Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 23
How are our heroes going to get out of this one? That’s a fun question to have any show pose to us, and it’s one that Tree has posed quite well. How will they defeat that which is undefeatable? How will they save the girl? How will they save the King? How will they save people from mass murder by an evil mastermind? How will they save my nerves, because they’re all tied up in knots for the finale? How will they get this show ten more seasons?
EPISODE 23 RECAP
We’re back where we left Shim Jong-soo and Jung Ki-joon last week, only now we’re hearing the exact terms that are being laid out. In exchange for the Haerye, Shim Jong-soo wants the name of every Hidden Root member, the Hidden Root Scroll (of pledges of allegiance), and the Jung Ki-joon’s position of First Root. Since Shim Jong-soo’s been outed as a Hidden Root member to the King he has little left to lose. Ergo, power play.
Jung Ki-joon seems slightly amused and amazed more than anything, though this isn’t a matter he’s taking lightly. Shim Jong-soo wants an answer the day after tomorrow. Or else Jung Ki-joon won’t get the weapon necessary to stop the promulgation in a few days.
It’s fate that Chae-yoon found the Singing Man (the last survivor of the troupe that met massacre at the hands of Pyung) when he did, as he now has a lead on So-yi’s whereabouts. He’s taken to a boatman who remembers two warriors with maidens in tow crossing the river to a place called Rabbit Rock in a mountain up north. Chae-yoon hurriedly tells Park-po to report this information to Mu-hyul while he and Cho-tak board. When the Singing Man tries to board with them so he can have revenge on Pyung, he’s quickly stopped by Chae-yoon. “I’ll do it,” he assures him. “I’m the reincarnation of revenge.” (Epic.)
With the news having reached Mu-hyul that there’s a lead on So-yi, it’s quickly related to Sejong. From a distance, our King entreats Chae-yoon to find So-yi. He must. He must.
We enter a flashback through Sejong’s eyes, moments before So-yi was set to leave on her circulation mission. She promises her return, and gives Sejong a very deep and formal bow. He doesn’t care for this bow now – he says she can do so when she returns (he’s not going to let her go quietly into the night). When she brings up the promise Sejong made to Chae-yoon, he adorably tells her that she is definitely to leave with that mannerless punk. And though Sejong can’t get a fortune for her, he’ll get her enough to buy a house. Awww. So-yi can’t control her emotions and falls into tears, and Sejong takes her hand in his to comfort her. Double aww.
King Sejong: “So-yi. Thank you. I’m sorry. Though it’s true I wish for you to be at my side, it seems I will get to breathe at last once you leave. Isn’t that true for you as well? Day by day, you must live in joy together with Kang Chae-yoon. Promise me.”
Awwwwwwww! Their relationship has remained ambiguous up to this point, but if there’s one thing that’s evidently clear, it’s that they do love each other. Whatever form of love doesn’t matter, it’s still love.
This show has no lack of existential conversations that span space and time, and it’s almost as if So-yi has heard the inner thoughts of the King. With her hands bound along with the two other court ladies also held captive by Hidden Root, she thinks to herself that she will keep her promise to Sejong. There must be a way out… there just has to be. And this is why So-yi is such a winner in my book – she’s just awesome.
To Han Ga’s utter dismay, Gae Pa-yi has brought little Yeon-doo to the secret Hidden Root Camp in order to protect her from danger that he feels he’s caused. It’s a sweet sentiment, but the moment Jung Ki-joon agrees that she should stay my heart feels heavy – and through a brief flashback we see that he hasn’t forgotten that she knows the new alphabet. Since he’s promised to kill anyone and everyone who knows it, it doesn’t seem like Yeon-doo would be off limits. It’s a good thing that she has the strongest protector in the land, because I get the feeling that Gae Pa-yi’s loyalty to Hidden Root will last only as long as her safety.
