Run On: Episode 16 (Final)
The end has arrived, and Run On must decide what a happy ending looks like for our two couples and all of their friends and family. But the beauty of a story like this is that life keeps going, even after the director yells cut. So while we bid adieu to all the lovely people we’ve spent this time with, we can trust that the story goes on for each and every one of them.
EPISODE 16 RECAP
Sun-kyum bustles in Mi-joo’s kitchen, making pasta. He’s happy to make a meal to share while they’re both awake during the day now. He also wants to thank Mi-joo for inviting his sister over to commiserate, since he struggles to talk about problems with her.
Mi-joo savors the pasta, claiming it’s as good as the food she ate while visiting the Riviera once. She was inspired to go after finishing up a translation project set there, and her work often inspires her to travel. She does most of her travel solo, but when Sun-kyum asks if he can come with her the next time she gets the travel bug, Mi-joo smiles and nods.
Dan-ah joins her siblings at her father’s hospital bedside. The chairman holds what I must assume is his favorite guitar, and he tells his children that he loves them. Dan-ah manages to call him Dad, rather than Chairman, and gently tells him to rest. The heart monitor eventually slows and the Chairman’s hands go slack, the guitar dropping to the floor.
Myung-min’s already making calls as Dan-ah catches him at the elevator. He tells Dan-ah to do whatever she thinks is right to grieve for their father, while he’ll work on getting promoted. Young-hwa learns of Dan-ah’s father’s passing not from her, but from the news articles online.
Assemblyman Ki’s secretary rushes in to tell his boss the news of Chairman Seo’s passing. The assemblyman’s first concern is first about the planned marriage for Sun-kyum, and then he tells his secretary that he wants to let Eun-bi’s scandal continue to damage his political opponent’s reputation, rather than come clean about the misunderstanding. His secretary is shocked to hear that Assemblyman Ki has no intention of protecting his daughter, but his protests just prompt his boss to threaten his job.
Young-hwa spots Dan-ah in the neighborhood, and she finally tells him about her father’s death. When Young-hwa asks if she’s okay, she admits that she’s too busy to actually grieve, or address her mixed emotions of relief and sadness. Young-hwa gathers Dan-ah into a comforting hug, and Dan-ah doesn’t resist. Seeing her father pass, Dan-ah has started thinking about her own mortality, and she tells Young-hwa that’s why she can’t be together with him.
He starts to protest, but she tells him that she can’t be his happy ending, because she’s run out of time. His face falls, and he turns from her, warning that she shouldn’t come after him. He says he’ll take his own life if she tries, and he knows that she’ll respect that threat.
Dan-ah recalls their time spent in Young-hwa’s hometown, and an admission she’d made while she watched him sleep then. “I’m sorry, I should have been the one to enter your world. Instead, I dragged you into mine.” As Young-hwa walks away, he also recalls those moments, and a secret he whispered to Dan-ah as she slept: “If you’ve already decided to end this, I’m going to do my best to postpone the end.”
At Young-hwa’s apartment, Assemblyman Ki’s secretary has sought out Sun-kyum. It seems the secretary has resigned his position after all. He tells Sun-kyum that the assemblyman started Eun-bi’s scandal on purpose, and he’s telling Sun-kyum now because he always wanted the best for both Eun-bi and him. Sun-kyum says that this moment makes him think of when they were both younger, and Sun-kyum saw the secretary as an honest politician. The secretary lets one last secret slip, now that he’s no longer Assemblyman Ki’s employee: he tells Sun-kyum that his mother has officially threatened divorce.
That’s a lot to unpack, and Sun-kyum calls Mi-joo to ask if she’s interested in dinner. It’s unclear whether the japchae Mi-joo makes him is any good, considering he immediately grabs for a sip of water after tasting it, but Sun-kyum clearly sees that she’s trying to comfort him.
Mi-joo asks if something happened, and Sun-kyum tells her that he’s worried about how to break some bad news to his sister that he knows will hurt her. Mi-joo asks Sun-kyum why he’s afraid to say something in this situation, when he’s normally so straightforward with his thoughts and actions. She suggests that in this case, it’s because the news also hurt him. Mi-joo tells him that he can’t worry about how his sister will react, and instead he just needs to be honest and offer her a hug to comfort her. Mi-joo wraps her arms around Sun-kyum to demonstrate, and to give him the comfort he needs. “That’s what family is for,” she tells him.
So Sun-kyum meets with his sister and tells her the truth about their dad and the scandal. Eun-bi says that her boyfriend believed her, so that’s all she really cares about. Sun-kyum, meanwhile, thinks there might be something they can do to fix things for themselves as a family, and he calls their mom. Eun-bi’s impressed with Sun-kyum, since she knows he never would have tried this before.
