Bubblegum 풍선껌 Episode 8
It’s the midway killer episode – the one in every kdrama that requires tissues, rewatching, and rethinking about the characters.
[Don’t mind stains, don’t mind scars; just don’t disappear.]
Ri Hwan’s plea for his mother to be on his side is heartbreaking. But, she tells him she won’t change her mind. When Ri Hwan leaves, Mother/Aunt calls Haeng Ah out from hiding, and with a very frank talk she shreds her. Mother/Aunt makes it perfectly clear that it is in Ri Hwan’s best interest for Haeng Ah not to continue their romantic relationship for a multitude of reasons.
Although she doesn’t show it to Mother/Aunt, Haeng Ah is devastated. As she aimlessly walks in the rain, who should happen to pull up but Suk Joon. When Haeng Ah collapses he is there to swoop her up and take her home. Poor Haeng Ah is in bad shape. Her phone rings and Suk Joons sees that it’s Ri Hwan (Brother Who Loves Haeng Ah). He decides for Haeng Ah’s sake to call Ri Hwan back and tell him what has happened, but only as her doctor, not her boyfriend.
Okay, let’s talk about the almost dead bird – as in shades of Hotel King where the dead bird omen loomed large. Is this a Dong Wook kdrama thing that is going to follow him throughout his career? There is practically a visible dark cloud hanging over him that I just want to swipe out of the picture. When Ri Hwan arrives at Haeng Ah’s, Suk Joon is ready to get back in the game. He tells Ri Hwan that if Haeng Ah is going to suffer because of him, there is no reason to let her go. With sick Haeng Ah in the room there is nothing Ri Hwan can say. He calls Tae Hee at the radio station to find out if something happened last night to cause Haeng Ah to be so sick. Tae Hee realizes Haeng Ah is down for the count – shredded, to use her term, because of Mother/Aunt and tells Ri Hwan that he shouldn’t have left Haeng Ah unprotected. Ri Hwan realizes it must be true – Mother/Aunt has gotten to Haeng Ah without him being aware of it.
The worst thing is that Haeng Ah will defend Mother/Aunt to her own demise. When Haeng Ah wakes up and Ri Hwan asks if she’s okay, she lies about what happened – she was so busy that she didn’t eat yesterday, she got carsick in the cab…. Ri Hwan stops her. His voice-over thoughts lament, “What hurts more than hearing ‘Why did you hurt me?’ is someone who cannot even say she is hurting. And not being able to say anything but ‘Don’t be in pain.” Haeng Ah smiles like she always does through her pain thinking that she is fooling everyone.
What’s more, it is her birthday. Remember last year’s non-celebration? As if dead birds aren’t bad enough, the birthday omen is another sign of bad things. Ri Hwan wants to hang out but Haeng Ah is bent on going in to work. Oh, and by the way she’s decided to move to the third floor of his house, she informs him. Why does that seem like the worst possible idea ever? I’m sure she wants to be able to help Mother/Aunt now that she knows the prognosis of Early Onset Familial Alzheimer’s (although Ri Hwan is not aware of his mother’s illness, yet), and no doubt plans to throw herself into the role of caregiver. Haeng Ah wastes no time and takes a taxi to the house. The third floor is empty, the furniture covered with cloths. Are there hidden memories in this house that will be revealed? Aunt Princess, who is the only other person who knows about Mother/Aunt, sees Haeng Ah there and scurries her along her way. She doesn’t want Haeng Ah’s presence to upset Mother/Aunt. Looks like the two women are taking on the task of helping and protecting Mother/Aunt through all this.
There are unmistakable signs of Mother/Aunt’s forgetfulness already; when she comes out to leave with Aunt Princess, she’s forgotten to put on her shoes. It is time to talk about important things. Mother/Aunt tells Aunt Princess that first, she has to make amends with grandfather; next, Ri Hwan must marry someone who can protect him; and finally, when the time comes and she can’t remember things, Aunt Princess must help her remember that happy time in her life.
Haeng Ah gets a call in the elevator at work but doesn’t take it. She heads up to the rooftop where no one is around to return Suk Joon’s call. He asks if she’s okay; she asks if he’s okay after yesterday (when he lost his position over his stand against the corporation on behalf of an employee). “Haeng Ah, let’s meet up and talk,” he says. She agrees.
