Marriage Not Dating: Episode 16 (Final)
Marriage Not Dating wraps up in a satisfying and poetic way, bringing us back full circle to remind us why we’ve all loved this couple so much. They stay true to themselves as the show manages to tie up all the loose ends nicely, leaving me feeling like everyone gets the ending they deserve. It’s definitely made its mark as a memorable and wonderfully fun drama, and I know I’ll miss Ki-tae and Jang-mi and their crazy, messed-up families very much.
EPISODE 16: “Nevertheless, marriage”
Ki-tae and Jang-mi stand in their wedding finery, at an altar under a stormy sky, both of them looking angry and hurt. Jang-mi says, “Let’s fold.” Ki-tae asks if this is what she really wants, with no regrets, and she stonily replies that it is. Ki-tae turns and walks away, leaving Jang-mi alone at the altar.
In the present, business is bustling again at “Ju Jang-mi” thanks to Ki-tae’s mother’s kimchi, and Jang-mi, Hyun-hee, and Yeo-reum are on top of the world. But Ki-tae has the unenviable job of bursting Jang-mi’s bubble by telling her of her mother’s breast cancer, and she listens in teary silence as she thinks to herself how life is full of surprises, and the worst always comes along with the best.
Jang-mi goes straight to her mother, who would rather talk about how she’s hurt that Jang-mi didn’t tell her she was dating Ki-tae for real. Jang-mi says that’s not important and asks why Mom hasn’t told Dad she’s having surgery in two days. She thinks Dad will drop the divorce if he knows, but Mom says that’s why he can’t know – Dad will act sympathetic and come back, and she’ll be stuck with him.
While they talk, Ki-tae accidentally finds the envelope of postcards from Dad and swipes them. Mom gripes at him for being a tattletale, tells him that she’ll never accept him and Jang-mi, and kicks them both out. Ki-tae suggests they go see her father, since they now have his address.
As he drives Ki-tae tries to lighten the atmosphere, but he’s thwarted by Jang-mi’s bad mood at every turn. Finally he pulls over at a rest stop (also against her wishes) and orders lunch, saying he needs energy to endure her while she takes her upset out on him. He finally gets Jang-mi to eat by saying they can leave as soon as the food is gone. So cute.
Jang-mi asks why Ki-tae went to see her mom in the first place, and he says he was jealous that she was getting so much affection from his mother and he wanted the same from her mom. She’s thankful that he did, since now her mom won’t have to have surgery alone.
They find the little pond where Dad’s been spending his days fishing, but he’s not there. Ki-tae notices Jang-mi looks pale and she runs to throw up, but thankfully it’s only from eating so much on a nervous stomach (and possibly also because Ki-tae just grabbed her and scared the crap out of her).
Ki-tae offers to take Jang-mi to the hospital, or the pharmacy, or to get married… Jang-mi’s, “Stop it! Wait, what?” reaction is priceless. She accuses him of joking around to cheer her up, but he mutters that he wouldn’t put his life on the line just for that. Jang-mi wants to wait until they’re sure but Ki-tae is sure now, and Jang-mi gives him an epic side-eye.
She tells him it’s not the right time because of everything her parents are going through, and commands him to take it back. But Ki-tae is sure her parents will make up, and even bets on it: If her parents get back together, Jang-mi has to marry him. I love his reasoning, that if the worst marriage she knows can work out, then surely theirs will too.
Jang-mi wants to know what was in her dad’s postcards to make Ki-tae so sure (he previously told her it was the sweetest love letter he ever read, hee) and grabs them from him. He reclaims them and they adorably tickle-hug-wrestle for possession of the envelope. A passing fisherman picks up the envelope when Ki-tae drops it, and says he knows the man who wrote it, and that he was heading to Seoul today to close his chicken restaurant.
Having put the restaurant up for sale, Jang-mi’s dad is pretty drunk on soju by the time they find him, and he roars at Ki-tae for having the nerve to show up here. Ki-tae stammers that he’s dating Jang-mi, which enrages Dad even further, and he shoves Ki-tae against the wall yelling at him for hanging around his daughter but not intending to marry her.
Jang-mi’s insistence that she’s unsure about marriage just makes Dad even angrier and he demands to know what Ki-tae did to make her uncertain. When Jang-mi asks what Dad ever did to give Mom assurance, it takes all the fight right out of him, but the news that Mom has cancer hits him even harder.
Jang-mi tells her dad to go to the hospital but he says that he won’t, since if her mom didn’t tell him she was sick it must mean she really hates him. He thinks his presence will only make her upset and she’ll feel worse. Oh, this is so sad.
