The pieces are falling into place, and while that results in happy resolutions in some instances, we’re also blowing open new discoveries in others. We’re starting to see close to the complete picture, but the challenge is for the characters to understand how the pieces they’re privy to add up as a whole, and what that means for their fates, their families, and their futures.
EPISODE 16 RECAP
Across a wide intersection, mother and son realize they’re about to reunite after years of searching, and stare at each other with their hearts in their eyes. As Joon-jae walks toward his mother, he envisions her as she looked when he last saw her, just as she sees Joon-jae as the little boy he used to be.
Their steps quicken until they meet in the middle, and then Mom clings to Joon-jae, sobbing that she’s sorry. At first he just stands there in shock, but then he hugs her back.
Chung watches the reunion and thinks, “Of the many things I’ve learned after coming to this place, the best words are ‘happy ending.’ This moment right now is a happy ending. But the hope and despair given by life is that time keeps flowing, and the moment passes. Nobody knows what other moments will come after the momentary shining happiness.” That… sounds foreboding.
Mom keeps her head bowed as she and Joon-jae sit in a coffee shop afterward, filled with guilt over leaving him now that she knows that he was neglected by his stepmother. At the time, she’d thought he’d be better off with his rich father, thinking he’d be looked after, and believed that he’d been schooled abroad and lived well.
Joon-jae assures his mother that he lived well anyway, and met good people. She asks why he ran away in high school, and Joon-jae replies, “Because I missed you. I missed you so much.” He’d thought he could find her right away, but when he couldn’t, he’d even wondered if she’d died. Mom starts sobbing again, but he asks her to stop saying sorry, because he’s grateful just to have her alive and well.
Joon-jae dabs at her tears and pulls her close, and teases that his mom has gotten small: “When I was young, I was always held in your arms. I’ll have to hold you every day now.” Mom says he must have endured so much, growing into adulthood all on his own. He tells her she can’t go anywhere now, and she nods.
While Joon-jae talks with his mother, Chung rejoins her birthday party and fills in the others on what just happened. Nam-doo’s amazed that the mother Joon-jae looked for so desperately was close by all this while, and Homeless Fashionista points out that this sort of overshadows Chung’s birthday. Chung doesn’t mind, though, saying that picking today as her birthday enabled the reunion to happen, and Nam-doo compliments her on her logic.
Then he stubs his toe on the couch, and the sensation jolts the part of his memory that Chung had erased when he’d discovered her swimming in the pool. He doesn’t understand the full memory, but it’s enough to make him eye Chung suspiciously and think hard about what he’s unable to recall.
As they walk back to the house arm in arm, Joon-jae tells Mom he never imagined that he was eating her food all this while, thinking only that it tasted similar to his mother’s. Mom asks if it’s true that he’s dating Shi-ah, as she implied, and is relieved when he says Shi-ah’s just a former classmate.
She guesses that Chung is his girlfriend, and recalls all the times Chung helped her, like pulling her out of a car’s path. Joon-jae gets alarmed at that and nags his mother to be careful around cars.
Mom asks how Joon-jae can afford such a nice house, and he assures her that he made lots of money and can take care of them, and tells her to move in with him. Mom asks what kind of work he does, and Joon-jae mumbles vaguely, “This and that.”
They join the party, where Joon-jae reminds Chung to make a wish before blowing out her candles. She immediately wishes, “I want to live here happily with Heo Joon-jae for a long, long time!” Nam-doo chides her for saying it aloud, saying it won’t come true then, and she looks crushed until Joon-jae assures her that it will still come true.
When Joon-jae reaches to pull out her candles from the cake, she stops him and suggests that they relight them to celebrate their other happy event. So this time, Joon-jae and his mother blow out the candles together to another round of applause… and then Chung asks if there are any more congratulations needing to be given. Little Yoo-na says she got a perfect score on her test, so cue a third round of candle-blowing, and then Nam-doo calls an end to that before Chung can find more things to celebrate.
Nam-doo calls Shi-ah to invite her to join the fun, sharing the news of Joon-jae’s big reunion and saying that she must be quite close to Mom since they lived in the same house. Shi-ah just collapses and whimpers, heh.
The party winds down and the guests say their goodbyes, and Homeless Fashionista—who’s been commenting the whole time on how she’s used to other parties being more lavish—asks for her goody bag. Nam-doo offers her leftovers, and she says she doesn’t eat food more than two hours after it’s been cooked, ha.
Nam-doo notes that all Chung’s friends are very strange, but she says she likes all the friends she’s made here, including Joon-jae’s mother. Joon-jae’s surprised at that, but Mom confirms that they’re friends.
