Seven Day Queen: Episode 4
This show is lovely and gripping, and today’s episode solidifies everyone’s positions as well as their feelings, their conflicts, and their future tribulations. I love that we can see glimpses of their future selves in these youngsters, and can understand how they come to grow into their adult selves. And more than anything, I’m excited to actually get a glimpse of their adult versions, because as much as I adored the childhood storyline, I’m eager to see how the years have shaped them and paved the way for their reunion.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
After his mad escapade to free Seo-no’s father from execution, Yeok is taken before the king to account for his actions. Yeok kneels down before Yeonsangun, and when asked why he did it, he replies, “For the throne.”
That immediately sets off Yeonsangun (he’s volatile enough on a good day!) but Yeok is remarkably composed as he recites the saying that the voice of the people is the voice of the heavens. “How can one abandon the people and keep the throne?” he asks. He warns that if Yeonsangun insists on punishing without attempting to understand the cause of the crime, the people will turn their backs on him.
Yeonsangun is incredulous that his little brother would dare teach him, but Yeok quotes Mencius’ teaching about the duty of a minister to point out a king’s errors. Yeonsangun accuses him of using Mencius to force him out to become king himself.
Yeok starts to protest, but stops himself and tells the king to believe as he wishes, because he’s clearly not going to believe anything Yeok says. Yeonsangun sneers, “You must really want to die.”
Yeok looks his brother in the eye and replies, “You are the ruler of this Joseon nation. You can do anything.” Yeonsangun orders his brother thrown in prison, and Yeok is dragged away by guards. In the background, snakelike Secretary Im smiles as this all goes down.
At home, Chae-kyung hears what happened to Yeok from her father and is confused—she’d thought that as the king’s brother, Yeok would be safe. Her father tells her that as the king’s brother, Yeok did something he shouldn’t have: He challenged the king’s authority. It’s a grave crime, and he will be punished accordingly.
Chae-kyung can’t believe it, but her father explains that it undermines the king’s authority to take Yeok’s side, and could embolden other royals to back Yeok and incite rebellion. And that’s why the king will punish Yeok: “That is the king’s place, and the weight of the throne.”
That night Yeok sits in prison, feeling bleak. His mother (the queen dowager) comes by, upset that he’s in prison and angry that he put himself in this position. She asks why he did it, and Yeok admits that he doesn’t know—by the time he calmed down and came to his senses, he was in prison.
“I could only think of one thing,” he says. “That if I ignored this matter or ran away, I would never be able to see those friends’ faces for the rest of my life. I would be so ashamed I would not be able to walk with my head up. At the very least, I would have to take responsibility for what I had done.”
The queen dowager bristles at his mention of “friends,” and diminishes his act to a mere impulse to impress his betrothed.
Meeting in private, Secretary Im tells consort Nok-soo that they lost the historian, and that in setting a trap to catch the prince, perhaps their bait was too big. Even so, they’re confident that they can get rid of the prince, and Nok-soo has found a way to ensure that Yeok will be killed. She’ll put forth a petition to the king to spare Yeok’s life—and news will trickle down throughout the palace, down to the lowest servants, spurring them to speak out. The cries of the court to save the prince’s life will infuriate the king, stoking his desire to kill Yeok.
Secretary Im approves of this plan, but adds one request: Take down Minister Shin’s daughter along with the prince, so as to break the minister’s wings.
Chae-kyung mulls over the prince’s predicament, now that she realizes how dire their actions were. She thinks an apology to her father: “I understand your words in my head, but my heart doesn’t.”
Those thoughts lead her to run to the palace, where she identifies herself as the queen’s niece and Minister Shin’s daughter. Those connections are enough to get her through the gates.
Her absence is noticed at home, and her father understands what Chae-kyung intends and rides to the palace hoping that she won’t act rashly.
As Yeonsangun walks toward his courtyard, he finds the entire yard filled with ministers, bowing and pleading for his mercy. This is their third day making such appeals, and as Nok-soo predicted, it provokes Yeonsangun’s temper. He turns back around and leaves the courtyard.
