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Moon Lovers – Scarlet Heart: Ryeo Episode 20 RECAP

 

We must not have wished hard enough for an ending that would magically solve the issues endemic to this production, since I can think of no other reason why this happened. It could’ve been worse (they all can be worse), but it’s certainly not what we would’ve hoped to see at the end of this sometimes rewarding, sometimes grueling journey through a modern girl’s integration into a time far from her own. Which leaves us to wonder, was it all about love? Altering history? Fate working in very mysterious ways? Who knows.

…No, really, does anyone know?

 
FINAL EPISODE RECAP

Su arrives at Jung’s secondary home, and finds herself thinking of So when Jung outstretches his hand to help her out of her palanquin. But since they’ve been forbidden from marrying by the king, Jung’s prepared a more secret ceremony, though he tells her not to worry—even married, he’ll just consider them as friends.

He explains how she’ll be set up nicely in this house, and that he’ll come to visit her often. She’s all smiles until he gives her back the hairpin she’d given him as a symbol of her desire to leave the palace, which carries with it the memories of So, who had given it to her.

The small box of belongings she brought with her contain the multiple copies of the poem she had So write, and she looks at them with tears in her eyes. We then cut to her married life with Jung, as Su etches a likeness of So on a stone, and Jung practices his swordsmanship.

But Jung gets the eerie feeling that they’re being watched, and suddenly leans forward as though to receive a kiss from his wife. She just smiles and dabs his sweaty forehead instead, which is when Jung gently takes her hand and tells her that he’s arranged for the recently retired royal doctor to pay her a visit.

It’s clear that Jung’s putting on a husbandly show for whoever it is that’s spying on them, but we can’t see who. Inside, the doctor feels her pulse to check on the baby in her womb—apparently this is something Su’s known about, but when the doctor first checked her, it was too early for him to tell.

However, he warns that her already shaky health will be tested with the baby, but Su is adamant that she’ll do whatever it takes to ensure the health of the child. Jung is taken by surprise with the news, and orders that the doctor stay with them for a time, since they can’t risk this secret getting out.

So receives an account of events from his spy, detailing how affectionate Jung and Su are. He’s livid since Baek-ah said the marriage would only be a formality, but this report claims anything but.

While completing her rock drawing of So, Su is suddenly overtaken by heart trouble, and So gets there in time to see Jung fret over her and carry her inside.

Adorably, Jung sleeps in a separate bed only feet away so that he can at least look at his wife. “Do you remember when we first met?” he asks. She wonders whether it was when she ran into the forest to save him, and the two reminisce over fond memories.

So can hear the two of them laughing from outside, and returns to his throne in a daze as he tells Astronomer Choi that he never wants to hear a single word spoken about Jung or Su ever again.

Meanwhile, Su imagines sitting across a table from So, both of them smiling at each other. “We have finally left the palace, and are alone together. You and I… we are the only ones left. We can forget the truths, lies, misunderstandings, and jealousy… the restless bickering over the throne and the many deaths. It is a time meant only for us, and I can love you to my heart’s content.”

Six months later.

Jung paces nervously outside the birthing room, the sounds of a crying baby coming from inside. The midwife comes out with a perfectly healthy baby girl, though Jung instructs the midwife to claim that the baby was stillborn to anyone who asks.

He goes in to find Su in a sorry state, though he reassures her that the baby’s in good hands—now all she needs to do is worry about herself. A tear snakes down Su’s cheek as she weakly hands him a letter to be delivered to So, though it’s not news of the baby. “I… want to see him,” she explains, and Jung readily agrees (though he changes the calligraphy on the front, claiming that his wife’s writing is too identical to the king’s).

Su holds her infant daughter in her arms, but is suddenly stricken by an illness that has her swaying on her feet. We don’t hear what the doctor has to say, and Su doesn’t seem to notice the letter she wrote to the king sitting on the table nearby. Or is it another letter? I can’t tell.

After discussing matters of state with Astronomer Choi regarding a plan to cut off supplies to the most powerful clans to silence their voice, So is given another letter from Su.

But since the envelope is in Jung’s handwriting, he believes it to be from his half-brother and throws it into a pile of other unread letters, all of them from Su.

Looking sicker than ever, Su wonders why So hasn’t come yet, considering how she’s sent him so many messages: “Does he hate me that much?” Jung stops himself from saying that he’s already sent messengers, instead claiming that he forgot while promising to get on that immediately. Aww. Just live happily ever after, you two.

In an effort to cheer her, he brings her outside, where he’s gathered musicians from the capital to sing for her. Su is too weak to speak, so Jung ushers the singer to sing anything she wants, and the singer opts for a song that a court lady sang which made the king fall in love with her.

