Woman of Dignity: Episode 9
Learning that your spouse is cheating on you is never easy, and a number of our players have to deal with that tough lesson in this episode. To some, cheating is just an escape or an elaborate game, but for Ah-jin, it spells the end of her idyllic life as she knows it. But hopefully, finding help from unexpected allies can give Ah-jin the perspective and strength she’ll need going forward.
Episode 9: “Prologue to War”
Despite having just come inside from screaming after her husband, who left to continue his affair, Ah-jin schools her expression to greet a sleepy Ji-hoo for the morning. Although Ji-hoo is canny enough to notice that something is wrong, Ah-jin denies that she is sad and explains that Jae-suk has gone cycling again.
This is enough to satisfy Ji-hoo, but as she runs off, Ah-jin’s expression changes to one of defeat.
On the other hand, Ah-jin’s housekeeper becomes outraged on Ah-jin’s behalf when she realizes where Jae-suk has really gone.
Elsewhere, new maid Bang-soon reluctantly enters Jae-gu’s room to wake him up and inform him that Bok-ja wants him downstairs. Jae-gu doesn’t take this intrusion well and yells at Bang-soon to leave his room. Bang-soon hurriedly complies.
While Bok-ja helps Chairman Ahn get ready for the day, she instructs his secretary not to forget his physical therapy later. The chairman peevishly asks Bok-ja not to treat him as a child, but at Bok-ja’s cold shoulder, he asks her out on a date later to make up for it.
Dressed to kill, Bok-ja orders Ah-jin, Jae-hee, and Joo-mi to accompany her outside and say goodbye to Chairman Ahn as he leaves for work. When the chairman tries to say that they needn’t have all come out, Bok-ja sweetly answers, “They should be taught what proper manners are.”
Lined up like misbehaving children, the three women bow (though Jae-hee does so particularly ungraciously) to Chairman Ahn before following Bok-ja back inside the house.
Battle lines are drawn as Bok-ja sits across the table from Ah-jin, Jae-hee, and Joo-mi. Indicating the breakfast that has been laid out, Bok-ja explains that Chairman Ahn’s health is her first priority.
She pointedly asks if she is the only one who cares, to which Jae-hee splutters in offense. Bok-ja sharply warns Jae-hee that unless she starts calling her “Mother” (she’d been calling her disrespectfully as “Ajumma” before), she should just stay out of her way.
Calling for Bang-soon, Bok-ja orders Jae-gu thrown out of his room, since he refused to come say goodbye to Chairman Ahn in the morning. Bok-ja looks straight at Jae-hee as she states that she is here to protect the chairman, and will be especially strict against his own children.
Joo-mi’s disgust is evident as she asks if Bok-ja has decided this on her own. At Bok-ja’s affirmation, Jae-hee demands to know what right Bok-ja has to do this. Turning on Jae-hee, Bok-ja calmly asks Jae-hee to leave her room as well, since the chairman wants her out of his house. Jae-hee reacts explosively, crying as she asks where she can even go.
Ah-jin breaks her preoccupied silence to interrupt the drama taking place before her, asking to leave. Ah-jin doesn’t wait to be excused, leaving behind a surprised Bok-ja.
Meanwhile, Jae-suk and Sung-hee dance together, and Jae-suk promises to come visit her every day as Sung-hee plaintively asks why they can’t just live together. They confirm their love for each other while Bok-ja narrates, “Life is full of little ironies.”
We see Ki-ok getting cosmetic surgery as Bok-ja continues, “A woman whose husband is a cosmetic surgeon goes to another doctor for her procedures.”
At the hospital with Kyung-hee and her abusive husband, Bok-ja’s narrates that, “The one who rules with his fist is finally punished by someone else’s fist. How ironic.”
And lastly, we cut to Ah-jin and Jae-suk as Bok-ja’s narration concludes, “And the wife whose husband was too lazy made her the angriest by being too diligent.”
Jae-suk pleads with Ah-jin to understand that he can’t give Sung-hee up. As Ah-jin’s expression gets more turbulent, Jae-suk makes it worse by saying he still loves Ah-jin too. He whines, “This isn’t my fault, you know. It just happened to me.”
Ah-jin whips around at this and slaps Jae-suk hard in the face. Barely controlling herself, Ah-jin warns Jae-suk not to say one more word to her until she has made up her mind about what she is going to do.
While Jae-gu goes hunting for wild boar, Bok-ja convenes with her friend Bang-soon to discuss how oddly Ah-jin was acting earlier. Concerned, Bok-ja tasks Bang-soon with discovering what happened—while a surreptitious Mrs. Cho listens to their overly friendly conversation.
