I love that our heroine fell in love first, I love that our hero followed suit, and I love that while the love in this show may be forbidden, it’s something that can still be proudly fought for and defended. What’s status and a little my-father-tried-to-kill-you when it comes to true love, anyway?
Ratings-wise: I’ve avoided talking numbers because they’re depressing, but Episode 5’s numbers were so low that they’re worth mentioning, bringing in only 4.5%. This year has been a little unforgiving with numbers in general though, leaving a lot of shows struggling to break the double digit mark. Or it could just be that a lot of those low-earners were also bad shows—but there are exceptions to the rule, and I’d say that Sword and Flower is one of them.
EPISODE 5 RECAP
Oh, a twist—we flash back to the night before Choong’s execution, when Jang foiled Mu-young’s prison break by moving Choong to a different cell.
Jang remembers the talk he had with General Yeon, where he was reminded that the throne should be his by right of his father and by his own merits. So that seed seems to have taken root in Jang executing a secret plan to sprinkle an unknown substance into Choong’s final cup of tea.
Then we see the king granting General Yeon’s request for his son to be hung rather than beheaded, all because of Jang. Now it’s all coming together.
Back in the present, Choong is hanged while the princess looks on helplessly. But something curious is wedged into the knot of the noose to keep it from tightening—the same stick we saw Jang holding the night before. He really thought this through.
Choong goes limp and is unceremoniously dumped onto the platform. Everyone but Jang logically assumes him to be dead, since even his pulse doesn’t register. (Most likely due to whatever poison Jang gave him.)
It’s a sobering moment for Mu-young and even Choong’s friend Jing-gu as he’s hauled away on the death cart, and what’s worse is that Jang knows how much his cousin is suffering yet he can’t say a word.
Mu-young crumples to the ground and stays there even after everyone else has gone. She’s too upset to properly drive her carriage back through town later and ends up in a Goguryeo fender-bender, but she just stumbles out numbly and continues on foot with tears streaming down her face.
Jang brings Choong’s body to his father, who registers the shock with that same unflinching expression. He orders the body taken to another building to prepare for the funeral and shares a long look with Jang—is it possible he knew of the plan? Because if he didn’t, he really is a douchebag.
He asks for a private audience with General Yeon: “You told me that destiny is something you choose.”
General Yeon’s minion covers Choong’s body with a sheet… but something causes him to turn back around. He pulls it away to see signs of life in Choong’s face and immediately bolts.
Jang goes on, “Protecting Goguryeo and the royal family is my destiny.” In order to protect Goguryeo, there can’t be any more conflict between General Yeon and the king—so Jang explains that he took action by bringing Yeon’s son to him.
Choong wakes slowly, his shock at being alive conveyed by the way he breathes and the way he takes in the world around him like he’s seeing it for the first time. I can’t really imagine what it feels like to wake up and have your last memory be of, yunno, dying.
General Yeon’s minion reports the devices which were employed to keep Choong alive, like the wedge in the noose and the tea that slowed his pulse to mimic death. Judging by the fact that the minion knows, and that Yeon doesn’t seem all that surprised, I’d say that they were all in on it.
Still, General Yeon plans to hold a small funeral to keep up pretenses.
He visits an unconscious Choong that night while his son receives some acupuncture and thinks to himself, “You’ve come home.” Wow. One line, so much impact. Why must you be such a confusing character?
A tear escapes Choong’s eye when he wakes up and remembers how Mu-young cried for him. Oh no. She has to find out he survived!
Then we see Mu-young curled up in bed, her breakfast uneaten and her face stained with tears. Poor thing cried the whole night. And even now all she can think of is Choong hanging limp from the noose, causing her to break down all over again.
She sits up when her father pays her a visit, his voice tender even as he tells her, “You must not forget that you are a daughter of Goguryeo before you are my daughter.”
Mu-young exercises dignity and control, though the occasional tear slips out as she confronts her father as a daughter of Goguryeo on his logic in killing Choong—if he wanted to avoid a revolt by sparing General Yeon, how could he think that there would be no retaliation if he killed Yeon’s son?
The king replies that there’s been happenings for which there’s no evidence, though it’s clear that General Yeon was behind them. Mu-young shakes her head, “Then even though he protected the royal family by risking his own life, he had to die to be made an example of?”
She’s poking holes straight through her father’s reasoning, and he knows it. She tries to make him understand the pain she went through watching Choong die, but her father replies that as royalty, she can’t afford to feel sadness or pain.
“Are you saying that a royal must live without any feelings?” she asks. “Has that been your life, Father?” Her question hits home, and it’s clear by the expression on the king’s face. It’s why he can barely protest when she declares that she’ll go see Choong for the last time: “This is all I can do for him.”
His father finds Choong up and about, and after a cursory question about his health, he tells him, “You chose the royal family, but that was not your path. A member of the Yeon family does not go off one’s path.”
Choong asks the question we’re all wondering after that fatherly gem: “Does that mean I’m a member of the Yeon family now? Is that why you saved me?” After a pause, he continues, “Please answer me.”
