Happily Ever After K-Drama Style: A Couch Kimchi Roundtable
We hate it when our favorite shows end, but we dread it even more when the final episode disappoints. A drama’s first chapter might be awful, but there’s time for the story to improve with subsequent episodes. On the one hand, its parting hour is the drama’s last chance to leave a good impression. So, what makes an awesome finale and which endings can tick off an audience?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What makes a good ending?
Time jump: Why is it necessary?
Successful time jumps
Twisted: Endings that caught you by surprise
Ever afters you’d like to change
Your ideal ending
WHAT MAKES A GOOD ENDING?
Tessieroo: This is a tough one because most people seem to want an ending that includes marriage and/or babies for the OTP. LOL. I’m okay with that, but if the OTP’s relationship isn’t that far advanced, then it’s silly to end a drama that way just for fan service. For me, it’s more about tying up all the loose ends through confrontations and answering questions. I’d also say retribution for the bad guys, but that rarely happens in a way that I like! I’m still a tiny bit upset that Song Cha Ok (Jin Kyung) never got on her knees to apologize to Ki Jae Myung (Yoon Kyun Sang) in “Pinocchio“; she should have begged for his forgiveness but she never did.
Goodange: Ah, yes! Her irresponsible reporting was part of the reason why he became a murderer, and considering what she did to him in the past—having him jailed that he lost his mom and brother—in the end, it would have been nice to see a scene of a contrite Song Cha Ok apologizing to Ki Jae Myung. If there was a relationship that needed to be healed, it would be the one between them.
To me, a good ending gives viewers a sense of closure and connects with the beginning and the middle, staying true to the story and the characters. I don’t need it to be wrapped up and tied in a bow that every character has a significant other like in “Playful Kiss.” Unless, of course, it’s a long drama, like “Goong,” in which most of the characters were put through so many hurdles that I didn’t mind that almost everyone got a fairytale ending.
Leila: I agree. The story should conclude with everything answered, and a happy ending doesn’t necessarily mean the OTP has to have that blissful ride (off) into the sunset. Ultimately, the final chapter has to leave the viewers satisfied.
TIME JUMP: WHY IS IT NECESSARY?
Tessieroo: I might be alone in this one, but I don’t mind time jumps at all, even if there’s more than one in a drama. Time jumps are used to move the story along, especially if it begins with something that happens when the actors are children. We needs time jumps to show them as adults and to show the aftermath of whatever dramatic beginning we were shown.
Leila: This is significant when used properly. Some story requires change and transition that can be shown through time jumps. It also saves time, especially as many dramas have only 16 episodes to spare.
Goodange: I’m not the biggest fan of time jumps as sometimes, I feel like they’re a means to a speedy resolution and character development. In “Coffee House,” there was a time jump more than halfway to the story. Despite revealing his real feelings for Seo Eun Young (Park Si Yeon), Lee Jin Soo (Kang Ji Hwan) had left her and everyone behind to find himself, I guess. As a viewer, it would have been nice to have witnessed that process because when he returned a few years later, he was a changed man. He healed whatever hangups he had in the past and his feelings for Eun Young were so sure that he was ready to propose to her, disrupting the normalcy she fell into while he was away. Needless to say, I still love the show. LOL. It did have another time jump in the end when their characters were already married and acting like honeymooners every moment they spent together, which was well-earned for longtime friends who pushed and pulled each other for so many years.
I do agree with your points, Tess. Not all time jumps are bad. When done right, they move the story along without making the viewers feel like they’ve missed out on something. I’m using “Pinocchio” as an example again since it just ended; it’s freshest in my memory. It had a number of time jumps, even a couple in the last 10-15 minutes of the finale. Notwithstanding the lack of a closure scene with Jae Myung and Cha Ok, the show capped the major overarching conflicts that needed to be resolved forty minutes into the finale that there was nowhere else for the story to go but a fast-forward to their future lives.
Tessieroo: Exactly. Even with multiple jumps, the ending of “Pinocchio” was awesome, so, I don’t think anyone minded. So, I agree, it depends on what and how the new information is conveyed in a time jump. If it’s too fast or too much of a change, it leaves the viewer scratching their head.
SUCCESSFUL TIME JUMPS
Tessieroo: A good time jump shows changes, in both the main characters as well as those around them. I don’t mean just physical changes, but also changes in speech and behavior since people rarely stay the same from year to year. We’re constantly learning, changing, and growing, so, I feel it’s important to show those. The subtle changes in Jang Geu Rae (Im Siwan) at the end of “Misaeng” were incredible, as were the changes in the people around him, so, I consider that one a huge success.
Leila: Agree. Successful time jumps are able to convey the important message of change. Through time we know that people move on and feelings can evolve, reasons why I also love “Coffee House” and “Angel Eyes.” Things were neatly resolved in time in these dramas.
