Manhole: Episode 7
In theory, a simple “I like you” shouldn’t be so difficult to utter, but for the past twenty something years, Pil has not once been able to say those words to Soo-jin in person. Stammering always gets the best of him, and there’s only so much waiting Soo-jin can do before walking away. This manhole trip transports Pil to a critical day in the past, and he’s determined to get it right this time by prioritizing love first.
EPISODE 7: “What is it that blocked us?”
The night of September 10, 2012, two days before Pil’s enlistment, Pil and the usual gang share drinks by the Han River. The guys (Pil, Gu-gil, Dal-soo, Seok-tae) are at one table, and the girls (Jung-ae, Soo-jin, Jin-sook) are at another. Soo-jin asks Jung-ae what she particularly likes about Dal-soo, and Jung-ae answers that he’s an aloof and innocent intellectual who doesn’t show any interest in her, yet he sometimes makes her heart flutter.
Jin-sook disapproves and warns Jung-ae to be alert because Dal-soo has the qualities of a bad boy. Jung-ae then asks Soo-jin and Jin-sook about their ideal types, and Soo-jin glances at sad and tipsy Pil as she answers that instead of a calculative guy, she prefers a nice and loyal one who’s athletic.
Jin-sook says she likes a guy who’s modest, but one who looks after her from behind and gives her strength. She glances at Pil while she says this, and Jung-ae takes note of her friends’ preferences and replies that their ideal types sound like someone she already knows. We see Soo-jin and Jin-sook eye Pil before cheerfully clinking shots of soju.
It’s a beautiful, tranquil morning the next day in the neighborhood — streets are clean and flowers are in full bloom. Pil is fast asleep in his room when Soo-jin enters and gently shakes him awake. He’s startled to see Soo-jin telling him to eat the home-cooked breakfast comprised of all his favorite food downstairs.
After she leaves, Pil wonders why she’s acting like a housewife since there’s no reason for her to make breakfast at his house. Suddenly it dawns on him: “Did I get married to Soo-jin?!” I don’t think so buddy, but enjoy your few minutes of joy while they last.
Feeling giddy that the dreadful manhole finally blessed him with a jackpot, Pil scrambles to get changed and heads downstairs to experience the moment he’s always wanted. He assumes there aren’t any kids in the picture yet, and before he can taste Soo-jin’s food, Soo-jin pushes him to the bathroom to wash his hands. Pil shrieks when he finds his dad sitting on the toilet and wonders why he’s at the home of two newlyweds.
At the table, his mom informs Pil that Soo-jin sweetly cooked various dishes just for Pil. Confused, Pil turns to Soo-jin and asks if they got married, haha. Everyone seems baffled by his question and figures Pil’s still hungover, so Pil tries again: “Is today my birthday?”
That doesn’t seem to change anything, so his mom says, “Sure, let’s go with that.” They dig in, and when his parents and Soo-jin offer him lettuce wraps by hand, he’s so overwhelmed by their bizarre coddling that he bolts out. Gu-gil stops by and concernedly asks Pil if he’s all right, and Pil answers that he feels weird, the people he knows are acting weird, and his own neighborhood feels foreign. Gu-gil seems to understand and grabs him in a bear hug as he emotionally states that it’s already the end.
Pil asks Gu-gil what he means by that, but Gu-gil says that Pil knows better. Pil grows serious and asks if he’s dying (again), but this upsets Gu-gil, who says he’ll see Pil later before walking away. Believing that everyone’s been so good to him because he’s dying (again), Pil angrily curses the manhole and runs there to destroy it, ignoring Soo-jin’s calls to eat.
Soo-jin watches him run away and thinks to herself that Pil is strange; his gaze is on her, but she has no idea where his heart lies. “He’s always close, but feels far away which is why when I see him, I’m happy, but always feeling sad.”
Pil sits before the manhole, fed up that although he’s not in a coma, he’s now dying and has no idea what to do now. “Why did you reset everything, rendering everything I’ve done useless?!” he wails. Jin-sook happens to be there, so she orders Pil to help carry her groceries, and despite feeling offended that a dying person is being bossed around, Pil begrudgingly carries all the groceries for Jin-sook.
