Our princess learns that being a boy among men is tough work, especially when our hero makes it his mission to find out her true identity—while his pesky half-brother tries to play politics like he isn’t mildly psychotic. It’s nice to see that Choong has retained that core we came to love even with his turn toward the dark side, because the years haven’t changed his single-mindedness when it comes to his one true cross-dressing love. And you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way.
EPISODE 12 RECAP
Choong lowers the sword he’d been holding at Mu-young’s neck once his younger half-brother, Nam-saeng, arrives on scene to defend her (his) identity as his friend.
A long silence passes as Choong and Mu-young look straight at each other. Then Choong, still suspicious, checks her credentials as a son of a lord against a native from Daeja, the town she supposedly hails from—and the man claims that while he only knows her “father’s” eldest son, Mu-young does resemble him.
Choong seems devastated when her story checks out, while Nam-saeng asks Mu-young whether she knows his brother. She shakes her head, claiming it was all a misunderstanding.
When Mu-young updates Boo-chi later, he’s frightened for her now that she’ll be in the midst of two sons of General Yeon. Mu-young: “If necessary, I must walk not only into the tiger’s den, but into hell as well.”
She’s not concerned about getting caught, since infiltrating the intelligence agency means more to her right now. But she knows her time is short because Choong is bound to send someone to Daeja to verify her fake background.
And go figure, Choong does exactly that. (She knows him too well.) As he does so he thinks to himself, “What am I thinking? It just can’t be… The princess is dead.” Go with your gut, Choong!
He spots Mu-young in the palace dressed in her agency uniform and just stares at her, but she forces a cordial smile and walks right past him. His eyes follow her. He so knows. How could he not?
Nam-saeng, as head of the intelligence agency, presides over a meeting on how to deal with a rebellious group of aristocrats. He asks Choong what he would do if he were chief, but Choong barely gets a suggestion out before Nam-saeng cuts in that his plan would fail. I love Choong’s unhappy/annoyed face.
Instead, Nam-saeng plans to find out where the group will be meeting so that he can kill them all at once.
He gathers his agents, including Mu-young, to prepare for the attack while Choong infiltrates the meeting under a fake name. (Worst secret group ever.) This leaves the gates open for the agency members to swoop in and start massacring everyone inside.
Mu-young doesn’t take part in the killing, and neither does Nam-saeng. He just stands next to her and watches the bodies pile up like it’s just a normal work day.
Mu-young happens to see a young girl hiding and signals for her to keep silent so that she won’t be found. It doesn’t work, and the girl is dragged away by men with swords to presumably be killed. One of her fellow agents warns her that if she ever takes pity on the enemy again, she’ll end up like that little girl.
Choong questions one of the captives with a sword to his neck, but Nam-saeng clucks his tongue him, all, Oh hyung-nim, you’ll never find out THAT way. Then with a smile on his face, he mercilessly cuts down the captive next to him. Well then.
With wide eyes and a hint of psychosis, Nam-saeng happily asks the surviving captor to give up the name of their leader. When he stays silent, Nam-saeng is like, “Okay then!” and cuts down another captive. He seems to be enjoying it, too.
When he gets ready to cut down another, the first captive finally gives up their leader. Nam-saeng casually orders that the one who talked be put in their agency’s prison and that all the rest be killed.
Choong instead orders that all of them be taken to prison to spare their lives, and Nam-saeng does this slow, crazy-eyed turn toward him that makes me think someone should take that sword out of his hands. But he agrees to Choong’s order through clenched teeth and a forced smile.
On the way there, Mu-young finds out that the agency has a secret underground prison just for rebels. Good intel to know.
Nam-saeng’s work in rooting out the rebel group is touted at the next council meeting by Yeon’s supporters, but there’s one voice of dissent—a councilman named SUN DO-HAE (whose father was the late king’s advisor) worries that they’re punishing people as rebels when they might only want reform.
When one of Yeon’s supporters barks that reform is just another word for rebellion, the sane councilman replies: “If all who proclaim the need for reform are rebels, then half of Goguryeo’s subjects would be traitors.”
Jang scoffs at General Yeon’s speech about Goguryeo needing cooperation instead of reform, and stews over it later as he drinks with his servants. He has a diatribe about how to properly hunt a tiger by being patient and clever, when we know that by “tiger” he means “General Yeon.”
To prove his point, he shoots an arrow through a painting of a tiger that was just finished for him.
In order to properly show that Mo-seol is too into herself to even be present for a conversation, we find her filing her femme fatalons as she updates General Yeon on her secret spy progress.
(For anyone who’s seen Queen Seondeok, the names she cites will sound familiar. Basically, the show seems to be positing that her spy work is/will be a contributing factor in causing unrest in their neighboring enemy Silla, by turning Bidam against Queen Seondeok. And while that did happen in history, making it seem as if Mo-seol was even a contributing factor is funny in a what-are-you-people-smoking sort of way.)
