Could We Love: Episode 1
We’re off to a great start. PD Kim Yoon-chul made a winning drama with last year’s Can We Get Married, and JTBC’s newest offering Could We Love is looking like a continuation of his incredibly lively and fluid style of directing. It focuses on the lives of three longtime friends—one a divorcee, one a spinster, and one a dedicated housewife—in an hour so packed to the brim with backstories and tertiary characters that it’d feel overwhelming if it wasn’t presented to us on a silver platter of technical proficiency. Luckily for us, it is.
Along with a strong (and surprisingly large) cast, there are plenty of heartwarming moments in this hour, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call Could We Love a rollicking comedy, there is a tonal lightness that exists even in scenes where realism trumps puppies and rainbows. Thankfully, the tonal shifts ebb and flow much like they do in our day to day lives, so in that sense this show feels surprisingly intimate and focused, with plenty of possibilities for the future and all the clean-shaven Uhmforce we could ask for. (This is a first episode recap—no promises that more will follow.)
SONG OF THE DAY
Younha (featuring Eluphant) – “Nothing (없어)” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In the spring of 1995, three high school friends, led by YOON JUNG-WAN (Eugene), head to her mother’s salon for some pre-college primping, now that they’ve all been admitted to the same university.
As the three sisters-by-bond skip down the street in their fashionable ‘90s makeup, we hear Jung-wan in voiceover say that life was full of expectations for them at the tender age of nineteen.
Cut to the summer of 2002, where all three girls are again gathered to cheer for Korea during that year’s FIFA World Cup. Jung-wan is now married, pregnant, and happy, while friend KIM SUN-MI (Kim Yoo-mi) is the unmarried one out of the group and all the happier for it.
Again we hear Jung-wan in voiceover say that even in their twenties, the three of them had expectations for the future—that they’d grow to be wise women in their thirties.
But then we meet Jung-wan when she’s thirty-nine, now struggling to get a loan. She’s trying to find work as a television writer now, while her friend Sun-mi is now a famous interior decorator. Still unmarried, as it seems, but that doesn’t mean she can’t hook up with her television show’s lighting director. Bow chicka wow wow.
Sun-mi is not happy to get a phone call from CHOI YOON-SEOK (Park Min-woo), a man much younger than her who’s tracked her to her hotel. While she’s hostile with him outside, Yoon-seok looks like a kicked puppy even as the woman he calls “noona” rejects him outright.
They’ve got some sort of past together, but one thing’s clear—he likes her a lot more than she likes him, enough to be heartbroken that she’s in a hotel room with another man.
As fate would have it, Jung-wan and the executive of the company she’s trying to get a job with pass by Yoon-seok all but sobbing in the hotel hallway. The executive assures Jung-wan that she’ll succeed if she works at this hotel… and then walks her into an empty room. Uh oh. He’s a sleaze, isn’t he?
Jung-wan only gets what’s really happening when the executive is blunt with her. He tells her that considering her age and her marital status (she divorced one year ago), there’s no reason for her to refuse him sexual favors to get a job. The douchebag is even offended when Jung-wan refuses, like he really believes she doesn’t have a right to.
He shoves her against a wall in an effort to be even grosser, despite Jung-wan continuing to try and free herself. She eventually escapes only after headbutting him. Go her.
She returns to her job at a grocery store after berating herself for not sensing the executive’s trap and gets a call from her son, who’s just gotten first place in his class. She’s proud of him yet ashamed enough of her circumstances to lie that she’s in a meeting, and not stocking shelves.
Now we see how puppy Yoon-seok knows Sun-mi—he works at her office. While her other employees are so in tune with her that their periods are even synced, Sun-mi can’t seem to get it through Yoon-seok’s head that he has no chance with her, no matter how much he likes her.
When she claims that she’s at an age where she needs to date someone before marrying them (as opposed to the romantic idea of falling in love), puppy Yoon-seok ekes out, “You could marry me.” She tartly replies that he has nothing to offer her—his whole month’s salary couldn’t even buy her a pair of shoes.
