Little Women: Episodes 7-8
Our sisters are left grieving and confused in the wake of their Great Aunt’s death. However, there’s little time to mourn, as they must prepare for a trip to Singapore that’ll determine their fortunes one way or another.
EPISODES 7-8 WEECAP
Aunt Oh’s death is tough on all of the sisters. In-joo, wracked with guilt over how her orchid-induced blackout may have somehow been responsible, receives a pep talk from the world’s worst unqualified therapist, Sang-ah. To wit: barricade all the bad feelings behind a door. Ideally, never unlock it.
Meanwhile, In-kyung receives a vast inheritance… of debt. Aunt Oh left the bulk of her assets to her financially-savvy great niece, but their value is outstripped by what she owed. In-kyung recognizes the painful effects of Jae-sang’s sabotage, and blames herself. As her other relatives hem, haw, and disavow the inheritance, she resolves to rebuild the family business from scratch. It’s only when she discovers that the supposedly unsentimental Aunt Oh kept a handmade card from In-kyung in her desk for decades that she breaks down and cries.
Later, the news is all abuzz as Aunt Oh’s murderer, her housekeeper, confesses. He’s an extremist with a homicidal grudge — but, more importantly, he’s a stooge of the Jeongran Society. Spurred into cooperation, the sisters investigate. In-kyung is especially keen to solve the mystery of a secret key card she inherited along with the rest of Aunt Oh’s possessions. A frantic sweep of her office reveals a secret door… and an empty safe. Judging by the blue orchid lurking on the scene, it’s not hard to guess which hidden society cleaned it out.
In-kyung, taking a hefty sniff of the flower — heedless inhalation of unknown substances must be a family trait — musters her resolve once more. She’s going to take down the Jeongran Society via the press. But, In-joo’s mic drop trumps hers: she owns 70 billion won. The sisters make a deal — they’ll go to Singapore, In-hye included, and withdraw the cash. Afterwards, In-kyung will be free to write the perfect exposé.
Elsewhere, Jae-sang rises to the seat of Mayor on a wave of public acclaim. His acceptance speech is revoltingly populist — and strikingly familiar. In-kyung wheels out the video of General Won’s practically identical speech to the troops in Vietnam. Talk about dog-whistle politics! Moreover, there’s a familiar face in the Vietnam video: Aunt Oh — who, as it turns out, served as a Lieutenant. The twelve founding members of the Jeonran Society met at a hospital during the Vietnam War. All but one are dead. The survivor? CHOI HEE-JAE… father of Choi Do-il.
Jae-sang’s mayoral victory has done nothing to dull his temper. He swiftly flips from sweet-talking his wife to caging her against the wall when she rejects him. Soon after, In-hye wakes to the sound of Hyo-rin hyperventilating — and to Sang-ah’s screams, as security wrestle her back into the house. In-hye proposes a distraction: why don’t they investigate the attic room? The miserable lump that is Hyo-rin beneath the duvet stirs in interest.
Our teens Nancy Drew their way through Sang-ah’s old photo albums, discovering empty cut-outs of a missing figure strewn throughout. There’s also a box — one Hyo-rin used to play with as a child. Unlatching it, they discover a perfect replica in miniature of Hwa-young’s death… right down to the red-heeled legs dangling from the closet. Sang-ah’s advice to In-joo was shockingly literal. The box was an exhibit from her days as a theater graduate, titled ‘The Closed Room’: a doll’s house with no door.
Next morning, Hyo-rin is summoned for a cheerful father-daughter breakfast… where she is serenely informed that her mother is sick. She’ll be recovering in her room for the foreseeable future — behind a locked door.
