Racket Boys: Episode 16 (Final)
This concludes the tale of our badminton kids and Haenam folks. Though the audience might part with them here, their stories continue as they live their days a little better than the one before, learning to love, forgive, and cherish the joys in life and the people around them. It was a pleasure to watch these wonderful characters grow and teach us what it means to be a real neighbor and friend these past few months.
EPISODE 16 RECAP
The first doubles match of the boys’ National finals is underway, and both sides show some impressive plays. Jeonnam has the better defense, though, which gives Hae-kang an opportunity to score the match point in the first set. In the second game, Seoul targets Woo-chan, and Park Chan pulls off a sharp hairpin shot aimed at Hae-kang’s blind spot, winning them the set.
From the sidelines, Coach Paeng identifies Hae-kang’s injury and tells the others that Park Chan figured out his opponent’s weakness as well. They predict a difficult third set for Jeonnam, and the rest of the audience holds its breath as the final match starts.
Seoul gains the momentum at the start with the same attack pattern, and at this rate, it looks like Jeonnam will lose. While they switch sides, Hyun-jong holds a quick meeting with his players and tells them to ignore any shots aimed at Hae-kang’s right side. He says that they have already accomplished a miracle by getting this far, but the boys look dissatisfied with his answer.
As the game proceeds, the score remains close, and the third set is dragged out into a deuce until they reach match point. All four boys pour their heart and soul into the game, and the coaches are awed by their playing. Needless to say, Coach Paeng believes Seoul will win, but Young-ja disagrees. They turn their attention back to the court just as Seoul pulls off its signature attack.
Hae-kang watches the shuttlecock fly past his right side, and the scene flashes back to earlier. During their quick meeting, Hae-kang proposed deliberately ignoring all the shots aimed at his blind spot until the final moment to lure their opponents into a trap.
This clever idea actually came from In-sol, but when he first suggested the plan, Hae-kang and Woo-chan doubted their skills. In-sol cursed his teammates for hesitating, and they all smiled at his uncharacteristic outburst.
Back on the court, Woo-chan jumps in as planned, but Jae-suk saves the shuttlecock and sends it back over the net. Time slows down as the shuttlecock whizzes over their heads, but it lands out of bounds. Jeonnam wins!
The crowd erupts into cheers, and Woo-chan’s parents bounce around excitedly for their son. Young-ja explains to the others that the Seoul team may have confidence in their own skills, but Hae-kang and Woo-chan have confidence in each other. The whole team celebrates on the court, and they fall to the ground while chanting their “racket boys” cheer.
After the match, Hae-kang meets Se-yoon in the hall, and she asks if he has anything to say to her. Though he prepared a lot for this moment, he decides to be direct and tells her that he likes her. They hug each other in the hall, and the Seoul boys spot them from afar.
Park Chan comforts Jae-suk, and the latter tears up, expressing his envy of his old team. Flashing back to the night Park Chan stopped by to give Se-yoon snacks, she turned down his feelings and told him that she liked someone else. She also apologized before the game since she could not cheer for him, and in the present, Park Chan walks away.
While standing for pictures, Hae-kang throws his arm around In-sol’s shoulder, and In-sol beams, copying his pose. Afterwards, Hae-kang and Woo-chan exit the gym and stumble across a crowd of fans. Hae-kang opens his arms to greet them, but they push past him to get a better look at handsome Woo-chan. Ha!
Badminton goddess Ah-young finds Yong-tae in the hall and calls him over to talk. In-sol is jealous of his junior’s popularity, but he gets his own meet cute when he bumps into a pretty badminton player who wears the same glasses as him and even shares his nickname.
The principal keeps the boys outside to congratulate them on their win, but his short speech turns into a long spiel with no end. Meanwhile, the badminton staff are still working, and Mr. Noh brings them coffee. Just as the staff members start wondering if the kids appreciate them, the Haenam boys swing by and bow in thanks.
