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Haechi: Episodes 45-46

Rebellions take many forms, and some of the most insidious ones happen without weapons or battles. Our king may have ended one rebellion, but he has an even bigger one to face within his own palace walls. Changing the world isn’t an easy undertaking, and when nobody believes it’s possible, is it even worth trying?

 
EPISODES 45-46: “An Old Hope”

Yi Tan waits anxiously for the people he thinks he’s meeting to try to convince them to join the rebels. He gets a strange feeling when nobody shows up, and he sends his escort to see what’s happening. Yoon-young was fleeing the country when she spotted Yi Tan, and instead of keeping safe, she goes to him.

He’s so happy to see her, having (correctly) assumed that she’d abandoned him. She warns him that no reinforcements are coming, and that this is a trap set up by In-jwa to secure his own escape. She says the royal forces are coming for him, and only seconds later, they hear a voice ordering Yi Tan’s capture.

Moon-soo had anticipated In-jwa’s escape plan and intercepted him, and he takes him back to the palace to kneel before Yi Geum. Yi Geum declares that In-jwa has harmed innocents and dishonored the country, and that his cruel deeds have earned him a death sentence. In-jwa snarls, “You are an unworthy king.”

Offended, Moon-soo bristles at him, but In-jwa asks, “What’s so great about him? How is he any different from me? The only thing I’m guilty of is being born a Namin.” Moon-soo draws his sword, but In-jwa tells him to go ahead and kill him, because he doesn’t care when he dies.

Moon-soo begs Yi Geum to let him kill In-jwa right now, but Yi Geum says no. He asks In-jwa if that’s really his reason for killing the innocent and bringing about chaos. He says that In-jwa is right, they are no different, because Yi Geum himself was born of a peasant.

He tells In-jwa that ironically, the person who understands him the most is the king he tried to get rid of, and for the first time, In-jwa looks unsure of himself. Yi Geum continues, saying that In-jwa is wrong about how to change the world, and that he will prove there’s a better way.

In-jwa is locked up, but Yi Geum grows worried when he learns that Yi Tan hasn’t been arrested yet. Soldiers scour the village for him, while Yoon-young hides him in one of the cottages. Dazed, he asks why he has to run when he’s the king, and Yoon-young slaps him.

She tells him to wake up, and that he was never competent enough to be king. She says that the Norons, In-jwa, and even she herself used him — that every time she praised him, it was only to make him easier to control. She asks if he plans to be a fool until he dies, but he just stares at her.

She goes outside, and her escort tells her that the soldiers are everywhere, and that In-jwa’s remaining forces were arrested. He says this isn’t why he brought her here, but she pays him everything she has to find a ship to the Qing Dynasty and not to tell Dal-moon.

Yi Tan looks like he’s having some sort of mental break as Yoon-young’s words that he was never competent enough to be king echo in his mind. His thoughts turn to Minister Min saying the same thing, then Yi Geum, then his own father when he was a child. He tells himself that they’re all wrong, recalling how it felt to have people bow and call him “Your Majesty,” and he breaks down sobbing.

Moon-soo visits Yi Geum to ask what’s going on with Yi Tan’s arrest. Yi Geum says that they’re tracking him down and he won’t get away, then tells Moon-soo that he needs him back at Saheonbu. He tells Moon-soo that another old war will soon break out in the kingdom, and in the Saheonbu.

Yi Geum calls an immediate meeting of all senior officials, who are surprised and confused to see a group of Namin dressed in the red robes of senior officials. Yi Geum announces that the rebel leader, Lee In-jwa, has been successfully captured, in large part due to their cooperation regardless of political backgrounds.

He says he wants to take this chance to move the country into a new era, and the first step is to rearrange personnel in the palace. His chief royal secretary reads out his orders, reassigning some Noron and Soron officials to different positions and assigning Namins where their strengths work best.

The Norons and Sorons loudly protest, saying that the Namins don’t deserve their positions, even insinuating that some of them probably helped In-jwa, but Yi Geum holds firm. Later, Yeo-ji tells Queen Inwon how things are going, and Queen Inwon worries that Yi Geum is entering into a difficult fight.

Minister Lee and Minister Jo advise Yi Geum to take things slowly, since the rebellion was only just defeated and Yi Tan hasn’t been captured yet. But Yi Geum says that’s why it’s the right time — he’s still new and powerless, and his only bargaining chip is the public’s current positive opinion of him.

