Bubblegum: Episode 4
This show just gets better and better. Every character tugs at the heartstrings in a way that’s sweet yet melancholy, and we learn so much about each of them that our understanding of their motivations changes with every episode. Ri-hwan seems to be having a crisis of the heart, while Haeng-ah struggles to stick to her convictions. Those around them seem determined to apply their own wishes to each of them — but sometimes the heart demands a change, and nothing and no one can stop a heart when it makes a decision.
EPISODE 4: “Us Today is Not Us Yesterday”
While Ri-hwan pounds on the door, Suk-joon pushes Haeng-ah into a corner of the studio where Ri-hwan can’t see. She doesn’t know who’s out there frantically trying to get in, and assumes Suk-joon is hiding to keep their past relationship a secret. He tells her not to worry — they aren’t dating anymore, so if someone sees them together, there won’t be the complications there would have been before.
Ri-hwan sets off the fire alarm, which gets Haeng-ah to open the door. He rushes in and punches Suk-joon, saying, “Doesn’t matter if I’m an oppa or not. It can’t be you, you bastard.” Suk-joon punches Ri-hwan right back, but Haeng-ah stops Ri-hwan from turning this into a full-on brawl with a simple hand on his arm. He asks if she’s okay, and Suk-joon wryly quips that it looks like he’s the one who’s not okay.
Suk-joon leaves, and Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah are silent. Ri-hwan notices Suk-joon’s jacket on the floor and assumes that he interrupted a tryst, glaring daggers at Haeng-ah.
Manager Jo joins Suk-joon as he walks out, and jokes about how dramatic Suk-joon’s relationship is… announcing on the radio when they break up, setting off fire alarms. He comments on Ri-hwan’s temper, and tells Suk-joon that he’s dating a chaebol daughter. Suk-joon is familiar with Yi-seul and her fiance’s scandal — he not only had a girlfriend, but got her pregnant and she had an abortion.
Suk-joon seems surprised that Ri-hwan would date Yi-seul, and Manager Jo asks how long they’re going to stand in front of the elevator without pressing the button, hee. They only now realize that Suk-joon walked out of the studio without his jacket.
Both Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah seem weary after the night’s shenanigans, and Ri-hwan insists on driving Haeng-ah home. He haltingly asks if Suk-joon did anything to her, and Haeng-ah assures him that he’s not that kind of guy. Ri-hwan grinds through gritted teeth that he hates that guy, surprising Haeng-ah with his vehemence.
But internally, Ri-hwan admits that hating someone this much, a person he doesn’t even know, means that Suk-joon isn’t the problem. The problem is within his own heart.
Suk-joon calls Haeng-ah, but she ignores the call and just stares out the car window.
Ri-hwan arrives home to find Ji-hoon drunk again, and sits to drink with him. Ji-hoon figures something happened since he wasn’t drinking earlier tonight, but Ri-hwan is in no mood to talk.
He’d dropped Haeng-ah off to sleep at Tae-hee’s place, who’s worried about someone being alone tonight, though the way she phrases it, it could be Ri-hwan or Ji-hoon. Haeng-ah is more concerned that tonight’s events might get Suk-joon in trouble with the station president, and wonders how she should act tomorrow at work. She doesn’t notice that Suk-joon is still trying to call her.
Finally ready to talk, Ri-hwan lays out the situation in terms Ji-hoon can understand — say there’s a bar he likes to visit, but Ri-hwan hates it because he thinks the bar is bad for Ji-hoon. They don’t even give him free food on his birthday! HA. Growing more upset, Ri-hwan gasps that he hates that bar so much, because… today, he saw something. He thinks about how Suk-joon pushed Haeng-ah further into the corner where he couldn’t see them, all the while giving Ri-hwan a look of pure hatred and triumph.
He says he feels like he’s going insane, and Ji-hoon asks if Haeng-ah knows how he’s feeling right now. He offers to let Ri-hwan throw something, or take him to the batting cages to let off steam, but Ri-hwan just stays silent, looking like he’s about to cry.
His instinct was right to take Haeng-ah somewhere other than home, because Suk-joon goes there looking for her.
After Ji-hoon falls asleep, Ri-hwan jumps up and runs out, even ignoring his mother calling to him. A little drunk, he tries to hail a cab, but ends up just running when none will stop. He runs all the way to Tae-hee’s place, and gasps to Haeng-ah that he has something to say.
They relocate to a park to talk, and he asks if she was shocked earlier when he said he hates Suk-joon. She says that she really does want to break up with him, but Ri-hwan asks if she still likes him anyway. She just says that if she was greedy she’s lose everything, including him. Ri-hwan swears that will never happen.