Sometime in the near future, the draft matches for the national team are held. The kids gush about gold medalist Im Seo-hyun (cameo by Yuri) who also happens to be Se-yoon’s last opponent. As the esteemed player walks towards them, she orders them to move out of the way, and her gruff attitude only makes Se-yoon love her more.
Skipping Se-yoon’s upcoming match, Young-ja eats with her coaching friends instead. When Coach Paeng mentions how people think Se-yoon only made it this far by luck, Young-ja suggests betting on the outcome—loser buys lunch—and he eagerly accepts.
His confidence is boosted when another coaching staff joins them and gives them a quick update: Seo-hyun won the first set 21-11. While Coach Paeng brags about the obvious result, Young-ja does not bat an eye.
The kids exit the stadium, looking impressed, and talk amongst themselves about the second set, which Se-yoon won. Han-sol wonders where Young-ja is at this crucial moment, and we see her finish up her meal at the restaurant. She orders ten servings of dumplings, and Coach Paeng shrugs his shoulders since she will have to pay in the end.
He happily calls over more coaches to eat, but his bubble bursts when they tell him the results: Se-yoon won the third set 21-11. While everyone else looks astounded, Young-ja thanks Coach Paeng for the meal and throws his words back at him, “I was just lucky.”
According to the kids, Se-yoon probably lost the first set in order to observe her opponent, and apparently, Seo-hyun realized this as well as she talks with Se-yoon after the match. She initially thought losing to a junior would be humiliating, but as the game went on, she realized how all of Se-yoon’s previous opponents must have felt.
Curious about Seo-hyun’s experience as a top badminton player, Se-yoon asks about her gold medal and wonders if she regrets anything. Seo-hyun tells her that winning is nice in the beginning until everyone forgets about you, and as for regrets, she does have one: not making any friends and eating snacks with them.
Se-yoon asks if she would trade her medal for eating snacks, and Seo-hyun snaps at her for making such a ridiculous leap—of course, a gold medal is better. However, she wants Se-yoon to prove to her that having both is possible.
Smiling sheepishly, Se-yoon has one more question and asks if they can take a picture together. Seo-hyun teasingly calls her annoying and puts her arm around her shoulder. As they take a few photos, the rest of the kids line up for their turn, and Seo-hyun chuckles at them.
The news reports on Se-yoon’s win and mentions another unexpected national athlete from Haenam. Returning to the stadium, Hae-kang warms up before his final draft match, and his friends cheer for him. Hyun-jong accompanies him as his coach and tells his son that he hopes he wins. However, if he happens to lose, he wants him to know that they are still proud of him.
They run into Head Coach Bae on the way, and he introduces them to his player and Hae-kang’s last opponent: Tae-sun. The two athletes shake hands before the game and head towards the court together. As the coaches watch them leave, they fight about who will win the spot and brag about their player. Heh.
The day before, Reporter Kim interviewed Hae-kang and asked if he was nervous about the draft matches. When the young athlete told him that he was excited, Reporter Kim assumed he was not expecting to win, but Hae-kang said that it was the opposite. The reporter thought his confidence came from his teammates and coach, but Hae-kang pointed to himself as his source. Ha!
Before Hae-kang’s match ends, the kids take a break outside and recall their first encounter with the grumpy teen. They marvel at how far he came in a year, reaching so close to his dream. Debating the possibility of his loss, Yong-tae thinks Hae-kang is the type who would remain positive no matter what, but In-sol disagrees since anyone would be frustrated after having their goals dashed away.
The two players leave the court drenched in sweat and think back to Reporter Kim’s last question: who would they think of first after the game? In Tae-sun’s case, he remembers how Head Coach Bae and his wife welcomed him back into his home after disappearing for all those years and kept his room exactly the same in case he returned.
Hae-kang’s friends, except for Se-yoon, yell loudly for him in the hall and call him handsome. Even Yoon-dam agrees that he has gotten good-looking, and they all compliment his playing today.
