Sexy and frank, Soulmate ranks near the top of my drama list for its spot-on cast and zippy writing. The premise: exploring the fact or fiction of soul mates through several, very different relationships. The dating game is shown through both male and female perspectives, exploring even the most taboo-for-television topics. The show is enhanced by its gorgeous soundtrack and assured directing, making for a sweet, enjoyable ride for its all too short twelve(ish) episodes. Let’s get started!
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open to a sweet couple boarding a crowded subway, looking happily in love. The two find seats and PHILLIP looks suspiciously nervous – well deserved since he pops the engagement question right there in the middle of the moving train to a less than enthusiastic girlfriend.
Though LEE SOO-KYUNG internally groans about the corniness of the proposal (noting that some of Phillip’s smooth lines have been lifted right off the internet), she’s unable to refuse him because of the gawking crowd.
Elsewhere in the city, another couple is meeting for the first time on a blind date, which seems to be going about as well as the subway proposal. Made uncomfortable by HONG YU-JIN’s overly prim attitude, SHIN DONG-WOOK quickly assesses that she must be another spoiled rich girl looking to settle down.
And sure enough as he leaves the room, Yu-jin’s hovering mother comes out with a psychic to approve of the pairing’s spiritual marriage potential. The tagalongs disperse as Dong-wook returns to the table, and he notices them before they hastily leave. Feeling rebellious, he shakes up the stiff date by moving the introductions to a more casual restaurant, dragging a stunned Yu-jin behind him.
Across town, RYO-HEI, a handsome model fresh from Japan, struts into a trendy gym, driving all the women wild. They’re literally falling over themselves to catch his attention – at least until they’re pushed aside by the resident seductress.
JANG MIN-AE is itching for a new conquest, and Ryo-hei looks more than pleased to be her chosen victim. She pretends to be a gym trainer so the two can have a double-entendre filled workout filled with barely veiled sexual references, exercising themselves into a sweat.
Soo-kyung and Phillip walk back to her apartment, looking far more happy than they did on the train. Or at least until Phillip mucks up the sweet moment by trying out an experimental kissing technique. Though he’s feeling horny on their “special day,” Soo-Kyung is less than enthused, finding excuses to delay their sleep over.
The playful vibe turns serious as Phillip confesses that if she’d refused him earlier, he might have given up on women entirely (as in too-crushed-to-try-again, not the I’d-go-gay kind, I’m assuming). They exchange endearments while Soo-kyung muses that saying “I love you” is more often than not deceitful.
Back at the blind date, Yu-jin looks down at her cheap, intestine-filled soup with distaste – at least until she takes a bite. (It’s delicious!) She takes a shot of soju (only to be polite), and has to be taught how to down it correctly. Seeing Yu-jin’s sweet enthusiasm, Dong-wook acknowledges that she does have a bit of charm about her – the innocent, clueless kind.
They finally start exchanging proper small talk – and Dong-wook discovers that Yu-jin works as a proofreader for a local newspaper. Eager to show off her skills, Yu-jin promptly informs the restaurant owner that her sign is spelled incorrectly – only to get yelled at for meddling. She’s left practically in tears, and Dong-wook escorts her out with a smile at her effort.
Meanwhile, Ryo-hei and Min-ae have moved their foreplay to the bar. They challenge each other to a drinking game – winner gets to have their way with the loser. Ryo-hei ends the round by downing two shots at once, and Min-ae acknowledges his victory by kissing away a drop of alcohol left on his lips and shooting him bedroom eyes.
After their restaurant mishap, Dong-wook and Yu-jin run hand-in-hand to catch the bus. Yu-jin can barely contain her smiles. She’s head over heels for his good looks and kind personality – which is promptly put to the test when she vomits ungracefully onto another bus passenger.
Dong-wook quickly cleans up the mess with his own jacket and apologizes to the unlucky man while shooting a don’t-worry-about-it wink at Yu-jin. And you can practically see the hearts floating around her head as she falls even harder for his charm.
Alone in her room, Soo-kyung tries to reassure herself that she’s happy – only to admit that she’s anything but. She’d been waiting for a proposal from her boyfriend for five years, so what had gone wrong? Was it the location? The ring?
