It’s a sweet sort of agony, watching a drama you love while it’s still airing. And it’s even more agonizing when you can tell that said beloved drama hasn’t fully found its footing or seems to be wavering due to internal or external factors. It’s the case with Heartstrings. I was ready to love it long before it started airing because of the theme and cast. The first extended trailer made me giddy with anticipation. And then episode one hit the airwaves and I was hooked. Episode two further cemented my loyalty to it. I began that oh so familiar drama addict dance of hunting down previews, speculating and dreading certain plot twists and then savoring the episode like the first drop of rain after a week in the desert. Such is the life of the drama lover. It comes complete with procrastination and distraction from work, daydreaming, countless celebrity crushes and a fair share of stares from non-addict folk.
Heartstrings had made its way into my life and I was happy. Even though episode 3 felt somewhat empty, episode four more than made up for it with bantering cuteness and sparkling chemistry. Episode five took a turn towards Angstville and in episode six, it felt like we were there to stay, storm cloud in tow. Episode six scared me, not because of what happened during its 60-something minutes, but because of what I knew COULD happen with the rest of the show because of the groundwork it laid. I can handle the angst. I can handle the heroine of the story feeling weak and disconcerted, forgetting herself for a while in the name of love, being foolish, being naïve, being young. What I can’t handle is having the production team promise me something and not delivering. Sketching a character who is strong, cheerful, determined and aware of her own worth and then having her turn into a clingy, blubbering mess who can’t take a hint felt out of character. And I hate it when a drama sets up its feminine character as strong and cool and then makes her do a 180 degree turn into crocodile tear-dom, because it feels like they were just trying to make her look cool so that we’d like her/connect to her/admire her and then turn her into this weakling that fits the in-need-of-rescuing bill. So needless to say, I was worried that Kyu Won was heading down the path of heroines who never knew they were needy until they found a prince to be needy of. And then, in comes episode 7, which totally saves the day.
If I could title it Episode 7: In Which Kyu Won Gets Her Spine Back, or, you know, The Little Episode that Could, I would. I really, really would. And in retrospect, I don’t mind episode six at all anymore. Quite the contrary. Because angst, and tears and losing of one’s self are very satisfying if what you find on the other side is character growth and story advancement and respect for the characters and the viewers. I was afraid the turn the show was taking was down a very steep cliff, but fortunately, as far as I am concerned, that little angst-filled episode landed us exactly where we were supposed to be getting. Kyu Won back to her self (not her old self though, her older, wiser self, which I LOVE) and the rest of the characters beginning the formation of the real love triangle, with Kyu Won at its center. Yes, I am giddy. So much so that I’m not even that heartbroken over not getting another installment this week. The day has been saved, it’s time to rejoice and obsess over the next episode and the goodies it’ll bring.
The episode opens with Kyu Won fleeing the scene after witnessing Lee Shin crying in the arms of the dance professor.
She calls him a fool, crying her eyes out as he sits alone, lost in thought but in a better mood than earlier. Say what you will about his acting, but the boy sure looks pretty on camera. Sometimes that’s enough.
They both get home soaked by the rain, both carrying the events of the day with them. While Kyu Won seems drained and resigned, Shin has come to better terms with his side of things, and even asks his mother about why she fell for his father even though she was already seeing someone. His mother explains how fascinating it was that his father would become immersed in the music he was making, so much so that he became that music, and continues by saying Shin is the same when he plays. She also says she has no regret about the past because that’s how Shin came to be, which seems to put him at ease. This looks to me like a recurring question in the drama so far, asking why one loves a person or what about them they love. Shin’s answer when Yoon Soo asked him this – everything – was very telling. While I don’t think she was right saying all he felt for her was a pity mistaken for love, the nature of his answer revealed that he still had a lot to learn about the emotion he professed to feel. I think he began to understand more when his mother told him about her feelings for his father. And I’m pretty sure that when he will realize he loves Kyu Won, he will be able to tell (her) why. I’m rather looking forward to that.
