Almost at the end! On one hand, it’s a relief to wrap up our story threads one by one as we head into our finale, leaving only our most central conflict left as the final hurdle. On the other hand, that last hurdle is the highest one yet, so we can’t exactly breathe easily yet. I’m sure we’ll get to safety eventually… but not without a little more heartache. It’s the K-drama way.
EPISODE 19 RECAP
Chi-hyun knocks down a cop and steals his gun, pointing it at Joon-jae . Chung sees what’s happening a split-second before Joon-jae does, and leaps in front of him just as Chi-hyun pulls the trigger.
The gun fires, and the bullet lands in Chung’s back. Noooooo!
The cops wrestle Chi-hyun to the ground. Joon-jae stands there in horror, holding Chung in his arms, and his mind flashes back to Dam-ryung’s sacrifice to save Se-hwa. He sees blood staining Chung’s back, and then her body grows heavy as she loses strength.
She pulls back to look him in the eye, thinking, I was afraid you’d protect me again on your own, but I’m happy—the ending changed. This time, I protected you.
Her eyes close, and Joon-jae cries out in disbelief that it can’t be. Her thoughts continue: Now it’s time that you knew. That even if I’m not with you, I’ll keep loving you.
Aw, she’s repeating his words back to him, assuring him to live even if she’s gone. Joon-jae calls out to her desperately as she continues thinking, So you have live happily without me, smiling a lot, loving, like ordinary people do. Comfortably, for a long, long time.
An ambulance arrives, and medics carry Chung to it. She adds: I don’t want to become a source of pain for you, or a frightening dream.
Joon-jae sits with her in the ambulance, begging her not to leave him. She thinks, I love you, and he says those words aloud to her.
The whole thing hits the news quickly, with Stepmom and Chi-hyun arrested for murder and attempted murder. In shock, Mom watches the report on TV alongside Jin-joo and her husband, worried for Joon-jae and Chung.
Chi-hyun’s attitude becomes defeated as he’s driven off in the back of a police car, and a flashback shows that he’d offered Nam-doo two vials of poison with which to kill Joon-jae—one to do the deed, the other as a spare. Nam-doo had assured him he’d only need the one, leaving Chi-hyun with the backup.
So now, he requests a bathroom stop, and sits in a stall choking back fearful sobs. He pulls out that vial, and moments later when he exits the bathroom, he’s swaying a little on his feet.
Chung is wheeled in for immediate surgery, and Joon-jae runs alongside the doctors, telling her encouraging things until he’s forced to stay outside the operating room.
Chi-hyun is silent and unresponsive during his interrogation—his thoughts are fixated on Dae-young, and a conversation they’d had while Dae-young was hiding in their basement.
Dae-young had described how he lived feeling chased and in constant punishment, and had told Chi-hyun he didn’t want him to live like that. “I don’t know who you are, but strangely, that’s what thought comes to mind,” Dae-young said.
The poison has been taking gradual effect, until Chi-hyun slumps to the ground in pain.
In the next interrogation room, Stepmom argues with Detective Hong that he set her up and demands her lawyers. He informs her that she no longer has any fancy lawyers, and that she’ll have to find new ones or use a public defender.
Just then, his partner interrupts to inform him of Chi-hyun’s condition. Stepmom tears out of the room to Chi-hyun’s next door, and screams his name when she sees him lying on the ground.
Stepmom cradles his head in her arms, while Chi-hyun gasps that there’s no use calling doctors. With his last breaths, he fights back tears and tells her, “Mother… the fact that you are my mother… is like a curse.”
He falls back gurgling and goes prone. Stepmom bursts into wails, screaming that it can’t happen.
Joon-jae and his boys wait for hours outside Chung’s operating room. At a certain point, Nam-doo hears the news that Chi-hyun died and informs Joon-jae. Explaining about the two vials, Nam-doo speculates that Chi-hyun drank the second one.
It’s hardly happy news for Joon-jae, who mutters that Chi-hyun was irresponsible through the end.
Chung makes it out of surgery, and the doctor describes it as a miraculously successful operation. The bullet had gone through the left atrium of her heart and she’d lost a lot of blood, and he’d never seen anybody survive something like that. Every explanation begins with “Normally what happens is [this terrible thing],” and ends with “But she recovered quite readily.”
Still, the doctors states that it could take Chung a while to wake up, and that if her blood supply to the brain had dropped enough, she could lose some brain functions. Still perplexed about her unusual case, the doctor asks whether Chung usually ate any strange foods, and Nam-doo replies that she just ate strangely large amounts of them.
