It’s been a long time since someone rooted for our hero. Hwan-ki finds support from an unexpected quarter as he tackles his fear and explores new social grounds. Having someone in his corner is a new, pleasant sensation for Hwan-ki. It gives him a new perspective on the people he interacts with, and how his behavior affects them. But before he gets too comfortable with this new dynamic, some new feelings begin to make themselves known.
EPISODE 6: “How Can A Person Change?”
Ro-woon wakes up feeling warm from the faint memories of the previous night, which remain dreamily out of her grasp. She reaches the office, refreshed to find that her colleagues are also dealing with hangovers. Yoo-hee asks Ro-woon if she was the one to arrange their transports and take care of the bill last night. Turns out they’d all blacked out after drinking themselves blind.
When Ro-woon hesitatingly suggests that maybe Hwan-ki was the one to get them home, they dismiss it as her drunken imaginings. Hwan-ki arrives in dark glasses, and Ro-woon asks him outright if he came by the bar the night before. He curtly denies it and walks out of the office. Ro-woon wonders if she was mistaken, but firmly states that she remembers the scent of peppermint candy perfectly.
Back in his room, Hwan-ki takes off the shades that were hiding a splendid black eye. He rubs an egg under his eye and thinks back to the night before. After Ro-woon collapses into his arms, Hwan-ki stands holding her uncertainly. Then her eyes flash open, and with a sudden war cry, she grabs his hair and vows to teach him a lesson for being mean to her sister!
They struggle until Hwan-ki captures her flying fists to keep her from hurting herself. For a moment, she recognizes him and wonders why her boss was in front of her. Then sanity recedes, and she head-butts him in the eye while calling Hwan-ki a “cockroach.”
A while later, Hwan-ki drives through traffic while Ro-woon heaves in the back. To keep her from upchucking on his upholstery, Hwan-ki parks the car and gets out to help her. Meanwhile, Ro-woon falls into the front seat, directly next to a bottle of minty air freshener. Ah, the peppermint scent she remembers!
In the present, Hwan-ki remembers how she fell asleep in his car and smiles at his bruised reflection: “She did this to me, and she doesn’t even remember.”
Yoo-hee gets the Silent Monster team to watch Woo-il’s legendary presentation for the opera account. The women are thrilled to watch his charismatic performance on screen, and Yoo-hee uses Woo-il as inspiration and encourages the team to give their best shot for the next bid.
Ro-woon gets a call from her reporter friend, who asks why she secretly uploaded such a valuable video clip without telling him. Turns out there’s a recording of Hwan-ki’s stuttering presentation floating online. Ro-woon clearly knows nothing about it, but soon all of Brain’s staff finds out about it.
Reporter Woo, who seems to run an online news site out of his house, records a new webcast where he claims that Hwan-ki proved his own narcissism during his failed presentation by never saying anything more than “I.” (Wait. What?) He goes on to name Assemblyman Eun as Hwan-ki’s father, which causes the mercurial parent to descend on Hwan-ki at his office.
The assemblyman rushes Hwan-ki and takes him down in a leg lock, trying to choke his son to death. Ro-woon runs in just then and watches helplessly as Hwan-ki’s dad mocks him for being pathetic. Finally, she tries to pull him away from Hwan-ki but gets shoved aside. Watching Ro-woon fall gets Hwan-ki to disentangle himself from his father’s hold and get up to check on her.
His father rages at him for not being like Woo-il. He yells that he placed Woo-il next to Hwan-ki so that he could speak, think, eat, and breathe like him. Ro-woon watches in stunned silence as the assemblyman humiliates his son. Hwan-ki quietly weathers it, though his eyes fill up with tears.
Woo-il walks in and stops the assemblyman from hurling Hwan-ki’s name plaque at him. The rest of the staff pour in as the furious man tells Woo-il to find out who leaked the video or fire all Silent Monster employees. There’s fearful silence in the room as Assemblyman Eun settles in Hwan-ki’s chair, and Woo-il steps in to manage the situation.