Chae-kyung does her best to evade notice inside the palace grounds, ducking around corners and under building crawlspaces. Yet all that hiding doesn’t stop her from barreling right into the king as he leaves his court, and she goes sprawling at his feet. Swords are drawn and pointed at her head immediately.
But Yeonsangun recognizes her, albeit not in her boy’s disguise today, and pushes a sword away as he explains that he knows her. He even offers a hand to Chae-kyung, who belatedly places how she knows him, exclaiming, “Warrior-nim!” And then she gasps, now that she knows he was the king all this time. Incredulous, she asks multiple times if he’s really and truly the king.
Yeonsangun smiles and confirms it, and Chae-kyung suddenly drops to the ground at his feet. She bows her head and begs him, “Please forgive the prince!” Yeonsangun’s light mood darkens and he clenches his jaw, and around the corner, her father arrives too late to do anything.
Chae-kyung is allowed a private audience with Yeonsangun and kneels before his throne, asking for his forgiveness. He asks if she thinks this situation occurred because of his lack of forgiveness, or whether this matter seems so trivial that one word of forgiveness would solve it all.
He effectively shuts down any argument she might make, but Chae-kyung replies earnestly, “But you want to get along with your brother too.”
She reminds him of the night they met, when he was bathing in the cold stream to work out his anger, which stemmed from his love for his brother.
Yeonsangun returns, “He is the one who betrayed that faith and that effort.”
Minister Shin visits Yeok in prison, asking if it’s true that Chae-kyung was part of the whole mess. He shows him a scroll containing appeals to punish Chae-kyung for her part in the prince’s actions. Yeok recalls his earlier conversation with his mother, who had urged him to blame Chae-kyung, saying that he only did as she requested because he was betrothed to her. His mother argued that the queen would step in to save Chae-kyung; she’s doing this to save her son.
Now Yeok realizes that this appeal is being driven by his mother. Minister Shin adds that Chae-kyung has gone to talk to the king herself and that she will end up being punished in the prince’s place.
Yeok denies the claim, saying hotly, “Who says I did this with her? Do you think I would have done this just for some girl?” Yeok calls out to the guard, intent on seeing the king himself. Minister Shin understands what he means to do, and thinks to himself that he is incurring a debt to the prince.
Chae-kyung, meanwhile, states that she will share the prince’s punishment, reminding the king, “That time, you said you would grant me a wish if we met again.” Yeonsangun says she would have been better off using her favor to ask for Yeok’s forgiveness.
Chae-kyung bursts out that she wishes she could, “But how could I? I can see plainly that you are hurting too. I know it’s not such an easy matter.” But if she can share the punishment, the prince will be less scared and the king will be less pained.
Yeonsangun sighs, “You are pitiable.” He hands her a scroll, informing her that the prince named her as the reason for his actions, so the court ministers are rallying to punish her in place of Yeok. Chae-kyung looks stunned, and Yeonsangun asks if she really did incite everything—if so, he will take the lives of not only her and her father, but also their family.
That’s when Yeok is announced, and Chae-kyung stares at him with pained eyes while he keeps his gaze directed at the king.
Outside the throne room, Minister Shin blocks the path of the queen dowager when she arrives, intent on stepping in. Minister Shin entreats her to do nothing, saying that that is the way to save the prince’s life.
When the king refers to Chae-kyung as Yeok’s friend, Yeok scoffs harshly. In a voice filled with contempt, he lists all the problems he encountered because of her, saying that it’s her fault the rice incident blew up into such trouble.
Chae-kyung is stung at the rejection, and then Yeok grabs her by the shirtfront and yells, “I told you not to get involved in my business and get lost! I told you not to show yourself in front of me again! Did you think I would be grateful if you did this? All you’re doing is trying to relieve your own burden!”
Chae-kyung cries, “What about you? You dumped your own crime onto someone else!” Yeok’s grip on her clothing slackens—his finger still wears her ring—and when he catches her looking at that scroll, he picks it up to read. Keeping his face steely, Yeok asks, “Did you think I’d die alone?”
