My Country: The New Age: Episode 4
All that our heroes want is to survive this war and go home, but unfortunately, home offers no peace when the entire country is experiencing upheaval. Their friendship has suffered too much to be repaired, and their only other friend has seemingly disappeared. On top of everything else, a shocking secret will force one to ally with his worst enemy, and will send him into a more deadly situation than any battlefield.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Sung-rok and Sun-ho lead a slaughter squad across the river, intending to kill what remains of the advance party. Sun-ho is shocked when, in the middle of the battle, he finds himself face-to-face with Hwi, who he’d assumed was dead.
Behind them, Sung-rok prepares to run his sword through Hwi… only for Sun-ho to shove Hwi aside. Sun-ho is impaled instead, and he holds Hwi’s gaze as he collapses into his old friend’s arms. He falls as Sung-rok assumes that Sun-ho and Hwi were working together.
Hwi snaps out of his stupor and slashes Sung-rok across the face. He keeps attacking, slashing Sung-rok over and over, until he finally slams his sword point-first into Sung-rok’s chest and ends it. He runs back to Sun-ho’s body and holds him, screaming in grief, while the only other survivors of the attack — Chi-do, Moon-bok, and Jung-beom — can only watch helplessly.
Somehow Sun-ho is alive, but Moon-bok isn’t interested in saving someone who came to kill them. Ever the voice of reason, Chi-do asks what Hwi will do if they save Sun-ho and end up with a huge burden. He says that Sun-ho is only a friend to Hwi and an assassin to the rest of them.
He gives Hwi a chance to change their minds or ask nicely, without throwing a fit. Hwi takes a deep breath then sinks to his knees, and asks Moon-bok respectfully to save Sun-ho’s life. Moon-bok is too softhearted to refuse, so he agrees to do what he can.
Hwi remembers back to his father’s death, when nobody would help him bury the body for fear of being tainted by the scandal — not even Lord Nam, his father’s supposed friend. Despite being a small boy, Hwi had dragged his father’s body all the way to his mother’s grave.
He’d tried to dig a grave with a garden spade, then his bare hands when the spade broke, but he’d passed out from exhaustion. When he woke, he’d found Sun-ho helping to dig the grave. He’d even brought a shroud and some nice clothes for Hwi to dress his father’s body in, and that was when their friendship had begun.
While being escorted to a safe place by Bang-won, General Yi’s wife and her two young sons are set upon by General Choi’s assassins. Bang-won and his man TR dispatch the assassins, then Bang-won tries to see Lady Kang’s injury, but she objects to his touching her without permission and slaps his hand away.
Bang-won sneers that he’ll never outdo his father, who has so many mistresses that he forgets who is a mistress and who is his mother. Lady Kang asks if Bang-won came just to humiliate her, but he says ominously that it’s because his father loves her the most.
Bang-won marvels at Hee-jae’s medicines as she treats Lady Kang’s injury, and she says that medicine is easily found in a gibang. But she says that she’s not a gisaeng just because she lived in a gibang, just as all of his brothers aren’t tigers.
The morning after the ambush, Hwi surveys the camp, which is full of his dead fellows and their attackers. Chi-do says that they should cross the river now, and Hwi sighs that he’s ready to go home.
On the opposite side, Lord Nam stares at the river all night long. In the morning he learns that General Yi and the troops have made it to Uiju citadel, and that General Choi and the king are hurrying to Gaegyeong, the capitol.
Lord Nam tells a lieutenant to stay behind, and if anyone crosses the river, to kill them all. The lieutenant asks about the slaughter squad, but Lord Nam claims he never sent a slaughter squad. As for his son… we don’t hear his answer.
Hwi piggybacks Sun-ho as he and the other three survivors leave camp. They appropriate the slaughter squad’s boat and head across the river, and Moon-bok wonders why their own army want to kill them. Chi-do warns them not to let their guard down — if they’re discovered, they won’t be allowed to live.
Lord Nam’s lieutenant and his men hide in a shed, but the approaching boat appears empty. They move in closer, and as soon as their leader steps a foot into the boat, Hwi shoots his leg from under a straw mat. He and Chi-do leap out of hiding, while Moon-bok and Jung-beom stab at the soldiers from the water.
