Episode 2: People Management
What a fun, breezy episode. I’m not confident the show can keep up with the brilliance it displays here, but this episode has got witty dialogue, engaging relationship dynamics, great acting from the leads, and a heroine who has taken me heart and soul. From the initial description I imagined we would have a wide-eyed, naive heroine hell bent on getting married, and it would be her innocence the hero would fall for. But that’s not who Joo Jang Mi is at all. In fact, she reminds me more of Kim Sam Soon than Go Mi Nyeo. Our heroine is passionate and sincere; she’s a woman who feels too much, drinks too much, eats too much, and is much too earnest. She’s a vision of excess, and I have a feeling this show is going to be about the world making space for all that she is.
Despite some stumbling in later episodes (at the time of this posting, 4 episodes have aired), the show does know how to balance classic romcom tropes with a modern sensibility. We’ve got the bright lady-pessimist guy bickering couple who are constantly forced together because of an ill-conceived dating contract which includes a Pygmalion Plot, but we’ve also got six people enmeshed in one another’s lives, creating intersecting relationships full of unrequited desire that has to be restrained and where each person is always aware of and notes the acts of every other person and fixes their own positions accordingly. There are some delicious structural parallels, which I always love: so far each episode mirrors the drama’s central trope—just as the main couple enters a fake relationship before falling in love with one another, each episode begins in medias res, and we have to jump back in time to go over the events leading up to the opening; and the act Gi Tae puts on for Jang Mi’s benefit in the first episode is a mirror of the larger scheme he cooks up to deceive his mother.
I love the chemistry between Han Groo and Yeon Woo Jin. They are both very physical actors, using their faces and bodies in ways that make my shipper heart squee. For example, there are these little moments of surprise that register on Gi Tae’s face as he learns more about Jang Mi, like when she tells his family that her parents own a liquor store. It’s something he didn’t know about her, and it’s perfect for this role he’s making her play, only it isn’t a role, but the truth. it’s a moment of reality on his part in the midst of his act for his mother. He’s using her, but with every interaction he’s reminded that she’s a real person. Which is the great thing about contract relationships, isn’t it? Jang Mi has a reciprocal moment of her own: at the party she overhears other guests talking about who these people are, and it’s here she first starts to realize that Gi Tae might actually be someone of social significance, and not just some annoying guy who roped her into this ridiculous farce.
Best of all, we have three women, and each has her own objectives and romantic desires. Se Ah is beautiful, sophisticated, and privileged; she has so much longing for Gi Tae, which she tempers with carefully executed nonchalance because he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to reignite their past relationship. He’s the one guy outside her reach, and there’s nothing she can do because she can’t change the fact that she’s just the kind of woman his mother would love for him to marry. And Hyun Hee is a monster of a girl: Gi Tae first mistakes Jang Mi for a social climber, which is why he so eagerly tells her off for Hoon Dong in the first episode, but it’s Hyun Hee who’s the social climber in this story. She’s socially adept, working a situation to her benefit. For example, she knows exactly what Hoon Dong’s aim is when he first starts avoiding Jang Mi when Jang Mi herself doesn’t. And when Hoon Dong shows up to the department store where she and Jang Mi work, she maneuvers him into inviting her to an exclusive party. Yet even with her calculated actions, Hyun hee isn’t painted as a villain.
The one really terrible thing about the show is an overt and persistent male gaze. There’s a focus on women’s bodies that is uncomfortable—it’s the kind of explicit objectification and fetishizing you’d expect from a Fast & Furious film. Camera pans over women’s butts, an instance of Hoon Dong ogling at the bodies of swimming women while he hides beneath the water, one of Gi Tae being appalled by the idea of having to spend a night with a fat woman. It doesn’t help that he’s a cosmetic plastic surgeon, claims that Se Ah is his “masterpiece,” and offers Jang Mi some surgery in exchange for her pretending to be his girlfriend. There is an acknowledgement of a (het) female gaze, in the person of Yeo Reum, who has older women chasing after him, but he actually gets to be a full person, while all the women whose bodies we see remain faceless and nameless. Furthermore, Yeo Reum gets to interrogate his objectification. After Jang Mi chooses an outfit for him and has him model it (a gender reversal from the usual montage of a woman tryinga on different outfits in front of her beau, which actually Jang Mi does in front of Gi Tae), she tells him that it was like “playing with a doll.” She depersonalizes the experience, turning a service she did for him into something he fulfilled for her. She’s following Gi Tae’s dictate about making politeness a selfish act, and in doing so she dehumanizes Yeo Reum. And in response Yeo Reum irreverently asks her, “Since I was like a doll for you, then can you pay for these clothes?” which throws Jang Mi off. He gets to speak back to the person who objectifies him.
