Equator Man: Episode 20 (Final)
We find out exactly how powerful one sincere apology can be as revenge and redemption come full circle in an ending that’s sure to tug on the heartstrings. Equator Man brought new depth and dimension to the idea of a tragic backstory, and functioned well as a human drama where choice is all that stands between us and a padded cell. I may not have been completely satisfied with all the choices made, but I felt for the first time in a long time the very pull that hooked me to this show in the first place.
And while we had some inevitable mishaps due to the live-shoot system (last episode’s broadcast troubles tacked on an extra ten minutes to the finale), I can’t heap enough praise on the cinematography of this show, which has been stellar from start to finish. This is a director who relies less on fancy editing or funky camera angles and actually focuses on how he fills the frame to tell a story – a trait I’ve admired since White Christmas. I’ll definitely be looking out for his future projects.
Equator Man lost the ratings race at the finish line, coming in right behind Rooftop Prince at 14.1%.
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Jang-il bursts into Sun-woo’s office to proclaim the news of his father’s death to see if that satisfies Sun-woo. Sun-woo calls him out for still being the same selfish Jang-il – why isn’t he thinking of how he felt fifteen years ago when his father died? (I get where you’re coming from, Sun-woo, but as of now you’re not the only one with a dead dad.)
But Jang-il isn’t having any of it. “You’re just like your father,” he accuses Sun-woo, speaking of Chairman Jin. He blames Sun-woo and his father for killing his own, and even yells at Ji-won the second she comes in to try and stop the fight. He levels a dark look at Sun-woo before he growls, “You and your father are both devils.”
Later that night, Sun-woo tries to cheer up the atmosphere by claiming that his revenge is complete, so why shouldn’t he feel relieved? Chairman Jin is out of business, Jang-il’s father is dead, Jang-il lost his job, he ruined Soo-mi’s paintings… everything he wanted, he achieved. His face tells a different story, as Ji-won notes.
“I had to do it,” Sun-woo finally admits, as if to reassure himself. “But I don’t feel as good as I thought I would.” And finally he just breaks down into sobs while Ji-won cradles him in her lap.
Chairman Jin has sent money for Yong-bae’s funeral costs, and uses that as leverage to try and get Jang-il to help him regain his resort. Jang-il simply hangs up on him and gazes at the memorial picture, claiming that he wanted to do something for his father’s 49th-day tribute. Does this mean that he won’t be around for that 49th day?
Sun-woo goes to pay his respects to Yong-bae’s memorial. There’s a post-it note attached to the glass from Jang-il directing him to the receptionist, where he receives a letter from Jang-il. It reads (as we hear in voiceover):
You’ve come to see my father. You were my beloved friend, and yet you were the one I hated the most. Since when did we become enemies? I have these dreams, dreams of us being in the same class together. But they are only dreams. We can’t go back now. I’m going to end it once and for all. Thanks to you, I have realized there were friends rather than competitors in this world. I’m sorry if I killed you back then. Do not forgive me.”
Okay, what? This is Jang-il’s expression of remorse? The moment I’ve been waiting for? In a letter? This is like breaking up with someone via a post-it note. What do you mean, “since when did we become enemies?” When do you think you became enemies, Jang-il? You think that maybe, just maybe, it was when you took a tree branch to his head? Sheesh.
And we’re back full-circle to the opening scene of the drama set in Thailand. Jang-il buys a gun to confront Chairman Jin at his resort, while Sun-woo races to the scene to stop them.
We get to footage we haven’t seen before as Sun-woo enters the resort and reads a letter that troubles him, though the contents remain unknown to us. We’re back to the footage we’ve seen before as Jang-il confronts Jin on the vista overlooking the city, and reminds him that this resort is no longer his.
Just like we’ve seen before, Jang-il levels a gun at the back of Chairman Jin’s head. He’s written their final wills (presumably what Sun-woo read inside). Once again, Chairman Jin tells him that he’d be nowhere without his help, though Jang-il claims that he didn’t know the helping hand he accepted was stained with blood. Except… he totally did. De Nile is not just a river in Egypt, Jang-il.
