Seven Day Queen: Episode 18
This is it. The shit hits the fan, and everything reaches the tipping point we’ve been building up to all this while. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and the big question now is how everyone will survive the collateral damage, and what this means going forward. Is there any love strong enough to weather what these kids have to face? For my blood pressure’s sake, I certainly hope so. And okay, for their sakes too.
EPISODE 18 RECAP
After Yeok slips inside the palace and reveals himself to Chae-kyung, the couple embraces sweetly. He tells her he missed her, and Chae-kyung cries, “Why did you come so late? I waited so long.”
He apologizes and assures her that his leg is healed, and she’s so relieved that she smacks his shoulder, saying that he should have told her because she’d been so worried. He apologizes for that, “And for always only saying I’m sorry, I’m sorry for that too.”
The former minister of the interior, who’d helped Yeok slip into the palace, informs Deputy Commander Park that Yeok is here. He’s concerned for Yeok’s safety with the rebel forces on their way, but Park isn’t concerned, knowing that they’re all in on the same plan.
Chae-kyung understands that Yeok must have a plan for him to risk coming to the palace, and he asks if she will believe that he’s doing this to save them, their families, and the people of the country. His face falls at her reply—that she can’t answer him right now, though she urges him to complete his work and make his plan a reality. Then she will naturally come to believe and support him. Yeok’s face firms with resolve, and he agrees.
She asks after her parents, and Yeok thinks back to his last meeting with her father, who had apologized on behalf of the king as his loyal vassal and family member. Yeok had told him that this was the time to abandon the king rather than apologize, but Minister Shin had merely replied, “What vassal would think first of abandoning his ruler? He must protect him to the best of his ability, and then, if that does not work, he must die fighting for his ruler. That is the fate of a vassal.” Yeonsangun so doesn’t deserve you.
Yeok had asked incredulously if Minister Shin would abandon Chae-kyung, but Minister Shin had replied that it’s Yeok’s job to protect her: “Now, my tie with Chae-kyung has ended.” He’d told Yeok not to continue thinking of him as family, either.
Now Yeok tells Chae-kyung that he did meet her father, and urges her to take her parents to a safe place, leaving her with the location of a hideout. After he leaves, Chae-kyung thinks to herself that she must make her choice now.
Just then, Yeonsangun arrives and she hastily hides Yeok’s note in her hand. He dislikes hearing that she skipped dinner, and I’m continually amazed at how much he worries over her condition while ignoring that he’s the cause of it. Supposing that she may feel cooped up in the palace, Yeonsangun suggests that she accompany him outside on a night hunt.
Chae-kyung thinks to Yeok’s plan: that once the rebel troops arrive, the king would mobilize his troops, leaving only a small number of soldiers behind at the palace. That’s when Yeok would storm in to face off against the king. Worried that the king won’t be here when it happens, she asks to go out to look at the moon instead, saying that her father’s letter had mentioned the view and made her want to see it. He agrees, looking pleased to grant her request.
Loyal Eunuch Song is in on Yeok’s plan, and Chae-kyung entrusts him with the task of taking her parents to the hideout.
But it’s another group of armed men who arrive at Minister Shin’s house, announcing that they were instructed to protect him by Deputy Commander Park. Minister Shin supposes that this means the rebellion has begun.
Chae-kyung is on edge as she and Yeonsangun walk along a bridge, although she explains her jumpiness as being uncomfortable with the guards at her back. Yeonsangun motions for them to stay away as they continue walking.
The rebels arrive at the palace, sending eunuchs and court ladies scattering in fear. Gwang-oh and Seok-hee are among them, dressed as royal soldiers.
Thinking of how the king’s world will end tonight, Chae-kyung’s face twists with tears. He notices, so she explains her sadness as being prompted by thoughts of family. She doesn’t mean her parents, so he cuts off her explanation, not wanting her to hear about Yeok.
But she replies that she was thinking of “Warrior-nim”—the name she called him before knowing he was the king. She speaks of their first meeting, how he’d chided her for saving him at the inn when she should have saved herself, how he promised her a wish, and how he’d shed tears over his brother’s death, feeling guilty.
“I cried because I missed that person,” she says.
Yeonsangun says tightly that that person is dead. “Yes,” Chae-kyung replies. “That is why I cried. Because I cannot see him again. Why did you kill him? You could have saved him, protected him. Him, and also his brother, and friends and family. But you did not.”
He says shrewdly that she sure is putting a lot of effort into provoking him—and stalling for time. Oh crap. He knows? Why must he know everything?
