Hong Gil Dong: Episode 7
I’ll admit it. I cried.
I’m also a sap.
A cynical mofo on occasion, but also a blubbering sap.
SONG OF THE DAY
Hong Gil Dong OST – “만약에” (If) by Tae Yeon of Girls Generation. This is the song played in the last scene. [ Download ]
EPISODE 7 RECAP
In the immediate aftermath of Gil Dong’s escape from the palace:
Chang Whe realizes he’s been made — the king recognized him. He thus turns his ire to his plan-foiler, Gil Dong. The king flips out — realizing the supposedly dead prince is alive — and orders his men to find the culprit, who must still be in the palace grounds since the gates were sealed. The guards question the test-takers, some of whom hilariously insist their innocence by saying, “I was only going to cheat! I swear I had nothing to do with the other thing!”
Enok, not knowing of Gil Dong’s activities, unsuccessfully peddles medicine with her grandfather, and suggests that since they’re not doing so well here, they might think of returning to China. Grandpa Heo asks her shrewdly if she just wants to return to China because that’s where Gil Dong is going. She denies it, then admits that she does like him.
Gil Dong puts the facts together, figuring out that Chang Whe is involved in a conspiracy against the king. He wants to make his case to his father, to which the bandits protest as a crazy idea. But he insists, and they help by distracting and pickpocketing In Hyung — who’s thrilled at having his dismal exam interrupted — to lead him straight to Gil Dong.
Gil Dong has a message for their father, wanting to prove his innocence. First scared, then angry, and then sneering, In Hyung interrupts to say, “He already knows you’re not the thief.”
Gil Dong is shocked to realize his father knows he’s innocent, but In Hyung clarifies: “Yeah, he knew and he still covered it up on my behalf. He said there was nothing that could be done for you. I’m his son! And you’re nothing.”
Enok and Su Geun overhear the conversation as In Hyung twists the knife further: “Father doesn’t care whether you’re guilty or not. He’s abandoned you.”
Numb, Gil Dong repeats, “I don’t matter… He abandoned me…” In Hyung shouts, “So stop acting senselessly and leave me alone. Get lost!” Having used up all his nerve, In Hyung runs away, scared.
Unlike Gil Dong, Su Geun isn’t paralyzed with pain; he intercepts In Hyung outside to gift him with one well-deserved slap across the face. (Despite In Hyung’s distasteful character, I really like him; I think the actor does a pretty good job ranging from sympathetic to cowardly to snobbish in one short scene. He has a tendency to cross into overacting, but I’d rather him show a wealth of range than none at all.)
Meanwhile, Enok, feeling Gil Dong’s pain, approaches. He sits huddled on the floor, trying to not care, mustering a sardonic laugh.
Enok tries to bring him out of his defeated bitterness, and holds out her hands in front of him:
“Don’t laugh — laughing makes it more painful. … I’ll make it so nobody can see. I won’t see, either. So Gil Dong, cry. It’s okay to cry.”
She cries, and so does he.
Everyone takes a break at the temple, and Yeon thanks Gil Dong for his help avenging their dead leader. Gom asks if he’s with them now, but Gil Dong says he’s leaving soon, and reverts to his familiar stance: “It has nothing to do with me. What do I care?”
Su Geun assures Gil Dong that they haven’t told Enok about their dangerous activities, and Gil Dong tells him not to; it’s better for her not to know. Su Geun teases, “Ah, so leaving your girl in the dark will keep her safe, is that it?” Gil Dong leaves; they note that he didn’t contradict them.
They take it upon themselves to find out the true state of things. Mal Nyeo rouses Enok’s jealousy by implying that she’ll be spending a hot-and-heavy night with Gil Dong (she has to “thank” him properly). Enok jumps to convince her otherwise, and ends up volunteering to drink with Mal Nyeo instead. Which was Mal Nyeo’s goal in the first place.
A drunk Enok asks Mal Nyeo if she knows what the (English) words “I love you” mean, and explains she heard a man say it once to a woman: “I think those must be really good words.”
Mal Nyeo: “Does it mean to like something?”
