A big episode in several ways: For one, our underdog team of palace refugees takes strides toward reclaiming their rightful positions. Our heroes find themselves with their backs up against a wall (and yes, also in a sexy way), and it’s up to them to find out a way out of the coil. The baddies have numbers and power on their side, but they’re not the only ones doing a little fancy maneuvering. It’s strategy on both sides… up to a point. If this were a chess game, I’d say both sides have been busily working their best battle tactics, only to find somebody ready to step in and overturn the board altogether.
SONG OF THE DAY
Lucite Tokki – “I’m Here” [ Download ]
EPISODE 17 RECAP
After reading the letter from her future self (future in her lifetime, though she’s from the past, chronology-wise—now that’s not confusing), Eun-soo storms up to Deok-heung and asks him point-blank, “Are you intending to kill Choi Young today?” Where is the trap being set?
He doesn’t even bother to deny it, surprised enough to ask, “How did you know?”
Eun-soo tells him it was written in her diary. Uh, do you really want to show your hand about that diary? Crying now, she offers to do anything he wants if he’ll save Young. His mood goes from dismissive to interested—hm, surely there’s some way for him to spin this to his advantage.
Young makes his way to his destination, but looks around warily as he walks. Please tell me you can sense the trap. On a nearby rooftop, a team of archers waits for their moment, and a team of swordfighter assassins stealthily follows. There are ambushers dispersed all around, keeping Young in their sights.
He enters a house and joins senior statesmen Lee Je-hyun and Lee Saek in their temporary hideaway. He asks who else knows of their travel plans, and whether the royal seal they’re carrying is so important—sure, it’s symbolic, but a new one can always be produced. He wants to know whether they’re being followed for that seal, or a different reason.
Lee Saek wonders where the owner of this house went—he’s nowhere to be seen. Young is immediately suspicious, and rightly so, since the assassins are busily blocking off all exits with wooden beams, then nailing them in place.
Deok-heung explains the trap to Eun-soo, saying that Young would be hard to kill by the sword. Thankfully Ki Chul alerted him to Young’s weakness, honor, and that’s something he can use against him. Said the one with no honor.
Eun-soo argues that there’s no need to kill him now. He’s not Woodalchi’s leader, and he doesn’t strike unless in defense. Deok-heung replies that Young is an interference in making Eun-soo one of his people. Is it me, or this whole faith-as-romantic-metaphor thing getting a bit much for anyone else? We get it. He adds, “I must have you in order to also have Ki Chul.”
The house is laced with gunpowder, ready to go off. Trapped inside, Young takes stock of his surroundings, looking for an avenue out.
Eun-soo asks what she must do for him to call it off. He answers, “How about marrying me?” As enticement, he holds up a letter—it will order the mission to stop. Eun-soo asks if that’s all, like he’s asking her to do something silly and inconsequential: “Then let’s do it.”
With a smirk, he sends a messenger to deliver the letter. There’s not much time to spare, because poised outside is an archer with a flaming arrow, ready to fire.
Inside the house, Young tests their exits, frustration mounting to find that they’re sitting ducks. Finally, he just pulls back and SLAMS his way through the door, sending it flying off its hinges. That’s… it? Granted he’s got superhuman powers, but sigh. I just wish the show made its visual moments worthy of the story it wants to tell.
Young bursts outdoors with his sword at the ready… and finds the courtyard empty. He sees the trail of gunpowder, but no sign of the enemy. They’ve been called off.
Jang Bin gives Eun-soo the confirmation that Young and his Suribang mates have departed safely. He takes note of her subdued demeanor, and Eun-soo informs the doctor of her deal to marry.
Young delivers the statesmen to a different hideaway, this one housing the king and queen. He takes issue with the open door policy (since he’s been meeting with commoners to hear their issues), but Choong-seok says that it’s the king’s orders. Young barks, what if there are assassins lurking? Hilariously, Choong-seok says (obviously reciting Gongmin) that they are to look carefully and pick out foes by sight and sense. Ha. Is prayer and wishful thinking also a part of that policy?
Young parts company with the group, but is stopped by Lee Je-hyun. To his utter surprise, the man thanks him for protecting him. I suppose it’s a rather significant overture from the stuffy old scholar.
Gongmin invites Lee Je-hyun and Lee Saek to sit at the table. They balk—how could they dare? Noguk tells them that there’s no distinction between classes at this table, and the men sit. Gongmin hands them a roster of names and explains his intention to nullify the slave standings of everyone who was demoted from citizen status in the past decade.
