Once Upon a Small Town: Episodes 10-12 (Final)
We’re at the end! And while it’s super sad to see this story go, the final episodes give us everything we need to move on with warm hearts, twinkly eyes, and great memories of summer. We get all the closure we deserve along with some new beginnings, allowing the curtain to close on Huidong like a balmy, orange and pink dusk (minus the mosquitoes).
EPISODES 10-12 WEECAP
I loved this show a little more each week right up until the final frame. It was actually my favorite kind of drama: relatively drama-free. It’s these simple stories that get to me and this one is packed to the brim with emotional conversations. All the relationships — not just the main couple — really shined through this week.
We pick up from the all-wrong kiss that Min plants on Ji-yool just as Ja-young approaches to witness it. Ja-young is startled and bails out. Ji-yool follows her only to falter and not explain anything. He looks as shocked as she is as Ja-young leaves him behind on the open road.
Ji-yool seeks advice from Yun-hyeong — who’s lingering in town and helping out with the vet practice. Yun-hyeong counsels him to confess his feelings to Ja-young. Sure, Ji-yool has a lot of reservations that have stopped him from admitting to himself that he likes her, but it’s pretty obvious — so just fess up already (good advice).
Meanwhile, Ja-young gets up the nerve to see Sang-hyun and finally give him a proper “no” to his confession. She cries and says she knows she’s been cowardly but she didn’t want to hurt him. She’s afraid she’ll regret her decision later if things change between them. He tries to lighten the mood: “Why are you crying when I’m the one being rejected?” He admits that his feelings are hurt, but he’s on her side. They both say they still love each other and he confirms he’s not going anywhere. These two have always been like family and though things got a little ugly after Ji-yool came into town and Sang-hyun confessed, there’s an obvious connection between them that goes deeper than a love relationship.
Sang-hyun finishes by telling Ja-young that his feelings are his to deal with, so she should let him deal with them. Then he jokes that she might regret it, when he starts liking someone else. I find this conversation very realistic for two people who have known each other their whole lives but run into a complicated situation. These two are thick as thieves and that’s not going to change. I also find it endearing that Sang-hyun knows what a people pleaser Ja-young is and expressly tells her not to feel bad just because he does. It’s a sweet way to say goodbye to our second lead (for anyone on that ship) and move on.
Next stop on the “get these people out of the way” train is Min. Ji-yool tells her to go back to Seoul ‘cause it ain’t gonna happen. Of course, he’s much kinder than that. He knows Min feels regret for what could have been, but also knows that’s not real love. He tells her he loved her so much that when they broke up he thought he wouldn’t love again. Now he thinks he can. (Oh my heart.) Min, grasping at anything, says that Ja-young told her she doesn’t feel the same way (which is true actually, since Ja-young did say that to Min). He stops her, “Min-ah, I’m talking about my feelings right now.” (That’s it. I love him. I’m done.)
Ji-yool’s comment produces a very honest moment between them. Min apologizes for making him choose between going with her to the U.S. or breaking up (which for me puts another spin on their breakup) and she leaves with finality. This interaction is very different than anything we’ve seen between these two before and gives me a sense of how much they really loved each other at some point. It also humanizes Min, putting her actions in better perspective once we understand their prior bond and Ji-yool’s role in the breakup.
With multiple obstacles out of the way, Ji-yool goes to the peach farm to look for Ja-young. She’s not there, but Sang-hyun lays down his pride and tells Ji-yool to wait because she’ll be there soon. When she arrives, Ji-yool chases her down and the two wind up amongst the storage shelves again. We already know that the storage area seems to bring the spicy out of Ji-yool, so while Ja-young says she has nothing to say to him, he confesses his feelings. He doesn’t want any more misunderstandings (but does seem to want a kiss). Ja-young, however, is not having it. She fell for him once when they were young — and then he left. She’s not doing it again just to have a repeat of before. She scoots out of there, but once there’s some distance between them, her heart is about to pop when she thinks about his confession.
On her way out of town, Min apologizes to Ja-young. This gives Ja-young a chance to admit she lied. She actually does like Ji-yool. Min laughs — Ja-young wasn’t fooling anybody. With that, and her realization that Ji-yool is leaving town soon, Ja-young hops on her bike and rushes to tell Ji-yool how she really feels. When she arrives, sweaty and breathless, he stutters that he knows it wasn’t right to confess when he’s leaving in fifteen days and he deserves to be rejected. He gets cut off with a kiss, leaving him wide-eyed and surprised. Ja-young backs up, “You don’t know anything.” And then, they’re kissing!
