Gaksital: Episode 13
The burden of a secret identity starts to take its toll, as our hero struggles to keep juggling all his roles without dropping any crucial balls. ‘Cause in this game, mistakes equal dead people. It presents an interesting dilemma, for a hero to have to decide where to draw the line—if there’s even a line. What happens when people start catching on to your mysterious disappearances and giving you the shifty-eye? How much pain can you stand by and watch being doled out, in the name of preserving that secret? Whose life is worth sacrificing to save your own?
It turns out, there’s a lot more to a secret identity than a costume and a dramatic entrance. If only it were that easy.
SONG OF THE DAY
LEDApple – “Something Wrong” [ Download ]
EPISODE 13 RECAP
Gaksital and Mok Dan flee, leaving Shunji devastated. Also ragey.
Once they’ve traveled a safe distance, Mok Dan embraces Gaksital and tells him tearfully that she’s glad she got to see him before she left. Internally, she calls him “young master” and thinks, “I must leave now for my father’s sake, but I’ll pray that we meet again. When that day comes, I’ll ask to see your face.”
Kang-to holds her to him, thinking, “Boon-yi-ya, I have to let you go now, but stay alive. Whatever you do, I’ll find you. And I’ll protect you.” It’s a nice echo of his last words to her as children, perhaps signaling a reclamation of his childhood self. At least, it’s a step in the right direction.
Kang-to releases her and steps toward his horse, but Mok Dan holds him back, loath to let go. He cups her face in his hands, kissing her gently on the forehead. Then it’s time to leave, and she watches him ride off.
Shunji reads the message Mok Dan left for Gaksital informing him of her departure, recalling how she leveled his own gun at him to save the enemy. And how he witnessed Gaksital murdering his brother. He seethes.
Koiso reports that the search party couldn’t find any sign of Mok Dan in the woods. Shunji asks after Kang-to, and both men are puzzled to realize that he hasn’t been around all day. Oh no, you’ve pinged Shunji’s suspicion-radar. That seed of doubt grows with mention of Kang-to’s visit to the inn this morning—he kept circus members out of the room while he talked with Mok Dan. Alone, the two of them, “for a long time.”
Shunji thinks back to the last time Kang-to pulled a Clark Kent, appearing after the action was over with the excuse that he’d been at the club investigating the waiter who attacked him.
Shunji dashes off to check up on his suspicions. Uh-oh. Let’s hope our almost-hero is smart enough to stay one step ahead.
Kang-to nurses a drink at the Angel Club, where Lala/Rie joins him. He thanks her for saving his life with her warning. She replies that she was returning the favor; she doesn’t owe him anymore. He doesn’t know what she means by that, not remembering the time he defended her at the gisaeng house. That was back before she was Rie, when she refused to serve while in mourning for her father.
Lala wonders how he could forget almost dying, and he says sardonically that he’s almost died a lot. Lala sighs, “How unfair. Not knowing that, from the first moment I saw you while dressed in mourning…” She trails off and finishes the thought internally: “…I’ve been unable to forget you.”
Mention of mourning clothes jogs his memory, though, and he recognizes her as that gisaeng. He’d almost lost his job for his interference, though, and she notes that the day must’ve been a bad one for him.
An employee salutes Shunji upon arrival, which Kang-to hears. So when Lala excuses herself, he grabs her close, playboy mode on. He asks if she’s angry—he may have forgotten the gisaeng, but he never forgot the sizzling kiss between them.
Shunji checks Kang-to’s story with Madam Tasha: He didn’t come by to investigate the waiter-assassin after all. Whoops, that pokes a hole in his cover.
Kang-to sees Shunji approaching and gets even cozier, asking how a Korean woman became Japanese singer Lala. She flirts back, saying she doesn’t know if she can trust him. He replies, “If you can’t trust me, why did you reveal that you’re Korean?” Lala: “Are you thinking you’ve found my weakness?” Kang-to: “Bingo.”
Shunji interrupts, demanding to know why he didn’t capture Mok Dan at the inn as ordered. Kang-to feigns ignorance: “You didn’t capture her?” He’d found her already gone, so he assumed Shunji got to her first. Cringe. So many conflicting stories, so few plausible explanations…
Shunji takes issue with his blasé attitude, and Kang-to gets serious for a moment and apologizes. Shunji asks why he met Mok Dan this morning and lied about coming to the club.
