Because This Life Is Our First: Episode 1
Quirky romantic comedy Because This Life Is Our First premiered this week on tvN, and since this first episode was all setup, it’s a relatively contained affair. I fully expect us to jump headfirst into cohabitation hijinks and wackiness very soon, but for now, we spend some time with our heroine and get a sense of what it feels like to abruptly find yourself embarking on a new chapter in your life and looking for a new home.
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Episode 1: “Because this is my first time turning thirty”
We open on September 17, 1996, where a chorus of children sing happy birthday. A young girl sits alone at the table, surrounded by a feast of birthday foods and cake, watching television. Aw, the birthday song is coming from the television, and the characters in the show urge their friend to blow out her birthday candles, while the young girl watches intently.
Over the scene, our heroine’s voice narrates:
“At the age of nine, I learned something new: Before blowing out the candles, you should make a wish first. However, in our patriarchal house … there’s no way a daughter would have a chance to make a wish.”
Year after year, the girl’s younger brother blows out her candles before she gets a chance to make her wish, and her father obliviously stabs his spoon into the soft cake and shovels it into his mouth.
Fast-forward to 2007, when our heroine, YOON JI-HO (Jung So-min), finally gets to make her first birthday wish as she turns twenty. Her best friends, WOO SU-JI (Esom) and YANG HO-RANG (Kim Ga-eun), finish singing the birthday song, as Ji-ho tells us the one wish she’s made every year since that day: “Please help me become an excellent writer.”
We jump forward once more to the present day as Ji-ho furiously types on her laptop, having actually become a writer as she always hoped.
Alas, it looks like things aren’t going quite the way Ji-ho imagined for herself: She’s writing a script for a dramatic, makjang-esque scene (cameos by Yoon Doo-joon and Yoon So-hee).
For a moment, it looks like things are about to get hot and heavy, until Yoon Doo-joon reaches behind Yoon So-hee to grab… a packet of red ginseng. Womp, womp.
Ji-ho explains that she’s been working as an assistant writer for the past five years on various melodramas, and her chief responsibility is to write all those reviled PPL scenes. Haha! That’s hilarious.
Cue a montage of Ji-ho’s penned scenes, where the characters blantly use sponsored products, and the subsequent reactions of the viewers as those awkward scenes jarringly eject them from the show’s enchantment.
After crossing off the final sponsored product on her list, Ji-ho throws her list in the air and declares that she’s free. With her suitcase packed, Ji-ho visits the head writer, who finishes a call with the drama’s director where she argues that the excessive PPL wasn’t her fault.
Ji-ho bids the head writer farewell to head home now that the drama is wrapping up. Things become awkward quickly when it becomes clear that the head writer knows nothing about Ji-ho, even after working together for years.
On her way home, her friend Su-ji calls, and Ji-ho cheerily tells her friend her grand plans for relaxing when she gets home. Su-ji warns Ji-ho not to take Ho-rang’s call since it seems that she’s gotten into another fight with her boyfriend, and doing so will result in listening to a long rant.
Inside, Ji-ho’s apartment has become a total mess under the care of her younger brother, JI-SEOK. He blasts loud music in his room, and as Ji-ho tidies the place up, her shouts to him fall on deaf ears.
Despite Su-ji’s warning, Ji-ho answers Ho-rang’s call when it comes, doing laundry while listening patiently to her friend’s romantic woes. She finds a sexy lace bra in the mix, but doesn’t recognize it as one of hers. Oh no, don’t tell me…
She yells at her brother through his door again, scolding him for his mess, until finally, after repeatedly being ignored, she opens the door and finds her brother NAKED, and definitely not alone.
Ji-ho sprints out of the apartment in search of a portal back in time, and her brother chases after her, desperate to explain himself.
She trips, and he rushes to her side, concerned. She tries to get him to leave (telling him to go back and “finish up,” LOL), unable to meet his eyes, but surprisingly Ji-seok tells her to come back to the house to meet the girl.
Her eyes bulge at the idea of speaking with someone whose birthday suit she’s accidentally seen, but when she tries to worm out of it, little bro informs Ji-ho that the girl lives with them because she’s HIS WIFE. Oh, and she’s pregnant. Omg, this is a case for Maury.