He asks what she’s doing it for, just as he receives an urgent report of the rebel forces arriving. He looks at Chae-kyung with accusing eyes, asking if this was her reason, and swiftly draws a sword to her neck, reminding her that he could kill her at any moment.
She shocks him with her response: “Let us die together, then.” Her crime is in taking his heart, and his is in abandoning his country—their two deaths would allow many to live, she says.
Then she informs him of the rebellion that will soon be at his door. He’s astonished when she says he will have nobody left to protect him, because he has lost the support of all of his followers.
Yeonsangun growls, “I will kill you. I should have killed you! If I could not have you, I should have killed you!” And then, “I should have had you!”
His face contorts wildly and he raises the sword. Chae-kyung steels herself for the deathblow—but it doesn’t come. Hand shaking, Yeonsangun can’t bring himself to strike, and he drops the sword.
Instead he drags her to the queen dowager’s quarters, calling them the first two to lose their lives when the rebels arrive. Yeonsangun cuts through the queen dowager’s feigned outrage over how he can still suspect Yeok, honing in on the actual issue: He knows Yeok is leading the rebellion.
Chae-kyung’s eyes widen, but he points out that Chae-kyung wouldn’t betray him to help the rebels for anyone other than Yeok.
Yeonsangun orders this room guarded, then leaves to convene the court, where he orders the war minister to mobilize troops to fight the rebels. The war minister complies, but after he dispatches his offers into action, one remains behind—Yeok, in soldier’s uniform.
The war minister is astonished to see Yeok healthy and walking. Yeok lays out the minister’s situation plainly: His chances for success are low, but he cannot disobey the king’s order and not fight. He asks, “Will you die at the rebel forces’ hands? Or, will you die at the king’s hand?” Then he offers a third option: “Or, will you help me and become the rebellion’s biggest contributor?”
The war minister instantly drops to his knee and addresses Yeok as king, declaring his loyalty.
The rebels stand ready and armed outside the palace gate, with Myung-hye in the front line. Yeok, still disguised as one of the king’s officers, stands with the war minister as the troops ready to fire—but suddenly, the rebels turn and run. The king’s soldiers chase them into the woods, thinking the rebels an easy mark. Myung-hye and her men take cover in the forest, and she thinks that everything now rests on Yeok’s shoulders.
Secretary Im reports confidently back to Yeonsangun that the rebels turned tail, smirking that Yeok was in such a hurry that he enlisted a bunch of bumpkins. He seems assured of their defense strategy, as the war minister has dispatched troops to every city gate.
What they don’t know is that Yeok now takes the lead over the soldiers under the war minister’s command, as well as the Snail Brides embedded among them. Yeok gives the order to move out, heading toward the king’s palace.
With the war minister at the lead, the soldiers are allowed inside the gates, but stopped outside Yeonsangun’s palace. They allow the war minister through, and he takes Yeok with him and orders the rest to stand guard outside.
Yeok avoids recognition, and ducks his head when they run into Secretary Im and Nok-soo. Secretary Im is feeling cheerful at the victory at the gate, but Nok-soo takes note of Yeok. She isn’t immediately suspicious, but I’m nervous that she noticed anything at all.
Yeonsangun congratulates the war minister on winning a battle without shedding any blood, and smiles to hear that Yeok never even showed himself. Yeonsangun instructs the minister to capture Yeok, assured that the rebels will scatter as soon as he’s caught.
From his place behind the war minister, Yeok chuckles aloud and asks, “Will that truly happen? Did you not say that the king is determined by the heavens? The will of the heavens is the will of the people. Even if you kill Grand Prince Jinsung, will the people forgive a king who is not recognized by the heavens?”
Yeonsangun gets up to challenge the impertinent officer, drawing a sword and holding it threateningly. Then Yeok draws his sword, and Yeonsangun looks astonished that he would dare.
Finally, Yeok raises his gaze to meet the king’s, and removes his helmet to reveal his face fully. Yeonsangun actually takes a step back, shocked to see him. Yeok states solemnly, “Now, I must return everything to their rightful places.”
Secretary and Nok-soo are startled at the sight of so many soldiers outside the king’s palace, and Nok-soo doesn’t quite believe the explanation given for their presence. Gwang-oh reaches for his sword, readying to act swiftly if necessary, but Secretary Im accepts the explanation and ushers Nok-soo away.
