Little Women: Episodes 5-6
New opportunities are cropping up for our heroines like mysterious blue orchids. Our eldest sister has a shiny new job — provided she can be exactly who her employer wants her to become. It’s almost as good as the shiny new family our youngest has gained! Meanwhile, our middle sibling is at the mercy of her Great Aunt’s generosity. All the while, a dark conspiracy closes in around them…
EPISODES 5-6 WEECAP
So — Hwa-young set up another new life, sealed with In-joo’s stolen signature. But, why her? And, why Singapore? The answer lies four years in the past, when the two shared a vacation there, originally intended for Hwa-young’s mother. Despite Hwa-young’s bereavement, In-joo was the first to dissolve into tears. After her divorce, she thought she’d never enjoy herself again. But in that moment, eating kaya toast in the sunlight, she knew that if she could live here, wealthy, for just one day, she’d die happy. Hwa-young, who presumably did not die happy, took those words as gospel.
In-joo’s not the only one with unfinished business in Singapore. Her first duty as Sang-ah’s assistant is to prepare for her employer’s spur-of-the-moment trip abroad — and to keep it under wraps from her husband. In Sang-ah’s absence, In-joo’s primary task is to throw an entire pharmacy’s worth of medication at the anxiety-prone Hyo-rin.
Back at the mansion, Hyo-rin and In-hye giggle uproariously over last week’s revolting TV interview. It’s touching, inasmuch as it’s the most fun any of these characters are going to have over the course of two whole episodes. It’s also short-lived. Whilst TV-Jae-sang waxes saccharine about how he adores his family, the real-life Jae-sang swings a golf club at the screen, raging over Sang-ah’s disappearance. His daughter quietly hyperventilates.
Later, Hyo-rin insists she’s fine — but it’s a sad state of affairs when a teenager talks about the ER like it’s an old friend. With one hand in In-hye’s, and one holding a hesitant In-joo in place, she matter-of-factly cycles through her breathing exercises.
It’s too much for In-joo. Do-il catches her storming out, announcing that the entire family is insane. As if to prove her point, he ushers her out of the way of one of their omnipresent security cameras.
Do-il is still determined to exchange the incriminating ledgers for Hwa-young’s 70 million won. His talk of wealth, escape, and far-off villas overlooking the Aegean Sea are like a siren song to In-joo. But, as ever, she’s loath to trust him, especially since Jong-ho recognized him as a notorious money-launderer. In a charged moment — and an equally charged analogy — Do-il asks her to imagine she’s on a galloping horse, about to scale a tall fence. He’s that horse. They must both believe in one another to make the jump.
Meanwhile, In-hye sneaks a shaken Hyo-rin to the orchid room in the basement. Bathed in the tree’s eerie green glow, Hyo-rin confesses that when her parents fight, it frightens her — to the extent that she used to cut herself to calm down. But, In-hye has a cure for fear: whenever she imagines something dark, she paints the image in her head. The question is, what scares Hyo-rin the most?
The next day, In-kyung follows Aunt Oh to her office. When she’s announced as the company director, the only one more astonished than her new colleagues is In-kyung herself. Still, resistant as she is to let her Great Aunt write, direct, and produce the entire course of her career, In-kyung never met a stack of data she didn’t immediately plow through — and the numbers tell a sorry tale. The company is flirting with collapse. Aunt Oh seems spectacularly unconcerned: with some well-placed property redevelopment, five years down the line, she’ll be on the up. Long-term investment is a privilege of the wealthy.
Sang-ah returns home to her husband, drunk and full of elegant rancor. She has plenty of excuses for visiting Singapore — the claustrophobia of her home life chief amongst them — but Jae-sang is coolly adamant she’s lying. He tears through her suitcase; she screams. It’s clear why Hyo-rin fears their fights.
For what is certainly not the first time, Hyo-rin watches the CCTV as her mother drives away. She can’t protect her. All she can do is take In-hye’s advice, and paint what frightens her the most. In-hye, impressed by her morbidity, peers over her shoulder to see a hanged woman in bright red heels.
Elsewhere, In-kyung and Jong-ho play detective once more. Last episode’s address leads them to the out-of-the-way Jeongnan School, where they pose as a horticulturally-inclined documentary crew. Founded by none other than Sang-ah’s father, General Won, the school does indeed possess its own blue orchid. Moreover, it’s as creepily propagandistic as one would expect from a primary school whose patron ran security for a dictatorship.
The students have been drilled to recite General Won’s personal mantra: I can reach the highest place, even if I’m from the lowest place. It’s exactly what Dal-su said prior to his death. And, amongst the notable alumni? In-kyung’s colleague, Ma-ri.
Meanwhile, the General’s daughter plays dress-up with In-joo, swathing her in stern black designed to radiate efficiency. This is pretty ambitious for our self-confessedly ditzy heroine, but not to worry! Sang-ah is excited to sculpt her into the perfect assistant. (I, for one, am worried.)