Sun-woo arrives on scene. “Jang-il-ah, let’s stop this,” he says, and for a moment Jang-il’s resolve is shaken. But he stays the course, angry tears falling down his face as Chairman Jin taunts him by claiming that he’s just like his father. These aren’t the right words to say to a man ready to shoot, and Jang-il pulls the hammer and prepares to shoot… only to have Sun-woo force the gun away so he can stand between Jang-il and his father.
Jang-il aims the gun again, this time directly at Sun-woo, and his face contorts in sorrow. He can’t do it – he can’t kill his friend that he just started caring about when it was time for the finale. So he turns the gun on himself, ready to commit suicide.
Just before he can pull the trigger Sun-woo tackles him, and a shot rings out – the stray bullet hit Chairman Jin in the arm. Sun-woo shoots the remaining bullets into the air so there are none left.
And then we find Sun-woo piggybacking Chairman Jin down a street to get to a hospital. Chairman Jin looks contrite, and wonders why Sun-woo is helping him. “Are you my child?” he asks. Sun-woo replies that he isn’t, which causes tears to spring to Jin’s eyes. He cries on his son’s shoulder. That seems sudden.
And Jang-il, stripped down to his shorts, sits and shivers under the spray of a shower.
Sun-woo forces his way into the room to find Jang-il in a robe taking shots. Jang-il deadpans, “You ruined everything.” He asks if Chairman Jin is Sun-woo’s real father, and Sun-woo once again denies it. But now that Jang-il has turned onto the idea of revenge, Sun-woo warns him against it, because he’s suddenly learned the error of his ways. “What if Jin dies? You think you will feel better?” he asks Jang-il.
Seems like the answer is yes, though Sun-woo is put off when Jang-il tells him to be quiet: “Can’t you see me talking with my father? I’m talking with my father right now.” Only silence follows. Boy done lost his ever lovin’ mind.
Sun-woo seems to realize this and wants them to head back to Korea together, stat. Because all is forgiven, apparently.
The next morning, Sun-woo watches as Jang-il lies in bed shivering uncontrollably. Sun-woo urges his old friend to sleep more, and that he’ll be back soon.
So next we find him, he’s back in Korea with Ji-won, who tells him that Chairman Jin will be arrested soon for fraud.
Geum-jool catches up to Soo-mi, who’s out taking her wheelchair-bound father for some fresh air. He tells her the bad news: Jang-il has lost his mind. She doesn’t even seem surprised – in fact, she looks pleased. Kwang-choon is upset to hear that Sun-woo is footing Jang-il’s hospital bills, since he’s sure Jang-il will just backstab someone the second he’s better. Geum-jool: “I don’t think that he will get better.”
Soo-mi is sure that Sun-woo must be happy to see Jang-il in such a state. (He’s not you, honey.) But she’s excited to go, because someone who once looked down on her is now insane – a clear cut victory in Soo-mi’s world.
She finds Jang-il reading serenely in the mental hospital and talks to him like a child. She only came for a moment, though she’s stopped on her way out when he asks her when they’re going to go to the seaside cliffs (he’s specifically referencing the date he once promised her when they were young, the same one he stood her up on when he found out who her father was.) So he’s reverted back to his teenage self, pre-tree-branch?
To Soo-mi’s credit, she at least turns back to him with something akin to pity in her gaze.
Meanwhile, Chairman Jin’s wife and daughter leave him for good right before the police arrive to arrest him for embezzlement, fraud, the works.
Sun-woo heads to the hospital grounds to visit Jang-il, and through Jang-il’s now-warped worldview we see adult Sun-woo transform into his younger self, who greets Jang-il with a hug and a smile. When the camera pulls back we see that Jang-il has also transformed back into his younger incarnation.
It’s just like old times as the two boys bicker back and forth over Sun-woo getting into too many fistfights and studying. The table set with school textbooks Adult Jang-il had been sitting at is now used for Teen Jang-il to help tutor the errant Teen Sun-woo to improve his grades. I didn’t expect it, but this moment has got me all choked up.
And then the camera reveals what we’ve known all along – that they’re not their younger selves, and that Sun-woo is playing out Jang-il’s insanity fantasy. It’s heartbreaking, sad, and beautiful that Sun-woo is doing this for him. I need a tissue – scratch that, I need the whole box.
