18 Again: Episodes 15-16 Review

Why do good dramas have to come to an end? That’s my biggest complaint about 18 Again right now. But it’s also true that when you drag out your goodbyes, they lose their potency, and although the drama really worked hard to stretch itself over sixteen episodes, the finale was nothing short of perfection.

Saner, Anisa and I gather one last time to say our farewells to a show that brought us so much laughter, happiness, and tears (both kinds) over the last two months, and the fulfilment of all our wishes. Settle in with your tissues, friends. 😭

 

Saner: Friends. FRIENDS. FRIENDS. *sniff* This show did the impossible, delivering everything I asked for on my drama wishlist last week AND THEN SOME and that which it didn’t give me, I realised I didn’t need. I ran into this week screaming, “IT’S FINALE WEEK!” and have run out the other end, nose snotty, heart full, faith restored. Ack. I’m bordering on incomprehensibility with my emotions.

Saya: I would like to say on the record that I ALWAYS believed. Even in the week(s) you two didn’t. I am patient and can wait for my payoffs. And what a beautiful payoff it was. 😭😭😭

Anisa: To be clear, my happiness with this finale in no way erases my complaints about Episodes 11-14, Saya. 😂 I was thinking of you during the finale, Saner! When the show fulfilled your wishlist, and I think everyone else’s too. We (me, my mom and my sister) were ALL crying. Such a satisfying, heartfelt finale. I’m sad to say goodbye to all these people.

Saner: Heck yes. Episode 16 was a long goodbye and yet, still too short. I miss all the characters already and want more more more. It’s almost devastating to know that I don’t get to watch those brilliantly warm moments play out anymore.

Saya: Do you ever feel like sometimes something is so perfect that you have lost all ability to talk about it? It demands contemplative silence with your hearts (and eyes) so, so full. Also hours of YouTube therapy with all those bonus videos JTBC has been putting out for weeks that I just discovered. And I can watch Lee Do-hyun play ajusshi for another twelve hours easy (which he totally does in these extras!). This show has put him on the map like nobody’s business.

Anisa: 100%. We were watching that scene where he throws basketballs one after another and begs to go back, crying in despair, and I just turned to my family and was like, “Where the heck did this kid come from? This is only his second role! Why is he so good?” Like who even remembers him from 30 but 17?!

Saner: YESSSSSSSS!!! The dumb friend—not even Friend #2 who looked old, just the third henchman there to round out the numbers. He went from Friend #3 to doing an absolutely solid/fantastic/amazing/stupendous/STUNNING job as the young ajusshi and gah, I wish him all the awards and recognition. That basketball scene looked like it physically hurt to be that emotional. It was so well-flipping-done!

Saya: Especially if you compare him to Ahn Hyo-sup right now—Lee is easily faaaar the superior actor in light of this show, whereas Ahn Hyo-sup remains cute but average (and a total waste of Park Bo-young).

Lee Do-hyun in 30 But 17

And! I didn’t even realise that he was the same guy in Hotel Del Luna (in a not-insignificant role), which I loved but not for him. I read in one of the behind-the-scenes that he tended to stay in character all the time on set, and that totally shows.

Anisa: He’s definitely getting major recognition in the 2020 Goguma Awards. I also have to say, though, I found Kim Haneul to be really good here too, and she’s not an actress I’ve found memorable in the past. Mostly it’s been down to her roles—I’ve always found her serviceable but not particularly charismatic. But Da-jung is like, the role she was BORN to play.

Saner: I’ve never ever seen her in anything—but my feelings for my Queen Da-jung are well recorded.

Saya: I’ve only seen her in one other project, the 2011 film Blind, in which Yoo Seung-ho co-starred alongside her (and coincidentally was Park Bo-gum’s screen debut!). She was very good in that, playing a rookie police officer who loses her sight after a horrible accident that killed her brother.

(P.S. I see we are not talking about me sending midnight threats that Lee Do-hyun had BETTER win a Goguma or else. 🤣)

Anisa: I have to admit, my opinion is probably coloured by the bad taste left in my mouth by A Gentleman’s Dignity, which semi-soured me on the entire cast for a bit. Saya, your threats are irrelevant because they were totally unnecessary! There was no other possible candidate for Puppy of the Year. You just preemptively came out swinging when no one was planning to fight you! 😂

Saner: Also, shout out to Ji-ho for working out the truth about Dae-young in one day, where it took other fully grown adults months to connect those dots.

Saya: Oh man, it was so satisfying. But you know, I still really wish the kids had learned it, eventually at least. I’ve thought all week about Woo-young, and how impossible it would be not to grieve the loss of a friend like that for literally the rest of your life. I mean, Woo-young was a character of his own, even if he was Dae-young playing a role. He was still real to Shi-woo and Shi-ah in such important ways, and that deserved a recognition and honouring of its own.

Anisa: I feel complex about this. During the first quarter of Episode 15, which I kind of hated to be honest, I was yelling at the screen for them to stop running around on ridiculous dates that might leave sketchy evidence behind, and TELL THE KIDS!