He suggests that a sudden change in personnel might harm Silent Monster and asks the assemblyman to calm down. He jerks off Woo-il’s hand, and Woo-il immediately apologizes. Ro-woon watches him bow and thinks to herself that it’s the third time Woo-il apologized for something she did.
Ro-woon reaches out to Hwan-ki with an apologetic, “Boss,” but Hwan-ki evades her touch and leaves the room. He gets all the way to his car and secures himself inside before giving in to his tears.
Back at the office, the bosses have left and the staff is cleaning up all the paper the assemblyman had thrown on the floor. Amongst the pages, Yoo-hee finds something that catches her eyes. She calls the rest over to look at it.
Ro-woon turns up outside Hwan-ki’s car and knocks at the window. Although she can’t see Hwan-ki inside, she persists until he unlocks the door just to tell her to go away. Ro-woon uses the opportunity to get into the backseat, then climbs into the front so she can look into Hwan-ki’s face.
An annoyed Hwan-ki barks at her as soon as she mentions Woo-il, then immediately apologizes. Ro-woon says that she had thought he was arrogant, but it turned out that he felt inferior to his own friend. As Hwan-ki denies it, she takes out the papers where he had sketched the concept for the opera presentation, which turned Woo-il into a legend. “It’s actually your work, isn’t it?” she asks.
Yoo-hee had recognized the idea of the presentation and pointed out how thoroughly Hwan-ki had prepared for the Ramyun account. It occurred to the group that Hwan-ki had been behind Woo-il’s success all along.
In the car, Ro-woon tells Hwan-ki that he should boast about it, or no one will ever know. She advises him to tell them what he’s thinking while he watches them in secret. Hwan-ki wonders why she is doing this to him, while Ro-woon thinks that Hwan-ki isn’t a bad man, just a hurt one.
They look at each other with a new understanding, until Ro-woon starts sniffing the air at a familiar smell. Her eyes light up at the lime-mint air freshener, and she connects her peppermint candy smell to Hwan-ki’s car. She’s gleeful at being right about his presence at the bar the night before. When confronted, Hwan-ki decides to power-walk away from her. Ro-woon follows happily, realizing that he’s just embarrassed.
Woo-il holds a meeting with the Silent Monster employees. He tells them that he got their disbandment postponed on the condition that they turn Hwan-ki into “an ideal leader.” This clearly sounds like an impossible task to the team, who wonder how a person can change. Woo-il recommends a trip to build teamwork.
The staff approach Hwan-ki about it, who refuses to go. Woo-il tells them that he’ll go with them instead, which clearly doesn’t sit well with Hwan-ki. He remembers Woo-il’s question, “How will you protect your staff?” and Ro-woon’s words, “You can’t protect anyone just by watching.”
This makes him get up from his chair with determination, only to sink back in again. “Will I be able to change?” he asks himself.
The team reaches the resort, only to find Hwan-ki stretching his legs by the ocean. Ro-woon smiles on seeing him, while Woo-il approaches and thanks him for coming. Everyone gathers for team-building exercises, and Se-jong suggests a version of “heads-up” where he’ll hold a board with words behind a team, while one member mimes it to his mates.
Hwan-ki sits aside with Yoo-hee and Sun-bong, while Woo-il gets up first to act out to his teammates, Ro-woon and Kyo-ri. Woo-il is so good that at one point Hwan-ki gets caught up in the game and shouts out the answer, winning his rival team a point. When Se-jong holds up “back hug” next, Woo-il pulls Ro-woon into his arms, until Kyo-ri guesses it correctly.
Both Woo-il and Ro-woon are affected by the closeness, while Hwan-ki clenches his fist in anger.
On his turn, Hwan-ki thinks that he might be able to do this since he doesn’t need to speak. Ro-woon’s words of encouragement are, “Be like Woo-il!” Unfortunately, Hwan-ki’s idea of miming the first word, “Eagle,” is to literally imitate the piercing gaze and specific gait of the majestic bird. This leaves his teammates befuddled and he runs out of time.