Over drinks, Nam-doo recollects how hard he tried to locate Mom, and she supposes it was difficult, because she spent a few years abroad after the divorce, then lived in other people’s homes once she returned to Korea.
Then Nam-doo asks if she knows the name Kang Ji-hyun, since his research showed that the woman (whom we know to be Stepmom) went to the same high school that Mom did. Mom confirms that she knows her—and that Joon-jae does, too. “She’s your stepmother,” she informs him.
Joon-jae is stunned, but when Mom asks after his reaction, he tries to dismiss it. Nam-doo starts to explain that they’re looking into the whereabouts of the fugitive Ma Dae-young, and how this woman is connected to him somehow.
This is news to Chung, and she asks what their relationship is. This time, Joon-jae cuts in and tells Nam-doo not to say more, and brushes the matter off as no big deal. Neither lady looks convinced.
Shi-ah paces nervously in front of Joon-jae’s front gate, unable to ring the bell. Tae-oh comes upon her as she’s winding herself up in knots about Joon-jae’s mother, and rather than joining the party, she drags Tae-oh along to get a drink.
Over soju, Shi-ah offers to help Tae-oh get over her (pfft) by admitting something that’ll cool his affections, and says that she knew her housekeeper was Joon-jae’s mother. She’d been so terrible to Mom that she thought she could make amends before revealing the mother-son relationship, but now recognizes that it’s all over for her, and that Joon-jae will hate her when he finds out.
She calls herself a bitch and says that Tae-oh should be glad she’s enabled him to get rid of his feelings for her. Sobbing, she wishes for her feelings for Joon-jae to disappear too.
Joon-jae informs Detective Hong about his stepmother’s true identity, and this at least explains why Dae-young has been targeting Joon-jae. He suspects that Stepmom was behind it, motivated to claim Joon-jae’s inheritance. Still, Detective Hong warns that because there’s no evidence to support their investigation, poking into the case could backfire on them.
That’s not good enough for Joon-jae, who is determined to investigate on his own terms and find the evidence himself.
Thankfully, Chi-hyun didn’t succeed in killing Manager Nam in the hospital, though it does put him in a coma. The doctor assures Ajusshi’s wife that there’s still hope that he could wake up healthy… although he does call that a miracle.
Meanwhile, Manager Nam dreams of his Joseon doppelganger, who goes Dam-ryung’s orders to find a scroll hidden in a secret room. When an intruder enters, he manages to slip out quietly, only to be confronted in the yard by Joseon Chi-hyung—and Nam-doo? Aw, man, so you are evil. I should’ve known better than to hope.
Joseon Ajusshi runs, but they easily keep him in their sights. In the present, Ajusshi’s hands twitch ever so slightly as he reacts to his dream.
Chi-hyun bursts in on his mother to ask, point-blank, whether Ma Dae-young is his father. Stepmom just tells Chi-hyun that she’s doing all the work and all he has to do is wait for her to make things happen. He bursts out that he can’t stand the idea of being the son of someone like Dae-young—it makes him feel like moss that can’t go out into the sunlight.
Stepmom tells him of how she and her twin sister were abandoned together, and her sister got adopted into a nice family. She, on the other hand, grew up in poor home with an abusive drunkard for a father, and saw no future for herself. “In that situation, I had one advantage,” she says.
In flashback, we see a teenage Stepmom sobbing to a police officer that she thought her father was just sleeping, looking heartbroken at his death. Years later, she cries at her dead husband’s memorial for him to take her with him. She tells Chi-hyun that people believe the words of the weak, and has used that as a weapon to get where she is now.
Chi-hyun looks devastated, and she cradles his face in her hand and says that she doesn’t want him to take the long, hard path she had to travel, considering Dae-young and Chairman Heo merely parts of that road.
Chi-hyun flings her hand away, but she presses him to continue on this path, and to step out into the sunlight and live as a flower rather than moss. This is kind of a weird metaphor.
Tae-oh sees Shi-ah home, and tells her that he’ll be able to get over her now. She seems a little disappointed at his quick recovery, and he adds that she should confess her feelings openly to Joon-jae. She worries that she might not be able to see him again if she does, but Tae-oh points out that seeing him this way isn’t exactly desirable either.
Mom calls Jin-joo to let her know she’ll be staying with her son tonight, and Jin-joo reacts excitedly to the news. She really is invested in Mom’s comeback, in a cute way.
When they’re alone, Chung asks Nam-doo to elaborate on what he was saying earlier about Kang Ji-hyun and her relationship to the killer. He tells her what we know so far: that Kang Ji-hyun was involved with Ma Dae-young, and that she’s surrounded by suspicious deaths. They were unable to confirm whether the couple had a child together, but if she is in fact Stepmom, then Chi-hyun is likely that child.
