Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 19-20
Struck with a startling double-revelation, our hero struggles to unravel the web of secrets and lies woven over the past twenty years while trying to keep the people he loves safe from harm. Hard truths seem to hit all of our main cast this hour and while some revelations threaten to drive people apart, some may serve to bring others closer together.
EPISODE 19: “Heo Yun Framed”
The day of the exam award ceremony, Dong-joo stands outside the palace gates. Despite Nokdu’s suggestion she pose as his family to watch, she thinks, “I cannot do that to you, no matter how awful I am.” Inside, Nokdu is horrified to find not only a smirking Yul-moo, but that the king (and his father) is actually the man he’d befriended in town.
The king chuckles at Nokdu’s surprise and regaining his composure, Nokdu gratefully accepts his award. Outside, Dong-joo runs into one of the palace maids, who apologizes for sending Dong-joo to meet Lord Park. She suggests instead Dong-joo try entering the palace as a court lady and Dong-joo perks up to learn the king often leaves the palace in disguise.
Afterwards, Nokdu passes Yul-moo on his way to meet the king. “Are you not curious…” Yul-moo sneers, “What I told His Majesty in there?” Nokdu tries to stalk past, but freezes when Yul-moo rightly guesses that he’d come with Yeon-geun, Master Hwang, and Aeng-du. With a sinister smile, Yul-moo leaves Nokdu to meet his father.
Inside, King Gwanghae attributes Nokdu’s awkwardness to shock and Nokdu stutters that he is unfamiliar with palace rules. King Gwanghae smiles that there’s no need for formality between them… so long as Nokdu keeps his nightly outings their secret. Nokdu readily agrees and the king assigns him to Chief Administrative Officer Baek.
That evening, Master Hwang glares as Yul-moo sits in their courtyard cheerfully feeding Aeng-du meat. Yul-moo tuts at Master Hwang’s treatment of guests and Master Hwang balks, pointing out guests don’t bring swords. He brandishes his broom at Yul-moo and Dan-ho snatches the other end, holding fast when Master Hwang tries to pull back.
Master Hwang swiftly snaps the handle in half and the men square off. Before they can engage, however, Dan-ho finds himself held back by Aeng-du. She chides them for interrupting her meal and Yul-moo orders Dan-ho to stand down. Master Hwang wrenches Aeng-du away from Yul-moo and Yul-moo sighs that he has no intention of harming them… yet.
Nokdu runs in and Master Hwang holds him back a s Yeon-geun apologizes for getting caught and leading Yul-moo to their home. Nokdu assures him Yul-moo would’ve found them anyway and orders Yul-moo to follow him. Alone, Yul-moo questions Nokdu’s entering the palace. Nokdu simply says he wants to earn a living and turns attention back on Yul-moo, wondering what his goal is.
Yul-moo massages the shoulder Nokdu had stabbed and says killing him would be too easy. Nokdu warns him not to involve the others and Yul-moo breezily guesses Nokdu plans to tell the king about his treason. Unconcerned with Nokdu’s threat, Yul-moo informs him that he has Hwang-tae on his side. Nokdu’s eyes widen in horror to learn Hwang-tae returned to Yul-moo willingly. Yul-moo laughs that Hwang-tae is greedy like himself and Nokdu grabs his collar.
Dong-joo returns home then and pulls Nokdu back. Fury burns in Yul-moo’s eyes as he notices Dong-joo holding Nokdu’s hand. Snatching Dan-ho’s sword, he slashes at the pair. Nokdu blocks and Yul-moo spits that Dong-joo should follow him if she wants Nokdu to live. They glare at each other for a moment and then Dong-joo gently removes her hand from Nokdu’s to fetch her belongings.
As they wait outside, Dan-ho questions whether Yul-moo is angry with her. To his surprise, Yul-moo admits that he’s given up. Despite giving Dong-joo space because he’d understood she was struggling, she’d been swayed after Nokdu appeared. Dan-ho asks why he’s insisting on bringing Dong-joo out if he’s given up. “I will have her,” Yul-moo declares, “Even if she does not like me, I’ll keep her beside me forever.”
