Haechi: Episodes 35-36
Our prince has suffered a lot of loss in a short amount of time, and this latest loss is the most devastating of all as it brings about a shift in Yi Geum’s entire world. With his newfound confidence completely swept out from under him, he struggles to claw his way out of the pit, only to be abandoned by those he trusted most. If ever there was a time to find the king inside himself, it’s now.
EPISODE 35-36: “The Right to Become a King”
The court mourns King Kyungjong’s death, but nobody’s grief is as overwhelming as Yi Geum’s. Chief Justice Jo leads the Sorons to a decision, and Yeo-ji, having overheard them talking, warns Queen Inwon what they’re planning. Yi Geum is outside Queen Inwon’s chambers when Chief Justice Jo tells her that Yi Geum is to blame for King Kyungjong’s death, but she argues that Yi Geum worked harder than anyone to save the king.
Yi Geum thinks of all the times he was told that he was worthless because of his mother’s low birth. He thinks that he only wanted to prove himself, and he goes in to confront Chief Justice Jo. Chief Justice Jo tells him to his face that the king died because of him and that he’s unworthy to be king.
Yi Geum thinks that maybe they were all right and he was wrong, and that he’s never been worthy.
Lee In-jwa, a Namin, meets with a pair of men who tell him that the elders are waiting. They blame King Sukjong for almost wiping out their party, and consider King Kyungjong’s death as payment for his father’s sins. In-jwa tells them of a rumor that says Yi Geum let the king die, or maybe even poisoned him, and he reports that the atmosphere in the palace is grim.
Geon-tae brings Dal-moon the news that Chief Justice Jo and the Sorons are opposed to Yi Geum taking the throne. Yoon-young had told Dal-moon that Yi Tan’s plan was for Yi Geum to take the fall for the king’s death, and he blames himself for not being able to let go of her sooner. We see that when he checked on the chief nurse and found her dead, Yoon-young had escaped.
Chief Justice Jo and the Sorons petition outside Queen Inwon’s rooms, insisting that King Kyungjong was murdered and begging her to set things right. Minister Min, on the other hand, doesn’t believe that it’s important whether Yi Geum stopped the king’s medicine on purpose to kill him — he’s more concerned that the Soron party is split on the issue, and says that the Norons need to decide whether to follow Chief Justice Jo, or support Yi Geum along with Chief Inspector Lee.
While at the palace, Moon-soo runs into Yeo-ji, who asks him for information from the Department of Justice that she can pass along to Queen Inwon. Confused, Moon-soo asks why she’s in the queen dowager’s palace, then his face falls as he realizes that she did it for Yi Geum.
Chief Inspector Lee comes to the palace to see Yi Geum, and Yi Geum says dejectedly that he realizes that everyone was right about him. He gives himself credit for making it this far, but he says he’s not worthy to be king because King Kyungjong died due to his actions. Chief Inspector Lee asks if he poisoned the medicine or stopped the royal doctors from treating the king, or if he suggested the wolfsbane and ginseng medicine to kill the king.
Harshly, he asks Yi Geum if he did all that with the intent to take the throne. He says those are lies made up by those who don’t know the truth, and asks why Yi Geum is blaming himself based on lies. He says kindly that he knows these things are painful to Yi Geum, and that he probably prefers giving up the throne to living among lies.
But he tells Yi Geum that this is the path of a king — to live among lies, misconceptions, and humiliation. He says that if Yi Geum runs from that path, that’s when he’s no longer worthy to be king. He tells Yi Geum to decide now if he’s capable of meeting the requirements to be a king.
Yi Geum sits up late into the night, thinking about Chief Justice Jo’s accusations and Chief Inspector Lee’s challenge. He remembers King Kyungjong’s last wish for him to become the great king he’s always dreamed of being, and his decision is made.
Chief Justice Jo summons the national security councilor to ask how many soldiers they can use if something goes wrong during their attempt to stop Yi Geum’s enthronement. Moon-soo is also concerned about the military situation, and Yi Geum tells him that Minister Min has called together the Ministry of War and the police bureau.
There are six days until Yi Geum is crowned king, and he asks Moon-soo to find out what Chief Justice Jo and Minister Min can accomplish in that time. Minister Min tells his people that in that six days, anything could happen — Yi Geum could take the throne, or Chief Justice Jo could succeed at stopping him. He says that the Norons need to be prepared for either probability so that they can act quickly.
