Marathon Part II. Bleary-eyed? Check. Emotionally gutted? Check. I also probably lost a few marbles back there, but sanity’s overrated. Or so I hear.
I think it’s to this episode’s advantage that we barrel straight through from Episode 7. Maintaining that emotional current is actually the most useful between these two particular episodes, so thanks, election preemptions. I’ll be sure to send a fruitbasket. Now on with the tears.
EPISODE 8 RECAP
Jae-ha arrives at the palace, to the sound of funeral criers on the roof, marking the passing of the king and wailing for his majesty to return. He pauses to look up at them before marching ahead.
He walks into his empty, darkened room, and finds his funeral suit hanging there, in wait. As he starts to change his clothes, thoughts of Jae-kang come flooding back – his sweet smiles, his last words.
He finally lets himself cry a little, but he forces the tears back again.
Hang-ah gets a panicked call from her father, who’s worried for her safety. Moreover, Jae-kang is the one he trusted to keep an eye on his daughter, but now what? She can’t even hear what he’s saying, because she’s terrified, but not for herself, and hangs up on him.
She walks through the memorial hall where she runs into Jae-ha. She bows her head, “Your highness.” He stops to look at her, his eyes red from just crying. Secretary Eun ushers him away, but he turns back to tell her, “Don’t you call me that too.”
Ermmph, that breaks my heart. I love that he can’t bear for her to call him that. Not after Mom and everyone else.
He pays his respects to the king and queen in royal uniform, and makes his way down the hall. He enters the king’s office, a portrait of Jae-kang hanging now where their father’s used to. Gah, I don’t think I’m emotionally ready for all this change!
Hang-ah asks an aide if she can be of any help, and asks where she can be of most use, desperate to do something, anything.
Jae-ha returns to the office in his suit, and sits down gingerly in the king’s chair. Secretary Eun tells him to start with the king’s daily log, the passwords for which need to be reset. Left alone, Jae-ha turns around to the little screen that prompts him for a set of keywords, one to start recording and one to stop (I foresee this coming in handy later).
Only he ends up staring at Jae-kang’s portrait, and all he can do is look up at hyung as tears pool in his eyes. He asks angrily, “You happy?”
“Keyword recorded.” Pffft. Damnit, you’re making me laugh! It prompts him for the ending keyword. Still just talking at hyung, he says aloud, “What’re you looking at?” Machine: “Your passwords have been recorded.” Ha.
What an awesome pair of lines—delivered full of anger at being left behind, in that petulant way he always spoke to hyung, and then hilariously undercut. I love the disconnect between what he’s going through and what the password lady is demanding of him.
Jae-ha finds Secretary Eun in the library and asks what next, only to be met with a mountain of files backed up from the day. He instinctively starts complaining, but has to remember to hold it together. He mutters, “Stress~.”
He’s told about his meetings and speeches and cultural issues, one in particular about “Arirang,” the universal Korean folk song (and one that’s often used to unite North and South, culturally). He pitches a fit, and Secretary Eun puts him in his place by saying it’s a ten-month old issue, so where’s he been? Oh snap.
He asks for the files on “Arirang” too then, on top of all the rest. Secretary Eun starts to say that it’s too much to read all at once, but Jae-ha snaps back, “Do you know what my IQ is? 187. If you don’t believe me you can test me in the morning.”
And then he rolls up his sleeves for an all-nighter. I suppose this is when it pays off to have your hero start off the series as a lazy bum, ’cause now I’m all verklempt at the sight of him studying. Eun Kyu-tae is too, which is sweet and uncle-like, but right now I’m still too mad at you to read it as such.
He gets the report on the investigation of the king’s death—it was carbon monoxide poisoning, from charcoal found in the fireplace.
Suddenly he flashes back to the Beatles album, and the conversation where he gave up the king’s location (made as a suggestion for a good place to vacation), only now his eyes widen in shock.
