Human Disqualification: Episode 16 (Final)
We’ve reached the end of this lovely journey all too soon, but thankfully, the conclusion is as satisfying as I’d hoped. Our leads’ lives may not be perfect, but they’re both in a better place to cope with whatever comes their way. There are no tidy bows here to wrap up everyone’s stories, but there is a sense of resolution for the past and hope for the future.
EPISODE 16: “A starry day”
On the way to her dad’s apartment, Bu-jung calls to update Jung-soo. She stops in the hallway and stares at Kang-jae’s door. The night before, when she’d stepped outside to check the text from Kang-jae, she’d also seen the photos Ah-ran sent. She’d quickly hidden her phone when Jung-soo came looking for her.
Now, she takes one last look toward Kang-jae’s apartment before going inside her father’s. Meanwhile, Kang-jae visits Jung-woo’s sister again. He wasn’t sure what to do with Jung-woo’s belongings but finally decided his family should have them.
“Jung-woo hyung was a good person,” he says before he starts walking away. Jung-woo’s sisters calls out to ask if he can tell her more about Jung-woo.
While Bu-jung cleans up around Chang-sook’s apartment, Jung-soo does research on pneumonia and sepsis in the elderly. The fact that Jung-soo had the same weird dream his mom had is making him even more anxious something bad is going to happen.
Joon-hyuk thinks Bu-jung is lucky to have a husband who cares so much about her father that he can’t eat or work properly. He plops down beside Jung-soo and shows him the dating app he’s using since he and Min-jung have stopped talking.
When Jung-soo pries, Joon-hyuk says he supposes Min-jung dumped him after finding her true love or something. Based on Joon-hyuk’s humbler attitude, Jung-soo gathers that Min-jung must’ve hurt him.
In the elevator up to Kang-jae’s apartment, Min-jung tells Ddak-yi that her audition went okay, but she’s insecure since all the girls there seemed pretty, classy, and innocent. Of course, Bu-jung comes out just in time to see Min-jung take a call from Kang-jae and enter his apartment.
Kang-jae chides Min-jung for never learning and continuing to do these auditions. Then, he asks if Jong-hoon happened to see that box in his loft the day he came by. Min-jung supposes he did and gathers he took something from the box, like that cell phone.
As she waits for the elevator, Bu-jung almost replies to Kang-jae’s text but changes her mind. She realizes she forgot something and goes back upstairs. Before she reaches the apartment, the hospital calls. Oh no. She imagines her father sitting by his door, but then he’s gone.
Jung-soo leaves work in a daze after finding out Chang-sook had cardiac arrest and is now in critical condition. When Joon-hyuk very unhelpfully talks about the ethicality of life support and suggests Jung-soo should “steel himself,” Jung-soo grows angrier than we’ve ever seen him and yells at his friend for his insensitivity.
Meanwhile, Kang-jae goes Akira and sees Jung-woo’s phone charging in the back room. He takes it back and wakes Jong-hoon. Kang-jae accuses him of being a thief, but Jong-hoon argues the phone isn’t Kang-jae’s either. Plus, Kang-jae already erased everything on there.
Jong-hoon says it’s too late for Kang-jae to change anything. Bu-jung was already sent the photos and knows that Kang-jae was given the job of surveilling her. She was even told about Jung-woo.
“She’s not responding, is she?” Jong-hoon asks. He tells Kang-jae to stop waiting for a call that won’t come. Married women don’t do something that will ruin their lives.
Bu-jung rushes to the hospital and stops outside her father’s room, knowing. Noooo. Jung-soo and Min-ja are already there. Bu-jung enters and approaches Chang-sook. She kneels beside his bed and puts a hand on his face as she breaks down. Jung-soo crouches beside her and puts a hand on her back. The whole family sobs.
As Bu-jung walks down the funeral hall, we hear her suicide letter to Chang-sook in voiceover. She stares at her father’s portrait, wondering at what point it all went wrong. Does she have to start over?
“Father, I think I know now what death and life are.” Bu-jung, Jung-soo, and Min-ja watch as Chang-sook’s body is prepared for cremation. “In the end, death is a part of life. Why didn’t I know that then? I’ve never lived a day in this world without you, so I don’t know how I’ll live the rest of my life.”
