Secret Door: Episode 8
Will everybody stop breaking the prince’s heart already? Is that so much to ask?
…yes, you say? Okay fine, so I know this is a story whose very premise necessitates breaking the prince’s heart and fracturing his trust in everyone near and dear to him. It’s just, maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so wrenching, or frequent.
To be really (really really) glass-half-full about it, today’s episode gives us a whole bevy of pathos-ridden character development, and I found those even more gripping than the plot part of the story, where people get tortured and die and left as clues to bigger mysteries. The investigation gets increasingly tangled and fraught with complications, and that’s suspenseful in its own right, but me? I’m here for the characters, shattered hearts and all.
SONG OF THE DAY
Puer Kim – “범인은 너” (You’re the criminal) [ Download ]
EPISODE 8 RECAP
With the prince closing in on the bad guys in the Noron camp, the Norons are shaking things up internally to cover their asses in case Sun works out all the clues. So while Westside boss Shadow had previously been Prime Minister Kim’s go-to assassin, Shadow’s fallen out of favor and is now the target. Prime Minister Kim has already found himself a new assassin to take over, Blacklist, and gives the instruction to kill Shadow.
I’d maybe feel sorry for Shadow (just a tiny bit) for being used and discarded thusly, except that Shadow brought this upon himself by holding onto that secret document and using it as blackmail/collateral. Prime Minister Kim won’t stand to be double-crossed like that, and plans to use his secret illegitimate son, Kim Mu, as his assassin.
The Sorons are equally keen to get to Shadow and intend to bribe him for it, before the Norons get to it. (Fyi, the document at the center of this show, which binds Yeongjo and the Norons as conspirators, is called maengui in the show; we’ve simply called it the secret document to keep things simple. But if it becomes clearer to use the word maengui instead, we’ll do so.) So now it’s a race to get to Shadow first, and he must know things are moving because Shadow takes extra precautions to hide that maengui document in a smoking pipe.
It’s secret assassin Mu who gets to him first, knocking him out with a dart to the neck. When Shadow wakes up, he’s tied up in preparation for what looks to be a grisly torture session. Mu asks for the secret document, and Shadow, who’s carrying the pipe on him, doesn’t give it up. He starts to panic as Mu applies the blade to his hand…
I’m relieved we don’t have to watch the torture, but we come back after the first round is done. Mu carefully takes the blood that’s been collected by a funnel contraption, then pours it into a plant vase. Guh. So he’s a neat-freak sadist? Why does that extra detail make him so much more terrifying? Mu asks again for the document, but then hears a noise outside.
Chul-joo slips inside Shadow’s now-silent house, operating on Park Mun-su’s instructions to kill Shadow and bring back the pipe. He spots drops of blood on the floor, leading to the wall screen, which tip him off to the assassin’s presence. He stabs through the screen, and though he misses getting a piece of Mu, it brings the fight out into the open.
As they battle it out in the small room, Chul-joo snatches the pipe from Shadow, and Mu realizes what it must be. So he slashes Shadow’s throat since he’s no longer useful, and then our two swordsmen take the fight outside.
Hyegyeong isn’t dealing very well with the sting of being abandoned by her husband in the middle of the night they were scheduled (by the government, no less) to sleep together. She takes it out on Sun’s head court lady, whipping her legs with a switch and demanding his whereabouts.
The court lady stoically endures the punishment and says she’ll be the outlet for the princess’s anger, which only angers Hyegyeong more. She insists that it’s not because of her hurt feelings (uh huh) that she’s reacting this way, but because Sun’s behavior is going against the rules. She’s ignoring the part where she’s crossing the line, because the prince’s staff isn’t hers to punish this way, but that isn’t stopping her.
You get the sense that Hyegyeong would actually hate being understood, because she expends so much effort putting up that front of icy decorum. She isn’t hurt, she’s concerned for the country! But the court lady either doesn’t know where Sun is or won’t divulge it, and so Hyegyeong goes on whipping her.
Sun arrives at Shadow’s house next, and finds the bloody corpse on the floor. His bloodstained appearance has the servants in an uproar, at least until he identifies himself and sends a man to fetch officials.
