Today gives us a bit of two steps forward, one step back—which at least is better than one step forward, two steps back, right?
At least there’s also a nice big dose of cuteness to balance things out, which really goes a long way in light of the political games that ramp up in a major way.
SONG OF THE DAY
Yumi – “Mystery” [ Download ]
EPISODE 17 RECAP
Won is declared innocent by the king, and let’s just take a moment to enjoy the reaction shots from all involved. Won is tearful and grateful, Jung-hwan is a little smug, Lee Ho is satisfied, and the queen is stunned. Her reaction is the most satisfying.
Jung-hwan adds that Won not only suffered an unjust accusation but also lost a father, for the mere crime of having seen Do-saeng’s kill order marked with a peony flower drawing. The meaning of this is not lost on the king, and Jung-hwan declares the necessity of finding the one behind the order. The queen gulps.
Won staggers out of this audience reeling over his newfound freedom, and Jung-hwan gives him this reassuring pat on the back that just makes my day.
Inside the palace, Queen Munjeong swears her innocence. She reminds them of her decades-long love and support of Lee Ho, who has been her son longer than her blood son Gyeongwon. Riiiight. Too bad about the whole murder plot thing.
She cries clutching the prince’s hand, and Lee Ho looks quite conflicted. The king puts a stop to her bid for sympathy by sending him away, but the queen starts singing a lullaby that stops Lee Ho in his tracks, clearly a tune that stirs old maternal memories. Agggghhh, she is terrible. Though I would say her sense of self-preservation is rather impressive.
She cries that the accusation is unfair and unfounded, and clutches at her heart, or where there would be one if she hadn’t sold hers to the devil. Lee Ho rushes to her side in concern—no, don’t weaken your resolve now!
She exclaims that she will die to prove her innocence, playing the martyr card like a pro. For the first time, however, I’m glad that the king is Lee Ho’s father since he ain’t falling for it, and he tells her coldly, “Then die.” He adds that he’d like to believe her innocence, so if she is determined to prove it by dying, go right ahead. Awesome. If she backs down now, she’s only going to look more suspicious.
The queen is confined to her quarters, to her ire. She urges her son to beg the king on her behalf, though he goes to Lee Ho first. Okay, I’m gonna be frank here: Gyeongwon is a sweet little thing, but I am getting a little tired of his “Can’t you forgive my mother?” shtick. She tried to kill Lee Ho. I don’t think you get to ask him to forgive her like he’s being the petty one for holding on to this grudge. I mean, I get that she’s your blood, for better or for worse, but at one point you just accept that your mother is the devil.
Lee Ho points out that even if he were to forgive the queen, would she change? Gyeongwon vows to force that change by holding his own life hostage: If she doesn’t, he will bite his tongue and die. “Even if I die, I will save Queen Mother.” Sadly, I think only one of those things is possible.
Won returns home and envelops his two ladies in a hug, sharing the good news of his pardon. As they celebrate, Jung-hwan arrives with one more family member, and Woo-young joins in. Jung-hwan says that she was crying all the way here, which earned him lots of suspicious stares. Haha.
Feeling generous, Jung-hwan offers Rang the choice to do whatever she wants today, and she chooses wading in the stream. It’s the very thing she’d been denied in Episode 1, and today she turns those big puppy dog eyes on her father again.
The ladies decide a little foot dip can’t hurt, and Woo-young instigates a water fight with Jung-hwan. This whole scene is really very cute, especially with the bromance in full bloom, which makes everything better.
Jung-hwan clocks how Won’s feelings for Da-in haven’t soured after realizing the role her father played in his father’s murder, and Won says that being his enemy’s daughter doesn’t make her his enemy. Thank you. Dramaland would be a more mature place if everyone thought that way, but I suppose it would also be an emptier place.
Lee Ho is apprised of the king’s health by Jang-geum, who reports that he has been weakened by the shock.
Lee Ho makes a vaguely cryptic inquiry into the condition of “that person,” and Jang-geum states that he is on the mend, despite her fears that it was hopeless. I’m not sure who we could be referring to at this point without introducing a random new character… GASP. Is that Do-moon?!
I’m relieved to see that the prince has been working behind the scenes on his own plans, because I’d feared he’d give in to the emotional manipulations around him. Some of the secret rebels have been captured, but they have kept silent. At least their leader—Chun-bong—escaped capture. The queen is determined to get them to talk and incriminate the prince, while our good guys need them to stay quiet.
