Perfect Wife: Episode 1
KBS’s new drama, Perfect Wife, gets right down to business in its first minute by sweeping us into the life of our heroine and her family, all while taking us on a twisty ride that looks to be quite the mystery. All is not as it seems in Jae-bok’s world, and as everything gets turned upside down, she’ll have to decide what, if anything, is worth fighting for. Luckily, she has two very loyal friends and her own fiery spirit to help her out.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
On a dark, rainy night, a woman rides the bus alone, thinking to herself, “I’ll kill you.” As she walks down a side street, she’s shoved by a man who doesn’t even stop to see if she’s okay. She continues on, eventually climbing a set of rickety stairs, only to find herself face-to-face with a woman’s dead body.
This is our heroine, SHIM JAE-BOK (Go So-young), a forty-ish wife and mother who now finds herself a murder suspect. The police think she killed the young woman, probably for love or revenge, and we see the scene on the stairs again — only this time, Jae-bok’s hands are covered in blood.
Three weeks ago.
Jae-bok sits across a table from a crying woman, accompanied by her boss, lawyer KANG BONG-GU (Sung Joon). The woman, sobs that she discovered her husband having an affair with a coworker, and while Bong-gu seems compassionate towards the woman’s plight, Jae-bok glares at him, annoyed.
Since the husband was good at covering his tracks, the wife had his car bugged, and now her husband is refusing to give her any compensation in retaliation. The wife wails that she went to her husband’s mistress’s house, but the woman only called the police on her. Jae-bok is utterly unmoved by the wife’s tears and sharply orders her to stop.
Jae-bok tells the crying wife that her husband’s affair is not her fault, nor is she stupid for not knowing about it sooner. But she warns the woman of the jail time and fines she could face for illegally bugging his car, as Bong-gu starts to squirm in his seat.
He stammers that what’s important in cases like this are feelings, but Jae-bok waves a hand in his face and contradicts him, pointing out that the woman’s husband could make her out to be a mad housewife.
Meanwhile, in an office elsewhere, a woman whose employee badge identifies her as JUNG NA-MI (Im Se-mi) saunters confidently to a man’s desk. She hands him a file with a note attached, instructing him to meet her in the parking garage. He follows her to a car, where they quickly get down to some serious kissytimes.
Still dismissing Bong-gu, Jae-bok assures the wife that she has the upper hand. She starts to talk the woman out of divorcing, and Bong-gu pokes her in the side, alarmed that she’s talking them out of a client. But Jae-bok continues, advising the woman to use her husband like an ATM until the kids are grown.
Na-mi and her boyfriend move their makeout session to Na-mi’s apartment, and we discover that he’s not only her boyfriend, but also Jae-bok’s husband, GU JUNG-HEE (Yoon Sang-hyun). He’s ignoring Jae-bok’s calls and texts, until she sends him a message that they were turned down for a new home because of their two children.
With Na-mi’s lipstick still smeared all over his face, he calls his wife back, and suddenly all his confident sexiness is gone when his strong-willed wife tells him that he’s useless. She reminds him that they have two weeks to move, and that they need to find a new place soon.
An angry call from his boss calls Jung-hee back to work, where he’s screamed at for leaving the office and for having dismal sales numbers in front of the entire staff. It’s clear that he’s on his last warning, judging by Boss JO YOUNG-BAE’s extreme behavior.
A mysterious man, who goes by the moniker Blue Rose, messages Jae-bok while she’s working to tell her about a house that’s just come up for rent. He says that the landlord was even happy to hear about her children, and that her preteen son wouldn’t have to transfer schools. Jae-bok’s first instinct is to decline, but upon hearing that, she agrees to see the place.
On the way there, Jae-bok calls her friend NA HYE-RAN (Kim Jung-nan), who hilariously refers to Blue Rose as Jae-bok’s online boyfriend. Jae-bok says that they’re only friends, even though they’ve been chatting for three years — and anyway, they’ve never met in person. Evidently, he’s been helping her study to become a lawyer in her own right.
