The Light in Your Eyes: Episodes 1-10
Is it possible to be cocky and poignant at the same time? Because that’s how I feel about this show. I’m still gobsmacked at how The Light in Your Eyes had such confidence in the story it wanted to tell that it didn’t mind confusing some of us if it meant staying true to its heroine’s story. Which gives last week’s episodes a lot of impact, polishing an already good show. And though magic watches aren’t real, there’s no rule that says you can’t start a show late. Especially a show like this one.
(Note: this review covers the events of episodes 1-10. Please hold on to your spoilers and episodes 11-12 feels until the follow-up post later this week. Thanks!)
MEET THE YOUNG HYE-JA
The show throws us a twist right from the start when KIM HYE-JA (played by Kim Hye-ja, heh) walks in on a young man’s “48-hour sleep challenge” broadcast. Hye-ja notices that the webcam is streaming and the bored audience is now making comments about her. She sits down and chats with them until someone asks, “How old are you, Grandma?” to which Hye-ja matter-of-factly replies, “Me? I’m 25 years old.”
The channel erupts in laughter and virtual candies (convertible to cash) at her humor, but in a much younger voiceover, Hye-ja insists that she really is 25.
Young Hye-ja (played by Han Ji-min) continues that she has a magic watch that can turn back time. She found it half-buried in the sand when she was a little girl and discovered its powers by accident. Being a kid, she used those powers without much thought. Like sleeping a bit longer in the mornings before school or restarting exams to get higher scores.
Later, she noticed her watch has a catch: when she rewinds the time, her biological clock stays the same. So every time she pulls back the clock she becomes a little bit older than everyone else. By the time she’s 10, she’s used the watch so much that her puzzled and worried family has to keep whipping out her birth certificate to prove her actual age to others. Hye-ja decides to minimize the damage by not using the watch anymore.
When we next catch up with 25-years young Hye-ja, she’s in the middle of her Nth attempt to become a news anchor. It’s been her dream since high school but the dream seems fuelled more by heart than actual skills. After a series of failed interviews, she’s started to lose even the heart part of it and stopped submitting applications while she stays at home and “prepares” some more.
Hye-ja’s family lives in a rundown neighborhood marked for redevelopment. Mom (Lee Jung-eun) runs a hair salon where the water pressure is none, the boiler keeps breaking down, and the regulars are a trio of grannies who pay for perms in vegetables. Still, Mom rarely complains about her lot. She only gets mad when faced with nonsense. Too bad her children are full of it, so she’s pretty much mad all the time.
Dad (Ahn Nae-sang) drives a dilapidated cab and is the sweet-but-silent type of husband. He dotes on his children, especially Hye-ja. It’s not uncommon for the father-daughter pair to sneak out to a small udon place to drink and talk about life and escape Mom’s wrath.
Hye-ja’s sliiightly younger-looking older brother YEONG-SOO (brilliant casting of Sohn Ho-joon) makes up the rest of the family. He’s a struggling VJ who’s too lame to be funny and too unskilled to finish any of his viewer’s challenges. His only goal in life is to eat samgyupsal–a useless dream that always brings out Mom’s infamous wrath, to the point that Yeong-soo once sealed off his whole room to grill pork in secret and ended up almost dying from asphyxiation.
Though the whole neighborhood assumed that Yeong-soo tried to commit suicide, Hye-ja and her friends know that Oppa is really just that stupid. A fact that is doubly-insulting for friend HYUN-JOO (Kim Ga-eun) who used to be head over heels for Yeong-soo. After that deeply-regretted phase of romanticism, Hyun-joo is now an overly practical girl who doesn’t have any dream to chase. She helps out in her family’s small Chinese restaurant–a job that sparks shenanigans the whole series between her and her food-obsessed first love Yeong-soo.
The last friend of the trio is SANG-EUN (Song Sang-eun), a girl who’s been an idol-in-training for 10 years. Despite her agency renewing her contract, it’s obvious they gave up on her when she describes the new terms: “I can use the practice rooms whenever I want, sing whatever I want, do whatever I want… as long as I don’t tell anyone which agency I’m from.”
Still, the three best friends support each other’s endeavors. Whether it’s Sang-eun’s singing, Hye-ja’s hate of her successful hoobae, or Hyun-joo’s efforts to forget that Yeong-soo exists.
