Confetti, heart eyes, and rainbows are everywhere. The curtains closed with a happy ending for all the characters (even Luna), except antagonists Lee Rim (Lee Jung-jin) and Seo-ryung (Jung Eun-chae). Although Kang Shin-jae/Kang Hyeon-min’s (Kim Kyung-nam) arc is a bit sad, it’s still a happy send-off for the characters. Lee Gon (Lee Min-ho) is able to rewrite history by going back to the night of treason and finally putting a stop to Lee Rim’s schemes. When Lee Rim dies, everyone he has crossed paths with and changed the lives of becomes free of his alterations. Which means Hyeon-min never arrived in the Republic of Korea to switch with Shin-jae, and never got to meet Tae-eul (Kim Go-eun), with whom he falls in love. Instead, he gets his happy ending with Luna, while the real Kang Shin-jae inherits his family business and becomes a CEO.
Prince Buyeong is alive too, and so are all those who crossed the worlds to replace their counterparts after killing them. Luna gets adopted by Seo-ryung’s mother as a child and doesn’t end up in the streets as a thief. Instead, she grows up to be a cop, just like her counterpart Tae-eul. Goo Seo-ryung, on the other hand, becomes a State Assemblywoman instead of the prime minister and ends up getting jailed for embezzlement. And guess who becomes the Prime Minister? Lee Gon’s most trusted Secretary Mo. We even get an unexpected cameo by Seo Woo-Jin, the adorable daughter from Hi, Bye Mama!
Our lead Lee Gon, though, had to put in a lot of work before he could have his happy ending with his love. He traveled for a long time, through various timelines, opening door after door, meeting many doppelgangers of Tae-eul before finally getting to the right one. I think the famous Azalea scene that happened a few episodes back, where it seemed as if Lee Gon was bidding farewell to Tae-eul and gave her flowers, was altered by Lee Gon himself. I believe a future Lee Gon witnessed something tragic involving Tae-eul, so he went back to the past to change the events that would lead to that tragedy. That’s why the present Lee Gon has no idea he has given Tae-eul flowers before, and that’s why the Azaleas from that night, that Tae-eul kept in her room, suddenly disappear—because Lee Gon was able to successfully change the course of history and save her. Knowing the powers of the manpasikjeok, it’s possible.
When Lee Gon changed what happened on the night of the treason, he not only changed the coming 26 years but also altered the memories and lives of everyone involved, except four — himself, Jo Yeong, Tae-eul, and Lee Rim. Lee Rim died and was erased in the memories of those he got acquainted with after that night, but Lee Gon, Jo Yeong, and Tae-eul were able to retain their memories of everything that has happened since then, even as their lives were changed, too. Why? I think it has something to do with the fabled flute manpasikjeok. They were involved in Lee Gon’s plan to change history, so I think they were exempted from the powers of the flute, or maybe the spirit of the manpasikjeok decided to just let them be. I strongly believe it’s the latter.
Speaking of Jo Yeong, Woo Do-hwan is undeniably the breakout star of this series. Both his characters get their own happy endings: Captain Jo Yeong gets siblings and Jo Eun-seob finally gets the girl of his dreams, Myeong Na-ri. Woo Do-hwan admitted in an interview that it was difficult for him to switch between two opposite personalities, with one of them even having an accent. But his portrayal of these contrasting characters has undoubtedly caught the attention of the viewers. He was definitely a fan favorite, and he maintained a good performance until the finale. I’m itching to see him as a rom-com lead next!
And now for some nitpicking. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I will say that the leads failed to demonstrate good chemistry until the end. It’s high time we admit that Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun just couldn’t get the sparks flying. The show also failed in creating truly formidable antagonists. I can’t believe Lee Rim and Seo-ryung went down as easily as they did, without even putting up a fight. It seemed that everything went too smoothly for the main characters. You know how in every K-drama, you have that one antagonist that you love to hate and anticipate their downfall in the finale? I wanted a scene where Lee Gon and Lee Rim go all out with their respective armies, but it didn’t happen. The writers focused on the time-traveling and parallel universe concept so much that they forgot to develop their characters. Lee Rim and Prime Minister Seo-ryung never developed past flat characters into truly dangerous opponents.
The concept was great, and the story had potential, but the show just didn’t exceed expectations for me. The plot twists weren’t original, and except for Shin-jae’s, there were almost no shocking revelations. There are also several recycled scenes and plot similarities with the writer’s past works, and this final episode did a retake on that famous scene from Goblin (2016), where the Grim Reaper and the Goblin save Eun-tak together. Lee Gon and Jo Yeong do the whole slow-motion walk in front of a smokescreen, and you see their silhouettes as they walk towards their enemies.
Still, having stuck out till the end, I have to admit that the ending is very satisfying and feel-good, though not without many loose ends. The actors did justice to the script they were given, it’s just that there was something lacking in the story, like emotion in the romance and backstories, and cunning in the antagonists. While I enjoyed creating theories with other fans every week, I wouldn’t put The King: Eternal Monarch in a list of Kim Eun-sook’s best works. Her previous works—Descendants of the Sun, Goblin, and Mr. Sunshine—held so much more depth. Those are the shows I can expect to go back to for their insanely good stories and impeccable cast. Does that mean I don’t recommend The King? Not really. For those looking for a unique show for casual watching, sure. But those looking for a tight plot, great performances and romance, not so much. Not discouraging anyone from watching it, but everyone has different perspectives, so give a few episodes a go before getting invested.
King Lee Gon and Detective Jung Tae-eul conclude the show with this parting statement, “No matter what kind of door opens before us in life, even if the moments we share make us sad at times, [we] wish to be able to love tirelessly. Just like that, we decided to love the fate that chose us. Just for today, only for today. And forever.” And they lived happily ever after.
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