Hwarang: Episode 8
Our flower boys are beginning to look like a real group, though a group of exactly what is still up in the air. There’s very little fight training going on so far, but that doesn’t lessen the fun as they find themselves bonding through music, of all things. It’s easy to forget that life-or-death political machinations are occurring right outside, when friendship and romance are the real high stakes inside the Hwarang gates.
EPISODE 8 RECAP
Ah Ro tells Sun-woo how she misses her mother’s touch, and the lullaby of the wind and the birds. He asks if Mother’s lullaby wasn’t good, and she looks at him in surprise. “Oraboni,” she says, “Mother couldn’t sing a lullaby. Because she couldn’t speak.”
Sun-woo is stunned by his mistake, but before he can think of an excuse, Ah Ro makes one for him. She says he must have forgotten, and pretends that she only knows because Ji-gong told her. Rambling, she tells Sun-woo to head back to the barracks, and leaves him still in shock.
Ji-dwi is the first to get back to the wall after the boys’ night out, and Pa Oh waits with him for the others to come back, fretting like a mother hen. He tells Ji-dwi not to hang out with these lowlife boys anymore.
Ji-dwi reminds Pa Oh that he’s nothing either, at least at the moment. He jokes that when he’s king, he’ll make sure all the guys who treated him badly will be adequately punished.
Sun-woo finally arrives, and Ji-dwi gripes at him for being late before he notices Sun-woo’s dazed expression. Sun-woo asks if it’s possible to forget your mother, and Ji-dwi scoffs that he wishes he could forget his mother. He asks what idiot did that, and Sun-woo smiles ruefully: “Me.”
Yeo-wool finally shows, with Ban-ryu right behind him, piggybacking the still-unconscious Su-ho. Yeo-wool promises to tell Sun-woo and Ji-dwi all about it once they get inside, while Ban-ryu bitches about having to carry Su-ho by himself, ha.
The four boys haul Su-ho over the wall and start to carry him into the barracks. But they’re busted by scary Bouncer, and the next day, they’re back to carrying Hwa-gong’s litter. Hwa-gong alternately complains that they’re carrying him crooked, and crows that they seem closer these days.
The lurching litter combined with the potent liquor Yeo-wool gave him the night before begin to disagree with Hwa-gong, and he starts to foam at the mouth. Oh gag — he throws up all over Ji-dwi and Sun-woo at the front of the litter, then turns around and barfs again on Su-ho and Ban-ryu at the back of it.
The guys hightail it to the showers, all of them looking a little sick themselves. Su-ho is worried because he still can’t remember the night before, or how he ended up unconscious… he just feels like something very bad happened.
Sun-woo drops the dragon-head bracelet on the way out of the shower, and Ji-dwi picks it up. He asks Sun-woo if the symbol has a meaning, then asks if he can buy it when Sun-woo admits that it’s not really his. Sun-woo says it’s not something he’s selling, it’s something he needs to be paid back for.
Ji-dwi watches as Sun-woo ties the bracelet back on his wrist, and Sun-woo asks if he really meant it when he said he likes Ah Ro. Ji-dwi just asks what he’ll do if he was being sincere.
Soo-yeon walks through town and notices that everyone seems to be staring at her and whispering. Apparently, everyone believes that the feud between Su-ho and Ban-ryu is because Ban-ryu grabbed Soo-yeon’s breasts, and that one of them will die.
Feeling weird about the night before, Ban-ryu offers Su-ho a towel after their shower. He gives three Hwarang boys the stink-eye when it’s obvious they know about what happened, silently warning them not to tell Su-ho. He confuses Su-ho by randomly telling him that “everything is a misunderstanding.”
Soo-yeon waves down Joo-ki and gives him a note for Ban-ryu, saying that it’s important. Meanwhile, Su-ho’s memory of the night before starts to return, but all he remembers is his sister slapping someone whose face is still a fog.
Ban-ryu reads the note from Soo-yeon, in which she says that her brother is ignorant and reckless despite his nice appearance. She explains that she’s too nervous to send Su-ho a letter, so she begs Ban-ryu to stay alive until she can explain things to her brother in person. Hee, her desperate earnestness is cute.
Sun-woo finds Ah Ro at the river with a basket of laundry, though she’s mostly just moping at the water. He starts pounding the clothing for her, and she watches him with a frown on her face. She brings up the fact that he apparently forgot their mother, and guesses that trauma can do that, though it seems more like she’s trying to convince herself.
