Secret Door: Episode 14
A fresh chapter opens, and wowza are we in for some dramatic changes. It’s refreshing (and exciting) to see our biggest players developing into stronger, smarter, and shrewder people, marking a departure from the innocence and idealism that made them such heartbreaking victims. Now that everyone has had time to react to the trauma of recent episodes, they emerge with new plans and new sharper edges. I like it. I like it very much.
SONG OF THE DAY
Yerin – “무명화 (蕪名花)” from the Secret Door OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 14 RECAP
Sun bursts in to stop the torture, too late to save Ji-dam’s father. He confronts his father with threat of the maengui, now that he has possession of the original document, and demands a stop to the proceedings. Yeongjo just literally walks over the pile of bodies he’s just killed and leaves without sparing Sun a word.
The father-son confrontation continues that evening, when Yeongjo laughs bitterly, asking if he’s to try to rule the nation while feeling on the hook to his son. Which is rather missing the point, honey, if you think Sun would be happy letting you rule while pulling your puppet strings.
Sun says that he has no intention of pulling those kinds of dirty tactics, and then pulls out the maengui. Yeongjo’s eyes widen in shock… and then widen even more when Sun walks very deliberately… to the torch nearby…
What! I repeat, WHAT? Are you insane or is this a fakeout? Tell me this is a fakeout. You have the real maengui somewhere and this is just a duplicate, right? You can’t burn that!
Father and son watch the document burn, and then Sun declares, “Father, you are now my political enemy.” It’s rather amazing how quickly Yeongjo shifts from being stooped over in fear and disbelief to straightening and puffing up with confidence. He scoffs that Sun shouldn’t have burned that document if he wants to take him on.
Sun says that what he wanted was political battle, not war—because in order to finish off this war, he will have to be responsible for taking as many or more lives than his father has: “Rather than politics that kills, I want to engage in politics that saves—not war, but true politics.”
Yeongjo chuckles in amusement, saying essentially “over my dead body”—Sun won’t be able to conduct politics while Yeongjo’s alive. You’d think he’d be more careful than to tempt fate like that, but perhaps he’s just feeling confident that Sun is too weak present much of a threat. To his credit, Sun doesn’t back down an inch and merely says that while his father has won this round, politics is all about the twists, so they’ll have to see who comes out on top in the end.
Advisor Chae is given a promotion by the king, who issues him his first order, which is to personally deliver the message to the prince that he is being stripped of his regency. So the king’s being sadistic now, since it’s plain to see that Advisor Chae feels pained to deal Sun this blow. The message instructs the prince to restrict his activities to those of a prince, and to remove himself from all of his duties in actually governing.
Sun duly does as told and drops by Princess Hyegyeong’s quarters to see his son. It’s a lovely understated moment, where he greets his family warmly, though his overall mood is downtrodden.
Yeongjo assembles his full court to announce that he will be resuming direct rule in this time of difficulty and turmoil. He declares that he’ll be adopting a more compassionate approach to the rebels, scaling back their punishments to spare their lives. Yet the court bursts out in a chorus of protests, as the Norons insist on death for the Soron traitors.
Yeongjo looks taken aback at the vehemence of the pushback and meets with former prime minister Kim Taek to tell him to back off, considering that the prince burned the maengui. But Kim Taek is feeling more secure than ever and smirks that the king won’t be able to do anything to him now, because the king has effectively done their dirty work for them in cutting down the Soron opposition, “And now only the Norons are left.”
Kim Taek smugly congratulates Yeongjo on being the Norons’ king, and Yeongjo looks a little stunned to have been outmaneuvered. I’m a little surprised that he seems so surprised, but Yeongjo did allow his emotions to drive him over the line, and the Norons were ready to use him to their benefit.
Thus instructions are reissued to round up the traitors, to Sun’s dismay. Officer Min Woo-sub says despairingly that he wishes the prince hadn’t burned the document, but Sun says that not doing so would have led to even bloodier results. Someone has to sever the loop.
This means that the families of the accused are rounded up, and Chul-joo acts quickly to smuggle Ji-dam out of the city dressed as a boy before she gets caught up in the purge. Teacher Park anticipates their escape and encounters them on their way out of the city, ushering them to a safehouse temporarily.
