One thing that’s surprising about Marriage Contract is how fully formed its characters are. They have the texture of people who’ve been busy living their lives before the cameras rolled in, and that makes every one of them compelling, be they nice or nasty. Well, apart from The Harpist Who Must Not Be Named. She needs to go away. (And her little smirk, too.)
Our leads being separated for much of the episode allows us to spend time with all the other figures inhabiting their world, and though the hour passes quietly, it is a very full one.
EPISODE 8 RECAP
Ji-hoon crosses the space between them and embraces Hye-soo, but after a moment, she gently releases herself. Angry with worry, he rapid-fires questions at her about where she’s been, but becomes softer asking what happened with his father. She can’t have the surgery, he said, and she’s sad. Shaking off his arm, she tells him she wants to be alone right now. He watches her go.
Ji-hoon goes to meet his father. The chairman asks him if he likes Hye-soo for real. Sure, Ji-hoon says offhandedly, if using a girl and dumping her — like dear old Dad — is liking. Dad laughs scornfully. He assumes a desperate Mi-ran — who never did a thing for him — put him up to such a crime. Cut, he says he’s still her son, and as family, they should take responsibility.
But Dad has no time for such dramatics, and barks at him to get a divorce. Give her more money if necessary, and from tomorrow, he’s assigned back to company HQ. Ji-hoon’s face closes up, and he says that there’s no need for someone as useless as him to be saved — better let him be arrested. He leaves his father frowning after him.
Eun-sung helps her mom fold laundry again, and is worried that she can’t stop crying. It’s because she’s so dumb, Hye-soo says. Eun-sung, bless her little cotton socks, tells Mom that’s nonsense — she’s smart and pretty. It really helps to hear that from her, Mom says, smiling through her tears. Eun-sung: “That’s it, smile just like that, mommy, you’re pretty when you smile.”
But she dissolves into quiet tears again, and Eun-sung reaches over and wipes them away. Outside, Ji-hoon lingers at her door a while, before turning away.
Chairman Han comes to see Mi-ran. He greets her with the words, “Go and die.” Charming. He accuses her of first clinging onto him, and now clinging to her son. The look she turns on him when he asks if she isn’t ashamed is all but bared teeth, especially when he seems to suggest getting pregnant was her fault. She rightly points out that he fathered the child, and he was the one who said she was the only one for him.
She wants to know just one thing: How did he feel when he heard she was dying? Wasn’t he at all sad? The chairman: “Everyone dies.”
Mi-ran tells him that she was able to endure as a sinner so long only because she believed he had loved her. She’s in tears from his cutting words, and he spits out that it is sad, but not as sad as her clinging to Ji-hoon, while he risks jail. Moreover, Chairman Han has lost a ton of money for not being able to sell marry his son off as he wished. His cold consolation to her is that the hospital has been instructed to show her special care.
Crying, she grasps his arm when he’s leaving. A look of disgust crosses his face and he strides off, abandoning her.
Ho-joon discovers Ji-hoon passed out in a room stinking of alcohol. Ho-joon heard the surgery was approved and tells him his dad is looking for him. Ji-hoon refuses consciousness and tells his friend to go away so he can sleep more, although Ho-joon is more affronted that he polished off an expensive whiskey all by himself.
Still death-like, Ji-hoon asks Ho-joon why he hangs out with him when he’s trash. Laughing, Ho-joon says someone’s got to clean trash up. Scooching himself onto the bed, Ho-joon tells him he’s capable, and his dad always told him to stick around capable people. He reminds him of when he used to come around when they were in high school, and his dad thought Ji-hoon was so capable because he could down three bowls of rice.
Ji-hoon says that nothing he has is his — everything is from his father. He confides that he can’t even trust his feelings about Hye-soo, since she’s only by his side because he bought her liver — with Dad’s money. His phone starts to ring and Ho-joon scrabbles for it. It’s the chairman, but Ji-hoon angrily hurls the phone into a bowl of water.
Much later, it rings again, waking Ji-hoon up. Leaping up in fury, he fishes it, dripping, out of the bowl. Well played, PPL, well played. Dryly, he tells Dad he’s on his way to the police station to turn himself in. Barking, Dad orders him over.
