There is a lot of confusion about the recently concluded Korean TV series entitled 「Sisyphus: The Myth」 even after the crucial episodes 15 and 16 were aired. In this post, I will do my best in giving clarity to what seem to be a confusing ending to this amazing story.
Before we begin, a fair reminder: everything in this post is a spoiler. I am also assuming that you, my dear reader, already finished the series (up to episode 16).
- 2021-05-06: Added Animetric’s excellent theory in our list. See below for the link to her article!
If we are to understand 「Sisyphus: The Myth」, we need to be on the same page. Let’s begin with the guidelines, terminologies, and basic information used in this explanation.
We approach this from the “in-universe” perspective. We are not going to use “production error”, “literary freedom”, or “suspension of disbelief” as reasons, these are excuses commonly used when it is not easy to understand what the authors had in mind. Think as someone who lives in the universe of 「Sisyphus: The Myth」.
We treat this as a time travel story and not as a reinterpretation of the Greek mythology of Sisyphus. We are not going to figure out who is Sisyphus between Sigma and Han Tae Sul.
The story is open-ended. It is audience’s choice how they want to interpret the ending scenes. (More on this later.)
Two important rules in creative writing / fiction writing:
Show, don’t tell.
If a scene won’t move the story forward, delete it. An experienced writer makes sure every scene is important to the story. This tells us that we can not assume that some scenes were insignificant.
Grandfather paradox. It is a paradox of time travel in which inconsistencies emerge through changing the past. For example, a person travels to the past and kills their own grandfather before the conception of their father or mother, which prevents the time traveller’s existence.1
Timestream. Or more commonly called timeline, is a metaphorical conception of time as a stream, a flowing body of water.2
Timestream branch. Also called timeline split, is the idea that a timestream branches off whenever a time traveler changes something in a time period they are not supposed to be in. If a timestream is a flowing river, the time traveler is the man who created a new branch of the river towards his town. This idea is commonly used as a solution to the grandfather paradox.
Time bubble. It is another solution to the grandfather paradox, instead of the timestream branching to a new one after a time traveler changed something, a time bubble is created to isolate the cause-and-effect of the changes. The rules in a time bubble are the following:
A time bubble is created from the origin time (“Point A”) of the time traveler and to the destination time (“Point B”) the time traveler went to.
Time inside a time bubble is not fixed, it constantly changes. The past, the present, and the future, are happening all at the same time, or to put it another way, all three are “the present”.
2020-Seo Hae or simply Seo Hae refers to the Kang Seo Hae we followed in the series.
2035-Seo Hae refers to the Kang Seo Hae in the flashbacks (future).
- The 2035-Seo Hae and 2020-Seo Hae are one and the same. We only need to distinguish them separately to avoid confusion whenever we have to mention both.
Dead-Seo Hae refers to the corpse discovered by 2035-Seo Hae and whose diary and memories she acquired.
2020-Sigma is the young Sigma.
2035-Sigma is the Sigma that Seo Hae and her father saw partying in 2035 (episode 15).
2001-Sigma or simply Sigma is the Sigma that time traveled to 2001 and amassed wealth to fund 「Quantum & Time」
- The 2035-Sigma and 2001-Sigma are one and the same. We need to distinguish them to understand the events and scenes.
2020-Tae Sul or simply Tae Sul is the Han Tae Sul we watched in the series.
Dead-Tae Sul is the corpse besides the Dead-Seo Hae in 2035; and later the ash 2020-Tae Sul touched and acquired the memories of.
- The Dead-Tae Sul and 2020-Tae Sul are not the same person. The Dead-Tae Sul was from the previous time loop.
Basic rules of the 「Sisyphus」 universe
There is only one timestream in the 「Sisyphus」 universe. Forget about multiple timelines or timestream branches. This will be explained later.
The future is 2035. From the time 2035-Seo Hae was almost caught in the department store, to finding the diary and corpse of Dead-Seo Hae, to using the Uploader, it all happened in 2035.
The story unfolded in 2020. The main story (2020-Seo Hae, 2001-Sigma, and 2020-Han Tae Sul) happened in 2020. All other scenes not in 2020 were flashbacks.
