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At a Distance, Spring Is Green: Episode 1

Campus coming-of-age story At a Distance, Spring Is Green is finally here after years of being in the works. While the period of youth is something we often look back on fondly, it’s also a rather poignant period of time. No longer a child but not yet an adult, there’s a lot of soul searching that happens during our youth. Our three leads are in the process of finding themselves, each feeling alone in their struggles and dealing with them in different ways.

Note: This is a first episode recap only.

 
EPISODE 1 RECAP

It’s orientation day at Myeong Il University, where girls flock towards the handsome incoming freshman YEO JOON (Park Ji-hoon). He’s friendly and smiles for the cameras, earning himself a fanclub. However, that bright smile fades once he’s alone and Joon curls up in the dark, musing that it’s difficult to make friends.

NAM SOO-HYUN (Bae In-hyuk) is less approachable, stoically holding signage on a busy street to make ends meet. Dating and relaxing are luxuries that he can’t afford because “poor people have no freedom.” As shoppers take shelter from the pouring rain, Soo-hyun remains in his position but his gaze hardens as he faces the sky.

Meanwhile, studious third-year business administration student KIM SO-BIN (Kang Mina) reaches her breaking point while studying late at the library. Despite her best efforts, it’s becoming difficult to keep up and she’s unsure what to do.

At the beginning of the new term, Joon observes students from the rooftop and scoffs at the notion that “the spring of youth is green” — it only seems that way from a distance.

He’s back with his smiles when he heads to class amidst gasps of adoration from female classmates. Joon brings coffee for his sunbaes Joon-ho and Chun-kook, who warn him not to wake the sleeping Soo-hyun up. He’s known as UP (Unrivaled Psycho) because nobody has ever seen him smile.

Despite their advice, Joon reaches over to tap Soo-hyun on the shoulder when the professor takes attendance. He accidentally knocks his coffee off the table, ruining Soo-hyun’s pants and shoes. Professor Park doesn’t reprimand Soo-hyun for sleeping and merely reminds him to take care of his health — it’ll cost money if he’s sick.

Feeling terrible about it, Joon seeks Soo-hyun out after the lecture to apologize. The difference in energy between these two is night and day. Noticing the freshman’s expensive watch, Soo-hyun asks for 10,000 won to cover the cleaning fee.

Without hesitation, Joon offers him 100,000 won in cash but it was just a test. “Money really does come out,” Soo-hyun comments, “You do seem like Myeong Il University’s ATM.” Soo-hyun settles it as something that happened because they both made mistakes, leaving without the money.

Joon learns from his sunbaes that Soo-hyun never fails to receive a scholarship each semester. Against his wishes, Joon gets dragged to lunch but can’t stop thinking about Soo-hyun.

So-bin settles into her new dorm room and prays to any god who will listen for an ideal roommate: someone who’s kind and considerate without being overbearing, neat to a certain extent, and just a little bit prettier than herself (because So-bin being overwhelmingly pretty will throw off the balance, pfft).

She gets stuck with GONG MIN-JOO (Woo Da-bi) who struts in with her heels on and complains about the view. She’s a seemingly well off second-year design student. When So-bin offers to help with her suitcase, Min-joo shows her where the rest of her ten bags are and leaves her to do the heavy lifting. “Gods, were you dissatisfied with my prayers?!” So-bin cries.

At a club that night, Joon watches alone from the sidelines but is dragged to the center of the dance circle by Joon-ho. When they decide to go for round two elsewhere, it becomes clear what Soo-hyun meant by his ATM comment.

Joon-ho and Chun-kook mooch off Yeo Joon because he’s rich, and rich people should (apparently) pay for their friends. Ugh. The girls in their group speak up for Joon, who becomes visibly annoyed when the argument escalates. He slaps his smile on again to diffuse the tension, promising to fund the rest of their night and heads to the convenience store.

One of the girls, Hye-ji, follows him inside and flirts, but Joon turns her down subtly. His excuse is that Joon-ho has a crush on her, and he wants to get along with everyone. Joon flirts back just enough for her to agree, and Hye-ji runs off once they realize they have an audience.

Soo-hyun is working cash today, and Joon’s attempts to make conversation fall flat. He pulls out his premium credit card, hinting that it’d be beneficial for Soo-hyun to be friendly rather than to ignore him.

Studying the sunbae’s disinterested expression, Joon extends an invitation to hang out with his group. Soo-hyun finally responds, “Does it seem like I’d go?” Joon asked knowing that he wouldn’t, which is why he wants him to join. He casually says not to worry about the costs, “Because I, Myeong Il University’s ATM, will be buying.”

