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Rookie Historian Gu Hae-ryung: Episodes 37-40 Open Thread (Final)

Our rookie historian and her prince are gearing up to face the most important—and dangerous—fight of their lives. In their bid for the soul of the nation, Hae-ryung, Rim, and their allies must decide what price they are willing to pay to expose the truth behind what happened twenty years ago. And each of them will have to face the secrets of their own past along the way.

 
EPISODES 37-40 WEECAP

Rim asks Hae-ryung why she’s so unbothered by the fact that he might not be who she thinks he is. She responds that he’s exactly who she knows he is: a weirdo who writes amazing romances although he knows nothing about women, afraid of tigers but brave before love. He doesn’t pick flowers carelessly, and leaves rice on the windowsills for birds. (Okay, this is the show explicitly spelling out that Rim is the Disney princess in this story, right?)

The royal guard find out that The Story of Ho Dam was spread by the dowager queen’s people, and Councilor Min requests that she be put under guard. Jin protests this when he’s alone with his father, but the king is finally blunt with him: this is all to protect Jin from Rim, the son of the dethroned king and the legitimate heir. If Jin wants to protect his position, he’d better keep his mouth shut.

Once they find historian Kim Il-mok’s historical record hidden at Nokseodang, Rim wants to read it right away even though it’s forbidden—he’s been waiting his whole life to find out why they king hated him, why he had to be locked up. At this, Sam-bo sobs and confesses everything.

Rim goes directly to confront the dowager queen. He asks why she made him live his life hating and blaming himself for being despised by his father, only to find out that the dowager queen exchanged Rim’s life for the throne. He would rather have died, he tells her. He’s sick of everything about palace life, but she tells him she’s going to restore him to the throne. He must endure for her sake, and his dead father’s, just as she did all these long years. Jeez, no pressure, Grandma.

Hae-ryung pulls Woo-won aside at work to ask him under what circumstances the annals can be revised; he says that when the records seem to be biased, historians have added a corrected version and left the judgment to future generations. Hae-ryung tells him what she has found, but Woo-won says they must stay out of it. She accuses him of wanting to protect his father, and says that if he ignores this, she will no longer respect him as a senior.

Reminded why he became a historian in the first place, Woo-won supports Hae-ryung in sharing Kim Il-mok’s daily records with the rest of the historians, who are shocked at its contents. The older historians tell them that at the time people were upset about the king’s acceptance of Western learning and people; things were changing too quickly, and the scholar-officials were uneasy.

The definitive proof was an intercepted letter from the king asking a priest to send his fellows to Joseon to turn it into a Catholic nation—but the historical record tells of a different, innocuous letter. At this evidence of tampering with the historical record, Yang angrily vows to find out the truth and defend the honor of their office.

Woo-won reads Hae-ryung’s petition to the court, revealing that the historians have evidence that the historical record was distorted twenty years ago, and asking for an investigation into who threatened the historians, and who gave in to the demands of power and fabricated the record. Jin refuses, and forbids them to bring any other such petition.

Jae-kyung warns Hae-ryung that she must leave immediately to escape retribution, but she asks him point blank if he took her in out of guilt—she’s figured out that he was the student who falsified that letter from the king. How else could the two of them have escaped, even thrived, when everyone else at Soraewon was slaughtered? She doesn’t resent him though; she knows he’s punished himself enough.

Rim confronts Jin about refusing the petition, but Jin refuses to accept the truth of Rim’s parentage and tells him to go back to doing nothing. Rim refuses, and says he’s going to expose the truth. Jin has him locked up under guard at Nokseodang. Gah, Jin, you’re breaking my heart!

A flashback shows us what happened twenty years ago: Councilor Min kidnapped Jae-kyung and his friend, threatening the former with the latter’s life until he wrote that damning letter. After staging a coup the night of Rim’s birth, Min and Jin’s father confronted the king with the fake letter, but he was unmoved from his determination to create a more free and equal society. Min murdered him in cold blood.

Min has his goons arrest Woo-won. Hae-ryung finds where her brother is holed up with his allies, and refuses to be excluded from their plans any longer. She orchestrates Rim’s escape from his lonely tower, bringing him to their hideout in the city.

