Welcome to the Open Thread, everyone! Thank you for joining me on this group watch of Secret Love Affair! 🥰
Here are our usual ground rules, before we begin:
1. Please don’t post spoilers in the Open Thread, except for events that have happened in the show, up to this point. If you really need to talk about a spoiler, it is possible to use the new spoiler tags, but please know that spoilers are still visible (ie, not hidden) in the email notification that you receive, of the comment in question. We have quite a few first-time viewers among us, and we don’t want to spoil anything for anyone.
2. Discussions on this thread don’t have to close when newer threads open, just so you know! But as we progress through our group watch, please keep the discussions clear of spoilers from future episodes, so that future readers coming to this thread won’t be accidentally spoiled. Does that make sense?
Without further ado, here are my reactions to this set of episodes; have fun in the Open Thread, everyone! ❤️
Secret Love Affair OST – Four Hands
In case you’d like to drown in the music as you read the episode notes, here’s Four Hands, one of Show’s iconic instrumentals that we hear featured right away in this set of episodes. I love it for how it swirls around you and whirls in your head, and ultimately gets under your skin. Tingles, truly.
Just right-click on the video and select “Loop.”
It’s been a full 7 years since I watched this show, and just dipping my toes into it now, in episode 1, I’m immediately struck by how.. intoxicating it is, right away.
As I watched this episode, it occurred to me that this show is so rich, that if I were to attempt to talk about every little detail, these episode notes would end up being way too long. I remember all over again, why I’d chosen to highlight only selected things in my review of the show, while choosing to focus mainly on our main characters, Hye Won and Sun Jae.
I realize that I’ll have to do the same, in order to make these episode notes somewhat efficient, but what I’ll attempt to do, is perhaps point out some other details, that I didn’t include in my review.
For example, Show does a wonderfully intricate job of demonstrating to us, just how different Hye Won’s and Sun Jae’s worlds are. In my review, I highlighted the difference in lighting and sound; Hye Won’s world is mood-lit with gentle, warm lighting, and there’s almost always some classical music in the background, providing a bit of ambience, while Sun Jae’s world is lit in harsh fluorescent tones, and instead of mood music, there are busy, harsh sounds of traffic.
Another thing I noticed on this viewing, is just how shabby Sun Jae’s house is, compared to the house where Hye Won lives. Hye Won’s house is polished and elegant, and she has a housekeeper to help her, whereas Sun Jae’s front door is shrouded in cheap plastic wrap; a humble attempt at keeping out the cold, which the door itself is clearly not capable of doing, on its own.
Show gives us a clear introduction to Hye Won and her world, this episode. Hye Won is clearly a very capable and competent woman, who is graceful and elegant, but also, gracious and pleasant as a general rule. She’s clearly existing in a very difficult space. She has to pander to the whims and fancies of the rich and powerful – and yet, has to have the boldness to keep them in line, at the same time. How do you do both, at the same time? It sounds like a highly unreasonable ask, and yet, that’s exactly what Hye Won does, for a living.
She has to dig President Seo out of bed, where she’s passed out after a night with her young toy boy, and she has to get President Seo to cooperate, when President Seo absolutely doesn’t want to cooperate. It’s such a tough thing to do, and although it doesn’t surprise me that President Seo responds by slapping Hye Won, it does feel quite awful, that this is the kind of territory that comes with the job.
Of course, this begs the question of why Hye Won would subject herself to this kind of life, where she’s at the beck and call of these moody rich people, and married to a whiny schmuck for strategic purposes.
From what we can see this episode, it boils down to ambition. Even though Hye Won demurs when Madam Han asks if she isn’t interested in President Seo’s position, Hye Won later mutters to herself that of course she is.
And she’s got the talent for it, too. It didn’t occur to me during my first watch, but Hye Won demonstrates, this episode, that she’s great at mahjong.
I don’t play mahjong myself, but I’m told that it’s a game that is relatively easy to play, but is hard to be really good at; that it requires a great deal of strategic thinking, and you need to be able to read your opponents’ tiles from the various moves that they make, and you also need to anticipate their moves, before they make them. You basically need to keep a lot of information straight in your head while playing, and that information evolves and changes over the course of the game, as players trade their mahjong tiles.
With Hye Won displaying such excellent mahjong-playing abilities, we can see already, that she’s a shrewd and talented woman, who has what it takes, to make it in the dog-eat-dog world in which she works.
One thing that I find very interesting about Hye Won, is how pleasant and patient she is with her husband Joon Hyung, who is far from likable, as far as I’m concerned. I’d kind of expected that things would be more businesslike between them, since they are clearly in a business arrangement sort of marriage. However, she does take pains to pacify him, and talk to him nicely, even when she’s exhausted from her day.
