My Country: The New Age: Episode 2
In a time of so much political upheaval, our trio of friends soon finds themselves facing conflicts that threaten to tear them apart. They each have their own challenges to face, and the decisions they’re forced to make will create ripples in history that they have no way of predicting. They’re still so young, and they haven’t yet learned that often, the closest of friends can quickly become the deadliest of enemies.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Hwi and Sun-ho fight their way to the registrar, and Hwi slams the arrow he was given by General Yi Seong-gye into the registrar’s desk and dares him to make him leave. With a shaking hand, the registrar matches Hwi’s arrowhead to the fletched end of the arrow that was delivered to him. Terrified, he stamps Hwi’s name in his book, and Hwi and Sun-ho both heave sighs of relief.
They pick up Hee-jae on their way out, though she’s acting very distracted and can barely look Hwi in the eye. He’s in a great mood and jokes that he can pass the test, get his rice, and pay her back the money she lent him to buy his sister’s medicine.
They spot Chief Park heading their way, so the guys grab Hee-jae and whirl her around to face a booth. Chief Park doesn’t see them, but one of his guards, Colonel Choi, notices Sun-ho.
Heh, the kite seller says that if Hwi flies the kite he’s holding, he’ll have a happy marriage and conceive a son. Hwi stammers nervously, and Sun-ho smirks that maybe he’s the one with the bright future, cutting his eyes pointedly at Hee-jae, hee.
Sun-ho suggests they buy a kite and fly it for luck on their test, and he tells Hwi to bring Yeon. Unaware that Yeon is Hwi’s sister, Hee-jae has a little jealous fit and picks out a squid kite for Hwi. She leaves them after making plans to fly their kites tomorrow.
She’s still distracted, as she recalls that she once met Hwi’s father. She remembers one night, when she and her mother had been chased by assassins. Her mother had pressed a bamboo letter carrier into little Hee-jae’s hands and urged her to take it to Lady Seo, promising to catch up later.
But Hee-jae’s mother had been shot in the arm with an arrow, and Hee-jae had watched the assassins catch up and kill her. She had bravely refused to hand over the letter, and just as the assassin raised his sword to kill her, Seo Geom had stepped in and fought them off, noticing their military-issue swords.
An assassin had told Seo Geom to move, but he’d said wryly that someone told him he’s the greatest swordsman in Goryeo. He’d introduced himself as Commander in Chief of the Northern Punitive Forces, then he’d dispatched the assassins. His sleeve had been slashed, and Hee-jae could see a tattoo on his arm.
He’d buried Hee-jae’s mother under a stone cairn, assuring Hee-jae that he’d built enough cairns on the battlefield that it wouldn’t come apart. He’d told her, “Don’t let anyone oppress you. That’s the only way you won’t collapse. Don’t let anyone intimidate you even if they’re stronger than you. Only then can you hold out.”
She had promised to repay Seo Geom’s kindness, and he’d said with a smile, “With high interest.” But not long after that, she’d witnessed his disgrace and suicide, and had seen his children screaming for their father. She understands now that Hwi is the boy she saw that day.
Colonel Choi asks Chief Park why he didn’t say anything when he saw the three they suspect of putting up the subversive posters. Chief Park won’t admit to seeing anyone, so Colonel Choi says that he’ll seize the opportunity for himself if Chief Park doesn’t report it by tomorrow.
When it’s time to go kite-flying, Yeon comes out of the house wearing makeup that looks like, as Hwi says, she applied it with her feet. But when the guys see Hee-jae, her understated beauty stuns them both. Hwi hilariously introduces Yeon to Hee-jae as “my boss,” and Hee-jae extends a sisterly offer to show Yeon how to apply her makeup to look more natural.
While flying their kites, Hee-jae notices how sweet Hwi is with his sister. Their kite string breaks so Hwi chases after it, and it eventually lands just over the edge of a cliff. He’s about to climb down to fetch it, but Hee-jae has followed him and she warns that he’ll fall and die.
She says it’s only a myth that a broken kite string foreshadows an early death, and that his worry over Yeon won’t cure her illness. He asks how she knows, and she tells him that Yeon’s hands are cold, and she’s wearing lots of makeup to cover her pale cheeks and purple lips.
Hwi says that Yeon’s epilepsy is getting worse, and sighs that she’d have been better off with a sister like Hee-jae. But Hee-jae says that nobody can replace him, and Hwi smiles gratefully.
