Joseon Gunman: Episode 22 (Final)
Didja think yesterday mostly wrapped up the story, and today’s finale episode would merely be an epilogue? Well you’d be wrong, given how jam-packed with plot this hour is, providing us with a number of twists, turns, and noble sacrifices before we ultimately arrive at our conclusion. It feels good to reach the end of this turbulent road with a resolution that feels satisfying, in character, and hopeful all at once. Yoon-kang’s tenure with the coup may have been marked by sadness and setbacks, but there’s a reason he isn’t a political hero but a populist one.
Ratings-wise, the drama maintained a first-place ranking for almost all of its episodes and ended on a high point with 12.8%. It’s strange to think of 12.8% being a series high for a first-place show, but ratings, they ain’t what they once were. (Fated To Love You also wrapped up its run on MBC, drawing a 10.5% rating, while It’s Okay, It’s Love brought home a 9.4% for SBS.)
SONG OF THE DAY
Sohn Jin-young – “I’m Sorry” [ Download ]
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Yoon-kang and Soo-in finally have their peaceful reunion and look forward to their new lives together. Is it wrong of me to expect calamity at any moment? It’s too happy.
News spreads of the reforms with posted notices and flyers alerting the commoners that they no longer need to bow down to the aristocracy, and that their rice debts to the government have been canceled. The town storyteller regales excited crowds with his recounting: “All of the citizens are now the owners of Joseon!”
And then, an ominous sight appears in the distance: soldiers riding into town bearing Japanese flags. Yoon-kang and Soo-in race to the palace, only to find more troops stationed outside it.
Inside, they confront Kim Ok-kyun, who tells them this was arranged in advance. This is maddening, because he’d lied to them and gone behind their backs in negotiating with the Japanese. Kim reasons that it wasn’t a lie so much as a backup plan, for the good of the country.
Yoon-kang points out exactly what he’d pointed out when he opposed the idea the first time: When you involve foreign power in establishing a new government, your new government becomes beholden to that power. Hence, they’ve put themselves in Japan’s debt. Kim Ok-kyun replies (with shocking naivety—although perhaps it only seems naive in hindsight?) that Japan is merely helping them make progress.
Yoon-kang also makes the practical argument that the once the people hear that the revolution was dependent on Japanese might, the people will reject the new regime. Kim is tone-deaf to his concerns, so Yoon-kang has no choice but to decide, “Then I will leave. I will not work with you any further. This is not what I wanted.”
Kim Ok-kyun protests—the troops trust Yoon-kang as their leader, and his departure would spur theirs. He calls his choice an inevitable one, necessary to block the Chinese troops (who would have been called to support the old regime), and urges Yoon-kang to look past justifications to the reality of setting up their world. Which sounds like something Machiavelli would say.
But right away, a threat arises: The Japanese minister has acquiesced to the queen’s demands to be moved back to the old palace. They don’t have the manpower to fight off an attack at that palace, which is much more open than this one, and thus this is a huge risk to their coup. The Japanese minister tells them they’ll handle everything, but it’s hardly reassuring.
Kim Ok-kyun tries to damage-control by putting the king and queen in the palace’s smallest building. That sort of feels like plugging up a leaking dam with gum, doesn’t it? In this state of emergency, he pleads with Yoon-kang to stick around at least until the danger passes.
The king and queen receive a visit from the prime minister, to whom the queen gives a “gift.” Based on the way the queen tenses when a subordinate checks the gift, I’m betting there’s much more to this than a mere ornament.
As soon as the prime minister leaves, the queen tells Gojong that the Chinese armies will be on their way soon—she slipped a message inside requesting aid. Gojong is shocked at her maneuver, but she argues that they cannot leave the country to be taken over by rebels.
Choi Won-shin sits numbly at his daughter’s funeral altar, listening stoically to the report on the aftermath of the coup. He orders Sung-gil to send out messages that those who don’t pay a condolence visit for Hye-won will be endangering their own lives. But he seems more lost than angry.
Understanding his frustration with the coup’s handling, Soo-in tells Yoon-kang that if he chooses to leave, she will follow. Yoon-kang replies that he wants to leave, but it would feel as though nothing changed if he did so now. So he’ll stay just until the situation stabilizes, and then leave. Soo-in takes his hand and promises to wait with him.
As feared, it doesn’t take long for the people to feel disgust over the situation and reject the reforms. Soon Chinese troops arrive in the city as well, and the queen haughtily informs Soo-in that their revolution ends today.
The Japanese soldiers face off against the approaching Chinese forces, and initial gunfire breaks out. Yet out of nowhere the Japanese minister orders a retreat, leaving the Koreans flabbergasted. Orders from Japan have changed, and now the army is withdrawing.
