This show takes the universal notion that knowledge is power and puts it to the most extreme test. If power is only power when it can be traded for something (so claims one of our characters), then knowledge is a power that is priceless – and therefore something that scholars are unwilling to trade for anything in the world. The best part about this episode’s commentary on literacy and who really deserves the power to put their thoughts into words is still something we can all find relevant today.
EPISODE 17 RECAP
Jung Ki-joon is now aware of the power that the King’s new alphabet has, and he wants anything and everything done to stop the deal between Lee Shin-juk, Hwang-hee, and Sejong. The message goes from slave to official, and then all the way to Lee Shin-juk, who’s pulled aside just as he’s taking off his shoes to go inside. Agh, you were this close!
This message isn’t relayed to the Prime Minister, who is noticeably surprised when Lee Shin-juk renegades on his promise in the middle of the meeting. Just as Sejong is talking about how he made an agonizing decision the night before (to abolish Jiphyunjeon), Lee Shin-juk interrupts him to say that he’s just not confident in his ability to convince the other officials, and therefore can’t uphold his side of the bargain. He’ll work hard to get officials back in their posts, but that’s about all he can do.
In other words, the deal is off. Sejong does not seem pleased. He’s sure Hidden Root is pulling the strings here, but what can he do?
Lee Bang-ji, the martial arts master and Chae-yoon’s teacher, has been the rare white elk of this series thus far. His name hasn’t come up for a few episodes and it’s time to remind the audience he still exists, so Jung Ki-joon charges Pyung with the mission to go retrieve Lee Bang-ji. Jung Ki-joon claims that Hidden Root will need his strength, while the Leader questions whether Lee Bang-ji would even go to their side. Jung Ki-joon is sure that if they tell him that his only disciple (Chae-yoon) has joined their cause, he is bound to come. Really? Is he actually going to come this time?
One of the two orders Lee Shin-juk received that day was to bring the exam theme to be used on tomorrow’s government exam to Jung Ki-joon. He does, but in the following meeting with Jung Ki-joon it’s very clear he’s unhappy about all the recent happenings. If they had gone through with the deal with Sejong, then Jiphyunjeon could have been abolished and they could have put into place the de facto parliament system they’ve been wanting so much. He demands to know why Jung Ki-joon thought that stopping the promulgation of the alphabet was more important than their goals.
What follows is a literal debate between these two powers, but one made wonderful because of the quality of acting involved. Lee Shin-juk really gets to shine as he asks Jung Ki-joon questions that we as the audience have been wanting to know, but most of Jung Ki-joon’s answers are a rehash of what’s been said before – that writing is power, and if that power falls into everyone’s hands (as opposed to the sadaebu, the bureaucratic force of scholar-officials) then the very order and fabric of Joseon will be ruined.
Lee Shin-juk thinks that Jung Ki-joon is taking this whole alphabet thing a little too seriously, and is upset enough that he uses sarcasm as he quotes something Jung Ki-joon said: “Look at Phags-pa! No one will use it. A world where everyone uses writing? That is the same as the sun rising from the west!”
Jung Ki-joon: “These are letters that will make the sun rise from the west.”
Sejong knows that it’s Hidden Root… no, Jung Ki-joon behind the broken deal. But what he can’t figure out is why Jung Ki-joon would turn down this kind of opportunity, and what their other aim might be. He seeks the advice of Mu-hyul, and I really love that anytime he seeks Mu-hyul’s advice on a political matter he words the question in sword fighting or battle terminology, presumably so the warrior-minded Mu-hyul can properly understand. He asks that, if he were in a battle, and he made a great blow but missed… what would happen?
Mu-hyul replies that an enormous counterattack would be next on the list, which Sejong has guessed. He said that this deal was his great blow, and he missed. He knows a counterattack is coming, but can’t figure it out. I’m as worried as he is – if our super-intelligent King can’t see Jung Ki-joon’s next move, how is he going to fend it off?
Jung Ki-joon’s debate with Lee Shin-juk is still going, with neither man backing down. Lee Shin-juk finally says, fine – if the letters are so great, why can’t he see them so he can judge for himself? This is something that Jung Ki-joon absolutely forbids, because he knows that the letters will spread like an epidemic. No one can see them, no one can learn them, lest people actually use them (cue collective gasp).
Lee Shin-juk brings up a very good point in this argument – even if they assume that every commoner learns these letters, does that automatically make them government officials? Jung Ki-joon’s main rebuttal is that anyone who learns these letters will disregard Chinese characters for being too difficult – and as we all know from Hae Gang’s protest, Chinese characters carry the heart and soul of Neo-Confucianism within them. Therefore, a lack of Chinese letters makes for a lack of Neo-Confucianism, which Jung Ki-joon just can’t abide by in any universe whatsoever ever in the world forever and ever amen.