WAITAMINUTE. Are you seriously trying to make me believe that the friggin’ Royal Secretary didn’t KNOW that giving up the king’s secret location would end in badness? So he’s not evil, but just a moron? Buh… who hired this guy? I was gonna roll with it if you were evil, but if you’re just dumb, I can’t even… Augh, logic fail. Somebody save me before my motherboard fries.
He opens the message he had previously ignored, from M Society. It’s a photograph of the villa and a note, “Thanks for your help!” Such polite assassins. He hangs his head to realize it’s true. Seriously, this is where we’re going with this? Oops I inadvertently helped kill the king? Okay writer, I knew thriller spy stuff wasn’t your forte, but this is just embarrassing for you. Brilliant strategist you are not.
The queen mother bathes Jae-shin in her hospital bed, talking all the while to her secretary to clear Jae-shin’s schedule of public appearances and fit them into her own agenda.
She talks a mile a minute, stopping to ask the nurse why she hasn’t woken up yet, and then decides it’s probably for the better, “Here is hell.” But Jae-shin finally stirs awake and asks Mom what she’s doing.
Jae-ha’s still at his desk by morning, correcting his staff on things he only a few hours ago knew nothing about. He asks after Secretary Eun, who’s taking a sick day from the shock of the king’s death. Jae-ha quips that if he’s fine, everyone else should be too.
Shi-kyung bursts in with news—the princess is awake. It kind of kills me how much his voice is shaking. They run to her side, as she struggles to remember the events of the day. She can remember calling Little Oppa with the plan to visit Big Oppa, calling Shi-kyung after buying groceries…
But the rest is murky. She goes to reach for her phone and then falls over, unable to support her own weight. She looks down at her legs in horror and then up at Mom, “Why are they like this?” Oh no.
Jae-ha pores over the report of his brother’s death, and has Secretary Eun called in. He sits down, head hanging, unable to make eye contact. Jae-ha asks if it was really an accident—isn’t it all too much coincidence, with hyung and then Jae-shin, who can’t remember why she ended up at the bottom of a cliff?
And then Eun Kyu-tae sighs, “It’s my fault.” But just when you think he’s about to confess outright, he means that it’s his fault for not checking everything properly—the fireplace, the windows—he didn’t check those things.
Jae-ha’s eyes fill with angry tears, and he kicks the table over as Secretary Eun says he’s to blame and he’ll take the punishment. Trembling, Jae-ha asks, “Is this because you really feel that you’re to blame, or because you don’t like me, because no matter how hard you work, your effort will be wasted on me?”
Secretary Eun looks up with surprise and then answers, “Both.” Damn. Jae-ha counters that he has to accept his punishment then, and offers it both as an order and a challenge: “Stay. Stay by my side and turn a king that’s trash into a human being.” He tries to protest, but Jae-ha shuts down the argument: “I’m too busy to kick you out right now, ajusshi.” He steps out of the room.
And then right on cue, Bong-gu calls, guessing exactly what Eun Kyu-tae has done up to this point—from knowing exactly what he was doing when he traded that secret for a bribe, pointedly calling it a bribe which he must have known, not admitting it to himself, and then probably choosing to confess his wrongdoing to the new king minus the real confession, just when he’s too needy and busy to actually let him leave.
Oh damn, am I siding with the villain here? Because it’s kind of satisfying to have someone lay out his crimes like that. It irked me to no end that he seemed SURPRISED that his secret-location-leaking somehow coincidentally ended up in the king’s murder, but I like Bong-gu’s theory that he’s living in a big fat tub of denial. I went the other way and chose to give him credit for being an evil mastermind before wanting to believe he’d be that dumb.
Anyway, Bong-gu’s upshot is that he’s now got Eun Kyu-tae on speed dial, because moles with exposable secrets are handy that way. He says for now that all he needs is to have the Trash King go about his business, since we wouldn’t want to have him running around on a vengeance spree rather than doing his job, would we? Well I’m glad someone evil isn’t an idiot, for the sake of the plot.
