Bubblegum: Episode 8
Ri-hwan lays his cards on the table about Haeng-ah, but good intentions are never enough, especially when his mom is driven by the fear of not just losing him, but losing herself. Keeping her secret becomes increasingly harder, and everyone around her struggles with the consequences of her prognosis. It’s a pretty uncheerful hour, and yet, as always, Bubblegum stays somehow light despite it all.
EPISODE 8 RECAP: “Don’t Mind The Stains, Don’t Mind The Scars. Just Don’t Disappear”
Ri-hwan sees two pairs of shoes outside his mother’s place. Haeng-ah scrambles into the bathroom as soon as she hears his voice, and overhears their conversation.
Ri-hwan doesn’t understand why Mom’s chasing Yi-seul, and tells her that he’s seeing Haeng-ah. He’s the one who held onto her, and says Haeng-ah’s not to blame for what happened between Mom and her dad. When he’s with Haeng-ah, he’s insanely happy. Mom is unmoved, and he tells her how Haeng-ah never resented her once, even after hearing that Mom would throw her away. In the bathroom, Haeng-ah sinks to the floor, tears rolling, and Mom still flatly objects.
He goes on that he never wanted the affluent world that she came from, “For me, it’s enough to just have you by my side.” Both of them are overcome with emotion, and he tells her again not to oppose them. Mom’s past hurts aren’t Haeng-ah’s fault, and he wants her word that she won’t treat Haeng-ah that way. She rejoins that even if Haeng-ah were right here, her answer would be the same: no.
Once Ri-hwan’s gone, Mom calls Haeng-ah out of hiding. She reveals that she has early onset familial Alzheimer’s — a hereditary condition that there’s a fifty percent chance of Ri-hwan developing. Should it happen that he does, he’ll need a lot of people to take care of him, who won’t throw him away even if they want to — family. But if Haeng-ah were to become his family, his family would consist of exactly one other person. She demands her understanding.
Eyes flowing, Haeng-ah tries to hug her but Mom resists, and refuses to let her stay the night.
Driving by in pouring rain, Suk-joon spies Haeng-ah drifting along. He comes to a stop and sees her distressed face. She sinks to the pavement, and he runs out to catch her. She says she’s okay, but her head drops onto his chest and she faints.
In her own bed, she opens her eyes to daylight and Ri-hwan, who tells her to sleep some more. We rewind a little, and it’s Suk-joon by her side as she sleeps. Her phone vibrates and Suk-joon takes it out. We see the name Ri-hwan saved himself as: “Oppa who loves Haeng-ah.”
Meanwhile, Ri-hwan and Ji-hoon clean up a dead pigeon in front of the house. Their funeral blessings are interrupted, and Ri-hwan is dismayed to hear Suk-joon’s voice from Haeng-ah’s number. He drives away immediately, and foreboding hangs heavy in the air.
At her house, Ri-hwan asks Suk-joon what happened, and he replies that that’s what he’d like to know, when she was fine that afternoon. What did he do that made her faint in the street? His words hit home.
In the bedroom, Haeng-ah stirs. Suk-joon says he’s now in a position where he won’t keep her waiting anymore, and if she’s unhappy with Ri-hwan, there’s no reason for him to let her go. He makes it clear that he only called him because he’s a doctor, since she can’t go to hospital.
He lets himself out. Ri-hwan tries to find out from Tae-hee if Haeng-ah had met anyone that night. He admits she fainted in the street and Tae-hee reams him — only one person who could make her that way. He shouldn’t have started with Haeng-ah if he couldn’t protect her from his mother. Ri-hwan remembers the two pairs of shoes, and we see a flicker of reaction to the sound of Haeng-ah, in hiding, hitting the floor.
He stares at the stain from the dead pigeon on his jacket, and thinks, “A dark omen is more frightening than an immediate horror.” He nurses Haeng-ah with cold compresses, and his thoughts continue that the one person who would understand that fear is the one he must hide it from. He touches her cheek, and tells her not to be lonely, even in sleep.
