Our hero finally learns some bitter lessons (and equally bitter truths) in this episode – no, his luck doesn’t seem like it’ll take a turn for the better any time soon. He’s not the only one, though, because the prince is thrown his fair share of complications and finds harsh realities piled at his door. There are upsides to all this, however; we get a return of Dal Hyang’s mane of glory and some welcome bromance, about which I would never complain. Looks like I wept prematurely after the previous episode rather shook things up in that department.
EPISODE 06 – “Commander-in-chief Kim Ja Jeom”
The princess’ furious command effectively halts the battle of the rampaging male egos and, at her sharp order to protect the prince, Seung Po finally steps in to relieve Dal Hyang of his sword. More than her words, it’s her obvious and immediate concern for the prince’s safety and his injury that breaks Dal Hyang’s heart for the umpteenth time and he loses whatever fight he had in him, allowing himself to be taken away by Seung Po and Min Seo.
He’s brought bound and gagged into the library where Ingguldai is waiting and there’s a moment of startled recognition on both sides. Talk about adding insult to injury for Dal Hyang – the enemy general is free and he’s in the middle of being tied to a support beam.
Seung Po escorts Sohyeon back to his chambers and dresses his wound, commenting with gleeful satisfaction that the prince is most definitely jealous. And Sohyeon might be a wily political player, but in terms of emotions: “Jealous? Me?” Hee.
The prince scoffs at the whole notion, but Seung Po switches into relationship counsellor mode, advising that the whole shebang was set up (by him, of course) to improve the prince’s marital relations and now he should love his wife more – Seung Po’s also open to showing him how, if he wants to know. Pfft.
The princess is announced at that very moment and the prince orders the attendants to turn her away. She breezes right in anyway with a look of determination on her face… at least until she catches a glimpse of his topless state, which makes her turn away in embarrassment. LOL.
Not even that shakes her this time, though, and she pushes her way past Seung Po to tend to the prince’s wound. Seung Po’s absolutely delighted and pipes up to inform the princess that her husband’s heart is finally changing—a topic which Sohyeon has to cut off rather sharply, heh.
Minister Choi and his supporters are busy fretting over the possibility that Ingguldai might die before the king changes his mind on his order to behead the envoys when Seung Po arrives, requesting a private chat with his teacher.
They relocate to a quiet corner outside, where Seung Po admits that they’ve caused a wee bit of trouble and briefly convey the details (though I have to question the wisdom of holding such an important conversation in a random corner of the palace; haven’t they watched enough sageuk dramas to know that there are spies at every corner?). Minister Choi gives him a long look before proceeding to literally kick his ass – because there’s no handy stick lying around, pfft. And then he finally calms down… and congratulates them on a job well done. I guess now we know where the prince got his quirkiness.
Min Seo reproaches Dal Hyang for not listening to him and landing himself in this mess, but there’s little he can do other than bandage Dal Hyang’s arm wound before leaving. Trussed up like a turkey for Christmas, Dal Hyang is forced to reflect bitterly on the prince’s words – that he’d been parading his childish jealousy under the guise of righteousness – as well as the abundantly clear fact that he’s no longer the one in Yoon Seo’s heart.
Dal Hyang begins to cry, which draws Ingguldai’s notice – in a surprising show of sympathy (considering they’d previously fought with the intention to kill), the general walks over and removes Dal Hyang’s gag. But Dal Hyang’s words are hostile, noting with irony that the general who should be arrested is free, while he who’d tried to uphold the king’s orders is instead held captive for his pains. Ingguldai might not understand what he’s saying, but the antagonism is clear and he shoves the gag back into Dal Hyang’s mouth. A word of wisdom, Dal Hyang – it’s probably a bad idea to antagonize your enemy when you’re tied up and at his mercy.
Meanwhile, the princess tries to ask about Dal Hyang’s location and then the reason he’d fought with the prince, but Sohyeon’s answer is the same – that it’s none of her business. She tries again, this time asking who the mysterious woman is and adding that he can tell her if he has a mistress; she won’t be jealous. But Sohyeon’s flippant reply that he wouldn’t bother hide it if he had a mistress irritates her enough that she subconsciously tightens the bandage until he exclaims in pain. Heh.
