Is it ever really goodbye if your hero is an immortal goblin? I guess that’s what we’re all here to find out. Hold onto your vulgar hats everyone, because there may be some unexpected bumps on the road to happily ever after.
Goblin went out with a bang for tvN, reportedly breaking ratings records for the cable network that were previously held by Answer Me 1988’s finale just a year ago (at 19.6%). All of the news outlets are reporting 20.5% ratings for the finale, though that’s a combined number across multiple platforms, while the official Nielsen rating is 18.68%. It makes the whole record-breaking thing a little confusing, but in any case, I think it’s safe to call the show a big monster hit for tvN.
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Under falling cherry blossoms, Shin asks Eun-tak to be his bride. She touches his face and says with happy tears in her eyes, “I will. I’ll be this shining man’s first and last bride.”
He kisses her on the forehead sweetly.
That night, Eun-tak sits on her rooftop and tells Mom that she’s getting married, and promises to live well. The unni ghost who always follows her around gets misty-eyed at the thought of Eun-tak getting a happy ending, and she and her ghost friend are shocked when Eun-tak turns around and sees them.
The unni ghost materializes right by Eun-tak and grabs her in a hug, wailing that she’s been so lonely without her. She offers to make Eun-tak happier than the goblin and sticks to her side like glue.
Reaper pours tea for a wealthy man and his driver, and the wealthy man sticks his nose in the air and refuses to drink the same tea as his servant, thinking he deserves special treatment. Reaper makes it clear that everyone gets the same tea in here, and no matter how powerful he was in this life, he can’t take any of that with him when he walks through that door.
Reaper says in a scary voice, “When you go through that door you’ll realize how powerful they are—the sins you’ve committed with your eyes, your mouth, your hands and feet, your heart. And what floor of hell they’ll drag you down to.” Yikes. At that, the wealthy man shakes in fear.
Shin waits for Eun-tak to get done with work, and Class Prez happens to walk right past him at the station. He sees a glimpse of her future, where she asks Eun-tak to go on another blind date. Eun-tak says no to the chef, but Class Prez says this time it’s one of her clients—he’s a chaebol, he’s handsome, and he’s young to boot. Is it Deok-hwa?
Shin scowls and mutters to himself, “Blind date?” Ha, I was hoping jealous goblin would make an appearance. Petty revenge is in order, so he snaps Class Prez’s purse strap with his goblin powers and sends all her belongings crashing to the ground.
She cries over a broken compact, and behind her back, Shin sticks out his tongue like a child, pfft. And then he runs away while shouting for Eun-tak. Oh that’s smooth.
He runs right into Eun-tak’s studio and blurts to her entire staff, “I’m Ji Eun-tak PD’s boyfriend. To be more exact, we’re engaged to be married. How’s this weekend for the wedding?” He gives her a wink and everyone’s jaws drop.
Shin takes her to lunch and Eun-tak wonders if someone else is coming, once she sees all the food he’s ordered. Shin says that he called Deok-hwa here to formally introduce her to the family.
Deok-hwa walks in and takes one scan of the situation before reaching the obvious conclusion, but Shin surprises both of them by just announcing that they’re getting married. He asks if she prefers Saturday or Sunday, and Eun-tak asks why he keeps insisting on getting married this weekend.
“So that you won’t go on blind dates!” he says, as if that makes sense. Shin especially doesn’t want her going on blind dates with young attractive chaebols, and Deok-hwa points out that he’s really the only person in the whole country who meets all three criteria. He hands Eun-tak his business card, and she’s shocked to see that he’s a team leader now.
When she tells Deok-hwa her name, he recognizes it from the old letter that got sent to the old chicken shop. She calls him oppa like she used to and says there’s a lot he doesn’t know, as usual. Deok-hwa wonders if she knows what his uncle is, and she cuts him off to say that everyone knows a goblin or two, and he gapes.
He gets the feeling that everyone knows something he doesn’t, but Shin just puts food on his spoon and tells Deok-hwa that he’ll know once he’s grown up. Eun-tak wants food on her spoon too, and Shin mutters for her to go ahead and try going on a blind date. She counters that she’s going to be a married woman soon, and Shin grins to himself, thinking, She said married woman.
