Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 12
Aww, another strong episode, with more dots being connected and more emotions on the line as our characters struggle to figure out what it is they feel, and what they can possibly do about it.
More significantly (okay, maybe equally significantly), we get some long-awaited freakin’ honesty all up in this hizzy. At a certain point you figure, you can pick Door No. 1 or Door No. 2. Be heartbroken amidst a mountain of denial and frustration, or be heartbroken all out in the open. I vote open, ’cause that’s the door with all the smooches, right?
SONG OF THE DAY
Lee Jun-ki – “하루만” (Just One Day) from the OST. [ Download ]
EPISODE 12 RECAP
Just as Eun-oh is about to come face to face with his mother (er, the demon inhabiting the body of his mother), Joo-wal bursts onto Mom’s property and stops him.
Mom peers out through a crack, seeing only Eun-oh’s back. Eun-oh notes Joo-wal’s jittery attitude and the way he glances nervously at the house, but he plays along and says he’s here to see Lord Choi.
Joo-wal tells him he’s trespassing on their sacred shrine, and that he waltzed right in despite the locked gate. (Which hadn’t been locked but left ajar—curious or not?)
He asks after Arang, and that gets Eun-oh’s hackles up; he retorts that Joo-wal ought to mind his own business. Joo-wal replies that it’s strange how Arang seemed so familiar to him even upon first glance—naturally that would keep her in his thoughts.
Eun-oh gives Joo-wal a message to pass on to his father, which is basically: Mess with me if you must, but touch a hair on Arang’s head and you’re toast.
Mom is not pleased to hear that man who dropped by is the magistrate, and she rips into Lord Choi for being the cause. She orders him not to lay a hand on Arang, warning that she’ll remove him from his place with another misstep.
Lord Choi and Joo-wal trade hard stares as one leaves Mom’s house and the other enters. Mom seems to have keyed in to Joo-wal’s conflicted feelings about Arang, and why he’s dragging his feet. But she tells him that he can never have Arang—and if Mom possesses her, she’ll no longer be the girl he knows. He gasps in horror, and she confirms: “What I want is not her soul, it’s her body.”
She orders him to cut off his attachment at once—literally, cut the heart strings—and takes out a knife. Suddenly I’m afraid that what we take figuratively, she means literally.
Left at the magistrate’s office, Arang paces in worry, then decides she’s heading out to find Eun-oh. She doesn’t need to, because he arrives just then, looking adorably pleased at her worry. He prods her to admit it, and she shakes her head no. He says her concern is written all over her face, and she grumbles that she’s got lots of things to worry about that aren’t him, and that she’s better off worrying about peaches. Ha.
Lord Choi receives his minion’s report that the interloper yesterday appeared to be Joo-wal. He fumes, and wonders what “they” are up to; the word refers to a he and a she, so he’s suspecting Mom and Joo-wal of conspiring against him.
His man confirms that Arang had definitely died. Lord Choi wonders at Mom’s order not to touch Arang. Ooh. Is he going to figure out her plan, and bugger it up? I sure hope so.
Eun-oh and Arang puzzle over that talisman and what it means. Asking directly is out of the question, and so is swiping the other talisman. (Arang adorably sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose in a mimicry of the pose for “I am contemplative,” and Eun-oh laughs. Aw. He’s so in the everything-you-do-is-cute phase of the romance, which itself is cute.)
Arang offers up a few suggestion that he dismisses, like sneaking into the house to go hunting for clues. Eun-oh says he has an idea of his own, but he’d need trustworthy patrolmen for the job: “To catch a raccoon, you have to smoke it out.”
To that end, he’ll meet Lord Choi; the man won’t talk, but if he puts pressure on him, they should be able to track Lord Choi’s next movements. But this magistrate’s office is sadly understaffed and has no patrolmen.
Arang perks up: She can provide them. He asks who, and she gives him this saucy look, saying, “You know.” Is she referring to ghosts? That would be hilarious, and also perfect.
HA. That night, Eun-oh stares open-mouthed at the assembly. Four ghosts sit at his table and bow respectfully at Arang’s instruction.