The next word is “Popcorn” and it inspires Hwan-ki to describe the inner world of a corn. (Let me just finish rolling on the floor here.) He mimes a corn in its shell bursting out as it’s heated. Predictably, no one gets it, and poor Hwan-ki is berated by his team again.
Defeated, he looks at Ro-woon, who smiles and tells him that he did well. Later, at the barbeque, Hwan-ki takes over from Woo-il at the grill and thinks that he should take his transformation one step at a time. As the first step, he imagines how he’ll win everyone’s heart with his perfectly cooked meat.
He sees himself take the plates out to the table, where everyone praises his cooking. They start up a chant of his name, which causes him to blush, and he confidently toasts with them to Silent Monster’s future. This pleasant day dream leaves Hwan-ki smiling, as he works over the grill.
Se-jong praises the kimchi he found in the fridge of their resort dorm room, and Hwan-ki silently sings to himself that, “It’s my kimchi, I cooked it,” until Ro-woon says that she doesn’t eat kimchi. Aww. Hwan-ki’s face falls at that.
Yoo-hee gets up to help with the barbeque, so Hwan-ki can sit and eat, but her help is less than appreciated when she messes up his perfectly positioned pieces on the grill. He yells that the juices are dripping out, and looks up to see everyone staring at his outburst.
Sun-bong observes that the meat is more important to Hwan-ki than his team, and that he seems to enjoy embarrassing his employees. Seeing his visions of winning them through food lying in ruins, Hwan-ki gives up and walks away from the group.
Kyo-ri finds Se-jong wrapping fairy lights on bushes and learns about the “event” he’s planning for Ro-woon. She disheartened by how earnestly he likes Ro-woon, but helps him finish up.
Ro-woon approaches Woo-il, as he arranges wood for a campfire. She asks him how she can get better at helping Hwan-ki transform. Sensing that she no longer felt antagonistic towards Hwan-ki, he asks what might have caused the change.
Hwan-ki comes upon them together and gets close enough to hear Ro-woon explain that she’s doing it for her team-mates, and because Hwan-ki is clearly misunderstood by the people around him. She says that it’s cruel to be on either side of such a misunderstanding.
Both Woo-il and Hwan-ki stare at her, until the matchstick Woo-il threw on the pile catches on the accelerant, and a roaring flame rises towards them. Woo-il pulls Ro-woon away from the fire and they end up hugging for a moment.
Ro-woon pulls away flushed and flustered. She jumps up and rushes away, while Woo-il stares after her, smiling at her running form. He spies Hwan-ki in the distance and tells him to mingle more. Hwan-ki cryptically observes that Woo-il is there for everyone and leaves.
He comes across Yoo-hee on a bench, moaning to her husband about how much she misses her kids. Her eyes fall on Hwan-ki, and she hangs and apologizes immediately. Hwan-ki thinks back to Ro-woon’s words that it’s just as uncomfortable to be the one misunderstanding someone.
He apologizes to the nervous Yoo-hee, who blinks up in surprise. He explains that he’s sorry for embarrassing her, but he had thought it would be a shame if she only played the role of a mother. Yoo-hee realizes that he’s referring to the time, when he’d said he needed an employee not a mom, and agrees that “a careless and incompetent mother” caused trouble for him.
Hwan-ki shakes his head and explains that her identity as a mother is not the issue, it’s her belief that it is all she has to offer. He wants her to use her motherhood as a strength and prove her worth at the company. Yoo-hee tears up as she understands how much thought he’d put into his assessment of her.
As he begins to walk away, Yoo-hee suggests that Hwan-ki shouldn’t force himself to give the presentation. Not all leader stand in front, she says, and he should let someone who’d be good at it do it.
