Thirty-Nine: Episodes 1-2 Open Thread
In JTBC’s latest drama Thirty-Nine, we get trendy gal pals on the cusp of 40 living in the city whilst dealing with life’s curveballs. It’s somehow both more lighthearted and more tragic than I anticipated. I enjoyed it, although I’m not fully sure what to make of it yet. But I’m intrigued and already invested in our characters, so I think it just might win me all the way over.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
This is a drama that really relies on its cast both for the chemistry among our central trio of besties, and for emotional grounding. Thankfully, we’ve got a solid group of actresses to bring life to the characters who are the heart of this drama.
We’re introduced in voiceover to our trio who’ve been friends since they were 18 and do most everything together, including getting medical checkups. After some brief glimpses of our main characters’ lives, a bomb drops in the first five minutes: one of our trio of best friends is going to die. Well, that’s one way to get our attention. We jump back to before the tragedy and get a proper introduction to our leading ladies.
CHA MI-JO (Son Ye-jin) is the director of a swanky dermatology clinic and works alongside her sister CHA MI-HYUN (Kang Mal-geum). JUNG CHAN-YOUNG (Jeon Mi-do) works in the entertainment industry – it’s not totally clear what her job is, but I’m leaning towards a talent manager. Then there’s JANG JOO-HEE (Kim Ji-hyun), the manager of a department store cosmetics counter.
Despite opening on a funeral, the drama is surprisingly upbeat. It’s got that slick, trendy vibe rather than the slice-of-life style you often get with this type of story. There are mishaps, petulant drunken confessions, and lady brawls that end with everyone at the police station. The juxtaposition is strange and made me feel apprehensive since I was constantly waiting for the tragedy to hit. Not that I necessarily disliked the tone choice – I just found it odd.
Back to our leads, all three women are different in personality and demeanor with Chan-young as the bold and impulsive one, Joo-hee as the mild-mannered yet playful one, and Mi-jo as the straightforward and opinionated one. Our trio are the kind of friends who don’t hold back, offering up hard truths and not missing an opportunity to poke fun at each other. They can mercilessly tease each other one minute and hold each other and cry the next.
We spend the most time getting to know Mi-jo and Chan-young in these first episodes. They often butt heads but make up quickly and are the first to comfort each other. One of the primary conflicts of the first two episodes surrounds Chan-young’s relationship with the married KIM JIN-SEOK (Lee Moo-saeng). They were together back in college, but then he went abroad, they broke up, and he ended up marrying someone else.
Mi-jo is not shy about calling out their affair to both of their faces, angering Chan-young. But she doesn’t stay angry for long since she knows Mi-jo is concerned on her behalf because she’s definitely getting the raw end of the deal. Jin-seok dictates when and how they see each other, selfishly wanting Chan-young in his life while also not wanting to divorce his wife. He’s that kind of infuriating man who’s not willing to sacrifice anything and tries to smooth things over with nice gestures.
Chan-young tries to justify their relationship by drawing the line and refusing to sleep with him. She tells herself that means it’s not an affair, but it’s obvious she doesn’t fully buy that line. When she finally musters up the courage to break up with him, Jin-seok actually tries to change her mind by offering to send her abroad to art school like she wanted. (Maybe he could try respecting her rather than trying to buy her…)
While that ill-fated relationship is ending (hopefully), Joo-hee and Mi-jo get potential new suitors in their lives. Joo-hee’s is more tentative, but the drama hints that she’ll be paired with the young new restaurant owner PARK HYUN-JOON (Lee Tae-hwan) who takes over her favorite neighborhood restaurant spot.
In these episodes, though, the focus is on Mi-jo’s new suitor. KIM SUN-WOO (Yeon Woo-jin) appears in Mi-jo’s life through a series of coincidences in true drama fashion. There’s some instant attraction, but it goes deeper than that.
They first meet at the orphanage Mi-jo grew up at and still volunteers at regularly. She was adopted as a young child, and I have to say, it’s refreshing to see a positive, undramatic portrayal of adoption. Her adopted family is extremely loving and close, and Mi-jo even hilariously uses her adoption to win arguments with her sister (“I’m going to tell Dad you were about to hit your adoptive little sister!”).
As drama fate would have it, Sun-woo’s little sister was adopted from that same orphanage, and that serves to quickly bond him and Mi-jo. After more chance encounters, Mi-jo and Sun-woo end up sleeping together. Then, they find out that they’ll be working together.
Mi-jo is going on a year-long sabbatical to the States, and Sun-woo is the doctor who’s been hired to fill in for her. She tries to brush their encounter off, but Sun-woo firmly yet respectfully lets her know it was no accident for him. I really like them as a couple so far. They’re compatible, comfortable opening up to each other, and communicate maturely.
And it’s clear Sun-woo is falling hard for her. After mere days, he ends up giving a hilarious drunken confession that’s more whiny than romantic. Despite the embarrassment, he makes sure Mi-jo knows the next day that he meant it. Of course, there’s the little problem of her leaving the country soon.
But that may just get put on hold. You know that medical checkup I mentioned early on? Yeah, we all know medical checkups in dramaland don’t usually end well. I thought they’d drag out the mystery of who is going to die, but we learn the answer at the end of episode two: Chan-young has stage four cancer.
Mi-jo finds out first since the doctor who did their checkups is a friend of hers, and she completely loses it. She needs someone to blame and puts it on Jin-seok, screaming and crying that it’s his fault. Sun-woo witnesses her breakdown too (he’s also coincidentally friends with Jin-seok) and holds her hand while she wails, collapsed on the floor — and with that we end our episode.
I have no idea what the tone is going to be for the rest of the drama, but I’m curious to see if it will stay light given the tragic turn. I hope the drama goes the route of celebrating life and the time our friends have left together because I came hoping for friend hijinks, bonding, and poignancy – I’m not sure I’m ready for a depressing cancer story.