Ah, and now the story really kicks up and we get a look at the bigger picture, with a lot of puzzle pieces falling into place. I love how our players are changing position and setting up for the greater conflict, shifting alliances and making realizations and getting closer to the truth. I suspect they’ll need everybody banding together to get to the bottom of this, and we’re slowly but surely getting there.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to put up with the election ticker that runs across the screen for most of the episode. It’s not ideal, but let’s look on the bright side: better the ticker than a preempted episode!
SONG OF THE DAY
Sweet Sorrow – “12월의 이야기” (December Story) [ Download ]
EPISODE 9 RECAP
It’s a showdown: The fight breaks out and swords start swinging. Everybody wants Woo-chi, and not in a good way.
The two leaders get locked in a clash—Mak-gae and Chul-gyun—and while they’re occupied, Hye-ryung ushers Woo-chi away. Chul-gyun orders his men to follow the escapees, at which point Bong-gu jumps to block his path. Aw, go you.
Hye-ryung and Woo-chi manage to hide, evading their pursuers, at which point he thanks her for helping him to safety. She snaps that she didn’t do it because she likes him—it’s merely repayment for saving her from drowning.
She warns Woo-chi that she still doesn’t buy his story and asks what’s the deal with his bounty, assuming he did something criminal to merit it. She clearly thinks the worst of him, saying his illness is prompted by his guilty conscience for what he did to that girl (Mu-yeon). I have to say, I’m enjoying this dynamic shift between them; now she’s prickly and suspicious and talks to him curtly in banmal, no longer the adoring little sister.
He tells her she’s got the wrong idea, but she reminds him fiercely that she’s the one with the right to be angry, since he impersonated her brother. She can’t bear him wearing Lee Chi’s face and demands he change back to his normal appearance, which he can’t do in his condition. Then face the other way, she orders, since she can’t stand the sight of him.
Off to the healer for some medicine to treat their battle scars. Myung-gi goes off into a rant over Lee Chi’s recent strange behavior, which the other refrain from commenting on. When he steps away, Woon-bo shoots Bong-gu a look and guesses that he knew all along about Lee Chi not really being Lee Chi. Bong-gu gapes: “Then you know too?” He confirms it, saying that it really is quite remarkable to see him switching faces.
Woon-bo recalls that Woo-chi saved Bong-gu’s life, and in return Bong-gu sold him out. He scolds him for his shabby behavior, ha. Said the guy on his way to turn Woo-chi in himself. Bong-gu sighs, though, aware that it wasn’t well done of him.
Then it occurs to Woon-bo that his young master and agasshi are no longer related, and that their relationship now may perhaps be… shall we say, strained. He worries.
In the storeroom, Hye-ryung and Woo-chi sit back to back, shivering. Hye-ryung asks if Woo-chi at least buried her brother. He says he did. Starting to cry, she asks if it was a sunny place, because Lee Chi was sensitive to cold. Woo-chi assures her that he’s buried in a warm spot and promises to take her there.
Woo-chi wakes first in the morning and, feeling better, he tests his powers. It’s tough going, but he manages to swap back to his original appearance, though it appears to pain him.
Hye-ryung’s still asleep, and he tells her that he’ll avenge her father and brother’s deaths. Looks like she was awake to hear it, as she gets up as soon as he leaves.
Interestingly, however, she tells Mak-gae and his sidekicks that it was her brother after all, and that she was mistaken after not seeing him in so long. She scoffs at their protests, saying that she knows her brother better than anybody and laughing at the idea that he could conjure spells. They’re dismayed to have their hunch disproved, and their piles of reward money going poof.
Kang-rim takes a hunk of rock taken from the silver mine and gets a blacksmith to confirm that it contains silver. The blacksmith wonders where he got such precious rock, thinking it had to be from far away since there’s no more of that in Joseon.
