I find myself quite enamored of the very direct title of Secret Love Affair for this drama because of how the English title stands on its own broken up into each individual word. There is a secret in this drama, not just one but so many and multi-layered and overlapping I can’t keep track of it all. Secrets are for things that are wrong to do, and for the most part every single character in this drama is doing something wrong on a certain level. That is why everyone keeps secrets and then even when the secret gets out certain people scramble to keep it under control. There is definitely love floating around, but it’s not just the growing love Sun Jae and Hye Won have for each other, it’s also how certain characters love power, love money, love manipulation, love music, love so many things but find it hard to own it all. Who wouldn’t love having a loving marriage, a successful career, fun friends, and great co-workers. The perfect package simply doesn’t exist so this drama shoehorns in some extremes so we can juxtapose what is the lesser of all evils.
Is Hye Won better off staying put in her manicured existence full of fraud and emptiness? Or is she better off giving it all up and running away with Sun Jae who has barely a penny to his name and his sole moneymaking asset ten beautiful fingers on two hands? Finally we get to the affair part of the equation and there is plenty of that cheating going around even outside of Hye Won and Sun Jae. This episode puts Hye Won’s secret love affair on the heating block and starts to dial up the temperature. One wonders what those around her would castigate her for the most – keeping secrets from them, daring to love Sun Jae, or having an affair outside her marriage. I genuinely believe Sun Jae loves Hye Won with the type of pure innocence that is beyond rare plus a searing passion that stems from their mutual love of the piano. But outside of that he knows nothing about her other than the music lessons and the stolen time together. Hye Won ought to know better and she’s fully absorbing the painful truth that she can fall for Sun Jae but might have to give up everything else in her orderly life for a great big unknown future.
Episode 11 recap:
Sun Jae sits at his desk and looks out the window and thinks “I never thought this window was small before but today it seems particularly small. There is so much I don’t understand.” Flashback to the investigators arriving at the Seo residence – “when teacher you are bowing to cars late into the night, I can only hide and watch. A big house, high walls, people dressed formally, because this is the first time I’ve encounter such things so it makes me scared.”
Hye Won’s secretary is on the phone discussing what happened yesterday. Hye Won arrives at work and she hurried hangs up to ask if Hye Won is stressed out. Hye Won murmurs that she’s alright and hears that the secretary was on the phone with her friend at the school and the situation is messy there as well. Hye Won asks for a new name plate that says she’s the Vice-Director and then heads out to meet with Young Woo and then to head over to the Chairman’s.
Joon Hyung is talking with the bitchy cello professor who is the sister-in-law to Young Woo and asks for an update on the current investigation mess. She points out Hye Won ought to know more about what is going on. Joon Hyung doesn’t want this matter to extend to the Arts Center. She says it will but Joon Hyung will be fine since he can hide behind his wife. She points out Hye Won’s ability is a liability and she called her brother this morning and he wants to speak with Hye Won to confirm some things since he’s legal counsel for Seohan.
Joon Hyung goes back to his office but on the way spots Sun Jae going to meet with Professor Jo who is packing up for the office move. Sun Jae awkwardly asks him what is going on with Hye Won. Professor Jo doesn’t know much but can see that Sun Jae cares. He takes out a brochure from his student days and shows Sun Jae who flips through it. Professor Jo jokes that the prettiest girl back then is now his wife and Hye Won was the second prettiest. Professor Jo points out that liking may mean trusting them without reservation and need not even be told. If Hye Won was one of the piano pieces he played yesterday then her student picture would fit well with that performance.
Hye Won sits across from Young Woo and her husband as they peruse the list of alleged misconduct from the university such as selling faulty instruments. Hye Won points out that their sister-in-law Professor Kim introduces students to the seller and then claims the Arts Center is the middle man and she takes a commission. Hye Won looks very annoyed to be there and Young Woo asks where Hye Won went for an hour last night? Compared to her dad getting taken away, she thinks that is more serious a problem.
Madam Han sits with the rich mother who bought her daughter Yoo Ra entrance into the school. She suggests that Hye Won will use this opportunity to her advantage and says she is saying this to help Madam Han. Her daughter got in a fight with a beauty salon trainee and she almost got that girl fired but first investigated her background and discovered something that could be of help to Madam Han. She suggests Madam Han go meet Da Mi.
