This is a particularly gorgeous episode. Perhaps that’s because it contained scenes to be used as the drama’s opening sequence, or perhaps the change of scenery offers up a whole range of movement and color that we hadn’t seen previously within the palace confines.
In any case, our characters and are story swing into full action mode with our hero on the run and a very dogged officer determined to hunt him down. I won’t argue that Mandate of Heaven is a seamless drama or even the best of its kind, but it’s very solidly engaging, chock-full of appealing characters, and a feast for the eyes. Best of all is that while there’s enough plotting and scheming to keep the politics strung taut with conflict, I’m really finding this show to be an unexpected dose of fun. And that’s never unwelcome.
SONG OF THE DAY
Geeks – “Officially Missing You” [ Download ]
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Prison break. The two fugitives make it as far as the prison yard before they’re blocked by a troop of officers. Won is worryingly unskilled in the whole business of self-defense, but at least his pal Geo-chil knows his way around a sword.
Still, they’re vastly outnumbered, so it’s a huge relief when the lead officer (Jung-hwan’s assy sidekick, or henceforth Assy Sidekick—at least till he gets a real name) gets stopped in his tracks. Hilariously, it’s with nothing more serious than a (squirrel?) skin to the face.
Hanging out on a nearby rooftop is Geo-chil’s plucky daughter So-baek, here to rescue Paps. As promised, she’s brought along reinforcements, who are so good that they take on the sword-wielding guards with mere hands and feet.
And then, HAHA, a disoriented So-baek actually beats up Won and her father for a moment (thanks to their pilfered guard uniforms) before realizing the error.
Won works his way free of the chaos and makes his break for freedom, grabbing a horse—belonging to the jailbreaker party—and riding off alone. Furious, So-baek rides off after him and narrowly misses trampling Da-in on her way. She apologizes but can’t stop; she’s got a horse thief to catch.
Da-in pleads for a moment of Jung-hwan’s time, eager to clear Won’s name by telling him of the broken ornament’s origins. Unfortunately he’s fixated on catching his escapee and ignores her, even when she insists that the criminal isn’t actually guilty.
Lee Ho sits with Queen Munjeong while she paints, taking up Prince Gyeongwon’s spot as her paint-mixer. She has sent her son out of the palace, ostensibly to keep him safe following the murder, and she sighs that he is endangered by his own existence. It’s true, that just as Lee Ho finds himself in the crosshairs of scheming courtiers, so does Gyeongwon as his rival. One could say that Gyeongwon is the more vulnerable prince, but that would be ignoring the fact that his supporters are far more bloodthirsty than Lee Ho’s. No matter that the two half-brothers seem genuinely fond of each other.
Lee Ho receives word of the jailbreak. Gulp. Shifty eyes all around.
Won rides home and bangs on the front gate, not noticing that he has dropped his needle kit. Honey, you have got to do a better job not littering the ground with incriminating personal effects. This is starting to become a problem.
Won is preoccupied with thoughts of Rang, who has been unconscious since her collapse at the prison. Won shocks his family by declaring that he’ll have to take Rang with him, all while grabbing medicinal supplies from the household stores.
Woo-young protests, but he argues that he’s only now gotten his hands on that book with the cure: “I can’t leave her to die.”
Woo-young argues that he should take her along too, since she’d rather die than being sold into government slavery. I do love the moment when Won slows down to react to this, asking her to hang in there until he can clear his name. Sometimes he’s so fixated on Rang that I feel sorry for his sister—sure, she’s not dying, but her life isn’t exactly rosy right now either.
They freeze to hear horses arriving outside and the officers kicking down the front gate. Jung-hwan beelines for the bedroom door, only to be greeted with screams as Woo-young and her stepmother are caught with their tops off. Haha. Hardly a novel trick, but it does amuse me every time.
Jung-hwan isn’t flustered, though, and scans for signs of the runaway while the ladies pelt him with cosmetics and trinkets. He senses this is a ploy and points out that Woo-young is throwing her precious powder at him, calling the bluff as he leans in menacingly and okay, maybe a little bit sexy too. (It bothers me a little that I find it sexy, but whatchoo gonna do. Who’s immune to a good righteous glower?)
So-baek rides up to the house and finds her stolen horse outside. She rages to see a scratch on its face, and trips on Won’s dropped tool case. Oh phew, at least I don’t have to worry about that adding to his criminal investigation.
