THE SHORT VERDICT:
Hi Bye, Mama! is the kind of show that makes you face difficult emotions and feel all the difficult feelings – and then make you grateful for having felt it all. Show has a bittersweet premise, and treats it with sensitivity and poignance, with a side of levity. For the most part, Show manages this delicate balance well, and makes me laugh and cry, often within the same episode. The performances from our cast are strong, and I am particularly impressed with Kim Tae Hee and Lee Kyu Hyung; this is literally the best I’ve seen from both of them. And Kim Mi Kyung, is, as always, a treasure to have onscreen.
On the downside, I felt we spent too much time on stuff to do with the ghost community, and that ended up feeling like filler. I also feel like Show suffers from some pacing issues, causing the last third of our narrative to feel somewhat stalled.
Overall, though, in spite of what I feel are its downsides, Show still manages to feel like a solid, worthwhile watch, with a lot of good ol’ heartachey feels.
THE LONG VERDICT:
In a manner of speaking, Hi Bye, Mama! feels like an understanding mentor, as it nudges us firmly and gently towards facing difficult thoughts and emotions, while holding our hand through the entire experience, to make sure that we come out the other side with our hearts intact, and with a greater appreciation for life as our reward.
I typically don’t gravitate towards stories about death, since, like most folks, I like my dramas to be an uplifting escape from the harder bits of real life, but this story comes from the writer of Go Back Couple, which I liked very much, so I felt like my heart would be in good hands.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review. (You can right-click and select “Loop” to keep the music on repeat through your read.)
I found the OST pleasant and quite dreamy, and well-applied, as a general rule. I also really enjoyed some of the instrumental pieces, which aren’t included in this collection. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good recording that included the instrumental tracks.
My favorite track from this collection is the last one, In The Night. It has a really nice lilting 6/8 rhythm, and the airy vocals, particularly in the chorus, make it the perfect mix of ethereal, breezy and wistful.
Broadly, here are the main high-level things that I felt Show did very well.
1. An excellent, heart-grabby set-up
In just the first episode, Show gets my heart, and right away, too.
[MODERATE EARLY SPOILERS]
I felt my heart get sucked in within Show’s first 5 minutes, with the flashbacks to Yu Ri’s budding romance with Kang Hwa (Kim Tae Hee and Lee Kyu Hyung), to the highs, lows and bickering cute of their relationship, to the proposal, to the wedding. It’s such adorable feel-good stuff, and I love them as a couple right away.
And then, without warning, we cut to the present, when Yu Ri is a ghost watching over her family, and in particular, her daughter Seo Woo (Seo Woo Jin). Show wastes no time in showing us the angst of being a ghost. Yu Ri’s constant presence around Seo Woo has made Seo Woo able to see ghosts and become more susceptible to danger, and Yu Ri’s torment at her dilemma is palpable: she wants to protect Seo Woo, which means she needs to leave, but she also can’t bear to leave, because she doesn’t want to say goodbye to Seo Woo. What a dilemma.
With everyone in the cast clearly bringing their A-game, and allowing their characters’ pain to show in varying degrees, I was immediately keen to see more of this story, and soon.
2. Not following an obvious drama pattern
Usually with most dramas, you can kinda figure out the general trajectory of the story, ie, will it be a happy ending, will the couple end up together, etc, but with this one, I have to confess, I wasn’t sure where Show was going.
[VAGUE HIGH-LEVEL SPOILERS] Even into the late episodes of my watch, I wasn’t sure whether Yu Ri was going to be able to complete her mission, of regaining her place in the world within the allotted 49 days, or whether she would help Kang Hwa heal from the loss of her, and make this new family a true one, with Min Jeong (Go Bo Gyeol) in the place that she used to occupy, before crossing over. [END SPOILER]
This sense of not knowing where we were meant to go, felt rather different, and I count it a good thing, since that helps to keep the watch experience fresh.
3. Balancing lightness and heaviness
Show’s balance between treating things with a generally light touch, and then interspersing that with thoughtful, heartfelt poignance, worked very well for me.
[SPOILER] For example, in episode 3, we see Yu Ri back when she and Kang Hwa were newly married, comically getting into quite the huff, and moving out, and refusing to eat, over a small matter where she and Kang Hwa didn’t see eye to eye. And then, we hear in thoughtful voiceover, Yu Ri musing that it’s only after her death, that she’s realized how beautiful the simple things in life are. It’s true that experience has a way of giving you new perspective, but how poignant is it, that there are some things that people learn too late? [END SPOILER]
Show’s ability to interweave the light amid the heavier, made it that much easier to deal with the hard-to-feel, but oh-so-necessary difficult emotions.
STUFF I LIKED
I realize that with this story, it’s really hard to talk about anything, really, without getting into spoiler territory. So you’ll notice that in a lot of the non-spoiler sections going forward, I have less to say than usual; that’s because most of what I want to say is in the spoiler section itself.
Even so, I need to assume that we all understand a few things: that, because our story is about Yu Ri being a ghost having a second chance at life, inevitably, there will be reunions and angsty emotions shared between her and the people who are important to her. I decided not to count these as spoilers, and will reference these in the non-spoiler sections. I hope that’s ok with you guys.
Kim Tae Hee as Yu Ri
It’s been quite a while since I’d seen Kim Tae Hee on my screen in 2015’s Yong Pal, and I must say that she’s gained additional depth and range to her acting. I think it’s likely due to the life experiences she’s gained – marriage and motherhood – since her last drama.
When Yu Ri cries about her situation, particularly in a scene where she rages against the heavens for her plight, I believe her fury, and I feel her pain, and my heart can’t help but go out to her. I love Yu Ri as a character; she’s so pure and wholesome, and yet, at the same time, she’s relatable. I admire her for her selfless love for the family and loved ones she’s treasured in her life, and I empathize with her struggle, whenever she reveals her inner conflict.
Overall, I found this a very strong outing by Kim Tae Hee, who is so winsome and delightful when Yu Ri is cheerful, and yet, who brings such an acute sense of poignance to Yu Ri, through her heartache. This is no small deal, since Yu Ri is THE key character around whom everything in our story revolves. Kim Tae Hee grounds it all, with her heartfelt portrayal of Yu Ri. Really well done, I say.
E1. I love that Yu Ri is such a cheerful, happy ghost so much of the time. All she really wants, is to be able to see her daughter, and nothing else seems to matter to her. It doesn’t even seem to bother her that Kang Hwa has remarried, after her death.
E1. It’s such a heart-tugging thing, to realize that Yu Ri died before she ever got to hold Seo Woo. She’s never been able to touch her daughter, and has held on all this time, just yearning to see her a little more. Augh. I’m already firmly on Yu Ri’s side, rooting for her to make the most of this sudden chance to live as a human, at least for a while.
E2. Yu Ri is as delightful as ever. The way she reacts with such wonder and glee, at being able to be seen, and touched, and existing on the human plane again, is endearing and adorable. She’s got such a pure and childlike spirit. I love her. The way she enjoys looking out the window on the bus, just feeling the wind in her face, is so endearing.
E2. There’s a lot of poignance, in the way Yu Ri wants so dearly to go to her family, but is afraid of what it might to Mom’s (Kim Mi Kyung) weak heart, to see her in the flesh all of a sudden. The way she hid behind the car, and watched from a distance, is so heart-tugging. I know Mom and Dad (Park Soo Young) would dearly love to see her too, if they knew.
E2. I love the moment that Yu Ri finally gets to hold Seo Woo in her arms. It’s so unexpected and sudden, but Yu Ri leans into the moment and soaks it up with tearful wonder. It’s something that she’s wanted for so long, and it’s been out of her reach for so long, and now, she finally is able to hold her baby in her arms. How precious.
Even though it was reckless of Yu Ri to take Seo Woo from school when she got mistaken for Seo Woo’s pick-up helper, I can understand why she’d do it. It’s a chance for her to walk her daughter home, hand in hand; a chance to do something that she’d never dreamed possible. Given how much joy and fulfillment this would give Yu Ri, I can understand why she’d choose to take the chance, and think about any consequences later. To her, this is probably worth any price that she’d have to pay.
