This is a show that can turn on a dime—from sweeping to hilarious to heart-stopping—and so far I’m cheering at every turn. It’s surprisingly witty, and what I enjoy is that for a story with such large scope, the moments between characters feel very small in a nice way. We pause for each relationship, giving us color and nuance in the exchange between two characters, and already in two episodes it tells us so much about who these people are and all the delicious conflict that lies ahead for them.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
We backtrack to the moment when King Gongmin gives the order and Choi Young bravely steps into the portal to heaven. You people sure have a loose idea of paradise. This time we watch from the B-side, as second-in-command Choong-seok leads the men—their priority is to protect the king.
Dae-man (the little Dragonball-Z guy) jumps out to say that he can’t let their leader go alone, and he’ll follow after him. Aw, are you going to be Choi Young’s Abe? Every good hero needs a loyal puppy.
Choong-seok advises the king that they need to return to safety, but the king refuses to budge; he will wait here until Choi Young returns. He says they’re supposed to be here praying anyway, so that’s where they’ll stay. Shows of loyalty all around.
But as soon as he vows not to move, the portal opens back up again and Choi Young returns with Eun-soo in tow. Aha, Time Travel Corollary Number 1: Time is tricksy. A moment here could be a day there.
He presents the king with the divine healer he brought back from heaven… and everyone stares at her like, that doesn’t LOOK like a god of medicine…
She squirms free from his grasp and makes a run for the portal, and Choi Young just sighs and drags her right back. I love that he treats the so-called heavenly healer like a stray kitty.
He takes her to the princess, where Jang Bin tells the doc about her condition. Eun-soo just looks around her quizzically and then bursts out: Oh I get it! This is a drama set and you’ve had an accident, and you don’t want it reported!
She decides that won’t do because she could lose her medical license, and suggests they just call emergency. She picks up her phone—she’ll even call and put in a good word. She inches toward the door, only to be blocked by the wall of men standing before it.
Choi Young leans in close and asks through gritted teeth how many times he’ll have to say it for it to stick—she heals the princess, he takes her back home. He gave her his word. She finally sees no other way out and starts to prep for surgery.
Of all her newfangled devices, I love that the flashlight-glasses are the thing to freak them all out. Eun-soo and Jang-bin work while Choi Young sleeps, and when it’s done the princess’ lady-in-waiting runs out… to meet a scary-looking man with a scar. Eep, she’s a mole!
The men ask if the princess will make it, and Eun-soo tells them she can’t say for certain, but she needs bedrest and spews a litany of other medical terms in English that just make them gape.
She tries to make another run for it and Choi Young stops her of course, and she sees him bow to the king. King Gongmin asks after the princess and Eun-soo reminds him that this patient is not legally her responsibility.
Gongmin calls her “the one from heaven” and declares that the fate of his nation rests with the princess’ survival—if heaven sent her, then can he believe that this nation is under heaven’s protection?
Eun-soo’s eyes dart back and forth. She turns toward Choi Young and squirms under her breath: “That guy’s even weirder!” Haha. She pounds her head, desperate to wake up from this dream.
Meanwhile, the men left guarding the portal see it start to shrink, and worry that at this rate, it’ll close up by the day’s end. Ruh-roh.
Advisor Jo Il-shin tells the king it would be foolish to send the divine healer back to heaven—they all saw her heal the princess with that god-light coming from her forehead (HA) and with her power, he’ll secure his kingdom.
Choi Young literally pushes Jo out of the way to remind the king that he gave her his word, as a Goryeo warrior. “Your majesty might not know, but the cost of a Goryeo warrior’s word is his life.”
The king protests—for the sake of a nation, aren’t there more important things than the word of one man?
Choi Young: For country, a senior statesman like this will tell you to throw your promises to the dogs. And I, as a warrior for my country, will kill people by the sword. But a king… a king should be different from us. That is what I believe.
Niiiice. Badass AND the moral center? I’m already swooning.
In the capital city, we get introduced to the very lush world of our baddie KI-CHUL. He’s surrounded by endless wealth, but always plotting for more power. It seems the entire royal court is like a buffet of political puppets for him to pick and choose from, as well as remove from.
He cryptically tells a minion to “finish what they started,” as his flute-playing brother CHUN EUM-JA demonstrates his ability to make a cockroach keel over and die by the sound of his flute. (Note: he also plays non-killing music on the thing, so it’s not always a death note.)
Meanwhile, rumor of the princess’ death spreads throughout the palace and the ministers worry that Yuan will surely blame their country. Does this mean the end of Goryeo?
Back at the border town, Eun-soo is held captive in a room. After failing to find a cell signal, she bribes the lady-in-waiting with cash, offering her amounts in currency that have no meaning here.
