This episode showed a marked improvement from its predecessors by turning the focus inward, with a interesting political through line that’s starting to show its colors. It’s one I’d been waiting for ever since knowing Lee Ha-eung would be a key player, and even with the clunky directing you just can’t overshadow plain ol’ good acting.

Which all goes to say that a few improvements do not a good episode make, but it’s as close as we’ve gotten so far. I’m not quite sure how Hyuk and his weekly existential crises will fit in with the budding conspiracy story lines, but a few hundred quick cuts an episode should take care of that, right?

 
EPISODE 8 RECAP

Mom is reluctant to ask her son’s savior to leave, but she must, in order to prevent any rumors from spreading before Young-rae’s marriage. Hyuk understands. Once in his room he has a flashback of Mina playfully asking him why he hasn’t proposed yet, a decision which haunts him now.

There’s a family meeting, and Young-rae expresses her desire not to cancel the wedding, but to postpone it, so she can take some time to think. Her mother calls her out on her behavior – how would they look if they postponed a wedding that the Left Prime Minister agreed to?

Young-rae jumps on that, and accuses her mother of forcing the marriage to avoid looking bad. Teary-eyed and sincere, Mom replies, “You’re turning me into a mother who sells off her own children.” She explains that a married woman becomes part of her husband’s family, so her job as a mother is to scrutinize the dignity of that household, to know whether her daughter will receive love from her husband, and a myriad of other details. It’s clear she sees all of this and more in Young-rae’s future with Kyung-tak.

Mom leaves, hurt from Young-rae’s accusations, and I’d say Mom has won this one. Hyuk takes his leave the next morning and Young-rae follows him out, though he simply congratulates her on her upcoming wedding. She hesitates before she asks him what he meant when he talked of that “other world”, clearly wanting some confession from him, and he gently tells her that it was nothing to worry about.

Hyuk moves into Hwalinseo for the time being, and Heo Gwang points out correctly that he was kicked out. Hyuk: “That’s not it, I just thought I had troubled them too much.” Heo Gwang: “So you did get kicked out.” Ha.

He has to attend to a group of angry people outside, all demanding for a supply of penicillin that the doctors can’t make fast enough. Hyuk makes an announcement that their status, money, or connections won’t get them the prescription – they’ll be evaluated based on the severity of their symptoms only.

At home, Young-rae holds Hyuk’s doctor’s coat to reminisce just as Kyung-tak’s arrival is announced. They take a walk, with Kyung-tak barely able to hide his happiness and Young-rae looking as dour as ever. He notes her expression and wonders if she’s unwilling because the wedding is so sudden (even though it feels like they’ve been planning this thing for years), but he doesn’t give her a chance to respond as he takes her hand with a smile: “Come here, I have a place to show you.”

He leads her to an open field where he claims he was first defeated by Young-hwi back when they were children using sticks for swords, and ever since that day, he trained relentlessly as a swordsman. And after each day he engraved a word to show his resolution. He’s almost giddy (as close as Kyung-tak can get to it, anyway) as he shows her the rock where he engraved her name (written in Hanja) every day. D’aww.

Kyung-tak: “I was planning to wait forever. For you to come to me.” Then he stands, and places his hands on her shoulders to ask her directly, “Please come to me.”

Ooo, political conspiracy time. Ha-eung and Young-hwi have a late night meeting, where Ha-eung asks flat out for Young-hwi, and by extension Anonymous, to ally with him to take down the the Andong Kim clan.

Chun-hong arrives in time to interrupt, which gives Young-hwi a chance to scoot out after Ha-eung not-so-subtly brings up the reminder that Young-hwi might become in-laws with Minister Kim soon. Ha-eung: “It must be very strange.”

Hyuk readies to perform the surgery on the mysterious noblewoman, only to have her noble husband burst inside, demanding that Hyuk and Heo Gwang be dragged out for daring to take a knife to a noble neck. (Heo Gwang: “I didn’t touch the knife! I just followed him!” Ha.) She begins sobbing as she entreats her husband – though she knows it’s against a noble family’s dignity, she wanted the tumor removed at any cost.

