It’s our princess’s last chance to exact her revenge, and if she doesn’t succeed, she’s sure as hell going to go down trying. This episode is an improvement without actually improving all that much—it just makes it easier to forget most of what didn’t work when the payoffs are good. I think I’d hate this show’s ends-justify-the-means attitude more if our cast was weak on top of it, but luckily we’ve got a really, really good cast, with the last two episodes serving as living proof that when all else fails, just let them act!
EPISODE 17 RECAP
Mu-young doesn’t waste any time after waking up to tell Choong that his mother must be waiting for him. But she can’t help asking why he brought her to Geumhwadan knowing that it was a trap, or why he didn’t out her identity to his father…
But Lobotomized Leader So interrupts before Choong can answer, and firmly denies any request of Mu-young’s to set him free. Yeon’s agency is holding the umbrella maker hostage, so they’ll need Choong as a bargaining chip.
Nam-saeng gleefully tells Daddy Dearest all about how Choong helped Mu-young escape, leaving General Yeon to wonder why Choong wouldn’t have told him that Mu-young is the princess.
This news takes Mo-seol by surprise, since she was the only person besides General Yeon who didn’t know. But Nam-saeng uses the opportunity to lie that Choong knew who she was the entire time and let her into the agency knowing she was working as a spy for Geumhwadan. “It’s treason. He’s a traitor, Father.”
At least Mo-seol steps up in Choong’s defense when she tells his father that Choong couldn’t have known—he was always so distrustful of Mu-young. Yeon takes this all in even as he declares that anyone who brings chaos to Goguryeo will be punished by death.
General Yeon struts into the throne room to tell Jang that the princess is still alive, and that he knows they’ve met. There’s no use for Jang to deny it, but he claims that he was going to dissuade her from her plans. After all, what could a frail little girl do?
That’s all well and good to Yeon, unless—and this is a big one—Jang was working with his cousin. Jang forces a chuckle like the idea is ludicrous: “There’s only one throne.”
Yeon’s expression turns dark(er): “The reason you became king is because I said you would become king. You’re only alive because I said you could be alive. Keep in mind that your life depends on me, not on that girl.” Jang’s eyes brim with tears. I can’t tell if he’s frightened, angry, or both.
Luckily for Choong, Geumhwadan hasn’t caught onto Extra #27’s treachery, so he isn’t without an ally in the enemy stronghold.
Mo-seol manhandles Mu-young’s roomie to get him to explain why he didn’t tell her that Mu-young was the princess, and I love that his reply is all, YOU’RE the big spy here. Ha.
She throws him against the wall and says pseudo-menacingly: “I’m Goguryeo’s best spy. Don’t treat me like a jealous girl who can’t draw the line between personal and official matters.” If she’s the best spy this version of Goguryeo has to offer, no wonder it falls.
At least General Yeon doesn’t take Nam-saeng’s words as gospel truth, since he asks Bear Teacher whether his son has betrayed him. Ever loyal, Bear Teacher swears up and down that Choong would never. It’s only because Geumhwadan kidnapped his mother.
This is the first time Yeon has heard that Choong’s mother is even alive, but we’d be silly to expect a big reaction. Instead he seems resigned to the idea that Choong might never return.
Nam-saeng remains the only voice of whiny dissent amongst Choong’s loyal followers as he continually tries to convince his father to have Choong killed for his treachery. It’s not really working.
To make matters worse, General Yeon delivers a good metaphorical slap to his son’s face when he purposefully appoints Not Nam-saeng (otherwise known as Bear Teacher) as the interim chief while Choong is gone.
Bear Teacher mobilizes the agents to save Choong now that they know where he is, thanks to Extra #27.
Nam-saeng takes over the interrogation of the captured umbrella maker, and he soon turns to frantically whipping the man in an effort to get him to lie that Choong was working with Mu-young.
Bear Teacher and Extra #27 happen to catch the tail end of it, and the umbrella maker looks at Geumhwadan’s traitor without any judgement and simply says: “It’s time to stop now.”
And then Nam-saeng proves to be as terrible an interrogator as Mo-seol is a spy when he decides to stab the umbrella maker through the gut, smiling while he dies.
Choong tries to get the message across to his captors that the agency will descend on them at any minute, but his pleas fall on mostly deaf ears.
Leader So is at least taking what he says with a grain of salt, and suggests that they release him and move their base. Which, again, what? If it’s that easy to release him, why did they even capture him in the first place? Ugh, Geumblahdan. I wash my hands of you.
Boo-chi knows that Choong is helping them out of his residual feelings for Mu-young, and wonders whether they could get him onto their side: “Didn’t he help us once three years ago?”
