Mystic Pop-up Bar: Episode 9
Time to get out the tissues again, only this time, it’s not for one of our trio’s grudges. Things are getting personal, and misunderstandings are causing problems that there may not be time to fix. Getting answers is good, but these answers can only lead to sorrow, as our trio is about to learn.
EPISODE 9 RECAP
Chief Yeom has convinced Won-hyung to talk to him, and he asks why he’s doing this when his sentence in Hell was almost over. Won-hyung snarls that he has unfinished business with Wol-joo and the crown prince: “It was the crown prince who beheaded me, and with that, he put an end to my ambition. Isn’t it only fair that I get to end his, too?
“That wench he returned to even after his death… When Wol-joo fails her mission and ends up in the Hell of Extinction, he will cry blood and feel pain like he never did before.” Chief Yeom says sadly that Won-hyung disappoints him, then hits him with a wave of power.
Tears filling his eyes, Won-hyung says that Chief Yeom always sided with the crown prince, even when Won-hyung was dying. He sobs, “Why haven’t you once taken my side? Have you ever considered me your son? Can’t you see that everything I do is because I want to be loved by you like a father loves his son?” Chief Yeom lowers his hand, and Won-hyung tentatively reaches up to clutch it.
Kang-bae gets ready for work by putting on Manager Gwi’s sunglasses and grabbing a pouch of pure salt. He’s determined not to get waylaid by the spirits he can now see, but he recalls Yeo-rin’s rejection and wonders how he can avoid seeing her.
Later, Kang-bae is collecting carts in the parking garage when he sees the spirit of an old woman sitting in an empty cart. He puts on the sunglasses and pretends not to see her, barely holding it together when she gets right in his face. A voice asks what he’s doing, and poor Kang-bae leaps out of his skin and begs for mercy… but it’s just Yeo-rin, hee.
He tries to grab a cart from her and touches her hands, which makes them both feel super awkward. Yeo-rin tells Kang-bae to stop apologizing since this is all her fault for kissing him. Kang-bae says it hurts that she feels sorry because it was his first kiss, and Yeo-rin says it was hers, too. She asks him not to read too much into it, but Kang-bae is grinning so big I don’t think he heard anything after the fact that they were each other’s first kiss.
Wol-joo seeks out a fortune teller to find out her odds of meeting her quota (Manager Gwi: “Just avoid alcohol and you’re good,” LOL), but the one she chooses turns out to be the charlatan they met at the webtoon artist’s apartment. Wol-joo stops him from conning a young woman and yells at him for putting people in danger before Manager Gwi drags her away.
Back at Mystic Pop-up Bar, Manager Gwi asks Wol-joo why she’s acting so strange lately. She says she’s been having odd dreams about closed doors everywhere she goes. The fake fortune teller has followed them, and he begs Wol-joo for help. He says he used to be a real shaman, but he can’t see ghosts like he used to.
Wol-joo gives him the ssanggapju and goes into his dream, but when she tries to reopen the door to his spiritual vision (the opposite of what she plans to do for Kang-bae), it’s locked tight. She and Manager Gwi head to Afterlife City Hall, where they’re informed that all Doors of Spiritual Vision have been frozen.
Apparently the Jade Emperor decided to send a powerful monk to the living realm to save mankind, but someone closed his Door of Spiritual Vision, so now the rules have been changed. HAHA, Wol-joo looks guilty — the boy’s mother had come to her because her 6-year-old wanted to become a monk, so not only did Wol-joo close his Door, but she welded it shut.
Wol-joo is told that the Doors can no longer be opened or closed without an order from Heaven and a force of nature. Thinking of her promise to Kang-bae, Wol-joo and Manager Gwi beg for once chance to close a door, but it’s no good.
They ask Chief Yeom if there’s anything he can do, so he asks to see the contract Kang-bae signed. They explain that Kang-bae is using his ability to help Wol-joo meet her quota, calling him their “striker,” and Chief Yeom seems oddly confused. He says he can’t help them, so Wol-joo goes to her only other option — Samshin.
Samshin says that Kang-bae is surrounded by yin energy, so he needs to be partnered with someone with a soul full of yang energy to cancel each other out. It needs to be someone with only yang energy, like the reincarnation of the Cinnabar.
