No royal birthday is ever a normal affair, and this one comes chock to the brim with assassination attempts, confrontations, poisoning, your normal share of political maneuvering, and the biggest clown car operating room we’ve seen yet. In short, there’s fun to be had.
I liked this episode because of all the forward movement it allowed our characters, and disliked it for all the basic production problems it could do without, if only a little schooling or manual-reading were involved. Heck, I’m ready to mail a copy of Directing for Dummies at this point.
EPISODE 10 RECAP
Young-rae’s mom is suffering from a nervous system disease caused by a lack of vitamin B1, which Hyuk notes as potentially life-threatening (in his Disease Facts voiceover), though she refuses to accept his treatment or see her daughter.
The Queen Dowager’s birthday bash is a sore subject for Minister Kim, who wonders what Ha-eung’s true motivations are in throwing it for her. He resolves to stop the banquet at all costs, and headlines an official protest to the Queen Dowager, citing that in these tumultuous times (ailing king, poor citizens), rubbing a luxurious banquet in the people’s faces will only incur their wrath.
Minister Kim veils his agenda under a layer of false concern for her well-being, and the Queen Dowager is wise enough to politics at this point to laugh openly at his antics. She calls him out for wielding absolute power over the Court, until one of the ministers pipes up that the King declared that he would follow the Court’s opinion – and judging by the number of Court members protesting outside, this news doesn’t bode well for her.
Remembering how his father scolded him for going to school and educating himself, Myeong-bok begs for his father’s forgiveness when he’s caught red-handed with more books. Only this time Ha-eung doesn’t scold him, and even hands him a book – the Zizhi Tongjan, a Chinese historical magnum opus normally reserved for kingly reading – with the instructions that he’s to study now more than ever and mind his manners. Ha-eung: “Soon, you will meet with the highest elder.”
Hyuk and Heo Gwang discuss Mom’s diagnosis and prognosis, both of them knowing that the cure would be for her to eat foods rich in vitamin B1 (Heo Gwang doesn’t know what a “vitamin” is but he knows how to treat the disease all the same), only she won’t eat, which makes things a little more difficult.
Young-rae overhears their conversation and goes to a pray at a secluded house functioning as a makeshift Catholic Church, presided over by a Western priest. One of the worshippers inside turns out to be Ha-eung’s wife, which is such a cool twist (in theory), knowing Ha-eung’s history-to-be of Catholic persecution.
Ha-eung decides to play a dangerous game by interrupting a Council of Evil meeting in the gibang under the excuse of asking Minister Kim why he’d want to kill him, a mere pitiful relative of the king – one of the assassins named Dae-gyun as the plot’s conspirator, after all. Dae-gyun’s poker face is nowhere near his father’s, because anyone who’d look at him would know he’s guilty as all get-out.
As soon as Minister Kim denies it, Ha-eung acts so relieved, because that means they’ll have to catch the culprit responsible for such a punishable felony. I love what a veiled threat that is, and that Ha-eung tosses out afterward, By the way, I’m so very glad you’ll let me continue on with the banquet and reverse your decision. Cheers! If I said this man was born for politics, that’d be a little redundant, wouldn’t it?
Back at Hwalinseo, Hyuk and Young-rae try to devise a method to get her mother to eat the vitamins she needs, and upon hearing that Mom likes sweet things, Hyuk is instantly reminded of a donut-shaped treat he’d once made with Mina.
They have a donut-making montage intercut with Hyuk making donuts in the present, and they’re a hit amongst the staff. When Young-rae asks what it’s called, Hyuk answers frankly, “A donut.” Ha. I love it when he doesn’t bother to rename things for historical preservation. Go big or go home, right?
Kyung-tak upstages his kelp-for-brains brother as far as Ha-eung’s assassination plot is concerned, which earns him points with Dad. Dae-gyun is less than happy about this, but gone are the days he could bully his little brother, since Kyung-tak asserts his newfound sense of confidence.