E3. How endearing, that Yu Ri’s first purchase, is all of the foods that she’d missed while being a ghost. Her glee at ordering herself a spread – not of fancy gourmet food, but down-to-earth common fare – is adorable.
E3. Yu Ri’s single-minded focus on protecting Seo Woo, without any thought to herself and the possibilities available to her, if she’s able to regain her lost position in Kang Hwa’s family, is such a motherly thing. She doesn’t seem to care what happens to her at the end of the 49 days, if she’s able to solve the problem of Seo Woo being able to see ghosts. That’s so selfless and loving.
E5. The whole thing with parent participant day at the kindergarten is so poignant on several levels. First, it’s so sad that Yu Ri can’t act as Seo Woo’s mom on a day like this, and has to pretend to be a random kitchen assistant. And then, it’s horrifying and humiliating for her to realize that Seo Woo is allergic to strawberries. She’d always mentally berated Min Jeong for not giving Seo Woo strawberries, which Yu Ri believed to be Seo Woo’s favorite, since she herself had craved strawberries while pregnant with Seo Woo, so it must be a huge wake-up call to realize that in this case, Min Jeong really does know Seo Woo better.
And then, there’s the scene where Seo Woo gets bitten by another child, and Yu Ri leaps to check on Seo Woo with reflexive motherly worry. She can’t contain it or control it; by the time she realizes what she’s doing, she’s already pretty much given herself away, with her disproportionate concern. That’s sad too, that she actually is supposed to tamp down her maternal instincts – deny her identity as Seo Woo’s mom, basically – in this world, where her place has already been filled by someone else.
E6. Rather than think about herself, Yu Ri’s putting Seo Woo first. She’s content to spend her allotted 49 days making sure that Seo Woo stops being able to see ghosts, even if it means that she can’t regain her place and therefore needs to cross over and leave Seo Woo behind, at the end of the 49 days. There’s a definite wistfulness about Yu Ri as she acts on that decision, but there’s no hesitation about her. She never wavers, in putting Seo Woo first, and that’s such a mother’s heart.
E8. As much as it tears Yu Ri’s loved ones apart to lose her – Dad’s guttural cries at her funeral, and Mom’s tamped-down sorrow in the present are equally heartbreaking – it’s Yu Ri’s sobbing in the car next to a crying Kang Hwa that hits me extra hard. It’s just as hard for her; arguably harder, since she’s the one whose life has been so suddenly truncated. And while she’s stayed around to watch Seo Woo grow instead of crossing over, it must be so difficult for her to be there to see it, but be completely incapable of touching her child, or interacting with her, or be able to do anything to affect the people and situations that she’s there to witness.
E8. Yu Ri sobbing that she won’t take back her place because there’s no place for her, because Kang Hwa loves Min Jeong now, is truly heartbreaking. Hyun Jung’s (Shin Dong Mi) words, “Don’t you think it’s unfair?” resonates quite a bit with Yu Ri, who can’t stop crying. It is unfair; she’d been looking forward to her whole life with Kang Hwa and Seo Woo, and that all got taken away so suddenly. But it says so much about Yu Ri, that she won’t take something away from Kang Hwa and Min Jeong, just to gain something herself. There’s a sense of uprightness and justice about that that I respect.
E12. Yu Ri feels so sorry and guilty for having spent 5 years hanging around Seo Woo as a ghost, and tearfully apologizes for scaring her. Also, it’s clear that Yu Ri feels a lot of guilt around the idea that her decision to do that, had given Seo Woo the ability to see ghosts. This episode, that guilt is compounded by the realization that Seo Woo’s now afraid of dogs, because while she’d hung around Seo Woo as a ghost, the dogs had been barking at her, which made it seem like the dogs were barking at little Seo Woo instead. Aw.
Lee Kyu Hyung as Kang Hwa
After my very positive impression of Lee Kyu Hyung in 2018’s Prison Playbook, I was very pleased to have him back on my screen, and boy, did he deliver.
Kang Hwa is a difficult character to play, because there is so much of his emotion that is kept reined in, a lot of the time. Most of the time, Kang Hwa appears to be a cheerful ol’ scatterbrain, but upon closer inspection, there are distinct glimpses of the pain that he harbors on the inside. Lee Kyu Hyung does so well, in letting Kang Hwa’s hidden pain peek through the untroubled mask that he wears. Sometimes, it looks like tears are burgeoning in his eyes, just enough to be visible, and it’s via those moments, that I can guess how much he’s still hurting on the inside.
At the same time, there are some seriously difficult scenes, where Kang Hwa’s pain comes into full view, and Lee Kyu Hyung delivers that remarkably well too.
Lee Kyu Hyung makes Kang Hwa sympathetic even in his most conflicted moments, and I literally cannot imagine anyone else playing Kang Hwa. Really excellent.
E2. This episode, we take a closer look at Kang Hwa’s pain at losing Yu Ri, and it’s really heartbreaking. To think that Mom was right; he’d been looking to give them custody of Seo Woo, so that he could join Yu Ri in death. He just cannot picture life without her, and he literally can barely breathe. His tears, falling to the ground, as he kneels to beg his parents-in-law to take Seo Woo, are gutting to see. He’s one gigantic open wound and it’s like he’s leaking pain with every breath. Oof. Mom appears harsh in turning him away, but Mom is right; it’s because of Seo Woo, that Kang Hwa survives.
E2. The trauma of losing Yu Ri is still so painful for Kang Hwa, that he can’t function as a surgeon. He’s learned to cover up the pain in other ways, over the years, and has even somehow managed to remarry, but the gaping hole that Yu Ri left is still very much there, as we see this episode. The moment he spots her in the crowd, he can’t stop looking at her, and afterwards, he can’t stop thinking about her, and keeps spacing out. On the one hand, it’s poignantly sweet that he still loves her so much, after all that’s happened; on the other hand, it hits me in the heart, to realize just how much agony he’s swallowed and endured over these years, as Seo Woo’s grown from an infant to a little girl.
E3. Kang Hwa spacing out all the time and, behaving strangely, is completely understandable, given the circumstances. I want to say, Lee Kyu Hyung is doing a wonderful job of the role. That moment when Kang Hwa realizes that it’s Yu Ri before him, is so well done. Kang Hwa’s feelings around Yu Ri – the pain of losing her, the love that he’d felt for her – all comes rushing to the surface, and the tears in his eyes, and the stricken, bewildered look on his face, are so poignant to witness. I feel like I can feel his shock and confusion, mixed with hope and disbelief. Really nicely done.
E3. I half thought that Kang Hwa would tell Yu Ri’s family about her “rebirth” but once he realizes that Yu Ri didn’t show herself, and only left the supplements for her mom by the gate, he chooses not to reveal it either, saying that it’s not for him to tell. That’s a distinct respect for boundaries, and he’s deferring to Yu Ri’s preferences by default. That definitely earns him an extra brownie point in my book.
E5. We see that Kang Hwa had always been quite the heodang (empty-head), even while in school, and that puts his behavior now into sharper focus. I’d thought that he was just a bit weird because he was troubled by his personal life. But now that I know he’s always been a heodang, it’s a lot more recognizable.
E6. Kang Hwa believes that Yu Ri died because of him. Oh dear. That’s a terrible burden to carry. No wonder her death has messed him up so much. Poor guy. My heart really goes out to him.
E12. Kang Hwa bringing Seo Woo to have some time with Yu Ri’s family, is a very sweet and kind thing to do. I wish he didn’t feel he had to lie to Min Jeong about it, though. I think it’s a cultural thing, but I can’t help wondering if it’s really not ok to tell Min Jeong that he wants Seo Woo to spend a bit of time with her grandparents.. I think that Min Jeong would rather know than be lied to.
E13. “I’m fine” and “I’m sorry” – Kang Hwa repeatedly says this, not only to Yu Ri, but to Min Jeong as well. He lives with so much guilt that he can’t stop apologizing, and he tries so hard not to burden the other person that he just keep saying he’s fine. But it inadvertently frustrates the other person, from not being able to get through.