Amid her mental breakdown, Ji-ho tells us heartbreakingly that no one seems to realize it’s her thirtieth birthday. Aw.
Some time later, in their now cleaned apartment, Mom and Dad join the kids (and new addition, EUN-SOL) for dinner. Eun-sol acts cutely to Ji-ho’s father, but surprisingly Ji-ho’s rigid and stern father reciprocates the affection, to Ji-ho’s vexation.
Dad notes Ji-ho’s glaring, clears his throat, then launches into a speech about how, now that they’re all family the kids need to get along, and live together harmoniously.
Brother and sister exclaim in horror at the thought of living together. They argue against the edict, but Dad angrily offers no solution.
Ji-ho meets up with friends Su-ji and Ho-rang, seeking advice on her latest problem. Despite paying for all the utilities and the deposit, unfortunately, because of her family’s old-fashioned and patriarchal ways, the house is registered under her brother’s name, and Ji-ho has no legal right to it. Moreover, now that Ji-seok has a baby on the way, Dad will definitely side with him.
Su-ji (unhelpfully) suggests Ji-ho get pregnant tonight as well to strengthen her bid for rights to the house. But Ji-ho reeeally would not like to think about sex for the next thousand years, since she’s still haunted by her brother’s X-rated activities, and definitely won’t be able to live with the couple now.
At a nearby table, our hero, NAM SE-HEE (Lee Min-ki) calmly tells his roommate that it’s time to move out of his house. The roommate is outraged, so Se-hee pulls out their lease, and notifies him that he did not follow his three cardinal rules: 1) Do all house chores, 2) take out the recycling weekly, and 3) feed the cat.
The roommate decides to cut his losses, but demands Se-hee give him back his rent for the month. Se-hee very calmly lists the roommate’s recent drunken transgressions (kicking in the gate, eating the cat’s tuna, peeing into the refrigerator). Se-hee was supposedly out on a business trip, but was actually sleeping in his room and called the police on him.
Later, their mutual acquaintance (and the CEO of the tech company Se-hee works for), MA SANG-GU (Park Byung-eun), tries to persuade Se-hee to reconsider. He’d been the one to introduce the roommate to Se-hee and vouches for his character. But Se-hee isn’t interested, and also can’t work late on their super important project either, because he needs to take out the recycling and feed his cat.
Ji-ho makes her way home, but before going inside, practices her speech to assert herself as the rightful and hard-earned owner of the house. Su-ji’s fiery image pops into Ji-ho’s head, urging Ji-ho to fight for her rights.
Flowing with liquid courage, Ji-ho makes her grand entrance and begins to make her announcement, but is immediately upstaged by her sister-in-law, who tells her father that she’s just learned that they’re expecting a boy. Nail, meet coffin. Ji-ho can kiss her leverage good-bye.
Meanwhile, Ho-rang tries to convince Su-ji to go for a second round as they leave the bar. Su-ji tells Ho-rang to stop acting out of character and call her boyfriend already like she clearly wants to, but Ho-rang insists that they’re done for good this time, since he hasn’t called in three days.
Su-ji turns Ho-rang’s head around so she can see that her boyfriend, SHIM WON-SEOK (Kim Min-seok), is waiting nearby for her. Won-seok smiles when he sees Ho-rang, but she just pouts. Huh, I think I mini-swooned from the look he gave her. That was unexpected.
In her room, Ji-ho accepts her fate and starts looking for rooms to rent. Her mom enters, and wordlessly places a bowl of seaweed soup down. Although clearly moved, Ji-ho pretends that she totally forgot about her birthday, then eats gratefully.
Out in the living room, Dad and the young couple are still hooting and hollering in glee over the grandson, and Mom just throws them a side-eye from Ji-ho’s room, since Ji-seok was supposed to get a job, not a baby. Ha.
Ji-ho is resigned to the new development, so Mom sneaks her an envelope of money for the deposit to her new room. She tells Ji-ho to keep it between them since it’s money she’s secretly saved over the years.
Mom leaves, and Ji-ho cries as she watches her go, thinking lovingly how Mom has always been on her side. But when she takes a look at the money (which isn’t woefully short of a deposit), she thinks to herself exasperatedly that the problem is that Mom knows nothing about the world.
