The King Loves: Episodes 21-22
After the high intensity of last week, the pace today is a bit slower even though the stakes remain high, and there are still many problems to solve. At long last, after begging Rin and San to trust him with their troubles, Won’s ability to save those he cares for is finally put to the test. With the backing of his powerful and shrewd mother, Won may get a taste of what true power feels like, but hopefully he doesn’t forget the reasons he scorned it in the first place.
EPISODE 21 RECAP
Following his explosive showdown with his father, Won visits San at the investigation bureau. She stands to greet him, formally calling him “Crown Prince.” The title unnerves Won, but perhaps not more than the fact that San is wearing Rin’s clothing. Won states that Rin knew about San’s real identity long ago, which San confirms.
He asks when she found out that he was the crown prince, and she tells him that it was day he stopped her engagement to Jeon, which was the first day she saw him in his royal garments.
Won strings together all the events and realizes that San was there that day behind the veil, and also the night his father poured liquor over his head. He asks if he seemed pathetic to her, and if that’s why she gave him the ring and iced his lip. He mentions her deceptive request for him not to make her his wife accusingly, with a hurt look in his eyes.
She apologizes super formally, and he smiles wretchedly, then comments again on how strange it is to hear her speak to him with such deference.
He sits on the ground and tells her to join him, remarking how he had been in this same cell with Rin before to talk about her. She hesitates then refuses, which leads him to guess that either she’s uncomfortable because he’s the crown prince, or because he’s now engaged to Dan.
He asks why she didn’t want him to choose her, then repeats the reason she gave to him before (on behalf of her “mistress”) about having someone else in her heart. She confesses that she learned that should Dan get married, Rin would be allowed to stay to celebrate the wedding and not have to leave for Yuan.
Won realizes that San intended to sacrifice herself and go as a tribute all along, he then paints her a grim picture of what her life would be like as a Yuan concubine. He tells her that he cannot allow that fate to befall her.
She changes the topic and asks Won to take care of her father, then mentions Rin’s treasonous actions of fighting against the royal guard to help her escape. Won firmly insists that he’ll take care of everything, then demands to know if she has anything to say to “Han-chun.”
Her eyes water and she asks Won to tell Han-chun that So-hwa is very grateful toward him, because unbeknownst to her, he was always thinking of her, and trying to protect her.
She hopes that he can live happily with his parents, but he angrily replies that he cannot relay her message. He orders her to focus on becoming So-hwa again so that she may say those words directly to Han-chun, and then he’ll handle the rest from there.
Won leaves her and sneaks through the palace grounds, dodging guards hot on his trail. Just then, Jang Eui springs from the shadows and informs Won of Minister Eun’s location.
He finds it curious that Minister Eun was not apprehended by royal guards and was instead taken to a private mansion, which is not-so-curiously located behind (and connected to) Song In’s teahouse. Won guesses that Song In is behind everything, but dispatches Jang Eui to confirm.
Eunuch Kim hurries to report Princess Wonsung’s trip to the king’s chambers to Won, and we cut to the dysfunctional couple as Princess Wonsung resolutely enters in time to see Boo-yong retreat behind a curtain.
She snaps at Boo-yong for not greeting her properly, leading the healer to hurry out and kneel before her.
With her dominance asserted, Princess Wonsung informs the king of a banquet she is hosting for the returning Yuan envoys, announcing that she will require a few helping hands for the preparations. The king irritably shouts at her to do as she pleases, as she always has.
She turns to leave, and Boo-yong suddenly says that the king worries over Princess Wonsung’s health, then offers her to give her an examination.
Looks like Boo-yong isn’t as sly as she think she is (but honestly, did she really think that would work?), and Princess Wonsung calls Boo-yong out for hoping to poison her instead. She suggests that Boo-yong aim to become a royal concubine first to even be at a level to address her. Burn.
As Princess Wonsung leaves, Boo-yong returns to the king’s bed where he pats her affectionately. Princess Wonsung stops before exiting, turns toward the pair, then walks off.