While napping on the couch, Shi-ah has a strange dream from Joseon: Dam-ryung sits with his young bride on their wedding night, and finally gets up and leaves to go to Se-hwa. Shi-ah cries out in her sleep, “How can you leave like that? What chick are you going to?”
It doesn’t look like the same actress, but no doubt Shi-ah identifies with that abandoned bride. Shi-ah wakes up puzzled, and scoffs at the random dream.
Over breakfast, Jin-joo asks her husband if he could get hit by a bullet for her, and he replies that he could at least get hit by a rock. Lol, at least he’s honest? She’s grumpy at the response, but when he asks her the same thing, she points out, “I have to take care of the kids. If I got shot, who would raise the children?”
Shi-ah joins them and wonders at the gun talk, and Jin-joo fills her in (after tsk-tsking that she must not be that close to Joon-jae if she didn’t already hear).
Mom joins Joon-jae in keeping watch over Chung, and worries at her not waking up. She wonders if this is why Chung said “that” before, and a flashback takes us to a short while ago, when Mom had cooked a meal for a despondent Chung.
Chung had asked about the story of the Little Mermaid, who’d had to make the choice between stabbing her prince to live, or not stabbing him and disappearing into bubbles. She’d asked what Mom would have done, and said that she thought it was right for the mermaid to disappear—everything happened because she’d been greedy in coming to land.
Mom had thought differently, telling her a different story of a mermaid who’d saved a young fisherman when his boat overturned. They’d married and had children and lived happily, and some of their children returned to the sea while others remained on land and became like guardians to the villagers, communicating with mermaids to warn them of oncoming storms.
“A mermaid coming to land isn’t doing it out of greed,” Mom had said, “but love.” Chung had said that it would be nice for all stories to have happy endings, but that not all of them do.
Joon-jae asks his mother if that’s a real story, and Mom reminds him that she used to tell it to him when he was a child, and he used to love it.
Mom sends Joon-jae up to visit Manager Nam’s wife, and he heads over with Nam-doo in tow, introducing him as a close hyung. It’s the first time Nam-doo is meeting Ajusshi, but he furrows his brow, thinking he looks familiar somehow.
Flashing back to Joseon, Nam-doo’s doppelganger pursues Ajusshi with the hidden scroll. Ajusshi freezes in fear when he’s discovered in his hiding spot… but then Nam-doo directs him to an escape route and hands him a string of coins, telling him to use his horse to ride to the capital.
Nam-doo adds that Ajusshi should complete that task that Dam-ryung had given him. Aww, you were totally faking us out with Joseon Nam-doo! I’d been hoping for something like this, and it’s nicely satisfying.
Ajusshi asks why he’s helping, and Nam-doo replies that he’s repaying an old favor—and an old enemy.
And then, just like that, present-day Ajusshi opens his eyes and sees Nam-doo’s face—and even calls him by his Joseon name. Joon-jae hovers excitedly at the bedside, and Ajusshi first calls him Dam-ryung.
Then he collects himself and says, “Joon-jae-ya, I dreamed a long dream.” Joon-jae takes his hand and says, “Then and now, thank you for being my friend.”
Day turns to night, and still Chung doesn’t wake. Joon-jae worries, while Nam-doo wonders if it’s because she’s “somehow different from us.” Joon-jae looks at him sharply and asks what he means, and Nam-doo admits to hearing their conversation mentioning mermaids.
Joon-jae laughs nervously that it was just a joke, but Nam-doo says that he finds himself believing it anyway. “Chung isn’t the same kind as us,” he says. “She’s a mermaid.”
Seeing Joon-jae’s reaction, he assures him that he won’t do anything to her, telling him that even if he is money-obsessed, he has two principles: He pays back his enemies, and also those who help him. “Even if Chung didn’t save me, she saved my Joon-jae.”
Joon-jae complains at how cheesy that sounds, and Nam-doo admits that it did sound pretty embarrassing. That’s when Chung’s voice cuts in: “Heo Joon-jae is my Joon-jae. Don’t touch him.”
She’s awake, and the boys rush to her bedside. Nam-doo looks overjoyed, but Joon-jae’s mood is much graver as he says, “If you didn’t wake up, I really would have followed you.” She teases him with his words from before about meeting a prettier woman and living happily with her, and he replies, “There’s nobody prettier than you.”
