Scholar Who Walks the Night: Episode 13
Hearts, prepare to be pinched: It’s a particularly moving episode, driven by characters and love and heartfelt good intentions. Which, okay, also comes with a fresh side of pain, but I’ll take it because I do love when this drama hits the right emotional chords. It’s easy for the story to veer in other directions depending on what the plot of the day chooses to focus on, but I appreciate when we pause to take advantage of opportunities to tease out relationship developments with real heart and poignancy.
SONG OF THE DAY
Saltnpaper – “One Heart” [ Download ]
EPISODE 13 RECAP
After Sung-yeol escapes the wedding bloodbath at the palace, Gwi sees Su-hyang still here and tells her, “So it was you.” Before she can respond, she collapses in his arms.
Sung-yeol carries a bitten Hunter Baek to safety, who manages to eke out the message that Seo Jin is the key to killing Gwi. The king recently discovered that she’s descended from that lineage named in the diary.
The king shares this same information with Yoon, and while they don’t know exactly how Jin/Yang-sun figures into the plan, the king has a good guess. He thinks Gwi will die when he drinks her blood—so Yoon he must offer Yang-sun to Gwi, no matter what it takes.
In the morning, Yang-sun hears of Sung-yeol’s dangerous outing last night, and Ho-jin fears that he’s probably dead. Yang-sun’s first reaction is denial, but the truth slowly hits her as she recalls her recent conversations with Sung-yeol.
Thinking of his orders not to be hurt without his permission, she turns that thought around—that he cannot die without her permission either. She heads out to search for him, resolving not to believe a thing until she sees it for herself.
The king is told that Gwi has retreated underground. He’s prepared to face his fate come nightfall, when Gwi will likely kill him, but Yoon speaks up with a last-ditch alternative: He knows where Seo Jin is. Ack, so you really are going to sacrifice her.
The king asks whether Yoon could really offer up his best friend as a meal to the vampire. Yoon struggles with his emotions but musters the resolve to say, “If that is truly the only way to save you and this nation, it must be done.” He swears to find her before sunset.
Sung-yeol arrives safely home with Hunter Baek, who’s barely clinging to life. Sung-yeol takes out his trusty hawthorn dagger and slices his hand with it, healing the hunter’s wounds with his blood. His hand is a mess of half-healed scars by now, and ackkkk it’s painful to look at.
Sung-yeol asks after Yang-sun, and whether Ho-jin explained about him being a vampire yet. Ho-jin says that she doesn’t know that, but she was told of last night’s battle against Gwi. Alarmed to hear she’s out looking for him, Sung-yeol leaves to track her down.
Ho-jin adds that it’s also strange that Su-hyang is still gone, although they’re not too worried about her yet.
Yang-sun runs through the city and to the very place Sung-yeol feared she’d go: the palace. She’s denied entry at the gate, even when mentions the prince, and shoved away.
She’s spotted by her former loan sharks, who are for once not after her money. In fact, they heard that her father was killed for being Eumlan Seosaeng, and since they’re sympathetic to her plight, Yang-sun appeals to them for help.
Yoon receives an update of the casualties, with Sung-yeol and Hunter Baek still missing. He heads out to find Yang-sun, declaring it his last chance to stand up to Gwi.
Su-hyang is still alive, though she has been taken by Gwi to his underground lair. She dreams of her childhood encounter with a vampire that was about to eat her, which Sung-yeol prevented, saving her with a warm smile.
She awakens to see Gwi on his throne, who declares himself the nation’s true king. He calls himself and Sung-yeol both vampires who need to drink human blood to survive, though he wonders why Sung-yeol would put himself through so much suffering to help the puny humans.
Noting Su-hyang’s beauty, Gwi comments that she looks quite tasty. She keeps her calm and tells him to wait to savor her, rather than ruining the taste before he’s ready. He seems to find her interesting, and smiles in agreement.
Gwi is annoyed to learn that the prime minster was unable to capture any of the king’s conspirators because of Sung-yeol’s interference. Su-hyang sheds a tear in relief, while Gwi growls at the man, “Incompetent thing.” The prime minister asks cautiously what he means to do with Hye-ryung now—he does seem to care about his daughter, in his cowardly way—and Gwi replies that it depends on her behavior.
Hye-ryung is called before the king and asked of her father’s whereabouts. She answers no, and says his attempt to kill the king and prince was undeniably traitorous, and that punishment is fitting.
The king replies that her answer is befitting the prince’s wife, but he still doesn’t trust her. Even so, he adds that she will become queen tomorrow (anticipating his death tonight), and asks her to look after the prince.
