Joseon Gunman: Episode 10
I think Soo-in earned her spotlight today, didn’t she? It’s a jam-packed episode full of revelations and character development, all of them in welcome directions. Some people are pushed to their breaking points while others find a way back from the ledge and come to a sense of peace. What I find even more compelling, though, is the indication that several characters have changed directions in their personal journeys, which sets us up for an unpredictable future. And unpredictable is something I look forward to.
SONG OF THE DAY
Lim Chang-jung – “기다리라 해요” (Try to wait) from the Joseon Gunman OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 10 RECAP
Soo-in is taken away by investigators, and Yoon-kang can only watch helplessly. He orders Sang-chu to look into this, while remaining vague with a curious Kanemaru. (One of these days, man, I just want to learn that Kanemaru magically became fluent in Korean and was in on the whole thing.)
To clarify what’s going on: These officials work for the high court and are separate from the local police. They’re acting upon the king’s orders to investigate Minister Song’s murder, although Gojong had also given Officer Moon secret instructions to find the culprit ahead of the court investigation. Looks like they weren’t quick enough.
The Sugu ministers grumble that with the new bureau in place, the king’s supporters are growing. They’ve been digging into Interpreter Jung’s background looking for dirt, but have been unable to find anything—since, as we know, the guy is clean as a whistle.
…until they receive word of the explosives specialist apprehended in connection to the murder, who happens to be Jung’s daughter. Oh no! Soo-in’s going to become a liability for her father, isn’t she? Protect her man or endanger her father?
Both Soo-in and the lead expert are brought in for interrogation, and the expert testifies that he saw Soo-in taking gunpowder from the main stores, authorized by Hanjo. Soo-in confirms that she took it but insists that Hanjo had nothing to do with it—she used it all on her own.
Yoon-kang hears of the investigation from Officer Jung-hoon, who worries that Soo-in could lose her life if this goes awry. He supposes that she’ll be cleared in no time since she can’t be connected to the murder, but Yoon-kang knows better and is not reassured.
Sang-chu reports that Soo-in’s torture has begun, her screams audible from outside the premises. Minister Kim has taken the lead in her interrogation, and he demands to know where she used the explosives, not accepting her answer that she conducted experiments on her own. Her explanation accounts for the lack of evidence—she experimented alone in the forest and buried the traces—but also puts her in a bind since nobody can corroborate it.
Thus Minister Kim insinuates that she made bombs on her father’s orders. She’s outraged at the accusation that her father would plot to kill a minister and defends him, but Minister Kim orders Interpreter Jung dragged in as well, to her horror.
Yoon-kang can’t leave Soo-in to suffer alone and heads over to the high court to testify on her behalf, despite Jung-hoon’s warnings that he could endanger his own life. He runs into Hye-won and Choi Won-shin in the street but excuses himself coldly, leaving Jung-hoon to fill them in on the situation.
Hye-won informs them that they’re also on their way to court, having been called in to provide testimony. They head in together.
Minister Kim gloats to Interpreter Jung, charging him with being the mastermind who hired the gunman to assassinate Minister Song. Interpreter Jung is bewildered and outraged at the charges, but understands that Minister Kim will use this incident to accuse the entire Kaehwa faction of being murderous traitors. He tells Minister Kim to let his daughter go since his fight is with him, but Minister Kim isn’t about to let go of this golden opportunity; he crows that it’s much more painful to make Jung watch his daughter suffer than to suffer himself.
With that, Soo-in is tortured, her screams ringing in the air as Yoon-kang arrives with the merchants. He steps in to introduce himself and states that Soo-in is innocent of any crime: She took the gunpowder under his orders, and he used them on his own.
But he has two strikes against him: One, he’s a foreigner whose word carries little weight, and two, Minister Kim is determined to capitalize on this to further his own ends. Kim dismisses him and his testimony, as Soo-in has become a valuable political pawn.
