Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 11
King Yeonsangun is at the center of our story this time, as multiple threads of power try to tug him in their direction. Gil-dong and his avengers seek the destruction of their enemies through the power of the king, and their subtle placement of pawns seems promising for their ultimate revenge plot. But the king has greater troubles (like ruling a nation), and thus, we get introduced to the politics that transform the naïve king into a jaded ruler.
EPISODE 11 RECAP
Nok-soo elegantly dances in front of the king, and the scene is interwoven with the two other players seeking the king: Gil-dong, who wants to know more about the king for his revenge plot, and Gil-hyun, who’s told by Teacher Song to understand the king in order to become a part of his court.
As Nok-soo finishes her dance, she slips off her outer gown and nervously bows in front of the king. Yeonsangun shows a faint smile and approaches her. He unties the white cap on her head and gently strokes her hair, and when asked if she’s a part of the palace’s female entertainment troupe, Nok-soo confirms and introduces herself (now using the name “Nok-soo”). She explains that she’s named herself after the deep blue color of the Amnok River.
Yeonsangun kneels down to her level and calls her name. He tells her that he enjoyed his time, thanks to her. He smiles at Nok-soo pleasantly, and she seems a little surprised by his intimate response.
Speaking to his fellow Amogae Avengers, Ilchung presumes that the king’s recruitment of a personal troupe speaks to his delicate sensibilities. Yonggae thinks that the king must really like women, since that’s the obvious link to music and entertainment. But Ilchung dismisses that assumption, reporting that the king has never slept with any of the troupe women and has merely gifted the talented ones with trinkets. That same king promises to keep the ruthless Choongwongoon at his side, and this mismatch confuses the group.
While the group expresses doubt and confusion with knowing the king, Gil-dong thinks back to his father’s advice. Amogae told Gil-dong that he knew Master Jo to the core — after forty years of serving the noble, he could even recognize the man’s farts — was able to manipulate Madam Jo to his favor because of this. He then asked Gil-dong what cards he’s holding in his plot.
We return back to the current scene, though we get a couple more flashes back and forth from Amogae and Gil-dong, which shows their aligning similarities. Gil-dong tells his team that he’s going to set up a gibang and insists that he has good reason for this decision, though he doesn’t share his reasoning.
Gil-dong also discusses the new king’s appointment of more government officials in charge of entertainment, who regulate the singing and dancing matters in the palace. He suggests that they take advantage of this opportunity and plant one of their own in this position. He nominates Eop-san for this role, since he’s the best looking of them all. This is up for debate among the rest of the group, especially Yonggae, who seems convinced that he’s better looking (heh).
The next morning, the students bow to Teacher Song before heading off to the palace for the civil service examination. Jeong-hak (grown Young Master) bows respectfully to his mother, Madam Jo, and she tells herself that her son will succeed as a capable judge, since Jeong-hak will serve the king that his father supported (via support of the dethroned queen).
Gil-dong reprises his role as “footstool” and pretends to serve as Choongwongoon’s loyal slave. He announces Choongwongoon’s passage through the village, and he unknowingly passes by Gil-hyun in a group of scholar-hopefuls, who’ve arrived at the palace for the exam. Gil-dong and Gil-hyun each look back at each other, but their tragic timing leaves them in the dark about the other’s survival.
As the scholars settle in for the civil service exam, the king makes his entrance. Gil-hyun observes the king, who makes his presence known with his silent charisma. The scholars are ordered to show their respect to the king, and they all immediately kneel and lie prostrate. One elderly man remains standing to explicitly express the gratitude and honor he feels to be in the presence of the king. The guards rush over to drag the man away, but Yeonsangun mercifully orders his guards to step away.
The civil service examination prompt is revealed: men of talent. Gil-hyun thinks back to his conversation with Teacher Song, who forced him to think from the perspective of his adopted identity, Park Ha-sun. Providing context, Teacher Song told him that he’s the descendant of a scholar who lived in exile after King Danjong (later demoted and named Prince Nosan) was dethroned by King Sejo. So, as the descendant of an exiled scholar who defied King Sejo, how must Gil-hyun assert himself if he wants to work under this new king, who happens to be King Sejo’s grandson?
