Dear My Friends: Episode 16 (Final)
It’s officially time to say goodbye. I’ve gathered a truckload of tissues, which will hopefully be enough to last through until the end of the episode — but with this show, you just never know. Will my hopes for a “happily ever after” come true, or will life, in all its messy realness, decide to take a different path? There’s no point in putting off the inevitable, so let’s dive in and see what it means for our dear aunties to reach the end of their road.
FINAL EPISODE: “Our love story.”
Wan is surprised to see Yun-ha at the hospital, but she runs past him to the operating room where the doctor tells her how her mother’s surgery went. Except we don’t get to hear, and can only watch as Wan dazedly walks back to the waiting area, barely acknowledging Yun-ha or the other aunties’ presence.
She sits on the floor, her knees pulled her chest as she thinks about past moments with her mother, both good and bad. Then she starts to cry and I’m in agony because I have no idea what happened with Nan-hee.
Yun-ha rolls up next to her and gently calls her name. He holds her hand as she continues to cry as she leans against his legs while he strokes her hair. Are those tears of relief? Grief? Someone tell me something!
The rest of the aunties and uncles are in Min-ho’s wife’s hospital room, waiting for her to bring in the new baby. Suk-gyun tries calling Choong-nam to find out about Nan-hee, but no one is answering. Ahhhh, c’mon — someone answer and free us from this anxious misery.
Min-ho and his wife bring in their super cute baby, and just as Ha-neul is about to hand the baby over to her mother-in-law, Suk-gyun warns her against it. The old people aren’t as strong as they used to be — she might drop the baby. But Jung-ah retorts that nothing will happen, and Hee-ja is in awe of her tiny, beautiful grandchild.
Choong-nam and Young-won watch as Yun-ha rolls his way through the hospital hallway. They marvel that he came all the way from Slovenia to be here, and then spent most of that time waiting by himself. While Young-won comments on how pretty he is, Choong-nam sighs that it’s a pity such an accident happened to him.
They wonder how much he and Wan must have been passionately in love for him to come back — or if they’re actually still madly in love. Young-won says Choong-nam should find a love like that in her next life, but then immediately changes her mind. Choong-nam is still young and healthy enough to find such a love in this life. Choong-nam laughs at how ridiculous it would look, but Young-won tells her that she can just keep it on the down-low.
Yun-ha watches the sunset through one of the hospital windows, and considering the aunties are joking about romance, I’m taking this as a tentative sign that Nan-hee is okay. But I’m going to need proof of this soon, show — just sayin’.
Seung-jae does the dishes for Hee-ja, and when she realizes that he’s set out bedding in the living room for the both of them, he tells her that he’s just following Min-ho’s orders to stay by her side. Ha, I’m not sure Min-ho meant it quite that literally. He even does a casual “arm stretch” move while they watch TV. Ajusshi’s still got game.
Later, as they lie down in their respective beds, Hee-ja tells him that she has the urge to go for a walk. He just gently takes her hand and tells her that she can’t go out in the middle of the night. But if he loved her, wouldn’t he let her do what she wanted? Nope, not even if he loves her. Rolling over to turn her back on him, she sighs that love means nothing after all.
Nan-hee’s in her hospital room, recovering from surgery. Oh thank goodness. Granny massages her arms while Nan-hee explains to Jung-ah and Suk-gyun that originally the doctors told her the cancerous tumor was the size of her fist and spread to her liver and stomach. The surgery could only promise her a 20% chance of survival, which was a terrifying thought.
But it turns out the doctors were mistaken, and as Granny curses them out, it’s revealed that during the surgery, the tumor itself was only the size of a ping-pong ball. Seung-jae wonders if it will kill her, and Nan-hee points that she still has cancer and has to go through chemotherapy. Aw, it’s so nice to see everyone together and supporting Nan-hee.
There’s even Gi-ja, who won’t stop talking about difficulties of her job. She sighs that it must be so nice to have cancer since Nan-hee has her family and friends surrounding her while she’s in a nice private room.
As the women laugh and joke with each other, Hee-ja leans over to ask Jung-ah who all these women are. Jung-ah whispers back that they’re her friends. She seems astonished to realize that they’re her friends, especially Gi-ja. Pffft.
