Okay, we did a little reshuffling and negotiated a deal with the fourth dimension to put Mandate of Heaven on our regular recapping schedule. I can’t promise there were no threats and tears involved in the deal, but for now let’s just hope it’s worth it.
FYI, there are a couple other titles floating around, like Heaven’s Order and the slightly less accurate Heaven’s Will. As far as I can tell, however, nobody is subtitling this drama yet. I don’t know why, but it looks like more a question of access than interest.
This is purely speculation (so take with requisite grains of salt), but it seems like KBS is purposely withholding certain titles, which is baffling. And backward-thinking. Unless their goal is to kill the show, that is. Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong, but I’d really love to understand their rationale for the decisions to cut off all access to some shows and not others. Jeon Woo-chi was similarly made unavailable, therefore didn’t garner subtitling interest, disallowed interested fans from watching, and now has essentially no international audience. It wasn’t the best show, no, but more than anything it was killed by its handling. It would be a shame were the same fate to befall Mandate of Heaven.
For all that you can control the timing of a release, you can’t control the public reaction or engineer buzz. The international drama community is so up-to-speed on Korean releases that the access needs to be near-immediate to capitalize on buzz. If you try to freeze it, keep it in place for four to six weeks, and then release it in an unfriendly, limited fashion expecting the enthusiasm to be just as hearty as it was at the outset… well, you’d be a fool. Ultimately, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.
You can’t spray your garden with weed-killer, plant your own seeds, and then wonder why nothing will grow. Have we learned nothing from scorched earth?
SONG OF THE DAY
Dick Punks – “난시” (Short sight) [ Download ]
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Queen Munjeong confronts Crown Prince Lee Ho as his quarters burn around him and says he will have to die… only to add, “That is what people will think I would say, is it not? Is that what you also believe, Prince?”
Lee Ho answers that he doesn’t want to believe it… but it’s not like there’s compelling evidence to the contrary. And then a ceiling beam falls and nearly crushes them all.
It traps the queen, but she declares that she would die if that could save the prince, and orders Won to take him to safety. But now Lee Ho is determined to save her as well, and tries to get to his stepmother. It’s only when Won yells at him—dropping the royal formalities, to boot—that he stops fighting, as Won shouts that he’s not doing this for the prince’s good, but his selfish desire to save his daughter. “You must live for me to live.”
Thankfully for them all, royal guards burst inside in time to escort them to safety.
The queen awakens surrounded by medical staff with the prince at her bedside, who begs pardon for not trusting her and testing her sincerity. There’s nothing in her demeanor to suggest that she’s lying about her devotion to him, though she’s totally lying. The question is why.
Rang wakes up in the hospital wing as Da-in finishes treating her with acupuncture needles. Da-in tells her to swallow down all those memories of the fire like bitter medicine, which will put it past her and let her heal. She smiles at her warmly and pats her cheeks, the two of them taking an immediate liking to each other.
Won comes rushing in to make sure Rang is fine. She’s back to her cheeky self, grabbing Dad’s ear to loudly whisper (while Da-in leans in to hear), “I thought you said all the unnis here were ugly.” HA.
He tries to play dumb, but Rang reminds him of how Grandpa was pressuring him to pick a lady to marry, but he told him that they were all so terribly ugly that he couldn’t bear to. Pwahaha. I’m sure it was just to get his father off his back, but Won’s anxious reaction is hilarious as he tries to hush her.
Thus Da-in takes a jab at Won, suggesting he change into his clean clothes to get rid of that “old grandpa smell” he insists he doesn’t have. Lol. They do get serious for a second as he points out that Rang shouldn’t get treated by just anybody, and Da-in replies that he should get her better care, aside from his own poor healing skills.
Along with his change of clothing, Rang gives Dad an ornament he holds dear. By now she’s already calling Da-in “unni” and asks if Mom was as pretty as Da-in, or her embrace as warm. Won smiles to recall his beloved deceased wife, then frowns to realize this conversation’s taking a turn he’s not comfortable with.
