Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 16 (Final)
Everyone ready to say goodbye? Cantabile Tomorrow ends its story in the spirit of much of its run, with a touch of sentimentality undercut by silliness and comedy, and buoyed with themes of friendship and growth. It may be time for the characters to move on to the next chapter of their lives, and while it’s a bittersweet thing to say goodbye to things that are over, you get the sense that they’ll keep on keeping on, applying the same life lessons to the paths they are about to travel.
SONG OF THE DAY
Joo-won – “Innocente” from the Cantabile Tomorrow OST [ Download ]
FINAL LESSON RECAP
On the phone to Min-hee, Nae-il is midsentence when Yoo-jin arrives, starting to say, “Even just thinking about it…” Then he wraps her up in a big back-hug, stunning her speechless.
Yoo-jin tells her he’s here to take her back. She registers his presence with a smile and finishes her thought: “…I’d only ever thought about it—that you might get on a plane and come to get me.”
She lifts a hand to his face and asks how he got here. He describes almost running away at the airport, “But I heard your voice. You cried again, didn’t you? What have you done to me?” Nae-il replies that she wanted him to go the places he wanted, and do the things he wanted.
He surprises her again by pulling her to him for another hug, and they stand there quietly for a long while, holding each other.
As they take a leisurely stroll out of the park, Yoo-jin asks if she truly means to quit the piano. Nae-il sighs that she keeps thinking of playing onstage, and how the thought used to only terrify her, but now she regrets not trying at least once before quitting. Yoo-jin decides firmly, “Then you have to do it.” She looks up at him in surprise as he all but tosses her in the car and declares that she still has an hour left to submit her application, driving off in a hurry.
Later that night, Yoo-jin meets the family and accepts a drink from her father, a virtual rite of passage for all couples. Oh, I love these meetings. Please be awkward and amazing!
One of the things I love about the Yoo-jin/Nae-il relationship is that they’re such a couple, and everybody sees it, but it’s like they skipped over the part where they flirted and dated and went straight into comfortable married status. So when anybody makes reference to the actual courtship process, it’s so hilariously embarrassing for Yoo-jin, who half-chokes when Dad beams that he’d always worried that Nae-il might not get married because of her quirky personality.
Yoo-jin starts to say, “We haven’t yet…” Dad just nods knowingly, “That’s okay. You’re like family now, no need to be embarrassed. I was like that at first too.” And you know, after overcoming a lifelong traumatic mental block just to come see Nae-il, it’s not like he has a leg to stand on in protesting, so he just sits there and takes it. HA.
His mother is amazed to hear that he managed the plane ride without incident, both pleased and a little melancholy at the thought that she couldn’t do anything to help him. She sighs, “I really was a useless mother…” Yoo-jin stops her from leaving, and smiles that his mother seems smaller now. She laughs that it’s just that he’s all grown up, and they hug sweetly.
The friends are happy that Nae-il is back and attempting the Salzburg competition, which is a big enough deal that winning it could propel her to soloist fame. On the other hand, it’s deflating to think of what happens once Yoo-jin leaves, though they brighten when Il-lac reminds them that they’ve got him.
Yoon-hoo finds Nae-il in a practice room, and she’s immediately a little guarded around him, asking him to keep at an arm’s length because Yoo-jin doesn’t like it. (Adorable.) Yoon-hoo picks up on her awkwardness and guesses that she wasn’t entirely unmoved by him, and that idea cheers him up considerably.
He gets more serious as he wishes her well and says, “When you feel like quitting, remember one thing: that there was somebody who made a new start because of your piano.” That’s super sweet. I like Yoon-hoo so much more when he’s being earnest, though he doesn’t often let it show behind that glib facade.
Yoon-hoo also gives Nae-il a gift, which she tries to refuse when seeing that it’s an expensive necklace. He asks her to think of it as a present from a fan, and tells her to take care.
That night, Yoo-jin takes Nae-il hiking to get one last look at the view, marveling at the stars and wondering how they’ll look the next time.
And then, we return to Salzburg. Ah, this is the same sequence that opened the series, with young Yoo-jin running through the streets as adult Yoo-jin reminisces about growing up amidst classical music. He narrates, “As though time had stopped, it was just like the vision in my mind—the scenery and sounds that I had always yearned for.”
Yoo-jin walks the same path now and thinks, “Teacher Viera, I have come now.”
