Her Private Life: Episodes 9-16 (Series review)
The second half of this delightful rom-com explores Deok-mi and Ryan’s feelings for each other, their journey together as a couple, and some long-delayed reckoning with the past. The couple is hit with some over-the-top sad history at the eleventh hour, but they handle it with their characteristic grace, humor, and honest communication–and lots of kisses.
Deok-mi and Ryan both spend a rather miserable night after she tells him she wants to end the fake relationship. Ryan resolves to speak with Deok-mi the next day, but she’s resolved to protect her wounded heart by avoiding him as much as possible; even when they do talk, he’s unable to work up the courage to ask about her feelings.
Each feels rejected by the other while still yearning for them, making the atmosphere at the gallery uncomfortable for everyone. To make it worse, Deok-mi’s parents show up with food and the four of them go for a very awkward lunch.
That evening, Eun-gi comforts her, but is disturbed to see the evidence of how much Deok-mi actually likes Ryan.
Unable to sleep, Deok-mi logs on as Shi-an is My Life and offers to listen to members’ heartaches. “Latte” logs on and tells her about a person he likes who also seemed to like him, until they suddenly didn’t want to be close anymore. Deok-mi suggests that maybe Latte’s feelings felt burdensome to that person, and advises he keep his feelings to himself out of consideration. Ack! She’s counseling herself, but of course Ryan takes this to mean that she finds his feelings burdensome.
They have a meeting with Shi-an and Da-in the next day, which Deok-mi of course finds excruciating, and volunteers to go to the carpenter’s on Da-in’s behalf. While she’s waiting, Deok-mi cries as she thinks of all the happy times she spent with Ryan–and then she sees Latte’s unread message asking if his feelings are really just a burden. She confesses that she lied, and that the reason she ran away was because she was afraid of her heart getting hurt: “We should both have a little courage,” she tells Latte.
At that moment Ryan enters, and she bravely asks him what he hated so much about fake dating her, which she found enjoyable and even heart-fluttering. Ryan confesses that he hated it because wanted it to be real–and they kiss. And kiss…and kiss. I’ll just be a puddle in the corner here, gimme a sec.
They spend a delightful first day together, complete with a night tour of Seoul, and on his way back from taking Deok-mi home, Ryan spots Eun-gi on his way to Deok-mi’s, dressed in a suit.
Eun-gi has dressed up to confess his feelings to Deok-mi. Before he can get the words out, Seon-joo shows up, spitting fire because her husband made a negative documentary news program about fangirls. They spend the night consoling and drinking with her.
Ryan shows up at Deok-mi’s place in the morning, only to see Eun-gi and Deok-mi walking out together–and she promptly hides, because she’s in her fangirl getup. Ryan tells Eun-gi to excuse them, because they’re dating and this is between them. Eun-gi is shocked by this, but says it concerns him too, because Deok-mi is the woman he likes. (Not how that works, bro.)
Ryan reveals that he knows about her fangirl life. This leads to their first argument: Deok-mi is mad that he knew she was Shi-an is My Life and pretended not to, while Ryan is mad she lied about it to begin with, and spent the night with Eun-gi. They easily forgive each other, although Deok-mi does yell at him a bit when she finds out he’s Latte.
Eun-gi tells Deok-mi again about his feelings, not allowing her to dismiss them as a joke, and promises to wait for her. Deok-mi tells Ryan in the spirit of openness, and he tells her that since Eun-gi is family to her, there’s no need to rush into any decisions.
Ryan has a nightmare about being abandoned at the orphanage as a child. Unable to sleep, he goes to Deok-mi’s apartment, and though he pretends to be okay, she hugs him and tells him it’s okay to cry. He does, and tells her about the recurring dream, and she promises to stay up with him all night the way her mom used to with her.
Meanwhile, Hyo-jin’s (Cindy) mom has discovered that the exhibition involves Shi-an and has kicked her out, so Deok-mi puts her up at her parents’ home while they figure how to resolve things.