Hee-jae reaches down for the squid kite and nearly slides off the edge, scaring them both. Hwi grabs her hand, complaining that she’s heavy, but she’s able to reach the kite. He yanks her back up, hard, and they land with Hwi on his back and Hee-jae on top of him.
They freeze like that for a long moment, then they sit up, unable to look at each other. Then Hee-jae notices that it’s dusk and people are releasing sky lanterns so they watch the beautiful display, though Hwi would rather look at Hee-jae. They eventually make their way back to Yeon, who’s surprised that Sun-ho isn’t with them, since he went after them.
A spy reports Hwi, Sun-ho, and Hee-jae’s location to Colonel Choi, so he and Chief Park head there together without telling anyone. They find Sun-ho walking alone and Colonel Choi attacks, and Sun-ho manages to avoid him for a long time before he’s finally overpowered and arrested. He’s amused until Colonel Choi says he’ll catch “that Ihwaru bitch” next, and that he’ll soon have his father, too.
Colonel Choi stands, proud of his catch…. then a sword emerges from the center of his chest. He falls dead, revealing Chief Park, who looms over Sun-ho menacingly.
The others wait for Sun-ho until Yeon falls asleep on Hee-jae’s shoulder. Hwi piggybacks his sister, and Hee-jae wishes she had someone to carry her home. She recites Seo Geom’s words to her from all those years ago about not being oppressed or intimidated even if others are stronger than you. At Hwi’s confusion, she simply says that she figured he never got to hear the words.
At home, Sun-ho cleans up a bad gash he received on his arm while fighting Colonel Choi. He watches his hand shake as he remembers Chief Park cutting the ropes binding him, and saying, “I did not kill him, and you did not see anything. The one who lets the secret out, dies first. I didn’t save you for your sake, nor for your father, so don’t fool yourself that I’m on your side.”
Sun-ho recalls when he was a child, and his older brother had fallen into a river and was drowning. Sun-ho had tried to rescue him, but a heavy branch had struck his hyung’s head and killed him.
In his grief, Lord Nam had growled at Sun-ho, “Why you? Why are you the one who made it out alive? You should have died instead of him!” He’d gripped Sun-ho’s throat, screaming that Sun-ho should have died instead of his son.
Hwi and Sun-ho practice for the military exam, Sun-ho on fancy equipment with skilled trainers, and Hwi alone in the forest with makeshift gear. On the day of the test, Lord Nam gives Sun-ho a bow that he says was his hyung’s, and that it will ensure he always hits his target. He tells Sun-ho that the time of the sword is coming, and that a sword will never discriminate against him for being illegitimate.
Sun-ho asks for his father’s promise never to mention Min-ho, his brother, to him again if he passes the test: “I wish to live my own life from now on.” Lord Nam gives his word.
Hwi stares at his father’s bow, remembering the man who was once his whole world. Yeon says that it’s not their father’s fault she’s sick, but the fault of the person who framed him. She speaks of how he would give his own rice to his needy subordinates, and made his own family lived on millet, so there’s no way he was siphoning military rations. Hwi agrees and picks up his father’s bow, which has his and Yeon’s names engraved on it.
The testing begins,and though Sun-ho’s injured arm still bothers him, he and Hwi both pass the archery and horseback combat sections of the test. Last is swordsmanship, and Hwi says that he’s confident they can both pass and change their destinies, then the world. Sun-ho only says that he’ll fight to the death, even if his opponent is Hwi.
They both defeat a long string of opponents until they’re the last two left. The final round will determine the top-scoring candidate, and Hwi and Sun-ho face each other, both determined to win.
A crowd watches, including Hee-jae, as the friends begin their fight. At first they’re evenly matched, but Hwi gets lucky with a strike directly to Sun-ho’s injured arm. He’s alarmed to see Sun-ho bleeding, but Sun-ho continues to fight. They ram the points of their practice swords into each other’s sternums at the same time and fall back gasping.
Sun-ho has a much harder time getting back on his feet, and Hwi begs him to stop, afraid his friend could die. But Sun-ho quotes him, “Don’t joke about swordsmanship, there’s no such thing as friends before swords.” He repeats that he’ll kill Hwi if he has to, and tells Hwi to fight properly.