Chung supposes that Joon-jae must have been quite lonely, and Nam-doo says it’s a good thing Joon-jae met him when he ran away from home, because his family home was so cold.
After Chung leaves, Nam-doo remains behind to stare at the pool, trying to piece together the memory fragments of that day he can’t remember. Suddenly, he remembers himself urging Chung to cry. He can’t figure out why, and mulls it over.
Chung shows Mom up to her loft room, and finds a present waiting for her from Joon-jae. The card reads, “My beloved Mung-Chung-ie [dummy], you went through a lot to come to me. Thank you for coming. From now on, I’ll make sure you only wear pretty shoes and walk in good places.”
Inside the box, Chung finds a pair of shiny new sneakers and giddily puts them on, then lights up to see the pink stuffed octopus in the next box.
Then Mom pulls Chung into a hug, saying that she’s grateful to have her with Joon-jae. Chung says the same right back, that she’s glad Mom is here with Joon-jae.
Then Chung adds, “If something ever happens and I’m not with Joon-jae, don’t go anywhere and stay with him.” Brow furrowing, Mom asks what might happen, to which Chung just says it’s a hypothetical. Gah, I hate you, foreshadowing!
Down below, Joon-jae smiles to hear Chung thanking him in her thoughts, and sends her a text asking why she’s not asleep yet. She replies via her thoughts that she didn’t get a proper chance to look at his face on her birthday, so he texts her to open her door and beams up at Chung when she does.
He texts for her to go to sleep now that she’s seen his face, but Chung pouts that on TV, birthdays come with kisses. So Joon-jae laughingly waves her down, and Chung does, after first checking that Mom’s asleep. (Mom totally isn’t, and smiles to herself.)
In the pool area, Chung puckers up for her birthday kiss, and Joon-jae chides her for trying to steer their romantic love toward the dirty side. What, like that’s bad? He also requests that she keep her nighttime thoughts down, since it’s so noisy in his head that he can’t sleep. She mutters that it’s unfair that he gets to eavesdrop on her thoughts, although he replies that he doesn’t want to hear them either.
She asks if he called her down to complain, and Joon-jae says no, pulling her close in a hug. He says he’s checking that her heart is still running properly, and notes that it seems weak right now. He gives her a kiss, then declares her heart back to a strong heartbeat.
The next day, Mom returns to Jin-joo’s house, and Jin-joo thrills at the thought of Mom and her son regaining their rightful places. Mom isn’t interested in that for herself, but does want Joon-jae to reclaim what’s his.
Jin-joo calls Mom “unni” and tells her not to bother cooking today, and suggests tea, wanting a nice long gossip session. She gets up to serve Mom, and then her husband comes home and treats Mom like a guest too. Jin-joo has even sent him to grab groceries in Mom’s stead, although she then berates him when Mom doesn’t like the look of the produce.
Shi-ah does a quick 180 out of the room when she sees Mom there. But Mom notices, and drops by Shi-ah’s room to guess that she already knew Joon-jae was her son. Shi-ah stammers that she was going to speak up, and asks if Mom will tell Joon-jae.
Mom surprises her by taking her hand and thanking her for being a good friend to Joon-jae. She asks her to continue being a friend, and Shi-ah is so relieved and thankful that she swoops in for another hug—but Mom is prepared this time and wards her off, hehe. She also tells her not to call her “Mother” but to act as she did before, leaving Shi-ah wondering if she just drew a line keeping her from being too close to Joon-jae.
Joon-jae shows up unexpectedly at the company to demand his father’s whereabouts from Chi-hyun. Chi-hyun dismisses his entourage of executives, who walk away murmuring about Joon-jae being the chairman’s son. Chi-hyun repeats his earlier lie about Dad being off on a vacation, and when asked where, he pauses for a moment before saying Hawaii. Joon-jae doesn’t buy it and says plainly that he doesn’t trust Chi-hyun, and walks away wearing a grim face.
Detective Hong confirms that there have been no records of Chairman Heo leaving the country in the past six months. Joon-jae calls Nam-doo to announce that they’ve got a new target to infiltrate: his father’s house.
Nam-doo’s excited to have a new job, though confused at the target, while Chung perks up to hear Nam-doo’s end of the conversation. She even offers her help, and he rejects it right away, knowing Joon-jae will get angry. Then he suggests they can just keep it from Joon-jae, and she agrees.
