Gaksital: Episode 7
If everything came crumbling down in the previous episode, now it’s time for our characters to sort through the rubble and try to make sense of the pieces. It’s an episode that is rather light on the Kang-to focus, because it’s time for everyone else to try to figure out who Gaksital is, what his agenda is, and whether he’s even still of this world.
But while Kang-to is something of a passive figure in the episode, there’s a nice mirroring of his conflict (internalized and fought within himself) with everyone else’s (externalized, with literal manhunts to track down the hero-villain): Just as the world is wondering Who is Gaksital?, the only person who knows the answer to that question is asking that same thing, but on an existential level.
SONG OF THE DAY
Monni – “가줄래” (Go away) [ Download ]
EPISODE 7 RECAP
After Kang-to’s Worst Day Ever, he kneels by the twin graves of Mom and hyung, sobbing for Kang-san to speak to him. He cries, “How am I supposed to live now? How?!”
His grief takes him to fury as he sees Gaksital’s mask and cane lying nearby, and he demands, “Was that so important? More than our family?” Oof, and yes, a valid question, one that I’ve been wondering myself. Kang-to beats himself on the chest and screams.
His anger at Kang-san for taking up the hero’s role is felt by Baek Gun, watching nearby, who knows that he was the one to burden Kang-san.
Next thing we know, Kang-to is bursting into the police station dressed as Gaksital, beating Kenji to a pulp. Mok Dan is tied up in the interrogation room, but as we now know, he’s not here for her. Kang-to lands the gruesome deathblow just as Shunji arrives to see his brother gurgle his last and fall.
Shunji grabs a sword and launches himself at Kang-to, who has no weapon. After a short fight, Kang-to launches himself to the second story and makes his getaway. Shunji grabs his brother’s gun and pursues.
The police station fills with cries of “It’s Gaksital!” Mok Dan hears it and smiles. Chief Kimura, on the other hand, runs into the room to see his son lying on the ground, which might make me feel sorry for him if he weren’t totally evil.
Shunji runs out just as Kang-to gallops away on horseback, and he takes a shot that misses. Shunji jumps onto a police motorcycle and drives off after him.
Mok Dan manages to kick down her jailer and frees herself from her handcuffs. With the entire station in chaos, she slips out of the building and is grabbed by Sun-hwa, who sees her outside and hurries her away to safety.
The horse-motorcycle chase continues into the woods, making me seriously worry for the safety of that poor horse. Don’t shoot it! Luckily, Shunji’s much worse with a gun than he is with the sword, and the pursuit goes on a while, up the mountain road.
Except… I spoke too soon. A bullet lands and the horse falls, downing its rider. Kang-to falls down a steep incline, flying into the air and landing in the river far below.
He lands hard in the water, unconscious and unmoving. Up above, Shunji looks for a sign of life, but the water is still. He’s joined by the rest of the police squad, who raise their guns on the order to shoot.
As bullets zoom by Kang-to’s body in the water, Mok Dan pauses in her getaway, like she senses something amiss. Sun-hwa grabs her and keeps her moving. Kang-to keeps sinking.
The police scour the ravine for Gaksital’s body, sending a diver into the water. Nothing.
Kenji’s subordinate Koiso tries to suggest calling the search quits, but fuming Shunji growls that they must find the body. He refuses to go back empty-handed and charges into the water himself.
Koiso stops him, telling him that anybody who falls from that height would die; that’s where the Afterlife Boulder gets its nickname. He urges Shunji to go home tonight and resume the search in daylight. As the officers are ordered to retreat, a hand picks up the white Gaksital mask from the water.
At the station, hapless Abe has to break even more bad news to cap off an already crappy day: Um, about that prisoner… that Mok Dan girl… She… escaped. It’s actually pretty amusing, poor sidekick. Koiso promises to recapture her, but Shunji says that confirming whether Gaksital is dead or alive is the higher priority.
Shunji reports on his pursuit of Gaksital to his father, who is calmly practicing golf putts like nothing has happened. Although they have yet to recover the body, the fall itself is good enough for Dad, who immediately puts in a call to the paper announcing that that Shunji killed Gaksital. He thinks nothing of using the occasion to bolster his own glory, calling the accomplishment the fruits of Kenji’s self-sacrifice and Shunji’s bravery.
Shunji protests at the premature announcement, but Chief Kimura declares that Gaksital has damaged their family name: “Even if he were alive, he would have to die by your hand.”
Shunji isn’t convinced, but vows that even in the off chance that Gaksital is still alive, he will do his utmost to help Officer Lee Kang-to in capturing him. Ooh. Conflict.
