Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 2
Setting the stage ahead for Gil-dong’s rebellion against the corrupt social system, this episode delves further into his beginnings and shows where he gots his sense of equality and justice. As always, Kim Sang-joong puts on a powerful performance as Amogae, a slave whose love for his family is both the reason for his greatest joy and deepest despair. After two weeks of relative drama-less living, I’m personally excited by this new series, which looks like it’s shaping up to become a great sageuk.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Gil-dong and Gil-hyun wait for their father to arrive. Remembering his father’s last words before he left, Gil-dong hides his strength, even pretending his brother that he struggles with light wood loads. When the young master is studying, Gil-hyun is called to assist with creating ink, and Gil-dong is sent to bring water.
Over the young master’s shoulder, Gil-hyun watches him write his letters and lets out a quiet sigh when he incorrectly draws a character. The Master, who has been closely overseeing his son’s studies, catches Gil-hyun’s sigh and demands to know if Gil-hyun knows what his son wrote incorrectly. When Gil-hyun points out the misspelled character, the Master becomes furious that the son of a slave is smarter than his own and punishes Gil-hyun from overstepping his boundaries. Gil-dong watches this injustice happen to his older brother with tears in his eyes.
Later that night, their mother prays for their father to come home safely. Gil-hyun and Gil-dong lay awake as they hear their mother’s sincere prayers.
The young master gathers the young children of the household’s slaves and announces the upcoming rock-throwing match against the neighboring town’s team. He commands them to practice throwing accurately at the straw dummies before them, but a fellow hyung tempts Gil-hyun into throwing a rock in the young master’s direction, and says if they’re asked, they can claim their aim went astray.
Gil-dong picks up a stone and aims it at the young master, but at the last moment, he puts it down because of his father’s warning about the Mighty Child. Gil-hyun, thinking that his brother isn’t athletic, dissuades him from trying.
Finally, the hyung manages to hit the young master, who immediately starts bawling on the ground. His father is punished for his child’s actions by the household mistress. The three youngsters watch from afar, but are unconcerned, because they’ve all had experiences being disciplined. Instead, they compare what foods they like to think of while listening to the mistress’s scoldings.
When they arrive in front of their home, the two boys are overjoyed to see that their father has come back. Gil-dong sings throughout the entire village that his father has come home. When his mother sees her husband for the first time, it’s clear that she’s glad to see him despite her attempts at a nonchalant greeting. When she sees him taking the bandages off his travel-worn feet, she hurries to bring hot water for him to soak them in.
After saying all his greetings, Amogae takes Gil-dong aside to ask him if he’s kept the promise to hide his strength, and Gil-dong replies brightly that of course he has.
When Amogae brings the spoils of his travels back to his master and the mistress, they’re initially disappointed, because he’s shown that his profit was only two rolls of cotton. However, when Amogae takes out a roll of white silk and pushes it toward the mistress, her eyes light up with greedy delight, and the master smiles approvingly. He asks how Amogae obtained this rich cloth, and the slave replies that he sold his master’s pollack for cotton, which he sold in the north for fur, which he traded to the Chinese for silk.
Catching on that his slave might be a natural at trading, the master wonders aloud if Amogae could sell the rest of his fish for a similar profit, but Amogae claims that the season for fur is over, and he can’t guarantee anything. But he also slyly adds that he met some traveling merchants who were showing him how to trade, and that he thinks if he were to tag along with them, he could bring even more money to his master. At that suggestion, the master gives him permission to travel indefinitely, but the mistress reminds Amogae that he must come running if his master ever calls for him. Head bowed, Amogae thanks them profusely.
As Amogae brings in more goods from his travels, his position in the household is elevated to a favored slave. He provides his family with a new home to his wife’s delight, Gil-hyun with the books he craves, and Gil-dong with white rice (a sign of wealthy social stature), which he’s never eaten before. When they all gather for dinner, Amogae shows his forward-thinking opinions on equality by setting Geum-ok’s bowl next to his on the table. Normally, it would be customary for her to eat from the floor because of her lower status as a female.
When they’re about to go to bed, Amogae attempts to make love to his wife, but she stops him by revealing that she thinks she is pregnant. Ecstatic at the news, Amogae says they should visit the doctor the first thing in the morning, but she doesn’t think it’s necessary, because slaves don’t usually bring their wives to the doctor to consult on pregnancy. However, Amogae is insistent that from now on, he will enjoy all the perks noblemen have by using his newfound wealth.
The children eavesdrop outside as their parents rejoice in the news of the upcoming birth after the doctor’s visit. Gil-dong is confused by the turn of phrase: “The child stood up” (meaning that a woman was pregnant), and asks his brother Gil-hyun what it means. Then when Gil-dong asks how people become pregnant, his brother turns red and says that he doesn’t need to know.
Soboori visits the Amogae house, and sees Gil-dong, who ignores his greeting. Seeing Amogae’s beautiful wife, Soboori says he understands why Amogae wouldn’t even glance around in the brothels full of beautiful gisaeng. Amogae tells him to cut to the chase, and Soboori relates to him that their next job is to steal rice from a stingy landlord, though he warns him that it might be dangerous.
