Although I’ve already written a review, this finale deserves more detailed treatment, so let’s dive in deep to see how it all finally comes together. This entry takes us through the entire episode, with analysis shared throughout. Please feel free to also offer your own theories and explanations in the comments!
We start off the episode with Luna, messaging Tae-Eul’s father that she will be home late as she has a stake-out. His support, concern and love is evident through the messages. This is the last scene we see of Luna in the current timeline and it is a bittersweet closure for her – because of Tae-Eul’s mission for her to care for her dad, Luna finally has a family and someone who cares for her, yet she’s not fully ready to embrace it. She will carry out her task to watch over Tae-Eul’s dad, but from afar, from a distance.
Shijae sits by himself, heart-broken as Tae-eul has decided to take Lee Lim through the portal even after his confession of love. He recalls all the wonderful memories he has of Tae-Eul.
Tae-Eul holds a gun to Lee Lim’s head. She looks back on her world as she hears the rustling of leaves in the bamboo forest, and then she tells Lee Lim to walk and they both enter the portal together. This is Tae-Eul deciding to be brave – it would be easier for her to wait in Korea for Lee Gon’s return. However, she decides to act, and be brave.
Back in Corea in 1994, on the night of the treason, Yeong twists the neck of Lee Gon’s traitor uncle. Lee Gon instructs him to stay at the gate to stop the traitors who will be arriving in 20 minutes. However, Yeong tells him he cannot let Lee Gon go to Cheonjongo alone. Even though this is Lee Gon’s last order to him, Yeong tells him that he must go to Cheongjongo – because it is his last chance to protect his king.
“I hoped everything would unfold exactly the same as it did that night,” Lee Gon voices over, “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”. He places the four tiger sword at the gate, then runs into Cheongjongo with gun in his hand.
This third return to Corea in 1994 is different in so many ways. Firstly, Lee Gon is no longer hiding his identity. He is proudly wearing his royal garb. Secondly, the four tiger sword is with him, a symbol of him embracing fully 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. All three of them – Lee Gon, Yeong and Tae-Eul – are embracing their fate bravely.
In the portal, Tae-Eul continues to point the gun at Lee Lim. She takes his half of the flute from him. She plans to wait here in the portal, until Lee Gon completes his mission. If he fails, she will then shoot him. Lee Lim laughs at her plan and tells her all her memories of him will disappear if he succeeds. She responds that she’s heart-broken, but all those radiant memories are etched deep in her heart. She’s willing to take the risk, even though time is at a standstill in the portal, to give it a go and shoot him.
Back in Corea, young Lee Gon is holding the sword, ready to take a swipe at Lee Lim. Lee Lim orders his henchman to shoot young Lee Gon. Just at that moment, the glass ceiling shatters and young Lee Gon runs away while a glass shard hits Lee Lim’s hand, causing him to drop the flute intact. Lee Gon thus managed to intervene earlier this time round, even before the flute was broken. Yeong takes down many of Lee Lim’s henchmen but is shot in the chest. Lee Gon takes fire at Lee Lim, but Lee Lim uses one of his men to block the shots.
Lee Lim in Corea manages to get a hold on the whole flute, causing Lee Gon’s chest to ache and his half of the Manpasikjeok disintegrates. Back in the portal, the Manpasikjeok also disintegrates in Tae-Eul’s hands, and Lee Lim looks on, bewildered but realising that he must have obtained the whole flute. In the portal, Lee Lim tells Tae-Eul that if the flute is gone, that means his nephew cannot come back, and that Tae-Eul and him are stuck in the portal for eternity.
In Corea, Lee Lim runs off with the flute and Lee Gon chases after him, leaving young Lee Gon in Yeong’s care. He reaches the gate, but sees that Lee Lim has fled. He picks up his sword and gives chase.