Jang-il pauses, and then warns Sun-woo to tell his father not to go to Chairman Jin’s villa. He doesn’t remember why, but Sun-woo can’t let him go. Sun-woo nods, going along with the pretense, reassuring Jang-il that he’ll tell him.
Then they’re back to their teen forms, with Jang-il saying, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I think I got you into trouble… but I can’t remember.” Young Sun-woo reassures him that nothing happened – there’s nothing he needs to guilt his conscience over. He returns to his homework as they transform back into adults, and Jang-il looks out into the distance with a vacant expression.
Sun-woo tries to focus on his ‘homework’, though he fights to hold back tears. Gah. There are a million things wrong here (like Sun-woo being the reason Jang-il lost his marbles, but then Jang-il was the reason this all started, endless cycle and all that), but the fact that he’s there supporting him now, when Jang-il’s mind is so broken, his posture so feeble, counts for something.
In prison, Ex-Chairman Jin receives the paternity test results from Tae-joo confirming beyond a doubt that his fiancée was always faithful to him, and that Sun-woo is his son.
It’s another evening at the hospital and Sun-woo has come to visit, though Jang-il looks more focused than before. He thanks Sun-woo for forgiving him, because he can remember everything now… starting from the day he found his father hanging on his birthday. Everything.
Sun-woo tries to divert the subject, but Jang-il is insistent. “Actually I wanted to kneel in front of you and ask for forgiveness all along, but I couldn’t. If I were you… if I had to go through the same thing… I would never have forgiven me,” Jang-il says, his eyes wide and lost.
But Sun-woo assures him that it’s okay, because he’s already forgiven him. And that he’s also wronged Jang-il, so they’re even. With a newfound clarity, Jang-il insists that he wants to be discharged so he can start his life anew. Before that, though, he wants Sun-woo to take him back to their hometown.
Jang-il is released from the hospital, and the two boys walk the same paths they once did when they were younger. He’s all smiles as he asks Sun-woo to take him to the place where he scattered his father’s ashes so that he can apologize to Sun-woo’s father (the cliff where he hit Sun-woo). He’s sort of sane now, right? They wouldn’t have let an insane man out of the hospital, would they?
At the edge of the cliff, Jang-il performs a formal bow to the spirit of Sun-woo’s father. He squints into the setting sun and sees someone that isn’t there, up on the cliff. He wants to go there but kneels instead, telling Sun-woo that ever since “that day” this cliff has become his nightmare. But today he will overcome it. (Bad vibes. Baaaad vibes.)
He flashes back to the scene of him hitting Sun-woo, only this time he tries to warn the young Sun-woo to dodge the blow. The adult Sun-woo tries to urge him to go home, knowing what he’s going through.
Jang-il: “Sun-woo-ya. I’m sorry. After that day, I have never smiled wholeheartedly, nor have I slept well.”
“I know,” Sun-woo replies. “Just let it go now.”
But Jang-il begins to stagger toward the cliffside where he sees an image of Young Sun-woo standing there, smiling at him. Young Sun-woo approaches him silently, and Jang-il asks the specter, “Will you forgive me?” Young Sun-woo smiles, “I already have.”
Adult Sun-woo (bear with me here) hears his name being called… and turns to see an image of Young Jang-il approaching him. Wait, who’s the crazy one in this outfit again? Young Jang-il: “Sun-woo-ya. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Adult Sun-woo tells him that he already has, and asks to be forgiven in turn.
We have an image of all four versions of Sun-woo and Jang-il as they all make peace with one another. And then, only Jang-il and Sun-woo are left on the cliff. Sun-woo is ready to go home and turns his back on Jang-il as they start heading back, but Jang-il stays behind, riveted by the memory of him hitting Sun-woo playing before him like a movie.
When Young Sun-woo gets pushed off the cliff and into the ocean, Adult Jang-il springs to action to save him… and Sun-woo only hears a splash. Jang-il has jumped into the ocean.
He turns around as realization sets in. Running to the edge of the cliff, he screams Jang-il’s name. But the waves are crashing too hard, and Jang-il can’t be seen.
