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Series Review: She Would Never Know (Spoilers)

Series Review: She Would Never Know (Spoilers)

She Would Never Know is a 2020 romance drama starring Won Jin-ah and Rowoon. Won Jin-ah plays Yoon Song-ah, a salary woman for a cosmetic brand called KLAR. She trained another employee named Chae Hyun-seung (Rowoon) when he first joined the company. Hyun-seung is a year younger than her, and thinks she walks on water. What Song-ah doesn’t know is he’s had a crush on her since the job fair she did on behalf of KLAR at his university. She skipped her lunch break to help him out, and that left a deep impression on him.

In the present, Song-ah is actually having a secret office romance with the department head, Lee Jae-shin (Lee Hyun-wook). Hyun-seung is stunned when he sees them kissing, and all his boyish hopes are dashed. Until he sees Jae-shin shopping for wedding gowns at his older sister’s boutique with a woman who isn’t Song-ah. The woman turns out to be Lee Hyo-joo (Lee Joo-bin), granddaughter of KLAR’s chairman, and younger sister of its director, Lee Jae-woon (Lee Kyu-han). Jae-shin volunteered to be the family’s “dog” during high school in order to escape the poverty brought on by his gambling father. Hyo-joo developed an obsession with him, and tried to kill herself to keep him close.

That’s how Jae-shin finds himself engaged, but sneaking around with Song-ah. Hyun-seung doesn’t take this lightly. Around this time, he confesses to Song-ah, and then devises a plan to expose Jae-shin’s cheating. He convinces her to come with him to his sister’s boutique. She sees Jae-shin with Hyo-joo, and is embarrassed and devastated. She gives Jae-shin a chance to come clean, but breaks up with him when he doesn’t. Jae-shin doesn’t want to let her go, and continues to harass her until Hyun-seung steps in as her new pretend boyfriend.

Emotional chaos ensues as Song-ah tries to heal, but finds herself falling for her knight in shining hoobae.

Series Review: She Would Never Know (Spoilers)

The Characters

Song-ah: I like that she’s ambitious. She’s a relatable, modern day working woman. And after being cautious with men, because she witnessed her dad’s affair destroy her mom, it sucked to find out Jae-shin’s been cheating on her their entire relationship. That’s why it made sense that she didn’t want to jump into another one with Hyun-seung. She needed time to examine her feelings, so she wouldn’t rebound. And even though some might argue that she still did with Hyun-seung, it’s great that she was self-aware and tried to approach things logically. She’s not a perfect character though. She can be cold, and needs to figure out how to set boundaries with people at work. Again, I like that she’s passionate about her job, but there were things she could’ve done during the climax to show Hyun-seung that she cares and he’s important in her life.

Hyun-seung: He came off pushy at the beginning, and I even saw people call him creepy. I thought his behavior definitely toed the line between protective and stalkerish, but he didn’t cross it, because he was always upfront about everything. And honest. He even called himself out on being opportunistic. I was conflicted for a few episodes, but ended up liking him and finding him sweet. Then he became almost too perfect to the point where he felt like a prince from a fairytale instead of a real person.

His character needed a few more layers and flaws, and I thought I was going to get them when his ex-girlfriend popped up, but her presence didn’t add much to the drama. Their situation was very forgettable. On the plus side, I loved his relationship with his two sisters Ji-seung and Yun-seung, and his niece Ha-eun. They’re definitely part of the reason he’s so kind and patient.

Jae-shin: Despite the drama’s attempt to beat us over the head with his tragic backstory, I couldn’t bring myself to like him. Someone’s tragic past doesn’t excuse them from hurting someone the way he hurt Song-ah. Sure, no one’s perfect, so you’re going to hurt your significant other to a certain extent, but this was just too much. What made it worse is that after he got caught, he didn’t apologize or take accountability. He just kept making excuses. It took him twelve episodes to finally apologize for cheating, and by that point it seemed too little, too late. I was just kind of like, “Well, at least he apologized.”

It was also very scary how he kept grabbing Song-ah, and trying to physically force her to stay or go with him. I believe people show you their true colors when you say no to them, so his behavior post-breakup with Song-ah was very telling. I will admit that his situation with his dad was sad though. The man was a complete leech, and never changed. Then there was his toxic relationship with Hyo-joo. I’m sure it was stressful, but an engagement with a woman threatening suicide definitely wasn’t a good long-term plan. I can see Jae-shin agreeing to stay with her in the heat of the moment, but after that I wish he’d gone to Jae-woon to see how they could get her on the right track to taking care of her mental health.

Hyo-joo: She’s the kind of second female lead I thought we left back in 2007. There’s not much to her besides her obsession with Jae-shin, so she’s very 2-dimensional. She’s supposed to be a photographer, but out of sixteen episodes we only see her shooting a few times. So that made being a photographer seem like something she did to fill up her non-Jae-shin hours instead of a passion.