Yeong holds young Lee Gon in his arms and smiles as he realises he is alive. Young Lee Gon moves his hand up to touch Yeong’s hand for comfort. As the Royal Guards arrive, Yeong places young Lee Gon on the floor and hides at the side. Yeong recalls how in the previous timeline, young Lee Gon told young Yeong that he was the Unbreakable Sword – he has finally fulfilled his destiny and vision. Yeong and Eun Sop have been the only so-called positive pair of doppelgangers in the series, which also explains why they are so close. They have been partners in fulfilling that destiny, as Eun Sop was the one who protected adult Lee Gon from the gunshot. As the scene closes, we get a shot of Yeong’s face against the snow falling in the light from the glass ceiling, a sign of God’s approval.
Back in Korea, Hyeon-min has brought Shinjae’s mum to the nursing home to see Shinjae in a coma. He tells her that there’s someting dad has been hiding from her, and she breaks down, hugging her son and apologising. She asks him when he found out and how long he was hiding it from her. She asks him what he will do about it. He has no reply for her, and walks away, dejected and alone once again.
However, just as he is walking away, he hears his mum calling him, “Sin-jae!”. He turns back and calls her, “Mom”. She gives him the tightest and warmest hug and tells him she should have given him a hug as it was not his fault. She apologises to him and tears roll down his eyes and he calls her mum. From being abandoned by her, he is now tightly and warmly embraced by her – Shin-jae and his mum got the reconciliation and closure that he needed, even before the reset happened. While it was the original plan for him to bring Lee Lim to the gate, it was never his battle to fight. This act of reconciliation with his mother was what truly took courage for Shin-Jae.
In the bamboo forest, Lee Lim is running towards the gate, with blood all over him. He turns around and sees the gate. “I was right after all,” he says, “this must be the door to another world.” Old Lee Gon appears behind him and slashes his shoulder, causing him to drop the flute. He lies down and wonders who this man is and why he has the Four Tiger Sword. Lee Gon declares that he is the king of Corea, and the rightful owner of the Sword, and the one who will carry out the capital punishment.
Back in the portal, Lee Lim says that the nephew must have failed because he’s alive and well. Tae-Eul decides to shoot him, but the bullet does no come out. Lee Lim laughs and calls her ‘foolishly hopeful’, running towards her. However, we see the plant that Tae-Eul has planted in Korea sprouting, and time starts to move in the portal. The bullet comes out and hits him in the chest. The balloons are moving, petals are falling down, lightning is streaking in the portal and all the photographs are disintegrating.
Tae-Eul has all this while been the one who is ‘foolishly hopeful’, even more so than Lee Gon, planting seeds in the portal and in Korea. Her final hope that the gun will shoot Lee Lim has paid off. While there’s a lot about fate and following fate, Tae-Eul is not someone who just sits around and allows fate to happen. She’s one who takes action in pursuit of who she believes she’s fated to be with – she took Lee Lim into the portal because she did not want Lee Gon to be alone. Her actions are rewarded.
“The sky bestows the heart upon us, and the ground helps the spirit. The sun and moon are formed, as the mountain and stream form, lighting strikes,” declares Lee Gon in the forest. Hearing this, Lee Lim realises that he is the Crown Prince, and that must be the power of the flute. Tragically, he realises the power is not meant to be his, and that it is the flute that causes his death.
“A sage is moved to defeat the evil of the mountains and streams. Wield it with deep thoughts and make things right.” These lines are voiced by Lee Gon’s father and ends off with him – claiming that as his own destiny. He beheads Lee Lim and we look up into the darkness amidst the bamboo trees – a visual contrast to the light shining down on Yeong earlier.
The boy with the yoyo makes his appearance again. “I thought this would break, but it sprouted instead. The door will close and only the memories will remain.” We see scenes of him appearing at different points and places in both Corea and Korea. “Should I break it or just let it be?” he asks. Fortune indeed favours the brave – Tae-Eul’s bravery in entering the portal and taking on Lee Lim means the thread is not broken as she is joined by Lee Gon in fate. Both of them take down Lee Lim at the same time. As she is in the portal, her memories are also retained.
In Corea, we see Lee Lim, dead on the ground while Lee Gon looks on, silently looking on. In the portal, Lee Lim also lies on the ground, while his body disintegrates (a nod to Goblin). Tae-Eul realises heartbreakingly that Lee Gon has achieved his mission, which means he will not be able to come back.