The chase between Chul-joo and Mu takes them across town and into the woods, where they confront each other—and, surprisingly, say that it’s been a long time. They were once friendly, and Mu says that it’s a pity that he’ll have to kill the one person he knew in the city. Not if Chul-joo has anything to say about that, and they go at it with their swords.
Corrupt Officer Byun and his men arrive at Shadow’s house, but they’re not the officials Sun called, and he seems rightly skeptical of their “We were just in the neighborhood” excuse. He turns them away because the case isn’t in their jurisdiction, and they have to comply when the city mayor arrives on the scene moments later to take over.
The mayor’s a Soron, the policemen are Norons. So Officer Byun leaves griping about the prince’s continued interference, and Ji-dam happens to hear this since she’s snuck out to do some snooping of her own.
Prime Minister Kim’s inner circle (well, triangle really) freaks out to hear that the prince is involved and wonder just how much he knows. King Yeongjo, despite being in the same conspiracy boat as the Norons, jumps to the conclusion that they’re trying to pull one over on him. But his eunuch suspects the opposite, noting that the prince called for Mayor Jo, the Soron leader. He asks the horrifying thought, “Could the prince have found out about the maengui?”
Yeongjo reels at the thought, then asks if this means the prince is searching for that document.
Yes but not-yes. Sun is looking for the document, but at the present he doesn’t know exactly what it is. He pores through every book in Shadow’s house, hoping to find the book Heung-bok was carrying when he died. It’s not there.
There are several unusual things about Sun’s behavior tonight that Mayor Jo picks up on, such as his excursion into the city in the first place and his dismissal of the police. He asks Sun about them and whether the prince wants something of him, and offers himself up to command.
For now, Sun chooses to trust him (ackkkk) and asks the mayor to select a few trustworthy officials to work on this case. It’s imperative that nobody outside this small group be allowed close to the investigation. He asks to be updated with the utmost secrecy. Unfortunately, that trust is misplaced, and the second Sun leaves, Mayor Jo gives the order to scour the house for any suspicious books.
Ji-dam is waiting to speak to Sun outside, and he starts to scold her in frustration for leaving her safehouse. But she tells him she may know who killed Shadow (aka Pil-jae, the prince’s bodyguard. I know, so many names!). She reports what she heard—that Park Mun-su gave orders for assassins to kill Shadow and recover a pipe. It’s hard to hear, and Sun isn’t ready to believe this of his teacher.
“It’s not him,” he says, arguing that this doesn’t make him the mastermind. “If Teacher is the one behind Kang Pil-jae’s murder, then that makes him behind all of these murders. And that means he also killed Heuung-bok. There’s no way that could be—why would he do that?”
Advisor Chae points out that this mysterious and dangerous document could provide that reason. Obviously Park didn’t order a murder just to claim a smoking pipe, so it’s likely that the document is tied to it. Furthermore, Chae argues that the best way to clear up suspicion over his teacher is to push forward and investigate him. Despite feeling sick at heart, Sun sees his point.
With this new information putting Chul-joo’s home base under suspicion, they agree that Ji-dam can no longer stay there, and Advisor Chae invites Ji-dam and her father to stay with him. Ha, is she going to house-hop every episode? That would actually be fun, and true to the spirit of keeping her on the move and hidden, rather than just hiding out in one conveniently unfindable spot for the whole drama.
Sun feels extra sorry to her father with each disruption and apologizes. He then checks on Ji-dam, who has remained quiet but whose dismay he well understands. He assures her that when all is said and done, their faith in Park Mun-soo and Chul-joo will be proven true: “They will be the people we trust them to be.” It’s a poignant moment for the two idealists… but why does the camera cut to an eavesdropping spy?
Meanwhile, the Soron leaders who tried to buy the maengui document from Shadow/Pil-jae is left wondering why the meeting fell through. They must not know about the death yet, and wonder if he decided to take the document elsewhere, to someone who wanted the document more. They recognize that even so, the other party wouldn’t have just accepted a simple deal—what if they were planning to kill him afterward, just as the Sorons intended? Is there nobody whose idea of fixing problems means killing them?
