Memories of the Alhambra: Episode 16 (Final)
Our hero is almost at the end of his journey, his strength, and his sanity, but he’s not finished setting things right. There’s one last task to complete before he can rest, and this task might just be the one that breaks him for good. The game has been an enemy that he can’t confront or change, he could only endure, and for better or worse, it will all be over soon.
EPISODE 16 RECAP
Director Park rushes to the hotel room where Jin-woo and Professor Cha were last known to be. He finds Professor Cha dead where NPC Hyung-seok killed him, but Jin-woo is nowhere to be seen. He tells his assistant to call an ambulance, then sits by Professor Cha’s body and cries.
Later, while the police are investigating the scene, Director Park wearily takes a call from one of J.One’s board members asking if it’s true that Professor Cha is dead. He feels guilty for not telling Director Park sooner that last night, Professor Cha called him and told him to start up the game server.
A few minutes later he’d gotten a call from Jin-woo on Professor Cha’s phone, and he’d told Jin-woo that he’d shut the server off again as Professor Cha requested. Jin-woo had told him to start it again, because there was something he needed to finish. The board member tells Director Park that he did as Jin-woo instructed, so the server was up again between 6 and 7 in the morning.
At Hee-joo’s house, Se-joo doesn’t know who completed the quest that freed him from his year-long imprisonment in the game. He asks Hee-joo who it was, and he’s surprised to hear that it was Jin-woo, since he never even met him. JH thinks about how Jin-woo came to Granada on Se-joo’s request, and everything that’s happened since then, and she bursts into tears, alarming Se-joo.
After telling the board member to reopen the server, Jin-woo had returned to the church where he last saw Emma just as the server came back up again. NPC Hyung-seok had spawned near the pulpit, and Jin-woo had set aside his crutch and met Hyung-seok in the aisle, pulling out the Key to Heaven.
As Hyung-seok had swung his sword, Jin-woo had plunged the Key into Hyung-seok’s chest. The game informed Jin-woo that the bug in the game was being deleted, and Hyung-seok had dropped his weapon and slumped over Jin-woo’s arm.
When Director Park arrives at the church, Jin-woo’s discarded crutch is still there. He logs into the game himself (he’s played before, with nearly 150 log-ins), and he kneels in the aisle in front of a small pile of shimmering sand, all that was left behind when Jin-woo finally eliminated NPC Hyung-seok seventeen hours ago.
Director Park looks to his right, and in the next aisle over, there’s another, identical pile of sand. We see that Jin-woo had been attacked by assassins after deleting NPC Hyung-seok, and although he’d taken care of them easily, the game told him that his ally had appeared. Professor Cha had been made into an NPC, and after a minute’s hesitation, Jin-woo had used the Key of Heaven to delete him, too.
NPC Secretary Seo had also shown up, and Jin-woo had approached him, tears welling in his eyes at the thought of what he had to do. He’d given this last image of his friend a one-armed hug, and had had to force himself to stab him with the key. Jin-woo had held on tight as long as he could, crying, until Secretary Seo dissolved into sand.
Seeing the former identity of this last pile of sand causes Director Park to stagger, the weight of the losses, and of Jin-woo’s heartbreaking task, almost too much to bear. He takes a call from Hee-joo and tells her that he’s at the church, but he still hasn’t heard from Jin-woo.
After deleting the bugs, Jin-woo had heard the familiar sounds of the guitar, and Emma had reappeared on the dais. He’d gone to her and told her it was all over, and she’d said gently that he looked exhausted. She’d asked why he took the Key of Heaven from her, and Jin-woo had said, “I was afraid. I didn’t want to die.”
Emma had asked him to return the key, and Jin-woo had placed it in her outstretched hand, a tear rolling down his face.
In the present, something makes Director Park stop, and he turns around and approaches the pulpit. There’s a fourth pile of shimmering sand in front of the steps… oh please no. As he touches it, the game tells him that it’s the remains of Zinu, Jin-woo’s handle in the game. Director Park slumps, his phone falling from his hand, as Hee-joo begs him to say something.