But Yoon-seok is persistent and adoring as he tells her that he would save money to buy her shoes. Basically he wants to find any way possible to make them work, but Sun-mi isn’t having it and tells him that if he truly likes her, he’ll do as she asks and let her go.
Jung-wan lives with her mom (Kim Hye-ok) now, who chastises her for leaving her husband now that he’s become a professor.
Apparently Jung-wan’s split was caused by her husband being too good a person, in that he’d help all his sisters out with finances and any friend who asked, leaving Jung-wan struggling with money for the decade she was married.
They turn on the TV to see a feature on famous and critically-acclaimed movie director OH KYUNG-SOO (Uhm Tae-woong), with both of them making the meta-commentary that he looks like an actor. Ha.
Jung-wan primps before rushing downstairs when her ex-husband brings her son home, coming off as nonchalant when she actually seems excited.
She and husband HAN JOON-MO (Shim Hyung-tak) are on friendly terms at least, almost talking as if they never divorced. He seems reluctant to bring up a topic he abandons for a later time (a new love, perhaps?) and gives his ex-wife healthy gifts along with their son, HAN TAE-GEUK (Jeon Joon-hyuk).
Mom’s heart is all aflutter by the expensive gifts as well as Joon-mo’s brand new car, and again chastises her daughter for leaving him. No matter what logic Jung-wan spouts about having suffered with her marriage, Mom thinks that she should’ve endured no matter what.
“Although they say the world has changed,” Mom says, “a woman is most comfortable living under a man’s shadow.” Oh boy. Where to start.
While Jung-wan and Sun-mi drive together later, they comment over their third friend being such a perfect housewife. Jung-wan tells the story of her assault by the film company executive and how she can’t press charges because it could hurt her chances of succeeding in her field, which is a sad and sorry truth.
They meet their third amigo KWON JI-HYUN (Choi Jung-yoon) washing a car in the snow with the hope of winning the owner’s favor for her child, and the girls note that there’s nothing Ji-hyun won’t do for her children.
The air gets a little tense when the girls notice that Ji-hyun changed the interior of her house… without consulting her star-interior-designer friend Sun-mi. But Ji-hyun calmly explains that as a single woman, Sun-mi wouldn’t be able to design a house for an ajumma like her.
Ji-hyun asks after single Sun-mi’s relationship status, and despite Jung-wan calling Sun-mi “the CEO of golden misses” (gold miss = happy single woman), Ji-hyun remarks that men like younger women, and the ones who’d go after a woman like Sun-mi are either married or wimpy young men. Hahah. Sounds just like puppy Yoon-seok.
Sun-mi finally gets fed up with Ji-hyun’s marriage talk and leaves, and it’s clear that Jung-wan is the moderate voice of reason between the two extremes that are Sun-mi and Ji-hyun, as she tries to convince Sun-mi that Ji-hyun’s intentions are good despite everything. It’s sort of like when you have that perfect friend who has it all and they’re annoying without meaning to be.
Jung-wan then carefully asks Sun-mi if she can borrow about five thousand dollars with the promise to pay her back with interest, only Sun-mi refuses on the grounds that “friends” and “lending money” don’t mix.
Instead she just gives Jung-wan five hundred dollars, some of which Jung-wan then gives to Mom. I love her nightly beer-drinking sessions and her defense of beer to her nit-picky mom: “What do I have left to live for if not this?” Haha.
But Mom is insistent about Jung-wan getting back together with her ex-husband, and urges her to go with her son to her ex-mother-in-law’s birthday the next day. Jung-wan isn’t averse to the idea, since she interprets her ex-husband’s gifts and his bit of awkwardness as being his way of inviting her over. Maybe.
So she accompanies her son to the party, only to have her ex-family react even more awkwardly than expected. Then we see why, when Jung-wan’s ex walks in with his new girlfriend. Yikes. She’s a twenty-something wealthy airhead, and Jung-wan escapes out only to be pursued by her ex’s sister, who berates her for even coming when it was her who wanted the divorce in the first place.
