Joseon Gunman: Episode 21
It looks like finale week just may give us a strong finish to Joseon Gunman, which I’d worried about because I found last week’s episodes to be a bit plodding. It may be a finale tinged with bittersweetness, but that’s something I embrace; it’s not about winning everything and suffering nothing, but finding a way to hold firm to your values without going blindly into battle, or asking for the impossible. I suspect some of our characters are still going to have to learn how to do this, but for others, they get a crash course today.
SONG OF THE DAY
Park Ki-young, Acoustic Blanc – “톡톡톡” [ Download ]
EPISODE 21 RECAP
The coup begins at the banquet, with Yoon-kang leading the rebel forces as they set fire to a building nearby. The officials and foreign dignitaries in attendance scatter in panic, while our two Kaehwa masterminds, Kim Ok-kyun and Park Young-hyo, quietly head out together.
The Kaehwa-turned-opposition minister, Min Yeong-ik, follows them outside and finds himself cornered by rebels. “We have come to open a new world,” a soldier tells him, and cuts him down. Min Yeong-ik falls, fatally wounded.
Choi Won-shin sees this happen and hurries away, not wanting to be next. He warns Minister Kim, just as the rebel soldiers storm the venue and start cutting officials down left and right. Choi gets slashed in the gut and falls, bloodied, but manages to crawl underneath a table to temporary safety.
Ho-kyung, who has come here for the sole purpose of saving his father, steps in to save him from a similar fate and ushers him out.
Yoon-kang meets his leaders, who move on to the next part of the plan to move the king and queen to a different palace. Soo-in, meanwhile, slips away from her court lady duties carrying a package (explosives, I presume, per her suggestion to use them in the coup). But her departure goes noted by another court lady, the same one who’d been ordered to snoop through her things.
Ho-kyung and Minister Kim’s escape route is blocked by rebels, who hold them at swordpoint. So it’s now that Ho-kyung reveals that he’s working with the Kaehwa rebels, and uses their secret password. The rebels let them go, satisfied, and hurry onward—but now Minister Kim eyes Ho-kyung with shock and mounting horror. Was he only pretending to be on his father’s side in order to spy on him?
Minister Kim spits out, “Did you hate your father so much you would kill him?” Ho-kyung hangs his head and urges his father to escape with his life. Saying that he cannot protect him any more than this, he directs him to seek shelter with his uncle and heads off.
But before he’s out of earshot, Minister Kim is surrounded by more rebels, and this time he’s not let off the hook. Ho-kyung turns just in time to see his father fall, and rushes to his side in tears. Minister Kim asks whether Ho-kyung’s new world requires him to be gone from it. Ho-kyung shakes his head and sobs, “No, that is not true.”
With his dying breath, Minister Kim asks if Ho-kyung was happy even for a brief moment to have returned to his father’s side. And then he goes limp, dead.
The king is roused from sleep by servants outside his door, and then our two Kaehwa leaders push their way into the chamber. They tell the king and queen that war has broken out and urge them to escape for their own safety, and King Gojong is so rattled that he just agrees. But the queen, having aligned herself with the opposing party, eyes them with suspicion and asks for details of the war. Their lack of a ready reply has her even more suspicious.
Yoon-kang is just outside the door and recalls Soo-in’s plans to set off the explosion to create a sense of urgency and prevent the king and queen from questioning them too much. So he steps aside to check on the plan, which should be going into effect any minute now.
Soo-in finishes setting up her explosive and lights the fuse, just as the other court lady confronts her. Soo-in tries to drag her away from the dangerous bomb, but the court lady holds her ground and refuses to budge, and then a palace guard joins them, escalating the situation.
Thankfully Yoon-kang arrives just then and shouts a warning, then tackles Soo-in out of harm’s way. The explosion goes off, and that’s enough to scare even the queen. At the repeated urgings of Kim Ok-kyun, Gojong finally agrees to move to the another palace.
Hye-won hears of the massacre at the banquet, and immediately heads out in a panic, fearing for her father’s life. The rebels confirm that their job is done and retreat from the venue, at which point Choi Won-shin emerges from his hiding place. He’s badly wounded and in pain, but alive.
Soo-in injures her arm in the blast but is otherwise safe and urges Yoon-kang to return to the king. He wraps the wound for her and helps her up so that they can go together.
Kim Ok-kyun leads the way for the king’s entourage as they leave their palace, and quietly confers with another soldier regarding a hiccup in the plans: There’s no sign of Ho-kyung. He was supposed to command troops, but they’ve only been standing around waiting for him.
Then, a contingent of the king’s soldiers rush in shouting at the king not to listen to the Kaehwa rebels, reporting that statesmen were killed at the banquet. The royals are confused, and Kim Ok-kyun tries to salvage the situation by insisting that those are the true rebels, and they’re out for the king’s life. Fighting breaks out.