Mu-young: “‘Help us?’ What do you mean?” So they knew this whole time, but willfully didn’t tell her?! You people are the worst.
Leader So finally admits that Choong is the reason why Mu-young escaped during the coup, causing Mu-young to be justifiably upset that she’s been wrong about him all this time.
She runs to Choong to ask why he didn’t keep the promise he made to her the night before the coup to flee the capital, and why he stood by his father’s side. Choong: “I… did not stand by my father’s side.”
Now Mu-young remembers all the moments she’d misconstrued, like Choong fighting off Minion Ho-tae, jumping off the cliff after her, etc.
“I wanted to save you. I thought I could save you,” Choong tells her.
“It wasn’t that you wanted to kill me?” she asks, which gets a rueful chuckle out of him before he asks her why she saved him during the royal guard recruitment trials way back when by jumping into the ocean.
She briefly flashes back to that moment, and with it comes her answer: “I also wanted to save you.”
It’s an emotional breakthrough for the both of them, and Choong remarks on it by claiming that it was all so long ago—what difference does it make now? Mu-young’s eyes fill with tears as they share a quiet moment.
Even as she’s untying him, Choong urges her to flee for her own safety. He speaks as though this is their final goodbye, but Mu-young doesn’t ask his permission to follow him out so she can offer what little help she can in telling him to find out why Nam-saeng would have kept her secret, and—
“I need to go on alone from here,” Choong says. There’s not a hint of malice in his voice or mannerisms even though he’s forcing her to leave, because it seems like it’s painful for him to be so close to her. He can’t compartmentalize like her, and the longing look he sends her way once she turns breaks my heart.
Choong goes to the temple per Mu-young’s instructions and sees the memorial tablets she placed inside bearing her father and brother’s names.
Then he turns around… and there’s his mom. She’s safe after all.
She hasn’t seen her son since she sent him away all those years ago, but she recognizes him instantly as she pulls him into an embrace. They both shed tears, but as far as reunions go this one is perfectly understated and effective.
Mom admits that she’d hoped to help him by leaving his world, only to end up putting him in danger by being captured. Choong disagrees and tells her that she’s neither a weakness nor a danger to him—for him and for his father, she’s a sanctuary.
“Did you not blame me?” she asks. “Because I wasn’t there for you, were you not lonely?”
Choong then hands her the portrait of her that Geumhwadan stole, identical to his: “You were always with me.”
The subject then turns to her savior, Mu-young, as she tells Choong that he should thank “him” for convincing her to wait to see him when she hadn’t planned on it. The look that comes over Choong’s face is like relief and gratitude mixed with crushing sadness that he then has to hide, and it’s just perfect for this moment.
The good news is that Mom will now stay at the temple where Choong can visit her often. The bad news is that Nam-saeng knows where she is, but it’s more important for him to find the princess—with his brother’s mom and lover, Nam-saeng will have all the ammunition he needs.
Choong returns to the agency where Nam-saeng greets him with a smarmy smirk and his suspicions about how Choong managed to escape.
Choong gives a fairly logical answer (they were moving their base once they figured out they had a mole), but Nam-saeng doesn’t buy it: “If it were me, I would have killed you before I left.”
He has to report to his father next, and as they both stand in front of Choong’s mother’s portrait, General Yeon’s first question is whether she’s all right. When Choong asks if he’d like to see her, Yeon simply says “If she is safe, that’s enough for me.”
Yeon asks his son why he didn’t kill Mu-young when he found out the truth, almost like he wants to hear some assurance that Choong won’t betray him again, since that worry has been weighing heavily on him.
But Choong at least lies enough to sound convincing, making sure to add that Mu-young is nothing but an enemy to him now. (Side note: I really love that they frame Yeon with Choong’s mother’s portrait in the background. It’s a nice touch.)
Mo-seol tells her dad about Mu-young being the princess (but shhhhh, it’s still a secret somehow), before she asks him to arrange a marriage between her and Choong—not just to feed into her delusion, but because it’ll do good things for his political career.
Her father goes to discuss the matter with Choong and his father. We already knew that General Yeon was in favor of this marriage, so Choong’s attempts to save the topic for a later time (read: never) only cause Mo-seol’s dad to remark on the well-known secret of Choong’s royal love affair.
General Yeon orders his son to clear up the misunderstanding, leaving Choong without any more wiggle room. He tells Mo-seol’s dad that he’ll go through with the marriage when there’s time.
Cut to: Awkward Date Time with hosts Choong and Mo-seol, made weirder by the fact that Mo-seol’s hair and clothing are identical to the way Mu-young used to dress and wear her hair. Creepy yet effective.
