Mystic Pop-up Bar: Episode 2
The first episode of Mystic Pop-up Bar did a great job of establishing the story and universal rules in a mostly lighthearted, funny tone, but the second episode sets out to show us that this drama is also capable of pulling our heartstrings in a big way. Our sweet “magnet’s” first task is a difficult one, helping a woman who has a lot to make up for, and in the process he’ll learn that, well, he still has a lot to learn.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Kang-bae is on a date with a pretty girl, but when he leans in to kiss her, she says demurely that it’s only their third date. Strangely confident, Kang-bae says he’s tired of holding back, then gives her his sexiest wink-and-lip-bite and goes in again.
HAHA, he’s actually at the Mystic Pop-up Bar, drunk and asleep on the table. Wol-joo actually custom-made that dream to show him what his future can be without his “ability” (touching him compels people to tell him their problems), to entice him into signing a contract with her.
She wants Kang-bae to work for her for a month — he’ll make people tell Wol-joo their problems so she can settle their grudges and avoid going to hell. She’s only nine short of her 100,000 quota, but Kang-bae hesitates, uncomfortable with the idea of making people reveal their secrets against their will. Wol-joo argues that he’d be helping her help people, and in return she’ll cut off his ability so he can live a normal life.
As he reads over the contract, Kang-bae notices a line that says his spiritual powers may be enhanced while working for Wol-joo, and that the effect might be permanent. That’s the opposite of what he wants, and he tries using his ability on Wol-joo to make her be honest, but unfortunately she and Manager Gwi are immune.
Manager Gwi explains that a person’s spiritual powers are like a connection between the living world and the afterlife, and working with them might cause Kang-bae’s spiritual vision to increase as they travel that connection on the way into people’s dreams. He says that people might be compelled to tell Kang-bae their secrets just by looking at him, but when Kang-bae starts to look scared, Wol-joo promises that won’t happen.
Kang-bae is worried about what will happen if Wol-joo doesn’t help nine more people before the month is out. Manager Gwi says cheerfully that she’ll be dragged to hell and he’ll be stuck in his worsened state. Unwilling to risk it, Kang-bae refuses to sign the contract, and Wol-joo nearly kills Manager Gwi for being so honest.
At home, Kang-bae is visited by LANDLADY ANDONG (cameo by Baek Ji-won), a sweet lady who frequently brings him food and looks out for him. Her daughter is getting married soon, and Kang-bae promises he’ll be at the wedding.
The next day, Wol-joo shows up at Kang-bae’s workplace in a skintight minidress to convince him to sign the contract. He’s at lunch with his coworkers, who are very impressed with the gorgeous lady and the mountains of food she brought for them all.
Wol-joo tells them that she’s there to scout Kang-bae for a part-time job at her bar that he’s uniquely physically suited for, and HAHA, they all take that the completely wrong way. Kang-bae drags her away to speak privately, and he makes it clear that he’s not willing to gamble with making his ability worse.
But Wol-joo is determined, and when the shoppers in the store gather for a flash sale, she shoves Kang-bae right into the middle of the crowd. The woman who touch him instantly start clamoring to tell him their problems, until Kang-bae has to hide to escape them. In desperation, Kang-bae agrees to sign the contract, but first he suggests a trial period to see if he can even do what Wol-joo wants.
That evening, Landlady Andong is out shopping with her daughter, EUN-SOO (cameo by Kwak Sun-young). She complains about the cosmetics Eun-soo bought for her since she’s allergic and can’t wear them, but Eun-soo says they’re organic and that her mom should try it just for her wedding day. They see the Mystic Pop-up Bar and stop in to eat.
The special is grilled mackerel, and a very proud Eun-soo brags that her mother used to run a grilled fish restaurant. Wol-joo and Manager Gwi notice when Landlady Andong quietly coughs into a handkerchief and it comes away bloody, which she hides from Eun-soo.
Eun-soo has to leave suddenly, having forgotten about a dinner with her future in-laws. Manager Gwi says that Eun-soo is very sweet and that Landlady Andong obviously did a great job raising her, but Landlady Andong looks very downcast and mutters that she’s not a good mother at all.
Wol-joo makes faces at Kang-bae, but he misunderstands until she hisses that he needs to touch Landlady Andong so she’ll tell her story. He nervously takes the woman’s hand, and sure enough, she starts talking about her past.
She tells them how she was widowed young, so she opened her grilled fish restaurant to make a living. A young woman named SUN-HWA (also played by Kwak Sun-young) worked for her, and as Sun-hwa was an orphan and also lonely, the two bonded. Sun-hwa had admitted that she’d never dated anyone, and when Landlady Andong suggested she get married and have children, Sun-hwa confessed her greatest fear — leaving her own children to be orphaned as she was.