In-kyung and In-joo’s next investigative stop is to prison, where they meet with Do-il’s mother, AHN SO-YOUNG (Nam Gi-ae). She’s understandably hostile. But, In-kyung knows all about her. Long ago, So-young confessed to the murder of the Hongsin-dong Resident Compensation Committee’s chairman: a brutal killing, involving blunt force with a bloody hammer. It had all the hallmarks of a crime of passion, yet the hammer was purchased a month beforehand — and the murder only sped up the redevelopment she supposedly hated. In-kyung goes straight for the jugular: the only explanation is that So-young was acting her part in a show — at the behest of an unknown director.
It’s when In-joo name-drops Do-il that she baulks. Her son, she informs So-young, is next on the list to be framed — probably for In-joo’s own murder. Will she help them expose the Jeongran Society now?
It’s enough. In-joo meets Do-il at their usual bar armed with information. So-young has a message for her son: an answer to a question he asked her twenty years ago. The answer is “no.” The answer is also an address on a sheet of paper, which In-joo dutifully hands over. But, no sooner does she utter the words, “I went to see your mother,” Do-il’s defenses spring back up. He’s done. Their deal is off. In-joo is on her own, and she’d better not contact him again.
In-joo presses. She knows about Jae-sang’s father, PARK IL-BOK — a tidy man, who hated suffering. So-young was a first-time killer, but the murder scene was immaculate. So, here’s her offer: once she withdraws the 70 million won, In-kyung will publish all they know. That’ll include exonerating So-young by revealing Il-bok as the real culprit.
Do-il responds by handing In-joo a pen drive: the location of Aunt Oh’s murderer’s ex-wife. He insists that he disdains revenge. Then again, when he flatly states he’s giving this information because he no longer cares that it’ll put In-joo in danger, it certainly smacks of retribution. In-joo gets the last word, though. She was in danger from the start. She still believes that her horse — Do-il — can jump the fence.
Both Do-il and In-kyung (the latter with Jong-ho, as ever, in tow) converge on the address given to him by So-young. In-kyung observes Do-il approach a forest shack to speak with the man inside (Kim Myung-soo).
The next day, she enacts a gambit worthy of the fearless reporter whose entire career can be summed up in one creed: rope yourself to a pole in the centre of a hurricane. She taunts the man’s dog into biting her, gaining admission to his cabin while he bandages her wound. Here, she addresses him by name: Choi Hee-jae. She needs his help as witness to take down the Jeongran Society. But, Hee-jae’s deadpan disdain puts even his son’s to shame. In-kyung is ordered out, but she leaves far from empty-handed; Jong-ho has been secretly filming.
Meanwhile, it’s In-joo’s birthday. Her present from In-hye? The dashcam footage she and Hyo-rin hid. It seems someone’s seen past Jae-sang’s facade. But, Jae-sang’s got surer schemes up his sleeve. Do-il is issued an ultimatum: kill In-joo, or be next on the hit list. Actually, first on the hit list is Hee-jae, whose address Do-il surrendered — but, forewarned by his son, the ex-soldier has rigged his house to hell and back with explosives.
In-joo treats herself to drugstore makeup and a swanky dinner, in the unique ensemble of a princess skirt, Bruno Zumino heels, and a baseball cap. Here, she’s interrupted by Do-il. He’s here to show her a recent photo from the International Orchid Society. It’s of a woman supposedly named Oh In-joo. Her back is turned, but her ankle displays a prominent orchid tattoo. Could it be Hwa-young?
Elsewhere, Hyo-rin reveals that her true talents lie, not in art, but infiltration, as she tampers with the house’s CCTV to visit her mother’s room on the sly. The teens, In-joo, and Sang-ah have been collaborating on an escape scheme to Singapore. However, nothing lies in the locked room but disappointment. Sang-ah’s arm is bruised and scratched like Hyo-rin’s, but her smile is beatific as she explains she made up with Jae-sang. Hyo-rin, defeated, listens as Sang-ah gently whispers in her ear.