Outside, Ki-tae hugs Jang-mi and tells her to go see her mom, and he’ll stay with Dad. She says sadly that their bet is over since her parents will never see eye-to-eye, but Ki-tae still has hope. She tries one more time to see what’s in the envelope, but Ki-tae promises to show her when their bet is really over.
Jang-mi climbs into bed with her mom and promises to be her life partner and never leave her. Mom says that sounds terrible, but Jang-mi says as long as Mom is against Ki-tae, she’s stuck with her, which makes Mom smile a little.
Meanwhile Ki-tae drinks with Dad, who’s calmed down enough to say that he understands that Ki-tae was just being cautious with Jang-mi. They commiserate over how hard it is to be around women who have to talk everything out, while men just get each other without speaking. Hilariously though, Ki-tae does say he likes how it’s easy to just say a few words to a woman and everything is fine. Hint hint, Dad. Go talk to your wife.
Ki-tae’s mom sits up alone late at night and is joined by Grandma, who also can’t sleep. Grandma says she has something to confess and asks if Mom remembers when she left home with Ki-tae. She tells Mom that Ki-tae thinks of those as his happiest days, but Mom remembers them as lazy days. She didn’t cook or clean, just spent all her time with her son. Grandma says that’s why Ki-tae was so happy.
Sadly, Grandma says it’s time that she let Mom go. She gives her permission to stop being the perfect wife and daughter-in-law, and tells her to just go be Ki-tae’s mom. Mom cries tears of relief, and asks what Grandma will do without her. Mi-jung enters the room, having overheard everything, and says Grandma has her and they’ll be fine. All three women dissolve into sobs and hold each other, but they aren’t sad tears – they’re tears of love and understanding. ~sniffle~
Ki-tae and Jang-mi talk to her mother’s doctor, who’s optimistic about her surgery prognosis. The only concern is that she will lose that breast, but Ki-tae tells Jang-mi not to worry, since he knows a great doctor. Se-ah enters right on cue, and offers to do the reconstruction surgery at the same time as the removal, so Jang-mi’s mother doesn’t have to live through the shock of having only one breast.
Jang-mi’s mother waits for her surgery, and she’s the only patient in the room who is alone. She sighs at all the other ladies who have husbands, boyfriends, and sons to support them, but pretends disinterest when her own husband shows up. Awww. She texts him to leave but he says he can’t read it, because he smashed his cell phone in anger and he wants to talk to her face-to-face. Well finally.
He hands her a bankbook which shows a balance of over 50 million won (around $50,000) which he got from the sale of the chicken stand. She’s touched that he sold the place she hated so much, but holds onto her pride and says she’s glad she got sick, because he finally left after she was ill. He yells that he never wanted a divorce, and he’s angry that she didn’t tell him she was sick.
Mom argues back with a wibbly voice that yeah, she’s sick, and so is everyone else here, but the other patients tell them to continue because this is more riveting than a drama (ha). Dad asks haltingly if he can stay with her, but Mom is stubborn and tries to give the bankbook back. It’s cute how the other women in the waiting room urge Mom to take the money and kick the man out, but the men are all “These women are so disloyal!” Mom grudgingly takes the money (and Dad), to a round of applause.
Jang-mi and Ki-tae watch from outside the room, and Jang-mi cries a few tears and notes that the reunion befits her parents. They go for a walk and Jang-mi asks to see her dad’s letter, but says it’s nothing special when she sees that they just ask if Mom has eaten or if she isn’t sick. Ki-tae counters that “nothing special” is pretty special, since only spending special occasions together like his parents do doesn’t mean much.
Ki-tae wonders if he should start proposing now that the bet results are in, but Jang-mi stops him again. She wants a fancy proposal, but Ki-tae argues that he prefers the simple everyday conversations like her dad’s letters. Jang-mi says she worries that he’s only proposing since her mom is sick and he wants to take care of her. She asks Ki-tae to wait, but he rightly says if they wait until all the drama is over, it will never happen.
Jang-mi pouts that Ki-tae’s proposal isn’t very romantic. Ki-tae just says that life is uncertain and full of twists, and you never know what may happen, and there’s no such thing as complete assurance that marriage will last, but nevertheless, he wants to marry her and love her forever. Jang-mi finally cracks a smile and counters that you can’t trust men, but nevertheless, she wants to trust Ki-tae. And with that, they’re engaged.