Jung-hwan guesses that Won is hiding in the closet, and tells him to come out and give himself up. Won huddles inside, trying to contain himself as quietly as possible. Woo-young throws herself in front of the closet and yells that Jung-hwan had better not rifle through her underwear, but he shoves her aside.
Only to find that it is, in fact, lined with underwear. Heh. Won is hidden behind a few layers of clothing and Jung-hwan starts to feel around… just as cries sound from outside. “Stop him! He’s getting away!”
Aha! It’s actually So-baek riding away with her horse, but to the investigators it looks like Won making a getaway. It’s only after a fair chase that they realize they were on the wrong trail.
Jung-hwan returns to the house, but by now the closet really is empty. He grabs Woo-young by the neck and demands to know where her brother has gone. She sneers in his face and says she doesn’t know, and Jung-hwan registers that Rang is also gone. It’s only too clear where she went. Or rather, with whom.
Now we catch up to Episode 1’s opening scene, as Won escapes on foot carrying his daughter in his arms. His only hope is to escape the city tonight, otherwise he’ll be closed in.
He barely manages to stay a step ahead of his pursuers by scuttling along rooftops. The chase closes in on him in the city streets, but thankfully he gets his hands on a horse, and to the woods they go.
At intervals, Jung-hwan sends arrows flying his way. Won loses his horse and continues on foot, his blood providing a dotted map for the men to track.
Finally he buys some time when the search party passes him, and he sets Rang down to treat her. Realizing that his kit is gone, he makes do with nature, collecting twigs and honey and succeeding in rousing her from her labored sleep.
They take shelter under a rock overhang just as the search party starts making its way back. Now Won gives her that speech about needing to split up, instructing Rang to go home with those men and wait with Auntie Woo-young. He promises to come back for her, but she shakes her head no, grabbing his arm tightly and crying.
Arrows fly at them and Won takes one in the arm while shielding Rnag with his body. She asks, “If I hold onto you, will you die?”
Won nods, and she lets go. Tear. Won breaks the shaft of the arrow and starts running, the officers close behind.
Rang huddles under her rock and takes out the queen’s flower drawing, which has now come to represent her mother in her mind. (How’s that for a sick twist?) She sobs, “Mother, please send Father back to me.”
The hunt continues. Finally, Won finds himself cornered at the edge of a steep cliff. Jung-hwan advances wearing a satisfied smirk while Won insists, “It wasn’t me! I didn’t kill Do-saeng!”
Won keeps inching backward until he has nowhere else to go. Nowhere but down, that is, and he takes the leap.
It’s a long, hard fall and it knocks him out. As he sinks, he hears Rang’s voice calling out to him, and that seems to bring him back. He starts swimming for the surface, and Jung-hwan’s men scramble to the water’s edge to search for the body.
Assy Sidekick—okay, fine, his name is Gon-oh—is happy to assume he must have died, but Jung-hwan sees a foamy substance on a rock, still warm from being vomited up. And then he tastes it, shudder, to confirm that it’s saltwater.
At the palace, Lee Ho’s right-hand man apologizes for being one step too late. I’d wondered whatever happened to the prince’s request for a rescue, but it must have just been too slow.
More running. Won’s head start has gained him a bit of distance, and he comes upon a mountain village.
Jung-hwan smiles upon arrival, having tracked Won’s footprints to the village… until he sees that a local boy is wearing Won’s boots. HA. That was pretty smart.
Barefoot now, Won sneaks into a home’s kitchen and gathering implements needed to dig the arrowhead out. Ackkk. But it does the job, and he removes the arrow tip from his arm.
In the palace, Queen Munjeong and Lee Ho tend to the ailing King Jungjong. She chides him for acting too hastily, reminding him that she’d offered to help get his friend pardoned. He reminds her that there were strings attached to the deal.
She asks if he had a hand in the jailbreak and he admits that he wanted to—but he was too weak and ineffectual to do a thing. Munjeong warns him that rumors suggesting his involvement in political plots could cost him his life, which is why his father is so keen to hasten his crowning.
On the other hand, if he wants to quash talk that he’s plotting a coup, he could stamp out those followers of Jo Gwang-jo—the scholar and reformist who’d been put to death by King Jungjong. The man who took that arrow for Lee Ho in their secret meeting (Chun-bong) was a follower of Jo Gwang-jo, and we’ve seen that Lee Ho still harbors respect for the man. Thus if the prince were to smack down that opposing group, he would reinforce the image of being loyal to his father.