Over dinner, Dad chews him out, although he seems perversely pleased by his son’s stubbornness. He plans to concede to him this time, but in a voice of casual reason, tells Ji-hoon to cut his mother out of his life completely.
It’s amazing how many expressions just passed over Ji-hoon’s face, but all without breaking his mask. Dad also tells him to clean up with Hye-soo, too, after the surgery — if she lets one word of this get out, he’ll finish her. Genially, he tells Ji-hoon live as he’s told from now on.
Taking all this in without a word (but a thousand expressions), Ji-hoon accepts the drink his father pours for him.
On Ji-hoon’s instruction, Ho-joon passes on a new phone to Hye-soo for the one she lost. He urges her to accept it, since she’ll be needing it, and tells her the surgery is on. Hope fills her face, and she asks after Ji-hoon. Ho-joon stutters that he won’t be around much anymore, being so busy at headquarters.
When she tries to call Ji-hoon a little later, there’s no answer.
Chairman Han’s derisive words continue to cut at Mi-ran while she’s alone. Her carer comes in jubilant with the news that the surgery is back on schedule — there must have been some error before. Huh.
At Casa Han, Madam Yoon (Jung-hoon’s mom) asks Ji-hoon if he doesn’t see her at all. “I’m your mom!” she insists. He apologizes, and explains that his relationship with Na-yoon was long over. Madam Yoon is upset at how it hurt Jung-hoon, and asks what the big secret is, then, that he and his father are hiding from her and Jung-hoon. She’s positive it’s about Mi-ran (“Does she want money?”), but he can only promise to tell her later. Does that mean he’s telling her to stay out of it, she asks.
Chairman Han answers that one, and tells her to butt out while summoning Ji-hoon to his room. There, he tells him that he has a meeting tomorrow with his destined bride, and wants to fix an engagement date. Ji-hoon controls his shock and acquiesces.
Hye-soo knocks at Ji-hoon’s darkened apartment on her way to hers, but there’s no one home. She tries him on the phone again, and is happy when he finally answers. But his answers are terse — yes, the surgery is going ahead as planned. Giving driving as an excuse, he hangs up, to her dismay.
Joo-yeon arrives with Eun-sung, and Hye-soo shakes off her fog to take care of her friend. But Joo-yeon tells her to relax a bit and tugs her to the couch, where she promptly snuggles up with her like a giant baby. Eun-sung finds the sight hilarious, and giggles. Joo-yeon joins Eun-sung to play, and Hye-soo sinks into a fog again.
Ho-joon crosses paths with Joo-yeon on her way out. Still totally smitten by her, he catches her arm as she passes, asking if she’s eaten. She gets it now, and makes it clear that she’s not into him, even calling him a grandad. Poor Ho-joon is adamant that he’s a (youthful!) bachelor, but she still turns down the chicken-and-beer invite, skipping off home (to her suuuper-strict parents). Hahaha.
Ji-hoon arrives at the restaurant to find his date and wife-to-be is none other than Na-yoon, and laughs at the absurdity and evil genius of his father. He asks her what she knows, but the chairman only told her that Ji-hoon would explain. He just laughs and laughs. Look at that body language, guys.
At home, Chairman Han sits his wife and Jung-hoon down and tells them what he’s done. He claims that those two still have feelings for each other, and they can’t afford to lose the business with Na-yoon’s family.
Jung-hoon is, understandably, wildly upset. He wants to know why it’s always Ji-hoon for Dad, when he’s the one who stayed and worked hard. But Dad is dissatisfied with his work, and tells him to do it properly. To add insult to injury before leaving, he tells him he’ll see him at the office tomorrow.
Madam Yoon bursts into Dad’s study to ask him if his business is really more important than his elder son’s pride. But Dad rails that he came this far disregarding his own pride and pain, so Jung-hoon should, too. She also asks why he always favors Ji-hoon — does he mean to leave the company to him? Dad won’t discriminate by birth order, he says, only capability. Tired of arguing, he sends her out.
