FINAL EPISODE RECAP
At Cheongbing Temple, Yeon-hee wakes to find Jun nodding off next to her. He wakes up soon after and tells Yeon-hee that he feels like he’s dreaming, and he never wants to wake up. Their sweet moment is interrupted when they hear Soon-deuk calling Jun’s name.
The two head out to greet Soon-deuk, who fidgets nervously when Jun asks her about the early morning visit. She squirms even more when Yo-gwang pops up, asking her why she’s here again. Jun notices something in Soon-deuk’s hands: a pallet of medicine. It’s obviously for Yo-gwang, but Soon-deuk protests vigorously that it’s not — it’s for her.
Jun examines the medicine and says it’s good for stab wounds, like the one Yo-gwang’s currently sporting. At that, Yo-gwang grabs his injured side while Jun and Yeon-hee adorably exchange amused grins. Soon-deuk pretends that there must have been a mistake with the medicine, handing it over to Yo-gwang before hightailing it out of there.
Jun catches Soon-deuk just outside the temple and gently chides her for hiding her concern for Yo-gwang, which she denies. He asks her point-blank if she likes Yo-gwang, and again, she protests, saying that the only thing she likes is money. She adds in a more sincere tone that what she hates the most is being a burden to someone.
It’s potion-making time! Jun gets to work, telling Yeon-hee that the potion is to help out a girl who complains all the time because she’s too much of a coward. Yeon-hee smiles, knowing exactly who the girl is, and offers to help.
Soon-deuk walks through town lost in thought over Yo-gwang when she spots a suspicious-looking figure: It’s Heo Ok, trying to seem inconspicuous on his way to the super secret (not) wood shed where stowaways await their boat to Ming. Soon-deuk follows Ok and watches from afar as he offers his ticket to guards outside the shed; he’s then shuffled inside.
Soon-deuk returns to her local tavern to find Jun and Yeon-hee waiting for her, Courage Potion in hand. Jun tells her to drink it if she wants things to go well with Yo-gwang, then straight-up laughs in her face when she protests that it’s not like that.
Before Jun and Yeon-hee leave, Soon-deuk remembers to tell them about Ok and what she saw. She asks if Jun shouldn’t try to stop him from running away. Jun’s face darkens, but all he says is that he doesn’t have time to worry about Ok right now.
Jun is lost in thought as he and Yeon-hee organize potion ingredients at Cheongbing Temple. Yeon-hee finally snaps Jun out of his daze and tells him to go see Ok — he may regret it if he doesn’t, and that will just end up weighing on his heart. Jun looks resigned, knowing Yeon-hee’s right.
Jun and Yeon-hee catch Ok just as he’s leaving the shed with the rest of the stowaways. Jun says that Ok couldn’t possibly be thinking of escaping to Ming — not when he knows what happens to runaways better than anyone else. Ok is instantly defensive, asking if Jun’s brought the royal guards with him; Jun replies that he wouldn’t do that because Ok’s life would be so much worse on the run. Ok starts to clap, telling Jun he’s cool right until the end. He accuses Jun of laughing at how pathetic Ok has become.
His eyes filling with tears, Jun tells Ok that the most pathetic thing about him is his unwillingness to face consequences. He tells Ok not to run away — if he’s committed a crime, he needs to admit to it and deal with the punishment as it comes. That’s the only way left that Ok can live a respectable life, he says.
As Jun runs off, Ok yells after him that he wanted to live well, too. He looks startled when Yeon-hee heads over to him. She tells him that it’s not easy to acknowledge your wrongdoings, but that he shouldn’t throw away the last chance that Jun’s given him. She leaves him with something that might help: a Self-Awareness Potion.
Soon-deuk returns to Cheongbing Temple and tells Yo-gwang she’s come to have words with him. Clutching the empty potion bottle (yay!), she bravely asks Yo-gwang why he grabbed her hand the day he was attacked by Hyun-seo. As usual, Yo-gwang thinks she’s picking a fight, but Soon-deuk gets Yo-gwang to stop interrupting her long enough to tell him the truth: She’s come to like him.
HAHA, Yo-gwang’s tiny, monotone responses to her confession are hilarious: “Huh? What? Why?” She tells him not to worry — she hates being a burden to people, so she doesn’t plan on seeing him ever again. But as Soon-deuk turns to leave, Yo-gwang calls out that she’s not a burden, and that she shouldn’t say that she’ll never see him again so easily. He then breaks out into an adorable grin, and Soon-deuk grumbles at how cool he is.
