I really appreciate that things are moving swiftly along, as girlfriday pointed out in yesterday’s recap. It’s so much more satisfying when the show remains a step ahead of you instead of broadcasting everything far in advance and cluttering up your path with obvious angsty obstacles, so that the only things lying between us and the inevitable are a bunch of pesky angst-toys that are irritating to step on. Brisk plot developments are much welcomed in my book.

Also: Welcome to the 30% club, Moon/Sun. Today’s episode brought in a 31.7%, meaning that every episode has increased upon the ratings before it. I wonder where it’ll plateau, because surely it’ll settle at some point, right? Or is the MoonSunSky the limit?

SONG OF THE DAY

Jouet – “내일 μ•„μΉ¨ (Fly Away)” [ Download ]

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EPISODE 8 RECAP

Yeon-woo, henceforth known as Wol, is kidnapped by the queen dowager’s minions, and the feeling of being trapped in a wooden box brings her a panic attack as she flashes back to waking up in her coffin.

It triggers other memories as well, including snippets of her youth and being with young Hwon. She wonders, “Whose memories are these?”

Princess Min-hwa applies cold spoons to her eyes and chants for the puffiness to die down. When she takes the spoons away, she sees Yeom kneeling down in front of her and sighs that her longing to see him has led her to hallucinations. Cute. Min-hwa makes him promise he won’t leave her, which cracks me up — her dramatic imagination has spiraled into a chain of events wherein he leaves her and she dies alone.

He promises and she throws herself into his arms excitedly, knocking them both other. It’s a cute scene… if only somebody weren’t watching with a sinking heart: Seol. Aw.

Nok-young finds Wol gone from the house and rips into the girls: Jan-shil stepped aside briefly to grab some food, and Seol comes home alone. They find a note from the kidnappers, akin to a ransom: Since Nok-young refused to return to the palace, the men took her girl. To get her back, Nok-young has to return.

The traumatic coffin flashback causes Wol to pass out, and when the men pull her out, they think she’s dead. She’s not, of course, and she comes to with a start. Shoving aside the lead nobleman, she runs away.

At the same time, Yang-myung is being chased through the streets by his persistent followers. They plead for a moment of his time, but he ditches them and disguises himself as a folk performer. Spotted again, he’s chased once more.

Wol finds a monk in the streets and pleads for help escaping her pursuers, not realizing that it’s Yang-myung in yet another disguise. He leads her away and holds her so close that she shoves him away and glares accusingly.

He’d recognized her on sight, and now Yang-myung asks, “Do you not know who I am?” Agh, his eyes, so full of hope and pain.

They’re interrupted by the kidnappers’ minions (ha, minions of minions), whom Yang-myung easily fights off. They run again, and in voiceover we hear the rest of their conversation as she tells him she’s never seen him before. That’s so sad — she had a visceral reaction to seeing Hwon, but no such connection to Yang-myung.

He directs her to a greenhouse and asks her to await him there. She runs on while he stays back to fight off the men. Unluckily for them, there are more henchmen, and Wol is cornered. Yang-myung hears her scream and is distracted enough to get struck in the head, passing out in the street.

Lord Kidnapper reports to the queen dowager that Nok-young refused to come back, which angers the queen who likens this to a dog biting its owner. She finds the ransom scheme crude and is not impressed, but he offers up the suggestion of making use of the shaman girl as a human talisman, which would have far greater effect than the usual paper charms.

Even so, the queen balks at the lowly shaman being involved in this way, and says the king wouldn’t go for it. But the lord makes his case for installing the shaman as the king’s nighttime companion — not in a sexual sense but as a literal sleeping aid, as a charm to ward off evil. If this improves the king’s health enough to result in the siring of an heir, it’s worth a try.

The queen dowager agrees to give them a month to try it out, until the next auspicious date for the king and queen’s consummation. (Auspicious refers to the conception of a prince, which is their foremost goal; in securing the succession, they safeguard their own power.)

The head shaman orders Wol to be prepared for her duty. This is the woman who has been put in charge of Seongsucheong in Nok-young’s absence, and she now aspires to take over permanently — hence her collusion with the baddies. So when Wol balks and demands to speak with the boss, the shaman slaps her for her haughtiness. She gives Wol the warning that one false move will lead to her execution.

Hwon hears the report from Woon that the girl disappeared, and with disappointment he sighs that she must have been a ghost after all. Woon offers to keep searching, but Hwon calls him off, saying it was just one night’s delusion.

