The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 16
Aww yeah, the show is good again! This was a strong enough episode to make up (almost, sort of) for the boring stuff in the middle — lots of secrets discovered, truths ferreted out, and big reactions all around.
This is also the episode to finally break the 40% mark, bringing in a 41.3% rating. I’m glad the show delivered a strong episode to mark the big moment since it would be pretty anticlimactic for it to snag “national drama” status via one of the dull episodes where everyone cries and nothing moves forward — although I suppose it makes sense that the strong episode probably had a li’l something to do with the ratings increase in the first place. Wild Romance bowed out with a 5.4%, while Take Care of Us, Captain brought home a 5.8%.
SONG OF THE DAY
Cotton Candy – “어떻게든 살아보려해” (Try to live anyway) [ Download ]
EPISODE 16 RECAP
Backing up a few moments before the end of Episode 15, we follow Wol as she is called to see Queen Bo-kyung. On her way, she flashes back to a conversation with Seol, where she learns that after her “death,” Bo-kyung was made the new princess bride, without going through another selection process. Ah, I love to see the wheels of suspicion turning in Wol’s brain.
The brothers sit in tense confrontation. Yang-myung declares that he is prepared to give up his royal status to be with Wol — can Hwon do the same? If Yang-myung does as the king wishes and leaves her alone, will Hwon be able to protect her?
Very good questions. I love you, Hwon, but you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too — you can’t have her, but you will insist that she remain alone so that nobody else can, either, making everybody unhappy — and it’s not one of your better moments. Yang-myung comes to that very conclusion, asking how he thinks he can protect her by refusing to give her up, in the process turning the innocent Wol into a criminal. Yang-mung keeps asking these difficult questions until Hwon bangs his fist on the table (a favorite pastime of his) and asks him to stop. Some truths are just too hard to hear.
Yang-myung asks, “Can you let go of Yeon-woo? I can.” Oh, nice — calling out Hwon for his inability to care for the woman in front of him without linking her to the woman he lost. (Never mind that they’re technically the same person.) He declares that Hwon won’t be able to do that, and Hwon can’t argue.
Wol sits calmly while Bo-kyung gasps and stutters, asking how she came to be here, meaning Dead Girl Yeon-woo. Wol reminds her that she called her here. Bo-kyung starts to ask, “You couldn’t be…?” but cuts herself off, telling herself forcefully no, it can’t be.
Wol says evenly, “Heo. Yeon. Woo” and visibly rattles Bo-kyung. Then she says innocently that she keeps hearing that she looks like that girl, but that she is merely a shaman. She says that while she was in the Hidden Moon Building, she saw the ghost of Yeon-woo, which spoke to her. Bo-kyung looks like she’s about to crumple into hysterics at any moment, as Wol adds with creepy intensity that the ghost wishes the queen happiness.
Ha, I love Wol as the cat toying with the mouse. A very smart cat (but aren’t they all?), because it makes Bo-kyung burst out, “There’s no reason she would say that! She would never say that to me!”
She dismisses Wol, who is barely out the door before Bo-kyung erupts into screams. Wol notes that Bo-kyung faced her with horror, not as a woman seeing an old acquaintance: “Why?” Such good questions, finally being asked. If Bo-kyung had nothing to do with her death, you’d expect shock and denial, but not terror.
Bo-kyung sobs to herself, trying to deny that her worst fears might be true. She flashes back to her teenage self deciding she would take that place as princess, knowing that meant death to Yeon-woo.
Wol sees herself out of the palace, stopping by the familiar Hidden Moon Building, which holds such poignant memories. She enters the building, looking around the rooms, opening the windows where she’d once found Hwon waiting for her with the puppet show… and finds adult Hwon standing there now, looking up at the very same window.
She jerks back and shuts the window, then steels herself to open it again — only the courtyard is empty this time. Was he a figment of her imagination?
Wol hurries outside and sadly confirms that he’s not there after all. Just as he walks up from the side, staring intently all the while. He demands to know why she’s here instead of at Hwalinseo. She explains that she was summoned and lost her way out, then excuses herself. He grabs her hand to keep her there, though he doesn’t turn to face her.
They stand with backs to each other as he asks after her health, offering to send her away, perhaps someplace where she’ll be completely anonymous. Wol struggles to control herself, keeping her voice steady as she tells him she’s fine, and not to worry about such trifling affairs. Inwardly she thinks that she won’t be able to see him anymore if he does that.
He asks if she’ll continue living as a criminal for a crime she didn’t commit, and she answers, “How can you say I have not committed a crime?” To herself she thinks that she can’t make up for the crime of not being having recognized him at first glance. Lordy. Okay, I’m docking a few of the brownie points you’ve earned this episode, sappy lady. Thankfully you’ve built up a nice stash, so you can spare a few.