Chul-joo entreats him to join them on their flight, but Park is quietly determined to meet his fate head-on. Chul-joo, fired up in righteous indignation, vows that this won’t be the end of them and that they’ll come back one day to repay everyone for what they’ve done.
Teacher Park asks Chul-joo to remain safe and hurries them on when he hears the authorities approaching. Chul-joo and Ji-dam escape in the nick of time, while Park is taken down swiftly by a swarm of officers. He’s punished to exile, and accepts his lot stoically.
Teacher Park is now speaking of his life as something about to meet its end, and sends a letter to the king. Yeongjo opens the note to find only two characters written on it: Juk-pa.
Yeongjo flashes back to the day when Teacher Park first offered him that moniker, its characters for bamboo and flowing water meant to symbolize a country where righteousness flows like water. Yeongjo also recalls that day when, as crown prince, Park had stayed to counsel him with all the other officials had scorned him and left.
Park, who has been looking progressively weak and ill, dies while in exile. We hear his last message of entreaty to the king in voiceover, as he begs Yeongjo to become a good king, and that it’s not too late to turn things around. Yeongjo reacts to Park’s death sorrowfully at first, sighing, “I am alone once again.” However, ever one to twist things the way he wants them, he then tells his eunuch, “We have once again survived.” Let’s not forget what’s most important here: protecting Number 1.
Sun hears of the death with sadness. Holding his son in his lap, he asks with heavy heart, “Will I be able to endure this pain and win this fight? Could I make this world one that’s better than it is now for you—could I be that kind of father?”
And then, we reopen three years later. (This puts us in 1758, in Yeongjo’s 34th year. Sun is now 23.)
Sun, now sporting facial hair, enjoys the weather outside while his faithful guard Min Woo-sub (phew, he’s still around) cautions him against being seen outside of the palace. To the contrary, Sun wants exactly that—for news of his trip outside to get back to the king.
Yeongjo is incensed to find the prince missing from his politics lessons and demands to know where Sun went. War Minister Hong passes along the message that the prince has decided to select his own teacher.
Sun visits with Kim Taek, his mood a far cry from the open suspicion and hostility with which he used to regard Kim. Today he’s fully of flattery and praise, and then makes his overture: He’d like Kim Taek to be his politics teacher. Ooh. This is interesting.
It’s an unexpected request, but one that intrigues Kim Taek, particularly when Sun explains that he’d like to challenge the king. Kim points out that the prince could be harboring secret designs to backstab him, but Sun knows how to hook his interest and says that he wishes to learn all about how to gain and wield power from Kim… unless Kim is scared that he’ll teach Sun too well? Then he dangles irresistible bait: Kim Taek should teach Sun, and in so doing, he could make Sun into the ruler that the Norons want.
Yeongjo is alarmed to hear Sun has been courting Kim Taek’s interest and takes issue with War Minister Hong. But Hong is firmly entrenched with the Norons now and doesn’t flinch in front of the king, pointing out merely that it’s a good idea for Sun to learn about politics from a master like Kim.
Yeongjo’s confidante pool has shrunk (…because he killed them all) to his eunuch and Advisor Chae, who still serves him faithfully while keeping his distance from Sun. Yeongjo notes that the Norons have grown in power since the Sorons were cut down, and wonders what his son means by this. Advisor Chae counsels the king to take it in stride, since he was partially responsible for sending Sun along this path. Yeongjo balks that he stripped Sun of his regency because he was going to position himself as a rival, but Chae points out that it was in stripping him of the regency that Yeongjo actually caused Sun to take him on is rival. Isn’t it ironic.
Kim Taek is surprised to learn that Sun has already taken his grandson, Kim Moon, under his wing. Hm, Sun is moving quickly and quietly, and thus far his motives are a mystery, which bodes well for him. (I get too scared for his safety when everyone else can read him like an open book.) So Sun calls Kim Taek “Teacher” and heads off with Moon, who has gathered a whole cabal of his young friends—all sons of prominent Noron officials.
