Bubblegum: Episode 10
Ri-hwan needs Haeng-ah more than ever as he sinks into a gloom. But need can quickly devolve into burden, and when that burden causes more harm than good, something must change. When Ri-hwan can no longer sit back and wait for things to change, he takes things into his own hands, and only time will tell if he’s made the right decision.
EPISODE 10 RECAP: “Haeng-ah-ya, I love you”
Ri-hwan rushes home from work — Mom is awake, and she remembers him. Ji-hoon sends him off with silly antics, and Ri-hwan tells him with a perfectly straight face that people keep asking him if Ji-hoon is a real doctor. Ha.
Ri-hwan and Aunt Princess discuss Mom’s excessive sleeping, deciding this is the result of her finally relaxing after so many years of tension regarding her father. Sadly, Ri-hwan removes his photos and some of his clothes from his mother’s room, worried that seeing things she doesn’t recognize could upset her.
Yi-seul’s mother calls her to say she’s visiting Ri-hwan at work, and Yi-seul has a mini-panic. Since she refused the new marriage setup, Mom’s going to do whatever she wants, and she wants to check out this guy she likes so much. She hangs up on Yi-seul, who runs out of her office to stop her.
Mom barges into Ri-hwan’s office to find Ji-hoon, whom she mistakes for Ri-hwan. He assumes she’s a patient and sits with her, and she’s surprised when he says his father just got married (since Ri-hwan doesn’t know his father). He puts some clues together and concludes that she must be Tae-hee’s mother. Uh…
At the mention of another woman’s name, Mom flies off the handle. Then she belatedly sees his name tag, and she storms out in a huff of embarrassment, narrowly missing Ri-hwan arriving back at work.
As Ji-hoon is telling Ri-hwan about his visit from “Madame Bling-Bling,” Yi-seul bursts in, disheveled and flustered. Ri-hwan makes tea, and Yi-seul moans that she couldn’t be more embarrassed. She mentions her horrid conversation with Haeng-ah, and can tell by Ri-hwan’s confusion that Haeng-ah must not have told him.
At Ri-hwan’s prodding, she admits that she told Haeng-ah to break up with him — that she can do nothing for him, while Yi-seul can. Ri-hwan is ready to dismiss her without discussion, but Yi-seul defends herself, saying that Haeng-ah is making him choose between herself and his mother. So she told Haeng-ah to disappear.
Ri-hwan is super-done with Yi-seul and this conversation, and says dryly that Yi-seul needn’t come again. He starts to walk past her and she grabs his coat, saying that she knows there’s someone who has his heart. But if they’ve broken up, couldn’t he stay by her side? He could tell his mother that he’s seeing Yi-seul, and make her happy. That’s pretty low.
She returns to her own office to find her mother there, and she criticizes her daughter for going out in her scrubs. Yi-seul tells her this is her fault, and her mother asks why she should care what a common person like Ri-hwan thinks. This sparks Yi-seul’s anger and she yells at her mother not to call him common — to her, “common” people study overseas on their parents’ dime, work for daddy’s company, and think that having money means they’re owed a beautiful woman.
Mom says she’s gone crazy over this guy, but Yi-seul doesn’t want to marry a man she knows doesn’t like her and will cheat on her. Mom says that’s all she needs to hear and gets up to leave, and Yi-seul softly whspers to her back, “Save me.”
She begs her mom not to do anything else, and not to let her hit rock bottom that way. Mom says there’s no such thing for people like them, and asks if her oppa knows she’s being like this. With the threat of her brother getting involved, Yi-seul stifles her tears.
Ri-hwan tells his mother’s doctor how she can’t remember him, but is obsessed with Haeng-ah. The doctor figures out that Mom was opposed to their relationship, and tells Ri-hwan to bring Haeng-ah to their next meeting. Ri-hwan reminds him of her hospital phobia, and says that she was going to get treated before all this happened, suggesting they meet elsewhere.
But the doctor is more worried about Ri-hwan, and how he seems to be ignoring his own trauma. Ri-hwan says that he knows he wasn’t a welcome baby, and that Mom even tried to kill herself when she conceived him, so he’s not surprised she’s chosen to forget him. But the doctor wants him to get treatment — he has a right to feel upset.
He asks Ri-hwan what he would say if he were his patient, and Ri-hwan says hollowly that he would tell himself to acknowledge it, and talk about his pain, and find someone to lean on. The doctor asks if he has someone to lean on, but we don’t hear Ri-hwan’s answer.