With their leaders stunned speechless, the Joseon troops look around in confusion, and some soldiers bolt along with the retreating Japanese army. Yoon-kang takes the lead and starts issuing orders, then identifies their priority as guarding the king and queen. Ho-kyung takes command of the front line just as the Chinese army begins its assault.
The defense is pathetic, however, and the Kaehwa rebels are far outnumbered. Ho-kyung has to order a retreat, and the Chinese army advances inside the palace walls.
Yoon-kang urges Sang-chu to seek shelter, but Sang-chu refuses to leave him, saying that he needs to fight for a better world for his family’s sake. Oh no, he’s gonna die, isn’t he? He argues that he would have died back in Japan anyway, if not for Yoon-kang saving him. Therefore it’s his fate to stay with him till the end.
By the time Ho-kyung joins them, their numbers have dwindled to almost nothing—it’s only a matter of time before the Chinese reach the king and queen. If they don’t flee now, they’ll all die. Yoon-kang assents, heading back inside to retrieve Soo-in.
On the way in, he encounters his two Kaehwa leaders, who have decided to flee to Japan and urge Yoon-kang to accompany them. Yoon-kang is horrified that Kim Ok-kyun would abandon the soldiers fighting outside on his orders, but Kim declares the rebellion a failure and beats a hasty retreat. What a crushing disillusionment for one you’ve called Teacher all these years.
Yoon-kang collects Soo-in and they rejoin their friends outside, but their escape is interrupted when Sang-chu gets shot in the leg. Urging the other two on first, Yoon-kang insists on staying behind, even when Sang-chu tells Yoon-kang to go on without him lest they both die.
Sang-chu asks Yoon-kang for a favor in naming his child. Yoon-kang doesn’t like hearing him talk that way and urges him to talk about it once they’ve both escaped, then turns to face the wall of incoming soldiers, ready to single-handedly take them on. Sang-chu knows that his friend will never give up on him and makes up his mind. Before Yoon-kang can stop him, he charges straight toward the enemy line, gun blazing.
Sang-chu takes down several soldiers before he’s shot down himself, riddled with bullets.
Enraged, Yoon-kang fires furiously at the enemy, aided by Ho-kyung, who returns to back him up. The two of them do an admirable job holding back the enemy, enough to give Yoon-kang time to retrieve Sang-chu’s body, but it’s a losing battle. Ho-kyung forces him to make their escape before they’re trapped.
Soon afterward, it’s all over. The Chinese general reports to the king and queen, who sigh in relief.
Outside, Yoon-kang is still reeling from the shock of everything. I’m glad they have Ho-kyung to be the level head, and he tells them that Soo-in’s family will be in danger now that the coup failed, so going there is their first concern.
Thankfully, they get there before any authorities do. Her mother takes the news in stride, saying that she was happy for a brief moment to see the world Soo-in and her father dreamed of. She sends Soo-in off with her blessing, telling her that she can take this opportunity to go to China and see the world. “Do not worry about me,” her mother says. “I will live on, wherever I go. So you must stay alive, too. Live on, and one day return to me as my daughter.”
Choi Won-shin receives word of the failed rebellion, which revives him—he heads out immediately, determined to claim his payback.
Our fugitive trio makes it as far as the city wall, but find their exit blocked by soldiers, who are on high alert for the rebels. Making things worse, they spot Choi patrolling with his men, and in running away, Choi spots them and fires.
The bullet lands in Soo-in’s shoulder, and she goes down. Yoon-kang manages to carry Soo-in out of the line of fire and they seek shelter inside a house, which is quickly surrounded by Choi’s men and soldiers. Our guys know that the situation is looking grim, and Yoon-kang decides he’ll play decoy to let them escape. Ho-kyung stops him, though, saying that he’ll do it. And knowing that they’ll protest, he uses the only logic that would work: that if the goal is to save Soo-in, then Yoon-kang is the only one who can do it.
“I have nothing more to lose,” Ho-kyung says. “My father, the new world—there is nothing more for me to protect. I came this far for you two, so leave this to me.”
When Yoon-kang stubbornly argues that they should escape together, Ho-kyung says, “I’m asking you as a favor. Take Soo-in away. And the dream I could not fulfill—the two of you must do it. I know too well that in this kind of situation, remaining alive is even harder than dying. But the two of you must live on. That alone will be a great solace to me.”
Choi Won-shin bursts through the gates and leads his men in, searching the house for sign of Yoon-kang. Ho-kyung shoots his way out of the courtyard and makes his way out to the street. Soldiers spot him and chase him through the city, and while Ho-kyung fends them off with gunfire for a while, ultimately he’s trapped. Bullets rip into him, and he goes down.
With everyone chasing Ho-kyung, Yoon-kang slips out of the unguarded house carrying Soo-in. Hearing the gunfight in the distance, they pause and shed a tear, knowing Ho-kyung has fallen.
