These episodes put my poor, poor heart through the wringer. (Who knew you could sob to Billy Joel?) But I learned some things. And… I think I have some valid reasons to hope for a happy ending. I mean, I’ve had reasons; I want a happy ending for Sun-jae and Hye-won and I will grab at any straw that promises me such, no matter how frail and flimsy. But I think I’ve got some valid reasons now.
But let’s save that for the end. First to the learning! I finally get why Rachmaninoff. This is a bone of contention in my household but JS Bach is my bias. (The husband adores Rachmaninoff.) So I was always a bit, “Why not Bach?” when Sun-jae picked out his audition piece. But episode 11 showed me that Bach, much as I adore him, just would not do.
Rachmaninoff is much more about the heart than Bach is. (Or at least, much more blatantly about the heart than Bach.) And that’s where Sun-jae is right now. He is all about his heart and the emotional truth of his feelings. He is sincerity and passion and love. And that’s why the Rachmaninoff concerto (played with Hye-won’s accompaniment — though they didn’t realize it) was the perfect response to Da-mi’s and Jang-ho’s demanding he stop seeing his teacher.
I loved that response. I love that the piano is Sun-jae’s go-to answer whenever he’s told not to love Hye-won. (He countered her ‘this is wrong!’ argument with Liszt, and we all know how that worked out. *ahem*) I love that his friends have finally heard what he can do and that it blew their minds so completely. And I love that he was happy with a side of, “yeah, I’m that good,” to their reaction. (It… obviously didn’t take with Da-mi. Not going by that chilling last scene in episode 12 with her waiting in Hye-won’s office to hold some kind of confrontation.)
[Side note: I’m starting to wonder if Hye-won was physically abused at some point in her life. Because she jolts with a lot of overt fear whenever physical force is suggested. She’s more than just embarrassed or guilted by Da-mi, she seems genuinely scared. And whenever Professor Kang throws something in anger, Hye-won flinches and trembles far more than I’d expect for someone used to dealing with an overgrown child. Especially since he’s never seemed to be aiming at her. Of course, there’s Young-woo. She’s constantly throwing things at Hye-won and hitting her and Hye-won doesn’t flinch away from her with the same level of fear. So I don’t know. I might be reading too much into a few reactions.]
The second thing I learned: why everyone wants Hye-won on their side. For the money. I’m guessing the Chairman has a massive stash of cash (like a literal warehouse filled with bills and bullion) and no one knows where it is. I don’t think Hye-won knows either yet, but it’s the “yet” that is key. She’s the one the Chairman will tell if he’s going to tell anyone. And everyone wants to get their hands on it. Crass, but there it is.
I think her friend, Ji-soo, (her one of two true friends and… huh. that kind of echoes Sun-jae…) is right to be worried. Young-woo’s husband will totally use jail time as a way to pressure Hye-won into giving him the money. She is swimming in some dangerous waters. And… I’m still wondering why. Why is she sticking around and not taking Sun-jae’s advice to get the hell out? Is it the money as well? Or is there another motivation driving her?
Oh, but I do love that Professor Jo and his wife, Ji-soo, are our lovers’ confidents. For one, I’m just thrilled Hye-won has people on her side who are just on her side without agenda or thought of gain. (That scene where Hye-won broke down in the car… it clenched my heart, but I was so, so glad she wasn’t alone.) For another, Professor Kang is such a crap teacher — all empty platitudes and self-absorbed greed. He’d torpedo, or at least handicap, Sun-jae’s career just to make sure the glory went to him alone. So I’m glad Sun-jae has a less self-involved advisor to turn to. (Even with his level of talent, I strongly suspect there’s some byzantine-level labyrinths to navigate when entering the classical performing world. Or maybe I’m wrong and Sun-jae’s English letter of, “please take me as your student!” will work.)
Speaking of Professor Kang — oh my gosh he is the quintessential hypocrite, isn’t he? I lived in the Bible-belt region of the US for a while (a section of the United States, from the MidWest to the South, where the population is particularly religious), working in a law office, and since that experience nothing sends up warning flares faster than someone stating, “I’m a good Christian!” while trying to grab a position of moral authority.