As Jang-il begins to sink to the ocean, we see a memory(?) of him and Soo-mi in their old high school classroom on friendly terms, with him admitting that he shouldn’t have stood her up on that fateful date.
Sun-woo jumps into the ocean to save his friend, desperately swimming toward him as he sinks deeper and deeper. Jang-il smiles at him while he stays just out of Sun-woo’s reach…
Super awkwardly-edited cut to: Sun-woo hearing from the doctor that he’s gone blind again. This time it’s not from blunt force trauma, but psychological trauma. Whether he’ll regain his sight again is uncertain.
Ji-won is back to taking care of Sun-woo, and goes back to her old routine of reading books aloud to him. She flashes back to all the memories they shared when he was blind, just as Sun-woo interrupts that he has something to tell her. It sounds serious until he simply admits that he was the one to send her those flower bouquets all those years, which disappoints her because she already knew. She takes a cell phone picture of her disappointed face so he can see it later. (Ha, that’s kind of cute.)
He gets to what he really wanted to say – that he might never see again, and that they should break up before he clings onto her. Ji-won is quick to defend their love: “The Kim Sun-woo that I loved was someone who couldn’t see. He was not rich like he is right now, nor was he the David Kim who went to a fine school. It’s not a problem if you can’t ever see again.” I get where the romance in this statement is supposed to be, but there are so many things wrong with what she just said.
Sun-woo doesn’t seem swayed, and admits that he’s sorry, which sounds like a “breaking up” sorry. Jang-il seems to be alive, since he asks her about his well-being, though he gets no response. He’s got a place to go with Geum-jool and she leaves him be for the moment, but not without a light peck on the cheek before she goes.
He goes to see Jin in prison, though his father doesn’t seem to realize he’s gone blind at first. The two remain cold and cordial to one another until Jin gets up to leave, at which point Sun-woo grasps his hand from across the table to keep him there. Even Jin can’t help but smile just the slightest, having waited for his son to acknowledge him.
Unfortunately their time is up, and that’s when Jin notices the cane next to Sun-woo. He puts two and two together and takes Sun-woo’s sunglasses off to reveal his unfocused eyes, the sight of which brings tears to his eyes. He grabs his son in an embrace and cries. Maybe it’s a testament to Kim Young-chul being a phenomenal actor, but I buy his redemption. He just plays it so well.
And as he pulls back, light begins to filter back into Sun-woo’s vision. He’s not able to see clearly, but he can see the blurry outline of his father.
Ji-won is happy to find that Sun-woo is regaining his sight, though he chooses that time to drop the bomb that he went to visit Jin, his father. The news hits Ji-won hard – she doesn’t want to believe it, and asks Sun-woo to never repeat it so she can pretend she never heard it. And the important question: “Do you think of him as your father?”
Sun-woo claims he doesn’t, but he can’t just treat Jin like he’s a nobody, either. Ji-won struggles with her racing thoughts as she asks for time to process all of this, but Sun-woo barrels on about the blood on his hands and how the guilt of it all caused him to go blind. He knows very well the destruction Jin caused: “I hate him now, but at the same time I feel burdened.”
So Ji-won asks for some time and leaves him. In voiceover we hear a letter he wrote to her, one very like the letter he wrote when he first left her so many years ago. In it he claims to know that despite her acting like she’s happy, he knows that she won’t be because of who his father is and how it relates to her dead father. He also knows that she wouldn’t be able to leave him, so he’s doing the work instead – he’s leaving her.
We see him gazing at the picture of Ji-won she gave him when he was blind as we cut to Ji-won reading the last of the letter, different from the last because he’s not going to ask her to wait for him… nor will he wait for her, either.
The breakup settles in, and Ji-won asks a picture of her father what she should do. She can’t forgive Jin, but she can’t leave Sun-woo either.
Soo-mi paints in her old high school classroom and reminisces on Crazy(?) Jang-il telling her that he’ll keep their date from fifteen years ago. Her father never recovered fully from Yong-bae’s murder attempt and still gets around in a wheelchair, though he got his wish by moving back to the countryside.
