Mr. Sunshine: Episode 21
Though Joseon may be destined for ruin, Eugene is doing the most to ensure that ruin comes later than sooner. He navigates his loyalties with caution, as Joseon grows weaker with no reliable allies. His identity as a Joseon-American soldier becomes even more prominent in the face of a looming Russo-Japanese war, but he faces the imminent threat with courage and wisdom. His greatest flaw as being neither a true Joseon person nor American becomes his strength, as he takes ownership of the advantageous identity in any moment.
EPISODE 21 RECAP
After months of absence, Ae-shin visits Eugene and requests to accompany him to the U.S. upon his return. Eugene knows that Ae-shin is manipulating him, and he harshly suggests that she put some effort into her manipulation by lying to him that she loves him — then, he would believe her and do everything to support her mission. Ae-shin reveals that her final destination is Japan, and understanding the implications, Eugene says he despises Ae-shin even more for manipulating him like this. But even with his cutting words, Ae-shin can sense his care and tears up.
As Takashi checks out of the hotel, a worker urgently reports to Hina that he saw a black figure pass by as he was cleaning out the room. Assuming the identity of the unannounced guest, Hina tries to quickly assuage the worker’s worries in front of Takashi, but it’s too late. Takashi suspects that this figure is the enemy and orders his soldiers to search the building for this supposed rebel in their midst. Once Takashi’s soldiers are out of sight, Hina rings the bell to Eugene’s room as a warning.
At the warning signal, Ae-shin tells Eugene not to worry about her and quickly jumps to the next balcony. She lets herself into the room and looks embarrassed to see Hee-sung in a bathrobe. He’s surprised by her sudden appearance but immediately offers to hide her from the imminent threat of Japanese soldiers. He then breaks into a sweet smile, happy to see and help Ae-shin again.
Eugene calmly allows Takashi to enter his room to search for this suspicious figure, and encourages him to conduct a thorough search. Takashi shares that he’s returning to Japan before his promotion as the commander of the Japanese Korean Army, and he sneers that Eugene is conveniently returning to the U.S. at a turbulent time in Joseon. Then Takashi discovers a box under the bed, and Eugene’s expression suddenly hardens.
Hee-sung opens his door when the Japanese soldiers come by to search for the rebel. The soldier looks behind to see Ae-shin, disguised in a robe and with her hair down. Hee-sung angrily barks at the soldier for sneaking looks at his lover and demands that they leave. The scolded Japanese soldiers comply, and Hee-sung quickly shuts the door before handing Ae-shin a box that he poured his heart and soul into. Ae-shin opens the box to find a new coat, and she thanks him for the help.
Next door, Takashi opens the box to reveal the Joseon flag. Takashi laughs that a Joseon person has an American music box while an American person has a Joseon flag. Along the same vein, Eugene responds that a Japanese person has a list of Joseon people, and Takashi angrily grabs Eugene’s collar at the disclosure that Eugene searched his room and found the hitlist. Eugene taunts him further, saying that a Japanese soldier can’t harm an American. Takashi lets go of Eugene and vows to find Ae-shin upon his return to Joseon.
Takashi tells Eugene to quit his righteous act, since Japan is merely going to war with Russia to control Joseon, just as the Americans went to war with Spain to colonize the Philippines. Takashi asserts that an excellent nation disappoints an inferior nation — the U.S. to the Philippines, England to India, and now Japan to Joseon — and the people of the inferior nation, especially a particular young noblewoman, will suffer.
All the evacuated hotel guests wait at the stairs while the worker scans the crowd for the black figure. Hina also scans the guests and notices Ae-shin in Hee-sung’s new coat. She misleads her worker to suspect Hee-sung, who gladly carries out the distraction. Meanwhile, Takashi gives Eugene to chance to kill him, since this may be his last opportunity. Eugene doesn’t believe this will be their last encounter, but knowing this is an opportunity, he pulls out his gun.