Bang-soon gleefully comes to clear out Jae-hee’s room, making good on Bok-ja’s promise. Jae-hee petulantly says she really has nowhere to go, but brightens up at Bang-soon’s suggestion that she go next door to Ah-jin and Jae-suk’s house.
Unfortunately for Jae-hee, she’s not welcome at Ah-jin’s house either. Jae-hee looks put out as she demands to know where she can go. Too preoccupied to argue, Ah-jin finally just answers, “Do whatever you want.”
Having tagged along when Jae-hee went to Ah-jin’s house, Bang-soon now pumps Ah-jin’s housekeeper for information. Bang-soon suggests that Jae-suk might be cheating on Ah-jin, and Jae-hee chooses just that inopportune time to exclaim that Jae-suk and Ah-jin are sleeping in separate rooms, which confirms Bang-soon’s suspicion.
Meanwhile, a subdued Ah-jin visits Sung-hee to ask what she wants. Sung-hee is condescending as she states that because she is an artist, she is more liberal than ordinary people can understand. Ah-jin scoffs at this and calls her out for her excuse, demanding to know whether Sung-hee just expects her to divorce Jae-suk and leave them alone.
Sung-hee agrees that that would be perfect, since she hates dating Jae-suk in secret too. Sung-hee says, “But Jae-suk doesn’t know what he wants. So I will just wait for him.”
Repulsed by this attitude, Ah-jin states that the only reason she hasn’t killed the two cheaters is because of her daughter. Sung-hee finally looks away in guilt as Ah-jin states she doesn’t want Jae-suk for herself and tearfully asks, “Do you know how painful it is for a daughter not to have a father?”
Falling to her knees, Ah-jin demeans herself as she formally begs Sung-hee not to take away Ji-hoo’s father. Unmoved by Ah-jin’s heartfelt plea, Sung-hee gives a halfhearted apology and tells Ah-jin to leave.
Turns out that the “date” Chairman Ahn wanted to take Bok-ja on is actually to the Buddhist temple where yearly rituals are performed for the chairman’s late brother and first wife. He seems pleased to have brought her to a place that’s important to him, but Bok-ja looks singularly unimpressed as she tells the chairman to wait in the car while she goes to speak with the monk in charge.
Ducking out of a meeting, Ki-ho calls Ah-jin excitedly to let her know that he’s going to pick the topic for their meditation class next week. Struggling to regain her composure, Ah-jin promises to help pick out a good topic for him. Ki-ho senses that something is wrong, but Ah-jin hangs up before he can figure out more.
Leaving the temple, Bok-ja complains to Chairman Ahn that she feels like his wife in title only, because the monk told her all changes must go through Ah-jin first. The chairman looks torn as his new wife takes her hand out of his grasp and unhappily pouts out the window.
While Ki-ok is camped out at the hospital waiting to catch her husband cheating, the mysterious caller contacts her again. Although the caller quickly hangs up when Ki-ok asks who is calling, Ki-ok (quite literally) has their number now and calls back. Threatening police action unless the caller complies, Ki-ok demands to meet with them.
At the same time, Hyo-joo’s blackmailer informs Moon-tak that Hyo-joo and her lover are meeting at the hotel. His laissez-faire attitude vanishing, Moon-tak picks up a golf club and hurries over to the hotel room, ready to kill the cheating duo.
When he walks in though, Hyo-joo and her “lover” are fully clothed and poring over documents together. Hyo-joo acts astounded that Moon-tak thought she was cheating, when she claims that she was just helping a man in his business. Moon-tak is too busy wondering what went wrong to notice the blackmailing employee smirking behind his back.
In flashback, we see that the employee had actually come to Hyo-joo first and warned her about what was going to happen. The employee claims that he doesn’t want anything in return, but happily takes the check Hyo-joo proffers to him. Still, Hyo-joo wonders, there must be a reason for his actions.
Expression solemn, the employee explains that he still has respect for himself even though he is poor, and Moon-tak disrespected him. The employee also adds that he thinks that Hyo-joo won’t throw him away the way that Moon-tak would. At that, Hyo-joo looks thoughtfully at the employee’s retreating back.
Bok-ja narrates, “To a person who has nothing, God can give him a natural instinct to survive based on having a good understanding of his surroundings. But I still wouldn’t go so far as to say that God is fair.”
Relating the news to Bok-ja that Jae-suk and Ah-jin sleep in separate rooms, Bang-soon claims that she’s sure Jae-suk is cheating—because so many of her boyfriends have cheated on her, she claims to have a psychic sense for these things. Bok-ja dismisses Bang-soon to contemplate what she should do next.
