We’re well into the show’s groove and this week it was all about couples—not so much the romantic ones (though of course there is that…one), but all the other complicated ways in which two people can be connected to each other. Down below, we look at what those connections do to them, and what they mean about how they relate to each other, and whether it’s still a triangle if one of the lines is nowhere near the other two.
Saya: Okay, hit me with your spicy opinions! I’m ready! (I might even not disagree, who knows!)
Paroma: I think I made a grave mistake in starting Do You Like Brahms? while still watching Record. This drama is highly stylised and polished, from its scene structures to the razor sharp dialogue. Whereas Brahms is almost slice-of-life. It’s simple, warm, and thoroughly sincere. So, when, at the end of a great day for Hye-joon, he stops in the rain and confidently tells Jung-ha that he likes her, it doesn’t touch me nearly as much as Song-ha in Brahms blurting out her feelings for Joon-young, almost at the same moment as the realisation of it strikes her. There is such a feeling of inevitability and dread to that confession in Brahms whereas, Hye-joon just… says he likes this girl that he barely knows after exchanging a few volleys of quips, already knowing that she likes him back. It was…too early for them. Too…easy.
Saya: I don’t exactly disagree with you, to be honest, but my first thought at that point was, aaah, here we are. I think that’s one of the characteristics of Ha Myung-hee’s dramas: the love is easy. The relationship is hard. So the confession isn’t the end of anything by any means (not only because it was episode 5), but it’s the beginning of all of the terrible and painful things that will undoubtedly happen to them and has two years to happen. Especially with that ominous Hye-joon voiceover. “I would have held on to our beginning a little longer, if I had known we would end up like this.” nO dOn’T dO iT dOn’T hUrT mEeEee 😭
Paroma: I like a drama that shows the issues in a relationship! I just am not convinced that these two feel anything for each other yet. Which makes me less invested in their relationship. I also feel conflicted about how Jung-ha “shed” her fangirling for Hye-joon. It was far too pat.
Saya: Don’t you think it’s more that she’s telling herself what to feel and do, because that’s how she operates? She’s very decision-oriented in that way, and I find that kind of pragmatism pleasing and relatable. We can’t all afford to follow our hearts (like Hae-hyo suggested last week), especially if it comes at a cost we’re not willing to pay. For her, the reality of Hye-joon means shelving the fantasy, because the two things can’t coexist for her in a healthy way.
Paroma: That’s a cerebral decision, but not something that can be executed in a clean way in real life.
Saya: I won’t say that’s not true, yet I still really like that Jung-ha resists: her feelings, this relationship, all of it. I like that she can say to Hye-joon, “I don’t like it” and walk away. I really like a girl who can walk away. (For now 😅)
Paroma: If only her walking away had lasted more than three seconds. Even if Jung-ha can turn her fangirling off, Hye-joon accepts it way too easily. Which—if we were talking about any actor but Park Bo-gum—would make me almost angry. ‘cause he doesn’t know her that well yet. He doesn’t really know if he’s crossing the line with a fan.
Saya: I feel their friendship is solid enough even at this early point for there not to be a question of crossing lines with a fan. But I also didn’t buy his easy acceptance—he just kind of…seemed to allow her to brush it aside, and later admits that he thought she’d rejected him. That felt quite sad to me, the way he takes the no as a given, as if that’s what he’s so used to hearing that he expects it, and rather than challenging it, he folds up his feelings inside himself.
Paroma: Ha. In some ways, the beginning of this relationship feels like a game between them. They use terms like, “I lost” and “I won” a lot. At the end of the confession scene, when he’s leaving her place he wants to look back and see if she’s watching him, but he doesn’t. Like that would ruin his move. It’s very much style over substance with these two right now. And I found his confidence in handling Jung-ha’s freak-out very telling in a whole different way. His face and how women react to him are things he has no insecurities about. So, even when Jung-ha doesn’t give him a straight answer, he isn’t defeated. He just assumes that it means she needs time.
Saya: A reasonable assumption though, given that he knows that she does like him. I mean, you’d have to be daft and emotionally illiterate to read those things wrong. But about his looks, I don’t think his identity—his sense of who he is as a person—is tied up in how he looks. His awareness of how he looks is more like a fact about himself, a physical attribute—like being tall or short or wearing glasses or having dimples. He has a very clear sense of who he is, and it isn’t his looks. Though that said, I can’t help but agree with your assessment of how much a role stylisation plays in how these characters conduct themselves. But I see that as a bigger drama issue, not individual character.
Paroma: I think it’s inevitable that his identity would be tied to his looks, since he’s had to hone it into a strength and a skill for all these years. The drama does a great job of showing a character who can see both the advantages and pitfalls of being physically attractive. But what I meant about his confidence with women is that that’s not something he’s ever felt anxious or uncertain about. And with Jung-ha already having confessed her liking for him (in the fangirl context), he experiences very little anxiety while making his own confession. Which robs it of any real stakes.
