Thirty But Seventeen: Episodes 31-32 (Final)
You may have thought that all the secrets were finally revealed, but Thirty But Seventeen has managed to save some surprises for its final hour. But this truly is the end, and that means living with some answers that weren’t what we expected. When the dust finally settles, it’s time for everyone to find their way out of this intermission and on to a new future, one which hopefully brings a satisfying resolution to all.
EPISODE 31: “In all sincerity”
Seo-ri’s aunt sits in her car, several missed calls awaiting her attention. She plays her voicemail and listens to a message from Woo-jin.
In his message, Woo-jin earnestly relays the effects of Seo-ri’s aunt’s silence and how Seo-ri is blaming herself for her family’s breakdown. Woo-jin says that he knows what living with blame feels like, and begs her to reveal herself and what happened to Seo-ri’s uncle.
So as Woo-jin and Seo-ri were canvassing the neighborhood near the closed florist shop, Seo-ri’s aunt was making a difficult decision, and that decision leads her to the doorstep of her old house as Woo-jin and Seo-ri arrive back home.
Seo-ri’s aunt can only cry and apologize as she looks at Seo-ri. Seo-ri asks about her uncle, and her question only seems to make her aunt cry harder. Her aunt embraces her, and tears well up in Seo-ri’s eyes as her question increases in urgency.
Sitting in the backyard, Seo-ri’s aunt proffers a stack of hand-written journals to Seo-ri. Seo-ri’s uncle has left journal entries behind written to Seo-ri, and they contain his own list of “if only” wishes that could never be changed.
Seo-ri’s uncle feels guilty for lying about his business trip. But it turns out that he did so not because he wanted to hurt his family or run away. Through the entries, he reveals that his business partner betrayed him and left his company staggering towards bankruptcy.
Even so, Seo-ri’s uncle is determined to keep the house that Seo-ri loved so much and refuses to sell it to avoid bankruptcy. Her uncle begins writing again after a year away, confessing to turning to excessive drinking to cope. His new entries encourage Seo-ri to wake up and meet her new cousin.
He was the one to draw up the divorce papers, not Seo-ri’s aunt, because he wanted to ensure that the house wouldn’t be taken in the bankruptcy. And in the end, the stress and anguish of losing his livelihood and his beloved niece weighed too heavily on Seo-ri’s uncle. He died from liver disease, collapsing next to Seo-ri’s hospital bed.
Now at her uncle’s grave, Seo-ri cries with the Euro bill clutched in her hands, the one her uncle once told her would lead her back to him. Woo-jin places a hand on her shoulder as she crumples to the ground. Seo-ri sobs that she wishes she had just gone on thinking that her uncle had abandoned her, rather than discovering the truth.
As they rise to leave, Woo-jin gives Seo-ri an envelope that Seo-ri’s aunt gave to him. The envelope contains a key to a bank box. Seo-ri’s aunt chose not to use any of the money she received for finally selling the house in the end, and now that money is Seo-ri’s. Woo-jin tells Seo-ri that her aunt felt too ashamed to give the key to her.
Seo-ri continues to cry. “If they had just sold the house, he wouldn’t have suffered like that.”
Later, Seo-ri sits in the yard with Deok-gu and stares at the sky. Jennifer and Woo-jin watch her from inside, and their reaction suggests that they’ve been finding Seo-ri in this spot more and more often.
Jennifer has a quote for this situation for Woo-jin: “The only cure for sadness is to do something, by J.H. Lewis.”
Woo-jin joins Seo-ri outside, rattles the moon rabbit charm now attached to his art case to get her attention, and asks her if she’ll come with him to fix the sketch he drew of her so long ago. Seo-ri smiles as she asks Deok-gu if he’s up for a walk.
As the pair drive along the highway, Seo-ri realizes that Woo-jin has more than a short walk planned. They arrive at the beach, just as they did the last time Woo-jin took Seo-ri out to cheer her up. Woo-jin is the first to shout a cheer into the ocean, and Seo-ri chides him for stealing her style before she joins him.