Jang-mi asks if he doesn’t have something for her like oh, maybe a ring, and when he shrugs she commands him to take the whole thing back. Hee. They can’t do even the most romantic things without fighting. He teases her out of her grump, but in voiceover Jang-mi says that back then, they never expected the worst life-twist that was ahead for their wedding.
Ki-tae’s mom serves tea to Grandma and Mi-jung and says she’s been thinking about what Grandma said. Before she can announce her decision, Dad comes running in to excitedly tell them he’s been promoted to university president. I love how all three of the women’s faces are like, So what, jerkface. When he asks for congratulations, Mom says he ought to congratulate her, so he starts in with the lip service of how he owes it all to her. He thanks her and she asks for something in return… a divorce. Dad’s shocked face is so satisfying.
He turns to Grandma for support, but Grandma tells him to give her the divorce. Mom asks for the house, and invites Grandma and Mi-jung to live with her not as in-laws, but as friends. The women are as touched as Dad is horrified, and they all hug again leaving Dad out in the cold. Sooo satisfying.
After a successful surgery, Jang-mi’s dad cuts fruit for Mom and tells her his plan to open a pizza delivery place. She grouches that it’s not much better than chicken and lets him know that she still hates him, but she’s taking him back so as not to burden Jang-mi. She says she’ll use the money from selling the chicken place for Jang-mi’s wedding, asserting that she only objected because Ki-tae’s mother was so rude and whoops, there she is, come to visit.
The two women talk alone, and Ki-tae’s mom apologizes for her previous behavior. Jang-mi’s mom says she’s being much more cautious about Jang-mi and Ki-tae’s engagement this time, but Ki-tae’s mom says she’s decided to do the opposite and keep out of it. She says she wants their marriage to be theirs alone, but Jang-mi’s mother asks if she won’t ask Jang-mi to cook for rituals and such.
Ki-tae’s mother promises she won’t, since she’s getting a divorce. She grins that she got the house, which impresses Jang-mi’s mom. Jang-mi’s mom congratulates her and asks her secret, and the two women laugh together for the first time. These two are going to be besties, aren’t they?
A few months later, a now-showing Hyun-hee watches a new chef cook in their restaurant, and Yeo-reum tells Jang-mi that this is his replacement. He says that he started this restaurant for her, and that he’s got lots of other types of food he’d like to cook, so he’s striking out on his own. He offers to sell her his recipes and bids her farewell, and in voiceover she says that this goodbye was the beginning of the wedding trouble.
Ki-tae’s parents have a glass of wine at a bar, where Dad tries to act pitiful without her but Mom calls him on his BS, saying she saw him pull his missing button off outside. HA. She tells him that she doesn’t regret their time together, but that doesn’t mean she was happy – she was doing her best to live with her choice to stay. She tells Dad to take responsibility for his love, and find fulfillment.
Mom turns to go but Dad grabs her arm, crying that he’s lost everything so what good is love? Ki-tae didn’t even invite him to the wedding. Mom shakes him off, saying that’s what Ki-tae wanted, but turns back to throw him a pity invite.
Ki-tae and Jang-mi enjoy a candlelit bubble bath together the night before their wedding. Jang-mi tells Ki-tae he looked like a wet rat the first time she saw him (from his date that threw water on him), but agrees that he looked so sexy that she threw the juice on him later just to see him all wet and sexy again. They reminisce over all the key points of their relationship, teasing and joking adorably.
Ki-tae suggests they remodel the bathroom after their honeymoon, saying it’s a bit small as he tries to scootch over to her side of the bathtub. Jang-mi says she likes the small tub, and they canoodle as she says in voiceover that at that point, they still trusted each other.
It’s the day of the wedding, and again we see Ki-tae and Jang-mi at the altar as she tells him they should just fold, and he agrees and stalks off. He tells the wedding coordinator to fold the umbrellas from the tables, even though he thinks it’s a bad idea since a storm is brewing. Jang-mi argues that the forecast predicted it would clear up, and the bride gets her way so the umbrellas come down.
Yeo-reum approaches them and grabs Ki-tae in a bear-hug when Ki-tae pouts that he only greeted Jang-mi. Yeo-reum escorts Jang-mi to her waiting room, and Ki-tae overhears him say something about wiring money and gets suspicious. He eavesdrops as they talk about how much money Jang-mi sent to Yeo-reum, but his mother drags him off and he doesn’t get to hear the rest of their conversation.
Se-ah comes to congratulate Jang-mi, who jokes that her mother loves her new breast but her dad loves it more, hee. She invites Se-ah to her bar, but Se-ah says she can’t drink for a while because her dream is coming true – she’s pregnant. Jang-mi’s face freezes in horror, and she can’t even smile for her wedding photos. Hyun-hee notices something’s wrong, and Jang-mi asks her to get Ki-tae for her.