After the assembly, Chief Justice Jo listens to his Sorons continue to complain about Yi Geum appointing Namins. Chief Justice Jo angrily accuses them of fighting a turf war, and it shuts them up for the moment.

Minister Min tells his Noron followers that this was the only way to stop the rebellion. He says that it wasn’t a compromise, it was politics, and that he made the choice that was best for everyone. But he says that he will resign as the leader of the Norons if it will satisfy them, leaving them to summon the Saheonbu’s chief inspector in a panic.

Minister Min anticipates this and tells Yi Geum that the Saheonbu will act first to counter his appointments, and that the Office of Censors and the Office of Special Advisers will support them. Yi Geum says he’s prepared for that and apologizes for putting Minister Min in a difficult position, but Minister Min says that it’s Yi Geum who’s in a difficult position.

He says that he also once dreamed of fair appointment regardless of political affiliation, but he believes that it’s impossible in reality. He tells Yi Geum that he’ll find out soon that it’s only possible for a short time, but politics will revert to its original state.

But Yi Geum asks why Minister Min helped him if he truly believes it’s an unattainable dream. Minister Min gives his answer, and although we don’t hear what it is, it leaves Yi Geum looking deeply sorrowful for him.

Dal-moon hears that the man he sent with Yoon-young hasn’t returned for his pay. Yoon-young and Yi Tan are still waiting to find a ship to Qing, and Yi Tan angrily refuses to eat. He says that he knows Yoon-young was leaving him, and that he’s always known that other people laugh at him behind his back but flatter him to his face.

But he says that he didn’t care as long as he became king, because if that happened, they couldn’t laugh at him anymore, and Yoon-young would sincerely care for him. Yoon-young apologizes and asks for another chance to return his kindness.

Yi Geum tells Chief Justice Jo that the ministers will probably not show up tomorrow, and if they don’t, he’ll issue an order. Chief Justice Jo warns that starting tomorrow, it will be war all over again. Yi Geum is prepared to work through the night, but Chief Justice Jo admits that he’s tired and Yi Geum sheepishly apologizes.

While Yeo-ji is at the king’s palace looking for Jo-hong, she runs into Yi Geum, so she gives him the snacks she was going to leave as a gift. He’s adorably pleased and insists on trying them right away, and he impressed with how nice they look. Then he tries one, and it takes a valiant effort not to spit it out, hee.

Yeo-ji is embarrassed and promises never to cook again, and Yi Geum looks at her like she’s the cutest thing he’s ever seen. He says this reminds him of what he first liked about her, and he asks if she remembers the day he told her what it means to become a court lady.

He had almost kissed her, but in her innocence she thought he was trying to start a fight. Now Yi Geum tells her that she was wrong, and he shows her what he was really trying to do that night. He holds her face gently in his hands and says he wanted to keep her with him always, then he kisses her.

Storyteller witnesses the Saheonbu officials on their way to arrest Minister Yoon, Lee In-jwa’s father-in-law and one of the Namins that Yi Geum just appointed. Yi Geum is furious when he hears this, as it goes against his promise not to punish people just for being related to a rebel.

The Saheonbu officials prepare to question MY regardless of the king’s order that he plans to question In-jwa himself. When Moon-soo hears this, he accuses them of treason. He says that his job as a Saheonbu inspector is to punish traitors, staring each of them down pointedly.

A short while later, Young-han tells Hyuk that the Saheonbu officials are trying to get Moon-soo removed, but he didn’t feel like it was right so he came here. Hyuk orders the inspectors to help Moon-soo, and yet again they leave coward Young-han behind, ha.

The Noron and Soron ministers discuss staging a boycott, but they decide it’s not worth the effort because they believe the same as Minister Min — that Yi Geum’s plan of appointing officials fairly will never last. But Yi Geum isn’t finished fighting back, and his next move is to appoint Minister Lee as prime minister and Minister Jo as Chief Justice Jo Inspector of the Saheonbu.

They both argue that they’re not experienced enough for such high positions, but Yi Geum says he needs them on his side to help him build a fair government with staying power. He says it’s not a royal order, but a desperate request for them to walk this difficult path with him.

While Byung-joo languishes in jail, he hears the guards gossiping about what’s happening in the government. He asks if it’s true that Namins are being employed, looking hopeful, but his guard refuses to talk to him.

Storyteller tells the people about the Norons and the Sorons refusing to obey the king, and the people take over, telling their own stories about family members who died in the rebellion while the ministers hid. They vent a lot of pent-up anger at the pampered ministers, while Storyteller chuckles that they’re better at storytelling than him.

