There’s a bit of cuteness in an otherwise bleak hour as everyone’s lives just go from bad to worse. Mu-young faces a tough decision going forward—will she learn to let go, or die holding on?—while our hero tries to give her a third (and some would say better) option. Whether they’ll have a hand in determining their future or not is up for grabs, so as we head into finale week, let’s hope that the fortuneteller’s predictions from way back when were right. We’ll need all the hope we can get.
EPISODE 18 RECAP
After Choong shoves Mu-young away from his father, she tells him to move aside—it’s his father that she needs to kill. He doesn’t budge and instead asks why she’s throwing her life away.
Mu-young explains that she’s been waiting for this moment of vengeance and doesn’t care if she dies. Then she tells him again: Step aside.
“I cannot let you kill him,” Choong says. “Even if you do, a new Goguryeo won’t be created.” Ouch, harsh truth. Mu-young pushes against him in futility, all but begging him to step aside so she can kill his father. Choong doesn’t heed her words.
Fade to black. Great.
General Yeon sits across from the king, still drugged and bleeding but very much alive.
We cut to Mu-young running away from the king’s quarters before she collapses in tears. Soldiers come out to look for the assassin, but Choong purposefully misleads them in order to protect her.
General Yeon is surprisingly collected for having just been stabbed, and his address to the king is more like a father talking to his son after he’s done something naughty. It’s that disappointment that stings, as he tells Jang that he believed in him once. And if anything, Jang should have been the one to stab him instead of cowering behind his cousin.
“I believed that you were concerned with the life and death of Goguryeo,” Yeon adds, since he trusted Jang to know better if he cared about his country. “This is… disappointing.”
As he collects himself to shuffle out of the king’s quarters like a wounded lion, he leaves Jang with these last words: “Your Majesty. If I die, Goguryeo will die with me. You were afraid… afraid of Goguryeo without me. That’s why you couldn’t stab me yourself. That’s who you are.”
Jang’s tears spill over at these words—he knows they’re true. He’s a coward. And General Yeon’s courage in the face of it is daunting even as he falters.
We jump back a bit to see Geumhwadan starting on their mission to kill everyone who betrayed the former king, with the plan to join General Yang’s army after Mu-young signals that General Yeon is dead before they march on the palace.
Mo-seol’s dad tells her he’s going to cancel the wedding with Choong planned less than an episode ago (due to his rumored involvement with Geumhwadan) only moments before Shi-woo arrives to assassinate him.
Before he can strike, Mo-seol steps in to defend her father. They fight until her father’s soldiers flood the courtyard, forcing Shi-woo to flee. And everyone just watches all, Well, he’s four feet away and that’s just too far.
Mo-seol runs to tell Bear Teacher and the other agents that Geumhwadan is targeting the king’s council. Nam-saeng takes the opportunity to wonder aloud about the missing Choong, clearly trying to plant the seed of doubt in everyone’s minds that he’s secretly working with Geumhwadan. It seems to be working on Mo-seol.
Chi-woon and Dal-ki work together to slay a nameless general as intelligence agents start searching for them. Leader So assassinates his target as well.
We jump back even further to Boo-chi’s fight with General Yeon’s former chief minister. Though he wins the fight, he’s soon surrounded by intelligence agents and outnumbered.
They’re instructed to capture him alive, and Boo-chi fights with everything he’s got. The former chief minister tries to kill him, but Boo-chi grabs the blade with his bare hands and sinks his own into the minister’s gut. He assassinates his target after all, even though he’s captured.
When Geumhwadan regroups, Leader So notes how many they’ve lost before delivering the sobering news that Mu-young failed. They’ll have to tell General Yang’s army to retreat now.
Bear Teacher and Nam-saeng are told that Choong saved General Yeon from an assassination attempt, and of course Nam-saeng’s first reaction is to suspect why Choong was there in the first place. This routine is getting a wee bit grating.
Mu-young wanders numbly back to the Geumhwadan hideout while Nam-saeng pays a visit to Choong just to wheedle him about their father’s assassin—a girl—escaping. “Get some rest, since you’ll have to explain yourself when the sun comes up.”
General Yeon is present at the morning’s council meeting, looking only a little bit worse for the wear. When General Yang is asked to explain why he moved his army without permission, he faces General Yeon to say that he did it as a warning: “Goguryeo was not a country in which one man made all the decisions. It was a country that was led together by the king and his ministers. But now, Goguryeo has become a possession of only one man—the Dae Mangniji.”
General Yang, without fear, adds his demands: That Yeon resign from his seat as Dae Mangniji, and that the position of Dae Mangniji be permanently abolished.