Joon-jae tells her that life is short, and that his love would last longer than his life: “So in this lifetime, my love won’t end.”
He thanks her for coming back, and kisses her hand, over and over, until she smiles. He falls asleep with his head resting at her side, still holding that hand.
Stepmom is escorted out of the police station before a crowd of reporters and angry citizens, who pelt her with eggs and insults. When she sees Mom in the crowd, she lunges for her, asking if she thinks she’s won. She exclaims, “It’s not over! It can’t be over! I can’t have my son be the only one to suffer!”
Dae-young watches the news from a PC room, still trying to fill in the blanks of his lost memory. Scrolling through his phone log, he calls the psychologist, Professor Jin.
Professor Jin tips Joon-jae off right away, who in turn alerts the team to Dae-young’s movements. They head over.
Dae-young meets with the professor, who asks about his amnesia and why he wants to recover his memories. Dae-young confirms that he can’t remember anything before his meeting with “that woman,” and describes his current state as feeling trapped in the woods with a wild beast, and fearing the uncertainty of not knowing when something might pop out at him. It’s driving him crazy.
The professor suggests that sometimes that fear is still better than the truth, but Dae-young is determined to get to the bottom of it: “I can’t live being punished for a crime I can’t even remember.”
So Professor Jin puts him under hypnosis, and snippets from his Joseon-era life come to the surface:
Lord Yang and his gisaeng partner (Stepmom) summon a man purported to have fortune-telling skills, who is the professor’s Joseon-era doppelganger. The fortune-reader explains that he doesn’t have mystical powers and is merely interested in people’s fates, and the gisaeng presses him for a reading.
The fortune-reader says that all of the beautiful blooming flowers are hers, and that their alluring scent will stay with her even after this life. She guesses that this is a good thing, but the reader simply says that it’s not for him to judge whether the fate is good or bad.
Lord Yang asks for his fortune next, and his expectant smile falls when he’s told that he’ll live a life where he’s not sure if he’s being punished in order to live, or living to be punished, like a tree struck by lightning that starts to grow again. The fortune-teller says that it would be better to be struck by lightning and burn entirely, rather than being reborn—but his fate cannot be chosen, and is thus unfortunate.
The next memory to surface is when Lord Yang attempts to flee in the night with his gisaeng. But it’s Ajusshi and Nam-doo who stop him, along with a dozen armed men, charging him with the murder of that merchant on the beach. (The merchant had accused him of corrupt practices that lined his own pockets and threatened to expose him to the world.)
Joseon Nam-doo draws a sword and identifies himself as that merchant’s son. He declares that he will avenge both his father and Dam-ryung in one blow, and strikes. Blood spatters, and Lord Yang falls.
Gasping, Lord Yang swears to be born again and claim all the things he couldn’t in this life. Nam-doo tells him to go right ahead, swearing on his two principles: to repay all enemies and favors, in any lifetime.
Then Joseon Nam-doo turns to the gisaeng and charges her with poisoning his father’s drink. He’s prepared an appropriate drug for her, and hands her a bowl of poison, made from the wolfsbane that is used in royal executions. She writhes and screams as men hold her down and force the liquid into her mouth. Aw, Nam-doo, it’s a good week for you! This is satisfying in a bloodthirsty sort of way.
Dae-young wakes up from his hypnotic trance, pleased to have answers, though also angry at the professor for having known all about his fate this whole time. He asks whose side he’s on.
The professor replies that both then and now, he took no sides—he was only an observer of fate. That doesn’t do much to appease Dae-young, who grabs him by the throat, choking him with a manic glint in his eye.
Joon-jae bursts into the room, interrupting the choking. Dae-young turns to face him, and as they stare at each other, they’re transported to that mirrored room representing that in-between state of consciousness, this time in their Joseon guises.
Lord Yang crows that he’s beaten Dam-ryung, and that the same thing will repeat in this (modern) life, because a love between a human and a strange being can only end in tragedy.
Dam-ryung replies coolly, “It doesn’t matter whose side fate takes. Even at that sad ending, we were happy because we were together, and now is the same.”
Detective Hong leads his team of officers (and Nam-doo) toward the professor’s office, and they burst in with guns drawn. Dae-young freezes, and Joon-jae smiles.