Downstairs, Ae-shin utilizes Hee-sung’s distraction to slip by toward the door, but the soldiers yell at her to stop. Suddenly, they hear a gunshot from above, and the soldiers rush toward the sound while Ae-shin makes her escape. Hee-sung looks to Hina, and they nod at each other in silent acknowledgement.
When the soldiers barge into Eugene’s room, we see that Eugene has only shot the floor. Takashi yells at the soldiers for their incompetence and tells Eugene that he’s curious whether Eugene will show up as a Joseon person or an American at their next encounter. Eugene tells him to guess, since he’s already decided, and Takashi finally leaves the hotel.
At the embassy, Seung-gu visits Eugene to ask about Ae-shin’s request, and Eugene seems vexed that Seung-gu disclosed the information about his departure to Ae-shin. Eugene realizes that the time has come to fulfill his promise to kill Takashi, and he knows that he will soon be separated from Ae-shin either by death or his return to his country. He admits that he was scared that he would make a different choice, and Seung-gu apologizes for Joseon’s great debt to him.
When Hee-sung enters the pawnshop, he finds Choon-shik scrambling to hide his work, so he quickly distracts Choon-shik to grab the paper. He notices Ae-shin’s name written as “Ae-shin Choi” on a forged U.S. passport in correspondence to Eugene’s real passport, and he despondently comments that this fate has been tied, regardless of the counterfeit document.
At his hideout, Dong-mae finds Hotaru held hostage at gunpoint by the Righteous Army, and he’s consequently held at gunpoint by Ae-shin. Eun-san demands to know where Minister Lee is captured, but Dong-mae claims that he’s not responsible for the abduction. Dong-mae explains that he fell out of Musin Boss’ favor after being shot by a Righteous Army member and letting the culprit go free. In response, Eun-san asks Dong-mae to help them, but he sternly refuses, as there is still order to his gang. Then, Dong-mae turns to Ae-shin to address her debt and accuses her of not delivering the payment directly.
Eugene waits at the bakery, where the baker (a newfound comrade) informs him of the curfew approaching. Once the curfew bell rings, Ae-shin arrives and asks about his response to her request. Eugene uses his finger to spell out his answer in the flour on the table, and he places a ring as the second letter in the word “love.” Then, he hands her the fake passport, and Ae-shin looks confused at her surname. Eugene explains that this is the safest way to enter Japan, as his wife.
Eugene takes the ring and puts it on Ae-shin’s ring finger, explaining that most Western men propose on one knee and profess their love to their fiancée. He shares his own proposal, saying, “If you break me and use me to save your country, I could be broken thousands of times for you. I knew you were this tough since the first moment, but I still liked you.” He tells her not to be sorry, since this is his choice. He instructs her to meet in two days when they depart and leaves while Ae-shin sits at the bakery, sobbing in another realization of how difficult love can be.
At the military academy, Eugene proudly oversees the trainees, who’ve all become skilled in handling and shooting the guns. He announces that this is his last class and shares an Arabic proverb: “An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lion led by a sheep.” Eugene says that Joseon is becoming more precarious by the day and warns the trainees that when a country falters, the army suffers the first blow.
Eugene presumes that the newly established Japanese Korean Army forces will likely eliminate the military academy and overlook the trainees as a flock of sheep when they’re actually commanders. He orders his trainees to be the lions that lead history with courage and wisdom. With that, he ends his last class, and Joon-young orders the trainees to salute to their instructor. They salute to him in unison, and Joon-young cries as he looks at Eugene with a determined look. Eugene salutes back.
At the embassy, Domi sobs at the news of Eugene and rejects all of Eugene’s empty promises that they’ll see each other again. Gwan-soo sympathizes with Domi and asks Eugene why the U.S., a supposed ally, isn’t helping Joseon. Eugene explains that a large amount of Japan’s war funds come from the U.S. and England, and the Russo-Japanese war will yield great profits for the U.S., so the U.S. won’t be helping Joseon. Eugene advises Gwan-soo to stay at the embassy and keep Domi with him there for the sake of their safety.
