Because This Life Is Our First: Episode 15
Somehow we’ve arrived at the second-to-last episode, and while it feels to me like we got here too fast, in this episode it does begin to feel like we are approaching the ending of a completed story. Though my heart doesn’t want to say goodbye to these characters and this beautifully crafted show, I think I am ready to see what each character has chosen for themselves, and be happy for them regardless of the outcome.
Episode 15: “Because this is my first intermission”
Ji-ho asks Se-hee to dissolve their contract, and his eyes move immediately down to Cat’s new nametag, which Ji-ho has missed. He repeats her request slowly as a question—his voice wavering slightly—but she doesn’t meet his eyes as she affirms it.
Elsewhere, Young-hyo sees Ho-rang back to Su-ji’s, and the atmosphere between them is friendly as Young-hyo thanks her for a nice time. It seems that she’s also warmed to his silliness, and she bids him farewell with a smile.
Ji-ho and Se-hee reconvene at the dining table, where Ji-ho explains that since her contract with Jung-min’s company will likely go forward, soon she’ll be able to find her own place to live. Thus, there would be no reason to continue with their contractual marriage.
Cat whimpers in the background when Se-hee congratulates Ji-ho on her job, since she will now be able to continue writing. He seems anxious and tells her that they can discuss the specifics later, then gets up to leave.
But before he goes, Ji-ho reminds Se-hee that there was something he wanted to say, and her expression is heartbreakingly sad as she waits for Se-hee to speak. After a beat, Se-hee says that he will take care of the recycling from now on, given that Ji-ho will likely become busier during the week with her job.
Later in her room, Ji-ho remembers her conversation with Se-hee’s father, where she confessed that she married Se-hee because of his house. She explained that they married because their conditions and values matched, and apologized. His father hadn’t thought it such a big deal, and remarked that most people marry for the same reasons, rather than love.
His answer surprised Ji-ho and she asked why he accepted her even though their marriage was so sudden, Se-hee’s father explained that it was the right age for Se-hee, and given all of Ji-ho’s merits, there was no reason to oppose. Plus, she said she loved Se-hee back then, which he thought was fortunate.
Ji-ho found that reasoning strange—the idea that having love in a marriage was “fortunate” rather than necessary. She admitted that it been bothering her that she lied when he had asked her why he was marrying Se-hee, because although it was a lie then that she was marrying him for love, now she had really fallen for him.
Se-hee’s father smiled, and said that kind of love was common between married couples, and urged her to take the bankbook.
Outside, she bid Se-hee’s father farewell without feeling like she had been clearly understood, and in the present, Ji-ho looks at the bankbook in her hand with a heavy heart.
She calls Se-hee on the phone to ask, “What is marriage? Do you know what marriage is?” The question sends Se-hee back to the memory of him telling his parents that he was planning to marry Jung-min twelve years ago. His announcement was met with a swift slap to the face from his father, and subsequent shouting.
Se-hee promised to take responsibility for Jung-min and their baby because he loves her, and his father angrily asked if love would feed them, or pay Jung-min’s parents’ debt. Se-hee asked how his father could only worry about his reputation and rumors when Jung-min is going through so much. His father had kicked Se-hee out of the house then.
In the present, still on the phone with Ji-ho, Se-hee walks to her door and puts his hand on the handle. But he stops when Ji-ho says through tears that a real marriage with love must be a happy one.
Slowly, he lifts his hand from the handle and thinks to himself, “Her voice is shaking. Her eyes are tearing up. Ji-ho is crying because of me.” Noooooo, open the door.
The next morning, Ji-ho finds that Se-hee has already completed her usual chores. She spots an envelope on the table with a note from Se-hee informing her that he’s going to his parents, and to let him know if she needs anything to terminate their contract. Inside the envelope she finds their contract.
Won-seok wakes in his studio and is startled to find Bo-mi lying on the floor next to his bed. He freaks out to see himself in his underwear, and she asks if he forgot what happened the night before.
He notices Bo-mi holding Ho-rang’s pink pillow and snatches it back from her, yelling at her for using it. She slaps him hard across the face and calls him rude, informing him that he took off his own pants when she brought him home from the club after he passed out.
