EPISODE 21 RECAP
After the initial amusement at discovering that the new Woodalchi recruit is Eun-soo, Young asks for the reason: “You say you’re leaving in another half month. Why do you enter my room and say you’ll stay with me?” The way he phrases it makes it sound like he’s taking this as a bigger commitment than temporary sanctuary and hijinks, but then again, maybe it is.
Eun-soo says it’s because the king said it was safest here, though it’s sounding a bit like an excuse. Young sighs that he could never figure her out, but has finally realized that her concern for his welfare drives a lot of her actions. And that’s why she wanted them to return to the palace this time too, isn’t it?
She nods. He says, “Even though you risked your life.” She replies, “But I didn’t die.” Honey, I’m not sure that’s such a huge consolation coming from the poisoned one.
He takes her hands, and lays out their priorities. First is procuring her antidote: “So once we cure the poisoning even without you returning to heaven, I’ll ask you: Can you stay?” He says he knows she has people waiting for her up in heaven, “But I will still ask anyway: I will protect you for the rest of my life, so will you stay with me?”
First off, that’s sweet. Secondly, you just asked. What is it with drama characters who tell you they’re going to say something in advance of them saying it? Like it doesn’t count yet, but later it totally will. Just give her the promise ring already.
Tearily, she says it won’t be easy protecting her. He knows that, “But if I have you, it will be for the rest of my life. Not just today, or a few days. So when I ask you, will you answer?” She nods.
Outside, the Woodalchi all grin knowingly at each other. I love that they love to be all up in their boss’s love life, and how much they enjoy it. But only behind his back, of course.
Gongmin calls for Young to ask when he’ll return officially. He says he offered her a lofty government title for her protection, but she preferred to join Woodalchi. Does that mean he’s back?
Young says there’s one thing he wants to take care of first, asking for permission to take out Deok-heung. If he cannot provide an official reason, Young will take care of it personally. Gongmin replies: “Let us do it officially.” Aww, yeah.
Young returns to Woodalchi headquarters where a training session is under way, with Dol-bae getting his butt kicked while the others (including Eun-soo) cheer on. My favorite thing about this scene is that Eun-soo has indeed taught them all how to high-five. (Second favorite: Dol-bae leaves hapless Deok-man hanging.)
Young pulls Eun-soo aside and scolds her for being out in the yard, not remaining hidden out of sight. She half-mumbles her excuse, that she was told it was okay since they’re all part of the Woodalchi family, and that she was going to go to the palace infirmary for materials but was told to wait for his approval. He gives it, but orders her to keep four guards with her and continue her work indoors.
She cutely answers with a “Yes, Boss!” to all of his conditions. He must like it too, since he asks her to repeat it, getting all up in her face… only to be interrupted by Choong-seok. Yeah, it’s not so sexy when he says it.
Ki Chul presents himself to the king to repeat his request for the doctor. Aw, when did he go from being the scary bad guy to being the guy to whom the king sighs and says, “You again?”
Loss of menace aside, Ki Chul says he’ll have to go find her himself. He sends his minions to do some killing at the palace infirmary; Eum-ja and Hwasuin stroll right in and start killing people left and right. Eun-soo isn’t here, but they go ahead and slice-n-burn their way through the building anyway. The only one who escapes death is Deoki, who huddles in a corner quietly.
Eun-soo leaves Woodalchi headquarters with her retinue of bodyguards, all while regaling them with the story of Chun-hyang. It’s so cute the way the boys all react to the story’s dramatic turns, particularly as the wicked Magistrate Byun punishes the virtuous Chun-hyang for rejecting his indecent proposal.
Deoki runs in and grabs Eun-soo, all in a panic and pointing off toward the infirmary. Bloody bodies are strewn everywhere, and while the Woodalchi men scope out the grounds for danger, Eun-soo surveys the carnage on the verge of hysterics. The men confirm that the intruders are gone, but they make a shocking discovery. We don’t see what it is, but Dol-bae hands over a small pot to Eun-soo, telling her that Jang Bin “had hidden it in his grasp.” He’s dead.
Aw, really, drama? This is how you’re getting rid of Philip Lee? An ignominious offscreen death by Flute Boy and Fire Hand, without putting up a fight? I know he’s technically injured, but it’s not like your star had to go off to army before the show ended and you had to resort to body doubles, unlike some dramas.
Deoki and Eun-soo try to push their way into the room, but the men block their paths, insisting that she must return to headquarters immediately in case they come back.
Eun-soo flashes back to a conversation she had with Jang Bin, where he diagnosed her poison prick and told her he’d look for the cure. This must be the thing he guarded at his death.