At that, Lee Ho cuts her off, outraged. He excuses himself.
In his own quarters, Lee Ho fumes, now seeing Queen Munjeong’s game. “So this was it? If I accept the throne, I will be condemned for sinning against heaven, and if I do not take it I would be accused of plotting rebellion.”
(Note: What Lee Ho fears upon taking the throne is that he would be accused of overthrowing his own father, a crime against heaven(‘s mandate, if you will). He would be vulnerable as long as his father lived despite a voluntary abdication, and even more so after his father dies, as his weak political power would be challenged by rivals. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Granted, he is the rightful heir so should the king die, he would be the natural successor. But wily politicians are ever ready to corrupt the truth to further their agendas, and they would turn him into a traitor to enthrone Prince Gyeongwon instead, who is (1) too young to rule and therefore needs a regent, and (2) part of the queen’s faction, which is in power. Now, if Lee Ho were surrounded by vicious advisers of his own, he could attack his opponents for treason as well, since it would be a crime for Prince Gyeongwon’s faction to plot against him to usurp his place in the line of succession. But the queen holds the power, and everyone has made damn sure to cut off Lee Ho from anybody who might help him—hence his intense loneliness, and the longing for emotional support from Won.)
Lee Ho turns his attention to the murder case and flips through the investigation log, thinking back to Won’s mention of Do-saeng’s dying message. He heads to the library for clues.
Jung-hwan is updated on the status of Won’s family: The sick little girl was returned home, and they’ll all be sent to the Euigeumbu as government slaves. He looks much too satisfied to hear that.
Informed that the prince is looking for him, Jung-hwan reports to him at the library, where Lee Ho is inspecting the bloodstained crime scene. Lee Ho asks him to confirm that there was no letter written on the ground, and Jung-hwan swears there wasn’t (since it was his sidekick Gon-oh who wiped it clean).
Lee Ho asks him to bring Won in alive, admitting that he wants to save his life—and if he can’t, he wants to apologize to him for being unable to. Jung-hwan agrees.
However, Vice Premier finds Jung-hwan in the courtyard and growls a warning: If he doesn’t capture Won, Jung-won loses his job. The heat is on.
Da-in insists upon Won’s innocence to sidekick Gon-oh and begs to be allowed in to see Jung-hwan. Gon-oh orders her barred from entering the Euigeumbu’s premises, his eyes narrowed at this very unwelcome complication. Eep.
In the city, two of the bandits—daughter So-baek and her dreadlocked buddy Keok-jung (omo, it’s Red Eyes)—spy the newly posted Wanted signs featuring her father and Won. Far from being worried, So-baek is actually annoyed that Dad’s bounty is less than Horse Thief’s, though she cheers up to be reminded that Dad’s has doubled since the last time. Ha.
Won manages to steal clothing and returns to the city in his disguise, keeping his face hidden from the officers crawling the streets. He watches helplessly as his family members are rounded up to become government slaves, unable to do a thing when Rang collapses and then gets dragged by one arm by an annoyed officer.
Woo-young gets slapped in the face as well, and when the guard picks Rang up like a rag doll Won can’t help himself and starts toward them.
Thankfully he’s found by his friend, royal astrologer Pil-du, who yanks him back before he does anything stupid.
Won is so desperate that he thinks going on the run as one big fugitive family is a plausible idea, ignoring the fact that that’s crazeballs, but Pil-du informs him that it’s an impossible task. He would have to break back into the very place he escaped in order to get them. Won begs his friend for help, even if it’s crazy.
Da-in runs into one brick wall after another in her attempt to save Won, doubly determined to help now that she realizes he saved her life all those years ago. Her appeals for help are overheard by Minister Yoon, who’s not about to let anybody snoop around. She mentions that there are questionable details in the case, and he slaps her.
Aw, but that gets Jang-geum to step in; she hands over her pass, which will get her a meeting with Jung-hwan. Da-in dashes off gratefully, and Minister Yoon belatedly recognizes her connection to Merchant Jang.
He complains to Merchant Jang in the next meeting of the evil trifecta. Da-in, a former slave girl whom Merchant Jang took in, is now kicking up a fuss to prove Won’s innocence. Minister Yoon insinuates that there’s something going on between the two, which Merchant Jang timidly protests.