Chun-bong is currently with Geo-chil, informing him of the situation. Geo-chil worries that the captured men will spill the beans about the bandit village’s whereabouts, and relaxes to hear that they don’t know where it is.
So-baek has been depressed ever since Won left, and refuses to eat, which has Keok-jung worried about her in a big way. Finally he offers to take her to see Won because he can’t stand to watch her waste away, but that at least wakes her up a bit. Knowing that doing so would be inflicting pain on Keok-jung, she tells herself she’ll suck it up and deal, because she can’t hurt Keok-jung to make herself feel better.
The king wavers in his conviction, and doesn’t want to be the cause of any more bloodshed. Thus despite his regrets to the injustice this serves the prince, he wants to let the queen off the hook, just this once.
Lee Ho meets with the queen, asking if she pushed Gyeongwon to beg on her behalf. The mode of supplication is both humbling and physically painful, as it requires the supplicant to kneel and remain unmoving for hours in an effort to stir the other party to forgiveness. Lee Ho is aware of the toll this is taking on the king’s health, who is pained to see his son driven to such actions.
He offers again to spare the queen’s life if she owns up to her crimes. She scoffs, saying that she didn’t order Gyeongwon to humble himself like that just to save her neck. She’s got bigger ambitions.
Lee Ho challenges her to consider all the lives she’s taken. It would be mercy even to spare her life.
She says that once he’s king, he will stand with his secret society and have her and Gyeongwon killed. Thus letting him live is tantamount to sentencing themselves to death, “Which is why you must die!”
Too late, she realizes they have a visitor—the king bellows at her, staggering inside in pain. He was coming here to pardon her and to ask Lee Ho to forgive him for the lenience, and the queen stammers that this is a misunderstanding. He isn’t having it, though, and declares that he will have her stripped of her status.
She falls to the ground and begs for his mercy. He turns his back and starts to leave, at which point the queen’s display of desperation turns to cold disdain as she yells after him.
She flings all of the king’s weaknesses and missteps in his face, calling him indecisive and feeble-minded. In the face of revolt, his first thought was to kill himself in fear; he gave in to popular opinion and drove his own son and concubine away; and now he means to do the same to Gyeongwon?
She yells at him to kill her, then, and the rage has him so overwhelmed that the king collapses clutching his heart. He dies shortly thereafter.
Lee Ho’s grief mingles with hate for the queen, who’s putting on a big show of tears at the king’s bedside. Practically shaking in rage, he warns her that her days are numbered.
However, the queen gets a lucky break when one of the secret society members finally cracks. The fact that this society exists isn’t enough to help her case, and the queen needs to provide a connection to the prince in order for it to be useful. Thankfully for her, the man confesses.
That night, Chun-bong is followed by pretty boy assassin Mu-myung, who engages him in a fight. This does not end well for Chun-bong, who is captured.
Won is feeling pangs of guilt in the aftermath of the king’s death, thinking that the shock of his revelations contributed to his demise. Da-in is more worried about Won, and the possibility that the king’s pardon may not have gotten communicated. Jung-hwan assures her that he checked that the decree was being delivery to the police… but then he and Won are struck by an alarming thought.
Ah, the order is still en route, and Mu-myung steps in to intercept it. Our guys arrive in time to see him making off with the scroll, which he delivers to the queen. She orders Mu-myung to kill Won, again, which I’ve heard so many times I swear it’s lost all meaning for m.e
The order is still smoking away in her brazier when Lee Ho arrives, and now there’s no need to pretend or make excuses. She says he’s too late, and that Won has to die for her to live. She doesn’t even bat an eye when Lee Ho says he’ll reveal her crimes (and the letter proving it) to the world, because she’s got a counterattack at the ready: She’ll make public Lee Ho’s coup plans with the secret society.
So now she makes her deal: Release her men, and she’ll release his. Furthermore, if he hands over all the incriminating evidence against her, she’ll hand over the roster of names of his cadre of rebels.
But Won will have to die a traitor. It’s a win-win in her eyes, and they both get to live.
He refuses to take the deal. She says confidently that he’ll agree.
