Manhole: Episode 11
Just when we thought we had the manhole all figured out, the magical sewage topper throws a curveball and transports Pil to an entirely unexpected year. Naturally, a new year means new changes, and there’s one major change in particular that Pil can’t bring himself to accept, even though it’s what Soo-jin wants. And while Pil grapples with the idea of destiny, Jae-hyun’s seemingly perfect image begins to show its cracks.
EPISODE 11: “Love always runs away”
We open with quick shots of Tower Bridge and red buses, which could only mean we’re in England, where Soo-jin is studying abroad. While rushing to class, Soo-jin drops her textbook and is surprised to see Jae-hyun pick it up for her. Oh hey, Stalker.
He feigns surprise at seeing her and tells her that he’s currently visiting a friend who attends the same school. Soo-jin beams, happy to see a familiar face so “coincidentally.”
At a police station back in Korea, Pil wakes up from a nap when a drunken man grabs Pil’s hair and hollers for a glass of water. The date is September 2018, which means we are now in the… future? Well, okay then.
Once Pil’s colleagues pull the drunk guy off of him, Pil looks down at himself and sees that he’s in police officer garb. His older colleague informs him that it’s the year 2018, and Pil is gobsmacked to realize that he’s in the future now.
Pil wonders why he’s in the future when normally he’s transported to the past, and then he recalls that it was only 11:00 p.m. (not the usual midnight) when he was in the middle of a scuffle (with Jae-hyun) that the manhole trip commenced. This anomalous instance confounds him, but before he can process it all, he and his colleague set off to do their job and patrol the streets.
They stop to help an elderly woman push her wheelbarrow stacked with paper, and Pil’s colleague laments that their neighborhood used to be nice, but now, residents don’t leave their homes after dark due to a rise in assaults. Soon after, Pil and his colleague get called to another location, where two concerned neighbors lead them to a residence that the tenant hasn’t left in over a month. Fearing the worst, a locksmith is called, and the police officers enter the home to investigate.
The place is dark and dusty, and Pil can’t believe that a novice like him is already diving in to work. He opens the bedroom door and finds a pallid woman lying unconscious on the floor, surrounded by empty soju bottles.
While his colleague calls for an ambulance, Pil takes a closer look at the woman and spots the framed photo of herself with Jae-hyun, realizing that she’s Young-joo, who he recalls seeing on dates with Jae-hyun during a couple of his manhole trips.
She’s rushed to the hospital, and the doctor informs the officers that she fainted from malnutrition and anemia, but what’s more dire is her psychological health, especially if she hadn’t stepped outside for an entire month.
Pil wonders how she became like this and assumes that she’s still dating Jae-hyun. Seconds later, Young-joo wakes up and meekly tells Pil that she didn’t leave the house because she didn’t want to.
At the mention of Jae-hyun’s name, Young-joo grabs Pil’s hand and begs him to call Jae-hyun on her behalf and inform him that she’s in the hospital suffering because of him. She laments that he won’t meet up with her otherwise, and she figures he’ll show up once he learns she’s at the hospital.
As Pil walks out, he wonders how someone who looked perfectly fine could end up like that. He also figures that Jae-hyun isn’t dating Soo-jin currently, since Soo-jin’s studying abroad. But to his dismay, he spots Jae-hyun entering Soo-jin’s home.
Inside, Soo-jin’s parents and Pil’s parents chat over tea. The former proposes that they all travel abroad together since there are many affordable travel packages, but the latter are concerned about money. Soo-jin’s parents remind them that they can ask Pil to pitch in since he’s making money now and add that they, too, aren’t traveling on their own dime.
Just then, Jae-hyun arrives and brightly greets everyone. Soo-jin’s parents update him and mention that they suggested traveling with Pil’s parents (since Jae-hyun offered to fund their trip), and Jae-hyun says it’s a great idea before gifting them with vitamins. As Soo-jin’s parents smile at Jae-hyun’s generosity, Pil’s parents sit uneasily, feeling inferior.
Just then, Pil bursts in and wonders why Jae-hyun, of all people, is sitting cozily inside Soo-jin’s house. Offended, Soo-jin’s mom answers that there’s no reason why a son-in-law can’t pay a visit. Pil can’t believe his ears, and his parents rush him out before he can cause an even bigger scene.
Once at home, they wonder if Pil’s drunk, but Pil says he’s totally sober and doesn’t understand how Soo-jin, who’s studying abroad, could’ve possibly married Jae-hyun. His mom exasperatedly tells him that it’s been awhile since she returned and got married, but Pil decides to seek the truth himself.
He visits Soo-jin’s old boss, who’s surprised that Pil isn’t aware that Soo-jin got married and quit working some time back.