Hwi looks heartbroken, but he can see that Sun-ho means every word. They fight again, and Hwi shoves Sun-ho backwards, but Sun-ho pulls Hwi down by the collar and tosses him over his head. Hwi barely gets his weapon up to block Sun-ho’s strike, then he goes after Sun-ho, who’s bleeding badly now.
They’re nearing the end of their strength when Hwi gets in two hard whacks, sending Sun-ho to the ground. The examiner nods his head, so Hwi drops his guard. Sun-ho hauls himself to his feet, and with all the strength he has left, he slams Hwi in the head with his practice sword. Hwi slumps to the ground, and Sun-ho’s eyes roll back as he falls to his knees.
The fight is declared over, and Sun-ho named as the winner. Hwi gasps that the fight was already over, but the examiner says he only nodded. Hwi screams at the injustice, asking how he can do such a thing, but the examiner says coldly, “You should first figure out why I couldn’t do such a thing.”
Hwi runs up the steps to get in the examiner’s face and asks if this is because of his father’s death. The examiner laughs and says that if Hwi is curious, he should “ask the cauldron your father was dipped in.” Hwi grabs him in fury, so he’s beaten by the guards until he gives up.
He’s dragged past Sun-ho, who reaches out for his friend, but he’s too weak to fix what he’s done. Hwi is left bleeding in the dirt, once again tossed out for no reason other than the circumstances of his birth.
Later, Sun-ho is awarded top honors, and the examiner tells him that this is the moment his life changes. But Sun-ho can’t smile, painfully aware that his life has changed, but not in the way he wanted. He watches as the examiner and his father exchange a meaningful look.
Hwi staggers home painfully, with Hee-jae following at a distance. At one point Hwi stops and drops his head to cry… then he passes out. Hee-jae helps him up and takes him to Ihwaru gibang, calling out for ice and cotton cloth. The gisaengs hesitate, but Lady Seo tells them to do as Hee-jae says.
Hee-jae cleans up Hwi as he sleeps, and later Lady Seo asks what her relationship is with Hwi. Hee-jae simply says, “We are meant to be together.”
She’s by Hwi’s side when he wakes, and he shows a spark of his old spirit by answering, “What do you think?” when she asks if he’s okay. He asks about Sun-ho, so Hee-jae says he’s getting an appointment. Hwi asks why Hee-jae gave him the squid kite, since the one with the lilies (the one supposed to guarantee a happy marriage) was prettier, and Hee-jae promises to get him the lily kite next time.
Hee-jae ties a bandage around Hwi’s head to hide his worst wound, so as not to scare Yeon when he goes home, and he’s affected by her closeness. Hee-jae says lightly that he’s the son of a disgraced father, brother to a girl with epilepsy, and now he’s failed the exam.
Hwi says he’s the worst, but Hee-jae asks what’s wrong with that. They sit in silence for a long time, then Hwi leans in and kisses Hee-jae. He backs up and looks into her eyes, and kisses her again. They feel a little awkward afterward, then Hee-jae remembers Yeon.
As Hwi is putting on his shoes, Hee-jae slides him some medicine for his cuts. She tells him not to cry in front of Yeon, and he jokes that he’s never cried in his life.
Lady Seo instructs a gisaeng to open the doors to the main room when Hwi leaves. She does, affording Hwi an unwelcome view of Lord Nam drinking with the examiner. Lord Nam sees Hwi and freezes, and Hwi’s eyes fill with tears as he remembers a day shortly after his father’s death.
Hwi had huddled beside his father’s body in front of Lord Nam’s house and begged for help to bury his father beside his mother, because Lord Nam had been his father’s friend. Little Sun-ho had watched as his father said it would taint his own family to help Hwi, and coldly sent him away.
Hee-jae confronts Lady Seo to ask angrily if the message she delivered to Lord Nam was from the examiner. She says that message ruined a man’s life, but Lady Seo counters that it bought the gibang a year’s worth of rice. She reminds Hee-jae that she told her to end her relationship with Hwi, and warns her to avoid friendship and love unless she wants her heart broken.
Hee-jae fires back that that’s how Lady Seo lives her life, but she can’t do that — she won’t do that. She finds her way out blocked by Lady Seo’s guard, and Lady Seo informs her that she’s confined to the gibang until this all blows over.
When Lord Nam leaves the gibang, Sun-ho is waiting for him, and before he can ask, Lord Nam admits to bribing the examiner. Sun-ho looks horrified and asks how Lord Nam isn’t ashamed, and why he didn’t tell him this before the exam.