She challenges his story, about how she somehow orchestrated everything against his wishes, and then tried to blame things on him. It’s not really a watertight explanation, but that doesn’t matter, and Yeok sticks to it. He’s really determined to go down solo, isn’t he?
All the while, Yeonsangun watches the exchange with narrowed, watchful eyes.
Chae-kyung leaves the building in a daze, and is greeted outside by her father. Yeok remains in the throne room and begs for his life, promising to abdicate his princely status and live as a nameless soldier or a country peasant.
Yeonsangun notes that he’s taking the punishment on his own, and Yeok says it’s because he acted on his own. Yeonsangun doesn’t seem to believe that, but Yeok asks him to believe him in this moment.
A short while later, both Yeok and Chae-kyung are called before the court to hear the verdicts. Chae-kyung is addressed first, and asked whether she acknowledges being the one behind the stealing of the rice and the escape of the prisoner. She looks to her father, who gives her a nod to encourage her answer.
Chae-kyung thinks of the threat this poses to her family, and how Yeok denounced their friendship. In a scared voice, she answers haltingly that she doesn’t know anything about anything. “I did not do anything,” she says, crying.
It’s the answer Yeok wants, and he adds that he did everything on his own and will receive his punishment. At that, Chae-kyung shakes her head, seemingly surprised. Her father is instructed to take her away, and then she flings off her father’s hand and exclaims at Yeok, “That’s not true! Why are you lying?”
She pleads with Yeok not to do this, protesting as her father pulls her away again. Outside, she accuses her father of knowing everything all along and calls him bad, along with the prince and the king.
The queen dowager arrives in the courtyard and faces Chae-kyung with blazing eyes, accusing her of turning on her son to save herself. “I will never forget what happened today!” she declares fiercely.
So Yeok is returned to his prison cell, and Chae-kyung is released free and clear. She thinks of when he agreed to marry her, suggesting sweetly that they continue their friendship into marriage, and how he said he’d marry her because he likes her, not because it’s arranged.
Yeok also thinks of their marriage promise, staring at that ring he wears on his finger, thinking of Chae-kyung.
Yeonsangun arrives to a lavish dinner spread set out by the queen dowager, who tells him not to misunderstand her intent, as this dinner appointment had been set weeks in advance. Yeonsangun thinks to himself that she was the one who’d delayed it repeatedly, but sits down to his meal.
The queen dowager is on pins and needles through the meal, holding back from saying anything because of Minister Shin’s warning for her not to intervene. But she can no longer hold back as Yeonsangun excuses himself from the meal, and grabs his arm to beg for the prince’s life to be spared.
Yeonsangun notes, “So, that means you think I will kill Yeok. Still, I had trusted that you were my mother. Because raising me is a form of affection.” (She’s his stepmother.) He continues, “But today, I realize for certain that you are not. You are only Yeok’s mother.”
She shakes her head, trying to say that he has misunderstood. He cuts her off and hisses, “I will save him. In exchange, our relationship ends here. Mother and son, hyung and younger brother—I will no longer be bound by ties of family, and will live only as Joseon’s king.”
The queen dowager looks unnerved, but tells him to do that. Yeonsangun’s face twists, and he stalks out angrily, whereupon he starts to laugh to himself. But his inner thoughts are anguished as he thinks, “No, you’re wrong. You’re my son too. Was it so difficult to say that one thing?”
The queen dowager, on the other hand, regains her steely calm and thinks of Yeonsangun vowing to live as only the king. “You will not get your way,” she says. “Because I will not just stand idly by.”
Things have not gone according to plan for the king’s two shifty cronies, Secretary Im and consort Nok-soo, who wanted this to end in the prince’s death. They urge the king to reconsider his decision to spare his life, slyly suggesting that letting him go will give rise to rumors that Yeok was framed, turning public sentiment toward him and showing him as a victim and hero. Secretary Im adds that they saw how much backing the prince received at court.
But Yeonsangun returns, “Do I have to fear them?” He states that his decision will stand, and the two co-conspirators trade looks of chagrin.
