So much good stuff today. The plot sets up for the final conflict to be played out in our finale, but today’s episode really shines in the character department — there’s some build-up, some pay-off, some resolution… and a whole lot of emotional intensity.
We’re one episode from the end and I still don’t know how things are going to shake out. All I know is, this time tomorrow I’m probably gonna be a wreck.
SONG OF THE DAY
Gaksital OST – “그대 내 품에” (You in my arms) [ Download ]
EPISODE 27 RECAP
Gaksital charges in to face Kimura Taro, who is prepared for the encounter. His bodyguards attack first, but Kang-to swiftly takes them all down, one by one. Not only does he do it hardly breaking a sweat, but I love that he accomplishes it all with one puny hand-dagger. Like it’s not even worth busting out the big guns for.
Time for the main course. It’s sword versus sword, vendetta versus vendetta. Kang-to has his Inigo Montoya moment, growling, “I have come to avenge my father, who died at your hand.”
Kimura asks how long he thinks he can wear that mask. Kang-to declares, “I will wear it until the robbers leave this land!”
Kimura charges. In one deft move, Kang-to slices him across the torso, whirls, and stabs him in the heart with his punishment dagger. Whoa. That’s cold hard vengeance; no eleventh-hour forgiveness for him.
It’s over so fast that it’s almost anti-climactic — except it isn’t because of the magnitude of what this means. Dayum. Kimura gasps, “Kimura Taro may die, but the great Japanese empire will last forever.”
Kang-to says wrathfully that evildoers will reap the results of their wrongdoings: “The Japanese empire will see its ruin!” He yanks the dagger free, and Taro dies.
Just as Shunji runs in. Oh fuck. God. Damn. Shunji’s perpetrated a lot of crap in his walk on the dark side, but seeing the trauma of his brother’s violent death, repeating now in his father’s? You can’t hate him for reacting to that. He fumbles for a weapon, but Kang-to knocks him down and bolts out the door.
Shunji chases him outside and shoots. Kang-to knocks the gun aside, and they fly into furious hand-to-hand combat. Shunji shoves Kang-to against a tree with his arm pressing into his throat, face contorted freakishly. Kang-to shoves him back and knocks him down.
Impasse. The former friends stand facing each other, and Kang-to removes his sling, tossing his weapon aside. The mask comes off next. And even though Shunji has known his enemy’s identity for a while, there’s something powerful about seeing Kang-to face to face as Gaksital, and it prompts a fresh wave of hatred.
They launch themselves at each other, trading mighty punches. It is intense stuff: nothing but fists and feet, the rawness of the method reflecting the rawness of the emotions.
They fight to exhaustion, and when they’re too tired to stand they fall to their knees and keep punching each other.
Finally Kang-to knocks Shunji to the ground, then grabs his throat and screams in rage, ready to deal him the deathblow. But he shakes and hovers there, torn equally between wanting to stop himself and to finish the deed.
Shunji gasps for breath and grabs at Kang-to, but right now this fight is with himself.
Of all the memories to draw on, his mind flashes back to his adolescent friendship — of Shunji extending a hand of generosity when Kang-to was at his poorest. Ack. Even now, the flashback brings tears to my eyes for what used to be.
Shunji stops struggling, like he’s giving up. Kang-to lowers his fist, gasping and crying. He grabs his weapon and leaves without another word.
Left behind, Shunji bursts into sobs. It’s Nanny who finds him here and rushes to him in worry. Shunji walks off silently and returns to his father’s side. He cries, “I’m sorry, Father.”
Mok Dan waits fretfully, and heaves a huge sigh when Kang-to returns. She prepares a meal for him and promises to do the same for him every day, but when he moves to eat, his mood turns heavy. He asks, “How will Shunji be feeling right now?”
She asks why, and he tells her he killed Taro and fought with Shunji. Surely he won’t give up on capturing Kang-to now. He dearly wishes he’ll never have to confront Shunji again, but fears that it’s inevitable.
At his father’s funeral altar, Shunji vows to catch Kang-to, no matter what, and deliver his head to Father.
Chairman Ueno expresses his condolences for the loss, and gives Shunji the order to punish “that woman who knew Gaksital’s identity and kept it hidden.” Oh no, Rie. I knew this day was coming, but I’ll still miss you.
Shunji asks if he can really kill her, and a fed up chairman tells him he can kill or spare her, he doesn’t care. He advises Shunji to kill the girl as an exercise in controlling his anger, adding the warning, “It must become your weapon — if you become a slave to anger, you’ll never catch him.” Oh no. Why do I feel like Ueno just made a deadly rage machine even deadlier?
