Secret Door: Episode 15
There are some great moments between our prince and princess in this episode. (They touch! On purpose!) The rest, I could take or leave, since there’s a lot of setup and people shifting their alliances (and re-shifting them) before the other shoe drops, and that usually just makes me want to skip to the part where everyone picks a damn side already so we can see the fallout. But whatchoo gonna do—when everyone’s out to double-cross everyone else, it’s sort of an endless loop… until someone becomes the patsy.
Note: The recap for Episode 16 will be a bit delayed, because we’re reshuffling our recap schedule a bit, and Tuesday’s episodes will take us a little longer to get up from here on out. But it’s coming, we promise!
SONG OF THE DAY
Urban Zakapa – “위로” (Comfort) [ Download ]
EPISODE 15 RECAP
Yeongjo gives Sun a chance to be reinstated as prince-regent—all he has to do is meet the Qing envoys who are on their way and ready to declare war (over a naval skirmish with a Joseon fishing boat), and stop a war from happening. Oh, is that all?
He makes it clear that taking on the task is a double-edged sword because if Sun succeeds, he does get to be regent again, but if he fails, he will forever be stripped of his rights to the regency. That means he’ll never practice politics ever again. Yeongjo makes sure to add that he won’t be lenient on him just because he’s his only son. I’m pretty sure no one here thought you would. But his point stings nonetheless—he’s happy to find a successor elsewhere.
The extreme terms of the deal don’t dissuade Sun, and he agrees to take on the challenge to convince the Qing envoys without caving to their demands. His father-in-law flails to hear that he agreed to do it, but Sun maintains his sunny composure and assures him he’ll be fine. A run-in with Advisor Chae does darken Sun’s mood, but he walks past without a word.
The Norons wonder why on earth Sun agreed to such a crazy deal when it’s obvious to them that it’s Yeongjo’s attempt to knock down the prince and the Norons in one fell swoop. Where the Qing are concerned, the Norons have no sway and no hidden cards, and Kim Taek decides that they’re better off cutting ties with Sun on this one.
Advisor Chae sneaks a meeting with Sun’s head court lady, and asks the same burning question on everyone’s mind—what is Sun thinking, taking a deal like that? He asks what kind of person she thinks Sun is, because the prince he knew was not that rash. He’s clearly concerned, but Court Lady Choi is wary of his motives since he betrayed them to go stand next to the king.
But this time Advisor Chae says honestly that he wants to help Sun: “If he loses his position as crown prince, then my leaving has no meaning.” Whoo, are we getting the band back together?
That convinces her to show Advisor Chae the prince’s secret library, where she says he’s spent the most of his time in the last three years. Now Chae sees that Sun has spent his time amassing a wealth of knowledge about the world—other nations’ politics, cultures, and military strategies.
Sun’s archery skills have also become more exacting in the intervening years, and he hits his target with precision now. Princess Hyegyeong comes out to see him, and he knows right away that word of his Qing mission has traveled to her palace.
But their interactions don’t have the same defensive edge that they used to, and she says pleasantly that she’s thinking of taking up archery as a hobby, since he told her to find something of interest. She notes that it must help to clear the mind and relieve stress, since he’s here almost daily.
He readily agrees to let her try, and hands her his bow. She takes an arrow but hasn’t the strength to pull it back with any force, so Sun wraps his arms around her to pull with her and steady her aim. Oh my. He takes his sweet time doing it, too—their faces are pressed together and Hyegyeong gets flustered, keenly aware of how close they are.
But Sun never takes his eyes off the target and shoots with equal precision, congratulating her on the good shot. He’s surprised when she turns to him with tears brimming in her eyes, as she asks if it’s already like an arrow that’s left the bow—is there no going back on this mission to face the Qing envoys?
She asks with genuine concern if he couldn’t just wait it out instead, for another chance to be reinstated. But Sun says that he’s seen too much of the world to sit back and wait leisurely. He says that if it’s something he can help change, then he has to stand up and try, and asks for her understanding.
When Sun returns to his library, Advisor Chae is still there, poring over the books and maps. He starts to explain, but Sun has already been informed that he’d be here, and we see outside that Court Lady Choi is smiling to herself at the successful reunion. Aw.
Advisor Chae is impressed that Sun has been studying Qing so extensively, and notes that he’s even learning their martial arts. Sun says that it’s a necessary step in military defense—to learn how the enemy fights and to train your army to do the same—and says that the time of kings packing a bag and running during times of war must come to an end. He intends to be the kind of king who fights on the front lines.
Their more immediate concern is stopping a war, though, and Sun says that the key will be in convincing the Qing envoys that Joseon’s desire for peace is trustworthy. He worries what price they’ll ask for that show of trust, and Advisor Chae says they have to find a way to appear as a friend, and not an enemy to be wary of.
