I like that the characters in Mandate of Heaven are smart—they see clues, put them together, and are more or less shrewd about how to interpret motive and intent. Aside from the fact that it’s nice to have smart characters in any drama, this keeps the plot pushing forward rather than spinning its wheels; we’ve all seen the show where the drama clearly needs everything to head toward point Z, but can’t get there yet. Thus the show will keep its characters stupid, since that’s the easiest way to stall. When your characters are on top of the ball, though, the plot has to keep on its toes and continue to update its assumptions, which I enjoy.
With Episode 5, Mandate of Heaven overtook the top spot in the ratings to lead the Wednesday-Thursday pack. It’s a bit of a muted victory, though, considering that all three shows are languishing in single digits: Mandate of Heaven had 9.6% for this episode, against 8.9% (When A Man Loves) and 4.9% (All About My Romance).
SONG OF THE DAY
10cm – “Nothing Without You” [ Download ]
EPISODE 5 RECAP
Having stolen in to inspect Do-saeng’s body, both Won and Da-in huddle out of sight (independent of each other) when one of the guards, the shifty Gon-oh, enters the room on patrol.
Gon-oh has been expecting exactly this and finds Da-in hiding in a corner of the room. He throws her out and orders her taken to prison, just as Lee Ho arrives with his entourage in tow and demands to know what’s going on.
Lee Ho speaks with Da-in privately to hear her explanation. He sighs that hers was a futile attempt to find evidence to prove Won’s innocence, given the evidence tying him to the murder scene. Da-in starts to explain the story of the broken ornament, but stops herself upon recalling Jung-hwan’s warning—that she ought to keep that tidbit a secret. He’s wary of potential plotters twisting information and corrupting his investigation.
Vice Premier Kim is apprised of the latest news by none other than Gon-oh himself. I knew he was shifty! Thanks to his eavesdropping on his boss, Gon-oh can report that Da-in made mention of that ornament and worries that Jung-hwan will reinvestigate. Vice Premier Kim says he’ll take care of that, and orders Gon-oh to ensure that Won return as a corpse.
Do-saeng’s coffin is removed from the palace by a team of grave diggers, who convey it up the mountainous road. They stop in their tracks at the sound of rapid pounding, however, and rear back in shock when a body leaps out of the coffin. Ha, pretty much a worst-case scenario for a grave digger.
It’s Won, who thanks them and dashes off into the forest before they’ve had a chance to realize it’s not a corpse come back to life.
In the palace, Jung-hwan finds the real corpse left in a corner of the room and confirms that it was Won who leapt out of the coffin. He does not take that news well. Damn and blast.
Another secret meeting, another secret missive. Like the others, this one is signed with Queen Munjeong’s trademark flower, and was issued last night. It orders them to tie up their loose end regarding that tortoise “gu” character left at the murder scene. In other words, get rid of Hunchback.
Minister Yoon protests that there’s no need to kill the minion, whom he sent away. Vice Premier Kim (who’s sporting an ominous-looking red burn scar on his eye today) reminds him of what thwarting the queen’s orders does.
Minister Yoon knows this, but he points out that the bigger problem is Da-in, who’s running around talking about ornaments and insisting on proving Won’s innocence. At that, her adoptive father, Merchant Jang, speaks up to say he’ll take care of it. Since he’s the timid one of the evil trio, I’d say his idea of “taking care” is a lot less dire than the others’… though that makes me worry for his future.
Thank goodness for friends like Pil-du, the royal astrologer who has found Won a hideaway. Won joins him in an abandoned shed, out of breath from his flight through the woods. Pil-du sighs a huge sigh of relief that Won was able to slip out of the lion’s den unscathed.
Pil-du also updates him on his latest findings regarding that ornament, thinking it mighty strange that one of the palace doctors was so fixated on learning everything she could about it. He doesn’t know why or what, but he suspects that she knows more about that ornament. Upon hearing her name, Won’s eyes grow wide. What could this mean?
