Thousand Day Promise: Episode 20 (Final)
I’m pretty sure this finale broke me. I mean, I knew going in what kind of show it was, but there’s a difference between having the detached knowledge that you’ll cry and actually sobbing out a river of tears.
The show bowed out at a series high (19.8%) after flagging a bit in recent weeks — most likely because people were eager to find out the answer to the big question: Did she die? Would a miracle save the day? Sad ending, or happy?
SONG OF THE DAY
Shin Seung-hoon – “처음 하는 말처럼” (Like Saying it for the First Time) from the drama’s soundtrack. [ Download ]
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Seo-yeon’s illness has progressed to the point where she’s like a toddler you can’t let out of your sight, as Aunt learns when she goes grocery shopping, turns her back for a second, and finds Seo-yeon gone. She runs through the store looking for her, then heads outside, panicking. Aunt calls her husband and Myung-hee, who both drop what they’re doing to join the search.
It’s Myung-hee who spots Seo-yeon just as she’s about to board a bus. When asked where she’s going, Seo-yeon says, like a child, “Home.”
Myung-hee first scolds, but gets no response out of Seo-yeon. She softens her tone and asks, like a teacher asking an errant preschooler, what she was intending to do.
Seo-yeon remains expressionless all the way home, sitting by like she isn’t hearing a word, except that she is — when Myung-hee grips about buying handcuffs, or a rope to tie her with, Seo-yeon suddenly hits her in the back, angry. She glares and shoves Myung-hee, then storms off to her room. Aunt chides Myung-hee since they both know Seo-yeon hates being treated like a helpless idiot.
Aunt finds Seo-yeon looking at her reflection in the mirror, lucid again, speaking in her normal voice. She asks, “Aunt…who is she?” Aunt’s heart breaks as she realizes Seo-yeon means the mirror, and she barely holds it together to explain that Seo-yeon’s seeing herself, reflected in the glass.
Ji-hyung narrates to us that Seo-yeon’s condition is worsening so rapidly that even her doctor is startled. Sometimes she sleeps all day, some days she stares at the same page for hours. We see slices of what it’s like living on edge, with every little thing capable of setting off Seo-yeon’s temper.
It’s like she still has the emotions of an adult, but the expressive capabilities of a young child. The dichotomy is ever-present — she’ll do something strange, like trying to drink soup with chopsticks, or trying to wear a sweater as pants. But the moment she’s corrected, there’s a flash of lucidity as she realizes this is more evidence of her deterioration, and the only way for her to react is to lash out — by throwing something, or hitting something. Ji-hyung describes it as an explosion of anger from deep within, from the person who still remembers that she’s Seo-yeon.
Aunt has noticed that she gets worse when Ji-hyung isn’t around, which means that pretty soon he’ll have to stop going into the office and work from home.
He picks up Ye-eun from his mother’s house, where the three ladies — Mom, Aunt, Hyang-gi — are doting on her. Ji-hyung’s uncomfortable around Hyang-gi and keeps a stiff distance. She, on the other hand, is quite at ease with the baby and assures him that there’s no need for him to feel awkward, because she’s met someone she wants to date. He visibly relaxes.
As they’re heading out, though, Hyang-gi’s parents pull up in their car and immediately size up the situation. Mom throws a fit — and we’d expect no less — about her moronic daughter lying so she can sneak over here and dote on her ex’s child. Hyang-gi begs Mom to listen, that both Ji-hyung’s mother and he have discouraged her, but that she comes because she wants to see the baby.
Hyang-gi’s father steps up to take a calmer approach, asking for his cooperation regarding Hyang-gi. Ji-hyung assures them that neither of them are doing anything to cause concern, and they grudgingly agree to trust him on that.
At home, Seo-yeon becomes lucid in the middle of watering houseplants, which she’s done clumsily, resulting in a living room puddle. She grabs a rag and starts to sop it up, apologizing to Aunt.
She says it feels like Ji-hyung has run away, and Aunt assures her that he’s just at work, and due home any minute. Can’t she remember? Seo-yeon says, “I can’t remember.” Then, brightening, “No, I do remember.” Then, deflating, “No, I don’t remember.”
