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Nokdu Flower: Episodes 3-4

Allegiances are tested as the riot takes full swing, spurring a revolution against greed-filled feudalism. But can a few common people really fight — and win — against centuries-long societal traditions (and corruption), in just one night? Where does a philosophy end and a movement begin? Perhaps, with a name — or at least the rediscovery of one.

 
EPISODES 3-4 RECAP

Bong-joon leads the followers of Donghak and the commoners of Gobu to the government house, breaking down the gates. Chaos ensues as the Donghak followers riot in the space that, a few minutes ago, was occupied by the magistrate and other officials enjoying their feast. The current mission is to find Magistrate Jo and kill him.

Worried, Yi-kang runs around frantically, searching for Master Baek. In doing so, he runs into a few familiar faces who are eager to get their hands on “What’s-his-name,” the bully that has terrorized them for years. But Yi-kang fights his way out of their grasp and continues to look for his master.

Yi-kang finds Master Baek hiding in the alley outside, clutching his parcel of gold bars that he decided was worth the risk to gather instead of immediately fleeing for his life. When Yi-kang checks to see if it’s safe to run, some rioters discover Master Baek and beat him, excited to see the gold spilling out of the torn parcel.

Yi-kang returns and expertly fights them off, more concerned about his father’s health than the money, which he leaves behind in the dirt as he helps the wounded Master Baek find a new hiding place.

At her inn, and away from the rioting, Ja-in muses over the Sabal Tongmun, wondering if she should have given it to Magistrate Jo — maybe tonight would have had another ending. But Deok-ki reminds her that it isn’t just the Donghak followers that are rioting — it is the peasants, too.

A crashing sound gets their attention, and they discover Yi-kang and Master Baek have broken into one of the rooms. Yi-kang pleads for their help, but Ja-in orders Deok-ki to kick them out.

Master Baek offers to sell all his rice to her. Ja-in cooly points out that the rioters will steal the rice, anyway, but Master Baek tells her that the bulk of the rice is hidden away where the peasants won’t find it. She agrees to help him — but only once he agrees to sign a contract that promises to sell the rice to her at half-price.

Yi-hyun’s off in Jeonju with his sister, getting ready to bribe government officials with his father’s gold when his brother-in-law barges in, telling him about the riot in Gobu. Yi-hyun immediately sets out to return to Gobu, despite his sister’s pleading to stay and take the civil service exam — considering all their father did to ensure Yi-hyun that spot, he shouldn’t waste his chance, even if it means not being able to help find his missing father.

In Ja-in’s barn, Master Baek dozes and continues to bleed from his stab wounds. Yi-kang faithfully keeps watch, unable to do anything else. He remembers when he was a child and Lady Baek angrily ordered his mother to not call him by his name, since it reminded everyone that he was born out of wedlock — he might be Master Baek’s son by blood, but he would never be part of the Baek family.

Even so, Master Baek had tried to comfort Yi-kang’s mother, reassuring her that Yi-kang would take over the business one day, so she needed to make sure he grew up healthy and strong.

Ja-in enters the barn to give them breakfast. She wryly informs them that both he and Master Baek are at the top of the rioter’s “most wanted” list and that Magistrate Jo also ran away. Yi-kang pleads for a doctor, cockily reassuring Ja-in that he’ll convince the doctor not to blab their hiding place.

She just scoffs and holds out her hand for payment. She’s not helping them out of the kindness of her heart. If he wants a doctor, then he can either pay her or fetch the doctor himself.

The rioters have finally set their sights on Ja-in’s inn, and they find it suspicious that she’s coming out of the barn so early in the morning. They order her to let them inspect the barn. Overhearing, Yi-kang springs up and hides behind a wall, his knife at the ready.

Ja-in smirks at the rioters, laughing at the idea that Master Baek would think it would be safe to come to her for help when he was the one who harmed her business the most by enforcing the export ban. As Deok-ki tries to talk the Donghak men out of investigating the barn, Ja-in suddenly spins around and flings open the doors.

She challenges the Donghak man to inspect her barn, even handing over the key to where the most important merchandise is stored. But the Donghak man takes her at her word, much to her — and Yi-kang’s — relief, and the rioters leave the inn.

Bong-joon leads the rioters to the much-despised reservoir that Magistrate Jo built, which ended up purposefully diverting the water that the farmer peasants had relied on and forcing them to pay taxes to use the reservoir on their now drought-ridden crops. With loud cheers, they blow up the dam, freeing the water to return to its original stream.