She storms out, and so he chases after her to apologize. He explains that he’s mad at himself and unfairly took it out on her. Bo-mi, in her usual curt way, simply asks if they’re getting hangover soup and walks ahead.
Coincidentally, Ho-rang and Young-hyo are also eating hangover soup at the same restaurant as Won-seok and Bo-mi walk in. Bo-mi recognizes Young-hyo as their accountant and joins him, making the ex-couple uncomfortable.
Ji-ho resigns from her cafe job and nearly misses saying goodbye to Bok-nam. He finds her at the bus stop and gives her a framed photo of the one he took on her wedding day of her and Se-hee stiffly shaking hands, and she thanks him for the thoughtful gift.
Se-hee visits his parents to tell them of his impending divorce. He cites their different personalities, which her mother finds absurd, meanwhile his father silently leaves the room upset.
Things are awkward at breakfast as Ho-rang tells the table that she met Young-hyo through the app. Young-hyo thanks Bo-mi and Won-seok for helping him meet his “ideal woman,” then proceeds to call Ho-rang perfect, and explains his dream to marry someone like her.
This tidbit leads Bo-mi to assume that they’re a couple and seriously discussing marriage, but Ho-rang hurries to correct her and crosses nervous glances with Won-seok. Young-hyo confirms the misunderstanding, but then enthusiastically vows to do his best until Ho-rang accepts his eventual proposal. God, this guy is so painfully awkward to watch.
Then Young-hyo notices that Ho-rang hasn’t added any perilla seed powder to her soup and motions to add some, but before Ho-rang can explain that she doesn’t like it, Won-seok reflexively stops him in a panic.
On the bus, Ji-ho looks at the framed picture, then calls someone to request a date.
Se-hee finds his father outside smoking, and he’s resigned to Se-hee’s decision and says that Se-hee always does as he pleases anyway. Se-hee doesn’t see it that way at all, and tells his father that ever since “that day” he hasn’t been able to live as he wanted for a single moment, because the first person he ever chose for himself was denied by the person he loved and trusted the most: his father.
Se-hee tells his father that he loved him so much and yet he ignored the life Se-hee had chosen, and made a door form inside Se-hee’s heart. His father gruffly says that if he could go back in time, he would do the same thing again, since he could never stand by and watch Se-hee ruin his life. He asks Se-hee to imagine how unhappy he’d be now if he had gotten married to Jung-min then, so Se-hee asks why his father let someone else’s daughter go through hell alone just to save his son.
His father replies that his child is more important, and though it’s selfish, it’s his way of loving Se-hee. Se-hee understands his father’s feelings but says that given what happened with Jung-min, he doesn’t have a right to be with someone, and that being unhappy on his own is enough.
Ji-ho’s “date” turns out to be meeting Jung-min at a rock-climbing class. Jung-min asks if Ji-ho really won’t contract with her company, and whether it’s because of Se-hee. Ji-ho replies that it would be a lie if she said no, then adds that she is getting divorced.
Jung-min is astonished and her expression turns troubled, thinking herself the reason. Ji-ho says lightheartedly that she isn’t that influential in their relationship, and Jung-min is relieved to have overreacted.
Ji-ho actually thanks Jung-min for giving her the opportunity to clarify her feelings for Se-hee. She explains that she wants to love Se-hee with all her heart but doesn’t know how, because “I feel like I’m locked in the Room 19 that is marriage.”
Ji-ho calls her feelings odd and complicated, but Jung-min understands too well because she knows that marriage involves so many people’s feelings. However, the trouble is that everyone’s feelings are sincere, all beautifully intentioned. But when beautiful things grow entangled with each other, it can be difficult to recall their original beautiful shapes.
Jung-min muses that this must be why people say married spouses stay together out of attachment and become family. She calls marriage impressive, but at the same time scary. Still, Jung-min sighs regretfully, she’d hoped that Ji-ho and Se-hee would have a happy ending.
Ji-ho asks, with wide-eyed exaggeration, if Jung-min thinks that she and Se-hee can only be happy if they’re married and if divorcing means that they’ve failed somehow. Ji-ho exclaims how odd it is that the CEO of a production company leading the contemporary culture would be so old-fashioned in her thinking, teasing that she’ll have to reconsider working with her company.