Ji-woo looks dismayed when she hangs up with Sun-kyum, and cancels her trip to the US. Her assistant is frantic to stop her, but Mom declares that there will be other audition opportunities, but she only has this one chance to be there for her family.
Being there for her children means marching over to her husband’s office and delivering a mighty slap to Assemblyman Ki’s face. She yells at him for using their children for his political gain, and the assemblyman’s first thought is to ask whether she’s told her father about it yet. Ji-woo says that she thought they’d loved each other at least, but now it seems he just wanted her father’s financial backing, oof. She tells him that she plans to take the kids in the divorce, and tells her soon-to-be-ex husband to have fun preparing for the election alone.
Meanwhile, Mi-joo and Mae-yi have received a generous stockpile of homemade kimchi from Mae-yi’s mom, awww. Mi-joo admires Mae-yi’s family for being so close, and Mae-yi brings up a benign argument the family always has about how her name is spelled and registered. Mi-joo says that she always thought she was alone, but she realizes that Mae-yi and her family have claimed her for their own. In return, Mi-joo suggests that they could make their own kimchi to send to Mae-yi mom’s next year.
Dan-ah’s interrupted at work by Young-hwa’s arrival. She invites him into her office, and he presents her with the finished painting. Young-hwa says that he knows how important time is for Dan-ah, and so he says that he knows that the best thing he could do to respect that would be to move on quickly.
Dan-ah says that he put his heart into the painting, and he says that actually, she’s already taken that from him. When she asks if he’d like it back, he tells her no, that she should keep it until it fades, and then recycle it. There’s no longer any playfulness to the banter, but it’s not cruel either, and a tear slips down Dan-ah’s cheek.
Young-hwa wipes her tears away softly, and she reaches out for a hug. They hold one another, and Young-hwa says that he’ll keep loving her, even after their relationship has ended. He also asks Dan-ah to live long, and she promises to do so.
Young-hwa holds back his own tears until he gets back to his apartment, and there he finally unleashes his pain as he sobs on Sun-kyum’s shoulder. He remembers his declaration to Dan-ah, that his dream was to never break up with her, and with this dream extinguished, he cries.
Dan-ah heads to her favorite bar to mourn the break-up. Her bartender says that people have a jewelry box where they keep mementos of their best memories, where they can hold on to a shell or a button from someone’s uniform to help them save their most precious moments.
Dan-ah asks the bartender what he keeps in his jewelry box, and for him, it’s a key to his very first house. The house was torn down when the neighborhood was redeveloped, but he has that key to remind him of all the good things experienced there.
And then who should turn up but Mi-joo, sent by Mr. Jung to keep Dan-ah company. Mi-joo conjures her best Bond impersonation to ask for a vodka martini, shaken not stirred, and the bartender shoots her some finger pistols before supplying the drink.
Several drinks later, Dan-ah’s head is on the bar top. She eventually breaks and shares her pain for her lost relationship. Mi-joo’s retorts are gentle and understanding, and she pulls Dan-ah’s head onto her shoulder to offer comfort. Also, she checks to make sure that Dan-ah is paying tonight, since the drinks here are pricey, haha.
When Dan-ah gets home, she checks her drawer for Young-hwa’s student ID she still has tucked away, a memento for her internal jewelry box. At the same time, Young-hwa tries to attend an art exhibition but can’t get his student discount without his card. So he heads home instead, where Sun-kyum hands him a gift. It’s a grill of his own for future BBQs, and this brings a small smile out.
Young-hwa says that he’ll let the pain subside naturally. He sees his time with Dan-ah as a way to keep growing, even with its sad ending. Sun-kyum nods and agrees that perhaps the experience has helped lay a foundation so that Young-hwa could become more mature for the future, no matter what it holds.
On a sunny day, Mi-joo meets with Director Kim (Kim Sun-ho, hehehe, I’ve been waiting for this cameo!). Thanks to her translation of his film, he’s been invited to an international film festival in Dubai. He mentions all the revisions he pestered her with, and while they’re both laughing now, it’s clear there were some fraught exchanges during the writing process.
Director Kim flashes those dimples as he says that even though Mi-joo swore at him a lot, he owes his international success to her and her excellent work. Awww.
Sun-kyum waits for Mi-joo outside, and she fusses over his nice outfit when she joins him. Sun-kyum reports that he officially has a job as an agent. Mi-joo offers to treat him to whatever food he wants, to grab a star from the sky for him if necessary. Sun-kyum counters with the offer that he’s going to treat her to a meal in celebration.
