Mandate of Heaven: Episode 6
As I said, I love the lighter moments in this show, and with Won on the run, we get more breathing room, which is great because it’s refreshing to expand our outer limits. The palace can feel like such a world in and of itself because of all the stakes and intrigue constantly in play, but it’s also stifled and insular, both in mentality and in physical space. There’s much more room for exploration, character mingling, and relationship development outside its walls.
SONG OF THE DAY
As One – “사랑이 어색해” (Love is Awkward) [ Download ]
EPISODE 6 RECAP
Won and So-baek are caught by the officers, and upon seeing the not-blind man’s smug face, So-baek realizes he ratted them out for the bounty. Ah, so that explains why he had those Wanted posters in his room and why she was after him, for sending Daddy to jail. Also why she calls him Rat Shit.
Thankfully, So-baek’s dreadlocked friend Keok-jung leaps into the fray and kicks up a fight. So-baek takes advantage of the distraction to knock aside her captors, and Won shoots this hilarious How’d she do that? look. After observing the two bandits’ easy fighting, he grabs the nearby guard and head-butts him—and immediately clutches his forehead in pain, ha.
At least he manages to knock the guy out, and as an added bonus he swipes his identification tag. He then slips away, and the greedy forger follows suit. So-baek looks up just in time to catch Won making his break for freedom—on her horse. This feels familiar.
At the Euigeumbu gates, Woo-young blocks the officers’ paths and refuses to let them pass. Not that her puny resistance is effective, but you gotta give her points for pluck, and she argues that she can’t not try to stop them from hunting down her brother.
Jung-hwan finds her display amusing, maybe even cute, but as he has no time to waste indulging her, he tells her to save it for later and shoves her out of the way. Woo-young doubles her efforts and grabs his arm, insisting that her brother isn’t a killer. This time Jung-hwan shoves her to the ground harder, meaner.
So-baek catches up to Rat Shit and starts beating him up. She only stops when Keok-jung steps in, saying that there’ll be nothing left for him to beat, haha.
But timing is not on their side because the troop of officers is back on the trail and heading their way—time to run. Even then she only goes because Keok-jung tosses her on his shoulder, forcing their retreat.
Jung-hwan is displeased to find that in the short time since the sighting was reported, they’ve lost Won. He presses the rat for info, who recalls that Won was headed for Yangju. Aw, crap, that’s actually correct. Furthermore, Gon-oh reacts at the mention of the city; he must recognize it as Gu Deok-pal’s destination.
Won arrives at one of the checkpoints in the road, but before he can pass through with his stolen ID tag, a contingent of officers arrives. Damn, can’t pass through here.
Unfortunately, Jung-hwan’s a clever bastard and has a purpose for his very public presence here. He anticipates that he was able to divert Won to another point, and sure enough, that’s where Won goes.
With heavy guard presence here, Won is spotted as he tries sneaking over the wall. This leads to a brief struggle before he grabs the officer, falling off the wall with him. The other man hits his head and can’t pursue, which is a good thing since they’re spotted by a guard on the wall who sounds the whistle.
Won hurries away, but struggles with his doctorly principles that balk at leaving an injured man behind. Knowing the guard is in danger, he stuffs plants in his nostrils and reaches for his needles, even as troops approach. Before dashing off he places a needle in the man’s face, and by the time Jung-hwan gets there the guard has regained consciousness and can identify Won as the fugitive.
Minor discord erupts within the House of Evil, with the two lesser evils arguing with Head Evil over Da-in. That is to say: Minister Yoon wants her eliminated before her meddling causes more trouble, while Merchant Jang begs for leniency and promises to make sure she stays away from the palace.
But things aren’t looking good, especially when they receive word that Won is reportedly headed to Yangju. There can only be one reason for that, and if he beats them to the punch, their entire plot is at risk. Vice Premier Kim orders Merchant Jang to send word to his assassin, Do-moon, warning him that he must get to Gu Deok-pal first.
