Is the King losing his mind? How are we properly equipped to deal with this?! Okay, maybe I’m overreacting – but we’ve seriously got a King In Crisis. It makes for some awesome dramatic material when a character can have intense ideological conversations with his younger self, but someone get that man an inhaler and a hug, stat! He’s got a country to run!
EPISODE 8 RECAP
Chae-yoon and Pyung duke it out in a fun fight sequence (how fun? some of it takes place IN MID-AIR), as Chae-yoon seems thrilled that he’s pretty evenly matched. He’s also not above baiting his opponent, and assures Pyung they’ll have some really good times once he’s arrested and therefore available to be officially tortured. That’s a little dark, Chae-yoon, but we’ll roll with it.
They’re both out of breath in the middle of the fight, but are ready to continue until they hear Mu-hyul in the distance. So-yi has alerted both him and the King per Chae-yoon’s command, but now that’s working against him since it gives Pyung time to escape. Pyung does, however, end up dropping the cloth-covered package. At least Chae-yoon makes sure to secretly pocket it before he gives chase.
The assassin knows that Chae-yoon won’t give up, and devises a pretty neat plan to keep him at bay. He uses the leaping method to make it back to Cho-tak, who’s still wounded from their earlier encounter, and stabs him through the chest. Chae-yoon can now choose between saving his friend, or leaving him to chase Pyung. No matter how enraged Chae-yoon is, he’s still a good person (this is the second time he’s chosen to save someone over pursuing Pyung) and tends to his friend instead while Pyung gets away.
He has a short exchange with Mu-hyul and leads him up the mountain, where he’s sure that someone has died. They don’t find a body, only some evidence that a body was there (along with some blood-covered leaves). They conclude that the assassin must have stolen the body again. Goodness, can a dead body just be in the proper hands for once? Dead bodies might as well be currency, for the amount of times they’re traded/borrowed/stolen/returned.
In the morning, Chae-yoon enters a room to find that Park-po called the butcher/coroner/now-surgeon (what doesn’t he do?) Ga Ri-on, to save Cho-tak’s life the night before. Park-po has established a joking rapport with Cho-tak, and says something about saving his ‘lowly life’ – which is curious for two reasons: one, that Cho-tak hears those words and nervously looks toward Chae-yoon because of reason number two, that Chae-yoon takes those words Very Seriously. There are lowly people and lowly ranks, he says, but a lowly life doesn’t exist. Park-po better get that straight, and fast.
They’re interrupted by their superior, who looks like he’s seen a ghost and can barely speak. This sends Chae-yoon, Park-po, and the butcher/coroner/surgeon to a crime scene in the making.
It’s like a modern movie crime scene, and everyone is gathered as a body is being found and there’s commotion and chaos. This time, however, it’s over a boat that’s been found floating in the water. The King, the scholars, and even all the court ladies are waiting with bated breath, but Sejong has his finest of poker faces on. My guess is that he has a very good idea of what’s in that boat.
Mu-hyul certainly knows, and orders Ga Ri-on to take a look at the corpse. He pulls back the cloth to reveal Scholar Jang Seong-soo, looking incredibly dead, to everyone’s horror and shock. So-yi takes one look at the body before her eyes roll back into her head, and she faints on the spot.
Everyone gets their chance to give their best Shocked Face, but it isn’t until the message underneath the body is revealed that Scholar Sung Sam-moon falls to the ground, and the King looks like he’s trying just a little too hard to keep his temper. The note is written in hanja, and reads: “A flower is just a flower. It cannot be a root.” Why, that’s exactly what was carved in the wall by Jung Do-jun in his personal cave! And also what his nephew, Jung Ki-joon, wrote on his test paper so many years ago. There’s a family resemblance going on here.
It’s the motto for Hidden Root, and the message can’t be more clear: Hidden Root is here. It’s time for Sejong to officially start watching his back.