She can’t remember Jae-min oppa coming by yesterday, either, and asks Aunt, “I’ve become really dumb, haven’t I?” She confides that there are times she feels absent, or not herself.
Ji-hyung comes home, and Seo-yeon greets her baby with a friendly but detached “Hi.” While she rests, he talks with Aunt, who confesses the events of the day in a scared voice — how Seo-yeon disappeared in the supermarket, how she was about to board a bus, how this is new behavior for her. But worse is the bit about not recognizing herself in the mirror. Aunt sobs and asks why this is happening so fast.
That evening, he gently reminds Seo-yeon that she can’t go out alone. It’s difficult to watch him trying to prevent future troubles, because lucid Seo-yeon understands all the words he’s saying, and knows she’s not supposed to leave the house by herself. He even wrote her a reminder note on the door, reading, “I don’t know my number. I can’t leave the house.” She says that Aunt always tries to cover the note when they go so she won’t feel bad, which is sweet.
He asks, “You love me, don’t you?” She asks, “Does it not seem like I do? Does it seem I’ve forgotten I love you?” He answers, “No. I just wanted to confirm it.”
Seo-yeon: “Even if I forget other things, I won’t forget that. Don’t worry. Park Ji-hyung, my husband. Ye-eun’s father. The person who loves me terribly, the man carrying a cross up a mountain.”
He entreats her not to give up, because it seems like she has decided to let the inevitable happen. She says that she has, that she’s tired. It’s exhausting trying to hold on to herself when she just loses hold in the end anyway. Refusing to give up doesn’t mean the outcome will change.
He begs her to try, because every day is precious. She starts to cry, saying, “I want to, but I can’t do it. Even if I clench my fist, I slip out between my fingers.” They sob to each other, “Sorry,” over and over.
Aunt chatters on the phone with a friend, and asks if she wouldn’t be interested in dementia insurance — you never know. She perks up at the answer — her friend will? Six people? It’s hilarious how she gets right on the phone with Jae-min to tell him to send out an insurance rep from his company.
She freaks out to see Ye-eun missing from her chair, and sighs in relief when she sees Moon-kwon has her. She chides, saying she thought some baby-thief had come by, and he jokes at the ridiculousness of that.
But in the next room, Ji-hyung deals with a different sort of thief — the imaginary kind, who Seo-yeon is convinced is stealing her clothing, one by one. She won’t budge from guarding her wardrobe, insisting that if she leaves, her clothes will get stolen. She whispers, “That ajumma outside will give them to her daughter.” Oof. Ji-hyung raises his voice, upset that she could say that about her own aunt.
He holds her face in his hands, leans in, and tells her firmly that she’s Lee Seo-yeon. He repeats facts to her and she cries, “I’m Lee Seo-yeon — who says otherwise?”
He barely manages to convince her to go out with him on a drive, and calls Jae-min to act as driver. She doesn’t recognize the road that should be familiar, but puts a positive face on and asks for kisses.
The drive takes them to the old resort they used to meet at, where the three now lunch together. She’s cheery, until she asks how Ji-hyung knows this place and he answers that they came here a lot in the past. She tries to act like that doesn’t matter, forcing a smile.
After lunch, Seo-yeon walks alone while oppa and Ji-hyung walk along behind her. Ji-hyung tells him about Seo-yeon briefly not knowing Aunt, and Jae-min says there have been a couple time where he’d wondered if she didn’t know him, either. Ji-hyung feels like it’s not far off before she’ll forget him, too.
Seo-yeon waves Ji-hyung over with an excited smile, and he comes jogging up to her. She declares, “I just had the thought. I want to die when the cherry blossoms fall. When the flower petals fall like snow, it’s sad and beautiful.”
Ji-hyung changes the subject, not showing a reaction, and she comes away with him giggling, like she hasn’t just punched us all in the gut.
That evening, Ji-hyung hears Moon-kwon and Aunt’s horrified shouts, and comes out to see Seo-yeon holding scissors over the baby. She looks up at them wide-eyed, wondering why they’re so fussed — she just wants to give the baby a haircut. It looks ugly: “Like a dummy.”
