Writing this recap (after a break of two months) feels like coming home.
Before I started, I randomly picked a few of the previous recaps and read them in their entirety. As I did, all the old feelings came rushing back. Hwan making me giggle, he an open book of conflicting emotions. Jun-se making me swoon, again and again, his eyes these crystalline pools. Sweet and spunky Eun-sung, caught between the two men who loved her (thus turning me green with envy!) and between her own dreams and fears. Grandma — the heart of the drama — confounding me with her abstrusity and, lately, frightening me with her vulnerability. The witch and her witchling, their sheer desperation holding me transfixed.
Each one I have missed. Watching them again in Episode 24, I am reminded afresh of all the reasons why Brilliant Legacy is one of my favorite dramas this year.
The episode opens with a flashback to how Episode 23 ended: It is morning and Hwan and Eun-sung awake next to each other in Grandma’s hospital room, the first thing they see being each other.
In the few seconds it takes for them to register their surroundings and the events of the previous night (a certain hug, especially), they react like two awkward teens, undoubtedly hoping they didn’t do anything to embarrass themselves (like snoring or sleeping with their mouths agape). Eun-sung wipes away drool that isn’t there. A self-conscious Hwan, knowing how his crowning glory tends to look after a night’s sleep (see Episode 21 for the evidence), pats his hair and silently commands it to “Behave!”
Both then turn to look at Grandma, expecting to see her comatose still. But instead she stares back at them, with a gaze so loving it brings me to tears.
Seven anguish-filled days of not knowing whether she would survive that life-threatening stroke. Seven days of frantic prayers, of all-day and all-night vigils. All of that now forgotten, because Grandma is conscious again!
Hwan and Eun-sung are beside themselves with joy. Miles away, Hwan’s mom and Butler Pyo are so happy they grab each other’s hands and hop up and down like two giddy kids, before she suddenly realizes, red-faced, that she’s still clad in her nightgown.
Later, when he sees Grandma at the hospital, our favorite butler will shed tears (his first in the drama), so overcome with relief and happiness is he. Just as relieved and elated is Hye-ri, poster child for BFF (Best Friends Forever).
Not everyone is delighted, though.
The witch reacts with characteristic venom, irked that Grandma has once again demonstrated that she’s no weakling. All animosity aside, to wish protracted coma or death upon an old lady is surely the height of evil, but nothing that the witch does surprises us now. She will do anything to secure Hwan for her daughter.
Thus she tells Seung-mi, immediately after she learns the news that Grandma is no longer comatose, and later in the episode, as she prepares to execute a most despicable plan:
Even though it’s a wretched shame that Grandma is not vegetative anymore, it doesn’t change the fact that she has Alzheimer’s disease. She can’t lead the company in her senile state. Once Jin Sung Food is out of Grandma’s hands, that troublemaker Eun-sung will have to leave as well. I have set everything in place, so all you need to do is continue sticking to Hwan like a famished leech. If he goes abroad to study, you tag along. Be his doormat or whatever, just go.
“I’ll do your bidding, Mom,” replies her suddenly meek daughter. “Me, too,” says the minion (aka Jun-se’s dad) when they meet to discuss Mutiny She Wrote.
Unaware of the revolt that is about to take place in the company that she built from scratch thirty years ago, Grandma rests in the hospital. Although still frail, she is back to her lucid self. “Go back and wait,” she tells Eun-sung, not explaining what the latter is supposed to wait for.
But this adopted granddaughter, this chosen heir to her inheritance, has come to trust Grandma unwaveringly. So Eun-sung leaves, her heart so full she can scarcely breathe. Nothing, it seems, can wipe the smile off her face, she is that overjoyed.
Back home, she relates to Hye-ri that precise moment when Grandma awoke, but her BFF immediately pounces on the word “we” and demands to know if that meant “he” (The Hwan, who else?) was with Eun-sung the entire time.
How are you going to resolve this love triangle, or rectangle? What are you going to do with Jun-se? Did you forget he’s waiting for your answer regarding the cruise restaurant?
No, Eun-sung has not forgotten, and neither has Jun-se.
We see him now, preparing breakfast in his apartment, a broad smile on his face. Nothing in his expression suggests that he had wept the night before.