Dong-mae meets with Ae-shin at the dojo and reminds her of his warning not to fly (over roofs). In response, she reminds him of her warning that she would kill him in their next encounter. Despite the animosity in their words, they seem to find ease in their mutual enmity. Dong-mae says that she only has three more months until her next payment and demands that she meet him at the dojo directly to show whether she’s dead or alive.
At dusk, Dong-mae meets Eugene, who hands him a beer in celebration of his last night in Joseon. Eugene says that he’s returning to the U.S. and plans to fulfill his promise in Japan on his way home. Dong-mae informs him of an upcoming festival with fireworks that would cover up the sounds of gunshots, and Eugene looks at him curiously. Eugene asks if Dong-mae is on his side, and Dong-mae finally admits that it’s been like that for a while. This bromance is thriving!
Making his final round of farewells, Eugene meets with Hina and thanks her. He says that he’ll miss her jokes and the hotel coffee, which was always sweet. Hina tells him to return anytime, as Joseon and Glory Hotel will always be there.
Eugene waits for Ae-shin at the train station, and he freezes in awe when he sees Ae-shin approaching him in her Western dress. He says he’s trying to run away from Joseon, but this last memory of Joseon is so beautiful that he may want to come back.
Once they’re on the train, Ae-shin shares her thoughts that this ring on her finger must only represent marriage if the husband also has the same ring. She asks for Eugene’s ring, and he hands it to her from his uniform pocket. Then, Ae-shin grabs his hand and slides the ring onto his finger. She confesses, “I love you. I was in love with you.” She holds his hand, and Eugene looks touched by her sincere confession.
Hotaru reads Dong-mae’s cards that day, which happens to be “sad fate.” Dong-mae reflects on his broken encounters with and because of Ae-shin, and he comments that all his moments of defeat were filled with passion.
Hee-sung eats a meal with his father, who laments Wan-ik’s untimely death and regrets giving him an expensive gift. Nobleman Kim says that as the only son of their family, Hee-sung must marry to carry on the family name. But Hee-sung refuses to marry and blames his father for only having one son. At that, Nobleman Kim gets on his feet and chases Hee-sung around the table to give him a proper scolding.
Hee-sung returns to the pawnshop, where Il-shik comments on the exodus from Joseon. Il-shik stops Choon-shik from throwing out a pair of shoes and explains that a Righteous Army member left the shoes there while escaping, but they haven’t been claimed since. Hee-sung laments that some items can become relics, but Choon-shik reminds Hee-sung that he doesn’t have time to lament when he’s late on his rent. Hee-sung failed to get money from his father, so he leaves his pocket watch as payment. They joke that this could become a relic, but they don’t let Hee-sung go back on his offer.
Eugene and Ae-shin arrive at Shimonoseki port, where they stand in line for customs before entering the country. Eugene slyly switches bags with Ae-shin and easily passes the inspection thanks to his uniform, but Ae-shin arouses some suspicion. The Japanese soldiers believe that Ae-shin is a Joseon person and dig into her (Eugene’s) bag. They find the ornament belonging to Eugene’s mother, and Eugene steps in to minimize the threat by demanding that they raise their concerns with the American embassy and treat his wife with respect. They let Ae-shin pass, and Eugene takes her hand to enter Japan.
Once they’re outside, Ae-shin suggests that they part ways there and switches their bags. Before she leaves, Eugene stops her and desperately asks if she would run away to the U.S. with him. He knows that Joseon is destined for ruin and only wants Ae-shin to survive. Ae-shin admits that she’s imagined going to the U.S. with Eugene a hundred times — studying there, seeing a zebra, falling asleep next to Eugene, and smiling often. But in all one hundred scenarios, she returned.