Lee Ho tells Jung-hwan that he can’t betray Won, especially after he was unable to save his grandfather. Jung-hwan informs Won of the prince’s dilemma, which is looking rather bleak at this point.
Won sinks deep into thought, almost missing a warning shout—Da-in spots danger and gives Won the seconds necessary to duck out of the way of an incoming sword. It’s Mu-myung, here to tie up this loose end.
Won is unarmed and unprepared as Mu-myung goes after him, barely managing to avoid being chopped up as he throws baskets and brooms at him. But he gets knocked back and falls over—just as the killing blow is deflected by an incoming sword.
Aha, it was Do-moon the prince saved! Miraculous recovery indeed. Do-moon orders Won to take the ladies away, then disarms Mu-myung and takes him on in a hand-to-hand battle. At least their skills are more evenly matched without swords, though Mu-myung still manages to fend off Do-moon.
So it’s a good thing that Jung-hwan flies in to take over. It’s back to swords, and it’s two on one. They clash, slice each other up a bit, and then Mu-myung dashes off. Do-moon’s too injured to pursue, so it’s Jung-hwan who runs after him.
Do-moon explains that Lee Ho rescued him, and ordered him to protect Won’s family. Won has one bit of unfinished business, though, and takes him aside to ask if he was the one who killed his father. Do-moon kneels at his feet and apologizes, saying that he was following orders.
Won grabs him angrily, then lets go and tells him to leave. Do-moon pleads to be allowed to protect Da-in, but Won growls that he’ll take care of her from now on.
Da-in catches enough of the exchange to guess at the truth, and asks Do-moon herself. She begs for him to deny it, but he answers honestly. She falls to the ground sobbing, wondering how she can be with Won now. Gah. Well, it’s not like I expected this pair to avoid the noble idiocy route.
Won asks Da-in to take care of Rang for the time being, though he doesn’t explain where he intends to be over the next few days. It’s because he proposes to sacrifice himself to save the prince—a proposal that Lee Ho and Jung-hwan both reject, thank goodness.
But Won argues that they have no clear alternative plan, and that if Lee Ho cannot ascend to the throne, he’s dead anyway. Thus he will return to the life of a fugitive for a few days, and then once Lee Ho is king, he can pardon him. Easy-peasy, except for the million and one loopholes that this plan offers.
Jung-hwan reluctantly agrees, claiming responsibility for protecting Won until the ascension. So Won says goodbye to Rang and Da-in, urging his daughter to be strong and hang in there for just a bit longer. He heads off to hide himself for the next few days, and then Lee Ho takes the deal.
So all the incriminating documents go into the fire, and the queen smirks in satisfaction to have everything “back in their rightful places.” She lives, he lives, her people live, his people live. Now all that is left is to kill Won and the deal is complete.
Lee Ho regards her with disgust for enjoying people’s pain. She replies that it’s a necessity in her position.
The prisoners are released, whereupon Vice Premier Kim recognizes Chun-bong, who is named as the leader of the secret rebel society. Jung-hwan greets them in the courtyard to inform Kim he’ll be back soon enough, and tells Gon-oh that before he returns to his post as police officer, he’ll have to cut off the rotten rope he’s clinging to.
For the time being, Da-in and Rang are to live in the palace under the prince’s protection. Tearfully, she begs him to set things right, and he promises.
The queen is busily at work concocting new schemes, and orders her ministers to arrange a secret meeting. Now they’ll have to find a trumped-up reason to oppose the crown prince’s ascension—like the fact that the prince was plotting a coup.
Chun-bong is a crucial player who must be re-captured, as well as Won. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Won has hidden himself away in a different safehouse provided by Jung-hwan—outside of which Do-moon has posted himself as guard. Aw, is he protecting him secretly? That’s sweet. It’s the least he could do, considering, but still sweet.
Jung-hwan is ordered by superiors to apprehend Won, which he refuses to do. The man framed for a crime is no criminal, he points out. So his boss revises his order, telling him to go and arrest the bandits, who did commit a crime in facilitating Won’s prison break.
Jung-hwan seeks out Woo-young at her laundry duties, and she senses something wrong. He tells her he’s never flouted the law, and gone after criminals doggedly to bring them to justice. Her brother was the first time he thought his side was in the wrong… but it will be his last because those bandits did break the law and must be caught. His voice hardens as he heads off with determination.
