Gah, Dal Hyang. I don’t know whether to admire his sheer guts in daring to challenge someone so far above him in status or strangle him for making a move that could only lead to more bad luck for him (and his luck has really been astoundingly bad so far). The tug-o-war between Dal Hyang’s loyalty towards prince or nation finally reaches its peak, but with so many secrets floating around the palace and the game of politics complicating everything, the denouement is anything but simple. Worse, both our intrepid hero and the prince come down with a bad case of jealousy, and with swords within easy reach, one can imagine where this goes. To describe the result as mere bad life choices would probably be the understatement of the year.
EPISODE 05 – “A Duel”
Dal Hyang has Ingguldai cornered at swordpoint, forcing him to fight his way through. In a fight rather reminiscent of the one with No Soo at the gisaeng house, Dal Hyang finds himself clearly outmatched by Ingguldai in strength and skill – he’s on the back foot throughout and has to scramble out of the reach of his opponent’s flashing blade several times. Once again it’s his resourcefulness that saves him; he makes good use of the fallen bamboo surrounding them as a distraction, thus keeping himself in the fight – barely.
His luck almost runs out when Ingguldai throws a bamboo stalk like a javelin and pins his clothes to the ground, but two soldiers stumble on the scene then and Ingguldai runs off. Freeing himself quickly, Dal Hyang sends one of them back to inform the rest of the searchers while he and the other soldier continue their pursuit.
Back in Mi Ryung’s abandoned room, one of Crown Prince Sohyeon’s men assures him that Ingguldai will definitely be caught with everyone looking for him. Sohyeon mutters: “That’s the problem.”
Ingguldai flees across the open terrain, but there’s nowhere to hide with the persistent Dal Hyang remaining close on his heels. A passing lady on horseback offers the perfect route of escape though, and Dal Hyang watches in horror as the general cuts down the woman and her attendants in his bid for the horse.
That’s too much for Dal Hyang to stomach and he confirms with the soldier that the king’s orders allows for Ingguldai to be captured dead or alive before grabbing the musket and taking aim. With Ingguldai delayed while he attempts to free the dead lady’s foot from the stirrup and Dal Hyang waiting while the match cord seemingly takes a lifetime to ignite, it’s a race against time – which Dal Hyang appears to win.
Everyone at the envoys’ residence hears the gunshot, including the alarmed crown prince. King Injo, still jumpy and uneasy, quickly asks his attendants to confirm whether Ingguldai’s dead.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), Dal Hyang’s shot is off and it strikes a nearby tree instead. Puzzled, he looks down the barrel of the musket to find that a projectile was the cause of his miss, and another projectile takes out first the soldier and then Dal Hyang himself with blows to the head.
The one who’d thrown it is none other than Min Seo, who reins in his horse and watches as Ingguldai escapes, now with Seung Po in hot pursuit. But Dal Hyang appears to have a harder head than we’d thought – he attempts to rise, and Min Seo is obliged to hit him on the head a second time. Min Seo does feel bad about having to cosh Dal Hyang in order to maintain his cover, though, and dabs at Dal Hyang’s forehead wound with a kerchief.
It’s not long before Seung Po’s mount catches up to Ingguldai’s and Seung Po takes aim with bow and arrow… and then shoots. We don’t see what he shot at or whether he lands a hit, but logic would suggest that he just took down the horse, right?
The crown prince’s eunuch heads quietly in the direction of the throne room, where the ministers are giving the king another headache with their vociferous protests that Ingguldai has yet to be captured. Minister Choi attempts to counsel caution in this worst case scenario – regardless of whether they capture and behead Ingguldai or whether he escapes and informs the Manchu emperor of what has transpired, war is inevitable. His advice that the envoy team should be released and Ingguldai captured alive (not killed) in order to salvage the situation is met with furious dissent from the opposition.
While the ministers argue, the eunuch slips the crown prince a secret message from Seung Po.
Dal Hyang opens his eyes to find himself back in his own room with a worried Pan Swe tending to him. He’s disappointed to hear that Ingguldai hasn’t been caught, but then flashes back to the projectile that had sent his shot wide and realizes that Ingguldai has an ally. Who could it be?
Pan Swe curiously holds up the needle he’d found wrapped up in Dal Hyang’s garments and Dal Hyang’s in such a hurry to knock it out of his servant’s hand that the tip snaps off when it falls to the ground – it’s the poisoned needle that Mi Ryung had used on the court lady. (Hmm, that shouldn’t affect the evidence, right?)