E14. I must say, Lee Kyu Hyung is a fantastic actor. I mean, he delivers Kang Hwa’s facets so effortlessly, from the carefree heodang, to the conflicted, troubled husband. But this episode, Kang Hwa’s panic attacks just showcase Lee Kyu Hyung’s acting abilities to a whole new level. Watching Kang Hwa gasping for breath in the stairwell, I feel like I can’t breathe either; he looks like he’s literally about to collapse from lack of oxygen. Really impressive, and also, really hard to watch.
Working through everything between Yu Ri and Kang Hwa
There is no OTP in this story in the way that we generally understand OTPs in most other kdramas, but because Yu Ri and Kang Hwa have so much shared history, I feel it’s important to have a section to spotlight how Show deals with the mutual baggage that they have, now that Yu Ri’s died and come back to life, and Kang Hwa has remarried, in the meantime.
There are no easy answers to our story’s main dilemma, but Show does a really nice job of exploring and showcasing the complicated emotions on both sides, and then bringing it all out into the open, for healing that’s necessary for both Yu Ri and Kang Hwa.
E3. I like the idea that Kang Hwa knows that the person in front of him is Yu Ri, and recognizes her with all of his being, even though his brain is imploding over how she could possibly be there. That knowing, partly from all the clues that he’s pieced together, and partly from a gut instinct, I’m pretty sure, feels precious and earned; it’s the result of them having lived together and loved together for so long.
E9. It’s really touching that Yu Ri observes Min Jeong finally bringing some light to Kang Hwa, with gratitude and relief in her eyes. She’s not jealous of Kang Hwa developing a soft spot for another woman, nor is she upset about feeling displaced; she’s just so grateful to see him smiling again. That’s love, selfless and nurturing, and I am so moved by how Yu Ri loves Kang Hwa in that way.
E10. I’m hit in the gut, by Kang Hwa’s reason for not getting treatment: he’s felt guilty all this while, for Yu Ri’s death, and the idea of getting better from the trauma associated with her death just amplifies that guilt even further. It’s significant to me, that even though Yu Ri’s back from the dead – and presumably, from what Kang Hwa knows, here to stay – that it doesn’t actually take away his guilt. Yu Ri coming back to life doesn’t take away from the horror of her death, and he’s punishing himself for it. Poor guy.
E12. The sight of Yu Ri watching Kang Hwa move on with Min Jeong and start to eat spicy food which he’d never been able to eat while he’d been with Yu Ri, is heartpinching and poignant, because I can imagine how Yu Ri would feel, watching this. She probably feels like Kang Hwa is not quite the same person that she knew, and that as he moves on, she herself is well and truly left behind. Gulp.
Kang Hwa, on the other hand, feels so sorry to Yu Ri, when he realizes that she’d been with him all the time that he’d been moving on from her. His grief and dismay are palpable, as he processes each and every thing that Yu Ri must have watched happen in his life, while she stood on the sidelines. I’d thought at first that Kang Hwa might ask Yu Ri why she’d lied, but instead, all he can think about is how much watching his life must have hurt her. Augh. This is love and consideration, and Kang Hwa’s tears, and his distress and heartbreak, which feels so raw, hits me right in the gut. Oof.
E13. It hits me pretty hard to hear Yu Ri admit that it did hurt to see Kang Hwa move on without her, and watch him make a new family with Min Jeong – but that it’d hurt so much more to watch him be in pain by himself. That’s a love that cares more about Kang Hwa than herself; she sincerely wants what’s best for Kang Hwa, and it hurts her so much to see Kang Hwa dwelling in his pain, that she’s actually grateful to Min Jeong for helping him out of it, even though watching by the side hurts her too.
The guilt that Kang Hwa feels towards Yu Ri every step of the way, is heartbreaking too. It seems that every step forward that he even thinks about taking, makes him feel bad towards Yu Ri, like he’s letting her down. In the flashback at the beginning of the episode, even just thinking about calling Min Jeong, makes Kang Hwa feel bad, and he looks up at the heavens and apologizes to Yu Ri, saying that he must’ve lost his mind. Poor guy. It must be cripplingly hard to try to live his life, while being crushed by guilt.
E13. Seeing Kang Hwa and Yu Ri cry together, in person, is cathartic, but also, bittersweet. It’s cathartic because this is something that they couldn’t do, while Yu Ri was dead. But now, they can hear each other’s cries, and hear each other’s apologies, which must give a sense of release. But it’s also so bittersweet, because it feels like Yu Ri’s time is running out, and this moment, of being able to mutually see and acknowledge each other, is going to be short-lived.
E14. That scene, where Yu Ri goes to him in the stairwell, and comforts him, feels like a very important milestone. All this time, he’s suffered alone (or so he thought), and she’d watched helplessly, unable to speak to him or touch him, and now, finally, she’s able to coach him through the breathing, and rub his back, and he’s able to receive that.
It feels like such an important, cathartic moment, when he asks her why she’d left him all alone. He’s been wondering that for years, and has kept that anguish and sense of abandonment in his heart, all this time, and now, he’s finally able to cry it out to the very person that he’d mourned so deeply for. And Yu Ri’s able to apologize, even though it really isn’t fault that she died, but she’s able to apologize for leaving him alone. It’s all so very raw and it feels like we’re gazing on open wounds, but this feels so needful. I feel like without this, Kang Hwa would never be able to heal from this.
Go Bo Gyeol as Min Jeong
Min Jeong is a character that starts out as pretty inaccessible and distant, in large part because of how reserved and reticent she is, but the more Show peeled back her layers, and the more I understood her, the more sympathetic I found her.
E5. We learn more about Min Jeong this hour, and there’s this idea of a small moment of chance turning into fate. She’d chanced upon a sleepy Kang Hwa on the train back in school, and had found him cute; she’d happened to have been sent to Yu Ri’s operating theater, and happened to carry Seo Woo out of that room, as a newborn. Stacked together, was this destiny? Was she destined to be Seo Woo’s stepmother? In a drama context, that’s more than enough coincidence to qualify as fate. And yet, she’s so deeply unhappy now, that she’s thinking about divorcing Kang Hwa. I do feel bad for her.
She’d never bargained to be in Yu Ri’s shadow, but that’s exactly what her life is, as Kang Hwa’s wife. He’s never gotten over Yu Ri, and she’ll never be Yu Ri, and it must be torture, to live your life tiptoeing around the memory of someone whom you’ll always be compared to, either by others, or yourself.
E11. Min Jeong’s analogy of her marriage to Kang Hwa being like the experience of rebuilding a house that’s been bombed, is so evocative and poignant. I immediately understand the heartache and patience involved, as well as the walking on eggshells, unwilling to stir up old wounds, while trying to find her own path to walk on.
This really makes my heart go out to her; she’s had a hard time. And it makes me admire her decision to continue in her marriage, challenges and all, for the love of Kang Hwa and Seo Woo. Yu Ri is right; Min Jeong is a nice person.
Yu Ri and Min Jeong
Show does a great job exploring and unpacking the complicated feelings that Yu Ri and Min Jeong have towards each other, as Seo Woo’s biological mother and stepmother. It would’ve been easier to be able to choose one woman to root for, but Show made it hard by making both women sympathetic and kind. I felt for both women, to the extent that I didn’t even know what I wanted Show’s endgame to be.
I really enjoyed the odd-couple bond that grows between Yu Ri and Min Jeong, and the underlying implication that whatever our story outcome would be, this friendship was destined to have a short shelf life, just made it all the more poignant and bittersweet.
E6. There’s an undercurrent of pathos, with Min Jeong drunkenly admitting that seeing Yu Ri’s face freaks her out. Plus, she also drunkenly asks if Yu Ri would like to be Seo Woo’s mother. It all points to Min Jeong feeling the same way that Yu Ri does: that the place as Seo Woo’s mother, isn’t truly hers.
That’s sad and ironic, that both women feel that they can’t occupy that place, of being Seo Woo’s mother, when they both love Seo Woo, in their own ways.