In-joo’s not the only one playing against type. Sang-ah views her own gleaming gown as an elaborate, self-deprecating jest; masquerading as the frivolous socialite makes her husband look all the more competent. In reality, she’s quick to realize they’re being tailed by Jae-sang’s detective, spiriting In-joo away to hide in Hwa-young’s old flat.
Here, Sang-ah collapses and cries over the woman who stole from her — the one whose friendship she hopes wasn’t a wholehearted lie. The hem of her dress rides up, revealing a series of ugly scratches on her thigh. She confides that she is a failed actress. Her lack of success onscreen convinced her to convert her reality into a new role: Jae-sang’s beloved wife. They both play their parts to perfection. If you tilt your head and squint, it’s almost like love.
In-joo is stricken; it’s clear that Sang-ah is being abused. But, Do-il smirks at the suggestion. Sang-ah, he’s certain, is playing In-joo like a fiddle. In-joo’s greatest charm, he observes — somewhat patronizingly — is her straightforwardness. It’s deeply exploitable.
In-kyung, for her part, considers Do-il himself bad news: a grim sequel to In-joo’s previous relationship disasters. In 2012, Do-il was caught in a car accident with his girlfriend in Mexico. The girlfriend’s body was never found; it was suspected she fell afoul of a Russian money laundering group. Moreover, Do-il too was a General Won scholarship student. But, In-joo is resentful of her sister’s meddling — and her baseless accusation that In-joo has a crush!
Later, In-kyung receives devastating news: she’s been fired from OBN. As if that could stop her. She explodes into action, crashing a press conference with Jae-sang. Here, in full view of the cameras, her colleagues, and the man himself, she reveals the truth she learned from her Great Aunt’s records.
Jae-sang’s father was not the pauper he always claimed. Far from it. He owned properties all over Korea, adding up to a net worth of eight billion won. For once, Jae-sang is rendered satisfyingly speechless.
In-joo, meanwhile, has made an unpleasant discovery: Hyo-rin’s hidden painting looks an awful lot like the scene of Hwa-young’s death. But, confronting a traumatized teen with a makeshift murder investigation works about as well as you’d expect; Hyo-rin clams up in horror. She doesn’t know. She can’t remember. But later, she’s found cowering in one of the extravagant cars cluttering the garage, as dashcam footage plays. The footage is from the night of Hwa-young’s death. It shows a stony-faced Jae-sang… heading towards the soon-to-be victim’s apartment.
As Hyo-rin comes back to herself, she recalls that terrible night. Abandoned in the aftermath of another fight, she cut herself, waking in a bloodied blur on a hospital bed. The image in the painting came back to her, clear as scent — but not for the first time.
She’s adamant on one point: the dashcam footage is hers. If In-joo takes it, she’ll kill herself. In-joo, in an act of shameless manipulation, swears to respect this — then, smiling, hands her sleeping pills. In-hye catches her sister attempting to steal the footage while Hyo-rin lies drugged.
In-joo is all indignation: she refuses to cover up a murder case. But, In-hye scoffs at the idea there’s been a murder at all. Boy, is our girl toeing the company line — she accuses In-joo of prejudice against the rich. Later, both teens seal their pact of silence by burying the dashcam card beneath the orchid tree.
In the wake of the disaster In-kyung has wrought on his campaign, Jae-sang receives a guest: Aunt Oh. Ever since she paid In-hye’s hospital bill, her company has been faltering. She knows who to blame. She’s not interested in Jae-sang’s denials — or his curiosity about how she managed to survive the General. She’s here to end the cold war brewing between their families. But, not without an elegant jab about how Jae-sang’s father — her friend — asked her for an anti-diarrheal drug before he died. He didn’t want to soil himself.
Do-il, meanwhile, is concerned for In-joo; with Su-im dogging their heels, he’s had to pretend they’re having a passionate affair to allay suspicions. He’s utterly unimpressed — and unsurprised — when In-joo brings up Jae-sang’s involvement in Hwa-young’s death.
The worst disappointment is when In-joo confronts him with his girlfriend’s death. He’s hurt! At least, as hurt as his seventy-billion-won-where-my-heart-should-be pose allows. The truth? He helped her fake the accident — and has proof that she’s thriving under a new identity. In-joo smiles. It’s plausible. She’s relieved.
Jae-sang may be a murderer, but he’s also a master of spin. It takes less than 24 hours for him to convert In-kyung’s exposé into a guaranteed swing in the polls. At an emergency press conference, joined by his family — and In-hye — he claims to have known nothing of the slush funds… but he’s committed to doing penance for the sins of his father. As such, he’ll be using every penny of the corrupt cash to provide scholarships for his foundation.
In-joo, watching the carnage on TV, is horrified to learn that Do-il was in on this — and, moreover, that it’s to her benefit. The money Hwa-young stole was Jae-sang’s campaign fund; it’s only worth trading for the ledgers if Jae-sang actually wins. Power comes at the price of principles.
Aunt Oh is living proof of this. When she calls In-joo, warning her to find In-kyung, it’s clear she was in on a scheme to make her grandniece suffer one last indignity. Back at the conference, In-kyung calls out to In-hye, who is trailing in Jae-sang’s wake. Sister stares at sister. Then, In-hye’s expression hardens. As In-hye turns her back, In-joo arrives just in time to pull In-kyung out of the thronging reporters.
