Heartbeat: Episodes 15-16 (Final)
The day of reckoning draws near, and our half-vampire protagonist must either commit to reclaiming his immortal existence, or sacrificing himself for the human he loves. It’s finally time to find out whether his endeavors will grant him a heartbeat, or lead to heartbreak.
Do-shik discovers the truth behind Man-hwi’s dungeon, and he confronts him over his kidnapping of In-hae’s father. Narcissistic as always, Man-hwi blames it on Hae-won, shirking all responsibility. Appalled that Man-hwi would do such a cruel thing just because Hae-won wanted to obtain the mansion, Do-shik breaks things off with him — their agreement is null and void. In any case, he’s already obtained the most important piece of information from Man-hwi: he must prepare a knife made of hawthorn wood and silver, then stab it into the half-vampire’s scar to kill him.
Next, Do-shik confronts Hae-won, who’s appalled that Man-hwi would spread false rumors about her despite having no qualms resorting to underhanded means herself. She’s leaked the information about Woo-hyul’s identity to the neighborhood residents, expecting them to drive him out. Do-shik urges her to put a stop to her redevelopment plans, but Hae-won is resolutely obstinate.
Wanting to protect In-hae from Hae-won’s wrath, Do-shik gently broaches the topic of selling the mansion. However, not even In-hae’s father can convince her to leave. The roles have been reversed — now, it’s In-hae who wants to stay in the mansion, awaiting Woo-hyul’s return.
That puts her directly in the line of fire when Man-hwi intrudes upon the mansion, spoiling for a fight with Woo-hyul and threatening In-hae. Miles away, Woo-hyul’s danger radar activates — and the next thing Man-hwi knows, he’s tackled by a furious Woo-hyul.
Woo-hyul is sorely overpowered at first, until Man-hwi makes the mistake of strangling In-hae. A burst of power surges in Woo-hyul, sharpening his senses and allowing him to defeat Man-hwi easily.
After Man-hwi makes his escape, Woo-hyul turns to leave — but In-hae takes his hand, reminding him of his promise to never leave her side. Chastened, Woo-hyul pulls her into a tender hug, which Do-shik witnesses.
Back in the mansion, In-hae points out that Woo-hyul’s unilateral decision to leave was a selfish one. He’d be leaving her behind to pine endlessly, just as he once had. Instead, she suggests that they try to figure out an alternative solution together. Yes, one of you is a pragmatic go-getter with nerves of steel and the other is a quirky oddball with a penchant for unconventional tactics! Surely you two can work something out?
The day of the blood moon draws ever closer, ticking down the seconds to Woo-hyul’s end. Do-shik calls Woo-hyul out to an abandoned warehouse late at night, but unlike what the tense atmosphere might suggest, it’s not an ambush. Instead, Do-shik simply offers the hawthorn-silver dagger to Woo-hyul. If he can’t do anything to protect In-hae, then he could at least die for her sake. Uh, props for being upfront, I guess?
Woo-hyul declines the generous offer to terminate his own life, declaring that he has to fulfill his promise to In-hae first. He walks away, turning his back to Do-shik, which we all know is the best course of action when you have an armed opponent out for your blood. Unsheathing his blade, Do-shik tails along behind Woo-hyul, waiting for the right moment to strike.
Coincidentally, In-hae chances upon the scene, effectively thwarting Do-shik’s assassination plan for now. I don’t know how she managed to overlook the very conspicuous knife in Do-shik’s hand, but then again I suppose she only has eyes for Woo-hyul.
When the perpetually-uninvited guest Man-hwi crashes a meeting between Do-shik and Hae-won, all their illicit deals come to light. Furious at being cast aside by the humans he deems inferior, Man-hwi strangles Hae-won with his vampire strength — until Do-shik whirls him around and plunges his dagger deep into his chest. Yesss, Do-shik!! The weapon works its magic, and Man-hwi disintegrates right before their very eyes.
Utterly shaken by her near-death encounter, Hae-won scraps the redevelopment project. Calling Woo-hyul out for one last cup of coffee, Hae-won informs him that she’s returning to the States; it’s time for her to move on. Well, that certainly was a quick change of heart. Before Hae-won departs, though, she leaves him with a parting gift. Warning Woo-hyul that Do-shik is out for his blood, she urges him to stay safe.
Knowing his days are numbered, Woo-hyul wants to fulfill his bucket list with In-hae. After a tearful parting with his vampire buddies, Woo-hyul sets off on a trip with In-hae, and they enjoy a lovely date at the beach. As the sun sets, they express their gratitude to each other — through their interactions, they’ve come to learn what love truly is.
However, their blissful day comes to an abrupt end when Woo-hyul feels faint and nearly collapses. Back in their hotel room, In-hae feeds Woo-hyul some of her blood — and it sparks Woo-hyul’s memories, confirming that she’s the true reincarnation of Hae-sun.
