Yong-pal: Episode 18 (Final)
We’ve come to the end of the road with Yong-pal, where love is the motivator for our characters to either climb upstairs or step downstairs to the world where the other is. For the doctor who would once resort to nearly anything to protect those he cherishes most, he’s given one last opportunity to face the world of the crocodiles. More tears are shed in this final hour, but it’s time to close up the surgical wounds and step away from the operation.
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
At the sound of Yeo-jin’s shrieks, the head maid finds Yeo-jin looking distressed in her bedchamber. Insisting that she’s fine, Yeo-jin drinks the likely drug-laced water by her bedside, but when she tries to put it back, it crashes to the floor instead.
But that’s not all—the head maid’s eyes go wide when Yeo-jin asks where her brother is… because she thinks today is the day of the party, the fateful one that took place over three years ago.
Although Tae-hyun can’t hide his happiness after seeing Yeo-jin last night, he does share his concern over Yeo-jin’s health since he doesn’t know what’s wrong.
While Tae-hyun is busy ruminating over that, our geeky hacker is actually doing something about it by hacking into the security system. Despite a close call with Secretary Min, he manages to download Yeo-jin’s medical scans.
Upon receiving the restraining order, Tae-hyun calls Chae-young, who appears to have been waiting for his call. Since Tae-hyun can’t reach Yeo-jin, Chae-young agrees to go and meet her on his behalf.
She and the shareholders are currently gathered in Yeo-jin’s office, and the men believe victory is within their reach. But Chae-young says it’s too early to pop the champagne just yet because Tae-hyun isn’t someone to be trifled with. Given his current behavior, agree to disagree?
The hacker brings the CT scans straight to Tae-hyun, who confirms that this patient has liver cancer. Reading the scans more closely and seeing that they were taken at Hanshin gives him pause, and he’s told that these are Yeo-jin’s scans.
Chae-young plays dumb when Tae-hyun calls her again about the possibility of cancer, though he tells her that it’s simply speculation. He also asks her to relay a message: “When you meet her… tell her that I’ll go up to the thirteenth floor. Tell her she doesn’t have to force herself to come down to the first floor.”
Once Chae-young arrives, she makes a grab for a cup of water meant for Yeo-jin, only to be signaled by the other maid not to consume it. Seeing this, the head maid confirms to herself that it was the water after all.
Chae-young’s visit to Yeo-jin is a short and mostly silent one, since the latter sits at the edge of the bed, unresponsive to her callings. That has Chae-young think she’s just being ignored, putting a damper on actually getting to enjoy her revenge.
Still, Chae-young makes it sound like all of Tae-hyun’s questions were answered when she calls him afterward. It’s cancer all right and Yeo-jin likely sent the restraining order against Tae-hyun because it was getting too hard to see him—last night’s visit was to see his face one last time.
Tae-hyun has to hold back his tears upon hearing that Yeo-jin’s days are numbered, then asks after Yeo-jin’s reply to his message. Since Chae-young doesn’t know the couple’s secret code language, she lies about Yeo-jin’s supposed answer, saying that Yeo-jin said she won’t ever go to the twelfth floor nor to his clinic and will just stay at home.
If those words strike odd to Tae-hyun, he doesn’t let Chae-young know it. Secretary Min pulls up to the house just then, and although he and Chae-young exchange smiles, there’s still an underlying hatred for one another.
After we watch Tae-hyun scrutinize every single step of how his message was relayed and what he heard in return, Secretary Min looks quite relaxed while hearing about how much Yeo-jin has progressed.
He chuckles at the head maid’s recommendation to carry on this conversation elsewhere lest the rest of the staff overhear, because he isn’t the least bit worried since Yeo-jin’s condition is terminal now. Well that escalated quickly.
Secretary Min agrees to the head maid’s next suggestion of moving Yeo-jin to the guest house since her deteriorating health may encourage gossip. It just so happens the manor is expecting guests tonight—Chae-young and her cronies—to rewrite Yeo-jin’s will.
Speaking of whom, Yeo-jin is looking pale and sickly when she’s wheeled into the guesthouse. The maid drugging her water is dismissed, and when Yeo-jin asks for some water, the head maid destroys the pitcher. Couldn’t you have just poured out the water instead?