Goodange: The successful ones seamlessly weave the past, present, and future. Because “Misaeng” was a slice-of-life tale following the growth of Geu Rae and his fellow interns as well as the relationships between them and their team members, a time jump suited it. Since the story’s beginning also started with the final chapter, the time jump wasn’t surprising. The same could also be said about the nonlinear narrative of “Answer Me 1997” and “Answer Me 1994,” which jumped between the past and the present all the time.
Tessieroo: I’m not normally a fan of open endings, but in some cases, I can see why it’s done. If the writer has run out of time to connect certain characters, there’s really no other option. What I don’t like are changes being made just for the sake of fans’ shipping preference; that’s extremely annoying! The open-ending of “Marry Him If You Dare” comes to mind. I didn’t like Kim Shin (Lee Dong Gun) at all, but since Mi Rae had been leaning his way for the entire drama, to have it suddenly change towards the end was bothersome.
Leila: I enjoy open endings. It doesn’t hurt when a writer leaves us hanging, but in a good way. I think “49 Days” and “Dream High” successfully used open endings. The latter involves young characters, whose future is vast with possibilities, and so, you simply couldn’t have a concretely defined ending for them.
Goodange: When I invest sixteen to twenty emotional hours in a show, I expect closure to be the payoff. So, I’m not a fan of open endings, though I can live with scenes that imply what the future will be for the characters, like in “Healer.”
The ending for “Time Between Dog and Wolf” is debatable; it isn’t all that satisfying even though it makes sense and the show itself is one of my favorites. (Maybe I should put this under “Ever Afters You’d Like To Change.”) It’s a rather bleak idea that Lee Soo Hyun (Lee Jun Ki) might have to live the rest of his life as a spy, never able to return permanently to Korea, and a lifelong romance with Ari (Nam Sang Mi) will remain undetermined. On the other hand, the ending gives hope to viewers that they’ll meet again in Paris, where she has decided to study and where he has requested his next mission to be.
My biggest problem with some open endings is they’re up for many interpretations; sometimes, they raise more questions than answers. I’ve never watched this show, but “Que Sera Sera,” which had a time jump, stirred up a lot of anxious debate about the finale. The closing scene mirrored the first time the OTP first met: Was it reality or was it just a fantasy of the male lead? It was open to interpretation, and many people who stuck out for the dragging ride chose to believe that the OTP had reunited, though the PD may have intended it to be all in the hero’s head.
TWISTED: ENDINGS THAT CAUGHT YOU BY SURPRISE
Tessieroo: This might sound strange, but the ending of “Secret Garden” surprised me! After listening to so many voices screaming for marriage and babies, for a drama to actually fulfill that wish pleasantly surprised me. I absolutely loved it! With a five-year time jump, we’re shown a happily married OTP with three adorable children, but the couple’s still unwelcome at his mother’s house. So, it’ not quite a complete happily ever after but still satisfying.
Goodange: Ones that stick out in my memory are the finales for “49 Days” and “Big.” You could almost hear the viewers’ collective sigh of disbelief and disappointment with the way they ended.
In “49 Days,” Shin Ji Hyun (Nam Gyu Ri), in her spiritual form, had to collect three teardrops shed out of genuine love [for her] within 49 days so that she could be revived from her coma and live again, but even after prevailing in her journey, it turned out that her time was up. I actually liked the ending, but that twist still shocked me. Many viewers felt cheated because while her death made sense, through most of its run, the show’s trajectory seemed to favor a happy ending for her: Ji Hyun will live long and make up for lost time with her sister and parents.
In “Big,” the soul of Kyung Joon (Shin Won Ho) finally returned to his body, and years later, when he reunited with Gil Da Ran (Lee Min Jung), we saw that he had physically developed in the exact likeness of his older half-brother Yoon Jae (Gong Yoo). LOL. It was as if he never switched bodies! Gong Yoo was the show’s biggest name, and he had portrayed Kyung Joon for most of the drama, but narratively speaking, it was illogical that in the final scene, Lee Min Jung wasn’t standing there with Shin, whose acting and chemistry with the actress left enough of a good impression on viewers.
Tessieroo: I already mentioned “Secret Garden” and “Misaeng,” but I also loved the ending of “Queen In Hyun’s Man.” Instead of marriage and babies, we got a hot makeout session. *Kekeke*
Goodange: Like I said, I like to see characters who’ve been put through so many unpleasant experiences be rewarded nothing but joyful moments in the end, which is why among my favorites is definitely the finale of “Pinocchio.” Some, like Seo Beom Jo (Kim Young Kwang) and Song Cha Ok, rebuilt their life and career; they had, after all, shown growth by doing the right thing despite losing a lot of the things that mattered to them. For the others on the show, things only got better for them as their relationships evolved and they moved up at work. The main characters in “Coffee House,” “Arang and The Magistrate,” “Healer,” and “Misaeng” also got their second chance, and for Arang (Shin Min Ah) and Eun Oh (Lee Jun Ki), it was more in the literal sense since they were reincarnated.
