Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 18
So much good stuff today, packed with development and intensity. A few ends get tied up so we can turn our attention to the big ramp-up to next week’s finale, and I’m glad of it: We could use the time to confront the Big Bad and address the numerous mythological mysteries still to resolve, of which this drama has plenty. The mythology is also this show’s forte creatively, so I’m happy to direct my attention to that. And the romance, of course, which is inextricably linked to that mythology. ‘Cause I’m still dying to know how this universe and all its rules are going to allow our couple their happily ever after. Because they’re getting a happily ever after, right? I’m sure of it. Don’t contradict me.
SONG OF THE DAY
Ben (Bebe Mignon) – “오늘은 가지마” (Don’t Leave Tonight) [ Download ]
EPISODE 18 RECAP
Eun-oh is called a criminal and arrested by the newcomer and his armed guards: Governor Park accuses him of misusing his power to plot a rebellion. Which makes him a traitor.
It’s obvious this is Lord Choi’s doing, and we saw him previously sending word to the governor. He can’t best the magistrate of his town, so he has gone over Eun-oh’s head to upper management, so to speak.
Lord Choi assures the governor that all his accusations are founded. The governor believes he’s locking up a true insurgent, but worries about Eun-oh’s powerful father causing problems for them. Lord Choi just chuckles, saying that they can use this opportunity to rid both father and son.
Arang makes her way inside the cave to face Mu-yeon, and gets to the point: What did Eun-oh’s mother want from her? Mu-yeon asks why, and for a moment I’m afraid Arang is going to tip her hand, but thankfully she just supposes that Arang wants to know what could be powerful enough motivation to give up her body. She answers that Mom wanted revenge against Lord Choi—but not to kill him. She wanted for him to spend his entire life groveling and submissive at her feet.
Ah, it’s a clever revenge, and exactly up Mu-yeon’s alley. She didn’t even have to do anything differently since that was how he spent his days anyway, so she could enter Mom’s body readily. Arang shakes her head in disbelief: “She wouldn’t have given up her body for that reason.”
Joo-wal paces outside the cave anxiously, and decides to barge in. He stops at the entrance just as Mu-yeon asks what Arang would want enough to exchange her body for it. Revenge on her killer? Protection for a loved one?
Arang stammers, “I… I…” No! Don’t say a word! Then she hurriedly gets up and runs outside. Phew.
Joo-wal stops her outside and entreats her not to forget what he’d told her—about never giving herself up.
Arang asks why the heck Joo-wal is with that woman in the first place, and he can’t answer. He enters the cave and finds Mu-yeon put out by Arang’s resistance, saying that she won’t be easy. Well, thank goodness for that.
She wants the magistrate out of the picture and he agrees to it, but she contradicts him: Leave him alone for now. He’s surprised, but she says that she changed her mind after meeting Arang, and with a sneer says she understands now why Joo-wal was so slow in finding out her heart’s desire.
Lord Choi drops by the prison to chuckle over Eun-oh’s predicament, saying that he could arrange for someone to bring him food if he likes. “Ah, she could do it—that woman ghost.”
Eun-oh’s eyes narrow. Lord Choi continues, smirking that even if Eun-oh were to die right now, the unkillable ghost-woman wouldn’t be able to die to meet him on the other side. Hm, he must really think he’s got Eun-oh good to reveal his hand like this. Don’t you know you do the Scooby Doo monologue after the fall guy’s dead? Or better yet, not at all? Some secrets you should just take with you to the grave. I’m no evil genius (or am I?) but that just seems like standard evil operating procedure to me.
Lord Choi adds the taunt that he could go to Eun-oh’s mother and describe in grotesque detail the way her father died. Sick bastard.
Eun-oh fumes, angry tears filling his eyes as Lord Choi tells him, “You can’t do a single thing, just like your foolish mother couldn’t.” He laughs, and Eun-oh launches himself at his bars, yelling into his face.
Arang returns home to the strange scene and wonders what happened. The Bangs fill her in and she beelines for the prison. Bang-wool arrives moments later, having heard the same news. Aw, that’s so sweet that both men at least have sweethearts to lament their downfalls.