Sun-kyum references their first encounters, like at the police station, how awkward they were, and Mi-joo notes how they click so well now, not like when they first met. Sun-kyum fakes offense, and then echoes his question from the police station encounter, asking if Mi-joo is sure she isn’t a pervert, teehee.
Dan-ah meets with Tae-woong in her office before they head to the company’s stockholders’ meeting the next day. She tells him that now is the moment that she needs him to act like her brother. “Just for tomorrow?” he asks, and Dan-ah relents that he has always been her brother. Tae-woong leaps to his feet to embrace his sister, and Dan-ah narrowly dodges, haha.
Ji-woo drags a sledgehammer on the ground on her latest movie set, when a bouquet of flowers are thrust in her face. This time it’s not her husband though, but Eun-bi. “Congratulations on the divorce!” Eun-bi announces. Mom apologizes for not always being there for her daughter, while Eun-bi says that she learned from her experience that not all moms are the same. Ji-woo asks what Eun-bi’s up to now, and she says she wants to relax and spend some time having an ordinary life.
Dan-ah stops by the coffee shop for her usual Americano, and while there she gets a chance to apologize to Ye-joon. She says that she shouldn’t have poked at his feelings, and Ye-joon responds by finally admitting that he likes Young-hwa. He tells Dan-ah that she was the first one to ever ask, and he wanted to finally respond. She says that she pretended to be a lesbian to avoid getting married off by her family, and now sees that her excuse was a reality for some who are struggling every day with prejudice, and apologizes again.
Ye-joon heads to Young-hwa’s apartment after work, and for once he’s completely sober. He tells Young-hwa that Dan-ah came by to apologize to him, and then Ye-joon finally admits, “You’re my first love.”
Now that he’s said it, Ye-joon pronounces this the end of his unreciprocated love, and he seems relieved. He remembers when he asked Young-hwa how he would know when his own romance was coming to an end, and Young-hwa told him that you just know.
Young-hwa begins to cry and embraces his friend. Ye-joon chuckles and announces that he feels better now that it’s done (and he’s glad he rehearsed it, aww).
Time marches ahead. Sun-kyum brings Woo-shik to the office as his client to meet Dan-ah and the crew. Assemblyman Ki loses to his political rival and retires. In his office, he turns the framed photos in his office face down one by one. Tae-woong remains a successful idol, and Dan-ah even smiles when she receives his texts. Sun-kyum finally buys himself his own laptop and stops mooching off Young-hwa, hahaha.
Young-hwa accompanies Sun-kyum to Woo-shik’s next practice so that he can complete a drawing assignment for class. Sun-kyum suggests that Young-hwa come by to paint a mural for his high school running team next, and Young-hwa says he’ll need the student’s help if they’re going to paint something that big.
Young-il arrives then, and this time not dressed to run. All of Sun-kyum’s best friends meet at last, and while Young-il wonders how Young-hwa can live with Sun-kyum, Young-hwa wonders how Young-il manages to be Sun-kyum’s friend, haha. Young-il’s not carrying his bike helmet, and when Woo-shik asks about it, he hands over invitations to his wedding. It seems that Young-il has been dating someone for ten years, and Sun-kyum had absolutely no idea.
All of that equipment in Ms. Dong’s trunk finally gets used as she takes her two kids camping. Ms. Dong offers Ye-chan some wine now that she’s of legal age. The wine knocks Ye-chan out pretty quickly, and Ye-joon is left alone with his mother.
Ms. Dong tells Ye-joon that she remembers Ye-joon asking her when he was young if she regretted giving birth to him. Ms. Dong had Ye-joon when she was pretty young and divorced shortly after, and she did feel guilty because she had to hustle so much to really take care of him. She takes a sip of her wine for courage and then tells her son that being different isn’t wrong. Ye-joon nods, recognizing his mother’s peace offering after her poor reaction to his coming out.
Young-hwa drops his latest art piece off at a gallery for an upcoming exhibition. Meanwhile, Sun-kyum continues to journal daily, recording today that he discovered Young-il is getting married. Mi-joo shows up excited to show Sun-kyum a text. Director Kim is having success at the film festival, and he’s sent her a photo with her name etched into the sand in Dubai. “Oh Mi-joo was here as well today,” his accompanying message says.
Mi-joo is thrilled, and says that she’ll keep working hard on projects, big and small. She says that she really appreciated the message of this film, which was about sensitive individuals getting a chance to live happy lives (ahem, the theme of this show). Sun-kyum smiles at that and says he finally gets why she loves movies so much.
