Hong Gil Dong: Episode 23
Almost… to… the end…
The upside is — only one more episode to go till everything is wrapped up. The downside is — what was meant to be a one-day wait for closure now turns into a weeklong wait. The finale airs next Wednesday.
SONG OF THE DAY
Vintage Blue – “사랑은 사랑이…” (Love, love) [ Download ]
EPISODE 23 RECAP
Reeling from the revelation of the sword’s forgery, Chang Whe comes to the conclusion that he’ll still take the throne. This won’t change his path; it’ll only change the tenor of his coronation. Although he had announced to invite the public to his coronation ceremony, he now orders his men to gather the nobles to perform the ritual now. Immediately. In the middle of the night.
Chang Whe orders Enok to move into the palace immediately; she’s to be his queen. He won’t let her go now:
Chang Whe: “You have to stay with me to the end. Even facing death, I won’t let you run away. If it comes to that, die by my side.”
Chang Whe’s tone is hurried and urging; previously he’d been patient to let Enok come to him on her own terms, but now he’s unwilling or unable to wait for her to come around.
Kwang Whe predicts that Chang Whe will descend into the same insanity that claimed him, but Chang Whe stands his ground, telling the deposed king that he’s not that weak.
Kwang Whe has one more bomb to drop — that Gil Dong already knows about the sword being a fake. That does surprise Chang Whe, but he’s not as shaken as his brother expects.
Kwang Whe: “The one the people want is [Gil Dong]. You’re only a puppet with a royal mandate!”
Chang Whe: “If I’d merely clung to the mandate, that might be true. But since what I’d held to has proven to be a fake, I’ll stand on my own strength now and travel my path.”
Kwang Whe: “You’re nothing! Everything’s a lie!”
Chang Whe: “I’m already this country’s king. And I will not have my place stolen from me, like you have.”
Enok prepares for her upcoming wedding to the king, quietly dispirited over her future. She’s still unsure if she’s fit to be queen, but Chang Whe hasn’t given her a choice.
Lady Noh reminds Enok that Chang Whe was always there for her in times of pain. Enok recognizes that; Chang Whe was by her side when she’d thought Gil Dong had died and when her grandfather died. She promises to try her best.
Chang Whe orders his brother transported away from the palace. The guards stop mid-journey and let Kwang Whe out for a short break, whereupon he wanders among the tree blossoms and thinks ruefully of how he could have been a good king.
At the same time, a mob of peasants arrives, armed with weapons, farming tools, and anger over the suffering they endured under Kwang Whe’s rule.
The peasants descend on the dethroned king, who accepts his fate with tranquility; his last thought before being beaten to death is:
“It would probably anger them to hear me say that I feel the injustice too, that I could have been a good king, wouldn’t it?”
To be fair, Chang Whe has orchestrated this more out of necessity than an actual desire to have his brother killed.
Minister Seo uses his knowledge of the fake sword to worm his way back into power. Gil Dong hears of Seo’s renewed position — which Chang Whe defends as a necessary “compromise” — and urges him that in order to effect change, the people in power must change.
Chang Whe takes the opportunity to throw down the gauntlet — if Gil Dong is so worried about the king being led astray, then he should take a government position too. Even if it’s just temporary, Chang Whe challenges him to become an official, goading Gil Dong into accepting.
To the indignation of his other officials, Chang Whe names Gil Dong the Minister of War. The nobles chafe, but the commoners love it — to them, it’s proof that the world is, in fact, changing.
Gil Dong gets to work immediately — and starts by rounding up nobles into conscripted military service. Here the Hong Sisters indulge in some social commentary (and renew some of the humor that’s been missing in recent episodes) as Gil Dong sternly orders that noble and rich sons should not be exempted from service merely because they are wealthy, while common citizens must serve.
In a dig at some infamous celebrities (who falsified medical records while trying to draft-dodge, like Song Seung Heon, Jang Hyuk, and Psy), a few nobles appeal to Gil Dong to grant them exemptions. They make lame excuses as to their obviously faked illnesses, but they don’t fool Gil Dong. He barks for them to resume their training.