Mother/Aunt has a couple of important meetings today. She starts by meeting with Overbearing Mother. They were supposed to meet yesterday (but Mother/Aunt got disoriented on the busy street and didn’t show up). She has written prompts to herself on her phone as reminders of what to say (with her memory becoming more and more unreliable). It’s a bit of a rich people’s showdown between Overbearing Mother and Mother/Aunt as they each hold their ground and protect what’s theirs.
Mother/Aunt’s next stop is to visit Yi Seul at her dental clinic. She wants to hear what Yi Seul thinks. Yi Seul explains that while she knows her mother is difficult and exasperating, she understands it is the way she has processed her own hurts in life. Rather than becoming strong, Overbearing Mother blames others and is weak. Yi Seul can’t think of her as bad or hate her for that. The conversation turns to Mother/Aunt; she comes right out and tells Yi Seul that she has Alzheimer’s and won’t be in Ri Hwan’s life for long and that he will need strong family by his side. Yi Seul tells her that will look into a way to help. After all, Mother/Aunt is all Ri Hwan has.
Thank goodness Yi Seul’s brother, Jung Woo, is looking out for her best interests. He even checks up on their mother to make sure she is behaving herself (of course she isn’t). He defends Yi Seul’s feelings and wants to support her. He also realizes their mother is lacking in the kind of support her daughter needs. Will he be on the lookout for an opportune moment to intercept on behalf of Yi Seul with Ri Hwan?
Suk Joon and Haeng Ah meet at a cafe. He’s bought her a birthday cake. Geez Louise, can someone tell every last one of them it’s not about the blasted cake? In his own way he apologizes for not being with her when she was sick last time, but he promises to make it up to her if she’ll let him. With time on his hands (unemployment will do that) he’s given things some thought. He asks her to consider coming to him again, but Haeng Ah shakes her head, “no.” She thanks him for the cake and leaves.
Tae Hee and Dong Il are still at it. She wants to know up close and personal if he likes her. He wants to know why she is doing this to him. Even a direct, “Do you like me?” is met with uncertainty by a skittish Dong Il.
Se Young practices her drama lines with Joon Soo. It’s a sassy drama titled, “Nine: Nine Affairs.” When she screams,”Save me, save me!” Tae Hee and Dong Il run in, startled. She wants to make the most of her two-bit part as the “other woman”, and vows that within this year, she’ll become the most hated person in Korea. She and Joon Soo enthusiastically high-five that.
Ri Hwan knocks on Mother/Aunt’s office door with an apology bouquet of roses in tow. Chief Doctor meets him and says, “Let’s talk.” No more beating around the bush; Chief Doctor tells Ri Hwan everything because Mother/Aunt won’t. “The disease will move faster than others, you can’t push her too hard, but you can’t leave her alone either.” Etc., etc., etc. It is a truckload to take in. Ri Hwan also finds out that his mother attempted suicide not once, but twice. The first time was a long time ago. He asks if it was when she got pregnant with him. Chief Doctor’s silence is his answer. (Drama, did you have to go there? Our poor, poor Ri Hwan, as if he doesn’t have enough on his Eastern medicine plate.) Ri Hwan sits alone on the bench for a long, long time. He is not answering his phone; he is lost in thought of all the little things that hinted of his mother’s memory loss and changed behavior. It is a heavy burden to know his mother is ill and realize she is keeping it from him.
Ji Hoon and Tae Hee end up being the ones who have to take care of their hurting friends. Tae Hee tells Haeng Ah that when Ri Hwan called her last night and she found out Haeng Ah was sick, she gave it to him for not protecting her from his mother. Like she’s been telling her all along, Haeng Ah can’t beat that woman. Furthermore, Ri Hwan is worse off, having sacrificed so much for his mother. Tae Hee doesn’t even care when Haeng Ah tells her that Mother/Aunt is sick. But Haeng Ah’s serious countenance tells Tae Hee that there is more going on.
It’s late and Ri Hwan hasn’t moved from the bench. He recalls that day on the veranda when Haeng Ah admitted she liked him, too. They talked about what was the happiest moment of their lives and both agreed it was right then – the moment they were in. Ri Hwan doesn’t hold back and embraces Haeng Ah with a confident kiss. She returns it. A shared piece of bubblegum cinches the meaning of such a kiss between them and they are truly happy.
