Faith is settling into its story, and finishes setting its main conflicts in place. Now we get a better sense of the big picture, of the extent and reach of this world, so I think (as the press so loves to say) that the real story is finally starting here.
I’ve got some good news for you, and some bad news. Since I always like my letdowns to come with a pick-me-up chaser, let’s start with the bad: Faith is not nearly as exciting or epic as I’d hoped it would be. Sad, but true. I was actually quite pleased with the premiere episode, with the grandeur of the Goryeo world and the comic perkiness of the modern scenes. Plus those quirky animated sequences! But now that we’ve settled down, I think the drama’s more understated than the premise calls for.
On the upside, I do think that once I let go of my disappointment that this isn’t going to be what I’d expected, I find I still do enjoy the setup and the characters. There’s still plenty of material to work with and a witty touch with dialogue that I enjoy. All’s not lost.
SONG OF THE DAY
Bobby Kim – “꿈에” (In a dream) [ Download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
After the king’s order forces him to renege on his word of honor, Choi Young impales himself on his sword. Message delivered: Do not mess with a warrior’s name. Well, not if you want your bodyguard to stick around long enough to guard your body.
Eun-soo steps in, intent on saving his life. She gathers her supplies and tries to begin surgery, but Goryeo’s top doc Jang Bin interjects, being unfamiliar with her methods. They argue for precious moments before she finally gets him to back off. He does what he can to help, which mostly consists of sopping up blood.
Time to get to know our baddies. White-haired flutist of death Chun Eum-ja appears before Ki Chul, who is Goryeo royalty. Thus he has his own claim to rulership and is challenging the king for power.
Ki Chul is fuming; the Yuan princess Noguk is still alive. This is not the result they spent the past years preparing for. He has grand plans overthrow the king, and they’re so close to taking over the country. Not a time to mess up.
Eum-ja asks Ki Chul for one more day of patience, because one of their own is on her way to finish off the job, and she never fails to deliver; it’s Hwasuin.
Ki Chul leaves Eum-ja with one more command: the man in the room with them has heard too much. It’s the signal to flute him to death, and Eum-ja plays a melody laced with a piercing tone. Gives new meaning to the term My ears are bleeding.
The surgery proceeds, and Eun-soo notes that there’s no severe damage to Choi Young’s internal organs. Without the proper equipment, she uses acupuncture needles to cauterize the wound, then stitches together the liver. As she works, Jang Bin eyes her with growing respect.
Choi Young wakes in the morning, doubling over in pain as he heads for his sword. Eun-soo wakes up and grabs the first thing she can — surgery scissors, ha — and warns him not to move, or else…
He says wryly that she stabbed him, then treated him. Is she planning to stab, then treat him again? Well, he’s got you there. You’re sort of limited in threat options at this point.
Dragonball-puppy-warrior Dae-man rushes in to help his general, informing him that he unconscious for one night, and that the king is still here, having insisted on waiting for Choi Young. Is that an olive branch gesture for disrespecting his honor? Though at this point, I’m thinking he’s going to have to hand over a whole tree.
Choi Young isn’t happy, having expected the king’s party to have sailed on as planned, out of harm’s way. He joins his men, who are relieved to see him alive and well (ish). Choi Young issues instructions for immediate departure, at which point Eun-soo pops her head into the huddle and indignantly orders the patient to rest. I find it super cute how she just barges into the warriors’ midst, shoving aside Dae-man, yapping about safety and health.
Choi Young ignores her entirely — she may as well be an invisible ghost — as she warns him of ripping stitches. Finally she gets right in his face and rattles off her orders: Back to bed till she says he’s good to go.
He stops her rant… by falling on top of her. Not in a sexy way, alas. He braces against the pain and tells her that if they don’t move, he’s afraid they’ll all die, and he can’t fight in his condition. She wasn’t here for the first skirmish so she’s totally confused as to the danger, but he warns her that the enemy may have caught on to who she is; they’d best be gone before their return.
He reminds her of the promise to return her homeward: “To keep that, you have to stay alive. I’ll protect you until then. So stay stuck to my side.”
Eun-soo refuses to leave the area where the portal to her world lies. Wearily, Choi Young tells Dae-man to “do something about her.”