“I’m sorry. I misunderstood you. And unintentionally hurt you.”
A moment of sincerity from Gi Tae. I was a little surprised with how thoroughly he applied himself to help Jang Mi get revenge on Hoon Dong, considering that Hoon Dong is a close friend. I think it’s more than his wanting to maintain a perfect front so that his mother won’t suspect that he’s lying. I think he wants to get some revenge on Hoon Dong, too. He was discomfited by his role in aiding Hoon Dong in dumping Jang Mi. After all, Gi Tae actually respects sincerity–he respects Jang Mi’s feelings–and doesn’t like that he was roped in to deceiving her, thereby actively helping to uphold he falseness he so dislikes.
That’s not being nice. She’s training you. …She maintains her angel image without having to hurt anyone herself. That’s how she deals with people. It’s called “People Management.” …You should learn from my mom.
Throughout the 2nd half of the episode Gi Tae basically instructs Jang Mi in how to be like his mother–how to be as calculating as she is, how to always maintain a façade of politeness, and how to scrutinize and maneuver people so as to get what she wants. Gi Tae knows how to handle this, knows how to play his mother’s game (hence his plan to trick her)–he knows how his mother operates. But he doesn’t know how Jang Mi operates, which is why he had initially mistaken her for a gold-digger and social climber. Her sincerity, her honesty with what she wants, her showing such naked desire as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, is an act of vulnerability, totally different from his mother’s sharply cultivated and impeccably maintained dignity. When he sees Jang Mi he sees a person who is not protecting themselves in any way.
Gi Tae’s response to his mother’s game is to play along. He uses a kind of honesty too–he lays bare the skeletons of the game, always pointing out the rules so that the other participants can see that it’s a farce, that there’s an inherent falseness to it all. For example, in the matseon scene in episode 1 he interprets the questions his date asks him in order to expose the true nature of their meeting: when she asks where he lives he responds, “Gagnam. You wanted to see if I live in a ritzy area, right?”; he blithely assures her he has a car and that some celebrities live in his apartment complex; and then he asks her, “What can you give me?” as if they are negotiating a business transaction. He offends her with his bluntness, with his insistence that she recognize the script they’re following, and with his refusal to maintain the courtesy that is expected and is meant to cushion the banal realities of what marriage meetings are for. It’s like he’s playing a game of chicken, daring people to acknowledge the farce they willingly participate in.
In teaching Jang Mi these manners he’s immersing her into his mother’s world; but when it comes down to it, Jang Mi’s response to this world is not to play along by poking fun at it or by letting people know that she knows the rules–her response is to outright reject it, and in that way she shows a dignity that differs greatly from Gi Tae’s mother’s because it doesn’t involve hiding behind a mask of serenity, it involves courage in the face of public scrutiny and working against the silent agreement of the majority.
No one stooped low. We just all wanted to be with someone.
Jang Mi just wants people to be able to openly express their desires without being ridiculed for it. She’s a romantic with a capital R; she wants the best out of people. She wants truth. She’s not naive, she’s an idealist.
On Politeness and Silence
The following is an extended conversation Jang Mi and Gi Tae have from when they leave Hoon Dong’s restaurant on:
Gi Tae: Being polite is for your benefit, not others.
Being polite is an opportunity to take advantage of, not a sign of respect or consideration; it’s a power play. And to illustrate this Hoon Dong comes in to say the drink is on him, and he conveniently lets slip that he owns the place.
Jang Mi: Why are you being so considerate?
Gi Tae: Don’t get carried away. My aunt is following us.
An example of Gi Tae being polite not as a way to show care, but in furtherance of his own interests.
[On their fake date]
Gi Tae: You’re obsessed with being kind to others.
Jang Mi: It was just easier to do it myself. Here, cheers!
