It’s a little funny that when one character learns a life-altering secret in this show, every other character just so happens to find out at the same time. A few characters do get left behind (considering that the story would end if they found out), but for the most part I’m hesitatingly hopeful in saying that The Big Secret is out, which hopefully means we’ll get to that fallout we’ve been craving sooner rather than later. Key word: Hopefully.
Note: Delayed recaps brought to you by KCON 2013. Please remember that a delay doesn’t make spoilers okay, and that I’m absolutely terrible at rhyming.
EPISODE 15 RECAP
After Mu-young is shot with an arrow from protecting Choong, Leader So makes a halfhearted attempt to save her before an influx of intelligence agents forces them to retreat.
Choong desperately tries to wake Mu-young up before piggybacking her to the agency dorms, where her roomie laments that he couldn’t have taken the arrow for Choong instead. I love Choong’s distracted reply: “You envy the strangest things.”
Her roomie heads off to fetch the doctor while Choong sits at her bedside reminiscing over finding the princess’ remains, as well as all the moments where he doubted her identity as a boy. (Also, why is no one acting with any urgency? I know this isn’t Good Doctor, but has no one yet figured out that applying pressure to a bleeding wound or otherwise not ignoring it is a good thing?)
In his frustration, Choong punches a wall while memories of his time with her as a princess flash through his mind at lightning speed.
And then, through a flashback, we see why: Choong had pulled her clothing aside to check the wound and saw (wait for it) her bound chest. This, finally, confirms her true identity. Same face, voice, mannerisms? Pish posh. It all comes down to boobs.
Since it’s everyone’s turn to be jealous, Mo-seol calls Choong out to attend to all the other wounded agents, angrily accusing him of favoring Mu-young over the rest. Choong, suffering a heroic blue screen of death, numbly shuffles out.
Meanwhile, Geumhwadan soothes their worries over the princess’ fate since they know she was taken back to the agency.
Night magically switches to day as Choong stands amidst the wails and groans of the wounded agents in the courtyard, while Jang seems inordinately pleased to talk about Nam-saeng’s failure and how it relates to his father’s failure at the next council meeting.
Everyone admits that this isn’t good for General Yeon, but it’s General Yang who wisely warns that a tiger remains a tiger even if it gets bitten, so remaining on guard with Yeon is key.
Their talk comes to an abrupt halt when Yeon struts into the hall, and he’s not in the least bit fazed. In fact, he uses the opportunity as an example to add to the ever-growing list—the toppling of the monument, the agency prison break, and now the most recent ambush point to the fact that a relative of the late king must still be alive.
With that, he deflects the situation from himself and onto Jang, since it’s not he who should be worried when it’s Jang that the late king’s followers want to depose. General Yeon warns all the councilmen to spy on their fellow man to determine any traitors among them and promises to do the same.
When Jang asks about the fate of the intelligence agency, he’s told that the damage was so severe that there’s now a shortage of doctors to care for them. Jang doesn’t seem all that worried.
Nam-saeng is still overwhelmed from the damage he inadvertently caused, and defers to his brother to give the next round of orders while he stares angrily into space. However, it’s Bear Teacher who suggests that they hold a funeral for the dead before moving onto matters of the living.
Choong visits Mu-young’s room that night and stays by her side until the funeral the next morning. She remains comatose.
The mass funeral is held to the sound of weeping, while the sound of the ceremonial drums brings Mu-young back to consciousness. Despite their differences of opinion, both the intelligence agency and Geumhwadan are experiencing the same suffering in putting their dead to rest.
While setting the funeral pyre on fire, Leader So proclaims: “Let us all weep for the dead. We will wash our hearts with tears and make it so that your lives were not lost in vain. Your efforts did not go to waste. The door that will allow us to make ourselves known to the world has opened, and like this, we will all fight together.”
As he speaks, we see the various Geumhwadan members going into town to paste their emblems on public walls and disperse papers decrying General Yeon as the king’s murderer. Shi-woo puts his good looks to use by charming women into taking Geumhwadan umbrellas painted with the bamboo flower symbol.
Choong arrives in time to see Mu-young up and alert, and he (waaait for it) acts like he didn’t see anything. Mu-young must think that magical fairies tended to her wound because she doesn’t seem worried that anyone might’ve found out, genius that she is.
Choong is gentle in his attempts to restrain her so she can be seen by a doctor (I suppose they did say there was a doctor shortage, but good lord, how many days did they let that wound fester?), but Mu-young isn’t having it.
She’s especially ornery when he asks to see her wound, prompting Choong to say: “Covering and hiding it isn’t going to solve the matter.” We know what he means. She should know what he means.