Bu-jung tells her father she understands now that it’s not what you become, but what you do that matters. He’s been trying to tell her that with how he lived, but she’s only just starting to realize. She tells Chang-sook she loves him and hopes he’ll rest in peace.
On her way to a reunion, Kyung-eun uses the
PPL cosmetics Jung-soo bought her and thinks of him. The night they went to the motel, Kyung-eun had asked about Bu-jung. Their friends told her that Bu-jung is a good person, thoughtful and upright.
They’d said Bu-jung was the exact opposite of Kyung-eun, which is probably why Jung-soo would marry her. Jung-soo agreed with the positive qualities she listed about Bu-jung, but he’d never thought of her and Kyung-eun as opposites.
In fact, he’d always thought they resemble each other because they’re both sad and lonely despite outer appearances. “Even when you’re near, you seem far away like an island.” It made him want to protect them, although that didn’t work out. He blames himself for messing everything up.
Now, Kyung-eun has the driver turn around and take her home. Meanwhile, Kang-jae goes up to his apartment carrying the envelope with Bu-jung’s manuscript he kept from the box he gave to Jung-woo’s sister.
Inside, he’s disturbed to find Ddak-yi and Min-jung being all flirty in his kitchen. Before he closes the door, he stares toward Chang-sook’s apartment.
Later, Kang-jae takes a tray with some food to Chang-sook’s, but no one answers. He sees a security guard enter the apartment and learns that Chang-sook passed away two days ago. Kang-jae stands frozen outside the apartment, the tray of food still in his hands.
While Bu-jung sleeps, Jung-soo goes into the room off the kitchen to get a beer. He spots Kang-jae’s business card again and pulls it out from under the fridge. Jung-soo then hears an alarm and finds it’s coming from Chang-sook’s old phone. He set an alarm to remind him to hand out flyers.
Then, Bu-jung’s phone dings. Jung-soo picks it up and sees a message pop up from Last Unit: “I don’t know what to say. I just heard about your father.” He recalls Bu-jung saying that Kang-jae, who they saw in the elevator, lives in the last unit.
Jung-soo adds the number from Kang-jae’s business card to his Kakao contacts and sees that Kang-jae’s and Last Unit’s ID photos match. Jung-soo looks up and is startled to see Bu-jung standing in the hallway. The alarm woke her, so Jung-soo tells her that it was Chang-sook’s. Bu-jung gets teary – neither of them knew Chang-sook was also doing work handing out fliers.
Bu-jung can tell something is up, but Jung-soo denies having something to say to her. He only says that he knows it’s been hard and that she’s been through a lot.
At Akira, Jong-hoon reports to Ah-ran that Bu-jung and Kang-jae are over. Their relationship confused him at first, but it seems like they actually loved each other. Ah-ran pauses at that and wryly responds, “That still exists?”
Elsewhere, Woo-nam breaks the news to Soon-kyu that he’s moving out next week. He no longer feels right shamelessly living with her without any commitment. “I’ll leave and then slowly, very slowly, for a long time, I want to see you.”
They both get teary as he says he doesn’t want to feel bad later for not treating her right. He wants to date like normal couples, going to the movies and out to eat. Woo-nam wants to be someone she can really fall for and stay with.
He jokes that she’d better not shake his resolve by trying to hold onto him. Soon-kyu scoffs that she was already planning to tell him to move out anyway. He promises to give it his all and pulls out an old-school camera to commemorate the moment.
Elsewhere, Ddak-yi limps along as he helps Min-jung carry her stuff to her new place. She assumes he doesn’t have a license, but Ddak-yi says he was a driver in the army. Min-jung guesses he doesn’t have money, though, and wonders how he’s going to make money.
Ddak-yi says you just have to get a job and then save your salary. “When you get a salary, can I spend it?” Ddak-yi stammers out that she can. How much can she have? Ddak-yi says he only needs a little, so she can have the rest. Min-jung promises he can spend her money in return.
They arrive all too soon at her new lodgings, so Ddak-yi asks if they can go around the block one more time. They’re both grinning and giddy as they continue strolling.