Nae-il peers in through a store window, admiring the jewelry inside. Yoo-jin finds her there and scolds her for wandering, but she’s more fixated on the couple rings, recalling the ones Il-lac and Shi-won had shown off. In a flashback, we see Nae-il admiring them loudly (and pointedly, in Yoo-jin’s direction), while Yoo-jin had feigned ignorance.
He reminds her that she’s here for an important competition, while she oohs over the ring that’s “so pretty and round!” He barks, “All rings are round!”
But she gets pouty when he tells her he’ll go to see Viera without her, stomping off huffily, and his eyes return to the rings in the window…
They take a train to see Viera, but Yoo-jin hears that the maestro isn’t in due to a change in schedule. He’s disappointed, but Nae-il says that since they’re in Europe now, he can see him another time. (I do have to note that these scenes were shot months ago—and Nae-il is back to calling him Orabang—which highlights how much the tone has mellowed over time. It’s rather jarring to see these scenes now and I’m disappointed to see the return of old, exaggerated Nae-il, but I suppose the production couldn’t do much about already filmed footage.)
Nae-il proposes that they spend the day sightseeing instead, and off they go to visit all the Mozart-related tourist spots, with Nae-il stocking up on “honeymoon gifts” to bring back to their friends. She is rather like an overexcited puppy dancing circles around him, talking a mile a minute and running at full speed, ignoring his reminders to return so she can get some practice in. While she’s racing around singing nonsense lyrics to the Sound of Music, we see Yoo-jin holding up a ring, waiting for the right moment.
Finally he tells her to stop and close her eyes so he can give her something, and she readily complies, puckering up in expectation of a kiss. Oh honey, if only it were that easy.
He holds the ring up and tells her to open her eyes… which is when the sprinklers turn on and he jerks in alarm, sending the rings flying, landing at the bottom of a fountain. He jumps right into the fountain to look for them, while she grumbles that his “gift” to her was a big water slap in the face.
She glares at him, accusing him of doing it on purpose because she didn’t want to practice today, just as he fishes the rings out. He says casually that he’ll just have to consider the ring lost—and at the word “ring,” Nae-il dives into the fountain to find them if it kills her. She’s so distraught that he shows her the ring, albeit with a condition: She has to think of the competition first. He’ll give it to her after she wins. And just like that, she’s willing to go back and practice.
That night, she knocks on his door shivering and coughing, saying that she doesn’t feel good. Looks like she’s faking, though, and he eyes her skeptically as she fishes for sympathy. That doesn’t work, so she reminds him that he was whining “like a puppy in the rain” on the plane and she comforted him the whole time, guilting him into returning the favor.
He lets her in, and when she drops (huge, unsubtle) hints about wanting to eat ramyun, he heads out to find some for her. While he’s out, Nae-il gets on a video call with Min-hee to go over nightgown options, since “we’re going to practice being a married couple,” and encourages her to spread rumors about them at school. Lol. Of course, Yoo-jin returns in time to hear that, and although she switches right back to faking sick, it’s to no avail. He kicks her out and tells her to use her strategizing time for practice.
Il-lac and Shi-won have a date at Dad’s restaurant, where he suggests wearing couple tees (“Too childish,” Shi-won decides) or even couple underwear (“If you want to be more adult,” he suggests). Dad is adorably grumpy to have her around all the time, but Shi-won is a smart cookie and flatters him just the right way and offering a gift of health juice. Ruffled feathers thus smoothed, Dad cheers up and tells the couple to have fun, thinking to himself that Shi-won’s kind heart is just like his wife’s.
The orchestra continues with its rehearsals, this time with Yoon-hoo leading as conductor. He issues instructions with a kind touch, keeping the members’ feelings in mind.
Nae-il registers at the competition and gets assigned the final performance slot, then checks out the concert hall with Yoo-jin. Another competitor is practicing there, and she’s so amazing that the smile fades from Nae-il’s face. She’s thoroughly intimidating.
Yoo-jin recognizes the player, who’s already made a name for herself, and Nae-il heaves a sigh at the thought of having to beat her. She’s in glum spirits as they look out at the city from a viewpoint, hardly looking as Yoo-jin points out a neighborhood where he intends to find a residence (and says accidentally, “It’s where we’ll live” before catching himself).