Ro-woon catches his attention just then, as she stomps in the snow with heavy boxes. Yoo-hee notices his attention and guesses that he likes Ro-woon more than any other employee. He denies liking her, but Yoo-hee says that it’s a mother’s instinct.
Hwan-ki spends the rest of his walk wondering if he likes Ro-woon, debating whether he had revealed any such feelings, then reassuring himself that an emotional clam like him couldn’t possible have given anything away. Deep in thought, he almost trips over a switchboard in the dark. He picks it up and starts turning the switches on. Uh oh.
Se-jong brings Ro-woon out into the garden and scolds her to cooperate so he can surprise her. Ha. Ro-woon makes a face at him, and then notices something ahead. Se-jong looks up and pales.
It’s Hwan-ki, holding the switchboard, surrounded by fairy light, and standing under a banner that reads “I love you.” Hwan-ki repeats to himself that he can hide his feelings, even as the giant words loom over him. Ro-woon laughs at the sight and teasingly asks if he loves her.
Before Hwan-ki can say anything, Se-jong angrily asks why he’s holding the switchboard. Hwan-ki apologizes and tries to switch off the lights, but accidentally presses another button which sets off the fireworks.
Ro-woon is delighted at this, but Se-jong mourns the total ruination of his romantic gesture. Writhing with embarrassment, Hwan-ki pulls up his hoodie and runs off into the night, while Se-jong belatedly tries to save the moment, only to have the fireworks stop just then.
At the campfire that night, Yoo-hee and Kyo-ri sing, while Se-jong dances to “Magic” by Secret. Ro-woon sits ensconced with a notebook, sketching, as her eyes keep straying to Woo-il. He catches her staring and raises his beer, which makes her smile. Hwan-ki watches the exchange and thinks to himself: “She’s not here for revenge anymore…”
Later, when everyone has gone in, Hwan-ki finds Ro-woon’s notebook and flips through it to stop at a page. Inside their dorm room, everyone sits in a circle, while Ro-woon frantically looks for the notebook. She asks Kyo-ri about it, and Sun-bong guesses that she has doodled the face of her crush in it. Ro-woon laughs awkwardly but stills when her eyes catch Woo-il’s.
Woo-il observes her expression and thinks back to the drawing he’d taken from Ji-hye as a Christmas present three years ago. In the present, Ro-woon hurries out to look for the notebook, only to have Hwan-ki enter with it. Se-jong snatches it away from Ro-woon before she can sequester it away, and the whole group gets up to look at the face of Ro-woon’s crush.
Only… no one can tell who it is. The drawing is so bad, Woo-il (the subject) squints and wonders who it can be. Everyone chips in by analyzing the round eyes and the big nostrils, but no one lands on a satisfactory answer. Ro-woon finally grabs the notebook and runs out.
Hwan-ki follows her to the steps outside and tells her that the man she sketched has a fiancée. Ro-woon laughs unconvincingly and guesses that he doesn’t even know who she drew. But Hwan-ki bluntly says it’s Woo-il, and after a few more denials, she asks if he really is engaged to be married.
Hwan-ki changes the subject and asks her to do the presentation. He offers her the same words she once offered him: “Let’s work together.” Ro-woon repeats “together” and smiles. Hwan-ki completes his earlier thought: “…The reason she’s staying is because she’s sorry.”
Back at the office, Ro-woon works hard to get ready for the presentation, staying back in office till late. Hwan-ki watches her and thinks to himself that Ro-woon is trying to fix the mess she made. Watching her put in so much effort makes him want to help her.
At the final rehearsal for the presentation, Ro-woon comes out in a panda suit while Se-jong asks Hwan-ki (the only audience member) to order something on his phone. Their plan is to do a live race between a phone order and an order placed on the food app they’re presenting to.
Hwan-ki dials a Chinese place and starts placing an order. Unfortunately, the finicky side of Hwan-ki rears its head, and he gets stuck in trying to explain his preferences, which wastes time. Finally, he just hangs up, and everyone deflates at the abrupt end to the race. Hwan-ki asks why they’re doing a live race in the middle of a presentation.