Su’s eyes open a little wider at that, and the singer commences with her song. Su recognizes it as the song she did, in fact, sing at Eun’s birthday. So had overheard from a distance.

This sparks more memories to come flooding forth as Su murmurs, “Long ago, you promised that you would treat my life as if it were your own. Do you remember that?” Then she turns to Jung as she weakly tells him to protect her daughter in her stead, and to never let her go to the palace.

Jung looks like he’s trying to hold it together, but Su’s given up all hope on So ever coming to see her before she leaves this world. He pulls her in so her head rests on his shoulder, saying, “Su-ya, in your next life, you will remember me, won’t you?”

Instead, Su whispers, “I’m going to forget you. I will forget everything. Even in my dreams… I will forget all of you.” She dies in his arms, and Jung can only cry as he holds her to him.

So receives news of her death in utter shock, only now coming to realize that all those letters he ignored were from Su. He tears them open one by one and reads them, and in them, she explains that she loved him completely. She knew that she left him with hate rather than love, and wondered if he resented her for it.

He clutches the letter in his hands and sobs, only now realizing the depth of Su’s feelings for him. And too late, at that. We flash back to her writing more letters of her love for him, recognizing each time he was there for her, and each time he was there to save her.

The voiceover continues as So spurs his horse to Jung’s house as fast as he can:

“I still love you. In the rain, when you tossed everything aside and stood at my side, when you threw yourself in the path of a flying arrow for me, I became unable to forget you for the rest of my life. The opposite of ‘to love’ isn’t ‘to hate’ — it’s to throw away. That I threw you away, and that you threw me away… I’m afraid [we’ll] think that. I miss you, but I cannot be close to you. Hoping we will meet again inside a winding fence, I wait for you every day.”

Baek-ah finds Jung in mourning clothes, caressing Su’s urn. He hands him a letter, which Baek-ah begins to read with tears in his eyes. They’re interrupted by a frantic So, who comes in crying for Su to show herself.

But when his eyes come to rest on the urn, devastation hits. Jung blames him for waiting too long, but So blames him for writing his own name on the letters—he had no idea they were from Su. Jung says he did it only because her handwriting was so similar to his (again, what and why?), but he can’t believe that So wouldn’t have known Su was dying when he knows So was tracking them with spies.

Baek-ah is the one to tell Jung that So stopped receiving reports once he learned that they were getting on so well, leaving that realization to hit as So grasps Su’s urn and sobs his heart out. “Su-ya, let’s go,” he says, clutching it. “Let’s go.” Ouch.

Jung refuses to let him pass, reminding So that she was his wife. “Su may be dead, but she is still mine,” So cries, and it’s only with Baek-ah’s intervention that Jung allows So to take the urn. Baek-ah laments that Su spent her life caught between all of them, and urges Jung not to make it any harder on her, even now.

But poor Jung can only take out the hairpin he originally took from Su as he cries pitifully. Only then does Baek-ah realize that Jung actually loved Su, and embraces his half-brother in solidarity. Aww.

So takes Su’s ashes to the spot where she’d once stacked her prayer stones, thinking back to his memories of her, and how she promised she wouldn’t leave.

After what Won only describes as “a long time” has passed, he’s given a ceremonial cup of poison with which to kill himself. But before he does, Baek-ah hands him the letter Chae-ryung wrote in blood to Su, which Su had wanted delivered to Won.

While the soundtrack transports us to The Lord of the Rings, Won reads Chae-ryung’s letter and thinks back to their few scenes together. He feels a shred of remorse as the chyron tells us that he was put to death for treason. (He’s not worth the screencap, guys.)

Baek-ah finds himself shadowed by a small girl, who he recognizes as Wook’s daughter. He tells her that he’s her uncle, and is momentarily off-put by her name being Bok-soon, since that’s name Woo-hee tried to give him once (before she was promptly outed for lying). Even stranger, he recognizes the ornament that Woo-hee favored on the little girl, who claims to not know where it came from.

But in the time it takes him to flash back to his memories with Woo-hee, the little girl disappears.

An older, bearded, and seemingly ill Wook takes a walk with Baek-ah, mentioning the changes So has made since becoming king. Rather than have any aspirations for the throne himself, Wook only says that he wants to see the kind of king So becomes. “I wonder if perhaps Goryeo has its most powerful king in history,” Wook adds thoughtfully.

Baek-ah asks if he still misses Su, prompting a rueful smile from Wook. “I don’t know,” he answers. “I was always giving my heart, but I was always making mistakes. I’ve only come to realize that now.” He coughs, and you know what that means—it’s time for Wook’s obligatory flashback to the past, though he surprisingly thinks of his first wife, Lady Hae.