Soo-hyun can see right through his facade, knowing that Joon just wants to have the reputation of a decent guy. Joon’s face falls for a brief moment before he flashes his smile again to officially introduce himself.

“Why are you smiling?” Soo-hyun asks pointedly. “Why aren’t you smiling?” Joon shoots back. Soo-hyun just tells him to go because the others seem to be waiting for his gold card. Joon knows this is true and just asks him to smile a little next time — it doesn’t cost anything to do so.

The night comes to an end when the sunbaes are all drunk. Before parting ways, Hye-ji slips something into Joon’s pocket and Joon sends the boys off with taxi fare. The reason why he smiles is to get close with others, but he also does it to keep a distance. “This smile that hides me is something I’m thankful for,” he thinks, allowing the corners of his lips to drop once he’s alone.

No longer needing to put on an act, Joon’s entire demeanor shifts — he becomes expressionless and his voice drops an octave. On the way home, he finds Hye-ji’s gift in his pocket and rolls down the taxi window to toss the macarons out. He’s stopped outside Soo-hyun’s workplace and instinctively forces a brighter expression when they make eye contact, but Soo-hyun seems to see past it.

So-bin works late into the night, worried about her lack of qualifications as a third year student. At her counsellor’s suggestion, she researches opportunities within her department to gain experience. The words seem to fly off the screen the more she focuses, like that night at the library.

The next morning, So-bin works up the courage to enter the business administration department office. The door swings open unexpectedly and So-bin ends up flying into Joon, with her hands lingering on his pecs for just a moment too long. Flustered, she introduces herself and realizes that he’s the popular first year.

So-bin’s here to beg the teaching assistant for a favor — could she recommend her to Professor Song as a part-time researcher? So-bin desperately needs the experience, but the job was already given to Joon. The TA suggests So-bin to beg him to give it up if she wants it.

As luck would have it, the freshmen are going on an overnight trip today and there’s only one senior student who volunteered to look after them so far. As a bonus, volunteering will waive your student fees. So-bin doesn’t want to, but needs a way to speak to Joon.

Her long-time friend HONG CHAN-KI (Choi Jung-woo) is amused that she’s being sent to take care of the “baby chicks.” So-bin pouts that she would’ve avoided this if she had better qualifications.

Chan-ki jokingly suggests that she snag a young boyfriend instead and let him go now. “Who was it that stuck to me for the past fourteen years?” she asks. Chan-ki stops teasing when he spots the other volunteer from afar. “Run away now and say you can’t do it,” he suggests seriously. When So-bin learns that it’s Soo-hyun, she asks Chan-ki to come with her but he merely wishes her well.

So-bin introduces herself to Soo-hyun as the other volunteer, and buses are split between them for supervison. Scanning the list quickly, she realizes that Joon’s not on her bus but it’s too late to switch. The students stop chattering once they see Soo-hyun, and Joon greets him warmly.

They make it to the campgrounds where the business administration department will be going through training. So-bin stares intently at Joon, who looks inquisitively in Soo-hyun’s direction. When she gets caught, it sends her into another flustered state of awkwardness that puts a genuine smile on Joon’s face, hee.

So-bin spends all day watching him but is largely unsuccessful at getting close enough to speak to Joon. While cleaning with Soo-hyun, she’s curious to know whether he remembers her. They worked on a group project together, but he did all the work himself. It takes her a few tries before she can ask about his grade for the project, and learns that he received an A+.

A drunk student cuts their conversation short and Soo-hyun speeds off to carry him to bed. He shakes off Joon’s offer to help and ignores So-bin when she offers to piggy back the student. She’s left crouching on the ground before Joon finally speaks up to let her know they left. He walks a few steps before whipping his head around, catching her in the act of staring.

Joon asks why she keeps stealing glances at him, making his heart flutter — does she like him? She hems and haws, but isn’t able to spit out the question. When someone calls Joon’s name, she uses that as an excuse and runs off.

Joon follows Soo-hyun back to the tents and wants to have a drink with him. As per usual, Soo-hyun just ignores him so Joon calls him out for being harsh on someone who’s just trying to get closer.

Soo-hyun asks if he’s anxious, now that he’s met someone who bothers him. He perceptively says that Joon needs everyone to like him so that he can relax, but he’s finally met someone he can’t win over. Soo-hyun bluntly says that he’s no help as a sunbae and Joon’s university life will be largely unaffected even if they’re not close.

Finally speaking his mind, Joon says that he thought Soo-hyun was just a prideful guy, but that his inferiority complex is no joke. It’s something that must make Soo-hyun and those around him miserable. Joon advises him to live life a little more relaxed, but Soo-hyun prefers being uncomfortable.