A shadowy figure lurks in wait that night at Da-in’s (and Merchant Jang’s) home, seizing a moment to grab her. She struggles to free herself, but then recognizes Won (staring at her with crazy eyes, I might add), who demands to know what she knows about that ornament.
She sees the wounds he’s sporting and moves to treat them first, reaching to untie his top. He rears back full of suspicion, but she says that she’s simply wanting to repay him for saving her life. The ornament belonged to the man who’d saved hers.
The truth sinks in as she explains that it had been dropped by the doctor who had treated her many years ago, back when she’d been a government slave.
With that out of the way, he allows her to treat his arm, still badly injured from that arrow. She cleans and wraps the arm, and informs Won that she told this to Jung-hwan and requested a reinvestigation.
It’s hopeful news, though I’d say Da-in looks more optimistic than he does; she promises to prove his innocence for him. Won’s eager to be off immediately to meet Jung-hwan, but she holds him back—it’s too early for him to go charging in headlong. She urges him to wait until the reinvestigation yields results, and when he protests that he has to get to Rang, she assures him that she’ll look after the girl.
It’s enough to get him to calm back down, and she adds that if she hadn’t dropped that ornament in the library, he wouldn’t be in such dire straits.
Merchant Jang, meanwhile, instructs his swordsman to locate Hunchback and eliminate him. (I’d have assumed this is a mere assassin, but the website tells me he is Do-moon, an adopted son who, like Da-in, was taken in by Merchant Jang.) Then he heads over to drop by Da-in’s room, taking a seat inside while Won hides behind the screen.
Merchant Jang confirms that Da-in has been running around defending the accused murderer, and sure, it sounds bad when you say it like that. He isn’t interested in her declarations of Won’s innocence, and barks that her actions are going to get her, and this whole family, killed. Is this the thanks he gets for raising her as his own daughter? She is to drop all inquiries immediately.
As he rises to leave, his eye falls on a curious detail: a scrap of cloth peeking out from under the screen. Da-in and Won both look on in horror, holding their breaths anxiously, and he jerks it free. Ack!
It’s lucky, then, that it turns out to be a loose scrap of binding cloth rather than one, say, still attached to Won’s body. Merchant Jang thankfully lets the issue go and heads out, where Do-moon confirms with Da-in that nothing is afoot. She says that all is fine, though he looks less than convinced.
When Da-in hurries back inside, she finds Won gone and a window cracked open. Won slips across the yard and toward the main wall, but before he can scale it Do-moon spies movement and yells a warning, approaching with sword drawn. Won crouches around the corner, inches from discovery just as Da-in arrives to size up the situation.
She darts around toward the other part of the courtyard and screams for help, diverting Do-moon’s attention. Won seizes the moment and leaps over the wall.
Da-in feigns fear and points to her open window. Do-moon leaps out to continue the chase.
Da-in catches a glimpse of something on her wall, and sees the diagram of a human body with its various pressure points. I presume the diagram is hers, but it has been marked at certain points, which she recalls Won researching at one point—a message for her to continue Rang’s treatments.
Won makes it back to the hideaway, where Pil-du marvels at his story of Da-in and the ornament. He’s practically bouncing in enthusiasm at the romance of it, until Won shoots him a dirty look and he zips it. Ha.
Lee Ho’s attendant informs him that the doctor he sent to the slave quarters to treat Rang was unable to do much, due to the severity of her illness. Lee Ho directs him to send a more skilled doctor next time, and then both men tense to see an unauthorized man in the greenhouse tending to the plants.
The guard approaches with caution, but their mouths drop open to realize this is their ally in disguise: Chun-bong (who requested the previous secret meeting and took an arrow for the crown prince). He has dressed himself in palace uniform and snuck here in the wake of Do-saeng’s murder, which Lee Ho vows he will solve.
Chun-bong scoffs, though, pointing out that Lee Ho still harbors a blind spot with regards to the queen. Even though he knows plainly that she has killed, he wants to believe she has nothing to do with it. He states that the prince will have to stamp out those foolish hopes, because that’s the only way he can rejoin his people.