She dejectedly says that it’s where he’ll live and he’ll sleep, all on his own. If she doesn’t win, she’ll have to return to Korea while he stays behind. Yoo-jin just agrees readily, making her bristle angrily and accuse him of cheating with a blonde unni.
He says that nobody would approach him with Nae-il stuck to him like glue 24 hours a day. “That’s what you’ll do,” he says matter-of-factly. It’s not enough to rid her of all her fears, but it does ease the doom a bit to have him state it with such certainty.
Then he holds up the ring box, telling her that instead of as a prize for winning, it’ll be her charm to help win. He slides it onto her finger and asks if she thinks she can win now.
She marvels at the ring, but says no—a ring isn’t enough. “I need a victory kiss to win,” she says, pulling him closer. Then she leans in and closes her eyes… and he shoves her forehead away with his finger, HA. Then she chases him with puckered lips while he does his best to dodge her advances. Sadly, he’s good at that.
A problem arises when the spellings of Nae-il’s name are inconsistent on her application and identification (Seol and Sul), and Yoo-jin is informed that competition rules bar her from participating. Bah! It’s such a tiny technicality, but rules are rules, and Yoo-jin gets on the phone to appeal for help from their school.
The Rising Stars prepare for another performance, and as Yoon-hoo conducts Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” (which, you may note, was the score he first studied while in the hospital), narrating about its meaning to the composer, and also to himself. Verdi had been forced to give up on music, but marshaled the “force of destiny” to come back, this piece representing his reason for continuing on.
Emotion wells up in him as he conducts, thinking back to his own personal journey, starting with his first encounter with Nae-il at the festival and having to let go of the cello.
As the competition nears, Mina and the Haneum administration rush to find a way to confirm Nae-il’s identity and enable her to participate. Yoo-jin’s appeals go denied, and despite trying to manage the problem without letting Nae-il know, she overhears.
She sighs that this is her punishment for resisting coming at the outset, and sits down at the piano in the main hall to play her piece. Her run-through draws the attention of somebody outside—it’s Yoo-jin’s father, and he recognizes her talent as he watches her play.
Yoo-jin finally gets one concession from the competition organizers—if a judge or someone known to the judging panel vouches for Nae-il’s identity, they’ll allow her to play.
When Nae-il finishes her piece, Yoo-jin’s father claps for her in the empty hall, asking if she’s competing. She recognizes him as Dad and introduces herself—or she’s about to, when Yoo-jin’s entrance interrupts. Father and son stiffen in surprise to see each other, and Dad asks how he fixed his flying phobia. Yoo-jin says pointedly that he didn’t figure Dad would be interested in the process, and Dad concedes that what’s important isn’t how it happened, but what he intends to do now.
Yoo-jin answers that he plans to study abroad with Nae-il—and that while his personal studies are important, right now the priority is her competition. It’s an answer that earns Dad’s derision, who emphasizes that Yoo-jin’s music should be his own priority. Yoo-jin doesn’t disagree, answering that he feels this way because she is someone he’ll rely on and be with throughout the process. Pause to awww.
Dad says he needs to focus on himself, or find somebody who will match his needs perfectly. Yoo-jin shakes his head: “I won’t live that way.”
Seeing that Yoo-jin is determined, Dad gets up to leave, though he pauses to say that his Rachmaninoff concert wasn’t bad, even if it was with a mere college orchestra.
It’s more praise that Yoo-jin expected, though, and brings a smile to his face. “So this is how it feels to receive praise from your father,” he muses.
The trouble with Yoo-jin’s last chance in verifying Nae-il’s identity is that the judges’ identities won’t be revealed before the competition. Streseman offers to give it a try, though he recognizes that it’s a tough task. Time’s ticking and Yoo-jin gets antsier with the competition about to begin, and it’s looking like they’ll miss their chance.
But just as Nae-il is telling him philosophically that she can accept it, they finally get good news: A judge has confirmed, and she’s in.
Aha! It’s Dad. Streseman didn’t put him up to it, and Yoo-jin scoffs that the Dad he knows wouldn’t do it for him, surely. Still, he thinks back to his grudging praise and concedes that he seems different now from the father in his memory.
Of course, she still has to win, and her big-name competitor puts in a formidable performance. With moments to go, Yoo-jin finds Nae-il in the dressing room and tells her to pretend she’s playing in her own room.
