Wow, that a difference a day and an episode can make. I freaking loved episode 2 of Cheongdamdong Alice! Woo hoo, this is more like it. It still has some awkwardness and needs more narrative clarity, but all the interwoven threads are set in place and there are lots of understandable stakes everywhere. Two episodes in and I can safely say that Namgoong Min is stealing the show as In Chan, and he’s not even a regular cast member! In his cameo role as Se Kyung’s butt poor boyfriend, he’s hitting his few scenes out of the park and elevating the emotional nuance of this show singlehandedly. Much as I love Moon Geun Young, she’s merely good so far though her character Se Kyung is really fleshed out in the second episode. Park Shi Hoo is in a really weird position in the drama – he’s the ex-husband of Yoon Joo and the future object of Se Kyung’s marry-rich aspirations, but his character feels like the wacky, off-kilter Mad Hatter in the Alice in Wonderland story. I don’t think anyone has ever shipped Alice with the Mad Hatter so this will be a first.
I have to make special mention of the fact that Kim Ji Seok is nowhere to be seen and Namgoong Min comes off as the second male lead at this point. I was sincerely moved by their love story and the scene where they broke up for good had me sobbing without feeling like my tears were being manipulated by excessively manufactured sadness. I really root for Se Kyung to succeed in life because I love how she applies her dedication and determination to both her career and her love life. I finally understand that the story is trying to be as realistic as possible in discussing how the average person really might never succeed simply by using hard work in a society like South Korea that is excessively geared towards connections and superficial markers of worth. I’m not sure how I feel knowing that the ultimate end game is to have Se Kyung earn her rich crazy Prince in Seung Jo, because at this point I wish this story was about Se Kyung and In Chan. Nevertheless, I breathed a sigh of relief after this episode which gave me comfort that this story has its act together and is headed somewhere interesting. I’m totally along for the ride now.
Episode 2 quick summary:
Yoon Joo greets Se Kyung like they were best friends in high school instead of hated foes, with a fake sweetness and mild condescension. Se Kyung says she’s planning to resign anyway for the lost gem certificate fiasco, so Yoon Joo needn’t worry about the awkwardness of one of her former classmates now having to call her Madam. Yoon Joo, who wants Se Kyung around to continue to toy with, points out that quitting in such a small industry would leave her with a bad reputation in the future.
Se Kyung goes to see Team Leader Shin In Hwa, who correct guesses Se Kyung wants to resign. In Hwa says many aspiring designers like Se Kyung are put down for their poor backgrounds and lack of rarified taste and the first instinct is to quit. If Se Kyung doesn’t have the born requirements to succeed here, at least she ought to have the guts to tough it out and not quit. In Hwa leaves before Se Kyung can hand in her resignation.
In Hwa passes Yoon Joo in the hallway and makes it clear she knows Se Kyung is not Yoon Joo’s good friend. In Hwa’s sneer when Yoon Joo claims to be BFFs with Se Kyung is awesome and I love her telling it like it is, even if she is also a snob.
Se Kyung meets with her friend Ah Jung to share the news that Yoon Joo is the President’s wife. Ah Jung is stunned “Seo Cheater” has done so well for herself, since her reputation way back when was just a man-stealer. She vows to dig up dirt on Yoon Joo.
Se Kyung is called to run more errands and this time when she delivers the packages, Yoon Joo allows her inside to show off her grand digs. Se Kyung tells Yoon Joo that she will treat Yoon Joo not as a former classmate but respectfully as the President’s wife. Yoon Joo pretends that she’s not asking for such airs but clearly is enjoying this.
Ah Jung calls Se Kyung out to reveal the dirt on Yoon Joo – when she lived in France, her name was Cha Yoon Joo. She unofficially married a man there (having their own ceremony in a church but not filling papers) and took his last name. Ah Jung says Yoon Joo must’ve dumped that poor sap when a better chance came alone with the President of GN Fashion. OMO, no wonder Seung Jo is pissed, he and Yoon Joo were married!
