Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 12
And it begins… the start of Yeonsangun’s descent into his infamous never-ending cycle of violence that marked him as the bloodiest tyrant of Joseon history. The paranoia, frustration, and inferiority complex shown in previous episodes has coalesced into a darker form, resulting in unthinkable violations of ethics. It’s enough to make me wonder if he ever had a moral compass in the first place.
EPISODE 12 RECAP
The king looks at the flames while listening to the protesters outside chanting their grievances. His face morphs into one of fury as he wonders whether the people even respect him as their sovereign. Meanwhile, our hero, Gil-dong, contemplates his father’s words – Amogae gave him food for thought when he told him to consider what would anger the king.
Yeonsangun paces back and forth as he demands that his musician troupe tell him about the rumors outside the palace. He points out Wolhamae first, and she tries to flatter him by telling him that the people venerate him as a great and honorable king, but he knows that that’s a complete falsehood.
He tells the women that it’s fine no matter what they tell him, as long as they never deceive him. Immediately after delivering that chilling monologue, he asks another former gisaeng to tell him the rumors in truth. She falls on her knees and begins to plead with him not to make her do so, because the truth would only anger him.
Right then, Nok-soo intervenes and begins listing different rumors about the king and his ancestors that have been circulating around the palace about his purported perverse fetish of watching horses mate. After hearing her statements, the king stalks towards her menacingly and looks directly at her. Nok-soo promises that she will never to lie to him, no matter how unpleasant the truth may be.
Gil-dong and Ilchung hear from their palace guard spy about the king’s capricious mood these days. He tells him about the king’s recent tirade at his musical troupe. They wonder what the reasoning for it may be as they walk back to Bandit HQ.
Yeonsangun gives Nok-soo a special mission to learn the truth about the people’s thoughts about him. She takes it as an honor and promises to not to let him down. She just has one condition: She will learn all the gossip in Joseon and tell him the absolute truth in exchange for a chance to meet someone she’s had in mind for a while. (Is it Gil-dong?)
Gil-dong holds a meeting to refocus their aims regarding their revenge plan to take down Choongwongoon. He announces that he has realized that people are not punished for their misdeeds; they are only punished because they’ve aroused the displeasure of the king.
With this in mind, Gil-dong says he wants to redirect the objectives of their strategy so that Choongwongoon falls out of favor with the king. Following this change of plans, the Amogae Avengers spread out to start implementing a sizable network of surveillance, trying to find out exactly what types of things anger the king.
Keutsae hands out silver, bribing merchants to keep an eye out for information. Segul follows the gossip on the streets regarding the king, while Yonggae stakes out at noble houses, looking for signs of trouble. The ever-resourceful Ga-ryung serves as a waitress at the gibang while eavesdropping on anyone that mentions the king.
On her mission for Yeonsangun, Nok-soo is outside the palace again, making her rounds as a gisaeng entertaining noblemen with her musical talents. She makes sure to listen carefully for any of the gossip that pertains to the king. She reports back directly what she hears to Yeonsangun.
She says that many nobles believe he has strange fetishes that are an inherited trait from his grandfather, King Sejo, who was rumored to have raped his daughter-in-law and left his nephew’s corpse in the open to be torn apart by beasts. After hearing the rumors, Yeonsangun thinks that the nobles are going against him, ignoring his wishes because they do not respect his grandfather, King Sejo.
The king makes the resolution to punish those who are responsible, and he alights upon an idea: while he cannot necessarily punish people on the basis of hearsay, if those rumors were ever recorded on written documents, they could serve as evidence that points toward treasonous intent. Eunuch Kim points out that there is a department of scholars whose job it is to record everything about the king and his reign. He points out that Park Ha-sung (Gil-hyun, who Yeonsangun had taken a liking to) has become an official in that department.
Yeonsangun remembers the day of Gil-hyun’s testing and the written answer he submitted. Gil-hyun had written that King Sejo (also known as Grand Prince Suyang) had no choice but to take the throne, because it was the royal request of the previous monarch: his nephew, Danjong. This pleased Yeonsangun because it reaffirmed his ancestor’s greatness, and thus his own value as Sejo’s descendant.
Now, Gil-hyun prepares for his first day at the Bureau of Royal History while clicking the pair of jade beads given to him by Scholar Song to remind him to live a virtuous lifestyle. Meanwhile, Jeong-hak tells his mother that he doesn’t like the jade beads because the clicking makes people stare.
Now that Park Ha-sung has become a favored scholar who is on the fast track for promotion, Mistress Jo’s tune regarding him has changed, and she tells her son to become closer with him. As he leaves the house, she expresses her disappointment that the dethroned queen has not yet been given her rightful due as the king’s mother. She also thinks it regretful that she doesn’t have the dethroned queen’s letter anymore.
At Bandit HQ, Amogae grasps the Buddha beads that Gil-dong now sometimes uses when he thinks. The power has now shifted from the older generation to the next, but although he seems like a weary old tiger now, his sharp eyes show that he still has claws.