Yeonhwa tears into her husband for not going to see his firstborn son, Wang Ju (future King Gyeongjong), even on his birthday. She thinks he only sees his son as competition, reminding So of the royal nephews he’s killed in order to keep his reign secure. The least he can do is trust his own son.

But So basically says that he doesn’t trust Ju because he doesn’t trust Yeonhwa, and he knows the two of them will turn against him one day. Yeonhwa blames his thinking on Su, since she was the only person who ever said that all people should be treated as equals. That’s why she believes So passed a law emancipating slaves (this was a reform Gwangjong was well known for).

Claiming that she now understands why Su left, Yeonhwa is all too happy to bring that up just to hurt So. He says nothing, and goes instead to the spot where Su once set up her prayer stones.

A little girl bumps into him and makes a big fuss about it, which reminds So of how Su once did the same thing. And lo and behold, the little girl runs to the man she calls “Father.” It’s Jung, of course—and oh God, his sideburns have only gotten bigger.

Jung apologizes for breaking his exile to come to the palace, claiming that it was only because today is the anniversary of Su’s death. When So asks if the child is his, Jung says yes, though So notes that the child is too old to be from his recent marriage.

Taking this as his cue to leave, Jung turns with the girl in his arms, which is when So notices that she’s wearing the same hairpin he’d once given to Su. He orders Jung to leave the girl with him, and Jung drops to his knees to give his firmest “No.”

He confirms So’s suspicions when he says that Su never wanted her daughter to live in the palace, leaving the poor little girl clueless as to what the adults are talking about. She looks over to her real father as So looks to Jung, officially releasing him from his exile. In fact, he wants him to come visit the palace as often as he wants. Aw, that’s going to be the only way he’ll ever see his daughter, isn’t it?

Astronomer Choi decides to retire from his position, but doesn’t leave without telling So to forget Su, who was never of this world anyway. Now it’s time—wait for it—for Astronomer Choi to get his own flashback to happier times. Has anyone not gotten a flashback yet? No?

The sky darkens suddenly with an eclipse, and So looks to the sky as the light disappears. A rider rides against the darkening horizon as we get a flashback montage of Su falling into the water and ending up in Goryeo under an eclipsing sky…

…And then, Su wakes in her own bed, in her own time, with tears running down her cheeks over the mysterious man haunting her dreams. Oh no. No no no no. You are not pulling the Dream Card on us. Anything but that!

While working at her cosmetics job, Su tells her coworker that she’s been having dreams about a man dressed in ye olde clothes with a scar on his face for nearly a year. Her coworker says it’s because she almost died from drowning, spent a year in a coma, and then woke up. Thanks, Exposition Fairy.

Su overhears snippets of a presentation being given on cosmetics in the Goryeo era (which she may have had a hand in helping along?), and is approached by the presenter afterward. It’s Astronomer Choi, although, not him, and he gives her an enigmatic smile as he reads her name tag.

Seeing her name as “Go Ha-jin,” he tells her that in the Goryeo era, “Go” was known as “Hae.” She notes that it’s a funny coincidence since she’s selling makeup inspired by the era, to which Choi says, “There is no such thing as coincidence. Things only return to their rightful place.”

But when she introduces the line of makeup to him, she remembers Baek-ah’s voice mentioning Bulgarian rose oil to her—though she’s confused as to where she remembers hearing that. Choi seems to study her knowingly, though Su does her best to shake it off and introduce some BB cream, which she claims was invented in Goryeo as well.

Saying that prompts her to think of So and his scar, leaving her severely shaken and confused. She leaves work early, but finds herself drawn to an exhibit of Goryeo paintings, each reminding her of scenes she doesn’t know how she remembers.

The paintings show the rain ritual, which she remembers in vivid detail, and King Gwangjong. “It wasn’t a dream,” she thinks, as some honestly random images are put forth in paint form—scenes that literally no one would have thought to paint, like her bowing deeply to the king on their first meeting, her saving Jung in the forest, etc. But we’ll just have to go with it.

Su looks around the gallery with tears in her eyes, seeing herself in every painting. Only then does she stop at a portrait of King Gwangjong, remembering So in detail. The biography accompanying the portrait tells of his legacy as a good king, which makes Su think of the day she’d been sure that So wouldn’t go down in history as a tyrant.

“I’m sorry,” she cries. “I’m sorry for leaving you alone.”

As she cries, the painting before her slowly comes into focus as we return to Goryeo during the eclipse. So looks up as though he’s heard her voice, which is when Baek-ah tells him that Wook has died, and he’ll be leaving the palace as well.