Outside his residence, Won thinks of his mother and muses to himself, “I know how that feels — having feelings for someone who will not reciprocate them. Each day your heart shrivels. I saw it all the time.” He looks at San’s ring around his neck and wonders, “Which one is harder? To keep her close and let my heart shrivel a little each day, or to not see her at all, hoping to forget? Just hoping.”
Won gathers himself then asks Jang Eui if San’s name is on the list of tributes. It is, and what’s worse is that the list was already sent to the returning envoys, which means they’ll only have thirty-six hours until they leave Goryeo to figure out a plan.
Won decides he needs Teacher Lee’s help, but unfortunately, he is still missing.
Naturally, he is getting a drink at a local tavern, but when Furatai shows up, Teacher Lee has already vanished. He chases him to Song In’s teahouse and finally catches Teacher Lee sampling fancy wines.
Outside, Song In seethes to Moo-suk about Minister Eun’s missing financial documents, and knows he needs to transfer the wealth before San leaves. He encounters Furatai as he leads Teacher Lee away, but not before the teacher casts Song In a mischievous grin.
At Rin’s, Jeon berates his little brother for going against the king, and urges his father to send Rin as a hostage before he brings more shame to their family. Wang Young chastises Jeon, then turns to Eunuch Choi to confirm that Rin was escorting San on Princess Wonsung’s orders.
The eunuch verifies that Rin need not worry about retribution, and Wang Young expresses his gratitude, then directs Rin to “thank” Eunuch Choi for his troubles.
Rin starts to leave, but can’t bear to when Jeon starts whining about San being his fiancée and intending to ask the king to pardon San and grant their marriage. Jeon insists that the king adores him and will approve the union, begging his father to give his consent as well.
Rin leaves, unable to hear anymore, and finds Eunuch Choi waiting for his prize outside while rubbing his greedy hands together. Rin grabs Eunuch Choi by the collar and slams him against the wall, demanding to know where the eunuch’s allegiances really lie.
He knows the eunuch led both he and San straight to the king for capture, but Eunuch Choi swears he was in an impossible situation, since, if he had helped Rin and San escape and someone saw him, then Princess Wonsung would be blamed.
Dan interrupts them before Rin can continue his questioning, and so Rin leaves the man trembling.
Outside the estate, Eunuch Choi finds the cart pullers looking for Rin. He follows them and overhears them discuss a bunch of papers in the pack Goo-hyung was carrying, which the servant called more important than his life.
In her room, Dan apologizes for eavesdropping on Rin’s conversation before telling him everything she knows about San’s situation (which is everything). She fears that San is being sent in her place, but Rin dissuades her from the thought, promising that Won will handle the matter.
Dan says that Rin is in love with San, and can tell just by looking at him. Suddenly, it occurs to Dan that Won is also in love with San. She explains to her brother that she knew all along, but told herself it was fine because San was supposedly of lowly birth.
Dan confesses, full of shame and with tears streaking down her face, that she was going to ask Rin to seduce San away from Won, or she’d drive San away somehow. Then, between sobs, she tells Rin that this is the kind of person she is.
Rin says soothingly that ever since Dan was young she’d start talking, then cry without stopping. He wipes the tears from her face, regarding her tenderly.
Dan asks Rin if San is the number one person in Won’s heart, but he answers vaguely that he doesn’t know, which leads her to add that she always thought Rin was number one. Aww, I love this idea, because it’s probably true, right? Right!?
Rin laughs at the idea, but stifles it and tells Dan seriously that soon she’ll be the crown princess — and if she continues to be a crybaby, then it’ll embarrass Won. The thought gets through to her, and she puts on a brave face, which makes Rin smile. (These two must be protected at all costs.)
The next morning, Jin Gwan arrives with a royal order from Princess Wonsung, which Rin accepts. Meanwhile, Won receives a similar order, asking to help his mother prepare for the returning envoys.
The besties head over to Princess Wonsung’s together, where Won reports his visit to San to a worried Rin. Rin asks if she looked well, and all Won can say is that San wasn’t crying, but then adds that San probably wouldn’t cry in front of him anyway.
Rin looks down thoughtfully, which leads Won to tell him of the favor he had asked of his mother. Namely, his favor will involve the help of three people, including Rin. The second person greets the boys and Princess Wonsung in her chambers: Teacher Lee.