Meanwhile Hang-ah busies herself in the royal greenhouse, as aides gather around her with pleas for her to do nothing, as requested by the queen mother. She points out that she’s within the 500-meter limit from her room—she measured. Ha.
She says that she can’t do anything else to help, and the aide reminds her that she’s not actually a royal yet. Hang-ah sighs, “I’m just pulling weeds. Just because a North Korean is pulling them isn’t going to make all the plants turn red all of a sudden, so don’t worry.” Hahaha. I love her spunk.
Jae-ha spots her in the greenhouse, and I love the way he smiles at the sight of her. He stops for a visit, and asks the aides to give them the room.
Hang-ah lights up, that is until he notes that she’s keeping busy in a fitting activity (using her brute strength), making her frown. She whines that they haven’t seen each other in ages but that’s what he chooses to say?
He teases in his best kingly voice, “What impudence!” She bows at the waist and declares in her best drama imitation, “I beg your pardon!” made even funnier by the fact that she’s saying it with her Northern lilt.
He leans in close to whisper, “Are you shooting a sageuk?” Heehee. She asks if he’s okay, and he worries more about Mom, that she’s probably about to collapse from exhaustion.
She starts to say, “Maybe I…” And then he cuts in with, “Will you go? If you could just take care of Jae-shin…” She smiles. Aw, look at them being on the same page. I’m so happy he let her feel helpful, though it’s even better that he’s actually asking for the help, not just to make her feel better.
At the hospital, Mom tends to Jae-shin, not noticing that she sneaks a comb from the nightstand. While Mom’s not looking, she starts to stab her own leg with the pointy end, over and over again. Ack.
But it’s the vacant look in her eyes that’s scarier than anything, as Mom screams in horror and she just says, “It’s so strange. I can’t feel a thing. They’re like rubber.”
A while later Mom heads out for a speaking engagement, and when she overhears Mom giving orders, Jae-shin screams that no one’s allowed near her except Shi-kyung. Mom tells him that he’s in charge and turns to go, only to run into Hang-ah on her way in.
Mom tries to turn her away, but she’s got the king’s orders on her side, plus all that gumption, and she manages to stick around by faking a cold. Ha. She gets face time with the doctor, who tells her that Jae-shin needs to start physical therapy, even if she’ll never regain the use of her legs.
In the room, Jae-shin suddenly starts to panic. She begins to frantically look around for a box of tissues, only to have it turn into a full-blown panic attack when she looks under the covers. Oh no.
She uses all of her strength to crawl on her hands to reach the box of tissues, crying in fury that she can’t reach. She falls to the floor with a thud. The staff outside scramble at the noise, but she screams bloody murder that she will kill herself if even one person enters the room.
It’s panic and mayhem and the doctor gets called, and Hang-ah hears enough to storm over there, in team leader mode. Shi-kyung blocks her path, but Hang-ah says, “No one who’s going to kill herself talks that way.”
She walks right in and closes the door behind her. She sees Jae-shin on the floor and reads the situation in about two seconds flat, and locks the door. She strips the bed and throws the linens in the bathroom and runs a bath.
She picks up Jae-shin off the floor, still screaming, and tosses her in the tub. That’s when we see it—that she soiled herself in bed. Oof. Now I get the screaming. Jae-shin wails and fights, but Hang-ah just confronts her baldly, “You pooped. Do you want to bathe in poop water?” It stuns her enough to calm her down for a moment.
The doctor runs over and knocks, and by now Hang-ah is bathing her, and she suggests a calm reply, otherwise she’ll have a somewhat embarrassing nickname on her hands. She mouths: Poopy Princess. Hahahaha.
