Both good guys and bad guys take a step forward… and a step back. And maybe even a step sideways? I’m enjoying how the alliances keep shifting among our players—not as drastically as from good to evil, or vice versa, but I suspect we’re about to see some shuffling behind the scenes as power players align themselves for the next big push forward. Luckily, the hero’s amassing a small buy loyal group of support staff, whether he knows it or not.
SONG OF THE DAY
Rocoberry – “I’m Fine” [ Download ]
EPISODE 11 RECAP
Yoon-kang walks Soo-in home after their talk, wherein she told him that she no longer believes he’s Yoon-kang, but also that she’s happy just knowing that Yoon-kang may be alive in the world somewhere.
Of course, the first thing that happens when they arrive is for her maid to point and blurt, “Young master Yoon-kang!” Soo-in tries to hush her, now that she’s determined to keep his identity a secret, but Jan-yi (ever the voice of common sense) protests that he’s clearly Yoon-kang, plain as day, with his face and voice exactly the same, just sporting weird new hair. Soo-in has to forcibly push her inside.
As he leaves, Yoon-kang spots Jung-hoon lurking outside the house. Jung-hoon, bless his heart, tries feebly to pretend he was just in the neighborhood, but pretty readily gives up that he’s on a secret task to keep guard over Interpreter Jung, who looks to be the gunman’s next target. They’re being particularly cautious about an upcoming meeting with foreign officials.
Yoon-kang mulls over Soo-in’s words about believing the young master to be alive, and something about it bothers him. Are you suspecting that she knows it’s you? Please tell me that you’re suspecting.
He heads over to his wardrobe and with trembling hand reaches into his drawer. Ah, you DO suspect! But when he opens the box, he finds his compass nestled there like ever, and his tension ebbs—though I daresay there’s more disappointment in there than relief. As it turns out, Soo-in had sent him away for tea to give herself the opportunity to return the compass.
Ho-kyung has been hard at work on his project to build up Joseon’s military with modern weapons. He reports to Interpreter Jung and his colleagues on the plans to send a team of young men to learn from technicians in China, as well as talks to buy a large amount of guns. To this end, they have an important meeting with Chinese envoys scheduled for the next day.
This puts the opposition faction on high alert. It’s telling that, rather than seeing this as a clash of ideals—progressive versus conservative, open-door foreign policy versus closed—they interpret this move purely through a selfish lens: If Gojong builds up an army, he’ll be strong enough to fight back with them using force. The Sugu followers insist to their leader that they must block the meeting, and Lord Kim just assures them smugly that there’s nothing to worry about—he’s got it covered.
The next day is a busy one for all our parties. Interpreter Jung and Ho-kyung participate in talks with the envoys, looking over their state-of-the-art rifles and coming to a deal. Outside, Officer Moon and his plainclothes officers are stationed guard, while Choi Won-shin heads out with his right-hand man Sung-gil to station their men even more surreptitiously.
And then there’s our lone ranger Yoon-kang, who slips onto the premises and scopes out the scene. He clocks Jung-hoon, perched on a rooftop as lookout, then notes the other officers nearby—and then a second later, Jung-hoon vanishes from sight. Rushing over, Yoon-kang finds him slumped on the ground, unconscious. He pulls his friend to the side and then looks around for his attacker.
Meanwhile, Choi Won-shin trains his sights on Interpreter Jung’s delegation, now wrapping up their meeting and heading out wearing pleased smiles. He lines up a clear shot… his finger tightens on the trigger… and a hammer cocks. But not his.
It’s from the gun behind him, pointed at his head. Yoon-kang! The sound makes Choi freeze, and Yoon-kang orders him to put down his gun. Slowly, Choi sets his gun down on the rooftop, but immediately whirls around and grabs the barrel of Yoon-kang’s gun, wrestling with him on the precarious rooftop.
The scuffle sends them both crashing down to the ground below, and they both take a hard fall—Yoon-kang grabs his shoulder in pain. As they gain their bearings, they both spot Yoon-kang’s gun and make a grab for it at the same time.
Sung-gil gets a clear shot of Interpreter Jung in the road, and a split-second before he shoots, Ho-kyung looks up and spots the danger. As the bullet speeds toward Interpreter Jung, he leaps in front of him, taking the hit in the back. Oh nooooo. It’s such a perfect thing for Ho-kyung to do, but I don’t want him to die!