Ueno tells Shunji he’s carrying the future of Kishokai, and that he considered Taro like a son, which makes Shunji his kinsman. It’s a nice vote of confidence, but since you just told your new grandson to go kill your ex-daughter, I’m not sure it’s the grand gesture you mean it to be.
Rie is summoned and informed of Kimura’s death. He tells her to go in his stead to pay a condolence call. Ack! Delivering her right to the hunter, is he?
Rie leaves Katsuyama waiting outside, which seems like a Very Bad Idea. Shunji eyes her with eerily calculating eyes, biding his time. As she bows her head and begins to convey the chairman’s respects, he suddenly grabs her by the arm and shoves her into an adjacent room, beelining for his father’s sword rack.
He points his sword at her neck and challenges, “You say I can’t govern my anger? Not at all, I can. I can control it as much as I like, without even killing you!”
Ooh. Then is he not going to kill her? Did the chairman actually insult his ego by suggesting he was weak to his anger?
Rie apologizes for hiding Kang-to’s identity, saying she had no idea it would lead to this. Shunji puts away the sword and tells her to run away, saying he’ll keep his mouth shut. Wait… do you mean it? Or is this part of a trap?
Rie understands that her father must have given him the green light, admitting to being on tenterhooks while waiting for the other shoe to drop. She even smiles at Shunji and tells him she’d rather die by her father’s hand than his — because she doesn’t want to add to Shunji’s burden.
She thanks him for giving her the time to prepare herself for her death. He asks why she’d walk into her death knowingly, which she doesn’t answer.
Governor Wada sputters at the news, fearful that Gaksital will come for him next. In his typical bloodthirsty fashion, Murayama wants to go ahead with their massacre of anybody blacklisted for independence duties, instead of just threatening to. But he is overruled — those Joseon men must be spared… so they can die on the front line instead. Killing them now defeats the purpose of beefing up their front line with bullet-shields.
They do agree on the need to speed up their draft process, though, now that the rebels are on to the plan and will surely be preparing countermeasures.
Rie returns from her condolence call, and the fact that she’s still alive has the chairman looking at her in surprise.
At the independence camp, our brains strategize on their next move. They anticipate that the draft will be hurried, and Kang-to reports hearing the rumors of university students already under surveillance to ensure they don’t bolt.
Yang Baek decides that they must rescue conscripted student soldiers first, because not only is this a way to save their lives, it’s also a way of recruiting them into their own ranks. They need the manpower for their own battle.
Shunji discusses this with Murayama. The problem is that while they have sussed out the independence army’s modus operandi — armed resistance — they are still lacking in crucial details, like when/where they plan to strike. Shunji vows to ferret out Dong-jin’s headquarters to get right at the root of the problem.
Shunji and his men pull up to the Angel Club — just as Reporter Song is leaving it. They recognize him and pursue, resulting in a chase through alleyways. They lose him, but this drops a valuable clue in Shunji’s lap: “Angel Club was a problem all along.”
They barge into the club. Shunji asks Tasha who the man was, and she plays dumb. He isn’t having it, and demands to know about Reporter Song — which gets a nervous look from the weak-hearted waiter comrade. Argh! I always knew his skittish reactions would get them into trouble.
Shunji says they both saw how shocked Kang-to was over Tamao’s death, which suggests they weren’t in the theft together, not directly. So who could have acted as liaison?
Tasha remains tight-lipped despite veiled threats to meeting the same end as the tailor, so they drag her and the waiter into the torture room. Oh god. I don’t know how much more torture I can watch.
Into the chains goes the waiter, which is probably the evilly smart thing to do — he won’t get Tasha to talk by hurting her, but he might by making her watch her comrade suffer. The waiter quakes in fear but stutters that he can endure it, that she mustn’t talk for his sake.
Shunji gives her one last chance to divulge Reporter Song’s business at Angel Club. Even though it sounds lame to all, she repeats that he’s just a regular. Shunji whips the waiter, who screams in agony. Two strikes is all it takes for him to beg, “Comrade Tasha, please tell him, just talk!”
She bites her tongue and Shunji whips him again. The waiter spills the beans (nooooo!) and gasps that he came regarding the rebellion date. Aw, crap. The very piece of info the police are itching to know.
Wrung of all use, Tasha and the waiter are released. They make the miserable trek back to the club, and the waiter cries his apology — he’d meant to stay quiet through the bitter end, “But I was so scared.”
Tasha can’t be angry: “If you hadn’t talked first, I would have.” She’s bitter about herself, saying she was useless after all. Now it’s time to shut the club, she decides. The girls wail, “What about us?” Tasha says, “We have to live, however we can. In pain if we must, in longing if we must.”