Hye-ran is a personal trainer, and as she and Jae-bok hang up, she turns back to her client. A heavyset woman walks into the gym and shoots her the evil eye while ignoring Hye-ran’s cheerful greeting, then walks out again.
A realtor takes Jae-bok to see the house, which turns out to be massive. Jae-bok is sure there must be a mistake as there’s no way she could afford a place like this, but the realtor simply leads her inside and calls to the landlord. A vision in white lace floats down the stairs, smiling and welcoming Jae-bok to look at the house.
We’ll learn that her name is LEE EUN-HEE (Jo Yeo-jung), and while she seems to be sweet enough, there’s something a bit forced and almost Stepford Wife-ish in her persistent smile and cheerful voice. She walks Jae-bok through the enormous spotless home, spending particular time on the perfectly furnished rooms that are obviously for a young boy and girl.
Eun-hee explains that the rooms belonged to her sister’s kids, who all recently moved to Canada. She’s thrilled to hear that Jae-bok has a son and a daughter, and tells Jae-bok that the rent is whatever she can afford to pay. Okay, this deal is just a bit too good to be true.
Jae-bok turns down the offer, feeling uncomfortable, but Eun-hee stops her and says that after five years of marriage, she’s still childless despite trying many times. Her bright smile slips a bit, and her eyes look sad. She says that she loves children, which is why she asked her sister to move in, but now they’ve moved away.
As Jae-bok leaves, Eun-hee runs out to give her a package wrapped in lacy cloth. She says it’s just some sandwiches to make up for the fact that Jae-bok came on her lunch break. She tells Jae-bok that she absolutely must move into this house and sends her on her way. Jae-bok thinks that Eun-hee is strange, but the gorgeous house with the affordable rent is mighty tempting.
Once she’s alone, Eun-hee serenely walks through the house, surveying the perfect furnishings and lovely atmosphere. She walks into the master bedroom and turns on the light, and we see that the room is completely empty.
When Jae-bok gets to work, she goes to the stairwell and opens the sandwiches from Eun-hee. She eats the perfectly packaged sandwiches, and notices that the cloth they were wrapped in is monogrammed with “K&H.”
She makes an appointment to look at another house after work, but as she’s preparing to leave, she bumps into Bong-gu. He needs her to work late on a project, but when Jae-bok objects, he breezes that he can always have that girl that’s after Jae-bok’s job stay and do it. Sneaky and underhanded, this one.
Jae-bok calls him out, assuming he’s taking revenge on her for talking the divorce client out of filing a suit. Moreover, tomorrow they’ll be announcing which part-time worker will be made full-time, so Jae-bok knows Bong-gu is taking advantage of her desire to get the job.
He pretends to have no earthly idea what she means, all the while smirking in triumph. Bong-gu says that he’s going to meet a client, which Jae-bok correctly interprets to mean that he’s going clubbing, ha.
Jae-bok sends Jung-hee to see the house instead, but Boss Jo stops him to remind him that they have a client dinner to go to. Jae-bok fusses at him again for being useless, and says she’ll go in the morning.
Jae-bok decides to just do everything herself and calls her friend KIM WON-JAE (Jung Soo-young) to pick up her children for her. Won-jae is a professor, and she stares appreciatively at one of her handsome young students as she agrees to help Jae-bok out. Jae-bok calls the house owner, but wilts when she learns that another couple saw it and signed a lease immediately.
At his client dinner, Jung-hee sings and drinks with Boss Jo and the client, then the client requests he sing a solo. Jung-hee chooses a rock song, which throws him back to his younger days, when he’d been in a rock band and young girls had screamed as he sang.
Unfortunately, the client hates the performance, and Jung-hee is chased out of the room. He stops to text Jae-bok, but a call from Na-mi comes in before he sends it. She fawns over him, then hangs up and looks at an entry in her date book which says “D-19.” What’s happening in nineteen days?