Fates begin to change and Lee Gon’s scar on his neck disappears. However, he remembers what Tae-eul says about how she will not remember him once their worlds start to flow differently. Indeed, all physical evidence of Lee Gon and Shin Jae disappear from both worlds.
Back in Korea in 1994, we see Ji-Hun’s uncle (Lee Lim’s doppelganger) is still alive and his mum decides to put him in a nursing home. Hyeon-min’s mum decides not to end her life, because of Prince Buyeong’s intervention. Prince Buyeong tells Hyeonmin that his name means “to shine like jade” and that he will be someone who shines like a jewel. He tells his mum to change her choice as it will determine the boy’s fate. He invites her to a cup of tea.
In Corea in 1999, Luna tries to steal money from Seo-Ryung’s mum. Seo-Ryung stops her and asks her mum to punish her. However, her mum responds with compassion and offers Luna some food. Both Hyeon-min and Luna find family and a new lease of life in this world, which ultimately shows that the destiny is benevolent and works things for the good. While Lee Lim tried to play god to offer these people better lives, his offers destroyed their lives and brought chaos to the world.
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In Korea on April 25 2020, Tae-eul finds herself back in the bamboo forest and only a week has passed. She makes a call and realises while that the world seemed unchanged, but some things had changed because of what happened. Lee Gon and Shinjae no longer exist. She was still a lieutenant, and tried to do something nice for her dad each month. However, she still lives everyday with the memories of Lee Gon intact. To make things worse, she sees that Ji-Hun on the streets, but he does not recognise her at all.
However, Lee Gon has not given up. He has indeed been opening doors to every universe to fulfil his promise to come and find her. We see Lee Gon finding many different versions of Tae-Eul in the different universes – one where she’s in the army, one where she’s a bride who just got married and one where she’s a naval officer. In all the worlds, she’s mostly protecting others.
Finally, in 2021, Na-Ri gives Tae-eul a call, telling her that there’s a horse and a guy outside the Taekwando Centre. She knows it’s him and immediately makes her way there. Indeed, it’s Lee Gon and he has finally found her.
[The reunion scene deserves recapping in its entirety.]
Lee Gon: You exist across every universe. You still don’t recognise me. But you… Why are you crying? You seemed happy in every world I saw you. It was the only thing that comforted me. But you… why do you look as though you recognise me? Why do you look as though you remember everything about me? (holds up her police tag) Is it you? Jeong Tae-eul? Is it really you? Yes?
Tae-Eul: You came? You really came for me?
Lee Gon looks shocked
Tae-Eul: You really came for me?
[He hugs her]
Lee Gon: Finally. I finally got to see you, Lieteuant Jeong Tae-Eul.
TE: What took you so long? I kept waiting for you. Every single day, I waited for you.
LG: After I slew the traitor, I had to go back and get Yeong. So I had to find my way back again, which meant I had to open every single door in ithe universe. That’s why it took me so long. And I didn’t think that you’d remember me, even if I did find you.
TE: Yet you still kept looking for me?
LG: Even if you forgot all about me, I still wanted to see you. I was going to tell you again if you had forgotten me that I am the King, of the Kingdom of Corea, and that my name, which is not supposed to be called, is Lee Gon. But how do you still remember me when the worlds flowed differently?
TE: Let’s forget that. I’ve also been through many things myself. Now, this.
LG: Do you still hate flowers?
TE: No, I like flowers, especially this flower.
LG: I realized I haven’t told you this. I love you. I am deeply in love with you.
TE: So this is how everything comes together. I love you too. I love you so much too.
It’s such a heartwarming and sweet reunion that contrasts with the heartbreaking separation that happened in Episode 10. In the scene in Episode 10, Lee Gon has come from the future and has to go off. He vanishes from her grasp after giving her the flowers. However, this time round, their timelines are aligned – and Lee Gon arrives in her present, and he is here to stay for good. The depth of their love is so evident through their eyes and the way they hug each other so tightly. There are so many wonderful parallels and links to scenes from previous episodes in this finale.