Ok sits outside the palace walls, fretting over what to do. He decides to gulp down his potion, and the effect is immediate: He walks straight up to the palace guards to turn himself in.
At Cheongbing Temple, all but one of the candles are now lit, and Yeon-hee is beaming. Jun does his best to hide his sadness and tells Yeon-hee that they have somewhere to go.
He brings her to a pretty house in the middle of nowhere — it’s their getaway spot for the day. Yeon-hee wonders why they’re not working on the last candle, but Jun reassures her that he’s found someone to light it. He asks her to spend the day with him here, without thinking of anything else but the two of them.
They go out into the marketplace, picking up groceries and for old time’s sake, a kite. While admiring some pretty hairpins, Yeon-hee looks to the side and catches a glimpse of Hong-joo, watching her from afar. When she looks again, though, Hong-joo is gone, and Yeon-hee doesn’t mention to Jun what she saw.
On their way back, Yeon-hee stops to watch a wedding ceremony, and ack, the way Jun’s looking at her is making my heart hurt. Back at their house, the two are adorable as they make dinner together, teasing and flirting. Next, they decorate the kite with drawings of each other and take turns getting the kite to fly.
Soon-deuk sits at a tavern with a despondent — and increasingly drunk — Yo-gwang. A mysterious figure in black sits at a nearby table. As Yo-gwang drinks, he thinks back to his earlier conversation with Jun, when Jun first told him about his plans to whisk Yeon-hee away for the day. While Yo-gwang couldn’t find the words to tell Jun about the last candle, Jun told him that Hyun-seo had already filled him in, and that he would light Yeon-hee’s last candle.
Back in the present, Yo-gwang rambles on about how he hates the heavens and how bad he feels for Yeon-hee and Jun. When Soon-deuk gets up to get him some more alcohol, Yo-gwang flops to the ground, only to hear the mystery man at the next table speak up: “You should treasure your life, if you were saved from death.” (Is this the guy who saved Yo-gwang??)
Startled, Yo-gwang wonders out loud if those words were meant for him. The mystery man (cameo by Ahn Gil-kang) doesn’t acknowledge Yo-gwang directly; instead, he says it’s a sad fate, but one of the two has to die. The man opens his bag, revealing a copy of the Mauigeumseo inside, then pulls out a bottle marked “Sacrifice Potion,” which he says will kill without causing any pain.
He tells Yo-gwang to deliver the bottle and this message to the one who will be making the sacrifice: “Don’t despair too much, as your sacrifice will save the lives of millions of people.” Yo-gwang, stunned, watches the man leave, then picks up the bottle. He belatedly tries to run after the man, but he’s long gone.
Yeon-hee and Jun are asleep (it’s innocent — they’re sitting up outside on the porch) when Yeon-hee wakes with a start, her eyes flashing. She tiptoes away from Jun to take a look around the yard, and finds a note on the ground and opens it.
Cut to Hong-joo standing outside, a forlorn look on her face. Yeon-hee approaches her, tiredly asking her if she’s here to stop Yeon-hee again. But Hong-joo says no, as she’s lost all the ways she had to kill Yeon-hee. She’s here because she has something to tell Yeon-hee: The truth about the last page of the Mauigeumseo, which Hyun-seo tried so hard to hide from her.
Hong-joo says that according to this last page, the only way to light the last candle is by true love’s sacrifice; it must be Jun who lights that last candle and lays his life down for Yeon-hee. Yeon-hee calls her a liar, and Hong-joo digs the knife a little deeper and says it’s such a pity, when Yeon-hee’s probably been dreaming of a future with Jun. Yeon-hee says she doesn’t believe her, but her eyes fill with tears.
Yeon-hee replays Hong-joo’s words on her walk back, then recalls Jun’s earlier assurance that he’s found someone to light the last candle. Jun, who’s been sitting on the porch looking worried, jumps to his feet when he sees Yeon-hee walk onto the property. He starts to scold her for disappearing, but Yeon-hee just envelops Jun in a tight hug mid-sentence, letting her tears fall.
Taken aback, Jun asks Yeon-hee what’s wrong — is it because she’s worried about the last candle? He pulls away from her, smiles brightly, and tells her not to worry, because they’ll light the candle.