As he sets the table for Eun-sung’s dad (who stayed the night after bringing our distraught angel home) and for his own BFF (Bloodsucker Friend Forever, since the freeloader has no intention of ever moving out of Jun-se’s apartment), only a passing mention of “Ahjussi, I hope I didn’t do anything wrong last night” and an overly bright demeanor betray the pain that is still gutting him inside.
(Dear kdrama gods, grant us three wishes, we beg thee. Make Jun-se happy. Make Jun-se happy. Make him hysterically happy, please!)
But the one who caused his suffering (because even an ant bite on their angel equates suffering, and don’t be arguing this point with his army of protective fans, their eyes still puffy from crying along with him in Episode 23) has no idea he is hurting.
When she held Hwan so tightly in her arms, she had no idea Jun-se was watching. If she knew, perhaps she would hold off telling him her decision about the cruise restaurant. But Eun-sung does not know.
The last time they met, when he had escorted her to the hospital and shielded her from an irate Hwan’s mom, she had apologized without giving any reason for the apology. Her heart has never belonged to him, and now that Hwan owns it, it is time for her to tell Jun-se the truth. But he has done so much for her, and has waited all this while for her. How can she bear to hurt him in return? Still, no matter how difficult the telling, she can’t delay the truth any longer. For her and Hwan to move forward, they must break their uncertain ties with Jun-se and Seung-mi, respectively.
So she and Jun-se meet, at his picture-perfect garden café (see also the first image in this recap) where they have met many times before, in happier times. The mood is strained from the start.
Subdued at first as he listens to her reasons for refusing the cruise restaurant opportunity (the restaurant is too far away and she shouldn’t go when she still has not found Eun-woo) and to her offering yet another cryptic apology, he is soon unable to contain himself. His voice breaks as he speaks:
Why must it be Hwan? Of all people, Hwan? He can’t make you happy! Do you know what it’s like to stand on the sidelines all this while, quietly protecting you? To feel anger, but not having the right to be angry. To want to hug you, but not having the right to hug you. Seeing you leave, and not being able to stop you. That kind of powerlessness…
His eyes fill with tears, and so do hers (and ours). There is nothing else to say, so they sit quietly, she wiping away her tears, he staring at her, his face wan. Years from now, will they remember this moment, this lowest point in their relationship?
Earlier, the same day that Grandma awoke from her coma, Seung-mi had returned to the hospital, ushered in by an adoring Hwan’s mom. The witchling is ill at ease, unnerved by Grandma’s penetrating gaze.
Hwan’s mom gushes about how Seung-mi had spent the whole night with Hwan, the two of them watching over Grandma. Listening, the lizards in the room snigger, because they know that ain’t it! Seung-mi even fed us all, Hwan’s mom continues, and this time the lizards have to concede the half-truth (half because Hwan didn’t eat but the rest did).
I’ll send Seung-mi home, Hwan tells Grandma, but the witchling is immediately afraid because she knows what he’s going to tell her and she’s not ready to hear it. But since she is standing right there in front of him, she can’t feign illness this time (unlike in Episode 22).
And so we have the first of the two breakup scenes in this episode, although both sets of “couples” were never officially dating.
But whereas Jun-se and Eun-sung have known each other for only a few months, Hwan and Seung-mi have eight years of history behind them. Although he never declared his feelings for her, she had always thought of themselves as a couple. With each passing year her attachment to him had deepened, until he became her everything. With her mother’s egging, she saw herself as his bride; it was unthinkable to imagine anyone else owning his heart.
To hear his words now — his admission that he likes Eun-sung and believes her innocent of the charges leveled by Seung-mi and her mom — is like free-falling into a bottomless pit. She claws desperately at the sides, but still she falls, her screams echoing in the pit and rising to a crescendo, shrill and mocking. So this is what dying feels like.
Oppa, you are so selfish. All the years that we have spent together, our memories of shared birthdays and Christmases, looking after you when you were sick, waiting for you as you studied abroad, becoming a person who can’t live without you… Now you are casting me aside because of Go Eun-sung? Why don’t you just let me die?
(In an episode filled with stupendous acting, Moon Chae-won is magnificent in this scene. No one cries more naturally in this drama than her, although Jun-se is a close second. Her pain is so palpable, it’s impossible not to hurt with her, regardless of how much we loathe what she’s becoming under her mother’s relentless tutelage. Lesser actors have found more limelight, why not the more deserving Moon Chae-won? She’s way overdue for a lead role, c’mon!)