Leaning forward, Na-yoon says she figured something more was going on with Hye-soo — they couldn’t really be engaged. He confirms that it was fake. She’s pleased as punch, and agrees that it made no sense for him to date someone like that. At that, Ji-hoon is ready to call it a night — he’s tired. Na-yoon still pushes for information, but Ji-hoon says he’ll tell her when things have cleared up. She promises to wait for him.
Hye-soo gives up on writing Ji-hoon a text, but thinking of him, a tiny smile crosses her face. When she comes out to look for Eun-sung, Ji-hoon’s house-lights are on. She lights up and immediately knocks on his door.
Ohmyguhh teeny kittens! Ji-hoon’s on the roof, feeding the babies, and he lights up when Eun-sung arrives. Bless. He asks how she’s been doing, and tells her he was away on a business trip. Eun-sung excitedly shares that her mom’s going on a business trip, too, for ten days. While she’s away, Eun-sung will be having a business trip of her own at Aunty Joo-yeon’s. So adorbs.
Hye-soo finds them both there, and she takes Ji-hoon away for a word. She asks what happened with the surgery. He can’t quite meet her eyes, and tells her that it’s fixed now (for the day after tomorrow), so she needn’t worry. He leaves her puzzling over his distant attitude.
Chairman Han calls when he’s back at his apartment, to check in on how he liked his surprise. Tone at odds with his words, he tells Dad he’s grateful (as he should be, Dad says). Dad will take care of the parents, so he can just explain his side to Na-yoon slowly.
The next day, Ho-joon takes Hye-soo out to tell her that her surgery absence will be explained as a trip to the Jeju branch, but she should come back to work when she’s better — they’ll hold her place. But her thanks should go to Ji-hoon, who’s a softie despite his rough words (we knoooow!). Hye-soo smiles bashfully.
A host of expensive cars pull up, and Na-yoon is the first out. She’s here for a work-party, but first takes Hye-soo aside for a private chat. A little too smug, she tells her that she knows about their fake relationship, but it’s okay because she’s seeing him again. Everything about this conversation is Na-yoon rubbing things in, but Hye-soo offers sincere congratulations — she knows it’s Na-yoon that Ji-hoon really likes. Nooo, why are you saying that?! IT’S NOT EVEN TRUE.
Back inside, the restaurant gets busy serving the party. Across the floor, Hye-soo stares at the glamorous women. Ho-joon intercepts Ji-hoon at the door to tell him Na-yoon’s here — did he invite her?
Na-yoon calls him over as soon as she sees him, not noticing his remarkable lack of enthusiasm. She proudly introduces him to her group as her friend, which they happily interpret as “boyfriend”, grilling her for details as she basks in their attention.
Seung-joo, angry at “that trash” Ji-hoon partying when his mom is about to go into surgery, drags Hye-soo outside and tells her to go home since she’s going into hospital the next day herself. Frustrated, he tells her he’s done worrying about her, so she can work as much as she likes, but he’s gone.
Seung-joo finds aunt Young-hee staring after a little girl who reminds her of Eun-sung. He takes her arm and says if she wants to see her, she should. Their arrival at her nail salon surprises Joo-yeon, who has Eun-sung there. Young-hee blocks Seung-joo from revealing her relationship and approaches the child, wide-eyed with awe.
Now ensconced in Joo-yeon’s apartment, Young-hee just can’t get enough of looking at her granddaughter. She notes how she resembles her father, and Eun-sung turns round eyes on her, asking if she knows him.
“I know him. I know him really well,” she says, smiling and tearful at the same time, “While your daddy was alive, I saw him lots and lots.” Eun-sung takes this philosophically, nodding.
Wiping her eyes, Young-hee tells Eun-sung to grow up quickly. That’s what Mom always tells her, Eun-sung replies, releasing a stream of chatter. Seung-joo practically pries his aunt away.
Hye-soo encounters Na-yoon in the washroom, where the latter praises the meal. Then, smirking to herself, she makes Hye-soo take her dirty towel in calculated insult. Ara can’t stop laughing and mocks her for setting her sights on Ji-hoon when he’s so far out of her league. But Hye-soo gets the last laugh, because she’s not cowed one bit.
Until she’s left alone, dirty towel in hand, and deflates. She sits tiredly outside, and the camera pans across to Ji-hoon, drinking alone inside.
