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Last Episode!  It was also the last episode for most of the characters in this really bloodthirsty drama.  I guess you can’t have cruel oppressors and zealots fighting for freedom without a large body count.  This finale didn’t deviate from the rest of the drama, and I guess if you’re into that kind of thing, you would not have been disappointed with seeing Gaksital’s Last Ride.

I think this was one of the worst weddings ever, even by K-drama standards.  Not only did Shunji show up uninvited, along with a whole bevy of wedding crashers, but he then shot the bride.  I think we all know that someone major had to die, in order for the previous minor demises to seem like nothing, and Mok Dan was as good a candidate as any, especially since she comes from a family which wasn’t too long-lived.  Also, in these stories the girl hardly ever lives.

All hell broke loose following that shot heard round Gyeongseong, and many other comrades fell as the independence fighters ran in different directions.  Those fighters who hadn’t been invited (I can’t believe not everyone was – there weren’t that many people in the commune, so weren’t feelings hurt?) didn’t fare much better – the imperial police and the army decimated them (except for the Circus Spy’s little brother, who might not have died, but definitely suffered a highly traumatic experience when a Dong Jin Corps member became a Corpse member as he saved the youth by covering his body with his own).  So this was obviously not a good day to have a wedding.

I don’t think making Gang To a widower is no big deal, but this whole Mok Dan romance never really meant much to me in this drama.  Not only are these kinds of stories never about romance, but Mok Dan herself was never that interesting.  And it didn’t really help matters that Gang To managed to subdue his grief in record time, since there were lots of other things to be done.  I know that Mok Dan wouldn’t have held this against him, and would have encouraged him even, but it just doesn’t really sit right with me.

Shunji went through the typical stages of grief following his terrible action.  First he blamed Gang To for Mok Dan’s death, then he failed to do basic math in front of his superiors, and also sobbed over the wedding photos.  There wasn’t much for him to do after this, so I think everyone was waiting for him to kill himself, or for Gang To to “make a decision” about him.

The bodyguard was all for killing him, though I wonder why he didn’t do it himself.  I guess Gang To got dibs, or else that neck chop thing is the only thing he’ll ever do.  We’ll never know what Gang To was prepared to do, since Shunji took matters into his own hands and committed suicide.  Gang To shed a tear for his best friend, but once again he had a lot of work to do in a limited time.  I assume he does most of his grieving offscreen.

One assignment was getting rid of President Ueno, which turned out to be surprisingly easy, even though it was supposed to be such an impossible task early on.  His timing was impeccable, since he arrived just as Rie was about to get executed.  But once again this wasn’t Gaksital’s moment, but Katsuyama’s.  He isn’t just all talk, since when the moment came, he drew his sword against Ginpei in order to protect his ladylove.  President Ueno just looked exasperated, as if Katsuyama had just done something really embarrassing, and that annoyance did not subside once Gaksital got some flying daggers into Ginpei.  Katsuyama knew not to waste such a good opportunity, and gave him the final death-blow.  All that was left for Gaksital to do was to give his usual speech, and then kill the president, who looked like he was laughing at Gaksital’s horrible delivery.  If that skeeze hadn’t had the nerve to call to Rie for help, I would have laughed with him.

For someone so willing to die, Rie had no problems with living, and rushed after Gaksital.  Always looking out for her Joseon man, she asked him to spare Shunji’s life, so that Gang To would not have to live with that pain and regret.  Gaksital just looked at her, and then left her life forever.  She even had more of a goodbye with Shunji when she called to warn him about a visit from Gaksital, and realized that he was about to do something pretty drastic.  She was not as desperate, and her ending was not death, but striking out all on her own.  It was painful to hear Katsuyama ask to come along, just as her shadow, but I thought her answer was pretty good.  She obviously cared about him a lot since she wanted him to have a better life than just being with someone who didn’t love him.  She left him with her “real” name – Chae Hong Ju – which was kind of nice, and even brought a rare smile to his face as he said he would remember her name forever.  Or as nice as anything could be in this drama.  I still don’t think her situation was entirely resolved, but that’s obviously all we gonna git for Rie/Chae Hong Ju.