Ae-shin says that this is the end of their fate together, as they embark on separate paths, with Eugene returning home and Ae-shin leaving home. Ae-shin lets go of his hand, and Eugene tearfully watches her leave. The weight of their separation hits Ae-shin later that night, and she cries alone as it begins to rain.
As Ae-shin finds her way to the Righteous Army hideout, she’s met with a few threatening Japanese men who wonder why a Joseon woman would dare to enter Japan alone. She scans her surroundings for any weapons and pushes past the men to break a broom to use for defense. But before she can attack her enemies, another man beats them up. He approaches Ae-shin with an umbrella and introduces himself as Song Young, her father’s friend and her mother’s older cousin. This was the comrade who ran away with baby Ae-shin and brought her home to Grandfather.
They enter a Japanese shop, where Eun-san’s apprentice works. Ae-shin hands Song Young the banknote from the emperor, and he says that this will fund the Righteous Army’s more advanced artillery. He tells Ae-shin that she’ll support the rescue mission by watching their backs and make sure that they all board the ship to Shanghai. He tells her to rest and recover from her journey and says that they’ll discuss plans the next day. As Ae-shin checks her gun, she glances at her ring and keeps it on her finger.
At the American embassy in Japan, Eugene meets with Kyle, who notices the ring on Eugene’s finger. He asks if Eugene got married, and Eugene asks Kyle to be the first to congratulate him. Kyle does so and knows that it must be that noblewoman, Ae-shin.
Musin Boss tells his hostage, Minister Lee, that the Japan-Korea treaty was signed successfully thanks to Minister Lee’s absence. He calls Minister Lee is a traitor now and suggests that he cross over to Japan’s side. Minister Lee doesn’t understand Japanese and says that he won’t soil his ears or mouth anymore. Then, he bites his tongue, and the lackeys rush to wrap a cloth around Minister Lee’s bloody mouth to stop him.
Hina visits the Catholic village to find her mother and introduces herself to the nun with her Korean name, Lee Yang-hwa. The nun welcomes her and explains that a man came to find her mother a few years after she passed. Since then, the man returned every year to pay his respects. Hina finds her mother’s burial site with a tombstone that read her name: Jung Myung-shin.
Afterwards, Hina walks along the shore with Dong-mae at her tail. She asks if he’s trailing her nowadays, and he offers to stand in front of her if she wants. He comes in front of her and sweetly offers to give her a piggyback ride, calling her Lee Yang-hwa. That mention of her name evokes tears as she reveals that she’s an orphan now. She crouches to the ground and weeps for her mother, and Dong-mae tries to comfort her by saying that he’s been an orphan for a while too.
Looking at her softly, Dong-mae gently tells her to live a new life — not as Lee Yang-hwa nor Kudo Hina. He tells her to put powder in her purse instead of a gun, to hang up paintings in her room instead of her fencing sword. He tells her to meet a kind man, wear beautiful clothes, not cry or bite, and dream of an ordinary life. Through her cries, Hina asks why Dong-mae is talking like he’s about to die, and he responds that he’s a bad guy. He says that bad guys die first so that good people live longer. Hina stands up and hugs Dong-mae, saying that she’ll be worse than him so that she’ll die before him. With the family she’s lost, she can’t stand to lose Dong-mae.
The festival commences in Tokyo, and a carriage driven by a Righteous Army comrade brings a line of geishas to entertain Musin Boss’ guests at the geisha house. At the end, we see a familiar comrade, So-ah, the former geisha in Joseon who was saved by Eugene and escaped to Shanghai. She enters the room and sits next to Minister Lee, who’s tied up at the end of the table and doesn’t seem to notice her there.
At the festival, Takashi’s young son asks about the rank of his father’s new role of commander in Joseon. His mother explains that it’s an honorable position and that Takashi could be the new king of Joseon, which would make the Japanese emperor a god. As Takashi looks around, he notices a figure pointing a gun at him from a roof, and he orders his soldiers to protect his son with their lives. He flees the area with his wife and orders his soldiers to find the assassin on the roof.