Advisor Chae suggests that he enlist the help of the Norons to wine and dine the envoys, since that’s the kind of politicking they do best, and he should use that to his advantage. Sun smiles at him warmly and admits that he regrets not having Advisor Chae by his side. Advisor Chae in turn says that he hopes to serve him in the great palace, as king.
Yeongjo brings the two surviving Soron ministers back to the palace and offers them a drink. He says he’s come to appreciate their open disapproval over Noron-style backstabbing, though he makes it clear that he doesn’t need an ounce of loyalty from them. What he wants is people who will serve the country and do their jobs (and oppose the Noron—let’s be real here), and tells them to come back to court.
The king’s eunuch asks him later if he brought the Soron ministers back to help Sun, but Yeongjo says he brought them back because he knows Sun will fail. The mission was designed to fail, and Yeongjo knows better than anyone that once the going gets rough, the Norons will turn their backs on Sun. That’s when he’ll swoop in with the Sorons and fix the problem himself, squashing two enemies with one blow. But he leaves his eunuch’s last question dangling in the air: “And what happens to the crown prince?”
As expected, the sight of the Soron ministers returning to court gets Kim Taek’s wheels spinning, and he declares that the Norons will have to back the prince after all—with the king clearly holding hands with Sorons, it leaves them without a side to take. They realize they have to help Sun succeed, and Kim Taek says their future now rides on how well they can tame the prince.
They bring Sun to the gibang to do just that, and he plays the part of the fearful rookie politician beautifully. They’re convinced he’s scared out of his mind about the Qing envoy, and they puff up with assurances that they’ll handle everything and he need only rely on them. Sun readily agrees to do so, and lets them convince him to relax instead of worrying his pretty little head over important matters of state.
Outside, Bingae (Ji-dam) and Woon-shim eavesdrop with scornful looks on their faces. At the same time, former police officer Byun meets his old officer friends and asks how much the bounty on a traitor is these days. Uh-oh, we see that he’s the man who was following Bingae around the other night, and he says now that he’s found Seo Ji-dam.
Thankfully, word reaches Woon-shim of the impending breach, and she quickly passes a note to Sun that Bingae has been found out and officers are on their way to arrest her now. He quickly ends his party and sends the Noron ministers home, but just as they’re about to leave, the officers arrive and explain their purpose. Damn.
They eye Woon-shim warily and send the officers inside to search for the supposed traitor. Inside, Bingae refuses to take Sun’s help, insisting stubbornly that she’d rather die. But when officers come storming in, he doesn’t give her a chance to argue and sneaks her out. Woo-sub is ready in the back with a horse, and they ride off to safety.
They’re far from in the clear though, since they’ve only raised suspicions all around. Kim Taek calls his grandson in to ask if Sun has a regular gisaeng that he sees, and the grandson repeats the conversation he overheard between Sun and Woon-shim, implying that he knew the new gisaeng.
Woon-shim gets tortured for information but doesn’t say a word, so Kim Taek sends Minister Min to make sure that Sun really went back to the palace like he said he would.
At the same time, Hyegyeong learns that Sun ran off with Bingae to hide her, and goes to find out if it’s true from Court Lady Choi. As she arrives, Woo-sub is just about to ask Court Lady Choi for her help with something urgent, and Hyegyeong interrupts to ask where Sun is.
By the time Minister Min gets there, both the prince and princess’s servants are lined up outside, and Sun and Hyegyeong’s shoes are on the front stoop, side by side. Court Lady Choi says that Hyegyeong hasn’t been feeling well, so Sun returned to comfort her upon his arrival. Minister Min sees his son Woo-sub standing guard as well, and decides that everything looks normal.
But he conveys these things to Kim Taek, whose mind immediately jumps to other scenario that Minister Min didn’t consider: that Sun only sent Woo-sub back alone.
War Minister Hong seeks out Officer Byun to confirm Ji-dam’s identity, and asks how he can be sure that it was her. Officer Byun says bitterly that it’s because of her that he was stripped of his status and lost everything—hers is the one face he’ll never forget.
Sun has taken Ji-dam to a temple, and covers her shoulders with a monk’s robe to keep her warm. She’s still emotionless and cold towards him, but this time Sun lets his sincerity show through, as he reminisces about the things she used to write.
She says she doesn’t remember those things anymore since too much time has passed, but Sun says that the Ji-dam he knew was a brave girl who would put herself on the line to clear someone else’s name. He recalls with clarity the things she said to him while he was imprisoned, and she finally turns to look him in the eye.
He asks if she won’t find the courage one more time—to survive and give him one more chance to right wrongs and clear her father’s name. She goes to her room and mulls over his question and her conviction to give her life to destroy the royal family.
