EPISODE 15 RECAP
Jun tells the incredulous king that he will try to cure his disease. Though the king has consulted hundreds of doctors, Jun argues, they cannot cure it or find the cause because it is not a medical problem. The king scoffs — is Jun saying that Hong-joo’s black magic is to blame?
Jun says yes, adding that he has also fallen victim to her magic before, but the king refuses to listen to either him or Hong-joo anymore. He orders Jun to leave. In a last-ditch attempt, Jun urges him to consider what he would do if sacrificing Yeon-hee failed to cure him — there would be no more options.
After a moment’s thought, the king finally relents, telling Jun he has one day to prove his assertions. Otherwise, he and Yeon-hee will die together. Jun only requests some help for this all-important day — for the king to lock Hong-joo up for a day to prevent her from using her black magic.
Having awoken Poong-yeon’s spiritual firepower, Hong-joo watches as he reels in pain after using it for the first time. Reassuring him that his body is just adjusting to using his powers for the first time, Hong-joo explains that he has the power of sacred fire, inherited from his father.
She tells him that using his power to burn Yeon-hee with spiritual fire is the only way to free her from her curse. With a small smile, she suggests that he ask his father if he’s in doubt over what to do.
At the Taoist temple, Poong-yeon asks Hyun-seo if burning Yeon-hee with his power will truly only purify her and free her from the curse. With a blank face and under Hong-joo’s command, Hyun-seo robotically assures his son that this is all true, and that he regrets not having killed Yeon-hee himself this way long ago.
Aghast, Poong-yeon asks his father how this can be true — when Hyun-seo brought Yeon-hee to the Black Forest… he trails off, stopping mid-sentence as he gazes at his father in surprise. But after a moment, Poong-yeon only asks what he should do now. Hyun-seo tells him to help Hong-joo to kill the cursed princess and protect Yeon-hee — this is the reason why this power has been passed on to Poong-yeon.
Poong-yeon seems confused — help Hong-joo? This is what his father wants? Hyun-seo nods that this is the way to help the royal family.
Hong-joo arrives at the palace to give the king his usual treatment, but the king tells her that today, she will be locked in prison. He assures her that it is only for today — in order to do as she has asked (and kill Yeon-hee), she must tolerate it just one day.
Hong-joo agrees to follow his wishes, though not without noting that the pain will be bad today, and leaves with the royal guards.
One of her shaman guards catches up with her and informs her that Jun had an audience with the king. Hong-joo isn’t worried, and just tells her to lie low.
In the palace rooms, Jun faces his daunting task of curing the glowering king, asking him to remove his royal robes so he may examine the afflicted area. The thorn injuries look more horrific than ever, and one prickles painfully as Jun tentatively touches it. To his surprise, there is no obvious evidence of black magic, and the king takes this as a sign that Jun doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
But Jun entreats the king to trust him: “It is said a student who does not trust his teacher cannot learn, and a patient who does not trust his doctor cannot heal.”
The king snarls that he’s going to cut off Jun’s head and throw it at Yeon-hee’s feet if this fails today. Even as he threatens Jun’s life, the king cringes in obvious pain.
Hyun-seo, under Hong-joo’s control, has Yo-gwang pinned against the wall. He demands to know what Jun is up to with the king. Yo-gwang gasps out that Hyun-seo can fight this — he must, for Yeon-hee could die this time. Hyun-seo’s pupils flare white again, as he loosens his stranglehold and stumbles back in pain. Jun arrives just in time to witness the end of the encounter.
Outside, Yo-gwang admits to Jun that Hyun-seo lost his spiritual powers after creating Yeon-hee’s talisman, and has been taken over by black magic. He tells Jun there’s nothing he can do for Hyun-seo, and Jun in turn reports that there was no evidence of black magic on the king’s body or in his chambers — he was planning to ask Hyun-seo for help, but now…
The boys retreat to Yeon-hee’s room to look over her books of spells. Yo-gwang finds an interesting one — an incantation, which need only be spoken over a person to be cast. That would explain why there were no signs of magic being used.
A flashback confirms his hunch, and we see Hong-joo slip into the sleeping quarters of now-King Seonjo back when he was a prince. She whispers into his ear that everyone will disrespect him behind his back, and there is no way out, no matter what he does; he will never be respected or acknowledged. As she speaks, tendrils of black magic snake around his head, tormenting the prince as he writhes in his sleep.
Yo-gwang and Jun brainstorm about how to break this spell — the only way Yo-gwang knows of is to destroy the spell’s carrier, but this incantation has no carrier but the victim. He sighs that Hyun-seo would know. Jun gets up, looking resolute.