Either way, General Yeon praises her for her work as a sagan, an type of elite spy who risks their life in the line of duty.
She then prances out to greet her father, General Do-soo, who wonders if she behaved herself during her report. She giggles that of course she was nothing but proper. Bleh. I wonder if this actress ever gets tired of playing this same role in every drama.
Mu-young has to sneak her missives to Geumhwadan through a bamboogram, which she tosses into the river without anyone seeing. Choong is eagerly waiting for the messenger he sent to Daeja, and commands that a close eye be kept on Mu-young until they validate her story.
With her fancy new job comes a dorm room, and Mu-young’s roomie has no problem sleeping shirtless while she lies down in every layer of clothing she owns.
He’s the one Choong asked to keep an eye on her, and before he can ask her why Choong has taken a special interest in her, she asks him to describe what kind of man Choong is.
Her roomie tells of Choong’s underdog story, going from a street performer to who he is now thanks to his father. He starts to add that that’s only the story people hear when they don’t know him, but he refrains from telling her more, and she doesn’t push him.
Aww, sad: It’s both Jang and Nam-saeng’s birthday, but everyone is at Nam-saeng’s party knowing that Jang has no one to celebrate with.
Nam-saeng uses the opportunity of gathered councilmen to talk about a coming envoy from Tang to initiate peace talks. None of the councilmen want peace, but Nam-saeng claims to represent his father when he says that General Yeon wants to maintain peace with Tang for the time being.
He’s very adamant that they decide on the issue now rather than in a formal council meeting, and the new chief minister looks uneasy, since he knows Nam-saeng is working behind his father’s back.
Jang only has his servants to attend his birthday party, and he laughs wildly at the sheer ridiculousness of his situation. I’m actually starting to feel bad for him. His life sucks.
Mu-young’s roomie tells her that she needs to go through the recruitment process of having the king bestow a special password onto her, which she fidgets about for obvious reasons: Jang could recognize her.
But her roomie thinks she’s just afraid of Jang’s notorious temper, which he completely understands—he was almost castrated when he tried to stop the king from streaking once. (If that’s not supposed to be funny, it should be.)
Jang is wasted drunk later that night, so I’d blame the booze for his instant reaction to run and hug General Yeon when he appears. Yeon’s uncomfortable face is priceless.
By this point we should just assume that every line Jang utters is ironic and/or sarcastic, so when General Yeon asks why he’s alone on his birthday, Jang replies: “In this enormous palace, I am always alone. Our Dae Manginji is taking good care of everything, so what else can I do but play?”
General Yeon laughs with him for a bit in a stilted way before he stops suddenly, and with all seriousness reminds the mad king, “You are the king of Goguryeo.”
The king of Goguryeo is too busy laughing hysterically, so when General Yeon tells him that they’ll be exchanging envoys with Tang, all Jang says is that General Yeon is so great, they don’t even need councilmen or assemblies or a law for him to answer to! He can just do everything!
Only after General Yeon leaves does Jang lose the jokey facade to rage at his own powerlessness.
Mu-young is headed for the throne room just as General Yeon is leaving it, and she quickly stands aside and bows her head to avoid his recognition. Lucky for her, General Yeon doesn’t make eye contact with anyone ever.
She enters the room to find Jang still screaming and throwing furniture. This is the first time she’s seen her cousin since the coup, but she keeps her emotions in check. (Plus, there’s no way that the family member she grew up with could possibly see through her perfect disguise.)
And maybe he would if he were sober, but Jang just goes ahead and gives her the secret rotating password, and it’s quite fitting and self-aware that the password he made up (gubiwoon) means a sad or unfortunate fate.
At the next council meeting, the chief minister is fired because of intel Nam-saeng gathered from the rebels he caught. Jang is his usual mad self, and comments that now he and the ex-chief minister will share something in common—they’ll both have nothing to do! Okay, I get that Jang is crazy, but his constant laughing is driving me crazy.
Now that the chief minister seat is once again open, General Yeon’s two remaining supporters wonder which one of them will be chosen for it. They have no pity for the ex-chief minister, even though it seems like he was framed.
Ah, but the framing might’ve been Jang’s doing—he wanted to leave the seat open so he could appoint the one sane councilman and his only ally, Sun Do-hae, to the position.
Nam-saeng asks his father who he has in mind for the position and actually suggests his own name. Ha. What a joke.
General Yeon isn’t keen on the idea, even though Nam-saeng reminds him that he’s the oldest legitimate son, and thus his father should be preparing him for succession. “You are my legitimate son,” his father says, “But don’t forget that Choong is the eldest son.”
That wipes the smile clean of Nam-saeng’s face. He’s pissed.