It’s because Secretary Im has realized that the war minister has changed sides—but he stops Nok-soo from doing anything because he also realizes that it’s too late, and that they’re outnumbered.
But Nok-soo’s not of the same mindset, and she tells him to serve what he must, because she will do the same. With that, she heads back to go to Yeonsangun despite his warning.
Inside, Yeok offers Yeonsangun one last chance. Yeonsangun laughs, then raises his sword with a yell.
Screaming court ladies flee the palace, the king’s soldiers realize the other soldiers are rebels, and the troops face off. Gwang-oh urges Yeok to hurry.
With only the two brothers left inside, they go at each other fiercely with swords. Yeonsangun is skilled and powerful, though Yeok seems to be holding his own.
Chae-kyung receives the update that Yeok is now in the king’s palace, knowing that they’re in their last stages of the rebellion.
Yeonsangun draws the first blood, but Yeok quickly returns with a cut of his own. As they fight, Yeonsangun thinks darkly, “Why were you born?” Yeok’s returning thought: “I’m sorry for being born. But now that I have been born, I must do my part and bear responsibility fully. Therefore, goodbye.”
Just as Yeonsangun is thinking that one of them must die, Chae-kyung bursts into the room and calls out to both of them. Noooo, why are you here? This will only be more painful all around!
Yeonsangun resumes the fight, and Chae-kyung narrates that while the two brothers were preparing for the finish, soldiers on both sides were standing off and others were fleeing to save their lives.
Yeok finally gets in a strong blow and disarms Yeonsangun, who falls to the ground. He holds his sword to his brother’s throat, just as Chae-kyung shouts out to him not to do it.
Yeok’s hand trembles and Yeonsangun eggs him on, screaming, “Did you come all this way without the nerve to kill me?”
Yeok tenses, raises his sword, and swings with a bellow. But he can’t do it, and Yeonsangun looks triumphant while Yeok wrestles with himself. Chae-kyung rushes to Yeok’s side, and Yeonsangun’s manic smile falters at that sight.
The sword drops out of Yeok’s hand as other rebel soldiers rush into the room. They take Yeonsangun into their custody, and Chae-kyung and Yeok turn to leave together.
“Good,” Yeonsangun says bleakly. “It’s a good thing. You have finally become king. Thanks to you, my revenge is complete.”
Yeonsangun laughs bitterly, saying that he started dreaming of revenge when Yeok threw away his claim to the throne to choose happiness with Chae-kyung. He thought of all the ways to torment Yeok, and decided that making Yeok king and forcing him to experience all of his anguish and pain would be his revenge.
“Yeok-ah,” he says, “My little brother. Are you not curious to know what pain awaits you on this path? Look forward to it.” He laughs in his manic, tortured way that makes him as chilling as it makes him pitiful.
After the room clears, Chae-kyung asks if it’s finally over: “Can we be happy now?” Yeok smiles gently and assures her that they can.
Eunuchs and court ladies don’t quite know how to react to Yeonsangun as he’s escorted in prisoner’s ropes. He screams at them to laugh if they can’t cry for him, chuckling madly to himself.
Chae-kyung father apologizes to his wife, and she understands that he will go to the king no matter what. Minster Shin says that he did not honor his promise to be the king’s father and family, and thinks this is his last chance to do so. Chae-kyung’s mother smiles through her tears and says she will see him off.
She starts to prepare his ministerial robes, but Minister Shin stops her, saying, “I am not going as the king’s vassal. This time, I go as his family.” Chae-kyung’s mother breaks down into tears worrying about what will happen to Chae-kyung, and Minister Shin embraces her, apologizing.
He steps outside to face his fate, and finds his path blocked by Deputy Commander Park’s men, who declare that they were ordered to stop him from leaving.
Deputy Commander Park charges in to capture Secretary Im, who is hurriedly stashing away valuables. But Secretary Im is confident in his get-out-of-jail-free card, and leans in close to remind Park that he knows of his actions with the Snail Brides. He’s saving Park’s life by keeping that to himself, in which case Park ought to return the favor.
Secretary Im declares that he will serve the new king, and Park stuns his men by giving the order to let him go.
So Secretary Im walks out with his head still attached to his body, looking smug in the utmost as he is carried off in his palanquin. But it’s not long before he notices that he’s being carried in the wrong direction, although Scarface confirms that this is the correct path. The palanquin-bearers run off, and Scarface tells Im, “It is an honor that I could serve you to the last.”
