Ooh. The plot takes an interesting turn!
EDIT: Apparently this week will only show one episode due to a special sports broadcast on the 13th (Thursday). Episode 22 will air next Wednesday, the 19th. Boo!
SONG OF THE DAY
The The Band – “여자이니까” (Because I’m a girl)
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EPISODE 21 RECAP
Enok dreams: She carries the hair ornament her grandfather bought her, happy at the prospect of marrying Gil Dong. Looking down, she sees blood smeared on her hands, and remembers her grandfather is dead. Gil Dong walks ahead of her and leaves her behind, because they can’t be together anymore.
This is the dream she has while Chang Whe watches her sleep. In her dream and in real life, she mumbles Gil Dong’s name; Chang Whe hears this before he steals a kiss.
Meanwhile, Gil Dong remembers Enok’s cheerful promise to stay with him forever, and deals with his loss.
A wrench is thrown into the whole matter of the coup when Nobleman Ryu reveals to Minister Choi that he knew about the king’s sword all these years — and then hints that the sword may not be all it’s cracked up to be (“We take action when justified. But sometimes, in order to act, justification can be created”). Uh-oh. Is the sword really a forgery? Dun dun dun!
In the off-chance that the sword is fake, Lady Noh orders Yong Jin to (quietly!) look into the possibility.
Not knowing of the sword’s questionable legitimacy, Kwang Whe rants over what he feels as a father’s betrayal in passing him over in favor of his younger brother. He laments that had the sword read, “Kwang Whe, do a good job” instead, he could have been a good ruler. Instead, all the betrayal and plotting and killing to keep his throne has twisted him into madness. An aide suggests that he create a new sword to ease his mind; he likes the idea as a way to chase away his ghosts.
Chang Whe wants to take advantage of the king’s plans for a fete to infiltrate the palace — on the hour, day, and month of the Tiger. They’ll use a variety of means and disguises to sneak inside, along with weapons and more explosives.
With the date set, Gil Dong and the Hwal Bin Dang members take charge of training their ragtag army, which now includes normal citizens. They’re also amassing supporters from all over the country — from scholars to soldiers and more.
Gil Dong gives Chang Whe a pep-talk-slash-vote-of-confidence:
Gil Dong: “We all have the same purpose now. We’re all counting on you. They’re your people now. Start finding people now to keep nearby — a king needs good people by his side to help him.”
Chang Whe: “Do you really have no interest in being one of my followers?”
Gil Dong: “If I get involved, the people you bring in won’t like it.”
Chang Whe: “If you become their colleague, there’s no reason to object to you.”
Gil Dong: “Do you really think I would?”
Chang Whe: “Though I wish you would, I know you won’t. There’s no reason you would — you who refers to me as ‘nuh‘ [informal word for 'you'].”
Gil Dong: “When you’re king, I’ll call you Highness.”
Chang Whe: “I will become a king to whom you can bow down in respect.”
Gil Dong: “Please do not disappoint us, Your Highness.”
Kwang Whe decides he’s going to commission not one but a whole collection of swords, and have them made by the same blacksmiths who crafted his father’s sword. He orders In Hyung to locate them.
Yong Jin, meanwhile, has discovered that there were five men who made the original sword; three have since disappeared. Lady Noh believes they were killed to keep the king’s royal decree a secret, and instructs him to find the others.
The Hwal Bin Dang team takes the chance to ask Chisu about Enok, and wonder if this means they can’t see her anymore. Su Geun figures that once Chang Whe is king, their headquarters should become safe again for visits, but Chisu hints, “Even in that case, she’ll likely have to remain at the palace.”
They grasp his meaning — she’ll become queen. Gil Dong overhears the conversation with… dismay? Jealousy? Pain?
Hae Myung tries to tell Gil Dong that Enok was meant to become queen, and that things have returned to their rightful places. But Gil Dong pretends he doesn’t care, scoffing, “It doesn’t mean anything to me.”
But when he’s alone, he flashes back to a memory of a day when he and Enok had eaten sweet buns together:
Enok had rhapsodized about her favorite thing in the world: sweet buns. (Then chicken, then crackers.) Gil Dong mutters about her priorities, so Enok assures him:
Enok: “I like sweet buns, chicken, and crackers, but there’s only one ‘I love you’ in the world. Gil Dong, you’re an ‘I love you.’”
Gil Dong: “Is that a good thing?”
Gil Dong: “Then I’ll make you an ‘I love you’ too.”
Gil Dong: “You said it was a good thing. ‘I love you.’”
