Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 3-4
Our hero finds himself stuck pretending to be a widow as he tries to discover why the female assassins attacked his family. Luckily he has someone he can count on for help, though her help comes with a bad attitude. Still, they’re coming to rely on each other whether they like it or not, and our innocent hero even finds himself with some confusing feelings he doesn’t understand.
EPISODES 3-4 RECAP
Nokdu is carried to the spring by the Virtuous Women Corps, who are bound and determined to get to know the new “widow” by bathing together. To his horror, Dong-joo joins them, and she advances on him until he topples into the water.
He comes up spluttering, with his (very muscular and masculine) shoulder uncovered. He puts his clothes back in order, but the four ladies are staring in shock. Soon-nyeo throws a rock… which sails over Nokdu’s head and hits pervy village vice-curator Yoon-geon, who was spying on them from behind a boulder.
Yoon-geon’s clearly been drinking, and he jokes that he was looking for Nokdu’s winged dress. (He’s referencing the folk tale of the fairy and the woodcutter, where the woodcutter stole the fairy’s wings while she was bathing and forced her to marry him. It’s extra funny because the actor played a major role in last year’s drama about the fairy tale.)
Nokdu nearly clocks Yoon-geon, but but Soon-nyeo’s fist gets there first. As they carry Yoon-geon down the mountain, Mal-nyeon shoots Nokdu little side-glances and says she knows why he didn’t want to get in the water. But LOL, she’s just noticed Nokdu’s flat chest, and she tells him that it’s what’s inside that counts as Dong-joo gives him a supportive pat on the back.
MINISTER HEO (Kim Tae-woo) gets a written report that Nokdu was poisoned, but he learns that in fact, Nokdu faked his death and escaped, and may be hiding near the widows’ village looking for the people who attacked his father and brother. He asks his informant about the king’s people who went to the island, and his informant says he only sent the Muweol Corps (the widow assassins), so the king won’t be able to find anything.
As for those who escaped the island, he’s got widows all over the kingdom looking for them, so they should be found soon. The informant leaves, and Minister Heo muses, “He’s surely fated to live a long life. Why did he show up again? Why now, of all times?”
Minister Im tells Minister Heo that he saw Jung Yoon-jo, Nokdu’s father, at Gangryong Harbor. Minister Heo believes that Yoon-jo died during the war, but Minister Im is certain, so he’s told not to tell anyone. Unfortunately, Minister Im has already told the king.
Yoon-jo and Hwang-tae, Nokdu’s brother, make their way by boat towards Hanyang. Hwang-tae is still unwell from his injury, but he insists on going into Hanyang himself, since his father will certainly attract more assassins. Yoon-jo is worried about having been recognized by Minister Im, and Hwang-tae asks if he can bury the secret he’s been dreading, if he brings Nokdu back.
Master Hwang is with them, and his little daughter Aeng-du, and Yoon-jo thanks him for all the trouble he’s gone through for them. Minister Heo says it’s the least he can do for his future in-laws, ha. Yoon-jo has a coughing fit, which doesn’t bode well.
King Gwanghae is told that Gangryong Harbor and the island were searched, but Yoon-jo couldn’t be found. The king says he’s disappointed that the friend he thought died during the war might not be alive after all, but the look in his eyes is cold.
In her room at the gisaeng house, Dong-joo lights a candle and asks Nokdu if he plans to sleep in his wet clothes. Still playing the sweet-voiced widow, he asks for a towel and some spare clothes and privacy to change, and his requests spark Dong-joo’s temper.
Nokdu literally does a spit-take when Dong-joo starts to undress right in front of him. He whines for her to warn him first, and she snaps that she’ll put up a sign in the street next time, hee. Dong-joo shakes him and says this is her room, and he lays down grumbling that they’re actually Lady Cheon’s rooms.
Dong-joo says Nokdu can sleep outside if he hates her that much, but he mutters that his lips will be paralyzed if he sleeps outside — something his hyung, Hwang-tae, used to say when he’d catch Nokdu napping on the beach. Once Hwang-tae had joined him and sighed that Nokdu kept running away from home when it was easy to find him on such a tiny island.