Hwi shoots the lieutenant but leaves him alive. Chi-do asks whose order he’s acting on, and he gasps Lord Nam’s name, adding that Lord Nam’s order was to kill Sun-ho first if he’d survived.
Later, Hwi tells Moon-bok and Jung-beom to leave together, and he’ll go his own way. They argue that they have no way to travel, but Chi-do somehow locates four horses. Hwi decides to go to Uiju for medicine regardless of the danger of General Yi’s army, and the others follow him with varying degrees of reluctance.
At their former camp, Sung-rok wakes after having been left for dead. He burns the bodies of his men, then finds the sword that General Yi gave to Sun-ho. He makes it back across the river and finds the bloody mat Sun-ho was lying on, and he sends a message to General Yi by pigeon.
Hwi and company nearly give the elderly apothecary in Uiju a heart attack as they take over his shop. Moon-bok uses his instruments to open up Sun-ho’s wound, warning that if it’s infected, he’ll die. Hwi is visibly relieved when only blood runs out.
While tracking Hwi and the others, Sung-rok is joined by half a dozen soldiers in response to his message. He growls that he doesn’t need help, but he’s informed that General Yi sent them to make certain there are no survivors.
In Uiju, children run through the streets singing songs written in praise of General Yi that predict he will become king. Hwi hasn’t moved from Sun-ho’s side in two days, and they’re all still holed up in the apothecary’s shop when Sung-rok arrives in town.
Finally, Sun-ho regains consciousness and complains that Hwi fell asleep and woke him up by grinding his teeth, ha. Hwi says he’s lucky none of his internal organs were injured, and Sun-ho quips, “Whose fault is it that I got stabbed?” Recalling their old sparring bets, Sun-ho says that Hwi owes him about a hundred nyang for saving his life, and Hwi retorts that they’re even after he carried Sun-ho to safety.
Awkwardness settles over them, then Sun-ho says that he thought he had nothing to lose, and only later realized that he did have something — Hwi. He’s curious that Hwi hasn’t asked why he betrayed him and why he went to the front lines, but Hwi says sharply that they’ll talk later.
Sun-ho continues anyway, claiming that he bribed the examiner and had Hwi sent away. He says he went to the battlefront to kill the advance troops, but Hwi doesn’t believe him after Sun-ho saved his life.
Working up his courage, Hwi finally asks about Yeon. Sun-ho is about to answer when suddenly, flaming arrows rain down on the building and set everything on fire. Hwi screams, “Where is Yeon?!” and Sun-ho looks him right in the eye as he says that she’s dead.
Ignoring the fire, Hwi’s expression changes and he yanks Sun-ho to his feet. Sun-ho repeats that Yeon is dead, but in his mind, he hears Lord Nam telling him that he’ll kill anyone who discovers that she’s alive. Hwi says that he was planning to forgive Sun-ho for betraying him, but that he can’t forgive him for Yeon’s death.
He threatens to go to Lord Nam’s father, but Sun-ho looks terrified as he tells Hwi that he’ll die if he does. Hwi only growls, “You and I are no longer friends. We’ll be enemies if we ever cross paths again. And if that happens, I may kill you.”
Outside, Sung-rok is still sending arrows into the building, but eventually, an arrow shoots out and strikes down one of his men. A second arrow lands in Sung-rok’s shoulder, then Hwi gallops out from behind the building on his horse, followed by Moon-bok, Jung-beom, and Chi-do. They kill most of Sung-rok’s men and escape.
Sung-rok enters the burning building, where Sun-ho now sits alone, calmly strapping on his armor. He tells Sun-ho that General Yi doesn’t forgive failed warriors, so his choices are to kill Sun-ho or take his own life. He decides instead to take Sun-ho hostage and make a deal with Lord Nam for them both to get promotions.
Sun-ho sneers that Lord Nam doesn’t care about the slaughter squad any more than he did the advance troops, but Sung-rok can’t believe General Yi sent them to die. Sun-ho says that Sung-rok is too stupid to realize that General Yi deserted him, and that he’s just a tool General Yi is using to test Lord Nam’s loyalty.