Min is planning a celebration to mark the twentieth year of the king’s reign, which is really an excuse to get rid of his enemies. He warns the king and Jin not to be swayed no matter what he does to Rim and the dowager queen. He reminds them that they’re both here because of the decision he made twenty years ago. Well, that’s one euphemism for murder.

Jin finally breaks under the weight of his affection for Rim. He gets Kim Il-mok’s record from Sa-hee, who says Woo-won had her make a copy, and sets Woo-won free.

In the calm before the storm, Rim asks Hae-ryung to stay in one place so that he can write to her when he’s on the run. She tells him there’s no need, because they’ll be together, but he tells her not to give up her life for him. He lived his whole life waiting for her; he can spend the remainder of it waiting to see her again. Damn, son. You just took my whole heart.

D-Day. Jae-kyung kneels before the king and confesses his crime—and Min’s—and pleads that they both be put to death for treason. Min says that anyone who defies the official story is committing treason should be beheaded. The dowager queen pipes up that she’ll be the first to go, then. Hah.

Rim strides up then, declares his true parentage, and says that the king has kept him alive all this time because of his guilt over the unjust dethronement of his brother. The king panics and tells the historians to stop writing, but they ignore him, and Hae-ryung goes and kneels next to Rim and her brother.

A sword is immediately at her throat, but she proclaims:

Even if you slash my throat, our brushes will not stop writing. If I die, another historian will take my place; if you kill that historian, another will take their place. Even if you kill every historian in this land, and take away all the paper and brushes, you won’t be able to stop us. From mouth to mouth, teacher to student, elder to child, history will be told. That is the power of truth.

One by one, the historians kneel alongside and behind her. Jin joins them, and the crowd chants in support of his plea to right past wrongs.

And then, loose ends. Woo-won tells his father he’s betrayed the man he used to be in favor of power, and history will judge him for it. Hae-ryung visits Jae-kyung in jail, and he tells her it’s never been due to guilt—she’s always been his little sister. *sniff* Rim refuses to take his place as the crown prince, to the great displeasure of his grandmother.

Three years later, King Jin is working to bring back Soraewon. Sa-hee teaches children in the countryside.

Hae-ryung and the other two female apprentices have been promoted, and Woo-won completes his mourning and returns to the Office of Royal Decrees.

Rim writes travelogues that barely sell (ha!) and visits his Hae-ryung when he can, to their mutual delight. They’re in no rush to get married. (Sam-bo disapproves and Seol-geum is 100% on board.)

I know this was supposed to be a weecap, but so much happened in finale week, I couldn’t bear to condense it as much as I usually do! And I had to include that badass speech by Hae-ryung to the king, because it encapsulates both her character and this drama so well. It wasn’t a perfect show; I feel like there were some character motivations near the end that didn’t feel quite organic. Mary mentioned last week that it was a weird reveal that Hae-ryung had her memories all along, and I agree; it was also strange that Woo-won was suddenly okay with Sa-hee copying the historical record and giving it to Jin. We also conveniently skipped over the undoubtedly headache-inducing process of Rim abdicating the throne in order for Jin to ascend.

Despite these minor blips, though, these last episodes had so many great moments, and I’m satisfied with the way the story wrapped up. The secret about Soraewon ended up being the theme of almost every episode of this drama: the struggle between power and equality, greed and justice, truth and falsehood. This drama is unique among sageuks because not only does it charmingly upend our notions about history the way that many fusion sageuks do; it makes visible the very seams of history in a way I’ve never seen a drama do before. These historians feel the weight of their duty because they live in a time where writing down what happens carries an explicit responsibility to the nation and its people—past, present, and future—that is heightened by their status as subjects of an absolute monarch who can easily have them executed at any time. Unity in the face of opposition isn’t just a smart strategy, it’s their only road to survival.

Yet the dilemmas they face are relevant to any era. How do you speak truth to power when the very act of raising your voice is dangerous? What do you do when your professional duty as an employee and your moral duty as a human being are at odds? How can you fight back against lies when those lies have become so deeply woven into the fabric of your society that speaking the truth will, at best, make you a laughingstock, and at worst, cost you your freedom or even your life?

