Hwan-ki has spent years building the shell that protects his vulnerabilities. Until now, he was fighting to hold on to those defenses, but what happens when he finds that there are others he wants to protect, and that the answer may lie in coming out of his shell? His self-proclaimed nemesis has declared war, but how long can Ro-woon ignore the growing evidence that Hwan-ki is nothing like the person she thought he was?
Note: Introverted Boss has been pre-empted next week for the Lunar New Year, and will resume the week after.
EPISODE 4: “I Will Not Meet Anyone”
Three years ago, Hwan-ki walked into Ji-hye’s wake and found her grief-stricken family kneeling silently before her altar. As he watched, Ro-woon got up and stumbled past him, never registering his presence. Barefoot and blinded by tears, Ro-woon had walked out into the cold night with Hwan-ki keeping an eye on her from a distance.
Finally, she collapsed on the ground, and Hwan-ki quietly put down the slippers he had carried out of the funeral home for her. Sensing someone but never looking up, Ro-woon had said that her sister left without her shoes. This seems to pierce her deep, and Ro-woon weeps on the ground as Hwan-ki watches helplessly.
In the present day, Ro-woon’s voice narrates Hwan-ki’s daily routine. Every morning, before sunrise, he goes somewhere mysterious. Then on his return, he showers, cleans the penthouse, sharpens his pencil, puts on some music, and… dances? Ro-woon’s voice turns incredulous as we see him pull on a hooded jacket with style and dance to K-pop hits. Hah.
Ro-woon discovers this in real life, when she gets to the office early and peeks in to find Hwan-ki busting a move. Hwan-ki freezes mid-motion as their eyes meet, and Ro-woon withdraws back into the hall, convinced she was hallucinating. When she enters the office properly, Hwan-ki is quietly sitting behind his desk, and Ro-woon scoffs at the mere idea of a boss who never greets his employees dancing when no one’s looking.
Later, when everyone goes off to lunch, Ro-woon snoops around the clean, odorless kitchen, trying to find out what he eats there. She finds a cutting board with red stains on it and freaks out when Hwan-ki appears behind her and takes it away. Once she leaves, he wonders if the kitchen still smells of kimchi. Hehe.
She leaves with everyone after the workday, thinking to herself that Hwan-ki will go off before sunrise again tomorrow, just like a cockroach. To discover where he goes, she tails him in a car the next morning and ends up following him to an exercise club, where Hwan-ki plays squash. Ro-woon is surprised and impressed by how good he is at the game.
Ro-woon claps at the end of a serve and greets him. Hwan-ki immediately packs up to leave. She blocks his path and asks him to teach her how to play squash, then tells him that they should get closer by working together and having a cold drink later. Hwan-ki dodges her and hurries away, saying that he exercises alone.
He visits Woo-il at his office, who guesses he’s bothered about Ro-woon again. He says that if Hwan-ki is that uncomfortable, he’ll take Ro-woon under his own wing. This visibly disturbs Hwan-ki, who backtracks and says he’ll just have to keep her since he can’t fire her without good reason. On his way out, he spies Ro-woon walking towards Woo-il’s office and ducks out of sight. He watches them walk out together with concern.
At a restaurant with Woo-il, Ro-woon makes her report about Hwan-ki. She’s arrived at the conclusion that he’s exactly like a cockroach — active at night when the rest of the world is asleep and always dressed in black. She cribs that Silent Monster is all for show and not a place where employees have any work to do. Woo-il points out that she’s working hard, but Ro-woon says she’s just following him around, eating good food, and meeting people.
Woo-il corrects her that she’s not just meeting people, she’s forming connections. In the PR world where bids are won through presentations, it’s important to meet and persuade people to be on your side. Woo-il argues that knowing the right person is more important than reading books for work or life.
Today, they’re there to wine and dine an executive for a food company celebrating the 30th anniversary of a product, “Yong Ramyun.” Ro-woon asks if they’re bribing the man, but Woo-il just says that they’re asking for his permission to have Silent Monster submit a presentation. When the managing director, Mr. Jin, arrives, Wool-il introduces Ro-woon as a valued employee and his secret weapon.
