It’s the bow-tied, triple-knotted kind of ending for this cast of characters, as we say our final goodbyes to Secret Garden. I’d personally like to say farewell to omo-queen Secretary Kim. Thanks for the laughs. And of course to my new favorite idol-oppa, Oska. Yoon Sang-hyun, I was never on your bus before, but I’m totally on it now. Oska, fighting!
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Joo-won tells Mom that he’s going to live the rest of his life as Ra-im’s husband, despite knowing that it’s going to be near impossible for her to accept. She reels, spitting out that this is nothing but a momentary feeling—it’s something that happens once in everyone’s life. He looks at her curiously.
She means Joo-won’s father, of course, who we’ve never heard mention of until now. She says with bitterness shaking in her voice that “they” are always the ones to grow tired and leave first, while “we” are always the ones left behind. Hm. So she’s lumping Ra-im in with her husband, for a myriad of reasons including class. Well that explains a lot, but did it really require us to wait twenty episodes for that explanation? Is anyone going to be sympathetic for you after all that shrill shouting, for all those episodes?
Joo-won tells her that it doesn’t matter—even if it ends up that way, he’s never going to leave her. He tells Mom that someday he’ll walk her down the aisle with Mom’s blessing. She replies that she’ll roll over in her grave before that happens, and Joo-won takes his leave with a heavy sigh.
Meanwhile, Ra-im heads to the bus stop, trailed behind oh-so-conspicuously by Mom’s secretary. She decides to confront him, and hands him a coffee, saying he must be tired following her around in this cold weather. He looks at her sweetly and says he’s secretly on her side (aw) and offers to drive her where she’s going, since he’s going to follow anyway. Hahaha. Awesome.
She goes to meet Ji-hyun, who’s been going over Ra-im’s charts looking for the reason that she woke up from her brain-dead coma. Ra-im tells her that she’s not going to find the answer in medicine. She adds that the time she visited Ji-hyun wasn’t her; it was Joo-won. Way to advertise to a shrink that you’re batshit crazy.
Ra-im just explains obliquely that it was a miracle, and that she and Joo-won have experienced a miracle that can’t be explained by science and medicine. Or logic. You forgot logic.
At the same time, Joo-won sits down in a café with Jong-soo, who’s called him out for his concession speech. He tells Joo-won that this is normally the kind of conversation they’d have over drinks, but he’s already seen Joo-won’s drinking habits. Heh.
Jong-soo tells Joo-won that he’s always wanted to be a father, an oppa, and a man to Ra-im. But now Joo-won has to be all of those things to her. Joo-won just answers, “What if I don’t wanna?”
Joo-won: “I’m only going to be a man to Ra-im. A father, an oppa…you be those things. Don’t leave her an orphan. That’s MY request.”
AW. Seriously, aw. Can you…hug it out? No? Come on!
The next day Joo-won drives Ra-im somewhere, as he confirms that Oska and Seul have arrived. She wonders if they’re all eating together, but he doesn’t answer. He takes her inside, asking pointedly that if she wants to run away, it’s her last chance.
She halts in her tracks. Are we…? He just smiles, asking if there’s anything she wants to do in her last ten minutes before becoming a married woman. Buh…way to be romantic, dude.
She calls him a jerk for deciding this on his own, without so much as an “I love you,” even if he doesn’t mean it.
Joo-won: Why would I say something like that? You really aren’t very bright, are you? It’s not because I love you. It’s because I love ONLY you. I have no other choice in the matter, you amazing woman.
Pffft. Okay, I know it’s meant to be romantic, but um…it sounds like you’re saying this is your only option in life…which is just not the way you intended it to sound, methinks. He puts out his hand, as he says that there isn’t going to be any flowers, or candles, or even a ring…but will she still become his wife?
She puts her hand in his, and says, “Of course.”
They head inside to register their marriage, with Oska and Seul as witnesses. Joo-won peers over as Ra-im is writing, complaining that she’s writing awfully slowly, when he was totally fast. Heh. They sign with matching heart-signatures, the way Ra-im had signed Joo-won’s name when she was in his body.
Oska and Seul gag at the hearts, and Oska retaliates by signing the document like an autograph. Ha.