When Yeon confronts him with a sword, Yang isn’t fazed: “Tyranny will destroy Goguryeo in the end.” Those are his last words before General Yeon stabs him in front of the assembly.
“Take a look,” General Yeon commands the council. “Take a look! This is the end of the man who disobeyed Goguryeo’s will.” This last line he says as he looks directly into Jang’s eyes, sending a clear warning.
Jang trembles in his seat as he remembers the letter General Yang sent him the night before after their plan had failed. In it, he’d told Jang that he would take the fall alone—not because he supports him, the late king, or Geumbahdan (phew)—but simply because he believed that General Yeon’s tyranny would destroy Goguryeo.
Extra #27’s treachery is discovered by Geumhwadan. He tearfully explains how his mother died from starvation and how he was only trying to save his child, and Mu-young is moved enough by the story to grant him pardon. She doesn’t want anymore useless deaths.
Mu-young is in tears as she tries to explain her internal confusion to Leader So: “I know my path is the right one… But I don’t know if it’s worth driving the people I treasure to injury and death.”
Leader So hesitantly guesses that she might be giving up on her revenge, though he clearly doesn’t even want to say it aloud. “Please follow my will,” Mu-young commands. “This is my last order.”
Choong commands the intelligence agents to arrest all the remaining Geumhwadan members. Nam-saeng does his classic smirk-and-wheedle about how they should handle the princess, clearly looking for a reaction from his brother.
He doesn’t get the pleasure of one, since Choong just meets his suggestion that they capture the princess alive with a simple: “Do that then.” It was Nam-saeng’s suggestion after all.
Checkpoints have been set up to find Geumhwadan members, so Mu-young suggests that she and her group part ways. She swiftly turns her back when she sees Bear Teacher wandering the streets since she’s afraid of being recognized, but he seems to have caught on to their suspicious behavior anyhow.
She and her group start to run when Bear Teacher gives chase, and per Mu-young’s orders, they split up. Bear Teacher seems to be following her specifically, so Mu-young steals a dagger and prepares to fight…
…But a hand suddenly emerges to pull her out of sight. It’s Choong, and as he whips her around and their eyes meet, time and sound seem to fade away for the briefest of moments.
He drags her to a hiding spot, but doesn’t manage to escape Bear Teacher’s notice. The two men look at each other in silence before Bear Teacher makes a decision to protect Choong by getting the other agents off his tail. Aww, loyalty.
Later that night, they sit on the shore where Mu-young dragged him to safety during the royal guard trials. She urges him to return to his people before they get suspicious, since an agency chief shouldn’t be helping a traitor.
“I didn’t come here as the agency chief,” Choong says. “I came to repay a debt. This is the place where you first saved me. I made up my mind then… that I would live the rest of my life for you.”
When he asks her if she truly doesn’t plan on giving up, she sighs that while he first came to the palace to be recognized by his father, she’s left only with the desire to kill the man who tainted her father’s honor. “I have to go my own way. You should do the same.”
Choong: “I will spend the rest of my life trying to save you.”
Nothing else is said as they both stare silently out at the sea.
The next morning, Nam-saeng tells his father that he plans on torturing the Geumhwadan member they captured (Boo-chi) to find the remaining members, but when General Yeon asks why Choong isn’t giving him this report, Nam-saeng gleefully tells him that Choong hasn’t been spotted since last night.
“I know how much you want to trust Hyung-nim,” Nam-saeng tries by way of sympathy. “The reason you want to trust him so much is because you can’t trust him.” He goes on to list all of Choong’s crimes, like advising his father to stay in the palace, diverting the agents, and letting his assassin get away.
General Yeon looks surprisingly weak to suggestion as Nam-saeng tells him that he’s sure Choong has joined hands with the princess to kill him. I love that he talks like he was in the room just like the way he acts like he was around for this whole show. General Yeon saw Choong save him… but knowing this show, I bet he’ll conveniently forget.
Nam-saeng grows more incensed at his father’s silence. “What evidence do I need in order for you to believe me? Until when are you going to keep letting Hyung-nim deceive you? Do you love him that much?” He can’t abide by this thought, so he promises to bring his father evidence of Choong’s deceit if dad promises to let him deal with Choong after.
Mu-young wakes up in the temple to the sound of Choong’s voice outside as he asks his mother to watch over her, smiling as he adds how precious she is to him. D’aww.
Meanwhile, General Yeon is haunted not only by Nam-saeng’s words, but by General Yang’s last words on his tyranny and the destruction of Goguryeo. It’s enough to send him to his bed in the middle of the day, and it’s the first time we’ve seen him laid so bare.
