Twenty Again: Episode 16 (Final)
I’m really sad about saying goodbye to this show. Twenty Again made a simple story about a woman and her road to self-discovery an uplifting, emotional journey where we could root for our heroine to grow young so that she could grow up. Maybe it even inspired some of us to do some soul-searching of our own. I feel like I walked away with the same life lessons without having to pay the tuition to go back to college… for which I’m pretty grateful, actually, since I’m still making payments for going the first time.
SONG OF THE DAY
Kim Yerim – “Goodbye 20” [ Download ]
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Nora rides her bicycle through the neighborhood in the morning and stops to have toast on a park bench just like she did once with Hyun-seok. We don’t know how much time has passed, but it doesn’t seem like more than a few months. She heads to the market and gets picky about the vegetables she’s buying, saying that she’s on a shopping test right now.
Then it’s over to Dong-chul’s shop to learn Grandma’s ddukbokki recipe, which he’s teaching her in secret over multiple lessons. He runs off for yet another audition, and Nora picks up a newspaper to find a story on Hyun-seok and his new theater project, using the title she came up with: “Finding Lost Time.”
She scrambles to hide the paper as Yoon-young arrives, and assures her that she doesn’t regret dropping out of school at all. Flashback to the day Nora first told Yoon-young that she dropped out: Yoon-young was shocked and appalled, and asked why Nora would quit something she wanted to do so badly.
Nora realized that there was no reason to keep going to school—Woo-chul was the reason she went in the first place, and the cost of tuition over four years wouldn’t make sense for her budget. And other than dance, there was nothing she really wanted to study and pursue.
Yoon-young said that lots of people go to college for the specs, whether it’s to get a job or otherwise, and suggested graduating anyway for Hyun-seok’s sake. But Nora declared that she was done trying to match other people’s levels according to what the world thinks (good for you), and added that she was going to leave Hyun-seok in the past as a first love.
Yoon-young asked if she wouldn’t regret it, and Nora said she didn’t know, but there was no way she could stand on her own while constantly depending on Hyun-seok and letting him protect her.
Back in the present, Yoon-young offers to go with Nora to honor Grandma’s birthday, and they remember wistfully that their last trip was to that same old house in the country when they were in high school. Yoon-young asks if Hyun-seok has been by, and tells her that he bit Dong-chul’s head off for even mentioning Nora’s name, and told him never to speak of her again. Yoon-young thinks that’s overkill, but Nora expected as much. Still, she looks sad to hear it.
Hyun-seok is pricklier than usual, even for him, and yells his way through rehearsals. Soon-nam busts in with snacks and breaks the tension, though he looks terrified that Hyun-seok will just yell at him instead.
He must be the new assistant, which I hope means that he decided to pursue his dreams after all. Hyun-seok tenses up when the other director asks why they never eat ddukbokki anymore, and just says he doesn’t feel like it.
Nora is happy to have a chance encounter with Hyun-seok at the bookstore, when she sees him walking her way. As he walks up, she prepares to say that it’s been a while… but then he just continues right past her like she’s invisible. Ouch.
Nora can’t believe he’d ignore her (are you forgetting that whole who-are-you business when you first met on campus?) and is about to chase after him to get mad… But then she remembers that he said it’s time to move on from his first love, and that nothing lasts forever. She lets him walk away.
She heads home to her single-room apartment and opens up her laptop to Skype with Min-soo. He’s spending a year traveling around the world doing volunteer work, and he seems so happy and carefree as he talks about how it’s broadening his mind. They sign off, and Nora sighs that Min-soo’s all grown up now.
She opens up the book that Hyun-seok gave her about finding your happiness today, and flips through the pages she’d carefully hand-copied and illustrated day by day. She finishes that volume and moves onto a new book, and then takes out the news article about Hyun-seok that she’d clipped out.
In the interview, he says that he buried his past in a time capsule so that he could focus solely on the present while he’s working on this production. It makes her angry all over again to think of their bookstore run-in, and she gives Hyun-seok’s photo the evil eye. She takes out his keepsake box and opens up the card he sent her with roses, and grumbles that he once said he wanted to look out for her.