Despite misgivings, the situation is so dire that the king and queen readily move when Kim Ok-kyun again urges them to safety.
Soldiers follow to prevent their escape, but gunshots ring out just in time to take them down in quick succession. (I find it amusing in a meta sense that despite all the dying that comes part and parcel with historical dramas and rebellion stories, Yoon-kang only ever shoots people in the arm.)
Gojong is more confused than ever to recognize Yoon-kang, who bows his head and says, “I have come to escort you, Your Highness.” The queen has cottoned on, however, and says that these are the rebels, insisting he not follow them any farther. Gojong asks if Yoon-kang is after his life, and Yoon-kang replies that he will protect the king’s life. Soo-in adds her assurances to the queen, but the queen has been turned against her by Hye-won’s words and accuses her of becoming a court lady in order to kill her.
The truth is slowly sinking in for Gojong, who turns accusingly to Kim Ok-kyun and asks how he could turn on him. Kim replies that he is acting in accordance with the progress the king himself had wanted.
Now with Yoon-kang leading the way, the king is ushered onward. But it’s a constant series of shocks, because the next group of soldiers to block their path has everyone freezing in dismay—it’s Officer Moon and Jung-hoon. It’s a difficult place for all to be in, because yes, the Kaehwa side intends to keep the king and queen alive and are motivated by noble goals, rather than by greed or hunger for personal profit, but when you look at it from the wide lens of history, a coup is a coup, and a traitor is a traitor.
Despite Officer Moon’s entreaties that his father wouldn’t have wanted this, Yoon-kang refuses to step aside and asks the two to step aside, not wanting them to be hurt but not about to stand down, either. Officer Moon draws his sword and warns that he’ll cut him down if necessary, so Yoon-kang instructs the rest of the party to continue without him.
The king’s party moves on, and then Officer Moon gives the order: “Attack.”
Yoon-kang is swarmed by a dozen men with swords, and he takes them on while Jung-hoon pleads with Officer Moon to stop. To the contrary, Officer Moon launches himself into the fray and attacks Yoon-kang directly, and it quickly turns into a one-on-one battle while the other soldiers lay injured around them.
Finally Yoon-kang kicks him down and gains the upper hand, holding him at gunpoint. Officer Moon tells him to shoot: “If you do not, I will chase you to the end and cut you down.”
Yoon-kang asks if Officer Moon still means to stand with the king, knowing what the king did to him. Officer Moon says that he knows this, but cannot flout his duty as an officer—this is a lesson Yoon-kang’s father taught him.
Yoon-kang says, “Protecting the king is not protecting Joseon. Do you still not know this? I will protect Joseon.” He drops his gun and tells Officer Moon to go, then walks away.
Outside the palace gates, Yoon-kang hears a ruckus and gapes to see Sang-chu arguing with the guard about needing to get inside. He lights up to see Yoon-kang, declaring that he wants to join him in this fight, having been uneasy ever since their parting. Yoon-kang protests because he needs Sang-chu to protect Yeon-ha and Je-mi, but Sang-chu argues that that’s more reason for him to come and join in the fight to create a better world. He may be an ignorant ex-slave, but he doesn’t want that life for his child, and thus wants to help change things. And how could Yoon-kang turn him away at that?
Ho-kyung finally joins them at their destination, Gyeongwu Palace, and seeing him as a part of the coup rattles the king further. But now Ho-kyung has been badly shaken, and he asks Kim Ok-kyun if he was purposely kept out of the loop because he wasn’t trusted. Or did Kim just use him for his information?
Ho-kyung’s outrage is compromised a bit, however, because his neglect of his post threw everyone into potential danger, and Kim reminds him of that. Ho-kyung looks like a lost child as he says that his father was killed before his eyes, but Kim tells him that he should have been prepared for that when he worked for the cause. He tells Ho-kyung to keep his post, and in return he won’t question him further.
Soo-in hears this exchange and comes up to him, apologizing for having blamed him when she hadn’t known he was secretly working on their side. He just trudges past her to take his post outside.
The king and queen have no choice but to sit inside their chamber, trying to figure out if there’s something they can do. The sharp queen has deduced the rebels’ reasoning for choosing this palace, in that it’s easier to defend against outside troops—and therefore, their best bet for being saved is to somehow return to the main palace, where they can ask for assistance from China.
Choi Won-shin prepares to fight, even with his severe injuries. Hye-won tries to veto this idea, but he knows that they’ll become targets of the Kaehwa rebels, so he is better served by going to the palace with armed men from merchants’ association to crush the rebellion. Hye-won manages to keep him here for the time being by insisting on going herself to get the government seal necessary (from his merchant bureau) to mobilize soldiers.