Shunji goes to the hospital to see his brother’s body, trembling as he sobs over the corpse. He cries, “Hyung, I’m sorry. Even though I knew what a hard time you had with Father, I called you a puppet. I’m sorry!”
In the morning, Mok Dan huddles in Sun-hwa’s house, thinking back to the times Gaksital saved her. Worried for his safety, she runs out into the woods where he’d taken her last time, hoping for a sign of him. By now she’s almost certain that Gaksital is “young master,” aka the boy from her childhood, aka Young, aka Kang-to. (Why does everyone have a zillion identities?) Especially since that explains why he keeps saving her (aside from the fact, perhaps, that Gaksital is simply a good hero who saves people).
Sun-hwa reminds her that Gaksital escaped from the station, saying he’ll be fine. She leaves out the part about Shunji chasing him with gun blazing, perhaps to spare Mok Dan the worry. Meanwhile, Mok Dan is anxious to get in touch with Shunji, who’d promised that he’d find out whether Gaksital was alive or dead.
As for Kang-to: He wakes up in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV. He staggers to his feet, bleary-eyed and dizzy, and makes his way into the hallway. In his fuzzy vision, he sees Kenji’s body being wheeled down the hall toward him.
Shunji comes up to him worriedly, assuming that he was also attacked by Gaksital. He’s confused and upset, wondering how the Gaksital who was shot by Kang-to could reappear so healthy and able. Kang-to finally loses his fight to stay conscious and collapses.
The newspaper announces Gaksital’s death, painting him as a monster who has finally met his end. The citizens are aggrieved (“This rotten world! Who can we believe in now?”), but Count Lee and his countess are overwhelmed with glee. They dance in celebration.
The circus contingent is shocked, not least because they hadn’t known Shunji was the police chief’s son. Now Sun-hwa admits she saw Shunji chasing Gaksital yesterday, though she’d hoped she was wrong. Ever loyal to her crush, Sun-hwa argues that of course Shunji fought back because Gaksital killed his brother. Sun-hwa’s younger brother is equally devoted, refusing to believe their beloved teacher could do it. Little Bro storms off to confirm it with him directly.
Boss Jo concedes that the article seems “not entirely lies”; they’re wary of newspapers, but this report has the ring of truth. Mok Dan clings to her hope, however: He’s not dead, he can’t be! If he were truly killed, the papers would have triumphantly printed photos of his dead face and revealed his identity. True enough.
Rie comes to the same conclusion, reporting to her father that Gaksital’s death cannot be confirmed without his corpse. They must also reveal his identity and see if he is related to freedom fighter Lee Sun’s family. She has doubts, because Gaksital’s latest victim was unrelated to the Lee Sun murder incident, and furthermore, he didn’t leave the Kishokai mark on Kenji’s body.
Chairman Ueno tells Rie to consider all possibilities, and directs her first to figure out why the Kyungsung police have been unable to capture him. She asks for his explanation, and he replies that it’s because the Korean people have united in spirit to cheer Gaksital on.
Rie says that now she understands why Gaksital mustn’t be allowed to continue as the people’s hero. Chairman Ueno advises her to be careful of the people banding together; divide and conquer is the smart strategy.
Rie heads to the Angel Club, where she presents proprietress Tasha and the other girls with expensive gifts. Her persona here—as singer Lala—is friendly and bright as she explains that instead of returning to Tokyo as planned, she’s decided to continue performing in Kyungsung. She asks Tasha if she might have a chance at performing here, and Tasha is sufficiently flattered to tell her she can make it work.
Rie thanks her profusely. The Angel Clubbers welcome “Lala unni” into their midst, and the girls get to rehearsing.
At Kenji’s funeral, Police Director Kono pays his respects to Kimura pere and Shunji. The mood is tense as always, and Kono remarks that it’s a shame such a terrible event should occur just after Kimura took over the Gaksital case. Just as I’m thinking, Dude, SO not the time to say I told you so, Chief Kimura replies that he’ll console himself with Gaksital’s death. Even for a cold-hearted villain, I’m thinking that glass is a little too full; your son just died!
Kono makes a veiled barb, saying that there’s a lot of talk about how a mere schoolteacher managed to capture the man that the police couldn’t. He advises Kimura to find the corpse asap.
Back to the river it is. Koiso heads the search party, and from a distance, Mok Dan observes.
She finds a spot away from the police search crew and starts diving. She spies her own dagger on the riverbed and retrieves it. Ooh, that’s a great connection; now she believes more than ever that Gaksital is her first love. Which… yes, he is, but the truth of the matter is completely upside-down and backwards from the romanticized version she’s playing in her head.
Mok Dan clutches the dagger, relieved to have one mystery solved: “I guessed right. The young master was Gaksital.”