So-bin approaches Soo-hyun while he’s organizing the trash alone, wanting to ask one more thing. He first wants to know why she’s so curious, and So-bin explains that she’s always thinking about a thousand things. She feels like she’ll explode from the number of scenarios she creates to explain people’s actions.

Soo-hyun softens a bit and gives her permission to ask. So-bin was wondering why he never opened her email when they were doing the group project — she sent some research, but he ended up doing the project alone. “I never received an email from you,” he simply states.

He stops her from instinctively apologizing and interjects that he could’ve been at fault for this, too. So-bin doesn’t think he’d make a mistake like that, but Soo-hyun asks, “And you would? People with many thoughts tend to make fewer mistakes.”

While lost in thought, So-bin hears a commotion and finds Joon being yelled at by Sang-tae, his friend from high school. Sang-tae is very drunk and blames Joon for betraying his trust and ruining his chances with a girl he liked for years.

Joon was only being nice and celebrated her birthday with her when she asked, but Sang-tae calls him a terrible friend. Not in the mood to deal with this, Joon roughly pushes Sang-tae aside and is shocked to see So-bin when he turns around.

He doesn’t react quickly enough to her warning and gets punched in the face by Sang-tae. It triggers a memory of a child screaming while someone was being hit at home. Sang-tae grabs Joon again before he recovers from the shock, but So-bin shields him with her body despite being scared.

They both flinch when the fist comes flying towards them but Soo-hyun appears and pins Sang-tae to the ground. He instructs So-bin to get the first aid kit for Joon, since his lip is bleeding. The freshman says he’s fine, but Soo-hyun says it isn’t okay with him.

So-bin gently tends to the open wound on his lip and concentrates so hard that she doesn’t realize how close they are. She asks about the fight, and Joon explains that when you’re always nice, it causes misunderstandings.

It’s terrible timing, but So-bin knows it’s her last chance to speak up. Joon chuckles and tells her to spit it out — she made it very obvious that she wanted to say something to him all day, with the way her eyes were glued to him.

She promises that saving him wasn’t part of an agenda, shutting her eyes as she blurts, “Can I have that part-time position with Professor Song?” So-bin is met with silence and opens her eyes to find Joon staring blankly at her. “What can we do? I don’t want to.”

Quickly backtracking, she asks Joon to forget about it but he’ll consider quitting if they become close. He warns that it’s difficult to become genuinely close with him, but So-bin is willing to work hard.

That evening while everyone’s in bed, Soo-hyun checks his spam folder, sighing when he realizes that So-bin really did send him an email. Joon looks up from his phone and sees Soo-hyun looking complemplatively out the window.

The next day, the freshmen partake in all sorts of watersports and Joon finds So-bin staring at the bungee jump intently. After learning about her fear of heights, Joon’s goal is to jump together so that she can see that it isn’t a big deal. He hints that they can get closer this way, and that if she’s desperate, she should be working hard for it.

Soo-hyun pulls So-bin aside and tells her that the email ended up in his spam, admitting that it was his mistake. She’s also responsible for not following up when something didn’t seem right though — he can’t do anything about it now that the semester is already over.

So-bin wasn’t able to speak up because she was afraid of him, and Soo-hyun bluntly says, “You’ve suffered because of my personality. Sorry.” He promises to return the debt one day, and despite receiving an apology, So-bin doesn’t feel great.

Joon pressures her into bungee jumping with him. While he’s relaxed as ever at the top, she stiffly clings onto the railings for dear life. She gives up and tells him to just take the job at one point, which Joon isn’t happy about.

He steps closer to her and says that running away at a crucial moment and regretting it is something a coward does. He promises that something will change after she jumps, and asks her to trust him.

She’s nervous once they get to the ledge but Joon promises to protect her, since she saved him last time. When So-bin tries to run away at the last second, Joon picks her up and goes for the jump. Soo-hyun watches them from a distance.

When everyone’s back on campus, So-bin asks Joon if he has quit yet. He makes her nervous for a second and claims that he never promised to quit if she jumped, but is just joking. He’ll do it soon but in return, she needs to keep her end of the deal and get to know him by having lunch together next time.

As Joon makes his way across campus, a car honks at him. It’s his brother JOON-WAN (Na In-woo), who he’s not on great terms with. Joon-wan will be starting classes at this school next week and warns, “Don’t act like you know me.” Soo-hyun witnesses this interaction and notices Joon’s crestfallen expression.

That night, Joon huddles up in a ball again, then falls over and loses consciousness. At work, Soo-hyun serves an extremely rude customer. As the man exits the convenience store, a girl bumps into him on purpose, knocking him over.

