I’m having the most difficult time writing about Nice Guy. It’s like my brain has just gone kaput!. My thoughts are all muddled, and I think I may be suffering from melodrama fatigue, so I’m going to do a very quick overview of little things that struck me about these two episodes.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young — Our House (For Eun Ki and Ma Ru’s dreams of domestic bliss.)
On Han Jae Hee
I continue to find Jae Hee to be a dynamic villain, if only because she’s never had as tight a grip on those around her as she’s believed she’s had, and has never achieved all that she’s wanted. She’s always used romantic love as something to help her move ahead economically and secure power, but here we start to see that tactic unravel. She’s lost control over the person she seduced into betraying his boss, and now he’s putting constraints on her, the same kind the chairman used to put on her. He’s betraying her, but not in the way he betrayed the chairman and Eun Ki. He isn’t stabbing her in the back by helping her rival, he’s stabbing her in the back by betraying her interests, by wanting for her things she doesn’t want for herself, by wanting more out of their realtionship than Eun Ki wants to give. That’s the problem with using love to control people–those people always expect things in return. And that’s why the Queen from Snow White used fear. There’s something really scary about Ahn, and it’s like he’s a combination of all the past men that Jae Hee has had to deal with: he idolizes her like Ma Ru, tries to control her like the chairman, and makes unwanted sexual advances like the man who assaulted her. Jae Hee is the villain of our story, but Ahn is a predator who can hurt her.
There’s something going on between them about place, as in the place one occupies within a relationship. It’s a question that has always surrounded Jae Hee, what with Ma Ru declaring that he was going to “bring her down to her place.” Jae Hee has told Ahn twice to stay in his place, first when she told him it would be better if he used her than if he loved her, and second when she told him not to move any closer to her. It’s almost like Ahn is breaking the same rules that Jae Hee herself broke, rules about remaining in a sphere that others (society, on Jae Hee’s part) have designed for you. He goes from calling her “President” to using her familiar name. That’s clear insubordination. Actually, it’s something that has always defined their relationship, because they first met when Jae Hee broke just such a rule and went into the elevator that was reserved for the higher ups at Taesan. Ahn reminds me of Frollo form Disney’s version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, what with the constant tension he harbors with his sexual desires for Jae Hee and how he’s always had to keep them at bay, first because she was his boss’s wife and then because she only wanted to use him as a corporate ally and lackey. This focus on social spheres and “rightful place” is a question that extends to Eun Ki and Ma Ru in these episodes (more on that below).
..Isolation, and Empty Spaces
I started noticing this after the chairman died and saw Jae Hee standing in a room by herself, but Jae Hee’s actually been the most isolated character in this show. She’s removed herself from her biological family, killed off or tried to kill off the family she married into, and now even her own son is rejecting her. There’s something very hollow about Jae Hee, something brittle, and it’s communicated in all the scenes we get of her drinking alone, in the mirrors and wine glasses she breaks, in her standing before wide windows alone, in how she’ll be drinking in a room full of people and all she wants is to be left alone, only to have a random man accost her and have Ahn come to collect her. They’re all illustrations of how void her life is, how void her desires are, and how futile it’s been for her to try to escape her childhood of poverty and powerlessness. She’s rich now, and has some power over other people, but her life is emotionally barren and she’s still beholden others’ will in the one (dysfunctional) interpersonal relationship she has left.
And then she goes to Ma Ru’s old home. She owns it now, this empty place, this abandoned place that was left so that the inhabitants could escape from her–and this is the place she returns to. All that work, all the people she’s crushed, and she’s back to square one, only it’s even less than she had before because Ma Ru isn’t there. this has something to do with time too, because if only she could have had the feelings that she has now then, then maybe things would have turned out differently. And the light that was always on outside is gone.