In the midst of this quarter-life crisis, Hye-ja meets LEE JOON-HA (Nam Joo-hyuk), an up-and-coming reporter. He’s a favorite hoobae of Hye-ja’s one-sided college love, JANG-HO (cameo by Hyun Woo).
Jang-ho is a seasoned reporter who covers civil wars and humanitarian crises. Naturally, when he introduces his two favorite hoobaes to each other, Joon-ha looks interested in Hye-ja. An interest that evaporates when she turns out to be ignorant of current events. Joon-ha quizzes her about her dedication to broadcasting: what kinds of stories she wants to cover, what she’s done to gather experience, what she thinks about fieldwork versus reporting from the studio… his pointed questions hit a sore spot with Hye-ja. She returns from the college reunion feeling talentless and even more convinced that she’s not meant to be an anchor.
Hye-ja is still smarting from Joon-ha’s comments when she runs into him at the neighborhood redevelopment protest. She asks what a “cool” reporter is doing there when their tiny concerns aren’t newsworthy to people like him. After her impassioned speech, the sweet granny that Hye-ja was assisting (Kim Young-ok) introduces Joon-ha as her grandson, here to join the protest. Hye-ja is embarrassed but Joon-ha is impressed. Initial antagonism now gone and with a cute boy checking her out, Hye-ja hilariously restarts the protest with softer chants.
Joon-ha’s grandma is also eyeing the lively and considerate Hye-ja as her future granddaughter-in-law. Heh. Though Joon-ha pretends nonchalance in front of his grandma, they’re both disappointed to hear the (false) rumor that Hye-ja is getting married soon. It doesn’t stop Joon-ha from being drawn to her though.
One night, Hye-ja is drinking her self-doubt away after a female sunbae offers her a job as an erotic-scene dubber. (It came with the practical advice that as anchor-rejects, they have to earn a living somehow.) Joon-ha joins Hye-ja’s pity party and the two end up playing the “who’s more miserable?” game. Joon-ha wins when he says his mom abandoned him, his dad is better off dead, and he wants to turn back time so he can live in an orphanage instead of making his poor grandma suffer while raising him.
A drunk Hye-ja sobs at his story and takes out the magic watch she was going to restart her dream with, offering to turn back time for him instead. But before she can use the watch, Hye-ja stumbles and headbutts the table, giving herself a forehead gash and a free ride home on Joon-ha’s back.
She wakes up not remembering anything in the morning. Since Mom’s ladle whacks are proving unhelpful, Hye-ja escapes to Dad who tells her in between pouts that her “new boyfriend” took her home, which makes Hye-ja squeal in delight (and Dad pout harder, heh).
She runs into Joon-ha a couple more times around the neighborhood. Through him, she learns to accept her old, niggling thoughts that it’s okay to look for something else to do in life. Meanwhile, she teaches the always-gloomy Joon-ha that it’s okay to love your imperfect self. She tells him, “I don’t dislike myself. I can’t say I love myself dearly, but I think I’m all right… you should love yourself more. It will help you become more generous with yourself.”
Yeong-soo, in a rare spark of awareness, gathers there’s more to Hye-ja’s recent drunken binges. He gets his little sister to confess that she’s giving up on her dream. He pats her in comfort for maybe 2 seconds before immediately announcing it to the whole house. LOL
Mom aka Hye-ja’s biggest supporter is angry and disappointed. She used to joke that she can’t wait to close the salon and tour the world when Hye-ja becomes rich, but what really bothers Mom is Hye-ja giving up without a plan. Though that nuance is lost in between the ladle whacks.
Dad barely manages to hold the door for Hye-ja, and with Mom waiting to pounce just outside her room, Dad and daughter end up hiding together. Hye-ja apologizes to him for being a failure. He jokes that she was meant to be Miss Korea anyway, if only she drank more milk as a kid. And besides, she doesn’t have to be a news anchor to buy him the promised taxi. Aww…
It’s extra sweet, making Dad’s death the next day extra cruel. Hye-ja repeatedly rewinds the clock to try and stop Dad’s accident. Each day she manages to run a little bit farther, ride the bike a little bit faster. But she can’t seem to catch up to him. She pays for each failure by watching Dad die.
Tired of witnessing tragedy repeat itself, Hye-ja wonders if it’s something she can’t change after all. She asks Joon-ha what to do if you need to save someone but you keep failing. He answers that if it’s someone that *must* be saved, then giving up is out of the question. Hye-ja thanks him for confirming she’s in the right path and goes back to repeating the day of Dad’s accident until she fiiinally manages to squeeze through and change Dad’s future from being hit by a speeding truck to crashing safely into a wall instead.
