Joseon Gunman: Episode 19
We get some poignant character beats in today’s episode, but I’m sorry to report that it does also have the distinctive ring of extension-induced slowdown. I can see where there is, empirically, enough plot material to fill the rest of the drama’s run, so it’s not that the story has hit a dead end. I’d argue that it’s more like run-up-to-finale fatigue, where everything just feels a little too familiar, a little too repeated, to get excited about it—we just want to see the hero claim victory and the villains get their comeuppance. But I can see how the chess pieces are being maneuvered for finale week, so I maintain hope, even if it’s a little tired today.
SONG OF THE DAY
Jang Beom-joon (Busker Busker) – “사랑이란 말이 어울리는 사람” [ Download ]
EPISODE 19 RECAP
Yoon-kang survives the ambush, thanks to the sacrifice of Kanemaru (sob), then delivers the assassins’ bodies to Choi Won-shin. He tells Yamamoto to return to Japan, essentially ordering him to butt out of this whole thing. Then he warns Choi that if he wants Yoon-kang dead, he’ll have to do it himself—and to do that, he’ll have to put himself on the line.
That’s when the police, led by Jung-hoon, arrive to arrest Yamamoto and question him for Kanemaru’s murder. As Yamamoto is taken away, Yoon-kang tells Choi that the man he’d put all his faith in has been taken down. Choi growls that Yoon-kang has made a big mistake, but Yoon-kang replies that he’s just paying them back for his friend’s injustice. (Sob.)
It’s a somber mood as Yoon-kang’s gang pay their respects at Kanemaru’s grave the next day. Soo-in voices her worries of the continued danger Yoon-kang puts himself in by continuing his revenge mission, saying that he survived this time thanks to Kanemaru, but that he may not be saved the next time. She asks hesitantly, “Is it too greedy for me to ask you to stop here? If I ask you to leave this behind and live an ordinary life, would that be too much to ask of you?”
Yoon-kang feels her pain and apologizes, but says that as long as Choi Won-shin is alive, he can’t stop. Their tie of misfortune must be severed somehow.
The Japanese diplomat complains fiercely to the king for Yamamoto’s treatment, arguing that Yoon-kang killed six Japanese men. Gojong’s advisors argue that Yoon-kang was attacked first, but naturally, that’s not the story put forth by Yamamoto. The diplomat makes a veiled threat that the Japanese government will retaliate if Gojong takes Yoon-kang’s side.
Never strong to begin with, Gojong wilts under this pressure. Minister Kim plays Iago, reminding Gojong of all the trouble Yoon-kang has caused for them in the past.
Officer Moon urges Yoon-kang to run, anticipating the mess he will soon find himself entangled in. Yoon-kang argues that it’s Yamamoto’s word against his—neither side has any proof backing their claims—but unfortunately, he’s in the weaker position. Japanese men were killed, and the Japanese government will not be convinced with testimony given by Koreans.
Yoon-kang is outraged at the king for caving and essentially protecting Yamamoto. He demands, “Who in the world does the king act on behalf of?! While ignoring the tears of the Joseon people, how can he possibly say he’s protecting Joseon?” Officer Moon admits that he’s angry as well, but he’s also looking at the situation practically.
Soo-in arrives at the queen’s quarters for her regular appointment, and is asked to wait while the queen finishes speaking with the king. Inside, the queen reminds Gojong that they had agreed that his priority would be to guard the throne. She pressures him to sacrifice Yoon-kang—he can’t let one man threaten the fate of the nation.
Soo-in can hear the words through the door, and her eyes widen in alarm as the queen says, “Capture Park Yoon-kang immediately—if he must die, so be it. If it’s necessary, you must do it.”
Minister Kim informs Choi Won-shin that the arrest order will soon be out for Yoon-kang. This is Choi’s chance to act first, capture Yoon-kang himself, and turn him over to the king. Brownie points! Ho-kyung is privy to the exchange and looks upset to hear it, filing it away to report later.
Soo-in informs Yoon-kang of the danger, just as they receive word that Choi is on his way with soldiers. It’s not long before they arrive and barge in to search the premises from top to bottom, not buying Sang-chu’s claims that Yoon-kang is out. We see that Yoon-kang and Soo-in are in fact in the building, huddled in the secret room accessed through the wardrobe. Not Narnia.
Choi Won-shin takes interest in the wardrobe, and Sang-chu darts in front to insist that there’s nothing here, which only makes it look more interesting. Gack, I sure hope you’re being suspicious on purpose, but I have a bad feeling about this…
Choi shoves him aside and finds the entrance, swinging open the hidden door. Aie! Yoon-kang hears the sound and readies his gun… but the room is empty when Choi enters. He spots the exit route and orders his men to catch Yoon-kang.
