The plot thickens as our hero and nemesis face off and the central plot to overthrow Joseon (or take it over, at least) comes into clearer focus. What works for this show is that its conflicts are universal and peppered with high stakes, so that even if you aren’t totally keen on the minutiae of the schemes (or the politics), it’s still good fun. It keeps the show entertaining, although as a result it also does keep it from being more. It probably comes at a good time, because I could use a light break from all the heaviness of the past year.
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EPISODE 5 RECAP
Showdown. Woo-chi advances on Kang-rim, asking his ex-best friend why he betrayed him and their nation. For what?
Kang-rim says he just left Yuldo before Yuldo kicked him out. Woo-chi corrects him, saying he didn’t accidentally kill a person—he used illegal magic to steal his friend’s powers.
Kang-rim says that Yuldo was too small for his plans anyway. Woo-chi demands to know what his grand plans entail, and why he had to stain Mu-yeon’s hands with blood to do so. He asks him to let her go, if Kang-rim has an ounce of caring for her left.
That plea just makes Kang-rim scoff that this is exactly the thing—Woo-chi may go on about Yuldo and his teacher, but in the end he just wants her love. Isn’t that why he shoved aside his friend?
Woo-chi calls him out for blaming everything on others and shirking his responsibility. Kang-rim says Woo-chi won’t be a match for him and threatens to end him today.
They fly at each other, throwing wind and lightning at each other. They appear evenly matched, dodging the blows, and the fight goes from midair to solid ground and back into midair again.
But Woo-chi gains the edge (probably always had it) and uses his powers to grab Kang-rim and pull him toward himself. Kang-rim hovers just in front of, struggling to break free. He refuses to tell him where Mu-yeon and goads him to kill him. But he knows Woo-chi can’t, because then the trail to Mu-yeon goes poof.
Woo-chi angrily blasts him back, just before the ninja posse descends on the scene. They distract him with a smoke bomb, and by the time he escapes, Kang-rim is gone. Woo-chi clutches his shoulder painfully, probably not yet recovered from his run-in with the dart.
The baddies leave to deal with a bigger problem, because the little boy’s disappearance has been discovered. Since the grandson is the only reason their kidnapped artist-decipherer is complying with their demands, grandpa refuses to continue working till he sees the boy. His nonstop crying has abruptly stopped, and he’s rightfully suspicious.
Kang-rim orders his main henchman to hide in the mountains to avoid Woo-chi’s pursuit, and to keep mum about Mu-yeon freeing the child. I don’t know whether it’s sweet or sad that he’s trying to cover up for her, as though he still thinks there’s a shot at everything working out just as he wants it to. Guy’s got a powerful sense of denial, or a huge disconnect with reality. It’s this quality that gives me my one link to his character, since it makes him pitiable more than villainous.
So when Ma Sook asks after Mu-yeon, Kang-rim makes up a lie about her being out on an errand. Ma Sook tells him the child has been stolen and instructs him to apprehend the culprit.
Mu-yeon has spent the night at an inn, and wakes to find the boy grasping her finger in his sleep, like a trusting baby. Turns out this is the inn where Hye-ryung and her father previously stayed, run by the oddball innkeeper Euri.
Lee Chi resumes his Clark Kent persona, replete with references to his unabating digestive issues. Ha, and ew. Should we just call him Poo-chi and be done with it? But given that he’s being watched by both the eunuch and the damo, it’s probably smart to keep up appearances.
It’s not till he’s in private that he allows himself to show pain. He vows to find Mu-yeon and take her away.
Our poor isolated king thinks over his last talk with Eun-woo, when she’d confided her suspicions about the eunuchs hiding something. So when one requests an important private audience with him, the king tenses up nervously, and the look of terror on his face could just about break your heart. And if not that, then the way he tries to cover up his fear as he agrees to it.
The king grants him leave to speak while he takes up target practice, but the head eunuch requests that he remove all his attendants first. Understandably, this has him on edge but the king instructs everyone to step away. He doesn’t hide his suspicion, though, and levels his weapon at the eunuch as he tells him to speak.
The eunuch falls to his knees in despair and cries, “Your highness, kill me! I could not keep the promise I made to the former kings!” Oh, interesting. Is he going to let him in on the secret?
Innkeeper Euri gets visited by Kang-rim’s men, who ask whether she’s seen a young boy. Euri lies, but her own daughter reminds her that there was that lady with that kid staying in that room over there.
The room is empty but the report points to Mu-yeon being responsible, and Ma Sook is not pleased with his lying, smitten nephew. Kang-rim promises to bring her back, but Ma Sook says no—he’ll make her come back, of her own accord.
I’m curious to know what Mu-yeon’s thinking, if at all—is she operating with a plan, or does her awakening mind only push her enough to know she should save the child, details to be figured out later? She looks pretty lost here in the city streets. She pauses to buy the boy a snack, and he asks why she’s living with “those bad guys.” Was she kidnapped, just like him and Grandpa?
Mu-yeon doesn’t have an answer, although the sight of neighborhood kids brings a tear to her eye. It reminds her of her younger days, when she’d practiced her powers alongside Woo-chi and Kang-rim, and they’d been a joke-loving trio of friends.
