With this lovely and thoughtful show coming to a close, our heroine breaks from her life of serving others—her passengers, her coworkers, her friends, her family—and instead dares to be selfish for the first time in her life, igniting a bevy of conflicting emotions in her heart. And while guilt, fear, and uncertainty are valid emotions in light of such decisions, Su-ah finds that genuine happiness might be an emotion worth exploring, too.
EPISODE 15 RECAP
As Su-ah and Do-woo reunite, Kevin hurries to meet with a very irritable Jin-suk at his hotel. Jin-suk demands that they leave immediately to find Su-ah, but Kevin politely refuses to take him tonight—he can wait until morning.
Grandma Young-sook is busy packing her luggage for New Zealand when she receives a call from Jin-suk asking for Hyo-eun’s address. She digs for Hyo-eun’s letter and finds their Jeju address printed at the bottom.
Sitting in the gallery, Do-woo tells Su-ah about how shocked he was to watch his wife become someone else. But now, he says, he sees her as simply “someone” in his life—not his wife nor a friend, but someone who exists. He’s made peace with the fact that all relationships form and end in different ways, and Su-ah tells him she’s certain that Hye-won will be thankful to have that.
Suddenly noting the bandages on Su-ah’s wrist, he takes her hand and massages it, lamenting that she’s not used to manual labor. She tells him that she’s fine, but he uses the excuse to get her to stay a little longer.
Hyo-eun wakes up and calls out for Su-ah, but receives no response. When she gets up, however, she’s confronted by Jin-suk at the door. Without a choice, she lets him in, forced to admit that she doesn’t know where her mother is. As he looks around the house, he notes the kitchen table, remembering that she’d chosen it with Do-woo. Gritting his teeth in anger, he sends Hyo-eun to her room.
Hyo-eun tries calling her mom, but is interrupted by a loud noise outside. When she hurries out, she finds her father in the yard, furiously smashing the table with a rock. When that fails to break it, he picks up Hyo-eun’s potted plant and shatters it. Hyo-eun sinks to the ground in tears, sobbing that she’s sorry they lied to him.
Do-woo offers to walk Su-ah home, but she insists on going alone. Just as she reaches the house, she receives a text from Kevin, telling her Jin-suk is in Jeju, and that he’ll bring him to see her in the morning. But when she sees the overturned table in the yard and the empty house, Su-ah knows he’s already been by.
Panicked, Su-ah calls a terrified Hyo-eun, who is sitting in the airport with a silent Jin-suk—she’s returning to Seoul with him. When Hyo-eun gives Jin-suk the phone with shaking hands, Su-ah immediately demands that Jin-suk apologize to Hyo-eun for scaring her. She tells him she’s heading there right now, swearing that she doesn’t care what he does to her.
Jin-suk turns to Hyo-eun, finally seeing how scared she is. He takes her hand in his, telling her it’s time to leave and not to worry about Su-ah: “If we go to Seoul, your mom will come, too.” Pulling her into a hug, he promises to buy her a new flowerpot when they return to Seoul.
By the time Su-ah arrives at the airport and calls Hyo-eun again, there’s no answer. The next morning, Do-woo walks to Su-ah’s house only to find the overturned table and shattered flowerpot. He calls Su-ah, demanding to know where she is, and then heads straight to the airport to find her in the lobby. Leaning into his embrace, an exhausted Su-ah tells him that she’s leaving on the next flight to Seoul.
Meanwhile, Jin-suk carries a sleeping Hyo-eun to his mother’s house. He has a flight in the afternoon, and since Young-sook is leaving for New Zealand, he tells her not to worry about leaving Hyo-eun at home—he knows Su-ah will be there soon.
Young-sook agrees, but has one piece of advice: be nicer to Su-ah. She tells him she had to deal with it from Jin-suk’s father her whole life, so she knows what it’s like. Jin-suk, however, tells him that none of this is his fault: “I’m not even a little bit guilty.” Ohmigod, this dude.
Back at Su-ah’s house, Do-woo brings the damaged table back inside. He looks at the scratches in the surface as Su-ah packs her things, and asks if Jin-suk has always had violent tendencies. When she denies it, he tells her that the biggest mistake he ever made was blindly believing whatever Annie told him; when he found out that Annie was lying, it was too late to help her.
Still, Su-ah promises that she can take care of Jin-suk. She tells him that this is a problem for her family, and she doesn’t want to involve Do-woo in that. At her words, Do-woo recalls thinking the exact same thing about his problems with Hye-won, when he swore not to let Su-ah be at fault for his personal problems.
