Because This Life Is Our First: Episode 9
This episode made me deliriously happy. Just when I think the show has evened out in terms of writing quality, character depth, and richness of world, it continues to surprise me and give me so much more than I even knew I wanted. It sounds so clichéd, and painfully undescriptive, because this show is anything but clichéd or undescriptive of human emotions and human relationships, but watching this show is really its own experience. It draws on these deeply personal life experiences that feel almost too intimate at times, and yet so universal and true that it’s hard not to occasionally reexamine your life through the lens of this show. I feel like I can really put all my trust into this production team, because they tell this story so assuredly, with this delicate and heart-warming touch that fills these little aching pockets in my heart that I didn’t even know were there before.
Episode 9: “Because this is my first time belonging somewhere”
Se-hee takes Ji-ho firmly by the hand and together they make their way home, as Bok-nam seems to vanish into thin air. On the bus, Se-hee returns Ji-ho’s phone that he found lying on the ground at the bus stop.
She’s surprised to see so many missed calls from him, and he confirms it matter-of-factly, and somewhat tiredly. Ji-ho looks down at their still intertwined hands and sees his hand tightly gripping hers as if he’s afraid to let go.
They continue this way even as they enter their house. Se-hee asks Ji-ho politely if he can shower first since he’s sweaty after running for so long, then heads toward his door, but is genuinely taken aback when Ji-ho follows, not realizing that he is still holding her hand. You precious little potato! GAH, I love this so much!
He lets go, and Ji-ho understandingly goes to her room without making a big deal out of it. Se-hee lingers for a moment in front of his door as if he wants to tell her something, but heads inside instead.
After they wash up, Se-hee finds Ji-ho in the living room looking at the complaint against Bok-nam for stalking. Se-hee explains that Bok-nam is also a likely suspect in that horrifying kidnapping incident.
Alarmed, Ji-ho asks why Se-hee hadn’t notified her of this information earlier. He cites her concerns about finding it difficult to obtain a part-time job, and so Ji-ho replies that she would have appreciated some kind of warning, and could have acted like she didn’t know anything around Bok-nam.
He doubts her claim, and she’s about to argue until she remembers those times she got upset with him and her emotions were written all over her face. She looks away contrite and embarrassed.
They wonder how Bok-nam learned about their contractual marriage, and Ji-ho suggests it might be because she saved Se-hee’s number as “Landlord,” which could have put Bok-nam on their trail.
Se-hee asks why she would save his number that way, since it’s an unusual title between spouses; she could have used his name. But when she asks what he saved her as, he realizes that it’s “Tenant.” Ha!
Se-hee informs Ji-ho that Bo-mi’s uncle (a police officer) has been notified so Bok-nam will be dealt with soon, and likely detained. They become distracted by the soccer game on TV, but after the excitement settles Ji-ho quietly thanks Se-hee for coming to get her. She also thanks him for referring to their home as “our home.”
Se-hee looks thoughtful then asks if Ji-ho was very hurt when he drew a line between them and asked to avoid situations where they’d need to act like a couple. Ji-ho admits that she was, and so Se-hee explains that he merely did not want to be a burden on Ji-ho’s life.
He adds that although their terms were mutually agreed upon, he worried that after their arrangement comes to an end, she might endure some negative repercussions from society since she is a woman, and younger than him.
Therefore, he thought it best to minimize the effects of their relationship as much as he could. He’d made a promise to her mother at the wedding that he wouldn’t stand in her way—a promise he wanted to continue keeping in the future. Man, I can’t believe I ever doubted you, Se-hee. Best fake husband ever.
After they each retire to their rooms for the night, Ji-ho calls Se-hee, to his bewilderment. Without explanation, she tells Se-hee that after she graduated college and began working as an assistant writer, her monthly pay was so paltry (roughly 800 dollars) that her father demanded she come home to work on the farm, where she’d earn more.
Despite that, she embarked on her career anyway. She never thought she would become a famous writer or anything; rather, she fell in love with a script she found and had fun writing each day.
She didn’t have a grand plan for her life, nor does she mean to plan what happens in two years when their contract is over. If she’d thought too hard about it, she probably wouldn’t have gone through with the marriage. But she needed a room, and liked how safe she felt in the house, and how trustworthy the landlord was. And she likes being a part of the household.