Ma Sook reaches into a mystical box and extracts a black scorpion-like thing from it, chanting something at it. It’s like a insect embodiment of magic, a cross between a cockroach and a butterfly and maybe a mini-dragon. Or a cockamouse?
Ah, but the thing must be the spell controlling Mu-yeon, because she starts gasping in pain. When she looks up, the cold, hard look is back in her eye.
The boy runs off, scared, and she flies after him. She grabs him and flies off… just moments before Lee Chi walks by with Bong-gu. He can sense a strange presence, though, and finds the boy’s toy dropped on the ground.
Mu-yeon is summoned to see Ma Sook. She seems to recall the gist of what happened, but can’t remember why she did it. Kang-rim looks worried (since he was concerned about the dangers of upping her dosage), but Ma Sook is just relieved that the spell is strong enough to keep her in check. He’ll keep a man guarding over her, though, and warns that he won’t forgive more lies from Kang-rim.
The little boy is taken to this grandfather, who gets all of two seconds to confirm he’s still alive before the boy is yanked off. Ma Sook orders him to get back to work uncovering the hidden map.
Lee Chi heads back to the gisaeng house with Bong-gu, although today he’s not here to get info from his favorite gisaeng Love Hands, to her disappointment. Instead, he asks to speak with the proprietress, interested in knowing who her financial backer is. She denies that she has one, so he slides some money over to grease the wheels.
But the gisaeng madam rejects his bribe and dismisses him firmly.
Lee Chi is turned out, and as he and Bong-gu leave, he’s spotted by the trio of ruffians led by Mak-gae. Hey, they wonder, isn’t that Hye-ryung’s oraboni, the one she’s so keen on finding?
She perks up immediately at their news, and is extorted into paying up for the information.
Lee Chi goes next to Chul-gyun, his connection to all things shady and back-alley. But Chul-gyun doesn’t know who’s financially supporting the gisaeng house either, though he suspects that it must be an incredibly wealthy supporter.
As they leave the gambling den, Hye-ryung & Co. confirm that this is the oraboni in question, and she approaches him with tearful excitement.
Lee Chi looks at them blankly and asks who they are. Their reactions are puzzling, and it makes him recall a flashback:
Some time in the past (few?) years, Woo-chi kneels by an injured man who identifies himself as Lee Chi. The man is gravely hurt, and with his dying breath he gasps out, “Please… my sister… my sister…” Then Lee Chi falls dead.
He realizes now that this must be the dead man’s family. But why would his father bow to him and call him Young Master? Nevertheless, he plays along and makes a greeting—only it’s all wrong and he’s being too polite (Hye-ryung’s father must be more like a servant, as he introduces himself with a name).
Woo-chi laughs off the awkwardness and tries to run off with a lame excuse, but Bong-gu smooths things over and promises the family that the young master will watch after them. Woo-chi glares, but it does salvage the situation for now and they all head off to Lee Chi’s home.
Woo-chi asks how they’ve been, and Hye-ryung admits how hard it’s been these past years. And then she asks, “Did you find those guys who killed Father?”
Woo-chi says yeah, sure, he’s working on it right now—that’s why he joined with the paper. It’s great for finding information and locating people. He tries to protest when Hye-ryung declares her intention to live here now with oraboni, and his apothecary-landlord takes advantage of the situation to say that the other room is just a bit more expensive… Ha. I love thwarted Woo-chi. He’s so petty and exasperated.
Later that night, Hye-ryung joins Woo-chi and confesses that she can’t rest easily—not while those killers are out there. She describes them as using a strange kind of magic, which grabs his attention. He asks for details, and since he’s already supposed to know how his father died this just makes Hye-ryung upset; she accuses him of caring more about gambling and entertainment than avenging their father. How could he forget that day?
Thankfully, we get the flashback from her point of view to fill in the blanks:
It’s night, and Dad finds his courtyard filled with strange, threatening men. Ma Sook is their leader and makes a brazen demand for Dad to just hand over his authority, and a fight breaks out. The siblings watch fearfully as Dad stands his ground, and Lee Chi tries to jump into the fray, although he’s stopped by his servant.
Ma Sook shoves their father back into a wall with his magical powers, and the force of the blow kills him. The siblings are stopped by one of Ma Sook’s henchmen, and Lee Chi jumps in front to save his sister from being attacked. He yells for his sister to run away, and their servant carries her away while Lee Chi fights.
Hye-ryung tells Woo-chi that there were rumors that Lee Chi headed for the capital to avenge their father, and that’s why she followed. But what happened that night?
Woo-chi says vaguely that a stranger stepped in, and thanks to his help he barely managed to escape. Hye-ryung presses for a name, and he says, “Jeon Woo-chi.” Oh, I see—so his flashback must have been from later that night, and Woo-chi must have saved Lee Chi. But he’d been too late, since Lee Chi was already mortally wounded.
The artist-grandpa finally extracts the map from the tiger drawing, and Ma Sook takes a look. But the paper is utterly blank, which gets Kang-rim in a rage and threatening the grandpa for pulling some sort of trick. The grandpa says he did as ordered, and Ma Sook believes him, giving the order to release the man and his grandson.