Queen Munjeong shocks her younger brother, Minister Yoon, by declaring (in the presence of the crown prince) that she suspects he had a hand in the fire. She supposes he was misguidedly trying to protect her by attacking Lee Ho, thus paving the way for her own son. However, she urges Lee Ho to get to the bottom of the arson—and to punish the criminal even if it’s her brother—thus continuing to allay his suspicions of her. Crafty.
Minister Yoon howls to his sister that he’s been wrongly accused (though he’s guilty, as we know), then gets berated by his secret co-conspirators for bungling the mess. In another shadowy meeting of the evil triumvirate, Minister Yoon begs Minister Kim (vice premier, specifically) to save his neck, because the palace may trace the explosives back to him. Unfortunately for him, Vice Premier Kim isn’t inclined to extend a hand.
I would have pegged Vice Premier Kim as the mastermind, but the secret orders he conveys to Merchant Jang bear a distinctive design, much like the artwork Queen Munjeong paints. Ah, and providing motivation is her young son, the future King Myeongjong.
Currently he’s still Prince Gyeongwon, and as Munjeong paints with her dark reds he asks why she went into the fire. In response, she bites hard on her finger and lets the blood drop onto her painting. “It was so you would live, and so I would live.” She adds that even were the crown prince to come upon some “unfortunate accident”—yunno, hypothetically—the fire wasn’t the right time.
Proving her instinct right, Lee Ho decides not to pursue the arson case, fearing it would weaken his father’s health. Queen Munjeong asks her son if he understands now why she went into that fire. Prince Gyeongwon looks vaguely scared; I’d say he ought be counting his blessings that she’s on his side.
Won monitors Lee Ho’s health, finding no great injury from recent events, though he cautions him to rest. Lee Ho sighs in frustration that there’s absolutely nothing he can do other than patiently enduring—as he did when grandpa’s hand was cut off, or his palace burned down.
He turns to Won: “And therefore, I need you. I need you to protect me, as your grandfather once did.” He asks Won if he truly only saved him to save himself—was there no concern at all for his childhood friend?
Won replies flatly that he is in no position to dare consider a royal his friend, and that he has no desire to live out his grandfather’s fate. The rejection of friendship has Lee Ho looking stricken; it tears at my heart, it does.
As Won walks away, he hears the prince asking his guard if he’s found the thief who stole that medical book. The search has been unfruitful, but the prince urges him to do everything to recover it, as a life depends on it.
At home, Won watches over Rang as she sleeps, referencing the book as he tests out her pressure points and perhaps hopes for a miracle.
Time for a new character: LEE JUNG-HWAN (Song Jong-ho) is an investigator with the Euigeumbu, the investigative department handling state crimes. They’re akin to a royal police force and operate on the king’s orders. Jung-hwan is also a badass mofo who’s never failed to catch his prey, earning a nickname that means If He Catches You, You’re Dead.
Currently Jung-hwan is on the hunt for a particular map used for military operations, and the hunt takes him to a gisaeng house and then the village marketplace.
In a shop, a bored Rang waits around while her cosmetic-obsessed aunt Woo-young shops for yet more products. She’s dressed up in a gisaeng’s clothing with a large veil to cover her face… and she’s been pegged by You’re Dead as a link in the map case. It doesn’t help that she makes a suspicious hand-off with the shopkeep (she’s buying a rare perfume ingredient on the sly).
Jung-hwan pounces on top of Woo-young, demanding the map. Thinking she’s a male thief disguised as a woman, he freely feels her up and assumes the lump on her chest is the goods. GRAB! Haha. It’s kinda worth it for the hilarious dumb look that crosses his face when he encounters boob instead.
Jung-hwan realizes the mixup when a similarly dressed gisaeng walks by, and this time the man in drag fights right back. The two men slam each other around for a bit before the thief grabs his knife and turns it on an innocent bystander: Rang.
Everyone freezes, but Jung-hwan sizes up the situation. He makes a show of dropping his sword, relaxing the criminal’s guard, then kicks a shard of broken pottery straight at the man’s leg. The criminal drops Rang in surprise and Jung-hwan leaps to catch her.
Rang is unharmed but Woo-young needs to get some yelling out and blusters that he could’ve really hurt her. He bickers back that if she’s so concerned about her, why did she bring her to her backdoor deal? Touché.