The men urge the women to leave quickly before Lord Choi causes trouble for them too.
A notice is posted in the village of the magistrate’s supposed crime. The townspeople are convinced it’s slanderous, which warms my heart, and even propose taking a stand on his behalf. But thankfully these men have wits to match their hearts because they see that fighting in the name of the magistrate actually makes true the charge against him, which is that he was inciting rebellion. Still, brownie points for the thought! They decide to keep quiet and sniff around for the truth behind the matter.
Joo-wal is stunned to hear of Eun-oh’s capture, and his faithful servant informs him that it was Lord Choi’s doing. Joo-wal tears out immediately.
At the magistrate’s office, a crowd has gathered for Eun-oh’s punishment, while the governor presides with Lord Choi at his side. Along with Dol-swe, Eun-oh is dragged out and charged with his crimes; he is to be stripped of office and investigated. Eun-oh spits out that they’re trumping up false charges with no evidence.
The governor lays out his offenses, which Eun-oh forcefully refutes, like that he misspent earmarked funds for his patrols or offered jobs to the low-born with the intent of undermining national law. But when leveled with the accusation that elevated his slave to government office, which is also against the law, he can’t protest because that’s exactly what he did.
He tells Eun-oh to acknowledge his crimes, which will save at least his life. Furious, Arang starts to step in (“Oy, old man!” she barks) but she’s held back and cautioned to be quiet for Eun-oh’s sake.
Eun-oh insists, “I won’t confess to a crime I didn’t commit, not even if I die!” He glares and challenges them to lock him up or cut off his head if they like: “If I am guilty of a true crime, I won’t run away—I’ll accept my punishment!”
Lord Choi is determined to make an example of him, and tells the people to watch and see what happens to lawbreakers. He yanks Arang along, accusing the people of being too stupid to see that their magistrate has been bewitched by a ghost. He points a finger at her: “This woman is not a person!”
Arang tries to protest, but Lord Choi draws a sword and announces that the woman won’t die, no matter how many times you kill her. Uh… are you just going to stand there and let him kill a body without reason, on the off-chance that his whackadoo theory is true? (I mean, yes in this case it does happen to be true, but still! In normal people situations, this is not acceptable logic!)
Eun-oh fights his bonds and screams, “Don’t you dare touch her!” Even Joo-wal darts forward to intervene, but is blocked by the governor’s officers. Lord Choi swings his sword upward… and Eun-oh shouts, “Stop! I acknowledge all my crimes.”
Nooooooo! But even though his ploy has succeeded, Lord Choi is so worked up that he declares that he must see this through anyway, wanting to kill Arang to get the proof out in the open. But the governor orders him that it’s enough, and he lowers the sword.
The Bangs lament this unfortunate turn of events, and just when they hopped on the Eun-oh train! Weak-hearted Lee-bang trembles that he hopes Lord Choi will take him back, but Hyung-bang argues a different way: Let’s rescue the magistrate. I like him.
But a masked breakout seems above their heads, so they keep brainstorming. What if they take this to Eun-oh’s father? They draft a letter and send a messenger straightaway.
That night, Bang-wool and Arang sit on her front stoop, feeling gloomy. Bang-wool asks why it’s such a bad thing for Dol-swe to wear an official uniform, and why there are such strict differences between people when you’re all looking up at the same moonlight.
Arang says, “I don’t know either. People who should live become wandering ghosts, while Lord Choi should have already died and become a demon but runs amok. I suppose there’s a reason for everything. Maybe they’re throwing a mistake-ridden world at us, telling humans and ghosts to do what they can to change it.”
Eun-oh and Dol-swe are dragged out to the courtyard again the next day, to kneel before a smug Lord Choi, who says that maybe now that the rabble-rousing magistrate has been subdued he’ll be able to get some reading done. Eun-oh spits back at him that he’s the one killing men to silence them and filling his stores in corrupt ways: “But heaven doesn’t exist just to look nice—you’d better prepare yourself to receive your thousand punishments!”