He also confiscates tampered account books (embezzlement of funds), and in short order causes an uproar among the other officials. Gil Dong is unbribable, unafraid of offending important people, and sure to throw everything into disorder, the ministers complain. Oh no! What madness will befall a country with an honest man running its War Ministry? (Ha, that’s a question to which the world may never know the answer.)
But the ministers need not worry too much, because Gil Dong doesn’t intend to remain in the position. He tells Chang Whe that he’d wanted to show, even for a short time, that change is possible. He apologizes for putting Chang Whe in the middle, however.
Chang Whe reminds Gil Dong that he cannot take sides, because as king, everyone is his subject.
Gil Dong: “In other words, you want to preserve this world. After all, you’re the highest person in it. If the highly placed king can work alongside me, who’s climbed up from the bottom, I believe we can have the least amount of fighting and pain.”
Eun Hye’s plan to bring down Gil Dong is a bit roundabout, but devious and smart in its own way (as long as it doesn’t backfire, that is). She’s written a collection of stories about the exploits of Hong Gil Dong and has them secretly distributed. (While Eun Hye considers the stories “frightful,” her nanny enjoys them thoroughly as “exciting” — what the noble classes see as a fearsome revolution is met with more positive sentiment by the oppressed underclasses.)
“The Story of Hong Gil Dong” is thus distributed among the populace, to the rich as well as the poor, and becomes an instant hit. Eun Hye’s intention is that the revolutionary stories will foment uprising among the lower classes — or at least play upon the nobility’s fears of uprising. She anticipates that the new king will find the reaction so threatening that he will have Gil Dong killed. Then, she hopes, her obsession with her story’s hero will die as well and leave her in peace — although she wonders bleakly if she’d allowed her feelings to paint Gil Dong in an overly heroic and positive light.
Chang Whe does read the book, and although he believes that Gil Dong wasn’t behind its distribution, it poses a large threat to the royal institution. It will encourage the people to dream dangerous dreams. Gil Dong assures Chang Whe that the world depicted in the story isn’t the world he wants either — he doesn’t want to be king.
Chang Whe: “Are you saying that the new world you wish for has no need for a king?”
Gil Dong: “Worlds will always need a leader. But the king we have now isn’t the king the people desire — he’s just one dropped from the heavens. It would be different if the people were able to choose whomever they wanted.”
Chang Whe: “That’s not what a king is. This country’s king isn’t decided like that! Do you want to destroy this country’s monarchy?”
Gil Dong: “Even if we do away with kings and nobility, they’d come back under a different name. With someone ruling at the top, below him the lower classes would form again too. I said that a country where all are equal wouldn’t exist in that world. But those at the bottom will always dream of it. I’m fighting to bring us a little bit closer to that dream. Hwal Bin Dang and I exist among those people for that purpose.”
Chang Whe: “Are you saying you’ll keep fighting for that world you want?”
Gil Dong: “We have to fight to change things little by little.”
Chang Whe: “Stop now. If you don’t stop things somewhere, you will collide with the world I must protect.”
Gil Dong: “I will clash and not break, and I will keep growing in strength until I do break. You said you would accept and understand that I would continue fighting, even though you dislike it. We will head toward a better world.”
Enok asks Chang Whe about her future; Chang Whe affirms that their roles had been designated from birth. They were fated to be king and queen together. Enok expresses her reservations about being queen — how can she take the position purely because it was planned that way from birth?
Enok: “I don’t know if it’s truly okay for a person like me to become queen.”
Chang Whe: “That is how this country’s king and queen are decided.”
Enok: “If I were to become queen, and my child turned out as dumb as me, would it really be okay for him to become king? Wouldn’t that create trouble for the country?”
Chang Whe: “You call yourself stupid, but you have the same answers and thoughts as he does.”
Chang Whe tries one more time to reach common ground with Gil Dong. Therefore, he tells Gil Dong, stop here. He doesn’t want to fight.
Gil Dong: “Now that you’re king, you want to stop. I don’t know if this is the end for you, but it’s the beginning for us.”
Chang Whe: “I’m king, and I’ll protect this country.”
Gil Dong: “I’m going to continue fighting to bring this country closer to the world I hope for.”
