I feel light as a feather writing this recap for the final episode 16 of Descendants of the Sun, a journey that has been equal parts fun and frustrating. It’s nice that both aspects were in play in this last episode but neither side dominated the other, with DotS heading off into the sunset with a soft touch akin to the glide of smooth satin on skin. I commented that this episode couldn’t be worse than episode 15 came true, and in a way that all the little nits were fine to let slide once the general mood reached contentment.
I’m happy to have watched and recapped an event drama for once since my selections are normally the odd and ratings obscure dramas. More meaningful was the unmitigated pleasure to chronicle Song Joong Ki’s rise to mega stardom in real time thanks to a star making performance. It’s nowhere near his best acting, but plenty awesome to warrant his dizzying rise to top Hallyu star. The actual drama ending was a mixed bag if you ask me, some will like the obsessive focus on romantic bows festooned on every couple while others are so distracted by the unholy amounts of PPL to want to move to a forest with no brand products. I found he final 60 minutes just fine, nothing to write home about but enough to bring a satisfied smile to my face.
Episode 16 recap:
Shi Jin miraculously shows up alive on the day of his death anniversary when Mo Yeon is tearfully laying flowers and their rock on his memorial. The lovers reunite in the sun dappled desert amid apologies, tears of disbelief and stunned happiness. Shi Jin verbalizes the obvious which is that he always manages to do incredible feats as he’s yet again survived a sure brush with death.
Shi Jin and Mo Yeon tightly embrace before she snaps and pushes him away to go cry in the corner over how upsetting it is that she’s suffered thinking he died. She even considered being a nun and that would have been such a waste. Shi Jin placates annoyed girlfriend by embracing Mo Yeon again and the couple get around to saying their long overdue I Love Yous.
Myung Joo and Ki Bum are having ramyun when it starts snowing softly outside which is a shock since it never snows in Urk. Just like how so many things in this drama never happen in real life, yes. Myung Joo is outside in the snow when Dae Young walks towards her with his arm in a sling and looking like he crawled out of a North Korean camp. Myung Joo stares in shock as Dae Young stops before her and the two tearfully drink in each other.
Dae Young is sorry for his late response but his answer is – he’s not breaking up with her, he will never break up with her until he dies. Myung Joo smacks him angrily and then Dae Young tries to pull her in for a kiss but she’s so distraught she keeps pummeling.
Eventually Dae Young gets his smexy bruised kiss on and Myung Joo stops hitting her poor suffering returned from the dead boyfriend and kisses him back.
Ki Bum is now a superior officer and ordering the new soldiers on getting ready for their daily mission. As the soldiers head out Dae Young walks into the barracks and smiles at Ki Bum. Poor Ki Bum breaks into sobbing tears and gosh he’s so adorable and heartfelt. Dae Young pulls him in for a hug and asks for the results of the exam. Ki Bum says he passed and is now a high school graduate. Dae Young hugs him again.
Myung Joo takes off Dae Young’s dog tag and places it around his neck. She shaves him, and maybe that’s not needed because scruffy Dae Young is surprisingly even hotter. Dae Young says he couldn’t die even when he was supposed to and Myung Joo believes that because she saw a snow that couldn’t have happened. She thought she used up a lifetime’s luck already but clearly there was more.
Myung Joo asks about Shi Jin and heard that the men reported their return to the superior officers and got the whereabouts of Myung Joo and Mo Yeon. He came to Urk while Shi Jin went to Albania to look for Mo Yeon. She asks how they survived and hears that the enemy forces captured them before the explosion.
Shi Jin and Dae Young were tortured and jailed for a hundred and fifty days in an unknown location. Then masked men came to execute them in jail but were killed by the arriving North Korean Commander Ahn. We see a flashback of Commander Ahn vowing to repaying Shi Jin for the cookie, i.e. helping him. Awwww, I like his involvement in saving the men even if it’s yet another far fetched likelihood. Continuity over plausibility is high in these recent episodes.
Shi Jin tells Mo Yeon the story as well, ending with his rescue by a far away friend. Shi Jin teases that his doctor girlfriend pushed him on a bed and he got all excited but Mo Yeon just hugs him knowing the ordeal he went through. We see all the torture and getting shot scenes from earlier in this drama and Shi Jin really has been through a lot. Shi Jin promises this is it, there will be no more of this going forward, but Mo Yeon doesn’t believe him. I don’t either – sexy flirt and constantly in danger comes as a package with him.
