Answer Me 1994: Episode 10
New Year’s comes a bit early for the Answer Me gang, and while the holiday doesn’t go as planned for anybody, words are spoken and new bonds made, ushering in the promise of a new day and a new stage in life.
Ratings continue to climb to new heights, with this episode logging an 8.8% (real-time high of 10.0%). Smoochies will do that for ya.
[Note: Only one episode this coming week, with music awards cutting in to the Friday broadcast. So Episode 11 is pushed to Saturday, the 23rd.]
SONG OF THE DAY
Voyage Sketch – “Fate” [ Download ]
EPISODE 10: “It might be the last”
It’s 2013, and we’re still watching the neverending wedding video. This time we get as far as the daddy-daughter walk down the aisle, at the end of which Dad has this hilarious kneejerk moment, refusing to hand Na-jung over to the bridegroom(’s stand-in). That’s cute.
Thirty-nine-year-old Na-jung sends her hubby a sly wink across the room, and of course each of our bachelor candidates reacts to it. Is anybody else tired of this one-trick pony joke?
1994. Dad’s baseball team wins the Korean Series, after which he prepares celebratory liquor to drink on their next victory. To which Mom asks, “Who knows when you’ll win again?” LOL.
“The last time always happens without the realization that it’s the last time. Perhaps the reason that last times always hurt our hearts is out of sadness for not realizing the moment as it passes by. In the fall of 1994, Dad’s Seoul Twins brought in their last win. And the age of twenty, which we’d felt would last forever, was approaching its last season without us realizing it.
“Our hearts were racing with new challenges, our hearts were blazing, and we had no fear. That thrill, fire, and fearlessness that only being twenty can bring—without realizing how precious they are, we lived the last season of being twenty.”
Fast-forwarding to December 30, we land on a snowy morning. Na-jung bolts out of bed and runs to wake Oppa, so giddy with excitement that she forgets for a moment that things aren’t quite as they used to be. She stops herself for a second, but Garbage stirs and she reverts to her cheery self, delighting in the sight of the snow.
They sit on his bed looking out his window, until Na-jung returns to her somber mood and broaches the subject. Referencing Yoon-jin’s drunken outing of her secret, Na-jung says that it’s true that she likes him. He doesn’t react outwardly, and after a few moments of waiting for some sort of response (Oppaaaaa, you are so frustrating), she buries her face in her hands feeling embarrassed.
Garbage starts to say something in a tone that is not encouraging, but Na-jung cuts him off in a hurry. She says he doesn’t have to say anything and that she’s not asking for him to like her back—she just wants him to know how she feels. Mortified over her confession, Na-jung then clings to Oppa for comfort, which is so the perfect expression of her confused feelings.
Na-jung steps out as Chilbongie comes down the stairs, and his face falls to see where she’s coming from. He’s heading out, so she motions him close until he’s leaning over her, then pulls up his hood to cover his head, telling him happily that it’s snowing outside. And with that, his mood is restored. Smile, Chilbongie, smile!
Dad cooks this morning instead of very pregnant Mom… which explains everyone’s quizzical looks at breakfast: icy noodles in the heart of winter. Oh, pregnancy cravings, are you ever not funny? Samcheonpo worries about brain freeze and Haitai tries to grab his parka, though Dad barks at them to just eat already.
Garbage sits next to Na-jung and gives her the usual pat on the head, but today that platonic pat hurts. Chilbongie notices Na-jung’s sinking spirits.
Haitai has received free movie tickets and invites everyone to join him, but most of the kids have other plans. Only half of them head out to see the movie, and then last-minute plan changes cut the group further till it’s only Garbage and Na-jung who actually make it to the theater.
Na-jung spends most of the movie looking longingly at Oppa, but he seems determined to ignore the pink elephant and laughs up a storm without looking at her. With sinking heart, Na-jung confirms her suspicions with Yoon-jin later—Oppa doesn’t see her as a woman, does he? Yoon-jin gives it to her straight: Nope.
Na-jung confides that she was so frazzled that she doesn’t even know what movie she saw, and swears Yoon-jin to secrecy about everything. I have to laugh at Yoon-jin’s solemn claim that she is super good at keeping secrets. Though it’s sweet that she means it?
Samcheonpo’s father calls to check that his son is coming home for the new year, and gets along great with bubbly Na-jung. So when Dad asks whether she has a boyfriend, then whether she’d like to see Samcheonpo (the city), I have to laugh. Parents will forever be matchmaking.
It’s the promise of fresh-caught seafood that has Na-jung’s eyes bulging, and the next thing we know, Samcheonpo’s got a crew of tagalongs, who’ve all been invited home with him.