Jang makes a surprise appearance to check on Mu-young, and Choong relates the story of her taking an arrow in his stead. Jang all but shoos Choong out of the room to speak privately with his cousin, who takes the first opportunity she can to chide him for coming to see her, as it’ll arouse suspicion.
Jang isn’t worried about rumors since his reputation in the palace is that of a madman, a title that he made sure he earned so that he could avoid suspicion in moments like these. If his life is full of random actions, it’ll make his random action to see Mu-young less of a Thing.
Choong seems to have a moment of realization outside while Jang worries for his cousin, sure that her cover will be blown at any moment now that there is an active search going on for the princess.
However, she remains sure that her disguise is good enough, especially when paired with her elaborate death staging. “I am a dead person,” she says without inflection. “Even if they investigate, it will be hard for them to find me.” Whatever helps you sleep at night.
It is a bit strange that Jang is displaying familial concern for her now (considering he once tried to kill her), not only for her cover but also for her brush with death, which she shrugs off as being nothing more than a flesh wound.
While Bear Teacher wonders about Jang’s strange visit, Chi-woon passes by in disguise as a eunuch.
I do love that Jang keeps grilling Mu-young, all, There was NO ONE else to act as a spy? It HAD to be you? But she defends her infiltration by reminding him that she grew up in the palace and therefore knows it better than anyone. “Now that I have finally returned, I will never leave again. I will get everything back. I will put everything back in its rightful place.”
Jang knows that this means he’s her next target after they take down General Yeon, and she confirms it without hesitation. But she does dig the knife in a little deeper by reminding him that nothing she does will bring her dead father and brother back, and that it was he who suggested that they hold off on settling their score.
He nods and tells her that he’ll wait for her retribution dutifully, and adds that his faith in her skills has been restored now that she’s shaken up the intelligence agency. She’s not as pleased with her progress as he is: “Many innocent people have been hurt. From now on, no more innocent people shall be killed.”
Minion Ho-tae makes a return(!) as he hands over a spy report on Jang’s actions, which include more of the same crazy behavior. It’s when General Yeon learns that Jang visited the intelligence agency that he demands no detail be left out, even though Jang prefaced his visit with Mu-young by trying to get wounded agents to dance with him.
Impressive as his tactics may have been, Yeon seems to see through them as he studies a list of everyone Jang even looked at, so naturally, Mu-young’s name comes up. Ho-tae tells his boss that Mu-young was considered just average before, but now that she/he saved Choong, things are looking up.
Yeon latches onto the fact that no spy could overhear Mu-young and Jang’s conversation (in an agency filled only with spies) and makes sure to remember Mu-young’s name. Not good.
Mu-young’s roomie delivers special food to her from Choong, under the excuse that she’s an orphan and had no one to visit her while she was wounded.
“He said you resembled someone,” her roomie says, while Choong listens from outside. “He said you resemble the lover that he couldn’t protect.” By the looks of it, Choong wanted her to hear this fact.
Choong is waiting outside for Mu-young when she wanders out, and her attempts to avoid him prove futile. She coolly thanks him for his concern when he asks about her wound, but is taken aback when he turns it around: “I’m the one who should be saying that. Thank you for saving me twice.”
He gives her a small smile, and Mu-young’s eyes brim with tears as she thinks to herself: “I will never… be shaken…” A little late, isn’t it?
Choong gives her a gentle pat on the shoulder before he accidentally drops his mother’s portrait, causing Mu-young to hand it back to him. “It’s my mother,” he says with fondness. “It’s a precious object she gave to me when we parted ways. Thank you.” Show her the bracelet. Show her the bracelet!
Mu-young stares at him for as long as she can before the door is shut in her face.
General Yeon gives the remaining intelligence agents a pep talk, and uses the time to demote Nam-saeng to Choong’s position for all his failings in order to promote Choong to Nam-saeng’s former position as chief of the intelligence agency.
Nam-saeng finally pulls the but-my-brother-is-a-bastard-son-born-of-a-slave card (now you know why he didn’t use it sooner) when the Yeon family is in private later, pointing accusingly at Choong each time he makes an argument against his demotion, while his brother just seems bored and maybe even a little amused by the temper tantrum.
When Choong decides to step in, it’s to say that he doesn’t even want the promotion—which prompts Nam-saeng to get mad at him for refusing the position he didn’t want Choong to even be offered. But it’s all up to Daddy Dearest, and he doesn’t give Choong a choice in accepting the promotion.
Later, Nam-saeng stumbles through the halls drunk and extra angry, swearing that he’ll reclaim what’s his at any cost.
Bear Teacher addresses Choong as chief, but when Choong reminds him he’s not quite chief yet, Bear Teacher asks: “Are you trying to disobey your father? Are you afraid, by chance?”
Choong answers with silence, leading Bear Teacher to tell him about the Geumhwadan leaflets circulating. He’s sure that there’s a central figure uniting them, but he doesn’t know who.