The next day, Hye-ja jumps out of bed and runs into the kitchen to find Dad alive with a bit of a limp but otherwise looking okay. She’s so happy that it takes a moment to register that the whole family is looking at her strangely. When she stares at the mirror, she finds an 80-year-old Hye-ja staring back.
MEET THE OLD HYE-JA
Though the show deals with a lot of mixed storylines, the main focus always goes back to Hye-ja’s struggles as a new 80-year-old woman.
Hye-ja’s first reaction is of course to use the watch to undo things, but for some reason, it’s broken and couldn’t be fixed. Once she realizes she’s stuck in an old body for real, she shuts herself in her room for days and refuses to see anyone. One night, she decides to end her life and leaves her family a goodbye letter. She climbs up to the rooftop she and Joon-ha used to visit and throws the broken watch away.
Joon-ha happens to be drinking in an alley below. When Hye-ja’s sneaker slips and hits him in the head, he shouts up at the strange grandma that this height isn’t enough to kill you. It will only injure you for life. Then your family will have to take care of you which defeats the purpose of wanting to leave in the first place. He advises her to keep living no matter what because that’s the best way to keep your family un-miserable.
Unbeknownst to Hye-ja, while she was locked up in her own room, Joon-ha’s abusive and money-grubbing father has returned to terrorize his grandma. On top of this, Joon-ha feels adrift after hearing the various neighborhood rumors that Hye-ja left for Germany, got married, and left without saying a word. One night, a desperate Joon-ha beats himself up and frames his father to get him locked up. He instructs his grandma to keep up with the lie so they can finally have peace, but grandma sneaks out the next morning to give a statement in favor of her son. She returns with a vague excuse and apologizes to an unknowing Joon-ha. It’s the last thing she says to him because when he comes back that night, grandma has died alone in her sleep. While Joon-ha presides over grandma’s wake, his father arrives, cops in tow to question him for false charges.
This is the state he’s in when he crosses paths with the old Hye-ja: his grandma dead, his only friend missing, and his future as a reporter now ruined.
Still, his dark logic is enough to stop Hye-ja’s suicidal thoughts. Hye-ja tries to carve out a place in the family by doing more household chores. She also makes an effort to get to know her new limits, enlisting Yeong-soo to run impromptu physical tests: climbing steps (5 to run out of breath, 10 to start creaky knees), running track (impossible), singing IU’s famous high triple-note in Good Day (another impossible). She also asks Mom to take her to the hospital for a full body checkup, though Mom has to drag her back out when she strangles the doctor for complimenting her “young-looking” 55-year-old organs.
Hye-ja has barely accepted her new self when she overhears Mom and Dad arguing about the cost of her maintenance medicines. It sends her packing again. This time to live a short life alone near the sea. But her wisdom hasn’t improved with age and she’s scammed out of all her belongings at the bus station. A cab driver stops and offers to take her to the beach for free, which was just the concerned man’s ruse to take her to the police and find her family. She refuses to tell them anything, creating a ruckus in the station as the group of officers beg her for her name, address, or fingerprints.
Joon-ha, the traitor, happens to be there for questioning and tattles that the grandma lives in his neighborhood, though he doesn’t know where exactly. The officers take both of them for a ride, and as luck would have it, a sniveling Yeong-soo knocks on the patrol car, asking for help to locate his “granny” while describing Hye-ja to a T. They leave him to piggyback his tired grandma home.
Back in his room, Yeong-soo waves Hye-ja’s goodbye letter in her face and scolds her for (potentially) breaking Mom and Dad’s heart by running away. He then uses the same letter to blackmail her into running his errands. LOL. It’s annoying but also sweet. Grandma or not, Yeong-soo treats Hye-ja the same as ever, which helps ground her. Though it’s hard to feel grateful when you’re now the neighborhood loser’s lackey.
Hye-ja reveals herself to Hyun-joo and Sang-eun too. The girls claim that it’s okay, she’s still the same Hye-ja they love, but there’s obviously some adjustment needed as they keep slipping into formal speech and sitting politely in front of her.