…and a Crisis in Identity
I think Jae Hee has always known that she does horrible things, but has always been able to rationalize them. She did this in two ways, first by assuring herself that it was ok that she did them because there were good people around her to buffer her blows and second that she had to do them to get what she wanted. It’s like she knew she had a role to play, and that her role was to manipulate and deceive. She tells Ma Ru, “This is not your way of doing things. If it was Han Jae Hee, then it would be a reasonable way, but for Kang Ma Ru? This is not his way.” She banks on other people being decent–that way she can counter them with her treachery. (It’s actually another iteration of her wanting Eun Ki to remain “stupid, pretty, and nice.”) But if even Ma Ru is willing to do base things, then how can she fight him? She’s finally starting to understand that people’s roles aren’t fixed, that she won’t always be the victim who has a blank check to use any means necessary for her survival, that Ma Ru won’t always be the understanding man who wants what’s best for her. And then Ma Ru disturbs her worldview even more: “What do you mean it’s not my way? Anything can be done if one wants to.” Ma Ru is telling her that he didn’t just naturally use her brother against her. It’s something he deliberately chose to do. He’s saying anyone can become like Jae Hee, if they choose to, it’s just that they don’t because it’s an embarrassment and a shame. And so everything Jae Hee has done is something she, too, deliberately chose to do. He’s divesting her of her illusions of blamelessness. All those times she’s complained about how hard life has been for her and how she’s had to fight for herself, she chose to fight in the manner that she did. In the last reflection I noted how Jae hee never feels guilt. Here Ma Ru is telling her she’s guilty.
…and the Past
The entire drama Jae Hee’s childhood trauma has been fueling her forward. Her present was determined by her childhood, and so she strove to never be that powerless or disrespected again. Yet now she has the things she thought would protect her rom that kind of weakness, but she’s still vulnerable, still susceptible to being violated, still unable to garner respect from others. I actually feel this is a lot like how Eun Ki got amnesia in an attempt to distance herself from her pain. Both women tried to eradicate their pasts and both women were futile because they were trying to escape from basic realities of life: Eun Ki from pain and Jae Hee from vulnerability. But you can’t do that unless you’re dead, and so both now have to face these things that they tried so hard to leave behind.
On Kang Ma Ru
…and Different Worlds
Ma Ru is dealing with the same problem of “place” that Jae Hee has been dealing with. As Eun Ki becomes more and more involved with Taesan, as she regains the fervor for her work that she once had, he starts to remove himself from her. Two times during episode 15 he walks in on her working away and he leaves without letting her know that he was there. It’s like he feels that he has no place in this corporate world of hers, which adds to the absurdity of his asking for half of Taesan, and so he slowly starts to move away from her as she becomes preoccupied with things besides him.
Ma Ru also has this way of standing back and orchestrating things for Eun Ki without including her so that she can regain Taesan. He uses Jae Shik to get Jae Hee to stop from revealing Eun Ki’s possible incompetency, but when Eun Ki asks him why Jae Hee gave her the position of Co-CEO (because, apparently, that’s something she has the power to do without the consent of the shareholders) he tells her she did it all on her own. In a way he’s acting towards her the way Jae Hee wants Ahn to act.
…and Lawyer Park
Ma Ru doesn’t like Lawyer Park. Even though they are working together to make sure that Eun Ki inherits Taesan, they haven’t become particularly close or even casually friendly. Park is always rolling his eyes at Ma Ru’s antics and Ma Ru regards Park with a kind of wearied indifference, like every time Park speaks to him it’s a trial on his patience. There’s a slight animosity between them, I think goes beyond any kind of rivalry they might have over Eun Ki. Park, I think, doesn’t just see Ma Ru as a romantic rival who is undeserving of Eun Ki, he sees him as a morally bankrupt person; he wouldn’t like Ma Ru even if Eun Ki had no romantic feelings for him. It’s ironic, considering the developments of this episode, where he deliberately lies to Eun Ki.
