How to Buy a Friend: Episodes 7-8 (Final)
A contract has led our heroes into a very dangerous situation, but they’re determined to do whatever it takes to get justice for a friend. Even in their worst possible moments, they never forget their goal. If they can succeed, they may find that while they were trying to help someone who is beyond physical help, she was helping them in return.
The boys follow Seo-jung’s clue of “wet sand remembers one’s footprints” by reading signs, using a word game she used to play. They end up in the same spot where Seo-jung was dragged away, unconscious, and they find themselves right in the middle of Madame Jo’s gang of thugs. Sang-pil, Madame Jo’s right-hand man and Don-hyuk’s ex-friend, takes them to Madame Jo himself.
Sitting like a queen on her throne, Madame Jo tells Don-hyuk and Chan-hong that to earn respect, they need to be dangerous like Sang-pil. Don-hyuk recognizes her hand-rolled cigarette and accuses her of being at the school on the day Seo-jung died, and he asks angrily why she killed Seo-jung. Madame Jo says she was only trying to get Seo-jung’s phone, and coos sarcastically that if she’d gotten there sooner, she might have saved Seo-jung.
Chan-hong almost cracks and tells her where to find Seo-jung’s phone, but Don-hyuk screams that they’ll die if he tells. Snarling, Madame Jo threatens Don-hyuk with a scary-looking power tool, and she has her henchmen bring out Se-yoon where Chan-hong can see her. Madame Jo says casually that she can either sell Se-yoon and kill the boys, or let all three of them go if they just give her the phone.
Don-hyuk imagines Seo-jung crying and struggling as Se-yoon is doing now, and he breaks. Sang-pil goes to Don-hyuk’s little rooftop room and finds Seo-jung’s phone right where Don-hyuk said it would be, then he calls Madame Jo. He also finds Don-hyuk’s articles about Seo-jung’s death and the picture of the two of them back when they were friends, and for a moment he looks regretful.
Chan-hong, Don-hyuk, and Seo-jung wait in the warehouse, tied together. Chan-hong asks Se-yoon if she’s okay, then he tells Don-hyuk that they need to get the phone back. But Don-hyuk just replies that he’d like to eat at Chan-hong’s house again once they’re free, and tells Se-yoon that his mother makes the best kimchi jjigae ever. He says he’s fine, and that Seo-jung would have done the same thing.
Meanwhile Kyung-pyo visits Mi-ra at the hospital. He tries to cheer her up by joking that when she feels bad about what she did, to think lewd thoughts instead. He says it’s best to live long lives as normal people who make mistakes, then confesses that he likes her. Mi-ra’s lips quirk up in a tiny smile, then she whines, “Why aren’t you a little more handsome??” HAHA, awww.
Once Madame Jo gets Seo-jung phone and tosses it into a fire to burn, she keeps her promise and lets the kids go free. Don-hyuk lunges at her, bellowing, “Why did it have to be Seo-jung?!” but Madame Jo says he should be asking who got Seo-jung involved in all this in the first place.
On their way out of the building, they pass another group of henchmen. One of them taunts Don-hyuk, who turns and sees that he has a tattoo on his ankle — it’s the guy who was seen with Seo-jung. Don-hyuk practically levitates up the side of a flight of stairs to jump the guy, and the other henchmen start pounding on Don-hyuk.
Chan-hong wades in to help, and so does Kyung-pyo when he shows up, having been worried when he couldn’t reach Chan-hong so he’d come looking for him. HA, even Se-yoon grabs one of the henchmen. They’re outnumbered and taking a bad beating, but then Sang-pil joins them.
Shockingly, Sang-pil lights a two-by-four on fire and starts whacking his own guys off of the teenagers. He takes the beating for them, yelling at them to leave, though Don-hyuk snaps on the way out that Sang-pil waited a bit too long to start acting like a friend.
Once they’re safe, Don-hyuk and Kyung-pyo head home alone, leaving Chan-hong to walk Se-yoon. He follows her for a short while until she says she can go alone the rest of the way, since her parents will be waiting for her. Chan-hong apologizes for not being a better savior, but Se-yoon says that she likes Chan-hong as much as he likes her, and that she knows it’s not his fault.