Jung-wan tries fighting back by saying that her ex-sister must be happy with someone rich in the family to give her money, and the spiteful girl spits back, “Yes, I’m SO very glad!” Wow, no wonder why Jung-wan wanted out of this family.
On her way out, Jung-wan bumps into AHN DO-YOUNG (Kim Sung-soo), who turns out to be brother to her ex’s bratty fiancée. Bratty Fiancée complains to her brother about Jung-wan’s son calling her “ajumma,” and seems strangely insistent on not wanting to even be called “mom” for a woman who’s marrying a guy with a kid.
At least Oppa Do-young proves to be the voice of reason between them, and leads his whiny little sister back to the party.
Meanwhile, Ji-hyun waits at the airport with her husband and son for the arrival of her teenage daughter SE-RA (Jin Ji-hee), who returns her family’s warm greeting with an unenthused and almost hostile silence. She also shoots her mother an especially dark glance. Odd.
As drama fate would have it, the next film company CEO she’s set up to interview with as a writer turns out to be Do-young, the man she bumped into. He seems to recognize her from the incident, but rethinks his stance when she fails to recognize him.
Do-young is a fan of her work, so much so that he’s offering her a grand opportunity to work with Director Oh Kyung-soo (aka Uhmforce) on a project and wants the two of them to meet. Seems like quite the job for her, considering that Kyung-soo just won two awards at Cannes.
And as drama fate would have it again, Ji-hyun’s husband is also involved in the film industry, specifically with investments related to Kyung-soo. He leaves his wife and children with his mom while he goes off to work, and again, Ji-hyun and daughter Se-ra share a charged look.
Ji-hyun’s mother-in-law acts sweet in front of her son and grandchildren, but is a whole different beast when she’s alone with Ji-hyun, who she clearly looks down on and treats like dirt. Sigh. Can’t there ever be a nice mother-in-law? Is it some Freudian complex that prevents mothers-in-law from showing kindness to their sons’ wives? Are we women such terrible things? *existential drama crisis*
While at the gym pool, Sun-mi sees the lighting director she had a fling with, and who had oh-so-conveniently told her he was busy today. He doesn’t notice her and chats with his friend about how he’s just using her to get his house decorated for free, and how he’d never date an “old hag” like her for real, even though they’re the same age. OUCH.
He keeps going on and on with his age-related insults, causing tears to well up in Sun-mi’s eyes now that she realizes she’s been used. Not only that, but that she’s been used by such a lowlife who’d say such terrible things. She dives under the water to hide and sob. Poor thing.
Oh no. Jung-wan follows Do-young to the meeting place with PD Kyung-soo… only it’s another empty hotel room. Though Do-young’s intentions are pure, she’s understandably a little wary of getting into another situation like the one before and starts tearing into Do-young like he’s just another sleazy executive out to take advantage of a divorcee in need of work like her.
It’s funny to see how completely taken aback Do-young is, like he’d never even considered what she’s blaming him for, and right when she starts swearing up and down that if PD Kyung-soo were to walk in right now, she’d burn her hand. Not even that—if he were to walk in right now, she’d dance around naked!
Then, a voice asks from behind her: “Were you just talking about me, by chance?” HAHA. It’s PD Kyung-soo. This is the very epitome of Most Awkward Moment Ever.
Jung-wan is so embarrassed that she runs away and later bemoans her fate over drinks with Sun-mi. Sun-mi envies her ability to cry since her pride won’t let her show that kind of weakness in front of others, prompting Jung-wan to ask her what’s wrong.
Sun-mi just says that getting older is a sad thing (ain’t that the truth), even though Jung-wan thinks Sun-mi’s life is enviable, what with her beauty and success. They both drink to the fact that they don’t want to hit the dreaded age of forty, and sigh at the fact that their friend Ji-hyun has the perfect life—a good husband, rich in-laws, and well-raised children. If only they knew.