It’s interesting to see everyone working with different pieces of the puzzle, because they all have gaping holes in their information. Yeongjo, for instance, mulls over the question of the prince’s involvement and comes upon a comforting thought—that Park Mun-su sent an assassin, which means that he got to Pil-jae before the prince did. So for now, it’s likely that Sun doesn’t have that document.
Assassin Mu returns to Prime Minister Kim’s house empty-handed, but his father takes a surprisingly gentle approach and tells him that it’s enough that he returned safely. He tells him not to worry and rest up, while Mu offers up the comment that he may know how to recover the document.
Chul-joo reports to Park Mun-su about the interloper who killed Pil-jae, and hands over the pipe. Park Mun-su takes it with great excitement, but as he fiddles with it, he notices blood on the handle and realizes that Chul-joo was injured. He runs out to look for him, but misses him.
Chul-joo in fact has a great bleeding wound in the side, and his sight goes blurry from the blood loss. His reflexes kick in to avoid getting stuck by a flying dart, but a second one finds its mark in his neck. He struggles to stay awake as Mu approaches, but he falls unconscious in seconds.
Sun enters Park Mun-su’s office late that night and instructs his advisor and eunuch to begin the search.
Park Mun-su’s concern takes him to the Eastside gang’s headquarters, where he grows even more worried upon hearing that Chul-joo hasn’t returned yet. That’s because he’s been taken by Mu, and awakens to find himself tied up. Mu tells him to rest up because tomorrow is likely to be a rough day (…to put it mildly), and leaves him for the night.
The search of Pil-jae’s house turns up one suspicious book, a memoir. We don’t see what has the Soron mayor gaping in shock, but it must be serious.
The search of Park Mun-su’s office turns up nothing, but Advisor Chae just chides Eunuch Jang to look harder. For the gloomy prince’s benefit, his faithful eunuch says that this may be wasted effort since Park may be innocent, and for the prince’s benefit, Advisor Chae tamps down his skepticism. And then he gets a hunch about possible hidden safes in the room, leading them to a locked compartment set into the wall.
With both hope and fear, Sun opens the safe… and there it is, that borrowed mystery novel they’ve been searching for, marked with the stamp that Heung-bok altered. Smash! goes the prince’s heart as he realizes his trusted teacher has been doing some untrustworthy things.
Advisor Chae presses him to arrest Park Mun-su right away for trying to hide evidence related to the investigation, but the eunuch sees Sun’s devastation and gives him the Not now, dude look. With difficulty, Sun asks for just a moment of quiet to process this.
He heads back to his quarters alone, his heart heavy as he thinks back to his childhood and the nurturing presence his teacher played in it. He remembers Advisor Chae warning him to be suspicious of Park, and of Park himself urging him not to trust anybody. In his empty chamber, he breaks down in tears.
Sun’s head court lady hears of the latest and feels for the prince’s emotional state, knowing how he’d trusted Park Mun-su. Asked about her own condition following the princess’s punishment, she dismisses it soundly, calling it nothing in light of the prince’s situation. Aw, I do love her; she’s like a surrogate mother, so quietly steadfast.
When she then hears of yet another potential problem in the making, she hurries to intercept Hyegyeong before she reaches Sun’s quarters, asking her not to disturb him tonight. Hyegyeong doesn’t take kindly to the impertinence, so the court lady kneels on the ground and says she’d have her legs cut off if necessary, but cannot step aside.
Hyegyeong demands a reason, and Court Lady Choi starts her explanation by describing the prince as the child she raised from infanthood, who didn’t cry much and had more laughs than tears. She realized only later that he didn’t like to be seen crying, so he would hide and then cry in secret.
Hyegyeong looks genuinely moved to tears, catching on that the prince is crying alone right now. But she argues that it’s her place to be with him in times like this, and Court Lady Choi replies that it’s her lifelong wish that such a day will come. “But today is not that day,” she says, pleading for the princess to allow him this time to cry without interference. Aw, and now I’m crying without interference.
