Bubblegum: Episode 12
Sometimes the worst part of breaking up is living through the aftermath, and finding your new normal. You can use that time to wallow in your heartache, or you can try to do something to make your life better – it’s your choice. There’s no doubt that one course of action is healthier than the other, but does healthier necessarily mean happier?
EPISODE 12: “I’m Calling Out to You, Like a Song that Doesn’t End”
Ri-hwan advises a patient’s daughter to seek a second opinion on her father’s phantom pain from a lost limb, explaining that Eastern medicine believes that emotions have energy. He can’t see the missing limb, so he feels pain from the anger. Letting her father see the missing leg, and talking about it openly, could help him accept it.
We see that certain items in his office are gone now — items that probably reminded Ri-hwan of Haeng-ah. Perhaps someone should take his own advice. Ji-hoon bounces into the office as usual, but seeing Ri-hwan’s deflated demeanor has him slinking back out again.
On her radio show, Se-young discusses that one person whom you want to tell everything to, with whom you share your precious memories, even the simple ones. Haeng-ah recalls sharing a drink with Ri-hwan that she bought with the change in their pockets, having both forgotten their wallets, except that Ri-hwan had been lying about forgetting his just to mess with her. They’d teased and shared red bean pastries — nothing special about the day. Nothing special, except that they’d been together.
The radio team discuss Se-young’s increasingly negative forum comments (which she claims are just because she’s too good of an actress in her drama) and the possibility of doing some giveaways to bring in listeners. Haeng-ah is against it because of people who send in fake stories just to win, but Se-young pouts that it’s not fair to the people who really do deserve something nice.
Out for drinks, Ji-hoon complains to Ri-hwan that sometimes it seems like everyone is happier than you, but that they’re probably all thinking the same thing about you. He even thought it about Ri-hwan when he first met him, that he was a rich kid with no problems (Ri-hwan: “You said that out loud.” HA). He assures Ri-hwan that it’s okay to come out like this — the night nurse that Yi-seul hired is great with his mom.
They’re surprised to see Manager Jo wander into the restaurant and invite him to join them, but he’s awfully twitchy and declines. Aha, because he’s meeting Suk-joon, who gets there before Jo can warn him not to come. The four men end up sitting together under a dark cloud of awkward.
Ri-hwan finds his manners first and thinks Manager Jo for helping Haeng-ah while she took care of his mother, which makes Jo babble about Haeng-ah until he realizes how weird that it’s making everyone feel. He and Ji-hoon head to the restroom, mostly just to escape the tense atmosphere, leaving Ri-hwan and Suk-joon alone.
Suk-joon goes right for the throat, asking why Ri-hwan would promise to disappear then show up in a place where the station employees frequent. Ri-hwan genuinely didn’t know (Ji-hoon brought him here because Tae-hee used to bring him here), but assures Suk-joon that even if he did run into Haeng-ah, it’s over. Suk-joon notices that Ri-hwan has trouble even saying her name, and admonishes him to be even more careful if his feelings are that obvious.
Ji-hoon and Manager Jo sit on the curb, too scared to go inside, and discuss Tae-hee. Jo think she really only feels pity for him, his situation sparking her maternal instincts. He tells Ji-hoon that he truly has no intentions towards her, and Ji-hoon says he hasn’t given up on her yet.
Though Ri-hwan says that he doesn’t want to know, Suk-joon tells him anyway that Haeng-ah is doing well — um, how would he know, since he quit working at the station? Ri-hwan rises to leave, and Suk-joon pushes it by saying that he’ll also tell Haeng-ah how Ri-hwan is doing. Dude, just stop.
On the walk home, Ji-hoon apologizes for making Ri-hwan go out, while Manager Jo and Suk-joon stay at the bar to drink. Suk-joon expresses remorse over his lie to Ri-hwan, or maybe it’s just that he feels like it was a sloppy lie.
He runs into Haeng-ah the next morning at the landlord’s office (right, I forgot they live in adjacent buildings) and he offers to take her to lunch. She congratulates him on his new television broadcasting job, and tells him that her show survived the station’s recent restructuring.
After lunch Suk-joon suggests they meet again, and ignores his ringing phone even when Haeng-ah brings it to his attention. She tries to reject him but he says he’s not expecting to go back to how things were. He wants to start fresh, from the first time they met. He promises that things will be different, and they won’t hide anymore and do things she wants to do.