Rin notices Eunuch Choi’s shifty-eyes, and so he requests the man be excused from the room. Princess Wonsung obliges, clearing the room of even her other most trusted servants.
Once the extra ears are gone, Teacher Lee asks if Won wants to gather power to save San, or start a rebellion.
Won is confused, so we flash back to Teacher Lee drinking at the local tavern, and see the he was actually gathering intel from his students sitting nearby, who told him of all the recent events, including the incident where the king punched Won.
Won explains to Rin that he was trying to distract the king while Rin and San made their getaway, but it didn’t go exactly as planned.
We go back to the last scene of the previous episode, right as Won threatened to kill the guards for taking San away. We also see Eunuch Kim curiously leading in a Yuan envoy into the courtyard to witness the scene of the king hitting Won.
Rin guesses disbelievingly that Won intentionally got himself hit so that the envoy would see, and Won explains that time was of the essence, so he needed to act quickly.
Won then asks for Teacher Lee’s help in executing the next part of his plan, but Teacher Lee refuses since he hasn’t determined if Won is morally better than the king, and therefore he’s unsure whether he should side with Won or not.
Won wants to find a way to minimize the amount of people that could be endangered if he challenges the king again, and so Teacher Lee casually recommends that Won do nothing, which would mean zero casualties.
Teacher Lee instead offers the services of his student, since he is indebted to Minister Eun for his financial backing all these years.
Rin opens the door and in the doorway appears San, dressed like the highborn lady she is.
EPISODE 22 RECAP
San enters and bows before the royals, then tells Won that she’s been ordered to help with preparations for the envoys. She smiles at Princess Wonsung, who smiles back knowingly.
Princess Wonsung inquires about San’s “unique talent,” but San tries to deny it, and so Teacher Lee says he told Princess Wonsung about it.
Won looks between San and Rin (and Rin looking at San), and gets this mixed look on his face as if he’s happy, but also hurting.
The main trio leaves to prepare for the next phase of Won’s plan, but as they do, San trips on some stairs and the boys scramble to catch her by both arms. They regain their composure before Won informs them that he doesn’t have a real plan, because he was sort of pinning all his hopes on Teacher Lee thinking of something.
San calls him out on his half-baked conspiracy, and so they bicker back and forth until Rin has to physically get between them and suggest that they try to free Minister Eun first.
From her window, Princess Wonsung observes the three as Minister Eun asks why she doesn’t just remove San’s name from the tribute list with one wave of her influential hand, instead of making the kids jump through all these hoops.
She explains that she has always told Won that he must become the king as quickly as possible, and if he should hesitate, then he may be trampled on by those who covet what is his.
Teacher Lee points out that Won isn’t the type to listen, and she acknowledges that, but says that for the first time Won came to her first and asked for power, all so that he could help San.
Teacher Lee calls Won’s female-oriented motives fragile and dangerous, which Princess Wonsung agrees with even as she adds, “If a man can’t even cherish one woman and is given a country, how can he properly cherish that country?”
Won sends Rin to rescue Minister Eun, and once he’s alone with San, he tells her that he feels like he’s with the old So-hwa again. He asks if she’ll be fine handling her mission alone, since he won’t be able to go with her due to his confinement.
She suddenly remembers something and runs after Rin, but trips on her skirt on her way to him and falls into his arms. They awkwardly recover from the close proximity, and San eventually tells Rin about her father’s heart illness, which can worsen under stress.
There’s a pill her father needs to take, and so Rin promises to retrieve it from their family physician. They share a meaningful beat, as if forgetting how to act naturally. Won watches them intently, then turns his gaze away, conflicted.
One of the cart pullers, GAE-WON, loiters outside of Wang Young’s residence again in search of Rin. He’s turned away, and as he leaves, we see some men following after him.
Jin Gwan observes from Rin’s house, and notes how the men took the “bait.” Gae-won nervously leads the men through the marketplace to a house full of the Geumgajeong shadow guards and a fearful Goo-hyung, who clutches his precious pack in his arms.
Jin Gwan watches from the roof as one of the men following Gae-won spies into the compound from over the back wall, then retreats. Jin Gwan then whistles, which mobilizes his buddies on the ground.
