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Queen In-hyun’s Man: Episode 15

Awesome. Such a kickass exploration of the consequences of messing with time and fate. So you defeat the baddies and win your freedom and your love. What else is there to fear? As it turns out, a pissed-off mystical talisman is a helluva lot more scary than mere mortals, and more dangerous, especially when it wants its pound of flesh. It’s enough to make you go fetal, biting your nails helplessly. Gulp. Hold me.

I know the finale has aired, but be warned: If you spoil the ending for me, I will hex you.

SONG OF THE DAY

Yozoh – “동경소녀” (Longing girl) [ Download ]

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EPISODE 15 RECAP

That night, after Boong-do joins Hee-jin for good in the present day, Hee-jin lays in bed awash in giddiness. Unable to sleep, she takes out a keepsake box and looks at the talisman Boong-do gave her earlier, telling her, “I have no need of it now. Keep it for me.” Aw, in Boong-do-speak, that’s about as concrete a promise to stay with you as a person could give.

Hee-jin tucks it away in the box, then wonders if she should put it in a secure vault for safekeeping. She’ll take it to the bank tomorrow.

Boong-do calls from his own apartment to ask her a question: “On a clock, does the long hand have to hit the 9 for it to be 45 minutes past the hour?” She confirms, and he rattles off a whole slew of calculations to confirm more clock-related questions, saying that he’d guessed how to read a clock before, “But I should know for sure now.”

Then it’s on to things like “What is Christmas?” Hee-jin: “It’s the day Jesus was born.” Boong-do: “Who’s Jesus?”

I love that Hee-jin squirms at his questions, which are all very simple things that everybody knows, but which are annoyingly difficult to explain from absolute zero. Like his question about why people changed the direction of writing books from right-to-left to left-to-right.

She complains, “Why are you so curious about so many things?” but you can hardly stay upset when he reasons that he should get used to this world quickly so he won’t embarrass her by acting the fool. She’s adorably frustrated as he zooms along on his quest for knowledge: “This thing called a necktie. It seemed as though most working people wear them. What is the reason? They look uncomfortable.”

She thinks of an answer and chirps that there IS a reason for the neckties, and says she’ll go over in person ’cause it’s hard to explain. Are you going to grab him for a kiss? Hee. Either that, or throttle him.

Hee-jin runs across the neighborhood to his place, though he’s all, I wasn’t THAT curious. She picks a tie and explains that wives used to tie these for their husbands in the morning, and demonstrates. Then she pulls him in and gives him a kiss, HA! I knew it.

Hee-jin’s so proud of herself that she dissolves into giggles, crowing that this is the necktie’s purpose. But Boong-do raises not so much as a single eyebrow, and tells her, “When I listen to you, it seems as though the reason for everything in this world is to enable kisses. What kind of lustful world is this?” Hahaha.

She answers, “I didn’t realize, but you’re right. Why, do you dislike it?” He says in his awesome deadpan, “Why would I? It is lustful, and I like it very much.”

Giggling, she looks around for something else to “explain” and leads him away. He smiles, “I am curious for yet another absurd kissing explanation.”

It’s 3 am when Soo-kyung wakes up and finds Hee-jin gone, grumbling in annoyance. Hee-jin’s snoozing on Boong-do’s arm as he reads in bed, and mumbles sleepily, “Just twenty more minutes.” After all, her place is only five minutes away—a thought that makes her marvel, since it wasn’t long ago that he had to travel 300 years each time to be with her.

As she falls asleep, she arranges a date for tomorrow, telling him he can study in the morning, but after that it’s time to play. The next afternoon she leaves the drama set in high spirits, with Soo-kyung sending her off with warnings to be careful while they’re in public.

Hee-jin finds Boong-do waiting for her at a restaurant and notes his knotted tie. He tells her that his teacher taught him all the wrong things, so he had to resort to figuring it out himself. She promises to order him something tasty, but he says he already ordered: mushroom cream fettuccine. He has no idea what it is, “But surely it won’t kill me.”

Cut to: Boong-do, struggling to choke down his rich pasta. Hee-jin points out cheekily that he ought to have taken her recommendation, ’cause he probably feels like he’s dying right now. Boong-do manages a twisted smile and says it’s good; if his expression looks funny, it’s because he’s agog over its deliciousness.

Cutely, she keeps poking fun (“You’re done eating already? But you said it’s delicious”) and he refuses to admit he chose badly (“It’s so delicious, I am trying to savor it”).

She offers him her tomato-based spaghetti, but he keeps refusing it, determined to see his meal through. Then she feeds him a bite, he registers the difference, and immediately swaps plates. A-dor-a-ble.

They sit there with feet interlocked, sharing a plate, re-creating the Lady & Tramp noodle-kiss. Boong-do notes, “I should eat this every day.”