Standing alone like he was in the painting, So looks back over his shoulder, as though expecting someone. But he’s alone, and comments, “Life is fleeting.” It was the same thing his father said before he died.

He’d related what his father said to Su once, and had worried over her lost facial expression. He’d wondered what she was hiding, but Su only said that she felt anxious every day she was there.

“If we had met in another world, and in another time, I can’t help but think how great that would have been,” she said. “If only that were so, I wouldn’t fear anything. I could freely, truly, love you all I wanted.” The flashback fades, and So is left in the present (of the past) to rub the makeup off the scarred side of his face with a shaking hand.

“If you and I are not of the same world,” he thinks, “then I will find you, my Su-ya.”

Cut to: The two of them walking together in flashback, with So offering to carry Su on his back due to her hurting knees. Together and laughing, they run forward.

 
COMMENTS

Really, Moon Lovers? Not one hint that Su would find her present day So? Not even after that line? You chose to show a piece of flashback footage instead? That’s how you wanted to end this, by having So look to the future, but think of the past instead? That’s your big message?

I admit it would’ve been a cheap fix to have So appear in the present day, but I was willing to take anything. It’s not as if the show established any kind of rules when it came to Su’s time-traveling, but this ending gave me horrible Dr. Jin vibes, in that both were adaptations of much more successful foreign dramas, both protagonists woke up in the present day remembering the past, and no questions were ever answered. Ever.

While we can point to failures on many levels, it was really the execution that bogged this show down, and that was never more apparent than in the episodes leading up to this finale. Su gradually lost any sense of self she may have possessed, and we lost our eyes and ears into the strange world she’d entered into. Nothing solidified that more than when we found out she was pregnant this episode, which was something she already knew. There’s a cardinal rule for protagonists in TV, especially those whose point of view we’re seeing the show through: You can keep secrets from everybody else, but you can’t keep them from the audience.

Because at that point, we’ve lost our point of entry into the events happening on screen. At the point where Su had her own agenda that we weren’t privy to, why keep trying? Who were we following? Why did it matter? I hate how bad finales bring up existential questions, but I sat for a good five minutes after this show ended just trying to think of the why of it all. What were the resonant themes? Where was the dramatic clarity, or tension? How did Su hope to solve anything by leaving?

If her main reason was her pregnancy, then we were really cheated when it came to her realization happening off-screen. The reason why it sucks to have protagonists keep secrets is because we can’t follow them, and it would’ve been a great help for us to know whether Su was playing the noble idiot and leaving the palace because of the baby. But instead it felt like she left because she just had to, but she missed So every day because she left. So why? Why anything?

By the time we reached the end, I realized that what was missing was a central conflict. I still don’t know what we were supposed to want for this show and its characters, because I couldn’t buy into the love story between Su and So despite desperately wanting to. Unfortunately for So, he was virtually nonexistent for much too long, and we only knew he would be important later on by virtue of him being played by Lee Jun-ki. But were he a total unknown, and were this not an adaptation, we would’ve been sorely misled in the beginning with the Su/Wook loveline, the development of which seemed to outweigh the thought put in to the development of the Su/So pairing.

Which isn’t to say that they made a mistake in focusing on that loveline first, but they did make one in not laying down a better foundation for us to jump to the So ship later. It’s entirely possible that these two lovelines worked out great in the much longer original version, but there’s really no excuse for this show’s inability to tell the story it wanted to tell in the time allotted to it—and with it being pre-produced, it’s even worse. It’s not like that twentieth episode just snuck up on the writer, or that the writer didn’t have time to plan out how to adapt a longer drama into a shorter format. That’s the whole point of pre-production!

Going back to the episode, and bypassing all the WTF-ery surrounding Su’s return to the present, her year in a coma, presumably another year having dreams about the past, Astronomer Choi being back in the future (but not as a homeless man), the eclipse that somehow blurred the lines between both worlds, the paintings of scenes no one else would’ve seen or thought to paint, the fact that Su spent years in the past while only a year or so passed in the present, the fact that Su physically died in the past and all the questions that raises about whatever happened to the girl who used to inhabit Su’s body, what were we left with?

We’re left with Lee Jun-ki putting on a one-man show. And, okay, Ji-soo got his moment to shine this week, which made me desperately wish we’d focused on his love for Su rather than the tenth prince’s crush. But that’s neither here nor there at this juncture. I guess it’s the same as with any show that limps its way to its finale: I wish it had been better, because there was a good drama underneath all the nonsensicality and noise. But we can’t win ’em all.

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