Rather than answer, Sun-woo just goes back to pounding the laundry, and accidentally splashes water in Ah Ro’s face. He does it again on purpose, then just scoops water at her until she splashes back at him. He reaches up to tousle her hair, still trying to act brotherly. But neither of them seem entirely comfortable, sensing that something is off.
Soo-yeon asks Ah Ro if anyone has died in Hwarang, and Ah Ro says that Su-ho hasn’t killed Ban-ryu yet. Busy with her own heavy thoughts, Ah Ro invites Soo-yeon to have a drink, and they visit the liquor vendor who still owes Ah Ro back pay.
Ah Ro admits to Soo-yeon that she likes her brother. Soo-yeon doesn’t understand her true meaning, and sighs that she’s jealous — at least Ah Ro’s brother doesn’t put her in a headlock like hers does. Ah Ro’s voice wobbles as she says that she wishes Sun-woo is her real brother, but at the same time, she also wishes that he weren’t.
Queen Regent Jiso has another dizzy spell and calls for Ji-gong. He reluctantly attends to her, recalling the rest of his conversation with Minister Park, who had said he was thinking of killing the queen regent. He’d enlisted Ji-gong’s help in finding a way to kill her off slowly in order to make it look natural, so that he could choose the next king.
But as he examines the queen regent, Ji-gong realizes that she’s sick. He wonders if someone is poisoning her, and asks about other symptoms. She confirms that she’s experiencing chest pain, and asks if her illness is punishment for separating him from his wife and son.
Ji-gong keeps his true thoughts to himself, and simply says that her illness is temporary. He tells her to have her physician confirm it, but the queen regent says that she doesn’t trust anyone but him.
She remembers the time when they’d promised to be married, and how he used to look at her as if she were the only woman in the world. With tears welling in her eyes, the queen regent asks Ji-gong if he would return to her if she asked him.
He leaves, and finds her assistant pouring her tea in the outer room. He tastes it, and pronounces it clean.
Minister Park and Ho Gong visit Joo-ki at his tea house, and ask why he’s spending so much time at the Hwarang barracks. He says he’s making connections with the future council members, and they ask for information on Sun-woo.
Joo-ki tells them about Sun-woo’s nickname, Dog-bird, and that he seems both ignorant and intelligent. Minister Park shows interest in the nickname, and agrees that he seems unlike his father, Ji-gong.
Ji-dwi waits for Ah Ro to pass by, and when she does, he pops out and gives her an acupuncture needle container filled with fancy needles that he bought while he was out. She asks why he’s giving it to her, but he just tells her to think about it.
Ah Ro arrives in the doctor’s room to find it’s been completely redecorated, with fancy textiles and brand new equipment. Joo-ki is thrilled, and guesses that someone is trying to win Ah Ro’s heart. But Ah Ro is upset about how much all this cost.
Outside, Ji-dwi hears Ah Ro’s angry screeches and glares at Pa Oh, since the redecorating was his idea. Pa Oh runs off before Ah Ro can begin to tear into Ji-dwi. Ji-dwi admits that this was his doing, but Ah Ro yells that he should have spent the gold on food for the hungry.
Ji-dwi remains calm, and tells Ah Ro that he wants to shower her in pretty, unnecessary things. She can’t understand why, and he says plainly, “Because I like you.” Then he gets his feelings hurt and tells her to do whatever she wants with the expensive things.
The Hwarang boys endure some sparring practice with Bouncer, who thrashes every one of them easily. Most of them don’t even get in a single hit before he’s got them on the floor, poor things.
Su-ho is confident when it’s his turn, and he does do a little better than the others, but not good enough. It’s Ji-dwi who’s most impressive, giving Bouncer a good fight while impressing the other boys with some pretty fancy moves.
Sun-woo watches closely, analyzing Ji-dwi’s every move. He gets up next to spar with Ji-dwi, going at him with brute force, and the two end up face to face, swords locked.
Over at the palace, Hwa-gong interrupts an argument between the officials with a quip that there are multiple rulers in the kingdom. He says that there are many with their own lands and guards that could be mistaken for kings, and he shoots a pointed look at Minister Park.
He criticizes them for arguing over nothing, and they in turn take offense that he’s here at all. Hwa-gong asserts his right to be here as a former member of the royal council and current Master of Hwarang.
He invites them all to a musical performance at the upcoming Moon Festival, to be given by the Hwarang members. In private, the queen regent objects to the idea of the Hwarang performing, but Hwa-gong points out that this is a great way to introduce them to the people.