Choi Won-shin sees that the corpse is not who he’s looking for, returns to the house, and sees that Yoon-kang was there. But he’s gone now, and Choi howls in frustration.
Yoon-kang has difficulty navigating the streets because of all the officers on patrol, but thankfully it’s the friendly ones who find him: Officer Moon and Jung-hoon clear his path, providing escort to the city gates with the explanation that the king has given the order to allow them to leave.
That allows them to exit, but Yoon-kang is confused at the change of heart. Officer Moon replies that he is no longer the king’s man, having realized Yoon-kang was right about the king not protecting Joseon. Jung-hoon hands him his gun and asks him to survive.
Yoon-kang and Soo-in travel on foot to the cave where they’d once spent the night, and pause to rest. Soo-in is in bad shape and appears to be fading, so Yoon-kang is forced to dig out the bullet with a knife, which is excruciating work. He manages to fish it out, but Soo-in asks tearfully, “Will we be able to survive? To live enough for everyone who died for us?”
He holds her close and says, “We will. It will be difficult, but we must live on till the end, enough for them as well.” I would say this isn’t quite the time for a makeout session, but given their dire circumstances, maybe they should take what they can, while they can.
Soo-in makes it through the night, and in the morning is improved enough to be cause for relief. They decide to drop by the temple to check on Yeon-ha and Je-mi, but when they arrive they hear that troops forced their way in and dragged everybody off, including the monks. Eep!
Yoon-kang tells Soo-in to stay here while he rescues the others. But there are only fifteen minutes left!
Maybe he’s feeling impatient too, because Yoon-kang charges right into the path of a troop transporting the captives, and fires away. Some fall and others run away, and as he frees the people, the little boy he rescued picks up weapons from a fallen soldier. It’s his turn to protect his noonas, he says.
The party makes it back to the temple safe and sound in the morning, and the reunion is happy. It’s a sadder moment, though, when Yoon-kang has to tell Je-mi of Sang-chu’s fate, and how he died fighting for the better world he wanted for his family.
This also gives his enemies another clue; Choi Won-shin hears of the gunman who showed up in the middle of the night and races to track him down. This takes him all the way to the temple, just in time to see Yoon-kang’s group heading away, and they give chase. Yoon-kang sees them off in the distance and speeds their pace, but they can hear Choi screaming threats after him.
Yoon-kang pauses when Choi issues a challenge to meet one-on-one, with the promise to let his people go unharmed in exchange. Soo-in pleads with him not to leave, and Yoon-kang agrees despite being torn.
But that night, an arrow flies into Choi’s camp with a note tied to it. In the morning, the ladies wake up to find him gone, with a note left in his place. In it, he apologizes for breaking his promise and going off alone, but explains that this is a fight he cannot avoid—it’s necessary in finally ending his and Choi’s tie of misfortune.
“I will not leave you to endure pain or loneliness on your own anymore,” he writes. “I will return to your side. So please, wait for me. Without any worry, without any sadness, let us meet again.”
Yoon-kang meets Choi Won-shin in the appointed spot. They face off with their guns in hand, out in the open, and slowly prepare to begin the gunfight. Choi is first to cock his gun, but Yoon-kang shoots faster, nailing him in the leg.
In pain but not out, Choi musters his strength, then reloads and goes for another shot. Again Yoon-kang is faster, his bullet landing in the shoulder this time. Choi falls down, and Yoon-kang walks right up to him, this time pointing the gun at his head.
“Shoot,” Choi spits at him. Yoon-kang hesitates. Choi asks if he’s afraid, taunting him even at the last.
“How pitiful your life is,” Yoon-kang says. “And how very futile.” Choi screams at him to shoot, but Yoon-kang asks, “What does killing you now change? The dead won’t come back to life, and time that has passed cannot be turned back.”
He lowers his gun and declares, almost fiercely, “I will forgive you now. I will no longer live thinking of you. Revenge only leaves you empty in the end—you will realize this.”
And with that, Yoon-kang turns around and walks away.
Raging futilely, Choi Won-shin pulls out a small gun—Hye-won’s pistol—and lifts it to his temple. Yoon-kang hears the shot, and continues forward.
He makes it back to his family, finally free.
A few years later.
It’s a peaceful day in a mountain village, where several women (including Soo-in and Je-mi) are serving food to a line of people. Soo-in is offered a small bouquet of flowers, and looks up in surprise—it’s Yoon-kang, all growed up and sporting facial hair, who pays her a compliment and shares a flirty moment with her. It’s sweet how they haven’t lost that lovin’ feelin’.
He’s heading out on yet another mission to fight on behalf of mistreated farmers; it appears that he’s become a vigilante hero in the years we’ve missed (dare I say, an Iljimae?).