Se Kyung goes to return the Artemis purse her boyfriend In Chan gave her as a breakup present and is told that the one she has is an irregular sample that should not have been sold. Se Kyung says this is not possible and asks to be called after the company investigates.
Petty Seung Jo goes to a online forum to post about an upcoming sale at Royal Department Store, his dad’s company. His post gather a flurry of people venting about Royal and Seung Jo happily fans the flames. Okay, his pettiness is starting to get epic.
Seung Jo is called out when an unhappy customer wants to exchange an irregular purse she bought elsewhere. The woman flings the purse at Seung Jo and he catches it with one hand. He agrees to the woman’s unreasonable demands for an even more expensive bag. He then orders his secretary to investigate the source of irregular bags being sold.
Seung Jo gets a video message from his dad gloating to hear that Artemis is dealing with a gray market purse problem. Dad points out that Seung Jo inherited his petty streak from Dad. Okay, these two are hilarious together. Dad hilariously mocks Seung Jo’s French name, Jean Thierry Cha.
During a management meeting, Seung Jo is told that a low-level employee named Seo In Chan (Se Kyung’s boyfriend) was in charge of checking for irregulars before it was placed on sale. In Chan has taken a leave of absence recently and can’t be located.
Se Kyung is told by Seung Jo’s secretary that the company suspects In Chan kept irregular purses to sell on the side. Se Kyung goes to In Chan oppa’s apartment but he’s not home. She sees only piles and piles of bills and collection notices stuffed in his mailbox.
Se Kyung makes another parcel delivery to Yoon Joo’s house as she prepares for the dinner party for the new Artemis President. This time Yoon Joo tells her to put the bags in her closet and Se Kyung enters to see it filled with designer goods.
On her way out, she runs into Yoon Joo’s nice husband who remembers watching her job interview online with Yoon Joo. Se Kyung’s French motto of “L’effort est ma force” (hard work is my force) was particularly memorable to him. Yoon Joo runs out to stop her husband from accidentally revealing that she knew it was Se Kyung before she was hired. After her husband goes inside, Se Kyung asks if Yoon Joo had fun watching Se Kyung run errands for her?
Se Kyung still doesn’t think highly of Yoon Joo, who isn’t ashamed and says she got to this place by her hard work and effort (in landing a rich man). There is nothing for Se Kyung to look down on her for. In fact, if it wasn’t for Yoon Joo, Se Kyung wouldn’t even have gotten this chance.
Se Kyung goes back to In Chan’s apartment and this time she flashes back to happier times. She and In Chan were working as mascots, which was tiring and backbreaking work. Afterwards In Chan tells Se Kyung that he promises going forward he’ll not let her work so hard and give her a more comfortable life.
Se Kyung gets a call on her phone and the other person doesn’t say anything. She knows its In Chan and says she misses him, calling him an idiot. In Chan is dressed like a construction worker and calling from a phone booth. He starts to cry, which makes Se Kyung cry as well, and soon the both of them are sobbing into the phone. Omo, my heart breaks for them.
Seung Jo gets all dolled up for his revenge dinner with Yoon Joo and GN Fashion. You know, he would be extremely annoying if he weren’t slightly crazy hence I worry about him.
On his way out, he sees Se Kyung asking if In Chan is back at work and begging to the company to give him a chance to explain. Seung Jo asks Se Kyung if In Chan is her boyfriend and how long they’ve been dating? Se Kyung says 6 years. Seung Jo reveals In Chan is deep in debt and has a terrible credit rating, telling Se Kyung to cut her losses now and dump him. That’s what all women would do in her situation, and he would know because he’s an expert in female psychology.
Se Kyung announces that In Chan didn’t steal those irregular bags and he’ll be back to explain. She doesn’t need Seung Jo lecturing her like a know-it-all, when he’s simply the secretary of the President. It’s clear that Seung Jo has never been in love before, so he knows nothing. She swans out leaving Seung Jo sputtering that he has been in love many times!