Meanwhile, In-joo arrives in Singapore. Do-il escorts her to a blindingly beautiful hotel, all marble and gold. Here, In-joo receives a confusing reception from the staff. They seem… deferential? Her English is spotty, but after some fumbling with her phone’s translate function, she realizes it’s because the name Oh In-joo has currency. Apparently, she regularly frequents this location… as the world’s foremost collector of rare orchids. In-joo’s eyes widen in wonder — and hunger — as she is treated like royalty, receiving a tour, a palatial suite, and an assistant on 24-hour call.
Back in the far less golden confines of Aunt Oh’s home, In-kyung descends the stairs to find an intruder. It’s Hee-jae, picking at her display board on the Jeongran Society. In-kyung, evermore fearless, simply asks if she got anything wrong. Strictly speaking, he tells her, Aunt Oh was never part of the society; she just looked after them. He recognizes the effort In-kyung put into this investigation, but, to be blunt, she’s an alcoholic — with, to be blunter, no access to the national news. If he’s going public, he needs credibility. In-kyung remains unfazed. Immediately, she calls up her ex-boss: she has a witness who can provide evidence of the orchid murders. He agrees to let her on air.
Hee-jae has a less orthodox suggestion. Or rather… he has a van full of artillery weapons. If he guns down Jae-sang, surely that’ll make the news. In-kyung stands her ground: the slush fund ledgers will kill Jae-sang’s career far faster than a bullet. He agrees to hold fire — for now.
In-joo strolls through Singapore as if in a dream. Everywhere, she is recognized as the glamorous Oh In-joo, orchid billionaire. It must be Hwa-young. What if she survived — with In-joo’s paperwork and her face? Plastic surgery makes anything possible. But, Do-il is unconvinced — it’s all too improbable. (Recalling my Episodes 1-2 recap, I feel as if he’s admonishing me personally…)
He has bigger fish to fry: namely, being the Henry Higgins to In-joo’s Eliza Doolittle and dressing her up for the International Orchid Festival. The results are stunning: In-joo emerges in a sleek blue dress and starry silver earrings, looking every inch the billionaire she’s playacting. When the first lot at the auction — an orchid appropriately named the Princess of Thieves — is announced, Do-il urges her to bid. In-joo does so: first, with hesitation, and then with increasing tenacity, even as the numbers become so huge as to sound unreal. She wins, standing to rapturous applause.
However, the bliss of the afternoon is shattered when one of the socialites lets slip that she saw a woman who looks exactly like In-joo. In-joo races down the hall, desperate to find her friend — only to learn she just missed her. A message was left. I was always curious how much you would shine when you bloom. It’s exactly what Hwa-young told Sang-woo.
Back in Korea, Jae-sang speaks to In-hye. He heard Hyo-rin visited her mother. Was this In-hye’s scheme? She must remember, they cannot run away: he has men in Singapore. But, In-hye’s courage knows no bounds. Jae-sang, she says, once asked her if she could betray the people who loved her. She could. After all, that love brought her closer to death. But, Hyo-rin is dying, too — and, for her sake, In-hye hopes her friend becomes capable of betrayal. Alas, it appears Hyo-rin is capable of no such thing yet: at her mother’s suggestion, she surprises Jae-sang onstage during an interview. Afterwards, she receives nothing but shouted abuse — as Jae-sang realizes Sang-ah sent her daughter as a distraction, to aid her own escape.
The Singapore auction has served its purpose: In-joo now has a public profile. She and Do-il should have no problem withdrawing her funds in transportable cash. They have two hours to visit multiple banks without suspicion. But, a text from In-kyung causes In-joo to waver; In-hye informs her Jae-sang has people in Singapore. The old question emerges: can In-joo truly trust Do-il? Do-il, with masterful poise, hands her surety — in the form of a purse-sized pistol. He’d love it if In-joo trusted him, but the next best thing is if she trusts no one but her cash and her gun.
