It’s official, I’ve fallen head over heels for our moony-eyed hero. It’s hard not to love a hero who loves so deeply, especially when his notions of love and loyalty are put to the test this episode—and to surprising effect, actually. As in, I’m still surprised, only that surprise now comes with an Uhmforce-shaped hole in my heart. It’s almost a good thing this show made me love Mu-young first, because it frees me from the desire to burn effigies and allows me to be happy for her and her incredible good fortune in earning our hero’s devotion.
Ratings actually took a decent jump this episode, rising from an abysmal 4.5% to a slightly-less-abysmal 5.8%. Huzzah!
EPISODE 6 RECAP
We flash back a little to see Choong writing the Hanja character for yeon at the inn, and he thinks to himself (and to Mu-young), “Though I can’t come to you now, without fail, we will meet again. I sincerely hope that you come here so you can know that I’m alive.”
And that’s exactly what Mu-young does. Now certain that her love is alive, she remembers meeting Choong’s friend Jin-gu during the bow and arrow contest and presumably runs off to find him.
While General Yeon sends his supporters home for the night, a confused Jin-gu asks Mu-young how Choong (he adorably calls him hyung) can be alive when he was very clearly killed. Since he doesn’t know any more than she does, Mu-young leaves Jin-gu thinking that she’s been hallucinating.
Mu-young stands outside General Yeon’s home, sure now that his confirmation of his son’s death was all a lie.
And ha, two of the Geumhwadan members hiding in the nearby bushes spot her and usher her over. They’re waiting for Shi-woo to sneak back out of the house, and we see him leaving an unmistakable trail of wet bootprints behind as he makes his way out from his hiding spot.
Mu-young is taken to their secret hiding spot, and it’s cute to see that the Geumhwadan members are like family, since they’re all worrying over Shi-woo. Leader So leaves Mu-young with two of the members while he takes Boo-chi to go look for their missing member.
And ack, General Yeon and his minion are onto Shi-woo, since there’s no way to miss his footprints. Shi-woo cleverly hides from the minion by clinging to the underside of an overhanging roof, and he saves himself from discovery by catching a piece that crumbles off before it can make a sound.
They run into one of the household servants who explains the footprints by claiming that he spilled some water. I love that General Yeon errs on the side of caution by not believing the story at face value, and asks to see the servant’s boots (which are wet to corroborate his story) before he even picks through the bucket he was carrying.
Shi-woo’s grip on the roof starts to tremble, and just when he loses his grip, Leader So’s hand darts out from above to catch him. Just in time, too—Shi-woo’s fall would have definitely alerted General Yeon, but two men scrambling over ceramic roof tiles is as inaudible an activity as they come.
Now armed with the details of General Yeon’s rebellion plan, Leader So and his band of merry men (and one woman) tell the king everything. I love that Mu-young gets included in the conversation as they discuss ways to thwart the rebellion—they can attack Yeon but risk a civil war, they can send him to The Wall before the ceremony but risk revealing that they know of the plan…
Or the third option, which is played out like the initial rebellion plan was, is to preempt the attack and catch General Yeon’s men in the act so that his treason can be publicly revealed at the ceremony, giving the king all the reason he needs to execute Yeon.
Back in the present, the king gives this plan his approval. “We must kill the traitors at all costs.” Oh, it’s on.
But Mu-young is conflicted, because she knows that the Yeon family will be obliterated after the ceremony… and that means Choong, too. She can’t let that happen. (Technically, if he’s legally dead, couldn’t he just fly under the radar?)
She gives Jang a chance to come clean to her about Choong’s fake death, but her cousin keeps up with the lie: “I saw it with my own eyes. He died.” And then he pretty much tells her to learn to let go already.
But now she’s a girl on a mission, resolving that she must find Choong and send him far away before the ceremony.
General Yeon only has to say a few words to Choong about “changing the world” before his son realizes that his father plans to commit treason—a word which Yeon believes applies to the king and his supporters who talk about peace without realizing the threat they face from Tang.
