Our princess forges some unlikely alliances in her quest for revenge while our hero is forced to do some soul-searching when it comes to his residual feelings for her, which unsurprisingly spring to the surface when he’s faced with her cross-dressing doppelgänger. Yes, we’re still exploring that plot to the fullest, but I think Sword and I might differ over our definitions of “explore” and “fullest.”
And also “disguise.”
EPISODE 13 RECAP
Oh, those pesky cliffhangers. It seemed like Choong and Jang had discovered Mu-young’s true identity at the same time, but it turns out that while Choong’s spy found out that Mu-young wasn’t the son of a constable, she’s soon to be adopted as his son, which means her story isn’t a total lie.
Somehow Geumhwadan was able to make it so that the constable would lie on their behalf and mislead anyone digging into Mu-young’s fabricated past. Choong is obviously troubled that this confirms she’s a dude.
However, there’s no fooling Jang as he tells Mu-young that no matter her disguise, he could recognize her easily considering the fact that they grew up together. (Finally!) Then he asks, “Did you come here to kill me?”
Jang’s one guard holds a sword to Mu-young’s neck as Jang ascends the throne, causing her to dryly remark, “The throne really suits you. You betrayed my father, my brother, and me to become a puppet king?”
Jang replies that General Yeon would’ve deposed her father if he hadn’t, which… isn’t really a great argument, but okay. Mu-young notes that he must be feeling guilty if he’s making excuses, to which he lies that he feels no such thing.
So then she does the smart thing by threatening to kill him with a sword at her throat, mostly because she knows he won’t kill her: “If you kill me, you will lost your opportunity to defeat General Yeon.” Ah, so she’s offering a partnership.
And speak of the devil, General Yeon arrives. Mu-young merely bows her head to avoid notice, and her attempt to sneak out unnoticed is foiled by Jang who commands that she stay to hear the night password.
He’s meaning to toy with Mu-young and put her on edge as he tells General Yeon that he had a dream that the princess wanted to take revenge on him and General Yeon.
He gives Mu-young a vengeance-y password and sends her on her way, while General Yeon scoffs at the thought that the dead princess would take revenge on them. “It was very vivid,” Jang tells him. “I thought the princess had come back to life.”
General Yeon almost laughs—even if she were alive, what could a mere girl do? This incites Mu-young’s anger as she thinks to herself that she’ll make them pay for the crimes they’ve committed against Goguryeo.
She runs into Choong outside the throne room. He’s got a few guards and a bound Leader So in tow, and the look Choong gives her is almost like he’s checking for a reaction on her part. (Unsurprisingly, there is none.)
He kicks Leader So down in front of her and cuts his bindings, telling him that if he makes it through the palace gate, he’ll be free. Of course, he’s also given Mu-young a bow and arrows in order to shoot Leader So down before he can get there.
When Mu-young utters a word of complaint, Choong draws a sword against her—he knows she’s not the constable’s son, so why did she lie to him? She uses her bullshit story that she was adopted as his son, so it’s not a total lie…
Choong commands Leader So to run for his life, and orders Mu-young to shoot him down. Eek, he’s so angry. I think he knows her cover is a lie, and he’s going to prove it one way or the other.
Leader So sends a reassuring smile Mu-young’s way before he does as told and makes a run for freedom. Mu-young keeps her emotions in check as she draws an arrow to fire, and Choong looks more confused than anything—he expected her to disobey. He so set up this trap to see if she’s the princess.
As Mu-young’s arrow flies, something else comes out of nowhere to hit Leader So in his back. He crumples as Mu-young’s arrow flies past, clearly intending to miss its target.
They pull out all the stops for his running scene, including Sad Violin and slow-motion shots, which would make you think this is his death scene—so it’s a little funny that Leader So sits up, completely fine. (Though I don’t think it was intended to be funny.)
Our two lovebirds look around for the source of the flying object, and a training instructor appears out of the shadows (teddy bear ajusshi Lee Won-jong! Yay!) to claim responsibility for the non-lethal blow, explaining that traitors shouldn’t die while running—they should be beheaded.
Choong and Mu-young seem to know him well as their teacher, even if this is our first time seeing him. When Bear Teacher orders Mu-young to follow him, she bows to Choong and formally says that she won’t disappoint him.
Only after she’s gone does he grit through clenched teeth, “Disappoint me? Do you even know why I’m disappointed?” Apparently not, Choong. You should maybe just tell her.
Mu-young gripes about Choong’s temper with Bear Teacher, and this is the first time I’ve heard her even try to lower her voice to sound manlier. Bear Teacher puts a stop to her insubordination before he mentions that while she joined the intelligence agency out of ambition, Choong joined to become powerful.
