Things are getting personal for our Joseon-era Sherlock Holmes, and that means our hopes can only rise and fall on Chae-yoon’s never-ending thirst for the truth… Or his thirst for a drink personally poured by the King that he’s been promised if he solves all this madness, which I’m sure he plans to enjoy only after he’s killed the man who poured him the drink in the first place. Can’t everyone just play nice and not want revenge for the deaths of their fathers? Wait, that’s what gives Chae-yoon the extra-dark depth that I’m currently enjoying? Well, I can’t argue with that.
EPISODE 9 RECAP
Everyone is given some time to brood over Sejong’s parting words to Chae-yoon about both of them following their own paths (except that their paths are mutually exclusive since Chae-yoon wants to end his life), but none more than So-yi. When she’s alone, she grasps the lookalike bag to the one she had once made for Ddol-bok/Chae-yoon and cries. The words Ddol-bok spoke to her in the jail out of anger still weigh on her as she believes herself responsible for the death of all those people, and all because she lied about being able to read. It’s a nice tie-in to all of the literacy-related happenings in the series thus far.
Our two young scholars, Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon, are in the burned remnants of the printing office while they try to figure out the riddle left by Yoon-pil at his death: “Goon Na Mi Yok”. Sam-moon may have an idea on how to solve it, and we literally see it come to life as words begin to float off the page in front of him.
What he comes up with is a tongue twister of sounds starting with “s”, and Paeng-nyeon can’t even say it without getting all caught up. It’s adorable.
Sejong has an uncanny ability to sneak up on people when he’s with his whole entourage, and the two scholars are shocked to be face to face with the King. He’s heard Sam-moon’s tongue twister and confirms it, saying that he had the right idea with the tongue twisters (words that gather saliva in the mouth). The “Goon Na Mi Yok” is a collection of sounds, drawing from all different kinds – lingual, guttural, etc.
Sam-moon has been on the very cusp of discovery, and asks Sejong why Yoon-pil would try to hide this fact before his death. Ask and you shall receive…
Sejong takes the two scholars into the former Sudoku Room (oooor out of the darkness of that printing press and into the light, if we’re looking at this symbolically), only now he’s chosen to finally reveal his super secret project. He opens one of the drawers so Sam-moon can see what’s inside – drawings to represent words that have been organized by their sounds. He shows them the rest of the drawers, squares made of wood and gold like the former magic square pieces he was so fond of in his youth. Finally, the big reveal:
King Sejong: “I am making our writing system. Our letters built on our sounds. Our alphabet.”
In shock and disbelief, Sam-moon goes from drawer to drawer, amazed to see all the pictures, all the words, categorized by sound. This scene is magical, amazing, beautiful, epic… I can’t even say enough about it. We’re literally seeing the creation of an alphabet.
Sam-moon can’t help but ask the King why he’s going against the established Chinese order and history, saying that artificially-created alphabets just don’t last. Just look at the Phags-pa script (what Scholar Jang Seong-soo was studying before his murder). Did that alphabet fail because it was bad? No, it’s because an alphabet has to be established over thousands of years – like the Chinese alphabet. He’s simply floored that the King has the stones to go through with this.
Sejong still has another reveal – he’s appointing Sam-moon and Paeng-nyeon to judge his Hangul project. Their judgment, and the judgment of one other person who isn’t named, is what’s going to either save this project or damn it. Sejong will throw away all these years of work if this system causes Joseon to regress and offers no help to the people.
Mu-hyul meets with Chae-yoon to relate the good news – the King has appointed him as the official investigator for Hidden Root. He hands over Jo Mal-saeng’s initial journal chronicling Jung Ki-joon over the years, but nothing is confirmed since the group has been relatively quiet for oh, just the last twenty years.
But it’s only when the master swordsman says the words specifically, “Hidden Root”, that Chae-yoon’s eyes widen. Looks like he remembers something important from his childhood…
In the dead of night, Chae-yoon runs to a patch of earth he recognizes and digs through it with his bare hands. He’s saved Jung Do-gwang’s bag from when he stole the man’s horse as a child, and inside is none other than the Hidden Root Scroll.
The score works perfectly to heighten the element of mystery to these proceedings, brilliantly revealed piece by piece. Chae-yoon takes a sort of pleasure in his new knowledge that the men that he took this scroll from have his father’s will. And now they’re the masterminds behind all the recent murders? Oh, it is on.