As the gallery staff continue to look into finding and restoring Lee Sol’s paintings, Hyo-jin starts actually working hard and becoming part of the team, even managing to stand up to her awful mother.
The staff go to an orphanage to provide art enrichment for the children, and although Deok-mi expects him to skip it, Ryan joins them, and actually enjoys himself with the kids, although he still can’t bring himself to draw with them. At the end of the day, Deok-mi asks him to draw for her–taking his hand and helping him trace around their hands with pencil. On the way home, he tells her his Korean name was Heo Yoon-jae.
Ryan tells Deok-mi that he stopped being able to paint when he saw Lee Sol’s paintings three years ago, but that’s not when he first saw them; the first time was when he was a child, watching Lee Sol–his mother–paint. Even as Deok-mi comforts him, we see that Shi-an’s mother has arrived in Seoul. Shi-an announces to her that he’s putting on an exhibition of the paintings she did as Lee Sol. Dun dun.
During her research, Deok-mi discovers that Lee Sol is Shi-an’s mother, and while she’s wondering how to break the news to Ryan, Shi-an brings his mother to the gallery. Deok-mi asks her about it privately, but she says she no longer has any right to that identity, which she failed to protect.
At the very same moment, Shi-an tells Ryan that his mother is Lee Sol.
Ryan agonizes over this revelation all night. Deok-mi tells him to meet his birth mother and ask all his questions, even if he doesn’t have any intention of forgiving her. She promises to avenge him if he wants. Ryan says that the paintings evoke happiness in him, and longing, so he’s going to give it a try. So he brings Lee Sol to his home and shows her the paintings–and tells her that he’s Yoon-jae.
Ryan tells Deok-mi afterwards that his birth mother said she was sorry, which may mean she abandoned him after all. The next day Shi-an contacts Ryan to ask him to give their mother a chance to explain. While Ryan thinks about this, Deok-mi tells him that she’s figured out the theme of the bubble paintings–they contain things that children like, and she thinks they’ve been painted with a mother’s love.
Ryan hears his birth mother out. She tells him that she’d left him briefly at the playground to meet someone about her art, but gotten into a serious accident on the way back, and by the time she recovered he was nowhere to be found. She promises that she never meant to abandon him, apologizing profusely, and asks if she might be allowed to see him occasionally. He tells Deok-mi afterward that he wants to believe her, but that his memory of being left at the orphanage still bothers him.
Eun-gi comes to wish Deok-mi an early happy birthday. His present is himself: her best friend of 33 years, come back to her. He tells her that his feelings were sincere, but he’s realized that he just wants her to smile, even if he’s not the one next to her–and isn’t that the meaning of family?
He apologizes for making her uncomfortable, and she thanks him. They both tear up a little, and so do I.
Deok-mi tells Ryan that she’s found the last painting, and he meets her at a church, only to find that Shi-an and his mother are also waiting.
She shows them the painting of Yoon-jae she left here years ago with the prayer, Protect this child. The painting triggers a memory for Ryan, a happy memory of the two of them. “We’re both smiling,” he tells her, and she nods.
Soon Deok-mi’s birthday arrives, and she asks Ryan to draw her for her birthday present. When he resists, she shows him how she’s set things up so he can trace her profile onto the canvas. He hesitates, but with her encouragement, he manages to do it.
They kiss, and tell each other, “I love you.”
Eun-gi, having overheard Ryan’s birth name, asks Deok-mi’s mother about it, triggering a series of conversations that reveal that little Yoon-jae had gone home with their family that day when his mom never came to pick him up.
They’d taken care of him for a month, until one day Deok-mi was in a car accident with her little brother Deok-soo, who didn’t survive–and whom Deok-mi erased from her memory.
Unable to take care of Yoon-jae, Deok-mi’s mother left him at the orphanage, and when she’d emerged from her grief enough to go and look for him, he’d already been adopted abroad.