She wakes to his face, and sits up. Ri-hwan tells her she had an irregular pulse but he insists she’s fine, and apologizes — she starts to spin a story about skipping meals and getting carsick, when he grips her arm. He says sorry, and she asks why. “Just. Everything,” he replies, unable to look at her.
In voiceover, we hear him thinking that it’s worse when someone can’t say they’re in pain, and not be able to do more than tell that person not to be in pain. He feels here forehead, and she smiles because he can see she’s fine, right?
He laments at her birthday being like this, which reminds her. Still smiling, she says she has to go to work and receive her birthday wishes, since Se-young spread the news. She promises to see him at home — she’s decided to move into the third floor. She’ll talk to his mom, she says seriously, “Let’s do it like that. It’s my birthday.”
Haeng-ah lets herself into the empty third-floor apartment. She folds back a dust-sheet, and sits for a while. On her way down, she meets Aunt Princess. Shocked to see her, Aunt bundles her out and tries to send her away before Mom sees her. Haeng-ah says she’s already moved her things in, but Aunt argues that it isn’t the right time — she’ll look after Mom herself, and what she needs most right now is peace of mind. Haeng-ah reluctantly acquiesces.
Not a moment too soon. Mom comes out…in her house slippers. Aunt sensitively sends Mom to the car while she gets shoes. Mom controls her disquiet. In the car, she tells Aunt that there are three things she musn’t forget: First, to quickly apologize to her ailing father; second, to marry Ri-hwan to someone who can protect him. And finally, to remember that that day, she was so happy. Face soft, she asks Aunt to remind her, should she come to resent the world, or be depressed, convinced that she’d never lived a single happy moment, that she had that day.
Haeng-ah goes to the rooftop to return a call from Suk-joon. He asks if she’s okay, but she returns the question to him — is he okay? After a pause, he thanks her, and asks if they can meet. After he hangs up, a man who introduces himself as someone from Channel Korea meets him and they shake hands.
Ri-hwan passes Ji-hoon burying his jar again. He explains that he’s accepted he can’t have both things (drink and Tae-hee), and asks why Ri-hwan has two flower bouquets. He says they’re for his mother by way of apology for their argument.
Mom meets with Yi-seul’s mother to apologize for standing her up last time — her story is that a patient died on her. Yi-seul’s mom’s barbs aren’t even veiled. While Mom looks surreptitiously at the prompt-notes she’s made on her phone about the meeting — Yi-seul’s name, why she’s there, getting her story right — Yi-seul’s mom scrutinizes her from beneath her hat, noting her cheap things.
Yi-seul’s mom remarks that both their children lack interest in their respective family holdings, each only having their own little clinics. She has to stop herself from openly berating her daughter several times. But Mom speaks warmly of Yi-seul’s personal qualities, and Yi-seul’s mom says that there are plenty of people who want to marry her money.
Ri-hwan isn’t like that, Mom assures her. He’s so conscientious that he pays monthly rent to his grandfather, but that horrifies Yi-seul’s mother on sooo many levels — he doesn’t even own a house, doesn’t have the money to and he pays his grandpa, like a stranger?
Her reaction offends Mom, who thought that she pursued marriage based on Ri-hwan’s personal character, since his minimal inheritance is no secret. But if they’re a family who don’t want such a son, then she doesn’t want to send him to them. (Plus, that woman hasn’t taken her hat off the entire time, which is just rude.)
We next find Mom visiting Yi-seul, who has to awkwardly explain that Ri-hwan is already seeing someone. Mom quickly clarifies that even if it’s not Yi-seul, it can never be Haeng-ah. Mom wants to know how she feels. Yi-seul wants to look good to him, but she can’t do something bad to achieve it. But what if she asked her to, Mom says, adding that she must seem like a strange mother.
She’s met Yi-seul’s mother, hasn’t she, Yi-seul asks. She tells her that she spent her life looking at her mom as just a woman, a person. Anyone can be weak or greedy, and take out her pain on someone else. Because she couldn’t understand all that, you couldn’t call her bad.