Nokdu had protested that he only got on the fishing boat because Hwang-tae was sick, and that their father should explain why it made him so upset Nokdu could give up or overcome his concerns. The brothers had laughed, knowing that Nokdu would never give up his dream of going to the mainland and becoming a general.
Four widows convene around a note saying that Nokdu didn’t die from their poisoning attempt, and they guess that he knew an attempt would be made on his life. One of them mentions the man that was recently chased away from the village, and they decide that they need to make a more organized effort to follow their orders.
Nokdu wakes in the middle of the night and hurries to get dressed before Dong-joo wakes up and sees him shirtless. She grabs his ankle, but she’s just dreaming and talking in her sleep. Nokdu frees his ankle and sneaks into the room where his suspected assassin lives, and he finds a set of the distinctive maroon clothes worn by the Muweol Corps.
He dresses in the clothes and finds the Muweol Corps gathered to discuss their mission. Some of them are disturbed that they were ordered to kill a family that weren’t nobles or corrupted officials. Their leader, KIM SSOOK (Jo Soo-hyang) says that only the boss knows why, and Nokdu wonders who that “boss” is.
The Corps is warned that the man who followed them to the village may try to sneak in again, so they need to be extra vigilant, particularly in the gisaeng house. They pass around a picture of Nokdu, then Ssook leaves to see the boss. Nokdu follows her and gets caught, but he nimbly avoids her sword and flees.
Ssook calls for help and they locate Nokdu again, and this time she slices his mask off. Hiding his face, he maneuvers Ssook into burying her sword in a tree and escapes while she’s trying to dislodge it.
He heads back to the widow village and changes into his women’s clothes, and he has a moment of terror when YEON-HOON (Han Ga-rim), Ssook’s second in command, claps a hand on his shoulder. She plucks a leaf from his collar and asks why he’s up so late, so he says that Dong-joo’s bad sleeping habits woke him, and Yeon-hoon laughs that Dong-joo’s drinking habits are even worse. They let him go, but one of them watches him closely.
The next day, gisaeng MAE HWA-SOO (Lee Joo-bin) tells Yul-moo, the good-looking chef, about the man who tried to infiltrate the widow’s village. Nokdu tentatively tries joining them, but he’s knocked aside by a messenger delivering a precious block of ice to Yul-moo.
The messenger draws his sword, alarming the gisaengs, but he just deftly slices the ice block in half. Hwa-soo tells Nokdu that the messenger is PARK DAN-HO (Hwang In-yeob) Joseon’s best… (Nokdu: “Swordsman?”) pushover. Hee. She says Dan-ho is so loyal to Yul-moo that he’ll do anything for him. He looks a lot scarier than he is, and Nokdu mutters that he thought the guy was a messenger from the king.
Yul-moo shaves the ice and adds toppings to make bingsu, which he presents to Dong-joo when she emerges from her room. He holds out a spoonful for her to try, only for Nokdu to leeeeean in with his mouth open. Dong-joo crams the spoon into Nokdu’s mouth and high-tails it out of there.
Seeing her running away reminds Yul-moo of when they were young and he used to watch Dong-joo, who would eat chunks of ice to cool off in summer. He says wistfully that she should have at least tried the bingsu, but LOL, Nokdu has finished off the entire bowl and is now licking it clean.
Dong-joo heads to a cave where she’s stashed weapons and her plans for killing the king during his procession. She grumbles that Nokdu ruined her careful scheme, so the only way to kill the king now will be to enter the palace.
At the widow’s village, Nokdu is coming to the same conclusion: “To catch a tiger, you have to enter it’s den.” He goes into the building where the widows handle village tasks, and he approaches the Muweol Corps ladies.