Na-yoon approaches him, and her friend demands the real story between them. Ji-hoon: “What, should I make a marriage announcement?” Guhhhh Ji-hoon why you doing that?! They gasp and strike up a wedding march, because musicians. But what do they have their instruments at dinner for?
Ho-joon flees outside, confused about Ji-hoon’s game, and when Ara pesters him for the gossip, he chucks her back in. Jung-hoon arrives just then, much the worse for drink. He barges inside yelling for the jerk Ji-hoon and the room falls silent.
Spotting the couple, he makes his way over. He pushes Na-yoon out of the way and tells Ji-hoon that this isn’t even about her. Their household took him in when he was so pitiful, he sneers, did he forget all of that? He flings away Ho-joon (it’s okay, Chef catches him!) but when he raises his hand against Na-yoon, Ji-hoon blocks him.
“Let’s talk at home,” he says. Jung-hoon roars and shakes Ji-hoon by the collar. Ho-joon and Chef both leap in now to break it up, as Jung-hoon demands his brother get on his knees to him. He actually bites Chef to break out of his hold, but it’s too late as Ji-hoon’s already out of the door.
Ji-hoon stops when he sees Hye-soo, but passes on wordlessly. But Jung-hoon staggers behind and trips on her. She helps him up and he suddenly recognizes her as Ji-hoon’s supposed girlfriend. Clutching at her, he tells her to play with him, too. “How much do I have to give you?” he leers, trapping her in his grip.
Scared, Hye-soo pushes him away and he falls to the ground, which makes him even angrier. Getting right back up, he grabs her again, demanding how much, over and over. Ji-hoon’s had enough. He marches down and badass-kicks Jung-hoon away. Ducking his fists, Ji-hoon decks Jung-hoon himself. By then, Ho-joon, Chef and Na-yoon have come out, and it takes all of their efforts to keep the fighting brothers apart.
Later, Hye-soo spots Ji-hoon sitting solitary at a bench. About to approach, she notices Na-yoon. Na-yoon apologizes to Ji-hoon, and he brushes it off.
Ji-hoon goes to visit his mom that night. Sitting with his back to her, he says that he’s come to give his farewells, “I won’t come here anymore. I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again.” He tells her to live well after the surgery. Mi-ran guesses the chairman is behind this, but Ji-hoon soothes her, reaching around and clasping her hand.
Smiling slightly, he reminisces about his childhood, when it was just the two of them: “Although it was a bit lonely, we were friends and it was fun, wasn’t it?” He and Mi-ran both blink back tears. He tells her to make only make good memories after the surgery. An inch from breaking into crying, he extricates his hand from hers and sees himself out. Once in the corridor, he finally allows his tears to fall.
In her darkened room, Mi-ran sobs into her empty hands.
Checking that Eun-sung’s asleep, Joo-yeon tells Hye-soo about her mother-in-law visiting. Joshing her playfully, she complains about Hye-soo getting herself two husbands when she hasn’t even found one (take Ho-joon!). Hye-soo confesses that Ji-hoon makes her fluttery, when she thought she wouldn’t feel that way ever again. Joo-yeon thinks it’s a hoot and the girls dissolve into giggles, even waking up Eun-sung.
The next day, Hye-soo hands her daughter off to Joo-yeon for her long stay. The two women say goodbye with a close hug. Eun-sung nearly forgets to give mom a secret letter, and instructs her to read it later.
Sitting on the bus, Hye-soo opens it. Miniature adult Eun-sung tells Mom to focus on her work and not worry about her. “I’m really proud of you, Mom. You’re the best! I love you,” it finishes.
Hye-soo kisses the letter and holds it to her heart, eyes welling.
When she arrives at the hospital, however, Mi-ran’s vanished, leaving her hospital clothes folded neatly behind in her room — with a note tucked in. Hye-soo picks it up.
So much to talk about and so few words! Well, squeeing is always a good place to start: Eun-sung, you old soul, you slay me. And I am not surprised at all that it was Jung-hoon’s attack on Hye-soo, not Na-yoon, that made Ji-hoon lose it. It’s rare to see that much unbridled emotion in Ji-hoon at all, but after an hour of repressively bland smiles, it’s all the more poignant.
