It’s a testament to just how bad some K-dramas have wrapped up that I’m actually heaving a sigh of relief that My Secret Hotel‘s final episode wasn’t a total piece of crap. At least leading lady Sang Hyo definitely made a choice, all the obstacles and misunderstandings were overcome, and there was even a hug and kiss to tie the whole thing together. Better than the leading lady walking back into a bookstore and smiling at an unseen man or the two leads shaking hands like they were posing for an antiseptic campaign picture. Those of you who read my recaps will know which two dramas I just referenced, heh.
One element of MSH that has remained consistent is how prettily it’s shot and that visual romantic vibe really helps the insane repetitive plot developments go down easier. The great soundtrack also boosts the mood and sometimes when the music starts I’m tempted to just not think anymore and enjoy the pretty when it’s onscreen. Not sure where MSH will fall in the K-drama roster but it’s certainly not the worst drama I’ve ever seen or anywhere close. It’s frustrating but I managed to take away the elements I loved while letting go of most of the stuff that drove me nuts. All in all, I’m keeping my big knives sheathed for this one.
Episode 16 recap:
Sang Hyo can’t figure out who she is crying for but by now no else knows either.
Gi Chul is chatting with the new employee in the event planning department which has been thinned out by the deaths and arrests. Sung Gyum comes by and Gi Chul figures he’s here looking for Sang Hyo. Sung Gyum denies it but then worries when he hears that Sang Hyo didn’t come into work and isn’t answering her phone. The newbie suggests Sang Hyo’s hubby will take care of her. Sung Gyum walks away and remembers his last talk with Sang Hyo, with him apologizing for asking to wait for her while she apologizes for waffling between the guys. Sung Gyum sighs and feels relief that at least Sang Hyo has Hae Young beside her now.
Hae Young places a call to quickly sell his place as he’s decided to go overseas. After ending the call he gets a surprise ring from Gi Chul asking if Hae Young knows where Sang Hyo is since she didn’t show up at work. Hae Young tries not to worry and goes to work as planned.
Shi Chan is working with the team to prepare for their client presentation later in the day and Hae Young assures him that he’ll be there. Shi Chan asks if Hae Young made up with Sang Hyo but doesn’t get an answer. Shi Chan warns the rest of the employees that if Hae Young doesn’t make up with Sang Hyo then he’ll go crazy like he did in the US 7 years ago with Samantha.
Back then Hae Young disappeared for a few months and after he showed up he worked like a fiend and got so much work done. But then he disappeared again for a few days and after coming back he became totally useless and trashed the work room and screamed at Shi Chan for bringing him back. After that he went to the US for an entire year looking at all the hotels for someone named Samantha. He couldn’t find her so spent the next year drinking himself into oblivion. The ladies swoon over how Hae Young can be so into a woman but Shi Chan isn’t surprised because Hae Young is just that kind of person.
Hae Young turns his car around and pounds on Sang Hyo’s door and barges in to find her passed out on the floor.
Sung Gyum’s mom sits down to have a talk with GM Lee and reveals she doesn’t know how to face Sung Gyum going forward. GM Lee assures her that Sung Gyum will come around since she worked so hard to raise him. Sung Gyum walks up to them and asks if they aren’t ashamed? Both of them were involved in killing his dad so how can they sit across from each other now looking like they are comforting each other. Are they going to rekindle their thwarted romance now? He orders him mom back to the US or else she’s going to lose him forever.
Detective Kim doesn’t buy that Guard Cha is the killer and did it for GM Lee. Detective Lee suggests just accepting the confession at face value and closing the case but Detective Kim isn’t that easy to fool.
Sung Gyum’s mom goes to the restroom to compose herself and Gyung Hee is there washing her hands and gives her a very dark look. Sung Gyum thinks to himself that he can’t give up on getting GM Lee to confess even if he’s Sang Hyo’s birth father. He wants GM Lee to admit to killing Manager Hwang and Young Mi no matter what.
Sang Hyo is resting in the bed after Hae Young called a doctor in to check on her condition. Shi Chan calls Hae Young to come meet the client at the important scheduled meeting but Hae Young refuses to leave Sang Hyo’s side. Hae Young tendering sponges Sang Hyo’s face and wonders why she looks so stressed when it can’t be because of him. He takes her hand and softly kisses it.