As for Ma Ru, he doesn’t and never has considered Park to be a serious contender in terms of romance. I think Ma Ru realizes Park cares a little too much about Taesan, that he’s somehow always known that if push came to shove, he would choose Taesan over Eun Ki’s well being. It’s no surprise that in the same episode that Park lies to Eun Ki, Ma Ru raises doubts about the need for Eun Ki to have Taesan. Ma Ru knows that Park sees him as an opportunistic crook, and he doesn’t try to change this opinion of him. If anything he encourages it by making that deal for having half of Taeesan. I think the crux of their relationship can be drawn back to their first conversation, when Park offered Ma Ru money in exchange for helping Eun Ki. Both Park and secretary Hyun are allies to Eun Ki, but Hyun came to Ma Ru and simply asked for his help, while Park wanted a contract right from the start. There’s something about money that Ma Ru despises, which is why after jail he always sought the most repellent ways to make it. I think this way of operating feeds into why he made that absurd deal with Park. It’s like he was so offended that Park would offer him money–just as Jae Hee had done twice–that he accepted it out of spite.
Back in episode 13 there was an exchange between them that caught my attention. Park comes to confront Ma Ru about admitting to being a corporate spy, and Ma Ru answers, “You said you’d give me half of Taesan if I could put Eun Ki back in her rightful place, right? therefore I should risk my life. Like my life is important.” There’s a bit of sarcasm there, because he’s blowing Park off, but there’s a grain of truth. He knows that Park is blatantly using him, that he only sees any value in him because of Eun Ki, and the sad part of that is that it’s the same way that Ma Ru sees himself.
On Seo Eun Ki
…and Domestic Bliss
Eun Ki and Ma Ru both have the same dream of domestic bliss, of living together and raising a loving family. It’s the dream Eun Ki’s mother wanted for her, and considering the huge role her mother played in her life before the crash, I’m hoping she’ll remember her and that will be how she’ll be able to fight against the destructive course she might want to take in rectifying the fact that she wasn’t there for her father’s death or funeral. I don’t think Eun Ki blames Ma ru for her father’s death–I mean that would totally baseless of her to do–but I do think that she can’t accept the fact that she chose Ma ru over her father and then her father died and he dumped her. So not only did her father die after she’d left him but the reason she’d left him bore no fruit, was useless. It’s like adding insult to injury, and she just can’t handle it.
I lately realized that when I write about Ma Ru and doubt I use a lot of words that have a religious undertone, specifically a Christian connotation, to them, words like self-flagellation guilt, penitence, devotion, sacrifice, and punishment. When I think about Eun Ki and doubt, though, I think of it more in terms of existential doubt, like a disturbance or disbelief in reality, something that doesn’t have to do with one’s relationship with others or a comprehensive worldview like the divine, but with one’s relationship with the self. I’m sure both kinds of doubts overlap, as both deal with fundamental relationships to the world, but I feel like Ma Ru’s doubt is one a person could wrestle with and try to atone for, while Eun Ki’s doubt is the kind that leads to belief in the absurd.
I see Ma Ru’s doubt as something along the lines of “everything is not as it seems” and Eun Ki’s doubt as more like “there is nothing.” If Ma Ru cannot completely trust himself because of his own previous actions and because Jae Hee keeps sowing doubt in his mind, Eun Ki cannot trust herself because her own memories are faulty. It’ not just that she’s acted in ways before that can determine the way she’s acting now, not just that everyone around her is lying to her, it’s that it might not ever be possible for her to be able to know the truth because she has such an anonymous relationship to her past. There really is no basis for reality for her. The best example of this I can come up with is when she goes to visit her father. No doubt Eun Ki has always been a filial daughter. But she chose to leave her father before, even though she remained loyal to him, because she saw faults in him in how he treated her, knew that he was abusive and unfairly critical of her. Now she reveres him as an ideal father when nothing could be further from the truth. And now that she’s gotten some of her memories back just as she realizes that the people who she’s trusted completely are lying to her, the skepticism that she used to have towards others returns. I think she also turns it in on herself. What does she really know? Are these feelings she has for Ma Ru based in reality or on memories that are only half-true, half-real? And if these awful memories she has of Ma Ru are real, are all that make him up, then how is she to deal with the inevitable clash that will result from them and how much she wants to be with him? And this may be why she turns to her father, this figment she’s made up in her mind after her car crash, and it’s so sad for me to see her doing this, making this benevolent figure of a man who was anything but. It’s telling that she says Ma Ru congrtatualtes her when no one else has, because it’s eerily similar to how she’d told her father to for once just congratulate her.
