Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 5
We get to follow our revenge-minded hero down the rabbit hole, and we have no idea how deep it goes. The ever-widening conspiracy leaves us with more questions than answers as Chae-yoon begins to shed light on all the different powers that might be at play. Everyone is a suspect… Or maybe they aren’t. Or they are. It’s a mystery! If we knew everything now, it’d spoil all the fun. Or would it?
EPISODE 5 RECAP
Mu-hyul couldn’t be unhappier with King Sejong’s agreement to pour Chae-yoon a drink if he succeeds in the murder investigation – or the fact that Chae-yoon was appointed to investigate the murder at all. Sejong sticks to his guns on this one, and Mu-hyul has no choice but to let it go (he certainly doesn’t have to like it, though), but sees a suspiciously unique scar on Chae-yoon’s arm. Chae-yoon may be covered in scars, but Mu-hyul can recognize his own handiwork. Chae-yoon is oblivious to the suspicion and leaves quietly.
Looks like we’re going to be getting some buddy-cop comedy, as joining Chae-yoon in his palace guard duties is a friend from the same Northern outpost, CHO-TAK (Kim Ki-bang) – and the guard Chae-yoon met outside the library last episode, PARK-PO (Shin Seung-hwan). It’s good they all know each other, since their superior puts the three on the same investigative team.
While on patrol with Cho-tak later that evening, Chae-yoon is asked about the man he’s been wanting to kill. Apparently he’s kept it no secret in the past, but Cho-tak doesn’t know who he is. Is it an official? Chae-yoon deflects the questions, only saying that opportunity comes to those who wait. They see a scholar trying to get into the closed Jiphyunjeon (the library Sejong created, known as the Hall of Worthies), who identifies himself as YOON-PIL. He tries to sweet-talk his way inside by saying he left something (sure you did), but Chae-yoon won’t budge and the scholar is forced to leave.
Crown Prince Gwangpyeon, the fifth son of King Sejong, goes to his father’s two righthand men – Mu-hyul and informations’ officer Jung In-ji – and tells them to go see the King in the nursery. The smell of manure is thick in the air as they find the throne absent, asking a nearby farmer for the whereabouts of the King… only it’s the man himself, dressed up in farmer’s garb and doing farmer’s work. It’s a nice, well-played light moment where we get to see more of Sejong’s character – and when it comes to the plight of his people and officials doing little to nothing about it, he is adorably crotchety and sarcastic.
Mu-hyul even cracks a smile when Sejong is legitimately upset, probably because he’s throwing manure around every time he wants to stress a word. If he doesn’t do this kind of work, he asks, who will? Certainly not the officials he’s charged with obtaining farming research. This is a historical nod, since Sejong created a farmer’s handbook during his reign to teach better farming techniques to improve agriculture in Joseon. And while he is really upset about the matter, he can’t be upset at Mu-hyul for laughing even though he tries. It’s a really cute moment, and it’s refreshing to have these lighter scenes in actual daylight as opposed to this show’s usual perpetual night.
Sejong is very interested in a man who can speak Dog, but it seems like he’s more interested in the actual sounds. This scene first seemed beyond strange to me (a man is kneeling on the ground barking to the King), but it seems like information-gathering on Sejong’s part for the future creation of the phonetic Hangul alphabet. Mu-hyul gets some more moments to shine through as a nuanced character as he gives his try to what he thinks a dog sounds like, and I officially love this whole scene.
The best part, however, comes when Sejong asks a young court lady what she thinks the dog sounds like. The air of the conversation is light and friendly, so she cheerfully answers that she thinks the dog sounds like “wang” (the word for “King”). Sejong immediately grows serious and asks her if she thinks that all dogs in Joseon sound like the King and is basically insinuating that she’s insulting him, which turns the mood serious fast. She throws herself on the ground to apologize and is almost in hysterical tears… as Sejong cracks a slow smile. “How is it that you get tricked every single time?” he asks. Hahahaha! I’m dying – sure the joke is a little cruel, but it’s only funnier that this isn’t the first time. Sejong’s character is also just infinitely more endearing the more we see that he’s not a cardboard cutout King or a despot. He’s a nice, friendly guy who punks his own court ladies.