Woo-jin, Seo-ri, and Deok-gu romp on the beach all day long. Woo-jin takes photos and works on repairing the drawing of Seo-ri, the rabbit charm dangling from his case. The sun begins to fade as the couple sits together on the beach.
They look at the drawing together, and Seo-ri tattles on Deok-gu for his dirty paw prints on the drawing. Seo-ri has one final critique: the drawing has gotten her hand wrong.
Seo-ri takes Woo-jin by the hand and positions his fingers properly, and then lifts them into the air to capture the moon between them. Seo-ri shares the wish-granting rabbit in the moon story, and shakes the matching rabbit charm affixed to Woo-jin’s art case, which she tells Woo-jin her mother had made for her.
The pair sit out there together, staring up at the sky. Seo-ri gently thanks Woo-jin, for letting her stay by his side always, and Woo-jin repeats the same words back to her.
The next day, Chan speaks with the director of the pro rowing team and delays making his decision. His teammates rush up from where they’ve been watching the exchange, impressed with Chan and his possible future.
Coach sends everyone scattering to practice, though Chan hangs back. Coach notes Chan’s conflicted expression and asks why he isn’t happy about his new opportunity. When Chan tells his coach that he’s only just started to consider the pro team as an option, Coach tells him to do what will make him the most happy.
Seo-ri meets up with Hyung-tae to let him know what happened to her uncle. He’s sorry to hear it, and also sorry about his own behavior towards Seo-ri. Hyung-tae confesses to her that he was resentful towards these strangers that had somehow swept in and met her before Hyung-tae had the chance to see her awake.
But now he’s able to call them her family, and he’s grateful that she met them and was taken care of after she woke up. Hyung-tae admits that he still has some “if only” feelings lingering, but in the end, he likes being a doctor. Then he asks Seo-ri if she remembers what he used to say in school, and they both laugh, “Yo, this is what you call hip-hop mentality, yeah.”
Afterwards, Seo-ri returns to work at the design studio alongside Woo-jin. There’s a blip of discomfort when Hyun wants to create a profile for Seo-ri on the company website, and Seo-ri knows she doesn’t have much work experience to list.
Both Hee-soo and Woo-jin divert for Seo-ri, and Woo-jin asks Seo-ri along to help with some photos of the music therapy session his therapist is running for their upcoming stage work.
Seo-ri smiles big as she watches the performance through the camera. Afterwards, Woo-jin’s therapist asks if Seo-ri is the one that Woo-jin’s been bragging about, and Woo-jin sheepishly admonishes him for breach of doctor-patience confidentiality, ha.
Later at home while Woo-jin studies the video, he can’t help but pause on Seo-ri’s gleeful smile. Woo-jin flips open the music therapy guidebook that his therapist has provided, and he notes that music therapists are those who have a love for music. Woo-jin immediately thinks of Seo-ri and her desire to work somehow with music.
Woo-jin takes the book to Seo-ri to share his idea, but she pulls out her own copy from her shelves. She had the same inspiration after the music therapy session and picked up the book from the library, but she also confesses that she’s looked into what’s required to become a music therapist, and it will take a long time.
By the time that Seo-ri gets her GED, a college degree and completes grad school, at least eight years will have passed. Both Woo-jin and Seo-ri sound dejected at the thought of so many years, but Seo-ri says she’ll keep looking into it.
Just as one idea for the future arrives, another opportunity turns up in Seo-ri’s inbox. Hyun spots an email to Seo-ri from Tae-rin come in on her computer, and Seo-ri eagerly settles down to read.
Tae-rin writes from Berlin, where she has been enjoying her time studying at a small academy. She met a professor from Seo-ri’s audition for the music school when she was younger, and that professor has made an offer for Seo-ri to come and study at the academy as well.
Tae-rin says that it wouldn’t be for a degree, but they could enjoy playing music and studying together. Tae-rin writes that she’s grateful to Seo-ri and would like to pay her back, and also that it would be a shame to let Seo-ri’s talent go to waste. Woo-jin notes Seo-ri’s stunned look as she sits back from her computer.