If I thought all the bombs that could be dropped during this conversation had been dropped, I was sorely mistaken. Jung Ki-joon only digs his grave deeper (as far as my esteem for him goes) when he says: “Once they [the common people] know writing, they will naturally know the joy of reading. If they know the joy of reading, they will wake up.” Goodness gracious, Jung Ki-joon! You were that kid on the playground that never shared his toys even if you had toys to spare, weren’t you?
Chae-yoon and So-yi have another late-night meeting where he’s updated on the state of affairs. So-yi is fairly sure that Hidden Root has somehow gotten ahold of the letters and thus have seen their power (she with the perfect memory that can’t remember the paper she left behind with all the characters on it for Hidden Root to find).
What I find interesting is that Chae-yoon’s take on the whole deal-breaking matter is in line with Lee Shin-juk’s thinking: will ordinary citizens instantly become aristocrats if they know how to read and write? So-yi says that the aristocrats seem to think so, and that’s why they’re putting a stop to it. Sejong doesn’t believe it will end with just that broken deal, either.
It’s the official day of the government exam, and Jung Ki-joon has been a busy bee. He sends an official order to the exam grounds (we don’t know what it contains), and Sejong is asked to assess the most impressive answers picked out by Hwang-hee in order to determine who has achieved first place. Sejong finds an answer worthy of such an honor, and both scholars and officials gather with the test-taker in ceremonial clothing. He’s poured a drink by the King, who asks him what family he’s from.
The man gets up, and begins to take off his ceremonial robe…
…In order to reveal that he is not from a prestigious family, but in fact is a slave from Ban Chon. Shock reverberates through the room and through our screens as this bomb is dropped, and we instantly know that Jung Ki-joon orchestrated this, which is why he asked for the exam theme ahead of time – in order that he could cheat, and write the perfect answer. I’m as floored as Sejong.
The man says that though he knew how to write since he was young, he never planned to advance. But when he heard that the King was creating letters and thus creating a world where everyone will know writing, he came. He demonstrated all his talents, and has no regret even if he dies.
The fact that a slave pretty much tricked everyone (even if Jung Ki-joon was behind it) and had his drink personally poured by the King before he revealed his status is unacceptable (slaves were also forbidden by law to take government exams), and Sejong looks like he is barely containing his rage. He knows that it’s Jung Ki-joon behind this, but he’s basically had one pulled on him because he couldn’t read ahead into his enemy’s plans. Now that very essential seed will be planted in every official’s mind – will this alphabet make slaves into officials? Oh man. But well-played, Jung Ki-joon. I have only awe for you at this moment.
News travels fast, and soon Park-po is relating the events to his fellow palace guards, Chae-yoon and Cho-tak. He says this is the biggest incident since the founding of Joseon. How could a slave enter the exam grounds? And how could that same slave win first place, at that? It’s pandemonium in the palace.
Cut to: pandemonium in the palace, as Choi Man-ri is hopping mad when Jung In-ji suggests that they make the second-place winner first instead. The slave is going to be punished by law, but Choi Man-ri doesn’t see how that will solve anything. He’s been against this alphabet since the start, and blames Sejong as the reason for that slave finding the nerve to even enter the exam. To Choi Man-ri (and probably a bunch of other officials against the alphabet), this is a warning that even a slave can become the Prime Minister.
The brand of Sungkyunkwan student this drama produces is not your model Sungkyunkwan Scandal student, since many of them have proven to be Hidden Root members. The slave that won first place in the civil exam (or did he?) has caused an uproar among scholars and students, but one group of hot-headed youngsters decide to take their beef directly to some poor slaves who probably did nothing wrong. One in particular catches Chae-yoon’s eye, as he recognizes the look on that student’s face as one he’s seen in battle before. It’s that look when everyone around you is dead and you’re left alone to go nuts. Yikes.
Chae-yoon is once again left wondering, as he watches the scene unfold, if slaves learning a little writing is really enough to make nobles so furious. It’s almost beyond him.
Jung Ki-joon, meanwhile, has already got his hands on that enraged student. The student is convinced Joseon is headed for ruin, and when Jung Ki-joon asks if that same student is ready (to stand up for his beliefs, presumably), the student says he’d planned to come forward even without the order. Uh oh. This can only end badly.