Wol-joo remembers her mother taking her to collect dust from the Cinnabar, a mystical rock formation. Her mother would use the cinnabar dust to make talismans for people plagued by evil spirits, but she’d warned Wol-joo not to take too much because even rocks have souls.
Samshin tells Wol-joo that the Cinnabar was reincarnated as a woman, who suffered a lot in her past life and deserves a good man who loves her. Wol-joo plays up Kang-bae’s good qualities, and Samshin agrees that he’s like a sweet little puppy, but she says that only a true love’s kiss will bond the yin and yang energies.
Wol-joo asks for details on the Cinnabar, but Samshin suddenly remembers that it’s forbidden to reveal the identity of a reincarnated Sacred Object. Wol-joo tries to bribe her with coffee truck coupons, but Samshin snarls that she won’t fall for Wol-joo’s tricks again and kicks her out.
That night, Kang-bae is handed a flyer by a woman who’s looking for her son, who disappeared fifteen years ago. He helps her pass out the flyers, then takes her to Mystic Pop-up Bar to meet Wol-joo and Manager Gwi. He asks Manager Gwi if the Afterlife Police can find her son, so Manager Gwi sends them the photos from the flyer.
While they wait, Wol-joo cooks for the woman, whose name is HYUN-OK (cameo by Moon Jung-hee). Hyun-ok hesitates at the rolled eggs, saying that they were her son’s favorite. She tells them how her husband died when Joon-woo was five, so they were very close.
When Joon-woo was seven, there was an old school friend of Hyun-ok’s who was pestering her to date him. She had been very clear with SANG-CHUL (cameo by Jung Hee-tae) that she wasn’t interested, and that she’d rather spend what little free time she had with her son. Then one night, she’d gotten home late from work to find that Joon-woo never came home after school.
Hyun-ok tells Wol-joo that Sang-chul had an alibi on the day of Joon-woo’s disappearance, but that he disappeared shortly after that. Wol-joo reassures her that hurting a child is the biggest sin a human can commit, carrying a punishment of being reincarnated as bugs but with their human memories intact.
All this time, Chief Yeom has been quietly listening to Hyun-ok’s story, and at this point he slips outside, where Manager Gwi is on the phone with the Afterlife Police. Manager Gwi says there’s no data on Joon-woo, which at least means he’s not dead, so he’s going to ask the overseas agencies for help. In the meantime, he plans to visit Sang-chul to see if he knows anything.
Hyun-ok is crying when they drop her off at home. Wol-joo says that there’s no pain like losing a child, and Manager Gwi agrees with her. They want Kang-bae to go home and rest, but he says he feels safer with them and begs them to let him help find Hyun-ok’s son, and they cave.
Meanwhile, Chief Yeom hurries to Sang-chul’s home and beats the stuffing out of him — okay, something is seriously wrong with him. He growls that Sang-chul hurt Joon-woo, and Sang-chul promises to tell Chief Yeom which orphanage he left Joon-woo at. But Chief Yeom says he only came to make sure he can’t tell anyone, and for Sang-chul to wait in Hell and he’ll send someone to keep him company… and Sang-chul lets out a bloodcurdling scream.
When the trio arrive, Sang-chul only has moments left to live. Manager Gwi tries to talk Wol-joo out of going into his dreams, since they’ll die too if he dies, but she just glares at him stubbornly. They leave Kang-bae behind to warn them if Sang-chul starts to die, then feed him the ssanggapju.
They watch as Sang-chul approaches little Joon-woo on the playground and asks if he wants to play, but Joon-woo says he’d rather play with his mom. Sang-chul picks up Joon-woo and says, “I could have Hyun-ok all to myself if you weren’t here.” He drops Joon-woo, and the little boy’s head hits the bottom of the slide, knocking him out.
Suddenly, everything quakes and Wol-joo and Manager Gwi hear Kang-bae’s voice calling out that Sang-chul is dying. But Wol-joo insists on seeing where Sang-chul takes Joon-woo, so they follow him as he drops the boy off at the gates of an orphanage. The quakes get worse, and Wol-joo struggles to move the vines covering up the orphanage name. Just in time, they see the name, and they get out just as Sang-chul dies.
At work the next day, Kang-bae runs into another ghost. This time it’s a woman dressed as a little girl and sucking on a lollypop, and she chirps menacingly for Kang-bae to play with her. Suddenly Chief Yeom shows up and reduces her to a spirit orb, and he tells Kang-bae that they need to get him fixed because seeing the truth about people can be ugly.
