A sober, emotionally heavy final chapter delivered with resonance courtesy of some phenomenal acting.
This recap of the K-Drama Netflix series Twenty-Five Twenty-One season 1, episode 16 — the finale and ending explained — contains spoilers.
As Twenty-Five Twenty-One comes to an end, a show which seemed to cram meaning into every last scene and make everything important, it’s worth praising both Kim Tae-ri and Nam Joo-hyuk. The pair have excellent chemistry on screen, and have really elevated the show’s emotional stakes. Buoyed by the intelligent writing, the two lead protagonists have helped ensure this is a show to remember.
Twenty-Five Twenty-One season 1, episode 16 recap – the finale and ending explained
We begin with Yi-jin opening a letter from one of his interview subjects in New York, who thanks him for his reporting despite her own personal tragedy involving her colleague. He later finds himself conversing with a firefighter, who tells him that life goes on through people doing their jobs no matter the circumstance. It seems to affect Yi-jin, who afterward turns to look at the application form for the foreign correspondent job he is considering taking. In the next scene, we see the confirmation that the journalist has secured the role and will now be placed in New York. “I still have hope for this world,” Yi-jin says, while looking mildly hesitant over his new venture.
At night, Yi-jin calls Hee-do, and they talk awkwardly. The journalist informs his partner that he will most likely be back in Korea the next month, only to find out that the fencer is unavailable due to her own commitments in Europe. Then, Yi-jin breaks the news about his new job, and Hee-do tearily congratulates him. When an apology comes over broken promises, the fencer wishes for him to stop feeling that way, and hangs up the phone.
Two months later, Ji-woong is taking pictures of people for his website, “Moonstreet”. He has fans, and quite a following too by the looks of things, but none of that matters when he hears the voice of Yu-rim call. “Am I dreaming?,” he says before softly slapping himself in the face. Of course, it isn’t a dream, and the two embrace warmly while arranging for Ji-woong to have a meal at Yu-rim’s home. It’s a nice, wholesome meeting, and everything seems to be going well for the long-distance couple. Elsewhere, Yi-jin arrives in Korea, but when he needs to use his laptop for work, realizes his bag had been switched at the airport with Hee-do’s. So he rushes back, hoping to find his partner, only to discover she had left his bag with the workers.
That evening, Yi-jin drops the bag off at Hee-do’s house, an act which leads to the fencer rushing to ask him why he left in the way he did. “Because I think I know what this means,” he says, and the two begin to talk about their dying relationship. “This love isn’t supporting me anymore,” Hee-do states, explaining that she just wants what they’re going through, with all the blaming, to stop. She accepts that they both mean a lot to each other, and Yi-jin wonders whether his girlfriend can go through with a breakup. But Hee-do is ready, and acknowledges that they won’t be able to ignore each other either. Yi-jin talks about how Hee-do’s house is the location they first met at, yet also the place where everything ends, and the two go their separate ways, deeply upset by their newfound loneliness. However, Yi-jin is unable to properly process the ordeal, as he is abruptly called to deal with the laptop matter from earlier.
The next day, a drunken Seung-wan greets Yi-jin excitedly, and floats around the idea that the friendship group should all get together now that Yu-rim and Hee-do are back in Korea. Before we get a proper answer, we cut straight to the catch-up, only to see that the journalist has not attended. When this fact is brought up, the breakup is announced by Hee-do, and she signals that the reason is their clashing schedules, as well as the journalist’s new job. Yu-rim asks if there is any chance that the two could get back together, and Hee-do states that they are done “for good.”
When replacing her broken phone (she had dropped it in her food), a rather unexpected nuisance arises for Hee-do. As it turns out, she can’t cancel the couple’s plan on her phone contract alone, leading to her needing to summon Yi-jin so it can be agreed upon mutually. It’s a comedic scene, particularly given it looks more like a divorce when the two sign their respective annulment contracts, but it still has a degree of impact given the two are swiftly moving on.