The next day she goes to the bank for a loan, but is rejected since her employment is unstable and credit not so great. She tells the clerk the titles of some dramas she’s written, as if it’ll prove she’s creditworthy, but it isn’t enough. Next, she goes to a realtor, but all the rooms she’s shown in her price range are definitely uninhabitable.
CEO Sang-gu holds a company meeting, and is baffled when Se-hee informs Sang-gu that he isn’t done with his work yet, on an update of their latest software. He states matter-of-factly that there is too much work to do to finish before he leaves.
Dumbfounded, Sang-gu tries to explain to Se-hee that he should probably stay overtime to accommodate his workload, but Se-hee doesn’t even entertain the idea. Another colleague, Bo-mi, wonders if Se-hee’s been scouted by another company (to account for his behavior). But it’s not that—Se-hee just needs to feed his cat, and recycle.
Sang-gu speaks with Se-hee separately and tries to reason with him. He knows that Se-hee is pissed because of the terrible housemate he introduced to him, but asks Se-hee to try and separate work and personal matters.
Se-hee mentions that the first condition they established for Se-hee working at Sang-gu’s company was: “The company can’t break the algorithms of my life.” For Se-hee, having his roommate leave (which he blames on Sang-gu) has disrupted his lifestyle pattern, and until it’s restored, Se-hee can’t work overtime.
Therefore, Sang-gu resolves to find a new roommate for Se-hee.
Ji-ho gets word from Ho-rang about a living situation that doesn’t require a deposit; Ho-rang heard about it via boyfriend Won-seok, who knows CEO Sang-gu from school. Hilariously, Ho-rang assumes that the landlord, Se-hee, is a woman—note that Se-hee is traditionally feminine name, while Ji-ho is traditionally more masculine.
Ho-rang mentions that Se-hee has all these crazy rules and seems a bit crazy, but Ji-ho assures her friend that she understands crazy since all her scriptwriter bosses were way worse.
Ji-ho congratulates Ho-rang on making up with her boyfriend, and Ho-rang acts as though she generously forgave him. But when she gleefully begins to describe Won-seok’s improved tactics in the bedroom, Ji-ho recoils and begs for mercy.
Little bro and Eun-sol surprise Ji-ho with a (belated) birthday cake as she’s packing up to leave. Ji-ho humors them by blowing out the candles, but then grumpily wishes to be a snail in her next life so she’ll never be kicked out of her own house.
Eun-sol follows Ji-ho out to try and placate her, stating that she would be cool with Ji-ho living with them, but Ji-ho replies that if they lived together she’ll almost certainly be regulated to their scullery maid and free babysitter, always being at their disposal. She asks Eun-sol not to turn her into the bad guy, then gives her some spending money to eat the food she wants and to pay her father’s hospital bills.
Ji-ho arrives at Se-hee’s apartment while he’s at work, and they correspond through text, where Se-hee outlines his three rules again. (Awww, that cat is so cute!) He also mentions a one-week probational period before they can proceed with an official contract.
Ji-ho discusses the odd new roommate with Su-ji, and how they’ve yet to meet given Se-hee’s busy schedule. Ji-ho is fine with everything, and shows Su-ji a photo of her roommate—it’s a company picture, and they naturally assume that Bo-mi, the lone woman at Sang-gu’s tech company, is her roommate. Ji-ho adds that Se-hee was born in 1980, and remarks how Bo-mi looks so young.
Se-hee receives a text from Ji-ho, and mentally reads her messages in a male voice. He searches for Ji-ho on social media, but pulls up the wrong (male) profile.
When he returns home very late that night, he finds a note from Ji-ho explaining all the chores she completed, as well as some extra tasks like cooking up a cat snack. He seems impressed with her thoroughness and settles down to pet his cat, named Cat, noting that it seems particularly happy today.
The next morning, the roommates wake at two totally different times, and completely miss one another. They remain connected only by their separate interactions with Cat, and various post-it notes. After their week of no-contact but problem-free living, Se-hee suggests drafting a contract. They agree to meet at lunchtime, with Ji-ho dropping by Se-hee’s company.
Sang-gu asks about the new roommate and whether he should find another. Se-hee states, “No. I like [him] a lot.” Heads swivel in surprise at that unprecedented statement.
Sang-gu marvels at hearing Se-hee use an adverb for the first time to describe a person. Bo-mi points out that Se-hee has used them before, often to describe Sang-gu’s flaws, lol.
