Gu Family Book: Episode 23
I wish I could say that the episode leading up to the finale was spectacular, but I can’t. It’s a really underwhelming hour. First, the hero annoys me with his noble idiocy. Then, the villains annoy me with the lack of diversity in their repertoire of villainy. Then there’s an interlude where Dad gets a lobotomy. And finally, the writer annoys me most of all, because all this is really her fault. That’s not to say that the finale can’t still be satisfying; it just won’t have gotten any help from Episode 23.
EPISODE 23 RECAP
As glimpses of all the people he’s had to say goodbye to flash by, Kang-chi narrates: “I didn’t want to say goodbye. You were the first person I wanted to make mine. I didn’t want to make you cry heartbreaking tears ever again. But Yeol-woo might die…”
We return to his declaration that his third wish is to end things right now. Yeo-wool asks how he can decide something like that on his own, and he blurts out that she could lose her life.
Yeo-wool, ever the logical one, points out that all people die, and some live long full lives, or some die during childbirth like her mother, or some die protecting someone else like Lord Park. No one can know how or when death will come.
He asks how he can stay by her side when he knows it’s because of him that she might die, but she asks with tears in her eyes, “Why do we have to do this because of things that haven’t even happened yet?” YES, WHY.
He says that he ignored the monk’s warning once before, and Lord Park died because of him. Augh, but that’s not even the same thing! And he points out the fresh wound on her arm, saying that he was inches away from clawing her heart out. Listen, you’re pretty much clawing out my patience right now. Does that count?
She cries, “Don’t you know that your words right now are ripping my heart up more?!” Right? But he says he’ll never be able to live with himself if he loses her, and walks away.
He leaves her bawling her eyes out, and Gon looks on from a distance. He feels a shadowy figure creeping up from behind, but when he turns around, no one is there.
Kang-chi goes to see Lee Soon-shin late that night, and it’s kind of cute that Lee Soon-shin comes out in PJs and finds Kang-chi scrawling in the dirt like a little kid. He says he came “just because,” but as they go for a walk, he asks for advice.
Lee Soon-shin agrees that he’d do the best he could to prevent the person he cared for most from getting hurt. But then he asks Kang-chi what he fears most (the person he loves dying because of him) and what the person he loves fears most.
That question stumps him. Lee Soon-shin repeats the question: What does the person you care for most fear more than anything? But before he can mull it over, a group of ninjas jump out and surround them. I’ve already forgotten who they are and why they’re attacking.
Ah, a flashback reminds us that Jo Gwan-woong asked to borrow ten ninjas to kill Lee Soon-shin. But when the Japanese refuse to be party to that scheme, Jo Gwan-woong insists they wouldn’t actually have to do any killing.
And then his secret agent steps into the room. It’s one of the students at Master Dam’s martial arts school—the one who was so vocal about hating Kang-chi. We learn that he was actually a mole for Jo Gwan-woong all this time. This would mean more if he were a bigger character. The plan is for this guy to kill Lee Soon-shin, and then make it look like Kang-chi was the one who did it. But I thought we already did that with Lord Park?
Back in the present, Kang-chi tells Lee Soon-shin to make a run for it while he fights off the ninjas, but gets told that this is a planned meeting. The Japanese emissary steps out from behind his men, and Lee Soon-shin tells him they have three days to clear out and return to their country before he starts killing every last one of them.
Kang-chi asks Lee Soon-shin if he wasn’t worried about being attacked, but he says, “Death does not frighten me, Kang-chi-ya. The thing I’m truly afraid of is making wrong decisions while I am alive.”
He sighs that tens of thousands of lives are lost in war, so his every decision can’t help but feel heavy. But more than anything, it’s those people—the ones who would lay down their lives for their country—that he wants to protect. “And because being by their side is the best that I can do to protect them.” Thank you.
That finally gets through to Kang-chi and he remembers asking Yeo-wool a while ago what it was she feared the most. “You. That you’ll just disappear one day. That’s what I’m most afraid of.”
He laughs that that’s a silly thing to be afraid of, and she says that the more you like someone, the more worries you start to have. She says she also fears that he’ll get sick of her one day, or that when she becomes a wrinkly grandma he won’t like her anymore.