The officials are still having their secret meeting from last episode, and Shim Jong-soo’s ‘Hidden Root’ is showing as he stirs the pot. The officials clearly have a bone to pick about Sejong’s consistent rulings against Confucianism as well as a secret project they know he’s doing. But because of him, three scholars have died. The verdict? Sejong is doing something none of them know about, and no one is happy about it.
There’s been a spy outside of the meeting, and he goes to report his findings to King Sejong. In an odd turn, though, Sejong says no more – he doesn’t want anyone spying on the High Officials anymore. I can’t help but wonder why – he knows that everyone is plotting against him, so why wouldn’t he want to know what they’re plotting?
Official Lee Shin-juk decides to pay a visit to the Ming Reception Hall, where he meets with Ming Ambassador GI JE-YEON, and asks him if he’s aware of all the strange happenings within the court. The ambassador says not really, but that they have been keeping an eye on Shim Jong-soo ever since he met with Master Hae-gang. Their spies normally lose him every night around Ban Chon.
This sparks the curiosity that’s already eating at Lee Shin-juk about Shim Jong-soo, but perhaps he’s eased that the ambassador is sending their deputy supervisor to personally do some spying on the suspicious official.
What’s curious to note is that when Lee Shin-juk meets with his lackey later, he seems to keep using the past tense when he refers to himself as “having been in Hidden Root.” There’s a chance that in these twenty years things have changed for him, and he might not actually consider himself a member anymore even though he’s been receiving orders from the secret group.
Mu-hyul kind of lets it slip in front of everyone that Chae-yoon has other intentions and that it’s probably not wise for the King, or for the general social order, to give everything in the investigation over to the palace guard. Both he and Sejong pretty much ignore official Jung In-ji when his jaw drops at the idea of Chae-yoon’s “other intentions” (if only he knew that those intentions were to KILL THE KING), as Sejong pretty much says that Mu-hyul should get used to this level of Extreme Kingship. Mu-hyul better put his training pants on, things are only going to get more intense from here on out.
Sejong wants to know what So-yi thinks, which she naturally writes down on a piece of paper for him to read. The exact details aren’t revealed to us, but it has something to do with the butcher/coroner/surgeon, Ga Ri-on, and whether he should receive Sejong’s trust. Their relationship remains pretty ambiguous, but this much is clear: Sejong absolutely adores So-yi.
Turns out the spy sent by the Ming Embassy is a woman we’ve seen before halting a fight in the marketplace, GYUN JEOK-HEE. She’s an interpreter for the Ming Reception Hall, and gets into a fight with Shim Jong-soo as he’s on his way to a secret meeting for Hidden Root. She holds her own against his exceptional martial arts skills, and even manages to cut half his hat off… before saying that she wasn’t following him, she just sensed a threat from the other side of the wall. Oh, okay then – forgive and forget. It’s a totally honest mistake to almost cut someone’s face off.
Chae-yoon’s been doing some sleuthing on his own, and is already a step ahead of everyone else as far as the Hidden Root investigation goes. He certainly has a leg up because of the Hidden Root Scroll, but he also knows that the woman Leader has a part to play – and finds the temple in Ban Chon that he’d tried to escape to as a child. His memory is keen, as he remembers the Leader coming outside when the fight had broken out between the villagers of Ban Chon and Jo Mal-saeng’s secret army so many years ago.
Unfortunately, Chae-yoon makes a sound while listening to the meeting from outside the door. When it’s clear to those inside that he isn’t Yoon Pyung, the masked assassin, the Leader’s right-hand man gives chase. Chae-yoon is not so easily caught, however, and escapes by cleverly clinging to a rooftop. Nice! But someone definitely does notice his escape – it’s none other than Jo Mal-saeng, who’s hiding in some shadows of his own nearby.
The scholar that Sejong appointed as Official Census Taker, NAM SA-CHUL, is all but quivering in his boots as he tells his superior that he’s terribly sick and is unfortunately unable to do the job. Through some prodding, he reveals that the real reason for his fear is that during the previous night a threatening message had been left on his desk and he’d gotten a sword held to his neck. It must have been that man who killed Yoon-pil. He could fly, right?