The Royal Investigative Task Force (aka Chae-yoon and company) have gone to Ban Chon at the suggestion of his superior to have a look at the corpse of Heo Dahm. Normally the corpses are housed at the Royal Investigation Bureau, but since this isn’t going through official channels it’s at the next best place – the butcher’s shop in the slave village. Fortunately that butcher is also a coroner.
They run into a familiar face on the way – it’s the woman who took Ddol-bok in and proved a tough leader – and Chae-yoon hides his face with his hat the moment he recognizes her.
Meanwhile, the King asks to see the butcher himself. This is slightly unheard of as not only is the man in question a slave of Ban Chon, but he’s also a butcher, which is about as low on the totem pole as one can be. Why can’t he leave it to Chae-yoon instead? But Sejong surprises me – he’s not putting any faith in Chae-yoon. He’s only bait to lure the enemy.
Time to examine the scholar’s dead body at the butcher shop, and the butcher/coroner GA RI-ON (Yoon Je-moon) explains that it wasn’t a weapon, a knife, or poison that killed him. There are, however, signs of suffocation – which is a little bizarre, since there are bound to be signs of resistance. If Heo Dahm would have suffocated on a piece of food, he would have marks around his neck from his hands – since humans instinctually do that. Heo Dahm has nothing but the blue splotches on his skin indicating suffocation, and Chae-yoon’s eyes widen as he realizes something.
The only peculiar thing was the fact that the dead man’s clothes were wet – and the coroner checked for poison, but it was just plain water. We hear Chae-yoon think to himself that this is a martial arts form – and apparently one that he knows of. Once he’s alone, we find out that his Teacher knew the method. But how was it used to kill Heo Dahm? Curiouser and curiouser.
Chae-yoon has a flashback, and we see the kind of conditions that took him from a scared teenager to the hardened man we see today. He goes through multiple battles over the years in mud-soaked, bloody terrain, and just as it seems as though he’s outnumbered by foreign tribesmen, an old man calmly arrives. Chae-yoon tells him to go and save himself, but the older man is a wizard (okay, martial arts master) and with only one kick per tribesmen, soundly defeats them all single-handedly.
What follows is a truly intense moment for Chae-yoon, who asks the old man to teach him everything he just saw – because he has someone to avenge. The old man asks, “That’s why you can’t sleep at night?” And it’s a telling question, as we find out that the two of them must know each other even tangentially and that Chae-yoon’s suffering is deep. Chae-yoon is refused, and won’t take it lying down. If the man won’t teach him, then he might as well kill him. Chae-yoon was trying to die in that fight, so the old man technically ruined his plans.
Chae-yoon: “Why don’t I sleep? Why? It’s not that I don’t sleep. It’s because I can’t. When I close my eyes… whenever I close my eyes… my fa-…” [He chokes back tears] “If I slept I could have forgotten it all. I would have forgotten it all. So I looked forward to kill him only. Yes, I lived to this day like that. That’s how… that’s how I managed to live!”
Chae-yoon proves that he knows the man, and calls him by his name – Lee Bang-ji. When Lee Bang-ji won’t kill him, Chae-yoon tries to fight him, and is unsuccessful. Bang-ji says he doesn’t fight those who aren’t warriors, but Chae-yoon is made of tougher stuff and we know from his childhood that he never gives up. He may not be a warrior, but he can die like one.
We don’t see the change of heart Lee Bang-ji makes, only that he must have made one for Chae-yoon to now refer to him as Teacher.
At the other end of the palace, Mu-hyul is taking out his frustration through martial arts. The King’s other right-hand man, Jung In-ji, remarks that Mu-hyul really must be Joseon’s best swordsman… only Mu-hyul doesn’t agree, since he was beaten once twenty years ago. We flash back to that very moment, only to find that Mu-hyul had been defeated by the very Lee Bang-ji that saved Chae-yoon’s life. He’d asked to be killed, but Lee Bang-ji went and subverted everyone’s expectations – again – and left Mu-hyul in shame. Ahh, so that’s the eyebrow scar Mu-hyul still has today.
