The Light in Your Eyes: Episodes 11-12 (Final)
Just when we thought this isn’t a love story anymore, the show turns around and gives us an epic one for the ages. But we failed to specify what kind of love story we want. So don’t go blaming The Light in Your Eyes for the bucket of tears you’ll shed in this finale. We should’ve known by now to be more specific when making dramaland wishes.
MEET THE REAL HYE-JA
Before we can even process the fact that Hye-ja has Alzheimer’s and has been imagining everything all along, we’re dumped in the 1970s where the 25-year-old Hye-ja actually lived.
It’s a different era, but she’s still the same feisty-cute Hye-ja we know (or thought we did). The real Hyun-joo and Sang-eun also live during this period as a no-nonsense helper at a family-owned Chinese restaurant and a romance-obsessed singer-in-training, respectively.
We meet the trio of friends as Hye-ja is gushing about Lee Joon-ha, the handsome journalist she met during a protest. We don’t get to see the story unfold in the 1970s, but it’s similar to the older Hye-ja’s imagination: she stopped Joon-ha from injuring himself, framing his father, and ruining his own future. The repeated encounters led to Hye-ja and Joon-ha bonding over their problems and promising to go on a date. True to the girls’ characters, Sang-eun swoons at the romantic story, Hyun-joo scoffs at the guy’s issues, and Hye-ja ditches her girl friends to go on her first date.
When Hye-ja is caught jaywalking in a hurry to get to Joon-ha, he cheekily jaywalks right in front of the police so he can stay with her. They spend their first date holding hands inside detention, making the poor officer awkwardly look away when the couple stares him down, all, “Watchoogonnado ‘bout it? Is there a law against this? *hand-holding intensifies*”
Though the Joon-ha of this period is rocking a mullet, the biggest change is he’s more smiley and sweet, akin to Hye-ja’s imaginary imaginary Joon-ha. (The cheerful one she dreamed of saving and dating using the magic watch.)
Joon-ha isn’t the smooth operator the first date made him out to be though. A few months later, Hye-ja complains to her friends that he never progressed past the hand-holding stage. And by progress, Hye-ja means kisses. “Are we in the 1960s where you get married before meeting each other? This is the 1970s! We’re in the liberal era!”
A liberal Hye-ja mounts a hilarious mission to get her boyfriend to kiss her. First, Hye-ja takes him to a deserted walking trail. But when she leans in with eyes closed, Joon-ha uses the privacy to wipe some dirt off her cheeks instead. On another date, he gets preoccupied planning a 10-hour bus ride to Chungmu to eat chukumi, oblivious to the fact that Hye-ja only asked for it so she can make exaggerated kissy faces while saying Chuuungmuuu and chuuukuuumi over and over. LOL I’m both impressed and embarrassed by her creativity.
One night, a frustrated Hye-ja drags her friends to a famous fortune-teller to get the best date for snagging that kiss. The girls squeal upon hearing that it will happen the next day, though the fortune-teller is close to tears after looking at the future. She gives Hye-ja a pitying look but keeps the bad news to herself, muttering, “It’s not like you’ll stop if I tell you. This is just your fate.”
Without prompting, the fortune-teller also reads Hyun-joo’s future: she will greatly regret three things in her life. The advice? “Just raise it.” For Sang-eun, the fortune-teller advises her to use the luckier stage name, Yoon Bok-hee.
The next night, Hye-ja is losing hope at the end of another kiss-less date when the curfew siren blares and Joon-ha grabs her hand to run away from the patrols. They end up hiding, squeezed together in a narrow gap between walls. Maybe it’s the dark or the proximity or just the thrill of escaping. Whatever it is, Joon-ha finally kisses Hye-ja. She grabs him for more and he leans back in as the scene fades to black…
… and opens on a smug Hye-ja’s swollen lips. Hyun-joo is aghast while Sang-eun is curious. Though it looks painful, Hye-ja brag-worries in between winces that she’ll turn into a pelican with the intensity of her boyfriend’s kisses. Sang-eun marvels at the accuracy of the fortune-teller’s readings as she shows her friends a copy of her debut album to be released under her new name, Yoon Bok-hee.