Everyone assumes that he’s never ordered on the phone because he’s so privileged, and Sun-bong takes his frustration out on Ro-woon by tearing into her childish presentation idea. Ro-woon apologizes while her voice shakes with unshed tears.
On the rooftop, Hwan-ki comes up to stand beside a disheartened Ro-woon. She asks him if he knows what is wrong with her presentation. Hwan-ki explains that giving a presentation is like asking someone out. All the grand gestures and flashy clothes you prepare for the other person can seem insincere compared to a simple confession.
There’s also the matter of unforeseen problems cropping up during the presentation: What if the judges don’t have their phones with them? What if someone has a phone phobia?
Ro-woon connects the dots and realizes that Hwan-ki had trouble because of nervousness and not because he’s snobbish. She laughs good-naturedly at Hwan-ki instructing her how to ask someone out. She asks, “So, how do you tell someone how you feel about them?”
Hwan-ki looks nervously around, then turns to her and says: “I like you.” Ro-woon stares at him.
Breaking the awkwardness, he directs her to keep it simple to get her point across, instead of dressing the idea up. “Say rough but truthful words. That’s what is like you.” Ro-woon looks touched and thoughtful as Hwan-ki slips away.
That night, Ro-woon goes home to find his father ordering for three people on phone. He orders spicy noodles for his friends but hesitates on his own order. The man on the other end gets impatient and Dad ends up ordering the same noodle for himself. His friend points out that he doesn’t like spicy food, but Dad just says that they sounded busy.
Ro-woon watches this and sighs that here is someone else with the same problem. On the day of the presentation, this becomes her primary theme: phone phobia. She emphasizes that there are many people who feel tired and uncomfortable about staying tethered to their phones all day.
Some care too much about the person on the other end, others feel like the one who makes the call has all the power. Staying close to your phone has become a matter of survival. So, Ro-woon says, Silent Monster promises to bring comfort to people who are tired of the rigors of phone calls.
Her presentation is well received, and she gets enthusiastic applause from the judges. Her teammates are impressed too, but Ro-woon looks at Hwan-ki, who simply gets up and walks away.
Everyone is on tenterhooks back in the office. Finally, the phone rings and Yoo-hee picks it up. The company has called to congratulate them on an excellent presentation, but since the approach is too unusual, they have to decline their bid.
Ro-woon stands in the corridor, thumping her head against a pillar. Suddenly a hand moves in and keeps her head from hitting the surface again. It’s Woo-il, who is there to tell her not to take it too hard since this was just practice, and she did quite well. He jokes that she shouldn’t beat herself up over this, or she might get stupider. He cups her head as he says this, which makes Ro-woon look at him shyly.
Yi-soo walks in just then and pauses at the sight of this tableau. She plasters a smile on her face and calls out to Woo-il. He introduces the two women, and Ro-woon is delighted to meet her boss’s pretty sister. That is, until she watches Yi-soo talk about evening plans with Woo-il and realizes that she is his fiancée.
Yi-soo visits her brother and brings him a Christmas present. Knowing that her brother plans to stay in the penthouse all night, she cajoles him into cooking for her.
Ro-woon hears their voices in the kitchen while she packs up and walks closer to watch the byplay between the siblings. She smiles to see how sweetly he treats his sister, remembering Ji-hye’s love for her.
Ro-woon’s dad calls her to ask if she’s eaten. Before she can answer, her eyes fall on the calendar where the 24th is marked with a circle. It’s the day Ji-hye died. Thinking that her silence meant that she is busy, he says he’ll let her go and hangs up. Ro-woon stares at the date and wonders why she’s causing so much trouble in her attempt to avenge her sister’s death.
Ro-woon lugs out her giant panda costume and waves for taxis on the street. Hwan-ki sees her leave and turns up in his car to give her a lift. As she tries to gratefully get into the front seat with her costume, he makes her get out and sit at the back. Ha.
