Samseong-Dong, Hyochang-dong and Gocheok-dong
Episode 12 of Thirty Nine begins with us jumping slightly in the future. With time slipping away, Chan-Young is rushed into Hankuk University Hospital. Mi-Jo is there first, of course, but Joo-hee arrives after with Seon-U and the others. They’ve reached a critical point in Chan-Young’s deteriorating health. The doctor tells Mi-Jo to get ready, pointing out that this is going to become ever-frequent until the end.
What are Chan-Young’s final requests?
In the middle of the night, Chan-Young notices a service taking place for a recently deceased patient and she can’t help but feel like her time with the grim reaper is fast approaching. She sits with her bestie (no not Joo-Hee obviously) and gives Mi-Jo a list of people she wants to attend the funeral. “We’re so close and you’re so precious to me.” Mi-Jo tells her.
Eventually the pair sit together and begin giggling, with Joo-Hee fast asleep. That is, until they tease her about Hyeon-Jun and she bolts upright. Chan-Young’s night in the hospital is not permanent though, as she’s discharged and heads home. Jin-Seok is there for her, massaging her legs while Chan-Young’s mother watches over her daughter from afar. She eventually tells Jin-Seok outside that she’s going to visit once a week to make sure her daughter is okay.
When does Chan-Young pass away?
Jin-Seok is worried though, pointing out that Chan-Young is acting weird. It’s obviously because she knows her time is coming to an end and all of our characters just seem to be waiting for the inevitable to happen. Among those is Mi-Jo, who divides up Chan-Young’s list of people attending the funeral, with Joo-Hee tasked with phoning half while she tackles the others.
The following afternoon Chan-Young heads out with Jin-Seok and bumps into old school friends. Only, it turns out this was all planned, as Chan-Young meets all the people from her list – including Gi-yeong, Mi-Jo and Joo-Hee’s families. Her own parents are there too, along with her best friends Mi-Jo and Joo-Hee.
Eventually she gives a big speech, thanking everyone for attending and urging them to get a medical check-up too. As it starts to snow outside, Mi-Jo and the others vow not to cry and stick by that promise. It’s a beautiful brunch, one that fades out on a truly gorgeous sunset.
How do Mi-Jo and Joo-Hee surprise Chan-Young?
This final brunch sets us up to jump through time to spring. Chan-Young’s last. Everything is just as it was, with everyone getting on with their lives. Only, Mi-Jo is on edge over every phone notification, getting to the point of keeping the lights on at night just in case. Thankfully she has Chan-Young to talk to, who rings in the middle of the night and the next day, discussing medical check-ups and visiting her parents on their birthday. And then it happens.
Mi-Jo and Joo-Hee receive the dreaded call that Chan-Young has passed away. Tellingly, the picture used is that of Chan-Young smiling – the one Mi-Jo took of course. However, the gang move on with their lives quite quickly, surprisingly so actually, as we skip forward past the funeral and to the winter that night.
What happens in spring?
Hyeon-Jun is still doing well with his restaurant while Joo-Hee is thriving with her nail salon. Mi-Jo meanwhile is keeping to her promise and helping out Chan-Young’s parents while Jin-Seok is just hanging about too, reflecting on his time with Chan-Young. It turns out Chan-Young also asked the cake owner to prepare a cake every year too.
Meanwhile, So-Won has made peace with her adoptive father and points out she has rehearsals coming up soon with Seon-U. In fact, she hopes that he’ll be able to see her play in the future.
Speaking of play, a new movie is out in the cinemas (Chan-Young’s film) and her parents are obviously attending. Joo-hee asks Mi-Jo to show up with her but she refuses, instead deciding to go out with Seon-u instead. It’s a broken promise to Chan-Young, given she actually asked her to go and see it (typified by the post-it note) and also breaks her other promise to Joo-Hee to spend time with her and not drift apart.
Chan-Young’s movie becomes a hit but after, Joo-hee confronts Mi-Jo about her absence. Apparently she never went because she feels sorry she couldn’t see Chan-Young off. Joo-Hee gives her a reassuring hug.
What does Chan-Young get for Mi-Jo?
Over at Mi-Jo’s place, she receives a package from Chan-Young, delivered from Joo-Hee. Prior to her death, she asked Joo-hee to hand the gift over when she’s having a hard time and hurting. For Joo-Hee though, she’s a little upset that Chan-Young cares about Mi-Jo more than her (something she actually admits in a flashback)
So what’s with the gift? Well it turns out this happens to be a USB drive with a personalized video message solely for Mi-Jo. She thanks Mi-Jo for turning her funeral guest list into the best brunch ever. “I’m not worried about Joo-Hee, but I am worried about you.” She says, reinforcing just how one-sided this whole friendship has been all this time. “Mi-Jo, you’re a close friend and you’re precious to me.” She finishes, as it seems to do the trick and gives Mi-Jo the strength to carry on.
How does Thirty Nine end?
Mi-Jo and Joo-Hee do start spending more time together, watching TV at the latter’s house. Mi-J is also still with Seon-U too although she has a tendency to ring her number when she’s really drunk, clinging to the hope that she’ll pick up one day.
As the episode closes out, Joo-Hee and Mi-Jo visit Chan-Young at the cemetery. Joo-Hee is on the verge of proposing to Hyeon-Jun now and as the pair walk away, they reflect back on how much they miss Chan-Young.
The Episode Review
Thirty Nine limps over the finish line with a significantly sombre and poignant chapter…or it would be had we not fast forwarded past the funeral and jumped straight to a happy scene afterwards. The tone in this show has been wildly off the mark most of the way through but this segment is probably the most egregious example of it.
It’s a shame because the acting has been great and the moments involving Joo-hee breaking down or the video call at the end are fantastic… until you actually examine the characters and realize how shallow, vapid and selfish they are. Mi-Jo has always made this terminal illness about herself, with large swathes of the show dedicated to how she feels and how Chan-Young’s death is going to affect her.
Meanwhile you have Joo-hee who has been the odd one out through most of this K-drama and even points it out to her friends. Only, they completely brush over her feelings and carry on like nothing is wrong. The final lines of “I’m not worried about Joo-Hee but I am worried about you.” basically spell it out for the audience that she shouldn’t matter.
All of this then stems back to the significant amount of time spent with characters who really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The potential marriage/relationship with Jin-Seok ends with him alone while So-Won’s orphan angle is just done with her hopeful for the future but no reconciliation with her father, which is a shame.
Either way though this has been a really disappointing show and despite some parts of this finale wrapping up nicely, there’s only so much you can do with such overwhelming problems with the narrative.