The butcher/coroner, Ga Ri-on, has come to the palace to deliver meat but gets led to a secret meeting with the King instead. They’re separated by a thin cloth, but Ga Ri-on looks in wonder at the silhouette of the man speaking to him. Sejong asks if he’s sure Heo Dahm’s death was a murder – that’s a yes – and if he’s told anyone. Ga Ri-on says no, but that the method of death was an assassination technique called Geoniksagong.
Ga Ri-on is trying to explain the method to the King while Chae-yoon is perfecting it (in flashback) and a masked assassin is performing it on the unsuspecting Heo Dahm (also in flashback). It seems that Lee Bang-ji took on Chae-yoon as a student, perhaps moved by his spirit. He’s teaching a drowning method for assassination, one where the assassin takes a small bamboo pipe and blows water at a great speed into the victim’s nose from a small distance. As long as you don’t allow them to lower their head to get the water out, they die. This is, as we see, what happened to Heo Dahm.
An interesting note: the King makes some small talk with Ga Ri-on over a mutual acquaintance that Ga Ri-on says saved his life. When the King asks why, the butcher/coroner replies that when he was young his father was shot full of arrows and it was hard to bear. It might be completely unrelated, but I know one guy who delivered Jung Do-gwang’s last words to Jung Ki-joon while dying from being a pincushion for arrows in the arms of his son that we haven’t caught up with yet…
While an official goes to convince Chae-yoon’s superior that all future investigation reports need to go to him, the scholars have a meeting. We’ve seen some of their relationship before but the friendship between Scholar Sung Sam-moon and Scholar Park Paeng-nyeon is adorable, especially with the latter being the fuddy-duddy one and scolding Sam-moon for being late. He only replies that he’s always late, so why does Paeng-nyeon always wait, huh? So cute.
But the meeting itself isn’t so lighthearted as the scholars discuss the rumor going around – that Scholar Heo Dahm was murdered. This isn’t new news to us, but it strikes them hard.
Wait – where’s Scholar Yoon-pil? Uh oh.
The missing scholar’s name is being burned at this very moment by the woman leader of Ban Chon. She’s with a man carrying a fan (you really can’t miss it) but whose face is kept hidden from us. He’s the one who apparently gave the order, which calls for an assassination of Yoon-pil… that’s supposed to happen that night. It’s clear now that she’s still running the seedy underground of dirty work that needs to be done, but now we have only the slightest glimpse of the man orchestrating it all. Iiiiiinteresting.
Official Jung In-ji rushes to tell the King that Scholar Yoon-pil is missing, and gets stopped by a court lady at the door. He’s not allowed to go in under any circumstances, but he can hear what’s going on inside… and it sounds like some really illicit moaning of a court lady with Sejong’s encouragement. The scene is played for it to sound really wrong at first – and it does – but we can either attribute it to the creation of Hangul or Sejong’s super secret sound fetish. Either way, it’s almost more awkward that Prince Gwangpyeon comes to answer the door, but he’s soon pushed out of the way by Sejong when he hears the bad news.
Chae-yoon has come to check the crime scene one last time before the Jiphyunjeon opens again to the scholars the next day. Someone’s beaten him to it, and hiding under the deceased Scholar Dahm’s desk is none other than the missing Scholar Yoon-pil, who’s managed to find a secret message. Chae-yoon and Cho-tak know someone is in the library, though, and Yoon-pil makes a mad dash with both palace guards hot on his tail.
Yoon-pil seems like he’s running for his life, and he tries to destroy the evidence of what he found by throwing the paper into a fire. Chae-yoon makes a big leap, one that leaves a deep imprint in the dirt from where he jumped off, and practically flies to save the paper from burning. In the meantime, Cho-tak has employed a handy method for knocking the scholar unconscious.
Cho-tak recognizes the intruder they chased down as the supposedly missing Scholar Yoon-pil, and has a short exchange with Chae-yoon about that special leap – it’s a martial arts technique that Chae-yoon doesn’t want anyone else in the palace seeing. But just as they’re figuring out what to do with the scholar, they hear owls.
A masked man appears (or “the” masked man, we saw him assassinate Heo Dahm earlier) and – using the same leaping technique that Chae-yoon used – flies away with the body. I’m sure I typed that correctly.