Lala sizes up the situation and says coyly that it’s obvious why: They must be secret lovers, sneaking around. Kang-to’s voice hardens as he takes offense—how dare she pair him up with a Korean woman when “I’m Japanese down to my bones”? He leaves her with a cold warning: reserve those pretty lips for singing.
Outside, Shunji asks point-blank why Kang-to lied to him, and why he met Mok Dan in private. Oh phew, at least he’s addressing the lie right away, before Kang-to digs his grave deeper. So Kang-to “confides” that while on his way to Angel Club, he thought he spotted Damsari. That’s why he went to see Mok Dan, to see what she knew.
Shunji points out that he could have just told him the truth, but Kang-to answers that Shunji’s still in love with the girl. How could he just blurt a suspicion without confirmation, “and put you in more pain?” Oh, that’s a good one. It makes enough sense to convince Shunji, even though the deception also frustrates him: Shunji tells him not to worry about that anymore—the girl loves Gaksital, the man who killed his brother. But Kang-to had better not use his concern an excuse to lie next time, he warns.
Kono addresses his officers on the day of the big anniversary marking Japan’s colonization of Korea, on high alert given the event’s history of turbulence. He’s on edge, knowing the rebels have planned a disturbance today. Chief Kimura point out that none of the acts of terrorism has ever succeeded, which Kono finds less than comforting—the very fact that attempts are made is infuriating. He impresses upon his staff the importance of keeping this year’s anniversary terror-free, or else.
In private, the Kimuras confer. Shunji unfortunately has no intel to report; they never were able to figure out what the independence army is planning. Still, he assures Dad that they’ve got all their contingencies in place: “Thankfully, we know who we’re fighting.” Or DO you?
Koiso bursts in to report that the armory has been raided. Boxes stand emptied, weapons missing. There was only one non-policeman who entered the station yesterday, and Chief Kimura flashes back to the deliveryman he’d stopped: Damsari!
At the rebel hideout, independence soldiers disguise the stolen explosives, hiding them in gift boxes, cosmetic cases, and linings of clothing.
Kang-to sits at his desk, anxiously anticipating whatever mayhem is to come. He sees Koiso rushing by with Damsari’s mug shot, which tips him off that they must know the weapon raid was Damsari’s work. Damn.
Shunji works through the logic: Damsari’s good, but is he good enough to pull off such a theft without insider help? “When Gaksital carried off the man who tried to kill Lee Kang-to, he knew every corner of our station.” But… there’s only one Korean police officer…
Chief Kimura breathes, “Lee Kang-to.” Nooo! They decide that the theft must remain secret from everyone, “especially Kang-to.” Dad seems pleased that Shunji suspects Kang-to, because the devil enjoys killing puppies and bromance. Shunji answers that he’ll keep a close eye on him.
Kang-to flips through the VIP roster for the anniversary gala and finds Choi Tae-gon, Damsari’s cover name. He calls the government general to request Choi’s contact information and hears that the invitation came via the countess. Ah, are you trying to warn him? Go, warn! Warn like the wind!
Shunji gives his team their final instructions, stationing teams at every exit. He warns that rebels may disguise themselves as VIPs and puts himself on VIP watch. But Kang-to speaks up, insisting that he’s better suited for that—he knows what Damsari looks like. Eep! Do you know you’ve just made Shunji even more suspicious? Can’t you see the epic side-eye your BFF is shooting you?
Shunji warns him that if somebody he clears is a troublemaker, Kang-to will be on the hook. Kang-to vows to take responsibility.
Kang-to wonders why Shunji isn’t saying a word about the stolen arms, and eyes him suspiciously. Well, at least it’s mutual. Better to stab in fronts than backs, and all.
Damsari arrives at the count’s mansion with his cover wife on his arm, decked out in full black tie. His “secretary” is Mok Dan, which can’t be a good idea—doesn’t she remember she has TWO dogged cops on her tail? She’s told to wait in the car, but we all know that nobody ever waits in the car. It’s basically one rung below “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” on the list of Things To Say To Challenge Fate.
Sure enough, Mok Dan’s right there when Kang-to pulls up in the driveway. There’s a fraught moment as Mok Dan freezes, and Kang-to tries to figure out how to keep his cover intact. Without, yunno, beating his one true love bloody.
