Who knew an alphabet could be so dangerous? And who knew that a show about a dangerous alphabet could be so utterly thrilling at every turn? Add in some good ol’ fashioned psychological warfare and we’ve got yet another amazing episode. We’re beginning our fight to the finish, and it looks like we’re going full speed ahead as everyone and their mothers pick a side, join the fight, and simultaneously make our hearts race with anticipation. All Hail the King… of sageuks.
EPISODE 21 RECAP
Now that Jung Ki-joon has realized that the King secretly sent out his court maidens to complete the mission of promulgation, he’s a bit more than upset. He knows the letters have the potential to spread like a plague, and now knows that that’s what Sejong intended to do all along. At all costs, they have to find those court maidens. Pyung is assigned to do the dirty work, as usual.
Meanwhile, we find two of our four Promulgation Maidens preparing to spread the alphabet through the use of old-school incantations. It’s good to know that Sejong didn’t just send protection for So-yi, since both Park-po and Cho-tak are there as undercover bodyguards. With assigning amulets with Hangul incantations to people who will be led to believe that reciting them every day for one hundred days will grant their wishes, the girls have found a pretty ingenious (and slightly devious) way of forcing people to memorize the new consonants and vowels.
So-yi and fellow court lady Deok-geum have become a team, but Chae-yoon takes the opportunity to have a talk with So-yi while Deok-geum goes to make taffy (presumably to lure over children to sing Hangul songs). She’s pretty absorbed in her work, but he’s still happy just to be able to talk to her. Still, he doesn’t know if using singing beggars and children to spread the alphabet through songs will work as fast as they need it to. So-yi looks up at him, and with a bit of teasing asks if her orabeoni has a better idea. Ha. I love her.
Surprisingly, he claims that he does. But we don’t hear it as we cut to…
…Hidden Root! Jung Ki-joon still seems to be suffering the aftereffects of being made a fool (sorry bud, can’t feel bad for you) and is dead-set on finding the court maidens, and the Haerye (if Hangul is a code, the Haerye is the decoder and explanation of the letters) he presumes is with them. But what he’s more upset about? The fact that even with the death of Prince Gwangpyeong, Sejong didn’t waver.
Chae-yoon has told So-yi about his alternate plan while we’ve been away, and So-yi tells him that she’s pretty sure his method includes threatening. He defends himself, saying it’s not threatening so much as manipulating, which So-yi still says sounds a little like threatening. The exchange is adorable.
But she calls him out, teasing him in that he must be desperate and impatient because of what Sejong promised him that day. Chae-yoon gets adorably awkward, but smiles as he says he won’t deny it anymore. So what won’t he deny, and what did Sejong say?
We enter a flashback with the King, Chae-yoon, and So-yi. This is where the whole Hangul Circulation plan was hatched, and where Sejong asks for Chae-yoon’s permission to keep So-yi until the mission of promulgation and circulation is complete. Both of these tasks must be completed simultaneously – because if the letters are only circulated amongst the people and not into the civil exams, then they have a chance of dying out fast. He’s taking the official promulgation onto himself, but So-yi is tasked with circulation, and Chae-yoon is tasked to protect her. When the mission is complete, Chae-yoon is to leave with So-yi.
Chae-yoon is more than eager to agree, and his happiness is infectious to those around him. Even through a smile, though, So-yi asks for her own promise of the two men closest to her. If she is to fall into any kind of danger or die carrying out this mission, she doesn’t want them to waste any time trying to find her. Above all, the mission must be completed. Sejong says the same about his own life, and So-yi agrees – no one’s death can be allowed to block their path. They don’t take this as foreboding as much as they take it as a challenge, and the three of them rallying together is such a nice sight to see. But I don’t like hearing them talk about death. (If the writers are trying to prepare us, so help me.)
I’m really liking Jo Mal-saeng and how he represents Former King Taejong in a way, since he’s one of the remaining remnants from his rule who’s now working to help his son. He and Sejong are a deadly combination for Hidden Root because of their sheer intelligence, as they’ve already rooted (har) out Shim Jong-soo and Lee Shin-juk as possible Hidden Root members. Now, when faced with the question as to what the Hidden Root Scroll might have contained, Jo Mal-saeng is fairly sure that it was a roster of allegiance signatures (based on how things turned serious in the court right after Chae-yoon surrendered the scroll).
So, in order to promulgate they need the help of the state council to circulate the letters in the civil exams. Hidden Root will inevitably stand in their way – but once again, Sejong showcases his superior intellect by guessing that there already must be some friction within the group. Not only was the deal for a de facto parliament system halted because of Jung Ki-joon, but he can’t imagine that everyone was on board for killing his son, the Prince.