The princess is, at least, swayed by the words. Sun continues to cry in private. Small, small consolation.
Park Mun-su finds the document hidden in the pipe, at the same time that Sun opens the mystery novel and flips through the pages. When one catches his eye, he recalls Heung-bok’s letter hinting at a hidden clue, and examines the page that’s thicker than the rest. He holds it up to a candle, and the light reveals the words hidden between the lines.
As those words literally come to light before Sun’s eyes, Park Mun-su reads the same thing on the original document, which start out with a cry to save the country, identifying these faithful servants of the nation who will take up the call (using the name Great Unity to describe their secret society). It specifically outlines the plan to enthrone a new king, and despite the pseudo-patriotic rationale for the move, this is clearly a traitorous document, and highly damning. Sun is aghast.
Park Mun-su reads the names signed to the document, and it sends him into a flashback of the day he had given Yeongjo a fan with a nickname he’d made for him—Juk-pa, to mean a ruler who would reign with righteousness. Yeongjo had vowed to cherish the name more than his given one, and it was that name that he had written onto the maengui. Oof. Is that hopeful or deeply ironic? Hopeful, or horrifying?
Park Mun-su reads that name and laughs with tears in his yes.
He then reports to Yeongjo that he found the document, and is embraced with the king’s full gratitude. But Park’s face is stony and unmoved, and he tells the king, “I’m sorry, Your Highness. I do not intend to give it to you.”
And just like that, it’s the scary Yeongjo again (though one could argue he’s always scary), shaking in rage. He asks if Park means to lay everything bare to the whole nation, but Park replies that everything depends on what the king decides. He outlines the crimes committed thirty years ago by everyone who signed that document, and states that they’ll have to take responsibility for them.
Yeongjo actually sputters and asks if that includes himself. Park replies, “If that is what you decide, that may be one way.”
Yeongjo grabs his sword and brandishes it at an unflinching Park Mun-su. He bellows, “You’re telling me to give up the king’s seat?!” He demands to know what Park wants, and Park kneels and declares that he only wants to right what’s wrong.
At that, the king howls in laughter at the idea of straightening out a crooked history. He orders Park to be more honest, and asks, “If I am the past, then who is the future?” Oh no, he’s twisting this down a dangerous path, isn’t he? He guesses that Park wants to throw Yeongjo aside to make Sun the king.
Park Mun-su tells the king he will give him time to figure out how to straighten out this crooked path. Yeongjo challenges, “What will you do if I do nothing?” Park answers the question with a question (infuriating, but effective): “What would you do if it were you?”
Yeongjo wouldn’t be lenient, that’s for sure, judging from the deathly glare he shoots at Park, who entreats him to make the wise choice. When Park turns to leave, he raises his sword as though to strike him down then and there, but Park adds one last word: The instant the king tries to (or even succeeds in) harming Park, copies of the maengui will be spread far and wide.
Yeongjo’s good and cornered, and he tells Park he’s gotten better at this. Park replies, “I owe it all to you.”
Park was remarkably composed throughout that exchange, but he returns to his office feeling drained. The same goes for the king, who turns toward his throne and looks at it beseechingly before falling to the ground before it. His earlier words ring in his ears: “You’re telling me to give up the throne? You mean to shove me aside and enthrone the crown prince?!” Yeongjo looks lost and weak. For now, at least.
The Soron mayor hears the results of the autopsy, and the coroner notes that Pil-jae suffered torture before being killed. He’s also alerted to a problem with the murder weapon.
Prime Minister Kim stops Park Mun-su to ask whether he found any interesting documents last night. Park answers with a question (stop Yoda-ing everyone!), “What do you think?” The prime minister just chuckles that the real fight is about to get started, and that it should be entertaining.
By morning, Sun has calmed his emotions and put his thoughts in order. He asks for Park Mun-su to be brought to him quietly.
Yeongjo hears of this, and his paranoia is running at an all-time high; anytime he hears Park and Sun mentioned in the same breath, he jumps to the conclusion that they must be colluding against him.
