Sassy Go Go: Episode 12 (Final)
That picture there? That’s how I feel about this show being over. It’s an hour that hurtles by, meting out feels, poetic justice, and ignominious ends as necessary. But most importantly, we’re allowed to say goodbye to the team we’ve come to love, knowing that we’ve left them happier than we found them.
And so, for the last time: Go go!
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Yeol confronts Ha-joon, angrily asking if Yeon-doo is the reason he quit cheerleading. He accuses him of running away like a coward. Provoked, Ha-joon asks, so what if it is? What’s he supposed to do after watching Yeol save her, after he told him that for the first time, he liked a girl?
Yeol cries that he should have told him. “And if I did, what would it change?” Ha-joon asks. Since Yeol can’t stop now, he needn’t concern himself with Ha-joon.
In an empty classroom, Ha-joon rampages like a caged beast. He throws a fist at the mirror, smashing it.
Yeon-doo catches him on the way back to the dorms, and she asks him why he quit. She notices his bloody hand. Taking it, she asks if it doesn’t hurt. “I got hurt, so how could I not be in pain?” he asks, shaking her off. This time, he tells her to stay right there and not follow him.
That night, neither boy sleeps. They remain awkward the next day. At the lunch bell, Ha-joon leaves first and Yeol looks forlornly after him. When Yeon-doo comes to collect him for their rooftop date, he tells her he can’t eat with her today.
He finds Ha-joon hiding out in the auditorium, and sits by him. Yeol says that he tried not to concern himself with him, but no matter which way he thought about it, he can’t stop with Yeon-doo, “But Ha-joon-ah, I can’t lose you either.”
Ha-joon assures him that he’ll clean up his feelings, it’s not a big deal, but Yeol asks, “If my heart is like this, then what about yours?” He suggests they give each other some time.
Ha-joon gets a call from his dad. He confirms he’s quit cheerleading and reminds Dad to keep his promise not to dismantle the club. Dad tells him to keep his head down since things are going to get noisy at school for a bit.
Dad takes tea with Chairman Lee, the head of the school board, and finds out the Ministry inspection will be this week, so it’s good he pulled Ha-joon from the club. The chairman sneaked the evidence to the Ministry, to prove the club is a spec-building ploy. The men chuckle over the club’s imminent demise, pleased it deflects attention from their activities.
Soo-ah mops the halls, and it upsets her mom to see her like that. She’s here to visit the principal, and Soo-ah, far lighter than we’ve ever seen her, tells Mom that she’s doing well both with her studies, and with her friends. So she hopes Mom won’t come to school or meet with the principal so much, and let her graduate without incident. Mom leaves disgruntled.
Mom’s heard about the Ministry investigation, and tells Principal Choi that they’re in the same boat. But she assures her that she’s disposed of the evidence of their spec-building, and convinced the other moms to support her story. Choi is impressed.
But it all goes south for them in the hearing, where the other moms hang them out to dry. They insist they opposed the club when they found out what Mom and Choi were doing, and even invite the committee to examine the CCTV to prove it. Addressing Choi and Soo-ah’s mom, the inspector asks if it’s true that the club was established upon receiving certain donations, since he noticed the coinciding dates.
The team cheer each other as they successfully run through their routine. Tae-pyung excitedly asks if they even have a chance of placing first. Everyone good-naturedly jeers when Instructor Nam says second.
But they’re dismayed to find the internet alight with the spec-building scandal, targeting their club. Da-mi bursts in with bad news, and they find a notice posted at school of the team’s disbandment, reinstating the original clubs, Baek Ho and Real King.
Hyo-shik scoffs at Real King being “saved” like this, and Tae-pyung wails that it means they can’t compete at regionals. Soo-ah realizes it’s because of the Ministry investigation a few days ago, and Teacher Yang goes to find out what’s happening.
Soo-ah calls her mom, who reassures her that she’ll take care of everything — she’s not going down so easily. But after she hangs up, she clutches a summons letter in worry.