At home, Jung-soo places Bu-jung’s phone on the dresser and climbs into bed beside her. He tells her that Chang-sook died just like he lived – not burdening anyone, weightless, “like a butterfly.” Jung-soo is jealous that Bu-jung gets to have Chang-sook for a father.
Bu-jung asks if he wants to know a secret. “I was going to kill myself.” She shares that she was going to do it with people she met in an online suicide café and even met up with them. She ended up using the money she collected for supplies to help a sick child instead.
Jung-soo responds that he’s glad she’s alive. Bu-jung says it feels like a lifetime ago, although it was only months. Jung-soo understands, “It’s like a previous life.”
Bu-jung asks why he confessed to her out of the blue that he was meeting Kyung-eun a year ago. Jung-soo apologizes for causing everyone pain, but Bu-jung clarifies she’s not trying to harp on the past. “I like someone,” she confesses, “but I don’t have anyone to tell. I don’t have a friend or anyone.”
She finally understands why he told her back then. You naturally want to tell people when you like someone. Jung-soo blinks back tears and asks what she wants to do. Bu-jung says she just wanted to say that she likes someone. Jung-soo asks if she told the guy.
Later, Bu-jung looks at her phone and sees the text from Kang-jae. We hear what she told Jung-soo. She hasn’t told Kang-jae she likes him and doesn’t plan to. Didn’t Jung-soo also tell her about his feelings because he couldn’t tell Kyung-eun? Saying it would make it impossible to resolve things between them as a married couple.
Jung-soo wonders if she’s right. He loves Bu-jung and is willing to do anything for her, including giving her his own heart or eyes. Bu-jung says it’s the same for her. “We can sacrifice ourselves for each other, but we’ve fallen out of love.” Neither of them has an answer for what to do about that.
While Jung-soo breaks down in the bathroom, it’s Bu-jung’s turn to exit her chat with Kang-jae. On the roof, Kang-jae checks his texts and sees that Bu-jung’s name is now listed as “unknown.”
A couple of months later, Kang-jae and Ddak-yi go to the café where Min-jung now works. Kang-jae makes his order ridiculously detailed and keeps changing it just to annoy her. Ddak-yi and Min-jung flirt, as usual. While they eat, Kang-jae gets a text about a “constellation festival” in Seoul.
Meanwhile, Bu-jung meets with her ex-colleague who has struck out on her own. When she offers Bu-jung the chance to translate a short story collection, Bu-jung lights up and accepts. Her colleague also shares the rumor that Ah-ran is finally getting a divorce and has publicly acknowledged her son in Canada.
Times have changed enough that being honest hasn’t hurt her career. Bu-jung observes that Ah-ran is still the same. She and her colleague commiserate over Ah-ran’s awfulness and laugh over the fact that they both still write mean comments about her sometimes.
At the bus stop, Bu-jung sees an advertisement for that constellation festival that starts tonight. She thinks back to seeing the stars with Kang-jae. Later, she visits her father’s old apartment one last time as a new couple moves in. She glances toward Kang-jae’s apartment before leaving.
That night, Kang-jae arrives at the observatory – an indoor theater – and takes a seat as the lights dim. He looks across the aisle and his breath catches. Bu-jung is seated right across from him. They stare at each other, feelings in their eyes, not even bothering to watch the display in front of them. They smile.
What a wonderful, well-crafted drama. I loved just about everything from start to finish. It was beautifully filmed with each piece from the lighting to the framing so well thought out. As for the acting, not only were Jeon Do-yeon and Ryu Joon-yeol incredible here, but the cast as a whole was strong. The writing was phenomenal and didn’t rely on cliches or tropes, instead depicting complex, realistic human behavior. It really embodied the whole show-don’t-tell maxim, letting us get to know our characters through their actions and relationships. Dropping the audience into the characters’ lives without providing background and context can be a risky move, but it worked really well here. There was so much attention to detail in the writing and filming that we got a clear sense of who our characters were without needing info dumps or extensive backstory. Despite our characters often being stuck in the past, the drama itself was very rooted in the present. We saw relationships and characters as they are now without seeing much, if any, of their past dynamics. Given the minimal exposition elsewhere, I loved the use of voiceovers to get inside Kang-jae and Bu-jung’s heads.