The next ones to encounter Flute and Hands are our Suribang informants. One of the boys launches himself at Hands with his spear, but she burns his chest on contact. Thankfully his archer buddy is able to shoot an arrow at her and break their contact. They don’t do any damage to our baddies, but at least they manage to scramble to safety.
Ki Chul and Deok-heung are busy with their new plot, and while I totally don’t get why they’d think it wise to join forces, I suppose it’s neater to have one axis of evil to worry about, rather than lots of random free agents crashing around all willy-nilly. Ki Chul warns Deok-heung not to go plotting—leave the thinking to him. Deok-heung agrees, but you know, there’s something about him that doesn’t inspire lots of confidence. Maybe it’s the dozen times he lied and backstabbed and poisoned people?
Young goes to Ki Chul to demand Deok-heung, since he knows he’s harboring him. He orders his men to ransack the house looking for him, having received the king’s permission. Ki Chul is, as ever, fixated on his heaven obsession and states that he interrogated everybody who’d been there at heaven’s gate and saw Young walk through it with Eun-soo. Did Young make up the story and order them to stick to it? Or did Eun-soo trick them?
Young warns that Deok-heung is on the hook for kidnapping the queen, and if he falls, then Ki Chul won’t be able to escape scot-free either. He’s about to head out, hearing that a vehicle was seen leaving, but Ki Chul grabs his arm to stop him. “Let me meet her,” he entreats. “Just tell me where. I won’t kill her—there is something I must ask.”
Young replies that Ki Chul is guilty of a whole host of crimes, so he can’t allow him access to her. Ki Chul actually looks crushed. Aw, I know he’s the baddie, but he’s been on a real bad streak lately, hasn’t it? It almost makes me pity him.
Speedy Dae-man catches up to Deok-heung’s getaway carriage and overtakes the driver. The rest of the Woodalchi surround it with swords drawn. Deok-heung is caught.
Young reports this to Gongmin, who instructs them to lock him up to await questioning tomorrow. Today he has a state assembly to hold, with the councillors who are all, at the moment, questioning the king’s ability to lead and the value of his decision to lead them into possible war.
Gongmin informs Young of Jang Bin’s fate, adding that Eun-soo is badly shaken up to lose her only friend. And that’s only the half of it; he gets word of the other attack on the Suribang men, though at least that one had no deaths. He gets the confirmation that Ki Chul’s minions are the culprits, and they’re on the hunt for Eun-soo.
Young finds Eun-soo in his quarters, pretending she’s fine as she works on her medicines. She’s in a bad way, and she starts to cry as she tells him that Jang Bin was her teacher and friend, and he died because of her. She shows him the antidote, saying that she’s not certain whether it’ll work, but she’s already feeling its effects.
She blames herself for his death, crying, “I killed him.” Young silently removes her armor and tucks her into bed. She doesn’t resist, and he takes a seat next to her bed and tells her his story:
He killed for the first time when he was 16. It was a foreign enemy, and everyone praised him for his skill. So he felt proud at first, but that night he found himself awake and shivering from cold, only it wasn’t cold. He still remembers the day, and the man’s face. But he doesn’t remember the second kill in the same way; he thinks to himself, “One more.”
“So I know what it means. I killed him. Those are not words to say so lightly.”
Eun-soo wakes up at dawn to find Young preparing for his day. She watches as he takes a look at the antidote and wills him to look at her at the count of three. One… two… and when she looks up, he’s in her face (ha), telling her to rise and shine if she wants breakfast.
Then he says his goodbye and heads out, and she counts down again. One… two… and he turns back for a last smile.
First order of business: Deok-heung. Young heads down to the prison and gives him one last chance to offer up the antidote. Deok-heung asks what he’ll get if he hands it over—will Young give Eun-soo to him for his bride? Oh, still barking up that tree, are we?
A full pat-down reveals nothing. Envoy Sohn Yoo joins them in the dungeons to throw a wrench in the works, informing Young that it isn’t in his power to confine or interrogate Deok-heung. That power lies with Yuan. Deok-heung smirks.
Young asks the envoy why he tried to kill Eun-soo. Wouldn’t it be more fitting to keep her alive, if word of her achievements had reached so far? Sohn Yoo merely replies that he’ll explain himself to Eun-soo.
Young asks how Sohn Yoo knew his name. The answer? The envoy was informed that the king could go either way—tiger or domesticated cat. To tame him, his right-hand-man Choi Young would have to be eliminated. Young asks if he came to Goryeo to bring down the king. Sohn Yoo replies, “I haven’t yet decided which side to bring down.”