She’s a bit confused by this, since she knows Choong is one of the best swordsmen around. At least she seems curious when she asks why Choong wanted power, and the camera cuts to him as Bear Teacher says, “So he wouldn’t lose his loved ones ever again.”
Choong broods alone with Mu-young’s hairpin, remembering when she gave it to him as well as the moment it was returned to him after her “death.” He thinks to himself that she can’t be the princess if she shot the arrow at Leader So (which means it was a test), and that he’s disappointed in himself for even thinking she was alive.
“The princess is dead,” he reminds himself. “I killed her.”
Then he tosses her hairpin away as if he’s finally letting go.
Mu-young gets one second alone with Leader So before he’s dragged off by guards, and uses it to tell him that she’ll get him out somehow. He’d rather she didn’t because of the danger she’s in, and after he’s gone she explains why she’s so determined—she won’t lose people close to her again. (Another commonality with Choong.)
Nam-saeng is left to watch over the new recruits while his brother is off on his father’s ten day mission to find useful people out of the list of traitors, and he can’t help but watch Mu-young as she trains.
The member who saw her try to save the child of a traitor tells Nam-saeng that she won’t make a good agent, and Nam-saeng agrees—she’s meant to become more. Specifically, he wants her as his right-hand man and forces the member to take Mu-young with him for their upcoming mission.
Mu-young’s roomie—who must be shown shirtless at least once per scene—tells her about their upcoming mission to catch weapon smugglers in the city while she ducks behind the bed to change while his back is turned, such a master of disguise is she.
She and two other members head to a gibang for their covert meeting, but the gisaeng serving them takes a special interest in the pretty Mu-young. Mu-young’s expression changes when the gisaeng squeezes her shoulder, and she abruptly announces that she needs to go to the bathroom. The men find this a bit curious since neither of them have seen her bottom half.
The cooks and servants are on Mu-young’s side, and they help to cover her tracks as she sneaks into a nearby shed where the umbrella maker and Boo-chi are waiting. His daughter is there too, and it’s cute that she calls Mu-young “Princess Unni.”
It’s her only chance to rendezvous with them, but they don’t share any new information. Boo-chi just worries over the fact that Jang recognized her, and the umbrella maker explains that the constable of Daeja (her “adoptive dad”) lied to Choong because his allegiance is with Geumhwadan.
Mu-young has time to crack one lame joke when she gets back to her group before they see the smuggler they’ve been after. He flees when he spots them, causing Mu-young and the gang to chase him through the market, and she’s the one to eventually catch him.
The smuggler is taken to Nam-saeng, who’s so casual about love-tapping the smuggler (sorry, is he supposed to be hitting him?) that he asks Mu-young to go drinking with him later. Between blows.
He keeps going until he somehow cuts his hand, causing him to blame it on the smuggler and start beating him in earnest. Everyone else just watches until Choong arrives, and for the moment stops Nam-saeng’s beating as he looks the smuggler in the eyes and asks him if he has a family or a lover.
It seems like Choong is going to be the good cop to Nam-saeng’s psycho cop, but he proves to be the baddest of them all when he tells the smuggler that he won’t kill him for not talking—he’ll find his parents, his children, and anyone else he holds dear and kill them in front of him.
And if he can’t find them, he’ll post a likeness of the smuggler and kill anyone who even seems to recognize him. “They will die just for knowing you.” Well then.
Later, Mu-young reports to Choong that the smuggler confessed everything under torture except who he sold the weapons to. Choong is ready to torture him until he reveals it until Mu-young tells him that the smuggler died of unknown causes.
Choong is frustrated by this new turn, and orders Mu-young to perform the interrogations from now on. “Shall I capture his family and kill them in front of him?” she throws Choong’s earlier threats back at him, wondering if he would have gone through with his promise.
“I would have if it was necessary,” he replies, though he doesn’t look so sure. He then claims that anything he does is for the people (whatever helps him sleep at night), and when Mu-young calls him out on the irony of killing people for the people, Choong gives her the old omelette/breaking eggs excuse.
A doctor is called in to ascertain how the smuggler died, and he seems overly-nervous as he tells Mo-seol that he died of an illness he already had. She finds this a little odd but doesn’t press further, all while Leader So listens from his prison cell.
The smuggler was apparently working for Geumhwadan, as Boo-chi and the umbrella maker mourn his passing even though they know it was his decision to end his life. It’s sad, but it’s all for the good of Goguryeo.
Mu-young’s roomie is under Choong’s orders to spy on her, but he has nothing unusual to report other than the fact that Nam-saeng has taken a liking to her. Choong just orders him to keep at it.