Even Mom gets in on the action, asking for Jin-joo’s help in drawing Stepmom out of the house for a few hours. Jin-joo’s thrilled to play a part, and ensures Stepmom’s presence by specifically inviting everyone but her to a gathering, promising to tell them juicy news. Ha, that’s clever, since Stepmom decides immediately to go, not wanting Jin-joo to shoot off her mouth.
Chi-hyun drops in to see Chairman Dad in his bedroom, sounding pretty drunk and asking if Dad can just have one son, promising to protect him through the end. “Do you really need Joon-jae?” he asks, a bit despairingly. At Dad’s non-response, Chi-hyun plays it off as disappointment in Joon-jae for refusing to see his sick father, lying that Joon-jae had told him, “He’s your father, so you take care of him.”
Trying to get his father on his side, Chi-hyun adds that Joon-jae is a con artist now, asking if he really needs him. Dad just tells him that he’s drunk and sends him away.
Nam-doo scopes out the chairman’s neighborhood by going around with advertising flyers, and notices that their mailbox contains a letter from a pest control company. Then, we see a van in their fleet of cars with that company’s logo on it.
Joon-jae dons his disguise for the day and gets ready to move out, as does Chung. He asks where she’s going, but when she asks the same of him, he quickly deflects to avoid having to answer. Nam-doo shoots her a wink behind Joon-jae’s back, which she returns.
Joon-jae complains that her dress is too short, and when Nam-doo points out that he’s objectively wrong, Joon-jae fumbles for another reason to object. “It’s too… pretty! Go change!” It’s absurd, but on the other hand, Chung does concede to herself that looking too pretty doesn’t suit her purpose today.
The moment Stepmom leaves her house, the team swings into motion. Detective Hong and his partner keep watch from the pest control van, while the con artist trio head out dressed as exterminators. I love how Detective Hong tells the team to not do anything illegal and to be careful, like a worried mama hen.
The team presents themselves as the household’s regular pest control team, and Nam-doo keeps the housekeeper busy while the other two split up, pretending to inspect for bugs. Joon-jae is hit with a wave of emotion as he looks around his old home for the first time in years.
Nam-doo had assured Joon-jae that Chi-hyun would be late coming home, and now we see that he’s ensured this by Chung going out to dinner with him. Chi-hyun is happy that she called him out, but his face falls immediately when she asks if he knows Ma Dae-young, and what his relationship to the man is. Neither of them seems aware that Dae-young is, at the moment, just tables away.
Chi-hyun asks why she wants to know, and Chung explains that Dae-young keeps popping up in their orbit for unknown reasons. But she wonders if it’s something Chi-hyun could have a part in stopping, if he’s somehow related. But Chi-hyun tells her coolly that he can’t do anything, because he has nothing to do with Dae-young.
Tae-oh hacks into the security system to disable the cameras, then copies files from the chairman’s computer regarding company investments. Joon-jae makes his way to Stepmom’s parlor, and takes a few quick photos of all the purple flowers decorating the space. He finds a jar of pills and swipes some, in addition to a vial. He sticks a device underneath her table, then heads upstairs.
He pauses for a moment before opening his father’s door, and steps inside to find his father sitting on his bed in a dark room. The chairman looks up blankly as he asks if it’s his wife. Joon-jae watches with sad eyes as his father fumbles for the light, then squints at his figure and asks if he’s Chi-hyun.
Dad gets alarmed at his silence and feels around for his phone, but Joon-jae approaches and places the phone in his hand. Dad recognizes Joon-jae’s voice, though his face remains a blur.
Joon-jae’s worry and frustration come out in an angry shout as he demands to know why Dad is here, and what’s become of him. “Did you leave Mom and treat me so horribly just to end up like this?” he asks accusingly.
The housekeeper gets suspicious of the voices from upstairs and shakes off Nam-doo’s attempts to distract her, hurrying away to check on the situation.
Joon-jae tries to usher his father out, saying that it’s dangerous for him here. Dad scoffs at that, but Joon-jae tells him that Stepmom was behind Ajusshi’s accident, as well as Dad’s condition. But I guess that just sounds like childish complaining, because Dad bristles, taking Joon-jae to task for coming home for the first time in years and accusing his mother. Joon-jae, on the other hand, takes offense to that use of “mother.”
Dad says defensively that Joon-jae must want for him to admit he was wrong about everything, and Joon-jae readily agrees. But Dad says it was his life and his choices, insisting, “I wasn’t wrong. I was happy.” He says that his eyes will heal with surgery, clinging to his denial.
Upset at his father’s reaction, Joon-jae says, “I’m not the only thing you can’t see right now. You can’t see anything. You have no intention of seeing how far your life has fallen.” But Dad thinks Joon-jae is only driven by hate of his stepmother, saying that she’s a kind woman who waited for his return for years. “I know her best,” Dad says. “What do you know?!”