Then, a curious delivery: In the middle of the courtyard is a young tree, and on a leaf has been inscribed a message. It’s a saying that implicates the queen as the ruin of this nation. Tied onto another branch is a bloodstained pass, the kind allowing palace entry.
Lee Ho recalls Chun-bong’s comment about Do-saeng coming to him to ask for rhinoceros horn before he died—why would he need that? This sends Lee Ho to the library, where a medical text informs him that it is the sole antidote to that bird-derived poison.
Unnervingly, Lee Ho has a witness; a palace official watches him make the connection while hidden in another aisle. Can’t be good.
He returns to his room, where that stuffed bird sits, reminding him of Do-saeng’s reaction to it. He plays back the memory of that night when he had taken that medicine, recalling now that Vice Premier had reacted to Prince Gyeongwon’s interference. And how Do-saeng had emphasized that Lee Ho should eat every bit of the accompanying snack.
Won is also playing back his recollection of that night, and how he had been called away to meet Do-saeng. He wonders if the death could be tied to the crown prince. He recalls the tortoise “gu” character just as the crown prince does, and both men realize that’s their crucial clue.
Lee Ho arrives at the thankfully correct conclusion: that Do-saeng refused to kill him, and was therefore killed himself. “Where in the world is Won?” he despairs.
The Evil Three have a speedy info network and hear almost immediately that the crown prince has figured out his poison attempt. Excitable Minister Yoon is the most agitated, wondering what happens when they realize “gu” is Hunchback (real name Deok-pal).
Merchant Jang’s son-warrior Do-moon is on the job, leading a troop of archers on the hunt to find Hunchback.
The tree leaf is brought to King Jungjong, who is gravely offended at the message about the queen ruining the nation. Though he had the scholar Jo Gwang-jo executed on the charge of trying to usurp the throne, Jo’s supporters have not disappeared—just gone underground—and now it looks like they’re asserting themselves as the queen’s opposition. It’s the group Chun-bong belongs to, and now we hear that Do-saeng was also a member.
Queen Munjeong tells the sickly king not to get worked up on her behalf, because she’s fine; it’s Lee Ho she’s worried about. Already there are rumors circulating that he has joined with Jo’s faction to send the message. Never mind the fact that she’s the one circulating those rumors, natch.
Lee Ho stops by to see his father, who shows him the tree leaf. He vows to find who wrote it… which doesn’t seem to be the reaction Queen Munjeong was expecting. Of course she smoothly rolls with it, though there’s a hint of unease about her face.
Won is lost in thought when Pil-du returns, trying to find the missing link. He recalls that hunchbacked Deok-pal was the messenger who sent him to meet Do-saeng that night, and Pil-du asks if he means the guy who always came to him asking for talismans: “Are you talking about the medical department’s tortoise Gu Deok-pal?”
Bingo. Won bolts up—he needs to meet Deok-pal asap.
He sends Pil-du to the palace, who learns that Deok-pal quit his position. I do wish these hushed conversations were more hushed, given that the palace is crawling with spies; one shifty-looking female physician overhears this conversation.
Pil-du brings Da-in back with him, who only knows that Deok-pal left the city. But she does have a lead on where he may have headed, and Won turns to go. He refuses Da-in’s offer of help and orders her to return to her post. He reminds her that she’d be putting her family at risk, and that helping him to ease her guilty conscience doesn’t necessarily add up to helping him.
Seeing that she’s resistant, he concedes, “If you must… then look after Rangie. Just until I return.” When Da-in brings up the possibility of a reinvestigation, he tells her that it’s unlikely that the baddies will have gone through so much trouble only to allow a reinvestigation. He’s too pragmatic to pin all his hopes on that possibility, and declares, “I must find the real culprit.”
Da-in perks up when she’s summoned to see Jung-hwan, taking this as a good sign. On her way she sees Rang at work—or at least trying to help an annoyed fellow slave—and stops to check in on her. Rang brightens to see unni, but Da-in notes her worsened condition with dismay. She promises to come back right away after her important meeting and treat her with fresh medicine and needles, just like her father used to.
