Yikes, Gaksital is so good today. Just when I’ve been starting to worry that the show has let its rebellion storyline overtake the smaller character moments, it brings back the emotion back — and in a big way. Because in addition to big movements in plot, we get some significant shifts in character arcs, coming at a time when I’ve though we wouldn’t see much more change in trajectories. What this show has done consistently well, though, is constantly moving — in its secrets, allegiances, and above all, feelings.
SONG OF THE DAY
Gaksital OST – “심판의 날” (Day of Judgment), in which Joo-won sings, with Bohemian and Lee Jung-hyun. [ Download ]
EPISODE 25 RECAP
Thanks to Tamao’s tip-off (sob), Gaksital & Co. crash the party to intercept the money hand-off, taking the funds Kishokai intends to use for their Joseon draft operation.
Rie and Katsuyama jump into action and the fight divides down gender lines: Rie against Jin Hong, Katsuyama against Ahn Sub (the drama finally realizes their supporting cast needs names!). I’m rather impressed at their prowess, given that Comrade Ahn takes on a samurai sword with nothing but his bare fists and even gains the upper hand. Comrade Jin disarms Rie and knocks her out cold, which is a relief to me, mostly because that seems to be the safest place for Rie.
But save the worry for Kang-to, who is chased out by Samurai Kinpei and faces him, flute against sword. Ack! And hooo damn, the editing does no favors for my blood pressure either, all clashing metal and quick cuts, with nothing more than a hairsbreadth standing between safety and our hero’s disembowelment.
But Kang-to’s learned a few tricks from his last encounter, and a slice that would have gutted him gets blocked this time. Knocking Kinpei’s sword aside, they shift into hand-to-hand combat and again Kang-to stays ahead of the curve, blocking a punch while landing a blow of his own. And then he head-butts Kinpei’s swinging fist with his face, oww, although I’m hoping it’s the mask that takes the brunt of that impact.
It’s a whirl of flying kicks and tangled limbs, which is pretty damn cool. I love that this show uses so much “real action,” as opposed to camera tricks and wire assists, because it feels, well, real.
Kinpei staggers in pain (so he’s NOT a robot!) and Kang-to goes in for the K-O: a jumping, spinning kick straight to the head that sends him flying backward across the lawn. Oh thank god this fight’s done.
The two comrades win their fights and join him. Together with the money, they make a safe getaway.
Inside the gisaeng house, the count goes looking for his son, his face crumpling at the sight of Tamao lying in a pool of blood. It’s actually quite sad; the count has always been a silly character but his great weakness was always his cowardice. I don’t doubt his love for his son, and his grief is affecting.
The countess finds him cradling Tamao and sobbing, and screams in horror. Shunji arrives and takes in the sight. Do you feel like an ass now? If you’ve got one shred of decency left in you, you’ll feel like an ass. Shunji flashes back to his last words to Tamao, scorning a friendship with a damn Korean.
Our disgraced fighters face a displeased Chairman Ueno. Shunji, his father, and Murayama are also present and they all bow their heads in apology. The chairman growls that he was wrong to trust Shunji with catching the rebels, but Shunji begs for another chance, promising to kill Gakistal, Yang Baek, and Dong-jin. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first time these baddies have pleaded with “just one more chance,” but who are they to point that out? The chairman agrees.
Kang-to delivers the money to Dong-jin and Reporter Song, and volunteers to handle the procurement of arms for the rebellion. Oh no! Are you going to raid the police stash again, with Shunji on your tail?
Knowing Shunji is bound to retaliate quickly, Comrades Jin and Ahn find Mok Dan at the inn and urge her to leave immediately, planning to escort the circus members into hiding as well. As expected, Shunji arrives with a troop of armed officers, storming inside just as the trio are headed out.
They jump out through a window instead. Shunji bursts in to see the escape and follows, but he’s too slow to stop the getaway car.
The comrades escort Mok Dan to Gaksital’s cabin by morning, where Kang-to anxiously waits. She sees that he’s dressed in uniform and protests — surely he can’t go to work when Shunji’s on to him.
Kang-to recalls his jailbreak of Reporter Song, when the Kishokai assassin showed up and strangely didn’t kill him. He realizes that Shunji must have been playing ignorant this whole time to get to Yang Baek and Dong-jin. Oh thank you for making the connection!
He says that Shunji won’t kill him till he gets the two leaders: “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine as long as I keep acting like I don’t know I’ve been uncovered.” You’ll have to forgive me for not being reassured about Kang-to’s safety one bit. Mok Dan is likewise worried, but he says there’s no better place to get the rebellion’s needed firepower than the police station: “Once I do that, I’m going to quit.”