Gil-hyun and Jeong-hak go to the first day at the office, and they are charged with listening to rumors and writing stories that they hear about the king. After a long day, they have a conversation, and Jeong-hak says that he doesn’t like the work and is looking forward to transferring departments as soon as possible. But Gil-hyun likes being near the king because it still feels like it’s like a dream to him. Then, Jeong-hak tells Gil-hyun about the circulating rumors concerning King Sejo.
Yeonsangun ponders how he can get his hands on the royal records, because as the king, he is not allowed to read them, lest it affect the impartial nature of the documents for future progeny to reference. He asks Eunuch Kim to find someone who hates the ministers but does not fear their wrath, and Eunuch Kim suggests Yoo Ja-kwang, because he’s the son of a concubine.
The king treats the man to water in his personal chambers. It’s a rare type of water found in a special spring, and the king asks Ja-kwang what he thinks is the difference, and then answers his question himself: There is nothing different. Yeonsangun begins speaking about equality, because he’s disgusted at the nobles who pretend that they honor this social system, but who at their core feel like they’re all on the same level as the king.
He implies to Ja-kwang that he’d bestow a hero’s honor to a man who would be willing to root out the source of the rumors, which border on treason. Greedy for power, Ja-kwang prods the nobles into confessing that they have heard Kim Il-son speak these rumors about King Sejo. The nobles, including Lord Noh, have their own personal struggles amongst themselves and are eager to ingratiate themselves with the king while getting rid of one more political opponent. So in the middle of the night, a group of nobles lead by Ja-kwang and Lord Noh tattle on Kim Il-son to the king.
However, they soon realize that Kim Il-son may not be the only casualty in this situation, because Yeonsangun looks like he’s willing to cross any line to root out his dissidents. He orders for all of Kim Il-son’s records to be confiscated so that he can have them investigated.
The nobles protest because it’s a matter of precedent; the journals of the scholars were supposed to remain private while only the truth is supposed to be written in the Royal Annals. But Yeonsangun argues that any negative opinion of King Sejo is a poor reflection on the current king, which can be interpreted as treason, because any moves to diminish the king’s power would destabilize the nation.
Through the grapevine, Ga-ryung hears all the hullaballoo about the Bureau of Royal History and the current interrogation going on that could rock the nation’s foundations. She tells Gil-dong and Ilchung, who begin to ponder the implications.
Gil-hyun is given the task of transcribing the interrogation of Kim Il-son, who wrote down scandalous notes on King Sejo, and he deliberates his new responsibility with Scholar Song. It’s clear that Scholar Song has indoctrinated him into being a mindless king-follower. The following day, Jeong-hak and Gil-hyun are walking to their office when they’re confronted by their sunbaes, who are on Kim Il-son’s side, and the sunbaes try to threaten both of them into being compliant.
Angered by their disrespect for the integrity of the investigation, Gil-hyun calls them out on their hypocrisy for taking the king’s money while they curse him behind his back. Jeong-hak gets angry at him for treating their sunbaes badly because he thinks networking is the most important tool for scholars like them, who don’t have the family connections that would help them succeed later on. However, Gil-hyun reveals his reason for being a loyal follower of the king: He is grateful to Yeonsangun for giving him this opportunity to be a part of Joseon, rather than as an outsider like before (when he was a slave).
At the Bureau of Royal History, Ja-kwang takes Gil-hyun aside and tells him that this is a chance for both of them to rise in the eyes of the king. Yeonsangun is out for blood, and Ja-kwang says they must find something in the records that will satisfy the king’s urge, implicitly indicating the need for a scapegoat. Gil-hyun remembers Scholar Song saying that the nobles hide their treasonous intentions in their tricky words and rejoice in their cleverness at deceiving the king.
The next morning, after another day of finding nothing, Ja-kwang wakes everyone up and reprimands them for not having found any evidence yet. Then, Gil-hyun steps in and provides a potentially incriminating eulogy that has some analogous components to King Sejo’s rumors. Ja-kwang is immensely pleased, and they present it to Yeonsangun as evidence. They tell him that they’ve determined the traitor leader to be Jong Jik, who was Kim Il-son’s mentor.
The Amogae Avengers discuss what they’ve discovered so far. Ilchung explains the situation regarding the eulogy and its relationship with King Sejo’s rumors, and how it could be used as a link to tie Kim Il-son and his followers to treason. Gil-dong summarizes the situation and deduces that the king gets angry when his family is insulted.
In the throne room, Yeonsangun orders that Jong Jik’s corpse be beheaded to signify his position as a traitor to the land, and that his family’s position be taken away. When Kim Il-son protests, he and his followers are taken away by Yeonsangun’s soldiers. Gil-hyun realizes that his words have power as he sees the nobles getting dragged off.
Lord Noh frustratedly asks if he realizes what he’s done. Gil-hyun doesn’t understand, because up until a couple days ago, those very nobles were calling for Lord Noh’s head on a platter. But the nobleman says that it would have been better to just let the nobles be, because now the system of checks and balances on the power of the king has been drastically skewed.
Choongwongoon throws a jug of wine at his serving girl as Heotaehak and Mori come into his room. Apparently, he’s not in a good mood these days either.