He offers to help when Haeng-ah wishes to go back to a simpler time when nothing was happening in her life, but she says she’ll let him know if she needs anything. Like she did for him that time in high school, pretending to be his girlfriend when a scary girl liked him. They dissolve into memories of the past, the awkwardness between them finally melting.
Haeng-ah admits that her chest felt tight when he left angry earlier, so she pressed on the spot on her hand like he showed her. He grabs her hand and pulls her close, saying that that spot is for indigestion – the pressure points for a tight chest in on your wrist and head, and he presses them now. Gotta admit, he’s pretty sexy when he goes into doctor-mode. He counts in this low, soft voice as Haeng-ah breathes, and Ri-hwan’s voice fades to a breathless whisper as they stare into each other’s eyes.
Yi-seul eyes her phone suspiciously the next morning when Haeng-ah tries to call her, and she doesn’t answer.
Radio host Se-young and cutie intern Jung-woo flirt on their way into work, but they clam up when Suk-joon enters their elevator. Se-young gets up the nerve to ask Suk-joon to be on their new segment about people who aren’t famous but carry a whiff of scandal about them (it’s rumored that he used to be pretty violent, and fought a lot), and he turns her down flat, ha. He does agree to talk to their PD about it, and Se-young says she feels like he’s a bit familiar.
Ri-hwan meets with his mother for lunch and they run into her colleague (the same doctor who she asked to check out Haeng-ah). He admonishes her for transferring a patient to him then taking back their chart to check up, and she looks confused for a moment before going back to her office to find it. She has a scary dizzy spell that only lasts a moment, and when she finds the patient’s file in her desk, she wonders how it got there.
At lunch Mom asks why Ri-hwan isn’t seeing Yi-seul this weekend, but he wants to talk about Haeng-ah and how she drank after having her flu shot, against doctor’s orders. Mom is more concerned to hear that he saw Haeng-ah last night. She does tell him that Haeng-ah only got a saline shot, because she came in smelling of alcohol (after drinking that beer on the steps).
Ri-hwan fusses at his mother for pushing Haeng-ah to come to the hospital knowing her phobia, and Mom says that it wasn’t only for a flu shot. Because of her family history of cancer, and the fact that she has a history of sensitive stomach issues… but Ri-hwan cuts her off. He knows that it was hard on Mom, having been close to Haeng-ah’s parents and having to see them both die, but she can’t keep projecting that onto Haeng-ah.
Mom slams down her utensils and admits that she thought that by now, Haeng-ah would be married and far away. It feels like a dark shadow is following Ri-hwan. He jumps up, horrified at her words, and demands to know if she said this to Haeng-ah. She blinks at him as her vision goes fuzzy again, and says that she’s his mother, but Haeng-ah is nothing.
Yi-seul goes shopping and buys a men’s watch. She tells the saleswoman to throw away the box (which would be needed to resell the watch later) and walks out with a tiny smile on her face.
Haeng-ah tells her colleagues that the girl who nearly killed herself on air is doing well, and getting therapy. Joon-su answers the phone at her desk , and tells Haeng-ah that she and Tae-hee are summoned.
Se-young gets excited, assuming he’s going to agree to be on the show. They talk to him, and he keeps Haeng-ah back after the meeting. Once outside his office, Tae-hee asks Manager Jo why Suk-joon is acting so strange, and he guesses it’s because he likes her.
He’s pretty accurate, because Suk-joon wants to know why Haeng-ah didn’t answer any of his calls. She refuses to talk to him about personal things in his office where he has the upper hand, and leaves, telling him to follow if he wants to talk.
Manager Jo tells Tae-hee not to hate Suk-joon too much, but she admits to being a fan. She gets a dreamy look in her eye for a second, but her usual bland expression soon slams back down, and she says she’s not a fan anymore, since in real life he’s just a boss who abuses his power.
Suk-joon does follow Haeng-ah, right back to the roof. He knows this has been hard for her, not being able to talk much less carry on an office romance, but she was the one who told him not to bother calling when he’s busy or doing anything on her birthday. She never told him these things bothered her.
She counters that he liked that she was understanding about those things, so of course she couldn’t let on that they bothered her. Anyway, none of it matters anymore. Suk-joon says that he’s not blaming her, just telling her that he didn’t know those things really did bug her, and that now they will change.