Yul-moo continues that he will fulfill her wish and that gives him the right. Dan-ho then asks why he’s sparing Nokdu and Yul-moo’s face twists as he says that seeing Nokdu and King Gwanghae not recognize each other was amusing, “A king who kills his son twice. That will be enough to justify our revolt.” Nokdu follows Dong-joo and before he can say anything, she says this is the only way to keep everyone safe. She adds that she doesn’t care about Yul-moo, urging Nokdu to leave it be in order not to get hurt. Dong-joo says it’s only temporary.
Minister Heo thinks back on Yoon-jo’s vehement refusal to help him put Nokdu on the throne. He’d bellowed that Minister Heo had no right to dethrone the king and as Minister Heo looks down at the royal command he’d taken from Dong-joo’s father years ago, he finally tosses it into the fire. His right hand, Chil-seong, reports that Yul-moo has gained more support and will likely move soon.
Minister Heo notes that Yul-moo slaughtered a village of innocent women and even Lady Chun, who had agreed to defer to him. He resolves that Yul-moo cannot be allowed to take the throne and clenches a shard of an amulet in his fist. The following day he tells Chil-seong to stay behind and follow his orders should anything happen.
The guards block Minister Heo’s exit and he informs them he must see the king. They offer to relay his message but Minister Heo bellows that he’s trying to protect the king. Meanwhile, Dong-joo sits with Yul-moo for breakfast. She doesn’t eat and instead questions him about the attack on the village, suggesting that he was the perpetrator.
Yul-moo doesn’t deny it and Dong-joo asks if this is his true face. Yul-moo throws back that she was never interested in him before. Dong-joo dismisses it but Yul-moo argues that it was important to him. She asks why he’s treating her this way and Yul-moo replies that neither his wealth nor his actions could win her over in the past. Dong-joo cuts him off to say that while she’s left Nokdu’s house, she has no intention of obeying Yul-moo.”So if that’s what you want,” Dong-joo concludes, “you may as well kill me.”
The guards escort Minister Heo to the palace and he goes to speak with the queen. He comments that she still wears a broken pendant and a flashback to 20 years ago shows her tearfully asking him to bury the other half of the pendant with her son. In the present she asks if he’d safely buried the child and before Minister Heo can confess that her son is alive, King Gwanghae appears and demands why he’s there.
Dong-joo thinks back on what the palace maid had told her about the king’s outings and muses she can kill him without entering the palace… or she might die instead. Lord Park and his cronies are released from jail and he vows to punish the ones that sent him there. He limps away just as Dong-joo walks up to peer inside. Nokdu grins when he sees her and asks if she’s looking for him.
Dong-joo denies it, but Nokdu is pleased nonetheless. Dong-joo assures him she’s alright and tells him to focus on his job. Nokdu brags that he looks quite handsome and she can’t help but smile back at him. At the palace, King Gwanghae confronts Minister Heo for breaking his house arrest. Minister Heo explains he’d come to tell him that Yul-moo is conspiring to usurp the throne and implores him to arrest Yul-moo immediately.
King Gwanghae laughs bitterly that Minister Heo’s performance seems so sincere. They turn as Yul-moo stalks into the room with Hwang-tae in tow. A flashback reveals they’d arrived first and a tearful Yul-moo had confessed to discovering the king’s son was actually alive and that Minister Heo knew about it. He lied that Minister Heo threatened to accuse him of treason if he told the king and dissolved into sobs.
In the present, Minister Heo pleads with the king not to listen to Yul-moo. Fighting back tears of his own, King Gwanghae grips Minister Heo’s collar and demands who he should trust. He shouts that Minister Heo was his closest friend and he’d hoped that his suspicions would be proven wrong. Minister Heo continues to beg him not to trust Yul-moo even as he’s dragged to the dungeon.