Dad doesn’t answer directly, and flippantly tells his son that he can choose to stay or leave, and then he kind of gives him the My house, my rules talk before he reminds his son that his ties with the royal family have ended.
Mu-young and Jang show up for the funeral, and both men exchange knowing looks while the princess is left to cry over an empty casket. I can understand this sort of thing from General Yeon, but I’m disappointed in you, Jang. You’re her cousin.
Choong starts making his way through his father’s home… AH! Is he thinking of showing himself?!
He stands right at the threshold with Mu-young’s back to him. No! Turn around! Turn around! He’s right there!
But when she does turn around, he ducks out of sight. Mu-young shares a private audience with General Yeon and is the very picture of restraint as she conveys her father’s sympathies for his son’s death (considering that he ordered it, but that’s politics) as well as her hope that there won’t be any more conflicts between the contentious two.
“I think that’s what we can do for your lost son. Your son would have agreed with me.” General Yeon gives her a patronizing smile in lieu of an answer before sending her on her way.
Choong trails Mu-young on her way out, and she turns around as if she senses him. But unless the camera is playing tricks on us, she should be able to see him… only her expression doesn’t change as she continues on. Huh wha? He was standing right there.
At the gates, Mu-young sends Jang back to the palace on his own. She walks through different parts of the village where she shared special memories with Choong, and relives them all.
She doesn’t know that Choong is still trailing her, just far enough behind. She has no idea she’s repeating her side-by-side walk she had with him when she first fell in love. Choong keeps himself in check by remembering his father’s words… but this is killing me. And her. Mostly me.
Mu-young even revisits the inn where she and Choong played their word game. She thinks to herself, “I will only remember the good memories between us. In my heart, only your happy face will remain.” Awww! She’s so mature.
She wanders to the hair ornament stall where they first met (well, aside from her run-in with him as an assassin). Choong passes right behind her…
…And slips a hairpin into her hand before disappearing into the crowd. OMO. Omo omo. I jumped out of my seat, but she doesn’t even notice until a few seconds later.
It’s not even just a hairpin, it’s the very same hairpin she gifted him on the night of the festival. So it’s his. And you can see her struggling to process what she sees (evidence that Choong is alive) versus what she knows (that Choong is dead).
Once she realizes that he could be alive, she starts looking around desperately. She knows. She knows!
Choong goes to the inn she just visited and remembers the word game she played where she’d all but confessed her one-sided love, only for him to pretend like he couldn’t understand to avoid an awkward situation.
General Yeon’s supporters fret about their futures if Yeon gets sent to oversee The Wall (I’m just going to call it that instead of Cheolli Jangseong), so they try to incite their leader to take action against the king.
He doesn’t seem against the idea when he says ominously, “He [the king] has mocked the Yeon Family twice. What shall we do with him?”
Leader So of the Geumhwadan (the secret group that protects the king) sends secret missives to gather his members. And they all finally get introduced, in this order: Mole-man BOO-CHI, gambler SEOL-YOUNG, femme warrior (with a soft spot for children) YOUNG-HAE, and last but not least, Shi-woo.
They’ve been called together because the king knows that General Yeon will no doubt be planning something now that he’s lost his choice for chief minister as well as his son, so their job is to find out what those plans are.
So Leader So and gambler Seol-young show up at General Yeon’s house dressed as a Buddhist monk and a shaman (there’s a joke here somewhere), with both of them competing for the right to help the household recover from its recent misfortune (Choong’s death) as a ruse to distract the guards.
They engage in a short sparring match which Leader Jo wins, though I’m not quite sure of its point when they end up overtaking both guards to get in through the gate. While they’re surrounded by a practical army inside, the rest of the Geumhwadan members assemble outside the gates.
Ah, so the point was to make all the guards follow them outside to kick them out, leaving the rest of the team clear to infiltrate the house.
Shi-woo sneaks inside while General Yeon’s minion prepares for a dinner party, and narrowly avoids being caught as he looks for a hiding place.
It turns out to be just a small get-together for General Yeon and his supporters, and Yeon takes a very… long… time… to announce that his dead son has become his impetus for moving against the king, because his camp wants a new future. Their plan will go into effect the day of the ceremony naming the crown prince as successor to the crown.
We see the plan play out as they hope it will, down to the exact hour—they’ll have one group of men infiltrate the palace posing as servants, who will then wait in ambush at the ceremony site. All councilmen legally passing through the gates will be checked for weapons, so in order to bypass that, they’ve found a way to hide swords in flagpoles (which will obviously bypass security).
The best part of all this is that Shi-woo’s able to hear all this from his hiding place—which is not in the rafters like I thought, but in the conspicuously large potted bamboo planter.
All the men go on red alert when there’s a water leak from the ceiling, since they instantly suspect a spy. Little do they know that Shi-woo has completely submersed himself in the planter’s standing water. I love that these councilmen went to DEFCON 1 over a drop of water, but no one’s paying any attention to the moving, gurgling plant in the corner.
The plot thickens when it comes to planning the crown prince’s death, with General Yeon’s minion planning to poison the prince’s horse so that he falls off. In that case, they’ll have another group scale the northern palace walls to make way for their small army to burn all the palace guards alive.