Since it isn’t important what happens in two years, she asks him not to draw a line between them anymore. He agrees, then has a request of his own: that she call him “Husband” in front of others, because he’s worried that something dangerous might happen again and doesn’t want anyone thinking she lives alone. He adds sweetly that for the next two years she belongs to this household with him.
She smiles, then it occurs to her to ask how he was able to find her tonight. We flashback to Se-hee finding Ji-ho’s phone at the bus stop. He checked Ji-ho’s photos and found similar cityscape photos on Bok-nam’s Instagram.
He hurried to the location, but since the road was blocked to cars, he ran up the hill on foot, a half-hour’s trip (discarding his bag and coat along the way), until he found her. Guys, my heart. I’m not sure I can take anymore of this awesomeness.
After they hang up, Ji-ho smiles to herself as she changes Se-hee’s ID to “Husband,” and thinks back to him telling her to come home with him.
The next morning, Ji-ho and Se-hee stare at renamed contact IDs, which now read “Husband” and “Wife.” Ji-ho touches the phone affectionately, but doesn’t realize she’s accidentally called Se-hee until he answers the phone. She runs out of bed and into the hall, where Se-hee comes out, both with their phones against her ears.
She stammers to explain that she called by accident. He accepts her explanation, then they ask how the other slept. Cat meows—surprising Ji-ho—and Se-hee remarks, without missing a beat, that Cat came home by cab yesterday alone, and he let her in.
Ji-ho asks in surprise if Cat can do that, so Se-hee explains that it was a joke. She studies his face with wide-eyed amazement, and so he sheepishly looks down, then they share a quiet laugh.
They receive simultaneous calls about the kidnapping culprit’s arrest, and watch the news report on their bus ride to work. Ji-ho can hardly believe Bok-nam is a criminal, so Se-hee wisely remarks that a person doesn’t even know themselves fully, so it’s even harder to know others. Se-hee worries about Ji-ho going to work given the current situation, but Ji-ho assures him that she’ll be fine since Bok-nam has already been arrested.
At work, Sang-gu and Bo-mi privately ask Se-hee about what happened with Bok-nam. They’re worried that he physically assaulted Bok-nam, but Se-hee is insulted that they would assume that and explains (rather proudly) that he only kicked the motorcycle.
Sang-gu and Bo-mi are horrified to hear it, and Bo-mi says that the culprit has been arrested and shows Se-hee a close-up photo of the culprit… which is definitely not Bok-nam. Crap.
Sang-gu and Bo-mi explain that the real culprit used Bok-nam’s photos to create fake accounts and approached multiple women on dating apps. Se-hee panics and swallows hard as reality (and the hefty repair bill) sets in.
Ji-ho strolls into her job completely unaware of their huge mistake, and freaks out at the sight of Bok-nam casually eating breakfast with the cafe owner.
The cafe owner already knows about the motorcycle incident with Se-hee, but doesn’t know about Bok-nam’s alleged stalking, so Ji-ho whispers it to him. She thinks he’s broken out of police custody somehow and begins calling the police, so the cafe owner starts shouting at Ji-ho for being out of line.
Bok-nam suddenly says it’s fine, and calls the cafe owner “Dad,” which gets Ji-ho’s attention. The cafe owner then hollers at Ji-ho to call her husband over immediately.
Next thing we know, the couple sits respectfully before the irate cafe owner, and Se-hee apologizes for jumping to the wrong conclusions. The owner rebukes Se-hee for breaking Bok-nam’s treasured motorcycle instead of talking out their misunderstanding.
The owner walks away to take a call, so Bok-nam takes his seat and tells the couple that he wasn’t going to make it a big deal out of it, but now that his dad is involved, there is no helping it. He mentions that he hasn’t told his father about one thing though: their fake marriage.
They don’t even bother denying it, but are surprised as to how he figured it out. He explains that he was on the bus with them the day of their wedding. He had overheard their conversation about splitting wedding expenses, which it struck him as very odd.
Coincidentally, Bok-nam worked as a server at their wedding, which is where he saw Ji-ho with her hair up. He watched Se-hee and Ji-ho interact with interest and concluded that they weren’t in a normal relationship.