Her opening the bottle parallels her saving Hoon Dong. Her focusing on her own abilities signals that Jang Mi is against passiveness. She believes in the power of her own actions and in fact it’s her actions (insisting on meeting Hoon Dong face to face, saving him) that imbue the story with significance.
Gi Tae: You want others’ acknowledgement and love.
His reasoning for her politeness in the face of her sincerity. Dearincrediblesweetness explains that Gi Tae is purposefully impolite as a way to combat his mother’s pretense of civility. Looking at his family (and his inferred experiences with people trying to marry him for social status and financial stability) politeness for him is not something real, not something of substance in and of itself; it has to be a cover for something else. When he sees how polite Jang Mi is, that clashes with what he’s come to know of her sincerity. If she’s genuine, then what is her insistence on politeness for? His answer is that she has a need for acknowledgement and love, and that her “confusion” about what politeness really is–a power play, not an expression of care–allows people to take advantage of her.
Jang Mi: You must think love and acknowledgement from others is annoying. Some people live for that. Those from loving families could never understand.
Her reasoning for his estrangement from his family; she believes he comes from a family that is different from hers, one that is “whole” and isn’t constantly at war with one another.
Gi Tae: Loving families have their issues too.
Jang Mi: You’re spoiled. You ought to be grateful they care about you. How could you think about who that consideration is for? Being polite is good for both parities. That’s life.
Gi Tae: People take advantage of you, don’t they? It’s obvious, it’s not acknowledgement or love.
Because politeness is about power, not care or consideration. He’s also saying her kindness is a weakness.
Jang Mi: I’m letting you take advantage of me now because I have a goal. After my revenge, it’s over. Your attitude and your way of thinking, I hate them!
Gi Tae: Geez, you should never drink. I shouldn’t have gotten the wine.
Jang Mi: Anyway. Be good to your mom. She wants love too.
Even though she rejects Gi Tae’s mom’s policy of “people management” Jang Mi doesn’t reject her. And she’s gotten Gi Tae’s message loud and clear: she knows that he is using her.
[After the “date,” in front of Jang Mi’s home.]
Jang Mi: Funny. I thought I’d never be able to date again. And now this is how I’m dating again. Anyway, thanks.
Gi Tae: No need to say thanks. This is 100% for me.
Again, anything he does isn’t out of some charitable or generous feeling he has for her, but for his own purposes and goals. But he’s so serious when he responds to her here; I wonder why? It’s such a radical shift in tone from the insolence he usually shows her, different even from when he apologized to her. It’s the same seriousness he displayed before when he discovered her feelings for Hoon Dong were real, when Jang Mi wondered if she could really get revenge on Hoon Dong, and that he displays below after Jang Mi publicly saves Hoon Dong. There’s something almost tender in his tone. I can’t help but think that despite all his professed disdain for all the ways Jang Mi is who she is, he respects sincerity, her “heaviness.” And I think his being blunt with how selfish he is is a sign of that respect. The impoliteness he shows to her isn’t of the same character as that he’s shown to his other marriage prospects–first because he knows Jang Mi has no desire to marry him and second because he’s not being so just to push her away. He’s being truthful with her.
[At the end of the pool party.]
Jang Mi: Let’s forget about my revenge.
Gi Tae: I’ll take you home.
Jang Mi: I’m sorry, but let’s forget about our deal, too.
Gi Tae: Just wait. I’ll bring more towels.
In all their conversations we see how Jang Mi and Gi Tae are already enacting what she considers to be a healthy and thriving relationship—”We’ll love each other and fight like crazy”–one where the participants are honest with one another and have no compunction vocalizing their feelings. Jang Mi is against silence: her parents use it as a weapon in their marriage, as something to distance themselves from one another. Gi Tae’s parents use it against each other, too, in how they maintain civil relations even though it’s clear that Gi Tae’s father hurts his wife with his constant absence and his “agreeing” with everything she says. Because when he says he’ll go along with whatever she decides he isn’t really giving her power or supporting her: he’s leaving everything in her hands so that she’ll have to deal with whatever the consequences are. He acts like a bystander instead of something in the family who has stakes in in–he isn’t really involved. There is something incredibly passive aggressive in the marriages of both of the parents of our leads, which also signals why Jang Mi is so against passiveness. If there is aggression in a relationship, she wants it to be clearly expressed, not carefully muted so that it remains ever present and poisonous. The show itself is against silence–its best quality is the banter between Jang Mi and Gi Tae.
