In a children’s story beloved for nearly a hundred years, a little railroad engine takes over a task rejected by much larger engines and successfully pulls a long line of freight cars over a hill, puffing as it goes: I think I can, I think I can.
The name of the story? The Little Engine That Could.
More recently, a friend has coined a similar name for Brilliant Legacy: The Little Drama That Could.
I love this pet name and have been using it as a nutshell answer when people ask me what is so special about this drama that I’ve been recapping from the first episode. But why ‘little’ drama?
Well, because its four young leads aren’t household names. Because it isn’t a big-budget production. Because no one expected it to lead nationwide ratings for ten straight weeks, even garnering an astonishing 47 percent for its final episode.
But for me personally, ‘little’ drama because many of my favorite scenes have been small and quiet, like these ones, for example: Hwan steadying his hand as he pours the tea at his father’s memorial service. Eun-sung gently touching a sleeping Hwan’s face. Jun-se smiling and melting our hearts. And, in the image above, Hwan grasping Grandma’s hand as she lies unconscious in the hospital.
Little moments of love and reconciliation. Moments like the ones we will see in this episode.
When we last stopped at Episode 22, Hwan and Eun-sung have gone to his friend’s wine bar to celebrate the cruise contract win. At the same time, he wants to introduce Piano to Eun-sung, hoping that seeing someone who is so much like her brother will cheer her up.
(I love the above image, don’t you? The two are so comfortable with each other.)
Hwan tells Piano that Spy has come to the wine bar. Seeing Hwan’s excited expression, it’s as if he has brought his girlfriend home to meet his parents for the first time! Just then, Hwan’s mom calls to tell him that Grandma has been rushed to the hospital after fainting at home and is now undergoing surgery for a brain haemorrhage.
His voice trembling, Hwan informs Eun-sung and the rest and then the two of them immediately rush to the hospital. They are almost out the door when Eun-woo comes out, so all he sees is Eun-sung’s back. Spy is pretty, he says softly.
Also at the hospital is Jun-se’s dad. Remember in the previous episode he was scheming with the witch about getting their hands on Grandma’s company so that it won’t fall into Eun-sung’s hands? Yet in front of Grandma’s anxious family he is now a picture of paternal concern. That’s the trouble when one has too many meals with a sweet-talking witch. The hypocrisy is contagious.
As soon as Jun-se’s dad and Hwan’s mom see Eun-sung with Hwan, they react like she’s pestilence. Even though she pleads tearfully to be allowed to stay until she learns the outcome of the surgery, they shout and shoo her away, like she’s a mongrel that has wandered into their mansion and defecated on their prized roses.
How sad that at a time like this when all thoughts should be on Grandma, that old grudges should preside over basic courtesy.
Our wise butler, who is Grandma’s eyes and ears and who is the real paternal presence here, tells Eun-sung gently to leave.
And so she steps outside, unable to contain her tears. As she is pacing back and forth in the garden, the surgeon emerges from the operating theater and tells the waiting family that the surgery is successful. However, there is something else that he must disclose.
Inside the consulting room, the doctor drops a bombshell: Grandma is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She has dementia.
A stunned Hwan refuses to believe the doctor’s words. There must be a mistake with the MRI results. Grandma has always been sharp of mind and was perfectly okay until she fainted. How can she develop dementia all of a sudden?
Turning to the one who understands Grandma the most, his words betraying his self-denial, Hwan says: Grandma doesn’t have Alzheimer, right?
Our butler’s non-answer confirms everyone’s worst fears.
Outside the hospital, Eun-sung is surprised to see Hwan striding out angrily with Butler Pyo and yelling: Why didn’t you say anything? You knew about it and yet you kept quiet?
The butler’s reply is like a slap in Hwan’s face.
I was specifically instructed not to tell anyone, not you, your mom or Jung. Do you know why she wanted me to hide the truth? Because she thinks that all of you do not care for her!
What a damning accusation. And now she is lying unconscious on a hospital bed and he can’t explain to her that it is not true, it was never true. She means the world to him and he cares about her!
Eun-sung can’t believe her ears. Grandma has Alzheimer?