Choong challenges Bear Teacher to a friendly sparring contest, and the two seem evenly matched. Nam-saeng watches the tail end of it unhappily, and then the scene ends. (That’s really it.)
Meanwhile, Mo-seol teaches the new recruits how female spies in their neighboring countries send messages with their makeup (i.e. a rounded eyebrow means things are going smoothly, red lips mean things are going badly), and uses Mu-young’s face as a canvas.
She has a brief moment after she applies Mu-young’s lipstick where she seems to realize that Mu-young looks too good, and everyone else notices how much Mu-young looks like a girl as well, causing her to self-consciously rub it off her face.
Choong watches the demonstration with a pained expression, clearly conflicted as to whether the princess’ doppelgänger is the princess when he/she looks just like her in drag.
He heads out to brood and finds the hairpin he threw out as images of Mu-young in makeup flash through his mind. He keeps the hairpin now that his hope has been restored.
Jang decides to team up with Mu-young to get rid of their common enemy, General Yeon, before they address the problems between them.
Her plan is to cause strife among Yeon’s supporters in order to divide them, with their opportunity in front of them now that the chief minister Yeon put in place has been removed. She also plans to use Nam-saeng’s greed in their favor.
The Yeon family (plus Mo-seol) plays a game of baduk, where Nam-saeng uses the opportunity to ask his father about the chief minister position. When asked what he thinks, he suggests Mo-seol’s father.
It must be game night, since we cut to her father idling away the time gambling with his fellow councilmen. We hear Mo-seol describe how her father is unfit for the position in voiceover, his personality traits represented in how he loses the game.
Nam-saeng then asks about General Yang, the buzzkill who’d rather read than gamble, but he’s too hard to read or control. It comes down to Sun Do-hae, Jang’s favorite, or the last of Yeon’s three stooges.
I wonder if General Yeon wants Choong to become chief minister, since he cuts into the conversation to ask if his son is using his ten days well. Choong claims he found no one from the list, since he doesn’t want to use Leader So—if he held out for three years in prison, he can’t trust or use him.
Nam-saeng brings up the fact that Choong was able to change his mind after defying their father (huh, he almost speaks as though he was there), so Leader So could feasibly do the same.
But Choong points out that his father doesn’t trust him for that very reason, and that’s why he can’t get rid of him either. While the boys talk, their father schools them in baduk and adds, “I don’t trust anyone. If you want to follow in my footsteps, don’t try to gain my trust. Overcome me instead.” Oh, General Yeon. This show needs more of you.
Nam-saeng pays a visit to Mo-seol’s father, who offers him a modest tribute/bribe, which Nam-saeng knows is disproportionate to the wealth he’s amassed secretly trading weapons with their enemies.
General Do-soo starts quaking in his boots when Nam-saeng leans in menacingly to threaten to go to his father with news of his underhanded dealings. In that way he’s able to blackmail the general into helping his cause at the next council meeting.
Meanwhile, Jang finds his favorite councilman, Sun Do-hae, and offers him the position of chief minister. Even as a puppet king, he claims he has enough power to appoint him—and if he doesn’t, he’ll get help from someone who does.
When the subject of chief minister is brought up at the council meeting, General Do-soo does as Nam-saeng asked and nominates him for the position. (Hahaha. C’mon.) A majority of the other ministers follow suit and second the motion.
This actually takes General Yeon by surprise, and not in the good way. He suggests that they take more time to think about it, and in an effort to gain his favor, Yeon’s other stooge suggests that they tear down an existing monument to the late king and erect a monument commemorating Yeon’s achievements.
Now it’s Jang’s turn to be surprised, since it makes sense that they’d erect a monument to Yeon instead of him even though it still stings. But he goes along with it in his usual enthusiastically sarcastic way, and even suggests that they throw a big feast the day the monument is completed.
News of the monument and feast reaches Geumhwadan, which is sporting two new members who are introduced like every other new character in this show, in that they aren’t. Why so many new characters when you’re not even using the old ones?
So, one is the gisaeng who gave Mu-young the secret shoulder squeeze—she’s DAL-KI (AOA’s Hyeonjeong). The other go-getter is CHI-WOON (Kwak Jung-wook). Turns out that it’s hard to give a proper introduction when a character gets one line of generic dialogue and their name spelled in a chyron.
Dal-ki, Chi-woon, and Boo-chi watch from the distance as Yeon’s monument is erected, and as Yeon’s supporter kills men whom he deems aren’t working hard enough. Understandably, this makes them angry.
And later that night, Dal-ki gains a more personal audience with Yeon’s supporter as a gisaeng.
