[Discuss Away!] Our Blooming Youth: Episodes 19-20 Finale

And so it finally ends. We witness how everything concludes for the characters in ‘Our Blooming Youth’ after 10 long, brutal, and complex weeks. There were many secrets, many challenges, many lives lost, and plenty of bumps on the road. But there were also wonderful things that bloomed and blossomed throughout the hard-fought journey including long-lasting friendships, relationships, and romance. The drama was bittersweet in that there was so much to unpack in the final episode, but there is also so much to be excited and hopeful about. Here’s to new beginnings.

Note: I only usually write this note in my recap for the final episode of a drama but I wanted to extend it to this review post because.. well.. I sort of felt as if I was recapping ‘Our Blooming Youth’ every week even though I really wasn’t. It was the first thing I watched on Monday’s and Tuesday’s and it was also the first 20-episode drama that I’ve finished in a long while. Though the drama wasn’t perfect by any means, I enjoyed every single episode and felt as if it was a well-written drama with good intentions. I’d like to thank you all who joined me in my review posts for this drama and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! So with that being said, onto my final review for the finale..

While last week’s episodes focused on Tae-gang and his twin Tae-san, the finale focused on the Queen as well as her people of Byeokcheon. We learned more about her background, her marriage with leader Song, the struggles that she faced along with her people, the details behind the attack against them, and more. We also learned about her entry into the palace as the Queen and how she faked a relationship with Right State Councilor Cho in order to become the Queen. The people of Byeokcheon were innocent in all of this; they just simply wanted to feel as if they were a part of the country and reached out to the King for help via a letter. Their plans and wishes got interrupted by Right State Councilor Cho and the Minister of Justice and things went downhill for them from there. Then when they got attacked, they stood their ground and stood up for themselves. This unfortunately led to the tragic deaths of the Byeokcheon people, including leader Song and also led the Byeokcheon people to hide in isolation in a secret village – fearful of the consequences if their affiliation was to be discovered. This also compelled the Queen to enact her revenge plan against the Royal Family. The people of Byeokcheon suffered for an entire decade.

In the end, Lee Hwan, Jae-yi, and the team worked together to come up with a plan that pointed towards a better and stronger future. They defeated and rightfully punished Right State Councilor Cho and the Minister of Justice for their cruel and harsh actions. The Queen was let go from the palace. Lee Hwan rose up to rule the nation as the King while his father recovered from an illness. Jae-yi was able to live in a new house that Lee Hwan prepared for her and teach young students the Korean alphabet as she had previously hinted to Lee Hwan. Ga-ram and Myeong-jin remained together as master and student but their relationship also pointed towards something more romantic. But most importantly, Seong-on was instated as the governor of Byeokcheon where those impacted by the tragic events from a decade ago now live together. Lee Hwan stood by his words and fulfilled the vows and promises he made to them. He made it his goal to show his support to the Byeokcheon people and to earn their trust again. It won’t happen overnight; the process to earning that trust will take years just like how the process to recovery and health for the people of Byeokcheon will take years. But it’s safe to say that they will slowly but surely feel safe enough and will feel protected by the members of the Royal Family sometime in the future. They will once again feel like the people of Joseon like how they wanted to all along.

I liked how multi-dimensional the story of the Byeokcheon rebellion and people were and also how conflicted it all made me feel. It’s complex and complicated in that the Queen, Tae-san, and Court Lady Kwon were vicious and brutal in the process of getting revenge. They were hurt and their people were hurt and their people died so they wanted to inflict the same damage, hurt, and pain on their attackers. That unfortunately extended to Jae-yi’s family and then obviously the Royal Family. And as much as I wanted to reason or understand why the Queen and her team did what they did, it still didn’t justify or erase the fact that innocent lives and people were killed along the way. At one point in the final episode, Jae-yi expressed her frustration and disappointment to Lee Hwan after learning the truth about what happened a decade ago. The people of Byeokcheon were wrongfully attacked, murdered, and killed so in the process of getting revenge and standing up for themselves, they did the same to those who they perceived as threats.

I think it’s okay to sympathize for the people of Byeokcheon and the pain and tragedy that they experienced for an entire decade. But I also think Jae-yi’s conflicting feelings and thoughts were valid as well. There were many innocent lives taken away throughout this vicious cycle and her family was a part of that. Her family did nothing wrong. They had no part in the execution or the killings or the fights. So I could see why she was hurt and frustrated and why the pain of losing her family was still so fresh in her mind. Lee Hwan eventually explained to Jae-yi his intentions in cutting that vicious cycle and how they had to eliminate the root cause for the rebellion in the first place. I also agreed with what he said as well as how he approached the people of Byeokcheon in gaining and securing their trust. It wasn’t so much about him but more so about his people and integrating them back into society. Similar to what he said in episode 13, this is the version of Joseon that he wanted to create as the Crown Prince and it’s also something that his brother would have also wanted or would have also done. These words comforted Jae-yi and allowed her to find a place in her heart to forgive the people of Byeokcheon for what they did to her and her family. But at the same time, I also felt for Jae-yi in how heartbreaking it was that her family died throughout this process. It also made complete sense as to why the last words her father parted with her was for her to protect the Crown Prince.

