Mystic Pop-up Bar: Episode 11
One of the things I’ve loved about this drama is how nothing about it is entirely new, yet it delivers its story in such a fun way, with such endearing characters, that I don’t even care. The storytelling elements are familiar yet unique, and even when I know something is coming, it comes in an unexpected way. In this penultimate episode, our trio thinks they’re on the brink of success until an old enemy finally shows itself, and rescue comes from the last place anyone ever expected.
EPISODE 11 RECAP
Having put the clues together, Wol-joo confronts Manager Gwi and demands that he tell her who he is. Worried, he asks if she’s okay, and she retracts the question. Manager Gwi goes out for groceries to diffuse the awkwardness, leaving Wol-joo sighing after him.
While he’s at the store, Manager Gwi tells Kang-bae that he got Wol-joo’s contract nullified (though not how). That evening while they’re working, Wol-joo is uncharacteristically quiet, making the guys tiptoe around her.
At the end of the night, Kang-bae asks Wol-joo why she’s so grouchy when Manager Gwi just saved her from the Hell of Extinction. She doesn’t answer, griping that she only has four days left to settle two grudges, and when she turns on Manager Gwi, he quickly finds a reason to be anywhere else.
Kang-bae follows and asks Manager Gwi if he and Wol-joo had a fight. Manager Gwi says he’s no match for Wol-joo (ain’t that the truth), and he asks Kang-bae if something happened at the store, since that’s when Wol-joo’s bad mood started. Kang-bae says that she heard him using Manager Gwi’s lines on Yeo-rin (the same ones he used on Wol-joo when they were alive), and Manager Gwi realizes that Wol-joo must have figured out who he is.
Meanwhile, Wol-joo goes to Samshin to vent her anger that the crown prince is back in her life. She says she doesn’t even know what to be mad about first, or what to say to him. She thinks it’s because she hates him so much, and Samshin counters that maybe it’s because she’s missed him so much, but Wol-joo insists that all she feels towards Manager Gwi is hatred and resentment.
Kang-bae and Yeo-rin go on a cute lunch date and talk freely about how much fun they’re having now that they’re together. They go for a walk after, and Yeo-rin gets brave and starts to link arms with Kang-bae, but a voice yells at her, “No, don’t you dare!” She shakes it off and tries holding hands, and this time the voice snaps, “Get away from him!” Scared now, Yeo-rin hurries back to work alone.
Before opening Mystic Pop-up Bar for the evening, Wol-joo decides to get things out in the open. She tells Manager Gwi that she knows that he knows that she knows who he is, and he meekly accepts her anger. She says that he’s always saying he’ll protect her and help her, but that he wasn’t there when it mattered, and she accuses him of playing games with her.
Manager Gwi apologizes for not telling Wol-joo the truth, but she continues that it’s his fault she died and is serving this sentence. He tries to tell her that she’s got the wrong idea about what happened when they were alive, but Wol-joo yells that that’s where her story ends.
She says that she can accept that he married someone else because their love was only a dream, but she wants to know why he promised to protect her before breaking her heart. “Why did you kill me? What crime did I commit? What did my mother ever do wrong?”
Crying now, she wails that it wasn’t just her who lost everything because of him, but she stops short of mentioning their unborn child. Manager Gwi says that he’s here now because he couldn’t save her then, and he asks her to let him stay until she settles all hundred thousand grudges.
Wol-joo snarls that he hasn’t changed in five hundred years… “Those of noble blood still believe that the life and death of others should be theirs to dictate. Now that you’ve chosen to save mine, should I get down on my knees and express my gratitude? Who are you to make such decisions?!”
Manager Gwi interrupts and says she doesn’t know the whole story, but he makes the mistake of asking Wol-joo to trust him. She slaps him across the face and tells him to get out, that he and the queen are the same to her and that she never wants to see him again. He respects her wishes, but the pain in his eyes is awful to see.
Kang-bae sees Yeo-rin looking upset as she leaves work. She ends up at Mystic Pop-up Bar and is surprised to see Wol-joo there, and LOL, she thinks this is the secret CIA base (Wol-joo: “Sure, why not?” hee). Wol-joo serves her soju and asks if Kang-bae is already causing trouble, so Yeo-rin tells her about the scary voice she heard when she tried to touch Kang-bae earlier.
Some drunkards knock over Wol-joo’s sign, so she goes outside to yell at them, leaving Yeo-rin alone with the ssanggapju. She helps herself, and when Wol-joo returns, Yeo-rin is dressed in an old hanbok and her hair is grey — what the…?