Saya: Stop making me agree with you 😂 It’s true, the show is very neat about its feelings and that’s reflected in its relationship stakes as well as aesthetic style. It lacks the slightly rough edge that makes the feelings more impactful, but I feel like part of that is in the acting of the leads themselves. I think Park Bo-gum has some really fantastic emotional range, but his talent leans to gravity and pathos—in the vein of pre-I’m Not a Robot Yoo Seung-ho—and slightly wicked humour. (See: Moonlight Drawn by Clouds.)
I hate to say this, knowing how much his fans love him, but to me, Bo-gum doesn’t have romantic-lead magic yet. So that scene in Episode 6 when he’s crying in the van after his dad strikes him? Absolutely kill-you-dead exquisite emoting there. But the romance is maybe the weakest relationship in this show.
Paroma: Yeah, essentially that is it. That rough edge that makes a new relationship exciting and messy is absent. But oh my god that crying bout in the car had me tearing up in sympathy.
Saya: And then he struggles to be normal while he takes Jung-ha’s call 😢 It was the best scene in this week’s episodes. The second-best was maybe Min-jae’s car-crying. Cars are sad.
Paroma: Ah, poor Min-jae. I loved that we are seeing her growth as a manager too.
Saya: What I thought was most interesting this week was the close look we got at several different couples, and I don’t mean romantic ones. The one between Min-jae and Hye-joon is really fascinating. When Hye-joon finally confronts Min-jae after she hid from him, there’s a moment of striking reversal where suddenly Hye-joon is the one who is jaded and experienced, while Min-jae—the elder, the manager—is the naive noob who got duped. He knows how this industry works and how ugly it can be, and the unexpected contrast adds something to our knowledge of these characters that works really well.
Paroma: The other revelation—thanks to Ae-sook (Hye-joon’s mom)—was also about Hye-joon. Of how the black sheep of the family has always been careful with his money, whereas their precious older son has always been a spendthrift. I love how insulted Grandpa was because Ae-sook compared the older son to him in anger.
Saya: Poor Grandpa. There’s so much realism in this family’s dynamics that it can be quite painful to watch.
Paroma: Grandpa’s outburst at Dad was certainly heart-wrenching, when he says, “There’s no greater punishment for a parent than to be talked down to by their child.” Oof.
Saya: And so real, too. You know, I know we are all about complex characters blah blah blah, but to me, Dad is really such a villain here. I get that he has baggage with his dad (Grandpa), but the way he amplifies and turns it on Hye-joon is unforgivable. And when he’s called out on it, he blusters his way through like it’s some harmless moment, but actually, you know what that is? That’s a lifetime of emotional abuse.
And the way Hye-joon and Grandpa stick together—yes, it’s love, but it’s also a partnership of surviving. In all of these situations, I feel like we see a visible change in Hye-joon—the beautiful, suave, emotionally secure young man that he is outside shrinks into a broken child who cannot make his father see him, never mind love him.
Paroma: I thought it was a bit on the nose when Jung-ha says, “Fortunately, I had a good relationship with my dad, or I might have grown up socially awkward.” For one thing, that’s rubbish. But for another, it leads Hye-joon to point out that he turned out okay. Which…I’m not sure where that scene was going aside from emphasising the obvious.
Saya: At one point, I just found myself staring dully at the screen thinking, can this man not say one kind word to his son? What keeps me invested in this show, and coming back week to week, is wanting to see Hye-joon succeed, be happy, and prove his dad wrong.
Paroma: At this point, he’s sunk so much justification of his past behaviour towards Hye-joon into this narrative of him being a beleaguered father who’s trying to scold his son into becoming a better person that he can’t admit a single wrong doing without it all crumbling on him.
Saya: I think you’re attributing more self-awareness to him than he has.
Paroma: Well, this is super subconscious justification. Heh. But yeah. I love the actor playing the dad. The shifty look he gets in his eyes when his wife or younger son makes a good point but he just doesn’t want to admit he’s wrong is amazing in its real life accuracy.
Saya: See, that’s actually what makes me angriest—that he’s capable of being loving and kind and respectful to wife and son, but Hye-joon—ALSO THE FRUIT OF HIS OWN LOINS—suffers from the prejudices his father holds, rather than through any real and direct wrongdoing of his own. Unless the wrongdoing is faffing away your time at a job the moment you’re out of school so your big bro can go to college and you don’t have to force your parents to make hard choices about you.
Paroma: It hurt to learn that Hye-joon was practical enough to give up college because his family couldn’t afford it, and he didn’t need it in his chosen career, but his dad never gives him credit for it.
Saya: And probably never will.
Saya: Onto different parents? Like Ae-sook and Yi-young? Who are such a great pair! I love the way this relationship is framed—it’s given the gilding and golden moments of any true romance, and this week they even got a full-on backstory.
Paroma: With the sunset shot!
Saya: Yeah! The way they talk to each other is so like resolving a couple’s quarrel—which they are, in an interestingly untraditional way. These two women are tied together by their sons’ friendship, and all the complex feelings and problems that come out of that given that they are simultaneously in an employer-employee relationship, not to mention the pressures exerted by the difference in their socioeconomic statuses.