Choong is only out with her because they’re supposed to be looking for the Geumflawdan hideout, and while she claims she’s totally on his wavelength, she’s really, really not. She wants this to be a date.
Repetitive piano chords underscore Mo-seol’s brief and theoretically-sad backstory like it should mean more, but we’re three and a half episodes away from the finish line—are we really going to do this right now?
She adds that it’s her first time trying to win the heart of someone whom she’s already given her heart to. “To me, marriage with you is more like a challenge. I’m confident.” Here’s a thought: Why not ask Choong how he feels? I guess there’s that whole unwritten rule mandating that all second female leads used as plot devices cannot possess basic human understanding, compassion, or courtesy.
Thanks to their mole, Choong and Bear Teacher know that Doomhwadan’s forces are gathering en masse in five days—the exact time when Mu-young was supposed to stand guard in General Yeon’s house.
They know that Geumhwadan knows, and Geumhwadan knows that they know they know, then they know that Geumhwadan knows they know they know, so the intercutting of these scenes like a conversation between the two groups strives for tension but comes off a bit sillier. (It still works, though.)
The point of it is that Geumhwadan won’t change their plans even though Choong will be waiting for them.
Choong has his own problems, because General Yang’s private army is headed straight for the capital on what could only be the king’s orders. He goes to see his father as Mu-young meets with Jang to cook up an alternate plan.
He’s not keen about a new plan, since he’d rather their initial plan succeed. General Yeon must be killed, otherwise (and he’s sort of thinking out loud with this one) Tang won’t ensure his throne.
Mu-young is caught off guard, since Jang just admitted that he plans on keeping the throne, while Jang is surprised that she’s surprised—did she think he was going to hand her the throne? (Short answer: Yes.)
“Is the throne that important to you?” she asks, and he throws the same question back at her. They bicker back and forth over who has the right to sit on the throne, with Jang firmly believing that he took what was his and her calling him a traitor for it.
“You had Geumhwadan, but I was completely alone,” Jang says in his defense. Aww, poor baby. It must be terribly ironic to kill your family and then be sad when your family is gone. (Mu-young: “Think about why you don’t have any supporters.”)
No matter their differences, neither of them can kill General Yeon alone, which means they have to work together until then. She’ll send assassins while Jang sends General Yang’s private army to lure General Yeon into the one place he can’t be armed—the king’s quarters. Jang only has to distract him while Mu-young handles the rest.
Choong tells his dad about General Yang’s private army, and for what it’s worth, Yeon is actually surprised that General Yang betrayed him after all. “It’s been a while, a very long while, since I’ve had the feeling of being stabbed in the back.”
He scoffs when Choong tells him the obvious fact that all the plots are geared toward killing him, and that the safest place for him to be for now is in the palace. (Just like Mu-young intended.)
Leader So tries to stop Mu-young from going somewhere, unable to understand why she’s treating this plan as their final shot. He brings up the king’s sword vs. flower anecdote as proof that there will always be more opportunities.
Mu-young no longer agrees with her father’s words: “Even a flower has a lifespan. Even if it isn’t cut, it will eventually wither away and die.” She knows this will be their last chance and plans to fight to the death.
Choong heads to the temple where Mu-young formally bows to the memory of her father, praying that he’ll give her the strength to kill General Yeon. She refuses to die before he does.
Mu-young is surprised to see Mom outside of the temple, having been unaware that Choong told her to stay there. Mom smiles in relief since she’d been hoping to see Mu-young again… waitaminute. Does Mom still think Mu-young is a boy, or has she already accepted that she’s a girl and we missed it?
Choong arrives in time to catch Mu-young, and the two have a stilted and formal conversation over their impending clash. He’s come to tell her to abandon her plan, since he knows everything about it already and it’ll only end in bloodshed. She can’t win against the agency or his father.
As expected, this has no effect on Mu-young’s plans. Choong sighs, “I hope I never meet you again. Never again do I want to see you.” He means it, especially when the alternative includes one or both of them dying.
We get intercutting shots of the two of them addressing their respective troops before battle. Geumhwadan looks like a motley crew next to Choong’s well disciplined agents.
They both make duly inspiring yet obviously differing speeches (Choong: “Don’t think that you’ll be dying for Goguryeo.”/Mu-young: “For Goguryeo, let us take up our swords.”), with everything working together in harmony to create a fluid, interesting scene that gets its point across.
The streets of the capital are oddly empty as Geumhwadan marches through. Until they see some smoke signal from the princess indicating that she’s killed General Yeon, they set to killing all the councilmen who helped him.
Shi-woo kills Mo-seol’s dad while Boo-chi derps his way into a fight with Yeon’s last remaining supporter. On and on it goes.
