Secret (aka Secret Love, which is apparently its English title) premiered a good three or four weeks ago but I’ve only just got around to actually watching it – thus, the batch recap of the first six episodes. I should be recapping it fairly regularly from this point on, though, because it is a show I’m both watching and enjoying… well, sort of.
I say ‘sort of’, because I feel vaguely guilty whenever I do watch, like I probably shouldn’t be enjoying the drama yet can’t help myself, any more than I can help my melo addiction. (Yes, I admit it; I believe my extensive exposure to soap operas as a child is to blame, but that’s a discussion for a different day and probably a different forum.)
This is going to be the cliffs-notes, “Here’s what you missed on…” version, so hang on to your hats – this recap is going to zoom by faster than Superman on a caffeine high.
On with the show…
Kang Yoo Jung (Hwang Jung Eum) is your typical hard-working Candy, the sort of girl who’s had a hard life and suffered losses (both monetary and emotional), but perseveres with a song in her heart and a smile on her face. Her father owns a bakery and improving on her skills and becoming a baker in her own right is her dream – that, and marrying her long-time boyfriend, Ahn Do Hoon (Bae Soo Bin).
He’s just made prosecutor and though at first idealistic, quickly loses that pep when he discovers the corruption and powerlessness of his peers. He’s been gearing up to propose to Yoo Jung, despite his mother’s protests (Yoo Jung isn’t from a monied family and so isn’t good enough, never mind that she supported the family financially through Do Hoon’s studies). He does care about her, but you get the sense that he’s no longer in love with her and is marrying her more out of a sense of obligation than any real desire to be with her.
Our hero is Jo Min Hyuk (Ji Sung), a spoiled, possessive man-child who spends his nights partying and his days languishing over his lost love, Ji Hee. The two had been in rather a serious relationship and, though he claimed he’d marry her, when it came down to a choice between introducing her to his father (and possibly losing his inheritance) and maintaining the status quo, he chose the latter. A heartbroken Ji Hee disappeared and he’s been searching for her ever since.
The fourth corner of our love quadrangle is completed by Shin Se Yeon (Lee Da Hee), an heiress who’s been unofficially engaged to Min Hyuk (and secretly in love with him) for years. She’s an artist of some renown and despite her mask of indifference, longs for love and – perhaps more significantly – respect.
Our OTP first meet when Yoo Jung takes on a side job as a substitute driver (think: Na Na in City Hunter) and refuses to cater to a drunken Min Hyuk. When he nearly kills them both by taking the wheel to chase after a woman he thinks might be Ji Hee, she loses it and throws his car keys over the side of a bridge.
Their second meeting is no less auspicious and involves Se Yeon, whom he’s just picked up from the airport with orders from his reviled stepmother, In Joo, to finally put a ring on her finger. Said ring is custom-made and ridiculously flashy, but even that isn’t enough to tempt Se Yeon, who knows he doesn’t actually want to marry her. She refuses, barely even glancing at the ring and so, when they pull up to a toll booth and Min Hyuk recognises Yoo Jung as the toll booth operator, he playfully tells her to take the ring instead of money. She protests but doesn’t have much choice in the matter as he flings the ring box at her and takes off.
As for their third meeting… well, there’s actual physical violence involved, but we’ll get to that a bit later.
The ring serves as a cruel reminder to Yoo Jung that her boyfriend, even after fulfilling his dream of becoming a prosecutor, seems to not want to marry her…. or does he? One dark and stormy night, Do Hoon proposes and whilst driving her back home (in her car), avoids a collision with a truck and crashes through a number of barriers, one of which is a human being: Ji Hee. Do Hoon gets out to check the damage, sees Ji Hee’s body, and decides that he’s worked too hard to give it all up for an accident. Shaken, he tells Yoo Jung that it was nothing and decides he’ll just get rid of the car.
Naturally, she decides it’d be cheaper to simply get it fixed… and this is where the trouble begins.
Min Hyuk finds Ji Hee mere moments before she dies of her injuries and discovers that she was pregnant. This only serves to fuel his rage and his determination to make those responsible for killing her and their unborn child pay. Thanks to a security camera in the vicinity of the accident, the detectives narrow their suspect pool and as the car is registered in Yoo Jung’s name and the damage consistent with this sort of accident, she’s number 1 on their list.
When Yoo Jung learns the truth – and realises that Do Hoon knew all along that he’d killed a woman – she decides to take the fall for him, because she has nothing to lose and he, everything, which is wrong on so many levels but is at least consistent with her character, so there’s that.
She hands herself in to the police and it’s here that Min Hyuk finds her and tries to resolve matters as he usually does: with physical aggression.
As luck would have it, Do Hoon is the prosecutor in charge of the case – which ends up being a pretty bad thing when Min Hyuk hears of his relationship with Yoo Jung. He blackmails Do Hoon into pushing for the maximum sentence: five years in prison.
So off Yoo Jung heads to a correctional facility, where she becomes ill and is diagnosed with an acute case of pregnancy. She has the baby (a boy, whom she names San), to the dismay of most of her cellmates – one of whom, Dan Bal, is particularly antagonistic. But she’s not the one to fear: it’s the woman Yoo Jung comes to trust as a friend (Hye Jin) who betrays her at the worst possible moment.
As Yoo Jung waits to hear the results of her parole hearing, she takes a meeting with Min Hyuk, who menaces her without ever really telling her why he hates her so much. Though I’m sure Min Hyuk enjoys threatening and intimidating Yoo Jung, it’s really a diversion to give Hye Jin enough time to beat poor little San black and blue. The authorities, of course, believe Yoo Jung to be the abuser and when they take the boy away, there’s an altercation and Yoo Jung’s shoulder ends up badly burned by an iron.