Kang-bae agrees that he’s been afraid to make friends, and Chief Yeom tells him that people try their best to keep their personal demons hidden, but Kang-bae brings those demons out. Ever the optimist, Kang-bae points out that he sees a brighter side thanks to Wol-joo and Manager Gwi.
But Chief Yeom asks how Kang-bae can be sure of how Wol-joo and Manager Gwi really feel, when they’re immune to his touch — they might be using and deceiving him. Kang-bae says he just trusts them, but Chief Yeom repeats that everyone has personal demons.
Soon, Wol-joo hears that Joon-woo has been found in the States, and that he’s planning to come back to Korea. Manager Gwi is glad to hear it, but he’s still worried about Kang-bae, and he thinks they should tell him the truth and let him out of his contract. Wol-joo asks for some time to talk to Samshin again, but Manager Gwi says that even if Samshin would tell them who the Cinnabar is, they don’t have time to get her and Kang-bae to fall in love.
He warns Wol-joo that if she keeps this up, she’ll be deceiving Kang-bae… which is when Kang-bae arrives and hears them talking. He listens as Wol-joo says not to tell Kang-bae about this, and Manager Gwi argues that they should let him stop working for them if she can’t fix him.
Kang-bae bursts in to confront them, and he begs Wol-joo to tell him that she can still fix him. When she can’t, he looks utterly betrayed. He accuses Wol-joo of using him and lying to him, and of being the exact kind of person she claims to hate. He storms out and Manager Gwi tries to follow, but Kang-bae runs too fast. Nearby, Chief Yeom watches them with a look of satisfaction.
The next day, Manager Gwi finds Kang-bae sitting by a lake, and he tells Kang-bae that he’s sorry. Kang-bae says that maybe this is just his fate, but that he’s fine because he’s used to being used and abandoned. It’s been happening since he was a child at the orphanage, when the teachers didn’t like because they always overshared around him, and even his adoptive parents admitted wanting him for selfish reasons once they touched him.
Kang-bae wonders sadly why he can’t have someone to lean on and talk to, and Manager Gwi says that he and Wol-joo can do that. Kang-bae says that they were those people, and that he even felt like he finally had a family. Manager Gwi promises that they’ll find a way to help him, but Kang-bae says he doesn’t want to be disappointed and hurt anymore.
Meanwhile, Wol-joo goes after Samshin with a baseball bat, threatening to break her conception dream claw machine if she doesn’t tell her who the Cinnabar is. Samshin says she’ll tell her if she’s that willing to face Hell, and when Wol-joo gets back to Mystic Pop-up Bar, she’s oddly subdued.
She heads to the hospital, since Joon-woo is back in the country and is very sick. She’s there to see it when Joon-woo wakes up, and his mother is by his side again after fifteen years. Wol-joo says to herself, “I envy you. At least you got to see your son. I never even got to see my son.”
Samshin finally calls Wol-joo to tell her who the Cinnabar is, and Wol-joo gasps in shock. At the same time, Samshin goes to see Kang-bae, and she tells him that Wol-joo isn’t the kind of person who would use someone just to keep herself out of Hell. In fact, she says that Wol-joo tends to be self-sacrificing.
She tells Kang-bae that the whole reason Wol-joo has been punished for the last five hundred years was to save her child’s soul. When Wol-joo hung herself on the Sacred Tree, she didn’t know she was also killing two more lives — her unborn child, and the Sacred Tree itself. Samshin explains that the Sacred Tree’s sorrow entered the soul of the unborn child, cursing the child to live miserable lives until the Sacred Tree’s grudge is settled.
Samshin tells Kang-bae that Manager Gwi and Chief Yeom don’t know about this, but that she’s telling him because she’s never seen Wol-joo care so much about a living human as she does Kang-bae. She shows him a contract that Wol-joo signed, in exchange for the knowledge of the identity of the Cinnabar.
She had told Wol-joo that in exchange for the information, she will lose her chance to be reincarnated and will be sent to the Hell of Extinction. Wol-joo had only sighed in relief that there’s a way she can help Kang-bae, and even though she’s so close to making her quota, she’d said it’s not a waste because she could keep her promise to Kang-bae.