Da-in’s hopes are dashed, however, when she joins Jung-hwan and finds the palace librarian with him. He has damning testimony to add to the case, and unfortunately, Da-in can’t protest when he announces that she and Won were lovers. Auggggh, who knew that lie could turn around on them so badly?
Belatedly Da-in realizes that she did pretend to be lovers that one time to get out of trouble for being in the library after hours, and her explanation that she had been forced to lie that time does not do anything to convince Jung-hwan. In fact, it rather paints her more boldly as a liar who would say anything to suit her needs.
Pil-du does his best to prevent Won from his suicide mission of going after Deok-pal, reminding him of the dangers involved. Won is convinced, however, that finding the true criminal is his only way of ensuring his freedom and thereby curing Rang.
Pil-du laments Won’s dismissal of all his good-luck talismans in the past, only to have Won say, “These past few days as you’ve protected me, you have been the greater talisman.” Tear. Won adds that he’s the only talisman that can protect Rang, and promises to repay Pil-du’s kindness once he’s cleared his name.
Vice Premier Kim pays his informant for alerting him to Won’s hideaway, which she found after eavesdropping on Da-in. He sends a troop of men led by Gon-oh to capture Won, and our buddies spot them with only seconds to flee. There’s one window out the back and Pil-du insists on hoisting Won to freedom, which leaves him behind inside the shed. He insists on Won escaping and assures him he’ll be fine, though both men are all too aware that he may not be.
The men burst into the shed moments later, finding only Pil-du inside. Gulp.
Queen Munjeong shocks her people by ordering that slanderous leaf hung to be seen by all in the palace. The better for suspicions to mount against the prince, she smirks.
Lee Ho hears of it, of course—it’s spies vs. spies—but doesn’t seem terribly worried about it. He’s more fixated on finding out what the tortoise “gu” means, and instructs his eunuch to find any and all connections, whether it be person or object.
Now that Jung-hwan has decided that Da-in is lying about everything to save Won’s skin, he reminds her of her promise to give up her life if she led him false. She holds firm to that vow, but insists that she wasn’t lying. Too bad that Gon-oh is on hand to twist all of her answers into more sordid versions.
Pil-du is, as feared, not all right after all—tied up in the shed, he’s bloody and broken, tortured by Gon-oh. He whimpers, “I’m sorry, really sorry”—which makes me wonder if he broke and gave up information.
Rang wanders toward the Euigeumbu building, looking for Da-in. Jung-hwan comes upon her, and on hearing that she’s looking for Da-in, he starts prodding for information. Is she very close with that unni? Then is that unni very close with her father?
Rang innocently says yes, but also guesses that he’s out to catch her father. She pleads with him not to, insisting that her father is innocent, and he uneasily avoids her eye.
Lee Ho arrives just then, and Rang cheers up to recognize him as that friendly ajusshi. She asks, “Ajusshi, are you higher ranking than that [Jung-hwan] ajusshi?” She pleads with him to tell Jung-hwan not to hunt down her father, to both men’s dismay. She gets worked up, coughing harder and harder until she spits up blood and collapses in the prince’s arms.
The prince calls for a doctor, and Jung-hwan instructs Da-in to be brought forth. He informs Lee Ho of the suspicions concerning Da-in and even suggests that Lee Ho knows something about it.
Both Lee Ho and Jung-hwan stand by watching as Da-in begins her treatment. There are uneasy questions floating around in everyone’s minds, which makes it an intriguing set of connections—Da-in is the possible lover of the fugitive, but also the adopted daughter to a man who’s aligned with Vice Premier Kim.
Da-in, meanwhile, focuses on the pressure points Won had indicated as she works.
Won heads towards the slums in search of a (fake) blind fortuneteller that Pil-du had told him would provide him with a fake ID. But just then, a few guards on patrol call over to Won, holding up his Wanted drawing, and ask him to come closer. Won bolts instead, and the blind man knocks his belongings into their paths and trips them.
It allows Won to escape, and then whaddaya know, that blind fortuneteller walks right on by. Won pleads for his help, telling him he knows all about his fake blind act, and shoves a stash of money at him.