Sang Hyo finally wakes up and is surprised to see Hae Young beside her. She hears that he took cared of her all night after hearing she didn’t show up at work. Sang Hyo wants Hae Young to leave since it’s awkward for him to be here but Hae Young doesn’t feel right leaving her alone. Sang Hyo plans to go to work so Hae Young offers to drive her in case she faints again. She declines so Hae Young takes her phone to call Sung Gyum here to pick her up. Sang Hyo takes the phone away since Sung Gyum is currently very stressed about hotel matters and she reluctantly accepts Hae Young’s offer to drive her to work.
Sang Hyo stares at Hae Young driving her to work and thinks that he looks very sincere right now and she wants to believe in him again. But then he’ll turn around and she’ll find out that he isn’t true to her.
Hae Young walks Sang Hyo into the hotel and she turns to ask him not to come see her again in the future. Even if he worries about her he shouldn’t come see her. The way he comes and go with such ease, it puts pressure on her. Hae Young confesses it’s not easy for him to come to her and to walk away. It’s just so hard for him to leave her forever which is why he still stays around her. Sang Hyo admits it’s hard to restart with him and she really struggled whether to believe him. So it’s easier if they live their own lives apart from each other so she wants to break up with him. Hae Young confirms she wants to break up fully with him and accepts it, promising to do as she asks and he won’t come back for her again…until she comes to find him.
Eun Joo waits for Sung Gyum’s mom to accompany her to the airport. Mom wonders where Sung Gyum is and Eun Joo makes the excuse that he’s busy in a meeting. Sung Gyum’s mom passes by GM Lee in the lobby and he asks if she can’t stay? Gyung Hee is hiding behind a beam near tears watching them.
Sung Gyum hears from Simon that his mom isn’t leaving after all. GM Lee walks in to openly declare that he will continue taking care of Sung Gyum’s mom in the future in a different way. GM Lee insist he didn’t kill Manager Hwang or Young Mi and asks for Sung Gyum’s blessing with his mom. If Sung Gyum refuses then GM Lee will leave the hotel. Sung Gyum stills refuses since he staked his romance on catching GM Lee.
Gyung Hee is furious with GM Lee for picking Sung Gyum’s mom and leaving the hotel with her. Gyung Hee stayed at the hotel for 20 years to be around GM Lee and now she has cancer and doesn’t have long to live. She begs him to accept her even out of pity but he refuses.
A very calm Hae Young goes back to work and informs Shi Chan that he’s planning to go to the US since he can’t fully end things if he stays here. Shi Chan is understandably upset but Hae Young needs Shi Chan to help lie to Sang Hyo that he left for work and not because of her. Shi Chan asks if Hae Young is planning to waste his life away drinking in the US but he assures Shi Chan that he won’t do that again. He’ll live well but just far from Sang Hyo.
Sang Hyo takes out her wedding ring box to stare at it before putting the ring on her finger again. She keeps crying but does nothing other than cry. Hae Young is hard at work late into the night and actually taking this break up quite well. He stops to stare at his own wedding ring which he still wears and it brings a smile to his face.
Gyung Hee tells Gi Chul and the newbie to keep working hard at their jobs as she packs up all her belongings at work. She hands her resignation letter to Sang Hyo who doesn’t want to accept it but Gyung Hee’s mind is made up. Gyung Hee feels like it’s time to leave now, the hotel and that person. She reveals to Sang Hyo that she’s had a crush on GM Lee all these years ever since he mentored her when she was a newbie employee at the hotel. All these years he’s been good to her and she’s pined for him but now she’s ready to let go.
Gyung Hee gives Sang Hyo the final advice to stop wavering and pick between Hae Young and Sung Gyum. Even if the choice turns out to be wrong at least she made it and gave it as chance. Don’t be like Gyung Hee and live her life waiting for a love that isn’t there.
Gyung Hee pays a visit to Guard Cha in the detention center and reveals she confessed to GM Lee and he turned her down. She thanks Guard Cha for loving her all these years and tearfully apologizes to him. Guard Cha sees her leaving and screams at her not to do it!
Detective Kim wonders where the incriminating necklace is now after Young Mi was killed? He doesn’t think GM Lee is the type to order murder when he forgave Guard Cha for his son’s death. So who is Guard Cha covering for? Detective Lee finally has a good idea and suggest Guard Cha is covering for someone he loves, a man only does this for love. Detective Kim remembers seeing Gyung Hee crying in a hotel conference room with Guard Cha beside her.