Chan-hong’s parents freak out when they see his battered and bloody face. They pepper him with questions about who did it, Mom assuming that it was Don-hyuk and getting even more upset. Dad orders Chan-hong to come clean, but Chan-hong explodes. He yells that as a man, Dad should understand that there are some things he just can’t talk about or explain, so his parents back off and give him the space he needs.
They still sit up worrying, as Chan-hong thinks about the fact that even though he and his friends are all the same age, they have to live their moments on their own. We see Don-hyuk at home, and when he finds the photo of himself and Sang-pil, he cries to see that Sang-pil wrote on the back, “I’m sorry.” Se-yoon’s father makes her watch as he destroys all of her art supplies.
On their way to school in the morning, the boys have to walk past campaign posters featuring Madame Jo’s smiling face. After school, Kyung-pyo is arrested for online bullying and blackmail, for the hacking job he did to find the guy with the tattoo. The police believe that Kyung-pyo is Mithra, and that he made fake accounts to contact girls and take pictures of them, including Seo-jung, resulting in her death.
But when his friends come to visit him in jail, Kyung-pyo swears he’s never used that ID. He notices Mi-ra’s worried expression and asks why “my Mi-ra” is so upset, causing Chan-hong, Don-hyuk, and Se-yoon to yelp in unison, “My Mi-ra?!” HAHA, Chan-hong blurts out that Kyung-pyo and Mi-ra as a couple is more shocking than Kyung-pyo getting arrested.
Later, Don-hyuk tells Chan-hong that if the person who really did the procuring of girls isn’t found, Kyung-pyo is in big trouble, so they decide that it’s up to them to find him. At the same time, Madame Jo is confident the real criminal won’t be found since the police won’t be looking for him. She makes a call, sneering that the police can’t find a dead person. Uh-oh.
Chan-hong is woken by the tones of his classmates texting about Kyung-pyo, completely believing that he’s the pervert the police are making him out to be. The hallway gossip continues at school, and it makes Chan-hong imagine Seo-jung hearing the same hateful words about herself. He blows up at the students, yelling that they don’t know anything about Kyung-pyo if they believe the ugly rumors, especially since nobody saw him do anything.
Mi-ra witnesses Chan-hong’s outburst and decides to come clean about her experience with the real Mithra. She explains that she started talking to him in an online chat group, that he knew who she really is, and that they had a lot in common.
Chan-hong studies the messages, and from the way Mithra seems to know the people Mi-ra talks about, he guesses that Mithra is a student at their school. He also thinks Mithra is a boy based on his harsh way of communicating, but that he’s not the violent type. In fact, Chan-hong believes Mithra is quite weak due to his extreme anger and sensitivity, which reminds Chan-hong of the way he felt when Dae-yong beat him up. What doesn’t make sense is why Mithra did what he did to Seo-jung.
On Seo-jung’s birthday, Se-yoon visits her ashes for the first time since her death. She apologizes for taking so long, sobbing that she was ashamed to come sooner. Someone lurks outside, watching her, but when Se-yoon looks he’s already gone.
During midterms, Teacher Woo lectures that no matter how a writer chooses to express themselves, they always reveal their true self. Chan-hong suddenly realizes something and hurries out of class, and a curious Don-hyuk follows him. Chan-hong says that he thinks he knows who Mithra is. He’s the weakest, loneliest, and most anxious person in their school… Sung-do, bully Dae-yong’s favorite target.
Unfortunately, Se-yoon figured it out already, having followed Sung-do from the columbarium where he was watching her. He pulls a knife and admits that he’s Mithra, and that he took Seo-jung to Madame Jo and got her killed. Distraught, Se-yoon says that Chan-hong thought of Sung-do as a friend, but he sneers at that and tells her not to follow him.
He’s on his way to Madame Jo’s hideout, having been ordered to bring anything that still connects him to Seo-jung. He seems resigned to her plans for him, and he doesn’t even struggle when Madame Jo’s henchmen take the information and leave him hanging from the ceiling.