Thinking about what it means to be worthy, Yi Geum asks Queen Inwon to help him be crowned king as soon as possible (she is in control during the six days when the throne is empty). He explains that he’s concerned about all the military activity in the palace, and Queen Inwon admits that she’s concerned, too. Yi Geum says that he knows this will make him appear to be a greedy prince who killed the king to take the throne, but Queen Inwon just smiles and summons the chief royal secretary.
Chief Inspector Lee has the Saheonbu soldiers put on alert, then approaches Minister Jo with a plan. He gives Minister Jo the choice not to go along with his plans, but loyal Minister Jo says that he’ll follow wherever Chief Inspector Lee leads. Moon-soo says that they don’t even need to ask him if he’s on their side.
Jang-dal and Ah-bong rush to Dal-moon for confirmation that Yi Geum is going to be enthroned early. Geon-tae shrieks that it’s true and hugs Ah-bong, Jang-dal hugs the storyteller, and Dal-moon just stands looking proud.
Chief Justice Jo asks Minister Min incredulously why he’s choosing to support Yi Geum. Minister Min says that in the palace, foes and allies constantly change, depending on how much you need that person. He informs Chief Justice Jo that his military power is stronger and asks him not to shed blood needlessly,
Chief Inspector Lee asks Minister Min what kind of deal he was offered by Yi Geum, and Minister Min says there’s a deal, though not the kind Chief Inspector Lee is thinking, and not from the crown prince, but a group of fools. As for Yi Geum, Minister Min wonders what they would have done in his position.
Chief Inspector Lee and Minister Jo present themselves to Yi Geum, who says that they look tired and must have had a long night. Moon-soo tells Yi Geum that he’ll no longer be addressed as “crown prince,” adding, “I hope you will become a great king, Your Highness. I will stay by your side and protect you until the end of your journey.”
Queen Inwon lets Yeo-ji try preparing Yi Geum’s robe for his enthronement, and as she lovingly steams the cloth, she thinks about Yi Geum. He had tried to warn her of what could happen if she entered the palace, saying that he’s a man before he’s a prince. But she’d become a court lady anyway, although he hasn’t seen her since she came to the palace.
It’s finally time for the coronation ceremony, and Moon-soo couldn’t look prouder as his friend takes the throne. Yi Geum is crowned king, and there are no objections, not even from Chief Justice Jo and the Sorons.
Jang-dal and Ah-bong get yelled at by Young-han for eating the ginseng he gave to Moon-soo to kiss up to him. They explain that Moon-soo can’t have ginseng so he gave it to them, and Young-han asks curiously what he can eat. Jang-dal tells Young-han to stop thinking about bribes and start thinking about work, passing it on as a message from Moon-soo, hee.
The other inspectors assume that Moon-soo is going to be reappointed to a position in the palace and ask him to help them out when he is. He just smiles knowingly and tells them to help themselves, and cheerfully sends them back to work. But his smile falters as he looks at the resignation letter he’s written.
Chief Inspector Lee brings Yi Geum the books he needs to read to prepare for discipline sessions with the officials, adding cheekily for Yi Geum to knock them down a peg or two. Yi Geum asks why Chief Inspector Lee brought the documents so quickly, and Chief Inspector Lee says that there won’t be another time for it. With difficulty, he tells Yi Geum that he’s here to say goodbye, and Yi Geum is devastated to hear that Chief Inspector Lee, Minister Jo, and Moon-soo are resigning.
Chief Inspector Lee says that Yi Geum needs to let them go in order to lead the court, but Yi Geum refuses to abandon the people who stood by him until he gained the throne. But Chief Inspector Lee tells him to first gain power through the Norons, and Yi Geum instantly knows what kind of deal Minister Min made — he would support Yi Geum, so long as Yi Geum’s three closest supporters resign.
Furious, Yi Geum bellows that he won’t accept this. He confronts Minister Min and says that he won’t accept his offer and abandon his friends, but Minister Min says wearily that it wasn’t him, but his friends who volunteered this deal. They basically traded their friendship for Minister Min’s power and influence with the Norons, which Minister Min admits that he doesn’t understand.
Minister Min tells Yi Geum that accepting this deal is the only way to calm down Chief Justice Jo and the Sorons. Yi Geum asks if he’s saying to give up the people who risked their lives for him. Minister Min replies that the king’s place is to sacrifice the innocent for regal power, which is a lonely position to be in. He tells Yi Geum that the Norons support him, and that he hopes Yi Geum’s reign is peaceful.