They’ve had a running conversation throughout the show about going to visit Florence, and now that he’s settling here, Hee-jin wants to take the trip. Say next month, after her drama wraps. As they walk through the park after eating, she notes that their big problem will be the passport—that might get complicated.

Boong-do assures her he’ll take care of it, because he’s doing some reading on how to create an identity. Ha. She says he’s turning into a criminal, and he says there’s no other way.

He wonders at the street cart selling cotton candy, and Hee-jin tells him it’s super-spicy. He knows she’s messing with him again and points out that everyone’s eating it happily, and she returns that it’s ’cause they’re “agog” at the taste.

He gets up to buy one (she requests three), and they send googly eyes at each other, perfectly content. I’m starting to feel uneasy because this much happiness can’t last… and then Boong-do disappears. ACK!

He literally just poofs away. Hee-jin looks away for a second and turns back to find him vanished. Whaaaa?

Boong-do reappears in the forest, registering the change with confusion. Then a piece of yellow paper flutters down from the sky and lands at his feet: his talisman? How’d it get here from Hee-jin’s keepsake chest? A chill just went down my spine.

Hee-jin missed the moment of disappearance and looks around for any sign of him. Her call doesn’t go through, and she starts to feel uneasy. Boong-do tries his phone as well, but gets nothing.

He sees a pair of travelers walking nearby, dressed in Joseon garb, and looks down at the talisman. Just as a dark shadow creeps over it, turning the yellow black. Oh holy hell. That shiver I felt a moment ago? That’s nothing compared to the one I feel now.

Hee-jin calls Soo-kyung and asks her to check her box for her, and confirms that the talisman isn’t there.

Boong-do thinks back to caveats that came attached with the talisman: that it wouldn’t necessarily “obey” his will just because it belonged to him, or Yoon-wol’s will because she requested it, or the monk’s because he wrote it.

He heads to the gisaeng establishment in search of Yoon-wol, dressed in black and hiding his face under a large hat. She’s currently entertaining at a party, though the other gisaengs note that she stepped aside to restring her gayageum and has been away a while.

With that tip, Boong-do heads for a back room, and finds not Yoon-wol but an enormous muthafuckin’ smear of blood on the floor. Oh crap. On the bloodstained step outside, he finds a hairpin. He follows the trail of blood and spots another pin and a red sash on the ground.

Boong-do quickens his steps and continues, until he sees something that makes him drop those clues altogether: Yoon-wol’s body, slumped over, her neck ravaged and bloody. Boong-do registers her death and breaks down in tears.

In flashback, we see what happened: Ja-soo attends one of the parties and is in a foul mood as he drinks alone outside. He spots Yoon-wol walking across the courtyard, carrying her gayageum, and follows her to the back room. He accuses her of feeling complacent now that Minister Min is dead, furiously cutting her down with his sword. Then he drags her body out, leaving her where she now lies.

Boong-do cries as he places the fallen pin back into Yoon-wol’s hair, then gets up with furious purpose. He finds a gisaeng, asking where the guest with the sword is. He bursts into that room with eyes burning, gripping his sword, and removes the hat to reveal his face.

Ja-soo is, naturally, shocked, since Boong-do is supposed to be dead. But he’s not too concerned with the particulars of how this is possible, because at least now he gets to kill him. He charges Boong-do, and the other partygoers run screaming as the two men engage in a knock-down drag-out fight.

Ja-soo’s the first to score an injury, slicing Boong-do across the arm. Boong-do is fueled by wrath and fights back hard, but he sustains a second injury, across the leg.

Their blades lock in a clash, with Boong-do on the defensive… and then Boong-do does something shocking. He lets his blade slide away, so that Ja-soo’s sword is cutting down directly onto his shoulder, and he grabs the blade directly with his bare hand. Ack! What can he mean to do?

Boong-do musters the strength to throw Ja-soo’s sword off with his bare hand, then hurls his sword at him like a javelin. (Ah, he was freeing his blade so he could launch it.) He misses and his sword embeds in the wood paneling instead, but Boong-do is so enraged that Ja-soo is spooked.

Boong-do is unarmed, but charges anyway right at Ja-soo, never mind the fact that Ja-soo’s holding up his sword and shoves it into his side. WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING. What happened to, I want to live? Boong-do’s charge literally impales himself upon Ja-soo’s sword, but amazingly, he continues his mission: Kill Ja-soo, no matter what.

With the sword still stuck in his side, Boong-do grabs his own from the wall and surprises Ja-soo with a slice across the throat, sending him slumping to the ground. Dead. Well, thank the lord for that, but what about YOU?

