The Crowned Clown: Episode 4
With the true king gone longer than anyone expected, the clown king is faced with making life-or-death decisions that he never expected. He’s learning some pretty harsh lessons, such as that often, there’s no easy answer. He’ll have to make a difficult call — is it worth saving an innocent person, if it means a murderer goes free?
EPISODE 4 RECAP
After making their wishes, Ha Sun and So-woon walk back to the palace. So-woon trips but says it’s nothing, though Ha Sun spots the stone she stumbled over. Instead of saying anything, he starts kicking away stones that lie in their path, making sure that So-woon has a clear place to walk safely.
When she returns to her chambers, Court Lady Park gently fusses at So-woon for going out without an escort. So-woon simply sits with a tiny, secret smile on her face, and she tells Court Lady Park that she doesn’t need tea tonight, because she was given enough warmth outside (happy sigh).
Ha Sun is a bit more expressive as he sneaks back into his room through the hidden passageway and finds Minister Lee standing there waiting for him — he screams bloody murder, HA. He claims he stepped out to relieve himself and promises not to do it again (“I’ll call for a chamber pot, even for just a fart!”), and Minister Lee gives him the stink-eye, but lets it go.
He warns him not to let his guard down again, because people are sensing that the king is behaving differently, especially after sparing the lives of Minister Yoo and the dog that bit him. In an authoritative voice, Ha Sun says that Minister Lee let his guard down first, and hands him something wrapped in silk.
It’s an arrowhead, from the arrow that Prince Jin-pyung shot at him, and it’s the first that Minister Lee has heard that someone made an attempt on Ha Sun’s life during the hunt. Ha Sun snaps that he put his life on the line when he returned, but he never said he would die in vain.
He tells Minister Lee that he won’t stand by while he keeps crucial information from him. Minister Lee scoffs sarcastically that he’ll be sure to tell Ha Sun the next time he needs to use him as bait, but Ha Sun says that it’s better than being kept in the dark.
Minister Lee goes to the guard Moo-young about the assassination attempt, and Moo-young blames himself for being distracted after Prince Jin-pyung shot at him. Moo-young already believes that Prince Jin-pyung is behind all this, but Minister Lee says they need proof.
Frustrated by his inability to read the numerous court documents, Ha Sun asks Eunuch Jo to teach him to read Chinese lettering. He complains that he can survive outside the palace using his physical skills, like during the hunt, but he doesn’t have the same advantage in the palace.
Eunuch Jo brings in a mountain of books, saying that these are the books that Yi Heon has read recently. The prospect makes Ha Sun look like he’s going to cry, but Eunuch Jo offers to translate the books into Korean so that Ha Sun can compare the writing and learn the Chinese characters.
He starts with a book of poetry (and a positively evil grin), and they’re still hard at work later when Minister Lee returns. Eunuch Jo steps out to get tea and runs into Minister Lee eavesdropping, and he explains that Ha Sun wanted to learn to read and write. He offers to make Ha Sun stop, but Minister Lee says to let him continue.
Much later, Ha Sun nearly falls asleep while studying, and he giggles to see Eunuch Jo nodding off, as well. Ha Sun lies down and recites some of the poetry he’s been reading, growing emotional at the lonely words. They remind him of Dal-lae, and he envisions himself lying in a sunny field while his sister smiles down at him.
He recalls a day when he was still with his troupe, and they’d been practicing a dance. Gap-soo had gotten tired and told Ha Sun to take his place, and Ha Sun had playfully teased him for being old and useless. Dal-lae had gotten in on the teasing, goading Gap-soo into chasing them as they laughed, carefree and innocent.
The memory makes Ha Sun cry, and Eunuch Jo hears him and asks what’s wrong. Instead of answering, Ha Sun asks him for a favor.
Gap-soo tries his best to make little Dal-lae laugh or smile, but none of his antics work. The same kind monk is taking care of them who’s watching over Yi Heon, but when he enters their room to bring food, Dal-lae hides behind Gap-soo.
Eunuch Jo goes to the gibang to look for Woon-shim and give her something from Ha Sun, but he hides his face and scoots away when Minister Lee also arrives. Minister Lee finds Woon-shim writing a letter and asks why she keeps writing when she never gets a reply, and she just says vaguely that you never know what might happen. Minister Lee says it’s time to give up, and Woon-shim wonders what happened to the kind man so favored by Lord Gil.
Queen So-woon summons Yi Heon’s concubines to her rooms for tea, and Hwa-dang makes a point to be as mean and nasty as she possibly can to the other consorts. She sips her tea and immediately vomits, then collapses to the floor writhing in pain.