The next day in school, he heads for YoonSoo’s office and wants to drop off the umbrella she had lent him, but as he is leaving it in front of the door, he bumps into Suk Hyun and decides to give it to him instead. If the passing of the torch, err, umbrella wasn’t enough, to make things clearer, he asks the director to take care of Yoon Soo. I’d probably feel worse about it (Shin obviously seems to) had the story between Shin and Yoon Soo not been such a downer, had I seen a glimmer of hope, a spark of fun in their interactions, anything other than a mellow sympathy for his puppy-loveish attempts.
Yoon Soo and the director talk about Shin and the occurrence the other night, and the director remarks on how Shin may act cool but is still a kid inside. Yoon Soo teases him about being the same way back in college and that prompts Seok Hyun to boast that he can still pass for a 20-something guy, to which Yoon Soo eventually concedes. Much as I love Seok Hyun’s character (I have decided he is my favorite so far) and his childishness, I have to say that while seeing Yoon Soo smile and poke fun at her boyfriend should feel better than her being all wounded all the time, something feels terribly off. Is it that the two don’t have much chemistry or that they are intentionally trying to send off a disconnected vibe? Like despite being together, they still haven’t worked through the deeper issues in their relationship? Either way, seeing these two chatting happily, engaged in cute couple interaction feels juuust a tiny bit unnatural/forced. But maybe that’s just me.
Elsewhere, Kyu Won’s friends ask Shin if he had run into her the other day, as she had been looking for him. He answers no and is unaffected when they tell him she had caught a cold after getting soaked by the rain. His interest perks, however, when he conveniently overhears Kyu Won’s friends talk about the necklace she had been looking for. He goes to the relaxation area and looks around, imagining Kyu Won looking for the necklace. Yes, it’s okay to feel bad now, pretty boy.
Shin gets asked to rearrange the ending theme of the musical by blending in traditional music. He voices some concerns about his knowledge of traditional music, but not being one to step away from a challenge, he says yes. His professor reassures him and tells him that the traditional music professor had offered to help.
On his way home, he pauses in front of Kyu Won’s house, thinking about her. When the brat sister suggests some further exploitation of his slave, he tells her that Kyu Won isn’t his slave anymore and that she’s sick anyway. Aw.
The next day, Kyu Won returns to school and meets Shin to give him his necklace back. She tells him she won’t care about how he feels or whether he’s hurting anymore. She turns to leave but remembers something so she tells him she’s sorry about his father, not that her words are any comfort to him. Knowing how much she wanted to comfort him the other day and how painful it was to her not being able to, her saying that breaks my heart. He calls her name and thanks her. She remarks, somewhat bitterly, that it was the first time he was calling her by her name.
She walks around campus so lost in thought that she doesn’t even see Suk Hyun as she passes him by. He can’t have that so he asks her to get coffee and while they’re at it, he asks her to audition for the lead role, but she refuses. However, director-nim takes a few pages out of the Lee Shin School of Persuasion and tells her that she only need participate in the audition so that Hee Joo doesn’t audition alone, even though she stands no chance in winning. Reverse psychology. So simple. So effective. Love it.
The director announces his decision to hold an audition to his crew to mixed reactions. The bespectacled conspirator aka drama professor has a particularly hard time digesting the idea and gathers his minion(so far I’ve only seen the one) to concoct some evil ploy. At this point, I don’t really care what the guy is up to because it’s obvious he’s only there as a plot device and I’m fine with it.
Elsewhere, Hee Joo tries to be a bitch to KiYoung, but gets it thrown back in her face. I love that she is so incompetent at the evil witch thing, though not for lack of trying. JoonHee gets there just as KiYoung is walking away and he warns HeeJoo not to cheat on him. He exclaims that he can take anything, but not cheating! Don’t worry, she’s as loyal to you as when you first began.
Meanwhile, Kyu Won gets called to the professor’s office only to find Shin there. Apparently the help the traditional music professor was offering consisted of volunteering Kyu Won for the job. Predictable, yes, but no less awkward. And painful, I would think. Shin actually empathizes with how Kyu Won might feel and offers to ask his professor to let her off the hook, but Kyu Won says she’s fine tutoring him since they see each other in practice anyway.