And so, Yeok is allowed to live, but stripped of his royal status. He thinks sadly of happier memories from childhood, when his hyung had taught him how to fight and play and cared for him openly.
Visiting him before his departure from the palace, the queen dowager envelops Yeok in an embrace, urging him to survive no matter what.
As Yeok rides out of the palace with a team of guards, a crowd of commoners watches his departure. His two friends call out to him from the crowd, in tears on his behalf. Yeok tells them to learn from his mistakes and live quietly until he returns. Then he continues riding on.
Chae-kyung tries to leave the house to see Yeok off, but her father puts his foot down, telling her that she and the prince were ill-fated from the start.
And yet, it’s Chae-kyung’s voice that Yeok hears as he rides with his entourage. She clambers through the brush to join him on the road, her eyes brimming with tears. She asks what it will take to save him, if she can just bring back Seo-no’s father, arguing that it’s justified since Seo-no did steal.
Then she stops mid-sentence, shocked at herself, and asks if there’s any other way. Distraught, she cries, “You said you were smart, that you read more difficult books than the king! What good is it being a prince, if you can’t even protect yourself? Are you a dummy?” She hits his chest in between sobs.
Yeok tells her he won’t die, and that he’ll just be away for a while and return. She asks if he can’t stay, promising never to interfere with people’s affairs again, and grabs his horse’s reins as though to keep him here.
Yeok pulls the reins away, taking her hand in his, and tells her she can keep the salamander statue in his desk. She asks if that’ll be the proof of his promise to return. He nods.
She touches the ring he’s wearing and tells him to take care of it, because that’s her promise to wait. They’re both crying now, and frankly so am I, and Chae-kyung reaches up to wipe the tears from his face.
Afterward, Chae-kyung makes her way to Yeok’s mostly-empty room and finds that salamander statue in his desk. At the sound of approaching steps, she instinctively hides behind a screen even as she wonders why she’s hiding.
Yeonsangun enters the room, and his gaze falls on Yeok’s bipa instrument, which he’d used to play for him. “I spared your life,” he thinks. “This is my final act of mercy.”
Chae-kyung startles him by stepping out from behind the screen, then bows deeply on the ground. He starts to leave, but stops when Chae-kyung promises, “Until the prince returns, I will be your sibling, your friend, and your family. So let us wait together.”
Yeonsangun stares at her intensely, clearly conflicted.
The prince’s entourage rides on late that night, when suddenly they’re ambushed by assassins in black. Arrows shoot down Yeok’s guards, one of whom urges Yeok to flee. Yeok turns and gallops away from the fray while his men fend off the assailants as best they can—but just as he’s riding out of sight, an assassin shoots an arrow right into his back. Ack!
Yeok falls from his horse and hits the ground, but when the assailants get there, they find no body. They split up to scour the nearby forest, where we see that Yeok has managed to hide long enough to yank the arrow from his back. He gets a glimpse of the lead assassin, and recognizes that same scarred officer who had staked out Seo-no’s father’s house and chased them through the village.
Scarface draws nearer to Yeok’s hiding spot, so Yeok draws his short sword and lunges for the man. They both take a big tumble down a hill, but Yeok’s able to stick the sword in Scarface’s side, and he demands to know who he is and who he works for.
Scarface flings Yeok aside and turns that sword on him, and it takes all Yeok’s strength to hold him off. Then he sees the badge that had dropped in the scuffle—the king’s badge, indicating that Scarface is acting on royal order. Yeok’s distraction gives Scarface an opening to stab him with the sword, but Yeok beats him over the head with a rock repeatedly. His mother’s words ring in his head: to survive no matter what, because the king will try to kill him.
It was in their last conversation that the queen dowager had explained that his father, the late king, had intended for Yeok to take the throne instead of his brother. As a result, Yeonsangun will try to kill him before that will comes to light.
Stabbed, bleeding, and exhausted, Yeok staggers to a creek and lies down by the water, reeling from the betrayal of knowing his brother sent these assassins. “Hyungnim, tell me it isn’t true,” he thinks.