“Healer,” which just finished, could have really used an extra thirty minutes to tighten up the narrative a bit more, settling a few parts that were left hanging, but I still enjoyed the finale. Since it was his initial goal to own an island, everyone had expected Jung Hoo (Ji Chang Wook) to be living that dream with Young Shin (Park Min Young), but the writer made the right choice to allow him to live his true identity out in the open with the woman he loves and together making a difference in Korea, doing badass work as investigative reporters.
Tessieroo: I hated the time-jump ending of “The Woman Who Married Three Times.” The child abuser was still married to the leading man and pregnant while the cheater began seeing his mistress legitimately. Oh, and the lead female gave up custody of her baby boy. That ridiculous time jump made things worse, and everyone was disappointed.
Goodange: Thanks for the warning! It seems the finale has made the whole show a total letdown.
Leila: “My Lovely Girl” used the time jump badly, and it felt like the writer ran out of ideas! The ending of “Big” was also terrible. I was flexible with the idea that the younger Kyung Joon ended up with Gil Da Ran, but when Gong Yoo popped up to grab the umbrella, it was over for me.
Tessieroo: OMGosh, you’re right! So much debate surrounding that one: did she end up with Kyung Joon or was it really Yoon Jae under that umbrella?
Goodange: I’m one of the few who was okay with “Big,” but I do agree that the finale was awful for the reasons we’ve already mentioned. And I know Tess would have mentioned this, but after several roundtables, she probably feels she’ll sound like a broken record, so, I’ll say it: “Temptation.” LOL. I guess you could say the bad people got away with being bad on that show. Okay, so, she became sick, but Yoo Se Young (Choi Ji Woo), who had lured away a married man from his wife, would still spend the rest of her depraved life rich and happy with him. In the end, there was nothing she learned.
EVER AFTERS YOU’D LIKE TO CHANGE
Goodange: As I said, I liked “Time Between Dog and Wolf,” but I think the ending could have been happier for our hero and his love interest. While I didn’t mind the suggestion that they would run into each other again in Paris, I’d have preferred watching a scene of it. It wouldn’t have offset the bulk of the drama’s angst, but I think the characters and the viewers earned just a snippet of a heartfelt reunion. I guess I’m a sucker for happy endings, which is why I wish the bittersweet fate of the leads in “My Love From The Stars” had a little less bitterness. It’s kind of tragic that their time together is not constant as alien Do Min Joon (Kim Soo Hyun) can disappear at any time … even during lovemaking?! LOL. Then again, since time is so valuable to them, they have a greater appreciation for every single second they spend together. In that regard, maybe I wouldn’t change the ending. Heh.
And even with its flaws, I wouldn’t overhaul the finale of “Healer.” I might just tweak it a little. While it was only fitting that the drama ended with Jung Hoo sharing a kiss with Young Shin on a rooftop, I think it would’ve been more fun and cuter if the closing shot were of Hacker Ahjumma (Kim Mi Kyung) on her computer and spying on the two. LOL. I’d really like to think that she still works with them on their cases.
Tessieroo: Since it was brought up, I’d change the ending of “Big” to show it was Kyung Joon under that umbrella. I mean, I understand why they didn’t use Shin. He definitely has a baby face, but they could have used make up and clothing to add some years to him. *blink* Whoa, I guess I’m still more upset over that ending than I thought. LOL.
Leila: I’d take out the time jump in “My Lovely Girl” and just let the OTP work on music together. The train station scene was predictable. Since the drama was full of tropes anyway, it might as well have had a scene of the lovers skipping off into the sunset. Heh. Fan service won’t hurt as long as Rain‘s in it.
YOUR IDEAL ENDING
Tessieroo: I mentioned “Secret Garden” as one that surprised me, but it’s also one of my favorites. I love seeing the OTP happily married with babies myself. What was fun about the show’s finale was that not all their children were babies, so, we got a tiny bit of interaction between the little boys and their parents, which was really cute. As long as the OTP relationship remains strong throughout the whole drama, with neither dating, kissing, or forcefully getting engaged with anyone else, then, it’s satisfying and realistic if things end that way. I prefer my OTPs to stay strong, their feelings not wavering because of doubts. I also like it when all the conflicts are settled, at least giving the characters answers to all their questions. By and large, “Pinocchio” was perfect for giving us all those in the end.
Leila: I really don’t have an ideal ending in mind. I just want it to be solid for every character. The finales of “Answer Me 1997” and “Answer Me 1994” made me feel relieved and happy for the future (or present lives) of the friends.
Goodange: This topic is a bit on the vague side since an ending is shaped by its context. No one ideal ending would fit all stories, but if I’m watching a rom-com or a heavy drama with a strong romance, then, I would like what many starry-eyed viewers want for their OTP—marriage, kids, and lots and lots of making out! LOL. As fantastic as that ending sounds though, I still want it to feel natural and logically integral to the whole story. On a simpler note, I think we can all agree that we would just like a conclusion that makes sense and keeps the entire narrative cohesive.
Well, like this week’s “Healer,” the end has come for this discussion, but please offer us your take on K-drama finales, and keep your eyes peeled for our next roundtable! Until next time!