She also points out that this is her territory he is treading on and that he better watch out, or something to that effect. She goes on about the depth of gugak and how he might not be adept at understanding it, but he interrupts saying that if they are planning to go to the library, she was going the wrong way. Awkward reloaded.
She takes his education in the ways of gugak very seriously, perhaps too much so, and hands him a small mountain worth of books. He tries protesting but she doesn’t budge, saying it’s the way to learning the basics of gugak, not without a dash of satisfaction. Eventually she concedes that the tomes she picked out might suffice for the day, as he wonders whether she’s doing it on purpose or not. The down side to making someone wear a clown suit, fix your bike, clean your practice room and fetch you coffee every morning is that said actions might one day bite you in the arse. Paranoia, gotta love it.
Kyu Won suggests that Stupid and the girls practice together so they can get a feel of the sound and walks off, her expression changing as she steps out of his visual range. Being that close to him and keeping up a strong front isn’t easy, but I love her for it.
The piece the two groups play together is amazing. I wish there were more of them because the traditional instruments mix so well with the rock songs. Moar! The performance is also the scene of some pretty intent staring, from both Shin and Kyu Won, which is somewhat surprising, considering how “indifferent” Shin claims to be.
Kyu Won’s dad visits her in school and for a moment there I think he will meet Shin and realize who’s son his daughter is crushing on, but I guess they are saving this conflict for later, as he is only there to show some encouragement for the audition and say he would be proud to see her on stage as the lead. Well, I have to say, as far as absentee fathers go, he’s a pretty decent fellow.
The director asks who wants to officially audition for the lead female role. Hee Joo and Kyu Won both enlist. The three drama students that serve no other purpose than to show Hee Joo isn’t the only female studying drama in that entire arts college(does bitchiness run in the department?) complain to the director for not being able to audition for the title role so he tells them he has something very special in store for them. When they ask what it is, he tells them he will make them scene stealers, which they think to be a great opportunity and instantly snap into fan mode. I don’t know what is greater, his mischievousness/immaturity or their naiveté, but the scene was hilarious none the less. I love every scene Seok Hyun is in, even the ones he shares with the bespectacled conspirator and which would otherwise mostly be fast forward material.
That evening, Shin studies gugak and works on the song while Kyu Won searches for a song for the audition. Next day after practice, someone suggests going out to have dinner. Kyu Won begins to excuse herself, which prompts Shin to say he isn’t going, which in turn prompts Kyu Won to accept. When Shin realizes she wasn’t going home after all (were you planning on resuming your stalkerish ways with another target, old chap?), he changes his mind and joins them. What follows is a series of fun/funny exchanges, a short yet memorable duel over food.
Shin warns Kyu Won about eating too fast but she says she always eats like that so he should mind his own business or something to that effect, only cuter. Except later on, when they go to a Karaoke place, she gets sick, and he follows her and taps her back as she throws up. I know it’s a pretty common occurrence in Korean dramas to have one’s back tapped when throwing up, but what Shin does looks like more like an affectionate caress than a vigorous tap on the back, and that melts me wee heart into butter. That Shin right there is a Shin I could really grow to love. Who knew a scene that involved puking would be one of my favorites from the entire episode?
Shin plays the gentleman to the end and walks her to the bus station and they have a heart to heart about her reasons for participating in the audition. I now understand why things with Shin had to go this way. It felt sudden for her to fall for him so hard and so fast, but if she hadn’t, if she hadn’t been so hurt by his lack of reciprocation, if she hadn’t decided to let go of her feelings for him, she and we never would have known whether she was so into the show because she really loved it or because Shin was a part of it. But now things are clear and we know she is doing it for herself, in order to hold on to something that makes her happy and that infused passion into something she was already finding a little tiring, the gayageum. In retrospect, I am glad things turned out this way.
The bus is there and she gets on, bidding him goodbye and thanking him. But surprise surprise, Shin gets on the bus as well. Exit the prince of conceit; enter the prince of mixed signals.