These are heavy questions, and Rookie Historian handles them with a grace and thoughtfulness that belies its whimsical tone and wacky humor. It may be more idealistic than the average sageuk, but the writing captures these characters’ pain and joy, their paths toward and away from each other, their individual and collective journeys of self so incredibly well. These concluding episodes belonged to Rim, Hae-ryung and Woo-won, each having to make peace with the legacies of their fathers in their own way, but Shin Se-kyung and Lee Ji-hoon shone particularly brightly in their roles—I think these are my favorite performances from both. All of these characters have made a home in my heart, though. I hate to say goodbye, so I’ll take my cue from Hae-ryung: instead of the end, let’s think of it as turning a page.

 
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As this drama comes to an end, I realize what a wonderful journey it has been. This drama had heart.

It managed to carefully tread many topics – women’s rights, women in workplace, new thinking in a world, privilege and power, a women’s choice of life/marriage etc, without ever sounding preachy or in your face. The show did have the fluff yet with meaning and depth. There was not a single character that felt unnecessary. As the drama progressed we understood every single character and all of them were memorable. Be in Yang or Min or our Rookies. They all stood strong by themselves. They were not created to serve someone’s purpose.

I am happy with the way the show wrapped up. The dethroned king gets to clear his name, and Jin does what he is best at -rule and Rim is a travel blogger!
And our historians are writing history while quietly creating their own history.

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I was pleasantly surprised by this show. And glad that no one was beheaded by the end! I watched the last 4 episodes together because I feared the worst and l, again, was pleasantly surprised. The ending was done so well, and seems like if the writer were to rewrite history, that this would have paved the way for a more just Joseon and maybe even a stronger kingdom that may not have seen as much upheaval as it did. And the OTP was adorable, I cant deny that!

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Haha @ally-le you just said in a few sentences what it took me a whole essay to say: indeed, I think this drama rewrote history, making it an (imaginary) 19th century Joseon that transformed itself into a modern country on its own, without the suffering and pain caused by foreign pressure, invaders and war.

I may be wrong but I thought Minister Min was beheaded off screen? His children were in mourning clothes. I’m not sure if a traitor’s family would be let off the hook so easily, but I brushed my doubts under the rug because I couldn’t be happier seeing Officer Min reunite with his officemates. 😅

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Well, probably Minister Min was beheaded/killed, but I was glad to not see it on-screen. I was worried one of my princes (or officer Min) would die throughout this whole drama! I just read your essay and I agree with it all! Don’t give me too much credit, I just didn’t have the eloquence you did!

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Oh yes, I hear you. I was constantly worried that Queen Dowager would bump Jin off!

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I really liked the historian part, it was a great office sageuk. I liked to see our female trainees becoming good historians :) They were the best!

I didn't like all the secret birth part, it didn't bring anything to the character GHR and Prince Rim was useless during almost all the show.

In general, it was a nice drama but not the kind I will rewatch.

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"office sageuk" +1
Of course "sageuk" means that instead of being fired or demoted, a baddie might get beheaded, and "office" means we don't see much blood.

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the irony of mooning about a useless prince in a drama about female empowerment .seems the entire point of prince rims character was lost on you.

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His character didn't bring a lot to the story, for a lot of episodes, without him the story will still be the same. It's nothing about female empowerment but just writting The Crown Prince and Office Min were more interesting for me. I don't like when a main character doesn't have so much to do like Park Shin Hye in MoA.

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Oh darn, now I miss this show even more. I can't believe I still haven't moved on from this awesome show even if it's been two weeks.

Shin Se Kyung as Goo Hae Ryung is da bomb. I am literally fangirling now over how much I loved her portrayal of this awesome character! I see why she's called as historical drama goddess.For me Hae Ryung definitely takes the spot of my favorite female charcter of the year. Very strong in such a perfectly balanced way you just can't avoid admiring and aspiring to be like her.

Thank you for the wonderful recap @laica. I especially loved Hae Ryung's fine speech to the king. For me it was the highlight and best scene in the drama. The delivery of Se Kyung was also on point and well acted and every time I watch I still get goosebumps lol. Her pronunciation is very clear and enunciation is really amazing! I'm a big fan of historical dramas and I noticed how well she articulates her lines. Overall I am really at awe with her performance in this drama and really wishing she gets rewarded for this.

Kudos to Cha Eun woo also whom have also shown great improvement in this drama. Hope he enjoyed filming his first 20 ep drama.

Special mention also to Kiwoong and Ji hoon for being such good actors gaah can't wait to see them again in a drama soon.