Teacher Im helps Principal Choi pack up her belongings. Wait, what, did she get fired? She snaps at him to get lost, but he dithers apologetically (but so not, haha), explaining that Chairman Lee actually appointed him as interim principal. She becomes convinced he’s the one who snitched on them to the Ministry.
Teacher Yang and Instructor Nam arrive, demanding to know why the club was disbanded. Choi snarls about that damn club, and Im quietly explains that she just got fired for using it to inflate specs. Nam has no sympathy: What about the kids, who just lost everything they worked for because of her? But Im points out that the (ex-)principal is no longer in a position to take responsibility.
It turns out that Instructor Nam lost her job, too. Over drinks, Teacher Yang asks if she isn’t angry about it. He confides that he’s grateful to her, seeing the kids who only knew studying and attainment transformed by cheerleading. It moved him to watch them squabbling, laughing and crying together. Nam beams that the kids did that all by themselves. But she’s worried about how disappointed they’ll be not to compete, and both teachers sigh heavily.
With a heavy heart, Teacher Yang announces to the team that Instructor Nam is leaving them. It’s a decision that came down from the Ministry, so there’s nothing they can do, even if regionals are only days away.
Instructor Nam remains chipper, and tells them to forget all their hard moves and hold onto the happy memories. She promises to cherish her memories of every moment with them, too. She reminds them again, what cheerleading is: sincerely cheering on someone whom you want to give strength, “Most of all, cheer each other on a lot.”
She refuses to do a tacky farewell, and sails out with a breezy wave, leaving everyone in silent tears. A moment later, Yang and the kids pour out of the room and call after her, a chorus of thank-yous.
Ha-joon sees the disbandment notice for the first time, and heads straight to his Dad. He bursts in after overhearing him celebrating the club’s dissolution on the phone with Chairman Lee.
With increasing distress, Ha-joon asks if he really was behind it, when he knew how he felt about it. Dad sneers that it would have happened anyway, and orders him the hell back to school before he pulps him. Fatherly love.
Ha-joon tells Dad he didn’t trust him anyway, but he thought that if he left the club, he could at least protect it and his friends. So how could he do this? Dad insists it was all to protect him, but Ha-joon contradicts him and asks if it wasn’t because he was afraid his own corruption would be found out. Dad erupts in a rage, and slaps his son around the head. Something changes in Ha-joon’s eyes, as he stares down at the man.
Yeon-doo asks Yeol if being eighteen is hard like this for everyone. Yeol agrees that no sooner do they solve one problem, when another arises. She thought it would be enough to do what her heart told her, she says, but Yeol doesn’t have any answers either.
The team try to figure out what they can do, but even the Baek Ho parents have no clout in overturning a decision made by the Ministry. Moreover, they’ve warned the kids away from even mentioning cheerleading. Yeol nods — showing themselves at regionals now would only associate them with the scandal.
Yeon-doo speaks of how cheerleading was forced on them but they grew to love it, and care about each other. It’s upsetting that it’s taken away as abruptly. She understands how they feel, and tells them to take a few days to think.
In class, Yeol and Yeon-doo both gaze at Ha-joon’s empty desk. Teacher Yang tells them that Dad called him in sick so he’ll be at home for a few days. Knowing his ways, the pair worry.
Ha-joon finds himself locked into his room. Earlier, Dad took his phone away and ordered him to stay at home, worried he’d make trouble. He tells him he’s arranging for him to study abroad — maybe broadening his horizons will cure his weak-heartedness, Dad barks.
The doorbell chimes and he hears the housekeeper say he’s not at home. Outside, Yeol argues with her over the intercom, and flustered, she blows him off.
Yeol presents himself to Ha-joon’s dad, hoping to visit him, and tells him Ha-joon’s needed at school. Displeased that it’s about cheerleading, Dad says Ha-joon’s already quit, and Yeol is surprised he knows about it. But he positively reels when he learns that Ha-joon quit under Dad’s orders.