Her husband is less enthused, wondering how she could agree to allowing a strange man in her room and all the rumors it would bring. “Rumors and knives do not scare me,” she sobs. “The only thing I am scared of… is you, My Lord.” Seems he’s been ignoring her ever since the tumor, so she wanted it gone in order to gain his attention again.

We find Hyuk and Heo Gwang comically wrapped up in straw mats in the nobleman’s yard (all the better to beat them with, don’tcha know). Heo Gwang bemoans their fate, asking Hyuk if he knows who that nobleman is: “He is the Queen Dowager’s nephew-in-law!” Nephew-in-law!

Nephew-in-law comes out, having had a change of heart, and asks Hyuk if he can remove the tumor cleanly. I love when Hyuk just calmly answers questions from various precarious positions – first it was on the Beating Cross, and now it’s in the Beating Taco. The calm faces he makes are literally priceless.

So it’s back to the surgery, and it’s as you’d expect – bloody and gross. Hyuk removes the inside of the mass from her neck (the “feeding vessel” as he calls it), and completes the rest. He informs her husband that the surgery was successful.

Since there’s been focus on the Andong Kim clan this episode, it’s worth noting that though they manipulate the court, the Queen Dowager (by this show’s standards) is above their influence as the eldest in the palace. It’s why Ha-eung has a keen interest in her, and why Hyuk’s suspicions are aroused when Ha-eung tells him that he might get called on by her soon.

They stop to see Young-rae buying wedding garments with Mom, with Kyung-tak covering the cost. She wears a sour face the entire time and only catches a brief glimpse of Hyuk. (But not without some Sad Violin!) Ha-eung sizes up the situation and tells Hyuk to forget her – matches are made in heaven, after all. A wry smile crosses Ha-eung’s face. The Love Doctor is in.

Doctor Yoo has a meeting with his secret informant, whose clothes tell us he’s one of the Hwalinseo doctors. He wants to know Ha-eung’s business at Nephew-in-law’s house.

Kyung-tak and Young-hwi share drinks and jokes, with the latter wondering if his future brother-in-law is satisfactory if he visits the gisaeng house often. Kyung-tak’s sheepish smile sells the moment, though the talk skews serious as Young-hwi entrusts his sister to Kyung-tak “if something were to happen to me.” Eek. Foreshadowing?

“If I had to die to save my fiancée’s life,” Kyung-tak replies, “I would gladly die. By any chance, if she has to die in order for me to live, I will die then too.” Dayum. Willing to sacrifice himself for her and follow her into the afterlife? That’s devotion. And also, I’m hoping, not more foreshadowing.

Chun-hong arrives to pour their drinks, though Ha-eung and Hyuk’s arrivals are announced not long after. Kyung-tak invites the duo to join them.

Mom makes a big to-do about the wedding preparations, excited as any mother. Young-rae is less than enthused, and excuses herself from the room.

Back in the gibang, Kyung-tak says tonight’s drinks are on him and offers to pour Hyuk a glass himself, only to be denied. He asks Hyuk if he’s not liking the congratulatory meeting for his marriage, which makes me wonder if this is the closest equivalent Kyung-tak will get to a Joseon Bachelor Party. Hyuk coldly replies, “Does it matter whether I like it or not?”

That sends a silence through the room, though Ha-eung works to keep the mood light. Hyuk volunteers to leave first when Kyung-tak starts in on the “Young-rae will be mine” talk, though Kyung-tak finally reveals his curiosity about Hyuk, who showed up out of nowhere with his amazing medical skills. I love how he asks, “Am I the only curious one?” Because when you think about it, he is, and you wonder why no one else cares about Hyuk’s identity.

But Hyuk counters his identity-questions with a totally unrelated one: “Can you make her happy? Please… make her happy.” (He uses the term ‘agassi’ when referring to Young-rae.) He leaves, and Chun-hong follows to warn him to keep his distance from her. Chun-hong: “If you stay near her, she will be in great danger.”

Hyuk asks her what she means, and she says that Young-rae is not the person he’s thinking of. It seems like she’s talking about Mina, and now Hyuk demands to know what she means, though they’re conveniently interrupted by a gisaeng with news that someone from the Nephew-in-law’s household has come for Hyuk.