Minister Park and Ho Gong also discuss the performance, aware that the whole point is to prove to the people that the Hwarang belongs to the queen regent. They decide they must stop the performance, and head to the Hwarang headquarters.
They push their way in this time and make their way to the classroom, where the Hwarang are assembled. Minister Park asks to speak to a particular member of the Hwarang, but it’s not Ban-ryu — he wants to talk to Sun-woo.
He sizes up Sun-woo in private, and shocks Sun-woo by asking about his friend’s death. He wonders out loud why Mak Mun was killed, and speculates that he may have seen the king’s face. Sun-woo remembers that Mak Mun thought he saw the king’s face, and that he was killed soon after.
Minister Park can tell by Sun-woo’s face that he’s hit on some truth, and tells him that he’s against the queen regent, as is his “father,” Ji-gong. He says that he wishes he knew what the king looked like so he could repay the debt, but Sun-woo tells him he has the wrong person. He leaves, only hesitating for a moment when Minister Park calls him by his nickname, Dog-bird.
Pale and worried, Sun-woo thinks to himself that if Mak Mun died because he saw the king’s face, then he can’t forgive that king. He looks down at his dragon-head bracelet, wondering if it belongs to the king.
The following morning, the Hwarang are woken by the sound of loud drumming, and it draws them to the classroom. Sun-woo seems to recognize the drumming, and sure enough, it’s his old adoptive father, Woo-reuk, who raised him and Mak Mun in the low-born village.
Hwa-gong announces that the Hwarang will be performing at the Moon Festival as their second test. He introduces Woo-reuk as a master musician, a famous artist who is rumored to be able to play any instrument.
Sun-woo confronts Woo-reuk, surprised that he’s not truly a low-born, but a famous musician. Woo-reuk is frustratingly vague, and he just tells Sun-woo not to fail this test, too.
He proves his musical mastery by playing several instruments for the boys, from the drums to the gayageum. The Hwarang boys are rapt, fascinated by his ability to play incredible music, and soon it’s their turn to give it a try.
They play the drums, create music with the parts of their bodies, and perform impromptu dances to determine what they’ll perform at the festival. Han-sung, Su-ho, and Ji-dwi are particularly good at dancing, while Sun-woo is, in a word, bad. Nevertheless, the five roommates, plus Han-sung, are chosen to perform a dance.
The guys practice their dance number, and Sun-woo hilariously keeps thwacking Han-sung in the head with his staff as he awkwardly tries to execute the movements. Woo-reuk just makes them keep practicing, over and over.
The court officials are insulted that their sons are being made to dance in front of the queen regent. They believe this is a ploy by the queen regent to lord her control over the Hwarang in front of the people.
Pa Oh does Ji-dwi’s laundry while Ji-dwi practices his dance routine by the river. He asks in a snarky tone if Ji-dwi plans to be remembered as the humiliating dancing king, but Ji-dwi counters that he will be the legendary handsome dancing king.
He says it’s no wonder Pa Oh never got married, and Pa Oh puffs up and says he chose not to get married, and that the ladies love him. Ji-dwi snickers that Pa Oh doesn’t know women at all.
Ah Ro finds Sun-woo clumsily rehearsing his dance moves, and tsks to herself. She grouses at Sun-woo that he’s going to get kicked out of the Hwarang if he doesn’t do better than that, and he nervously insists that he’s improving.
Ah Ro takes his staff and demonstrates the proper moves, exaggerating so much that Sun-woo starts to giggle at her. She smiles to see him smiling and leaves him to his practice, but she can’t help but remember how some things about Sun-woo don’t add up.
Woo-reuk practices the drum routine with the other boys late into the night, so loudly that the guys in Sun-woo’s room can’t get to sleep. Su-ho compliments Ban-ryu on trying his hardest at their dance (he’s pretty bad), joking that at least he’s better than Sun-woo, which makes them all laugh.
A bleary-eyed Han-sung enters their room, also unable to sleep from all the drumming. He crawls into bed with Yeo-wool, who caresses his cheek and croons, “Is it really me?” HAHA. Annoyed, Han-sung leaves and climbs down to appropriate Sun-woo’s bed instead, even throwing a leg over Sun-woo comfortably.
In the morning, the guys practice their dance over and over, as Hwa-gong and Joo-ki watch from a distance. Hwa-gong disapproves, but Joo-ki says that dance is popular in the West, and Hwa-gong admits that they do seem to be making an effort.