Ki-ok finally meets her mysterious caller, eyes widening as she realizes that it’s Nurse Jung from the hospital. Nurse Jung says that she felt bad for Ki-ok, who was being made a fool of, and she offers to find the face of the woman Sung-soo is cheating with on their computer system (since she’s a patient).
At Ah-jin’s house, Bok-ja confidently strides through as she looks for evidence of Jae-suk’s cheating. Cornering Ah-jin’s housekeeper, Bok-ja forces the woman to reveal Jae-suk’s infidelity.
Slumped over in defeat at the wheel of her car, Ah-jin tries to ignore a call from Bok-ja, but eventually answers the text asking where she is. Next thing we know, we see Bok-ja accompanying Ah-jin into the gallery she was working up the courage to enter.
The two seem almost friendly as they discuss a painting in front of them, with Ah-jin describing all the steps it must have taken to create the final product. “I’ll let Jae-hee stay at my house,” Ah-jin finally says, making Bok-ja look just the slightest bit sorry.
While Bok-ja says that some things are fine to do in steps, she adds not-so-vaguely that some things must be dealt with quickly. To that, the first question Bok-ja asks when they’re back in the car is whether “that woman” is an artist, before she suggests that they go to Sung-hee’s house.
Although Ah-jin initially protests that this is her personal matter, Bok-ja persuades her to take them to Sung-hee’s house by earnestly promising to do the bad things that Ah-jin cannot. When Ah-jin finally relents, Bok-ja allows herself a small, seemingly genuine smile.
Arriving in front of Sung-hee’s apartment building, Ah-jin only tells Bok-ja the apartment number and stays in the car while Bok-ja marches inside. Knowing full well what Bok-ja intends to do, Ah-jin plays the famous aria from Bizet’s Carmen, and the music carries over as Bok-ja bursts through Sung-hee’s front door and proceeds to shatter her phone when the artist threatens to call the police on her.
Grabbing Sung-hee by the hair, Bok-ja screams, “How dare you try to steal another woman’s man?” In a bid to completely terrorize the woman, Bok-ja grabs her by the hair, sprays her with water from the sink, and finally, she brandishes a jagged piece of a bowl she smashed at Sung-hee, threatening to cut up her face if she goes near Jae-suk again.
Ah-jin calmly sits in her car during all of this, and in a final flourish, Bok-ja destroys one of Sung-hee’s paintings, leaving Sung-hee wailing. Bok-ja calmly adjusts her clothing as she climbs back into the car with Ah-jin, and the two drive away in companionable silence.
Still recovering in the hospital, Kyung-hee’s husband is adamant that he knows who paid the thug to beat him up. The detective looks on speculatively at the exchange between an insincere Kyung-hee and her cold husband.
Back at the Ahn household, Joo-mi stops Jae-gu to inform him that he’s been kicked out of the house. Jae-gu doesn’t look too upset at the news, declaring it ridiculous, which Joo-mi agrees with. Jae-gu then enters Bang-soon’s room, but ignores her protests to collect some blankets.
Just as Bang-soon and Bok-ja sit down for dinner, Bok-ja makes a big show of gagging at the sight of her food, causing Mrs. Cho to look on in horror.
Jae-suk returns home to find that his sister has usurped his place in the guest room. When Jae-suk enters Ah-jin’s room, she hurriedly puts away the papers she was contemplating, without letting Jae-suk see that the papers were for a property away from the Ahn household.
However, an oblivious Jae-suk doesn’t notice and blunders into accusations instead, having heard from Sung-hee that she was beaten up. Incensed that her husband is more worried about his mistress than his wife, Ah-jin leaves Jae-suk to babble to himself.
Lying in bed, Chairman Ahn looks sadly at Bok-ja’s turned back. Sighing, he capitulates to Bok-ja’s demands and says that she can be the one to run the household and the temple ceremonies instead of Ah-jin. Bok-ja suddenly turns to snuggle up to the chairman, exultant now as she promises that everything she does is for him.
Their peace is interrupted by an enraged yell, which has Bok-ja rushing out of bed. She is met with the disturbing scene of Jae-gu holding Bang-soon in one hand and a gun in the other.
Jae-gu accuses Bang-soon of sneaking into his bed in an attempt to seduce him, and Bang-soon’s defense that he stole all her blankets doesn’t make it any better.