Wol-joo quickly realizes that she’s talking to the soul of the Cinnabar, the mystical stone that her mother used to take shards from to make powerful talismans. The Cinnabar asks why Wol-joo has been interfering in Yeo-rin’s life, pairing her up with some guy, and Wol-joo asks in return why the Cinnabar yelled at Yeo-rin for wanting to hold hands.
The Cinnabar says that she doesn’t like men, so she’s been scaring away any guys that like Yeo-rin, and she reluctantly admits that she’s scared of dating. The Cinnabar tells Wol-joo how she used to get bored in her cave, so she would visit the town as a woman and secretly heal the sick and chase away evil spirits.
Then one day she fell in love with a man at first sight, and she began bringing him shards from her rock, which he said he was selling and using the money for the sick and poor. Unfortunately, it was Won-hyung that she fell for, and eventually she started sensing someone “off” about him, so she stopped meeting him.
He’d gone to her cave with a hammer, saying that the tiny fragments she was giving him aren’t enough. The Cinnabar had warned that she’d cease to exist if he shattered her stone, but Won-hyung had crooned that he didn’t care because he needs the money for weapons and soldiers to stage an uprising. He had smashed the stone, killing the Cinnabar.
Wol-joo sympathizes, knowing how it feels to be thrown over by a man in favor of a throne. She tells the Cinnabar that she’s been suffering for five hundred years because of a man, and that now he’s back just to watch her suffer.
She asks the Cinnabar what made her back away from her guy, and the Cinnabar says that she saw him leaving a house late one night wearing a mask and sword. She says it was just a poor shrine without much to steal, but that he’d killed the shaman and set the shrine on fire, and that the shaman’s daughter hung herself soon after. Wol-joo asks if his name was Won-hyung, and the Cinnabar confirms it.
Manager Gwi visits Ji-hye’s shop and learns that she’s dead. He talks to Won-hyung (who is still masquerading as Chief Yeom) about his theory that the loose evil spirit is deliberately getting in the way of their grudge cases. He asks Chief Yeom/Won-hyung to tell him who the spirit is, so Won-hyung thinks on the fly and tells Manager Gwi that he already caught the evil spirit and turned him in.
He says that it was Won-hyung, who escaped from Hell to make Wol-joo and Manager Gwi suffer. Playing the loving father, he tells Manager Gwi that he couldn’t let someone else kill his son twice, which is why he didn’t tell Manager Gwi sooner. He explains that Won-hyung killed Ji-hye because she was trying to help Wol-joo and Manager Gwi reconcile, and as he leaves, he giggles to himself, wondering who’s next.
Yeo-rin has a monster hangover in the morning, and she doesn’t recall much about the night before. She and Kang-bae are awkward at work, so Yeo-rin comes partially clean, claiming to have a fear of skinship. She says she’s taking the afternoon to see a doctor, and Kang-bae says that they can take things slow until she feels ready.
Yeo-rin asks Kang-bae to thank Wol-joo for her — she thinks she brought her home after she got drunk. Kang-bae asks if Yeo-rin drank anything from a moon-shaped bottle, and Yeo-rin says she did and that it was too strong.
Meanwhile, Wol-joo paces across the pojangmacha, remembering the night she saw Won-hyung covered in blood. He’d said that he fought an assassin who killed her mother, which doesn’t match up with the Cinnabar’s story. Wol-joo thinks that if the Cinnabar was right, that means Won-hyung was planning an uprising against Yi Heon.
Manager Gwi runs into Wol-joo outside a shrine where he went to pray for Ji-hye. Wol-joo tells him about her encounter with the Cinnabar and how her version of events doesn’t add up. Manager Gwi confirms that Won-hyung killed Wol-joo’s mother and organized an uprising, and that Won-hyung was even planning to marry his younger sister to him.
He says that the day Won-hyung killed Wol-joo’s mother was the day he was planning to propose to Wol-joo. He tells Wol-joo that he wanted Won-hyung to know how it feels to lose everything, so in the middle of his wedding to Won-hyung’s sister, he ordered his guards to bring him the man who was planning the uprising.
They had forced Won-hyung to kneel at Yi Heon’s feet, and Won-hyung had insisted that he was Yi Heon’s most loyal friend. Yi Heon had asked if building an army and selling off his family are loyal moves, not to mention killing an innocent mother and daughter. Won-hyung had growled that Yi Heon should thank him for getting rid of a threat to the kingdom’s foundation.