The boys find themselves tapping their toes and practicing their dance moves constantly, even grooving together in the shower. This might just be the greatest thing ever.
Joo-ki brings Ban-ryu another note from Soo-yeon, along with a letter from Minister Park. He reads Soo-yeon’s letter first, and smiles at her promise to tell Su-ho the truth of their encounter at the Moon Festival. She also asks for a chance to apologize in person, and says she’s looking forward to seeing him dance. But the letter from Minister Park wipes the goofy smile right off his face.
He and Ho Gong are plotting a way to stop the Hwarang from performing, which they fear will increase their popularity, and thus the queen regent’s standing among the people. Minister Park decides that he needs to create a disappointment as big as the expectation, and plans to use Ban-ryu to accomplish it.
Ban-ryu takes the letter to the river and angrily rips it up, throwing the shreds into the water.
Ah Ro approaches Woo-reuk, who clutches his chest in surprise at the sight of her. She tells him she’s Ahn Ji-gong’s daughter, and he asks if that means she’s Mak Mun’s long-lost sister. Ah Ro guesses that was Sun-woo’s old name.
Over medicinal tea, Woo-reuk muses that Ah Ro isn’t much like her brother. He says that Mak Mun was kind, and she says he goes by Sun-woo now. Ah Ro says that she’s always wanted to speak with the person who raised her brother, and asks if her brother missed her.
Outside, Sun-woo passes a patch of flowers, the same chrysanthemums that were in the tea Ah Ro brought him when he was still recovering and mourning Mak Mun’s death. He picks a large bouquet of them, and goes to find Ah Ro.
She looks distracted when Sun-woo finds her, and he gives her the bouquet, insisting that they’re not flowers, but medicine. Ah Ro looks at the flowers, and says she’s glad he’s her brother.
She raises her gaze to look Sun-woo in the eye, and adds sadly, “But they say that you’re not.” She lets the flowers fall to the ground, and asks angrily, “Who are you?”
Well, now she knows for sure. I thought it was sweet that Ah Ro kept thinking of excuses to fill in the holes in Sun-woo’s claim to be her long-lost brother — it showed that despite her worrying attraction to him, she mostly just wants him to be the honest, upfront man he claims to be. She truly missed her big brother when he was missing, probably thought he was dead along with their mother, and it must have been like a dream come true to have him back again.
But now that Ah Ro almost certainly learned from Woo-reuk that her real brother is dead, and that Sun-woo is an impostor (however well-meaning), she’s about to have a hell of a time coming to terms with everything. Her real brother is gone, and she’s going to be mourning his loss that much harder after having thought that she had him back safe and sound. She’s going to be angry that Sun-woo lied to her about being her brother, as well as just plain disillusioned that he lied to her at all. And it’s going to be a particularly hard blow to know that he knew her brother, was there when he died, and couldn’t save him. I think it’s going to be quite some time before Ah Ro and Sun-woo are on good terms again.
On the flip side, it’s nice to see the Hwarang boys beginning to get along, even if they aren’t exactly friends yet. I like how none of them has mentioned the ranking system or their family’s political leanings once in this week’s episodes, and even Su-ho and Ban-ryu have dropped their constant snarling at each other and have begun to actually get along. I’m sure that will end once Su-ho remembers what happened between Ban-ryu and his sister Soo-yeon, but at least then the boys will have a reason to argue that’s actually about themselves and not just silly hand-me-down politics they learned from their fathers. I’d rather see them fight over whether one boy insulted the other boy’s sister than about who supports the queen regent or not any day of the week.
But of course the fathers can’t stay out of it, and I’m sure that whatever Minster Park has planned for Ban-ryu, it involves purposely ruining the performance in order to smear the reputation of the Hwarang in front of the people. I’m still unsure about Minister Park’s exact plan for taking over the regency, but it seems to involve discovering the king’s identity so he can (most likely) have him killed, all the while undermining the queen regent so that once the king is out of the way, Minister Park and his faction can set Ban-ryu on the throne as their puppet king. He must believe that Sun-woo has seen the king’s face and can help identify him, and it’s Ji-dwi’s bad luck that Sun-woo has it out for the (as yet unidentified) king. We can only hope that Ban-ryu finds the strength to go against Minister Park’s wishes, and that Sun-woo finds a way to forgive Ji-dwi for his friend’s death before it’s too late for everyone.