As her memories of Deok-soo return, Deok-mi and her parents cry and remember together, and the whole family, along with Ryan and his birth mother, go to visit Deok-soo’s resting place. Ryan’s birth mother tells Deok-mi’s mother that Ryan doesn’t blame either of them, and that he wants them to forgive themselves as well.
The exhibition goes off perfectly, and Hyo-jin reconciles with her mother and goes home. Seon-joo decides to give her husband another chance, and I kind of wish we could watch a drama about their story, because I love them.
Ryan recovers his full painting skills, turning his sketch of Deok-mi into his first real piece. She worries that he might want to return to the art scene in New York, but he tells her he’s not ready, and not to worry that he’s staying in Korea because of her. A few days later, Deok-mi receives an offer to go to New York to oversee an exhibition, and she agrees–and tells Ryan to come too, saying that to her curator’s eyes, he’s more than ready for a comeback.
Before they leave, he asks her to marry him, and she says yes: they’ll be each other’s number-one fans.
One year later. Deok-mi returns triumphantly as the vice director of the gallery; Ryan is busy in his New York Genius Artist life, but comes to visit because he’s dying to see her after only a week. Adorable Gun-woo has started school, and Seon-joo is expecting another baby. And Eun-gi seems to have a little crush on Hyo-jin, who has actually become a decent grown-up. All is well.
We witness one last embrace between the couple in the corridor where they first pretended to kiss, and Deok-mi, in voiceover, wishes for the audience to become successful fans.
Looking back on the second half of this show after watching it week-to-week allows for a broader perspective than my usual experience of recapping a show as it airs, and with this show in particular it really highlighted the shift in tone that happened in the latter episodes. Like with most rom-coms, there really isn’t enough story for sixteen episodes. After the supremely satisfying mutual confession of feelings and the initial giddiness of the person I like likes me back, what a miracle! in episodes 9 and 10, the tension slipped slowly out of this story and left us with a pleasant, relaxing watch.
That’s not necessarily a criticism; after all, it’s difficult to maintain any suspense between a romantic pair once they’ve admitted that they’re into each other, and the sexual tension also breaks once they’ve kissed for the first time. The romances I’ve really loved in the past spent the time after a couple got together exploring the realities of what that actually means, the low-stakes but often make-or-break dynamics of a grown-up relationship. We didn’t quite get that here, but these two have such amazing chemistry (and they are so inhumanly pretty) that it was no hardship to watch them enjoying the honeymoon phase of their love affair.
Even the storyline with Lee Sol and her connection to both Shi-an and Ryan was well-executed and fit organically in the story. Unlike the childhood connection between the leads (which I’ll get to in just a minute, not to worry) this “secret” was well-telegraphed from the first week, and Ryan’s relationship with art and his abandonment issues have always been integral parts of his character. Lee Il-hwa was also wonderful in the role of his birth mother, giving the character a surprising amount of gravity and pathos for someone introduced so late, and who might be seen as just a plot device.
You might even say that her story nicely mirrors the experience of losing the ability to create art that’s shared by Ryan and Deok-mi, and which they bonded over–except that her journey is more like Deok-mi’s–she permanently lost her son, her ability to paint, and her career as an artist, whereas Deok-mi lost a brother and not the ability but the opportunity to make her dream come true. On the other hand, Ryan not only overcame his slump (and in fact is even more of a genius than before, color me surprised), he regained all this almost solely because of the support of his girlfriend and his reconciliation with his birth mother. This drama started out being about Deok-mi, but in the second half it became almost solely about Ryan–his trauma, his history, his talent.
Even Deok-mi’s family is no longer solely hers, but is tied to their old connection with Ryan, somehow managing to make Deok-mi’s mother’s act of leaving Yoon-jae at the orphanage carry more weight than her losing her toddler son and then never even being able to talk about him.