Unaware that a man in a creepy leather mask is watching from a nearby car, Jung-hee changes his message to Jae-bok to say that his meeting is running long. He goes to see Na-mi, who chirps “Oppa!” at him and hugs him tight.
Jae-bok goes to Won-jae’s to pick up her children, and when asked, she says that she’s confident she’ll be offered the full-time job tomorrow. Won-jae sighs that she’s a hard worker with the worst luck.
She asks if Jae-bok remembers her first love, Cha Kyung-woo, and starts to say something about him before she’s interrupted by her daughter Che-ri and Jae-bok’s son, Jin-wook. The two kids are the same age, about twelve, and Jin-wook rebuffs Jae-bok’s hug while Che-ri says dryly that he must be going through puberty. HA.
Jae-bok asks why Hye-ran isn’t here as they planned, and precocious little Che-ri pipes up that she’s on a “useless date,” as her mother always says. Sure enough, we see Hye-ran in a hotel room, dancing in her negligee with a man — at least, until a knock at the door reveals the man’s wife, who happens to be the woman who glared daggers at Hye-ran while she worked. Whoops.
The wife stalks into the room wielding a baseball bat, and Hye-ran swears that the man told her he was divorced. The wife just calls her three (equally burly and armed) daughters into the room, and sets them on Hye-ran.
Hye-ran flees to the bedroom and wraps herself in a sheet, but the girls get a few good hits in before she jumps up and runs out of the room. She escapes the hotel in only her nightie and the sheet, finally shaking the girls by hiding behind a dumpster.
Hye-ran hears voices in a nearby stairwell and looks down to see her friend’s husband, Jung-hee, bring embraced by young, beautiful Na-ri. She’s horrified at this unmistakable evidence of his affair, then she’s chased off by a stray dog.
When Jung-hee finally makes it home, he’s greeted by a glaring Jae-bok, who seems suspicious of his story about going out drinking. She notices that his lips are chapped and that he smells like women’s perfume, but he stammers that he sat next to a woman on the subway who was wearing too much of the stuff.
She’s angry that they can’t find a nice place to live because he cosigned a friend’s loan, and she barks that she’ll handle everything from here on out. Jung-hee seems genuinely chastened and says sadly that he feels like he’s constantly disappointing her, but Jae-bok just sends him off to shower.
Jae-bok lies in bed with their sleeping daughter, feeling a bit bad about what Jung-hee said. She goes to the living room where he’s lying on the couch, and he (poorly) pretends to be asleep when he hears her coming. Jae-bok kneels and gently tells him not to be too stressed, then gives Jung-hee a sweet little kiss on the cheek.
She leans in for another kiss, trying to rouse him for something more before noticing that his face is all screwed up in a funny way. She realizes that he’s faking sleep, and snaps that he must really hate sleeping with her. Jung-hee says that he’s just really tired, and Jae-bok stomps off to bed alone.
Won-jae texts her to finish what she was saying earlier about Jae-bok’s first love. She sends Jae-bok a link to his wife’s blog, which is famous among married women. Jae-bok checks it out and wistfully imagines herself in the picture-perfect life the blog seems to show, blissfully happy with her first love.
The following morning, Bong-gu tries to shut the elevator doors in Jae-bok’s face, but she blocks the doors with her purse and squeezes in, to his obvious discomfort. He peevishly throws out a leg to trip her when they get out, but she nimbly hops over it, causing him to give a reluctant little grin.
When Jae-bok walks into her office, all the other employees do that awkward thing where it’s obvious they were just talking about her. She takes the finished work for Bong-gu to his office, then she’s called aside by her boss. Oh no.
Bong-gu gets some bad news — his contract with the firm ends in a month, and they’re not interested in extending it. He’s told that they can’t afford him, and though he tries to talk him out of their decision, even offering to take a lower salary, his boss doesn’t budge.