Therefore, Sejong is betting on the possibility of a rift. And then abruptly he tells Jo Mal-saeng to hop to it and get to work. Jo Mal-saeng is confused as to what his task actually is, and I love that Sejong uses Mu-hyul as a sort of Scale of Understanding – so when Mu-hyul says that he understood what Sejong meant, the King takes that as proof that he was clear enough and leaves Jo Mal-saeng to it. Except Jo Mal-saeng hilariously doesn’t know what “it” even is.
Just as Sejong predicted, and just as we’ve been seeing over the past few episodes, a rift has been forming within Hidden Root (spearheaded by Lee Shin-juk). This time he meets with the veterans of Hidden Root, worrying over how extreme Sejong has become since the death of Prince Gwangpyeong. Are they headed down the same route as Taejong? Master Hae Gang is only concerned about all of the members they don’t know about within Hidden Root, including Sungkyunkwan and Confucian scholars, and that there’s no telling how deep their allegiance goes. But it doesn’t seem like the veterans will be switching sides away from Jung Ki-joon any time soon.
Shim Jong-soo, however, is switching sides. After some consideration it seems like he’s taking Lee Shin-juk up on his offer to part from Jung Ki-joon – but not Hidden Root. Like Lee Shin-juk, he feels like Jung Ki-joon has become lost in his obsession to block the promulgation and that he’s furthered himself from the goals of their organization. It seems as though Lee Shin-juk isn’t coveting the First Root position though, as he claims that he wants to play second fiddle while Shim Jong-soo takes that spot. In order to overthrow the current First Root (Jung Ki-joon), they’re going to need to get ahold of the Haerye before he can so they can use it as a bargaining chip.
They’re interrupted by Lee Shin-juk’s lackey, who tells them that the King has called everyone together for a sudden meeting.
Sejong gives all the officials and scholars present a roadmap of his discussion: first he’ll give an apology, then a proclamation, and finally a proposition. The first is shocking enough when the King bows his head, apologizing for the fact that he made letters without any of the ministers knowing. That bow is a huge move.
Then comes his declaration that Prince Gwangpyeong was not murdered by Hidden Root. In fact, he won’t punish Hidden Root in any way – he will acknowledge them as a political party that clashes with his own political view and accord them proper debate. Jo Mal-saeng is understandably furious, and I’m left wondering if this is all (again) part of an elaborate scheme.
His proposition, then, is for Hidden Root members to reveal themselves and step into the court plaza. As for the deaths caused, he’s putting the blame on Jung Ki-joon and Yoon Pyung, and everyone else has a seven day window in which to show up at the Gwanghwamun (main gate) Plaza, where he will promulgate the letters. If they don’t, and choose to work from secrecy, what harm comes is then their responsibility. Done and done.
As the ministers are leaving, Lee Shin-juk is very publicly called to meet privately with the King. Fear and apprehension are evident on his face as he enters the room, and we can literally see him wondering if the jig is up and he’s been ousted. After all, the King just claimed that he received an ‘anonymous’ letter listing some members of Hidden Root.
But Sejong is too cool of a customer, and he calmly sips tea while wreaking psychological havoc on the minister. He offers Lee Shin-juk the Prime Minister position on the grounds that Hwang-hee is due to resign because of his health. He knows Lee Shin-juk wouldn’t accept right away, but leaves the minister to think about it. The beautiful thing is that the scheme works, and Lee Shin-juk is now assured that he is definitely not under suspicion for being Hidden Root. Sejong wins again.
It’s Jo Mal-saeng’s turn to do some manipulation, and this time he goes to Choi Man-ri to plant the seed of doubt that Shim Jong-soo might be a member of Hidden Root. In Choi Man-ri’s usual brusque manner, he asks Shim Jong-soo the moment he enters if he is, in fact, a member of the nefarious organization. Shim Jong-soo tries to laugh it off. The best part about this psychological warfare plan? It’s aimed to turn even Shim Jong-soo and Lee Shin-juk against each other, as Shim Jong-soo is told that Lee Shin-juk is one of the ministers who suspects him of Hidden Root activities. Bam.
Shim Jong-soo, meanwhile, finds out that the current Prime Minister never submitted his resignation but chooses to leave that out next time he talks with Lee Shin-juk, requesting a temporary leave of absence so he can find the Haerye.