Kang-to opts for Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: Mok Dan ducks into the car and he passes by without sparing her another glance. For now she assumes he didn’t see her—he’d never just walk by if he did—but she worries that he’s sure to recognize Damsari.
Kang-to is presented to the count, and the two rebels avert their faces, hoping to escape the encounter unrecognized. Kang-to informs the count that police has received intel about Damsari’s plans to crash the anniversary gala, and requests permission to brief him of their plans to guard the event. Just to assuage their concerns, you know.
Ah, clever. With this excuse, Kang-to has found a way to warn Damsari while playing dumb, and the spies perk up their ears.
Damsari wonders why Kang-to hasn’t recognized him, but is relieved about it. Let’s just hope they don’t look this gift horse in them mouth—although, admittedly, I’d think more of their spy skills if they did. But then we’d be stuck in an endless loop of “Is this a trap?” and “Is this a trap meant to masquerade as a different trap?” till everyone’s worried themselves crazy.
Kang-to has brought along blueprints of the building and police diagrams of the security detail. He studiously keeps his gaze fixed on the count while the countess sends coy glances at the studly young officer. It’s a character detail I enjoy, since we’ve established her roving eye.
The countess asks why he’s giving them such special treatment, and Kang-to replies with a patriotic answer about protecting the two of them, who were important figures in this glorious Korean-Japanese union. Kang-to leaves hoping Damsari has been sufficiently warned into abandoning his scheme.
As Kang-to leaves, he again acts blind to the girl sitting in the car right next to his. Damsari and his accomplice are frankly surprised that they encountered Kang-to and kept their covers intact; it seems too good to be true. But Damsari reasons that he would have been arrested immediately if Kang-to had caught on.
With Kang-to’s elaborate description of the armed guard, Damsari decides it’s too dangerous; he’ll infiltrate the gala alone. His partner must escape with Boon-yi. But she’s committed to the cause, and as an extra precaution she swaps her case of cosmetic powder with the countess’s—now if the weapon inside is found, she won’t be the one implicated. Both speak as though they’re walking into certain death, but they’re willing to die for the mission.
Damsari half-pleads with her to change her mind, saying that if they both end up in heaven, he’ll ignore her. She just nods yes; after all, he has a partner waiting for him in heaven. Oh, interesting, so are they in love?
Damsari slips out of the house to send Mok Dan away. She protests, but he tells her of Kang-to’s report; their planned rendezvous has become impossible. She must leave the city right away.
Mok Dan worries how Dad will flee without his getaway crew, but he assures her that he’s been arrested and escaped seven times. So… you’re saying you have two lives left?
He hugs her goodbye, then heads back to join his party.
At Gaksital Central, Kang-to informs Baek Gun of the latest events; he’d wished success for the revolt, but now all he can do is hope that the insurgents ditch their plan. Baek Gun is convinced they’ll come anyway; they won’t let this chance go, even if they lose their lives.
In that event, Kang-to’s Plan B is to keep a close watch on the VIP list and confiscate any weapons: “That is the only way to save Damsari.”
Baek Gun argues the difficulty in accomplishing that without the police knowing; what if he’s the one caught? Kang-to: “Even if I am caught, I can’t just leave Damsari to die.” Baek Gun returns, “And I cannot leave you to die either, young master.” And the hero-go-round whirls on.
Police presence is high at the gala, where Kang-to mans the line checking the male VIPs. The ladies have their own line, but the countess and Damsari’s partner are waved through with barely any scrutiny. There are benefits to coming with Joseon’s most visible pro-Japanese social clique.
It’s not as easy for Damsari, who’s got a more famous face and a history with the police. He stands in Kang-to’s line awaiting his turn, holding his gift box, chatting extra-loudly with his powerful new buddies to give him a grand air. Shunji spots him and compares Damsari’s bespectacled disguise with his mug shot and looks at him suspiciously.
Kang-to hurriedly roots through the gift box, sweating bullets as he tries to find hidden weapons. We’d seen the insurgents packing the gift box, but Kang-to finds nothing.
Shunji steps in to request Damsari’s identification card. The count argues that such a precaution is unnecessary—they’re very good friends, he and the uber-wealthy gold-mine owner. Damsari produces his ID card, and Shunji compares it with the mug shot. Are you really going to let him through on account of that measly mustache? Am I going to have to take back what I said about you being smart?
