I love that The Third Charm is really just about dating. No corporate shenanigans. No family drama. No fate, no workplace antics. No distractions. It’s about 2 people and their relationship—how they work, why they work, why they don’t work. And so when Young-jae and Joon-young break up, it really makes you ask yourself why it is you want them together. The romance is the only thing there is, it is “the point”; it’s not simply a backdrop that eases the tension of the narrative because you know they’re gonna end up together in the end. The romance is what’s at stake. It reminds me of my experience watching Cheese in the Trap, how it interrogated romcom tropes, even though the only thing the shows have in common with one another is their interest in their characters.
On Episode 6
Joon-young and Young-jae love each other, but he’s insecure and jealous and petty, even as he’s kind and generous and thoughtful, and she’s neither neurotic no as lovey-dovey as he is; so all these subtleties and slights that he gets hung up on she doesn’t, and that’s what they’ve gotten snagged on and has turned into all this distance and silence and hurt.
Young-jae so much more chill than Joon-young is, but I think there are also other things at work between them. Part of it is that she’s been through some truly difficult times, while he’s had a pretty easy and bright life, his sister’s nagging being the most aggravating thing about it. That he gets bothered by little things she doesn’t even notice is part of the differences in their personalities, but it’s also that those things are so small in comparison to what she’s had to deal with in her life. What is washing a man’s hair compared to her brother suddenly becoming disabled? What is telling Joon-young not to go overboard compared to having to become the breadwinner for her family at age 20? It’s insignificant. But I also think Joon-young is a lot more self-conscious and self-lacerating than Young-jae realizes. It’s not simply that he’s sensitive. He thinks he’s lacking and he faults himself. I first noticed it back in episode 3, when he asks her if she dumped him because of his looks (his glasses and braces); another instance of it is when Sang-hyun compares him to Ho-chul (the plastic surgeon), and Joon-young agrees that Ho-chul is better than him in so many aspects.
I’m enjoying so much the way this show weaves tension and uneasiness into something so small and personal and uneventful as a romantic relationship. In episode 6 there’s a juxtaposition of the acts of kindness Young-jae and Joon-young do for each other—these generous gestures that bring them each closer to the others’ family and genuinely touches the other—to how they can so easily hurt each other. Right after they do such kind things for one another, they fight.
First Young-jae gets pork belly and surprises Joon-young and his family at home. It’s such a lovely domestic scene. They all share a meal Young-jae sees how cute his parents are. She sees how his parents and sister tease him about his idiosyncrasies. She sees what his home life is like, how he grew up, what it is he came from. The entire time, Joon-young never says one word to her. But there’s this little moment between them, when he takes the scissors from her hands and cuts up some meat for her and places it on her rice; she sees him doing this, then takes her chopsticks and eats the meat and smiles, and when she goes back to talking to his family he watches her with this fondness on his face and smiles. I love the moment because it shows his care for her, it shows that she’s reaching him even though he’s being petty and is still angry with her, and it’s this little moment of nonverbal communication in the midst of the beginning of their breaking up for the second time. It’s them at their best. But just a little later when he drives her home they have a terrible fight. Young-jae wants to know why he was mad, and Joon-young tries to explain but it gets all messed up. He has this deep antipathy against Ho-chul that Young-jae doesn’t share, and because she doesn’t have it he feels like she isn’t on his side. She says something innocent, he takes it to mean more than it is, Young-jae accuses him of overreacting, and he just gets even more hurt. Young-jae asks him how he could be so petty and again we see how Joon-young is self-aware but doesn’t admit to it—he agrees with her that he’s being petty, he knows he’s messing things up, but he doesn’t admit it to her. I love how the verbal silence and distance is replicated physically: Young-jae tells Joon-young he’s petty and he agrees but doesn’t say so out loud, and then when Young-jae gets out of the car Joon-young gets out to follow her but stops. You can see her walking and waiting for him to follow her, she expects it and wants it, and he’s about to do it, but ultimately he gives in to his anger and he gets back in the car and drives away. In speech and in action he refuses to bridge the slight he feels in order to reach out to her.