Ji-hyung agrees that they’ll redo the baby’s hair tomorrow, but at the salon. To everyone’s relief, Seo-yeon accepts that answer and hands over the scissors. Maybe she has a burst of lucidity, because she barks at Moon-kwon for yelling, then refuses Ji-hyung’s attention as Aunt packs away all the kitchen utensils.
But this calls for more serious changes, and Ji-hyung’s mother sits with Seo-yeon to explain that she and (Ji-hyung’s) Aunt will take care of the baby. Seo-yeon is welcome to come by whenever she wants to see Ye-eun, or they’ll bring her over. Seo-yeon sits quietly, head bowed, saying she understands they’re afraid that she’ll make bigger mistakes.
Moon-kwon sobs his goodbye to the baby, promising to tell her lots of stories about her mother in the future. Gah, why is it that Moon-kwon brings tears to my eyes the fastest? It’s teariest for him, but I think saddest for Ji-hyung, who has to give up raising his own child, for the benefit of both mother and daughter.
When it’s time for Ye-eun to go, Ji-hyung calls Seo-yeon over, and she pats the baby’s cheek. She says, “Bye, take care.”
Ji-hyung sends his mother off, then comes back inside to Seo-yeon sitting there. She hadn’t watched the child go, and he notes that this was the first time Seo-yeon had touched the baby, or said a word to her. Seo-yeon smiles up at him; he says, “My wife smiles, but for what reason, or with what meaning, I don’t know.”
Time passes, and Seo-yeon gets worse.
At the dinner table, Seo-yeon looks up at Aunt and Uncle sitting across from her and asks, “Ajusshi, who are you and why are you at our dinner table?” Uncle looks stricken, but Aunt takes this in stride and explains everyone’s relationships clearly: I’m Aunt, this is my husband, your uncle, the father to Jae-min and Myung-hee.
Ji-hyung catches her talking into the mirror, asking the girl inside to come out: “Come out. I have no friends. Come out.”
And then she pushes away from Ji-hyung and asks “ajumoni” (Aunt) to get rid of the strange man in her room. Told it’s her husband, she asks, “Am I married?” Seo-yeon takes this in, and then turns to Ji-hyung, suddenly back to normal: “Aren’t you going to the office?”
Then while watching TV, she asks why there are so many people in their house.
Finally, Seo-yeon goes on a rampage, tearing down all the reminder notes in the house, screaming, “Burn it all!”
Ji-hyung narrates that now, Seo-yeon is not herself for large stretches of time, lost in her head.
When Myung-hee brings her a nice new sweater, Seo-yeon slaps her and calls her a mean, bad girl. Who knew I could feel so sorry for Myung-hee — especially when she chokes back tears and says, “I was wrong, I know that. Forgive me.”
More silent heartbreak when Seo-yeon asks who the other ajusshi is, and Jae-min cheerily identifies himself as her cousin. Now all men have become mere ajusshis, and all women are ajummas. Even Ji-hyung has become an ajusshi to her, although she understands that he’s her caretaker. The only person left in her memory is Moon-kwon.
And then, another panicked phone call. Seo-yeon has disappeared, from home this time. Unlike last time, she didn’t just wander off accidentally; she must have known the code all along and used it to get out.
The family tears through the neighborhood looking for her, while Seo-yeon stands at a clanging railroad intersection, the arm down as a train approaches. Oh god, drama, you’re not going to go Anna Karenina on us, are you? I swear, if you do…
She steps forward toward the speeding train. Alarmed strangers hold her back, and the family picks her up at the police station.
She gets more violent in the coming days, and tries to attack Aunt in the house. She injures her arm in some unnamed accident.
Ye-eun has grown into a toddler by now. Ji-hyung’s parents think it’s time for him to turn Seo-yeon over to health professionals, but he refuses, saying he’d promised to care for her till the end. They back down, not having expecting him to agree.
It’s also time for Seo-yeon to start wearing diapers, as Aunt hesitantly suggests to Ji-hyung, citing a few close calls. He brings it up, and recognizing the diaper seems to bring Seo-yeon back for a moment, even if it’s through rage. She screams that she’s not a baby, that Lee Seo-yeon has no need for these things.
But that night, Ji-hyung wakes up in bed alone, and when he bolts out to look for her, he finds Seo-yeon fumbling with the diaper, trying to put it on over her pajamas. He breaks down and holds her, telling her she doesn’t have to do it. And she just stares blankly as he sobs.