The next thing we know, she’s riding along in the princess’s sedan chair. The king’s entourage continues onward, and Eun-soo mutters curses at Choi Young as they travel.
Enter Hwasuin, here to finish off Princess Noguk. A lackey reports that the king’s party has already left, despite attempts to sabotage their departure. If only she’d come earlier this morning, she might have caught them….
Hwasuin doesn’t seem that worried. She says in a languid but menacing tone that it’s too bad he’s trying to blame this on her for sleeping in late, which has him stuttering in fear. She decides she has a better explanation for this mission’s failure: The lackey betrayed them.
She takes off her leather gloves and sits in his lap, caressing his face as informs him that his treachery tipped off the king’s party. He starts to convulse and burn — she possesses the power to corral fire with her bare hands.
Eun-soo tries to make friends with the princess, asking for her name and offering that she (Eun-soo) appears to be the unni. Haha. Noguk tells her in her unflappably calm way that she’s the Yuan princess, and that the man in the carriage in front is the king.
Eun-soo’s first reaction is to whine, which sort of makes me love her: “What the hell kind of dream is this?” Even as she realizes that Yuan places her in the Goryeo era (“Or is it Silla? I’m a doctor, so my history isn’t that great”), she doesn’t fully treat this as reality. She tries to wrap her head around the idea that she time-machined her way here: “So you’re saying I came from 2012 to — wait, what year is Goryeo? A few hundred years? A thousand?” Heh.
Noguk tells her that she has heard all about how Eun-soo was dragged here by force, and because of her. “I’m really very sorry.”
Eun-soo whines again, “What kind of dream is this long?” and throws a mini-tantrum on the sedan bench. I’ve gotta say, I can understand if you’ve got a different response to this character, but I just love her reactions.
Ki Chul gets a status update on the king’s procession and muses, “How strong will their devotion to the new king be?” He grins in anticipation at the thought of testing them.
Second-in-command Choong-seok informs the princess that they are approaching the capital. He has a message from the king about meeting the elder statesmen right away, and hilariously, he even affects Gongmin’s measured vocal inflections to deliver it verbatim. HA.
Noguk replies testily that she needs to wash and change first, and off Choong-seok goes to relay her words. I hope he mimics her just as faithfully, hee.
Noguk looks at herself worriedly in the looking glass, which is warped and scratched. Eun-soo offers her own Hello Kitty mirror, then goes at her with her makeup kit. Aw, it’s cute. Female bonding for the win.
The party arrives in the capital and enter the palace grounds. They’re at Suninjeon, which is where the king conducts his political affairs with his councillors. Yet they find the courtyard completely empty but for a few guards stationed at their posts, which seems odd. No statesmen to greet them after all.
Choi Young takes the lead and inspects the grounds for danger, then okays them to continue. Advisor Jo Il-shin can’t contain his indignation and bursts into a rant — this is how they greet the king’s triumphant return?
King Gongmin silently leads his party through the palace into an inner chamber. There’s an aisle leading to the king’s seat, flanked on either side by statesmen’s desks — which are all empty.
Gongmin takes this in without a word, though he looks like he’s struggling to keep his composure. Choi Young steps aside to ask a guard why nobody has come, despite the fact that they’d sent messengers in advance to inform the statesmen to be ready to receive their king.
Three court ladies enter, the most senior of whom asks the king if he remembers her — she’d been the hand he’d clung to when he was dragged off to Yuan at the age of ten. He remembers her as court lady Choi, smiling in recognition.
Court lady Choi ushers Gongmin and Noguk to their chambers, urging them to rest. Then she turns to the entourage, approaching Choi Young first, muttering that he looks like he’s in terrible condition.
At that, Eun-soo takes a close look at his face, recognizing the signs of fever. Shoving her away, he puts Jang Bin in charge of her, not allowing himself to slump over until he’s alone.
Jang Bin takes Eun-soo to his palace hospital as she explains to him the dangers of sepsis. But she can’t know whether Choi Young is in danger or not, since he’s hardly about to let her inspect him. Furthermore, even if she were able to do a blood analysis, they don’t have the necessary medicines to cure him.
Good thing, then, that it looks like he doesn’t need her to cure him; he sits quietly in a room while electric currents run through his body. Whatever power allows him to use his lightning/ki ability is now healing him — it explains why he’d insisted on his men leaving him behind at the portal, saying he’d take care of himself.