On to our band of brigands, where the grizzly leader Geo-chil, daughter So-baek, and bandit crew have a slight difference of opinion with the pawnbroker’s accounting methods. He tries to offer less than they’d agreed on, but one swift demonstration of Keok-jung’s dagger-throwing skills has the pawnbroker agreeing in no time.
The bandits hear that the blind forger has been spotted, and that sends Keok-jung and So-baek off after him. Unfinished business there.
The guards in the village report the Won sighting, and Jung-hwan moves out immediately. It just so happens that Woo-young also hears, as she’s assigned to cleaning the building, and she races after them.
Won uneasily waits in an empty shed, having been told by the blind man to wait here while he makes the fake ID.
So-baek and Keok-jung arrive at the blind man’s room—he’s not there, but they find a stack of Wanted posters, with most of the faces sporting big X’s. So-baek, ever one to get distracted from the important point, is offended that her father’s face has an X while Won’s doesn’t, and Keok-jung has to bring her back to the matter at hand. Ha. I wonder if he likes her, or if he finds her unbearably dim, or if both are true and he’s having trouble reconciling them.
They split up to go looking for the blind forger, which is how So-baek finds Won huddling in that storeroom. She’s still peeved that he stole her horse and says he owes the animal his apology, and in miming the bow she drops something—Won’s medical kit.
He grabs it, she insists she just picked it up (“I may be a thief’s daughter, but I’m not a thief!”), and then the doors burst open. Officers.
This may sound odd, but I love whenever this show goes lighthearted. There are some heavy stakes in play and very dire consequences on the line for all involved, so you might expect those plotlines to carry the excitement. For me, though, the political intrigue is interesting mostly on an intellectual level; I like how they’re using the history and fleshing out the characters, but the show’s heart is not in the machinations or even the power struggles. Those add texture to the proceedings, but those aren’t the drama’s highlights—and frankly if that’s what you did find most interesting, I’m fairly certain there are other shows to satisfy that fix better.
The characters are what draw me in, and I’m pretty much a fan of everyone who isn’t an outright villain. The prince is fast becoming a favorite of mine, because he’s motivated by righteousness and justice but also incredibly weak. Part of that is a result of his circumstances—the queen has made sure to cut him off and is deft and manipulating his father to suit her purposes—and part of that is a result of his own personal failings. But those failings make him more compelling to me, not less, because in anybody else we’d see them as attributes: his goodness, his desire for love, his naivety in the face of darker truths. It’s just that he’s a prince and a future king and those things make him too susceptible to more ambitious wills.
For instance, it was important for Chun-bong to challenge him about his blindness regarding the queen; Lee Ho is so starved for love that he’ll take it even from false quarters, even if it requires half-deluding himself with hopes.
Interestingly, that also puts some responsibility back on Won’s shoulders. I would never accuse him of bringing this on his own head—no way we’re blaming the victim for being made the patsy here—but it’s true that he’s been so consumed with tunnel vision regarding curing Rang that he’s eschewed all else. Do-saeng told him that he should have taken over Lee Ho’s care from the start to avoid these present complications, which has a kernel of truth in it. And had he been able to retain his affection for Lee Ho the way that the prince has, they would have been each other’s supports. Possibly even salvations.
Not that I blame him for distancing himself after what happened to his grandfather. It just makes the road back to reconciliation more rewarding, I tell myself. I just hope they get to have their bromancey conclusion before the prince meets his own end (sigh, history).
Jung-hwan is another character I’m loving, after spending a few episodes holding off on passing judgment. I had my inklings that this is how the character would go, but wanted to reserve the right to amend in case he turned out to be assy. What we see, however, is that he is ultimately a good guy, in the pursuit of justice. He isn’t interested in the easy fix or the lazy way out; his goal is just to get the bad guy, and he just so happens to believe that Won is it. He isn’t going to show Won an ounce of pity (not till he has compelling evidence, I’m sure) but he doesn’t go out of his way to be a jerk to others. He’s downright nice to Rang, and I’m fully expecting him to be a decent guy to Woo-young now that she can’t impede his investigation. Or can she?