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From her very first scene, I adored Hae Ryung, and I'm so glad she stayed awesome to the end. She's definitely one of my favorite k-drama heroines ever!

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I loved every moment of Rookie Historian and it will definitely go in the furture reruns folder.

I was feeling a bit off when I got to the end of the last episode and I couldn't figure out why. Then I realised there was no scene with the baddies in the leg splitting torture chair with their hair all messy and clothes all bloody. The way it endes is in line with the show but I guess I am a little bloodthirsty or rather I find it comforting when the baddies get their commupance in historical dramas(and I get to see it.)

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Note to self: Don't post stuff while you're in class with the prof looking at you. So many typos 😱

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*giggles* I’m also in the bloodthirsty camp, but torturing Min would have meant trouble (if not torture or exile) for Woo-Won and the Crown Princess, and the show did not want to go there. It felt off because it wasn’t historically accurate for everyone to survive this, but it was in line with the light tone of the drama.

I actually thought Woo-Won would end up in exile, and perhaps even convert to Catholicism. We saw him getting biblical texts earlier but that was it.

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I agree. Putting the torture scene would have been off given the light tone of the drama. I'll have to quench my thirst elsewhere then or just rewatch Jewel in the Palace

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the entire premise of the show was about enlightenment values , female empowerment ,scientific progress ,open mindedness that enables social progress,free press ,due process and using non violence and negotiation as much as possible to resolve issues .

aside from the initial bloodbath at seoraewon ,none of the subplots were resolved using violence .it was all negotiations and smarts. we see this when the king imprisons ghr and how she outsmarted him ,we see this with the historians downing tools to press for change (civil disobedience) ,the only time they physically fought back was when they were attacked . we also see this in the finale when an investigation was called for rather than using a blood bath to facilitate change and right wrongs.

jin peacefully offers to step down and both brothers didn't have to try to kill each other . i would have loved a final scene with rim and jin after rim tells grandma he doesn't want the throne .

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Thank you Laica and Mary for recapping this show,I loved reading everyone's insights 😊
I was so moved by hae ryung's speech to the king and how all the historians protested together to protect the truth.
I think the secret of Soraewan could have been revealed much earlier so that the ending didn't feel so rushed.
A few scenes of hae ryung trying to find information about soraewan would have helped to sell the idea she was aware of her true identity the whole time.

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Thank you for this wonderful recap, @laica ! I really liked the peaceful revolution, unrealistic though it may have been. Hae-ryung's speech about the power of the truth may not have kept a real king from executing her, but it has the quality of a speech that itself would be remembered from generation to generation. I also liked the ending that allowed Rim and HR to stay together while pursuing their separate dreams, unrealistic though that may also have been. I appreciated the thoughtful way the show raised issues, yet kept giving us comedy through its quirky characters. Well done, show!

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One of my favorite dramas of the year hands down!!!It had so much heart and bits of everything that even the politics didn't bother me at all and was eager to see what would happen...It was such a delightful ride and Go Hae Ryung was such an amazing female lead while Our Puppy Prince was such a cute swoony lead...Maybe not many liked that he was "weak" and not the badass type but i actually welcomed the change and found him sooo very endering and romantic that by the end it won my heart as well and knew why Hae Ryung fell in love with him...Now,the comedy was just my style,i laughed sooo much and i'm already missing our group of historians sooo much!!!
There were also many wonderful scenes as well as one that remained with me even now,The Wailing protest from episode 11 that i for one didn't see till now in other sageuk drama i've watched...This show had a lot of heart and it delivered !!!

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I absolutely loved that Rim wasn't the archetypical male romantic lead of a k-drama - he was sweet and precious and I'm so glad he stayed that way until the end!

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interesting when i read comments moaning and bitching about how rim was weak and useless. LMAO, females complaining about a weak male in a drama about female empowerment is so disappointing and shows just how much the "patriarchy" has muddled our thinking .
they forget the show is firstly about ghr the historian not prince dowon ,secondly prince dowon was not anyone's savior ,he was not written to save the throne,the historians or save joseon,ghr actually saves him .he is literally rapunzel trapped in a castle and waiting for a savior .in this case ghr is the prince in shining armour or shall we say with a pen,paper and her brains. she constantly saves him throughout the drama and he plays the role of the supportive 'housewife" ,brings her food when she is imprisoned, goes to give her lunch while she is at work, and at the end we see him wave her off to work while he is at home making dinner LOL. he was important as ghr's lover and he played that role perfectly .