Song In visits Minister Eun in his confinement before telling the minister that Won had called Teacher Lee back to the capital, which would mean treason (or could be easily manipulated to mean treason), since he was sent into exile for criticizing the king.
Song In suggests Minister Eun hand over his riches and leave, unless he wants to get entangled in the political war brewing on the horizon. Otherwise, it may result in his wealth being confiscated and the death/enslavement of his household.
Minister Eun is intrigued by the confiscation of his wealth part, because it would mean Song In could never get his hands on it.
Moo-suk enters to inform his boss about the house where Goo-hyung is hiding. They know the men there are Won’s men, and so they assemble all their fighters to go to battle.
As the men leave the teahouse, Rin and the Geumgajeong guards infiltrate the teahouse and find Minister Eun in a hidden room. He’s barely hanging on (having had on his poker face in front of Song In, but once he was gone the stress of the situation attacked his heart), and so Rin hurries to administer his pill.
Minister Eun takes the medicine and it calms him down, and Rin carries him on his back to make their escape.
Speaking of San, she and Furatai arrive at the Yuan envoy’s offices, where all the tribute items (and the list) are being held. Furatai introduces San to the envoy as Princess Wonsung’s assistant and confidant. (Okay, Princess Wonsung is awesome. Team Mom all the way).
The envoy recognizes San from the brouhaha with the king the night before, and lets her give him a tour of the gifts (like the super special ginseng). She distracts him long enough to steal the key kept on his waistband, then secretly tosses it to Furatai, who searches for the list.
San begins crying to keep the envoy’s attention, telling him of how lonely Princess Wonsung is in a foreign country, and now the princess must even lose her trusted assistant (San) as a tribute. Furatai finds the list and tosses the key back to San, who easily put the key back where it belongs before promptly leaving, confusing the bewildered envoy.
Song In and his men arrive at the house only to find it empty, and he realizes he’s been had. They rush back to the teahouse, and Song In rages to find Minister Eun missing. He tells Moo-suk furiously, “Such are humans. Treat them politely and they scorn you. Follow the law and the unlawful wish to trample on you. Such are humans. So my politeness and lawfulness ends here.”
The Yuan envoys go to the palace and grow excited to see a decorated horse carriage full of flowers, thinking it must be for their welcome banquet. Rin meets them at the entrance and wordlessly leads them to Won, who feigns illness/depression in his quarters.
Won apologizes to the envoy for his appearance, then asks for a favor. The envoy jumps up immediately at the prospect of a request, and promises to do everything he can to help.
However, when Won asks for the tribute list to be destroyed, the envoy grows unsure. He figures out that it must be because of San, but doing so would mean defying the emperor.
Won describes San as Princess Wonsung’s only friend, and as the queen’s no-good son, he only hopes to help his mother in this small way.
The envoy argues that the list is already locked up, so Rin brings out the scroll, and Won encourages the man to burn it. In exchange, they’ve prepared a deed to some land where he can harvest ginseng. The envoy hesitates, but eventually bends, and promises to tell the king that he intends to take no tribute girls this year.
With the matter resolved, Won sends San back to her cell, where she will be released soon. He gives her one of his robes to wear in the chilly cell (and as a warning for the guards to treat her well), and she thanks him again for his help.
Rin begins after her, but Won calls him back and sends Eunuch Kim instead, since he needs to have a word with Rin.
San and Eunuch Kim leave, but they don’t make it far before they encounter that strangely decorated carriage along with a team of fighters. San notices Moo-suk amongst them, and she sends Eunuch Kim back to get help.
Drawing her two daggers, San does her best to fend them off, but she’s no match for their numbers. The fight is decided when Song In knocks her unconscious with a hard blow to the head.
Back with the boys: Won tells Rin that he had considered sending San away and ending his first love along with her. He uses a flower analogy about flowers being the most beautiful at their peak, and once they begin rotting, it could tarnish the memory of its beauty in full bloom.
However, he tried to convince himself to follow that way of thinking, but realized that he cannot be without San after all. Rin asks if Won has told San to be with him, and what he would do if she declines.