In his fury, Yi Heon had grabbed a sword and killed Won-hyung on the spot. He’d been overcome by grief and shock, and had made his way to the now-dead Sacred Tree where Wol-joo had hung herself. He had vowed to find Wol-joo and protect her in the next life, even if it cost him his soul.
Hearing this for the first time, Wol-joo asks tearfully why Manager Gwi didn’t tell her everything sooner, and why he let her resent him for five hundred years. He says that a few words wouldn’t have solved anything, and that she would have thought he was lying and sent him away anyway.
He explains that he wanted to show his sincerity with his actions this time, not as a weak prince who makes empty promises, but as Manager Gwi who actually does protect her. He offers Wol-joo the jade ring he’s been carrying for five hundred years, and after a long pause, she holds out a hand so that he can slip it on her finger.
Won-hyung shows up at the store, claiming to be concerned because Mystic Pop-up Bar is closed, but Kang-bae can’t reach Wol-joo, either. He asks if he knows about Wol-joo going into Yeo-rin’s Dream World, which piques Won-hyung’s curiosity. He finds Yeo-rin and follows her, preparing to do something dark and evil, but luckily Manager Gwi interrupts his plans.
Manager Gwi is there for Yeo-rin, but she just left for her appointment. He tells Won-hyung that he and Wol-joo made up, and that they only have one more grudge to settle after Yeo-rin’s, alerting Won-hyung that his time is running out.
Wol-joo “accidentally” runs into Yeo-rin and offers her a ride, and she just happens to have a ssanggapju-laced iced coffee with her. Yeo-rin drinks and falls asleep, and when the Cinnabar shows up again, Wol-joo explains that she’s here to help the Cinnabar after she helped Wol-joo clear up a five-hundred-year misunderstanding.
She tells the Cinnabar that the best way to get over a man is with girlfriends, then takes her to a noraebang where Samshin is already getting her groove on. They sing and dance to breakup songs, and WHOA, they’re even joined by singer So Chan-whee for Tears! HAHA, Samshin takes credit for the singer’s talent, bragging that her conception dream was a tiger chewing on a microphone.
They sit down afterward in front of a table laden with fancy desserts, and Samshin and Wol-joo give the Cinnabar advice about not wasting her reincarnated life because of Won-hyung. Wol-joo tells her to be happy and feel free to love Kang-bae, but that if they break up, they’ll do all this again.
Later, when Yeo-rin and Kang-bae meet up, Yeo-rin says sheepishly that she fell asleep in Wol-joo’s car and missed her doctor’s appointment. She reaches to fix Kang-bae’s buttons, which gets him adorably flustered. She realizes that she’s no longer scared to touch him, and she glomps onto Kang-bae’s arm and clutches his hands, then makes him stand up so she can dive excitedly into a hug (lol, she has to prompt the stunned Kang-bae to hug her back).
After helping Yeo-rin, Wol-joo is only one grudge away from finishing her punishment. She takes Manager Gwi to a fancy restaurant to celebrate, and a couple with a baby makes Wol-joo stare wistfully. She asks Manager Gwi if he thinks he would have been a good dad, and when he says yes, she starts to tell him about their own lost baby.
But Manager Gwi jokes that Wol-joo would have been a naggy mom, and says casually that she can be a mother in her next life. She asks him why he didn’t want to be reincarnated and live a normal life. He makes a joke about dumping her, then laughs and says that he’ll focus on protecting the woman he has. He adds that there’s no point in worrying about a baby they don’t have, so Wol-joo doesn’t tell him.
At Mystic Pop-up Bar that night, Kang-bae gapes at Wol-joo and Manager Gwi when she cuts her finger and he makes a huge fuss over it. He sees that Wol-joo is wearing Manager Gwi’s jade ring, but Wol-joo snaps that she took it because she liked it then changes the subject.
Kang-bae squints, not believing them, then demands a truthful answer. HAHAHA, they look so guilty. They tell him the whole story, and Kang-bae literally falls over as all of the clues fit together at once in his head. He’s completely creeped out, and escapes outside. Manager Gwi follows to talk to him, just as Won-hyung arrives and notices that the sign has changed to show 99,999 grudges settled.
Still pretending to be Chief Yeom, Won-hyung tells Wol-joo that he heard she and Manager Gwi cleared up their misunderstanding, which includes Chief Yeom’s identity in life as Won-hyung’s father. He apologizes for not telling her, but she says she knows he’s been helping her to make up for what his son did.