Soo-in asks him to be careful, and he reminds her that he’s no longer alone in the fight. We see that he now commands a small army of citizens, who rally behind him as he speaks of the corrupt officials they must punish next.
He smiles up at Je-mi, her son, and Soo-in, and then embarks on his next rescue mission. His target receives warning that “that man, the people’s gunman, the Black Gunman of the Full Moon” is on his way, and that strikes terror into his heart, as well as hope into the hearts of those suffering abuse at his hands.
And the fight goes on.
So much dying! At least this is the kind of story where deaths mean something, and every loss we suffered today had its place in the bigger picture, culminating in our heroes’ existential questioning of whether they would be able to live up to those sacrifices.
So it’s fitting that everyone on our heroes’ team died for their cause, either for the Big Ideological Cause such as the coup, or a personal one, or a mixture of the two. They were all affecting in their own ways, such as Sang-chu going down even though he had every reason to run and save his neck, as Yoon-kang wanted him to do. But in a lovely harking back to their backstory, Sang-chu essentially delivers his life into Yoon-kang’s hands because Yoon-kang was the one to win it back in the first place. It’s an echo of Kanemaru’s sacrifice as well, and one side effect of these sacrifices is to highlight Yoon-kang’s own nobility—he’s the leader who could inspire such devotion, even when he’s arguing against it.
Of the deaths, Ho-kyung’s struck me the most today (although Choi Won-shin also had a moving moment of despair), and not just because he made a noble sacrifice. His character was never as active as I wanted it to be, but he was a steadfast emblem of tragic idealism, always caught between the two sides that meant the most to him, and ultimately losing both. (His father and his dream, that is.) He had long since given up hope of winning Soo-in’s love, so it’s fitting that he go out protecting hers—and entrusting the tatters of his dream to people who might have a chance of seeing it bear fruit.
I’m not surprised that the Kaehwa leaders turned tail and escaped to save their own necks, but I am satisfied with the way this was worked into Yoon-kang’s development as a tool in the coup and then rejecter of it. I was pleased with the way the drama has skillfully woven history into its narrative and maintained a nice balance between hitting the main factual points without losing focus of the fact that this drama has its own narrative throughline, and that it should take care not to depart too far from our hero’s trajectory. It was rather clever how the show made Yoon-kang the driver of the coup’s good ideas, while absolving him of responsibility for its failure because he was undermined by his own cohorts.
You get the sense that had he and Soo-in been able to plan the thing themselves, they would have prevailed—or, to see it from the flipside, if they were going to fail either way, at least this way you have somebody to blame for it. It’s ironic that the Kaehwa scholars were so full of righteous nobility against the corrupt Sugu officials, but in trying to play the game, they compromised part of their ideals—and the thing is, you can’t compromise just a little part and still get to claim you’re completely noble. Once you play dirty, you give up the right to stand on your high horse, and Yoon-kang doesn’t cut anybody any slack for being mostly well-intentioned.
So I’m happy—impressed, even—with the way the writing played with the coup and built it into Yoon-kang’s story, and preserved his character’s moral code while pitting him with the failed rebels’ side. It’s a tricky thing when you put your hero on the losing team, but Yoon-kang was never as entrenched in the Kaehwa politics as the others, not even as much as Soo-in was. That’s why I enjoy his resolution, where he’s most effective as the vigilante hero of the people, completely divorced from court or philosophy or politics. He’s best being apolitical, delivering justice by the one code that matters to him: Do you treat people fairly or don’t you?
Overall, Joseon Gunman wasn’t quite the exciting thrill ride I was hoping it would be, because it never quite hit its beats as sharply and smartly as it could have. That’s too bad, because it really had the potential to be an extraordinary show, rather than one that was merely good. And I recognize that being “merely good” is a lot better than a lot of shows, and that there’s unfairness in holding it to a higher standard than lesser-quality stuff out there just because it had a higher ceiling for potential. But you can’t help it when you’re so ready to love something wholeheartedly and only half of your heart makes it.
That said, once I got past my disappointed hopes—and you really have to let that go, at a certain point—Joseon Gunman was an entertaining experience, and I felt like this was an instance where recapping the show enhanced my enjoyment of it. It allowed me to see how the writing was building on itself, and I appreciated where it was going even when I felt like it wasted some moments in being plodding when it didn’t need to be. At the end of the day, though, you’ve gotta judge a show for what it was, rather than what you wanted it to be, and even on those merits I feel pretty satisfied. You can’t deny it was a gorgeous show to look at, every frame of the way, with lovely scoring and nuanced villains and solid acting from most of the cast, most of the time. (Yes, I do think there were some gaps.) But as a whole, it was a solid ride—maybe a cut below exciting, but it gets points for consistency and character. And Lee Jun-ki.
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 21
- 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