Another thing I thought was interesting was how much emphasis the Queen placed on Lee Hwan and how determined she was to eliminate him as if he was the one who committed all the murders and the deaths from a decade ago. It was also interesting the way the people of Byeokcheon were so cautious of him when he arrived at their secret village. Granted, they had gone through so much for the past decade and they’ve lost their trust in the Royal Family so it made sense that they were wary and doubtful of Lee Hwan’s intentions. And the drama also needed a way to move forward with the plot where Lee Hwan would work with the Byeokcheon people to defeat their enemies and work his way back into gaining their trust.

But at the same time, I’m curious as to what things would have looked like if the Queen used that same energy on attacking Right State Councilor Cho who was the actual person behind the evil killings and tragedy. I get that he was the key piece that allowed the Queen to enter the palace in the first place and that he held a pretty important and powerful position. But what would things have looked like if the Queen had also done more to get back at Right State Councilor Cho? There was even one point in the drama where she was furious at him and vowed to hurt him or something along those lines. It was so fascinating (and scary) to watch the Queen be so hateful towards who we thought at the time was her Uncle. For the Queen, her plan was more about finding a way for the Grand Prince to take over the position of Crown Prince for a hopeful transition to the King instead of getting revenge on Right State Councilor Cho. Then once this plan was successful, she would then get back at Right State Councilor Cho afterwards. I think there was untapped potential into exploring this internal conflict and fight between the Queen vs. Right State Councilor Cho and watching them go up against each other a little bit more.

Throughout the course of this 10-week period, we were given little clues and hints here and there. Though we didn’t get much every episode, we always made progress and was one tiny step closer to discovering the truth behind the curse in the ghost letter that was written to Lee Hwan as well as the tragic deaths of Jae-yi’s family. Now that the drama has ended and I take a step back to reflect, this drama basically had three groups or components to it: Lee Hwan and the royal family, the people of Byeokcheon, and then Jae-yi and her family. You’d think that the drama would be a lot more complicated with multiple layers and levels to it, but if you stop and take a step back from the drama, the premise of the show was essentially that the people of Byeokcheon were wrongfully attacked and killed so the Queen – a member of the Byeokcheon people – executed a secret plan a decade later where her son would inherit the position as the Crown Prince. That then lead to the investigation that involved Lee Hwan and Jae-yi who got down to the bottom of things from the beginning to the end.

I know I made it seem and sound a lot easier than it actually was, but my point here is that I found it fascinating and interesting how the drama was able to expand this premise into twenty long and grueling episodes with plenty of twists and turns and clues peppered throughout. While watching the drama as it was airing, I feared that the drama was too ambitious. I wasn’t sure as to what was going to unravel or what would happen to our characters or what the reason for Jae-yi’s family’s deaths and Lee Hwan’s ghost letter was. I thought there were too many things going on. I wasn’t sure if the drama would be able to balance all the characters and sub-plots and relationships. It felt never-ending. But then the drama was able to tie all back together and showcased to us how everything was interconnected in a way that made sense. I liked that things we saw back in episode 5 appeared in episode 20 such as Lee Hwan and his shoveling. I liked that there was consistency in this drama. The details that we saw earlier in the drama appeared once again in the final episode so this was one of those dramas where the writing stayed consistent throughout. There weren’t any big dramatic changes or cheap cop-outs implemented at the last second out of convenience or laziness. Did I think episodes 19 and 20 were rushed? Of course, I did. But did I have issues with the content and the writing itself? No. I liked what the drama gave us with the finale; I just would have liked to see it about two or three episodes earlier so that the final two episodes could have been devoted to showing us more of the aftermath for our characters.