Enok: “You said ‘I love you’ for real! Later on, you can’t take it back after you find out what it means! Gil Dong, ‘I love you.’“
He mutters, “Did she think I didn’t know what it meant? I’m not a dummy like her.” He touches his side, where she’d stabbed him:
Gil Dong: “If I’d known this is what would happen, I ought to have been stabbed harder and died. She did such a bad job stabbing me, it hurts like hell.”
As a noblewoman, Enok has been assigned texts to learn and memorize. She bemoans her dumb brain and finds the text too difficult to understand:
Enok: “I keep getting scolded. It’s too difficult. I’m stupid.”
Chang Whe insists on helping her (she warns him that she’s so dumb he’ll find that impossible), and reads her the text line by line. True to form, Enok soon falls asleep, prompting Chang Whe to concede she was right to warn him.
He watches her sleep and tells her if she adapts slowly, unpressured, she’ll be fine:
“Enok, don’t go searching for him in this dream.”
Trying to recruit some of Yeon’s blacksmith acquaintances to their cause, Gil Dong and Yeon are disappointed at one blacksmith’s skittish refusal — he’s afraid of their plan to infiltrate the palace. He mentions that he’d made a duplicate sword after making the king’s, confirming our suspicions that there was indeed a fake Sa Yin sword. The true sword has no message inscribed upon the blade, whereas the one that does is the fake.
Shocked at the implications, Gil Dong asks who commissioned the second sword, and the blacksmith tells him it was the deceased Minister Ryu — and the queen. Chang Whe’s mother.
(As though to pound in the irony, all episode long Chang Whe has spoken confidently of staging a justified coup because he is the legitimate heir. But one by one, the people around him all become aware that the sword was forged on his mother’s orders, and that HE is the usurper, not Kwang Whe.)
Gil Dong is shaken by the revelation, but it doesn’t change his mind about their plan. In his mind, placing Chang Whe on the throne was always a choice, not divine right or natural law or any of that birth-equals-legitimacy nonsense. Lady Noh, on the other hand, is utterly devastated upon learning that she’s essentially served her entire life — and damned devotedly, too — for a false cause. Her reaction (rather grotesque, with the severity of her makeup, imo) is so severe that Gil Dong realizes that she’d been unaware.
Not that this changes her mind, either — her loyalties are firmly with Chang Whe. When Gil Dong affirms that he’ll continue to support Chang Whe “and trust that he won’t be shaken in his determination,” she says that for that to happen, Chang Whe must not know. She begs Gil Dong not to tell him the truth; she’ll tell him in due time. It’s particularly harsh if Gil Dong were the one to reveal the matter, because his previous words questioning Chang Whe’s right to rule had badly shaken him; this would be crushing. (Later, she and Ryu agree to cover up the issue entirely.)
In Hyung tracks down the last surviving blacksmith and arrives shortly after Gil Dong has left. The man is brought before the king, to whom he reveals the truth of the forged sword.
Kwang Whe, too, is floored (pun!).
One might think that Kwang Whe of all people would be happy to hear the news, but it must a dull satisfaction given what he’s sacrificed — in people, in loyalty, in his own sanity — only to learn it was all unnecessary. (Guess it’s too late now to un-execute Minister Hong, huh?) It’s one thing to have committed grievous acts in the name of a greater goal (even if that goal was illegal and/or nefarious), but to realize that he was responsible for so much carnage to essentially win something he’d already had all along… Well, that is the definition of Pyrrhic victories.
Chang Whe shows Enok his mother’s pin, describing it as an item that can only belong to a queen — then gives it to her. It takes her a moment to understand what he’s driving at; she’s unsure how to respond. Chang Whe asks her to think it over carefully.
Alone in her room, Enok looks at the royal ornament, then takes out the much simpler hairpin that her grandfather bought in anticipation of her marrying Gil Dong: “This one suits me. I like this one.”
Plans are finalized for the following day. Gil Dong reminds Chang Whe (jokingly) to do a good job: “You failed last time.”
Chang Whe: “If some fool hadn’t appeared and set off the explosives, we could have succeeded then.”
Gil Dong: “Do you still blame me for that?”
Chang Whe: “I think of the failed attempt as a boon. Clinging to the decree of the sword, I was only thinking of revenge. I wouldn’t have made a good king then.”
Gil Dong: “Do you think you’d make a good king now? Don’t forget — don’t make me regret my choice.”