Joon-young: You don’t need to be sorry. You didn’t do anything wrong.
Young-jae: Then what was the problem?
Joon-young: …It’s just my own issue.
Young-jae: Fine. Nevermind, then. You don’t have to tell me. …Why doesn everything have to be so complicated with you?
Joon-young: All right, I’ll tell you. I had to go back and park my car over again, and that’s why that person ended up being the one to help you when you fell. And I happened to see you and that jerk smiling together. I thought “What am I doing here right now? why is he doing that with her?” That’s what makes me so angry.
Young-jae: Why are you calling him a jerk? He didn’t do anything wrong. Ho-chul just helped me, that’s all.
Joon-young: Are you taking his side right now?
Young-jae: Don’t go overboard.
Joon-young: You’re one to talk. You know I’m still mad, so why are you taking his side?
Young-jae: Why are you so petty?
Joon-young: What? Petty?
Young-jae: I told you not to overdo it. it’s nothing.
Joon-young: How can you say it’s nothing? You wouldn’t be able to if you put yourself in my shoes. You just took his side! How could I think it’s nothing? Why are you so simple minded? How can everything be so easy for you?
Young-jae: Pull over.
*I notice from this conversation that he almost calls her stupid. It reminds me of how her frenemy Do-hyun said she wasn’t smart in front of everyone back in episode 2.
The second juxtaposition: Soo-jae calls him and Joon-young up and they go grocery shopping together. Joon-young pushes the cart and he takes the lead choosing the ingredients for the meal they’re going to make. When they get to Yong-jae and Soo-jae’s home, the elevator is broken, and so Joon-young carries Soo-jae up to the apartment, then carries the groceries and his wheelchair up. He cooks all of her favorite foods and makes super spicy, just the way she likes. He doesn’t call her. He doesn’t stay to eat with her. He keeps the silence he maintained when she visited his family. But when Young-jae gets home Soo-jae tells her Joon-young was there and that he cooked for her. She’s so moved by it that she’s speechless. And this is one of the reasons she likes him so much, loves him even, isn’t it? She has fun with him and he’s super cute, yes, but he also touches her with his thoughtfulness and sincerity. But just like they fought after she visited his family, they fight again. The next day is her birthday, and Joon-young doesn’t call her, even hough he knows he should, even though he has a present for her. Young-jae made a reservation at afnacy restaurant for them, and when he doesn’t call her and doesn’t show up at her salon, she goes to the restaurant with Ho-chul instead. But even as she’s eating with Ho-chul, she keeps looking at her phone hoping for Joon-young to call, and their entire conversation is about how much she likes him. But when Joon-young shows up all he sees is his girlfriend having a birthday dinner with a man he feel inferior to. The hurt and betrayal are naked on his face—in episode 5 Young-jae told him he can’t lie because he wears what he feels on his face, and it’s one of my favorite things about him.
Ho-chul: You must like him a lot.
Young-jae: Of course, he’s my boyfriend.
The cliffhanger is brilliant; I’m so mad their confrontation was cut short because it was so good. You could see how Young-jae is trying to root out what the real problem is—why hasn’t he called? Why is he being distant when it’s so unlike him? The Joon-young she knows would have called her, would have had an entire plan for her birthday. Is he going to apologize? And she thinks she finds out what it is—he says “You gave me reason to be suspicious of you.” You see her face fall. She thinks she’s found the problem. Young-jae hears that and thinks he doesn’t trust her. He isn’t angry just because she’s having dinner with some guy, she thinks he’s angry because he believes she’s cheating on him, that she could cheat on him. It’s an insult. She’s so disappointed in him right then, and so hurt. But right when Joon-young is about to explain, right when they’re getting to the heart of it Ho-chul comes out and inserts himself into their conversation.