Once Nan-hee is released from the hospital, Choong-nam and Young-won escort her back home. Choong-nam asks if Wan went to go see Yun-ha, but this is the first Nan-hee’s heard about Yun-ha’s sudden appearance back in Korea. Young-won tries to shush her, but Choong-nam points out the cat is out of the bag now, and she adds that it seemed like he and Wan had a deep and beautiful love.
Wan packs up some of her belongings so she can stay at her mother’s place. Just then Hee-ja calls her, demanding to know why no one is letting her see Nan-hee after her surgery. Is it because she has dementia? Is that why they’re preventing her from going to Nan-hee?
Wan patiently explains that Hee-ja just visited Nan-hee a few days ago along with all the other aunties. But Hee-ja yells that Wan is just making things up, trying to use her dementia to convince her of something that never happened.
Min-ho steps in just then to take the phone from her and then guides her into the bedroom where his wife and newborn baby sleep. The baby is physical proof that time has passed, and Hee-ja meekly asks if she did actually visit Nan-hee in the hospital.
But she won’t go into the room with the baby, fearing she might do something that will scare him. Instead, she sits in the living room and watches from the doorway, unable to take her eyes off him.
Later, Min-ho tucks her into her bed, and she asks if she takes her medication, that her dementia won’t get any worse. He’s so sweet and gentle as he reassures her that it will, and that there’s even a pill coming out that will help cure dementia. Aw, it doesn’t seem like Hee-ja’s dementia would be curable, but it’s adorable how he calmly does his best to keep her attitude positive and peaceful.
Wan settles into her mother’s place, full of encouragement for the next road ahead: chemotherapy. As Wan takes a shower, Nan-hee pulls out Wan’s phone, and Wan really needs to get a new lock passcode since everyone seems to know this one.
Nan-hee thinks about Choong-nam’s comment about how Yun-ha and Wan appeared to be deeply in love, and how nice it was for Wan to have someone by her side. Omo, is she going to call him? But instead she puts the phone back where she found it.
Hee-ja calls Choong-nam, and the phone rings and rings and rings but she doesn’t budge. At first annoyed by the constant ringing, her nephews suddenly grow worried when they realize she’s not responding to their shouts, and they spring out of their beds to run into her bedroom. But she was just sound asleep, and she wakes up with a start. Whew.
Hee-ja’s calling because she wants Choong-nam to show her some nursing homes for dementia patients. She furtively glances over to where Min-ho is sleeping as she whispers into the phone.
The next day, Wan works on her book while attentively taking care of any little thing that Nan-hee could possibly need. Nan-hee finally reaches her breaking point, complaining that she does’t any space to herself in her own home. She grumbles that Wan won’t even let her go outside or go back to work.
That reminds Wan that she needs to make some calls for the restaurant, and Nan-hee escapes to the bedroom. Young-won arrives with fresh groceries and finds Nan-hee pouting on her bed. But when Young-won asks if Nan-hee’s in pain, Nan-hee wonders what it’s like to go through chemotherapy. She only needs six sessions — that’s not a lot, is it?
But Young-won says that chemotherapy can last years, and she knows from experience that, even when you think you’ve beaten it, cancer can last a lifetime. That seems to decide something for Nan-hee, and she picks up her phone and calls Yun-ha.
Choong-nam shows Hee-ja around one of the nursing homes, and Hee-ja is partially charmed by all the activities the patients are doing, but also a little sad. The only places left to see are the private rooms, and Choong-nam frankly tells her that she doesn’t think Hee-ja is a good fit for this place — she’s not that far along in her dementia to need this kind of supervision.
But Hee-ja stubbornly insists on seeing the private rooms, and as she looks around, fiddling with the lock on the window and testing the bed, she says that she’s not leaving. One of the patients who’s been cutely following her hands her a handful of candies, which Hee-ja politely takes, saying that they can be friends.
Choong-nam is surprised by Hee-ja’s determination to stay, but Hee-ja doesn’t want to be a burden to her son and his family. She wants to make sure they can be happy as they raise their child. Fighting back tears, she tells Choong-nam that she’ll stay there until she dies. As Choong-nam hugs her and tries to keep from crying herself, Hee-ja begs her to promise that Jung-ah and the other aunties to visit her regularly. Ooof.
Wan’s busy running her mother’s restaurant while Young-won takes Nan-hee to visit Yun-ha. She’s annoyed that Nan-hee didn’t tell Wan about her plans, and Nan-hee teasingly promises that she won’t beat him up like she did with Dong-jin.