Jung-min initially fidgets uncomfortably, taking the comments seriously, then realizes Ji-ho is joking and laughs in relief.
Meanwhile, Se-hee has drinks with Sang-gu at the office, and Sang-gu asks if Se-hee was able to confess to Ji-ho. He looks at Se-hee’s text message asking him for advice on the least corniest line to tell Ji-ho how he feels, and finds it amazing that they were authored by Se-hee so sincerely.
By this point, Se-hee has gotten adorably drunk as he admits that didn’t confess because Sang-gu said that all the options sucked, but Sang-gu asks meaningfully if Se-hee couldn’t confess, or didn’t.
Su-ji visits her mom in Namhae, and tries to hide her girlish smile when she receives Sang-gu’s text message. Mom notices and brings up Sang-gu so that she can voice her grievance for not knowing about Sang-gu earlier, and feeling like she’s competing with Sang-gu for Su-ji’s attention.
Eventually the air becomes strained when Mom asks if her bad legs are making Su-ji hold back from going after what she wants in life. Su-ji heatedly insists that isn’t it, so Mom pointedly asks why Su-ji can’t quit her job then, even though it brings her so much stress and unhappiness.
Su-ji replies that they need they money, which Mom knows is for the apartment she’s already vowed not to move into. Su-ji asks hotly how Mom is going to live alone with her bad legs forever, which confirms Mom’s fear of Su-ji holding back because of her, when she had always told Su-ji to stand tall.
Ji-ho returns home and thinks back to a conversation she had at Su-ji’s, where Su-ji asked Ji-ho to pick the least of the three cheesiest lines for confessing one’s feelings. Su-ji had gotten the text from Sang-gu, and told Ji-ho it was probably from Se-hee.
The revelation stunned Ji-ho, and as she walks home, she wonders why she doesn’t feel happy in that moment. Those words were something she’d been waiting to hear, but she wonders now why she feels afraid.
Nearby she hears a ruckus and sees Sang-gu trying to wrangle a stumbling Se-hee home. As Ji-ho approaches, Se-hee shouts her name loudly in a drunken stupor and then flops forward, leading Ji-ho to help corral him.
They manage to put him into bed (but not without some drunken shenanigans) where Se-hee gives them a fright when he sits up in bed and reveals a drunken habit of taking of his clothes and neatly folding them. LOL, cute.
Ji-ho serves Sang-gu a drink, and Sang-gu tells Ji-ho that Se-hee was planning to confess his feelings to her, and she admits that she already heard from Su-ji. Ji-ho then asks if Sang-gu has ever seen Se-hee mad or scared before.
Sang-gu answers that he has—many times before. He’s seen him crying too, and Ji-ho voices her envy for him having been able to see Se-hee express his emotions. She sighs that she’s never seen Se-hee’s Room 19, and that she won’t know what to do until he shows her what’s inside. But perhaps he doesn’t know what’s inside, or he doesn’t know how to open the door, or maybe he’s just scared of her seeing it.
She tries to play off her statements as strange, but Sang-gu says that he understands… only to assume that Room 19 is what Se-hee named his folder of porn. Ha! Sang-gu promises to get Se-hee to quit “those kinds of videos,” and Ji-ho tries to explain that it’s not what she meant, to no avail.
Young-hyo drives Ho-rang home after spending the day together, and when he notices that her legs are shivering, she remembers Won-seok sweetly bringing her socks to wear on their walk home. Young-hyo talks casually about his life as if getting married and having kids are all he can think about, but Ho-rang just smiles awkwardly.
In his studio, Won-seok remembers Young-hyo praising Ho-rang for being smart and easygoing. He cradles Ho-rang’s pink pillow and likewise goes back down memory lane to one of their earlier memories, where Ho-rang cried because Won-seok didn’t look back at her waving when they parted.
It’s a silly memory, which makes Won-seok in the present scoff at how not easygoing Ho-rang actually is. He texts Sang-gu to ask (between three options) the best language to use when texting someone late at night.
Sang-gu tells him not to send anything and go to bed, but it turns out that Won-seok doesn’t have to Ho-rang texts him instead, asking if he’s asleep. She frets alone in Su-ji’s room when she sees that Won-seok read her text, then panics when he calls.