Arang points out the benefits: Ghosts are invisible, silent to the human ear, and able to get to high rooftops or under floorboards. She gives the ghosts her instructions to search the house for anything odd, and to monitor Lord Choi’s movements.
I love Eun-oh’s eye-roll of capitulation, because she’s not wrong. But she has another stipulation, and his mouth drops open in incredulity to realize she means for him to solve all their murders.
Speaking in private, Eun-oh grumbles and complains that she made the promise up front to the ghosts. She’s unusually penitent, bowing her head and saying she was worried that his burdens seemed so heavy.
At her glumness, Eun-oh tells her it’s okay, but she continues berating herself in this sad voice—she didn’t realize his dislike of ghosts was so fierce, and she was wrong, and she’ll just dismiss the ghosts then, and stay up alllllll night for days to handle it herself, siiiiiiigh. Ha, she’s totally working him.
Eun-oh tries to tell her to stop with the self-recriminations, and finally slaps a hand over her mouth to get her to shut up. That brings them nose to nose, in the dark, pressed against the wall. Rawr.
They both spring apart all flustered, and you can practically hear their pounding hearts from here.
Up in heaven, the two gods watch Mu-young brooding off alone, and the Jade Emperor wonders if it was such a mistake to kick Mu-yeon out of heaven. His fairy (the smart-mouthed one) tells him he only did what he had to, and Jade counters that it was after he’d evicted Mu-yeon that the fairy started looking so sour-faced. Without missing a beat, the fairy replies, “This was always my face.” Hahaha. Normally I’d think she was being her usual dry self, but now I wonder if the Jade Emperor just sees things through the filter of his own guilty conscience. Hm.
Hades says that both are true: That was always how the fairy looked, and it was unfortunate Mu-yeon was kicked out in such a way. But he says they should have sent her straight to hell.
Eun-oh drops in on Lord Choi unannounced, surprising both Choi men. Lord Choi puffs up in outrage when Eun-oh shows him the talisman taken from the gravesite—how dare he bring such a terrible artifact into his home?
Eun-oh counters that the talisman is quite at home here, and asks straight-out how he could have a talisman identical to one that came out of a murder site. He also charges him with covering up the crime scene and disposing of the evidence.
Joo-wal interrupts. He’s trembling a bit with nerves, but tries to sound forceful as he tells Eun-oh that the talismans at the house merely protect them, and that such a thing is common. Eun-oh says that may be so, but it’s not common for one to match the kind dug up at a murderer’s grave.
He asks Eun-oh which shaman drew the talisman. It’s a question with no good answer for Joo-wal, who says he has no inclination or obligation to give that information. He sounds terrified saying it, but Joo-wal draws upon his wits to bluff that it’s an old talisman from before he was born, and there’s no way of knowing whether the shaman is even alive.
As Eun-oh leaves, Joo-wal turns on Lord Choi angrily, telling him that now he ought to see the severity of his actions, with the magistrate sniffing all around. He’d better figure out a plan to deal with this complication.
Eun-oh leaves feeling pleased with the bait he’s thrown. He gives the ghosts a nod to begin work, musing, “I’ve started the smoke, so Lord Raccoon ought to be react now.”
Except… the ghosts can’t breach the premises. Any attempt to enter the estate has them bouncing off a kind of force field, and that is more alarming than anything. Eun-oh’s aghast: “What IS this house?”
Arang is surprised to hear it, but she recalls being unable to find any ghosts at the house. That comment niggles at Eun-oh’s memory, too—he hadn’t sensed any ghosts up at the mass grave either. Arang wonders if the talisman could be for blocking ghosts, then, and proposes going to check it out herself. Eek! Don’t do it!
Eun-oh tells her no, that they’re better off finding a way to get ghosts into the house. But I don’t like the distracted look on Arang’s face…
Bang-wool pores over all her reference books, but can’t find any trace of that talisman. Eun-oh shares their suspicion that it blocks ghosts and asks if she can whip up a counter-talisman to allow ghosts. Bang-wool says she’ll try, although such a thing would necessitate understanding the original. And still, Arang is distracted, lost in her thoughts.
