Dear My Friends: Episode 7
With age, comes experience — at least, that’s what we’re told. All the lessons that life teaches you, however willing a student you might be, may not always prepare you for what’s ahead. Preconceived notices and assumptions are challenged as the truth is revealed about past actions, and while the aunties reel from their various blows, it is Nan-hee who struggles the most to reconcile what she knows about her daughter against the truth-bombs that the (mostly) unsentimental Choong-nam keeps dropping.
EPISODE 7: “The wind blows and the waves crash.”
Jung-ah’s mother peacefully passes away, having her wish fulfilled that she could “fly away like a bird” instead of being trapped in a nursing home until death. While Jung-ah hugs her mother and cries, Nan-hee and Wan stop their playful wrestling, realizing something is wrong.
As Nan-hee immediately takes control of the situation — by calling Choong-nam, because she has the most experience with funerals — Wan marvels at how the “adults” can seem so capable in such a moment, when she feels so helpless, like a useless shell on the beach.
She calls auntie Young-won, wondering what they should do. But Young-won’s busy in the middle of a shoot, and tells her to call back once they get to the funeral house. Ever the professional, Young-won plays her role as the evil mother-in-law (where she endures a glass of water to her face before commencing hair pulling) while the camera rolls.
In a voice-over, Wan wonders at how the adults can so effortlessly say that “life goes on,” able to separate what they can and cannot do. They seem like such impressive and invincible mountains in that moment.
Choong-nam is deep into her phone tree, calling everyone to let them know about Jung-ah’s mother. But it’s a very businesslike process as she reminds those giving excuses of not being able to attend all the support Jung-ah and their family have given them. Nan-hee’s family is put in charge of getting the food together, and Wan grumbles that the funeral home should be organizing it — but that’s out of the question for Nan-hee.
Wan’s uncle is also helping them shop at the supermarket, and he asks Nan-hee what she thinks about their mother not wanting him to marry a girl from the Philippines. But Nan-hee’s against it because of her age — twenty-two is too young for her brother. Except he knows it’s not about her age or where she’s from, it’s the fact that he’s handicapped.
Meanwhile, Granny’s distracted by a pretty, sparkly blouse. She walks away, telling herself she’s old and doesn’t need new clothes if she’s going to die soon. Then she turns around and says that if she’s going to die soon, then why can’t Nan-hee buy it for her? That’s the spirit, Granny!
As they prepare to go to the funeral, Hee-ja ties Min-ho’s necktie (and aw, the extreme height difference between Kwang-soo and Kim Hye-ja is adorable), Seung-jae calls her, asking when she’ll be there (still calling her “kid”). She just hangs up, and Min-ho asks who it was, but she doesn’t tell him.
He also asks if she ever had a mother, since Hee-ja’s mother died when Min-ho was just a baby so he doesn’t remember her. He says it feels strange to think that his mother had a mother, too.
Choong-nam has taken charge, going through the paperwork from the funeral home and verifying all the details while a dazed Jung-ah and Suk-gyun try to answer hew questions. When she reaches the options of what kind of casket to get, Suk-gyun is insistent that they get the most expensive, but Jung-ah says they should use the cheapest, since it’s not like Suk-gyun ever cared about her mother.
Jung-ah’s quiet grief is contrasted with the loud wails of her brother, and Wan tells us that the hectic funeral was over in four days. While the rest of the family wasn’t looking, Jung-ah took a handful of her mother’s cremated ashes to spread them out to sea where she can enjoy the freedom of the breeze.
Wan watches the aunties quietly and respectfully spread the ashes, realizing that her mother won’t be around forever, either. At that moment, she officially decides that she’ll write her mother’s story and the stories of her mother’s friends.
Choong-nam walks home with Hee-ja, surprised to realize that Seung-jae refers to Hee-ja a “kid” — just like he does with her. She calls him, but he’s with Suk-gyun to discuss his case against his daughter’s abusive husband, so he ignores the call. Meanwhile, Young-won walks hand-in-hand with Jung-ah, telling her that her first husband has been sending her flowers. Jung-ah is surprised, since she knows that he’s married, but it still makes Young-won happy.