Over at her rooftop, Jin-sook chides Pil for not skewering shish kebabs in the correct order of meat and veggies. Still thinking his time on earth is limited, Pil is appalled by Jin-sook’s quip that she’ll sell skewers at his funeral depending on how many people show up. But Jin-sook tells him to stop exaggerating since he’s not dying and that two years will fly by — plus, she’ll write to him.
Pil’s unsure by what Jin-sook means, but then he asks her what year it is and freaks out when he realizes that today is one day before his enlistment. It all starts to make sense to him, and he remembers that all his friends (except for Soo-jin) had gathered for farewell drinks on this day. In flashback, everyone was at the bar, and Jung-ae had explained that Soo-jin wasn’t present because she got drenched while taking photos. To make matters worse, Soo-jin’s camera also broke, which ended her chances to enter a photo contest.
Back in the present, Pil realizes that he missed his chance to profess his love to Soo-jin then and decides to feign having the runs to avoid having to skewer meats with Jin-sook. He groans and keels over, thoroughly grossing out Jin-sook, and frantically tells her that he has to go home to use his toilet since he’ll most likely clog hers, lol. Jin-sook tells him to hurry back when he’s done and sadly realizes that today’s the last day she’ll see his stupid shenanigans.
Pil runs and decides to treat today as if it were his final chance to profess his love to Soo-jin, planning to profess with the desperation of a man enlisting tomorrow.
Elsewhere, the friend gang marvels at Jin-sook’s new food truck, which she’s named “Bong Pil’s Skewers.” While a few of them don’t love the name, they all congratulate Jin-sook nonetheless for winning a new menu contest and for using the money to start her own business. At the same time, Jung-ae continues to shamelessly flirt with Dal-soo, much to Gu-gil’s chagrin.
Soo-jin arrives and takes a photo of the gang in front of Jin-sook’s truck on the first day of business. She apologizes for not being able to help out since she has to take photos for a contest. Gu-gil wonders why Pil hasn’t shown up yet, and Pil doesn’t answer when Jin-sook tries calling him.
Suddenly, Soo-jin’s phone rings, and it’s Pil who’s calling. Soo-jin tells Pil that everyone’s waiting for him to arrive, but Pil merely tells her that it’s going to rain today and advises against shooting, since she’ll get drenched and break her camera. But she doesn’t believe him because it’s sunny out, so before she hangs up, Pil asks her where she plans on shooting.
Soo-jin tells her friends that Pil still seems hungover since he’s spouting nonsense, and she assures Jin-sook that Pil will probably come even though he didn’t explicitly say so. She apologizes again for not being able to help out, and Jin-sook sweetly wishes Soo-jin well on her shoot. The food truck crew decides to get going sans Pil.
Soo-jin eagerly arrives at a lovely outdoor garden to find Pil already waiting for her. She’s surprised to see him there when he’s supposed to help Jin-sook out, but Pil says he didn’t want to waste today making skewers, so he’s here to be Soo-jin’s assistant. Soo-jin says that Jin-sook was counting on him, but Pil says that the others will help her out and adds that he has something to say to her (which he’ll divulge later today).
As they walk in together, Pil tells Soo-jin that she can use him however she wants today, adding that he’ll do anything for her. She’s surprised by his sudden maturity, and Pil asks that she visit him often in the army if she wins the contest, since he had some part in it. As Soo-jin goes off to photograph something, Pil asks for forgiveness for choosing love (Soo-jin) over friendship (Jin-sook).
While Soo-jin goes around photographing flowers, Pil happily holds her bag and offers her water, alternating between assisting and modeling for her photos. They’re all smiles and laughter as they take turns photographing each other, and there’s a cute moment where little birds perch on their hands.
Pil can’t take his eyes off Soo-jin the whole time, and the two take selfies and take a ride on the carousel.
Meanwhile, Jin-sook and Seok-tae have the grill fired up on the food truck to serve chicken skewers to the customers. But Gu-gil, Jung-ae, and Dal-soo are too busy off to the side stuffing themselves with delicious skewers to be very useful. When Jin-sook scolds them, they decide to get up and try to attract more customers.
Seok-tae struggles to make more skewers, so Jin-sook takes over and tells him that he should just stick to studying. He doesn’t like that he’s so incompetent, but Jin-sook orders him to take a break nonetheless.
In a bid to be helpful, Seok-tae offers to get more water since they’re out, but Jin-sook decides to go instead, despite Seok-tae insisting that he’s strong enough. Jin-sook sighs that Pil’s the strong one as she wonders where he went.