The queen complains loudly about the cramped quarters and discomfort here in this palace and demands a return to the other, and an official speaks up to challenge Kim Ok-kyun as well. When he tells the king he will go directly to request Chinese aid, Kim Ok-kyun threatens to kill him if he continues to interfere, which alarms everyone present, including Soo-in. The official argues that if Kim kills him, he will only be proving himself as a rebel, but Kim cannot allow him to undermine his coup, and gives the shocking order: Cut him down.
That’s enough to get the king to leap to his feet and protest, and Soo-in gasps in horror, “Teacher!” Kim Ok-kyun repeats the order, and the official is killed on the spot. Yikes. Gojong is aghast, and Soo-in looks at Kim with eyes of fear and maybe even betrayal.
Yoon-kang arrives in the aftermath and is equally shocked. He challenges Kim’s methods, but Kim defends himself as doing what is necessary to prevent an uprising that would ruin their coup. Yoon-kang argues that no matter the reasoning, he was wrong to kill a subordinate in front of the king, and should have brought the king’s people over to their side with persuasion. “If they turn their backs on us, we can achieve nothing,” he says. “Everybody is following you, Teacher. In times like this especially, you must keep your head.”
These are pretty ironic words coming from King Hothead himself, but also wise, and evidence of his maturation. Kim comes back to his senses and concedes that he went too far.
Soo-in is rattled by the incident and confesses to Yoon-kang that it made her wonder whether they were doing the right thing. He takes her hands and says that he knew that their goals would require difficulty and sacrifice, and says that Kim Ok-kyun seems to be regretting his actions. He holds her and says that tomorrow will be the big day—she will be able to quit being a court lady, and he’ll earn his freedom. “We will live together in the world we dreamed of,” he says. “So be strong just a little longer.”
Yoon-kang and the leaders receive worrisome word of movement within the merchant ranks, hinting at the mobilization of an army. This is unexpected, and although the others accept the conclusion that all the banquet attendees were killed, Yoon-kang knows better: Choi Won-shin must be alive, and he must be behind this.
Yoon-kang hurries to the banquet sight and assesses the carnage, looking for sign of Choi. His body is nowhere to be found. That means he’s alive and preparing attack, and time is of the essence: They must strike first. Yoon-kang racks his brains thinking of a way to do this, and hits upon that government seal, knowing that Choi needs it in order to move troops. It’ll be at the merchant administration bureau, so he’ll have to go there.
Choi Won-shin and Hye-won have already arrived and force their way into the office, where they demand the seal. The official hands it over, and Hye-won takes it while Choi remains to finish off the official. So she’s in clear sight upon exiting the building, and Yoon-kang lines her up in his sights, just a second too slow because Sung-gil spots him and reacts.
The seal falls out of reach, and Hye-won tries to make a grab for it, but Sung-gil drags her away for her safety. Yoon-kang grabs it just as the rest of Choi’s men emerge, and he quickly knocks off the men and whirls out of bullet’s range when Choi Won-shin appears. Now it’s a one-on-one gunfight, and both men duck for cover while figuring out their next move.
Hye-won takes out her pistol and decides to help, leaving the other two to attack Yoon-kang from the front while she sneaks up on him from behind.
He spots her advancing and takes aim, but you can tell he won’t be able to shoot her—and there’s Choi, advancing from the other side. Yoon-kang finds himself with shooters at his front and back, and so thinks fast to slam himself sideways—breaking through a wood-paneled window and hiding inside the building.
Hye-won proceeds inside the building slowly, and catches a glimpse of Yoon-kang’s rifle barrel around the corner. Choi Won-shin looks through bookshelves at Yoon-kang crouched nearby, and makes his move. He whirls out into the open and fires—at the same time that Hye-won does the same. Bang! Father shoots daughter in the chest.
Holy crap. She looks stunned, standing there a long moment before her eyes roll up and she collapses to the ground. Choi Won-shin screams out her name and runs to her side, frantically telling her that she can live.
Yoon-kang has only heard what has happened and now rises, shell-shocked, watching the scene unfold. Sung-gil bursts in and jumps to the wrong conclusion, then fires at Yoon-kang. Thankfully he’s fast enough to run out of harm’s way, and Sung-gil loses him.
Choi Won-shin carries Hye-won out and races to a doctor. She’s still hanging on but not long for this world, but even now she urges her father to get that seal. He tells her that it’s meaningless without her, in anguish to see her in pain.
Hye-won: “Father, thinking about it, I think the past was better. We had nothing, but we ran from that hellish noble family and ate warm food with the first money we earned as merchants—do you remember that? We kept scooping food over so that the other would eat more and we ended up spilling it all. I don’t know how we came to this. There was a time when we would have been content with only one more lump of rice. Father, I’m sorry. Because of me…”
And on those words, she dies.