He takes her words at face value, though, asking if she really did seduce a royal (i.e., Yang-myung). She tells him to steel himself and be firm, to not be shaken by his feelings anymore. Their turned backs mean that he doesn’t see her starting to sob, and he drops her hand, telling her dully to leave and never show herself to him again.
She watches him walking away and cries.
Wol returns to find Nok-young awaiting her and faces her coldly, telling her to leave. She hasn’t made sense of everything yet, but she’ll find her when she’s ready. Nok-young says the king has summoned her, and she needs to speak with Wol to know how to answer his questions.
Nok-young explains being caught between the queen dowager’s command and her friend’s plea: “And so, I killed you. And so, I saved you.” She says she is ready to accept whatever punishment Wol intends to mete out.
There’s one thing that Wol cannot understand or forgive, and it’s that Nok-young deceived her father into thinking he’d killed her: “You should have killed me outright.” She says that her father killed himself out of guilt: “No, the moment he fed me that medicine, he had already died. That medicine meant to save my life became poison stealing my father’s life. Do you understand? You did not kill me, you killed my father!”
Wol demands, “The eight years that my family and the king have spent shedding tears of blood — how will you repay them?”
But there is one more bomb to be dropped, and Nok-young explains that spells of this kind require an offering. In her case, there was a young girl who offered herself up in order to realize her personal desires, who participated in the chant and prayed for Yeon-woo’s death. Oh, interesting. I wonder if she was tricked into participating, or if she’s more culpable than we’ve been led to believe.
Wol asks, “Was it the queen?” Nok-young shakes her head, and this makes Wol think of the information she recently discovered — about Princess Min-hwa visiting her room before her death. She shakes her head in denial, but Nok-young confirms that it was the princess.
Min-hwa huddles in her room crying, riddled with fresh guilt over contributing to Lord Heo’s suicide. She thinks of her childhood infatuation with Yeom, and how she had begged her grandmother to help her marry him. And Granny, asking deviously if Min-hwa would “help” her, in order to get what she wanted.
Yeom drops by and sees that she’s been crying. He’s concerned because she’s been holed up ever since visiting his father’s grave, and that reminder sets her off crying again. She makes up the excuse that she’d had a nightmare that he disappeared, and he holds her comfortinly. He says with smile, “I told you that you’re pretty when you laugh, but now that I find you pretty when you cry, I’m in trouble.”
Aw. What poor timing for him to finally soften toward her, when she’s realizing the extent of her selfishness. She asks him to forgive her “for everything,” and he urges her to sleep, promising to stay with her through the night.
Nok-young has a reason for revealing Min-hwa’s part in this, and explains that participating in a rite to kill the princess bride is, naturally, a capital offense. If the truth came out, the king would be forced to punish his sister, and Yeon-woo’s own brother would be punished by association, being married to the criminal. That’s exactly why the queen dowager chose Min-hwa as the offering, because it would be a safeguard: If the king and/or Wol ever discovered the truth later, they’d find themselves forced to keep silent.
Wol asks what she must do. Nok-young tells her she must choose: Reveal all and go to the king, or cover it up and live like this.
Now Wol understands why Nok-young has remained silent — it wasn’t her decision to make. Nok-young says that she will follow Wol’s decision when she meets with the king.
The next day, the king’s entourage happens upon the path of Yang-myung as he’s confronting one of the ministers in the Council of Evil. Yang-myung gives the minister the choice to send the promised provisions to the sick and poor (which he’d embezzled for himself), or face having his corruption revealed to the king.
Hwon interrupts and asks what’s going on. Yang-myung covers for now, saying he was merely informing the minister of the poor conditions of Hwalinseo, because it seems he’s unaware. Hwon stiffens and reprimands Yang-myung for poking his nose into politics, which he is forbidden to do. Seriously, king? You’re going to let your jealousy speak first, rather than dealing with the injustice? C’mon, priorities.
Yang-myung says he is not getting political, but merely offering testimony to the travesty of Hwalinseo — which, by the way, happens to literally mean “place where lives are saved.” But the current Hwalinseo “is a lot more like a place that kills people.”
Hwon says coolly that he had no idea his brother who’d left to go traveling was so interested in the poor and needy. Well, someone’s got to do it, King Mopeypants. Yang-myung reminds him of a king’s service, and Hwon asks if he’s telling him that he’s ruling poorly and sending his nation into danger. Yang-myung holds firm and asks for his understanding.
Hwon blasts his council for the corruption, speaking so harshly that they protest that he’s overstating the offense. He warns them that he won’t stand for embezzling funds meant for public aid.
Nok-young makes her appearance before Hwon, which the queen dowager hears with alarm. She orders Nok-young brought to her the moment she emerges from her meeting with the king.