It’s New Year’s Eve when the foursome leave—Samcheonpo, Haitai, Na-jung, and Yoon-jin—while the other three have to stay in Seoul for personal reasons. But then Chilbongie’s interview with a scout gets pushed a day due to the snowfall, and Garbage’s presentation is canceled. I love the way their faces both light up slowly at the unexpected free day, and both boys take off running. Aww.
Samcheonpo’s parents greet the friends with a welcome spread to rival anything Mom has ever put together, the table loaded with mountains of fresh seafood. Samcheonpo’s parents give Haitai the seal of approval for his politeness, and are already eyeing Na-jung as a prospective daughter-in-law, approving of her enthusiasm and monstrous appetite. I love the way she eats; there’s no joke to it other than the sheer sight gag, but it’s hilarious.
It’s a stark contrast with Yoon-jin, who picks at her food and eats silently. She gets chillier reception and a lot of disapproving glances.
Haitai assures Dad that their absent friends are surely regretting not coming along, just as we cut to Seoul. The boys dash out of their respective buildings with fun on their minds—Chilbongie beelines for a bus to Samcheonpo, while Garbage… joins his buddies at the pool hall? Aw, my heart actually sank at that. I feel like my Oppa just disappointed me personally.
The city of Samcheonpo is currently in the middle of a dispute with neighboring Sacheon; the two are set to merge, but argue over whose name gets to remain. Dad is involved in the demonstration and suggests that the kids join him, since protests are what college kids do.
Samcheonpo, Haitai, and Na-jung arrive at the demo with an “Are you kidding me?” look splashed across their faces—the demo is more of a trot dance party than anything, middle-aged ajummas and ajusshis dancing joyously with their protests signs. Dad is all, We don’t know anything about demos, what do you suggest?
Cut to: Our trio leading the bunch, leading them in a group dance. Haha. The police officers standing guard actually shake their heads at the sight, but the gathering does get into the spirit of things, following along. At least the dancing is synchronized now?
At home, Samcheonpo’s mother takes a break from shucking shellfish to take a phone call, and when she comes out Yoon-jin is there in her seat, shucking away deftly. What mother would be immune to that? Mom’s chilliness melts bit by bit as she and Yoon-jin sit side by side with the clams, bonding and chatting.
The dance party—er, demo—is in full swing when a bus roars up and soldiers pour up with riot shields and tear gas at the ready. Ohhh crap. Armed guard does not seem to be the appropriate response to a little trot dancing, but all of a sudden the mood turns serious and Dad leads the protesters in a chant. Now this feels like a real demo.
Chilbongie arrives in the neighborhood and narrowly escapes a run-in with the town drunk who rages about his wife leaving. The ajusshi tries to pick a fight with Chilbongie for looking at him wrong, but thankfully Chilbongie gets directed to Samcheonpo’s home by a friendly ajumma who gives him the warning to beware of the grandma of the house: “You’ll find out why.” Uh…
It’s a stand-off at the demonstration: The riot officers line up ready to act, and the protestors face them in tense silence. There’s a funny moment when a protestor recognizes a soldier as his nephew and starts in on a scolding, and in the process a grenade tumbles to the ground and rolls to Na-jung’s feet… and the uncle-nephew pair realize the pin has been pulled in their tussle. Ruh-roh.
It takes a comically long moment before anybody reacts, and then the grenade emits a huge cloud of smoke that sends everyone to the ground in coughing fits. Na-jung gets a particularly strong whiff and falls, and Haitai carries her off on his back. Hahaha. This is actually a case of the preview making the episode funnier, because I was expecting a serious turn and instead we get Hilariously Incompetent College Demo.
At the house, Grandma brings Chilbongie dinner, and sits verrrrry close as she serves him. He awkwardly tries to keep her at arm’s length without offending, but it’s sort of a losing battle. It’s equal parts uncomfortable and amusing.
Outside, Mom hears with relief that Chilbongie is a nice boy, because I guess that means he’ll put up with Grandma’s habits gracefully. Mom explains that Grandma looooves men, particularly good-looking ones, and was the last gisaeng of Joseon. Lol. That certainly explains her brand of sly coquettishness, old age notwithstanding.
Grandma gets close and touchy-feely, but at Chilbongie’s questions about her husband, the flirtatiousness drops as she gets thoughtful. Grandma hears his age and thinks wistfully to her own youth, saying that if she were twenty again, “I would tell the person I liked that I liked him.”
She explains that she grew up next door to an oppa who was best friends with her brother—he was like a brother to her until one day she started thinking of him differently and couldn’t get him out of her mind. Back in those days girls couldn’t just confess their feelings openly, so Grandma kept her feelings to herself and liked him on her own. This sounds familiar, and judging from the look on Chilbongie’s face, he seems to make the connection too.
But that oppa got drafted into the army, and she eventually married Samcheonpo’s grandfather. Her husband left, though, to be with a woman he’d been madly in love with from before his marriage.