Ack! Don’t say that! The “one last mission” are the hero’s famous last words in every movie ever. I do NOT have a good feeling about this…
Kang-to sneaks back into town and sees the officers patrolling all around. Shunji paces in his office, wondering if Kang-to took Mok Dan and Boss Jo away intending to disappear for good. He realizes with dismay, “If he never comes back, I have no way to catch him.” Well, that’s what happens when you play with your food; it walks off your plate when your back is turned.
But then, Kang-to shows up for work. I do love that this should relieve Shunji’s fears, but instead it just infuriates him even more, messing with his head. Without warning, Shunji charges at Kang-to and punches him in the face.
He grabs him and demands, “What did you do last night?” Kang-to fires back, “Do I have to report everything I do even after I’m off-duty?” Shunji punches him again, then starts in with the kicking, hurling swears at him.
But today Kang-to fights back, landing a punch of his own: “Why are you doing this? What did I do that was so wrong?!”
Shunji resumes the beating, knocking him to the ground. With his foot on Kang-to’s chest, he growls that one more snippy response like that, “and you’ll die by my hand.”
Shunji keeps a close eye on Kang-to, thinking to himself that Kang-to must know his cover’s been blown. So if he knows, then why is he pretending? What is his motive? (Aaaaaack! Here I was, thinking Kang-to had the upper hand by pretending he doesn’t know that Shunji knows… only to have Shunji one-up him by pretending he doesn’t know that Kang-to’s pretending not to know that he knows…)
Kang-to thinks to himself that he needs to raid the weapons stash: “I hope you’ll fall for the lie just one more time…”
Shunji briefs his team on the theft of defense funds. He asks Kang-to directly what he thinks Yang Baek and Dong-jin are plotting. Kang-to asks, “Have you decided the government general bombing plans are fake?” He advises that Shunji stay on his guard — what if he lets it down and the terrorists go through with the bombing?
Shunji says it’s a good thought, but with an ugly sneer. He orders his men to find the rebels’ headquarters, no matter what. He’s not at all taken in by Kang-to’s answer, and this sends his suspicions in another direction — did Kang-to return to work to spread false reports and confuse the investigation? “Lee Kang-to, do you think I’ll fall for your lies?” A girl can hope.
Dong-jin’s death squad continues their firebombing of government buildings, upping their count to six courthouses out of the thirteen nationwide. This leaves the upper brass scratching their heads — why? Shunji proposes that they’re after the official registers, augggggghhhh. Shunji-ya, why so smart? You’re killin’ me here.
This tips them off to the rebels’ intent to fight the draft and spur a large-scale revolt. Kimura is frustrated at their inability to find any trace of either leader, but Shunji assures Dad that he’s got a guide to both of them, right in the palm of his hand.
Kang-to heads to the tailor’s shop… not seeing Koiso on his tail. Damn damn damn.
Inside Rebel Headquarters, Kang-to informs the team that Shunji suspects the bombing info to be false… and therefore won’t be on his guard about protecting the weapons. Eeek! That is a smart deduction, but what about the other thing? The one where he’s on to your real plan too?
Damsari’s worried that raiding the Jongro station is especially dangerous, but Kang-to counters that it’s the one they know the best. He assures him that he plans to quit the force right after this mission, which just about makes my heart stop for a second. He said it again! Omg. Don’t die!
Yang Baek commends him for his service while maintaining his double identity, but says the time has come for him to cast off the uniform and the Sato Hiroshi name, and join in with his fellow citizens. All this stating of the obvious has me really nervous… that the obvious will not come to pass.
Kang-to hands over the police station’s blueprints to be studied, and says he’ll give them the signal when the time comes to raid.
He emerges from the tailor’s and scans the view, and still misses seeing Koiso parked in stakeout. Kang-to-ya, where be your sharp eyes? Be suspicious! Do I have to jump you to put you on your guard? ‘Cause I can do that. For freedom and country, of course.
I guess Kang-to did shake off one officer, but the fact remains that Koiso reports this news to Shunji, who heads straight over to the shop. The tailor confirms that Kang-to frequents his shop, and when Shunji narrows his eyes saying he doesn’t earn enough money for that, the tailor says that even the governor shops on credit.
Shunji seems to smell something fishy and asks which suit here is Kang-to’s. The tailor says Kang-to is so picky he’s still fussing over the design, and Shunji — not buying it — just says it’s too bad, he thought he’d ask for the same suit. Since Kang-to’s so fashionable and all.
The tailor manages to stick to his story with believable answers, but Shunji can sense fear, and it’s not a good sign.
