Lost At Sea
Episode 16 of Start-Up begins with the reporter from Hyungju Daily newspaper asking Dong-Chun where Dal-Mi’s company are situated. As he heads there, Ji-Pyeong finds out about this reporter and realizes they’ve probably received a tip-off about the ransomware attack.
He races up to their company as Dal-Mi and the others unwittingly divulge details about their company and the ransomware attack.
In the wake of this, Do-San checks out the anagram solution and realizes this leads back to Shin Hyeon and Shin Jeong, something many people will have probably worked out by now. Anyway, the group contemplate what this means and realize it could have been a big scheme concocted with Morning group to take them down.
Ji-Pyeong heads up to try and help Dal-Mi but it turns out they’re dealing with things in a pretty savvy way, with Dal-Mi well aware of what this reporter’s game is and turning it around by divulging who was responsible for the ransomware attack in the first place.
Of course, it’s a stroke of luck that this is the case but it works well for them nonetheless – especially when they twist the reporter’s hand to publish this new story about Morning Group.
When Ji-Pyeong finds out, he heads back to his office looking downhearted given Dal-Mi no longer needs his guidance. Anyway, Do-San and Dal-Mi meet Won-Deok who thanks him for making Noongil and for how much help it’s been. (I’m guessing this is off-screen given she’s not actually used it much until now)
She then goes on to tell him she’ll “write down her feedback in a notebook like last time” which is obviously a well-intentioned joke. Do-San explains the colours on the cactus toy in front of her but this entire time she tellingly doesn’t use the Noongil app.
Back home, Ji-Pyeong greets Won-Deok who heads over to give him food. As she does, he asks whether she wants to move into an apartment to help her going up and down the stairs. As they talk, Won-Deok senses that he’s getting ready to leave and asks him to call no matter what – whether he’s doing well or not. It’s a really touching moment and it ends with them both hugging and tears flowing freely.
Back at work, Dal-Mi sends over a list of potential companies who are also bidding alongside them. As they all joke about what they’d do if they win, Do-San mentions how he’ll propose if they do.
Alongside that, Sa-Ha also tells them she’ll reveal the name of her boyfriend if they win. On the back of this, all of them work hard to try and make the most of this project, working through the night to make their project the best it can be.
With the office clear of people, Dal-Mi and Do-San talk about the company and how far they want the business to thrive. Dal-Mi mentions her Father’s car accident and wants to make a company that’ll prevent this happening again. Do-San promises her he’ll make it a reality and win the bid.
Meanwhile, Ji-Pyeong meets with the orphan, Hong Ji-Seok, and clearly sees a lot of himself in this guy. Given his business model revolves around helping orphans stand on their own two feet again, he’s happy to proceed with this. His goal is 100 million won. In fact, Ji-Pyeong decides to do more than that and invests that money personally, along with another 300 million won as charity. Afterward, Ji-Pyeong tells Dong-Chun he did a good job and struggles to hold back a big smile on his face.
Meanwhile, Dal-Mi comments how much Do-San has changed while Sa-Ha introduces Chul-San as her boyfriend to her sister who arrives at Sand Box. Not long after, they head up to the office and find out they’ve passed the first stage and are now one of the finalists.
With all the group joined together celebrating with cake, they contemplate whether to expand the company, recruiting more people and investing heavily in R&D. In order to do so, the first step is opening up a funding round which In-Jae speaks to her sister about and exhibits concerns. This is a completely separate meeting though given for some reason she’s not actually with the group while they celebrate their success.
Dal-Mi is confident they have a competitive edge and wants to find investors to buy into the company. However, In-Jae is against this; a company that gets investments without revenue isn’t valued highly and they’ll lose control. In-Jae wants to take a more measured approach but Dal-Mi is insistent.
After their meeting, Ji-Pyeong and Dal-Mi meet up on the rooftop where the former tells her she owes nothing and admits that the letters were a massive comfort to him. He apologizes for not seeing her after 15 years of writing the letters while Do-San saw her the day he read them. Ji-Pyeong has decided to have a clean break away from everything and smiles warmly as Dal-Mi replies with “okay.”
In-Jae heads over to a public meeting with her former father and tells him that she’s no longer willing to accept him and that the documents have come through finalize the separation of their family bond.
As she walks away, Yong-San follows her out and apologizes for his words in the past. Do-San then rings and interrupts her as it turns out new investors are moving into their space. Do-San gathers the team and apologizes for not bringing in a competent CEO earlier and they all start crying, reminiscing on times gone by.
Meanwhile, In-Jae shows up at Won-Deok’s house and helps her sign for a parcel. She apologizes for taking so long to show and hugs her Grandmother warmly. She claims not to have cried but it’s obvious from her smeared mascara in the next scene that she has.
In-Jae shows them all the letters and now Won-Deok decides to use the app, which tells her that In-Jae’s changed her surname back again. During this touching moment, Dal-Mi rubs it in by telling Won-Deok that she should have showed up before, when their grandmother could still see.
As Won-Deok closes her eyes, a moment from the past shines through involving their Father bringing back chicken and all of them eating together as a family.
As In-Jae heads into Dal-Mi’s room, she finds the music box addressed to In-Jae and decides to take it. In exchange, she gives her sister 10,000 won, believing that scaling up the company is a good idea in the end and believing Dal-Mi will outdo her in the long-run.
That investment comes from Sun-Hak, who decides to invest personally in the business given she’s always actively rooted for Sand Box since the beginning. Believe it or not, Ji-Pyeong is the one who’s asked to feed back the news to Do-San.
Anyway, he breaks the news to Do-San about the investment and admits that this isn’t something he’s happy about doing. Furthermore, he also knows how much Do-San hated his investment in the past and is loathe to admit as much. Do-San however, tells him to keep his emotions out of this and give his honest opinion about the investment.