But an agitated Hwan pounces on her instead. Didn’t Grandma take a CT scan when she fell and hurt her head the day she was saved by Eun-sung? What exactly happened that day? He needs to know because the head injury then must have caused all the ailments now!
And thus Hwan learns, from Eun-sung and Butler Pyo, the cirumstances surrounding Eun-sung and Grandma’s first meeting. Hurt and bewildered, he lashes out.
How could she do that to him? How could Grandma confide in two people who weren’t related to her? Was her own grandson such a scoundrel that she could not trust him at all?
Back at the hospital, surrounded by her family and butler (and one traitor-in-the-making), Grandma slowly opens her eyes.
I heard the bidding for the cruise ship contract was successful, she says. And then, as she sees Hwan’s eyes wet with tears…
Seems like you have grown up, my Hwan.
Relieved that she has regained consciousness and bemused that she should think of Jin Sung Food the moment she opens her eyes, Hwan tucks Grandma in and tells her to rest.
Observing everything, Jun-se’s dad wears the expression of a man who thought he had won first prize in the lottery and then learns to his chagrin that his ticket was a dud. He and the witch will show us in this episode how tenuous the definition of a human is. An old woman reclaiming her life is not something to exult in if the newfound life poses a threat to one’s ambitions. How very sickening.
Since Grandma is asleep, Hwan takes a breather outside and sees Eun-sung huddled on a bench. Grandma awoke earlier and is now resting. Go home and come back another day.
Overcome with relief, Eun-sung does as he asks.
(I love Hwan’s gentle expression as he looks at Eun-sung walking away. He didn’t mean to yell at her earlier; he loves her… and she knows it.)
Meanwhile, back in the evil dungeon which looks deceptively like a normal apartment, the witch has prepared food for Hwan’s family. Go and stay at the hospital for the night, she tells her daughter.
No prizes for guessing that Operation Strike While The Iron Is Hot is underway. Time to show Hwan and his mom the excellent qualities that Seung-mi possesses as (fawning) future wife and daughter-in-law.
Like the dutiful witchling that she is, Seung-mi carts the food to the hospital. Her face is all smiles and warm concern, befitting the role that the witch wants her to play. Hwan’s mom, who on carefree days is already not the brightest bulb in the chandelier and who is now beset with worry over Grandma and thus incapable of detecting ulterior motives, welcomes Seung-mi’s overtures with open arms.
But He Who Can Smell A Stink A Mile Off douses our eager beaver with cold water and tells her that she can go. And oh, that he’s not going to eat food prepared by her mom even if she dotes on him as a potential son-in-law because there’s no telling what spell she might cast on him. You can’t trust witches, you know.
After Seung-mi leaves, Hwan is sitting by Grandma’s bed when he realizes that something is gravely wrong. The machines that are hooked up to her indicate there’s a problem with her vital signs. The frantic Hwan and his mom immediately yell for the doctors.
A new MRI scan reveals that Grandma has developed pneumonia and is now in a coma. She may pass away any moment.
As expected, the witch greets the turn of events with delight. In a scene that makes even vultures spit in disgust, she tells Jun-se’s dad that it will now be easier for them to execute their plan.
Whether Grandma passes away or not, what does it matter? It’s not going to hinder our plans. If she recovers, we’ll just use her dementia to attack her. She made a new will even though she was of unsound mind! If she dies, just get her family to sue Eun-sung for claiming the inheritance based on an invalid will. Either way, it’s a win-win situation, isn’t it, you handsome but gullible minion?
And the minion stares entranced at her, unable to believe that evil can be so attractively packaged. Who said witches have foul breath and noses like an eagle’s beak? Not this one sitting in front of him!
You are such a smarty pants you should have started your own business long ago, he tells her. Why, you would have been even more successful than President (Grandma) Jang!
I’ll do that in my next life, she replies, not realizing that witches don’t get reincarnated, they just dissolve into a puddle of muddy water.
Fortunately for us, Jun-se isn’t a dolt like his dad. On the contrary, he is sharp and astute. Visiting Eun-sung at the second branch, he immediately senses her low spirits. So what does our sweetie do? Take her to the hospital to see Grandma, of course! With him by her side, let’s see if anyone dares to chase her away this time.
Alas, even though Hwan’s mom and Jung are pleased to see Jun-se, their expressions change the moment they see who is standing behind him.