Su-ah tells him that she doesn’t know many of the details of the struggles he faced with Hye-won in Seoul, but that that’s the reason they can be together now. “Just wait for me for a few days,” she says. “I’ll be back soon.” Grimly, he gets up without a word.
Sensing the tense mood, Su-ah puts on a bright face and tells him she can head to the airport by herself. She still has some time before her flight though, so he brings her back to the gallery for a cup of tea. As they sit together, Do-woo tells her that what he feels right now is just how he felt when he met Jin-suk for the first time but was unable to say anything: helpless. At his words, Su-ah recalls the same feeling from when she met Hye-won and got slapped. Do-woo: “It forced me to remember what you and I are to each other.”
They fall silent for a long moment, and then Su-ah smiles: “We’re fighting now, aren’t we? Is this our first fight?” Do-woo insists that this is nothing close to a fight, but Su-ah just cutely revels in the feeling of doing something she’s never done before.
She says there’s one more thing that she wants to do for the first time, and at his questioning look, she leads him outside and points down the street: “I want to walk from here to there, holding hands, without caring who sees us.” Do-woo smiles and takes her hand, and they walk together down the street.
As they walk, however, the realtor passes by and notes their clasped hands. Su-ah tenses up, but Do-woo leads her away, wrapping his arm around her shoulder: “Without caring who sees us,” he reminds her. She nods, and they fall into a tight embrace.
Do-woo sends Su-ah off at the airport. She smiles brightly, but as she walks away from his grim figure, her smile fades away into worry.
At Incheon Airport, Jin-suk spots a notice on the bulletin board recruiting employees to work in Auckland, New Zealand. He tears it off and crumples it up.
Meanwhile, Hyo-eun and Young-sook share cute hugs and near-teary goodbyes before Young-sook drives off in her taxi. When she’s home alone, Hyo-eun flips through photos of Aunt Jin-sook in front of her big New Zealand house. A flashback shows us that Hyo-eun told Young-sook that she promised her mother that she’d think hard about where she wants to live when she grows up.
At the airport, Young-sook texts Su-ah to tell her that she’s leaving to live in New Zealand. She tells her that she and Hyo-eun are welcome any time, before she wishes her daughter-in-law a good life in the future.
Do-woo returns to the gallery and is surprised to find Annie’s bead now sitting on one of the shelves—Su-ah had left it there as a promise to come back. He quietly puts out an official wooden sign to indicate Grandma’s gallery, and the realtor is the first to notice. She laments the lame silence of his “grand” opening, but he rejects her suggestion to have a formal event. She loiters outside the door for a moment, but his uninviting attitude sends her scurrying away without looking inside.
Su-ah finally arrives back to her house in Seoul to find Hyo-eun nagging Je-ah for his poor cooking skills. Su-ah takes over as Hyo-eun sets the table, and as she cooks up some kimchi fried rice, she pauses for a moment and wonders: “What is this? It feels so familiar.”
As Hyo-eun and Je-ah dig in, Je-ah asks if Su-ah is done with Jeju now, saying that Young-sook seems to be expecting them in New Zealand. Su-ah says no, adding that she and Hyo-eun will return to Jeju soon, but Hyo-eun surprises her: “Jeju is a possibility. I’m thinking really hard about where I want to live in the future.”
After dinner, Su-ah sits Hyo-eun down for a talk, telling her that life is full of decisions, but all that matters is that Hyo-eun puts herself at the center of those decisions. “If you ignore your deepest desires, you’ll continue to ignore them forever,” she says. “Even if you regret your choices later, you can face those regrets when they come.” She promises to support Hyo-eun’s decision no matter what.
Abroad, Jin-suk and Mi-jin drop into a bar and run into the rest of the flight crew having drinks. They start to leave, but Jin-suk asks to join them instead. Over cocktails, Jin-suk says that his and Su-ah’s relationship was ideal—since their jobs put them both on the move, they shared only 51% of their lives with each other, allowing both freedom and privacy.
Joo-yeon wonders if that means Jin-suk would leave Su-ah to fool around, and Jin-suk coolly confirms that he would. Mi-jin just watches him with a knowing look, and sure enough, Jin-suk lies awake in bed that night: “I’ll kill them all,” he says to himself. Eek.
Su-ah meets up with Hyun-joo Unni in her café and asks if Hyun-joo could ever live thinking only of herself. Hyun-joo laughs, saying her past self could certainly afford to, but now she lives for her kids and husband. But, she says, life is strange in that she’ll return to that lonely life the day her kids grow up.