Choong knows now that that figure is Mu-young and protects her by saying nothing.
He then goes to his father to accept his position as chief on one condition: that his father not involve the agency in political battles in order for them to focus on catching Geumhwadan. Dad agrees, though he’s now convinced that the princess might be alive, and wants Choong to find her.
“The princess is dead,” Choong replies, and we see Mu-young in the contingent of agents standing right behind him. He then tells his father that the agency will be in charge of his safety from now on at all hours, and even in his home.
Mu-young sees in this a possible assassination opportunity, and Dad sees it somewhat suspiciously, since the extra security means that Choong is worried for his safety. He can’t be that worried if he’s going to let Mu-young be in his personal security detail. That has Bad Idea written all over it.
And lo, Mu-young is placed in General Yeon’s security detail. What is Choong thinking?
Mo-seol gives a cryptic lesson to the agents about how loving the enemy in their line of work is a big no-no, and she looks at Mu-young specifically when she adds: “The moment you give your heart to the enemy, your country will collapse.”
Mu-young dresses her wound with some difficulty in her room, and is caught off-guard when her roomie enters. He’s got plenty of time to see her chest bindings before she throws another layer on, but he doesn’t notice until he asks to see her wound…
And for reasons unknown, Mu-young’s attitude about this is less “I must guard my secret at all costs!” and more like “Well, it’d be nice if I guarded my secret, but he sure asked nicely.” So he pulls at her collar to see the wound and catches a glimpse of her obvious chest-binding in the process, though the realization doesn’t hit him until he’s almost out the door.
He asks her the obvious question, like why she would pretend to be a boy to join the intelligence agency. Here’s the kicker: Nam-saeng overhears this part from outside. Dun dun dun.
To her credit, Mu-young spins the story like she was just a girl who wanted to advance in society, but her fabricated backstory remains the same. She calls on her roomie’s pity to keep her secret, but Nam-saeng throws the door open before they can finalize the details, an enormous grin on his face.
Mu-young has a drink with him some time later and asks if Nam-saeng really promises to keep her secret. He will, but he won’t do it for free—he had noticed that Choong favored her, and that she saved his life twice, so she’s in the perfect spot to become Choong’s right hand (wo)man… but as Nam-saeng’s spy. Iiinteresting.
She has no other choice but to agree, and Nam-saeng’s smile grows ever wider as he admits that he was curious about his feelings for her when they first met, but now he knows that it was her female charms which lured him.
And with that, he asks her to pour him another drink by caressing her hand on its way to the bottle. It’s creepy and demeaning on purpose.
Mu-young reports this to Jang, and he’s outraged that Nam-saeng would dare ask her, the princess, to pour him a drink. He wants Mu-young to be more curious about his intentions when she’s got a pretty clear image of him, and it’s interesting to see him manifest that in ways for her to learn to trust him.
So he reveals that their meeting place wasn’t chosen at random, and that by Mu-young’s feet are the unmarked graves of her father and brother. He did, after all, steal the remains only to wait for a time that he could bury them without suspicion.
Mu-young sinks down to the grave and cries.
Since it’s been established that the people of Goguryeo are starving, Choong calls his old friend Jin-gu to meet with him and offers him a meal which he readily scarfs down. In exchange for food, he wants Jin-gu to become a spy for him in order to relate any rumors he’s bound to hear.
Jin-gu agrees, and while he’s happy for his friend’s high position, they’re both a bit awkward when it comes to whether Choong’s mother would be proud of him or not. In the end, Choong can only convince Jin-gu if he gives him more than enough food to feed the people he loves and not just himself per his request.
There’s infighting going on in Geumhwadan, and Extra #27 has had enough of it. He decides to turn on them and tell Choong everything he knows for a bag of rice to feed his family.
You can tell Choong feels a little bad to hear another story of starvation, but he’ll still hear what the guy’s gotta say. The first thing he says is that the princess is alive, prompting Choong to ask: “Who else knows about this?”
Choong flashes back to the moment he saw Mu-young’s bound chest, which we hadn’t gotten to see fully yet. It works by virtue of Uhmforce being just amazing at his craft, since he has no words to convey how his initial shock morphs into heart-rending relief that she’s alive, but that comes across clear as a bell just the same.
Mu-young accompanies one of her fellow agents into the city, and uses the first opportunity she can to get to the Geumhwadan hideout. They want her out of the palace now that her gender has been discovered since it’s only a matter of time before her identity at the princess is found as well, but she wants to hold out for the ten days needed before she’ll be assigned to the night watch in General Yeon’s manor.
That will be their opportunity to strike, even though the other Geumhwadan members are against her accepting the traitorous Jang’s help to take Yeon down. She argues that they’ll do what they have to in order to set things straight, but warns them that the agency is onto their hideout in the gibang.