He’s still sitting on the floor when Hee-joo arrives at the church, desperate to know what’s going on. He tells her not to come any closer, but she sees the sand, and she asks what it is in a fearful voice.
Before she gets an answer, their smart contacts alert them both that the game is being reset. The four piles of sand float into the air, swirl, then disappear, and all over the cities, the game NPCs also disappear. The church goes gray around Hee-joo and Director Park, while at the J.One building, everyone panics as the game deletes, then rebuilds itself.
The color returns, and some time later, Director Park writes an email to Jin-woo in the hopes that he will see it from wherever he is. He talks about Professor Cha’s funeral, and how the police investigation was closed since there was no evidence that his death was a murder. He says that the game’s self-reset deleted any lingering proof that it had anything to do with any deaths, and nobody but him knows why the reset happened. He says that he’s been wondering if he should start over again or stop now, and he asks what Jin-woo would do.
One day during a storm, Director Park goes to Hee-joo’s house to finally meet Se-joo. He finds him huddled in his closet, terrified of the thunder and stammering that it’s starting again. Director Park tells Se-joo gently that it’s real lightning and thunder, and that the bug no longer exists.
When he leaves, Se-joo follows him downstairs to ask if he knows Jin-woo. He tells Director Park that Jin-woo is probably dead, deleted by Emma after being stabbed with the Key of Heaven. He wails that he never would have called Jin-woo, or sent him the quest, if he’d known so many people would die. He sobs that he didn’t even know about Jin-woo and Hee-joo, which is why he told his sister everything, including that Emma probably killed Jin-woo.
Hee-joo is at the church, where she remembers telling Jin-woo that when the Key of Heaven and the Hand of Fatima come together, the gate will open and the palace will crumble. Se-joo had told her that he programmed Emma to kill game bugs with the Key of Heaven, and Hee-joo realizes that she’s the one who told Jin-woo to give Emma the Key, which may have led to his death.
She denies that it could be true, and she calls out for Jin-woo, demanding that he answer her. She falls to her knees, sobbing that he promised he’d come to her in the morning, over and over.
Director Park finds her there, unconscious, and takes her home. But when she wakes, she goes right back to the church, and she crouches to touch the spot where Jin-woo last stood. She goes back again and again as time passes, never giving up hope that she’ll see Jin-woo again.
Director Park continues emailing Jin-woo, but his emails are eventually reduced to simple, “What have you been doing? I miss you,” messages, and they all go unread. Hee-joo keeps visiting the church, but she never finds Jin-woo there.
One year later.
Yu-ra gets remarried, and although she claims to be very happy, her smile is empty as she poses for the reporters in her wedding dress. The press attributes her unhappy expression to having gone through a rough year after being found guilty for giving a false statement to the police, retiring from show business, and being arrested for drunk driving.
Not much is known about her groom other than that he’s a rich businessman with two children. Yu-ra yells at her manager and former boyfriend, furious that everyone is saying she’s marrying for money, but he’s all, Why throw a fit when it’s the truth?
Soo-jin has recovered from her suicide attempt, and she uses the money she inherited from Professor Cha to create a scholarship fund in his name. She gives a speech, only faltering a bit when she talks about how Professor Cha valued honor above all else. Afterward, Director Park asks her if she’s really donating everything, and she says that she doesn’t want to leave her son even one penny of Professor Cha’s money.
She asks about Jin-woo, and Director Park says he hasn’t heard from him. Soo-jin mentions the popular rumor that Jin-woo fled overseas to avoid standing trial, and Director Park says that he sincerely hopes it’s true, because it’s better than the alternative: “I’m worried that he might have been erased from this world, just like that.”
People from all over the city congregate at the park as a guild, manifest swords from their bare hands, and go to battle against the NPCs that suddenly appear in front of them. Non-players gather to watch what looks like a bunch of people flailing around for no reason, with expressions ranging from bewilderment to amusement.