I expect it’s a universal trait (and not one limited to just the Christian religions either) that someone arguing their more-innocent-than-thou case, will start by listing what they consider their moral credentials. But if I had a dime for every meth-dealer (or child abuser, or embezzler) who began their defense with, “Now, I’m a good Christian…” …I’d have a lot of dimes.
And Professor Kang fits that bill so perfectly. He won’t get a divorce because it’ll tarnish his Christian image. But he’s fine with his friend scamming money out of students. He’s fine with being a crap husband. He’s fine forcing students to do unpaid work to further his political career. He’s fine mistreating his employees. In other words, Professor Kang is a morally rotten man clinging to a mask of morality. And that hypocrisy… that’s part of my valid hope list.
Which I need because these two episodes were painful. It hurts Sun-jae and Hye-won to be apart and I hurt when they hurt. That scene were they listen to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” had me in actual tears. Because I could feel Hye-won’s regret (the pain she suffered while serving Young-woo in the States, the future success she told herself it would bring and make that pain worth suffering, the brutal reality that the success is an empty, cold thing) and I could feel Sun-jae’s frustration (Hye-won’s caught in a powerful and complicated trap and he can’t see how to help her) and I ached for them.
Though, at the same time, I did love that they were going through those painful feelings together. Once again, I adore the honesty of their relationship. They have no masks with each other. Hye-won’s even told Sun-jae that she’s a damn good schemer and she’d prefer him not to see it… which is pretty much showing it to him by definition. (I did love that the blackmail attempt failed so miserably. In a strange way, that their affair is the worst kept secret ever is its strength.) That honesty is echoed in the only healthy marriage we see in the drama: Professor Jo and Ji-soo — two very well-adjusted characters who keep no secrets from each other.
To my hope list!
My first reason to hope for a happy ending, that I admit is a bit flimsy, is that the drama is going to end during Spring. How can there be a sad ending amongst all the pretty, fresh foliage? If the director was going for sad, shouldn’t he have aimed for ending in Winter or Fall? (This is me reaching.)
But! Then came Professor Kang’s epic hypocrisy and the way it shot the legs out from under the “divorce is a moral wrong” argument. I think it’s telling that this particular argument was given to Professor Kang to make. And even more telling that he made it based on the flimsiness of image (his image, I’ll add) rather than anything genuinely moral — like the strength of their bond or vows or what have you.
Meanwhile, Hye-won refers to her and Sun-jae having stones thrown at them (during that hilarious scene where she tells him to keep his bed on the other side of the room because they’re not ‘animals’ — which Sun-jae takes and runs with, which was awesome). And, when Professor Kang is at his angriest, she’s wearing a nightgown that evokes so many common Bible images (the simple robe with a rope-belt, even the brown bathrobe she throws over it adds to the imagery).
I feel like those two aspects point to a stronger reason to hope. Professor Kang is being shown as a religious hypocrite — smugly confident in his own morality — while Hye-won is in the role of the repentant sinner — unsure but trying. And anyone at all familiar with Christian theology knows the repentant sinner is the one who wins in the end. I might still be reaching with this, but I feel like the drama gave us those two aspects combined — bookending episode 12 with them — for a reason.
And finally, the honesty thing. Sun-jae’s biggest asset is his straightforwardness. It’s the light of his honesty that throws Hye-won’s world of secrets and lies into such stark definition and has her questioning her role in it. The decadence of that dark world is glittery and attractive at first. But the simpleness of an honest life is showing itself to be more and more attractive. Hye-won loves Sun-jae’s house. They escape to a simple, unadorned country inn.
I think leaving the shadowed world of Professor Kang and the Art Center, for the sunlit world of Sun-jae and music, is the trajectory Hye-won is on. She’s not heading towards a punishment, she’s being punished right now. Hye-won’s wrong choice came a long time ago. She’s paying for it while also being offered a fresh choice — an honest, simple life with Sun-jae. Happily ever after.