Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 30 (Final)
Now that it’s at an end, it’s so hard to let go. I laughed at the comedic antics of the original Amogae Avengers, cried along with the heart-wrenching decisions made by Nok-soo and Ga-ryung, and blazed with fury and simultaneous pity because Kim Ji-suk’s portrayal of Yeonsangun was that fantastic. This hour was all about completing story arcs, and it was mightily satisfying to see that everyone got their just deserts. The drama wasn’t perfect by any means, but there were definitely memorable gems here and there, and I loved that it kept the people at the forefront, especially toward the end. And to that end, rather than being a drama where a lone rebel hero saves all, it became one where the people became empowered to save themselves.
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Minister Park marches into Yeonsangun’s entertainment hall and demands the royal seal. He doesn’t flinch when the king rages at him and instead remains calm and resolute with an army of soldiers behind them. Yeonsangun is shocked and outraged at the impudence of these actions.
It doesn’t hit home for him that he’s being overthrown in a coup until Nok-soo gently adjusts his clothing and tells him that unlike his actions while he was on the throne, when he steps down, he should be dignified like a king. Her eyes water as she says that she will also die, since she’s the king’s woman. Then, she retreats from the dais and makes a full and formal bow to him, crying sorrowfully all the while.
Wolhamae, Eunuch Kim, and Yeonsangun all watch with unshed tears in their eyes as she’s forced away by Minister Park’s goons. As she passes him, she spits in the his face, and in that moment, the official pulls out his sword to behead her.
But Yeonsangun stops him with a yell, and Minister Park defers in respect to the king’s last commands. Yeonsangun cries after her as she’s dragged out, calling her his Nok-soo, and Eunuch Kim has to hold him back from following her.
The following morning, Eunuch Kim notifies Yeonsangun that his half-brother, Grand Prince Jinseong, has been confirmed as the next king. Then, gesturing to the commoner’s clothing in front of him, the faithful eunuch tells his master that he must now change out of his kingly robes and leave his royal trappings behind.
In a daze, Yeonsangun stumbles out of his chambers in commoner’s clothing, and guards come to take him away. When he realizes that Eunuch Kim will not be following him as part of his retinue, he desperately pleads with him, the only real father figure he’s had in life, to stay. However, the eunuch tells the deposed king that he can’t accompany and serve him any longer.
Nok-soo has also been divested of her extravagant adornments and attire, and she is dragged away to an unknown location. But at that location stands Gil-dong, and she realizes that he’s saved her from certain death. He tells her that he’ll repay his life’s debt by saving hers this time.
She replies to her former lover that while she may have saved his life when he was in Yeonsangun’s prison, he saved her soul long ago by telling her she was an artist and not a whore. Smiling through her tears, she tells him that it was her choice to leave him for the king, and that she will also choose how she wants to die. She turns away from him, and his expression is bittersweet as he sees her leave for the last time.
People in the streets point fingers at Nok-soo for being the wicked king’s woman who bewitched him into committing more evil acts. Ignoring their mockery, she begins singing a song bemoaning the futility and meaninglessness of her life and her sorrow at her imminent death.
But she can ignore them no longer when the people begin throwing rocks at her. She doesn’t flinch or shy away from their blows and just stands, accepting their hatred.
Other citizens cheer the coming of a new age as they jeer the overthrown king being exiled from the capital. However, there’s one loyalist who comes forward and bows at Yeonsangun’s feet. He deplores the crowd for dethroning the king, declaring that this means the end of all social order. Seeing this one supporter, Yeonsangun commends him for his loyalty and says that he is a true citizen.
From a raised platform, Gil-dong watches Yeonsangun’s disgraced procession from afar. Yeonsangun raises his head, and their eyes meet for a long moment. Internally, the overthrown tyrant thinks that Gil-dong is taking joy in this victory over him and is gloating over his fallen state. However, Gil-dong is pities him and thinks that this is a sad day, thinking it more sorrowful than anything that a man born with such great potential like Yeonsangun had to be taken down.
On his way out of Hanyang, the former king notices a mound of rocks with a pair of red flower shoes displaced on it. Someone tells him that the mound is all that’s left of Nok-soo after the mob stoned her to death. Mourning the death of his most faithful concubine, Yeonsangun cries again and again for his dear Nok-soo, never tearing his eyes away from the human-size mound of rocks that mark the site of her death and burial ground.
Meanwhile at the palace, Eunuch Kim prepares to commit suicide by meticulously checking the rope with which he plans to hang himself. He finally puts himself on the ledge and steps off to do the deed when suddenly, an arrow shoots toward him and severs the rope.