Shi Jin asks about the food laying around and hears that today is his death anniversary. Mo Yeon wonders if maybe…..and asks a volunteer colleague if he sees Shi Jin, clearly checking if he’s a ghost and is relieved that another person can see Shi Jin. He asks if she’s trying to kill him a second time by turning him into a ghost. She wheels the memorial altar food over for Shi Jin to eat his own offering lol, telling him to enjoy regardless of whether he’s human or a ghost since it’s for him. He’s impressed she’s prepared such a spread, even including red wine.
Mo Yeon gets a video call from back home in Hae Sung hospital with everyone gathered around to greet her. They ask Mo Yeon to change her angle for better lighting and she turns the camera so that inadvertently everyone can see Shi Jin in the background eating.
Everyone is shocked and wondering if they are seeing things, especially with Shi Jin eating his own altar food on his death anniversary. This is so hilarious and poor Dr. Song even faints from the horror as everyone back at Hae Sung freaks out.
Mo Yeon is having a laugh while Shi Jin can’t believe she’s killing him for the third time playing this joke. Mo Yeon thinks her team is super adorable. Chi Hoon gets back on the video feed and fearfully tells Mo Yeon to just say how much she misses and loves Shi Jin ghost and tell him not to have any lingering regrets and leave to a brighter place. They tell Mo Yeon that Shi Jin’s ghost is right behind her and she needs to send him to heaven.
Mo Yeon brings the video to Shi Jin and he greets the Hae Sung team cheerfully and confirms he’s alive. Mo Yeon promises to explain fully when she gets back to Seoul.
Shi Jin and Dae Young return to Korea and walk up to salute General Yoon who breaks protocol and hugs them both, thanking them for coming back alive. Colonel Park tries to act gruff but also holds back tears before he starts crying by himself as everyone has walked off.
Dae Young and Shi Jin are welcomed happily by the rest of Alpha Team and Colonel Park calls out that they’re temporary assignment is to write a report on their captivity thicker than the bible which gets the guys to stop their cheerful celebration which excludes him.
Shi Jin and Dae Young are sitting in the army office writing reports, going through their recollection of the men who captured them and who did what torture on them. Shi Jin thinks whatever they write will be believed so they need to make it believable and dramatic. It’s too embarrassing to write that they got beat up daily so they should mention trying to fight back once a week and trying to escape once a month.
Shi Jin takes off leaving the writing to Dae Young, explaining that it is better for one person to write it otherwise the details might not match up. Not to mention Myung Joo is still in Urk while Shi Jin’s girlfriend is in Seoul so he’ll leave the report in Dae Young’s capable hands.
Shi Jin meets up with Mo Yeon at the coffee shop where she broke things off with him and both remember that night. Mo Yeon adds that she might break up with him here today. He hopes she’s joking and mentions his psychological trauma. Mo Yeon asks seriously what he’s going to do about his job of going to the department store. Does he still want to be a hero? Shi Jin explains that no soldier goes into a mission thinking of becoming a hero. He was just trying to keep the peace.
Mo Yeon confirms he wants to keep doing it and doesn’t intend to object, she just needs to accept that one day he may not come back. She doesn’t like it but will support him because she also supports keeping the peace. He thanks her and then apologizes, he can only keep apologizing. Mo Yeon suggests going fishing tomorrow to help him heal, she’ll aegyo and be super supportive and he’ll feel like the luckiest guy alive to have a girlfriend like him.
Mo Yeon and Shi Jin are sitting by the lake and she’s already impatient that not a fish has nibbled in two hours. Mo Yeon plays with her super cool smart watch to find another fishing spot nearby using their GPS coordinates. Shi Jin just wants to relax and doesn’t want to move around, suggesting another activity when it’s so cold out, such as finding a spot to lay around.
Mo Yeon agrees but insists that he doesn’t get too close to her, but then Mo Yeon is distracted when a fish bites. After catching the fish she puts on gloves to clean it, muttering about how a special forces guy can’t clean and gut a fish. Mo Yeon laughs at how cute squeamish Shi Jin is about killing fish.
