Mystic Pop-up Bar: Episode 12 (Final)
Don’t you just love it when a drama ends as strongly as it begins? It’s time to say goodbye to our Mystic Pop-up Bar family — they’ve come a long way, but their struggles aren’t over yet, and they still have to earn their happily ever after if they can.
EPISODE 12 RECAP
Kang-bae wakes up in a chair in an abandoned warehouse, alone. On the floor in front of him are the shards of a shattered ssanggapju bottle. He kneels and reaches for the broken bottle, sobbing as if his heart is breaking.
We back up a few days, and Manager Gwi is in Queen Yeomra’s office. She’s upset because Chief Yeom promised to catch the evil spirit, but he hasn’t reported back and she can’t reach him. Manager Gwi is confused because Chief Yeom said he caught the spirit, and it becomes clear that Won-hyung is still at large.
Meanwhile, Won-hyung is at Mystic Pop-up Bar, still disguised as Chief Yeom. He attacks Wol-joo and starts to strangle her, and he tosses Kang-bae across the room when Kang-bae tries to help. But Kang-bae suddenly stands, ribbons of power surging around him, and Won-hyung gasps, “Are… are you the Sacred Tree?”
In a calm voice, the Sacred Tree orders Won-hyung to come out of Chief Yeom’s body. Won-hyung tries to throw his own power, but the Sacred Tree easily swats it aside. He places a hand on Chief Yeom’s chest, and Won-hyung is flung out of his father’s body. Manager Gwi finally arrives, and Won-hyung disappears.
The power leaves Kang-bae and he collapses, so Manager Gwi and Wol-joo take him home. Wol-joo sits by his bedside, recalling how her mother’s silver binyeo brought Kang-bae (“the person you desperately seek”) to her just as her mother promised.
Manager Gwi returns, and they go to the roof so that Wol-joo can come clean. She informs Manager Gwi that they had conceived a child, though she didn’t know until after her death. She says that the Sacred Tree’s bad luck cursed their child to live miserable lives until she settled a hundred thousand grudges, and that Kang-bae is that child.
Wol-joo feels guilty that, not only are Kang-bae’s problems all her fault, but she’s been using him. Manager Gwi realizes that Kang-bae’s ability is the result of the Sacred Tree’s bad luck, which means that a kiss from the Cinnabar/Yeo-rin won’t cure him. The only way is to settle the final grudge and lift the curse, but Manager Gwi doesn’t tell Wol-joo about the bargain he made to go to Hell in her place.
In the morning, Wol-joo fusses over Kang-bae like a mother hen, trying to convince him to stay home and rest. He insists that he needs to help her since today is the last day to finish her task. Wol-joo tells him that Won-hyung left Chief Yeom’s body, and she asks Kang-bae not to get involved in anything dangerous today, so he promises to stick to looking for customers who might have a grudge to settle.
On his way to work, Kang-bae suddenly has a vision of ribbons hanging from tree branches, then a silver binyeo falling to the ground, and he winces in pain. He stops in a pharmacy for headache medicine, and when he makes eye contact with the pharmacist, the man starts telling him all about his wife’s pyramid scheme.
He continues to the store, and runs into Yeo-rin and her roommate, Da-bin (she does have a name!). As soon as Da-bin looks Kang-bae in the face, she begins to complain that he’s taking things with Yeo-rin way too slow and reminds him that Yeo-rin is a grown-ass woman who won’t be in trouble if she stays out all night, hee. Kang-bae realizes with horror that this is what Manager Gwi warned him about — using his ability has caused it to increase in strength.
Manager Gwi and Wol-joo spend the day looking for someone with a grudge, but they keep striking out. They head back to Mystic Pop-up Bar and find tons of people inside, crowded around Kang-bae and yelling their stories. Manager Gwi makes them all leave, and Kang-bae tells them that his ability is intensifying. He grabs his head in pain again, and awww, Wol-joo and Manager Gwi respond exactly like the worried parents they are and send him home.
They go to visit Chief Yeom in the Afterlife Hospital, and when they tell him that they haven’t been able to find anyone with a grudge to settle, Chief Yeom asks to be their final case. He says sadly that in life, he was too busy as the crown prince’s mentor to pay attention to his own son.
He blames himself for being the reason that Won-hyung wants revenge on Wol-joo and Manager Gwi. He asks them to bring Won-hyung to him so that he can ask forgiveness and take responsibility for Won-hyung’s sins.
That night, Kang-bae dreams of the Sacred Tree, dead and abandoned. He’s woken by Wol-joo and Manager Gwi, who tell him that Chief Yeom will be their last customer, so his job is over. Kang-bae protests that he can still help, but Manager Gwi says that the best way he can help is by staying out of the way.