Mu-hyul gets a bad feeling when Sejong sends everyone away because he wants to take a nap. He knows Sejong can’t even sleep at night, so who is he fooling that he wants to sleep during the middle of the day?
Only a nap was never on Sejong’s mind, as he tosses and turns in bed, stewing on his rage and clutching his heart. He’s left grappling with the idealistic version of who he used to be along with all the implications of Hidden Root, and it’s taking a very physical toll on him. He remembers how his father mocked him on his deathbed, saying that the path his son was choosing to lead the country with would be far more wretched – and Sejong agrees and yells it into the empty room. It is more wretched. He couldn’t be more wretched as he fights with his darker side, the one that doesn’t want to hide the venom of power, but he won’t give in. That would mean losing to his father, who’d be smugly winning this battle from far beyond the grave.
In a mirror of Sejong’s suffering, So-yi is also in bed, grasping her heart and unable to breathe. The other court ladies muse that it isn’t like So-yi was the only one to see the dead body, but they don’t know that So-yi knew that man one moment, before he was dead the next. If she’s that involved in the King’s language project, then everyone who has died so far has been someone she knows. Just like it’s taking a toll on Sejong, the deaths are taking a toll on her.
Sam-moon, deeply affected by all the recent body-related events, gives his friend and fellow scholar Park Paeng-nyeon notice for a leave of absence. He needs to take the time off to get to the bottom of this mystery – no matter what it takes.
Revelation time! Points to whoever called Official Lee Shin-juk as a member of Hidden Root (haha, just kidding – about anyone actually calling it). He tells a fellow official-turned-confidant (by revealing this secret, he’s effectively bound their fates together) that it has been twenty years since he last received an order and he thought the group had disbanded. But, in true sleeper cell fashion, he’s just gotten an order to reactivate – and it seems like these twenty years on his own haven’t changed his views. He’s siding with Hidden Root.
He has a flashback to a conversation he had with Jung Ki-joon twenty years ago – when he asked where Jung Ki-joon would go, the latter replied that there’s nowhere he can’t go. He’ll hide among the people.
Pyung, meanwhile, meets with his fellow cohorts in Hidden Root, and the wound on his face isn’t missed by the Leader. He lies about Kang Chae-yoon being the cause, maybe out of intrigue for Chae-yoon’s skills. Once he’s outside, though, he sends a man to go find Lee Bang-ji – the very teacher of Chae-yoon that’s been missing for two years.
It’s time for the body examination scene that’s become routine (but no less fun) every time a new dead body springs up. This time it’s only Chae-yoon and the butcher/coroner/surgeon (I can’t help it, I love that he’s a jack of all trades) and the body of the recently-deceased Scholar Jang Seong-soo. Ga Ri-on pulls a long needle from the base of his skull, placed in the acupuncture point of the brain that causes instant and horrible death. But that’s not all, because of the way the body is contorted so strangely, Ga Ri-on also concludes that a form of very deadly poison was also used to murder him. Curiouser and curiouser – why would Pyung use two completely different methods of murder, when one or the other is completely capable of killing a man?
Chae-yoon knows he’s being followed when he leaves the morgue, but he’s such a cool cat that he lets himself be followed and ‘captured’ by none other than Scholar Sung Sam-moon, who clearly is missing some experience in human abduction.
Sam-moon may be professionally smart for a living, but he’s terrible at being secretive and menacing and is swiftly outmaneuvered by Chae-yoon. He even ends up with a shiner as their roles are switched, and it becomes clear who’s really wearing the investigator pants in this new duo that I love so much.
These two complete each other intellectually and Chae-yoon could use a good scholar on his side, precisely because he doesn’t know everything – so everyone wins. He gives the teamwork proposition to Sam-moon with a burned piece of paper, giving the scholar three reasons why they should work together: one, that piece of paper is what Yoon-pil left before he died, two, if Sam-moon finds out what it means Chae-yoon will give him the book Scholar Jang had before he died, and three, they have the same goal. They both want to solve the mystery, and now they can work together to help each other.