The two sit out in the playground, with Soo-mi asking her dad why nothing in life goes as planned. He sagely explains that the date of one’s birth and death can’t be planned, so therefore nothing will ever go as one plans. It’s the same for everyone around the world. Soo-mi’s instantly comforted by his words, and she seems pretty okay. Is this how her story is going to end?
Ji-won is back to working at a library, and helps the first blind person she sees as an obvious stand-in for Sun-woo. She’s back to recording audiobooks, and exactly how many audio versions of The Old Man and the Sea does that library need?
We find Sun-woo driving a jeep in a tropical locale, and in voiceover we hear him say that leaving Ji-won was the only way, and that he’s off to the equator again. Because it’s in the title and had to be made relevant somehow.
Time passes, and Ji-won arrives at the Equator Airport. She drives to a remote house/tent nestled against a beautiful tropical landscape. Is this where Sun-woo is staying?
Only, she emerges from the tent with tears falling down her face. Uh oh. What did she find inside?
So she’s back on the bus, and in voiceover we hear a native child explaining to her that Sun-woo has gone – wait for it – to the equator. They barely miss each other at the airport, oh horrors.
Sun-woo returns to his primitive tent-home outfitted with modern amenities. He plays Ji-won’s song, “Moon River”, and puts up a framed picture of her. Evidence that she’s been there remains in the form of heart stickers on the picture of him and his father.
Apparently Min-yun (Sun-woo calls him by his name, “Mr. Kun”) is living there too, and Sun-woo mistakes the approaching footfalls for him when it’s really Ji-won. Argh, so why did we do this missed-connections-bus-airport-jeep-runaround again when they were just going to meet anyway?
They’re reunited, but it isn’t a warm one as he tells her to go back home. But then he asks her if she has the ability to do so. Ji-won: “No.” Sun-woo: “Don’t go then. Stay with me forever. I love you.”
Now that all their problems are solved, they share a romantic kiss against the pretty scenery. Then they read each other’s backs as if Braille were written on them, with Ji-won reading from Sun-woo: “I’ve been waiting for you.” And Sun-woo reading from Ji-won: “I always loved you. I will go anywhere with you.” They kiss again.
A surprisingly happy ending for a revenge tale that seemed bound for tragedy, with some stories tightly tied up and some just left drifting. I get that side characters are side characters for a reason – although it would have been nice to see the drama give even a bit of closure to characters like Geum-jool, Tae-joo, or even Min-yun. Remember that dropped storyline where Chairman Jin was going to get his stepdaughter to date Joon-ho for inside information? Or Sun-woo letting Joon-ho in on the whole plot? Or Sun-woo’s plan to return Ji-won’s father’s company to her? Yeah, I don’t think the writer did either.
Parts of the finale were incredibly satisfying, though some of the emotional levels we reached felt like we cheated our way there. For instance, Jang-il’s apology letter seemed like a cop-out in the scope of how important his big turning point was. The scenes we got with the boys later were great, but it felt like we went from point A to C by skipping B along with the dramatic depths that could have been explored if we were actually able to witness the moment Jang-il finally turned around. To have that kind of a moment skimmed over by him basically saying “I’m sorry” in a letter seemed cheap, no matter the personal apologies we got later when he was already half out of his mind. You can show us the minutiae of Ji-won’s equator travel sequence, but you want us to fill in the blanks with Jang-il making a monumental life-changing decision just so you can shoehorn in the opening sequence? Not okay.
The same can be said of most of the big emotional transitions, dating back to Sun-woo transforming into Dark Avenger Sun-woo. It’s not that the drama wasn’t building up to his violent turn, but it felt like we went from the justice-hound version of Sun-woo to the bloodthirsty, vengeful Sun-woo without seeing that exact moment of change, thus being robbed of a moment of revelation rife with dramatic possibilities. The same goes for Jang-il’s turning point, or Chairman Jin’s turning point into a sad and remorseful father. Where we ended up in the story made sense, how we got there (mostly) made sense, but the exact transitions were fuzzy enough to have me going “Where did this come from?” at certain moments, like Jin crying on Sun-woo’s shoulder during that frenetic Thailand excursion.