Speaking of, Pil tosses coins into a water fountain and asks Soo-jin to join him since her wish may come true, although Soo-jin’s dubious. With his eyes closed and hands clasped, Pil wishes internally for the courage to profess his love to Soo-jin — because if he fails to do so again, he says he’ll throw himself into the fountain and die, haha.
Soo-jin sees how serious Pil looks while making his wish and wonders if he’ll profess, since men tend to spill right before enlisting. She tosses a coin and makes a wish, too. “If Pil is planning on professing, please let him succeed today,” she prays.
We flash back to their high school days and see that Pil had followed Soo-jin around with a bike decorated with flowers and balloons to tell her that he liked her, but he always stammered from nerves and only succeeded in testing Soo-jin’s patience. Jin-sook had walked past him after his failed confession and called him a doofus.
Back in the present, Pil asks Soo-jin what she wished for, but she replies that it’s a secret. Pil says he likes spending his last day of freedom with her, but Soo-jin is more apathetic, which makes him pout and ask if she doesn’t feel the need to be nice to him since he leaves tomorrow. She says she’s not sure about that, but she admits that she does stop worrying about things when she’s with him, which makes Pil smile.
She’s been worried about job prospects, but Pil assures her that he has uncanny foresight and knows that she’ll open an amazing studio, and her photography business will be booming. Soo-jin’s buoyed by that notion and asks him to divulge what he planned on saying to her, but as Pil’s about to start, it starts to rain. Of course.
Pil quickly grabs her camera and shields it with his shirt. They seek cover under a tree, and Pil drapes a raincoat over Soo-jin. She’s alarmed he didn’t bring an extra one for himself, but he assures her he’s fine and makes sure that Soo-jin’s well covered.
From the top of a staircase, Jin-sook freezes when she spots Pil and Soo-jin below. Oh no.
Soo-jin orders Pil to speak up and reveal everything he needs to say to her before the end of the day. Pil promises, and Soo-jin takes the raincoat off so that they can both huddle under it.
Meanwhile, Jin-sook glumly watches the two together as the rain pelts down on her. Seok-tae rushes over with an umbrella, follows her eyeline, and wonders what Pil and Soo-jin are doing down there. Jin-sook instructs him not to go to them since Pil ignored her call just to be with Soo-jin. Ouch.
Dal-soo dramatically recites a poem about rain and sorrow, which instantly impresses Jung-ae. They head back to the food truck, and Jung-ae sticks to Dal-soo’s side like glue while Gu-gil just scoffs.
Back at the food truck, Seok-tae stands next to Jin-sook, appearing concerned for her. Jin-sook figures that soldiers train regardless of the weather, and when Seok-tae tells her not to worry since Pil is strong and athletic, Jin-sook replies that Pil lacks endurance. That statement has her wondering why she knows so much about someone so useless, aww.
The rain stops, and Seok-tae tells Jin-sook that her feelings are akin to a passing rainshower; not seeing Pil will allow her to reconfigure her feelings and notice that there are better guys around her. But Jin-sook interrupts him and says that her feelings aren’t like that, since she’s felt this way for awhile now.
In flashback, we see that when Jin-sook was in high school, she witnessed Pil bring bundles of paper to an elderly woman collecting them and helped the woman bind everything to her wheelbarrow. Jin-sook was touched by his kindness when the other students had feared the old woman was a homeless beggar.
Back in the present, Jin-sook tells Seok-tae that she divulged all this because she knows how hard it is to like someone who doesn’t like her back. She doesn’t want him to do the same.
Meanwhile, Pil and Soo-jin warm themselves up indoors over coffee. Concerned that Pil will catch a cold, Soo-jin gets up to obtain towels.
While she’s away, Pil faces Soo-jin’s camera and presses record. He reveals that he’s making this video message because he’s unsure about whether he can say all this to her face: “Strangely, when I’m around you, I pretend I’m not cold when I am. After spending twenty years with you with that mindset, I think I’ve forgotten how to be honest with you, but for the first time in twenty-three years, I want to be honest with you.”
He continues, “I like you. Remember, your past and my future are connected… please remember me, who’ll always protect you and stay by your side. I’m not sure if you feel the same way I feel right now, but I know I’ll be the same in two years. I like you a lot. No, I love you.”