Chang Whe: “In coming this far together, I know your strength. I wanted to keep that strength with me and work on behalf of this country.”
Gil Dong: “I came this far believing you were a king who understood my strength and knew to fear it.”
Chang Whe: “So you have no thoughts of stopping. I must think more about what to do with you in this world.”
Gil Dong: “If you think to stop here, I’ll have to think also, about what to do with you in this changing world.”
The nobles and ministers are fed up with Gil Dong’s influence and are determined to persuade the king in their fight against them (using the fake sword as blackmail if necessary). But Chang Whe bursts in to their meeting, infuriated at their insolence for meeting behind his back, as well as at Gil Dong for refusing to bend.
He snarls at his officials that he will take care of Gil Dong — he will protect his country from anyone who endangers it. And if anyone ever, EVER holds the sword over his head as a threat again, he will consider that defiance and have them killed.
So, Chang Whe plans to fight Gil Dong in the name of preserving the royal institution. Before he does, though, he sets Enok free from her obligation to marry him — he won’t force her to be his queen. As she said, she’s not suited to the position. He will leave her to be herself.
Chang Whe orders his men to attack Hwal Bin Dang; at the same time, Gil Dong knows what’s coming and orders his men to prepare. They’ll abandon their headquarters and escape before they’re blocked in by the king’s soldiers.
For some reason, Enok’s conversation with Chang Whe doesn’t mean she’s free to go rushing back to Gil Dong, however. She’s been relieved of the burden to be queen, but she’s still noble. Or so the argument goes. Instead, she prepares to leave for China. But just as she’s packing her things, she’s assailed with the memory (and visceral heart pain) of Gil Dong telling her to endure for as long as humanly possible — as long as she can stand it, she should stay away from Gil Dong.
But she’s reached her threshold, and she tells Lady Noh urgently, “I’ll run to him quickly, then return. If I don’t see him just once, even from a distance, I feel like I might die. I’ll be right back.”
But Lady Noh has a bigger reason for preventing Enok from heading to Gil Dong: “If you go there, you’ll die. The soldiers have gone to attack Hwal Bin Dang.” Enok asks in disbelief if Chang Whe ordered the attack, and Lady Noh confirms it.
Enok: “But they were on the same side.”
Lady Noh: “This is not a world where the two can be on the same side.”
At their mountain stronghold, the rebels are too late — the soldiers are already on their way. The king must have been planning in advance. If they disperse, they’ll all be killed. They have to stand their ground here.
I’d wondered if Chang Whe would follow his brother to the dark side, and frankly wasn’t looking forward to it even though I thought that was the most likely path. The reason for my dislike of that potential turn is because it seems like a cop-out, to turn Chang Whe dark and crazy and out of control when he’d fought so long to maintain his integrity as king. If he turned into Kwang Whe v2.0 at the very end, well, that would have been a waste of character development.
So I actually do like this turn of events. It pits Chang Whe and Gil Dong inevitably and irrevocably at odds with each other — but both sides are understandable. I have to admit that as noble as Gil Dong is, he’s no pragmatist. His ideals are revolutionary and incendiary — and dangerous to worldly order. But he has that luxury to chase his ideals and not have to deal with what it means to govern practically while holding to those ideals. Chang Whe is the one who must navigate the real world, so even though his eagerness to “stop” here and now shows a shortsightedness to his fight to claim the throne (as in, “I got what I wanted so I’m done now”), we can understand it.
But that’s the fundamental difference between the two men, both of whom have demonstrated their sense of honor and desire to pursue the right path. Chang Whe wants to ultimately live in, and enjoy, the world he rules — have his cake and eat a little bit of it, too. He’d like to change it for the better, of course, but that’s not his ONLY purpose. He’s doing his best to color within the lines. Gil Dong, on the other hand, wants change so badly that his fight transcends his own life. He doesn’t care if he’s fighting an uphill battle, as long as he’s doing everything he can to keep the fight going.
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 22
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 21
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 20
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 19
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 18
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 17
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 16
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 15
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 14
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 13
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 12
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 11
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 10
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 9
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 8
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 7
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 6
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 5
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 4
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 3
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 2
- Hong Gil Dong: Episode 1