Won safely boards a boat, making it past the checkpoint while gulping back his nerves. Shortly after he arrives in the village of Yangju, so does Do-moon, who seats himself at a tavern right behind Won. Thankfully these men haven’t seen each other in clear daylight so there’s no immediate recognition, but Won stiffens to hear a minion murmur to Do-moon that they’ve located Gu Deok-pal.
He was seen entering a shaman’s home—that must be his sweetheart—and Do-moon makes short work of tearing apart the house looking for him. She’s heavily pregnant and tearfully insists that he’s not here, that he left long ago.
It’s true that Deok-pal has gone, though probably only minutes before; he races through the forest and squeals when a figure blocks his path. It’s Won, who tackles him and grabs Deok-pal’s hands to look for his proof, only to find that they’re uninjured. That means he isn’t the killer, but he is still the missing link and Won demands to know who the real culprit is.
Do-moon’s men catch up quickly, though, and make their approach through the woods. Won ducks out of sight, dragging Deok-pal along.
Slowest of all are Jung-hwan and his officers, who arrive at the shaman’s house to find it already ransacked. She doesn’t recognize Won’s face and Jung-hwan calls his men off, since there’s no help here. Gon-oh hangs back, though, having received the order to kill not only Deok-pal but his woman as well. He draws his sword and slashes once across her torso, though he’s stopped from finishing the job by his men, who call for him. He figures she’s as good as dead and leaves, not seeing that the shaman’s eyes flutter open.
Now the royal officers join in the chase, and Deok-pal naively shoves Won aside and goes running to them for help, thinking Gon-oh will save him. Gon-oh sends his men after Won, and then draws his sword to finish the job…
Jung-won joins him, though, so he sends Deok-pal into hiding for now. The officers go running after Won, but in the wrong direction: Won finds Deok-pal, subdues him with a punch, and takes the both of them off in a rowboat.
He gains enough distance to be out of arm’s reach when Do-moon’s men arrive at the waterside, but not out of arrow’s range. Do-moon leads his men in firing off arrows, which lodge in the boat and thankfully miss the two men. Do-moon decides to follow their course, leaving the dock just as Jung-hwan’s officers run up to it.
Face off: Private soldiers versus palace soldiers. Ooh, I like this.
Won sees that both his pursuers are occupied and pushes his boat harder. Jung-hwan demands to know who Do-moon is, sending half his men after the boat while he sticks around to deal with these interlopers.
They draw swords and fight. Jung-hwan is good, but Do-moon appears to be even better, and possibly even holding back. Jung-hwan draws blood with a slice on the arm, and Do-moon gets down to business. This time he does the slicing, and it’s across Jung-hwan’s abdomen. Yeouuuuch.
He’s not in mortal peril but it effectively kills his chase. Do-moon retreats, and Jung-hwan bellows in frustration.
Bandit hideaway. Lol, our father-daughter duo is actually a trio, with a tough ol’ granny around to nag both Geo-chil and So-baek. Dad is curiously quiet, though, and slumps down over his dinner table. Only now do they realize that he’s been sporting a bloody leg wound, which I’m guessing has become infected.
Granny orders them to get Chun-bong, and the younger bandits scatter. But for some reason, No. 2 Bandit gives a curious smirk. Uh-oh. Traitor in the house?
Rang wakes up in her bed to find that she has once again soiled her bedding with diarrhea. She chokes back a sob. Poor little thing.
Da-in, meanwhile, pleads with her surrogate father while he throws her physican’s coat into the fire. Her begging falls on deaf ears, since it’s not about Won’s innocence but rather him trying to save his neck from the ministers evil. He orders her locked up in her room, not to be let out until he decrees it.
So-baek and Keok-jung find that Chun-bong’s hut is empty, and she despairs of fixing her father without his help. But if they can’t find him, they’ll find another, and they tear through the area trying to find any doctor they can.
Just their luck, then, that Won is in the area, as he’s making his way back with Deok-pal in tow, literally handcuffing him to himself to keep him from running. Won demands to know who committed the murder and why he was sent to the wrong location on that night, while Deok-pal just says he knows nothing.