Later that night in the tent Mo Yeon is checking for hotels on Hotels Combined, and since it’s the second PPL in that many episodes I’ll refer to it. Shi Jin mentions big comfy beds but Mo Yeon wants as small a bed as possible which upsets Shi Jin wondering who gave Mo Yeon such naughty ideas while he was gone. Mo Yeon takes out their Urk rock and wants to put it back, while he was gone she made plans to go back but always cancelled.
Mo Yeon wants to go back now with Shi Jin but tells him to wait, she’ll just tell him “now” when she’s ready to go. She wants him to endure the waiting without an end in sight. Shi Jin snuggles closer claiming he doesn’t know the delineation line between them. He puckers up for a kiss and is rejected by Mo Yeon who pats him on the head.
Dae Young takes a call from Myung Joo during a break from tying up the report, happy to hear her voice. Myung Joo asks Ki Bum every morning when she wakes up whether it was a dream that Dae Young came back, and she needs to hear his voice to feel reassured. Dae Young is happy to talk to him but tomorrow he can’t because there is a celebration ceremony. Myung Joo looks upset and asks who it is?
Shi Jin and Alpha Team prepare for the arrival, looking like intense special forces soldiers. Except the arrival is of pop group Red Velvet, lol, and the girls head into the auditorium to perform for the gathered soldiers.
The soldiers cheer wildly as Red Velvet performs. Shi Jin hands a balloon to Dae Young who waves it like a mad man while Shi Jin takes a placard and raises it high over his head. The soldiers sing and dance along with the girls and then Shi Jin and Dae Young take a selfie with the girls behind them on the stage.
The video of their raucous concert hits the internet and reaches Mo Yeon who watches his eyes narrowed at how her man is certainly protecting the peace right now before she clenches her fist on the crumpled water bottle in her hand.
Mo Yeon gets made up for her television appearance and asks the host to pose a question today about whether she has a boyfriend. As the show wraps up, the host asks whether Mo Yeon has a boyfriend and she laughs coyly before saying she’s too busy to have a boyfriend.
Shi Jin watches the program on Mo Yeon’s sofa and calls her out on saying she has no boyfriend. Mo Yeon thinks she’s being in sync with Shi Jin who partied like he had no girlfriend at the idol concert.
Myung Joo is shoveling food in her mouth in Urk while calling Dae Young to remark on how good of a dancer he is. Dae Young claims it was just editing and Shi Jin uses the same excuse. They claim that all the cheering was when their commanding officer appeared. Neither Myung Joo nor Mo Yeon buy the lame excuse, and Myung Joo warns Dae Young that she has another 157 days before she returns to Seoul and will use it to think of ways to kill him when she gets back.
Shi Jin tries to take the offensive by claiming he didn’t commit a crime and it’s just stupid guy reaction. He wants Mo Yeon to be rational now and admits that he did it all because of Red Velvet. Mo Yeon wants to smack her Captain only to hear that he’s not a Captain anymore and just got a promotion to Major which makes her smile.
Major Yoo Shi Jin receives his promotion as new insignias are pinned on his uniform by General Yoon. Shi Jin thinks that he lives in the only nation in the world that is still fractured by war and his goal is to help the children, woman, and elderly. We see Shi Jin helping random people and time passes as he spends time in Seoul while Mo Yeon remains hard at work as a doctor.
Myung Joo returns to Seoul months later and in her first dinner with Dae Young turns all aegyo and admits she missed him so much. Dae Young plans to visit the General tomorrow with her holding her hand. He won’t take off his army uniform unless she wants him to and will tell her dad as much. Myung Joo is ecstatic and wants to drink more and Dae Young relents because she hasn’t imbibed in two seasons.
Dae Young and Myung Joo stand before General Yoon to have two cups of tea. He orders tea and then stares at their joined hands. Myung Joo is surprised he wants to report first rather than do, shouldn’t they do first and then report?
Dae Young tells General Yoon that he never regretted being a soldier even when he was a POW and the army shouldn’t lose a soldier like him. He asks General Yoon to accept that. General Yoon says it’s not his acceptance, the country has already accepted Dae Young and he’s proud to have him as a son-in-law. He’s very happy with Dae Young’s choice to stay in the military and sorry for his earlier objection. Myung Joo tearfully hugs her dad who then glares at Dae Young with a warning that he’s entrusting his daughter to him.