We had some really shining friendship moments for both leads as we explored their worlds a little more deeply. These small scenes add so much to the richness of their characters, and their understatedness makes them all the sweeter. It’s easy, for example, to dismiss Ho-joon as the comic relief, but his moment with Ji-hoon (when he reminds him that he’s capable) showed so many things — how far back they go, how he has his back, how the jokey exterior of their friendship conceals a deep loyalty. I think Ji-hoon is every bit as loyal to him, too.
It’s much the same with Joo-yeon and Hye-soo, and the lightness of their giggly, snuggly scenes was also a really touching testament to their longstanding sisterhood that’s gone through so much. At first glance, it could seem like Joo-yeon brings more to the relationship, but as she herself points out, Hye-soo is incredibly giving. She’s so unselfish that it’s been rewarding this episode to see her allow herself moments of personal pleasure. More of that, Hye-soo!
But I am beginning to wonder if the surgery will happen at all (maybe by the time you guys read this, we’ll already know). There’s a really important reason for it not to happen — because their agreement does constitute a crime, how would the show then handle the two characters after breaking their morality compass? Because while Hye-soo’s liver remains intact in her body, the crime is only theoretical. But once it goes into Mi-ran, they’ve irrevocably crossed the line of the law. So in theory, I don’t quite disagree with Chairman Han’s opposition to the surgery. However — and this is vital — he’s just proven that for him, it was never ultimately about the law. While I don’t think he quite holds himself above it, he’s definitely a ruthless character whose compunctions are rooted in whether or not they turn a profit.
More than that, though, he’s shown a breathtaking meanness of spirit to just about everyone in his life, especially to Mi-ran. It would be pitiable if he didn’t wield such great power to hurt. He breaks Mi-ran and Ji-hoon, scorns his wife and elder son, insults Hye-soo, but what’s frightening about him is that he has no sense of the ways in which he crushes and oppresses them. Like the casual tone with which he tells Mi-ran to die or Ji-hoon to sever ties with her — he clearly doesn’t comprehend the gravity of his words, he simply requires being obeyed. Ultimately, it’s about control (it always is).
Notice also how throughout the episode, every time these family members occupy the same frame, there’s always a vast and symbolic gulf between them. It’s interesting from an ethological point of view, too, to see how each member manages their interactions with the Chairman. Madam Yoon and Ji-hoon are clearly the most practised, but Jung-hoon woefully lacks the sense and filter that makes the others adept at politicking. As a result, he portrays himself to his father as a liability — the worst thing he could be in his eyes.
That said, I think Jung-hoon is the author of many of his own problems, some of which would be solved if he were just a bit nicer. But he has a mean streak of his own, and compounded by his jealousy and disappointments, it makes him an unlikeable piece of work, though not unsympathetic. His mother is no less textured, and she’s much more than a two-dimensional stepmother, despite her seeming cruelty (to Mi-ran) early on. Even that takes on more meaning as we become further acquainted with all the characters, and it’s hard not to see both women as victims. Chairman Han hardly strikes me as a man seduced against his will. He had Mi-ran because he wanted her. But he only wanted her up to a point, and then he was done with her. Because rich man. Can do what he wants. And frame himself as the virtuous hero. In many ways, Madam Yoon is an admirable figure. I think it’s safe to assume her marriage with Chairman Han was political, but she womanfully takes on her responsibilities, even when that includes the child of her husband’s mistress. She’s not exactly warm, nor exactly likeable, but she’s very real.
So too is Young-hee, in her extended grief and determination to be her better self. I apologize for being impatient with her last time. (Sorry Young-hee! I suck!) It was incredibly moving to watch her struggle with herself and finally realize she had a beating heart in Eun-sung. I’m looking forward to her revealing their true relationship — both of them deserve that.
The quiet, thoughtful emotions of Marriage Contract remind me a little bit of Bubblegum, the introspection running strong in both. But in this show, rather than transmitting it in words, it’s carried in the acting — a lingering look, an unreadable expression. And this whole cast is so very good at wordless communication, just look at that fantastic farewell scene with Ji-hoon and his mother. Let’s all go watch this episode again.