Bo-mi heads downstairs to check on their order of sandwiches, which is late to arrive.
Ji-ho runs into Bo-mi in the lobby, and mistakenly believes she’s the roommate. She offers Bo-mi a bag of sandwiches she brought as a gift for her team, but Bo-mi mistakenly believes that she’s the delivery person who’s late with their company order.
Suddenly, Ji-ho finds herself apologizing to Bo-mi for being late, but also trying to be friendly to Bo-mi, who couldn’t be more weirded out by Ji-ho over familiarity (by delivery standards).
Se-hee bumps into Ji-ho as she leaves, then ends up waiting for her for a while. Upstairs, the team chomps on Ji-ho’s sandwiches, and Se-hee returns to his desk to find Ji-ho’s roommate contract on his desk.
Se-hee finds the situation a bit strange, but doesn’t linger too long on it. And when Ji-ho texts Se-hee that she’ll be coming home late that night, Se-hee says that she needn’t report such things to him.
Ji-ho concludes that Se-hee is a nonchalant person, which doesn’t seem so out of line with the person she met in the lobby. Meanwhile, Se-hee clicks on Ji-ho’s profile picture icon in their chat, and it’s a photo cheering on her favorite soccer team.
The photo reinforces his assumption that Ji-ho is a guy, though he looks quizzically at the pink sticky note Ji-ho included. He asks Bo-mi if men these days like the color pink. Bo-mi replies that the times have changed and colors are no longer limited to certain genders.
Ji-ho arrives at her drama’s wrap-up party (dressed to the nines and hair freshly set), and is enthusiastically greeted by the assistant director, Yong-seok. Their banter is clearly flirtatious, and the head writer tells them to get together already.
Ji-ho plays off the attention as if she has no idea what the head writer is talking about, but grins widely to herself.
Se-hee’s team successfully completes their update then goes out for drinks (coincidentally in the same building where Ji-ho’s wrap party is taking place). Sang-gu praises his team for all their hard work, just before some employees hurry back to report a Yoon So-hee sighting from Ji-ho’s wrap party.
Se-hee has never heard of the actress and asks who she is, to the group’s utter disbelief.
In the hall, Yong-seok (after chatting with Yoon So-hee) calls out to Ji-ho and thanks her for working hard to make up for his flaws. She teases him, since he’s never expressed his gratitude before, then he grows thoughtful and says that he has something to tell her.
However, right before he speaks, Se-hee suddenly interrupts them on his way by.
Ji-ho capitalizes on the interruption to excuse herself in order to gather her nerves and prepare herself for Yong-seok’s confession.
Just outside the door, she gets some fresh air and finds Se-hee sitting nearby watching a soccer game on his phone. She can’t help sneaking a peek at his screen then suddenly shouts in disapproval when one of the players from her favorite team misses the goal.
The noise startles Se-hee, and so Ji-ho apologizes and then starts rambling some facts about the team’s last game. She senses that she’s making things awkward and begins to leave until Se-hee calls her back, asking if she’s a fan.
They watch the game together on her phone, and Se-hee tells Ji-ho about all the stats he’s gathered and organized on the team, to her amazement.
They hear Yong-seok talking on the phone close by, and Se-hee tells her to go to be her boyfriend. Ji-ho corrects him and says they aren’t dating yet, but admits that he almost asked her out earlier, before she ran out because she was too nervous.
Se-hee listens to her talk patiently, even as she realizes she’s spilling her guts out to a total stranger. He compliments Yong-seok’s looks, but then only scores him as a seven out of ten. Haha.
She claims that he’s at least a nine, then begins dreamily listing all of Yong-seok’s positive attributes, just as So-hee appears, and Yong-seok embraces her. Well, can’t say I didn’t see that coming.
Ji-ho returns to her table, armed with the crushing revelation, though she puts on a convincing cheerful face. She thinks to herself:
“Come to think of it, I’ve never been a striker in my life. I’ve always defended myself, and stepped back at the right timing. I have neither the courage to take the ball nor the ability to avoid it. I’m an amateur defender.”
Later as she’s waiting for the bus to go home, Yong-seok texts Ji-ho that he’s dating someone, which is what he’d meant to tell her earlier. Ji-ho writes back with fake excitement.