Eun Ki remembers her father telling her, “Don’t trust anyone in the world. You shouldn’t show the real you to anyone. That’s the only way for you to survive at Taesan.” But my question is, does Eun Ki know who the real her is? And a last note, Eun Ki says, “I’ll be at the place where I should be,” which contrasts her with Jae Hee and Ahn and aligns her with Ma Ru, who is trying to be in his rightful place.
Conversation Highlight/2 Deals
Eun Ki: Let’s stop this, the fight. what is it that you want? Taesan Group? Have it all, then. I don’t need it. So have it to yourself. Have everything you want and release Ma Ru. Stop framing him.
Jae Hee: Wait. Did you just trade Taesan for Ma ru right now? Why?
Eun Ki: Because.
Jae Hee: What?
Eun Ki: Just because.
Jae Hee: What did he do to you? What in the world did he do for you to be like this? Did he find your weakness? No matter how crazy you are, how can you give up Taesan for a bastard like him? How can you make such an impossible deal?
Eun Ki: Is it really that unbelievable and crazy?
Jae Hee: What?
Eun Ki: Why is that so? For me, I love Ma Ru more than Taesan. Isn’t it correct to chose what you love more? Does that not apply to you Han Jae Hee-sshi?
Jae Hee: No. Not only me, but also the world. Does love feed you? To have Taesan I can throw a guy, even love, away anytime. You’re crazy. and you’re doing a wrong thing.
Eun Ki: Yes. Well, we can’t do anything about it, then. About our opinions being different. I’m leaving.
*Thanks, Viki subbers!*
This deal Eun Ki makes negates the deal Jae Hee had tried to make with Ma ru before, when she’d said she’s leave Taesan to Eun Ki if he came back to her. It also shows she was lying, since she cannot believe Eun Ki could possibly leave Tasean behind for “a bastard” like Ma Ru.
Above I mention how one of the ways Jae Hee rationalizes her actions is by saying she simply does what she has to in order to get what she wants. Here Eun Ki crystalizes for her what she wants, that she chose Taesan over Ma Ru because she wanted Taesan more than Ma Ru. It’s clear to everyone except Jae Hee, who’s somehow managed to convince herself that this whole time she’s been working so hard for something that was only second on her list of desires. I loved, loved and loved this scene because we finally get Eun Ki confronting Jae Hee, and doing it so cooly, so effortlessly, so boldly, in a way that I don’t think the old Eun Ki could have done. This is the result I’ve been waiting for, the Eun Ki that combines the proactive brashness of the old Eun Ki and the emotional clarity of the new Eun Ki to become a total badass who can crush Jae Hee because Jae Hee hardly matters to her anymore, because Jae Hee’s inconsequential to her, and I wish this journey could have been highlighted. I wish this is what the show had been focusing on instead of all the tet-a-tetes between Ma Ru and Jae Hee, which I thought we’d left behind when he officially let go of her at the end of episode 8. Honestly, I was bored every time he made some jab at Jae Hee’s intelligence, and I was upset every time he won some victory over Jae Hee that Eun Ki couldn’t participate in because she didn’t even know she had a problem with Jae Hee. From episode 8 on the real conflict that remained was between Eun Ki and Jae Hee, over Taesan, over her father, and even over Ma Ru, who’d left them both, and I wish we hadn’t spent 7 episodes avoiding that.
The other thing Eun Ki does here is that she totally rearranges Jae Hee’s worldview. Just as Ma Ru made her realize that she had control over her world and has chosen to do every bad deed she’s committed, Eun Ki makes Jae Hee start to question everything that she’s desired. Eun Ki is literally handing Taesan over to her and she’s flabbergasted. She’s prided herself on persevering in the face of opposition, and now she’s being told there is none, and she doesn’t know how to react. How can something that’s worth so much to her be worth so little to someone else? It’s another form of her solipsism, of not being able to understand how someone can have different desires from hers. She has to invalidate Eun Ki’s worldview by calling her crazy in order to be able to make sense of her actions. She must be right, her conception of the world must be totalizing, or else nothing makes sense.