Yoon-kang continues to battle with Choi Won-shin, both masked. Ack, what does it say that I’m more concerned for Yoon-kang’s identity than his physical safety? Both men get in powerful blows and take a few of their own, but it’s Yoon-kang who ends up with the upper hand. He pins Choi to the ground and levels the gun at Choi’s still-masked face, while his father’s words flash through his mind of the culprit having a scar on the left shoulder.
Yoon-kang reaches over and rips his sleeve open, revealing a scar that provides enough confirmation for him to growl, “It was you—the gunman who killed Park Jin-han!”
Next he reaches for the mask, and although I’m screaming at my screen to do it faster already, are you asking for an interruption?, I suppose we must leave room for slow-motion dramatic effect that makes it seem like eons when it’s mere seconds. Choi Won-shin looks pretty wiped out from the fight, but musters a last burst of energy to grab Yoon-kang’s hand before he can reveal his face, and then second later his small army arrives to provide cover for him to escape.
Yoon-kang finds himself facing a wall of gunmen and has to take cover, and then the officers arrive on the scene, necessitating his own escape.
King Gojong is outraged to hear of the attempted murder, though it’s some consolation that Interpreter Jung was unharmed. Ho-kyung survived the bullet, though his condition remains uncertain, and Gojong dispatches a royal doctor to tend to him. But while the assassination fell short, the sheer boldness of the attempt has Gojong shaking in rage.
Yoon-kang also deals with his fury as he makes hit home safely and recalls his encounter with the gunman who got away. So close… yet so far.
Choi Won-shin keeps his extracurricular activities a secret from Hye-won, who worries to see him nursing some injuries, which he writes off as nothing serious. She informs him of the shooting today in the city, and expresses her concern over the incident. Choi hides his consternation when she says that Jung didn’t die, though that’s bad news for him.
Ho-kyung wakes up that evening, and asks Soo-in to stay with him just a little while. He thanks her for being at his side and says, “Having you here when I opened my eyes makes me feel at ease.”
Yoon-kang remains frustrated that he wasn’t able to confirm the gunman’s identity, though at least now he is certain that the man is the killer he’s looking for. Sang-chu urges him to resume working with Choi Won-shin, since that will at least put him closer to the clues.
Choi Won-shin’s failure spurs Lord Kim’s ire, who warns him to do the job right, and that one more botched job will get his merchant position taken from him. There are many who’d love to take his place, he reminds him. A look of desperation flits across Choi’s face. (Another amazing bit of expressiveness from the actor.)
At the mountain temple, the head monk (and Sang-chu’s noona) hears from a villager of the sniping in the city, and Yeon-ha arrives in time to hear the woman tsk-tsking that an armed man wreaked havoc and that there were witnesses who saw a dead gunman’s body. She freezes, thinking of her brother.
Yoon-kang’s private agenda runs into a snag when Kanemaru reports that their boss, Yamamoto, has decided to come here and that he is likely to find their operations a pitiful mess. With Yoon-kang’s focus elsewhere, they haven’t exactly been doing much business and the gold-mining project has halted in its tracks, so Kanemaru warns that the boss may be so incensed that he’d send Hanjo back to Japan. So now his cover’s at risk, and Yoon-kang tells Sang-chu to take care of some of their warehouse and merchant concerns.
Just then, Hye-won drops by unannounced and pleads with him earnestly to give them another chance, asking for his understanding and forgiveness. He’s snappish in regards to her father, but at her continued apologies, he tells her that there’s no need for her to give them, since he’s not directing his vexation at her. Then, feigning reluctance, he concedes, “When you keep acting like this, I can’t remain stubborn.”
With that, he puts her in charge as his liaison rather than her father, and warns her to make sure they see fruitful results this time. Hye-won brightens and thanks him profusely, and he tells her to smile more, as it looks better on her.
Interpreter Jung doesn’t allow the shooting to sway him from his purpose, despite Soo-in’s protests that he’s putting himself in danger. He states that that’s what they want, for the fear to make him stop from the course he believes to be right.