Throughout the evening, Ro-woon laughs at Director Jin’s stories and glibly flatters his ego. Woo-il watches her win the client over with a pleased smile. Later that night, Ro-woon walks back home and thinks that she’s being recognized by Woo-il.
Then Woo-il’s words, “secret weapon,” echo in her mind, and she thinks of the secret that killed her sister in that company. She wonders what her dad will say if he finds out where she works now. Looking ahead at the front door of her house, memories from three years ago fill the scene.
Ji-hye was leaving for work before dawn, and her parents had come out to bid her goodbye. Her mother noticed her shabby heels and asked why Ji-hye wasn’t wearing the new ones she bought for her. Ji-hye said they were too expensive to wear to work. Then Ro-woon stumbled up the path, happily drunk and jubilant that she had landed the part she’d auditioned for — not the lead, but a scene stealer that involved eighteen costume changes!
Her mother was less than impressed by the daughter who came home after drinking all night, and then Ro-woon tripped and broke the heel of her shoe — which turned out to be the pair her mom had bought for Ji-hye, which Ji-hye had lent to her for luck. Running away from her furious mom, who was handed a broom by a helpful neighborhood ajusshi, Ro-woon promised to buy her sister nicer and prettier shoes as soon as she made money.
In the present, Ro-woon comes out of the memory smiling, and wonders if her mom is watching her now. She walks into the shop and her father asks if she ate, which is the same thing he asks every time she walks in. She says she did and then pauses: “It was great, it was delicious.” Then she goes into the house, while her dad stares after her. Two ajusshis in the shop comment that that was the longest sentence Ro-woon had spoken since her sister’s death. They wonder if something good must have happened.
Dad removes the wet towel from his customer’s face, and we see that it’s Hwan-ki, who must have heard everything.
Hwan-ki starts the next day with an announcement — he has an instruction for the staff. Everyone perks up at this, wondering if they’re getting yelled at. Hwan-ki gets up from his seat and says: “Do not meet anyone.”
Se-jong hilariously quips that Hwan-ki seems to be doing a series of one-liners. First it was, “We won’t say anything” with the actor, and now it’s “Do not meet anyone.” But Kyo-ri notes the look in his eyes and wonders if he’s telling her not to meet the press.
Sun-bong wonders if Hwan-ki knows about the interviews he’s giving at other companies, Yoo-hee wonders if he’s telling her to focus more on work and less on her family, and Se-jong wonders if he’s telling them not to date in the office.
Ro-woon gets a call from Director Jin about meeting again the next day. She happily agrees, then turns around to find Hwan-ki standing beside her. He asks who it is, and Ro-woon explains that she and Woo-il are trying to get Director Jin’s permission to do a presentation for Yong Ramyun.
Hwan-ki tells her that instead of chasing people, she should do work from her own place — that way a hundred people will know her, instead of her knowing a hundred people. Ro-woon retorts that she doesn’t know what her work is, since he never gives any guidance or instruction, so she finally asks him to come and meet Director Jin with her.
Hwan-ki slinks away after making his disapproval clear, but seeing how much he doesn’t want to meet Director Jin just gives Ro-woon a wicked gleam in her eyes. She calls Director Jin back and asks him to meet her early next morning.
The next day, when Hwan-ki gets to his club, he finds Director Jin playing squash on his court. Ro-woon appears with energy drinks in hand and introduces Hwan-ki to the managing director. When Director Jin extends a sweaty hand for Hwan-ki to shake, he looks at it with disgust and takes a drink from Ro-woon to hand to the man. Ro-woon covers the awkwardness and praises Hwan-ki’s expertise in squash. This gets Director Jin interested in a game and puts Hwan-ki in an uncomfortable position.
Hwan-ki tries to explain that he makes mistakes when people watch him, but Ro-woon hands him a racquet and leaves the court. Hwan-ki just stands there as Director Jin serves, and after a few unreturned balls, Director Jin gets angry at him. Hwan-ki plainly says that schmoozing is not how he gets work done, and that he would prefer to just let his presentation do the speaking for him.