Shunji takes his intel to Murayama: The rebels are planning something at the sending-off of the drafted students. Shunji promises he’s on top of it, then pulls Koiso aside to whisper his plan into his ear. Noooo, I hate when you have secrets from us, Shunji! It’s not good for my health. Also: How will I be able to telepathically shoot warnings Kang-to-ward if I don’t know what you’re up to?
All Koiso asks is whether two men will be enough. Shunji wants bright young guys… uh-oh. My heart just dropped into my stomach. Are you planting moles?
Reporter Song arrives back at camp to report that tomorrow is the big day of the soldier send-off, to take place immediately after the customary worship rite (bowing in the direction of Tokyo, in homage to the emperor).
Kang-to volunteers himself and elite comrades Ahn and Jin, and asks for ten of Dong-jin’s best death squad members. Dong-jin asks whether that’ll be enough, and Kang-to replies that thirteen agents ready to fight to the death in an ambush will be plenty. Yes, but what happens when one of those things is no longer true?
In some downtime, Sun-hwa shows Kang-to how to make daisy chains, and this display of chumminess has Deuk-soo in a fit of nervousnouss. Omg, are you jealous of your hero stealing your girl? That’s hilarious. And adorable.
He even sends her little bro over to spy, though it does him little good. So Deuk-soo blusters at Sun-hwa, wanting to know what she was doing with Kang-to, and his demandy tone is not received well. Ha, or you could just tell her you like her.
Kang-to takes his little flower chain to Mok Dan, sliding the makeshift ring onto her finger and promising to make them for her every morning. Why does this drama make my heart lurch every time these two promise each other anything? Especially when it entails doing something together forever, as though tempting fate?
He takes her hands in his, and asks, “Boon-yi-ah. Will you marry me?”
He says he wants to have the ceremony before Yang Baek returns to Shanghai, as he has happily agreed to preside.
Kang-to asks if she’ll be okay living humbly like this, in tents. Mok Dan accepts his proposal without hesitation, assuring him that the time they’d lived in tents in Manchuria was the happiest of her life.
At the gisaeng house, Katsuyama stands at attention, particularly intent on staying by her side tonight. Rie dismisses him, but they’re both aware of what’s in the air and he protests: “I must protect you.”
She tells him her father won’t kill her like this, secretly and silently. He asks why she can’t just leave. Rie: “I have nowhere to go.”
She follows that by saying she won’t command this much power anywhere else, but it’s the bare meaning that kills me. She literally has nowhere to go. She renounced her motherland, and her Japanese identity is being threatened. Is there a place in the world for her?
Katsuyama argues that her life is in danger — who cares about power? She turns to him, disdaining: “Do you want me to run away with you? What is there that you can do? Anything other than wielding a sword?”
Aww. He just stares at her with those soulful eyes, and asks, “Do you not see my heart?” Omo. Finally. “You can see Lee Kang-to’s heart, and Kimura Shunji’s. Why can you not see mine?”
Her reply: “Katsuyama. Since the age of nine, I’ve been trampled on by men. I have to be even stronger and more powerful than a man.”
He counters that still, she loved Kang-to — and that lost her everything. Rie starts to break down, saying that it’s because she doesn’t want to leave her father. And I wonder if that’s true, given that he’s her sole anchor in this world. Sure, Daddy also wants to kill her, but what’s a thing like that in the face of existential crisis?
Rebellion/rescue day. Dong-jin’s elite thirteen gear up for the big ambush, sent off by their leaders and comrades.
Shunji is delivered his two men, who’ve been debriefed and are ready for their mission. And sure enough, they’re bright-eyed and baby-faced, looking just like students themselves.
These two are among the drafted students marching in the send-off parade, which also includes Kye-soon’s little brother. The whole event is conducted amidst a bombast of propaganda, and the Korean citizens lament the loss of such young souls.
Into this scene comes Gaksital, confronting the procession head-on. That’s a ballsy move, walking right in like the Terminator, not even flinching in the face of the front line of armed soldiers.
The soldiers raise their rifles, but Kang-to’s quicker on the draw and flings daggers into them, knocking soldiers aside and leaping up on the hood of the jeep to level his punishment stick (er, punishment flute?) at the MC, the Korean educator who was so chummy with the Count.
Shunji watches from the sidelines, biding his time, while his two double agents prepare for whatever nefarious scheme he’s cooked up. Not gonna lie, I’m taking a moment to appreciate how nice he looks in pinstripes and a fedora. That is one boss suit, yo.
