How can this show only get more exciting, more intense, and more heartfelt? We’re all wondering, and we’re also probably wondering whether this show can uphold this sheer level of awesome for the remaining episodes or whether it will just run out of energy and fold under the weight of its pitch-perfect story, characters, and pacing. It just can’t keep going at this level, because that would literally make it too good, right?

But if it does keep this up… Drama of the Year? Any takers? Because this show deserves some sort of award, even if its just for… I don’t know, being the best.

 
EPISODE 14 RECAP

Sejong is the one who approaches Chae-yoon, but Mu-hyul is never far away. So when Chae-yoon points his sword at Sejong’s neck, Mu-hyul is there to stop him. It’s a regular Mexican standoff, but Sejong seems to want to tip the scales in Chae-yoon’s favor by ordering Mu-hyul to step down. In a daring move, Mu-hyul flatly refuses that order. He’s someone who was once willing to cut the head off Former King Taejong to protect Sejong, and he won’t step back now.

The King seems unafraid, and even steps forward so that if Chae-yoon so wished, he could kill him. But when he steps forward, Chae-yoon takes an uncertain and tiny step back. He wants to know why Sejong is putting himself in harm’s way… and then Sejong drops the bomb: “You’re not here to kill me, right? You are here to die.”

He’s right. Chae-yoon has now had his opportunity to kill the King (or at least try), and he’s purposefully chosen not to. But then, he turns his own blade around and holds it to his neck as if he’s about to commit suicide. Mu-hyul thinks fast, and knocks his blade out of his hands before he can do it. Chae-yoon ends up on the floor, wondering why the King is sparing his life. He’s only a lowly slave, and now he’s tried to kill the King. So why?

Sejong’s reply is beyond what I expected: it’s because everything he is, everything he’s done, is because of Chae-yoon. That night that Chancellor Shim was killed, and the night of the jailbreak, it was Chae-yoon’s wailing words about how the King should cut the bullshit that stayed with Sejong. If he’d never heard Chae-yoon that night, he’d be much happier. He would not be who he is today. Why?

King Sejong: “That night, we fell into hell together. But now you want out by yourself?”

Good. God. Both of these men have shaped each other’s lives, and now both of them know exactly how. Chae-yoon knows that Sejong is the one who saved him that night, and that he’s responsible for the ‘Lee Do’ we see today – the one who rebelled against his father on Chae-yoon (or Ddol-bok’s) account, and who is now creating an alphabet. So that’s why he needs Chae-yoon to judge his alphabet – everything he’s doing is all because of Chae-yoon. It’s so epic. Epic epic epic.

Chae-yoon laughs, and openly mocks Sejong for acting so serious while spouting such bullshit about writing. He argues with the King over whether the commoners can actually benefit from an alphabet, saying that writing can’t make them nobles and can’t make rice. Sejong fights back, saying that it may not make rice – but it’ll teach the people more ways to make it. It won’t make them nobles, but they’ll have the tools to fight back. Why does Chae-yoon look at it so negatively?

It’s because of his father’s will, Chae-yoon replies. His words bring tears to my eyes as he reveals that his father’s wish wasn’t for him to avenge his death, or to declare his innocence… Instead, it said: “Ddol-bok, since I don’t know how to write, since I am a halfwit, I wronged everyone. You must learn how to write. Serve our master well. And live well.”

So that’s what broke him. He’s lost completely, because both his father and Dam are on Sejong’s side. Chae-yoon did go to the palace to die, but he couldn’t even do that as he wanted. There’s only horrible sadness and desolation on his face as he begins a lifeless walk away.

But in this scene’s real turning point, Sejong calls out to Chae-yoon, telling him that they should fight. When his alphabet is complete, he’ll even pour Chae-yoon a drink, and they can fight then. I can’t even control myself – he knows that Chae-yoon has nothing left to live for and is desperately trying to give him any reason to live, even if it’s for revenge. But all spirit has left Chae-yoon, and he becomes like a zombie as he leaves the palace. Even So-yi can’t stop him.

