Welcome to the Open Thread, everyone! I decided to have this scene headlining our post today, because I love the unguarded, carefree vibe of this scene, as Hye Won and Sun Jae chat and laugh over beers.
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 – Devotion
In case you’d like to soak in the music as you read the episode notes, here’s Devotion, the piece that plays during the consummation scene in episode 8. I love that it’s so beautifully gentle and unhurried; it sounds delicate, while also sounding strong.
Just right-click on the video and select “Loop.”
What a confronting hour this turns out to be, for both Hye Won and Sun Jae.
It’s ironic that Hye Won turns to Sun Jae because she instinctively sees him as her safe place, and yet, she is so quick to jump to conclusions about Sun Jae’s true intentions, when she sees him walk into that hotel, that she literally abandons him right there, in Jangheung, and drives back to Seoul on her own.
Poor Sun Jae. All he’d wanted was to find a way to let Hye Won rest better, after her harrowing night in her real world, and in return, he’d gotten dumped in the middle of nowhere, without his jacket.
It occurs to me that when people are faced with danger, they tend to either default to fight or flight mode. And in this instance, we actually see Hye Won doing both. She runs away from Sun Jae without even stopping to give him the benefit of the doubt, and then later, in the texts that they exchange, when he comes to her home for his jacket, her tone is accusatory, and her stance, adversarial.
I suppose this demonstrates to us, just how freaked out Hye Won is, at the thought that Sun Jae might want more from her than she is ready to give, and also, how drained Hye Won must feel, from everything she’s gone through earlier in the day, that she would feel like she has literally nothing left to give anyone.
It’s not pleasant, though, to watch Hye Won lash out at Sun Jae, who only had the purest of intentions. I feel really bad for him, because I imagine it must be extra horrible, to be done dirty by someone, when that someone happens to be the goddess of whom you think the world.
What’s interesting to me, is that through all of Sun Jae’s frustration, he defends himself, but doesn’t appear to actually ever think less of Hye Won, for the way she treats him. That’s quite incredible to me, because the way Hye Won treats him is absolutely not cool. She’s clearly in the wrong for misunderstanding him, and instead of apologizing for misunderstanding him, she leans into attack mode, and keeps on being harsh with him, even the next day.
It kind of blew my mind a bit, that she would call Sun Jae the next day, and angrily demand to know why he hadn’t kept his word to jog past her house at 6:30am. However, it does seem like this stems from the fact that Hye Won seems to feel insecure in her fortysomething skin, when contemplating a physical relationship with Sun Jae. With this in mind, perhaps leaning into her power would turn the power balance back in her favor, at least in her own mind?
And then there’s the thing where it’s possible that Hye Won is lashing out at Sun Jae, because he really is the only safe place where she can lash out.
The way Joon Hyung responds the night before, about the wound on her forehead, is nothing short of contemptible. Ugh. I thought my head would explode, from trying to process the amount of self-centeredness coming from him. Even when he hears that Young Woo had hit Hye Won, his first reaction is to, 1, take issue with Hye Won’s tone, because it implies that she thinks he got Young Woo to hit her, and 2, worry that other people would think that he’s a wife beater. Oh my goodness.
Of course, I suppose we need to take into account the fact that Joon Hyung’s already smarting from the knowledge that there’s Something going on, between Hye Won and Sun Jae. That would definitely put him on edge, so I guess I should cut him some slack there. Plus, he does apologize to Hye Won the next morning, which should count for something. It’s just too little, too late, it seems, since Hye Won loses patience with the excuses that he tacks on to the apology, and cuts him off.
How significant, though, that Hye Won actually articulates in this conversation, that she wishes that she could quit and give everything back, and return to her twenties when she’d had nothing – and be happy. This definitely feels like the beginnings of some serious cracks in Hye Won’s long-held approach to the world, wouldn’t you say?
This episode, I do feel like Joon Hyung himself feels conflicted too. On the one hand, he hates it that Hye Won and Sun Jae are involved, but on the other hand, he needs Sun Jae too much, to push him away. This results in such a weird sort of circumstances, where Joon Hyung’s acting all nice and nurturing to Sun Jae one moment, then cursing him out behind his back, the next.