Another stare fest follows, even though by this point Kyu Won is seriously confused as to what he is doing and why, and with good reason. I love this new Shin with this newfound goofiness. It’s not full blown yet because neither are the emotions causing it, but something is definitely going on, and it’s really fun to watch.
Kyu Won gets home to find all hell broken loose. While she was away, grandpa had found out all about the show and its blasphemous non-gugak-ness and is now set on reminding her that she is his granddaughter and as such, keeper of the gugak. No wavering allowed. Shin walks past her house and overhears grandpa giving Kyu Won an earful but there isn’t much he can do at that point.
The day of the audition, everyone is making bets and preparing. Suk Hyun even calls a press conference to use some of his Broadway stardom in helping the audition go smoothly. This doesn’t sit well with his foe, but hey, only one of them has been to Broadway so it’s 1-0 for team SukHyun.
Hearing that Kyu Won has been sequestered by her grandfather, Shin rushes to Kyu Won’s house, but the director has already beaten him to it. However, the director’s approach doesn’t seem to be working with grumpy ol’ grandpa so he decides to head back to the audition, not before Shin gets to ask him what time the audition starts. The answer is 20 minutes. Not a lot to come up with a plan and execute it. Luckily, the spoiled brat of a sister happens to be around and for once, makes herself useful by tricking gramps and springing Kyu Won out of her room-turned detention facility. Shin is waiting outside and tells her to get on his bike, which she proceeds to do, to the discontentment of her grandfather. He whisks her away, like a prince on a white stallion, except his is a white bike, which really puts the EFFORT into putting in the effort, if you think about it. Vaguely out of breath, Shin delivers Kyu Won to the steps of the audition hall.
While Shin and Kyu Won were rushing to get to the audition, Hee Joo was singing and impressing everyone in attendance. It’s a decent performance but really nothing to write home about. But I find that to be true about everything Hee Joo does, which is why I don’t get the hype about her character so whatever.
It now occurs to me why so much time was spent on JoonHee and HeeJoo so early in the series. It didn’t feel like it then, it almost felt like a distraction from the main characters of the drama, but now that Shin’s echoed his band mate’s hospital escape, and the motivation of JoonHee’s actions is well established, we don’t have to be math geniuses to put 2 and 2 together. Ding dong! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Of course, Shin is lacking in those basic math skills, but he has been heroic enough today for us to let that slide.
However, he is visibly touched by her performance, a lot like she was when she first heard him sing “Because I Miss You”.
Turns out that despite captivating everyone in attendance, Kyu Won isn’t the winner of the audition. It matters naught because everyone jumps to cheer her up as if she were, while Hee Joo is left on stage alone.
What now, you ask? Well, Shin offers Kyu Won a ride home claiming to worry about grandpa’s fury. Really? That’s all you’ve got? Smooth. She refuses, just in time for the director to offer his assistance smoothing things over with the old man too.
The last scene of the episode is one of my favorite so far. “What are you, her manager?” the director asks Shin. Oh, it’s on. It’s SO on. Neither of the two guys fully realize it yet, but we know better. We can smell the passive aggressiveness a mile away. The truce be damned, it referred to someone else anyway. Where Kyu Won is concerned, the gauntlet has been thrown and I can’t wait to see these two battle it out. I love it.
I think part of why Shin has been following Kyu Won has to do with a sense of responsibility, and empathy, but it’s more than that. It’s been established long ago that the way to this boy’s heart is through the tear ducts, it’s why he fell for the ballerina in the first place, but the empathy he feels for Kyu Won is different, there’s a sense of camaraderie to it. They are both feeling the same thing, and even though he was the cause for her feeling this way, she is the only one who truly understands how he is feeling. The song she sang was as much about her as it was about him and I think she sang it as much to herself as she did to him. I think Shin has always liked Kyu Won, not necessarily as a romantic interest because he was too caught up in the ballerina maze to see anything else, but as a person, as a musician, as a friend. She was someone that made him smile, someone he loved to tease, one of the few he didn’t mind as a companion. To see that person in the same pain he is in, well, that has to strike a chord. Not because she’s someone who is in pain but because the person in pain is her. And I am so glad this episode brought us here.