Yeon-hee: “How? By you dying instead of me?” Jun’s smile fades. Yeon-hee says Jun should have run away, so that he wouldn’t have to die because of her. “If I lose you, then I…” Yeon-hee can’t finish her sentence and shakes off his hands on her arms. She reminds him that he’d said he’d do anything for her, then asks him to leave — this is what she wants.
Jun looks back at Yeon-hee, his own eyes glistening with tears. He tells her he won’t go. Yeon-hee says that since meeting him, what’s scared her the most was Jun dying because of her. She repeats her request for him to leave, then turns away and runs.
Hyun-seo surprises Poong-yeon at home to ask him for a favor. Hyun-seo tells his son that if Yeon-hee’s curse is broken today, Poong-yeon must burn Hong-joo’s body with his spiritual fire. Poong-yeon just wants to know what would happen to Hyun-seo if Hong-joo dies. Hyun-seo says that’s something to figure out after Hong-joo is gone, and that Poong-yeon shouldn’t worry about him.
Back at Cheongbing Temple, Yeon-hee and Jun sit separately, lost in their own thoughts. Yeon-hee finds Jun and tells him there’s something she’d like to do with him.
Aw, they’re holding a marriage ceremony — with Yo-gwang presiding — and it’s all too cute. After Yeon-hee and Jun bow to one another and take sips of their drinks, Yo-gwang declares them married. Jun interrupts, saying they forgot one thing.
When Jun disappears to retrieve a flower wreath, Yeon-hee breaks down in tears and tells Yo-gwang that she wishes she had just one more day with Jun. Meanwhile, Jun, with the wreath in his hands, can’t hold back his tears either.
He composes himself and returns to the ceremony, sweetly placing the wreath on Yeon-hee’s head. He tells her that she’s stuck with him now, then adds, “I like you a lot, Yeon-hee-ah.” Yeon-hee tells him she likes him a lot too. Blinking back tears, Yeon-hee asks Jun to walk with her.
Before they head outside, Jun tells Yo-gwang that Yeon-hee doesn’t have much time left. Yo-gwang hands Jun the Sacrifice Potion, and is only able to say that he’s sorry.
Yeon-hee and Jun sit outside the temple. As the Northern Star flashes, Yeon-hee’s curse mark glows red. She collapses onto Jun’s shoulder in pain, grabbing his hand; she then loses consciousness and Jun lays her down.
As tears fall from Jun’s eyes, he thinks to himself: “The time I spent trying to save your life; I lived only because of you. I wanted to become someone who would save the one he loves.” He slowly uncorks the potion and drinks, then lies next to Yeon-hee. He says, “Now the only thing I have left is my sincere longing for you not to die. I only hope that in my last moment for you, that sincerity is enough.”
Yo-gwang watches the Northern Star flash, then fall. He goes back to Cheongbing Temple, but sees that the last candle remains unlit. Knowing what this means for Yeon-hee, he hurriedly heads out.
Meanwhile, Hyun-seo finds Hong-joo in her hideout, still very much alive.
Yo-gwang frantically searches the woods for Yeon-hee and Jun, then comes upon someone lying on the ground: It’s Jun, and he’s alone. Jun wakes, startled to see that Yeon-hee’s not next to him, then grabs the empty potion bottle, looking horrified.
Yeon-hee walks slowly in the woods, stopping to look back towards Jun. In her final message to him, she thinks: “Don’t hurt too much, and don’t miss me too much.”
As Jun desperately roams the woods for her, Yeon-hee continues her walk, stopping only to take out what must be the real Sacrifice Potion. Oh no…
Her voiceover continues: “I’ll treasure the days we spent together — days we’ll never have again. When memories of those days become ardent longing, we’ll meet again.” And then she drinks the potion, telling Jun: “Thank you. I love you, Jun-ah.”
In the temple, the final candle is lit.
At that moment, Hong-joo doubles over in pain, coughing up blood and screaming. Hyun-seo can only watch with pity in his eyes as Hong-joo writhes on the floor. Gasping for breath, she turns her eyes on him and asks if he’s enjoying watching her die.
Hong-joo says she hated this look in his eyes the most — the one that says, “You pitiful girl. Hopeless girl. Even after all you’ve been through, you still live so boldly.” But what could she do but live, she asks, and adds that everything’s not over yet.
“This pain, this curse — they won’t end when I die,” Hong-joo says. “The state of this country — do you think it’s my fault? There are those who sit on the throne, claiming it’s the will of the heavens, and those who follow blindly without knowing what’s right or wrong. Even after hundreds or thousands of years, the people will still be cursed and suffer until they die!”