Once at home, Seo-ri talks out the offer with Woo-jin, who says that he’ll support Seo-ri no matter what she decides to do. He points out that he’ll be with her for forever anyway, so she doesn’t need to consider him as she makes the decision for herself.
Seo-ri has support from her co-workers as well to encourage her to take the opportunity. Hyun says that Seo-ri would obviously be a fool if she passed it up, while Hee-soo reassures Seo-ri that the company will manage without her classical music expertise. But even with all the support, Seo-ri’s not sure what to do.
Seo-ri calculates out all of the time she would spend pursuing music therapy in her trusty notebook, and she can’t find a way that wouldn’t mean dedicating eight years of her life. She gasps when she realizes that when she’s finally done, it will be 2026 and she’ll already be thirty-eight years old.
Seo-ri retires to the couch with Deok-gu to mull over her difficult decision. She sighs heavily, but then looks up when she hears her sigh echoed across the room by an equally uncertain Chan. Chan too has a big decision to make that will shape his future in a major way, and neither of them is eager to think through it all.
But in the end, Chan reports to his coach and announces his decision. At the same time, Seo-ri emails Tae-rin to let her know she’ll be joining her in Berlin shortly.
And so we arrive at the night before Seo-ri’s departure, Seo-ri looking at her plane ticket. Woo-jin tries to be strong and cool as he peeks in on her, but it’s obvious from his mile-long sticky notes of suggestions that he is a nervous mess. When he offers to drive Seo-ri to the airport, she insists that she’ll just take the airport bus instead.
Woo-jin appears hurt, but Seo-ri stands firm, that she’d like to go by herself, like an adult. She tells Woo-jin that they’ll just cry again at the airport, and that she wants to be done with crying.
The chyron announces the day of Seo-ri’s departure. Woo-jin finds Seo-ri waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. Woo-jin gives Seo-ri a hug, tells her that he’ll see her in October when he visits her in Berlin, and then rushes off before she can say anything.
Woo-jin supposedly makes it to work, though he’s too distraught to show his face in the work room. Hyun reports in to Hee-soo that Woo-jin’s hidden away in the other room crying buckets.
When Woo-jin returns home, bleary-eyed, Jennifer tries to speak with him, but he holds up a hand and asks to be left alone. Upstairs on the landing, Chan also tries to speak with Woo-jin, but again he holds up a hand and turns in to bed.
Woo-jin lies down, where he spots a letter from Seo-ri on his bedside table. He whimpers her name as he looks at the envelope.
EPISODE 32: “Another door to happiness”
Woo-jin begins to read Seo-ri’s farewell letter, and Seo-ri’s narrates it in voiceover. It starts as one might expect, “I’m likely in the air headed to Germany now,” but as Woo-jin reads on, it rapidly turns into a not-so-farewell letter.
Seo-ri begins to list all the things that would come of her going to Berlin, how she would learn from a great professor and improve, and as that list comes out, she realizes that she doesn’t want any of those things.
“Wait. I realized this just now. I don’t think I want to go. Yeah, why should I go?” Her stream of consciousness pours out into the letter, as she realizes that studying violin performance is no longer her priority.
Seo-ri writes that she wants to see Woo-jin and Jennifer, and spend time with Chan and his friends, and see Deok-gu while he’s still healthy. And at the end she concludes on the back of the letter, “I’ll wait for you in our spot.”
Woo-jin stumbles to his feet and out the door. Chan and Jennifer shake their heads to themselves as they watch him lumber out. They obviously know already that Seo-ri is here to stay.
Seo-ri continues to narrate her letter as Woo-jin races to the bridge. She says that she wants to spend the rest of her time with the people she loves, and that of all people, she is happiest when she’s with Woo-jin.
Together at the bridge at last, and with Woo-jin right in front of her, the words tumble out of Seo-ri as fast as they can. Seo-ri knows that she always says to try everything, but she already knows that she doesn’t want this, because she knows what she wants. Seo-ri says that she wants to become a music therapist, she wants to grow and take her time surrounded by the people she loves.
She admits that she was scared of how old she would be before achieving her dream, but that she understands now that age is just another number, not a limitation or a designation of how far behind she is.