The count and countess are dragged to meet the chairman. The countess squawks about this lack of respect on funeral day, but the count walks on in a grief-stricken daze.
The countess launches into a defense — all she did was help collect that money! It’s not their fault it got stolen! Rie orders her to shut up, and shows them the letter found in the room with Tamao’s body. Oh shit.
The countess shrieks to read the confession, and curses Tamao (“that crazy bastard”) for screwing with them even from the grave. The count bleakly says he’d amassed a fortune and sang the emperor’s praises, all to leave his one and only son a comfortable life. That airplane donation, the streams of cash he poured into Kishokai — what was all that for?
The countess disavows any ties to Tamao: “He’s not my son!” Chairman Ueno tells them to act as befits a Kishokai member, “And leave.”
At those words Katsuyama and Kinpei draw their swords. The count and countess blubber for mercy; the count cries that he never gave those rebels a cent and wasn’t unfaithful to Kishokai.
Rie presents them with a contract to sign, stating their responsibility for the lost funds. The count grabs it like a lifeline and promises to come up with that amount, if it takes selling the roof over his head.
(For reference’s sake, the amount stolen was 100,000 won. While that would only be $100 today, a previous episode gave us the handy conversion that 600,000 won in Gaksital’s time is 19.8 billion won in today’s world. So the count is on the hook for what would be nearly $3 million today.)
The count signs. And then… the samurais strike anyway. Whaaaa?
Ohhh, I see — you’ll claim the money from their estate, regardless of whether they’re alive. Clever, in a ruthless sort of way.
How sweet, the chairman turns this into a teachable moment: “Ueno Rie, there’s only one thing to trust in this world. Power.”
Shunji mulls over the clues, landing on the fact that Kang-to mentioned the bombing of the government general. Was that a real tip, or fake? Could he have conspired with Deuk-soo (Hothead)? He realizes, “Wait, then they need munitions.” Gasp! Nooooo. Shunji’s really firing on all cylinders today, isn’t he?
He swings into action, telling his force they’ve been barking up the wrong tree. He acts like he’s embarrassed to have fallen for another lie about the bombing, and even apologizes to Kang-to for preventing him from strangling Deuk-soo to death and interrupting his revenge.
All generous smiles, Shunji offers to treat everyone out tonight. He directs them all to meet at the Angel Club after work. Trap laid.
The rest of the officers party in the main hall while Shunji and Kang-to drink in a private room. Tonight Tasha’s deep into the bottle too, due to Tamao’s death. She sighs that she knew he was a fool, but not this much of one — how could he do it, when he had so much fear?
Kang-to doesn’t follow and asks if something happened between them, shocked to hear about the suicide. Shunji tells him Tamao did it after giving the military collections to Gaksital, and says remorsefully that he wouldn’t have treated him so horribly if he’d known this would happen. You’re… acting, right? You don’t actually feel sorry, do you?
He adds in his drunken slur, “Kang-to-ya, I don’t like myself. Mok Dan’s gone too, and I… don’t like living.” He’s confusing me because it sounds so real… and it might be real… which is why it’s so treacherous because it’s also fake. Its ring of truth is the trap, so when Shunji lays his head back and seems to fall asleep, Kang-to leaves the room to call the comrades into action — and Shunji snaps awake.
Kang-to checks to see that the rest of the force is drunk, then quickly leaves. Shunji emerges to give Koiso the nod… and half of the police officers suddenly straighten, only playing drunk. Omo, you Keyser Sozed him. You brilliant bastard.
Gaksital leads Comrades Ahn and Jin onto the police premises, with death squad members serving as backup. They take down the skeleton staff guarding the building and break into the arms room — just as Shunji’s crew returns, one step behind them. They see the fallen officers outside and enter on high alert.
The rebels load the truck waaay too slowly for my nerves to handle. Comrade Jin alerts the men that officers are approaching, and Kang-to urges them to escape first — the weapons are the priority.
They slip out, and Koiso bursts into the room before Kang-to can jump out the window. He easily disarms the several officers who charge him… but gets a gun to the head. Shunji.
“Take off the mask, you bastard,” Shunji orders. Kang-to doesn’t move, so Shunji does it for him. The mask drops.
It’s no shock to Shunji, but the other officers get up and gape at Kang-to’s bared face. Shocked, and in Koiso’s case, doubly enraged.
Outside, Deuk-soo wants to jump in and help, but the comrades hold him back. They’ve got to flee. Aw, it’s a crushing thing, abandoning your hero.