The Muweol Corps trio argue over Ssook going to meet Minister Heo. Yeon-boon thinks it pointless as Yul-moo already convincingly pegged Minister Heo as Lady Chun’s killer. Ssook wants both sides of the story, however, and promise to be back by evening. Nokdu reports to Officer Baek and follows him on an urgent arrest mission.
As they near Minister Heo’s estate, Officer Baek tells Nokdu that they must be quick so the man they’re arresting remains a secret. Nokdu realizes in horror they’re here for Yoon-jo. Inside, Chil-seong urges Yoon-jo to run as he confronts the guards. Yoon-jo makes it to the back door only to be caught by Officer Baek. Chil-seong defeats the all the guards but one and is saved just in time by Nokdu knocking the man out from behind.
As more guards run into the courtyard, Chil-seong shoves something into Nokdu’s robes saying Minister Heo asked him to deliver it to Nokdu to prove his identity. He then punches Nokdu and runs away. Yoon-jo is at Officer Baek’s mercy when Ssook jumps in between them. Yoon-jo escapes while the two engage in combat but Officer Baek is momentarily distracted when he feels Ssook’s chest and she manages to get away.
Nokdu runs outside just in time to knock out a guard aiming an arrow at the the backs of Yoon-jo, Ssook, and Chil-seong and they get away. The other guards arrive and Nokdu sends them in the opposite direction. He asks Officer Baek what happened and is told that the person that saved Yoon-jo was a woman.
They return to the palace and Officer Baek orders Nokdu to wait while he reports to the king. Thinking fast, Nokdu stashes his conspicuous hat behind a bush and sneaks inside to eavesdrop. The king is furious and Officer Baek hands him a pouch containing the charred remains of the previous king’s dying order that they’d found in Minister Heo’s room. Nokdu can’t see what the pouch contains but hears King Gwanghae order Officer Baek to find Yoon-jo and kill him if necessary.
EPISODE 20: “The Queen’s Jewel”
King Gwanghae visits Minister Heo in prison and confronts him with the burned document. He’d told Minister Heo to bring him the document if he’d found it all those years ago and been told it was destroyed. King Gwanghae surmises that Minister Heo must’ve been plotting to overthrow him with it, thinking him not fit to rule just like everyone else. “That’s why you decided to abandon me…” King Gwanghae cries, “to serve under a new king.”
Minster Heo is also crying as he says he deserves to die. Minster Heo repeats his pleas that King Gwanghae not trust Yul-moo, regardless of what happens to him. King Gwanghae demands that if Minister Heo insists on him not trusting Yul-moo, he reveal Yul-moo’s treason plot. Minster Heo falls silent as he flashes back to Yul-moo approaching him after his arrest. Yul-moo had informed Minister Heo he’d rescued his family and that so long as he remained silent, his family would be spared.
“If you end this mess by taking full responsibility,” Yul-moo had added, “your family might have a chance to live their lives comfortably.”
Chil-seong informs Ssook on Yul-moo’s plotting and murdering and she says Yul-moo had told her the same about Minister Heo. She asks who she should believe and Chil-seong urges her to think of how Yul-moo inserted himself into he chaos. That night, Dong-joo stands outside a gibang cradling a box in her arms as she recalls this is where the palace maid told her the king went on his outings. She sneaks inside and freezes when she hears a gisaeng address someone as, “your majesty.”
Dong-joo pulls out an arrow from under her skirt and grips the box, but suddenly Nokdu flashes in her mind, declaring that he’d make her like him. She fumbles with the box and the arrow clatters to the floor. Luckily, no one seems to have heard and she sinks to the floor, images of the night her parents died intermingling with memories of Nokdu. She steels herself and stands just as a patron rolls out into the hall. A gisaeng calls him “your majesty” once more and Dong-joo realizes it’s nothing more than a drunken game.