It’s only once Shim Jong-soo is gone that Lee Shin-juk finds out he’s been betrayed. But he’s also got the King’s betrayal to deal with, because at the same time he’s finding out that Hwang-hee (the current Prime Minister) never submitted his registration, he finds out that Shim Jong-soo knew this all along and never told him.
Sejong’s plan has indeed worked to create a fissure between the two, as Shim Jong-soo proudly proclaims that he’s going his own way from both Hidden Root and Lee Shin-juk. Now everyone (Hidden Root, Shim Jong-soo, and Lee Shin-juk) is going to be after the Haerye, since whoever has it will have the greatest chance of gaining power over their adversaries.
Chae-yoon and So-yi are happily watching the children learn the Hangul Song, and Chae-yoon is packed for a journey. He’s to go meet Cho-tak and share information, and So-yi acts the worried wife and mother as she reminds Chae-yoon of every task he has to do. He laughs when he tells her enough already, he isn’t a child. Awww, you two are adorable.
She’s packed him some road snacks, and he assures her that he’ll be back before she can count to ten. But as he’s leaving he looks back to her, and they adorably smile and wave to each other… in slow motion. No. Nooooo. No you better not be doing what I think you’re doing, Tree. I don’t want to see slow motion waves! We all know slow motion waves are the harbingers of doom!
The other court maiden, MOK-YI, is putting on a grand show acting as a shaman to attract a good crowd of townspeople. The best part is that she’s placed Park-po in the audience so she can “read” his mind and fortune, and the other court lady, GEUN-JI, is also placed among the crowd to rile them up and get them to believe that there’s a true shaman in their midst. It’s a delightful scene that serves us some great comic relief, as Shaman Mok-yi gets all the crowd hanging on her every word… but then says that today’s fortune is bad, so they must come tomorrow with more family members to receive the incantations. What a brilliant way to get a bigger crowd. And a brilliant way to spread Hangul, no less. Sure it’s a little manipulative – but no harm, no foul.
Pyung goes to the local paper peddler to see if there’s been any bulk orders recently. The man says no, which might have gotten our court ladies off the hook… until he says that there’s been a curiously large order of talisman paper.
It’s this news that’s taken to Jung Ki-joon, who finally realizes the scheme. They’re not planning to print the Haerye or the letters, they’re planning to distribute it amongst the people in a format familiar to them. The common people don’t read or write (and thus books are unfamiliar to them), but talismans are common to every household. It’s only now that Jung Ki-joon sees the genius of Sejong’s plan and exactly how much he’s been tricked. His rage, however, leads me to believe that he’ll be getting revenge. We all remember how he got revenge last time he was upset, and it wasn’t pretty.
Shim Jong-soo is out to find the Haerye, and he’s quick to shake off the man Mu-hyul sent to tail him. He’s unaware, however, that he’s being followed by Jeok-hee (remember her?) from the Ming Embassy. I never forgot she existed, but had assumed that the show had just dropped the whole Ming Embassy storyline. It’s nice to see her back and put to work, as it turns out that she’s been commissioned by Lee Shin-juk to trail Shim Jong-soo and to find the Haerye (just like everyone else).
Cho-tak goes to the paper peddler to collect the talisman paper and to meet Chae-yoon. However, Pyung has had the place staked out, and though Cho-tak is able to use his inhuman senses to realize he’s being followed he can’t seem to shake the assassin… until he comes upon a man with a cart and hitches a ride. What he doesn’t know (and what we do) is that this has all been planned by Pyung in order to find out where the court maidens are staying. Oh no.
When Chae-yoon comes to the meeting place, he’s happily carrying two wooden wedding ducks (someone’s got marriage on the mind). Awww. My heart keeps sinking at all these symbols of future happiness. But, his happiness party is soon crashed when he sees a symbol Cho-tak left on the post in his haste. Whatever that scribble may look like to us, it means bad news bears to Chae-yoon.
Cho-tak is made aware that he’s led Hidden Root straight to the court maidens he’s been tasked to protect a little too late, and finds himself surrounded by Hidden Root soldiers. It looks like a battle they can’t win, and both he and Park-po choose to fight instead of surrender.
They try to distract the soldiers so that both Geun-ji and Mok-yi can get away, but the two girls are caught in the forest by Pyung (who’s left his soldiers in order to pursue them) and find themselves bound and gagged in a wagon before they know it.