Woo-young claps a hand over his mouth, and he complains about her getting handsy with his person. Heh. She argues that he got handsy with her too, and grabs her boobs as reminder. HA.
At home, Woo-young tells Rang not to breathe a word of today’s errant outing, and Rang readily agrees—she repeats Da-in’s words about swallowing bad memories, which suits Woo-young just fine. Won arrives and is thrilled to hear that Rang has decided to accept her treatment without complaint, celebrating the idea with finger-kisses. (So cute—they both kiss their five fingertips, then touch their thumbs together.)
Only, Rang asks to get her acupuncture from the pretty palace unni instead. Ha, does she prefer Da-in’s touch or is the little scamp playing matchmaker?
Prince Lee Ho spends some time gardening in the greenhouse, and a plant delivery disguises the conveyance of a secret letter. It’s a request for a secret meeting, so that night Lee Ho dons a mask and takes along a group of vassals to meet the letter-sender, a man named Chun-bong.
Chun-bong is an educated man with ties to a much-respected scholar and reformist (Jo Gwang-jo, put to death by the current king), and thus Lee Ho has been trying to contact him for a while, only to be avoided each time. But now Chun-bong urges Lee Ho to accept the throne, because his father has long gone astray and ignored the plight of the people. The crown prince is different, he argues, and wouldn’t turn a blind eye to his people.
Lee Ho bristles to hear his father maligned, but he doesn’t argue about the rest. “What are you afraid of?” Chun-bong asks. Revolt? Unrest? I’d say those are some compelling reasons.
Just then, arrows fly into their midst and scatter the secret gathering. Chun-bong leaps up to block the prince from an arrow, taking it in his own chest. Surrounding them is a contingent of royal officers, who are ordered to round up the traitors. Oh, crap.
The prince is urged to escape before he is discovered. The prince’s men rush forward to engage the fight, allowing for Lee Ho and Chun-bong to be ushered away.
Won has high hopes that the information in the medical text will cure Rang, as he assures her in their nightly acupuncture session. She pouts that “the pretty unni” doesn’t make it hurt, and they bicker back and forth adorably about how his needles don’t hurt either, oh yes they do, okay maybe just a little, et cetera.
He’s surprised by late-night visitors: the prince, his vassal, and an injured Chun-bong. Everything about this reads Bad Idea and Won is wary of getting involved, but he treats the wound while Chun-bong tsks at Won’s life choices. He says essentially what everyone else does about Won wasting his medical skills being a mediocre palace doc. Though one look at Rang clues him in: “Ah, the reason is right here.”
Lee Ho asks Won whether he thinks he’ll be able to ascend the throne, weighed down by doubts. There’s bound to be resistance and potential rebellion, and his right to the throne will be challenged. Despite Won trying to cut him off, Lee Ho needs a confidant and admits that part of his need for Won is in order to ascend, but it’s not the whole reason: “In the battleground that is the court, I needed at least one person on my side.”
He promises that Won won’t suffer the same fate as his grandfather: “Just as you have protected me, I will protect you.”
Aw. Then Rang joins them cheerily, and the prince introduces himself as “someone who wants to be your father’s friend.”
Do-saeng wrestles with his conscience, feeling the pressure from Vice Premier Kim, who simplifies the decision for him: either he kill the crown prince, or his sweetheart Wol-ha dies. Pick a death, any death.
Wol-ha urges him to take the truth to Lee Ho, but that would put both of them in mortal peril. He vows that all will work out, though neither looks at all convinced.
Won is beside himself with giddiness (as he literally braids Rang’s hair), because one session using the book already has Rang’s pulse beating healthier. He crows that it was worth risking his life to steal, and she gapes, “Father! You STOLE?” Won: “…no. Of course not.”
Da-in wraps up another late-night treatment with the sick palace girl, but tonight they’re spotted by the night watch. Da-in sends the girl away and runs for cover, and just before being spotted she’s jerked out of sight by Won.
He pulls her into the banned books library, using the pascode to get in and huddle until the guards give up. Unfortunately, they lock the door behind them, leaving our two docs stranded here for the night.