I feel like to Hye Won, this marriage is as much as part of her job, as her actual job is. It’s telling, in the way she remarks to the housekeeper, that nothing is easy, and it’s also telling, in the way she tells Sun Jae in their anonymous online chat, that even her real name is fake. It feels like Hye Won’s entire life is a job to her, where she has to put on her armor, and show up, and be as perfect and faultless as possible. It’s exhausting, just to watch her.
I think that that’s why Hye Won, in her exhaustion – and perhaps slightly tipsy from the two beers she’d drunk – chats with Sun Jae while pretending to be someone completely other than herself.
It’s rather ironic, isn’t it, that it’s behind a fake name, with a fake description, where Hye Won feels most relaxed. That furthers the idea even more, that Hye Won’s life is exhausting. It’s easier and more relaxing, for her not to be herself.
The thing that comes through to me about Hye Won, through all of this, is that she does seem to truly love music. She seems regretful that she’d had to stop playing, and also, she is drawn to talent when she sees it. She’s credited as the one who’d spotted Min Woo’s talent, and given him the chance to study with Professor Jo. And, when she sees Sun Jae’s playing in that online video, she’s immediately drawn to that, too. She may not have the opportunity to dwell in her passion for music, but she does love it.
As a side note, I just wanted to say that I’m quite impressed by Madam Han, in that she really does appear to be on top of her game. She’s all composure and elegance, but then there’s also how she grabs Young Woo by the hair, for daring to suggest that Chancellor Min is her lover, and then literally sticks Young Woo’s face in the toilet. Madam Han is not to be messed with, for sure.
And then when Young Woo lashes out at her at the spa center, and basically throws a bit of an embarrassing tantrum, Madam Han maintains her composure, and when Young Woo’s left the room, she just smiles, “She’s cute, isn’t she?” I mean. That just defuses everything that Young Woo’s put anger and energy into expressing. It takes Young Woo from fierce dragon to upset puppy, without much effort at all. That’s pretty masterful, I thought.
We learn less about Sun Jae this episode, compared to Hye Won, but I do still appreciate the attention to detail that we get. Immediately, from the way Sun Jae refuses to give Joon Hyung’s assistant a discount for the delivery, we can see that he’s no pushover. I appreciate that Sun Jae doesn’t actually say anything, and just looks at him, until he fishes out the correct delivery fee.
Also, there’s the way Sun Jae’s so entranced by that grand piano in the auditorium. The way he peeks through the curtains (again, such a great representation of how Sun Jae is an outsider looking in, unbidden, at Hye Won’s world), with such a sense of awe and rapture in his eyes, says so much, about how music is so important to his soul.
In this scene, at first, I’d thought that Sun Jae was looking at Hye Won, because she really is quite incandescent. However, it’s only after his gaze remains riveted, even after Hye Won and the others have left the auditorium, that I realized that it was the piano that had captured his heart. Ahhh. That feels so pure, truly.
Clearly, Sun Jae’s drawn to that piano like a moth to a flame. I’m sure he knows that he’s not supposed to touch it, but that piano must have called out to him like a siren song, and I imagine that Sun Jae must have wandered over and started playing, even before he realized it. I do love that those who hear him, immediately recognize his talent. That definitely gives us a flavor for the kind of gift that Sun Jae has.
I do love the way Yoo Ah In is playing Sun Jae; there’s such a richness to his delivery. When Sun Jae’s gazing at the piano from behind the curtain, there’s such a wistfulness, desire and hunger in his gaze. And then, when he’s hiding in the bathroom stall, the sweaty, nervous ticks that he displays, show us so clearly, just how anxious he is, in the moment.
And so, when Sun Jae finally comes face to face with Hye Won at the end of the episode, I feel like I can already feel how he feels, as he takes in the sight of her, luminous in her own living room. I feel like he remembers her from the auditorium, and combining the memory of her music expertise with her tangible presence in front of him, I’m guessing that he sees her as a goddess, right away; he just seems so nervous and so.. in awe.
Ahhh. The meeting of Hye Won and Sun Jae is so absorbing, and so telling.
Sun Jae comes across as so artless and so pure; clearly, his love is for music. His soul thrives on it. And when Hye Won asks him to play, it’s not something that he can just switch on, just like that. The long moment that he takes, to prepare his heart – his soul – feels so important and so fundamental to how the music eventually flows out of his fingers. In fact, you can practically see it flowing first from his soul, then through his body, and then out of his fingers. It’s just so deeply, organically a part of him.
And then there’s when the music reaches Hye Won. It feels like the life that the music carries – from Sun Jae’s soul – is reigniting her heart; rekindling a certain something that’s been dormant for a long time. I feel like with her immersion in the world of the Foundation, Hye Won’s lost touch with how music moves her soul, and now, as she listens to Sun Jae play, and feels the pure emotion carried in his music, she remembers all over again, how it feels to be absorbed into the music to become one with it.