But the girl opens a door without a word, giving her an exit. Choi Young leaves Dae-man in charge of the doc, and by the time he checks in on her, she’s down in the street making her getaway.
She runs into the marketplace and starts asking people where she can get a taxi, and if they speak English or Chinese, because they don’t seem to understand what she’s saying.
She asks over and over for a telephone, wondering where on earth she is that she can’t get a damn cell signal. She notices Dae-man on her tail so she hides, and we see that Scarface is chasing her too.
The mole gets dangerously close to pulling a knife on the princess… but gets interrupted before she can do it. Whew. Stop leaving her alone in there!
Dae-man sends word to Choi Young that the doc has fled, and he sets out to find her, with the police shield strapped to his back. Ha. I love the incongruity of it. And also the way his men marvel at the hunk of plastic like it’s a god-shield ’cause it came from heaven.
Choong-seok protests that the general can’t leave them at a time like this, but Choi Young just tells them to guard the princess first and foremost. And the king? He gives his characteristic half-assed: “Just… you know… guard him well.” Off he goes.
Dae-man shows him where Eun-soo is hiding, only to find that she’s traded coats with the woman in the shop and run off. She climbs to the top of a hill and gasps, “What kind of drama set is this big?!”
She makes her way through the village knocking on doors and asking for help, when Scarface and his minions get to her first. She fights back using her shoe as a weapon, but they knock her out and carry her away.
By the time Choi Young finds her shoe, there’s blood on the ground and she’s long gone. He deduces right away that the same men who came for the princess last night must’ve taken her. But how did they know of the divine healer?
Dae-man chimes in to say that means there’s a mole. He wants to run off to interrogate the leak, but Choi Young knows there isn’t time for that—they don’t even know who the mole is.
He starts at the beginning—who’s the person responsible for the boats that stopped running so suddenly yesterday? Dae-man takes him to the man and Choi Young drowns him in a barrel of water till he talks.
That leads him pretty quickly to Scarface’s hideout, but he sees Choi Young coming and gags Eun-soo. They hide her away at knifepoint as Dae-man arrives to search the place, and he doesn’t see her.
Choi Young waits downstairs, when a man attacks from behind with a sword. I love that he takes him out without a weapon. He sticks the minion’s face near the fire, and he squeals that he’ll tell them everything.
He shows them the stash of chemical weapons they’re using against the king in their next attack… happening right now. Crap. They race back to the inn…
…where the attack is already underway. Choong-seok paces the inn and calls out routinely to each of his posts, and all but one answer back. He blows the whistle to sound the alarm and everyone readies his sword.
But they get gassed out by smoke grenades, forcing them out of the inn. Except every exit is covered by bow-and-arrow snipers at the ready. Eek! Just then, Dae-man swoops down on a rooftop to take out some men.
Inside, Jang Bin carries the unconscious princess, and the lady-in-waiting sees an opportunity to separate him from the group. The king notices that the princess is missing and runs off after her. Ack, now everyone’s split up!
Jang Bin puts the princess down to fight off some attackers… with his fan? No way. He’s got some ki-lightning powers of his own, because he can zap people with his fan and they just go down. So… not just a pretty accessory then.
But his mistake is in trusting the lady-in-waiting, because she uses the opportunity to raise her knife to the princess…
Princess Noguk stirs awake and opens her eyes, startling the girl long enough for her to be knocked down by… Choi Young’s police shield, which he throws at her like a boomerang. HA. Okay, that made me laugh out loud. That is not a use I imagined for the heavenly shield.
The king runs up to find the princess safe and awake. Choi Young asks again—she was saved by the divine healer, so will the king allow him to keep his word?
We don’t hear his answer, though it might not make a difference in the end, as the portal grows smaller and smaller by the minute.
The ministers in the capital argue over what they’ll do when Yuan demands that they take responsibility for the life of the princess. They’re certain Goryeo will lose its sovereignty over this, and just be turned into a Yuan state.
They know that Ki-chul is behind this, and argue that they have to do something about him before the king arrives…
But Ki-chul is already a step ahead, and has them gassed and killed en masse.
Choi Young and Dae-man head back to Scarface’s hideout to figure out where they took the healer, and find the place empty. Choi Young balls his hand up in a fist, his anger literally shooting out of him like electric energy. Cool.
Just then, a strange voice calls out, “Feed me! Feed me!” The man holding Eun-soo hostage jumps back in fear—it’s her cell phone, running low on battery and demanding to be fed. Ha.
It brings them out of hiding and the man threatens Eun-soo with a knife, but Choi Young doesn’t even blink and chucks a knife right into the man’s chest, knocking him down as Eun-soo screams in terror.
He unties her hands and her gag, sighing that she sure is a troublesome one, making him run about to rescue her, like he’s upset about it cutting into his naptime more than anything.