Even a businessman in a suit encounters an NPC while he waits for the bus, and carries on a duel right there on the sidewalk. The ad on the bus is for J.One’s new AR game, titled Next, and a news anchorman reporting from the park tells us that the game was only released two weeks ago, in both Seoul and Granada, but it’s already changing the faces of the cities.
New players line up in Subway bathrooms to collect their level one Rusty Iron Swords, and eat Subway sandwiches to replenish their in-game health. The smart lenses needed to access the game sell so well that J.One stocks skyrocket to almost triple their original price. Companies partner with J.One so that their real-life products produce in-game benefits, and stores have trouble keeping certain drinks that double as health potions on the shelves.
But there are downsides to the game, too — people are getting hurt because players can’t adequately pay attention to their surroundings. J.One cooperates with the government to regulate gameplay, like limiting service areas and only allowing play time during certain hours of the day.
Hee-joo goes out to meet Director Park, getting shoulder-checked on the way by a man who’s obviously playing the game. She waits in a cafe, and when Director Park arrives, he tells her that he’s planning to retire in a month — he only hung around at J.One until now to take responsibility for the game.
He tells Hee-joo that she looks better and says that she ought to think about dating. He even offers to set her up with a few great guys, but she politely demurs. Director Park says gently that it’s time for them both to give up on Jin-woo, but Hee-joo doesn’t respond.
Director Park says that he actually wants to talk to her about Se-joo, and she tells him that Se-joo is much better and even leaves the house. J.One wants to set up a subsidiary company for Se-joo so that he can do research and game development, so Hee-joo goes home to tell the family and ask Se-joo what he wants to do.
Se-joo goes to the J.One building with Hee-joo, where he’s introduced to the programmers as the developer of Next. Se-joo is overwhelmed by their adulation, so Hee-joo has to prompt him to greet them, but when he does, they erupt in excited applause.
Yang-joo takes Se-joo and Hee-joo to his office, eager to talk to Se-joo one-on-one. Hee-joo leaves the two gamers alone and goes down the street for a cup of coffee, where she hears a couple of guys talking about seeing a player who used a gun — except that guns can’t be used until level 50, and the game is so new that the most advanced player is only level 25.
Yang-joo talks Se-joo’s ear off, yammering about the game and how freaked out he was when the game reset itself. He says that he would have deleted Emma if he’d known she could do that, but Se-joo says that there could be an “Indun” instance dungeon (a special area that creates a new copy for each group or player, so that multiple groups can play the dungeon at the same time yet not run into each other).
He explains that he programmed the game so that the master can create induns in times of danger. He first created this feature to confuse enemies, but it worked as a hiding place for him for a year. He was in an instance dungeon that he created at the train station — He was in the same place as other people, but they couldn’t see him, as if he were in a different dimension.
Yang-joo can’t wrap his mind around the idea of an instance dungeon in real life. Se-joo admits that he has a hard time believing it, too, but he thinks that since Jin-woo is now the “master” in the game, he could still be alive in an indun somewhere.
At the cafe, Hee-joo approaches the players and asks what they were talking about. One player says that he saw what he thought was an NPC, but he helped him, and that he didn’t have a user ID. She finds out where this player was seen and runs there, and as she runs, we see her telling Director Park that she won’t give up on Jin-woo. He’d said that Jin-woo was dead, deleted, but Hee-joo was confident that he will return.
As she nears the place where she hopes to find Jin-woo, Hee-joo puts in her smart lenses and logs into the game. She narrates: “I don’t care if the whole world doesn’t believe it, but I do. I believe that we will meet again.”
A player duels an NPC, and the NPC knocks his word from his hand and raises his arm to strike a killing blow. Shots rings out, and the NPC is killed. The player gets to his feet, but all he can see is a silhouette of a man holding a gun.