Queen Munjeong meets with Vice Premier that night. His daughter-in-law is looking after Gyeongwon, and he reports that the prince is fine. Munjeong offers to pour a drink, only to tips the pitcher onto Vice Premier’s head, telling him that her son should have been crying over the dead body of his beloved hyungnim right now. She warns, “Do not disappoint me further.”
That night, Pil-du gains entry to the Euigeumbu premises by wheeling in a freshly discovered “corpse” that’s spattered in blood. Pil-du heads to the sleeping quarters while Won waits outside, but it’s Won who sees them first—Rang has soiled her bed and Woo-young takes her outside to wash.
They’re closely guarded, so Won has to duck out of sight while Woo-young gives Rang a harsh dose of truth: Her father isn’t coming for her so she’d best give up hoping, because coming would mean his death. It’s why they were sent here in the first place, to be bait.
Unfortunately, an officer spies his shadow and calls out. Won runs, and the officer chases. Thankfully the officer grabs Pil-du instead, and happens to know him because he’d asked Pil-du for a good-luck talisman. Hilariously, Pil-du lies that he’s here because he made a mistake—the talisman wishes for a daughter, and twins at that. Hee.
Won ducks into the autopsy room, where he finds Do-saeng’s corpse. He promises to reveal the truth of his killers, then begins examining the wounds on the body.
Da-in finally gets to talk to Jung-hwan and tells him about dropping the ornament. He concedes that if her story is true he’ll clear Won’s name, since he’s not interested in trumping up false charges. However, how is he to believe her story is true? What if she’s been sent to give false testimony?
Da-in kneels before him and swears to give up her life if she’s lying. She grabs his knife and holds it to her throat and he laughs, amused. But he clocks her vehemence and seems to accept that she means what she says, at least provisionally. He sends her home and says he’ll think about it.
However, he turns her down flat when she asks for a look at the body. Something tells me she won’t stop at that.
Won counts the stab wounds, which indicate that the killer got caught up in the rage of the moment. A curious detail catches his eye, inconsistent with a smooth scalpel’s path. He surmises that the killer’s grasp must have slipped on the knife, which means he likely has a cut on his hand. Ah, so that’s why we’ve been getting those close-ups of the bandage on Vice Premier Kim’s hand.
Won ducks for cover when someone enters the room: Da-in. She begins her examination, but then it’s her turn to hide when Assy Sidekick Gon-oh enters—he’s anticipating her arrival, having eavesdropped on her conversation.
So on one side we have Da-in huddling around the corner, and on the other side is Won, holding his breath and hoping to get out of this undetected.
I love the look of this show, and this was an especially great episode for cinematography and visual beauty. The lighting, contrast, colors,
I know it’s just aesthetics, but let’s not kid ourselves: Television is a visual medium. We really can’t argue that looks shouldn’t, or don’t, matter. The best dramas make use of all of their attributes, and that includes lighting, makeup, costuming, and camera work. So while a pretty picture can’t turn a crappy story into a decent one, it’s hardly a nonissue. It makes me really happy to have such gorgeous shots (and yeah, gorgeous people don’t hurt) adding to a story that’s suspenseful and fast-moving to begin with. Icing on the cake.
Which isn’t to say there are no flaws. (Although if a stunning look can help compensate for flaws, who am I to blame the show for using everything in their arsenal?) I do think Lee Dong-wook will need to tone down his facial expressions, which are fine in small doses but lack subtlety. A little would go a long way, so once he settles down and plays down to the quiet beats, I think we’ll be fine. That could be a directorial fault, in that he’s choosing the extreme shots—and yes, they’re beautiful shots. We just need balance.
I also think Da-in ought to be stepping it up, because I like her personality and her sass, but plotwise this episode was pretty repetitive for her. I expect that she’ll step up and help Rang (and Woo-young?) once their situation becomes fixed; I want to get there sooner.
So-baek and the bandit crew are another bunch I’m eager to see more of, especially since she brings the funny. I was concerned she might just play the typical tomboy, but she gets some really hilarious moments that keep her just a bit left of center—like accidentally beating up her own father or being huffy about his relatively low bounty. I’m not sure if they’re setting her up with a loveline with Won or with her sidekick Keok-jung (who seems much smarter and droller than her), but I’d be fine seeing where that goes.
All in all, I’m happy with this show and glad to have it to look forward to. Phew.