Jackpot: Episode 18
No matter how swift, brutal, and supposedly final the king’s vengeance may be, there’ll always be ways to handily avoid death. Unless you’re not one of the main characters/human pin cushions, in which case, one stab or wrong look will kill you. Life may be a lottery, but when it’s one that our villain keeps winning indiscriminately, it makes you wonder why the rules only apply to a select, terrible few.
EPISODE 18 RECAP
While Dae-gil turns around as though sensing his father’s presence, Prince Yeoning goes to see his own father on his deathbed, attended by Prince Yeonryung, Crown Prince Yoon, and the warrior Chae-gun.
Dae-gil finds his father, who keeps his back turned to him as he tells him not to come any closer. But Dae-gil can only ask why his father kept away from him all these years with tears overflowing, but his shaking father can only say that he’s sorry.
Grabbing him by the collar, Dae-gil demands answers. He thought his father was dead all these years, so why did Man-geum not reveal himself sooner? To that, Man-geum can only shake his head.
Prince Yeoning asks the royal doctor how his father could’ve collapsed when he was healthy only the night before, and the doctor directs him to the incense made of poppy seeds (opium) he’d prescribed to the king to alleviate his pain. The king ordered him to keep it a secret.
Yeoning tells the concerned Noron ministers that the king will get through this bump in the road, though whether he actually will is uncertain. More investigation into the opium incense reveals that the king had been suffering from gallstones for years, and had even taking to coughing blood, which is why the opium was prescribed in the first place.
We check back in with Dae-gil and his father as he asks, “You made a deal with Yi Injwa? Father, when did I ever say I wanted to be king?” Well, I guess Man-geum’s filled him in while we were away, and Dae-gil’s justifiably upset that his father abandoned him for such a silly thing.
He just wants to live with his father again, a thought which causes Man-geum’s eyes to widen in shock. They can’t do that, because Dae-gil’s life is no longer his own—it belongs to the people. Man-geum gets out of explaining any of this by telling his son he’ll find out later, though he does whisper something in his ear.
Grandpa is beside himself when Dae-gil tells him his father is alive, even though Man-geum doesn’t want them to seek him out. Dae-gil remembers his father telling him that now wasn’t the time, but he’d know the truth soon enough.
Chae-gun brings news of the king’s collapse, which Dae-gil immediately attributes to being Injwa’s doing. According to Dae-gil, it’s Injwa’s fault the king collapsed, and his fault that he was separated from his father.
Cut to Madam Jeong in prison having one of her freaky shamanistic experiences, allowing her to relate the news that the king is not yet dead to Injwa. They’re interrupted by the arrival of Minister Kim Il-kyung, who’s agreed to save Injwa by convincing the crown prince to declare him innocent.
In return, Injwa offers to give him either a government post (how does he have that power if he can’t even free himself from prison?), and/or a metaphorical sword the minister can use to destroy the rival Noron faction.
Chae-gun keeps watch over the dreaming king overnight, and the next morning, Minister Kim proposes Injwa’s pardon to the crown prince. There are a lot of quintessential old man sageuk noises exchanged between the factions here, like the quintessential “Oh ho!” and the guttural “Hmmmph!” to let us know that both sides are not happy with each other.
At Prince Yeoning’s protest, the crown prince pulls him aside to lay down the law, reminding his little brother that only one of them is crown prince and able to decide matters in the king’s place. Yeoning wants to know how he’ll explain Injwa’s pardon to their father once he wakes, but Crown Prince Yoon is adamant that Injwa is not a rebel or a criminal.
Prince Yeoning says Injwa’s a rebel because he desires the throne, which only causes the crown prince to step menacingly toward him: “Can you tell me that you do not desire the throne?” Now he claims to see Yeoning for who he really is, and remembers his own mother’s final warning about crushing his enemies.
Since the royal prison is a thoroughfare, Dae-gil pays Injwa a visit regarding his father. Though he wishes he could just run away with his father and leave everything behind, Dae-gil admits that seeing Injwa’s horrible face reminded him that he can’t just forgive and forget him.
“That is exactly why I cannot give up on you,” Injwa says with a laugh. “It’s that strong will of yours.” But Dae-gil reminds him that he’s not getting out of his execution, though Injwa reminds him of the king’s collapse. Dae-gil accuses him of being behind it, and Injwa just chuckles.