Afterward, Ji-yool wonders if they should keep their dating secret. Dating?! Ja-young finds him perfectly old school and adorable. And yes, she wants it to be a secret — you know how gossipy this town is. Ji-yool is holding her hands and doesn’t want to let go, but finally he does, saying “I’ll call you after work.” Omo. I know the kiss was supposed to be the squee moment, but this right here is it for me. Ja-young has the same reaction, her heart can’t take it.
After this they’re flirting and dating and all the tension has dropped away. Ja-young’s whole demeanor changes and the inauthentic smile that’s been plastered on her face becomes the bubbly excitement of a pre-teen girl. As soon as it’s official, they are completely comfortable with one another and it feels like their true personalities are finally shining.
The two go on a spur-of-the-moment date to Seoul one night, arriving at midnight after the four-hour drive. Ji-yool wants to shake off Ja-young’s worries about being in a long-distance relationship because it’s not that distant. Ja-young already had the same idea — she’s ready to make it work. What doesn’t work so well is trying to keep their relationship a secret back in town. They pretend to “accidentally” meet each other in restaurants, but they’re not very good actors, giving themselves away. Lol.
There’s a hilarious scene in the truck when Ja-young has just escaped her job to be alone with Ji-yool. He’s leaning over her in the passenger seat. (Fixing the seat belt? Who knows.) She is shy about this being her first dating experience. Ji-yool says he’s feeling awkward too — don’t be fooled by how smooth he seems. It’s high tension. My stomach is flipping. They’re about to kiss. There’s a knock on the window. Everybody screams. And it’s the two kids from last week, wanting to thank them for their advice — they’re dating now (in secret) and they couldn’t have done it without Ja-young and Ji-yool. But, “don’t tell the other grownups. You know how this town is.” Lol. The show does it again with these kids!
And more secret couples keep coming. When Yun-hyeong gets caught on a date with Ji-yool’s nursing assistant from the vet clinic, Ja-young starts to realize how much she doesn’t want to date in secret anymore. Their work lives keep getting in the way of their time together but Ja-young can’t tell her boss she wants to leave to see her boyfriend, so she gets roped into one thing after another. Plus, the whole town is used to calling on her for everything, knowing she always saying yes.
One night out with her cop colleagues, Ja-young gets drunk after many missed connections with Ji-yool. In that state, she announces over the town loudspeaker that she is dating Dr. Han Ji-yool. So, can people please be more understanding of her time! Stop calling for every little thing. She’s busy dating! Turns out everybody already knew. Haha. The good thing about all this is that we start to see Ja-young change. She doesn’t need everyone to like her anymore and stops feeling so needy for attention. Ji-yool’s attention is enough.
Before he returns to Seoul, Ji-yool is already talking about next summer and plans for the future. And then the show does an amazing thing by letting us actually see how they handle the distance. While Yun-hyeong and Ms. Nurse talk constantly and tell each other all the day’s details, our leads only talk once in a while — trying to keep busy to distract from missing each other. Neither wants to bother the other. It’s a sweet idea, but they run into trouble because there’s no opportunity to be supportive in times of need.
Working through their miscommunications, they make it to the next summer. Officer Ahn gets promoted to sergeant and Ji-yool takes over his grandfather’s veterinary hospital so his grandparents can retire. He’s decided to leave behind the clinic in Seoul so he can be in a nosy town with the person he loves. He shows up with matching rings.
Holy crap, I love this couple. They make so much sense to me and I totally buy that they’ll make it work. They seem so real — not like a TV couple but like people I know. And they both seem more like themselves when they’re together. Overall, I loved this show. There’s no melodrama here, no real villains, easy resolutions to the things that don’t matter and complicated resolutions to matters of the heart. It was great to see Ji-yool and Ja-young spend a year in their respective places and test it out. In the end, Ji-yool chose to go to Huidong full time, but I get the sense that he genuinely grew to love it. Nothing about this decision felt forced or tacked on.
Another thing I loved is that the show handled the “knowing each other in the past” trope really well. They met as kids and he blocked it out because it was the same year his parents died. But it wasn’t amnesia or something so serious, he just couldn’t think about that period of his life. Once he remembers, they don’t dwell on it. The not remembering doesn’t become a dragged-out crutch for the storyline. They remember each other halfway through so they still have a lot of time to get to know each other in the present. If only all childhood connections were so good.
A big selling point for me was also the relationship to the place, which solidifies throughout the episodes. While the side characters in the drama didn’t come to life as much as I’d hoped in the beginning, the Huidong setting became a kind of character of its own. It was so effective in evoking a light and airy feel that I left on cloud nine not just for the romance, but for the romantic idea of a prettier and simpler life.
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