Yoon-kang and Soo-in ride off on horseback, managing to evade capture as they race through the city, sending Choi home empty-handed. He orders Hye-won to contact their secret messenger network to join in on the hunt.
The fugitives make it outside of the city, but find their path blocked off by soldiers on both ends. Abandoning the horse, they continue into the mountains on foot. It’s a tough climb, particularly Soo-in, who loses a shoe in the process. With officers not far behind, she continues on without it.
Choi Won-shin next barges into Soo-in’s parents’ home. Her mother doesn’t know where she is either, and Choi leaves her with a warning to pass along, that if she stays with Yoon-kang, she’ll be giving up her own life.
Yoon-kang and Soo-in manage to evade capture for the time being, hiding out in a cave where they decide to spend the night. It’s only now that he notices that Soo-in has been quietly suffering all this while, one foot bloodied after losing her shoe. I don’t know what pains him more—the fact that she was hurt in the first place, or that she’s so insistent that it’s nothing.
As Yoon-kang wraps her foot, he apologizes again, feeling burdened by everything she’s endured on his behalf. He tries to suggest they return her home in the morning, but she’s the one who argues against it, saying that she won’t be separated from him anymore.
Ho-kyung reports what he knows to Teacher Kim Ok-kyun, who decides to move this up the chain and seeks out the princess’s husband, another Kaehwa leader named Park Young-hyo. He describes Yoon-kang as someone crucial to their side, whose skill would be valuable in building up their own gunman army. Park Young-hyo agrees to intervene.
In the morning, Yoon-kang wakes first and heads out to find Soo-in’s lost shoe, and while he’s out he spies Choi Won-shin’s party heading up the mountainside. As he hurries back to the cave, Soo-in wakes up and panics to find Yoon-kang gone, then also when she’s spotted by gunmen in the distance.
Soo-in hurries away, limping badly as the gunmen close in on her. Yoon-kang arrives at the empty cave just as shots ring out in the distance. Fearing the worst, he races off toward the source.
Running as bullets fly past her, Soo-in tumbles down a steep hill and finds herself cornered, facing the barrel of a gun. Her pursuer demands to know Yoon-kang’s whereabouts, and she refuses to talk, glaring into the gun stoically. Then, just as she’s about to be shot, her pursuer is felled. Next are his comrades—Yoon-kang has arrived and shoots quickly, taking down one after another.
They briefly stop so he can put the lost shoe back on her foot, then resume running. Hiding behind a boulder, Yoon-kang takes stock of the situation, which is closing in on them: Soldiers approach from one side, with Choi Won-shin’s men on the other. He decides the best option is to send Soo-in back down while he draws the gunmen in the opposite direction.
But Soo-in refuses to separate, afraid that she’ll never see him again. He promises he’ll survive and meet her at the temple, and with great reluctance, she finally agrees. Yoon-kang takes off running, prompting a chase with Choi’s men, exchanging gunfire throughout. No bullets land, but Yoon-kang does take a tumble down a hillside, hitting his head hard on a tree along the way, crumpling in a heap at the bottom.
On the upside, he falls out of Choi’s sightline and they continue on. On the downside, owwwww. His vision blurs just as a line of soldiers’ feet approaches, and then he blacks out.
Choi returns home confused—he searched the mountain and found no trace of Yoon-kang, who wasn’t caught by the officers, either. Soo-in is likewise left wondering when she joins the others at the temple and finds that he didn’t make it back. Where did Yoon-kang go?
He awakens in unfamiliar surroundings, and an officer informs him that he is in a military outpost in Gwangju: “There’s somebody who requested that you be rescued.” Yoon-kang assumes that it’s his teacher Kim Ok-kyun, who joins him a short while later, but learns that it was actually the work of the princess’s husband, Park Young-hyo—the officer who’d greeted him initially, who is in charge of this office.
Yoon-kang is advised to rest and recover here, but he balks, intent on returning to the city to check on his sister and Soo-in. His teacher tells him he’ll be able to go there soon, and in the meantime, there’s a job he must do.
Minister Kim meets with the queen, full of optimism that they’ll wrap up this unpleasant business quickly. All they need to do is find and eliminate Yoon-kang in order to restore favor with the Japanese diplomat. She praises Kim for his good work, and in return he begs a favor, asking for a promotion for Ho-kyung. She agrees.