Nora is all packed up to go visit Grandma’s house, but Yoon-young calls to say that she forgot about taking her mother to the hospital for a checkup, and they agree to meet at the train station. As Nora waits in the street for a cab, she sees a couple sharing headphones and it makes her think of Hyun-seok.
Out of nowhere, Hyun-seok pulls up in his car and offers Nora a ride, which seems odd given his bookstore behavior. Nora says no at first so he doesn’t bother asking twice, but then he changes his mind and packs all her things into the car anyway.
He isn’t particularly nice about it or anything, and Nora grumps to herself that he hasn’t asked how she is even once. He spends the whole ride on the phone, and seems to use that as an excuse to just keep driving directly to Grandma’s house instead of the train terminal.
At first Nora argues, but he says he has a right to see Grandma too. She calls it burdensome, but he asks why: “First love is over. Just think of it as seeing an old friend.” She still argues, until Yoon-young calls to say that she’s running behind.
They arrive at Grandma’s house, and Hyun-seok offers to clean up a little while Nora visits Grandma’s grave. She tells Grandma about going to college with the money she left her, but says that she quit because there was nothing else she wanted to learn there. She tearfully thanks Grandma for being born as her grandmother and for loving her.
Then she immediately follows that up with a whiny complaint about Hyun-seok and what his deal is, heh. She’s startled when he shows up to swap places, and he starts pulling weeds from Grandma’s grave as Nora cooks.
Nora pouts as she makes food and grumbles aloud, “You were all, twenty-year first love, blah blah. How could you empty your heart out like that in just a few months?” She thinks back to how sweet he was back in high school, when they were here at the house practicing for their show.
She suddenly remembers now that Hyun-seok went to go get a watermelon and she went too… and that’s the moment when she told him he’d be a famous director in twenty years. She follows Little Hyun-seok out of the house and down to the creek, as she remembers the conversation where they’d made bets about their future predictions and buried a time capsule together.
Hyun-seok had taken care to remember the exact location, and Nora had assured him that they’d come together to dig them up, and they pinky-swore on it. Nora looks around for the spot now, not quite sure where it is.
But from across the creek, Hyun-seok calls out directions and guides her to the spot under the tree. She’s surprised that he remembered the time capsule all this time, but he says he isn’t interested in digging it up. He tells her she can read them both.
So Nora digs and digs, and lights up when she finds the two bottles buried right where they left them twenty years ago. She opens up Hyun-seok’s first, which says:
Hyun-seok: “Thirty-eight-year-old Ha Nora of 2015! You’re the same—you’re still bright, and strong, and beautiful, just like you were twenty years ago on July 30, 1995. Ha Nora, I was happy and grateful that you were by my side for twenty years. Let’s be happy in the future too. —Cha Hyun-seok, who always wants to be by Ha Nora’s side.”
Then she opens up her own, where she’d predicted that Hyun-seok would be the best director in the country, then crossed out her name and written instead: “The person who wants to look out for you.” It’s the exact wording he’d used with her when he sent her flowers. Her eyes well up with tears, as she realizes that he’s read this already.
She looks up and sees that Hyun-seok is already walking away, and chases after him to ask if he dug up the time capsule without her. He says he did, and we see in flashback that he’d come to pay his respects at Grandma’s grave after army duty. He dug up the time capsule to throw it away, then thought better of it and read the note inside.
Nora asks why he put it back in the ground, and he says maybe he’d hoped that they’d still come back twenty years later together. He says that she’s that kind of person to him, then turns to go.
Nora looks like she’s about to burst into tears when he walks away from her, and runs after him. Yay! She grabs him in a backhug and cries into his back, and he asks stoically what this means.
She says she’s figured it out now—the final assignment he’d given them in class to pinpoint that one pivotal moment in your life that changes everything. Nora: “I think it’s now.” But Hyun-seok remains distant as he answers, “I don’t understand unless you say it directly, like the last time.”
She remembers saying that she didn’t want him beside her, so now she says, “I want you to be by my side.” He asks why, and she cries, “Because I like you. Because I missed you. Because I can’t forget you. I thought I was going to die from missing you so much!”