Jae-shin calls out that everything is fine, but balks at Hang-ah’s help, saying that she’ll do it herself or wait till Mom gets back. But Hang-ah slaps her on the back like she’s scolding a child, and tells her that the queen mother is doing everything on her own without rest and is about to collapse at any moment.
She yells at her for being so selfish, and then tears into the best speech I have ever heard: “Poop? Everybody poops! The king poops. Jang Dong-gun poops. I pooped before I left!”
HA. She’s like, what’s the big whoop about poop? The willful Jae-shin finally relents. A tear falls as she lets herself be bathed like a baby, but rather than let her feel sorry for herself, Hang-ah says her skin is so fair—does she use something special? Jae-shin sticks her nose in the air, “I was just born that way.” Aw, so cute. I love seeing Hang-ah be the hero, in both her tough and soft ways.
Mom returns just as the locksmith gets the door open. She steps inside to find Hang-ah putting lotion on Jae-shin’s legs, the two of them gabbing like a couple of girlfriends, as the princess teaches Hang-ah about the difference between body lotion and foot cream.
Hang-ah gapes: “What’s with all the separate creams—eyes, neck, feet, all separate. You South Koreans slather all your money on your bodies, don’t you?” Well when you say it like that, it does sound a bit ridiculous.
She gasps to find Mom standing in the doorway. She bows nervously. And this time Jae-shin is the one who lays it bare: “Mom, I pooped.” She says that unni washed the sheets three times but they couldn’t get the smell out, and asks if they should use perfume, but Hang-ah whispers that she already went ahead and spilled coffee on them. Ha.
Mom just gapes silently, as Hang-ah fidgets. And then we cut to Mom leading her down to a dank basement and into the kitchen. She orders everyone else out, and then tells her that everyone in her family loves ark shells, and begins to teach her the secret family recipe, handed down from her mother-in-law. Awwwwww.
She can’t help but snipe at her dialect, and Hang-ah swears to try and fix it, quickly correcting herself with an awkward attempt to sound like a Seoulite. That’s enough to put a smile on Mom’s face, and they laugh together.
The family eats together in Jae-shin’s hospital room, and Mom proudly puts Hang-ah’s ark shell dish in front of Jae-ha. He asks if Hang-ah really made it, and quickly deadpans that he won’t eat it then, and passes them over to Jae-shin. Ha.
She’s a good sport and tries it, but coughs at the saltiness. Mom still praises her for cooking them to the right temperature, which is the hardest part, and puts them back in front of Jae-ha.
He looks up, “I h-have to eat it?” Omg, I love Mom’s silent death glare. He takes a mouthful without another word, but can’t fake it to save his life, and sighs at the badness. He whines for meat, but Mom reminds him that they’re still in mourning (must be a holdover from the Joseon era where butchering livestock was forbidden during the sometimes very long months spent mourning a king).
She reminds him that a lot has changed even from the time when his father passed away, and Jae-ha remembers that he had to fast for four days as a child. He laughs that hyung was at least kind enough to die after changing those customs, so they can eat.
The room grows uncomfortable with silence, and Jae-ha just sighs that he should’ve gone ahead and let them eat meat while he was at it, but no. And then Jae-shin joins in, “Big Oppa was a little frustrating.”
They exchange a sweet look, and then Mom finally says it’s because he took after her: “I’m sorry I’m so frustrating.” The kids burst into laughter. Jae-ha tells her not to be mad, and turns to Hang-ah to say that Mom is a little sensitive. “She’s even a little… petty,” using Hang-ah’s word foul just to include her. Aw. They all laugh at Mom’s expense. It’s really adorable.
Jae-shin waves down at the family as they drive off, and in Mom’s first free moment since it all happened, she finally breaks down in tears. Shi-kyung just keeps watch silently in the car as she rocks back and forth, barely able to breathe, crying, “Jae-kang-ah…”
Jae-shin looks at pictures of Big Oppa as she listens to music, crying as she clutches his face to her heart.