Meanwhile Min Hyuk, although determined to take away everything and everyone she loves, can’t really do all that much while she’s behind bars. He does what he can with what little he has (ha) and has San removed from her care, her parole (presumably. it really isn’t made clear.) denied and then proceeds to use Do Hoon – who believes no-one knows the truth of his relationship with Yoo Jung – to push the knife in that little bit deeper, and to compromise both Do Hoon’s moral integrity and the couple’s trust in one another.
The day of her release finally arrives and Yoo Jung walks out into the sunshine, fully expecting Do Hoon to take her to San. Only it seems that in the short time San was entrusted to Do Hoon, he somehow… died. Yoo Jung is inconsolable and even Min Hyuk, watching her tearful collapse from the comfort of his car, is not unaffected by her grief.
Nevertheless, he proceeds with his plan to ruin her life, which seems to largely consist of forcing her to interact with Do Hoon, and then pointedly alluding to their relationship, but just vaguely enough that neither one actually suspects he knows the truth. It… is not a very sophisticated plan, but does succeed in making both Yoo Jung and Do Hoon uncomfortable, which I suppose is Min Hyuk’s intention.
One thing he seems to have underestimated is his own interest in Yoo Jung on a personal level, highlighted by his saving her firstly from debt collectors (though he does admittedly then tell her he’s bought her bakery-slash-home and that she’s to vacate the premises within a week) and then ‘loaning’ her the money for her father’s operation.
A little backstory on that: her father had been having headaches for a while and when Yoo Jung was arrested, he collapsed. I assume he had either an aneurysm or a stroke (it isn’t specifically stated) as when she’s released from jail, her father has regressed to a childhood state. She’s told he needs brain surgery and as she doesn’t have the money, she resorts to selling Min Hyuk’s ring.
The sale of the custom-made (and very expensive) ring brings her to the attention of Min Hyuk’s eeeeevil stepmother, In Joo, which gives Min Hyuk the chance to swoop in and save her (and by ‘save her’, I mean ‘drag her out’). By this point Yoo Jung has discerned his connection to Ji Hee and seems to have brainwashed herself into believing that she (and not Do Hoon) is in fact the guilty party. Amidst the apologising and repentant tears, Min Hyuk agrees to loan her the money for her father’s operation, in exchange for… well, having yet another thing to hold over her head.
But Yoo Jung’s problems are endless, and she discovers that her father has somehow disappeared from the hospital (before his operation, naturally). Fortunately, she has Do Hoon to help her look for him. Unfortunately, Do Hoon is morally questionable and although he finds Yoo Jung’s father readily enough, he doesn’t remain found for long; once Do Hoon hears that dear old Dad knows who was really driving that night – and is lucid enough to tell the tale – he takes off with him to parts unknown.
So it is that Yoo Jung gets the call to pick up her father… or rather, his body. Min Hyuk – who drove her to the morgue, despite his token protestation – watches uncomfortably as she weeps and later, to his credit, actually attends the funeral. Unlike, say, Do Hoon, who does not.
A few days later, Do Hoon seeks her out and she, without placing any blame on him whatsoever, tells him of her decision to end their relationship. She reasons that staying together out of guilt won’t make either of them happy; he doesn’t disagree and seems relieved to be on the receiving end of the break-up, as this leaves him free to pursue other avenues and still see himself as the good guy.
So Yoo Jung is left alone to grieve and, oddly, Min Hyuk is the only one who notices her absence. Rather than have his valet seek her out, he decides to do it himself – and is shocked to find her unconscious in the bakery. Off they go to the hospital and while the doctors scurry around her, he stares at her with an unnerving intensity, before informing her that she’s not allowed to die – not without first gaining his permission.
Interestingly, he told the comatose Ji Hee the exact same thing waaaay back in episode 1, which to me only reinforces the fact that he’s transferred his obsession from one person (Ji Hee) to another (Yoo Jung). True, his interest in Yoo Jung is more psychopathic than romantic at this point, but beneath the rage and the denial and the seething desire for revenge, he seems to genuinely like her.
He’s equal parts happy and unhappy when they run into each other, and honestly only seems unhappy because he realises just how happy he is to see her. As a viewer, it’s a little disconcerting; I’m sometimes not sure if I’m watching a revenge melo, or a rom-com and the light, nudge-nudge wink-wink scoring doesn’t lessen the confusion.
Am I supposed to be feeling as confused as I do? I don’t know, but I suppose a mixing together of the two genres makes the series less… unremittingly dark and just plain sad than it would otherwise have been. Because really, how much more can Yoo Jung lose? More to the point: does she actually have anything left to lose?
Well, I suppose that depends on whether or not you believe San is actually dead. I’m one of the contingent who believes he’s still alive and kicking – and that Min Hyuk had nothing to do with his disappearance. My opinion (and I’m sure it’s one shared by many) is that the person behind San’s ‘death’ is Do Hoon’s awful mother; she looks far too shifty whenever the child is mentioned and I’m sure believes wholeheartedly that without San connecting her son to Yoo Jung, he’d be free to move on to greener (read: wealthier) pastures.
The real question is: did Do Hoon actually kill (however indirectly) Yoo Jung’s father? I would say… yes. I think he drove the man out to the middle of nowhere, then dumped him on the side of the road, as someone (horrible) might do with an unwanted pet. On the plus side, that means there’s no possibility of second-lead syndrome; on the minus side, well… he’s possibly a sociopath on a collision course with the OTP, which I suppose means we get to add another genre to the mix.
But can one show really be a revenge rom-com melo drama with hints of horror and suspense? You’ll have to tune in to find out.