Contrary to his cheery attitude with the others, Hae-kang starts to cry when he finds Se-yoon standing alone, waiting for him. She wordlessly hugs him, returning the favor from before, and Hae-kang sobs into her shoulder. Patting his back, she tells him that he did well.
At home, the kids watch the news of Se-yoon and Tae-sun’s wins while Hae-kang remains in his room sleeping all day. Yoon-dam asks In-sol what he wants to do for his birthday, and Hae-kang steps out to hear his wish in time: he wants to go somewhere with them right now.
They end up at the beach much to the other’s surprise, especially since In-sol is afraid of the ocean. He says that this is the first place he took a photo with them and explains how he once considered studying the only important thing in his life.
In-sol starts to tell them why he joined the badminton team, but Hae-kang cuts him off and asks why he brought them here. Smiling, he says that he wants Hae-kang to return to normal, and the others agree. They wonder what he will do next year, and Hae-kang says that he will turn seventeen—nothing more or less.
His answer reassures them, and they begin to feel hungry. Just as Yoon-dam suggests a race to determine who buys snacks, the others run on ahead before he even finishes. While Yoon-dam chases after them, Hae-kang and Se-yoon trail behind to enjoy a nice stroll away from the others. He shyly links his pinky with hers and then grasps her hand as their stride falls into sync.
On their walk home, Grandma complains to her husband that their grandchild describes summer in the city as gray. He says that they should acknowledge this new way life as the norm, but Grandma shakes her head since he is missing her point. She just wants others to know that nature is full of colors, and people live there, too.
Grandpa understands her feelings, and as they continue their journey home, the seasons shift, showing all the varied colors of the world from the golden hues of autumn to the bright whites of winter back to the vibrant greens of spring. Once they reach their gate, Grandma says that they still have Hae-in and Flex. Their little neighbor greets them with open arms, and a couple of new puppies join the family as well.
Haenam’s sweet potato business has grown this past year, too, and a couple of the villagers gather at Pil-ja’s place to make more boxes. As they talk about the need for more hands, someone rings the doorbell, and a new face (cameo by Lee Kyu-hyung) appears.
Three first-years join the badminton club at Haenam Seo Middle, and Yong-tae embraces his new senior-status with gusto. He rattles about his old days, and Head Coach Bae smiles as he looks over the gym decorated once again with banners like in their former glory days.
At their new high school, Se-yoon plays doubles with Han-sol against a pair of upperclassmen who try to assert their dominance. When they lose badly against the juniors who refuse to back down, the senior turns aggressive, but their coach blows her whistle to stop them. It’s Young-ja!
Meanwhile, the four Haenam boys continue their badminton careers at the same high school and proudly declare their plans to take over their new team. However, as soon as a senior yells at them to hurry up, they immediately drop the bravado and rush over.
The new neighbor hopes to move in with his partner since they are tired of city folks and thought a new place would be more accepting. Ms. Shin says that a similar couple moved in last year and have settled nicely into their town. On the other hand, Mr. Hong tells him that the countryside is not easier, but the new neighbor is prepared to work hard.
Though they accept the new neighbor, there are no more free houses to rent. Ms. Shin tells them not to worry since her house is available… since she can live with Mr. Hong. She hides her face in a box, and Mr. Hong does the same. Heh.
Tae-ho returns home, and for a second, worlds collide as the ex-cellmates seem to recognize each other. Of course, this is a different reality, and Tae-ho simply tells the new neighbor to move his car.
The new neighbor hurries out since he would hate to go to jail because he killed a few carrots (ha!). After he leaves, Pil-ja tells her husband about the new face, and Tae-ho is a bit confused since the person waiting in the car was a man. (Looney, did you find your happiness?)
With only a few days before the Olympics, Han-sol awkwardly tells Se-yoon to do well in her upcoming match. Se-yoon rattles off a strange response about the importance of representing her country, and then out of the blue, Hyun-jong waltzes in with tropical fruits. The PD (cameo by Kim Seul-gi) calls cut since this a special about Se-yoon, the countryside girl.