Kim Taek informs his cronies in the elder Noron circle, who receive news of Sun’s offer positively. One minister remains wary of Sun harboring ulterior motives, but Kim Taek isn’t blind to that possibility—he just isn’t daunted by it. With the Sorons having been crushed, it’s time for the Norons to face off against the king, and the prince will be a pivotal player in that fight. In fact, War Minister Hong argues that if Sun hadn’t come to them, they still need to grab onto him. They can use the prince to check the king, and thus restore the power balance to the level they like it at: with the royalty weak and puppet-like, and the actual power in the hands of the noble class.
The prince’s young crowd enjoy themselves with liquor and women at Woon-shim’s gibang, which is where Advisor Chae bursts in to summon Sun to an audience with the king. He’s so disapproving and disappointed that it kills me, because he sees Sun as a son who’s gone astray, wasting away his life in frivolity and glibly calling gibang parties lessons in culture and music. Sun is quite brazen to his face, introducing his pals as his future Noron supporters, not breaking his facade even when Advisor Chae tells him frankly that he’s disappointed in him.
Unsuccessful in getting Sun to leave the party, Chae speaks to faithful guard Woo-sub and asks if Sun does this often (he does) and why Woo-sub doesn’t stop him (nobody can stop Sun).
Meanwhile, Sun apologizes to his buddies for ruining the festive mood, and asks after the newly arrived gisaeng. Woon-shim stiffens visibly and tries to make excuses about her, but she can’t stop them from flinging open the door and revealing… Ji-dam, all grown up and dressed as a gisaeng.
This is Yoon So-hee, stepping in for Kim Yoo-jung, and while she’s obviously a new person to us, Sun’s reaction informs us that she is immediately recognized as Ji-dam.
He sits with her in private to express his relief to know she was safe all these years, but Ji-dam—who insists that he use her gisaeng name, Bingae—is curt and dead-eyed as she faces him, and avoids looking at him directly. She informs him that the childish, naive Ji-dam of the past died alongside her father, and pointedly remarks that the old prince is gone, too—the man who valued his people more than himself. Instead, now he wastes his time drinking it up with the elites.
She asks flatly what he wants from her, and says that if it’s sex, she’ll comply. With that, she starts to undress mechanically, and he stops her in horror. He apologizes and says that he’ll be back, leaving for the day.
He asks Woon-shim if it’s okay to leave Ji-dam here, and she supposes that it’s safe as long as Sun doesn’t let on that he knows her. He leaves her with his contact information in case he’s needed… and then his haughty new friend Kim Moon steps in to ask Woon-shim what they meant about him “letting on” about Ji-dam. Gulp. She lies to cover it up, but he doesn’t buy it.
As they leave the gibang, Woo-sub suggests to Sun that they could have been honest with Ji-dam about their intentions. But Sun hushes him vehemently, saying that they can’t endanger what they’ve worked so hard to prepare. Well I’m glad that at least Woo-sub is in on Sun’s double-faced mission; the guy needs friends to count on.
Disguised in plain clothing and a large hat, Sun drops in on a bookseller—underground, from the looks of it—to collect his latest order that has just come in. The seller wonders what he means to do with these books and maps, which are diverse and somewhat dangerous writings that are critical of tyranny. Sun just says he’s reading to pass the time.
That bookseller reports the exchange to Chul-joo, who can tell just from the books being bought that this mysterious man is up to more than just reading for fun, as he says. He wonders what he means to do with this information and speculates that this man may be planning something—and that those align with their own interests: “To change the world.” That sounds like grand idealism, but in a practical sense we’re talking about a coup.
Nettled that his son ignored his summons, Yeongjo waits for news of Sun, impatient at his slow return to the palace. So when his dinner is brought to him, Yeongjo declares in a huff that he will be going on a fast, refusing all food and medicine.
Hyegyeong is also anxious at Sun’s extended absence and is waiting for him when he returns, preparing honeyed water to sober him from drink and a toothbrush to clear off the liquor smell. She’s concerned that Yeongjo might blow up at Sun at the remind of his activities, but he seems unconcerned—and moreover, quite used to fasting as one of his father’s tactics.
It’s reminiscent of Yeongjo’s frequent threats to abdicate as a method of getting his courtiers to fall in line, and while everyone may guess that Yeongjo’s not very serious about the hunger strike, they still have to go through the motions of placating him. In fact, when Sun visits his father to urge him to break his fast, Yeongjo’s attitude brings to mind nothing more than a child in a tantrum, while Sun soothes him.