Luckily, Seo-jung ignored his order not to follow and called Chan-hong for help. She gets to the hideout just seconds before Chan-hong and Don-hyuk arrive, and they cut Sung-do down just in time, not that he’s grateful. He screams that they should have let him die, but Don-hyuk growls that he’s not here to save him — he wants an explanation.
Sung-do wrenches out of Don-hyuk’s hands and picks up a shard of glass, brandishing it like a weapon. He snarls that having a friend isn’t worth anything, but an angry Chan-hong walks forward until his throat is pressed against the glass and retorts that he, Don-hyuk, and Se-yoon did their best to stand by Seo-jung.
Half furious and half crying, Sung-do asks what about him, who’s always been on the outside. He says they watched Dae-yong bully him and did nothing to help because they were afraid of ending up like him. He tells them that he wanted to break their friendship because it was meaningless.
Softly, Chan-hong says that he doesn’t really know what friendship is, but that Sung-do never reached out to anyone, either. He says he didn’t want anything to do with Don-hyuk when he first met him, but that Don-hyuk turned out to be very different from his tough exterior. He says Don-hyuk gets anxious, and is hurt easily just like everyone else.
He tells Sung-do that Seo-jung may have seemed to have had everything, but that she was just a young girl no different from him, who wanted to be loved and happy. Sung-do finally backs down and says despairingly that he knows. He wails that he tried to turn things back but it was too late, so he survived by telling himself that Seo-jung didn’t kill herself only because of what he did.
He says he’s sorry, then raises the glass to his own throat. But Don-hyuk darts forward and grabs the glass with his bare hand, joined quickly by Chan-hong and Se-yoon. Don-hyuk tells Sung-do, “Live. Live and endure. This isn’t because I worry about you or because I forgive you. Live anyway. Live, no matter what.” Sung-do finally drops the glass and lets loose a howl of pain from the depths of his soul.
In voiceover, the three friends take turns:
Don-hyuk:We’re merely nineteen years old. We’re imperfect. We don’t know what true friendship is.
Se-yoon: So sometimes things end with only wounds, even when we think it was friendship. Will we become perfect when we become adults?
Chan-hong: I just wish we could look at each other a bit longer, a bit more sincerely, a bit more kindly.
As they stand there, the sun floods into the building. Seo-jung stands in front of them, and for the first time, she smiles.
Madame Jo is arrested and charged with kidnapping and sexual trafficking of a minor. Chan-hong sees her on the news but doesn’t say anything to his parents, and just enjoys their silly dance party antics. Don-hyuk packs up to move back home, and Chan-hong teases that he’ll miss Mom’s cooking. Don-hyuk says that his mom is a pretty cook cook, too, and invites Chan-hong to come to dinner and spend the night some time.
Chan-hong makes Don-hyuk hug it out, and though Don-hyuk is reluctant at first, he relaxes once he’s in Chan-hong’s arms. Chan-hong says it’s time to let Seo-jung go now, and that she would have forgiven Don-hyuk, so he should forgive himself. Don-hyuk nods and cries a little, but it’s the healing kind of crying.
On the phone, Se-yoon tells her father that she doesn’t know if she’s a good enough artist to make a living at it, but that she feels like the world is a beautiful place when she’s drawing. She says she’s going to keep drawing, and asks him to accept that it makes her happy. She hangs up, and goes back to her (very good) sketch of Chan-hong.
Meanwhile, Chan-hong informs Teacher Woo that he wants to continue with creative writing. Teacher Woo tells Chan-hong that he once felt poetry was everything, but his life crashed and he could no longer write, so he became a teacher (and fortunately liked it).
He advises Chan-hong to keep balance in his life and not let the things he loves destroy him. He starts to say something even more important, but Teacher Choi walks by and Teacher Woo forgets everything else to beg her for a date, ha.
Spring comes, and Chan-hong and Se-yoon, Don-hyuk, Kyung-pyo, and Mi-ra have formed a tight little group. As they walk through a field of flowers, Chan-hong thinks to himself, “The cherry blossom represents evanescent beauty and purity. It means vain life and death. Canola flowers represent cheerfulness and hope. Being 19 is like walking between cherry blossoms and canola flowers — like walking on a tightrope between death and hope.”
