Stop the presses, this episode was actually good. It achieved what it was going for, giving us a poignant, introspective, thrilling, and adventurous ride into the repercussions of Hyuk’s historical meddling. Finally, the question of fate is laid out on the table, and Hyuk may finally be realizing that he can’t always depend on History to swoop in and save the day. It’s kind of amazing what you can achieve when you don’t spend a two-episode arc with a random sick person, isn’t it?
I’m not going to get my hopes up that this winning streak will continue, because it seems like a freak accident when held up next to its previous counterparts. But it’s the first episode that’s given me a sense of hope that this show can be all that its premise allows, which is a perfect second wind after the frustration that was Episode 10.
EPISODE 11 RECAP
Kyung-tak’s reaction to the torture is simply to close his eyes against it, and it’s not long before he peaces out entirely. Mom is waiting for him outside the bureau, and he gives her a gentle but firm reminder that he has nothing to do with Young-rae anymore.
Doctor Yoo tells Minister Kim that getting a confession might not be easy, and is subsequently shocked when Minister Kim just starts talkin’ to his plant, even claiming to hear answers from it. Whoa. Okay. Let’s see where this is going.
Next up to visit Minister Kim is Kyung-tak, who lies about finding out the Anonymous Leader’s identity in order to protect Young-hwi. He gently broaches the subject of the Queen Dowager’s poisoning only to get a quick rebuke from Dad, and so he asserts the fact that he doesn’t care one bit about Young-rae anymore. Case closed.
Hyuk, looking like he had a laundry accident rather than an all-night torture session, gets a chance to talk to Young-rae before they’re both carted off to jail. She’s down but not out, and insists to him that the pain she feels is nothing compared to his, because he’s had to come to this time and place only to experience horrible things, and feels bad for him.
Doctor Yoo gets his Hwalinseo doctor/spy to testify that he saw Hyuk and Young-rae meet secretly with Ha-eung, which ends with Ha-eung being dragged off to the bureau by Kyung-tak and his men. He appeals to Kyung-tak’s rationality by asking if he truly believes that they tried to poison the Queen Dowager. Kyung-tak falls back on his default answer: “That is no concern of mine.”
But Ha-eung won’t let him off so easily, and declares that it’s the duty of the police to find out what they don’t know. Is he just going to let Young-rae die this way? Kyung-tak wavers a bit, but sends Ha-eung off to prison all the same.
Joo Pal barely gets to finish giving Young-hwi and Chun-hong the suspicious news that one of the queen’s maids disappeared into thin air before they’re interrupted with news that Ha-eung has been imprisoned. They know that Minister Kim won’t waste the opportunity to behead the thorn in his side, and Young-hwi steps up to the plate, declaring that he’ll find proof of their innocence.
I’m actually liking that our A-Team is in jail, and that our B-Team (comprised of a fine group of actors/characters) gets to take over. Young-hwi orders Joo Pal to mobilize his minions so that they can search for that missing palace maid. The clock is ticking.
Ha-eung finds himself in the hot seat as he protests his innocence to Minister Kim, which is about as useful as trying to nail Jell-O to a tree. Minister Kim attempts to shut him up by claiming that he’s received the royal command to hang Ha-eung, Hyuk, and Young-rae for their insidious plot to poison the Queen Dowager at sunrise tomorrow.
Alone, Kyung-tak thinks back over Ha-eung’s words about him being the only one with the power to shed light on his father’s wrongdoings, and Young-hwi’s earnest plea for him to take care of Young-rae should something happen to him.
A sword slowly inches its way into the frame, wielded by Young-hwi, who has come to save Young-rae. The two have a battle over ideologies, as Young-hwi is fighting to change the world the Andong Kim family has created, and Kyung-tak is fighting for the preservation of that world – perhaps not out of ideology, but filial loyalty.
Kyung-tak has a sore spot about Young-hwi betraying him, and Young-hwi has a sore spot about Kyung-tak not lifting a finger to save Young-rae. Fair. But then Young-hwi offers himself up as the leader of Anonymous in exchange for Young-rae’s life, which moves Kyung-tak into letting his old friend go and re-investigating the case.
Hyuk and Ha-eung find themselves back in jail, just like old times. Ha-eung wonders if this is all he’ll ever amount to, with Hyuk quick to cut in: “That’s impossible, your fate does not end here like this!” Ha-eung gives him the side eye, “Sometimes, you say strange things, as if you know my fate.” If only you knew.