Prince Yeoning finds Dae-gil outside the prison, and shows him the ashes of the opium incense the king was taking. He can’t find the source, or any evidence of the substance being in the palace aside from those ashes. But, he tells Dae-gil that they’ve got bigger problems—all those Sorons and Sungkyunkwan scholars calling for Injwa’s pardon and release.
And that’s exactly what Crown Prince Yoon orders to be done, much to the Norons’ outrage. Prince Yeoning grudgingly delivers this news to Dae-gil, as we see Injwa and his cohorts be the first to walk out of a Joseon prison completely unmolested. Not even the prison guards come out that tidy.
Dae-gil has a meeting with the crown prince to ask if he was responsible for Injwa’s release (the meeting itself was probably arranged by the crown prince). Crown Prince Yoon takes note of the sword his father gave him enviously, before commenting that he looks quite similar to Prince Yeoning, and Lady Choi… and, for that matter, his father the king.
But then he mentions Man-geum as Dae-gil’s father, explaining that he knows of him because he was arrested and brought to the palace many years ago (to bear witness to the rumors surrounding Lady Choi at the time). Still, it’s enough for the crown prince to ask him what year he was born, clearly suspecting his true parentage.
Crown Prince Yoon surprises Dae-gil by telling him that Injwa wanted him to have a government position, but he can’t just give Dae-gil any position without knowing his qualifications. Weirdly, he adds that he can’t fully trust Injwa either, so he wants Dae-gil to keep an eye on him.
Dae-gil is appointed to an official military position, seemingly as a glorified soldier under Chae-gun’s command. It’s not so official that he can’t come and go as he pleases, which means it’s mostly in name only. But he still gets the uniform!
King Sukjong finally wakes after undergoing acupuncture treatment, and immediately asks for Chae-gun. He meets with Crown Prince Yoon first, as he hears the order his son gave to release Injwa and his fellow prisoners with harsh, heaving breaths.
After ordering everyone but Crown Prince Yoon out, the king still manages to flip the table in front of him in rage. He orders the crown prince out after expressing his disappointment, which only makes the crown prince angrier and more resentful of his father, who he claims has only shown favor to Prince Yeoning and Yeonryung, but never to him.
Since rumors spread quickly, Prince Yeoning already knows that Injwa pulled strings to give Dae-gil an official position, wondering whether this is a ploy by Injwa to try and drive them apart. Apparently it’s working, since Yeoning asks of Dae-gil in the present, “Are you friend or foe?”
While Injwa confirms that driving them apart is part of his plan, Chief State Councilor Kim Chang-jip confronts Prince Yeoning over the opium hunt, which he’d previously kept to himself. Councilor Kim is only upset because Yeoning is trying to take Injwa and his ilk on alone, which they (Kim’s fellow Norons) claim cannot be done—they’ll have to work together if they want to bring him down.
Seol-im and Grandpa get all excited about Dae-gil’s new digs in an attempt to cheer him up, though it doesn’t work all that well. Grandpa assures Dae-gil that they can capture Injwa any time (o rly?), but wants Dae-gil to take even the small moments as they come and not be so down.
Looking at them, Dae-gil can only think to himself, “I promise. Instead, I’ll make it so that no more of my people can get hurt ever again.”
When they finally get to meet, King Sukjong orders Chae-gun to kill Injwa. He doesn’t want it done by assassination or poison, but instead wants Chae-gun to make the killing as public and up-front as possible, since he’ll be acting as an extension of himself. “Because you are me. You are my sword. Bring me the head of Yi Injwa,” the king heaves laboriously.
Traitor Jeong pays a visit to Injwa, who already knows that Jeong was responsible for the king’s opium. Traitor Jeong can only sigh that it was supposed to kill the king, but to no avail.
He cuts the small talk then, and reveals that he’s come to test Injwa’s abilities to know whether he just got very, very lucky in escaping his execution. Knowing that the king won’t leave Injwa be now that he’s awake, Traitor Jeong declares his intention to watch over Injwa to see how he reacts.
Traitor Jeong finds Dam-seo at her father’s grave, having known she’d be there because of the anniversary of his death. He claims to be there as a friend of her father, Yi-soo, though he inexplicably takes the blame for his death, as well as the deaths of all the others who believed in their great cause.
Dam-seo’s eyes fill with tears as she says that Injwa’s never once apologized to her for her father’s death, only for Traitor Jeong to make a case on his behalf: Injwa was likely just waiting until he’d achieved his plans to beg forgiveness from her.
