Manhole: Episode 5

Manhole takes an unusually dark turn this hour, with less of the zany comedy we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from our reluctant Energizer bunny, Pil. He’s able to observe and hear what his friends and family truly think of him, and much of their views come as a touching, eye-opening surprise. Timing is everything in life, and for a hero who’s always had terrible starts, at least there’s a lucky manhole that permits him do-overs to finally get off on the right foot.

EPISODE 5: “How Can You See Love?”

Looking sharp in a suit, Pil confidently walks through the tunnel and figures that he’s landed a job, everything is back to normal, and all that he has left to do is win Soo-jin’s heart. During his neighborhood stroll, he’s further reassured by the absence of trash and thugs, which he was surrounded by the last time he came back to the future as a gangster.

Everything appears hunky-dory until he notices a woman and a watering can that’s watering plants for her while floating in midair.

He rubs his eyes in case he’s seeing things and exhales in relief when he sees the woman holding the watering can like a normal person. But as he walks away, we see three levitating watering cans pop into view. Huh??

Pil arrives outside Soo-jin’s studio, but it’s closed. Jae-hyun, too, returns to the pharmacy after an unsuccessful trip there. His boss, the balding pharmacist, wonders why such a handsome man with a full head of hair tries so hard (ha), and Jae-hyun answers that it’s because he feels as though he and Soo-jin are fated to be together.

Elsewhere, Soo-jin dejectedly walks out of a hospital and enters a cab. She’s distracted and struggles to answer when the driver repeatedly asks for her destination.

Pil happens upon Jin-sook’s juice truck and is impressed that business is booming, but finds it odd that Jin-sook isn’t the one behind the counter.

As it turns out, Jin-sook has gone to work for a corporation instead. Dressed in business attire with a name tag around her neck, she meets Soo-jin outside a convenience store for a quick lunch. Jin-sook complains about leg pain, and Soo-jin chides her for not staying true to herself, knowing full well that she dislikes working under anyone and always harbored entrepreneurial dreams.

Jin-sook regrets landing a job and asks Soo-jin about her neighborhood, which Soo-jin describes as being the same, except empty. Jin-sook laments that she misses her usual gang and asks Soo-jin about Pil, but Soo-jin merely says he’s doing well… which doesn’t exactly sound convincing.

Pil finds that Dal-soo’s DVD store is on the market and wonders if he did anything wrong, but he concludes that all he did was save Soo-jin. After checking his pockets, he learns that he’s strangely without a wallet or a cell phone.

He enters Gu-gil’s billiards room and is stunned to see Gu-gil’s dad, Mr. Yang, standing before him in the flesh, red-nosed and with a bottle of soju in his pocket. Internally, Pil wonders what he did to bring Mr. Yang back to life when the man died in 2014 and had nothing to do with the fire on the beach. But Mr. Yang merely instructs Pil to pick up a stick so he can show him a new pool trick.

Pil apologizes for being forward before asking how the man is alive, but Mr. Yang just chides him for speaking nonsense.

Before Jin-sook returns to work, she urges Soo-jin to get whatever it is off her chest, reducing Soo-jin to tears. “We can no longer see Pil,” Soo-jin says.

Moments earlier, Pil’s parents had informed Soo-jin of their decision to no longer wait for Pil, and they’d advised her to stop feeling guilty, since Pil would’ve wanted her to be happy. Soo-jin just stood before them, utterly speechless and trembling.

Back in the billiards room, Pil is shocked by Mr. Yang’s affirmation that he died in 2014 as he asks wonderingly, “How could I be talking to a dead person?!” Mr. Yang explains that Pil was injured from the beach fire and has been in a coma ever since. However, Pil isn’t convinced, since he remembers successfully rescuing Soo-jin and emerging unscathed. Mr. Yang clarifies that although Pil rescued Soo-jin, he became injured in the process, and we go back to the beach fire to see a glass shard poking out of Pil’s torso the night of the incident as he was being rushed to the hospital, all his friends concernedly surrounding his stretcher.

