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Thirty-Nine: Episodes 11-12 (Final)

It’s time for final goodbyes in our bittersweet final week. Everyone prepares for the inevitable, leaning on each other as they work to ensure their friend spends her remaining days happy. She, in turn, does everything in her power to make sure her loved ones don’t suffer too much in her absence. It may sound like a depressing affair, but thanks to all the love and support among our found family, there’s still light to be found.

 
EPISODES 11-12 WEECAP

We pick back up with Mi-jo visiting Kyung-sook in prison and telling her in no uncertain terms that she is not her mother, and this will be Mi-jo’s last visit. She leaves after warning Kyung-sook not to contact her or anyone around her ever again. Although she was quite nice about it, Mi-jo can’t help feeling somewhat guilty later, but she stands firm.

With that out of the way, we move onto our final and biggest challenge. Chan-young is steadily getting worse, and although everyone knew it was coming, that doesn’t make it any easier. She’s as determined as ever not to burden her loved ones, so she begins handling her affairs on her own.

After hearing that Chan-young even went alone to get her funeral portrait, Joo-hee drags her and Mi-jo out for a photo session. She borrows Hyun-joon’s camera and goes a little overboard taking photos and stressing them out with her orders to look natural. But they end up having fun with it.

Chan-young also spends a lot more time with her parents, worried about how they’ll fare when she’s gone. She wants to do something for them, so Mi-jo helps convince them to let Chan-young pay for renovating their restaurant. It ends up being a group project with the whole crew helping on-site. Even Hyun-joon shows up, miffed that he didn’t get invited when he thought he was part of the group.

Meanwhile, Sun-woo meets up with Mi-jo’s dad to openly tell him about his father’s hurtful words to Mi-jo. It’s an impressive show of honesty, which Mi-jo’s dad appreciates. He surprises Sun-woo by being entirely supportive of their relationship and hoping his father’s issues won’t affect them.

As if Sun-woo weren’t already smitten enough with Mi-jo, So-won tells him she’s taking up piano again thanks to her. Pretty sure he’s about to combust with gratitude and love. Sun-woo then comes for dinner to officially introduce himself to Mi-jo’s family. It’s awkward at first, but soon enough, everyone warms up and Mi-jo’s father is even singing his favorite song into his spoon mic.

All these new beginnings happen right as the end is near for Chan-young. She takes a major turn for the worst and is in and out of the hospital with unbearable pain. Chan-young admits to Mi-jo that she’s scared and has been spending more time wondering what dying will be like. But she handles it all remarkably well and is still mostly concerned about her loved ones.

It’s been obvious that Chan-young and Mi-jo have a special bond, but that becomes more evident in Chan-young’s final days. She tells Mi-jo that she thinks of her more than anyone else – her parents, Joo-hee, Jin-seok. No one gets her like Mi-jo, and Chan-young knows she can rely on her. Chan-young begins leaving Mi-jo instructions for taking care of her parents when she’s gone, checking up on Jin-seok, and even puts her in charge of her list of people she wants at her funeral.

This leads to a lovely, touching scene where Mi-jo surprises Chan-young by having everyone she wants at her funeral gather to see her before she dies. Chan-young is overwhelmed to see all her friends and loved ones there, and says even though her life is cut short, she’s received enough love for lifetime.

And she is indeed loved. Her parents, Mi-jo, Joo-hee, and Jin-seok (along with our newbie group members Sun-woo and Hyun-joon) make sure she’s as happy and taken care of as possible. Jin-seok is so caring that even Chan-young’s mom comes around and encourages him to move in with Chan-young, entrusting him with her care.

Jin-seok wants to marry Chan-young, but she thinks it’s a crazy idea and unnecessary. She tells Mi-jo that she feels it would cheapen their love after everything. I honestly expected the drama to have her change her mind on this one, but I was happy that she didn’t. Marriage is often seen as the end all, be all in dramaland, so it was nice to see them take a different route.

For months, everyone lives in the purgatory of knowing Chan-young could pass away at any time. Mi-jo is glued to her phone, ready at a moment’s notice. And then, that dreaded phone call comes from Jin-seok.

I’m actually glad that the drama didn’t dwell on Chan-young’s suffering or death – we didn’t even see her death on screen. While her suffering wasn’t ignored, the focus was on the good in her life and celebrating that rather than wallowing in grief. But of course, there is a great deal of grief.