Gyung Hee puts a letter into an envelope in her apartment before placing the missing necklace on top of it. The detectives arrive at Gyung Hee’s residence and pound on the door with no one answering. Detective Kim finds the door unlocked and the two go inside and find Gyung Hee dead in the bathtub with her wrist sliced. Detective Kim grimly takes in the scene along with Gyung Hee’s confession letter and necklace on the table.
Detective Kim goes to close out the case with Sung Gyum, explaining that Gyung Hee killed herself and left a letter confessing to killing Manager Hwang and Young Mi. She’s been in love with GM Lee for years and on the day she learned she had cancer, she also saw Manager Hwang threatening GM Lee so she confronted him. He fell into his own ice pick and she didn’t even know and ran away. She didn’t know he died until the next day at the wedding.
Guard Cha saw the scene through the CCTV and cleaned up for Gyung Hee. Later Gyung Hee confronted Young Mi merely to get the necklace back and in the struggle Young Mi fell in the bathtub and hit her head which is what killed her. Detective Kim returns the necklace to Sung Gyum and closes the case.
The remaining three employees in the event planning department hear about Gyung Hee’s death and mourn how hard she worked for the hotel.
Sung Gyum gives the necklace to GM Lee and informs him that he’s leaving the hotel. He wants to hand his mom to GM Lee who has been protecting her and the hotel for the last thirty years. Sung Gyum sits in the hotel lobby and thinks to himself that he still can’t be with Sang Hyo and we flash back to Sung Gyum asking GM Lee who Sang Hyo’s real dad is? GM Lee says it’s not him and admits that Sang Hyo’s dad is Manager Hwang. LOL whut? Sung Gyum remembers that his mom will never accept Sang Hyo because she can’t forgive Sang Hyo’s dad Manager Hwang for threatening her all these years.
Sung Gyum still can’t give up Sang Hyo so makes a last ditch effort with her. He calls her out for a meeting and reveals he’s quit his job at the hotel. He assures her that many places want him so she shouldn’t worry, but for now he wants to take some time for himself. Sung Gyum asks if she confirmed her heart at Hae Young’s place and takes her silence as the answer is not what he wants to hear. Sung Gyum asks if she’ll consider him if he still pursues her?
Sang Hyo apologizes but Sung Gyum doesn’t need it. No matter how much he wanted to hold onto her, they never moved forward while her heart already went to Hae Young. He knew this but couldn’t let go because he really liked Sang Hyo. That’s why she has nothing to apologize for. If she ever needs him, needs to hold onto him, then she can come to him and at that time he will still accept her. Sung Gyum bids Sang Hyo farewell and coolly walks away.
Hae Young has packed up his office and takes one final look around before leaving. Sang Hyo is back at work and planning another wedding at Secret Hotel.
Soo Ah pays Sang Hyo a visit and she wonders if Soo Ah is here to get married again? Soo Ah is here because she doesn’t want to keep this news to herself that Hae Young oppa is going back to the US. Her gut tells her that Hae Young is going to the US because of Sang Hyo and doesn’t plan to come back. When Soo Ah was pestering Hae Young to get married, he agreed but told Soo Ah that he would only love one woman in his life. It was the woman who he married and lost.
Soo Ah reveals that Hae Young went back to Las Vegas but Sang Hyo had already left and Sang Hyo’s friend told Hae Young that Sang Hyo left with another better man. Sang Hyo doesn’t know what to think of this which is when Detective Kim interjects that it’s all true because he saw Sang Hyo’s picture in Hae Young’s wallet. He came to the hotel to officially close the case but is happy to play matchmaker. Sang Hyo is so rattled she just runs off.
Sung Gyum is spending his sabbatical wandering around the countryside while Sang Hyo tries to make a decision about going back to Hae Young. She remembers Gyung Hee’s parting advice and wants to do it but she’s still scared. Hae Young sits at home sipping a glass of red wine and looking at the old picture of Sang Hyo that he tried to burn but ended up saving. He wonders how Sang Hyo is doing when his doorbell rings.
Sung Gyum sits by the fire and wonders if it’s all over between him and Sang Hyo? The camp site manager tells Sung Gyum that a woman is here to see him and he gets up eagerly to see who it is. A drunken Jung Eun stumbles into Hae Young’s apartment crying for him not to go to the US. Hae Young tries to get Jung Eun to go home but she refuses.
