Romance Is a Bonus Book: Episode 2
Things are starting to look up for our leading lady as she lands a job. But contract employment can’t solve all of Dan-yi’s problems right away, and soon our aloof editor has a mouse in his house-a pretty cute one though, and one that I doubt he minds as a roommate. Memories surface to propel Dan-yi towards the future that she wants, and to remind Eun-ho why he adores his first love more than he would ever admit to anyone else.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
The job candidates file in for their interview at Gyeoroo, Dan-yi included, as Eun-ho and colleagues sit across from them. Dan-yi has promoted herself as someone who loves to read, even if she hasn’t worked in the industry, and knows the meaning of the company’s name when asked (thanks to her insider knowledge). When she’s asked what makes her special, her answer is that she knows that she’s not, and that is what will make her a hard worker.
As Dan-yi’s group leaves their interview, Eun-ho makes an excuse to dart out, certain that something really bad has happened to Dan-yi. Eun-ho catches up to her and orders her into his car, though he takes care to buckle her in, and soon he’s on the road driving towards her old home.
There’s not much to see when they arrive at Dan-yi’s nearly demolished home, so Eun-ho takes her to a cafe to talk. Dan-yi refuses to say a word about her circumstances or Dong-min’s betrayals, until Eun-ho calls Dong-min a bastard. He may be a colossal jerk, but Dan-yi still sees him as the father of her daughter and hushes Eun-ho. “I did love him,” she says.
At the mention of “love,” Eun-ho recalls the first time that he met Dong-min. Young Eun-ho watched in surprise as a guy interrupted his lunch with Dan-yi, a guy whom she calls “Oppa.”
Eun-ho is not impressed as Dong-min brags about himself, but it’s the way that Dong-min treats Dan-yi that really solidifies his disdain. While Eun-ho encourages Dan-yi to eat her favorite meat, Dong-min whines until she turns the meat over to him instead.
In the present, Eun-ho thinks to himself, “If that was what love was, I didn’t want to fall in love. I didn’t want to be an idiot who can’t see what the other person needs… I wanted to be there for the person I loved until the end.”
Dan-yi finally breaks her silence and admits that Dong-min fled the country with another woman, and that now she has to earn her own living. Eun-ho can’t understand why she wouldn’t want a better job, so she explains to him the cruel reality that is trying to return to the workforce after taking a break to raise a child. She tells him that if she’ll live until she’s eighty, that means she’s only half-way through life, and she doesn’t want to live the way she’s been living for the rest of it.
Eun-ho’s protests are interrupted by a phone call. He’s forgotten about an interview, and Dan-yi slips away while he’s distracted.
It’s time to check in on the Cinderella Prince Seo-joon, who has a golden retriever (because of course he does). He’s got the green onion plant Dan-yi gave him in exchange for returning her shoes, and he winces and apologizes to the plant as he cuts a piece for his ramyun.
Meanwhile, Eun-ho poses for a quick photoshoot before his interview, his mind is on Dan-yi and her housing situation. The reporter’s first question is about Eun-ho’s first story, a web series he wrote in high school called The Bloody Contract. Eun-ho points out that he only agreed to the interview because they promised not to bring this story up. The reporter quickly segues into Eun-ho’s meeting and eventual partnership with Jae-min.
Cut to ten years ago, and the footage is grainy. Eun-ho is in college, and a classmate warns him that a man that looks like Chow Yun Fat has been asking about him. Cue Jae-min’s arrival, dressed in a trench coat and wearing dark sunglasses. Eun-ho denies being the author of The Bloody Contract, but Jae-min knows better and follows Eun-ho to the basketball court.
As they play, Jae-min offers Eun-ho permanent job security as the youngest editor at his publishing company. Eun-ho’s impressed with the deal, until he arrives and discovers that the company is currently composed of just Jae-min in a tiny, run-down office.
Back to the interview, the reporter suggests that it was this meeting with Jae-min that changed Eun-ho’s writing style to a more literary bent. Eun-ho says that it was his interest in literature in college, not Jae-min, that influenced his style. The reporter further suggests that it was the Human book series that really launched Gyeoroo.
Back to Eun-ho’s flashback, the company grows bit by bit, until a triumphant team has assembled. As Eun-ho returns to the present, the reporter has one last question: does Eun-ho have any comments regarding the rumors about Kang Byeong-jun, one of Gyeoroo’s top authors, and his purported retirement and disappearance?