The king’s advisor urges him to hold out hope that the prince will find Seo Jin, but the king answers pragmatically that they can’t count on it to happen in a day—or that the prince would actually be able to sacrifice her life. He intends to tell Gwi that Yoon knows nothing, and asks his advisor to help convince him.
Sung-yeol spots Yoon’s party riding through the forest, and shows himself before the prince. Yoon asks after Yang-sun’s whereabouts, explaining her role in the grand plan. Since it’s unlikely that an ordinary descendant with no great powers could kill Gwi physically, it must involve giving up her life.
Sung-yeol says hotly that the Prince Jeonghyeon he’d served would never have written a plan that required the sacrifice of an innocent life to a monster. Yoon replies that if he could give up his own life to rid the world of Gwi, he would—but all he can do is resent the heavens for making her the answer.
Yoon demands to know where Yang-sun is, because if she isn’t turned over to Gwi by nightfall, the king will die. He reminds Sung-yeol of his promise to fight for the good of the country, and tells him to choose: his love for Yang-sun, or the people’s lives. It’s the classic dilemma, and Sung-yeol isn’t unmoved.
But Sung-yeol truly doesn’t know where she is, and says that he’s looking for her too. Yoon worries at the ticking clock, and entreats Sung-yeol to bring her to the palace when he finds her.
Yoon isn’t certain that Sung-yeol was telling the truth, so his men head to Sung-yeol’s home and raid the premises. Finding no sign of Yang-sun suggests that he was telling the truth, and they hurry away to continue the hunt.
They miss finding the secret room where Hunter Baek is laid up, and now he wakes up and grabs Ho-jin in alarm. Ho-jin fills him in, including the part where the prince is going to offer Seo Jin to Gwi, which alarms the hunter.
The loan sharks bribe a court lady to disguise Yang-sun in court lady’s clothing, which gets her past the gatekeepers. She heads in the direction of Yoon’s palace, but is stopped by a senior court lady who doesn’t recognize her. Hye-ryung intervenes, lying that she’d called for Yang-sun, then pulls her aside for a private chat.
But Hye-ryung isn’t covering for Yang-sun out of friendly motives, and talks to her coldly. When Yang-sun explains that she’s only here looking for the scholar she loves, Hye-ryung all but sneers that she shouldn’t worry about someone else when she can barely take care of herself.
Yang-sun says with conviction that she could go to hell for her scholar, and Hye-ryung asks if he feels the same way—it seems to her that he’s still hung up on his past love. She adds pointedly, “Do you know what he really is?”
That’s when Sung-yeol rounds the corner and sees them, just in time for Hye-ryung to declare, “That man is a vampire.”
Seeing Yang-sun’s shock, Hye-ryung sneers that she loves him without even knowing anything about him, or how many years he has spent mourning his lost love—it could be well over a hundred years. Yang-sun tries to protest, but Hye-ryung talks right over her, and says pityingly that she’ll let this transgression go since she feels sorry for her.
She adds that she will inquire after Sung-yeol’s condition, and instructs Yang-sun to wait here. She instructs a guard to keep Yang-sun here while she goes to the underground palace: “I just barely became princess—I will not let it all go to nothing.”
Yoon announces a reward to anyone who knows where Yang-sun is, and punishment to obstruction of that information. A thorough search is conducted throughout the city, but they find no sign of her.
Yang-sun reels at the revelation of Sung-yeol’s nature, crying as she thinks back to their sweet encounters. He hangs back, watching from a distance—and she spots him standing there when she looks up across the way. He uses his super-speed to appear at her side in a flash, proving to her that he’s not human. But before he can declare what he is, she grabs him tight, relieved that he’s alive.
He doesn’t understand why she’s not afraid of him, but she replies, “That is not what I am afraid of. Did you not spend many years loving one person? Compared with her, I may be just a fleeting connection. But you saved my life when I was already as good as dead once. And you were also the one to find me a reason for living. While I live, I will stay at your side. I just ask that if and when I die, you will remember me as a past love. I ask for nothing more.”
Moved, this time he’s the one to grabs her close, tears falling from both their eyes.
Hye-ryung appears before Gwi, who bows to her and comments sarcastically on her deigning to grace him with her royal presence. He accuses her of knowing of yesterday’s plot, but she denies any knowledge. She wouldn’t dare show herself now if she’d known, could she?
Su-hyang watches the exchange quietly, noting as Gwi expresses his anger over the ambush. He’s placated, however, when Hye-ryung informs him that she has Eumlan Seosaeng’s daughter in her keeping.
At least, she did as of two seconds ago: Sung-yeol leads Yang-sun out of the palace, easily knocking down guards who stand in their way.