E9. I also find it touching that despite the weird situation and the discomfort that comes with it, somehow, Yu Ri and Min Jeong are developing a friendship of sorts. More credit goes to Yu Ri, I think, because each time Min Jeong’s been hampered by her reticent nature, it’s Yu Ri that’s made her smile and be more open. But credit goes to Min Jeong too, for being open-minded and open-hearted enough, to entertain the odd antics of the woman who looks just like Seo Woo’s bio mom. That’s got to be uncomfortable for her, and she’s said as much, so I think it’s quite special that she chooses to work past her discomfort, and appreciate Yu Ri for cherishing Seo Woo.
E10. There’s so much pathos all around, this episode, as we examine the mutual envy that Yu Ri and Min Jeong feel for each other. Min Jeong feels that she can never be Seo Woo’s real mom, and feels bad about that, especially when people gossip about how she’s Seo Woo’s stepmother. It’s true; no matter how much she loves Seo Woo as her own, that is one fact that she cannot change.
On the other hand, Yu Ri is envious of how Min Jeong has an official place as Seo Woo’s mother and Kang Hwa’s wife. That’s a place that is no longer Yu Ri’s, and as wistful as she is of the family that is no longer hers, it’s not a place that she can take back in good conscience. She feels fully displaced, and she can’t change that.
E10. When Yu Ri describes to Hyun Jung how much Min Jeong’s sacrificed to love Seo Woo and care for her, it’s easy to understand why she feels that it wouldn’t be right to fight to get her place back. It’s almost the same as walking in Min Jeong’s shoes; Yu Ri’s walked next to her Seo Woo’s entire life, and she knows better than anyone, how genuine Min Jeong’s love is for Seo Woo. In concept, it would make sense for Yu Ri to dislike the woman who took her place, but because Yu Ri understands better than anyone how much Min Jeong has loved the family that Yu Ri’s left behind, in Yu Ri’s stead, I really do understand Yu Ri’s gratitude towards Min Jeong.
It’s touching that Yu Ri wants to honor Min Jeong’s rightful place in the family, but it’s so bittersweet that this means that Yu Ri will have to die again. And, it’s still sad to see Yu Ri hold herself in check, to honor Min Jeong’s place, like how she swallows Kang Hwa’s name, which she’d called out instinctively, and pretends to be drunk when he comes to the bar to take Min Jeong home. That’s gotta hurt, no matter what.
It’s also touching that Yu Ri’s going out of her way to be nice to Min Jeong, even asking her mom to cook something that Min Jeong likes to eat, and stocking Min Jeong’s fridge with it. That’s really thoughtful.
E12. Yu Ri’s reason for not fighting Min Jeong for her place, is so beautiful and yet so sad. She’s come to understand that Seo Woo’s favorite person is Mom – in this case, Min Jeong – and that Seo Woo is happiest with Min Jeong, and out of love for Seo Woo, Yu Ri just can’t bear to take that away from her. That’s so beautiful in its selflessness, yet so tragic, in its self-sacrifice. Yu Ri would literally choose to die, in order to protect Seo Woo’s happiness. Gulp.
Seo Woo Jin as Seo Woo
Seo Woo really is adorable, and Seo Woo Jin, the little boy playing her, really does look like Kim Tae Hee. I know the casting resulted in some controversy, but in a strict story sense, I think Seo Woo is delightful. Because she’s so reticent, every little smile or gesture of acceptance from her feels extra precious.
[SPOILER] I love that she decorates two eggs in episode 9, so that both Min Jeong and Yu Ri can have one each. (How tragic though, that Kang Hwa inadvertently destroys both presents, when he peels the eggs to satisfy his hunger.)
And I really love the epilogue in the same episode, where we see Seo Woo lighting up both Min Jeong’s and Yu Ri’s worlds, just by being herself and walking hand in hand with them. It’s adorable. [END SPOILER]
Kim Mi Kyung as Yu Ri’s mom
Kim Mi Kyung is wonderful as Yu Ri’s mom, almost always gruff and stoic on the surface, but so loving and caring, on the inside. Even though Mom mostly stays on the sidelines of our story, her steadfast love for Yu Ri is important to our story, and Kim Mi Kyung portrays Mom’s quiet pathos and devotion with a lovely subtlety and nuance.
E1. Augh. Despite Mom’s tough outer shell, she is such a throbbing, open wound, when she weeps for her daughter, alone in the women’s bathroom. Her pain really just reaches out of my screen and hits me right in the heart.
E4. It makes a lot more sense now, why Mom insists on being gruff about Yu Ri’s death, and refuses to behave like she’s mourning. She does miss Yu Ri a great deal, but she doesn’t want to burden her family with tiptoeing around her. That scene of her looking at Seo Woo’s photos on SNS and smiling fondly at her grandchild whom she can’t officially acknowledge, is heartwarming and sad at the same time.
E10. That scene of Kang Hwa and Yu Ri’s mom apologizing to each other, is so heart-pinching. Their loving relationship is forever changed and made awkward by Yu Ri’s death and the subsequent changed circumstances, and it’s heartwrenching to see that the love and care between them hasn’t changed. When they face each other like this, it feels like the wounds are open and raw all over again; they still care for each other deeply, and still feel deeply sorry for and to each other. I do love that Mom is so understanding of the fact that Min Jeong is also Seo Woo’s mom, as much as Yu Ri is Seo Woo’s mom. It’s the kind of thing a mother knows.
Yu Ri’s bond with Mom
Yu Ri’s bond with her mom is one of my favorite relationships in the show, mostly because I just love Mom so much. Theirs was the reunion that I waited for and anticipated the most, because I knew how much it would mean to Mom. Being able to witness their reunion, and their subsequent shared loving mother-daughter moments, was a big highlight of my watch. I only wish that we could have spent more time with this sweet mother-daughter pair.
E8. Mom and Yu Ri finally meet, and it’s extra poignant, I think, that it’s Yu Ri’s sobs that get Mom’s attention first. It’s like a mother’s instinct drawing her to her crying child, and that’s heart-hitting stuff. I hope that Mom can overcome her shock enough in the next episode, to spend some quality time with Yu Ri. Mom’s been hurting so much, and trying to keep it bottled up and on the down low for so long, that she really could use the catharsis of a good heart-to-heart talk with the daughter that she thought she’d lost forever.
E9. Augh. That scene of Mom and Yu Ri hugging it out in the hospital, both of them weeping with joy and pent-up heartache, is so moving to watch. They love each other so much, and they are so overcome by the waves of emotion at the reunion that neither of them imagined would be possible. Dad buckling to his knees at the sight of Yu Ri, and Yeon Ji’s (Kim Mi Soo) wide-eyed shock just complete the scene.
Yu Ri’s family
I just really liked Yu Ri’s family in general; they are all so caring and loving in their own ways. It was hard to see them grieve Yu Ri’s death, and it was wonderful to see them reunited with Yu Ri. I just wished that we could have spent more time with this sweet family.
E6. I was half hoping that Yu Ri would get a chance to talk with her dad this episode, but that doesn’t happen. It is very bittersweet, though, to see Dad soaking up the chance to see and play with Seo Woo, under the guise of being a random volunteer, on a drive to prevent kidnapping. Poor Dad. He dearly wants to spend more time with Seo Woo, but can’t, and he’s so wistful even as he says goodbye.
E6. The double flashbacks are so poignant, placed side by side. First, we see how excited Dad had been, to become a grandpa, and how he’d promised to take care of the baby for Yu Ri and Kang Hwa. And then, after Yu Ri’s death, we see Kang Hwa on his knees, begging Mom and Dad to take Seo Woo, and Mom and Dad decline.
What makes it so poignant, is that Mom and Dad would actually love to have a piece of Yu Ri with them, but they recognize that Kang Hwa needs Seo Woo, in order to survive. And so they decline, for his sake, even as he weeps. Oof. That’s heartbreaking, but again, it shows the heart of a parent.
E9. After Yu Ri’s reunion with Mom, it’s so poignant to see the entire family squeezing onto the same bed, in order to be as close to Yu Ri as possible. As much as her death cast a pall over the family, her return brings light to them all. The tearful smiles all around, make my heart feel so full.