Yeongjo takes issue with Sun approaching Kim Taek to be his teacher and tells him to give up on that idea, but Sun pushes back. He says he wants to learn how to be a good king, as though his motives are completely pure and therefore unobjectionable. Yeongjo asks about his frequent gibang visits, and Sun has a ready answer for that too, saying that he’s creating a casual atmosphere in which he can talk with his future colleagues, just as his father does with his politicians.
Yeongjo bolts up in alarm, his mind hearing A-B-C and leaping to Z: Is Sun already planning to take over the throne then? Is he that eager for his father to die?
Sun answers calmly that it’s his job as the crown prince to inherit the throne, and thus he is working hard to prepare to be a wonderful ruler like his father. The sarcasm is thick but he delivers it straight, and has Yeongjo in a fit; eyeing Sun as a slippery fish, he demands to know his true aim, accusing him of making a power grab to cut down his father. Sun says he has no immediate plans of engaging in politics, and Yeongjo sends him away in a huff.
Kim Taek assures Sun that the fast isn’t serious, and heads in to talk to the king next. He tells Yeongjo to put an end to the fast and chides him for forcing the point in accusing the prince of underhanded plots. Yeongjo just pouts like a child, but Kim Taek knows how to bring him around, and warns that the court officials will refuse to appear at the official assembly tomorrow if the king doesn’t relent.
It works, mostly because Yeongjo didn’t really have his heart in it anyway, and Sun thanks Kim for changing his father’s mind so quickly. Meanwhile, the king continues to worry about his son’s growing association with Kim Taek and the Norons; their growing power is a danger they must figure out how to neutralize.
I do love Advisor Chae’s ability to say “I told you so” without rancor, which is why the king doesn’t rage at him when Chae reminds him that this is sort of the king’s own fault—he should have anticipated the Noron power base growing when he purged the Sorons. Now with nobody left to keep the Norons in check, who can stop them?
Yeongjo interprets this as Chae saying that he dug his own grave, but he appreciates the advisor’s frankness and invites him to continue sharing his thoughts. So Chae explains that while he disagrees with many of the king’s actions, he has also accomplished many things. He brings up one of the king’s most important laws, the Tangpyeong policy that stressed non-factionalist politics. He’d put it into practice by appointing office on ground of merit instead of party lines, and Advisor Chae sees the need to revive this policy.
He suggests that Yeongjo bring back the surviving Soron politicians (who are no longer in office), and Yeongjo mulls this over seriously.
Sun takes particular precautions to make sure that he isn’t seen when he and Woo-sub reveal a hidden door in a wall (ah, so that’s what the secret door is?), taking the staircase down into a secret library below.
The library was built two years ago, and Sun wryly gives credit to the assassins who’d tried to assassinate him by setting fire to his palace. In the reconstruction process, he was able to install this room, and has been quietly stocking its shelves.
Woo-sub points out the risk he’s taking on with such dangerous materials, and asks why he’s working so hard. Sun replies, “Because that is the voice of the people.” So whether or not these are dangerous items, he must read the people’s thoughts carefully.
Bingae (Ji-dam) slips outside the gibang to meet with Chul-joo, not noticing that she’s being watched. Well that’s not good. She’s got bigger concerns on her mind, though, and is ready to move on to the next step of their as-yet-undisclosed plan. Chul-joo reminds her of the dangers, but Bingae says with resolve that seeing the prince only strengthened her determination to repay what was done to her many times over.
News arrives of an alarming disturbance at the border, and everyone is on edge to hear of a skirmish between a Joseon fishing boat and the Qing navy. Qing forces are arguing that this is an act of aggression by the Joseon nation and are sending envoys to the capital. It’s a volatile situation and Yeongjo understands the dangers involved… but is also quick to realize, “A danger is also an opportunity.” Ack, I don’t like the sounds of that.
Thus he assembles his court and rails at them for being a do-nothing government, essentially. Oh, he enjoys blaming this all on their laziness and ineptitude, and lays into them about how their inactions may lead them to war against the Qing. Thus, he will have to send out for more helpful officials—bring the Sorons back to court!