Lord Nam is startled to hear from General Yi that Sun-ho survived the ambush and warns that his son would make the perfect hostage. General Yi offers to take care of both Sun-ho and Sung-rok, and for a guy who just ordered his son killed, Lord Nam looks awfully alarmed. General Yi tells Lord Nam to choose, his country or his child, and Lord Nam chooses his country.
Meanwhile, Sun-ho tells Sung-rok to accept that they’ve been abandoned. Sung-rok lowers his head, and Sun-ho suggests they join forces. Sung-rok bristles at the idea of serving Sun-ho, but Sun-ho vows to gain power: “If I cannot be the king, I will become the ruler of darkness.”
Hwi and his men ride through the forest the next day (Moon-bok is such a whiner, ha). Jung-beom hears a strange birdcall, then he notices spikes in the path, and the others draw their swords in unison. Jung-beom mimics the birdcall he heard, and suddenly, thieves swarm out of the forest to confront them.
Jung-beom tells their leader that he used to serve a famously brutal master, and that he’s the man who killed him. Convinced that they’re friends, the thieves escort the men to their little village, where their leader offers them a home-cooked meal. They all stare at the food, then Moon-bok bursts into tears, explaining that he hasn’t had a sit-down meal in ten years, aww.
Elsewhere, Hee-jae listens to little Bang-seok’s tummy growl from hunger as he sleeps. Bang-won stops her from leaving the cave they’re holed up in, and when the boys hear her mention the cherry and mulberry trees nearby, Bang-won just sneers that they’re spoiled.
He relents and allows Hee-jae fifteen minutes to forage, but General Choi’s men ride by while she’s out, so she drops the berries and runs back to the cave. They agree to split up and Lady Kang entrusts Bang-seok to Hee-jae, saying that they have to save at least one of the boys. She gives Hee-jae her dagger, telling her to use it if they’re captured… but not to fight.
While fleeing, Hee-jae and Bang-seok almost run directly into General Choi’s men, but Hee-jae hides them in the roots of a tree. She hears footsteps, so she pulls out Lady Kang’s dagger and tearfully begs Bang-seok to forgive her.
But just as she’s about to end his life, a hand stops her. Oh whew, it’s Bang-won’s other follower, Cheonga. The group gather together again, and Cheonga delivers the news that General Yi has overthrown the capital.
The leader of the thieves invites Hwi and the others to live in their village, since it shouldn’t matter to them if General Yi has overthrown the country. But that tidbit just makes them perk up with interest, and Hwi exchanges a loaded glance with Chi-do.
Bang-won and his party re-enter the capital and he sends Lady Kang and her sons home, then heads to the palace. Meanwhile, Lord Nam approaches General Yi in the now-empty throne room to report that the king and his family have been imprisoned, and that General Choi is being transferred to their location.
He says that the country now belongs to General Yi, but General Yi warns him that the royal family and the current regime are still in place and that such talk is rebellion. Lord Nam kneels and offers his sword for General Yi to kill him if that’s true, then states again, “This nation is now yours.”
He continues that he excelled in school and he defeated the Japanese raiders, but the only job he was offered was managing the Royal Stables, because he’d sworn loyalty to General Yi. He says that General Yi retreated from Wihwado to end the evil in the country, but that his reason is to create an entirely new country.
Lord Nam says that killing General Choi won’t be enough — they must kill the entire royal family and make a new world. He offers to be General Yi’s sword and General Yi accepts, though he warns Lord Nam to watch what he says.
Lord Nam runs into Bang-won outside the throne room. Bang-won predicts that a new country will be built and Lord Nam will be given an important role, but he warns Lord Nam not to forget that it was supposed to be Seo Geom at General Yi’s side. He croons, “Stand by me, and don’t dare to stand in front of me. The new country isn’t yours, it’s my father’s… and also mine.”
Bang-won rejoins his father, who orders him to kneel. He’s heard the way Bang-won spoke to Lord Nam, and growls that treating people according to their rank makes him lowly, as well. General Yi says that Lord Nam is important to their cause, but when Bang-won asks where he stands, General Yi says that it’s not the same because Bang-won is his blood.