Young Woo’s boy toy tries to fish information out of Jang Ho about Sun Jae. Jang Ho admits they have drifted apart but chalks it up to changing life positions. The boy toy suggests it might be due to Sun Jae getting another girlfriend. Jang Ho doesn’t know about that but he does remember that Da Mi complained about Hye Won being very scary. She knows all about Sun Jae’s life. The boy toy wonders if Hye Won isn’t going to jump between them. Jang Ho finally wonders why so many questions and the guy claims he just likes classical music. After Jang Ho leaves, he immediately calls Young Woo to report his findings with nothing concrete yet.
Young Woo tries to dig up some more information about Hye Won claiming to be worried about the couple. She hears that the couple is worried about their standing and Hye Won isn’t the type to be concerned about romantic problems such as guys.
Madam Han gets a scalp massage from Da Mi and asks if she got in a fight with a rich customer recently? Madam Han says the girl is the daughter of a rich friend who wanted to get Da Mi fired but Madam Han stepped in to keep her here since her hands are so talented.
Chairman Seo makes small talk with the investigator who is in no mood for chit chat and directly asks about the Singapore holding company and its major shareholder Oh Chang Seok. The Chairman claims to know nothing.
Hye Won washes her face in the sink and checks her phone to see Sun Jae texting her a picture of her college self along with a message that he’s nearby. Sun Jae waits by for Hye Won while back in the mansion the other employee ladies are gossiping in the kitchen. Hye Won tells them she’s headed out for a walk and to call her when Young Woo gets back. Hye Won scurries to find Sun Jae and confirms he went to see Professor Jo.
Hye Won catches her breath as she gets to the top of the stairs, exclaiming that she must be crazy to come here, which is when Sun Jae pulls her in for a reassuring kiss. They break apart and he stoically asks to find a place to sit down and talk. They walk off into the night with Sun Jae leading the way with a solitary flashlight. They crawl under railings and walk through overgrown brush to get to a closed off construction site.
Hye Won says Joon Hyung knows and Sun Jae confirmation indicates that he is aware of that already. Both of them admit to being too rash. After sitting down, Hye Won looks at her twenty year old picture and says it looked even better than she did in real life back then. Sun Jae wants to beg for understanding and put the blame on him but Hye Won sighs that it’s her problem. Sun Jae refuses to shirk from his role in this but brings up that he is more upset about what she does over at Chairman Seo’s house.
Sun Jae was counseled by Professor Jo to understand Hye Won without reservation but he can’t do that. Sun Jae pulls out his watch to check the time because she’s always the first to leave. Hye Won would stay but right now a lot of people need her. Sun Jae matter-of-factly says that is Hye Won’s strength, she makes people need her. Need her so much that even when her husband is catching her cheating the more pressing matter is for her to head over to the Seo residence.
Hye Won laughs that he’s grown up and Sun Jae retorts that he had to because of what he saw. She tells him to sit closer to her but he just puts his head in his hands. She changes the subject to the book she gave him and asks if he finished? He did so she wants to know what he thinks. The protagonist in that book finished his performance and put the piano on the back of his bike and traveled the countryside playing. Hye Won is envious of how romantic that is which leads to Sun Jae asking her to leave with him when he succeeds. She encourages him to reach for success and says he won’t disappear like sea foam.
Sun Jae wants to talk some more about her leaving with him but Hye Won is cut off by a text from an unknown person saying he knows and wants to speak with her. Sun Jae reads the text and looks around frantically to see if they are being followed. He runs through all the nearby rooms but sees no one there. He finally sees someone running off outside and wants to chase him but Hye Won stops him with a kiss. She remembers all the little instances where her behavior or words were a little off with everyone around her.
Hye Won says “People who see this as my weakness are so very obvious but they are not very scary. I’m just a bit uncertain around you but around other things my stealth and scheming is beyond your imagination. I don’t want you to see those things so can you pretend not to know and just wait to see how things turn out.” Sun Jae refuses to sit back like a parasite and doesn’t think his piano playing is so important like saving a country. Hye Won says it’s enough if he inspires another kid to deliver packages during the day and study the piano from Youtube at night.
Sun Jae shakes his head and tells her to leave it all behind now if that is really what she wants. Leave her car and her house and just walk away with him. Hye Won looks to the side and says she’s practicing already. Sun Jae yells at her for practicing when he didn’t even practice kissing or making love before he did it with her. If she’s so into him then she needs to write a letter and run away. Is what she has her entire world? Is she afraid she’ll die if she leaves, like losing oxygen? Hye Won teases that his words are so sexy before taking the phone back from him to leave and reminds him to wait five minutes before leaving.
