Better and better. The story moves quickly, the characters are developing nicely, and puzzle pieces are dropped and pieced together in a nicely suspenseful way.
We’re still maneuvering the plot into position to fulfill the latter part of our title, Mandate of Heaven: Joseon Fugitive Story, but I like that the show is spending just enough time on certain characters to give us time to develop attachment to them, rather than cramming everybody into the front of this sucker before we even care who’s who, Jeon Woo-chi style. I also continue to be pleased to have little dashes of humor strewn throughout, given that the overarching story is such a high-stakes, life-and-death one.
SONG OF THE DAY
SALTNPAPER – “Heart Storm” [ Download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
We ended the last episode with Won being arrested for the murder of Do-saeng, but now we jump back ten hours, to the moment when Crown Prince Lee Ho drinks his poisoned medicine.
Minister Yoon hears that the deed was done and smiles in satisfaction, anticipating that the prince won’t rise from his sleep tonight. He catches sight of one of the healers asking around for Choi Won, and intercepts a letter she was ordered to convey in secret—from Do-saeng. As Minister Yoon reads, his eyes widen in shock.
As the conspirators leave Lee Ho’s quarters, Vice Premier Kim mutters to his hunchbacked minion to “take care of” Do-saeng later, as planned. Minister Yoon shows him the letter, and while it contains nothing more than a request to meet that night, it immediately sets off alarm bells—what could he be up to? It’s particularly suspicious in light of the fact that his sweetheart Wol-ha has disappeared, possibly moved to safety before she could become a target. Aw, so Do-saeng wasn’t a total naive fool for trusting them; just not lucky enough to outwit them.
Minister Yoon wants to leap into action and act right away, but Vice Premier Kim advises him to wait: He’s got an idea. I’ll bet.
Queen Munjeong takes tea with her son, Prince Gyeongwon, who nervously waits for her to blow up at him for offering to taste Lee Ho’s medicine earlier. To his shock, his mother laughs in delight, praising him for lowering the prince’s guard so he would drink without suspicion. Gyeongwon tries to protest, but she’s tickled at the unexpected aid to her plot.
Won is informed by Hunchback to meet his buddy in their secret meeting place, a storeroom, which gives Hunchback the perfect opportunity to steal one of his scalpels. So Won waits, pacing, wondering what’s taking Do-saeng so long.
It’s Vice Premier Kim who shows up instead to confront Do-saeng, with an assassin in tow. He brandishes the intercepted letter and accuses Do-saeng of planning to report the assassination. Do-saeng boldly says yes, confirming it and standing tall with a bravery he didn’t possess before; now he challenges Kim to go ahead and have him killed.
Kim chuckles and sneers, and then Do-saeng actually spits in his face. Twice. Aw man, now I’m extra bummed that he has to die, now that he’s showing some spine.
Even despite the goading to kill him, Do-saeng is caught off-guard when Vice Premier takes out the scalpel and stabs him in the neck with it. Wait, then why bring along the masked assassin guy if you’re just going to do your dirty work yourself? He’s so enraged that he stabs him over and over with that knife, leaving him in a bloody heap on the floor.
As Do-saeng lies dying, he whispers a wish directed at Lee Ho: “Please, you must become a good king.” He uses the last of his strength to write that character on the ground in his own blood: tortoise (gu), the meaning of which we are left to wonder for now.
Won is dragged off in prisoner’s ropes, insisting upon his innocence. But to Euigeumbu investigator Lee Jung-hwan, the case is a done deal. His men ransack Won’s home next, where little Rang protests and even bites the officer on the arm. Worse yet, the investigation turns up a “clue”: those deer antlers Dad had given Won on the sly, which seem to have come from palace stores. Oh no—surely he had no idea that would come to bite him like this.
Vice Premier Kim makes a realization that sends him roaring at Minister Yoon and the world in general—Do-saeng didn’t just try to thwart them, he actually did. He complied in offering Lee Ho the poison drink, but he then paired it with a ginger snack sprinkled with antidote. Ah! So there was a reason that Do-saeng was curiously insistent that the prince eat every last bite.