That finally cracks his armor and puts a smile on his face, and he asks her to say it again. Instead, Nora asks, “You didn’t forget me, did you?” He turns around to hug her and replies, “How could I forget you?”
She wails and calls him a jerk as she pounds him on the back, and he looks totally offended. It seems like the start of a typical argument between them, only this time Hyun-seok just swoops in with a kiss instead. It takes Nora by surprise, but soon they’re lost in the moment.
Later, they set the table for Grandma’s birthday with all of her favorite foods. Nora pours a glass of makgulli for Grandma and one for herself, and she says it’s a birthday tradition because Grandma liked makgulli so much.
Hyun-seok scoffs and tells her to stop using Grandma as an excuse, knowing full well that she’s been drinking the stuff since she was six and dancing at village parties. Lol, it’s unfair that he knows all her embarrassing stories from Grandma.
He shares another story he knows, about why Grandma loved red bean bread so much. One day she worked all day at her job and her boss could only pay her in red bean bread, and she was so hungry that she desperately wanted a bite. But she had a granddaughter at home who was starving all day. Grandma brought home the bread only hoping for one small bite at the end, but the first thing that starving little girl did was to feed Grandma the first bite.
Nora’s never heard this story before, and Hyun-seok remembers that Grandma used to say that you couldn’t help but love Nora. He says that it was Grandma who made it possible for him to love Nora deeply.
He tells Grandma that Nora finally came to her senses, and when she argues, he says she made him wait for three months and ten days. She asks how he could go all that time without coming to see her once, and he asks how she can be sure he didn’t. Of course you stalked her. Of course you did.
But what surprises her is that he calls her out on stalking him, and teases her for wanting to see him that badly. We see that she had come to steal peeks at Hyun-seok thinking she was being stealthy, and he let her carry on. That’s adorable.
Dong-chul would bring him tastes of Nora’s ddukbokki, and he took pictures of her at the ddukbokki shop when she wasn’t looking, like the stalker that he is. He heard from Yoon-young that Nora was dropping out of school, and decided to just hang back for a while and let her do her thing.
Yoon-young was worried that Hyun-seok was really giving up on Nora, but he’d decided to just be patient and give her the space to do what she wants. In the present, Nora scowls to hear that their friends were in on it, and asks why he gave her space.
Hyun-seok says he wanted to become someone who gave her courage in life: “So that you’d come to me on your own two feet.” He argues that he was being patient while he waited for her, and that he was extremely nervous she wouldn’t come back to him.
She points out that he saw her watching him from afar, but he says that wasn’t enough—it was a sign that she didn’t have the courage to grab onto him for real, that she didn’t believe in his love enough. She only makes him mad by agreeing, then teases, “It was worth the wait, right?”
Hyun-seok says goodbye to Grandma and promises to come back with Nora, and prods her to say the same. She tells Grandma that she might come back with Hyun-seok, depending on how he does.
Then we catch up with Woo-chul, who has really embraced the disheveled professor look. The buttons are falling off his shirt and he looks like he doesn’t shower often, but he’s hard at work to make something of himself at his new university in a small town (an entirely new school, not the one he was trying to leave Woocheon for).
He gives a lecture on narcissistic personality disorder, seemingly from a more enlightened place, and then notices Yi-jin stalking him on campus. She attempts to hide, though he points out that her incognito outfit is the exact same from when they were hiding their affair. He sighs that he made her hide when they were together and is making her hide even now, and declares himself a bad person. Huh, is that self-awareness? Well I never.
He assumes that she couldn’t get over her rage, but all she says is that it’s been hard to forget. He sticks his cheek out and tells her to hit him, and when she cries that he’s misunderstanding her, he wonders if it’s possible that she means she couldn’t forget him. He confirms that he moved here on his own, and made a clean break with Nora.
In flashback we see Woo-chul and Nora meeting one last time before his move. He asked if she still hated him, but Nora said she had no feelings toward him one way or another. He said that he realized how young he was back then too, and how he only thought of hiding his mistake. Nora told him that it was all in the past, and to only live looking ahead to the future.