Eun-ho promptly pretends to receive a phone call and ends the interview before answering the question. As he walks away, he receives a text from Dan-yi, asking him to change his house passcode back to the one that she knows, so that she can resume as his housekeeper until she finds a job. In the meanwhile, Dan-yi sleeps at the jimjilbang for the night.
The next morning, the Gyeoroo employees compete in a game to decide who will call the new hires and give them the good news. Ji-hong officially wins the game, but his victory is short-lived, as Jae-min decides that it’s his duty, as company president, to call the new hires himself.
Eun-ho follows Jae-min into his office and pulls Dan-yi’s application out of the stack of selected candidates. Jae-min tells Eun-ho that he insisted on hiring this particular candidate after reading her answers to the company questionnaire.
The first question asks the candidates to write what they’d like to tell themselves, and Dan-yi’s response is a heartfelt apology for being hard on herself. As her response reads in voiceover, Dan-yi’s life experiences play out, from the recent moments of homelessness, to times that her daughter threw a tantrum in public, or when Dan-yi had to deal with difficult customers at the supermarket where she worked. “I’m sorry I didn’t value you enough, I’m sorry I mistreated you, I’m sorry I let you feel small.” She encourages herself to take care of herself and work towards being happy.
Jae-min comments that she must have lived a hard life, and those types of people often make the best workers. The only thing that Eun-ho can offer up as praise is that there are no grammatical errors, and he leaves Jae-min to make his calls.
First up on his call list is Oh Ji-yul. When the call comes in, Ji-yul is on a group date, leaning in to kiss the guy next to her. Instead of the joy Jae-min was anticipating, Ji-yul doesn’t seem to care much about getting the job. She asks if she can delay her start date to accommodate her upcoming travel plans with her mom, and Jae-min tells her to report to work the next day.
Next up on the list is Park Hoon. As the young man crosses the street, he bumps into an old girlfriend. She notes the resumes he drops and asks if he’s still job hunting. Park Hoon lies and says that he’s found one at a public corporation, and she congratulates him, and even suggests that she should get in touch with him again.
Of course, Park Hoon actually works at a beauty store, and his ex shows up to witness him in his frilly pink uniform. Shortly after she leaves the store, Park Hoon receives Jae-min’s call. He’s excited at first, but then he can’t help but complain that Jae-min called him just a minute too late.
Jae-min’s last chance to get a genuinely grateful response is with Dan-yi, who is working at the jjimjilbang when the call arrives. Dan-yi gasps in shock and then thanks him profusely. But then the sauna ajummas surround Dan-yi and a raucous celebration breaks out. Dan-yi shouts, “Power pose!” and Jae-min is skeptical of her bizarre behavior as well.
Back at Gyeoroo, Hae-rin asks Eun-ho if he’s had a chance to check her work. He reassures her that she doesn’t need him to check before she turns it in anymore, and then he mentions to her that she left her clothes at his apartment. She gasps that she left her things in the dryer, and Eun-ho teases her about leaving behind her bra (I see, so she’s Miss Red Bra…)
At Eun-ho’s home, Dan-yi’s able to enter Eun-ho’s house again and finds more money for her housekeeping services. When she hears Eun-ho at the door, she darts upstairs to the spare room. She shoots Eun-ho a text about her job-related good news, and she watches from above as Eun-ho responds gruffly that he won’t give her any help at work. He also tells her to find him a new housekeeper.
As Dan-yi snuggles into her blankets on the floor though, Eun-ho sends another text, congratulating her on the job. She smiles and texts that she made his favorite stew, and Eun-ho smiles as well.
It’s the next morning, and guess who lives in the neighborhood? It’s Cinderella Prince Seo-joon, out for a walk with his dog. Dan-yi takes her moment while Eun-ho showers and sneaks out the door, but not before stealing Eun-ho’s slice of toast. She’s excited to start work, and Seo-joon recognizes her as she dances past.
Outside Gyeoroo, Dan-yi runs into Park Hoon. He’s excited to get to work, and dazes Dan-yi with a barrage of unfamiliar slang. Once inside, other recruit Ji-yul scurries into the elevator after them. Before the elevator doors close, Hae-rin joins them as well, but everyone assumes she’s also a new recruit.