In a genuinely touching scene, Mom gets to visit Young-rae in jail and thanks her for the donuts that revived her health – she knew Young-rae had made them just by their taste. Young-rae asks Mom is she resents her as a daughter, and Mom replies, “Where is there a child that is not resented? But there is also no child who can’t be forgiven. That is a child, and that is a mother.”
Kyung-tak’s secret investigator has found out the same information as Joo Pal – that one of the palace maids who handled the donuts has disappeared, along with the plate the cookies were on. Kyung-tak sends him back out to find the maid.
Day breaks, and Hyuk and Ha-eung are brought out. Young-rae quickly hides her rosary before the guards come for her, too. Kyung-tak’s investigator has tracked down the maid who refuses to come to the bureau, so Kyung-tak goes to her.
She’s scared out of her wits, and spills everything to Kyung-tak, which includes his father’s part in orchestrating the poison attempt. This comes as a shock to him, but he recovers quickly and asks her to hand over the plate the arsenic was placed on. Then he asks if she’s told anyone else, which immediately pings on my suspicion radar, before he promises her that he’ll pay her back for her help.
Something seems off about this, and rightfully so, since he draws his sword and cuts her down, blood spattering onto his face. “I am sorry,” he says to the woman he just murdered. “This is for His Excellency.” Whoa. Shit just got real.
Execution day. In full view of the public, Hyuk, Ha-eung, and Young-rae have nooses put around their necks and their feet tied. Hyuk inner-monologues as he looks at Ha-eung, thinking that this can’t happen, because history tells him that Ha-eung lives.
Young-rae has taken on an air of dignified resignation and in her last moments, asks Hyuk about that ‘other world’, along with relaying her hope that if there is such a world where she’s a different person, “I definitely want to meet you again. But will we be able to? And… will we remember?”
Ha-eung claims that if there is another world he’d like to be born as king to build a new Joseon, all said in a mournful tone. Hyuk just keeps thinking that this can’t be happening: “This is not the way things are supposed to be. Something’s gone seriously wrong.” Gee, you think? But Ha-eung has some parting words for Minister Kim.
Ha-eung: “How do you think you will be recorded in history? A loyal subject or a disloyal subject – which do you think it will be? You were more concerned about your Andong Kim clan than this country and the people. If it were me, I would write it like this: ‘The main culprit who ruined the country! The most treacherous subject of this era!’ Listen closely, Your Excellency. Your family members and descendants will be ashamed of you for generations.”
It’s a powerful speech, but one that Minister Kim scoffs at – after all, history is written by those with power, and Ha-eung has none. “I will record your history well,” Minister Kim taunts. “That you were a royal relative who acted like a dog. Your descendants will be so proud of you.”
And the hanging begins. The nooses are tightened, and just as the footrests are about to be pulled out from under them, an officer on horseback arrives with the proclamation to stop the execution on the king’s command. For now, they’re saved.
The ministers meet, including Nephew-in-law, who proudly hands over the plate as evidence – it was the plate that had arsenic on it, not the food, so it transferred to the food out of circumstance. (This explains why the royal taster didn’t suffer from the poison, or Myeong-bok, since they took from the top of the pile.)
As usual, Dae-gyun couldn’t be more obvious, as he takes the news that it was a palace maid’s doing with a wide face of shock and wonders out loud whether she said anything else, clearly worried that she’d incriminate him. But according to Nephew-in-law, she committed suicide. Either way the King has ordered Hyuk & Friends’ freedom, though Minister Kim has one last card – if the palace maid did it, she couldn’t have acted alone.
Mom takes Young-rae home, and Heo Gwang laments Ha-eung’s fate to Hyuk – he’s to be exiled to Geoje Island. This sends Hyuk’s thoughts veering toward the course of history, and how things will turn out from here now that so much has changed.
Ha-eung’s wife and son follow him as he’s carted off to exile, with Ha-eung reminding his son to remember his face clearly, and to never forget what happens if you have no power. We get a brief flashback to Ha-eung teaching Myeong-bok the fundamentals of life and power.
Ha-eung: “In this world, what is the highest?”
Ha-eung: “Then in Joseon, what’s the highest?”
Myeong-bok: “The people.”
Ha-eung: “Then how do you need to treat this country’s people?”
Myeong-bok: “They need to be treated like heaven.”
It’s an incredibly telling bit of dialogue, because the normal answer would be that the king is highest, not the people. I like that Ha-eung’s principles, and now his son’s, are that the people come first above all things.
Hyuk and Young-rae meet with Nephew-in-law, who tells them that it was Kyung-tak who found the evidence to release them. Meanwhile, Kyung-tak gets beaten by his brother in front of his father for going against their family, while he claims that he was only doing it to save their family.