Young can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong, and worries to his aunt. The enemy was just about to flatten them with explosives, but suddenly backed out. Why? He doesn’t see Ki Chul going to these lengths to assassinate a few advisors, nor does he think it’s likely Deok-heung would do this over a royal seal.
Lady Choi suggests that they might have just wanted to kill Young, using the advisors as bait. But that doesn’t explain it, either: “Why me?”
Lady Choi: “Beats me.” Young complains about the lax security around this place, and his aunt adds that they have to be wary of the king’s forays outside. It’s driving Woodalchi and the princess’s warriors nuts.
She asks after the doctor, and that has Young confusedly pacing the yard. He stops in his tracks and says blankly, “I… don’t know what I’m supposed to do after this.” Aw. Funny how Young wanted nothing more than to be relieved of his duty, but when he finds himself without job, he’s at a loss.
The two advisors present Gongmin with the new state seal. He shrewdly guesses that they’re really using the seal as an excuse to size up the king—to see if he’s crazy or unstable, or perhaps so weak-hearted that he’d just hand over his throne to his uncle. Noguk adds that they’ll also be preparing to send a message to the Yuan emperor, and they’ll be wanting to know which king they ought to support. The two advisors fidget, clearly not having expected the king to be this shrewd.
Gongmin reads the new Goryeo seal and finds it satisfactory. With it, he will make his first decree: reinstate Choi Young. He outlines his recent services to the queen and country, which are enough to wipe his slate clean and return him to duty.
And not a moment too soon, given Young’s own lack of direction; Gongmin finds him sitting outside like a lump on a log. Young starts his round of scolding for the king coming out unaccompanied, launching into a litany of all the dangers he faces. Gongmin laughs, “How is it that whether you are Woodalchi or an unjustly accused criminal, whether I trust you or not, you never change?”
Gongmin asks if it’s still his dream to become an ordinary man. Young replies, “I had forgotten about that for a while.”
The king tells him of his reinstatement (and promotion), and adds the rather rueful caveat the he may end up firing him or even exiling him in the future, “Because I am the king.” Aw, is that foreshadowing the history to come? He adds, “Even so, I would like you to stay with me.”
Deoki delivers a letter from Jang Bin to the princess, which informs her of Eun-soo’s marriage plans. Noguk wonders if they have to keep this from Young, although he can tell right away from his aunt’s shiftiness that she’s hiding the news. She tells him the truth, that Eun-soo is marrying Deok-heung.
Denial is his first reaction; he tells her to cut out the joke. Lady Choi adds that Jang Bin is worried as well, and then the news sinks in. She offers to go find out what’s up since he’s likely to be in danger, but he cuts her off: “I’ll go.”
At the palace, Eun-soo is dressed in the new clothes Deok-heung sent over. I do enjoy the way she yanks on the robe in annoyance, tugs at the cumbersome layers, and in general is the farthest thing from pleased with the splendor. Off she goes to meet the groom, but she stops in her tracks to see Young outside, leaning against the building with a smile.
She brightens for a split second before realizing she’s just imagining him there. She envisions him again in the courtyard, laughing with his Woodalchi buddies.
Deok-heung invites her to sit on the throne, telling her he intends to treat her as the future queen and his wife, asking for her to treat him as king-husband. He seats himself and asks how he looks, fishing for compliments. Eun-soo, barely tolerating his company, replies that he is ambitious and greedy, willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants, without care for others.
He just chuckles and suggests that they wipe the slate clean and start over. She tells him she can forget that he poisoned her (she’s a better woman than me)—”But I can’t forgive that you tried to kill that person. I’m going to think of it every time I see you. This person tried to kill him.”
He merely tells her she’s better off hiding that sentiment, since it reveals her weakness.
Young beelines for the palace’s infirmary and demands to know where she is. Jang Bin informs him that she left to see Deok-heung, but warns that the man is heavily guarded. He advises him to sit first and calm down. Young answers that he can’t—as in, he’s literally unable to make himself sit, he’s so worked up.
Deok-heung and Eun-soo sit down for refreshments, and she snipes about his underhanded tricks—he only gave her half the diary’s back material, holding on to the rest for future use. Just like he did with the (supposed) antidote, withholding it bit by bit. She wants the rest of it, and he asks what the first part read. Eun-soo says she might if he gave her the whole thing.
Deok-heung counteroffers: He’ll give it to her on their wedding night.
Just then, a disturbance arises at the door, and Young comes barging in. Eun-soo pleads for Deok-heung to call off the bodyguards before somebody gets hurt, but Young doesn’t need the help; in no time he’s downed everybody and face to face with Deok-heung, ordering him to let go of her.
