See You In My 19th Life

See You In My 19th Life’s Ending was an emotional scam

The ending of See You In My 19th Life was guilty of the worst sin in fiction: making no sense.

I know every unhappy fan has said this about a movie, book, or show that disappointed them since the beginning of time, but let me explain in this post why See You In My 19th Life should be in drama prison for pulling a scam on its audience and ordered to compensate us for emotional damages.

I will be spoiling the ending, so if you haven’t watched it but plan to, now is the time to run.

How they changed the ending from the webtoon

The final conflict the drama came up with was giving Ban Ji-eum the choice to make peace with her past life or continue the cycle of being reborn with perfect recall of all her heartbreaks. The webtoon did something similar but executed in a way that made sense. The extra TV twist was that she would forget all her past lives, down to every action in her 19th life that was connected to those memories somehow.

The show didn’t care that this would basically mean she would have amnesia from age 9 to 24. Since every part of her life was connected to her past memories since she remembered them.

I don’t mean that the show was fine with inflicting such a huge trauma on its main lead – that would be the storyteller’s right – but that they didn’t even seem to realise this was what they were doing!

So, when Ban Ji-eum chose to lose the memories of her previous lives, she also forget all the people whom she had met in her past life and sought out in her 19th one.

She forgot the niece from her past life who was her mother figure in this one, the boy from her past life who gave her a goal in this one, and reuniting with the little sister who was older than her in this life, but still a little baby in front of her unni.

The emphasis on fated romance can cripple good stories

Sometimes, I really resent Korean drama writers for putting such heavy emphasis on destiny. Not when it’s used thoughtfully, but when it’s used as a shortcut in storytelling because writers don’t want to do the work of weaving it through the narrative in a way that resonates and makes sense. Everyone knows how destiny in romances works, so it’s an easy out.

So, while on the one hand, the concept of fate allows creation of stories where all kinds of wonderful, impossible things are inevitable and believable, there are times like this when fate makes human agency utterly unnecessary.

It’s like writers forget that people are made of choices. Our personalities and characters are built and shaped by the paths we choose every day. Destiny didn’t make Ban Ji-eum the indomitable force she is, her memories of past actions and experiences through 19 life times did.

Forgetting all the choices she made, all the people she loved through multiple life times is a great way to undo her completely. (The webtoon does this far better and if I can get my anger under control soon, I’ll write about how they dealt with this conflict.)

The Ban Ji-eum we meet in the end, the one who doesn’t remember Cho-won from three life-times, is no longer the character we spent 12 episodes getting to know and rooting for. She’s no longer Cho-won’s sister, Ae-kyung’s “samchoon”, or Seo-ha’s weird, young employee who understood and loved him as if she’d watched over him as a traumatised little boy.

Desperation to create an impactful ending

Every choice writers make in the world of fiction is based on their own taste in fiction and a certain desire to evoke a specific feeling in their audience.

So what were they thinking when they decided the price of ending Ban Ji-eum’s cycles of reincarnation were not only her memories of all past lives, but erasure of all her current connections?

This choice smacks of a desperation to create an impactful ending that would stick in the audience’s memory. Almost no intelligent thought went into working out the consequences of such an ending.

An easy question for the writers to ask themselves would have been: Why can’t Ji-eum just wait till the end of this life and then erase all her memories? Surely, she would be the most reluctant to forget the people she loved in this life?

When such basic questions crop up after the ending of a drama, you know the creators didn’t care about the audience’s experience.

If they had wanted an ending where Ban Ji-eum could finally find peace but couldn’t have it with the people she loved in her 19th life, this would have been a poignant, meaningful choice.

But the writers didn’t want a sad ending, just a gasp-inducing one. And so they gave us no explanation for why Ban Ji-eum didn’t seem to realise that a decade of her life was missing from her memory, while everyone around her remembered that life perfectly well.

She was back at her job as an engineer with no memory of Ae-kyung who helped her get through school and college and was the family her own parents couldn’t be to her. What does this Ban Ji-eum think her life was like? Does she even realise that there are events missing from her memories? Do the people around her never make references to events she can no longer recall?

Why did the show bother with this ending when they had no intention of fleshing it out?!

Suggesting that her loved ones, the people she forgot, would be able to walk into her amnesiac life and recreate the same relationships with this different Ban Ji-eum is utterly absurd.

A total scam.

We got scammed, y’all.

If you are in the mood to listen to a very spoilery discussion of this and other major ways in which See You In My 19th Life completely stomped on my overly invested heart, we did a segment in this episode of my podcast, Dramas Over Flowers. Jump to 46:06

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