Court lady Choi leads Princess Noguk to her chamber, asking whether she’d like a bath or a meal. Noguk remains silent as she lets court lady Choi assume she can’t speak their language. That gives lady Choi a moment to grumble about how it seems the princess has a temper, though she’s pretty enough.
A translator is called in, but before she can say anything, Noguk speaks up. In Korean. Ha.
A flashback takes us back a year and some months ago, before her marriage:
This is her first encounter with Gongmin, and because of her fluency in Korean, he mistakes her for a Goryeo woman, thinking she’d been dragged here as a tribute.
He apologizes for her predicament, saying that the powerlessness of the Goryeo rulers are taking its toll on its citizens as well. Asking whether she wants to return home, he takes her hand and leads her away, intending to escape. First the palace, then the country.
Oh, interesting. Noguk doesn’t protest for whatever reason, or set him straight. Did she love him even before knowing him? I begin to see how their estrangement may have begun…
Princess Noguk asks Gongmin what he is escaping from, and he answers, “The princess of this palace.” Ouuuch. He confides that he is being pressured to marry a Yuan princess — an indignity after being essentially kidnapped by the Yuan empire as a child: “Now they want me to be their son-in-law.”
She asks if he hates the idea so much. Face twisting in disgust, he tells her that the Yuan have toyed with the Goryeo nation, enthroning kings and tossing them away on a whim. He can’t bear to be at their mercy, bowing his head on command and submitting to their power.
Noguk places a hand on his arm, calming him mid-rant. She asks, “But since she is a princess, would she not be of help to you?” If he marries a Goryeo princess, the nation remains weak. Marrying a Yuan royal is politically more powerful, and increases his likelihood of being made king.
Gongmin angrily scoffs that he can’t accept a Yuan bride he doesn’t even know. She prods, “You’ve never met her? If she’s the princess in this palace…”
He cuts her off: “Even if I had, I wouldn’t want to remember a Yuan woman.”
Gongmin concedes that he won’t have the clout to avoid such a marriage. He proposes, “You, of Goryeo birth, become my first wife.” He wants to be able to converse with her in his native tongue, to confide and feel her support, saying, “Then that Yuan girl won’t even be able to approach your place.”
This is the memory that flashes in Noguk’s mind as she sees the king walk by, barely looking her way.
Eun-soo follows Jang Bin to the medicinal herb garden and wonders about lunch. Is there any sort of cafeteria around?
Jang Bin wonders, “Are all heavenly healers like you? Is it such a little thing, whether a person lives or dies? The healers here on earth cannot do that — we don’t abandon a patient just because there is no medicine.” People keep clinging to hope, trying this method or that one if the first doesn’t work.
He leaves her in the garden momentarily, and she becomes aware of a shadowy presence in the building. Wielding a tool like a weapon, she looks around fearfully and stumbles into a wall, cutting her knee.
Outside, Choi Young asks a servant girl if “she” is inside. Judging from the mute girl’s indignant signing, he guesses, “Ah, she is.” Haha. Then he peers inside the room, just as Eun-soo pulls up her pant leg to inspect the wound, baring a lotta leg for a Goryeo girl. He looks away at first, then observes as she keeps complaining to herself.
He asks the mute girl to keep watch over Eun-soo, but doesn’t join her. He tends to his wound, which appears to be healing, though still bleeding.
King Gongmin is informed of the recent happenings in court. Ah, so now the poison-gassing ambush scene from the previous episode makes sense. The Ki Chul-directed team of assassins had locked the palace doors while every last minister died inside, which explains their absence. Not an insult after all.
They know that Ki Chul is behind this, as well as the recent assassination attempt, and Advisor Jo instructs Choi Young to storm his home and kill the enemy. But when Gongmin asks if this is possible, Choi Young replies that it’s not. Ki Chul has thousands of warriors, whom he can mobilize more quickly than they can call in for reinforcements. It’s rumored that Ki Chul also killed everyone still loyal to the king.
Advisor Jo takes umbrage to being bypassed for counsel, and insists that he is the king’s most loyal servant. Gongmin replies that there’s only one person in the world he trusts — Choi Young. Ah, so while the king hadn’t given the order to keep the doctor as a test of Choi Young’s loyalty, the end result is that it proved it.