Before Seung Jo leaves for the dinner party, he meets up with his friend who I think is also his treating psychiatrist. He gets a recorder pen from the guy and assures him it’s all for his treatment. Seung Jo declares that he’s Edmund Dante on his way to start his revenge. Er, you are a blowhard if you think quoting Count of Monte Cristo adds weight to your petty revenge.
President Shin, Yoon Joo, and In Hwa line up to welcome Jean Thierry Cha. The elevator door opens and Seung Jo steps out with his trademark smirk. All the color disappears from Yoon Joo’s face and her mouth drops open.
During dinner, Yoon Joo is hiding her nervously while Seung Jo engages in casual conversation with Yoon Joo’s husband Min Hyuk.
When Yoon Joo goes down to the wine cellar to grab a bottle of wine, Seung Jo follows. Yoon Joo points out that he’s as petty as before, and tells him to not let her lose all she has now. Seung Jo points out she’s as selfish as before, and assures her that he’s not here to let the cat out of the bag. He’s just here to return something to her.
When they return to dinner, Seung Jo claims that he’s also a representative of a jewelry company and gives a present to Yoon Joo, as the wife of his collaboration partner President. Yoon Joo accepts and opens it to see a bracelet inside. Seung Jo purposely shows off the same bracelet on his wrist.
On the drive back home, Seung Jo is chortling with glee in the car. He listens to his recording of the dinner conversation and is thrilled to hear Yoon Joo call him petty and his retort is that she and her husband have to be a toady now to someone as petty as him.
Se Kyung goes to In Chan’s apartment again and this time he comes home at that time. She hugs him tightly and he looks like he’s about to cry.
They move the conversation to the park and In Chan burns the picture memento of them dressed like mascots. He tells her to wake up and accept this reality.
If they work hard they will succeed? He used to believe that. He believed if he worked hard he could marry her, have kids, buy a home, own a car, create a successful future together. But no matter how hard he works, he still ends up with less than he put in. Every month puts him deeper in debt. His mother’s cancer treatment and surgeries are so expensive, and he ended up selling irregular purses just to pay for this last surgery. When she was wheeled out, he didn’t know if he was relieved she survived, or saddened that she didn’t die.
In Chan cries that he wants to give Se Kyung everything but he has nothing to give her. Se Kyung cries with him and apologizes that she kept holding onto their relationship to this point that he had to come out and say such painful things. She really thought working hard was all it took, and they have worked so hard already. He asks to break up again, crying that he will go crazy if she is beside him. It will only make him even more aware of how pathetic he is. They embrace and cry their guts out.
Yoon Joo sits in her room and looks at the bracelet, which has her initials with the last name Cha engraved on it. Seung Jo looks at his bracelet which also has his initials and the last name Cha engraved on it.
Se Kyung goes home and her dad comes in to assure her that the parents will find a way to pay their mortgage debt. Se Kyung is losing faith in the “hard work and you will succeed” motto. Her dad points out that it’s simply something for struggling people to hold onto as a source of hope.
Se Kyung goes to see Yoon Joo the next day and cuts to the chase. She knows Yoon Joo was secretly and unofficially married to another man in France. Yoon Joo asks what Se Kyung wants to blackmail her about? Does Se Kyung want to ruin her?
Se Kyung has no intention of ruining Yoon Joo, since Yoon Joo got all this by hard work. What Se Kyung wants is to blackmail Yoon Joo in teaching her the secrets to marrying rich. She wants to know exactly what hard work Yoon Joo put in to become a rich wife. Yoon Joo stares at Se Kyung like she’s sprouted horns.
I really love the first song off the OST “Shower” by Every Single Day (click here to download). It’s lively and upbeat, a great contrast to how the drama has been surprisingly serious and non-jokey (despite Park Shi Hoo’s crazy antics). I really feel like this drama has now shown me it has potential, so don’t fuck it up, m’kay? Ratings for the first two episodes were around 8.7, with May Queen in the mid-20s now that it’s nearing the end of its run.