Nokdu numbly walks back for his hat, thinking of his two fathers. He’s alarmed to find it missing and the queen appears, holding it in front of her. Nokdu stares at her in awe and apologizes for losing it. She gently replies that he’s the one that seems lost. Nokdu admits he’s unfamiliar with the grounds and she hands him a lantern. Nokdu bows to thank her and his eyes fall on her broken pendant.
With a smile, she walks away and Nokdu pulls out the item Chil-seong had thrust upon him to prove his identity — the other half of the broken pendant. He returns to the swing to think and that’s where Dong-joo finds him. She calls out to him and he says he was waiting for her. She asks if someone is tormenting him at the police bureau and Nokdu mumbles that he’s the one tormenting others.
Nokdu says he made the wrong decision and should’ve lived a quiet life. He tells Dong-joo he’s lost but doesn’t know who to turn to in order for no one to get hurt. Shaking it off, he tells her to forget it and Dong-joo replies she didn’t understand anyway. He wants to walk her home but Dong-joo argues no one will welcome him there. Nokdu pouts that she does whatever she wants so he’ll do the same and takes her by the arm.
As they walk, Dong-joo asks if he still likes her despite her being mean. “You look beautiful in my eyes,” Nokdu answers. He wonders why she’s so complicated — afraid, yet fearless — and says that because tomorrow is unknown, he plans to do as he please. He says they should hold hands and takes hers in his. Dong-joo says she’ll let go at the end of the road and Nokdu smiles that they’ll walk slow, then.
The following day Yul-moo tells Dan-ho they must find Yoon-jo before the king. He’s planning to visit the Muweol ladies and orders Dan-ho to tail Nokdu, thinking he’ll surely seek out his father. Nokdu has also been tasked with locating Yoon-jo. He notices Dan-ho following and turns a corner. Dan-ho rushes after him, only to find Nokdu has disappeared, not noticing a woman scurry past.
Ssook greets Yul-moo is dragged away before she can follow. She’s surprised to see Nokdu once again as a woman and he guesses that she was the one at Minster Heo’s . He asks after Yoon-jo and learns he’d left with Chil-seong, but didn’t trust Ssook enough to say where. Nokdu tells her Yoon-jo is his father and then asks if Ssook is there seeking revenge on Yul-moo.
The king continues to suffer from insomnia while Dong-joo buys something at the market for Nokdu. Unfortunately, Nokdu isn’t home yet so she asks Master Hwang to deliver it. He grins knowingly and suggests she wait, but Dong-joo insists she has somewhere to go and her face falls when he says she can come again later. She hands him the parcel and returns to the gibang.
Taking a deep breath, she steps forward only to stop when King Gwanghae walks up. He smiles and the pair head to the inn to chat. She notes he doesn’t look well and asks if he failed to catch the man he was chasing. King Gwanghae sighs that he always seems to fail. He asks why Dong-joo was outside the gibang, doubting she aims to be a gisaeng.
Dong-joo agrees and says she’s actually trying to get hired at the palace. King Gwanghae is surprised and Dong-joo explains that she’d heard it provided a stable income. Changing the subject, she asks if he hasn’t followed her advice for falling asleep. King Gwanghae admits to feeling guilty asking his wife to soothe him when it’s been years since he’d left her alone. Dong-joo insists that it’s fine and thinks it’s likely his wife is waiting for him to reach out.
The king leaves and Dong-joo returns to the gibang only to get caught by Lord Park and his cronies. She kicks him and runs, ducking under a sign warning that the area has been quarantined for plague. Lord Park follows and corners Dong-joo. She backs away and to both of their horror, falls down a well. One of Lord Park’s minions notices the sign and brings it to his master. Panicked, they peer down at Dong-joo’s limp body and declare her dead before running away.
Nokdu returns home and Master Hwang hands him Dong-joo’s gift — the candies he likes. Meanwhile, Dong-joo awakens at the bottom of the well and calls for help. She tries to climb out, but she can’t. The next day, Master Hwang finds a worried Nokdu and suggests Dong-joo is with Yul-moo. Nokdu says Yul-moo is also searching for her and Master Hwng wonders if she ran away again.