Pil then visits Gu-gil at the billiards room and freaks him out when he proves to have no idea that Soo-jin’s nearing one year of marriage. Gu-gil brings up Pil drunkenly complaining about the noise during the “hahm” event, and all the memories — hollering his discontent at Jae-hyun and Soo-jin, Soo-jin handing him a wedding invite, his buddies tending to him after he got knocked out by Jae-hyun — flood back to him.
Pil processes this and deduces that he’s traveled one year to the future from when he first traveled through time via the manhole: “This isn’t a time travel situation. This is reality.”
At her newlywed home that’s decorated with wedding photos, Soo-jin happily packs a homemade lunch for Jae-hyun. Jin-sook and Jung-ae stop by, and she’s happy to see them since the two have been busy with their respective businesses. We learn that Jung-ae now operates Jin-sook’s juice truck, albeit with only a fraction of the customers Jin-sook attracted.
While Pil struggles to come to terms with Soo-jin’s marriage in a park, the three girls catch up, and Soo-jin expresses her surprise that Jin-sook and her boyfriend — his name isn’t mentioned, but we can safely assume it’s Seok-tae — are still going strong. Dal-soo’s been MIA, but they don’t dwell on that topic for Jung-ae’s sake.
Soo-jin shyly admits that she’s happy all the time as Jae-hyun’s wife, and at noon, the trio head out together and agree to see each other at the BongBong Pub later tonight.
Soo-jin’s en route to the pharmacy with Jae-hyun’s lunch, but stops and turns around when she senses something off. She resumes walking when she doesn’t see anything, but we see that Young-joo had been spying on her from behind a tree.
When Soo-jin arrives, she silently admires Jae-hyun patiently tending to the elderly at work before surprising him with lunch. They head over to the park, where Jae-hyun compliments Soo-jin on her tasty cooking. Pil’s not too far away and watches them sadly.
Jae-hyun informs Soo-jin that he ran into Pil at her parents’ place, and that Pil seemed drunk as he bizarrely stated his inability to fathom that they had gotten married. Soo-jin isn’t pleased to hear about Pil’s antics, but Jae-hyun says he agreed to let it slide on account of Pil’s inebriation.
Soo-jin cautiously brings up the idea of reopening her photo studio again, claiming that she isn’t the housekeeping type and is dying to work. But the discontent is apparent on Jae-hyun’s face, even though he agrees to think it over. But when Soo-jin gets up to buy Jae-hyun a drink, she spots Pil lurking nearby.
She chides him for spewing nonsense at her house earlier and instructs him to give up drinking. Pil asks her if she really did get married, and she figures he’s still not sober and just says that she’ll see him tonight at the pub.
Pil’s parents recover from the scene Pil made at Soo-jin’s parents’ house and figure that time will heal Pil’s broken heart. But in the meantime, Pil’s mom eagerly spreads out photos of eligible women interested in going on a blind date with Pil, while Pil comes home and dejectedly heads up to his room.
He looks through the window to where Soo-jin no longer lives across from him and wonders if her marriage was ultimately unpreventable. His mom comes up and shows him a photo of one of the single ladies, but Pil’s feeling utterly defeated and says he’ll just live sad and single forever even if everyone else around him gets happily married.
Over at the juice truck, Jung-ae grumbles that business isn’t doing as well for her as it did for Jin-sook. Gu-gil stops by to buy a glass juice when Jung-ae laments that she only sold three, but she snaps that he was the one that bought the three. He’s still fine with buying another (aw), and mentions tonight’s get-together, though he’s alarmed to hear that she’s not sure she wants to go.
He asks if she’s worried Dal-soo will show up, and Jung-ae warns him not to refer to him again. But Gu-gil assures her that someone as important as Dal-soo won’t show up anyway, so she should definitely go.
Speaking of, we find Dal-soo dressed in a suit inside a sleek office, looking decidedly corporate. But he’s clearly depressed and bored as he signs off on deals without reading them, since his older brother CEO is the big gun of the trading company. His stifled existence causes him to sigh, and he wonders why life is such a drag. Seok-tae sends him a text reminding him about tonight’s get-together, but Dal-soo’s reluctant to show his face there.
Meanwhile, we find out that Seok-tae is an employee of the civil construction department and that he helps callers with their plumbing concerns. Seeing that Dal-soo didn’t respond to his text, Seok-tae assumes Dal-soo will be a no-show again.
Jin-sook’s skewer restaurant is packed with customers, one of which is Seok-tae. Jin-sook eagerly takes a seat beside him, and he tells her how proud he is of her for achieving her dreams. (The two make a giddy and supportive pair!)
Jung-ae, Gu-gil, Jin-sook, and Seok-tae have already assembled at BongBong Pub, and the bartenders are surprised the group continues to hang out together even after Soo-jin got married. They even order their usual dish, and just one at that, much to the bartenders’ dismay.
