Bubblegum: Episode 2
Good news! We’ve decided to recap Bubblegum after all. I’m so taken with this show and it’s comfortable, languid tone, adorable friendship, and interesting cast of characters. In this second episode we learn more about Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah’s past and how it informs their present relationship… and there’s a lot more to their friendship than what we see on the surface. Not all of it is healthy, and as close as they are, there’s also a strange distance between them that will need to be repaired if they hope to ever become closer.
EPISODE 2 RECAP: “You Asked Me for a Favor. So I…”
Ri-hwan furiously tosses a blanketful of items in his car, thinking to himself, “I caused an accident .” After hearing that Haeng-ah left her bracelet at her ex-boyfriend Suk-joon’s place, Ri-hwan had marched over there and followed Suk-joon inside… against Haeng-ah’s wishes. He looks murderous, angry about more than just the bracelet.
Surprisingly calm, Suk-joon asks for a better explanation of why Ri-hwan is here. Ri-hwan wants answers too — why did Haeng-ah feel so lonely that she was forced to break up with Suk-joon? And no matter what, how could he let her move out all by herself when she’s clearly thin and fragile from grieving the relationship?
Suk-joon doesn’t discuss Haeng-ah’s feelings, and only tells Ri-hwan to tell her she can come any time for her things. But Ri-hwan wants them now, so that she never has to come back here and be hurt again.
As Suk-joon goes to get the bracelet from his bedroom, Ri-hwan starts grabbing things he knows belong to Haeng-ah, even little petty items like her instant coffee and hair ties. But he snorts at the blue happy-face pillow and knocks it to the ground, ha.
He continues all the way into Suk-joon’s bedroom, ignoring Suk-joon watching him storming around like a crazy person, and even goes so far as to climb on the bed to take down the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. He folds everything up in Suk-joon’s bedsheet and starts to leave.
Suk-joon just lets Ri-hwan take everything, but before he goes, he asks if Haeng-ah is okay. Ri-hwan challenges that she couldn’t possibly be otherwise, looking like he wants to burst into angry tears. He glares at Suk-joon’s half-smile and thinks to himself that bad guys like this exist in the world… they say they’re okay, and really believe it.
Unable to let it go without saying anything, he asks if Suk-joon even knows anything about Haeng-ah. Suk-joon retorts that if Ri-hwan knows her so well, he knows that she hates this kind of behavior. Knowing Suk-joon is right, Ri-hwan thinks, “In the end, I lost.”
Back down at his car, Ri-hwan kicks himself for losing his temper and letting Suk-joon have the upper hand. What’s worse, we see that Suk-joon never handed Haeng-ah’s bracelet over to Ri-hwan.
The next day at work, Manager Jo complains to Haeng-ah about having to wear a suit today… apparently he has to answer to his boss about last night’s show incident with the near-suicide. Ha, he’s adorable.
Ri-hwan is summoned by his mother, who starts right in on his roommate Ji-hoon’s apparent drinking problem. When the phone rings, he tells Mom to say he’s not here if it’s Haeng-ah, which she does by saying that Ri-hwan says to tell her he’s not here. HA, he practically turns inside-out, but it’s just a spam call.
Mom asks pointedly if Ri-hwan sees Haeng-ah often, and asks if she’s said anything to him about their conversation, where she’d warned Haeng-ah away from him because of his upcoming date. He doesn’t answer, but does tease her for forgetting the yogurt in their smoothies, bleh. She admonishes him to be serious about this date today.
Ri-hwan asks when she plans to make up with his grandfather… apparently they’ve been in a feud for years. He says he understands Grandpa, and that “back then” he would have kicked her out, too. Huh, I wonder what happened? Mom just tells Ri-hwan to call his grandfather after his date.
Meanwhile his date, Yi-seul, is busy fending off her own mother’s barking orders on how to dress and behave at their lunch today. Her mother is especially appalled at her shoes, whining that even her feet are chubby. Geez.
Ri-hwan joins Ji-hoon for hangover soup this time, and he asks his friend what he thinks of Kang Suk-joon. Ji-hoon agrees that if he were a woman, he’d rather date Ri-hwan, hee. Ri-hwan recoils at the idea that he was thinking of Haeng-ah that way, and Ji-hoon just laughs at him.
They see Yi-seul trying to pull into a parking spot much too small for her car, and Ri-hwan bundles Ji-hoon off. HA, she mistakes him for a valet and wearily leaves the car running, which he finds amusing enough that he goes ahead and parks the car for her.
Radio host Se-young notes Haeng-ah’s clothing today, which are uncharacteristically professional because of her own meeting with the station president. Rather than getting in trouble, she was commended for grace under pressure and given a little reward, so she suggests they all go out for dinner.