The downed guards rise to attack, but Deok-heung calls them off. Young turns to Eun-soo to ask if she really intends to marry Deok-heung. She says yes and asks him to leave peacefully, because she had her reasons. He asks, “Was that reason the price for my life?” He guesses that the aborted ambush was her doing.
He turns to Deok-heung next, and she jumps in pleading for him to stop. Thankfully he holds back, and Deok-heung exits without further confrontation.
Young tells her to come with him and grabs her wrist, but she argues that the wedding will be set more than a month in the future, and she’ll be gone by then when the portal reopens. She argues, “I have things to do here!” Young: “Then tell me, so we can do them together.”
When she doesn’t answer, he sighs and concedes, “I know you wanted to run away from the start. I know that you almost died several times, that you haven’t slept soundly for one night, that you’ve cried, that it’s all because of me. I know that, but still. I can’t leave you with a bastard like him. You may not have many days left before you go, but I can’t leave you with someone like him for your remaining time. So can’t you be with me instead?”
She stares at him with those big teary eyes through his speech, and perhaps decides to let it all out, because she asks if he’ll believe what she has to say, even if it’s strange. She says that the back portion of her diary warned of a day that would bring danger to somebody—him. She’s only read the first half, and she fears that the rest includes more information about dangers to his safety. That’s why she has to stay here.
He steps forward, advancing toward her step by step, and she inches backward till her back’s against the wall. He plants his hand on the wall, leaning in, reminding her that Deok-heung poisoned her: “You would marry a man like that to save me?”
She protests that she can’t know this and not try to save him. Wouldn’t he do the same for her?
Young pulls her toward him. Holding her, he sighs, “What are we to do with you?”
Deok-heung returns to his chamber and pulls out the diary pages from his chest. He takes the last page and burns it. Eek!
Gongmin sits with Young for a strategy session. He wants to remove his usurping uncle from his throne, but they’re facing an uphill battle. One, the statesmen see him as a weak king who ran away. Second, the two thousand palace guards are currently protecting Deok-heung. Third, Ki Chul is allied with Deok-heung, and his own private army will add to those numbers.
Young addresses each serious problem calmly, if vaguely, about how he’ll figure out something. There are only fifty Woodalchi so they can’t take them on in an armed clash: “But we’ll have to find a way that doesn’t require confrontation.”
Gongmin hands him his papers and adds pointedly that he heard of Eun-soo’s upcoming wedding plans and is worried Young will run off with her. It’s his way of reminding him of his post.
Lady Choi comes to visit Eun-soo and asks straight-out: “What mess have you made?” Ha, I do love that she’s a straight shooter. Eun-soo says defensively that she has no intention of marrying, and that she can just get engaged for now and break it off later. Lady Choi counters that this is royalty—how can she jilt him? Eun-soo: “Is that… not possible?” Heh. Is that… not obvious?
Eun-soo gripes about Young storming in here and insisting she run off with him. Lady Choi points out that absconding with a royal’s fiancée equates to immediate death by dismemberment: “The queen sent me here, to knock some sense into you.”
Eun-soo says she only said she’d marry him—you know, like, using words. That’s all. To which Lady Choi takes a look around and points out all the wedding gifts she has accepted. Eun-soo makes a feeble defense, which cracks me up; she couldn’t read the letter because she’s not so good with hanja, and the gifts were just delivered here. She wonders, “Should I return them?” Lady Choi just heaves a sigh. Heh. It’s not a comic scene, but there is a nice hint of wry humor woven through it. Mostly ’cause Lady Choi’s awesome.
Eun-soo starts in on the Young complaints, wondering how he could be so reckless, just barging in and fighting off the king’s guards. She says it in the He’s so strange to act that way tone of voice, not seeing the flipside to the argument that says, Yes it’s crazy, but it’s YOU that drives him to act that way. Eun-soo says frustratedly that there’s no pleading or crying or convincing Young to be careful when he only ever says it in words (not actions). Yet at those words, a look enters Lady Choi’s eye—please tell me you’re formulating a plan!
Young accompanies Gongmin’s retainer to the throne room to deliver the king’s decree to the court. Sitting on the throne is Deok-heung, ostensibly as the king’s proxy though he’s certainly getting comfy up there, presiding like he’s already the new ruler.