Gu-gil enters the billiards room and plops himself between Pil and his dad, but naturally, he’s oblivious to ghosts. Pil calls out to him and repeatedly tries to touch him, but he merely glides through his friend, who doesn’t detect anything. Pil asks Mr. Yang if this means that he’s dead, and the man answers that Pil isn’t dead yet; his soul escaped his body, but it seems like his parents are preparing to pull the plug soon.

The two travel to the hospital, and Pil sits beside his own comatose body and processes the fact that he’s been in this state for six years because his soul hasn’t been able to re-enter his body. Mr. Yang warns that if Pil’s parents pull the plug today, he’ll really die. Pil doesn’t understand why Soo-jin brought him so many flowers when she’s engaged, but Mr. Yang informs him that Soo-jin hasn’t dated anyone since Pil fell ill, and it dawns on Pil that although he managed to call off the wedding, he’s now dying.

Pil’s parents meet with Soo-jin’s parents to request that Soo-jin move on from Pil even though visiting him at the hospital has become her way of life ever since the beach fire.

Pil is incredulous that his parents would pull the plug on him when he’s the only son in three generations and continues to express his frustrations when he notices that Mr. Yang is no longer next to him. Suddenly, the man reappears, and they teleport to Pil’s bedroom.

There, they watch as Pil’s parents mourn the imminent loss of their son. We learn that Soo-jin had been by Pil’s side daily, helping out his parents by shaving Pil and playing music for him, but her dedication sapped her energy and she became prone to headaches and even fainted once. Jin-sook would stop by, too, to help out.

Back in the present, tears fall from Pil’s eyes as he watches his parents sob and dread a life without their precious son.

Pil teleports to Soo-jin’s bedroom and gazes at the photographs she took from that beach day. He also sees a framed a photo she took of him running around the track when they were in high school.

In the cab, Soo-jin starts crying and narrates that there was something she wanted to say to Pil, but that he didn’t give her the chance. She thinks she may have hesitated too long and that she had too much on her mind. Meanwhile, Jin-sook splashes water onto her face, in denial about Pil’s imminent demise.

At the same time, Dal-soo, Jung-ae, Gu-gil, and Jin-sook all connect over text and phone and are alarmed that they may lose Pil as early as today.

Over at the manhole, Pil explains to Mr. Yang that all he did was travel between past and present via the manhole and that dying wasn’t the plan. Mr. Yang instructs Pil to take the manhole again, but Pil says it only works at midnight and that he’ll be dead before then. Pil begs Mr. Yang to save him, and Mr. Yang says he’ll try.

Just then, a truck pulls up and Seok-tae steps out with his coworkers. Pil notes that Seok-tae became a civil servant, and Mr. Yang says everyone went their separate ways after Pil fell ill and that all Seok-tae did was study. Pil and Mr. Yang watch as Seok-tae takes a look at the manhole and determines that it should be closed off.

But since Seok-tae can’t hear his protests to the contrary, Pil charges at him. Seok-tae sneezes, and we see that Pil has successfully possessed Seok-tae’s body. Pil/Seok-tae starts freaking out, and Mr. Yang instructs him to get out immediately before Seok-tae’s coworkers can catch on. Luckily, Pil manages to extract himself from Seok-tae’s body with ease.

Cut to a bearded man, host of a live-streaming mystery show, who explains what it means to be possessed. He says people with strong spirits can’t be possessed and warns that because bodies can be possessed forever, vigilance is recommended. Suddenly, he appears possessed and starts mumbling gibberish as a female ghost slips away in the background, ha.

Then a pale hand grabs the host from behind, and it’s his wife — the “ghost” from earlier — dressed in white and sipping on juice as she calls bullshit on his nightly hobby, hahaha.

Pil tries desperately, but fails to possess his parents’ bodies for one day to prevent his death. He’s frustrated, short on time, and out of solutions. Just then, his dad answers an urgent call from the hospital and informs his wife that something happened at the hospital.