Hee-jin paces in the now-empty park, loath to leave it, while Boong-do travels to the temple to see the monk, who is relieved to see him alive after all. Boong-do tells him that Yoon-wol, however, is dead. He was unable to bring her body for fear of being caught, but he feels she would have wanted to be brought here and asks the monk to see to it.

In the morning, the gibang is a crime scene, with Ja-soo and a number of his minions lying dead. The police try to make sense of the bloodbath, and why the killer asked after Yoon-wol, who also lies dead.

The monk warns Boong-do that the authorities are looking for him and urges him to hasten his departure. Boong-do agrees that he should leave, lest the reappearance of a dead man breed new chaos, but wonders if that is no longer a possibility. Taking out the talisman, he shows it to the monk—it has turned completely black.

Boong-do says it changed the moment Yoon-wol died. Ah, so he sensed something of that sort when the talisman transformed in his hand. The monk seems to think Yoon-wol was what called him back, while Boong-do wonders whether the principle of the talisman will still hold, saving him at the moment of death.

Hee-jin is still in the park in the morning, telling herself that he’ll come back while brushing away tears.

Boong-do makes his way to his secret spot in the forest where he makes his time-leaps, finding his modern clothing. He changes, then takes the blackened talisman to test whether it works. Eeeek. It’s not a face of confidence he wears, and he must be bracing for possible death, but what choice has he?

He holds the blade to his throat, which must be how he has been making his leaps all along. (One quick slash triggers the jump.) He closes his eyes and starts to draw the blade… and poof. Oh thank god.

Boong-do reappears in the park to sounds of modern life, and now his phone turns on. Hee-jin answers in tears, and he apologizes for worrying her.

He’s surprised that she’s still in the park and spots her off in the distance, sitting where he left her. He makes his way toward her and says that there was some trouble with the talisman, then asks if she’d stayed the entire night. She cries, “Of course, where else could I wait when this is where you disappeared?”

She sees him now, approaching her, and he speeds up his pace to run the last distance toward her… and then he disappears. NO!

She looks around frantically. He sees his Joseon clothing on the ground, marking his return, and his eyes well with tears like he’s realized he’s in some sort of Time-enforced prison. Resistance is futile—how can you beat a mystical power greater than yourself?

He falls to his knees and cries. So does she.

That night, Boong-do says goodbye to the monk, saying that the head monk is his last hope. He’s making the long journey to find him.

Soo-kyung stews all day waiting for Hee-jin, then storms off to Boong-do’s apartment to confront her, only to find Hee-jin slumped alone in the empty house. Soo-kyung wonders what’s the cause of all her mood swings, then curses “that rotten bastard” for doing this to her, determined to fight this one out. Where is he? When’s he coming home?

Hee-jin says brokenly, “What do I do? I might not be able to see him again. I think that was the end.” She clings to Soo-kyung sobbing, “How can that be the end? How could this be?”

Boong-do rides all day, and the next. And then, we cut to one month later.

Hee-jin goes through the motions of daily life in a daze, while Boong-do rides on, nearly falling off his horse in exhaustion. Finally he arrives at his destination, clinging to his one hope. But it’s only bad news that awaits him: The head monk died last month.

Boong-do falls into despair, thinking of Hee-jin crying for him. He contemplates the talisman; he’d explained to the monk that when it ripped, the other world reset, as though he’d never been there. Uh-oh, are you thinking what I’m afraid you’re thinking?

He’d asked the monk if the same would happen again, and if Hee-jin would also forget him this time. He’d blinked back tears as he explained that there would be someone worrying herself sick waiting for him, “But I have no way of getting there. If it takes a year, or ten, if only I could go there I would. But I can’t go. If she were to wait for me in sadness, would it not be better for her to forget me entirely?”

Now he wonders if burning the talisman would erase all those memories.

Boong-do sits at a desk, putting ink to paper. He writes that this is a letter for both her and for himself, as he doesn’t know whether he’ll even remember that he wrote it.

“When I first came into possession of this talisman, I wanted to know what its cause and effect were. At first, I thought it was the realization of my frustrated dream. Then, I thought that its effect may have been meeting you. After that, I thought that effect could be to start anew in a different world. But now, belatedly I realize that its cause and effect is that for saving my life, I would lose everything. My future, my name, my values, my people. And you too. To gain life, one must pay a price and lose something else—that is obvious logic. That I believed I could keep one of those things was my own foolishness. How much more will I have to lose to satisfy that price? Not being able to meet you again—that such a thing is a luxury is something I have now realized.”

Both are crying now, in their respective times. Boong-do as he writes, and Hee-jin as she sits in the rain, back in the park. He continues:

“Memories. Our memories… Losing them is the final price. I do not know what happens now. Will we forget each other? Or will we live unable to forget, forever tormented?”

Hee-jin comes home soaked from rain.