Enok: “It’s not just liking something. Look at this potato — it’s a really good thing. But it’s not an ‘I love you.’ That’s more than just a good thing — a much, much better thing. I think that’s what an ‘I love you’ is.
Mal Nyeo: “I think I understand.”
Enok: “But you see… I think I feel ‘I love you’ for Gil Dong.”
Mal Nyeo smiles knowingly, and mentions that Gil Dong’s leaving for China soon. Enok sighs; that’s the problem — “I even asked him not to go, but he’s still going.” Mal Nyeo tells her to go with him, and Enok wails, “But I can’t go with him unless he asks me to!” Mal Nyeo tells her she’ll regret it if she lets him go without talking about it, and encourages her to do so.
So, Enok goes to talk to Gil Dong, but in her embarrassment she has a hard time saying anything. Gil Dong gives her his sunglasses and tells her, “It’s less embarrassing when everything’s darker.”
She asks if he’s going hunting again, and he answers, “Yeah. Wanna come with me?” Enok immediately agrees, and Gil Dong asks, “Even if we have to catch two tigers?” Enok insists, “I still want to go with you.”
Awkwardly (but pleased!), Gil Dong answers, “Then, let’s catch tigers and go to China together… Come to China with me.” Happy, Enok agrees, but assures him he doesn’t need tigers; she’s already saved money for them to go. She trots off, then comes back to say, blushing and in English, “I… I love you.” He asks what that means, and she promises to tell him when they get to China.
Lady Noh has devised a plan to pin everything on Gil Dong, since the king won’t rest easy until the sword — his most dangerously kept secret — is back in his possession. Lady Noh’s plan has the added benefit of making the rapidly unraveling king even crazier.
To this end, she talks to Minister Hong under the guise of sharing information. Her men were in the palace at the time of the explosions, and saw the man responsible — Hong Gil Dong. (The revelation shocks Minister Hong, who’s convinced his son is innocent.)
News of Gil Dong’s involvement also spreads to the villagers, but they have a decidedly different interpretation — they assume Gil Dong was acting out yet more bravery. One speculates that Gil Dong heard of the king conscripting citizens to work on his palace and blew up the construction site in rebellion against the tyranny. Another thinks that Gil Dong, being illegitimate, was decrying the nobility’s maltreatment of the lower classes. The villagers feel shame for having so misjudged the hero.
In preparation for going abroad, Enok pays her respects to Gil Dong’s mother’s grave, assuring her, “I’ll be with him always.” She packs away some of the dirt so he can feel close to his mother from afar.
Meanwhile, Hae Myung talks to Gil Dong about his predicament, figuring he means to run away, as there’s little else he can do. But what about the people who will suffer when he runs away? Gil Dong answers, “How is that my responsibility? I’m not to blame for the conspiracy plot.” Hae Myung adds that Gil Dong’s father will face difficulty as well: “Your father may have abandoned you, but can you do the same?” (“Hell, yeah!” says I.)
Hae Myung’s prediction is correct, as the king has heard of Gil Dong’s complicity. Minister Hong defends his son, saying that someone else stole the sword — Gil Dong just got caught up in the mess. He entreats the king to be patient so they can find who’s really behind the plot.
The king responds: “I want to trust you. You betrayed friends and the queen and killed everyone on my behalf. You won’t have betrayed me. This time, kill your son and I’ll show you my trust.” Dun dun dun! It’s like Sophie’s choice, if one child were innocent and the other your crazy dictator boss.
Eun Hye is also convinced of Gil Dong’s innocence, and pleads to her father to intervene on his behalf. Minister Seo guesses that Eun Hye has feelings for him, but advises her to get over them.
Meanwhile, Enok (wearing sunglasses because she’s embarrassed) gives Gil Dong her pouch of grave dirt, which is actually much more romantic than it sounds. He’s touched by her thoughtfulness, and when she stumbles because of the dark glasses, he holds her hand, then her shoulder, as they walk back to the temple together. He also tells her not to come looking for him tomorrow, since he’s got something important to do.