Choong and Mu-young discuss Geumhwadan and her future, with Choong noting wisely that though Geumhwadan was created to protect the flower from the sword, “Geumhwadan is now no different from a sword.”
She knows he’s trying to persuade her to give and claims it won’t work, which is when he asks, “Can’t you do it just for me? Can’t we… just live?” Gah. How can she say no? (She says no.)
Choong isn’t the type to give up, so we next see him happily sharing a meal with Mu-young while his mother hangs laundry nearby, denying his offer to join them so they can have some privacy. It’s sweetly idyllic, and I’m sure it’s done on purpose—Choong is showing her how happy a life they could live.
He’s as giddy as a schoolboy at the chance to put meat on her plate, which is maybe the cutest thing ever. She’s thinking on his proposition that she give up just for him, but says nothing. She’s thisclose though.
Choong’s heart leaps at the sight of Mu-young and his mother doing ordinary household tasks together, like he knows that this is what life would be like and is reveling in the moment.
He seems to come to a decision and leaves quietly, which is witnessed by Dal-ki hiding nearby. She’s found the princess, while Leader So and Shi-woo discuss the fact that Boo-chi is still missing.
Choong’s mom seems to sense Mu-young’s inner agonizing and tells her that she once was the same way, before she learned to let go: “I didn’t give up, I just let go.”
Mu-young wonders if letting go would make her life until now meaningless, and Mom doesn’t have an answer for that. But she does say that learning to let go isn’t easy. “You can only let go after going through that process.”
She admits that there was one thing she couldn’t let go of: Her portrait. She hands over her necklace to Mu-young and says that it’s finally found its rightful owner. Now Mu-young and Choong have matching necklaces of his mom.
Nam-saeng tries to torture Boo-chi into either divulging the princess’ whereabouts or admitting that Choong is with her, but Boo-chi won’t tell. Nam-saeng responds by ordering more torture, and specifically instructs the torturers to make him want to die without granting his wish.
Choong arrives during the tail end of it and doesn’t respond to Nam-saeng’s questions about where he’s been. Bear Teacher gives him a silent nod to say that he’s got Choong’s back.
His meeting with his father doesn’t go as well, even with General Yeon all but asking him to make an excuse, any excuse, about where he’s been. Choong says nothing.
General Yeon asks if Nam-saeng was right, and if Choong really does plan to side with Geumhwadan to kill him. I get Choong not wanting to lie, but he could at least set the record straight instead of letting his dad think he plans to kill him.
Instead, Choong just gives a vague “You don’t need to worry about anything.” Seriously, Choong? That’s all you’ve got?
While folding laundry with Mom (because that’s all girls do!), Mu-young fails to notice the army standing only feet away until Nam-saeng calls to her.
Mom demands that he sheathes his sword on sacred ground, causing Nam-saeng to draw his sword on her. Mu-young draws her own sword and stands in front of Mom to protect her, and when Nam-saeng tells her that Mom won’t get hurt if she surrenders, she instantly drops her sword.
As Mu-young is being dragged away, Mom cries out: “I promised! I promised Choong I would protect her—”
Nam-saeng goes back on his word and stabs Mom through her stomach. Oh, you unbelievable bastard.
Choong is presumably told about what just happened, and we see him react only in silence.
General Yeon is next on the list to be told. He rises afterward but can barely walk, and we see his hands trembling. Poor man.
Choong goes to the temple to see his mother’s body while his father bows his head in front of her portrait… and when he lifts it, tears stream from his eyes. It hits like a punch in the gut.
At the next agency meeting, Choong looks like he’s barely holding it in as General Yeon announces that Nam-saeng captured the princess. I love that Nam-saeng’s all, By the way, I killed an annoying woman who kept getting in the way.
You can see Choong about to crack when his father is forced to take this news like it’s nothing, especially when he adds that it’s natural to kill anyone who helps a traitor regardless of who they are.
General Yeon looks like he’s about to keel over by the time he visits Jang with news of the princess’ capture. “We’re not enemies, you and I. We should work together to protect Goguryeo, shouldn’t we?”
So with that, he tells Jang that he should execute the princess himself to prove his authority to the people.
Mu-young is dragged to the torture courtyard where Boo-chi is, and the shock and horror he displays at seeing her captured is actually touching. Worse yet is Choong’s reaction as he stands by, unable to do a thing to help her.
Jang presides over the interrogation and asks Mu-young why she chose treason, a word which causes her to bristle—she’s not the traitor here.