The bandits recognize Won and recall that he’s a doctor, dashing forward to interrupt the interrogation. He resists So-baek’s demands for help, but is no match for Keok-jung, who gets in his face and reminds him that they saved his life before. He owes them.
So-baek starts to untie the wrist cuffs, and Won gets right in her face to stop her. It also makes her gape wide-eyed in shock… because of the romance? Now?
Won resists every step of the way, but once he’s brought to Geo-chil’s side his doctor side reemerges. The leg wound looks like it’s gangrened, with blood poisoning to boot. Seeing that time is of an essence, he barks out ingredients and tools that he needs to begin treatment.
The bandit crew jumps to do as he orders, though No. 2 Bandit doesn’t look thrilled to have someone working to save the boss. Won puts his prisoner into Keok-jung’s care and gets to work.
Queen Munjeong takes a leisurely bath and muses that if the crown prince wants to challenge her, that’s perfectly fine: “Dig your own grave.” But her hauteur slips when she hears that Deok-pal is still alive, and that he’s with Won. She clenches her fist angrily.
At the palace, Lee Ho contemplates the flower given to him by Chun-bong, thinking about it a long moment before finally tossing it into the pond. Ah, so this must symbolize a decision to let go of his foolish motherly longing. In other words: Battle. On.
Sure enough, when Jang-geum arrives with his tonic, he asks about his birth mother. With bitterness, he wonders why they had let her die in childbirth; they should have saved her at his expense if necessary. It’s purely a rhetorical question and he understands that, but adds with a sigh that despite never knowing her face, never has his mother’s empty space felt greater.
Lee Ho is one step behind the rest of our cat-and-mouse race, finding out only now what the “gu” means. Jung-hwan has headed toward Yangju to find Won, who has gone there to find Deok-pal. The prince orders his man to dispatch a team there as well, vowing that they must find Deok-pal. Take a number, buddy.
Evil, Evil, and More Evil gather for yet another secret meeting, only this time there are additional shadowy attendees sitting on the meeting. I wonder if the shadows are just to add mystique (though I can’t help laughing instead—it looks like puppet theater!), or whether the hiding of faces hints at surprise twists to come. (Though one wonders: Is it still a surprise if I don’t care? Intrigue, politics, blah blah blah.)
The result of this Meeting of Evils: (1) Send more private soldiers to Yangju to aid in the manhunt, and (2) bicker amongst themselves about how screwed they would be if they fail, if the queen finds out, and if Won returns alive, which they insist must not happen and therefore will not happen. It’s a good thing that saying stuff makes it true! Oh, wait.
Won is so fixated on treating his patient that he doesn’t realize somebody’s missing until So-baek returns and asks, “Where’d he go?” D’oh! The prisoner’s seat is empty with just a rope left in his place. It’s a rather poorly edited moment that kills the suspense, but the effect is meaningful since Won starts chasing after Deok-pal, only to stop short as he imagines Rang’s voice calling him back.
It’s So-baek standing there, but he sees his own little girl. (Ha, that ought to throw a Freudian twist into potential blooming lovlines.) I appreciate the symbolism of the moment: Not only can he not turn his back on a patient, he can’t ignore a daughter’s desperation to save her father’s life.
It also puts him squarely between a rock and a hard place, since catching Deok-pal is essential to him being able to return to Rang in the first place. So Won tries to return to his chase, only So-baek grabs his leg and breaks down sobbing.
He gives up the chase. Shoulders slumped, he trudges back to the sickroom.
On the upside, So-baek decides that they can’t have Won changing his mind later: “So let’s find [Deok-pal] for him.”
Da-in remains shut in, to her agitation. She manages to slip out unseen, and finds Rang doing the laundry at the stream near the palace. Rang admits that she soiled her clothing and wanted to keep it secret from her aunt, who gets really worried when she does that. Plus, she has a shirt belonging to “that scary ajusshi who’s chasing my father,” and in her adorable child’s mind she has decided that she will clean it for him and make him like her so he’ll listen to her. Oof. It’s cute and also kicks you in the heart.