Gongmin says, “Now you will become a trusted friend. Can you treat me the same way?” Aww. The heart, it warms.
And yet, Choi Young’s response is to sigh and hand him a letter. It’s essentially his resignation, stamped with approval by the previous king; escorting Gongmin to the capital was his last mission. Now he intends to live as an ordinary citizen. Oh nooooo, bromance killed before it even started.
Gongmin asks, “You would leave me at a time like this? You’d abandon me?”
Instead, he counters with a royal command: one last mission, and then he’ll consider that resignation. Choi Young tries to protest that the previous king had ordered it be so. Gongmin challenges him — will he obey the past king, or the current one? What he wants is proof and an explanation of the assassination of his council: who did it, and why? He needs to know who he’s fighting.
Thus Choi Young gets to work directing his Woodalchi men to search the council chambers for that proof. Dae-man finds a blood-spattered letter hidden in the room, left by one of the dying ministers. Proof!
But Choi Young doesn’t consider this definitive proof of anything — at least, it’s not enough. It is, however, a handy tool he’ll use for his next step.
On to a banquet hall, where Ki Chul feasts with his cronies. They greet the arrival of the king’s men with disinterest — it’s rude but they’re heady with their growing power. Still, despite their ambitions to wrest power away from Gongmin, the House of Ki is still subordinate to the king, and they do the minimum of keeping up appearances of loyalty.
Choi Young steps up to address Ki Chul, and the fact that his vision blurs worries me. He faces him and basically schools him: I don’t know if you heard just now, but that was a ROYAL ORDER. His voice grows hard and he glowers, “That means that just as you do when you see His Majesty personally, you had better kneel down, touch the ground, bow your head and show some respect.” Damn. Angry Choi Young is sizzling. I wish he’d do it more.
On to business. Ki Chul is handed a scroll. Choi Young steps closer and adds that perhaps they’d better retire in private to receive the more troublesome royal command.
Back at Woodalchi headquarters, Choi Young lies down for a nap and tosses over a roster of assassinated ministers to Choong-seok. The men wonder if that’s what he showed to Ki Chul. Choi Young says no, “That was bait.”
Flashback. Now in a private room, Choi Young slides over the blood-spattered note they found at Suninjeon. Ki Chul feigns sorrow over the tragedy, and Choi Young lays the trap: saying he’s not so great at reading Chinese letters, he says he’s here to ask for Ki Chul’s wisdom. That’s the king’s order: Ki Chul is to help Choi Young get to the bottom of the murders.
Aha! Smart. Bring him close and give him a false sense of superiority…
Choong-seok is impressed at the plan, and asks Choi Young for details. It’s so cute, how he wants to know the details, but Choi Young is done with the explanation and just wants to sleep. They keep talking, and he throws books at them, yelling for some peace and quiet.
Eun-soo goes looking for him and makes her way to the Woodalchi quarters, where she runs into Dae-man. He takes a look at her homemade shorts — her pants hacked off mid-thigh — and turns into a stammering boy. He’s like, LEGS! Haha.
He leads her inside, where all the men — Choi Young included — gape at her legs. She’s all business, here to see to his injury whether he likes it or not. “Take off your outer clothes,” she instructs, although her mind is totally NOT in the same place as everyone else’s.
She tries to feel for his pulse, but he yanks back. Ignoring her, he demands to know who let her in — are headquarters just open to anyone? He tells them to take her back and walks away.
Thoroughly peeved, Eun-soo throws her supplies at his back, yelling, “You crazy bastard!” She’s angry and emotional, demanding, “And what did I do wrong? You snatched away the person who was living her life just fine!” She cries that she wants to go home and shower in her own bathroom and sleep in her bed. But he kidnapped her and brought her here and won’t even feed her properly.
“I thought it was a dream,” she continues. “But even though I sleep and wake, it’s not.” And here she is trying to treat him after stabbing, and he won’t cooperate. What is she supposed to do? “I’m sorry for stabbing you, so let me treat you.”
At that, he suddenly moves, heading for her — and pushes her against a wall. One look at his men sends them away, and he leans in closer, glowering. “So what did I tell you? At heaven’s door — the place where you stabbed me with the sword. I told you to leave me there alone.”