We see the remainder of Suk-joon and Manager Jo’s evening at the bar, and now it’s Manager Jo who’s tight-lipped and thoughtful. Suk-joon had said that this might be his last chance with Haeng-ah, but that he only feels alive when he’s with her. Manager Jo commiserates, comparing relationships with flowers that die but come again next spring — he worries that he could be seeing his last flower die (with Tae-hee).
Haeng-ah visits the hospital to see Dr. Go, telling herself that people come here to be healed, and leave smiling. She’s much more confident and relaxed than before — she’s been seeing him regularly as she promised. After her appointment, she says that Aunt Princess told her that Mom remembers Ri-hwan now… wouldn’t that mean she’s recovering?
Dr. Go admits that, though Mom is an exceptional woman, and that it’s uncommon to forget the person closest to you with early onset Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t mean she’s recovering. Forgetting Ri-hwan was most likely from the trauma of her diagnosis compounded with her father’s death. She probably experienced a more common shock-related memory loss that resolved itself, rather than the brain cell death from Alzheimer’s.
Haeng-ah tentatively asks if finding out that she and Ri-hwan were dating could have contributed, but the doctor kindly assures her that she did nothing wrong. She seems relieved to hear it.
Ri-hwan drops Mom off at Secret Garden for the day, but he doesn’t go inside anymore. Aunt Princess is sad that she never sees him.
Haeng-ah walks home, remembering the rest of the doctor’s assurances. He’d said that he thinks Mom has gotten through the worst part of her disease, because she no longer knows what’s happening. She’s becoming more childlike, as her memories fade. We see Mom at Secret Garden, reading a book, and having a pout because her pencil is missing — no matter how many other pencils Dong-hwa sweetly offers to her.
Ji-hoon tells Ri-hwan later that Haeng-ah also hasn’t been to Secret Garden, and wonders why they’re both punishing themselves. Ri-hwan only says that he made a promise, but Ji-hoon wants to know why they had to break up in the first place. Ri-hwan admits that things could get even worse than they are now, and Ji-hoon figures out that he had other reasons than his mom to push Haeng-ah away.
Ji-hoon grows sad, saying that it’s possible he could be a bachelor forever. So he needs Ri-hwan to live a good life, so that when he comes over for holidays or just to see him, there’s a happy family to visit. He offers to look into a DNA test, to determine whether or not Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah are blood siblings. On the way to work Ri-hwan finds his mother’s missing pencil in the car, and decides to take it to Secret Garden himself — he can leave it at the door.
Oh no, it looks like Dong-hwa has a new crush, this time on Ji-hoon. She moans to Mom that he seems handsome now “though he used to look like a squid,” and Mom says that when your heart likes a person, they become handsome. Then Mom calls Aunt Princess by a name she doesn’t use anymore, and Dong-hwa eases her for changing her name to Gong-joo (which means Princess). That gets her swatted by both of her parents.
Aunt Princess takes Mom out for a walk, and neither of them notices Haeng-ah, hanging out just for a glimpse of Mom. Having seen that mom looks happy, she heads off, narrowly missing running into Ri-hwan on his way to the restaurant. She waits for her bus, but for some reason, doesn’t board when it arrives.
As the bus drives away, Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah see each other standing on opposite sides of the street. Ri-hwan turns away when Haeng-ah starts to cross to him, but she calls out for him to wait. He doesn’t stop, but every step is a struggle, so Haeng-ah calls that she’ll say what she has to say from her side of the street.
Ri-hwan stops, and Haeng-ah says that she’s getting her driver’s license and has had nine sessions with the doctor. She’s even going into the hospital for them now. She takes her medication and plans to start working out. She asks him to just wait a bit, and she can take Mom to her hospital appointments, too, and help him. When that happens, Haeng-ah says she’ll come back to him. Even if he tells her not to.
This gets Ri-hwan to turn and look at her, and Haeng-ah continues that right now, she feels like a burden to him. So she’s doing all this to remove that burden. She says that she never cries, even when alone, because she never knows when he may be watching. But she misses him so much, and she has to fight herself not to try and see him in secret.