But after everything was said and done, I was actually okay with the kids never finding out. Because Woo-young did give everyone who really needed it a proper goodbye. That moment with Shi-woo was incredibly moving, and now Woo-young’s not his only friend, because Ja-sungie and the basketball bros have adopted him. *sniff* Woo-young had that little chat to Hye-in about how Deok-jin wasn’t his real dad and she should give him another chance. And I think having their parents get divorced and reunite in the space of a few months was probably enough upheaval for them at that stage in their life. An epilogue of him telling them two years later would’ve been fun, though.

Saner: I’m purely Team Never Tell the Kids—it would be like such a huge invasion of their privacy! Like your dad having read your diary or something *shudder* I think it’s enough that Ji-ho knows—he has a funny kind of wisdom that means he can smile wryly about the whole thing and deflect well. Loved seeing him on his date with Shi-ah and how that tied in to Da-jung and Dae-young/Woo-young’s date too!

Saya: Gosh I was so convinced that the couple would be busted any minute, just for one last crisis. I had to keep reminding myself, oh this is not that show. And you’re right, Anisa, it did take its time to give each connection a meaningful closure. Maybe it’s just me mourning Woo-young.

Anisa: I was like, Why are you taking this polaroid you will never be able to show anyone? What if the kids found it and thought Mom was dating their friend? And I was frustrated at this sudden romantic interlude when they had a ton of stuff to talk about. But I realised later in the episode that it maybe took them some time to be hit with reality—in the moment, they were just enjoying their reunion. (Still mystified as to how much more smoochy-time Kim Haneul has with Lee Do-hyun than with Yoon Sang-hyun though.)

Saya: I have some general thoughts about the smoochy-time issue. What I’ve seen come up with several married and slightly older actresses—like Kim Hee-sun, Lee Young-ae, Lee Na-young, Lee Bo-young, to name a few—is that they tend to go for more dramatic, less romantic projects, but when they do do romances, they remain quite physically chaste in the role. I can’t find a source for this right now, but it’s an impression I’ve gathered from various readings over the years, and I know that was definitely specifically the case for Kim Hee-sun in Faith (and note that her later projects also follow that trend). But I also notice that several of them have romanced with younger actors, and in the behind-the-scenes and variety outings for 18 Again, Kim Haneul certainly seems to be more relaxed with Lee Do-hyun than with Yoon Sang-hyun. I guess the wide age gap allows them to cut away the formality and settle into a comfortable, non-threatening, noona-dongsaeng dynamic. Let’s get back on-topic though. 😅

Anisa: I’ve noticed that in general, there are some married actors (male and female) who do stay away from overtly romantic roles. I remember Hwang Jung-min saying in an interview once that he stopped doing romances after he got married out of consideration for his wife. There’s certainly less of an expectation in K-ent to expect spouses to be “cool” about everything their partner does onscreen, although I’m sure it’s a spectrum according to each couple’s specific dynamic. But I’ve never really thought about it being different with a younger actor—that’s an interesting observation. But yes, back on topic.

Saner: I was convinced she was going to have to have to burn those pictures! I am just pleased Yoon Sang Hyun got some (my “Oska-oppa” supporting heart has been soothed finally after all these years). I sat there like “What are you doing?!” on their date but they were so happy to be reunited…and then, reality: “Oh, is that your son?” Da-jung had had enough scandals at that point without trying to explain such a weird situation. It meant that her decision to let him go at the end of Episode 15 felt really understandable to me. Not just our usual Noble Idiocy trope but actually, this magical moment is a pretty big obstacle they can’t get around, so maybe just live the life that you always secretly wanted? And I LOVE that the drama was confident in itself enough to say, “This is the story we’re telling—not one about whether he loves basketball or his wife more, but about which choices you regret or not.”

Anisa: Agreed. I love that the catalyst for her breaking up with him this time was tied to why she asked for a divorce before: the regrets he had about their life together, and her guilt about holding him back—it remained the same core issue between them. The moment he changed back to his real self was the moment he embraced the lesson he needed to learn: that the life he lived is the one he wants, and that his family is the real dream he can’t let go of.

Saner: Speaking of dreams, the realisation that his ‘dream’ of going back was an actual memory and tie in to Ji-hoon and his brother’s arc impressed me more than it probably should’ve.

Anisa: OOH you’re so right. That was an excellent reveal, and it made me totally forgive the show for pulling this last minute plotline out of its armpit.

Saner: Though the actual accident was super traumatic—I nearly passed out at home, never mind poor Dae-young as an actual witness—it meant it gave him and Ji-hoon a moment to bond aaaaaaaaaand a reason to meet Seo-yeon whilst cheering Ji-hoon on in his game!

Saya: I really loved how he introduced himself to Ji-hoon at the end as well, with all its layers of meta only he and we know: “I’m your fan.” And how even that was the conclusion of this show-long journey from love to rivalry to respect and deep sincerity.