Minister Kim takes Kyung-tak’s gun and holds it out to him: “If that is really the truth, kill yourself right now.” Kyung-tak hesitates slightly before taking the gun, and bids his father farewell as he readies himself and pulls the trigger…
Only it’s an empty click! sound rather than the sound of our hearts breaking. Daddy took the bullet (or ball of lead) out of the gun. Now assured of his son’s loyalty, he forgives him, but can’t let him go unpunished – he’s to be relieved of his police position and sent to the countryside. Dae-gyun doesn’t like the idea, but Minister Kim is insistent that Kyung-tak will be useful some day. As long as that ‘someday’ doesn’t come after a time skip, we’re good.
Young-rae sees Kyung-tak leaving the city, just as Hyuk asks Chun-hong about Ha-eung’s fate. She replies cryptically that Ha-eung won’t go down so easily and that no one would know better than Hyuk, which raises his suspicions. What exactly does she know?
I love that she’s all nonchalant about it as she states, matter-of-fact, that she knows he’s from the far future. Hyuk is in shock.
Meanwhile, the Council of Evil meets and decides that Ha-eung must be killed before the Queen Dowager recovers. They plan to get the King’s command for Ha-eung to drink poison before he leaves for the island, because the King in this drama seems to give out royal commands like candy.
The Most Interesting Exchange of the Show Award goes to Chun-hong and Hyuk, since she finally stops being cryptic and lays it out for him when he asks her (with her fortune-telling powers) if she knows a way he can return to his time. “If you put everything back to the way it was,” she tells him, and reminds him that he came to a place he shouldn’t have, and made one grave mistake that changed everything… saving Minister Kim’s life with brain surgery.
It all comes crashing down on Hyuk, as he realizes that all his hardships since then have been instigated by Minister Kim, the man he saved when he shouldn’t have. If he hadn’t saved him, Ha-eung wouldn’t be where he is, since his future is about to change. And what would that mean? Chun-hong: “It means history will change. All that has changed because you came, you must change it back to the way it was before.”
And she doesn’t just mean history, because she mentions Young-rae as well.
Hyuk finds Young-rae in the penicillin laboratory, and urges her to go home for a myriad of reasons – one being that he’s never read a record of a woman with advanced medical skills (Dae Jang Geum, anyone?) so what chance does she have anyway? Most of all he tells her it’s because she reminds him of Mina, and they’re both two different people.
They both separate to brood, but Young-rae’s got bigger problems at home – Young-hwi and his injured arm have left Hanyang with only a letter, and Mom wants to go see him. Young-rae says she’ll go instead.
Heo Gwang finds the Turncoat Doctor loitering around the clinic, and brings him inside for a talking-to. The doctor pleads for mercy – he needed the money for his family – and offers up valuable intel that the royal inspector has already left to deliver poison to Ha-eung.
Hyuk realizes that this is what Chun-hong meant when she said Ha-eung’s future would change, and rides with Joo Pal (and minion) on horseback to try and reach Ha-eung before the Royal Inspector and his men do. In voiceover, we hear his fervent hope that Ha-eung stay alive.
Chun-hong and Yeon-shim stare into nothing as they discuss Ha-eung’s fate, with Yeon-shim taking the “It’s up to fate” road while Chun-hong asserts that there is something stronger than fate – a person’s will.
The Council of Evil gleefully discuss what’s sure to be Ha-eung’s end today, while Doctor Yoo tries to push Minister Kim to kill Hyuk too, just to get him out of the way. He’s not too keen on that, since they all know Hyuk’s extraordinary medical skills, though he does remark that those same skills also make Hyuk that much more dangerous.
The village that Ha-eung is taken to for the night is filled with cries of mourning as villagers lay dead in the streets. One of the villagers explains to a bewildered Ha-eung that it’s the government taxes and fees that have sucked the village dry.
Joo Pal and Hyuk have been riding nonstop for days to catch up to Ha-eung, with his minion having run all that way on foot. They’re not far behind the Royal Inspector, and just as Hyuk is about to ride forward, exhaustion be damned, they’re surrounded by a group of bandits and taken to a hideout.
Hyuk pleads and pleads with their leader to be let free since someone’s life is on the line, but the bandits aren’t having it. I love that Joo Pal puffs up all, “I have the honor of personally receiving a ninth rank very high official position…” Only the leader hates government officials the most. Ha.
The leader plans to sell them as slaves to Chinese sailors, though he doesn’t know if the “delicate, pale, and skinny” Hyuk will fetch much of a price. Haha. They’re about to be carted off when suddenly the leader starts gripping his head and screaming… Oh, come on! I thought this would happen, but I was hoping it wouldn’t. And this episode was doing So. Well.