Ri-hwan listens in silence, but on the inside, he’s dying to ask her how she’s been, if she’s eating, and Haeng-ah nods that she has been as if she heard his thoughts. She calls out when he turns to go again, asking him to stay just one more minute. He stops for a moment, then continues on.
Joon-soo is late meeting Se-young at her dentist appointment, and she plays the “I’m not mad” game even though she’s obviously mad. She snaps at him for flirting with the nurse (which he totally didn’t do) and when he objects, she tries to drag Yi-seul into the argument, asking if all men aren’t like that.
Yi-seul says she knows a man who isn’t, and tries to bring the conversation back to dentistry. She fusses at Se-young for drinking on the days of her treatment and delaying her healing, saying in a sad tone that people tend to stop coming around. She means to the dentist, but she’s thinking of Ri-hwan.
Later Yi-seul brings a gift by Mom’s house, and Aunt Princess introduces her to Mom as Ri-hwan’s friend. Mom says she smells nice, recognizing the scent of a hospital on Yi-seul, and listens intently as Yi-seul describes her day. On some level, she recognizes the motions of running a hospital, and Yi-seul’s voice softens as she talks about her love of her job.
Ri-hwan arrives home and takes Yi-seul for a drink, and she apologizes — she only meant to leave the gift at the door. She admits that she does like his mother, not just because of him, and that she had no other intentions to be there. Ri-hwan just thanks her, understanding.
She notices that he’s wearing a watch when he said he normally doesn’t, and he reminds her that he told her that she needs to move on. Only partially speaking about her, he says that you just live day to day — make it to midnight then do it again, and don’t think about how hard tomorrow will be. Yi-seul guesses that he’s talking about his own pain, and asks if that’s what he’s been doing.
Just when you think she finally understands him, Yi-seul asks Ri-hwan again if he can’t like her. But she immediately says that she knows it’s not possible, so she agrees to try living day to day.
Ri-hwan goes home to find Mom’s information about the sanitarium she looked into. Mom sits in her room with a fistful of… something, but it’s only a hair clip she doesn’t recognize. It’s her mourning ribbon, and she asks tentatively if her father passed away. She takes the news well, and asks if she made any mistakes, but Ri-hwan says she did well.
She also found the sanitarium information, and asks Ri-hwan if she intended to go there. He says he doesn’t think she did, but she’s shockingly lucid, and figures out that she meant to go live there once her memory got bad. In her clear state she knows it makes sense, and if she’s still at home, that means she hasn’t been clear-minded in quite a while.
She tells Ri-hwan to listen carefully, while she’s still lucid. She apologizes to him, saying that her pride wouldn’t allow her to go crawling back to her father, even for his sake. She wanted Ri-hwan to do so well that her father would ask him to run his hospital, and also for him to marry into an impressive family. Then she could go back to her father and say that she was right all along.
But she knows that her father would have been happy to have her back no matter what, and that her stubbornness caused her son to grow up without a family. She says she was wrong, though Ri-hwan reassures her that he’s been fine and he understands.
Mom asks what else she’s been wrong about, begging him to tell her now before she forgets again. What other hurts did she cause her son by her selfishness? She tells him not to listen to whatever she said in the past, and to do whatever makes him happy from now on.
Later, after mom has descended back into her haze, the nurse takes her out for a walk and Ji-hoon comes to hang out with Ri-hwan. Ri-hwan asks what’s up with him and Tae-hee, making Ji-hoon sadly admit that the guy she likes seems pretty decent. He glomps onto Ri-hwan for a hug, satisfied when he gets a little smile as reward.
Ri-hwan thinks about his mother’s wish to make himself happy, and how Haeng-ah said she misses him. Mom comes back from her walk and he offers to go inside and read her her favorite book. “Now?” she asks, back in her innocent, forgetful mind. “Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but now,” he says.
Manager Jo takes Tae-hee out to gently let her down, but she won’t even hear him out. She finally tries to walk out, and he has to call after her that he doesn’t like her. She stops, and orders him to say it one more time to her face. He hesitates, but we don’t see if he says it.
Haeng-ah excitedly tells Se-young about a woman with Mom’s same kind of Alzheimer’s who’s still doing well seven years after her diagnosis, and Se-young mutters that it makes her and Joon-soo’s fight seem silly. Tae-hee must have been rejected after all, because she shows up to work in a positively black mood.