I found it interesting that Tae-Eul chooses not to let Lee Gon know that she was the one who took Lee Lim into the portal and killed him. She brushes it off and just says that she went through a lot. What is in the past is no longer important – she just wants to focus on the present and their future together.
While Lee Gon is the one with the flute and control over the universes and time, Tae-Eul has managed to go beyond the rules that govern the universe, through the favour she has found with the deities (represented by the boy). In an exchange between Luna and the boy, we know they both share a special relationship – she seems almost like a big sister to him.
In Corea, 2022, Yeong is complaining to Lee Gon about taking care of the twins and his parents are back together. The names of the twins are Eun-bi and Kka-bi. Lee Gon asks Yeong if he misses him, but Yeong says he’s ok and Eun-sup wouldn’t remember him. He passes him a folder which shows that Hyeonmin is now working the Haeundae Police Station.
We see Luna walking past the Haesong Book Store, in the same outfit that we earlier saw in the video clip which Lee Gon had. As she is walking, Hyeon-min calls her and he’s going to buy her something for her birthday. She runs into the bookstore to choose something. Luna also goes to visit Seo-Ryung in prison and we realise she has been arrested for stealing people’s tax money as an assemblywoman. The roles have reversed and her secretary is now the correctional officer overseeing her. Haha! Luna’s name is now Koo Seo-Gyeong, revealing that she has been adopted by Seo-Ryung’s mum.
Interestingly, in a world without Lee Lim, Seo-Ryung ends up in prison for her crimes as an assemblywoman. Lee Lim’s involvement in Seo-Ryung’s life must have gone even deeper than we thought and he might even have had a role to play in her rise to power as Prime Minister. It’s unfortunate this angle was never fully explored and never fully clear as well, about what the deal between the two of them was.
After reuniting, Tae-Eul and Lee Gon have been using the magic flute to take weekend trips on dates to different time periods. They first find out which year they are in so they will not run into their counterparts. In 2020, they are at Corea Universe and they go to a café where Prince Buyeong is at, and he gets to see Tae-Eul. Our playful king also packs some leaves in the suitcase, in case they end up in ‘that time period’. Ha!
Lee Gon also sees Sin-Jae in Korea in 1994, who runs off to save someone in an accident. He also visits Eun-sup in 2022, who works with NIS, has a driver’s license now and is together happily with Na-Ri.
In a very fun sequence, they return to that moment earlier in the series where Yeong was looking for him and Lee Gon appeared with Tae-Eul on Maximums. They take a way through the beach so nobody can see them, but Court Lady Noh meets them again. They decide they have to erase video footage of her appearance, and they realise that Yeong is passing a secret note to Seung-A. It’s really cute and funny.
Back in Korea, we see Jangmi has joined the police force and this time, he’s macho and competent. In the Kingdom of Corea, Lee Gon appoints his secretary as the new Prime Minister.
The episode ends both Tae-Eul and Lee Gon going to watch a movie, “Barefooted Youth”, hand in hand.
“No matter what kind of a door opens before us in life
And even if the moments we share make us sad at times
I wish to be able to love tirelessly
Just like that, we decided to love the fate that chose us.
Just for today, and only for today. And forever.”
The idea of ‘loving tirelessly’ is a fitting one to end the series. For both Lee Gon and Tae-Eul, their love required so much from them – waiting, travelling across universes, battling with Lee Lim’s forces and doppelgangers. Fate may have chosen them, but loving that fate requires them to take many actions to ensure that fate came to pass and was not obstructed by Lee Lim. With so much uncertainty and danger, they had decided earlier to just treasure each day they had, and they continue to take this approach as they grow old together.
TKEM’s finale is well-constructed and meaningfully pieced together, tying together stories and scenes from many earlier episodes. While the show may have been less consistent in the rules of time travel, it has definitely been detailed and attentive in telling the stories of the different lives involved. Kudos to the entire team for making this such a wonderful and engaging drama!