The message is a surprising one, since it praises Deok-heung for his service as regent in the king’s absence. Ah, so you’re going to do this the sneaky way; I approve. The king announce his intent to resume political business and invites his council to join him at his current residence for an assembly. It also confers new duties to Young, who states his official acceptance of the decree, and announces his first task to Deok-heung: “That throne you sit upon may only be used by the king. Please step down.”
Deok-heung calls Ki Chul to see him, and I’m actually cheering up at this entrance; I missed you, crazy. He tells Ki Chul that the king has changed up his tactics, and is removing things from within the palace (from Deok-heung’s grasp) without even stepping foot in it. He sent Young to do it, and you can bet that the good doctor will be first on the list of things to be reclaimed.
Deok-heung says that there’s only one thing to do, and Ki Chul agrees. He declares, “I will attack the king.” However, he still needs a pretext to justify the action, and Deok-heung offers to rustle one up.
Ki Chul has a niggling feeling that Eun-soo hasn’t been totally honest with them, however (you think?), and finds it odd that she would offer up the fact that heaven’s door opens in two months. Especially with the wedding in one month. He deduces that the real portal date is much sooner than she let on.
Hwasuin appears outside the king’s door, having heard of his open door policy. The Woodalchi point out that she’s excluded, but she warns that escalating a confrontation will lead to a lot of injuries. And they’re in an area with a lot of innocent bystanders. Frustrated, they don’t block her way, although they do keep her at sword’s length.
Eum-ja drops in on them from the rooftop to join her and reports that the Woodalchi presence here is light today. It disappoints her; Hwasuin seems to have been itching for more confrontation. Curiously though, they just leave, without pressing for an audience with the king. Ah, this was a recon mission, not an attack.
As she exits, Hwasuin tosses something behind her, and the Woodalchi—remembering the last time she did such a thing, all hit the ground and brace for explosion. Only, today it’s just a little wooden statue, ha.
Eun-soo slips out of her room that night, not seeing that she’s got a palace guard on her tail. The guard creeps into the room after her… only to get knocked out by a fist to the face as Young swoops in, all casual as you please.
He watches Eun-soo rifle through drawers and bookshelves, clearly on a hunt for her diary. A ceramic dish falls off the shelf, and thankfully for her inept burglaring skills, Young catches it before it crashes to the ground. He informs her that the diary isn’t in this room, and she whispers that they ought to check the next one, then. As they head out, Eun-soo gasps as the fallen palace guard starts to stir, only to get clubbed unconscious again by Young. Heh.
Young leads her down the hallway and ducks into a closet-like area to avoid the patrolmen making the rounds. While they wait for the coast to clear, he asks what the diary holds other than warnings about him—does it describe dangers to herself? She says no, and he replies, “Then give up.”
She starts to protest, but he tells her that he has never once wanted to know her future knowledge: “I don’t care about when I die.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure we got that in Episode 1.
Eun-soo replies, “But then there’s nothing I can do for you.” She knows they’ll have to part ways soon, and it’s a forever kind of separation—not the kind where you can hope to run into each other coincidentally. “But on the other side of that door, knowing you’re alive, and living well—I have to be able to think that. How can I give up?”
On Young’s orders, the Woodalchi have been closely watching the king’s guard and report on who’s loyal to whom. He takes a secret meeting with a former colleague in the palace’s guard. These are men who turned on the king and were bribed heavily to do it—and yet, he asks if they would consider returning to the king’s service. They ask when.
So begins the recruiting process, of getting the army back on Gongmin’s side. Sneaky.
Or… maybe not quite as stealthy as they think, because Deok-heung supposes that this is Young’s first goal. Ki Chul decides to make his assassination sooner rather than later, before the other side get too many men to switch teams. Deok-heung has thought up the perfect cover, to coincide with his wedding. On the route back after the ceremony, the king’s party will meet with a band of robbers. In fact, Ki Chul has his men preparing lots of robbers’ disguises, as they speak.
Afterward, Queen Eun-soo will embark on a short trip—and Deok-heung can take her to the portal then. Huh, so you’re just gonna let her go then?
The date of the wedding: the day after tomorrow.
Young also feels the time pressure, though he can’t know just how pressed he really is. Lady Choi urges him to be careful, earning a hilarious outburst: “I am being careful! How can I possibly be any more careful?!” Haha. She just wants a more secure plot that’ll get Deok-heung out of the palace—say, find him guilty of treason somehow—but he argues that they don’t have that much time. Eun-soo returns to her world by the next full moon.
Lady Choi wonders whether he’s tried asking Eun-soo if she has any desire to stay. He answers that she’s got zero shred of desire to remain here.