It seems like a significant setback, but our guys are working a bigger plot: Young reports to the king, who talks as if this is going according to plan. Still, Young voices his misgivings—they just handed Deok-heung over, and Ki Chul is likely planning to attack the king. He asks for soldiers to launch a pre-emptive attack.
But Gongmin resists, wanting his council’s agreement first. Young argues that their enemy doesn’t require that kind of official approval, but Gongmin wants to do this properly.
And so, both sides launch into strategy mode: Ki Chul and Deok-heung start sizing up the king’s army, meeting with other noblemen to gain their participation. They’ve got a persuasive argument, saying the king plans to claim their slaves and their properties in order to fund his war with Yuan. Thus, he will replace the king with Deok-heung, arguing that it’s for the peace and prosperity of the nation.
Meanwhile Gongmin consults with his statesmen. What’s clear is that the enemy far outnumbers the king’s forces. If they sit and wait, they may find themselves in the untenable position of fighting Yuan on the outside, and Ki Chul’s forces on the inside. He states that they have just cause to fight Ki Chul (for kidnapping Noguk), and thus must not lose their opportunity to take them down for good.
Not surprisingly, it takes a while. Gongmin presents his points, but the statesmen argue it out amongst themselves and get nowhere near a decision. Gongmin tells Young, who’s plotting out his offensive with the soldiers, that he plans to take each statesman aside and persuade them one by one. Time is of the essence, since the success of their plan demands a lightning strike, and Gongmin knows to hurry. But he won’t proceed without getting their agreement.
Young isn’t appeased, and reminds him that they let Deok-heung go as bait: “Did you throw bait without preparing a fishing rod? Do you know what it means to fish?”
And yet, Gongmin holds firm. I love that he’s finding his spine, and he tells Young that as king, he needs proper justification for doing things. He reminds Young of his own words on that night they’d been attacked in the inn, when Young had told him not to run away and stay behind him, so that Young could protect him. He asks now, “How long must I hide behind you?” He asks for patience, and Young agrees, however reluctantly.
Gongmin gives Young a different task: to find the ones who killed Jang Bin, and capture them. Alive.
Young accepts the mission, and heads out… and drops his sword. Ackkkkk! OH NO.
Everybody looks spooked, most of all Young himself. And me.
Eun-soo checks on Noguk’s health, which is recovering nicely. Noguk, however, has been thinking about the things Eun-soo mentioned earlier and asks for more of “heaven’s information.” Previously Eun-soo had asked how the king would fare without his wife, and Noguk has guessed that Eun-soo knew she had a weak womb and might have trouble conceiving. Noguk asks when she and the king will be able to conceive again, which is exactly the sort of question Eun-soo struggles to answer. (Historically Noguk died in childbirth, after which Gongmin basically went crazy. Tear.)
Noguk half-guesses, “Do I leave [this world] first? Is that why you said that?”
Eun-soo is spared from answering by Lady Choi, who calls her aside. She has a letter from the envoy, who requested that Eun-soo read it personally and send a reply. Eun-soo isn’t sure she’d be able to read the hanja properly, but one look at the note has her eyes widening in shock.
She heads over immediately to face Sohn Yoo, slapping down the letter. On it are two characters: Eun-soo. In hangul.
She confirms that he wrote it. Does he know what the letters mean? He asks her the same thing. Oh phew, so you’re not some weird psychic or time-traveler. We have enough of those.
While searching for the doctor, Flute and Hands come upon another Suribang warrior, this time the tall swordsman with the crush on Young. He fights them in a brief clash, but it comes to a stalemate and they both back off. Suribang names his price: 100 nyang, for the doctor’s location.
Flute and Hands follow him through the neighborhood until he comes upon a house, pointing them inside. Our villains are wary enough to proceed with suspicion, but Eum-ja’s super hearing at least informs them that there’s nothing (in the way of an ambush, say) lurking. So they head into the house, only to find the doors and windows immediately blocked off.
Hardly a worry for Hwasuin, who can just burn the place down—except that Eum-ja finds the house marked with oil. While they laugh off their feeble incarceration, Dae-man runs and brings Young to the site. As ordered, they haven’t been harmed, just trapped.
Not for long, since Eum-ja knocks a door down and steps out. But by now, the whole place is teeming with Woodalchi, with swords and bows at the ready.
Eum-ja reaches for his flute, only to get an arrow flying at him and preventing him from playing it. Hwasuin flings one of her fiery bombs (I always think of them as apples, heh), but Young slices at it and sends it exploding safely away from them.