Sohyeon calls her out on her show of jealousy and replies to her question with another question – did she treat Dal Hyang especially well for him to still hold a torch for her all these years later, or is she simply particularly attractive to men? And she sasses him right back, shrugging: “I suppose I must be.” LOL, I love her.
That makes Sohyeon laugh, commenting with insulting amusement he doesn’t know what’s so attractive about her, since he’s never seen it for himself. Yoon Seo shoots back indignantly that it’s because he’s never looked, but she ends up flustered when the prince replies that she should show him what’s so attractive about her then. Ah, Yoon Seo, you can’t beat the expert at his own game.
She hurriedly draws the topic back to her original question and Sohyeon notes, smiling, that she’s tougher now and won’t let her questions be deterred. Turning serious, he reiterates that he cannot tell her who the woman is, because it’s for her own safety that she doesn’t know.
Before he leaves, though, Sohyeon is thoughtful enough to ask Yoon Seo for her opinion on the best way to handle the Dal Hyang problem in a way that would make her comfortable. Her eyes distant, she replies quietly that she wants Dal Hyang kept away from them so that he and the prince’s paths will no longer cross – she wants him to be allowed to pursue what he wishes, but away from the palace.
The prince heads to the library to continue his important discussion with Ingguldai, but the two warm up with a little light gossip about Dal Hyang first – what he’s done to get himself trussed up like a Christmas turkey, the prince’s acknowledgement of his skills as a factor in considering whether to induct him into the musketeer team, and so on. Both the general and Sohyeon agree that Dal Hyang’s fighting skills are pretty good, but not extraordinary (a bit of a backhanded compliment, that) and Ingguldai adds that Dal Hyang was crying “like a girl” earlier. Dal Hyang can’t understand a word, since they’re conversing in Manchu, but realizes he’s the topic of conversation and looks daggers at them.
Sohyeon asks Ingguldai for his help: “I have to defeat him if I want to tame him.” (Ergh, that is a rather despicable way to phrase it, though.) He’s injured and cannot fight well, but the general can tell him how to defeat Dal Hyang based on his knowledge of the latter’s weaknesses.
The prince strides over and cuts Dal Hyang’s bonds, offering to continue their bet and even insisting that his musketeer sidekicks place their bets. Ha, even with Sohyeon’s threat that he’d better bet on him, Seung Po decides to bet on Dal Hyang instead, thus leaving Min Seo to put money on the prince: “Even though you’ll lose.”
Sohyeon doesn’t intend to lose, though, and informs Dal Hyang that he’ll attack first if Dal Hyang doesn’t on the count of one… two…
Three. Sohyeon whips around to find Dal Hyang standing calmly his path (having magically put his hat back on as well in that short time). Slowly, Dal Hyang raises his sword… and then leaps into attack.
As they fight, Sohyeon recalls the general’s words: Dal Hyang’s personality is straightforward and unyielding, so his sword strokes are fast and true. That is also his greatest weakness, because he’s slow to grasp an opponent’s trickery.
With that in mind, everything proceeds very much as Ingguldai had advised and predicted – Sohyeon allows Dal Hyang to start strongly and believe that he holds the upper hand before staging a quick counterattack that throws him off. The focused attack on one side forces Dal Hyang to eventually leave his right side open, which creates the perfect opening for Sohyeon to finish him off. Dal Hyang ends up on the floor at swordpoint – checkmate.
Sohyeon reminds him of the terms of the bet: He’s now dismissed from his duties and will pack his bags and return home. Dal Hyang is not allowed to speak of what has transpired to anyone, not even the king, and Sohyeon adds with just a smidgeon of smugness that with his skill, Dal Hyang was lucky to survive – even if he’d won against the prince, Ingguldai would’ve been waiting.
Despite how humiliating it must be, Dal Hyang accepts his defeat like a man and bows briefly to the prince before leaving, thoroughly humbled.
Once he’s gone, Seung Po pipes up to note that there’s something fishy about the win – Sohyeon isn’t that skilled, so what’s the trick? And Min Seo asks worriedly whether the prince really intends to dismiss Dal Hyang just like that, which is cute. The prince could stand to learn a thing or two from his sidekicks about not holding grudges, that’s for sure.