Though her friends and family try their best to make the new Hye-ja feel welcome, the rest of society says otherwise. There’s this depressing scene when the fire alarm goes off inside the mall. Despite Hye-ja being one of the first people to get into the elevator, when the overcapacity warning flashes, everyone eyes her disdainfully for not volunteering to
die get off first. (WTF, people?!) It’s proven to be a false alarm, but the experience and the realization that her life doesn’t matter as much as others breaks sweet Hye-ja’s heart.
One day, Hye-ja runs into Joon-ha who ignores her. She follows him home only to find him taking care of a dog that looks like her pet, Rice. When she checks at home, Dad tells her Rice went missing a couple weeks back. Hye-ja becomes convinced that Joon-ha’s new dog is hers. Hye-ja tries to take Rice back, only to be attacked or ignored repeatedly. She keeps coming back with her old clothes or even her old smell (the smell of soju LOL). Joon-ha watches dispassionately as this strange grandma begs Rice to remember her and the time they spent together, not knowing that the words are also meant for him.
Though Rice never ends up recognizing Hye-ja, Joon-ha takes pity on the old lady and gives Rice to her family when Hye-ja’s father comes knocking. Even though it’s revealed later that this isn’t the same dog, (Yeong-soo tells Mom in a panic that “Rice” grew a new pair of balls, LOL) her family keeps up the ruse.
Hye-ja drops by Joon-ha’s house to thank him for Rice and bring food for grandma, only to find the memorial set up in the bedroom. Before Hye-ja can react, Joon-ha’s dad enters to ransack the place. Hye-ja hides and watches as Joon-ha catches his dad in the act and the two fight over grandma’s death, with the father accusing Joon-ha of hoarding the insurance payout.
Joon-ha looks so done with life after his father leaves that he barely reacts when Hye-ja pops out from her hiding place and awkwardly leaves. Still, the sight of her home-cooked meals sparks something in Joon-ha. He finds her at the udon place and shares that today was grandma’s 49th-day ritual. They drink in a sort of truce until Hye-ja introduces herself as Hye-ja’s great aunt as an excuse to pry into his life. Joon-ha keeps acting like Hye-ja was just an acquaintance, so Hye-ja unknowingly digs deeper into his wounds by talking about how her niece felt close to him, until Joon-ha gets fed up and walks out.
Hye-ja hears a couple of ladies talking to her mom about this Hyoja Exhibit Hall/Senior Daycare and how convenient it is to have their old relatives out of their hair during the day. Hye-ja checks it out but figures it isn’t for her, only to turn back in shock when she hears Joon-ha take to the stage to sing for the elders.
At first, Hye-ja assumes that Joon-ha is doing investigative work. The exhibit hall is like an open scam: they entertain the elders to sell overpriced health supplements to them. She pulls Joon-ha aside to offer help in going undercover, but the puzzled Joon-ha answers using his “exhibit hall face” (very polite and smiley, but also blank) that he really works there. Later on, she watches as Joon-ha uses reverse psychology to sell the supplements. She scoffs at the gimmick but ends up getting a box herself. Heh. Who can say no to that angelic face?
Still, Hye-ja knows it’s a bad thing. She tells Hyun-joo and Sang-eun all about the exhibit hall and how she hates everything about it, especially the old people. She complains about the icky grandpa who fell in love with “Hee-sun” noona (her fake name) at first sight, the rich grandma who looks down on everyone, and another who stuffs candies in Hye-ja’s mouth without asking. Hyun-joo and Sang-eun laugh along with her, making jokes about how old people are slow and weird. Hye-ja grows uncomfortable until she shouts at them to better watch out because they’ll get old too. It’s not old people’s fault their bodies are failing.
Now in a tiff with her friends, Hye-ja goes back to attending the exhibit hall. She happens to notice that the snobby Chanel Lady is very friendly with Joon-ha. Hye-ja watches as Chanel Lady buys a box of supplements and asks Joon-ha to send it to her son in the US, only for Joon-ha to secretly leave it in a shelf full of unsent mail. Hye-ja confronts him about lying to the old lady, and he answers back that the son never responds so his lies actually makes the Chanel Lady feel better. A perfect give and take. Hye-ja is appalled at his mercenary attitude and threatens to expose him, but he tells her that if it offends her so, she can just stop coming to this place which she obviously hates so much.
The ever sprightly Hye-ja spots Chanel Lady a couple more times around the neighborhood, every time throwing someone’s assistance back in their face, scolding a clerk for talking loudly about adult diapers or refusing to wrap them in a less conspicuous packaging. During one of these encounters, Chanel Lady leaves her phone behind and Hye-ja is forced to follow her home… to a motel. Hye-ja learns from the custodian that the motel’s name (Motel Prague) reminds Chanel Lady of the overseas trip she went on with her late husband. She’s been staying there after her husband died, waiting for their son to come back.