But Damsari’s been blustering about his extensive business plans and has the full backing of both the count and newspaperman Park. Shunji’s suspicions aren’t enough to outweigh a solid cover, so Shunji begs pardon and allows him through. The thing is, Damsari thinks to himself that Kang-to ought to recognize his name “Choi Tae-gon,” and yet Kang-to remains silent. He’s been on edge through the encounter, and breathes a sigh when Damsari is waved along.
Mok Dan argues with her driver/guard, Comrade Jo, wanting to go back and help her father. He says her presence only endangers her father and informs her of the other comrades who are stationed with their own missions. Furthermore, Damsari’s planned getaway has been compromised with the death of Comrade Park—the captured waiter who died saving Gaksital. Now she understands why he tried to assassinate Kang-to; eliminating Kang-to improves chances of a clean escape.
Mok Dan protests, “I want to help Father. I want to lay my life on the line and fight like him. I know all too well that he went to the gala to die. How could I walk away just to save myself?” She promises to do Comrade Park’s part, and Comrade Jo finally relents.
The governor general gives his address and raises the rally cry to the empire. Then Lala takes the stage to lead them in the Japanese national anthem.
Shunji keeps a sharp eye on Damsari through the anthem, and reacts immediately when Damsari reaches for his hat and the weapon hidden inside. Kang-to spots movement and jumps into action a split-second later, but Shunji’s got him beat and slashes at Damsari’s arm, confiscating the explosive.
Now Shunji recognizes Damsari with certainty and begins a cruel beatdown. It’s chilling, how deliberate his violence is—it’s not out-of-control fury, but calculated brutality.
Kang-to and Damsari’s wife watch in horror as he’s viciously beaten. Wife has a mission, though, and forces herself to continue it: She edges her way out of the room while everyone’s distracted.
Her departure is noticed by Kang-to and one other officer, who follows her down the hallway. And is swiftly knocked unconscious with a blow to the neck. Kang-to to the silent rescue.
Kang-to returns to the hall unnoticed, in time for Shunji to task him with finding Damsari’s accomplice. Kang-to keeps up the ruse by cursing to hear that she’s nowhere in sight. Gah, am I the only one yelling for an explosion to happen faster, so that Kang-to still has an alibi when it does?
Outside, Mok Dan sits in the getaway car anxiously. She sees a truckload of officers zoom by, a potentially ominous sign. Sigh, she’s not going to wait in the car, is she?
Following Damsari’s removal, the hall remains wound up tight with stress. Rie motions for the governor general to step in and liven things up with a toast. Governor Wada steps to the podium to urge the partygoers to not let some pesky Korean troublemaker ruin their big night, and raises his champagne in the air for a toast.
Then, his glass shatters. People scream and look for the source.
It’s Gaksital, standing at the entrance, his projectile flute-cane outstretched. Bad! Ass!
A full-scale battle breaks out between Gaksital and the police officers, who swarm him and get knocked down in turn. Attendees shriek and take cover. Gaksital is pretty fantastic in action and the scene blood-pumping, even though (or because?) half my brain is still fixated on how he’s going to whip up an explanation for Kang-to’s absence after the fact.
Chief Kimura grabs a gun and starts shooting wildly, so furious to get Gaksital that he doesn’t even care that he shoots down innocent men in the crossfire. Damn. I think that’s more shocking than anything else, that he doesn’t care about collateral damage… in a room full of the empire’s V-est VVVIPs. Gaksital has a way of bringing out that all-consuming rage.
Glasses shatter and furniture explodes, but Gaksital evades the shots with his tricky acrobatics.
The news reaches Shunji’s ears precious minutes later, while he’s leading his team out of the building with the captured Damsari in tow. Attendees hurry past him screaming about Gaksital, and he dashes back to the hall, leaving Damsari with Koiso. Oh no for Kang-to, but on the upside, this increases Damsari’s chances of escape considerably.
I do enjoy Rie’s glowering, deathly calm throughout the chaos, because it just seems so like her tough self to find this disturbance annoying. When the silly governor burns his cheek on a tabletop candle, he blubbers in pain until she chucks a glass of water in his face, disgusted. Ha.