Myung Joo visits Mo Yeon in the hospital and the two smile at each other, with Mo Yeon teasing that they are always meeting because of a guy. Mo Yeon is thrilled to hear from Myung Joo that her war is over, she got approval from her dad.
Myung Joo hands over a Christmas card from the little teen girl that Mo Yeon helped in Urk. The little girl writes that she’s learning Korean and wants to be a doctor one day like Mo Yeon. She smiles that the money spent was worth it.
Chi Hoon gathers Nurse Ha and Min Ji to watch the latest news from Urk, including the little boy who finally got his goat. The little boy is about to give his name when the boat bleats and cuts him off so Chi Hoon changes it to his headphones to try and hear it but he can’t catch it over the audio.
Nurse Ha asks Chi Hoon not to turn off the computer which belongs to Dr. Song and afterwards she opens the file on the computer that Dr. Song asked her to delete if he died. She sees in shock that it’s all childhood pictures of her growing up until she’s an adult.
Nurse Ha wanders the airport in a daze and is bumped by another guy. Dr. Song runs up to help her but she claims to be just tired. Dr. Song asks if she looked at his file and then moved it to trash. He explains that he’s loved her from when she was 10 to 30 years old. She thinks it’s just sympathy but he really loves her. Nurse Ha says she should be the one confessing before running off with Dr. Song chasing.
Mo Yeon has Shi Jin driving her new car Big Boss and he asks if she likes him so much that she named her car after him code name. Mo Yeon wants him to drive her Big Boss because she’ll ruin it if she drives and her Big Boss can’t get banged up.
They park at a car wash and Shi Jin gets out to wash the metal Big Boss while muttering about his romantic plans for today getting scuttled. Mo Yeon gets out to join him and Shi Jin hands her the hose which she promptly sprays ice cold water on him. Mo Yeon drapes her coat over Shi Jin with a smile and he compliments her on looking sexiest when she’s smiling. Nice random car commercial, drama.
Dae Young stares at his food in the commissary and tells Myung Joo that it’s harassment as we see her legs stroking his under the table. He just wants to eat his food in peace but she’s happy to be right beside him finally.
Myung Joo hands over a wedding invitation for Daniel and Ye Hwa who are getting married in Vancouver. Everyone in the medical team gets an invitation which includes airfare and a paid stay at the hotel. The team discuss how Ye Hwa’s father was a North Korean Oriental medicine doctor who treated everyone included rebel soldiers and the whole family except for Ye Hwa got killed by the Russian government. Daniel saved Ye Hwa and escaped to an embassy in Canada. But there was no way to ask for asylum because she had no statehood so Ye Hwa married Daniel on paper, but now they are getting married for real.
Dae Young brings up his last letter to Myung Joo and hears that she didn’t read it. He reads it to her now, explaining that he loves her whether he’s dead or alive. She takes out the letter and reads it, confirming that Dae Young really did memorize the whole letter because he’s written it so many times.
Dae Young calls all the soldiers in the commissary to order, telling everyone lower ranked than him to close their eyes before standing up to kiss Myung Joo on the forehead. Myung Joo also orders everyone lower ranked than her to close their eyes before walking over to kiss Dae Young as all the soldiers cheer.
Shi Jin and Mo Yeon discuss who to give wedding presents to and since most are being sent to Daniel Mo Yeon wants to send her to Ye Hwa. He asks if she’s forgotten ruining Daniels’ car and she barks back that she’s paying for it still monthly.
Shi Jin notices the picture on the fridge of Mo Yeon speaking at her graduation and asks why her? Mo Yeon is going to her hoobae’s graduation to support them because she’s a sunbae who brought honor to the school. She asks if Shi Jin is going home and he’s got no plans to leave anytime soon.
A new class of doctors is graduating as well as a new class of army soldiers. Mo Yeon and Shi Jin attend the ceremonies and think of all they’ve done as a doctor and soldier, respectively.
Mo Yeon feels rejuvenated with the graduating pledges of the doctors in promising to save lives. She walks to work and places a call saying “now”.