Deok-hwa tells CEO Kim about Shin getting married, and says he plans to marry first and have lots of kids. CEO Kim is happy to hear it, though he points out that marriage isn’t something he can do alone. Deok-hwa: “I have lots of women!” CEO Kim: “Yes, that’s the problem.” Deok-hwa’s reaction is hilarious, like he’d never considered that before.
CEO Kim asks if he’s ever met someone who makes his heart race just to think of her, who makes him cry when he misses her, someone he’d be willing to die for. Deok-hwa says no, and asks if CEO Kim has any plans to marry. CEO Kim laughs and says he doesn’t, because he’s already married with three kids. Lol. Deok-hwa is shocked and CEO Kim points out that he’s never asked until now, and that Deok-hwa still has no interest in other people and the world around him.
“So I’m waiting for your questions. The questions of a true adult—about the world, about the happiness and sadness of those around you,” CEO Kim says. Deok-hwa smiles and thanks him sincerely, and asks him to wait just a little longer: “I’ll work hard at growing up.” Aww. They clink coffee cups and smile.
On their way out after lunch, Eun-tak erupts at Shin for outing them all over the place without her consent, but he’s too busy being a paranoid backseat driver, acting like she’s trying to kill him. She asks where he keeps directing her to, but he doesn’t answer.
Cut to: Eun-tak in a wedding dress. The curtain opens in the dressing room and Shin is waiting on the other side in a tux. His mouth hangs open when he lifts his head to look at her, and he murmurs in disbelief, “You look so pretty.”
She laughs and says he looks handsome too, and he tosses back that she ought to be used to it by now. She suggests getting married with freshly drawn water like in olden times.
Eun-tak goes PPL shopping for a wedding gift and leaves a watch on Shin’s desk with a letter. She writes, “All of the roads we’ll walk together, all of the sights we’ll see together, all of the questions and answers we’ll share shyly, excitedly—in all of those moments, I love you. Your bride.”
At work, Eun-tak’s head writer says they got a love letter sent in from a listener, and she starts to read it. It’s Sunny’s goodbye letter that we saw her write, and right away Eun-tak recognizes who wrote it. She goes running out in the middle of the live broadcast, and just tells them to read the letter on the air.
As soon as it gets read by the DJ, Shin swerves his car and starts speeding, and Reaper runs out of the house.
Eun-tak rushes home and discovers that Sunny has sold the whole building to a new landlord, and she’s already gone. There’s a letter in her mailbox, in which Sunny tells her not to cry, and that she hopes she was just a little bit of comfort to Eun-tak. Sunny asks her to take care of her stubborn brother, and to live a long and happy life together.
Shin arrives and Eun-tak tells him tearfully that Sunny remembered all this time, all on her own, and took care of her when she couldn’t remember anything. She asks why Sunny would leave, and Shin says it’s because she couldn’t forgive Reaper, so she chose not to see him again in this lifetime: “Because there is no greater punishment for him.”
Sunny stands on the pedestrian bridge one last time with her bags packed, and says she’ll count 50 people and go. She counts the people who pass her one by one, until she reaches 49…
Behind her, Reaper appears and starts counting as he cries, “One, two…” She turns to him with tears in her eyes and says that she won’t send word to him: “We won’t see each other again in this lifetime.” He nods, understanding what she means.
She smiles and asks if she can hug him one last time, and he pulls her into his arms. They cry as they embrace, and Reaper narrates, “And like that, we sought farewell in this lifetime.” But then he adds that it wasn’t until much later when he heard news of her.
In the wake of their parting, Reaper is a sobbing mess, crying endlessly in his room while clutching the scroll painting of his queen. Shin adorably makes him veggies and fruit and points out that the apples are bunny rabbits, just the way Reaper makes them when he’s trying to cheer other people up. That is just the cutest thing.
Reaper cries that Sunny left, and that till the end, she was good at leaving. He returns the portrait to Shin, saying that he should’ve returned it right away. But Shin says it was never his to begin with: “It was your regret, and your sin, and your longing.”