as women we whine about toxic masculinity while rooting for the alpha drop dead gorgeous male who is filthy rich,can outsmart all his enemies, has the IQ of a genius, sharp shooter ,perfect with the sword, martial arts guru all the while being able to cook, clean, sew, is a puppy for love,gives fantastic kisses ,is the perfect lover and perfect breeding partner while we despise the "weak" male character like prince dowon ,despite him willing to give up everything for ghr and writes perfect romance novels.
what exactly do women want ? genuine question

i think it would have been inauthentic to one of the shows fundamental premise of female power if he swooped in to save her all the time ,of course he would have to be written as an expert fencer, a political genius, swashbuckling horseman,space traveller,wealthy with endless charm etc and we would have been whining about how ghr regularly needed saving. sigh!!!

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i feel like my thoughts on this show are overposted all over the site now, so i won't be a broken record here. it had its shortcomings (the pacing mostly, as others have said--the ending felt a little rushed and if it was unsatisfying at all it was just because i wanted to know more more more about everyone) but overall it was a sweet, fun, just-the-right-amount-of-serious watch. i'm gonna miss this lot!

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I started the show without any expectation, but it turned out so enjoyable. I did not know the story was going to focus on the Historians, but I very much appreciated it.

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I love this drama! So cute and refreshing.

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Thank you @mary and @laica for recapping this show! Brilliant job!!👏👏👏
Also, once again, thanks mary for that WONDERFUL DJG-SKK scandal introduction, which probably caused more and more beanies direct their attention this way, including me.😄

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This drama seriously ended EXACTLY the way I was hoping it would: with Rim passing on being king in favor of the much more suited Jin.
Also, super happy both Woo-won and Jin survived to the end because they felt like the sort of characters a writer would sacrifice to inject angst just before the climax.
The one thing I would have liked that we didn't get is a mini story arc for Woo-won's sister the (former) crown princess - I felt there was interesting potential in her character that wasn't explored.
But that's just a tiny tiny nitpick - I absolutely LOVED this drama for so many reasons!

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I hoped that Woo - won's sister would have a happy life with Jin, now that her father was punished. I'm disappointed the show went there with sa hui and Jin's romance.

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Yes. With her evil father out of the way, there was no reason to depose her. (Maybe she would have been unworthy to be queen, her father being a traitor and all. Still, she is, for me, the most tragic figure in the story.)

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Thank you for the recaps and for everyone who comment. I enjoy the therories and takes of everyone...it is my guilty pleasure :)
That being said, I never felt that Rim was weak. He was sheltered and recluse so his world was all books and dreams. As he spent so much time with his thoughts, he was able to reflect a lot on his readings. When it mattered, he was thoughtful (will i be a better prince if I bully my servants, he advised his brother on how to recruit the right female historians)and very determined(on the day of the showdown between the Queen, the King and the second state counselor, he showed up instead of hiding, his confrontations with various officials when he needed them out the way and most importantly he spared us the rolling eyes moment that could have occurred if he followed Sam-bo ridiculous love advice). For me, since his brother was not interested in marriage, I can picture Rim becoming King after his brother's passing or something like that.

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in later years of course.

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This is such a delightful drama with a lot of heart. It may not be a realistic sageuk, but it's really fun and refreshing with the role-reversal and the relevant issues that they've managed to handle very well. I was satisfied with the ending, although I feel it should spend 1-2 more episodes to resolve the conflicts and I wish we get to see a scene between Jin & Rim to show that they still love each other as they've been.

I have newfound love for the cast too. I haven't watched any Shin Se-Kyung's drama before and I've heard the complaints about her acting, but she's so good in her role here so sageuk seems to be her forte after all and Hae Ryung has become one of my favorite k-drama female leads. Cha Eun-woo still has a lot of room for improvement, but he's improving and he did really well in the very emotional scenes; his crying scenes always break my heart. It's nice to see the improvement in his acting together with the growth of Rim's character. Rim's words before he kissed Hae Ryung is so beautiful. Park Ki-Woong and Lee Ji-hoon shined in their roles here, and the rest of the supporting characters are brilliant too. Looking forward to their future projects.

I'm wondering though, do we actually know what happened to the king? We know Councillor Min was executed, but we don't seem to get a clear idea of the king's fate.