For Bong-joon, the moment the dam bursts is the true of the start of the revolution. The peasants will no longer be held back!

The town of Gobu is loud with music and excitement as the terrified captured government officials, now forced to sit in the middle of town, are mocked and jeered as rocks are thrown at them. The peasants happily fill their baskets with Master Baek’s surplus of rice.

Some Donghak peddlers show up to the Donghak stronghold, which is now in the magistrate’s home. They say that they’re there with gifts from other Donghak leaders in a nearby town, but really they’re there on a mission from the Jeonju head magistrate. Their intent is to capture and kill Bong-joon before he realizes who they are. If they kill the leader, then they can control the peasants.

But Bong-joon doesn’t fall for their ruse, having expected such a trap and thus been prepared for it. After he easily overpowers them with his fellow true Donghak men, he sends the lying peddlers back from whence they came with a warning that their local magistrate should be worried that their town is next.

There’s some tension in the Donghak ranks, however, when Teacher Hwang — once Yi-han’s tutor and a colleague of Bong-joon — furiously argues against Bong-joon ordering the peasants to steal all the weapons from Gobu fortress so that they can build an army and attack Jeonju, forcibly taking over the government.

Teacher Hwang, who agreed with the general concept of the Sabal Tongmun, sees it more as a manifesto to scare the corrupt officials and empower the peasants. Not as a literal plan to overthrow the government and kill the magistrates. He balks at Bong-joon’s promise to reform the country through the power of the people, warning his friend that the government will soon send the military to stop the riot.

The lines are drawn, and Teacher Hwang refuses to take their fight out of Gobu. Teacher Hwang vows that if Bong-joon moves the riot to Jeonju, then he’ll kill the Donghak leader himself.

At the inn, Deok-ki gets a message from a peddler that says, “Kill the leader.” He quickly tries to swallow it when Ja-in demands to know what is says, but of course he can’t outsmart his mistress. Ja-in thinks it’s ridiculous that the government is trying to force the peddlers into taking sides, but Deok-ki points out that if they don’t, then the peddlers might suddenly see their business privileges stripped from them.

Her father would be especially harmed, since he’s the head-peddler of Jeonju, and has a lot of beneficial business dealings with the government that help him maintain a monopoly in the market. Deok-ki worries that if things continue to escalate, the country will go to war, and Ja-in won’t be able to avoid the suffering it brings. The easiest answer is to just kill Bong-joon and avoid all that headache.

Suddenly they’re startled by a loud pounding on the barn door. Yi-kang, unable to avoid overhearing their loud, heated argument, offers them a solution — in return for a favor.

Ja-in agrees to get a doctor to treat Master Baek (secretly, so that the doctor doesn’t know where he is), but Master Baek’s stab wound is pretty nasty, and has been untreated for a whole day. But the doctor manages to treat it enough so that Master Baek might snow urvive.

Relieved, Yi-kang flops down on the ground, exhausted from worry. Ja-in snarks at him to get up since they need to continue with his plan. She allows him to rest and prepare — but reminds him that he can’t back-out on his deal with her.

Yi-kang grumbles that she’s always talking about contracts and deals, wondering if that’s the only reason she does anything. Ja-in asks if there could be any other reason for doing something, and Yi-kang suggest that maybe just because your heart wants to.

That seems to take Ja-in by surprise, but Yi-kang just dismisses it as something a businesswoman like her wouldn’t understand. He sighs, realizing that his heart is weakened due to having a woman so close by.

Ja-in angrily asks if he’s trying to make a pass at her, and Yi-kang, in full arrogance, asks if she wants him to. He smirks as he points out that he was actually talking about his mother, but is surprised that Ja-in would immediately jump to such romantic conclusions. Ja-in responds by kneeing him in the groin, which sends him reeling in pain.

Once Yi-kang recovers from Ja-in’s powerful knees, he and Deok-ki sneak into the old magistrate’s home through a secret passageway, unsheathing their knives as they stand outside the main room where Bong-joon and Teacher Hwang are arguing about the plan to take the riot all the way to Jeonju.

Teacher Hwang insists that it could all be over if they can just find Master Baek and kill him. Yi-kang and Deok-ki prepare to barge in and kill Bong-joon first, but before they can even open the door, they’re caught by the Donghak men.

Recognizing “What’s-his-name,” Teacher Hwang demands Yi-kang tell him where Master Baek is hiding. Yi-kang’s smug “I’m not telling you anything” attitude drops once he sees Bong-joon, who greets Yi-kang in an almost friendly manner, recalling their earlier interaction. Bong-joon muses that if Yi-kang had met a better master, he could have been a more useful sword. He seems almost pitying of Yi-kang.