He’ll need the rare specialist to extract the silver, though, and asks after a slave famed in that area. Too bad for him that slave, Gam-dong, is currently imprisoned on death row. The blacksmith smells an income stream and offers to melt down the silver for him, for only a small commission.
Kang-rim smiles and accepts, but knocks him out instead. He sets fire to the hut: loose end tied.
Gam-dong is apparently the only person able to properly extract the silver, and his days are numbered. A henchman offers to bust him out of prison, but Kang-rim vetoes such a messy plan: They can’t draw attention to themselves.
Instead, Mu-yeon offers to do the job. Ma Sook agrees to put her in charge, then instructs Kang-rim to the task of keeping passers-by away from the stone Buddha. Can’t have random visitors stumbling onto their silver mine, or wondering at the laborers and explosives their team will be carting in.
Ma Sook leads Kang-rim inside the cavernous mine, telling him to keep his nose and mouth covered. The reason soon becomes clear: Inside is a pile of dead bodies, dead from the plague. Yikes.
Ma Sook instructs Kang-rim to burn his clothes and wash himself thoroughly upon arrival home. The bodies have been kept here for a long while, and I’m wondering if Ma Sook’s just waiting for a way to dispose of them cleanly. But no, he’s much more nefarious than we’d supposed, because he’s actually been saving them… for future use. He orders Kang-rim to use the bodies to spread the plague in remote corners of the country.
Dayum. His reasoning? If the plague breaks out, nobody will care about a little noise here in the mines. WHUT. You couldn’t think of a distraction of a magnitude somewhere between “Look, it’s a bird!” and the bloody plague?
Kang-rim is actually shocked, which makes me hope that he defects from the dark side at some point. At least he has a conscience—he just has to use it. He wonders whether this may be a wee bit drastic, but Ma Sook grins: “The bigger the chaos, the better.” He emphasizes the need for absolute secrecy; the second an outsider cottons on to the silver mine, they’re done for. We can only hope.
Bong-gu awaits Woo-chi anxiously at work, and says repentantly that he wronged him gravely. He didn’t mean to sell him out and told himself the whole time it was wrong, but when that knife was held to his throat he ended up blabbing. He’s simultaneously contrite and half-hopeful for mercy, and Woo-chi heaves a huge sigh, wondering what to do with him.
In the end he decides to give him another chance, saying that everybody makes mistakes. Yay! It’s more generous than he needs to be given that he could’ve died, but yay all the same. This time, Bong-gu swears he won’t betray him, knife or no.
Woo-chi sends him on the mission to find out who put the bounty on his head, and Bong-gu heads out with this smile that’s relieved, nervous, and eager all at once. Woo-chi eats some majunja as a pick-me-up and wonders if he’s lost his powers.
A co-worker asks where he’s been all this while, having been absent without notice. Immediately Woo-chi starts hacking up a storm, going with the ol’ sickness excuse until boss Oh Kyu sidles up to ask the same thing.
He changes tack and says he was pursuing a lead given by one of the court ladies, then adds that Oh Kyu sure is the subject of court lady gossip these days. Ha. He makes a sly comment about Oh Kyu’s physique that has his boss fidgeting in mortification—hee, he’s gotta be referring to Oh Kyu’s little nakedness mishap (aided by Woo-chi himself, of course).
But Oh Kyu has the rulebook on his side, and gets Woo-chi to recite his punishment for two days’ absence. That means public paddling, and he has Woo-chi dragged to the courtyard. What really gets Woo-chi begging for mercy isn’t the beating, though, but the threat of dismissal (“If he survives”).
Before they start, they’re interrupted by the minister in charge of their reporting office. He protests the idea of firing Woo-chi, who has saved their hides numerous times with his special talent for catching errors. Who’ll do that work now—Oh Kyu?
I love the look of fear on Oh Kyu’s face, since he doesn’t want to be responsible, and Woo-chi seizes the opening to start coughing his lungs out, returning to his illness excuse. He’s let off the hook entirely and Oh Kyu shoots this look of disbelief, like “I can’t believe you’re falling for this.” I love their relationship—it’s like bratty brothers fighting behind Mom’s back.