Shin thinks it’s right that Reaper takes it, and Reaper looks up at him with puppy eyes and asks if he can really keep it. Shin: “Yes, as long as you eat this.” Aw.
Shin thanks him for keeping the candles lit at the temple for the last nine years while he was gone, and Reaper says he’s trying to face his sins head-on. Shin thinks it’d be nice if someone said to them: “That’s enough. You’ve done enough.”
Reaper meets with the reaper who was a court lady in Goryeo, and he shares a secret with her—that grim reapers are people who took their own lives. That’s the big sin they’ve committed, and he asks why she thinks that their punishment is to be neither living nor dead, and to usher countless people in death.
He points out that they have no names and no memories, but they need homes to live in and food to eat. He says he was searching for answers, when one day it occurred to him: “That the things we’d given up—our names, the lives we threw away—were the very things I began to want. That when we long for life desperately, our punishment may be over.”
Reaper says he knows why she avoids him, and tells her that he’s sorry for borrowing her hands in choosing death. He admits his regret, and asks for her forgiveness with a solemn bow. He tells her to forget the past and guide souls well, and hopes that she’ll forgive herself someday: “What god would want is for us to forgive ourselves and discover an ardent desire for life.” She bursts into tears at his words.
Eun-tak sets the table for her aunt, who asks if she’s got a boyfriend and remarks thoughtlessly that she shouldn’t end up a single mother like her mom. Eun-tak finally erupts in anger and asks how long Aunt is going to stay here, because she’s fed her enough, and she’s a ghost who needs to move on. Oh, she’s dead?
Aunt is as nasty as ever, still holding a grudge over those bankbooks, and she raises a hand to hit Eun-tak again. But a hand blocks Aunt before she can make contact—it’s unni ghost, who grabs Aunt by the collar and announces that she’d be a great partner for her to head into the afterlife with. Aw, is she choosing to get rid of Aunt as her final act? That’s sweet.
Eun-tak is sad to hear that unni ghost is leaving, and unni thanks Eun-tak for everything, and tells her to live well with the goblin. Eun-tak thanks her aunt for raising her and says that they should meet under better circumstances in the next life, but Aunt scoffs and says she has no intention of meeting Eun-tak again. She fights the whole way as unni ghost takes her away. Good riddance.
Reaper calls Eun-tak over to the house to give her something, and she tenses and asks if it’s a death note. He says it isn’t, and asks if she’s worried about that. She admits that she’s mostly curious about how her fate has changed, and he muses that her fate is so often changing.
She says that despite having pulled out the goblin’s sword and losing the mark on her neck, she’s still technically a missing soul and was almost not born. She points out that she’s lost the person she loves once before and that humans all die someday, which is what makes life so beautiful.
She says that once her memories returned, the first thought she had was that she should live today like it’s her last. Reaper smiles and tells her, “Your life is already beautiful—remember that.” Reaper hands her a box, and Eun-tak gets teary-eyed when she opens it to find a wedding bouquet. He congratulates her on the wedding and she beams.
Shin and Eun-tak get married in the goblin’s buckwheat garden, just the two of them. Shin vows, “Until death do us part, to every word you say, no matter what: Me too.”
Eun-tak answers, “Even if death separates us, to every word you say, no matter what: Me too.” They smile at each other happily.
At home, Reaper, Deok-hwa and CEO Kim are present for the wedding party, and Reaper grabs the champagne to chill with his hands. CEO Kim’s eyes widen, and Deok-hwa tries to warn him to be more careful.
Shin doesn’t help matters by showing off his telekinesis, and CEO Kim faints, while Deok-hwa nags them and then wonders why the nagging feels so familiar.
Once CEO Kim regains consciousness, he chants for a song, and Reaper immediately regrets it when Shin busts out in song like an embarrassing, hopeless romantic. Eun-tak joins him in a duet, and Deok-hwa looks like he’s about to lose his lunch at the display of affection.
That night, Shin and Eun-tak gaze at each other as they fall asleep, and Shin pets her on the head as he says, “Goodnight. I love you,” and tucks her in. Honestly, it’s making me a little nervous that they’re so happy with thirty minutes left in the finale…
Eun-tak has a great day at work where everything goes smoothly, and she decides to head home early after a meeting. Shin heads home with a bag of groceries and a bouquet of flowers.