They head to Joo-won’s house first, to decorate his room for the newlyweds. Oska tells Seul that he’s learned something by watching Joo-won and Ra-im: that all memories, even bad ones, can be wiped clean with time and love. He promises to remember everything, even the bad stuff, and turn it all into happy memories of how they met, fell in love, broke up, and then got back together.
He gets her to agree to do his music video, and hugs her in delight. Joo-won and Ra-im walk in, asking what they’re doing here. Oska: “We’re here to do all this.” (Pointing to the decorations.) Joo-won: “You were doing OTHER stuff!” Ha.
They thank Seul and Oska, and Joo-won can’t help but take another jab. He turns to Seul: “If we had met when we were 21…” Ra-im and Oska scowl, and they all laugh, as Joo-won kicks them out. “We have…stuff to do…”
He chases her around the bedroom for a while, and then lands on the bed alone. She tells him to freeze, and then climbs on top of him for a kiss. Finally, the Ra-im of yesteryear, pre-wrist-grabs and buckets of tears.
We get a montage of their happy first days as a married couple, taking walks together and staying in together. As they laze around and read (Is it sick that this is the thing I’m most jealous of—that these people have time to laze around and READ?) Joo-won shows her the rewritten ending to The Little Mermaid.
She calls him Secretary Kim (cute) and tells him that his ending sucks, as he chases her around the room in circles. I suppose it works out nicely that they’re both immature in the same ways.
They go to ask Grandpa for his blessings, but he sides with Mom, saying that they’ll have to get her permission first. Easier said than done, Gramps.
Joo-won notifies Mom of the marriage registration, and she ends up in the hospital. Joo-won goes to see her, and she admits defeat. She disowns him as her son, and though she lets him keep his job, she takes back everything else, and tells him to cough up money for the land that his house is on. Well that’s actually way nicer than I thought she’d be. All those dramatics, and you get to keep your job AND your house? What the hell was on the line, then?
Director Park is lamenting his lost job when Joo-won calls, re-hiring him and taking him under his wing. It’s a win-win, as Joo-won earns an ally and loses an enemy, and Director Park gets to keep the job he loves.
Ra-im announces her married status to the action school, and the guys stare agape, some of them even crying (heh). Jong-soo congratulates her and gives her a script to a new project: Sector 7 (another shout-out to a Ha Ji-won vehicle).
Jung-hwan thinks she’s a genius for taking care of the paperwork first (since he’s never been shy about thinking that Joo-won was a catch) and wonders if maybe she’s pregnant. She glares him down, and he decides it’s time to pay Joo-won a little visit…
He shows up at LOEL with backup (and bats! Ha.) to make it clear that Ra-im’s got a bunch of oppas, and that the day Joo-won makes her cry is the day he dies. Aw, this is the cutest thing EVAR.
Joo-won says he already spoke to Jong-soo, but Jung-hwan’s like, I’m the director now! Why are you talking to him!? Hehe. Joo-won accepts the warning this time, but says the next time, he’s gonna tell on them to Ra-im. The guys look around nervously.
Oska handwrites invitations for his concert to his fanclub, and Tae-sun worries that he doesn’t have any time to waste if he’s going to do a decent performance. He makes Oska practice over and over, concerned that his vocal skills aren’t going to top the charts.
Oska tells him that he doesn’t care about those things anymore—now, every moment, all this, is what matters to him. He tells Tae-sun to use this studio from now on and make the music that he wants.
He goes to film his music video, and finds that the story is his first meeting with Seul. Aw. What’s hilarious is that they cast someone to play the younger her, but Oska plays himself. Ha. Oska winks at her as she watches from the monitor, and she smiles.
Joo-won and Ra-im each do well at work, and enjoy the sleepy exhaustion of being newlyweds. Ra-im: “You have to let me sleep sometimes!” Heh…heh. Heh. Heh.
Oska gets ready for his big concert, and everyone watches happily as he sings. Tae-sun is the only one who looks on with a heavy heart, as he sighs wistfully, slings a bag over his shoulder, and walks away.