We get almost half of the final episode to follow everyone as they live on. Despite the pain, everyone does their best to live well and move forward. They all diligently follow Chan-young’s instructions for them after she leaves. She prepared thoroughly, even scheduling a cake for her mom’s birthday and a special video message for Mi-jo who she knew would struggle the most.

The whole gang treats Chan-young’s parents as their own, especially Mi-jo. Joo-hee opens a nail salon right across the street from Hyun-joon who she’s now dating. Mi-jo and Sun-woo prepare to get married, and Sun-woo’s father makes peace with orphans, I guess, and is willing to meet Mi-jo’s parents.

There’s a melt-your-heart moment where Mi-jo visits little Hoon – they’ve always had a bond – at the orphanage. He’s always so excited to see her and barely leaves her side when she visits. Mi-jo tells him she’s getting married soon and wonders how they should decorate Hoon’s room in their new house. (How sweet is it that she and Sun-woo are adopting?)

In the final scene, Joo-hee and Mi-jo visit Chan-young’s gravesite. They tell her about Mi-jo’s upcoming wedding and bicker about Joo-hee’s relationship with Hyun-joon. As they leave, Mi-jo narrates to Chan-young that they’ll never get used to her absence and miss her.

I appreciate that the drama kept friendship at the center throughout. Although there was romance, Mi-jo and Chan-young were the real OTP. (Sorry, Joo-hee.) The emotional journey was always foremost, and I enjoyed seeing our characters grow and learn to live their lives the way they wanted.

My main complaint is that this really was Mi-jo’s story, and I don’t know how I feel about that. Chan-young’s illness felt almost like a prop, at times, for Mi-jo’s journey. And as I’ve already mentioned, poor Joo-hee was always on the periphery. Although I would’ve preferred a more well-rounded approach where each of the trio was given equal time and attention, I still enjoyed the drama for its poignant yet optimistic story of life, loss, and love.

 
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I loved this drama. I felt the plot was consistent throughout and the writers did not feel it was necessary to throw in random plot lines and veer off track. I agree that that the three women's stories could possibly have been more well rounded, but I sincerely loved this drama. thank you for the fabulous write-ups!

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I know this was Mi-jo's story and it's normal for certain friends to be closer in any friend group, but I still hate how Joo-hee was treated by the writer. Chan-young didn't seem to give her much thought, it was all about Mi-jo for her. Chan-young and Joo-hee's short scene in the finale is the only one I even remember them having together. Joo-hee just always seemed to be left out, and I didn't like it. Her romance even happened offscreen.

There were some good scenes here and there and the acting was good but overall this was a disappointing drama.

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I finished it for the bean but did not like it.
I'm trying to figure out why it didn't work for me and it has to do with Mi-jo being not just the center of the story, but also portrayed as flawless, with everyone else falling at her feet and her saving the day again and again. All the conflict they try to introduce for her character feels forced: her biological mother is not a real threat while in prison, so they have some guy show up at her work and then that’s done and over with quickly. Her panic disorder is largely unseen on screen. Even when she’s losing her best friend it somehow ends up being all about her. I don’t get any sense of self-reflection or true internal conflict from her character. And all the other characters seem to exist only for her.

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Long Post Alert:

THIRTY NINE (End post): Thanks for the recaps and comment thread. I know some enjoyed the series and I respect their opinions. But to me, the high expectation, three-woman centric drama can be summed up in one word: D.I.S.A.P.P.O.I.N.T:

DUBIOUS DRAMATICS CY is sick. She dies. The End. And that was shown by the end of Episode 2. It was a fertile subject to explore a friend’s terminal illness but the show put no drama, insight or empathy into the episodes. Or they could have hid it to the End for dramatic effect. Instead, it threw in old tropes with no context to the main story line: their long, cherished friendship. The idea that each GF had to have a “boyfriend” dynamic was a forced premise with no payoff. The focal drama points were to throw issues at MiJo for SYJ to have hysterics.

INCONSISTENT THEMES Was the show about three women and their close bond? Was it a show about a terminal ill patient? Was it a show about a successful career woman having an alleged mid-life crisis? Was it about how one defines “family?” Was it about finding a new life (romance) in death? Was it about throwing every k-trope at the wall to give characters a reason to be distressed about their lives? Why some secrets (evil mother) should be kept secret?