Anisa: I know we were mostly fantasising last week, but they DID adopt Ji-hoon after all and I love it so much 😭

Saya: This isn’t a real complaint, but also it is: there was NEVER enough Shi-woo in this show. And I am not petty enough to resent it, but I definitely wanted more. Shi-ah got a much more thorough exploration than her brother.

Anisa: I did feel that too. And it was a pretty weird choice given that Woo-young was far closer to Shi-woo, whereas Shi-ah kept a bit of a distance from him. She got more of his time both as Woo-young and Dae-young, because he was caught up in love-triangle (-square?) misunderstandings as his young self, and then the relationship between father and daughter was really the one that took centre stage. But what about Shi-woo’s bankbook? I wanted to cry with him over his dad’s transactions too!

Saner: We didn’t even get any Shi-woo-only flashbacks! I was hoping we might get some of him and Dae-young just before his big game…but he always explained it instead. Darn you for your eloquence, Shi-woo!

Saya: I also appreciated how visually well-matched the actors were to play each other’s family members. Like how Roh Jung-eui (Shi-ah) bears quite a marked resemblance to Han So-eun, the actress playing young Da-jung, or how Ryeoun (Shi-woo) and Lee Do-hyun also have that similar look and styling, YET: Do-hyun is just a little bit bigger, his voice just a little deeper, all of which maintain that sense of Shi-woo’s “smallness” vs. Woo-young’s/Dae-young’s “largeness”, which stands in for protective fatherly strength. So Shi-woo is very clearly his father’s son in that not only has he inherited his talents and looks, but also he is—very clearly—THE CUB.

Anisa: True, and adorable. The casting was A+ across the board. The family members were all perfectly suited to each other, as you point out, but even the minor characters were played by the exact right people. Kim Yuri has such a distinctive, delicate look and fairy-like voice, with a core of steel, that perfectly suits Hye-in. And makes it 100% relatable that Deok-jin would fall in love at first sight. And of course, Wi Ha-joon as Ji-hoon gave me my first case of Second Lead Syndrome since Bae Soo-bin in Shining Inheritance.

Saner: And he did a blimmin’ good job of trying to steal all our hearts with his adorable cherry blossom wish and bumbling parenting of his niece. He might need to slow down on the ice cream though or Seo-yeon will have no teeth left by middle school! 🤣🤣 So glad that Da-jung could mentor him in that relationship and they stayed easy friends.

Saya: Even though he tried to act all fake-cool and be like, “Well I guess we can’t be friends.” WHO SAYS. Thank you Da-jung for nipping that melodramatic impulse very firmly in the bud. 😂

Saner: So many moments this week made me happy, like they were sprinkling confetti of joy and wish-fulfilment all over the place! How can real life even compare? 😭😅

Anisa: Real life could never.

Saner: We even, as Saya predicted, had Dae-young coaching basketball…for little kids.

Saya: Bwahahaha, I cackled so hard! A part of me was a bit disappointed that he wasn’t in the big leagues, but then I thought about it and decided it was perfect. Dae-young was never about competing to be better than others. He was about pulling everyone in and making something bigger than themselves.

Anisa: Yes! I was like, Saya was right! And you know, I usually hate it when they redeem everyone (and I did side-eye the sexist director’s sudden about-face in regards to Da-jung), but I’m actually happy Yumi came over to the light side. How fitting that it was by uploading Da-jung saving her in one of her epic hero moments. And I love that they still gently rib her about how evil she used to be.

Saner: And getting payback via another colleague who blanked her, and then admitting that yeah, I used to be like that but I’m not now. That ability to reflect (as well as constructively helping Da-jung with the video release!) made her really likeable towards the end. She was the maknae after all—she had a lot of learning to do!

Saya: Yumi’s redemption was surprising and so sweet. I can’t believe they made me like her so much after all that! A little self-awareness really goes such a long way.

Anisa: I am a tiny bit resentful that Da-jung never found out she was the first place recruit, but in my head Anchor Heo—now Director Heo—will tell her one day over coffee as they reminisce about the old days.

Saya: !!! You’re right, she didn’t!

Saner: Mmmm, but Da-jung was always brilliant at what she’d done so I don’t think that would have made too much of a difference. We’ve seen her be brilliant and still have opportunities taken away from her because…of whatever stupid reason could be pulled out of someone’s backside. Her predicament was born out of the issue Da-jung has always had in the workforce—other people’s prejudices towards her. Which! The reveal that that snotty reunion friend was the original evil commenter….!!

Anisa: That was GREAT. And the comeuppance of Ae-rin leaving her high and dry at the police station! And them completely leaving her out of the reunion! *cackles*

Saya: And good God, Ae-rin is also SUCH A QUEEN.

Saner: YEEEEHHHHSSS wearing that white suit whilst striding into the police station like the big ol’ boss that she truly is…! I am now a little in love with Lee Mi-do too!

Anisa: I also love the implication that Da-jung’s colleague basically fell for her as he watched (who wouldn’t?), and waited to meet her again until Da-jung’s wedding. I ship it.