Understanding the lonely Chanel Lady better, Hye-ja befriends her by listening to stories about her family and past adventures. Hye-ja’s carefree attitude about their age also rubs off on Chanel Lady. Soon, the two become fast friends. Hye-ja starts to understand why Joon-ha might be doing Chanel Lady a favor after all, pretending to give her a line of communication with her son. Through her, Hye-ja also learns the missing piece in Joon-ha’s story: the fact that he can’t be a reporter anymore because of what he did to his father.
Hye-ja looks for Joon-ha to apologize about interfering in his life decisions, but Joon-ha is in a dark mood after his thuggish co-worker accuses him of acting upright while setting his sights on the rich Chanel Lady’s money. (Joon-ha refuses to sell insurance policies to the elders with the exhibit hall named as beneficiaries, a far larger scam than expensive health drinks.)
Hye-ja tries to comfort Joon-ha, saying that she knows he’s a good person, but he doesn’t want her expectations because he knows himself that he’s at rock bottom right now. He begs her to leave him alone as he’s barely surviving, and Hye-ja is shocked to realize how damaged he is inside. Hye-ja comes home to the sound of her parents fighting and cries at this broken new reality, praying hard to return to the time when everything was okay.
She wakes up miraculously young again with Dad alive and completely healthy. She also gets to Joon-ha just in time to prevent him from hurting himself and framing his father. With Hye-ja there to support him, Joon-ha doesn’t sink into despair and even asks her out on a date. At the end of which she makes him promise to become a reporter no matter what, while he makes her promise to be his girlfriend no matter what. But Hye-ja finds herself fading and realizes it’s a dream. She hugs Joon-ha and apologizes that she can’t help him after all.
Having dreamed away her frustrations, Hye-ja wakes up filled with resolve to live her current life instead of wallowing in regret. She agrees to do Yeong-soo’s Hye-ja broadcast in exchange for 90% of the profits, hah. She also cheerily picks up Chanel Lady so they can go to the exhibit hall together, making light of the fact that they wear diapers now. We see her being friendlier with the exhibit hall regulars and appreciative of the facilities. It marks another milestone towards Hye-ja embracing her age.
THE RETURN OF THE WATCH
Hye-ja’s acceptance of her lot is tested one last time when she sees an old man in the exhibit hall wearing her not-broken magic watch. The catatonic grandpa only shows signs of (angry) life when you talk about his watch or, strangely, when Joon-ha approaches him.
Before Hye-ja can formulate a plan to get her watch back, the grandpa stops coming to the exhibit hall. Hye-ja asks the police for help looking for him but they dismiss her. Outside, she spots a young man wearing the same watch and tries but fails to chase him. Her day doesn’t get any better when she finds her parents’ divorce papers hidden in a box at home. It makes it even more imperative that she find the watch and set everything back to rights.
Hye-ja won’t let the grandpa out of her sight the next time he shows up at the exhibit hall. Armed with proof that the watch can bring back one’s youth, she tells Joon-ha that “Hye-ja” is looking for a way to come back. You can see him struggling to not care, but he can’t help but ask when. “Soon” is all Hye-ja can promise.
“Soon” means that same afternoon as Hye-ja makes a desperate dive for the old man’s watch, in plain view of everyone. It gets her kicked out of the hall for stealing, and even Joon-ha won’t believe that the watch was originally hers. She keeps saying she needs to fix her life and his. Joon-ha, tired of this grandma swinging repeatedly from acceptance to denial, begs her to stop trying to fix him too.
Later that night, Hye-ja discovers that Dad didn’t just sprain his leg in the accident. He lost it from the knee down. She’s devastated that the watch took something else from her family and can only apologize to Dad over and over. She thinks to herself, “I thought that the fair price for Dad’s life was my youth, dreams, and love. But it was as foolish as a kid trying to buy an expensive gift with only 10 cents in hand.”
Thus reminded of the consequences of messing with time and fearful of what it will cost to get her youth back, she turns her efforts to repairing her broken family now. She takes Mom to the secret udon place, making Mom laugh that the “secret” was just a dingy old spot that serves noodles. She praises Mom for putting up with her kids and frustrating husband, assuring Mom that she’ll side with her in a divorce. Mom cries into her noodles, and I can’t help but wonder how much it’s been bothering her all these years to not have the affection of her kids as the “bad cop” in the family.