At the same time, I feel a sense of discomfort knowing that the family doesn’t know that this time with Yu Ri is likely to be fleeting. I want them to be happy and I want the reunion to be strong and loving, but without the honest truth being revealed, this all feels like stolen happiness, in a manner of speaking.
E10. I feel like Yu Ri’s hardly spending any time with her mom, dad and sister. After that emotional reunion, this feels like a big letdown, not just for me, but even more, for Mom, who keeps finding an empty room without Yu Ri in it. This feels very unfair to them, especially since we now also know that Yu Ri doesn’t have many days left.
E11. This episode, we finally see Yu Ri spending some quality time with her family. It’s about time, I say. It’s been bothering me all this time, that Yu Ri’s so busy hanging around Seo Woo and helping the other ghosts, that she barely even seems to see her family. And that just didn’t feel right.
This episode helps to mollify me, but I still feel like precious time was wasted before, when her family just stayed on the sidelines wondering where Yu Ri had gone for the day. Still, it was nice to see Yu Ri spending time with Mom, and buying an outfit for Yeon Ji – and having Yeon Ji do the same for her – and seeing them make up for all their past fights over sharing clothes. Most moving of all, is Dad just hugging Yu Ri and crying it out. Poor Dad. He’s got so much emotion pent up over losing Yu Ri – and then unexpectedly getting her back again. Augh. The heartachey feels.
E12. It was very heartwarming to see Yu Ri’s family enjoy Seo Woo’s presence so much. I feel like this visit is long overdue, and the smiles on Mom’s and Dad’s faces are especially joyful, which is lovely to see. At the same time, there’s a strong undercurrent of bittersweetness in this scene, because there’s no guarantee of a next time. Plus, Yu Ri’s family members, blissful as they feel now, have no idea that they are quite likely on the cusp of losing Yu Ri all over again. As much as my heart warmed at this scene, it ached just as much.
E14. It’s really lovely to see Yu Ri and Hyun Jung hanging out with Yu Ri’s family, enjoying a hot meal together, and joking and laughing the evening away. This, too, feels so important. It’s consistently bothered me that Yu Ri hasn’t spent a great deal of time with her family, and so every time she does have some quality time with them, I feel my heart settle.
The friendship between Yu Ri & Hyun Jung
I love how the friendship between Yu Ri and Hyun Jung is so loving and enduring. From the time when Yu Ri was alive, to when she was dead, and then again, when she comes back to life, Hyun Jung remains deeply connected to her, and full of love for her. I found this very moving, and I loved watching the two of them reunite and fall right back into being best friends, like time had never stopped for them.
E4. I especially loved the scene where Yu Ri logs into her SNS with the new phone that Kang Hwa’s gotten her, and reads the sweet messages from Hyun Jung – before fat-fingering it, and accidentally liking the post. Hahaha. Yu Ri’s chagrin and Hyun Jung’s stunned shock are hilarious.
E5. It’s so touching to see Yu Ri and Hyun Jung cry so long and hard, upon their reunion. It’s a testament to the strength of their relationship, that they’ve missed each other so much. The reunion tears are an expression of just how much heartache they’ve both experienced, in Yu Ri’s passing and their necessary seperation.
E10. I’m glad that Yu Ri finally tells Hyun Jung the truth about her situation. If nothing else, it must be such a relief to be able to speak honestly with someone who cares about her and won’t judge her, rather that bottling everything up and trying to be strong on her own.
E12. Poor Hyun Jung. She’s literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Now that she’s friends with Min Jeong and understands Min Jeong’s decision to stay in her marriage, Hyun Jung can’t in good conscience encourage Yu Ri to take back her place, and yet, Hyun Jung can’t bear the thought of Yu Ri dying again. I can understand why she feels so torn and so wretched. She can’t do anything, but yet, she feels that she can’t not do anything either.
E14. I’m glad that Hyun Jung takes Yu Ri out on a date. I know Yu Ri doesn’t have a lot of time left, and therefore it might feel like she has bigger and more important things to do, but she hasn’t properly enjoyed a carefree day, all the time that she’s come back to life. I think it’s pretty awesome of Hyun Jung to make sure that Yu Ri has a fantastic day to enjoy, even though Hyun Jung herself is actually really torn up about the thought of Yu Ri dying again, and leaving again.
The growing friendship among the ladies
Despite the complexities involved, I really enjoyed the burgeoning friendship between Yu Ri, Hyun Jung and Min Jeong. I love what an unlikely trio they are, and I really like how, despite their odd circumstances, they support one another, and appreciate one another, and lean on one another. Sometimes you really do find friends in unexpected places, and this unlikely friendship was as heartwarming as it was bittersweet.
E6. All episode long, Show teases us with the question of why Yu Ri, Min Jeong and Hyun Jung all have bandaids on their faces. Of course, my first thought was that they must’ve fought as a result of their meeting at Hyun Jung’s bar. But as it turns out, they’d all gotten hurt while Yu Ri and Hyun Jung were trying to help a drunk Min Jeong. Aw. That’s kind of heartwarming.
E11. Min Jeong deciding to become friends with Hyun Jung and Yu Ri is a nice thing in general, but I can’t help thinking that it does complicate matters, because she has no idea who Yu Ri really is.
E13. I like the idea of Min Jeong and Yu Ri dropping by Hyun Jung’s bar on a regular basis and making themselves at home, and being friends. Again, though, it’s sad to think that this can’t actually be A Thing, because Yu Ri’s time is running out. Ordinarily, I like to be grateful for friendships that we have but for a season, but this feels extra harsh because this trio of friends is just getting settled, and they’re already almost out of time.
Oh Eui Sik as Geun Sang
I found Oh Eui Sik very amusing as Hyun Jung’s vain, hapless and somewhat neurotic husband, and Kang Hwa’s best friend. He brings some much-needed levity to our sometimes rather heavy narrative, and I couldn’t help growing rather fond of him, during the course of my watch.
My favorite Geun Sang moment might be when he first sees Yu Ri back from the dead. His skittish, flaily, my-brain-is-imploding reaction to seeing Yu Ri is so perfect. I can’t help but feel affectionate of him, even though he’s a bit of an idiot, heh.
Show regularly features epilogues, and I really enjoyed the thoughtful tone of the epilogues, often combined with heartfelt voiceovers from our characters, providing glimpses into their thoughts and feelings.
I felt that this added a really nice reflective tone to our watch experience, and over time, gave us enough narrative pieces to really round out our understanding of our characters, both in the present, and in the past as well.
E2. In today’s epilogue, we see that all the times that Kang Hwa ran around, sometimes in tears, just trying to take care of Seo Woo and carry on with life without Yu Ri, she’d always been there, waiting for him, comforting him, and seeing him. I feel this balances out nicely, what we saw in episode 1, where it had seemed that Yu Ri only cared about Seo Woo. She does care about Kang Hwa too, and I’m glad that we get confirmation of that.
E3. This epilogue really brings the feels. We see Yu Ri’s mom, pottering about Yu Ri’s old room to make sure that time doesn’t come to a stop, and Mom tells Yu Ri that she loves her, and asks Yu Ri if she’s listening. We also see Hyun Jung putting out a meal for Yu Ri on her birthday every year, thinking of her friend, and missing her.
Then we see Yu Ri right there with Mom and Hyun Jung, telling Mom that she loves her too, and sitting across from Hyun Jung, receiving the gesture that Hyun Jung believes Yu Ri is unable to receive, as we hear Yu Ri in voiceover, saying, “Perhaps the most beautiful thing we can feel in our lives is telling someone we love that we love them and thanking someone whom we’re grateful for.” … “I realized that it’s a great joy to give and that you end up feeling sorry if you always receive. I came to this realization after my death through those people whom I love.”
In the present, we see Yu Ri taking the opportunity to leave presents for both Mom and Hyun Jung, because now she can. That’s so touching to me, that now that Yu Ri has the means and ability, she doesn’t buy anything for herself like a new outfit. Instead, she spends it on showing love and gratitude for the ones that she loves. Aw. Such heartfelt perspective, made bittersweet by the fact that it’s gained through death.