He tells Dal-moon that the people are seething over this latest political argument, and Dal-moon says that he’ll tell the king. Geon-tae has learned where the man that Dal-moon sent with Yoon-young lives, but his house is empty because he’s still with Yoon-young.

He says he’s found them a boat to Qing, but before they arrive at the dock, he asks for the rest of the pay Yoon-young promised. Yi Tan grabs him and demands to know what he’s up to, finding his behavior suspicious. Dal-moon’s man shoves him away and brandishes a knife, and Yi Tan goes for him again.

But Yoon-young throws herself between them, taking the knife in the stomach. Dal-moon’s man runs away and Yoon-young collapses in Yi Tan’s arms. He calls for help, but there’s nobody nearby, and Yoon-young begs him not to call attention to himself.

She says weakly that he promised to make someone like her a queen, and apologizes for never truly loving him. Yi Tan pleads with her not to leave him, but Yoon-young says that she’ll be waiting for him as a queen. She shudders and gasps that she hopes he comes to her as a king, then she’s gone.

As he’s running, Dal-moon’s man encounters the soldiers (who he was leading Yi Tan to) and tells them where to find Yi Tan and Yoon-young. Yi Tan hears them coming and runs, leaving Yoon-young’s body behind. When Dal-moon catches up, he’s stunned to find Yoon-young lying dead in the road. As he looks at her face, he remembers when they met as children, and he smiles a little through his tears.

He starts to call for help, but he holds her cold hand to his face and starts to shake. In a rough voice, he asks her to get up, but he knows it’s too late. He cradles Yoon-young in his arms and tells her tearfully that he didn’t let her go so that she could end up like this, then gives in and screams.

Later, Yi Geum receives a report about Yoon-young’s death, and the fact that Dal-moon buried her himself. He barely gets a moment to feel sad for his friend’s loss before he’s informed that the Saheonbu officials are refusing to acknowledge Minister Jo as their new Chief Justice Jo Inspector even on pain of death.

Moon-soo is ready to call in the soldiers, but Hyuk says that will only give them ammunition to claim that the king is trying to override the Saheonbu. He tells Moon-soo to wait, so they watch to see what Minister Jo will do.

Yi Tan staggers into the city, bloody and half out of his mind. He walks into a blacksmith’s yard and takes a knife.

Yi Tan thinks about the reason Minister Min gave for supporting him even though he believes his plan to overhaul the government will fail. He’d said that true politics means that progress is short-lived, but that those who practice it must hold onto their hopes. When they do that, the world will change, a little at a time.

At the palace, a pair of palace maids find the body of a guard and run for help. Yi Tan stands in the middle of the courtyard, holding his now-bloody knife, and bellows that the king has arrived. He ignores the guards who surround him, weapons pointed at his throat. He drops to his knees and says, “Yes, I am the king. I am the king!!

Yi Geum has left the palace with Minister Lee to visit the Saheonbu, where he orders the Saheonbu officials to open the supreme court, because he has something to say. He tells them that this is where a new era of Joseon will begin, because the three agencies of the kingdom, especially the Saheonbu, have been corrupt for a long time.

One official starts to rebut, but Yi Geum snaps loudly that he’s not finished speaking. He says that he’ll no longer ignore the problems in the Saheonbu, so as of today, he’s abolishing the position of Section Chief Justice Jo of Personnel, who previously held power over all three government agencies.

 
COMMENTS

We’re really seeing the strong, confident king that Yi Geum is going to be more often than not lately, and he’s as great as I expected. He’s aware that he’s still new at this, and he shows that vulnerability in private, but when it counts, Yi Geum is decisive and assertive, just like a king needs to be. He has a vision for his country and he’s not willing to abandon it just because it might fail, and he’s confident enough to go against even the strongest opponents to make it happen. If this is what the real King Yeongjo was like, it’s no wonder he’s known as one of the greatest kings in Joseon history.

I almost — but not quite — felt bad for Yi Tan in this episode, when he was remembering all the times he’d been insulted, ignored, and dismissed. I would have felt bad for him if he wasn’t a rapist and a murderer in addition to just a pathetic human being. His entire identity is wrapped up in believing that he’s the true and rightful king, and when that was stripped from him, he had nothing left, not even sanity. I think that I feel bad for how Yi Tan was twisted by those around him, and the fact that his own personality is so weak and easily manipulated, but plenty of people suffer abuse and don’t turn into killers. That part is on him, and it’s what keeps me from feeling true pity for him.