Kang-bae is shocked to see this proof of how much Wol-joo cares for him. Samshin says that Wol-joo won’t be able to tell him any details since it’s confidential, but she’s telling him this much so they can reconcile and Wol-joo can help him. Upset, Kang-bae begs Samshin to undo the contract, but she says this is all she can do.
At a convenience store, and Manager Gwi tells Chief Yeom how he and Wol-joo got to Sang-chul with barely enough time to find out what they needed to know. He says it didn’t seem like Sang-chul was killed by a human, and that it may have been the escaped evil spirit. Chief Yeom quickly says that he’ll handle that, and for Manager Gwi to focus on Wol-joo.
Manager Gwi notices that for the first time, Chief Yeom isn’t chowing down on ramyun at a convenience store. Chief Yeom is confused, even tough he always eats convenience store ramyun…. oh no, oh no, he’s Won-hyung, isn’t he?
Kang-bae returns to Mystic Pop-up Bar and tells Wol-joo that Samshin showed him the contract she signed. He asks her not to go to the Hell of Extinction just to help him, and she chuckles that it’s not like she’ll go to Heaven with her temper. She tells Kang-bae that all she needs from him is to help her finish making her quota so she can leave honorably.
Manager Gwi is glad to see Kang-bae back, and they go for a walk. Manager Gwi says it’s good that Hyun-ok and Joon-woo were reunited, and Kang-bae wonders if he’ll get to meet his mother someday. He says he’s not going to think that he was abandoned anymore, and that maybe his parents are looking for him right now.
A woman walks up behind them and exclaims, “I finally get to meet you, Your Royal Highness!” Both Kang-bae and Manager Gwi turn to look at her, confused.
Oh Wol-joo, you act so tough but you love so much. She’s been suffering for five hundred years to save the soul of a baby she didn’t even know existed, and now she’s given up eternity for a chance that after she’s gone, Kang-bae can live a normal life. As Samshin said, she’s not nearly as selfish and full of hate as she wants people to think… in fact, she’s about as selfless as it’s possible to be. If Wol-joo doesn’t find a way to save herself and get a chance to live a normal, happy life on Earth with the people she loves, I’m going to be personally devastated.
I’m now fully on board with the theory of Kang-bae being Wol-joo and the crown prince’s child, though I’m still wondering if the show might throw in a twist. At this point, though, it makes sense that Kang-bae is the unborn baby forced to live unhappy lives, and the show has set up Wol-joo, Manager Gwi, and Kang-bae as such a strong family-like unit that anything else would feel very odd. And I think I’ve solved the mystery of his strange ability — it’s the Sacred Tree’s sorrow that entered his soul. People would go to the Sacred Tree to tell it their problems, and now that’s what happens when Kang-bae touches anyone.
I’m also certain that Yeo-rin is the reincarnation of the Cinnabar, which would explain her powers of repelling people (since the Cinnabar repelled evil spirits). It’s obvious that her and Kang-bae’s abilities cancel each other out, which makes complete sense if they’re both reincarnations of Sacred Objects. Luckily, the answer to both of their problems seems to be to fall in love and neutralize each other’s unwanted abilities, and thankfully they’re already halfway down that road whether they like it or not.
I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to figure out that Won-hyung has either possessed Chief Yeom, or is impersonating him. I knew at the very beginning when he took Chief Yeom’s hand that he was up to something horrible, but it didn’t occur to me until Manager Gwi asked Chief Yeom why he wasn’t eating convenience store ramyun that that wasn’t Chief Yeom at all. I knew Won-hyung was bad news, and we still don’t know exactly what happened, but I’m getting a clearer picture… I think that he was the one who killed Wol-joo’s mother, and that Prince YH found out and had him beheaded, so that’s why he’s out for revenge. We still don’t understand why he would turn on Wol-joo when he seemed to genuinely like her, though. He did mention something about the prince ending his ambition, but that’s the only clue we have at this point.
This was the first episode that I didn’t feel much engagement in the grudge-of-the-day, probably because it seemed mostly there to push forward Wol-joo and Kang-bae’s backstories. But I didn’t really mind, because we’re getting down to the final few grudges, and at this point I’m much more interested in finding out what happened five hundred years ago that got everyone where they are today. We’re getting close to the full truth, and we have a pretty good idea what happened, but I have a feeling that there are a few more surprises still lying in wait.
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