Our baddies still look confident and brash, until Woodalchi hurl little containers at their feet, surrounding them in flammable liquid. Now they look worried, and Young warns that if she uses her fire against them, she’d be the first to go up in flames.
She accuses him of being cowardly for stooping to such tactics, and challenges him to a fair one-on-one fight. HA. Is this what we call honor among thieves? He sneers, “Why should I?” Then he grabs a bow and arrow and fires, pinning her sleeve to the door. Another arrow gets her other arm. Eum-ja reaches for his flute, and Young’s third arrow knocks it aside. Okay, that’s pretty cool.
He holds them at swordpoint and orders them captured and tied up. And then… his arm starts to shake. ACK!
Young quickly lowers his sword, but Hwasuin definitely clocks the trembling. Ugh. I have bad, bad vibes. At least she’s neutralized for now, because Young douses her in the oil to prevent her from using her old tricks.
Young walks away massaging his hand, looking concerned.
Eun-soo and Sohn Yoo have a circular conversation, thanks to their mutual distrust of each other’s politics, about whether he’d accuse her of witchcraft if she admitted to being able to read the letter, and if she’d lie about her answers. So he proposes compromise: this conversation is off the record, and they’ll disavow having had it as soon as they leave the table.
Sohn Yoo explains that he drew the characters because he remembered what they looked like, but doesn’t actually know what it says. He saw them written in his great-great-grandfather’s journal, which gramps had likely copied from elsewhere. The journal contained descriptions of a woman of using plants and “heaven’s tools” to heal people. She saved lives, and one of her patients grew up to become the leader of a band of robbers who killed off everyone in his village. Lordy.
That great-great-grandfather left a letter behind stating that if in his time he came across a woman doctor from heaven, he was to kill her immediately, to keep the world at peace. He asks what she thinks of this, and if she’s ever saved a life that shouldn’t have been saved.
Eun-soo answers that to a doctor, there is nobody who shouldn’t be saved. He asks her whether she came from heaven, and she answers, “No.” He asks her to read the characters, and she lies, “What are you doing over there?”
Young makes a stop to see the Suribang ajumma, who has also been working on finding an antidote. She doesn’t think one exists, but there are a couple of medicines with painkilling properties, and he grabs the vials and hurries home, worrying that he’s left her all alone all day. Uh, she’s not a dog.
When he returns to Woodalchi headquarters, he hears her voice cheerily directing the men to drink up a tea she’s brewed up as a health tonic. Young walks in and interrupts the festivities with his stone face, ever the killjoy. But today, hilariously, he just holds out his hand and takes his dose, then lets out a smile. See, you don’t always have to kill the mood!
That night, she works on her antidote studies again and thinks back to the rest of her conversation with Sohn Yoo. He’d asked whether she could continue living on without saving any lives—just being still and not making waves. It’s his job to get rid of dangers to his people, after all.
She’d answered that she knows people’s bodies, and that a person needs to react to invasive elements in order to build up a defense to them: “Telling someone not to live a full live because you’re afraid of the world? What kind of crap is that?”
She’d continued, “So history changes because of me? Well, what am I supposed to do about it? You ask if I came from another world? If I’m living here, it’s MY world. Thinking how I lived not able to breathe, it really pisses me off. Do you still have to kill me? Give it a try.”
Eun-soo prods Young to take the bed tonight, citing doctor’s orders. He asks about her antidote research, and as she talks she unties her hair and shakes it out. Young hands her a comb… and drops it on the floor. EEK. Every time he does that, my heart just drops.
Eun-soo doesn’t think much of it, but when he reaches to pick it up again, he drops it again. And now she knows something’s wrong, and guesses it’s not the first time, either.
Immediately in doctor mode, she intertwines their fingers and instructs him to pull. She doesn’t find anything wrong, and he dismisses it as a lack of sleep: “So let’s sleep.” Rawr. Now we’re talking.
He lays down, and she starts to walk away—but he grabs her wrist and pulls her down next to him. And when she lies down, he holds out his hand for her to take. Aw, it’s sweet.
Gongmin receives an unnerving request, to go to the government office that is currently under Deok-heung’s control. It’s so the Yuan envoy can question the two candidates closely and decide who to back. Our baddies wait there, with Deok-heung skeptical and Ki Chul certain that the king will join them. Their expectation is to swap the kings, and then Ki Chul can turn his attention to the bloodshed to follow.
