[Alternate Endings] Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Take 2
by Guest Beanie
[I’m sure we’ve ALL rewritten the ending to this drama in our heads. Problem is, there are almost too many things to fix to know where to start. Here are two different options from fellow Beanies to help you decide. –girlfriday]
There have been a lot of things said about Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. Some people love it and others love to hate it. It has been criticized for so many things and, admittedly, for an entirely pre-produced show there is no reason why it couldn’t have been better. I confess, though, that they had me. I saw Moon Lovers for what it wanted to be, even if it failed to live up to its own aspirations. It was a drama that stripped away the fantasy of royalty, reducing it down to its basest, most unappealing reality. Those that want the throne do as they will until they possess it, after which there is no escape from the torment, dangers, and restrictions of the very thing they had once craved.
The production managed to take a king committed to the history books in a very two-dimensional way and make him (if not historically accurate) a vibrant, living, and breathing force with wounds and flaws and needs. I understood the struggle in a kill-or-be-killed world where he believed that the only way to protect the things he cared about was take the throne. And I grieved with him as the reality slowly set in and he realized the error of his calculation. I was willing to play along, putty in the production’s hands… right up until the ending.
I cannot describe the horror (that I am sure I shared with most of you) I felt when after 20 hours of laughter and tears, ups and downs, and general emotional investment, my television screen froze in that final frame in what was supposed to be (?) a happy ending but wasn’t. It wasn’t BAD exactly… but it left me with more questions than answers. Did So find Su again as he had promised he would? What happened to So and Su’s daughter? Did So really accept a life filled with utter loneliness in exchange for the crown? Was all of it for nothing? I was in limbo, still searching for the reward and validation I had sought in an ending, some sort of payoff that would make the journey worth all of the heartbreak I had endured.
When it comes to drama endings, generally expectations can be divided into several categories. Was the viewer searching for emotional or romantic payoff? I confess, I was a bit greedy with this drama. I wanted both. I wanted Su’s years spent in Goryeo to mean something more than simply the rebranding of a king’s image in the eyes of history. Her presence in So’s life meant something to him as a person, not just a political figure. For me there could be no happy ending while So is alone, and since the drama made it clear it couldn’t be in Goryeo, then it had to be in the future. So was a character who went to great lengths to achieve his goals, so it isn’t that far-fetched to believe that his desire for a happy ending would propel him even into the 21st century to achieve it.
There are so many directions this story could have taken, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s stick with the setup they provided us in the final episode with just a few tweaks. I can believe that a mother’s love and concern for her child could motivate her to sever ties with the man she struggled for so long and fought so hard to be with. Su’s experience of the crown justifiably makes her cautious to risk her child’s life by allowing her to be born a royal child. I can also believe that So’s grudge against his brother Jung is strong enough that it would prevent him from reading what he thought were his brother’s letters and thus missing his chance to reconcile with Su.
We see our storylines in Goryeo wrapping themselves up but we know nothing about what has become of Su after her death in this era. Ji Mong comes to say his goodbye to So, taking this opportunity to mention that Su was not from their era. So does not seem surprised at this.
He remembers a conversation he had with Su when she had spoken of what their life would be like if they had met in a different time, that it would have been wonderful because she could have loved him all she wanted. Ji Mong leaves So alone as the eclipse washes over the sky, bathing the world in gloom. As the world is swallowed in darkness, So resolves that if she really is from another time that he will find her again, that in his next life he will not settle for the same loneliness he experienced in this one.
Water was the conduit by which Su passed from her world into theirs, and so it is also the method by which she returns. Su opens her eyes in the lake, still drowning, still in that lake for the length of a decade in Goryeo, but only seconds in the 21st century. She sees a hand reach down into the water and grasp her own, and when she finally emerges through the water’s surface she sees that it is So whose hand she is holding. With a smile, he pulls her into the boat and she stares at him in shock for a moment but he looks at her knowingly, relief evident on his face.
“I found you,” he says, “At last.”
