"Descendants of the Sun" has come to an end and that fact feels a bit surreal as well as its rating of 38.8%. Not just as a viewer, but as a reviewer. Not just as a reviewer, but as an international drama fan watching the waves that this drama has made in the world of drama, and in the world itself. This drama is more than its story. It is enveloped in a hype that is currently unparalleled. In some ways, the show is well-worth its worldwide prestige. In others, it is not.
Let's break down this final review into parts.
The Last Episode in Isolation
As a finale, this episode wrapped up loose ends, delivered mountains of relevant, well-thought out fan service, and touched back on the themes it tried to develop throughout its sixteen episodes. Compared to other fan-oriented endings, "Descendants of the Sun" really made a distinct effort to keep the episode from dragging and keep the "cuteness" flowing. Couples reunited, recycled loved lines, bickered happily, loved, kissed, and made strides in solidifying their relationships. Friendships proved stronger than the distance that separated them. Humor filled the hour in a rather lovely way. In fact, I personally found the episode quite enjoyable. It allowed me to turn off my brain and just watch people come together as lovers, colleagues, comrades, friends. It capitalized on relationships. Reunions and happily ever afters dotted its landscape. Gi-beom and Dae-yeong are a particularly wonderful senior/junior relationship and Doctor Song and Nurse Ha are an example of love in a form quite different than the main pairings'. Not to mention the hysterical scene formed around the Red Velvet cameo, which was a smart move. They're a talented, successful girl group whose presence benefited "Descendants of the Sun" as much as the powerhouse drama helped boost their popularity.
Of course there were a few things that made me scratch my head. A few scenes were completely extraneous and didn't seem to fit the rest of the episode. The product placement was just as heavy as it was in the first week of the drama, but much more badly integrated. The writer in me is disappointed in the bow-tied ending because there is so much good material in the deaths of characters, in working through difficulties, and in concluding a drama with some remnant sadness; especially one about the brave souls who are peacekeepers at the cost of their own lives. It would've been nice to see some follow through on what it's like to be a surviving military wife or girlfriend. This is not to say that the show didn't explain how Mo-yeon or Myeong-joo were feeling when they believed their loved ones were dead, but its quite different to live with that news permanently.
In this vein, it was nice to see follow through in regards to how everyone in Si-jin's and Dae-yeong's lives felt relief at their safe return after being supposedly dead for a year. Although this show is tooted as a military romance, the other relationships are what flesh it out. In a different vein, I appreciated the play on the Korean belief and cultural systems. Si-jin appears on his year anniversary and actually munches on his death rites offerings, scaring the doctor's back into Korea into believing he's a ghost. What a wonderful play! Or when Si-jin and Mo-yeon flirt about Si-jin saving a country in his past life. It's a common phrase in Korean based on a long history of Eastern religion. And then Mo-yeon remarks that he'll be blessed in his next life because he's saving the country in his current life. I love plays on culture like that. It feels like all these juicy little moments were saved for this last episode.
As for the show's last moments, when Chi-hoon broke the fourth wall I was baffled because it was so unexpected. I'm not sure what to think of that. I do like that these soldiers and doctors who dedicate their lives to helping others are called again to their duties, but not so much in the manner the show did it. They were called to help with a volcano explosion. Ha. Paltry quibble. The episode, despite a few things here and there, was good as a stand alone episode and as a finale. Song Joong-ki was as charming as ever. Song Hye-kyo has been absolutely winning in the past few episodes, especially as she pitches the many fits Mo-yeon has that make her adorable. It takes skill not to make such antics seem paltry and trite.
I enjoyed the watching experience of the episode. Now let's take a look at the show as a whole.
The pre-production, as we all well know, is what made this show stand out a mile. It gave time for marketing and editing. It involved huge sums of money to deliver stunning locations shoots, realistic sets, and clever sound editing. The writers had time to think through their work instead of being chased by lack of time. All of this preparation made it possible for the show to simultaneously air in China. The resulting popularity allowed it to be marketed to over thirty countries and be snapped up by media outlets all over the world.
With all of these resources behind it, the show could've been much more cleanly executed, especially in regards to the plot. The acting was top notch, almost across the board, which helped drive the show forward when the plot failed it. A lot of the plot was geared towards crowd-pleasing. It's understandable with such a huge some of money on the line and live broadcasting in two countries with availability internationally within the day.