They both navigate carefully through small talk, until Won-seok says that Young-hyo seems like a nice guy. Ho-rang agrees, and says that she’s still getting to know him and her feelings too, in order to find what might be in her heart as he suggested she do.
Ho-rang calls Bo-mi a cool and honest girl (a statement Won-seok neutrally agrees to), then says that she spent a quarter of her life with Won-seok.
Won-seok apologizes for not being able to be responsible for the time they spent together till the end. But Ho-rang says that she didn’t say it to get an apology, but rather wanted to say that she was happy she got to spend the best time of her life with him. Aww, how lovely.
She asks him to call her if he’s ever going through a hard time, since though they were once lovers, they were also old friends. He tears up from her wise words and she hurries to let him go, but before they hang up he asks her to definitely “be happy.”
In Namhae as they lie in bed, Mom asks Su-ji to understand how she feels because she’ll only be happy if Su-ji is. She urges Su-ji to fly high for her, as Su-ji cries. Oh no, the tears.
In voiceover Ji-ho says, “The heart’s intentions were beautiful. Ultimately, those beautiful hearts all just wanted to make you happy. A passing heart, a new heart, someone’s clumsy heart, and also this hurting heart—ultimately, they all hope for you to become happy. Will I be able to protect all those beautifully intentioned hearts as they are?”
Ji-ho watches over Se-hee sleeping that night, and traces his profile in the air with her finger. Her mother calls late at night to relay some news, but we don’t hear what just yet.
Se-hee wakes the next morning with a hangover, and finds some soup and hot tea left for him by Ji-ho. He goes to her room but finds it empty except for a large backpack on the bed. Jung-min calls right then, and he answers.
Ji-ho tries to return the bankbook from Dad to Se-hee’s mother, but she’s preoccupied with getting Ji-ho to make-up with Se-hee. She seems to understand that Ji-ho might be upset because Se-hee acts indifferently, which makes it hard to know what he’s thinking.
Ji-ho agrees with her, so Mom assures Ji-ho that all men are like children, which is why women should take care of them and try to understand them.
However, this is were Ji-ho diverges with Se-hee’s mother’s logic. She states that marriage should take place between two adults, and that Se-hee is an adult, who has been hurt a lot in the past. She adds that Se-hee’s father told her that a wife is supposed to act as a bridge, and she had thought that since Se-hee was her landlord, being a bridge was a good thing.
But the more she fell in love with him, the more confused she became, until she decided that she wasn’t sure if she should let the confusion continue—the confusion of exchanging labor like kimchi-making and cooking for memorial rites, uncertain of where the exchanging would end.
Ji-ho tells Se-hee’s very puzzled mother that she doesn’t want to continue taking care of Se-hee just to maintain her marriage, and act like a bridge and buffer between two families because of Se-hee’s wounds.
She says that Se-hee’s parents hurt Se-hee, and though it was a long time ago, wounds can remain and happen again in different ways. Se-hee’s mother calls Ji-ho selfish for calling off the marriage without consulting the parents, and says that marriage is sacred.
Ji-ho disagrees, however, explaining that love, and not marriage, is sacred.
When they meet, Jung-min tells Se-hee that Ji-ho knows of their past relationship. Se-hee notes that Jung-min and Ji-ho seem rather close, and Jung-min asks if it’s strange.
He replies dryly that it isn’t common, and Jung-min agrees that she thought it was weird at first, but Ji-ho told her that there were no reasons to think so. She adds that Ji-ho may be a little crazy, in a good way.
Jung-min tells Se-hee that she didn’t know that her hurtful words (about not having a right to love) would reach him and stay with him for so long, then apologizes because she wrote them during a low point. He says that she doesn’t have to explain herself, then uses Ji-ho’s words and says, “It’s no one’s fault, back then it just turned out that way.”
This time Jung-min has new words for him: “Be happy.”
Se-hee returns home and sees Ji-ho packing up her things. He asks about her parents, but she has already told them the news yesterday when they came to visit. He asks whether she has secured a place to live, but she says that she’s going to travel first, since she’s never done that alone before.
He expresses his gladness that she found a path that makes her happy, and is even doing something that she never had time to do before. She asks about his plans, which surprises him. He replies that he’ll probably continue living the same way.