Eun-oh asks about her mood, and she says she wonders why her father would have given her off in marriage to such a shady household. It’s sad and sweet, Arang’s sympathy for this total stranger named Lee Seo-rim, who was her yet is completely foreign to her. Would Seo-rim have just lived doing as she was told? What did she think?
Arang confesses how upsetting it was to hear Joo-wal say that Seo-rim wouldn’t have recognized him. At first, all she wanted to know was who she was. After that, she wanted to know what kind of person she’d been. But she finds herself wanting more and more: “I hope I was loved. Okay, if I wasn’t loved, I hope I was someone who knew how to love.”
In any case, she wanted to know what Seo-rim was like, to see her. But to hear that Seo-rim was neither one nor the other… She sighs.
Eun-oh gives Seo-rim’s diary to Arang, and tells her she’ll find the answer to her question in it. Seo-rim was “a much better person than you think,” he adds.
Arang begins reading. As Seo-rim narrates, we see slices of her life. Seo-rim writes lyrically of her surroundings and her feelings; it’s poetic and sentimental.
And then, there’s… a memory? It comes from Arang herself, not the diary, and shows us her first look at Joo-walk, taken on a walk outside as she passes by him on the bridge. Enamored at first sight, she asks her father to initiate the betrothal.
Joo-wal doesn’t request any meetings during their engagement, to her servant’s disgruntlement, but Seo-rim is happy nonetheless. And as it turns out, there’s a bit of Arang’s impishness in Seo-rim as well, in the way she talks cheekily to her maid.
Eun-oh paces outside while she reads, worried at her reaction. Arang tells him that her maid must have loved her like a daughter, and shares her flashback of falling in love at first sight. Arang thinks Seo-rim cared for Joo-wal quite a lot, enough to think of it as a once-in-a-lifetime love. She can feel her heart racing, the way Seo-rim’s did when she met Joo-wal, and the admission brings a pained look to Eun-oh’s face. Aw.
As she bids him good night, Eun-oh calls her back: “Arang. Last time, you said you were you, and Lee Seo-rim was Lee Seo-rim.” Double aw. He reminds her that he’d thought such a comment senseless at the time, “But now, I’d like it to make sense.” AW. Aw aw aw aw aw.
Eun-oh takes a sudden step toward her, but her knee-jerk response is to retreat and distract, commenting on the sky. Eun-oh entreats, “Arang.” She hurriedly excuses herself, leaving him staring frustratedly after her.
Arang asks herself what he was about to say. Hey, I know a good way to find that out. ASK HIM. She tells herself, “I am me, and Lee Seo-rim is Lee Seo-rim, that’s true. But don’t say a word.”
Eun-oh broods in his room, remembering Arang’s warning not to fall for her, since she’s operating on a deadline.
The next day, Eun-oh informs his Bang staff of his intent to hire patrolmen. They protest, naturally, complaining of the lack of funds and necessity. Eun-oh “concedes”—if they’re so strapped, he’ll cut down his plan for a hundred men to a mere twenty. He instructs them to post Patrolmen Wanted notices in town, and when they continue to balk, he shuts them up with a remark about knowing they were getting a cut of Lord Choi’s ill-gotten stores of tax money.
Bang-wool turns her room upside down to find her grandma’s talisman book, locating it just as Dol-swe drops by (with another meat delivery, ha). He asks what she’s up to, and she explains about the ghost-warding talismans and Eun-oh’s intent to call some ghosts to do some work for him. How nice for him, she sighs, that he can call ghosts forth at will.
But this is all news to Dol-swe, whose eyes bug out as he demands to know what she’s talking about. That ends with her puzzled comment: “Did you not know? Your master can see ghosts, and that’s how he met Arang back when she was a ghost!” Let’s see now, just exactly how many beans were just spilled?
Dol-swe goes running back to town, thundering, “I knew it! I said she was either ghost or gumiho!”
He confronts Eun-oh, whose reaction confirms it. Dol-swe storms out intent on confronting Arang, too, only to find that she’s right outside. Sapped of spirit.