Silence was present in the way Hoon Dong dumped Jang Mi. He refused to speak to her, refused to actually say the words “let’s break up.” He wanted to remain ambiguous but still have her understand, as if he were being totally clear. That word, “ambiguous,” is another theme in the show, and describes the very nature of silence. Jang Mi uses that very word to describe Gi Tae’s mother. One of the words Gi Tae gives to Jang Mi to use in her revenge on Hoon Dong is “sometime.” She uses it on Yeo Reum and later one he uses it on Se Ah. “Sometime” is an ambiguous word. It’s a deferral (a reverberation of how Gi Tae spend three years away from his family, how his father gets up and leaves without confronting anything, how Hoon Doong refused to speak to Jang Mi directly). “Sometime” creates the same distancing as silence does, and it does it without outright rejection. “Sometime” is what you say when you want to be polite in your rejection, but you don’t want to take responsibility for it–it’s the person who hears the word who is supposed to understand that it really means never.
Silence is one of the tools in “people management”—Gi Tae’s mom doesn’t say anything aloud, she just bides her time until she can get what she wants without getting her hands dirty. And again like Jang Mi, the show sympathizes with her, because it shows us how dismissive of her her husband is. The whole idea of “people management” is on display in the last sequence of the episode, and the charity event/pool party. Jang Mi, Gi Tae, Se Ah, and Hond Dong are each aware of everyone else, and each take note of every particular action and utterance of the other. Everything is laden with significance because no one is speaking out in the open. No one says what they mean, but everone is expected to be first know that everything said has to be interpreted and second be able to interpret it correctly. It’s like an explication of guess culture. So when Gi Tae says he “didn’t expect” to see Hoon Dong there it’s a not so subtle indication of Hoon Dong’s rank within their circle, and when Hoon Dong nonchalantly says Se Ah wanted him there, he’s defending his right to be there and maintaining his image; when Gi Tae calls Se Ah his “friend,” there is a sense of something else between them that Jang Mi feels and Hoon Dong already knows; when Hoon Dong says to Gi Tae, “You don’t hold on to the past,” it’s his relationship with Se Ah that he’s referencing; when Gi Tae says , “The past isn’t important, the present it,” he’s speaking to Hoon Dong but it’s really meant for Se Ah, both as a way to emphasize that there is nothing romantic between them in their future and so that she can spread rumors about him and Jang Mi to get back to his mother; and when Gi Tae tries to introduced Jang Mi to Se Ah and Se Ah says she’s already heard all about her from Hoon Dong, we know her interest in Jang Mi lies elsewhere. And so we get the glancing relay, from which Se Ah saves them all by “borrowing” Gi Tae–she takes his arm and links hers with his and walks away, the same action Jang Mi performed when she was trying to make Hoon Dong jealous when Yeo Reum came to see her at the department store.
This deconstruction of the way silence and “people management” work continues in the final minutes of the episode, when Hoon Dong makes a complete fool of himself. It’s painful to watch him up on the stage, completely alone and refusing to back down for the sake of maintaining an image that everyone present already doesn’t have of him. He wants to maintain the pretense of being cool, not the actuality of it, because no one in the crowd actually thinks very much of him. Everyone is too polite to tell him to stop, and then when he goes so far in his (self) deception that he’s willing to humiliate himself even more than he already is, everyone is too polite to help him. It’s Jang Mi who goes beyond mere politeness to show real compassion. She saves him. An in saving him she gives up her revenge, rejects Gi Tae’s mother’s “people management,” and the manners Gi Tae has been teaching her, the game that he plays along with. But her saving him isn’t her forgiving him—she sees what a coward he is, what a true loser he is, and understands that she’d given her love to someone who stands for nothing. He apologized to her and she fell for it, but his apology was hollow—just like socially mandated politeness can be hollow.
On Time and Value
Jang Mi: He seemed to mean it.
Gi Tae: Are you going to fall for a simple sorry? Did you forget about people management?
Jang Mi: Anyway that’s not my thing. I’m a one man kind of girl.
Gi Tae: Don’t be hasty or you’ll regret it–he could be managing people too. Stay on your toes. Don’t let him see through you.”