With that flash of inspiration, Gil-hyun begins to compose his response. He writes: “A ruler’s obligation lies solely in showing bright hope for his people, and the subjects’ obligation lies in following the ruler’s pursuit of this. Since the founding of this nation by King Taejo, when have the ruler and his people exemplified harmonious loyalty? When Prince Nosan abdicated the throne to King Sejo, he did so because he recognized true talent and greatness. In response, King Sejo could not refuse the throne in his sincere interest for the nation. This loyalty is so precious and fortunate.”
Yonggae and Segul return to Bandit HQ, and they try to act nonchalant about their return to the team. They bow and apologize to Amogae for their fearful flight from Gil-dong’s revenge plan against Choongwongoon. Amogae calls them fools and reminds them that Gil-dong isn’t his only bloodline — they belong to his bloodline as well. He welcomes the two scaredy-cat traitors with a forgiving hug, and they look relieved to be back.
As Gil-dong wraps up his “footstool” act, Choongwongoon turns to him before entering his home and requests his services in the future. Gil-dong happily agrees, but his eyes turn cold and strategic as soon as Choongwongoon is out of sight. That’s wrap on their scheming trip, and they head home.
On their way home, the team spots Ga-ryung with a rope of fish, and they wave to her in greeting. She runs towards them but ignores everyone to get to Gil-dong. She worriedly comments that he looks slimmer and shows no care for everyone else who’s returned with him. She asks how he wants to eat the fish, but he simply gives her a blank stare and carries the food home for her.
Ga-ryung happily looks out of the kitchen window as her boys do work, looking sort of like Snow White with her seven Amogae Avengers. She comments on how the noise makes the home seem like a place where real people live, and Eop-san knocks her on the head in affection. She seems to take slight offense, so Gil-dong repays him by nearly knocking him out with a pot. Hee, petty revenge.
Ga-ryung takes over the cooking, and the
dwarves team discusses Gil-dong’s harsh treatment of their contacts in Hanyang and his unsupported plan to set up a gibang. Yonggae asks Soboori to talk Gil-dong out of the gibang idea, and they all seem to be in silent agreement against the gibang.
At the dinner table, Gil-dong updates the team on new developments for his gibang, and he seems hopeful that the gibang will become their main hub of information. Before he can continue, Yonggae asks permission from Amogae, who’s always been against gibangs (probably due to his wife). But Amogae doesn’t take a stance and tells them to whatever they want.
Amogae turns to leave, but Gil-dong grabs everyone’s attention by kneeling with a request. He acknowledges everyone’s worries about Choongwongoon receiving the king’s letter and their seemingly impossible feat of revenge, but he has a plan. He plans on using the king to turn against Choongwongoon. Amogae smiles at this revelation and asks if this is the card he’s using in his plot. Gil-dong nods and smiles back.
At the palace troupe’s quarters, Nok-soo brags to Wolhamae about the king’s pleasure with her dancing. She shows off the gold trinket that she earned, and Wolhamae bites it (ha) before immersing her in complete awe. Eunuch Kim recruits a new batch of entertainers for the king, but Nok-soo is disappointed when she’s not included. In a turn of events, Wolhamae is invited, and she’s overjoyed by this opportunity. Nok-soo follows Eunuch Kim outside, and Eunuch Kim invites her to join the selected troupe tonight, in case the king just forgot to include her.
Wolhamae strums her mandolin and sings for the king, and he listens to her song with his eyes closed while Nok-soo watches him closely. When she finishes her performance, Yeonsangun comments that he recognizes the song from Goryeo (the previous dynasty). Wolhamae suddenly becomes worried that a song from Goryeo is not allowed, but he assures her that melodies have no boundaries.
