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Sungkyunkwan Scandal: Episode 20 (Final)

Dear Jal-geum Quartet,

Thank you for the memories, the tears, the laughs, the squeals, the giggles, the sighs, the cringes, the waff, the thump-thumps, the insomnia, the dreams, the fantasies, the discussions, the love, the shipping, the great times, the smiles, the late nights, the early mornings, the procrastination, the cheers, the oh-nos, the arguments, the factions, the alliances, the heartache, the heartbreak, the bliss, the grief, the tingles, the tangles, the conspiracies, the bromances, the flutters, the gasps, the nail-biting, the TGIM, the curses, the hallelujahs, the prayers and the fun times.

It was a helluva ride. You were worth every moment.

Love, red pill

SONG OF THE DAY
Richard Marx & Donna Lewis – At the Beginning (Anastasia Soundtrack) [download]

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LESSON 20 RECAP

As Yoon-hee marvels over the geumdeungjisa, King Jeong-jo receives the report from Minister Moon (Jae-shin’s father) that Sun-joon is not the Red Messenger. That leaves Minister Ha to issue a public apology for violating the SKK grounds and students with his guards – and he better hurry before the whole nation hears about what happened.

 

As the leader of the petition, Yoon-hee is granted an audience with the king to hear his response to the petition. Per the SKK students’ request, Sun-joon will be released and Minister Ha will issue an official apology.

Yoon-hee explains that the secret letter was solved and the geumdeungjisa found. With it the king can finally move forward with the dream that he and her father shared. He promises that her efforts will not go to waste and tells her that it’s now the Jal-geum Quartet’s turn to harbor new dreams in a new Joseon.

 

Sun-joon is released to a cheering crowd of SKK students, and one can’t help but note how far he’s come since episode one when he was all thorns and friendless. Now he approaches the Three Stooges first and affirms their friendship. Boy, you smile so easily now.

Jae-shin greets him in his usual passive-aggressive gruff way, “Act on your own again, and I’ll never see your face again.” (Jae-shin speak for “I was worried about you.”) Yong-ha translates this to mean that Jae-shin intends to see Sun-joon’s face for a long, long time. Tee-hee.

But the leader of the petition and the one person Sun-joon really wants to see is nowhere to be found.

 

Because Yoon-hee is meeting with Minister Lee. He thanks her for saving his son, though it probably wasn’t easy with a grudge against the father. But those personal feelings aside, she was just trying to save her friend.

Minister Lee: Your bold spirit is just like your father’s. I didn’t like your father from the start. He was too idealistic and too much of a Romanticist to be advisor to the king. I was willing to do anything to stop your father and to get him to surrender completely, to acknowledge that reality can never live up to one’s ideals. However, I never intended to kill your father. Even so, I understand that your resentment towards me must run deep.
Yoon-hee: I don’t resent you. I’ve decided to take caution from you.
Minister Lee: Caution?
Yoon-hee: If one takes a single step back, that person must then take two steps back to cover up that misstep. Then, in the messy zigzag of one’s footsteps, one forgets where one was originally headed.
Minister Lee: I understand now why my son values you.

 

Yoon-hee returns to the dorms where Sun-joon is waiting for her. Already a henpecker, he demands to know where she was and why she wasn’t first in line to greet him after his short stint in jail. The very cute bickering about the definition of their relationship is put to an end when Yoon-hee shows Sun-joon that she’s wearing his ring. We might’ve gotten another kiss if Yong-ha hadn’t swung open the room door with impeccable timing (as always).

 

What follows is a drinking session for our Jal-geum Quartet. This mostly consists of Yong-ha praising Yoon-hee (he comments that she’s the first girl who doesn’t bore him) and talks of dreams in the new Joseon. Particularly touching is Yong-ha’s comment that he doesn’t need a dream; he’s satisfied with the fact that he’s Gu Yong-ha, and he has friends who accept him for who he is, noble blood or not.

Jae-shin and Sun-joon actually agree on the sleeping arrangement for once and try to send Yoon-hee to Yong-ha’s room, but eventually the four end up sleeping in the same room. How cute is it that Sun-joon sleeps holding Jae-shin’s hand? I’m jumping on the Jae-joon bromance ship.

Of course the following morning, Sun-joon is disgruntled that Yoon-hee chose to sleep in a room full of boys, and this leads to more cute bickering. He finds out that she used to copy those explicit red books (they pay extra), which proves to him that he doesn’t know enough about her life before SKK. Therefore, he offers to go to her house on their next holiday and meet her family. This is serious; meeting her mother is the first step in getting married.