Dol-swe gets in her face and asks if she’s a ghost. In a small voice, she says, “I’m a person.” He clarifies, “But you were originally a ghost.” Arang says in an even smaller voice, “I was originally a person.”
Dol-swe accuses her of bewitching the magistrate, and asks Eun-oh too. What a muddle; Eun-oh knows his heart too well now to deny it, and yet by admitting to it he’s casting Arang as the seductress.
Dol-swe tells her to leave his innocent master alone and go, threatening to call a shaman to cast her out if she doesn’t. He grabs her arm to drag her off, and Eun-oh steps in to stop him. Dol-swe runs off with hurt feelings, calling him a dumb young master.
Eun-oh calls Arang’s name gently, but she won’t meet his eyes. She runs to her room and tells him to stay away. So he goes away, thinking of her, unable to do a thing.
Joo-wal thinks of Mom’s plans to take Arang’s body, and takes out the knife she’d given him. He mulls it over for a good long while, then visits Mom to inform her that he’ll do as she said and cut out his feelings, then return. She’s pleased, telling him to cut those ties and start afresh. I honestly can’t decide whether she’s freakier when she’s furious or when she’s happy.
Despite the reference to his heart, now it becomes clear they’re both referring to Arang. I guess… she symbolizes his heart? Or something. Joo-wal warns that this’ll make it a second time, which will infuriate the magistrate (you’re tellin’ me), but Mom isn’t concerned. All he must do is find out what the girl wants.
Tonight also happens to be the full moon, and Mom finds the pattern amusing: “That girl must be fated to die every full moon.” I’m going with less fate, more being targeted by a crazy person with murderous intent.
Joo-wal ninjas out and sneaks along rooftops to the magistrate’s office. He steals into Arang’s room, just like last time, as Mom’s words ring in his ears: “Cut [those ties] cleanly and come back.” Hovering over her bedside, Joo-wal thinks of Arang’s smiling face, and chants to himself, “You can do it. Wife’s words are right—I must cut them to live.”
With trembling inner voice, he reminds himself that she can’t be his anyway, that she’ll come back to life anyway, that he mustn’t hesitate. Joo-wal reaches for his knife, poises it over Arang, and tells himself to do it.
And in another room, Eun-oh senses something: “Arang!”
Joo-wal thrusts down with his dagger—but his hands pull back just before making contact. The knife hovers in the air, just barely grazing Arang’s chest as Joo-wal struggles with himself.
He can’t do it. He drops the knife and reaches to touch Arang’s face with his hand, his black ring glowing red. He can’t touch her this way, either, fingertips hovering without making contact.
Arang wakes up to find herself alone in the room, though the door is ajar. Eun-oh bursts in moments later, making sure nothing is wrong.
Joo-wal returns to Mom’s house in misery, collapsing to his knees in front of her doors and genuinely not confused at his own behavior. He asks, “Why am I doing this?”
Mom lays it out for him: Stupid humans call it love, while she calls it useless. She closes her doors in his face, and he cries outside.
Eun-oh finds Arang out in the yard, poking at the dirt. Neither can sleep, and she assures him that Dol-swe’s behavior is understandable, and not something to get worked up about. She feels guilty for causing trouble for so many people, and says it would be best for all this to end quickly and for her to leave. Not a prospect that cheers him.
He tells her that he doesn’t know why he’s feeling this way, and it has him confused. But he’s decided to think of the whys later, and to start with this: “You told me not to care for you, but I—”
She cuts him off and tells him not to finish the thought. Eun-oh finishes anyway, “…will like you, Arang.”
He moves to face her, and reminds her that she called herself an honest person, doing as she thinks and feels, no matter what others say.
“What does that matter to us now? Do you want to know my honest feelings? I will say it then, without spinning words. I don’t feel the same way you do. So don’t be that way, either.”
Eun-oh grabs her wrist and pulls her close. “This is the last chance.”
I expect that a fairly sizable contingent of viewers will lump Joo-wal into the villain column and call it a day; he did kill innocent girls, and he is siding with the devil. (Okay, maybe Mom’s not an outright devil and we’re still unclear on the exact nature of her abilities, but given her stance on the gods who keep the world in balance (firmly opposed), I figure she’s a close equivalent.)