Grandma speaks with the peace of an old woman who’s put her resentments behind her, saying that the man she once hated now seems pitiful to her. And as time passes, she thinks back to that time when she was twenty: “If I knew that I’d regret it so much in my old age, I would have just told him I liked him, as a final farewell.”
Haitai runs home carrying Na-jung, and tends to her as she sleeps off the effects of the gassing. Meanwhile at the protest, the mayor requests a meeting with civilian representatives from both cities, and Samcheonpo gets nominated—he’s the educated Seoul boy who’ll know how to talk all fancy-like. Ha, this is probably a bad time to mention the three F’s you just got, isn’t it?
In the conference room, the Samcheonpo vs. Sacheon argument rages on as the ajusshi reps from each city argue that their city name is better. It’s a back and forth of “Mine is better!” and “No, mine!” until Samcheonpo speaks up. They quiet, waiting expectantly to see what the city boy will say.
Samcheonpo agrees diplomatically that both cities have a point, so instead of choosing one over the other, how about they merge the two names? Keeping in mind that sam also means three and sa means four, he helpfully offers up the alternative: Chilcheonpo, which is to say, Sevencheonpo. Bwahaha. I laughed till it hurt.
The neighborhood drunk has stepped up his threats to kill himself, and this time he’s ready to act on it. His long-suffering wife begs Samcheonpo’s mother to help, and they race to the beach where he’s attempting to drown himself. It’s Chilbongie who goes after him, struggling to drag him in amid the drunkard’s shouting and resisting.
The effort lands Chilbongie in the sickbed with the shivers and a cough. Stirring to take some medicine, he notices Na-jung sleeping nearby and inches closer to her side of the room… little by little… and falls asleep next to her. Aww.
Samcheonpo’s mother has warmed up to Yoon-jin considerably and gives her some after-dinner coffee. We’d previously learned that a drop of coffee keeps her up all night, so when Mom urges her to drink up, she hesitates. Samcheonpo starts to intervene, but then Yoon-jin drinks up and compliments Mom, who beams. I love Samcheonpo’s reaction to this, smiling and looking at Yoon-jin in a new light.
Chilbongie has to take a late bus to Seoul to make his morning interview, and Na-jung insists on taking him to the terminal. Grandma’s reluctant to send him off, and when he promises to come back next vacation, she says that thing that always kills me about grandparents: “Will I still be alive to see you then?”
Na-jung: “There were days when Haitai, Sung-kyun, and Yoon-jin would come in with puffy eyes. Days when, even after coming into the boardinghouse, they’d be choked up all day. They were days when they’d gone back to their hometowns. Saying goodbye is sad and strange. Parting ways is never something you get used to. And if it’s a goodbye that you don’t know will be the last, even if it’s just one day’s connection, it’s still bound to leave you reeling. In 1994, on the last day before saying goodbye to being twenty, we said a goodbye that might become the last. And we spent a fateful night that might become the last.”
Na-jung and Chilbongie set out with linked arms. Waiting for the bus and with five minutes till midnight, Na-jung wonders why Chilbongie bothered to take a six-hour bus ride to spend a mere few hours here. He looks at her, his reason so obvious, and asks, “Are you dumb?” Omo. Confession time.
Chilbongie asks, “Why do you think I came?” He says it plainly this time, “I like you. That’s why I came.” He knows she likes someone else and isn’t asking for her feelings in return, “But if I didn’t tell you today, I thought I might regret it.” Through this all Na-jung has been sitting silently, taking it in, maybe not even completely shocked.
He looks up in time to catch the last 10 seconds of 1994, and counts down with the clock. He wishes her a happy new year, and then bends down to kiss her.
Na-jung: “First love, and age twenty. Could there be anything as delicate and heart-thumping as those things? On December 31, 1994, our twentieth year came to an end, and our first loves awaited a new start.”
Back in Seoul, Garbage gets a page while he’s playing pool with his buddies. It’s Puppy Binggeure asking him to see a late-night movie, and Garbage hesitates for a long moment before saying yes and heading off to the theater.
Binggeure belatedly realizes that Garbage already saw one of the movies earlier with Na-jung… and strangely, Garbage hesitates to answer. Then he agrees to see the same movie again, saying that he doesn’t remember anything about it—which is the same thing Na-jung said when she spent the time too flustered about Oppa to concentrate on the screen.
New Year’s Day. Samcheonpo’s father prepares a special boat ride for the kids, who had been excited until realizing that it came with a 5 a.m. roll call. So when the friends don’t make it out to the pier on time, Dad decides to head out with Samcheonpo… just as Yoon-jin arrives. Samcheonpo watches with a goofy grin on his face.
