Backstreet Rookie manages to satisfyingly end its up and down run with a neat and charming conclusion, and a fitting send-off to all involved.
This recap of Backstreet Rookie episode 15 and Backstreet Rookie episode 16 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Since I haven’t gotten around to writing up Backstreet Rookie episode 15 until now, I figured I might as well just do a cliffs notes version and summarize it alongside the finale in a kind of k-drama one-two punch. These episodes are always released two at a time anyway, or at least two in one week, so they’re really intended to be taken as a twofer. There’s a feeling of everything coming together in both episodes and while the show has generally exhausted itself getting to this point, it at least manages to wring out a decent and definitive conclusion.
In Backstreet Rookie episode 15, we have the two – technically three, but more on that in a minute – lingering subplots of both Saet-byul’s GED exam preparations and Jang-mi being desperate to meet Boon-hee. Yeon-joo is also on the sidelines trying to buy her way back into the family relationship because of course she is.
The third subplot is Dal-sik and Geum-bi making their relationship official, but nobody cares.
Here, we see things coming to a head with Boon-hee and Jang-mi, and there’s a lot of history involved that sends Boon-hee in the direction of Yeon-joo, but Dae-hyun is quick to reject her. Jang-mi is determined to give Boon-hee an old letter and is eventually able to – it’s a heartfelt apology and a picture of them as children. This whole thing has a knock-on effect for Saet-byul, who still feels put-out by Boon-hee singing Yeon-joo’s praises, is facing big changes with the store takeover, and is being returned her deposit after the rent scam. There’s a lot going on with her and a note of finality rings around most of it.
This is where Backstreet Rookie episode 16, the finale, picks up. In this closing chapter, for all the show’s faults, I really think it managed to achieve an ending that was fitting; one also emblematic of all things the show has done well throughout its run, chief among them character-building.
It begins with Saet-byul having left in the night, leaving behind a note for Dae-hyun. She has had her money returned and has gone to work on a farm. Naturally, he’s desperate to find her and she can’t shake the memory of him.
There’s also more of Dal-sik and Geum-bi, but still, nobody cares.
This does, however, tip Dae-hyun off to what Saet-byul’s doing since Dal-sik has a convenient familial connection to the farm and he can’t help but tell tales when he spots Saet-byul there. Dae-hyun darts over and gives it some romantic spiel of this only being the beginning for them, and after defusing a bit of bother, they both sit and drink together.
Some big decisions are made by Dae-hyun in Backstreet Rookie episode 16. He admits to Saet-byul what he remembers of their first encounter, and he resigns from the headquarters job so that he can go back to running a convenience store, rejecting Yeon-joo another time for good measure. She finally gets the hint and resolves to move back to America. Good.
The show’s class-conscious undercurrent gets its own kind of finale in a conversation between Boon-hee and Hye-ja, with personal pride winning out over materialism, and Dae-hyun mirrors the sentiment in his own speech to his parents. This is solid writing and acting that crystallizes a lot of the show’s long-term work on theme and character. It’s a stand-out moment.
And it eventually leads to what the show has always promised – the two of them getting together. Saet-byul passes the GED. Boon-hee and Yong-pil clear the air with her. Dae-hyun confesses how he feels. And Geum-bi and Dal-sik decide on creating a new webtoon about them, one sixteen episodes in the making. It’s a nice sentiment, and the best thing those two characters could be getting on with.
Unusually for a romance, Dae-hyun and Daet-byul never kiss on-screen – they even go so far as to break the fourth wall for some privacy. It’s a cheeky moment but feels about right in the context of this show, which catches up with everyone in a closing epilogue tying a big, neat bow around the season.
Backstreet Rookie episode 16 proves two things: That this show was worthwhile enough to build to a just-right ending, and that there’s no reason to see any more of it. Luckily, this finale really feels like one, which is a welcome relief after the whole thing seemed to go on a little too long. There was plenty to dislike here, but strong characters carried it through, and the fact it was able to stick the landing leaves a lasting impression.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.