The Norons gather to share what they’ve found out, and Kim Taek says he’s got a bad feeling about this. One of them asks what it means if Sun has really helped Ji-dam escape—what is the face he’s been showing them lately? Minister Hong replies, “A mask.” They deduce that if this recent turn is true, Sun hasn’t changed at all from the person he was three years ago, and he could’ve spent his time sharpening his knife to stab the Norons in the back.
Woo-sub and Court Lady Choi arrive at the temple to escort Sun back to the palace, and warn him that there’s been a hiccup—Hyegyeong knows everything. They bring Ji-dam back to the palace with them, and from the shadows, Officer Byun watches them leave the temple together.
They bring her in dressed as a court lady, and when they find that Hyegyeong still hasn’t returned to her palace, Sun braces himself before going in to see her. She says that throughout her years of palace life, she’s always had expectations of Sun, but he’s always gone outside those expectations. Today is no exception, since she hoped he’d return safely… but alone.
She asks if it’s because he missed Ji-dam that much, to risk all this for her. But Sun’s response is that he felt regret and anguish because she’s one of his people, and he failed to protect her. He says that he felt like a sinner for not protecting the person who said her dream was to live one day as a citizen of a king who would serve his people as the heavens.
Sun admits, “More than the danger I face because of her, the thing I fear more is coming face-to-face with myself—the me who hasn’t the power to protect his own people.” Hyegyeong counters that she doesn’t want to understand a man who risks his own family to save others. “But… a heart for your people—the desire to protect them even if you have to trade your safety to do so—if that’s the heart of the crown prince, no, the future king… then that’s a heart I want to lose to.”
And with that, Hyegyeong takes Ji-dam in as a court lady in her palace. One of her court maidens has fallen ill, so Ji-dam will take her place, and Hyegyeong asks what she wants to be called since she can no longer live by her real name. Bingae is the name she chooses, and Hyegyeong gives her the last name Park because that’s the name of the girl she’s replacing.
So now the transformation is complete, and Ji-dam has officially become Bingae, the court maiden (and future Royal Consort Park, history tells us). Hyegyeong reminds her that her very presence puts the prince at risk, and warns Bingae to live as if she’s dead.
And then in a surprise twist, Officer Byun reports to Chul-joo, of all people. What in the what? Why would you report Bingae to the police if you’re on the same side? It turns out that this is all part of Chul-joo’s plan to get Bingae inside the palace, and to turn the Norons against Sun. Aaaaack, you guys, you’re fighting the wrong enemy!
Chul-joo asks Officer Byun if he doesn’t regret leaving the Norons—they have the power to reinstate him, after all. But Officer Byun knows from experience that there he’s just a tail to be cut off at any moment, and he’d prefer to live as a person under Chul-joo’s command.
We see that Chul-joo has amassed quite a group of rebels, and he leads a meeting with the declaration that they will become myung for cry and sa for sand—alone they dissipate like grains of sand, but together their powerful cries will be heard, and change the world.
Woo-sub returns home that night to a suspicious father, who asks where the prince really went today. Woo-sub insists that Sun returned to the palace, and that he’s just guarding the prince because that’s his job. But Dad reminds him that his job is to watch the prince and report his actions to the Norons, and that if he strays from that, their entire family will see ruin.
Once she’s shown to her room, Bingae immediately gets to work on her first mission given by Chul-joo: to record anything she can find out about the prince or the king, and their current status.
The Qing envoys arrive, and the Norons argue once again over whether or not they should help the prince. War Minister Hong yells at his colleagues that this is a matter of national security first—they have to help Sun reach a peaceful agreement for the sake of their country, and then deal with him later. At least you have one logical person here.
The meeting begins, and the Qing envoys come out strong with demands for free reign in Joseon waters for Qing fishing vessels and new ports built expressly for their use. When Sun counters, they offer Door Number 2: the dispatch of 50,000 Joseon soldiers to support the Qing army. What. They add the suggestion that the crown prince can command the army himself, and in that case, their emperor will believe in his loyalty completely. And of course, they remind him that there’s always Door Number 3: war.
Sun asks for time to consult his ministers, and they give him three days. When Sun meets with the Norons, War Minister Hong argues vehemently against the dispatch of soldiers, which would leave them defenseless. Sun wants to try and persuade the envoys one more time, and Kim Taek offers to go out and procure the best ginseng available for Sun to present as a gift. Minister Hong accuses Sun of thinking of his regency above the good of the nation, and Sun asks what’s wrong with that.
Advisor Chae asks Yeongjo what he plans to do about the regency if Sun succeeds, but Yeongjo scoffs that there’s no chance he will—there’s absolutely no way out of this without giving into one of their demands in some way, and he’s known all along that Sun would fail.