She blames him for dragging them inside, while he blames her for bringing the guards here in the first place. She huffs, and he goads her to come back with a retort. Da-in barks, “I…have nothing to say! You’re right!” I love that she admits it, however grudgingly.
After browsing the shelves, Da-in finds Won immersed in reading a medical book. Seeing the topic, she cautions against administering a needle in a particularly vulnerable spot (along the collarbone). He’s dismissive of her medical knowledge, which raises her hackles and makes her insist on proving she knows what she’s talking about. Da-in yanks down her neckline to point at the spot on her collar, which makes Won jerk back in embarrassment, all, Put that away!
With no trace of embarrassment, Da-in just keeps shoving her bare neck in his face, which is hilarious for the way he recoils like it’s a loaded weapon. He bumps into the bookshelf, sending a candle falling, and in her haste to grab it she lands right on top of Won. Mwrar. Why hello there.
Do-saeng finally caves to his inner demons and joins in the poison plot, spiking the prince’s medicine that evening. He and Vice Premier Kim drop by to deliver it, and are immediately unnerved to find (1) young Prince Gyeongwon in the room, along with (2) a stuffed bird, which they recognize from the poison they just concocted.
Do-saeng gulps nervously and lies that he doesn’t know what that bird is. A suspicious answer for a physician to be unaware that the bird, soaked in alcohol, produces a potent poison. Still, Do-saeng offers up the nightly tonic and Lee Ho moves to drink it—
But today, young Prince Gyeongwon pipes up that he’ll be his hyungnim’s taste-tester. An unexpected wrench in the works. The younger prince moves to drink while the others sweat bullets.
Finally Vice Premier Kim stops him, chiding that his thoughtful gesture could get twisted. What if people spread rumors that Lee Ho doesn’t trust his own doctors? What’s worse is that Lee Ho agrees; thanking his brother for the thought, he takes the bowl and drinks.
Sitting in the library, Won comments that Rang has taken a great liking to Da-in. She makes a pointed comment about her unbearably ugly face (his words), and he protests that it was just a little lie he told to evade remarriage. She repeats her advice that perhaps what’s best for Rang isn’t that he treat her solely himself.
He asks about her reasons for following medicine, and she wistfully recalls the doctor who had saved her life when she was younger. She wishes she could meet him just once, only she doesn’t know his name or his age, or even what he looks like—she’d been fading in and out of consciousness. But she does have one clue, and pulls out the half-ornament she carries around with her—eek! The same one he carries!—and starts to unwrap it…
…and then the drama cockblocks the moment by sending a library official to interrupt them. Boooo. In her surprise she drops the ornament, which falls under the bookshelf.
Unfortunately, this means they’re pegged as the thieves of the medical book. Won blurts that he acted alone, but has no explanation for Da-in’s presence. Until the official scoffs that there’s no reason unless they’re lovers…
Hee. Won grabs the excuse and “confesses” that they were looking for a place to, um, “share their affections” in. Lol. He prompts, “Were we not enjoying ourselves just until a moment ago?”
Da-in starts to protest but when he hisses at her to play along, she switches gears: “Yes, I was enjoying myself. A LOT!” Muahaha. This is great.
The official is still intent on reporting the offense but at least he seems to buy it. But on his way out, he starts choking and collapses. Why, isn’t this convenient. Okay, drama, I’ll give you a convenient medical rescue this once, but let’s not Dr. Jin this hizzy and make this a regular occurrence, mkay?
Da-in gets out her needle kit, but Won stops her from using it, overriding her diagnosis with a different one. She argues as he pulls out a scalpel and goes for the throat, but he works deftly and gets him breathing again. She’s shocked to realize he was right.
Won carries the official to the hospital ward and issues instructions for rest. Da-in asks if he’s the same doctor who’s notorious for his poor skills—but what explains what she just saw? Of all the practiced hands she’s witnessed, his was the surest and most skilled.
He cuts her off and asks her to ignore it, saying merely that he has his reasons for hiding his talents. She argues that a doctor who ignores patients by hiding his skills is little different from a killer. That’s being a little poetic, but point taken.