Yoon-kang urges Soo-in to admit that she was acting on his instructions, but she keeps her mouth shut. Even when he grows more insistent, Soo-in just sticks to her lie: “I used the gunpowder alone.”
As he’s shoved away, Yoon-kang searches for any way to mitigate the situation and asks to be interrogated first. Then he challenges Kim to do a proper job, which only angers him more. He’s half-carried out by guards, and Jung-hoon takes the lead in pulling him away before he does more damage to himself.
Yoon-kang watches in horror as Soo-in’s torture resumes, and he screams to be let go, to no avail. Through it all, watching with much interest are Hye-won and Choi Won-shin.
Ho-kyung begs a minister for help in halting Soo-in’s interrogation, knowing that she’s just being used—Minister Kim hopes to extract a false confession out of her father, which would endanger everyone in their faction. The minister is sympathetic, but knows his hands are tied.
Minister Kim tortures Interpreter Jung next, giving Soo-in the chance to give a confession incriminating him. He gets a sadistic thrill out of wielding a fire-hot iron over her father’s face as Soo-in sobs, and then dangling it over Soo-in while her father watches.
She’s just about to be branded when Ho-kyung calls things to a halt, thundering at Minister Kim for his methods. He cites Joseon law at him, ordering him to find proof if he’s going to accuse people of crimes.
Ho-kyung is dragged away, and then Minister Kim takes him aside to rage at him in private. Ho-kyung stands firm and asks that his father let innocent people go, then vows to stop the torture no matter what. His father turns that back around on him—in that case, Ho-kyung can stand witness and reveal his identity. It’s a pretty great conflict for both men, because neither wants to reveal their tie—that secret is the biggest power they wield over the other but also the one they fear most.
That night, Yoon-kang decks himself out in his gunman gear, ready to burst into the high court and rescue Soo-in. I’m rather relieved that he has Sang-chu looking out for his interests and blocking his path, arguing that he’d be walking into his own death. Yoon-kang can’t abide the thought of Soo-in dying because of him, but Sang-chu says that if he had to pick one, he’d save Yoon-kang.
The rescue plans have to take a backseat anyway when Yoon-kang receives a visitor, forcing him to change back into his Hanjo suit. His visitor is Ho-kyung, who registers his resemblance to Yoon-kang with some surprise. When Yoon-kang confirms that Soo-in acted on his instructions, Ho-kyung grabs him angrily and insists he go to court to say so rather than sit around complacently.
But he deflates to hear that Hanjo did just that, only to be ignored by Minister Kim. Yoon-kang tells Ho-kyung to go home; he’ll be the one to rescue Soo-in. Ho-kyung replies, “If you truly mean that, come with me. I have a way.”
He brings him to the palace to meet with the sympathetic official (Min Young-ik, nephew to the queen), and the three men devise a plan, whose details we aren’t told. All we see is Yoon-kang making a request, and then being allowed to see Soo-in (secretly) in her jail cell. He takes in her battered state and can’t hide his turbulent emotions, feeling guilty for his part in putting her here and upset that he can’t do anything about it.
And so, it’s with frustration and desperation that he asks why she didn’t just give his name, calling her choice a foolish one. He urges her to save her life and speak the truth tomorrow, but Soo-in shakes her head no. He can’t see why she’d deny herself her safety and asks why she’s being so stubborn. She reaches up to grasp his hand, saying, “Don’t say anything. If you do, you will be in danger.”
He insists that he used her to his own ends, that he doesn’t merit her help, trying to change her mind. That’s a futile effort, since she is quietly determined to keep his secret, and all he can do before he’s pulled away is to grab her hands in his and vow to save her.
Soo-in watches him go and thinks, “Young master, I am fine. Just to have you alive is something I am grateful for. If I can protect you, I fear nothing.”
The next day, Soo-in and her father are brought back to resume interrogation. Interpreter Jung can’t bear to see his daughter subject to more torture and breaks down, offering to do as Minister Kim wants in exchange for Soo-in’s release. The Sugu officials smirk in triumph, and Minister Kim orders Jung to “confess” to his crimes.