In a setting reminiscent of the last time he and Wan had tea together in Slovenia, Yun-ha and Nan-hee sit across from each other, sipping from their fancy porcelain cups. Yun-ha patiently waits for Nan-hee as she gazes around the restaurant, distracted by Yun-ha’s reflection in one of the mirrors that clearly reveal his wheelchair.
Finally she asks him why he hasn’t been dating — is it because women aren’t interested in him because of his legs? Yun-ha just laughs, saying that it’s because he isn’t interested in other women. After a few more moments of awkward chit-chat, Nan-hee asks him if he makes a lot of money as an artist.
Laughing, he says he makes enough. Nan-hee admits that she must sound materialistic, but Yun-ha gently takes her hand, sincerely telling her that he’s grateful her surgery went well. Nan-hee notices the ring on his finger, realizing it’s the matching couple’s ring that Wan used to wear.
Yun-ha is on his way to the airport when he calls Wan, who actually picks up. She’s just finished working at her mother’s restaurant and was going home to write when he called. He asks why she didn’t call him, and she thinks for a moment before admitting it’s because she was worried she might beg him to stay.
He says it’s probably a good thing she didn’t call, then, because he might not have had the strength to leave. She says that even if she can’t beg him to stay, she does still love him. Smiling, he tells her that he’s learned a good lesson, thanks to her. He realized that he can visit her, too, and it’s given him more confidence to do more than he used to think he was capable of.
He tells Wan that he loves her, which makes her pause and take a deep, shaky breath. Her response is to tell him not to wait for her, and he promises he won’t. Ahh, why is he so cute and smiley when her heart is breaking? After she hangs up, Wan sobs in the privacy of her mother’s empty restaurant.
In a scene reminiscent of when Min-ho fought to be the one to take care of his mother after their father died, he insists to the rest of his siblings that there’s no way his mother will stay in a nursing home. She’ll be fine living with him and his wife. They remind him that it was their mother’s choice, but he’s too angry to listen to them.
Hee-ja sits on the bed in her new room, ignoring the buzzing of her phone as Jung-ah tries calling her. The “friend” she made on her tour shuffles in and Hee-ja offers her a piece of fruit, which the little old lady happily scarfs down while Hee-ja gently wipes her face clean.
Since Hee-ja won’t answer her call, Jung-ah just has to silently accept Hee-ja’s decision. She’s too tired right now to go there and try to bring her back tonight. Suk-gyun sets out a pillow and encourages to rest, and then he massages her legs.
Jung-ah hands him a pillow, saying he must be tired, too. He settles in next to her, but it’s hard for Jung-ah to rest as she thinks about her friend. Also thinking about Hee-ja is Seung-jae, who stares at one of the selfies he and Hee-ja took on their overnight trip.
Nan-hee goes to Wan’s place, where Wan chides her for leaving the house without calling her first. Nan-hee’s decided to get a professional caregiver for her next round of treatment, but Wan declares that she’s already been trained at the hospital on what to do. Undaunted, Nan-hee hands over a plane ticket as she tells Wan to go see Yun-ha.
Her expression unreadable, Wan simply says that the aunties must have mentioned Yun-ha was at the hospital the day of Nan-hee’s surgery. But it doesn’t matter now — she and Yun-ha are over. Nan-hee stubbornly insists that Wan should start packing — the flight is tomorrow morning.
But Wan refuses to leave Nan-hee — she might have a few weeks ago before they found out about the cancer, but there’s no way she can leave her mother now. Nan-hee insists she’s fine, and then bursts out that it’s not catching a cold that will kill her, it’s Wan’s smothering care that will instead.
The cancer could stick around for a year, five years, ten years. Wan points out that her mother raised her for over thirty years, so a decade is nothing, but Nan-hee, frustrated, says that in addition to dealing with cancer, she doesn’t want to be the idiot who’s forced to rely on her daughter.
She knows that she still relies on Wan, which is why the plane ticket is only for a one-week trip. But after the next round of chemo, it will be for a month. And then, eventually, Wan should get married and leave her for good.