In the present time, we get a glimpse of Hye-ja’s real life as an old woman staying at Hyoja Nursing Home. She’s visited by her same-aged friends Hyun-joo (Son Sook) and Sang-eun (cameo by actual musical legend Yoon Bok-hee). Hye-ja complains that she doesn’t see Bok-hee on TV anymore so Bok-hee gladly sings for her, attracting the attention of Hye-ja’s fellow residents and friends.
As they gather to get Bok-hee’s autograph, we see that Hye-ja’s illusions from the past episodes are taken from familiar faces in her reality. The villainous Hyoja Exhibit Hall manager (Kim Hee-won) is just a softy nurse with an unfortunate resting-thug-face in real life. Hye-ja’s fellow “escapees” like the kleptomaniac grandma, the dog-loving grandpa, the twins, etc. are just her fellow residents.
Even the imaginary Joon-ha who works at Hyoja Exhibit Hall is partly based on Kim Sang-hyun, a doctor at the nursing home and doppelganger of Joon-ha. Hyun-joo and Sang-eun exclaim that the young man looks like Joon-ha right around the time he married Hye-ja and she agrees that the doctor reminds her a lot of her past. Which–wait. They got married?!
We return to the 1970s, a year after Hye-ja’s hard-earned kiss. Her poor lips are more swollen, if that’s even possible, but she’s no longer happy about it. She complains to her girl friends that Joon-ha has been passionately kissing her for a year now with no mention of marriage. She announces another mission: take Joon-ha on an overnight trip and set the mood for a proposal.
Hye-ja lies to her mom that she’s going with Hyun-joo, a plan that backfires when older brother Yeong-soo points out that two women traveling “alone” is a bad idea. It seems that this real Yeong-soo isn’t that much different from the imaginary one. Oppa is a ham radio enthusiast whose hobbies include broadcasting sentimental stories to his radio fans (the 70s equivalent of vlogging), bragging uselessly, and being an annoying brother.
Speaking of annoying brothers… after successfully planting doubt in Mom’s mind, Yeong-soo offers to fix things by being Hye-ja’s chaperone. He claims it’s a nuisance to accompany his younger sister, but the next scene shows him practically skipping beside Joon-ha on the way to the inn while Hye-ja stares daggers from behind and gives Hyun-joo permission to push her brother off a cliff to get him out of the way. Hyun-joo uses diplomacy instead, ordering Yeong-soo to step out “for a talk” before telling Joon-ha that Hye-ja is sitting alone *hint hint* by the stream.
Joon-ha finds Hye-ja admiring the view which is her cue to marvel out loud that it’s a good place to raise children. She leads up to it, saying that to have children, she needs to get married. To get married, she needs a proposal. To get a proposal, she needs her boyfriend to pay attention. Oops. Joon-ha wandered off during her speech and is now skipping stones across the stream.
Joon-ha tries to get an annoyed Hye-ja to join the fun by handing her a stone, but she pettily throws it straight to the bottom of the stream. He gives her another one which she throws just as peevishly away. And bless this sweet, dumb boy but he somehow takes that as his cue to hand her a ring. Then he has the audacity to look shocked when a pissed off Hye-ja throws the ring reflexively into the water too.
Joon-ha wails and Hye-ja does the same after learning that that was her proposal ring. They both wade in to look for it as he explains that he’s been wanting to propose for months but couldn’t find the right timing. (Uhm, maybe if you did less of the pelican-kissing..?)
When Joon-ha spots the ring, he kneels right there in the water and offers his clueless self as Hye-ja’s husband. Hye-ja accepts and gives him her backup plan in return: the gold watch she’s been planning to propose with if he didn’t. Oooh~ It’s the not-really-magic watch from the future.