So with that being said, I still enjoyed the drama and felt positively about it even if the pacing became a bigger issue that stood out to me in the final act of the drama. My preference would have been if episodes 17-20 were pushed up a little earlier so that episodes 19 and 20 could have then been dedicated to showing us what life was life for all of our characters. In episode 20, we got a time jump of a year later where we witnessed the new chapters in each of our characters’ lives (also, I sometimes can have a strong opinion on time jumps one way or the other but I actually liked the time jump in this final episode. I think it made sense because we needed to see how Lee Hwan was working to gain the trust of his people a year later). It was nice to see Seong-on as the governor for the people of Byeokcheon. I had tears in my eyes at the sight of Jae-yi and Ga-ram cleaning Jae-yi’s new beautiful house – an indication that she’s moved forward with her tragic past and can look forward to a brighter future doing what she wanted. My heart was full watching Lee Hwan grow, accept, process, and be comfortable in the palace as the King – a position that he was vulnerable, insecure, and doubtful about throughout the course of the show. I was happy to see Ga-ram and Myeong-jin maintain their relationship and work together with hopes for something more. I cried at the sight of our Grand Prince reunited with his mother. Even if she was not the same as she was once (how interesting is it that she tried to trick the Crown Prince into drinking the fish eggs only for her to be the one to drink it in the end), the Grand Prince was so happy to just finally be with his mother again. The final episode showed us the endings for the characters and I would have absolutely enjoyed it even more if the drama gave us more insight and details into each of their endings by spreading it out in episodes 19 and 20. Unfortunately, the slow pace from the first half caught up to them in the second half so the final two episodes became a lot busier than I would have liked.

Even though the drama focused way more on plot progression in the last few episodes, I still enjoyed the character development and growth throughout its run. There were certain moments and scenes in episodes 19 and 20 that were so emotional and sentimental to me. Anytime the characters revisited a part of their hurtful and painful past, it made me tear up and want to cry. One of those being when Ga-ram and Myeong-jin visited Jae-yi’s old house to retrieve the tombstone of leader Song. When Ga-ram arrived at the house, it brought back memories for her (both good and bad) and that house contained a lot of memories highlighting Ga-ram and Jae-yi’s beautiful friendship. The scene in episode 20 when Seong-on burned the Approval of Marriage letter that at one point formalized his marriage to Jae-yi was also bittersweet. It was difficult for Seong-on to accept the fact that his fiancee was no longer in love with him, but I liked that he didn’t hold anything against Jae-yi or Lee Hwan and that he let go of this part of his past.

Of course, we can’t talk about character development and growth without mentioning Jae-yi and Lee Hwan. They were our central characters and the driving force in the investigation that lead to everything. And for the both of them, it wasn’t so much about getting revenge on the people who hurt them (the people who killed Jae-yi’s family or sent the ghost letter) but more so about discovering the truth. That was something that I had to remind myself especially while watching the finale. Jae-yi and Lee Hwan’s intentions in working together was never to get revenge but rather to solve the interconnected mystery that plagued their lives, respectively. They wanted to get down to the bottom of things and to find out the truth about how and why these things had happened to them.

Lee Hwan was someone who despised the position as the Crown Prince because 1) he never wanted it and 2) he believed his brother would have been much more successful and triumphant in the role and 3) he suffered from the inaccurate reputation and rumors after inheriting the position. Throughout the drama, we saw him struggle with these internal thoughts and conflicts. He only ever felt comfortable and safe enough to share this vulnerability with Jae-yi. We also witnessed him bloom in this role in certain ways such as when he took care of our two little village siblings. So we knew Lee Hwan had it in him all along but there were certain factors that prevented him from being able to fully execute and accept the power and expectations that came with the position. Then by the end of episode 20, we saw Lee Hwan in full form as the King ruling the nation and excelling in it. It’s a position and a reality that he had to fully accept and process overtime, but now that he was able to solve the mystery behind the ghost letter, there was this weight lifted off his chest. He is now able to serve his people as the ruler that he wants to be and should be for the people of Joseon.

I also was a big fan of Jae-yi’s ending. Similar to the other characters, she too let go of her past and progressed to a new chapter in her life. I liked that she didn’t return to her old house marked by tragedy and pain. Although it was her house growing up and there were many great memories that she created there, it would have been difficult for her to not be reminded of what happened there. Therefore, I was relieved and happy that she lived in a new house teaching young kids like how she wanted to. The drama hinted about it back in episode 15 and this drama amazed and impressed me once again with its consistency. Jae-yi lived in a new house like how she wanted which the drama teased five episodes ago. Little did we know, what we saw in episode 15 became true for Jae-yi and it’s what she deserved. After all that she’s gone through, she can finally live in peace. She won’t have to run any longer; she can rest and relax peacefully in that new house of hers doing what she loves and enjoys best.