The prince doesn’t answer, but instead returns to business with Ingguldai after brushing aside the general’s concern over allowing Dal Hyang to leave – Dal Hyang is a straight arrow, as he’d said, and wouldn’t turn the woman he loves into a widow.
Outside, Dal Hyang directs one last look in the direction of Yoon Seo’s quarters before he turns away.
He’s changed into civilian garb again by the time he arrives at the stables, where Pan Swe had fallen asleep waiting for him to return. Asking the servant to hold out his hand, Dal Hyang places coins in it – it’s payment for Pan Swe’s services so far, but from now on he will have to return to work at Seung Po’s estate. Dal Hyang continues to reflect: “I’ve learned my place. I don’t deserve a servant.” He’d found himself in the company of the prince and his men as soon as he’d arrived in Hanyang and had grown arrogant when they considered him their friend. The defeat has taught him humility, though the cost is that he’ll now return home with only his old horse for company.
In the library, Ingguldai is thinking over the prince’s promise to convince his father to rescind his order to execute the general and the envoy team, though he warns that it’s likely to take days and asks for Ingguldai’s trust and patience. The noise of someone fiddling with the lock alerts him and he takes cover, but no one enters – though we see that they’ve changed the lock.
Min Seo catches sight of Yoon Seo’s lady-in-waiting scurrying furtively around the corner of the building and intercepts her. She explains that she was there to check on Park Dal Hyang’s condition under the princess’ orders, but thankfully her nervousness was enough to raise Min Seo’s suspicions and he quickly checks the lock of the room where Ingguldai’s hidden – he’s perturbed to find that his key no longer opens it. He alerts Seung Po and the two chase after court lady, but loses her in the twists and turns of the palace.
Dal Hyang is just exiting the palace gates with resignation when he sees the court lady sneaking out, throwing uneasy glances over her shoulder as she does. Reminded of his own words that there’s a spy in Yoon Seo’s quarters, he mounts his horse and follows.
Sure enough, she meets someone in a dark alley and hands over the key to the new lock – and that someone turns out to be No Soo. He pockets the key and tells her that she can go back, but she (rather stupidly) confesses that she might have been caught earlier… and to absolutely no one’s surprise, he decides that she’s now an unnecessary loose end and cuts her down with one sword stroke. Well, that was a bad idea.
Dal Hyang rides straight into No Soo and chases after him on foot, but loses him after he literally trips over the court lady’s body as he turns a corner.
Seung Po and Min Seo inform the prince of the lock change; whoever had done it had meant to lock the general in, thus sending a message to the prince that he’s not in control of Ingguldai. The question is who was responsible?
It seems we’ll get our answer immediately, because Kim Ja Jeom shows up at the next court session unannounced and with his arsenal at the ready. He claims that he has received disturbing intelligence that someone within the government (perhaps even very high up, he insinuates pointedly while looking straight at Sohyeon) is siding with Ingguldai and aligning themselves with the Manchu. He even twists his previous secret meeting with Ingguldai to his advantage, declaring that he had played spy in order to root out the real traitor.
He delivers one last blow by announcing that the traitor was injured that night, making Sohyeon stiffen, and adds that those who protest the loudest should be first suspected. That effectively seals Sohyeon and Minister Choi’s lips. Honestly, it was just a matter of time that Kim Ja Jeom would make this move and I’m more surprised that Team Sohyeon had let it spring up on them.
The next day finds Dal Hyang searching through the market streets and we see a flashback to what had occurred with the court lady the night before. The fatal slash to the throat had not killed her instantly and she had remained alive long enough to impart some crucial facts to Dal Hyang – namely that she had betrayed them because she feared Mi Ryung would harm the princess and that Mi Ryung was the one originally chosen to be crown princess.
It turns out that the court lady, who was present when Mi Ryung was presented to the queen, had recognized her when she’d bumped into Yoon Seo on the day of the Bangbangui and had followed her to the same marketplace where Dal Hyang now searches. Mi Ryung had promised that she would not return should the court lady do as she asks, and out of fear that Sohyeon would discover Mi Ryung was alive and leave the princess for her, the court lady had agreed. She dies after gasping out that it was a foolish mistake.