Oh god, the plan goes on? Whoops—I mean, the plan goes on! Look, this is all very interesting, but it’s as good as a dream sequence right now since none of it is actually happening. It’s just what they want to happen, so it’s enough to say that their plan goes off without a hitch, they take over the ceremony, and General Yeon gets to kill the king. Yay fantasy!
Now that we’re back in the present, General Yeon’s supporters pledge their life to the plan. Yeon accepts their loyalty and this harebrained scheme: “Goguryeo will now embrace a new history.”
General Yeon receives an unexpected visitor in the form of Mu-young, who sits clutching Choong’s hairpin as she cuts to the chase: “I believe your son is alive.”
General Yeon can’t help but be extra patronizing during his interactions with her, and he sort of laughs off her childish fantasies until she assures him that Choong’s secret will be safe with her—after all, she wants him to be alive more than anyone. “If he is here, please let me meet him. I beg you.”
Her words fall on unfriendly ears as Yeon graciously refuses her request to see a dead man whose funeral has already been held. He’s sticking to his story, and even though Mu-young insists, his voice is stronger.
“You don’t seem to know what’s best for your son,” Mu-young gives it one last try, “Perhaps, from the beginning, you never even had a heart for him.” There’s no effect, so General Yeon tells her where the door is and lets her find it.
Dad confronts his son now that he knows Choong gave some sort of sign to the princess, and I love that Choong’s defense against breaking his dad’s No Foolishness rule is all, Well, I didn’t let her SEE me.
But General Yeon wants him to cut his ties with Mu-young completely, something Choong just doesn’t understand on a logistical level—how does one simply cut ties with someone?
Even though Dad threatens his status in the Yeon family, Choong isn’t a pushover when it comes to the father who abandoned him and his mother: “The princess is the most important person I’ve come to know in my life. To sever a person like that from me? I can’t.”
Dad scoffs at his idealism, even as Choong affirms that he won’t live like his father, because he’ll actually protect what’s precious to him. Again, Dad brings up what it takes to get into the super secret cult that is the Yeon family, and Choong replies:
“If the only way to become a member of the Yeon family is to abandon someone precious to me, then I will leave the family instead.” Damn, son. That brush with death did something right.
Mu-young doubts whether Choong is actually alive or dead as he watches her from a distance, hoping that she won’t be in as much pain now that she knows he lives. “Though I cannot appear in front of you,” he thinks aloud, “when everything is settled, I will find you.”
She turns back toward him as though she senses his presence. But again, he remains just out of sight.
Mu-young’s wandering takes her back to the inn (which is apparently always an empty thoroughfare), and she almost misses a new character scribbled into the wall—it’s the answer to the Hanja word game she posed to Choong: “What about the character where the words inside one’s heart are confined by threads?”
And though he didn’t answer her at the time, she sees the character on the wall and knows that it’s him. His answer: The Hanja character for yeon, meaning “to love in one’s heart.”
Mu-young knows he’s alive.
…And that he loves her! What a thoughtful way to show it, too, by finally answering her not-a-question, especially when it was more like a confession of her feelings at the time. Maybe he was still conflicted about his own feelings then, but I like how he’s so sure of them now. So many drama romances spend time beating around the “I love you, but I can’t say I love you, so I’ll act like I don’t love you when I do” bush, which makes it kind of refreshing for Choong to be at peace with the fact that he loves Mu-young. And she’s always been rather frank, so now her one-sided love isn’t so one-sided anymore.
When Choong’s elaborate fake death scene came into play, I was kind of worried this show would go the way of Shark with the heroine in the dark about whether the love of her life is or isn’t dead. You can imagine my surprise when Choong gave her his hairpin in order to help spare her from the pain he knew she was feeling, which—given the circumstances that keep the two from being able to see each other—was just… touching.
I’m starting to sound all mushy, but there isn’t really a way to describe how this show has sold me (somehow) on the fact that these two share a deep bond. Which is, in essence, what Choong’s answer to her question conveys—more than just superficial love, Yeon carries with it a sense of inexplicable attachment.
Otherwise, the Evil Plan Sequence was neat to look at but didn’t really hold a lot of water for me, since my interest isn’t in the political machinations and even less so in things that haven’t already happened or aren’t currently happening. Points to the overarching conflict being easy to spot without a mess of complicated filler I suppose, but so far the human element to all of this has fallen on Choong and Mu-young’s capable shoulders when it’d be nice to see a little more of the two giants wielding all this power. King Young-ryu is more accessible by nature, whether by an acting decision or by virtue that Mu-young is his daughter, while General Yeon remains more of a cipher. I still can’t tell exactly how much he was in on the plan to save Choong, and if finding out means more flower-boy-planter-dunking, then he can just keep his secrets.
- Sword and Flower: Episode 4
- Sword and Flower: Episode 3
- Sword and Flower: Episode 2
- Sword and Flower: Episode 1
- Uhm Tae-woong as high-flying moony-eyed bodyguard in Sword and Flower
- Love and revenge go to war in Sword and Flower
- Couple stills of Sword and Flower’s tragic lovers
- Sword and Flower’s first poster and script read