Speaking of Jae-yi and Lee Hwan, I can’t talk about the finale without mentioning their relationship! We finally got Jae-yi’s confession to Lee Hwan in episode 19 and then he returned the confession an episode later at the very end of episode 20 (with plentyyy of things happening in between that time LOL). I’m glad that they got their happy ending. I don’t want to say that I had any doubts, but I also would not have been surprised if either Lee Hwan or Jae-yi didn’t make it out alive given just how dangerous and risky it was at times. Therefore, I’m glad that they were both alive at the end and still very much in love. Lee Hwan was clearly lovesick and he requested that Jae-yi go back with him to the palace because he couldn’t bare to be without her for long (especially after spending so much time being attached by the hips! I get it, Lee Hwan! I get it!). But at the same time, I’m curious as to how their future looks like. Lee Hwan remained in the palace, but Jae-yi technically can’t become the Crown Princess/Queen because both of her parents aren’t alive so she doesn’t meet that requirement. Will an exception be made for her? Will she and Lee Hwan still somehow be able to get married? Or will they just maintain this kind of relationship where they’re in love? Don’t get me wrong – I loved that they were still together at the end. But I’m dying to know what their future together looks like. What’s going to happen to them? I wished the drama had hinted something about that in the ending scene when Lee Hwan visited Jae-yi and confessed to her. It would have been perfect if along with the confession, he also mentioned how he would integrate and implement Jae-yi and their relationship into his life someway somehow. What does their future together look like?

But even with my burning questions about their future, I appreciate the strong relationship that Jae-yi and Lee Hwan had with each other. It could have been easy for them to just give up, let go, and call it quits after all that they went through during their investigation. It felt so difficult to find and earn every single hint and clue. Things got confusing. There was even one point in the drama where Lee Hwan lost his trust in Jae-yi and they were separated for like three-quarters of an episode. But it was through the trials and errors that Jae-yi and Lee Hwan learned how to persevere and push forward. They were each other’s source of strength, comfort, and hope. They were each other’s homes. One of my favorite things about their relationship even from the very beginning when they were still on bad terms was how vulnerable they were with each other. One of my favorite scenes was in episode 2 when Lee Hwan shared his deepest and darkest fears about his brother to Jae-yi. So the two were not afraid to be vulnerable with each other from the start and I loved that aspect about their relationship. They were fated to love each other.

I also loved how they were there for each other through it all in every single moment. I loved how they kept on indirectly confessing to each other in almost every single episode about how grateful they were to have met and how they couldn’t have done it without the other. Lee Hwan and Jae-yi’s feelings towards each other were always positive. There were no serious fights or arguments. Nothing that screamed makjang and drama just for the sake of drama. They were loud and vocal about their support for each other and weren’t shy in communicating, expressing, and showing their love. Though the actual confessions didn’t arrive until the final two episodes, it was clear that Jae-yi and Lee Hwan had already developed a beautiful relationship founded on trust and strength long before that.

Now that the drama has ended, I also wanted to take this time to talk a bit about the cast as well as the scriptwriter, Jung Hyun-jung. I’ve heard of their other works including the ‘In Need of Romance’ series as well as ‘Lovestruck in the City’ but just didn’t really care too much to check it out. Then I also watched ‘Romance is a Bonus Book’ and enjoyed that drama even though I didn’t remember too much about it. There are certain scriptwriters whose work I’ve heard about or who I look out for and I think I’ll add this writer onto my list of writers on my good side. I’ve been impressed with two of their dramas so far and even if the pacing to ‘Our Blooming Youth’ was a bit problematic at times, that was really the only warning that stood out to me (which actually wasn’t that big of an issue in the end anyways). Because I also enjoyed this drama, I was a bit sad to watch the finale. I’m afraid that the withdrawals will be real and strong and that it will take me a while to move on (but I will admit that it’d be fun to re-watch this drama just to see if there are any clues and hints to pick up on the second time around, haha). Also, I’m glad that ‘Our Blooming Youth’ was a drama lead by Park Hyung-sik that turned out to be a much more enjoyable and pleasant watch than his other drama ‘Happiness’ (just my opinion and preference, lol). Both dramas I tuned in for him but one was remarkably better for me than the other. Thank you to Park Hyung-sik for not only leading a good project but also playing a Crown Prince in this good project. We are truly blessed to have watched Park Hyung-sik dressed up in beautiful hanbok as our Crown Prince.

All in all, ‘Our Blooming Youth’ was delightful to watch and I found myself enjoying every episode. Even as slow as it was, there were still so many things about this drama that I liked. Even if you could have skipped until the very end and essentially just watch episode 20 to figure out what this drama was about and how it ended for everyone, I still liked most of what I saw in the 19 episodes prior. ‘Our Blooming Youth’ was one of those dramas where there was a lot going on with each passing episode that built up over time but there also was not a whole lot going on from a macro point of view. But what this drama was about was letting go of the past and working towards building a brighter, better, and stronger future. There might not be much that can be done to excuse, erase, and make up for past actions and mistakes, but there are plenty of lessons to learn from so that history will not repeat itself. Reality might have been gloomy and dark for the characters in the beginning, but their happy endings and new beginnings is proof that things are slowly but surely blooming.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: