If you thought Dal Hyang’s journey to Hanyang and his first night in the big city was bad, you clearly haven’t seen what his first day on the job looks like yet. (Hint: It sucks.) Considering how quickly the situation with the Manchu envoys is falling apart on our good guys, it doesn’t look like Dal Hyang will be experiencing much joy at work any time soon, either. It’s a good thing he has the friendly Seung Po and Min Seo to look out for him, though any bromance with Sohyeon might have to wait a bit longer…
EPISODE 04 – “Protecting enemy general Ingguldai’s neck”
Dal Hyang thinks over Prince Sohyeon’s admission that he had “killed” Mi Ryung in the past and has yet to decide what he will do once he catches her again – kill her, or run away with her. Was he joking again or being serious this time? His uncertainty over the purpose of the mission to capture Mi Ryung is enough to make him call for the prince to wait as he’s about to leave and ask for clarification. On top of that the mission’s dubious purpose, Dal Hyang is troubled that it isn’t about protecting the nation.
But Sohyeon sternly rebukes Dal Hyang for questioning the motives or logic of his orders; the only person whose orders surpasses his are the king’s and a military officer like Dal Hyang has no place to argue. He adds that the mission is not a show of trust, but rather a test of Dal Hyang’s worthiness for that trust – although Seung Po and Min Seo treat Dal Hyang as a friend, the prince himself is not in a position to trust so easily. Thoroughly admonished, Dal Hyang bows and apologizes.
The crown princess is visited by her mother, who gives her talismans that will ensure she give conceive an heir – one is for the princess, while the other must be hidden under the prince’s pillow in order to be effective.
The princess tries to reason that it is not the time to worry about having a child with war looming on the horizon, but her mother makes a good argument; giving birth to an heir and securing the succession will be all the more important now, since it’ll give the people hope and provide the royal household with a sense of stability.
The prince returns home from his meeting with Dal Hyang that night to run face-to-face into a nervous-looking Yoon Seo on the way out of his room, the talisman still clutched in her hand (not having found time to hide it in his room yet before she had to escape). The astute Sohyeon quickly spots it and questions her, of course, and Yoon Seo hilariously tries to feign ignorance while stuffing it into one sleeve.
He’s not about to let the matter drop, though, and with each step he takes towards her, she shuffles back, back, back… and finally trips, with Sohyeon landing on top of her.
…Which is exactly the position in which the startled lady-in-waiting and eunuch find them in, LOL. With knowing smiles, they tactfully back out of the room, leaving their highnesses to presumably get down to business.
There’s a moment of charged awareness as both prince and princess notice their positions, and then Sohyeon leans down towards Yoon Seo, who closes her eyes. But Sohyeon just smirks and takes advantage of the moment to slip the paper out of her hands. Poor Yoon Seo is dying from embarrassment and can’t even face Sohyeon as she hurriedly explains that her mother brought her the talisman in the hopes that they would produce an heir. Still keeping her face averted from mortification, she asks for the talisman back so that she could burn it.
But Sohyeon instead brings up her earlier question on why he showed no interest in her: “Truthfully, I have no interest in women. To be exact, I dislike all women.”
That has Yoon Seo turning around to gape at him, wide-eyed as she tries to process this new information. After a moment’s pause, she concludes with a comical gasp: “Does that mean you like men?” HAHA. Sohyeon’s face splits into a huge grin; how can the crown princess propose such an outrageous idea? He clarifies that he’d meant to assure her that it is no fault of hers that he has no interest in her, so she should not be upset. Then he adds that he now understands why Park Dal Hyang had kept her letter for so long – he knows when he’s found a good woman. Aww.
Sohyeon gently presses the talisman back into Yoon Seo’s hand and promises that he’ll give the matter serious thought – whether he really does prefer men. LOL. He is incapable of staying serious for very long, isn’t he? But he does suggest that she stay in his room for a while longer so as not to shatter the expectations of their retainers waiting outside, and when Yoon Seo later returns to her rooms, she doesn’t correct her lady-in-waiting’s assumptions. It’s only when she moves to return the talisman to her drawer that she realizes with alarm that something is missing.
Two maids exclaim over the attractiveness of Min Seo’s face as they observe his sleeping form – both he and Seung Po are sleeping off the effects of a long night. Thus when Min Seo opens his eyes, he jumps in shock to find one of the maids leaning over to kiss him, HA. He asks mildly whether there’s a place to wash up, since he couldn’t do so last night… and totally misses the smiles of glee that pass over the women’s faces.