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I was wondering about that too. My guess is that the king was forced to execute Minister Min quickly with minimum fanfare (lest he reveal he was actually in cahoots with him) and conveniently died three years later of natural causes, leaving Jin as sole heir.

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there is the scene with the Queen when she receives a letter from someone she does not want to hear from, and I believe the letter is from the royal residence, u know that place where Rim saw the tombstone from the first time I think. So my guess is the King was forced to retire(well Jin was the regent anyway so its not like he was doing much) and they probably spin it as the councilor framed his brother without him knowing, that is why he went along with the coup

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After you mentioned it, I just rewatched that scene and at first I thought the Queen was talking about a letter from Rim but it does seem like she's talking about someone else who lives in the royal villa. She must be talking about the king then, but it seems strange that he could go unpunished and even maintained his royalty. He was right beside Councillor Min when he killed Rim's father in the coup, he should at least be exiled..

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Thank you @mary and @laica for weecapping this show! I picked it up later than most beanies and binged to catch up in time for the finale. The reason I hesitated in starting was because I knew for a fact that female historians never existed in Joseon. The light and funny opening scene where girls of all ages rush to read Maehwa’s books also made me think this was just a fluffy fusion sageuk.

And it was a fluffy fusion sageuk, but it also managed to be more than that: 1) an “office sageuk” and 2) an alternate reality of Joseon’s transition into modernity. I’ll discuss these in order below.

First, I LOVED the Office of Royal Decrees. Ensemble dramas must be my thing. At first I was annoyed by Officer Yang lounging around and complaining in a whiny voice, that is, until his peers were threatened and he rallied them all to arms. Officer Min was ddabong as the brains of the outfit and stickler for the rules. The more junior officers were also funny. I never learned their names but they had legit concerns like getting promoted, not losing their jobs (and heads) or surviving a blockade of their office.

Moreover, I very much enjoyed learning about court historians. The drama showed us that historians were clearly overworked. My research supported that portrayal: historians were basically chroniclers, compilers, archivists, and human photocopiers. In addition, they wrote in their journals about the events of the day every day after going back home. They never stopped working! Thus, this drama was pretty unique in the way it paid tribute to the silent witnesses of history.

Secondly, it seems paradoxical that a drama about historians is not historical, but it worked. Fiction relies on what a writer does with the question “what if...?” I think the writers took the question and spun their own version of Joseon.

The drama’s awareness of 19th century historical issues (such as women’s perceived lower status and restricted lifestyles, smallpox, Catholicism, and resistance to European literature and science) shows that the writers knew their history but wanted to portray an imaginary Joseon: one that was more open to change than historic Joseon. In reality, women’s lives were restricted to the home; they could not work as palace officers, much less historians. Technically all the women in the palace belonged to the king (as the court ladies observed) so how come the female historians did not? What if a female historian wanted to marry, would she be able to keep her job? (The drama ignored that last question by leaving them all unmarried).

NOKDU FLOWER and MR SUNSHINE showed us that anti-Western feelings ran high in 19th century Joseon. The irony of NOKDU FLOWER is that several “modern” petitions by peasants (such as abolishing slavery) were in fact local initiatives, but history mainly credits the Gabo Reforms for ushering in modernity. The latter reforms were tainted by their association with Japanese attempts to “civilise” Korea...

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[continued]

But, what if Joseon had become a “modern” country on its own, without the pressure of European countries or invasion by Japan? That is the utopia, the happy fiction that never was, that this drama sought to portray.

For instance, historically the Joseon government did not approve a smallpox vaccination campaign until the 1880s, so the drama is at least 50 years ahead. Also, no king ever corresponded with Catholics nor allowed missionaries to enter the country. The only royal whom it was rumoured had converted was Crown Prince Sohyeon back in the 17th century while in exile in Ming China (and it was also rumoured his own father King Injo had him killed, an event which sets the stage for action-filled drama CHUNO).

To push my speculation further, I wonder if ROOKIE HISTORIAN is a veiled critique of Korea’s current situation, perhaps even blaming Joseon’s anti-Western policies for the struggles of modern Korea in catching up to more “developed” countries. Korean learning and science grew by leaps and bounds in the 20th century so they really can’t bemoan a lack of “progress” in that area. However, the inclusion of women in the workplace is very much a relevant concern, and the drama took pains to show us women who were competent and smart and wouldn’t accept anything less than respect.