Mi-joo also has a small gift for Sun-kyum. She asks for Sun-kyum’s diary, and he’s reluctant to turn it over to her prying eyes. “I won’t read it,” she says, but he still hovers. She places a sticky note with a doodled stamp on it, like a teacher might award a good student. Sun-kyum grumbles about being treated like a kid, but leans in cutely when Mi-joo ruffles his hair.
A pair of purple Converse hit the pavement. Dan-ah arrives at her art gallery, newly crowned the youngest company vice-president. “We made it,” she tells Mr. Jung, and when he agrees that they did it because they stuck together, she flashes a smile in agreement.
Inside the gallery, Dan-ah is immediately drawn to a painting with a familiar signature in the corner. Young-hwa’s latest painting is still fairly abstract, but Dan-ah spots the figure of a woman tucked in the swirls of paint, a young woman wearing a pair of purple shoes.
“Me too,” she whispers, “I miss you too.” Her moment is interrupted by the artist himself, as Young-hwa approaches. He tells her she looks good, in the shoes he gave her and in the painting. She tells him she’s seen what’s in his heart, and it’s radiant. She declares that she will now observe today as her official birthday. Young-hwa smiles, and wishes her a happy birthday.
Sun-kyum and Mi-joo are out for a run together. Mi-joo is ready for a break, while Sun-kyum thinks they can make it a little farther. Mi-joo drags him to a bench, and notes that while they are still two very different people, she hopes they can line up their worlds and agree to stick together no matter what. Sun-kyum gently asks if he’s ever told Mi-joo that he loves her, and then follows the question up with the declaration: “I love you.”
Mi-joo’s flusters, and then Sun-kyum jumps up and announces that their break is over. Mi-joo protests that she thought he loved her, repeating the word love over and over again. Then she asks him to accompany her to watch “her” latest movie, since he loves her and all…
The crew is all together again, as Mi-joo and Sun-kyum join Young-hwa and Dan-ah for some grilling at the apartment. They talk happy endings in movies, and Mi-joo says it’s all a lie, and questions how you might even define a happy ending. “Is it living a long and happy life?” (ahem, cough, there’s the show’s theme again)
Young-hwa declares his happy ending would be having adorable children with the woman he loves. Dan-ah asks how he would have kids, and his answer is, “the power of science,” hahaha. Dan-ah, ever worried about time, suggests they stop wasting it and just drink. They decide to toast, and when they’re not too sure what to toast, Mi-joo suggests her first marathon run and they clink their beer cans.
Time passes. Sun-kyum and Mi-joo work across the table from one another, playing footsie underneath. Sun-kyum adds Young-il to his roster of athletes, while Woo-shik takes home a medal. Ji-woo finally gets her coffee truck from Sun-kyum and Mi-joo, and Young-hwa meets Ye-joon’s new boyfriend.
Time passes for everyone, not just the main characters. Tae-woong lives up the idol life, Ye-chan convinces her mom to join her for boxing at the gym. Mae-yi and Mr. Jung’s romance heats up, while Sun-kyum settles into a folding chair next to his dad while he fishes. That jerk boy with a crush on Soo-bin joins the track team after all, and Mae-yi and Mi-joo work with their movie production crew again. Mi-joo even lets Dan-ah in the door for a night in with chicken delivered.
Until finally, everyone gathers at the movie theater to watch Mi-joo’s movie. Name a character that has appeared over the last sixteen episodes, and you’ll find their face in the audience, munching on popcorn or laughing with friends.
At the entrance, Assemblyman Ki appears with a much humbler bouquet of flowers for his ex-wife. Ji-woo glares, but she eventually approaches and accepts the gift, and the assemblyman takes a seat next to Eun-bi.
The camera slides over the audience, as we catch Young-hwa gazing at Dan-ah in the seat next to him, and then finally settle on Mi-joo and Sun-kyum as they take their seats. The lights fade, and Mi-joo steals a glance at Sun-kyum. She ducks away when he returns the look, and then he takes her hand. She smiles and then settles in for the movie, as the woman on screen taps at her keyboard and picks up her gun. Of course. The audience claps and their applause continues as the credits roll.
That ending really got me. Every episode of this show dedicated itself to creating an intricate, varied weave of its characters, so spending its final moments bringing every single one of them together felt really magical. Bonus points for bringing them together to experience an act of storytelling, especially a movie Mi-joo likes so much because it is about real people.
Run On from the start wanted to show real life, and that meant more than just focusing on the two main love lines. Friends and rivals and even just the friendly faces at the neighborhood coffee shop all intersected in different ways, and each got their own moments to act as the leads in their own lives.