After taking wedding photos with their friends, Bok-nam suggested that they take couple shots, which they’d both refused. Eventually, they stood for another photo, and Bok-nam commented on how distant their body language was and suggested a kiss (which freaked them out), or an arm around the waist. He whispered to Bo-mi that the couple would blame her forever if their wedding photos didn’t come out well, so she’d joined him in pressing for skinship poses.
And so, Se-hee put out a very stiff arm, which Ji-ho awkwardly shook. (OMG, how did they not get caught before with their unbelievable acting?)
Bok-nam’s explanation now makes perfect sense, except for why he’d taken out a wrench the night before. Bok-nam rolls his eyes and demonstrates popping the cap off a beer bottle using the wrench. Mortified, Ji-ho takes a swig of the beer to calm herself, and Bok-nam announces that he’s going to file an insurance claim for his bike tomorrow, which gets Se-hee to his feet to speak with Bok-nam privately (addressing him progressively more politely).
Ji-ho meets up with her girls later to go to a meet-up with their old high school friends, and fills them in on the Bok-nam incident. Luckily, the main repair cost is the side mirror, which they’ll pay back in installments.
Su-ji offers as a consolation that they’ve come to see Se-hee in a new light through this experience. I’ll say. Worth every penny.
Su-ji calls Se-hee a devoted person, and Ho-rang attributes it to the power of love. Ho-rang makes a jab about Su-ji not understanding love’s mysterious ways, and Su-ji barks at her to back off since she’s in a bad mood, dreading the meet-up they’re going to. Ho-rang and Ji-ho aren’t sure what she means, but she just replies cryptically that they’ll see soon.
At the gathering, the conversation is dominated by questions about Ji-ho’s newlywed life. This time she’s able to answer some questions truthfully (given their recent interactions), but still needs to be a little creative with her other answers to sound believable.
She describes Se-hee’s affectionate routine with Cat when he comes home, slotting herself in Cat’s place, and uses vague terms so it sounds like they are living a passionate newlywed life. Hahaha, oh dear.
It’s enough to convince the friends, but soon it becomes evident why Su-ji was dreading the meet-up after one friend thoughtlessly dismisses Ho-rang’s opinions on pregnancy, and another condescendingly suggesting Su-ji quit smoking in case she might want to get married one day.
Afterwards, our girls debrief on the gathering and Su-ji wonders why people become so nosy after they get married, and like telling people what to do.
They notice Ho-rang snacking after their meal and Ho-rang explains that she had an upset stomach during the dinner because of her great envy of her friend’s married lives. And Ji-ho and Su-ji just watch her eat quietly, unable to think of anything to say.
Afterward as Ji-ho and Ho-rang walk back together, Ho-rang says that Ji-ho has something in common now with their married friends. Ji-ho asks why Ho-rang wants to get married, just as they come to a shop window featuring two mannequins—one wearing a red coat, another wearing black.
Ho-rang recalls how she always loved brightly colored clothing when she was younger, and never wore a boring color like black, but now that she’s older she gravitates toward clothes that don’t stand out.
She describes one of her mother’s friends: healthy, young-looking, successful at her high-powered job. All her mother’s friends envy this woman, yet they always leave her out of group outings. Ho-rang calls the lady “a red coat”—she never married due to her busy career, and now she sticks out in the crowd.
Ho-rang wants to live an ordinary family life like everyone else, wearing a black coat and fitting in. She describes marriage as her validation as a decent person who has value as a woman.
In voiceover, Ji-ho narrates: “Ho-rang was a girl who looked good in red. She was always confident even when she wore a coat that stood out—that’s how Ho-rang used to be. When did we begin to feel shame for wearing a different color? What’s even more bitter is that I also felt happy for wearing a black coat that resembles marriage. No, to be honest, it felt really good. It felt good… belonging somewhere.”
Ji-ho rides the bus home and receives a group text from the married high school friends encouraging her to meet up with them more often. From the window, she’s pleasantly surprised to see Se-hee waiting at the bus stop for her. He explains that he was worried given the incident with Bok-nam yesterday and the late hour of her return.
They walk back home and discuss Ji-ho’s meeting with her old friends. She describes feeling closer to the married women than she did before, as if she is now part of group she never was before, which she calls a good feeling.