Night falls, and Woo-hyul sneaks past a sleeping In-hae to meet Do-shik by the sea. A flashback reveals that Woo-hyul had asked Do-shik to kill him and drink his blood before the night of the blood moon. He’d rather make his death worthwhile, so if he can save both In-hae and Do-shik’s lives, he’s willing to give all of himself. All he wishes is for In-hae to be happy and loved.
Back on the beach, Woo-hyul entreats Do-shik to take good care of In-hae, and Do-shik admits that In-hae was right all along — Woo-hyul is indeed a good person. Sobs, he finally acknowledged that Woo-hyul is human!
As the eclipse begins and the shadows grow longer, Woo-hyul prompts Do-shik to follow through. Do-shik raises the dagger to strike — only to be interrupted by In-hae’s startled exclamation yet again. Do-shik halts, but Woo-hyul knows he can’t afford to dally. Grabbing Do-shik’s hand, Woo-hyul drives the knife into his own chest. Wait, but that’s not where the scar is! (Is there a twist? Please tell me there’s a twist.)
Horrified, In-hae rushes to Woo-hyul’s side, while a stricken Do-shik stands frozen in place. In a devastating reprise of Hae-sun’s death, Woo-hyul bleeds out in In-hae’s arms, promising that they’ll meet again one day. This time, he’ll find her. As In-hae wails in despair, the bite mark fades from Woo-hyul’s neck, and he grows limp — he’s gone.
The next morning, the Joo butlers and the vampire crew pay their respects to Woo-hyul, whom they’ve laid to rest in his coffin. As everyone says a few somber words of farewell, In-hae sincerely thanks Woo-hyul for coming into her life.
Later, Yang-nam pays the mansion a visit, bearing a gift for In-hae on Woo-hyul’s behalf. When the talks of redevelopment first arose, he’d squirreled the gold away to hide it from prying eyes and greedy hands. Eventually, he’d confessed to Woo-hyul, who instead told him to keep it under wraps so he could have an excuse to continue staying with In-hae. With this, Woo-hyul’s debt is finally paid, and the gold bar mystery concludes with an anticlimactic end.
Till this point, I’ve been holding out hope for a miracle involving our self-sacrificial vampire, but instead we get an ordinary flash forward. Some time later, we catch up with our crew. Dong-seop’s tteokbokki shop is finally welcoming flocks of customers, and Do-shik is paying it forward through his donations towards children’s cardiac surgeries. (His ever-supportive secretary gives him a thumbs-up, hee.) Best of all, In-hae’s guesthouse is flourishing, though she still gazes wistfully at Woo-hyul’s flower lights from time to time.
Continuing the Shaded Oasis tradition, In-hae hosts regular neighborhood get-togethers. Partway through the party, she retreats to Woo-hyul’s basement room, reminiscing about her time with him. When she comes back upstairs, there’s a familiar face gazing down at her from the balcony — it’s Woo-hyul, and In-hae smiles brightly up at him.
See, I would have been more accepting of such an ending if the show had set it up that way from the start. If it had been a melancholic slice-of-life, for example, or a grand historical epic. Instead, it billed itself as a fantastical rom-com through and through, and so I can’t help but be blindsided by the unexpectedly tragic ending. Rather than emphasizing their serendipitous meeting and subsequent character growth, the ending instead reiterates the cycle of self-sacrifice, loss, and waiting. It’s clearly an attempt at bringing its story full circle, but I can’t help but think that the execution would have been much better if the repetition had been done through In-hae opening the coffin a second time, saving Woo-hyul again.
What initially started out as an innovative romp eventually devolved into a predictable trudge weighed down by its un-subverted tropes. It had the potential to craft innovative solutions for its mystical problems, but instead we got glossed-over plot threads and cliché scripts. While I commended the drama for its brisk pacing in the earlier half, since it meant we never harped on a single conflict for too long, this unfortunately worked to the show’s detriment once its story grew serious. (Also, as a Park Kang-hyun fan, I stand by my opinion that his acting chops were criminally underutilized — Do-shik’s character had so much squandered potential!)
Heartbeat’s greatest strength was its slapstick humor and outlandish antics, which meant it just had to lean fully into the campiness in order to be a satisfying watch. However, it didn’t trust itself enough to commit to the bit all the way to its final act, resulting in it petering out with a whimper. It almost reminds me of my disappointment in Joseon Attorney; the more promising a drama is in its earlier half, the more disheartening its later decline becomes.
Still, while I think the ending could have been greatly improved, I certainly enjoyed the journey it took to get here. For all its ridiculous hijinks, Heartbeat had lots of heart — its characters were earnest, likable (for the most part), and wholly relatable in their human folly. While its story closes with our lovers separated, it’s clear that Woo-hyul lives on through his positive influence on the lives around him. Ultimately, what makes someone human isn’t the heart they possess, but the love they give.
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