Gathering his composure, he tells Dad to stop hitting Ha-joon, “Even as a parent, you don’t have the right to abuse your child. That…is not love.”
Yeon-doo trudges out of the dorm. Soo-ah joins her, and asks why she’s not trying to talk everyone into going to the competition secretly, like her old self. She even offers to help convince the others. Yeon-doo sighs that her old self was more impetuous, but now she’s worried about the others getting hurt. Soo-ah tells her to take her time: “But Kang Yeon-doo. Don’t give up. Don’t run away, either.”
Regionals are tomorrow, and the team hold another summit. Yeon-doo tells them that she wants to be there with all of them, but it’s their choice whether they come or not. She’ll wait for them at the venue tomorrow morning, and warns them not to hold it against those who choose not to come.
In private, Yeol notes that even if one of them doesn’t show, it’ll be tough for them to perform. She knows, but it was the best she could think of. She hopes the team’s happy memories of the last few months bear out over their struggles. But what about Ha-joon? Yeol assures her that he’ll bring him.
Later, Yeol sidles past the eagle-eyed teacher to sneak out of the dorm, and starts when Yeon-doo catches him — she wants in on the rescue. I don’t know why watching a big guy like Yeol be stealthy is lolarious, but it is. He’s so big!
In the basement of Ha-joon’s building, they wait until they see his parents leave for their morning golf. They slip inside, and Yeon-doo activates the fire alarm. In his locked room, Ha-joon hears it, and pounds at his door to be let out.
Yeol pops out at him at the building entrance, and grinning like crazy, both boys run for it. The dismayed housekeeper immediately reports to Ha-joon’s dad.
The three of them nearly make it to the venue, when Ha-joon suddenly halts. Yeol follows his line of sight to a car. Ha-joon sends them on ahead — he has something to take care of. Yeol tells Yeon-doo that it was Ha-joon’s father’s car. He holds her back from going to him, saying it’s something Ha-joon has to do by himself. He really likes the Kang Yeon-doo who would do anything for her friends, he says, “But right now, let’s trust Ha-joon and wait.”
Ha-joon looks his father in the eye and refuses to go back: He intends to cheerlead with his friends here today. He catches Dad’s raised hand mid-strike, and tells him he won’t be beaten any longer. Pushing up his sleeves, he shows Dad his cutting scars — the evidence of his own self-hatred, the result of his feelings of worthlessness that came from being Dad’s punching bag. But he’s not going to hate himself anymore, he says.
He tells Dad to do his worst, “I’m not afraid of you anymore.” Back straight, he walks away, at last impervious to Dad’s barks. I’m bursting with pride for Ha-joonie right now.
When the three arrive at the competition hall, there’s no sign of the rest of the team. Yeon-doo deflates, just as they rush in — they were in the wrong place. Excited to be there, they fire each other up to go for the win.
But bad news: At the admin desk, they’re told Sevit isn’t allowed to take part, since the school cancelled their entry. The fastidious clerk holds fast to the rules despite their entreaties, but a voice cuts in telling him to let them do it. It’s Instructor Nam!
She struts up importantly, and tells him they’re with her. The kids are totally impressed, but the clerk totally is not. His “and what?” response is killing me. Still blagging, she sends the kids in to get ready, but the second they’re out of sight, she sinks to her knees and starts begging.
But there’s more bad news. They watch the reigning champions perform, and realize how outclassed they are. But Yeon-doo rallies them — did they come to win? Eyes bright, she points out how every single one of them made it here today, “Don’t be disheartened and let’s have fun!” They have a team hand-stack, and cheer themselves on.
When they’re announced, the room fills with whispers and they almost lose their nerve. They hold hands to form a chain and bow low to the audience. Teacher Yang shouts out to them that whatever anyone else says, they’re the best. The teachers’ support gives them the boost they need.
Their routine is humble compared to their competitors, but no one’s grins are wider or more infectious. They finish to cheers. Pulling out their signature move, they each hold up a letter to form the message, “I’m cheering on the me of today!”