Shi Jin and Mo Yeon fly back to Urk and return to the island with the beach wrecked ship. They return the rock and she teases him for ruining her chance to come here with another guy. Mo Yeon snaps a picture of Shi Jin standing there explaining that she only had his x-ray and is tired of looking at it. Shi Jin chases after Mo Yeon as they run around the beach. She asks when they are leaving and he points to their little boat and says when the boat turns into the same as the stranded ship.
It’s nightfall as Shi Jin and Mo Yeon sit on the ship. She takes a swig of red wine and asks if he really isn’t going to drink since it’s so delicious. He really wants to drink red wine but can’t since he’s steering the ship. Mo Yeon takes a drink and turns to him with a smirk, asking him that there is a way for him to drink it. She laughs before admitting that her heart was beating so much when he kissed her that time. Shi Jin admits his heart is beating wildly right now sitting here with her.
They see a shooting star streak by and Mo Yeon is wowed by her first shooting star sighting as Shi Jin asks if she made a wish? Mo Yeon already made a wish and tells him to pluck a star for her. Shi Jin already plucked a star and it’s sitting beside him. Mo Yeon wants him to say more and Shi Jin says the star is super bright and made his life even brighter. He doesn’t know how a woman like this came into his life? She asks if he was an officer in his last life and in this life his job is to keep the country safe. He thinks it’s only by doing this tough job did he have a chance to meet a woman like her.
Shi Jin wants to know what Mo Yeon’s wish is and her wish is for this man beside her to kiss her? Can he make her wish come true? Shi Jin leans in to kiss Mo Yeon as they lovers finally get their happy ending.
Shi Jin and Mo Yeon end their kiss and Shi Jin says “I love you” while Mo Yeon replies “Me, too.” She then adds “I love you, this is my answer.”
Shi Jin and Mo Yeon continue their kissing.
Mo Yeon takes out money from the ATM using her cell phone as she heads off to Daniel and Ye Hwa’s wedding, while Min Ji wires the money to the couple directly on her phone app. Thanks phone PPL!
Everyone is sitting down to the wedding reception and the ladies are all begrudging Dae Young for catching the wedding bouquet which he has a death grip on. Shi Jin wants Dae Young to get rid of the bouquet while Myung Joo brings up how Dae Young has fond memories of weddings.
Chi Hoon walks up to address the camera on what a great ending this is for everyone to use hard work and perseverance to get their happy ending.
Suddenly there is a blackout and after the lights come back up people scream that there is a volcano explosion. Everyone readies to get back to disaster relief effort mode. Mo Yeon looks at her high heels ready to snap it off while Shi Jin gripes about the big report he’s going to have to write before he gets up to head into action.
The final scene is of the doctors and soldiers striding purposefully towards helping those in need.
Thoughts of Mine:
To the relief of some and the sadness of others, Descendants of the Sun ended at a short and sweet 16 episodes as planned and promised. That it never tried to drag a good thing on was much appreciated, but then the final four episodes already felt like it was appended on like an awkward accessory to what was a nicely assembled outfit. I enjoyed the final episode for 60 minutes worth of wrap up without another death fake out, an entire episode worth of epilogue if you will for those who love extra goodies. If I was the drama editor the series would have ended at the end of 12, or even at the end of 15 with a better explanation for Shi Jin’s survival return. Petering out on a low energy note sucks the momentum from this buzzy drama, but even noticing and feeling the slowing crawl didn’t ruin the enjoyment for me as I said goodbye. I liked episode 16 despite finding it fairly unnecessary, it didn’t hurt my intelligence, the PPLs were so gratuitous as to be amusing, and the pretty people and scenery remained at high decibels. With everyone getting happy endings it’s hard to be grumpy, and this time I’ll dice and slice with analysis while happily chowing down on the bowl of contentment.
Shi Jin and Dae Young’s survival was way better explained than the abrupt ridiculous set up of their supposed death. Being hidden POWs and even bringing back awesome Commander Ahn to bust them out gave me the answers I needed, but doesn’t wash away the stench of lazy writing in reusing a main lead death fake out two times in a row. The resolution of Shi Jin and Dae Young’s future as special forces soldiers remained like a leaf fluttering in the wind – they will continue to serve and protect while Myung Joo and Mo Yeon just accept it, like accepting an particularly uncomfortable physical condition like psoriasis or irritable bowel syndrome. It’s not life threatening but always looming for an outbreak. The pragmatic in me sees that Shi Jin’s promotion, as well as the men aging out of top Rambo form, will eventually move them off the front lines. So here’s to hoping that they are not in peril during any mission until they are the one directing from the safety of the commander’s chair. Mo Yeon and Myung Joo’s professional arc didn’t wrap up beyond they continue to be capable doctors, which is all that’s needed to what has been a decent focus on successful women with their own career achievements. I like the time spent showing us their medical skills and competency under duress, and it’s something Shi Jin and Dae Young recognize and appreciate that their ladies are just as awesome, if not more, than they are.