Unfortunately for the PD, Hyun-jong is not her only problem as the others are equally elated about the chance to appear on TV. The boys dress up in their best outfits for their interviews, and Young-ja shows up in a flowing dress. She claims to have just gotten out of bed, but the boys shocked responses give her away. Pfft.
After the boys change into more appropriate attire, the PD asks the group if any of them are dating. The two couples in the back start raising their hands, but Yong-tae grits his teeth and says that he would destroy anyone who wastes their time dating rather than train.
Moving on, the PD lists off stereotypical traits of living in the country, but the kids correct all her misconceptions and only highlight the negatives. The PD wonders why they still live here then, and the kids say that it is fun. She points out that their reason is each other, but her cheesy answer makes them squirm and run away.
During the coaches’ interviews, Young-ja tells the kids to not grow up too fast and promises to always have their backs. When the PD asks Hyun-jong to say a few words as well, he whips out his phone since he prepared background music for this occasion.
While the boys hang out in the yard, Yoon-dam receives a message from the PD with a video she wants them to see. They all groan when they see their coach’s face, but despite their initial reaction, they listen diligently to his interview.
Hyun-jong starts off by telling the kids that he no longer eats rice cake and sausage skewers because it reminds him of the day he missed their competition. He apologizes for that mistake as well as misunderstanding them when Hae-kang was injured.
He explains how he first started badminton because the players got free bread and milk. As an athlete, he rates himself as average, but as a coach, father, and husband, he is even worse. However, meeting all of them has taught him how to be better.
He compares life to badminton, describing how he has changed from a smash to a hairpin. At times, it feels like time has stopped because every day feels suffocating. He promises, though, to become a coach worthy of them and thanks them again for being his players. Seeing their coach’s tears, the boys cry as well.
Young-ja teases her husband for weeping during his interview and says that moving to the country was good for their family since even Hae-in’s asthma improved. Making his day even better, Hyun-jong receives an invitation from the boys to join their chatroom, and he immediately spams them with inspirational quotes. The kids regret their decision, and Hyun-jong begs them to invite him again. Ha!
Yong-tae runs up a flight of steps and arrives in time to watch Woo-chan and In-sol’s doubles match. In the stands, In-sol’s dad cheers for his son while wearing a headband and holding a sparkly sign. With their family and friends supporting them, they resume their game, more determined than before.
Next to the boys’ court, Young-ja orders Han-sol and Yoon-dam to win the mixed doubles finals. Putting their trust in each other, they announce their intent to destroy their opponents, and on the other side is their rivals: Se-yoon and Hae-kang.
Hyun-jong tells his team to win, and the two coaches tease each other on the sidelines. Se-yoon asks Hae-kang if he is confident in his skills, and he reminds her of who he is. The only thing they need to decide is when to end the match, and Se-yoon says that they should finish in ten minutes.
As the first rally starts, both teams seem evenly matched. However, as soon as Yoon-dam sends the shuttlecock flying over the net, Hae-kang jumps at the chance and smashes it over.
What a lovely show from start to finish. The boys get their win, but best of all, they all stay friends even after graduation as we get a short glimpse into their futures. Though Haenam might not have a lot to offer in terms of conveniences, Hae-kang and his family received so much more from their new neighbors and friends. What started off as a reluctant change, ended up becoming an unforgettable experience that altered their lives forever. While the main focus of the show was always about the kids, the adults also had important roles in the story, often acting as a foil or in tandem to the players’ growth. We got to see Young-ja learn how to become a more understanding mom, and even In-sol’s dad turned into a supportive parent who roots for his son at games. Of all the adults, Hyun-jong has changed the most in the course of the show, and I thought his final message to the boys was an appropriate ending for his character.