The drama was heavily pro-European in its admiration of science and even Catholicism, but it’s references to European romances and fairy tales were not just a nod to the genre. I would argue that the drama was including itself in that genre. As @laica observed, the writers pretty much established Rim as the Disney Princess in a tower who picks flowers and feeds the birds. He is handsome and sweet, and even needs rescuing, like Rapunzel. Hae-Ryung called the story of Rapunzel irrational, but everyone (Rim, Sam-bo, the maids, and we the audience) probably gave her the same sour look, as if to say “let us enjoy our fairy tale, will you?”

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Correction: Crown Prince Sohyeon went as a hostage to Qing China, it wasn’t exile.

Now that I think of it, his story resembles that of Rim’s father in this drama. Both corresponded with Catholic missionaries, were interested in new science, were accused of bringing in foreign heretical beliefs, and ultimately killed by close relatives.

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From early on, I saw this as a subversive drama critiquing Korean history And modern Korea. Also I did not see this drama as praising Catholicism and the west as much as poking at modern Korea’s passion for the newest anything compared to the past persecution of anything new. I thought this poking was pretty clear from the very first opening scene - the book reading. I did not see it as praising western literature; I saw it more as a poke at the thought that “new” (as in western) lit was automatically better than old. Or that high brow lit was always superior to romances. Or...take your pick.

Someone once wrote (paraphrasing) one brings meaning to something rather than take meaning from that thing. Whoever we are and the meaning we bring to this drama, I think it has interesting things to say and questions to ask. Which is a lot from a supposed light weight rom-com.

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Fantastic comments. The politics of this show were completely fascinating. I watched Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, which is much more individual-centred than Rookie Historian, but which also features quite a political wish-fulfilment fantasy: that a brilliant young prince lives and dreams of a more democratic, or at least a more heterodox Korea, than the historical reality of 19th c Joseon.

The righteous king (as opposed to the corrupt mandarin class) is probably one of the oldest fantasies in history, but it's also stunningly modern, as we're seeing in so many democracies around the world that have suddenly elected demagogues and autocrats; something makes us want to put our faith in one good (or seemingly good) man instead of the will of many.

I thought Jin was going to be the fantasy reformist autocrat of Rookie Historian, and he was, in some ways, but the twist at the end really turned that expectation on its head: the birth secret doesn't give him legitimacy but takes it away, and in the end we want him there because he's good at his job, not because he "deserves" to be king.

The question of modernity is a really fraught one, and I don't know how upset I am at the Europeanist route Rookie Historian took for it. I think the ultimate dream would have been a world in which European colonialism did not play the destiny-erasing role it did. But we live in a world where that did happen, and to imagine something different (like China, Korea and Japan setting their differences aside and creating their own vision of modernity, instead of having to bargain for it from the western powers) is too painful, especially in a country where memories of Asian imperialism itself are so recent.

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I've enjoyed reading your comments & fanwall posts on the historical point of views on the drama, so thank you for these! For a fluffy fusion sageuk, this drama has made me go researching things such as the historians, smallpox vaccination & Catholicism during Joseon era, which is fascinating.

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Don't have much to add that hasn't already been said, so I'll just say this:

Rookie Goo, I salute you.

*crawls back onto the couch to rewatch*

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Thank you for this and other squeecaps, laica and mary. Rookie Historian is the first k-drama I ever watched (I've been busy catching up over the last couple of months!) and I'm so happy to have had this community with which to laugh, cry and be nervous over it -- recappers and commenters, you've all been awesome, and you've said so many wonderful things about Shin Se-kyung, the Office of Royal Decrees and the feminism of this show, all of which were just amazing and wonderful.

My minor additions: First of all, THANK YOU GODS FOR LETTING MIN U-WON LIVE. I want to say that the rushed-ness of the climactic scene was somewhat mitigated for me by what I thought was the true emotional watershed of the ending: Officer Min confronting Councillor Min for what he's done, and Councillor Min acknowledging that power is hard to give up. He didn't get a chance to play a truly nuanced villain but major props to the actor and the writers for making this Councillor Min such a spiky, subtle character in the early episodes: this is who he was all along, the high-handed, high-minded intellectual who believed he was acting on principle, and then decided that only power would protect those principles. That's where Officer Min gets his own steel spine from.