During an assembly of scholars and officials, Sejong reaffirms his proposition that he will accept Hidden Root as a political party and that its members only need to step forward. Obviously no one has, so he offers another proposition – he’ll carry out the promulgation in front of the eyes of ten thousand citizens while ministries for Hangul books, Hangul printing blocks, and Hangul in the civil exams will be made.
In the fact of everyone’s outrage (including Choi Man-ri, who has started to become a little grating with his endless litany of “Noooooo!”), he chuckles and assures them not to worry – he has a caveat. After all, Joseon isn’t a nation where the King can just do as he pleases, there’s the State Council to be accountable to. The decision of the promulgation will rest upon the three high councilors. In the end, he’s putting the fate of his alphabet in their hands.
This seems like a terrible idea for Sejong, knowing how many officials are against him, but his earlier conversation with Lee Shin-juk pays off. When Choi Man-ri gets up in arms again, it’s Lee Shin-juk who quiets him down with rationalization. He’s taking Sejong’s side here, but he hasn’t yet decided whether to accept the King’s offer.
In the Hangul Room, Jung In-ji expresses his concern over leaving the fate of promulgation in the hands of three state councilors. Does Sejong think they’ll receive approval? The King chuckles as he admits that he’s not sure. Now, it’s really up to fate.
Sejong has begun the foreword to the Hangul publication, but he hasn’t finished it. He’s a bit stuck, and Jung In-ji seizes this opportunity to ask Sejong if he’d like to postpone the promulgation even by a few days. It turns out this request isn’t because of the lack of a finished foreword, but because they don’t have the Haerye, and thus they don’t have a way to explain the design of the letters. He suggests that perhaps he could just write what he can in lieu of a Haerye, since there’s no guarantee that So-yi will return before the promulgation…
…Which sends Sejong into another So-yi flashback, where he stopped her from writing down the Haerye from memory before she embarked on her circulation mission. It seems like Sejong did this as an impetus for her to never give up on returning should harm come to her – as she remains the only source of the Haerye. Without her, it’s lost.
She’s not so sure, and still wants to put it to paper. She knows that danger is inevitable, but Sejong refuses once more. He won’t accept the notion that she might not return, because she has to see the promulgation with her own eyes. Therefore, she promises that she will return. That’s what Sejong is counting on, and his faith in our favorite court maiden will not be shaken.
Any hope that Choi Man-ri would change his mind is lost, because now he’s even gone so far as to write his resignation letter. Though Sejong put his trust in Jung In-ji to try and bring Choi Man-ri around, his words fall on deaf ears. When he asks his old friend why he must go to such lengths, Choi Man-ri’s answer is that there must always be people like him to dissent. That’s what makes a country.
Shim Jong-soo, meanwhile, becomes apprised of the news that Sejong will follow the advice of the three state councilors. He’s pleased to know that no Hidden Root members have yet come forward – that means they haven’t given in to Sejong’s sweet-talking. Hidden Root must, above all, remain a secret society so that their position never fluctuates even if the monarchy does.
Chae-yoon and Cho-tak have made it to the mountain, and are combing the forest for signs of Hidden Root in vain. Finding a sign he’d left before, Cho-tak realizes that they’ve just been going around in circles. Something about the mountain itself is strange – they’ve been going around and around, but they haven’t seen a single animal. Chae-yoon remembers how Hidden Root disappeared in a flash the last time he tried to hunt them down (during the search for Prince Gwangpyeong), and that it was almost as if they were alerted to his presence. C’mon, Chae-yoon, you can solve this one…
Lee Shin-juk shows up at Shim Jong-soo’s humble abode hopping mad, lamenting how untrustworthy Shim Jong-soo turned out to be. It’s moments when Lee Shin-juk is angry that I like him the best, because he doesn’t go overboard while keeping the scene moving.