It’s execution day for silversmith Gam-dong, who’s given his last meal by the prison guard. That guard gets knocked unconscious by Mu-yeon, and Gam-dong swaps clothes to make his escape. For good measure, Mu-yeon uses her powers to swap their faces.
She has a handful of majunja, which she rubs together and holds to the guard’s nose. Under its spell, the guard wakes and prepares himself calmly for execution. Poor guy.
Woo-chi gets back to his reporting duties, asking the chief officer for any items. Thus he’s privy to the worried conversation when another officer informs his boss of the strange circumstances at the execution. Apparently they made sure to execute Gam-dong, but upon inspection of the dead body they saw that it was the jailer’s corpse. Hm, does the spell break upon death?
In any case, this isn’t good news for the officials, who could all be in deep doo-doo for killing the wrong guy (and losing the right one). On the other hand, Woo-chi immediately has a hunch as to what really happened.
He heads over to speak with the dead man’s mother, who confirms that the face is wrong, and so are the hands—her son worked with silver his whole life and had blue-tinted hands. Woo-chi recognizes Mu-yeon’s work, and wonders why.
Bong-gu bursts in to deliver his fresh news, which is exactly what Woo-chi has just heard. Aw, it’s so cute how his excitement fades—although he is able to give Woo-chi the common-sense clue about the motive: “They took him ’cause they needed a silversmith, of course!” Okay, one step closer, though he still doesn’t get why.
Woo-chi decides his priority is to find out who is hunting him down. That night he leaves the cross mark under the stone bridge—which was supposed to be the eunuch’s signal, if you recall—and stands back as the eunuch leads Chan-hwi and Eun-woo there.
He shows himself and asks, “Are you the ones who are trying to find me?”
Chan-hwi recognizes him from the library break-in and asks if he stole the scroll. Woo-chi says it wasn’t him, and asks to be taken to their leader.
They arrange the meeting for the morning, which is when Woo-chi returns to the bridge to meet with head eunuch So-chil. He asks why he placed a bounty on his head, and So-chil asks—demands—to know where Ma Sook is. Ah, another jumped conclusion assuming Woo-chi’s on the side of the baddies.
Woo-chi says he’s trying to find Ma Sook to “repay a debt” against him, and asks about the stolen scroll: “Does it have anything to do with silver?”
The palace pack are alarmed at how much he knows, but So-chil takes a calmer line of approach, asking if he came from Hong Gil-dong’s nation of Yuldo. He asks for a one-on-one chat.
Once alone, So-chil explains that the scroll came from Hong Gil-dong himself—he was there when it was given to the former king and knows that it’s a map to the silver mine. The map was kept in Joseon to keep the secret, while the key was kept in Yuldo: “Only a blood relative of Hong Gil-dong could unravel that secret.”
Dun dun dun! The other shoe drops, and Woo-chi realizes that the baddies will already know the secret since they have that blood relative in their possession. They also have a silversmith on their side.
So-chil is shocked, not just at the news but that Woo-chi got it before he did. How could his information be faster than So-chil’s network?
Woo-chi asks them to back off his case and offers to keep them apprised of news—aww yeah, our dream team’s starting to come together…
The underlings worry that they’ve given Woo-chi too much info, but So-chil doesn’t believe he’s with the baddies: “Ma Sook has unraveled the map’s secret. Isn’t it time we borrow that man’s strength?”
Gam-dong gets to work forging the silver into bars for Mu-yeon. Meanwhile, Kang-rim’s team of masked bandits stealthily deposit plague-ridden bodies around the countryside, and it doesn’t take much time for the disease to spread to the citizens of Hanyang.
The people are well aware of the plague’s effects and fly into panic mode. Reports come in to the news office of cases being sighted within the city, and Woo-chi is particularly curious. An outbreak of plague in the dead of winter?