SOLEMN CHEMISTRY When the BTS shows the three co-leads interacting well, having fun, like real people, those friend moments never got onto the film reel. And there is where the show lost its charm. I think at some point JMD and KJH deferred too much to SYJ to carry or center a scene. Some call it a “bait and switch drama”: friend chemistry not really present; no real flashbacks to show how three from different towns and backgrounds actually became close friends. What is shown is not a friendship through hard or good times but individual side stories lacking depth and meaningful interaction. But we really do not know how they got to be such close friends for such a long time. JH is the quiet, shy, introverted friend who finally stands up for herself and quits her dead end job. Because she is left out of the girlfriend circle, she is left to fend for herself to find some solace with her new friend, the neighborhood chef, but no sparks were shown in any of the BF relationships. Mijo’s romance also had no real chemistry; SU was treated more as an escort than a BF.

ARROGANCE The emotional affair of CY and JS got the most viewer ire. The whole arc was a train wreck from the beginning (CY putting her life on hold to see him) to JS staying in a loveless marriage because of a child that was not his to his sudden amiable divorce redemption. JS barging into CY’s apartment after his separation was arrogant, selfish and delusional acts to free his guilty conscious. Mijo flaunted her arrogance as being the center of attention throughout the series. Her troubles and emotions overwhelmed anyone else’s concerns, worries, or feelings. CY’s stubborn attitude of accepting death without treatment has...

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a tinge of noble arrogance to it since it disheartened her family and friends.

PROBLEMATIC BACKSTORIES We never saw how the GFs got close and remained close for 20 years. The show lacked any consistent memory lane moments that bonded them together. We don’t know how the three stayed together after Mijo visited the sandwich shop (because clearly they did not go to the same school). Nonstop sad scenes to provoke emotional response were a tiresome drag with diminishing returns. It seemed the group get-togethers were mostly the same stuck-in-the-mud conversations. A close friend dynamic was what was promised but never delivered. We only have glimpses into Mijo and CY’s parents. We do not know about JH’s father. We just have a snapshot of the present without any context of the past. We had a pile of self-diluting issues: 2 orphans, 2 birth secrets, 2 terrible and troublesome parents (SU father and MJ bio-mother), 2 relationships that have no spark (MJ and JH) and one that should have terminated 10 years ago (CY). The plot was like a piece of Swiss cheese, so many holes in it: we never had enough information on how MJ, CY and JH grew up to determine how they stayed best friends despite their different backgrounds. For example, we know nothing about JH’s or MJ’s father. We don’t know why CY parents run a restaurant in the country when their daughter went to school in the city. We don’t know why CY gave up her acting career after the car accident.

PRODUCTION ISSUES I leave that for secondary post.
ORBIT AROUND MIJO Mijo’s personal issues were a major distraction. Her birth mother arc was dumb because it brought nothing to the table. Mijo has a wonderful sister and parents. We should have gotten more interaction with them. Her panic anxiety disorder was not well executed or needed to show concern from her friends. Some commentators remarked that Mijo’s character was very selfish and controlling which led to a negative connotation on the main character. And clearly SYJ was the main lead with JMD and KJH secondary leads so the producer/writer filled each script to highlight her. And the issues surrounding Mijo were not that interesting: her BF romance lacked chemistry or happiness to be even called one. It started off with a one night stand and turned into a lackluster business proposal. Her family dynamic was great but never explored in depth. Her birth mother issue of being a fraud criminal gave us no meaningful insight into anything material to the girlfriend’s friendship.

INCURABLE BEHAVIORS A good drama is about growth or healing. CY terminal cancer could have given her the courage to grow and live her life the way she wanted to. Her audition was the only personal quest; the rest of the time she engaged in the same habit and behavior: clinging to JS when she said she wanted him to go back to his wife; being led around by Mijo as false “happy patient,” Instead, we got a series of regrets and emotional outbursts from Mijo instead of...

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comforting introspection on CY’s life and its meaning to her family and friends. In the end, CY selfishly made MJ and JH to promise to take care of her parents. The overriding impression was some aspect of selfishness as the motivation for most of the character action/interaction.