With most of the cast thinned out now, what else was there to do but rope everyone up for one last big stand?  We got scenes of the remaining independence fighters making flags and bridal masks, and these were for an important cause, and not just Gang To exploiting everyone as costume makers.

For at the end we didn’t get just one Gaksital, but a whole horde of them, men, women, and children, all marching behind Dong Jin Corps members towards the Jongno Station, where Koiso (those types always live – that’s what Emperor of the Sea taught me) waited for a fight.  Even though everyone became Gaksital, we got a final shot of our favorite, heading towards the never-ending fight.  The end.

I wouldn’t call this ending lame, and it fits with the overall message of the drama of continuing to fight no matter what, but it didn’t move me the way it obviously wanted do.  I had kind of enjoyed this drama early on, but once it veered to some pretty disturbing places, and the writing became really inconsistent and lazy, I just kind of checked out.  I also couldn’t think about actual history as I watched this drama, or else I might not have been able to get through it.  Because you know there can be no real happy ending for anyone, and that it’s all going to be an endless downer that makes you uncomfortable.  These are things everyone should know, but not necessarily watch a drama about.  I thought that since the drama already introduced crazy things like a guy who wears a bridal mask to kill people with a blunt object, it would be a more stylized depiction of the past.  But no – Bridal Mask couldn’t even get the period clothes right.

Joo Won is pretty likable, and he needed all of that goodwill for me to still tolerate him after the last quarter of the drama, when he turned into a total teacher’s pet.  These earnest roles are hard to do, and it gets really boring when the hero is so one-dimensional.  He has not made it to my list of actors and actresses who I’d watch in anything, though I am mildly curious about his next drama, which is the drama version of the 2009 Kang Ji Hwan and Kim Ha Neul movie, My Girlfriend Is an Agent (I think it’s slated for next year on MBC).  I don’t really buy Joo Won as an action star, though I admit that he did look a little better when he wasn’t in that mask.  I still wonder who had the great idea to wear that particular one.

I was probably the most disappointed in Park Ki Woong, since I expected so much more scariness from him.  His histrionics were just embarrassing – for him, and I can’t help but look at him askance after seeing how good he was at playing someone who was really bad to women, especially the one he loved.  I guess he’s the type who’s better in small doses.  Jin Se Yun was just a non-entity, and the most I can say is that it was funny watching her be so enthusiastic in her scenes with Gang To.  I’m not surprised she’s sticking to the serious route with her current drama, Five Fingers, since she didn’t really strike me as the bust-a-gut funny type.

I felt the worst for Rie at the end, since she was just kind of shunted to the side as her story became too at odds with the unalloyed celebration of Yang Baek and Co.  Was it sloppy the way the drama never went more into her horrifying backstory, or was that deliberate given how her treatment at the hands of independence fighters added too many problems?  She was seriously wronged by the people who killed her family because they wouldn’t donate money, and even had to become a gisaeng, and she doesn’t get more of a resolution?  I guess just not mentioning it is still better than doing something really stupid, like making the Kishokai the actual ones behind her downfall.

But when pretty much every person who wasn’t a Joseon person was black hat evil, I get that a more ambiguous character like Rie will have to fall to the wayside.  I still didn’t find her that compelling, and I wonder if a stronger actress could have brought something more to the character.  I mean, I like Han Chae Ah, but you know.  She’s currently in the drama Ooh La La Couple as the second lead, and I wish it wasn’t semi-incestuous – she’s opposite Shin Hyun Joon, who played Gang To’s hyung.  I think she’s having an affair with him in this drama, which must still be a step above playing someone who had to give massages to the man who later tried to kill you.  But that was Bridal Mask.