I hope that next week, if Joon-young expands or explains what he means by “I couldn’t call you because you didn’t make it clear to that guy. You made me jealous and gave me reason to be suspicious of you,” that it goes back to when he asked her if she dumped him cause she’d been embarrassed of him. I hope that’s why he’s acting out and fucking up so badly, and not cause he actually thinks Young-jae could cheat on him.
On Form, Subjectivity, & Characterization
Joon-Young and Young-jae and their conflicts and interests are drawn so well that I have a hard time believing they aren’t adapted from a novel.
But I want to spend more time with how Young-jae’s family crisis was relegated to flashback and voiceover just so that we could stay with Joon-young and his confusion and hurt. Was it worth it? Of course not. I never think leaving a woman’s motives mysterious is good. It’s always done either because whoever wrote the woman has no idea who she is and so she’s just a plot device, or she matters less and so her reasoning matters less. Either way it cheapens her character and propagates the idea that women are irrational and/or unknowable.
What did we get by leaving Young-jae’s family crisis to be told in flashback? We got the fateful second meeting between her and Joon-young; we got Joon-young going through seven years not knowing why she dumped him, and Joon-young being upset with her when they met again and not understanding why she didn’t seem to understand their relationship was fractured; and then Joon-young finding out the reason and running to her; and finally the euphoria of their make up kiss. Basically, what we get is their relationship from Joon-young’s perspective. We feel with him because we the audience only know what he knows. And so anything he does is more justified, because we’re basically in his shoes. Of course, Joon-young doesn’t do anything awful or even unkind, but this is just the kind of set up that a different kind of story would use to punish a woman.
What would have been lost if we’d known from the beginning why Young-jae broke up with Joo-young? I think only the economy of time. We still could have seen Joon-young crying, still could have watched him as he changed and became a cop cause of her, still could have seen them reunite on New Year’s night. The only thing is that Young-jae’s family crisis would have taken at least a whole other episode, if not two.
What would we gain? We’d get to see Young-jae’s family falling apart in front of her. We’d get to see how young she was, to have her older brother suffer such a debilitating accident and then suddenly she’s the breadwinner for their little family. Instead of seeing Joon-young wandering around crushed cause she dumped him, we could have seen Young-jae bewildered and scared and crushed by the swiftness with which her life changed. We would have seen how her biggest problem went from a hair-pulling fight with some jealous, petty frenemy to suddenly having to take care of both herself and her brother. (Not to mention that more time with her would have given more time to Soo-jae, who the accident actually happened to. His disability wouldn’t just be a footnote in the romance between her and Joon-young.) We would have seen her walking up to her rooftop and known that Joon-young was there, and I think that the break up would have been even more gut-wrenching, more potent, because we would have known what was behind her words.
Throughout episodes 5 and 6 we see Joon-young doing things for Young-jae without her knowledge. He loans her brother some money for his car. He rescues her portfolio. He makes sure she gets a seat on the train. He cooks for her and it’s only later she finds out he’s been spending time with her brother. Joon-young is given an amount of subjectivity that Young-jae isn’t. Imagine if we didn’t see him doing all thes kind things for her. Imagine if what we saw of Joon-young was limited to what we saw of Young-jae back in episode 2 when she dumped him. His treatment of her—not calling her for four days, disappearing during her celebration party, lying to her about having to work, not speaking to her at all while she visited his family, not calling her for her birthday and then suddenly showing up while she’s having dinner and accusing her of cheating—would be seen as totally irrational and unacceptable. He’d just be a mean boyfriend who sometimes does kind things for her, as opposed to someone who’s essentially kind but acts out because of his own insecurities.