Annoyed, Bang-won takes offense at being made to kneel and stands without permission. He says that all he wanted was to be praised, “Then I would have believed that you don’t think of me as one of your subjects.”
Hwi gets up in the middle of the night and starts to sneak away, but the other three guys are all awake (Moon-bok: “Even thieves say goodbye after robbing you blind…”). Hwi says he’s only going home and tells them they’re all welcome, and leaves them with his thanks for keeping him alive.
When he arrives at his house, it’s clear that nobody’s been there for quite some time, and there’s still blood on the corner of the table where Yeon hit her head the night Hwi was taken away. He finds the box where Yeon was keeping the too-big slippers he bought her, and they remind him of how she’d asked him not to exchange them. She’d wanted to live long enough to grow into them, and grief sends Hwi to his knees.
General Yi addresses the court ministers to say that he didn’t retreat from Wihwado for personal gain, but to stop the needless slaughter and save the court from its enemies. He’s asked to explain the rumor that he sent a slaughter squad to eliminate the advance party, and General Yi acts as though he’s just now learning that an advance party even existed.
Sun-ho unexpectedly enters the throne room, and kneels to General Yi. He reports that he killed the deserters, and even produces a list of names. General Yi tells Sun-ho to show them to the ministers accusing him of murdering the advance party, so he does, sneering that he was out there risking his life while they sat at home spreading rumors.
Later, Lord Nam lies to Sun-ho that he’s glad he’s home safe. He hugs Sun-ho, whose mouth twists angrily as he recalls the day that Lord Nam began to acknowledge him as his son. He was ordered to speak to his mother as a slave, and he wasn’t allowed to call Lord Nam “Father.” Lord Nam made it clear that Sun-ho was just a bastard son who would be branded and discarded if he disobeyed Lord Nam’s orders.
Sun-ho hadn’t wanted to go with Lord Nam, but his mother had pushed him away tearfully. Not long after, he’d found her body after she hung herself. In the present, Sun-ho tells Lord Nam, “Hwi will come for you.”
Hwi definitely has something planned, as he watches Lord Nam’s house until he returns home. He sneaks into the house and prepares to enter Lord Nam’s bedroom, but Lord Nam knows he’s there and invites him in. Hwi asks if he knew he was coming for him, and Lord Nam sighs that he’s the only one who would save Sun-ho.
Before Hwi can ask, Lord Nam preemptively says that he had Hwi sent to the military, but that the slaughter squad wasn’t formed specifically to kill him — they were sacrificed for the greater good. Hwi starts to draw his dagger, but a female voice calls out, and he freezes.
Yeon enters the room, but she walks past Hwi to serve Lord Nam tea. She finally looks at Hwi and greets him like he’s a stranger. We flash back to the days after Hwi was sent away and Yeon hit her head… Sun-ho had been relieved when she woke, but her head injury had caused her to lose her memories. Sun-ho had to tell her her own name and age, and about her father’s death and her epilepsy.
Lord Nam tells Hwi that Yeon hasn’t suffered another seizure since her accident. He asks why Hwi didn’t tell her who he is just now, seeming to enjoy Hwi’s anguish. He says that if Hwi kills him, he’ll be a fugitive, and to Yeon, he’ll just be a strange man who kidnapped her.
Hwi roars and slams his dagger into Lord Nam’s table, and he’s stunned again when he spots the stamp on Lord Nam’s book… the same stamp on the paper he found in his father’s armor. Lord Nam says he can give Yeon a good life, even help her make a good marriage, but Hwi says that Lord Nam is keeping her hostage.
Lord Nam offers to give Yeon a life of luxury in exchange for Hwi’s promise to do something for him. Hwi stumbles outside, where Yeon is waiting. She asks if they’ve met, and Hwi stifles his grief and says they haven’t. He asks Yeon if Lord Nam treats her well, and she says he’s like a father, so Hwi leaves. In the morning, Yeon finds a pair of embroidered shoes outside her room.