Another widow barges in, complaining that she took wine to the gibang and a strange man held her hand. Nokdu doesn’t see her face as she tells the others that the man claimed that he thought she was Hwa-soo, the prettiest of the gisaengs. She preens , but when we see her face, it’s a solid no. The other Muweols lie that she definitely looks exactly like Hwa-soo, and Yeon-hoon gets shushed when she asks if they’re all blind, ha.
Nokdu steps in and tells the woman that he’s terribly sorry she looks like someone she hates. He points out the differences in their features, trying to flatter the woman but ending up insulting her instead. She screams and calls him a drenched weasel, which makes Dong-joo, who’s been watching, crack up laughing.
The woman grabs Nokdu by the hair and starts yanking him around, and when Dong-joo tries to break them up, she gets shoved into a hot cauldron and burns her hands. Nokdu is also pushed into the cauldron, burning his butt, hee.
That night, Yoon-jo wakes up and steps outside to watch the storm that’s been brewing. Elsewhere, Minister Heo also contemplates the rain and notes that it’s exactly like the day that Yoon-jo died. In his memory, he sees himself leveling a sword at Yoon-jo, who’s standing on the edge of a cliff holding a small, precious bundle.
Minister Heo raises his sword to strike, but Yoon-jo turns his back, and a tiny cry comes from the bundle in his arms. Minister Heo hesitates, then tells Yoon-jo, “Go. I will report that you buried the dead baby and that I stabbed you, and you fell into the river. Live as if you do not exist. Live like you are dead.”
Nokdu bandages Dong-joo’s hands, whining that he really was trying to be nice to the widow. Dong-joo guesses that “she’s” never had any friends and offers Nokdu advice for next time in exchange for help eating. While Nokdu feeds her, Dong-joo demonstrates how to simper and flatter and play along when a woman is fishing for compliments.
After dinner, Dong-joo also needs help undressing for bed, but Nokdu absolutely refuses. He lays down a blanket and plops Dong-joo on it, still fully dressed, then throws a pillow at her, hee. Dong-joo snaps that she’ll never ask for help again, and Nokdu leaves, grumbling that they’ll never be friends at this rate.
When he returns, he finds Dong-joo scratching her back by rubbing on the furniture. He deigns to scratch her back as she gives directions, until her itch moves too low for his comfort. He gets out his own bedding and lies down, clutching a hand to his chest. Awww, someone’s getting a crush already.
The pain in her hands keeps Dong-joo awake, and she remembers that Nokdu was also burned. She tries to wake Nokdu but he’s a heavy sleeper, so she just lifts his skirts, intending to apply some medicine to his toasted hiney. He wakes just as she’s about to pull his pants down, and he tosses Dong-joo across the room in surprise.
Minister Heo plays a game of janggi with the insomniac king, who makes excuses not to return to the palace even though it’s late. King Gwanghae muses that Yoon-jo was good at janggi, and says he gave Yoon-jo one more chance to change his move, but he didn’t take it. I don’t think he’s talking about the game anymore.
He confirms Minister Heo’s claim that he killed Yoon-jo after the baby was buried, and seems relieved when Minister Heo maintains his story. King Gwanghae says that he trusts HM never to lie to him, then lies down to rest. Minister Heo contemplates strangling the sleeping king, but the shadow of the guard outside changes his mind.
After Minister Heo leaves the room, King Gwanghae opens his eyes. ~shiver~ When he eventually leaves, he tells his guard that He believes Yoon-jo is alive, and orders him to continue searching.
In the morning, Nokdu practices his vague flattery, but the suspicious Muweol assassin hears him and gives him another odd stare. She looks again at her picture of the man who tried to infiltrate the village, and she follows Nokdu, but just as she calls out to him, Yoon-geon shows up with some salve for Nokdu’s burns. Okay, that’s kinda sweet.
Nokdu takes Yoon-geon’s hands, which makes the situation look romantic, so the assassin finally leaves. As soon as she’s gone, Nokdu yanks his hands back and chastises Yoon-geon for his crush. Yoon-geon offers to put the salve on Nokdu’s burns, so Nokdu sticks out his bum and gives his suitor a nosebleed. He does take the salve though, hee.