Time always felt like it was on fast-forward for me as I watched each week. Some scenes were clearly all happening on the same day, while other instances clearly jumped ahead to show that things take time, and that time keeps moving no matter what. This momentum accelerated from trot to gallop at the end in a really satisfying way. We got closure on the love lines that remained central, but we also got to glimpse into the future too, to see what comes after closure. Maybe it was a bit too meta, but I appreciated that the core gang got together to discuss what happy endings even mean, when it’s unclear even when “the end” occurs. But this show follows the life of a woman who holds storytelling dear in her heart, as both her professional passion and a childhood touchstone. Who better to examine the themes of the show than the expert we followed along the journey?
The conversation between Mae-yi and Mi-joo about family may not have done much with plot, but it was a wonderfully simple scene that also expressed the perfect thesis to the show. All of our characters learned to appreciate their found family. Some of them had no parents in their lives, or the ones they had weren’t very good at being parents. Some of them were the bad parents. But as their lives intertwined with so many others, they found mother figures and father figures, sisters and friends who choose to be there not out of obligation but because they care. Even Mi-joo and Dan-ah, who are both so similarly prickly and driven, show up for one another for grumpy drinks and chicken. We’ve spent the last sixteen episodes celebrating human interaction, even between the most unlikely friends.
I love that, for example, on a surface level Sun-kyum and Mi-joo are so incompatible, they know it, and yet they work so perfectly. Mi-joo couldn’t help recall all the times that Sun-kyum didn’t get a movie reference, or just didn’t seem to be understanding anything she said. Some of that evaporated as they’ve developed their own couple’s shorthand with one another. Other things stay lost in translation, and that’s okay. Sun-kyum isn’t necessarily any less bored by movies than he was before. But as he tells Mi-joo, he understands now why they are so meaningful to her. He’s always willing to attend one with her anyway, and they can both enjoy the travel destinations that Mi-joo’s work inspires. It’s not so much the idea of opposites attract, and more an honest look at how very different humans can find their common ground.
And for Dan-ah and Young-hwa, they managed to navigate a case of the worst timing. I appreciated that Young-hwa recognized that this was not the time to fight for Dan-ah, when she was both grieving the loss of her father and fighting for her place in the company that her brother was determined to deny her. For Dan-ah, who fears time so much because of how her illness threatens to cut it short, it was really satisfying to see her love line be the one that was healed with patience and time. Young-hwa walked away without anything but love for Dan-ah, and it was that clean cut that I think allowed them to easily slip back into one another’s lives once the big drama had passed and Dan-ah had found more freedom.
It was also interesting to see the way that Dan-ah’s apology to Ye-joon gave him the inspiration he needed to move forward. We are still sadly not at the stage where the gay characters in a drama can live and love freely for their own happy endings, but I do think this show made an attempt to at least do a couple of things right. The first was Dan-ah’s apology. As a rich and powerful CEO, Dan-ah had the privilege to lie about being a lesbian just to deflect her family’s bad behavior. But she sees how hurtful that could be for someone like Ye-joon, who actually struggles with the way that the world treats him. And she doesn’t just realize it, but she apologizes to him directly.
The second success that the show can claim is that it didn’t leave Ye-joon a sad lonely boy at the end. The show’s refusal to admit that anything ever ends gives it a chance to show what Ye-joon’s life looks like after his crush on his best friend. Ye-joon meets a guy and his friends meet him with smiles. He doesn’t have to hold a torch for Young-hwa forever.
Though Assemblyman Ki didn’t get that push off a cliff that he completely deserved, I think this is a good end for his character, especially seen through the concept of ordinary people. His presidential candidacy fails, he loses his family because of it, and he has to spend some time alone thinking about what he did. Some of his family members decide that they want to repair the broken relationship, while others are more reluctant. You still may run into Dad at that movie premiere, but everyone can deal with it in their own way.
When Ji-woo threatened divorce initially, I really didn’t think she would go through with it. I kept coming back to an earlier scene, when she said that she put up with everything her husband did because they still loved one another. I was reminded again when Ji-woo brought it up right before she finally left him. Because they wanted to portray real people, not caricatures, the relationship between these two was more complicated than just the assemblyman’s desire for power or Ji-woo’s neglect. There was love, and then there were choices that made it impossible to stay in that love.
There were ultimately no big dramatic choices or actions that resolved things in this finale. No one suddenly left the country for three years, or blew up a political campaign with some big leak to the press, or beat any world records in track and field. Most things were resolved with apologies, distance, or steady hard work. And really, nothing is resolved, because the whole point is that they keep on living and running forward. Sometimes together, sometimes solo, but everyone keeps living their lives.
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