Young-hwi comes home to find Young-rae leaving Hyuk’s room with a bundle. He picks up on the signs and asks her if she likes Hyuk. Young-rae: “Ever since I first saw him, he strangely attracted me. I kept thinking of him, and when I was with him, my heart fluttered. I don’t know why I’m acting like this either.” Sigh.

She knows it’s wrong, so she’s taking the last of his clothes to him so that nothing of his is left behind.

Hyuk finds the noblewoman sweating and shivering in bed due to an infection of the surgery site. (O rly? None of those wooden-mallet brain surgeries caused infections but this does?) Lucky for him he’s just invented penicillin, so he’s off to get some from the hospital.

Young-rae gets there first to deliver his clothes, and finds a shadowy man running from the laboratory… which he’s set on fire. Uh oh. She knows the medicine is inside and rushes into the burning building to grab one of the jars, but a burning shelf knocks her to the ground, setting her sleeve on fire.

Hyuk arrives moments afterwards, and heroically dashes inside the burning building to save Young-rae. He puts out the fire on her and carries her out, and while she’s managed to save one jar she’s in shock from her burn. He takes one look at it and flashes back to Mina post-car accident. Relax, Hyuk, it’s just a flesh wound. She’s not dead yet.

The other doctors arrive in time to panic, though curiously, Heo Gwang isn’t among them. He arrives later, and brings a bowl of water for Hyuk to treat Young-rae. He notes that it’s a second-degree burn and no nerves were killed, but because of that, the pain will be worse. They pour cold water on her arm to ease the hurt.

Heo Gwang looks mighty shifty when Kyung-tak and his fellow troops arrive on scene. (Aww no, was it really him?) Kyung-tak wants to know where Hyuk is, and we cut to him cutting the sleeve of Young-rae’s hanbok off, revealing one, count it, one full, naked arm. That’s positively pornographic.

Young-rae’s shoulder looks less like a second-degree burn and more like a crime scene, with horribly red blisters and mangled skin. Hyuk chides her for running into the fire as he begins to treat her, all the more shocked to hear that she was trying to save the medicine.

Kyung-tak interrupts them, his eyes growing wide with concern the moment he sees Young-rae’s arm. He blames Hyuk for her injuries, but finally consents to letting him treat her. He gives them a moment of privacy while he goes to get fresh cloth.

Kyung-tak is all teary-eyed and puppy-faced as he frets over Young-rae, and it’s adorable. Before he leaves, she tells him of the person she saw running from Hwalinseo after the fire.

Outside, Hyuk finds the medicine Young-rae braved the fire to save.

And the next morning (we’re back to the quick cuts), Mom practically faints over Young-rae’s burn, especially with her marriage looming.

Ha-eung sees the burnt remnants of Hwalinseo and thinks of the medicine that’s gone. One of the doctors mentions Young-rae getting hurt and Heo Gwang looks shifty again, pretty much cementing him as Doctor Yoo’s informant. Tsk tsk.

He’s most concerned about Hyuk, and barges in while he’s treating Young-rae and gives her only a passing mention all, Well it’s good it isn’t worse. But how about that medicine? It’s clear where his priorities lie. Also, how has her room turned into a thoroughfare when she’s half-naked by Joseon standards?

They leave Young-rae in peace to discuss the noblewoman’s condition (she’s getting worse), and Hyuk reveals that one jar of penicillin was saved. However, Ha-eung proves his mettle by agreeing with Hyuk about saving the medicine for Young-rae should Young-rae take a turn for the worst, since it’s medicine she risked her life to save. Ha-eung: “It’s not just anyone, it’s Young-rae.” Aww, Ha-eung. I love you even more now.

But Hyuk changes his mind about the medicine off-screen, so when he goes to Young-rae, he asks for her forgiveness, because he made a rule with the penicillin that he would give it to those who needed it most. And right now it’s the noblewoman, not Young-rae.

Young-rae smiles, and assures him he made the right decision – she would have been disappointed in him otherwise.