Nan-hee finally sees the text message from Choong-nam telling her that Wan is dating a married man. Wan notices that her mother is being distant and tries to cheer her up by informing her that she’ll write the stories about the aunties, but Nan-hee just walks away. Wan assumes she’s just sad about Jung-ah’s mother’s passing and thinking of her own elderly mother.
In the middle of the night, Suk-gyun notices that Jung-ah isn’t in bed, and he finds her in the bathroom, sobbing. She’s sitting on the floor next to the bathtub, surrounded by empty bottles of her favorite beer. He starts to ask her how much she’s had to drink, but then silently hands her a towel for her tears before quietly returning to bed.
Jung-ah beats her chest, finally free to relieve her deep grief. No matter how old you are, or how many experiences you’ve had, you only experience a mother’s death once in your life. You can’t help be heart-broken. And that, Wan says, is how an adult daughter mourned her mother’s death.
At work, Nan-hee is distracted to the point where she even slices her own finger as she’s cutting vegetables. Her staff are astonished, but it’s because she can’t stop thinking about Choog-nam’s text and the fact that Dong-jin knows Wan’s passcode. She calls Choong-nam to meet her later, and it’s so she can yell at her for lying. How dare she accuse Wan of dating a married man?
After all, she knows how Nan-hee has endured thanks to her husband’s affair — would she have raised her daughter to be like that? Why is she going around spreading such malicious rumors? Dong-jin and Wan are just friends and colleagues! Choong-nam retorts that if she just wanted to gossip, she’d tell Gi-ja.
Nan-hee angrily points out that Choong-nam doesn’t have any proof, since it’s not like she’s seen them sleep together. But Choong-nam calmly tells her that she saw them kissing. Young-won (as the unwilling mediator) tries to intervene, reminding her that she wasn’t wearing her glasses and her eyesight isn’t what it used to be, so who knows what she really saw, but Choong-nam is adamant. That’s enough for Young-won, and she leaves the women to fight it out.
But Nan-hee just starts to cry as Choong-nam matter-of-factly informs her that Dong-jin and Wan were kissing outside the publishing offices. She doesn’t care if this ruins their friendship — she’s more concerned about Wan ruining her life.
After Choong-nam leaves, Nan-hee tries calling Young-won, asking if Wan broke up with Yun-ha because of Dong-jin, but Young-won refuses to play along. If she wants to the know the answer, Nan-hee has to talk to her daughter. Young-won trusts Wan to take care of her life. But Choong-nam snatches the phone to tell Nan-hee to look at Wan’s phone, even telling her the passcode to access Wan’s messages.
Still tearful, she calls her daughter, demanding to know if she’s hiding anything. Wan’s amused at the sudden call with no explanation, and tells her that she’s in the middle of a video call with Yun-ha, and assuming it’s something trivial, she hangs up.
Yun-ha is proudly showing off his drawing of the kissing couple. Wan asks if the girl in the picture is her, but Yun-ha cheekily says that it’s his new friend Nikita. He tells her all about the pretty music shopgirl, and Wan dismisses it until he hesitates when she asks if they’re dating.
He brings up a conversation where Nikita has asked him that, since he’s paralyzed from the waist down, if he’s still capable of, uh, y’know, sexy fun times. He told her that she could find out herself if she wanted, and when Wan grumblingly asks if she agreed, Yun-ha just laughs.
Wan throws her cup of water at him, momentarily forgetting that they’re on a video chat (but Yun-ha playfully flinches and covers his face anyway). As she frantically scrambles to save her laptop from being damaged by the water, Yun-ha just continues to laugh, and we see a flashback of the two of them pre-accident — laughing, dancing, and having fun together.
As Nan-hee gulps down glass after glass of soju in her apartment, Young-won drives Choong-nam home. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks — she had to tell Nan-hee the truth. Someone needs to make sure Dong-jin and Wan break up, and the only one who Wan will listen to is her mother. Surprisingly, Young-won agrees with her — it’s time for Wan and Dong-jin to break-up. And if they don’t, well, then it must be fate.
When Choong-nam gets her “goodnight, kid” text from Seung-jae, she wastes no time in calling him up and demanding to know why he calls both her and Hee-ja “kid.” Seung-jae think it’s obvious — it’s because Hee-ja is so tiny and it’s because Choong-nam is young and cute. She tries to be annoyed by it, but his words rattle through her brain: “young and cute.”
Young-won teases her for getting so bothered by Seung-jae, and starts singing a love song. But Choong-nam just imagines Seung-jae in her place, singing the song to her as they drive home. Aw, day-dreaming about a crush — Choong-nam has got it bad.
Nan-hee tries to sleep, but she can’t stop thinking about Dong-jin and Wan. Whoa, that is not a glass of water by the bedside table, although I suppose it is easier to sleep after downing a bottle of soju.
In the morning, Jung-ah makes breakfast as she reassures herself that her mother is now free, like the bird she dreamed of becoming. Suk-gyun is surprised when she sharply tells him he can get his own water. He tries to reassure her that her mother is now in a better place, but she just ignores him. He also tells her that he’s preparing a big gift for Soon-young (one that will supposedly make Jung-ah want to be fetch his water for him again), but he won’t say what it is.
He does ask when Soon-young’s flight leaves tomorrow, cautiously saying that he probably doesn’t need to go — they can visit her in the States later on. Jung-ah just says to herself that she had planned on being better to her mother later on, too.
She goes to her drawer where she finds a deed to some property. She asks Hee-ja to help her sell some property, but Choong-nam’s the expert in that. Jung-ah tells her she’s desperate, and that they want to take care of it without Suk-gyun knowing about it. Jung-ah psyches herself by up reminding herself that her mother is gone — there’s nothing left to be afraid of.
Choong-nam gets another text from Seung-jae, which puts that happy little smile on her face. She asks her nephews if they would be okay with her dating, and they think it’s fine — assuming it’d be just platonic, though. They’re teasing, and Choong-nam can’t help her smiles even as she chides herself in the mirror.
While Choong-nam continues to re-read Seung-jae’s brief-but-friendly message, the man himself is with Hee-ja, having surprised her at home. He’s there to bring her some church volunteer work that would be better suited for her temperament. Even though she’s cool towards him, the thought of stringing rosary beads seems to be more appealing than scrubbing toilets.
He chuckles at the way she clearly seems to hate him, and she says it’s exactly because of that — it’s the way he laughs at her. He smiled when Suk-gyun asked if they slept together, and even though she cried when the broke up fifty years ago, he must have smiled then, too. Nope — he cried for four days straight when he heard about her wedding.
He was so distraught that even though he had an exemption, he enlisted in the military in attempt to channel his anger. Hee-ja seems surprised, but covers her reaction by telling him he should go. He asks if they can at least be friends, but she refuses. She doesn’t befriend men, especially ones who take medications for heart problems — her husband had a heart problem, and look where that got her.
Just then Min-ho calls, demanding to know who she’s with. He can see through the security camera feed that Seung-jae is in the kitchen, but he quickly tells her that he “just had a feeling” she was with a man. As Hee-ja explains it’s just someone from church, Seung-jae notes the cameras in the house.
Seung-jae pleasantly agrees to leave, but also invites Hee-ja to join him on a trip. They can pack up all their medication and go see the flowers — after all, they may not have many years left to enjoy this beautiful weather. Hee-ja watches him leave in disbelief, and then reassures Min-ho that she doesn’t have a boyfriend.
Happy, Seung-jae dances his way down the street outside Hee-ja’s house. Meanwhile, Choong-nam cradles her phone, smiling at her messages. She daydreams about Seung-jae at home, asking her for his morning coffee — until she decides that Seung-jae is the type who’d make coffee for her.
As the daydream Seung-jae gives her a cup of coffee, Choong-nam wonders if she should date him — it might be fun, but everyone has their good and bad sides, and she imagines him nagging about the way she washes the dishes. She tells herself he’d be the lecturing type, and shakes her head to rid her of her daydreams.
Settling down to study and watch some television, she imagines Seung-jae snatching the remote, insisting on watching the news instead of a fun program. He’d also ridicule her for not knowing simple math concepts. She yells at the imaginary Seung-jae that she can do it herself — she’s done everything on her own for the past sixty years, she can succeed without him!
Young-won catches this outburst, and Choong-nam just tells her it’s over. Young-won is amused that she’s already come to that conclusion without even giving their relationship a chance, but Choong-nam says that one of the benefits of being old is that you realize everything is predictable. She can already imagine her pitiful future if she stays with Seung-jae, and that’s not what she wants out of her life.
Wan says that she’s envious of Choong-nam’s life experience, which means she doesn’t have to go through an entire relationship to know how it would end. She wonders if the reason she’s so confused right now is because she doesn’t have enough life experience. She wishes she could grow older just to get past the confusion of not knowing what to do.
While Wan sleeps, Nan-hee enters her apartment. She sets about making breakfast, but she can’t resist the urge to look through Wan’s phone. All her messages with Dong-jin are like nails in Nan-hee’s coffin. It’s clear that they had an affair of some sort, and as she tries to come to grips with this discovery, she quietly and hastily makes her exit.
It’s Soon-young’s last day in Korea, and she’s spending it with her mother and sisters. Aw, it looks like Jung-ah and Hee-ja are stocking up on Korean items for Soon-young to take with her. The girls decide to go to karaoke, and Soon-young’s relieved that Jung-ah seems so happy. As they’re singing, Suk-gyun calls, telling him he’ll join his daughters later.
Jung-ah’s youngest daughter makes the excuse that the reason their mother hasn’t been answering his calls must be that she’s with Hee-ja, feeling sad about their grandmother. She also says that Soon-young is having a hard time so he should just wait until she’s settled in America to see her. Aw.
Suk-gyun’s all fired up to confront Sae-oh, assuming that Soon-young is unhappy because of him, but at their meeting, Seung-jae restrains him from actually landing a punch. This is a time for legal talk, not fisticuffs. Seung-jae tells Sae-oh that, in order to keep his career from being totally ruined, he should hand over 500,000,000 won to Soon-young. Wow, that’s way more than Suk-gyun was demanding, and he squeezes his friends’ knee in either shock or gratitude (or maybe both).
Sae-oh scoffs at this amount, saying it’s impossible, but Seung-jae explains that he’s a lawyer who has a lot of connections, and he’ll give the recording of Sae-oh’s confession to the chancellor of Sae-oh’s university — and leak it online — if he doesn’t pay up. And if Sae-oh doesn’t believe that he’s a powerful lawyer, he can just google him. Which Sae-oh does, once the old men leave, only to be frustrated that everything Seung-jae said is true.
Seung-jae is still trying to calm Suk-gyun, who’s out for complete and utter destruction. He doesn’t understand why they’ll agree to let Sae-oh live in peace if he hands over the money, but Seung-jae wisely counsels that weasels like Sae-oh need to keep some pride so they won’t try to further ruin the lives around them — especially Soon-young’s life.
Besides, Suk-gyun can relieve his anger by keying Sae-oh’s brand-spankin’ new car. Seung-jae checks to make sure there’s no CCTV and no one else around, and after the deed is done, they scurry off before anyone can catch them. When Sae-oh sees the damage to his car, he loses his mind, and the old guys smile knowingly at each other as they spy on him from around the corner.
On the bus ride home, Suk-gyun practices what he’ll say to Soon-young in his final goodbye before her flight — he’ll cooly ask for her bank account number where he’ll give her the revenge money taken from Sae-oh. Then he’ll simply tell her to have a good life… and that he hopes to see her soon. Aw. Except when he tries calling, the phone is already turned off and no one answers. Sadder aw.
Soon-young hugs her mother one last time, but Jung-ah refuses to be too sentimental as she tells Soon-young to not be late for her flight. She hides her face — and her tears — while Hee-ja promises to tell the other aunties good-bye for her.
But just as she’s about to leave, Soon-young turns back around and brightly tells her mother that even though she sold all of her jewelry, the one item she kept was the ring her mother gave her in honor of her “first birthday” (although really it was given to her just before she was married, due to her adoption), promising that she’ll wear it as she begins her new life in America.
Jung-ah is still too emotional to watch her daughter drive away, but when Hee-ja points out the bird following along after the car, Jung-ah freely begins to cry as she realizes that not only is her mother gone, but her daughter, too. Hee-ja holds her hand, realizing that these two best friends are now both orphans.
In the morning, Nan-hee tidies up the area in front of her restaurant, so lost in thought that she doesn’t even notice her favorite musician customer greeting her. He tells her that he’s not a professional musician — he works at a convenience store just down the road. Music is just his hobby. She stares at him, dead-eyed, and he awkwardly says that he just wanted her to know the truth.
But that’s all Nan-hee wants — the truth. She tries to track down Wan, and she sits at a restaurant across the street from the publishing office until late at night, watching for Wan to arrive.
She finally does, and Wan tells her coworker who’s just about to leave that she was “just passing by” — uh-huh, sure. Once they’re alone in the office, she apologizes to Dong-jin, but he cuts her off, confessing that he loves her. Yes, he knows that all this time she’s only ever loved Yun-ha and that he’s just been the distraction she’s used to get over Yun-ha.
Dong-jin admits that he still loves her, even though he knows this is as far as things will go between them. He wryly says he must be an adult now, since he’s able to control himself despite how he feels. Wan wipes the tears from her eyes and they both making joking comments, relieved that the awkward moment is over. Or almost over. Dong-jin seriously adds that this is the end for them.
He tenderly kisses her on the forehead and they share one last hug — while Nan-hee watches through the window, eyes wide in shocked horror.
How does this show consistently make me cry every week? I normally consider myself fairly stubborn when it comes to sentimentality and like a mountain, I will not be moved by obvious ploys for my tears. But these women so marvelously get under my skin in a way that I am but a simple grain of sand, washed away by the emotional tide. I relate both in the sense that I am them and that they are like my own family. They are my aunties and yet they are also me.
I feel like I ought to relate more to Wan, since we are both young(er) and have still so much to experience and learn from life, but then again, I relate to Choong-nam and her daydreams, waking up to cold reality that someone who’s independent for so long may not be able to easily change for another person. Freedom is sometimes much more valuable than the thought of someone making you a cup of coffee each morning.
I really loved the theme of this episode: “life experience.” Wan seems to think she doesn’t have enough of it yet to figure out how to succeed in life, but from where I sit — the observer of all the aunties, privy to each of their lives (at least, to the portions they’ve chosen to share so far) — sometimes that life experience leads you astray. Nan-hee, with her heart to bitterly ruined by her husband’s affair, assumes that anyone who ever cheats with a married man is the worst person ever, so now to realize that her daughter — her beloved daughter, the love of her life, the only thing that saw her through the darkness — is one of those horrible women, well, what is her reality now?
So, too, is Hee-ja suspicions of anyone with a heart-problem, no doubt assuming they will die and abandon her, leaving her alone in her large, empty house. Jung-ah’s life experience has been to work hard to take care of her family all her life in the hopes of a final reward, but that reward still has not appeared and her family is slipping away. Young-won’s life has been devoted to looking beautiful on-screen, and now she’s battling cancer that scars her body.
Age may certainly give someone more experiences in life, but not all experiences are universal. Pain and suffering — and love and joy — can happen at any time in someone’s life. While I do enjoy the fact that Wan is finally (and willingly!) learning from her aunties, I am hoping that they can learn from each other, too, and see that perhaps their way of viewing the word isn’t end-all-be-all. Experiences continue until you die — just as one is never too old to have a mother fix your tie, one is never too old to learn new life lessons.