He thinks everything’s gone wrong now – they have no hope to usurp Jung Ki-joon, who must even now be devising his final plan for the King’s promulgation. Their efforts to preserve Hidden Root away from the rot that is Jung Ki-joon have failed… or have they? Shim Jong-soo decides to let Lee Shin-juk in on his recent offer/blackmail threat to Jung Ki-joon involving the Haerye. Lee Shin-juk’s ire immediately fades, and he’s soon nothing but smiles.
Outside, the woman from Ming, Jeok-hee, has been listening in under Lee Shin-juk’s orders. For a man who starts yelling the moment he sees untrustworthiness in others, he sure is untrustworthy himself. Then again, that’s why Sejong chose him.
In a tiny room covered in Chinese characters, Jung Ki-joon is maniacally plotting his next move. Somehow he’s surprised that Sejong is still pushing forward with the promulgation ceremony tomorrow (apparently his plan of killing princes and capturing court maidens hasn’t panned out), but he takes heart in the fact that the Haerye must not be in the palace. If Shim Jong-soo could offer it, then it means Sejong doesn’t have it, and if Hidden Root has it they can block him easily. After that, it’s just a matter of killing everyone who knows the letters. Jung Ki-joon says to ready the poison… wait, what?
Jung Ki-joon: “In the arrows, as well as the swords and the spears. They all need poison. We must kill everyone with the attack. And the Haerye must be destroyed no matter what. Even if everyone is killed, if the Haerye remains, the letters will revive. Those who know the letters, as well as the seeds of the letters… All must be destroyed.”
Alright, so… Jung Ki-joon has lost his mind. Shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose. I do think it’s almost funny when Han Ga asks, “And the aftermath? What about Hidden Root after that?” And Jung Ki-joon’s dead serious reply, “What do you think about Shim Jong-soo?” As in, what do you think about my possible replacement?
Our three brave court maidens have not lost hope, but they’re not having much luck figuring out an escape plan with all the secret soldiers around either. Through a stroke of luck, So-yi sees Yeon-doo playing nearby their shed. Because calling out to her would be too attention-grabbing, she uses a handkerchief dangling through one of the five hundred cracks in the wall to try and get the little girl’s attention. Just as Yeon-doo sees it and takes notice, their potential rescue party is crashed by Pyung. He’s come to take So-yi away.
This is like a moment from a Bond film, where the evil villain treats his captive kindly while explaining all his evil motivations. Can we get this man a furless cat to stroke while he speaks? No?
They seem like distant but cordial strangers, which is interesting when one remembers that they used to be friends. So-yi knew Ga Ri-on well, but Ga Ri-on was just a sham for the villain lurking inside. A villain that tries to convince So-yi that she should blame the King for what happened to her father. Shouldn’t she be ashamed for helping her father’s killer? So-yi’s answer is simple. They both must have shared the same victim mentality, she replies, but their methods in overcoming it couldn’t be more different.
Such victim mentalities, So-yi claims, can ruin a person from the inside. I think it’s interesting that So-yi, Sejong, Chae-yoon, and Jung Ki-joon are all linked together in the way they each overcame their victim mentalities. So-yi and Sejong used the letters to overcome it, and while Chae-yoon once thought like Jung Ki-joon in blaming the King he changed for the better when he saw the letters. Jung Ki-joon changed upon seeing them too, but instead of going to the side of good he’s become the twisted man we see now. Chae-yoon might have ended up the same. Thematically, that’s fun.
Jung Ki-joon grows progressively more angry in the face of So-yi’s persistent calmness, and says many lines that Chae-yoon once said. Like how it affected him he could not love the sage King the whole country loved. However brilliant the letters may be, Jung Ki-joon feels as though it’s heaven’s mandate that he block them. And since tomorrow is the ceremony, he’s got a big plan involved to end the debate between Sejong and himself. With that, So-yi is escorted back to the Prison Shed by Pyung.
