Tomorrow: Episodes 5-6
Interesting questions about destiny, fate, and what it truly means to honor a life are brought up this week as our reapers handle two different cases. While both show the cruelty of life and human suffering, both offer meaningful resolutions and a dose of hope. And we need both, because I was crying just as much as Jun-woong was.
EPISODES 5-6 WEECAP
Picking up where we left off last week, our reapers have a complicated case ahead of them: runaway soul HEO NA-YOUNG (Lee Noh-ah) is not only hiding from the Escort Team, but convinces our Risk Management reapers to let her help them save her husband, Woo-jin. We met this couple last week, saw their adorable love story, and then the accident that kills Na-young and leaves Woo-jin injured and suicidal.
As the team digs into his story they quickly realize that there are a few things that don’t add up — why is Woo-jin so dead set on blaming himself for her death? What has pushed him to the horrible extreme he is at? Well, we get his backstory to explain all of this, and it’s a real doozy.
Woo-jin’s mother died in childbirth, his father blamed and hated him, and then eventually committed suicide. Little Woo-jin (played by the most adorable little boy on earth) is taken in by loving family members and it seems like he’ll heal from his trauma… but then all three of them die in a car accident and he’s left — again — alone, guilt-ridden, and hopeless. His love story with Na-young we’ve seen, but now their end is even more cruel. Really?! She’s gonna die in an accident too?
You can’t blame Jun-woong for asking Ryeon WTH is going on with Woo-jin that he has met with so much suffering. He asks her if it’s karma from a past life catching up with him, but Ryeon calmly and beautifully explains that life is so much more complicated than that. A person’s life is not about fate or karma, but the web of choices and causes and effects that impact each person’s life — sometimes their own choices, and sometimes the choices of others.
Woo-jin’s story is heartbreaking and well-told, but the major takeaway for the wider story, I think, is that this is the first time we see Ryeon not only saving a person by myself, but that she does it through empathy. Even despite the ring of punishment she wears, and all the pain it causes her, she does what it takes to get through to Woo-jin.
This empathy works because it ties into the first solid hints of Ryeon’s backstory that we’re given. Though it’s short, the segment of Ryeon’s romance as a young Joseon bride is precious — they ripped a page from The King’s Affection, and gave us such a burst of innocent sweetness that it’s easy to see how losing that would be crushing to her. The eyeshadow moment was not only sweet, but drenched in meaning. Though we don’t fully understand the culminating event that sent Ryeon to Hell, we’ll surely see more of it later, and for now, it’s the empathy that’s important.
Woo-jin’s story concludes with him finding the hope to go on, and in the epilogue we’re retreated to a street performance of his song. It’s sad and beautiful and hopeful. Kang Seung-yoon really had his chance to shine here – not only with his acting, but this song that’s just perfect and makes the most of that voice of his.
But in addition to Woo-jin’s new will to live, we also leave with more knowledge — as with all of these cases, with each one we learn a little more about Jumadeung, the rules of the afterlife and of reapers, and more about our reapers’ pasts.
We’re also set up for some trouble to come, since in order to successfully save Woo-jin and complete her mission, Ryeon signs a very sobering reaper agreement with Joong-gil. When he decides the time and place, she’ll have to do his will in whatever capacity he wishes. It sounds a little hot — because there’s definitely something between them — but also, it’s not, because it’s brimming with foreshadowing and gulps for later on.
A final interesting bit of information from Woo-jin’s story is that his bond with Na-young is destined — we see this through the red thread of fate that binds theirs wrists — and Ryeon assures our very sad Jun-woong that no matter what, those two will always find their way back to each other. The only way they wouldn’t is if they broke the thread themselves. Jun-woong surmises that suicide would be the act to do that, and it not only makes their saving Woo-jin all the more important, but it certainly gives us some important context for later.
But there’s no time to linger, because the next case is already around the corner, and the Jade Emperor warns Ryeon that she’ll have to work closely with the Escort Team. It sounds like they’re in for more finger-snapping and supernatural fights, but actually, what we get is a very moving look at how reapers sometimes honor the souls they are taking away.
Their next soul to save is the precious 91-year-old veteran LEE YOUNG-CHUN (Jeon Mu-song) who’s planning to kill himself — but the catch is that he will actually die the following day. Our reaper team takes a different approach than the others we’ve seen, announcing their roles and intent, and actually wind up ministering to him more than anything else during his final day on earth.
Outside of beating up the jerkface gangsters that have the nerve to roughhouse such a precious old man, and helping him with his final junk collection, our reapers mostly just listen to him. And as they listen, we see his story played out, and boy is it ever a tear-jerker.
As a very young man he volunteered to fight for his country in the Korean War, but was left afterwards with severe PTSD, his mother deceased, and basically a life and suffering and poverty. It’s a bit of a slower pace than we’ve seen from the other side stories in the show so far, but I think that’s intentional. We feel the goodbyes he’s saying, the relief in sharing his story, and — yes — we are sobbing along with Jun-woong when the man finally meets his final day.
This whole storyline is precious in itself because it shows such a reverence for an elder’s life, and how it affects each of our reapers. Ryung-koo asks the Jade Emperor for mercy for him. Ryeon asks Joong-gil for a favor (!) — that he escort Young-chun himself to honor his life — and as for Jun-woong, he’s just a tall bucket of tears, and I love him even more.
The pinnacle moment is when the Young-chun dies, and at first we think it’s just the two femme fatale reapers coming to get him. But then Joong-gil walks up the hill, all elegance and sobriety. And then, just to make us all cry some more, the Jade Emperor also heads up the hill, followed by all of the reapers.
What we get, in effect, is a military-style funeral for him — everyone honoring his service to his country. After a lifetime of suffering, this soldier gets the respect and gratitude he deserves. He learns that his suffering was not in vain, that his life was indeed meaningful, and his service is finally recognized by hundreds of people lining his street. If there is ever a way to make me into a sputtering mess, it’s this. *Reaches for the tissues*
For a drama that’s so heavy on theatrics, fantasy, and mythology, this was just a lovely direction to go for this storyline. It’s also a great note to end on as well — with gratitude for the people that have come before us, who sacrificed for their country and its people, and who have suffered for doing what they knew was right and good. Let’s all go hug a grandpa or thank a veteran this week! ♥