But Choong argues that that’s not enough to justify killing the king and his daughter, and it’s interesting that his father actually encourages him to say his piece. So when he says that his father’s plan is cowardly, Yeon returns that the king is in the wrong, and that only by having a right king can they save Goguryeo and strengthen its power.
“There must be a different way,” Choong argues. “Do you know that the princess treated me, a low life, without any prejudice? She gave me the courage that even I, who once was a slave, could live doing something valuable. Moreover, even though she knew that she was betraying the king, she put her own life on the line to save me. How can I betray such a princess? As long as I breathe, it will never happen.”
He looks his father dead in the eye before he adds, “I will not forgive anyone who will try to harm the princess.” *slow clap*
General Yeon asks if that makes Choong willing to cut off his head then, but Choong doesn’t want to betray his father either—so he offers his life instead. If Yeon wants to go through with the plan, he’ll have to kill Choong first.
That earns a scoff from General Yeon, who then peels back the canvas from one of the ancestral portraits… to reveal the portrait of Choong’s mother hidden behind, the same one we saw Yeon staring at for hours.
Seeing that his father has kept her portrait comes as a huge shock to Choong, who flashes back to the hard life he and his mother shared as slaves and how she’d insisted to him that his father was a good man.
Since childhood, he lived thinking his father ruthlessly abandoned his mother, so that portrait must blow Choong’s mind. General Yeon: “The royal family tried to kill you. No, they did kill you. What I’m about to do will revive you.”
He explains that if the royal family were to remain unharmed, then Choong would have to live the rest of his life in hiding. Dude, don’t act like this is all for the bastard son you couldn’t have cared less about two episodes ago.
I have to give props to Choong, because he isn’t shaken into going starry-eyed for his father just because he’s kept his mother’s portrait: “I can live in hiding for the rest of my life. I can even live in imprisonment. I’ll live as if I were dead. However, no one can harm the princess.”
General Yeon slowly shakes his head before he tells Choong that he won’t be able to step foot outside until this is all over. And he means it, because he literally does lock Choong inside the room. Never mind that the door is made of paper.
In an effort to reach Choong, Mu-young goes to the inn and writes a message to him that he should leave the capital immediately. Aww, I love that this might become a message board between them.
Leader So tells the rest of the Geumhwadan gang that they’ll be entering the palace in disguise that night to be ready for the next day’s ceremony. Gambler Seol-young’s use of Middle Chinese (the Tang dialect of the time) upsets the Tang-hating Boo-chi, and a good-natured scuffle breaks out, which I suppose is meant to endear these people to us a bit more.
The important(?) thing to glean is that Young-hae and Seol-young are kind of an Item, and that Shi-woo helps to keep all of his older hyungs in line. That, and they’re all looking forward to bringing peace to Goguryeo by killing General Yeon.
While they enter the palace via a secret passageway, the king prepares Jang ahead of the upcoming ceremony/rebellion (though I don’t think that they know anything about the rebellion aspect of it). He can’t help but notice how removed and sullen Mu-young looks throughout the discussion, so he warns her to behave as usual so as not to arouse suspicion, because the palace would be in an uproar if they knew a rebellion was on the horizon.
More importantly, the king doesn’t want the prince to know. I know he kind of broke her heart when he killed her beloved, but I really do love that he treats Mu-young as his closest ally and confidante, almost like he’s grooming her to rule while the crown prince stays in the dark.
Mu-young checks in on her brother, who appreciates her concern even though he knows how she must be hurting. But he offers her a little anecdote to lift her spirits: “I think life and death is only a difference in thought. If you don’t appreciate his value even if you live together, he’s as good as dead. But if you’re always thinking of him even if you’re not with him, he’s alive forever.” Awww. Again I say: Best dongsaeng ever.
Mu-young can’t sleep that night since she keeps worrying over whether Choong saw her message. Likewise, Choong addresses his mother’s portrait that night with a character revelation on his part. Which is to say that even though her life’s wish was to see him join the Yeon family, a wish he also shared once, he won’t fulfill it.
“I can’t obey my father the way he is now,” Choong thinks aloud. “I must protect the princess. Please forgive this foolish son.”