Chul-gyun hears that the bounty has lifted since the culprit has been caught. Just as he’s dealing with that disappointment, in walks Lee Chi with a team of officers and a smile: “Surprised to see me?” He describes this space as an illegal gambling den and directs them to apprehend Chul-gyun. Heh.
Lee Chi asks for a private word and tells Chul-gyun that he pegged him mistakenly as the guy in the wanted posters. What’s more, he makes him into the dummy for believing the words of Bong-gu, balking at the drawing about how this guy’s bangs are totally different from his. Heh, it’s a little like asking, Do I look like this picture that looks exactly like me?, though it might be funnier if the poster actually looked like him in the first place…
Chul-gyun begs for another chance and Lee chi lays it on thick, saying that their friendship and trust have taken a big hit. How is he to trust him now? Still, he plays the forgiveness card and offers to let this betrayal slide. Not out of sincerity (like with Bong-gu), but because it’s handy having a guy like Chul-gyun on your side, with his coffers of (ill-gotten) gains and wide network of informants.
Chul-gyun is relieved to be off the hook, so he agrees readily to Lee Chi’s request—though it seems curious—to send out a bunch of his men to rural regions.
Our young king is alarmed to hear of the plague reports from his council, and moreover, it seems to be a virulent strain. The ministers wonder amongst themselves at the strange circumstances, but shifty Minister Oh looks like he has a pretty good idea.
He calls for Ma Sook, having recalled an earlier comment about being ready to spread disease for their cause. Ma Sook feigns total innocence, and it seems that the minister grudgingly accepts that answer for now.
Then he asks for the scroll, not believing Ma Sook’s answer that it turned out to be a useless scrap of paper. Suuuure. Ma Sook offers something of his own, and offers him a book as though presenting a valuable gift.
That subservient attitude masks an ominous threat, because the book is an incriminating account of the funds the minister embezzled from the palace. Minister Oh rages and calls Ma Sook a lowly nothing, and Kang-rim uses his powers to put the minister into a stranglehold.
While Minister Oh gasps for breath, Ma Sook explains pleasantly how yes, he is a low-born man who followed the ways of Hong Gil-dong, who was famously egalitarian and progressive in his views that all men should be equal regardless of birth. Yet Hong Gil-dong was content to peacefully retreat with his people and set up a small island nation away from the people of Joseon who would trample them—but he, Ma Sook, is different.
Ma Sook’s face changes as he declares, “I will not run away like Hong Gil-dong.” Ooh. Master plan being revealed? Even Kang-rim looks a little surprised at the declaration, as Ma Sook declares, “We will pay back everything we were subject to by you people of Joseon, who treated us as lower than beasts!”
Minister Oh begs to be saved and agrees to do everything Ma Sook asks of him.
That explains his instructions to his dear son Oh Kyu (finally we see them together) to pass along a message to the police chief and focus on keeping tight watch over his news bureau, making sure they focus on the plague reports. He’s under Ma Sook’s thumb now, though he vows to fight back one day.
On to the silver mine. Kang-rim and Mu-yeon preside over a test run blowing open the cave’s entrance, noting that they require a lot more firepower. They have to make the most headway asap, while the plague has everyone’s attention. His henchman keep an eye on the surrounding areas, ambushing a group of travelers who overhear the boom.
Chul-gyun’s recon men dig up little to report to Lee Chi other than plague worries, although Chul-gyun does ask whether anyone’s secretly preparing for war—there are whisperings that explosive weapons are being transferred. Lee Chi hands over more money and tells Chul-gyun to find out more.
The lack of information strikes Woo-chi as odd, since he’s expecting some sort of update. But it’s all plague, all the time. Bong-gu mentions Oh Kyu hiding one report, though, and he goes rooting through his stacks to find one detailing sightings of a pack of robbers and the increased frequency of earthquakes.