 

Meanwhile, Yoon-hee’s secret is slowly spreading and all the major players start finding out. First Minister Ha, then Minister Lee. It’s a major trump card that could blow over the geumdeungjisa threat. Which is exactly what Minister Lee tells King Jeong-jo: he should hide the geumdeungjisa forever if he doesn’t want to hurt the daughter of his dear friend, the friend he sacrificed for the sake of his dream.

The problem with Yoon-hee being a girl is that whether the king intended it or not, he has broken down longstanding traditions and principles (as learned in the Three Bonds and Five Relationships of Confucianism) by using a girl in his quest for the geumdeungjisa. Additionally, this damages the credibility of the geumdeungjisa as well.

 

Completely oblivious, Yoon-hee pretties herself in preparation for Sun-joon’s visit. For the first time, she can actually be a girl (on the outside) and face Sun-joon honestly. Only, while she’s waiting outside for him with a lantern, a dark shadow confronts her. She drops the lantern and her mirror in surprise.

 

Finally having found some inner peace, Jae-shin shares a drink with his brother in a lovely spot overlooking banchon. He acknowledges that he once pitied his brother because he thought his brother died for a world he hated, but he realized only now that his brother had actually loved the world too much. That’s why he was able to give up his life for the cause.

The moment is interrupted by Yong-ha, who just found out from Hyo-eun that In-soo knows that Yoon-hee is a girl. They go to Yoon-hee’s house, where they run into Sun-joon (who hilariously tries to walk away before they see him). They find the broken mirror and realize that someone nabbed Yoon-hee.

 

There’s no more doubt that Yoon-hee is a girl; she stands before the king in full female garb. The king is rightfully furious, and when alone with Professor Jung he demands to know why he wasn’t told this incredible secret. But all Professor Jung can do is kneel and take full responsibility for Yoon-hee.

The king suspects he’s so accepting of Yoon-hee because of his background in Western Learning (=liberal thinking). Professor Jung acknowledges that Western Learning teaches that all people, no matter what gender, are noble and valuable. However, he still believed that females had no place in politics and didn’t need an education. That is, until he met Yoon-hee. It was Yoon-hee who taught him that life and learning one’s studies are one and the same.

The king remains unrelenting, particularly since he’s so close to achieving his dream.

Minister Ha once again seeks out Cho-sun. She’s ready to refuse because she’s more than fulfilled her duties to him and it’s about time he kept his side of the bargain. But this last job should interest her; he wants her to kidnap Yoon-hee and bring her to him. And it’s through Minister Ha that Cho-sun finds out she’s been in love with a girl all along.

 

The three boys come to Professor Jung for confirmation that Yoon-hee is with the king. They want to believe that the king will protect her, but Professor Jung evades their questions and confirms the opposite.

In an upcoming meeting, the king will announce his plans to move the capital to Hwaseong. And in order to crush the Noron opposition, he’ll unveil the geumdeungjisa. But what will happen if the Norons use the fact that Yoon-hee, the person who found the geumdeungjisa, is a girl?

Will the king protect Yoon-hee, Jae-shin asks desperately. Isn’t that the so-called hope that he’s always talking about?

All three boys are in tears as they realize that Yoon-hee will be sacrificed by the king because she’s the one who found the geumdeungjisa. Professor Jung, too, weeps, but all four men are at a loss of what to do.

 

Sun-joon takes to wallowing in the dark, which is how his father finds him. It’s hard for Minister Lee to believe that this boy who is staking his life on something as inconsequential as a girl is his son. In desperation, Sun-joon gets on his knees and asks his father for help.

“It was through that girl that my eyes opened up to a new world. Not the world that a man must build through what he learned in books, but the world where I want to live. But that world is falling apart. I’m so pathetic and helpless that there is nothing I can do, nothing at all. Please help me, Father.”

But Minister Lee gives him no definite answer.

 

Their faith in the king dashed to pieces, Yong-ha and Jae-shin stew at a local tavern, worrying about how scared Yoon-hee must be. The tavern is soon crowded by Confucian scholars who’ve been called in by Minister Ha. They don’t know why exactly they were asked to come, but their guess is that the king is up to something and Minister Ha needs reinforcements.

Sun-joon’s tears must’ve moved his father’s heart because Minister Lee puts his political career on the line to suggest to the other Norons that they support the king’s plans to move the capital. If they do this, the king will bury the geumdeungjisa affair and not question their involvement in the late Crown Prince Sado’s death. His efforts are rebuffed by the others; they’ve already agreed to follow Minister Ha’s lead. Power, how short and bitter is thy run.

 

Yong-ha and Jae-shin are on campus, discussing plans to find out where the meeting with Minister Ha and the Confucian scholars will be held. As long as they find out by 5:30PM, they might be able to find a way to stop Minister Ha and save Yoon-hee. A letter from Cho-sun arrives, informing them about Minister Ha’s plans to bring Yoon-hee before the Confucian scholars.