It really makes me wonder how long Joon Hyung will be able to hold out, before he actually breaks from this tension. My gut says that Joon Hyung won’t be able to keep this up for long, because he seems like quite a weak character, to my eyes. At the same time, though, he is really desperate to establish himself as a professor with a protégé, so maybe he’ll last longer than I think?
Everything more or less feels like some kind of whirlpool, where everything around Hye Won swirls to a head, and she has no choice but to confront the awfulness of the life that she’s chosen.
I think one of the most confronting moments for Hye Won, this episode, is when she sits down to try to talk the Chairman’s mistress into leaving him.
First of all, she’s unceremoniously presented with the fact that someone as unassuming as this mistress, who waits tables for a living, is so self-possessed and so unabashedly honest in how she lives her life, while Hye Won herself is at the mercy of the rich and powerful whom she’s chosen to serve. That’s got to be very disconcerting.
Second of all, the mistress refuses to accept the money that Hye Won offers, and even dumps water on her, for not taking no for an answer. That’s got to sting on two levels. Besides the humiliation of having that water thrown in her face, there’s also the shame that while this unassuming woman refuses to do anything for dirty money, Hye Won herself deals with dirty money, as a matter of routine, for a living.
And then there’s how Hye Won’s real world of the Foundation, and her secret world with Sun Jae, actually intersect, near the end of the episode.
How uncomfortable it must be for Hye Won, to have Sun Jae witness the kind of humiliation that she’s regularly subjected to, by the likes of Young Woo. It feels to me like there’s a great deal of shame there, which is made more acute by the fact that she can’t explain this to Sun Jae, when he asks.
Hye Won brushes it off, telling Sun Jae to think of this as the real world, but Sun Jae doesn’t buy it; the only way Hye Won can think of, to end this conversation with Sun Jae – and therefore this very uncomfortable question of why she has to live like this – is to shove Sun Jae and tell him to just leave, already. Again, there’s the thing, where attack is her best form of defense.
It does seem, however, that Hye Won’s unable to push her own thoughts away the same way she pushes Sun Jae away, because she becomes essentially paralyzed at work. At first glance, she appears tired and fed-up, but left to soak in her own thoughts, Hye Won eventually becomes tearfully undone. The way she sits on that couch and sobs, I really feel like she’s finally reached the end of herself; that she’s no longer able to live with herself.
It occurs to me, as I finish this episode, that this pair of episodes is filled with a building tension that, after coiling upon itself, beat upon beat, step upon step, eventually finds release, when Hye Won goes to Sun Jae’s home and they finally consummate their relationship. In a macro sort of way, doesn’t this pattern of building tension, that results in a sense of release, feel like a narrative mirroring of sorts, of the physical act itself?
I never noticed this on my first watch, so I’m quite fascinated by the thought that must have gone into constructing this pair of episodes, to include this mirroring effect.
I have to admit that I found some of the scenes hard to watch. Specifically, I found it hard to watch Hye Won being harsh towards Sun Jae. So much of the time, it’s obvious that she’s just lashing out at him, because her emotions are too much for her, and she just can’t hold back.
For example, that scene in the piano studio, where he comes for his lesson, and she literally shoves him against the piano, not once, but twice, then raises her voice at him, higher and higher, until it feels like she’s completely lost control. It’s secondhand mortifying to watch, and it’s clear that a lot of this anger, actually stems from jealousy and humiliation.
Jealousy, because she had seen Sun Jae heading out to dinner with his arm around Da Mi, and humiliation, that she would actually be in a position to feel jealous about that.
What I mean is, part of that humiliation comes from the fact that she’s an older woman who’s attracted to Sun Jae, and then part of it stems from the fact that she’d gone to look for him, and then had had to hide, because he’d been out and about with Da Mi. That double layer of humiliation just amps up Hye Won’s agitation, and I found myself physically wincing, to see her lose control like that.