As Su-ah walks home, she calls Do-woo. She tells him she’ll return soon, but for the time being, something’s come up: Hyo-eun is trying to decide between New Zealand and Jeju. She mentions that Hyo-eun was originally supposed to go to New Zealand but went to Malaysia instead, and Do-woo smiles: “And that’s how she met Annie… and that’s where the story began.”
Su-ah tells him that Do-woo’s house in Jeju reminds her of her childhood and the happiness and warmth of being with family. Do-woo tells her to that if she misses something, she should run for it: “Live like that from now on.” Connected through the phone, they walk together.
The next day, Su-ah and Hyo-eun video chat with Young-sook and Jin-sook in New Zealand. Young-sook gushes to Hyo-eun about all of the soccer fields there and wonders why they’re even hesitating over this decision, especially now that Jin-suk will be working there. Su-ah is surprised to hear that, but Young-sook confirms that he found a position in Auckland.
After they hang up, Hyo-eun looks through photos of New Zealand, marveling at how pretty it is. Su-ah starts to remind her that her friends in Jeju are planning a winter camping trip, but Hyo-eun just quietly closes her eyes and puts her hand over her heart.
After a moment, she decides: “Mom, I want to go to New Zealand.” She smiles, excited about the prospect of their whole family living together again. Hyo-eun insists that she’s been thinking about it for a long time, and this is her final decision. Knowing she promised to respect Hyo-eun’s decision, Su-ah just smiles, unable to say anything.
Do-woo calls Hye-won, and they share pleasantries about her studies and how Grandma’s gallery is going. When they hang up, Hye-won’s business friend comes in with a package that someone just dropped off for her. She opens it to find several pictures of herself, Annie, and Grandma laughing and crafting ornaments. Tearing up, Hye-won recalls the day it was taken and remembers that Suk was the one who took the photo. Sure enough, Suk walks outside, a wistful smile on his face.
Hye-won drops by Hyun-woo’s restaurant after work, and Hyun-woo and Ji-eun surprise her with confetti to send her off. Hye-won holds back tears of gratitude.
Su-ah receives another “manual” from Jin-suk, instructing her to board the flight to New Zealand with Hyo-eun, and that he and Je-ah will take care of the rest. She calls him but he doesn’t answer, and when she gets home, a realtor is already showing the house to a prospective buyer. As they pack their luggage, Su-ah once again tells Hyo-eun that she doesn’t have to rush into any decisions, but Hyo-eun promises that this is what she really wants.
Mi-jin is resting in her hotel room when Su-ah calls, asking to talk to Jin-suk. Mi-jin hurries to Jin-suk’s room to give him the phone, but at that moment, the rest of the crew comes back just in time to see them. Wary of the attention, he tells Su-ah that he’ll call back later and shuts himself back in his room.
Still, it works in getting Jin-suk to call. Su-ah tells him that she can’t go to New Zealand before they have a proper conversation first. He tells her to go ahead, but when she can’t articulate her words, he guesses her meaning: “You want to know why I’m being so nice? Because I’m trying to make this work.” He tells her he could do much more than yell at her and break her furniture, but he won’t, “Because we’re family.”
But Su-ah laughs at the notion, telling him that she’s tried to deal with his fragmented idea of family all this time. She realizes now that family is a choice, and she was never okay with the “family” Jin-suk provided. Jin-suk scoffs that she should be apologizing and begging before saying any of this to him, and Su-ah quickly agrees: “I’ll beg. I’ll do anything, so let’s meet.”
Jin-suk quickly changes his tune, saying she doesn’t have to beg or apologize after all. He simply tells her to come to New Zealand, and they’ll have long conversations there. He hangs up before she can respond. To himself, he swears that Su-ah’s real pain will start now. Yikes.
As Hyo-eun finishes packing, Su-ah tells her she has something to say. She finally explains that she hasn’t made up her mind to leave Jeju yet, even though the place she wants to be most is right beside Hyo-eun. “Do you think I can be beside you even though we’re apart?” she asks. “Wherever I am, my heart is with you.”
To Su-ah’s surprise, Hyo-eun just smiles back, saying she understands. She pulls out a framed photo of Annie, saying that her friend once told her that she missed her parents, but that she knew they still loved her very much. “No matter what others say, I know you love me,” Hyo-eun tells her. “I can be strong.”
Do-woo waits for Su-ah by the ocean, recalling how Annie waited for her dad for so long in her field. He realizes now that if he’d followed her into the field just once, he’d never have left her alone. “Am I staying outside again now?” he wonders. Making a sudden decision, he storms out and drives to the airport.
