Youth of May: Episodes 11-12 Open Thread (Final)
We’ve had a long, emotional journey throughout this May in 1980 Gwangju, going from a sweet romance to a heartbreaking tragedy. We’ve seen how truly awful human beings can be and, in turn, how it can bring out the best in others. In our final episodes, we definitely get the best of our characters, as their true strength is tested.
EPISODES 11-12 WEECAP
I’ve been dreading going into this week, knowing our story could end a few different ways — all of them painful. That fear only intensifies when we’re plopped into present-day Gwangju, with the homeless man we met in the first episode. After hearing about the found skeleton, the man comes into the police station to identify it. He sees the pocket watch that was with the remains and starts to cry, telling us that he knows exactly who this is.
Back to 1980. Myung-hee is fighting with her father (who currently possesses the pocket watch), when news breaks out that Hee-tae was in a car accident. But Hee-tae is nowhere to be found — Ki-nam took him from the scene and now has him tied up in his home office. Ki-nam tries to scare him, saying that he’s an orphan and that no one would look for him if he died. And Hee-tae throws back that Ki-nam is the orphan, since no one would ever choose to be his family. I love Hee-tae’s sass here; he’s just done being afraid of his dad.
Myung-hee knows that Ki-nam must be behind Hee-tae’s disappearance and feels completely helpless. But remembering Hee-tae’s last words to her, to wait for him, she decides the best thing she can do is stay at the hospital until he finds her. Soo-chan and her father try to convince her to flee, but it doesn’t take much for them to understand how much Hee-tae means to her.
At the Hwang household, Jung-tae and his mom are horrified to discover Hee-tae in the upstairs office. Under Ki-nam’s control, however, they think they can’t really do anything. Jung-tae voices to his mom about how wrong this is, and something in his mom clicks. So when Ki-nam leaves the house, Mom ultimately does the right thing and releases Hee-tae.
Meanwhile, Ki-nam is following up on Hye-gun’s interrogation, threatening to kill his family. Hye-gun figures that there’s no way out of this situation but that he can at least go out hurting Ki-nam. He cries that he’s friends with Ki-nam’s son, and to shut him up, Ki-nam beats him to death. But the damage is done — his claims get Ki-nam in trouble with his superior.
At the hospital, Hee-tae and Myung-hee tearfully reunite. While Hee-tae is being treated for his wounds, Myung-hee’s father visits him and gives him his blessing, as well as his life savings and his pocket watch. (My heart rate just shot up.) Later, our couple hides out in Myung-hee’s church, and Myung-hee reveals that being apart from Hee-tae only confirmed that she’d be devastated if she lost him. She suggests that they get married.
The next day, our couple writes their wedding prayers and holds their own little ceremony. But their happiness is cut short when they learn that Myung-hee’s father was killed while trying to escape with Myung-soo. They put her father to rest in a coffin, surrounded by so many other families with their own loved ones in coffins.
Ki-nam orders one of his minions to get rid of Myung-hee once and for all, which Jung-tae overhears. Jung-tae reaches Myung-hee in time to save her but ends up getting shot himself. What’s interesting is that when Ki-nam reaches the scene, he actually seems worried for Jung-tae. He even seems hurt when Jung-tae pulls away from him. It’s the last we ever see of Ki-nam, looking dazed and deservedly alone.
After saying a sad goodbye to Myung-hee’s father, and a big Screw you to Hee-tae’s father, we also get a decent wrap-up for the Lee siblings’ father. He catches the siblings breaking into his factory for supplies and, now being 100 percent supportive of their cause, encourages them to take whatever they need.
Going back to our main couple, things only get worse and worse. After the commotion with Jung-tae, they realize that Myung-soo is gone. The poor kid ran off, wanting to get the rest of his family for his father’s funeral. Hee-tae and Myung-hee go out to look for him, eventually reaching a fork in the road and deciding to split up. They embrace, knowing very well that any goodbye could be their last.
Hee-tae gives Myung-hee her father’s pocket watch and they part. Myung-hee ends up being the one finding Myung-soo, along with a group of soldiers. She leaves the pocket watch with her brother and tells him to run, while she lets herself get arrested. One soldier aims his gun at Myung-soo and, panicking, Myung-hee moves forward. ACK, NOOOOO!
Myung-hee is shot and left for dead in the woods. Thankfully, Kyung-soo is there and he makes sure Myung-soo leaves safely, picking up the watch that he dropped. Kyung-soo returns to Myung-hee’s side and, finding her written wedding prayer, realizes she’s the girl his best friend loves. Crying, he leaves the prayer and watch with her before rejoining his group.
At the same time, Hee-tae is arrested by a different group of soldiers. Kwang-kyu is with this group, and he stops Hee-tae from getting shot by claiming he knows him. As Kwang-kyu escorts him away, Hee-tae looks back to the woods, having no idea what’s happened to Myung-hee. It breaks my freaking soul watching him have to walk away as she looks up at the night sky and dies.
Some time later, after the Uprising has subsided, an exhausted Hee-tae goes around handing out Missing Person flyers. You can feel how broken he is — he knows in his heart that Myung-hee is gone.
Present-day Gwangju. We get to see grown-up Hee-tae as a doctor (amazing cameo by Choi Won-young). He’s still the silly, charming guy we love, saving nurses from aggressive patients and encouraging young doctors to hang in there. He’s also still in contact with Jung-tae, the Lee siblings, and Seok-chul — all alive and well.
Hee-tae is visited by Myung-soo (aw, who still calls him “Hyung”) and hears that they finally found Myung-hee. Confirming that the mystery skeleton is, in fact, our heroine. Hee-tae visits the police station to pick up the belongings, and he stops at the sight of the homeless man. Immediately, when they lock eyes, I know that the man is Kyung-soo. The two don’t exchange words, only a knowing nod and smile.
At home, Hee-tae reads the wedding prayer he never got to hear from Myung-hee. She’d written that if something happened to them, she hoped that those left behind wouldn’t drown in their sorrows and instead swim safely throughout life. Hee-tae smiles through his tears, narrating that he did drown in his sorrows for a while. He even tried to kill himself by walking into the ocean, but the tide merely brought him back to shore.
Hee-tae buries Myung-hee, his narration continuing that his own wedding prayer was answered. He prayed that he would carry more pain than Myung-hee, and he did so for 41 years. “The remaining years of my life,” he says, “will be an answer to your prayer. No matter how many more times the rising tide pushes me back to that May, I have you here now. Until we meet again, I will swim against the tide with all my might.”
With that, he signs off: “2021, the first May. From Hwang Hee-tae.” It’s a beautiful start to the next chapter of his life and a beautiful ending for the drama. Admittedly, Myung-hee’s death was the one ending I didn’t want, because I knew it would leave me the most heartbroken. I didn’t want it, yet it’s also the most fitting. And I appreciate that the drama kept Myung-hee dead instead of forcing a happy reunion.
Youth of May, from the start, was Hee-tae and Myung-hee’s story. The Uprising was simply the setting they were thrown into, and by making us fall for these characters, it was that much easier to fall into the history and see it through their eyes. I won’t be forgetting them anytime soon, just as I won’t forget the very real youth who endured this May.