That evening, Yoon-kang makes an unannounced visit to see Choi Won-shin, who receives him with surprised solicitiousness. Yoon-kang takes careful note of Choi’s slow movements and the signs of injury, saying that it looks like he was in a hard fight. Choi tenses at that, but explains it as a simple fall from his horse.
When Choi thanks him for giving them another chance to work together, Yoon-kang states firmly that he’s doing it because of Hye-won’s entreaties, and that Choi should take care not to do anything that would shame her.
The encounter is enough to confirm Yoon-kang’s suspicions—he’d long suspected Choi as being the mastermind of the gunmen, but now he believes him to be the gunman himself. Recalling that the document they’d stolen from Choi Won-shin’s records was torn in half, Yoon-kang tells Sang-chu to find the missing half. It may hold something critical.
Yeon-ha sneaks back to the city and arrives in time to see Sang-chu both enjoying and fretting at Je-mi’s fawning over him. It’s hilarious how he clearly doesn’t mind the food she prepares and the adoration, but on the other hand isn’t really up to owning up to the gunman identity when she whispers about the recent uproar and asks why he did it. Heh.
Yeon-ha remains out of sight until Yoon-kang appears, and lights up to see him. She’d been afraid for his safety, and he assures her that he’s fine and offers to take her back to the temple… just as Hye-won and Choi Won-shin step inside the gates. Hye-won spies them together just before Yeon-ha whirls away, and Yoon-kang orders her to leave quickly. Thankfully Choi Won-shin hasn’t seen anything yet, and Hye-won covers up for her reaction, not drawing any attention to Yeon-ha.
Choi spots the girl just before she leaves his line of sight, though it’s only from the back and only for a second. Yoon-kang just says he was looking to hire another servant but deemed the girl too young, and Hye-won doesn’t press. But I don’t like the shark-like look on Choi’s face, or the way he heads after Yeon-ha to confirm his suspicions.
But at the last moment somebody grabs her out of the way, and Choi finds nothing. Yoon-kang finds him wandering and asks what for, at which point Choi replies that the girl reminded him of that slave he’d sent away. Yoon-kang points out that if it were, he would have recognized her first (given how rude he found her), and wonders why Choi seems so obsessed with a common slave.
As the men leave to discuss business, Yeon-ha breathes a sigh of relief, having huddled around the corner… with Soo-in, who’d pulled her away. OOH.
Soo-in hurries Yeon-ha out of the area before stopping to talk, telling her she’d been searching for her all this while. She cries and holds her close, apologizing for not finding her sooner.
As they stop to eat, Yeon-ha explains the reason for her visit, and Soo-in doesn’t hide that she knows the full story. She asks Yeon-ha to keep their meeting a secret from Yoon-kang, since she wants to preserve his secret until he’s ready to reveal it, and Yeon-ha promises.
Hye-won puzzles over the odd scene while her father and Yoon-kang discuss their deal, recalling when Yeon-ha gave her brother’s name. Aha, it looks like she puts the pieces together, though she keeps them to herself.
Soo-in delivers Yeon-ha safely to the temple, but has to scurry for cover when she sees Yoon-kang hurrying toward them. She remains out of sight as Yeon-ha asks how long he means to hide his identity, and why he doesn’t tell Soo-in.
Yoon-kang answers that he must clear their father’s name first (which makes sense, since he remains a fugitive until then), and that Soo-in can’t know because it would put her in danger.
“I do miss her,” he says. “I want to see her. I dream every day of standing before her as Park Yoon-kang. But I can’t now. I can’t let my desires put her in danger.” Soo-in just barely holds herself back from stepping forward, restraining herself at the last moment.
Hye-won bursts in to alert her father to bad news: Their suppliers have been diverted to another merchant, and no reason has been given other than that a certain Lord Kim ordered it so. Hye-won has no idea who he is and is bursting with indignation, ready to march over and talk with him in person, but Choi Won-shin understands this for the warning it is and calls her off.
Ex-Minister Kim looks like a pitiful shadow of himself now that he’s been exiled, though his thunderous temper remains intact. Ho-kyung pays him a visit, only to be sneered at for selling out his father after losing his head over a girl. Ho-kyung contradicts him, saying that he acted because those people were innocent of any crime, but calls Soo-in the woman he’s in love with and plans to marry. He isn’t here to ask permission, but merely to inform his father of his intentions.