The past of a person must not see their future self or their future self will disappear. This is because a paradox occurs and to fix this nature simply deletes the anomaly–the future self.
We barely started and it was already a lot to read. Do not worry, this is going to be easy to follow because we are now on the same page.
Now let’s begin.
What is your choice of ending?
Before we dive into the meat of this post, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: what is your choice of ending? There are at least three that I can think of and I have seen these in various threads about 「Sisyphus」. These are:
Han Tae Sul was hallucinating about Kang Seo Hae sitting besides him in the plane.
There are various counter-arguments to this, however, because the assumption is he is hallucinating then no counter-argument can stand against it. Han Tae Sul at this time was stressed, taking drugs to stop his hallucinations of his brother, and is practically running away from his obligations and responsibilities. All of these, and more, is a formula for hallucinations.
Kang Seo Hae was actually sitting besides Han Tae Sul and “they lived happily ever after”.
A very simple and happy ending. It does not matter how Seo Hae was able to time travel. It does not matter why Han Tae Sul seems to have recognized her (when they have not met). What matters is they lived happily ever after.
Similar to #2 option but Seo Hae is there not only because she’s curious about Tae Sul but also because there is a new major problem.
Han Tae Sul and Seo Hae are in a pocket universe.
This is an excellent theory by Animetric.
Anyone for ending #1 will probably not like the rest of this post but are still welcome to continue. Those who are for ending #2 can use the explanation below as answers to how Seo Hae time traveled and why Tae Sul recognized her. But for those who are for ending #3, they will definitely enjoy the rest of this post.
Sigma is smirking! Not a good sign.
Yes, an FAQ. I think this is the best format to use this way it is easier to understand what particular “confused” scene I am trying to clarify.
- Q: All of the characters from the future traveled from 2035?
Yes. This was revealed in episode 15 when 2035-Seo Hae and her father arrived at the secret bar of 2035-Sigma. When they reached the underground facility, 2035-Sigma and the advance team were still there. Here’s a short timeline after 2035-Sigma allowed 2035-Seo Hae to use the Uploader.
- 2035-Sigma sent the missiles to 2020-South Korea
- 2035-Sigma was the first person to use the Uploader (explained in the earlier episodes) and went to 2001
- The advance team followed.
- The other “volunteers” or “refugees” Uploaded next.
- 2035-Seo Hae was called and went to 2020.
- Q: Why are the time travelers called a “copy”?
Short answer: because for all intents and purposes, they are a copy of the person in the past.
Long answer: They are not supposed to be in the past where their younger versions exist. Since their younger versions are in their proper time period, then they practically became a “copy”. However, it does not mean that they are literally a “copy” and there is an “original” left in 2035. Episode 15 established whenever they use the Uploader, the original from 2035 literally time traveled to the past.
- Q: Is there really only one timestream and no branches?
Yes. We know there is only a single timestream because whenever the past version see their future version, the future version disappears. It means that they are exactly one and the same, from the exact same timestream. As explained in the previous question, the future version becomes a copy when they are in the past where they already exists. In addition to that, if they are from different timestreams then it should be fine to interact with each other because no one is a copy of the other, they will be both unique.
There is another proof of this which we will touch on in another question.
- Q: If 2020-Tae Sul died, how did Seo Hae appeared in the plane with him?
The Uploader was still developed. 2020-Tae Sul did leave the code to finish the Uploader in the laptop Eddie Kim gave him. However, Tae Sul no doubt time-locked it (will only unlock sometime in the future) and added other conditions–possibly it will only work with Seo Hae.
There is also the Uploader blueprints Tae Sul’s brother, Tae San, hid from everyone. When he woke up, he found out his brother killed himself to save the world. He did say that he will do everything to save and ensure Tae Sul lives.
Even if Tae Sul did not leave the code, Tae San still have a copy himself. However, I do believe Tae Sul did leave the code, we will come back to this later.
Don’t make Seo Hae mad at you … her aim is true!
- Q: If everyone from 2035 disappeared then does it not mean that time was reset? Should they not retain memories since those never happened?