“Aren’t you out of breath?” Woo-jin chuckles at her endless stream of words, and they smile and hug at last.
As they pull away, Woo-jin has to ask why he’s only hearing about this now, since Seo-ri wrote the letter last night. So Seo-ri reviews her attempt at telling him this morning, when Woo-jin rushed away before she could say anything. Additionally, Jennifer, Chan, even his co-workers all tried to tell him, but Woo-jin kept isolating himself to cry. Awww.
Seo-ri lists off all the things she’s looking forward to doing, and Woo-jin realizes that he has to cancel his plane ticket. He admits that he bought a ticket to fly out tomorrow to see Seo-ri right away. Seo-ri asks him why he was crying all day long when he knew he would see her the day after next. Double awwww.
The two smile and tease as they walk down the stairs together, arm in arm.
A few months later: Chan packs up his room. It’s finally time to move back home, and his friends are there to help. The boys have even managed to add a silver medal to their necks. They sigh that even Jennifer is leaving now that her six month contract is up.
Chan pulls out a university pamphlet and the card from the pro team director, and his friends tease him a little about how much he agonized between these two potential futures. “Do you have any regrets?” Deok-soo asks. Chan smiles and says that he has none. Their laughter is interrupted when a mighty crow echos through the room, and not-so-little Chick Jr. pops his head up.
Downstairs, Woo-jin asks Jennifer if she can stay on at the house even when Chan is gone. But Jennifer has plans, and they aren’t being a maid anymore. She smiles as she tells Woo-jin that she’s off to do as he said, and explore her right to keep living and making precious memories. Woo-jin can’t argue with that plan.
Seo-ri is in her room with Deok-gu (who is wearing overalls!). Seo-ri thinks about all the departures, and how once Chan and Jennifer are gone, that will leave just her and Woo-jin in the house. Her blush is intense as the thought sets in.
Seo-ri is still trying to work through that new realization at work, and Hyun manages to add fuel to the fire when he spots a receipt from a jeweler where Woo-jin has placed an order. Hee-soo and Hyun look at Seo-ri, as they all come to the same assumption about what exactly Woo-jin picked up at a jewelry store.
Woo-jin shows up at work dressed very nicely, further confirming their suspicions, and asks Seo-ri to go to a restaurant that evening. Oh man.
Seo-ri squirms in her seat at dinner, trying to decide if she’s ready for marriage. Woo-jin reaches into his jacket pocket, and as he does, Seo-ri blurts out, “Okay, let’s do it!”
Seo-ri rambles and shouts out her affirmation, to what Woo-jin’s not exactly sure. When Seo-ri finally supplies the word “marriage,” Woo-jin’s face goes blank, and Seo-ri quickly realizes that’s not what’s happening. Woo-jin pulls out a jewelry box, which contains a copy of her moon bunny charm. He mutters to himself, “Perhaps I should have had a ring instead.”
The couple head to a park to discuss their expectations after the misunderstanding. Seo-ri admits that the house being reduced to just the two of them makes her nervous. From Seo-ri’s perspective, she feels like Woo-jin always has to wait for her to catch up to him in life.
Woo-jin tells her that he doesn’t want to rush her or to make her feel lost in time ever again. He only wants to enjoy the comfort of being together and taking their time. And he also reminds her that it’s not just the two of them, because Deok-gu is still with them.
“Ah, I fell for you again,” Seo-ri says. They smile and hold hands.
A few days pass, and it’s time for Jennifer to leave. Woo-jin narrates in voiceover that the household agreed not to do anything sappy for her. As Jennifer leaves her room, presents await her from Deok-soo and Hae-beom. Next to that, Chan has a present as well, and his note ends with a “by Chan,” as if his words were a famous quote that Jennifer was relaying.
Making her way through the house, another gift awaits her at the door. Seo-ri has kept her promise and purchased some very fancy shoes for Jennifer as a farewell, with a note that concludes, “By Seo-ri.” But Seo-ri can’t manage to keep from being sappy, and rushes out of her room to give Jennifer a hug anyways. Seo-ri repeats the first quote Jennifer gave her. “Deuk Jo Ga Yeon, meeting a beautiful fate for the first time.”