It turns out that Ja-in warned Bong-joon’s men that Deok-ki and Yi-kang were planning to break in, and in return she asks that he release the two men. Bong-joon agrees to release Deok-ki, but says that “What’s-his-name” has caused too much pain and strife, and must pay for his deeds.

He does release Yi-kang — to the public, who leap at the chance to terrorize Yi-kang in payback all the years that he terrorized them. They beat him and start to lynch him, but his mother suddenly runs up, cutting him free.

She screams at them for being cruel and heartless — her son was only obeying his father’s orders! She’s furious and ready to take on all comers who threaten her son — but she’s only one woman and can’t fight being dragged away. She recognizes Bong-joon as the riot leader and drops to her knees, desperately pleading that he save her son.

Bong-joon is faced with a choice — if he intervenes and saves Yi-kang’s life, then the Gobu people will not treat him like their leader anymore. Stepping forward, he confirms that “What’s-his-name” — which is the only name that Yi-kang has been known to the people of Gobu, and therefore Bong-joon as well — is really called Baek Yi-kang.

Yi-kang, despite being beaten, spitting out blood, and gasping from nearly being hanged, defiantly says that he’s only “What’s-his-name” and begs Bong-joon to put an end to it all. Bong-joon quietly tells Yi-kang that it would have been better for him not to return, since once the people start to doubt their leader, the revolution fails.

Then he suddenly stabs Yi-kang through the hand, pinning him to the ground. Yi-kang’s mother screams out her son’s name, and Bong-joon yells at everyone that that’s the true name of the man before them. Removing the knife and freeing Yi-kang from his bonds, he tells the Gobu people that “What’s-his-name” is now dead. Now there’s only Yi-kang — as “Yi-kang” — who is left.

Teacher Hwang’s daughter finds Yi-kang’s mother and convinces her to come to their home. Mom is shocked to find Yi-hyun hiding out there. He apparently decided returning to his family was more important than the civil service exam.

Mom goes to the prison where Yi-kang is now locked up (with his fellow thugs and disgraced officials). She carefully tends to her son’s wounded hand and tells him about Yi-hyun, then asks where Master Baek is hidden.

Magistrate Jo’s sniveling right-hand man — who was in the jail as well — overhears Yi-kang and his mother, and secretly tattles Master Baek’s location to Teacher Hwang in order to save his own neck.

Master Baek is still in Ja-in’s barn, where he finally wakes up from his fever, asking for water. But there’s no one there. He crawls his way across the barn and into hiding when he hears someone breaking down the door — but it’s only Yi-hyun, who uses his fancy new-fangled matches as a torch to see in the darkness

Yi-hyun’s relieved to tears to find his father, but all Master Baek can do is yell at his son for skipping out on the civil service exam.

Teacher Hwang’s men run to the inn as Yi-hyun also tries to help his father secretly escape. But Master Baek first breaks into Ja-in’s office and steals the contract he signed, the one where he promised to sell all his rice to her at half-price.

By the time the Donghak men search the barn, all they can find are bloody rags. They demand to know where Master Baek has gone, but Ja-in plays dumb (in her sassy way, of course). The sound of a horse distracts them, and the Donghak men assume that Master Baek is running away, so they hurry out of the inn. When Ja-in turns around, she’s surprised to see Yi-hyun standing there.

Yi-hyun asks for a favor, offering to pay Ja-in with one of his father’s gold bars. In a surprising character turn, she says that she’ll help “just because” — oohhhh, there’s a little smile as she remembers Yi-kang’s suggestion that it’s okay to sometimes do things out of the goodness of one’s heart.

The Donghak men catch up to the horse and carriage, but it’s a actually a ruse — it’s Teacher Hwang’s daughter in the carriage, who angrily tells the Donghak men that if they don’t let her go, she’ll scream. They continue on down the road.

It’s a suitable distraction, though, because Yi-hyun and his father are in the woods nearby, hurrying as fast as they can from the town. Master Baek stumbles and falls, and Yi-hyun picks him up to carry on his back as they make their escape.

All through the night, Yi-hyun struggles to carry his father up until the moment his strength finally wears out. Even when his legs can’t hold them anymore, Yi-hyun still tries to crawl, dragging his father. But his strength is gone, and remembering that his father said is only wish was to be a father of a government minister, Yi-hyun screams in frustration.