“I also have the blood of His Excellency flowing through my veins,” Kyung-tak warns his brother. “I will not let anyone abuse me any longer.” Strong words, but Dae-gyun’s quick to throw out that he knows his little brother has lost his marbles over a girl.
Young-hwi encourages his mother to eat Hyuk’s donuts (though he lies that he bought them at the market), though her pride won’t allow her to accept until she’s alone with them. He reports the good news to Young-rae and gives her a piece of comfort/advice: “One day, she will understand you.”
A secret meeting with fellow Anonymous members reveals that some of their comrades have been captured by the police, who are desperate to find them.
This takes him back to the gibang, where Joo Pal giddily receives a set of robes for a ninth ranking government official position from Ha-eung, along with a royal decree in Hanja he can’t read. Ha-eung has pulled some strings to get him a position, and it’s cute how excited Joo Pal is to graduate from being a street thug to a bonafide (albeit very low-ranking) official.
Ha-eung tries to lay out his banquet contingency plans with Anonymous as a backup should Minister Kim pull a stunt, but Young-hwi is insistent that Ha-eung get the Queen Dowager to free his captured comrades first. The two go back and forth over which is more important and once again end up at a stalemate.
…Only, that’s when Young-hwi finds his comrades’ severed heads on display in the marketplace, a feat which Kyung-tak carried out under Daddy’s orders.
Banquet preparations. Joo Pal has a good time strutting around in his new uniform like he’s a high-ranking minister, having been charged by Ha-eung to make sure the party is packed when the time comes. Even the Queen Dowager’s favorite performer is back in top shape, thanks to Hyuk’s surgery.
The Hwalinseo doctors bring a sample of Hyuk’s Donuts to Ha-eung, declaring that they’ve become a hit all over town. Ha-eung excitedly declares that they’ll serve them to the Queen Dowager at the party, and that shifty doctor looks shifty… We can probably see where this is headed.
But in case we can’t, Doctor Yoo drops the hint to Minister Kim that they can kill two birds with one stone – Ha-eung and Hyuk – by poisoning some donuts…
Meanwhile, Young-hwi’s comrades suggest killing Minister Kim at the banquet to avenge their dead. Young-hwi, still deeply affected by the deaths, asks them if they’re telling him to kill his best friend’s father, saying,”I stole the fortunes of powerful noble families to save the hungry. But now, the only things I can steal are their lives… Most of all, the life of the Left State Minister.”
He’s sadly resigned to his fate, and pulls Kyung-tak away from rallying his own troops for a heart-to-heart. It seems like Young-hwi is there to say goodbye, at least to their friendship, as he honestly tells Kyung-tak: “It would have been better if we did not know each other. But I want you to know one thing. To me, you are always more than what I deserve, and a friend I’m thankful for.” Aww.
Kyung-tak doesn’t get the other implications of this message, and they leave it at that.
Young-rae comes in late to Hwalinseo, relaying the news that Mom’s health has improved thanks to Hyuk’s Donuts, and as always, manages to turn the conversation topic to Mina and awkwardness. Young-rae: “She must have been very sweet. You must miss her.” Hyuk: “That’s why I must go back.”
Ha-eung and Myeong-bok come for a visit, and there’s a nice touch where Myeong-bok calls Young-rae familiarly, indicating that these visits are frequent. She passes off the donuts for the Queen Dowager to Ha-eung, who’s content to reminisce about his first meeting with Hyuk, when he saved him from death.