Dal Hyang asks a nearby fabric merchant whether he remembers Mi Ryung and thankfully he does – in fact, she’d left an order for silks that are just being delivered now. What a coincidence.
By now, Ingguldai is on high alert inside the library and he’s wary when someone approaches outside. It’s just Min Seo, however, who pushes a letter from the prince through a gap beneath the door. The missive is brief – Sohyeon notifies Ingguldai that he has a bit of a problem and asks for patience as he solves it as quickly as possible. You don’t say. That’s an understatement if I’ve ever heard one and unsurprisingly the general doesn’t look overly comforted; he’s not stupid.
The prince and his faithful sidekick duo are off on a visit to Kim Ja Jeom’s house, which Seung Po remarks snidely resembles a palace more than a house. As soon as Kim Ja Jeom arrives to receive the prince and they’re left to their conversation in private, both drop any pretence – they recognized each other that night at the gisaeng house and accidentally showed their cards already, so there’s no point dancing around the obvious.
Kim Ja Jeom hands the key to the library back to Sohyeon, stating that he doesn’t need it. And neither does he need to tell anyone else about Ingguldai, since his own interests align with the prince’s. The point he’s trying to make is that Sohyeon’s attempts to stop war are futile – at best he’ll only delay it by a year, but war is an inevitability: “That’s how history repeats itself.”
He goes on to reveal bluntly: “Do you know what I regret the most in my life? It is that I made your father the king.” (Kim Ja Jeom had led the coup that deposed Prince Gwanghae and installed King Injo on the throne, you’d remember.) Sohyeon is furious, but Kim Ja Jeom knows that the prince cannot retaliate and adds, laughing mirthlessly, that he’s now thinking that the previous king was better. His hope for Joseon’s future is so miniscule with such a weak king as Injo, an ineffective crown prince and a useless government that he’s turned to the Manchu, knowing that they’re his best method of survival.
So what he is really after is for Sohyeon to recognize that they’re in the same boat: War is inevitable, so they should do as the Manchu emperor wants. As a legitimate heir, it’s a piece of cake for Sohyeon to depose Injo with Kim Ja Jeom’s help. With Sohyeon on the throne and agreeable to Manchu demands, their comfortable future under new rule is guaranteed.
Dal Hyang has tailed the fabric deliveryman in the hopes of locating Mi Ryung, but is frustrated when he’s greeted by a storeroom instead. The frayed end of a rope peeking out from the wall of a corner of the room catches his eye, though, and he gives it a firm tug to reveal – dun dun dun… a secret staircase.
He edges down the stairs and pauses outside a room at the end of the corridor, drawing his sword before slipping in… and finds Mi Ryung sitting alone at a table. Oh wait, not alone – he turns just in time to be greeted by No Soo’s sword at his throat.
Mi Ryung calls off her pet eyepatch and invites Dal Hyang in; she’s apparently been wishing to visit Dal Hyang anyway. That’s not good news.
Sohyeon relays the details of his conversation with Kim Ja Jeom to Min Seo and Seung Po as they ride away from the commander-in-chief’s residence and asserts that he cannot strike a deal with someone as dangerous as Kim Ja Jeom. A flashback shows us that Kim Ja Jeom had a fairly effective threat to add to his earlier “advice” – he claims that he would like to be the prince’s loyal subject, but if the prince refuses to work with him, he would have no choice but to bring his knowledge of Ingguldai to the king’s attention. And of course, Sohyeon would then be labelled the traitor, with the wound on his arm as evidence. The prince has until sundown to give Kim Ja Jeom his answer.
The problem, of course, is that it’s all very well to refuse to work with Kim Ja Jeom, but right now they don’t have a working solution.
To their surprise, they find Dal Hyang waiting for them and the musketeer sidekicks greet their bro with delighted grins – which, aww. The bromance is still alive! Sohyeon, on the other hand, points out that Dal Hyang should be gone, to which Dal Hyang replies that he still has a mission to complete.