He tells Haeng-ah not to run away, and she softly admits that she wavered when he told her that if he could live without her, he would already be. She’d wanted to hear him say that so much… but she still wants to end things. She knows that nothing will change, and that she’ll still end up wanting more than she can have from him.
Suk-joon ignores several summonses from the company president during this conversation, but Haeng-ah can tell he’s itching to pick up. She asks him, just this once, not to answer – just once, can’t she come first? Without a word, Suk-joon answers the phone. Oof. Haeng-ah turns to go, shaking off his hand when Suk-joon tries to stop her. She silently mouths, “Thank you, be well.”
Wearing another pair of new shoes, this time not too boring and not too flashy, Yi-seul goes to see Ri-hwan at his office. He plays it safe and treats it like she’s just seeking medical advice, and she lets him perform acupuncture on the ankle she turned. Ri-hwan says that Haeng-ah plans to buy her a new bag to replace the one she plopped the sea cucumber into, and when she says that’s not necessary, he insists that she deserves a new bag.
He’s got a head full of Haeng-ah, though Yi-seul hears it through her rosy filter and thinks he’s talking about how she deserves nice things. But when he seems to forget she’s there and continues to mutter about Haeng-ah, Yi-seul starts to frown.
Haeng-ah stays at work late into the night, and ignores yet another call from Suk-joon. She takes a taxi home, and a sudden stop spills her purse onto the cab floor. The driver is chatty and notes that she looks tired, saying that she must be sick. She picks up her things, but accidentally leaves her phone in the cab.
Ji-hoon gets staggering drunk at a pojangmacha, and a young man approaches him offering to be his designated driver. Soon he wakes, in the passenger seat but alone, at a police checkpoint. The cop assumes that he was driving and moved to the passenger seat to avoid trouble, but when he sees the young man who was driving, the guy makes a run for it.
Yi-seul gathers the nerve to ask Ri-hwan out on another date, but she’s interrupted by his phone. It’s Ji-hoon calling from the police station, but Ri-hwan assumes he’s trying to get him to meet for drinks and hangs up on him, Whoops.
Ri-hwan somehow manages to sound like he’s asking Yi-seul’s weight, but clarifies that his “how much?” was in reference to her watch. She asks if he likes watches, but he says that in his work, they get in the way so he never wears one.
Ji-hoon calls Haeng-ah in a hail mary to get someone to come spring him, confused when a cop answers her phone. He calls Ri-hwan again to tell him that the police have Haeng-ah’s phone.
Since Ji-hoon was driving Ri-hwan’s car, Yi-seul offers to drive him to the station. But it’s Tae-hee who shows up first and knocks him off the bench where he’s dozing. He follows her meekly, and she denied to the cop that she’s not his girlfriend, though he spills that they did used to date. That explains all of the death-glares she sends him.
Ji-hoon trails after Tae-hee outside the station, though she tells him to go drink and play with women, like he likes to do. He tries to convince her to go with him for a drink, but she levels with him – she only came because she likes someone else now, so she can see him without being upset. Ji-hoon asks if she’s slept with him, and she slaps him. When he apologizes, she slaps him again.
Angry now, she says that she’s not like him, sleeping with whoever he wants when he drinks. She tells Ji-hoon firmly never to contact her again. She walks away, even when he yells after her that he never did that.
Yi-seul drops off Ri-hwan at the station, and he runs in with a cursory thanks, leaving her to glare at the bag containing the watch she bought him. He’s here to get Haeng-ah’s phone back, but the cop is reluctant to give it to him since he’s not family. He calls it with his phone to prove it, but has to scramble to explain why he’s listed as “Little Brother Park” in her address book.
The sudden appearance of Suk-joon is made worse when he’s given the phone (because he’s listed as her senior), and Ri-hwan objects that he was here first. The cop says that he has to identify his relationship with her first, but that he keeps changing his story.
Outside, Ri-hwan demands Haeng-ah’s phone,and the two men argue over who has the right to take it to her. Suk-joon says again that Ri-hwan doesn’t act like a brother, and Ri-hwan counters that the police say he’s not, so let’s just say he’s not. From now on, he’s just a man.
As Yi-seul drives home, she sees Haeng-ah walking and turns around to follow her.
Haeng-ah finds them and asks for her phone back from Suk-joon, but he hesitates to hand it over. She tells him to keep it, then, and yells at Ri-hwan when he asks for it again. Suk-joon scoffs at the idea that Ri-hwan is a man and not her brother, which annoys Haeng-ah and she snaps that he’s a man to her.