Somehow, someway, he finds the strength to keep going, and manages to stagger to safety at another town just as dawn begins to break.

In the morning, the newly appointed magistrate arrives at Gobu and presents himself to Bong-joon. He seems a little nervous to meet the rebel leader, and offers the people some gifts of food sent by the head magistrate. The peasants whisper in excitement as they see the delicious treats.

But Teacher Hwang points out that food isn’t enough — the magistrate needs to appease the furious people of Gobu first. The new magistrate affably agrees, and formally bows — dropping all the way to the ground — in front of all the Gobu townsfolk. They cheer in delight at the site of a high-ranking official prostrating himself before them.

Bong-joon is thrilled when two of the Donghak leaders from nearby towns visit him. He asks when they’re planning their own respective riots, but instead of answering, in walks the venerated grand elder of the Donghak religion and philosophy throughout the entire country, Choi Shil-hyeong.

He cautions Bong-joon to bring peace to the area as soon as possible and protect the Donghak members. Donghak is already suffering from oppression due to an earlier uprising, and right now, the main mission should be to spread the word of Donghak and make it more accepted. They shouldn’t be focused on fighting against others.

Bong-joon takes issue with this, pointing out that if they’re truly Donghak, then they shouldn’t merely believe the basic tenants of their faith — which is that every human being, no matter the social class they were born in, are all equal and honorable. How can the suffering peasants and farmers be equal and honorable in the current corrupt system if Donghak doesn’t step in and make it happen by force?

Choi Shil-hyeong asks if Bong-joon believes Donghak is an honorable belief or a weapon to vent his anger. But Bong-joon wisely points out that it’s both a belief and a weapon — is there any weapon more powerful than turning the social order upside down?

Realizing that Bong-joon won’t change his mind, Choi Shil-hyeong peacefully cautions that this is where his mentorship of Bong-joon ends. That’s a pretty serious blow, since it also means that Bong-joon is essentially rebelling against his own Donghak people and won’t be receiving their support like he thought he would.

With the new magistrate willing to play along with the idea of Donghak and treat the Gobu people fairly, it seems like Bong-joon’s vision of revolution is eroding.

That also means the prisoners are set free, and Yi-kang staggers back to the Baek household, which is a total wreck after having been pillaged by the townspeople. He starts to instinctively clean it up, but stares down at his bandaged hand. Who is his real master now?

But everyone is soon in a tizzy when Master Baek suddenly shows up, riding into town with Yi-hyun. Ooooh, and Master Baek looks at a stunned Teacher Hwang and gives him the finger-across-throat “you’re dead” signal.

Government officials barge into Ja-in’s inn. Knowing that Master Baek has returned, she assumes this means she’ll get the rice he promised. But instead the officials accuse her of colluding with the Donghak members since she knew about the rebellion ahead of time. She’s arrested and dragged away.

Master Baek returns home, and Yi-kang greets him formally, like a servant to a master. Master Baek asks what master Yi-kang now serves: “Call me, ‘Father.'” Master Baek coldly stares out over the town as he says that it’s time for him to get back all the money that he lost. He pulls out a piece of paper from his pocket — it’s not the contract he thought he stole from Ja-in’s office, but instead it’s the Sabal Tongmun.

 
COMMENTS

Oooh, I’m loving the pace. I almost feel like it’s moving a little too quickly, but that’s probably because I’m still trying to figure out who is who and where their loyalties are. So many Donghak leaders! So many government officials that all blend into one to me!

At least I know who Yi-kang is — even if he’s not so sure who he is anymore. I love that he’s grown up all his life without any doubt that he’s just Master Baek’s man, the enforcer, the one who must do all the terrible so that he will — er, maybe, because how good are Master Baek’s promises, anyway? — take over the rice-monopoly dynasty once Master Baek dies. After all, the other son will be off in the capital city as a minister in the government, so someone needs to make sure the Baek name continues to rule Gobu.