Then silent bodyguard Katsuyama Jun makes his move, grabbing a samurai sword on display. Uh-oh. This guy’s badass, and the only thing stopping from leveling the playing field right quick is a cold word from Rie: “Wait. While we’re here, let’s see how skilled the empire’s police are.”
So Katsuyama stands down as Gaksital continues beating down every man who gets in his path, and Kimura keeps firing badly, even shooting his own policemen. Good lord, man, get a grip.
Gaksital knocks the gun out of Kimura’s hands, and frankly I’m relieved more for his police force than for Kang-to, who’s never going to be in danger as long as Kimura’s shooting. He’s much better with his sword, but Kang-to kicks it out of his hand and knocks Kimura down, then leaps in the air.
He uses the podium as a springboard and snatches the sword by its hilt at the top of its arc. In one sweeping motion, he brings the blade down on the banner commemorating Joseon’s colonization. Rrrrrrrip! So. Cool.
Kimura bolts up to attack Gaksital, but stops short when his sword is leveled at his neck. Shunji bursts into the hall just in time to see his father standing there defenseless, Gaksital’s hostage. Damn. That’s gotta be some nasty deja vu.
Shunji draws his gun. Dad gulps. Let’s hope you’re a better shot than he is…
Then Chief Kimura growls, “Shoot. Don’t worry about me. Shoot!”
Woot woot, an exciting episode! I get TWO awesome odd-numbered episodes in a row? What is in the water? (Not that I’m complaining.) It helps that this is the big event toward which the drama has been building up for weeks, so we got all the setup out of the way in previous episodes and dove right into the good stuff. And lots of that there were. Like…
Shunji suspects! The Is-Kang-to-Gaksital suspicion comes sooner than I’d expected, but you won’t find me balking—much better to make our characters smarter and more skeptical, than to keep them in the dark and running around in circles. How many times can we watch people scratching their heads at Clark Kent running in just after Superman leaves and not roll our eyes? We’d get bored with too many false alarms, especially since these real alarms are a helluva lot more exciting.
I did worry that Shunji would be setting up a trap for Kang-to once he heard about the lie about meeting Mok Dan. I’m both relieved (for Kang-to’s sake) that Shunji revealed his doubts early enough for Kang-to to keep on top of his cover story, and nervous that Shunji will be planting that trap soon enough anyway. Because while Kang-to’s managed to lie his way convincingly out of tight spots thus far, Shunji definitely is shrewd—enough that in any Gaksital scene without Shunji, I find myself relaxing and enjoying the action sequences, only to tense right up whenever Shunji enters the scene. That’s good antagonism.
I enjoyed watching Kang-to’s growing struggle to maintain his Gaksital persona in this episode, and am looking forward to a lot more of that development in future episodes. I love that this masked crusader isn’t a confident, assured superhero who always seems to know what to do. Those stories are tons of fun, too, but there’s a starkness about Gaksital that I love. He has no idea where the lines are separating good from bad, or justifiable from not. And maybe those lines are all imaginary anyway; they may be clear for people living on the extreme ends of the ideology spectrum, like Damsari who lives and dies by the cause, and Kishokai which operates for its own power. But for the 99% who have to live in the middle ground, it’s a lot murkier knowing what the “right” thing is in a complicated, morally gray situation.
Heck, the very idea that the hero is part of that 99% is pretty damn compelling, because Kang-to’s not some lofty paragon, despite Gaksital’s reputation. He has his brother to thank for that, but it’s not his own identity. There’s something very noble about being that traditional hero who gives himself up for the greater good, sacrificing personal desires to fight for that ideal—but for this story, I’m intrigued with the dissonance between Kang-to’s true self and the way people see him (as Gaksital).
I’m still not sure whether he’ll become that noble hero in the end, but if he never does, I won’t be disappointed. The conflict is richer where we are, with Kang-to struggling with his burden and feeling powerless at times to step in, because the cause requires him to remain hidden. You can see the guilt in his face when he forces himself to remain in character as the Policeman Kang-to, because you can see him questioning whether he’s lying low for the cause or for himself. I look forward to seeing that play out—the idea perhaps these people are dying for an ideal that doesn’t exist. Will that propel him into then becoming that ideal? Or is that the burden of every hero, who’s really only human at the end of the day?
Okay, maybe not Clark Kent. But we’ve already established that he’s got some major believability issues to begin with, like passing off underwear as hero-pants.