It’s time for another round of ‘Whose Side is Lee Shin-juk Really On?’. He calls for a meeting with Jung Ki-joon, who’s been a busybody with all the materials left behind by the dead scholars – the Buddhist sutra, the Yuan Dynasty erotica, and the ‘Goon Na Mi Yok’ left by Yoon-pil from the printing press. Lee Shin-juk is the kind of man that follows where the power leads, and Master Hae Gang seems to be fully on board as well. But instead of an oath of allegiance, Lee Shin-juk gives tangible proof – it’s a mold for a printing block, and though we know it’s Hangul, no one else does. Yet.

Jung Ki-joon brings this mold back to Hidden Root Headquarters (aka the Confucian Temple in Ban Chon). Thanks to the mold provided by Lee Shin-juk, which sort of serves as the last piece of the puzzle, Jung Ki-joon now realizes the common thread that all these materials have – alphabets. Sejong’s secret project is an alphabet.

Yikes, the cat is really out of the bag on this one. Jung Ki-joon swiftly declares Jiphyunjeon, Sejong’s pet scholar house, an enemy of the government. Let the games begin.

It’s nice to see our buddy cops Cho-tak and Park-po again, since both of them are worried about Chae-yoon’s well-being. They get distracted, however, to see a familiar face and figure in the crowd… it’s none other than Pyung, our unmasked assassin who likes to try a different hairstyle each episode. I’m not complaining.

He walks himself straight into the police bureau, tosses a package down, and declares that he’s the culprit who murdered the Jiphyunjeon scholars. Seems like Jung Ki-joon was pretty serious about starting trouble. But what does Hidden Root have to gain from Pyung’s sacrifice?

Sejong is stressing the necessary secrecy of their project to his allies, some of whom we haven’t seen in a while. He knows that if the project were to be made public, they’d be faced with so much opposition that they’d have to give up the alphabet. He plans to release it all at once, wide-spread, so that even if there’s opposition it will come too late. He’s also aware that the Hidden Root Scroll has made it back to Hidden Root, so their chances of finding out its contents have dwindled down. When it comes to his attention that Pyung has not been arrested but in fact turned himself in, he knows that Hidden Root is behind it. But, like us, he doesn’t know how.

Yoon Pyung is being held at the investigation bureau, and freely admits that he’s the son of Jung Do-gwang’s guard (I knew someone had to be) and the murderer. But he’s brought all of the dead scholars’ projects – like the Phags-pa script, the Sanskrit sutra, the printing block mold for Hangul. So, why would he do such a thing? Pyung: “Now, everyone in the country will find out the reason.”

They’re interrupted by someone bringing a posting that’s been littered everywhere. That same posting makes it to everyone – including all the officials, the King, and the scholars. It details that the King has been doing a secret project, and that he even keeps a secret society, and that he’s been breaking the law by not having officers in attendance at all times (like all those times he’s in his Hangul Room). The anonymous writer even outs one member of the secret society – our resident scholar, Sung Sam-moon. The reader is challenged to find a tattoo on Sung Sam-moon’s body. If they do, they’ll know the author was correct.

The shit hits the fan, as that posting makes its way to everyone – officials and scholars alike. Now everyone knows that the King has been trying to make an alphabet. Having their own sovereign alphabet separate from the Chinese alphabet? How positively barbaric! Everyone’s in an uproar, because no one reading that posting stands to gain from Sejong’s user-friendly alphabet.

Our poor scholar Sung Sam-moon is probably the only person who hasn’t read the posting, and he walks into the library of scholars completely unaware. They turn on him and search him, finding the Chun Ji (Heaven and Earth) tattoo on his arm, just like the posting said. Crap.

The Deputy Chief Scholar, while being outraged at this whole mess, has a heart inside him and he pulls Sung Sam-moon for a private meeting… that’s unfortunately also attended by Shim Jong-soo, who has been stirring the pot as a secret double-agent for Hidden Root this whole time. He tells Sung Sam-moon to leave the court and hide at a temple, and to take Scholar Park Paeng-nyeon with him. Park Paeng-nyeon hasn’t been publicly outed like he has, but it might only be a matter of time.

Jung Ki-joon’s evil genius is showing, as he’s the mastermind behind the postings and now only has to sit back and watch as the palace rips itself apart. He knows exactly which offices the chaos will start with, one right after the other, and is right on the money when the Office of Inspector General (and I mean the whole office) ends up knocking at Jiphyunjeon’s door. They demand to body-check Sung Sam-moon to test out that tattoo theory.