Lord Nam grabs Sun-ho’s injured arm, making him cry out in pain. He whispers, “That’s why I bribed him,” and adds that he didn’t tell Sun-ho because he still needed to do his best. Sun-ho argues that he still could have won on his own, but Lord Nam snaps that he couldn’t afford to take a chance. He reminds Sun-ho that he said he fights for his own sake, “But I put you in first place for my sake.”
Sun-ho sobs that Lord Nam ruined his only friendship, and Lord Nam challenges him to tell Hwi that the examiner was bribed and take back his friend. Sun-ho just hangs his head as tears course down his face, and Lord Nam says that Sun-ho is the one who betrayed Hwi, even if he uses his father as an excuse.
Yeon waits in the yard for Hwi, and he has to collect himself so he doesn’t cry in front of her. She can tell by his expression that he failed, and he fibs that he’d rather be a blacksmith anyway. Yeon starts to cry when she sees Hwi’s battered face, but she hugs him and tells him he did well.
Hee-jae spends all night thinking about the part she inadvertently played in Hwi’s betrayal, and in the morning, she gets an idea. She eats her breakfast then leaves a note in the rice bowl for Hwa-wol.
Lord Nam and Sun-ho meet with Yi Seong-gye in the woods, and follow him as he talks about a time that Lord Nam saved his life in battle. Yi Seong-gye says that he’s repaying Lord Nam today, as they arrive at a clearing where the examiner has been bound and gagged.
Yi Seong-gye explains that the Inspector General received an anonymous letter informing them that the exam was rigged. Yi Seong-gye asks who knows of this, and Lord Nam says only himself and the examiner. Yi Seong-gye draws his bow, aims at the examiner, and says that his debt to Lord Nam is paid.
He suddenly turns and aims at Lord Nam, and his arrow flies so close that it cuts Lord Nam’s cheek. He tosses his bow to Sun-ho and his guard releases the examiner, who runs away. Yi Seong-gye tells Sun-ho that this all happened because of him, and that a mouth isn’t shut by being covered — it only shuts with death.
He orders Sun-ho to fix this or else he and his father both die right now. With no other way out, and though it looks like it goes against his every instinct, Sun-ho conquers his shaking hands and kills the examiner with one shot. Yi Seong-gye warns that he’ll take care of things himself if anything like this happens again, but Sun-ho promises him, “From this day on, all blood will be on my hands.”
After Yi Seong-gye leaves, Lord Nam says to Sun-ho what they both already know — that Hwi also knows about the bribe. Sun-ho says that the law can force Hwi to serve in the military until he’s sixty years old. Lord Nam sneers that Sun-ho can’t kill Hwi, but Sun-ho says that where he’s going won’t be considered living.
Lord Nam asks if he can trust Sun-ho, and Sun-ho replies, “Hwi has been my lifelong friend, but I won’t die for him.”
Despite the horrible events of the last couple days, Hwi can’t help but grin when he thinks about kissing Hee-jae, and he tucks the bandage she tied on his head inside his shirt, over his heart. He serves dinner, and Yeon gets mad when she notices that Hwi has put a stone in his rice bowl to make it look like he’s eating as much as he served to her.
Their meal is interrupted by royal guards, who accuse Hwi of failing to pay his military cloth tax and say that he’s being drafted immediately. He stammers that he’s exempt since his father is dead and he cares for his sister, but they surround him.
Hwi flies into a rage when a guard knocks down Yeon, and she watches, terrified, as he’s hit in the head and starts bleeding badly. The last thing Hwi sees as he’s dragged away is Yeon falling with a seizure, hitting her head on the table as she crumples to the ground.
Hwi screams desperately for someone to help her or she’ll die, but the guards show them no pity and drag him away, leaving Yeon alone. Hwi is still howling when he’s thrown into a prison cell, begging someone to send a message to Sun-ho to take care of his sister.
Sun-ho is nearby, horrified by the screams of his friend and the knowledge that he’s done this. He hears Hwi calling to Yeon not to die, and he runs to find her unconscious. He carries her home and puts her in his bed, calling for a doctor, and when his father tries to have Yeon removed, Sun-ho barks at them not to come near her.