However, Amogae says that he’s not in a position to quibble, and that because of Gil-dong, he needs to free his family from slavery as soon as possible. The next morning, Geum-ok is sad to see him leave so soon, but she dutifully packs him a lunch for his long journey.
Soboori, Amogae, and Yonggae bribe the guards to ignore their breaking and entering, and clearly these thieving ventures are profitable, because later we see Gil-dong sharing sweets with his friends, telling them that if they want more, they should tell their fathers to become merchants.
While having a solo lunch, Amogae overhears a couple noblemen discussing the current political atmosphere. It seems that the dethroned queen is marshaling her political forces after her second son died unnaturally (implying that perhaps poisoning was involved) in infancy. They debate the merits of flocking to the dethroned queen’s side versus sticking by the current queen, because the crown prince is the biological son of the dethroned queen.
Late at night, the master and his wife look over the account books, which show that they’re still two hundred nyang (Joseon money unit) short of their goal. They think about selling more possessions, but the mistress nags to her husband that he should not have gotten involved with the dethroned queen’s movement. In his defense, he says that it’s a long-term investment for their son’s future.
Holding a letter written in the dethroned queen’s own hand, he explains to his wife that by the time his son reaches adulthood, the crown prince could become king and his mother would be naturally reinstated as the dowager. Therefore, this insurance is for that later time, when his son can reap its benefits.
In the palace, the young prince asks his retinue why he can’t call his father his father, and why his family doesn’t live together. The eunuchs try to explain to him that because he is the prince, he can’t have a normal childhood, and then he asks what happened to his baby brother, and why he died. The servants just bow their heads because they don’t know if they should tell their child prince about the lethal intrigues going on that led to his mother’s dethronement.
Amogae comes home again after another of his travels and presents more gifts for his family. Almost immediately, he lies down and falls asleep. When Geum-ok unpacks his belongings, she discovers a hidden corner full of silver taels. Initially she’s shocked, but when she catches her husband stealing away at dawn to hide the box of silver in a camouflaged hole in their backyard, she aids him with the heavy covering. He asks why she doesn’t ask him where the money came from, but she just tells him to be careful and not to hurt anyone.
The next day, Amogae encounters a crying woman, and learns from his friend that the master is selling slaves to earn more money in order to buy a title. Believing that this could be his chance to buy his freedom, he asks Soboori to find someone who will be willing to buy him and his family.
He is introduced to Secretary Eom, who is an impoverished official working in the district magistrate’s department and makes money from government bribes. He agrees to buy Amogae, and despite the master’s tricks to lead the man away from his prized merchant slave, they’ve already planned the entire encounter: In return for Amogae’s loyalty and a commission fee, Secretary Eom will buy and free Amogae, and thereby free himself from a life of flattering ungrateful magistrates for bribe money.
When the master receives the promissory check from Secretary Eom, who bought Amogae and his family for an exorbitant amount, he’s ecstatic. But the mistress is suspicious of where the money came from. They are unable to find out from their sources in the ginseng brothels, but a sneaky slave tells them that Amogae and his family have been enjoying a rich lifestyle, and that he’s even been teaching his son to write and eating white rice at each meal, which does not befit his lowly status.
They get the inkling that Amogae has a hidden trove of wealth he’s gathered from his journeys and scheme to get it from him. Although he is Amogae’s master, he cannot take his possessions outright. But if Amogae harms the master or his family, he is entitled to Amogae’s life, and the mistress contends that he will probably be more willing to part with his wealth than his life. So the couple conspire to bring in their sleazy uncle with a notoriously roving eye.
The neighborhood hyung, Gil-hyun, and Gil-dong practice throwing rocks at a tree for their upcoming match against the neighboring town. Gil-dong is surprised when he can’t summon his strength, and determines that maybe by telling himself that he shouldn’t and that he wouldn’t, he has suppressed his strength for good.
At the market, Geum-ok shops for some trinkets. The sleazy uncle spots her and starts following her around, having taken a liking to her beautiful appearance. At one point, he even spits in her face to show her that she’s a slave that should always listen to the whims of a nobleman.
He trails her on her way home and confronts her again by telling her not to block his path. It’s another excuse for him to talk to her, and being the skeezeball he is, he thinks she’s trying to seduce him. She holds in her anger, thinking of Amogae’s words to not cause trouble before their transfer to their new owner is complete.
However, the sleazy nobleman takes it a step too far when he lunges to embrace her, and she falls to the ground on her pregnant belly in an attempt to escape him. Her two sons, who were nearby, see this unwanted encounter unfold. Gil-hyun runs to his mother and glares at the nobleman, but it’s Gil-dong who shouts for him to leave. Suddenly, the world turns dark as Gil-dong gathers his strength and hurls a rock at the man pestering his mother. In an incredible feat, he crushes the boulder behind the nobleman just by throwing pebbles.