In the beginning, Hyun-jong was an irresponsible coach who really had no aspirations for his team. A series of unfortunate events landed him and his family at Haenam, and hearing him describe life as unrelenting explained his initial apathetic behavior. Though he appeared cheery, Hyun-jong was going through a crisis and questioning his role in life. He was beginning to feel the weight of time on his shoulders as well as the burden of failing to provide for his family, but when he met this new team, he realized that he had to become better for their sakes. We saw Hyun-jong working behind the scenes to help his players, and the kids knew how much he cared for them in the end. However, through his confession, the show emphasizes the importance of learning from one’s mistakes rather than forgetting about them. Even though a year has passed, Hyun-jong still feels guilty towards his boys, but this also fuels his gratitude. Just as much as the show was about the kids growing up, it was also Hyun-jong’s journey to becoming a better adult. Through our bumbling yet earnest coach, the show tells its audience that it is never too late to change.
There are so many great moments in this last episode, and not a single second is wasted. While it’s a short scene, I’m glad the show highlighted the Seoul boys for a bit since they really weren’t the antagonists of this show—they were merely the final opponents. Jae-suk came across as mean in the previous episode, but seeing him cry after his loss showed how he truly felt about his old teammates. His behavior was a result of his jealousy, and I felt bad for him since he could have been a part of the group if his mom did not intervene. In the end, it wasn’t just about losing the game but also his friends that made him upset. As for Park Chan, he’s a great kid, and his love and respect for both Se-yoon and Hae-kang were one of his most admirable characteristics. I’m glad Se-yoon told him how she felt before the finals because it gave her character agency over her own love life, and it also allowed Park Chan to resolve his feelings before the big match. It could have been potentially devasting to him to see Se-yoon cheer for his opponent during the game if he did not know, and Se-yoon probably understood that, too. Both characters handled the situation maturely, and I wish more adults acted like them.
There were a lot of cameos in this episode, and I think the show did a great job integrating them into the story. My favorite one was Lee Kyu-hyung, and the little reunion between Dr. Go and Looney was hilarious and sweet. However, Tae-sun’s story was definitely the most engaging, and I enjoyed how the creators added him to the plot in an organic way. His journey was also about family, but unlike the main cast, his central theme was forgiveness. Despite the limited screentime, the creators offered a nuanced portrayal of forgiveness, showing how some people don’t deserve it while others never need it. For years, Tae-sun hated himself for betraying the people who loved him, but just as much he as regretted his decision, those very same people had forgiven him a long time ago. Tae-sun realized that they never stopped loving him, and it’s another beautiful story in a show filled to the brim with memorable characters.
As always, the highlight of the episode was the kids and their friendship—in particular, Hae-kang and In-sol’s relationship. I love how this unlikely pair has become quite close to each other against all odds, and they understand one another in a way the others do not because they shared a secret. Though he was the smartest kid in class (and the province), In-sol learned about friendship from Hae-kang, realizing that there was more to life than studying. These seemingly polar opposites actually had a lot in common, and from bickering classmates to trustworthy friends, these two grew to rely on each other through thick and thin. Their friendship represents how mutual respect and a bit of kindness can bridge gaps and bring two opposing people together because, as it turns out, people are not that different after all.
While I love all the kids (and adults), Hae-kang is the clear star of the show, and Tang Joon-sang was absolutely amazing as the proud yet caring middle school boy who shifts from cranky teen to dependable ace. All his relationships—platonic, familial, and romantic—were interesting, and some of the best moments revolved around Hae-kang and his almost contradictory personality. From a surface-level analysis, Hae-kang could be written off as a brash teenager with an unmatched ego. However, this ignores his thoughtfulness and surprising maturity. He might act childishly at times, but whenever it counted, Hae-kang was always the one who went out of his way to help others, even if it put his own wellbeing at risk. Thus, ending the show with Hae-kang’s smash was a wonderful parting scene for an extraordinary character and an altogether marvelous show. The writer, director, and entire cast made Racket Boys one of the best dramas of this year, and though I hate to say goodbye, I’m glad I got to experience watching the show and cannot thank the crew enough for brightening up my week these past couple of months.