Sun Jae grabs her and begs to not see her back anymore because it drives him crazy. She asks him decrease their interactions for now just to be safe. She suggests they experience what it’s like to be patient before handing him her other phone to keep for her. If she keeps it she’ll miss him too much and be tempted. Sun Jae grabs her hand to walk her down because it’s a rather steep walk. As Sun Jae drops her off, he grouses that he’s such an idiot he might as well go home and eat ramyun. Hye Won jokes that he ought to speak in banmal with her more because she likes it. After she runs off he checks her phone and she’s saved his number as home.
Hye Won comes back to the Seo residence and gets comments about how long her walk took. She sits down to brief Madam Han and Young Woo but before doing so she reads the text she just received. She wants to know which of the two sent someone to tail her. Young Woo asks if it’s Madam Han who denies it. Hye Won doesn’t know who it is but guesses it’s likely one of these two ladies. Young Woo claims it’s not her either. Madam Han chastises Young Woo for doing it but she denies it again.
Young Woo calls in Madam Han’s secretary to summon the driver in to ask if he did it but Hye Won stops the interrogation now because it’ll get out of hand. She knows it’s one of the two of them and wonders why it’s being done now when they need her so much. Young Woo says Hye Won has a right to fall in love but yells that she’s not the one who did it. Hye Won says that the two of them have each lost half of her loyalty to them after doing this.
Madam Han asks to talk with Hye Won who agrees and grabs her purse from the secretary. The secretary then goes to chew out the driver for deciding to blackmail Hye Won with information he got from the secretary. She says all information about Hye Won ends now because she doesn’t want to fall under suspicion because of him. She then asks out of curiosity what he saw but he says nothing.
Madam Han sits with Hye Won and relieves her of her duty of being a three-way spy. Madam Han isn’t trying to fire Hye Won but wants her to work just for Madam Han. She’s not worried about Hye Won helping Young Woo since all of Young Woo’s money comes from Chairman Seo. She does mind that Young Woo’s in-laws are eyeing the money. She thinks Young Woo’s husband is very sneaky and will try to drive a wedge between Hye Won and Madam Han. Hye Won wonders if she’s so obvious.
Young Woo’s husband briefs his dad on the current state of the investigation and his younger sister Professor Kim comes home and tries to downplay her skimming money off the kids by selling them bunk instruments.
Jang Ho is with Da Mi but she’s not sympathetic to him getting dumped by rich girl Yoo Ra. Jang Ho brings up how one of his hyung at work asked about Sun Jae. Da Mi wants to know exactly what he asked about and is shocked to hear the query was about whether Sun Jae and Da Mi broke up because of that ahjumma teacher Oh Hye Won.
Hye Won calls Sun Jae to tell him that everything is fine and she even got an apology. Sun Jae has to end the call because his friends are there. Hye Won ends the call and looks sad.
Da Mi comes out of bathroom and hears Sun Jae was on the phone with his teacher. She probes about his teacher being a woman and wants to warn him not because she’s jealous. She tells him not to get involved with his teacher because the beauty salon is already talking about how Oh Hye Won cares too much about her student Lee Sun Jae. Da Mi reveals that Hye Won goes to the same beauty salon and shows him the necklace she is wearing and reveals it’s from Hye Won. Jang Ho adds that he saw Hye Won at the club before with her friend who is dating his hyung. Da Mi says a woman in even higher position that Oh Hye Won was discussing Sun Jae and these are people who manipulate others like monkeys.
Hye Won and Joon Hyung silently cross paths at home and continue to ignore each other.
Back at Sun Jae’s residence, Jang Ho and Da Mi continue to pressure him to agree not to see Hye Won anymore. Sun Jae instead asks to play his performance from yesterday for them. He remembers practicing with Hye Won as she challenges him to change up his playing. They launch into a duet where Sun Jae is totally flying all around the keys until finally Hye Won slams her hands down and yells at him for engaging in finger exercises. He was just playing using technique without thinking. Sun Jae practices alone and later plays with Hye Won for Joon Hyung.
