Moonshine is the drama that just doesn’t want to end no matter how much I wish for it to happen. After yet another hiatus week, I felt kind of like a death row inmate — or Merchant Shim *cough* — whose execution date kept getting pushed back. I was just ready to be put out of my misery.
As far as last meals go, the Moonshine finale was no filet mignon, but it wasn’t garbage scraps either. More like the greasy fast food burger and fries you crave at crack-thirty in the morning after a tipsy night out with the girls. It hits the spot, but you feel bad about your choices the next day.
Our episodes begin with our characters taking an excruciatingly long time to figure out Jannabi’s identity. While Ro-seo calms down the rambling former head gisaeng in order to get a coherent answer, Young struggles to accept the truth — despite all the clues — until Ro-seo confirms it for him. He’s the kind of guy who assembles a puzzle and refuses to declare it’s a picture of a horse until he puts the final piece in place, nevermind the fact that the last piece is part of the sky background.
The worst part of watching the two of them work towards identifying Jannabi is that we already know who he is — and have for a long time. Let this be a lesson to all you budding writers out there: don’t reveal too much too soon. Your audience will get bored waiting for the characters to play catch-up.
After our leading couple identifies Shi-heum as Jannabi, they ponder their next course of action, and it warms my heart that they’re immediately concerned with how the news will affect Pyo. Ro-seo is even willing to have Shi-heum be quietly punished for her father’s murder if it means Pyo will survive the scandal mostly unscathed. Unfortunately Pyo’s misguided concern for their (and his mother’s) safety makes him Shi-heum’s reluctant accomplice. Pyo has Young arrested on the spot, and additional guards are sent to Young’s house to discreetly escort Ro-seo to the palace, where Pyo has her comfortably imprisoned.
Shi-heum tries to persuade Ro-seo to join his side, but she demands an explanation for her father’s murder. We flashback to the night Shi-heum proposed his prohibition idea to the former crown prince. He argues that it’s the perfect plan for them to build a king’s army, but Ro-seo’s father points out the injustice of subjecting their people to ten years of prohibition.
The means don’t justify the ends, and the former crown prince agrees, recounting a fable about a monkey drowning in a pond after trying to grab the moon. He says they shouldn’t be like the monkey and reach for the unattainable. Wuh-oh! He should have used a different metaphor, because Shi-heum is clearly a bit sensitive about his branded nickname. Instead of comprehending the moral of that story, Shi-heum saw it as a personal insult and challenge.
Ro-seo has a hard time seeing the “greater good” her father supposedly died for. She breaks a vase and lunges at Shi-heum’s neck with a large jagged shard, but he has surprisingly swift reflexes and grabs her wrist before she can cut him. Her ferocity not only impresses me but also reminds Shi-heum of her father. It’s too bad the comparison came from the mouth of her father’s killer because it’s a compliment that Ro-seo would have cherished under different circumstances.
Pyo visits both his imprisoned friends and insists his actions are for their safety, but there’s no way his uncle is going to let Young live. Despite Pyo’s guilt weighing heavily on his shoulders, it still takes a literal slap from Ae-jin — you go, girl! — to spur him into doing the right thing. I don’t know which I enjoyed more: Ae-jin downing a shot of liquid courage before talking some sense into Pyo, or Pyo’s stunned face after she smacked him across the cheek. Either way, my love for her character grew, and Pyo joined the underground plot to rescue his friends and bring down his uncle for good. It’s a relief because I couldn’t stand seeing Pyo work against his friends.
Young had the forethought to write a letter to the king prior to his imprisonment, but the poison in the king’s tainted teacup conveniently kicks in just as he’s about to dish out a harsh punishment for Shi-heum. With the king out of commission, Ro-seo and her friends must come up with a new plan.
Like middle school kids during an exam, our key players pass notes to one another through their trusted servants, and Ro-seo and Young successfully escape and take over Merchant Shim’s distillery. Here Ro-seo is reunited with Sang-mok and her brother — yeah, I keep forgetting he exists.
While Ro-seo and Young plot to dismantle Shi-heum’s alcohol ban and Prohibition Bureau, Woon-shim takes a more direct approach and shows up at a party thrown in Shi-heum’s honor. She enchants her audience with a gorgeous sword dance, and even though I knew she wouldn’t be the one to deliver the final blow that brings Shi-heum down, I’d hoped she would at least get in a slice or two. Sadly, her murderous eyes reveal her motives and her sword is blocked from hitting Shi-heum, her lover’s father. Dun, dun, dun!
Like Woon-shim, I was legitimately surprised by the reveal that Shi-heum is Merchant Shim’s father. I just assumed Merchant Shim’s invincibility was poor writing, not a sign he was important to the plot or that they were saving his death for the finale. But yes, after officially introducing himself to his father and finally showing a semblance of a personality, he dies — quite beautifully, I might add — saving Woon-shim.
Annnnnd she promptly kills herself, claiming she’s doing it for him. Say what now? He died protecting her! He literally just proved he wanted her to live! Somewhere nearby, Merchant Shim’s ghost was yelling, “What the hell are you doing?!”
That same night, Ro-seo and her band of merry women and men flood the streets with alcohol, delivering bottles to people’s doorsteps like alcoholic Santas. Shi-heum knows the alcohol surplus is Ro-seo’s doing, so he arrests three random people to make an example of them, knowing their pending execution will draw Ro-seo out of hiding.
His plan works (in that Ro-seo shows up and intervenes), but what Shi-heum is oblivious to is the chaos going on in the palace. While Ro-seo distracts Shi-heum and rallies the people into realizing the hypocrisy and unjustness of the prohibition law, Pyo and Ae-jin flee the palace — hand-in-hand!
With the king unconscious and Pyo out of the palace, the queen is now the next in line of authority, and Young is entrusted to safely deliver the royal seal to Yeon. Young fights his way to Yeon’s residence, and for a few minutes Moonshine forgets it’s a K-drama and not a first-person video game as Young battles his way down the hallway of the queen’s palace. He safely delivers the seal to Yeon, and she issues an order for Shi-heum’s arrest.
After that, everything wraps up neatly and quickly. Shi-heum tries to deny the charges against him, but the (still feeble) king shows up as a surprise witness on the arm of Pyo’s mother, who refused to choose between her husband and son. The king pardons Ro-seo, lifts the alcohol ban, and executes Shi-heum, who realizes in his final moments that he should have chosen his friend and drinking partner over his selfish ambitions.
A year passes and all our favorite — surviving — characters are doing well. Chun-geum purchased a noble title for Choon-gae, Pyo and Ae-jin are happily married and traveling together, Sang-mok regains his memories, and Young — much to Ro-seo’s annoyance — is still unemployed. He’s clearly taken a page out of her brother’s book and is using “studying” as an excuse to live a life of leisure. Ro-seo, in turn, uses his unemployment as a reason to reject Young’s marriage proposal. But after flubbing his way through some unflattering metaphors describing his love for her, she eventually accepts and puts him out of his misery.
One thing I can give this drama high praise for is making Ro-seo consistently assertive and strong, and the romance never diminishes her character or paints her as a damsel in distress. Even in her final moments on screen she’s assertive, shoving Young into the more vulnerable position so she can kiss him.
I can’t say that the plot did well by all our ladies — R.I.P. Dae-mo and Woon-shim — but overall the drama emphasized the strength and the importance of female friendships. We often see women on screen pitted against each other — usually because of a man — but Moonshine didn’t go there, not even when Ro-seo and Ae-jin were caught in a love-square. So even though part of me wishes I could fall off a cliff and forget I ever watched Moonshine, I think I’m better off remembering this hot mess if only for its strong female characters.