Filled with some righteous indignation, the Deputy Chief Scholar takes the knife and the message to Sejong. The message clearly states that whoever helps the King, or even those linked to whatever he’s doing, will be killed. The scholar gives Sejong an ultimatum: either the King tells him what the secret project is, or he won’t send out any scholars to do his tax reform census study. He’s already had three scholars die, and he almost lost a fourth last night. There won’t be any more if he has anything to do with it.
Chae-yoon has decided to move into Ban Chon. What’s the fuss? So what if it’s a slave village – he gets cheap rent and all the meat he wants. We know he’s got other motivations for moving into the village (and all I have to say is: nice!), and it’s not long before he sees the Leader. He knows she’s got a connection to Hidden Root, and cheerfully announces that he’ll be living in her neck of the woods starting today. Aww, if only they’d be actual roommates. Hello, hijinks!
It’s time for an awkward exchange between Chae-yoon and Sung Sam-moon, as the palace guard has come like a debtor expecting payment. Only what he really wants to know is whether Sung Sam-moon solved the ‘Goon Na Mi Yok’ like he said he would when they made their agreement.
Now that Sam-moon knows all there is to know about the secret project, his incentive for working with Chae-yoon has dwindled to nothing and he simply says he’s decided not to do it anymore. Chae-yoon isn’t buying what Sam-moon is selling, but can’t say anything to the contrary either, so he has to let it pass.
Cho-tak has recovered well enough from his stab wound by Pyung to insist his help upon Chae-yoon – and to move in with him in Ban Chon. Aww, roomies! While Chae-yoon would rather his friend stay out of it and heal, Cho-tak won’t have any of it. After all, while they were fighting up in the north he still carried Chae-yoon to safety while being shot with three arrows, right? But this isn’t the north, Chae-yoon says. Things are going to get a lot more intense (or extreme, as Sejong would put it).
Their superior comes to interrupt the friendly moment, reporting the news that the incident with the knife and the threat at Scholar Nam Sa-chul’s house has been given over to the Royal Investigation Bureau, and by proxy Jo Mal-saeng specifically. Chae-yoon must not interfere. Absolutely. Must. Not. Interfere. I’m sure Chae-yoon only hears: “You absolutely must interfere.”
Jo Mal-saeng is probably best suited to questioning, because he always looks like he never believes anyone. It’s because of his facial expressions that I can’t tell if he actually doesn’t believe Nam Sa-chul or whether he’s just skeptical, as he notes that Nam Sa-chul is acting awfully shifty for a victim. I couldn’t agree more, but maybe that poor scholar is just really that frightened.
When the scholar is gone, Jo Mal-saeng is left to consider the knife left at the scene. He asks for some vinegar, and I smell some crime-solving ahead!
I love that Chae-yoon takes a small amount of satisfaction in the fact that it’s probably killing the Leader that he’s moved in. But all is not well when he goes inside and finds a hair on the ground – and it was one that he specifically placed in the crevice of the door so he could tell if someone opened it or not. Aaah! Why are you so cool, Chae-yoon?! He even goes to his drawer, taking out a diagram he drew of exactly how he placed the items inside – only to find that everything has been rearranged. Someone’s already been in his room.
No sooner does he come to that realization that the butcher/coroner/surgeon Ga Ri-on comes to invite them for a drink. They have friendly conversation that shifts only slightly when Chae-yoon tells him to stop giving So-yi those drugs, because she won’t get better if she keeps taking them. Aww, it’s sweet that he still has her plight on his mind.
Ga Ri-on says he gives them to her because he feels bad and knows what it’s like – she can’t sleep due to a guilty conscience. We know what that’s about, but all Chae-yoon hears is that she wanted to play smart when she was young and got her whole family killed. Ga Ri-on has an effervescent, friendly personality that Chae-yoon responds to – clearly the butcher is used to being treated as nothing, but Chae-yoon treats him like one human to another.
It’s only when Ga Ri-on goes to pour Chae-yoon another drink that he notices something strange about his fingertips…
Not only did Chae-yoon put a hair in the door and made a diagram of his drawer – but he also put yellow wax on the drawer handle that would stain the intruder’s fingertips so he could then be easily found. This means that Ga Ri-on is certainly the one who searched his room. Hmm, the plot thickens! But goodness, Chae-yoon, I do wish more people would break into your room so I could see all the other tricks you have up your sleeve.