A figure walks into Sung Gyum’s view and it turns out to be Eun Joo. Sung Gyum realizes that and actually breaks into a smile. Eun Joo wonders what to make of his expression, does it mean he doesn’t want her here? He wonders how she found him but she assures him that as long as it’s him then she can always find him. Eun Joo reveals his mom told him where to find Sung Gyum and she’s here to bring him home. He’s not ready to go yet so she grabs him by the collar but that doesn’t work. So Eun Joo just sits down to join him.
Sang Hyo paces around her apartment and finally FINALLY makes up her mind and runs to Hae Young’s apartment to reconcile with him. She rings the doorbell and in a horrible deja vu Jung Eun opens the door wearing just a white button shirt. She asks if Sang Hyo wants to come in since Hae Young is in the shower. Sang Hyo can hear Hae Young asking Jung Eun where his shirt went? Sang Hyo once again decides not to go in. DA FUQ? You gotta be kidding me!
Hae Young orders Jung Eun to take off his shirt or just take it home. The doorbell rings again and Jung Eun tries to stop Hae Young from answering the door. Hae Young opens the door and Sang Hyo asks him why 7 years ago and now this woman is wearing his shirt and in his apartment? Hae Young is shocked to hear that Sang Hyo went to NY to find him, even quitting her job to follow him. But she found Jung Eun in his apartment wearing his shirt so what was that all about?
Jung Eun grabs her shoes and runs out of the apartment before Hae Young can chew her ass out. Sang Hyo starts crying while Hae Young asks if she really came to NY? She really came to find him? Hae Young pulls Sang Hyo in for a back hug while both of them cry.
Eun Joo and Sung Gyum sit outside in the campsite until morning dawns and both are shivering. Sung Gyum offers to take Eun Joo inside but she insists on staying here until he lets Sang Hyo go. Sung Gyum extends his hand to Eun Joo and asks if she’s not going to take it? Eun Joo claims she’s only taking it because Sung Gyum insisted before getting up and following him off.
Eun Joo is outside Sung Gyum’s guest house when she finds a heart shaped rock on the ground. Sung Gyum insists that the rock is his and wants it back and then tells her to leave it on the ground. Eun Joo refuses and swans off with the rock.
Hae Young and Sang Hyo are sitting with their legs entwined on the sofa apologizing to each other for not trusting and talking through their misunderstanding all these years. Sang Hyo knows Hae Young is planning to go to the US again and wants him to still go while promising to wait for him. Hae Young hugs her while Sang Hyo sees her picture on the table.
Sang Hyo and Hae Young pay their respects to Gyung Hee and apologizes for not visiting her more.
Sang Hyo sends Hae Young off at the airport and he worries he might be gone for a long time but she is certain she’ll wait for him. As Hae Young walks away, Sang Hyo wonders why he didn’t ask her to leave with him while Hae Young thinks to himself that he knows how important the hotel is to her. She promises to wait for him while waving goodbye as he goes through customs.
The plane takes off while Sang Hyo is crying in the airport terminal. Suddenly she hears Hae Young calling her name and looks up to see him standing right in front of her. She wonders why he didn’t leave so Hae Young reminds her that he promised never to leave her again. Sang Hyo runs into his arms and doesn’t even care if people are staring at them.
Hae Young strokes her face with a smile before pulling her in for a kiss. They break apart and tightly embrace each other with big smiles.
The credits scene shows us one year later and Sang Hyo and Hae Young are dining al fresco at a rooftop restaurant when they run into Eun Joo. Sang Hyo is surprised to see Eun Joo back after studying abroad. Eun Joo asks if they didn’t split up again and Hae Young assures Eun Joo that they are never breaking up again.
Eun Joo asks them to remember who to thank for them getting back together and she happily moves over to sit at their table before not so subtly shows off her engagement ring on hand. Talk goes to who the prospective groom is when Sung Gyum walks over and a round of cheerful greetings ensue as the foursome proceed to catch up on old times.
Thoughts of Mine:
I’d rather spend the final episode wrap up mostly talking about what worked in MSH rather than harping on all the things that failed. My gut tells me this drama will actually be quite entertaining as a marathon session work when one frustrating Hae Young set back can power through to the next episode rather than stagnating from week-to-week. Sure the entire romance stayed put for half the drama but the ending was a major kiss and make up moment that helps deliver the cathartic rush, especially if a viewer watches the entire thing in one or two sittings and doesn’t think too much about it. Neither the mystery nor the romance were crafted with too much intelligence or detail, but somehow it fit the setting.