Lord Nam says softly that he’s always taught Sun-ho not to yell, but to threaten. So Sun-ho does exactly that… he whispers into his father’s ear, “One more person knows you bribed the examiner… me. I know the truth. What if I told General Choi? I only shoot arrows for my own sake. Why should I care who becomes my target? I will not let Yeon die, so do not provoke me.”
Lord Nam backs down and allows Sun-ho to help Yeon, but he warns Sun-ho to keep her hidden, because he’ll kill anyone who finds out. Sun-ho nods, and Lord Nam leaves him.
Hwi is taken from his cell, but nobody will tell him anything about Yeon. He’s informed that Nam Sun-ho, the one he’s been saying will help him, is the person who sent him here. Hwi just shuts down, unable to understand the nightmare he’s been thrust into.
Hee-jae is finally allowed to leave the gibang. Lady Seo tells her that soon a boat will be shipping soldiers to the battlefield, and that one passenger is named Hwi. She tells Hee-jae to go see the outcome of her foolishness.
Hwi is already on the boat, looking beaten and dejected. He sees Hee-jae arrive just moments after the boat pulls away from the dock, but she can only stand in the rain and cry.
Three months later — 1388, year of the Wihwado Retreat, Liaodong
Hwi wakes on a battlefield and gasps in pain. He lies there, injured, as men fight and die all around him.
Damn… I knew this show was going to break my heart and make me cry, but I didn’t expect it so soon. Yeon’s possible death at a young age has been heavily telegraphed so I wasn’t surprised by her collapse, but Hwi’s grief and frantic screaming for someone to help her just broke me. Now he’s been betrayed by the one person he thought was on his side, he has no idea if Yeon is even alive, and he’s been taken from the girl he was falling for just as they found each other. Luckily, we’ve seen that Hwi survives at least ten more years, and he will end up as a respected and valued part of the rebellion, but at what cost?
The first crack in Hwi and Sun-ho’s friendship came during their military test, when Sun-ho said he was willing to kill Hwi to win, and it just snowballed so fast. More than his love for his friend, Sun-ho desires the chance to be his own man in his father’s eyes, and not a poor shadow of the legitimate brother who died. It was heartbreaking to see him realize, too late, that he won the test only because his father pulled some strings. I’m starting to understand why, in the flash-forward ten years, Hwi is so bitter and Sun-ho mentions his many sins. He was forced to choose between his friend and the father whose approval he’s been trying to win all his life, and I do see how hard it was for him to make that decision. I believe that sending Hwi to the military was the only way Sun-ho could keep his friend alive, and that saving Yeon’s life is his way of at least trying to atone for what he’s done to Hwi (and holy cow, Woo Do-hwan is absolutely brilliant in the way he conveys Sun-ho’s inner conflict).
Having seen two episodes now, there is one thing that bothers me, and it’s really more of an opinion than a real “professional” criticism. It’s that the music occasionally doesn’t feel tonally in sync with the scenes. It’s mostly during fight scenes — the music sometimes feels like old B-movie stock music (with the exception of the testing scene, that music was pretty cool). And it’s a shame, because the fight scenes are gorgeously choreographed, and you can tell that the actors are doing most of their own stunts, so the fact that the music quality feels cheap or inappropriate at times is a disappointment. A good example is in the scene where Sun-ho fought Colonel Choi — the moment when you could only see their shadows leaping and whirling was so visually interesting, but the music was just cheesy. But in most of the other scenes, I don’t even notice the music, which for me is how it should be. The music should enhance the scenes and shouldn’t ever feel manipulative (as if you wouldn’t know how to feel unless the music told you), or so tonally dissonant that you can’t enjoy the action because the music is so weird. Other than that, I still think everything else on the production side of My Country is great — the pacing remains steady, the editing is smooth as silk, the acting is flawless, and the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous.
I love when a drama’s plot moves along at a quick pace, because it means there’s a lot of story to tell and we won’t get stuck circling an issue for several episodes. But sometimes it worries me, like it is now, because we’re only two episodes into My Country and yet so much has happened, most of it very very bad. That’s not to say that things are moving too fast — in fact, the note-perfect pacing is one of my favorite things about this drama so far. But I’m scared that, as bad a situation as Hwi finds himself in, things are going to get so, so much worse for him before they get better. If they get better. We still have ten years of Hwi and Sun-ho’s lives to follow, and those ten years are a very dark time for the country — this isn’t going to be easy to watch, but I think it will be worth it.
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