Because for something so inevitable, these two actors, especially Kim Ga-eun, really nailed it. I don’t find Won-seok’s reasons super compelling outside of context, but I thought it really worked here because knowing Ho-rang, she would try to convince Won-seok that she would be happy without getting married, but ultimately be unhappy. I do miss chipper, and confident Ho-rang, but I’m happy to see her trying to find a way forward and not believing she can manipulate Won-seok into getting her way as she’s done before.
On a final note, Su-ji and Sang-gu are perfection.
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