On his journey back, he crosses paths with another traveler heading toward Minister Kim’s home, and pauses at the familiar-looking face. He can’t quite place it, but Choi Won-shin clocks the interest and gives Ho-kyung a careful once-over as well.
Choi Won-shin’s visit is unexpected, and Minister Kim eyes him warily. Choi makes a proposal that is at once absurd and intriguing: Because he is a hunting dog to be discarded once the hunt is over, he is in search of a new master… and would like it to be Minister Kim. And now that Lord Kim has decided to fill Minister Kim’s vacated office with another nobleman, shouldn’t Minister Kim be thinking of his own future now?
Minister Kim blusters at him for his impudence, but Choi tells him to think it over.
That evening, Soo-in prepares Ho-kyung’s medicine and fusses over it before allowing him to drink it. Ho-kyung looks at her with fondness and says something telling, maybe for the first time ever, “If I’d known you’d be like this, I’d have been ill sooner.”
Remember Sohn Taek-soo? He was the ex-officer who’d made the false report painting Park Jin-han as a traitor, who’d run away in fear once it became clear he was being sought out. Well, now he finally makes a reappearance, sneaking back to town to visit his wife, who sets him up with a nice meal… and then hurries away with a shifty look on her face.
Moments later, Officers Moon and Jung-hoon burst in and arrest him, taking him to the station for interrogation. Jung-hoon takes that good news to Yoon-kang, assuring him that his father’s crime will be cleared in no time.
But Yoon-kang isn’t content with sitting and waiting, and pleads to be allowed to speak to Sohn Taek-soo directly.
Officer Moon conducts the interrogation and demands to know who was giving Sohn Taek-soo his orders. Sohn cowers and begs to be taken somewhere safe, saying that there are sure to be spies afoot, since he knows there were spies in Park Jin-han’s forces. A spy is going to kill him if he stays here, just like that other gunman was killed while in jail.
Judging from Lord Kim’s reaction to the news, he’s right. The Sugu followers sweat that Sohn’s capture will lead to their incrimination in Park Jin-han’s assassination, but Lord Kim just crows at them not to worry about it.
Officer Moon sees truth in Sohn’s worries and mobilizes a team of officers to transport Sohn away from the city—and we see that Yoon-kang is disguised as one of the officers. Upon arrival, Yoon-kang takes the Sohn into the safehouse while the others remain outside to guard, and then reveals himself as the gunman who came looking for him the last time.
When Sohn doesn’t appear to take his threat seriously, Sohn draws his pistol and orders him to spill. At Sohn’s cowering, Yoon-kang growls at him, “Because of you, my life was destroyed. Because of your lie, my father died, my sister was sold as a slave, and I was left to die in the cold river waters.”
Yoon-kang gives him to the count of three… just as outside, Sung-gil arrives and silently snaps a guard’s neck. Sohn cracks and agrees to ‘fess up, starting with how he’d shown up to find the plot already planned, his testimony predetermined. The head officer of the high court fed him his story, and Park Jin-han’s letter was forged. Heading this was the chief judge of the court, Lord Jung—a face we’ve seen many times amidst Lord Kim’s gatherings.
But why would those men trust Sohn Taek-soo with this task? At that, Sohn starts to explain, “It wasn’t me they trusted…”
Bang! A gunshot fires, and Sohn falls, dead. Yoon-kang races out and sees where the gunman had found his opening, but there’s no sign of him now.
Officer Moon holds Jung-hoon responsible, having heard that there was a stranger involved in tonight’s events—and understandably, it doesn’t sound too convincing when Jung-hoon says that that guy wasn’t the killer. Officer Moon orders him to reveal what he knows, or be considered a suspect and the gunman’s accomplice. When Jung-hoon remains silent, he is ordered thrown in jail. Aw, poor guy but good sidekick—I like him, but always worry that he’s the weak link in all this.
Yoon-kang hears of Lord Jung’s plans to be at a gathering the next afternoon, which provides them an opportunity to slip inside his house.
Soo-in drops by to tell Yoon-kang of her father’s near-miss, and how he was saved by Ho-kyung. Yoon-kang is happy enough until that name gets mentioned, particularly when she says how grateful she is for his help, and asks, “You’re thankful to him? Is that all?”