Hyuk gives the last of the penicillin to the noblewoman, and her husband worries over the lack of fresh supplies. Hyuk assures him that he’ll make more as soon as possible, and Nephew-in-law says he won’t forget Hyuk and Ha-eung’s help.

One of the doctors runs up just as Hyuk’s leaving, to tell him that Young-rae’s mother has taken her away.

The Council of Evil meets to discuss Hyuk treating the Queen Dowager’s niece, and guess that Ha-eung wants to make a connection with the Queen Dowager. Minister Kim orders Doctor Yoo to keep an eye on Hyuk, and for the rest of them to stay vigilant. (Except for Dae-gyun, who gets a “Just don’t create any more trouble!”)

As he’s leaving, Doctor Yoo hears the shocking news that Hyuk was able to save some of the medicine from his planned fire.

Hyuk shows up at home only to have Mom try to shoo him away, but of course, Young-rae has taken a turn for the worst so he goes inside. She’s running a fever so he has her outer clothes removed, and finds the burn festering. The maidservant is sent to Hwalinseo. As always, time is running out.

Kyung-tak has put his investigating hat on (disguised as his normal police hat), and deduces that someone intentionally set the fire at Hwalinseo. And with Heo Gwang being conspicuously absent from Doctor Roll Call, the culprit seems clear. They’re interrupted when Young-rae’s maidservant comes running.

In another half-a-second scene, we see Heo Gwang walking the streets in plainclothes.

As Young-rae battles with her fever, Kyung-tak comes barging through the door. (The awkward entrance is a little LOL-worthy.) He sees Young-rae’s state and asks how it happened – wasn’t there a jar of medicine she saved from the fire?

Cut to: Kyung-tak shoving Hyuk against the wall outside, asking incredulously, “You used the remaining medicine on someone else?” Hyuk nods, and says that the only thing they can do is treat her wound and bring her fever down.

Kyung-tak rages, “So you’re wishing for some luck without medicine? Is that something that should come out of a doctor’s mouth?! How can you use the medicine she risked her life to save on another person?” And he delivers a hard punch to Hyuk’s stomach. He warned him that a danger to Young-rae would mean a danger to him, and threatens Hyuk with death if he can’t save Young-rae.

Joo Pal and his cronies happen by Heo Gwang being mercilessly beaten by a gang of herb merchants whom he apparently owed money to. They pitch in to defend him.

Hyuk tends to Young-rae, growing frustrated that she’s only getting worse. He thinks to her words begging him not to go when he had cholera, and thinks that if he only had some penicillin…

Cue Heo Gwang, carried in by one of Joo Pal’s minions. He has a whole basket of penicillin he had sold to the merchants only to get back. So he’s not Doctor Yoo’s spy after all, but he still did a wrong. At least he’s atoning for it, claiming that he was blinded by money before seeing the error of his ways.

Kyung-tak arrives to arrest Heo Gwang, but Hyuk tells him that Heo Gwang just saved Young-rae’s life. It’s not an episode without a clown car operating room, and everyone crowds in while Hyuk administers the shot. (And there’s a macro shot of the injection, which has an air bubble in it, and all I’m thinking is, “Instant death!”)

Outside, Kyung-tak thanks Hyuk for saving Young-rae, who is “the most precious person to me.” Aww. But he warns Hyuk against ever going near her again, because even if he’s saved a few people important to him, “It just means that wherever you go, there is only bad luck and accidents.” HA. Truer words have never been spoken.

Kyung-tak: “You asked if I could make her happy. Do not worry. I will definitely make sure she is.”

Doctor Yoo finds Dae-gyun getting drunk in the gibang, and gives him some helpful advice on gaining Daddy’s trust; kill Ha-eung, who dares to get closer to the Queen Dowager and go against the Andong Kim clan, and Hyuk too. Chun-hong overhears their conversation outside.

Hyuk tends to an unconscious Young-rae as he thinks of all the people who’ve told him to steer clear of her – Mom, Chun-hong, Kyung-tak. He also thinks back to Mina’s last words that they would surely meet again, and tells Young-rae: “Be well.”