From Hye Won’s expression, it feels like a surprise to her, that she could ever feel this way again. She smiles; she cries. This moment feels special; precious; elevated; it feeds her soul so much, that she doesn’t even require food for sustenance, even after listening to Sun Jae play for the entire day.
The duet that Hye Won and Sun Jae play, feels like such an intimate event. What strikes me about this, is how well they play together, without ever having done it before. They fall in sync with each other immediately, and stay in sync, all the way through to the end.
It feels like a mirror to a courtship, with some parts feeling playful, and others, more thoughtful, and everything then culminating in an emotional, breathless sort of climax. It feels like a metaphor for physical intimacy, except this feels more transcendent, and more precious, like their souls have met in some other realm, and for a moment, become united as one.
It’s mesmerizing and quite spellbinding, and it’s clear to see that it’s not just in my imagination. Hye Won and Sun Jae both feel it too; that’s why their goodbye is a little hasty and awkward – but not before Hye Won gives him that pinch on the cheek, as her special mark of praise.
To Hye Won’s credit, she keeps it professional, but in the aftermath, as she unwinds alone, and sits with her cup of tea, she comes across as a woman recently undone, basking in the afterglow of an intimately satisfying encounter.
And Sun Jae, like Hye Won, is so completely filled in his soul, from their encounter, that not only does he not require food, he doesn’t require sleep either. The way he practically hugs himself with tearful joy (see, he laughs and cries too, just like Hye Won), as his mind goes over again, Hye Won’s various indications of approval and praise. I love that he’s able to pick up on the subtle hints, like when she requests him to play a section again, not because there’s anything wrong with how he’d played it the first time, but because she’d wanted to listen to it again.
It really feels like Sun Jae’s in a cloud of bliss, as he stands there on that bridge, playing everything all over again, on the railings, remembering what it had felt like, to have Hye Won play next to him, long into the night, and into the dawn of the morning. It’s clearly such a deeply moving, joyful, fulfilling experience for him.
The aftermath, as Hye Won and Sun Jae each come back to reality, feels like a bit of a wake up call for us as viewers, too, I feel.
Back at work, Hye Won has to deal with all the politicking between Young Woo and Madam Han, and the accusations of selling admissions that Young Woo’s trying to drag her into. Like most chaebol power plays tend to do, it all kinda reminds of the types of machinations that you see in the royal courts in sageuks. It’s not pretty, basically. And contrasted with the sublimity of Hye Won’s and Sun Jae’s meeting of souls, this feels rather jarring.
But the reality is, if Sun Jae is to have a chance to study piano at Seohan University, and grow as a pianist, he will have to enter this glamorous, dirty world that Hye Won’s living in. And, as we’ve seen so far, Sun Jae’s a pure, pure soul. Even right now, without knowing him very well, I feel like Sun Jae stepping into Hye Won’s world, is going to be uncomfortable and problematic.
Hye Won is the consummate professional, positioning Sun Jae’s admission to Seohan University as a way to counter the rumors of unfair admissions. If I didn’t know any better, I’d believe that she has no personal interest in Sun Jae; she’s that businesslike about it. When I say personal interest, though, I don’t mean romantic. I honestly don’t think Hye Won sees Sun Jae in a romantic light. I think that she sees him as a very special, gifted musician, whose music touches her soul.
On the other hand, it does seem like Sun Jae sees Hye Won more as a woman than she sees him as a man. He looks noticeably bothered to learn that Hye Won is married to Joon Hyung, and he seems much more self-conscious about his home, when he’d appeared pretty matter-of-fact about it before, when he’d been cleaning it in anticipation of Joon Hyung’s visit.
I can’t roll my eyes hard or far enough, at the way Joon Hyung just scuttles out of there, abandoning Hye Won in a moment of need, because he’s more conscious of his own fear of mice, than of her need for assistance, to get that makeshift mousetrap off her foot. Ugh. He’d struck me as useless and whiny in episode 1, but this really takes it to another level, doesn’t it? 🙄
In contrast, Sun Jae’s reaction is all about Hye Won. He’s clearly very anxious and nervous, but there’s no running away, from him. He’s all jitters, but he gets that mousetrap off Hye Won’s foot – and then grabs her in a princess-carry. Ooh. Well, that tells us something about how Sun Jae feels, doesn’t it?
I don’t think that Sun Jae’s even thinking about anything else in this moment; he just desperately wants to help Hye Won’s foot feel better, and he wants to make sure she’s safe too. It’s just that, in this moment, when there is absolutely no artifice at play, I feel that we get a quick but distinct glimpse at Sun Jae’s true feelings – and I do think that he very much sees Hye Won as a woman.