His tea is brought in, which is purported to have calming effects to bring him restful sleep. He thinks of Wol as he says that maybe he won’t dream useless dreams tonight, and drinks.

Wol fights back her tears as she is bathed and dressed, to be presented as a literal offering to the king. She’s blindfolded and brought into the king’s chambers after he’s already asleep, presented as a mystical object rather than a person, there to ward off bad energy.

Wol isn’t uncovered until she’s in the inner chamber, and when she sees Hwon’s face, she’s again struck with a wave of emotion. She holds a hand to his forehead as he murmurs in his sleep, “Yeon-woo-ya.” Woon watches from the side, shocked to recognize Wol.

Hwon dreams of the night after she’d been selected as his future wife, when he’d treated her to a puppet show. A tear falls in his sleep, but now he smiles as well, at rest.

In sad juxtaposition, Yang-myung wakes up from his injury and also sees her at his bedside… only to find that it’s Yeom. (Ha, it isn’t supposed to be funny, but I chuckle given that Yeon-woo had previously been called the girl version of Yeom.)

In the morning, Hwon awakens feeling energetic, and asks if somebody visited while he was asleep. Hyung-sun says that a charm was briefly brought to him, and Hwon marvels that it could have such an effect, assuming, of course, that it was the inanimate type that he usually dislikes.

He’s in such a good mood that he even stops to compliment the cooking maids on his breakfast. He also praises his council’s work, having reviewed the records he demanded them to compile, which he found organized and neat.

Those words aren’t without a catch, though, because he says pointedly that the records were so tight it was almost like they were forged — ha ha ha! Isn’t that funny? The ministers shift uneasily and force laughs.

Hwon voice turns hard, though, as he gets down to business. In the previous episode, the starving child whose father had been dragged off to work had tipped Hwon off to corruption in his ranks, and he had later taken his council to task. He had challenged their methods of forcing citizens into labor, all so they could perform large-scale repairs to one of the queen dowager’s buildings. Because her birthday is coming up! And they want to impress her! Hwon had ordered them to account for all the people they’d forced into work.

Today one minister assures him that the men with extenuating circumstances — those with starving children to care for — had been released from service. This includes the father Hwon had promised to return to the boy in the street, and he is brought before Hwon now.

Hwon asks what job he performed at the construction site, and the man looks to the corrupt ministers for prompting and answers nervously. Hwon leads him into a trap, asking about the lotus pattern on the bridge he supposedly worked on. He lets everybody believe he’s satisfied with the questioning and sends the laborer back to his children.

The laborer is paid off by Lord Yoon, who is warned to keep his mouth shut. The man hurries home with his largesse, only to be stopped in the forest by a gang of masked assassins. Just as one is about to strike, one of the fighters turns on his own — it’s Woon in disguise. The man is sent home and Woon reports his findings to the king.

Hwon explains how his suspicions were triggered by the man’s hands — roughened like hands handling a sword for the first time — so he tossed out the bait about the lotuses. He has pieced together enough facts to guess at the truth being covered up: That there is no palace construction. The ministers must be pocketing the construction budget, and secretly training the conscripted laborers as their own private militia.

Damn, things just got a lot more interesting.

Woon is a lot more worried than Hwon, because high treason is in play and Hwon’s life in danger. Hwon tells him not to worry, because until the conspirators have what they need, his life is safe. Oh, okay then. That’s a relief.

Minister Yoon’s Traitor Council brainstorms their next step, feeling smug. But an injured assassin staggers in to report the plan going awry. The description of the attacker’s amazing swordsmanship is enough to tip them off to suspicions of Woon’s involvement. Minister Yoon kills the assassin with his own sword, right then and there, wondering if the king is sending him a warning.

Locked in her room, Wol mulls over the king’s uttering of “Yeon-woo,” wondering what he meant by it. “If I were that person — if I were Yeon-woo and not a shaman, would I have provided him comfort?” Oh honey, you don’t even know.

The queen dowager hears that the charm did its trick, and that the king seems much healthier already. She’s amazed and decides to see the girl right away, but is blocked from entry by the interim head shaman. She says that Wol’s body has absorbed evil power (hence the king’s improvement) and must recover, but the queen dowager is offended at the impudence.

Thankfully this is when Nok-young makes her reappearance, having hurried to Seongsucheong. She assures the queen that the rumors had misrepresented the situation — she hadn’t defied royal orders, but merely felt she could not present her sullied self before Her Majesty. She was intending to come to the queen after a cleansing, but her men had jumped to the wrong conclusions.