He leaves when Choong enters, but sticks around to eavesdrop outside while his father asks his half-brother if he’s finally acquired the power he always wanted as of three years ago.
Then General Yeon gives him a list of the men imprisoned by the intelligence agency and ten days to find someone whose support he can acquire for more power. Nam-saeng overhears this and plans to outdo his brother, only I can’t figure out what support can be gained from a prison meant for rebels… unless General Yeon is suggesting that they overthrow Jang.
Cut to: The agency prison, where Leader So has been locked up for the past three years. Then to Jang, as he waits to hear an answer on the chief minister position from Sun Do-hae.
Back at the agency, Nam-saeng acts all bumbling as he asks Mu-young whether she finds him pitiable like everyone else. She’s a bit confused—his father is General Yeon, so why would he be pitiful?
“That’s why I’m saying I’m pitiful,” Nam-saeng sighs. “Since my father has the whole world, there’s nothing left for me. What I desire already belongs to him.” Then he asks, “What kind of man is your father?” Eek. Loaded question.
Mu-young: “He was a man of ideals. He loved flowers more than swords.” When Nam-saeng guesses that her father passed away, she corrects him—her father was killed by a cruel man’s sword, and now she must take revenge on that man. Nam-saeng has no idea she’s talking about his father.
The agency has a super awkward and quiet dinner later, and Nam-saeng chooses that time to ask his half-brother what he and Daddy Dearest talked about. He gets an angry facial tic when Choong shrugs it off as nothing, because he compiled the list of names their father handed to Choong.
Mu-young’s roomie has had a bit too much to drink and sings Choong’s praises, causing Nam-saeng to wonder aloud if he snatched the director position away from Choong… but then he rethinks it: “Ah! Since you took my place as eldest son, does that mean we’re even?”
But at least Choong sticks up for himself against Nam-saeng’s constant wheedling by warning him that he can take away his little half-brother’s directorial position, too.
Mo-seol tries to save the situation, but Nam-saeng is intent on making this as awkward as possible—so when Mu-young’s drunk roomie accidentally party-fouls on Choong’s clothes, Nam-saeng starts to beat him just because.
Choong stops him by pointing out the obvious, like how this is supposed to be a welcome party for the new recruits. Mo-seol tries to liven the mood by bringing up the agency tradition of having a friendly competition where the loser pays for drinks.
And of course, Nam-saeng has to take it to the next level by challenging his brother to a friendly round of mortal combat. Loser dies and/or pays for drinks, whichever comes first.
The sword fight doesn’t last long, since Choong takes the smaller and feebler Nam-saeng to school without even breaking a sweat.
Choong leaves the party, but we soon find that Mu-young isn’t in attendance either—she’s snooping through the agency headquarters for the list of rebel names while everyone’s gone.
She flips through it once she finds it, and recognizes Leader So’s portrait inside. But Choong’s footsteps outside cause her to hide… really, really poorly.
Choong finds her without trying and throws her down on the table, using his body weight to pin her down. OMO. Omo omo omo.
“Who are you? What were you doing here?” he asks, not letting up for a second. And let me tell you something, it’s just the bee’s knees of scenes. I can’t even care that he still doesn’t recognize her when he’s two inches from her face.
Mu-young uses the excuse that she left her name block, but Choong doesn’t seem to be buying it. They’re interrupted when Mo-seol comes in, but Choong just stays on top of Mu-young, causing Mo-seol to wonder if she should feel angry that there is a very homoerotic scene happening in front of her. Haha. Finally, a bit of comedy.
Choong warns Mu-young against sneaking around again, but she takes the first opportunity she can while her roomie is sleeping later that night to sneak out to the agency prison, which looks curiously like the regular prison but details, details.
Mu-young makes it to Leader So’s cell and reveals herself, causing him to go into shock as he ekes out, “Prin…cess…”
Unfortunately for her, Choong is still as sharp as ever and arrives at the prison, having guessed that it would be her next stop after flipping to Leader So’s portrait in the list.
Their reunion is interrupted by Choong stomping through the hallway in what sounds like cement shoes, giving Mu-young at least an hour’s notice to hide (within eavesdropping distance) before he arrives.
Maybe he wasn’t searching for Mu-young at all, since he’s come to the prison to see if Leader So might finally give in—three years should have been long enough for him to lose his guilty conscience over being unable to protect the royal family, right?
Leader So asks if three years was long enough for Choong to clear his guilty conscience concerning the princess, and Choong freezes for a second before stiltedly responding, “Princess? I don’t have the luxury to hold onto the past. I don’t even remember her face anymore.”
It seems like a lie, but judging by the fact that Choong hasn’t caught onto Mu-young’s not-a-disguise yet… maybe he’s telling something conveniently like the truth.
Choong gives Leader So his proposition to come to the dark side, and gives him ten days to make up his mind, or be executed. Leader So: “If I change my mind, what can you do for me?”