Acting on a warrior’s intuition, Chae-yoon follows the student to the water’s edge. The slave that took the civil service exam is set to be exiled, but before he can make it to the boat, the same student gets his fellow students to hold the guards back so he can repeatedly stab and kill the slave.
Chae-yoon’s next stop can only be the gates of Sungkyunkwan, where he’s prepared to make an arrest on the grounds that he was eye witness to the murder. But he’s distracted by a very loud voice not too far off…
And it’s none other than our resident murderous student, loudly protesting (to mostly residents of Ban Chon, which seems counterproductive to his cause) King Sejong’s alphabet. He echoes Jung Ki-joon’s exact sentiments when he laments Neo-Confucianism over and over, saying that only officials can lead the nation, and only those who are cultured can serve in the government. The very idea of that alphabet defies Neo-Confucianism and will single-handedly shake the bureaucracies that are the roots of Joseon.
With that, he announces his name, his status, and his cause. He doesn’t confess to the murder of the slave so much as says he ‘disposed’ of him, and that for the sake of duty and loyalty he’ll offer his life.
He jumps from the high wall, and falls to his death in front of all the onlookers. Well, that is a hell of a way to make a statement, I guess.
Chae-yoon is left more thoughtful than ever, as he barely registers the death. He seems to be in some sort of shock, not at this suicide, but more at the idea that all of this chaos is happening at all. He ends up standing next to Jung Ki-joon (disguised as Ga Ri-on), and wonders aloud if this whole everyone-being-literate thing is enough to be the catalyst of such wrath, and if it’s enough for that scholar to even give up his life.
Jung Ki-joon seems to be feeling him out (in terms of Chae-yoon’s involvement with Hidden Root) as he says that all they are as people is what they do, and the strength of scholars lies in writing. So if they’re about to lose that strength, their outrage is understandable. It’s as if Jung Ki-joon is studying Chae-yoon to see if his words are taking root (ha).
It’s time for our hero to sort through all of his thoughts – and he does so on his own, then he does so while watching Sejong take in the night air from a distance, then he does so while meeting with So-yi. The two of them are able to meet at their leisure, it seems, with neither of them having to be held accountable (especially So-yi, as a court lady). He wants to know if So-yi thought that the alphabet would become this huge of a deal.
She replies that she didn’t at first, but now that she’s been with the project and has seen it nearly come to completion, she feels both happy and apprehensive. Happy because the letters are truly easy and good for the lower class, but apprehensive because of how the upper class would inevitably feel.
Chae-yoon knows that Hidden Root is the one manipulating all of these events, and that Jung Ki-joon must be caught. So-yi says that no one knows what he looks like, with Jo Mal-saeng being the last person to see him at the age of twenty. Chae-yoon finds this news curious, which brings out another quick thought montage that takes him back to what Jo Mal-saeng said about that ‘former’ best swordsman of Joseon, Lee Bang-ji.
But then (at last!) So-yi brings up Chae-yoon’s wish. Right, he says, that wish… He gives an adorable smile, but then I suddenly want to smack it right off his face when he says he’ll tell her after he catches Jung Ki-joon. No! Not okay, Chae-yoon. Not okay! If I had one wish, it would be for you to tell me your one wish!
Pyung finally meets with Lee Bang-ji, who is less than thrilled to see him. The assassin says he’s come to relate an order from Jung Ki-joon, but Lee Bang-ji reminds him that he’s not part of Hidden Root and therefore will not take orders – and if Pyung says that one more time, he’ll kill him. Pyung calls him Teacher too, and Lee Bang-ji threatens to kill him over the use of that word as well. Curiouser and curiouser.
Pyung relates the message/order anyway, that Lee Bang-ji should join the cause. After all, he knows Chae-yoon, right? Chae-yoon has joined hands with Hidden Root (or so they believe). Lee Bang-ji seems shocked at this news.
Chae-yoon goes directly to Mu-hyul in order to ask about Lee Bang-ji, with the current best swordsman worrying at what a bad fate it is the moment he finds out that Chae-yoon was once a disciple of the former best swordsman. Chae-yoon wants to know what happened that night that Jung Do-jun was killed by Former King Taejong’s forces. He’d heard from Jo Mal-saeng that Lee Bang-ji abandoned his duty (to protect Jung Do-jun), so what could have been the cause?
We cut to a severely blue flashback of Lee Bang-ji on the night of Jung Do-jun’s murder. Former King Taejong had known Lee Bang-ji would be the biggest obstacle to killing Jung Do-jun, so he devised a plan to lure him away the night of the murder by threatening the woman he loved, who also happened to be the woman of his master, Jung Do-jun. When he went to save her, she expressed her desire for him to quickly return and protect Jung Do-jun by stabbing herself with the sword being used to threaten her. Even her last words were only to tell Lee Bang-ji to hurry to his master’s side.