He follows Dong-joo to the river when he sees her carrying a huge basket of laundry. He insists on doing the laundry so Dong-joo doesn’t make her injuries worse, and Dong-joo reciprocates by giving Nokdu a soft blanket to sit on.
Dong-joo notes that Nokdu is pretty good at laundry for a noblewoman, and they argue over whether Nokdu will help Dong-joo again. Nokdu insists he’s only doing it because her burns are inconvenient, so she needs to hurry and heal, but Dong-joo just grins at him knowingly.
Later, Nokdu applies some of Yoon-geon’s salve to Dong-joo’s burns, though he acts like it’s a huge annoying chore. Dong-joo says that being taken care of reminds her of the old days, and Nokdu complains that he’s practically her mother at this point.
He asks about Dong-joo’s mother, jealous of Dong-joo’s positive memories, but Dong-joo says that her memories are painful. Dong-joo asks about Nokdu’s mother, and he thinks about how she was very sick, and she’d apologized that he had to live the way they lived. Before she’d died, she’d said, “Your name is not Hwang-tae. You are Jung… Lee…”
She’d begun gasping for breath, and she’d looked at Nokdu and told him, “It is all your fault. Had it not been for you, my son would have… my family would have… ” but then she’d died. Nokdu just says to Dong-joo that she was a good mother, though he felt sorry for her.
He acts all prim when Dong-joo offers to put some salve on his burned tush, but she grows serious and asks if she can call him “Unni.” Nokdu is mesmerized by her huge, pleading eyes, but Dong-joo takes his hesitation as rejection, though he says that he’s not older than her. Flustered, Nokdu picks up his things and runs off.
He wanders the village that night, wondering whether Dong-joo noticed him blushing. The sound of a chime sends all the widows running for their homes, looking terrified. Nokdu huddles in an alley and peeks out to see a red-clad shaman ringing the chimes, followed by a pair of veiled women in white.
A widow tells Nokdu that the shaman is praying to console the widows who died wrongful deaths. She says that they must keep the doors closed and turn the lights off against roaming spirits, and that widows who ignore the warnings sometimes disappear.
Staying hidden, Nokdu follows the shaman to a shrine, and several women in black are led in behind her. Nokdu sees the face of one, and realizes that it’s a man. His foot slips and he lets out an oof!, and the women in white all draw swords. Several arrows fly over his head, killing a boar that was only a few feet away.
The women in white (who turn out to be several of the Muweol Corps) head towards Nokdu’s location, so he throws a rock to make them think he’s in a different place. Ssook spots Nokdu running away and whistles for her assassins, who are stationed nearby in the woods.
Dong-joo is cleaning a floor at the gibang when Hwa-soo wanders over, smelling of the alcohol a drunk patron spilled on her. Dong-joo tells Hwa-soo to clean up while she fetches another dress.
Nokdu runs into the gibang and hides his black cloak just as Ssook catches up. He takes refuge in what he thinks is the empty dressing room, but Dong-joo is inside. She jumps on him as soon as he steps inside, and they go crashing to the floor.
They jump up and Nokdu grabs some scissors, claiming that he was looking for a pair. He hears Ssook in the hallway checking the rooms, so he tells Dong-joo that he wants to give her a haircut and tells her to close her eyes (and pokes them, lol, when she asks why).
Outside, the Muweol Corps surround the gibang as Minister Heo enters and asks Lady Cheon if “he’s” here. She says she thinks so and allows him to search.
Dong-joo trims Dong-joo’s uneven locks as he listens to the noises in the hall. He cuts one side much too short, so he cuts the other side to match, and when Dong-joo says that she just wants it even, he replies he has to take care with her precious hair. She mutters that if she’s so precious then why did he refuse her request to call him “Unni.”
Her eyes are open now, and being so close to Nokdu, she notices something on his chin. She reaches out to touch and Nokdu jerks back, accidentally cutting Dong-joo’s ear with the scissors. She picks up a mirror, but Nokdu grabs it to keep her from seeing her (now very short) hair.