Back to the point: The crowd cheers as Gaksital clobbers the man in the head with his flute, and then the rest of the death squad moves in. They do an efficient job, and in no time they’ve taken out every soldier. The crowd goes wild.
Reporter Song addresses the crowd, telling him that they are the Dong-jin Death Squad. “From this moment, you are all free.” He gives them the go-ahead to return home to their families: “But! Those who wish to fight for the independence of the Great Han [Korea], follow us!”
Their truck drives up, and they lead the new recruits along with them. Kye-soon’s adorable brother is one of the fervent followers, who he takes a moment to hug noona goodbye. Urg, boy needs a name! Until I hear one, I’m calling him Little Jo In-sung. Kye-soon promises to take care of the family, and he’s off.
But so are the moles. Curses! The death squad truck drives off, and Shunji follows.
Governor Wada blows a gasket at the news. Murayama assures him that Shunji’s trailing Dong-jin, to which Wada bursts out, “How many times has he chased and lost them?!” Touché.
He perks up in a big way, though, when Murayama tells him that there are undercover officers among the students. Immediately he turns around and praises Shunji, which makes me laugh. You were worried that Gaksital is out for you? Ha, you have to be significant enough to merit his attention.
At the camp, Little Jo In-sung is starry-eyed in admiration at seeing Teacher Yang Baek in person. Next to him, Mole #1 forces a smile.
Yang Baek addresses the new recruits, telling an adage about becoming like the insect with a hundred legs — the fight for independence needs strong legs to keep it from falling down, rather than being a battle to kill or become the head. They are the legs protecting their nation that will carry their country. Despite the imagery, he’s almost as good at speeches as Damsari.
The ladies chat about Mok Dan’s wedding tomorrow, and whip up lunch for the men. Kang-to stuffs his face at the table with Boss Jo and Little Jo In-sung — okay, fine, his name is Min-kyu — while the moles listen in from the next table. Urg. I’m actually insulted that they’re eating that precious food. You rats.
Mole-rat #1 slips away to meet Shunji and confirms that Yang Baek, Dong-jin, and Gaksital are all present at the camp, and that they’ve amassed 300 fighters in all.
Shunji reports to Chairman Ueno. He plans to attack swiftly, while they’re still drunk from success — as in, tomorrow morning. Nooo, but what about the wedding? I know there’s a war going on, but you know, in the midst of such epic struggles, it’s really the little things that tide you over.
He asks for soldiers from the national army, and asks for utmost consideration in being allowed to take Gaksital’s life personally.
Chairman Ueno is pleased with his progress, but does ask why he didn’t kill Rie. Shunji answers that he’s tooootally capable of managing his rage without taking it out on her. He makes clear the point that Ueno has basically given Rie’s life into his hands — as in, don’t kill her ’cause it’s not your decision to make anymore.
It’s pretty brash of him to go around “reminding” his murderous boss what not to do, but Ueno likes brash. He smiles in amusement.
Shunji exits as Rie approaches. She asks to have a drink together, and maybe it’s the whole acceptance of death thing, but she’s quite calm and gentle now, no longer the tense ball of nerves she used to be. It’s an interesting change.
She pours him a drink, and he actually pulls the pot away to pour her a drink in return. Wow. Reciprocity, from the raging misogynist? Rie thanks him, saying she’d always been unsure when she’d die. It’s like she’s finally at peace with herself.
But Shunji replies, “Chairman Ueno can’t kill you.” He says he negotiated an agreement, so she can rest at ease. She’s understandably confused, and asks why he’d protect her.
He doesn’t understand it himself, but admits that he’d worried that she’d die ever since learning she wasn’t the chairman’s blood daughter. Are you… admitting you care?
He says he’s found Kang-to and Mok Dan’s hiding place. She asks if he means to kill them both, and he scoffs, “Why would I kill them both?” Rie understands that means he only intends to go after Kang-to.
He says it must be painful to Rie to lose him. She replies that Mok Dan will be in more pain: “No, she’ll die.”
Shunji shakes his head in denial, insisting, “No, she can live happily with me. I’ll show you.” O…..kay. So still crazy about Mok Dan, emphasis on the crazy.
Rie’s incredulous: “Are you a fool?” He gets that manic gleam in his eye again and vows, “If only I have Mok Dan with me — no, if only I have Esther, I can return to who I was before.”
Oh no. He almost sounds like he believes it, too. You want to harbor that hope in him, at the same time that you want to make him drop the delusion and see the light. Although that light just might kill him with its blinding white heat.
Boss Jo gives Kang-to and Mok Dan a parcel — wedding clothes specially prepared for them. He says that Damsari had bought them intending to see the kids married, and asks if he can act in her father’s place today.