Lady Choi’s words must have gotten Eun-soo thinking, because she wraps up all the wedding gift boxes in a curtain and drags the bundle along, throwing them into Deok-man’s room. She tells him they can both cut it out now—neither has any intention of marrying, and she knows he was using her to deal with Ki Chul.
He asks, “Do you not want to become queen?” She declares, “I told you, you’ll never be king.” He asks if she no longer needs her diary, and she answers yes—she’s given up on it. Yay!
Half-amused at this last-minute wrench in his plans, Deok-heung admits it’s a setback but asks what the diary is—perhaps he could be persuaded to give up the rest, if her case is that compelling. She answers merely that it’s her homework, left behind for her to solve. But she has decided to give up on it and spend her remaining time “stuck close by him”: “I may not know the question, but I can figure out the answer.”
Deok-heung sees that she’s serious, and tells her sternly that if she walks out of the engagement, it will bring trouble to her and Choi Young. Say, exile—and that’s a lenient punishment. She scoffs that Ki Chul won’t like that, and he points out that he could give them both to Ki Chul, as slaves. That’ll be the day, she says, since he’d never allow himself to be taken as a slave.
He rattles off the math: 50 Woodalchi versus his army of 2,000. If Gongmin’s life were at risk, Young would yield. In fact, “He seemed to place his king above his sweetheart.”
He’s got her there.
The three Suribang fighters keep a close eye on Ki Chul’s household, and when a delivery rolls up to the gate, they maneuver a theft of one of the parcels. Inside: robbers’ clothing.
In the morning, Eun-soo is given the surprise news: Get ready, ’cause there’s gonna be a wedding today. Lady Choi tries to buy time, asking for a moment to change clothing, only to find that Deok-heung has thought to make all the preparations.
Eun-soo is escorted to the main hall wearing a long face, anxious and out of tactics. She’s brought to the throne room and greeted by Deok-heung, who proposes a short walk outside.
Just then, Young comes storming in, alone. It’s Ki Chul who steps forward to stop him, placing an icy hand on his shoulder. His hand starts to frost, and Young counters by grabbing Ki Chul’s hand and shooting his lightning ki back.
Today, it’s no contest: Young easily forces his hand off, to Ki Chul’s wide-eyed shock. He casts him aside, and Eun-soo steps foward to warn him of the attack on the king. But Young already knows this, saying they have little time.
Eun-soo urges him to go. Young replies, “There’s no other way.” With that, he pulls her to him for a kiss.
Whee, a kiss! It’s about time, after dancing around their feelings for each other for ages. Not that I blame them for hesitating on acting on their feelings, what with the whole time-space divide and all the pesky political intrigue intruding on smoochy times. Nothing like a little murderous plotting to put the kibosh on romance.
I’m not about to complain about getting a kiss—no way—but the last scene does happen to be another unfortunate instance where I feel the execution falls flat in a way that intrudes on the emotions. We’re riding the tension of the moment, seeing Eun-soo’s panic mounting with her ambush wedding (that would be the worst, and therefore most hilarious, reality show ever), and then we sweep in with a very oddly modernistic grand gesture. I have no issues with fusion sageuks playing fast and loose with historical accuracy when in service of a good story. However, you’ve gotta admit that the romantic gesture is a bit at odds with the setting, the time, the place… When the story isn’t served by the anachronism, I can’t help but laugh when instead I really, really want to swoon.
It’s sadly my big issue with this drama, that we can see very clearly what the drama intends to be doing with a scene, and yet, it so rarely hits that emotional point. Take, for instance, the ki-off between Young and Ki Chul, which really deserved way more weight, didn’t it? It just felt like such a puny delivery of a monumental change in the tide, where Young is so overcome with the need to act—finally! No more indifference, or standing idly by!—that something that once nearly incapacitated him now just takes a mere fling of a wrist. I feel like we needed to see this moment happen, with a lot more importance—but in a different context. When Ki Chul is our main antagonist, not just the lackey for the bad guy, because then it carries such more significance.
This is similar to the earlier scene where Young knocks down the door, and that single shove somehow overcomes all that sneaking and planning enacted by the assassins. I know what they intend by these scenes, yet I don’t feel any of it (thanks, PD-nim), and therefore I’m not really all that invested in what happens. Knowing there ought to be tension doesn’t create tension, sadly.
Thankfully, in the absence of a proper buildup and payoff, we have two actors who are settling into a nice groove, with chemistry that crackles. When they’re allowed to be in a scene together, that is. (Howsabout we get some more of that, hmm?)