Not only is it unfair to Sun Jae (Hye Won had been fully aware of Da Mi’s existence, and of Sun Jae’s relationship with her, after all), it makes Hye Won look undignified and quite wretched, to be brutally honest.
However, credit to Sun Jae, for choosing only to see the silver lining, which is that she’d actually come to him, when he’d asked to see her. See, every time Sun Jae is sweet like this, I feel bad for him, because, at least in this stretch of the show, it feels like Hye Won lashes out at him consistently.
One thing I do notice, though, is that even when they feel their worst, music is still the thing that soothes them both. In that scene where Hye Won and Sun Jae sit together and just listen to the music, it’s clear that it has a calming effect on them both. It takes Hye Won down from her angry, keyed up state, and it also brings Sun Jae up from his miserable state.
I’d felt so bad for him, when he’d just sat there, and cried a little, while Hye Won had gone to get the music scores and discs. In this moment, it feels like the music even has a somewhat healing effect on them, and I feel like the longer they chose to soak in it, the better they would have been, for it.
On this second watch, it also occurs to me that aside from feeling inadequate and old in her physical features and beauty, Hye Won actually also feels similarly, about her fingers. We see this episode, that as she practices in order to rehearse with Sun Jae, she experiences stiffness in her fingers. In the context of everything that Hye Won has been grappling with, in regards to her fading youth, I realize that this must be a part of it too. And, in the context of music being such a critical life-force for the both of them, I realize that this must bother Hye Won just as much as her fading youth does.
It’s probably the case, that Hye Won’s stiff fingers are the reason why she keeps making mistakes during her rehearsal with Sun Jae, and therefore, it’s her “older woman complex” (as she puts it, writing as Mak Ki Hyung) that’s driving her angry outbursts at Sun Jae. She’d sooner blame him for showing off without feelings or emotions, than admit that she can’t keep up because her fingers are too stiff.
However, to Hye Won’s credit, at least when she’s signed in as Mak Ki Hyung, she’s able to be honest about why she’s behaving this way, and she’s also able to chuckle about it to herself, as she exchanges those messages with Sun Jae. There’s definitely a decent amount of self-awareness there, and I appreciate that.
It’s also interesting to see that Hye Won’s starting to be less tolerant of Young Woo’s bullying ways. The way she responds to Young Woo this episode, is something that we haven’t seen from Hye Won before. She seems almost.. reckless, in the way that she essentially throws down the gauntlet and almost taunts Young Woo about using her head, for once. Ooh. I would’ve never imagined Hye Won speaking like this to Young Woo. Clearly, Hye Won’s perspective is shifting.
Clearly, a lot of that shifting perspective has to do with Hye Won’s exposure to Sun Jae and his pure-hearted, idealistic notions of passion, love and life, that love is enjoying it till the end. It’s been something that has been stirring and building in her for a long while, and this set of episodes, the tension of her fighting against her shifting perspective, and at the same time, fighting for it, eventually culminates in her surrendering to her true desire: to just be, and to be happy, in the moment.
It’s a momentous step that Hye Won takes, letting herself into Sun Jae’s house, putting on his clothes and letting down her hair. In this moment, she’s let go of Hye Won the Manager, and has decided that she’s allowed to be Hye Won, Sun Jae’s girlfriend.
Show treats the love scene with respect and delicacy, by averting our gaze away from the couple, as they consummate their relationship.
What I find most interesting about this whole scene, is that the way Hye Won relates to Sun Jae has changed. She’s finally not talking down to him anymore, like a teacher to a student. She’s finally talking to him like he’s an equal, and she’s joking with him, and swapping stories, and laughing with him. It feels like a missing piece of the puzzle that is their relationship, has finally found its place.
And how fitting, really, that it’s when Sun Jae’s playing piano for Hye Won, that we see her at her most undone. She completely surrenders to the music, and allows it to carry her and wash over her; this feels like the true pinnacle of their intimacy.
Big thanks to JJ, who emailed me this clip of Yoo Ah In practicing in the studio, for his role as Sun Jae. It blows my mind that he’s able to play this well, when he’d learned only specific excerpts for the camera, and from a zero piano background, at that. Mad props, seriously.