Reaper and Hoobae wait at a bus stop with a stack of death notes, and based on the ages of the souls, Hoobae guesses that a kindergarten bus is about to get in an accident. Reaper sighs, “I’m really starting to think that this work is punishment.”
As Hoobae steps aside to take a phone call, Eun-tak happens by in her car and waves at Reaper. He waves back as she passes. Eep, this is bad…
Hoobae runs back to say that the death notes have changed and the children won’t be dying today. Their names disappear from the cards, and Hoobae wonders why their fates changed.
That’s when Reaper thinks of Eun-tak driving past, and he says with tears in his eyes that it’s because of a death that’s not on the registry. Oh crap. Hoobae asks what kind of death isn’t registered, and Reaper calls it “a death that can’t be calculated—a sacrifice.”
Shin calls Eun-tak to ask why she isn’t home yet, and teases her about her bad sense of direction as she makes a turn. They’re still talking when Eun-tak pulls up to an intersection where she spots the accident about to happen—a big truck rolling down a hill, about to collide into a small bus full of children.
It’s a split-second, but it all happens in slow-motion, as Eun-tak pulls forward and comes to a stop… right in the path of the oncoming truck. A tear falls as she sees the truck about to hit her, and then they collide.
As the car gets crushed, Eun-tak narrates in voiceover that when she thought about it, today was a perfect day—she woke up in Shin’s arms, her fried eggs turned out perfectly, and her live radio broadcast went off without a hitch. “That perfection must’ve been what brought me to this moment. So that I wouldn’t be late. I couldn’t be one second late—this was my fate,” she says.
Shin drops his glass of wine and runs out the door shouting for Eun-tak to answer him. In her dying moments, Eun-tak thinks of Shin saying that he loved her on their wedding night, and she answers now, “Me too.” Her bloody hand goes limp.
Reaper and Hoobae watch from a rooftop, and Reaper says that human sacrifice is something that even the gods can’t calculate, because that’s just human nature and a choice made by the person in that moment. He cries as he says, “It’s a choice only humans can make.”
Hoobae gets Eun-tak’s belated death note now, and Reaper says that Eun-tak answered the gods’ cruel question with a cruelly sad reply, and bursts into tears.
Eun-tak’s soul appears on the sidewalk and she smiles to see that the children are safe. Reaper appears next to her to ask her the standard questions—her name and age—but he’s crying, barely able to say the words.
She says she wondered in the moment why she was doing it, but she couldn’t stop, and she was so scared. When other people see news of the crash on TV, someone wonders if she wasn’t an angel, to have died saving all those other lives.
Eun-tak looks around Reaper’s tea room and says it’s nice, curious about the place where he’s always worked. She asks him how many lives she’s lived, hoping that he can tell her now that she’s dead. He tells her that this was her first lifetime, and she smiles in relief to know that she has three left.
That’s when the door opens and Shin stumbles in, looking numb. Reaper leaves to prepare the tea and Shin silently breaks down in the most heartbreaking sob.
Eun-tak caresses his face and reminds him of what she said before: “That the living have to live on. You’ll cry sometimes, but you have to laugh a lot and be strong—that’s how you honor the love you were given.”
He grabs her in a hug and asks how she could do this to him, and she says she’s sorry. He cries so sorrowfully… ugh, I can’t see. My eyeballs are leaking.
She asks to see his face, and he can barely manage to pull away from her. She reminds him that he still owes her a third wish, and asks him to grant it now. She tells him not to hurt too much, because she’ll come back to meet him, and adds that he shouldn’t make it rain too much, for the citizens’ sake.
He argues that that’s three wishes, not one, and cries, “How am I supposed to live without you?” She says she’ll only be gone a short while: “I promise. This time, I’ll come to you. I’ll find you. In the next lifetime I’ll be born full of life, and stay by your side for a long, long time. I’ll go beg them up there to let me do that.”
She turns to Reaper to ask him to look in on Shin after everyone’s left him, and Reaper nods. He offers her oblivion tea, but she shakes her head and says she’ll skip the tea.