Amogae gets there just in time to shake his son from his angry trance. The nobleman calls for the police to arrest the youngster, but Amogae claims that he was the one who threw the rock at the nobleman. Geum-ok, finally realizing that Gil-dong is in danger for being a Mighty Child, also provides testimony that it was her husband and not her son who injured the nobleman.
In front of the magistrate, Amogae learns that the skeezeball nobleman is actually his master’s uncle, and that he can ask for Amogae’s death as punishment. When he goes to his master to plead for his life, his master brings out all the wealth that Amogae accumulated in that camouflaged hole in his backyard. When he asks what this is, Amogae thinks inside that it’s everything that he was trying to save for his children, but outwardly, he replies it belongs to the master now.
Meanwhile, Geum-ok is in early labor, brought on by the trauma from her fall earlier. His third child is a girl, and although Amogae wasn’t able to witness her birth, he is happy to be able to see his family again. In the kitchen, he cooks seaweed soup for his wife, and when Gil-dong comes in to apologize for succumbing to his temper, Amogae tells his son that it was he who threw the rock, not Gil-dong. Confused but accepting, Gil-dong says nothing.
Amogae rocks his baby girl back and forth, but Geum-ok struggles to tell him that she’s dying from the complications of an early labor. By the time Amogae realizes she’s bleeding out, it’s too late, and she asks him to stay with her until her last breath. She thanks him for a wonderful life together, and her last words to him are not to scold Gil-dong too much.
Although the children realize that their mother is dead, Amogae takes her body out alone to bury her on the mountainside. On her burial mound, in his grief, Amogae slaps himself for not protecting her while surrounded by his bandit friends. He learns from Soboori that his wife’s death was indirectly caused by his master’s greed, and so he takes a scythe to his master’s bedchamber. When Gil-dong realizes that his father isn’t sleeping beside them, he goes out to find him.
The master wakes to Amoage’s deadly gaze, and he immediately realizes the danger that his slave presents. Amogae lists his master’s sins, and asks whether his greed was worth the death of his son’s loyal nursemaid (Geum-ok) who fed more of her breast to his son over her own. The master calls Amogae’s name, begging for mercy, but Amogae lets out a humorless laugh, saying that naming him after nothing doesn’t mean that he isn’t worth anything.
Then, he tells his master that it’s his time to die, and takes the scythe to his throat. Outside, Gil-dong watches the shadow of his father killing the master and witnesses the scene of his father coming out covered in spatters of blood.
After one learns that one’s father is a murderer, what does one do? I’m curious to find out how this revelation will affect Gil-dong’s childhood and shape his subsequent ideas on the value of a person’s life. Does he accept that killing may be a necessary evil, and does that factor into his decision to shoot an arrow through his lover Ga-ryung’s heart? Does Little Gil-dong realize that his show of strength was related to his mother’s death, and if so, does that change his temperament so that he learns to control his rage?
So many questions, but this episode actually answered many others that I had from the premiere. For instance, I had been wondering what could make Amogae, a devoted slave, turn his back on his master and change his family’s status. Before the drama aired, I read his character description and thought he might be portrayed as a greedy social climber, but I’m much more sympathetic to him now that I know his motivation is his need to protect his family. Both his sons seem to have inherited different characteristics of his; Gil-ryun exhibits the quick-learning mind that Amogae has also shown in his thieving escapades, and Gil-dong has the strength that Amogae remembers he once had in childhood. Will their sister be more like Amogae or like calm Geum-ok, who was so accepting and understanding of her husband’s illicit activities?
Despite my impatience to see Yoon Kyun-sang on the screen, his child actor counterpart is adorable as Little Gil-dong. That gap-toothed smile and those cute dimples melt me inside every time. The lovable rascal with an ever-hungry appetite is definitely a character after my own heart (or rather, my stomach). Physically, I can see the similarities between Little Gil-dong and Yoon Kyun-sang, but I don’t know if they’ll project the same aura. After watching the older actor in The Time I’ve Loved You and Pinocchio, I’ve developed this image of him in my mind as a cold, charismatic gentleman. Although watching him in Three Meals a Day: Fishing Village Season 3 changed this impression somewhat, I don’t know if he’ll fit the grown-up version of the cheeky brave Hong Gil-dong I have in mind after the child actor’s portrayal.
As for the storyline, I love how the writers chose to focus on equality instead of just the unbalanced social caste system. When Amogae respected his wife’s dignity during their family dinner by lifting her bowl to the table, it showed where Gil-dong would receive his ideas on gender and class equality. On the other hand, Prince Yeonsangun doesn’t look like he’ll get the best childhood experience despite his privileged position. I wonder whether the current queen killed his brother, and whether he’ll have to grow up in fear that he’ll be the next to be poisoned, and if that paranoia will lead to his later violent rages. At this point, he’s a foil to Gil-dong, emphasizing the point that the writers are driving home: background is important because it forms your perspective on life, but it doesn’t make you happy.
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