Ma Sook actually scoffs to see that Hong Gil-dong used such a simple trick of drawing in water. Holding the scroll over the fire, the painting reveals itself in the smoke. It’s a drawing of a forest, so we’re still only halfway there to having a map, but this is where Mu-yeon comes in.
The hostages are freed, but not meant to survive. Ma Sook’s henchmen follow them and draw their swords, ready to tie up the loose ends. Grandpa senses trouble and manages to evade the sword, distracting the men long enough to run with the boy. He keeps running even after he gets a dagger in the back.
Mu-yeon looks at the drawing, and it gives her a pounding headache. Ma Sook orders her to keep looking, needing the secret.
Mu-yeon starts to tear up and hold her head in pain, but she says forcefully, “This drawing… I cannot tell you. I must not tell you!”
Kang-rim pleads to try again another day, but Ma Sook isn’t letting this chance slip away. He presses forth and turns his possession spell on her again until her cries fade away and she calms. He urges her to give up the secret.
Mu-yeon struggles to fight back and begs, “Enough… stop…”
Ma Sook is frustrated but there’s no getting more out of her tonight. As she sleeps, Kang-rim says that this is the first time he’s seen Mu-yeon in such agony—could the scroll have contained a trick?
Ma Sook says that Mu-yeon’s reaction is proof that she knows of its secret. But how to force it out of her?
More bad news (for the bad guys, which I guess is good news for us): The henchman reports that the grandpa got away. So Ma Sook turns back to his potion and orders Kang-rim to administer it. He reminds Kang-rim of the last time he disobeyed his orders in Yuldo, and commands him to cut off his attachment to Mu-yeon.
With a heavy sigh, Kang-rim complies. He takes the potion, apologizes to Mu-yeon, and sends the scorpion-cockamouse to do its work.
At the newspaper office that night, Lee Chi sees that he’s still being monitored by the eunuchs. He needs a way out so he can go about his business, and takes Bong-gu aside (to the latrine, ha) to be his decoy. He turns himself back into Woo-chi, and transforms Bong-gu into Lee Chi. Adorably, Bong-gu is most thrilled, of all things, with having an index finger again.
The head eunuch manages to find grandpa, who’s still alive but fading quickly from blood loss. The man apologizes for failing to keep his promise, but before he dies he identifies the culprit as Ma Sook, a follower of Hong Gil-dong back in the day. I’m not loving the shifty look that crosses the face of the eunuch sidekick, our double-crosser.
Kang-rim grows progressively more concerned as the night wears on and Mu-yeon’s fever climbs, due to her body fighting the potion. He declares that they have to save her before she dies, pointing out that they need to keep her alive to get that map. He wants to use an antidote, but Ma Sook says that you can’t reverse the potion once it’s administered, and must wait it out.
And then, Mu-yeon gets up like she’s been magically cured. Creepy. She’s firmly under its thrall again, and this time she looks on the drawing without pain.
Meanwhile, Woo-chi makes his way to Ma Sook’s estate. He’s a step behind the eunuchs, who lead their own party of armed men to confront Ma Sook… although the double agent buys some time by suggesting they observe before striking. He’ll do the reconnaissance.
Inside, Ma Sook eagerly asks Mu-yeon what the drawing shows.
From his rooftop perch, Woo-chi watches the eunuch spy head off toward the house. He wonders, “Mu-yeon, where are you? Wait just a bit. I’ll come save you.”
The plot continues to unfold at a nice pace, and Cha Tae-hyun is a hoot to watch in the comic moments, which is great. He’s also pretty good at the serious stuff, but I’m not sure that the material really holds up to that kind of intensity, which makes me much more engaged in the funny bits, but less so in the dramatic. At least for Woo-chi.
It has the curious effect of making Lee Chi a lot more interesting to watch than Woo-chi. I love whenever Lee Chi is juggling his personas (with the hilarious excuse of irritable bowels, of all things) or adding a zip of magicky shenanigans to his investigations, like conjuring up an army of lazy clones in a previous episode or turning his sidekick into a decoy in this one. I want more of that kind of thing, which I think is cute, clever, and amusing.
I like the backstory of Woo-chi and Kang-rim, and I do think the actors are doing the characters credit—this is the kind of show where a lack of commitment really makes you look silly, especially in the magic battles. So kudos to them for really going for it with full gusto and full emotional commitment. On the other hand, I’m sort of over the simple conflict with the girl in between them, especially given that it’s pretty obvious this was never a proper love triangle to begin with. I do feel for Kang-rim—mostly because the actor is so great with his performance—but my heart aches not one bit for his plight, which is all his own making. As Woo-chi tells him, he just looks around for someone else to blame. Classic victim mentality. You kind of just want to take him aside and say, “It’s over, dude. Let her go.”
This show is becoming a nice, breezy watch for me that isn’t so simplistic that I check out of it, but is also not so deep that I have to engage with a lot of effort. Or commitment. For that reason I think it goes firmly into that category of shows that entertain, but don’t move me. Which is totally fine; I’m not looking to have my guts wrenched out and about with every drama ever. That would just get painful.