EPISODE 23 RECAP
Young tries to convince Eun-soo to run, that they’ll camp out in front of heaven’s portal till it opens. She refuses, but he’s frustrated that he can’t protect her, not with his hand failing him. It starts to shake, and Eun-soo grabs it tight, crying.
She checks his pulse and deduces that physically he seems fine: “It seems like it’s not your hand that’s shaking, but your heart.” She means heart in an emotional sense, not that he’s dealing with cardiac symptoms, although how she could arrive at this diagnosis is beyond me. But shh, it’s our penultimate episode, let’s not start pickin’ nits now.
He sits her down and tells her calmly that he’ll be fine after she leaves, that he’ll forget her in due time and be just dandy. Therefore, she should go home because she’ll get over it in time too.
Eun-soo answers that she doesn’t think she’ll be fine—she might start wandering around looking for him, trying to find that portal back here, lost in her own strange world. Oh honey, you’re going to be heartbroken, I’ll give you that, but you’re not going insane.
Young tells her not to be that way, and says that for their remaining time he’ll keep close by her (because he’s fearful of her safety) and try to make her smile (“Though I have little confidence I can”). They stand apart, both looking resolute in their opposing ways, refusing to accept the other’s decision.
The royal army infiltrates Ki Chul’s home and subdues his private soldiers, though Ki Chul himself is able to flee. Under Young’s direction, the manhunt is on to capture him, with searches and checkpoints set up to ensure Ki Chul doesn’t escape the capital. Young anticipates that he’ll attempt to slip out of Goryeo into Yuan.
Young asks for a private word with Gongmin, and informs him that he suspects he is following in his teachers’ footsteps, referencing his dropped sword: “I think the time has come to lay down my sword.” He admits things becoming more difficult and says that he will stay in his post until he escorts Eun-soo away.
Gongmin has never accepted any of Young’s attempts to resign, and he doesn’t now. He says he will continue to wait for his return.
Young briefs his team on their next task: going to Ki Chul’s home to divvy up his estate, to be claimed by the state. He calls out his men plus Eun-soo, telling them to come with him.
While the men search for valuables that Ki Chul didn’t have time to take with him, Eun-soo looks for her diary, though Young says he already looked. It’s not here.
Outside, Eun-soo remembers first being in this house as Ki Chul’s guest. Young reminds her that she’d said she liked living here, and she takes his cue to lighten the tone by saying it was great being fed lots and given clothes (“I especially love pretty, expensive clothing!”). He asks what else she likes, and she says windy days, and the moment when it begins to rain.
He asks for more (are you fishing for compliments, badass general?), and as she looks him over from head to toe, she answers to herself (not saying it aloud) with all the features she likes about Young: his gray and blue clothing, his height, hands that are “exactly that size,” his voice…
But she doesn’t let him in on her thoughts, and turns the question around on him. He places a hand on her shoulder… and then spots a shifty character. What a weird transition.
He puts Dol-bae on Eun-soo guard duty and heads off to intercept the man. He’s dressed as a peasant but carries a sword, and Young asks if he’s been sent by Ki Chul.
But his grasp falters and the sword clatters to the ground. The peasant scampers off, managing to evade his men’s notice.
Young orders his men to wrap things up here, taking Eun-soo away by the hand. He’s got her safety in mind, but his men smile knowingly, thinking they’re off for some fun couple times. I wish.
Ki Chul is given a type of medicine with dire warnings from his advisor that this is a last resort. The pellets will give him strength, but only for a quarter of a day, and will be followed by severe side effects. Ki Chul grimly says he’s aware, but finally has a reason to smile when Hwasuin bursts in to report that she knows where Eun-soo is.
At least this is knowledge Young assumes as well. And yet, when asked what their plans are for the day, Young replies, “Let’s have fun.” He asks if she needs anything, like those clothes she said she likes. Eun-soo interprets this as a date, asking if she can really ask him to buy her whatever she wants, and he answers yes. She’s practically giggling in glee, and that in turns makes him smile. Aw, at least something can.
He notes that she’s still working on her antidote and asks if she still hasn’t given up on her hopes to remain here. She tells him to wait and see—she’ll succeed all right. He asks, “You can’t give up on anything, can you?” Argh, I’m pretty sure he’s talking about something else now, and that—plus his grim expression—doesn’t give me good feelings. But Eun-soo just tells him to get used to it.