Lord Choi kicks him and growls, “I am heaven, and I am the law. You receive those thousand punishments—I’ll give them to you!” He starts stomping on Eun-oh in his rage.
A cry sounds, “Stop!”
Lord Kim has arrived. Aww, yeah. I’m itching for a smackdown.
Lord Choi accuses him of interfering in due process—how can he harbor a traitor, no matter if he’s his son? Then he advises the governor that Lord Kim should also be considered under suspicion.
To which Lord Kim declares, “Governor, receive the king’s command!” Everyone reels in shock. Booyah! Daddy came prepared.
Immediately everyone gets down on their knees, including Lord Choi. Lord Kim reads the royal decree: Pardon the magistrate, Kim Eun-oh. His disregard of social status in his administration within his purview and not a crime. Furthermore, the magistrate has improved the lives of his citizens, which is to be commended.
The reactions of everybody are moved and relieved (except for the Old Evil One, but he doesn’t count), but the scene is worth noting just for Eun-oh’s alone. There’s such an intense mix of emotion in his silent reaction that you can’t help crying along with his tears of shock, relief, and gratitude. Or at least, I can’t. Blubbering mess here. Give me a sec to recover.
As they leave the premises, the men are greeted by their sweethearts: Bang-wool races into Dol-swe’s arms in a loud outburst of emotion, while Eun-oh and Arang have a quieter, but no less intense, reunion.
Eun-oh’s father explains that he got additional support from ministers who’d failed to step in when Eun-oh’s grandfather was unjustly accused. Eun-oh has taken on a key role in ferreting out Lord Choi’s evils, and he vows not to stop until the job has been completed.
Dad says that the people’s spirit is something that, like water, flows on its own once it starts to trickle. Eun-oh has tapped that public sentiment, and should stick around to see where its path leads. Eun-oh replies that he can’t presume to know what that public sentiment is, but he will make sure no more lives are taken.
Arang thinks to herself of all the things Eun-oh has, as though just now remembering—he has a father, and a mother, Dol-swe, this job, this home. “That’s right, he had his own life,” she notes sadly, as though she’s not a part of it. She thinks of Mu-yeon’s offer/question of what would entice her to give herself up.
In her cave, Mu-yeon is seized with a gripping pain as she becomes weaker still. “Mu-young…” she gasps.
She must be sensing his presence, just outside the cave. He enters, and she entreats, “Please help me.” He clenches fist and turns, leaving her pouting after him.
Eun-oh and Dol-swe set out to “finish the job.” With their patrolmen in tow, they storm Lord Choi’s household, a full-on battle waging in the front yard. Lord Choi is outraged, but refuses to heed his servant’s warning to flee. Instead, he begins emptying his drawers of valuables to take with him. Yes, so at least your road to hell will be paved with gold.
Predictably, he isn’t fast enough to both line his pockets and escape. Eun-oh strolls in as he’s packing up his chest and says he’s here to say: “After experiencing it firsthand, prison life is quite endurable.” He’ll escort him forthwith, so he can see for himself.
He arrests Lord Choi for murdering Seo-rim’s maid and illegally organizing a private army, among many other crimes. He’s dragged off literally screaming and casting one last longing glance at his gold, heh. Eun-oh sends him off tut-tutting. It’s pretty satisfying.
The officers clear out Lord Choi’s ill-gotten stores and dispense rice to the people.
Up in heaven, the gods watch the fall of one more of Mu-yeon’s minions, prey to his own desires. Always one to play devil’s advocate, Jade Emperor says that desire isn’t always a bad thing—it’s just that it can twist you up when you use it wrongly. However, “there are times when desires have the power to move the world. If all humans had powers of discernment, gods like us would not be so beset with such headaches, would we?”
Joo-wal comes out of the chaos unscathed, perhaps because heeded his servant’s cautions and left. He’s surveying Lord Choi empty room when Eun-oh returns and announces, “Now we meet again.”