Cut to: Ji-hyun applying pain patches after all the slave labor she did for her mother-in-law, while daughter Se-ra ignores everything she says. Curiously, she tells Se-ra that she can act this way when they’re alone, but not in front of her father: “He doesn’t know anything.”
And as soon as Ji-hyun leaves, her daughter raids the liquor cabinet.
Sun-mi flips through pictures of her together with puppy Yoon-seok while she thinks back to his heartfelt confession. After she commits the cardinal sin of letting Jung-wan find her way home drunk, she gets the sweetest text from Yoon-seok saying that he’ll stop chasing her if he can’t make her happy. She can’t help but tear up. So she does care for him.
Jung-wan has another beer before stumbling home to her son, while Ji-hyun’s husband leaves the movie they’re screening by citing a suspicious(?) call from work.
After the movie has ended, Ji-hyun spots Do-young mingling among the industry folk and stops dead. She knows him somehow, enough to where the sight of him sets her trembling and running for the nearest exit in tears.
Sun-mi returns to her office where Yoon-seok is still working, and immediately breaks down into sobs. He doesn’t even think twice before pulling her into a comforting embrace. D’aww. To quote Dug in Up: “I have just met you and I love you.”
Meanwhile, Jung-wan tries drunkenly hailing a cab to no avail. PD Kyung-soo happens to be driving a car that looks like a cab in the same area, and when he pulls over to take a phone call, Jung-wan climbs in the back seat. Ha.
He’s obviously surprised, but when he recognizes her from earlier and takes in her drunk state, he goes ahead and plays the part of a cab driver by asking her where she wants to go.
Jung-wan: “I want to go back to twenty years ago. If twenty years ago isn’t possible, then ten years. I want to go back to that time.” She tries to close her eyes against the tears threatening to spill out, but fails. Kyung-soo doesn’t know what to do.
Continuing the voiceover trend that followed the girls the last two decades, we hear Jung-wan comment that what waited for the three of them at age thirty-nine was no longer the expectations of youth, but the separate trials they’re each facing, whether it’s age for Sun-mi, a broken marriage for Ji-hyun, or loneliness for Jung-wan.
After sobbing over her lot Jung-wan passes out in Kyung-soo’s backseat, but wakes up in her own house. Mom is elated that Jung-wan’s ex brought her home, which, what?
Jung-wan may not quite know what happened, but she tells mom the truth: that her ex is getting remarried and that she humiliated herself by inviting herself to his mother’s party.
Speaking of her ex, he calls her out for coffee and tells her how it came to be that he ended up with her drunk self the night before. Apparently he called her and a man answered, so he went to where they were and found Jung-wan in the back of PD Kyung-soo’s car. But she’s more confused than he is—she does not remember any of this.
They manage to talk rather amiably about his remarriage, even if there are hidden barbs in Jung-wan’s words. Her ex makes sure to tell her that he’s sorry while reminding her that she’s the one who wanted the divorce.
Ji-hyun and her daughter still aren’t on speaking terms no matter how friendly Ji-hyun tries to be. She has no idea that Se-ra is even trying to slip alcohol into her morning coffee but confronts her over the silent treatment she’s getting, which only prompts a fight between them.
Sun-mi can’t get her fling’s harsh words about her age out of her head the next day, and uses the opportunity of delivering a lamp he ordered to use said lamp to wreck the interior of his house.
“You dated me just to renovate your house,” she yells, wielding the lamp like a sledgehammer. “What woman wouldn’t go crazy?!” Truer words have never been spoken.
Jung-wan’s mom and son discover her “real” employment status when they find her working at the grocery store, a fact she’d tried to keep hidden while pretending that she was some hotshot writer. Mom flips out about having a useless daughter, yadda yadda, we all know the drill by now.
But it’s a call from her son’s teacher that really has Jung-wan feeling miserable about her circumstances, since he rejected an offer to represent his school at a big exhibition overseas because of the burden it’d put on her. Aw.