Nokdu doesn’t think so and Master Hwang points out he’s already searched the whole city. Nokdu decides to look again and Master Hwang thrusts an umbrella in his hands because it’s pouring. Dong-joo continues to call for help, but she’s shivering and the water is rising from the rain. Nokdu checks the swing and finds it empty so he checks the gambling den.
Dong-joo isn’t there, but he’s spotted by Lord Park’s minion and they confront him outside. Nokdu isn’t in the mood, but stops short when Lord Park brags that he’s already killed Dong-joo. The water in the well is up to Dong-joo’s chin by nightfall and she thinks of Nokdu as her head dips below the water. Nokdu screams her name and jumps down to pull her out, cradling her unconscious body in his arms.
At the palace, the queen steps out to greet the king. He tells her he can’t sleep and apologizes for his bad manners. “It’s not your fault,” King Gwanghae tells her, “Everything is… Everything is my fault.” He asks if she’d be willing to stay the night with him like old times.
The next morning, Dong-joo opens her eyes and Nokdu frantically asks how she feels. She pushes him away and snaps at him for worrying. She yells at him for looking for he rand jumping into the well and storms out. Nokdu chases after her and finds her crying. She says she had a task to fulfill and that once she had completed it, she would go to meet her mother and be happy.
She shouts that she’d lived for that and yet when she thought she was going to die before completing it, all she could think of was Nokdu. “Why did I only think of you at that moment?” she sobs, hitting his chest, “You keep making me want to live.” Nokdu admits he doesn’t know what Dong-joo is trying to accomplish or what she’s afraid of, but says that they’re alive and together now.
“So… can you not follow your heart and just like me?” he asks. Dong-joo finally breaks and screams that she does like him. Nokdu pulls her in for a kiss and when he finally pulls back to look at her, Dong-joo pulls him back for another.
And now they’re both going to get the plague… or at least a very bad cold. But finally! I really appreciate that while Dong-joo did push Nokdu away to protect him, it never felt like classic noble idiocy. Rather than external issues like Yul-moo’s homicidal jealousy, it was her own need for vengeance and the unlikelihood that she’d survive it that made Dong-joo reluctant to indulge in her own feelings. Her struggles were valid and even as she broke our sweet boy’s heart, I couldn’t really be mad at her for it. I am so thrilled that she’s finally letting it go, however. While her desire for revenge was necessary in giving her a reason to push on after the slaughter of her family, now it’s holding her back from living the life she deserves.
Additionally, I can’t imagine she’d be able to go through with it if she knew that the kindly gentlemen she and Nokdu befriended is actually the king. Recent episodes have painted him in such a sympathetic light that I’m struggling to understand how he’s the same man that tried to murder his own child two decades ago. I’m interested to find out why it was so vital he do away with his son. Even now he seems remorseful, yet firm that his decision was correct.
Which then brings me to Minister Heo. I was hoping by now we’d understand why he’s so hellbent on dethroning the king when they seemed to be such close friends. I wasn’t at all surprised that Yul-moo was smart enough to get in the king’s ear first. It was only a matter of time before Minister Heo attempted to expose him and while his tears were fake, his story wasn’t untrue. Minister Heo did know that the king’s son had survived and then to discover the ashy remains of the royal decree in his house was just icing on the cake for Yul-moo’s story.
If nothing else, I feel bad that King Gwanghae is kept so much in the dark. Rather than being incompetent, he just seems severely misinformed. I worry what will happen when Nokdu’s identity is revealed because that’s just one more lie from a trusted friend and King Gwanghae is already at his breaking point. We already know that one way or another Yul-moo will get his way and claim the throne, but is it too much to hope he does so without harming our hero and his loved ones? This drama started off so fluffy and fun and now I’m worried that we’re going to end with everyone dead. If it’s any consolation, we should at least get some good kisses along the way.
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