When Ha Sun is informed what happened, the first thing he asks if whether So-woon is okay. He finds her outside the physician’s quarters, with Minister Shin inside, but Minister Shin scurries out so the king and queen can check on Hwa-dang.
Hwa-dang sits up when she sees them, but she clutches her belly again in pain. The physician says he’s not sure but that her symptoms indicate a poisonous plant, and Hwa-dang whines that she’s been having symptoms for days.
So-woon offers to have the tea that Hwa-dang drank inspected, but Hwa-dang says there’s no point. Her court lady hands Eunuch Jo a box, which contains a straw doll pierced all over with needles.
Hwa-dang sobs that someone is cursing her, and one of her maids tells Ha Sun that she witnessed someone burying the straw doll on the last night of the full moon. He asks who it was, and she accuses Court Lady Park, So-woon’s attendant. Hwa-dang dramatically begs Ha Sun to find and punish the person who cursed her.
Minister Lee’s advice to Ha Sun is to ignore the whole thing, but Ha Sun is scared the queen will be wrongfully accused. Minister Lee points out that it might be true, and tells Ha Sun that the Internal Court is where the queen and the king’s consorts fight for power.
He says that what happens there can even result in challenges to the throne, so it’s best if the king doesn’t take sides. He reminds Ha Sun of the second way to survive in the palace — ignore everything.
Court Lady Park’s room is searched, with Court Lady Kim looking on smugly. Several more straw dolls are found, as well as a box of poisonous plants, so Court Lady Park is arrested and tortured for a confession as to who ordered her to curse Hwa-dang. Ae-young reports to So-woon that Court Lady Park isn’t naming any names, so So-woon decides to talk to the king.
Eunuch Jo explains to Ha Sun that Court Lady Park’s silence could implicate the queen — unless she names someone else, it will be assumed that the order came from her master. Ha Sun goes for a walk outside, and he accidentally sees So-woon approaching his rooms, then deciding to go back.
He follows her to the wishing bridge, where she’s about to toss another of her hazelnuts and make a wish. He startles her into dropping the hazelnut, and he picks it up for her, saying that the goblin won’t grant her wish if she throws it here.
He tells So-woon that he knows she wanted to speak to him, and she says that she planned to beg him to trust her innocence, but that she got scared he would doubt her. Ha Sun quickly says that he trusted her from the beginning, but So-woon says that makes her even more scared that he’ll choose not to support her.
She ends the conversation, satisfied just to have heard him say he trusts her. Ha Sun asks her to wait, promising to find a way to save her.
Minister Shin and Court Lady Kim are feeling pretty smug, having orchestrated this whole situation. They paid the physician to give them a plant that would make Hwa-dang sick but not kill her, then paid two maids to plant the straw dolls in Court Lady Park’s room, and feed Hwa-dang the plant.
Minister Lee chuckles that they didn’t include Hwa-dang in their plans because she’s a terrible liar, and when Court Lady Kim asks if he was intending to install her as the new queen, he quips that he has a lot of nieces. He tells Court Lady Kim to get rid of Court Lady Park, because if they can make it look like So-woon poisoned Hwa-dang and took the life of her servant, they can petition to have her dethroned.
Moo-young reports to Minister Lee that he’s visited all of the smithies for miles around, but none of them make arrowheads like the one that almost killed Ha Sun. He also checked the arrows of Prince Jin-pyung and the other officials, but none were a match. Minister Lee grumbles that this was the third assassination attempt, and they’ve been lucky so far, but they can no longer depend on luck.
Prince Jin-pyung predicts a bloodbath in the court, but the queen dowager tells him to let her take care of internal issues. She says that she expects less talk and more action, unlike what happened during the hunt, and Prince Jin-pyung meekly agrees. After he’s gone, her servant, Court Lady Jang, comes in to ask for her orders, and the queen dowager tells her to proceed.
Court Lady Jang visits Court Lady Park in prison and brings her some food. Court Lady Park gratefully eats. She asks Court lady Jang to tell the queen dowager that she won’t reveal what she did to the queen, but then she starts to heave and spit up blood. She realizes that she’s been poisoned, and the last thing she hears before she dies is Court Lady Jang’s voice saying, “Rest in peace with the queen dowager’s grace.”
Ha Sun decides to talk to Court Lady Park, but by the time he gets to the prison, she’s already dead. In the morning, Court Lady Kim informs So-woon that Court Lady Park was poisoned to keep her mouth shut. So-woon staggers a bit in shock, but she holds herself together.
Guard Moo-young reports to Ha Sun that Court Lady Park was killed using the same poison that killed the court maid, Gye-hwan. He and Minister Lee still suspect that the queen dowager is behind the poisonings, and Minister Lee says that she’s doing this to hide a dirty little secret of her own.