I do dislike the Yoon-jae/Deok-soo plotline for coming out of nowhere and adding no value to the story; it’s so clearly a tacked-on cliche to give this drama two more episodes when it had already come to a perfect conclusion in episode 14. But what makes me madder the more I think about it is that adding this plotline functionally turned all the women in this drama into mechanisms for Ryan’s character development. No woman was allowed to exist independently of his shining presence. Even Deok-mi’s history wasn’t allowed to be solely her own, and her journey as a fangirl was almost completely abandoned, even if we got a throwaway line about it at the end.
I didn’t notice this at first, but as I was screencapping I realized how many of the images I have are of Deok-mi providing Ryan with some type of emotional or physical comfort or healing. That in itself isn’t a problem; no relationship is ever perfectly balanced, and as you live your life together, sometimes one partner will need more support from the other, and vice versa. But I’m sad that the Deok-mi of earlier episodes, who was able to balance her fangirl life with a successful career, got so little exploration. I wanted to see her grapple with going from a fan of Shi-an to his future sister-in-law; I wanted her to at least consider using her amazing photography talent to transition to an actual artistic career. I can understand Deok-mi deciding that for her, curating art is how she fulfills her artistic vision, but I certainly wish her thought process and her inner life had been given more than a perfunctory acknowledgment.
That’s why the tacked-on amnesia, tragic death, and actually-not-so-unforgivable abandonment leave a rather bad taste in my mouth, because those two episodes could have been devoted instead to a reckoning with Deok-mi’s fangirl life and her career. I would have like to see her ponder whether, like Seon-joo, she’ll continue to find new idols to support even while working and raising a family, or if she no longer needs the fandom and what it brings to her life now that she has Ryan by her side.
All this aside, I did love a lot about this show, even if my feelings about it have mellowed from obsession to affection. Ryan is still an incredible, too-perfect-in-the-best-way hero, and Deok-mi was funny, lovable, passionate, and confident from beginning to end, a heroine that I loved to root for. Park Min-young and Kim Jae-wook were perfect in their roles, and I think I’ll be seeing their heated, loving gazes at each other in my dreams–this might be the drama that finally ruined me for real life relationships. I adored how Deok-mi and Ryan talked to each other about everything, and resolved their issues without noble idiocy once rearing its head; I was warmed by how clearly they expressed their affection for each other, in every way, even if by the end it became so sugary I felt my teeth begin to ache.
And although everyone’s endings were perhaps a little too neat, there was never a real villain beyond the rather toothless Director Eom, so I enjoyed seeing the entire cast get their happily ever afters. As much as I hated Eun-gi in earlier episodes for his belligerent and inconsiderate behavior towards Deok-mi, I found myself tearing up at his realization of what she truly meant to him, and needed from him, and I appreciated his sincere apology. I even rooted for him to get together Hyo-jin by the end, who had a surprisingly satisfying arc of her own, even if it was mostly played for comedy.
I think what this show did best, and what I’ll remember most fondly, is its moments, whether those were moments between the leads, as they realized and expressed their feelings, or between family members and friends, demonstrating in small ways how important they were to each other. Every line of dialogue was well-written, and this top-tier cast unfailingly delivered in their performances. I think that late-night conversation at No Seok’s home, and Ryan softly saying “Hello” as he looks at Deok-mi, is burned into my brain. I’m pretty sure that was the moment he realized his feelings for her were real.
And how wonderful was Deok-mi’s fangirl comradeship with best friend Seon-joo, which I’m sure we can all relate to so hard–squealing together over oppas, cursing together at men when they disappoint us, always being on each other’s side. Seon-joo and her family were adorable in every way, especially little Gun-woo. (I’m still waiting to see Park Jin-joo as the heroine of her own rom-com, by the way, Dramaland.)
So yes, I was a little disappointed with the ending. But we finally got Kim Jae-wook fully inhabiting the dreamboat leading man we always saw in him, and Ryan and Deok-mi will go down as one of my favorite rom-com pairings of all time. I think I’m okay with that.
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