Ki-tae greets the wedding guests (and gets glomped by an overly-enthusiastic Hoon-dong, cute) where he and his mother are grilled by the female family members over her divorce and his not inviting his father. Dad shows up and Mom admits to having invited him, but Hyun-hee comes to get Ki-tae before he can address any of this.
An upset Jang-mi asks if Ki-tae gave Se-ah a baby, but he’s too offended by the question to even answer. He counters by asking why she gave Yeo-reum money, and she says it’s business and takes offense in turn at his suspicion. The wedding coordinator comes to get them since Hoon-dong has been calling the groom down the aisle for several minutes, but Jang-mi cries that she can’t get married feeling this way.
The Angriest Groom Ever stomps down the aisle, and Jang-mi doesn’t look much happier as her father escorts her to him. Ki-tae refuses to look at her which makes things worse, so that when it’s time for Ki-tae to take over from her father, she refuses to take his arm. In front of everyone, Jang-mi demands to know if Ki-tae’s hiding anything from her.
He declares that he isn’t, and that she only has to look for herself. They (and every single wedding guest) look to where Se-ah is sitting, looking very cuddly with the 3D technology sales rep on her arm. Ha!
Absolved of guilt, Ki-tae asks what Jang-mi is hiding, and she tells him she only paid Yeo-reum for his part of the bar since he’s leaving. The busybody Gong ladies, who have been complaining about everything, now take offense that the family’s only heir is marrying a bar owner. Jang-mi’s mom hollers at them, “What’s wrong with a bar?!” Hyun-hee stands to defend her friend, which is the first Hoon-dong’s mother has heard of her involvement in the bar, and soon the entire wedding has been taken over by fights and bickering.
Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, the sky opens up and it starts to pour. All of the wedding guests run for cover, leaving Ki-tae and Jang-mi to stand in the rain at the altar all alone. Jang-mi says in voiceover that in life, the worst things happen during the best times, but you can get through life because the best things also come with the worst.
Soaked and deserted by family and friends, Ki-tae and Jang-mi just look at each other and begin to laugh. Jang-mi giggles at how “them” the wedding is, and Ki-tae agrees. They exchange wedding rings in the pouring rain, as Jang-mi thinks how marriage involves not just them, but both of their families. There will be lots of family issues, but marriage is worth it to be together.
They seal the deal with rainy kisses. Lots of them.
Well, Jang-mi took the words right out of my mouth – their wedding was so perfectly “them!” It wouldn’t have felt right if it had gone off without a hitch, because their relationship was always full of fights and drama. But the fact that it was a total disaster, but they still came out the other side smiling and loving one another and accepting each other’s faults and all, was just the perfect wedding to top off this show.
In fact, my favorite thing about this drama, now that it’s over, is that everyone stayed fundamentally true to themselves. This goes for the parents as well as the leads, because none of them really changed dramatically; they only learned to accept themselves and take responsibility for their own happiness. Nobody had to have a personality transplant in order for someone to love them… yes they all changed some, but they just became better versions of themselves. Before, their quirks and hangups were holding them back, but they learned to take those qualities in themselves and use them in a positive way instead of letting the personality trait be in control.
The best example is Jang-mi’s tendency to think of others’ happiness before her own… at the beginning, she let this habit run her life to the extent that she never got what she wanted in favor of making sure the other person was happy. Instead of giving Jang-mi personal satisfaction, this just led to her being dismissed and overlooked by her friends and family. But now she’s learned to use that quality in herself to help others, like how she put her own discomfort aside time and again to reach out to Ki-tae’s mother, and help her find her own happiness.
Ki-tae arguably did the most changing during the course of the show, since he had to learn to let people into his life (physically and emotionally) to know that it’s worth putting yourself out there in order to gain love. Protecting yourself to the point that you shut out everyone and everything may be a safe way to live, but it’s not a happy way to live. He had to learn that while you may get hurt if you reach out to others, you also may gain immeasurable happiness, and that’s worth possibly experiencing some heartbreak in the process. But I believe that even though he did a lot of growing, Ki-tae still stayed essentially himself through the course of the show… he simply learned how to turn his protective instincts to the people he loves rather than keep it all for himself.