Kang-bae understands that this is them saying farewell. He tells Wol-joo that the person she’s been doing this to protect will appreciate everything she’s gone through. He says he’s going to miss them, and they all get very quiet.
Later, Kang-bae wakes up at a desk in a normal, average bedroom. Mama Wol-joo gives Daddy Gwi some fruit to take to Kang-bae as he studies for his college classes. Mama Wol-joo catches Kang-bae and Daddy Gwi playing video games and they each tattle on the other (Gwi: “I only played so he would stop…” Kang-bae: “I wanted to study but he made me play…”), so to calm her down, Kang-bae gives Mama Wol-joo his recent test results. She coos at him proudly, and she and Daddy Gwi argue over who Kang-bae most resembles.
As he dreams about his family, Kang-bae sleeps with his head in Wol-joo’s lap. Manager Gwi watches them with soft eyes, and he and Wol-joo quietly share this one, final moment with their son.
All this time, Won-hyung has been sulking in an empty warehouse, planning his next move. He summons an evil spirit, which he sends to Mystic Pop-up Bar to tell Manager Gwi and Wol-joo where Won-hyung is holed up. Manager Gwi convinces Wol-joo to let him go alone, and he gives her a dagger to defend herself with just in case.
Having lured Manager Gwi away, Won-hyung shows up at Mystic Pop-up Bar while Wol-joo is alone. He says he doesn’t want her dead because that would be too easy, and he mentions how her mother died in her place. Wol-joo defiantly agrees that parents are willing to die for their children, even when that child is garbage like Won-hyung.
she tells him that Chief Yeom wants to apologize for him turning out the way he did. For a moment, Won-hyung looks troubled, but then he sneers that Chief Yeom sold him out to Wol-joo. He tells Wol-joo that he won’t kill her because he wants her to know how it feels to lose everything she ever wanted. Wol-joo thinks he means to stop her from settling her last grudge, but when Won-hyung cackles in delight, she suddenly understand what he really means to take — Manager Gwi.
She fetches Kang-bae and gets him up to speed, and they head to the warehouse together. When they get there, Kang-bae runs ahead to find Manager Gwi, and Wol-joo morphs back into his true form as Won-hyung. Oh no!
Yeo-rin goes to Kang-bae’s rooftop room but he doesn’t answer the door, so she goes looking for him at Mystic Pop-up Bar. She finds Wol-joo unconscious and helps her up just as Manager Gwi joins them, having gotten away from Won-hyung’s minion. Wol-joo gasps that Won-hyung has Kang-bae, and she and Manager Gwi rush back to the warehouse.
There’s a small army of evil spirits waiting to block them, and Manager Gwi summons his halberd and wades right in. Yeo-rin trails behind the supernaturally fast duo, but soon she catches up and yells that she’s here to save her man. Go girl! Yeo-rin flies in kicking, and her Cinnabar soul is so tough that she completely takes over, allowing both Wol-joo and Manager Gwi to look for Kang-bae.
Won-hyung has Kang-bae tied to a chair, and he relishes the moment as he starts to tell Kang-bae that he’s the reason Manager Gwi and Wol-joo suffered for five hundred years. But Kang-bae interrupts that he already knows they’re his parents — when he woke up after the Sacred Tree took over his body, he’d gained all of his past life memories.
He doesn’t know that Wol-joo and Manager Gwi are listening. Won-hyung only says that it’s too bad they don’t know how Kang-bae feels about them, so that they could suffer that much more when they lose him. He tells Kang-bae gleefully that he plans to throw him down the spiral stairway.
Won-hyung holds Kang-bae’s mouth open and pours a bottle of stolen ssanggapju down his throat, and Kang-bae falls into a deep sleep. But before Won-hyung can touch Kang-bae and enter his subconscious, Manager Gwi levels his halberd at his throat. He makes Won-hyung step back and tells him that only cowards use others to make their point. Won-hyung says that Manager Gwi is using him so that Wol-joo can finish her task, and he taunts Manager Gwi to kill him now.
He pulls the halberd closer to his throat, then points it at the helpless Kang-bae. Manager Gwi manages to wrench it away, only for Won-hyung to use a blast of power to make him drop it. They fight hand-to-hand, seeming evenly matched until Manager Gwi whips off his belt, wraps it around Won-hyung’s throat, and slings him across the room.
But Won-hyung gets up and, using his power, sends several metal bars flying at Manager Gwi. Manager Gwi grabs one in midair, whirls, and sends it back at Won-hyung (okay that was bad-freaking-ass), piercing him through the shoulder. Manager Gwi yanks the metal bar back out of Won-hyung and handcuffs him, but Won-hyung magically lifts Manager Gwi’s halberd and aims it at Kang-bae.