It’s Gil-dong and Yonggae, the latter of which gives Gil-dong an awed thumbs-up for his perfect aim. Gil-dong has come to offer the eunuch a second chance: He tells Eunuch Kim that if he wants to truly repent for his sin of coddling Yeonsangun, he should not do it in death, but in life.
Jeong-hak is also at the palace and seems to be optimistic about his prospects after the regime change. He thinks that because he helped the rebel forces at a critical moment, he’ll be able to regain his previous status as a nobleman, and he’ll have the opportunity to become an officer and rise in the ranks. However, Scholar Song soon disabuses him of that notion.
Clucking his tongue, the scholar pities his student for his naivety and tells him that he may never achieve a higher status again in this government. The reason is because it was Jeong-hak’s own mother who gave the deposed queen’s letter to Yeonsangun that resulted in the Second Literati purge. As a result, he’s been automatically checked off as a Yeonsangun loyalist and will only be seen as a danger to the new regime, despite any deeds he may do to prove his loyalty.
In exile, Yeonsangun suffers from another nightmare and wakes to see Gil-dong’s formidable figure hovering over him. The rebel tells the dethroned king that there’s no one to support him now — all his “loyal” followers have betrayed him, and the people have lost faith. Swiftly shifting back and forth between fear and fury, Yeonsangun grabs his collar and rages that if it weren’t for Gil-dong, his rule by violence would have succeeded.
Gil-dong replies that Yeonsangun’s way of ruling wasn’t politics, but rather, it wass the empty blustering of a fearful coward. Then he gives the king his official sentence: Yeonsangun is guilty of treason for not accepting or even realizing that there was something that should be respected above the king (referring to the trust of the people).
After he leaves, Yeonsangun goes into a frenzy writing and rewriting the same royal command for another purge to destroy anyone who doesn’t follow the established social order. Then, all of a sudden, he collapses in the midst of all his mad scribblings and coughs up blood, indicating his death (which historically occurred a couple weeks after his exile). In his dying thoughts, he remembers Gil-dong’s last words about his sins against the people.
The rebels return to Hyangjumok with news of victory at Hanyang, and the people rejoice to learn that they are no longer a target of the government. In a speech, Gil-hyun tells them that this is a collective win that was only possible because they rose up together. Cue welcoming warm embraces all around between the returning rebels and their loved ones.
In a quiet moment alone, Ga-ryung tells Gil-dong that she saw him tied up on a post in front of the palace all beaten and bruised before he was imprisoned in Yeonsangun’s dungeons. She thought that he was dead, she elaborates, and she carries those traumatic memories with her. She says that although the truth is painful, she wants to tell their child everything.
At the mention of a child between them, Gil-dong’s eyes grow wide. He looks at Ga-ryung’s belly, and she nods a happy yes, confirming that she’s pregnant. He’s ecstatic and hugs her, filled with pride and joy.
It seems that Ok-ran has been bringing Mori food to his little mountain shack while he recovers from his wounds from the Battle of Hyangjumok, because he can barely conceal a smile when she arrives with a basket. She tells him about the rebels’ victory, Ga-ryung coming back to normal health, and the probability that the rebels will leave Hyangjumok soon. She urges him to join them, but he refuses, which gets her in a huff.
Then, behind Ok-ran, Eorini appears with a displeased expression on her face. She hasn’t lost her spunk, showing clearly that she doesn’t like that her friend is cavorting with the enemy. She’s about to drag Ok-ran away from Mori, when suddenly, masked assassins attack them looking for the traitor Geo-in (aka Eorini). A flying dagger lands in Ok-ran’s chest while Mori fights them off, even in his weakened state.
Despite how much he detests having Gil-dong know that he’s still orbiting within the rebels’ sphere of influence, Mori disregards all that in order to save Ok-ran’s life. Without hesitation, he piggybacks her all the way back to the Hyangjumok village, with Eorini following one step behind. Once they arrive and get help for Ok-ran, Mori waits until she regains consciousness.
The wounds isn’t too deep, but he still stays out of concern for her. He tries to make a swift exit as soon as she wakes up, but as Ok-ran explains to Gil-dong how Mori saved them on the mountainside, she refers to the tsundere Mighty Child as “Orabeoni.” And Mori, acting in typical shy Mori fashion, shows his appreciation for her brotherly affection by slamming the door open and leaving after saying: “Who are you calling ‘Orabeoni?'”