This is all according to Mu-hyul’s memory, and when Chae-yoon asks him why his memory is so lucid, Mu-hyul replies that he was only a teenager then and that night had been his first day on the field. Chae-yoon finds Mu-hyul’s account much better, and mentions that he knows more details than Jo Mal-saeng, who said that he didn’t know the reason why Lee Bang-ji up and disappeared that night. Mu-hyul finds this curious, since a young Jo Mal-saeng was the one who had been tasked to stall Lee Bang-ji and thus was the man who threatened the woman he loved. Ouch.
Chae-yoon is back in his Sunday best, ready to go on a journey to find Lee Bang-ji. It’s cute that Cho-tak flips a lid and frantically looks for a letter, afraid that Chae-yoon plans on leaving forever again. Their friendship is one of the greater ones in this drama, even at its most understated moments.
But it seems like Lee Bang-ji has taken Hidden Root’s bait, since he’s resurfaced again after many quiet years. So many, in fact, that Jo Mal-saeng forgot he gave an order to a man to report to him if he were to see a man pouring a drink on a tomb. That very man was none other than our rare white elk, Lee Bang-ji.
The martial arts master has gone to visit Ban Chon, and receives a cool and controlled ‘welcome’ by Jung Ki-joon. I imagine most of Jung Ki-joon’s animosity (as he explains) is due to the fact that his uncle, the venerated Jung Do-jun, could have lived that night if Lee Bang-ji had been at his side. But because Lee Bang-ji had been tempted by a woman to leave his station, he ruined Joseon’s history by allowing Jung Do-jun to die. That’s a serious charge there, Jung Ki-joon.
Lee Bang-ji says he has nothing to say about that incident, because he’s offered his head to them and asked them to kill him. Instead, they wanted to make a deal – ohhhh, so that’s how Pyung came about. Part of Lee Bang-ji’s penance for the death of Jung Do-jun was to teach Pyung martial arts, which explains why there’s so much animosity between them and why he doesn’t consider Pyung a true disciple.
So, in the end, Jung Ki-joon lays down the terms. He wants Lee Bang-ji to come to the dark side together with Chae-yoon. Lee Bang-ji doesn’t seem to believe Chae-yoon could be in Hidden Root, claiming that Chae-yoon’s exterior is harsh and biting to properly conceal his inner, frail child. Politics are not for him.
Jung Ki-joon is happy to report that Chae-yoon involved himself in politics the moment he became a palace guard. This seems to surprise Lee Bang-ji, which only delights the inner evil maniac in Jung Ki-joon. He’s honestly surprised to know that the martial arts master never knew who Chae-yoon wanted revenge against. He pretty much spells it out: Chae-yoon came to kill the King.
However, Chae-yoon has arrived outside on his way out to get some dried meat for the journey. Jung Ki-joon takes this as fate and invites him inside, where his guest is still sitting…
…And teacher and disciple meet again, under the eerily giddy eye of Jung Ki-joon.
There you are, Awesome Cliffhanger! I missed you this past week! I’m glad to see that this show has its cliffhanger mojo back, because while last week’s were still good, they weren’t as crack-filled as some. And this cliffhanger is especially good, leaving me chomping at the bit to see how this conflict is escalated or resolved next episode.
I’m venturing to say that Lee Bang-ji looks to Chae-yoon as a sort of son figure, seeing as how Chae-yoon is the only true student he’s ever taken on and that he’s gone out of such deep hiding to confirm whether Chae-yoon is going down the wrong path. I might have that totally turned on my head next episode, but it seems like there’s some disappointment coming from Lee Bang-ji to hear that Chae-yoon is mired up in all this Hidden Root business. Of course, he’s unaware that Chae-yoon is working as a secret double-agent. Such is the lonely life of a spy.
My favorite thing about this episode was seeing all of the bedlam arising from that test-taking slave through Chae-yoon’s eyes. I couldn’t quite get a read on what he was thinking most of the time, but it’s part of what I love. He is like Lee Bang-ji says – a little boy inside. Chae-yoon isn’t being painted as our cold hero who secretly knows all, because in the world of politics, he really is lost. So to see him watch as things go from bad to worse is just a joy, because he effectively grounds all of these crazy happenings in the best way possible.
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 16
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 15
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 14
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 13
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 12
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 11
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 10
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 9
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 8
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 7
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 6
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 5
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 4
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 3
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 2
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 1