In a bit of dark humor, the King calls a sudden assembly between the scholars and the officials. The room is tense as everyone expects the talk to be about all the recent murders… but Sejong’s mood is light as he declares he agenda for the day: tax law reform!
It’s a brilliant move by Sejong, because he’s able to use this hot-button issue to completely sideswipe everyone… into forgetting about the murders and talking about tax laws. The only one who sees through this is Jo Mal-saeng, and his expressions are truly priceless. Words can’t express how much I adore this character as of late – it’s like he’s the only adult in a room full of squabbling children, and he knows it.
As an audience, we know that the tax reform move was a ploy on Sejong’s part, but when Prince Gwangpyeong tries to make the same assumption to his father, Sejong goes strangely still. Prince Gwangpyeong is really just calling out the truth – that Sejong brought up the tax issue to see which officials are or are not on his side – but perhaps Sejong has taken Jo Mal-saeng’s words about suspecting everyone to heart, as he doesn’t confide anything to his own son about his true plans.
Park-po saw So-yi leaving the palace in disguise earlier in the day (she wasn’t wearing her Official Court Lady Hanbok), and shows Chae-yoon where she’s gone – it’s none other than the mountainside of all the happenings of the past night, and she seems to be looking for something. What she doesn’t know is that Chae-yoon has been secretly keeping the package, and he wants to let her find it. Since he still doesn’t have a grasp as to where her loyalties lie, he’s confident that he’ll find out once he sees what she does with the book she’s so desperately searching for.
So-yi may as well be blind and deaf (but maybe she’s just too focused), because Chae-yoon and Park-po are pretty much putting no effort into concealing themselves two feet from where she ‘finds’ the book. If Chae-yoon was hoping he could follow her around with that book he finds himself sorely mistaken, as instead So-yi studies every page, committing the entire work to her uncanny memory before she rips the pages and burns them.
This doesn’t give Chae-yoon any better idea as to where her loyalties lie, but he’s intrigued.
To Sejong’s dismay, his idea of bringing up tax law reform and another census have worked to alienate him from officials and scholars alike (he had to have known this was bound to happen before he started it). Shim Jong-soo is under covert operations from Hidden Root, and doesn’t shy away from riling the others against Sejong by saying that what the King is really saying with all these ‘tax reformation’ ideas… is that Neo-Confucianism Can’t Lead Joseon. Gasp! Unacceptable.
When Mu-hyul apprises Sejong of these secret meetings behind his back, he goes into a frenzy. Poor King. He’s upset because his best just isn’t good enough. What on earth did he ever did so wrong? All he ever wanted to do was build a country. All his opposition ever does is throw the book (of Confucius) at him. He’s genuinely upset and bewildered when he honestly asks Mu-hyul: “When did Confucius ever say a nation couldn’t make their own almanac? When did Confucius ever say we couldn’t hear what the people have to say in person?” It’s slightly (unintentionally) hilarious that he’s asking these questions in such a serious context, because they’re funny questions to ask.
Sejong has been losing his mind a little all episode, buckling under the weight of the crown and the secret group that clearly has it out for him. In a truly brilliant scene he finds himself alone in Jiphyunjeon, the place that he created against his father’s wishes, face-to-face with his younger self (how I missed you Song Joong-ki, let me count the ways).
Sejong is hopping mad as he spits profanities to his younger self, telling him that he (the younger Lee Do) killed those innocent people. If he hadn’t been so petty and lofty when he was young, this wouldn’t have happened. If he hadn’t decided to take the wretched path and try to use words and rhetoric instead of using power, maybe things would be different.
With a beautiful hint of menace, the younger Lee Do assures his older counterpart that it’s not too late to change things. Sejong can still go to his father’s tomb, just like the Great King predicted so long ago, and go cry and beg for forgiveness. These are exactly the words that Sejong needs to hear but doesn’t want to, and he goes from rage into a crying mess as he finds himself left alone once again, faced with only his inner demons.