He arrives at Hyun-seo’s rooms with the question — is there any way to break the incantation that Hong-joo has cast? Hyun-seo simply replies that there is no solution, so they should accept fate. Jun’s appeal for Yeon-hee’s life does not seem to affect him.
Jun’s gaze sharpens, and he eyes Hyun-seo suspiciously — he seems to realize that Hyun-seo has been possessed. Jun meets Hyun-seo’s blank gaze and says that he knows that is not Hyun-seo’s real answer.
In her prison cell, Hong-joo smirks, having figured out now that Jun was playing royal physician. In his chambers, the king writhes with pain. Then we see Hong-joo and Hyun-seo’s mouths moving as one — she is speaking through him.
Desperately, Jun reminds Hyun-seo that he lived his life to protect Yeon-hee, and that he asked Jun to continue the job after he was gone. We see Hyun-seo battling the possession, pupils flashing back and forth and body trembling as he hears Hong-joo’s voice playing in his head.
With effort, Hyun-seo manages to grit out that Jun should look in the Mauigeumseo before he succumbs to the possession again. Jun tells him he understands, and leaves.
A new guard arrives at Yeon-hee’s cell for shift change, but it’s actually Yo-gwang disguised with a spell. He and Jun rush in to see Yeon-hee, and they bring her up to speed about their efforts to find a cure for the king and Hyun-seo’s suggestion that they look in the Mauigeumseo. Yeon-hee seems surprised at this.
Jun notes that the king’s weak heart may have succumbed to the dark magic, and she agrees that they need to make him honestly face his insecurities. She suggests the truth potion — if the king can voice his true resentments, the black magic might be dispelled. But if the king has no desire to face the truth, the potion won’t work.
Yeon-hee refuses to leave prison with them, though — she’s done nothing wrong, and intends to clear her name and be freed from prison the right way. Just before they go, though, Yeon-hee asks if Hyun-seo really helped them — he acted so weirdly when he came to see her with Hong-joo. Jun just tells her not to worry.
Yo-gwang and Jun mix up the truth potion that night, trying to be as quiet as possible. They have a cute bicker about an herb name that Yo-gwang keeps mispronouncing, and he keeps handing Jun a slicing device instead. Yo-gwang is so hapless, banging ingredients around and crashing things as Jun hisses at him to be quiet.
They finally finish mixing the herbs, and Jun pours a liquid into the ingredients they have mixed. When nothing happens after a long moment, they become anxious, since Jun has never done this without Yeon-hee before — but then the potion begins to strain into the flask they prepared.
The queen dowager summons Jun to question him about his promise to cure the king. She wants him to back off rather than putting Yeon-hee’s life at risk, and swears she won’t forgive him if something goes wrong.
And… we cut to Hyun-seo, who has found Jun’s truth potion, still in the process of filtering into the flask. His eyes glow as he reaches out his hand, and a dark smog mingles with the potion.
Jun arrives at the king’s quarters bearing the truth potion that night. The king reminds him of his impending execution if something goes wrong, and the royal guards rush in to punctuate the threat. Jun pours out the truth potion, and upon hearing that Jun brewed it, the king is deeply suspicious — it’s an unknown concoction that could be as deadly as it could be helpful, and he refuses to drink it.
Jun can’t prove those suspicions wrong, but he entreats the king to consider how deeply Jun’s concern for Yeon-hee runs — it’s those feelings that drove him to make this medicine.
Amazingly, in spite of his councilor’s pleas to reconsider, the king slowly raises the bowl to his lips and takes a long drink as Jun watches. As he finishes, though, the king chokes and begins grabbing at his throat like he is being strangled, and a red mark appears behind his ear: the character for truth. Jun is thrown into prison.
The next morning, the king awakens to see another flask at his side, which he tosses furiously away. Hong-joo arrives at Yeon-hee’s cell to gloat at their futile efforts to defeat her, but Yeon-hee shoots back that she’s not done as long as Hong-joo’s alive. She declares that things won’t work the way Hong-joo’s planned.
She wants to know what Hong-joo’s done to her father, and Hong-joo replies that Hyun-seo died after making her talismans, and that she revived him; they are now one body and soul. If Yeon-hee kills Hong-joo, she kills Hyun-seo as well. Yeon-hee replies that she’ll save her father, and Hong-joo basically shrugs, smiling triumphantly as the shamans lead Yeon-hee away.
Jun and Yeon-hee are reunited in front of the angry king, who snarls that they are both to be beheaded. The queen dowager rushes in then, begging the king to spare Yeon-hee. He orders her to leave, saying that she’ll be next.
Jun steps in, asking the king if he’s afraid of the princess, or Hong-joo. Though the king warns him not to overstep his boundaries, Jun continues to question him: What is he so afraid of, when he is so powerful?