Nothing at Secret Hotel ever worked like a professional institution, one wonders how it managed to stay in business with so much interpersonal complications behind the scenes and so many dead employees the curse ought to be people dying at Secret Hotel rather than married couples divorcing in three months. The hotel was a cesspool of silly makjang that suited entire conflict between Hae Young and Sang Hyo like a glove. Their flash wedding was remarkably silly if bravely taking a chance on love, but then all they did was ace making house (and probably making love) but fail miserably at behaving like sensible considerate adults. Hae Young left, Sang Hyo followed, but still a random woman like Jung Eun could deliver the killing blow? Their marriage was never meant to work if that was all it took to kibosh it.
But then I remember how much I loved Hae Young and Sang Hyo’s characters in the beginning, with all their pent up frustrations and openly throbbing interest in each other. Early on they were funny but fit, like two weirdos made for each other, and perhaps that’s what I’ll take away at the end. They are too flawed for anyone else so are perfect for each other. Too bad all signs point to any small misunderstanding to ruin their marriage yet again, which makes what Eun Joo asked at the end even more hilarious because it’s true. They’re still married after a year? One has to ask because it’s not a given thing even after all they went through. I’m thrilled Eun Joo and Sung Gyum got to together since they’ve always made more sense as a couple, but sadly this satisfactory pairing doesn’t deliver the corresponding emotional gratification since it basically was shoehorned in at the last ten minutes without showing us their relationship progress.
So much time was wasted, around 5 full episodes if you ask me, to Sang Hyo being too scared to go back to Hae Young. That’s it! She was never seriously considering Sung Gyum so all her confusion and hesitation boiled down to doubt about Hae Young, doubt that could have been addressed has she simply talked to him about it. Then the time could be spent showing us Eun Joo and Sung Gyum moving on after he loses his chance with Sang Hyo. I love the entire cast especially all three leads. It’s not their fault to play character poorly developed and/or given a personality and intelligence lobotomy during the course of the drama. The chemistry was all there from beginning to end and really was the saving grace when all is said and done.
So what about the big murder mystery dogging the hotel? The one 30 years ago was as lame as the two that happened recently, all three accidental deaths that tangentially implicated GM Lee but turned out to be initiated by women who loved him. Never knew there was a lady killer lurking inside him. That Sang Hyo was not his daughter but Manager Hwang’s daughter was so random especially since it wasn’t explained by Manager Hwang didn’t seem to know or how GM Lee could have put her up for adoption. Gyung Hee being a killer wasn’t a total shocker and allowed the deaths to be resolved in a pat manner with her suicide, which was in itself a release for her since she’s suffering from terminal cancer. I’m just glad the final episode actually gave all the supporting characters a bit of time to wrap up their bits, from Sung Gyum’s mom finally getting together with GM Lee, to Soo Ah swanning back to be the exposition fairy for Sang Hyo, to Detective Kim wrapping up the case for Sung Gyum. The only quibble would be Joo Jung Eun getting away with her evil meddling, both in the past and present, but maybe never getting Hae Young is the worst punishment for her.
This drama could have been so fascinating with a great set up and a fantastic cast but once again the hammer of bad writing doom came down hard to derail the project halfway through. I was so exhausted by the end sometimes I forgot it was Monday which meant a new episode was out. But the sliver of silver lining was the drama ending on a definitive resolution in both the romance and mystery fronts, alleviating a bit of the bitter taste in my mouth which is more than I could have hoped for even a week ago. Yay for the little victories, yes? Overall I still have goodwill for Sang Hyo and Hae Young, their characters behaved so stupidly for most of the drama but it never felt like that aspect made sense. It came across as the writing needing Hae Young to be stupid and have no sense of personal space with Sang Hyo to keep her unable to just walk away, and also Sang Hyo was made overly resistant to going back to Hae Young just to drag things out. I like to think the smart snappy decisive Sang Hyo and the sarcastic and secretly considerate Hae Young from the beginning of the drama is their real personalities, and with that train of thought their hard won reconciliation in the end was absolutely satisfying. Thanks MSH, I’ll choose to remember how much I enjoyed taking lots of pretty screencaps and bopping along with a great soundtrack.