STUFF THAT WAS OK
The inclusion of the ghost community
Overall, I felt pretty neutral about the inclusion of the ghost community in our story. I could’ve honestly taken it or left it. I get that the idea is to show that every ghost has a story, and that every ghost has their own regrets and difficulties leaving the human realm, but I often found the ghost community scenes unnecessarily loud and shouty.
Sometimes, when I felt Show was spending too much time on the ghosts, or going too ham with it, I didn’t like it so much. At these times, it often felt like the ghost community was being as filler, and that didn’t help. At other times, when Show did a good job of teasing out the emotional beats around a ghostly arc, I liked it better.
When I didn’t like it so much
E6. I chafe at how the ghosts badger and guilt-trip Yu Ri into doing favors for them, even though they know that she has limited time as a human. Anyone looking at the group can do the math; if Yu Ri were to do favors for them all, she’d have no time left to take care of her own business.
E7. I feel especially impatient with the arc concerning the family of ghosts being super concerned for their now-adult pilot son. I get that it’s supposed to be a poignant arc, where they would give anything to be with him all the time, but refuse to go into the air with him, in case they accidentally ascend and cross over, while he, on the other hand, chose to be a pilot in order to feel closer to his family.
As it turns out, though, the family of ghosts really do cross over while protecting Seo Woo, which made me fee bad for finding them annoying before.
When I liked it better
E8. I felt quite touched by the arc around Mr. Kim (Lee Dae Yeon) and his daughter, Teacher Kim (Ko Eun Min). I was wondering why she was so sad, leading up to her wedding, and I almost thought that perhaps she was somehow being forced into marriage, but no, she was just so upset that her father wasn’t around to bask in the fruit of his labor, or hear the praises and good wishes of the guests, and she felt so guilty for marrying late and causing him to miss that chance, and for not doing enough for him while he was alive.
Mr. Kim’s message to his daughter is so loving, heartfelt and liberating. It’s just what she needs to hear; that he’s not sad, and he’s happy with the life that he lived, and wants her to remember him as a strong person, instead of a pitiful person.
This arc felt nicely handled, in that it didn’t feel too long, but we get enough exposition to enable us to feel for the characters, and Yu Ri isn’t put upon too much, and therefore doesn’t actually squander a lot of her own precious time, in helping Mr. Kim. Also, it’s really sweet, to see him walk his daughter down the aisle anyway, even though she doesn’t know it.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Some of Show’s narrative choices didn’t work so well for me
Even though I mostly enjoyed Show’s general handling and execution, I have to admit that there were a couple of times that the narrative choices struck me as rather weird. These didn’t work for me personally, but it’s perfectly possible that other viewers would be fine with these plot points.
The musical number
E6. I get that Show wants to amplify the idea that people worry most for their loved ones, even in death, and that’s why we have the arc with all the ghosts, but I have to admit that this arc wore a little thin on me, this hour. I’m much more interested in Yu Ri’s arc, and the ghostly bunch has always struck me as unnecessarily loud and belligerent. This episode, though, that’s taken up several notches, with them yelling in unison, cursing the gods, and then even doing a musical number which reminds me of the song One Day More from Les Misérables, which I found really oddly shoehorned in. I mean, this was never a musical drama to begin with, so why now?
The girls going gangsta
E11. I feel a bit conflicted over Min Jeong, Hyun Jung and Yu Ri going gangsta and attacking the gossipy moms at the kids’ cafe. I know Show plays it exaggerated and theatrical, which means it’s supposed to be funny, and I’m not supposed to take it seriously, and I know that the actions taken aren’t actually life-threatening.
But the visual of Min Jeong straddling another mom and whacking her repeatedly on the back with a toy bat, and with gusto, doesn’t sit so well with me. It does look kind of violent, and overall, I feel like this scene condones some degree of violence, especially given that the 3 ladies laugh and cheer happily over the happenings, celebrating over grilled pork belly. Plus, they even mention a particular mom who got dragged into the fray at the cafe, even though she’s innocent – and they laugh about it. It just.. troubles me somewhat, and I have difficulty laughing along with the ladies on this one.
When Show had pacing issues
I like the concept of this drama, but some episodes feel stuffed with filler to stretch everything out, and I didn’t like that so much.
Like I mentioned earlier, I really liked Go Back Couple, which was by the same writer. At around episode 6, I began to wonder if writer-nim simply works better with 12-episode stories. Go Back Couple felt compact and efficient, whereas at the episode 6 mark, I started to feel some drag with this one. I started to imagine what this story might be like as a shorter, 12-episode drama, and I couldn’t help but think that I’d very likely enjoy it better. For one thing, there’d be no time for the ghosts to break out in a musical number, hur.
[SPOILER] For example, I was very annoyed with Show in episode 7, because so much time is spent on the ghost family badgering Yu Ri. They behave in very annoying ways, and their pilot son is such an incredible slob, that I find myself feeling impatient whenever this arc shows up, and, it shows up A LOT in episode 7. It makes me feel like we’re wasting so much time, which basically translates into Yu Ri wasting so much time, as well, and that rubbed me the wrong way, quite a bit. [END SPOILER]
Also, while Show is consistently good at delving into emotional threads and working to detangle how everyone feels, it also feels like that’s all Show does, in some of its later episodes. The plot can stay in place for entire episodes, with nothing new happening, while our characters work through their feelings. I thought this could have been managed better.
[SPOILER] When the Exorcist (cameo by Yang Kyung Won) arrives in our story in episode 11, I actually welcomed his arrival even though it suggests a threat to Yu Ri and Seo Woo. Essentially, I wasn’t keen on the threat itself, but I liked the forward movement that it represented. [END SPOILER]
While our characters had been reflecting on things like pain, loss and life, our plot hadn’t actually moved forward in a bit, so a bit of a kick in the pants, plot-wise, was quite needful, actually.
THEMES / IDEAS [SPOILERS]
One of Show’s strengths is how rich in themes it is. Every episode is built around a theme, and often, that theme shows up not only in our main narrative, but in the ghost arcs as well, which adds a sense of cohesiveness to the watch experience.
Here are the themes that stood out to me extra.
You just never know
E4. There’s a strong theme this episode, of “you just never know,” in that, you just never know what might happen to you; things that you thought only happen to other people might happen to you one day, and you just never know when that might be.
Yu Ri died as a result of freak accident, which no one could have predicted. Just days before, she’d been laughing and joking with Hyun Jung at the hospital, anticipating her own delivery date, and then, suddenly, everything changed. It really hits me in the heart, that everything in Yu Ri and Kang Hwa’s lives went from bright and full of hope, to dark and full of despair, in one fell swoop. Kang Hwa’s promise to greet their baby with a smile instead of tears, turns out to be a promise that he can’t keep, because he can’t help but cry. And, instead of being able to hold his new daughter, he turns away to tend to his wife’s funeral. Oof. That’s really so tragic.
The sentiment is echoed in Mom’s conversation with Hyuk Jin’s mom at the temple, where she talks about what it’s like to be a grieving mother. Her words are so poignant.
“You’re not fine at all, are you? ‘The people here are all unfortunate people who have lost their child. So what am I doing here? Why am I in the middle of these people?’ That’s what you’re thinking. That’s what I thought too. When I was with people who knew what I was going through, it felt like they couldn’t even laugh because of me. And when I was with people who don’t know, I couldn’t laugh with them because I felt like I don’t deserve to laugh after losing my child.
In the end, I came here looking for people in the same situation as me. But even then I felt out of place with all these unfortunate people. I couldn’t understand it. Coming here doesn’t make things any better. Each of us has to figure out on their own how to live with this. Here you can see that so many people die each day. ‘Not me. And definitely not my child.’ I don’t understand how I could have believed that.”
This, together with what Ms. Mi Dong (Yoon Sa Bong) says, about there not being a word to describe a parent who’s lost their child, because there’s no word that can describe the excruciating pain, makes this a very heart-hitting beat indeed.
You never get over goodbye
E8. This episode, we look at how hard it is to say goodbye, and how different people cope differently. Essentially, goodbye is never easy, and you never get over it; you just find a way to move on. And in this drama world, this is true of our ghosts as well.