He lifts her chin to check her face, but she pushes him away angrily, throwing her other shoe and hobbling about toward the door. But she stops when he tells her that the princess is awake, and he’ll take her back now to where she came from.
She wails that he can go ahead and TRY to take her elsewhere and he just picks her up in his arms to shut her up. He warns that she’ll break if he drops her, and she finally stops complaining.
He smiles to himself as he carries her away. Why so dreamy?
And from the shadows, Scarface comes out from his hiding place and watches him carry the healer away.
He brings her to the portal, and she says she remembers this place, but she’s just fuzzy on how they got from Kangnam to here, exactly. He instructs her to go in that door, before it closes forever and he has no way of getting her back.
She doesn’t get the how, but that part she understands. He bows respectfully and epically (I seriously don’t know how, but it’s an epic head-bow), saying that he troubled her immensely.
She heads toward the portal… when Jo Il-shin’s voice rings out for her to stop. He shows up with guards and decrees that the divine healer cannot return.
Choi Young steps in between Jo and Eun-soo, shouting: “I, Goryeo warrior Choi Young, am sending her in my name. WHO DISRESPECTS MY NAME?” Oh damn.
He draws his sword. Everyone takes a step back.
He tells them to go ahead and try. Jo orders the men to stop Eun-soo, but they hesitate, not wanting to defy their general. But he screams at them that it’s a royal order. They regretfully draw their swords.
Jo: “Woodalchi Choi Young, I said it’s a royal order.” Crap. It’s the magic word. As Woodalchi, he cannot defy the king’s orders. He stops and looks back at Eun-soo, who starts to make her way towards the portal…
He runs after her and holds her back. Noooooo! He sticks his sword in the ground and holds her as she kicks and screams, and you can see the anguish in his eyes, as he goes back on his word in service of the king. Augh, it’s just horrible and heartbreaking.
The portal to heaven closes, and then he lets her go. She scrambles to the base of the statue, but there’s nothing there anymore.
He walks back to face Jo and says with tears brimming in his eyes, that he has followed royal order and stopped the healer. Eun-soo calls him a bastard, screaming that he promised—he gave her his word.
She yanks his sword out of the ground and cries that he’s a psycho and a murderer. “I’m going to kill you!” She weakly runs toward him holding the sword out in front of her, and Choi Young deliberately runs himself into the sword.
OH. MY. GAAAAAAAH.
Everyone gapes in horror and then he puts his hands over hers, and pulls the sword in further, all the way into his chest. HOLY CRAP.
He winces from the pain as she cries, “Why?! How? You could have gotten out of the way! WHY?” He whispers, “Is this enough?”
Omg. For going back on your word?! Will someone please tell Captain Literal that she doesn’t actually require his life in payment?!
But clearly Choi Young’s life (or at least his honor) is something the king was willing to sacrifice, as Princess Noguk points out with disdain.
As Choi Young collapses to the ground, Eun-soo goes from shock to doctor mode, asking the men for something to secure the sword to his body like this so they can stave off the bleeding while they move him.
But Jo Il-shin says they don’t have time to treat him—they have to hurry and bring the healer back and get the king away to safety. When they refuse to budge, the bastard even asks the barely conscious Choi Young what he would order his men to do, and the noble general tells them to go. NO! Don’t listen to him! He’s delirious!
Eun-soo tells Jo that she won’t leave him here—this makes her a killer and she won’t abide that, so then Jo figures fine, HE’LL be the killer then, and yanks the mutherfuckin’ sword out of Choi Young’s chest.
WHAT THE HELL, MAN?
Eun-soo freaks out and orders the men to compress the gaping wound and sends Dae-man to get her surgical tools. She’ll just have to operate here.
Jo is still screaming his head off at the men to take the heavenly one away, but finally Choong-seok yells back that the heavenly one is the one ordering them to hold the wound, so that’s what they’re doing! Well thank goodness for you.
Dae-man races through town like the wind and forces his way into the king’s room to get the medical supplies. They ask what happened and Dae-man barely gets out through his tears that their leader is dying and needs to be saved.
The king gets up, furious, “Did Woodalchi defy my order?” He assumes that one of the men cut him down because he refused to obey. Dae-man makes it clear that they could never cut their general, and no, he did not defy the king’s orders. He obeyed, and that’s why he’s dying.
He pleads with them to be let go. The princess intervenes and says that Choi Young saved her life. By the queen’s authority, she allows him to go, and tells Jang Bin to accompany him. It leaves the king reeling, and the princess asks belatedly, dripping with sarcasm, “Is it okay if I give orders, your majesty?” I like her.
In his haste, Dae-man drops a little bottle from the bundle of supplies and steps on it. Oh dear. Why do I have a feeling that was the morphine? Oowwwwww.