One evening a handsome man named DONG-GIL (cameo by Kang Shin-chul) came into the restaurant, and Landlady Andong had immediately set her cap for him. He would come to the restaurant whenever he was in town, and Landlady Andong would make him food and fawn over him.
Since he came so often, she assumed he returned her feelings, but in time she learned that not only was Dong-gil really there to see Sun-hwa, they were expecting a child. Landlady Andong had been furious, and she’d hidden her fury under layers and layers of makeup, to the point that she looked clownish. She didn’t even visit when Sun-hwa gave birth to a little girl, because she hated Sun-hwa for stealing “her” man.
One night, Dong-gil came by the restaurant to bring Landlady Andong a gift. She’d been very drunk, and in a fit of jealousy, Landlady Andong had told Dong-gil that Sun-hwa was promiscuous when he was out of town, and that the baby wasn’t even his.
As soon as she sobered up, Landlady Andong had regretted her actions and set out to tell Dong-gil the truth, but she arrived just as Dong-gil was peeling away in his truck. She’d watched as Sun-hwa ran into the street calling for him to come back, and right into the path of a car. Landlady Andong had taken in the baby, despite the crushing guilt that never faded.
She tells Wol-joo and Kang-bae that she has lung cancer, and that her dying wish is to reconcile Eun-soo with her father, but she’s been unable to find him. Wol-joo scoffs loudly, calling Landlady Andong a murderer and refusing to help her. Recalling that it was the townspeople’s malicious gossip that caused her to lose her own mother and take her life, Wol-joo tells Landlady Andong that Eun-soo’s forgiveness isn’t enough to save her from hell, her words carrying the weight of personal experience.
The effects of Kang-bae’s ability wear off and LA Landlady Andong quickly leaves. Kang-bae argues that they should help her since she’s dying, but Wol-joo counters that just because she’s dying doesn’t mean they should go easy on her. Kang-bae yells that this isn’t what he signed up for, and he storms out of the pojangmacha.
Wol-joo decides she doesn’t need Kang-bae, only to completely fail to entice a customer who just found out her boyfriend is married to drink the ssanggapju (the special drink). Kang-bae decides to take matters into his own hands, so while Wol-joo and Manager Gwi are busy flagging down a taxi for their customer, he sneaks into Mystic Pop-up Bar and pours some of Wol-joo’s ssanggapju into an empty water bottle.
He heads home, excited to help Landlady Andong on his own, only to find her collapsed outside her front door. He gets her to the hospital and Eun-soo sobs beside her mother’s bed, distraught that she didn’t tell her that she’s dying.
Kang-bae gets a call from Wol-joo, who of course noticed that some of her ssanggapju is missing. Manager Gwi warns Kang-bae not to let anyone drink it, but when Kang-bae goes back into Landlady Andong’s room, Eun-soo is fast asleep on the couch, having drunk the whole bottle thinking it was water.
He touches her without thinking, and he’s pulled into her dream. He’s plunged into a pitch-black space and falls down what seems like a flight of stairs, and he grows so scared that he starts crying for his mommy.
Meanwhile, Wol-joo rushes to the hospital and finds both Eun-soo and Kang-bae unconscious, so she lets herself into Eun-soo’s dream. She slaps Kang-bae back to his senses and tells him to just turn on the lights, lol, then snaps that if he enters the Dream World without her preparing it first, he could get trapped forever in the person’s subconscious.
Looking around, Kang-bae realizes that they’re in a movie theater, so he suggests they watch some of Eun-soo’s subconscious. Her memories completely contradict Landlady Andong’s conviction that she was a terrible mother — Eun-soo remembers being rushed to the hospital when she was sick, Landlady Andong fighting the neighbor ajummas when they criticized Eun-soo for being fatherless, and giving Eun-soo her entire life savings so she can have the wedding of her dreams.
There’s a loud beeping noise, and Wol-joo and Kang-bae return to the living world to find Landlady Andong in distress. Wol-joo starts to leave so Kang-bae begs her to grant Landlady Andong’s dying wish, but she just warns that she’ll kill him if he steals her ssanggapju again.
Desperate to help, Kang-bae says he’ll sign the contract if Wol-joo grants Landlady Andong’s wish. She gives it some thought and realizes that getting Kang-bae’s help is worth more than her pride, especially when she’s so close to success, so she heads to the bar to get the contract and the ssanggapju.
She runs into Chief Yeom outside the hospital, doing his duty as the god of death. Oh no… he’s there for Landlady Andong, whose time is finally up. Wol-joo asks Chief Yeom to wait a few days before taking Landlady Andong’s spirit to the underworld, promising that she and Manager Gwi will keep an eye on her so she doesn’t wander off before they settle her grudge.