Yoon-kang returns to the palace with the seal, where Soo-in greets him anxiously and asks if anything happened. He tells her there was nothing, and just holds her close.
He has no words for the king when he crosses his path, but Gojong speaks up, acknowledging that many died because of him. He asks a favor of Yoon-kang, to not kill any more of his followers. In return, he’ll promise to give them their new world and accept their reforms. “You may resent me,” Gojong says, “but I have nowhere to say these words but to you. If it’s you, I thought you might be able to accept my words.”
Yoon-kang replies that he doesn’t want that either, and tells the king not to worry. The king, who still cannot look him in the eye, thanks him and says he’ll trust him.
The next day, Gojong sits down with the rebellion leaders and agrees to the legal reforms they want. The leaders are pleased, as are Yoon-kang and Soo-in, who trade hopeful looks, but the queen looks like she’d shoot them down with eye-bullets if she could.
Before the court, Kim Ok-kyun reads out the list of actions they want enacted, which includes abolishment of class privilege with equal rights for everyone, selection of government posts based on merit, and punishments for corrupt officials. Reaction is mixed, with elation from the enlightenment followers, utter defeat from the king, and perhaps something in between from everyone who’s suffered in the coup.
For Yoon-kang and Soo-in, though, this is happy news, clearing their path to be together. “Now, let us forget all our painful memories,” he says. “Let us only think of the work we must do together in this world we created.”
Now, he finally is at liberty to ask, “Live together with me. Now, let us be together without ever being separated again.” She agrees.
Aw, Hye-won. What a way go to. I’m not completely shocked that she was killed, since I figured either she or her father (or both) had a good chance of being offed, but the way she went out got a gasp out of me. I supposed that her father might die and she would completely change her life and continue on in a different vein, or that she might die in the line of fire and prompt her father to quit his power grab. But having him shoot her accidentally, while thinking she was the enemy? I know Choi Won-shin is a murderous assassin, but man, that felt mean.
It is, however, a particularly effective retribution, even though Yoon-kang had nothing to do with it. If he’d killed them both, he would have walked away still dissatisfied, his father no more honored than before. And if he’d killed Hye-won in front of Choi, well, Choi might have turned his rage on Yoon-kang but he sure wouldn’t have felt remorse. This is really the most effective way to get Choi to feel the weight of his wrongs, and to be given no way out because it was his own damn fault.
Hye-won’s death scene was particularly moving, not just because the actress does beautiful death scenes but because it hammers in exactly how futile their whole ascent to power has been. No doubt he’d give it up all in a flash to not have her die on him, and this is a case where you really do believe both characters when they say they couldn’t be able to live without the other. That’s what good acting can do, because their bond feels genuine and palpable, and part of me is afraid of what will become of Choi now that he has nothing left to lose.
It was also a rough day for Ho-kyung, who gets what he has worked his whole life for at the expense of his father, although at least his circumstances were quite as cruel as Choi Won-shin’s. I do wonder if Minister Kim’s death is, to be really insensitive about it, something that ultimately mitigates Ho-kyung’s conflict between his filial piety and his personal honor, because now at least he doesn’t have to struggle with feeling like he’s betraying one-half of himself with the other half. Or maybe losing his father highlights how empty he feels in the aftermath; his face during the reading of the new proposed laws was pretty heartbreaking, because he couldn’t even enjoy the fulfillment of his ideals. I worry for him, too.
I’m curious now, with one episode left, where this leaves our hero, because while his flight from justice is technically at an end, this doesn’t feel over for him. He seemed relieved to be free, but not necessarily like he’d won a personal victory—this Kaehwa fight was never his to begin with. In fact, I had wondered at some points in this episode and recent ones whether he and Soo-in would break ranks, because political machinations aren’t what they do. They both joined the Kaehwa coup as a means to an end, and they do both believe in the values espoused by these reforms, which are, by the way, completely worthwhile and noble ones—just achieved under questionable circumstances. (It makes you wonder if they’re so different from the Sugu-led government before them, even though they are, because at least they’re firmly against government corruption and the exploitation of people. But you can’t help feel their achievement was tainted.)
So what I found most moving about our main couple’s storyline in this episode wasn’t the forward movement of the plot, but the quiet moments where they stepped aside and spoke of their hopes and supported each other. I’ll probably never get fully over what I had hoped Soo-in would be, but inasmuch as we can’t change what the drama has done, at least I can find some comfort in the way she supports our hero, and provides him with a place to rest his head and collect his soul. She needs to be who she is in order for him to be who she is, and I can appreciate the beauty in that.
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 20
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 19
- 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