Kang-to is taken to the torture room, where Koiso is still sputtering in disbelief. He’s only too happy to vent all his Kang-to frustration with the whip, and Kang-to just takes it stoically.
At headquarters, the comrades return and report the bad news. Mok Dan and Yang Baek both take it pretty hard, in shock.
A battered Kang-to is taken off his chains and sat down before Shunji, who asks if he killed his brother. Kang-to replies, “You know that Kenji killed my mother too, don’t you?”
Shunji asks, furious and hurt and spewing hate, “You, whom I liked even better than my own brother, who was at one time my only friend! You beat my brother to death, is that right?!”
Kang-to growls back. “Yeah! That was the only way I could get revenge. If I didn’t, I would have gone crazy. My brother — my idiot brother Kang-san hyung — that hyung was the same Gaksital I drove myself crazy trying to capture!”
And finally, here’s news that shocks Shunji. Kang-to adds, “I swore to catch Gaksital. My hyung… I shot and killed him. Not knowing that hyung was out to avenge our mother’s death, I fought alongside Kenji… and shot my brother dead. So it was for my brother, for Kang-san hyung, that I put on that mask. Kimura Shunji, thank you for capturing me. Now that I’ve been caught, at least I won’t have to kill you by my hand.”
Oof. Tears. And that’s the burden that’s been weighing on him all this time, which I almost had forgotten was there, considering all the cat-and-mouse maneuvering of recent weeks. He killed his brother; he desperately doesn’t want to kill his best friend.
Shunji’s shaken by that admission, and gets up trembling. He leaves without a word, dazed. Now the memory that floats to the fore is that emotional bike ride, after Kang-to lost his family and Shunji lost his brother, and they’d cried together.
Shunji’s face starts to crumple into tears… but in the span of a split second he tamps it all down and hardens his demeanor in a shift that’s frankly a little hair-raising.
Rie has an unexpected visitor that night: Mok Dan. Ooh, nice turn. Rie faces her coldly, but Mok Dan offers to do anything Rie asks: “Save Lee Kang-to.”
She asks for her help, offering to leave if Rie asks it of her. She’ll forget all about Kang-to, if she’ll just save his life. Okay, the gesture is noble, but now you’re just giving her ideas. How ’bout you wait to hear her demands before forsaking your love?
Rie’s stunned to hear Kang-to is being held prisoner, but she tells Mok Dan to go home; she doesn’t have the power to help anymore. Mok Dan kneels before her and begs.
Shunji reports to his superiors that Kang-to is Gaksital. Kimura is so furious that he heads immediately to Kang-to’s torture room, remembering how it felt to see his son lying dead in the station. He grabs Kang-to’s face: “You dared kill my son?” Kang-to returns, “Is there anybody who would save the life of his mother’s killer?”
Kimura clocks him in the face and orders him put in the box of nails. Even Shunji protests, saying they need to capture Yang Baek and Dong-jin.
Oh, fuck fuck fuckity fuck. Kang-to is put into the box, and Kimura carelessly rocks it back and forth. Well, now we know where Shunji learned his tricks. Kang-to groans in agony, bleeding everywhere, but refuses to talk.
Shunji urges him to confess quickly so he can let him free, and I almost believe he feels actual concern. Kang-to says he doesn’t know where the leaders are, enraging Kimura into kicking the box furiously. Kang-to screams. I scream. Auuuuuuugh. This is hard to watch, and we’ve watched a LOT of things that were hard to watch.
Afterward, he’s strung up on those chains again, unconscious. Shunji’s alone in the room with him, and he slaps a bowl of water in his face to wake him. There’s that creepy smile again — calm Dr. Jekyll today — and he’s brought along someone to give Kang-to a push…
In comes Tailor Park in chains. Aw, dammit. It’s like helpless Boss Jo all over again. The tailor stutters that he doesn’t know where Yang Baek is.
Shunji threatens to turn the man into Kang-to’s bullet-shield if he doesn’t talk. He starts with drowning, and Kang-to begs him to stop, to torture him instead. Kang-to watches in horror, and Shunji’s face takes on that demonic look.
At headquarters, the comrades urge Yang Baek to relocate to a new hideout. Yang Baek refuses, however: “Until Kang-to returns, I will not step one foot elsewhere.” Oh, that’s a beautiful show of loyalty, but isn’t it also dumb? Aren’t you all safer with the figurehead moved to a new den? Have you learned nothing from the Mok Dan Chronicles?
The comrades are already organizing a rescue mission, and although Damsari wants to be a part of the team, they assure him they have better odds only sending their elite agents.
That night, a team of four agents infiltrate the police station, using the police’s own smokebombs against them (ha).