Leader So is still worried about Mu-young, and assigns Boo-chi and Dal-ki to keep an eye on her. However, Boo-chi has secret plans with Dal-ki and plans to stick to those, whatever they are.
Choong arrives at the gibang just to angrily order Mu-young back to the dorms. Boo-chi overhears the conversation and finds Choong’s insistence strange, causing him to wonder whether Mu-young has been discovered.
Since the days are incredibly short in this show, Mu-young only gets the chance to ask him about his intentions later that night.
“Who are you?” he asks. She gives him the same old story, so he asks again. She still sticks to the lie.
He then tells her how he saw her thirst for revenge in her eyes from the first moment they met after the coup: “Those eyes… were not the ones I knew.” (Oh, finally. Finally! It’s happening for real this time, you guys!)
She tries to deflect his suspicion, but it’s pretty much all over once he starts addressing her formally, the way he did as her bodyguard. He’d had no reason to do so when she was just a grunt beneath him, but now he’s acknowledging the truth as he warns her against taking revenge.
Choong lists her crimes—moving the Geumhwadan headquarters, toppling the monument, setting the agency trap—but doesn’t hesitate before promising that he’ll forget it all. The fact that she survived and that she’ll continue to live is what’s important, not just for her, but for him as well.
The jig is up, so Mu-young turns around to face him… only to not acknowledge that the jig is up. Choong: “You treated me—who had no parents, siblings, or a name—like a human. The moment you died, I died too.”
He draws his sword as he proclaims that he’s been reborn as the chief of the intelligence agency, but Mu-young’s gaze doesn’t falter as she says, “Kill me. If you’re going to try and stop me from taking my revenge, kill me instead.”
He looks like he’s about to cry as he reluctantly raises his sword to her neck. Boo-chi, watching from a nearby rooftop, prepares to shoot Choong with an arrow, but relaxes his grip once he sees Choong back down. Nam-saeng watches the same scene with interest.
“Go,” Choong tells her. “This is all I can do. We must never see each other again. If we do… I’ll have to kill you.”
If I could only list one reason why Mu-young’s reveal was so unsatisfying, it’s because it effectively made all of Choong’s waffling about her identity frustratingly moot. Why spend entire episodes on his internal struggle when all it took was an external stroke of contrived luck for him to realize the truth?
Even if we had to keep in the oops-I-have-breasts reveal, I’d almost rather that Choong came to the conclusion on his own and then validated it himself. At least there’d be some payoff for his suffering in that he could make a decision that would affect the outcome of the story, rather than the story hitting necessary plot points regardless of what went on in-between. Choong sold that moment of realization well enough that I’m almost just glad to be done with Mu-young’s silliness, but he’s still a character I like, and I’d like for him to have more things to do and be rewarded for what he actually does.
Either way, we knew that reveal was unavoidable the second Mu-young was wounded, so at least it’s over(?). It felt a little like pulling a bandaid off—if you took a whole hour to do it very slowly and for no reason you could explain to anyone watching. But I have to say I was happy for the conflict Nam-saeng introduced, since it finally put Mu-young’s emotional stakes on a level we could understand. Three cheers for accessibility!
Up until about the half-hour mark, I was actually starting to buy that Mu-young had a change of heart, or at least a meaningful realization that she still cares for Choong. It was meaningful enough for her to risk her life to save him (though I’d argue that her more or less instant recovery really put the nail in the Plot Device Coffin for that moment), so I can then buy that Nam-saeng asking her to betray Choong would be something she doesn’t want to do.
It gives her something smaller and more relatable on a scene-by-scene basis that I hope we stick with at least for a little while, because her grand scheme of revenge has gotten so convoluted and drawn-out at this point that it’s harder to care for that part of her journey. But on a more immediate level, dealing with her and Choong’s relationship? Bring it on.
On a character level, I’m starting to think that Jang might be the most interesting out of the bunch (at least on paper and regardless of the actor—this statement needs some major qualifiers). He’s had a very extreme journey, and while his intentions are somewhat vague, the fact that he feels remorse for what he’s done is at least made blissfully clear. However morbid they are, I found his affectionate scenes with Mu-young pretty endearing, sympathy for the devil and all. They’re especially morbid because he’s trying to be her friend after he killed her father and brother and tried to kill her, and endearing because he’s lonely and miserable enough to try. It’s an easy but legitimate method to humanize him, if only because that aspect of his character has been taking shape for a long while now—or at least what feels like a long while, since it’s only Episode 15. (Side note: It’s only Episode 15?)
Now if only some of that humanization could rub off on Mu-young. So close, yet so far.
- Sword and Flower: Episode 14
- Sword and Flower: Episode 13
- 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