The assassination attempt is deemed a failure, and Lee Ho wakes from sleep that morning, healthy as ever. He hears of the murder with shock, unable to believe Won could be guilty.
Won is tortured under Jung-hwan’s watch, and sticks doggedly to the truth. Jung-hwan laughs at his ridiculous story—that he was called out to meet Do-saeng, waited all night in an empty storeroom, and found him dead in the morning.
Lee Ho appears at the interrogation and takes over the proceedings, presenting Won with the incriminating clues. The theory is that Do-saeng caught Won stealing medicine from the palace stores, and he killed him to shut him up. Won won’t incriminate his father as his source and thus his silence is damning, but he argues that even if he had stolen, he would never have murdered his close friend to cover it up.
Lee Ho declares that it’s possible Won’s story is true. But Jung-hwan is armed with one more bit of evidence: that broken ornament. One side was found on Won’s person. The other side—which Da-in dropped in the library—was found on the corpse. OH NO. Do-saeng must have picked it up just before he died. Damn, damn, damn.
Da-in hears of the murder case and finds the timing rather odd, since she was with Won earlier that evening. With hope that they might help, Da-in and Jang-geum ask the examiner for details, and he estimates the time of death around midnight. Bummer, that’s several hours later than any alias Da-in could provide, and Jang-geum warns her against getting involved.
Shoved into prison, Won tries to figure out how that broken ornament found its way to the murder scene. He’s joined in his cell by a grizzled bear of a man (it’s Lee Won-jong!), whose fearsome reputation precedes him. He’s named Geo-chil, which seems appropriate, akin to calling him Grizzly. He almost picks a fight with Won, but gives up when he sees that Won is so lost in his thoughts that he doesn’t even register the harassment.
Won’s father bribes the prison guards for a visit to see his son. When asked where those deer antlers came from, he conspicuously ignores answering and keeps his gruff front (though we can see that he’s wrought with worry); Dad barks that Won wouldn’t be in this fix if he’d focused on building his career and become powerful enough not to be so easily targeted.
Won begs his father to take care of Rang, but Dad growls that he has no son, and therefore Rang is not his responsibility either. Aw, it sounds pretty harsh, but Dad means well by using Rang as motivation to keep Won going. Nobody will save Rang but Won, he argues, insisting that Won get out of this alive.
Dad leaves in tears, then goes to beg Merchant Jang Hong-dal to beg for his help. Ah, so Dad had bought those deer antlers from Merchant Jang, but on condition of secrecy. He offers to give up his own life in exchange for saving his son’s, but Merchant Jang isn’t about to put his own neck on the line for either of them. He kicks Dad out.
Lee Ho visits the prison, and Won begs for his life. The prince agrees to save it on the condition that he get a clear explanation for that broken ornament. Won swears up and down that he doesn’t know, and that it’s driving him crazy trying to figure it out. He breaks down in tears, both because he’s desperate to save Rang and because he could never lay a finger on Do-saeng—a fact that the prince should well know, having been so close with them in childhood that the three boys had made their secret meeting place together.
Alas, there isn’t much the prince can work with, even if he does appear to believe Won. He’s summoned away by Queen Munjeong just after Won tells him the curious clue of the erased “gu” character.
Munjeong plays the sympathetic card, expressing concern over Lee Ho’s condition. She reminds him of how he had come crying to her as a young child to beg for Physician Choi to be spared, but that she was powerless to do anything about it. However, she proposes that she may be able to save the grandson, since Won is dear to Lee Ho.
Ohhhh she is good. Because now even I feel like thanking her profusely, and I know she’s evil. All she asks for in return is that he accept his father’s abdication and take the throne. Why not kill two birds with one stone? (Or, in the parlance of the times, two rabbits with one knife.) He asks what happens to the two “rabbits” if he doesn’t take the deal, and she replies that they’d have to die, of course. Yeah, I’d be wary of taking a deal with her too.
Da-in drops by to check on Merchant Jang’s health, who’s listed as her adoptive father although she calls him ajusshi. On her way out she crosses paths with a man on his way in, and something about him niggles at her memory…
But a greater worry crosses her mind as she only now realizes that her broken ornament half is gone.