When life is no longer worth living, does pride matter? Thus a despondent Seung-mi stuns Eun-sung by showing up at her house. Save me, she begs. If you aren’t here, Hwan will not leave me. If he leaves me for you, I will kill myself!
What are you to me? Eun-sung replies.
Her response is cold but not totally unfeeling. In the end she cries, too, because Seung-mi’s despair parallels Jun-se’s pain. Why must happiness for her and Hwan come at such cost?
But then she touches the pendant that he gave to her (unaware that he is thinking of her that precise moment, as he wanders in her vacant room in Grandma’s house, touching her table, missing her), and her heart returns to that place of calm. What is Seung-mi but yet another obstacle for her to overcome? Whatever happens from now on, she and Hwan will face it together.
And indeed, compared to Seung-mi’s hysteria, the crisis that is about to engulf them all will sorely test our couple’s every resolve.
Just before she is discharged from the hospital, Grandma is visited by Jun-se’s dad, bearer of ill tidings:
The company is facing mounting cash flow problems, what with the bad press about the president of the company having dementia and planning to hand over the reins to a young outsider with zilch experience running a firm, and the expansion plans into the East Sea region eating into the company’s coffers. Thus, I, being the No. 2 man at Jin Sung Food (and the No. 1 saboteur), have prudently resorted to buying cheaper supplies, at least for two months until we can resolve this (manufactured) quandary.
Grandma is outraged. Cheap equals inferior. If the beef soup no longer tastes the same, it isn’t the famed Jin Sung beef soup anymore. Isn’t that equivalent to breaking the company’s promise to its customers that it will always serve them the best?
Sell my shares. Do whatever it takes to solve our financial problems, but don’t you dare compromise on the quality of our beef soup!
But it’s too late; the mutiny is already underway.
Galvanized by the witch’s chief minion, the main shareholders have been manipulating the market, first dumping Jin Sung shares in order to create the impression of a company in dire straits, and then secretly buying them back so as to gain enough ammunition for their next move: a majority takeover. On the pretext that she is ill and
should retire forever needs time to recuperate, they plan to call for an extraordinary meeting to dismiss Grandma from the helms of the company.
The dark clouds are gathering, but as yet the family has no inkling of the severity of the storm ahead.
Concerned at how much the company’s share prices have dropped, Hwan sees Jun-se’s dad outside the hospital room and tells him that he was about to look for him at the Jin Sung head office. I wanted to ask if you knew why the share prices are falling and what we are going to do about funds, he says.
But the conniving one gives a non-answer, only telling Hwan that Grandma is in the know and that Hwan need not worry. Perturbed, Hwan’s attention is temporarily diverted by the doctor’s happy pronouncement that Grandma is well enough to go home. She will still need monthly CT scans and must not allow herself to go hungry and risk fainting again.
What if she wants to work? asks Hwan, smiling at his own joke and at the sudden realization that he, Grandma and Mom are all wearing matching colors. How uncanny.
That’s okay, replies the doc, just don’t let her overwork.
And so she returns, to the mansion that she had built for her daughter-in-law and grandchildren (and the Hwanlets to come). From the butler she finds out that everyone now knows about her dementia. It was Hwan who persisted in wanting to know, he tells her.
Ah, so it was Hwan. How good to survive a life-and-death ordeal just to learn how much her grandson cares about her and how he has matured.
Speaking of the grandson, he has retired to his room and is moping about, wondering why his girlfriend hasn’t called or returned his phone messages. Are her fingers broken? Call me now, Go Eun-sung!
Don’t worry, Hwannie. Your sweetheart’s fingers are perfectly fine. She isn’t going anywhere without you, so fret not. How can you be a cool boyfriend (and future husband) if you are always out of sorts when your love is out of sight? She’s merely drained from all that has happened. You had one weepy Seung-mi to contend with, but she had Seung-mi AND Jun-se. If you must know, scores of first-person accounts confirm that, unless one is a block of wood, it’s impossible to face a crying Jun-se and remain dry-eyed and unmoved. Eun-sung is no exception. She is giving you and herself time apart until things are more settled. Relax!
But things aren’t going to be settled at any time soon. A stink sweeps into Grandma’s house the next day, disguised as Director Park.
Pretending to be just as befuddled by the rapid turn of events, he informs the family that the board of directors plan a referendum to dismiss Grandma as head of Jin Sung Food.