He drives a sword through Secretary Im, who dies amidst a gasp of shock. Then Myung-hye steps forward to seal their deal, assuring him of his family’s safety and providing him a new life in a remote location. You know, this is the first time I’ve ever been glad of Myung-hye’s willingness to do the dirty work for a greater good.
Then Myung-hye reminds him of the last part of their deal, and Scarface slices the sword across… himself? What? Is this the punishment Yeok suffered? I take back what I said about Myung-hye, who says that despite a disabled body, he will be able to “live like a person” now. Yes, but what about you? When will you turn human?
Nok-soo walks resolutely into the palace to see Yeonsangun, who tells her to run now, since she has to save her life first if she is to do anything about this. She asks what she could do without him, and says that flowers never last long—they bloom beautifully for a short while, then wilt.
“In this life, I am satisfied to have lived as your flower,” she says. She pulls a pin from her hair and places it in his palm—it has a sharp, dagger-like end, and she asks to die by his hand. He looks at her with wide eyes, but when she embraces him, he drives the dagger into her neck and holds her as she dies in his arms.
As her hand falls limp, Yeonsangun begins to sob, clutching Nok-soo’s body even tighter.
Chae-kyung lies down in bed, and keeps her eyes closed when Yeok joins her. She thinks to herself that she doesn’t understand her dreary feelings and therefore doesn’t know how to look at her husband.
Yeok has similar thoughts, asking himself, “Things happened the way I intended, but why does my heart feel so dreary?” And so they both lie there, unspeaking, both confused about their feelings.
The next day, the queen dowager receives the high-level officials who backed the rebellion, who assure her that Yeok is suited to the task of being king, pleased that he pulled off a successful coup with minimal losses.
Yeonsangun is brought before the full court, kneeling in his prisoner’s whites alongside his queen and their children. It’s an uncomfortable reality to be confronted with the innocent family members, and Chae-kyung struggles to see her aunt and nephews being read their sentences of dethronement and exile.
Yeok takes her hand but wonders if she’s okay. She isn’t, not quite, and walks numbly back to her quarters, barely registering that she’s being addressed as the new queen. And then, even worse news: Eunuch Song delivers the report that her parents are dead.
In a flashback to the night before, we see her father ordering the armed men to step aside, only ready to accept orders from the king. He’s cut down, his wife struck next. A dying Minister Shin outstretches his hand toward his wife, thinking that with their deaths, they are only thinking to protect Chae-kyung.
Chae-kyung rushes to her parents’ house, finding her mother and father still lying where they fell, soaked in their own blood. She hurries to their sides, overcome with grief.
Yeok visits his mother, dressed in his kingly robes, though his mood is distinctly more subdued than either his mother’s or Deputy Commander Park’s. His mother asks after his somber mood, and he admits that despite overcoming the great struggle, he doesn’t feel happy about it.
“I have lost too many things,” he says. “And I fear the things I have yet to lose.”
His mother assures him that it’s just that he has lived so pressed by life-and-death fears that he has forgotten how to be happy. “Now, you will only have happiness,” she tells him.
When he steps outside, his friends greet him with long faces. He asks what’s the matter, and it falls to them to deliver the news.
Chae-kyung sits with her parents’ bodies, now moved inside the house. She asks her mother if she will continue sleeping like this, urging her to nag her like always. Then she turns to her father and apologizes for being angry with him, begging him to come back and clutching his hand as she cries. And then she finds something in his palm—a snail shell. Ohhhh, shit. Oh shit oh shitohshit.
Yeok bursts into the room in a panic, aghast at the sight of his in-laws laid out like that. He’s just as shocked as Chae-kyung over this twist, but I don’t like the stunned, hurt look in her eyes as she turns to see him. And then she collapses, unconscious.
A bit later, Yeok walks into his throne room, his eyes haunted and his steps weary. He staggers toward his throne, and then falls to his knees on the steps before it. He recalls all the words his father-in-law had said, about serving his ruler to the last.
“Why did you make such a foolish choice?” Yeok asks despairingly. “WHY?”
Chae-kyung lies in a daze, only jumping up at the arrival of her nanny. She checks multiple times that Nanny truly is alive and well, and starts to say that she dreamt the worst nightmare about her parents. Nanny’s face twists into sobs as Chae-kyung insists it’s all a dream and that she has to go see her parents.
Nanny pulls her into a tight embrace, and reality crashes back in on Chae-kyung, who falls to the ground in sobs.