This looks bad for Bok-ja, who brought Bang-soon into the house, so she slaps Bang-soon for her impudence. But she swiftly turns on Jae-gu after he accuses Bang-soon of using seductive tactics she learned from Bok-ja. Jae-gu raises the gun to Bok-ja’s head and says, “I’ve killed a man before. It’s difficult the first time, but it gets easier.”
Bok-ja refuses to be cowed, and taunts Jae-gu that he’s the only one who doesn’t understand that he has already lost his place in this household. Bok-ja recklessly turns to face the gun and orders Jae-gu to shoot her or risk looking like a fool.
Right as Jae-gu squeezes the trigger that will end Bok-ja’s life, Joo-mi jumps in and pulls the gun away. As Jae-gu and Joo-mi tussle for control, the gun fires off toward the ceiling.
A chandelier crashes from the ceiling to the floor, stunning everyone into silence. Chairman Ahn is the first to break the paralysis, stumbling backwards as he clutches the back of his neck. Bok-ja yells to call the police as she tends to the chairman. Bang-soon hurries to comply, though Joo-mi tries to stop her from calling the cops to the house.
Arriving just moments too late, Ah-jin stares wide-eyed at the destruction in front of her.
Either Joo-mi wasn’t quick enough, or someone else called the police, because a squad of cars show up at the Ahn household to escort Jae-gu away in handcuffs. Impotent in the face of the law, Joo-mi turns to berate Bang-soon instead. Bang-soon offers the desultory explanation that she thought Jae-gu was hitting on her—but she claims that she knows better for next time now.
With rage glinting in her eyes, Joo-mi reaches down to haul Bang-soon up to face her. “If you ever hit on my husband again.” Joo-mi threatens, “I’ll kill you.”
Yoga class is quieter than usual as Ki-ok and Ah-jin both despondently mull over the knowledge of their husbands’ affairs. Ki-ok reveals what she knows to Ah-jin—who feigns ignorance of the affair—but says that she is scared to go to the hospital later to find out who her husband is cheating with.
Ah-jin commiserates with the feeling, since she had spent so long trying to deny Jae-suk’s affair. Although Ki-ok is briefly surprised that Ah-jin knows of Jae-suk’s cheating, she quiets when Ah-jin asks her not to speak on this topic anymore. The two friends vow not to speak to each other, or anyone else, about their cheating spouses anymore.
Still in the yoga room, Ah-jin breaks into a smile when she sees that she has a message from her “partner,” Ki-ho. He repeats his line about how he hasn’t eaten if she hasn’t eaten, and how he has if she has, though this time, he’s referring to breakfast instead of dinner.
As they grab a fancy brunch together, Ki-ho takes the opportunity to wax poetic about his romantic and logical poems, and asks if Ah-jin has read them yet. Amused, Ah-jin assures him that of course, his poems are all perfect. As Ki-ho laughs in pleasure at the compliment, Ah-jin remarks that he looks like a child when he laughs like that.
Ki-ho encourages Ah-jin to laugh too by acting silly, and extravagantly compliments her on how much prettier she is when she laughs—exactly 4.5 times prettier, in fact. Ah-jin pretends to be surprised, saying that of course she knows she is. She jokes that’s why she doesn’t laugh even more, because too many people will like her. The two return to their meals, but Ki-ho notices the sullen change in Ah-jin’s expression.
At a small café, Jae-suk furtively looks about for a secluded spot to hide himself and a heavily disguised Sung-hee. Jae-suk gasps at the extent of Sung-hee’s bruises, though he is stumped at who could have done this if not Ah-jin. Jae-suk has the good idea that artist Sung-hee could draw a picture of her attacker.
At the police station, Joo-mi storms in looking for her husband, Jae-gu. She angrily exclaims this was all a misunderstanding and charges herself with the blame, since she was the one who didn’t inform Jae-gu about the proper gun laws since he came back from America (guns are strictly prohibited in Korea, and hunting rifles have to be stored with the police when not in use). Plus, she asks how he could be charged for attempted murder when no one was hurt.
Meanwhile, Ki-ok finally makes her way to the hospital to discover the other half of her husband’s affair. Nurse Jung obligingly clicks through the pictures of patients before stopping at one: Kyung-hee. Ki-ok’s eyes widen at the evidence of her friend’s betrayal, the reveal intercut with Jae-suk’s own shock at recognizing Bok-ja from Sung-hee’s drawing.
Back at the Ahn household, a contrite Bang-soon offers Bok-ja her tea. Still annoyed at Bang-soon’s antics, Bok-ja isn’t ready to forgive her just yet as she tells Bang-soon that this is her very last chance.