Park Hoon does his best to introduce himself to everyone, but Hae-rin remains aloof. At orientation, Dan-yi and the others join the rest of the new hires, and Park Hoon leans in to dish some dirt. He’s heard that the orientation trainer, Hae-rin, is known as the “second witch” of Gyeoroo, and that she’s a cranky workaholic with the nickname “Ice Queen.” Oh boy.
When asked who the first witch of Gyeoroo is, Hae-rin finally chimes in that it’s Yoo-sun. At first, Park Hoon assumes that she’s also done her homework, but when Hae-rin hands out everyone’s business cards and drops the employee manual on the table in front of them, he finally realizes that the ice queen has been present for all the gossip, ha.
Hae-rin deadpans that she is indeed a workaholic, and she reminds them that they are all colleagues and competitors, all trying to outlast one another as they prove that they are qualified for the job.
Eun-ho arrives at the office in time to watch the orientation, and he smiles as a junior staff member gushes over how cute the newbies are. But then she points out Dan-yi and calls her dowdy, which Eun-ho will not stand. He says that she’s just his type, classy, and sends the staff member scurrying to follow-up with an unresponsive author.
It’s tour time, and the new recruits receive a warm welcome from Jae-min, and an equally cold one from witch number one, Yoo-sun. During a brief break, Park Hoon gushes about wanting to meet Eun-ho, and then asks Dan-yi how old she is. He cuts her off at just “30,” eager to note they are only three years apart, and then averts his eyes when she finishes “37.” Both of the young hires want to believe that she’s been working this entire time, or in school, but Dan-yi sticks to her story about only having a high school diploma.
As the office tour continues, the group is stopped by the arrival of a large floral arrangement. It’s for new recruit Ji-yul, from her mother, and she proceeds to take a bunch of selfies with it. The Gyeoroo staff take in the scene, eyebrows raised at the mommy’s girl. Hae-rin promises to work hard to mentor her, ha.
At the end of the day, Dan-yi smiles down at her new business cards. She thinks back to moments in her life when she was excluded from things or felt ashamed when she didn’t have a business card to exchange.
Eun-ho spots Dan-yi on the sidewalk as he drives home, ruining her plan of sneaking into his house undetected. He offers to drive her home, which she tries to evade by distracting Eun-ho with her business card and running. But Eun-ho has the dowdy comments on his mind, and he catches up with Dan-yi and tells her to get in his car.
He takes her to his ex-girlfriend’s clothing shop for a little shopping makeover. Dan-yi wonders if the two are back together, but ex-girlfriend Na-gyeong hints that they can’t get back together since someone cheated. Dan-yi automatically assumes it was Eun-ho, but Eun-ho reveals that it was actually Na-gyeong who cheated on him.
Dan-yi tries on a series of outfits until they find a style that suits her, Eun-ho seeming to ignore the entire process. Up next, Na-gyeong offers to take care of a haircut for Dan-yi. Dan-yi protests that the salon will be closed, but Na-gyeong is dating the salon owner, the very same person she cheated on Eun-ho with.
Dan-yi is surprised to meet Joo-yeon, Na-gyeong’s girlfriend, and Eun-ho shrugs that it’s obvious he never had a chance in this relationship, ha. After the haircut, Dan-yi teases him that he let another woman steal his girlfriend, and Eun-ho deals it right back that Dan-yi let a woman do the exact same thing to her. Eun-ho wants to drive Dan-yi to her home, but she makes an excuse that she isn’t allowed to have men over and darts away.
Eun-ho snuggles up at home with some work, and he can’t help but think of Dan-yi and how pretty she is when she smiles. Under his work papers, Eun-ho still has Dan-yi’s application questionnaire, and he moves on to question two: what are you most proud of? He smiles when he reads her answer, that she saved a boy’s life when she was in middle school.
That boy is, of course, young Eun-ho, a grade schooler with a love, though maybe not a talent, for soccer. After a disappointing game, little Eun-ho drops his soccer ball in the road. He tries to retrieve it, and a speeding sports car heads straight for him. From the sidelines, middle schooler Dan-yi throws him to safety, while she herself is tossed into the air as the car hits her.