He reminds her that he’s Wol-ryung’s son—the guy who fell in love for the first time in a thousand years and then even as a demon could only remember his first love. “That’s my bloodline. We hang onto one woman, live or die. So don’t YOU go getting sick of me. Because I’m going to live looking only at you, live or die. Forever.”
Yeo-wool giggles like a little girl: “Really really? Promise promise?”
Yeo-wool tosses and turns, ranting that she can’t believe that jerk, “After he said ‘really really promise promise’ and everything!” Ha. She heads outside to blow off some steam with sword practice, when Mole comes looking for her. He says he has something to tell her, so she follows him out…
Gon discovers that Yeo-wool’s been out for a while without a word, so he runs out to find her, and then Kang-chi returns to find the search in full swing.
Meanwhile Mole takes her out to the woods, where ninjas are waiting to attack. They throw a white powder in her face, and it knocks her out cold. Gon arrives just as they’re about to kidnap her, and Mole whirls around to say that they were attacked out of nowhere.
Gon steps out in front of him to get Yeo-wool back… which is when Mole literally stabs him in the back. Ack. If Gon dies, I swear, I’ll hurt somebody.
He takes half a second to register that he just got stabbed in the back, and then takes two swift moves to kill Mole dead. Nice knowin’ ya. Thanks for being the conveniently evil plot device of the day.
Gon struggles to fight off the army of ninjas all alone, but he can’t stop them from taking Yeo-wool. He fights, but he’s getting weaker and weaker with every move. Eeee.
His wounds start to take their toll, and he falls to his knees. He’s seconds away from death, when Kang-chi arrives just in time to fight off the rest.
He rushes to Gon’s side and slices his hand to pour blood into his wound, and the blue lights come to save the day. Whew.
He runs after Yeo-wool, but the kidnappers throw gas grenades in their wake to throw him off their scent. Luckily Bong-chul is in town and just sober enough to notice Yeo-wool being carried off. Please tell me you have enough of your wits about you to follow them.
Gon wakes up in the morning, and Master Dam says that Tae-seo found him in the woods. He gets on his knees and tells Master that he’s sorry—he couldn’t protect Yeo-wool. He confirms that Kang-chi saved him, but he doesn’t know where he went.
Kang-chi walks straight into the lion’s den and confronts Jo Gwan-woong knowing he took Yeo-wool. They don’t even try to dance around it, and Jo Gwan-woong tells him exactly what he wants in exchange for Yeo-wool’s life: kill Lee Soon-shin.
He brings out Kang-chi’s family—Servant Choi and Ok-man—and adds them to the count. All three will die unless Kang-chi kills Lee Soon-shin by tomorrow.
Ohmygah, why do we keep letting this guy threaten loved ones to get people to do his bidding? Can this pony learn one new trick, please? Dad tells him to just let them die, which I hope is not the plan.
Meanwhile Yeo-wool is tied up in a box somewhere, with incense kept burning to keep Kang-chi from sniffing her out.
Everyone gathers at the martial arts school to decide their next move, and Kang-chi paces back and forth waiting for Master Dam to make up his mind. Gon snaps at him that they’re all going crazy, and that no one is as heartbroken as Master Dam, so they need to follow his decision when it comes to Yeo-wool.
Master Dam finally reaches a verdict and calls everyone together. Kang-chi asks what their next move is, and Master Dam balls up his fists under the table… as he tells them they’re going to give up on Yeo-wool.
What, now? You have an army of trained fighters, and this is your decision?
He says that they can’t cave to Jo Gwan-woong’s demands, and tells Kang-chi to give up on Yeo-wool and go on his quest to find the Gu Family Book. Oh, because he’s really going to leave right now to do that. What?
All three boys stammer in shock, and Kang-chi argues right back, asking how he’s telling them to give up on Yeo-wool. Master Dam shouts that she’s his only daughter, but this is what they have to do. But… that makes even less sense.
Kang-chi: “Yeo-wool is my only person too! What is the point of becoming human when I can’t even protect the only person in my life?!” That outburst stops everyone mid-breath, and Tae-seo gets a little teary-eyed.