Hearing that Gil Dong has dropped by, Enok finds him as he’s leaving the grounds. Although only casual words are exchanged, the underlying tone is tense and wrought with emotion as he asks how she’s doing. He tells her he’s off to catch a really big tiger, this time in the palace.
Gil Dong: “When I leave the palace, you’ll be entering it, won’t you? Then we won’t be meeting like this anymore. I’m glad to see you looking well on our last meeting. Take care.”
Enok: “You take care too.”
Unbeknownst to the rebels, Kwang Whe’s on to them, and he’s got a plan of his own. Naturally, it’s insane.
In Hyung points out that when the rebels swarm, it’ll be impossible to discern who’s loyal to the king and who’s with Chang Whe. Therefore, the king answers, he’ll bypass that pesky little problem by killing everyone. Purging time! He instructs In Hyung to ready the palace to be burned to the ground completely, trapping everyone inside (minus the king himself, and his current loyalists).
The day arrives. Invited attendees arrive, festivities are prepared, and the rebels enter through different disguises — Su Geun and Mal Nyeo as performers, Gil Dong as a scholar.
In a hilarious sidebar, Gil Dong is immediately accosted by Minister Seo, which makes him nervous initially, until he realizes that Seo thinks he’s someone else. Confused, Gil Dong listens to Seo prattle on about how he saw him at the gisaeng club and tried to track him down (because, if you will recall, he wanted a Gil Dong lookalike to supplant the actual Gil Dong in Eun Hye’s affections!). Silly, silly man.
As soon as In Hyung hears the king’s order to set the palace on fire, he tries to protest, but is too afraid of Kwang Whe to stand up to him. He does, however, warn Seo to go home and stay away to avoid danger, without letting in on the details.
On the rebels’ side: Gil Dong takes his spot at the banquet, the explosives are smuggled in, and Chang Whe bides his time outside the palace with his soldiers, until the time arrives and he declares: “This is war.”
On the king’s side: The palace is doused in oil and the soldiers, led by In Hyung, wait outside. Once the king escapes to safety, the fire will be lit.
But upon his arrival home, a bemused Minister Seo tells Eun Hye of the vague warning he received, which immediately tips Eun Hye off to possible danger. She rushes to Yongmun to find everyone has gone, and is convinced that the king must have found out about the plot and is planning some kind of counterattack. She runs into Enok, who immediately jumps into action — she has to go to the palace to warn them.
Enok wears the soldier’s clothing she’d worn previously when escaping the palace, and makes her way inside. Slipping on slick ground alerts her to the oil that’s been poured over the palace structures. She’s unable to make her way into the inner courtyard, but just as she’s being turned away by the guards, she spies Gil Dong leaving (to check up on the progress of their plan).
Immediately, Enok tries to shout to gain his attention, but can’t yell his (infamous) name. Her hat is knocked off, tipping off the guards to the fact that she’s (1) female, (2) and therefore intruder, and they grab her and start carting her off. With Gil Dong walking farther away and no other means of getting through to him, Enok shouts out something hoping to grab Gil Dong’s notice:
Enok: “I love you! I love you! I love you!!!“
Hearing those familiar words, Gil Dong stops, and turns.
Okay, so there are lots of reasons why I’m still watching Hong Gil Dong, why I enjoy it, etc. Still, despite the positives, there are some things that bother me.
First, for some reason the past few episodes have been longer than the rest of the series; usually the episodes clock in at 1hr and 7 or 8 minutes. The latest ones have been 1hr 20, and as far as I can tell, for no discernible reason. The episodes need to be about fifteen minutes shorter, and the editing — which has been loose and free recently — needs to tighten accordingly. The pace has felt downright slow at times.
Second, and this is in keeping with the first point, the series is starting to feel too long. Each episode has provided some great twisty turns and unexpected moments, but I think I’d be a lot more excited at this point if the series had been a 20-episode one and not 24. Then again, if that were the case we’d be done by now and there’s still a lot more story left that does, to its credit, feel well-thought-out and intricately plotted. But if everything had been tightened all throughout the drama (e.g., I’d have cut Choi Chul Joo’s slave trader storyline in half and conflated it with the opium dealer, thus limiting ourselves to ONE cartoony villain), we could’ve still hit the major beats and zoomed to a pulse-pounding finish. At this point it feels like our plot is heading toward its end but the characters have already finished developing and are treading water.
Then again, maybe I’m just getting impatient. As with everything, just my opinion.
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 20
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 19
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 18
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 17
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 16
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 15
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 14
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 13
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 12
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 11
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 10
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 9
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 8
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 7
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 6
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 5
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 4
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 3
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 2
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 1