The queen is half-appeased, but still wants an explanation for Nok-young going into hiding all these years. I’m relieved for Nok-young’s sake that she has a fast, smooth tongue — the queen dowager is sharp, but even she finds Nok-young’s explanation credible, that she was waiting for the right time. Which is now.

Nok-young seals the deal with the addition of good news: An heir will soon be on its way, and she will take up her place at Seongsucheong for good, if the queen will have her back. The queen is satisfied, while Nok-young thinks to herself that the heir will not come from Bo-kyung.

She has a condition, though, and pointedly says that one vessel does not need two boatmen. This is directed at the ambitious interim head shaman who eavesdrops outside.

The queen is happy to oblige, since she has long insisted that Nok-young is the most talented shaman and everyone else a pale substitute. She tells the eavesdropping shaman to leave immediately, now that the rightful leader has returned.

The queen dowager requests that the shaman-charm be brought to her, and Nok-young thinks fast for a way to refuse without offending her. She argues that the girl has spent all night taking in the bad energy from the king, and that this energy may latch on to the queen dowager. Furthermore, they must take care not to damage its spiritual power. Until the night of the king and queen’s next congress, they must take exceptional care with the charm.

The queen pouts, but that’s a good argument. Damn, she’s good; Nok-young may be the most spiritually gifted shaman, but she’s also a slick politician.

Seol worriedly checks over Wol’s condition, assuring herself that nothing is wrong with milady. Aw. I know that there are plenty of dramas, historical and contemporary, that have adorable bromance threads, but I love that this drama also gives us the sisterly equivalent. I’m quickly growing to love Seol and Wol’s tight bond, even more than in their childhoods.

Then, adding to the cuteness is Jan-shil, their plucky little sister, who cries her apology for wandering off for a snack while unni was being kidnapped.

The girls quickly file out when an irate Nok-young comes to talk to Wol, and come upon a couple of junior shamans huffing over the new girl. One insinuates that Wol got in based on her association to Nok-young (“So that’s why she had her nose in the air!”) rather than skill. Jan-shil starts to angrily correct them, about to inform them just what kind of illustrious person they’re slandering, but Seol shuts her up. Yeah, it would do no good to go around screaming that this is the rightful queen, though her intention is sweet.

Nok-young orders Wol to run away immediately, but Wol balks, refusing to make her loved ones into criminals over her. It’s only for one month, and she’ll be fine: “If I can do something helpful in spite of my lack of skill — if I could ease his pain just a little…”

Nok-young reminds her of the warning she’s obviously ignored — that she was supposed to avoid him, and keep her heart firmly detached. This job would reduce her existence to an object, not a person: “Though you have eyes, you are not allowed to see. Though you have a mouth, you cannot speak a word. You must rise from his bedside before he awakens. You are the closest person to him, but cannot meet.” And she still wants to do this?

Wol replies that shamans provide solace for people in pain: “Though I have eyes, I will not see. Though I have a mouth, I will not open it. I will keep him from discovering my existence.”

Min-hwa slips into Yeom’s bedroom, finding it disappointingly empty. When he arrives, she asks for a hug (claiming one anyway) and starts to broach the subject of him visiting her quarters tonight… only to have Yang-myung enter to kill the mood.

He’s only too happy to tease Min-hwa and pointedly offer to leave so he’s not interrupting the lovebirds. Though annoyed, she sees that her brother’s in no shape to leave the house, so she grudgingly tells him to stay, stalking off in a pout. Ha, aren’t brothers the worst?

At bedtime, Hwon is so bursting with vigor that he actually does push-ups to work off his “hot blooded energy.” His choice of words gives everyone hope for the future, and Hyung-sun exults (to himself, while the court ladies smirk), “An heir will be made!” Keke.

But when Hyung-sun voices these hopes aloud, Hwon yells in annoyance, “What nonsense are you spouting?!” He complains, “This is why I don’t talk to you these days!” Poor, hapless Hyung-sun, who heads to his corner meekly with a sniffle.

Hwon calls Hyung-sun for being so emotion to cry over this, but Hyung-sun tells him that he’s really crying because he feels like the old Hwon is back. He entreats Hwon to always be as forceful and strong as he is right now. Oof. Hello there, unexpected tears of poignancy.

Wol watches over Hwon on this second night, addressing her thoughts to the king, telling him she’s glad to see him looking healthier tonight.