Meanwhile, after biding his time hiding outside, Won’s father slips back into Jang’s house unseen. Aw, is he sleuthing around to save his son? He’s such a gruff old bear. He makes his way to an inner room—ah, the shadowy coup meetings have been held at Merchant Jang’s estate—and starts rifling through drawers looking for the document that proves their transaction took place.
And that’s how he comes upon one very suspicious letter that reads, “After the revolt, eliminate Physician Min.” It’s marked with a familiar blood-red flower. Dad manages to sneak out, but a misstep draws attention his way, and he makes a break for it. Thankfully he makes it home safely with the letter and looks for a place to hide it—which is when he’s strangled from behind. Oh no! Not teddy bear Dad!
The assassin rips the incriminating letter out of Dad’s deathgrip… though a piece of it remains behind. Our sole beacon of hope.
In the morning, the women of the house find Dad’s corpse hanging from the ceiling. In the midst of the mourning, Rang spots a scrap of paper that had fallen under a table. All that remains is the queen’s drawing of the flower.
Rang doesn’t understand what it is, and all it does is remind her how her father had told her that her mother loved this flower: “Mother has taken Grandfather away,” she sobs. Those cries turn into cries for her father.
Sleeping in a cold sweat, Won hears those words cutting into his sleep: “Father… Father! Look here! It’s your daughter!”
He jerks awake calling Rang’s name, but it’s a different figure waving through the prison bars. Grizzly Geo-chil jerks upright to recognize his daughter So-baek (Yoon Jin-yi), with a pile of unconscious guards strewn behind her. Ha, I like her.
Geo-chil freaks out to think of all the crimes she’s committed, but So-baek just grumbles about how she was totally just going to peek in quietly to see Dad, only those punkass guards wouldn’t let her in. So she beat them up? I really like her.
Then Geo-chil practically cries to see a scratch on So-baek’s face and fusses over her. Fearsome reputation my foot. He’s a big ol’ marshmallow. Just a little crusty and burnt along the edges. So when she tells him to sit tight just a wee bit longer until “the rest of us” come to break him out, he insists that she stay put quietly. Out of trouble. Doing nothing.
Just then two more guards arrive to deal with the intruder and Geo-chil urges her to run away. So-baek throws his words back in his face: “You told me to do nothing and stay put.” Even as she’s being dragged away she goads Dad, “You still want me to stay put? Do nothing?” Ha. For now she lets herself be removed, and Geo-chil worries his head off about her.
In the palace, Da-in finds her sick patient much improved today and is amazed. The girl confesses that she’s been getting daily secret acupuncture treatments from that doctor they ran into last time, but he’d made her promise not to tell a soul. How like Won.
Won’s astrologer friend visits the prison, and assures him that Rang is hanging in there. However, he also has to break the bad news about his father.
Won bursts into heartbreaking sobs, while Geo-chil provides running commentary that’s both sympathetic and infuriatingly droll. Won grabs him fiercely, enraged, but the grief outweighs the brief spurt of anger.
Jung-hwan happens by the prison yard as a woman argues with a guard who won’t let her in. It’s Won’s sister Woo-young, here with Rang on her back, both dressed in funeral whites. He tells them they’ve wasted their trip here, and Woo-young kicks him in the shins. Ha. I approve.
He blusters, “Do you know who I am?” Has anybody ever uttered those words who wasn’t a douche? She glares at him and challenges him to throw her in prison, then. KICK!
It gets them inside, though. Jung-hwan has a sneering sidekick who looks at Woo-young with a leer that makes me uncomfortable (he’s also the guy who erased the “gu” written in blood), and asks why he let her in. Jung-hwan just says she’s impertinent, as though that explains everything. I think it explains why you’re still single.
Won puts on a brave face for Rang, promising he’ll be out soon and that he doesn’t hurt at all. She cries, “I want to go with you. I want to go with Mom. I know—you’re going to die, aren’t you? You’re going to die like Grandfather. I don’t want to be left behind alone. Take me with you.” Oof.
He insists that he won’t die, but she knows what prison means and cries that she’ll go with him.
Woo-young is surprisingly steely underneath her frivolous exterior, and she tells Won to come out alive and take responsibility for everything. She tries to pull Rang away, who just grabs onto a prison bar for dear life and hangs on. And then passes out.