While Chae-yoon is crime-solving, so is Jo Mal-saeng. The official uses the vinegar he called for on the knife, and suddenly the edges turn green. This means that there has been pig blood on the knife, and pig blood would only be on a butcher’s knife, and there’s only one butcher we know… oh no!
Jo Mal-saeng and a small army find Ga Ri-on down a road, and present him with the evidence of his knife found at Nam Sa-chul’s house. Ga Ri-on, to his credit, seems genuinely surprised and dumbfounded. It is his knife, but he has no idea why the royal army has it, and is likewise horrified when they set to beating him. Out of desperation he grabs a sword to defend himself, when really he just wants them to hear him out – but it’s useless, so he drops it and runs for his life.
Chae-yoon caught wind of Ga Ri-on’s arrest barely a second behind Jo Mal-saeng, and he grabs the butcher out of view and promptly throws him to the ground. He’s acting on his own, and asks Ga Ri-on if he’s a member of Hidden Root with a knife to his throat. The butcher seems completely taken aback by the question – he has no idea what’s happening and why it’s happening.
Chae-yoon levels all the accusations that point to Ga Ri-on being the one who threatened Nam Sa-chul. Ga Ri-on defends himself, saying he was there, but only to deliver beef – but he guesses that Nam Sa-chul must have hidden this fact, since beef is against the law. And as for searching Chae-yoon’s room, he only did it because Mu-hyul ordered him to… which comes as quite a shock to Chae-yoon.
As far as the most damning piece of evidence, his knife, Ga Ri-on says that it disappeared that night. He’s the only butcher in town, he would be crazy to use his own knife when it would lead back to him. Chae-yoon takes this all in, and pretty much says fine – if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you can defend yourself.
In a beautifully sad moment, tears fill Ga Ri-on’s eyes. Is he a nobleman, he asks? Are all lives the same? His life is worth less than that of a fly – if he gets taken to the bureau, as a slave, he’ll only be killed. Doesn’t Chae-yoon know that by now? His life is worth nothing, and that’s how his lowly life will be treated.
His words hit Chae-yoon straight in the heart, as he remembers when he was in prison as a child and all the people he knew, himself and his father included, were regarded as less than human. A change comes over his face as he’s hit with Heroic Resolve.
Chae-yoon: “There is no such thing as a lowly life. In this world, there are no lowly lives. If you are indeed wrongly accused, I won’t let you die unfairly.”
But for the moment, Chae-yoon can only watch as the royal troops beat Ga Ri-on until he’s unconscious before they drag his body away.
Ahhh! Save Ga Ri-on! I’ve liked that character ever since he proved himself a jack of all trades, even without knowing what side he’s really on. There’s just something about the way that character is written, or the actor playing him, that makes him one of my favorites in the series. Maybe it is because he’s so genuine and helpless in this situation, but the whole time he was getting beaten all I could think was: “Don’t kill him, he’s a neat character!”
The moment Chae-yoon has where he promises Ga Ri-on that he’ll save him is my favorite moment of his this whole series. I can’t help it – when heroes do heroic things, it just gets me right where it matters. It’s also nice to see Chae-yoon’s complicated backstory come to the fore, since being a slave and finding the Hidden Root Scroll aren’t just random things that happened in his past – they are things that have clearly impacted his future and have shaped who he is, what he knows, and how he behaves. In this case, his perception of Ga Ri-on flipped in an instant because he’s been through the same thing. And Ga Ri-on is right – he doesn’t have a chance if he gets taken to the bureau. Even just in the realm of this series, we’ve seen how quickly officials can get tortured and put to death in prison. How can Ga Ri-on, a slave, ever hope to survive?
But, oh man, how cool was it to see the unveiling of the Hangul project? I love how the drawers in the Chest-O-Characters are made to look like the magic square/sudoku Sejong used to play with when he was younger. He found his Joseon by solving that puzzle, and we’re seeing that manifest now years later into more than just a puzzle, but an entire alphabet. That is a Big Freaking Deal. I’m only glad to see that it was treated like the Big Freaking Deal it is by the production team, because that scene was appropriately awesome.