NON-FORMED TANGENTS Seon-U’s bad father story arc was merely to give him some emotional baggage to bond with his sister, who despite my belief Mijo would save her, got her own life together by personal reflection at the orphanage. Also, we only see a glimpse of MJ’s older sister’s insistence of adopting MJ but we have no childhood moments to show how and why that happened and how they bonded so well as sisters. Likewise, Mijo’s golf sabbatical to the US was supposed to show a serious health issue but it never manifested itself in any meaningful way. JS’s marriage was glossed over. He knew the child was not his for 6 years but he stayed because his wife is “a bad mother?” How do we know that? Nothing was shown except his conclusion to make the wife the “bad person.” But he was the one having the emotional affair. He wanted a divorce to rid himself of the guilt of screwing up CY’s life - - then compounds it by forcing his way into her house.

THE CAST The series was to depict the friendship and love of three friends, Cha Mi-jo (Son Ye-jin), Jeong Chan-young (Jeon Mi-do), and Jang Ju-hui (Kim Ji-hyun), However, the screen time was wildly in favor of SYJ. Yes, she was the most popular actor coming into the series. With her pending marriage stoking her fandom fires, I believe her personal life began to overwhelm the series. JMD has the potential to be a strong female lead but this series did not showcase her range of talent and only showcased her for half of the finale. KJH was the most underused co-lead character - - she could have been the perfect narrator because JH was the most observant, kind, understanding and had a load of common sense. Telling CY’s and MJ’s problems through her eyes would have been a much better perspective on their friendship. None of the male leads really mattered or added any depth to the story. There were so many meandering distractions that the core friendship was muted to just a few good interactions.

As with many dramas in the past few years, Thirty, Nine’s assessment that “it could have been much better” is too kind since really SHOULD have been better. It was a major disappointment because it was story mush when you ordered a steak. The story got worse as the series went on. Every little irritating aspect got magnified as the show went on. The non-stop emotional crying scenes lost their impact early on. The editing of the story showing the The End at the beginning was problematic. The pace of the story telling never recovered from the reveal. The show could never stick the landing because the promised story never got off the ground.
The only good moments are the three friends together, talking like normal people. But those...

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moments were few and far between. The editing was choppy. And it seemed like the angst, anxiety and sadness was focused on SYJ and her waterfall tears. All the nonsensical and irrelevant side stories took away from actually getting to know the full backstories of all the girlfriends to actually get to know them and root for them. Was it a terrible show or a terrible watch? It was not a hate watch because you wanted it to be good, it had the potential to be good, the cast was excited to do the show, but it went off the rails early and often. And the finale did not let anyone truly grieve and move on. Part of the problem was CY controlling promises to her friends after she was gone; she meant well but anchored her friends to their mourning state.

The show had the elements to be great, but its execution was very disappointing to make it average at best.

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PRODUCTION. I think part of THIRTY NINE’s problems were in production and execution. As a pre-produced series, it could have shot complete episodes in a constant, easy pace. A pre-produced show should have time to create consistent and balanced episodes. But the final product seemed rushed. Reports indicated that episodes were shot in pieces, out of order, at different days, weeks or months to fit location shoots. For example, though filming started in late August, the golf scene of episode 7 was filmed in Mid-January.

SYJ said she signed on the project because when she read the script, she said it was like the writer had been spying on her private life - - - it sounded just like she would talk with her friends. If true, the script comes across shallow and petulance. It was also sold as a “womance” a drama between three female leads. But somewhere early on, that script focus went off the rails to concentrate on Mijo than the collective friend group. Then more airtime was carved away for secondary character’s issues. The writer and director were interviewed before the finale and asked about their favorite series moments. The list of 5 only had scenes from Episodes 2 through 6 listed.

Part of the performance/script issues could be that the director allowed the actors, especially SYJ, to give directions and ad-libs while filming. When you film out of sequence, these ad-libbed may throw off the context of the story. So some of the weakness in the story is script based and actor/director editing on the fly. When the episodes were filmed piece-meal, out-order and randomly changed, the cast cannot get into a viable rhythm or character development. Not helping was that the script meandered as much as the cut-scenes.

There were also overuse of camera filters that made some scenes ghost worthy. The BTS films also revealed that it appeared that they worked very late (3- 4 a.m. shoot endings). It also seems that the production rushed to finish final filming two weeks early. One can assume that was done to accommodate SYJ’s schedule. Some believe that SYJ’s private life overshadowed the actual series production and promotion. Her marriage announcement was made just before the series premiere press conference and the show’s finale was on her wedding day. It seemed at times SYJ was distracted while filming which made viewers like myself distracted as well.