He finds Haeng-ah at work to talk, who immediately thinks something is wrong with his mother, but Ri-hwan says softly that he just wants to see her. He asks for a hug, and Haeng-ah allows it. When she tries to break the hug a bit later, Ri-hwan clutches her even closer, and wonders what you would see if you looked at them from the sky. Lovers who didn’t know this was their last moment together, or two weak people who couldn’t let each other go?
Haeng-ah spends a lot of time with Ri-hwan’s mom in the next few days, helping Aunt Princess take care of her. Mom is out of bed and in good spirits, but she frets whenever Haeng-ah leaves her side, even to go to the restroom. Haeng-ah calls in to work, barely able to listen to Mom panic when she doesn’t return right away.
Manager Jo stands in for Haeng-ah at work, but he’s not very good at bantering with Se-young so she calls him out on-air for being nervous around her famous self. He’s occupied with a conversation he had with Ji-hoon when they went out drinking, each venting about their woman troubles, oblivious that they’re talking about the same woman. But something Manager Jo said jogged Ji-hoon’s memory, and he’d asked if the woman who likes Jo is named Tae-hee.
Haeng-ah arrives in the middle of Se-young’s tirade, offering to finish up the broadcast tonight. Se-young is so adorably dim, offering to send Ri-hwan’s mom an autograph to cheer her up. Later, Haeng-ah asks Manager Jo about taking a leave of absence, and Jo offers to take over her broadcasts for her (“Your team is weird, so I’m not bored,” hee). But in return, he asks her not to forget to take care of herself while caring for someone else.
Ri-hwan is waiting at the gate when Haeng-ah returns home, and they stay out there to talk awhile. Haeng-ah talks about a video she saw of a man with Alzheimer’s who proposes to his wife every day, only remembering the time when they were dating and deeply in love. She finds the story romantic, and Ri-hwan’s face changes as he watches her.
“Haeng-ah-yah,” he says softly. “Let’s get married.” But he’s not really proposing, he just asks if that’s how the man in the video does it. “Haeng-ah-yah. I love you.” Is that also what the man says? Haeng-ah says that he does, every single day.
Haeng-ah wishes for Mom to go back to her happy memories and forget the bad ones, and Ri-hwan replies that’s what she’s doing. Oof, that’s heartbreaking. Haeng-ah mentions the vacation she wanted to take, just the three of them, and Ri-hwan says they still can. Texting each other from their balconies, mere feet away, they make plans to leave tomorrow. Ri-hwan starts to text something else, but he doesn’t finish the thought.
In the morning, Mom grows increasingly agitated when Haeng-ah isn’t there, until Aunt Princess agrees to call her. Mom tells Haeng-ah that she’s looking for a person wearing a white dress with black polka-dots who works at her hospital. The person she’s describing is herself, but neither Mom nor Haeng-ah know that. She heads to the hospital, unaware that Tae-hee is watching her go.
She hesitates at the hospital entrance, then steels herself and goes inside. But the walls swim and she can’t breathe, and she has to go back out again. She calls Ri-hwan but he’s busy and doesn’t heat his phone ringing, so Haeng-ah is forced to go inside by herself.
Suk-joon calls Manager Jo, who’s too busy to go out because he’s filling in for Haeng-ah. Suk-joon is worried to hear about how stressed Haeng-ah is lately. He calls her, but she’s so focused on getting through the hospital, she doesn’t answer.
She makes it to a nurse’s station and asks if there’s anyone in respiratory internal medicine wearing a polka-dotted dress today, but the nurses can’t help her. She catches sight of a person being wheeled by, and the blood on their bandage sends Haeng-ah into a tailspin. A nurse with a cart full of bloody bandages bumps into her, and it’s the final straw — Haeng-ah collapses. Her phone rings as the nurses gather around to revive her, and one nurse answers and tells Suk-joon what’s happened.
Ri-hwan also hears the news froma nurse, and he rushes to the hospital in a dead run. He finds Haeng-ah still unconscious with Suk-joon watching over her, and the two men go outside to talk.
Suk-joon asks if this is the last time he’ll find Haeng-ah ill because of Ri-hwan and his mom, warning that it better not be just the beginning. But he leaves, and Ri-han stays to sit by Haeng-ah’s bedside. He sees his mother calling her, and answers the phone. He listens as she peppers Haeng-ah with questions about where she is, and he’s still there when Haeng-ah wakes.