Yamamoto prepares to return to Japan, with plans to return to Joseon later to finalize his business dealings with Choi Won-shin. While he’s gone, he instructs Choi to make sure to take care of Yoon-kang, and Choi assures him that he’ll absolutely make sure of it. Next he encourages Hye-won to make nice with Ho-kyung and congratulate him on his new office, since they want to keep Minister Kim on their side.
She complies, and as she’s praising him for the job, they cross paths with Ho-kyung’s old scholar friends, who are much frostier now that they believe him to have switched sides. They accuse him of hypocrisy and nepotism, and Ho-kyung can do nothing but take their sneering.
Soo-in’s mother is at her wits’ end with Soo-in’s brushes with danger because of Yoon-kang, and declares that it’s time that she put those feelings to rest and move on with her life. To that end, she’ll need to marry posthaste. Ignoring Soo-in’s protests, she informs her that she’ll be looking for prospective husbands for her immediately.
Soo-in’s servant Jan-yi encourages her to do the same, because waiting for a man who’s constantly on the run is no way to live. She urges her to take the less painful path instead of resisting, and while it’s the practical solution, it’s also depressing to hear it stated so plainly—how entering a loveless marriage is better in the long run, and how she’ll eventually grow to care for her husband and make the most of it.
At the Gwangju military outpost, Yoon-kang is asked to show Park Young-hyo’s army how to hone their shooting skills. Teacher Kim Ok-kyun frames this job as part of their work to improve the lot of the people, which aligns with Yoon-kang’s motivations for acting as the mysterious Black Gunman. So Yoon-kang shares his know-how and instructs the corps under the watchful eyes of the pleased Kaehwa leaders.
Our baddies have an inkling that this is where Yoon-kang may have ended up, having heard rumors of those soldiers being spotted in the area. Minister Kim instructs Choi to send men to confirm their hunch.
Soo-in is still in knots over Yoon-kang’s disappearance, wondering if he’s still alive. So she’s still indecisive when Teacher Kim Ok-kyun entreats her once again to take on the job of court lady spy. She’s hesitant, but asks whether the success of his ultimate plan will truly change the world—will it actually eliminate cases of people being persecuted unjustly as Yoon-kang has been?
He tells her yes, that Yoon-kang will no longer be on the run if they succeed, that innocent people will no longer be sacrificed for political means, and that righteous law will prevail. Ackkk. He means well, but it’s so off-the-charts idealistic that you can only cringe for all the ways this could go badly.
But Soo-in is deeply moved by idealism, as we know, and it pushes her toward her decision: She will do it.
Her mother is horrified at the idea, knowing court life for the viper’s pit it is, and strongly opposes it. Having lost a husband to the enlightenment movement, she cries, “Is that more important than a person’s life?!”
Yoon-kang makes a similar decision to accept the Kaehwa leaders’ appeal to teach their army (permanently, I presume). He requests to see his sister and Soo-in before beginning the training, and heads back to the city.
With no more reason to continue as a policeman, Officer Moon is called back to the palace to guard the king, and recommends that Jung-hoon join him. But Jung-hoon, bless his heart, says he has no desire to guard the king, and that he’s better off staying with the police and guarding the dog. Aw. Officer Moon rebukes him and says the king is struggling too, and Jung-hoon mutters, “Doesn’t look like it to me.” I love loyal best friends, even when they’re not always competent at their jobs.
Ho-kyung is shocked at the news of Soo-in’s decision and asks incredulously, “What about Yoon-kang? Will you forget him then?” She answers, “Yes, I must. I have decided to be a court lady, so I must forget everything now.”
Ho-kyung can’t understand how she could do that, and presses, “Was your love so easy? Was the love between you and Yoon-kang one that could be so readily forgotten?” She asks harshly what he’s driving at, and in a heartbroken voice, he says, “If it was a love that could be buried thusly… why did you not come to me? Why could I not be such a person to you?”
Oof. He’s so sincere and lost, while Soo-in has entirely the wrong idea about him and says that he was only a good brother figure to her, “Although now you are not even that.” She says that once he took his place by his father’s side, she has been unable to understand him: “How could I give my heart to one I can hardly bear to look at?”
Je-mi and Sang-chu wonder where Yoon-kang is, and talk turns to Sang-chu’s own background. She knows him by his Japanese name and asks for his original Joseon name, then bursts out laughing to hear it’s Sang-chu (lettuce). But he has a sad story to go with the name, saying that initially it was Sam-chu (three autumns); he’d been sold as a slave by his father in the fall, and was told that his father would earn money and buy him back in three years.
