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Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 18

Gauntlets are thrown, jaws are dropped, and our heroes find themselves much closer to their enemies than they probably ever wanted to be. This show keeps secrets just so it can reveal them to us in explosive ways, effectively taking the shock-o-meter up with every single episode. What else can I say? I’m in awe of the awesomeness that is this show.

 
EPISODE 18 RECAP

Both Chae-yoon and Lee Bang-ji recognize each other, but neither of them act like they do. Caught by surprise, Chae-yoon can only ask for the meat he came for and go, leaving both men in the butchery.

It’s clear that Lee Bang-ji has nothing but derision for Jung Ki-joon, definitely not taking up the mantle of his former master’s nephew. He considers his business with Hidden Root complete, but Jung Ki-joon feels differently – surely Lee Bang-ji can’t think that just because he taught Pyung martial arts, it clears him of the sin of letting Jung Do-jun die?

Jung Ki-joon lays out his plan. He wants Lee Bang-ji to handle Mu-hyul, while Chae-yoon handles Sejong. It’s just this once, and he wants Lee Bang-ji to help him. Lee Bang-ji not only refuses, but assures him that Chae-yoon won’t be taking part either. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jung Ki-joon.

Chae-yoon has been waiting for Lee Bang-ji outside, and the two men smile at each other before heading to a rooftop to catch up. Bang-ji is certainly playing the father figure here, as he feels Chae-yoon is headed down the wrong path on siding with Hidden Root. Our hero weighs his options before telling his teacher that his goal is no longer to kill the King, but to catch Jung Ki-joon.

Chae-yoon: “Teacher. I’ve garnered a very small wish. To live with the woman I cherish, wearing white clothes and digging in the ground. That kind of life.”

He smiles, and hearts melt around the world. The wish is finally revealed – and though it’s not a surprise, it’s still nice to finally hear it. Their conversation turns idealistic, in that Chae-yoon is now daring to dream just a little bigger because of what he’s seen in the alphabet. He envisions a world where together with Dam, his children will know how to write and be able to learn by reading. It’s sweet and adorable, but Lee Bang-ji is there to bring our hero back to reality by pushing his past onto him, asking Chae-yoon what he would do if he were to lose everything (meaning Dam). Like Sejong, Chae-yoon replies that his version of the future will be different. But Lee Bang-ji wonders how Chae-yoon, with his yearning for a court maiden considered property of the King, is any different from his past yearning for his master’s woman.

He basically tells Chae-yoon that he’s aiming too high, and that he needs to reevaluate his priorities. Chae-yoon is working for the great cause because Dam is the most important thing to him, but the most important thing to Dam is the great cause. Lee Bang-ji says that he’s lived his life thinking he’s no better than an insect in order to protect what’s important to him. People of low birth like the two of them, he claims, must throw away their pride in order to protect what is precious to them.

There’s fire in Chae-yoon’s eyes as he asks why that has to be so, why a citizen has to be the only one being dishonorable and cowardly to protect what he cherishes most. I’m so proud of him – he’s daring to think that he can be more than what he was born as, and it’s probably because of Sejong’s alphabet and influence. Lee Bang-ji’s only reply is that if Chae-yoon is willing to give up what he cherishes the most, then he’ll help him. This gives our hero some major food for thought.

Chae-yoon still has Jung Ki-joon completely fooled, since the Hidden Root leader believes that the long talk he’s having with Lee Bang-ji is about convincing the elder to join Hidden Root. But he hasn’t just been waiting on news of this conversation, since he’s decided that he must stop the promulgation of the alphabet at all costs. Even if his name becomes branded as a traitor forever, he must do it. Even if that means assassination of the King. Wait, what?

Chae-yoon is left with a lot to think about, his confidence in working for the great cause of Hangul shaken by Lee Bang-ji. His conversation with So-yi is cut short as it’s her turn to do kitchen duty, and he watches her from afar while wondering if such a thing exists that’s worth him losing her. Hmm. I can already tell that everything is going to come down to whether he’s willing to sacrifice for the Great Cause or not.

Choi Man-ri meets with the King in order to deliver his severely long protest letter. He stands firm in his belief that the fact that a slave entered the exam grounds is just the beginning of the absolute chaos that could be caused if everyone learns how to write. It’s really hard to find any good in Choi Man-ri’s points when Sejong says that his letters will allow the common people to find a little joy in life, and Choi Man-ri responds that it’s exactly that joy that will collapse the ranking order of Joseon. Really, Choi Man-ri?