When Ri-hwan approaches Yi-seul again, she assumes he’s here for a tip, and knocks her chair over in surprise to realize he’s actually her date. She seems much more nervous than him, especially when he claims to have seen her picture when she doesn’t have pictures taken of herself. It’s an old graduation picture, which he jokes about, trying to set her at ease without success.
Se-young takes cute intern Joon-su with her to an interview (to act as her manager), and whines that she has to drive because he doesn’t have a license. She asks if he knew that Haeng-ah doesn’t have parents, and wonders if the ex-boyfriend she mentioned is Ri-hwan, but Joon-su explains their true relationship as old friends. She says Haeng-ah’s life is like an old drama, gasping in horror when Joon-su says he’s never heard of Neukkim (Feelings). HAHA, that’s like saying he’s never heard of the Beatles, and it makes her feel old.
On hearing that Yi-seul has an older brother, Ri-hwan asks how she would feel if that brother went to someone’s house to get something back for her without telling her. Wow, he’s really obsessing over this. Yi-seul just says that her brother would tell her to buy a new whatever-it-is, which doesn’t help Ri-hwan’s dilemma.
Yi-seul starts to grimace in a fake smile — she thinks her mother sent a spy to see how the lunch is going. But ha, it’s actually Ji-hoon taking pictures of them, and Ri-hwan says it’s just the neighborhood idiot.
Haeng-ah talks to Tae-hee of her meeting with the station president, who wants the girl who nearly committed suicide on air, to come be on the show. Haeng-ah spots Suk-joon and pushes Tae-hee off, but Suk-joon definitely saw them.
While Ri-hwan is busy chasing off Ji-hoon, Yi-seul takes a call from her mother. Apparently she’s upset that Ri-hwan hasn’t proposed yet, and they’re not even finished with lunch. Yi-seul makes polite mention of Ri-hwan’s hammock so he insists she try it, but he accidentally lets go while she’s off-banalce and dumps her right on her head. OMG, I don’t know who to be more embarrassed for.
Ri-hwan gets Yi-seul upright and inspects her for injuries, and the closeness seems to affect her for the first time. He washes her hands for her, and even her dowdy shoes, which he calls pretty. You can practically hear Yi-seul’s heart thumping. He stands and Yi-seul sees him with the sun halo’d around his head — well, she’s a goner.
Tae-hee asks Haeng-ah why she nearly pushed her down the stairs and says she’s acting like a Candy, pretending there’s nothing wrong. Suddenly Haeng-ah just jumps up and runs — ha, Suk-joon is trying to talk to her, and he follows her. Manager Jo joins Tae-hee, sees Suk-joon walking away, and pretends to have NO idea what’s bothering Haeng-ah.
Tae-hee knows that’s a lie, and even accuses Manager Jo of hooking the two up. His too-enthusiastic denial gives him away, so he walks away with Haeng-ah’s coffee, hee.
Haeng-ah’s flight is slowed when she loses a shoe on the stairs, and she turns to see Suk-joon. He picks up the shoe, puts her hand on his head to steady her, and puts her shoe back on for her. His fingers linger on her ankle for just a moment, though she takes her hand off his head quickly like she’s been burned.
Neither of them says a word, not even when they get in the same elevator, but when Haeng-ah tries to exit Suk-joon takes her arm to hold her back. She remembers another time when he’d yanked her onto an elevator with him, pushed every button, then kissed her silly.
Now they ride up to the roof, where he asks why she’s acting like this. She refuses to speak, thinking that it’s time he feels frustrated too, but it doesn’t work and he turns to leave. She asks if he’s lost interest in why she broke up with him just because she didn’t easily answer him, telling him that she always felt last in his priorities.
Suk-joon says that he never said that, but Haeng-ah counters that she heard it loud and clear. It wasn’t that he was too busy for her — he just liked other things more. He didn’t even visit her when she was sick, and he never said he loved her. So, she dumped him before he could to it to her.
Suk-joon starts to ask a question: “To you, am I…?” We don’t hear the rest, but it stops Haeng-ah short. Later she sits in her office for a long time, thinking about their conversation. Whatever Suk-joon said, it shook Haeng-ah to the core.
After lunch with Ri-hwan, Yi-seul goes shopping and stops at the pretty lingerie. Unfortunately the ones she likes don’t come in her (apparently large) size. Her older brother JUNG-WOO, the department store vice president, stops to talk to her and jokes about getting rid of this department since they don’t even have his sister’s size. I like him already.
Yi-seul lights up around her oppa in a way we haven’t seen her do before — they seem to have a very loving relationship. He even teases her that her date must have gone well, if she’s shopping for sexy undies. He sweetly tells her to take anything she wants, his treat.