Da-in offers to help since Rang is still weak, but Rang insists she has to wash it herself for it to work. So Da-in makes a deal: Rang can do the washing if she lets Da-in treat her with needles and rests up.
So Rang lies down there in the grass and Da-in starts placing needles. Rang knows the drill so well that she points Da-in to all the correct pressure spots, although the memory of her father has her dissolving into tears.
Jung-hwan arrives back at the station fuming, and also in pain. He orders a report on Deok-pal and stomps off intending to see Da-in. Working nearby, Woo-young overhears this exchange and is overcome with relief. For now, her brother is safe.
Merchant Jang blows a gasket to find Da-in gone. He suspects she went off to the palace to treat a sick slave girl, and sends men to retrieve her.
Rang repeats her father’s usual practices to Da-in and tells her to do the same, though both ladies’ faces fall when this treatment isn’t nearly as effective as his. Still, Da-in has hope that they can continue with regular sessions, and promises to meet Rang tomorrow as well.
They’re interrupted by the sound of Woo-young’s shouts for Rang and the servants’ shouts for Da-in, so with a promise to meet again, Da-in hurries off.
Woo-young hears about the doctor lady who worked with her father who’s helping her now, only Woo-young filters this all through an adult brain with all its attendant suspicions. Narrowing her eyes, she complains about her father and her brother both being stricken by the same flaw: getting played by doctor women.
Apparently Stepmom was a former physician as well, and she has recently ripped Dad off by running away with a stash of silver. She doesn’t seem to have done so with any level of forethought or shrewdness, though, and thus an advertisement posted in the village catches her eye. It makes her stop and consider setting up shop here, perhaps an apothecary business.
And who should have posted those ads but our fraudulent forger, who sidles up smelling prospective client. Would lady like a storefront?
Do-moon returns in failure and bows penitently before Evils 1, 2, and 3. Head Evil sends out the others and reminds Do-moon what he’s capable of doing, showing him the cut on his hand from killing Do-saeng.
Do-moon offers up his neck, but Vice Premier Kim says he’s not interested in his neck: “Although perhaps I might be, if it were the neck of your owner and my right hand, Jang Hong-dal.”
Geo-chil awakens from his fevered state, having suffered the worst of his infection. He thanks Won for his help and releases him, knowing that he’s got greater troubles on his mind. Won is grateful for it, and leaves instructions on how to make medicine before his departure.
Just then, a disturbance sounds outside. Our bandit friends have caught Deok-pal, who’s sobbing over a bloody pregnant woman. Conveniently, there’s a doctor in the house—this is a job for Dr. Jin! Oh, right.
Won assesses the damage, and it’s severe. The woman tells him to save the baby, regardless of whether that kills her; the other doctors said they’d have to lose the baby to save her life but she doesn’t want to hear it. He sends for medicine and ingredients and gets to work.
In the marketplace, Da-in rounds up the ingredients Won usually buys for Rang’s medicines. They’re interrupted by a disturbance when So-baek starts throwing around an apothecary who isn’t sensitive to her very urgent needs, literally sitting on him threateningly. Heh.
The problem is that the ingredients she wants aren’t available, having been claimed by a palace doctor. She screams for some rule-bending, at which point Da-in steps in. She recognizes So-baek from an earlier encounter and realizes she must be here at Won’s behest, and gives them the ingredients they need. She also pleads to be taken along with them.
So-baek and Keok-jung flatly deny her, telling her that she can’t see their hideaway. So she pulls out a strip of cloth and blindfolds herself, insisting that she needs to speak to Won about a life-and-death matter regarding his daughter.
Won urges the fading patient to hold on, and Deok-pal can’t take it anymore. He blames Won for this, saying that it was all his fault for coming after him, to which Won shoots him this Bitch, please look. I know it’s quick but it basically says, Oh, are we playing this game? How about the murder plot and coup conspiracy you were involved in that started this whole thing, huh? You have to read between the lines.