This is WANG YOUNG-RAN (Kwon Eun-bin), who’s so fierce and confident that she scares him off. She definitely did it to get revenge for Soo-hyun, hee. Young-ran’s just here to check up on him, and Soo-hyun’s actually unguarded and smiles around her, aw!

After a long shift, Soo-hyun’s alarm wakes him at 6AM and he begins his two-hour trek to school, only to get there and discover that classes are cancelled. Joon’s also in front of the lecture hall and says, “If I knew it’d be like this, I would’ve slept in.”

Joon thanks Soo-hyun for helping him out the other day, but Soo-hyun asks if he has an inflated ego because he’s used to others always doing favors — he wasn’t helping him. When asked if he was helping So-bin instead, Soo-hyun has nothing to say and walks away.

That was the last straw and Joon finally gives up on his act. “How agitating,” he says. “The look that says you understand everything…it’s annoying.” Joon’s speaking in banmal now, and calls Soo-hyun twisted for being unable to accept another person’s kindness. He barely knows Joon, so how can he judge him?

Joon scoffs that he was only going to treat him as a sunbae because he seemed pitiful, but can’t keep up the act because he’s so fake. Soo-hyun smirks and says that this is much better than seeing him smiling widely to mask his emotions. So-bin ends up witnessing their stare-off.

 
COMMENTS

Honestly, the first three minutes were enough to convince me that this one will be good. We were thrown straight into Joon, Soo-hyun, and So-bin’s private moments of silent desperation. It was so subtle, like it was just another day of dealing with life’s hardships, which is so relatable. Soo-hyun looking up at the sky while being rained on seemed especially sad, and made me eager to learn all about his story.

I haven’t been able to catch any of Park Ji-hoon’s acting projects yet so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he does a great job of flipping between the two sides of Yeo Joon. The night that Joon went out with his group of friends really tested his limited patience, and the switch between his happy-go-lucky persona and his real self while waving down a taxi was seamless. Then, like clockwork, his eyes filled with life again when he realized that Soo-hyun was looking at him when he was about to toss the macarons. It showed that this is an unconscious response that must’ve been conditioned from a very young age. It’s hinted that he grew up in a physically abusive environment, which definitely would have shaped who he is today. There’s a possibility that this need to be a people pleaser was to protect himself from harm, so nobody would want to hit him again.

While Joon cares too much about what others think, Soo-hyun doesn’t care at all. He’s difficult to approach, but we’ve seen enough evidence to know that he’s kind. Joon and So-bin are both the type that are quick to apologize and take the blame. Soo-hyun didn’t allow either of them to apologize for something that wasn’t entirely their fault. He interjected and shared the blame, which I think is a very healthy thing for them to begin learning. I can root for the three of them individually, but I can’t wait for them to interact more and be forced to learn from one another. I’m sure there’s a reason why Soo-hyun is working so hard, but it would be great if he could enjoy a bit of his youth while it lasts.

Lastly, we have So-bin who’s an overthinker, a hard worker, and also a people pleaser (although, to a lesser extent than Joon). She’s a bit meek, anxious, and very unsure of herself. I already love her — she’s so funny and adorable! It worries me that the words literally float off the pages when she concentrates late at night. I can’t really tell whether they chose to edit it like that to depict that something’s wrong with her health, or if staring at so many words is just jumbling up her thoughts…I really hope it’s the latter. I can see Joon and Soo-hyun helping her become more confident, but in different ways. Joon can help her be bolder and teach her to trust her instincts, while Soo-hyun can help her be confident in the skills she already has. Coming-of-age shows are so good when done well and from the looks of this episode, I trust that Show will be able to depict the highs and lows of youth in a fresh way.

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This serial is out my radar to be honest. And I always skipped the news about this serial. Last night, I decided to pick it up after done marathoning several episodes of "2Days1Night Season 4." And, I loved it. Whatever our three leads characters shown in episode 1, I didn't feel annoyed at all.. They're being "them" because of their circumstances. I only found the two male sunbaes are annoying...

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This drama gave me alot of Cheese in the Trap vibes.. there are so many similarities.. considering I loved Cheese in the Trap.. I will be def watching this

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100% on the CitT vibes, right down to the insufferable sunbaes who take advantage of everyone else.

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They need to lower some extrem trait of their characters because it made them cliché more than real characters.

I didn't like the ML. First, Park Ji-Hoon looks like a highschool student more than a college one and I get the impression of a child trying to be an adult. I didn't feel his sadness or lonelyness but more creepiness when he was himself.

I'm more interested in the second lead. He's a wall but at least, an honest and fair one.

