Updated: Apr 22
Moon Dong-eun from The Glory inspires sympathy as well as admiration. So, of course, such a character deserves an ending that brings closure to her and her audience. But earlier this month, when I was on the last few episodes of this drama, a thought began to niggle at me.
After the terrible ordeal of her youth, our protagonist has been the calm center of the storm she brewed over decades.
Over 16 episodes, we watched her slowly topple the bullies who had terrorized her with a zen-like composure that gave a lie to all the chaos around her.
But what did this mean for Dong-eun’s character arc by the end of the show?
Who was she once her revenge was over?
To find some answers, let’s take a look at the ending of The Glory with a special focus on one particular scene that may be hiding the answer.
At the start of the story, the drama puts us at the lowest point of Moon Dong-eun’s life. She’s suffered extreme abuse from her classmates, and then her trust is breached repeatedly by the adults around her. Her dreams of growing up to be an architect or of just having friends have all been snuffed out of her. At this point, she has two core beliefs: there’s no one to help her & the only reason for her to stay alive is to carry out her revenge.
So, she spends two decades avoiding forming any deep bonds and slowly plots her revenge with painstaking meticulousness. She finds out their weaknesses, their habits, their relationships, and then focuses on bringing her life to a place where she can take them on from close proximity.
It’s notable that while Dong-eun may have been the puppet master making the evil friends’ group crumble from within, but writer never has her directly be responsible for any deaths. Dong-eun’s goal - except for one case - was to bring each abuser to “judgement”, which didn’t necessarily mean death. The one exception where she intentionally plotted the death of a person was in the case of Imo-nim’s husband who was still abusing her. The show makes a clear case for why this was necessary. The man had kept Imo-nim trapped by threatening her family members for years. Once she was able to send her daughter outside the country, her main goal was now to save herself. She couldn’t leave her husband without risking older family members, so he had to be killed. Whether or not the audience finds this convincing was entirely down to performance, and actress Yeom Hye-ran made it impossible to argue that Imo-nim should stay in the situation she was stuck in to preserve the life of such a scumbag.
So, while Dong-eun’s revenge began only for herself, it slowly also became about helping others.
The show never questions the morality of WHETHER Dong-eun should seek revenge, but makes the case that her actions are more meaningful because they benefit other victims too. While executing her own revenge, we watch as she helps: Imo-nim escape domestic abuse; Ha Do-yeon learn the truth about his wife and protect his daughter from her insane biological father; Kim Gyeong-ran avoid the consequences of killing her sexual abuser; save the life of her land lady, help Yoon So-hee by avenging her death.
And of course, without Dong-eun even trying, she helped Joo Yeo-jung find new purpose in life once he met her. When you look at the main revenge plot, Dong-eun doesn’t directly do much to the villains. She and Yeo-jung work in the background, revealing secrets, pitting the them against each other, and carrying out a plan that depends on the selfishness of their targets. If the evil friends were people who had a strong bond of trust, none of her plans would have succeeded. But instead it’s Dong-eun who keeps meeting people who want to help her, who want to be her support, and who are willing to take things to any extreme she chooses. They are completely in her camp. So, The Glory doesn’t just tell a tale of revenge served cold. It tells the story of an abuse survivor who tries to keep herself from being attached to others, but because of a core strain decency and humanity, she manages to touch the lives of a lot of people, who are drawn to her, and who trust her absolutely. In juxtaposition to the evil friends, it’s interesting to note that Dong-eun is never betrayed by any of the people she puts her trust in. Now, we come to the ending of the story. The ending of Dong-eun’s arc! Here we actually get TWO endings. Ending #1
Once her revenge is complete, Dong-eun goes on a date with Yeo-jung, and then she disappears partway through the evening.
We find her standing on top of the same roof from which her classmate So-hee had been pushed off by Yeon-jin.
Dong-eun has long held the belief that her only reason to live was to get her revenge. And at this point, that reason has come to an end. She sees no point in going on. Her pain hasn’t gone away. She still wants to end her life. So she goes to the edge of the roof, planning to jump.
This point right here could be the end of the story. If Moon Dong-eun had what K.M. Weiland calls a “flat character arc” - which means that her characters holds the same belief from start to end - then this would be a good place to stop.
Her core belief remains unchanged
Moon Dong-eun went through almost 2 decades of her life dedicated only to one goal. She met many people who tried to show her that life could have other meanings, that she could have other paths. But till the very end, she only believed that the purpose of her life was revenge. So, inevitably once that purpose was achieved, her life had no more meaning. In terms of the story it would make sense for her to jump. But then, we have the second ending of her story. A much less depressing one!
As she stands at the edge of the rooftop, Dr Park, Joo Yeo-jung’s mother appears behind her. She begs Dong-eun to save her son. Her son, Yeo-jung was being tortured by the psychopath who had murdered his father. The senselessness of his death, the triviality of the reason the killer gives FOR having murdered him was slowly killing Yeo-jung from inside. He wanted vengeance, but he couldn’t get it alone.