This means Yoon is still empty-handed by sunset, and he’s dismayed to find the king’s quarters empty, with only a note left behind. It’s his grandfather’s dying message, written in his own blood, imparting him last words of wisdom. In it, the king explains that mere blood lineage is not the only reason they govern the people, and that kings have a duty to protect their citizens.
“Remember the weight of that blood,” he has written.
The king’s advisor is prepared to follow him in death, ready to pass along his duties to his grandson Hak-young. Hak-young laments having hated his grandfather without knowing the greater plan, and his grandfather laments not having been warmer to his son and grandson.
Hak-young says he never was very obedient in following his grandfather’s wishes—and adds that he intends to be disobedient again this time. He is prepared to take the fall—Gwi won’t believe that the prince had nothing to do with the plot unless someone else claims responsibility. Hak-young argues that the young king will need a more experienced advisor and asks his grandfather to fulfill that role.
His grandfather has difficulty accepting this, but Hak-young says it’s not so difficult to lay down his life compared to Sung-yeol’s sacrifices.
Sung-yeol and Yang-sun meet up with an anxious Ho-jin, who explains what’s happened in their absence. He pulls Sung-yeol aside to tell him of the prince offering Seo Jin up to Gwi, which makes Sung-yeol decide that home is too dangerous.
He asks Ho-jin to take her to the gibang instead and keep her out of sight. Meanwhile, he’ll have to head back out, because trouble is brewing at the palace. He suspects that’s where Su-hyang is as well, and for now, she’s stuck waiting in Gwi’s lair, trying to contain her fear.
The king makes his purposeful approach toward Gwi’s lair, dressed without his kingly dragon robes, dragging his sword behind him. The image is stark and moving as he walks alone down the path, arriving at the well where Sadong died. Into it, he sighs heavily, “My son, I am sorry.”
He imagines Sadong sitting below, looking up at him with a kind smile as he replies, “No, Father. Thank you for protecting our Yoon.”
Gwi appears behind him and spits out that he enjoyed the banquet and the king’s entertainments. The king addresses him with dignified anger, saying that he’s lived only to kill Gwi, and that being unable to do so will be his lingering regret.
Gwi glares, asking if he’s senile or asking for death. The king eyes him with disdain, calling him a monster who can’t face the sun, declaring that humans aren’t as weak as he believes. That echoes the last words of vampire hunter Hae-seo, who’d foretold that Gwi would die because of the will of the people, and it angers Gwi further.
The king stands firm as Gwi advances, holding up his sword, then takes a swing. Blood splatters across Gwi’s face—but the king has slashed himself, not Gwi. With his dying words, the king taunts Gwi to drink his blood, then lets himself fall down the well. It takes Gwi by such surprise that he can hardly react.
Gwi then saunters into the king’s room and takes a seat in the king’s throne. Yoon realizes what’s happened and forces himself to kneel before Gwi, choking out the request to be spared. Gwi smirks, saying that the king stood up to him until the very last moment. He wipes the king’s blood from his face and smears it onto Yoon, wondering why the prince is being so humble.
Yoon stammers that he doesn’t wish to die like his father and grandfather, and that he knew nothing. Gwi asks who it was that helped the king, and that’s when Hak-young is brought in, bound like a criminal.
Yoon looks at his friend in shock, while Hak-young feigns contempt for Yoon’s cowardice. Aw, he can’t even have an honest last exchange with his beloved buddy? Don’t make him hurt him so!
But Gwi buys the story, and asks Yoon if he should have the instigator killed. Hak-young spits at him and goads him to do just that, saying that the heavens will curse him.
So Gwi calls forth his bloodlust and strikes, seizing upon Hak-young’s neck. Noooooo!
Over his shoulder, as the life is literally being drained from his body, Hak-young looks at Yoon with tearful eyes. Oh no, this is so sad. Their eyes remain locked as Gwi finishes, and Yoon watches in horror as Hak-young falls right before him.
Yoon is dragged away, and the prime minister offers to take Hak-young’s corpse for burning. But Gwi stops him, having been struck by “a fun thought.” Nooooo, you can’t! If you vamp him I swear… I’ll… curse you and burn you in effigy and… grar, it really sucks being an impotent viewer sometimes.
Yoon staggers back to his quarters, where Hye-ryung has just heard that Sung-yeol has made off with her hostage. That causes a fresh wave of anger, and he growls Sung-yeol’s name.
Tucked away in a room at the gibang, Yang-sun mock-accuses Ho-jin of lying to her—he didn’t tell her that Mr. Scholar was Mr. Night Scholar. But she says it didn’t make her love Sung-yeol any less. Ho-jin says that Sung-yeol maybe be a tiny bit different than how she’s seeing the Night Scholar, but she says simply that it’s okay, and her feelings won’t change.