And then it’s time for the royal funeral procession, as Jae-ha marches out to meet the king and queen as they’re carried out.
The palace is swathed in white, as Jae-ha and his mother pay respects to Jae-kang for the last time.
Hang-ah cries in her room, as she remembers her Shield.
Once alone, Jae-ha lets himself cry a little in his office, looking up at hyung’s portrait, but again he squeezes the tears back and tamps down his ache. Hang-ah comes in and finds him with bloodshot eyes, and this time she says, “Just let it burst.”
He pretends he doesn’t know what she’s talking about and turns to go, but she grabs his arm, “You’ll make yourself sick that way. There’s nothing in the world that’s more important than looking after your own heart.”
She looks up at him earnestly, but he blinks back any remaining tears, not ready to face it. He tells her coldly that she’s overstepped her bounds, and walks away.
She goes into Secretary Eun’s office to ask if she can’t have just three hours of Jae-ha’s time. Jae-ha finishes a phone call and crouches, weary, barely holding it together. Shi-kyung arrives to escort him to his next appointment, which he says has been cancelled…
Hang-ah pours wine in her room, as we hear Secretary Eun tell her in voiceover about Jae-ha’s favorite foods, which she’s prepared. She watches an episode of High Kick to learn some aegyo, but when she tries it, she nearly vomits in her own mouth from the over-cute. Ha.
She remembers his speech about how guys love to be called oppa, and practices her best version. He arrives and tells her he has to work, but she urges him to rest for just a little while, insisting that she got permission for him to eat sausages and everything.
And then she tries out her cutesy voice, ending her sentence way up in the squeaky range, and closing with, “O…ppa?” Pffft, she totally cops out right in the middle of her “oppa,” which just makes it even more embarrassing.
He stares dumbfounded. *blink blink* “Did you just say o…ppa?” She stands there wishing she could take it back, and he bursts into laughter, saying it’s gross between dong-gaps (they’re the same age).
He laughs, “Did you practice that?” She tries to deny it but it reeks of rehearsals. She tries another line on him, that he’s like two famous people he doesn’t recognize, because she’s trying to imitate the you’re-my-Jeon-Do-yeon-Kim-Tae-hee bit, and he dies laughing all over again.
Her effort is really endearing though, and he’s taken with her, though of course he points out that it’s not because she’s pretty or sexy, but because she’s hilarious. She pouts. He begs her for another one, lying through his pursed lips and scout’s honor that he won’t laugh.
And then she actually puts on paws to dance “Bo-Beep” at him, and he nearly pulls something trying not to laugh. It’s a losing battle, really, and he busts a gut. She hides in embarrassment, but he sweetly tells her it was very cute and gets a paw to the face for his teasing.
He burrows into her bed and declares he’s sleeping here tonight. She tells him she only has him for thirty more minutes, and then he has to go back to work. He whines at her to push it all back, using her atomic needles for the threatening. Ha.
She suggests a nap then, and she’ll wake him. But he just yanks her onto the bed into his arms. Mrwar. She stammers a what-is-this, only he answers more the who-are-you version: “I’m your fiancé-to-be, the king.” Did he just turn I-am-your-king into a come-on?
She gets up awkwardly, saying they have to observe the rules, and he counters that he’ll just move her into the inner palace then. She tells him to quit playing King Uija (of Baekje, who notoriously had a gazillion concubines).
He frowns at that and then tries a different tactic, pretending to worry about her complexion, wooing her over to the bed and touching her face. You sneaky.
She takes out a mirror and says she’s been taking care of her skin everyday, and even the king told her she was pretty. He smiles, “When did I say that?” But she looks away. He realizes she meant the other king. “Hyung?”
It makes his heart sink for a moment, and then he laughs at her for believing it, saying that hyung was actually quite the sweet-talker, and that’s how he seduced his wife. But she says no, he was earnest, and he even sent a picture and everything.