The series was dominated by a SYJ CF PPL show. She got a highlight reel for the award shows. But the vast quantity of those scenes did not represent quality, emotive story telling. If Mijo was the one dying and was an emotional wreck because of it, it would have been a different story. But it was not. It was not about a friendship journey because the characters did not go anywhere except to a funeral, and for some reason that did not end the show. It is hard to blame it all on the writer since we do not have access to the scripts, but the production company and director could have pieced...

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something better from the parts. There should have been more scenes of CY, MJ and JH as teens and young adults to clearly explain the premise. Maybe that is the biggest fail in the production: stories are show and tell - - - 39 told conclusions more than it showed their lives. The biggest missing pieces were the “how” and “why” of the friendship. Those missing pieces would have been the heart and soul of the show.

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This episode coincided with the real-life wedding of Hyun Bin and Sohn Ye-jin (and even Jeon Mi-do attended in this wedding):
https://www.dramabeans.com/activity/p/1308016

The 12th and final episode of Thirty Nine also marked the end of JTBC low rating drought which was recorded at 8.0%.

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It's an ok and watchable enough show that I stayed to the end. While the acting is solid across the cast, the writing is weak. There is not enough depth to the story. Conflicts were introduced but never really get explored. There's lack of characters growth. On lighter drama, those weakness would be easier to let go. But this drama trying to tackle of a lot of heavy subjects. Terminal illness, grief and letting go of love one, family abandonment, affair, mental health... With these many subjects, none given proper justice of exposure and resolution, no wonder the side characters never really get the chance to shine.

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Thanks for the weecap, @quirkycase! I loved the friendship shown in this drama, not just of the females but also how the males are connected to each other.

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It was disapointing. The ensemble of actors was so promising, so I had expectations. But the story was not so interesting. They could find a balance between the characters.

I liked Cha-Young's story, the fact she had a weird affair/friendship, the way she handled her future death. She should have been the center of the story. I didn't like her ideas for helping her friends : finding a boyfriend and the biogical mother, both things were wrong in the story.

But they chose Mi-Joo as a center and weren't subtile about it. The story of her biogical mother wasn't interesting at all. I mean they hide her the truth because her mother wasn't a good person, she could trust Jo-Hee's mother. But she still went and was disapointed... Her panic attacks were the most interesting part but they didn't really adress them.

Jo-Hee... I never liked this character. They made her childish, the actress used a cute ton that didn't suit the style they gave to the character. I found stupid the way she quit her job. She deserved respect as an employee, but couldn't find a way to get excuses. She still lives with her mother, I thought they will deepen her relationship with her mother and how it played a role for her. But they just used it to show their friendship. The love story between her and Park Hyeon-Jun felt so forced.

Kim Jin-Seok was the most interesting male character. I really liked him and his dilemas. Lee Mu-Saeng was really good in this role.

The others were more like perfect addition in the life of our heroines.

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I also thought Kim JS was the most interesting male character and that CY's story (including her relationship with him) should have been the center. The first half of the final episode was my favorite of the entire run because it started to center on CY. But then we didn't even get a full episode of that. Definitely disappointing.

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Thank you quirkycase for the recap :) I mostly won't watch anything that is slice of life because these type of genre are really difficult to watch but Thirty Nine is really good (it's much better if it's a movie though).
From the 1st ep end narration, I already know that this story is really about Mijo's journey in life. In a group of friends there tend to be one that you knew the longest and will be closer to so what's shown here is realistic whether you like it or not. I believe everyone can be MiChanJoo in your group of friends but the most important aspect that you are still friends after 20+ years is whether these people are there for you when you needed them the most not who knew about what news first or last.
The adoption arc here is something that I hardly see in a drama. The way it's being told from the child's POV is very rare and it's a very good insight imo. The final scene in Ep 12 is a winner for me in terms of cryfest (Ep 5 & 8 are the other ones in my top 3 list) :P and many thumbs up to SYJ, JMD & KJH for their performances here :)
All in all this is a very good slice of life drama. Highly recommended to those who 'UNDERSTAND' this type of genre.

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Mi-jo is the narrator of this story....so we get the main story from the narrator's point of view. It's not Mi-jo's story....it is a wonderful story of Friendship, Life, Love, and Death. It is beautifully written and wonderfully acted. This is a wonderful drama and one of my favorites of the year.

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