Hearing the splashing and crying, Hyun-joo and Yeong-soo run up, looking for the emergency. But the newly-engaged couple are more shocked to see Hyun-joo’s lipstick smeared all over Yeong-soo’s face. After learning that there’s no emergency after all, Yeong-soo tells the couple to carry on with their proposal thingamajig and invites Hyun-joo to continue their interrupted “talk” up in the woods. An uncharacteristically girly Hyun-joo follows. Heh~
It’s funny to us, but months later, it’s no laughing matter to Hye-ja as Hyun-joo and Yeong-soo tell her they’ll have to get married first. Hyun-joo got pregnant during the overnight trip. (Hye-ja: you had time to get pregnant?! Yeong-soo: you don’t need that much time, y’know.) We don’t get to see any of their weddings, but we see Hye-ja some time later happily walking past a photo studio. In the window is her wedding picture with Joon-ha. Ring on her finger and watch on his wrist.
Back in the present, we meet Hye-ja’s remaining family. Her grandson Min-soo is a vlogger who looks like Yeong-soo. They’re both played by Sohn Ho-joon but that’s where the similarities end. Min-soo is quite the thoughtful vlogger as he greets his fans and introduces his sweet grandma Hye-ja. He also seems successful in reality as he gifts Hye-ja a huge bouquet, each rose wrapped in a $50 bill. Hye-ja complains that Min-soo always travels for work but we see that it’s only partly true and partly an excuse to avoid his dad. It explains Hye-ja’s fantasy of “Yeong-soo” being shipped accidentally overseas and vanishing from home.
The woman Hye-ja calls “Mom” is actually her daughter-in-law, Moon Jung-eun. She’s both brusque and affectionate like Hye-ja’s imaginary Mom of the past episodes. She also runs a hair salon which she inherited from Hye-ja. The same salon that featured heavily in Hye-ja’s imaginary world.
Jung-eun was an orphan when she married into their family. As a result, Hye-ja took her under her wing, teaching Jung-eun the trade and soothing over her mistakes with stories of Hye-ja’s own salon disasters. Jung-eun sees Hye-ja as more of a mother than an in-law and Hye-ja seems to feel the same. Knowing that they’re not real blood relations gives more weight to the scene a couple of episodes back when Hye-ja reassured “Mom” that she’s on her side if she chooses to divorce her difficult husband.
The difficult husband is of course the man Hye-ja calls “Dad.” He’s actually her son, Lee Dae-sang. Contrary to Hye-ja’s unreliable narration, Dae-sang lost his leg in an accident while playing on the street as a child. Attitude-wise, he’s the frustratingly stoic man from Hye-ja’s imaginary world and not the doting father she keeps trying to get back to.
Dae-sang is so emotionally stunted that when he sees Jung-eun having a hard time taking care of Hye-ja and the salon, he wordlessly hands her a filled out divorce form. Jung-eun tears up the papers, cursing Dae-sang out for pushing her away when she has no other family. She says his heart is more messed up than his leg. But even in anger, Jung-eun tells him how his silent presence is enough comfort to her. She also tells him to stuff his noble idiot divorce where the sun don’t shine because she’s staying in the family AND taking care of Hye-ja.
It’s amazing how the delivery of a message matters, because Hye-ja also tells Jung-eun that she should stop taking care of the family and live for herself. Hye-ja apologizes for being so wrapped up in her own pain that she turned a blind eye to Jung-eun’s loneliness. Unlike with Dae-sang’s divorce papers, Jung-eun finds it easier to understand Hye-ja’s concern. Though of course the answer is still no. Jung-eun wants to be their family forever.
But the next time Jung-eun visits, Hye-ja doesn’t recognize her anymore. In front of Hye-ja, she plays along with the assumption that she’s a caregiver. But once alone, she sobs her heart out for the mother she found through marriage and is now slowly losing to Alzheimer’s.
This marks a turning point in the story when the taciturn Dae-sang takes over as narrator for their family’s history as he cares for the increasingly helpless Hye-ja. He’s not the best carer though. He blows up at his own mother over the tiniest things, like forgetting to drink medicine or failing to finish a simple puzzle. When he’s not scolding her, he stares, unmoved by the sight of Hye-ja chatting sweetly with her fellow seniors. His passivity is infuriating, but then we see what Hye-ja was like during his childhood, and the whole story is turned on its ear again.