It turns out that in order for Hidden Root to have their alarm system (made by strings attached to bells) be foolproof, they’ve systematically exterminated all the animals in the mountain so nothing can accidentally trip the alarm. It’s so nice to see Chae-yoon solving problems again, as both he and Cho-tak use this newfound information to finally find one of the trip wires and follow it. It leads to one set of bells, which Chae-yoon purposefully hits to alert a nearby Hidden Root soldier. As the man goes to sound the next alarm, Chae-yoon knocks him out cold. Now they can follow this string to the Hidden Root Camp and save So-yi.
Yeon-doo is caught talking to So-yi through the wall, and though she refused to help the court maidens escape she does seem to agree to do some sort of favor for them – but what that favor is, we don’t know. Jung Ki-joon sees the Hangul that Yeon-doo wrote on the rock, and then with a quiet sort of menace he kneels down in front of her and gently takes the little girl’s hand in both of his own. He tells her that ajusshi is thankful… and sorry. Uh oh. No, Jung Ki-joon! I’ve got some ideas as to where you can shove these apologies.
She doesn’t understand, obviously, and at least to Jung Ki-joon’s credit he looks genuinely remorseful. Well, he was remorseful to the Prince too, and we all know how that turned out.
When she goes off to play, Jung Ki-joon turns to one of his men and orders him to kill her, but painlessly. I guess it’s good he has at least that much of a heart.
Yeon-doo is lured into the forest with her assigned assassin under the pretext that she’ll get to see Gae Pa-yi. She becomes slightly suspicious when she can’t find him, but the moment her back is turned we enter a horror movie, complete with creepy violin crescendos that are synchronized to the way the assassin readies the strangling rope. Hahaha. I know, it’s a serious moment, but the music really kills it. However, just as the assassin throws the rope around her neck to kill her, Chae-yoon appears just in time and throws a dagger into his back. Hooray! They’ve made it!
Now that her life has been saved by Chae-yoon, Yeon-doo agrees to help and maps out some of the camp (namely, the Prison Shed) using sticks on the ground. They now know that So-yi is with the two other missing court ladies, and Chae-yoon swiftly sends Cho-tak back with Yeon-doo so he can apprise Mu-hyul of the camp’s location and send reinforcements.
It’s nearing dawn, and while Mu-hyul and Jo Mal-saeng are rallying the troops to storm the mountain, Jung Ki-joon arrives on location for his promised predawn meeting with Shim Jong-soo. For reasons unknown So-yi has been brought along, and we get to hear Jung Ki-joon sing Shim Jong-soo’s praises about him basically being only loyal to his creed and not people, thus why he’ll do well (as First Root). The thing is, Jung Ki-joon acknowledges that Shim Jong-soo was never loyal to him or the great late Jung Do-jun. So… what does Hidden Root stand for again? I know Jung Ki-joon went off track, but you’d think he’d appoint a new leader in keeping with the group’s founding ideals.
When Shim Jong-soo finally arrives, Jung Ki-joon doesn’t hesitate in handing over the Hidden Root Scroll (aka the blackmail allegiance pledge) and a roster of all the members. So where is the Haerye? Jung Ki-joon sort of needs it so that he can kill Sejong on promulgation day, along with everyone else who knows the letters. Shim Jong-soo hesitates, before he says that the Haerye is not a book…
Before he can spill the beans, they come under sudden attack by none other than Jeok-hee and a good lot of Ming soldiers. Nice! She’s managed to land a poison dart right over Shim Jong-soo’s heart, but informs us that it won’t kill him because she needs him to find the location of the Haerye. He’s soon bound and drug off by a small contingent of soldiers only to escape later by jumping off a cliff.
Pyung believes the number is too great, even for him, and entreats Jung Ki-joon to run while he stays to distract them. He even frees So-yi’s bonds, claiming that it’s better for her to run than be captured by the Ming.
Thus, Jung Ki-joon and So-yi are left to run while Pyung carries on alone against a small army. I know he’s done some bad things (murder, murder, murder), but I do hope this isn’t his last stand.