Meanwhile, Jang invites General Yeon to his quarters for a drink as per the plan. It’s hard to tell whether he earnestly believes he’s pulling one on Yeon, or whether he knows that Yeon couldn’t refuse his request even if he knew. Methinks he does.
Mu-young makes it to the palace by literally walking through the front door while General Yeon dismisses his son’s advice to always stay armed as he heads off to meet the king.
Nam-saeng’s constant nitpicking isn’t doing him any favors, especially since everyone is starting to ignore him. He stomps off angrily as Choong waits with soldiers in front of their father’s house.
Jang makes some awkward conversation with General Yeon over an awkward drink, and I do love the way Yeon acts more like a king than Jang. He just exudes authority, while Jang seems increasingly nervous.
And Mu-young, as it were, is hiding behind his throne while she waits for the perfect time to strike. If logic serves me, Jang was the one who said that even the best assassins couldn’t kill General Yeon… and then there’s Mu-young.
The small talk over wine takes a serious turn when Jang calls General Yeon out on using him as his puppet even though he’d once told him to choose his own destiny.
“How about your fate?” Jang asks. “The fate of someone who possesses everything… I wonder how it would be.”
General Yeon starts to slow down. He drops the cup he was holding. By the time he realizes what’s happening, it’s too late—he’s been drugged. “Your Majesty… What have you done?” Ack, even I’m nervous for them. If they don’t manage to kill him, GOOD LUCK.
Mu-young waits for the drug to set in and slow General Yeon down before she slowly emerges from her hiding spot to stalk toward him, in no rush because he’s incapacitated.
However, he’s still aware enough to know what’s happening, even as Mu-young addresses him formally: “Yeon Gaesomun, I’ve come to end it all. I’m going to bring Goguryeo back and reclaim my father’s honor!”
With a battle cry, she embeds her sword in General Yeon’s gut and twists the blade, making sure to look him dead in the eyes while she does it. He fights the effects of the drug as he uses one hand to grip the blade (and possibly prevent it from going deeper) while he uses the other to grab her. Ahhh! It’s frightening. He’s frightening. Ack! *hides*
General Yeon roars at her, and Mu-young all but bares her teeth in return, even as tears roll down her cheeks: “If you any love for Goguryeo, you shouldn’t have disgraced the king like that after you killed him!”
“After this… After killing me…” His grip grows tighter, his expression even fiercer. “After killing me… You…”
Mu-young declares that whatever’s next won’t have anything to do with him as she pulls the sword out to rear back for the killing blow…
But as she swings down, her sword is blocked—it’s Choong, there to save his father.
Choong pushes Mu-young away from his dad, causing their swords to lock between them. Their gazes meet, and his expression morphs instantly into a mask of heartbroken betrayal.
Bravo! Another ending good enough to change my disposition to all the zigs and zags it took us to get there. I’m not sure if that says something about the show or just about me, but I can say I’m not usually the viewer willing to sell my mother up the river for a good cliffhanger, especially if it comes at the expense of story logic.
But we’ve already come this far with so little payoff that I’m more willing to take what I can get, and this show is finally in the giving mood. A strong ending doesn’t erase the feeling that too many plates are spinning at once in this show, so momentary fascinations are always accompanied by a sense of dread. I’m specifically reminded of the coup cliffhanger, and how in unison we said, “As long as Choong doesn’t just march in there and fight everyone off to save her, because that’d be too unbelievable!”
That’s exactly what happened, and yes, it was pretty unbelievable. This show has established a track record for setting up impossible situations that deliver instant gratification with honestly weak follow-through. Even knowing that doesn’t erase the cool factor of the last scene, since the aftermath isn’t a problem (yet). What’s more important is that Mu-young actually broke from the impotent mold she’d fallen into, helped in no part by the mind-numbing ineptitude that is Geumhwadan.
To be fair, while they were always an amorphous blight to this story, at least they used to be a harmless amorphous blight. Now everyone’s pretending that their actions are for The Cause, yet no one seems to know how or why. Letting Choong onto the fact that they’d kidnapped his mother while Mu-young was in his grasp made no sense, trading her for Mu-young made maybe a little sense if you squinted hard enough, but kidnapping Choong like it would secure their victory, only to shrug and let him go a day later? C’mon.
Because of all of the above, I’m not going to expect anything grand for the aftermath of this last scene—I’m just going to take it as being gripping, well-acted (Choi Min-sooooooo!), and a return to form for Mu-young at long, long last. How she gets herself out of this entertaining mess is out of my realm of knowledge for the next few hours, so for now I’m excitedscared! to see what’s in store.
- Sword and Flower: Episode 16
- Sword and Flower: Episode 15
- 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