She asks meaningfully if he’ll get a new tenant too, and after a pause he shakily replies that he probably will.
The time finally comes for them to terminate their contract, and so they each rip their copies in half. With that, it ends.
Ji-ho asks if there is anything that Se-hee wants to say (her expression hopeful but sad), and Se-hee thinks, “I wanted to say that I have a gift that I bought her. I wanted to say that there are still many soccer games to watch with her. I wanted to say that. But…”
Aloud, he says no. And so, she grabs her things and goes to the door. As she puts on her shoes, Se-hee continues internally, “If I say these things now, they would go inside her heart and stay there for a long time.”
As a final gesture, Ji-ho suggests they shake hands, then wishes them both luck since it’s the first time they’re getting divorced. He takes her hand and wishes her luck likewise.
Before she goes, she looks back at him once more and lingers for a second before finally exiting. As she does, Se-hee thinks, “I became alone again.”
He settles down for a beer and some soccer, but realizes that he hasn’t seen Cat in a while. He calls for her and ends up in Ji-ho’s empty room. He sits on the mattress and looks around for a moment when Cat comes trotting in. Se-hee stills when he sees the “Woori” nametag around Cat’s neck, and soon his mind fills with memories of Ji-ho.
He cries and says brokenly that he misses her. In voiceover he narrates, “Today, I lost what would have been my one and only love.”
By the end of episode thirteen, I really didn’t think that Ji-ho and Se-hee would part ways, but perhaps I was blinded by my selfish desire for an ending where Se-hee and Ji-ho spend the rest of their days living their quirky and simple life (all the romantic recycling! And Cat co-parenting!), all while making these unhurried and mundane strides forward in love bit by bit. I was perfectly content with glossing over the fact that Se-hee has been living the last twelve years in reaction to his trauma, and in a totally self-contained way, in hopes of never hurting anyone or being hurt by anyone again. He’d been abiding by Jung-min’s spiteful words born of anger and despair, without addressing how his way of living and thinking and emoting affects Ji-ho and Se-hee’s relationship ability to move forward.
Clearly my assumptions prove that I haven’t been paying nearly enough attention to some of the main lessons of this drama, and specifically Se-hee and Ji-ho’s love story. Because people are not self-contained entities, they come with pasts, presents, and futures, and people in their lives, whose feelings are intertwined with theirs in complex and sometimes irreconcilable but deeply felt ways. There’s a pain there in Se-hee’s family that hasn’t been able to heal through the years, even with the good intentions, understanding, and deep love from all sides, and Ji-ho realized for herself that trying to be an ideal daughter-in-law wasn’t going to heal those wounds, but nor should she try to. Because allowing her relationship with Se-hee continue on its old trajectory would likely result in Ji-ho living like Se-hee’s mother and constantly needing to be understanding of Se-hee and making up for his shortcomings and emotional aloofness, without ever forcing him to express himself and be accountable for his own feelings, and for making sure his feelings reach her. I loved those scenes where Ji-ho was patiently and heartbreakingly waiting for him to realize these things for himself, because maybe then she wouldn’t need to leave.
GAH! I don’t know anymore! I just need to know that they end up together! I don’t know if I can handle another scene of someone throwing Cat’s name tag into the trash.
In all seriousness, my favorite moment in this episode was surprisingly that really short one between Su-ji and her mom when they were in bed and she told her to fly. When she said that she can only be happy when Su-ji is—those words opened the floodgates. It was the same kind of intense, lighting-quick, and bone-deep emotion I felt about Mom’s letter to Se-hee at their wedding, and it was a beautiful moment. I am really going to miss these moments when this show ends.
On that note, another mother-daughter moment I am expecting to make me cry is the one between Ji-ho and her mom. Mom is such a special character that has an amazing way of providing so much perspective in this already rich world, so I always find myself missing her in episodes she isn’t in. I really hope that she rounds out the show with some of her signature wisdom and helps Ji-ho find her way back to Se-hee somehow, or maybe the other way around, because Ji-ho seems to have a clear understand of her feelings, but Se-hee still might need to. I think I would love a final scene with Se-hee and Mom because those two are adorable and seem to really understand each other.