 

Minister Ha reassures In-soo that the reliable “man” he has under his command has never once disobeyed him. Only he didn’t give Cho-sun’s memories of Yoon-hee enough credit; they were sweet and touching enough to inspire her defiance. She shows up in all black, ready to stop the meeting with the scholars from happening. As she tangles with the guards, it takes In-soo a moment to fully digest what’s going on and what his father has been doing to Cho-sun. Once that’s processed, he steps in to protect Cho-sun, creating a rift between evil father and (ex-)evil son. For the first time, Cho-sun looks at In-soo in a new light.

What a double whammy of redemption! That’s right, In-soo, use those laser-beam glares on your father!

Jae-shin jumps into the rumble (literally) with a slightly barbed yet begrudging compliment for In-soo: “This is the first time you’ve behaved like a decent human being.”

 

Yong-ha is doing his best blocking the door and keeping the Confucian scholars locked up in their room. It’s crude and not very effective because Yong-ha isn’t the, um, physical type, but he just has to hold on until Professor Jung arrives to help.

When the men manage to burst out of the room, Yong-ha impersonates a SKK professor and turns on the charm and his silver tongue. Using glib words and the fact that one of the scholars is actually a distant uncle, he manages to befuddle then win over the men by spouting Confucian teachings.

THE Gu Yong-ha has finally gone from spectator on the sidelines to active participant. He not only gets passing marks from Professor Jung, but from us as well.

 

In his boldest move yet, Sun-joon comes before the king.

King Jeong-jo: Have you come to beg for the girl’s life?
Sun-joon: I came to ask you to throw away Kim Yoon-shik, no, Kim Yoon-hee. And for you to throw me away as well. Because there is no hope for the new Joseon you dream of. You’re not trying to cut her loose because she went against the law and Confucian traditions by dressing up as a man and entering SKK where no women are allowed. Isn’t it because she stands in the way of your reforms? Yet, you’re the one who promotes views that go against tradition and customs. For your reforms –
King Jeong-jo: Seems I’ve shown you too much favor. (For you to step out of line.)
Sun-joon: Have you been fighting all this time to beat the Norons? Not to save your people? Is the great country you dream of filled with only your beliefs and not with your people?
King Jeong-jo: Stop. Enough.
(Sun-joon lays down the compass that the king gave him.)
Sun-joon: A compass needle that doesn’t stay vigilant against itself and doesn’t waver cannot point out the right direction. I return the warning you once gave me.

Boy is BALLSY. And I love him for it.

 

Our boys managed to stop Minister Ha’s meeting with the Confucian scholars, but they couldn’t stop him from going to the king. With the head Norons in attendance, King Jeong-jo acknowledges that when it comes to moving the capital, there can be no compromise. That’s why he found the very thing that could silence the Norons forever: the geumdeungjisa.

Minister Ha comes bursting in, wanting to use his Yoon-hee trump card, but the king silences him. The king has found the container holding the geumdeungjisa – only, he claims the geumdeungjisa was not found inside. He will not give up his dream to move the capital, however. Not when he began this fight for the people, not to triumph over the Norons.

And so, the king chooses Yoon-hee over his dream.

After the meeting, Minister Moon arrests Minister Ha for the events of that night ten years ago when one Kim Seung-hun and one Moon Young-shin were brutally murdered. Sort of out of the blue, but I get it, we’re wrapping up loose ends here since we have less than 15 minutes to go in the episode.

As further proof of his determination to protect Yoon-hee, the king burns the geumdeungjisa before her eyes. But this isn’t the end, not while hope still lives.

King Jeong-jo: Promise me one thing. That you’ll remember for a long time my dream, the future of this nation, and not my pathetic death nor my short life. That way I can stay alive in your memories.

Standing ovation for King Jeong-jo, please.

 

Minister Lee realizes what a great sacrifice the king made in order to save Yoon-hee’s life. He comments on her daring nature and brings up what she said to him earlier, about using him as caution to make sure she doesn’t walk in zigzags and lose her way. He says it won’t be easy since men easily miss even the very things before their eyes. It certainly won’t be easy to do alone – so he asks her to stay by Sun-joon and walk the straight path together.

Huzzah! Three cheers for Papa Lee! (Man, are things wrapping up in a neat little bow or what?)

 

And we have the final hand-off as Jae-shin officially resigns from his position as Yoon-hee’s guardian angel and passes on all duties to Sun-joon. He tells Sun-joon to protect her well so that he won’t have to get involved. In return Sun-joon thanks Jae-shin for everything he’s done for her.