Hye-ja gets permission to visit the hall again. She apologizes to Watch Grandpa and says she hopes that whatever he used the watch for was worth it.
Hye-ja lets Joon-ha go too. She tells him that her niece Hye-ja has no plans to return after all, but that she wishes the best for him. Joon-ha reveals that he’s planning to leave to. Now there’s nothing and no one to wait for, it’s goodbye for them.
There’s one more thing that needs to be settled though. Joon-ha finally tells Chanel Lady the truth about her son not responding to the letters. She’s saddened to learn that the replies were fake, but on the morning of Joon-ha’s departure, Chanel Lady tells him that she found her son in Seoul. Joon-ha takes her to the address and waits for her outside. She comes back twenty minutes later gushing about her grandson and how she’s set to have lunch with them on the weekend. She then sends Joon-ha off at the airport as a way of saying all is forgiven.
Joon-ha’s flight is delayed until the next day but before he can board, the cops ask to take his statement: Chanel Lady was found floating lifelessly in a river that morning. There’s no evidence of foul play but Joon-ha doesn’t think it’s suicide either, as she was looking forward to reconnecting with her family. Filing it as an accident, the cops are about to dismiss Joon-ha when new evidence comes to light. Chanel Lady named him the beneficiary of her insurance payout.
The seniors and their relatives are in an uproar, making sure that no one else signed over their rights to Hyoja Exhibit Hall. But one of Hye-ja’s granny friends shames the rumor-mongers for even thinking that Joon-ha would do such a thing, citing all the instances he went out of his way to take care of them. Meanwhile, Hye-ja is causing another ruckus at the station demanding to see Joon-ha, knowing he’s in a dark place again with no one to comfort him. He’s no longer alone though. Hyun-joo, Sang-eun, and Yeong-soo also arrive, Hye-ja’s senior friends in tow, to demand the release of Joon-ha.
But the best defense comes in the form of Chanel Lady’s farewell letter, sent by mail to Joon-ha. In it, she admits that her son was very curt to her and didn’t want to talk about his family. He also declined her invitation to reconnect. He obviously doesn’t need or want her in his life.
Joon-ha is released. He presides over the wake (because useless son is consistently being useless by refusing to show up). The show twists the knife further by finishing Chanel Lady’s letter. In it, she thanks Joon-ha for writing the fake letters, and she wishes to be reborn as his mother.
Hye-ja approaches a mourning Joon-ha and tells him the 80-year-old version of young Hye-ja’s speech. “To others I’m an old person with nothing to look forward to and no point in regretting anything… but I’m important to myself. I hope you and your life also mean a lot to you.”
Hye-ja checks in on Joon-ha a couple of days later and finds him in (relatively) better spirits. He reveals that he’ll push through with his delayed trip to see the Aurora Borealis, and suddenly Hye-ja realizes just how important she was to him.
Back when they were doing their pity party, Joon-ha called himself an unwanted child, a mistake. Hye-ja suddenly blabbered on about her dream to see the Aurora Borealis. She explained that they’re a natural anomaly. No one planned for them to exist, but they’re beautiful just the same. (Aww, no wonder Joon-ha fell for you.)
In the present, Hye-ja asks him if he doesn’t hate her niece. After all, she left without a word, promised to return, then broke that promise too. Joon-ha says that he can’t hate her or her niece because they were the first people to cry for his pain. It made him realize that he was the one who made himself suffer the most, by failing to value himself. Hye-ja cries once more and urges him to hurry and leave so he can see the Northern Lights and think of her niece.
The next morning, the exhibit hall boss, HEE-WON (Kim Hee-won), and his lackey barge into Joon-ha’s house. Hee-won seems convinced that Joon-ha is hiding some inheritance from Chanel Lady AND planning to report him to the police for selling insurance policies to their charges. They take Joon-ha and lock him away while they hatch an Evil Plan™ to make quick money.
Hye-ja senses something is wrong and Joon-ha didn’t leave on his own. She visits the exhibit hall and is surprised to find it reopened (it had to close down after the insurance scandal in Chanel Lady’s case, even though Joon-ha was cleared of charges). Hye-ja discovers that Hee-won is organizing a “field trip” for the elders, but not everyone is invited. When Hye-ja does a head count, those who didn’t buy an insurance under Hyoja’s name were left out. Watch Grandpa tries to tell her something about Joon-ha, but he’s wheeled away by one of the lackeys.