There’s a bug in his ear about to burrow into his brain (gross), and Joo Pal extolls Hyuk’s virtues as the finest physician in Joseon, able to terminate brain insects like no other. He pours oil into the leader’s ear to suffocate the bug, only the man starts screaming harder. It takes all the men in the room to hold him down.
But then all is still, as the leader finally stops screaming. So Hyuk removes a real dead bug from his ear (GROSS), and the clown car operating room erupts in cheers.
Because medical favors are the new currency in Joseon, the bandit leader offers a few of his men to help in leading Hyuk where he needs to go. So… that’s that, I guess.
Joo Pal and Minion handle the guards while Hyuk finds Ha-eung. He urges Ha-eung to leave with him since poison is on its way, but Ha-eung just sits on the floor, defeated. He begins to ready himself to accept the poison, since it’s his duty as the King’s subject to accept his command.
Tears start forming in Hyuk’s eyes as he desperately pleads with Ha-eung to live so he can fulfill his dream of changing Joseon. Ha-eung is confused by Hyuk’s erratic behavior, but only Hyuk understands the gravity of change that would happen if Ha-eung were to accept his fate – and you can see him struggling not to just tell him everything, in fear it would change everything even more.
He wants him to live in order to make things right. Hyuk: “Leaving everything else aside, I don’t want to lose a friend like you. The first person I met since I came here… My only friend.” Awww.
The Royal Inspector arrives outside, commanding Ha-eung to come out and receive the poison. Inside, Ha-eung tears up and thanks Hyuk, “When I leave on my life’s last journey, I receive the honor of being sent off by my friend. I have no regrets.”
He goes outside, and kneels before the bowl of poison as his charges are read against him. Inside, Hyuk cries as he wonders, “In the end, can there be no stopping it?”
Ha-eung performs the formal bowing ceremony before receiving the poison. He sends his heartfelt apologies to the King, and begs for forgiveness.
And in a tent in the countryside, a man with urgent news finds Kyung-tak…
And at last, Ha-eung takes the bowl in his hands and brings it to his lips, as Hyuk cringes and sobs feet away.
Honestly, after about four episodes, I wasn’t expecting Dr. Jin to get any better. It actually managed to get worse as it wore on, losing that so-bad-it’s-funny momentum that carried the first few episodes on waves of brain surgeries and general silliness. It became somewhat mediocre, always trying for things it just couldn’t achieve with such ham-handed directing and a surface-layer script. I’d made peace with that, and resolved to find as much good as I could each episode.
Which is why it completely blows my mind that this episode was genuinely good, with real conflict, real stakes, and real consequences. Even the short ear-worm bit couldn’t detract from the bigger issues at play, which this show had only teased at and seemingly forgotten about previously. But I loved the idea that Hyuk’s actions finally had some repercussions, and that both he and Ha-eung would pay dearly for them.
Of course, there’s the selfish side of Hyuk that wants to set things right so he can return to his time, although it isn’t a stretch to say that he’s genuinely come to care for Ha-eung. There’s an incredibly good chance that Ha-eung will be rescued somehow next episode, but I like that all these events have (hopefully) put the kibosh on Hyuk always putting his trust in history, literally resting on his laurels with the belief that events will play out exactly as he knows they will. It seems a bit dim of him to think that inventing all these crazy things would have no historical effect (and him pondering that question for all of two seconds doesn’t count), but better late than never.
So it was great to have the hanging scene, where Hyuk didn’t let himself devolve into panic because a part of him was absolutely sure something had to happen, strictly because Ha-eung lived on in history. Contrast that with his absolute defeat at the end of the episode when it seemed like all was lost, how he finally realized how much he’s mucked things up, along with the realization that his arrogance might prevent him from ever seeing home again. Finally, we get conflict that isn’t centered around sickness, because Hyuk hasn’t met a patient he couldn’t cure yet. It’ll be nice to see the day he does.
Kyung-tak had some interesting developments this round, including but not limited to that jaw-dropping murder. It’s interesting that he tries to play both sides at once, always wanting to help Daddy above all, but easily swayed if he thinks he can help his dad and soothe his conscience in one go. I always got the sense that he wanted to do the right thing even when he did wrong, which is something I didn’t get from the murder scene. Ha-eung’s description of him as a “double-edged sword” seems incredibly apt now, and it puts Kyung-tak in some dangerous territory because, like his father, the words of others can easily persuade him one way or the other. And his father talks to plants now, so… yeah. Might want to get that checked out.