Troubled over the missing letter, Yoon Seo hurries to intercept the prince that night when she’s informed that he’s on his way to the military office. In fact, she’s in such a rush to speak to him that she ends up tripping over her hanbok… and tumbles straight into his waiting arms. Hee. Her attendants turn around tactfully, and Sohyeon whispers slyly to Yoon Seo that they’ll think the talisman (to encourage the birth of a royal heir) is really effective if she keeps falling like this. LOL.
Yoon Seo cites clumsiness and then hesitantly admits that she’d been waiting all day to speak to him about something. Sohyeon waits patiently as she finally manages to stammer that she’d made a mistake, but she loses her nerve at the last moment: “Actually… it’s nothing.” Oh, Yoon Seo. Amused at her totally ineffective attempts at lying, Sohyeon reminds her that she’d waited all day to speak to him, but she insists that it’s really nothing and asks him to pretend that nothing happened before scurrying off. Pfft.
Yoon Seo heads back to her rooms with her shoulders slumped in defeat, but straightens in shock when she spots Dal Hyang asking permission to speak to the prince. Dal Hyang’s no less surprised when he turns around to see her, but can only reply that he needs to speak to the prince on an urgent matter, the details of which he cannot reveal, when she asks to know why he’s there. She’s turning away in a mixture of irritation and unease when he adds: “By chance… did you lose the letter?”
After returning to her quarters, a thoroughly flustered Yoon Seo asks her attendant to summon Park Dal Hyang to see her. Concealed from Dal Hyang’s sight by a screen (strict Confucian beliefs regarding gender segregation forbids face-to-face contact between men and women), Yoon Seo demands to know how Dal Hyang knew about the loss of the letter – was he responsible? Ouch.
Dal Hyang calmly replies no – but he knows who took the letter, though he yet again cannot reveal the details. He can only warn her to be careful, since it will certainly be used against her, and to observe her own staff; a spy on the inside was responsible for the leak. After a pause, he adds: “Why… why didn’t you burn that letter?”
Yoon Seo barely keeps her emotions in check when she warns him that there was no reason other than nostalgia for her youth, and Dal Hyang has to swallow his own rush of emotion in response. When she offers no reply to his entreaties that she must uncover the spy for her safety, he grows concerned – and then he catches a reflection of her crying face. Taking a huge risk in ignoring the rules of propriety, he steps beyond the screen and pays no heed to her outraged protests, asking gently, “Why are you crying?”
Yoon Seo takes in the sincere concern in his eyes for a moment before tears stream down her face, admitting: “I hate it here.” There is no one she can trust, with secrets everywhere and walls enclosing her on all sides. She scoffs bitterly when Dal Hyang asks whether she’s being loved: “Love? What is that?”
Poor Yoon Seo – even at this time, she weeps in helpless frustration that her family and Dal Hyang will suffer if her stupidity results in her being banished from the palace. Dal Hyang assures her that he will take care of things outside the palace – all she should worry about is uprooting the spy. “Trust me.” They regard each other silently for a moment, but the silence is shattered by the sound of the attendant greeting the prince. Oh crap, this is not good.
The attendant’s unease raises Sohyeon’s suspicions and entering to find a flustered (but apparently alone) princess doesn’t help. He notes that she’d been crying and ignores her empty denials as he strides past her to the folding screen, wondering aloud how serious her mistake could have been to make her cry – could it have been something like… bringing a man into her room? And then he whips the folding screen back to reveal Dal Hyang, pressed against the window. Bugger.
Sohyeon’s bland tone does nothing to mask his irritation as he concludes that this proves that his reservations about Dal Hyang were correct. He turns on Yoon Seo, accusing her of not being grateful when he showed her mercy over the letter last time and instead complaining about his lack of jealousy. This time, he’ll act like a husband as she had wished.
Trembling, Yoon Seo finally admits the truth – the letter has been stolen, but she was too scared to admit it. It was her fault, she adds – Dal Hyang had only come to tell her about it.
When Sohyeon asks who had stolen the letter, Dal Hyang answers for her: “It is the woman whom your highness was looking for.” The stress he laid on “the woman” has the desired effect; Sohyeon freezes, and Dal Hyang adds that he only hid because he didn’t want to cause the princess any further trouble. Nothing else happened.
Ignoring the princess, who’d ask who “the woman” is, Sohyeon stares at Dal Hyang for a long moment before ordering him to follow him out. Dal Hyang follows, but only after assuring Yoon Seo that the prince will not pursue the matter further because he is responsible for it. Uh, I’m pretty sure that leaves the princess with more questions than a feeling of reassurance, Dal Hyang. Just sayin’.
In the privacy of his quarters, Sohyeon orders Dal Hyang to tell him everything. Dal Hyang obliges, briefly sketching out what we know already – Mi Ryung had used the name of Hyang Sun and was smuggled into the envoys’ residence by Ingguldai, but escaped afterwards. She had anticipated the crown prince’s interest and knew everything about Dal Hyang, the princess and the letter, but his attempt to capture her was thwarted and she’d used a poisoned needle on him and killed a court lady by the same method.
Dal Hyang also passes on Mi Ryung’s message that he should remember the feeling of poison spreading through his body, because the crown prince will be next. But he holds back from revealing Mi Ryung’s warning that the prince is not worth his loyalty, revealing instead that Mi Ryung was copying the princess’ letter and definitely had something planned. That’s when he finally asks – what happened five years ago? He cannot continue without knowing more, particularly when Yoon Seo’s safety is on the line.
Sohyeon informs him pointedly that he’ll take care of the princess, but Dal Hyang replies that the letter is his, and therefore the fault is his as well. That sounds an awful lot like he’s claiming not just the letter but responsibility for the princess and Sohyeon draws the line there: “I won’t tolerate it anymore.” In the future, Dal Hyang must obey his orders implicitly… or choose not to. Despite having sent Dal Hyang away with the words that he had more urgent concerns than Mi Ryung, though, Sohyeon orders his eunuch to quietly investigate the princess’ servants and their families for potential spies and report the findings to him.
Yoon Seo is still pacing anxiously in her quarters when Sohyeon arrives and she immediately stammers out her apology that she had kept the letter, but Sohyeon waves that off: “It’s my fault. You don’t have to apologize.” He doesn’t answer when she asks why, but attempts to assuage her worries by telling her to trust him; he’s on her side if any problems arise as a result. Awww.
But then he turns back to her and asks, “Did Park Dal Hyang say the same thing?” To trust him and not to worry? We know by now that Yoon Seo can’t lie at all and her expression basically confirms it. Sohyeon walks out, shakes his head at Dal Hyang’s nerve.
Dal Hyang walks right into Seung Po and Min Seo outside and there’s an uncomfortable moment where the two musketeers struggle to react naturally at their first meeting with him after the coshing. (Clearly they’re about as good at keeping secrets as the princess, hah.) Seung Po eases past the awkwardness by making cracks about him coming to the palace because of his secret love for the princess, which makes Dal Hyang intensely uncomfortable.
Dal Hyang initially thinks nothing of it when he picks up the bloodied handkerchief that Min Seo had dropped on the ground when they’d collided, but Min Seo’s highly suspicious show of nonchalance even as he makes a quick grab for it sets off alarm bells in his head.
A bound, gagged and blindfolded Ingguldai is quietly smuggled into a dark room… where the crown prince awaits. He’s stunned and apprehensive as Sohyeon greets him politely in Manchu with apologies for the rough treatment, but recovers his composure enough to bow warily to the prince after Min Seo and Seung Po removes his bonds and returns his sword to him.
At Ingguldai’s query, Sohyeon replies with loaded meaning that he’d been studying the language for a while now, knowing that learning Manchu would be more important than the language of the Ming. He adds that having a Joseon prince fluent in Manchu would only mean disaster for him when his nation is officially allied to the Ming – he’s revealed his biggest weakness to Ingguldai as a show of faith.
Sohyeon continues to explain: “I kidnapped you in order to protect you. If you seek an ally in Joseon, I’m better than Kim Ja Jeom.” He doesn’t want an unnecessary war and believes that the general is of the same mind.
Ingguldai finally relaxes enough to examine his surroundings, but Sohyeon has another shock for him in store when he asks where he is – he’s been brought to the Sigangwon, the Office of Education of the Crown Prince, which means he’s right inside the palace. It’s a logical idea; with the search intensifying outside for an escaping general, who would think to search the palace?
We flash back to what had occurred after Seung Po’s note was passed to Sohyeon. Min Seo and Seung Po travelled to the mountains with a shrouded palanquin that night, claiming that the prince was frustrated at the lack of progress in the search for Ingguldai and had come in person to survey the surroundings. Ingguldai had been quietly smuggled into the palanquin and Sohyeon himself had ridden along inside in order to fool the soldiers.
Having won at least an iota of Ingguldai’s trust with his show of faith, Sohyeon invites the general to sit down so that they can converse more comfortably and Ingguldai complies.
Min Seo and Seung Po are guarding the Sigangwon when they sense someone’s approach – it’s Dal Hyang. Direct as always, he cuts to the chase and states bluntly that he suspects they’d intervened when he tried to kill Ingguldai; he’d felt someone dab at his wound before he’d lost consciousness and Min Seo’s bloodied handkerchief is too much of a coincidence.
Seung Po tries to brush it off, but Dal Hyang points out that the prince travelling to the mountains at night is even more suspicious, particularly when he then finds the prince’s two bodyguards guarding a dark library afterwards. Dal Hyang wants to check for himself whether Ingguldai is inside.
Seung Po and Min Seo step in to bar his way, indirectly confirming Dal Hyang’s suspicions when they try to convey how urgent it is for the crown prince to hold his conversation with the general. Dal Hyang’s full of righteous outrage that they’ve disobeyed the king’s direct orders to kill the criminal by harbouring him instead – he remains stiffly unmoved even when Seung Po suggests lightly that they all guard together since they’re friends on the same team anyway. (That’s right, Dal Hyang, they’re your mates! Listen to them!)
Even Seung Po’s attempt to convince him that the rule-bending is for the good of the nation fails to convince Dal Hyang, who believes the matter is a simple case of right vs. wrong – they’ve disobeyed the king’s orders and thus committed treason, which means they’re in the wrong. He draws his sword, prepared to fight his way past them, and the musketeers know he’s beyond persuasion when he points the blade at Seung Po. No, Dal Hyang, noooo.
As Sohyeon had suspected, Ingguldai wants war as little as he does – in fact, the general’s firmly opposed to the Manchu emperor’s idea of invading Joseon. All he wants is proper treatment and a reply to the emperor on the issue of Joseon’s transition to a subordinate state.
The sound of blade on blade draws Sohyeon outside, where he finds Dal Hyang fighting both Seung Po and Min Seo – though it’s worth noting that Dal Hyang’s using the blunted inside edge of his sword and the two musketeers remain on the defensive, making no move to attack. Sohyeon takes it in for a moment before calling a halt.
All three men sheathe their swords and Dal Hyang gives the prince a curt bow, but states plainly that he’s obeying the king’s orders and must check the library for Ingguldai. Then he forges ahead, even at repeated commands from Sohyeon to stop. The prince’s eyes widen at Dal Hyang’s next words: “The king’s order comes before yours, as you have told me.” If the prince does not step aside, Dal Hyang will be obliged to call the authorities.
That’s tantamount to a threat and Sohyeon says as much – does Dal Hyang intend to attack him if he refuses to cooperate? Dal Hyang remains steadfast; if the prince disobeys the king’s order, then he will do as he must.
Sohyeon takes off his gat, tossing it to the ground and drawing his sword – oh boy, the gauntlet’s been thrown. “How arrogant; you’re not carrying out the king’s order, but defying me.” Dal Hyang insists that he’s merely obeying the king as a subordinate, but Sohyeon accuses him of using orders as a childish excuse to lash out in jealousy, having lost Yoon Seo to him. That’s a bit of a low blow, but Dal Hyang’s visible anger suggests that there’s an element of truth to it and the prince takes that as confirmation.
And so Sohyeon lays out the stakes: If Dal Hyang wins, he’ll hand over the general. If Dal Hyang loses, he will withdraw all the generosity he’d previously shown him and his passing of the military exam will also be rescinded – he’ll be sent packing home. Dal Hyang refuses to fight him, and then has the audacity to add that no matter how good a fighter Sohyeon might be, he’s at a disadvantage as someone who isn’t a professional soldier. Ooooh.
With his sword at Dal Hyang’s throat, Sohyeon orders Min Seo and Seung Po to stand down when they try to intervene. When the next strike comes, Dal Hyang is forced to respond in kind, and Sohyeon comments with some satisfaction that he’s finally revealing his true intentions. Both men toss aside their sword sheaths – it’s a challenge accepted.