Hye-ja still figures out Hee-won’s dastardly plan to orchestrate a travel accident with all the insured seniors. She also knows they’re hiding Joon-ha to stop him from revealing their plans. Hye-ja, with the help of the ex-gangster grandpa who has a crush on her, organizes the remaining seniors to mount a two-pronged rescue.
You have to watch it to believe it, because it’s equal parts brilliant and absurd. But basically, Hye-ja’s team manages to (1) “release” the seniors waiting for their picnic bus under watch of lots of thugs, and (2) rescue Joon-ha and Watch Grandpa from the bowels of Hyoja Exhibit Hall. And this with only a has-been gangster, a blind grandpa, a pair of old twins who wouldn’t hurt a fly, a grandma on a walker, a dog-lover grandpa, and a kleptomaniac grandma on her side.
The group of seniors and the rescued hostages go on a trip, laughing in the bus at their escape. Later, they all sit companionably at the pier, watching the sunset. When Hye-ja approaches Watch Grandpa to fix his blanket, he shakily takes off the watch and tries to give it to her, dropping it in the process.
Hye-ja sees an inscription at the back of the watch and hears her younger self saying, “It’s HJ and JH for Hye-ja and Joon-ha” followed by glimpses of the watch looking brand new on a display. Joon-ha in a tux with old-fashioned hair, Hye-ja beside him in a wedding dress.
Hye-ja hunches over in pain as a barrage of memories come rushing in. When she stands up to try to get her bearings, she’s alone on the pier. In the distance, Mom and Dad arrive with an ambulance, Dad repeatedly shouting Mom! Hye-ja turns back to the sea and finds the young Hye-ja standing there in mourning clothes, a box of ashes on one hand and a little boy’s hand in the other.
We see her memories, scenes that we’ve watched for the past few episodes, superimposed over parallel scenes of a different era. A little boy in a car accident. A beaten-up Joon-ha. A proposal in a field.
Hye-ja wakes up in a hospital room and we see that when she calls out to Mom and Dad she’s seeing totally different, younger faces. A man who looks like Joon-ha walks in to confer with her doctor, introducing himself as Dr. Kim Sang-hyun from the senior care center.
Hye-ja thinks to herself, “It feels like I woke up from a long dream, but I’m not sure if it was the younger me dreaming of when I was old, or the older me dreaming of when I was young.”
In a moment of lucidness, she tells us that she’s suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Oh no… ohnonono, Hye-ja. This was totally unexpected though it explains the sometimes confusing mix of mundane and fantastical that we’ve seen so far. It makes sense in retrospect, but I don’t think the show was doing it for us to play a guessing game. Light has always been about following Hye-ja’s journey as best as it can. From the physical, emotional, and social aspects of growing old… now it turns out it’s been showing us her mental struggle to make sense of her reality too.
Should you watch, knowing the twist? My answer is a resounding yes. In fact, it’s improved by knowing the twist because the sharp turns in tone and logic make more sense. And instead of puzzlement, you enjoy the scenes more because you understand what’s happening. Unless you hate being sad, because the rewatch is full of tiny, heartbreaking details. Like that scene when Hye-ja shows up at Dad’s work and pretends to be his mom. The look of surprise Ahn Nae-sang gives Kim Hye-ja when she says that, and the sad look he gives her when everyone else is gone and she apologizes for pretending to be his mom. ( Only during the rewatch did I understand what Dad meant by his answer, “It felt reassuring because you stood on my side.” How much loneliness and gratitude was packed into that line? To have your parent beside you and also NOT have them beside you anymore… it’s just cruel. Why do these things happen, World?
They say that memories are tied to emotions. That’s why when our capacity to remember starts to fail, the moments which mean more us to are the ones that get left behind. I’m not expecting a happy ending because Alzheimer’s doesn’t have one. But I’m taking a little comfort in the fact that if Hye-ja is holding on so stubbornly to these memories, there must be something precious there. She’s lived a precious (not easy) life. Not a lot of people even have that.
I hope that the final episodes show that part of Hye-ja that she’s trying hard to hold on to. Not necessarily the youth or the health, but the part where she was really happy. Maybe it’s dumb to be attached to a fictional character, but her brain is fighting so hard to push her story to the surface, I want to at least preserve those memories for her.