Won turns to her in affront: “Did you just call me a killer?” But he’s pulled away by a message sent by Do-saeng, who wants to meet in secret.
Da-in admits to head doctor Jang-geum that she called Won a murderer, but insists defiantly that she stands by her words. Jang-geum, on the other hand, chastens Da-in for ignoring palace law and secretly treating a servant girl, which she has known all along.
Da-in assumes that Won tattled on her and refuses to send the girl to her death, but Jang-geum gives her no choice: If Da-in doesn’t do it, Jang-geum will.
Do-saeng paces nervously in the dark library, waiting for Won. And yet, it’s in a different location that Won waits for hours, wondering when Do-saeng will show up. Oh no, is this what I think it is?
Won finally leaves in the morning, just in time to see a troop of officers racing by. One informs him that the prince’s doctor has been killed. OH NO. It wasn’t what I thought, but this is much, much worse. Make the patsy do your work, then shut him up forever?
Won races to the library and finds Do-saeng lying in a pool of blood with a knife in his neck. Curiously, there’s something written in blood, Do-saeng’s dying message: gu, the character for tortoise.
Won is dragged out while a royal officer stamps out the character. Oh no.
Euigeumbu leader Jung-won joins the scene, wondering at Won’s presence. Worse yet, Won realizes the knife in Do-saeng’s neck looks familiar… and one happens to be missing from his kit. Fuuuuck.
Moments later, Jung-hwan arrives at his door and holds out that missing knife, announcing Won’s arrest for Do-saeng’s murder.
Aw man, I knew that the crown prince was not long for this world—history had him dying in his first year of rule, so I thought he had a little more time, but not much—so I tried not to get too attached to him, but I didn’t realize Do-saeng would also be offered up as political sacrifice. In fact, I loved that Shakespearean moment in the prince’s chamber where Do-saeng has a private mini-freakout at the sight of the poisonous bird and was looking forward to him being plagued by future guilt-induced phantasms, a la Lady Macbeth.
It would have been effective enough to pin Lee Ho’s murder on Won, but I suppose there is a crafty neatness to forcing one doc to do it, then killing him and letting a second doc take the fall. Keeps the royals out the line of suspicion while the nobodies suffer.
I like how quickly this show moves—so much happens and each beat is working multiple narrative levels—and yet there are moments to breathe and relax and even laugh out loud. I anticipated that there’d be lots of court intrigue and thriller elements, but the show’s sense of humor has been the biggest, and most welcome, surprise. The teasing rapport between Dad and Rang is adorable, and the romance has a quick witted rhythm that I enjoy.
I’m sure some of that will scale back as the plot swings into Fugitive mode in earnest, but I do hope it hangs onto that sense of humor at least in part. So far the show has been able to juggle that balance effectively, and I hold out hope that it’ll continue.
I thought it an interesting choice to make Won a brilliant doctor who is believed to be essentially a quack. I figured he just didn’t care about the rumors because he was solely focused on his daughter, but his reaction to Da-in’s questions suggest that there’s more to it. Perhaps it’s nothing more complicated than not wanting to be coerced into higher service given his grandfather’s demise, or perhaps there’s more to it. As a bonus, the misunderstanding gave us some loaded interactions between him and Da-in, because she truly believed he was being dumb for treating Rang personally and thought he knew little of real medicine. Not unlike him assuming she’s all book learnin’ and no practical study.
So now we’ve got the premise fully set up, and this week’s new episodes will take us (I presume) on the run. I’m crossing my fingers that the show keeps up its mix of darkness and light, its deft directorial hand, and its quick-paced plot developments. And also that it manages to get some kind of subbing commitment, because it’s shaping up to be a compelling watch; I’d hate to have nobody to discuss it with!
- Mandate of Heaven: Episode 1
- Second teaser and character posters for Mandate of Heaven
- Mandate of Heaven’s man on the run
- Lee Dong-wook as doting father in Mandate of Heaven
- First look at KBS’s Mandate of Heaven
- Thriller sageuk Mandate of Heaven adds to its cast
- Lee Dong-wook up for fugitive-thriller-sageuk drama