Jang-il has always been an incredibly engaging character, and throughout the drama I wanted to believe that he felt remorse for what he’d done. Time and time again we were shown the exact opposite, so when Jang-il finally admitted to Sun-woo that he’d secretly wanted to ask for forgiveness all these years I believed it because I wanted to, even though the story hadn’t really led us to that point. If there had been even one moment prior where Jang-il showed that he was even resisting the tendency to fall to his knees and beg forgiveness, his admission would have held more water. I never got that sense from him, so it felt like we jumped from a Jang-il devoid of human compassion to a Jang-il suddenly so full of human compassion and remorse that it drove him mad.
From the moment Sun-woo and Jang-il were being set up as friends-turned-enemies, it was fairly clear that the revenge aspect of the show would never be a cathartic experience. I was always on Sun-woo’s side when he was against Soo-mi, and was honestly surprised that she got off so easy. She was a character who entertained but never changed, and one who never learned. Yet her life remained the most in tact – sure Sun-woo took a knife to some of her paintings, but it’s not like he went through with the threat to break her hand. However, I admit that wanting her to display some remorse is strictly wish-fulfillment, and that it fits with her character to just remain awful forever.
Things get a bit trickier when it comes to Jang-il, who may have been misguidedly harsh for most of the series… though I don’t think he was being unnecessarily narcissistic or crazy when he would claim that Sun-woo wasn’t the only victim. There’s no excusing Jang-il or Yong-bae for their actions, though Sun-woo’s retaliation didn’t seem much more moral or ethical. He put the pieces in place for Yong-bae to kill himself, effectively knowing that he would rob Jang-il of his father (which seemed to be the point), and he would have been just as responsible if Kwang-choon had actually died. While Sun-woo went blind for a time he was able to come back better than ever and could have lived a fulfilling life, but he made it so that Jang-il had it worse than he did when the whole dead father thing happened. He may have gone blind, but Jang-il went plain insane.
If Jang-il’s letter was the big turning point for Sun-woo it’s sort of sad, because with such a lame apology Jang-il would have only needed to say “sorry” once and Sun-woo would have forgiven him on the spot. (Or so it seems.) Again, it’s the transition from Unforgiving Sun-woo to Very Forgiving Sun-woo that jarred me. The moments he shared with the institutionalized Jang-il were beautiful and heart-wrenching in all the right places (I was bawling my eyes out), though I found myself oddly upset when Sun-woo kept sidetracking Jang-il off the subject of their past, like, It’s time for us to move on. Which is fine, except Sun-woo has made it so that Jang-il can never move on, ever, and it’s such an easy thing to say from Sun-woo’s side of the fence now that he’s completely destroyed everyone who wronged him. But if we put the two of them side by side, who really got the short end of the stick?
I’m guessing answers to that question may vary, although I’m of the mind that they both wronged each other gravely. Jang-il’s fate is left slightly ambiguous (though I can’t see his life consisting of more than a padded cell at this point), while Sun-woo gets the girl and a fresh start in a tropical locale. Whether he necessarily earned it (by incapacitating another human being for life) or not is still a big question mark in my book, but I enjoy the fact that I can think so deeply about a character’s ethics and choices.
And that sort of dichotomy is true of the whole show, when you get down to it. Equator Man wasn’t the most even of shows, and suffered inevitable lags in storytelling even when it had mountains of story to tell. At its core it was a thought-provoking character drama with top-notch acting and some of the best no-frills cinematography in recent memory, with a bromance of epically heartbreaking proportions that’s seared itself into my memory. I still don’t quite know what an Equator Man is, though I have the vague feeling that I may not ever want to meet one.
- Equator Man: Episode 19
- Equator Man: Episode 18
- Equator Man: Episode 17
- Equator Man: Episode 16
- Equator Man: Episode 15
- Equator Man: Episode 14
- Equator Man: Episode 13
- Equator Man: Episode 12
- Equator Man: Episode 11
- Equator Man: Episode 10
- Equator Man: Episode 9
- Equator Man: Episode 8
- Equator Man: Episode 7
- Equator Man: Episode 6
- Equator Man: Episode 5
- Equator Man: Episode 4
- Equator Man: Episode 3
- Equator Man: Episode 2
- Equator Man: Episode 1