This doesn’t go down very well with a man who’s used to being treated with deference by bidding companies. Ro-woon has to run in to smooth things over again, but Director Jin makes it clear that he feels Hwan-ki’s presence is unnecessary when he’d been invited there by Ro-woon. Ro-woon takes that as a cue and asks to be taught how to play the game.
Happy to get close to the pretty young girl, Director Jin complies, and Hwan-ki watches him touch her with rising anger. When the man’s “teaching” starts making Ro-woon uncomfortable, Hwan-ki throws the ball in the air and strikes hard at the wall. The ball bounces off and hits Director Jin square in the forehead. As the managing director lies writhing on the floor, Hwan-ki repeats that he makes mistakes when he’s watched before leaving.
Woo-il visits Director Jin at the hospital and half-threatens, half-flatters him out of suing Hwan-ki. He makes it clear that he knows Director Jin was harassing Ro-woon, and that it would come out in any investigation into the matter. He hands over a check as compensation, and then asks Director Jin to forgive Hwan-ki as a personal favor to him. Ro-woon looks into the room to see him bow in apology to the man.
Outside, he tells her that he got Director Jin’s permission for the presentation. She clearly feels bad that he had to apologize when he didn’t do anything wrong, but Woo-il dismisses it.
Back at Silent Monster, Hwan-ki refuses to work with Director Jin, though Woo-il points out that he’s in no position to be fussy. Hwan-ki argues that Director Jin won’t evaluate their presentation fairly, but Woo-il says that they should at least try for the sake of the employees — no, Woo-il adds pleadingly, Hwan-ki should do it for his sake.
Hwan-ki looks at him and says, “There you go again.” We flash back to the many times Woo-il has used that turn of phrase: “Do it for my sake.” Hwan-ki thinks to himself that Woo-il always manages to sound self-sacrificing when he does it, but he’s actually asking for attention.
We see another flashback where Woo-il speaks to the reporters about Silent Monster with his usual ease. Hwan-ki watches from the shadows and says in voiceover that it’s not that wanting attention is a bad thing — he is just very different from Woo-il. He says that he’s grateful that Woo-il had volunteered to stand in the spotlight so that he didn’t have to.
But then his eyes find Ro-woon standing in the crowd, obviously taken with Woo-il’s charm, and Hwan-ki thinks to himself that the problem is that Woo-il attracts attention to the point that it becomes dangerous.
In the present, Woo-il gets defensive as Hwan-ki says he’s being too greedy. Hwan-ki tells him to take his hands off Silent Monster, since he’ll protect his own employees. Woo-il asks how he proposes to do that — by wasting their time when they should be gaining experience? He points out that if Hwan-ki blows this chance, then no one will give them work, and no one will know how competent Hwan-ki truly is. Woo-il tells his friend that he’ll do the dirty work for him, so Hwan-ki can just do things his own way.
Hwan-ki works all night on the Yong Ramyun presentation, repeatedly thinking of Woo-il’s words: How will he protect his employees? The next morning, everyone arrives late and walks in to find Hwan-ki working. Expecting to be ignored as usual, they settle down before springing right up as Hwan-ki tells them to prepare for the presentation.
He points at Yoo-hee, and she hurries over to persuade him to do it himself, since she’s out of practice. She tries to hand him one of her sweet breads to ply him before asking everyone to clap for all the hard work Hwan-ki put in. But when she tries to massage his shoulders, Hwan-ki instinctively jerk away and hurts Yoo-hee’s finger. He looks apologetic, but all he says is that he needs an employee, not a mother.
Later, Ro-woon enthusiastically talks ill of Hwan-ki amongst the other employees for his abuse of power. Everyone agrees that Hwan-ki should do it himself to set an example, but no one wants to take over the presentation from Yoo-hee. Ro-woon volunteers, but since she has no experience, Yoo-hee resigns herself to do it.
At the end of the day, Ro-woon watches Yoo-hee begging her mother over the phone to postpone a trip so she can look after the children tomorrow. She looks back at Hwan-ki and glares. She thinks back to Ji-hye’s funeral three years ago, when a man from Brain offered an envelope of money to her parents. She had boldly confronted the man for trying to cover up what happened.