Yi-seul starts to talk about how Mom had Ri-hwan alone, but catches herself and apologizes. Mom says she’ll leave Ri-hwan’s life soon, and tells Yi-seul about her illness. Yi-seul immediately vows to do her utmost to help, anxious for Ri-hwan’s sake.
Unhatted, Yi-seul’s mom flips through a new dossier of (in)eligible men when Jung-woo calls to rebuke her for messing up the match with Ri-hwan. Yi-seul is sincere; this is the first time she’s said she wanted something. Mom just can’t understand why a measly herbal doctor with nothing to his name would turn someone like Yi-seul down. Jung-woo cryptically remarks that he might have an inkling.
We flash back to when he found Yi-seul making chocolate-biscuit towers. When he asked what he could do to help, she replied, “Nothing.” She explains that she likes Ri-hwan because he’s a good person, but he already has someone. And because he’s a good person, he’d never throw that person away for the things Yi-seul can bring. Lastly, if she really likes him, she can’t ask him to break up because of her. Present Jung-woo sighs.
Suk-joon and Haeng-ah sit in a coffee shop where she’s acutely aware of passersby throwing glances at him. He brings up yesterday, and she lightly brushes it off. She thanks him for the cake he brought her, and stands to leave. He asks her if, when she was sick this time last year, it was like last night. Quiet, he apologizes.
He fumbles for a way to ask her to come back to him, and she shakes her head. He promises he’ll make up for keeping her waiting. The cake is enough, she smiles.
Tae-hee and Manager Jo cross paths, and she blocks him. He boggles that of all the weird people at the station, she’s the strangest of them all. She just wants him to answer her question but he refuses. She advances on him while he parries a pen in defence (Tae-hee: “Do you believe the pen is mightier than the sword now?”).
Se-young runs lines with Joon-soo (he in hilarious falsetto), the two
flirting fighting it out as wife and mistress. Wife Joon-soo makes to pull out Mistress Se-young’s hair, and she screams for help. Tae-hee and Manager Jo burst in.
Joon-soo explains, and a close-up shows the name of the drama: “Nine: Nine Infidelities” Hahaha! Se-young tells them it’s about a perfume that allows the wearer to seduce any man, but you can only use it nine times. She gleefully anticipates lots of slapping and hair-pulling, and aspires to become the nation’s most hated woman. On their way out, Tae-hee asks Manager Jo if he stills thinks she’s the weirdest.
She still wants the answer to her question: He likes her, right? He finally agrees to answer, but then we cut away.
Ri-hwan finds his mother’s door locked at the hospital, and a nurse tells him she’s on leave, which is news to him. Mom’s doc-friend spots him and asks to have a chat.
On a bench outside the hospitals, Ri-hwan’s roses sit forlorn beside him. The doctor’s words run by him, how Mom will get progressively worse. He’ll have to stay close to her, since she’s already tried to kill herself twice. That shakes him even more — twice? When the doc tells him it was long before the time he saw, he realizes it must have been when he was born. Tears pool in his eyes.
Left alone, he remembers all the little oddities in Mom’s recent behavior that now add up. The world blurs around him while he remains fixed.
The clinic is busy and Ji-hoon needs him. He calls Tae-hee to find out if Haeng-ah knows anything.
Tae-hee knocks on Haeng-ah’s desk. She tells her Ri-hwan called her last night, and admits she was so angry, she told him about her meeting his mom. Haeng-ah now realizes what his morning “sorry” meant. Tae-hee says she can’t defeat Mom, especially not when she feels so sorry for her. And Ri-hwan is even less able, knowing how much his mom sacrificed for him. She tells her to cut her losses and get out.
Mom is sick, Haeng-ah tells her — really sick. Tae-hee advises her not to uselessly hurt herself with other people’s pain — and why isn’t she smiling, when she’s always smiles at times like this? Haeng-ah changes the subject, and asks for a song for the show. “A Too Painful Love Was Not Love,” Tae-hee says.