Ga-ryung follows him outside, and she and Gil-dong invite him to stay for dinner. The subsequent scene is comical as all the Hong brothers gather to watch Mori eat. After being almost always ignored and relegated to the background, it looks like being the sole focus of all seven Hong brothers’ attention makes him uncomfortable.
Keutsae breaks the ice by encouraging him to eat, grabbing meat from Mori’s plate and taking a bite to show that it’s not poisoned. Then the atmosphere relaxes a bit until Mori lets Gil-dong know that the mountain assassins were looking for the traitor Geo-in. Eorini pales with fear at the mention, and Gil-dong realizes that Scholar song is still up to his old tricks. Only now, he’s going to do something about it.
After dinner, Gil-dong proposes to Mori that he join their brotherhood, and at first, he refuses by saying that he never wanted to become a part of Gil-dong’s band. But Gil-dong pushes further and soothes Mori’s wounds with empathy, saying that his father trying to murder him and Heotaehak’s betrayal weren’t his fault. Then, all the brothers come out in support, which makes Mori eventually acquiesce.
The Hong band says their goodbyes to the Hyangjumok people, who don’t want them to leave. However, the Hong brothers explain that if they stay any longer, the village will be targeted again by political forces. When the villagers ask will happen if they miss their Hong Hero, Gil-dong promises that they will see each other again.
Scholar Song, despite his great show of loyalty to Yeonsangun while he was in power, doesn’t seem to have spared the deposed ruler much thought after the coup and is busy establishing his insidious hold on the next regime. He even shows Minister Park his personal academy of students who are being educated in the ways of the “natural” social order.
Scholar Song tells Minister Park not to worry about the king, and that he’ll use his students to help the minister in becoming the man behind the king. Inside, Minister Park knows that he’s being used: “Ah, so you [Scholar Song] will be the true power behind me, the person behind the king.”
After the Hong clan leaves Hyangjumok, they return to their cave hideout, where they’re given a warm greeting by the people. Mori takes a look around the Hong clan’s home for the first time.
At the strategic planning meeting, Gil-hyun says that they need to destroy Scholar Song once and for all, and Gil-dong agrees. He turns to Mori and asks whether he’ll be willing to join them. In a momentous gesture, Mori nods yes, not just to this mission, but to everything Gil-dong has offered him: friends, family, and the warmth he so craved while he was growing up.
They infiltrate the deep mountains to rescue the rest of the Geo-in from the Sugwidan prisons, and when masked guards show up to fight them, Mori leads the charge.
Gil-dong and Gil-hyun work on destroying Scholar Song on another front: They sit and have drinks with Minister Park in order to warn him against the scholar. They tell him that he could end up becoming an arrow-filled porcupine like Choongwongoon, who was also Scholar Song’s political puppet before him.
Minister Park already had misgivings about Scholar Song, but this solidifies his need to sever ties with him, and he immediately betrays him. He shows up at the estate of an unsuspecting Scholar Song with a troop of soldiers behind him, reminiscent of when he staged the coup against Yeonsangun.
When Scholar Song asks what he’s doing and why he isn’t pursuing the Hong bandits, Minister Park arrests him for carrying out unlawful vigilante justice through his secret Sugwidan organization. He orders his soldiers to burn all of Scholar Song’s jade talismans, the tokens of the Sugwidan, as well as all the copies of the Heng-rok. Scholar Song cries as he sees his legacy burn in front of his eyes.
Gil-dong and Minister Park have their last meeting in a forest, and the wily minister tries to determine where Gil-dong’s hideout is by asking him. But Gil-dong just laughs and says that he’ll be watching over Minister Park. Of course, when Gil-dong leaves, the minister dispatches his soldiers to follow the rebel back to his headquarters.
The rebels return to their cave hideout, successful in their mission to rescue the Sugwidan prisoners. However, when Ga-ryung doesn’t immediately see her husband come in, the Hong brothers decide to tease her by sounding uncertain about Gil-dong’s fate, and she immediately starts crying again.
Just then, Gil-dong appears in the entranceway waving his arms in huge motions to greet her, and her tears turn into tears of joy as he picks her up in a bridal carry. Together, the reunited clan revels and rejoices in their victory.
Jeong-hak has left the palace and has become a house slave. He is punished by the household madam, but Mistress Jo steps in to defend her son and takes the blows meant for him whilst saying that Jeong-hak doesn’t deserve this type of treatment.
Then she begins coughing blood, and the household madam, fearing an infectious illness, orders her other servants to throw Mistress Jo out. Against Jeong-hak’s protestations, she tells them to leave Mistress Jo for dead on the outskirts of town where all the sick and dying are unceremoniously dumped.