Eun-tak tells Shin she has to go now, and he sobs even harder. She promises to run there and run back, and Shin says, “You have to come back. Even if it takes a hundred, two hundred years—I’ll be waiting.” She nods with a smile and lets go of his hand. She walks toward the door.
She opens it and says brightly, “I’ll see you later,” and walks into the light. Shin collapses in tears.
After she’s gone, Shin writes down: “Here lies the goblin’s bride, who loved and was loved.” He lights the paper with his goblin fire and sends it up into the air.
Reaper narrates that on that day, Eun-tak walked forever into someone’s tears. “Time that could not be distinguished from night or day was washed away in the rain. It was a very long rainy season.”
He says that Eun-tak made sure to summon a guardian god back to this world before leaving it: “A lonely, shining guardian god.” Eun-tak’s red scarf hangs on the laundry rack, soaked in water.
Samshin Granny looks at the rain and muses that Eun-tak must’ve reunited with her mother. There are two teenage girls eating at her food truck, and one of them is wearing the hairpin that Shin’s second-in-command bought from her years ago. She says she wears it even when her father isn’t around because she loves him even when he isn’t watching.
Shin wears Eun-tak’s scarf as he goes for a walk, remembering her words about how first loves never come true. He walks everywhere they walked together, reliving every moment they shared.
Thirty years pass that way, until Shin’s favorite bookstore is covered in ivy and looking worn.
Reaper still walks that same pedestrian bridge as always, sad and alone. When he goes to meet Hoobae, Reaper receives his final death note, and Hoobae says that his long punishment is over now.
Hoobae tells him to rest, sniffling back tears. Reaper thanks him for everything, and then goes home to quietly pack up all of his things. He muses that he won’t have to dry clean his hat anymore, and once everything is put away, he opens up the envelope to find out who his final soul will be…
It’s Kim Sun, and he says tearfully that she said she wouldn’t send word, but word has been sent anyway.
Reaper puts on his suit one last time for his last day of work. He tells Shin to be well, and Shin tells him to be happy in whatever time he’s in.
Reaper says he lived well here and tells Shin not to make it rain too much, and Shin assures him that farewells are his longtime profession, so he needn’t worry. Reaper reminds him to finish the laundry, which makes Shin chuckle, and then he asks Shin to come to the tea room, because he’s thinking of breaking the rules one last time on his way out.
Sunny arrives at Reaper’s tea room, and though she must be a grandma by now, she’s back in her youthful image when she steps inside, and she notes that he hasn’t aged a day. Reaper: “I missed you.” Sunny: “I knew you would.”
Reaper takes out the jade ring and slides it on her finger, and he says he wanted to put it on her properly, just once. He apologizes for the terrible way he made her wear it all those years ago. She says she missed him, so he replies in kind that he knew she would.
He tells her that she’s his final soul, and she asks what happens to them now—will they get their happy ending? Reaper says that this is Sunny’s third lifetime, and he doesn’t know how many lives he’s lived, so she realizes that this could be the end for them.
Reaper tells her that her brother is here, and she smiles to see Shin standing outside the window. He snarks that to the very end, her oraboni is an afterthought. She’s happy to get to see him one last time, and Shin says it’s thanks to making a good friend, and Reaper salutes him. Aw.
Sunny tells him she’s sorry to be going first, and that they’ll meet again someday. Shin: “Be happy, our ugly duckling.”
Then Reaper stands and takes Sunny by the hand, and they walk through the door together. They look happy, and Shin watches them go. Augh, but now he’s all alone!
Shin walks through his buckwheat garden and thinks, “My sister, my friend, and my bride have all left. And as always, I am alone.”
Sometime later, a man sits down next to Shin by the river, and he offers Shin half his sandwich, thinking that he looks down. Shin narrates that in everyone’s life, there are moments when a god has come and gone, when you’re far from the world and someone pushes you back towards it.
Shin takes the sandwich, encouraged by the man’s generosity, and tells him to walk in the opposite direction because he might run into someone who needs his help. The man listens to Shin and comes across CEO Kim, who’s now a very old man, peering into the engine of his car that’s stopped in the street.