Word spreads quickly around the establishment and Seung Po wakes up to find streams of female servants rushing to witness the exciting event of Min Seo’s bath. Meanwhile, poor unsuspecting Min Seo is puzzled to see no one around despite feeling eyes upon him as he disrobes – unbeknownst to him, the women are scattered in various hiding spots: earthenware jars, rooftops overlooking the well, that sort of thing. Pfft.
The ladies are so busy ogling Min Seo’s bare torso that they completely fail to register Seung Po’s presence behind them at first, until he asks: “Should I take off his pants, too?” And then they run off screaming, though one stops to cop a quick feel of Min Seo’s abs before hustling. LOL. Seung Po continues teasing Min Seo as he quickly dresses, calling him mean for not giving the ladies what they want. I know, right?
Pan Swe walks up then to ask what Seung Po would like for breakfast, only to be told that he really now belongs to Dal Hyang after all – his protests that Dal Hyang’s room is even smaller than Seung Po’s bathroom falls on deaf ears as the latter hauls him straight back to his new owner, heh.
Dal Hyang’s startled to have Seung Po drop in unannounced with Pan Swe in tow and even more surprised when Seung Po tells him not to refuse a gift made out of friendship – guess someone (cough, Pan Swe, cough) has been twisting the story a little in front of his former master.
The topic moves to Dal Hyang’s place of appointment; he’s been assigned to the envoys’ residence instead of the training camp for new recruits, a fact which is unusual enough to prompt Seung Po’s speculation that someone higher up has been pulling strings. Dal Hyang remembers the prince’s instruction that the matter is to remain secret, though, and hurriedly feigns ignorance. Unfortunately, his ability to lie is about on par with the princess’ and Seung Po squints suspiciously at him, but Dal Hyang manages to divert the latter’s attention with a question about the prince – what kind of a person is he?
Seung Po whispers dramatically in a show of confidentiality: “A psycho.” He adds that it would only give him a headache to try to understand the inner workings of the prince’s mind; it has a crazy sort of charm, but he nonetheless feels sorry for the princess for being married to such a man. He notes with amused satisfaction that Dal Hyang’s perturbed at the news. Seung Po, you shit-stirrer.
Back in Kangwondo, a messenger arrives bearing news that leaves Dal Hyang’s parents flabbergasted and then choking with sobs – Dal Hyang has passed the civil service exam and is now a military officer. The messenger also brought a gift of rice and informs them that the village will be celebrating Dal Hyang’s achievement with a feast; it’s been a hundred years since anyone from their village has had someone pass the exam.
As his parents weep in joy back home, Dal Hyang’s voice narrates a letter where he informs them not only that he has passed the exam and received his badge, but also that he now has a servant and will begin work on the job as a trainee officer that day.
We see him putting on his uniform as he readies himself for his first day, though the admitted priority here is his Sexy Back (first Min Seo’s bare torso and now Dal Hyang’s? tvN, you’re spoiling me). His letter ends with a promise to his parents that he’ll do his best to answer the question that Minister Choi had posed to him on how he’d protect the nation.
That brings us back to where Dal Hyang found himself at the end of Episode 3 – at the city gates, receiving the Manchu envoy delegation led by General Ingguldai. The screen of the carriage is pulled back by the occupant, whom Dal Hyang is shocked to recognize as Mi Ryung. Meanwhile, Ingguldai exchanges tense greetings with a group of Joseon officials.
The situation is equally tense at the palace, where an increasingly agitated King Injo trembles as he listens to the loud entreaties of the ministers gathered outside the throne room; they’re begging him not to greet the enemy but to instead behead Ingguldai as a show of rebellion against the Manchu emperor’s demand for Joseon to accede to their authority and become a subordinate state. The court is split into two major factions – one side believing that Joseon must resist the Manchu (later to become the Qing after they defeat the Ming) by first dealing with Ingguldai, while the other side believes that Joseon cannot afford to alienate the Qing, who clearly have the upper hand against the weakening Ming forces.
Crown Prince Sohyeon and Choi Myung Gil belong to the latter group and Minister Choi counters that their priority is to prevent a war that would devastate the nation – better to meet the Manchu envoys first and then decide how to proceed afterwards. King Injo, clearly unable to handle the growing pressure on him to take decisive action, is convinced by that argument and agrees to hear out Ingguldai. The other side is pushing their limits, however: Ingguldai refuses to travel to the palace and instead demands that the king go in person to meet him at the envoys’ residence. The faction opposed to the Manchus explode in righteous indignation and the fuss pushes the already-stressed King Injo to the breaking point – he orders a temporary halt to the proceedings and has the prince stay behind.
Alone in the throne room, the king is accusing as he asks his son why he hadn’t spoken up earlier. But Sohyeon surprises him by stating bluntly that it is difficult to side with either option when the best that they can do is to avoid the worst. When he adds quietly that he understands the difficulty his father is going, the king breaks down in wracking sobs, raging and ranting in frustration at the predicament he’s in and his lack of support from the ministers. Injo works himself up into a paranoid frenzy, fixating on the ministers as enemies who will not hesitate to replace him with a new royal candidate the way they had ousted Gwanghaegun before him.
Sohyeon urges him to approach the matter rationally; their concern is not the ministers, but what choice would be best for Joseon as the Ming dynasty’s power wanes. His calm words are enough to pacify King Injo, who weeps that his son is more patient than he: “If you were in my place, the country might be better off.” Pulling himself together, Injo decides that he’ll agree to meet Ingguldai at the envoys’ residence. The hasty split decision isn’t what Sohyeon expected, though, but his advice for caution is waved aside. It worries Sohyeon, and that definitely worries me.
Ingguldai is surprised to hear that the king has agreed so quickly, since the Joseon side should be justifiably angry; he is more suspicious than overjoyed at the news. Once he leaves the room, a figure slips out from behind a folding screen – it’s Dal Hyang, doing a bit of eavesdropping.
Looking through the general’s papers on the desk, he picks up the journal where Ingguldai had described the message he’d received from Kim Ja Jeom, his meeting with Mi Ryung (who had introduced herself to him as Hyang Sun) and No Soo, and the untimely interruption of Dal Hyang and the prince. Ingguldai was convinced that the latter was a trap and had thus sent Mi Ryung to the Bangbangui to scout out the situation – which explains why she was there – and has also brought her with him to the envoys’ residence, disguised as the mistress of a member of the entourage.
Dal Hyang decides to go straight for the face-to-face confrontation (she’d recognized him earlier anyway) and seeks out her room in the compound. Mi Ryung is evidently equally uninterested in beating about the bush and invites him into her room readily, where he catches a glimpse of a scar on her shoulder before she fully emerges from behind the screen.
…And then he quickly turns right back around again because she’s wearing nothing but her underskirts, heh. When Mi Ryung steps closer, questioning him on the mission he’d been assigned by the prince, he coughs uncomfortably and asks her to put some clothes on before they talk. It draws a quick laugh out of her, but she complies and moves away.
Dal Hyang glances back at the letter that he’d spotted sitting on Mi Ryung’s desk earlier and notes with alarm that the contents are familiar – it’s Yoon Seo’s old promise letter to him. At the same time, the princess is turning her room upside down in a panicked search for the very letter. When her worried maid asks her what she’s looking for, Yoon Seo can only mumble regretfully to herself that she should have burned it.
Trembling at the sudden realization that Yoon Seo had not burned the letter after all, Dal Hyang is so distracted that he fails to notice Mi Ryung stepping up behind him until she’d stuck a needle into his neck. Oh, crap. He tries to draw his sword, but already the poison is spreading through his system and he ends up slumping helplessly to the floor, his eyes fixed dully on her face.
Mi Ryung smirks, revealing that she’d found the letter when she was investigating the princess and had decided to copy down the fascinating contents; who knew when it’d be useful? She tut-tuts mockingly that Dal Hyang is just like her, believing that Yoon Seo’s heart would stay the same. She likes him and pities him as a fellow sufferer, she assures – he won’t die from the poison she’s given him. And she has some parting advice: “There is no need to be loyal to the crown prince. He is not a person for whom it is worth putting your life on the line.”
As she picks up a tray of tea in her disguise as a court lady, she adds that he would do well to remember the feeling of poison running through his body and inform the prince, because the prince will be next. Then she leaves to join the other court ladies, leaving Dal Hyang lying on the floor, unable to move.
When Dal Hyang gradually regains control of his body some time afterwards, he sits up and then reels back in shock to find a dead court lady lying on the ground near him – she’s been poisoned with the same needle to the neck and her clothes taken by Mi Ryung for her disguise. He removes the needle and carefully wraps it in a torn piece of her petticoats, which he then tucks into his robes for safekeeping.
He’s about to pick up the copy of Yoon Seo’s letter still lying on the desk when Ingguldai’s right-hand man knocks at the door. Bad timing, that. Dal Hyang rushes to the window… which shows a looooong drop to tree cover that obscures the ground from view. He takes his chance anyway, and just in time. The soldier enters and examines the open window suspiciously, but the discovery of the court lady’s dead body distracts him.
The news that Mi Ryung had escaped is instantly brought to Ingguldai, who is busy presiding over the preparations for the arrival of King Injo’s party.
Commoners bow as King Injo’s procession makes its way through the streets, but they mutter amongst themselves in disapproval over the king’s decision to meet their enemies and snatches of their whispered conversations can be heard from the king’s palanquin. One old man is bold enough to prostrate himself in the path of the procession, begging the king not to betray the people of Joseon who had lost their lives in battle against the Manchus – all three of his sons had perished in the First Manchu Invasion, but he had been proud that they had fought Joseon’s enemies. But now the king is going to meet those enemies: “Are you not afraid of Heaven?”
The man is dragged off, but the subsequent wailing of the surrounding commoners wears on the already frail nerves of the king and the perceptive Sohyeon has Seung Po check on him. The king puts on an outward veneer of calm, though, and orders them to let down the curtains around his palanquin so that they can continue on their way.
Only in their dark confines does he start to sweat and shake uncontrollably, the words of the old man haunting him. He begins to hallucinate that splatters of blood from people who’d died in the previous war now cover his face and hands, even as he looks up in panic to find ghostly spectres surrounding him, their glares accusing and their imagined condemnations ringing loud in his ears. At the height of his nightmare, the vision of Ingguldai shooting an arrow straight into his chest returns once again and Injo jerks back from the impact as the shot pierces his heart…
…But then the dark curtains boxing him in are lifted, returning him to reality. The procession has arrived at the envoys’ residence.
Staring at the body of the dead Joseon court lady lying sprawled in Mi Ryung’s room, Ingguldai orders his right-hand man to remove it before it is seen and causes further problems with the king’s arrival. He checks the window, but his officer comments that the jump is too high for a woman to make and the subsequent news that the king and the prince are waiting outside draws Ingguldai away. Clearly Dal Hyang still has some luck on his side.
Dal Hyang must also be part cat with nine lives, because we see him slowly coming around from where he’d been lying unconscious on the floor of the forest – not only had he survived the massive fall, but he’d also escaped without apparent injury. He sighs as he sits up gingerly, though he probably shouldn’t have too many complaints considering he’s retained his general good health after that jump.
The Manchu officials welcome King Injo politely, but the king brushes their greetings aside and stuns everyone by announcing that he will not accept the Manchus’ demand for Joseon to become a vassal state – he’ll have Ingguldai beheaded and thus protect Joseon. Uh oh.
Everything descends into chaos rather quickly at that point, with soldiers drawing swords on the Manchu and open fighting breaking out after Injo orders for Ingguldai to be arrested immediately. The king turns to Sohyeon and declares that they should leave, though the prince is still rooted to his spot in shock and dismay at his father’s disastrous 180 degree reversal.
Ingguldai and his right-hand man are returning from Mi Ryung’s quarters when they hear the ruckus and are informed by his men that the king has ordered his execution. At his soldiers’ urging, Ingguldai escapes while they distracted the Joseon forces – he stops to gather up his journal and papers before literally punching his way through anyone who arrives to stop him. It’s interesting that he makes no move to draw his sword.
Outside, the superior Joseon forces have easily subdued the Manchu envoys, who’re outraged but forced to kneel at swordpoint. Extremely troubled by this turn of events, Sohyeon tries to reason with his father (who’s sitting in his palanquin, scared and shaking in a disturbingly child-like manner) that the order to kill Ingguldai will only mean a disastrous war for Joseon. But the king’s nerve has completely broken and he weeps that he’s finally been able to give the order that he’d only dreamt of giving for nine years – it’s too late to retract it now. The king’s palanquin departs, leaving Sohyeon to deal with the aftermath.
Chased through the envoys’ residence and finding himself cornered, Ingguldai chooses the same route that Dal Hyang had taken earlier – he leaps through a window to the forest below. And wouldn’t ya know it – he almost lands right on top of Dal Hyang, who was walking by. Dal Hyang finds himself executing yet another hasty somersault as he dives out of the way of the falling Ingguldai, and although both are back on their feet quickly enough to draw their swords, it’s hard to say who’s more surprised at the sight of the other.
The sound of Joseon soldiers yelling for his capture has Ingguldai running deeper into the forest, while Dal Hyang pauses long enough to overhear that the king has ordered for the Manchu general’s capture and execution.
So he takes off after Ingguldai, eventually cutting him off and forcing him back at swordpoint – complaining all the while that he’s been poisoned by a girl on his first day on the job and now finds himself in this predicament, LOL. Nevertheless, Dal Hyang determines that “…he said the king’s order comes first.” Oh dear, he’s referring to his earlier conversation with the prince. And thus Dal Hyang charges forward to begin his fight with Ingguldai.
At the same time, Sohyeon is briefing Seung Po and Min Seo on their undercover mission – they have to locate Ingguldai before everyone else does and protect him instead. They certainly can’t let his head be sent back to the Manchus.
Dear oh dear. Things have certainly gone pear-shaped rather quickly for our brave band of brothers, which may be terrible for Joseon and Dal Hyang’s career longevity, but great for us – The Three Musketeers continues to deliver the perfect blend of fast-paced action and a narrative solidly rooted in a historical period rife with conflict. And “fast-paced” is the key here; considering the number of background events that we have to cover in the struggle against the Manchu threat, the story continues to progress quickly with an amazing amount of ground covered just within this episode. And throughout these events, we delve deeper into the complicated characters and their relationships, of which one of the most fascinating is King Injo and Crown Prince Sohyeon’s father-son bond.
History is a sageuk drama’s greatest spoiler and it’s certainly no different here – knowing how tragically fractured the father-son relationship becomes later makes the current deep bond between them even harder to watch. Gah, I’m dreading what will come already. Both actors are imbuing their characters with so much pathos and internal conflict; Sohyeon’s concern as he watches his weak-minded father succumb further and further to fear and paranoia is painfully apparent despite remaining largely unvoiced, while Injo’s terror at his ineffectiveness in the face of Manchu pressure is so palpable that viewers’ frustration at his cowardice is replaced by sympathy. The touching scene where Injo acknowledges that his son is more suited to be king than he is underlines what viewers must have been thinking – as Yeon Ahm had mused at the very outset of the drama, what would Joseon have been like if the wise and level-headed Sohyeon had been its king instead?
It also begs the question of how the drama will interpret the gradual shift from the king’s faith in his son to deepening mistrust. With his deep-set insecurities, it will only take a little push to send Injo right over the edge and drive a wedge between him and Sohyeon – I can’t imagine Kim Ja Jeom’s knowledge that Sohyeon is conducting secret late-night investigations unbeknownst to the king would come across very well if he chose to twist the story to his advantage, for one.
Sohyeon himself is truly an enigma – he’s utterly unpredictable with his mood fluctuations and his half-joking tone (regardless of the situation’s seriousness) only serves to make the random flashes of cunning shrewdness even more puzzling. Which is the real Sohyeon? Is the affable prince who jokes around with his two bodyguards just a carefully maintained façade? The pressures of being thrust into royalty and the problems their elevated positions entailed had obviously affected both Sohyeon and his father, but they’ve reacted in different ways. While the king’s nerves are at their breaking point and he’s been driven to emotional extremes, Sohyeon has locked away his thoughts and emotions to the point where even his closest friends admit to not knowing what goes on in his head. In his own way, Sohyeon is just as dangerously unpredictable as the king.
The difference, however, is that the prince has gathered around him a small group of supporters who can help him achieve his goals for the nation and keep him grounded at the same time: Seung Po, Min Seo, Minister Choi, and perhaps now Dal Hyang. (And certainly Yoon Seo as well, if he would ever let her get past his barriers.) It all comes back to the question of trust, which Sohyeon outlined at the beginning of this episode – a ruler is not in a position where he can so easily trust those around him, but excessive mistrust is just as potentially destructive. Just look at Injo, who sees enemies lurking around every corner.
And nowhere is this necessity for trust more clearly played out than in the relationship between Dal Hyang and Sohyeon at the moment – Sohyeon needs proof of whether Dal Hyang can be trusted and seeks to test his loyalty, while Dal Hyang feels just as keenly the need to understand Sohyeon’s motivations. The prince’s reprimand might have reminded Dal Hyang that he cannot demand the same of Sohyeon as the latter had demanded of him, but that does not mean that Dal Hyang’s trust does not need to be won. Dal Hyang is simple, earnest and naïve – the sort of character who’s loyal to a fault – but he’s definitely not stupid. So far, he’s still convinced that following Sohyeon’s orders faithfully is the right thing to do, but with Seung Po’s shit-stirring ways, Yoon Seo’s presence and Mi Ryung sowing seeds of discord, one can only wonder when this niggling problem of trust (or mistrust) will finally come to a head. Judging from the Episode 5 preview, quite soon, I’d imagine.
The course of true
love bromance never did run smooth, however, and I find this far more interesting a development than if the prince had welcomed Dal Hyang into the fold just as quickly as Seung Po, Min Seo and even Minister Choi did. They will have to learn to iron out that misunderstanding and work together, and when they do, it’ll be an even more exciting partnership to watch.