Woo-jin is waiting for Jennifer outside, the final farewell. Woo-jin offers to drive her, but Jennifer wants a fresh start on her own. Jennifer strides away on her own, her new shoes sparkling as they hit the pavement.
Woo-jin continues to narrate as Chan and his friends leave the house as well. Chan walks out, his baby chick now a grown chicken (whom thankfully Chan has found a suitable home for and won’t be stashing him in his parent’s apartment).
The chyron rolls up to announce two years have passed.
Seo-ri visits her uncle’s grave, and on her way out she spots her aunt with her son, Min-kyu. Min-kyu allows Seo-ri to fawn over him, while Seo-ri’s aunt remains distant.
But Seo-ri won’t let that go on, and she grabs hold of Min-kyu’s hand and tells him to hold his mother’s hand with the other. Seo-ri casually mentions that she got into college, and then asks if her aunt will treat her with a meal to celebrate. Seo-ri’s aunt can’t help but smile as they all walk hand in hand.
Chan has taken first place in a rowing competition, beating out even the men from the pro teams. Hae-beom and Deok-soo, his college teammates, cheer him on from the crowd.
The director of the pro team is there too, and asks why Chan decided on college rather than joining the team. Chan recalls the moment that he learned that Seo-ri had decided not to go to Germany. She told him then that she hadn’t given up, but had made a choice.
So Chan responds to the director that trying to become an adult too fast hadn’t worked out for him, so he chose to take his time and enjoy things at his own pace.
Chan makes his way to his uncle’s house, where Woo-jin and Seo-ri are preparing food to celebrate his victory. Soon the entryway piles up with shoes as Hae-beom and Deok-soo arrive congratulate the great Yoo Chan.
Chan even gets a chance to video chat with his chicken, who now lives on Jeju Island with his grandfather. Grandfather looks a little peeved at how big the chicken has gotten.
The get-together just isn’t the same without Jennifer though, and Woo-jin sighs this aloud. But just as he says it, a pair of sparkly heels also turns up in the doorway, and Jennifer appears with a whole new look. No more black and white, she wears a blue dress, her hair loose, and a big smile on her face.
But there’s still some of the old Jennifer in there. “Oh no no,” she wags her finger, looking at the small celebration feast. She takes the reigns in the kitchen and soon has a big Jennifer-style feast prepared. The group laughs and jokes and updates their group photos.
Seo-ri volunteers at the hospital where she was once a resident. The old woman who gave her that pink cardigan is there, though she doesn’t acknowledge that she recalls Seo-ri, other than a gentle hand squeeze and smile.
Tae-rin arrives, and Seo-ri and Tae-rin finally play their duet for the patients and staff, who cheer them on.
Woo-jin continues life as a designer, though he’s figured out how to politely ask permission before measuring objects that people are sitting on.
Chan has his entire team using his, “Don’t think, feel!” motto as they row in unison at the gym.
Jennifer has moved on, opening her own restaurant with her own specialty dish. Her former sister-in-law stops in for a meal and they smile in greeting.
At the design studio, Hee-soo announces that they’ve secured a new musical stage assignment, and the entire studio dabs in celebration together.
At home, Woo-jin smiles at Seo-ri, who rolls over in their shared bed. Woo-jin wants to open the skylight.
They swing it open and as they look out over their neighborhood, scenes from their lives together, all of their greatest hits that we’ve been along to witness, play again, as Woo-jin narrates in voiceover. “They say that when one door to happiness closes, another door to happiness opens. But many people only focus on the door that has closed, and don’t realize that another door to happiness exists.”
Woo-jin narrates how the simple things have brought them happiness, and that they’ve learned to open that new door, just like Seo-ri taught him to open the skylight. The camera swings down to their table, where their wedding portrait sits in its frame. Swinging back up, Seo-ri’s wedding band glitters on her finger.
They smile at each other, and for a moment, it’s their younger selves, looking out the window and smiling together.
As the camera flies up and out of the scene, Woo-jin and Seo-ri wave at the camera, and the entire cast is revealed below, all waving good-bye to us, the audience, who came along on this journey with them.