Instructor Nam wells with pride, and Yang envelopes her in a bear-hug. The camera lingers a moment on every team member, and in voiceover, Yeon-doo says they should remember this — the passionate and painful time of being eighteen. When she stumbles again, makes mistakes and gets hurt, she won’t regret it, because they did their best for the sake of their happiness today.
Now back at school, the team relive their glory…until they’re brought down to earth by others students scoffing at them for placing last. But it’s not long before they fall about laughing at themselves.
Ha-joon welcomes Yeon-doo to share a giant bucket of gummy bears with him. She notices he’s even eating the green ones now. He places a red and a green one next to each other, and Yeon-doo asks if they’re close.
Ha-joon smiles that the red bear didn’t like the green bear at first — it was too noisy and meddlesome. But it slowly got closer, and whenever the red bear was hurt, cheered it up and brought it plasters. And so it came to like the green bear, learning how to love even while in pain. The red bear wants the green bear to know that he’s grateful. He smiles at her, and she smiles back, eyes full.
Yeol finds Ha-joon lying on the stage in the auditorium again. He throws himself down beside him, laughing that they’ll get locked out again. Ha-joon retorts that he’ll just snuggle here with him, then. They can’t stop giggling and I think I’m going to die of feels.
The conclusion begins, and Yeon-doo relates that Ha-joon’s father had a restraining order filed against him, and is receiving treatment. Soo-ah’s mom is under investigation for spec-related corruption, but Soo-ah talks to her all the time. She sends mom a video message to cheer up, and tells her that she’s sorry, and thankful, and she loves her. Mom’s eyes shine with a real smile. At school, Teacher Im’s reign as principal was a mere three days before a new principal was appointed.
And as for them? They went back to how they were — Baek Ho still the school’s top five percenters, and Real King the bottom-of-the-pack misfits. They face off in their old battle lines, tense, until Yeol crinkles into a smile, “I’m hungry, let’s go eat!” The lines melt away as they attack each other with hugs.
Yeon-doo narrates that if one thing changed, it’s that they found friends they would do anything with. Teacher Yang comes by with Instructor Nam, both reappointed, and teases the kids for being so attached to each other when they’re seniors now. Ooh!
Dong-jae returns to basketball. He exchanges easy high-fives with the team, and despite his cadre of fangirls, it’s Soo-ah at his side when the game is up. She swipes the strawberry milk he saved for Yeon-doo.
Which just leaves their story, Yeon-doo says. Their parents started to love again, and Yeol isn’t so against it anymore. At a family dinner, he smiles to watch them fuss over each other.
He thinks back to a car-conversation with Dad, who admits he handled his divorce badly and hurt Yeol. Dad tells him not to be in pain anymore because of him, nor close up his heart.
Yeol finds the engagement ring in the glovebox, with a note from Yeon-doo’s mom. In it, she says she respects his decision to put his son first. “And, I love you,” it finishes.
In the present, he asks his mom in the U.S. to be transferred to her family register, and is surprised to find they don’t have them (Yeol: “Then adopt me!”). Yeon-doo bounds up, wondering who he’s talking to all secretly — is he cheating on her?
Ha-joon throws his arms around both of them and tells Yeon-doo to come to him if Yeol’s cheating, and they all laugh.
The rest of the team crowd in, and Yeol cries, “Let’s go!” Arm in arm, they run forward.
Ahhh. I feel content. For an ending, it’s exactly what I projected and everything I wanted. Go to regionals! Suck! Be happy!
I’ve noticed Yeol’s flashes of childishness seem to be rooted in insecurity, but discovering Ha-joon’s true reason for quitting the club burned off some of his immaturity. Initially, I found his angry reaction out of character, but Yeol’s proven to be a hot mess of insecurity where Yeon-doo is concerned. His subsequent return to frankness becomes (and often is) his saving grace. It’s a quality that lies at the heart of the boys’ friendship — that in a wolrd where they can trust no one, they’ll always be true to each other. It’s the same quality that defines Ha-joon’s relationship with Yeon-doo, and this, I think, is the reason why the easy, close friendship between the three survives — they will be ruthlessly, painfully honest with each other, and wholeheartedly trust in each other, too. That end moment, where Ha-joon jokes to Yeon-doo to come to him, warmed my heart so much, because it meant they were okay. No festering secret poisoning the three’s relationships with each other.