Gojong arrives, and Minister Kim gloats that he’s just in time to hear the criminal own up to his plot. Gojong shocks him, however, by turning the heat on Kim instead—he dares lie before the court, coerce false testimony, and ignore valid witnesses, all for the purpose of furthering the agenda he has decided to pursue.
Hanjo is brought in, and informs the king that he was the one directing Soo-in. They had bought more than necessary, he explains, and had merely returned the excess. Minister Kim hadn’t even bothered to ask him what he’d intended to do with the gunpowder, because he’d already decided what he wanted to hear.
Minister Kim blusters that he has only ever done his duty and served the king faithfully. But Gojong is having none of it, and thunders that Minister Kim’s “work” has been to thwart him throughout the years and cover up misdeeds. In this case, he was so determined to attack Interpreter Jung that he willfully neglected truths that weren’t convenient to his cause.
Gojong says he will no longer be manipulated by Minister Kim, and orders Interpreter Jung and Soo-in released… and Minister Kim imprisoned. Whoa. Looks like our weak king finally grew a pair. Better late than never?
Gojong thanks Hanjo for his intervention: “If not for you, I would have lost another loyal subject.” That’s strong praise—not unwarranted, but enough to surprise Yoon-kang, and maybe move him as well.
Battered and bruised, the father-daughter pair is led out, and there are plenty of apologies and thanks to go around. Frankly I’m not sure who’s the most anguished here, Yoon-kang or Ho-kyung—one feels guilty for his part in the mess, while the other feels guilty for his father’s part in it, and both are pretty weighty burdens. Interpreter Jung says consolingly that he knows Ho-kyung feels worse about it than he does himself, and tells him not to beat himself up about it.
The Sugu faction gathers to discuss Minister Kim’s fate, which is to be sent into exile. Lemme tell ya, after seeing that wizened old man cackle sadistically for so long, it’s satisfying to watch Lord Kim lose his temper, looking not unlike a furious toad.
Lord Kim calls in Choi Won-shin to issue a new hit: Kill Interpreter Jung. This time, Choi has a request to ask too: to consolidate all of the peddler groups in the nation. He assures Kim that he only means to expand his reach as a merchant, and that his superiors can be in charge of the rest.
But he’s on too shaky ground to strike a deal with the boss, as he finds when Lord Kim asks why Choi knew Hanjo and yet did nothing to stop him, and as a result they lost Minister Kim. Choi Won-shin stammers nervously, saying that he hadn’t had the time to do anything.
Lord Kim warns Choi not to make any more requests, or deals: “Just do as you’re ordered, and take what’s tossed at you. That is your duty. The duty of a hunting dog.”
Choi Won-shin listens to this rebuke with meekly bowed head, but stiffens at mention of “hunting dog.” Lord Kim adds, “You are nothing. At one word from me, you’ll go back to being a runaway slave. And your daughter will go back to being a slave girl, to be raped and sold off.”
Lord Kim sends him off with the order to kill Interpreter Jung and remain quiet until he’s summoned again. Choi goes home fuming, perhaps nearing a breaking point of his own as he replays Kim’s derisive words in his head.
He smashes a cup in his bare hand, and Hye-won tends to his bleeding hand in concern. She asks him to share his burdens with her, now that she’s grown up, and promises to help him with anything. The look on Choi’s face—guh, it’s amazing. Broken.
Choi comes to the decision, “I think I will have to team up with Yamamoto.” Once he can dominate the nation’s commerce, he will be able to command all of Joseon, including their armies. “Soon, a world will arrive in which money will be power,” he says. “When that happens, nobody will be able to do anything to the two of us.”
That night, Yoon-kang broods, thinking of Soo-in’s sacrifice. She’s doing likewise, replaying his promise to save her. (Ha, she stole the compass from his closet? I love that she did that, if only because it means he may figure it out sooner rather than later.)