On the drive, Hwan-ki gets uncomfortable with Ro-woon’s stare in the rear-view mirror and shifts the angle, making her laugh. She asks why he would spend Christmas eve driving her, when she’s not even his sister. A moment later, she admits that Woo-il had made her heart flutter a little, but Hwan-ki tells her that he’d asked her to be honest at the presentation, not to him.
He drives her to a snow filled street, where Ro-woon gets off and puts on her costume. He asks if he can help and she wonders why he’s being so considerate. Telling him not to worry about her — she’s not his sister, after all — she asks him to zip the suit up and leave. With her face hidden and turned away, she tells him that her sister used to come to the orphanage on special days like this, and she was going today in Ji-hye’s place.
Listening to her talk about how much she misses her sister, Hwan-ki turns her around and takes off the panda head, revealing Ro-woon’s tear-streaked face. He becomes energized as he tells her to take the costume off. Pulling it off her, he begins to yank up the suit over his clothes. Ro-woon watches in bewilderment as Hwan-ki puts on the panda head.
She asks what is wrong with him today and why he’s changed so much. The panda face looks up at her, and Hwan-ki says: “It’s because you’re Chae Ro-woon. You’re not Eun Yi-soo, but Chae Ro-woon.”
Then he marches off in the snow, with Ro-woon hurrying after him. Hwan-ki enters the orphanage assembly hall with purpose. Hidden behind the bulky costume, he waves at the cheering children and gets up on the stage.
Soon, he’s dancing to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” telling himself that it’s okay because his face is covered. As he starts enjoying himself, he says that he’s fine because these are children. Then, he sees the adults enjoying themselves too and really gets into it! Confidently, rocking his panda moves, the Hwan-ki inside thinks: “I’ve changed!”
This show understands how deep the socially awkward can go into their own heads. Hwan-ki’s transports into manic overthinking is hilarious, but so accurate to life that it hurts to have it shown so sympathetically on screen. The ease of interaction which comes so easily to Woo-il and Ro-woon is desperately difficult to achieve for someone who fears being judged as much as Hwan-ki does.
The heads-up game was a good way to explore this. Woo-il kept his mimes simple, without worrying about how silly he might look before them. Hwan-ki put a lot more thought into his performance, but he was ultimately hindered by simple lack of experience, which can only be remedied by a willingness to expose yourself to silly situations more often.
I wonder how far back the constant comparisons between the two friends had begun. Since the very beginning? The complex he had lived with was crippling. To have your father hold up your friend as the child he wanted while repeatedly berating you has to be the worst blow to anyone’s self-esteem. And still, there were people who saw Hwan-ki’s worth, even when he didn’t quite see it himself. We saw that he had been trying — just like we all do — to get out of his head, to confront his problems. But with Ji-hye’s death, and the blame he took upon himself, Hwan-ki had imprisoned himself further in his shadowed world. His guilt, his helplessness, his trampled self-worth had made him give up. He’d stopped trying to come out of the darkness that trapped him.
Social anxiety isn’t the same as a lack of confidence that can be boosted with practice and pep talks. There are many factors, weaving a sticky net, that makes it hard to break through to the other side. Then there are some who simply prefer to walk their paths alone. Hwan-ki isn’t one of them. We see him dreaming of being able to impress others, to win their approval and affection. We watch him smile at his own little plans and know that if he could, he would happily be the extrovert everyone tells him he should be.
But Hwan-ki will likely never be as charming and smooth as Woo-il. He’s too involved in his thoughts, too particular in choice of things and people, too comfortable in his own company. What he needs is just enough self-assurance to say what he means. He needs to stop running away, stop seeking sanctuary in darkness every time something goes wrong. For the first time, he has motivation in the form of a girl he wants to protect, and employees who are directly affected by the decisions he makes. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been before. All he needs now is someone to see that he doesn’t need to change, he just needs to bring his inner dancing panda out before the world.