As the halberd approaches Kang-bae, Wol-joo steps in front of him. But it doesn’t hit her– because Manager Gwi has thrown himself in its path. He stands before Wol-joo with the bloody halberd through his middle, and oh no, oh no… he smiles. And then he falls.
In a halting voice, Manager Gwi says to Wol-joo, “Again… I wasn’t able to protect you. I’m sorry.” She begs him not to leave her when she missed him so much and she just got him back, and she tells him over and over again that she loves him.
Manager Gwi grows weaker, and he gasps out a soft, “Thank you.” He reaches up to touch Wol-joo’s face and smiles again, then dissolves into a beautiful hurricane of light.
Won-hyung uses the distraction to enter Kang-bae’s subconscious and backs him down the spiral staircase. He grabs Kang-bae and starts to fling him into the pit, but Wol-joo shows up, snaps her fingers, and both Won-hyung and Kang-bae freeze in place.
Whoa, Wol-joo is a thousand percent done with Won-hyung’s bullshit. She asks Won-hyung why he didn’t see this coming, knowing who she is, and he snarls that she’s “the sinner who destroyed the Sacred Tree and killer her own son.” Wol-joo tells him that he’s right, but that she’s also spent five hundred years struggling to make up for her sins.
She tells Won-hyung that instead of being ashamed of his own wrongdoings, he was blinded by revenge and harmed innocent people. He says it was the only way to get even, but Wol-joo retorts that actually, that’s how he’ll end up in Hell.
He’s still frozen, so she gently dangles him over the abyss and asks if letting go will alleviate her anger. “During my five hundred years in the Living Realm, there’s something I saw, heard, and learned. The words we speak and the actions we display will one day come back to haunt us.
“I won’t make the same mistake twice. It isn’t me bringing you to your demise. The heavens will punish you instead. That is the only way to end this cursed fate and save those I love. Death will come for you soon. Until then, use the time to look back on what you did.”
She turns away, intending to leave Won-hyung frozen on the ledge until Chief Yeom comes for him. But he screams that he’ll never let her use him to finish her task, and he breaks her hold and grabs her, flinging them both into the pit. But ohthankgoodness, Kang-bae manages to grab Wol-joo’s hand, and he hangs on tight to her while Won-hyung falls, screaming, into nothingness.
Wol-joo tells Kang-bae to let go of her or he’ll fall, too, but he sobs that he’s never letting go. Wol-joo makes him open his eyes and look at her, and she tells him to live his life being sweet and sincere like he’s always done, and not to let go of those he loves.
She tells Kang-bae, “I’m the one letting go of your hand. You didn’t lose your grip, so don’t ever blame yourself. I enjoyed our time together, Kang-bae-ah.” Kang-bae sobs, “Don’t go. Don’t go, Mom!” Wol-joo looks at him for one last moment, tears filling her eyes, then she lets go.
Since that day, Kang-bae narrates, he has the same dream every night of a hand falling into darkness, and every time, he fails to catch it: “I say goodbye to the beings that are neither deities nor humans every day.”
Chief Yeom and Samshin sit by their favorite Afterlife coffee truck, discussing how busy Samshin is with all the older couples getting pregnant lately. Chief Yeom has decided to be reincarnated, and before he goes, he asks Samshin if she’s heard anything about Wol-joo, and if Samshin misses her.
There’s a strange scene where Wol-joo lures a man (cameo by Ahn Chang-hwan) by pretending to be his daughter, except when he gets there he realizes he doesn’t have a daughter. A woman stumbles in (another hilarious cameo by Lee Soo-ji) thinking that her mother has been kidnapped, but the guy reminds her that her mother died years ago.
They complain that they’ve already paid the ransoms, and Wol-joo asks how it feels to lose money to someone who uses their family as bait, like they’ve been doing to others through voice phishing. She fusses at them that there are lots of other ways to make money, calling them trash. Is she back, or…?
Samshin snaps at Chief Yeom that she doesn’t miss Wol-joo at all, because all she does is ask for favors, ha. Awww, it turns out that when Wol-joo was lost in the abyss, it was Samshin who petitioned to search for her until she was found.
Kang-bae still works at Kapeul Mart, wearing sunglasses constantly and avoiding the gaze of any customers. Eventually, Yeo-rin takes off his glasses and says that he’s cured — HAHA, the glasses weren’t to block his ability because he doesn’t have it anymore, he only had a stye.
Wol-joo stands meekly before Queen Yeomra to accept her punishment, since she failed her task. But Queen Yeomra says that she succeeded and pronounces Kang-bae’s spirit released from his curse. Wol-joo asks how, when she didn’t settle Chief Yeom’s grudge, but Queen Yeomra says that sacrificing herself to save Kang-bae means that the hundred thousandth grudge was her own… to save her son’s spirit.