Yeo Reum: Let’s eat. Jang Mi: When? Yeo Reum: Now.
Se Ah: When do you want to go on our date?
Gi Tae: Why did you…
Se Ah: I did it for the children, that’s all.
Gi Tae: What can I do to be worth $10,000?
Se Ah: Just buy me a meal.
Gi Tae: Sure. Someday.
Se Ah: Now.
Hyun Hee: You want to go eat now?
Hoon Dong: Now?
Hyun Hee: Yes, now.
I think it’s important that there’s such an emphasis on immediacy here. It parallels Jang Mi’s preference for action and assertion. she doesn’t just believe in acting, she believes in acting immediately. I think it may point to one of the obstacles she and Gi Tae may face outside of the problems they have with their families: when Gi Tae inevitably falls for Jang Mi will he wait to tell her, and will his waiting cause confusion for her?
What especially draws my interest is the question Gi Tae asks of Se Ah: “What can I do to be worth $10,000?” Worth is another theme in this episode. When Gi Tae is paying for Jang Mi’s new clothes he says she’s”worth it”; the charity auction is all about the talents the men display and their worth to the women spectators; the wallets Hoon dong brings to display his worth are in fact useless and worthless, a reflection on him.
But the real question of worth lies with Jang Mi and Hoon Dong. Jang Mi’s revenge on Hoon Dong is basically an exercise in getting him to recognize her worth. “I’m sorry, honestly. I want to go somewhere with you,” Hoon Dong tells her. When he apologizes to her it’s not because he realizes he hurt and betrayed her, realizes he made a fool of her, realizes she actually truly loved him and understand what it means, to have someone genuinely care for you and to not only not return their feelings but to ridicule them; he apologizes out of a sense of possessiveness he feels from seeing her with Gi Tae and Yeo Reum. This apology signifies that for Hoon Dong, her worth isn’t something inherent in her but something that comes from the men who want her. It’s not about her, it’s about a competition with those other men. Even when he does finally realize how kind Jang Mi is and the value of her kindness, all he can muster is a lame “Let’s be friends.” He never sincerely apologizes.
Saving Hoon Dong at the party isn’t the first time Jang Mi rejects Gi Tae’s way of dealing with things–in the club when Hoon Dong is accusing her of continuing to stalk him, Gi Tae comes in and announces they’re dating now, sending Hoon Dong reeling. But Jang Mi simply brushes his hand off her shoulder and walks out. Because she doesn’t want to show Hoon Dong up, she wants him to see how he hurt her and wants him to apologize, or at least say something real, for once. What Jang Mi wants is for him to show some sign that he has a sense of what he’s lost when he dumped her. She wants a confirmation of her worth, but what she discovers is that she’s seeking it in someone who doesn’t have the qualifications to make that estimation–because he just doesn’t have the depth or capacity for it. He’s too frivolous, too cowardly. He doesn’t actually care about kindness and love, or at least he doesn’t think he does. He thinks, and wants, to care about image. He isn’t sincere. His apology is in sharp contrast to the one Gi Tae had given her earlier. I love the way both apologies are framed, because it emphasizes the difference between Gi Tae and Hoon Dong, even though they both play the “people management” game. Gi Tae apologized in the middle of a bar while Hoon Dong apologized in the quiet in front of his store while Jang Mi was all dolled up; but even so Gi Tae displays a sincerity Hoon Dong never does. In the end it’s Jang Mi who gages Hoond Dong’s worth. When she tells him she’s embarrassed that she truly loved him, she’s saying that he is undeserving of what she had offered him.
Hoon Dong has the potential to be a really interesting character: he’s an outsider, just like Jang Mi and Hyun Hee, despite his wealth. (Notice as Yeo Reum greets everyone along with Gi Tae and Se Ah, Hoon Dong is outside of the circle along with Jang Mi, watching them.) I can understand how he and Jang Mi got together. They both have elements of the ridiculous about them. Evene though he usues people management he’s inept at it, which is why he is so easily played by Hyun Hee. I feel that in dating someone so far outside of his social circle he was probably able to display parts of himself that he wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
- Thoughts on Marriage Not Dating Episode 1 & 2 from dearincrediblesweetness
- More on Marriage Not Dating from dearincrediblesweetness