Seul sees him, and chases him down backstage. She asks if he’s really leaving this way. He answers that it’s because he doesn’t like her (still calling her ajumma). She realizes that he genuinely loved Oska, and asks if he can’t stay and be his friend.
Tae-sun: “You mean you get to be his lover while I have to be his friend?” Well, when you put it that way…
He tells her not to lose Oska to some other girl, and says that the song “Tears” is his gift to her, as he walks away. She tells him that if he ever needs something, to call her. I do really love these two as frenemies fighting over one man. Too bad he has to leave.
On stage, Oska sings his 7th album title track, “Tears.” Seul returns to her seat holds up a sign that says, “Sun said that this song is about me. Do I have that right? With the excuse that I was hurt, I hurt you so much. I’m really sorry. Truthfully, the roasted chestnuts is me. But the cheesecake is some other bitch. I still love you anyway, Choi Woo-young.”
Hahaha. I do love her sassiness. Oska makes a big heart over his head as he sings, signaling to her that he loves her too, and she cries, holding up her sign in the middle of the audience.
As we watch Ra-im do sit-ups while Joo-won holds her legs (an excuse for him to kiss her, of course) he narrates in voiceover that they spend their days finding out just how immature a man and a woman who are in love can be. Heh. Accurate description if I’ve ever heard of one.
They wear MATCHING SPARKLY TRACKSUITS as they play and run around in the snow, and they continue to fight and make up like always. This time he follows her into the elevator for a makeout session, only to be awkwardly interrupted by his entire executive staff. As everyone else gawks and averts their eyes, Secretary Kim takes out his camera….LOL.
Five years later, they have three kids, and Ah-young’s dream comes true, as the couple takes the kids to Grandma’s house for a visit. There, outside the big gate, the kids cry that Mom won’t get them some new toy. Ra-im remembers the dream, and laughs that it really did come true.
Grandma comes out to greet the kids warmly, but coldly ignores Joo-won and Ra-im, making sure the gate shuts firmly behind her. Joo-won says in voiceover that his mother really was true to her word. They expected that time would change her, but she’s remained as firm as ever.
I rather like that her character stayed consistent. No easy answers in life. You know, except for coma-killing-body-swapping miracles. Except for those.
Ra-im becomes an action school director herself, echoing Jong-soo’s lines from the first episode to her team of stuntmen.
Oska proposes to Seul with a chestnut and then the ring he’s kept for all those years, and tells her that fifteen years have gone by since the beginning, and he plans to never grow up, and remain like this with her forever. Well, it’s good that you set realistic goals. She cries, overwhelmed (and probably exhausted, what with fifteen years of dating).
Ah-young and Secretary Kim walk along the river, and happen to find the message in a bottle that he had thrown into the ocean on Jeju Island after they had first met. She takes it as a sign and hugs him in delight.
Jong-soo goes to meet a casting director for a project, only to come face to face with Sohn Ye-jin. Dude, he gets Sohn Ye-jin as a consolation prize? No need to feel sorry for this guy!
She tells him that she happened upon his script that’s been stuck in development hell for the better part of a year, and asks what he thinks of her. He’s like, whaaa? Sohn Ye-jin: “What, were you thinking of casting Angelina Jolie?” He literally OMGs to her face. Haha.
Joo-won and Ra-im put all the kids to sleep and sneak out, thinking they’re home free…only one of them wakes up and announces that he’s going to sleep with mommy tonight. Joo-won: “Who says?” Kid: “Moooommy, I don’t like Daddy.” Ra-im: “I don’t like YOU right now.” Hahaha.
Joo-won puts the kid back to sleep with one finger to the forehead (That’s exactly what MY dad used to do! Why do all Korean dads do that? Where do they learn this stuff?)
They finally get the kids to sleep, and Joo-won carries her out. They go for a walk, as Ra-im says in voiceover:
Ra-im: We still don’t have a single wedding photo. But we live every day, loving and being loved, living a magical life. Maybe being in love is a lot like swapping souls. May your soul have flowers that bloom, a cool breeze, a shining sun, and…once in a while, a magical rain that falls.