Se-hee heads to the same bus stop while on the phone with Sang-gu, but decides aloud to take the subway when he sees Ji-ho. She calls after him and asks him to please just take the bus so that she’ll feel less embarrassed about him witnessing her situation.
He asks pointedly if she would really feel less embarrassed if he were around, but she readily admits that she won’t. Kindly, he reasons that they’ll likely never meet again since Se-hee rarely goes anywhere except home and work, and encourages her not to feel embarrassed.
She amends that she’s not embarrassed because of him, but because of herself—because she wasn’t able to differentiate love from kindness even at her age.
Se-hee remarks that her framing her humiliation relative to her age is “the limit of [her] neocortex.” He explains that the neocortex is responsible for things like the concept of time, and subsequently age. Unlike humans, cats do not possess a neocortex, and therefore never experience boredom or depression even if their lives are the same every day.
He adds poetically, “Cats have neither a future nor a past,” and only humans lock themselves in time.
His words resonate with her and she thinks, “It was odd. His strange words comforted me more than anything else that day.”
She starts to ask for his name, then supposes that it’s best not to exchange names. She comments that she received comfort from someone she’ll never see again, but he replies that it’s because they won’t see each other again that she found comfort in it.
She thanks him for telling her about the neocortex and offhandedly calls this life a bit ruined. He replies, “Going through this life is the first time for all of us anyway.”
His statement prompts something within her, this idea that you only live once. So, in the spur of the moment, she acts on the impulse and steps forward, planting a kiss on Se-hee’s lips.
She hurries onto the bus, and thinks to herself how long the day was: leaving the place that was home for the last five years, ending her three-year crush, kissing a man she’d just met.
Once home, she thinks, “This is not how I imagined my thirties, but considering it’s my first time, it’s not so bad. It’s like the man I’ll never see again said—we are all living this life for the first time.”
I really needed that kiss to happen at the end, because throughout this episode I had this niggling feeling that something is missing here. Overall, I liked this episode, but I do feel like the show played it very safe, and was at times going through the motions in order to set us up for the events to come, instead of establishing a strong (and original) narrative identity and style. I think the directorial voice(/sounds) could be a lot stronger in this type of drama, but I’m not necessarily opposed to what transpired because it puts a lot on the actors to tell the story, and these two can deliver when it counts.
The themes introduced thus far aren’t particularly new or original, but I’m reserving judgment until after I watch a little more and see how Se-hee and Ji-ho interact more, because I think that’s where a lot of the show’s originality lies. I do like that right off the bat Ji-ho was able to see Se-hee’s sweet and considerate side, since it’s clear that he isn’t exactly known for these qualities by those around him, and she may need to remember these moments in the days to come.
I suppose my initial, almost tepid reaction has a lot to do with the mismanagement of my expectation levels, and presuming that this show would be VERY offbeat, when it turns out it’s only somewhat offbeat. A lot of that will rely on Se-hee and seeing how far he’ll go to make Ji-ho’s life a living nightmare, but I did not mind the more contemplative approach we took today, since Ji-ho is the lens through which we are experiencing the majority (or at least half) of this story, so it’s good to get a firm grasp on where she is emotionally at the beginning.
That said, I’m not particularly interested in any of the side characters yet, given that we know very little about all of them, but I think there’s some potential here. Little bro’s wife had this strange look in her eyes at one point, so I feel like she’s one to watch out for in terms of hidden motives, but there were two instances involving side characters, where I sat up in my seat and felt like I was paying attention: the first was when Cat (missed opportunity with the name here though) showed up (can you blame me? He/she is so darn cute), and the second was when Kim Min-seok showed up for that split second.
They may both very well be accessing the same part of my brain that perks up at the sight of cuteness, but I felt this unexpected jolt when Won-seok smiled at Ho-rang that verged into the swooning territory. However, the feeling was so brief, I’m not really sure what to make of it, and am kind of itching to see the next episode to get a better understanding of what that reaction was all about. What I liked most about that moment was that the character didn’t say anything, as if he knew that the act itself is what counts.
All in all, this wasn’t my favorite first episode ever, but I am very excited for Ji-ho and Se-hee to to find out that they’re roomies and see whatever hilarity that ensues. Onward!
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