Provoked, the king erupts, yelling that he knows everyone thinks he’s weak and incompetent, especially since he isn’t in the direct royal line. He accuses Yeon-hee of trying to kill him.
Yeon-hee protests that she was trying to protect him, but the king just can’t believe her. The world is against him, he snarls — everyone here is an enemy. His words echo what we heard Hong-joo whisper to him at night when she’d first cast her spell.
But Jun does not back down, leaping up to argue that if the king really thinks that, why did he trust him enough to drink the truth potion? The king could have killed Jun instead — was he really only protecting the throne?
The king grabs Jun and threatens to kill him if he keeps talking. But now inches from each other’s faces, Jun hazards a guess: Did the king want the recognition of those very people who’d pointed fingers and said he had no right to the throne?
In the stunned silence that follows, the king drops his shoulders in defeat and releases Jun. With a pained voice, he admits it: He wanted to be acknowledged by others. Though he wants to be a good king and loved by his people, all his life he’s been powerless, ignored and insulted. No amount of trying could get him anywhere, and now with his body unwell, there is nothing left that he can do.
By now he’s in tears, weighed down by his despair, and the king begins to walk away despondently. Suddenly he drops to the ground, choking violently. Coughing, he expels a piles of blood and black goo and smoke — black magic.
While the others watch in shock, the king straightens and pulls up his sleeve, and the thorns and blisters in his skin vanish. The mark behind his ear flashes once — truth — and vanishes.
Jun murmurs that here is proof — this was the black magic afflicting the king’s body. In Cheongbing Temple, another candle is lit. And in the shaman’s rooms, blisters just like the king’s explode across Hong-joo’s arm as she collapses in pain.
Soldiers bring Hong-joo to the king, where Yeon-hee, Jun, and the queen dowager confront her with charges of using black magic to conspire against the royal family. Hong-joo claims innocence, saying she was only acting on their behalf — the queen mother who desired a child so much she was willing to use black magic to get one; the king who was willing to kill an innocent princess to heal himself.
It’s true that in order to prosecute Hong-joo on these charges, the king would have to sully the royal name and inform others about the queen’s misdeeds. But the king has another plan: On his cue, Jun walks in with Red Cloak — who unmasks herself as she kneels. At the king’s questioning, Sol-gae admits that she committed numerous murders to steal hearts for Hong-joo to use in her black magic.
Caught, Hong-joo only challenges the king — what will he do now? Like a cornered cat, she hisses at the king that the royal family is cowardly and petty — they use people when it suits them, then dispose of them when no longer needed. She turns to Jun to warn him to watch his back — they’ll do the same to him. The king angrily sentences her to death by quartering.
As Hong-joo is arrested and marched off, followed closely by Sol-gae, they cross paths with Poong-yeon. He looks troubled to see Sol-gae, who briefly meets his gaze, wearing her red cloak and clutching her mask.
Ok is hanging out at a gisaeng house gloating that Jun has been locked up forever for trying to poison the king and claiming credit for it. His friends tsk-tsk at Jun’s unlucky fate, and seem to sympathize much more with Jun than his brother does. A moment later, though, the tables are turned — guards arrive to arrive to arrest Ok for telling falsehoods.
Yeon-hee, Jun, and Yo-gwang rush to Taoist temple to find Hyun-seo gone. Yo-gwang finally tells Yeon-hee the truth, that Hyun-seo is essentially dead: He has lost all control over his body and mind, and only black magic is holding him together. Even if they released him by killing Hong-joo, he would simply die. Yeon-hee cries, mourning her father.
Poong-yeon, masked and hooded, takes out the guards and bursts into the prison where Sol-gae and Hong-joo are being held. He drops by Sol-gae first to ask if she’s really Red Cloak. She hangs her head and only apologizes.
Poong-yeon’s utterly betrayed, asking if she took him as a total joke as he ran around looking for Red Cloak with her in tow. He considered her a true friend, but now he knows that it was just fake, and that the feeling wasn’t mutual. Sol-gae only tells him not to forgive her, but in a final act of friendship, he unlocks her prison and walks away.
But Sol-gae isn’t his only motive here: Poong-yeon comes to another stop outside Hong-joo’s cell. She gives him a small smile.
Jun gives the king a check-up the morning after, pleased to see that his skin has healed perfectly, leaving no scars behind. The king says an adorably awkward thank you, and Jun shuffles up beside him to ask about a favor in return for all his help. The king reminds him that he already released Yeon-hee, but Jun points out that she was innocent and deserved releasing; it doesn’t qualify as a favor.
The king half-heartedly lunges for his sword, almost jokingly berating Jun for putting him through all this trouble and ordering him out. But as Jun leaves (wearing a pout at being denied), the king calls after him to ask what that favor is. Jun grins and says he doesn’t have one now; he’ll ask later when he thinks of one.