Pil quickly stops recording when Soo-jin returns with towels. Soo-jin still regrets that she wasn’t able to help Jin-sook today, but he just advises Soo-jin to have her camera with her and says he’ll explain later so as not to ruin the surprise.
Pil’s send-off party is next on the agenda, so they get up to leave, but as they’re heading out, Pil spots Jae-hyun enter with his girlfriend, Young-joo. He does a double-take when he sees Jae-hyun, but doesn’t dwell on it.
The whole gang has gathered at BongBong Pub for Pil’s last night before enlistment, and everyone brought gifts. Jung-ae gives him a photograph of herself (lol), and Gu-gil grabs it when Pil flings it away. Soo-jin gives Pil an album containing photos of all of them so that he can look at them when he’s feeling down.
Jin-sook throws him a package of 100% cotton underwear so he doesn’t get heat rash, ha. Gu-gil takes off his quilted jacket and gives it to Pil, and Dal-soo gives him a book that he claims will keep Pil’s sensitivity alive. Pil thanks his friends and hopes they all realize how precious he is while he’s gone.
Soo-jin appears nervous when Jin-sook asks Pil where he was all day, and Pil fibs that he was on the toilet all day due to army stress. Jin-sook asks Soo-jin if she took any good pictures today, but Pil steps in and says that they can take a look when she wins the contest.
Gu-gil proposes they play truth or dare, but Pil rejects the idea immediately, claiming that the game can ruin friendships. Jin-sook looks at Pil, and we flash back to two nights ago.
Pil was dreading enlistment because there was still something he needed to do, so Jin-sook had taken a seat beside him. He asked her if Soo-jin would think he’s crazy if he asked her to wait two years for him and regretted that he couldn’t just say “I like you” to Soo-jin. Jin-sook had internally wondered why it was hard for her to say those words to Pil, too.
Back in the present, Soo-jin walks home alone and wonders when Pil will speak up since the day is nearly over. Jin-sook catches up to her then, and they decide to catch up at a cafe, just the two of them.
Jin-sook asks Soo-jin what she photographed today, and Soo-jin gives a vague answer. Jin-sook doesn’t press further and watches Soo-jin’s face when Jin-sook mentions that things will be quieter after Pil leaves tomorrow. Soo-jin smiles, and Jin-sook’s about to say something, but decides against it and merely says she was looking at her best friend’s pretty face.
Soo-jin gets an angry call from her mom for staying out too late. In her hurry to get home, Soo-jin ends up leaving her camera behind, and by the time Jin-sook notices, Soo-jin’s already gone.
Soo-jin figures that Pil will leave for the army without telling her anything, but just then, Pil calls her. He’s outside her house and says he left what he wanted to say to her in her camera, urging her to check it out. Soo-jin says she will and hangs up, but panics when she sees that she’s without her camera.
She runs back to the pub to see if she left her camera there, but no luck. Meanwhile, Jin-sook looks through the photos on Soo-jin’s camera. (Uh oh.) She sigh as she flips through photos of Pil and Soo-jin together, then presses play when she lands on Pil’s video.
She’s visibly upset after watching the whole thing, and her finger hovers over the delete button.
Meanwhile, Pil is antsy in his room since he thinks that Soo-jin should’ve seen his video by now, but she hasn’t reacted in any way. He calls out to her through his window, but she’s not in her room, so he steps outside and runs into Jin-sook, who says she came to see him.
“What am I to you?” she asks. Pil grins at the deep question and answers matter-of-factly that Jin-sook is his close friend as he puts his arm around her. But she pushes him away and says she doesn’t want him to feel comfortable around her. Pil’s thrown by this, but before she can explain, Soo-jin calls, so he runs off to meet with her.
And that’s when we see that Jin-sook left Soo-jin’s camera behind on the bench where she went through all of the footage.
Soo-jin waits for Pil on a bench, and Pil nervously takes a seat beside her, wondering if she saw his video message. Soo-jin admits that she misplaced her camera, so she wasn’t able to see his message. To his credit, Pil’s more worried about all the footage she didn’t back up.
Soo-jin tell him that what’s more important than the footage is his video. “What did you say in the video you left for me?” she asks. Pil decides to tell her in person, but he gets nervous and stammers helplessly. Luckily, Soo-jin speaks up first: “I like you, Pil. What about you?”
Pil determines that he must tell her now, but in that moment, he turns transparent, and time freezes. Uh oh, the manhole calls. Just his luck.