Hwon starts by asking about Nok-young’s departure from Seongsucheong eight years ago, and she basically cuts to the chase, telling him to ask what he really wants to know. He asks, “Is it possible to kill a person with a spell?”
She replies that it is not possible — or rather, it’s possible but the person behind the spell will die, because a spell always has consequences. If she had ever done a thing, she would have died. (I don’t think her answer is an outright lie, because she could have known this all along; since Yeon-woo was never going to stay dead, her spell didn’t kill Nok-young. But it’s purposely misleading, for sure.)
Hwon is disappointed with that response and so am I, but this is Wol’s decision. In a flashback, we see Wol instructing her not to say anything, because she doesn’t want to add to Hwon’s pain.
Then Nok-young points out that she’s still alive, in a loaded tone. (By extension, this means the subject of the killing spell should also be alive…) Read between the lines, Hwon!
Next, Nok-young is taken to the queen dowager and first lies about Hwon’s reason for meeting her. The queen sees through it right away, so Nok-young admits that the king mentioned Wol; he ordered her to make sure her shamans kept their mouths shut, to prevent harmful gossip about her from spreading.
She also apologizes for challenging the queen previously, saying that she lost her temper out of worry for her shaman charge. She begs for forgiveness, and the queen is appeased. Nok-young thinks to herself that it’s quite ironic that the more the queen attempts to interfere, the more she’s helping the two people.
Hwon is thankfully skilled at reading between the lines after all, because he puts together the clues: spell-caster is alive, and the body was warm even after death. Ergo: “She may still be alive.”
Wol sits with a girl at Hwalinseo who refuses to eat and guesses that the girl intends to starve herself to death. She prods her to talk about what’s bothering her, and the girl says that there’s no point in living when she’s just a useless burden to her parents. If she dies, her family will have one less mouth to feed.
Wol tells her she understands, sharing her own experience of thinking her death would end her family’s suffering. But what parents would be fine after losing a beloved daughter? She tells the girl not to think of dying again and comforts her… just as Yang-myung arrives behind her, having heard the exchange.
What he once desperately wished were true is now a hindrance to him claiming her, and he thinks despairingly, “Please, say it’s not true — that you’re not Heo Yeon-woo. That you’re just the shaman Wol. That you have no connection to the king.”
With the corruption discovered, Hwalinseo receives its delivery of supplies, and Yang-myung gives Wol a book containing medical information. He offers his aid in explaining the contents, but Wol opens the book and gets to reading it right away, which is another telling clue.
He also has a change of clothing for her, saying that he’d like to take her to visit an old friend. He watches her face closely as he refers to Yeom, but Wol turns away to hide her reaction.
Hwon considers the possibility that Yeon-woo is alive, and wonders why she wouldn’t find him if she were. And if it’s Wol, why would she pretend ignorance? She didn’t look like she was lying. Then there’s the fact that nobody confirmed that Yeon-woo was buried in that grave. He shakes his head — this is an absurd line of thinking. Or is it?
Hong Kyu-tae next takes his secret investigation to Yeom. He asks for his explanation of his sister’s death, but Yeom doesn’t have much to add. He’d been sent away and was only there for her funeral.
Yeom hears a sound outside his walls and briefly looks for the source. As he walks away, Seol peers over the wall, on another of her silent vigils. In voiceover, she tells Yeom that his sister recovered her memory, and that he’ll be able to reunite his family.
Yeom finds his mother at her annual wardrobe cleaning, to send the unused clothing to Hwalinseo. This year she intends to send it to the other aid camp — the one where Wol was sent — and he guesses that it’s because of that girl who looks like Yeon-woo. Mom says that even without the Yeon-woo connection, she feels sympathy for that girl and her parents, who’d hate seeing her treated so badly.
He tells his mother of the king’s investigator who asked about Yeon-woo, and that in itself is enough to rouse their suspicions.
After Hong Kyu-tae leaves Yeom’s house, he grabs one of the servant men to ask some more questions. The man admits that there was one disturbing thing that he didn’t tell his master for fear of worrying him. The day after the burial he’d gone to the girl’s grave and found it all torn up, like wild animals had been pawing at it.
Just then, the man spots Seol walking by and recognizes her as the family’s former slave girl. Hong Kyu-tae turns and recalls having seen her in more recent encounters.
Hong Kyu-tae informs Hwon about the grave digging, and also about the curious woman he’s seen a few times. According to the servant, she used to serve Yeon-woo… and based on his own knowledge, she’s Wol’s bodyguard. Finally, a concrete connection!
Hwon sets out to speak with Nok-young immediately, all the bits and pieces finally arranging them in his head. He lines up the facts: “A spell. A corpse that didn’t go cold. A hurried burial without shrouding the body. A dug-up burial ground. A murder that leaves no trace. Another spell. Seongsucheong. Head Shaman Jang. And Wol’s slave girl who appears at every investigation site.”