In the meantime, her loved ones cope in the ways that they can; Mom busies herself with cleaning, Hyun Jung messages Yu Ri’s SNS account; just because they don’t look as lost as Kang Hwa does, doesn’t mean that they aren’t hurting just as much from the loss of Yu Ri. Everyone copes differently, is all. And I think that’s a good reminder for us in real life too; just because we can’t see someone grieving, doesn’t mean that they’re aren’t sad or hurting.
We affect one another
E9. There’s a strong theme this episode, of people giving light – and also, energy, joy and strength – to the people they love. In the opening flashback, we see how Yu Ri had been the light to Kang Hwa, helping to lift his spirits and tease out his smiles, until she’d died, when she’d been helpless in the face of his grief.
And then there’s how looking at pictures of Seo Woo brings light to Yu Ri’s dad’s life. He’s so reluctant to delete the photos of Seo Woo from his phone, because even in that very limited interaction, and with this little token in memory of the moment, she still lights up his world. Aw.
Ghost-wise, this episode, Mr. Kim’s conversation with Chairman Baek bring home the point that it’s people and relationships that are most precious in life. Money can’t buy happiness, as the proverbial saying goes. It’s sweet that Mr. Kim is so understanding of Chairman Baek, and reminds him that he has indeed left behind at least one good thing in the world, because he’d helped Mr. Kim’s daughter receive treatment for her leg and therefore changed her life.
E12. That idea is very poignant; that even though Yu Ri is no longer around, she’s left an indelible mark on Kang Hwa’s life. She’s changed him, just by being in his life. And that certainly puts a different spin on the idea that Yu Ri is forgotten, as Kang Hwa learns to move on with his life. She may be gone, but the effects of her presence will never be erased.
How would you live, if you knew exactly how much time you had left?
E11. This episode’s theme is extra relatable, I feel like: how would you live, if you knew exactly how much time you had left? Or, in Yu Ri and Kang Hwa’s case, how would you have lived, if you knew tomorrow wasn’t going to be there?
Show really brings this out in such a poignant way, in how Yu Ri and Kang Hwa individually regret the little things that they’d each promised the other, but had reneged on – only to find that they’d blown their last chance to do said thing for their beloved, because time had run out on them. That hits close to home. I think most of us would know that feeling, of having missed our last chance of doing something for a loved one, while we still had the time. Ouch.
The epilogue puts another perspective on Yu Ri’s death. Even as Kang Hwa stumbles through a daze, mourning her loss, he instinctively does all the little things that Yu Ri had repeatedly reminded him to do, while she’d been alive. In voiceover, Kang Hwa says, “Even while you were gone, the world kept spinning. The time we spent together was changing me desperately.”
Be grateful for the present
E13. This episode, Show wants us to think about time; time that stops flowing, starts flowing, and that’s flowed in the past.
Yu Ri muses sadly that coming back to life was a punishment and not a reward, because she’s just making everyone miserable with her presence. That’s really sad. Ms. Mi Dong tells Yu Ri that it’s because people all worry too much about tomorrow to really live fully in the present.
And that’s probably the heart of Show’s message this hour. Min Jeong can’t access the time that has flowed in the past, between Kang Hwa and Yu Ri, Yu Ri can’t be a part of Kang Hwa’s time moving forward with Min Jeong, and Kang Hwa can’t do anything about any of that. The only thing that they all can do, is choose to live being grateful for the present.
Guilt can haunt us
E14. Unsurprisingly, pretty much everyone in Yu Ri’s life keeps a measure of guilt around her death. Mom feels guilty for not stopping her from going to work that day; Hyun Jung feels guilty for starting to forget Yu Ri, as she’d moved on with her life; Kang Hwa feels guilty for not being contactable, when Yu Ri was taken to the hospital – he feels that he killed her, somehow. Yu Ri herself feels guilty for leaving, and causing so much pain to everyone, and now, she feels guilty for coming back, and causing pain to everyone all over again. It’s a tough emotion to grapple with, and it’s nearly destroyed Kang Hwa in the time that has passed, because he literally cannot breathe; the guilt has him so firmly in its death grip. Ack.
And now that Min Jeong knows the truth, she probably feels guilty too. She feels guilty for hiring a helper in order to go back to work, and thus losing Seo Woo in the process. I’m sure she also feels guilty for treating Yu Ri as a helper, when Yu Ri is Seo Woo’s biological mother. That thing that she’d said, “I’m sorry, but could you please leave?” … “How could you lose her?” indicates a status where Min Jeong has more right to speak about Seo Woo’s safety and well-being. Now that Min Jeong realizes who her helper really is, there’s a mental reshuffling that happens, I believe. I think in Min Jeong’s mind, Yu Ri, being Seo Woo’s mother, has more right to speak about Seo Woo’s safety, for being the person who gave birth to Seo Woo.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
I feel like there are two possible ways that one might look at this penultimate episode.
The first is, you might think that Show is stalling for time by having Yu Ri change her mind about wanting to live, only to change her mind at the end of the episode, so that we’re in position for the finale.
The second is, you might feel that after spending all this time being determined not to disrupt everyone else’s lives, it’s normal and expected for Yu Ri to have a moment of doubt, and that this episode was for Yu Ri to actually dip her toe into a reality that she hadn’t dared to hope for, and explore whether that’s what she really wants.
Personally, I’m leaning towards the second option, and I do think that Yu Ri experiencing this rush of doubt this late in the game is quite natural. All this time, she’s held onto her resolve to cross over after her 49 days are up, but she’s only human, and with her decision being a permanent one, and with so much love in her heart for the people around her, and vice versa, it’s only natural that she’d question whether she’s really doing the right thing. Even more so, when her time is running out.
Even though it’s easy to blame Kang Hwa for being unfair to Min Jeong, I can understand why he is ready to break things off with her, in order to save Yu Ri. In just about any situation, it feels justified to take drastic or even cruel actions, if it means that you can save a life. In this case, Kang Hwa’s lost Yu Ri once, with devastating after-effects, and I can understand why he would feel compelled to do whatever it takes to save her this time – even if it means allowing Min Jeong to be treated unfairly. Because, at least Min Jeong is alive to live another day.
The confrontation between Kang Hwa and Yu Ri in the park is emotional and difficult, but also needful and cathartic. Everything that they’ve been holding in their hearts comes tumbling out, with tears, sobs and even shouts and screams. Why Yu Ri didn’t say anything; why Yu Ri felt she couldn’t say anything; that Kang Hwa was the one who wouldn’t let her go; why Kang Hwa wasn’t able to let her go; it all gets given voice, finally, and there’s a sense of relief afterwards, in both Kang Hwa and Yu Ri, from having gotten everything out in the open.
The conversation between Yu Ri and Min Jeong at the cafe is so cordial, bittersweet and poignant. Both women look at each other with tearful eyes, and both women wish aloud that the other person could’ve been mean or nasty, so that it would’ve made it easier to be selfish. But neither woman is mean or selfish, and in their acknowledgement of each other, there’s a deep sense of helplessness and wistfulness.
This scene encapsulates the main dilemma of our story: both Yu Ri and Min Jeong are kind, caring, good people who like each other, and are in this situation through no fault of their own, and yet, because they are placed in opposing positions in a single set of circumstances, we just don’t know who to root for. It’s tough, because whatever happens in the end, only one of them can “win,” so to speak.
The person most wronged this episode, is Min Jeong, who’s basically expected to suffer the loss of the entire life that she’s dedicated herself to building, for the sake of saving Yu Ri. I can’t even blame the people around her for apologizing to her, because between hurting Min Jeong and letting Yu Ri die, hurting Min Jeong just shakes out as the lesser of two evils.
In a context like this, I love Yu Ri’s mom extra, for saying those kind words to Min Jeong. I thought it was wonderfully poignant to see that Min Jeong had known who Yu Ri’s mom was all along, and had taken Seo Woo to the park, specifically to let Mom look upon Seo Woo all she wanted. It was her unspoken way of comforting Yu Ri’s mom, whom she didn’t even know, and I think this might be my favorite Min Jeong moment of the entire show.