He asks what picture, and she says it was from the day he died. He told her he sent the same thing to Jae-ha—did he not receive it? He admits that he deleted it (that “Kekeke” text he never opened and just deleted).
She says they can just look at hers together, and shows him the adorable couple picture of Jae-kang and his wife, laughing. The note tells her to be strong, calling her jae-soo-sshi, what he’d call her if she were married to Jae-ha.
He makes fun of hyung for doing such silly stuff that didn’t suit him, posing with a V like a goof, and the tears start to well up. Hang-ah gets up, but he reaches out for her hand. Without looking up, he says, “I hung up on him.”
He starts to cry, “Our last phone call… and I hung up on him…” He finally breaks down in tears, and she sits next to him with a hand on his shoulder. He cries, “I’m sorry, hyung. I didn’t know it’d end up this way.”
She pulls him close, and holds him as he finally lets himself cry in her arms.
Fade to black. Hang-ah wakes up and watches Jae-ha sleeping by her side. Aw, it’s really sweet (and actually realistic) that the emotional connection at a time like this would lead very naturally to sleeping together.
Early in the morning, Secretary Eun gets word that the king never came back from Hang-ah’s quarters, and he marches over. She’s already waiting, knowing the consequences and the rules (not just the marriage ones but he’s in mourning for the king, which bears a strict set of rules). He chastises her for not sending Jae-ha back like she should have, but she takes the blame—that she’s the one who asked him not to go.
Bong-gu calls Secretary Eun for his first blackmail-favor, to gain entry into the country. He also asks to meet with the king. Eun Kyu-tae introduces him to Jae-ha by his other name, John Meyer, and Bong-gu greets the king with a respectful bow and a handshake. He says it’s an honor to meet him again, Jae-ha looks confused.
Bong-gu looks up eerily, “Do you not remember?”
There were some fantastic moments in this episode, and some glaring missteps, but thankfully the bad is contained to one character. The Eun Kyu-tae character is interesting because I honestly refused to believe anyone could be so stupid, let alone the king’s right-hand man, but I guess he proved me wrong. I would rather he be an evil mole, but it turns out he’s actually just a spineless weasel, which seems worse to me, plotwise, because it saps tension from the palace.
I suppose some tension can be salvaged if he continually puts Jae-ha in danger in order to preserve his own guilty conscience, but that’s just going to anger me, whereas Evil Eun Kyu-tae would’ve at least been a worthy adversary. Le sigh. I guess I’ll have to hope that if we’re not going the evil route, then there will be a significant character arc for him to redeem himself in some way.
But the throughline of this whole episode—in mourning Jae-kang through ritual, in separate ways for each member of the family—it was beautifully done, and I felt like we were able to mourn alongside them. The thing that really grounded the loss for me was the way that Jae-ha dealt with it—he has this way of talking to and about hyung very casually like he’s still around, and without that distancing formality of death that’s both funny and heartbreaking. That password scene killed me—it felt strangely realistic to me, just the way everyday life interjects itself into tragedy like that. And the family dinner, where laughter happens, even when you’re sad.
The episode-long beat of Jae-ha forcing back his tears again and again and again felt so true to life, and a very simple but telling way to carry him through the mourning process. He holds back his tears more than anyone, because he has the most to carry on his shoulders.
And of course it’s Hang-ah, the only one who doesn’t need him to carry her, who’s there for him to lean on. I love that their connection, despite the largeness of the fictional world, seems very organic and simple. Their conflicts come in the form of international crises, but really that’s just a metaphor for two people from different worlds making a relationship work. The way she’s there for him when he loses his brother is just so normal and real.
That emotional connection really drove home the idea that they are equals, which I find to be a lovely theme that’s been constant with these characters (the evenly matched banter, the emphasis on being dong-gap, the pride wars). Before it was one-upping each other at their petty games, but now they’re standing side by side, and I just love the idea that he can carry the world on his shoulders, if she carries him on hers.