She stares at him in disbelief as she recalls So having told her to prepare herself, for the moment she touched his face she became his and he would never let her go.
Jump forward 10 years to an apartment in Seoul filled with photographs of So and Su’s life together in this century, some of them mirroring those in the past. They are seated around the table with their daughter, finally having the family they should have had in the past. (Because a happy ending for me also has to include that poor, abandoned daughter!) They are helping her with her homework. It’s history. Goryeo in the time of Gwangjong. Together they teach their daughter the impact of their relationship in the past on history, leaving out a few key details.
Su achieved what she set out to do in Goryeo, but not at the expense of their own happy ending. Turns out, Taejo’s final words weren’t true. Life isn’t short and miserable and fleeting when you have people you love to share it with.
If I could rewrite Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo with a different female lead
Endings are always difficult creatures to grasp. Regardless of how well a story was written, the ending could cause it to crash and burn, or remain a treasured memory in our minds forever. The ending of a story plays a significant role in its fate, and for Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, it was the bitter cherry on top of a steep, slippery slope. At the end, I only had these burning questions: Where did it all start to go so terribly wrong, and why did I continue watching it despite that?
The latter was easier to answer. I chugged on mainly because of my soft spot for So (helped along by the fact that he was played by Lee Jun-ki) and because I’m a sucker for when characters defy the odds to live happily ever after… (or so I thought they would). The former question was a bigger problem.
I think my main issue with the show was that the female lead made my blood pressure rise whenever she did anything. I couldn’t support her decisions nor root for her, and by the last episode I was ready to throw a brick through my screen. My heart went out to So, who had done anything and everything just to be able to be with her, only to be denied his happiness. Su, on the other hand, had doubted him constantly, and her words of support were empty when the time came to stand by them. Su tried to save everyone at the expense of So’s feelings, forgetting that she needed to save him from his insecurities. She unrealistically wanted to be everybody’s friend, and her inability to take a side and stick with it was akin to stamping the death warrants of all the princes.
Let’s rewind back to the moment Su made the decision to leave So, after Chae-ryung was killed. She wrote off Chae-ryung’s betrayal because she was a “girl in love” but turned against So even though he was, well, just a “man in love.” Erm, double standards, Su?
I’m fine with Su not being able to marry So, because it makes a lot more practical sense in that time period, and Gwangjong needed all the power he could garner. I even thought that Su should leave So and the palace for a while, because she was struggling to come to terms with the fact that he had just killed her only friend, never mind that said friend had betrayed her at every turn. Not only that, she was struggling to rediscover her place in the palace, and facing the harsh realities of not being able to legally marry the man she loved—something taken for granted in this modern time period. She needed time to let the hurt go, and in my alternate dramaverse, I think that a bit of time spent apart would not have harmed either of them.
However, in my alternate dramaverse, Su does not marry Jung. For Jung, who truly loved Su, I thought there was nothing crueler than having to live with her as his wife, knowing that Su only saw him as a friend and brother. I’ve never understood why Jung used his own handwriting to write on the envelopes of Su’s letters, despite knowing how much his brother hated him. (No, I did not take the whole “Su has similar handwriting to So” reason well). So should have ended up reading her letters and known that she did indeed love him. He could have tried to spend time with her in her last days in that cottage, and she could have left the world happily.
And sticking to the whole time-travel plotline, I would not even have minded the cliché of her meeting him again in this lifetime. Su looks at the painting of Gwangjong, and when she turns back, she sees the gallery owner, all dressed up in a spiffy suit, with that crooked smile So always had. I like happy endings, and I wanted a happy ending for So, because he deserved it.
But maybe if I could rewrite Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, I would have changed Su from the beginning to be a bit more scheming, loyal to the man she loved, and less easily influenced by her visions of the future. (Those darned visions!) No doubt that Su was warm and loyal and caring, but at the same time, she felt weak and immature.
So maybe the thing I would fix isn’t the ending, but the beginning.