Jae-bok is informed that not only did she not get the full-time job, she’s being let go. She demands to know why when her boss admits she works harder than anyone, and he gets fidgety when she asks if it’s because she’s older and has a family. She knows the firm would rather have someone with no connections who can be flexible, and she’s vocal about being disappointed that they’re hiring someone based on that instead of rewarding her stellar work.
Before she goes, Jae-bok asks if Bong-gu knew that she wouldn’t be hired. Her boss adds that he probably did, adding one more layer of hurt to Jae-bok’s feelings of betrayal. As she’s packing her desk, the woman who got the job is being shown around, and just as Jae-bok suspected, she’s very young.
Jae-bok runs into Bong-gu as she’s leaving the building and tells him that the documents he wanted are on his desk. He sizes her up and guesses that she doesn’t know he was sacked, but he doesn’t know that she was sacked, either. He rattles on about the documents as if he’s seen them, and asks if it’s true she was pre-law in college.
Jae-bok confirms it, though she adds that she didn’t graduate. Bong-gu latches onto that and blusters that she shouldn’t show off to a real lawyer, and Jae-bok asks if that’s why he forced her to work so many nights. She says being a lawyer has given him a big fat head, making Bong-gu rear back, offended.
Jae-bok accuses Bong-gu of making her work nights because he knew she’d be fired, and he’s so surprised that his voice cracks when he squeaks, “You too?” Lucky for him, Jae-bok wasn’t really paying attention and missed his slip-up, and she gripes that she feels like setting fire to all of his work.
She starts to storm off, and Bong-gu complains at her back about her speaking in banmal to him. Jae-bok comes back to inform him that he’s only twenty-six, and that she’s a good decade older than he is, grumbling that he can’t even tie his shoelaces. She turns to walk away, and Bong-gu crouches to tie his shoe, HA.
To his credit, he’s genuinely shocked that she wasn’t hired, since she is/was such a hard worker. He mumbles to himself that he only made her work so much because he was sure she’d get the job. Awww.
Jae-bok goes to Won-jae’s place to soothe her hurt feelings with food and companionship. She complains that she’s always a temp and never gets hired, then asks about Hye-ran’s impressive shiner.
Won-jae swans into the room and announces without preamble: “Jung-hee is cheating.” Hye-ran claps a hand over Won-jae’s mouth and says she was mistaken and didn’t see a thing, but Won-jae breaks free, says again, “It’s true, Jung-hee is cheating!” and flees to her bedroom.
Na-mi meets with a mysterious woman who gives her a fat envelope full of cash and says that it’s this month’s payment. She reminds Na-mi that time is running out, and that she needs to step up her game.
Na-mi goes straight from this meeting to a hospital room, where Jung-hee meets her and startles her out of a deep thought. Jung-hee happily greets the elderly woman in the hospital bed, calling her “Mother,” while Na-mi does her best to hide her nerves.
Jae-bok finds Na-mi’s building, then remembers how her almost-client went to her husband’s mistress’s house. She turns to leave, but a neighborhood ahjumma asks if she’s here to see “the newlyweds,” and directs her to Na-mi’s apartment. There’s an awkward moment when the woman expects Jae-bok to know the pass code, so she enters in her own home’s code, and she’s surprised when it actually works.
Inside the tiny apartment, Jae-bok looks around, and her eyes go wide when she sees one of Jung-hee’s posters on the wall. She notices several photographs of her husband looking very lovey-dovey with a pretty young woman, and the reality of the situation hits her — he’s having an affair.
Her own advice to the jilted wife earlier reminds her to stay calm, though she decides that she’d rather kill them both. But then she hears a phone ring outside the door and her husband’s voice answering, and looks around for a place to hide in the small apartment.
Jae-bok squeezes into the closet, and watches through the slats in horror as Jung-hee enters the room with Na-mi. He hugs Na-mi, and she thanks him for helping her mother get better, tearing up with emotion. Jung-hee plants soft little kisses all over Na-mi’s face, and Jae-bok angrily wonders why she’s hiding when she’s done nothing wrong.