Her parents didn’t say anything, and her father just told the man to take the money and leave. When Ro-woon asked how he could stay silent, he said that Ji-hye should have endured her problems like everyone else does. Ro-woon had shouted that even if he wouldn’t do anything, she would.
Ro-woon wakes up in the present and finds a bouquet of flowers waiting for her. The card reads: “I’ll wait for your return to the stage.”
Hwan-ki stands outside his house and finally walks in. Before he can go in, he finds Woo-il with his mother and sister. Mrs. Eun had been waiting for Hwan-ki, but she’s pleased to see Woo-il, who (jokingly?) promises to call her “Mother” as soon as he’s married to Hwan-ki’s sister, Yi-soo. Mrs. Eun had been on a hunger strike because her son hasn’t visited in a while, but Woo-il easily cheers her up while Hwan-ki watches from the shadows.
The next day, Yoo-hee is late for the presentation because her sons fell sick and she stayed up all night taking care of them. As she hurries to get ready, one of her sons vomits straight onto her skirt, ending any chance of her getting there on time.
Ro-woon sees an opportunity for revenge in this and asks Hwan-ki to do the presentation himself. Hwan-ki clearly has no plans to comply and wants to simply walk away, but all of his excuses get shot down by his staff. They force him to go inside, and Hwan-ki suddenly finds himself facing dozens of faces, while his staff hurries to set everything up.
Hwan-ki stands in front of the slides tightly holding the microphone, but he’s unable to get a single word out. His anxiety rises with each passing moment, until suddenly his dad’s voice yells at him from the past to “Speak up!” We see a young Hwan-ki sitting in a parlor for a haircut, silent in the face of his father’s commands to speak. His father finally told the stylist to do whatever she wanted. Angry at his son’s inability to express an opinion, his dad decided to make the choice for him, which ended in an unfashionably curly mop (a la Gu Jun-pyo in Boys Over Flowers) that got him bullied in school.
In the present, the host exhorts Hwan-ki to stop wasting the judge’s time, and Hwan-ki thinks to himself that everyone fears being looked at to some degree.
We flash back again to a school Christmas event, where Hwan-ki stood in the first row of a choir. He looked nauseous at the attention while his father recorded the proud moment. In voiceover, Hwan-ki says that his father didn’t want to allow him the tiniest bit of fear, since he dreamt of making him into a global business leader. That’s why Mr. Eun had bribed his teacher to let Hwan-ki get all the attention.
When the chorus paused to let Hwan-ki sing the solo bit, the silence stretched on as Little Hwan-ki obsessively wondered if he would make a mistake. His thoughts devolved into guilt for getting the part unfairly and for ousting the best singer in his class, who had deserved to sing the solo. At the gestures of an increasingly frantic choir master, he finally started singing and then pitched too high on a word, causing everyone to start laughing. As the rest of the chorus resumed, Hwan-ki stood silent and embarrassed while his parents looked away, ashamed of him.
In the present, Hwan-ki’s anxiety and discomfort is terrible to watch. Finally, he drops the mic and thinks, “At least, I satisfied one person.” Glancing at Ro-woon, he runs out. Ro-woon doesn’t feel as smug with her revenge as she had hoped, and thinks to herself that this isn’t what she wanted.
Hwan-ki shuts himself up in the office, and no amount of knocking opens the door. Woo-il tells Ro-woon not to be too disappointed and walks away while Yoo-hee stands outside with the staff, finally having managed the crises at home. All five troop off to a restaurant to drown their sorrows in soju.
Kyo-ri sighs that the man she was so scared of turned out to be a huge coward. Sun-bong rues that no one will hire him now because he works for Silent Monster (since it’s just a shell company). Yoo-hee apologizes for everything, but Ro-woon says that it’s her fault, since she made Hwan-ki do the presentation. She had thought Hwan-ki should do it himself.
Yoo-hee defends Hwan-ki by telling them how detailed and warm the presentation had been. He’d even written a script that Yoo-hee just had to memorize and deliver. We see in another flashback that Yoo-hee had worked through the night, even as she took care of her children. We go further back in time and see that Hwan-ki had given the choice of employee to do the presentation some thought—he’d analyzed Yoo-hee’s strengths and believed she would do the best job.
