Rookie Historian Gu Hae-ryung: Episodes 25-28 Open Thread
Our characters continue to create and record history, no matter if it’s the good or bad kind. But is the ideal of an impartial historian possible? And is it even right for someone to completely distance themself from everything that’s happening around them? Or are there times when historians should put down the brush, ignore the law, and *gasp* shape the course of the future?
EPISODES 25-28 WEECAP
This week’s moral quandary is brought to us by a Westerner caught rowing along the Amrok River. Jin finds it unusual and orders the stranger brought to him in the inner palace for questioning. The man’s “other-ness” like light skin, brown hair, and strange language draws a curious crowd. That curiosity quickly turns into panic when he clumsily escapes in broad daylight. Fear of the unknown coupled with gossip turns him into a monster that leaps buildings and dodges bullets, creating terror among palace inhabitants.
The king, initially annoyed at the chaos, becomes alarmed when he’s informed that the foreigner is a Catholic. (Normally, Catholic beliefs such as “everyone, slave or noble, is born equal” is considered heresy, but rounding them up wasn’t considered a priority since they’re a quiet minority. Until now.) The advisors remind the king that Catholics worked with Western spies in the past, prompting him to order a search and arrest of any Catholics found within the palace.
Woo-won drives the inspectors away when he spots Seong preparing to admit to being a Catholic. He then scolds him in private for risking his whole family’s life. Seong answers that he’s ready to be persecuted for believing that everyone is equal under God. When he asks Woo-won why a nobleman whose only advantage is to be born to a certain family should enjoy an easy life while hardworking farmers starve and slaves are sold like property, Woo-won is rendered speechless (more so than usual).
The queen dowager also scares the guards away from her quarters to cover up the fact that Mo-hwa is currently inside, reporting her failure to rendezvous with the foreigner. Dowager Im coldly tells Mo-hwa that Councilor Min mustn’t lay eyes on their guest, dead or alive.
Rim and his staff catch the foreigner hiding in Nokseodang, leading to an argument with Sam-bo wanting to hand the criminal over and Hae-ryung wanting to listen to the stranger’s story first. Guess who Rim decides to side with?
When the man turns out to speak fluent Korean, they feed him dinner and ask questions. He introduces himself as merchant Jean Baptiste Barthélemy. He came to Joseon because his wife nagged him to get their money back from a scammer named Kim. The sobstory puts everyone except Hae-ryung on the man’s side and they start calling him “Jang,” cutely assuming it’s his last name.
Luckily, Historian Seong is the one assigned to review Hae-ryung’s sachaek that night. His eyes go round to read what’s happening at Nokseodang but promises Hae-ryung that he’ll keep it a secret.
Meanwhile, Jean’s stories has Rim wishing he’s a French prince with an extravagant palace and no whiny advisors… until Jean matter-of-factly tells him they beheaded their own monarchs for letting the people starve. Hah! Jean assures him that they have a new ruling family, but the people no longer fear the king when they realized they can live without one. Jean tentatively asks Rim if he knows “the place where dawn comes to greet you” (a.k.a. Seoraewon) then backpedals upon seeing the prince’s clueless face.
Mo-hwa considers asking Jae-kyung for help finding Jean, which is how Hae-ryung finds her in front of their house and invites her in, assuming it’s an accidental meeting. Jae-kyung and Mo-hwa pretend to meet for the first time until Hae-ryung leaves the room and Mo-hwa points out that Jae-kyung never had a sister. (!!!) She looks around Hae-ryung’s room, spotting the science books and Western novels and realizes that Hae-ryung is the daughter of their teacher from Seoraewon. Mo-hwa is overwhelmed to learn that the little girl she knew survived, but she’s also outraged that Jae-kyung raised the girl after what he did to them. He begs her to keep things quiet until he finishes… whatever he’s doing. (Orabeoni, don’t die taking down Councilor Min or I’ll kill you!)
Councilor Min suspects the dowager queen of harboring Jean and puts his spies to work. Mo-hwa is at her wits’ ends trying to find Jean. The 73 discovered Catholics are set for execution and Prince Jin is devastated to learn that his curiosity has led to this witch-hunt.
While all this is going down, Jean lives a secret but happy life at Nokseodang, helping with chores and entertaining them (except Hae-ryung) with fairy tales. They only realize the gravity of the situation when security is increased inside the palace.
Hae-ryung hatches a plan to smuggle Jean out so he can take a boat back to China. She spreads fake news (by telling Seol-geum not to tell anyone, LOL) that Jean was spotted with bloody hands in the capital. The story gets fed into the rumor mill and comes out the other end with all sorts of ridiculous embellishments and “sightings” of this bloodthirsty Westerner.
The guards are distracted responding to every citizen’s
gossip report, allowing Jean to escape. But he gives Hae-ryung the slip on the way to the ship and leaves a letter for the Nokseodang gang. He thanks them and admits that he’s not really a merchant. He can’t explain why he’s looking for “the place where dawn comes to greet you” since it’s an immediate death sentence for those who know it.