Boss Jo thanks Kang-to and adds Damsari’s gratitude as well, and Kang-to promises to take care of Boss Jo as a father from now on. Which, aw.
Shunji addresses his men before moving out, ordering them to capture Yang Baek, Dong-jin, and Mok Dan alive. The others can be killed — as long as they leave Kang-to for him.
As they make their way up the mountainside, Yang Baek presides over the wedding. The happy couple take their places at the altar, cheered on by their friends and surrogate family, while Shunji charges up the hill on his murderous mission.
Oh man, the Kang-to and Shunji confrontation — the knock-down drag-out fight that somehow manages to be a perfect mirroring of their emotional turmoil. That is some skilled writing and directing. I’ve really enjoyed all of this director’s action scenes, which have been shot with a real effort to differentiate one from another, with cool angles and impressive fighting sequences, but also without losing grasp of the emotional thread running through it. What good’s a fight scene if it doesn’t actually mean anything? You may as well play a video game.
In a drama full of interesting fight scenes, this one stands out for being particularly well-done. I love the duality of it — they’re fighting on two, maybe even three levels, all at once. Clever AND efficient! There’s your basic level where the fight is two enemies engaging in a physical clash. Then there’s the added layer where they’re taking out all their betrayal and anger and yes, I think also self-hate, at each other; the fight becomes physical manifestation of their emotional state, culminating in Kang-to’s awesome moment of indecision and, ultimately, mercy.
Although, I wouldn’t paint it as mercy in a benevolent sense. It’s perhaps as much backing down for his own sake as it is for Shunji’s, because I don’t know if Kang-to would survive killing him. Rie says that Mok Dan would die if Kang-to died, but I think the two friends’ relationship is even more fraught and more powerful in that regard. It’s not simple love binding them together (not that love is simple, but you know what I mean), but a terrible and terribly complicated exchange of loving, hating, wronging, and being wronged by each other.
That’s also what makes Shunji so awesome as a villain, because even when he’s being freakish and frightening, I don’t see him as a monster. I see him as a human with a motherfuckin’ huge dark streak and a propensity to choose the mean, vengeful path, but he’s not the kind of mustache-twirler you get in more simplistic dramas. Shunji may have made every wrong decision when confronted with a choice, and he’s culpable for all of those decisions, but every step of the way I understood how he came to be where he was.
That trajectory is credible and eerily realistic (inasmuch as you might know anyone in real life that dark and terrible), and I’m so freaking impressed with Park Ki-woong, and also strangely proud, as if I have any claim to be proud of some famous dude I have no ties to. It’s just that I’ve seen him being the careless charmer who, by his own admission, never put a lot of effort into his acting, who had an epiphany and started working really hard and became this committed, fearless actor.
(Which isn’t to ignore Joo-won, who I love for being without vanity in a way that really enhances his characters. I love when actors get so committed to their roles that it’s like they forget about the cameras [though of course, they still manage to hit their marks perfectly and catch the light at just the right angles!]. It’s enough to make your brain combust looking at pics like this, because, well, DOES NOT COMPUTE.)
I was actually a little taken aback at Shunji’s comment to Rie about being desperate to live happily with Mok Dan, because I’d written off his character still being capable of that kind of self-awareness. He showed signs of it in the past, worrying to Kang-to that he was turning into a monster, and then he went and lost his mind and became consumed by his desire to “win” — whatever that entails. But confessing that he wants Mok Dan because he wants to reclaim his past self? I LOVE THIS.
It hit me in the heart, and made me incredibly sad for him as well, partly because it’s completely wrong thinking and you don’t know whether to pity him or encourage him. I won’t say that anyone’s irredeemable — at least, not characters painted with such nice depth — but It evokes so much pathos for this character because we can all see that it’s a rather futile hope. Yet it’s the thing he needs to believe, in order to exist. If he didn’t, he might crumple for good — like he does in those brief moments of raw emotion before he dredges up his iron will and forces his vulnerabilities aside.
In fact, I’d chalked him up as someone who no longer wanted that redemption for himself. It makes him a much more tragic character — a villain who wants to be one of the good guys again. Who doesn’t know how, so he clutches at straws. Clinging to Mok Dan as a lifeline to his past was a powerful confession, and I almost wish they’d drawn it out earlier. I don’t expect the drama to transform Shunji into a good guy in our final episode — poof! evil be gone — but neither has this show let Kang-to forget his own transgressions. So I look forward to tomorrow’s epic finale, with excitement and maybe just a little fear.
Pins and needles, y’all. PINS AND NEEDLES.
- Gaksital: Episode 26
- Gaksital: Episode 25
- 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