At the geisha house, Minister Lee’s humiliation entertains Musin Boss’ guests, and Musin Boss challenges So-ah to seduce Minister Lee. She takes the offer and playfully throws off her socks. Then, she takes a sword and cuts her dress to reveal her bare leg. She takes Minister Lee’s hand and places it on her leg, and she leans in to whisper her plan to flip the table on the count of three. Minister Lee finally realizes her identity, and on the count of three, hell breaks loose.
Minister Lee flips the table and So-ah shoots at the guests in the room. The side doors open, and Song Young shoots at the enemy with his comrade. They quickly escape the room with the other frantic geishas, and Ae-shin shoots at any threats from above. So-ah and Minister Lee successfully ride away with Apprentice, and Ae-shin continues to shoot at her enemies to protect her comrades. Once she’s discovered, she also flees the scene.
Takashi stumbles through the street, cowering behind his wife. Eugene follows him on the roof, and Takashi quickly abandons his wife-shield to make a run for it. He corners himself with only two soldiers to protect him, but they’re quickly shot dead. Then, a bullet hits Takashi’s arm and leg, and Eugene slowly approaches him with his mask pulled down.
Takashi regrets not killing Eugene sooner and says that Eugene is ultimately facing him as a Joseon person. But before he can finish that sentence, Eugene shoots him dead. In English, Eugene says, “You’re wrong. I’m just an American that has many bullets left.” At the sound of approaching soldiers, Eugene flees.
Dong-mae waits at the Jemulpo station, sitting at the exact place where he met Ae-shin last time, but she doesn’t show. He finds Hina at Glory Hotel practicing with her fencing sword, and he reminds her that she shouldn’t be wielding swords anymore. Hina asks how he met Hotaru, and Dong-mae shares that he hid away in a shaman’s house in Japan after being betrayed. Hotaru worked as a maid there, but it became clear that the shaman exploited her.
The shaman sold her to Dong-mae for a night, and he went straight to bed without touching her. She instinctively stuck her hair pin in his shoulder in self-defense, but Dong-mae didn’t flinch at her attack. He told her that he’s giving her a present before he leaves the next day, as a gesture of gratitude for her cooking. He noticed that she didn’t speak and asked if she wanted the shaman dead. With the blood on her fingers, Hotaru wrote “yes.”
The next day, Dong-mae killed the shaman, and Hotaru followed him out. Back at the hotel, Dong-mae asks Hina why she asks about Hotaru, and Hina reveals that quiet Hotaru sent a telegram to Musin Boss about Dong-mae.
After the successful mission in Tokyo, Ae-shin meets with Song Young before he leaves for Shanghai. As her uncle, he promises to see her again soon. Ae-shin thanks him for protecting her, and Song Young ensures her that her parents will recognize each other and live happily together in their next lives in a later Joseon. She wishes him a safe journey, and he tells her that they must not die easily, so her parents’ sacrifice is not in vain.
Ae-shin finds the photo shop where her parents’ photo was taken, and she runs into Eugene there. She hides her left hand behind her, and Eugene looks relieved to see her before his ship leaves. He notices her sheepish expression and grabs her left hand to see that the ring is still on her finger. He takes her hand and enters the shop, and his conversation with the photographer reveals that he’d been waiting for Ae-shin there. They sit in front of the camera, and Eugene instructs her to smile at the camera for the photo.
Dong-mae confronts Hotaru about her betrayal, and with his sword at her neck, she writes that Ae-shin must die in Japan for Dong-mae to be safe. She adds that if Ae-shin returns to Joseon alive, then she’ll kill Ae-shin herself so that Dong-mae doesn’t lose Musin Boss’ trust. Through her tears, she writes that she’ll kill Ae-shin and then die in Dong-mae’s hands.