Meanwhile, Mu-young’s bamboogram makes it down the river to Boo-chi to tell him that Leader So is actually alive.
Mu-young sneaks back into her dorm that night, unaware that her roomie is awake and aware that she’s been sneaking out.
Sometime later, Jang sees Mu-young training with her fellow recruits, but doesn’t seem to recognize her.
But when Choong enters, he asks, “How did it feel back then, when you died by hanging and came back to life? If the princess came back to life like you, what would you do? I always wanted to find that out. If that happens, would you be on the princess’ side again? What do you think? Would you be the son who willingly betrays his father again?” Did he recognize her?!
“The princess is dead,” Choong reminds him. “I have no reason to betray a living person for a dead one.”
Mu-young can’t help but notice Jang staring straight at her. He must know.
Jang takes some time to himself to think, without all of the crazy he’s been subjecting us to lately. I’m pretty sure he’s connected the dots that Mu-young is a terrible cross-dresser.
Mu-young finds herself called to the throne room, which you’d think she’d want to avoid at any cost, but alas. She stares at the empty throne with tears in her eyes as she remembers her father during the good times as well as when he died. (You know who else is in that flashback that I miss? Shi-woo. Did he secretly die off-screen?)
At the same time, Choong gets a return message from Daeja. Mu-young’s roomie stutters that her cover story is a lie…
…While Jang comes up to her in the throne room. “It’s been a long time, Princess So-hee.”
Thank goodness that’s out in the open. I was starting to worry that this whole cross-dressing plot was going to wear out its (un)welcome, but at least it was only a week’s worth of episodes if we look at the glass half full. If you look at the glass half empty, her boyish adventure feels like an extraneous side plot if it took only a week to play out—especially when it makes negative sense (not even zero sense, she actually sucked sense out of the show) that Mu-young would be the best and only choice to infiltrate the intelligence agency.
Here are just a few reasons why the cross-dressing plot didn’t and couldn’t have worked: (1) She’s a girl. (2) She’d have to convincingly disguise herself as a boy. (3) She’d have to do that in the only place in the world where everyone knew her previously—and very well—as a girl. (4) She’d have to hope that everyone forgot what she looked like in just three years. (5) She’d have to avoid detection by those most likely to recognize her, i.e. her cousin or Choong. (6) She didn’t accomplish 2-5.
On one hand, I understand that maybe the show just wanted to get Mu-young back in on the action, and that they kind of shot themselves in the foot by separating her so spectacularly from every other interesting character. And I was glad to see her at least interacting with the rest of the cast. I have a feeling that the members of Geumhwadan were supposed to be more interesting and/or dynamic, but since that didn’t really pan out, it would have been story suicide to have her stuck with that group plotting revenge for the second half of the show.
On the other hand, that’s a grave this show dug for itself and one that it couldn’t logically find a way out of, hence the inherent absurdity of the latest plot developments. Choong actually sold his side of things pretty well, in that he really did seem to think that she was the princess, but wanted cold hard facts to back his theory up. And for his part, I’m glad Jang finally got something to do that didn’t involve being sarcastic or losing his mind, even though his reasoning for going mad does make sense—it just wasn’t a lot of fun to sit through two episodes of hysterical church giggles and bitter ranting, even if he did have the saddest birthday ever.
Maybe it’s because we weren’t really able to peek into Mu-young’s head for these past two episodes that she seemed extra passive, which is a shame when her character has moved me so much in the past. I expected at least a little surprise when she realized that she’d have to meet Jang face to face, but there was just a tiny murmur of disagreement, when she should have been afraid that her entire scheme would end with just one conversation. The only reason I can see for her to be so fearless as to lock eyes with people she previously knew is because she thought her disguise was 100% foolproof. That, or you remove the “proof” from that word and get what this show must take its audience for.
That being said, I don’t mind some of the other nonsensical things, like Nam-saeng’s sudden appearance—his character does feel shoehorned in, but he’s an interesting addition as a pretty, merciless psychopath who happens to suck at fighting. I’m glad they didn’t make him The Ultimate Warrior, in the way that all thin boys have magical muscles that can overpower even the strongest opponent. It seemed so fitting that Choong would win in a fight against him without even trying, enough to make Nam-saeng even a little pitiable. In that sense, he and Mu-young have a lot in common—they both severely overestimate their abilities and get taken to task for it. A little vulnerability goes a long way sometimes.
- Sword and Flower: Episode 11
- Sword and Flower: Episode 10
- Sword and Flower: Episode 9
- Sword and Flower: Episode 8
- Sword and Flower: Episode 7
- Sword and Flower: Episode 6
- Sword and Flower: Episode 5
- Sword and Flower: Episode 4
- Sword and Flower: Episode 3
- Sword and Flower: Episode 2
- Sword and Flower: Episode 1