Outside, Jun joyfully runs to Yeon-hee, both finally free. But their happiness is cut short as Yo-gwang runs up to give them bad news: Hong-joo has escaped prison.
Now in a hideaway, Hong-joo thanks Poong-yeon for releasing her, but Poong-yeon tells her that after Yeon-hee’s back to normal, Hong-joo must pay for her crimes. He asks what’s next, and she smiles that he just needs to burn Yeon-hee’s curse away with his spiritual fire.
Poong-yeon asks if Hong-joo sent Sol-gae to his side with these intentions from the start, which she confirms. He notes she’s a scary woman, but Hong-joo merely replies that for great revolution, you need to see the big picture and have a cold heart. She tells him to harden his.
Back at the palace, queen dowager warns Yeon-hee that Hong-joo will be planning another attack soon. Yeon-hee’s health is the nation’s concern; and, she adds, Yeon-hee ought to distance herself from Jun now. Yeon-hee’s eyes fill with emotion as she says that Jun is the man she has given her heart to. The queen dowager realizes that their bond is much deeper than she thought, and asks if time will help. Yeon-hee doesn’t look optimistic but says nothing.
Later that night, Yeon-hee and Jun take a nighttime stroll followed by a brigade of soldiers provided by the queen dowager. Jun seems to understand what’s going on, and he tells her it’s time for him to go his own way. But he promises to stay by her side until she’s safe and all the candles are lit.
He sends her in for the night, but when Yeon-hee enters her room, she’s grabbed from behind and knocked unconscious by a masked figure. Jun hears the thump of a guard hitting the ground, sees Yeon-hee being carried away, and races after them on foot. But he loses the abductor, who rides away on horseback.
In an empty room, Poong-yeon dumps a gagged Yeon-hee on the ground and unmasks himself, looking coldly down as she cries out in distress and shock. He walks out, hesitating only slightly as he presses his hands against the door to light it on fire.
Jun arrives just in time to find the house burning with spiritual fire, as Hong-joo watches with a triumphant smile from nearby.
Let’s take a moment to lower our blood pressure by appreciating that Hong-joo got her comeuppance, at least for half an episode. It was endlessly satisfying to see the king’s skin healed, and Hong-joo finally dragged away by the royal guards. As plotlines go, it was an effective one. The scene with the king’s admission about his powerlessness was beautifully done — this was an episode for the king to finally shine. He hasn’t been the most likable character, but the insecurity and loneliness that has played out in the background for the past 14 episodes finally reached a plot climax, and it was great. He may have been Hong-joo’s puppet, but it’s clear his judgment was handicapped by his physical and emotional condition. In the scenes where the king met with Hong-joo, you could see the softening of his eyes when he looked at her, with dependency and a desperate hope. His desire to be a good king, and the circumstances that have prevented him from becoming one, are a lot more understandable now.
So though he’s been kind of a jerk, I’m glad the king has Heo Jun and friends behind him — he has a fighting chance against Hong-joo now that she’s lost her power over him. To be fair, none of what happened was actually his fault, so I hope he has a chance to redeem himself, stepping make things right that went so, so wrong all those years ago.
I understand that Poong-yeon is misguided (literally, by his possessed father), but he’s smart and capable and obviously has recognized how dangerous Hong-joo is. I hope that he doesn’t go the same way that the queen dowager did, in trying to rid Yeon-hee of the curse that he seems so afraid of. There have been interesting parallels between the characters — the queen dowager’s initial use of black magic, to the king’s desire to kill Yeon-hee, and now maybe Poong-yeon’s need to cleanse her of the curse at all costs — where black magic and the things that drive people to it are very nicely woven into the narrative.
I thought Hong-joo made an interesting point after she was accused of crimes, that all she has done is facilitate and make possible the desires of others. I do think she has some responsibility for whispering in people’s ears and manipulating them, but black magic also seems to have a life of its own after its cast, which perhaps is why the same black thorns that she used to torment the king afflict her after his curse is lifted.
I’ve really enjoyed the growth and redemption arcs of the queen dowager, and now I think the king will have one too. Although they may have made some selfish choices, they are human and they can recognize and move past it. It makes for more real, well-rounded characters. Finally, though there wasn’t much Yeon-hee/Jun this episode, how can anyone resist that smile, and the way he looks at her? I do sense brewing trouble with the old “You’re-a-princess/chaebol-who-can’t-be-with-the-commoner” trope, but fingers crossed that our couple can stay together. They’ve already dealt with some pretty scary black magic and betrayal — there’s hopefully nothing that some societal norms and a scary queen dowager can do… unless, of course, the thing that’s scarier than a meddling mother… let’s not speak its name just in case it hears.