Goodness. Give me a moment to collect myself from how unexpectedly awesome that scene was. I know what will help take my mind off of the sheer win of what just happened…
A romantic montage, of course! Chae-yoon has been following So-yi around as part of his investigation, and he ends up at the butcher/coroner/surgeon’s shop/morgue where So-yi has just recently come and gone. He finds out that she’s been coming to get two types of herbs – one as a sort of speed to stay awake, and the other a really strong anesthetic to put her into a minor coma. Something concerns him about this, and it’s enough for him to step out of the role of silent watcher to warn her against doing that to herself. He’s taken that exact combination of herbs before, and knows she won’t last long.
But he also knows why she’s taking them – what happened to her, he asks, that makes her so afraid of what’s in her dreams? If only he knew that words he said to her so long ago still haunt her dreams today.
Neither Chae-yoon or So-yi heard Sejong and his entourage arrive, but Sejong has heard their conversation. He wants to know how Chae-yoon knows about the herbs, and this scene is interesting for many reasons. There’s the subtext of the conversation itself, added to the weight of the secret (Ddol-bok is alive, So-yi!) that Sejong knows but isn’t telling.
Chae-yoon doesn’t lie, and tells the King that he took those herbs because his father was his whole world, and when he died, Chae-yoon was alone. He couldn’t sleep at night because he felt like his father would be in his dreams, asking him why he died. It’s pretty terrible to imagine, and judging by how emotional Sejong and So-yi get, they must feel the same way.
Sejong is more interested as to how Chae-yoon overcame this drug habit, clearly looking out for So-yi’s well-being. Revenge, according to Chae-yoon, is what fixed his miserable situation. But it still didn’t make his heart less heavy, and Sejong wonders why he’s continuing a path that makes him wretched (see the parallels?).
Chae-yoon: “I, without determination, am no longer myself.”
And Sejong, realizing that he’s not himself without his determination, has a revelation. He even tells Chae-yoon to continue on his path. He’ll go on his.
Whaaaat? Goodness gracious. This King takes ‘understanding’ to a whole new level. It was a little different when he was selectively ignoring the fact that Chae-yoon wanted to assassinate him, but now he’s even encouraging him? If Mu-hyul was upset about Chae-yoon before, he is positively going to have an aneurism over this.
This is the second time Chae-yoon has inadvertently saved Sejong during a time of kingly crisis. I wonder how Chae-yoon would react to know that he helped to shape the very kind of man and ruler that Sejong is now. If it weren’t for him, maybe Sejong (the Sejong in this story, not the historical Sejong) wouldn’t have ever stood up to his father. And even now, if it weren’t for Chae-yoon, maybe Sejong would have stayed in the emotional rut he’s been in these past episodes. But both times, Chae-yoon has managed to give the King a revelation just by being frank.
Seeing Song Joong-ki again was unfair because I MISS HIM. Therefore, it was bittersweet but so great to see the two versions of this character face off against each other. Han Suk-kyu is a more jaded version of his younger self and it shows – he still internalizes everything, but instead of being sad, he’s angry (most of the time). Where Song Joong-ki would have given us teary eyes, Han Suk-kyu gives us bared teeth. It suits the amount of years that he’s been bearing the heavy and terrible burden of ruling a country, but it’s definitely a new and interesting take on King Sejong. I’ll be glad if this conversation with Chae-yoon normalizes him for the following episodes, because I get the feeling the murders are going to keep piling up. But Han Suk-kyu can’t really get much angrier, so what’s a King to do?
In contrast, my love of Chae-yoon has only grown since my shaky first impression. He’s resourceful, which I like, and smart – which I love. How awesome is it that he’s paired up with Sam-moon? I can only hope we’ll get some crime-solving hijinks out of this relationship.
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