After walking together in the tunnel, Yi-jin wonders whether the former couple are doing the right thing. Hee-do informs him that they are, though, and that she’s thought about this outcome for six months now. “You’ve been thinking by yourself,” the journalist responds, but that only antagonizes his ex, who asks why that happened in the first place. In time, the two end up arguing, with Yi-jin explaining that he was doing his best to survive in a “living hell” and that the support he received was burdensome. But once more, Hee-do takes issue, wondering whether Yi-jin listened when she had said she was going to share everything that was his.
The argument worsens, and the journalist is firm in his stance that he didn’t want to bring his girlfriend down with him, before Hee-do adds that they were only lovers during the good times and a burden in the bad ones. As the mood softens, the fencer verbalises that she wishes their relationship stopped in the past, when they didn’t choose to become romantically involved. Hee-do expresses her regret in dating someone just like her mother, where all she does is wait, get let down, and then give up. “I don’t want that for my future, Yi-jin,” she says, rejecting his request that she has room to understand him by stating that he doesn’t try and understand her either.
When Hee-do asks if Yi-jin ever loved her, he gets stern, informing her that she needs to watch what she says. That seems to tip Hee-do over the edge, however, as she screams that he once liked her for being reckless. Finally, Yi-jin somewhat concedes that it should be over between the two, but when he backtracks slightly, Hee-do leaves in spite of her ex’s calling.
Flashing forward, Hee-do puts her all into fencing, and appears happy. She has plenty of friends, and a good sense of well-being. Or so it seems, as one day she collapses during training, ending up in hospital as a result. There, Jae-kyung fusses over her daughter, worrying over what’s wrong given that the tests didn’t show anything alarming. Hee-do laughs to herself, and informs her mum that Yi-jin and her have broken up, which triggers an angry reaction from the anchor, who threatens to call him. Jae-kyung wonders if they can do this breakup given the damage it’s caused, but again Hee-do accepts that it’s the right decision. With that being said, she does vocalise the fact that she holds regrets over how it ended. After a harsh night of reflecting, Hee-do writes in her diary that she didn’t want to say the words she did to Yi-jin.
The next day, Yi-jin sits solemnly on a bus, coincidentally departing at the same time Hee-do enters through a different door. Shortly after, it’s revealed that the fencer’s diary had been left on the vehicle, and so she asks the driver to contact her should it be found.
In the UBS office, Yi-jin packs his things, accepting a gift of a fancy pencil case from his friend, who informs him that he is making history by becoming a correspondent at his age. They talk warmly to each other, and the journalist discusses his ambitions to become someone he himself approves of. While collecting his belongings, we see that he decides to leave behind the pencil case he and Hee-do once won together. Later on, Yi-jin comforts the new trainee reporter, consoling him over his failings. But the journalist also appears saddened by his own words, and that night dreams of his and Hee-do’s joy during the beach trip of the past only to wake up crying.
After getting ready to leave his cramped room, Yi-jin sees off Seung-wan’s mother and prepares his things. Then, he stumbles across a delivery, which turns out to be Hee-do’s lost diary. He flicks through the pages, and discovers that the reason it came into his possession is due to the fact his duplicate registration card was stuck there. In darkness, he reads the diary properly, crying over the visible changes in the relationship that he sees, and finding himself affected further over his ex’s confession that she wished she spoke to him differently when they were breaking up.
While training, Hee-do receives a text telling her that Yi-jin is moving out that day. She ignores it at first, but soon turns to run in the hopes of finding him. As it turns out, Yi-jin is doing the same, dashing to his former love with the ambitions of going through a clean breakup. After some wrong steps, they do eventually find each other, shed tears of deep sincerity, and encourage each other softly. When Yi-jin goes to tie Hee-do’s lace, that’s when the waterworks truly break, the two emotionally embracing before they say their goodbyes to each other.
Seven years later, the president of UBS worries over the lack of qualified candidates for the anchor job Jae-kyung is vacating. Hee-do’s mother has a request for who her successor should be, though: none other than Yi-jin. And, despite hesitation over his age, the journalist successfully gets the job on the basis of leading the network’s reform centered around innovation.