“You must not… drink this water,” the head maid tells her. Her eyes fill with tears when Yeo-jin insists with an empty look in her eyes that she’s thirsty. The head maid begs for Yeo-jin to come to her senses. “Pull yourself together, Yeo-jin-ah,” she desperately cries. “What’s wrong with you?! Yeo-jin-ah!”
Meanwhile, Tae-hyun is still trying to put two and two together in his office. So it’s a good thing his bodyguard comes in to spell out more of the puzzling details, though he lets slip that he’s still technically Tae-hyun’s bodyguard per Yeo-jin’s orders.
Other than Yeo-jin, the head maid is the only person who knows about it, so when the bodyguard calls her, the head maid speaks cryptically in case someone is wire-tapping their calls (which they are).
The important takeaways from her message about coming to pick up the ring that’s still here waiting for him are that there are guests coming tonight, and that there’s no one to chase out the neighboring dog without him around. Since that means little to nothing to the other security personnel, those notes are thrown out.
But Tae-hyun has figured it out: that Yeo-jin is staying in the guesthouse and to come take her away before their guests arrive tonight.
As for the clue about the neighboring dog, the bodyguard recalls the opening in the fence he made to make sure the dog left the grounds safely. That’s the same entrance he and Tae-hyun use to sneak back in, and the bodyguard takes down a guard so that Tae-hyun can enter.
When he discovers that the doors are locked, Tae-hyun charges through them. He sees Yeo-jin sitting in a wheelchair and staring blankly out the window. He grabs her hand and calls out to her and slowly but surely recognition sinks into her face. “Tae-hyun-ah…”
In a scared voice she asks, “It’s really you, right? It’s you, isn’t it?” He says it is, and Yeo-jin wraps her arms around him and sobs, thankful that he showed up.
So when Chae-young, Secretary Min, and the other shareholders gather together to discuss Yeo-jin’s will, they’re interrupted by the announcement of her arrival. Tae-hyun carefully assists Yeo-jin down the stairs, and the mere sight of her leaves everyone shocked.
Secretary Min calls for security to apprehend them, but that’s when Yeo-jin tells him that he’s fired. She orders the men to remove the guests from HER house.
Outside the gates, Detective Lee and his squad are waiting to apprehend people, since Tae-hyun called him earlier that day. Just when he wonders if they should leave, the gates magically open.
Greeted by the head maid, they’re asked to wait, but it isn’t long before the shareholders are tossed out and read their laundry list of charges including, but not limited to: trespassing, kidnapping, unlawful confinement and poisoning an individual.
When Secretary Min demands to see a warrant, Detective Lee says he doesn’t need one because the owner of the house called to throw out the thieves in her house. So practically everyone from Secretary Min to Chae-young to the corrupt maid is dragged away by the police.
But they aren’t out of the woods just yet because Yeo-jin suddenly faints. Tae-hyun rushes her over to Hanshin (why Tae-hyun. Why take her to the one place where people go to die?) and Yeo-jin asks him not to leave her. She has nothing to worry about because he’s not going anywhere.
Yeo-jin is put on dialysis and she wakes to see Tae-hyun sleeping by her bedside. When Chief Lee comes in to check on her, she makes it clear that he’s the last person on Earth she wants to see. But he’s here to clarify her actual illness: she’s been slowly ingesting a colorless, tasteless, and odorless poison iocaine—er, I mean ethionine that has led to acute liver cancer.
Despite the grave news, the prognosis isn’t all terrible: the cancer hasn’t spread to her other organs so it’s still operable. Of course it is. However, the surgery success rate is pretty low because the area overlaps with her previous surgery three years ago.
Her best shot to live is to allow Chief Lee to operate on her mostly because there’s no one else willing to perform the risky operation. Yeo-jin asks if this means the power dynamics between them have flipped, but Chief Lee corrects her—he’s just a doctor and she’s a patient.
That brings a small sad smile to her face as she wistfully remarks, “That’s right… you were once a doctor.”
Tears fall from her eyes as Yeo-jin says she had hoped to live happily with Tae-hyun for a little longer. All she’s done this entire time was hurt him in the name of her revenge, all to regain her title, she cries.