Humiliation, Aunt Oh tells them later, is a helpful tonic. Stay low, and live to fight another day. Their enemies are everywhere; protecting her family — and company — is key.
But, how did Aunt Oh become rich? In-kyung has her suspicions — insider information. It all comes tumbling out: as a child, In-kyung wanted so badly to like her; she wished on every star that her Great Aunt would be good, but —
Aunt Oh cuts her off. She was born in the 40s, uneducated, married against her will, then divorced. In-kyung’s idea of “good” would have led to certain death. It’s time for her nieces to button up, embrace ignorance, and stay here where it’s safe. In-joo is half willing; In-kyung is outraged.
Aunt Oh’s right about one thing: our heroines are in grave peril. At a strategy meeting, Jae-sang crows about the fact that In-kyung can’t win: the more she reveals, the better it goes for him. Still, she’s outlived her usefulness — and Su-im, thug extraordinaire, is already fondly listing schemes to dispose of her.
Do-il’s pokerface visibly flickers when she suggests they take out two sisters for the price of one, murdering In-joo while they’re at it — but Sang-ah is appalled. That’s her loyal subordinate/bestie they’re talking about! It’s settled: In-joo lives; In-kyung suffers an accident.
Meanwhile, Sang-ah invites In-joo to the room where her father lies in a coma. As hospital monitors chirp, she instructs In-joo to attend the Orchid Festival in Singapore in her stead. But, In-joo must understand, this isn’t just about the flowers. It’s a money-laundering method of nigh-infinite capacity. She and Hwa-young started it together.
What, she asks, was In-joo’s childhood dream? Marry a rich man, In-joo admits, promptly. Laughing, Sang-ah hands her a sealed blue orchid. Keep it close when you sleep, she says. It’ll show you what you truly want. Incidentally, she doesn’t believe In-joo. She suspects that, like Sang-ah, In-joo yearns to succeed on her own terms. As such, if In-joo proves herself, her orchid will be added to “the Father Tree” as a member of something called the Jeongran Society.
In-joo is halfway seduced by the prospect. But, she’s intercepted by Do-il, for whom a blue orchid sets off distinct alarm bells. In-joo, primed by Sang-ah to crave independence, brushes him off: if she wants to huff a plant of dubious provenance, then she damn well will!
Meanwhile, In-kyung’s investigations hit a roadblock: Aunt Oh has shredded the evidence. She manages to piece together a photograph labeled as “Jeongran Society,” and with the help of Jong-ho (and nigh-lethal quantities of coffee candy), she looks into the former owners of Jae-sang’s father’s property. Dal-su is on the list. So are a number of familiar names in the conspiracy. All died unexpectedly… besides Aunt Oh.
That night, unable to stop thinking about Aunt Oh’s claim that one chooses to become rich, In-joo asks for her advice about the deal with Do-il. Aunt Oh issues a familiar warning: to handle 70 billion won, In-joo must become a completely different person. That’s fine. In-joo can cope with that. She almost welcomes it. What she can’t swallow is the idea of ushering a slimeball like Jae-sang to power. What if she can use her knowledge of the orchid murders to keep the money, and take down her enemies?
But, In-joo is visibly drooping. Lethargic, she sinks into a troubled sleep — haunted by visions of Jae-sang hoisting Hwa-young into her closet. Her eyes flash open. She treads through the house like a sleepwalker.
Meanwhile, In-hye is convinced that she and Hyo-rin must prepare for the future. She urges Hyo-rin to inhale the scent of the orchids, and remember where she saw the red-heeled woman. Hyo-rin recalls the stairs she used to climb as a small child. But, before our teen detectives can investigate, they’re caught — by Sang-ah.
In-kyung returns late, finding the door ajar. There, in the main room, sits In-joo, smeared with blood. Nearby is an iron bar. An orchid. And the body of Aunt Oh.
Alas, poor Aunt Oh! Your knowing smiles and cynical wit will be remembered fondly. Meanwhile, your warning that in order to be a billionaire, In-joo must become another person, will, I daresay, live on.
This week, identity is a key theme, and wow does it get gritty. In-joo seems to think she can shed personalities like a snake. But, does she really have what it takes? Part of her still seems to believe that becoming another person entails a change of circumstances, not character. Sang-ah knows better. Once you’re in, the only way to survive is to truly commit to the act. She’s spent years of her life prettying up a cardboard cutout of a relationship. The life that she flaunts before the cameras — Jae-sang’s perfect nuclear family — is no more real than the doll’s house In-hye so covets. And, here she is: a doll by choice.
Hyo-rin, who would kill for a little authenticity, can attest to how toxic all this smoke-and-mirrors business can be. But In-hye has already abandoned family for the sake of prosperity, and I wonder if In-joo will be threatened with the same choice. One thing’s clear: in this show, you’ve got to decide what you’re willing to sacrifice. For Do-il, it’s his principles. For Aunt Oh, it’s dignity. For Hwa-young, perhaps everything. As for our sisters — who knows?
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