Trauma, 9/11 & Broken Promises
Episode 15 of Twenty Five Twenty One begins with Yi-Jin urging Yu-Rim to open up and tell the press just why she’s changing her nationality. She refuses, begging him not to mention her parents. Regrettably, Yi-Jin agrees.
All of this actually occurred prior to those scenes in the tunnel last episode, as we catch up to our present day timeline. Hee-Do finds Yu-Rim sobbing and on his knees. Of course, this links way back to episode 1 and 2 where Hee-Do openly showed her emotion to him. Now the roles have reversed – he’s showing his emotion to her.
Yi-jin is overcome with guilt, prompting Hee-Do to jump in and comfort him. She understands the dynamic between the two, and the complexities of this fencer/reporter relationship. She also apologizes to him for her hurtful words before. This gives Yi-Jin the courage to head back to work and decide he’s going to transfer to the local news, away from sports and where he may potentially hurt his friends.
With technology advancing, Yu-Rim and Hee-Do start talking over email, with the pair continuing to chat about their training and how busy Yi-Jin has been now that he’s working. However, they’re sacrificing sleep to see each other. They still manage to spend New Years together, with Yi-Jin finishing his broadcast and then spending time with Yi-Jin as they see the New Year in together. With the New Year though, that also brings a match with Yu-Rim in Madrid.
Yu-Rim is doing her best to adjust to the language and weather. Eventually, she struggles to read the emails Hee-Do is sending, including those confirming that Ji-Woong is contemplating starting his own webpage and showing off his fashion sense online. Seung-Wan is still good friends with him, but she has managed to get into the college she was after.
Time advances, and with that comes a change in Hee-Do and the other students who all stand proudly together outside, with Hee-Do acting like a proper leader on the cusp of traveling out to Madrid. She’s confident that her match with Yu-Rim is going to be a classic but Hee-Do doesn’t want to see her before the big match.
Naturally, Hee-Do and Yi-Rim both win their semi-finals, going on to face each other. The final is wrought with emotion and tension, as we see both Yu-Rim and Hee-Do’s journey to this point and their confliction emotions going into this fight. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch, especially when Hee-Do starts arguing with the referee – a throwback to Yu-Rim doing the same thing all those episodes ago. Coach Yang calls for calm.
The match ends with Hee-Do winning but it’s a bittersweet victory. The two best friends hug it out afterwards. Although Hee-Do is now a gold medallist, the pair are overcome by emotion. All the heartache and drama is too much for them as they continue to hug, unmoving from the middle of the arena. This becomes a symbol of sorts, as the press run with the story “friendship before borders.”
In the present, Hee-Do knows that her daughter is reading her diary and is absolutely fine with it. This is the time where friendship and love is all that mattered to her. It seems like there are no more entries after the Yu-Rim duel though, which she claims she has actually lost.
Seeing how technology has rapidly advanced is pretty crazy, as we go from phones with an aerial across to an early Samsung flip phone. Hee-Do has just got home from winning her gold medal and Yi-Jin shows up at 1am that morning to remind her of their 600 year anniversary. And the date of that? September 12th 2001. And what happens a day earlier? Yeah, this isn’t going to go well is it?
At the airport, Hee-Do waits for Yi-Jin as news comes in about the planes hitting the World Trade Center. We’re obviously a day before the anniversary and Yi-Jin is there to broadcast on what’s happened. This means that Hee-Do needs to head back home empty-handed, the words of her mother (warning that someone is always sorry and missing the other) rattling around in her head. “Thank you, sorry and I love you.” Yi-Jin says in the letter back home. It’s that word again – sorry.
Yi-Jin is traveling out to New York to report on what’s happened, as Hee-Do turns on the news and sees the towers fall for herself. She’s shocked, as Yi-Jin makes it to New York.
His representative there confirms that there are 21 missing Koreans. His job is to interview the survivors. In the middle of this horrific ordeal, Yi-Jin tries to compose himself as one of the women there speaks of her ordeal, urging the public to help. Because of what’s happened, Yi-Jin is to stay in America for at least another month. That eventually leads to Yi-Jin reporting on the war in Afghanistan.
While Hee-Do just innocently watches the news, Yi-Jin has changed. He’s clearly suffering as his voice has lost the same raw enthusiasm it once did. With the war raging on, Yi-Jin continues to work. The missing person reports are piling up and Yi-Jin is taking pills to help him sleep. He’s even smoking too and suffering from nightmares involving the company building being bombed.
When he rings Hee-Do and explains how he’s feeling, she tries to encourage him and classes it as growth. He shrugs it off though, as Hee-Do realizes that her support isn’t getting through. Even worse, her mother confirms there’s an opening in the New York office which Yi-Jin has applied for. With snow tumbling down, the New Year rolls round but Yi-Jin isn’t there this time, leaving Hee-Do all by herself.
The Episode Review
Wow, what an episode. I’m actually at a loss for words at how good that chapter was. The entire 90 minutes are so poetically orchestrated from start to finish, with lots of throwbacks to earlier moments in the show and crescendo with not one but two emotional points in this Korean drama. Ironically, the episode is essentially split right down the middle, just like a fencing match.
The first half of this episode tackles the drama involving Yu-Rim and Hee-Do, who understand how each other are feeling but their silence is something they both share. Eventually they compete in the match and with it, all the emotion comes pouring out through some absolutely stunning montages that feel so fitting. And that hug… wow. What a beautifully symbolic way to show how much this match meant to them both.
Then the second half of the episode switches gears and begins to show Hee-Do and Yi-Jin together. Their anniversary falling on September 12th is such a horribly bittersweet bit of irony and because of that, their world – like so many others that year – are turned upside down. The pair begin to drift apart, thanks to Yi-Jin flying out to New York.
PTSD is a very real thing for journalists – especially those on the frontlines – and by the end of the episode we see that everyone else in that office has also been suffering too.
It’s such a heart-breaking way of seeing Yi-Jin turn from this happy-go-lucky, carefree paperboy to an emotionally scarred individual who’s popping pills and drinking.
Anyone else notice how that picture of Hee-Do was propped up by two bottles of alcohol behind it? It’s a horrible juxtaposition of innocence and a darker need to push away those dark thoughts. Eventually it ends with Hee-Do realizing that she and Yi-Jin are drifting apart after the all important – ”Congrats on turning 25, Yi-jin.” “Congrats on turning 21, Hee-do.” which is a pivotal moment for this show’s title and for the direction these two are going in life.
The choice of playing JAURIM’s song in full at the end, alongside the masterful editing and handling of trauma from 9/11, are both outstanding elements to this show and I just hope all of this hard work from the team will be rewarded with an outstanding finale tomorrow.