The men carry Choi Young through the woods on a makeshift stretcher, and Eun-soo pleads with him not to lose consciousness. He’s bleeding everywhere, but he’s got enough of his senses to grab her by the collar and beg for her to just leave him behind.
He swears that she wasn’t the one to stab him—she couldn’t if she tried—and that he’ll somehow manage to stay alive on his own.
Eun-soo (in English): “Shut. UP.” He’s like, whaa?
Eun-soo: “Shut your mouth! Listen, here’s the order: first, I save you, then you can go wherever you like and live or die as you please. You just go ahead and TRY to die before that!” Hahaha.
They finally get him inside and prep for surgery, and Eun-soo looks around frantically for the little bottle, which turns out to be an antibiotic. Guess they’ll have to go without and risk sepsis. Eep. She asks if there’s anything they can use as an antibiotic or a painkiller, naming drugs that of course Jang Bin has never heard of. Er…
Meanwhile, the rest of the men guard the king and ask that he stay put for his safety. He’s left alone with the princess, and takes the opportunity to tell her that she can’t give orders. She is not to do anything—even take one step—without his permission.
He knows that she must hate going from Yuan princess to queen in a foreign land, and that she must resent him greatly. But this is the law she must follow. “Why are you not answering me?”
Princess: “You did not command me to answer you, therefore I cannot.” Pffft. She’s so awesome.
Back to surgery by candlelight. Eun-soo asks why this anesthesia is taking so long, but Jang Bin asks how it’s supposed to go any faster. He says that the general can handle an enormous amount of pain but she says it’s not actually helpful if he fights against pain while she’s trying to operate. Well phew for that.
But by the time she’s done arguing, he’s unconscious, and she gets ready with her scalpel. Jang Bin grabs her hand in horror—why is she treating a man with a knife wound by cutting into him?
She explains that she has to cut open his whole chest to know what kind of damage there was, but Jang Bin eyes her in disbelief, “Can I trust your words that you’re going to save a man that you stabbed to kill?” Well when you put it like that…
Eun-soo: “You say that I’m from heaven! So trust me.”
We seriously need to send this show to Cliffhanger Academy, (What is it with Lee Min-ho dramas and the slow learning curve for endings?) because I have no idea why both Episodes 1 and 2 had sharp would-be cliffhanger endings that turned out to be third-act openers (them facing the portal, her stabbing him), only to then add a whole arc and then leave in the middle of a scene like it just trailed off. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have wondered if the show was written for a 45-minute timeslot and got reshuffled for an hour at the last minute. So weird.
In any case, that plotting issue aside, I really love the fusion fantasy world, and the sharp wit of all the characters. There’s an insanely large number of them and we’re just barely getting to know the main players, but already I’m interested in a lot of the side characters, who each get their moments to shine. Second-in-command Choong-seok is already an intriguing favorite, and stuttering loyal Dae-man is a fantastic sidekick for Choi Young. The king and queen have a great conflict from the get-go, and I really enjoy the dynamic of the immature king and the feisty queen who finds herself suddenly foisted on this foreign kingdom.
I actually find Eun-soo’s insistence that she’s just in a foreign country and can’t figure out how she got from Kangnam to here so logical and funny, because she refuses to give up that grasp on reality. So even when she’s willing to go with portal-will-take-me-home, she’s still like, but why can’t I get cell reception here? It makes for such a funny and more realistic transition into the world that she hasn’t once asked when she is, only where, and why everyone around her seems a little odd. For now I’m content to watch her play the fish-out-of-water, because it’s hilarious and there’s plenty of heightened drama around her. I’m hoping the drama isn’t going to feel the need to be surgery-of-the-week like Dr. Jin, because I don’t much care about the actual doctoring so much as the wit of everyone thinking Eun-soo this divine healer from heaven when she’s just… so not.
And I know I’m screaming in the moment for Literal Man to stop being so rash, but I actually find his absolute moral compass and his code of honor so moving. When he tells the king he should be more than men, it tells us so much about his character. He understands the larger purpose he serves—he fights by the sword so that greater men may rule. And regardless of whether the king lives up to his end of the bargain, the warrior does his job faithfully. Not necessarily in an idealistic way, as we learned from his honest confession in the last episode, but in a practical sense—this is the definition of what a warrior is. It’s all the more heartbreaking (and brilliant) to have the naïve king choose power over honor, because we understand that Choi Young has no such choice. He is his honor.
His complete and utter willingness to die by the sword tells us he knows of no such thing as a dishonorable Goryeo warrior. You’re either a warrior, or you die. I’m sure I’m going to be yelling at him constantly because of it, (I can’t have my hero filleting himself on account of his honor all the time) but I’m deeply moved by it too, and I want so much for his king and his country to live up to that code. I also can’t wait to see what happens when love throws a wrench into things—when Choi Young has something to live for and can’t be so cavalier about being a human shish kabob.
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