Heard It Through the Grapevine: Episode 1
Well, this is going to be interesting. Heard It Through the Grapevine premiered on SBS this week in an attempt to fill the gaping hole in the lineup left by Punch, which is a hard act to follow if there ever was one.
Boasting an unusual premise dealing with a teenage pregnancy between a poor girl who’s not a Candy and a rich chaebol who’s anything but heroic, there’s plenty of room for subverting expectations—especially with a team as highly acclaimed as this. It’s part melodrama, part black comedy, part coming-of-age tale, and a whole mishmash of other things yet to be explored. I’m not entirely sure what we’re in for, but I’m willing to give it the good ol’ college try.
SONG OF THE DAY
MBLAQ – “남자답게 (Be A Man)” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We meet beleaguered father SEO HYUNG-SHIK (Jang Hyun-sung) working at his job as a trophy maker before returning to his humble home with his brother and wife.
They share one tiny house and one car between them, but of more importance is their pregnant young daughter set to deliver her baby in two weeks’ time.
She’ll be giving birth without the baby’s father around, which has Papa Seo all but wailing about his breaking heart—he had such high hopes for his daughter, and now none of them will ever be fulfilled. Because babies ruin lives.
In stark contrast, we see the lavish mansion belonging to the family of our hero, HAN IN-SANG (Lee Joon), who’s just been accepted into the prestigious Seoul University to study law.
Being accepted was a given, as his hard-nosed father HAN JUNG-HO (Yoo Joon-sang) tells him. Now In-sang has to focus on studying and becoming a lawyer like his grandfather, who always said: “A true lawyer is a cool-headed humanist as well as a passionate rationalist.”
In fact, Daddy Han knew about his son’s acceptance days before the official announcement due to old family connections, so there won’t be any celebratory parties on their end. His mother seems relatively pleased though, and his younger sister mostly ambivalent.
But as soon as they catch some time alone, lil sis HAN YI-JI (Park So-young) knowingly asks her oppa if he’s going to see her again—a girl she calls “Bom Bom.”
In-sang denies knowing who she’s talking about, but a flashback reveals otherwise: He’d been the puppy in love with SEO BOM (Go Ah-sung), and used opportunity to get into her dorm room while they were both at study camp.
Bom was the one who wanted to keep some distance between them until they were done with college entrance exams, and was also the one who was afraid of physical intimacy—not because she didn’t like him, but because she did.
But In-sang had found a way past her boundaries, culminating in a night of intimacy that’s (presumably) responsible for the baby on the way.
They’d only met each other at that study camp and had gone to different high schools, but because they’d agreed to change their numbers after parting, the only way for Bom to get in touch with In-sang was to send a letter to his high school in the hopes that it’d reach him.
She’d sent him letters over the course of a few months, at first just wanting to meet so she could tell him something, later detailing how she was dropping out of school. She even tells of how she tried going to see him at his school, only to turn back.
“I’ll forget you now,” Bom wrote in her last letter to him. “I hope that at least you get into the school you want.” That was enough to get him to pay a visit to her school, but he’d been unable to find her after she dropped out. No one would give him any personal information of hers, and she and her family had even moved out of their last known address.
We see Bom and her mother attending lamaze classes, with Mom standing in for her absent partner not only there, but at her doctor’s appointments. Mom even lies to nosy women at the clinic that her pregnant daughter is just adored by her in-laws in order to save face.
Bom is mostly unaffected by Mom’s lies/personal wishlist, since the two share an affectionate relationship where they act more like friends than a parent and child. Mom doesn’t even know who the father is, and Bom’s keeping it that way. Besides, she tells Mom, she got dumped.
In-sang has no other way to try and track Bom down than by using a secretary at his dad’s law firm, though she knows enough to be suspicious that he’s trying to find a girl who dropped out of high school and tells him she can’t help him without alerting his parents.
Meanwhile, In-sang’s mother (who we’ll just call Mama Choi), employs the services of a shaman to bless her home for her son’s future benefit. In-sang has to hide in the shower to mask the sound of his cries while the shaman pastes paper talismans in his room and around the house.
Daddy Han is also congratulated on his son’s university acceptance by a rich older colleague, who laments how the process of becoming a lawyer has changed and urges Daddy Han to have his son take the civil service exam before it’s too late so he won’t have to go to law school.