He’s aware he’s being tailed by Gon-oh, which brings a smile to his face as he starts running. Please tell me your speech was part of your trap.
Jung-hwan loses Gon-oh easily, who has to report this to the ministers. They realize that the bandits are an important link, because they’ve got ties to both Won and the rebels. Thus Vice Premier Kim orders Gon-oh to capture bandit boss Geo-chil. Yeeeah, good luck with that.
Jung-hwan visits Won’s safehouse to inform him that his family and the prince are all safe. Won argues when he hears about the orders to go after the bandits, calling them simple and good folk, but Jung-hwan points out that they have stolen from the palace and broken the law.
Thus Jung-hwan will have to go after them, because that’s his job. Won asks, “Why are you telling me this?” Well, somebody’s got to warn them, don’t they?
Won has competition, because Mu-myung is at the same moment leading a team of assassins through the woods. Jung-hwan leads his officers. Won runs alone, though he is followed (secretly) by Do-moon, aw.
Chun-bong brings news of the latest developments to the bandit village, and today he’s a little less smug because he’s incurred another debt against Won—he gained his life, but Won is back to being condemned. The bandits are furious to hear of the deal and the release of the evil ministers, not at all content to wait the three days till Lee Ho takes the crown.
Fuming, Keok-jung is ready to storm the palace himself and kill Vice Premier Kim straightaway, not caring that Chun-bong warns him against dying a dog’s death. He spits back that his parents and So-baek’s mother all died dog’s death at Kim’s hand… and So-baek wonders what he means by that. Oh, crap. She wasn’t supposed to hear that.
Geo-chil stammers that she heard wrong and her mother really died of an illness, but she sees the truth in Keok-jugn’s face.
Just then, screams sound from outside. A full-blown fight is underway, with the bandits fighting off Mu-myung’s assassins. Crap. Our leaders all recognize Mu-myung and head in to take him on.
By the time Won arrives shortly thereafter, bodies are strewn on the ground and the fight is raging. Keok-jung takes on Mu-myung alone, but the wooden floor gives way under his feet and traps his leg. So-baek leaps in to take over, but she’s unarmed and the other guy’s got a sword. Keok-jung tries to free himself, but there’s not enough time—and then Won leaps in to shove So-baek out of the sword’s path, and they go flying off the platform and land below.
It’s the final stretch, which means that of course Won’s pardon wasn’t going to stand. That much I assumed; I’m just glad we got some adorable family scenes to tide us over in the meantime.
It’s for that reason I found a lot of this episode predicable, and repetitive. The queen orders people killed. Said people barely escape being killed. The goddamned confession and prescription are handed over, again. Gyeongwon naively asks his brother to forgive his mother. Da-in and Won poise themselves to sacrifice themselves, nobly. Woo-young is on her way to being set free, and then she isn’t.
I actually think the show does a pretty good job in bringing about these developments, because it’s all well-reasoned and logical. It makes sense in the context of the story being told. It’s just that if you strip away the specific plot points and just look at where we’re going in terms of overall arc, the narrative beats are very repetitive.
So it’s the little moments that I liked the most, like Jung-hwan’s increasing inclusion in the Choi family and the easy rapport he develops with Won and Woo-young, only to be challenged in the eleventh hour. It was almost enough to make you forget that he’s the same hardcore investigator he was at the start, and that his personal feelings for Won or Woo-young were not the turning point in Won’s case. The only reason he joined their side was because he realized justice had gotten it wrong, so he sided with the truth.
So he’s not going to let the bandits go because they’re nice guys, because they’ve accrued quite a list of crimes. Won argues that the state forced them to steal to survive, but Jung-hwan retorts that you can’t blame the state for making you do things when not everybody steals. I like that he gave them a fair shot at escaping capture, but stuck to his principles.
That’s what makes him an interesting character to me—he possesses dimension in a way that Won and Da-in lack. It’s a similar thing with Do-moon, who I thought had met his fitting end protecting his family but now gets a second chance and has to live with the fallout of his actions. I’ve always believed he knew right from wrong, but didn’t stand on an impersonal sense of justice when his loved ones were in danger. In that sense he’s the opposite of Jung-hwan, who maybe could stand to sway a little where his loved ones are concerned. ‘Cause if you don’t make allowances for love… then how are you going to have love?
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