Even Dam-seo calls that out as being a crap excuse, but Traitor Jeong tells her to search her memories of Injwa to know how he truly felt about her. She was all that Injwa had, he adds, and if she feels anything for him, she’ll do something to stop Chae-gun from killing him.
Dam-seo must be the “gift” Traitor Jeong told Injwa he’d send, though Chae-gun’s the first to break through Injwa’s gates, doing just as the king ordered. With blood on his face, Chae-gun announces that he’s received a royal command to relieve Injwa of his head.
While King Sukjong spends the night trying hard to breathe, sidelined warrior Jin-ki takes on his old pal Chae-gun, to end the long-standing feud between them. (Have they still not explained why Jin-ki emerged from that cave covered in blood in that one flashback? No?)
It’s a brutal, hard-hitting sword fight, but just as it looks like Chae-gun will win, Nameless joins the fray. Chae-gun still manages to wound Jin-ki as he fends the two of them off, and even gives Nameless a flesh wound. Jin-ki jumps in to defend him, but Chae-gun avoids his blow and lands another slash on his abdomen.
Injwa has enough time to grab a sword before Chae-gun jumps onto the platform, easily skewering him with his sword. But he misses his heart, of course.
We find Dae-gil in the middle of his own fight, strangely, and with a man the chyron introduces as JANG GIL-SAN. He asks the man where Dam-seo went, which, what? Who is this guy, and why does Dae-gil assume he knows about Dam-seo? And for that matter, why is this fight even happening? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!
But just as Chae-gun’s about to deliver the finishing blow, two arrows come flying in their direction. He pulls back, and Dam-seo leaps into frame to crouch protectively in front of Injwa, her bow and arrow at the ready.
Apparently, she was moved by what Traitor Jeong said to her, and remembers how Injwa called her his daughter. She’s decided to forgive Injwa for everything, which I guess includes him killing her father, making her live with the guilt of Man-geum’s death all these years, raising her on lies, sending her to assassinate the king… but yeah, water under the bridge.
Dae-gil arrives just then to put a stop to the current standstill, which would require Chae-gun to kill Dam-seo before killing Injwa. He seems torn, at least until Dam-seo grabs the blade of the sword with her bare hands and plunges it into her belly.
Coughing blood and crying, she pleads for Chae-gun to take her life instead of Injwa’s. To Injwa, she admits that she resented him for everything for so long, but now wants to end the vicious cycle.
Injwa pleads for her not to die while Dae-gil has a non-reaction as she turns her gaze toward him. “Dae-gil-ah… How did I come so far? From the beginning, I should have used my life to ask for forgiveness.”
With that, she dies, leaving Injwa inconsolable. He tells Chae-gun to just go ahead and kill him now, but just as Chae-gun readies to bring his sword down, Dae-gil throws the get-out-of-death-free badge that Chae-gun had given him at his feet. Et tu, Dae-gil?
“You told me before,” Dae-gil says. “There are swords that kill people, and swords that save them. Just this once… we can at least save him this once. Dam-seo sacrificed her life for him.” Chae-gun honors his wishes, though he makes sure to say that Dae-gil will regret saving Injwa one day.
After taking some time to grieve, Dae-gil carries Dam-seo’s body outside, where Prince Yeoning and his bodyguard have just arrived in disguise. Tears run down Yeoning’s face as he strokes her cheek, while Dae-gil can only remain silent.
Chae-gun has to report his inability to carry out the royal command to the king that night, as his son attends the funeral for Dam-seo the next day. Both brothers look on as her body is burned on a pyre, and as Dae-gil leaves, he thinks to himself that he’d hoped to create a world where Dam-seo could smile.
“When that time came, I thought I would be able to see you once again,” he sighs. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.” Prince Yeoning similarly flashes back to his fond memories with Dam-seo, including that time she tried to kill him. He cries in front of the empty spot where his mother used to sit, thoroughly alone.
After spreading Dam-seo’s ashes (which he must’ve gotten from Dae-gil, I guess), Injwa seems hell-bent on taking revenge on the king. To that end, he pays a visit to Prince Yeonryung. He tells him that the king favors him the most out of his sons, and offers him a chance to join him in turning Joseon upside down.
Prince Yeonryung is scandalized at his suggestion, but no one comes to aid him when he calls. “My daughter died at the king’s hands,” Injwa says, before pulling a long, thin needle out of his sleeve. This he stabs into the prince’s neck, just behind the ear.