(Previously, one had to take the bar exam and be accepted into the prestigious Judicial Research and Training Institute to become a lawyer. Before 2011, there were no postgraduate law schools like we’re familiar with here in the States, and while postgraduate programs and the JRTI exist simultaneously now, the JRTI will be phased out by 2017 in favor of the more American method of creating lawyers. In-sang can either cram for that last civil service exam or go through the new law school system.)
That aside, Daddy Han proves to be adept at political manipulation, since the sunbae he’s talking with is the soon-to-be former prime minister. There’s going to be a reshuffling of high-level officials thanks to Daddy Han’s far-reaching political influence, but he’ll make sure the former prime minister finds a (very) cushy job at his law firm.
Mom asks Bom the usual questions any mother would about a potential son-in-law, and Bom answers what she can without embellishing anything—except for the fact that she doesn’t even know her baby daddy’s phone number.
After sitting through a stiflingly formal family dinner, In-sang skips out when the secretary who’d initially refused to help him locate Bom notifies him that she’s found her address.
Mama Choi talks shop with her other high-class snooty friends, mostly regarding her wish to have In-sang take the civil service exam before they’re done away with completely in a few years.
Since that would be the harder route to take, her friends advocate letting In-sang enjoy his college years by going to law school after university, which would be easier. But they all seem like vultures, since they go through Mama Choi’s stuff when she’s gone and find the talisman the shaman gave her.
In-sang finds Papa Seo’s trophy store/home, only to immediately be scared away by Bom’s father and uncle (they don’t know who he is). He overhears them calling Bom’s name when she returns home and rushes to catch a glimpse of her waddling into the house, very pregnant.
He doesn’t believe it at first, and his questions lead Uncle Seo to believe that he’s the father. In-sang is too nervous to reject the offer to come inside, and ends up walking in on Bom and her whole family.
Bom brings her hand to her mouth to stifle a sob the second she sees him, recoiling in near-horror. There’s a silent moment where he points to her swollen belly as if to ask if it’s his, and when she nods back, all hell breaks loose.
Papa Seo has to be held back from attacking In-sang while Bom asks somewhat incredulously if he really didn’t know she was pregnant until now. Mom actually seems happy In-sang is there (though I think she’d get distracted if a butterfly passed by) and urges him to sit, but In-sang drops to his knees in a formal and supplicatory gesture of apology to Bom’s father.
Papa Seo wants none of it, but hilariously refuses to let In-sang either bow or sit, instead relegating him to standing with his head bowed and his hands clasped before the rest of the family.
Poor In-sang can’t even string two words together without stuttering, but manages to eke out that what happened “…was because I loved Bom. I loved her back then and I still love her now. I’ll take responsibility for her. I’ll marry her!”
He claims he’ll introduce Bom to his family straightaway, but also seems like he’s on the verge of a total mental breakdown. Bom cries when he brokenly professes that he realized today he didn’t want to ever be apart from her, and gains Papa Seo’s permission to take her to meet his parents.
It’s kind of funny how Bom has to ask In-sang if he’s okay during the taxi ride over, even though she’s the one about to bring a new life into the world. She also convinces the taxi driver to take a break so they can have a private moment in the car, and it’s only in the silence that they both allow themselves to break down.
In-sang asks to touch her belly, which Bom allows before surmising that the baby’s sleeping—she’ll let him know when the baby’s moving so he can feel it. “I can’t imagine how tough it must’ve been for you,” In-sang all but sobs. “I’m just so sorry. I’m going crazy.”
Bom attempts to distract him by showing him the welfare card only pregnant women under the age of eighteen receive, adding that she had to convince them to allow her into the program because she’d just turned nineteen. This only seems to dig the knife deeper into In-sang as he asks if she had to do this all on her own.
When she asks if he used a condom back then, In-sang says he did, but that it either must’ve been a bad one or he didn’t know how to use it. He takes offense to the regretful tone Bom is using, because that would mean she regrets the baby. And the baby is only there because they like each other, right?
“I regretted it,” Bom says. “I like the baby, but it was really tough for me. Really, really tough.” She’s still the one having to console In-sang, who still can’t forgive himself for leaving her on her own even if he didn’t know she was pregnant.
Mama Choi and Daddy Han are none the wiser about the soon-to-be new addition to their family, but we know it isn’t going to be pretty when Dad’s so obsessed with his son’s future while his values remain so firmly in the past.