Se-hee tells Ji-ho that she’s entering into a new level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, since she has satisfied her more urgent, basic needs (food, shelter, safety). Now, she’s seeking to satisfy the third level, which is her psychological need to belong.
As he describes those feelings as animal-like in terms of behavior, and his scientific lecture stretches on, Ji-ho thinks to herself, “Occasionally… I think he’s really annoying.”
The next morning, Won-seok loudly cleans their room and repeatedly nags Ho-rang to wake up. She tries to get him off her back, but he doesn’t relent, and even proceeds to criticize her slovenly appearance, which gets her angry. He chides her for having dirty nails, and when she holds her fingers up to prove they’re clean, she sees a ring there.
Won-seok tells her about his favorite mathematician, Kurt Godel, and his theorem of incompleteness, which serves as the basis of modern computer systems. The theorem states that not all mathematical proofs can be proven even if they are mathematical truths.
He likens the theorem to his desire to prove himself to her, but realizes now that their love could never be completely proven, because their love is a perfect truth. She orders him to stop talking and get to the point, and so he finally asks the question: “Will you marry me?”
Ho-rang immediately bursts into tears, asking him if they are really getting married. Awww.
The next day at their company meeting, Sang-gu announces the hiring of Won-seok as their new developer. The team is not happy by the news, and so Se-hee pulls Sang-gu aside to explain that Won-seok’s app was a total failure, and suggests he not make staffing decisions based on sympathy.
Sang-gu, however, explains Won-seok’s genius as a developer, though he lacks (apparently basic) business acumen. It isn’t a pity hire, he declares.
Se-hee studies Sang-gu’s face, and when Sang-gu notices, he asks if Sang-gu has been crying. Sang-gu is alarmed by the question, so Se-hee explains that Sang-gu’s eyes always turn red after crying.
Sang-gu emphatically denies it, so Se-hee lets it go, figuring that he can’t understand someone fully even if he’s known him for eighteen years. Sang-gu seems satisfied with Se-hee’s rational thinking, until Se-hee asks why he was crying. LOL.
The entire company heads over to Ji-ho’s cafe that afternoon, where Su-ji chats with Bok-nam about his motorcycle and slings her arm around his shoulder like a kid brother. But seeing that, a tear falls down Sang-gu’s face, his mind flooding with his memories of Su-ji. When she turns around and sees him, he runs off.
She happens upon him around the corner as he’s crying and immediately frets over him, worrying that he’s ill. Hearing his employees nearby calling for him, she hurries him to her car before he’s seen.
In her car, Su-ji tries to comfort him, not knowing she’s the cause. Sang-gu says that he can’t give up his company, but knows if he doesn’t then he can’t see her anymore. It dawns on her that he had taken her ultimatum literally, which she finds completely adorable.
She peeks at his tear-streaked face and asks if she can kiss him. He’s bewildered by the question, but when she backs off, he quietly adds that that isn’t what he meant, and then they kiss.
“Most of us misunderstand others. We shouldn’t say, ‘I know how you feel.’ The reason I’m hopeful is because I know people have their limits, and unless we try hard, we can’t understand each other. Love exists in this kind of world, and as long as you love someone, we need to try hard, because trying hard for the other person makes life something worth trying.”
During the voiceover, we see Won-seok’s former co-workers of his alarm app send him angry text messages for abandoning them. Meanwhile, Se-hee diverts his co-workers from seeing Sang-gu and Su-ji kissing in the car, then enters the cafe where he’s greeted by Ji-ho. They share a warm smile, and when Bok-nam sees it, he smiles too.
Later, Bok-nam sees Ji-ho looking at the book he gave her, and supposes it must be a good book. Apologetically, she asks if he is still upset with her, and he’s a bit indignant, but admits that he’s forgiven her because Se-hee is a cool guy.
He says that she met a good landlord, but when Ji-ho asks what Se-hee had told Bok-nam during their private conversation about the mirror earlier, we don’t hear his response. But Ji-ho’s in a great mood later that night as she waits at the bus stop for Se-hee’s bus, then boards it to join him.
As they walk home together, Ji-ho says there are so many stars in the sky, but Se-hee looks up to see it completely overcast. She happily trots along, and he looks after her not quite sure what she’s talking about.