Wan gently hugs her mother, saying she understands. Hahaha, Nan-hee asks Wan if Yun-ha is good in bed, but it’s not enough to distract Wan from her declaration that she’ll go see him later, after her mother is a little better. But when the morning comes, Nan-hee has clearly won this battle as Wan waits for a taxi, her bag packed.
She begs one more time for her mother to let her stay, but Nan-hee’s got her week covered with visits from Granny and the other aunties. Besides, Wan’s too old to cling to her mother like this. Annoyed at Nan-hee’s teasing about Yun-ha, she tells her mother that she should call her guitar guy, then. Hahaha, Nan-hee says she’s already received a cute text from him this morning, telling her he misses her.
As Wan heads to the airport, and Nan-hee tidies Wan’s apartment — including putting the pictures of Yun-ha back in their places — Wan confesses that leaving her sick mother and moving on with her life made her realize how cruel life can be.
In their youth, life told the aunties to fight to earn everything they could and live it to the fullest. But as they’ve gotten older, life is telling them to leave everything behind, including their children and the hopes and dreams they once had.
Min-ho and Seung-jae visit Hee-ja at the nursing home while Jung-ah continues her daily task of cleaning her daughters’ homes. Aw, but this time she has help as Suk-gyun takes her grandson out for a walk, and as he does so, he sees a listing for a security guard — but it requests someone between the ages of 55-65, and he’s too old.
Wan continues her voice-over, pointing out that no one knows when their life will end. Wan wishes she could ask on behalf of the aunties: “Life, just what is it you want us to do?”
Choong-nam and Young-won sit outside her cafe, and Choong-nam asks why Young-won is crying. She’s laughing, and explains that when her ex-husband came for a visit, he was in the last stages of pancreatic cancer, and the doctors gave up on his case, believing it was hopeless.
But seeing her again gave him a new energy and hope, and he went through with the surgery which was successful enough to keep him alive a little longer. Oh, and he’s been divorced from his other wife for the past thirty years. He wants Young-won to come see him in Seattle, and when Choong-nam wonders what will happen to her, Young-won jokes that she’ll bring him back and they can all live together.
Meanwhile, Hee-ja’s at her nursing home, studying flash cards to keep the dementia at bay. She wistfully watches one patient leave with her family.
Jung-ah’s happily relaxing in her home late that night, watching her fill of travel shows, when Hee-ja calls. She asks Jung-ah if they once took a car trip, and after Jung-ah affirms that they did, Hee-ja starts to cry. She asks if Jung-ah remembers what she said about not dying in a tiny little room, and although Hee-ja means her room at the nursing home, Jung-ah looks around the small room in her house, realizing that this is a cage, too.
Even though it’s 3am, Jung-ah sets out to get the car keys from Suk-gyun and pick-up Hee-ja. The sun is up by the time she reaches the nursing home, and Hee-ja literally runs to Jung-ah as one of the nurses chases after her, reminding her that they need to get permission from her son first.
The friends squeal in delight as hit the open road, relishing their freedom. Except that the car is low on gas and they slowly roll to a stop. Jung-ah’s determined to not let this be a setback, and she calls Choong-nam to get some money and figure out where they should go,
Suddenly overcome with an idea, Choong-nam looks over at her collection of priceless artwork. She knows where she get a lot of money, fast, and begins to pack a bag. She thinks that all the aunties (along with Suk-gyun and Seung-jae) should go on a trip together.
It’s a great idea, except that the weather has a different plan. It’s monsoon season, and as the rain pours down, the aunties and uncles hang out in a large room at an inn, trying to entertain themselves.
They make a game of coming up with ways they’d prefer to die (“sickness,” “natural,” “in an accident,” etc.), and they come to a general consensus that everyone would (except Suk-gyun) would enjoy the romance of dying “on the road.”
Wan bursts into the room just then, much to their surprise. Later, as the aunties and uncles settle into bed, Wan watches as they all sleep in the same room together. She originally thought they were joking about going on a road trip or just making idle plans, but since that day, they were nearly always on the road.
An RV trundles down the road as Suk-gyun and Seung-jae argue over directions. The ladies hang out in the back, reading and napping. When the RV gets stuck in some mud, they work together to free the vehicle, and Wan tells us that no matter how rough or tiring the journey was for them, they never stopped or gave up. After all, compared to their difficult lives, those temporary hardships on the road were next to nothing.