“How is it? Do you feel some of the pain I feel now?” Injwa grates out. “My family was killed. I lost my friend, along with losing my precious daughter. Do you feel my pain and sadness now?” The prince is unable to speak due to the needle, which only gets removed when Nameless warns Injwa against killing the prince.
But that lull lasts for all of two seconds, as Injwa takes Nameless’ sword and plunges it into Prince Yeonryung’s belly. “Resent your father, the king, for this,” Injwa growls. “From now on, either the king or I must die in order for this to end.”
He jerks the sword back, before swinging it downward. Blood splatters his face as the prince crumples to the ground, dead. Looking down at him, Injwa vows that he will kill the king and send him to join his son in the afterlife soon.
This would all be so much different if Dam-seo hadn’t stabbed herself to make a deal she had no idea would come to fruition. Injwa would rather act like it was the king himself who maliciously cut her down, when he’d once sent her to kill him, and he’d done so then without knowing whether she’d ever return. Nameless had blamed him for sending Dam-seo to her death then, which is very much what Injwa did, so it’s nearly impossible to buy what the show tried to sell in regards to their relationship being so much deeper than all that.
On the list of things that viewers tend to like the least, I’d probably put self-sacrifice right up there next to noble idiocy, cancer, and killer vehicles. It would have been better had her death actually served the purpose she wanted it to, but Chae-gun would’ve killed Injwa regardless, which makes her sacrifice pretty moot in the scheme of things. Yes, maybe Dae-gil wouldn’t have stepped in to save Injwa without her dying, but it kind of sucks that he’d save his mortal enemy because some girl he liked but rarely saw suddenly wanted him to live.
In a way, this ending for Dam-seo was a final kick to the teeth for her character, who’s had nothing to do for what feels like ages now. Studying her trajectory is what’s so bizarre, because it really does seem like the show had a clear-cut plan for Dam-seo up to and including the episode where they focused all their energy into establishing the love triangle. And while I had no great fondness for her character to begin with, it was even worse that she just existed in a state of limbo, used only at random for completely nonsensical ends.
The only explanation we ever got as to why she was conveniently hunting the same casino owners as Dae-gil was because… she… wanted to rid the world of evil? Or something? It’s kind of batty that she would just appear, do nothing, then leave without affecting the story at all, and the show never answered for that. Crazier still is that they took such an amorphous, single-minded character and decided that the only thing she’d ever wanted in her life—revenge on her father’s killer—would suddenly be irrelevant the moment she knew that killer to be Injwa. She kept promising to kill Injwa, but what was she doing this entire time? Nothing? I’m pretty sure the answer is nothing.
Because of her getting sidelined as a character for this long, it’s somehow infinitely worse that she was reanimated only to serve this one, very unworthy purpose. Again, it’d be different had Injwa not also forgotten about her existence and kept up some relationship with her, or if they’d actually sold us the whole father/daughter angle over the master/puppet one sooner. Instead, we’re supposed to believe that Dam-seo—who had been lied to her entire life by this one man who used her only to further his own ends—just suddenly listened to a character we still know nothing about and realized that she not only loved Injwa, but would die for him.
In the end, I guess what’s most disappointing is that there was no secret to reveal, and no higher purpose for Dam-seo other than to be kept alive for just such a moment. It’s not that she sacrificed herself for an awful person, but because she didn’t. Not really. It was a grand but ultimately hollow gesture which could’ve been more easily forgotten had Dae-gil not stepped in to save Injwa, but now it’s all gone gats up. Why couldn’t King Sukjong be the unkillable one? Well, besides history—logic hasn’t stopped them so far.
- Jackpot: Episode 17
- Jackpot: Episode 16
- Jackpot: Episode 15
- Jackpot: Episode 14
- Jackpot: Episode 13
- Jackpot: Episode 12
- Jackpot: Episode 11
- Jackpot: Episode 10
- Jackpot: Episode 9
- Jackpot: Episode 8
- Jackpot: Episode 7
- Jackpot: Episode 6
- Jackpot: Episode 5
- Jackpot: Episode 4
- Jackpot: Episode 3
- Jackpot: Episode 2
- Jackpot: Episode 1
- Yeo Jin-gu as a young future king in Jackpot
- Jang Geun-seok as Joseon’s top gambler in Jackpot
- Flipping tables against fate in SBS’s Jackpot
- Hyun-woo added to Jackpot as King Gyeongjong