But there’s no chance to delve into that, because it’s more bad news: Their explosives expert was injured on the job. They rush to the mining site and receive the update from Chio Won-shin, and it doesn’t look good. And without an expert on the scene, they won’t be able to get enough work done before Yamamoto’s arrival. The clock is ticking and they know this will take more time than they have.
Soo-in speaks up to offer her services, saying that she’s learned more and can handle the basics. Yoon-kang doesn’t entertain the idea for a second, barking that their expert was injured and that she should stay out of it. But Choi Won-shin warms to the idea, and Yoon-kang is overridden.
It’s late that night by the time Soo-in locks up and heads out from Yoon-kang’s warehouse, and upon running into Je-mi in the yard, she offers herself to deliver him his tea. She finds him asleep at his desk, and ever so gently reaches over to brush his hair with her fingers.
Then she turns to leave… only to have his eyes open.
Then, his hand reaches out to grab her wrist. He straightens, and they freeze there for long moments, looking at each other.
Eee! He’s not going to run away from the confrontation! Not that Yoon-kang doesn’t have a prefectly reasonable (necessary, even) reason for maintaining his cover, because he absolutely should. Keeping Soo-in in the dark may seem like it’s a forced scenario, but to play devil’s advocate, I’d argue that it would be much riskier to let her in on the secret. If you’ve watched enough sageuks, you know that loved ones can provide a powerful source of motivation to a character, but that means they’re also ready pawns to be used to manipulate and hurt, which makes them vulnerable. But more than that, they’re also a huge liability.
It’s not as though asking Soo-in to keep a secret would be such a terrible turn, but in the scheme of things it’s just safer to keep her in the dark. Granted, that only works when she doesn’t already know, so right now it seems to us that the mutual feigned ignorance is a bit of a song and dance—but so long as Yoon-kang is unaware of her knowing about him, we can conclude that it’s best this way. Which is why it’s such a great moment that he takes an active step toward her, because for all that logic and rationale, he still loves her and wants to be with her, and that kind of emotional longing is what keeps us engaged and swooning, isn’t it?
So it’s potent stuff—even if he does take back that step forward in the first two minutes of the next episode, which I swear would make me howl in disappointment yet totally fit my expectations. That possibility notwithstanding, the mere fact that he gave into his impulse even for a moment is pretty gratifying, and I’m gonna bask in it for a while. Till tomorrow at least!
I can see the plot taking a bit of a ride on the merry-go-round with the Hanjo-Choi alliance, then broken deal, then re-alliance, then re-broken deal, then re-re-alliance, which I’m just going to accept as a truth for this show. We need these two parties to be linked together for clue-hunting and truth-seeking purposes, but we also need them in constant conflict, so this is the way the plot keeps up that momentum.
I wouldn’t be sad if they figured out a fresh way to accomplish those narrative goals, for sure, but at least the writing supports the turns so that it’s not purely a one-step-forward, one-step-backward relationship. I appreciate that with each turn, something about the relationship changes, both on the surface (such as Hye-won being put in charge over her father) and underneath the surface in that murky underbelly of ever-shifting suspicions. So now Yoon-kang and Choi Won-shin are harboring some pretty serious suspicions, and now Yoon-kang’s mission goes from confirming the identity of the gunman to tracking down clues.
The plot has done a good job of giving our hero a leg up, and then yanking him back down to square one as he loses his leads. It’s a nice twist to have Choi’s situation similarly on shaky ground, and I was pleased with his new decision to fight back against Lord Kim by supporting someone who could potential rise above him, freeing Choi Won-shin from his hold over him. What does it say about him that I’m rooting for the villain to prevail in this scenario? I still think he’s destined for a tragic end, but I’d love to see him win a few small victories against his twisted master along the way.
And Ho-kyung finally (finally!) takes a step forward in his courtship of Soo-in… by declaring that he has a courtship with Soo-in. I wouldn’t blame her if she were completely blindsided by his intentions since he’s been so friendly and brotherly toward her all along, and how’s a girl to know you lurve her if you never make a move? Of course, my pleasure at seeing him step it up is only going to meet with pity once he realizes that he can’t compete with a tragic first love who’s still, conveniently, hanging around being heartbreakingly tragic. I mean, who wouldn’t want to comfort that face in pain?