She pulls the cloth from her eyes and he covers them again with his hand, asking her not to open her eyes because she’s still in the hospital, but she says she can walk if she just looks at the floor. She asks Ri-hwan for help getting out so she doesn’t see any blood, so he tells her to close her eyes and quickly carries her out.
Ri-hwan sits by Mom’s bedside, and Haeng-ah texts him, asking if he knows someone from mom’s department who wears a polka-dotted dress. He looks through an old photo album, and finds a picture between the pages, of his mother wearing the dress and sitting next to Haeng-ah’s father. He says that it was her wedding dress, of sorts, and that the person Mom wants to see so badly is herself, on the day she was happy. He watches his mom sleep, and can’t fight his tears anymore.
The next time he meets with Mom’s doctor, the doctor is worried about Haeng-ah being stretched thin in this situation. Ri-hwan says he’ll have to take care of it, but that doesn’t soothe the doctor — the burden is too heavy, even for both of them.
Ri-hwan takes his toy car out (the one Haeng-ah’s dad bought him for promising to take care of her) and does endless donuts in the sand, remembering how Aunt Princess had wondered if this was the right way to handle things. He also thinks about how Tae-hee had reminded him that Haeng-ah is prone to suffer in silence, taking on too much responsibility because she’s afraid to be a burden on anyone. She’d begged him to make it stop, for Haeng-ah’s sake.
We’re shown the second half of his conversation with Suk-joon in his office, when Ri-hwan had insisted he wasn’t holding onto Haeng-ah just to have someone to cry with. Suk-joon had asked what would happen if Ri-hwan left her — she would cry at first, but then she could heal. People always say they will never feel like this again when they break up, but they soon move on and love someone else. Suk-joon would like it if that person could be him.
Ri-hwan recalls seeing Haeng-ah light up whenever she’d get a text from Suk-joon. As Haeng-ah’s father’s words asking Ri-hwan to watch over Haeng-ah echo through the night, we see that Ri-hwan has walked away, leaving his toy car behind. Oh no.
It’s a good day, with Mom remembering Ri-hwan, and the two go out for a walk in the autumn air. Her memory is sharp today, but it doesn’t seem to make Ri-hwan happy. He tells Mom gravely that he’s not going to see Haeng-ah anymore, but she doesn’t understand what he’s saying and says that she hasn’t seen her in a while, either. Ri-hwan asks if she can live without Haeng-ah, but Mom just asks why she’d need her in the first place.
Ri-hwan can barely make himself say the words, “Haeng-ah is gone.” Mom finally notices that he’s trying not to cry as he says that Haeng-ah has gone far away, and she hugs her son and reminds him of his goldfish. She tells him that one died so she tried to replace it without him knowing, but he’d known right away. Behind her back, Ri-hwan struggles mightily to hold himself together.
He visits Uncle Gangster to give him the news, and bows deeply to Uncle’s back when he refuses to look at him. As Ri-hwan leaves, Uncle Gangster throws his chair at their wall of photos — but Ri-hwan doesn’t turn back, not even when Dong-hwa begs him not to leave them. She says he can come when Haeng-ah isn’t there, but Ri-hwan just tells her to be good to her parents.
Ri-hwan packs some things, then meets with Suk-joon in the park, though he says that he doesn’t think Suk-joon is the answer to this problem. Suk-joon only says that when there’s no answer, you can at least get rid of the most-wrong solution. Ri-hwan says that’s what he’s doing, and he gives Haeng-ah’s bracelet back to Suk-joon.
It’s time to talk to Haeng-ah, who’s confused about all the secrecy. Ri-hwan gives her Mom’s doctor’s card and says that he’s willing to meet with her outside the hospital, and asks her to get treatment right away. Haeng-ah says that she’s too busy now, but Ri-hwan insists she call him tomorrow.
Once she promises, Ri-hwan tells her to listen carefully. He tells her that he’s moved her back to her old apartment, but when Haeng-ah assumes it’s because Mom found out she’s been living upstairs, he says that she doesn’t need to know the reason why. And she won’t need to know anything in the future, either. She should think of him and Mom as dead, and live her life on her own.
Haeng-ah asks if Mom made another suicide attempt, but Ri-hwan stands firm, saying that even if she had, it’s none of her concern anymore. Haneg-ah was right in that he can’t leave Mom to hold onto her, and that liking each other isn’t enough when the world is telling them to break up. So it’s time to stop.
Haeng-ah knows that’s not what this is about, not really, asking Ri-hwan not to do this. But he’s determined, and says he won’t see her anymore, for any reason. He says that it’s because she’s like his little sister, but Haeng-ah doesn’t understand, and bursts into hurt tears.