Confused, Court Lady Kim tells Minister Shin that she didn’t order Court Lady Park killed, and that the queen also seemed surprised when she heard the news. Minister Shin meets with his followers, and soon there’s an official request for Ha Sun to dethrone the queen based on the assumption that she ordered Hwa-dang’s poisoning and Court Lady Park’s murder.
Minister Shin’s supporters all chime in to beg Ha Sun to follow their advice. While walking outside, So-woon can hear the court pleading with Ha Sun to dethrone her, but she remembers his promise to save her.
Hwa-dang feels magically better when she hears that the court is calling for So-woon to be dethroned. She jumps up to find her court lady to have a new dress made in celebration, ha. Yi-geom has put together petitions on Minister Shin’s orders, and Minister Shin says he’ll take them to the king personally.
Ae-young wants to find out from Ha Sun’s maids how he’s doing, but So-woon stops her. Instead, she gives Ae-young something to take to Court Lady Park’s family as thanks for her many years of faithful service. When Ae-young arrives, Court Lady Park’s mother notes that the queen dowager sent someone different this time, so Ae-young goes along with it to find out what she means.
Court Lady Park’s mother gives Ae-young an envelope and a scroll, which Ae-young takes directly to So-woon. She takes both to Ha Sun — the scroll is a huge talisman depicting a woman being pierced with needles, and the letter says: “Queen dowager, as per your command, I performed witchcraft on the queen’s chambers. The scroll to be buried under the building contains a curse administered by a powerful shaman. You must pay extra for it.”
It seems as though Court Lady Park did curse someone, but not Hwa-dang — her target was So-woon. Ha Sun says they can use this evidence to clear So-woon’s name, but So-woon says that it might not be enough and tells him to use these documents to his advantage. He disagrees, and asks her to wait just a little longer for him to find a way to clear her name.
He goes looking for Minister Lee and shows him the letter. Minister Lee grows positively gleeful at its contents, which are enough to eliminate the queen dowager. Ha Sun reminds him that he’s trying to save the queen, not get rid of the queen dowager, but Minister Lee says that Yi Heon’s safety takes priority.
Ha Sun retorts that he’s not willing to sacrifice the queen in order to get rid of the queen dowager, that it’s not a fair trade to “gain one and lose one.” Minister Lee tells him that it’s the king’s decision, and that he’ll be returning soon, so Ha Sun should prepare to leave.
As Ha Sun paces his rooms, frustrated, he accidentally knocks over one of the stacks of books that Eunuch Jo is teaching him to read. One particular book catches his eye, and he gapes at what it says, then jumps up and runs to his desk. He makes a copy of the letter, then rushes to the queen dowager’s quarters so fast her lady barely has time to announce him.
He hands her the scroll from Court Lady Park’s mother, and says that Court Lady Park went to a lot of trouble to make it, then wrote a letter asking her to pay for it. He gives her the copy of the letter that he wrote, and as she reads it, he informs her that she’ll bring him the person who killed Court Lady Park in exchange for his silence.
If not, he says that he’ll notify the court and have Minister Lee draw up her dethronement. The queen dowager scoffs that he’s going to great lengths to save the queen and tells him to inform the court, because she has nothing to hide. He asks if she’ll feel the same if more evidence is found in her lady’s chambers, and he gives her two hours to change her mind.
Meanwhile, Minister Lee visits Yi Heon in the mountains, and he’s horrified to find the king bleeding copiously from his left ear. Yi Heon seems to be in a trance — he says in an emotionless voice that Yul keeps whispering in his ear, and Minister Lee only then notices the sharp stick he holds in his hand. Oh my god, he did this to himself. He collapses while Minister Lee cries over him.
The queen dowager and Court Lady Jang remember when they first entered the palace together, when they were only sixteen. The queen dowager says that she wouldn’t have been able to withstand the pain of losing both her son and her father if not for Court Lady Jang.
Court Lady Jang says tearfully that she’s been blessed to serve the queen dowager, and that she’ll be honored to die for her. The queen dowager says darkly that when she tears the king to shreds and gets her revenge, she’ll give Court Lady Jang a proper funeral. A bit later, Ha Sun finds Court Lady Jang at his door confessing to everything.
Ha Sun and Eunuch Jo wait nervously for Minister Lee to return with Yi Heon before the court assembly. Minister Shin shows up instead, demanding the queen dowager’s dethronement. Looking furious, Ha Sun asks if Minister Shin is saying to dethrone the queen and the queen dowager, and make him look like the most despicable son in history.