At that, Joon-jae lays out the facts: Stepmom’s real name, and her backstory, with two dead husbands. That shocks the chairman, even as he insists weakly that it’s all nonsense. Joon-jae says that Dad doesn’t have to believe him, but he refuses to leave him here, and intends to drag him by force if necessary.
Joon-jae reaches for Dad’s arm, and at that, Dad bursts out, “They say you go around conning people! And now you’re acting like this to your own father, you bad guy?” Stung, Joon-jae lets go of his arm.
The housekeeper calls Chi-hyun to tell him that the exterminators seem strange, and that there are loud voices from the chairman’s room saying something about Father. Guessing that Joon-jae’s there, Chi-hyun tells her not to let Dad leave the house and to call the police if necessary. He also supposes that Chung called him to draw him out.
Chi-hyun drives off in a hurry, leaving Chung on her own—and that’s when Dae-young, who’s been lurking, steps out and approaches Chung in the parking lot. She doesn’t seem scared and starts walking toward him, and doesn’t even seem that fazed by the hammer he holds up.
But suddenly, Dae-young throws it upward—not at her, but at the pipe above, triggering the sprinkler system.
Chung starts running as water spurts from the pipes, and Dae-young chases. She makes it into the stairwell without being sprayed, and runs up with Dae-young close behind. Near the top, she heads through the door—and when Dae-young opens the door moments later, he’s surprised to find her standing right in front of it, waiting for him.
Chung grabs his arm and pulls him out onto the rooftop, warning that his memories will erase now, and then he’ll be apprehended. Dae-young tries to pull his hand away, but she grips tightly, telling him that he’ll be in a kind of hell, not remembering anything but having to pay the punishment anyway.
She closes her eyes to begin the memory wipe, and we see a succession of murders flash through his mind: a man in a stairwell, a woman in a field, Younger Stepmom crying over a body, Adolescent Stepmom and her adoptive father…
Then his Joseon lifetime mixes in with the images, and the scenes play in Chung’s mind too. She watches the scenes from Se-hwa’s life that involved Lord Yang, such as her initial capture and reunion with Dam-ryung, culminating in the final encounter in the water when Dam-ryung had thrown himself in the path of the harpoon meant for her.
In shock, Chung lets go of Dae-young’s hand as she remembers Joon-jae telling her of Dam-ryung and Se-hwa’s happy ending, horrified to realize it was all a lie.
Oh noooo, why do I have a sinking feeling about this discovery? I was pleasantly surprised when Joon-jae found out the truth of Chung’s heart and didn’t insist she return to the sea or do some other nobly stupid thing “for her own good.” I was relieved when his response to seeing Dam-ryung’s and Se-hwa’s tragic fates was to decide that it was an opportunity for him to change his ending with Chung, especially when this couple is so darn cute when they’re together and open about their feelings.
But now that Chung sees that fateful ending for herself, I wonder if it’s too much to expect for a similar reaction from her. For one, this is a mermaid story, and dramas do love to play with the story of that little mermaid who died while her prince lived on. I don’t for a second believe that’s what’ll happen, but that doesn’t mean we won’t flirt with that angst. And I don’t love the whole “If anything ever happens to me” speech Chung made to Mom. (I’ll comfort myself with the recollection that Joon-jae said that too, and that didn’t lead to too much trauma.) I just hope that the show will continue its pattern of addressing conflicts swiftly and letting them move aside, not lingering too long in them.
I’m intrigued by this revelation of Joseon’s version of Chi-hyun and Nam-doo being in cahoots. It wasn’t at all a surprise that Joseon Chi-hyun was involved, or that Nam-doo would turn out to be dark, since those are elements that have been teased before. I just didn’t expect them to be in cahoots, and now find myself really curious to know if modern-day Nam-doo has anything to do with Chi-hyun or his mother.
I wonder if it’s purely optimism to think that there’s still hope for either/both Chi-hyun and Nam-doo—I’d like to believe that there is, not just because I want them to shed their dark sides but also because I find them more interesting that way. Both are well-acted, by actors who know how to play up both good and bad aspects in their performances for morally ambiguity, and both have flashes of something promising in their personalities. Does having one trajectory in the Joseon timeline guarantee that their modern counterparts will follow? I really feel like it’s up to them to decide which way to tip, and not a foregone conclusion of fate. Which we can then extrapolate to the drama as a whole, in an optimistic sense, because I’d rather believe in Joon-jae’s declaration that fate isn’t fixed, but changeable. In that sense, tragedy can be used to prevent future tragedy, rather than predicting it.