Won begs for someone to open the door, needing to treat her immediately, only to be denied by Asshole Sidekick. The guards drag the ladies out.
Another day, another execution, reminding us that time’s running out for Won. Geo-chil barks that he’d be planning to bust this joint if it were him, but Won laughs at him for his daughter’s simplistic breakout plan that’ll just land both of them in jail. He knows enough about the palace and its guards to know how foolhardy their plan is, and advises Geo-chil to listen up if he wants to get out alive.
Da-in pleads with the library official to help clear Won’s name, arguing that he saved his life. The official feels bad, of course, but argues that it won’t do any good, not in light of the evidence. Something about a woman’s ornament pegging him as the criminal.
Da-in gasps as the pieces fall into place. She races over to the scene of the crime, where Won’s astrologer friend is asking questions about that very ornament.
It’s a shock to her to realize that the other half belonged to Won. His friend explains that he had originally split halves with his deceased wife, but lost one of them ten years ago.
Flashback. We see the day Da-in had been hovering near death, barely able to glimpse the silhouette of her rescuer, who had dropped his ornament half while grabbing his knife. So she had kept his half, and presumably the other half that Won kept was the one his wife used to carry.
Won had used the same (rare, unseen) surgical technique on her that he used on the library official, and with that puzzle piece in place now she sees Won’s face as that of her mystery man. Determined to reveal the truth, she starts running.
At the same time, Lee Ho comes to a decision and tells his right-hand-man, “You will have to save a life.”
And in prison, our two captives give each other a nod. Go time.
On cue, Geo-chil starts gargling and twitching, and the guards order Won to take a look. Won throws a bunch of medical lingo their way to convince them Geo-chil needs to be freed of his neck brace and asks for his supplies. The guards uneasily comply and free Geo-chil, who easily knocks them out.
The fugitives don the prison guard uniforms and use their keys to bust out.
Da-in runs, asking Won to hang in there just a little longer till she can save him. Too bad he’s already saved himself.
I’m really liking the development of these characters, pretty much all across the board. I knew I liked Won and Da-in from the outset, and of course precocious little Rang, but even characters I was unsure about are really coming into their own.
Take Woo-young, for instance, who was so frivolous as the makeup-obsessed flighty sister that I wondered if she was in the story just to fulfill a perfunctory role, which would have been too bad because I think Kang Byul is an underrated up-and-coming actress. Instead, she shows some spine, as does her father— and as does Won, come to think of it. This is a family that has taken refuge behind a facade of nonchalance, only to prove they’re made of sterner stuff at the core. I dig that.
And while I’m not entirely sold on whether the show will be able to juxtapose a comedy-tinged loveline between her and Jung-hwan, I do enjoy their scenes together, especially since she seems to affect him more than he affects her. He’s just some power-wielding meathead to her, while he seems to be more aware of potential attraction, and he’s got a big obstacle to overcome if he wants to win her over. You know, since he’s out to hunt down her brother and all. That does tend to put a damper on the romance. I just hope he isn’t too much of an asshole about it, because something tells me his creepy second-in-command has enough assiness for the both of them.
Do-saeng, sadly, only gets his moment of heroism posthumously, but I was impressed with his surprise switcheroo on his evil overlords. I did expect that he would do something to save the prince at the last moment, if only because history tells us the prince didn’t die quite so suddenly, but from a pure plot standpoint I’m relieved that the solution was more complicated than merely not poisoning the drink. Too simple. Although the antidote scenario achieves the same effect, it provides a much more satisfying reversal, and lets us know that Do-saeng had been working on developing the antidote for a while, suggesting that he was never intending to stray to the dark side. He had just hoped to last long enough to save everyone he loved while he was at it. Sadly, he sacrificed his own life to do it.
The introduction of Geo-chil and So-baek hints at more opportunity for lighter, comical beats in the future, and since I’m liking both of their characters I’m happy to see more of them. Especially since their daddy-daughter bond is sure to speak to Won, and that is, ultimately, the heart of this show.
- Mandate of Heaven: Episode 2
- 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