The sandwich man is a car mechanic who offers his help, and CEO Kim recognizes the signs—that his car must’ve broken down because he was meant to meet this man, and that Shin sent him.
It must be time for a new identity, because Shin packs up and leaves his house. On his way out of town, he comes across a movie set, and inside the car are Sunny and Reaper. They look the same but they’ve been reincarnated, and Shin smiles to see that they’ve reunited after all.
He narrates that he made a wish when he sent their names up with that lantern years ago: “That my sister and my king would meet again in the next life in the distant future, and that in that life, they would be happy.”
In this next lifetime, Reaper and Sunny have no memory of each other and bicker endlessly on set. When Reaper shows her how an arrest is done by handcuffing her, she gets annoyed and asks the director who this man is to be treating her like this.
The director says he’s a detective here to consult on the film, and Sunny’s eyes suddenly light up as Reaper introduces himself boldly with the name Lee Hyuk. It’s funny that she’s the actress but she’s the starstruck one.
One night they head to a motel and Sunny awkwardly explains to the clerk that they’re on a set nearby but her manager forgot to get her a room, and that Reaper is her stylist. He plays along with a deadpan face.
When another couple comes in behind them to book a room right after they supposedly got the last one, Reaper pretends not to have heard and leads her down the hall, much to her delight.
On another date, Sunny demands to know what they are, and why he hasn’t officially called her his girlfriend or said that he likes her. He sips his coffee silently the same way Reaper used to, and he wonders why he has to say it first. She feels slighted because she liked him first, but he argues that she’s wrong—he liked her first.
That appeases her, anld she puts a bracelet on his wrist, calling it like handcuffs: “Because you stole my heart.” Pfft. It has a little lion on it (heh, “lion” is what the goblin used to call him, short for “grim reaper”), which she got because his nickname at the precinct is—whadduya know—the “Grim Reaper of Violent Crimes.”
She shows him her matching bracelet, and he gets up to plant a kiss on her. In her characteristic way, Sunny says that today is their Day One, and they kiss some more.
In Quebec, Shin heads out for a walk, and his companion tells him to avoid the big streets because there are noisy students visiting from Korea.
Shin sits in the Yoo family graveyard to read in the afternoon sun, and doesn’t notice a girl walking up behind him in the distance. She’s holding a dandelion in her hand, and when the wind kicks up and scatters the flower, the camera pans up to her face.
It’s Eun-tak, of course, and she’s back in high school uniform. She sees Shin and says just like before, “I’ve found you.”
She thinks back to Shin saying that there’s no such thing as forever love or forever sadness, and she answers in the present that she believes there is, and chooses sad love. As soon as she says it, Shin turns around and sees her.
She walks toward him and asks with tears in her eyes, “Ajusshi, you know who I am, right?” Her nametag says “Park So-min.”
Shin answers, “My first and my last… the goblin’s bride.” Eun-tak cries happy tears, and Shin smiles back at her.
Agh, she died. I mean, I knooooow that she came back and that she gets three whole lifetimes with him, but STILL. Despite the reunion (which was a little dry considering all of the heartfelt reunions they’ve shared), the ending felt so bittersweet, and I’m left wondering what Shin’s life will be like when Eun-tak’s three lifetimes are up and he’s all alone again. Maybe other people watched it and were happy at the reunion, but it felt endlessly sad to me, the idea that he’d have to watch her die and be without her again for years on end, and then be the only one left standing like he was when Reaper, and Sunny, and Eun-tak all left the first time. He began the drama as a lonely immortal soul, and in the end he’ll always remain a lonely immortal soul who outlives everyone. It’s as beautiful as it is sad, and I simultaneously love and hate the idea that he’ll remain that way forever.