No, time was not reset. If time was indeed reset then they would be back from the very beginning and everything will start all over again. Yes, that is the premise of the series title “Sisyphus”, however as was shown in the plane scene in episode 16, that is not the case at all.
The solution to this is the time bubble I mentioned at the beginning of this post. When Tae Sul killed himself, it delayed the development of the Uploader. Without it, everyone and every item from 2035 disappeared. However, the effects, interactions, memories, the diary Seo Hae wrote, information they shared, remained. This is proof that time was not reset.
What happened was the time bubble was popped when Tae Sul died. The result of popping the time bubble is the time periods that used to be inside it became fixed or set in stone. The time before the pop became fixed as the [new] past. The time after the pop was rewritten and became the [new] future. This is why the information written in the notebook 2020-Sigma was holding still exist. If time was reset that information should have been erased as well.
- Q: Is 2020-Sigma reformed? Or is he still going down the path of being a time traveling psychopath?
I think he’s reformed. Kang Dong Gi’s (Seo Hae’s father) wise intervention clearly made a mark in 2020-Sigma, it was shown all over his face! It was also the whole story behind why 2035-Sigma/2001-Sigma turned into a psychopath … no one cared for him, he was invisible, he was treated less than an animal. When Dong Gi showed his fatherly nature, which reflected in his eyes, face, and action, 2020-Sigma noticed it all and it changed him from the inside. It was proof for him that his assumption that no one cares about him is false.
This was later proven when he was shown freely doing artwork for strangers in a public park. He was no longer suicidal. His dark view of the world diminished or perhaps gone. He probably hates Tae Sul still but he’s dead anyway. It would explain why he tried to copy Tae Sul in front of his mirror … he has new plans, and there is the information from the notebook.
Which brings us to the next question.
- Q: Whose notebook was it?
I have no doubt it was Dong Gi’s notebook where he scribbled his thoughts to understand the connections of everyone … because he needs to stop his daughter from going back in time or meeting Han Tae Sul. Noticed how Dong Gi trained Seo Hae and tried everything to keep the knowledge of the uploader from her? He investigated and kept notes. Let’s go back to episode 15. Remember what 2035-Sigma said to Dong Gi in the Uploader room? Paraphrasing, “you know she made it to the past, safe and sound”.
- Q: But how did 2020-Sigma acquire the notebook?
Remember that scene in episode 16 when Dong Gi removed two items from his jacket before giving it to 2020-Sigma? He forgot something else … his notebook.
What did I say at the beginning of this post about creative writing? Show, don’t tell and if a scene won’t move the story forward, delete it. There was no need to focus on Dong Gi removing the items from the pockets of his jacket. There were even two scenes, one scene was in front of him and the other scene was a back shot. It was a clear sign that there is something the writers want to show us in those two scenes. It was not about the jacket. It was not about those two items he removed. It was about what he had forgotten … his notebook.
See? Even Sigma is laughing now.
- Q: How come Han Tae Sul kept saying that he already saw the future up to the point after they shot 2035-Sigma, when he ended up dying?
It does not make sense, right? 2020-Tae Sul partially lied. What he actually meant was he calculated everything already and “saw” the outcome of his plans. Here’s the thing, the memories he got from the Dead-Tae Sul ashes was that version when they were getting married and 2001-Sigma shot Dead-Seo Hae. In the reality we watched, Seo Hae was not in a wedding dress, which Sigma also realized. If so, then 2020-Tae Sul never saw anything in advance.
What 2020-Tae Sul saw were the events of their previous attempt to stop Sigma. Based on that information, he calculated all the probabilities and set things in motion. He also admitted that he had to locked-up Seo Hae because it is very important that no one learns of his plans for it to succeed.
Tae Sul was also surprised that the gun men were still around when Sigma ordered to shoot them. This was another proof that Tae Sul was only relying on his calculations. There’s more, we’ll get back to this in a few.
- Q: Why did Tae Sul say, before he shot himself, that he knew it is the only way and that he saw the future?
Again, partial lie. Tae Sul also said this (paraphrasing): Find me. No matter what it takes. Find me. No matter when. Find me. Why?