Enter twirling Yong-ha who tries to tag along for the reunion with Yoon-hee – only to be stopped by a more tactful Jae-shin who sends Sun-joon alone.

Aw, I was kind of hoping for a Quartet reunion.

 

The library. Ah, the memories of first kisses, love notes exchanged, footsies, and futile attempts at studying. Seriously, I’ve never seen a couple meet so much in the library, but what do you expect from two brainy scholars?

“Have you seen the talented bear?”

“Wang?”

With beautiful smiles from our leading man and lady, we’re brought full circle back to their fateful meeting in episode one, when they had no idea what the future had in store for them.

This is what I consider the real end of the series, but since the production team tacked on the last five minutes for the sake of fan service… We continue the story at an undetermined time in the future…

Yongha is still his cheeky self, toying with women like only he can. He’s putting his skills to good use by selling and making clothes, having taken over the family business. Yes, he’s a fashion designer, and a fantabulous one at that. Step aside, Tim Gunn.

Meanwhile, a Blue Messenger is running across the rooftops, dropping blue leaflets everywhere. Blue is caught by a police officer, who turns out to be none other than our Jae-shin – and he lets out a little hiccup (he wasn’t cured!) when he realizes that Blue is a girl.

He pulls out her leaflet, marked up with a red pen, and tells her that writing bad grammar will become a habit. We leave him grumbling on the rooftops, agitated that SKK isn’t living up to its usually high standards of education.

 

Speaking of SKK, a crowd of students chase after a noticeably short professor (tee-hee), and it’s none other than our beloved Yoon-hee. The boys are more in love with her than anything else, using their exam marks as an excuse to talk to her.

Of course this doesn’t sit well with Professor Stache, aka. Lee Sun-joon, who throws a jealous hissy fit guised well in didactic words. The two bicker back and forth until interrupted by the headmaster, who has clearly had to deal frequently with their bickering at every turn.

The two glare at each other before stalking off in opposite directions.

Back home in the bedroom, Yoon-hee nitpicks about the dusty room (it’s HIS turn to do the cleaning – lady, I like how you run your household), but he glosses that over with a peck on the lips. She blows out the candle, and they, uh, get down to business (while he hilariously grabs the red book for “help”).

And they live happily ever after. THE END.

COMMENTS

Sungkyunkwan Scandal had charm. From its beautiful cinematography to its unexpectedly intense narrative to its absolutely lovable characters (from the four leads right down to the extras), it was just plain charming. At the core, the very foundation of its success was that it had substance and it wasn’t just a love story (which I’m fine with, but it’s hard to win over an older crowd with just a love story between teens/twenty-somethings). There was political intrigue, historical intricacies and social commentary as well. That explains why my mother and I were both hooked (and now both showing serious withdrawal symptoms). It took first love and history and did an admirable mash-up to produce a true gem.

Not to say it didn’t have its flaws. The sometimes questionable editing, the inconsistencies (particularly in the strange cross between day and night scenes), the underdeveloped characters (Kang-moo, who are you? Cho-sun, why did you become a baddie in the first place? Etc.), the overuse of smoke, and the too-neatly-wrapped-up ending (more on that later). So is SKKS perfect? No. Is it one of the best dramas of 2010? Darn right.

As we neared the last twenty minutes of the final episode, I thought it unfortunate that the series wasn’t originally slated for 24 episodes. I feel the final wrap-up could’ve been smoother; instead, we had too many bows tied up hurriedly for the sake of closure, which sort of took away from the poignant moments, like King Jeong-jo’s sacrifice for Yoon-hee. I personally wouldn’t have minded a slightly open, more subdued ending, but the ending stayed true to the spirit of the series.

As for the saccharine-sweet final sequence… I particularly love that Jae-shin chases the Blue Messenger in order to hand her the marked up leaflet. And I love that Yoon-hee is a professor at SKK – only, it doesn’t make much sense, does it? Is Yoon-hee still pretending to be a man? But didn’t Jae-shin imply that girls are allowed at SKK now? Wait, isn’t that historically incorrect? Yes, and I understand fully if history buffs are miffed. But as a (fiction) writer, I think the final future sequence is more of a what-could-be rather than what-is. It’s the new Joseon that King Jeong-jo dreamed of, alive in this drama and in its characters. I believe the writer is taking liberties with our imagination, and I (personally) am okay with that. I do kind of wish the whole sequence had been set aside as a special segment rather than the closing sequence, but I think it did its job as fan service, and it closed the drama on a happy note, leaving smiles on our faces.

Finally, let me close with a screencap that I believe epitomizes SKKS and why we loved it so much.

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