As Hong-joo falls back on the floor in pain, she reaches her hand out and calls out to Hyun-seo. Hyun-seo slowly shakes his head, and finally speaks: “We’re all living cursed lives.” But then, he picks her up and folds her into his arms.
Hyun-seo carries a barely conscious Hong-joo out into the woods towards an area set up for a fire ritual; the fire is already burning bright. He asks Hong-joo if she’s in pain, and tells her that the pain is from the wounds inflicted upon her, and the wounds that Hong-joo has inflicted upon others in kind. He tells her that their sins — both hers and his — can’t be forgiven. She must carry the curse with her, but he will also go with her.
Hyun-seo carries Hong-joo towards the fire as Poong-yeon watches from a distance. Just as Hyun-seo reaches the fire, he looks back at Poong-yeon and gives him a smile. Then, instead of placing Hong-joo there, Hyun-seo walks into the fire with her.
Poong-yeon realizes what his father is doing and rushes towards the fire, but he can’t do anything to stop Hyun-seo. As the flames engulf the two, Hyun-seo and Hong-joo look into one another’s eyes, and Poong-yeon cries out for his father.
The next day, the queen dowager looks up at the sky over the palace to see the dark clouds rolling back, revealing blue skies. Tears gleam in her eyes.
A shellshocked Jun reenters Cheongbing Temple and stops in front of the candles, seeing that the last candle has been lit. Yo-gwang and Poong-yeon aren’t far behind. The three men each take in the sacrifice that Yeon-hee has made: Yo-gwang lowers his head in tears and leaves; Jun breaks down into sobs; and Poong-yeon sheds his tears quietly before heading off, leaving Jun alone with his grief.
Sometime later, civil service exams are taking place, and Jun registers for the medical exam. He takes his place among the other scholars, and when the test prompt is unveiled, he hesitates for a moment, closing his eyes before getting started. He’s done in no time, being the first to hand in his exam and heading out while all the other scholars stare in disbelief.
Aw, Yo-gwang and Soon-deuk are waiting for Jun outside the testing area. The two think Jun’s out so early because he bombed the exam, HA. Yo-gwang and Soon-deuk haven’t changed much, not being able to have a conversation without resorting to bickering, but they’re now married, looking a bit more presentable, and they even own their own tavern. Soon-deuk offers Jun drinks to cheer him up, but he declines, saying he’s got somewhere to be.
Jun catches up with Poong-yeon, who is about to leave town. Poong-yeon asks about Jun’s exam, to which Jun says he wants to keep the promise he made to Yeon-hee. Jun asks Poong-yeon if he has to go, and Poong-yeon says yes: He wants to go learn new things, and help more people — that’s his purpose in life. The two exchange warm goodbyes.
At the palace, the king is smiling and lost in thought when Jun, decked out in his new royal physician garb, comes up behind him and bows. The king hides his smile, giving Jun a once-over, and says the outfit doesn’t suit Jun at all, ha.
The king asks why Jun became a royal physician, and Jun replies that he wants to write a book before he dies: one that can help treat illnesses of both body and mind, so that it could help people all around the world — just like Jun helped the king. The king brushes off Jun’s words, saying he doesn’t need it, but as he walks away, he stops and turns, calling out to Jun: “I look forward to reading your book before I die.”
Jun returns to Cheongbing Temple and strolls around, his face betraying a multitude of emotions. He stops in front of the candles, now just a sea of melted wax, taking a moment at the last candle.
40 years later. An elderly man teaches a class of young children about Im Kkeok-jeong (a Robin Hood-esque figure who served as the inspiration for the Hong Gil-dong character), and fields a question from a student on how he can become a great doctor, too. The man — this is, of course, Heo Jun in his later years (cameo by Kim Gab-soo) — answers that a great doctor looks at a person’s heart first, instead of the body.
An older student comes by to pick Jun up, and the two go back to Jun’s chambers. The student watches reverently as Jun finishes writing the last page of the book he promised to write, the famed Dongeui Bogam (Mirror of Eastern Medicine), then asks why Jun included in the book things that have nothing to do with medicine, like seeing ghosts and making people fall in love. Jun simply replies that medicine isn’t just about tonics and treatments.
The two set out for the capital city. The journey through rough terrain wears Jun out, so he asks to stop and rest for a bit. The student goes to fetch some water, and as Jun catches his breath, he suddenly sees a kite flying high across the sky — and it looks awfully similar to the kite that started Jun’s journey towards Yeon-hee.