The hilariously bland advice expert is on the show again, and Se-young asks him a question “for a friend” who’s dating a younger man. Of course, everyone knows who she means, especially Joon-soo, who gets a serious case of the giggles so that Tae-hee has to snarl at him. The expert says that if the younger man wanted to date women his age, he would — HAHA, even he knows she’s talking about herself, and looks pointedly at Joon-soo.
The next question is from Haeng-ah, and no better disguised than Se-young’s question. She asks if it’s selfish to tell a man who’s pushed you away that you miss him, but the expert says it’s human to want people to know how you feel.
Later as Se-young says on-air that the end of the year is coming, and that this is the time to make your confessions, we get a lovely split-screen of Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah sitting on their balconies, pondering their options.
It continues the next morning, as they both get up, get ready for the day, and bid their mother/houseplants goodbye. They both end up at the hospital, barely missing getting on the same elevator. Eventually Haeng-ah’s half of the screen expands, which is when she finds herself face-to-face with Ri-hwan.
A tiny smile lights her face, while Ri-hwan stands like stone.
I’m so happy that Haeng-ah is taking this opportunity to make positive changes in her life. For so many years she’s let others make her choices for her, and been dependent on others for nearly everything. She’s never even owned her own feelings, for fear of rejection. That’s no way to live, and it’s been frustrating for most of the runof the show to watch her just be so passive in her own life. It’s not an easy thing to admit that you need to change and actually make change, much less when you’re at a low point in your life. So I respect her a lot more now that we’re seeing her take the necessary steps to stop being a burden, someone that others have to support, and become someone who can support others. Good girl ~sniffle~
Suk-joon has really only been a tertiary character in this drama, making his behavior only mildly interesting to me, but in this episode I found some of his actions to be very selfish. Until now I’ve been willing to give Suk-joon the benefit of the doubt for how he treated Haeng-ah. I think that he didn’t mean to be neglectful of her, and had honest intentions to get her back. But now, with some of the lies he’s told to Ri-hwan, I have a lot less patience to put up with him. To my recollection he hasn’t even seen Haeng-ah since he quit his job, yet he’s telling Ri-hwan that she’s doing great and offering to pass a message to her. That’s just pure mean-spirited manipulation, and it makes me think a lot less of Suk-joon as a person. To look a heartbroken man in the eye and tell him that he doesn’t know anything about her (when he’s literally known her his entire life, and knows her better than anyone) and to make him think that Haeng-ah went running to Suk-joon as soon as they broke up, is just cruel. I don’t even care if he’s trying to be the partner she wants now — playing dirty to get what you want, just gets you a dirty prize.
Though I’m sure it would be easy to be forgiving in the face of Mom’s illness and her increasingly childlike sunny demeanor, I’m in total agreement with Saya in that I’m still pretty angry with her. She’s let Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah carry the burden of her own grief and depression their whole lives, which is a terrible thing to put on anyone, much less a couple of children. We haven’t seen her, even once, show that she understands that they also suffered a loss — Haeng-ah’s father was just as much of a father to Ri-hwan, so he was grieving too, and he not only had to deal with that but also the knowledge that his mother was willing to leave him. Depression is a terrible thing to deal with, but so is the fact that your only parents didn’t want to live enough to stay with you.
And in all the years since Dad’s death, never has Mom let up on her disapproval of Haeng-ah, or her objection to their ever being together, even though their love for each other has been evident their whole lives. As Saya so aptly put it, Ri-hwan and Haeng-ah are inextricably intertwined, and nothing can ever change that, not even their own will. To even attempt it would be to destroy them both, yet Mom lets her own feelings get in the way of their happiness, and she knows she’s doing it, and doesn’t care. The fact that she’s sick doesn’t suddenly make everything she did in her life okay, or forgivable, and now it’s too late for either of them to ever convince her to change her mind. And yes, though she did have a moment of lucidity in which she told Ri-hwan to ignore her and be happy, that doesn’t make up for the lifetime of knowing that she hated Haeng-ah.
She’s left them with one final burden — the knowledge that their only mother-figure disapproves of their love, in a culture where parental approval is everything. They’ll have to find the strength to fight that knowledge and understand that their own happiness is what matters, and that what Mom used to feel is no longer relevant, and find the ability to love each other anyway.