Woo-sub warns Sun that the Norons are suspicious of him, so he tasks Woo-sub to watch Kim Taek carefully. Kim Taek goes out to procure the rare ginseng but curiously, he goes to Chul-joo to do so. Chul-joo remains hidden behind a door and refuses to show his face, but makes a deal to help Kim Taek, who returns to the palace with ginseng and a suspicious smile on his face.
Officer Byun asks Chul-joo why they’re helping Kim Taek of all people, but Chul-joo says that they’re simply holding hands with the enemy of their enemy. What they need is time to amass public sentiment on their side, if they’re going to change the world.
Sun puts Woo-sub on guard over the ginseng, expecting foul play. But there’s no disturbance overnight, and Sun heads to meet the envoys with gifts at the ready. Chul-joo watches the procession and takes note of Bingae, and says that today the prince will be stripped of the regency for good.
And in turn, Kim Taek says that he’s a little sad about having to cut down such a young man’s life. Uh-huh, I’m sure you cry about it in your sleep.
The Qing envoys are impressed by the lavish gifts and they’re ready to compromise. That is, until they get to the grand finale—the best and rarest of ginsengs—and find them all rotting and infested with maggots. The envoys are offended, Sun is shocked, and the negotiations are off.
This was a plot-heavy episode with all setup and no payoff, so it wasn’t particularly exciting to watch. I suppose the outcome in tomorrow’s episode could ramp up the tension, but despite the stakes being high, I don’t feel the same level of interest when the conflict is external rather than a direct confrontation between father and son. Granted, Yeongjo is still using the external conflict as a means to further control Sun and put him in his place, but I still find the machinations less interesting overall.
I like the court politics that’s a battle of wits, when Sun and Yeongjo are maneuvering to gain ground against the ministers, or against each other, in order to enact policy. Politics via bribes is not only less appealing, but also really simplistic dramatically. When they opened the boxes of ginseng and found them rotting, I just went, Well, duh. What else did you think was going to happen when you entrusted such an important task to Kim Taek? I was frankly disappointed to see a flash of the naïve Sun again, because he seemed to have learned his lesson about being too trusting, only to become the unsuspecting victim yet again. I really hope there’s another twist down the line, because the best part of skipping a few years ahead in the story is that now we get to anticipate countermoves from Sun that rival his enemies. At least that’s the hope, anyway.
Advisor Chae seemed to be genuinely moved to discover that Sun hadn’t been spending his years becoming a wastrel, and impressed with the level of studying he’s been doing—that makes me want to see that scholarship put to good use in a situation like this, where he might be able to meet foreign emissaries on common ground, share his knowledge of their country with respect, and in turn gain their favor. It just seems more difficult, and thus more satisfying, than presenting them with bundles of loot. And more than anything, I want Sun to succeed where Yeongjo is certain he’ll fail.
The only scenes that really moved me in this episode were Sun’s moments with Hyegyeong (which are still too few, but I’ll take what I can get). I love how their dynamic has shifted in the three years that we’ve skipped—it’s subtle and neither has changed at the core, but there’s more genuine concern that they allow themselves to show on the surface. Now Sun shares his thoughts with Hyegyeong and asks for her understanding, which he never used to do. And Hyegyeong reciprocates by showing him how angry she is at his rash behavior, how it worries her, and how she just plain doesn’t want to be understanding sometimes.
It’s too bad that I don’t feel the same level of emotional investment in Sun’s relationship with Ji-dam/Bingae, because I still see her the way Sun describes in this episode—as one of his people, whom he failed to protect. She holds significant meaning in that regard, but their relationship doesn’t stir my heart, at least not yet. There’s potential for that to change, but by now I’m so invested in Hyegyeong that it might hurt too much. I was so impressed by Hyegyeong’s response to Sun that she disapproves of basically everything he’s doing as a man; but as a future king, she respects him. It’s her sacrifice to give up her disappointment as a wife in order to support him as a queen, and I’m SO glad that this time Sun sees it clearly, and that she isn’t hiding behind her pride. It’s all the more reason I don’t want to see him break her heart. I know it seems inevitable, but hey, aren’t we rewriting history here?
- Secret Door: Episode 14
- Secret Door: Episode 13
- Secret Door: Episode 12
- Secret Door: Episode 11
- Secret Door: Episode 10
- Secret Door: Episode 9
- Secret Door: Episode 8
- Secret Door: Episode 7
- Secret Door: Episode 6
- Secret Door: Episode 5
- Secret Door: Episode 4
- Secret Door: Episode 3
- Secret Door: Episode 2
- Secret Door: Episode 1