Yeonsangun also asks Wolhamae about the name she gave her mandolin. She explains that men have close childhood friends that they refer to as “ball friends” (pfft — she almost says “testicle friends”), and since she has no balls, she refers to her mandolin as her “daenggi friend” (daenggi refers to the ribbon that girls tie in their hair throughout their childhood). Yeonsangun gets a good laugh out of that, and Wolhamae looks relieved and pleased by his response.
Nok-soo, on the other hand, looks disappointed, and afterwards, Eunuch Kim tells her again that the king is different from other men. He says that the king only recognizes the most precious, most beautiful, and most exceptional talent. While Nok-soo does boast a unique melody, she must become more exceptional to the point where a sole note in her melody could comfort the king. Only then will Eunuch Kim help her, as his only desire is to see the king smile.
The scholar-hopefuls crowd around the civil service examination results, and Gil-hyun drags moping Jeong-hak, who’s convinced that he failed the exam (he blames his diarrhea). Gil-hyun checks the names and congratulates his friend when he finds Jeong-hak’s name on the list. Jeong-hak is shocked but even more overjoyed when he discovers Gil-hyun’s name (Park Ha-sung) on the list with him. They’ve passed together!
Gil-hyun bows to Teacher Song and thanks him for such an opportunity. Teacher Song tells Gil-hyun that he should not worry about repaying him; instead, he should focus on becoming a pillar for the nation. Madam Jo tells her son the same thing and gifts her son with a string with two jade beads, a sign of a scholar. The same situation is mirrored with Gil-hyun and Teacher Song, who says that becoming a pillar for the nation is simple: just diligently advise the king. It does sound simple when he puts it that way.
As Gil-dong roasts chestnuts, his father encourages him to go as far as he can to defeat Choongwongoon and reclaim the silver mine. Then, Gil-dong will surely be acknowledged by his peers and enemies. Amogae adds a warning that people follow fools who make decisions and take responsibility because they themselves hate doing so. But these fools have no idea what’s ahead of them and the top fool ultimately leads these followers through tortuous conditions. Amogae asks Gil-dong to not be a fool, to not put their team in danger. Gil-dong nods and reassures his father.
Magistrate Eom funds the setup of their new gibang and suggests a name: Hwalbin, with “hwal” meaning revival and “bin” meaning beauty. He claims that the concept of revival is very important to men, and Gil-dong likes the idea. So they establish their new gibang, the Hwalbin House, all approving of the name.
Ga-ryung walks around the bustling Hwalbin House and stops to watch the gisaeng dance. She stares longingly at them, and Gil-dong asks what she’s looking at. She responds that she’s thinking about Nok-soo, who was so beautiful and also kind to her. She asks if Gil-dong thinks about Nok-soo, but he simply tells her to go home.
Ga-ryung talks to herself, addressing Nok-soo. She knows that Nok-soo hasn’t forgotten Gil-dong yet, so she apologizes. But she has no regrets because she plans on sticking to the person she likes and living happily. Sitting alone, Gil-dong looks at the moon, thinking about Nok-soo and his promise to return to her. Ilchung interrupts his thoughts, and Gil-dong gets his head back in the game. Their next step is to retrieve Choongwongoon.
Heotaehak casts the bait by informing Choongwongoon that the “footstool” slave works at a gibang and has reached out with an invitation, promising the best service. Choongwongoon seems pleased and takes the bait. He arrives at Hwalbin House, and Gil-dong immediately greets him as the “footstool” sycophant persona. Gil-dong showers Choongwongoon with all the extravagant food and entertainment, and deep into the drunken night, he asks Choongwongoon about the king’s letter. He suggests that such good news is for sharing, but Choongwongoon doesn’t fall for it.
A drunk and happy Choongwongoon leaves Hwalbin House the next morning, and Soboori sees him out. Soboori goes to wake the rest of the team, who’ve passed out from entertaining their guest all night. Ga-ryung brings honey water for the hangover, but of course, she’s only brought one bowl for Gil-dong. He downs the hangover cure while the other look at him with envy. He doesn’t seem to notice and announces the next part of their plan: They will delve further into Choongwongoon’s contacts at a gathering to celebrate the king’s letter, which they will host here at Hwalbin House.