At home, they look over their wedding album, and Ji-ho says a bit regretfully that their group seems small. Se-hee replies that she should have called more of her friends, but Ji-ho replies that she’s only really close with Ho-rang and Su-ji.
Se-hee calls two friends a lot, and believes that having more than one friend is more than enough. Ji-ho asks meaningfully if that applies to love too, saying that she thinks one love in a lifetime would be enough. He agrees with that sentiment.
Later in his room, as Se-hee opens a box in his closet in search of a spare mouse, he sees a book of poetry and a folded paper tucked inside.
He opens the paper and we see that it is a completed marriage application, dated December 24th, 2005. Se-hee is listed as the husband, and the wife is a woman named “Jung Min.”
Ji-ho texts to her friends that she’s started to like someone: her husband. Her friends think she’s bragging about her marital bliss and reply in mock-annoyance.
She smiles, her thoughts aflutter as she thinks, “The one and only love in my life… has begun.”
I’m relieved that the misunderstanding with Bok-nam was resolved sensibly. Truthfully, while watching the last episode I did feel like Bok-nam was acting a little too sinister, when other aspects of his character have suggested more ambiguity. It did seem as if the writing left an opening for Bok-nam to explain himself as he did in this episode, but I still would like to know why Bok-nam acted so territorial about Ji-ho to Se-hee. A possible explanation is that he was trying to provoke some kind of response from Se-hee in order to force him to confirm that their relationship wasn’t real. Either way, I’m happy to move on from the weird, creepy tone of last week’s episodes since it seemed a bit out of step with the rest of the show.
I find it kind of hard to believe that Se-hee, Ji-ho, and Bo-mi wouldn’t recognize Bok-nam from the wedding since he interacted with them. Additionally, if Bok-nam is as handsome and visually popular he has been previously established to be, then I’m somewhat surprised that no one remembered him at all after a solid interaction. But I think the situation was mostly written well, and I’m happy to just accept things as they are because Bok-nam was the impetus for bringing the leads closer together and clearing up any misunderstandings, and any more time spent on his mystery would have been wasted time.
Speaking of, that honest and wonderful conversation between Se-hee and Ji-ho was more than I ever thought to ask for. We got some much-needed insight into Se-hee’s thought process, and I find it amazing that everything we needed to know—about how he feels, and why he’s acting the way that he was toward Ji-ho—was already told to us, and so consistent with his character. That moment Ji-ho overheard with Mom and Se-hee had as much impact on him as it did on her, but the interpretation was different. I’m not super excited about exploring Se-hee’s first and supposedly only love to come, but I know the writer is going handle it in an interesting and moving way, which will ultimately help build Se-hee and Ji-ho’s relationship, so I’m happy to go wherever the show wants to take me.
The writing, acting, and production of this drama has such amazing synergy that keeps me constantly in awe of how thoughtful and thought-provoking the show often is. Every character is complex, full-formed and brimming with this earnest desire to be understood. I really love the way this theme of trying to understand one another is woven into the DNA of this story. It’s just so satisfying on so many levels.
At every turn, the three couples show that they are willing to put in the work and be vulnerable enough to express themselves and their feelings honestly, and in this episode we see how those efforts paid off. Ho-rang went on a limb and let herself be in the position of being painted as the clingy or desperate one in the relationship by bringing up marriage first, but then clearly articulated to us and Ji-ho how much getting married meant to her. Won-seok, who clearly knows and loves Ho-rang more than we do, put her feelings above his own. I know they still have things to work through, but narratively I enjoyed how their relationship progressed in this episode, and how the proposal was paired with Ho-rang’s desire to belong to the group of married people.
These characters really do have so many layers and I love being surprised and moved along with the characters when their partner or friends reveal new sides of themselves, or powerful reasons for their deeply held beliefs. I don’t have to agree with Ho-rang’s interpretation of the red coat woman to understand her, and feel the strength and fear in her belief. There is always this temptation as a viewer to jump ahead and analyze character growth trajectories and relationship progression rates, but being in the moment with the characters as they learn more about themselves and other people is really the best feeling in the world.
- Premiere Watch: 20th Century, Witch’s Courtroom, This Life Is Our First, Mad Dog, Revenge Club, Go Back Spouses, Package, Black, Revolutionary Love
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