Eun-ho stands over Dan-yi in the hospital. Thanks to her full body cast, Dan-yi won’t be attending school for a whole year, and she is delighted by this. She commands that Eun-ho work as her errand boy, which involves picking up stacks of books for her to read.
Their friendship grows as they sit and read more and more together, laughing over the same stories. And thus, the two forged their friendship and secured Eun-ho’s new passion in literature.
Now late in the evening, Dan-yi sneaks into Eun-ho’s house in hopes of making it to the spare room undetected. As Eun-ho locks up for the night, Dan-yi shuffles from corner to corner to avoid discovery.
She seems to have made it, until Eun-ho hears a glass break in the kitchen in the middle of the night. He finds nothing in the kitchen, as Dan-yi hides on the other side of the counter, a big bowl of food clutched in her arms. Once Eun-ho retreats, she crouches down to clean up the broken glass. But Eun-ho’s no fool, and she looks up to find him standing over her. “Have you been living in my house?” he asks her, eyes wide.
I’m going to do my best not to gush too hard about this show, but it’s going to be a struggle, because I am really enamored so far.
There’s something about Lee Jong-seok that brings out the best in an ensemble cast. It’s not just that he’s a great actor, though he certainly is, but he adds this ease to any scene that he’s in that immediately elevates the performances of those around him as well. Everyone, from the leading lady to the smallest role at the publishing company, seems to shine as characters.
There’s just so much to each character, but especially to our two leads. Eun-ho is a sports bro turned genre writer, while Dan-yi is a quirky lover of stories and accomplished marketing pro turned mother turned newbie. There is such nuance to their performances because they aren’t defined by just one thing. Eun-ho isn’t just a prickly childhood friend, and Dan-yi isn’t only a worn down housewife. These two have already lived half their lifetimes, as Dan-yi has pointed out, and so they have so much to take forward with them into the future, and to the story that will unfold in our future episodes.
I love that while their pasts are intertwined, no one is in the dark about it. No lurking secret run-ins or shared relatives. These are just two people who have a shared history with one another, a long and meaningful one. How often do we see a younger version of our usual drama protagonists saved by a stranger, and never find them until much later? But here, it’s how their friendship is forged. Their connection is not used as fate’s hand to bring two destined souls together, but rather it’s the reason they know each other in the first place.
And this meaningful friendship makes Dan-yi’s need to keep secrets from Eun-ho all the more poignant. They don’t need to be estranged former friends to keep secrets from one another, and instead this conflict is driven by complex emotions. Dan-yi and Eun-ho have been in what seems like daily contact for a while, but she still managed to keep her circumstances secret from him.
It shines a lens on the idea that we can think we know someone so entirely, and still have no clue what they are going through. Eun-ho focuses on his love for Dan-yi so much that he doesn’t notice when things seem to be going downhill for her. He’s been so busy mooning over his one-sided lost love and his sad attempts to push other women away, his real love has managed to get divorced and lose her home. It’s not all Eun-ho’s fault though. Dan-yi’s pride and shame have been keeping her tight-lipped about things. It seems that Dan-yi has always had a hard time expressing difficult emotions, from the moment she tried to flee her wedding day, to her attempts to hide in her friend’s spare room rather than admit she needs a place to stay.
But Dan-yi is no pushover either. Dan-yi isn’t a hapless heroine. She’s lived a whole damn life already, and she’s done feeling like things are out of her control. Dan-yi’s letter to herself was the best bit of self-care reminder for all of us. To forgive ourselves, and not be so hard on ourselves, and to not let others take advantage of what we give them.
What I really enjoy about Dan-yi is that she doesn’t get caught up in her own pride. I can imagine the frustration of knowing how much job experience you have and not being able to talk about it, but she is just so grateful to be working again that those feelings don’t touch her. Yet. There’s still plenty of time for her to get upset about the politics of bureaucracy in the workplace, though I wonder if it’s more likely that Eun-ho will be getting upset on her behalf.
The two characters both have a long way to go, and I’m glad for that. I don’t need perfect protagonists, or a lop-sided relationship with one person trying to be as good as the other human. They both need to grow, which means they get to grow together.
I really want Eun-ho’s first series, The Bloody Contract to be super meaningful to the plot/romance. I so want it to be his giant love letter to his first love and all of the genre fiction that brought them together, and also perhaps Dan-yi’s rejection serving as the reason why he abandoned genre for more “respectable” writing.
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