At the last bank, In-joo receives a secret note, urging her to flee from Do-il. Poker-faced, she follows its instructions to the letter. As Do-il is held up by an employee, she wheels the suitcase of cash through the side door, rushing into a waiting car. It speeds away, whilst agents drive after them in pursuit. In-joo reviews the last instruction: go to the apartment under her name. But, as the car swerves, they’re hit by — yes — the Truck of Doom, Singapore Edition.
Bloodied and battered, In-joo drifts in and out of consciousness, determined to die. A woman approaches and urges her to wake: Hwa-young. Crawl if you like, she says — but you must keep the cash. In-joo replies that she doesn’t want it. With the last of her strength, she clutches Hwa-young’s arm. The only reason she came to Singapore was to see her friend again. Just once.
I’m dead, says Hwa-young. So, get it together. Run as far as you can. And indeed, when In-joo wakes — alone, in hospital, with her suitcase of cash — nearby are a pair of walking shoes. They’re the same ones Hwa-young once lent her.
With every last reserve of strength, In-joo pulls the suitcase across the city. She needs to know why — why did Hwa-young choose her in the first place? After being given the money, who was she meant to become? Finally, she reaches the apartment. There’s an iced blue drink prepared for her, which she guzzles gratefully. After that, there’s nothing to do but sit and wait — as a woman in Bruno Zumino heels runs across the street.
Meanwhile, In-hye approaches Hyo-rin with a terrifying discovery. After hacking into Jae-sang’s CCTV files, she knows who killed Hwa-young. It’s —
Sang-ah. That’s who arrives at the apartment. It’s also whose fur coat Hwa-young was wearing when she died. Now, delightedly, she reminds In-joo that she’s always loved secret plays — and In-joo is her favorite character. The perfect doll. The people in Singapore who recognized In-joo? All actors. In-joo’s life at the company, as an outcast? All stage-managed by Sang-ah. Her friendship with Hwa-young? Sang-ah was pulling the strings. Hwa-young was a favorite character too — and through her meaningless death, she achieved the perfect narrative.
At this last part, In-joo snaps: that’s not who Hwa-young was! But, Sang-ah has a perfect death choreographed for In-joo, too: suicide, after successfully conning the people of Singapore. In-joo struggles to protest, but finds her limbs are weak — the moral of the story being, never drink a suspicious blue beverage. It may contain orchids.
Stroking her cheek, Sang-ah assures In-joo this is her fault: she was born poor, and dared to aspire. Slurring, In-joo asks to see the suitcase of money one last time. Sang-ah leans down to oblige — only to find the suitcase is full of bricks. She turns. In-joo aims Do-il’s pistol at her head.
So, the unseen director is Sang-ah. From the doll’s house that fascinated In-hye, to the abundance of wide shots throughout the drama of characters in the middle of stage-like rooms, it’s been well foreshadowed. Remember the lesson from several episodes ago — that when you’re rich, you can control the very space in which you exist? Well, Sang-ah is the ultimate expression of this: she creates locked theaters wherever she moves. I deeply enjoyed the way she poured tea whilst explaining the story she’d crafted to In-joo — it was a nice reminder of the show’s Louisa May Alcott-like aesthetic, and a symbol of Sang-ah’s author-like control. If anything, Sang-ah is positioning herself as an updated Alcott: a creator who uses sets and cameras rather than pen and ink.
However, In-joo’s vision of Hwa-young was a reminder that escape is possible — as long as In-joo can run. Though Sang-ah may have stage-managed In-joo and Hwa-young’s relationship, I think it’s implied that an authentic friendship existed between the gaps. In-joo’s defense of her was touching: Hwa-young wasn’t the simple, tragic figure Sang-ah attempted to turn her into. She was smart enough to teach In-joo to distrust the wealthy. Do-il, moreover, cares at least enough to tell her to trust herself. Meanwhile, perhaps In-kyung can wrest some control from Sang-ah and Jae-sang over who gets to tell the story, but that remains to be seen…
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