She imagines her perfect proposal, set at a princess castle and accompanied by a diamond ring, but even in her dreams she’s still unhappy. So then the problem was. . . Phillip? She shakes off the thought, declaring it ridiculous, but she’s still unable to shake her doubts that Phillip might not be the right man for her.
In a dream sequence, Soo-kyung walks down to the aisle to a smiling Phillip – when another bride in white reaches him first, the two looking blissfully in love. As Soo-kyung sobs at the betrayal, the church doors open to Dong-wook’s waiting arms, and she runs to his comforting embrace. As suddenly as the dream began, it ends with Dong-wook waking in a cold sweat.
The morning after, Min-ae awakens to find her bed empty, assuming that Ryo-hei has already left after their one night stand. Instead, she finds him in the kitchen, happily cooking for Yu-jin, her roommate. Yu-jin declares him the best catch Min-ae has brought home so far, wishing that Dong-wook was half as forthcoming as Ryo-hei.
Yu-jin sighs that if Dong-wook had been honest about his feelings – even if he didn’t like her – at least she’d know whether or not to wait by the phone. Min-ae, the dating expert, encourages her to send the first text herself, dictating the perfect, non-desperate message (which can never exceed more than ten words).
Dong-wook receives her text over his morning expresso (he hates the taste, but the coffee machine looked nice in his apartment), and sends back an “I meant to call. . . . .” Yu-jin is sent into a tailspin by his reply. Those five periods – not too few, not too many – he must be a player! So following Min-ae’s advice, she replies with a flirty “Liar” and “What shall we eat tomorrow night?”
And she receives nothing. Dong-wook’s impressed by her cheekiness, but leaves for the gym before he can send back a text. Of course, Yu-jin is sent into a frenzy, unable to bear the suspense of waiting, and ends up late for her first day of work.
As she’s being reprimanded by her boss, KIM MI-JIN, Soo-kyung stumbles into the office late, not up for any scolding after her sleepless night. The two are desk neighbors, and Soo-kyung is instructed to give Yu-jin an office orientation. For her first lesson, Soo-kyung warns Yu-jin against men in the office who would sexually harass her. “If you let men disrespect you like that, pretty soon they’ll walk all over you.”
Aaand cut to womanizer. JUNG-HWAN, a ripped gym buff, complains that women are too complicated, wishing they were “as easy as a vending machine.” He’s joined at the gym by Ryo-hei and Dong-wook, who’s quick to chime in that dating isn’t all that difficult – after all, matchmaking services are a lot like a vending machine that vends women.
Apparently, Dong-wook’s got quite the reputation as a cool-headed player, a completely different image from his nice-guy act on his blind date. On the subject of hard-to-figure-out hotties, Dong-wook mentions seeing an unfamiliar girl in his dreams, and asks if the meeting had any significance.
Ryo-hei, the romantic, muses that he’d read two strangers can be connected by the same dream – while Jung-hwan is caught up on the woman’s appearance – if the girl was pretty, nothing else matters dontchaknow? “You don’t need brains for sex.”
At the proofreading department, Yu-jin wastes no time dishing about her swoon-worthy date. Seeing her new coworker starry-eyed, Soo-kyung sadly reflects that her relationship with Phillip, once giddy and new, has culminated with a proposal she’s not even excited about. And speak of the devil, at that moment, Phillip calls Soo-kyung, reminding her to eat carefully at the office dinner. Now that they’re engaged, they’re practically one body.
Phillip happily continues chatting while making his way onto an elevator, which is empty save for his English teacher, Min-ae. She overhears his conversation with a bemused smile, and as soon as he finishes the call, Min-ae slinks over to his side and begins her seduction, though she knows full well he has a girlfriend. As the elevator comes to a stop, Phillip is left staring open mouthed in Min-ae’s wake.
At the office dinner, Soo-kyung’s coworkers finally take notice of her engagement ring, insisting on hearing the story of her proposal. The fact that she’s too embarrassed to recount the night makes her more depressed, and she downs her stress in multiple shots of soju.
Two seats down, Yu-jin, who’s been anxiously waiting by her phone all day, receives another fake out text and angrily begins overeating. Fun work party, indeed.
Phillip joins his English classmates for a round of drinks, and their teacher Min-ae is the star guest. She fends off the men’s advances, and casually mentions Phillip’s girlfriend. At her prompting, the classmates are eager to declare him completely taken – Phillip’s getting married soon and is so cornily in love that she should focus her attention on the singles.