Night has fallen, and Ri-hwan remains fixed at the bench. He remembers the other night, when he and Haeng hung out at the clinic rooftop. He slides a wall-panel back to reveal the view, which delights her. He suggests a holiday, and she wants to go with Mom, too — the three of them (to Ri-hwan’s disappointment, lol). She’s never seen her laugh freely, she realizes, and wonders when his mom was happiest. Maybe when she was pregnant with him?
Ri-hwan says that for him, his happiest moment is right now. “Me, too,” Haeng-ah says. She blows a bubblegum-bubble, and that’s the moment he closes the distance between them to kiss her. When they separate, Haeng-ah breaks into a grin, before initiating a second time. Afterwards, she buries her head inside her jacket…and Ri-hwan blows a bubblegum-bubble with the…nooo! That’s grooooss!!
In the present, she texts him that she can’t see him tonight, and he wishes her a happy birthday. Their written words are cheerful, but behind the screens, their eyes are damp.
Walking down an empty hallway, she remembers Ri-hwan’s promise that she’ll never lose them, and how he encouraged her not to be afraid to be with him. The memory is overlaid by Mom’s words, telling her that Ri-hwan will need a lot of people around him, a surety against a future where he might develop the same illness. She thinks of their happiest moment.
Ri-hwan remembers his child-self, crying for Mom because he was scared. She had to leave him, and reminds him to count to ten when he’s scared. Child Ri-hwan starts to count, and melts into adult Ri-hwan. He can’t get past five, and even that dwindles until he’s stuck at “one” and the tears roll freely.
In the studio, the gang surprise Haeng-ah with a party, replete with cake and millions of candles. But her distress finally catches up to her, and she breaks down into loud sobs. Eventually calming to sniffles, she apologizes that it was because she’s so happy. Tae-hee seems to sense that it’s serious, but Se-young just enthuses that getting this much love must be a real treat for her. She comforts Haeng-ah and tells her that they’re all family, and family does this stuff. Haeng-ah whispers that she’s alright, and leaves.
Ri-hwan drinks the night away in silence and sober Ji-hoon pours his shots. On the way home, Ji-hoon steadies him as he stumbles up a footbridge. Reaching the top, he lifts his head and finds Haeng-ah right in front of him. Both their eyes shine with tears. “Haeng-ah-ya…” he says. He reaches her in a few steps and throws his arms around her.
In an epilogue, we revisit the special day from Mom’s memory. She meets Haeng-ah’s dad for a meal at Secret Garden, and they laugh together about how much their kids fight. He wonders what brings her by, and she asks if it isn’t okay. He replies that even if she wanted to live there, it would be fine.
She jokes in response, although her eyes are hopeful, and Dad awkwardly acknowledges that he’s kept her waiting. But they have a long, long time, and Mom lightly notes that this means he’s telling her to wait. It’s a promise that they have a future, otherwise he’d be saying no.
The kids bustle in, arguing loudly about their respective crushes, each complaining to the other’s parent about their kid. The adults grin at each other, and Dad sends them out to finish their fight. But both kids sit instead. Haeng-ah bags the chair next to Mom and tells her that Ri-hwan’s taste in women sucks, and he’ll end up bringing home a weird one. He tells her to wait and see what kind of girl he brings home, and she retorts that she doesn’t even care.
Later, Mom gets a page at the hospital. In voiceover, she relates that that day started like any other. Beaming with happiness, she runs outside. Dad had come to find her, all of a sudden, “And that day, we…”
Is this “that day” the same as the other “that day”? Why are you confusing me in my first recap for you, show? That brings me to a point, though: I don’t get what they’re doing with some of that dialogue. It’ll only go halfway in making a point, and that’s really frustrating, because you need the second half for it to make sense! Like Mom and Yi-seul’s strange, mismatchy, non-sequiturish conversation. I’m left thinking, I understand all the words, but I don’t know what you mean. Is it artfully obscure, or am I just dumb? (And when in doubt, I go with, “I’m just dumb”).