I love that in this moment, when Min Jeong feels at a loss and all alone in the world, Mom comes to sit with her, and calls her “Seo Woo’s mom” – something that Min Jeong dearly needs to hear – and assure her that just as Min Jeong knows Seo Woo best, she knows Yu Ri best, and what Min Jeong fears will not happen. This is such a beautiful, compassionate moment, and it fills my heart so, to have such kindness exchanged between two people who are technically strangers to each other.
In the end, Yu Ri’s outing to the amusement park with Kang Hwa and Seo Woo feels like a rare and precious glimpse into what life might be like, if Yu Ri could stay – or if she had never died in the first place. The little pocket of family bliss feels so special yet short-lived; once the day is over, Yu Ri is ready to put her momentary dream away and take up again, her resolve to cross over.
Although we are not privy to the workings of it, it becomes clear that if Yu Ri chooses to stay, Seo Woo will remain able to see ghosts her entire life. I can understand Yu Ri’s decision to protect Seo Woo at all costs. If she had died in order that Seo Woo might live, I can certainly understand her mother’s heart, that she would give up her chance to live again, in order that Seo Woo might be able to live a normal life without being able to see ghosts.
The price that Yu Ri pays isn’t just her own life; it’s also all the memories that she could have had with Kang Hwa and Seo Woo. As we get to see snippets of the memories that could have been, played out in this episode’s epilogue, Yu Ri’s sacrifice – and her love for Seo Woo – becomes so clear. There really isn’t anything a mother wouldn’t do for her child. Sob.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Dang. I knew going in, that with a title like Hi Bye, Mama!, that this show would likely have a bittersweet ending, and that I would likely cry, but Show did pull out all the stops this finale, to make my heart feel all of the feels, in one fell swoop.
It’s the mother’s heart that shines through, this episode. Not only does Yu Ri make the choice to cross over for Seo Woo’s sake, we realize that this trip back to the land of the living, was never about rewarding or punishing Yu Ri. It’d had nothing to do with that; it was all to grant her mother’s heartfelt wish, to be able to see her daughter once more. This was all for Mom. “Hi Bye, Mama” wasn’t just a phrase to describe Seo Woo being able to see her mom for a while; it was also to describe Yu Ri being able to see her mom again, too.
Augh. Isn’t that just like a mother’s heart, to receive the wish of one’s heart, only to be content to be relegated to the sidelines? Mom had prayed daily, with deep sincerity, that she would be able to have the chance to see Yu Ri again, and it pains me more than a little, to realize that in the time that Yu Ri’s come back, Mom has seen so little of her. And yet, we find out that Mom’s been grateful all this time, and acutely aware, thanks to her daily dreams, that Yu Ri might leave again one day.
The fact that Mom had had this inkling all along, and hadn’t pressed Yu Ri to spend more time at home with the family, makes me choke up. What a giving, understanding, liberating sort of love, that Mom has for her daughter.
I love the scene where Mom cooks the seaweed soup that she hadn’t gotten to serve Yu Ri after Seo Woo’s birth, and mother and daughter eat together, and talk. Mom realizes, without Yu Ri actually having to answer her question, that Yu Ri had been with her all along, for the past 5 years, and Mom apologizes for making Yu Ri sad by being so sad herself. Mother and daughter embrace, both crying freeing, cathartic tears. Oof.
Yu Ri talks with Min Jeong and asks her not to leave, because Kang Hwa and Seo Woo both need her. She tells Min Jeong that she has no choice but to leave, and Min Jeong finally fully understands Yu Ri’s heart. My favorite part of the conversation, is when Min Jeong asks Yu Ri why she doesn’t hate her.
“I hurt Kang Hwa and turned him into a thorny cactus. You’re holding him without knowing that you’re bleeding. Also, you’re Seo Woo’s favorite person in the world. I was so relieved. “Thank goodness, she’s Seo Woo’s mom.” That’s what I thought to myself every day. Why would I hate you?”
What a beautiful acknowledgement of Min Jeong’s importance in Kang Hwa’s and Seo Woo’s lives. And I do love that in response, Min Jeong, against all convention, asks Yu Ri, “Can’t you just stay?” … “Isn’t there a way you can stay?”
The mutual respect and appreciation between the two women is beautiful and bittersweet, and their tears, as they speak their hearts to each other, are beautiful and bittersweet as well.
Lots of tears are shed, particularly by Kang Hwa and Hyun Jung, at the realization that Yu Ri is going to leave soon, but everyone realizes that the best thing to do, is send Yu Ri off well.
Yu Ri makes a list of all the things that she wants to do before she leaves, and we see her do them, one by one: taking her ghost friends out for barbecue, having Pil Seung come over for a home-cooked meal with her family, spending time with the people that she loves the most.
Yu Ri and Kang Hwa talk about all that’s happened, and Yu Ri expresses that her one regret is not being able to be there for Seo Woo the way her mom was always there for her, and hands the task over to Kang Hwa, to be a dad that she can count on. Yu Ri asks Kang Hwa to live his life to the fullest and be happy, for Seo Woo’s sake. Kang Hwa promises to do so, and also promises, while swallowing back tears, to remember Yu Ri with a smile and not with tears. They embrace with smiles and tears, and it all makes me want to cry. Gulp.
One of the most important scenes this finale, is when Yu Ri says goodbye to Seo Woo. She asks Seo Woo to live joyfully, and with a smile, and then asks her to come to Mom again, in her next life. As Yu Ri tearfully hugs Seo Woo, Seo Woo pats her shoulder comfortingly, and says, in her little voice, “Bye Mom,” literally “go well, Mom.” Gah. That is just the best gift that Yu Ri could ask for, and it fills my heart so, that she gets to hear Seo Woo call her Mom, and breaks my heart at the same time, that this is the last time that she will hear it as well. Tear.
In the final moments, as Yu Ri prepares to leave, Ms. Mi Dong asks if Yu Ri has said all her goodbyes, and tells Yu Ri that it’s a blessing to be able to do so. And then, Ms. Mi Dong hands Yu Ri a mirror and tells her that she should say goodbye to herself as well. Oof. I did not expect this. I mean, it’s one thing to say goodbye to everyone else, but the idea of saying goodbye to oneself, feels so.. final and empty.
Yu Ri looks into the mirror, tells herself goodbye, and as she walks towards her crossover, we hear her say in voiceover to Kang Hwa and Seo Woo, “When you go to Heaven, God will ask you two questions. If you answer yes to both questions, you can be reborn as a human in your next life. One question is, “Were you happy with your life?” The other question is, “Were other people happy because of me?” Let’s be reborn as humans and meet again in the next life.”
I appreciate the sentiment, that Yu Ri’s last words to Kang Hwa and Seo Woo are less about meeting again in the next life, and more about wanting them to be happy in life, while making others happy too.
In a flash-forward epilogue, we see a teenaged Seo Woo looking at the photograph that Yu Ri had taken with her and Kang Hwa at the amusement park, and on it, we see that Yu Ri’s written a note to Seo Woo, “My baby, will you remember that I was with you for a while?” Aw! Seo Woo remembers her! My heart. I do love that Seo Woo has that memento to remember Yu Ri by.
In voiceover, we hear Kang Hwa say, “Petals fall, but the flower endures. The scent remained in the world and permeated our memory deeply.” What a poetic way to say that even though Yu Ri is gone, her presence continues to linger in their lives.
Such a beautiful, heartfelt end to a poignant and bittersweet story. In the end, Yu Ri’s time with Seo Woo, and all of her loved ones, was truly a gift. She may not have had a true chance to continue living as a human, but she did have a chance to connect with those dear to her heart, and make sure that she left without regrets, and she did just that. You did not have a lot of time, Yu Ri, but you lived well.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Beautiful, bittersweet and heartfelt, in spite of its flaws.
FINAL GRADE: B+
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Hi Bye, Mama!, is Flower Of Evil. I know. What a change of pace! I do think it’ll be a good ride; I’ve been hearing lots of good things about it, plus I do enjoy me some Lee Jun Ki! 😉
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