At Bang-soon’s remorse though, Bok-ja relents with a sigh and hands over a check, which Bok-ja instructs her to use to visit her kids this weekend. As Bang-soon smiles with relief at the reprieve, she wonders aloud whether Bok-ja is really pregnant.
Cut to: An anxious and excited Bok-ja, waiting for the results of her pregnancy test.
Back at the café, Jae-suk blithely promises a scared Sung-hee a new home that no one but he and Ah-jin know about. Except, that’s the very property Ah-jin was thinking of moving into…
At the art gallery, Director Seo heatedly asks Ah-jin whether it’s true that Sung-hee is dating Ah-jin’s husband. Though Ah-jin doesn’t confirm it, her downcast expression is enough for Director Seo to scoff at Sung-hee’s brazenness.
Director Seo asks Ah-jin whether she wants Sung-hee’s art removed from the gallery. Ah-jin finally looks up with a spark in her eye as she tells the director to leave them.
Bok-ja narrates, “It was a battlefield where there was daily bombing.”
We flash to a stormy night, the same from the scene that opened the show. Bok-ja is drinking alone, when she realizes someone is watching her. We see Bok-ja take a blow to the head, and her body falls to the floor, blood pooling from her head.
Bok-ja’s narration ends, “All I did was get out of that place a little earlier than the others. The survival rate is zero anyway.”
At nearly the halfway mark, we are finally getting some forward traction on storylines I care about. In particular, the relationship between Bok-ja and Ah-jin is getting more interesting. Going into this show, it was Kim Hee-sun and Kim Sun-ah that had me excited for what was coming, which is why I really enjoyed watching a tentative understanding between Bok-ja and Ah-jin blossom in this episode over Jae-suk’s infidelity. And Kim Sun-ah looked like she was having a hoot playing the gangster with Sung-hee.
In fact, Kim Sun-ah looks a lot more comfortable playing the slightly unhinged lady of the house than she ever did playing the meek servant, which makes me long to see more of these moments from her. While I was expecting more of a titan clash between Bok-ja and Ah-jin, that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, so I will happily settle for a scheming friendship instead.
Although Bok-ja the character is growing more confident in her place at the Ahn household, the mystery surrounding the woman is still not enough to sustain my interest. We still haven’t delved into present day Bok-ja’s motivations, never mind what might have caused her to get murdered in the near future, which makes this fall rather flat for me.
For instance, it seems like a misstep that I still don’t know whether Bok-ja genuinely feels anything for Chairman Ahn when the show has spent such a long time developing their emotional connection. And it looks like Bok-ja really does want to be pregnant, but because I have no idea why, I can’t get behind this new development the way that the show would probably like me to. Without much insight into her behavior, at this point, I feel like I’m just watching Bok-ja do things and annoy people.
On the other hand, Ah-jin’s emotional state is always very easy to track because the show has given her room to be a character rather than just a mystery. Ah-jin spent much of this episode in a fugue, alternating between despair and anger. Although at times it seems the show is determined to undermine the weight of Ah-jin’s emotions with Jae-suk’s antics, Kim Hee-sun has done a really good job of grounding Ah-jin.
We as the audience are right there with her when she wonders what would be the best thing for her family, and we’re there when she faces heartbreak over Jae-suk choosing to blow up their perfect world. I can even understand why Ah-jin wouldn’t want to leave Jae-suk, seeing how good a father he is to Ji-hoo. This would be especially difficult for Ah-jin, who is still driven by the strong feelings of the loss of her own father at a vulnerable age. Whether or not Ah-jin leaves Jae-suk (and I really hope she does), it looks like the only reason she would stay is her devotion to Ji-hoo.
On the other hand, if Ah-jin did leave Jae-suk, there might just be a better “partner” waiting for her at the end. Ki-ho and Ah-jin’s sweetly evolving relationship was one of the brighter spots in an episode which emphasized Ah-jin’s emotional distance. Ki-ho’s gentle wit seems a much better match for her than Jae-suk’s cartoonish buffoonery. Leaving aside the romantic overtures though, it was just nice to see Ah-jin smiling and laughing again. I’m still not sure how Ki-ho will slot into the larger plot, but if he can keep Ah-jin’s spirits high while she deals with the increasingly crazy family around her, maybe that’s enough.
Speaking of crazy families, it’s really easy to see why Jae-gu was kicked out of the house the first time round. What was he thinking pointing a gun at Bok-ja? Did he really think he would be able to beat a second charge of murder, or that Chairman Ahn would protect him against it? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this ties into the mystery of Bok-ja’s death, since it seems far too easy that Jae-gu would end up being her murderer.
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