Back at the bar, Kang-bae is the only one who can’t see Landlady Andong’s spirit. She shows Manager Gwi an old photo of Dong-gil with her and Sun-hwa, and Kang-bae is amazed when Manager Gwi seems to take a picture of nothing but the picture shows up clearly on his phone. Manager Gwi sends the photo to the Afterlife Police Agency (pfft), who locate Dong-gil in a small country village.
A neighbor tells them that Dong-gil showed up years ago, after a failed suicide attempt cost him his memory of everything but his name. The trio try to jog his memory with grilled mackerel and tell him that he met his wife at a mackerel restaurant, but Dong-gil insists that he’s never been in a relationship.
Wol-joo shoots laser-eyes at Kang-bae to use his ability (complete with laser sound effects, hee), but all they get is that Dong-gil couldn’t eat mackerel for a while after once choking on a bone. Their only hope is to have him drink the ssanggapju and search his dreams, but they left it at the bar in Seoul.
Luckily, Kang-bae has just enough ssanggapju left in his water bottle to send Dong-gil into a dream state. But even in his dreams, Dong-gil’s memory starts with his suicide attempt, so Manager Gwi says they need to go deeper into his subconscious.
They take a set of spiral stairs into a deep pit, Manager Gwi explaining to Kang-bae that this is where Dong-gil keeps the memories he’s locked up. Wol-joo warns Kang-bae to be careful because the pit is infinitely deep, and that if he trips, he’ll fall until his soul disappears. Yikes.
Eventually they cross a narrow walkway suspended over the pit to a locked door. There’s an electronic lock, but when Wol-joo tries 1111 as a code, an alarm sounds and half of the walkway crumbles into the abyss. Manager Gwi tries 0000 next, but again the alarm shrieks and the other half of the walkway disappears, leaving them huddled, terrified, on just a few inches of stone.
They have one try left or they’ll fall and disappear (awww, poor Kang-bae is so scared!). Wol-joo and Kang-bae search through his clothes, but Manager Gwi is extremely ticklish, so when Kang-bae finally finds Manager Gwi’s phone to look up Dong-gil’s birthday, but he’s ticklish — he flails and knocks it out of Kang-bae’s hands and down into the abyss.
Wol-joo is ready to toss Manager Gwi into the pit, but Kang-bae stops her. He gets the idea that Dong-gil’s passcode might be Eun-soo’s birthday, which he knows because she’s getting married on her birthday. He enters 0509 into the pinpad for May 9th, and the door miraculously opens.
Inside Dong-gil’s subconscious, the trio find his memories of Sun-hwa and Eun-soo when she was a baby. Wol-joo only has to snap to return the memories to Dong-gil’s conscious mind, completing her task. Dong-gil goes to Seoul for Landlady Andong’s funeral, where he meets Eun-soo for the first time since she was an infant.
Understandably, Eun-soo is shaken by the news that the woman she always thought was her mother, was in fact the person who cost her her biological family. She asks Dong-gil for time to process everything, promising to get in touch with him when she’s ready.
Dong-gil gives Eun-soo the photo of himself with Sun-hwa and Landlady Andong. Eun-soo notices how much makeup Landlady Andong used to wear, which confuses her since her mother always told her she was allergic to makeup. Dong-gil says that giving up makeup must have been her way to avoid facing her foolish self, like he did when he lost his memories.
It makes Eun-soo feel guilty for all the times she was embarrassed of Landlady Andong for not wearing makeup. She sobs and thanks her mother for raising her and being a good mom, but although it saddens Landlady Andong to see her daughter so sad, she’s ready to go now that her dying wish was granted. She thanks Wol-joo for her help and says she has no regrets, then Chief Yeom leads her into the light.
They emerge into a sunny field, and Landlady Andong is stunned to see Sun-hwa waiting for her. She falls to her knees in remorse, and Sun-hwa kneels in front of her with forgiveness in her eyes. Landlady Andong cries that she’s sorry, but Sun-hwa only thanks her for doing such a wonderful job raising her daughter and tells her to rest in peace now.
Back in the living world, Manager Gwi joins Kang-bae for a game of one-on-one basketball. Kang-bae kicks his ass, making Manager Gwi ask why he’s not a pro player, but Kang-bae reminds him that his ability makes contact sports impossible. Manager Gwi asks if Kang-bae will regret signing Wol-joo’s contract and losing his ability.
Kang-bae says that he’s used to failing in things like sports and relationships, which is why he hesitated to sign the contract — the price of failure (his ability getting even stronger) was too high. But Manager Gwi says that Kang-bae deserves to live a normal life, and that he did a great job helping Landlady Andong today and that they make a good team. Kang-bae is moved by the word “team,” something he’s never experienced, so he says he’s ready for the game of life.