As an investor he doesn’t want to pass up this opportunity – especially given it could result in massive gains going forward (or a J-curve as Sun-Hak calls it). Afterwards, Ji-Pyeong and Do-San hug it out and chuckle to themselves, deciding to greet Dal-Mi personally and move forward with this investment.
Afterwards, Do-San and Dal-Mi pray for their future success – including having their business worth over a billion dollars. Believing they can do anything, the pair head in to the group of investors and hope for the best.
As we cut forward in time, Dal-Mi leaves a message up on the wall admitting that she wants to “Change the world.” Do-San meanwhile writes a note of his own simply saying “follow your dream” in English – a homage to his baseball star but also a reference to his earlier message about how Dal-Mi is his dream.
During the epilogue, we jump forward to present day in 2020. CheongMyeong is a successful company and through a series of photos we see the team’s journey this far. We see photos of Dal-Mi and Do-San’s marriage before panning out and seeing Do-San and Dal-Mi with desks next to one another, the former as the Chief Technology Officer and Dal-Mi as the CEO.
It’s the annual shareholder’s meeting so Dal-Mi and Do-San are out the office, holding hands as they walk toward the meeting. Joining them is In-Jae who’s…working as something? and Ji-Pyeong who’s obviously one of the investors and presumably doing well for himself. As they all walk together, the drama comes to a close.
The Episode Review
I’ve been pretty vocal about this Korean drama since it started and for all those who have commented over the weeks, thank you so much for your thoughts! Start-Up has somehow gone from one of the must-watch dramas of the week to descending into whatever we’ve got at the end. Before diving into the negatives though, let’s go over the positives of this first,
Some of the moments during this finale were great, in particular the various interactions with Won-Deok. I really did tear up when Won-Deok closed her eyes and saw the family sitting on the sofa eating chicken together.
It shows how far this family have come and how the passing of time can really make you cherish past memories that much more. In fact, this whole motif about the past and letting go of ill feelings and hatred has worked really well across the season. In-Jae may have been underutilized but she at least gets a semi-decent conclusion with her family at the end as they patch up their differences and concede defeat to Dal-Mi.
Outside the few moments of story brilliance, the rest of the narrative has been a bit of a mess (more on that in a minute) but it’s done absolute wonders for Kim Sun-Ho. His success on the back of Start-Up will easily be the stand-out part of this drama and I predict big things to come from him going forward. For those unaware, his Instagram has grown by 2.5 million in the space of 2 months and he’s been involved in advertisements and all sorts – he’s definitely one to watch going forward.
Now onto the negatives. This is one drama I’ve been pretty passionate about and seeing the story unfold the way it has has really been disappointing. Just as a kind of disclaimer, I’m not Team Do-San or Team Ji-Pyeong – I’m Team Good-writing and that has unfortunately left the building long ago.
On the back of Private Lives, Record Of Youth and (to many people) DoDoSolSolLaLaSol, Start-Up had a chance to break the nasty trend of Netflix Korean dramas ending on a whimper. Alas, that’s not the case here.
Do-San telling Ji-Pyeong to keep his emotions out of his decision making is honestly quite ironic to me. Throughout this drama we’ve seen Do-San acting impulsively and basing his decisions on his emotions at the time.
He rejected Tarzan because of his break-up to Dal-Mi. He punches Ji-Pyeong because he didn’t want to hear his feedback and even smashed the plaque at Morning Group after hearing their true intentions – all big examples of him putting his emotions first.
That’s before deciding to go in all guns blazing with this whole “we don’t need a map while setting sail” angle that Dal-Mi has also pitched forward and decided to take on. This may sound like a compelling and romantic dream but in the world of business, it’s not a great model of success.
In-Jae has probably been the most under-utilized character in this drama though. I feel really sorry for her given she’s been instrumental in giving Dal-Mi the chance to be the CEO but yet she’s been made an outsider by her own company. She’s not present at any of the celebratory moments this episode and we don’t even see what she’s been up to as we jump forward to the present day. She’s obviously not the CEO or CTO so where is she?
Anyway, the whole romance between Dal-Mi and Do-San has been orchestrated for a while and it’s actually obvious they were going this route midway through the show. The way this has been developed though, adding a contrived love triangle in the middle, really holds this one back from being better. In fact, it actually makes things worse given Dal-Mi’s whole “I’m not sure” angle that strung out this story rather than focusing on the business aspect of things.
This poor writing extends across to Do-San and I really feel sorry for Nam Joo-Hyuk. He’s a great actor and his performance through this drama has been fantastic. The writing has really made him look like an awful person and if you look at his past it doesn’t paint him in a very favourable light.
He lied, cheated and manipulated his way into the position he’s in now (even as far back as cheating on the math exam) and even lashed out and acted aggressively on more than one occasion. It’s made even worse when you realize Do-San’s “dream” was changed midway through the show to Dal-Mi rather than his own aspirations.
While this may seem romantic on the surface, the execution is anything but. It actually makes him seem one-dimensional, which is a shame because I’d have liked to see more of his past and the issues affecting him.
The real icing on the cake though comes from Dal-Mi telling Do-San “you’ve changed.” There’s the old adage of show don’t tell in screenwriting which is one of the first lessons you learn.
If you have to tell your audience that something’s changed then it means the story hasn’t done a good enough job of convincing the audience that’s happened.
And that ultimately is the biggest disappointment here. From a drama that started so brightly, sailing off without a map into the sunset leaves Start-Up lost at sea and lacking many redeeming features.
Thank you to everyone who’s read these recaps over the weeks and for each and every comment you leave! Did you enjoy the finale? Did you feel like the characters and story ended in a satisfying manner? Do let us know in the comments below with your thoughts on Start-Up!