Pil and Mr. Yang arrive at the hospital and find Jin-sook, Jung-ae, Gu-gil, and Dal-soo blocking the doctors from entering Pil’s room. Pil’s dad instructs them to stop, but they refuse, and Jin-sook asks to have a word with Pil’s parents privately.

Pil watches as his parents thank Jin-sook and Soo-jin for visiting Pil often. Jin-sook tells them that the neighborhood changed overnight because of Pil, and that everyone left because they feared Pil would die. She says she’s unsure whether Pil will ever wake up, but admits that she can’t return to the neighborhood sans Pil and begs Pil’s parents to wait just a bit longer.

Pil grows teary upon hearing this, but his parents tell Jin-sook that it’s been six long years, and they must let Pil go now.

Soo-jin sits in her studio and gazes at the photograph she took of Pil running. She flips it over to see what she’d written on the back: “Run to me, Pil!”

Pil’s friends and parents have gathered in Pil’s hospital room as Pil stares at his own comatose body and realizes that he’s about to die soon, but he knows that there’s nothing he can do about it. Mr. Yang states that you realize you love someone only after you lose that person and regrets that he didn’t tell Gu-gil that he loved him: “If you don’t say it now, you may never get a chance to say it.”

Soo-jin returns to the hospital and gives Pil’s parents the photograph of their son running at the beach. She explains that it’s the last picture she ever took of him and planned on giving it to him when Pil woke up, but since she wasn’t able to do that, she brought it today. Pil somberly watches as Soo-jin expresses her plan to get used to living without Pil.

She says Pil lied to her when he said that she would be fine and that nothing would happen to her since he vowed to protect her, but he’s unable to do that now. She adds that she’s not okay, Pil hasn’t woken up, and that’s why she plans on adjusting to a life without him.

Pil follows Soo-jin to the elevator, and his eyes glisten with tears at her agony. Soo-jin slinks to the floor and starts crying when she thinks back to when Pil rescued her from the burning store and vowed to always be there for her. Sitting across from her inside the elevator, all Pil can do is cry silently.

Pil’s parents reassure their comatose son that he’ll be okay, but they question whether or not they can let their son go this way.

Moments later, the crew watch as Pil’s parents speak to the doctors, who instruct the nurses on continuing treatment for Pil. They’re surprised that Soo-jin was able to convince the parents to keep Pil alive for a little longer, and note that ultimately, Soo-jin saved Pil, much like Pil saved Soo-jin that day on the beach. Just then, Seok-tae arrives, having just seen the group text — a little late, buddy! — and dramatically yells at the doctors to keep Pil alive. Pshh.

Pil sits with Mr. Yang atop the hospital building and wonders if his and Soo-jin’s love story is a forbidden one since they ended up saving each other, but Mr. Yang says that makes their love story sad, so Pil revokes the idea. Mr. Yang points out that the sun is setting, which means midnight is nearing, but Pil admits that he neglected to come up with a plan and that he needs a body to enter the manhole.

Mr. Yang recommends Pil possess Seok-tae again, and Pil agrees that it’s a good idea since he was so easy to inhabit. However, Pil needs Mr. Yang’s help, and he goads him to find a body he can inhabit, despite Mr. Yang’s reluctance. They agree to meet at the hospital at 11:00 p.m.

Pil teleports to the BongBong pub where his buddies chat over glasses of beer. Soo-jin’s the only one not present, and Jin-sook says that all calls and texts went unanswered, which makes sense, since today was probably torturous for Soo-jin.

Seok-tae’s had too much to drink, but he slurs that Soo-jin liked Pil since high school, which comes as news to Pil. No one believes him since they think he’s got it the other way around, but Jin-sook just says that Soo-jin needs Pil today, not them.

Pil reflects on Soo-jin’s pain from earlier and determines that she needs him right now. He runs outside, and a series of thoughts flood his mind: “Why did we get this way? We’re never around when we need each other. When we’re together, we spout nonsense… why couldn’t we say that we liked each other? Since when did we start missing each other?”