His argument hinges on the fact that Sejong can’t un-slave slaves and un-noble nobles, so what’s the use of giving the people the useless hope of an alphabet? They both bring up instances of history, with Choi Man-ri saying that they’re already better than the previous Goryeo Dynasty, whose nobles were decided on hereditary basis alone. Sejong replies that it’s not much different, because the only people who can take their civil exams are those who can read and write – and those who can read and write tend to only be in the upper class. If the common people have this alphabet, he believes they will pull through on their own so Joseon can go on for thousands of years. But if not, Joseon will rot and disappear just like the previous Goryeo Dynasty.

Back in the Hangul Room, Sejong still finds himself in a rage. Everyone, including a young Jung Ki-joon and his father, asked him how his Joseon would be different. But now he feels like he can say it honorably – this, the alphabet, is his answer. This is his Joseon.

He opens the box where he’s kept Jung Ki-joon’s exam paper all these years, and throws it to the table below. When he sees it resting among all of the papers displaying the different letters of the Hangul alphabet, he gets an epiphany. He wants to meet Jung Ki-joon. The very same Jung Ki-joon who’s probably been watching his actions more than anyone else, and someone that he must persuade, even if he’s at risk of being persuaded himself.

Mu-hyul seems more than unhappy at this idea, claiming that Jung Ki-joon is a traitor that must be killed on sight. Sejong doesn’t seem to even be listening, and insists that he must meet him. Who among his ministers can he go through, assuming that some of them must be in Hidden Root?

Alone, Lee Bang-ji is unable to escape memories of the past. Jung Ki-joon’s words are still with him, and he wonders whether he can betray Hidden Root a second time. He remembers how the woman he loved was indadvertedly killed by Jo Mal-saeng (he held the sword, but she’s the one who used it to kill herself) and how he went to Jo Mal-saeng afterwards, looking for blood. Jo Mal-saeng offered his life calmly, but assured Lee Bang-ji that wasn’t him who was responsible for the deaths of Jung Do-jun and the woman. It was because of Lee Bang-ji’s hesitancy. Besides, didn’t Lee Bang-ji want Jung Do-jun to die so he could have his woman all for himself?

In the present, Lee Bang-ji considers his past actions. He’s hesitating even now, and realizes that it’s come to his detriment when Mu-hyul and his soldiers arrive outside to storm the house. He leads them on a chase deep into the forest.

We get just a taste of an epic battle, but the two men have no intention of killing each other. Mu-hyul sends his own men away as a gesture of good faith, and flatly asks Lee Bang-ji to reveal Jung Ki-joon’s whereabouts. Not because he wants to kill him, but because the King wants to meet him.

It sounds like a ruse and Lee Bang-ji even goes so far as to call him out, but Mu-hyul defends his honesty. He explains by saying that Sejong is different – he even once ordered Mu-hyul to save Jung Do-gwang and Jung Ki-joon. Lee Bang-ji, in a moment of adorable father-like love for Chae-yoon, asks Mu-hyul if Sejong is ‘different’ enough to send So-yi and Chae-yoon away after their work is done.

Mu-hyul promises him, both as a warrior and as a man who owes him his life, that if the King does not do it then he will. Aww. It’s adorable that Lee Bang-ji is looking out for Chae-yoon’s welfare, and that that’s the deciding factor in which side he’ll choose.

Chae-yoon and the Leader have a sudden meeting, and it reminds me so much of the way spies meet in most/all modern spy movies where they’re close enough to be able to speak, but try not to look like they’re speaking. She tells him that Jung Ki-joon has made a decision… and Chae-yoon knows instinctively that his decision is to kill the King.

She goes to report the conversation to Jung Ki-joon, but they’re soon interrupted by Shim Jong-soo with the breaking news that Mu-hyul encountered Lee Bang-ji and let him go. Everyone thinks it’s strange, and it only serves to throw suspicion onto Lee Bang-ji, as the members wonder whether or not he gave away any information about them.

Sejong thinks his chances of seeing Jung Ki-joon are good, now that they might have Lee Bang-ji on their side. While the martial arts master didn’t immediately give away information on Jung Ki-joon, he did ask for some time, so things are looking up. Sejong is consumed with the desire to meet Jung Ki-joon (with the idea of making a convert out of him), and says that it must happen, even at the risk of his own safety. Nooo, don’t even say that! You can’t afford to risk your safety when someone wants your head!

Lee Bang-ji still seems to be weighing his options, as is Chae-yoon. He’s come with food and a question: why did Lee Bang-ji say that he would lose what he cherishes most if he carries out this work? His teacher’s reply is that Chae-yoon shares the same birth signs as him, and he doesn’t want his love story to end the same way as his did. Yikes. Forebode much, Lee Bang-ji?

But he seems to be erring more toward the side of good, as he wonders if all these problems could be solved if there was peace among the aristocracy. He thinks this peace will come if Sejong and Jung Ki-joon were to meet, and seems to think favorably of Sejong since he knows about the King pouring drinks to soothe the soul of Jung Do-jun. Only because Sejong is Sejong, peace might be possible.