Dae-young flicks open the switchblade in his hand, but Joon-jae doesn’t so much as flinch. After a moment, Dae-young gives up, tossing away the knife, and is apprehended by cops. Hilariously, out of everything in this moment, it’s the sight of Nam-doo’s puzzled face that freaks Dae-young out the most, having just seen it in his memory.
Shi-ah drops by the hospital while Chung is asleep, then jumps a mile when Chung’s eyes open. Admittedly it’s an unnerving look, since she goes straight from sleeping to glaring, and we all know not to mess with Chung.
Their conversation is cutely awkward and a little petty, with Chung surprised at Shi-ah’s interest in her condition and Shi-ah trying to answer in a way that avoids saying she was worried or cared. Then Shi-ah asks about the gunshot and Chung notes that she seems to be enjoying hearing about it.
Shi-ah says she doesn’t hate her that much, and when Chung asks if she likes her then, Shi-ah counters, “I don’t like you that much either.”
Chung replies, “I like you, though.” Shi-ah’s a bit gratified at that, and asks why. Chung says she wanted to be like Shi-ah, who can grow old with the person she likes, which made her envious. “You have a lot of time to spend with the person you like,” Chung says.
Shi-ah retorts that it’s no use having a lot of time when the person she wants to be with likes Chung instead, and says she envies Chung.
Chung tells her she’ll find her fateful match, just like she waited a long time until he showed up. Shi-ah grudgingly says she can’t compete with the girl who took a bullet for Joon-jae and says she’ll be backing off, and wishes Chung a speedy recovery.
Snow starts to fall as Shi-ah leaves the hospital… and then she looks up to see Tae-oh walking straight for her, all romantic slow-motion. She hides how much she likes his attention and suggests that he walk her home, which Tae-oh is happy to do.
When he pulls out his phone to take a picture of the snow, she snatches it away to give him a proper selfie. Then she flips through his gallery to see a whole slew of candid shots of Chung, and realizes that he must have liked her this whole time, which stings her pride.
Shi-ah accuses him of having fun at her expense when she thought he liked her, and stalks off huffily. Hearing footsteps following, she turns to bark at Tae-oh not to follow her—only to get an eyeful of naked pervert, who flashes her.
Tae-oh jumps in and prevents the flasher from pursuing her, chasing him off successfully and then comforting Shi-ah as she cries in his arms. He tells her he’s sorry, brushes the tears from her face, and then kisses her.
The hospital staff is perplexed at the gunshot victim who healed so fast that there’s no sign of the injury left, and joke about her being an alien or a vampire. Their department chief is so excited at this rare finding that he’s been contacting medical associations and the press—something that Joon-jae definitely doesn’t like hearing.
So Joon-jae accidentally-on-purpose bumps into a doctor to swipe his badge, then gains access to a hospital computer. Once in the system, he accesses Chung’s file and deletes all the information in it.
Joon-jae tells Chung they’ll be going home, leaving behind an envelope full of cash to cover her bills. That night, Joon-jae suggests to Chung that he start sharing her loft room with her, since his mother will be moving in and using his room soon, and smiles up at her cheekily.
But she tells him no (aw come on!) and closes the door on him, and he pouts about how she’s changed. Moments later, he looks up in concern when he hears loud music turn on in her room—and upstairs, Chung huddles to herself, holding her heart.
Jin-joo accompanies Mom to Joon-jae’s house, but has to settle for a quick goodbye and no invitation inside. She comes home disappointed, but lights up to realize Mom left a pair of shoes behind. Armed with an excuse to return, Jin-joo and her husband head straight over, and then practically invite themselves in.
As Jin-joo and her husband look around, Joon-jae enters the room with Chung and Nam-doo, and freezes to recognize his former scam target. Jin-joo’s eyes widen in surprise, and then Chung quickly steps in to ask for a chat.
She pulls them into a room, and moments later, Jin-joo greets Joon-jae like she’s never seen him before, showering everyone with compliments. Joon-jae has some idea of what Chung has done, but Nam-doo looks hilariously puzzled at Jin-joo’s odd behavior, though of course he goes with it.
Then Jin-joo says the three of them look quite familiar to her and asks if they’ve ever met before. “Dubai?” she guesses. Joon-jae freezes, and then Jin-joo’s husband points out that they’ve never been to Dubai.
Later, Nam-doo marvels at Chung’s memory-erasing ability and immediately starts thinking of ways to make a profit from it. She’s uninterested, saying merely that she doesn’t care to become busy with work, which will take time away from seeing Joon-jae. Joon-jae pats her head approvingly, grinning at her like a doofus, and Nam-doo says that he’s claiming next in line if she ever breaks up with Joon-jae.