Ri-hwan visits the Secret Garden restaurant ajumma, who immediately asks him what’s wrong with Haeng-ah — she’s here now and acting strange. The ajumma drags a reluctant Ri-hwan over to where Haeng-ah is moping, and he acts hilariously awkward with her. He accidentally mentions finding something of hers and instantly realizes his mistake.
Yi-seul goes to look at shoes, zeroing in on a pretty, sparkly pair of heels. When she declines to try them on because of the high heels, the saleslady asks if she has a short boyfriend. She kindly offers to help her find shorter-heeled shoes, and Yi-seul remembers how Ri-hwan complimented her plain flats. Soon she’s leaving the store with her new heels, smiling to herself.
Busted, Ri-hwan gives Haeng-ah the belongings he swiped from Suk-joon’s place without her permission. He jumps as she brandishes things at him, and it turns out the glow-stars weren’t even hers — they’ve been there since before he moved in. HAHAHAwhoops. The restaurant family eavesdrop through a window, wondering whether Haeng-ah is crying or upset or what.
When Haeng-ah wails that she told him not to go there, he just mutters that he was afraid she would go back herself, trying to slink away. She starts to yell and throw things at him, which he totally deserves, though I wonder if she’d be so angry if she knew how furious he was on her behalf.
He finally yells that he did it because he’s her oppa, that’s why, and what oppa lets his little sister get mistreated by a man? Haeng-ah counters that real oppas don’t care that much, so Ri-hwan falls back on Well, how would you know anyway? He’s so cute when he pouts.
Haeng-ah is pretty frustrated with him, and says that this is why people say weird things about them. Even his mother… but she stops herself. She asks if he’s willing to take responsibility if his mother refuses to see her again, but Ri-hwan insists his mother would never do that. But if she did, of course he would do something.
Haeng- ah, smacks him in the shoulder, saying that he should do nothing, feeling smothered by his constant hovering and meddling in her personal affairs. His worry upsets her, but then if she gets worried then he gives her that look. She feels suffocated.
Hurt, Ri-hwan tells her to go back to that guy and see if he cares — he won’t concern himself anymore. He storms into the reatuarant and wonders to himself if this is how his mother felt, when he grew up and started to assert his independence. He complains to the restaurant ajumma that it hurts, as he becomes a child in front of her, and puts her hand on his heart.
Suk-joon and Manager Jo go out for drinks, though Jo does all the talking while Suk-joon broods darkly. Manager Jo calls Suk-joon an idiot when it comes to dating — he doesn’t know how to smile or show emotions. He wonders why, even though Suk-joon’s parents are dead and he has no social life.. but still, he’s a success professionally.
When Manager Jo realizes he’s monologuing at Suk-joon, he asks why he even called him to go out. Suk-joon finally speaks to ask about Ri-hwan, and his relationship with Haeng-ah. All Manager Jo knows is that he’s like an oppa, but he’s not her real brother. She’s all alone.
Haeng-ah feels badly about her harsh words to Ri-hwan, and tries to text him. She starts several different messages but deletes them all. Ri-hwan also thinks about their fight and how he said he wouldn’t worry about her life anymore, and starts to go see her just as Ji-hoon comes home stinking drunk again. On his way, Ri-hwan buys several red bean pastries at a street cart, adorably trying, and failing, to make friendly conversation with the grouchy seller.
Suk-joon heads for home, but he can’t shake Manager Jo’s drunken admonishment that he forgot Haeng-ah’s birthday. He stops at a bakery and contemplates the cakes, buying the biggest one.
Now we hear the end of Suk-joon’s question to Haeng-ah on the roof: “To you, did I… seem that generous?” He’d asked if she though he’d let her stay next to him just because she liked him, or because he had nobody else to date. He explained that when he can’t make a decision, he always chooses not to do it… so if he could live without her, he would have done so. Well, that changes a lot.
Ri-hwan arrives at Haeng-ah’s apartment at the exact same time as Suk-joon, both men carrying their placating gifts of food. They’re just petty enough to compare whose food is a better offering, but when Suk-joon starts to go in, Ri-hwan barks at him that Haeng-ah said she wanted to break up. Suk-joon counters that Ri-hwan should either act like her man or her brother, but not both.
Trying a different tack, Ri-hwan lowers his head, and respectfully asks Suk-joon to grant him this favor.
Back to Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah’s childhood: dressed in a hospital gown, Haeng-ah’s father sneaks out of the elevator and down the hall to find teenage Ri-hwan studying in one of the rooms. He’d given Ri-hwan his first taste of alcohol, teaching him the proper way to drink in front of a respected elder.
He’d told Ri-hwan that he’s a man now, and that later if Haeng-ah takes after her father and drinks too much, he’s counting on him to take care of her. He’d bowed his head and asked for this favor, offering to buy him a remote-control car he wanted in return for his promise.