Now Sun Jae plays the same way for Da Mi and Jang Jo and both of them sit transfixed by his music. Sun Jae remembers his performance and looking around for Hye Won. He finishes with a flourish and stands up to bow to his rapt audience of two best friends who are speechless by his talent. He asks if it was good as he wipes the sweat off. Jang Ho can only ask if he sweats after playing like that? Sun Jae asks for his opinion about piece and Jang Ho admits he couldn’t think and felt his throat constrict. Da Mi is near tears and asks if it was a sad piece otherwise why does she feel like crying. The two of them leave and Sun Jae walks them out.
Sun Jae lays in bed and uses his cell phone to call Hye Won’s phone that she left with him. He does this repeatedly and just stares until finall he turns both phone off and just broods in silence.
When Sun Jae wakes up the next morning he seems in pain from the heartache and it takes him a few minutes to get up. He goes up to the roof to kick box a sandbag to relieve some frustration. He gets ready for the day by having breakfast alone but is clearly just struggling though the motions. He then goes online.
Hye Won opens her safe deposit box hidden behind her wall bookshelf and places earring inside. She gets a message from Sun Jae to his online hyung about whether he mentioned the goddess to anyone? Hye Won writes back that she didn’t and Sun Jae asks “hyung” not to mention it going forward as well.
Hye Won calls Professor Jo’s wife out to talk in her car privately. She asks about Chairman Seo and what’s going to happen to him. Hye Won doesn’t know but at a time like this everyone is concerned about their own future. She’s just a small fry so there is nothing to worry about. Hye Won asks if Professor Jo said anything and hears he didn’t really. Hye Won admits her greatest lunacy is thinking everyone has their eyes closed but turns out everyone is keeping an eye on her.
Professor Jo’s wife asks if Joon Hyung knows about the cheating and Hye Won says he caught them. Others who don’t know yet are probably just waiting for concrete evidence. Hye Won admits Joon Hyung said nothing to her about it and appears to care about his image more than his own life. Professor Jo’s wife points out how frustrating it must be for Joon Hyung is ignore her in that house and keep it all inside. Hye Won admits she wronged him and didn’t know it would lead so far. Professor Jo’s wife points out everyone always thinks that way when they start.
She yells at Hye Won that the entire world around her is waiting to watch her fall and rip her to shreds. She asks Hye Won what the hardest thing is for her right now? Hye Won finally breaks down crying that she still wants to see him. His house….. Professor Jo’s wife is taken aback at how deeply Hye Won has fallen while Hye Won sobs and asks what she’s going to do?
Thoughts of Mine:
I find myself a tad exhausted and disengaged emotionally from SLA. The week off didn’t help as it really curtailed the steady narrative build-up and this week I was left watching the proceedings without feeling all the visceral connection. My favorite scenes were of course the lovely conversation between Hye Won and Sun Jae as they try to navigate blindly through the landmine of their secret love affair, shown clearly as they walked in the dark through bushes and crawling under barriers to find a building under construction to rest their bodies briefly. I think an affair is always difficult in both emotional uncertainty and guilt plus all the practical considerations of tiptoeing around not to be seen.
But right now is really just a very very bad time for Hye Won and Sun Jae to get involved. Her life is already complicated and his is starting to be so I wish I could tell them to end it temporarily until the timing is better. Hye Won appears to lose all her whip smart moves around Sun Jae and she can’t afford to at this critical juncture when she might get tossed under a bus by her masters. It’s devastating watching her slowly fall apart because of it, the moments of candor and fragility so at odds with her steeliness towards her overlords who think nothing of continuing to use her. I wish I could strip this drama of the secret and the affairs so that Sun Jae and Hye Won can give give their extreme age-reversed pairing a shot to see if it can withstand the realities of life.
It’s also painful to watch a bevy of distasteful people prance around onscreen plotting here and there and generally leaving me on edge and slightly nauseous with their schemes. I ought to be used to them after watching them slime their way around for the last 11 episodes but honestly each episode of this drama leaves me craving a bit of bright bubbly happiness afterwards. I find the writing condenses into the small insular world of Seohan, the Arts Center and the University, all sorts of wheeling and dealing on a super heightened magnitude so that each wrong step feels like a potential fall into an abyss. Life isn’t normally like that even for someone as much of a fixer as Hye Won, leaving me wishing for some downtime where characters can just stop sharpening their knives for a moment and just sit back and really enjoy the music.
Click here to watch Secret Love Affair.