Thirty Nine – K-Drama Episode 12 Recap, Review & Ending Explained

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.

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You can read our full season review of Thirty Nine here!


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8 thoughts on “Thirty Nine – K-Drama Episode 12 Recap, Review & Ending Explained”

  1. I mean, on the one-sided point, I actually interpret it as “I am not worried about her because she is stronger”, rather than “I don’t care about her”.

  2. I think this is one of the drama that portrays incident in real life. They just turned 39, and things are progressing not like they expected it to be. I agree that this may be based on someone’s experience, hence the ending does not do justice on certain people, such as romantic relationship of mijo & joohee. People expected they should’ve got married with their respective partners by the end of the drama, but in real life, that’s not always the case. The timeline ended after chan yeong death and how they tried to continue their lives after their age turned 40 (which also means the end of 39 yrs old era). For me, the drama basically wants to show how each of them face their life struggle & also found their true love at 39 years old, and life goes on after everything that has happened. I do agree they should’ve focused more on joohee relationship progress as they kinda skipped that part in the final episode.

    I also want to agree that 3-person friendship will always have that problem of 1 person feeling left behind. And even after fighting and discussing about it, it’s just the way it is. The person felt left behind will always feel the same way, and in the end, understood that she wasn’t left behind/unimportant, she is still a very important friend as much as the other, but a friendship between 2 people can’t be compared with another 2 different people. It’s a different feeling,, and therefore, she tolerated it till the end. We could see even after chan yeong left, mijo and joo hee is still good friends. That proves that joo hee is as important.

    Anyway for me, a good realistic drama to watch.

  3. This is such a personal drama. I feel that the writer or director creates this based on their experience or someone that they know. I agree with most of the things you say, especially about how it centered too much on Mi-Jo, and that’s how I assume that this is based on somebody’s experience. Joo-Hee is added to not make it an awkward two best friends (/lover?) stuff (because setting it off too strong will kill the dynamic of romantic relationship in the series and the promotional poster will look really weird too). But somehow they fail along the way, because Joo-Hee is then toss-aside, not just from her relationship itself with the two, but also her story with Hyeon-Jun. Her chemistry with Hyeon-Jun feels forced because they have a big age disparity. This actually can be avoided if they built an older character but I feel like they are too selfish just because they want to give people the idea of “age disparity could work in a romantic relationship too” (and to include someone younger to enrich some character variance), which fails because they are off-chemistry (not to blame the actors themselves) and the ending doesn’t really resolve their story either (maybe because the creators finally realized that they are off-chemistry), so that’s a shame.
    Honestly, I feel they really didn’t need to bring the idea of 39 itself to the series. I mean, it could happen to any other age besides 39, for example, any age starting from 29 is okay. I personally expect something different when it is focused on people aged 39, but it turns out to be a sour sad tear-jerking series instead. In any other way, this only made younger people really think bad when they are close to that age.
    Critics aside, I want to give applause to the execution of some tear-jerking scenes, like the first time Jin-Seok knows about Chan-Young’s condition, when Mi-Jo prevents Jin-Seok’s wife to make a scene in Chan-Young’s house, and the monumental brunch scene when Chan-Young greets her friends and family one by one.

  4. I enjoyed watching this K drama .Every frame was aesthetic and the acting was so natural and refreshing ,no artifice and contrived emotions ..But yes the plot did not fully do justice to all the 3 friends ..It was Son Yejin most of the way ..I was really enchanted by the nuanced , sensitive and warm portrayal of Seon U by Yeon Woo Jin’ …He did not get enough screen time in the last 2- 3 episodes.
    I wish Mi Jo could have been less self absorbed and shown her warmth to this caring man in her life ..Even her two friends were more affectionate towards him than her ..very strange because the screen chemistry between Yeon woo Jin’ and Son Yejin was undeniable and lovely .Also in K dramas there is always a deep problematic with the adopted children ..which makes them very self absorbed ….

  5. It is a good drama, it shows how a friendship should be nurtured, cherished despite the obstacles that they all encounter with the passing of time…4 stars for this finale….

  6. It was a disappointment..
    I feel that the show should have gravitated more to
    the relationship between others in the film, besides Mijo..
    So many other avenues to navigate..for example Joo Hee .what a lovable person..I do not think her feelings were shined on..
    .but in the end it seemed
    that the series. gave more time to Mijo and how she she and her fiancee interacted in the film was an after thought
    Hoping there is no Season 2

  7. Hi, I’ve watched the final episode. I can’t say that I agree with you. First, about Mi-Jo I think the fact that she was abandoned plays an important part in her state of mind regarding the imminent death of her dearest friend. She is not shallow, I don’t think, she is insecure and perhaps psychologically incapable of facing abandonment once again, so she is acting out in a way. That’s the message I understood the scenarists were conveying but I might be wrong.

    While it is true that Mi-Jo and Chan-Young are closer, that does not mean that Joo-Hee is not a close friend too. I’ve had friendship circles in high school and, there is always a friend that you are closer to, it’s just nature (this is observed among siblings as well).
    You think that the fact that Chan-Young says : ‘I’m not worried about Joo-Hee but I am worried about you’ is an indication that she does not care about Joo-Hee, but I think it’s because she realized that Joo-Hee is psychologically stronger and will therefore be more apt to get through the grieving process. Think about it, Joo-Hee was able to see Chan-Young lying in what appear to be an open casket but Mi-Jo could not. Joo-Hee was able to watch the film featuring Chan_Young, Mi-Jo could not. I thought it was pretty clear that Mi-Jo was having a much tougher time and Chan-Young sensed that and hence the ‘I’m not worried about Joo-Hee’. Now, I do not speak Korean and I was going with the Netflix translation but I suppose ‘ I worry more about you’ would have been better suited.
    Sorry for the long rant, but I did like a lot of things about this series (I think it deserves at least 3 stars). One criticism though and I think it may be related to my own cultural bias (I’ve lived almost all my life in Canada) is the fact that they made a big deal about being adopted. I’ve seen it in other K-dramas so, I’m guessing that it is an important issue in Korean society but not so much in North America.

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