The limited subjectivity we get for Young-jae affects her characterization, makes it Joon-young the character we identify with more immediately. I think that’s why some people are faulting Young-jae for having dinner with the plastic surgeon at the end of episode 6. Why would she do that, when Joon-young is already so touchy about him and they’ve already fought over him? It’s the same question Joon-young asks her. But the thing about Young-jae is that she isn’t someone who is easily threatened. Do-hyun tells her as much.
Do-hyun: You were always like that. Other people might have badmouthed me behind my back, but they always tried hard to please me when I was around. But how is it that you’re always so confident when you’re in front of me? You have nothing to be proud of.
Do-hyun: I really don’t like you. You aren’t experienced enough to have been in charge of a fashion show like that. That’s why I recommended you. I knew you’d be on cloud nine, but I thought you’d give up as soon as I humiliated you. I wanted to let you have a taste of reality. But you never gave up.
Boundaries about who’s a friend or an enemy aren’t as rigidly drawn for Young-jae as they are for Joon-young.Do-hyun is a girl she’s had a hair pulling fight with twice. This is a girl who’s insulted her and humiliated her, a girl she’s slapped. And yet when Do-hyun comes to her house, Young-jae still steps out and has a civil drink with her, and in the end it even turns a little friendly. Young-jae even feels pity for Do-hyun and tells Joo-ran that she understands her. This quality about her is the same reason she told Joon-young not to call Ho-chul a jerk. So when Young-jae has dinner with Ho-chul, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as it would if Joon-young were to have dinner with another woman on his birthday. Joon-young thinks she’s favoring Ho-chul, but if he could trust her a little more, if he had called her on her birthday instead of indulging in hesitation, he would have been the one at dinner with her, which is what Young-jae wanted anyway.
On “Opposites Attract”
The series tells the twelve-year love story of two individuals with completely opposite personality who unexpectedly met on a group blind date.
I love that the “opposites attract” trope in The Third Charm isn’t just about Young-jae and Joon-young’s personalities and temperaments. You can see how their lives have been completely different. Joon-young lives in this old house with his parents and sister; his parents have stable jobs; they have a courtyard full of plants and they go on family outings together. Young-jae just has her brother and the apartments they rent. Both their families are full of love and closeness and teasing, but the circumstances of each are different. They were raised differently, have different experiences.
One of the pleasures of the opposites attract trope is seeing how such different people clash, but here Young-jae and Joon-young like each other so much that they delight in each other’s differences. Young-jae is always teasing him, and Joon-young is always musing about how much he likes all the things that makes Young-jae who she is. The differences between them that cause them problems aren’t the shallow things—she likes spicy foods, he a neat freak—it’s in how they approach relationships and in how they each see themselves.
What I’m enjoying best about the use of the trope here is how they each affect and change one another. We know Joon-young became a cop because of Young-jae, but I love how when he’s with her he can be as particular as he wants because she’ll just tease him about it, and in fact she actually likes how fastidious he is—Mr. Planner is such a cute boyfriend nickname! But Young-jae changes because of Joon-young, too. She doesn’t set the course of her career because of him, but whenever she sees his family, especially his parents, she’s reminded of her own. After the meal with his family she asks her brother about their parents and about his love life. I think Joon-young leaves her softer, somehow.
It happened during the first iteration of their relationship, too. When she first breaks up with him in 2008, she tells him she hates that he made her believe in the fantasy that she could live her life the way he lives his. She bought that red polkadot dress, she danced up on that stage; there was a carefree-ness about her, and part of that was cause she was so young and had her big brother taking care of her, but I think Joon-young and how uptight and sensitive and cute he was let that out in her, too, gave her an opportunity to indulge in those aspects of her personality. The same thing happens in 2012—she wants to see the sea, so he takes her to the sea; she wants him to plan out something for her birthday and so she asks him to plan an outing for them both.
I know their break up is going to be ugly. I suspect they’ll each start dating other people. But I can’t wait for them to meet again when they’re older. I want to see how they’ve changed, how they miss each other, what regrets they have, and I want more of Young-jae’s thoughts.