We get a little flashback reel of their good times together, and Ha-eung even hints that he might still be a marketplace drunk if he’d never met Hyuk. Interesting theory. He asks Hyuk if he still looks like a beggar to him, which catches him by surprise, as he assures Ha-eung that while he may be different from when they first met, it’s not a bad thing. And then he wonders if what he heard before was actually true…
Cue a convenient flashback to the future, where Mina is literally reading a book on Ha-eung’s life and spouting facts about him to Hyuk. While the modern conception of Ha-eung is that he was an opponent of modernization, her book argues that that stance is missing the point: Ha-eung saved Joseon from the grip of the Andong Kim clan, and tried to rebuild a country on the verge of collapse. Aka, a True Reformer. (I also like that they threw in the donuts with this scene too, which is like a reference within a reference within a reference. Jinception.)
Back in the present past, Ha-eung assures both himself and Hyuk that he will change Joseon and save the oppressed citizens. Hyuk actually has some conviction when he replies: “Please do that. That’s how history and the future will be changed the way everyone is hoping for.” Ha-eung finds this wording curious, and repeats: “A history that everyone hopes for…”
And that night, Chun-hong finds Young-hwi struggling to hold back his tears as the banquet draws ever near. We find him later dressed as a policeman with his fellow Anonymous members, with their plan to use their disguises at the banquet in order to kill Minister Kim.
Young-hwi has resolved to go all-in, and instructs his men to slay Minister Kim should he fail. With resolve in his eyes he tells his men, “After we send him to hell, there shall we meet each other again.”
Banquet day. The Queen Dowager addresses all those gathered that such a luxurious feast isn’t just for her birthday, but to comfort the people. I don’t see how that makes a whole lot of sense, but Joo Pal’s enthusiasm in leading the crowd in his practiced cheer (“Ten thousand years! Ten thousand years!”) is adorable nonetheless.
Young-hwi and his men run into two guards in their quest to climb the rooftops, and silently (very, very silently) kill them before any alarm is sounded.
Then we cut to the party, where Chun-hong and her fellow gisaeng perform a synchronized dance in ceremonial wear, before cutting right back to Kyung-tak, who notices the missing officers and blood on the streets.
And then, we cut to the palace maids, with one tasting all the food to test for poison. She eats one of Hyuk’s Donuts without any immediate effects. Her sidekick is looking pretty suspicious, though. (The quick cuts back and forth are trying to be suspenseful, but damn if this editing isn’t the worst thing that ever happened.)
Young-hwi scales a nearby rooftop to get a clear shot at Minister Kim, while the palace maids present the food (and donuts) to the Queen Dowager. Dae-gyun watches and waits super obviously as she’s about to take a bite… but she’s distracted by a performance just in time.
And Myeong-bok, meandering through the streets, spies Young-hwi on a rooftop and innocently alerts Kyung-tak to his presence, just as Hyuk adorably holds a parasol over Young-rae’s head to protect her from the sun. Aww.
Kyung-tak can’t recognize Young-hwi with a mask on, but shoots the assassin targeting his father all the same, sending Young-hwi tumbling from the rooftop with a bullet in his arm.
Meanwhile, Ha-eung introduces Myeong-bok to the Queen Dowager, who praises his intelligence and offers him a reward of Hyuk’s Poisoned Donuts. Dae-gyun tries to intervene that she should taste them first, which totally screams suspicion, but she still hands them off to Myeong-bok anyway. He takes a bite, and Minister Kim feels a slight twinge of remorse(?).
Kyung-tak chases a masked Young-hwi down, resulting in a fight between the police force and the tiny band of Anonymous members. His comrades volunteer to sacrifice themselves so Young-hwi can escape, which leaves him in a face-off against Kyung-tak on an deserted street.
What follows is an epically blurry fight, though Kyung-tak is confused when his opponent only parries his blows, declaring that he knows who the Anonymous Leader’s target was (Daddy Dearest), and because of that, he can’t let him live.
They fight s’more, and Kyung-tak ends up facing the business end of Young-hwi’s sword when he trips and falls over a rock. Young-hwi has the opportunity but can’t kill him, which gives Kyung-tak a chance… to slice the mask off Young-hwi’s face. His eyes go wide at the sight of his old friend, having been completely unaware of his secret identity.