Ri-hwan steels himself and turns to leave, but Haeng-ah grabs his hand. Wordlessly, Ri-hwan just frees himself, and goes. Haneg-ah trails behind him, lost and in pain, so he turns to tell her not to follow him. She does for a few more steps, and now Ri-hwan is crying too. He has to tell her several times not to follow him, because she can’t stop herself.
He finally wails at Haeng-ah, “Are you a fool? I told you not to come!” He sobs, but he’s decided, and forces himself to turn one last time and leave. Both of them are crying loudly, but their tears can’t change reality.
Ri-hwan manages to get far enough away, and he collapses onto the shoulders of someone who’s waiting for him. He gasps, “I’m sorry Uncle,” and we see the memory of Haeng-ah’s father comfort him. “It’s okay, my Ri-hwan.”
Back in the park, Haeng-ah cries alone.
I think we all saw the noble idiocy coming, but I honestly didn’t expect it to be Ri-hwan doing the pulling away. It makes total sense though, as he can’t do anything to help his mother, but he can do something to ease Haeng-ah’s burdens. He knows her well enough to know that she’ll keep taking on responsibility until she drops, so the only thing he can do is to remove the temptation from her entirely, and take the responsibility onto himself.
Still, it’s frustrating, because even the doctor told Ri-hwan that the burden was too much for two people to shoulder alone. So his answer is to do it all himself? How is that better? Not to mention the pain it causes Haeng-ah, to take away not just the man she loves, but the woman who’s been a mother to her most of her life. Regardless of what Tae-hee and Suk-joon think (and I have Many Angry Words to have with both of them), it’s not kinder to block Haeng-ah from helping Ri-hwan’s mother when she needs help the most. Haeng-ah is a caretaker at heart, so the right thing to do would be to allow her to help, but try to get other people on board so they’re not taking it all on by themselves. NOT to just shut her out like this.
Mom’s objection to her son and Haeng-ah dating makes a lot more sense, now that we learned for certain that Mom was married to Haeng-ah’s father, if only for a short time. But that would make Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah siblings of sorts, according to Korean society, and therefore unsuitable to date or marry each other. I suspected this, but the confirmation only makes me sad, especially since Ri-hwan seemed to know about it already. He’s willing to buck the system, but I understand now why the subject of their dating seemed so weighty, even to him.
As frustrating as it is to watch his actions, Ri-hwan’s pain over his mother’s illness is still so hard to watch. I get that he feels like he has no right to be hurt and disappointed that she’s forgetting him, because his mother went through so much because she had him. But she CHOSE to give birth to him, and she CHOSE to keep him, and none of that is his burden to bear. I’m glad the doctor was there to tell him that, and give him permission to feel his feelings. But that’s hard for Ri-hwan to understand emotionally, when his mom is forgetting the things in her life that make her unhappy, and his memory was one of the first things to go. How wrenching, to know that your mother didn’t really want you — though she’s been a loving mother your whole life, if she could, she would forget you ever existed.
I’m still not sure what to do with Yi-seul, because she’s such a mess of contradictions. She knows and accepts that Ri-hwan doesn’t like her and in fact loves someone else, yet she’s not above coersion to make him be with her (such as reminding him that it would make his mother happy, or implying that she will only help find treatment for his mom if he dates her). She frustrates me because I don’t think she’s nearly as helpless as she’d like people to think, and we see her repeatedly bank on their pity to get what she wants. She’s a smart, self-sufficient woman — she’s a doctor for pete’s sake! — and she could be better than this simpering, begging, pathetic mess who is willing to take someone else’s seconds. She claims that she hates feeling so weak and powerless, yet she continues to let people treat her that way, and even uses her weakness to get what she wants. If she were truly so abused, I would feel more compassion for her — but Mom seems harmless beyond her constant nagging, and Yi-seul’s willful helplesness just makes me angry.
This may be shallow of me, but one thing I’ve mentioned that I loved about Bubblegum was its ability to keep its lighthearted feel in spite of the serious topics it tackles. As I feared, it feels like we’ve lost that this week, though I know that it’s a necessary thing to go through as Haeng-ah and Ri-hwan figure out what Mom’s illness means tot heir relationship. I just hope it gets its sense of humor back soon, because I never wanted to see the show devolve into a melo cryfest. I know the show is capable of striking that delicate balance, so I hope to see its sense of humor return soon.