Dong-joo tries to get the mirror back, finding Nokdu’s behavior strange. He holds it behind his back and they have a slap-fight until Nokdu falls backwards. Dong-joo tries to stand, but she trips on her skirt and falls, her hand landing right between Nokdu’s legs. Ouch, and uh-oh.
Nokdu lets loose a very loud, very un-ladylike groan, curling into a ball in pain. Dong-joo removes her hand, looking like she knows exactly what she just grabbed. Nokdu sits up, and Dong-joo reaches out to touch his chin, feeling the rough stubble there.
She picks up the scissors and points them at Nokdu. He attempts a girly, “Omo!” but Dong-joo doesn’t look the slightest bit fooled.
Well, so much for that disguise (and how cute were Nokdu’s pleading eyes there at the end?). At least I’m assuming that Dong-joo is too smart to keep being fooled by Nokdu after feeling his stubble and… well, she pretty much got a whole handful of the truth. I’ve been enjoying their growing reluctant friendship, but it will be fun to see Dong-joo in on Nokdu’s secret. Goodness knows, Nokdu needs all the help he can get.
Tale of Nokdu is so much fun! It’s different than so many other sageuks with it’s gender-bending man, female assassins, and simple storyline that still manages to catch and hold my attention. I’m constantly amazed at how believable Jang Dong-yoon is as a woman, with his soft features and voice (and it helps that he doesn’t have a very prominent Adam’s apple). Yet when he’s in his own clothing (or out of them, yum), he’s masculine and strong and not the least bit ladylike. I love gender-bending dramas, but Nokdu is the first character since Eun-chan in Coffee Prince that I find it completely plausible that those around him buy into his female persona. He doesn’t make a perfectly believable woman because he’s never really been around truly feminine ladies, but he’s doing a good enough job that I understand why those around him don’t question it. And character-wise, I just love Nokdu to pieces… how could you not adore a guy who is brave enough to fight trained assassins in the middle of the night, yet still so innocent that he steals sweets and licks the bowl?
As for the darker story regarding the king and the stolen baby, at this point all we have is speculation and assumptions. Until the end of this episode, I was assuming that Nokdu was the baby that Yoon-jo secreted from the palace that fateful night. But on his mother’s deathbed, she’d seemed to think she was talking to Hwang-tae, Nokdu’s hyung, and had said that Hwang-tae wasn’t his real name. So my theory is that there was a coup and King Gwanghae stole the throne, and that Hwang-tae is actually the heir whose life was saved by Yoon-jo and Minister Heo. What I don’t understand is why Minister Heo is sending the Muweol Corps after the family (and they’re definitely fighting to kill), after spending twenty-ish years keeping such a dangerous secret. But if I’m right, I’m glad that Nokdu isn’t the heir, because it would be another example of how this show is taking familiar scenarios and turning them on their ear (plus I really like Song Geon-hee, who’s popping up everywhere lately, and I’d love to see him get to flex his acting skills on a complex role like that).
I don’t mind the palace intrigues in this story, which look as though they’ll get pretty convoluted the more we learn. But what really makes me love this drama is Nokdu and Dong-joo as frenemies — watching them bicker is just so cute, because they’re both too adorable to be truly mean (and I know I’m overusing the word “cute,” but they’re just so damn cute!). They already have some pretty crackling chemistry, too, which was a concern I had, since I’ve only seen Jang Dong-yoon in non-romantic roles. But I should have trusted Kim So-hyun, who has played several romantic leads and is growing up to be one of those actresses that has chemistry with nearly everyone. The growing friendship between Nokdu and Dong-joo is sweet, so sweet that I was hoping it would take a bit longer for Dong-joo to learn that her new roommate is really a man. But now that it looks like she has, I think thinks are going to get really crazy. I hope Dong-joo remains as Nokdu’s ally, because the poor boy is about to find himself in over his head between his burgeoning feelings and the simple matter of trying to stay alive.
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