Back in the 1970s, a toddler Dae-sang falls down as he tries to walk with his new prosthetic leg. Hye-ja watches dispassionately as her son struggles to stand, refusing to pull him up even as Dae-sang calls for his mama. When a woman runs over to help, Hye-ja tells her to leave the kid alone–he’s supposed to learn how to pick himself up. Dae-sang starts crying in earnest but Hye-ja only turns and walks down the street, literally leaving him in the dust. Wow. What happened to the carefree Hye-ja of the pelican-kissing and chuuukumi days?
In another instance, Hye-ja orders a “sick” Dae-sang to go to class. Dae-sang quietly admits that he doesn’t want to go because it’s sports day, hoping for some understanding from his mother. Rather than sweet-talking him, Hye-ja tells him to just stop going to school and stay indoors forever if he’s embarrassed about his leg. She then slaps a smile on her face and goes to the next room to schmooze with a salon customer dropping off hand-me-down clothes for her son. Dae-sang trudges off to school, his meek “I’m off” greeting ignored amidst Hye-ja’s customer service chatter.
We see Dae-sang being bullied for most of his school life then coming home to a mother who’s too busy charming one customer after another to pay attention to his attempts to tell her about his day.
At one point during his teenage years, Dae-sang finally fights back against his tormentors with a rock to one of the bullies’ head. No one bothered him after that. No one talked to him after that either, making his loneliness absolute.
One morning, the teenage Dae-sang asks Hye-ja why they can’t have meat in their stew just like other families. Hye-ja doesn’t bat an eyelash as she tells him to go live with those families instead. Dae-sang confronts his mother for treating him like a nuisance, accusing her of wanting him to die. Hye-ja ignores his tantrum and keeps eating. He then almost whines as he asks if she doesn’t even pity him, making her ask in turn if pity gives you money or food. She carelessly offers to give him pity if that will satisfy him. Which obviously wouldn’t. Especially if given in such a scathing manner.
It’s no wonder Dae-sang grew up not knowing how to react around kindness. When Jung-eun offers to visit Hye-ja more often when he’s at work, he tells Jung-eun that she can stop helping out since his mother doesn’t even recognize her anymore. But Jung-eun says, “So what? It’s alright as long as I recognize Mom.” Aww… forget the magic watch, I want a friend as awesome as Jung-eun!
In one of Dae-sang’s consultations with the nursing home, the doctor tells him about Hye-ja trying to visit a male patient in the basement and obsessing over his watch, each visit triggering a breakdown. Dae-sang doesn’t know why, but we do. The patient is the grandpa who stole Hye-ja’s magic watch in her imaginary world. When Dae-sang asks Aunt Hyun-joo (who still rides her motorcycle like the cool granny she is) if she knows anything about a watch and painful memories for Hye-ja, Hyun-joo is outraged to hear that “that bastard” is still alive.
We jump back to the 1970s, in the middle of Hye-ja and Joon-ha’s newly-wedded bliss. She picks him up everyday when he gets off work as a newspaper journalist. They walk home together, giggling as they sometimes run to avoid the curfew.
Strangely enough, Joon-ha’s bliss doesn’t spill over to the news of Hye-ja’s pregnancy. Hyun-joo and Sang-eun assure her that it could just be shock. But even after Dae-sang is born, Joon-ha remains detached from his own son.
One day, a haggard Hye-ja leaves baby Dae-sang with Joon-ha and returns to find their son lying on the floor licking spilled ink while Joon-ha is absorbed in his book. Hye-ja has had enough and confronts him about disliking Dae-sang. Joon-ha admits that he doesn’t know fatherhood because his father hated him from the moment he was born. Now that he’s also a dad, he’s scared to come near his son for fear of making a mistake and hurting him.