Her son is wise beyond his years, so it’s cute how he reassures her that he wasn’t disappointed in finding out about her real job—he only worries that it’ll be hard on her. She pulls him into a tearful hug and says she’s sorry for everything, but thankful for her son.
Ji-hyun, her husband and her two children go to the modest restaurant that her brother and father own (and even that they only have thanks to her husband’s money).
The dinner goes well enough until Se-ra’s cousin brings up a twitter post Se-ra made about having a boyfriend while studying in the states, and the subject immediately causes Se-ra and her mom to lock eyes nervously.
Ji-hyun tries to avoid the subject entirely/pass it off as nothing, but it seems clear that whatever rift between them now had something to do with Se-ra’s boyfriend. Se-ra responds by asking her cousin if she can stay for a few days to get away from her mom.
When Ji-hyun’s dad gets drunk at the table, he can’t stop saying how sorry he is—both to her and her husband. Her brother eventually has to drag him out, worried he’ll spill something he shouldn’t. Apparently Ji-hyun broke up with someone she loved (Do-young, which explains her reaction earlier) and married her current rich husband to help her family, and dad feels responsible.
Speaking of, Do-young calls Jung-wan to arrange another meeting, even after the epic fail that was the first one.
While Sun-mi deletes the photos of her and her last fling, Ji-hyun lies in bed with her husband and thinks about Do-young, with a brief flashback showing a bit of their past together.
As for Jung-wan, she has only to look at her bank book and heave a big sigh.
Whew, that was a lot of information for a first episode. Thank goodness it was all handled with a good deal of finesse. Not only did we have the three female leads this story is centered on, but all the members of their family, their ex-families, their colleagues, first loves, possible new loves, so on and so forth. So many people with so many interconnected lives, yet magically we were able to follow along with it all.
This was also an interesting first outing because of how full-fledged and lived-in the world seemed, since it felt less like I was watching a paint-by-numbers story and more like I had been plopped into a world that existed before the cameras even started rolling. In a story where the focus keeps switching from character to character, it’s essential for that world to feel thought-out and constantly in motion in order to preserve the feeling that we’re dropping in on these characters as they go about a daily life we may not necessarily watch in minute detail, but one that we believe to exist because the show has given us reason to. And for a show to do that, it takes work. A recent antithesis of this kind of style would be something like Heirs, where characters posed and postulated but in no way felt like real people with lives outside of what was directly in a scene at any given time.
For instance, though we saw little of Kyung-soo and Do-young’s characters, it never felt like they were just in stasis whenever our eyeballs weren’t on them. They had jobs and purpose that we’re not even fully aware of yet, but that feel realized nonetheless. I want to see more of them, and that goes for everyone (snooty moms and barking mothers-in-law not included). I’m not saying Could We Love is presenting the best characters to ever grace our screen or even the deepest ones, but they are characters who feel distinctly alive, which is a quality I always look for in shows but rarely find.
Admittedly I was a bit concerned about the focus on more than one central pairing, since I haven’t had the best luck with shows featuring character carousels before (A Gentleman’s Dignity comes to mind, though I know there must be way more recent examples). But this seems to be shaping up to be the good kind of character carousel, where equal care and attention is paid to everyone. What’s especially nice is that no character seems to exist just to fill in one stereotypical role, which also might come from this story’s focus on older characters who can’t afford to be just one thing.
Jung-wan has to balance being a divorced mother and being poor, and one of the most compelling things this show has going for it is what it isn’t explicitly telling. We’re only given snippets of dialogue to piece together what Jung-wan’s married life might’ve been like, but it’s infinitely better than being beaten over the head with expository dialogue or equally-expository flashbacks. I really like the direction they’ve taken with Jung-wan specifically in regard to her past—she’s not in a situation where she divorced because she was being abused, or because her husband was cheating on her, or even any other way that could make her a suffering martyr (that we know of). She’s constantly reminded that she chose to divorce her husband, which in the eyes of people like her mother or her ex’s family gives her no right to bemoan her current circumstances since she’s living according to her decisions. But that’s the funny thing about choices—we have to live with them.