There’s no doubt that this show has been a great success and it delivers a finale that showcases all its strengths – the versatile cast, poetic dialogue, cinematic direction and thematic depth. While I still have issues with the final 3 episodes in the series, and I’ll talk about that after commenting on what I felt were the strong moments in the finale.
Wang Yeo and Sunny’s final farewell
It seems like the two of them have never had a moment of joy ever since the revelation of their identity, yet every time they meet on the bridge and regardless of the number of times they say goodbye, the pain still feels so raw and real. She has decided to leave this time, because she can’t forgive Wang Yeo as much as she wants to. Yet before she leaves, she wants to see him one last time and even asks him for a hug. Wang Yeo doesn’t resist her decision, even though he really wants to – all he does is nod when she’s speaking and lets her go. Unlike the young king who refused to let Kim Sun make her own decision and forced her to make a choice between him and her brother, Wang Yeo completely respects Sunny’s decision, even to leave him, regardless of how much pain it causes him. His willingness to let her go and to respect her decision shows the depth of his love for her.
Wang Yeo forgiving the servant-girl who served him poison
This was one of the most meaningful scenes in the episode for me. Wang Yeo shares with the girl that becoming a Reaper is a punishment for having committed suicide. He adds that Reapers have no identity, yet have to live in a home and have to eat food to stay alive, because the ultimate goal is to make them desperate for life and want to live life again. It’s a great life-affirming message and so apt that it comes after Sunny’s departure where he has displayed his greatest act of love in this lifetime.
Kim Shin and Eun Tak’s wedding
Beyond the fact that the buckwheat field is stunningly beautiful, this scene is also meaningful because the field was exactly where they signed the contract too that Goblin would return during the first snow when Eun Tak summoned him. That contract becomes the very reason why their marriage is possible. It also symbolises them overcoming the fate that has been set for them, that one has to die in order for the other to live. The direction in this scene is top notch – so private, so perfect, so sweet – unfortunately, the perfection of the scene is exactly why I already sensed something would go wrong in no time.
Eun Tak’s death
Just as their marriage was an act of their will, Eun Tak’s death also comes about due to her decision to save the school children – a spontaneous act of sacrifice that couldn’t have been foreseen by the gods or Kim Shin; an act of sacrifice that only humans can make for themselves.
Prior to the marriage, we see her telling Wang Yeo that she has made peace with death and has resolved to live each day perfectly, as if it’s her last. She’s completely at peace with what happens when she meets Kim Shin in the tea room and decides not to drink the tea of oblivion, so that she can meet him in her next life.
It was also structurally beautiful to see how the end of Wang Yeo’s term as a Reaper coincided with Sunny’s death, thus allowing both of them to walk into the afterlife together and thus be reincarnated at the same time.
I thought having Kim Shin outside of the window of the tearoom looking in was a beautiful parallel to him walking alongside her in the Goryeo era, while she sat in the sedan on her way to get married to Wang Yeo. The departure of both Reaper and Sunny unfortunately returns Goblin to his alone state again, with completely nobody beside him – the only difference this time is that it’s a choice he has made on his own, rather than a destiny or punishment thrust upon him by the deities.
Now, onto the issues I had with the final 3 episodes…
While I did enjoy the final two episodes more than episode 14, I still question whether the removal of Goblin from the memories of those who knew him, namely Eun Tak, was a good choice dramatically. While it did help to extend the reunion between Goblin and Eun Tak, it also made some parts of episode 14 seem rather draggy and repetitive, especially since we knew that Eun Tak’s memories would definitely return at some point. It might have been even more meaningful to show how Eun Tak decided to move on and live strongly after Goblin had left. Also, Kim Shin and Kim Sun’s reunion seemed far too brief and it would have been nice to see how Kim Sun reacted to the death of her brother, which was largely unexplored in this series.
Also, I felt that the final three episodes was in many ways more style than substance. We had many scenes that deliberately paralleled previously scenes to show structural similarity, but it would have been more meaningful to have actual conversations. For example the scene highlighted above where Kim Shin stands outside the window to see Kim Sun. Is there any reason why he’s standing outside rather than in the tea room to say goodbye – to give Reaper and her a private moment? I understand why Reaper wouldn’t approach Kim Sun, but why didn’t Kim Shin go to find Kim Sun after he knew her memories were still retained?
Finally, and this is on a more personal note, I am not entirely comfortable with the message that the show is ultimately trying to convey. It seems to suggest that we can find hope in the next life for issues that we can’t be resolved in this life, or for happiness that cannot be attained in this life. While the show’s worldview is consistent in that it has established a world where everybody has four lives and happiness is ultimately achieved, it’s not necessarily a very affirming and meaningful message for those watching the show. Why couldn’t Kim Sun work through her unforgiveness and find peace with Reaper in this life? Given that Kim Shin and Eun Tak already got married and been perfectly happy in this life, was it necessary for them to reunite in the next life for them to make peace with Eun Tak’s death in this life?
Overall though, this was production of very high quality that truly deserves the record-breaking ratings it received. While I felt it faltered a lot towards the end, I still regard this series as one of the most ambitious, truly epic stories ever told – one that spans across time periods and across worlds, yet never losing sight of its emotional core and being able to deliver some of the most beautiful, moving, and breathtaking scenes I’ve ever seen in Korean dramas. It’s certainly a series that will not be forgotten in a long time and I can foresee it sweeping numerous awards over the year.