Hye-ja softens a bit and points out the obvious: it’s her first time being a mother too, they’re supposed to learn together as a family. She ropes him into baby-bathing duty. Joon-ha is adorably nervous about getting water up the baby’s nose. Hye-ja assures him that babies don’t die from that and encourages him to continue. Baby Dae-sang does his part by latching his itty-bitty hands around Joon-ha’s fingers, infecting him with New Daddy Fever and making him tear up in awe.
Joon-ha’s deadbeat father gets a burst of Grandpa Fever too as he shows up drunk in front of their house, demanding to see his grandson. When Joon-ha calls him out on the ploy to visit regularly and threaten them for drinking money, his father readily admits that babies are a burden and Joon-ha will also feel the same about Dae-sang.
You can feel Joon-ha’s desperation bubbling up at this threat to the tiny haven he found with Hye-ja. He swears to do anything to keep his wife and son away from the kind of life he lived under his father. Thankfully, his father staggers off before Joon-ha can do anything dire. Hye-ja, who’s been watching over her husband all along, comes out and holds his shaking hands to steady his heart.
Some time after, a distracted Joon-ha coos goodbye to his son while avoiding Hye-ja’s eyes. He forgot why today’s date is circled on the calendar. He greets her a happy birthday and barely escapes her wrath when it turns out to be their wedding anniversary. Pleading overwork, he promises to come home in time for dinner. Cut to: a pissed off Hye-ja waiting up late with an uneaten cake, muttering curses at Joon-ha.
Her anger turns to worry when she wakes up the next day to find he hasn’t come home. She goes to his workplace and learns that everyone was taken in for questioning yesterday. Everyone else was released except for Joon-ha.
After a few days, Hye-ja gets tired of waiting and goes to the station, demanding to know why they’re keeping her husband. A cocky officer (the younger version of the watch-stealing grandpa) recognizes the name and tells her that Joon-ha is being detained while they check if he did something worth jailing him for. It’s a roundabout way of saying they have diddly-squat on him. When Hye-ja calls them out on it, the officer looms over her and threatens to ruin her son’s future if she keeps making a fuss.
Joon-ha’s boss tries to work his connections but only manages to secure a prison visit for Hye-ja. She’s shocked when a battered Joon-ha shows up on the other side of the glass. He assures her that it’s all a mistake. He’ll be out soon so she should go back and take care of their son. Hye-ja loses it and pounds on the divider, demanding that he go home with her now so they could raise Dae-sang together.
Together doesn’t happen as Hye-ja later receives an official notice of death. When she’s calm enough to go to the station, they hand her Joon-ha’s ashes and personal effects, explaining that Joon-ha contracted pneumonia and didn’t make it to the hospital. (Seriously?!) Hye-ja wakes up from her numb haze when she realizes that Joon-ha’s watch is missing. She grows hysterical as she insists that Joon-ha loves the watch and wears it all the time.
When the same cocky officer scolds Hye-ja for talking nonsense, she grabs him, knowing full well that he beat Joon-ha to death and the pneumonia is a cover-up. The officer’s sleeves are pulled up in the tussle, revealing Joon-ha’s watch. Hye-ja screams for him to give it back and scratches his wrist before two officers and her dad manage to pull her away.
In the present, Dae-sang watches over his mother as he tries to process the story of his father’s death and the depth of Hye-ja’s grief. Suddenly, the Basement Grandpa knocks, wanting to talk to Hye-ja. Dae-sang looks on as the grandpa with a scar on his wrist wails his apologies, trying to return the watch to Hye-ja. She stares at him before giving the watch back, making him wail louder. They both know it wasn’t really the watch she wanted back, but he can’t exactly return Joon-ha’s life.
During Joon-ha’s memorial rites, Hye-ja says she thought it was unfair that her life was full of misfortune, but looking back, she realized that all her memories–both good and bad–allowed her to hold on to life. Now she’s terrified of losing her memories of Joon-ha, even the painful ones around his death. She talks to her husband’s portrait, apologizing for giving up on retrieving his watch. She also apologizes for letting him go to the afterlife alone when she knows he’s been lonely his whole life.