He gave her the necklace he’d bought for her back when he thought he could win her back, and though it’s with a different intent now, he still wanted her to have it. She opened it to find a note tucked inside, and all it said was, “For twenty years… I’m sorry, and thank you.” Nora noted that it’s the first present he’s ever given her. He says it one more time aloud to her as a farewell: “I’m sorry, and thank you.”
In the present, he ends up going to lunch with Yi-jin, and she gets flustered when he puts a piece of fish on her plate tenderly. He admits that he doesn’t actually like this dish very much—he just always ate it because it’s her favorite.
He says that he’s working hard at his new school and will soon work his way back to a big school in Seoul. Yi-jin has resigned from Woocheon—she couldn’t bring herself to teach after what she did, and is leaving for the States soon.
It’s just a one-month trip though, and he makes sure that she’s going to come back. She says that she doesn’t know the reason, but she can’t quite bring herself to leave for good. He takes that as a good sign and asks if she wants to go eat red bean shaved ice for dessert, and then it’s her turn to admit that she hates red beans.
Woo-chul realizes how little they were honest about as a couple, and says that from now on they’ll be brutally honest and not hide anymore.
Hyun-seok busts out a new suit (the one Nora picked out) and primps in the mirror, and Nora does the same at home. It’s opening night for Hyun-seok’s show, and Nora shows up with Soon-nam to deliver food for the cast and crew.
Hyun-seok grumps that he told Soon-nam not to let Nora do this, while Soon-nam asks why he’d choose the director of his part-time job over his “forever noona.” Kyaa. Hyun-seok says he heard about Soon-nam pursuing directing, and prods him to choose again, him or Nora.
Nora asks what happened to the civil service exam, and Soon-nam tells her that while doing her part-time job for the last few months, he’s become interested in directing. Sang-ye introduced him to some musical theater contacts, so he’s thinking of working in production. Yay, Soon-nam! Nora smiles brightly, genuinely happy to hear that he’s not wasting his talent.
Hyun-seok stands there pouting that they’re talking to each other and excluding him, and prods Soon-nam to choose again. They just laugh at him and make fun, which is adorable. Nora whispers for Hyun-seok to go eat because she made his favorite porridge, and he compliments her dress.
Nora and Yoon-young sit in the front row as the play begins, all about people who have lost time one way or another. One character was in a coma for twenty years and is shocked at how she’s aged when all she remembers last is being eighteen, echoing Nora’s own journey of self-discovery.
The girls hang back as Hyun-seok gets flooded with reporters and fans after the show, and Nora suggests catching up with Hyun-seok later. But he breaks through the crowd exclaiming loudly, “I have to go receive flowers from my girlfriend first!” Keh, that’s embarrassing AND adorable! He takes Nora’s flowers and gives her a wink.
Nora gives the second bouquet to Sang-ye, and Hyun-seok congratulates her on finally escaping life as an assistant director. He says that she’s already planned her debut project, which they’re set to work on right after this production.
When Hyun-seok hugs Sang-ye, Soon-nam pries his arm off as he points out that his noona is standing right there watching him. He reminds them that Sang-ye has a boyfriend too, then turns to Seung-hyun and tells her not to let sunbaes do that to her. She jabs him and calls him oppa. Omo, they’re dating?
Nora ends up buying the ddukbokki shop and Dong-chul becomes her employee. Hyun-seok drops by unannounced and Nora runs out on personal business, teasing that he can’t know everything about her because she’s a woman of mystery.
Hyun-seok ends up spending the whole day just waiting for her to come back, and tries to act all casual when she returns, like he just happened to want to sit there all day. But then a regular customer comes in and chats happily with Nora, and Hyun-seok gets jealous to hear that he’s a divorced 35-year-old lawyer who works across the street and only comes in when Nora is working.
He gets huffy and demands to use his time capsule wish now (for getting his prediction right that they’d be together till now), and asks Nora to stop selling ddukbokki to that man. Pfft. You’re going to waste your wish on that?
She scowls and he rescinds immediately, but complains that she’s too smiley with the customers. She asks if she’s supposed to be angry instead, which he can’t quite get behind either. So then he settles on asking her to introduce him as her boyfriend.