I gotta say, I fully expected Yoon-young to die, but I was gleefully happy about how it happened and I don’t feel one bit bad about that. Not because she deserved it (nobody deserves to die like that, no matter how awful they are) but because Yi Tan did. After he killed Yi Hwan and left him to die in Yi Geum’s arms, I’m callously glad that Yi Tan had to experience the exact same thing with someone he loved. Just as Yi Geum lost the one person who loved him for who he was, Yi Tan also lost the one person he loved, and it felt like Yi Tan’s sins coming around full-circle in a very appropriate and satisfying way. Dal-moon, on the other hand, did not deserve it — although I never did like Yoon-young much, Dal-moon loved her, and I hated seeing her death break him.

Who knew, at the beginning of the show, that Minister Min would turn out to be such an amazing character and supporter for Yi Geum? At one point we saw that he started out with ideals and dreams similar to Yi Geum’s, but that years in politics (and seeing his family wiped out by those politics) made him bitter and cynical. Yi Geum has brought back the hopes that Minister Min carried when he was younger, though tempered with age and experience, and now that Minister Min respects and admires Yi Geum, he’s turned out to be a wonderful supporter and adviser. I worry that he seems exhausted and burned out, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Minister Min retire in the finale, but he’s been there for Yi Geum when he really needed him, and for that I’m willing to change my opinion of him.

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It's all kind of satisfying to hear Yi Geum's former opponent now being the person who matter-of-factly pointed out the embarrassing truth about the politic in the kingdom. I both chuckled and cheered when Chief Justice Jo exasperately asked the other ministers if he really should go ahead and tell the king that the Soron is basically opposing his order because they lost the politic war. It's really telling that they couldn't even present a sensible reason for their complaints, while Yi Geum is all ears for their reasonable pleas.

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Thanks LollyPip!
While Dal-moon is devastated over Yoon-young's death, i feel so glad for him. He is finally free from her.
Yi Geum as a leader is just so inspiring and heartwarming given how far he has come.

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I love how Yeongjo has come into his own as king. Gone is the hesitancy snd although he still doubts himself, it is something that he indulges in only in private. He is every inch the confident ruler, the leader who provides his people with the vision and inspiration they need.

And I especially love how his relationship with Minister Min and Chief Justice Jo transformed from mistrust and outright hostility to one of deep respect and trust.

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Thanks for your recap and commentary, @lollypip!

This episode surprised me with a couple of twists that I did not see coming. I had expected Yoon-young to bump off Yi Tan in a fit of pique when the uprising flops. Or possibly he would have gone nuts and offed her after she goads him once too often. The last thing I expected to see was her giving her life to protect the delusional pretender to the throne. On the other hand, it was accidental and spur-of-the-moment – a far cry from Yeo-ji’s clear-eyed decision to place herself in the palace so she can watch Yi Geum’s back. I hadn’t picked up on the symmetry between Yoon-young’s death scene with that of Prince Yi Hwan’s, but now that you mention it, you are absolutely right. Yi Tan is on the receiving end of the pain he inflicted on Yi Geum and his brother.

Ha Ha! Yeo-ji still cannot cook to save her life – and could have been charged with attempted regicide by food, based on the look on Yi Geum’s face. But he is merciful, and understands that she is honestly deluded about her culinary skills. I guess this is the proof I was looking for that Inspector Han Jung-seok’s little lad either succumbed to her cooking – or more likely ran away from home and joined the circus in a last-ditch attempt at self-preservation. ;-)

Thanks for explaining what is going on with the recalcitrant officials of the Saheonbu. (Is that redundant or what?!) Yi Geum once again takes the bull by the horns in dealing with them – and by extension, the rest of the entrenched bureaucracy of the Samsa. In advising Moon-soo to refrain from opposing the Saheonbu officials with force, Yoon Hyuk draws upon his earlier appointment to the position that serves as a keystone supporting the corrupt status quo. I was ready to cheer when Yi Geum does an end-run around them and decrees the abolition of the post of Section Chief of Personnel. He kills three birds with one stone in the process.

Moon-soo’s character arc has been as epic as that of his royal boss. He starts out as a seeming gadfly busybody, but is actually a lot more competent than anyone could have foreseen – aside from Yi Geum, who is himself an excellent judge of character and potential. If the gwageo exams had not been tampered with, who knows how much sooner Moon-soo would have passed? But would his path have crossed Yi Geum’s? We would have had a very different story if these two – and their Saheonbu confreres and Dal-moon & Company – had not encountered each other when they did.

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