Nam-doo teasingly goes in for a hug, Joon-jae shoves him back, and they grapple playfully. In that moment, a pang hits Chung’s heart, and she clutches it in pain. Joon-jae asks anxiously if she’s okay, but there’s nothing to be done about it.
In the ensuing days, Joon-jae does his best to hide his worry every time Chung betrays pain. Then he asks the others to leave the house so he can have a private dinner with Chung, and tells her that they’ll have their own party.
He prepares a romantic spread, but is subdued throughout dinner. Chung suggests a drink, but he replies that he doesn’t want any, in case it prompts him to tell her not to leave. Ohhh. So that’s what this is.
He entreats, “If there’s another way, tell me. Please, tell me there’s another way.” He knows she hasn’t been eating or sleeping well, and doesn’t know what to do. “When you’re dying like this… do I just have to watch it?”
He takes out Dam-ryung’s jade bracelet and he places it on her wrist. “If you return to the sea, will you get better?” he asks. “Will you become healthy?”
Later, as he hugs her by the pool, he asks, “Promise me one thing. When you go, you won’t erase my memories.” He reminds her of what she’d said, that it’s better to feel hurt while remembering love than to not remember anything at all. “I have things to remember with you, which is why I can let you go.”
She says that it would be too sad for him, because she may never be able to return, and he could never know if she lives or dies. “You’ll have to just keep waiting,” she says.
“If you can’t come back, I’ll be reborn,” he says. “You do that too. I told you—my love will last longer than my time here.”
Chung says she wants him to be comfortable, but he replies that if they both keep each other in their memories, “you won’t lose your way back. And we’ll meet again in the end.”
But he leaves the choice to her, to erase or leave his memories. After a long moment, she tells him that she’s made her decision.
With tears in her eyes, she kisses him.
Aw, so we’re finally at that point. The dilemma of whether to send Chung back to the sea for her health was one I think we all expected to happen, probably a lot earlier than this, and since it makes logical sense I can’t be too upset with it as a plot turn. And to be honest, the fact that it comes so late in the game mitigates the angst considerably, since we know that everything will reach a resolution within the next episode. But I have to admit that when earlier episodes skirted this issue, I was pleased and hopeful that perhaps the drama wouldn’t have to go down that path—not just because it’s a sad one, but also because it’s a bit expected. (And speaking of quick resolutions, it does also kill some of the tension that could have been wrought with this turn if it had come earlier; we know we don’t have to get that invested in the problem, because it won’t be around for much longer. I know I’d have been more caught up in suspense and concern if it had come a few weeks ago and we’d had more time to build things up.)
But given that this is happening now, I do think it’s fitting as our final conflict, rather than threatening Chung’s life with a bullet wound. One reason is that I hate when the main conflict heading into the conflict is rooted entirely in external threats (like villains swooping in); it may offer up conflict to pad out our last episodes, but this approach usually leaves out the interesting character developments or conflicts, and I find that less satisfying. Another reason is that while I don’t doubt that Chung is killable on land, we’ve seen her superhuman healing powers and I had no doubt she’d bounce back.
So really, the bullet is nowhere near as much of a threat as the mystery of what happens to a mermaid on land, and the question of what can be done to help her stay there. It’s the greater unknown, and there’s no guidebook or historical record our couple can refer to in trying to navigate their way through this problem. The problem may be medical in a technical sense, but this whole conundrum of love keeping a heart beating is more Fate’s realm, and when we’re pitting Fate versus science, I’m always going to be more scared of Fate.
I did also appreciate how Chi-hyun met his end, because it felt tragic and fitting—I’ve felt for him all series long, but he gave in to his weaker side and committed crimes, and there’s no coming back from that. His character was certainly well-served by Lee Ji-hoon’s performance, because he always made me see Chi-hyun as a weak person crying out for love and acceptance, who wished he were strong enough (like Joon-jae, perhaps) to live in accordance to his beliefs, but just wasn’t able to. Stepmom, I frankly couldn’t care less about—such a stock villain, with none of Shin Sung-rok’s entertaining panache from You From Another Star—although I did at least think that taking her son away from her was the only punishment that would have hurt her, and thus felt satisfying in that sense. I suppose if I can’t enjoy you as a villain, I may as well enjoy your downfall? That doesn’t make me a bad person, does it?