It’s already niggling at him, the odd feeling that her reaction doesn’t add up. He decides he’ll have to pay her a visit for some answers.
Choi Won-shin drops by to see Interpreter Jung, inquiring after his health and offering a collection of medicines to aid his healing. That’s the official excuse, but he’s really here to plan his next step, asking when Jung intends to return to work at the bureau and filing away the answer—three days, cue ticking clock.
At the same time, Hye-won visits with Soo-in to apologize about not telling her about Yeon-ha. She explains that right as she learned that the slave girl was Yeon-ha, she had to send her away to Minister Song’s: “It was something I could do nothing to stop.”
That’s kind of a weak answer, and Soo-in calls her out for it: “There are such things? You’re not that kind of person—if you decide to do something, you do it. But you didn’t for Yeon-ha.”
On her way out, Hye-won encounters Yoon-kang on his way in. Soo-in hears his voice and hurries out to greet him, and Hye-won clocks that she’s the third wheel here and excuses herself.
Yoon-kang asks why Soo-in didn’t tell the court the truth, and she counters by asking if he could have handled the fallout. If she had told them that she made him particular bombs designed not to explode, what would he have said to the court? He repeats the answer he gave about returning it, and she asks, “Then what about the gunpowder used at the minister’s home?”
He says that the smoke bombs must have been somebody else’s doing. She doesn’t press too hard, merely saying that the court would have been much more difficult to convince, and that he could have been tortured just as she was. She tells him that she’d been struck by the recollection of him jumping to rescue her the day of the explosives demonstration, and wanted to return the favor and block him from danger. Now her debt is repaid, she says.
I don’t know if he buys her reasoning fully but he accepts that for now, apologizing again for putting her in danger. Soo-in thanks him for keeping his promise to rescue her.
As planned, Interpreter Jung heads out to resume his work in a few days’ time. At least Officer Moon and Jung-hoon are sent to guard him as he makes the trip… but Choi Won-shin is too shifty to be thwarted by that. He has sent Sung-gil out, dressed as a common peddler, to strike at the right moment.
Choi Won-shin meets with Yoon-kang to apologize again for the misunderstanding, and frames his fixation on proving Hanjo’s identity as a matter of self-interest. Since Yoon-kang is a criminal, doing business with him could backfire on Choi, so he had to prove that Hanjo was truly who he said he was.
Yoon-kang scoffs that Choi let a prime opportunity slip through his fingers rather than taking it. Choi Won-shin takes the criticism and apologizes, asking earnestly for a second chance.
Yoon-kang says that in order for the apology to be proper, he ought to be kneeling before him. Choi readily complies, dropping to his knees and promising to kneel many more times in the future if necessary. Hye-won enters the room, takes in the scene with surprise, and quietly exits.
I daresay Yoon-kang wasn’t expecting that of Choi, and he mulls it over on the walk home. Upon arrival he finds Soo-in waiting at his front gate, and invites her in for tea. Today they’re in his private room—because Kanemaru is in the office, he explains, which raises my hopes for a candid conversation. (Or kisses! I’ll take kisses!)
She gives her reason for dropping by: to apologize for mistaking him for Yoon-kang. Ah, is she going to back off rather than push ahead? She says that she believes Yoon-kang to be alive—he must be the gunman who rescued Yeon-ha, whom Soo-in had herself encountered on a separate occasion.
“Young master Yoon-kang may be alive somewhere,” she says. “Just the thought that he’s alive makes me happy. It brings me comfort.”
“Is that such a happy thing?” he asks. “Just that he’s alive?”
She replies, “Yes. For me, that’s enough. I’m grateful for that.”
More to himself than anything, Yoon-kang says, “Congratulations. Young master Yoon-kang. So he was alive.”
Then she asks him to bring her more tea, waiting until he steps aside to take out the compass she’d taken from him, perhaps to return it to its rightful place.