The Norons are aghast, but Yeongjo shoots them down, saying that he’s not expecting the Sorons to fix the mess, only that he needs their help in light of the Norons’ incompetence. Furthermore, he intends to have the prince handle the matter of the Qing envoys.
Oy, so he means to trample the Norons and set his son up for failure, is that it? Because everyone argues that this matter is too dire to leave to the prince, and even Sun’s father-in-law warns him privately to decline the assignment.
So Yeongjo summons Sun, and asks once more what he intends from his lessons with Kim Taek. Is it truly just to learn politics, or is he using it as a way to regain his prince-regency? Well, Yeongjo will give him a chance to do just that, and outlines his mission, if he chooses to accept it: persuade the Qing envoys, don’t give them the slightest pretext to launch a war, and also don’t do anything to mar Joseon’s standing. It’s a tall order, perhaps near-impossible, but if he succeeds, Yeongjo will reinstate him as prince-regent. If not… well, prepare for dire consequences. What will he decide?
Sun replies, “I will do it.”
Woohoo, these characters have grown up and learned a thing or two in the past three years, haven’t they? The most drastic change is with Ji-dam/Bingae, in that you have an entire new actress to portray the character, and while I will still contend that the recasting was confusing (and maybe part bullshit), I won’t argue with the effect. Ji-dam was sweet and earnest and a needed ally for the equally sweet and earnest Sun, but oh my god was it frustrating at times to see how their naivety made them such targets.
Grown-up Ji-dam (whom I’ll call Bingae now) isn’t very much older in years, but this new actress brings with her a much harder, steelier vibe and I can see why the replacement was necessary. Yoon So-hee has that cold bitchface that really sells Bingae’s bitterness (it’s something I hated about the actress in her prior drama, but good casting to use it to its best effect narratively), in a way that I couldn’t see Kim Yoo-jung conveying, because she’s just too sweet.
It’s great that she believes the worst of Sun (not great, but good for the story!) because if she’s going to be presented to us as the great love of his life, I want to feel some emotion about their tragic romance. A grand misunderstanding that is necessary to effect Sun’s grand plan is an effective way to keep that angst going, and I find myself sitting up in anticipation of this romance. Ji-dam’s scenes weren’t that interesting to me before when Hyegyeong was there drawing my attention away by being so complex and layered, but now I hope to put Bingae back on the map as a source of dramatic conflict.
As for Sun, more than anything I’m relieved that he’s toughened up and learned how to hide his thoughts from the outside world, using people as he needs to but giving nothing of his true self away. What’s great is that he’s learned the art of politicking, where you clearly mean one thing but are saying the opposite, and yet nobody can take issue because they have to react to the content of your words, not the way you say them or the motivations behind them. Take the fasting scene as an example, where he says everything with such a straight face that even though Yeongjo is convinced he’s being sarcastic or lying, he can’t protest when Sun says to him, “But Father, I just want to be a good ruler like you are.”
It’s his father who taught him that lesson, and it’s all rather tragic that those skills will now be used to take his father down. But it’s a nice irony, because I’ve always thought of Yeongjo as something of his own greatest enemy, creating problems in his haste to prevent them. That isn’t to say that the threats against him weren’t real and dangerous, but he always had that knack of turning a bad situation worse, and in trying to protect himself from someone attacking him, he would actually drive them to attack him. It’s positively Oedipal in scope; creating the problem you seek to thwart and bringing about your own downfall.
Not that I expect Sun to succeed and take down Yeongjo, of course (although I can’t help wanting the drama to controvert history by giving us some kind of twist), but now at least you get the sense that the playing field has been leveled. Sun is going into battle fully armed for the first time, and well, I’ll always respect the soldier who fights for his cause wholeheartedly, no matter the outcome.
- Secret Door: Episode 13
- Secret Door: Episode 12
- Secret Door: Episode 11
- Secret Door: Episode 10
- Secret Door: Episode 9
- Secret Door: Episode 8
- Secret Door: Episode 7
- Secret Door: Episode 6
- Secret Door: Episode 5
- Secret Door: Episode 4
- Secret Door: Episode 3
- Secret Door: Episode 2
- Secret Door: Episode 1