Eun-oh knows Joo-wal secretly moved Mu-yeon and demands to know what their relationship is. Joo-wal replies, “Arang met her.” He warns that Mu-yeon never lets go of something she wants: “I don’t know what Arang is thinking, but at the very least you had better make sure she doesn’t give herself up for your sake.”
First thing back at home, Eun-oh asks Arang about the meeting: “You can’t possibly believe what she says?”
Arang explains the whole we’ll-forget-each-other quandary, “At least this way, we’d stay in each other’s memories.” Aww. So it’s not noble sacrifice driving her, but a last-ditch attempt to hold on to her love. Which, while also frustrating, is something I can’t take issue with.
He scoffs at the reasoning, telling her, “If it’s because of my mother, stop it. No—whatever it’s because of, stop it.”
Arang replies that the moment she found out that his mother had killed her, she realized that the truth bell was meaningless. “So, it made me think that my truth isn’t about killing your mother, but saving her and saving you. Let me do one real thing for you.”
He fires back, “Do you know how much of a coward you’re making out to be? Did you think that that’s what I’d want you to do?!” He glares at her with hurt eyes and storms out.
Eun-oh drowns his sorrows, while Arang writes a letter. Please tell me it’s not a Dear John. Don’t do it!
Joo-wal receives a different letter—one whose contents put him into a panic.
Later that night, Arang brings a tray of food to Eun-oh’s room, which she prepared herself. There’s not much time left till the full moon, she reminds him, and she wanted to cook for him at least this once.
He’s not feeling very enthusiastic about dinner, but she concedes that he was right about her misguided thoughts, and she’ll do as he wishes. You’re not lying, right? To lull us into a false sense of security or whatnot? At least her words get him to relax a bit and he eats, telling her the food is tasty. And still, I am not reassure at the way her smile drops when he’s not looking…
Neither am I getting good vibes at the way Arang strolls around the yard in the early morning, giving everything one last, wistful look. Oh, this is so sad. It’s the little wifely gestures that get to me, like the cooking of dinner and the way she turns around his shoes on the stoop. She grows teary-eyed as she walks away, and starts crying in earnest as she walks through the village.
She arrives at the shaman’s house just as Bang-wool is primping in the mirror, and the timing has Bang-wool grumping—because all the fussing in the world can’t compete with Arang’s beauty. Aw, but one solid bit of flattery is enough to revive her spirits.
Arang hands her a letter, asking her to convey it to Eun-oh. Ack! I knew it. Arang says she was a big bother to Bang-wool and tells her to be well. There’s no hiding the goodbye intentions, and Bang-wool hurries to Eun-oh right away, handing him the letter.
Eun-oh reads, understanding what she’s gone off to do. As he races out of the yard, Arang narrates her letter:
Arang: “Someone once said, I dreamt of a butterfly one afternoon and when I awoke, I did not know whether I was the butterfly or the butterfly was me. While I’ve known you, I felt that. Was I a ghost who’d become a human for a brief moment? Or a human turned ghost? It was enough to make me forget, and time flowed by like a dream. I felt happy spirits happily, and sad spirits sadly—living as a human was quite moving. Thank you for holding me dear. Thank you for allowing me to live with that dear heart. Just as the cold wind wipes away the spot where the moon grows dark, the place where I was will also disappear. But I won’t ask you to forget me. Please remember the name Arang. Magistrate, I love you.”
I love the shift from “I loved you” (i.e., I used to be here) to the present tense, to claim her love as enduring and without end. *Tear*
Arang arrives outside the cave… where Joo-wal awaits. Ah, so she wrote him the other letter, telling him of her intentions. He asks if she really means to do this, and she nods.
He blocks her advance, however, fighting his tears to say that she’s quite cruel, that she gives no consideration to what he feels. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t deserve that consideration, but his pain is palpable and he’s trying to urge her against this crazy idea, so I’m cutting him a little slack here. Arang tells him it’s not about that, but offers to go the rest of the way alone.
Joo-wal pulls her back, telling her not to go. The move sends her whirling back against his chest, and the motion recalls Seo-rim’s last moments—only this time, it’s Joo-wal who remembers. He flashes back to Seo-rim darting in front to take the dagger, and how she fell at his feet with her last words calling to him.