He watches Kyung-pyo and Mi-ra flirting together and thinks, “Kyung-pyo doesn’t have good grades or good looks. He’s not good at sports, either. He wasn’t interested in what Mi-ra did. That’s who Kyung-pyo is, because he’s King Psycho.” The friends regroup and all run forward together.
Sang-pil is in jail, and Don-hyuk visits him and brings presents like snacks and socks every week. Sang-pil actually seems happier in jail than he was while working for Madame Jo, and even teases Don-hyuk that his turn in juvie was nothing compared to this. Growing serious, Don-hyuk tells Sang-pil to use this chance to turn his life around, and Sang-pil asks hopefully if he can change the same way Don-hyuk did.
Chan-hong writes to Sung-do (in a mental health facility, I assume) once a week, since he’s not accepting visitors yet, though Sung-do does write back sometimes. We see Don-hyuk in his own room, with pictures of himself and his friends everywhere, and even one of Seo-jung looking very happy, awww.
Seo-jung works hard at her art, and the school displays her painting of the five friends on the beach, running towards Seo-jung. The painting turns real, and while the two couples play together in the sand, Don-hyuk goes to Seo-jung, both with huge grins on their faces.
Awww, what a great ending. Chan-hong and Don-hyuk were able to get justice for Seo-jung by both stopping the woman who put her through so much suffering, and by getting help for the boy who started it all because of his own pain. I wouldn’t call this a happy ending, but I would say it’s an ending of hope and love. Seo-jung will never come back, but through their struggles Chan-hong was able to help Don-hyuk find peace. Now Don-hyuk can let go of the painful way things ended and remember Seo-jung as the happy girl he loved.
But how sad, that after all that with the cell phone and Madam Jo and human trafficking, it turns out that Seo-jung’s death was ultimately the result of jealousy and high school bullying. I can’t help but feel bad for Sung-do, who had every right to feel angry, alone, and resentful that the whole school knew what was happening to him and nobody ever said a helpful word. It doesn’t excuse what he did to Seo-jung, but it’s an example of how kids at this age may seem mature, but in many ways they’re still innocent children who can’t anticipate all the possible consequences of their actions. Just like Mi-ra, Sung-do was only lashing out in his own anguish, desperate for someone to really see him. But he didn’t think about how that might harm, or even kill, the target of his anger.
I did feel it was right of Chan-hong to tell Sung-do that he should have asked for help, because it felt victim-blamey. Especially after he and his friends have risked their lives not once, but twice, for a girl who absolutely deserves to have her reputation cleared, but who is already gone, while this boy desperately needed help and was getting none from anyone. They are still kids and kids tend to be pretty absorbed in their own problems, but I can understand why Sung-do felt it was unfair.
The theme of friendship was so strong throughout this short drama, and I like how it highlighted all different kinds of relationships. The longterm friendship of Chan-hong and Kyung-pyo was an interesting contrast to the contract friendship between Chan-hong and Don-hyuk. Chan-hong’s new friendship with Se-yoon mirrored Se-yoon’s older friendship with Mi-ra. Friendship was even what started all this, when Mi-ra grew jealous of Se-yoon and Seo-jung’s closeness and pulled a prank to break them up, only for it to backfire and end in Seo-jung’s death and great danger to a lot more kids in the process. And even in the midst of tragedy and loss, friendship was able to grow, like how Chan-hong and Don-hyuk’s wary partnership turned into true trust, and even Don-hyuk and Sang-pil’s old, broken friendship was starting to repair. Friendships are a powerful, incredible thing, and I love how the drama showed how it can harm or heal.
I love the bright note that How to Buy a Friend ends on, with everyone making an effort to become better versions of themselves. Not perfect, not even necessarily special, just… better. It gives poor Seo-jung’s suffering and death some meaning to see how those who loved her fought for her even after she was gone, and how, in finding some justice for her, others were influenced to change their lives. And really, that’s all we can ask for — that after we’re gone, the fact of our having existed might nudge someone to be more than they thought they could be.