As always, Haeng Ah sets aside her own pain and texts Ri Hwan that she won’t be able to meet him as she is staying at work. Ri Hwan texts back, “Happy birthday.” Yeah, that’s not going to happen. She walks to the studio with the unavoidable heaviness in her heart growing by the second. Shockingly, when her coworkers spring a birthday surprise, she bursts into tears. A flood of emotion is unleashed as she implodes from always denying herself for the sake of others. Her coworkers don’t know what to make of it and stop mid-celebration. She covers it the best she can by saying she was just too happy, and even though they pretend it’s okay, they all know she isn’t.
Flashback: Mother/Aunt kneels and comforts a scared Ri Hwan. He doesn’t want his mother to leave him. Aunt Princess says he must have had a bad dream. When Mother/Aunt asks if he remembers what she told him to do to calm himself he begins to count to ten: One, two, three…
…present day Ri Hwan continues to count: Four. Five. One, two, three. One. One. Ri Hwan tries to count away his fears just like when he was a child, but the numbers are stuck. Tears stream down his face. The bouquet of roses dump to the ground – his world is crashing in.
This is a switch. Resident alcoholic Ji Hoon is the designated driver as his hurting friend tosses back shot after shot. He knows Ri Hwan is in terrible emotional shape and silently sits by his side – there’s nothing else he can do. Ri Hwan staggers home with that cloud hanging heavily over his head like an anvil about to fall.
When he looks up, Haeng Ah stands before him. It is impossible to say whose grief-stricken face is sadder. He can’t help but run and hold her as if he will never let her go.
Flashback: Sun Young stops by the Secret Garden for lunch. Joon Hyuk (Haeng Ah’s father) wonders if there’s a reason that she’s come, she says no, she just wanted to see him. He tells her that he’s made her wait too long (for him). No, she responds, because he is going to live a long time and there is no hurry. “Once the kids grow up…” he starts, but she stops him. She know that he is saying to wait a little longer for him. She even makes sure that he isn’t telling her not to wait…but the conversation is interrupted as bickering Haeng Ah and Ri Hwan storm in. They fuss over each other for being stupid in love and Haeng Ah makes sure to send the message that she has absolutely no interest in Ri Hwan. She plops down next to Mother/Aunt; he takes a seat next to her father.
That happy day is the one Mother/Aunt doesn’t want to forget. Later that day, she gets a call at work from Hoon Hyuk and runs outside to meet him. She is wearing the white dress with black polka dots – the one she’s saved in her closet all these years. As she sees him coming she greets him with a big, happy smile. “And on that day, we…”
- This is good. Well, not good as in I’m happy with the sad things that are taking place, but good in the sense that the drama is filling in the backstory in a very satisfactory way. I am so sad for Ri Hwan and Haeng Ah’s sadness.
- That omen is bothering me to no end; I am never going to be able to view dead birds without thinking of Dong Wook and the dark, heavy cloud.
- Haeng Ah really is being shredded to pieces and only Tae Hee sees it for what it is. Suk Joon put her through it too; I think she just needs to get away.
- Yi Seul’s brother is pretty cool; both children see Overbearing Mother for the pitiful soul she is – a person whose own hurt and pain has made her weak and greedy. Yi Seul’s character is a bit clearer to me, but this episode leaves me unsure as to how she will remain in the story.
- I realize that kdramas are fueled by things left unsaid to create ten, twelve, fifteen episodes worth of misunderstandings. But Mother/Aunt is taking it to the extreme unless what they did “on that day…” Makes for an unusual cliffhanger, I’ll have to admit.
- Dong Wook is just perfect playing the wounded person who has been the strong figure as expected of him. However, when the breaking point comes, it is so long overdue and the toll it has taken is so heavy that it makes me wonder if he can come out okay.
- I like how Suk Joon is still in the picture, at least he thinks he has a chance. It is annoying, though, that “too little too late” should even have a chance in kdramaland. Maybe he will be the “get away” that I was thinking Haeng Ah needs, not that I necessarily approve of that route, but it seems like a possible turn of events.
- Cant’ wait for the next episode!