[Fix That Ending] Hit rewind, please
Oh, Twenty Five Twenty One. You just had to come in here, make me fall in love with you, and then make me regret it. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this Theme of the Month review, as my thoughts on this drama are still an ugly mess. It’s been about two weeks since I cried over the final two episodes, and I’m still carrying a mix of confusion, disbelief, anger, and reluctant acceptance.
Twenty Five Twenty One burst onto our screens as something special. It portrayed human relationships and emotions in a beautiful and eerily realistic way. So when we got what I would call an equally realistic ending, with OTP Hee-do and Yi-jin not ending up together as adults, my brain tried to convince itself that all of that made sense. The couple being torn apart by 9/11 — felt right. Having communication issues — sure. Hee-do refusing to date Yi-jin when he was doing what her mother had done to her all her life — ugh… okay, yes, understandable.
But the longer I think about the drama as a whole, about the characters and their growth and my own personal feelings about them, my reluctant acceptance turns into total denial. I cannot and will not accept this ending.
Here are my reasons why.
The editing in the final episodes did not work for me. They ran through a lot of time very quickly and it made it hard to keep up with where the couple was in their relationship and why it was going downhill. You can’t show us 14 episodes of them being the most perfect pair ever and then have it crash and burn in two episodes. On top of that, there wasn’t enough room to see if Hee-do and Yoo-rim were still besties, or to see any of the other characters as adults.
I don’t believe that Hee-do would’ve given up on Yi-jin that easily. Great writing that she would struggle with Yi-jin’s demanding work life just as she struggled with her mom’s, and I do think that, as we saw in the show, she would eventually break. But Hee-do was a strong woman. And she proved time and time again with her mom and Yi-jin that she could stand by their side. They could’ve worked something out!
How could they not keep in contact? Hee-do and Yi-jin officially break up in the early 2000s and supposedly have ZERO contact until their TV interview in 2009? And then continue to have ZERO contact afterwards? This is probably what hurt me the most, because their relationship was so achingly strong beforehand. The romance part of it was great and everything, but at its core, their relationship was a rare bond that was all too precious. To not keep that bond going, even after a difficult breakup, killed me.
The present timeline felt fake and forced. Any time we started with or cut to adult Hee-do, it was like watching a different drama. There was no connection there — the actress’ performance wasn’t connecting with Kim Tae-ri’s, and the present-day story wasn’t connecting with the past. Like, how could adult Hee-do forget about their beach trip??? I have a terrible memory and I could never forget something like that! I know that the real Hee-do, the Hee-do we came to know in the ‘90s, could never forget.
The weird thing is, Twenty Five Twenty One could’ve ended a number of different ways, and I’m pretty sure I could’ve accepted all of them, happy or sad. You’d just have to go back and make a few tweaks in the story. Rewind to Episode 15 when Yi-jin first left for New York, to Episode 14 when Hee-do found Yi-jin crying in the tunnel, or hell, all the way back to Episode 10 when the whole gang went on that beach trip.
It was hard to come up with one ending that would completely satisfy me, because with a story like this, it would always end with a tinge of pain. But I decided on three endings that, despite the emotional pain, would still give me the right amount of closure.
Ending #1: Yi-jin dies in New York. This is the only way I could accept the present timeline. Then, it would make sense that Hee-do married someone else. Then, it would make sense that adult Hee-do seemed so distant whenever her mother or daughter brought up the past. Here, I see Hee-do and Yi-jin promising to make a long-distance relationship work, and I see them actually following through. Yi-jin has a tough time, but he confides in Hee-do, and she’s able to console him and vice versa.
But then Yi-jin goes silent and Hee-do hears from his co-worker days later that he’s been killed in an accident. Hee-do is distraught, and she lives with it until present day. Later, all grown up, she discovers her diary with a note from Yi-jin (a different note from the real ending). And through that note, she revisits the tunnel and gets closure. What I like about this is that it would keep the spirit of the real ending, with young Hee-do and Yi-jin reuniting in the tunnel, which was a lovely visual.
Ending #2: Hee-do and Yi-jin fight but make up. With this ending and the next, let’s pretend the present timeline we got doesn’t exist. Hee-do and Yi-jin break up, ending it on a bad note as we saw. Then, comes the time when Yi-jin has to leave for New York again. They find each other at the bus stop and say their goodbyes. Yi-jin kneels down to tie her shoe and they both cry. They hug and — here comes the edit — admit that they don’t actually want to break up. As hard as it is, they choose to continue a long-distance relationship.
Hee-do keeps struggling with having to be alone, but she still has her mom and her friends. Yi-jin struggles too, but this time, he feels more trust in his relationship with Hee-do and tries his best to communicate and keep the romance afloat. Eventually, Yi-jin returns to Korea in 2009 to take on the UBS anchor position. The couple finally reunite, marry, and settle down. This is more of a typical K-drama ending, but hey, I definitely wouldn’t complain.
Ending #3: They break up but stay friends. Similarly to #2, we go to the bus stop hug. Here, they break up but choose to stay in contact as friends. Once apart, they don’t talk as much as they used to, especially with their busy schedules. But they still make the effort. Years later, Hee-do does, in fact, marry someone else and have her daughter Min-chae, while Yi-jin stays single and focused on his career.
Hee-do finds Yi-jin’s note in her diary and meets with him in person. They’re now 44 and 40, and they haven’t seen each other in a while. They’re still friendly and happy to catch up. This continues. They meet up when they’re 46 and 42, then 50 and 46, and so on. Years go by, and they’re now 65 and 61. Hee-do is divorced and Yi-jin is still single. For once, time is on their side, and Yi-jin ventures out to the high school and finds Hee-do doing exactly what he’d planned to do — turn the water fountain faucets upside down. We get an open ending that they’re likely to start a romantic relationship again.
Out of all these options, #3 is the one I want to hold on to, and what I will take as canon. Because it’s still possible with the actual ending we got. The Twenty Five Twenty One couple was strong from the get-go and only got stronger. The only thing that was in their way was bad timing. The IMF crisis, the 9/11 attacks. But I want to believe that, in the end, the stars would align and they could finally be together in peace.
For the most part, I accept endings whether they’re satisfying or not. But with cases like this, where you develop such a tight bond with the characters, the writer’s canon doesn’t have to be your canon. Writers have their stories in their heads and their hearts, but once that story is out in the world, the viewer can take it and interpret it however they want. So… yeah. Sorry, Writer-nim, but I had to rewind this tape and record my own Happily Ever After over it. That’s how imma cope.