He was reassuring Seo Hae that he planned for everything up to that point. That he knew “it is the only way” to save the world and to ensure they get another chance to be together. Yes, Tae Sul formed the plan to shoot himself after he touched the ashes of the Dead-Tae Sul.
This is the other reason why, as I mentioned earlier, that Tae Sul did leave the code for the Uploader in the laptop. If he did not, then there will never be a chance for Seo Hae to find him, it would be a futile sacrifice and it does not fit the character of Tae Sul.
He was so sure about everything. He was not afraid to shoot himself. Because he calculated, he knew, that eventually the Uploader will be developed and the next Seo Hae will travel back in time again.
Let’s not forget the new diary. Maybe Tae Sul left notes there as well and planned for the next Seo Hae to receive it. And of course his brother Tae San and the blueprints he hid.
- Q: What about the bullet vest?
He planned perfectly. He told Sun to park so he can meet him before he hunted down Sigma. Then 2001-Sigma told him Sun is dead. Then later Seo Hae also said Sun is dead. That gave him the idea to bring a vest. So when he finally met up with Sun, he gave him the vest.
If no one told him Sun is dead, he would probably never bring a vest and Sun would actually be dead. His original plan was only to meet Sun so he can give him additional instructions–which I believe to be the location of the bunker and to meet him at Asia Mart later that night.
Remember also what Tae Sul said, the future is already here, you just do not know it. Since everything in the time bubble is happening simultaenously and is constantly changing, the future that was yet to happen already arrived. If there was no time bubble and instead there is a timestream branch, then the future will never arrive. Yes, this is yet another proof that there is only one timestream in the 「Sisyphus」 universe.
- Q: But wait, how did he know Eddie Kim will show up in the church?
He knows him well. When Eddie took over his company, it only proved to him how Eddie thinks and what his ambitions are. When Eddie showed all his feelings, Tae Sul was not even surprised.
But let’s go back to the scene in the underground facility. When Seo Hae was going to take care of Eddie Kim, what did Tae Sul said? Paraphrasing: he is probably going to the surface, he is not worth it, there is no time. “There is no time”? They can easily deal with Eddie Kim and then use the Uploader. They have plenty of time in the world because they can simply travel back at any given point in time.
Why then did he stop Seo Hae? If they stopped or killed Eddie Kim, after they shoot Sigma, Seo Hae will disappear. Remember that scene? But instead because of Eddie Kim, Seo Hae stopped disappearing. That in itself is a clue. It opened up a possibility wherein Eddie was able to force Tae Sul to give the code for the Uploader, this was why Seo Hae stopped disappearing.
Tae Sul need this very moment to do the last and most important piece of his plan. He entered in the code, time locked it, and probably included other conditions. Once that was done it was time to shoot himself. He also need for Eddie Kim’s greed to ensure the laptop survives. Just like Tae Sul, we can safely assume that Eddie ran away with the laptop and discovered Tae Sul time-locked the Uploader code.
And we are back to that airplane scene. The new Seo Hae arrived. Han Tae Sul saw a beautiful woman who he does not know. Yes, he probably thought he was hallucinating but the noisy passenger made him decide to enjoy his hallucination … only to be surprised later that she’s real.
Well … it looks like Sigma is very satisfied. I hope you are too!
If you have additional questions or counter-arguments, the comment section is open for everyone to continue the discussion.
Thank you for reading! Shalom!
Bonus: The “Pocket Universe” theory
- In episode 11, Tae Sul goes into Seo Hae’s past to try and save her. To do this, both Tae Sul and Seo Hae’s bodies are left in the present while their consciousness visits various pockets of time. In one such time pocket, Tae Sul finds his brother Tae San. Tae San tells Tae Sul that this is where he has been hiding all this time so Sigma and the Control Bureau can never find him. He also tells Tae Sul that when Tae Sul goes back to the present, physical world, they will most likely not see each other again. We see Tae San’s body in a vegetative state in the present. If their physical bodies die, their consciousness can never go back, having no vessel to return to. This is why after getting shot with the serum, Seo Hae goes back and wakes up but finds that Tae Sul is dead to the world.3
Animetric presented an excellent explanation on the show’s ending, I highly recommend reading her theory over on Animetric’s World.