[DISCLAIMER] If you have not watched the series and have avoided all news about the ending thus far and would like to keep it that way, don’t read any further!
Many people are familiar with the netizen outcry after the end of TVN’s third installment of the Reply series, Reply 1988. In this series, you follow the lives of the residents of a small neighborhood while also trying to figure out who ends up being the husband of Sung Duk Seon, played by Girls Day’s Hyeri. If you haven’t watched the show or haven’t kept up with the big news in the South Korean entertainment world, then here’s the quickest recap you’ll find online: Most Reply 1988 fans were rooting for the Duk Seon and Jung Hwan, played by Ryu Jun Yeol, couple but were ultimately given another couple. Netizens raged. The end.
But is the couple we were given that far fetched? I don’t think so.
Jung Hwan was the fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why. He’s always seen doing small, nice things for Duk Seon, he’s handsome, and he’s given a hefty amount of screen time. In fact, one of the major plot lines in the show is the development of his feelings for her and how he deals with it personally (and silently). I’d say that this may have been the focus of the entire series, and not the OTP we were given at the end of the show- that of Duk Seon and Taek, played by Park Bo Gum.
While Taek’s story was minor for the majority of the show, we learn early on that he harbored feelings for Duk Seon. If there were any reason for the writers to give us this piece of information, it’s to keep our minds open to the thought of him becoming a threat to the biggest contender, Jung Hwan. And why wouldn’t he be a threat? Taek is arguably the character that is the most in tune with his feelings. In addition to that, he’s kind, smart, rich (not that this particularly matters), and gentle. He does have his flaws, such as smoking and abusing medication, but those flaws add to the realness of the character. Although he does spend his own time hesitating to commit to the chase like Jung Hwan, he does so only for the sake of friendship.
Jung Hwan’s biggest mistake and the overwhelming lesson that’s taught to the viewers is that you can’t hesitate when it comes to love, which he did for the whole series. There were plenty of times when he could have confessed to Duk Seon or shown his interest, but he spent most of his time being hot-and-cold, or tsundere, if you will. This is confusing for a person as simple as Duk Seon. Things need to be spelled out for her, so the small, yet charming, gestures flew right over her head. This caused her romantic interest in him to diminish almost as quickly as it manifested. His window of opportunity was small, really, because she starts dating after graduation. She simply moves on like the positive person she is shown to be. Also, another quick thought: That scene where he confesses his feelings and gives her his graduation ring, only to pretend that it’s a joke after the confession was the worst move that he could have made.
And as this is a television show, you have to think of the off-screen happenings in the time between Duk Seon and everyone else in this show’s alternate universe. What kind of dating experiences did she have? Who did she keep in contact with the most after graduation? Did Taek and Duk Seon spend any significant time conversing in the time between graduation and 1994, when the two begin their romance? Those are the things that we have to piece together ourselves, but you don’t have to spend too much time imagining when you have a grasp on the type of person that our female lead is- an energetic and sweet girl that has a soft spot for those in need. Throughout Reply 1988, Duk Seon does things for others and cares for those around her selflessly. She seems to enjoy having this role, and that’s seen the most when she’s caring for Taek. The two have personalities that really compliment each other, as he is in need of that pillar of support and she needs someone that is simple- someone that needs her and shows it.
After it’s all said and done, I personally found the ending to be rather realistic. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe in timing. Taek just had the right timing, and Jung Hwan kept himself on the sidelines for too long due to fear. Does that mean that Taek and Duk Seon are the ultimate couple that could have come from the show? No, I think that Jung Hwan and Duk Seon could have been a remarkable couple, but that isn’t the point. In the real world, storybook romances are few and far between. Taek and Duk Seon was the practical romance, and I’m happy for those fictional characters.