Her foot slips and makes a noise, which Jung-hee hears. He reaches for the closet door to investigate, but his phone rings again, saving Jae-bok from discovery. It’s Boss Jo, so Jung-hee goes outside to answer.
Just as Jae-bok relaxes, thinking she’s safe, the closet door swings wide open. Na-mi stands there, and though she doesn’t see Jae-bok right away, soon her gaze swings down, and the two women find themselves face to face. Shocked, they both let out bloodcurdling screams.
Perfect Wife is a bit darker and more serious than I expected, but in a way that makes it even more intriguing than I originally thought. I really like the characters already, and I’m very interested to get to know Jae-bok, Jung-hee, and Bong-gu better. At this point I find Jae-bok to be a strong personality who’s very harsh and critical of her husband — so while I would never condone an affair, I almost don’t blame him for being attracted to the pretty young thing who flatters him shamelessly. Jung-hee isn’t very confident and prefers to avoid rather than speak out, so it’s no surprise that he finds his cranky wife off-putting, and goes to the girl who makes him feel attractive and masculine.
I think I’m going to enjoy the relationship between Bong-gu and Jae-bok, because they already have a lot of crackling chemistry, even if right now it’s all channeled into disdain and anger. I can see them finding a way to work together somehow now that they’ve both been canned, because while Bong-gu definitely takes advantage of Jae-bok, it’s clear that he notices her hard work and respects her on that level, even if he doesn’t care for her personally. Watching them bicker their way into a reluctant but mutually beneficial partnership should be a lot of fun.
As things stand now, I’m the most intrigued by Eun-hee’s character — she seems perfectly sweet and perfectly nice, and just so alarmingly perfect. That glimpse into her sadness felt so genuine, but then when she went into the empty master bedroom, it made me question everything about her. Is she really the homeowner, or is she in league with Blue Rose for some reason? The rental home definitely feels like a setup, with the already-furnished children’s rooms and empty master bedroom. And who is Blue Rose, anyway? Whoever he is, he wants Jae-bok in that home for a reason, and I’m sure that whatever that reason is, it’s not going to be something innocent like friendship. I’m very curious what’s going on there, and how Eun-hee factors into things.
I really enjoy the show’s willingness to explore and shed light on infidelity, be it intentional or unintentional. Some forms of cheating are pretty straightforward, such as Jung-hee’s relationship with Na-mi, though the reasons behind the cheating can muddy the discussion quite a lot. Is there any justification to cheat, when your current partner treats you with derision and insults? Does the partner who treats their spouse badly have any culpability if their spouse turns to another for love and comfort? And in cases like Hye-ran’s, is she still responsible if she was unaware that her paramour was in a relationship already? I hope the show really digs deep into these questions, because I find them fascinating.
At this point I’m assuming that the murder victim at the top of the show is Na-mi, and that Jae-bok will be mistaken for her murderer. That brings a whole new level of interest to the whole “my husband is having an affair” angle of our story, especially since we know that before finding out about the affair, Jae-bok’s philosophy was for a wife to keep her mouth shut and get everything she can out of her cheating husband before leaving him. Obviously, once she’s the one being cheated on, the entire situation feels different, but I highly doubt that Jae-bok would resort to murder. My guess is that the person who bumped into her in the alley is the real murderer, and that Jae-bok was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there are other mysteries, such as the masked man who was watching Jung-hee outside the noraebang, and the money Na-mi has been receiving monthly from… someone. I’m hoping that the next episode sheds a bit more light on these questions, as I’m very much looking forward to learning more.
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- News bites: January 14, 2017
- Sung Joon up for Perfect Wife, Lee Sang-yub out
- Lee Sang-yub offered role in KBS’s upcoming Perfect Wife
- Yoon Sang-hyun in talks to play Perfect Wife’s husband for KBS
- Go So-young, Jo Yeo-jung courted for new KBS drama Perfect Wife