He gets teary thinking of his past, and curls up in Je-mi’s lap looking for consolation. “It’s because I’m sad,” he says, as though skinship has nothing to do with it, and grasps her hands tightly. And then… is that a move he makes? He swoops in and offscreen they go.
Yoon-kang arrives at the temple, where he is received happily by his friends and sister, who are relieved to see him alive. But his gladness is soon replaced by alarm when he hears of Soo-in’s decision to become a court lady after all—and she’s entering the palace today.
Yoon-kang takes off running.
Soo-in prepares to leave her home, where her mother is so upset that she refuses to see her off. Yoon-kang arrives outside her house to see the entourage waiting to convey her to the palace, while inside, Soo-in takes a final look around at her home.
She thinks of Yoon-kang and their early encounters here, and thinks, “Young master, I am fine. If I can protect you, I am afraid of nothing.”
And then, he’s there in the yard. He pleads with her not to do it, but she says that this is for him—so that they might be able to travel the same path together. He isn’t having any of it, even when she says it’s a temporary separation until they can have a better world.
“I am so relieved that I could at least see your face like this before I leave,” she says. She promises that they will meet again, and asks him to remain safe until then.
It registers with him that she’s determined, and he looks at her with stricken eyes. (Agh, those eyes.)
She joins the entourage, thinking, “I’m sorry. You may not be able to understand me right now, but the day will come when you will. We are only separating for a short while, in order to be together forever. We will meet again, and when we do, we will be able to be happy. We will be able to live in such a world.”
She peers out of the window as her conveyance passes, and locks eyes with Yoon-kang. And all he can do is watch her go.
Okay, so this episode did have plenty of heartfelt moments, as it has had throughout its entire run. I enjoy that, because the angsty longing and pathos is practically the lifeblood of this show, buoyed by Lee Jun-ki’s expressiveness (and you know, I’ll give that to the other leads as well; Nam Sang-mi is at her best when she’s being wrought with emotion, and Han Joo-wan captures the pitifulness of Ho-kyung fairly well). It’s just… don’t you feel like we’ve seen this episode before?
The details of the movements are different, and to be fair I think that the character and plot logic has remained intact; I’m not questioning why anybody’s doing anything. I’m just questioning why we’re watching it again. And again. I’m pretty sure Soo-in and Yoon-kang have had the exact same farewell speech many times (“You must go” “I won’t leave you”), that Yoon-kang has been chased by gunmen and escaped, that Soo-in has made a noble sacrifice for Yoon-kang’s sake, that Ho-kyung has been pitifully kicked to the curb for his perceived alliances, that the king has caved to political pressure, etc. These beats are all effective the first time, but by now I want a little more twisting and turning in the road; even if we are approaching the last stretch, we shouldn’t be able to look straight ahead at the finish line.
That doesn’t mean we can’t get any more surprises in the three remaining episodes, and in fact we had damn well better. If the show surprises me at the end, I may even let slide the repetitive motion in these episodes. I just really hope that there’s more to this drama’s finale than meets the eye.
That said, I do like the way these two are being separated—the conflicts get upgraded on both ends, with Soo-in entering court service (where she basically signs over her life to the king and queen) and Yoon-kang taking an active role in the Kaehwa movement, which at this point in time looks like it’s headed for revolt. That not only puts the lovers in positions far away from each other, it puts them on opposite sides, at least by outward appearances. It’s ironic because they’re actually taking the same political side, but nobody knows that Soo-in is secretly working for the Kaehwa but Teacher Kim Ok-kyun, which makes hers a particularly dangerous position.
That’s why it’s extra sad that she sees Ho-kyung as a traitor of sorts, when he’s doing exactly what she’s doing. She disdains him for what she thinks is a change of nature, while he protests her choice because of what he sees as a denial of hers. If only I cared more about Ho-kyung, this could have been a richer conflict and parallel. (I like Ho-kyung as a person and I really like the actor, but as a drama character, he’s sadly one-note. I feel bad for him because you feel bad for puppies getting kicked, but there’s not nearly as much development with him as there could have been. Should have been.)
But I’ll put aside the quibbles for now, because we’ve got one more push before we get to the end, and I’ll hold off on my judgment of the whole until, well, we have a whole. How about less crying, more shooting? Or, you know, kissing. I’ll take kisses.
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 18
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 17
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 16
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 15
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 14
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 13
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 12
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 11
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 10
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 9
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 8
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 7
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 6
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 5
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 4
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 3
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 2
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 1