They stay true to themselves as the show manages to tie up all the loose ends nicely, leaving me feeling like everyone gets the ending they deserve. Ki-tae turns and walks away, leaving Jang-mi alone at the altar.
While they talk, Ki-tae accidentally finds the envelope of postcards from Dad and swipes them. Ki-tae suggests they go see her father, since they now have his address. Finally he pulls over at a rest stop also against her wishes and orders lunch, saying he needs energy to endure her while she takes her upset out on him. He finally gets Jang-mi to eat by saying they can leave as soon as the food is gone.
Jang-mi asks why Ki-tae went to see her mom in the first place, and he says he was jealous that she was getting so much affection from his mother and he wanted the same from her mom. But Ki-tae is sure her parents will make up, and even bets on it: If her parents get back together, Jang-mi has to marry him.
I love his reasoning, that if the worst marriage she knows can work out, then surely theirs will too. He reclaims them and they adorably tickle-hug-wrestle for possession of the envelope. A passing fisherman picks up the envelope when Ki-tae drops it, and says he knows the man who wrote it, and that he was heading to Seoul today to close his chicken restaurant.
When Jang-mi asks what Dad ever did to give Mom assurance, it takes all the fight right out of him, but the news that Mom has cancer hits him even harder.
Oh, this is so sad. She says sadly that their bet is over since her parents will never see eye-to-eye, but Ki-tae still has hope. Jang-mi climbs into bed with her mom and promises to be her life partner and never leave her. They commiserate over how hard it is to be around women who have to talk everything out, while men just get each other without speaking. Go talk to your wife. Grandma says she has something to confess and asks if Mom remembers when she left home with Ki-tae.
She tells Mom that Ki-tae thinks of those as his happiest days, but Mom remembers them as lazy days. Mom cries tears of relief, and asks what Grandma will do without her.
The only concern is that she will lose that breast, but Ki-tae tells Jang-mi not to worry, since he knows a great doctor. She sighs at all the other ladies who have husbands, boyfriends, and sons to support them, but pretends disinterest when her own husband shows up.
Dad asks haltingly if he can stay with her, but Mom is stubborn and tries to give the bankbook back. Jang-mi and Ki-tae watch from outside the room, and Jang-mi cries a few tears and notes that the reunion befits her parents.
Ki-tae wonders if he should start proposing now that the bet results are in, but Jang-mi stops him again. She asks Ki-tae to wait, but he rightly says if they wait until all the drama is over, it will never happen. He teases her out of her grump, but in voiceover Jang-mi says that back then, they never expected the worst life-twist that was ahead for their wedding.
When he asks for congratulations, Mom says he ought to congratulate her, so he starts in with the lip service of how he owes it all to her. He thanks her and she asks for something in return… a divorce. He turns to Grandma for support, but Grandma tells him to give her the divorce. Mom asks for the house, and invites Grandma and Mi-jung to live with her not as in-laws, but as friends.
The women are as touched as Dad is horrified, and they all hug again leaving Dad out in the cold. A few months later, a now-showing Hyun-hee watches a new chef cook in their restaurant, and Yeo-reum tells Jang-mi that this is his replacement.
He offers to sell her his recipes and bids her farewell, and in voiceover she says that this goodbye was the beginning of the wedding trouble. She tells Dad to take responsibility for his love, and find fulfillment. Ki-tae and Jang-mi enjoy a candlelit bubble bath together the night before their wedding. Jang-mi tells Ki-tae he looked like a wet rat the first time she saw him from his date that threw water on him , but agrees that he looked so sexy that she threw the juice on him later just to see him all wet and sexy again.
They reminisce over all the key points of their relationship, teasing and joking adorably. Jang-mi says she likes the small tub, and they canoodle as she says in voiceover that at that point, they still trusted each other. Jang-mi argues that the forecast predicted it would clear up, and the bride gets her way so the umbrellas come down. Yeo-reum approaches them and grabs Ki-tae in a bear-hug when Ki-tae pouts that he only greeted Jang-mi. Yeo-reum escorts Jang-mi to her waiting room, and Ki-tae overhears him say something about wiring money and gets suspicious.
Se-ah comes to congratulate Jang-mi, who jokes that her mother loves her new breast but her dad loves it more, hee. Ki-tae greets the wedding guests and gets glomped by an overly-enthusiastic Hoon-dong, cute where he and his mother are grilled by the female family members over her divorce and his not inviting his father.
Dad shows up and Mom admits to having invited him, but Hyun-hee comes to get Ki-tae before he can address any of this. They and every single wedding guest look to where Se-ah is sitting, looking very cuddly with the 3D technology sales rep on her arm. All of the wedding guests run for cover, leaving Ki-tae and Jang-mi to stand in the rain at the altar all alone. Jang-mi says in voiceover that in life, the worst things happen during the best times, but you can get through life because the best things also come with the worst.
Soaked and deserted by family and friends, Ki-tae and Jang-mi just look at each other and begin to laugh. They exchange wedding rings in the pouring rain, as Jang-mi thinks how marriage involves not just them, but both of their families.
There will be lots of family issues, but marriage is worth it to be together. They seal the deal with rainy kisses. This goes for the parents as well as the leads, because none of them really changed dramatically; they only learned to accept themselves and take responsibility for their own happiness. Nobody had to have a personality transplant in order for someone to love them… yes they all changed some, but they just became better versions of themselves. Before, their quirks and hangups were holding them back, but they learned to take those qualities in themselves and use them in a positive way instead of letting the personality trait be in control.
Instead of giving Jang-mi personal satisfaction, this just led to her being dismissed and overlooked by her friends and family. But I believe that even though he did a lot of growing, Ki-tae still stayed essentially himself through the course of the show… he simply learned how to turn his protective instincts to the people he loves rather than keep it all for himself.
But the best thing about this entire show has always been the focus on family. None of us live in a vacuum and, good or bad, our families shape and define who we are. Jang-mi and Ki-tae were dysfunctional because their families were dysfunctional — but rather than fighting the future in-laws for control like so many drama characters, they actually drew those families in and worked on healing them.
But they learned how to love and accept one another in spite of that, and maybe even because of that. The best dramas are ones that not only make you laugh and root for the characters, but make you feel something special, and I think I can confidently say that this show did that and did it well.
It is in some ways the least romantic and most realistic of depictions since we have characters who run the gamut from happily wed, happily divorced, to some whose marriages resemble war buddies who are in it till the end because no one else would know their pain. This series is a standout among rom-coms for its fresh take on contemporary romance, its flawed characters who were allowed to remain flawed, and the lovely sense of humor that the writer and director shared—there was a cohesion in the writing and directing that was palpable, in that we were made to feel all of the right beats in all the right ways, which is actually rare.
I loved the setup, but it started to drive me nuts the way we felt trapped there. The series was at its best early on, when the humor crackled and the couple was forced to act loving on the surface while antagonism brewed underneath. But once they started using it to misrepresent scenes altogether with footage that was a direct lie, it stopped being clever and felt manipulative; they lost meaning when I could only start counting them as fantasy sequences.
At least the finale went out on the kind of cold open I had loved early on. Marriage Not Dating was a relative success for tvN it reached a high of 4.
I love watching actors grow role by role, and these two had such a fantastically timed growth spurt in the same drama opposite one another. It underscored that the secondary loveline in the drama—between Jang-mi and her future mother-in-law—was something that changed Mom as a daughter-in-law as well.
I loved that the familial thread ran through the show from beginning to end, and that despite the romance being the hook, family is what we end on.