Won argues that he cannot go on without San, and will keep her even if it means keeping her in a cage beside him.
Rin asks what will happen if she’s unhappy, and Won asks defensively how Rin can be so certain that San will be unhappy with him. Oh no, Won. Don’t be like this.
Their conversation is cut short by Eunuch Kim, who has returned to report San’s kidnapping. Won orders all gates closed, and they hurry out to find San. They see Won’s robe left on the ground where she was taken, and look around in time to see the carriage approach.
Inside, Song In hides with San, but before Won approaches it, Moo-suk appears around the corner as a diversion and leads them away from the carriage so that it can make its getaway.
This show is not exactly going in the direction I thought it would, or maybe these two episodes were the calm before the storm? I really thought the king and Won would clash in an all-out war over their confrontation in the last episode, but I suppose it’s important to resolve all this tribute business first so that we can finally move on. Don’t get me wrong, I think this conflict is really interesting, especially because we are weirdly rooting for the people that are perpetuating this horrific practice (Won and Princess Wonsung) and wishing a black hellfire death onto those fighting against it (Song In).
Realistically, Song In probably doesn’t really care about anything except enriching himself, but if that’s the case, then it’s really sad that no important player is genuinely trying to dismantle the practice. I guess it would go against the realities of history and the time period we are in, but I’m hoping to get a more nuanced view from another (morally upright) character, because there’s so much to be said about this issue. And I hope it isn’t only being used as a vehicle to complicate our main love triangle, without any commentary on its traumatic and long-term effects on history.
To be honest, I am totally surprised by how much I’m loooooving Princess Wonsung and her evolving role in this story. I got chills in the last episode when she called in Rin to escort San out. It’s speaks volumes about her ability to assess a situation and do the right thing even if she essentially represents this brutal institution. I don’t actually know how to fully reconcile this Princess Wonsung, with the evil, cackling one we saw watching the woman and her father get tortured, but her actions lately really drive home the clarity of her singular desire to help Won become king, and it’s enough to make you wonder what she wouldn’t do for him. And for me, that’s terrifying in the best way.
She continues to surprise me, but I can’t help mourning the lack of character depth from her husband. I keep wishing we’ll get something more from him one day, but with each episode, my hopes are dashed. The power knot he’s trapped in is so compelling, and his reasons for resenting Princess Wonsung are valid along with his elusive fear of Won, so I wish his angle of the story was rooted in something deeper than this childish nonsense we keep getting. Get out of your pajamas, sir, and get some work done please. I’ll never feel anything for Boo-yong, so let’s not spend so much screen time on her, because it’s a wasted opportunity to not to make the king more sympathetic.
Moving on, the plot points in this episode were needlessly obscured, but since it sorted itself out by the end, I’m generally fine with it. It did feel like we were shifting into the next stage of our story, and I’m definitely ready for that. It killed me to see Won be so obstinate about keeping San, though. His unyielding nature is built into the love story, but I sort of wish I felt more strongly for the pairing of San and Won, because then I would feel so much more conflicted now. I want to believe that he’s fighting for love instead of obstructing it. But I got my Rin T-shirt on, so I’m in this for the long haul.
Won makes me sad, because based on his facial expressions when watching Rin and San, he totally knows the one truth he doesn’t want to accept. The question is how far his denial will take him, so I’m hoping that his motives aren’t only San-driven (as Teacher Lee and Princess Wonsung believe), because based on what he know about Won, he is able to step outside of himself and sacrifice himself for the people he cares about. Which makes me believe that there is something more behind his insistence on having San, and I really hope that reason is Rin. Sisters are always right.
- The King Loves: Episodes 1-2
- Premiere Watch: School 2017, The King Loves, Man Who Dies to Live, Reunited Worlds
- A house and friendship divided in The King Loves
- Tension in a garden of flowers for The King Loves
- Assassin-filled forests and masked dances in The King Loves
- Main writer behind The King Loves revealed to be Song Ji-nah
- The King Loves to play in azalea-filled forests
- Yoon-ah steals the hearts of two best friends in The King Loves
- Im Shi-wan as a young prince for MBC’s The King Loves