Nothing our angel says can dissuade them. In fact, Hwan’s mom is unusually belligerent, shoving Eun-sung out of the hospital room into the corridor and threatening to hit her unless she leaves. As far as she is concerned, Eun-sung’s visit has only one purpose: to check whether Grandma is dead yet so that she can claim the inheritance.
As Eun-sung walks tearfully away, Jun-se’s arm around her, Hwan’s mom compounds the humiliation by asking Jung to sprinkle salt along the corridor. It’s a gesture meant to ward off evil spirits.
Outside the hospital, Eun-sung tells Jun-se that she does not blame Hwan’s mom or Jung for their behavior. The two people who are really responsible for taunting and chasing her away are Seung-mi and her mom. And then she adds:
I’m sorry. For this and that…
Even though he smiles as if nothing is the matter, as soon as his face is turned we see how crestfallen he looks. Why is Eun-sung apologizing to him? Is it a harbinger of bad news to come, specifically related to her heart?
Back from her triumphant meal, the witch is preparing her daughter for the next step in their mission. With Hwan in the hospital watching over Grandma, what better opportunity for Seung-mi to seize the day? So she packs her witchling’s clothes and tells her to make sure she clings tightly onto Hwan.
If anything goes wrong with Grandma, everything will be resolved. Don’t you care whether Hwan or Eun-sung will be hurt. Just watch out for yourself.
Even the brainwashed Seung-mi is horrified when she hears her mother’s callous words. Does money matter so much, to the point that there’s complete disregard for other people and their feelings? From her mom’s behavior, undoubtedly yes.
Seung-mi goes to the hospital and tells Hwan that she’ll alternate shifts with him.
Unlike in the past, Hwan isn’t as warm toward her. It’s not that he’s rude or rough, but his attitude is more distant now. Although he hasn’t said anything yet, seeing Eun-sung so badly treated at the hospital must have reminded him of Seung-mi and her mom’s accusations. He had said to Eun-sung on the suspension bridge that he believed her. When she broke away from his kiss, she had named Seung-mi as one of the obstacles between them. Finally, when Jun-se punched him that same day, he had told him to settle things with Seung-mi before going ahead with Eun-sung.
So seeing Seung-mi now reminds Hwan that he has unfinished business with her and that she and her mom are responsible for his own mom’s hatred toward the girl he loves. When Seung-mi places her hand on his shoulder in the hospital room, he immediately moves away.
Please leave. I do not have the energy now to tell you what I have been meaning to say.
While her daughter is at the hospital on Operation Snare Hwan, the witch is busy outside on her own mission. Using a public phone so that she can’t be traced, she leaks news to the media about Grandma’s dementia and about the will that she had made which bequeathed all her assets to a young woman who is not her kin.
Since what the witch says is true, we can’t really blame the press for going to town the next day with headlines such as: Jin Sung Food faces its biggest crisis ever! The value of the company’s shares immediately plunges.
Just like the witch, Jun-se’s dad has roped in his own offspring to help him execute his takeover plans, except that this offspring has no idea he’s being used.
On the pretext of helping to prop up Jin Sung’s shares, the dad asks Jun-se to hand over shares of other companies that he had bought for him. He will sell those and use the money to buy Jin Sung shares. And oh, he will use Jun-se’s name since it’s unbecoming for a Jin Sung employee to be seen pushing up share prices. Ya, right.
Returning to the hospital, the traitor informs Grandma’s family of his brilliant idea: They should quickly file a lawsuit to nullify the will since it was made by a senile woman. That way, if Grandma should pass away, at least they have a headstart. Also, if word gets out that the will is invalid, wouldn’t that help restore the company’s battered image?
Grinning like a kid who has just scored a soccer goal, Traitor Park is shocked when Hwan responds angrily:
All this while, Eun-sung is standing outside the hospital room. Although repeatedly chased away, she can’t stop worrying about Grandma and will keep trying to see her. Now she rushes into the room.
I’m not accepting the inheritance! How can you do this when Grandma has not even passed away? I’ve already promised her that I’m not going to accept the inheritance!