Further, she says that she and Ri-hwan are dating, and tells Suk-joon to stop calling her. He can keep her phone or give it back, she doesn’t care — the only things she wanted kept hidden on that phone are photos of him.
As they walk away, Haeng-ah tells Ri-hwan not to look back. Then she tells him to look back and see if Suk-joon is still there, hee. He is, so she tells Ri-hwan to hold her hand, but he hilariously refuses to touch her unless she’s showered. Ri-hwan finally clasps her hand, just as Suk-joon calls out to her to stop being silly and come get her phone.
Ri-hwan squeezes Haeng-ah’s hand and asks if she really plans not to see Suk-joon anymore. When she insists she won’t, he tells her not to be surprised, and takes her face in his hands. He kisses her right there in the middle of the street, and Haeng-ah’s hands flutter uselessly. Suk-joon stares and Yi-seul pulls up to the intersection, and both of them watch helplessly and Ri-hwan kisses Haeng-ah.
Ri-hwan breaks the kiss, and Haeng-ah just stands there staring. He reaches up to close her eyes, and kisses her again.
Well. As much as I love the little epilogues we’ve gotten up until now at the end of each episode, I’ll happily forego them for more kisses like that. Whew.
What I love about Ri-hwan is his strong sense of self-discovery, and that he’s willing to have the hard conversations with himself. He doesn’t spend half the show denying his feelings or blaming others for “making” him feel them – he knows that if he feels this negatively about the man Haeng-ah is dating, that he is the one with the problem. He’s a bundle of emotions, and doesn’t shy away from feeling them, but he’s also an intelligent man and I doubt he’ll let his emotions inform his actions for long, not without some serious reflection on what they mean. To have a hero that honest with himself, this early in the run of the drama, makes me excited to see where Ri-hwan’s feelings will take him in discovering who he is and what kind of relationship he wants with Haeng-ah. I fully expect him to the the driving force in the change in their friendship, and considering how much I adore him already, I’m looking forward to watching him convince Haeng-ah that they were never meant to be just friends.
I can see why Ri-hwan feels such hatred for Suk-joon – on top of treating Haeng-ah for granted while they were dating, he really seems to only be seeking her out now to thwart Ri-hwan. That look he shot Ri-hwan while backing her into a blind corner had nothing to do with still liking her, and everything to do with showing Ri-hwan that he had the upper hand. That’s not love, that’s a power trip. Before that, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he regretted losing her, but now it just feels like he only wants her because Ri-hwan doesn’t want him to have her. Whether it’s jealousy, competition, or just pure one-upmanship, I don’t like how Suk-joon treats Haeng-ah as a possession, not one bit.
As wonderful as Ri-hwan is (and let’s be honest, I could go on forever about his wonderfulness), Haeng-ah is every bit as amazing. She seems weak at first glance, with her insecurities and phobias, but she’s got a core of pure steel. It takes a lot to look at the man you love, who’s asking you in the only way he can to come back and promising to change, and to tell him that you’re really, really finished being hurt. In that scenario, how many of us would give it another shot, hoping against hope that he really would change? But Haeng-ah knows, him, and knows that he’s not someone who can change to be what she wants, and I suspect she wouldn’t want him to change just for her even if he could do it. To quietly hold her ground like she did, and insist on breaking up, had to take massive effort on her part. Even though she was proved right not two minutes later, I still admire her for sticking to her convictions and not compromising what she wants in a relationship.
Little does she know, she already has someone who is completely devoted to her, wants to spend the important moments with her, and puts her first above himself every single time. Knowing now why Ri-hwan’s mother objects to Haeng-ah as a partner for her son – she worries that Haeng-ah could die of the same cancer that took both of her parents and leave him alone, not to mention the risk of passing the predilection to any possible children – I wonder if Haeng-ah has the same concerns. I do think a lot of why she keeps Ri-hwan at arm’s length emotionally is because she’s afraid of losing the one parental figure she has left, but I also think she’s possibly also worried (maybe just subconsciously) that she could get sick and die young. Regardless, I appreciate plot-wise that there’s more keeping these two apart than just the typical class-bases objections, and the concern that Haeng-ah is a ticking time bomb health-wise is very grounded in reality and understandable. Yet one more reason why I love Bubblegum so much – nothing in this dramaverse feels contrived or shoehorned in to get us from Point A to Point B, and all of the conflicts feel real. Unfortunately, that sense of reality also makes me worry that Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah’s road to each other could be a very long and difficult one, though I have faith that Ri-hwan, at least, isn’t going to take “maybe she might get sick, someday” as an excuse not to grab for happiness today.