It starts to snow as she says those last words, and they snuggle as they watch the snow come down. Still in voiceover, Ra-im asks Joo-won if he’s really not going to tell her…what he meant when he said he tried to deliver her father’s message sooner. Well you sure did ask soon. Five years and three kids later, you finally want to know?
We flashback to thirteen years ago, when Joo-won had gone to the funeral in his hospital gown, and seen Ra-im for the first time. He cried outside and watched over her all day and night, but couldn’t bring himself to go in.
Finally in the middle of the night, when she had fallen asleep on the ground, he came in and repeated, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over to her. He collapsed next to her, and in a stupor, he watched her sleep. She started having a nightmare, and he put his finger on her forehead.
He then fell asleep with his hand over hers. They had met that way, in the wake of her father’s death, only to repeat the same actions over and over again.
What’s fated is fated. That’s pretty much the moral of the story.
As a final episode it didn’t exactly wow me, since including yesterday’s, that’s two full episodes of denouement. All the dramatic payoffs actually happened last week, and this week was mostly a happy send-off for all the characters, one by one. On the upside, it wrapped everything up neatly with bows and all, and we got an entire episode of future bliss for all involved. On the downside, no dramatic tension to be had whatsoever.
On the whole this series was kind of Frankenstein’s monster, what with all the piecing together of disparate genres and picking and choosing elements that don’t really bind together…but it walked and talked like a drama. I think this writer’s strengths are in the moments—her dialogue is crisp and witty, and all the butting of heads crackles with humor and dramatic possibilities. I especially loved the rampant immaturity in all the adult characters. It was aggravating at times, but always entertaining. Her sense of humor is dry and immature, which totally jives with mine. Heh.
What I find lacking (besides a satisfying use of the body swap element, grrr) is a true connection to her characters. I just never fell in love with Joo-won or Ra-im. I know lots of people did, and I’m happy for your beautiful and fulfilling love. I just didn’t, and well, it’s impossible to fall in love with a drama when you’re not in love with the main characters.
I found Joo-won’s character very compelling at first, because he was so damaged and flawed and curiously new…but he ended up being SO socially abrasive that he lost me. Ra-im seemed like she was going to be all spunk, but ended up quite the lackluster heroine, for all the badassery that was initially advertised. That’s not to say that they were wholly unsympathetic, but my heart didn’t expand and contract along with theirs; I didn’t cry when they cried; I didn’t hold my breath when they declared their love….and I really really wanted to. I just didn’t.
I don’t think I’ll ever get past the utter waste that was the body swap plot (oh, the potential, what could have been…I bleed, I cry…) and wielding the fantasy element with such disregard for narrative satisfaction. In the end I think the show courted the audience a lot like Joo-won courted Ra-im: it wore a bunch of shiny things and then expected us to come running, impressed at all the awesome. Hand-stitched in Italy is impressive, yes, but I think I’ll stick to machine-washable: earnest, and full of heart. But that’s just me.
First off, the finale itself. What a weird, uneven cobbling together of epilogue-type scenes. You can really feel the rush job with the awkward cuts between scenes, changing threads without a proper sense of build and flow. I thought it felt like the finale episode of a drama that has been given a last-minute extension—lots of padding to provide fanservice and fill out the time.
I have to admit that the latter half of the episode felt like a copy of My Name Is Kim Sam-soon to me, but without the emotional resonance—I LOVE the finale episode of Sam-soon and felt it was a beautiful fit to the drama, but here, it feels tacked-on. I wish the writer had found a way to make a finale that was more organic to THIS show, that felt like it flowed out of the 19 episodes preceding it, but I think she’d run out of steam (and perhaps more importantly, time).
As for the drama as a whole: Secret Garden is like Gourmet to me—the loveliness of the packaging totally obscures the ordinariness of the story and the hackneyed plot. That’s totally not an insult (and I really enjoyed Gourmet), although I know there will be those who take it as one. But let’s take a look at the drama first before jumping that gun—it’s a show built entirely around the premise of two lovers being held apart by social class, fantasy body-switching shenanigans notwithstanding. And with regards to that central conceit of She’s Just Not Good Enough, there’s nothing really new about how it’s addressed: Hero struggles with self, eventually gets over it. Hero’s mom struggles with it, causes a shitstorm of trouble to keep them apart, never gets over it.