Overcome, Wol-joo can only cry and thank Queen Yeomra. Queen Yeomra tells her that Won-hyung was found and sent to Hell, so Wol-joo’s tasks are complete. She asks Wol-joo what life she wishes to be reincarnated into, suggesting some options like being a top singer named “EYEU” (lol), or maybe chaebol daughter Paris Hillton (not a typo).
Wol-joo humbly asks not to be reborn, but to go back to the Living Realm and live among humans as she’s been doing, since she’s finally ready to listen to them with an open heart. Queen Yeomra seems thrilled to grant her request to re-open Mystic Pop-up Bar and even offers to send her a trustworthy partner.
She snaps her fingers, and in walks Manager Gwi, alive and well. Wol-joo throws herself into his arms, and I’m not crying, you’re crying. Oh hell, we’re all crying.
Kang-bae walks home from work, thinking about how his ability disappeared when Wol-joo did. He’s noticed that it takes more effort to understand people now, but it’s also taught him to open up to others.
He stops dead in his tracks, afraid to believe his eyes when he sees that Mystic Pop-up Bar is back in its old place. He goes inside, and there are Wol-joo and Manager Gwi, bickering like always. Kang-bae breathes their names and they turn to him, and with tears shimmering in his eyes, he whispers, “I’m here.”
As we see a montage of everything she and her family have been through, Wol-joo narrates:
Everyone’s fate is decided by the heavens. But the heavens are more easily moved than you might think. Little things that you say and do may change your fate. If changing your fate is called a miracle, then miracles may be happening every day. The miracle of being alive, the miracle of having that person next to you, and the miracle of being able to have a drink with that person.
We step into Mystic Pop-up Bar one last time, and Wol-joo notices that we’ve had a hard day. She sits down with a smile, and pours us a glass of ssanggapju.
Okay, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a mess. I can’t say I completely understand that ending (especially the bit about Wol-joo settling grudges before she actually asked Queen Yeomra permission — editing error maybe?), but I’m willing to overlook any small continuity problems because our Mystic Pop-up Bar family is together forever! It’s all I’ve wanted from the time I realized that Kang-bae was Wol-joo and Manager Gwi’s son, and I really don’t care how we got there as long as we got there, though thankfully the journey was filled with a lot of heart and love.
I just ADORE how everything came together so perfectly… all this time, we’ve been treating Wol-joo’s grudges (and the fact that settling the last one will result in Manager Gwi going to Hell) and the resolution of Kang-bae’s ability as two separate issues. But it was such a great twist, when Manager Gwi realized that the only way to save his son was to settle the final grudge and cease to exist. I just felt gut-punched at the way it was all set up to become this beautifully tragic Catch-22 — mere minutes after learning that he’s a father, and that Kang-bae is his son, Manager Gwi realized that the only way to save his son was to condemn himself to oblivion.
The theme of family was just so wonderfully woven into every scene and plot twist in Mystic Pop-up Bar, and I’m so impressed at how it was done. It was Wol-joo and Manager Gwi’s fault that Kang-bae spent hundreds of years suffering, and that they themselves spent those years apart from each other. And in the end, the only way to truly make things right was to selflessly sacrifice themselves for the innocent child who’s been paying for their mistakes. It wasn’t explicitly said, but I believe that their sacrifice was the reason that Queen Yeomra saved them both. After everything they suffered in life, and after five hundred years of separation, their little family deserved to finally be together. Manager Gwi and Wol-joo redeemed themselves, not through hundreds of years of service, but through their willingness to truly die for their child and make up for their selfish acts in life.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I truly believe that one of the major factors made Mystic Pop-up Bar work so well was its simplicity. The story of Wol-joo and her prince (and their son) wasn’t a complicated one, but it was told with so much heart, and acted so perfectly by the cast, that we couldn’t help but fall head over heels for them. I do think that it was clever to tell Wol-joo and Manager Gwi’s love story backwards, showing us a little more each week until we finally learned everything that led up to their current situation. That’s a storytelling tactic that can easily backfire, but it worked because their story wasn’t complicated.
But I have to give the credit for the show’s heart and soul where it’s due — the cast. When I first heard that Hwang Jung-eum, Choi Won-young, and Yook Sung-jae were headlining in a drama together, I thought that it was one of the oddest match-ups of actors I’d ever heard of. I just think of them as three completely different styles of actors, and I didn’t think it would work to have them all in a show playing off of each other so closely. But somehow, they took to their characters so naturally and played them brilliantly, and not only did it work, but it might be one of the few examples of perfect casting that I’ve seen in all my years of drama-watching. Hwang Jung-eum in particular is known for often having a harsh, “screamy” quality to her acting, but the character of Wol-joo used that energy without coming across as grating, and she knew when to pull it back and let her emotions express themselves instead of the other way around. I just can’t give enough praise to all three actors for creating characters that I’ll remember fondly for a very long time.
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