Jang all but yells that he’s king now, causing Mu-young to fire back that if the position of king is determined by force alone, he’ll soon be replaced. Burn.
General Yeon motions Nam-saeng forward to ask Mu-young if she’s the leader of Geumhwadan. Without hesitating she says yes, causing Boo-chi to start yelling that he’s the leader of Geumhwadan in an effort to protect her.
Nam-saeng grows tired of Boo-chi’s clamoring and solves the problem by (wait for it) cutting him down.
With his last shaking breaths, Boo-chi turns to Mu-young: “To me… you are the only king of Goguryeo. I’ll be reborn as a tiger in my next life to protect you, my princess—”
Since this is still too much talking for Nam-saeng’s ears, he runs Boo-chi through with his sword, and takes pleasure from it as per the usual. Just watch any scene with Nam-saeng killing someone and you’ve seen them all.
Mu-young is left to let out a tortured scream as Boo-chi dies.
Nam-saeng addresses the king and his father with his allegation that Choong was working with the princess, and that he hid her true identity on purpose while she was in the intelligence agency.
Choong is frustratingly silent as Bear Teacher demands Nam-saeng back up his accusation with evidence. Nam-saeng shrugs that he doesn’t have any, but that it’s easy enough to get as he brandishes a whip at Mu-young. He plans on torturing her into confessing that she worked with Choong.
Choong finally speaks to tell his brother that torturing the princess has nothing to do with him, and that excessive torture will only net him a false confession.
General Yeon steps in to give Choong an out: He can clear himself of his allegations if he tortures the princess into confessing. If he doesn’t, both he and Mu-young will be killed.
Nam-saeng doesn’t like the idea that Choong can get off the hook, so he volunteers to do the torturing. But Choong takes the whip and the option from him.
Their gazes meet as Choong faces Mu-young, whip in hand.
As is becoming usual, this episode ran the gamut from good to bad to blisteringly bleak. Nam-saeng’s motivations might be the clearest, but that doesn’t mean his character works any better because of it. It’s almost nice that we don’t have to guess what he’s thinking, but if every scene of his can be mapped out like (1) He wants something, (2) He doesn’t get what he wants, and (3) He kills someone, then it all gets very old very quickly.
That’s not to say he can’t go around murdering everyone, but if all murders are alike (helpless victim) and his response is always the same (his “O” face), then I wish he wouldn’t need so much screen time to keep repeating the same tired lines and actions. All that’s highlighted are his flaws as a device as well as how Mu-young’s time spent in the agency could have never happened at all. It’s easy to buy that Nam-saeng’s wants trump any fondness he may have felt for Mu-young, but it’d be nice to see that, because right now we could be watching two strangers and the effect would be the same.
If there’s anything to take from this ending, it’s that I can’t guess where the next scene will take us when the show can just fade to black and resume after the immediate conflict has been solved. (“How do we get Mu-young out of the king’s quarters?” “Fade to black!” “But shouldn’t we show her debating whether to retreat, or maybe Choong offering her her freedom?” “Fade to black!” But shouldn’t w—” “FADE TO BLACK!”) It’s like taking the traditional plot structure graph and cutting it in half after the climax so that we don’t get the falling action or resolution afterward—it tends to make the conflict resolutions we do get joyless and not worth guessing over.
It was interesting to see Mu-young grapple with the choice to either let it all go and live or try, try again (which is funnily enough what she’d promised Leader So she wouldn’t do), and her inner struggle made Choong’s proposal all the more bittersweet. I’m not sure I understood why Choong would return to the agency afterward if it wasn’t to clear his name, settle things with his father, or deal with his brother—he can either choose Mu-young or his father, and he’d know as well as anyone that he can’t have both. Something tells me that watching his dad act like his mother’s murder was par for the course might’ve put the ball permanently in Mu-young’s court—not like there was ever any doubt, of course. If there’s one thing to count on, it’s Choong’s steadfastness. (Except for that time he thought Mu-young kidnapped his mom.)
General Yeon had some understated yet effective scenes this hour, making it harder to begrudge him for apparently not noticing that Choong saved his life. I suppose it’s more dramatic if he believes his son is conspiring to kill him, but it’s not as dramatic when he thinks Choong is conspiring to kill him only after enacting an elaborate pantomime in which he saves his life at a pivotal moment just to set up another more elaborate plan in which to incapacitate him again in the only place he can’t be armed so he can then kill him. (My head hurts already.) Give Choong credit where credit is due, but let’s not give his dad a lobotomy just to make it through next week.
- Sword and Flower: Episode 17
- 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