Unable to believe his eyes, Jun stands slowly, then walks toward the kite, his steps quickening. He comes across a clearing and sees Yeon-hee’s old house. A large, simple wooden frame marks the entrance to the yard; lit candles line the pathway from the yard to the house.
Without hesitation, Jun walks straight through the frame, and he’s instantly transformed back into the body of young Jun. He walks the candlelit path into Yeon-hee’s yard, his face trembling with emotion, and looks around. He sees swaths of colorful fabrics hanging throughout the property, along with a kite handle, right where Jun made that kite for Yeon-hee way back when.
He takes it all in and breaks into a smile, tears streaming down his face. He turns around slowly and comes face to face with a radiant Yeon-hee, who looks like she’s just been there waiting for him this whole time. She smiles, and he smiles back at her.
What an incredibly poignant, bittersweet ending — I am SO happy (and teary) that the writers decided to go this way, even if it meant a heartbreaking death for Yeon-hee as she ended up being the one to sacrifice herself to get rid of the curse once and for all. It’s not that I didn’t want our main couple to get their happy ending; it’s just that the story had been so clear from the beginning that there was only one way to light that last candle. What I didn’t want was for the show to resort to the use of some kind of a deus ex machina to allow our two leads to live, and thankfully, it didn’t go that route.
Instead, Yeon-hee’s death was the right ending to this tale of curses, black magic, and the fight against an unjust system. Not only did her sacrifice lift the curse upon the royal family and the country, but it also allowed Jun to live his life, rise up beyond the ranks to which he was born, and become the Heo Jun we know in our history books. I especially loved the last moments of this episode, which ended with a hint of ambiguity: Jun and Yeon-hee do indeed meet again, though we’re not entirely sure if it’s in Jun’s mind, or if it’s in the afterlife. And that entire scene, from when Jun transforms into his younger self to when he comes face to face with Yeon-hee, was achingly beautiful.
Hong-joo will live on as the villainess who just wouldn’t quit, up until the bitter end. I tend to agree with some of the others who thought the show spent too much time going back and forth on Hong-joo’s battle against Yeon-hee (to the detriment of other parts of the story), but in the end, Hong-joo’s layered and complex character, so deftly played by Yeom Jung-ah, was fascinating to watch. I can appreciate that a person as vile as Hong-joo is still allowed a little bit of compassion; she may have gotten what was coming to her, but even then, thanks to Hyun-seo, she didn’t have to face death alone.
In his last scenes, Hyun-seo did so many things that are totally aligned with what we know of him as a character: He tried to exercise moral leadership as best he could, by calling out Hong-joo for her sins, acknowledging his own sins, and offering comfort to both Hong-joo and Poong-yeon just before walking into the fire. I’m also really glad that Hyun-seo made sure the curse would be eradicated through Poong-yeon’s spiritual fire — otherwise we might have had a reprise on the evils of black magic for another twenty episodes.
For the most part, the finale did justice to the characters that we’ve come to know and love (or hate). I loved Yo-gwang and Soon-deuk’s path to romance and the lightness and humor they brought to the story, and it was great to see that Poong-yeon found peace and a purpose in life. I was even okay with Ok’s ending, since it at least involved some self-reflection on his part, even if it was only through the help of a potion. I will say, I wished Ok’s mother had some sort of comeuppance as well, given all that she did to make our Jun and his mother so miserable — but maybe having her only son exposed for what he is and imprisoned is enough.
Though I was pretty much hooked on Mirror of the Witch from start to finish, the drama wasn’t without fault. As many commenters have pointed out, there certainly were some inconsistencies and details that the show glossed over (Who was it, exactly, that revived Yo-gwang? Was it the random mystery man with the Sacrifice Potion? If so, who the heck is he, and why did he have a copy of the Mauigeumseo??). I also could have used a little more focus on Jun and Yeon-hee throughout the latter half of the show tackling the candles head-on, instead of waiting until the final episode.
But those are minor quibbles. Overall, throughout its whole run, the story was beautifully crafted, the visuals were stunning, and this team of talented actors brought these characters to life perfectly. In my opinion, the characters — all of them so nuanced, so interesting — and the incredible performances by the entire cast are what made the show worth watching. In particular, I’ll always remember this show for introducing me to the gem that is Yoon Shi-yoon, and I’m thankful to have been a part of the ride.