Dad dies soon after, and it’s heartbreaking how Haeng-ah watches the doctors try to revive him, looking devastated but not at all surprised. He must have been ill for a long time. Ri-hwan had run to be with her, and had overheard the doctors wondering out loud about Dad’s sudden decline — the only thing that could have made him pass that way was if he’d had alcohol. Oof. Ri-hwan collapses in sobs, feeling responsible for Dad’s death.
Aw, Dad, break my heart why don’t ya. Obviously he knew he was dying, and knew that Ri-hwan was just the man to watch over his little girl. No wonder Ri-hwan fusses and clucks over her… the only father-figure he’d ever known, had treated him like a man and entrusted him with his most precious possession. It certainly explains why Ri-hwan takes Haeng-ah’s safety and happiness so utterly seriously. Especially since he probably feels responsible for hastening Dad’s death.
One of the things I love most about Bubblegum is how it plays the familiar rom-com moments with such feeling, making them mean more than just an easy laugh. When Ri-hwan climbed on Suk-joon’s bed to take down Haeng-ah’s stars, that would have been a laugh-out-loud moment in any other show. But instead, it made me want to cry for Ri-hwan — he cares about Haeng-ah so much, that he doesn’t even care what Suk-joon thinks as long as he can make sure she gets back every single solitary thing that’s hers. If she can’t have the man she loves, then at least she can get her damn glowing stars back. The moment was played with such sweet sadness instead of going for the humor — it’s just a good example of what makes this show get me right here. I love it when a show can make me laugh one minute, then cry the next. Or even better, both at once.
The characters have so many interesting layers, there are very few stock drama characters here. A good example is Ri-hwan’s mother, who could easily be pigeonholed as a stern and exacting, disapproving presence based on her treatment of Haeng-ah, but even she has her moments. She plays jokes on her son, and forgets the yogurt in their smoothies… it’s those little details that make me anticipate this drama will continue to be as good as its start. Yi-seul is another unexpected gem, with her insecurity and her frumpy clothes and her quiet, defeatist personality. Yet in the presence of the right person, she positively sparkles. Those are just a couple of examples, but this show seems chock-full of surprise gems, making this world feel peopled with something more than the expected character types we’ve seen a thousand times. I feel like we can expect these characters to do or be anything, because they all contain so many interesting facets.
But the best part about this show is Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah, and their completely comfortable yet totally odd and wonderful friendship. They’ve known each other for most of their lives and it shows, in the ways that they practically know what the other will do or say before even they do. It’s adorable how Ri-hwan mother-hens Haeng-ah (though it’s equally understandable how it makes her feel smothered), yet at the same time he has a pretty healthy fear of her anger… though not enough to keep him from doing what he thinks is best for her, whether she likes it or not. Even in just two episodes, their relationship feels so layered and complex, and I feel like we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their history together.
And it’s not all good, as this episode begins to show… Ri-hwan spends a lot of energy worrying about and taking care of Haeng-ah, and it’s wearing on her. Understandably, a lot of his identity is wrapped up in being her caretaker, and having her tell him she doesn’t want or need it is painful for him. But if these two are going to find their way to a more adult — and therefore more equitable — relationship, they need to break these old immature patterns and codependencies, and forge a new relationship where they each have equal footing. I predict that Ri-hwan especially will have a hard time with this, but he’s got to learn that doing everything for Haeng-ah isn’t healthy for either of them (and probably not at all what her father intended). She’s a big girl and can take care of herself, and he’ll need to let go of her if he truly loves her (and I personally think he already does), in order to earn her love in return.
Yi-seul’s crush on Ri-hwan is going to break my heart. She’s had a hard time with relationships, with a previous fiance cheating on her and her mother being such a pushy, denigrating witch, and it’s plain to see that Yi-seul doesn’t have much confidence. It makes me happy that she has a great oppa who obviously loves her a lot, and who she feels comfortable around. And Ri-hwan was so sweet and genuine on their date, Yi-seul already seems half in love with the idea of him, at least (and I had to laugh at the visual joke of her falling head-over-heels for him, literally). I just hope he doesn’t break her heart, because right now she’s one of my favorite characters in this drama. Something about her is just so endearing, like a little kitten who’s been abandoned and scared, and just needs someone to love it.
It’s early days to be predicting greatness in a drama, so I’ll just say that at this point, Bubblegum has all the components of an amazing drama. It has heart, warmth, humor, and wonderful characters I already care about a great deal. I don’t have a clue how we’ll get there, but I have a feeling this road is going to be one where we want to stop and smell the flowers, linger over the scenery, and meander down any path the show offers to take us. I, for one, am one-hundred percent ready for the journey.