Kang-to is haunted by nightmares—or are they not nightmares if the scenes are all true? He dreams of beating his brother, of shooting him, of killing Kenji, shooting Mok Dan, seeing Mom dead… When you put it like that, it’s a wonder he survived Episode 6 at all.
Kang-to awakens to find himself hooked back up to his IV. He feigns sleep at the entry of Dr. Oh, who is told that Kang-to was found in the street by a gentleman, who brought him here. If not for Shunji, they wouldn’t have known his identity.
Dr. Oh clucks, “With Gaksital’s pursuer lying here like this, no wonder Kenji died.” Maybe now’s not the time to exult in the irony, but I love how perfect Kang-to’s alibi is, because everyone knows how much he hates Gaksital.
Abe bursts in, crying in relief to have found his boss. Aw. He’s a dolt, but he’s also a big squishy teddy bear, and maybe one of the few people in the world who cares about Kang-to.
Shunji sits with his nanny, who cries at Kenji’s memorial altar. Kenji was an ass to her, which Shunji reminds her to try to urge her to stop crying, but nanny has infinite understanding for the boy who tried so hard to win his father’s love.
As Shunji walks down the hallway, he hears soft sounds of crying coming from a room, and slides open the door to see his father sobbing at his desk.
It’s a sight that surprises him, and I admit to being relieved at some sign of humanity from Chief Kimura. So is Shunji, we can surmise; he’d seemed shocked and offended at his father’s lack of emotion before, and at least now there’s proof that the father did care for his son.
At the circus, Shin Nan-da sets up a memorial offering to Gaksital. But instead of offering simple prayers to the deceased, he treats it like a mini-shrine and prays as though Gaksital is a god, asking for guidance and fortune for the circus. Haha, why is that so funny?
Dong-nyun takes offense, overturning the table and insisting that there’s no proof that Gaksital is dead.
Having left the hospital, Kang-to drinks alone at a restaurant, where he attracts a small crowd of derisive citizens, who shoot him dirty looks. The bystanders scatter when he gets up and leaves, but there’s one man—the one he beat up once, for beating up his brother—who thinks Kang-to’s about to attack him and braces for his fury.
But Kang-to just walks on silently. He spots a group of children singing a song and skipping through the marketplace, which reminds him of how his brother once led the happy crew.
The kids recognize him and scatter in fear—all but one little boy who stands his ground and tells him, “I’m not scared of you. Our leader said you’re not a bad person. But your hyung, our leader—where is he?” The little boy starts to cry, and a tear rolls down Kang-to’s face too.
But his presence brings tension, and another crowd gathers in the marketplace, shooting him hateful stares. The young rebel throws a rock that hits Kang-to in the torso, and at that Kang-to challenges his attackers to come out and face him—the ones who burned his house down, who beat up his brother. Only, that reminds him that he belongs to that latter group too.
Another man throws another rock, and this one hits Kang-to in the head. That gets the whole village going, and soon he’s being pelted with vegetables, eggs, shoes. Kang-to stands there, in pain, just taking it.
Shunji bicycles through the street, thinking of his father’s grief, when he hears about Kang-to being attacked. He runs to his friend’s side and supports him just as policemen arrive to put a stop to the scene. Shunji glares fiercely at the crowd, and helps Kang-to stagger away.
Shunji hurriedly bikes away with Kang-to seated behind him, urging him to the hospital right away. Kang-to says weakly that he’s fine, that he doesn’t hurt, but Shunji fires back, “You aren’t hurt? You’re crying right now—did you think I wouldn’t know?”
Shunji apologizes for being preoccupied with his brother’s funeral to go see Kang-to, and cries that he really liked Kang-san, too.
Shunji: “If only Gaksital were captured sooner, that wouldn’t have happend to my brother, your mother and Kang-san hyung. If only you were at home instead of chasing him! How could Koreans have done such a thing?” Now both friends are crying, and Shunji asks what he’s supposed to do now.
Kang-to cries into Shunji’s back and thinks to himself, “I’m sorry.”
A celebration unfolds at a gibang, where our council of five frolic with gisaengs and make merry. Chief Kimura is informed that a woman has come to see him, and finds Rie waiting in her car.
Rie informs him that the money Gaksital stole has been “scattered throughout the market.” And yet, despite knowing that it’s stolen property, not one person has reported it. Rie suggests that Chief Kimura take this opportunity to teach a lesson, that possessing stolen goods is a serious crime.
Kimura musters some outrage to say, “How dare he steal Kishokai’s money and throw it at the marketplace?” He offers to pay the villain back for messing with them.
That night, police officers descend on the marketplace and begin beating up the citizens.