Nora is just flattered that a man seems interested in her, which annoys Hyun-seok more. He reminds her of how he acted when she came to his play, but she tells him to stop coming here if he’s going to be like this.
The argument gets cut short when Yoon-young arrives, and Nora serves the three friends a plate of ddukbokki each. Hyun-seok is still in a foul mood until Dong-chul discovers that Nora put extra ingredients on Hyun-seok’s plate and not on anyone else’s. Ha, it makes him SO happy to discover that he’s getting special treatment.
When the boys leave, Yoon-young asks if Nora isn’t playing too hard-to-get, and asks what happens if Hyun-seok gets away. Nora figures that you can’t force a person’s heart anyway, so it’s not like doing everything his way is going to make him hers: “Hyun-seok is important, but so is my life.” Yoon-young teases her some more for her display of affection, and Nora buries her face in her hands in embarrassment.
Nora shows Seung-hyun a webtoon that she drew called “Second First Love,” and it’s all about her first run-in with Hyun-seok at school. Seung-hyun gets ready to post it online for her, and Nora hesitates, saying that she just drew it as a hobby.
Seung-hyun assures her that it’s an amateur webtoon site for people to upload their work and have it read and commented on, and Nora gets all excited and anxious before pulling the trigger. Oh, I’m so happy she did this. Seung-hyun promises not to tell anyone, and they light up when a comment appears asking for the next installment.
Nora and Hyun-seok go back to Woocheon on a Sunday afternoon, and they see Hye-mi in the distance refusing to go on a group blind date as she holds up a postcard from Min-soo. The friend asks if they didn’t break up, and Hye-mi doesn’t explain, but says that she has to study anyway to get her grades up. Looks like she’s changed a lot too. Hyun-seok asks if Hye-mi still doesn’t know that she’s Min-soo’s mom, and Nora says there’s no sense in burdening her with something like that.
He takes her hand as they walk through campus together, and Nora reminisces about her first days here and the fun, crazy, memorable events from her time here. Hyun-seok asks if she wants to come back, and she says no, but she’s happy she did at the time, because of all the unforgettable memories.
He asks if he’s the best memory of all, and she says in one way he is, because she learned so much from knowing him.
They head to their usual place to get some reading done, which turns out to be the park where they had their manhwa date. They listen to music together on his old Walkman and Hyun-seok lends his arm as a pillow, and in exchange Nora turns pages for him.
She falls asleep in his arms and curls up at his side. A little boy kicks a ball over to them, and Hyun-seok quietly asks him to play over there, handing him some chocolate to persuade him. It’s a tiny moment, but it’s exactly the kind of gesture that made Nora so envious when she was here with Danny, when a husband made sure not to wake his sleeping wife.
Hyun-seok gives her a kiss on the forehead, and Nora smiles softly as they snuggle up for an afternoon nap.
That’s the cutest beat to end on. Of course Hyun-seok is the exact the kind of man to do the one thing she envied in another couple. It’s hardly a surprise, given that he’s always put her first in every other way. It’s a minor thing but it just strikes me as so perfectly thoughtful that he’s loath to wake her. I’m glad that we were given the kind of resolved-yet-open ending I was hoping for, where Nora finds love and happiness in the present, and learns to enjoy that above all. I didn’t want her jumping into a second marriage right away or need to see her whole future mapped out, since it’s more important that she’s strong enough to make those decisions for herself and pave her own path, no matter what outside people might think. It’s nice that Hyun-seok has learned to back off a little too, though maybe I’m more impressed that Nora has learned to assert herself and demand that of Hyun-seok.
Not that stalking her for the three months he spent waiting is anything to be proud of, when he was supposed to be moving on. But I would’ve been too heartbroken if he’d moved on for real, so I guess it was the best of both worlds to have him hang back and choose to wait it out. It’s far more meaningful for Nora to come to him as an active choice—not because he’s just always there, or it’s the easy thing to do to rely on him. In that sense their time apart was necessary, even if he was already on that page; she needed to get there too. I suppose dramaland has conditioned me to the point that I’m just grateful they didn’t have to spend two years apart while one of them studied abroad. It’s also just satisfying for her to admit that she missed him like crazy and suffered for it too, after he went through so much pain loving her from afar for twenty years. And really, it’s just plain funny that after breaking up like that, she spent the three months stalking him and getting mad at him for not coming around, when she’s the one who told him to stay away.