The picture freezes on that expressionless face and greys out. Fade to white…
And then we open at a gravesite.
Ye-eun’s walking and talking now, perhaps 5 or 6, and comes with Dad to set flowers at Seo-yeon’s headstone.
Ji-hyung kneels to tell Seo-yeon that they’re here, and says chokingly, “I’m still…” As in, I’m not healed yet. I still love you. I’m still with you.
Well, on the upside, it’s over.
I’ll be honest: I did not enjoy this ending. Or this show, for much of its latter half. I won’t go as far as to say I regret watching the show, because there were lovely moments in it, and watching Su Ae deliver a powerhouse performance was worth the pain. Maybe barely.
It’s not the death that bothers me, since that possibility was on the table since Day 1. It’s not the sadness of the premise, either, since clearly I knew what I was getting into. I’ve enjoyed melodramas in the past, and some tearjerkers are actually sort of refreshing to cry along to — not fun, necessarily, but there’s a sense of emotional payoff and gratification when you have a moving story.
What makes this drama a frustrating experience (aside from the cluttered writing) is that it follows a single line: Downward. No twists, no arc, no message. It’s a single-entendre show, and as eloquent as the dialogue could be, as wonderful the acting, as warm and inviting the characters like Jae-min and Moon-kwon, it was designed to show you a depressing story, for no purpose other than that it could.
I had hopes that this show could explore something interesting with its premise, like maybe memory or identity or the value of living on a ticking clock. Like Scent of a Woman, or 90 Days Time To Love, or The Letter. What would we take away from the story of a woman given an unfair, heartbreaking Alzheimer’s diagnosis just when she should be starting her life, family, and career?
And sadly, I don’t think there’s much I get out of this show other than some great acting. It wasn’t just a downer, it was a downer that deliberately withheld hope or any sort of uplifting message. She got Alzheimer’s, she gave up, then she died. The end. That sort of pisses me off.
I don’t mind a dark story, so I’m okay with the trajectory of this show being downward, since that’s kind of inevitable given the premise. What I do think was wasted in the finale was the chance to leave Seo-yeon’s mark on the world with her writing, or give her one, JUST ONE meaningful connection with her daughter. Really just one would’ve gotten me in the heart and done the job.
This is the one episode where I didn’t cry, which is really odd, and also kind of deflating, since I bought the jumbo pack of tissues and all. But maybe it’s because by the finale Seo-yeon has already checked out, so I have no connection, just lots of pity. When the show managed to hit those family connections, it was amazing, but it wasted some big opportunities for that in the final episode, which is really a strange choice, given that it’s what I felt was the whole point of the series. Perhaps the only such moment for me in the finale was the one line from Ji-hyung, noting that everyone had faded in her memory except for her brother Moon-kwon. Portrayed in a dramatic way by Seo-yeon herself would’ve really killed me, and satisfied some of my need for that heart-tugging connection.
The ellipsis to her already being dead is the same – I’m here knowing that death is how it ends, so why rob me of that heart-wrenching moment, and my chance to be with Ji-hyung, or Moon-kwon, or Aunt when she’s gone? I really, really did not expect that my bone to pick with this drama would be that it was not melodramatic enough in the end. I mean, what? I didn’t need for her to live, or to magically be cured of Alzheimer’s. But I wanted her to have her final moments with the ones who have faithfully loved her and stood by her side. I don’t care if it’s movie magic to give someone a final moment of lucidity before death. Give it to me anyway. It’s what dramas are for.
All that about the final episode aside though, I did really like the show as it was going, and loved its portrayal of a prickly heroine and the amazing people who love her. I just wish we got the emotional payoff for being as faithful to the show as they were to her, because I feel (to borrow a metaphor from Flower Boy Ramyun Shop)… emotionally constipated. I’m proud of Ji-hyung’s stalwart love, and her family’s too – I just wished I got taken along for that final lap, ’cause I was all ready and willing to go.
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 19
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 18
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 17
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 16
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 15
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 14
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 13
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 12
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 11
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 10
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 9
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 8
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 7
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 6
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 5
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 4
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 3
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 2
- Thousand Day Promise: Episode 1