Kang-chi declares that he doesn’t care to become human if that’s the cost, and says with tears streaming down his face: “I don’t care if I don’t become human. I won’t ever give up on Yeo-wool. I can’t give up on her!”
Gon steps up to say that he agrees with Kang-chi, and then Tae-seo joins in too. The boys ask for permission to go rescue Yeo-wool.
Soo-ryun turns to Master Dam and reminds him that the reason they pledge their lives as patriots is to protect the ones they love, and Teacher Gong tells him that sometimes it’s okay to lay his duties down.
He looks around the room one by one, and lands on Kang-chi, still crying with pleading eyes. And outside, Chung-jo has been listening the whole time.
Her face falls, and she wanders into Kang-chi’s room where she finds the shirt she made for him still sitting there, untouched. She cries now as it sinks in what Yeo-wool means to Kang-chi, and she wonders to herself: “Why didn’t I realize when you were by my side?
Bong-chul finally makes it to the martial arts school looking for Kang-chi, with news that he saw that pretty boy he’s always with get dragged off last night.
He followed them, and saw them go towards the storage houses in the Hundred Year Inn. That’s where they hid her? Would it kill you people to have another safe house somewhere, just for variety’s sake?
The boys split up and go digging through every single crate in the storage rooms, as Yeo-wool struggles against her ropes inside one of the boxes. Someone gets close, and she looks up just as Kang-chi opens the hatch to one of the crates…
But it’s a fake out, and the baddies get to her first and move her before the boys catch up. Jo Gwan-woong gets the report that Kang-chi did as expected and Yeo-wool has been moved.
The boys contemplate what to do next, and Kang-chi decides it’s time to go see Lee Soon-shin. Tae-seo says they can’t involve him, but Kang-chi asks, “Do you trust me? As my friend, how far do you trust me?”
As Kang-chi arrives to see Lee Soon-shin, Jo Gwan-woong tells his trusty sidekick that it won’t matter if Kang-chi doesn’t kill him—either way Lee Soon-shin will be on the move, and that’s when they’ll take their shot. He passes over the gun.
Kang-chi says he came because he wants to protect those precious to him. He asks Lee Soon-shin the same: “Do you trust me? How far do you trust me?”
Yeo-wool gets carried away kicking and screaming in broad daylight, which doesn’t seem like the stealthiest move. She gets tied up in a different shed, with Servant Choi and Ok-man tied to a post nearby.
This time they tie her to a chair that’s rigged with a giant spiked wrecking ball hanging above her. I’ll be honest—it looks kind of like paper-mache, but we’ll go with it. It’s a giant death ball, not a piñata, okay?!
They cut a hole in the sandbag that’s weighing the ball down, and then walk out. Pwahaha. Oh, ineffectual villains. Why kill her now when you can set up a Wile E. Coyote contraption and walk away?
Chung-jo comes to tell the boys where they’ve moved Yeo-wool, and Kang-chi returns from his meeting with Lee Soon-shin. They head back out, and Chung-jo tells him with tears brimming in her eyes to save Yeo-wool, and he nods that he will.
Lee Soon-shin goes to see Jo Gwan-woong to demand he release the hostages, and it buys time for the boys to fight their way towards Yeo-wool. I hope this diversion was worth it.
The totally-not-paper-mache Ball O’ Doom falls closer and closer, and Yeo-wool screams. Kang-chi hears her voice mid-fight, and Tae-seo urges him to go ahead while they fight. Bong-chul joins in too, and Kang-chi nods gratefully before running off.
He gets to Yeo-wool just in time, and breaks her ropes and pulls her out of the way just as the wrecking ball comes crashing down.
Once the moment of fear and relief passes by, she kicks him off of her and then slaps him with her foot. Ha.
She pounds his chest calling him a jerk over and over, and he pulls her in for a hug. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. I won’t do it again. I’m really sorry.”
He holds her as she cries, and Dad and Ok-man squirm in their ropes awkwardly. In voiceover we hear their thoughts from sometime in the future:
Yeo-wool: I should’ve said it more then.