Infuriated by this betrayal, Dong-mae slices the hanging wooden fixture and orders Yujo to kick out Hotaru. Even though no one supports this, Dong-mae is headed to Japan.
Ae-shin walks Eugene to Shimonoseki port, where the massive ship for the U.S. awaits. He asks that Ae-shin come to the U.S., across the vast sea, to visit him. Ae-shin promises to go once Joseon becomes peaceful. She offers to leave first, and Eugene watches her slowly walk away. The ship takes off from the port, and Ae-shin looks back at the departing vessel longingly.
But her sadness is cut short by an incoming fleet of Musin warriors who recognize her. A pursuit ensues, and Ae-shin runs for her life from the stampeded of warriors at her tail. Then, suddenly a man joins her and shoots at the approaching warriors behind them. It’s Eugene, and they run hand-in-hand as the fireworks glow up the sky.
Once they’ve outrun the warriors, Ae-shin and Eugene take a moment to catch their breath. Ae-shin asks Eugene about the departing ship, to which Eugene states the obvious that it already left. He says that he saw the warriors, and once he came to his senses, he was already running toward the flame. He smiles widely and says that thanks to his impulsive act, he also saw the fireworks in the sky.
Ae-shin calls him reckless, and he agrees, since he only has one bullet left. Ae-shin says that she’ll face this alone, but Eugene says that they’ll do this together — they just need to use this one bullet well.
Eugene takes Ae-shin’s hand, and they continue to run away from their pursuers. Eugene heads straight for the embassy and aims his last bullet at the window of the embassy. He shoots, and the lights immediately turn on as soldiers rush out with guns. Eugene and Ae-shin kneel in surrender, and he announces his identity and Ae-shin as his wife. Breathing heavily from the chase, they kneel at the mercy of the American soldiers, their last hope against the approaching Musin warriors.
This show saved all its best moments for the end, which is a bummer because we only have a few episodes to savor these moments. After weeks of meandering through the exposition that could have been cut in half, I’m finally seeing the epic drama we were promised! The urgency of the story and complexities in relationship are bringing out the best from these actors, and I even found myself escaping my apathy about the partnership between Ae-shin and Eugene. I appreciated exploring the relationship between these two in this episode because their tragic relationship was no longer just the idea of tragedy — it caused real pain and required real sacrifice. I think that’s a prime example of why the pacing of this show seemed unbalanced. With a few exceptions, our characters were responding to the idea of tragedy and pain, rather than anything real.
Despite the unbalanced pacing, the show remained consistent with pulling my heartstrings with Dong-mae and leaving me hanging with Hee-sung. Dong-mae is fiercely loyal and was an absolute sweetheart with his puppy eyes to comfort Hina. He’s genuinely a good bad guy, and even with all these hints at his death, I’m holding onto hope that he outlasts some of the good guys and makes it out alive. And Hee-sung, oh Hee-sung. Why won’t this show give you the time you deserve? It always seems like one step forward and two steps back with the show’s commitment to Hee-sung. At the bare minimum, he deserves a thriving newspaper business that achieves glory by documenting the turbulence in Joseon caused by its invaders. You’ve come this far – you can do it, show.
Though Eugene’s character arc is wrapping up, I don’t think I’ve quite grasped the degree of loyalty he has for Joseon. Eugene will always claim to be an American, since the country granted him the opportunity to live, and being an American in this turbulence is an advantage. But what is his relationship to Joseon without Ae-shin? I don’t think the show ever answered that question, and I’m curious how much his time in Joseon restored his faith and loyalty to the motherland. But I need this show to answer that question with as a fill-in-the-blank answer, not in a long essay that it’s been writing so far. I think that the writing of the show began to mimic its cinematography — long, drawn-out, slow motion, beautiful, and unnecessary. It became something Hee-sung loves — useless and beautiful things — and I say this with endearment and a healthy dose of criticism.
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