In a little round-up of their life when they’re not on the road, Nan-hee goes through another round of chemo while Granny sits with her. Seung-jae helps Hee-ja complete a puzzle at the nursing home, keeping a careful eye on the old men around her making sure they don’t get any funny ideas. Suk-gyun helps Hee-ja glue eyes on hundreds of stuffed animals, and even fetches water for her when she asks. What a turnaround!
Choong-nam continues to study English while Young-won memorizes lines for her next drama role. In Slovenia, Yun-ha sweats as tries to strengthen his muscles to one day use his legs again, and Wan works on her book. Nan-hee watches a movie with her guitar guy, warning him that it’s getting late. He promises to only watch for ten more minutes before leaving, which is not exactly what Nan-hee was implying when she said it was getting late, if you know what I mean.
The RV full of aunties and uncles makes its way to the ocean. Wan and Granny are part of the road trip this time, and Wan tells Granny that her book, My Old Friends, will be published soon. Granny would be more impressed if Wan got pregnant, though. Hey, writing a book is like giving birth!
Wan asks Granny to sum up life in one sentence, and Granny casually answers: “It’s nothing special.” Wan wonders if that doesn’t make life sound sad, but Granny points out that if life isn’t all that special to begin with, then it can’t be sad to think of it that way.
Wan wonders if all that’s left of a not-special life are the selfish children, but that somehow doesn’t seem right to her. As she watches her aunties and uncles laugh as they frolic in the sand (aww, Jung-ah cheerfully waves to a seagull, calling out “Mom!”), she realizes that she’s been looking at it all wrong.
Life isn’t just an endless march towards an inevitable death. Instead, in order to respect the ferocious way they’ve made it through their younger years, they’re now living in the moment with passion and dignity. The aunties, Granny, and uncles sit and watch the sunset while Wan watches them. If she could have one wish, it would be to extend this moment longer so there would be no regrets.
What a wonderful, wonderful ending. It’s everything I wanted (or didn’t even know I wanted). I literally cheered in delighted joy when the RV made its appearance. Finally, my aunties (and uncles) are getting their road trip! It’s so delightful and ridiculous and perfect. I can just picture them arguing about what week they have free of any doctor’s appointments or film shoots or other responsibilities, and then they pack up the RV, throw a pin at a map, and go wherever fate takes them.
I love that it’s both open-ended and also somehow “happily ever after.” Maybe the aunties will still have struggles to deal with, but for right now, they are able to enjoy the freedom they always longed for but perhaps could never achieve when they were younger. This is not, perhaps, how they dreamed of growing old, but it is the life they have now — why waste it?
No drama can be perfect, but this one is close enough for me. There has been such a marvelous combination of acting, directing, script, and just general heart that has weaved something magical, making me somehow wistful for a life I’ve never led. Every actor has been spot-on, from Go Hyun-jung carrying the brunt of introducing us to the quirks and foibles of each auntie’s life, to the incredible talent and array of older actresses who felt so natural in their roles, I’m not sure how easily I will accept them in a standard mother-in-law drama role again. Then there are all the “special guests” who helped flesh out this world — most notably, Jo In-sung and Lee Kwang-soo.
I’d originally had my hesitations about the director, who’s previous project was My Secret Hotel (which I also recapped, and was not even close to being as good as this show), but there was so much beauty on display in the loving way the aunties were filmed that even in the silence, so much was spoken. Then, of course, there is the amazing Noh Hee-kyung, who has made me long for more dramas like this — the slice of life that is filled with interesting women who are more than just the labels society tries to give them, who have stories that are worth sharing. While Granny may say that life is nothing special, it’s definitely been a special time joining in on this journey with Wan and the aunties.
I will miss them and my weekly escape into their world, but I know in my heart-of-hearts that these aunties will always be close by if I just open my eyes and look at the lives of those around me.
- Dear My Friends: Episode 15
- Dear My Friends: Episode 14
- Dear My Friends: Episode 13
- Dear My Friends: Episode 12
- Dear My Friends: Episode 11
- Dear My Friends: Episode 10
- Dear My Friends: Episode 9
- Dear My Friends: Episode 8
- Dear My Friends: Episode 7
- Dear My Friends: Episode 6
- Dear My Friends: Episode 5
- Dear My Friends: Episode 4
- Dear My Friends: Episode 3
- Dear My Friends: Episode 2
- Dear My Friends: Episode 1