Kang-chi: I should’ve held you more then. That I liked you this much.
Yeo-wool: That I loved you this much.
Back to Lee Soon-shin, who stops to ask Jo Gwan-woong what it is he lives for. Unsurprisingly, his answer is: “Me.” He says he lives for himself alone, and takes what he wants, when he wants it. Yeah, we kinda noticed.
As they talk, Minion peeks out from a distance and sets his sights on Lee Soon-shin, raising his gun at his target.
But Kang-chi and the gang arrive and surround Lee Soon-shin, and tell him that they’re here to lead him to safety.
Kang-chi steps forward to face Jo Gwan-woong and says: “Do you remember what I told you once? That I would reclaim the Hundred Year Inn from you one day? Well that day is today, Jo Gwan-woong.”
Minion lights the fuse…
Jo Gwan-woong just smirks back at Kang-chi without a word. That’s when he senses that something’s not right, and turns to see Minion aiming his gun right at them. He fires.
They all freeze and look at each other: Lee Soon-shin, Gon, Tae-seo, Yeo-wool, and Kang-chi…
One of them has been shot.
Okay, so the Who’s Been Shot thing is pretty good as far as cliffhangers go (mostly for the guess-who factor, because it’s not like I expect the leads to die). But so much of this episode was pointless. Basically none of that kidnapping hullabaloo needed to happen to get us from the first scene to the last one. It was just running the guys around for no reason. If this had happened in a middle episode (which it has) I wouldn’t be this annoyed, but we’re down to ONE episode.
Instead of picking up threads for characters that got totally shunted (Tae-seo, Chung-jo, Soo-ryun), storylines that got dropped (engagement, anyone?) or actually exploring Kang-chi’s quest to become human, we turned Yeo-wool into a damsel in distress, and let Jo Gwan-woong have YET ANOTHER round of tying someone down to the train tracks to twirl his mustache, for absolutely zero advancement in the plot. You know a villain’s run his course when we’re all just sitting here going, And why haven’t we killed him yet?
Did Kang-chi really need to experience Yeo-wool nearly becoming a whack-a-mole to truly understand that being by her side was better than leaving her? First of all, that would make him dumb and I don’t want him to be dumb, and also, I think he already figured it out when Lee Soon-shin asked him what Yeo-wool’s worst fear was. All it did was send the characters through another spin cycle of stuff we’ve done before.
I’m just hugely disappointed that this is what we were working towards. I still expect tomorrow’s finale to deliver a satisfying conclusion, but this hour was a wasted opportunity. I was glad to get Kang-chi’s big speech that becoming human isn’t worth it if he can’t protect the woman he loves, but the plot machinations to get him to that outburst (Master Dam suddenly giving up his daughter’s life without a fight? Come on) were painfully clunky. I think the problem at the end of the day is, we don’t really believe for a second that Yeo-wool is in danger. So spending an entire episode to set up her kidnapping and rescue seemed like wasting the precious few minutes of story time we have left on something that had a foregone conclusion. It’s pretty much the direct opposite of building to a climax.
What you want in Finale Week is for the tension to go sky high, but this episode actually managed to sap what tension there was left. It kind of kills me. This world has so much potential for life and death stakes, for testing the limits of beast and man, for true sacrifice that runs deeper than noble idiocy. It’s all there. Why are we not doing anything with it?
- Gu Family Book: Episode 22
- Gu Family Book: Episode 21
- Gu Family Book: Episode 20
- Gu Family Book: Episode 19
- Gu Family Book: Episode 18
- Gu Family Book: Episode 17
- Gu Family Book: Episode 16
- Gu Family Book: Episode 15
- Gu Family Book: Episode 14
- Gu Family Book: Episode 13
- Gu Family Book: Episode 12
- Gu Family Book: Episode 11
- Gu Family Book: Episode 10
- Gu Family Book: Episode 9
- Gu Family Book: Episode 8
- Gu Family Book: Episode 7
- Gu Family Book: Episode 6
- Gu Family Book: Episode 5
- Gu Family Book: Episode 4
- Gu Family Book: Episode 3
- Gu Family Book: Episode 2
- Gu Family Book: Episode 1