“When You Think It’s the End” continues some bad habits, and an injection of drama ultimately feels misplaced.
This recap of Thirty-Nine season 1, episode 8, “When You Think It’s the End”, contains spoilers.
In my recap of yesterday’s episode, I wondered if maybe the second half of the double-bill would inject some urgency into proceedings. It turns out that was wishful thinking – beyond Chan-young’s parents finding out about her terminal diagnosis, there’s really little to write home about here. The show continues to drag its feet on the way to a destination that at this point feels inevitable, with little memorable happening in the meantime to make the journey worthwhile.
Thirty-Nine season 1, episode 8 recap
What’s frustrating is that there are the bones of such a great show here. If it trimmed out a lot of the romantic and parentage subplots and just told a contained, balanced story about three friends trying to ensure that one of their number is able to check off the items on her bucket list, it’d be greatly improved. The core dynamic is already there. The actors are taking the assignment seriously. And yet there’s so much unnecessary baggage and filler that the whole thing is just limping along – I find myself looking forward to Chan-young’s demise just to see something dramatic happen. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was feeling the same.
There is a strong theme of parenting coming through here, with opening scenes contrasting Mi-jo’s relationship with her mother – and thoughts about her biological mother – with Joo-hee’s. Seon-u confronts his father, and even their argument concerns orphans. I’m glad that eventually Seon-u reverses this dynamic and is the one to give his father the ultimatum, but it’s still rather ham-handed, thematically. That isn’t to say it’s irrelevant or meaningless, but I don’t feel it’s the core of this show about friendship and loss either.
What this episode is building towards is Chan-young’s parents’ discovery of her diagnosis. All roads lead there, as they say, though Hyeon-jun breaks up with his girlfriend in the meantime if anyone cares about that. But any drama to be found in this episode is found at Chan-young’s parents’ place, where she’s summoned with haste (they found out about her and Jin-seok in the last episode, you’ll recall). The crossed wires here are what lead to the eventual reveal of the fact Chan-young’s dying, which her mother doesn’t handle the news of very well, naturally.
In a way, of course, this is an important, necessary step. The overarching story of the whole show is about Chan-young’s loved ones preparing to say goodbye to her, and that should really include her parents. (And it’s certainly a more justifiable excuse to discuss parents and their children than anything else here). But, as ever, the execution just feels a bit off. This doesn’t feel like a last goodbye because it isn’t, but then it doesn’t feel like the beginning of a new journey either, since there has been a lot of delay around them finding out. What this essentially means is that the revelation won’t – can’t, really – change things too much. The core story remains Chan-young getting things squared away before the end, but because of the show’s pace, the end feels many miles away.
In Chan-young sharing her impending fate with Sun-joo and suggesting to Jin-seok that he shouldn’t get divorced and that they should end things as friends, we do get a little note of finality that the show needs. But then the focus shifts rather inexplicably to Mi-jo meeting her biological mother in prison, flashing forward a little to create a kind of quasi-cliffhanger about how that meeting goes. Again, not a totally worthless plot, but in the exact wrong place, and at the exact wrong time. At this stage, it’s hard to imagine Thirty-Nine is going to course-correct before it limps to a conclusion.