Woo-chi initially mutters that these are useless reports to be hiding, until it lands: If one province reports earthquakes, so should the neighboring ones. And yet they don’t: “They’ve been setting off explosives! Finally, a clue!”
Excited, Woo-chi holds up his hands in spell-casting position and Bong-gu stands there with this knowing leer on his face, expecting to be turned into an Lee Chi clone again. I love that he seems to enjoy it. But Woo-chi drops the hand—he’s too weak to perform that kind of magic, or to dash off with superspeed to the locale itself.
Instead, he rushes out with a different idea.
Chan-hwi practices his sword skills in the empty courtyard that night, where he has a visitor: Woo-chi, asking to see the king.
Chan-hwi is outraged at his brash demand and holds the sword to his neck. Woo-chi instructs him calmly to tell the king that Jeon Woo-chi has something to tell him, and Chan-hwi reluctantly complies.
So-chil and Chan-hwi are uneasy and advise the king to be wary, to decline the meeting. But the king is more excited than alarmed to hear of Woo-chi’s magic skills and agrees to see him.
The king sits in his big empty stateroom, looking more like a scared little kid than anything, though he bravely waits in stoic silence. He tamps down that nervousness as he asks Woo-chi to confirm his identity, and Woo-chi does.
And then the king yells out to the room, “Apprehend that fiend who practices sorcery!”
Immediately royal guards rush in and hold Woo-chi at swordpoint.
Yay for cliffhangers that are getting so much better. We actually got a real twist today, with the king showing a rare flash of spine and even trickery—too bad it has to be against our hero, huh? On the other hand, it could end up to be a reversal (upon the reversal), so I’ll hold off on jumping to conclusions.
In any case, it’s clear the king is no longer content to be the puppet being bossed around by his ministers, and I’m enjoying the suggestion that his inner circle will soon be converging with our hero’s posse. One of the premiere episode’s biggest failings was in dumping all these characters on us without showing us how they’d fit together; now that I see where they’re going, I’m excited to see how they come together. In no way do I feel this comes too late, and if we’d started out solely focused on the hero and his backstory with his enemies, I think this would have been such a stronger introduction to the conflict.
But okay, I’ll stop crying over that spilt milk now. Which is easier to do now that the drama’s getting so much more engaging. I’ve been casually enjoying it all along, but I don’t wonder at its slowly declining ratings because it started off all backwards and made it hard for us to get into the world. So it’s really been in the past two weeks that I feel it’s stepped up and started actually telling a story—one big complete one, I mean—rather than dropping lots of strings into our laps and not showing how they came together.
Among the developments I like is the glimpse into Ma Sook, which I frankly didn’t expect—I thought he’d be the evil guy who was here to dress in black and wear eyeliner and do evil things. When he had his outburst against Minister Oh, we got a sense of a greater philosophy driving him, and it’s a really interesting way to turn around the conflict on its head. He accused Minister Oh of being part of the corrupt Joseon establishment who uphold this flawed and bigoted way of treating their fellow man like crap, and you can’t really argue with that. There was a pretty brutal social order in place at that point (you could almost call it a caste, although I suppose there were ways, though rare, of escaping from one class into another), and Hong Gil-dong’s idealistic Yuldo is more in line with the egalitarian views of today. Ma Sook’s framing of the issue has a way of turning Joseon into the bad guys, and himself into some dark avenging hero.
But most of all I respond to the shifting dynamics between Woo-chi and Hye-ryung, because I like the reversal: Woo-chi now becomes the contrite supplicant, not the exasperated guy saddled with freeloaders, and Hye-ryung goes from starry-eyed to fierce and cynical. But we can see Hye-ryung responding to Woo-chi’s good nature—she must sense it despite being angry on the surface, because she covers for him and keeps up his disguise. I’m much more invested in seeing her journey now than even Mu-yeon… who really needs to wake up now, in more senses than one.