He says that parents feel responsible for their child, and Wol-joo, believing that she’s talking to Chief Yeom, admits that she’s also doing this for her child. She asks if he became Death to make up for all the people Won-hyung killed, and wonders out loud if Won-hyung was worth it.
She calls Won-hyung a bastard and blames him for ruining all their lives, and he goes cold and snaps that it’s all Wol-joo’s fault for committing suicide. Wol-joo looks closely at him, then asks who he is. He smirks and grabs her by the throat, growling that he was wrongfully murdered by Yi Heon, and that if she hadn’t gotten involved he would have had everything he wanted.
Manager Gwi tells Kang-bae that Wol-joo is a lot crankier now than she was in life, but that she needs someone to take care of her, so that’s why he’s here. Queen Yeomra summons Manager Gwi, and Kang-bae hangs back to pass out coupons. Feeling awkward, he heads back to Mystic Pop-up Bar for more, and he walks in just as Won-hyung is throttling Wol-joo.
He tries to break Won-hyung’s hold but gets thrown across the room. Just as Wol-joo is about to pass out, a voice roars, “Let her go!!” and the whole pojangmacha starts to shake like there’s an earthquake. The lights go out and Won-hyung lets go of Wol-joo.
Kang-bae slowly gets to his feet, his body flickering with power. He glares at Won-hyung angrily, and in his eyes we see everything that happened at the Sacred Tree flash by in seconds. In the middle of a thunderstorm, a man stands at the foot of the Sacred Tree… and when he turns around, it’s Kang-bae.
I knew it, Kang-bae is the Sacred Tree! I’ve suspected that he was either the Tree itself, or the “sorrow of the Sacred Tree” which Samshin mentioned merged with Wol-joo’s baby’s soul. It’s still unclear which it is, but the fact that Kang-bae is the Sacred Tree in the same way that Yeo-rin is the Cinnabar is undeniable. For some reason though, even though I was kind of expecting this, I wasn’t prepared for the Tree to make such a dramatic re-entrance! But if anyone has a grudge to settle, it’s the Sacred Tree, and now it’s good and pissed off, so I’m sure that he will be Wol-joo’s final grudge to settle.
We officially know the whole backstory now, and I have to admit I was a bit confused at first. It all makes sense until we get to Won-hyung’s motives, which seem to contradict themselves — he’s amassing an army to take over the throne, but he’s also marrying his sister to the crown prince, and I couldn’t understand why he was doing both. I’m guessing that having a royal sister would have given him more of a claim to the throne once he launched his coup? Anyway, he definitely was acting on his own, and he blames Wol-joo and Yi Heon/Manager Gwi for keeping him from what he wanted. Somehow, I think the Sacred Tree will have a different plan in mind.
Mystic Pop-up Bar isn’t a show that offers a lot of surprises (more on that in the finale recap), but I was pleasantly surprised at the clever connection between Won-hyung and the Cinnabar. I love it when you get the last piece of information about a situation and it shows that everything was carefully planned out from the beginning, and it was smart to make Won-hyung the reason for Yeo-rin’s “ability” to repel men she likes. It makes total sense that the Cinnabar was so traumatized by Won-hyung that she has kept men away for centuries, though it’s sad to think of Yeo-rin living out so many lonely lifetimes.
Usually, one of my favorite things about dramas is watching the characters’ growth, seeing them become better people. But Mystic Pop-up Bar manages to work for the exact opposite reason — Wol-joo, Manager Gwi, Kang-bae, and even Yeo-rin all thrive because they are such solid people, with strong moral compasses and confidence that they are already the best people they can be. Not that they aren’t willing to bend, but the reason they’ve survived this long is because they’re so strong and stable in their beliefs and behaviors. Wol-joo has even made stubbornness a virtue, to the point that she’s known throughout the Afterlife as someone you don’t mess with when she’s determined to get her way.
Unfortunately, Won-hyung is exactly the same, but it’s a bad thing in his case because his personality traits are all dangerous ones. He’s greedy and vicious, a sociopath who doesn’t care who he hurts so long as he gets his way. Human or sacred object, Won-hyung will exploit them until he can’t anymore, then he gets rid of them. It’s no wonder that he’s still this angry after five hundred years… he still believes, after all this time, that he’s the one who was wronged. The bad news is that all this time, he’s been amassing power to destroy Wol-joo and Yi Heon, but I think he may have just met his match.
- Premiere Watch: Old School Intern, Mystic Pop-up Bar, Team Bulldog: Off-duty Investigation
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