I’m so interested in this constant tension of what exactly their relationship is: there’s a companionship and trust element that in many ways gives it all the hallmarks of a friendship, though both of them know it’s not (and not for lack of desire on Yi-young’s part). And although it’s Yi-young who keeps saying they’re not friends, I don’t think she really can grasp just how impossible it is for Ae-sook to see her as a friend. It’s work, she gets paid, and every moment, she must know her place.
Yi-young notes that Ae-sook is always the one drawing the line—she has to. She has more to lose, and so she has to police their relationship. It’s Yi-young who has the luxury and privilege of not dwelling on a) what separates them, and b) the power she has over Ae-sook.
Paroma: True, though Ae-sook acknowledging Yi-young’s hand in making her a premiere housekeeper was pretty great! And that little subplot about the description of housekeeping in a book that made Ae-sook so happy! These are the human touches in Ha Myung-hee’s stories that I live for.
Saya: Yes, exactly! This is somewhat what I mean about her writing making me feel understood—she’s encapsulated that literal feeling in this tiny plot thread, of Ae-sook feeling known and understood by a writer of a book she keeps rereading, a writer who doesn’t even know she exists. AND I loved the visual of Ae-sook as the girl with the pearl earring!
Paroma: Ha! Though my favourite part is when she confesses to never having finished the book. Because that’s not important. The passage that makes her seen is. She’s not just doing her job well, her job is worthy enough to be written about in detail in a famous work of fiction. I adore how many layers are hidden in that little plot. We won’t even go into the dumbassed assumptions of her older son, Kyung-joon.
Saya: Hahaha, I find him kind of entertaining, to be honest! He’s…not exactly harmless, but he’s something of an irrelevant footnote where he thinks he’s the lead.
Paroma: I’m waiting for the clearly impending pratfall next week. I will cackle with glee.
Saya: Oh, can we talk about The Family Meeting? All that strung-out sniping, the tension-thick air…it fully made me feel like I was watching one of Stranger 2/Forest of Secrets 2’s deeply political, incredibly suspenseful council meetings.
And that whole fight for personal agency as an adult child of your parents is, I think, very typically Asian in a way that we can relate to a little too easily, especially when we exist at all times somewhere between traditional family values and modern individualism. And it’s something both brothers are doing, if in very different ways. Kyung-joon’s “I’m an adult, I don’t need your permission” line really nails it. Technically, indeed, you don’t need permission. But also you do. 😂
Paroma: Meanwhile, we have another idiot to talk about. Hae-hyo is being a wonderfully typical second-lead.
Saya: I will never understand why anyone, ever, EVER does this. Look, if a girl likes someone else, she likes someone else. Not rocket science!
Paroma: Apparently, it spells opportunity to this breed of men.
Saya: Then they fail at spelling 😂 But! There’s still time for him to be an evolved second lead, don’t write him off yet.
Paroma: Unlikely. Boy has a chip on his shoulders that hasn’t yet been revealed by the drama. I want to know why Hae-hyo views Hye-joon with such careful wariness.
Saya: Do you think so? I guess he’s been oddly opaque—we’ve never really had his point of view. But I suppose as he moves fully into his second-lead trajectory, we’ll get some of his internal dialogue, too. I hope it’s interesting.
In the meantime, they got in that classic “She’s coming with me”/“No, she’s coming with me” scene! I have two notes about that: first, Hye-joon did not touch her. Gentlemen use their words, right? Secondly, I actually think they undercut that definitely taut moment really nicely at the end with their bro-love, and I kind of adore how they manage to do that every time.
They have these angry little face-offs that seem so serious, and then they laugh and poke fun at each other with genuine humour. And then they part as best of friends as ever, like they never disagreed! As Anisa said last week, Hae-hyo is obnoxious. But he’s also a real friend and his feelings for Hye-joon continue to trump everything else. For now, I guess. (Forever, please 😭)
Paroma: He just needs to stop acting like Hye-joon is personally challenging him by dating Jung-ha and the bro-love can be back on.
Saya: In fairness, I think he can’t help liking Jung-ha. Is it even any surprise that they’d fall for the same person? These boys have known and loved each other since practically babyhood. It’s actually surprisingly organic, for a love triangle. Plus, it’s not a triangle really. It’s an angle. And a line. 😂
Paroma: Hahaha, how perfectly encapsulated.
Saya: Like look how they make the point: Hye-joon doesn’t need to grab her. Whenever he and Jung-ha are together, there’s this easy flow of companionable, teasing conversation which continues seamlessly even when Hae-hyo is in the same space, and that cuts him out so effectively even though he’s right there. And he certainly looks like he feels like a third wheel. Yes, Hae-hyo. Yes, you are. Now stop being fascinated with a girl who has categorically told you that she likes your friend and she’ll never like you, and no, flowers will not change her mind.
Paroma: *replies in meme*