She scoffs that that’s crazy, and he asks incredulously, “Why did you insist on saving me? Because of you, do you know what I’m—?” He cuts himself off.
She retorts sarcastically that if he wants to die, then he may be well on his way with possible sepsis. He turns on her to tell her to shut that mouth, warning that he’ll make sure to shut it for her if she doesn’t.
With that, he dismisses her, telling her she’ll be escorted back to her quarters. He holds an arm out to stop her while he adds one more request: to keep her legs covered.
Eun-soo seizes the opportunity and grabs his hand in both of hers, then measures his temperature against her own. It’s enough to tell her that he’s burning up, and she hands him a bottle of aspirin with instructions to take it three times daily. She knows it’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. In a small voice, she adds, “Don’t die.”
That surprises him. She says that he may be crazy, “But if you die and leave me alone, what will I do?” She wipes her tears and places the bottle in his hand and exits, leaving him looking after her curiously.
But the pain gets the better of him and he stumbles, falling to the ground.
Annnnnnd of course we end here. Should we just be glad we didn’t end the episode mid-scene? Mid-sentence? C’mon, a little effort here with the cliffhangers. The endings remind me of the episode enders to Thousand Day Promise, and since that drama was basically nothing but “She dies a horrible death. We watch in excruciating detail. The end,” I don’t think it’s one to emulate. Especially since this one’s also got, you know, actual plot and conflict elements to keep us on edge.
Continuing with my comments up top, I think Faith suffers, among a handful of things, pedestrian directing. There’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s also nothing interesting about it. This would totally work with a standard trendy drama, for instance, where the love story carries the narrative and the directing is allowed more slack to be merely functional. Something like I Do, I Do or A Gentleman’s Dignity doesn’t need directorial flair, although admittedly a lovely camera (like Gentleman’s) certainly helps matters.
But this is a large world with magic and elaborate costuming and time travel, so style becomes an inevitable part of the fantasy aspect. I don’t let the conventional directing bother me, exactly, but it’s a huge missed opportunity. I can’t help wishing for that gorgeous camera that all the other dramas are using these days. Heck, even 1 Night 2 Days gets to use it, and when a variety show has fancier cinematography than your prime-time fusion sageuk, I’m thinking something’s wrong with this picture.
Aesthetics aside, though, there were a bunch of threads I really liked about this episode. The big one is Gongmin and Noguk’s flashback, which shed so much light on their acrimonious relationship and did it with a lot of pathos. It was one of those scenes where you couldn’t help but feel for both sides, even as Gongmin was crushing Noguk’s heart with every spiteful word.
You can’t blame him for his derision of the overlords who kidnapped him, kept him under strict watch, and expect him to play puppet for them. He’s got his own nation and his own citizenry that he’s fiercely loyal to, so his hatred of the unknown Yuan bride-to-be makes a lot of sense. And you see that Noguk is understanding of his situation, talking to him gently and trying to get him to see the other side without outing herself. There’s little she can do in this situation that wouldn’t anger him, and it’s just sadly ironic because he would have the trusted confidante he longs for if he’d open up his heart a little.
Noguk is becoming one of my favorite characters, with her combination of sarcasm and dignity. I can’t wait to see more of her development, and hope that it comes hand in hand with a friendship with heroine — because how cute is that?
In fact, I’m thrilled that two of my favorite characters in this drama are the ladies. You’d think that in a medium so heavily watched by and made for female viewers, more dramas would do a better job with strong, engaging female characters, and it’s a damn shame that’s not always (or often) the case. But I’m just excited at the possibility of having some female bonding opportunities here, after getting so much bromance. Why do drama heroines so often have no female friends? It’s a mystery.
As for Choi Young… I still find him a fascinating character, although I’m not quite sure how I feel about Lee Min-ho yet. Gasp! I know, I know. I love him unreservedly, but in this role I’m still waiting to see where he takes it. I actually quite love Lee’s restrained acting, and it fits Choi Young’s indifferent worldview, but I do want more from him. The restraint definitely makes his fiery reactions all the more exciting when they do happen, though, and I anticipate he’ll be tapping in to his emotions more in the future. I look forward to that.