Lady Noh’s next step in framing Gil Dong involves the dissemination of the message inscribed on the royal sword, which (literally) makes Kwang Whe’s eyes cross in rage.
The message alludes (in a poetic, cryptic sort of way) to the rightful king being the legitimate prince (Chang Whe, supposedly killed in the fire). Copies of the message are plastered all over the village, and Kwang Whe’s paranoia starts cracking his already unhinged exterior. He orders all the men in his construction crew to be tortured for information — which, of course, they don’t have. Minister Seo confers with Minister Hong to find a way to stop things before they get out of hand. First, the civil service exam takers are released.
Unfortunately, the same fortune is not awarded the construction workers — who had practically already been indentured into their service anyway — and they are tortured and sentenced to execution. Minister Hong’s way of “stopping things before they get out of hand” is to eliminate them all, hoping to restore the king’s sanity. Something tells me that’s a losing battle.
Gil Dong witnesses the horrors with heavy heart, recalling Hae Myung’s warnings, and barges into the merchants’ headquarters to talk to Lady Noh and find out what she wants.
Gil Dong tells her innocent men are being killed; Lady Noh doesn’t care, saying it’s Minister Hong’s doing. He counters that it was their conspiracy in the first place that set this off, and demands to know what the deal is with the sword:
“Tell me clearly, so I can either cover it up or die knowing the details. If I go into this knowing nothing, they and I — all of us — will just die.”
He’s under the misconception that he can reason with Lady Noh. She coldly answers, “That’s what I want.” Lady Noh has decided who must die, and the hell with the rest.
And so, the men are executed, one after another, in waves of blood. Gil Dong rushes to the gallows, burdened with guilt and sorrow. A ways away, he spies Chang Whe, also observing, but with an expression that’s a lot less clear. My other complaints with Chang Whe in this episode are purely character-related and have nothing to do with the actor. But in this scene I’m actively frustrated by Jang Geun Seok’s woodenness.
I say this with genuine confusion, because I really WANT to know what Chang Whe is feeling. Gil Dong’s pain and guilt are clear, but Chang Whe… Am I supposed to feel his pain for his oppressed people? Guilt at not doing anything about it? Anger at Kwang Whe? All snark aside, I really want to know — but I don’t, because Jang Geun Seok gives me diddlysquat.
Just look at the glares here — Kang Ji Hwan and Jang Geun Seok are essentially giving the same look (challenging, angry), and yet, there’s such a clear disparity of emotional expression. (Unconvinced? Clicky to enlarge.)
In any case, Gil Dong has had enough. He wants an end to this, once and for all:
“Let’s finish this with my death. You know how to end this.”
To the protests of Lady Noh, Chang Whe takes the sword and gives it to Gil Dong. If he admits to the conspiracy and shows the sword as proof, the king’s ire will be appeased and the bloodshed will stop.
Chang Whe: “Take the sword, save their lives, and you — you’ll die for them.”
Gil Dong visits his father, who is sure of his son’s innocence, but it’s a day late and a buck short for that. Gil Dong confesses to the entirety of the crimes, though Minister Hong won’t believe it — he knows Gil Dong must be covering for someone — but Gil Dong says, “I acted alone.”
Gil Dong says he has the sword, and once the condemned men are released, he will reveal its location. At that point, he will turn himself over to his father to await his fate, because that’s the only way for his father to escape suspicion in the matter. He adds a caveat — if the killings do not stop after Gil Dong is killed, the true secret of the sword will be revealed.
Minister Hong pleads for the identities of the real culprits:
“Why are you doing this? Who are they? You must tell me! You’re MY SON!”
Gil Dong maintains his stance:
“I’m not truly your son. If I’m caught, I can say nothing. So do not catch me alive.”
(Again, here’s “If” by Tae Yeon)
Enok overhears the bandits talking about Gil Dong’s circumstances and realizes what’s about to happen. She races to warn him of danger, and finds him at “their” location — by the mountain pond, where he’s quietly awaiting his death, saying, “If it happens here, it won’t be so bad.”