Outraged that their enemy should come charging in right when they are discussing battle plans, the traitor, Hwan’s mom and Jung immediately jump to their feet. A heated exchange of words follows, with the three scolding Eun-sung and she vehemently denying that she has any interest in the inheritance.
Unable to stand it any longer, Hwan yells at the warring parties to stop fighting. He then grabs Eun-sung’s wrist. Come out, he barks.
Hmm, I hate the way he drags her outside. Seriously, Hwannie, the manhandling is getting old. Whatever your frayed emotions, there’s no excuse to be so rough with anyone, least of all the girl who owns your heart! Should we sign you up for Gentle Manners lessons?
Flinging Eun-sung’s hand aside, he glares at her in exasperation.
Are you a fool? Why are you doing such foolish things? Who is going to believe you at a time like this?
What else can I do? she replies, her voice cracking. I’m going crazy thinking that Grandma might pass away and I won’t be able to explain to her…
Her words touch a raw nerve in Hwan.
Watch what you say! Who says Grandma is going to pass away?
But this is Eun-sung after all. His Eun-sung. As she cries, his face softens and so does his tone.
Gently this time and with his own eyes beginning to fill with tears, he says:
Go home. There is nothing both of us can do now. I don’t want to feel like someone who can’t do anything for you.
But when night falls, we see Eun-sung back in the hospital, still in the same clothes, still waiting outside. Earlier, after he had spoken to her, Hwan had gone home and spent the afternoon sitting in Grandma’s room, thinking of her and missing her.
Seung-mi passes by and sees Eun-sung. The divide between them is clear: One of them can go inside, the other can’t. It’s a wonder she can control her victorious smirk, but Seung-mi is a pro now at keeping up appearances. So she smiles kindly and says:
It’s pointless to keep waiting outside here. Just go back. I will check on Grandma’s condition and let you know tomorrow.
Looking coldly at the stepsister that she has come to hate, Eun-sung replies with unmistakable scorn in her voice:
Who are you to send me away?
The moment Seung-mi walks away, however, Eun-sung slumps back on the bench and sobs. What is the use of false bravado when the one thing she wants she can’t have? Just a few minutes with Grandma. A chance to explain herself. Why has that become so impossible?
In the meantime Hwan has returned to Grandma’s bedside.
Insisting that he wants to be alone with her, he asks his mom and Seung-mi to go home. He is adamant, so they have no choice but to comply. After they leave in a cab, he goes to Eun-sung, brings her inside the hospital room, and leaves her there so that she can be alone with Grandma.
Wow, I did not see that coming, did you?
Assessing the situation, waiting until the time is right when his own emotions have settled (the time spent in Grandma’s room at home must have helped immensely), and with no fanfare, he reaches out to meet Eun-sung’s greatest need at that moment.
When he told her earlier in the day that he did not want to feel so helpless around her, we had no idea that he had been mulling over what he could do for her. We thought that nothing else but Grandma filled his thoughts these last few days, but no, he was still looking out for Eun-sung.
Ah, Hwan. Not the scenes before or the scenes after, but this simple gesture of asking everyone to go home so that Eun-sung can see Grandma is singularly my most-loved scene in this episode.
In the darkened room, her tears falling rapidly as she speaks, Eun-sung explains to the unconscious Grandma that she really did not know her or Hwan beforehand. Everything that her stepmom and stepsister had accused her of was untrue. She had been so lonely, but meeting Grandma made her happy again. She wasn’t as lonely now, nor was she in as much pain.
But Grandma is still unresponsive and Eun-sung can only sob uncontrollably.
After some time, and when her tears have dried, Eun-sung leaves the room and goes to where Hwan is waiting.
Talk to Grandma. Talk to her before it is too late.
And so it is Hwan’s turn. All the hours he had spent this week sitting silently by her side, racked with worry. He had so much to tell her, but he didn’t know how to do it or where to start. But with Eun-sung’s encouragement, he is ready now.
Grandma, you loved your son so much. My dad… I was the one who killed him. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you until now, I’m really sorry. I was too afraid to speak. How could I tell you that Dad died because of me?
Wake up, Grandma, wake up! You need to be awake to hear my words. If you leave like this, how am I going to live?
What amazing acting from Lee Seung-gi. And what a powerful and heartbreaking moment.