They return to Mystic Pop-up Bar and Kang-bae signs Wol-joo’s contract. HAHA, Wol-joo growls that if he steals the ssanggapju again, she’ll give him repeated dreams of every time he’s been dumped. They have some celebratory drinks, and soon Manager Gwi is conked out and Kang-bae is pleasantly tipsy. Kang-bae notices that the sign has changed to 99,992 people helped, and he asks Wol-joo why she has to help 100,000 people, finding the number unfairly high.
Wol-joo says flatly, “It’s because I killed 100,000 people.” We see that some time after her death, Queen Yeomra called Wol-joo to an audience and informed her that because she hanged herself from the Sacred Tree, it lost its power to protect the country. The country was subsequently invaded, and 100,000 people died in the war.
She’d ordered Wol-joo to return to the living realm and settle 100,000 grudges as punishment. Wol-joo had argued that she took her life because she hates humans and refused to help them, preferring to be sent to the Hell of Extinction.
But Queen Yeomra had smirked that tainting the Sacred Tree wasn’t Wol-joo’s only sin. She had tossed a scroll at Wol-joo, and when she read what was written there, Wol-joo’s defiance turned to abject horror. Time passed as she read the scroll, and when she finished (appearing as we see her today), she had humbly agreed to accept Queen Yeomra’s punishment.
Wow, what was written on the scroll? What’s worse than destroying the Sacred Tree’s power and causing the deaths of a hundred thousand people? What was so awful that a girl who killed herself in anger, who was still hanging onto that anger so strongly in death to defy the god of the underworld, to suddenly change her tune and agree to what she feels is an unfair punishment? I have my suspicions — only something very, very personal would have caused Wol-joo to submit. I still believe that she fell in love with the crown prince, and that the words on the scroll were about him. He was either in danger that could only be mitigated if she accepted the punishment, or he had already died a horrific death due to her actions, so that she felt she deserved the punishment.
Oof, this episode really got me right in the feels. I’m a sucker for a parent/child reconciliation story, and Landlady Andong’s hidden past was so painful. She made a horrific mistake, and she spent the rest of her life literally looking the result of that mistake in the eyes. But she’s also a great example of how being a mother isn’t necessarily bout biology, and it’s so like a mother not to realize how much she does for her own children. That’s what makes a true mother, whether she gave birth to her child or not… she takes on all the pain and hardship and makes sure that all her child recalls are the good times, and the times that her mother was there for her.
One thing in this episode really impressed me, and makes me more excited than anything else to see what else Mystic Pop-up Bar has to offer… the way Landlady Andong’s story and Wol-joo’s personal background so smoothly mirrored each other. Wol-joo lost her mother, her life, and her afterlife due to malicious gossip, and Landlady Andong is on the other side as the one who told the lies and destroyed a happy family. I really don’t blame Wol-joo for her unforgiving reaction to hearing Landlady Andong’s story and initially refusing to help her. It was completely in-character for her to be so angry about it, especially since Wol-joo has personal experience with the fact that death doesn’t absolve a person of their sins. The parallels between their backgrounds were so natural that it didn’t even occur to me until Wol-joo blew up at Landlady Andong, and my visceral reaction flipping from Whoa, why is she being so mean? to Well wait, now I sort of agree with her was a really great emotional moment. Give me more, Show, I love it!
I also appreciate how Kang-bae’s overconfidence in using Wol-joo’s drink without her guidance worked as both a learning experience for Kang-bae, and a way to teach the audience the rules of the Dream World. Too many dramas either rely too heavily on exposition and come across as stilted, or try to hard to avoid it that the audience is left confused (*~side-eyes Memorist so hard~*), but Mystic Pop-up Bar found perfectly delivered information simply by expertly weaving it into the plot. Kang-bae ran in without knowing how it all worked, and in the process of rescuing him, Wol-joo never had to resort to exposition. Her explanations of why his behavior was risky also informed the viewers of what can happen if things go wrong. This is true of the show in general — Mystic Pop-up Bar seems deceptively simple on the surface, but if you really pay attention, that simplicity is a deliberate choice. It kind of reminds me of hiding veggies in a cake to get your kids to eat healthy foods… what appears simple is actually a quite complex and richly-drawn world, smartly laid out to give the maximum of information in the most engaging way possible.
On a completely different topic, when I first heard that Hwang Jung-eum, Choi Won-young, and Yook Sung-jae were the leads in this drama, I thought that was a very unlikely trio of actors for a show like this and that their very different acting styles would clash hard. But on the contrary, I’m finding that it’s their differences that make them work so well together. Wol-joo’s disdain and utter doneness for the entire human race, Kang-bae gentle but forthright caring of others, and Manager Gwi’s aloof but solid-as-a-rock presence just fit perfectly into each other’s corners and make for a really great team.
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