He grabs onto the bench and begs for more time to finish his sentence, but he vanishes, and Soo-jin unfreezes and wonders where Pil went.
Elsewhere, Jae-hyun walks past Soo-jin’s camera and picks it up. When he turns it on, he sees a selfie of her.
Meanwhile, on her rooftop, Jin-sook determines that she’ll get to tell Pil how much she likes him one day.
The next morning, Soo-jin narrates that she wasn’t able to hear Pil’s confession until the very end, adding that she wanted to hear his feelings not because she doubted him, but because she wanted to be sure. She says that after two years, both of them will be different, and she wonders what they’ll be like and what they’ll talk about when they meet again.
As she’s having these thoughts, Jae-hyun comes into view and asks if she’s the owner of the camera he’s holding. Soo-jin’s surprised he has it, and he smiles.
Epilogue: Pil watches as Jin-sook gets scolded by Gestapo for not wanting to attend dream colleges like everyone else.
As a result, Jin-sook cries outside, and Pil places a thick envelope of money next to her. He says he won the lottery, but that he has no use for the money. Jin-sook tells him to take it back, but Pil says he wants to be proud of having a friend who attends a good college. He tells Jin-sook to think of it as a scholarship — plus, he’ll be expecting her to help him out if he ends up jobless in the future.
Later, we see Pil getting scolded by the gym teacher for lying about his age in order to work part-time during his senior year. The gym teacher asks Pil if he needed the money to buy expensive clothes, but Pil vaguely answers that he needed to use it for something, and that something is a secret.
Time is really not on Pil’s side. I knew midnight would strike right when he was about to tell Soo-jin he loved her, and when that happened, I couldn’t help but feel pretty irked because we’re seven episodes and four(?) manhole trips in, yet I don’t think Pil has made much progress. Is progress even possible when everything Pil does in the past gets reset and no one except Pil remembers anything?
At the very least, I think it can be said that Pil has had a tiny spurt of personal growth and maturity. But that’s about it, really. The manhole trips are interesting because we never know which place in time he’ll be transported back to, but because everything resets at midnight, I’m left wondering if anything that transpired in the past and whatever actions Pil took differently made a difference at all. Is the manhole supposed to be helping him? If it is, I’m not really getting the sense that it is, though it is doing a great job at complicating matters for Pil.
I guess I was expecting each manhole trip to reveal a new truth for Pil, like how his previous trip allowed him to learn how much his friends and family loved him. But this trip just allowed Pil to spend a whole day with Soo-jin alone, and I wouldn’t consider it a successful trip, since Pil failed to profess his love to her. It’s true that he came pretty close, but close doesn’t cut it because it’s back to square one again when the clock strikes midnight. Also, what would’ve happened if Pil did manage to tell Soo-jin he loved her before midnight? Would the manhole just combust and allow normalcy to resume?
I miss the weight of last week’s episodes, and I appreciated that they felt necessary for once, for character and plot development. This episode, much like the other ones, feels like more of the same. Stuff happened (but not when it mattered the most), Soo-jin and Pil grew closer (but then he left for the army), so… what now? Also, when Pil vanished, what did Soo-jin think happened? It’s bizarre to me that the next morning, she seemed totally unfazed and went about her day figuring that Pil left for the army despite the most abrupt farewell ever. If a friend you were just chatting with suddenly vanished, wouldn’t you be extremely concerned or feel the need to check up on him/her? Or get your sanity checked?
But poor Jin-sook. She’s really the only secondary character who feels fully fleshed out, and I find her more relatable than Soo-jin, but I have a feeling the show may try to permanently push all of us onto the Soo-jin/Pil boat by painting her as the villain for deleting Pil’s video (if she deleted it, that is). I get why Pil ditched Jin-sook for Soo-jin, but it still kind of rubbed me the wrong way that he chose love over friendship. Pil and Soo-jin make a pretty pair, but Pil and Jin-sook makes more sense to me even though it’s never going to happen. Besides, Jin-sook deserves a better guy.
The zany comedy that characterized Manhole in the beginning is gradually becoming less prevalent, but I can’t say that the more dramatic moments from this episode are augmenting the show in any way. Now I’m starting to think that bringing back the silly may not be such a bad idea. On another note, is Pil ever going to get a job? When does adult-ing kick in for him?