Arang pulls away and hurries to the cave. Joo-wal stands there stunned speechless, finally putting together that Arang is Seo-rim.
Mu-yeon smiles to sense her visitor. Arang heads inside the dark wearing a grimly determined face. And nearby, Eun-oh runs madly up the mountainside.
Oh man, did I love Lee Jun-ki today. I’ve been enjoying him all series long but he had a lot to work with today, running the gamut of emotions in one concise story arc that I also really appreciated (the conciseness, I mean). When they introduced the treason accusation at the end of last episode I was afraid this would be the conflict to take us through the final stretch of the show, like so many sageuks do at some point or other. Instead, they let Lord Choi sneer and smirk for a while, seemingly back our hero up against a rock, and then resolved it before the story had any time to lag.
Perhaps for a different kind of sageuk (say, one more politically inclined, or set at court) this kind of resolution is laughably simple, but it felt just right for this drama, which isn’t about those things. It’s more about how these machinations mean for our hero and how our good guys can best him and turn their attentions to more important matters. Namely, that whole heaven-hell dilemma and the twisted ethereal monster on the loose trying to upset the order of the universe. You know, that little thing.
This plot turn also gave me one of my favorite emotional moments from Eun-oh, after his father read the king’s order. It was such a small beat—a wordless moment that played out almost entirely as a fleeting facial expression—that I’m surprised how strongly it affected me. The primary emotion isn’t elation or amazement, as it is for everybody else, but this overwhelmed and overwhelming well of pathos. Like he can’t believe this show of support, the hand of solidarity, being extended to him.
I wonder if it’s a double-edged moment for him, as sharp and keen as it is comforting, because it’s this validation that he wasn’t expecting, that perhaps he’d believed was never his due because he’d been forsaken. It’s that curious in-between state of being an illegitimate son, particularly the higher up in status you go; there the rift is especially vast between the life (and honor, and respect) your bloodline commands, but from which you are not allowed to partake. Eun-oh has a kind father so his struggle isn’t, say, quite at the level of Hong Gil-dong (who famously “cannot call his father his father, or his brother his brother”), but we’ve seen that insecurity manifest itself at various points throughout. And thus we can presume Eun-oh became that cold, indifferent man to shield himself from the world’s rejection. To have the king not only back him up but praise him for his progressive ways… well, it explains the fullness of feeling in that moment.
I find it intriguing that Arang’s decision to give herself up is such a close echo of Mu-yeon’s own origin story—it’s her way of claiming a bit of agency in a situation that robs her of control. The winds (and whims) of Fate have seemingly shoved these two in an untenable situation, of giving them all the provisions to feel and cultivate love, but no way to actually act it out. Neither has been born into a situation where that love can be realized in a “normal” way, without breaking the laws of life and afterlife, or twisting the natural order of everything. And any way you shake it, the gods are telling them that you don’t get to keep this—it’s precious and dear and you can take a nice long look, but don’t you dare want it!—and moreover, that it’s not even right for them to want it.
So they do what they can to cling to whatever scrap they can, to resist the limitations of their supernatural Catch-22. What they end up with may not be anywhere near as close to the real thing they desperately want, but in the absence of anything better they’ll take it. So while I don’t love the shades of noble idiocy in her sacrifice, I bear with it because I do like how it rings true in this world, and how it connects these two opponents in a really fundamental way.
Of course, Arang and Mu-yeon are worlds apart, and Arang has additional reasons driving the decision; since giving herself up is the only way to have a shot at defeating Mu-yeon, I’m sure she’s comforting herself with the thought that at least this way, they’ll remember each other. Not that I find hers a selfish desire in the first place. All series long, she has faced this existential struggle to claim herself on her terms—to know she mattered. Her love of Eun-oh is just part and parcel of that. Here, the difference between Heroine and Evil Being makes itself clear: one lets her love pervert her very nature, and the other holds fast to it as a way of remaining true to herself.
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 17
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 16
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 15
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 14
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 13
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 12
- 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