He was trying, but failing. Dr Park at that moment gave Dong-eun a new goal. A new vengeance. A new justice to seek.
So, she steps back from the edge. After that Dong-eun goes back to Yeo-jung and this time offers to be his partner-in-crime. She also confesses her love for him, the two kiss, and start a new chapter together.
A new revenge. 🍻🎉 So, how does this ending change Dong-eun’s character?
At the start of the essay I said that she had two main beliefs. That revenge was her only purpose in life, and that there was nobody on her side. With this ending, Dong-eun sees that there were always people by her side throughout the long years of her vengeful journey.
She thinks back on all the people who have supported her in small and big ways.
Not the least of whom was Yeo-jung, who put his entire trust in her without expecting anything in return.
So finally, her belief shifted. She had people on her side.
And once this belief changed, she also had to accept that she had formed bonds, even though she had tried her best not to. Which is why even though Dong-eun had known that Yeo-jung loved her, as long as she believed the lie of her loneliness, of her isolation, she couldn’t reciprocate. His love wasn’t real to her, and therefore her own feelings weren’t real either.
This also ties into her second belief, that her life’s only purpose, only value is in her revenge. Once Dong-eun accepted that people had helped her, that she had helped people and was capable of helping MORE people, she had to accept that she had formed real relationships in her life. And this helped break the second belief. Her revenge was not her only purpose. Her life could have other meanings. She could live on as someone other than the 19 year old Dong-eun. This is when we see her visit the resting place of her classmate, So-hee, and tell her that time has unfrozen for her. Dong-eun can now move on from her life as an abused teenager.
So, what would have been a flat character arc with no change in her internal belief system has now turned into a positive character arc.
Her core belief has changed by the end
Both of Dong-eun’s core beliefs have evolved. She has people she cares about, who care about her, and her life’s purpose has changed. This is a much more satisfying ending! She is finally released from pain, she has a man who loves her deeply, she has friends, she’s pursuing her dreams, and plotting another murder! Excellent work. 👏 But there’s something spoiling this ending. Just one scene that upends all the growth we just talked about. See, there is a problem with how we reached this second ending.
Several episodes before she prepares to jump, Dong-eun already knew that Yeo-jung was trying to carry out his own revenge, and also that he was failing at it.
She had also realised by that point that people around her have been helping and supporting her as much as they could.
Even god was on her side. She may have said that to needle Sa-ra, but given the sheer number of coincidences that helped her along her journey, we can definitively say that if a god exists in The Glory, Hana-nim is on her side.
So by the time she was standing on that rooftop, her beliefs had ALREADY changed.
She had no business abandoning Yeo-jung in the middle of a date to go jump off a roof at this point.
That scene could have just been her saying goodbye to her old self. She could have stood at that ledge, considered the pact that she made with herself to end her life after her revenge, and then she could have thought of all that she had in her life and decided that she now had reasons to live on. 38 year-old Dong-eun could have comforted 19 year-old Dong-eun and made peace with her trauma.
In its place, we get this scene, where Yeo-jung’s mom inexplicably knows where to find Dong-eun and arrives in time to give her a new revenge mission.
So, instead of facing herself and choosing to live, the scene now suggests that Dong-eun postponed her suicide until this next revenge is done.
And I guess in the meanwhile, she decided she could try out normal life cause she has time to kill?
What happens when she runs out of revenges? Does she become an avenger for hire, Taxi Driver style?
It was so close. 🙈
This one exchange ruins the final leg of her character development. And Writer Kim Eun-sook actually mentions it in an interview!
“I knew it didn’t make sense for Yeo-jung’s mother to show up on the rooftop. It’s a fantasy, you know? But if we assume there were tiny heavenly interventions throughout the story, then it becomes possible for her to appear there. Because she wanted to save Dong-eun.” - Kim Eun-sook
She’s addressing the lack of logic in Yeo-jung’s mother appearing on that rooftop. And her defense is that it’s not supposed to make sense. Basically the scene was meant to prove that god was on Dong-eun’s side.
Only Kim Eun-sook would have the gall to say that a scene doesn’t have to make sense because she was using a deus ex machina. Just hats off. 😆
But I would argue that the writer had already proved that the heavens were on Dong-eun’s side any number of times. Like, when she was caught spying by Imo-nim and gained an ally; or when Yeo-jung decided to dedicate himself to her cause; or when her landlady quietly fended off her toxic mother; or even when Ha Do-young just decided NOT to ruin her plans.
He easily could have, you know?
And let’s not forget every instance when the evil gang just upped and murdered, stabbed, or exposed each other, conveniently doing away with any need for Dong-eun to come up with separate, permanent punishments for all of them.
I mean that really freed her up to focus mostly on Yeon-jin.
So, that rooftop scene should have been left on the cutting board.
At the very least, Dong-eun should have saved herself from that jump.
That would have been exactly in character for the wonderful, clever, sincere, empathetic woman she wrote Moon Dong-eun to be.