The main leads of this drama as well as the supporting actors have received unparalleled love and attention because of "Descendants of the Sun". They are holding fan meets, shooting CFs, doing interviews and being wooed by future projects. Song Joong-ki is an international icon of talent and success. He has always done well for himself, but his popularity is so extreme that even his parents' home has become a tourist attraction. Actress Song Hye-kyo has always been much more than her stunning looks. She has a way of making even the most feminine characters equally feminine and badass. It comes from her very earnest acting and her ability not only to relate to her co-workers, but with the camera. Jin Goo, a man who may not have been as popular but who has always delivered good work, is finally seeing some long overdo attention. He managed to take a character with very few lines and very little front-end development and make it work - it was all in the eyes. And as for Kim Ji-won, I have to admit I was worried initially because her character was so snotty and the actress was so much younger than her co-stars. But she literally stepped up to their long years of experience and delivered. She took a character who could've easily been annoying throughout and made her lovable.
The supporting actors were equally as lovable, especially the military and medical personnel surrounded the main couples. I wanted more of their stories and of their actors on screen. Onew proved himself to be more than an idol. Lee Seung-joon as Doctor Song may have been my favorite character, equal parts gifted, goofy, in love, and earnest. His prickly, winsome love interest Nurse Ha played by Seo Jeong-yeon was just as beautiful to me as her young colleagues because of how raw and real she is in he moment. Kim Min-seok as Gi-beom, the delinquent who Dae-yeong took under his wing was utterly charming.
The foreign actors, save for Jasper Cho, weren't quite as riveting. They were stilted and awkward, a very stark contrast to the talented Korean cast. It's a pity, but its a situation we often see with foreign casting.
Storyline and Characters
The storyline is the biggest problem. It jumped so much from place to place that it failed to retain the focus of the drama at times. Or, the romance was so prominent that the plot was shoved to the sidelines. So many things happened and were poorly tied together, which was troublesome. Had the first few weeks of airing clearly introduced Uruk and what the politics and society were like, the characters' transitions would've been much more believable. Had the doctors been made to understand what volunteering in a third world country was like, including the dangers and obstacles to be faced, all of the random epidemics and sicknesses and gang relations would've made more sense. If Si-jin's and Argus' relationship had been better detailed and if tensions in the present had been better played, much more would've come from Si-jin killing Argus than Song Joong-ki's magnificent tears. Bringing in the gangs and black market trafficking was clever, but the way it was developed and presented was haphazard. No, these faults did not completely detract from the great moments of the series. Not in the least. It's just that there could've been many more such moments if planning had been better.
As for the characters, the follow through on the main leads worked out okay although in the beginning the back and forth was dubious in its efforts to pit peacekeeper against healer, which I spoke about in my earlier reviews. I'm still perturbed by the fact that Chi-hoon had a baby and didn't once mention it in the last episodes. Onew plays cute well, and that's where the focus stayed. I'd prefer followthrough to go with my "cute" SHINee star. I wanted more from Mo-yeon in the beginning in terms of how stuck she felt in life. I only really got how badly she was trapped towards the middle of the drama. That's not Song Hye-kyo's fault - that is a fault of writing. Looking back, Si-jin didn't much change. It was Mo-yeon who did all the changing. He became more careful, but she gave up a sense of security to love him. She changed into the doctor and woman she truly wished to be. Si-jin, while cool as cool can get, learned how to deal with women a little better, but didn't go through the same massive changes as Mo-yeon.
Dae-yeong on the other hand changed a lot and I appreciated that in him. Myeong-joo as well. There's so much to be said about all of these characters, but I will leave it here for now.
This drama was not just about romance, but about jobs that change lives and about the people who choose these jobs. They have to evaluate and re-evaluate themselves and their lives. Their relationships become complicated as they serve others. The way the drama showed this was convoluted, but the point was still made, especially by the exposition in this last episode. It was also about what was outside the drama - what the physical drama means to the world of drama and the socio-cultural-political implications it has. The ratings only reflect that hype that makes this show a phenomenon. No, it wasn't the best show on the market, but it more than did its job. It was enjoyable. It was beautiful. It was well-acted. It was full of fan service. Plot is often sacrificed in the face of these things. For the casual viewer (like me with my reviewer "Brain" turned off) it's fun television. Could it have been more? Yes. Will we see more of this in the future? Hopefully so. I hope that "Descendants of the Sun" challenges current drama standards in terms of production, casting, treatment of actors and staff, and international relations.
I walk away from this drama very glad I watched it and very glad that it was made. What about you, Hancinema readers? What sort of things did you get out of this drama? Are you sad to see it go? Are you excited for the extra goodies next week? Please leave me a comment below!
Orion's trivium: The dunes where Mo-yeon and Si-jin reunite are located in Gomati, found in Lemnos, Greece.
Written by: Raine from 'Raine's Dichotomy'
Trivium by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Descendants of the Sun" Episode 16 (final)"
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