I was worried that things were just too happy too soon, so I can’t say I was shocked that Eun-tak died in the final episode. Narratively it gives us that sorrowful farewell, which did feel worth it in the moment—to see Shin face the one loss that might break him, and to watch him cry like a small child while she comforted him in death. It was a lovely reversal for the two characters, and emotionally gratifying. I connect with these two characters much more in sadness than I do when they’re being the cutesy rom-com goblin newlyweds, so for me this episode landed better than Episode 15, which felt too bouncy, sandwiched in between the two weightier, emotional episodes. (I was also dissatisfied with the way Eun-tak suddenly regained all her memories without a more significant event to trigger it, because it lacked oomph for me when she just suddenly remembered.) So while the parade of deaths and goodbyes made me sad, I thought it was a fitting finale, given that I always preferred the show when it was tonally on the melancholy side.
Having said that, I still wish Eun-tak had managed to skirt death this time, for Shin’s sake—four lifetimes seems so measly compared to Goblin’s eternal one! I am happy about the fact that Eun-tak was the agent of her own fate, and that she chose the one death that even gods couldn’t have predicted or changed. The outcome didn’t feel like a victory—too sad about her dying—but I like this idea that there are some things gods can’t control in human life and death. But this show has always been about love stronger than death, and a connection that runs so deep that two fated souls will find each other again and again, no matter what name and what form and how much time has passed. So having our lovers separated by death and reunited in the next life follows that central theme to the letter, and it makes perfect sense. I just personally feel like reincarnation endings are dissatisfying in most instances, because it’s not the same two people if they don’t remember each other. Eun-tak’s reincarnation didn’t make me ultimately too dissatisfied, since they found a way around a true separation by having her choose not to drink the oblivion tea, and they both got to keep their memories intact between lifetimes. If not for that, I might’ve blown a gasket, no matter how much they believe that they’re the same two souls.
Reaper and Sunny’s case was an interesting inversion of that rule, where remembering their tragic love prevented them from realizing that love in the present. The purist in me wants the two original characters to have forgiven each other and worked past that tragedy in the present timeline—if Goblin and Reaper could do it, I don’t see why the two lovers couldn’t. But I also don’t begrudge them a clean slate where they just get to be unabashedly happy without guilt and a lifetime of regret hanging between them, especially in Reaper’s case, since he spent long enough paying his dues and making amends, and was finally able to forgive himself. For Reaper, the new life and the oblivion truly are a reward, and his happy ending made me think that Shin was right about heaven always being on Wang Yeo’s side. He got the two things he wanted so ardently—life and Sun—while Shin had to live on without his friend (*SNIFF*).
There are a lot of things I wished this drama had done better, like fleshing out Shin’s other relationships, for one. Deok-hwa and Sunny felt criminally underused given how much screen time was used to repeat the very basic relationship setups over and over. I kept waiting for a big satisfying emotional moment with Shin that never happened, which I thought was such a waste for two people who were supposed to be his family. I could’ve done with half the time they spent on the romance (because honestly, the romances would more often plateau than advance), in exchange for more depth in Shin’s other relationships. I mean, Reaper had a more touching relationship with Eun-tak than Shin had with Sunny, and he supposedly missed her for 900 years! And he said his eternal goodbye from outside a window?
I thought the show was best when it focused on Shin and Reaper’s jobs, because I was often more touched by the small stories—various people facing the afterlife in different ways and being met by those who’d gone before them like a husband or a dog. I totally cried when Shin rewarded his second-in-command for saving his country in a past life. It would’ve been nice to have more of that procedural element in the show, because the overall plot felt thin, especially in the middle stretch. And imagine what momentum the story could’ve had if the villain had been introduced earlier, and complicated our characters’ lives with more subtlety. These were good characters and the mythology held up, but I definitely wanted more from the story.
To me, the interesting part of this universe isn’t the idea of a love that transcends death—because that’s not new to dramaland. I cared about the goblin and the reaper as immortal characters who faced human life and death very differently, and learned to connect to the world in some way. I believed that that hat made Reaper invisible and that Goblin made it rain every time he was sad, and that they carried centuries of sadness in their hearts. The mythology, though overly reliant on fickle gods and fate, was at least consistent and believable, and had a clear purpose in showing the beauty of life by telling stories of death. It’s what felt fresh about the drama, and what drew me in, and it won half its battle right away by making the supernatural world come alive. I can’t even say that Gong Yoo and Lee Dong-wook ran off with the show with their performances or their bromance, because it was clearly theirs to begin with—in this life, and beyond.