A much bigger army, the Royal Army, storms the Hidden Root Camp under the cover of darkness. Chae-yoon and Cho-tak have helped to pave the way by assassinating the soldiers in the various watchtowers along the wall. Thanks to Chae-yoon’s help, both Mu-hyul’s forces and Jo Mal-saeng’s forces have made it to the mountain. And Mu-hyul, at least, has made a promise to Chae-yoon that the safety of the hostages (aka So-yi and the court maidens) is of top priority.
It’s a well-coordinated attack, not to mention a visually stunning one, and it seems like Hidden Root’s forces have little chance of winning.
Jeok-hee has managed to make it past Pyung, and swiftly chases down the fleeing Jung Ki-joon and So-yi in the forest. For once I’m rooting for Jung Ki-joon (mostly because his fate is tied with So-yi’s), but it doesn’t look good for them. She’s there, under Lee Shin-juk’s orders, to find the Haerye. But before So-yi can say something about it, Gae Pa-yi suddenly emerges from the darkness.
It’s only when Jeok-hee meets Gae Pa-yi’s eyes that she screams at her soldiers to stop, and her utter terror sends a chill down my spine. Clearly she’s seen something she recognizes, and is suddenly like a frightened child as she entreats Gae Pa-yi to let them retreat. He does, and it’s only once her and her soldiers are back on the move that she speaks of him in a reverent tone. He’s a vestige of the Yuan Dynasty – “undefeatable on earth”. Ooo, this is interesting.
Even with the battle still raging outside, the first place Chae-yoon runs to is the Prison Shed. The two court maidens are more than happy to see him, but he’s a bit less so when he realizes that So-yi is not among them. The moment they tell him she was dragged away by Jung Ki-joon, he begins a mad dash to find her. Time is against him.
Gae Pa-yi, as well as one of Jung Ki-joon’s minions, have informed him that the camp’s been ambushed. He finds this a hard pill to swallow, now left alone in the forest with what remains of his group (the Leader and Han Ga have fled). Triumphantly, So-yi tells Jung Ki-joon that he’s lost. His base is destroyed, his peers are captured, he doesn’t have the Haerye. It’s over.
But Jung Ki-joon isn’t witless. By putting together all the clues (like Shim Jong-soo saying the Haerye isn’t a book, then ordering that So-yi be brought to their predawn meeting, and of course her pitch-perfect memory), he figures out the truth. Instantly telling one of his men to kill her upon his revelation, he then turns to her with a vicious gleam in his eyes.
Jung Ki-joon: “You. You… are the Haerye.”
Boom! The latter half certainly outdid the first in terms of excitement and intrigue, but how can a dialogue-heavy (but still completely riveting) First Half expect to compete against its older brother, Second Half, who’s full of white-knuckled action and fun reveals (and is clearly the family favorite)? But that’s what this show achieves best – balance.
Just like the plot, I appreciate that all the characters are so intertwined. Just look at Sejong, trying time and time again to put the brush to paper to complete the foreword but unable to because he keeps getting waylaid by thoughts of So-yi. She’s his motivation but not his sole reason for existing, which is not unlike the rest of our characters. And as far as the thematic ties of victimhood go, it’s like if everyone was drowning in a river and Sejong threw in the life raft that is Hangul. So-yi and Chae-yoon would grab on, recognizing that the life raft is something good and necessary – but Jung Ki-joon, too prideful, would prefer to drown and take his would-be rescuer with him if he could. He’s completely lost his way, so consumed with blocking the promulgation that he can’t see the forest for the tree with deep roots. Hee.
This was a great, suspenseful finale lead-in. I like all the questions we’re left with, and even with knowing Sejong’s penchant for solving problems with words rather than swords – I’m still kind of hoping for an epic fight of some kind. And I’m hoping that no one from Team Sejong meets their end. Either way, let’s put our game faces on.
- Tree With Deep Roots adds a 2-episode special broadcast
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 22
- Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 21
- 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