On top of that, it’s hard to see why she’s so obsessed with him. I think the drama should’ve included flashbacks of them as kids. If we got to see Jae-shin being kind to her or helping her through her loneliness and insecurities, then it would’ve added dimension to their relationship; made it feel more real. It would’ve also made it easier for me to empathize with her, and it would explain why she feels like she can’t live without him. 

Yun-seung (Hyun-seung’s sister) and Kang Woo-hyun (her husband): They were the most tragic couple on the show, and had a subplot revolving around Woo-hyun being friends with a chef named Ryu Han-seo. They met in college, and Woo-hyun becomes increasingly rigid when Yun-seung befriends him and organizes a cooking class with him. It turns out that Han-seo has had feelings for Woo-hyun since their school days, and Woo-hyun has been struggling with his sexuality for a long time. The plot line is handled sensitively (for a Korean drama), but Yun-seung’s role in it reinforces an unfair social burden that’s often placed on women for being the more “nurturing” gender. I’ll talk more about that below.

Ji-seung (Hyun-seung’s sister) and Lee Jae-woon (Hyo-joo’s brother): They had a cute relationship, and often provided some much needed comedic relief. There was nothing particularly special about their characters, but both were genuine. Jae-woon’s only strike was asking Jae-shin to give into Hyo-joo’s demands for a relationship after her suicide attempt. I know he was incredibly worried, but as an educated man running a company, it makes no sense for him to think that this would help his sister in the long run.

Series Review: She Would Never Know (Spoilers)

Climax + Resolution

Jae-shin’s dad dies, causing emotions to boil over. Jae-shin finally breaks up with Hyo-joo, quits KLAR, then disappears to lick his wounds and re-evaluate his life. This sends Hyo-joo spiraling, and she marches into KLAR to confront Song-ah in front of her co-workers. Jae-woon ends up interrupting it and taking her home, but the damage is done. Rumors soon swirl around the company about Jae-shin and Song-ah’s relationship.

What I think the drama does right is not spending too much time on the workplace gossip. It shows a few scenes of co-workers gossiping, then moves on with the plot. I also like that Song-ah’s co-workers stand behind her instead of trying to staple a scarlet “A” on one of her stylish coats. Since most of them are women, the drama could’ve easily made them catty, but instead they’re supportive and vouch for Song-ah’s moral character and integrity.

The second part of the climax is Song-Ah admitting to herself that she wants to work for KLAR overseas in Europe. She accepts a position on the task force, but doesn’t tell Hyun-seung right away. However, when he sees the transfer papers, she’s forced to confront it. Hyun-seung doesn’t want her to go, but agrees to being in a long distance relationship. It’s understandable that he’s sad, because who would want their girlfriend to move to another continent? But he did say something at the beginning about always allowing Song-ah to be herself, so now would be the time to see if he can stick to that declaration. But Song-ah takes some missteps as well.

For the next three years we see their long distance journey and what leads to their eventual break up. On Song-ah’s end there are a lot of cancelled visits, and this is where I wish she’d stood up for herself and her relationship with Hyun-seung a little more. One instance that comes to mind is her already booking her flight to Korea, and it’s literally the day before her vacation and her boss pops up with a last minute business trip. I really wish Song-ah would’ve just said no. It’s one thing to cancel a dinner, but to cancel a whole flight and vacation the day before? This would’ve shown Hyun-seung that he was important to her.

And if it really was an emergency, I wish she would’ve tried to compromise with her boss. If she had flight insurance, she could’ve pushed her flight back one day, started cleaning up whatever crisis there was with the client, and then delegate the rest, so she could have most of her vacation. I might be thinking too deeply about fictional scenarios, but I wanted to see her at least attempt to make some compromises.

After multiple cancelled trips, Hyun-seung finally gets a chance to visit Song-ah in Europe, but she ends up working late and missing their date at this fancy restaurant. She comes home to find him sleeping on the couch, and breaks up with him because of intense guilt. After they split, she ends up returning to Korea, citing missing home as an excuse.

Song-ah ends up back on the same team at KLAR, where it’s clear she hasn’t gotten over Hyun-seung. She ends up telling him that, and after a series of joint work events, Hyun-seung invites her to “win him over”. Just like how he won her over at the beginning.  

Now, as far as resolutions go, a lot of things were resolved too quickly in my opinion. That includes Song-ah and Hyun-seung getting back together, but fine…it’s not that far-fetched. Plenty of people get back together with their exes. What really stood out to me was Hyo-joo’s “journey to recovery”. If her obsession with Jae-shin could’ve been solved by an apology from her brother for leaving her alone too often as children, and Jae-shin pointing out the obvious about their toxic relationship, then why wasn’t that done sooner? It almost makes it seem like Jae-shin wasn’t as trapped as he thought, and it makes that whole part of the plot anti-climatic. On top of that, Hyo-joo’s recovery doesn’t paint a realistic picture of someone with mental illness getting better.