Su-ah waits with Hyo-eun for her flight to New Zealand, looking worried and guilty. She tells Hyo-eun that if she ever feels uneasy, she can come right back, but Hyo-eun insists that she’s thought hard about her decision. She tells Su-ah to let her know when she’s made up her mind: “I’ll respect your decision, too,” she promises.
Su-ah gives Hyo-eun one last hug before letting her go. Hyo-eun is well taken care of by Su-ah’s former coworkers even on the flight, and she opens up her journal to write: “My flight with Mom.”
Su-ah sits alone in the airport, repeating to herself: “Think only about myself. Think only about myself.” But it’s not long before the tears fall and Su-ah sobs Hyo-eun’s name again and again.
I know you feel horrible, but I’m so proud of you, Su-ah! Now that the show is coming to a close, I feel comfortable saying that I think Airport has addressed Su-ah’s challenges with great pacing and emotional realism. In particular, I think this final conflict of Su-ah’s role as a mother and human being as well as her relationship with the notion of family was confronted with a lovely balance of sensitivity and heart; even better, it’s the perfect conclusion to her journey thus far. Everything she’s learned from her emotional struggles and experiences culminate in this realization that she is her own person—but that in no way means she has to be an island.
Su-ah, after all, has lived her whole life being the helper, the pillar, the server to everyone else: As a flight attendant, she had to smile and oblige her passengers, disregarding whatever true emotions she might have been feeling. As an obedient wife, she had to keep the house in order and pretend to be happy, distancing herself from her own desires. As a mother, a daughter-in-law, and an understanding friend, she let herself be trampled because she felt that was how she could satisfy others. And while that wasn’t a total sacrifice—she does feel happiest when others are happy as well—she had to suppress many of her true feelings to be that pillar.
This final familial conflict is so important because it brings together all of Su-ah’s supporting roles and lets her decide to overcome them. I loved what she said to Jin-suk in this episode that “family is a choice,” something that she never realized until she met Do-woo. As both a feminist and a devoted daughter, I love the idea that a mother is allowed to be selfish and, above all, human; the idea that mothers should sacrifice their own happiness for their children is one that is suffocating, terrible, and unfortunately prevalent in many stories about mothers. I love that Airport champions this theme of the validity of everyone’s emotional happiness.
That theme is doubly represented in the narrative of her relationship with Do-woo, which is why I personally find their affair not only wonderful, but also believable. I adore that Su-ah chose to resolve her issues with Jin-suk on her own rather than hide behind Do-woo to solve them for her. Once again, I feel that this show has allowed Su-ah to find her path through Do-woo, rather than let her path be Do-woo. It’s an extremely important distinction to make, especially in dramaland, which tends to romanticize protective men. Instead, Do-woo is explicitly shown to respect her decision, showing that sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to let them face their difficulties rather than shelter them from harm. In a sense, that same need to understand (rather than guide) others is shown in Hyo-eun and Su-ah’s relationship. As a part of her growth, Su-ah became a mother who gives her own lessons and experiences to Hyo-eun. She fights for Hyo-eun’s happiness not by forcing it, but by letting her find her own way to the airport (pun so, so intended).
The show also could have created some boring and unnecessary drama in making Do-woo upset about her lack of reliance on him, but instead, it let him explore his own love through restraint. In what I thought was a really beautiful parallel this episode, Do-woo identifies with her marital struggle with Jin-suk by comparing the same challenge he had with Hye-won. I could talk about that parallel forever—especially because Airport has been so great at making them throughout the show—but what really made that detail for me was that it marks why they need each other: They understand each other. They met in that way, during their first phone call when he understood her concerns about sending Hyo-eun abroad. And they end that way now, with his marital problems allowing him to understand that he should let her face her own. Do-woo shows that the reason Su-ah needs him is not because she needs a man in her life, but because he allows her to be the strong, independent person she wants to be. If that’s not swoonworthy, I don’t know what is.
As a final note, reading the comments for this show has been consistently interesting, because everyone seems to have different thresholds for forgiveness for the relationships and interactions between our characters. For me, it brought up the question: What exactly is cheating? Is it emotional, is it physical, is it legal? Do-woo and Su-ah were definitely and undeniably cheating if it is the latter two, but if we base it purely on our feelings, they have been nothing but pure. Do-woo did not love Hye-won as a wife or a lover, which he made explicitly clear to her (if sometimes his empathy and concern for her might have blurred that line). As such, did she have a right to be so angry? Perhaps, since she was wronged. Perhaps not, since if she loved Do-woo, she would allow Su-ah to take her place and give him the happiness he could only get from her. It’s a complicated issue, and one that I think the show has done a great job of making us think about.