He crosses the street, runs across the bridge, and wonders where he should return to to start over again. Just as he suspected, Pil finds Soo-jin sitting by herself on the bench they used to play on as kids. He takes a seat beside her, and even though she can’t detect his presence, Pil asks if she likes him.

He thanks her for feeling that way, and suddenly, Soo-jin says out loud that she lost the chance to speak up. “You were always beside me, so I thought I could tell you whenever I was ready to speak, but I should’ve said I liked you that day on the beach.” Soo-jin’s voice cracks as she expresses her regret.

Pil walks beside her as she heads home and wonders, “Why didn’t I see love? We could have been together.” He adds that Mr. Yang was right; if you don’t speak now, you never get to say what you wanted to say. “I’ve learned many things now that I’m dead,” Pil concludes.

As Soo-jin sits inside her studio, Pil is touched by the wall of photographs she took of him at the hospital. He notices the broken fan and regrets that he’s unable to fix it for her like he did when he was a gangster. Just then, there’s a knock on the door, and Pil is less than pleased to see that Jae-hyun stopped by.

Jae-hyun says that Soo-jin passed by his pharmacy four times — and each time, she was crying. He claims that he came because she seemed like she could use some comfort. Pil tells Jae-hyun that he can’t provide comfort, but a ghost’s words fall on deaf ears. To Pil’s surprise, Soo-jin admits that she needs comfort and that her sobs and laughter can be attributed to a certain someone who’s always made her react this way.

Soo-jin turns Jae-hyun’s attention to the photo wall and says that she took a picture of Pil everyday, and even though he was always emotionless, she saw a different face every time. That’s why she continued to snap photos of him for six years, in the hopes that tomorrow, he’d wake up and look at her. We flash back to a scene of Soo-jin tearfully singing him happy birthday at the hospital with birthday cake and camera in tow.

Tears fall as Soo-jin admits that the cure for her sadness is Pil’s awakening. She says she can tell what Pil’s thinking just by looking at his eyes, but that he hasn’t opened them for all this time. Suddenly, Jae-hyun sneezes, and… Pil has successfully possessed Jae-hyun’s body in order to communicate to Soo-jin.

“I know why you’re suffering, but everything will be fine, so don’t worry. I’ll always be by your side, so don’t fret.” Pil (in Jae-hyun’s body) says to Soo-jin. Soo-jin is reminded of Pil’s last words to her on the beach and is surprised to hear such familiar words coming from Jae-hyun. Pil tells her to stop crying since it’s hard to watch, ordering her instead to smile like crazy.

It’s almost 11:00 p.m., so Pil gets up and promises Soo-jin that he’ll fix everything; all she needs to do is stand there so he can run to her. He kisses her farewell and runs to the BongBong pub, where his friends still remain.

Jin-sook receives a text from Soo-jin claiming that she’s seen Pil, which concerns Jin-sook and convinces her that the neighborhood is haunted. Pil isn’t thrilled that Seok-tae is passed out drunk, but he has no choice, so he quickly possesses him. Seok-tae sneezes and wakes up, and Pil expresses relief that Seok-tae wasn’t too intoxicated to move.

Pil/Seok-tae tries to teleport through the door, but he ends up bumping into it after forgetting that he’s now a physical being, ha. His dad spots him running out of the bar and finds it odd that Seok-tae is running faster than his normal speed, so he decides to follow him.

Pil struggles to run in Seok-tae’s unfit body, but luckily, he still ends up at the hospital in the nick of time. But upon seeing Seok-tae’s suspicious dad approaching, Pil panics and runs to avoid him.

Soo-jin tries to make sense of what just happened, certain that Pil had spoken to her, but none of it makes any sense — how did Jae-hyun say the very things Pil said to her and how did he know what happened the day of the incident?

At the hospital, Pil/Seok-tae runs into Seok-tae’s dad, but instead of calling Seok-tae out on his weird behavior, he takes a swig from a soju bottle and ends up with Mr. Yang’s signature red nose. This clues Pil in that Mr. Yang possessed the body of Seok-tae’s dad, and now that the two have successfully possessed other people, they change into nurse uniforms and push a cart to the hospital room with the intention of moving Pil’s comatose body out of the hospital.