Nothing wrong with a simple plot, and certainly, Secret Garden is buoyed by enough other aspects to make it a fun watch. The acting, for sure, and the chemistry between Ha Ji-won and Hyun Bin, which I think was fabulous despite never fully warming to either character. The depictions were great—the characters, meh. Ra-im was a shell of a character, never given much development or complexity; the writer chose to pour all her energies into Joo-won, at Ra-im’s expense. (This is not exclusive to Secret Garden, since it happens in a number of dramas, but the prevalence of this particular flaw doesn’t negate its weakness.) Thankfully Ha Ji-won’s performance was enough to gloss over that insufficiency for most viewers, although I wished I could have felt something for her character or connected with her even a little.
The magical element frustrates me the most because one of the biggest issues in the drama’s plot IS the body-swapping, and yet the drama never defines its magical rules, never explains the purpose, and just leaves us hanging. I don’t mean that everything has to be explained in minute detail, but when you create a huge conflict and then resolve it with absolutely no explanation, I’m going to feel cheated. I don’t need a logical explanation about how this works in real-life physics, but hell yeah I’m going to want to know why and how it happened within the context of the show itself. Instead, I’m left wondering, What was the point?
It’s clear that Dad initiated the swap to save Ra-im from a horrible stunt accident, based on his comments at the Mysterious Garden restaurant and after she misses her audition. Joo-won effects his so-called miracle to get her the role anyway, circumventing Dad’s intentions, which I can accept as one of those hand-of-fate motifs that kdramas so love to incorporate. But as we see, after she’s in her coma and pronounced very likely brain-dead, Dad still has the magical wherewithal to restore her body, healthy and whole. So why did he ever initiate the swap in the first place, if his mojo could revive the brain-dead?
I don’t buy that they needed to be swapped for Dad to save Ra-im, or that her body needed Joo-won’s soul to heal, because her own soul was perfectly intact—it awakened fine in Joo-won’s body. The only thing damaged was Ra-im’s body, and it was revived just fine.
The same goes for the amnesia—it happens for no reason, then goes away just as easily at a convenient moment. The 21-year-old Joo-won gave me some of my favorite bits of hilarity so I’m fine with the drama taking us there, if only to provide some bubbly fun. But couldn’t the drama have cobbled together a reason, any reason, no matter how flimsy, to explain it? Instead it just waves its figurative wand o’ hoodoo and makes the inconvenient questions disappear into bubbles with that narrative cure-all, magic.
So I am left to conclude that that magic was utterly pointless, and that makes me feel like Drama jerked me around and toyed with my feelings. And it’s too bad, because it’s such a well-made drama that had they tried just a WEE bit harder to connect its dots, it could have been more than a very prettily wrapped box… of air.
I know I know, people will always tell me to shut up and just enjoy it already. I’ve gotten the emails. But that’s not how it works for me— if a drama simply ceases to make sense, then I can’t enjoy it, because I like stories to not make my brain hurt. Or rather, let’s put it this way: I can fall in love with a crazy, messy ball of contradictions, flaws and all (which I’m sure you already know if you’ve been reading this site for any length of time). But I’m not going to try to convince myself that it’s not actually a crazy, messy ball of contradictions. In fact, I enjoyed Secret Garden despite much of its absurdity, shed a few tears, and laughed out loud at its wackier moments. It was fun, and often entertaining and zippy with the comedy. It didn’t rock my world, but not everything has to.
- Secret Garden: Episode 19
- Secret Garden: Episode 18
- Secret Garden: Episode 17
- Secret Garden: Episode 16
- Secret Garden: Episode 15
- Secret Garden: Episode 14
- Secret Garden: Episode 13
- Secret Garden: Episode 12
- Secret Garden: Episode 11
- Secret Garden: Episode 10
- Secret Garden: Episode 9
- Secret Garden: Episode 8
- Secret Garden: Episode 7
- Secret Garden: Episode 6
- Secret Garden: Episode 5
- Secret Garden: Episode 4
- Secret Garden: Episode 3
- Secret Garden: Episode 2
- Secret Garden: Episode 1