Yoo-hee cries now that she’s a failure as an employee as well as a mother, since she didn’t take her children for the flu shot on time. Ro-woon comforts her.
Hwan-ki gets a call from Ro-woon’s phone, and someone ominously tells him that he has all his employees and that Hwan-ki should bring cash. The kidnapper-sounding person turns out to be the owner of the restaurant (cameo by Choi Dae-chul), where all five employees are completely wasted.
Hwan-ki sighs before getting to work sending each employee off to their homes, taking extra care to take pictures of the taxi number plates and the drivers for safety. Sun-bong turns out to be a hilariously weepy drunk, while Yoo-hee tries to kiss Hwan-ki, thinking he’s her grown-up son. After seeing all of them safely off, he heads back for Ro-woon, only to find her sitting outside the restaurant, watching him.
She wonders how he knows all of their addresses — has he been secretly observing them? She stands up unsteadily and works through her thoughts. Why is he never in front of people? Is it because he can’t?
Hwan-ki looks caught as Ro-woon says that she used to think he looked down on people, but now she wonders if he’s actually scared of them. She totters closer and says that she knows people like him well. Everyone in her family, except she, are people who “quietly keep their place.”
Referring to their conversation earlier, she says that if he just stands in his place quietly, no one—let alone a hundred people—will ever notice him. “Just by watching,” she tells Hwan-ki, “you can never protect anyone.” Then her eyes droop, and she passes out in his arms. He grips her tightly.
Ah, my heart! It bled for Hwan-ki as he stood in front of that audience trying so hard to get the words out. His fear and frustration was palpable and utterly painful to witness. The moment he gave up, I felt his disappointment in himself. It was such a heavy burden to bear, and he’s been carrying it since he was a child. I really appreciate the way this show revealed the abuse of his past. It hurts to see that a naturally shy child was threatened and terrorized into developing a social disorder. With more understanding parents, Hwan-ki may have grown up quiet and unwilling to draw extra attention to himself, but perhaps he wouldn’t have withdrawn so completely into himself.
I’ve begun to like Ro-woon, and I credit it entirely to the increasing glimpses into her past with her family. Previously, I felt angered by Ro-woon’s obstinate insistence that Hwan-ki was a psychopath, but in this episode, I could easily forgive her leaps of assumption. She’s naive, but not stupid. She’s fixated upon the idea that Hwan-ki was responsible for Ji-hye’s death, but she isn’t ignoring the signs that Hwan-ki isn’t the man she thought he was. Which of us is reasonable in the middle of blinding hatred? I like that her growth and awareness is gradual.
What concerns me is that she seems to be developing a crush on Woo-il. Much like Hwan-ki, I view Woo-il as an attention seeker who uses his charm to manipulate people. He has a language of phrases and gestures that are used in perfect constructions to get the result he wants. The way he says “Do this for my sake” makes every request personal, intimate. The way he puts a hand on people’s shoulder, making them feel like the sole focus of his attention. The smiles he flashes and the ambiguous way he states things so that they can be taken another way, with no blame on him.
I’ve repeatedly thought that he could have easily chosen to dispel the ridiculous rumors about Hwan-ki, but chose not to. He says just enough for people to remember that he defended his friend, but nothing more. In a way, I think Woo-il believes that he should have been born with everything that Hwan-ki possesses but can’t fully utilize. From Hwan-ki’s perspective, his friend has not only taken over the company, he’s actively trying to take over Hwan-ki’s place in his own family.
This episode undoubtedly had the best ending yet. I’ve been waiting for someone to point out the obvious, even if they knew nothing about Hwan-ki’s disorder — that just maybe, he’s afraid of people. I suppose Kyo-ri never really understood Hwan-ki’s confession, she was just touched by his apology and the flowers. I’m glad that Ro-woon was the first to make the connection. Being prejudiced against Hwan-ki and laboring under none of the fear the rest of the staff feels, Ro-woon has been observing him closer than anyone else.
Whether she’s willing to admit it or not, she already knows that he’s nothing like he’s been painted. One hopes that Drunk Ro-woon’s insights are remembered by Sober Ro-woon the next morning. For now, I’m cautiously optimistic that this is a well matched pair, after all.