Pil takes a deep breath before joining his buddies inside. He notices Seok-tae and Jin-sook acting affectionate and asks if they’re dating, to which Seok-tae matter-of-factly answers that they’ve been dating for just under one year. Pil smiles, thinking back on when he and Jin-sook were once engaged.
Seok-tae also reminds Pil that he wears a suit because he’s a civil servant now, and that Pil should defer to him since he passed his exam before Pil did. Pil notes that a lot much has happened in a year, and he’s having a hard time acclimating to the changes.
Soo-jin finally arrives with Jae-hyun, and Pil says internally that Soo-jin is the hardest to get used to. Meanwhile, Dal-soo pulls up to the pub outside, unbeknownst to the rest of the group.
He quietly enters and overhears his old friends wondering if he’ll show up. Gu-gil defiantly insists that Dal-soo wouldn’t dare show up after abandoning his friends and leaving the neighborhood to work for his father when pretending to be poor got too tough. Feeling uncomfortable, Jung-ae suggests they stop talking about him, and Dal-soo quietly exits. Aw.
Jin-sook says that Soo-jin’s marriage was everyone’s turning point, because afterward, she became the CEO of her own business, Pil and Seok-tae both passed their exams, and Jung-ae acquired a food truck. She falters when she gets to Gu-gil, but Jung-ae chimes in that Gu-gil’s billiards business is doing well, which makes Gu-gil light up.
Jae-hyun announces that he’d like to properly apologize to Pil for the incident — when Jae-hyun knocked Pil out — that occurred before the wedding. He bows in regret, and everyone’s impressed by Jae-hyun’s magnanimity except for Pil, who doesn’t buy any of it.
Jung-ae calls Soo-jin and Jae-hyun the “fated couple” since they coincidentally met in Europe. Pil asks Soo-jin if this is true, and she confirms that she met Jae-hyun while studying abroad, and to this day, she still finds their chance encounter fascinating.
In flashback, we see that after Soo-jin and Jae-hyun first bumped into each other on campus, Jae-hyun asked her out to dinner on a separate occasion, and Soo-jin had gladly said yes.
Back in the present, while everyone swoons at their romantic meet-cute, Pil remembers running into Jae-hyun when he was engaged to Jin-sook and spotting Jae-hyun’s bag, which had advertised study abroad services.
Pil follows Jae-hyun when he steps out for a moment and confronts him on whether his meeting Soo-jin abroad truly was a coincidence. Jae-hyun doesn’t follow, so Pil states his belief that Jae-hyun approached her intentionally and stalked her, already knowing she would study abroad. Jae-hyun laughs and figures that Pil’s unresolved feelings for Soo-jin are giving him ideas. He suggests that Pil stay in his lane, but Pil answers that he’ll see how Jae-hyun does first.
Inside, the crew figures that Pil and Jae-hyun haven’t returned yet because they’re patching things up outside.
Back outside, Jae-hyun’s cool demeanor starts to crack when he gets the impression that Pil intends to replace him if he’s not good to Soo-jin. He suggests they stop fighting and go back inside, but then Pil brings up Young-joo, and we see glimmers of Jae-hyun’s rage upon hearing the name.
When Pil says that it seemed like Young-joo was suffering because of Jae-hyun, Jae-hyun loses it and shouts that it’s not his responsibility to help her get over the breakup, adding that he’s the victim who suffered from her obsession with him.
“What do you know about me to say such a thing?” Jae-hyun bellows. Pil answers that he can’t trust a single thing Jae-hyun says, and that the Jae-hyun he knows gravitates toward evil under his innocent facade. Suddenly, Soo-jin steps in between them and breaks them up.
She’s alarmed by Pil’s audacity to say such things to Jae-hyun, who decides to leave the party early in a huff.
Soo-jin follows him to the car and tries to appease him by apologizing on Pil’s behalf, but that gesture only angers him more. Jae-hyun wonders why Soo-jin continues to attend these gatherings and requests that she try not to attend anymore or to show up alone, because he’s exhausted by her friends.
With that, Jae-hyun angrily drives off, leaving Soo-jin speechless.
Meanwhile, Dal-soo pulls up outside his old DVD store/home. It’s closed, so he peers through the door and spots the giant teddy bear he shyly gifted to Jung-ae. He quickly hides when he spots Gu-gil walking Jung-ae to the store, and watches as Jung-ae thanks Gu-gil for making her feel safe and for reassuring her about the juice truck.
After Gu-gil happily saunters away, Dal-soo wonders what the juice truck is about.
Outside their family homes, Soo-jin hands Pil a box containing all their memories, along with every memento. Saddened, Pil asks her why she’s giving this to him, and she says she wants to settle their relationship for good and return his heart, too.