So-Bin was so a push-over... I mean the scenes with the suitcases... You take one because you offer to help but it's all. SH was right about the email, why did she wait for the next semester to ask him. I'm not really sure she's strong enough to help Joon without suffering in the processus.

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You can find the 2nd lead's character in every drama tho. A hardworking guy, cold and poor lol. I honestly boring with such character. Good that the drama has no triangle love shit again like what most of youth kdramas have.

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Usually, the second lead is the chearful and kind one and the main one is the cold one. At least, they changed that. In this case, I like his straightforwardness.

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Just who thought that pairing manipulative guy and pushover girl was a good idea?

I know it is unpopular opinion, but female leads like that really shouldn't have any lovelines before they get the character development.

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I fully agree with you. The male lead looks like a 17-year-old gay boy (modelled from the BL webtoon) and the female lead like a 35-year old spinster.
How are they going to make a romance between them believable I don't know. For now we've seen mostly the Yeo Joon chase after Soo-hyun.

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Thank you for the recap. I am glad that I decided to watch this drama because I believe that it has a lot of potential. I do hope that Joon and Soo-hyun can overcome their assumptions of one another and become friends. Also, I find So-bins character very relatable. I am definitely an over thinker and I do not do well in social situations. I am the person hugging the walls and looking for the right moment to make my exit. I hate having to seem as if I am enjoying something because others expect me too. Also, I do not freely give my opinion because I don't want to offend the other person.

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Great recap, Selena! This is looking good, I hope it turns out to be heartwarming and not overly dramatic. I really liked the three main characters too, and dutifully started despising Joon's parents and that pair of shameless sunbaes...

I'm just hoping there's going to be a redemption arc for Joon's relationship to his brother. First, for purely egotistical reasons - I want Nam Inwoo to have lots of screentime, he! - and secondly because those parents look like a nightmare and the odds are that Joon's brother was abused too, so it would be nice if they could trust and rely on each other to heal their wounds 💚

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"I can’t really tell whether they chose to edit it like that to depict that something’s wrong with her health, or if staring at so many words is just jumbling up her thoughts…"
Right now anything is possible, but I thought it was pure anxiety. One of my sisters suffered a lot at university, she could sit for hours staring at the same page out of sheer anxiety (she made it through, though!)

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Thank you for the recap, even if it is a one off thing it's nice to see. I am one of the ones surprised by how much I liked it. My first thought was that So-bin is dyslexic, hopefully that is not it. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series

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I liked SH and SB is fine. Joon for me just came off as creepy. Based on what I have read, I don't think that is what the actor meant to do. However, with the right music he could fit perfectly into any serial killer drama. I am hoping this will pass as the drama goes on though because I otherwise enjoyed the drama.

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I like them though as a possible couple. I think Joon would challenge her and she could be a safe space for him.

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I feel like Joon is at a crossroad in his life. Either he find a support system or he could go down any number of self destructive paths. Judging from the blank look in his face during the bungee jump and the touch of creepiness in manipulating So Bin and from Ep2, his abominable parents, we could have the makings of a serial killer.
Or with some real human connections, that scenario can be avoided. Definitely needs some mental health intervention.
This is not a superficial set of life's trials being presented here. So far it's very painfully good.

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As a freshman didn't he just leave high school??

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This was a reply to comment no3..

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With the generally negative response to this drama on Dramabeans, I am relieved to see some interested and thoughtful remarks here. I really want to try this drama out, but I will probably wait till it is further in its run so I can watch the episodes back to back.
I have only seen the ML in a web drama and really enjoyed his performance--he played a beta male so well. So I was curious to see how he would take on this role. I am unfamiliar with the other main leads. I am curious about their acting.

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I saw Ji-Hoon in Flower Crew and couldn't stand him. Tried to watch Love Revolution and decided I just wasn't a fan of his.... but then I saw the trailer for this and just jumped in, and I am loving his version of this character. So many others are saying they find him creepy, but I feel like I can't get enough. He seems really layered, really engaging, and really intriguing.

PS, The worst thing about the show is its heavy reliance on flashbacks... I kind of don't recommend binging bc I think I'd find them intolerable

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I appreciate the heads up. Thank you!

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Also, @selena, thank you for the recap!

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Joon and Soohyun show the world one persona but inside they are the opposite... its quite amazing how they do it for me when I think of Park Jihoon I think warm and sunny but he's new character is definitely MUST MORE INTERESTING TO SEE how it will develop... so far I can see this will be a good drama to watch

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I absolutely adore this drama. Up to ep 8 and its hands down my favourite drama of the year so far. Acting is amazing, wonderful characters who draws you in from the get go. And every episode better than the one before. Love it, love it!!!

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