Except Bong-joon has given back Yi-kang his name. That was probably my favorite scene (well, second favorite to every moment Han Ye-ri was on screen) — where he essentially “kills” the nameless enforcer that had been terrorizing the town all these years. That was not only a strategic move in terms of keeping the respect of the townspeople who were bloodthirsty for revenge, but also it abides by Bong-joon’s obedience to Donghak. Yi-kang is a human with a soul, same as everyone else, and he did not choose to be born the bastard child of a servant and a land-owner and grow up to become “What’s-his-name,” and therefore deserves to live equally with all the others. By piercing Yi-kang’s hand, Bong-joon pierced the bond that tied “What’s-his-name” to Master Baek. It’s hard to emphasize just how powerful Bong-joon telling the townspeople Yi-kang’s name was, when I’ve been using his name liberally in recaps due in order to make it clear who-is-who. But they literally never knew his name. Only his immediate family did, and they were technically forbidden to use it. It’s why he kept resisting when Yi-hyun tried to remind him that he’s Baek Yi-kang, a person — not just a thug enforcer, a servant of his father. That might be the name he was give at birth, but “Baek Yi-kang” isn’t who he was, or had much hope of ever being. Until now.

I can’t imagine it will be easy for Yi-kang to choose who he should now follow — Master Baek, who wants to keep the feudal system going as long as possible so that he may hand down his inheritance to his children, even if they were born out of wed-lock; or Bong-joon, a common man who wants to usurp the feudal system and give everyone the right to live in equality, with respect and honor, who sees everyone as a person and not merely a tool to be used and abused. Although, to be fair, Yi-kang would indeed be a useful tool in Bong-joon’s arsenal, if he could just direct the enforcer thuggishness against the corrupt officials instead of the starving peasants.

I’m eager to see how Yi-kang struggles through all these newfound realizations about himself (and I’m definitely loving the subtle ways that Jo Jung-seok hints at Yi-kang’s insecurities and doubts, despite the cocky bravado). I’m also anticipating lots more reluctant teaming up with Ja-in (please, drama gods!), if only so I can watch them bicker forever. Besides, she’s now the only one who’s allowed to call Yi-kang by any nickname (the more creatively insulting, the better!).

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Thankyou for the recap @odilettante! ^_^.... this drama is really good... I love the pacing and the actors are all mind blowing, they are so natural... I can't wait for this week's episodes.. Fighting NokduFlower!

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I’m still trying to figure out who is who and where their loyalties are. So many Donghak leaders! So many government officials that all blend into one to me!

If you can't keep track of them all you can just call them "What's his name" and "That guy" :)

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@lordcobol,
Geoshigi to the right of us, Geoshigi to left of us... with apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. ;-)

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Thank you for the recap @odilettante , been waiting for this. The pace is good, and having a drama tell a story of common folks is refreshing too since we have had a lot of palace politics drama. JJS is always good at playing a character with bravado and Ja-In's sass is a nice touch to the story too

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Thank you @odilettante for the wonderful recap!
I had high expectation for NOKDU and so far it doesn't disappoint.
The story flows logically and most of the actors are excellent in making their characters feel authentic which is challenging in sageuks.

I am ready to endure trials and overcome hurdles with them till the end.

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"Choi Shil-hyeong asks if Bong-joon believes Donghak is an honorable belief or a weapon to vent his anger. But Bong-joon wisely points out that it’s both a belief and a weapon — is there any weapon more powerful than turning the social order upside down?"

Nonviolent vs Violent protests.

Choi Shil-hyeong is the old school president of the Donghak movement. Whether he is going to personally take part in the uprising or not he'd be held responsible for his followers action.
Bong Joon knows too well that peaceful demonstrations hasn't and will not work with the current government. The only way to get their attention is to arm themselves with their faith and wreck havoc Robin Hood style.

Is this a case of you are right but I'm more right than you?

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Thank you for the recap, @odilettante. It was a huge help since the story moved quickly while I'm still trying to figure out who is who and on whose side all those characters are (and it's not helping that I jumped into this right after finishing Haechi, another long sageuk with tons of side characters). I'm already loving Han Ye-ri's Ja-in, who is smart and sassy and lovely and much kinder than what she wanted others to believe. I also hope for more reluctant teaming up between her, loyal Deok-ki, and Yi-kang because they are probably the only one who can provide a much needed wry humour in this heavy story.

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@odilettante, Thanks for the recap. Enjoying the show. What a cast. The story is flowing , the two hours fly by.

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The scene where Bong-joon gave Yi-kang identity by announcing his name to the crowd was very powerful. With the dramatic impaling of Yi-kang’s hand he accomplished 3 important things. He maintained his authority, diffused the crowd and in effect offered Yi-kang the possibility of a different path.
It is always amazing for me when I see a person in authority single handily take an action that determines an outcome.
This was one.
O/T. I am reminded of a scene In HAECHI where Minister Min (played wonderfully by Lee Geung-young) in front of all the senior officials of the court stepped out and single handily stopped King Gyeongjong from taking a rash action. It was awesome.

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