Rookie Historian Gu Hae-ryung: Episodes 13-16 Open Thread
Palace life is challenging enough, but now Rim and Hae-ryung must face the reality outside its walls, which they no longer have the luxury to ignore. Rim faces both true danger and the chance to finally prove himself in the eyes of the king. As it turns out, however, there may be those he wants to please more than his father—and perhaps Rim is capable of more than anyone around him imagined.
EPISODES 13-16 WEECAP
As a smallpox epidemic hits the northern provinces, the kingdom is in crisis—and Councilor Min manipulates the king into sending Rim to do a ritual in the affected region, which of course takes no arm-twisting given how much he hates him. Jin is distressed, and the dowager queen is outraged; she threatens to reveal that Rim is not actually the king’s son. OH. That explains a lot.
Hae-ryung and Woo-won go along in Rim’s entourage, because they’re brave and loyal idiots, and we’re treated to Rim burning with jealousy at Woo-won’s awkward kindness towards Hae-ryung. Rim is also shook to find out that Hae-ryung was previously engaged (she says offhandedly, “He used to be my husband,” ha!) and offended on her behalf that the guy broke it off: “How could he not like you, given that he has eyes?” I am dead, y’all. How is this boy so adorable.
Once they receive word that all is under control, Hae-ryung even accompanies Rim to his first ever visit to the ocean. But their barefoot frolicking on the beach doesn’t last long, because they find out that the officials lied to them: countless people have died, local officials stole the medicine and food sent by the king, and quarantined villagers are starving to death. Rim resolves to go where it’s worst, despite the protests of his entourage, and even though he initially has misgivings, agrees to Mo-hwa’s idea to vaccinate the villagers. In fact, he volunteers to go first so the people won’t be afraid.
Rim recovers and soon people begin lining up for vaccinations, but the king hears of this “barbaric” Western practice and forbids it, ordering Rim to come home at once. Rim ignores the order and returns home ten days late. The king greets him with a slap and seems ready to mete out the ultimate punishment—until Jin reminds his father that the historians are watching.
So far we’ve seen Hae-ryung transform from a frustrated noblewoman doomed to an unwanted marriage into a working woman carving out her own place in a difficult but fulfilling role. We still had some of that in this episode, particularly in her guilt for the little girl’s death, which led to her determination to save every life possible by convincing Rim to agree to the vaccinations. And when Woo-won objected, I especially loved how she referred to his own, earlier advice that she be able to take responsibility for her righteous actions (after the debacle with the clerks).
I found Woo-won’s objection to this frustratingly illogical; I understand that the historian needs to be an unbiased recorder of events, but Hae-ryung acting according to her conscience doesn’t mean that she’s “a novelist twisting history to her own whims.” There’s no such thing as a truly unbiased historian, anyway—that’s why there must be many of them, each providing their particular perspective. Hae-ryung was right to say that it’s a waste of their education to simply be voiceless scribes who know their place. The issue of agency versus passivity, acting versus recording, comes up for both Hae-ryung and Sa-hee this week, and I’m fascinated to see where the show goes with it.
The star of this arc, however, is Rim, who’s finally developing beyond an idealistic, sheltered prince with a crush. As Hae-ryung learns not to take the world on her shoulders while still fighting the battles she can win, Rim is finding out that despite his isolated life so far, he can be of use to his people, and even save them. He has an unexpected core of steel: he didn’t protest the royal order, even though it might as well have been a death sentence, because for the first time the king was sending him on a mission, a chance to prove his worth.
My heart breaks for the poor kid. It’s so clear to see how much he both fears the king and yet thirsts for his love and approval. And tragically, although Rim clearly showed that he’s more than an ornamental prince fit only to perform a superstitious ritual, the king’s poisonous ego is unable to see anything but betrayal and disobedience.
I appreciated how even with all the serious stakes the characters were dealing with in these four episodes, the drama was able to maintain its humorous, whimsical tone without causing a feeling of emotional whiplash. I think my favorite scene was Hae-ryung ordering Rim and Woo-won to make themselves useful, and then telling them off when they repeatedly failed at anything remotely practical. Hae-ryung and Sam-bo clicking their tongues and shaking their heads at the two men as they awkwardly tried to feed children and stoke fires was the actual best. (Rim: “This firewood clearly has splinters. Be very careful not to get hurt.” Woo-won: “Yes, Your Highness.” *both gingerly pick up one piece of kindling each*)
I’m a little sad that they’re already back at the palace and in their rigidly defined roles again; it was delightful to see this little group growing closer away from the watching eyes and restrictive protocols that normally bind them all—including Woo-won, whose careful camaraderie with Rim was honestly adorable to watch.
There’s something so extremely buttoned-up about Woo-won that makes me want to see him flustered and off-balance—he reminds me a bit of Im Joo-hwan’s Park Kyu in Tamra the Island. I love his dynamic with Hae-ryung, because she pushes him in a way that no one else does, while he takes the time to explain his position to her, a privilege most people don’t merit in his eyes; the mutual respect in unspoken but palpable, and it just gets me. (I have a feeling that these might be the beginning signs of a painful case of Second Lead Syndrome. Dangit.)
I’m less conflicted about rooting for Jin and Sa-hee, though, despite her spying, because it was so refreshing to see her stand up to her father and speak her mind to Jin in these episodes. Sa-hee is like a banked fire, seemingly cold but strong and ready to flare up when she needs to fight. I think she’s perfect to hold her own side by side with the lonely crown prince. I’m definitely here for a story that gives the coming-of-age narrative to its heroine, and the redemption arc to its second female lead. Please live up to your name, Show!
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