It’s Okay To Not Be Okay Review: Episode 16 (Finale)

Moon-young (Seo Ye-ji), Kang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun), and Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se) have been on a lifelong journey of confronting trauma and learning to pursue happiness. In the finale episode of It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, we see their efforts finally paying off. These three have had to reach deep within themselves, undergo considerable growth, and forge connections with each other in order to believe in family and love again. After facing one final blast from the past, we see them become even closer in this episode.

Kang-tae and Moon-young’s relationship resurfaces from the shadows of her mother’s attempt to break them apart. Kang-tae’s earnest declaration of love finally gets through to Moon-young as she starts believing that she is more than her mother’s daughter—she is also Sang-tae’s best friend and the woman Kang-tae loves. Sometimes, all you need is a constant reminder that someone loves you, until it settles deep enough in your bones that you start believing in it. Moon-young does, and the two lovebirds finally get the time and space to take their relationship to the next level and sleep together. Just like in the very first episode, we get another gratuitous shot of Kim Soo-hyun’s chest. What a nice farewell gift!

Moon-young confronting her mother in prison did a very good job of giving her character closure. While it didn’t seem like her mother regretted her actions, Moon-young, at least, has now grown enough to call her out. This time, instead of falling into the trap of thinking they are alike, she announces that she’s different and not a demon like her mother. She finally sees how love has changed her life. Kang-tae’s growth is also beautiful to watch—he has pretty much decided to focus on himself and do what he wants—which is going back to school. We see the extent of it when Moon-young asks him if he likes her or Sang-tae more, and for the first time, he answers that he likes himself most of all.

The most stunning growth process, however, has been Sang-tae’s. During the course of 16 episodes, we have not only seen him get better at understanding his brother but also find passion in his life and become his own person. His growth is motivated solely by his love for his little brother, and he now realizes that sometimes, love means letting people go. We see him emotionally mature enough to give Moon-young and Kang-tae space as a couple. With Moon-young’s help, he also takes his first steps towards becoming an illustrator.

I used to think that the relationship between the brothers is the most precious one in this show, but Moon-young and Sang-tae are so adorable together that they managed to make it a tight competition. From deciding to publish her book after seeing Sang-tae’s efforts to working with him day and night to improve his illustrations, Moon-young gives Sang-tae the best gift ever—his personhood. The scene with Sang-tae tearing up at the sight of his name and photograph on the author’s bio of the book was undoubtedly one of the most emotional ones in the show overall. It also made me appreciate what a brilliant actor Oh Jung-se is, and also Kim Soo-hyun, who supported him beautifully in this scene.

For a major part of the show, we just focus on the new family Moon-young, Kang-tae, and Sang-tae have built together. I couldn’t be happier that this is what the show chose to focus on for the finale. We have seen our protagonists suffer so much that an entire episode of them being happy together is the best send-off ever. There are even family t-shirts and the most idyllic camping trip involved, complete with a stop-motion family vacation style montage of their trip. Moon-young and Sang-tae fight often but make up just as quickly. They look more like siblings than the Moon brothers ever did. Despite Kang-tae occupying a central position in the family, these two are quick to kick him out when working on their book together. I like that they have a wide network of friends also—it’s not just the three of them alone all the time.

The launch of Moon-young and Sang-tae’s book ties together all the stories we have seen in the show. The final fairytale focuses on the journey of the three protagonists but also includes all the patients and the way their stories have touched our main characters’ lives. Everyone who made a cameo— from Kwak Dong-yeon (Episodes 3 & 4) to Bae Hae-sun—make a reappearance. In light of Dr. Oh announcing his retirement, the inclusion of OK Hospital’s patients in the story is a beautiful tribute to his and the hospital’s legacy of caring for their patients.

Our side characters also get some beautiful closing arcs—Manager Lee (Kim Joo-hun) makes a new start as a publisher and takes the first steps towards admitting his feelings for Joo-ri (Park Gyu-young); Jaesu (Kang Ki-doong) finally gets a special love confession from Kang-tae and starts flirting with Seung-jae (Park Jin-joo); and my favorite character—Joo-ri’s mother Kang Soon-deok (Kim Mi-kyung)—gets a special acknowledgement note in Sang-tae’s book as thanks for being his “real, fake mom” and hug from Kang-tae for looking after the brothers like her own sons.

In the final scene, the show once again reminds us that despite the love story and the murder mystery hogging headlines, it is the relationship between the brothers that is at the emotional core of this show. After spending time with his family, Sang-tae makes the decision to branch out and live his own life, leaving Kang-tae to live his own. The scene is both emotionally devastating and cathartic, with the brothers thanking each other for being there. It’s a bit sad to see them separated after making such leaps with their relationship, but it’s not exactly a separation, they are just finally going on their own adventures. Kang-tae looks devastated at the idea of his brother not needing him anymore but lets him go with a smile.

In the beginning of this show, I was under the impression that a major part of the narrative would focus on mental health awareness. While the show is set in a psychiatric hospital and occasionally gave us episode-specific arcs of patients with different mental disorders, it ultimately took a very different turn than what I was expecting. The major themes fluctuated between self-worth issues, dealing with past traumas, and learning to become your own person, which all three of our protagonists managed to do. Seo Ye-ji and Kim Soo-hyun managed to bring excitement and sizzling romantic chemistry into a story that is ultimately quite grim, while Oh Jung-se infused the show with heart and warmth through his character. Acting-wise, he is the breakout star of the show for me.

So much of who we are is shaped by our childhoods, but not all children are allowed to be children in their childhoods. They grow up to be lonely adults who are just children who want to be loved. It’s Okay To Not Be Okay is a much-needed tale of value of breaking out of past traumas and unhealthy patterns to make friends, find love, and chase happiness. It teaches us that sometimes, the family we choose for ourselves as adults will be much better than the family we were born into. We don’t have to be defined by the ties of blood. Ultimately, the choice to be a different, mentally healthier person rests with all of us. None of us are as lonely as we think. This is the beautiful message this show leaves us with.

Indoor Enthusiast

Indoor Enthusiast (Esha) is usually found going on rants about how Ji Hae-soo from It's Okay That's Love and Sung Bora from Reply 1988 are the best heroines to grace our screens. Thrillers like Secret Forest and rom-coms with sprinklings of feminism à la Because This Life Is My First hold a special place in her heart. She can be reached at [email protected]

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