It’s Monument Ceremony Day, and Nam-saeng undermines Choong’s position as chief of security by taking over his spot so that he’ll control the intelligence agency members for the day.
He sends Choong off on a fool’s errand while appointing Mu-young and another member to General Yeon’s personal security detail. I doubt she was expecting that.
We get a view of the covered monument, and a flashback to the previous night (or nights) reveals a tunnel leading straight to it. Then it’s back to the ceremony.
Choong notices a suspiciously enormous pile of dirt and inspects it, while a flashback shows us that the pile was created when Geumhwadan dug the tunnel leading to the monument.
The tunnel entrance has since been disguised, but Choong knows something’s strange and returns to direct the agency members accordingly. Nam-saeng throws a hissy fit over Choong’s disobedience, but is unable to stop his brother from assuming command in the end.
Jang & Co. are seated on the viewing platform, and Jang sees an opportunity to wheedle Mu-young by asking General Yeon if he feels better now that he’s replaced the late king’s monument with one of his own.
General Yeon seemingly chooses Mu-young at random to ask why she thinks the late king was deposed, because that’s so very in-character of him to pay attention to nobodies and their opinions.
She obstructs his view of her face with her spear before she answers that she doesn’t know, so Yeon answers for her: “It was because he lacked decisiveness.”
Jang: “Had he been decisive, you wouldn’t be Dae Mangniji right now.” Ha! Nice burn.
Choong wanders among the crowd gathered at the monument site to search for anyone acting suspicious. He knows that pile of dirt wasn’t just for decoration.
When it’s time for the ceremony to start, the supporter behind it all is nowhere to be found, so it’s the former chief minister who reads the official speech singing General Yeon’s praises.
The covering is pulled from the monument… only to reveal the corpse of the supporter who had it built tied to it along with a painting of the bamboo flower that’s become Geumhwadan’s symbol.
Everyone reels in shock while Mu-young hides a tiny, satisfied smile. Jang reads the message on the corpse: “Yeon Gaesomun murdered the king.”
While this is going on, the Geumhwadan members pull a hidden rope to topple the monument. Panic ensues.
I was really hoping that we were over the cross-dressing hurdle, because it’s just as ridiculous now as it was when it was introduced and so much of nothing has come out of it. All we get from Choong are his pancake moments of “It’s her!” “Boo, it’s not her.” “It IS her!” “Aww, it’s not.” “But it IS!” And then he does what about it? Right, nothing. He does nothing about it.
To be fair, it’s not like he’s the only one doing nothing, since he can at least take credit for trying even if he’s the easiest person to dissuade. But Mu-young is just moving from scene to scene without purpose—things happen around her, but little is happening either to her or because of her. Meanwhile, we drop in on her life seemingly at random, and in the interim we miss whole chunks of time where she’s met, interacted with, and gotten to know half the people she’s suddenly acquainted with.
I can see bypassing a few new character introductions in a fast-paced plot, but considering the current pace and how a side character’s appearance must be dependent on whether their name was drawn from a hat that week, I’m keeping any newly-introduced characters at arm’s length until the show proves otherwise.
The problem isn’t even so much that there are new side characters filling airtime, but more so because I can’t figure out a timeline with everyone’s non-introductions (we think we see Mu-young from day to day, but wait! She has friends we never knew and a life we haven’t seen!), and because of that same reason we’re being put at arm’s length by the show. Following Mu-young’s story now feels more like a privilege we aren’t always granted when accessibility should be the goal.
I can’t, in any world, buy that anyone believes her disguise. But it’s not like the show didn’t have a chance to reel me in some other way—there would have been ways to connect if Mu-young had to actually struggle to keep her secret, so we could know why that means something to her. Maybe we could see her struggling to gain the vital information she needs to pass onto Geumhwadan—you know, the whole reason she went there in the first place.
Now that she doesn’t seem to notice Choong exists, we’re even sapped of the conflict she could have faced by being in such close proximity with him, whether she considered him a lover or an enemy. Instead we get two characters constantly in each other’s orbits and fleeting interactions that don’t resonate the way they should, like Choong’s morbid test. There should’ve been a lot at stake, like Mu-young’s secret identity and Leader So’s life, but the only person who seemed emotionally invested in the outcome was Choong. (And then it didn’t really matter anyway. Where’s the dramatic tension, Sword? Cough it up!)
Even if his internal conflict is stuck on repeat, at least he’s able to communicate what’s driving him and why it matters, so I don’t feel as cut off from him as I do with Mu-young. There are more than enough episodes to set things straight—and if that’s not a silver lining, it’s at least a healthy shade of gray, right?
- Sword and Flower: Episode 12
- 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