Prompted by Lady Choi and the king’s eunuch, Noguk makes a proposal to Gongmin, asking if he’d like to draw outdoors. She says that the king would naturally need a bodyguard and can ask the general, while she’d like the doctor to accompany her, yunno, in case she catches cold or something. It’s a transparent excuse to throw the lovers together while they still have the time, and I find it cute that the queen sees fit to send the king on a trumped-up errand just to play matchmaker.
It also means that they’re expecting that Eun-soo has not found her cure and will have to leave. Gongmin admits he’s worried about the aftermath of her departure, and what will happen “to the general’s heart.” Lady Choi assures him that Young won’t collapse over one woman, but Gongmin says that it was after meeting Eun-soo that Young looked at him straight, as a man who was more than just one in a string of useless kings.
Ki Chul’s entourage would prefer to just go to Yuan and reside in the comforts of the palace, since his sister is empress. But he does the mental math calculating all the time it would take to send messages, wait for responses, travel… It all takes too long, and he decides that he’ll have to take the direct approach instead. To the palace!
That elicits a round of What the hell are you talking about? from the rest, since the palace is teeming with enemies, and Ki Chul is technically Public Enemy No. 1. He doesn’t care, though, and says they’ll have to find a way in.
Deoki finds a book in Jang Bin’s drawer, and reading it makes her eyes widen. Is it the antidote? How convenient for it to pop up now. She beelines for Eun-soo and shoves the book at her, but Eun-soo reiterates her poor hanja reading skills, so Deoki fidgets impatiently as Lady Choi is called to read it for her.
Deoki jabs at the relevant passages since her attempts to sign go uncomprehended. Lady Choi reads about treating poison with poison, but upon finishing the passage she closes the book and tells her soberly that this is no antidote. It’s dangerous, and Jang Bin didn’t tell her about it for that reason. She’s better off abandoning this prospect.
But Eun-soo counters that it’s not unheard of in her world (I suppose it’s not unlike chemo, where you attack your own body to kill the disease), and she went to a seminar on it once. Is she going to pull a Jin and invent penicillin now?
Lady Choi maintains that it’s too dangerous, but Eun-soo adds that Young is going around without his sword now: “I’m afraid of what he might let go of next.”
Later that night (wait, we don’t get to see the shopping date? Faith, you big tease!), Young looks at the sword he no longer carries and tucks sleeping Eun-soo in bed. He finds her homemade calendar, marking off every day until the portal reopens.
Choong-seok reports on the training of the new recruits. Young hands him a list of training plans and information, telling him of the king’s intention to form another branch of the army. He puts Choong-seok in charge of reporting the continuation of the project, though he doesn’t answer why he won’t be doing it himself.
As Young leaves, Dol-bae follows to tell him that it doesn’t matter that he can’t wield a sword: “Can’t you remain as our general anyway?” He offers himself up as Young’s hand, saying that he’s no match for Young’s skills but he’s quite up to the task. Aw, the loyalty is so endearing, and it earns him a knock on the head. Ha. Young tells him to protect himself first.
Dae-man runs up to report that “the strange high-ranking man” is here to see him. Pfft, he means Ki Chul. You’d think he’d have learned the name of their biggest enemy by now, but hey, he’s not wrong.
Sure enough, Ki Chul, Firehand, and Flute Boy are here at the palace, having strolled right in. Young orders them apprehended and imprisoned, and the villains don’t object. Ki Chul growls that he’ll take himself to the prisons, however, refusing to be tied up by the Woodalchi.
Ki Chul adds his condition: To see the doctor. He says pointedly that Young is not up to the task of fighting the three of them. Hwasuin smirks, having informed her team of Young’s own ki malfunction.
Young storms into Eun-soo’s room to inform her of the request, and tells her to refuse if she wants. Into prison they go, and she makes sure that he’ll stay with her the whole time. Young enters the cell first, where Ki Chul notes that the tables are turned this time: “I should have killed you then.”
Young warns Ki Chul to behave himself with the doctor, then leads her inside. Ki Chul looks weak and pleading as he explains that he has grown sick in the head, hoping she can cure him. He’s pinned all his hopes on her, and looks devastated when she tells him that she’s not from heaven after all, but hope returns as she explains that she’s from “the land of tomorrow,” some 600-plus years from now.
Ki Chul describes his mental illness, saying that he is forever hungry for more to possess. He has taken everything in this world, and still there’s an ever-present gnawing feeling that refuses to be satiated. If she’s from an advanced civilization, can’t she fix him? If he goes to her world, will he be cured?