It’s nice that Young-hwi faces him dead-on, well aware that the jig is up. When he decides to make a run for it Kyung-tak gets a clear shot at his back and hesitates, his hands shaking, and loses the nerve. He cries out in frustration as he fires the shot into the air, and Young-hwi pauses just long enough to register what’s happened with tears in his eyes. Aww, you guys.
Back at the banquet, the Queen Dowager finally takes a bite of a donut and doubles over in pain right afterward. Doctor Yoo declares it as arsenic poison and she’s rushed off to more private quarters, while Hyuk arrives just outside to hear the story from Ha-eung. He sends Young-rae to fetch his magical bag from Hwalinseo. There’s no time to waste! Except for all that time spent talking.
Everyone thinks screaming at the unconscious Queen Dowager will scare the poison right out of her, and Minister Kim’s motives are confusing. It seemed like the plan was to poison the Queen Dowager and blame it on Hyuk’s Donuts, but when Hyuk and Ha-eung come to argue with Doctor Yoo, he gets excited when Ha-eung stakes his life on Hyuk’s ability to save her, as though that was the end goal.
Only, then it seems like they clearly don’t want Hyuk to save her, citing the law that only the royal physicians may touch royalty to try and get him out. But all rules have a loophole, and Hyuk finds this one pretty fast – Doctor Yoo will perform the stomach pumping procedure with his own hands, and Hyuk will sit right beside him to direct him through it.
HA. The very image of this clown car operating room (I think this one’s a new record, there are more than a dozen people in here) with Doctor Yoo trying and kind of failing to put on latex gloves is hilarious. Hyuk directs everything from only a foot away, and calmly instructs him on how to insert the rubber tubing into the Queen Dowager’s mouth so it reaches her stomach. From there, it’s a matter of emptying the contents.
And then Hyuk sticks his face in the bowl filled with the Queen Dowager’s stomach fluid, smelling arsenic. Doctor Yoo’s dismissive since he knew it was arsenic from the start, for reasons only obvious to us.
Then it’s time to flush out her stomach, and also time for Kyung-tak to try and process the fact that his arch-nemesis and best friend are all one in the same. As expected, that’s no easy task, and will surely require much more angsting.
Stomach flushing complete, Hyuk guides the Queen Dowager into drinking a detox mix on her own, without the tube. Dae-gyun gets up and leaves while everyone remains transfixed on the procedure. The Queen Dowager sighs, “I… am alive.” Which sends a flood of relief through the room, with Hyuk nearly in tears.
Nothing cheers up a royal like everyone in the room sobbing as they offer up their lives, and Hyuk and Young-rae leave, job complete.
Except Dae-gyun and a group of policeman are waiting to arrest them just outside the gates. Dae-gyun accuses Hyuk of poisoning the donuts just so he could then cure the Queen Dowager and show off his medical skills, a claim which has Ha-eung balking – the queen’s maidservant and his son both ate the donuts and were fine, so how could the whole batch be poisoned?
Dae-gyun doesn’t know, and doesn’t care. Hyuk and Young-rae are dragged off to the bureau. Again? I wonder if Hyuk and the prison guards are on a first-name basis at this point.
A flustered Ha-eung tries to strategize ways to save Hyuk with Chun-hong, who keeps trying to convince him that they’re in way too deep for him to risk it all now. He was the Andong Kim clan’s target, not Hyuk. Chun-hong: “Whoever loses in this fight will end up losing everything.” Plus, she tells him that he can’t depend on Anonymous to help Hyuk break out, because only Young-hwi survived.
I love Ha-eung’s heart of gold, since he can only think about helping Hyuk, who’s suffering on his behalf. Out of options, he thinks of one last wild card – a “double-edged sword.”