Pyung has been double-crossed by one of his men, MAK-SOO, who’s switched his allegiances to Shim Jong-soo. He assassinates the other Hidden Root soldiers traveling with Pyung just as Shim Jong-soo reveals himself – but it’s not long before Pyung realizes that Shim Jong-soo has taken his own path, and that they’re no longer on the same side. A fight ensues over who can take control of the Cart o’ Court Ladies, where Pyung shows he has a heart (maybe), or just the desire to keep power in his own hands. He drags the court ladies from the cart, and when it looks like he may be about to kill them, he cuts their bonds and sets them free instead.
With our resident assassin busy having an awesome fight with Shim Jong-soo, our resident betrayer Mak-soo runs after the court ladies and catches one – Geun-ji, the court lady who was rousing the crowd during Mok-yi’s Shaman Show. Only he doesn’t get to hold onto her for long, as the woman from Ming, Jeok-hee, easily overpowers him and captures Geun-ji.
Pyung seems to be losing the fight against Shim Jong-soo and uses the leaping martial arts method to escape the fight in order to catch up with Mok-yi, the remaining court lady. Goodness. Earlier in the show dead bodies were commodities, now it’s court ladies that are being traded off like currency.
Chae-yoon finally finds Cho-tak and Park-po, who have apparently defeated that small army of Hidden Root soldiers without sustaining any major injuries. Now that they know the court ladies are off on their own, all three are soon off to (hopefully) save the day.
Geun-ji has been brought to a shed in the woods by Jeok-hee and a Ming Minion. They want to know where the Haerye is, and instead of using torture they decide to use the Joseon version of truth serum, which ends up being Truth Incense. For lack of a better term, Geun-ji is soon tripping balls and telling her captors everything they ask. But curiously, she says the Haerye… doesn’t exist. Wait, what?
Without a Haerye, Jeok-hee then asks where the other court maidens are. Geun-ji can’t help but tell her their location, and with that, Jeok-hee sets off. She leaves her minion to kill Geun-ji, but he’s stopped in the nick of time by Shim Jong-soo. Is that good or bad?
When it’s his turn to ask where the Haerye is (though he’s saved her from death, he’s not above using the advantage given by the Truth Incense), she says it’s in the same location where So-yi and the other court maiden is. The Ming Minion is surprised, because just moments ago she’d said the Haerye didn’t exist. (Also, it’s a bit funny that a man from Ming’s inner thoughts are in Korean.)
Luckily Shim Jong-soo’s minion is stopped from dragging out and hiding the body of Geun-ji by Chae-yoon and Friends just in time. Shim Jong-soo has already set off to find So-yi and Deok-geum, right on the heels of Jeok-hee and Pyung. Unfortunately Geun-ji is still heavily under the influence when Chae-yoon finds her, and it takes a shot of water to the face in order to get her to come to.
She’s able to eke out that everyone is after the Haerye – Ming’s people, Shim Jong-soo, Hidden Root. She tells Chae-yoon that he must hurry and protect the Haerye. Chae-yoon doesn’t know what she means. He asks if So-yi and Deok-geum have the Haerye with them…
Geun-ji: “So-yi is the Haerye! Haerye is not a book. From the beginning, it has always been a person.”
This revelation isn’t that big of a surprise when we already knew that So-yi served as the Joseon Hard Drive for all the Hangul information, but the way in which it’s revealed still puts chills down my spine. Sure, we’ve been suspecting it all along, but the rest of our characters haven’t and the way Geun-ji delivers that line is just filled with such weight and gravitas. I’m literally giddy to see everything collide in the coming episodes.
With everyone after one thing (the Haerye, which is now So-yi), fond memories from episode four come to mind, when everyone was chasing Jung Do-gwang. We have lots of factions at play now – the official palace guards, Pyung (for Hidden Root), Shim Jong-soo (for himself), the Ming Embassy (operating under Lee Shin-juk, who’s now in this for himself), Chae-yoon, and So-yi. Everyone is careening toward one goal, which now happens to be a person we all know and love, and the consequences could be dire. That’s just another thing to love about this show – if the Haerye were just a book, it would still be a big deal. But now that the Haerye is a person, and that person is So-yi, we’ve got some blindingly high stakes.
This is the first time that the first half of an episode hasn’t been in-your-face-mind-blowing, but that was more than made up for in the second half. Still, the first half had some really great moments for Sejong. I especially loved his tea party with Lee Shin-juk, because you just know that he knows exactly what he’s doing, and that he’s once again playing the role of a grand puppet-master. I have a feeling that the finale, when we come to it, will be one for the ages.
But for now, all I can say is… run, Chae-yoon, run! Save So-yi!
- Behind the scenes of Tree With Deep Roots with Sam-moon
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 20
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 19
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 18
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 17
- 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