Eun-soo tells him that it isn’t likely, and that her world contains many more people suffering his illness: “The more they have, the more they all want.”
That does not compute with Ki Chul, who grows more worked up as he insists that she comes from a world with heavenly vehicles. “That does not make any sense! How can you possess such things in such a world and still be hungry?!” His face contorts in his despair and frustration. You almost feel sorry for him; it’s the most pathetic we’ve seen him, and also the most real.
On to the king’s excursion outside, where he sits with his ink and draws a likeness of Noguk. It’s sweet how they smile at each other while he draws, but my favorite part is the way everyone else—Lady Choi, eunuch, Dol-bae—smiles knowingly at the romance in the air. Aw.
Young grabs Eun-soo’s hand as he walks with her outside, despite her attempts to pull away. It’s because her fever has begun, which he notes with alarm—onset of fever means that she’ll die in seven days. Eep! She confirms that it started this morning, and he worries that it’s too early, with the portal opening in ten days.
Eun-soo tells him that the fever is still mild, and while she has the energy to act, there’s one last thing she can try. Uh-oh. I suppose if fevered delirium and death is your certain future, potential death by self-poisoning doesn’t seem so outrageous… but I’m not exactly putting all my eggs in that one cure-basket, let’s just say that.
She says she’ll start that last task tonight, and requests his help in easing her mind until then—as long has he’s calm, she’ll be calm. He agrees to whatever other conditions she has, but she says, “That’s all I need.”
After Gongmin finishes his drawing, he sits with Young and asks about his talk with Ki Chul. Young explains about Ki Chul’s mental illness, but makes a request: He’d like to keep his mind at ease today for Eun-soo’s request. Gongmin agrees, and they let the topic go.
The men sit there and watch their women talking together, and Noguk points out that Eun-soo’s general has been watching her constantly. She repeats the word Eun-soo used in describing how Noguk felt about her husband—sarang—and asks whether she’s explained to Young how she feels, and what the word means. Eun-soo just says lightly that the general doesn’t greatly enjoy learning heavenspeak.
She then requests that Noguk, Lady Choi, and the eunuch join the men, because she wants to see them all together and file away the picture in her thoughts. Aggggh, she’s preparing herself to die. So sad.
They agree, probably understanding without being told, and Eun-soo drinks in the sight, taking a mental photograph.
In prison that night, Ki Chul speaks to his underlings from his cell, instructing them to carry out the plan tomorrow. When he is called to address his crimes, they’ll find “that thing” and then come to him. He will be with the king.
Eun-soo receives the particular poison she requested, which was named in Jang Bin’s book. She’s cautioned to be extremely careful, since it’s potent and lethal. Deoki prepares the mixture, but before she takes it Lady Choi enters to confront her, asking if she’s going to ignore all her warnings. That is dangerous poison she’s about to take.
Eun-soo starts to explain that there are medical reasons explaining why it could work, but Young interrupts: “What are you talking about?”
Eun-soo tells him this is the thing she needs to do, that he needs to help her with. It’s not at all comforting to hear that she has no idea what her projection of success is, since she’d be the first person to try this “cure.” But she insists that she can’t give up without trying.
Young pulls out her calendar marking the days remaining—she has a week till the portal opens. He says that he’d been thinking up all the things he could do to help her during those remaining days: “But what happens if this goes wrong today? There’s nothing I could do for you.”
Eun-soo remains firm, determined to proceed. He asks how she can appear so calm, so okay with this. She replies, “Then should I wait for the end, crying every day? That makes me too angry. I believe it will work. It will work, I can live.” Young struggles to accept this, but in the end he doesn’t have much of an option, does he?
Eun-soo prepares Lady Choi on what to expect after she takes the dose, while Young sits there with his head in his hands. She says she’ll have a fever immediately afterward, which they are to let run its course, and treat her with a fever reducer if it stretches for more than a day.
Young speaks up and declares that he’ll be the one to nurse her and stay at her sickbed. With the arrangements done, Eun-soo prepares the dose and drinks. Young takes her hand, and they look at each other with anxious, waiting eyes.
The effects begin to kick in soon, and Young holds her tight.
Night turns to morning, and Young is tending to her fever. Lady Choi offers to relieve him, but he says that Eun-soo has fought all night, as though he doesn’t deserve to rest while she doesn’t. But Aunt tells him he’d better rest up for the fight ahead, and he reluctantly gets up to leave.