Jung Ki-joon is preparing for his meeting with Lee Bang-ji, although the Leader is uneasy ever since Mu-hyul let him go. They’re interrupted by a frantic Han Ga, who carries a letter from Lee Chi-seong, provincial governor of Hamgildo (who Shim Jong-soo remembers as being present during the big Hidden Root meeting). He loudly proclaims that they’ve all been fooled by Chae-yoon. Yikes! The cat’s out of the bag already?

The letter relates the fact that Prince Gwangpyeong… is alive. Ohhh crap. This is bad. This is really bad.

Lee Bang-ji is about to head out for the meeting, but Jung Ki-joon is already waiting creepily outside. He tells Jung Ki-joon that the King wants to meet him, and that Mu-hyul is the one who relayed the message. He seems to offer his services for Jung Ki-joon’s security if he wants to go to the meeting, but Jung Ki-joon only laughs at him. He berates Lee Bang-ji for not betraying Hidden Root once, but twice now, and that no matter his martial arts skills he’s just an insect incapable of using them.

He says he was foolish for ever wanting to join causes with either him or Chae-yoon, and that this will be the last time they see each other…

…Because he leaves Gae Pa-yi behind, who we’re supposed to see as some sort of wizard (but it begs the question of Pyung’s necessity if they have this force of nature at their beck and call). But still, yikes. Does this mean the end of Lee Bang-ji?

The two men have a fight in the forest, where it’s more than hinted at that Gae Pa-yi might be something more than human – Lee Bang-ji uses a term ‘Daejeokbulga’ to refer to him, saying that he thought it was only a myth. But he gets to meet, and fight, with this living myth in his old age at last. A strange yellow glint appears in both men’s eyes.

We don’t see the end of the fight since next we see Gae Pa-yi, he’s with Hidden Root explaining that he lost Lee Bang-ji off the egde of a cliff. Curiously, when Jung Ki-joon asks if Gae Pa-yi verified the corpse, the latter responds that he can’t enter water. Not in a way that suggest he can’t swim, but maybe because of some supernatural rule. Whatever the case, it’s intriguing.

Hidden Root is in a tizzy over what to do, since Lee Bang-ji knows Jung Ki-joon’s identity and might still be alive. They come to the conclusion that they have to move their base out of Ban Chon secretly, but they’ll leave Han Ga there as a spy.

Sejong has set a time to meet with Lee Bang-ji and Jung Ki-joon, but Mu-hyul ends up waiting in vain. He’s sure that even if Jung Ki-joon decided against the meeting, that Lee Bang-ji would have come regardless to relate the news. Something must have happened.

Chae-yoon comes to the same conclusion, because he arrives at his Teacher’s house to find everything in disarray. He follows a trail of blood into the forest where there’s been evidence of a major fight – namely, that a stone statue has been neatly sliced by a sword.

Chae-yoon and Mu-hyul end up working together to try and find the whereabouts of the missing Lee Bang-ji. The only other acquaintance that Lee Bang-ji had was Ga Ri-on, so Chae-yoon is tasked with searching Ban Chon… only to find that both Ga Ri-on and the Leader haven’t been seen lately.

Meanwhile, the King is more than upset to hear that the meeting fell through. He truly believes that if he can just talk to Jung Ki-joon, he can bring him over to his side. After all this it still seems like he’s willing to forgive Jung Ki-joon because he wants him in the fold so badly, which is sad considering that it looks like that will never happen. He’s unaware that Jung Ki-joon has already seen the alphabet and that he already recognizes its worth, but it’s still meaningless to him.

The King needs a pick-me-up, and so he dresses himself in disguise (along with Mu-hyul and So-yi) to catch the night air. Mu-hyul isn’t entirely happy about this decision (always the worried wife) because of all the scholar unrest against Sejong, but there’s not much he can do. Sejong isn’t worried at all – he has Mu-hyul with him, so what could happen? Ahh, don’t even ask that question!

At the butchery, Jung Ki-joon is preparing to make his leave when he’s interrupted by Mu-hyul, who’s come to ask for him to bring meat and follow him to the same cliff he’d been to before… where the King once honored Jung Do-jun’s soul. Jung Ki-joon, thinking fast, says that it would be better to grill the meat on-site, and calls for Gae Pa-yi to help him. Mu-hyul gets a look at him, but apparently can’t recognize him (the hair didn’t give him away?) as the man who attacked him before. This is such bad news bears.

Two children interrupt a conversation between Park-po and Chae-yoon (one is the little girl Gae Pa-yi had befriended) over a toy, which Park-po takes away to scold them. Chae-yoon is uninterested until he takes a look at the toy… which looks to be a horse, only the body is made of stone and the legs are twigs that have been stuck inside. Chae-yoon flashes back to the man who had a Death By Twig, and the sliced stone lantern in the mountain – knowing that tools weren’t used to create the toy. Only someone with severe martial arts skills could have forced a twig into a stone.