As he walks away, he thinks, “That’s right. This wasn’t my place from the beginning. I have to go back to the place where Mina is. But… Where should I go?”

Young-rae wakes up, and the first person she asks for (much to Mom’s chagrin) is Hyuk. Only they’ve got another visitor instead – it’s Yeon-shim, impatiently holding a scroll.

Ha-eung is giddy, because he’s finally going to get an audience with the Queen Dowager. Only he’s met by the business end of a few swords… looks like Dae-gyun has sent assassins after him. Oh no! Not one of the three characters I like!

But just as Ha-eung is about to be attacked, a masked figure comes to the rescue. It’s Young-hwi! Hooray for alliances.

And Hyuk, wandering alone in a forest, meets another set of assassins. He makes a run for it, and bumps into Young-rae, who pulls him to hide in the nearby shrubbery because the assassins have blinders on.

Ha-eung asks Young-hwi why he saved him, and it seems like their views on creating a new Joseon seem to align. As for how Young-hwi knew of Dae-gyun’s plot, we have yet to know.

Young-rae and Hyuk bicker back and forth over who shouldn’t have saved whom and where he’s going, with her wondering if he plans on leaving forever.

Hyuk: “I’m a person who can’t be here!” Oh, this is amazing. Is he going to have an existential crisis at least once a week? She doesn’t understand what he’s saying, so he clarifies: “I… came from a different world. From a very distant future.”

And Ha-eung, dressed in his Sunday best, finally gets his visit with the Queen Dowager and offers her a formal bow.

 
COMMENTS

See, Dr. Jin? Look what happens when you utilize your already-established cast to do things instead of side character cameos. Granted, we can’t have one of our leads getting sick every week, but having the focus stay on Young-rae was a nice reprieve. Even though I still can’t connect with her as a character and find her one of the weak links in the story chain.

I don’t think that this show is intentionally leaving clues around so much as forgetting about the hints they drop, so I’m still having a bit of trouble reconciling Young-rae’s issues with Kyung-tak, other than the now-known fact that she loves/likes/crushes on Hyuk. At first I thought it had to do with the throwaway scene showing her Catholicism (considering Minister Kim’s dislike toward Catholics), but that’s a long stretch I’m making and one the show hasn’t bothered to hint at or solidify whatsoever. It’s fine that she likes Hyuk now, and I suppose not uncommon in dramas for her to have fallen in love at first sight, but I wish we’d get some sort of explanation on her other than the fact that Mina believed in parallel universes. Is she an alternate-universe version Mina? And if she is, then why is she exactly the same?

I’ve appreciated thus far that Hyuk has mostly kept his distance from her as far as romance goes, ready to leave matters in Kyung-tak’s hands once he was sure she’d be taken care of. Of course, she seems like the one who’ll initiate the problems, which I’m really not happy about facing in the future. I can see where Dr. Jin is being manipulative in making Kyung-tak sympathetic so we’ll inevitably feel even worse for him when the heartbreak comes, and I’ve still totally fallen for it. I feel bad for the guy, and like that he sits in a gray area of sorts, being more or less coerced into taking part in his family’s wickedness. But at least he has the sense to know when he’s doing wrong, and is able to convey the fact that, if given a spine, he’d do more right.

While I’ve mentioned how unpleasant the macro shots of the surgeries are, I still have to give credit where credit is due. They’re gross, but there’s more attention to detail in the surgery shots than there is in the whole show. It’s probably why we get shots solely devoted to the close-up grotesqueries, simply because they can hold up to that kind of scrutiny, for the most part. I thought it was a nice (albeit very, very gross) touch that Young-rae’s burn blisters oozed fluids when Hyuk was jabbing away at them. It’s the little things that count.

I’m not going to get too excited about the fact that Hyuk’s just now thought about getting home, because with this show’s track record, he’ll forget about it by the middle of the next episode. It’d be nice for this show to draw out some of his bigger conflicts more, because they are interesting, but I’ve been burned by this show for wishful thinking before. As it is, I’m most interested in Ha-eung’s story, so seeing how that plays out in the coming episodes is more exciting than thinking about what new disease Hyuk will have to flawlessly overcome next.

 
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