But his gaze lands on the jar on the table, containing the remaining aspirin pills and dried flower. He chews up a pill, then leans over to drop it into Eun-soo’s mouth like a mama bird. (I love Lady Choi’s uncomfortable reaction, like she thinks Young’s getting amorous in this kind of situation.)
Ki Chul is escorted from his cell to the stateroom to await his judgment. But he leaves with a devilish smile on his face, because down in the prison his undercover double agents swing into action—half the prison guards are actually with him, and attack the other half. Then they let out Hwasuin and Eum-ja, who stroll out easy as you please.
Ki Chul begins the proceedings by asking for a favor, and slips one shackled hand into his sleeve. Choong-seok sees that he’s trying something and goes in to intercept him, but not quickly enough; Ki Chul slips the medicine pellet into his mouth, and enjoys an immediate surge of ki. The iron shackles explode off his wrists.
Backup Woodalchi rush into the room, leaving Hwasuin and Eum-ja free to walk right out. They find the room they’re looking for, and after killing some pesky soldiers, they lift a package out of a trapdoor. The “thing” Ki Chul wanted.
Dae-man reports the news to Young, who follows him out. Lady Choi belatedly realizes that he’s gone off without his sword.
Ki Chul is infused with enough superstrength that he’s just about invincible, grabbing swords with bare hands and throwing them across the room to spear men to walls. Eek. He informs the king that he’s here to claim what’s his, and orders Gongmin to order his men out.
By the time Young arrives, the palace floors are strewn with bodies. Ki Chul faces him and asks where the doctor is, because he’ll be taking her away now.
Young looks down at his hand, empty of sword and trembling slightly. Over Ki Chul’s soldier, he spots Dol-bae, who notices the same thing and takes that as his cue—to be Young’s right hand. Oh no. I mean, yay for you, you’re awesome, but don’t die!
Young’s eyes widen as he realizes this and he mouths, “Don’t do it.” But Dol-bae is determined, and he raises his sword to charge at Ki Chul.
Young bellows, “DON’T DO IT!” but it’s too late. Dol-bae charges, his sword missing Ki Chul’s face by mere inches, and Ki Chul grabs his throat in a fierce grip misting with icy ki. Oh, poor heroic Dol-bae.
Welling up in rage, Young grabs the sword at his feet and swings at Ki Chul, who SLAMS it right out of his hand again. Now they’re face to face.
Eun-soo twitches in bed… and wakes up.
Dubiousness of medical diagnosis notwithstanding, I am really really hoping that Eun-soo was hinting at something significant when she said Young’s hand failing him was rooted in the emotional. If ever there was a reason to believe in mind over matter, this would be it. And while I’m hoping for the improbable, can I wish Dol-bae back to safety? It hurt when Joo-seok died, but I find it way worse with Dol-bae, especially after his “I’ll be your hand” grand gesture. You noble, loyal fool!
I haven’t been the biggest fan of this whole Eun-soo-gets-poisoned-twice routine, but getting past the mechanism of our conflict, at least I do like the character beats that arise out of it, and the themes we’re exploring as we head into the final wrap-up.
One is the reversal of positions, with Eun-soo’s sickness and Young’s battle skills dovetailing nicely for a turnaround to mirror their personal journeys. Eun-soo’s the doctor living a money-driven life that is, by her own recent admission, empty and nameless. Her 21st-century life was a string of faceless patients and unmeaningful interactions, which is, to use her words, a life that consists of just breathing. The entirety of Young’s identity was tied up in his position as general.
And now they’re both at a crisis point with their respective identities, and they turn that around to support the other. Eun-soo’s determination to stay behind was nicely outlined in her comment to Aunt that she worries what Young will lose next—she fears losing him, not in a “my lover will leave me” sort of way, but in a fundamental question of his being. It’s nice to have a really solid reason for their mutual self-sacrificial outlooks (her wanting to stay, him determined to send her away). Something a bit weightier than merely “It’s for your own good.” Because as she points out, what good is that when you’re just going to be miserable for the rest of your life anyway?
And to turn it around on Eun-soo, the eternal caretaker now becomes the patient, and Young is the one taking care of her. She’s determined to protect him, he’s nursing her back to health. Yeah he’s no doctor and she’s no warrior, but if we’re just talking about the thought that counts, it’s a lovely reversal/progression.