But soon Scarface finds him by the waterside, badly injured but intent on fulfilling his mission. He hovers over Yeok with raised sword, and thrusts it down. Yeok’s blood flows into the creek.
Back in Hanyang, news spreads and Chae-kyung races toward the palace as a bloody corpse is brought to the gate. She collapses in sobs when she sees the body, inconsolable.
When he hears the news, Yeonsangun grips the throne with a shaking fist, then lurches outside.
The queen dowager is brought before the body, and pulls back the cover to see the deceased’s face. I know there’s no way he’s actually dead-dead, but everything about what we’re told indicates that this is Yeok, and he is confirmed dead.
Yeonsangun rides out of the palace like a man crazed, and goes straight to Seo-no’s old house. He ransacks the shack looking for that secret will but finds nothing—and out of the blue, he hears Yeok’s voice calling out to him like a ghostly echo. Enraged, he grabs a torch and sets fire to the house.
He seems to calm as the house burns—but then, out of the shadows, he sees a figure emerge. It’s his father, dressed in his kingly robes, glaring grimly. Yeonsangun asks why his father looks at him with that expression, and yells that it was his father who killed Yeok, not him. He breaks down in sobs and falls to the ground, screaming in rage.
Then he collects himself and walks away, his face stony.
Chae-kyung returns to various locations that are meaningful to her and Yeok, and goes through a ritual of bowing and apologizing. First it’s the mountain pool where Yeok had spied on bathing ladies, then it’s the merchant selling salamander statues, and then it’s Seo-no’s charred house.
She bows her head to the smoking house and says, “I’m sorry—for making you bear the punishment alone. I’m sorry, for interfering in your life. I’m sorry, for making you die.” She falls to her knees, sobbing now, saying, “I’m sorry for meeting you.”
At the stream where Yeok had once carried her on his back, Chae-kyung floats flower blossoms on the water’s surface, watching the cherry blossoms rain down from above.
And then, we skip ahead five years (to 1504), amidst another cherry blossom shower. A wedding is taking place in a rural village, and the bride’s attendant struggles to light a stick, muttering to herself in saturi dialect—ah, she must be grown-up Chae-kyung (well, we know it must be true, since she’s Park Min-young).
The bride jokes that Chae-kyung is stalling because she doesn’t want her to marry and leave Chae-kyung the oldest spinster in the village. Chae-kyung exclaims in protest.
Afterward, her nanny presents her with a letter from Hanyang, and Chae-kyung brightens, trying to guess who it’s from. But she deflates when she hears it’s from her aunt, the queen, which means she’s been ordered to marry. Chae-kyung has apparently been dragging her feet, since this seems like a recurring topic.
Inside her room, Chae-kyung’s cheerful face falls at the sight of her salamander statue, and her nanny sighs that her promise no longer holds, and that she can’t continue waiting when they’ve already held Yeok’s funeral.
Chae-kyung scoffs that she’s not waiting anymore, and that she has no intention of being a ghost’s wife. Nanny retorts sarcastically that she shouldn’t have reason to be avoiding marriage and hiding in this rural village, then.
To prove a point, Chae-kyung wraps up the salamander and heads out with it. Nanny must not believe she’ll actually get rid of it, calling out, “I hope you succeed this time!”
Chae-kyung walks to the dock, where she unwraps the statue and starts to throw it out into the pond. But she hears Yeok’s last words to her, promising not to die and to return, and she lowers her arm in resignation.
Then, it starts to rain.
It’s raining out at sea, too, and sailors struggle to secure their boat in the brewing storm. Scarface appears to be the captain here, and orders his men to hurry and dump their heaviest cargo.
Inside the cabin of the boat, two men sit in silence, one hidden under a black hood. Sailors drag the two men (captives?) outside to the deck, where Scarface orders them thrown overboard.
It’s Black Hood who yells out to Scarface, “Oy! I think you’re the heaviest thing here.” He spits in his direction, then kicks aside the men holding him and swings himself up to Scarface’s level above. The other man quickly follows suit and engages the other sailors in a fight, holding his own pretty well.