Shunji arrives at home and wakes Kang-to, who has fallen asleep during the ride. He urges him inside, but Kang-to starts to leave immediately. He’s got no home to return to, Shunji points out—but perhaps his chaotic, grief-stricken mind isn’t up to receiving Shunji’s kindness right now. Or maybe it’s his guilt over killing Shunji’s brother that can’t handle being here.
Shunji asks fearfully what he’s intending to do, worried Kang-to might act rashly: “If something happened to you too, how am I supposed to live?”
At that, Kang-to stops and levels him with an intense stare, saying fiercely, “After those bastards did that to my family, and to me, why the hell would I die?”
Shunji tells him encouragingly that yes, he’s the tough Lee Kang-to who never let it get to him even when his own people cursed him: “So if Gaksital is alive, then you get him. Got it?”
Kang-to turns away and walks off silently. He arrives at a house and enters, only to stop short at the Serial Killer Wall lining the room—this is where his brother plotted his movements, and the newspaper clippings feature Gaksital’s targets.
The articles laud the villains for their service to society, which we know is a bunch of propagandistic crap. Chief Kimura, embezzling bank president Jo, the count, the hospital director… All here, all researched carefully in great detail. Kang-to recalls his brother’s last words to him, about wanting to “take care of everything” without burdening Kang-to. The story’s starting to come together…
In the room, he finds Gaksital’s mask and cane—ah, so Baek Gun was the one who retrieved it from the river—and leaves carrying them. Baek Gun arrives at the house just as Kang-to steps out of it, but the men pass each other without a word. Walking on, Kang-to arrives at his brother’s gravesite, and is greeted by a surprise: Gaksital’s horse, grazing there.
So now it’s Kang-to who dons the mask, dressed in white, and takes up the mantle of hero.
Oof, my favorite thing about this episode was the setting up of future conflict between Shunji and Kang-to. I’m not sure Kang-to’s sorry for killing Kenji and I don’t know that I could read that from his reactions, but he is sorry for what that does to Shunji; the scene where they cry together was particularly touching.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the multiple first-love conflicts, if we must have it, I appreciate that at least those enhance the story. Mok Dan loves Young and Gaksital and hates Kang-to; I can only imagine the huge mindfuck that’ll accompany her realization that they’re all the same. But one Gaksital killed the other. And as far as she’s concerned, Shunji has two strikes against him for being friends with Kang-to and for supposedly killing Gaksital. Which is just deliciously ironic when you consider who everyone is underneath their secret identities.
As for the Gaksital transformation: So Kang-to sees the wall of weird and starts to see what his brother was doing, which seems to be the trigger for him taking on the Gaksital guise—for real, this time, not as a mask for wrathful vengeance. At least, I’m presuming he’s on the same page as his brother’s mission, but you never can be too sure; with Kang-to, it’s hard to tell what his motivation might be because he’s such a loose cannon.
I love that the drama’s doing that with his character, even if it makes him difficult to like sometimes, or at least approve of. We often say we embrace darkness, but there’s a line between dark hero and irredeemable anti-hero, isn’t there? I hope this drama addresses that darkness more, rather than glossing over the transition from smirking violent Kang-to into Shining White Knight Gaksital v.2.0; they can’t expect us to accept him as hero now just because he’s wearing the outfit.
Because as much as I appreciate Kang-to’s humanity and complexity as a character, I’m not buying his transformation—not yet, not if this is it. You can’t just beat him up a bit and give him a few crying scenes and expect the character change to be complete, because the distance that must be traveled to get Kang-to from Episode 1 to hero-dom is so vast. If he’s the same guy, only with a new target, that’s not enough for me. He needs to change from the inside out, stamp out that impulse that turns to violence first, that hurts the ones he loves (and I don’t even mean all the shooting).
To wit: Even when he shot his brother, he smirked triumphantly; it was only after he saw who he’d shot that he had any remorse. That suggests that he only feels regret because this was someone he loved. I want that to change. I want Kang-to to become the kind of person who cares about people outside his immediate circle, who cares about people as a concept and an ideal, not just about specific individuals. If he’s going to buoy the Joseon spirit and fight for their independence, he has to traverse the gulf that separated his ideology from that of his entire family—the one that put the movement above all else. I actually hope he doesn’t go all the way there, but he has to start seeing the people as one united spirit. The very thing Rie is determined to prevent.
So in that sense, I don’t see Kang-to as ready to be a hero. Although, I see how the drama could really win me over if they took the approach of him becoming Gaksital as a form of penance, rather than as the path to heroism. If donning hero’s gear became the process for change, and not the end result, then I’m onboard that train.