Young cautions Gongmin not to go, saying that the king is making himself bait. Gongmin says wryly, “I don’t know much about fishing.” Ha. Way to callback.
Young outlines the plan. They’ll station royal guards around the premises, and Woodalchi will escort him inside personally. They must keep the royal army’s involvement quiet, lest the enemies mobilize their private army in response.
He also explains the plan to Eun-soo as he suits up, saying that he’ll have to take a number of Woodalchi and leave headquarters (and Eun-soo) a bit more understaffed than he’d like. I love the way she dresses him and informs him of her plans for the day, like a mundane married couple. The mood is light as she buckles him in to his chestplate, and he smiles, saying, “The new recruit sure is arrogant.”
But then they both pause, because she’s hiding her fears behind his back, head against his back. She takes a long moment, then because we love her, she holds it together and puts the smile back on, telling him he’s all ready.
The king readies as well, with his entourage following him. Outside, the Woodalchi men get into position with their weapons… and miss seeing the return of our hat-wearing assassin. Ack! I’d forgotten about you! (Also: Come ON, Woodalchi! I begin to doubt your competence as the nation’s elite. No, that’s a lie; I’ve been doubting for a while now. So cute, but kinda not the sharpest tools, are they?)
So it is that Eun-soo is working alone, barely guarded, when Black Hat shows up. Uh-oh.
Oh, Woodalchi. *shakes head in chagrin* Either you’re terribly overrated as the awesomest warriors who ever warriored, or Goryeo standards of self-protection are pitifully low, or this drama is directed to show you in the most bumbling lights ever. None of these options is appealing to me, but I know which one I’m putting my money on.
It’s not that the actual plot moment is bad, but more that I feel like we’re getting more and more slapdash in the execution here as we near the end. I’m pretty forgiving of dramas getting a little ragged around the edges toward their ends as the live edit syndrome really kicks in, because those are some crazy working conditions they’re dealing with, and yet at a certain (low) point you just can’t overlook it any longer. Like Philip Lee’s exit, which I understood and was totally prepared for. And yet… that was the best you could do, huh? I almost feel like the show could have just ignored his existence and it would have been a smoother exit, since they’ve been all but ignoring this character all along anyway. Well, at least he gets to almost-maybe-sorta save Eun-soo’s life, offscreen.
Raise your hands if you’re tired of the Eun-soo-in-peril, Eun-soo-gets-kidnapped, or Eun-soo-left-alone-at-conveniently-inconvenient-times story beats. I did really enjoy the scenes of her living with Young, so at least it gave us that. Their quiet couple moments together—the little beats, like the holding hands or the dressing each other like comfortable partners—are so much more moving than big, epic, sweeping kisses, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not saying I don’t want kisses—perish the thought!—but those don’t have the same lovely heartfelt undertones as the other gestures, the ones that show them living as companions and enjoying every bit of time together. It’s the difference between promise versus reality. One sounds a lot more romantic in words, but with the other one you get to actually live the experience.
But it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that she’d be in danger the moment Young admitted he was leaving Woodalchi emptier than he’d like. It would have been nice if the danger had been laid into the story more cleverly, though, because some dude sneaking by a few oblivious guards doesn’t do much to amp up the suspense factor.
Which isn’t to say the show is lacking in suspense. Because when Young’s hand started trembling uncontrollably, I just went Ooooooof. Heart dropped down to my feet. I love the introduction of this conflict just as much as I hate what it does for our characters’ sake—because yay, here’s a problem with emotional stakes. One we really care about. One that puts Young in immediate and direct peril, and possibly puts puts him into a crisis of existential proportions. How can he protect his king and his love when he’s no longer sure he’s capable of it?
I mean, yes, we do know historically that Choi Young went on to live many more years, so surely this thing isn’t going to be the thing to do him in. Except… is it? I do like how Faith explores the time-leap question from a philosophical standpoint, in the question of what it does to history (or whatcreates history, since Eun-soo’s interference was actually the thing that resulted in the history she came to know). It’s something our other time-leap shows have explored much less, some better than others and some not at all. It’s nice to have the question up in the air, of having our assumptions about history and time-warping put to the test. It’s true that things are “supposed to” play out a certain way… but in this world, people still have autonomy, and I wanted to cheer Eun-soo when she declared that it’s as much her world now as it is theirs, since she’s livin’ in it. What’s the point of anything if you’re just supposed to sit still and breathe? She’s decided to be of this world too, and that means she’s going to matter in it, like it or not.
So all that is well and good. But as an unfortunate side effect, it makes me really, really nervous about Young. I just don’t know how we’re going to recover from this. Eek!