Some time later, Dae-sang carefully sweeps snow outside the apartment complex where he works. The slippery ice makes it even more difficult to walk for him. It reminds him of a kind neighbor during his childhood who never mentioned anything but would have the streets swept in winter before Dae-sang passes by on his way to school.
Dae-sang’s reverie is interrupted when the nursing home calls to report that Hye-ja is missing. He rushes to the nursing home where the staff has already been mobilized trying to locate his mother. He runs outside to join the search but has to rest because of his leg. When he hears a strange noise, he looks up to see Hye-ja in pajamas, sweeping the walkway in the dead of winter. He limps over to her and asks what the hell she’s doing, and Hye-ja brightly looks up with a conspiratorial smile: she’s sweeping the snow so her son won’t slip.
Dae-sang is hit with a double suckerpunch of feels as he realizes that his mother has been looking out for him all along… and that she doesn’t recognize him now. He remembers all those times Hye-ja refused to coddle him, seeing the harsh lessons in a new light.
When he points out that Hye-ja’s secretive help means her son wouldn’t know that she cared, Hye-ja says it doesn’t matter as long as her son doesn’t fall down. Dae-sang gives her his jacket as he assures her that she can stop worrying now because her son never fell down even in winter.
Hye-ja beams to hear that and tries to comfort this stranger who’s sobbing and hugging her. The nursing home staff arrive with Jung-eun to take Hye-ja indoors, leaving Dae-sang with his wife. She hugs him as he breaks down again, telling her in between tears that his mom has secretly been taking care of him in her own way.
That night, Jung-eun lightly teases Dae-sang for finally looking at his mom with a bit of affection. He answers, “My leg and my life that tied her down have disappeared from her memory. I can’t be angry anymore.”
Some time later, Dae-sang tells Jung-eun about his plan to quit his job and move Hye-ja to the countryside. He doesn’t want his mother to spend her last days waiting to die inside the nursing home.
Dae-sang is surprised when Jung-eun starts listing down all the things they have to prepare for the move. Jung-eun is surprised that he’s surprised, feigning anger at the assumption that she isn’t coming with them. Dae-sang gives her a grateful look and offers her some chicken wings… which she doesn’t like. Haha. He corrects himself, remembering it’s their son who likes it. Jung-eun teases him for knowing things like that all along and makes him promise to reconnect with Min-soo.
In the midst of preparing for the move, Dae-sang takes some time to visit Hye-ja. He sits down with her in the garden and she makes polite talk, asking the stranger how long he’s been staying in the nursing home. When he asks her the same question, her smile fades as she realizes that she doesn’t know how long she’s been there. Dae-sang takes it back, saying it’s okay if she doesn’t remember that, she can just remember her happiest memory instead. Hye-ja’s smile comes back even brighter as we see the memory playing out in her mind.
Hye-ja narrates that it’s not any special day. It’s just that time in her life when she’d cook rice as soon as she smells the other houses cooking their dinners too. It’s when baby Dae-sang just learned how to walk and she’d hold his hand and go for a stroll around sunset. They’ll watch the street and wait for Joon-ha to come home, and all three of them would just stay there and watch the sun disappear in the horizon.
In the present, Dae-sang watches Hye-ja smiling to herself and thinks, “My mother has Alzheimer’s. But perhaps she’s just reliving the happy moments of her life.”
Suddenly, Hye-ja’s sits up in surprise. In her mind, she’s young again and no longer in the nursing home. She’s on the beach at sunset. In the distance, Joon-ha smiles tearfully and holds out his arms. She leaves her wheelchair and starts running. She embraces him as he tells her not to go anywhere anymore.
As they hug, the show cuts to scenes of daily life. Construction workers huddling over a fire pit at dawn. Cherry blossoms swaying in the wind. The steep steps in front of Hye-ja’s house. A busy intersection. Empty beer cans on a rooftop. The small room where Dae-sang works. A friendly handwritten note in the udon place. And so on…
Over these scenes, Hye-ja gives the show’s final message for herself and for us:
My life was filled by misfortune but there were happy moments too.