Ceremony day. Jang prepares his mercenaries for the rebellion while General Yeon pays a visit to what has now become Choong’s prison, only the two just exchange a long moment while General Yeon retrieves his sword.
Strangely though, he chooses not to lock Choong in, not out of some sense of enlightenment like, Go, live your dreams! but more as a test. The door is open, but he makes sure to mention that a true member of the Yeon family wouldn’t reject the fate of the family. So if Choong wants to be a Yeon, he’ll do the right thing and commit treason with his dad, basically.
General Yeon’s supporters are all ready for the operation to take Goguryeo back. I love that there’s this dramatic pause as the camera hones in on Yeon just for him to say a line so practical that it’s almost funny given the direness of the situation: “Today is going to be a long day.”
While General Yeon’s small army heads for the ceremony as planned, Choong heads for the open door. Mu-young can only hope that Choong saw her message and skipped town already, which is the most foolish thought she’s had this whole series.
Choong reminds us of his martial arts skills as he beats up a few soldiers to find out which gate his father’s army plans to infiltrate the palace from.
We find his friend Jin-gu still sobbing over his friend’s death (and the unlikely possibility that he could still be alive), and Choong makes himself known by saying a simple “Thank you.” Jin-gu nearly jumps out of his skin when he sees his dead hyung standing in front of him before he sobs, “You were alive!” His boss goes through the same shock.
But the time for reunion is short lived, because Choong needs their help.
The crown prince decides to practice his horsemanship before the ceremony, causing the poison to hit his horse sooner than expected so that he falls off during the practice round. If General Yeon’s plan is already having problems even without outside interference… that’s probably a bad sign.
It’s bad for the king’s plan too since they’ll lose the element of surprise on General Yeon if there’s any indicator that they know of the planned rebellion. So the king’s order that the royal doctor do whatever it takes to get the crown prince to up and moving isn’t necessarily out of concern (though of course, that’s still his son) but also that Team King can’t let on that anything’s amiss.
It’s only when the king seems genuinely shocked about the crown prince’s horse dying that I begin to wonder exactly how much of the rebellion plan he doesn’t know.
Now with a dead horse, he suspects that there’s a spy in the palace and tasks the Geumhwadan gang to find the horse’s cause of death. Boo-chi agrees to do it by using his bizarre expertise with dead animals.
Leader So is worried that the situation with the crown prince will be leaked especially if there’s a spy among them, but the king resolves to go through with the ceremony so he can execute General Yeon as planned. They’ve stopped Yeon’s first group of assassins from entering, but that just means that Yeon’s plans will evolve. They must be ready.
Choong uses Jin-gu to find the secret passageway Mu-young used to sneak into the prison (and therefore through the palace gates). He knocks a few guards out before disguising himself as one to walk the palace grounds, his only thought being that he WILL protect the princess. D’aww, I love Choong.
Boo-chi investigates the crown prince’s horse to discover that it was poisoned with a rare herb from Tang which is medicinal when used in small quantities.
The only place where the herb can be found in abundance is the palace, and the only person capable of handling such large quantities would be the royal doctor… which means that the royal doctor is a spy. He’s arrested immediately.
General Yeon’s minion leads the army to the north gate, where they plan to scale the wall. Shi-woo, along with Young-hae and Seol-young, prepare for the attack on the other side.
Meanwhile, the general himself and his supporters enter through the front gate carrying their family banners/concealed swords.
The soldiers begin to scale the north gate, but to their surprise (and mine), a masked Choong leaps from above like a boss, rappelling off the wall to cut their ropes. They go sprawling to the ground, and Choong reveals his face to the head minion so that he’ll know he was responsible.
The other members of Geumhwadan just catch a glimpse of Masked Choong, but they’re unable to pursue him when Boo-chi arrives with the news of the royal doctor’s arrest.
They head to the king’s quarters next to tell him that General Yeon’s soldiers failed to scale the north gate because of a palace guard’s sudden intervention. Mu-young seems to instantly know that it’s Choong, and when the king asks how a palace guard could have known, Leader So replies, “It looks like there are more people who know about today’s plan.” Gee, thanks. Here’s a cookie.