“If I have a last wish, I want to remember you. In an aimless life, to not even have those memories would be hell. And you… and you… if you should happen to read this letter far into the future, I pray you will not realize for whom this letter is meant.”

Boong-do finishes writing, folds up the letter, and takes out his talisman. It is entirely black, with no traces of writing still visible. He burns it.

 
COMMENTS

Glug… glug… glug… Drowning in tears, here.

I figured talisman issues would be the final stretch for this drama, now that Boong-do has seemingly vanquished all other foes and has only to live out his happily ever after to make the story complete. Or so we think. But I hadn’t expected things to turn so dire. It’s both terrible (for our hearts) and wonderful (narratively). The bigger the ditch you dig for your characters, the more gratifying when they find their way out. Some dramas get overambitious and can’t quite pull off that latter part, but I have faith in Queen In-hyun’s Man.

If the drama had ended with Episode 14, I would’ve been perfectly happy with the resolution, ’cause I would have gotten 14 episodes of taut storytelling and a satisfying romantic conclusion. It may have occurred to me, somewhere in the far reaches of my mind, that the talisman issue hadn’t been entirely explained, and I would have possibly wondered how Boong-do’s faked death would have been enough to satisfy the talisman’s demands, per Yoon-wol’s warnings of calamity. But I would have been, by and large, content to let those slide.

Thus it’s to the show’s credit that it doesn’t rest upon that complacency and pushes further, driving our characters completely off that cliff instead of teasing us with a fall and then pulling them back at the last moment. I’m impressed with how seriously it takes the issue of the talisman’s retribution, and a chill went down my spine during Boong-do’s letter when he outlined the cost required to put things to rest, because it made a damn lot of sense that he would have to give up everything, even as my stomach sank with the realization.

I’m tempted to blame Yoon-wol for short-sightedly giving him the talisman in the first place, only then he’d have died earlier. I don’t feel that his life would have been better without her giving it to him, but the cost is just painful enough to make you wonder. In that sense, it really is an equal exchange; you get away with some stolen time and a wonderful series of experiences, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Boong-do may continue on harboring a lifetime of grief, but he wouldn’t exchange what the talisman gave him for blissful ignorance, and for that I respect him and the depth of his feeling.

I love how the drama takes us to the darker side of the fallout of cheating death, in a way that so doesn’t gloss it over in rosier hues. Other stories do that because logic gets in the way of romance, and those that don’t tend to be horror stories (Final Destination and its ilk). I appreciate that this show doesn’t let its characters off the hook in search of that happy ending; yes it tends to put a damper on things, but when you can satisfy both cold logic and emotional gratification is when you really nail the question at the heart of time-travel conundrums. Otherwise they’re not really conundrums, just convenient plot devices.

When the show turned Boong-do’s (comedic) momentary panic over possibly liaising with Queen In-hyun into a bigger plot point, I mentioned being impressed with its thoughtful preparation of such a storyline. It managed not to give away the setup for the future slander by working the issue into the moment, so that when it came back later it was an unforeseen turn, but not one that came as a shock.

We have another of those moments in Episode 15, when Boong-do makes his last trip back to the present/future. I’ve wondered at the exact mechanism of Boong-do’s time-leaping in past episodes, but I’d assumed the drama was sparing us needless repetition and chose to cut those moments out. It wasn’t too hard to figure that he was somehow endangering himself, in the way that he once forced Han-dong to shoot him with an arrow.

But it turns out this was a calculated omission, because only now do we see what the actual act of leaping requires, and it makes this instance incredibly harrowing because we don’t know whether it will work. It’s a nerve-wracking scene, and purposefully so. Great choice by the writer/director to withhold that, because it almost gave me a heart attack in this episode. It’s human nature to want to use our tools right away rather than patiently saving them for delayed gratification, but it’s worth the effect.

A side note: Apparently the drama had completed eight scripts prior to the start of filming. It shows. This practice isn’t always a surefire thing (Thousand Day Promise, for instance, also had about that many scripts in the can ahead of time and that drama meandered painfully), but really, this should be standard procedure. If you must insist on operating within the frantic last-minute live-shoot system to satisfy fan demands, then so be it—revise on the fly. But write beforehand. At the very least, it gives your cast some idea of where they’re going; it’s a lot easier to put your faith in a show when it’s excellent for eight scripts than when you’ve just got an interesting synopsis.

Finally, I have to say I’m super excited that the talisman was burnt. Before this episode, I was generally fine believing Boong-do and Hee-jin could have their blissful ending, but felt uneasy at the idea that they’d have to live their lives fearing for the talisman’s safety. Now that it’s gone, if—when—they reunite, I’ll finally feel that they’ve cleared all obstacles. I have no idea HOW, of course, but I have no doubt they’ll get there.

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