Unfortunately, they find doctors and nurses in the room, but Pil manages to explain that he’s here to pick up laundry, so they all leave. Pil and Mr. Yang quickly and carefully move Pil’s body to the cart. But as they’re pushing the cart out with Pil in tow, they run into Soo-jin, who’s surprised to see them… and the body of Pil in their laundry cart.

Pil tells Soo-jin that he needs to leave now and that she wouldn’t understand even if he explained to her, but she looks directly at him and says, “I know. You’re Pil, right?”

Suddenly, Soo-jin and Pil are transported to the tunnel, and they face each other. “Do you see me?” Pil asks. Soo-jin shakes her head and answers, “I can feel you.”

Epilogue. A bewildered Jae-hyun finds himself in the middle of nowhere with his pants down, unsure of how he ended up there.


In regards to this episode, I feel the same way as Jae-hyun in that epilogue; I’m perplexed by the unexpected turn Manhole took, but admittedly, I’m more intrigued than before. And this may not be saying much considering the series just began, but this was the strongest episode yet. What’s strange is that it was also the darkest episode we’ve seen thus far.

Like Pil, I thought the black suit meant the slacker finally found a job or was trying on formal attire in preparation for the wedding, but once I saw the floating watering cans a la Harry Potter, I did get the sense that Pil’s enthusiasm would be short-lived. Despite how abrupt the drastic shift in tone was, it was great to finally see things from Soo-jin’s perspective, and believe it or not, I think I’ve now come around to her and Pil’s love for each other.

Up until now, we only had Pil’s subjective sentiments to work with, but in this episode, we saw how much Pil meant to Soo-jin through her actions at the hospital and her genuine feelings that manifested as Pil’s death neared. It took seeing Soo-jin at what may well have been her lowest point in order for me to believe her and Pil’s love was mutual and real. And it was also Pil’s chance to learn that Soo-jin loved him, too. Funny how death brings everyone closer to their truths as if they were afraid to confront their true feelings prior.

The writing for the show isn’t anything to write home about, and I think that’s what’s keeping me from fully enjoying the show. There are several lines of dialogue and themes that are used repeatedly — i.e. Pil’s words of reassurance to Soo-jin, Mr. Yang’s lesson on once-in-a-lifetime chances to speak up — that no matter the context in which they’re delivered, still strike me as cheesy, rudimentary, and on-the-nose. Obviously, Pil isn’t some academic, nor is communication his forte, so I don’t expect him to blow me away with well-articulated professions, but I do wish his speech were more elevated so it aligns better with his sincerity. For me, “You’re always going to be okay and nothing will ever happen to you” just doesn’t cut it, even if a pretty face is saying it.

The most poignant scenes in this episode were probably the quietest. I loved all the moments in which Pil silently walked closely behind or beside Soo-jin, who was totally unaware of his presence. I especially loved the shot of the two in the elevator, both overcome with anguish, so close, and yet so very distant. It was a moving moment that expertly captured Soo-jin’s sorrow and Pil’s inability to do anything about it despite his promise to ensure that Soo-jin will always be protected and okay.

I’m surprised by how quickly Soo-jin believes Pil is with her even though he’s in the form of Seok-tae. It’s rather unbelievable, but her acceptance does speed up the narrative, and we don’t have to waste time on Pil frantically and unsuccessfully trying to explain to her how he’s a spirit who’s capable of possessing other bodies. I’m all for quick-paced shows so I’ll suspend disbelief on this one for now.

Because Pil’s had a glimpse of what death is like, he has a greater sense of urgency that will hopefully propel him to get his act together, speak up when he has the chance to, and be bold and deliberate in his actions so that there are no more regrets, what if’s, and missed opportunities. He has friends and family that genuinely care for him, and he knows he shouldn’t let them down, so go Pil, go! If near-death isn’t the best life lesson there is, I don’t know what is.


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