I thought the show did Jin a disservice by giving him get cold feet and making him act like a shadow of his morally conflicted father until almost the end, instead of the true-blue warrior we've always known him to be. I guess he and their grandma are each paying for their part in the situation, locked in the same old battle that she played out with Jin's father. But what I LOVED: Jin and Sa-hui's long-distance relationship. Two damaged people find freedom at last, and they get to do exactly what they want to do, and they don't have to be together to do it. Of course he's the one sending the textbooks for her school, right? That's love and I will not accept any alternate explanations!

Three things I am seeing in my personal fantasy future epilogue:

a) The Min siblings, finally free of all their burdens, learn to live with their traumatic romantic pasts and begin an all-out comedy life trying to find dates for each other
b) Jin and Sa-hui's epic epistolary friendship slash romance slash contest of equal wills. They never have to marry; Jin's heir is some unexpected Lee country cousin who has to come to the palace twenty years from now to learn how to become a king, and it's hilarious and touching and its own show
c) Jin and Rim, the single best relationship in the show, getting to heal and love one another again.

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I didn’t watch this drama so excuse me for barging in but ahhhh!!! A brand new kdrama fan!!!! How exciting! Did you discover it on Netflix?

Welcome to Dramabeans and say goodbye to your free time and productivity, LOL.

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it's still on netflix all the episodes are now present .it was recently aired on korean mainstream tv network MBC . the episodes were first aired twice weekly in korea on wed/thur, then netflix would release them 1 and 1/2 hours ( for netflix usa) after the korean broadcast .

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TO FIND UPCOMINg KOREAN DRaMAS GO TO soompi website or viki.com also has lots of kdramas. netflix also has some good ones .

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Hello peach blossom, thank you so much for the recommendations. I got myself a Viki pass so I could watch Reply 1988 and it's been the best investment I've made this year. I'm looking forward to seeing if Tale of Nokdu will make it to a streaming platform soon!

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tale of nokdu is being streamed on viki right now in my region, first 8 episodes are available .my region is usa ,so i don't know if it is currently available in all regions

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Hi Mindy, thank you! Yes that's right -- I clicked on the title purely because the name sounded intriguing, and two months later, here we are, elbow-deep in dramaland. I'd given some older k-dramas a shot in previous years, but nothing really clicked before. Thank you, Shin Se-kyung and the completely adorable Office of Royal Decrees, for truly making history -- in my heart. :)

(Oh, productivity and life! I don't even know how to describe the fever-dream fortnight in which I did not a single thing besides breathe and watch Reply 1988 -- I'll find words for it one day maybe.)

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Reply 1988! 💖 Very good choice! One of my all-time faves.

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All three things in your fantasy future epilogue could be standalone shows and if given the same treatment as RHGHR they'd be EPIC!

Welcome to DB and welcome to K-dramas! :D

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Hello! If you're the Sadhana who told me about DB, thank you so much for making this precious introduction! I absolutely love it, and I'm so glad to be here. :)

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Yes, I think that was me! I'm so glad you like it here and hope to bump you into you in the comments section of more dramas to come. ^^

Also, I've been re-watching Reply 1988 three years after I first watched it and drowning in all the feels again. :'( Please please write about it someday!

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Reading the recap and looking back on Rim's words that the king kept him alive all this time because of his guilt for the unjustified dethronement & killing his innocent brother, I guess the king doesn't actually hate Rim as a person or because he's the late king's son, but he hates seeing Rim because it reminds him of that guilt.

When Councillor Min confronted and killed Rim's dad 20 years ago, the king didn't even dare to look at Rim's dad and seemed very shocked & felt guilty when Min killed him. Seeing Rim is triggering his guilty feeling and that's why he always has such a strong negative feeling towards Rim. The king never actually hate Rim's dad or Rim himself, he's really just an insecure and easily manipulated man after all.

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First, thanks for the recaps.

Everybody got a good ending for the most part. In the end, I was glad the Crown Princess and Yi Jin ended their marriage. It was forced on them and it needed to end. The only thing I had an issue with was that the former Crown Princess more than likely couldn't get married again while Yi Jin could. I wish they had a scene between the former Crown Princess and Yi Jin were he told her that he would help her. So she could get married again or have a future doing whatever she wanted.

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