She pleads with Chief Lee to somehow buy her some extra time. “I want to make [Tae-hyun] happy.” Chief Lee takes a moment and promises to do so.
Because Yeo-jin requires a liver transplant, the head maid offers up her own because she discovered that she was a match three years ago. Chief Lee takes note of it.
While Chief Lee works tirelessly in his office, Yeo-jin falls asleep while talking to Tae-hyun. Nurse Oh stop him from waking her up because she’s likely exhausted. Chief Lee looks somber when Tae-hyun asks him about a possible organ donor because Yeo-jin cannot be cured by a transplant surgery alone.
No one is willing to perform the risky operation, which is when Tae-hyun says that he’ll do it. I… I… I’ve got nothing. At least Chief Lee has enough sense to tell Tae-hyun to get a grip. If he didn’t have a conscience like his past self, he probably would’ve allowed Tae-hyun to let Yeo-jin die on his operating table.
But he’s a new man thanks to Tae-hyun, and he will not let Tae-hyun destroy himself. Tae-hyun breaks down in tears. All isn’t lost yet, Chief Lee says, because a group of specialists will discuss her case.
At the meeting, things start to look hopeful, but then all the specialists state that it’s near impossible upon seeing the CT scans before logging off in turn. The conference room full of doctors file out as well.
So Tae-hyun asks Chief Lee to perform the surgery because he was the one who saved Yeo-jin all those years ago. While that may be true, Chief Lee says he cannot do it now. Tae-hyun gets down on his knees and tearfully begs him to save Yeo-jin again.
Chief Lee lets out a sigh and a tear rolls down Yeo-jin’s cheek.
Yeo-jin catches Tae-hyun off-guard when she says she doesn’t want to get the surgery. He claims a surgeon who’s willing to operate on her will turn up, and she calls him out for being a terrible liar.
She asks him why he hasn’t given her a ring yet, and he answers that he was going to give it to her when they returned to the windy hill. So she asks that he take her there now, and he promises to take her when she’s fully recovered after her surgery.
He refuses to go now, firmly believing that there will be a next time, and she says that this could be her final wish. That persuades him, and in the ambulance ride over, Yeo-jin asks if she can make it to the top. Even if it’s tough, she’s determined to make the journey.
Someone arrives in Korea and aiieeeeee! It’s Cynthia! And a new kid sitting next to her in the taxi. But back to the windy hill where Tae-hyun carries Yeo-jin on his back and jokes that she’s heavy.
They’ve finally made it to the top and Yeo-jin wonders why it took them so long to return to this place. Tae-hyun takes out the ring from its box and places it on Yeo-jin’s finger.
Yeo-jin marvels at how pretty it is, and Tae-hyun sheds a tear before repeating that if a couple shares a kiss here a second time, they’ll never part. And then Tae-hyun goes in for a soft kiss that leads to another and then another.
Cynthia and her visitor head over to Hanshin, because she’s heard about the predicament with Yeo-jin’s surgery. That’s why she’s brought her business partner with her, introducing him as Yong-pal. Er, say what?
But that answer has to wait while we go back to the windy hill, where Tae-hyun takes Chief Lee’s call to bring Yeo-jin back to the hospital. He tries shaking Yeo-jin awake because they have to go, but her head lolls to the side, unresponsive.
Tae-hyun makes it back to Hanshin to be introduced to New Yong-pal, who makes illegal house calls like Tae-hyun once did. He’s here to operate on Yeo-jin.
When they open Yeo-jin up, it’s worse than they expected. While Ex-Yong-pal works alongside New Yong-pal, the head maid is prepped for her surgery. Chief Lee is given the green light to take over, and Tae-hyun tells Yeo-jin in voiceover to hang in there.
Fade to white. Then we hear Yeo-jin’s voice narrate, “One must wake up to escape a bad dream. But if one cannot wake up, the nightmare continues. Therefore that nightmare becomes yet another reality, and that reality will never cease to end… until he calls my name.”
And as if on cue, Tae-hyun calls, “Yeo-jin-ah, do you hear me?” She opens her eyes. He asks if she knows who he is, she answers in her head: “Yong-pal.”
But is he? Yes, he called your name, but you can’t possibly be trying to tell me that this guy is the Yong-pal we all once knew. Because here I thought that he stopped identifying himself with that alias ages ago.