But the best thing about this entire show has always been the focus on family. None of us live in a vacuum and, good or bad, our families shape and define who we are. Jang-mi and Ki-tae were dysfunctional because their families were dysfunctional – but rather than fighting the future in-laws for control like so many drama characters, they actually drew those families in and worked on healing them. They both understood that the other’s family was part and parcel of who they are, and they each reached out to help the other’s family become healthy (even if that meant one couple splitting up). I adore how the families are still, and will always be, dysfunctional, because really aren’t all families in some way? But they learned how to love and accept one another in spite of that, and maybe even because of that.
It’s that acceptance of people and relationships for exactly who they are, and not trying to change them, that made Marriage Not Dating not only a fun and funny rom-com, but one with a heart and soul that will stick with us for a long time to come. The best dramas are ones that not only make you laugh and root for the characters, but make you feel something special, and I think I can confidently say that this show did that and did it well.
What a fitting end to a series about marriage and dating—it doesn’t paint marriage as a fantasy, or the end-all-be-all of romance. It is in some ways the least romantic and most realistic of depictions since we have characters who run the gamut from happily wed, happily divorced, to some whose marriages resemble war buddies who are in it till the end because no one else would know their pain. What I like most about Ki-tae and Jang-mi’s final decision to be married is that they acknowledge that happily ever after is but a fantasy—marriages go bad, spouses cheat, love cools. But the theme of the episode is that despite all the odds, they’ll go in with eyes wide open and try anyway. That realism-optimism one-two punch just speaks to me, when they propose to each other to love and trust, even if there’s no such thing as forever.
This series is a standout among rom-coms for its fresh take on contemporary romance, its flawed characters who were allowed to remain flawed, and the lovely sense of humor that the writer and director shared—there was a cohesion in the writing and directing that was palpable, in that we were made to feel all of the right beats in all the right ways, which is actually rare. So often writing feels labored or directing diverges because they aren’t in sync, but here every song cue, every sound effect, every handhold, felt like it was taking us to a deliberate place, and that the writer-director team was always in control.
Granted, where we were taken wasn’t always roses. There were obvious missteps with supporting characters who were given central importance when we needed conflict, made to do crazy things to extend that conflict, and then shunted aside when they weren’t needed anymore. And as with most dramas that take on the contract dating/marriage premise, getting your characters out of the entanglement (or prolonging it, for that matter) proves to be a difficult endeavor. I loved the setup, but it started to drive me nuts the way we felt trapped there. The series was at its best early on, when the humor crackled and the couple was forced to act loving on the surface while antagonism brewed underneath.
The show’s signature cold open was another of those love-hate things for me—it began as a clever way to set us up for a twist on our expectations, and often it worked very well, using a pun or a song to lead our interpretation one way and then take a sharp turn in the episode proper. But once they started using it to misrepresent scenes altogether with footage that was a direct lie, it stopped being clever and felt manipulative; they lost meaning when I could only start counting them as fantasy sequences. It’s too bad, because had they remained the strict clever twists on expectation, they would’ve been the show’s crowning cap. I do like that the writer was clearly experimenting and pushing the boundaries of that device; the results just weren’t always in my wheelhouse. At least the finale went out on the kind of cold open I had loved early on.
Marriage Not Dating was a relative success for tvN (it reached a high of 4.2% during Episode 13 and mostly stayed within the 2% range which is good for cable), but it’s a far bigger success for Yeon Woo-jin and Han Groo, who showed fantastic range and now each have a leading role in a well-received drama under their belts. They were both so wonderfully funny and emotive, and considering the roles they’ve had in the past (oddly enough, they’ve both played cold-blooded killers, of all things), they displayed a totally different kind of warmth and accessibility that worked so well for the show. I love watching actors grow role by role, and these two had such a fantastically timed growth spurt in the same drama opposite one another. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
I’d caution anyone against taking friendship, business, or ex-girl/boyfriend advice from this show (*shudders*), but I genuinely appreciated its take on family. I found the most touching thing in the finale to be Mom’s declaration that she’d take the house in the divorce and keep Grandma and Aunt—their bond had transcended all the traditional lines separating in-laws and blood relations, and they were just three women who loved each other as family. It underscored that the secondary loveline in the drama—between Jang-mi and her future mother-in-law—was something that changed Mom as a daughter-in-law as well. I loved that the familial thread ran through the show from beginning to end, and that despite the romance being the hook, family is what we end on. Accepting a person as they are is noteworthy; accepting their crazy-ass family as they are—now that’s love.
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 15
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 14
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 13
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 12
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 11
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 10
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 9
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 8
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 7
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 6
- Marriage Not Dating: Episode 5
- Marriage Not Dating: Episodes 3-4
- Marriage Not Dating: Episodes 1-2