As far as Nora’s future goes, I can’t say that running Grandma’s ddukbokki place is all that inspired a career choice—I mean, I get that it holds special meaning for her as a part of her family, but I just think she could do more with her life. In a lot of ways I’m disappointed in the ultimate decision to have her drop out of school, even though I understand that it’s not the most realistic choice for her in the present. I was just hoping to see her graduate along with her class no matter what she chose to do afterwards, because being there made her so happy. But I think it’s enough that she walks away with true friends, lasting memories, a newfound sense of self, and having reconnected with Hyun-seok. Though if she didn’t start that webtoon, I think I’d actually leave the series feeling dissatisfied. But that first step at putting something personal out there in the world made me excited for her future.
I’m happy with where we leave all the rest of our characters, with Sang-ye happy and Soon-nam pursuing his dream in a realistic-yet-satisfying way (and dating Seung-hyun!), and Min-soo trekking around the world to find himself. I didn’t care either way whether Woo-chul and Yi-jin got back together as a couple, but I did like where he ended up as a character, finally coming to grips with his own overblown ego and narcissistic worldview, and learning some humility the hard way. Choi Won-young really stands out as an actor in this series, because he had the hard job of making a despicable character likable, and was a source of constant humor and even sympathy at times. He was a delightfully human antagonist, and I was moved by him saying after all those years that he was sorry and grateful.
It goes without saying that Choi Ji-woo carried the show and made Ha Nora someone we all loved and rooted for, but I was especially excited to see her doing a light rom-com after years spent spilling so many of her tears. She never made me question Hyun-seok’s sanity for loving her for twenty years (because really, that’s a crazy long time), and I loved seeing her embrace the funny, flawed aspects of Nora. She didn’t have sizzling romantic chemistry with Lee Sang-yoon, but they had the most adorable, childish bickering camaraderie that really made me love the romance, even without a lot of skinship. They were like a time-warp romance between two teenagers, and I loved it. It had a lot to do with Hyun-seok, who was so unbelievably supportive and unselfish (when he stopped being hilariously petty, which was once in a while). And Lee Sang-yoon is unfairly perfect for the role, because he could spend long stretches being cold and prickly, then turn on a dime with one flash of his dimples. He’s the least realistic of all the characters, but I still appreciated that he wasn’t drawn to be perfect—he had his flaws, and some of them were infuriating. But none of them compares to his undying devotion to Nora.
He’s pretty much the ideal romantic hero—the guy who loves you just as you are (or who you were before you forgot your own awesomeness at the age of 18), and encourages you to be your best and chase after everything you want, even if it’s another man. Often times first love romances feel forced, but in this story it was a nice constant to have someone remember how bright and beautiful Nora once was, and slowly draw her out of her dark shell. And in the end it was her remembering Hyun-seok at 18 that brought everything back for her, quite literally full circle, to a message from her 18-year-old self. It felt like a fully formed journey from start to finish, which doesn’t surprise me, given how much I like this writer’s dramas. I love that the message isn’t to go back and fix all the things you regret, or even to actually relive your youth. What Nora really learns is how to see herself clearly—her 18-year-old self, as well as her 38-year-old self—and then choose exactly who she wants to be, right now. Recognizing that she has the ability to decide and carve out whatever future she wants is truly empowering, and acting on it by forging her own path and grabbing onto love when she sees it—that’s inspiring.
- Twenty Again: Episode 15
- Twenty Again: Episode 14
- Twenty Again: Episode 13
- Twenty Again: Episode 12
- Twenty Again: Episode 11
- Thing vs. Thing: Higher learning
- Twenty Again: Episode 10
- Twenty Again: Episode 9
- Twenty Again: Episode 8
- Twenty Again: Episode 7
- Twenty Again: Episode 6
- Twenty Again: Episode 5
- Twenty Again: Episode 4
- Twenty Again: Episode 3
- Twenty Again: Episode 2
- Twenty Again: Episode 1