The comrades make their way to the torture room and fight with the officers there as Kang-to watches from his tiny cell in the wall. Comrade Jin frees him and assists him along.
Shunji is knocked unconscious by an agent. As he heads out, Kang-to casts a long look back at his friend(…emy). So sad. You can’t have it back, but you can mourn it.
Oh boy, now I can resume breathing. This was a pretty intense episode, and this is coming from a drama where intense is the default setting. I loved so many things about it, especially in light of recent events where Kang-to has receded a bit as a character — he has become a crucial part of the independence, and he’s still definitely had the lion’s share of screentime, but I was starting to feel like his story arc had already peaked. That the camera was moving backward, giving us the Big Picture — where Kang-to was a critical piece, but only one of many.
Instead, this episode snapped that focus back squarely on the couple at the heart of the show, by which I mean Kang-to and Shunji. I’m actually relieved that Gaksital is laying off the romance angle, and it’s not just because Mok Dan’s intensity can’t compare to the others (it’s a necessity given her character and her place in the story, but even so, not my favorite thing about her). But I feel like the conflict is so taut and intense elsewhere that the romance actually brings down the dramatic tension.
As for the count and countess, I can’t say that I mourn their loss or even think the world of this drama is losing anything when they go, but given their place in the story I think their exits were handled about as well as could be hoped. And really, they owe a lot to Tamao, who lent them depth by association.
I’ve always found them one-dimensional and silly before. But wouldn’t you know, Tamao’s anguish provides a different facet to them, and the count’s reaction to losing his son was a nice touch — a rude awakening to seeing the meaninglessness of all his actions. He sold out his country, and for what? A dead son, that’s what. Even worse is the cruel irony of his actions being motivated by love for his son, which become the very thing to bring about son’s demise.
I’ve always wondered whether the count felt shame deep down, and pushed it aside as a survival instinct. If he was motivated by a deep-seated fear, I can find him cowardly, yes, but not incomprehensible. Whereas without that layer, he’s just a buffoon taking up a few comic relief moments. Inasmuch as they were characters we had to put up with, I think killing them in this way is the best way to resolve their roles. The count sees his mistake — but isn’t strong enough to actually change anything — and so he exits a tragic figure, ruined by his own selfishness.
I absolutely love the revisiting of the Kang-to-and-Shunji love, because for so many weeks we’ve focused on the hate and betrayal. Both men have traveled so far in opposite directions that you almost think they’ve become too different, too much of new people, to let that common ground affect them anymore. I don’t love when dramas sort of let us play amnesiac about broken relationships like this, when both characters set out on their trajectories and then never stray from those fixed paths.
So I’m so thankful that Shunji constantly walks that line, even after it’s become clear he’s completely far gone. I don’t expect him to be redeemed, and I don’t know if he can be even if they tried — there’s such darkness there that he’s fundamentally become a different person from the sweet teacher of old days — but that doesn’t mean he can’t still display conflict credibly.
There have been so many scenes where he has played the part of the morally conflicted guy who’s still nice deep down, while actually just using that affectation of humanity to get what he wants — and as I mentioned, the reason it’s so convincing is because it’s rooted in something real. Same with Kang-to, as a matter of fact. So most of the time I believe Shunji’s in his evil-genius mode where he fakes his emotions — but every now and then the facade will crack, and we’ll get a glimpse of something that feels true. I love that we’re still getting that from a villain, this close to the end.
The scene when they confronted each other about each other’s betrayals and spoke plainly for the first time in ages was incredibly moving, especially in the way Kang-to thanks Shunji for relieving him of the burden of possibly killing him. Those words really strike a chord with Shunji, perhaps because he feels that same burden, or maybe because it’s an admission that Kang-to still cares for him. Kang-to would kill him if he had to, for the cause — but one wonders if that would break him. And vice versa.
- Gaksital: Episode 24
- Gaksital: Episode 23
- Gaksital: Episode 22
- Gaksital: Episode 21
- Gaksital: Episode 20
- Gaksital: Episode 19
- Gaksital: Episode 18
- Gaksital: Episode 17
- Gaksital: Episode 16
- Gaksital: Episode 15
- Gaksital: Episode 14
- Gaksital: Episode 13
- Gaksital: Episode 12
- Gaksital: Episode 11
- Gaksital: Episode 10
- Gaksital: Episode 9
- Gaksital: Episode 8
- Gaksital: Episode 7
- Gaksital: Episode 6
- Gaksital: Episode 5
- Gaksital: Episode 4
- Gaksital: Episode 3
- Gaksital: Episode 2
- Gaksital (Bridal Mask): Episode 1