Black Hood’s fight with Scarface lands them both back on the deck, his arm pinned against Scarface’s throat. Scarface asks who he is, and Black Hood laughs before pulling off his hood to reveal his face.
It’s Yeon Woo-jin—and that means this must be Yeok, all growed up. BUT HOW?
Yeok asks if Scarface remembers him, thinking to their fight in the woods five years ago. Scarface sneers and draws a dagger, throwing himself at Yeok. The men grapple, and in the struggle, both fall over the railing and into the water.
Seeing this, Yeok’s companion yells out, “Prince! Your Highness!” He nearly climbs overboard too, but is pulled aside by another man.
Underwater, the two men continue to fight. At one point, Yeok is caught in a chokehold, but he kicks Scarface off, who goes limp, and swims for the surface.
I found this episode incredibly touching, as it continued to show what this show does well, which is depicting emotions in a credible, nuanced way. Every aspect of the characters’ reactions feels true to life and understandable, and this means I find it easy to get wrapped up in the emotions of the scenes with a high level of immersion. It’s not something a lot of shows can pull off, and I consider it a treat to be savored.
This is in large part due to a synchronicity in the writing and the acting, and the latter owes a debt to casting as well. The two children are great budding actors in their own right, but what makes it extra-special is that young Yeok, in particular, bears traits that I can totally see in Yeon Woo-jin—it’s almost uncanny how I can hear his words being spoken by the adult actor, and it makes me really excited to see how the characters have grown up and changed in the last five years.
Although of course, we can’t skip over how awesome Lee Dong-gun is as Yeonsangun in what is likely to be his career-defining role. He gives this character such dimension that I can’t see him as a villain, even as he lashes out with anger and has a cruel streak a mile wide. I’d put his consort and his advisor in much more conventional villain roles, as they’re the ones pulling the strings—his strings—so that they benefit from the results. But Yeonsangun himself is such a full, developed character, down to how he desperately wants affection from his family even as that show of affection is something that would anger him. I also find his way with words fascinating—he uses his gift of persuasion and manipulation for all the wrong reasons, but the verbal gymnastics are impressive to watch, and give you the sense that every conversation with him is walking into a trap.
It’s not that every villain can be explained away with the explanation “I just wanted my daddy to love me,” but with Yeonsangun the dynamic offers such a rich canvas upon which to draw his paranoia and inferiority complex. Even as a dead man his father is haunting Yeonsangun, who is already the king but feels at every turn that his father is judging him unfit for the job. I know that the threat of the secret will hangs over his head, but it also feels a bit to me like Yeonsangun is the kind of person who will continue fighting the battle long after he’s won it. He’ll never be satisfied, never be at peace.
I was moved by Chae-kyung and Yeok’s stirring separation, and it leaves me dying to know how they’ll react when Yeok shows up, suddenly alive again. (And answers the question that’s burning a hole in my brain: HOW? I have a few theories, but I want the show to really pull out something satisfying and surprising.) Before Yeok “died,” I was so sure that he’d just disappear or be presumed dead, which would leave room for Chae-kyung to hope for his return and continue waiting. This way makes it a little more bitter and sad, that she has confirmation that he’s been dead for years and still is reluctant to let go of that promise.
The mystery of his disappearance and how he’s lived for the past five years is a pretty great way to leave us hanging, if by “great” I also mean “maddening,” because this episode got me all excited with basically every development and now I’m a little bit mad I have to wait a whole week to find out some answers. It’s a happy kind of mad! (But also a mad kind of mad. I hate waiting!)
- Seven Day Queen: Episode 1
- Premiere Watch: My Sassy Girl, Seven Day Queen, Best Hit, Duel
- Arranged marriages and love at first sight for the Seven Day Queen
- Queen for a week, heartbreak to last a lifetime
- Seven Day Queen’s young lovers realize their tragic fates
- Elegant tears and waking forbidden hearts in Seven Day Queen
- Thwarted kisses and rom-com hijinks in Seven Day Queen
- Blood, thorns, and tears in first teaser for Seven Day Queen
- Seven Day Queen team puts in their first four hours at script read