Panicked, Enok pleads with him to run away — she’ll distract the soldiers, and he can flee. Enok’s sudden appearance upsets Gil Dong, since he doesn’t want to endanger her. Seeing that she isn’t likely to leave him willingly, he pokes her in a pressure point to knock her unconscious, and says, “Heo Enok. I’m sorry I couldn’t go with you.”
When the soldiers arrive, Gil Dong runs in a different direction to put as much distance between him and Enok as possible.
That leads him to a cliff’s edge, where he’s cornered.
Just moments later, Enok awakens, sees she’s alone, and races to find Gil Dong, sobbing.
Gil Dong tosses the sword to the soldiers.
An arrow is shot — and it stands still in the air for a moment —
…and holy OMGWTFBBQ, they actually do it.
Gil Dong is shot in the heart, and NOT in a lovey-dovey metaphorical way.
Gil Dong looks down at the arrow in his chest, his eyes roll back in his head, and he starts to fall backward over the cliff……
Note: Please excuse the following if you are one of the people who prefers to read commentary without excessive swearing, or ranting, or hatemongering toward fictional characters. You may want to skip it.
That said, I get that this is the way the story must go. That we need this to happen for certain things to surely follow in its wake — we can now explore the reaches of Minister Hong’s affection for his son, as well as the extent of Gil Dong’s hidden heroic nature, which he’s so long suppressed. It is probably even necessary in bringing about a change in Chang Whe since he so royally (ha, pun) screwed Gil Dong here. And Chang Whe did give up the sword, one of his trump cards, to help Gil Dong end the violence.
But rather than considering that line of reasoning, here’s instead what was going through my mind during the last ten minutes, only with lots more four-letter words and less coherence:
Fuck you, Chang Whe. Fuck you and your weak, cowardly, dependent ass. I was on your side in this whole royal upheaval mess by sheer dint of the fact that the story was constructed for me to root for you, and because your antagonist in this setup is a crazy, sadistic, selfish king with no ounce of discipline or actual ability to rule, even if he does act you under the table. I could feel for your stolen youth, and your sacrificed mother, and the need to take back what is rightfully yours. I could even kinda see where you were coming from with your infuriatingly superior attitude of needing to sacrifice the lives of little “nothings” to further your royal coup, even if Mr. Raskolnikov could sure learn ya some valuable lessons about the erroneousness in thinking one is above the law — not just societal law but natural law. Hint: it’s not a happy ending.
But you fucked with my Gil Dong, and for that you are dead to me. D-E-A-D. As dead as I know I am supposed to believe Gil Dong is at this moment — and the fact that obviously he cannot truly have died as this is merely episode 7 of a 24-episode series does nothing to mitigate just how wretchedly weak you are at this moment. Just as it does nothing to alleviate the fact that you are a craven wuss who, if you truly had the slightest hint of being the worthy ruler you are supposed to be, could not stand by and let an innocent person — whom you first FRAMED — willingly die to save the lives of other innocents. He knows you’re setting him up, and yet he is willingly giving up his life anyway because he loves the very people YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO LOVE, if you’re such awesome king material. And if you don’t love them, if you’re NOT a benevolent ruler, how are you any better than Kwang Whe, except for the “legitimacy” of your birth? And as this is a story of Hong Gil Dong, we all know legitimacy bears no weight in the discussion of one’s intrinsic merit.
As to your coup d’état: It’s one thing for someone to ruin your carefully laid plans; it’s another to send him to be crucified for YOUR crimes — regardless of whether your crimes are justified — and you don’t even NEED to sacrifice him. You could man up and face the king fair and square — the sheer fact that you are the legal and rightful heir, not this man who wasn’t even next in the succession line, should be considerable grounds in your fight to reclaim the throne. Not to mention the fact that your usurper is guilty of numerous illegal acts and is widely regarded by the citizenry to be loony up the wazoo.
So fuck you, Chang Whe, and your ratty wig and your wooden emotionless void of a heart and your copious guyliner. May Enok trample you as SHE claims the throne, with a healthy and worthy Gil Dong at her side.
Hey, I can hope.