Gil-hyun is surprised by the extent of the king’s rage when his royal orders include interrogating all of Kim Il-son’s neighbors and acquaintances as well. Ja-kwang reveals that the king wants to instill fear into his people by setting an example.
Afraid that they have incriminating records, people start burning their books by themselves, and Yonggae spies one household with ties to Kim Il-son that does the same. Gil-dong makes a deal with the household master, who is a former classmate of Kim Il-son and a guest of Choongwongoon’s poetry parties: If he testifies that Choongwongoon was the one who supplied him with the rumors about King Sejo, Gil-dong will help him and his family come out safe and alive.
Soboori and Amogae worry about Gil-dong’s fate because he’s messing with a royal, and because the last time they encountered Choongwongoon, the ending was catastrophic.
At the interrogation hearing of the household master, Gil-hyun is shocked to hear Choongwongoon’s name again. It brings back a barrage of memories of his family being torn apart because of the royal’s whims. Ja-kwang wants to dismiss this evidence because he’s afraid of making things more complicated, but Gil-hyun insists that Yeonsangun would be angry if they did not reveal the entire truth. When they go to tell the king, Yeonsangun is conflicted for a moment, but ultimately decides to call his uncle Choongwongoon in for an interrogation.
When Choongwongoon is browsing through the porn book that Gil-dong gave him, guards call for him to answer a royal subpoena. Mori tries to defend Choongwongon against the guards as they attempt to capture him to take to the interrogation. The royal makes a temporary escape, but is trapped by Magistrate Eom and his men. Gil-dong hears news that his plan succeeded and smiles darkly.
In a small room, Choongwongoon has been divested of his fine silk clothing and ornaments, stripped down like a suspect, and is questioned by Gil-hyun and Ja-kwang about his relationship with the household master who pointed him out as the primary instigator behind the King Sejo rumors. When asked if he has any witnesses who would vouch for him, Choongwongoon calls for Heotaehak and Gil-dong.
Soldiers go to find Gil-dong at the newly created gibang. He rises from a crowd of gisaeng picking his nose, putting on his “footstool” mask, but it actually just looks like his adorable five-year-old self.
I was a bit disappointed when Gil-dong’s revenge was put on the back-burner this episode. Setting up the reasons for why we will hate our major villain is important, but I still feel like I don’t know the hero that well, so I would have liked more time with him to become more emotionally invested in his story. Complex palace intrigue and backroom dealings normally aren’t my favorite parts of the sageuk dramas (I usually like to skip to the epic sword fight scenes), because it’s hard to understand if you don’t know all the historical and political context. But Yeonsangun’s transgressions of human rights in his scheme to punish the dissenters were just so blatantly egregious that they were impossible to ignore.
However, I did enjoy Kim Ji-suk’s performance as the increasingly maddening king. His hunched body language and changed manner of erratic swagger definitely added to the aura — although I did think that the transition from timid prince to aggressive despot was a bit abrupt. I didn’t want his transformation to be dragged out, but at the same time, I wish it had been a little more organically done. But maybe his lonely childhood with only yes-men around him formed his limited worldview, inevitably leading him to become a selfish individual who believes his pain is greater than anyone else’s. If contained, a certain amount of selfishness does no harm, but letting emotions rather than logical thinking dictate his rule seems like the fastest way to losing the trust of the people, which is something sacred all leaders should aspire to uphold.
Similarly, Gil-hyun seems to have changed for the worst. I would have thought that seeing his father whipped and punished because of people’s innate prejudices regarding the social caste system would have deterred him from wanting anything else to do with noblemen or any of their ilk. But instead, it seems to have turned him into a radicalized monarchist. He’s the one character whose motivations for his actions seem the weakest at the moment. Gil-dong has focused all of his ire on Choongwongoon, which is understandable when there’s a direct link between his father’s downfall and the pedophiliac royal. But Gil-hyun has somehow gone in the completely opposite direction by becoming the king’s personal rat, fear-mongering and creating suspicions from very slim evidence. Scholar Song probably had a lot to do with it, so I’m eager to know why he’s such a staunch supporter of Yeonsangun.
Slowly, we’re getting to see who will be lined up on each side, with Nok-soo, Gil-hyun, and probably Choongwongoon (plus Mori) on Yeonsangun’s side (at least in the beginning), and then Ga-ryung, Heotaehak, and the Amogae Avengers on Gil-dong’s side. Of course, there are always deciding factors that could change the game, and I think both Lord Noh and Scholar Song may become critical players in the future, even though they seem to be fringe characters at the moment.
But there is one character I haven’t seen that I have been waiting to reappear: Where is Eorini? Was Eop-san’s delivery of her flower slipper the last we have seen of her? But then, what about the scene where she’s in that dark box? Should I give up hope? It’s already been three weeks, and we haven’t heard a peep on that end. Even Gil-dong doesn’t seem like he’s searching for her anymore, focusing most of his attentions on his impending revenge on Choongwongoon. He also made Nok-soo a promise to come back for her, but he hasn’t even attempted to contact her, even though Ga-ryung told him exactly where she was. It makes me wonder what exactly his priorities are. Love and family? Or just revenge?
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 11
- 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