I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, and for a whole bunch of disparate reasons that all came together in a nicely emotional package. First off, almost every main character faced a major emotional turning point, and the actors really stepped it up to deliver those moments. The whole episode was chock-full of close-up shots brimming with tension and anguish, and as a viewer it was just a feast for the eyes, even if it feels a little tacky to enjoy that much pain. Pain, gloooorious pain!
At the outset of the show, it wasn’t clear whether Choi Won-shin would go the way of the Sugu villains or carve out his own niche as a tortured pawn, and I am SO gratified to have it be the latter. Yoo Oh-sung is an amazing actor, but it would be such a shame to bury his talent with a bunch of cartoonish evil beats. That scene with him and Hye-won where he does little more than just look at her—it brought me to tears, with that one glance, loaded with a whole world of meaning.
I wonder whether Choi will be pushed to break from Lord Kim’s ranks, and find myself hoping that he finds the courage. Finding out about his backstory really rounds out his character, and explains how he can be alternately so steely and smart, and then fearful and anxious. If he owes everything to Lord Kim, then he has essentially signed over his autonomy, and he’s good and hooked by that debt. But I love that he’s not a happy assassin, or even an indifferent one; he’s motivated by self-preservation, but he appears to know right from wrong and feel regret when his actions transgress that code. It’s not enough to prevent him, but it was a moving moment when he told Hye-won that he wants to make so much money that nobody can ever mess with the two of them again—at the root of it all, he is driven by love. That’s such a deeply human thing that I can’t help but feel the pathos of his character, and want to root for him to find the light, so to speak.
Perhaps he can’t earn a perfect redemption given that he’s taken numerous lives (including our hero’s father’s), but does it mean anything that he looks like he’s miserable about it? Does “I kill, but only against my wishes” count for something? Anything?
Ho-kyung is also shining for me, despite having a mere smattering of scenes throughout the show. I do wish his character were given more to do on a plot level (since he and Interpreter Jung are just there to hold up the noble righteousness quotient, it seems), but on an emotional level he really brings forth the character’s conflict. All his charged scenes with his father have been great so far, but today he took another step away from his bloodline by actively working against his father—not for himself, not even for love of Soo-in, but because his moral code demanded it.
I love that kind of wrought internal conflict, and it’s one way to bring a little more texture to his character. Admittedly when you have a guy who’s as perfect as he is, the Ultimate Good Guy, he tends to come off a little out of touch with reality. At least the burden of guilt and carrying a secret makes him feel a little more human, at least until he’s off doing his next perfectly idealistic and noble good deed.
I do think Hye-won took a step into the shadows in this episode, particularly with her explanation to Soo-in. She seems like the kind of woman who would own her flaws and mistakes, so I can see Soo-in’s disillusionment and agree with it. It isn’t an indictment of Hye-won’s character because I do think that when push comes to shove she will choose her father above all else, just as he would for her, so in a sense this throws her into greater conflict. (And conflicted characters is always a good thing for plot tension.)
But as she takes a step in that direction, Soo-in takes a big step forward into the active realm, huzzah! There are definite elements of the noble idiot about her actions, but I think they stop shy of actual noble idiocy, which is what you get when idiocy is really the primary result. When it’s an honest-to-goodness necessary sacrifice, really what you have is an act of nobility, and I can’t hate on that. Inasmuch as outing Hanjo’s actions could threaten his entire secret identity, I can see and respect her decision to keep her mouth shut, especially since neither of them were Kim’s endgame anyway. If he was just out to use his pawns to nail Jung and the king, then he would have just used Yoon-kang in the same way.
Plus, I kind of really enjoy the perverseness of Soo-in knowing who Yoon-kang is, but Yoon-kang not knowing that she knows. First off, it’s nice to turn the tables around on him, and have him wrestle with that niggling uncertainty while she sticks to her story. And if she stops insisting that he’s her lost love, well, then she might have to withdraw from him and leave him frustrated to find her out of reach. Muahaha. I know, it’s sad. Entertaining sad!