On the day of the memorial service, Grandma had pleaded with Hwan to remember how his father’s accident had happened. Before I die, she had said, I would like to know.
And so now he was doing what he had been too frightened to reveal all these years. But never could he have imagined she would be comatose when he finally made his confession.
Their emotions spent, Hwan and Eun-sung go outside to the garden. As if his confession to Grandma is incomplete, he explains to Eun-sung why he had behaved like such a jerk previously.
Grandma had looked at him one day, but it was as if she saw his dad in him. Perhaps a sense of disappointment that it was Hwan standing before her instead of her Min-suk. And because her face changed upon seeing him, and because that hurt him and he wanted to spite her, henceforth he became the bad guy that Grandma had said he was.
You’re not a useless person, Eun-sung says, kneeling before him and gently putting her arms around him.
And so they hug, or, more accurately, she hugs him. Tightly and for a long time. Not a passionate hug but a comforting one, a “Everything is going to be okay; I am here for you” kind of hug. It’s the first time he is crying so openly in front of her.
In the distance Jun-se watches. We do not know how long he has been standing there.
He then walks away, the expression on his face like one who has been whacked on the head, his gait unsteady. On and on he walks, his eyes unseeing as the traffic rushes past. He looks like he will collapse any moment.
But if that sight is hard to bear, and we have dreaded it for many episodes now, it is nothing compared to what we will see when Jun-se meets with Eun-sung’s dad and pours out his sorrow to him.
Prepare your tissues, lots of them.
I cried as though my favorite character had died. And yes, it indeed felt that way, because Jun-se is so loved (he’s the reason I picked up this drama in the first place!), and he is such a good guy, and he deserves to be hysterically happy!
Instead he is crying. Not just a few tears, but anguished crying.
It’s unbearable to see our angel in so much pain. (And Bae Soo-bin’s acting will give you goose bumps, so realistic are his tears.)
Eun-sung’s dad cannot believe that there’s a woman out there who can reject someone as perfect (and good-looking) as Jun-se.
It’s not that she doesn’t like me, but there’s someone else in her heart. I had no idea I would react this way, but it’s like my heart is being ripped apart. I can’t take it anymore.
You know what is heartrending about this scene, besides Jun-se’s crying?
It’s that in the midst of his tears he still remembers that the reason Eun-sung’s dad had wanted to meet him was to seek his help concerning his daughter. And so he smiles, his eyes still wet, and asks what he can do for the older man.
That smiling-through-the-tears makes us wail even more.
Jun-se, stop being so selfless! Forget other people’s troubles, concentrate on your own! Hwan had Eun-sung to hug him, but who is going to hug you?
Immediately a roar can be heard in the distance, getting louder and louder. If you listen hard, you will realize it is the frantic running of many feet, their owners’ arms outstretched, as if they are flying.
WE WILL HUG YOU, PARK JUN-SE!
(And Thundie, who thought she was first in line, now finds herself pushed far back in a sea of drool, her glasses knocked askew by all the outstretched arms. Seriously, where is decorum?!)
Blissfully unaware of Jun-se’s emotional tumult, Hwan and Eun-sung have returned to Grandma’s room in the hospital.
There’s a marked difference now in their behavior toward each other.
No more uneasiness or shyness, no more pretending not to care. By initiating that hug in the garden, Eun-sung is showing Hwan that she accepts his love. From now on they will face everything together.
Seung-mi, who must have been given go-back-to-the-hospital-or-else marching orders by her mom, returns to a most unwelcome sight.
Hwan and Eun-sung together. Inside Grandma’s hospital room.
The witchling staggers out to the corridor, very much like how Jun-se walked when he saw Hwan and Eun-sung embracing. I can’t help feeling slightly sorry for her. She really shouldn’t wear such high heels; they are precariously unstable in moments of high drama.
And now, before I share good tidings and wrap up this recap, may I present to you another favorite image of Hwan?
Here he is, just waking up and just two seconds from jumping at the sight of Eun-sung beside him.
Apparently last night had been so sweet he thought he was just dreaming. Now he sees her, also stirring from her sleep, looking every bit as pretty as she was in his dream…
But better than a dream is what he sees next.
Grandma’s eyes are open… and she is smiling at them both!