Yeo-ji learns from Jo-hong about the resignations, which also include Chief Inspector Lee, Minister Jo, and Moon-soo moving away from the city, and that Yi Geum is planning to try to talk Moon-soo out of it.
Moon-soo thinks about the night he ran into Yeo-ji, when he’d asked her if she knew what being a court lady entails. She’d said she knows she can never return home or to the Saheonbu, or be a damo again, but that this is the only way she can protect Yi Geum.
Now Moon-soo understands how she feels, because he’s leaving the Saheonbu for the same reason and with the same repercussions. Yeo-ji’s answer to him is the same answer he gives Hyuk when he asks if Moon-soo will be okay: “Of course. If I can protect His Majesty, it’s good enough for me.”
By the time Yi Geum comes looking for Moon-soo, he’s gone. Dal-moon gives him a letter from Moon-soo, who’d known he wouldn’t be able to leave if he saw Yi Geum again. The letter asks forgiveness for not saying goodbye, and teasingly reminds Yi Geum that he used to order Moon-soo around by leaving letters until Moon-soo finally objected.
He tells Yi Geum not to feel sorry or hurt, because he makes this choice happily. The letter goes on to say that Moon-soo felt overwhelmed while working for Yi Geum. He tells Yi Geum to be a wise king, and that no matter where he is or what he does, he will protect him with a sincere heart.
Back in the throne room, Yi Geum wonders sorrowfully if the throne is really a place where he can’t even protect his people or his friend. He leans on the throne and cries, and Yeo-ji, feeling the same pain, cries outside.
Elsewhere in the city, someone dumps a bottle of liquid into a well. The following day a letter is delivered to Hyuk at the Saheonbu, and he hurries to speak to Yi Geum.
Yi Geum hears a voice while in the palace courtyard, and thinks to himself that there’s no way… He barely misses seeing Yeo-ji, and he’s distracted by Hyuk’s arrival. Hyuk says that Byung-joo escaped the place of exile, and that the Saheonbu and the local officials are investigating. Yi Geum thinks of Yi Tan and orders Hyuk to check his exile location immediately.
We see Yi Tan exit his exile hut to see his guards all slaughtered outside, and Byung-joo standing over them holding a bloody sword. Byung-joo greets Yi Tan, then a stranger says they should get moving since the palace is onto them already. Yi Tan asks who he is, but In-jwa just asks Yi Tan if he wants to overturn the world. Looking a little crazy himself, he tells Yi Tan that the chaos can ask the king himself if he’s qualified.
There’s more bad news for Yi Geum — there’s been an outbreak of an extremely fast-spreading illness in the city. People are falling ill with almost no warning, and nobody knows what’s causing it or how to treat it.
Oof, it’s like every time Yi Geum accomplishes one thing, five more problems crop up, until it’s a wonder he even wants to be king anymore. I was worried for a while there that he would let his old insecurities overwhelm him and talk himself out of everything he’s accomplished, but thankfully he had Chief Inspector Lee to point out that it’s what he does under such devastating conditions that determine whether he’s qualified to be king, not his birth status or what people wrongly think of him.
I think that it’s Yi Geum belief that he’s not good enough to be king that makes him the perfect man for the job, and portraying that is another way in which the show stays faithful to history. King Yeonjo is well-known for his humility, famously telling King Kyungjong (after surviving an assassination attempt) that he would rather be a commoner. King Yeonjo took personal responsibility for problems in his kingdom, even attributing drought and famine to his own lack of virtue, and his first response to problems was to look at himself. It’s our Yi Geum’s intense sense of responsibility that causes him to feel like everything is his fault, but that quality can also make him a highly conscientious king who will think through every decision he makes and always act in the best interest of others.
Lee In-jwa’s entrance into the story has me very worried — he’s another historical character that created some problems for King Yeonjo by organizing a revolt in the early years of his reign. This In-jwa looks half-unhinged, which makes me very scared of the unholy trinity of him, Byung-joo, and Yi Tan. There’s not a fully sane mind among them, and if they find Yoon-young and get her to help them, they can do some serious damage at a time when Yi Geum is at his most vulnerable. He just barely managed to convince himself that he deserves to be king, only to find out that it cost him his three most trusted, most loved supporters. All he has now is Minister Min, who can’t be trusted further than Yi Geum can throw him. A revolt now will either break Yi Geum, or make him stronger than ever, and I think the result will be determined by whether he can find the one person he has left by his side, even if he doesn’t know it yet.
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