Thankfully So-baek and crew arrive before this leads to a full-on fistfight, with Da-in in tow. She sizes up the situation and jumps into action—thankfully somebody’s thinking straight.
Da-in has bad news: The baby’s pulse is gone. They have to at least save the mother, she insists.
Won thinks fast, and rattles off more ingredients to the bandits. Da-in recognizes that he’s planning something dangerous, and that sets off Deok-pal again, who raises a knife to Won. Won argues that if he wants both mother and child to survive, he’s got to let him proceed.
This entails inducing labor now, despite the huge gash in her belly. Everyone pitches in to help, and when the mother briefly goes slack, Won desperately urges her to live. Aw, this must be especially painful since it’s how he lost his wife, and he insists she has to hang in there and see her child born and nurse it to health.
The mother gathers up her strength and resumes pushing, and finally the baby emerges. It wails, healthy after all, and they swaddle it to show the parents. Wow, cleanest birthing ever.
Interestingly, the minute the baby is born safely, Won loses all his energy and staggers out of the room thinking of Rang.
Da-in finds him outside and informs him that mother and child are safe. He berates her for coming here like a crazy person, to which she reminds him of all the help she provided.
He tells her that Jung-hwan chased him all the way to Yangju, sighing that it won’t be easy clearing his name. He asks if she suffered because of the association, and she that it’s nothing compared to his.
With a rueful smile, she tells him why the reinvestigation stalled: Because everyone thinks they’re lovers, and thus everything she says is taken for a lie. He sputters that that’s ridiculous, and she rambles half-teasingly that she knows it, and that it would be absurd and unlucky if that were true. He narrows his eyes a bit: “Did you come all the way here to tell me that?” Ha.
But before she has a chance to respond, a dagger flies at their heads.
I kid with the Dr. Jin reference (horrors!), but you know, if you think about it it’s not such a terrible correlation. Well, okay, Dr. Jin was a bleeding trainwreck that spat in the face of drama-making, but I do contend that its worst offense was its shit-for-brains director, who made every wrong decision possible and then added to the offense with gross-out close-ups of hot smelly messes and inappropriate uses of romantic ballads. The writing was clunky as well, but in theory the premise was fine.
So if you take Mandate of Heaven’s vastly superior directing, cinematography, lighting, acting, editing, and general choice-making in all affairs, you get a drama that shows us what could have been made of a mishandled show. Or conversely, let’s appreciate the behind-the-scenes team we’ve got here, working to make Mandate of Heaven not only competent but downright visually stunning, loaded with gorgeous scenery and lit in lovely stark contrasts and generally acted solidly.
I can still feel the chinks in the armor here and there, because some exposition is clunky and the evil-doing cabinet can be tedious in all respects (which you get all across the sageuk genre, not just here). But a deft director and a sharp editor can work wonders. ‘Cause I wonder if we’re heading into Won Saves Patient Of The Day With His Medical Genius waters with his stunning last-ditch saves, which would be tiresome and repetitive. (Hear me, producers? Tiresome and repetitive, and also repetitive.)
Because really, this is not a medical show. This much we can gather from the cursory way the medical scenes are shot. The characters spout some medical jargon here and there, but we don’t see any of the action (nor am I clamoring to see them); the case comes in, Won pulls a Maverick and uses an unconventional bit of genius to save a live, and we move on to the next order of the day.
The stuff I really liked in this episode—and there were a fair number of things—were all character beats. We have a pretty sprawling cast in play, and sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in names, but as I watch I really don’t feel confused or discombobulated with their threads, because they’ve been built up gradually and established over time. So when I get a glimpse here or there revealing a character insight—like Do-moon the assassin’s humanity, or Jung-hwan’s overall decency underneath the temper, or the thief-daughter affection, or Keok-jung’s wry sense of humor—I respond to it and want more of that stuff.