Choongwongoon hosts his celebration and reads the poem from the king to his invited guests, who don’t seem too pleased to be there. While Choongwongoon boasts about his letter, Gil-dong tells his gisaeng noonas that they must find out as much as they can about the guests that night. Old gisaeng friend Sun-ah seems to be in charge, and she tells her underlings to follow his orders.
Outside, Ga-ryung educates Keutsae, Yonggae, and Segul about the three important things for a gibang: alcohol, music, and a listening ear. By listening ear, she means their detection of trends to relay to the gisaeng, so that they can provide quality entertainment for their guests. She tells them to watch and learn, and she leads them to cater to the guests.
Gil-dong and Ilchung meet with Eop-san, who’s deep in disguise at the government office. He’s starting to form connections with the palace servants, and Gil-dong pushes him to forge stronger connections so they can gain intel.
Later that night, Gil-dong assigns more roles to his team. He tells Soboori to continue collecting information that passes through Hanyang at Hwalbin House, and Soboori says that he’ll do so with his listening ear (he gives Ga-ryung a quick nod, and she smiles proudly). Next, Gil-dong assigns Yonggae and Segul to check in with Choongwongoon’s guests from the celebration and report any findings. Then, he tells Keutsae to keep his connections up with the incense and lamp palace workers. And finally, Gil-dong says that he’ll continue acting as the loyal footstool.
Eop-san brings trinkets into the palace for the lady servants, and we see these king’s servants transition out of the white mourning garments into their regular clothing. Yeonsangun enters the court, where the higher officials argue over the punishment of a civilian who caught a cow. Nobleman Noh argues that the civilian does not deserve such serious punishment, as unnecessary civilian deaths and higher official resignations have resulted. As they argue over the right punishment for this deed, we see Gil-hyun and Jeong-hak transcribing the arguments in the back.
Yeonsangun laughs at the ridiculous pleas for punishment, since killing a cow before the traditional memorial service (held three months after the burial) is not such a grave wrongdoing to warrant multiple higher officials to resign from their positions. The opposing officials criticize the king for not attending the government administration’s discussion and watching archery instead. They ask how he will become the ideal ruler, but Yeonsangun responds that his stupidity won’t allow for such greatness.
Even when insulted by his own court, Yeonsangun maintains his composure and awards his officials with alcohol and meat for their display of patriotism. With that, he leaves his court with the issue unresolved. Outside of the palace, scholars demand that the king investigate Nobleman Noh for his immoral ways.
Yeonsangun listens to the cries of the scholars appealing for the harsh punishment of Nobleman Noh, but he seems to read these cries as attacks on him. He believes that the attack on Nobleman Noh is merely a vehicle to target the king. It seems that these past months have jaded the king, as we see a new fire and hatred in Yeonsangun’s eyes.
At Amogae Avengers HQ, Ga-ryung reports to the team about the Confucian scholars traveling to Hanyang to demand punishment of Nobleman Noh and those who disrespected the mourning period. They wonder if that’s such a big deal and point out that Choongwongoon has surely disrespected that time with his celebrations at the gibang.
Segul also reports that there’s word about Choongwongoon stealing money from the king’s finances. This seems to have potential to bring down Choongwongoon, but they don’t have corroborative evidence or the network to prove this to the king. But Gil-dong says that they won’t need evidence, since the king has shown more interest in rumors. It doesn’t take much to plant a rumor in the palace.
Sure enough, Yeonsangun overhears the lady servants gossip about Choongwongoon’s theft, and upon further investigation, Eunuch Kim reports that this may be true. On top of that, Eunuch Kim reports on Choongwongoon’s extravagant celebrations, where he invited many of the royal court ladies. Yeonsangun looks visibly irked by this.
Gil-dong meets with his father and says that he hopes that they can crush Choongwongoon like the walnut he crushes with his bare hands. Ilchung arrives with good news: Choongwongoon has been summoned to Hanyang by the king. Gil-dong looks hopeful, but Amogae frowns in suspicion, sensing that this may be too easy.