The Deputy Chief Scholar meets with Sejong’s right-hand man, Jung In-ji, and personally asks him about the alphabet. He is not a fan, seeing as every country with their own alphabet is a barbarian country. That’s not what he wants Joseon to become – so Jung In-ji better relate that to the King.

Jung Ki-joon also put Master Hae Gang into place, and the old man comes to kneel before the Gwanghwamun, the biggest and baddest gate of the palace. He’s come to stage a protest (with such a public display, all his scholars will soon join him) about the barbarian alphabet – demanding to hear the truth from the King.

The Prime Minister meets with Sejong, and it turns out he wasn’t totally unaware of the Hangul project… but the last time he’d heard about it was ten years ago. He’s curious to know if Sejong has finished it or not, but he also gives a warning. In order to placate the palace, Sejong must open his Hangul Room to the public and stop his project. He can’t disregard Confucian scholars as he pleases, it’ll only end badly for him.

Sejong says he plans on opening the Hangul Room to official scrutiny… tomorrow. I sense a plan.

Chae-yoon is taking time for some sad introspection, and finds himself at the same stream he’d once come to with his father… only his father appears right in the same spot as a vision. Chae-yoon is instantly a young boy again, lost and alone, but his father is there to tell him that sometimes life just doesn’t go the way you want it to. He’s basically being a dad to the Chae-yoon who could have sorely used one, and the greatest part is that his father is in possession of all his wits. In the afterlife, he’s happy.

What a beautiful, beautiful scene. Dam/So-yi’s father is even there, and he teases Ddol-bok/Chae-yoon about his daughter, who always used to take Ddol-bok’s side against her father when they were young. Their happiness seems infectious, and though Chae-yoon tries to join them soon he’s only left with their lingering voices. This is a good thing, because we don’t want him to join his father quite yet. There’s still too much for him to do.

Poor Chae-yoon. I normally feel so confident in his ability to take care of himself, but the moment the vision fades, he suddenly just seems so alone. Who’s there to help him? But at least he’s come to an important decision: he’s wasted his life until now, and it’s time to move on. He says goodbye to Ddol-bok – his childhood self, and everything he was before. Aww.

Chae-yoon returns to his friends, and not a moment too soon. They don’t know what’s gone on with him (and to explain fully would take a lifetime), but are just happy to have him back. Chae-yoon, for his part, seems carefree. Even when they tell him that Pyung has turned himself in over at the bureau, he’s disinterested and has no care to go.

It’s interesting when they go to their local inn, and discuss the alphabet rumors with the innkeepers and the Sound Man (that man who can make any sound in the world). Chae-yoon wants to know why everyone thinks what they think about the alphabet, presumably beginning to open his mind a little bit to the possibility that this alphabet can actually be useful to the common people.

Later, Chae-yoon innocuously asks Park-po about the going rate of rice paddies these days. Park-po is wondering what I’m wondering – is he asking about these things for a woman? We know that his ideal life is also a simple one from the visions he’s had. Chae-yoon deflects, and then as he sees So-yi coming from the road he adorably runs and hides.

So-yi has come to see Chae-yoon, but Park-po turns her away (I get the feeling she’s very sure he’s lying and that Chae-yoon is inside). She gives him a letter instead, and as she’s leaving Chae-yoon pokes his head out to think that this is all for the best. There’s no Ddol-bok anymore, and Dam should live as So-yi. Nooo!

It’s no secret that the Hangul Room is going to be opened tomorrow, and everyone is preparing to either enter it (everyone not in on the project) or to get information out of it (everyone in on the project). Sejong displays some teamwork by helping his court ladies shuffle out old papers from storage. So-yi, meanwhile, is committing everything to memory.

That is a handy tool to have, when you think about it. Considering that they’re very aware of their paper trail, So-yi is like a portable Joseon hard drive and is perfect for times like these.

Prince Gwangpyeong, Sejong’s fifth son, has been stepping up to the plate recently (considering that he seems to be the only son in on his father’s project). He’s going to help his father with this elaborate bait-and-switch…

…Using the Queen’s palanquin? Queen Soheon?! Where have you been? We don’t see her, and haven’t seen her since Sejong’s early days, but it seems like she’s still alive. Historically, Queen Soheon died the same year that Sejong published the document containing Hangul – so it’s nice to know she’s still around.