Jeong-hak cradles his mother, who reminisces about her life while in the final throes of death. Apparently, Mistress Jo once had dreams too: She wanted to travel on a ferry, but she could not because she was wed at the age of fifteen, and as a woman, she was not supposed to leave the house. She adds that her sole goal in life became all about making her son a high-ranking royal official, but she failed in doing so. Her eyes turn glassy then, and Jeong-hak cries as he realizes that his mother has passed on.
Things come full circle as Jeong-hak brings a sickle to the household mistress’s chambers to avenge his mother’s death in a deja vu moment that reminds us of Amogae’s killing of Master Jo. He attempts to cut her throat, but he’s stopped by other servants before he can.
He is sent to rot in jail for the attempted murder of his master, and Gil-dong visits him in his cell. The former slave asks his former master whether he understands now that slaves are people too, and although Jeong-hak has only lived a couple months as one, he’s already tasted a bit of the hell that comes from being treated as less than human.
However, Gil-dong says that his father Amogae and his father before him lived their entire lives like that. Gil-dong expounds on this, and in doing so, he makes Jeong-hak realize that whether people are born into privilege or become slaves, they both experience pain the same way.
In exile, Scholar Song has a half-burnt remnant of the Heng-rok by his side while he has fanatical dreams, in which he thinks that he can repeat his rise to success like he did before. Gil-hyun arrives to see his former mentor daydreaming and lets him know that the people who are now in power are scholar Kim Jongjik’s students.
Because those students were persecuted by Yeonsangun at the suggestion of Scholar Song, he doesn’t think Scholar Song will be able to rise in power ever again. Then, he asks if Scholar Song is still looking for desperate people, reminding him of the circumstances of their first meeting.
Gil-hyun had been the desperate one looking for a way to achieve his dreams, and Scholar Song had used his naive student’s desire to his own ends and inculcated an ideology of inequality in him. He realizes now that Scholar Song is a master manipulator who is only after his own gain, and one who uses the weaknesses of others to achieve his own purposes.
Knowing this as well as Scholar Song’s modus operandi, Gil-hyun says to him: “The desperate do not follow those who have nothing [referring to Scholar Song’s state now].” And in despair, the scholar eventually hangs himself.
Years later, Ga-ryung and Gil-dong live an ordinary married life, still very much in love. At night, she tells the village children the tale of the Hong Hero while cradling their baby in her arms.
The children ask about the famous rebel, and she laughs at their presuppositions and tells them — while looking at her husband — that the Hong Hero is very handsome. But moments after starting her tale, all the kids fall fast asleep, and Gil-dong teases that she’s still the best cure for insomnia in energetic little children.
Deeper into the night, they enjoy some sweet married couple time together, and she asks when he first started seeing her as a woman and not just as a pesky little sister. Feigning ignorance, he tells her he doesn’t remember, which makes her a bit irritated.
Grabbing her hand, he tells her that he does remember the point when she came into his heart: it was when she clutched him in her half-dreaming state the time they slept next to each other. He tells her that he loves her before pulling her in for a long, romantic kiss.
Gil-dong and Mori have an arm-wrestling competition between them; it’s the battle of the two Mighty Children. Ilchung, ever the gambling monk, takes bets while Segul provides insider tips and commentary on the match they’re about to witness.
He says that Gil-dong has been using his strength at night to make a third child, so it’s a better bet to put money on Mori, who is apparently single and alone, and thus not using his strength for any purpose. Upon hearing this, the others all switch their bets to Mori. Eorini and Ok-ran root for their respective brothers, which brings a huge smile to both Gil-dong and Mori’s faces.
However, as soon as they hear whispers of a rumor from the villagers that Minister Park is taking bribes and using his influence for sexual favors, they go and visit him in the dead of night. Gil-dong reminds the now-corrupted minister that he said he would be watching him, and he proceeds to mete out justice.
Ga-ryung writes the last chapter of her storybook about the Hong Hero tale, saying that whenever there’s a need for them, they will appear again. The Hong Brothers look over Hanyang, since they’ve heard more rumors of unrest and of people being oppressed. Gil-dong and the others get ready for more rebel action, solidifying their purpose and proclaiming another beginning for the Noisy Hong Clan.