The minor shareholders instigated it and then the major shareholders joined, too. Because I have some shares, not a lot, I received the notification. Of course I was instantly worried and ran here at once to tell you. But perhaps it’s just as well, because your health isn’t good and you deserve a long rest, President.
Mission accomplished, the traitor leaves, jubilant at how easy things have been so far. Leave Grandma and the rest reeling, but at the same time let them think he’s on their side, ha! They will wait passively for him to act, not realizing he will indeed act but not for them. How pleased she (the witch) is going to be; perchance their relationship might then move beyond chaste lunches?
But Hwan isn’t the same Hwan that the director has seen growing up. This Hwan now appears suddenly at the head office, angry and confrontational.
You can’t do this! That’s my grandma! Do you know what the company means to her?
It’s your fault, Hwan. You allowed the girl to snatch Grandma’s company away.
With the no-confidence referendum looming the next day, there’s no time to lose. Bumping into Seung-mi as he leaves the head office, Hwan asks if she can smuggle the company’s accounts out so that he can check why Jin Sung is facing such acute financial problems so abruptly. I’m in the finance department, so that’s a piece of cake, she answers.
(I’ve mentioned this before and I can’t help reiterating it here, but Hwan and Seung-mi have such a comfy relationship. We have seen how easily Hwan can blow his top, but somehow around Seung-mi his volcano becomes dormant. In spite of their emotional “breakup” — more emotional for her than for him — there is no awkwardness when they meet again. His “How have you been?” is sincere, while she, on her part, is clearly glad to see him. It does not seem too forward, therefore, for him to seek her help about the company’s accounts.)
Their conversation over, Hwan is walking away from Seung-mi when Eun-sung calls (finally!) and asks him to get over to the second branch at once.
Hearing her voice (how he had missed her), Hwan can’t fly over fast enough. But when he arrives, our silly boy becomes Mr. Cool Guy, striding up the steps slowly, hands in his pocket. His eyes can’t pretend to be as nonchalant, though; just see how he smiles and how lovingly he gazes at her!
In contrast, Eun-sung is shy and uncomfortable, unsure of what to do with her hands and what to say. Thus the first thing that comes out of her mouth is the standard Asian greeting: Have you eaten?
Amused, he replies in the affirmative, still smiling, still acting cool. Hurry, she says, everyone is waiting for you.
And so, just like old times, when they were brainstorming ways to raise sales at the second branch, the four of them (Hwan, Eun-sung, Manager Lee and Seo-jin) now deliberate the fastest ways to raise the company’s funds.
If the directors at tomorrow’s meeting can see that the company’s finances aren’t so dire and that the employees support President Jang (Grandma), then they might vote against the referendum. Eun-sung offers her suggestion first (a most drastic one, too) and the rest quickly follow suit.
Cut salaries by a third. Encourage employees who own shares to turn over these shares to the company. Meet one to one with the directors to persuade them. Rally all the employees by asking representatives from each branch to gather at the factory; it’s quicker to speak to them en masse that way.
Their ideas in place, they leap into action.
Hwan leaves first in order to reach the factory early. (Taming of the Hwan has been so successful, we can barely remember the last time we saw him driving a car; it’s second nature now for him to zip everywhere by public transport.)
In a lovely scene that speaks volumes of her love for him, as he runs down the stairs, Eun-sung’s hand reaches out to touch the glass pane behind him. We’re counting on you, she whispers.
Just then, she is struck by another idea. Why not videotape Hwan’s speech at the factory so that it can be uploaded onto the company’s website? That way, all the employees (and not just the representatives) can hear his appeal and support Grandma.
But I don’t have a camcorder, says Manager Lee. I do, says a voice behind Eun-sung.
(I don’t know about you, but my heart just stopped at Jun-se’s sudden appearance. Wait, it didn’t stop, it practically somersaulted out of my rib cage. Aww… what a sweetie he is!)
To understand why Jun-se is at the second branch, we must backtrack a little.
After learning about the referendum (most likely from Jung, who is still working at his café), Jun-se calls his dad. He demands to know what is going on, but the older Park simply replies that Grandma is old and nobody wants her to head the company. He then cuts off the conversation.
Compared to Hwan and Seung-mi’s meeting earlier, it is obvious from their body language that Jun-se and Eun-sung are uncomfortable in the other’s presence. The poor thing sits like a nervous student facing a headmaster, his head down, hands clenched, knees together.