I don’t disagree. Be that as it may, I see Joo-wal and my heart always gives a little pinch, because he seems like a lost little boy just dying for some love. He was so starved for affection that he clung to a demonic fairy with a bloodlust for revenge, which to me indicates the depth of his desperation. Which isn’t to say he’s redeemable or “just misunderstood,” since he’s gotta be held accountable for his own perfidies. It’s just a good year for villains whose conflicts are wrought with pathos, who feel like tortured humans more than Mom-like beings whose main dramatic purpose is to thwart our heroes. Joo-wal’s a person, not just a tool.
It’s aided in great part by the way Yeon Woo-jin plays him, all scared and rabbity. There’s such a fascinating duality to both our villainous men, in fact, in that I almost pity Lord Choi when he’s cowering in front of Mom despite knowing full well that he’d lash out in cruelty to those under him. Joo-wal too, who is so heartbreakingly vulnerable in front of her, and yet also capable of sliding that ice-cold front into place.
The two-faced-ness is especially apparent when these two men face each other—they really ought to be compatriots in their misery-complicity trap, and yet they turn on each other instead. They won’t stand together, despite literally being the only people alive who understand what the other must be going through. It’s terrible, but it’s why Mom chooses people like them, to manipulate and bend and pit against each other. What we get is an Oedipus complex in psychology, despite the lack of shared blood.
K-dramas have this tendency to put antagonists on the path of all doom, then have those characters insist, “Things have gone too far now. I can’t turn back.” It’s a logic that makes sense, sorta, within the confines of dramaland but utterly none in real life, where you’re like, You did one bad thing, so you’re doomed to always do bad things? You’re not even going to TRY to be better? It’s this exceedingly obsessive perfectionism that leads to warped thinking and eating disorders.
Which is why it’s nice to this trajectory for Joo-wal, who has committed enough terrible things that most people would give up on him entirely. But Joo-wal doesn’t know that; he’s still struggling with himself, and in the end he can’t kill Arang, even knowing that she won’t stay dead. I love that Joo-wal’s reaction is the same kind of thing Eun-oh did yesterday—it doesn’t matter that she’d come back to life, because what’s important is the pain he’d be inflicting, the wrong he’d be doing. Just because she doesn’t stay dead doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be wronging her, and that’s what he can’t do.
I’m so glad we got a glimpse at the real Seo-rim at last, and through Arang’s own eyes this time. Seo-rim has been a cipher the whole drama through, and sometimes I wondered if she wasn’t just a MacGuffin, not meant to be dramatically interesting except for the fact that Arang used to be her. There was no connection. So it was nice to see her as Arang saw her, and showing that same spark of mischievousness that characterizes the afterlife version. It reminds us that what she was is important, even if it’s not who she became.
As for Eun-oh, gah, he’s stepping it up big time and it’s killing me. In a good way, except also in a bad way because my heart, it bleeds for you. He’s had enough of the denial game, and despite knowing mentally why Arang’s approach is the smarter thing (tie up loose ends and go poof), he just can’t. And he challenges her to be honest too (even if she’s totally lying at the end, the lying liar who lies). Side note: Would it have killed ya to cliffhang a few seconds later, drama? I know you need to keep us on the hook, but lemme tell ya—we’re plenty on the hook already. A bone, please? Can you throw us one? (This show is generally okay with cliffhangers, but I find that it always cuts out just one beat too short. It’s almost there, but… then it leaves us dangling.)
In any case, I love how intense and glowery Eun-oh becomes when he’s in pursuit of the truth, and right now he’s pursuing it with Arang. We saw signs of how fierce he would be once his heart became as engaged as his brain, and I’m excited to see how much more he’ll up the intensity now that he’s being all honest and confrontational. I just hope Arang isn’t equally good at evasiveness, though one figures she wasn’t a runaway ghost for nuthin’.
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 11
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 10
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 9
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 8
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 7
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 6
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 5
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 4
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 3
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 2
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 1