In a trendy clothing store, Dong-wook works a client – he’s a self-employed music coordinator, but it seems this round, his smooth words and slick image can’t endear his song choice to his fashion designer customer.
His meeting is interrupted by a call from his mother, eager to know how his blind date went. Dong-wook reports that while the date was fine, the girl wasn’t his type – which is unacceptable to his mother, who just wants to see him settle down. Dong-wook dismisses her nagging, assuring his mother that he’ll take care of the situation.
Meanwhile, Soo-kyung has moved on from drinking shots to karaoke catharsis. She belts out ballad after ballad (terribly) to the ire of her coworkers. It was supposed to be a welcoming party for Yu-jin but the mood has been brought down by Soo-kyung’s depression – and Yu-jin couldn’t care less.
Instead she’s giddy with excitement as all her waiting by the phone has finally paid off. Dong-wook calls, asking her out on another date (starting. . . now!), and Yu-jin practically dances out of the building in excitement.
Only to be halted in her tracks once she sees what the date entails: more intestines. At Dong-wook’s prodding (he’d remembered how much she’d enjoyed the soup yesterday) she reluctantly takes bite after bite as Dong-wook describes the “savor and flavor of the ooze” in gory detail.
She’s rendered completely nauseous and promptly throws up on the customer next to her – who just happens to be the same man from the train yesterday. (“Why are you following me and throwing up on me?”) Ha! So mortifying. She’s reduced to tears again, and Dong-wook takes off his jacket (reluctantly this time) to clean up the situation.
Soo-kyung’s still completely zoned out in her bubble of depression, asking herself why she’d accepted Phillip’s ring if she was going to get so upset. She does snap out of her thoughts long enough to catch a bit of Mi-jin’s karaoke song, and angrily stops the recording to protest the lyrics.
She’s upset that the song speaks of being certain of one’s path while she is so conflicted about her own future, and collapses on the floor after breaking down in front of her coworkers. Awkward.
Though Phillip tries to stall Min-ae’s advances by blabbering on about Soo-kyung, he’s unable to stop himself from being drawn to her. His steady, five year relationship comes crumbling down thanks to Min-ae’s frank, “Want to sleep with me?”
It’s been a rough night across the board. Soo-kyung’s remained at the karaoke place long after her colleagues have left, drinking away her internal conflicts. Dong-wook pats Yu-jin’s back as she continues to gag. (Despite feeling sick, Yu-jin looks positively pleased that Dong-wook is still acting so kind.)
Ryo-hei sits alone at the same bar he and Min-ae had flirted in, this time left behind as she draws in a new conquest. The episode fades out as the soundtrack croons “this is not a love song.”
One of the aspects of the show that I love is that everyone is connected in unexpected ways. In that way, it’s a bit like Modern Family‘s pilot (which I adored) since there was the was a steady buildup before revealing that these seemingly unrelated characters had actually formed deep relationships with each other. In Soulmate, this creates a small world that’s almost unrealistic. But because we have the soul mate premise, it raises some interesting questions. Were these people linked together because of fate – two divided souls destined to come together through whatever means possible? Or was it all a series of freak coincidences with no meaning at all because soul mates don’t exist?
And those are the sorts of questions that are asked throughout the series. To what extent are these events out of our control, and do we have any say our own fate? (Ooh. I just gave my self Brave vibes.) And all of this is just the more serious side of a very, very funny comedy exploring the modern dating scene. I’ve got to say, my favorite bits out of this episode are the scenes when Min-ae mentors Yu-jin on the very serious subject of the perfect text message. Their relationship is so adorable because they’re so different on so many levels, yet they’ve still managed to connect as friends and roommates.
The gradual reveal of Dong-wook’s character is another success of the episode. In the beginning blind date, we know he’s not ready for commitment, but the audience doesn’t discover what a cad he truly is until the gym scene. Initially, we’re given the same amount of information as Yu-jin – which is great because it shows firsthand how easily a date can be deceptive. Otherwise, I feel like most of what we’ve seen of the remaining cast members is pretty much what we can expect throughout the rest of the show. Soulmate has great character consistency, and as the new relationships take their toll, everyone responds in ways that are very organic to their personality. I’m excited to see the cast put through the ringer, and ready to dive into the Seoul dating scene.