Bo-kyung trembles uncontrollably in her inner chamber, shoved into a corner. Her mother pleads with her, but Bo-kyung bursts out that Yeon-woo is alive. She cries that she’s back to claim the king, kick her out, and retake her place.
Her mother tells her that she didn’t steal her position because it was always hers, and that it’s only her guilt in thinking so that led her to hallucinate. Bo-kyung screams, “I’m NOT seeing things!” Now she’s defiant, declaring that she knows everything: “I know Father killed Yeon-woo.”
Mom must be in on all the intrigue, because she looks around furtively and tells Bo-kyung that if she keeps her mouth shut, all will be fine. She whispers, “Have faith in your father.”
Just then Daddy dearest walks through her doors, but his presence sets her off and Bo-kyung screams, “Leave!” She breaks down into sobs and Minister Yoon looks disturbed. He recalls the shaman’s familiar face, and wonders if Yeon-woo could be alive: “Could this possibly be the work of Head Shaman Jang?”
That head shaman is currently receiving the king, who demands the truth — no evasions, no wordplay. He asks when she took Wol as her protege — and whether the dictate for a new shaman to cut ties with her former life means she must intentionally not think of her past life, or if it means she literally cannot remember it.
She answers that it’s usually the first, but she has seen a case of the second, after “surviving the agony of death.” He asks if she’s referring to the horrors of finding oneself buried alive. Did that woman recover her memory, or does she still not know who she is? “And is that shaman’s name… Wol?”
She looks at him in stunned silence, and he demands, “Is the shaman named Wol the same girl who died eight years ago, Heo Yeon-woo?!”
Hwon turns silently and walks out, reeling from the shock.
Outside, he breaks down, recalling all the harsh words he had for Wol, and all the hardships she has suffered recently.
He sinks to his knees and cries, clutching his heart, sobbing, “Yeon-woo-ya…”
Thank heaven for that! I’d been starting to tire of Hwon, which was a very sad feeling because I loved his character earlier on and love both actors. It’s just that he’s so frustratingly stuck in ONE mode, one point in space and time, and it’s hard to sympathize with someone who gets super-angry at the hand he’s dealt but seemingly does little about it.
In that sense I’ve been siding with Yang-myung in all their recent arguments, even though ultimately I want Hwon and Yeon-woo to find their happy ending. It’s just that Hwon’s struggles are all internal, with himself, and it makes for very little movement in his character. He’s also locked into the past, unable to separate Yeon-woo from Wol. Forget for a moment that we don’t technically have two different women vying for his heart; his inability to distinguish is still important, because it locks him into the past, and you can’t do a whole lot of good about something that’s over. It points to Hwon’s inability to do the hard thing and deal with the present, as Hyung-sun so earnestly begs him to do. He has dug in his heels, conflating past with present.
I think the drama is going with the “undying love that will never change” theme, but there’s a delicate balance to be struck in that kind of scenario. You don’t want your hero to seem fickle, but at the same time, you go too far the other way and he’s foolishly obstinate. It would have loved for the couple to fall in love anew, which would have made that theme even stronger — he’ll love her as Yeon-woo, and he’ll love her as Wol. We got a few moments early on when he was struck by her wise answers, but mostly it feels like he’s superimposing a dead girl over Wol. I was therefore more moved by Yang-myung’s trajectory than Hwon’s, because he loves the woman for who she is now, not for a memory.
The problem for Hwon really extends far beyond Wol, even though she’s emblematic of the issue, because it affects other quarters of his life. As a king, he knows who his enemies are and he’s deeply suspicious of their motives, and yet, most of the time he’s just reacting to them rather than being active. Or, better yet, proactive. I miss the wily young prince who outsmarted his crafty grandmother by mobilizing the scholars, who got stuff done.
Now that he knows, and she knows, and everybody and their mother (literally!) knows, I really want Hwon to step it up. Show us what you’re made of, please! I know there’s a lot more to you than a fist-banging, order-slinging, angry puppet king.
The last three episodes really stepped things up for the drama, and I find my interest finally back after waning for a number of weeks. One of the big problems is that for so long, almost every single element of conflict was driven by lies. One person lies to another, who lies to another, ad nauseam, sending people in this round robin of truth-seeking, who are spun around in so many directions by secrets and lies and noble idiocy. It’s a lot of talking, but not a lot of doing. So I’m especially excited now that the lies are out in the open, because maybe now we’ll finally get the plot moving again.
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 15
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 14
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 13
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 12
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 11
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 10
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 9
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 8
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 7
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 6
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 5
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 4
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 3
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 2
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 1