With all the change-ups, Leader So advises the king to cancel the ceremony, which the king is loath to do when he has the traitors within his grasp. But now that neither group of assassins made it into the palace, they won’t have the evidence they need… Does this mean Choong’s interference ruined everything?
Their only hope is that General Yeon and his men will be caught with swords hidden in the flagpoles, but Leader So warns that they might’ve scrapped that plan now that things have gone awry.
The king starts to get frustrated when his hopes are dashed about the arrested royal doctor too, since there’s no guarantee that he’ll confess. So basically, Leader So claims they don’t have enough evidence—and that if the king attacks General Yeon without it, everything will backfire on him.
It’s sound advice, but the thought of letting all those would-be traitors go home like nothing ever happened, especially while the crown prince is still hurt, is unconscionable to the king. It doesn’t sound like he’s going to cancel.
General Yeon’s councilmen prepare to draw their flag-swords at the gate, since they know they’ll be found out anyway with the guards suddenly inspecting flagpoles.
They’re this close to revealing themselves when Jang arrives to announce that the ceremony has been delayed. So the king did cancel. But if he’d followed his gut and not Leader So’s more plentiful one, he could’ve caught the traitors! Aaughh, so close.
General Yeon’s supporters bitch and moan about the revolt’s failure, and his minion whispers only to him that Choong was responsible for the north gate failure.
It’s the first time Yeon visibly reacts to much of anything, something like disappointment mixed with a dose of I-should-have-known-better. After he recovers, he orders that his son be captured.
Mu-young gets the report that whoever saved the north gate snuck in through the secret passageway, stole a guard’s uniform, and is likely still within the palace walls because of the tightened security. She has to swallow her reaction, because she knows it must be Choong.
She looks around her room in the hope that he’s there, but finds no one.
Then Choong seems to just materialize behind her as his hand clamps over her mouth to stop her from screaming. “Princess,” he calls her.
Mu-young turns around to face him, their eyes meeting for the first time since his execution.
I’m liking this show’s trend toward a weekly arc format, since it gives us the payoff of setup, conflict, and resolution on a smaller scale while the overarching conflict continues to play out nicely. Last week, it was Choong’s arrest and the events leading up to his fake execution. This week, it was the rebellion during the crown prince’s ceremony. Both times, the problem was set up in the week’s first episode and more or less solved by the second, a format which lends itself to more excitement in the even-numbered episodes, with conflict resolutions that feel earned because we saw every step it took to get there.
So in that sense the show manages to feel very inclusive rather than exclusive, because it clearly wants the audience to follow along with the plot without resorting to pandering. And it’s a simple enough plot to follow (man wants to kill king, king wants to stay king, children are in love) with enough surprises here and there to remain engaging, so I like that this show manages to have a little something for the casual viewer and the minute-by-minute recapper. And it’s all so very, very pretty.
Choong’s character is going some really nice places, especially if you compare the Choong we see now to the Choong we met in Episode 1. We saw him as the bastard son who just wanted a father, and what still kind of floors me about him is that he actually CHANGED after that initial rejection from his father. Seriously, let that actually set in for a second. A character who was presented to us as a wannabe daddy’s boy for his whole life faced his father’s rejection, internalized it, learned from it, and then manifested it into real-life, bonafide change. Mind = blown.
Here’s why that matters: The Choong who was willing to kill a man just to see his father would have likely jumped at any opportunity to gain acceptance from said father—and if only dad had given him then even one of the options he’s offering now, things might’ve been different. But General Yeon shut him down so completely (“There is no place for you in this house”) that Choong had to either mentally move forward or waste away pining, which is where Mu-young’s influence really comes into play. When Daddy wasn’t there, she gave Choong purpose again. How cool is that?
General Yeon’s offerings/subtle threats this episode were a huge test for Choong, and he passed each one with flying colors and unwavering resolve. The added scene of him addressing the memory of his mother was perfectly done, because it showed that he was very aware of his options but steadfast in his beliefs. He’s a unique hero in that he’s choosing to be a slave to no one—not even his parents—and that when he loves, he loves completely. No bickering, no wallowing in self-denial, no cold-shouldering. Just love.