I really like that Bubblegum centers around so many female characters, and that those characters are very distinct. The women in this show — Mom, Haeng-ah, Tae-hee, Yi-seul, even Se-young — are complicated, strange, different, a little broken, and I love that about them, even when the characters (okay, Mom) drives me bats.
At the center of it all, Ri-hwan remains blissfully functional and not at all odd, but for being the only “normal” person in a sea of weird. It makes it extra amusing that Suk-joon brings out a callow side in him, although he’s actually unusually mature. But because he’s angry and resentful towards him (and more than a touch insecure), he acts up in a way that makes Suk-joon come off the better from their encounters.
To Suk-joon’s credit, that moment in the previous episode where he looked up at Haeng-ah from the stairs and half-smiled, I didn’t hate him for the first time. He’s much more interesting to like in a complicated way, than to hate, and this hour, he was surprisingly gentle (and contrite). I’m beginning to see how Haeng-ah could like him. Maybe that’s her particular charm, to see other people so kindly. It makes her lack of self-interest become a symptom of her eclipsing concern for others. Notice how she — constantly and without cynicism — deflects questions about her welfare by turning the question. In this episode alone, I counted three times.
My joint-favorite (with Tae-hee) is Yi-seul, whom I find a Mary Lennox (Secret Garden) kind of character: prickly and hurt and struggling to get along in a world that doesn’t fit quite right. I love that she’s smart with her heart as well as her head; there isn’t a disbalance between her emotional and intellectual capacities. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t suffer with her emotions like the rest of us, but she’s centered enough to know what she should and shouldn’t do. I half-worry that Mom will talk her into vice, but the other half thinks she’s anchored enough not to turn shrew.
It surprised me (although it shouldn’t, but I am naïve) that she knew her mother resented her for resembling her grandmother. It’s hard for any child to discover the defects and vices of their parents, but how much harder to endure being trodden on as well, and remain filial to them. Perhaps it’s the consequence of her treatment that she’s not artful, and remains disarmingly direct. I really, really like her. In the alternate-universe version of this show, Ri-hwan could definitely love her.
Tae-hee is quite similar to Yi-seul, but there’s an added childlike clarity to her personality (where Yi-seul remains quite obscure) which, strangely, makes her less vulnerable than Yi-seul, but also more fragile. Although equally candid, she’s ruled by a childish logic that demands straight-shooting: She asked a question because she wants to know the answer. It’s not a ploy. She already knows she likes Manager Jo, now she needs to know if he likes her, so she can take the next step. She’s very linear — if you know only that about her, you can figure her out, and it makes for an endearing and hysterically funny character. She’s so unusual because people aren’t linear. They’re all tangles of mixed motivations, fears, pretensions, and it makes her the strange one, when she’s arguably the most straightforward of them all.
As for Mom, it seems clear that her opposition to Haeng-ah stems from whatever she had with her father. My guess is that they intended to be together officially (probably marry), but it didn’t happen because he died. It certainly explains the mixture of obligation and soured affection that she harbors towards Haeng-ah, her almost-stepdaughter. Watching her illness take hold is particularly sad, as she tries to parse out her forgotten motives from her actions. Because she can’t remember, she has to use her intellectual understanding of who she is, and her unfinished business keeps her from losing focus.
While I sympathize with her anxiety for Ri-hwan, I think her method is wrong. To think she can control these things and that makes his life better is just an illusion. Family isn’t only made of bonds of blood and law, as Haeng-ah, Uncle and Aunt prove. None of them are related to her, yet all of them feel and care for her like family. Their emotional bonds are as strong, and that’s why she’s wrong about Haeng-ah and Ri-hwan. Both of them have “family” — in Ji-hoon, Tae-hee, Uncle and Aunt, Dong-hwa, and to a lesser extent, others. They’re not going anywhere. And even if she’s worried about ten or twenty years down the line, well…if all else fails: Let them have kids! The sooner, the better! Problem solved!