But… but… I have so many questions! That was definitely Jin-woo, and I’m assuming that Se-joo’s explanation of an instance is how Jin-woo saved himself, the same way Se-joo did — by creating a special area that only he could access, and that wasn’t destroyed when the game reset. He’s still in the world, in a different dimension created by the game, but every now and then a player coincidentally enters the same instance and can see him. It’s a good explanation, and it makes logical sense within the rules of the game, and it also gives hope that maybe Jin-woo can create a quest for someone to save him, too. It certainly opens up the possibility of a second season (and I would love to see Hee-joo put to better use and become the hero who goes through the quest and saves him), though those can be hard to come by in Dramaland, so I won’t hold my breath. Instead, I’m choosing to believe that Hee-joo reached the place and found Jin-woo, and somehow was able to help him come back to the real world. I’m not as upset about this ending as some will be, because it’s not as open-ended as it could have been, and at least it leaves us with hope — if Se-joo could come back from this, then so can Jin-woo.
I read an interview with the writer where she explained how the game allowed people to be killed in reality, which basically supported my theory that it was their murderous intentions that glitched the game and caused in-game injuries to become real. But I feel as though, if your audience can’t learn through the show itself how the rules of your fantasy universe work, then something in the storytelling has gone wrong. We shouldn’t have to read an interview outside of the story itself to be able to understand what happens in the story, and while the clues allowed us to make a reasonable guess, the show itself never confirmed exactly how the bugs happened. While I still love this writer for her ability to create exciting worlds with wonderfully rich, emotionally engaging characters, she does have a tendency to write events that aren’t well explained or supported by her own lore, especially towards the finales. Which, when you are literally making up your own rules, shouldn’t be a problem — if you’re going to make something happen, just make up a plausible explanation to go along with it!
For example, Jin-woo being a bug that needed to be deleted makes no sense, because the bugs were NPC created after players that had been killed — but Jin-woo was alive when he faced Emma that final time. He wouldn’t have been a bug at all, but the show wants us to think he was, because he left behind the same pile of sand that the real bugs left. But even if Jin-woo was a bug that needed to be killed, then why wasn’t Se-joo a bug, too? Why did the game consider Jin-woo something to be deleted, yet Se-joo was allowed to escape? They were both players who had committed real violence in the game and killed someone, yet were still alive.
I have many, many more questions, but I’d rather focus on the positive, because as a whole this drama was very exciting and entertaining, as long as you don’t look for too long under the hood. One thing this writer does exceptionally well is her characters, who are forced to face the worst of humanity and themselves, and don’t always come out the other side intact. Sometimes, they do well just to survive with their sanity, and that was certainly Jin-woo’s biggest challenge. One of my favorite things about Memories of the Alhambra was how you could watch Jin-woo falling apart piece by piece as time went by, transforming from the confident predatory wolf into a broken man who simply wanted to set things right, who was hanging onto his sense of self with every ounce of energy he had left, until he just didn’t have anything left. Jin-woo wasn’t responsible for the game going wrong, but he knew that he was the only one who could fix it, and he was willing to do whatever needed to be done, even sacrifice himself, to put things back the way they should be.
All that said, my complaints are all issues that I’ve come to expect with this writer, yet I still find myself enjoying her work, because what she does right, she does very, very right. Her dramas are always unique and creative with a lot of suspense and action, incredibly layered and emotionally rich characters (for the most part — Hee-joo has already been talked to death so I’ll refrain), and a crack factor that’s through the roof. Memories of the Alhambra was no different, and in fact might just be my new favorite of her shows. As a gamer, I loved watching a drama about one of my favorite hobbies, and I loved the concept of the game and how it became this unthinking, yet still terrifying, entity that couldn’t be fought or reasoned with — Jin-woo had to play by its rules, even when its rules were deadly. I thoroughly enjoyed this drama even with its flaws and inconsistencies, and I’m very much looking forward to what this writer will think up next (pun intended).
- Premiere Watch: Clean With Passion for Now, Boyfriend, Memories of the Alhambra
- More teasers for Memories of the Alhambra
- Promos for suspense romance drama Memories of the Alhambra
- Reminiscing about Spain at sunset in tvN’s Memories of the Alhambra
- Park Shin-hye up to join Hyun Bin in Memories of the Alhambra
- Hyun Bin offered new sci-fi drama from W-Two Worlds writer