Theme, repetition, and commitment to character are the strengths that round out the beautiful experience that was this drama. This show took its time and was willing to revisit scenes, moments, ideas, all in an effort to allow us as the audience to witness the growth of these kind humans.
No one ever acted out of character or did something unnecessary just to move the plot or cause conflict. Characters had habits, and we as viewers came to rely on those, and squeal when we saw another sticky note or a pair of shoes as a gift. Simple things, the table in the garden, the tree, watering the plants, the rabbit charm, the bridge, all through repetition, became symbols for big emotions, and I loved seeing those moments through to the end.
Even Jennifer became a symbol of change. In the beginning, she is the catalyst, the newcomer who encounters each of the new members of the household. At the end, she moves from room to room to say farewell to the people who have changed her life, and to those she has helped change for the better. Her final moment with Woo-jin is two people who understand each other’s pain so completely, and can see in each other how much they have healed, and how far they have yet to go. Woo-jin was her greatest pupil, and also the one to help her the most.
At every turn, I kept expecting a breakdown of communication, any of the usual tricks used to stir up conflict. But the show trusted these characters more than I ever did, and it was such an amazing ride to follow along with a group of people so willing to love and trust one another. All of that anticipated Chan angst I suffered, for no reason. And every time I made that mistake, the show wagged its finger at me like Jennifer, “no, no, no,” and instead gave me everyone taking care of one another.
The show stuck to its concept of no villains. In the final reveal, the last potential “villain” of the story was revealed to be someone more dedicated to Seo-ri than even she anticipated or wanted for those she left behind while she slept.
Seo-ri’s aunt’s behavior was not about cruelty, but about guilt and shame. Seo-ri’s aunt felt like she lost everything after the accident. Her niece, her marriage, and eventually the man she loved. After all that, she had to sell the house anyway, and she had to wrestle with the resentment and guilt for these past thirteen years. I was happy to see that they gave it time, but are building up their relationship again.
Seo-ri was so attached to that house. Before she ever cared about her new friends and family, it was about returning to that house. And it wasn’t because it belonged to her, but because she couldn’t have what she really wanted, her family restored, and so it stood as a placeholder. So it was so painful to see her uncle try to save it for her, and for Seo-ri to wish that he hadn’t bothered. She would have rather had him in her life still.
I loved the idea of Seo-ri returning to music by way of music therapy the moment they introduced it. One door closes, another opens, and perhaps this one is even more meaningful to Seo-ri, someone who didn’t really love performing as much as she loved just enjoying her music.
So when the show tried to convince me that she was headed to Germany, I didn’t believe it for a moment. I mean, I did love that Tae-rin thought of Seo-ri and reached out with an opportunity to try again. But this path was about trying to recapture something that had already passed by. As much as it was unfair that Seo-ri missed that opportunity, it felt like a step backwards. It denied the opportunity that fate dealt to her. Fate is not kind or fair, but sometimes you find something even more important and worthwhile in the rubble.
So when the show turned back and let Seo-ri stay, it was such a beautiful reversal of what’s become a common finale trope. So often the pair finally gets together, but still need to do some growing, so one of them goes off to pursue their dream. And the trope itself isn’t always bad, but it’s also so refreshing to see an instance where it doesn’t have to be the only option. Seo-ri doesn’t give up, she makes a choice, and she chooses what will make her the happiest. She has grown so much, and has proven to us all that age is just a number.
And look at Woo-jin now. Woo-jin is unrecognizable from the shaggy yeti that arrived in the first episode. And it’s not just the shave. Woo-jin’s big smiles and exuberance are a perfect match for the moments when he was a young boy with not a care in the world and a big crush on a girl.
In the end, I am left with only happy, fuzzy feelings about this drama. Honestly, not a whole lot happened. Two people opened a skylight and fell in love, slowly but surely. But I loved being there to witness the smiles, knowing how long it took everyone to get there.
How could it not feel like a journey we all went on together, when the cast even waved farewell to the camera as it flew away overhead in the end? Farewell my friends, live well!