By now she’s decided that she doesn’t have to come in first, because what’s important is that she’s finally showing people her piano. (“But still, I want to be first place,” she adds.)
Yoo-jin takes her hand and tells her she’ll do well, and then it’s her turn. As he watches her play, he thinks back to his first encounter with Nae-il, musing on the butterfly effect where a tiny occurrence has a ripple effect and gives way to big changes. Where would they be now, he wonders, if not for that first morning when he’d heard the sound of her piano from amidst the piles of garbage?
Nae-il plays her heart out, her performance drawing impressed looks from the judges. And then, the next thing we know, we’re back at school.
We don’t have to wait long to find out what happened, because Nae-il and her rabbit puppets rejoice that she’ll be able to study abroad with Yoo-jin; she’ll be packing up and moving away soon. She prepares to give her rabbits some kissy action… only to be blocked this time by Min-hee. Will we never get satisfaction?
The teachers look forward to the incoming crop of students in the next class, and when Teacher Do gruffly says he’s not interested in students who mean to have fun rather than study, Teacher Ahn teases that Teacher Do isn’t so averse to some fun himself. He points to the fart song as proof, and although Teacher Do blusters that it was just part of Nae-il’s lessons, he admits that it wasn’t so bad. Heh.
Meanwhile, Mina informs Streseman that she’s working to set up a professional Rising Star Orchestra, and both are optimistic about it having a solid future. Streseman advises her to stop worrying about students who can take care of themselves and suggests that they talk about their own future. Okay, fine, I guess they can go on and have their own romantic happy ending. (Offscreen.)
A pro orchestra is good news for the current Rising Stars, and Il-lac excitedly informs the members of the possibility. It would be one way for them to keep playing together after they graduate, and to pursue a successful musical career without having to leave the country. Aside from all that, “Plus it’s fun!” But before that, Yoon-hoo suggests one last special performance.
Nae-il’s packing isn’t going very well, given her attachment to pretty much everything she owns. Yoo-jin finds her agonizing over things she can’t bear to throw away and orders her to get rid of them, leading to a tug-of-war over her junk (his words) and treasures (hers).
The friends come upon them as they’re bickering, and Min-hee shakes her head, saying that the reporters wouldn’t write about Yoo-jin so glowingly if they could see him now. Su-min laughs that most winners of big competitions like the Salzburg change afterward, but Nae-il’s just the same as ever.
Il-lac cuts the bickerfest short by announcing that they have to take them somewhere…
And then we find the orchestra assembled in the lobby of the school, putting on a performance. AWW. Okay, that totally makes up for everything I found disappointing about this episode. (Okay, half the things.)
Yoo-jin conducts, Nae-il plays the piano, and the friends watch with contentment.
Yoo-jin: “When I didn’t do anything, I wasn’t anything, and when I was by myself, it was natural that I be alone. Meeting other people who were as diverse as musical instruments, matching our sounds, and making harmony together… In my world that was entirely music, I started to see people. We’re awkward as ever, and fall easily, and are frustratingly slow. But in learning the word together, step by step we are following our notes. Softly, melodiously—cantabile. Like singing.”
All right, let’s get it out there, no sugarcoating: This finale bummed me out. It felt like a step backward in many respects, and after we’d come so far! I wanted to cut at least half of it—the half that didn’t advance the characters or tell us anything essential—to give us more time to spend in moments that the show is actually good at. Namely, small beats of emotion and connection, which it has done such a great job at building up over the course of the series.
I recognize that the show filmed its Austria footage in the beginning, and therefore it’s difficult to work around that limitation. Perhaps it speaks to just how far the show has come in smoothing over its weak points because I’d forgotten how ill at ease it felt at the beginning, like it wasn’t sure what it wanted to be; recent episodes have been characterized by a lovely, understated ambiance that felt natural—and then all of a sudden we were jerked back to jokerville.
This criticism isn’t directed only at Shim Eun-kyung, either, although she’s done a really noticeable job in settling into the role as the show went on. The plot has also done a nice job in touching on character moments and relationship interactions—whether romantic, friendship, or even parental. So then we came to Salzburg, and overnight (literally!) it felt like all the careful work the show had done to build up the reasons for this trip, and to make the competition a point of emotional climax, was unraveled when the finale reduced it all to a punchline.