Meanwhile, Deputy Commander Park informs the queen dowager she has nothing to worry, because now Chae-kyung will leave her position of her own will. Ohh, you evil little man. You killed her parents so she wouldn’t be queen? Fuck you and the little horse you rode in on.
Ashen and bleak-faced, Chae-kyung asks for her mirror to be brought out, then asks her court lady to dress her particularly well so she can see the king.
Yeok looks up in surprise when Chae-kyung approaches his throne, and rushes to embrace her. It’s the scene that opened this show all those episodes ago, and Chae-kyung’s fist tightens around the dagger hidden in her palm.
She drives it down once but stops herself, and Yeok realizes something is amiss. He grabs her wrist and steps back to see her looking at him hatefully—and then, clasping her hand between his, he guides the dagger toward his heart.
Chae-kyung struggles to draw her hand back from his tight grasp, and it’s not clear who’s pushing and who’s pulling—but then the dagger drives forward and Yeok jerk backs in pain.
So, we’re finally here, at the breaking point, and at the climactic scene we’ve been building toward the whole series long. I loved that the show opened on such a dynamic, emotionally fraught sequence and hinted at the anguish down the line, and both the up- and downside of that is that we’ve spent the whole series with this hanging over our heads. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have this kind of dramatic irony in play, because it lends weight and significance to moments of foreshadowing, and forces us to appreciate the brief flashes of light we’ve had in between the troubles.
It’s almost like watching a prophecy play out before your eyes, and this is the rare instance where I feel like fate is represented in a really compelling way—where I believe that these people are one hundred percent acting of their own free will and emotions, and yet I also feel this magnetic force propelling them along this set course. I tend to pooh-pooh the concept of fate when used in a fatalistic way, as though the universe wanted something and the people’s wills are inconsequential. But I appreciate this treatment of it, where something feels voluntary but also inevitable. Fate isn’t necessarily a greater power dictating events; it can be something less concrete and sentient than that—maybe it’s just giving a name to events that carry such weight that they tip the probability of certain reactions in their favor.
It seemed lovely in a bittersweet way that winning the coup wasn’t necessarily the endgame—at least, not for our main characters, for whom it may be something of a pyrrhic victory. It was really poignant to have both of them feeling bleak after having secured what they wanted—he got to win the throne without killing his brother, and she got to see an end to the constant tug of war where she was essentially the rope being pulled. But while I believe there’s a sense of relief at the threat being removed, I think they’ve suffered so much getting here that the entire act of winning the throne must come with a lot of trauma and baggage.
The biggest tragedy, I thought, was Minister Shin’s death, and I don’t even mean the underhanded way he went, likely at Deputy Commander Park’s orders. I mean how he was ready to die to be at Yeonsangun’s side at the end, because he was so principled that he lived according to his personal moral code, one far above the standards of any other mortal serving this court. I both admire that kind of honor and feel frustrated by it, because while I wouldn’t have Minister Shin be anything like the weaselly Secretary Im, the latter has a sense of self-preservation that I have to at least concede is well-used. He’s a despicable person for all the misdeeds he’s committed, but I don’t begrudge anyone fighting tooth and nail to survive.
But Minister Shin was Yeonsangun’s last chance at some semblance of humanity, I thought, even more than Chae-kyung. It’s deeply ironic that he cast him aside when he was the one man Yeonsangun could have trusted with his life, and Yeonsangun sealed his fate when he rejected his last connection to his better side. Even so, I was relieved to see his emotional reaction to Nok-soo’s death, because while I don’t think he felt a fraction of the care he feels for Chae-kyung (or that Nok-soo felt for him), I do think he felt something special toward her. I suspect that more so than losing her as a person, losing her amidst such a display of personal loyalty may have been the final blow that made him realize everything else he’d lost. Perhaps he hadn’t even realized he’d had such loyalty in the first place, making it extra pitiful.
But it’s a damn shame the minister went the way he did, his death implicating the Snail Brides (and by extension, Yeok). I’m extra chagrined about it because we know that the minister had been resigned to dying for a cause, only to have someone swoop in and hijack that death and imbue it with all sorts of other baggage. If I’m hunting for silver linings, I have to say that I’m glad that we’ve now caught up to the opening sequence of the drama, which means that everything after this point is a big question mark, and we’re now free of that particular dread and anticipation hanging over our heads. I honestly don’t know where we go from here, or what I even want for everyone, and that uncertainty is going to be the death of me this next week. Everyone biting your nails in anticipation?
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- Premiere Watch: My Sassy Girl, Seven Day Queen, Best Hit, Duel
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