Eventually, Jean meets up with Mo-hwa to visit his older brother’s resting place. It’s the reason he came to Joseon. His brother is Doctor Dominique, Jae-kyung and Mo-hwa’s teacher in Western medicine at Seoraewon. Jean cries to learn that his brother has no actual tomb because he died a criminal. And it’s so sad when he asked if his brother suffered before death, because you know the good man did. :'(
The king, with nudging by Councilor Min, issues an ultimatum. Whoever helped the Westerner escape must come out or the 73 Catholics in custody will be executed on the morrow.
Rim wants to save the Catholics and disagrees with Sam-bo that one prince’s life matters more than 73 of his people. Then he dons his royal robe and for the first time in his life, Rim requests an audience with the king. With Hae-ryung to record the meeting, Rim admits to being the one who helped the Westerner and asks for leniency for the Catholics. The king throws a tantrum and seems angrier at the fact that Rim did a dangerous thing. He orders the Catholics killed anyway and threatens Rim to keep quiet or everyone who knows his involvement will die. Including his loyal retinue and Hae-ryung.
The king’s eunuch informs him that it’s too late because Jin just pardoned the Catholics. Everyone is surprised that not only were the Catholics freed, but the signs ordering the capture of Jean or his helpers have all been taken down. It doesn’t make sense that the case is being wrapped up when the whole capital is terrified and no one was punished for it. Sa-hee, Jin’s regular historian, also doesn’t know what happened since Historian Seong took over the first hour of her duty.
Woo-won confronts Seong for doing something, and even I am shocked when the timid Seong admits to blackmailing Jin with the contents of Hae-ryung’s sachaek. Basically: release the prisoners or I’ll reveal that Prince Dowon was the one who helped the Westerner escape.
Woo-won-Bot malfunctions. He’s aghast that Seong would use the sachaek for a personal agenda. But when Seong says that he knows he no longer deserves to be a historian and will accept all punishment, Woo-won can only ask again and again if being a historian meant so little to Seong. (It doesn’t! His beliefs just matter more!)
The king lets it go but it seems he’s tired of covering up for Rim, because he orders the palace to start marriage preparations for Dowon. Or, in Sam-bo’s words, “big trouble.”
Raise your hand if you didn’t see Hae-ryung’s birth secret coming.
We’ve all been speculating about Rim’s secret and Orabeoni’s “betrayal” that it didn’t occur to me that our heroine would have her own twisty past. Jae-kyung seemed like the most doting brother, I thought the secret was he ratted out Seoraewon so he can save his little sis.
Hae-ryung grew up to be such a brave, principled, and fair person, it must’ve killed Jae-kyung inside to be reminded of his awesome mentor every day. It also explains his desperation to keep her out of the palace. He’s not worried about the potential danger of her being caught up in court affairs, she’s already in danger by virtue of her parentage.
Hae-ryung’s father sounded like a wonderful, reasonable man… for our time. But back then, I can see why he’s considered a radical. He ordered his students (boys of noble birth) to respect the servant Mo-hwa. He created a school where girls and boys of all classes can exchange ideas. He was basically saying piffle~ to the whole social hierarchy that’s the basis of Confucian order. We’ve yet to know if Seoraewon (of which Woo-won’s father-in-law was a member too) actually plotted treason or if they’re just a bunch of optimistic philosophers who got on the wrong side of Councilor Min.
Rim’s secret is no small matter too. After the king’s funny character redemption last week, I’m inclined to think that he’s keeping Rim quiet and out of sight to keep him alive. He doesn’t want Rim drawing attention to himself (like when Rim made wise decisions during the smallpox outbreak or when he risked his life to save the Catholics). The king in his anger even said “roots will show,” as if Rim showing hints of being a great ruler is a bad thing.
Maybe, like Orabeoni to Hae-ryung, the king wants Rim to live a long, quiet happy life out of sight. But these danged youngsters keep doing heroic, principled, noteworthy things! It’s getting harder and harder to keep them out of Councilor Min’s suspicious eyes.
Of course I want them alive too but it’s frustrating that everyone around them keeps telling them to stay sheltered. Even the dowager queen who (allegedly) is plotting to put Rim on the throne doesn’t care if he grows up to be a good ruler. She just wants Rim to stay in the palace, alive, long enough for whatever she’s plotting with Mo-hwa. No wonder our sparrow and wild goose took to each other. They give each other opportunities for growth and a sense of purpose.
Don’t let the Joseon background fool you. This show keeps tackling issues that are relevant even to this day. Equal rights, bureaucratic corruption, health scares made worse by lack of information, abuse of power, and this week’s treatment of “others.”
I love how, in between the cute courtings and sageuk plotting, the show is using stories to remind us that abuse of power is bad. Persecuting harmless people for being different is bad. And so on. It’s set in a fictional Joseon, but these issues did happen in history. So the fact that you can transpose them to our present society means that we still need to work on a lot of things to make the world a better place for everyone.
And I just love the meta on meta of a show about historians set two centuries in the past, with characters worrying that if they don’t record this or that, history will repeat itself. At the same time, the show is telling these stories and saying that history is in fact repeating itself right now. So did the historians fail? Does humanity just need regular history lessons? How can we make people see?
Maybe this is why fairy tales exist and K-dramas should be required viewing. What? Don’t knock the power of stories. Especially when you might be living inside one.
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