Cool and composed, she says she understands why Pil didn’t show up at her wedding, but she hopes that Pil can respect her decision to be with Jae-hyun, forget the past, and return as her friend.
Pil’s clearly heartbroken, but at Soo-jin’s insistence, he shakes her outstretched hand.
Meanwhile, Jae-hyun angrily pulls into the front of his apartment. Behind him, a middle-aged driver honks for Jae-hyun to move his car and steps out to gripe about Jae-hyun’s lack of courtesy. Oy, don’t poke the bear!
Fuming, Jae-hyun steps out of his car and bellows at the man, “Why are you talking down to me?!” Soo-jin witnesses all this by standing just a few feet away, and she’s stunned speechless to see this side of Jae-hyun. The driver trembles in fear when Jae-hyun orders him to stay silent and still if he wants to park his car.
Jae-hyun hops back inside his car, bangs his fist against the wheel, and growls in frustration. Yup, no more Mr. Nice Guy.
Next, we see Young-joo telling a psychologist that she didn’t allow Jae-hyun to break up with her because Jae-hyun married his new woman out of spite, and not because he loved her. She claims that she’s the only woman who can make Jae-hyun happy, and that if his wife knew his true colors, she wouldn’t be able to handle him.
In his bedroom, Pil opens the box filled with old keepsakes. He picks up a rock with “Soo-jin is ugly” written on it, followed by the camera he had given her. He sighs, feeling completely stifled: “I should congratulate you on your marriage, say that I’m glad you appear happy, but I just can’t do that.”
He checks the clock — it’s almost quarter to midnight — and heads out. As he’s running, he determines that he can’t live like this: “I came back to my reality, and I finally became a police officer like I wanted, but without Soo-jin, my life is meaningless. Soo-jin, I will turn everything around. I will change this no matter what it takes to get you back.”
He sprints through the tunnel, but when he approaches the site of the manhole, the lid is gone, and the hole’s been sealed with cement.
Dumbstruck, Pil wonders where it went. “What’s going on?” he shouts in frustration.
I wish I could answer your question, Pil, but it seems the rules of the manhole — which were shaky to begin with — have officially been thrown out the window. I guess when the idea well runs dry in terms of where and when Pil should be sent next in the past, the only other option is to send Pil to untapped territory, aka the future. But despite an unexpected trip to the future, this episode felt more or less the same as the previous episodes that occurred in the past, because the exact same chain of events happened: 1) Pil gets transported to a different year, 2) Pil has no choice but to quickly get his bearings and recalibrate, 3) Pil struggles to come to grips with how his people and world changed, 4) Pil reluctantly acquiesces because he has no other choice, 5) Pil’s reluctant acceptance turns to despair, 6) Sad Pil gets zapped back to the manhole, and 7) we do it all over again.
My major beef with Manhole is the fact that due to narrative restraints and magical manhole “regulations,” Pil is only able to react to everything that gets thrown at him instead of act; there’s too much of the same reactions and too few meaningful actions that Pil takes, because ultimately, everything gets reset — ergo, why should Pil expend energy when the result is ultimately futile? Pil is powerless and always at the mercy of the apparently capricious manhole. Moreover, being so helpless doesn’t look that great for Pil, since he was a directionless slacker to begin with. Fine, his pretty puppy dog eyes can be considered a treat, but haven’t we seen them too many times already?
Pil was spurred to action at the end, and I know I’m supposed to find his determination admirable, but I actually don’t because he’s been gung-ho about Soo-jin since forever, and I know he has no idea how to “turn everything around” and do what it takes to get her back. He has no idea, and we as viewers don’t either, so I wasn’t moved or convinced by his determination. The intent is there, but the plan is absent because the rules of time travel are nebulous. I mean, does Pil eventually become buddies with the aliens and strike a deal with them to get Soo-jin back?
Also, his internal monologue at the end came across as so self-centered to me. Even though Pil isn’t entirely privy to Jae-hyun’s dangerous tendencies, he knew enough to suspect the worst, and I would’ve much preferred it if at the end, Pil’s determination to turn things around came from his desire to rescue Soo-jin from danger because he was legitimately concerned about her well-being. Instead, Pil prioritized his long held crush and his incomplete life without Soo-jin; his needs came before Soo-jin’s safety.
I have to say, it is pretty entertaining to see Jae-hyun’s eyes switch from innocent and well-meaning to dark and frightening. It’s simultaneously fascinating and scary to see actor Jang Mi-kwan seamlessly go back and forth between two extreme dispositions with such ease. As for Gu-gil, Jung-ae, Jin-sook, and Seok-tae, all of them are likable enough, but their stories are so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, which makes it hard for me to stay invested.
I wish there were more aspects of the show that would make me cheer, but unfortunately, I can really only come up with one tiny silver lining: Pil is finally employed. Huzzah!