He has a nervous tic with tapping his head, but it reveals that he and Mama Choi have at least a working relationship despite the likelihood that they were forcibly married. Mama Choi even reminds him that she was handpicked by Daddy Han’s mother after undergoing a rigorous selection process.
Contrast that with the way Bom’s family nervously awaits news from their daughter’s meeting with their future in-laws, though they clearly have no inkling as to just what kind of a family In-sang comes from.
Bom and In-sang take a bathroom break before the inevitable parental meeting, at least until Bom spots her baby daddy teetering at the edge of the Han River. Is he thinking of committing suicide?
She watches with something close to disgust as he takes a shoe and sock off only to gingerly dip one toe into the freezing waters. Then she waddles down the stairs with purpose, calling him a coward. “That’s not enough! If you’re going to die…”
And then she demonstrates by waddling right into the water. Haha. In-sang freaks out and tries to stop her, attempting to remind her that she’s got more than herself to think about by committing suicide.
She just screams and cries as he drags her back to dry land before she tells him matter-of-factly to take her back to the car—she’s cold. The taxi driver gives them blankets and some advice: “Even if you’re immature, you should’ve figured out how to survive by this point.”
Through chattering teeth, In-sang asks if Bom’s okay only for her to reply with a resounding, “No.” Hah. He apologizes for trying to take the coward’s way out and promises he won’t ever try that again, which Bom accepts.
In-sang has to work up the courage to call his mom to explain why he’s out late, but Mama Choi doesn’t think anything of it. She certainly doesn’t know what’s coming.
Hilariously, In-sang notifies the taxi driver that they’re going to kiss moments before he grabs Bom and plants one right on the lips. The driver just shakes his head.
I have to admit I was curious when “black comedy” was listed as one of this drama’s four genres, and up until the halfway mark I was beginning to suspect that someone had been a little overambitious in that department. I’m not really sure whether the comedic tilt the last few minutes took is going to be carried through or just sporadically planted, though as of right now, I’d say I’d rather have the former.
My initial interest in Heard It Through the Grapevine was due to the team behind it, which previously helmed cable hits A Wife’s Credentials and Secret Love Affair over on jTBC. While both the writer and director have worked on major network dramas before, it was inevitable that we’d be curious as to whether they’d weather the transition from cable back to a major network, and what would need to be changed, if anything.
But fans of this production team can rest assured that no artistic visions were cut short or mercilessly sacrificed at the altar of primetime television, and so far everything is in its right place. This first outing looks and feels exactly like what this writer/director duo would produce over on cable, so clearly we didn’t have to undergo a cosmic shift in consciousness in order to be able to view this drama without the warm blanket cable provides. If there was anything actively missing from this premiere, it’d be proper lighting—I’ve got nothing against moody shadows, and call me picky if I don’t love the idea of filtering even the most sunlit scenes through a grimy lens that turns every would-be vibrant color into another shade of melodramatic brown.
Visual palette aside, there’s certainly an interesting nugget of a story going on with our immature teenage lovers, and we can only guess what sort of hell on earth is in store for Bom with chaebol in-laws on the way. Bom’s parents made a much better impression as the societal underdogs, with Mom even attending her daughter’s lamaze classes and working to keep the atmosphere light. By no means does Bom live in a perfect family but they seem pretty handy to have around during an unplanned pregnancy, all things considered.
In-sang is a bit tougher to decipher, though I’m beginning to think that I’m giving him way too much credit by assuming there’s more underneath the surface—and you know what? It totally works. His spirit animal is clearly a frightened bunny, and all the book smarts in the world can’t cover up for a lack of common sense. He’s clearly been pampered by his family to the point of being ill-equipped for life out in the real world, which is something I’m guessing his relationship with Bom will show him in time.
She seems pretty well grounded for a nineteen year old who was fully intent on going through with this pregnancy without him, so I hope she’ll keep that strength when she faces In-sang’s stuffy, perfectionist parents. Though there’s something to be said for the way his mother seems like an outcast even among her own kind, and at least she doesn’t read as instantly cruel and unfeeling as most chaebol mothers tend to be. For now, anyway.
I do hope the show keeps the zaniness we saw toward the end throughout the run, since it was refreshing to laugh so hard even though, in reality, we were laughing at the idea of a pregnant girl drowning herself in a river just to show her cowardly boyfriend how it’s done. That’s some pitch black comedy if I ever saw it, so keep on keepin’ on, Grapevine. I can’t guarantee continuing recaps at this point, but I’m at least in for another episode. Let’s see where this goes.