Two fan favorite dramas ended recently, and the stark contrast between the endings provided me with a lot of food for thought. Come see how I think Tale of the Nine Tailed ended things right, and why I think DoDoSolSolLaLaSol went down in flames.
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.
ALL THE SPOILERS.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
A Story Is A Tree
Over the years, as I’ve examined stories and written a few of my own, one thing that has stuck out to me is that a story grows like a tree does. There’s a solid beginning (the roots), the journey (the trunk), and then the variety of choices (the branches) that lead to the ending (the leaves).
One thing that a tree canNOT do is jump around. Squirrels can, but squirrels are annoying and don’t lead to logical conclusions.
I might be getting away from my metaphor here.
The point is that a well-written story, like a tree, lays out a course and sticks to it. Some of the action may happen on the inside, invisible to the outside observer, but we can see the results. The branches lead to colorful leaves, beautiful flowers, and sometimes even delicious fruit, all by following the internal logic that the tree dictates.
Still with me? I hope so. This is going to come up again later.
Different Stories, Similar Characters
On the surface, Tale of the Nine Tailed and DoDoSolSolLaLaSol are very different stories. One is a contemporary fantasy with supernatural beings and underworld gods interacting with humans. The other is a contemporary romance with very ordinary characters dealing with the circumstances in front of them.
(You knew the ‘however’ was coming, right?)
We have some similarities in our characters. Take our lead females. In DoDoSolSolLaLaSol, Gu Ra Ra may have been indulged as she grew up, but she was never helpless. She never gave up and did what she needed to do to build her life again. In Tale of the Nine Tailed, Nam Ji Ah tackled the challenge of her missing parents and other unexplainable events in her life head on, never backing down or hiding.
These are very different, strong women, well-written and well-rounded. They were a delight to watch from beginning to end.
Our male leads are similar too. Sun Woo Joon in DoDoSolSolLaLaSol was independent and capable and ALWAYS lying. Lee Yeon in Tale of the Nine Tailed was a former mountain god, vain and capable and ALWAYS keeping something back.
With me so far? Hope so!
Cocky vs Arrogant
There is a VERY important difference between Jun and Lee Yeon, however. Lee Yeon is cocky — he has the confidence of centuries behind him, well aware of his abilities and just what he’s capable of. However, that cockiness never gets between him and the important relationships in his life. This is especially true of his relationship with Ji Ah — he acknowledges her strengths and counts on them when they’re working together.
On the other hand, Jun, however mature he may act, is arrogant. He keeps things to himself to “protect” Ra Ra, showing a lack of trust in her abilities. Even when he’s preparing for his inevitable departure, he tells Dr. Cha to take care of Ra Ra, because she requires a lot of care.
Hold up a second.
Ra Ra ran into some problems, yes. Jun helped her out, yes. But Ra Ra was NOT helpless. She did NOT require a lot of care, and Jun’s arrogance in thinking that she did showed his immaturity.
All right. Hang on to that comparison. It will be important in a minute.
Weaving the Ending in Early
Ok, we’re going to go back to that tree metaphor now.
A well-written story is like a tree because it sets its course early and sticks to it. Like I said before, some of the action takes place where we can’t see it, but it’s logical and follows the course and has predictable results, even if WE didn’t predict those results. We don’t always know what color the leaves will be, or the shape of the fruit, or the size of the flower. BUT we can look at the tree and know that we will get results that make sense.
A story is NOT a squirrel, hopping from branch to branch with no predictability.
So how does this apply to our dramas? I’m glad you asked!
In Tale of the Nine Tailed, Lee Yeon expresses early and often his desire to be human so that he can live his life with Ji Ah. He’s constant in his love for her. So if you follow the story tree from the beginning, it makes sense that he’s able to return as a human, to complete his story by building a life with Ji Ah. And the sacrifice of Lee Rang makes sense too. More on that later.
On the other hand, Jun and Ra Ra didn’t have a vision for the future. So when the cancer storyline was inserted in the last two episodes of DoDoSolSolLaLaSol, it felt more like a squirrel hopping through the branches than the story tree leading to a logical conclusion. There weren’t ANY hints of an illness until then — Jun didn’t run away from home to experience the life he thought he was going to miss out on. His deep grief over his best friend’s death drove him away from home, and that could have been used to create a good ending. But the writer decided to ride a squirrel instead.
Emotional Payoff Is A MUST
Still with me so far? If you are, I AM SO GLAD. Go get yourself a cookie as a reward. You earned it! I’ll wait here.
Got your cookie? Good. Let’s wrap this up.
A lot of viewers felt betrayed by the ending of DoDoSolSolLaLaSol, and for good reason. Jun lied to Ra Ra, AGAIN, for no good reason. Not only did their story end up as a squirrel (cancer) instead of a branch (dealing with his grief), but the viewers were robbed of the opportunity to see them go through the journey TOGETHER. The whole point of a romance is for the main couple to work together for their happy ending. Jun’s lack of trust in Ra Ra was disappointing, and showed a lack of respect for her and her ability to be in a relationship with him.
Tale of the Nine Tailed did it right, in two important ways. First of all, Lee Yeon valued the people around him, including his antagonistic brother Lee Rang. Lee Rang has a fantastic growth arc, going from fighting against and betraying Lee Yeon at every opportunity to understanding that he had NEVER been abandoned by his brother to acknowledging the deep love he held for Lee Yeon. In the end, the greatest gift Lee Rang could give his beloved brother was sacrificing his own life. Lee Rang’s sacrifice had meaning because of the personal journey he went through.
There’s also the journey that Lee Yeon and Ji Ah went through together. Their romance was fulfilling because they met each other’s needs where they could, respected each other, and worked together as much as possible. Lee Yeon’s sacrifice at the end was necessary to bring down the villain, and it made sense as part of the story.
The continuation of Lee Yeon and Ji Ah’s romance because of Lee Rang’s sacrifice wasn’t just because the OTP needed a happy ending. Lee Rang also managed to grant his brother’s fondest wish: Lee Yeon got to become human. The ending is satisfying because it follows the storyline from roots to leaves — no squirrels. And the romance was satisfying because we got to see Lee Yeon and Ji Ah go on their journey together.
In my head, I’ve given DoDoSolSolLaLaSol and Tale of the Nine Tailed their own titles. DoDoSolSolLaLaSol became the Red Herring Drama, which was funny until it wasn’t. Tale of the Nine Tailed became the Tale of Two Brothers, because as central as the romance was to the story, the relationship of the two brothers was just as necessary.
I hope this post clears up just WHY the end of DoDoSolSolLaLaSol made so many viewers angry, as well as showing the emotional satisfaction of the end of Tale of the Nine Tailed.
Thanks for indulging my academic tendencies, drama fans. Let me know in the comments below if you agree or disagree with me — I’m always up for a good discussion!
Until the next drama airs, I remain —
Karie the Maknae
Dramas with a Side of Kimchi