Chae-yoon reads So-yi’s letter as he’s all dressed up for a long journey. She wants him to meet her at five in the morning at the paper-making office, but he seems to have no plans to go. He says there’s no Ddol-bok anymore, and that if he sees Dam, he won’t be able to leave. In a bit of meta, he wonders why he’s talking aloud to himself. Ha! He’s left letters for Park-po and Cho-tak, and it seems like he’s preparing to leave for good. Something tells me that won’t be as easy as you hope, Chae-yoon.

Sejong’s sent out two palanquins, each to a prince’s house, and at each house they’re overtaken by Hidden Root’s secret soldiers. Shim Jong-soo has severely underestimated Sejong, as he finds that both palanquins were completely empty. He decides to reroute his forces to the paper-making office, since Sejong has ordered double the amount of paper for tomorrow (probably for So-yi to transcribe everything that she memorized).

So-yi is working closely with Prince Gwangpyeong on this pseudo-heist (okay, they’re not stealing anything, but it’s so orchestrated it seems like a heist), and reports Hidden Root’s movements to him. He’s pleased that they’ve fallen into his trap.

It’s five in the morning, and So-yi is outside of the paper-making office with Prince Gwangpyeong and the real cart of data spirited away from the Hangul Room. This is exactly where she told Chae-yoon to meet her, and she seems to be looking for him in earnest while he stays hiding around a corner, watching her.

As he leaves without saying a word, he sees some slaves pulling a cart. He finds it a little curious, but is determined to go on his merry way.

Those slaves were secretly Hidden Root’s soldiers, and easily overtake Prince Gwangpyeong and So-yi. The two find themselves being pulled along in the same cart that they used to ferret information in, and they’re both bound and gagged. Prince Gwangpyeong looks wounded, too.

Chae-yoon, however, is not able to shake the suspicion of hearing iron in that cart the slaves were pulling. He gives them the mental benefit of the doubt before he realizes the obvious – and that So-yi’s in danger. And then he’s off to the rescue! Hooray!

So-yi can hear that Chae-yoon has arrived to challenge her captors. I can’t help but wonder if she knew something like this would happen, and wanted Chae-yoon to meet her there at five a.m. specifically for the purpose of getting her out of a tough spot. Either way, he’s there. And he at least gives the men a chance to run away – but if they stay, they won’t be so lucky. See the black/white parallels from his outfit at the end of the last episode?

What matters, Chae-yoon says, is who he is…

Chae-yoon: “I’m Ddol-bok of Hanjigol village, got it?”

 
COMMENTS

Boom! Our boy is back! And not a moment too soon.

While I understood why Chae-yoon wanted to rid himself of all things Ddol-bok, I also didn’t think it was the best idea. Sure, we can try to forget our pasts and move on, but they’re still our pasts, and we can’t ever undo them. So while I feel like it’s good for Chae-yoon to want to live in the now instead of being consumed by his past, I was also sure that he had to find a happy medium in there somewhere… surely it couldn’t all boil down to: “I accept my past and want to live for revenge” or “I’m going to shed my past and become a completely new person.” And judging by the end of this episode, he’s merged both the past and the present at last. He can be Ddol-bok without having to live only for revenge. He can be Chae-yoon without feeling like he’s dishonoring his father’s memory.

I’m not usually a fan of afterlife scenes, but I really love how the scene with his father (and Dam/So-yi’s father) was done. As an audience, we need to see Chae-yoon move on into what I like to think is the ‘second act’ of twenty-four episode dramas. Unlike his second act in Chuno, where his crushed dreams slowly ate him alive, he seems to be going good places. He’s growing, but in a good way. His deus angst machina has come and gone, and we won’t be seeing that pity party last another ten episodes – which is such a huge relief. That means he can just be badass.

Also, he’s the only one I trust to save Sejong. There are plenty of people on Sejong’s side, but Chae-yoon really is the other half of our King. Now he’s not in this fight just for the promise of revenge – he’s in it for a higher purpose. And that’s what makes him a hero.

 
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