Choongwongoon arrives at the palace bearing gifts and looking hopeful, but he’s disappointed when Eunuch Kim reports that the king is “too busy” to meet him. Eunuch Kim tells Choongwongoon the real reason for his summoning by hinting that the king heard the rumors about theft from the royal finances. Later that day, Choongwongoon drowns his sorrows with alcohol at the gibang, and Gil-hyun pretends to get fired up about these unfair rumors. Choongwongoon cries about the injustice done on him, the grandson of the great King Sejo.
It seems that the king only bestowed a minor punishment on Choongwongoon, merely blocking the royal prince’s access to Hanyang. The deflated Amogae Avengers shake their heads at the awful strength of the royal bloodline, but Gil-dong doesn’t seem too discouraged. He knew that they wouldn’t have succeeded the in their first attempt and looks determined.
Soboori takes Gil-dong to see Amogae, whose condition seems to be worsening. Soboori tells Gil-dong that they must work harder so that Amogae can witness the revenge on Choongwongoon soon. Gil-dong sits with his father, who assures him that all their work was worth their while. Despite the meager punishment, the king probably thinks lowly of Choongwongoon. Still, Amogae knows that this is not enough. They need something more decisive, and Amogae asks if there is anything that might provoke the king’s wrath.
That night, the team assembles to share their collected information about the king. Ga-ryung says that the king has recently become less responsive to the Confucian scholars’ pleas and has refused any company. Apparently, all he does now is watch fire burn by himself. That seems to give Gil-dong an idea.
At the palace, we see Yeonsangun watching fire intensely. He tells his servants to fuel the fire, and he seems mesmerized by it. Gil-dong thinks to himself about what could possibly enrage the king. Something seems to click, and he says, “The king’s wrath.”
Ah yes, here’s the Yeonsangun we were introduced to. I found the transition from the innocent sensitive king to this devilish version a bit abrupt, but I trust that there’s more to learn about this transformation process in future episodes. It seems like mere months of ruling were enough to ruin our king’s sensibilities and turn him into a jaded ruler, unwilling to acquiesce to the demands of his officials. His innocent idealism in his expectations of the king landed him in a deeper hole of dread upon the realization of the reality that ruling a nation is more about politics that its people. The build-up of this tension of what the king understands to be his role and the reality of it seems to be at the crux of what makes Gil-dong the ultimate thief of the people.
Though we only get Gil-hyun’s story in bits and pieces, I am eagerly anticipating his story arc. I find his friendship with Jeong-hak quite endearing, and I’m already sad that they may turn into mortal enemies when they realize each other’s true identities. I want to convince them that they can still be friends, but then I remember that Amogae murdered Master Jo and realize that this friendship is ultimately impossible.
I can only hope that they learn to navigate the palace together before they’re left to fend for themselves in becoming pillars for the nation. Teacher Song seemed to label the job of a scholar as deceivingly simple. But the simple task of advising the king is surely complex, especially for Gil-hyun, who will find himself at a crossroads when he discovers that his family is alive. It will be an internal (and also literal) war to figure out where his loyalties lie, and I find that future conflict intriguing.
I love all the scheming and patient undercover personas, but we do seem to be stuck in a more narrative-building aspect of the show. We’re seeing how the revenge plot is becoming much bigger with the involvement of the king, which inevitably requires much more time to build and more patience to get through. For that reason, it seems like the revenge plotting was put on the back burner for this episode to focus on the beginning of the king’s transformation. I did enjoy the history and political tensions portrayed through Yeonsangun, and it’s certainly getting to the exciting conflict between the king and Gil-dong. But I think I enjoy the show more with our Amogae Avengers at the central storyline. Thankfully, the show tries to balance out the dense politics with some cheeky humor, growing camaraderie, and puppy love — enough for everyone to get a bowl of honey water for that politics headache.
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 10
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 9
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 8
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 7
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 6
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 5
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 4
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 3
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 2
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 1