Doona! ending explained: The bittersweet finale hides a more clichéd resolution
Doona! may look like it ends on an unhappy note, but not all is as it seems.
Doona!, Netflix's latest South Korean hit, which is based on webtoon The Girl Downstairs, is a quiet meditation on letting go wrapped in a typical K-drama romance.
K-pop superstar Lee Doo-na (Bae Suzy) leaves showbiz behind to live a normal life, retreating to a house in Seoul where she meets newly arrived student Won-jun (Yang Se-jong).
This being a K-drama, they fall in love… and Won-jun takes a lot of showers.
It's not that simple, however. First, Won-jun's high school crush Kim Jin-ju (the excellent Ha-young) arrives at university.
Then, as Won-jun and Doo-na appear to work it all out, Doo-na's manipulative manager Park In-wook (Lee Jin-uk) works to split them up and bring Doo-na back to K-pop stardom – to the point that Doo-na's management company threatens legal action, while Won-jun devolves into an uncomfortably jealous K-drama cliché.
That all comes to a head in the final episode, with Doona! concluding its emotional story of letting go and the importance of community with Won-jun and Lee Doo-na torn apart – or does it?
Doona! ending explained
What happens to the gang?
While the love triangle in Doona! looms over the series for most of its runtime, the series is about a group of friends coming together under one roof and being best buds. But, as real life seeps in during later episodes, the group splits.
Doo-na returns to showbiz as a solo performer and Won-jun continues his studies.
Jin-ju, having shed the cute bob that marks her as the third-party in a K-drama love triangle, jets off to Brazil, while I-ra (Park Se-wan) shacks up with the taciturn Koo Jung-hoon (Kim Do-wan). And Seo Yun-taek (Kim Min-ho) finally teaches women who feel unlucky in love how to get back out there.
Miserable as Won-jun is, because that's his personality by this point, things appear to be moving smoothly for everyone – until Jin-ju comes to visit. She catches up with Won-jun and mutual pal Kook Su-jin (Joo Yeon-woo) in the latter's seafood restaurant, showing them her photos of the US and Brazil.
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Jin-ju then slides over to a photo of her and Doo-na from when Doo-na toured Brazil, pushing Won-jun into an even more sullen mood.
What happens to Doo-na and Won-jun?
Later, the gang reunites at the old house. It's rundown and covered in vines, and Jung-hoon wonders if it will be demolished.
As they reminisce about their time there over beers, Yun-taek tactlessly complains that the gang isn't complete without Doo-na, earning a reprimand from I-ra and a depressed look from Won-jun.
As he bundles them into a taxi, however, Won-jun returns to the house to retrieve his jacket, only to find Doo-na waiting for him, and the two share a bittersweet catch-up over drinks.
Doo-na asks how the gang are and, finally, whether Won-jun has listened to her music. We never hear the answer. Instead, we cut to Doo-na entering her empty, lifeless flat and breaking down.
She later rushes to Won-jun's apartment and confronts him, trying to break through his defences and demanding he apologise for treating her so coldly. He admits he regrets ending their relationship every day and they both confess to missing each other over a tearful hug.
It feels like there may be a reconciliation, but no… that's it.
We next see Won-jun, suited and alone, interviewing for a job before a glimpse of Doo-na's flourishing solo career.
Doona! comes to an end with Doo-na in Japan, walking into a mall and past screaming fans.
Inside, Won-jun peruses a bakery with an older colleague – apparently on a business trip. As Won-jun exits, he just passes Doo-na, who is walking the other way.
But when he points his superior in the right direction, Doo-na turns, looking for the source of the voice, and clearly recognises Won-jun, though he never turns to meet her gaze.
She walks away, Won-jun apparently oblivious, and the credits roll.
Why didn't Won-jun and Doo-na get together?
It's a refreshingly bittersweet ending to see the leads not end up together at the end of a K-drama. However, if you were watching closely, you will have realised that this isn't the case at all.
The first important thing to understand, which might only become clear in the final episode, is that Doona! isn't playing out in the present.
Rather, it's Doo-na's recollection, which is signposted at the end of episode 1, when her voiceover repeats the texts Won-jun sends her in episode 9. It's a reminder that the flow of time as we see it in Doona! might not be definitive.
This brings us to the short scenes that preface most episodes. In the first, Doo-na looks over a train crossing with a smile, while in the second it's Won-jun doing the gazing. That scene is presented from a different angle in episode 6, with Won-jun and Doo-na looking at each other across the crossing. The scene is repeated again in episode 7.
It would be easy to dismiss these brief moments at the end of the opening credits and overlaid with the series's title as part of the opening sequence. In fact, they all take place after the final scene in episode 9. We know this because they're all set in Japan. The show goes through great pains to remind us that Doo-na is due to tour Japan, something we see at the end of the final episode.
Won–jun wears the same outfit in the prefacing scenes of episode 8 and 9, as he does in that final mall scene, confirming they're in Japan – if, that is, all the signs being in Japanese and the latter scene showing Won-jun and Doo-na meeting by a lake with the base of Mount Fuji sloping in the background wasn't enough of a clue.
What does it all mean? It's pretty clear Doo-na and Won-jun are still secretly seeing each other, something that's likely been happening since their final episode confession. With her life so heavily monitored in South Korea, and having been told to break up with Won-jun, that's probably easier to do in Japan.
This becomes more obvious, however, if you've engaged with Lee Jung-hyo's previous work Crash Landing on You, in which a South Korean woman falls in love with a North Korean army officer. Kept apart at the end of the series, the two secretly date in Switzerland.
It is, in many ways, exactly the same ending.
Doona! can be read as a bittersweet and unfulfilled love story – indeed, it may be better that way – but a series of unsubtle clues let us know that the season actually ends in the same way as many K-romances, which is fitting, perhaps, given how hard it leans on K-drama clichés and tropes.
Courtesy of the slight ambiguity in its ending, Doona! is whatever you want it to be.
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