One thing that stood out about this drama was the character and relationship development. I’ve rarely seen a drama where I couldn’t help but sympathize with basically everyone, even characters I disliked. Everyone was a beautiful mess with their own story and fraught, complicated relationships. I appreciated how, like I’ve mentioned in previous recaps, characters like Ah-ran who would usually be villainized were given depth and nuance. This was such an empathetic drama, emphasizing that no one is free from struggle or has it all figured out. We all flounder and are deeply flawed, but we’re all human. No one disqualifies (expect maybe Jin-seob).
The only aspect of the story that never quite landed for me was Woo-nam and Soon-kyu’s arc. I’d hoped it would feel more integral and less like a side plot as we went, but it never did. It was like watching friends of a friend get together, too far removed from our leads to be strongly connected to the main plot. Ddak-yi and Min-jung’s arc was more central since they were directly linked to Kang-jae, but I never quite warmed to Min-jung for some reason. I’m not sure if it was something in the writing or the acting, but I couldn’t connect with her.
Now, onto the ending. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. I love a good open ending, but I also don’t like for things to be left unresolved. What did Bu-jung and Jung-soo decide to do about their relationship? Was the final scene just an acknowledgment of Kang-jae and Bu-jung’s connection and how they helped each other heal? Was it meant to signal that they’re not over? When I went back and realized that Bu-jung wasn’t wearing her wedding ring after the time jump, it all came together more. I do love this drama’s attention to detail and that whole show-don’t-tell business, but that was almost too subtle for those of us who might not always catch those finer visual details.
That indication that Bu-jung and Jung-soo decided to go their separate ways makes it seem more likely that the ending signified a possible future for Kang-jae and Bu-jung. But to me, that’s not really the main point – whether they stay together or apart, the impact they had on each other remains. Some connections are lifelong while others are temporary, but longer doesn’t inherently mean greater. Kang-jae and Bu-jung together walked into the light, helping each other reach a much healthier, happier place. Maybe they’ll continue their journey together, or maybe not, but it was meaningful all the same.
However, on a character level, I do find myself hoping that they’ll be together now that Bu-jung is single. By the end, I felt like Bu-jung would be okay no matter what happened, but Kang-jae was a different story. I think Bu-jung kept a better check on her feelings since she was married, but Kang-jae fell hard. I hate to think of him being heartbroken after opening up to someone for the first time in his life. I get that Bu-jung wanted to definitively end things, but did she really have to ghost him? That was a bit harsh.
One of my favorite scenes this episode was the open and honest conversation between Bu-jung and Jung-soo. It was the first time we saw them truly communicate, and it was such a raw, respectful exchange. They may have fallen out of love, but they were family and cared for each other. Letting go of that isn’t an easy decision, but I think for them, it was the best one. They no longer understood each other enough to provide the support the other needed. Jung-soo seemed at a loss for how to help Bu-jung through her depression, although I do think he tried. He just didn’t have the intuition that Kang-jae did for how to react to Bu-jung’s sadness in a way that put her at ease and helped her heal.
Bu-jung looked so free by the end. Her hair was down and she wasn’t holding so much tension within herself. Although I hate that Chang-sook died, it needed to happen narratively to break the tether between Bu-jung and her old life. She’s always been constrained by others’ expectations as well as her own, but his death was the catalyst to her realization that life is not about titles or so-called success but choices – what you choose to do, say, and who you spend your time with. It’s a simple revelation but one that can make a profound difference. All of our characters came to realizations of their own and ended in a better place than where they started, but it wasn’t in an unrealistically happy-ending sort of way. There will always be challenges and struggle because life is not a fairy tale. But with support and perspective, we might just make it yet.
- Premiere Watch: Lovers of the Red Sky, Human Disqualification
- Meet the two lost and dejected souls at the center of Human Disqualification
- Jeon Do-yeon and Ryu Joon-yeol brought together by sadness in new promos for Human Disqualification
- Jeon Do-yeon, Ryu Joon-yeol to star in JTBC drama Human Disqualification