As he moves back to Korea, we see that Yi-jin has succeeded in his ambition of reuniting his family, as his parents congratulate him over his success, and revel in the fact that they can live together after eleven years. When he starts his job, Jae-kyung congratulates him, and he thanks her for allowing him to dream. Elsewhere, Hee-do wonders why coach Yang has ended up back at Tae Yang High School, and talks about her potential retirement after her 20+ year career. She’s tired from the competing, and after a quick pros and cons list, coach Yang suggests they play a game of odds or evens to make the decision. It’s all a lesson though, about will, and whether Hee-do has it in her life-changing decision.
Meanwhile, Seung-wan falls asleep on the job as an assistant director for a variety show, finding herself disrupted by the tragic news of her father’s passing. At the funeral, she looks at the flowers sent by the whole friendship group, laughing at the gestures performed in their absence. That is until the trio of Ji-woong, Yu-rim and Hee-do arrive, setting up a reconvening between the foursome. There, it’s established that they don’t really get a chance to meet often anymore (Seung-wan comments that they only meet when someone dies), as well as the fact that Yu-rim and Ji-woong are planning on getting married, and that Hee-do herself has tied the knot with someone. Later on, Yi-jin arrives after the news, and catches up with Seung-wan alone.
While the old neighbours catch up, Seung-wan discusses her own job, in addition to the fact that Ji-woong now runs a successful fashion business, and that Yu-rim runs a high-paying fencing club positioned near an international school. When Seung-wan wonders if Yi-jin would like to hear about his ex, he simply says he’ll see it on the news. “At times, I miss the old days. We had fun,” Seung-wan suddenly says, a remark which triggers a quick nostalgia kick over the fact that Yi-jin held fondness for the group of high schoolers, and that they helped him get over his troubles. When Yi-jin gets set to leave, Yi-hyun arrives, boldly claiming that Seung-wan has kept him waiting long enough before giving her his number.
At Yu-rim’s fencing club, the former Olympian finds herself annoyed in a practice match with someone who claimed to need a medal. However, this all because it’s not actually an athlete at the other end of the gym, but rather Ji-woong, who is using the situation to propose to his girlfriend. His plan works, and the two hug in joy that they will be getting married. Elsewhere, Yi-jin gets ready to interview Hee-do after her San Francisco triumph, and we see both side’s nerves/anticipation.
As the interview scene we saw last week reruns, a heartfelt compilation of the Yi-jin and Hee-do’s memories as both friends and lovers plays, the fondness clear between the two even to this day. Afterwards, Hee-do talks to the press about her retirement, stating that her rivalry with Yu-rim is her most honourable moment. It’s a sentiment reciprocated by her friend, who is there to gift flowers in celebration of her career’s end.
In the present, Min-chae walks past the rental store her mother used to frequent, somewhere the owner stumbles on the missing diary of Hee-do’s when collecting his things. Yi-jin had actually given him that years ago, and he had forgotten. So, when Min-chae ends up with it in her possession, she is excited to finally read the missing chapter.
In a conversation with her mother, Min-chae confesses that she wishes to begin ballet again, a statement which pleases her mother, who smilingly asks what influenced the decision. The daughter wants the same experiences her mother had with fencing, giving her mother the final diary (that she had not looked in out of a hunger to write her own story) before she leaves the workshop. Hee-do settles down to read the instalment, reminiscing over her youth fondly but noticing that Yi-jin had also written in it to apologise too.
“My old diary found its way back to me, bringing back past regrets that I had forgotten about. The moment of our breakup haunted me, and I had wished to have it altered,” Hee-do narrates before a flashback talks about how she had kept him waiting in the tunnel for too long. In the hypothetical scene, where they didn’t argue in such a hostile manner, they talk openly about their lives, comfort, and life-changing love. Smiling warmly ahead of the tunnel, the present day Hee-do recalls her memories and how she remains fond of her youth. After a compilation of the friendship group spending time together in their younger days, the episode, and series, ends. However, there is a sweet epilogue where Yi-jin uses “Na Hee-do” as his security question answer to the question “who is your first love?” in an attempt to retrieve his password.
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