Cut to: Kyung-tak. Wait, this can’t possibly be who Ha-eung meant, right? He’s been kept out of the ‘Poison the Queen’ plot, and sees the Council of Evil leaving his father’s room. Dae-gyun doesn’t miss an opportunity to stab at his little brother: “You have great luck, you almost became husband to a traitor!”
This is news to Kyung-tak, so his brother spells it out – his fiancée tried to poison the Queen Dowager.
Young-rae screams as she undergoes torture at the police bureau, with Hyuk tied down to a chair next to her and unable to help. His clothes are stained with blood but he seems pretty okay as he protests his innocence to Dae-gyun, the official interrogator.
Only she seems to be holding up miserably, just as we get to the heart of the interrogation… Dae-gyun claims he’ll free Hyuk and Young-rae if he’ll only name Ha-eung as the orchestrator of the poisoning. That’s the big fish they’re after.
But Hyuk hesitates, wanting to protect his friend (and maybe history, but there’s no knowing), and doesn’t out Ha-eung like they want. So they move onto Young-rae, who looks like she’s about to break any moment, and ask her to implicate Ha-eung or face the hot iron.
Dae-gyun gets right in her face, and this glorious change comes over Young-rae as she looks him dead in the eye and asks if this is what his faction did to her father, and if this is how they obtain their confessions.
With fire in her voice, she declares, “If I have committed a crime then I will take that punishment. However, just for me to stay alive, I cannot confess to a crime I did not commit.” Generic words, but awesome delivery.
So it’s the hot iron for her. Kyung-tak arrives just in time to do a whole lot of nothing, without much of a reaction to tell us whether he’s registering what he’s seeing or not.
As for Hyuk, he can only uselessly scream at them to stop as the sound of searing flesh is heard, and Young-rae falls unconscious.
A strong finish for an episode that spent most of its time setting the table, although it was a hard-earned scene with all the production ineptitude going on. I’ve harped on the jarring use of editing before so I won’t go into it again (rest assured – it’s still terrible), but one thing I’ve been noticing for far too many episodes now is an inability of the director to focus his own damn camera.
I’m guessing that someone didn’t notice this until the episode hit the editing room floor, but almost all of the Queen Dowager’s one-shots during the banquet scene were just out of focus, with the chair behind her being the sharpest thing in the shot. Not. Okay. It’s a horrible trend that also tends to happen when the background is brighter than the foreground, and it plagued Hyuk’s one-shots during the stomach-pumping scene, too. I’ve tried to ignore it, but it’s a problem that keeps getting worse, and is a little alarming considering the fact that we’ve just reached the halfway mark.
That sort of complete failure to do the very basic tenants of a director’s job make up most of this show’s woes, in that most of the things it tries to accomplish end up looking like the amateur hour. I can’t stay in a scene when there are fifty production problems there to take me right out, whether it’s out-of-focus actors, bad sound editing, no sound editing, or bad scene editing. It’s not fair for the fly-by-night genuine character moments to have to compete with bad production. It’s not fair for the viewers, either.
Putting all that aside, there were some nice developments peppered in this episode. Young-hwi has been played by an engaging actor with little to do thus far, and things started getting interesting once he sided with Ha-eung. Needless to say, I was worried that he’d be killed before we could see more of this de facto alliance, so I’m glad that he’s sticking around a little longer.
Ha-eung’s been great since moment one, although it was a little on-the-nose (not to mention, a little lazy) to insert Hyuk’s flashback to the future scene where Mina’s job is to tell him, and us by extension, not to perceive Ha-eung as a bad guy. Hyuk didn’t need that kind of push and neither did we, since Ha-eung’s done nothing but prove his worth so far. However, it’ll be nice to see how his heart of gold measures up when he’s got more at stake, which is bound to happen as he immerses himself in the rough political climate that’s waiting for him.
But if that kind of flashback is what Hyuk needed to really believe in Ha-eung as a competent leader, then go for it, Dr. Jin. Tell the story you want to tell however you want to tell it, just stay focused while you do it.