Seung Po rolls his eyes heavenward: “This is crazy.” HA. My sentiments exactly.
The fight begins, but Dal Hyang hesitates when he glimpses blood on Sohyeon’s sleeve – the wound he’d received from No Soo has yet to heal. The prince takes advantage of his momentary distraction to strike, giving Dal Hyang a matching slash on the arm. Seeing that the prince is truly serious about this, Seung Po tries to convince him to stop – his bodyguards are obliged to fight protect him if this continues, but they clearly don’t want Dal Hyang dead.
Dal Hyang quietly reverses his blade again before he and the prince makes another strike… and they barely halt in time as Yoon Seo steps right into the middle of their flashing swords. She shouts for them to stop and turns first to glare with tear-filled eyes at Dal Hyang and then the prince.
Boy oh boy, have we got a kicker here. Who would have expected the simmering tension between Dal Hyang and Sohyeon to escalate to this point and so quickly? Yet that’s one of the greatest highlights of this drama so far – just like Dal Hyang’s personality, the writer prefers to jump straight into the heart of the matter without unnecessary dawdling. As much as I cringed at the latest turn of events (nooo, my bromance, give it baaaack), I’d much rather the boys get the size comparisons out of the way right now rather than having it crop up again further down the line when they officially form a team.
This episode also drew us back to the characters at the heart of the drama, after the previous episode focused on advancing the political and historical backdrop. That balance is the second highlight of The Three Musketeers – with such an intriguing period of history as a setting and so much potential for simple action fun, it nonetheless never forgets that it’s the character growth that really drives the story. With every episode, the characters are challenged, their abilities stretched and forced to confront both external and interpersonal conflicts. Even better, the stakes are so great that they have to grow and adapt in order to survive, and that makes our investment in these characters that much greater.
The battle between the prince and Dal Hyang is incredibly frustrating to watch, as I’d mentioned previously, and part of me wants it over and done with. And yet, as much as I’m tempted to strangle them for behaving this way over girl problems, their hostility is clearly more complex than that – it’s interwoven with issues of mutual trust and warring beliefs in a murky political quagmire. What’s more interesting about this rather immature turn by Sohyeon is that we’re finally seeing that he might be capable of normal, even childish human emotion now that he’s been provoked into dropping the joking front.
Now that we’re almost at the halfway mark, it’s also worth taking a closer look at some of the actors’ performances so far. The main cast has been great across the board (and I can rave forever about Yang Dong Geun’s comedic timing), but Jung Yong Hwa and Seo Hyun Jin have been the biggest standouts for me so far. For all the criticisms that have followed him doggedly throughout his acting career, Yong Hwa showed significant improvement in his previous drama, Mi Rae’s Choice, and with his performance as Dal Hyang in The Three Musketeers, I think it’s high time that he receives acknowledgement as an actor. That’s not to say that it’s a flawless performance, but it’s a mark of how well he’s succeeded in immersing himself in his character that I never see “CNBLUE Yong Hwa” in his scenes, but Dal Hyang. (I’ve even referred to him as Dal Hyang by accident in conversation once or twice when I’d actually meant Yong Hwa, which goes to show how much of an impression he’s making). His scene with Seo Hyun Jin’s Yoon Seo this episode was one of my favourites – there was so much unsaid that was conveyed purely through silence and expression and the mix of aching regret and concern in Dal Hyang’s eyes wrung my heart.
Seo Hyun Jin has also been a real scene-stealer – the character of Yoon Seo could easily have been reduced to the usual bland Candy, but even with her limited screen time she’s managed to make the princess three-dimensional. As I’d mentioned previously, one moment Yoon Seo is hilariously adorable and almost child-like in her interactions with Sohyeon, and next she turns on a dime and reveals her loneliness and insecurities in all its heartbreaking simplicity. What’s even more exciting is the slight hint of steel that we’ve glimpsed in her interactions with the prince and again at the end of this episode; you get the sense that if pushed far enough, she’ll fight back. It keeps her from becoming a damsel in distress, which is definitely a bonus. She’s got a streak of free-spirited boldness to her nature that makes her particularly likeable and it’s clearly the same aspect that’s finally attracted the prince’s attention. In fact, he has a similar streak himself, which he’d mentioned to Dal Hyang, so I can see her and the prince being a great match if they finally get time to iron out all those misunderstandings. Poor Dal Hyang, though.