King Sejong’s reaction is, as expected, a mix of outrage and disbelief. So there was an intruder in Jiphyunjeon, but that intruder was the missing scholar, but that scholar was caught by Chae-yoon, who was then kidnapped by another intruder? Does he have this correctly? Mu-hyul says yes, if he believes everything Chae-yoon says. He doesn’t give a reason why Sejong shouldn’t, though, and considering the more pressing matters at hand Chae-yoon’s trustworthiness is tabled for the next discussion.
He does, however, ask the opinion of a nearby court lady – it’s none other than SO-YI (Shin Se-kyung). She doesn’t give him an answer verbally, but writes it instead. Whatever it is is exactly what Sejong was thinking, and he tells her to go to the printing office – which is the first thing he thought of once he heard the news about Yoon-pil.
So-yi is able to get past palace guards in order to enter the printing office. We don’t quite know what she’s looking for other than that she’s trying to find it in the block letters and doesn’t seem to be succeeding. She’s interrupted by a man’s voice offscreen asking: “Who is it?”
The palace is on high alert due to Yoon-pil being kidnapped by the man in the mask, and Chae-yoon and Cho-tak have been tracing him only by knowing that the leaping martial arts technique lets a man fly twenty steps before he has to land to jump again. This is how they’re found by their superiors not far outside the printing office, but Cho-tak says he smells something, and Chae-yoon confirms: it’s sulfur.
The printing office explodes. It’s all-out pandemonium as palace guards and court ladies alike try to fight the fire, but the blaze is already out of control. Chae-yoon finds that a palace guard has been killed by a slit throat – and is almost giddy as he realizes that the assassin must be inside.
There’s only decisiveness in his gaze as Chae-yoon douses himself in water and throws only a straw mat over his head for cover before he runs inside the burning building.
Mu-hyul arrives on the scene, trying to get a grasp on what happened while Chae-yoon materializes from the blaze carrying someone over his shoulder. It’s So-yi, who’s hovering somewhere this side of conscious. But Chae-yoon didn’t save her with a noble purpose, as he quickly grabs ahold of her collar and pushes everyone who comes near away with masterful force.
He shakes her, yelling: “Who was it? Who was he? Tell me! Who was he?!”
But this sounds familiar to Mu-hyul, who remembers hearing a young slave boy ask those questions in the exact same way.
And then he knows: it’s Ddol-bok. Chae-yoon is Ddol-bok.
Wow, so the jig is already up! I wasn’t expecting Mu-hyul, or anyone really, to realize that Chae-yoon is a grown up version of Ddol-bok just yet. It just seemed like that wouldn’t jive with Chae-yoon’s plan to kill the King, since Mu-hyul is way too sharp and way too suspicious to let that one go. I should have seen it coming when Mu-hyul recognized the scar, but still. I’m excited to be surprised and worried for the unexpected.
I really enjoyed this episode since it nicely balanced both light and dark elements, with some intrigue and action to spare. Now I’m left with more questions than answers, which is a good place to be in this early in the show. How fun is it to try and figure out who everyone is, now that so many years have passed? Is the butcher anyone we’ve seen before, and tied to the conspiracy? Or that other creepy guy in the butcher shop? Who’s the man in the mask (if he’s not the Phantom of the Opera)? Who is this master of martial arts that taught Chae-yoon but who might have taught the secret group? Who’s the man with the fan? So many questions, so many possible answers.
Jang Hyuk never fails to impress in heavy scenes, and his flashback scene was no different. I was riveted the whole time Chae-yoon poured his heart out – and that scene also effectively grounded me to his character. I had never not been with him on his journey, but had been wavering a bit in my lingering bitter taste over his child incarnation. But he loved his father so much that he can’t sleep at night thinking about the injustice of his death and doesn’t just want revenge but needs it? I’m so in. Revenge all the way.
I can’t weigh in on So-yi yet since we saw so little of her – but Shin Se-kyung is pretty and engaging, even as a mute court lady. It’ll be interesting to see how she handles her scenes later without being able to speak.
And because I like Chae-yoon, I can be oddly happy that he has a friend in Cho-tak. Who knew we’d be getting buddy cop comedy in a murder mystery? I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be completely stoked.