For instance, Nae-il has come so far and overcome so many of her personal shortcomings to earn this chance at competition, only to laughingly blow off practice sessions to eat Mozart-themed chocolate? COME ON. I know that they filmed the scene intending it to be purely comedic, but it totally undermines the spirit of her journey!
Then she has a gag with the sexy lingerie, which takes Nae-il back to the skinship-loving stalker-admirer of the beginning of the show. Mind you, I have no problems with a girl with a lusty appetite, and the scene on its own isn’t the worst thing, since it’s meant to be a cute funny sidebar. But since the show has shown Nae-il growing less flirtatious in relation to the growing intensity of her feelings, it feels like another regression to be back to treating her feelings lightly.
This cuts both ways: When they have Yoo-jin recoil from Nae-il’s request for a kiss, I’m feeling cheated of the poignancy in the last episode when he was actually moved at the thought of kissing her. I don’t even require a kiss—in fact, my disappointment doesn’t have to do with not seeing one, because their relationship has been sweetly satisfying enough without it—but I really feel like we were cheated of proper emotional payoffs because the show had to work in scenes they shot early on.
Honestly, I would have rather they just cut most of the Salzburg stuff, even if it’s beautiful footage that would be a pity to “waste.” But more wasted is weeks of thoughtful work, torn down by thoughtless jokes. Who cares if what we get is a conversation shot boringly in a plain room, if the content of the conversation is touching and narratively in tune with what the show has actually become?
That said, there were nice moments in there, and the show ended on enough of a positive note that I’m left without a bitter taste in my mouth. I hated that the last episode brought back the complaints I had with the show in the beginning, and am relieved that at least we didn’t end with that as the last thing on our minds.
Because you know, there’s a good finale in here—it just wasn’t the one we got. Thank goodness for that lobby scene! If we hadn’t gotten that I might’ve cried. Okay, I wouldn’t have cried, but there would probably have been a lot more swear words in this recap. At least it works thematically (as well as being beautiful to look at and a fitting curtain call of all of our main players), with Nae-il and Yoo-jin finally getting to perform with the orchestra together. Furthermore, Yoo-jin commented in the previous episode about being willing to start all over if their orchestra had been knocked down again, and that he would play in the lobby if he had to.
So it’s the perfect imagery to encapsulate just how far he’s come, from being the cautionary tale that Streseman warned Yoon-hoo of becoming—fixated on skill and seeing little else—to becoming the man who would build from the very bottom with anybody willing to travel that journey with him. I love that line in his final narration, of being able to see people in his world, when before all he cared about was music.
It’s what makes his life different from his father’s—and it’s what gives it color and meaning and, above all, joy. He could adopt his father’s rules and become as dour-faced and exacting, or he could see the people as more than their instruments. (There’s also a great line in yesterday’s episode—I quoted it but didn’t elaborate on it—where the Rising Stars are lined up to take their stand, and he first describes an orchestra as a collection of instruments, before correcting himself and calling it a collection of people.)
Cantabile Tomorrow wasn’t the drama I was expecting, but once I got past switching my brain off from “Wait, that’s not how the other show did it!” I found it surprisingly enjoyable and heartfelt. I actually think it was a pretty creditable adaptation (…as long as you don’t take the Japanese drama as gospel) and liked the divergences in interpretation that it took, but more importantly in my book was that it worked as its own drama, once it decided to be its own drama. It was riddled with flaws, but for the most part I was happy to accept the weaknesses because when it was good, it made me really happy. I do wish it went out on a stronger note, but when I look back I think I’ll remember it more for all the warm fuzzies it gave me, and the moments that were so small yet felt so big. And of course the camaraderie.
And okay, also Joo-won. It’s no surprise that he would knock it out of the park yet again with another strongly realized take on a character, and yet, I’m always surprised when he manages to do it again. Not all of his projects have been winners, but he always makes me feel, and I’m not sure that this drama would have been nearly as enjoyable without him in it. Still, no man is an island, and no one person can take credit for a whole show. So I’ll file Cantabile Tomorrow away as an unexpected pleasant surprise and probably come back to it on cold rainy days when the heart could use a bit of warming.
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 15
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 14
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 13
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 12
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 11
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 10
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 9
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 8
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 7
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 6
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 5
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 4
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 3
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 2
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Classical music song list
- Cantabile Tomorrow: Episode 1