That’s far from the truth, and Sun sits down with Park and starts out lightly by speaking of his fondness for mystery novels. His favorite writer’s first novel (about Park Mun-su the inspector) was wildly unpopular, but this novel is different, he says—and pulls out the one hidden in Park’s safe.
At the same time, Yeongjo reviews the report brought to him by the mayor, who is clearly afraid to tell him something important. To his surprise, Yeongjo just tells him to deal with it via the law, and the mayor looks shocked. Oh! Is the murder weapon the dagger stolen from Sun’s room?
Sun asks Park point-blank what he was doing with the book, and whether the man sitting before him is the prince-regent’s teacher or a criminal. Park replies, “A criminal.”
Sun asks what his crime is. Park replies, “With my own hands, I left Shin Heung-bok’s corpse in the well.”
Well, it doesn’t get more damning than that. Sun’s hand balls into a fist and shakes, so much that he has to hold it firm with the other hand. Tears fill his eyes and he looks at his teacher with betrayal, and Park can only look away.
And just then, the mayor leads his team into the office, here to arrest the criminal, he announces. Sun turns his face and tells them to take Park away, and Park dutifully rises to accept his punishment.
But the mayor counters that they are not here to arrest Park: “Your Highness, you are under arrest for the murder of Kang Pil-jae.”
Knowing what is happening to son at this moment, Yeongjo muses to himself that there’s no rule forcing him to die.
I loved this episode, and there weren’t a whole lot of character-centric scenes that didn’t move me. I’m increasingly drawn to Hyegyeong, for instance, who may emerge my favorite character of the bunch—she’s just so complex and interesting. I am so enjoying the show’s depiction of her plight, being caught between her sense of pride and duty on the one hand, and her human emotions on the other.
The great tragedy about Hyegyeong is that she doesn’t realize those don’t have to be mutually exclusive things. She could let down her adamantine outer shell and be a partner to Sun in the way that her heart of hearts desires, and yet you get the sense that she thinks of those wishes as impossible. If she were a little less furiously, manically defensive, she might be able to have the relationship she wants with her husband, only she’s in such a furor to mask anything that might bridge the gap that she’s actively getting in her own way.
So she clings to her rules and propriety, because that’s her safety zone, and even when she’s feeling emotional, she retreats to those rules as either her shield or her weapon. With the smirky upstart concubine who didn’t know her place, Hyegyeong used rules to cut her down. And when her husband is possibly finding romance elsewhere, she uses those rules as the mechanism by which she lashes out. They’re her excuse to keep tabs on him, and a convenient one at that. I feel like a functional relationship marked by mutual respect, if not by passion or romance, could be in the cards for them if she tried a different, less militant angle. It’s not like he’s the perfect husband either, but he’s at least acting the way he feels; she’s hiding behind her mixed messages deliberately. Too bad, as friends are surely something both could use.
But perhaps I’m wrong and gaining each other’s trust would be dangerous for them, because political machinations can never be ignored at court, even when you’re dealing with good intentions. This drama is doing a stand-out job of portraying the nerve-racking precariousness that is court life, with backstabbers and plotters at every turn, and every innocent word at risk of being twisted into something sinister. Hyegyeong is, even in the best of scenarios, fiercely loyal to her natal family, and I get the sense that she’d always put them first. Which puts her fundamentally at odds with Sun.
As for Sun, I love what’s happening on a narrative level, even though I may wail about the emotional damage they’re heaping onto the poor prince. His faith is both naive and one of those shining traits that I don’t want him to lose, and it was terrible and wonderful to watch him experience that faith being tested and broken, in all its up-close and gory detail. Thing is, he still doesn’t know the full truth, and even though Park Mun-su did lie to him and obstruct the truth, he’s not quite guilty of the thing Sun thinks—he didn’t kill Heung-bok, and he’s not part of the conspiracy. So there’s hope for that faith to survive this blow, even though it may be a painful and bumpy ride. Possibly from prison, because on top of everything, now he’s the direct target—and who will defend him when he’s the one on the wrong side of the conspiracy stick? As if he weren’t alone enough already.