The little girl names her friend as Gae Pa-yi, who Park-po knows as Ga Ri-on’s assistant. Chae-yoon connects the dots, that Gae Pa-yi is Hidden Root… Augh, you’re so close, Chae-yoon!

Cho-tak bursts onto the scene, proclaiming that Mu-hyul visited Ga Ri-on at the butchery. They rush inside, Chae-yoon with his sword drawn, but they find no one there. Cho-tak mentions that it was strange to start with, because he’d been outside for a long while and never saw Ga Ri-on go in… but when Mu-hyul called from outside, Ga Ri-on answered from within. So how did he get inside?

Part of Team Sejong, along with Jung Ki-joon and Gae Pa-yi, are having a barbecue on Jung Do-jun’s cliff, and the air is light and fun. Sejong says that when he’s reborn he’s sure he will do well, but he would not like to be King again. When So-yi asks what he’d like to be reborn as instead, he replies that he’d make a great Royal Guard Commander (Mu-hyul’s job) – because when he thinks about it, Mu-hyul does nothing and can just eat for free. Ha! And aww. So cute.

Mu-hyul adorably tries to defend himself by saying that if Sejong is reborn into his job, hopefully he gets to serve a master like Sejong. They all have a laugh, and their happiness only makes me more worried at what could be coming around the corner…

Mu-hyul, at last, sees the ring of flowers on Gae Pa-yi’s finger that he always wears, and one that he wore the day he attacked Mu-hyul. Suddenly he realizes the danger they’re in, and though he draws his sword in an instant to make an attack, Gae Pa-yi is just as quick (if not quicker) with his own sword and they end up in a stalemate. Mu-hyul tells Sejong he’s in danger, but the King doesn’t understand. Oh crap. Ohhhh crap.

The look on Jung Ki-joon’s face instantly changes as he asks, “Why did you want to meet me?” Ahhh!! It’s finally happening! Sejong looks shocked and confused, and I’m right there with him.

Just as Sejong is making the realization, Chae-yoon is doing the same. Via a secret tunnel from the butchery, he’s found the room we’ve been seeing so much of recently – it’s Hidden Root’s table-scheming room. In it, he finds the piece of cloth that So-yi used to teach him Hangul, and suddenly he knows. This is Hidden Root’s hideout, located right beneath Ga Ri-on’s butcher shop.

Jung Ki-joon reaches forward and takes the King’s drink, downing it right in front of him. My jaw just dropped. He even goes so far as to stand while Sejong is sitting, arrogance radiating from every pore.

Jung Ki-joon: “Nothing! I thought you could accomplish nothing. But don’t you think you’ve done too much, Lee Do?”

Sejong stands slowly, locking eyes with his foe. “Are you Jung Ki-joon?” he asks, as a small smile crosses his features.

 
COMMENTS

Wow. Wow! Wow. Just wow.

What really made this face-off so exciting was Jung Ki-joon’s shamelessness and arrogance. I was in shock when he took Sejong’ drink and drank it straight in front of him (rather than turning his head to the side to drink, as a sign of respect). It fits well with Jung Ki-joon’s character, because he has to have some major balls to do what he just did. I guess it’s no big deal to him when the King is just a flower on the tree that is Joseon, but still. Goodness gracious.

There’s always been a little hint of the supernatural in this show that they don’t ever really bother to explain. It suits me fine, and sort of seems like a heightened reality, which is part of the fun. When all of the high-jumping happened earlier on, though it looked a little cheesy, it seemed like something that could actually be possible in the world this drama has set up. So now, with Gae Pa-yi and Lee Bang-ji, we saw a glint of something supernatural in their eyes. It comes as no surprise with these two, who are truly capable of inhuman feats, but Gae Pa-yi is being set up as this unstoppable force of nature who’s been consistently called a ‘beast’ for his very inhuman-like aura. I had held out some hopes that Gae Pa-yi would switch sides after he learned the alphabet, but we still know so little about what makes him tick. He’s certainly become more interesting as of late, that’s for sure.

Something I’ve mentioned before about this show, but something that still continues to consistently amaze me is how everything that comes about just seems so organic. I always remember something my dad would tell me if I ever asked him about why something implausible happened in a movie, and his reply was always: “Because it’s in the script.” Obviously everything here in the show is ‘in the script’, but I feel like I don’t have to ask why something happens because I find it implausible. Everything is plausible, and everything is handled so masterfully. Chae-yoon finding out Ga Ri-on’s secret at the same time as Sejong, though they were in two totally different places? That’s poetry. Those two really do complete each other.

 
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