The best parts of DotS were the Urk section in the middle, especially the earthquake and its aftermath. There was a humanistic element that did come through despite simplistic storytelling, with the cast working seamlessly within the story to focus on the medical and rescue efforts without just selling the romance in a disaster zone. The blips like Chi Hoon’s overly intense self-flagellation and Angus with his band of cartoonish mercenary brothers never overwhelmed the overall premise to show soldiers who are righteous and courage and the medical personnel who rise to the challenge even if they are coddled city types. The overseas shoot was maximized to full advantage and every penny delivered in visual impression. I liked the camaraderie within the medical team and the brotherhood of the soldiers, and the ways both sides meshed or butted heads were all developed well. The return to Seoul in the final four episodes messed up the flow as scenes felt written about PPL or with said PPL inserted to a distracting degree. The dialogue remained standard Kim Eun Sook fare and the acting continued to lift scenes up from sinking below the weight of too much manufactured artifice. Too bad the background music throughout the drama remained too obtrusive and too much of it, restraint would have benefited to dial down the excess cheesy and allow the sincere heart to shine through. In the end it took watching on mute at times to better appreciate the connection just from the fantastic acting of all four leads.
Drama picking may be a fine art rather than a scientific endeavor with formulas to follow, but if ever there was a safe bet project it’s Kim Eun Sook and very few other K-drama scriptwriters can claim as much. Song Joong Ki elevated DotS the most for me, and judging from his insane popularity in Chinese speaking countries the sentiment is shared, he mitigated the overly corny and smoothed out the narrative bumps of absurdity. Song Hye Kyo delivered everything she needed to do as the leading lady, I really liked her performance here and don’t recall ever seeing her prettier than in many scenes in this drama. Jin Goo and Kim Ji Won were twin pillars of solid connection, they had chemistry and acting cohesion, too bad their characters didn’t quite soar beyond their father-blocked romance aspect. For a more satisfying romantic meal it would have to be Shi Jin and Mo Yeon, taking us from dramatic first attraction all the way to a conscious choice to be with each other. It wasn’t particularly angsty as they communicated like adults, and I never bought Shi Jin’s brushes with death so didn’t worry about that possibility however much it was force fed to audiences. At least Myung Joo and Dae Young’s arc got real closure as daddy dearest openly accepted his military son-in-law even if he wasn’t officer trained.
My favorite two scenes in this episode were when the medical team in Seoul thought Shi Jin’s ghost was haunting her, followed by the soldiers attending the Red Velvet concert going from commando to fanboy mode. I know the romance should be satisfying but honestly I was emotionally detached from both couples after three episodes of emotional manipulation. I’m still happy with the endings and the final scene of Shi Jin and Mo Yeon back on the stranded ship island was too beautiful for words, but it was like observing and appreciating a painting from an objective distance. Kim Eun Sook likes to add a teeny twist to her drama endings, not all the time but often enough that the way DotS ended with the volcano eruption in Vancouver was goofy enough to work as self-aware parody. When Chi Hoon broke the fourth wall and talked to the camera that was the only time I was surprised in the final episode, and he’s the perfect cutie pie character to sell this scene. For those who overlooked many instances of shoddy situational writing in this drama by claiming it’s just a love story, that’s not really valid because the drama ending was all about the duties of doctors and soldiers to heal and serve. The romance was within the context of all that healing and serving and not the end all be all, in which case Kim Eun Sook is pretty bad at writing serious stuff and should count her lucky stars that the leads sold the romance aspect so well it could be used as an excuse for the failing elsewhere. All in all, DotS is an indisputable success and leaves with a positive impression in my mind and a mostly warm and fuzzy feeling in my heart.
Click here to watch Descendants of the Sun.