Episode 1 of Thirty-Nine begins with a look at our three main characters and best friends, Mi-Jo, Chan-Young and Joo-Hee. They’re on the verge of turning 40 and spend a lot of time together. They do their best to avoid baby showers or weddings, believing they’re too old for that now. However, they do attend funerals – an ominous bit of foreshadowing I assume?
Anyway, our plot starts with Dr Mi-Jo Cha arriving at work. She’s a dermatologist but is going to take a one year sabbatical to try and freshen up after working non-stop. Her sister Mi-Hyun is not exactly happy, given she still owes money.
So naturally, when she finds out Joo-Hee and Chan-Young are not going to pay for treatment later that doesn’t go down too well. The pair have playful banter together, with Mi-Hyeon teasing her about being adopted.
Still, she’s pleasant enough to her friends in the hallway, with Chan-Young gushing over her looks and commenting how young Mi-Hyeon looks. When she leaves, they head in for treatment. However, drama soon ensues when a bunch of women show up and accuse Mi-Jo of cheating. As the drama escalates over to the police station, our trio of friends await their turn to give a statement.
Mi-Hyeon shows up to check on her sister, demanding to know what happened. She’s wearing a bright pink dress too and it certainly turns heads. As we find out later on, she’s actually involved in dance sports and has been doing this in secret, unwilling to tell their parents.
Anyway, the whole incident at the police station is one big misunderstanding. The women got the names mixed up, and this isn’t the same Cha she was searching for.
However, Mi-Jo is quick to implore her to find the real woman and cheater, demanding she do what she can to make her pay. With the situation cleared up, Jin-Seok shows up to take Joo-Hee and his partner, Chan-Young, home. They’re not married, and in fact they barely spend much intimate time together, given all they tend to do is eat and watch movies. But why?
Well, as we find out later on in the episode Jin-Seok is actually marriage and he’s been having an affair on her with Chan-Young for a fair while.
The next day the group show up to help the kids at the Onnuri Child Care Center. Their new English teacher, Kim Sun-Woo, shows up and offers to take over from Mi-Jo on the grill. She completely shuts him down and encourages the man to take a seat. However, the pair do exchange a tentative smile.
After eating, the three ladies discuss Kim and whether he’s married or a bachelor. One of the boys there, Hoon, talks to Mi-Jo separately as they discuss adoption. Mi-Jo tells him she’s leaving for a year and he’s certainly bummed out by this news. As Mi-Jo tells her friends later on too, she’s heading to Palm Springs in the US.
While Mi-Jo talks to her friends at a bar, Mi-Jo grills Chan-Young over her ties with Jin-Seok. When Chan-Young talks about fate, Mi-Jo is quick to call her out for it. Chan-Young loses her temper and heads outside. Mi-Jo follows her and learns the truth.
Chan-Young and Jin-Seok have never actually slept together and she’s known him before his wife so technically it’s not an affair. At least not according to her anyway.
When Jin-Seok got his current-wife pregnant, that’s when the pair broke things off, with Chan-Young making the decision not to follow him abroad at that time. Together, Chan-Young makes the big decision to give him up and also quit smoking too, doing what she can to move on from this phase in her life.
Interestingly, this chat about fate and destiny comes back to Mi-Jo, in the form of the suave Mr Kim. Mi-Jo left her watch behind at the care center. Given Sun-Woo is heading back to Seoul anyway, he agrees to meet her and give it back in person. The thing is, Mi-Jo is very drunk and after handing him some flowers, an awkward silence washes over them both.
Sun-Woo suggests they head out to eat, which inevitably sees Mi-Jo drink even more. She does admit that this orphanage she helps out at is actually where she grew up before she was adopted. After their meal, Mi-Jo staggers off, deciding to get a taxi home. So too does Sun-Woo, saving Mi-Jo’s number under the name “Peony” which is pretty cute.
Sun-Woo and Mi-Jo both have a love of the theatre too, which brings them both to the same concert the following night. It seems they have a lot in common, which Sun-Woo is quick to point out. He even invites her over for the night too, where the pair end up kissing and, it’s implied, have sex.
Chan-Young shows up at Jin-Seok’s office, but so too does his wife and it causes a bit of friction. However, she brushes it off as a business meeting and eventually ends up shielding under a building from the rain when she leaves. Jin-Seok walks his wife to the car and symbolically shields her with his umbrella. It’s a tell-tale sign that she needs to move on – and hopefully she does.
Chan-Young takes a bold stand that night and meets Jin-Seok, asking if he’ll divorce his wife or not. When he fails to reply, she realizes that there’s no way he’ll break up so she needs to move past him. After quitting smoking, she’s also going to quit him too.
As the episode closes out, Mi-Jo arranges to meet the new director who’s going to take over from her. As she heads to the restaurant that night, out of all the people to show up it’s Sun-Woo. Mi-Jo is shocked and as the pair look at one another, we fade to black.
The Episode Review
Thirty Nine begins its 12 episode run with a pretty decent opening chapter, one that leans into the romantic vibes while simultaneously playing out like a slice of life drama. There’s some good chemistry between the central three characters, although Joo-Hee hasn’t had a whole lot of the screen-time just yet.
Despite that, the idea of fate and entwining this around Mi-Jo and Sun-Woo’s “chance” encounters is a nice way of paying into that fairytale romance that the pair emanate. Thirty Nine also plays with the idea of growing older and beauty – both inside and out.
The tragic tale of Chan-Young and Jin-Seok is one such example, although it seems Chan-Young has now made the right choice and decided to let him go. It’ll be interesting to see if she manages to branch out and find another man to fill that void or if she’ll go it alone as a strong, independent woman.
While there’s not a whole lot of dramatic twists and turns, there’s a pretty nice vibe to this drama, establishing the characters and their banter very early on. It almost feels like we’re going to get a time jump at some point, especially as Mi-Jo is intending to take a sabbatical.
Then again, the writer could lean into more of the workplace romance vibes if Mi-Jo has to show Sun-Woo the ropes at work, deciding to stick around after all. We’ll have to wait and see, but this chapter sets everything up nicely for tomorrow’s follow-up.