If the attempt here is to make the show’s title relevant by tossing out the name in the final seconds of the last episode, then I’m sorry to say that it falls short. If anything, it puzzles me because Yong-pal is a name that has hardly been associated with Tae-hyun for a large part of the middle stretch of this series, Yeo-jin barely knew him when he was still running around as Yong-pal and making out-of-hospital house calls, and that it was the name Kim Tae-hyun that brought her hope in her emotional darkness. I can understand if the show is trying to make the story come full circle, but thinking about the journey that took us here, I can’t help but think that the show was scrambling to finish and tacked on the same opening narration.
But what really saddens me is all the opportunities that Yong-pal had at its disposal, and yet chose not to use them. In this final hour, Tae-hyun had an honest chance to stand up and be Yong-pal when it came to saving Yeo-jin, to have said “the hell with it” and insisted upon operating on her (…which he sort of did anyway). It would’ve have been totally nuts, yes, and I may not have agreed with it, but it would’ve given Tae-hyun a greater sense of responsibility than disappearing into the wallpaper like he has been ever since he was taken out of the hospital and a shadow of the older brother who would do anything to save his sister. What happened to the reckless, devil-may-care, Macgyver-esque surgeon? Not only that, it truly was a sad sight to see his former brilliance and medical knowledge slowly being sapped away from him with each passing episode until we reached a point where that highly competent doctor who could stick a tube into someone’s chest in seconds would later take a half-day to figure out why Chae-young said what she said… and still not quite know what was wrong.
This is all to say that by saying the alias Yong-pal at the end doesn’t shine the spotlight on a mostly absent aspect of the supposed hero. Especially when the focus was on building Yeo-jin to be a power heroine. Because by doing that, Tae-hyun’s character ended up falling to the wayside, relegated to be the guy sitting at home. Furthermore, if we were trying to highlight that Tae-hyun = Yong-pal in Yeo-jin’s eyes, then why the show would introduce New Yong-pal—who assumes that alias more than Tae-hyun has done for the majority of this series—baffles me. He may have been the other surgical option so that Tae-hyun wouldn’t have to operate (even though he did) but we’re led to believe that New Yong-pal and Chief Lee did most of the legwork in saving her. I don’t want to minimize Tae-hyun’s desperation in asking people to save Yeo-jin’s life, but he’s the least like Yong-pal out of the three of them. It would’ve been different if Tae-hyun had performed this surgery himself despite everyone telling him not to, saved Yeo-jin, and gave her reason to acknowledge him as Yong-pal (as a doctor who broke the rule and saved her life), or used Cynthia’s cameo to try and convince Tae-hyun to become Yong-pal once more, but that’s not what happened. What happened was the the new guy came in to save the day but the one who’s always been there gets the credit.
It always hurts when you see a show that could’ve been far more compelling than it ended up being. Yong-pal had a promising start with an intriguing revenge angle that I wanted to see how it would play out. And then somewhere during the series’ run, the revenge narrative that was grounded in Yeo-jin’s motivation to destroy her enemies ended up with killing off all of her enemies and with literal lofty talk about either climbing up to the thirteenth floor or coming down from it. Not only that, Chae-young’s revenge was a loosely woven scheme of a drug-induced liver cancer in which the rate of success has only been previously recorded in rat studies? Because that guarantees success?
I keep asking myself the question of what could’ve been if the series had opted to use some of their narrative cards at more strategic moments instead of trying to rush through certain elements. If it had chosen to sit upon some key aspects like the blossoming friendship between Tae-hyun and Yeo-jin for just a little longer, if it hadn’t killed off the most interesting characters so early before our heroine got to dive into her revenge, if we had learned about the truth regarding Tae-hyun’s past a little earlier or if we had seen more of a consequence to serious felonies than simply seeing a character’s sense of guilt.
In the midst of these what ifs, Yong-pal still achieved high numbers in the ratings department, surpassing the 20% threshold at times. There’s no doubt that there were times the show was still entertaining despite its brokenness and flaws, and a time when the show had my heart. But we believed in you Yong-pal, we called your name, and you were nowhere to be found. Or maybe I’m just waiting on the wrong floor.