Hwon smiles in his sleep again, recalling memories of his earlier courtship with Yeon-woo — the parasol, the lettuce plant, the brain diagram. Tonight his dreams include happy moments with Yang-myung as well.

Woon watches silently as usual, and I wonder how long he’ll be able to keep his mouth shut about this. On one hand, the king’s recovery seems dependent on maintaining this secret treatment, not messing with the spiritual powers at work. But on the other hand, Woon more than anyone understands the king’s fixation with Wol and that he’d want to see her again.

The next day, Hwon shines so brightly with good health that he half-blinds everyone with his light. Three court ladies marvel at the handsome king and his handsome bodyguard, and one wonders if those rumors are true — you know, about him preferring his hot guard to the queen.

They don’t see that Bo-kyung has overheard, and she stews over the gossip. Bitterly, she thinks how that wide smile has never been directed at her. Angered, she stalks off to see the king directly, tired of waiting for him to come to her.

She’s interrupted by her father, however, who takes her aside to scold her for her rashness. There are eyes and ears all around — has she forgotten? He tells her that the king is finally starting to recover, and this is not the time to upset him — the political blowback would be damaging. He warns her to lie low until the month is over.

Subdued, Bo-kyung agrees. But Dad is so incensed that he blames her for being unable to appeal to the king, sneering that if only she’d been able to produce an heir, things wouldn’t be in such a state.

Minister Yoon crosses Hwon’s path in the courtyard, and trades pleasantries about his improving health. Hwon thanks him for the “gift” he’d sent recently. Minister Yoon refers to a gift of ginseng, but both sides are thinking of the assassin Hwon had thwarted, and understand this as a veiled warning. Minister Yoon promises to send more in the future and Hwon replies, “I look forward to it.”

That evening, Hwon feels his forehead, almost as though he sensed Wol’s presence. When he takes his nightly tea, he chokes, although he dismisses his retainers’ concerns.

But Nok-young senses a strange energy starting to brew, and a growing darkness in the heavens.

At the king’s bedside, Wol takes her place and makes her customary greeting. As usual she speaks internally, and muses, “For the first time, I was glad to be a shaman. Would it be wrong for me to say that I consider it fortunate that I could be by your side and be of help to you?”

But as she presses her hand to his forehead, more visions — memories — of her youth flicker in her mind. And as she pulls back in shock, Hwon opens his eyes and grabs her. He pins her to the mattress and asks, “Who are you? Tell me!”

 
COMMENTS

Hm, I’m intrigued by the progression of the heart/sickness storyline, because I wonder if his heart illness is a result of his cosmic separation from Yeon-woo. The drama doesn’t treat it as a medical condition, and while the characters assume that the king is plagued by an evil energy, the story seems to suggest otherwise. That the separation of the sun from his necessary moon has disrupted the natural order of things.

I don’t really love the whole Fated By The Heavens romance angle, but I do find it interesting from a mythical-narrative perspective. In a previous episode, the queen mother commented that Hwon’s illness always rears up when he’s with Bo-kyung. You can explain it without the fantasy element, supposing that Bo-kyung brings out hateful feelings in Hwon that manifest physically. Or you could say that it’s because he’s with the wrong moon, and her proximity makes his ailment most pronounced.

I do feel sorry for Bo-kyung, although I can’t like her, either. I’m sticking to my earlier comment that I feel like it was a missed opportunity to make her evil from the get-go, rather than starting her off as a nice kid who got greedy and now suffers for her ambition. If she hadn’t been identified from the start as a bad egg (or a “dark moon”), I’d find more to sympathize with. But even so, there’s an interesting conflict that arises from Hwon’s cold treatment of her. I do think she is the lying hypocrite he accuses her of being, but at the same time, I also feel he hates her for the wrong reasons.

I have actually been thinking that Jung Il-woo has been vastly overpraised for his acting thus far, but I think this episode showed the breakthrough I wanted from him. The hope he felt when trying to confirm Wol’s identity was a lovely mirror of Hwon’s feelings in the last episode, and got me right in the heart. I love him, definitely, but in previous weeks I wondered why Jung was being heaped with so many superlatives (not just in fandom, but by the Korean media as well) when Kim Soo-hyun was doing such a marvelous job and getting half the attention. And Han Ga-in has gotten some criticism (though it seems to be fading), while I was actually satisfied with her acting thus far. It remains to be seen whether she can bring it when required to get more emotional, but for now I’m going with it.

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