I was most moved by his gummy bear confession to Yeon-doo. There’s something so intensely childlike in that moment, that strips it of any romantic meaning. The way he uses the bears to tell his story, a poignant mirror of the way child abuse victims are encouraged to disclose during therapy, choked me up. He crafts his words to ask nothing from her — he doesn’t make her feel bad for not returning his feelings and I LOVE that. That he thanks her, choosing to cherish his capacity for those feelings, rather than their object, says everything you need to know about Seo Ha-joon and where his loyalties lie. To me, the best aspect of the boys’ friendship has always been their certainty in each other: For kids for whom so little in life is certain, self-sacrificing loyalty is everything.
This return to childhood also plays out in Ha-joon’s relationship with Yeol, and even with his father. With Yeol, it’s their safe-place, where they can return to the simplicity and unmarred devotion of their younger selves, and start again from there. But it’s the opposite with his father. Like Soo-ah, Ha-joon was trapped in an abuse spiral that he could only escape once the illusion of his father’s omnipotence was broken, in that crucial moment of parental betrayal. It’s particularly heartbreaking to watch marshmallow-giant Ha-joon cower, but it speaks of the power of social conditioning that makes resistance unthinkable. It also makes Dad’s end that much more satisfying, because in how many a drama do elders get a free pass when it comes to abusing kids? With a full heart, I love this drama for punishing the adults, and even making them inconsequential by serving them up inglorious ends (buh-bye Principal Choi!).
But although the battle lines between kids and adults were drawn from the outset, the show has been balanced overall — bad adults were offset by good, but above all, they were exposed as flawed and in need of correction. As Yeol’s dad says, growing older indeed does not make you grow up, but we still got adults to root for in Teacher Yang, Instructor Nam, and Yeon-doo’s mom, who exemplified sincerity and imperfection. Teacher Yang’s struggles were the most touching, with his one-man war against the system and his unfailing support of his kids. It was vital to the show that it kept the kids at the center of its narrative, and inasmuch as can be achieved in twelve episodes, our key characters were given full arcs. Dong-jae’s was less fully developed, but like many of you, I think it the wiser choice not to push N beyond his range.
At eighteen, our friends are neither quite children, nor quite adults, and this presents a set of challenges unique to their time of life. Sassy covers a lot of ground as the kids navigate the world, learning how to make friends, how to show loyalty, how to be moral and responsible, how to ask for help, and not to be ashamed to need each other. The fullness of its world is realized best and most in its small touches, like Yeon-doo borrowing Soo-ah’s jumper (“ugh as if”) after their reconciliation, or the way Yeol instinctively reaches for Yeon-doo in reassurance, or how Ha-joon and Yeol always find each other’s eyes first, even when the focus isn’t on them.
Watching Sassy reminds me of why I’ve always read YA, and what it is that makes a youth drama or book so stirring. It’s not just the intensity and the first times, but whether the story touches you remains dependent on the storyteller’s hand. Sassy respected its own story; it believed in its characters — their struggles and their conflicts, their loves and their woes — and it believed in the messages it was sending. It’s the kind of conviction that earns your trust as a viewer.
Did everything tie up neatly? Yes. Did it bother me? Not a jot. I am always going to be a sucker for the happy ending, but I’m an even bigger sucker for comeuppances (hence my unhealthy adoration for good revenge melos…). It’s a finish that brings emotional realism despite the limitations of its short run, and having to cram a lot of developments into the last few episodes. Their happiness feels earned, but measured. Their today is happy, but not because it’s perfect — their paths are still laced with uncertainties, and their victories still have to be fought for. But closing on the note it started on, we’re reminded that having friends beside you makes all the difference.