Jae-shin also fades into being somewhat of a supporting character, because the drama doesn’t know what to do with him after his issues with his dad, and eventually, his mom. There are whole episodes that he only shows up in for a few minutes. His “happy ending” is being CEO of his own fledgling company, which seems a bit empty, because it doesn’t address him actively working on his emotional issues or traumas. He seems just as lonely as before, and the only people in his life are his new employees. So, his happy ending is mostly in a materialistic sense.

I would’ve liked to see him trying to make new friends, or it would’ve been nice if his mom came around. The only silver lining is him making up with Jae-woon, although I doubt their friendship will be able to return to what it was since Jae-woon spent multiple years trying to sabotage him.

Last, but not least is the subplot with Yun-seung and Woo-hyun. After overhearing a conversation between Woo-hyun and Chef Han-seo where it’s revealed that the chef had romantic feelings for him, and something happened between them in college, Yun-seung is devastated and struggles with whether to get a divorce. But she ends up forgiving Woo-hyun and deciding to stay married to him until he accepts his true self. It’s an extremely complicated and difficult situation, but it was sad to watch, because Yun-seung’s feelings are valid too, and she’s already spent close to a decade in a marriage without romantic love.

Sure, Woo-hyun loves her, because she’s a good person and the mother of his child. And it’s not his fault that he can’t love her in a romantic sense, but unfortunately the societal burden of literally coaching people through their emotional baggage is usually placed on women. And anything other than that is seen as selfish even though it’s not. Time is fleeting, and Yun-seung has already spent the better part of a decade in this marriage, so it made me sad to see her stay for a few more years when she could’ve been out there meeting her soulmate or someone who could give her everything she deserves in a marriage. Yun-seung could’ve gotten a divorce sooner, and remained a close friend and ally to Woo-hyun as he figured himself out. You don’t have to stay married to someone to support them, so it sucks that the drama framed it that way.

Final Thoughts

What started out as an interesting drama with nuanced characters ended up losing its way toward the end. A lot of the characters’ decisions didn’t make sense by 2021 logic. The drama also seemed confused about the message it wanted to portray to its viewers. For example, Song-ah is framed as an ambitious person from the start, so I thought it made sense that she’d choose to go to Europe, but the drama kind of shines a bad light on that decision, and her mom even says something along the lines of her being silly for leaving a good boyfriend like Hyun-seung to go abroad. So, for a drama whose demographic is young women, that doesn’t seem like an empowering, modern day message. Now, of course I’m not saying Song-ah is right or wrong for choosing to go to Europe, but it certainly fit with the character the drama spent sixteen episodes developing.

Every woman is different, so I’m sure some of us would choose love and some of us would choose our dreams. (Hey, some of us would attempt to have both like Song-ah). I just wish the drama would’ve remained more neutral about it, but there were clearly some things that implied Song-ah was selfish for not staying in Korea with Hyun-seung. When in reality, she was just trying to stay true to herself. Either decision would’ve left her with regrets, so it was a matter of which regrets she could live with.

I’d also like to add that if it wasn’t that difficult for Song-ah to transfer back to Korea after three years, then why’d the drama make a big deal about her and Hyun-seung being apart for five? They could’ve discussed it, and come to a mutual agreement of her transferring back to Korea after three years or even two! That way, she’d get the experience, and she would’ve probably felt less guilty knowing that all the missed trips and dates with Hyun-seung wouldn’t be for half a decade. Or they could’ve talked about him transferring to Europe for a year or two, so it’d be a fair split of their time.

With that said, like everything else in life, there are pros and cons to She Would Never Know. I’ll start with the cons: the pacing is slow, some of the characters’ actions are infuriating, and the message leans toward the old-fashioned idea that women should sacrifice things that are important to them in the face of true love. It even shines a good light on putting your life on hold and sacrificing your time for a husband whose preference isn’t women. The show hints that any other decisions would be selfish, and not kind. It also handles a lot of mental health stuff irresponsibly, especially Hyo-joo’s issues, so if that will trigger you, then you might want to skip it.

I’d like to end on a positive note, so the pros are: Song-ah and Hyun-seung’s height difference. Why is that a pro, you ask? Because it’s adorable and ends up being responsible for some cute kisses. They also have a very communicative relationship (until the end, of course), and that’s rare in Drama Land. They have many open and honest discussions with each other, and I appreciated that. The show’s also got interesting supporting characters and subplots, and examines parent/child relationships.

If you think those pros outweigh the cons, and you just want to watch a cute office romance, then go ahead and stream She Would Never Know.

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