Sung-yeol pauses as a trio passes him in the street, pushing along a wooden coffin. The men deliver it to the gibang with instructions to give it to Sung-yeol. People huddle around it curiously when the lid starts to tap, the knocking growing louder…
Underground, Gwi asks why Su-hyang isn’t afraid of him. She replies that she is, but is also curious, calling him the most powerful being alive. She’s heard that he can live forever, and starts to wonder at what it is to live without human restraints. Gwi realizes something and cuts her off, asking, “Do you wish to become a vampire?”
He chuckles, then explains to her what it’s like to turn into a vampire. At first, you have no will—all you feel is a burning thirst. It sends you hunting for blood, and once you’ve tasted blood, you can’t forget it.
At the gibang, the lid flies off the coffin, and the world’s stupidest gisaeng leans in, hovering above the corpse. Seconds later, she’s seized.
It’s newly turned Hak-young, and dammit, why’d you have to make him hot as a vampire? Won’t you even allow me my grief?
Vamp Hak-young drinks up the gisaeng, then turns to face all the terrified people trying to scramble away from him. He grins, then leaps into action, going on a hunting spree from room to room. He arrives at Yang-sun’s room, where Ho-jin does his meager best to ward him off and lead Yang-sun out.
But Vamp Hak-young is super-fast and intervenes, grabbing hold of Ho-jin, who motions at Yang-sun to flee. But she turns and sees the carnage in the courtyard, frozen in horror while Hak-young tosses Ho-jin aside and advances on her next.
The scene sparks a memory, and suddenly she’s back ten years ago, when her father had turned into a vampire and attacked her. Hak-young grabs her and leans in to take a bite, just as Sung-yeol flings him off.
The two vampires engage in combat, and Sung-yeol gains the upper hand. He pins Hak-young to the ground and raises his dagger in the other—just as Yang-sun screams. She yells, “Don’t kill him!” And with her eyes begging him no, Sung-yeol hesitates, torn.
Uh, I sure hope you’ve got a secret evil-fighting plan up your sleeve, Yang-sun, because this had better not cause our scholar-nim extra pain. Hasn’t he suffered enough?
Speaking of suffering, boy wasn’t there a lot of it this episode? But this is the good kind of narrative suffering, the kind that is as satisfying as it is tear-inducing. Which makes me sound sadistic, I’m sure, but it also shows what, in my book, separates nobly idiotic sacrifices from the truly noble sacrifices. I liked that every dilemma in this episode was given some thought and presented from multiple angles, so that I couldn’t begrudge anybody their choices.
That’s why, when presented with Yoon’s decision, not even Sung-yeol seemed angry about it—because it’s the same problem he wrestle(d)(s) with. He just ended up making the other decision, but he understood the thought process, having previously decided the same thing and thinking he could sacrifice Yang-sun for the greater good.
It helps that the episode was full of some lovely acting moments—which, given such a gimmicky and often simplistic romantic storyline, isn’t something we can take for granted here. Scholar Who Walks the Night can be mighty entertaining at its best moments, but it’s always walking the line of cheesiness (and sometimes way over that line), and when we get moments of emotion and gravitas, I feel lucky. I mean, you cast Lee Soon-jae as your king and you’re going to get gravitas, that’s a given, but I appreciate that the actors are treating their characters with dignity; they don’t know they’re in a fantasy romance drama, and they’re acting with the weight of people facing actually dire circumstances. I’m shocked, but I even like Changmin in this, and think he’s done a great job portraying Yoon’s conflicted head and heart.
I’m relieved that the episode also marked a step forward on multiple fronts, because I feel like Scholar has been stuck in place for a few episodes, spinning narrative wheels. And when we knew everything, even when the characters don’t, the story often loses its spark. So now Yang-sun knows Sung-yeol is a vampire and loves him anyway, which is significant more for his sake than hers—we could pretty much see that she was going to embrace him without too much agonizing. It’s one of the benefits of having a heart that simple—it knows what it wants, and it’s pretty pure in staying true to that.
But her faith has a tremendous—transformative, even—effect on Sung-yeol, who’d expected to be forsaken. Although I do wonder if she’s going to have a problem with the whole killing part of his identity, vampires or not, which does bring us back to the question of this episode’s cliffhanger. Well, I suppose I like Hak-young too much to want him dead (again, er, more dead) right away, even if the very fact that he’s been vamped hurts me a little. A lot. Is there a way to give an evil vampire his soul back? Buffy?
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