Well, you managed to make it through Descendants of the Sun.
Warning: Huge spoilers ahead.
This 2015 drama was certainly an emotional roller coaster. Right from the beginning, we were sucked into a circle of relationships that kept us guessing until the end.
I’d like to take a quick look back through those episodes and share some of my own thoughts on how things went down. Let’s begin, first and foremost, with the characters. So many characters. The main couples are paired as follows: Shi-jin, captain of the elite Alpha Team, and Mo-yeon, an ambitious surgeon; Dae-young, Shi-jin’s best friend, is a soldier as well and at the end of the series is poised for a happy future with First Lt. Myung-joo, who, due to her father’s meddling, was originally supposed to date Shi-jin. Confused yet? Yes? Great. Let’s move on.
Minor characters and relationships include Chi-hoon, played by Shinee’s Onew, and his pregnant fiancée, Dr. Jang. The couple welcomes a healthy baby boy at the end of the series. Dr. Song and Nurse Ha are another couple that we see come together during the series. Nurse Ha is a firm, no-nonsense mother with sass in spades. Dr. Song is a smooth-talking goofball. He does his best to woo Nurse Ha throughout the series. Finally, he wins her over after she discovers a file on his computer full of photos of her that he planned to use to propose.
The last couple to pair up in the series is Daniel, a Korean-American doctor from a wealthy Canadian family, and Ye-hwa, a Russian-Korean peacekeeping volunteer. Daniel quickly wins us over with his good looks, charm and warm heart. Ye-hwa is there by his side to encourage him and tell him what’s what. She isn’t a lady to be fooled with. The very last scene in the series takes place at Daniel and Ye-hwa’s wedding in Canada, though the happy couple is curiously absent.
Other characters play vital roles in the plot of the series. Agus, an American ex-soldier, goes head-to-head with Shi-jin as the story’s villain. The two served together and were once friends. When we are introduced to Agus, he has abandoned his military honor in favor of profit. He brings together a team of mercenaries to move and sell weapons in Urk, the fictional country where most of the story takes place. He kidnaps Mo-yeon toward the end of the series, straps a bomb to her chest, and threatens her life in order to bargain for his freedom and safety. His plan backfires, and Shi-jin shoots and kills him. Good riddance.
Minor characters also include the precious Ki-bum, a delinquent-turned-soldier. After Shi-jin and Dae-young foil his attempt at theft in the first episode, he spends most of the show acting as the camp cook. Shi-jin and Dae-young look after him, but he is particularly fond of Dae-young, who also spent time in a gang. In fact, Dae-young moves him to tears in the final episodes. He is simply a lovable character.
Young Soo-jin is the power plant manager who creates havoc for himself and everyone else. He makes a deal with Agus — money in exchange for diamonds — but he does not follow through. As you’ll remember, an earthquake hits Urk and the diamonds are trapped in Soo-jin’s office at the collapsed powerplant. He eventually retrieves them but decides to swallow the diamonds and keep them for himself. Then he comes down with a horrible disease that infects and nearly kills Myung-joo.
Myung-joo’s father, Lt. General Yoon, fits the role of every boyfriend’s worst nightmare. He doesn’t approve of Dae-young, who ranks lower than Myung-joo, and his meddling creates a great deal of friction in their relationship. At the end of the series, he learns that Dae-young truly loves his daughter, and he finally accepts him as a future son-in-law.
If you found keeping track of so many characters overwhelming, you are not alone. Descendants of the Sun has an astounding number of minor characters in addition to those listed above. Just when I thought I had them all, another one would pop out of the woodwork. That brings me to my next two points — location and character diversity.
Korea and the fictional land of Urk are the two main settings for Descendants of the Sun. Urk is a visual and racial mix of several different cultures. We see desert landscapes, a blue ocean, European architecture and grassy villages all in the same land. The local people make for a diverse cast of characters of different ethnicities and backgrounds as well. It was particularly pleasing to see so many characters of color take more prominent roles, not acting as simple background characters. It was also wonderful to see the show creators acknowledge the language barrier that many dramas sometimes ignore. Everyone does not magically speak Korean or the local language, nor do they all speak fluent English.
Midway through the series, a terrible earthquake hits the country of Urk. The tragedy impacts many of the characters. Mo-yeon is forced to choose between the lives of two men trapped by the earthquake. Chi-hoon falls into a deep depression after he abandons a trapped victim and has to face him later. The doctors learn how to treat patients in a foreign land, but they also learn how to work together in order to save and support each other and those around them.
Mo-yeon and Shi-jin’s relationship goes through the most turmoil. They are at odds with one another and in denial of their feelings during the beginning of the series. Mo-yeon is dedicated to saving lives. Shi-jin’s duty means that he may be required to take lives for the greater good. They butt heads over right and wrong several times during the show. Mo-yeon learns that the choices between right and wrong are not always easy. Shi-jin confronts the ghosts of his past. He realizes that hiding the truth about the dangers of his job weighs heavily on the trust between himself and Mo-yeon.
He saves her life on a number of occasions, even takes a bullet for her, much to Mo-yeon’s distress. At the end of the series, Shi-jin and Dae-young are believed to have been killed in action. The news devastates Mo-yeon, Myung-joo and their comrades. They are gone for an entire year. Then in a whopping surprise, viewers learn that Shi-jin and Dae-young are alive. They had been held captive but eventually found their way back to the women they love. Their friends are all shocked, delighted and, in the case of Ki-bum and several others, driven to tears. The happy reunion ties off the series with everyone returning to Korea, and viewers could breathe a sigh of relief.
Descendants of the Sun is a wonderful drama, though overwhelmingly complex at times. It seemed like the story could have been stretched out over two seasons in order to give the individual plot lines more time to bloom. Still, it’s a perfect drama for anyone who enjoys a funny, dramatic, action-packed love story.