When he gets home, Hwi finds the paper that was in his father’s armor and confirms that one of the stamps is the same one he saw at Lord Nam’s home. His tears fall on the seemingly-blank paper, and marks begin to appear. Hwi wets the rest of the paper and reveals a hidden message.
He goes to Lord Nam’s home the next day, and Sun-ho stops him on the stairs, saying that Hwi is beneath him now so that’s where he belongs. He tells Hwi that he’ll deliver his father’s messages, and Hwi will be paid when the deal is final. Hwi continues up the steps and asks if Yeon is his payment, but Sun-ho just warns him not to back out of the deal or Yeon will suffer.
Hwi punches Sun-ho, who says that he’s not the one who failed to protect Yeon. Hwi calms himself and asks what Sun-ho wants from him. Sun-ho looks out over the city, where Bang-won is riding with his men, and he tells Hwi to look closely at the man who will steal the nation.
He orders Hwi to gain Bang-won’s trust, then kill him.
Now I understand why Sun-ho said that Yeon died — he wasn’t lying, exactly, because the Yeon that Hwi raised is gone. Lord Nam is a brilliant bastard, using a sick child to manipulate another child, but if Hwi’s father was as strong and influential as I suspect, Lord Nam is probably terrified that Hwi will learn the truth and use it to gain power of his own. In fact, I don’t think it would be overstating the situation to say that Lord Nam orchestrated Seo Geom’s disgrace and death, and that he’s the reason the records don’t reflect that Seo Geom died honorably to spare his children’s honor. Lord Nam has probably spent the last decade or so making sure that Hwi doesn’t advance any further than a commoner, and that he’s been planning to make sure Hwi dies for quite some time. It’s just Hwi’s bad luck that Yeon ended up in Lord Nam’s clutches, because now he’s pretty much forced to do whatever Lord Nam wants to make sure Yeon doesn’t suffer.
Sun-ho continually confuses me, because I can’t figure out his feelings or motives. He was desperate for the approval of his father, so desperate that he was willing to sell off his only friend. I still think that he did the only thing he could do in that moment that would give Hwi a chance to live, and it worked. And I still believe that he loves Hwi, because even during the ambush, Sun-ho was willing to take a killing blow to save Hwi’s life. What I don’t really get is why he’s acting like such a jerk to Hwi now — yes, Hwi said they’re enemies now, but that was because Sun-ho lied that Yeon was dead. Is Sun-ho angry that Hwi didn’t kill Lord Nam? I don’t think this is a writing failure or anything… we’re seeing exactly what we’re supposed to see from Sun-ho, it’s just that he’s so good at hiding his true intentions.
Yi Bang-won is a pretty infamous character, having made a name for himself as a bloody prince who killed his way to the throne, yet who, as king, did many good things for the country during his reign. I love the way he’s being portrayed by Jang Hyuk here — he would have been only twenty-one at this point in history, yet he’s already quite menacing and obviously has his eye on the throne. We can already see the man who will eventually force his way onto the throne, and knowing that about him makes his current actions that much more ominous. Jang Hyuk is doing an amazing job, as is Kim Young-chul as General Yi… he’s perfectly projecting the strength of the man who had the guts to completely change his country, yet you can also see the weaknesses that will later prompt him to make important political decisions (not to get spoilery) based on grief, disillusionment, and sorrow.
I’ll admit that history isn’t my strong suit, and I have to do a lot of reading to understand historical sageuks like My Country. That’s usually my least favorite part of recapping a drama like this one, but in this case, I’m enjoying the way that my knowledge of future events almost looms over our leading characters, giving everything that happens a tinge of foreboding. Watching Hwi and Sun-ho navigate a political climate that wants them dead is fascinating, and that short flash-forward at the beginning of Episode 1 keeps me guessing and second-guessing everything they do in the “past” that we’re seeing now. At this point, I can’t imagine how forgiving, gentle Hwi ends up fighting for Yi Bang-won, or why Sun-ho seemed to be protecting the father who tried to have him killed. Showing a flash-forward at the top of a drama or movie, then flashing back and spending the rest of the show following the events leading up to that opening scene, is a fairly common storytelling technique, but I have rarely been so affected by that opening scene that it colors the entire way I watch the show from then on. Nicely done, Show.
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