They say that life is nothing but a mere dream but I was still grateful for mine. The cold, brisk air at dawn, the sweet breeze right before flowers start to bloom, and the scent of sunset that fills the air at sundown. Every single day was dazzlingly beautiful.
Even if you’re struggling right now, everyone alive has the right to enjoy all this. Even if one ordinary day is followed by another ordinary day, life is still worth living. Don’t waste the present regretting the past and worrying about the future. Live this day beautifully with light in your eyes. You deserve it.
To all of you who were a mom, a sister, a daughter, and yourself.
The show ends with individual shots of grandmas grinning and laughing, the last being Hye-ja herself.
I’m truly sorry for taking time to gather my thoughts. This show took such a turn in its final episodes that was personally difficult to watch and talk about.
After Hye-ja was revealed to have Alzheimer’s at the end of episode 10, we went into the final two episodes wanting to know what’s real versus imaginary, only to get no concrete answers. If I have to guess, most of the things that happened when she “woke up” as an 80-year-old woman were true. Especially Dae-sang’s aloofness and how society was treating her as a useless person. There are some gray areas like Yeong-soo’s ridiculous exploits and hanging out with her young friends. But I didn’t want to sift through these and figure out which is which (feel free to offer your theories below though!) I just accepted that this is the show’s way of saying that Hye-ja, in her declining consciousness, has no way of knowing truth from fiction either. She can only try to make sense of her present using stories from her past. Which is why we got that mishmash of events from the first ten episodes.
Apart from the reveal that she has Alzheimer’s and has been imagining the magic watch all along, the thing that gets me most is that Hye-ja was so consumed by Joon-ha’s death that she lost her light and ended up being a horrible mother. Yes, she’s been caring for Dae-sang secretly. She was trying to toughen him up for when she isn’t around anymore. But you can do all these things without making your own child feel like they’re all alone in this world.
When she scattered Joon-ha’s ashes, tiny Dae-sang beside her, she apologized to Joon-ha for letting him go first and alone to the afterlife. She had to patch up her broken heart and raise their son but you can see from Dae-sang’s memories that Hye-ja was already dead inside. I can’t help but think of the exhausted imaginary Joon-ha’s outburst when Hye-ja kept questioning his life choices: “Look at my eyes. Are these the eyes of a living person? I’m only living because I can’t die.” That moment seemed to come not from memories of the actual Joon-ha, but from Hye-ja’s reflection on herself.
Though she ended up isolating her own son, I don’t want to think of her as a horrible person overall. As mentioned in her final speech, she wasn’t just a mother. She was also a wife, a daughter, a sister, a grandma, a friend, and so on. Hye-ja tried her best to be all of these things at once. She just ended up doing better at certain roles than others. That’s okay. We all try our best to live.
It’s impossible to have no regrets though. It’s why Hye-ja’s mind spun up this fantastical world where she can turn back time. Not just to get Joon-ha back, but to get her own life back, treat Dae-sang better, and save Jung-eun’s marriage. But even in her imaginary world, she gave up on the magic watch. She decided to just live each day as they come, being nice to Jung-eun, showing concern for Dae-sang, taking care of her body, claiming her worth, making friends, and so on.
The quest for the watch was her mind’s way of letting go of all the pain and reminding her that she can’t change the past, but she can live the present with no regrets. As the title says, with light in your eyes.
Hye-ja’s final speech was simple but lovely in its simplicity. Kim Hye-ja (the actress) read the same speech when she received a daesang for this show, saying it’s a message that bears repeating. It doesn’t change anything in the grand scheme of things, but it can give you strength for one more day and another day after that.
I’m thankful this show exists and I’m thankful that the whole production team stayed true to the story they wanted to tell. It’s ironic that such a painful story can bring me comfort, but I hope you found some strength from Hye-ja’s story too.