The King Eternal Monarch delivers an emotionally satisfying finale, with Lee Gon and Tae-Eul emerging victorious against both Lee Lims, resulting in the fates of all the key characters in Corea and Korea being rewritten, mostly for the better. While logical inconsistencies still abound and the show largely undelivered on its premise, I really did enjoy the finale.
As Lee Gon returns to the night of the treason for the third time, he voices over, “I hoped everything would unfold exactly the same as it did that night. At what point did things start to change? Beautiful occasions are always simple. Tonight I’m not alone, we just haven’t reached our destination yet”.
Indeed, many things are different about his third return to Corea in 1994. Firstly, Lee Gon is no longer hiding his identity as the King. He is proudly wearing his royal garb. Secondly, the four tiger sword is with him, once again symbolising him fully embracing his destiny. Lastly, and most importantly, he is not alone – Yeong is beside him, and Tae-Eul is partnering him to hold Lee Lim hostage in the portal. All three of them – Lee Gon, Yeong and Tae-Eul – are embracing their fate bravely.
He manages to intervene in the treason much earlier, thus saving his younger self and keeping the Manpasikjeok intact. As Yeong is with him, Lee Gon is able to leave his younger self safely in his care, while he runs off in pursuit of Lee Lim. He manages to stop Lee Lim just before he enters the gate, and delivers the rightful punishment to Lee Lim of beheading him. Similarly, Tae-eul manages to shoot and kill Lee Lim in the portal.
As a whole, the demise and death of Lee Lim has ultimately been anti-climatic. There was so much build-up early in the series about him building up his army, getting ready for a battle with Lee Gon. However, ever since the big battle in Episode 12, we have hardly seen his army in action. Furthermore, he has not decisive steps to secure victory for himself. His plan with Seo-Ryung came to naught and him killing himself when he returned to Corea ultimately also effectively made him less threatening. Lee Lim has been one of the biggest disappointments of the series.
However, while Lee Lim’s final moments were disappointing, I like how we finally see the boy with the Yo-yo again. He has a certain enigmatic charm about him as he says, “I thought this would break, but it sprouted instead. The door will close and only the memories will remain. Should I break it or just let it be?”
The red string refers to the thread of eternal love between Lee Gon and Tae-Eul. With Lee Lim being killed, he thought that the red string that ties both Lee Gon and Tae-Eul would break and that their memories of each other would be erased. However, the boy must have decided not to break it and keep it intact, so that the both of them would find each other again. This hints that Tae-Eul has a bigger role in the grand scheme of things, and perhaps, it is her fate to be the Queen. I believe Tae-Eul also retains her memories of Lee Gon because she was in the portal, where the whole reset between both worlds was happening, thus escaping the reset.
For the rest of the episode, we see the fates of our different characters in a world without Lee Lim’s interference. Ji-Hun lives and his uncle remains in a wheel chair. Hyeon-min’s mum is stopped by Prince Buyeong and turns her life around. A young Luna is stopped by Seo-Ryung’s mum from stealing and is eventually taken in by the family. She becomes a police officer who works together with Hyeon-min. Eun-Seob is equally successful and has gotten together with Na Ri.
Tae-Eul returns to the world of Korea on April 25, 2020, and she still retains her memories of Lee Gon and Shin-jae. However, the world she returns to is different and Lee Gon and Shin-jae are not in her life. This is where the mood of the episode changes and it becomes more light-hearted and funny as we see Lee Gon traversing different universes, opening all the doors as he had promised, to find Tae-eul. He finds many different versions of ‘her’ as a soldier, a naval officer, and even a drunk bride.
He eventually finds her a year later in 2021 and they are finally reunited and spend their weekends together, doing all the things that Tae-eul wanted to do before, like travel, take photos, watch movies and grow old together. It’s a sweet and cheery way to end the series with plenty of laughs and fun moments that ultimately brings everything together in a hopeful way for our protagonists.
As a series, The King Eternal Monarch was an engaging and thought-provoking one, that lent itself to so much analysis on so many levels. Whether people like it or not, we cannot deny that this show has sparked off so much debate and discussion about its rules, the storyline, the characters, symbolism and the literary references.
I felt the show faltered because it did not always play fair with the viewers. With parallel universes, it’s already confusing enough, yet at the start, we were never quite sure which world we were in. Furthermore, there were moments when the sequence of events were not clear. Scenes were sometimes presented in a ‘chopped up’ manner, with us only returning to it half an episode later to realise what happened in the end.
Towards the end, the rules governing time travel became inconsistent and played more towards Lee Gon’s advantage. Of course, this could easily be explained as the boy in the yoyo (i.e. destiny) favouring Lee Gon as he wanted to restore the balance of things. However, it is less satisfying because it ultimately made Lee Lim a very ineffective villain. The flute, which was meant to give Lee Gon control over the universes and time, just became a means of going on dates.
The characters also did not particularly stand out in this series, except for Yeong, Eun Seob and Shinjae. The other characters, including our protagonists, did not leave much of an impression. There is a lot of focus on about Lee Gon and Tae-eul embracing their destiny. However, even though their destinies were tough, they never really struggled with embracing it. In terms of the cast, I would say Kim Go Eun shone more than Lee Min Ho, whose performance was mostly one-note (he was much better as Joon Jae in Legend of the Blue Sea). Kim Go Eun was able to play both Luna and Tae-Eul so effectively that you could tell from one look which one was which even before they spoke. Woo do Hwan was also fantastic as Eun-seob and Yeong.
With all that being said, I have to give props to Kim Eun Sok for once again presenting us with a very original and ambitious story-line that attempted to bring history together with fantasy. It was an enjoyable series that was dense in meaning and constructed in a way that often made viewers want to find out more and exchange theories. This is the type of show that you can discuss with fans for hours, because there’s so much to unpack. While there are aspects I was disappointed with, I am definitely looking forward to her next series.