Wow, I was expecting death and tragedy in the final moments, but I’m glad that the writers took creative license with history and gave our heroes a happy ending to their story. Especially with that first scene of Ga-ryung being shot on the post, I was not expecting her to live (and when we saw it in real-time in Episode 27, I thought it might even be poignant and more meaningful to have her die), but we ended up with our band of bandits being silent guardians, watchful protectors, and dark knights ready to help whenever they’re needed. So with a light and thankful heart, I’ll give my final farewell thoughts on the drama that consumed me for the past four months.
Actors Kim Ji-suk and Honey Lee were at their best this episode, showing us gravitas that I had been missing during the middle of Rebel’s run. I’m serious—I think Kim Ji-suk deserves something on the same level as a Korean Oscar. His vacant staring and vacillation between angry tyrant and helpless man-child was absolutely on point. When Yeonsangun mourned Nok-soo’s death, I saw that he didn’t just regard her as an expendable person but loved her in his own twisted way, despite her having believed in life that he did not see her as a lover.
Yes, Yeonsangun committed outrageously heinous deeds and generally did not view others as fellow humans, but like Gil-dong pointed out, it may have been a combination of cowardice and ignorance that led him down this path of violence. But ultimately, he didn’t betray those who were closest to him (Eunuch Kim and Nok-soo), and that shows that his character was perhaps not inherently evil, but rather that his actions may have been a manifestation of his upbringing, very much like how a child stuck in the id-state doesn’t understand how to share or to empathize with others because he was never taught that people around him also had feelings and desires like himself.
I wish Nok-soo’s screen time with Gil-dong had been a bit longer so that they could finally hash out the unsaid feelings between them. Did he resent her for putting Ga-ryung up on that pole and for leaving him all those years ago, and did she still have jealousy and resentment toward him for finding comfort and love in another woman? What were her true feelings on Yeonsangun? Because at the end, it seemed like she turned into a maternal figure for him, and any affection that she felt for him may have been a protective, pitying love rather than the deep passion that she and Gil-dong once shared. Whether she truly realized how her actions to encourage Yeonsangun in his purges impacted the people was not shown, although that beautiful melody as she walked the streets in white sinner’s garb showed that she knew that her life had gone astray.
The endings for the other villains — Mistress Jo, Jeong-hak, and Scholar Song — were exactly what they deserved. Gil-dong didn’t necessarily have a large hand in their downfalls, but rather, it was their own actions that led them to their ultimate ends. Mistress Jo was so far gone in her belief in the natural social order ideology that it’s hard to say if she was truly evil or just radicalized to the point of no return. But during his exile, I could see that Scholar Song was only using the ideology that he promoted just so that he could gain power, and not necessarily because he had a strong belief in it himself. I felt the most pity for Jeong-hak, who I think could have turned into an ally like Mori before the turning point when he became a vengeful bad guy (after finding out that Gil-dong’s father murdered his own). And of our villains, I think that only Jeong-hak realized what life was like on the other side, having experienced firsthand the horror and despair of slavery.
The best story arc wrap-up in the finale, I think, was Mori’s. Hooray for the guyliner’d assassin turning into an awesome hero in the end! The way that Ok-ran brought him back into the fold rather than Gil-dong or Ga-ryung was particularly well done, because I think they were both lonely souls who developed their personalities in opposite ways. Mori, feeling the need to find a new paternal figure after his own attempted to kill him, became subservient to lesser men like Heotaehak and Choongwongoon, while Ok-ran’s personality was excessively nice throughout the drama. She may have felt the need to become well-liked to compensate for her lack of family and to fill her need for love. That ending scene where she cheered him on against Gil-dong in the arm-wrestling competition showed that their emotional scars had healed enough for both to laugh without restraint and feel real joy.
That being said, was there really a need for all those endings? I feel like there were at least two different epilogue sequences when all they needed to do was end with Scholar Song’s comeuppance and Mori’s redemption. Perhaps production was rushed or maybe because it was the last episode, but they seemed like they were trying to cram everything in, because the links between the individual storylines in this particular episode were much choppier than in the others.
Overall though, this sageuk was definitely enjoyable and rich in terms of historical information and performance quality, and it’s one that I would watch again in the distant future. Like dramallama, I concur that the highlight of these last few episodes was truly the people — because they were at the heart of Gil-dong’s revolution, they were able to succeed. By adding Mori, the writers took away the specialness of Gil-dong’s innate “divine” abilities, and it further emphasized that him being the chosen one was a matter of his love and empathy for the people rather than a matter of coincidence and birthright. And that what’s important: People should be treated equally and be given fair opportunities to prove themselves, and when they are, you might be surprised to see what they’re capable of doing.
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