They sit at the boat’s prow watching the sunrise, making wishes. He scoffs at Yoon-jin’s Seo Taiji-related wish, the admits that his own was to have his first kiss. Samcheonpo checks to see his father sleeping in the cabin and says, “But it came true.” And he leans in and kisses Yoon-jin.
Na-jung: “Like our first kisses that we couldn’t have foreseen, that’s how our loves that couldn’t be predicted, our twenty-first year, and 1995 began.”
Back to 2013. After some prodding, Na-jung agrees to open up Dad’s prized victory liquor, which he’s been waiting twenty years to drink. (They’ll just top it off with soju, they say, and he’ll never know the difference. I do hope we’re around when Dad finds out.)
Yoon-jin gets a call from her mother-in-law with the news that Grandma is getting married yet again, at the ripe old age of 102. Oh, she didn’t die? Chilbongie asks about that oppa Granny loved and couldn’t forget after he got called to war. Samcheonpo clarifies that that’s not why they separated—it’s because that man was married. Pwahaha. He says that you can’t trust anything Granny says, and Chilbongie marvels at having been hoodwinked all these years.
In case you’re wondering, Koreans count age by the new year, so everybody moves up together. It’s why in social contexts people only really care about the year in which you were born, since you all sort of age together and say goodbye to a particular age at the same time. So while the West does also see New Year’s as a time to wipe the slate clean and start fresh, there’s an added layer of meaning in Korean stories because it’s tied in directly to the concept of age and growing up.
Twenty is an important year in that it often marks your graduation from high school and entry into college and adulthood. A story about turning twenty would be more about the concrete divide between child and adult, legal minority and majority. So moving on from twenty is a subtler version of that coming-of-age concept, of clearing out the lingering traces of childhood and puppy love, which is a nice expression of today’s theme.
Yay for Samcheonpo and Yoon-jin! Of all things, I love that what opened their eyes to each other was their kindness to each other’s mothers; there’s a lovely reciprocity to that. The show could’ve chosen to couple them up soon after the incident with Yoon-jin’s mute mother, but I appreciate having them back at each other’s throats and fighting like normal, until the romantic realization came to both of them. Timing really is such a key element in romantic love, and it’s nice to see them developing at their own paces.
That’s also the reason for all the angst in the main romance, since everybody’s feeling everything on varying timetables. I don’t think we’re dealing with a lack of interest on any side, so it’s more about being ready to be in a certain place at the same time as your partner, and nobody in the main trio has managed the trick of that yet.
Not that we’re getting any clarity on Garbage’s own feelings, which remain frustratingly (and deliberately) opaque. I really hope the drama explores his inner thoughts with the same attention (and voiceovers) given to the others, and soon! While I think we all adore him as a character, it’s starting to feel as though the mystery of his feelings is being kept up to cloud the plot more than to serve his character. Which is to say, I fear that the writers are keeping him from us just so they can “trick” us later, which feels manipulative and not organic to the story. A twist is great if you don’t compromise your narrative integrity for it, but once you do things in service of a twist, you’ve let the plot machinations trample over your characters. And that’s what it feels like the show is starting to do with all its fake-outs and long, long meanderings.
We are willing to give Garbage the benefit of the doubt and attribute ALL SORTS of possible explanations for his behavior, but a lot of that comes from our affection for him and not from the actual text itself. I’m sure Garbage has good reasons… but at what point am I just making excuses for him and arguing, literally, “Oppa didn’t mean it”?
Not that his behavior is inherently bad. He’s a college student who may not be in complete touch with his own feelings, and he’s not trying to hurt Na-jung. But guys who send mixed messages and then deliberately hide behind a facade of ignorance wear on my last nerve, because could you maybe just have a spine? You don’t even have to take the grand leap of faith or make big declarations—it would just be nice if he didn’t actively muddy the waters further. There’s a difference between being ignorant of your feelings, and feigning ignorance to avoid dealing with the matter, and I fear Oppa’s headed into the latter territory.
There’s nothing wrong with Garbage choosing to chill with his friends on his day off, especially since he’s older than the others and has his own social circle. Still, I do have to admit to being disappointed that he isn’t the guy whose first desire was to join the gang, our gang. Given that setup, though, it was sweet for Garbage’s choice to ultimately be with Binggeure (in a platonic way, though I know there’s an active minority who reads that relationship as potentially gay. Personally I’m not getting that from the show).
That difference doesn’t mean Chilbongie is the better man for going to Samcheonpo; it just made me really happy that he was the guy who would choose that readily. Which mirrors the way that he chooses Na-jung without reservation, without hesitation. And how can you root against somebody like that?
I am excited to see the promise of first loves ending and new loves coming on the horizon, and it’s not because I’m upset with Oppa right now. I could even still support him as the eventual husband, perhaps after they work out whatever it is that needs working out. But in this time and place, I want Na-jung to be twenty-one and happy and adored, and you know what, I know exactly where she can get that.