Take my camcorder. Let me drive you to the factory, too. No, don’t decline. This isn’t about us, so please do not feel burdened.
Eun-sung and Jun-se arrive at the factory and see that dozens of the employee representatives have already gathered. She edges to the front, filming everything. Jun-se is not with her and we presume he has left quietly.
Hwan begins to address the crowd, greeting them and introducing himself as President Jang’s grandson. The murmurs immediately start. Isn’t that the scoundrel who threw money at the manager and even punched him on his first day of work?
Yes, I was that bastard. That’s the reason Grandma gave up on me and chose all of you instead.
The company isn’t mine nor is it yours alone; it belongs to all 1173 employees of Jin Sung Food. Grandma values you more than her own family, because YOU are her family. Help us convince the shareholders not to drive Grandma out. If she is driven away, all the thirty years that she invested in the company will be gone. She is still sorting out what is best for the company. Do not abandon her, but help her instead. Please do not let Grandma feel all alone!
Can I tell you how much I love Hwan (and Lee Seung-gi) in this scene?
In the previous episode and in this one my heart hurt for Jun-se, yes. But only one character in the drama makes my heart swell with pride repeatedly and it is Hwan. From money-throwing royal jerk to this man, bowed and tearful, eating humble pie before a skeptical crowd, their condemnation of him ringing in his ears.
But so heartfelt is his appeal the crowd can’t help but be swayed, especially when dear Manager Lee walks up to Hwan’s side and tells the audience that he was the one that Hwan kicked, and that he now believes in Hwan, “a friend.”
It starts with “I’ll donate 90 shares!” and soon others follow. When Eun-sung uploads the video onto the company’s homepage, more employees come forward with their shares. We have secured 60% and by tomorrow we’ll have 70%, Hwan tells Grandma.
I did not live in vain, she replies, beaming.
That night, Seung-mi enters the empty Jin Sung head office and manages to retrieve the confidential company accounts. She is shocked to see how Jun-se’s dad has cooked the books, squirreling away money in order to buy more shares in Jun-se’s name (thus making his son a main shareholder without his knowledge). He has also deliberately under-declared the amount of funds that the company has, thus deceiving Grandma into thinking the company is floundering when it really isn’t.
Remembering her mom’s words to follow Hwan to the ends of the earth, she calls him and lies that she could not find the accounts. She then arranges to meet Jun-se, the latter still staggering under the enormity of what his father had just told him (the same things that Seung-mi discovered, and more).
If the truth is never exposed, your dad will be safe, Grandma will lose the company, and Hwan will lose Eun-sung. Isn’t that a win-win deal for us?
Even if Eun-sung leaves, that does not mean Hwan will like you. (Ouch.)
Seung-mi’s obsession with Hwan is the least of Jun-se’s worries. Even his own heartbreak over Eun-sung has momentarily receded. Only two things are of immediate (and overwhelming) concern:
His dad asking him to vote against Grandma at tomorrow’s referendum.
His dad threatening to kill himself if he refuses.
How unfair of the (kdrama) gods to force him to choose! Hadn’t he gone through the wringer enough? Grandma isn’t just his father’s boss, she is like his own grandma. To vote for her dismissal from a company that is her very life? But refusing means subjecting his father to criminal charges and possibly even losing him, if the dad’s threats of suicide are real.
No one sleeps fitfully that night, except maybe the witch and her minion. Hwan tells Grandma: If you’re dismissed, don’t fall apart.
(How moving his words. Preparing his grandmother for the worst, and assuring her that it isn’t the end of the world should the worst happen. She will still have him, and Eun-sung, and all the people who love her.)
D-Day dawns. Dressed all in black (and she looks splendid!), perhaps as a sign that dark forces colluded to bring about this blighted spot in the company’s history, Grandma arrives at the meeting venue.
The meeting begins and Saboteur Park starts to sweat. Why isn’t Jun-se here yet? The minutes pass (and it’s weird how the meeting can’t proceed without Very Important Shareholder) and the dad sweats and fidgets some more, his behavior catching Grandma’s eyes. Ants got into his pants?
Then, the doors swing open (with theatrical flourish) and in walks Jun-se. His dad sighs with relief. Me? I just sigh, period, unable to believe the vision of loveliness floating before me.
Glum has never looked this gorgeous.