Minister Shin falls to his knees, insisting that that’s not his intent. He says that Minister Lee is trying to drive them apart, but Ha Sun bellows for him to be quiet. He says that Court Lady Jang’s guilt has nothing to do with the queen dowager, and that her confession also proves the queen’s innocence.
Minister Shin and the court ministers are forced to let go of the plan to dethrone So-woon for now, but they don’t understand why Ha Sun won’t accuse the queen dowager. But as he promised, Ha Sun has the letter incriminating the queen dowager sent to her, and she burns it.
As he’s looking out over the lake, sighing in relief, Ha Sun spots So-woon in a gazebo nearby. She bows to him in thanks, and he nods his head to her. So-woon grants his wish and gifts Ha Sun with the most beautiful, happiest smile he’s ever seen.
He smiles back, but his smile is tinged with sadness. He whispers, “Do not smile like that. Please do not smile.” He forces himself to turn away.
In his chambers, Ha Sun shows Eunuch Jo a paper on which he’s written, “Thank you, Eunuch Jo,” with a cute caricature of the eunuch. Ha Sun giggles, but Eunuch Jo says this isn’t the time to be silly, because Minister Lee will return soon with Yi Heon. Ha Sun tells Eunuch Jo not to worry too much, because for better or worse, he can only die once.
The king shows no improvement, so Minister Lee returns to the palace alone. He tells Ha Sun to put on ordinary clothing, then leads him away, ordering Eunuch Jo to stay behind unless he wants to die. They walk to a cliff high above the city, Minister Lee ignoring Ha Sun’s questions.
He finally speaks, reminding Ha Sun that he promised to warn him — today is the day he will die. He grabs Ha Sun and yanks him to the edge of the cliff, then takes out a knife and stabs Ha Sun in the chest. Ha Sun looks at him, betrayal written on his face, and Minister Lee whispers, “Ha Sun the clown is dead. Now you are the king of this nation.”
Minister Lee is being a bit dramatic, but I had a feeling that when he said that Ha Sun will die today, he meant figuratively, not literally. He’s probably realized that there’s very little chance that Yi Heon will ever recover enough to lead a country, so what he’s left with is a clown who just happens to be the king’s dead ringer, and he feels he has no other choice. I think that he’s saying that Ha Sun’s former life is over, and that from now on, he will truly be Yi Heon, and have to accept his role as king indefinitely. That’s why he stabbed him – anyone who knows the king intimately, like his queen, his consorts, and his attendants, will know that Yi Heon has a scar on his chest. Minister Lee is giving Ha Sun that same scar, because he’s going to have to pass as Yi Heon in all ways from now on.
Seeing So-woon blossom from her self-imposed stoicism is just… so lovely. She’s such a lady at all times, never making a wrong move or saying a wrong word, but you can still see that underneath her carefully cultivated court behavior, she’s a passionate, emotional woman. She’s beginning to let that side of herself show to Ha Sun, mostly out of anger or fear so far, but the sweeter he is to her and the closer she feels towards him, the more she lets down her guard. And I’m not bothered by the fact that she’s falling for a man who isn’t her husband, because Ha Sun acts a lot like the man we’re told that Yi Heon was before Minister Shin and Court Lady Kim got their claws into him, so So-woon believes that she’s simply getting back the man she married.
I feel so bad for poor Ha Sun, who’s trying to do something that nobody has apparently tried before — rule the country, and be a good person. Not having been raised in the palace, he doesn’t understand how things work and why a good king sometimes has to allow bad things to happen for the good of the country, and since he’s been stuck there a lot longer than anyone expected, he’s being forced to make difficult decisions with far-reaching consequences. So far it hasn’t changed him much (he’s changed, but not by something that happened within the palace), but I dread the day that he can’t find a way out of a situation and has to let someone get hurt or die, in order to prevent a worse wrong to occur. Thank goodness that he’s not just good and caring, but whip-smart — the question is whether he’ll be able to acclimate to palace life in time to use his intellect in the most advantageous way.
Then there’s Yi Heon, who we haven’t seen much of this week, but what we have seen makes me deeply, deeply concerned. He’s done monstrous, unforgivable things, but he was under tremendous stress, terrified for his life, under the influence of drugs, and being manipulated by an even worse monster. How would Yi Heon have been different if he hadn’t had all of that to deal with, on top of the pressure of running a country? Now he’s descending into true madness, and it’s no wonder Minister Lee looks terrified. There’s a very good chance that Yi Heon could die before he gets back to the palace, one way or another, or never recover enough to rule again, and the country will be stuck with a commoner for a king. Although, the way Ha Sun is handling things, I’m not so sure that wouldn’t be a more desirable outcome than regaining a sick, unstable king that could be more easily manipulated than ever.
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