Marriage is one of those few shows that manage to pull off fairly dense and serious materials without sinking into melodramas. The other (recent) show being High School King of Savvy; both remain firmly on the rom-com track but yet deliver didactic messages on family, love and marriage in 16-17eps. Like High, Marriage has a ludicrious setting — having a pair of non-couple behave like they are madly in love to fool everyone else. Along the way, the fake couple falls into real love — which is expected in a rom-com. However, show also uses the couple’s shenigans to cast light on other (juz as) important issues.
1. The other woman – mother-in-law and mistress
It may be sacreligious to deem your mother-in-law as the third wheel, but for those who are married, we do understand that besides yourself (the wife), your husband also needs to share his affection and loyalty with another woman (his mum). Marriage very deftly brings out this point, and even titles ep15 and gets Jang-mi to verbalise it (yunno, juz in case a dense viewer doesn’t get it). The first half of the show is an exaggerated showcase of the tension between a wife and her mother-in-law — with Jang-mi representing the modern day wife, who doesn’t care for the traditional nonsense her mother-in-law puts her through. Mdm Shin, obviously, thinks that her son deserves better.
Not to forget, there is also a real pair of mother/ daughter-in-law in the show: Mdm Shin and Ki-tae’s granny. I was initially puzzled why Granny allows Mdm Shin to lord over her and the household, when the house she is staying in belongs to her son (that douche bag who is unfortunately Ki-tae’s dad). Women who live in the same household with their mother-in-laws generally do not have absolute power and control over the grande dame of the house. In ep16, we finally get to know why. Granny was the one who forced Mdm Shin to tolerate her love-less marriage, because she has taken Ki-tae hostage. In penance for her cruelty, Granny allows Mdm Shin to run the entire household and doesn’t interfere in her decision makings. Finally, in ep16, Granny begs for forgiveness and allows Mdm Shin to file a divorce and take whatever assets she wants from her son (aka the douche bag husband). I love what Mdm Shin does though: she agrees to the divorce and wants the house — plus Granny and her sister-in-law — as alimony. It says a lot when Granny and Ki-tae’s aunt are more than happy to stay with Mdm Shin than with Ki-tae’s dad.
Which brings me to the second category of “the other woman”: the mistress. Yeah, she is the caricature of all vixens — airheaded (all aegyeo, even at her ahjumma age), no sense of shame (she LOVES being a mistress and tells us so), materialistic (the pink diamond, the luxury bags)…and vicious (she attacks Mdm Shin first without provocation). We are set up to hate her, and in association, Ki-tae’s dad. Not surprising, cos she is the antithesis of the “accepted” third wheel (aka the mother-in-law), and a representative of marriage breakers. Thus, it’s with satisfaction when we see her visibly upset when she doesn’t get her recognition as the infamous mistress when Ki-tae’s dad introduces her as “his sister”.
2. Marriage — and Divorce
Yet another pretty heavy topic. We have Jang-mi’s parents, who hang divorce on their lips and threaten each other with it every other day until you know they will still be together at the end. On the other hand, we have Ki-tae’s parents, who need a divorce but either for selfish reasons (Ki-tae’s dad) or to protect someone they love (Mdm Shin), they stay on in their unhappy marriage. Since our protagonists have such poor examples of marital “bliss”, it is no wonder they cheapen the concept of marriage by play-acting a couple who are so “in love” and “plan” to marry.
Of course, when they DO decide to take their relationship for real, suddenly marriage becomes scary. Jang-mi, who earlier in the show is raring to wed Hoon-dong, loses faith in the marriage institution…when she sees that even the picture perfect couple (Mdm Shin and her hubby) are unhappy in real life. And she goes home everyday to hear her parents squabbling with each other. Not exactly inspirational. Ki-tae too, when faced with the news that Jang-mi’s parents are intending to divorce gets visibly disturbed. I think he feels Jang-mi’s parents are behaving like a married couple in love should — at least they are communicating (even if the comms in question are quarrels), which is far better than the stony silence and contempt his parents greet each other with. Again, another shattering of hope.
Which is why I feel heartened by Ki-tae’s proposal: he clearly lays it out that he has lost faith in marriage, and he cannot confirm an eternity of marital bliss with Jang-mi…but he is willing to try his best everyday to make her happy and their relationship work. A very practical, but touching proposal — even if there’s no ring and bouquets and candlelight dinner. In fact, I am very hopeful that Ki-tae/ Jang-mi’s marriage will be fairly long lasting, since they already know the pitfalls — they have seen the BEST negative examples, and are still prepared to go into it — with eyes open.
3. The cliche key to relationships’ success — COMMUNICATION
Isn’t it refreshing when we don’t have idiotically noble characters who assume they know what’s best for their other halves in a show? Not only do we have no characters that leap to (wrong) assumptions, but the protagonists in Marriage actually bother to SIT down and talk their through their assumptions/ situations/ wateva. Someone should use this show as a pre-marital counselling programme. (lol)
Marriage lays on the theme of communication really thick. In fact, it butters it on the viewers. We have so many examples of successful and failed communication that unless you never watch the show, you will get it. Examples of poor communicators — Jang-mi’s parents, Ki-tae’s parents, Ki-tae and his mum (for up to ep15), Hoon-dong and Jang-mi. These groups either don’t talk at all to each other, or don’t talk about the things that matter. Ki-tae and his mum are at loggerheads with each other for years, because they each assume the other party is resistant to change and more importantly, they never admit how they feel about each other. And interestingly, when Ki-tae finally realises the sacrifice his mum made, he can’t say a word out. He can only sob and sob into the phone…though in that situation, no words are necessary. Hoon-dong and Jang-mi, basically they want different things and each jumps to wrong conclusions about the other.
In contrast, we have the near-perfect communicators. Jang-mi/ Ki-tae and Jang-mi/Ki-tae’s mum. Maybe it’s cos of Jang-mi’s forthright and blunt nature, she pokes through all the defenses Mdm Shin has in place and sees her without her “armour”. Naturally Mdm Shin is initially appalled and upset at having another person reading her innermost thoughts when she has been successfully repressing them for years. But gradually, she also opens up to Jang-mi — cos everyone needs an ally in their life, and she has been isolating herself for so long. Thus, when she DOES accept Jang-mi, we find that both ladies operate on the same wavelength. In fact, Jang-mi understands Mdm Shin even better than her son does, which makes the misunderstanding Mdm Shin has of Jang-mi during out the fallout doubly painful.