He means the mission to locate and capture Mi Ryung, of course. Moving to a more private location for this conversation, Dal Hyang reveals that he couldn’t capture her but has a message from her for Sohyeon instead. Mi Ryung was naturally ahead of the game and know how to use the prince’s current political predicament to her advantage – if Sohyeon visits her alone, she’ll reveal Kim Ja Jeom’s weakness. She notes ominously that they both owe the other; once the debt is repaid, she’s happy to help him.
Even Dal Hyang realizes the obvious threat and advises the prince earnestly that he really shouldn’t go. In his typical facetious manner, Sohyeon takes that opportunity to rib Dal Hyang: “Are you concerned about me right now?” And after he’d pointed a sword at him just last night, too; he must be embarrassed. Heh.
More seriously, he tells Dal Hyang that it’ll just be the two of them going – it was their secret all along and will remain that way. And, he adds in regards to Dal Hyang’s concerns over the danger, they both made a promise to the princess that they’ll solve the Mi Ryung issue. They should always keep the promises they made to ladies, shouldn’t they? That draws a nod from Dal Hyang, and he proceeds to lead the way. Well played, Sohyeon, well played.
Nevertheless, Dal Hyang’s so worried that he tries to insist on following Sohyeon when they’re stopped by No Soo at the top of the staircase, but the prince instructs him to wait and he’s forced to concede.
When Sohyeon and Mi Ryung finally come face to face, her eyes are filled with unshed tears despite her claims to hatred. Sohyeon evidently has the better emotional mastery of the two and manages a smile as he greets her: “It’s been a long time.”
Upstairs, Dal Hyang is pacing anxiously as he remembers Mi Ryung’s threat that the prince would be next to feel poison running through his veins. Just as worrying is Sohyeon’s apparently flippant reply that he will either kill her or run away with her the next time they meet. As if in answer to his worries, his ruminations are interrupted by the sound of a loud crash from downstairs. Dal Hyang doesn’t stop to think – he draws his sword and rushes down the stairs and into the room to find…
…Sohyeon and Mi Ryung apparently in a passionate embrace against the wall? Oopsie. Dal Hyang averts his eyes delicately, but he turns around again at the sound of something between a gasp and a sob from Mi Ryung. With dawning horror, he finally registers that she’s grasping a dagger, and it’s plunged into Sohyeon’s chest.
Well well well. It was about time for Mi Ryung to make her move, though it surprises me that it is in such a direct manner. The ominous threat of imminent poisoning had almost convinced me that she’ll choose that method and I find myself almost disappointed that it turned out to be a plain old stab in the chest. Ah well. On the upside, for all their plotting and scheming people in this drama always end up being awfully direct, which is certainly a good way to keep the plot moving along quickly.
This is a real mess of a love square, though – in both instances we had a couple who had loved each other mutually, but had lost that love. In fact, the yet-unknown details surrounding the circumstances that had resulted in the crumbling of the crown prince and Mi Ryung’s relationship had directly led to the separation of Dal Hyang and Yoon Seo, and now we have the four players locked in positions where they cannot reunite with whom they love. Dal Hyang is probably correct to identify the crown prince’s feelings for Mi Ryung to be just as concerning as the threat to his life – the prince is eminently unpredictable and his growing regard for Yoon Seo is nowhere near strong enough to withstand the possibility of a reunion with Mi Ryung at the moment. Well, considering Mi Ryung’s just stabbed Sohyeon, I suppose we can put that worry aside for the moment.
What it does do is continue to pique our curiosity regarding Sohyeon’s role in what happened with Mi Ryung in the past – we saw the bare bones of what had happened to send Mi Ryung over the edge, but Sohyeon’s very character complexity means that we simply cannot take his words (for Mi Ryung to kill herself) at face value, or at least not without understanding his motivations. Our doubt over Sohyeon’s morals effectively stops us from trusting him as much as we want to – he might want the best for the nation, but we have yet to see that he’s worth rooting for. His rather despicable manipulation of Dal Hyang (even if it taught Dal Hyang a lesson that he needed and would strengthen him going forward) is proof enough of that. For all that Sohyeon apparently wished to test Dal Hyang’s worthiness as an ally, I’m not convinced that the fight at the outset wasn’t mostly motivated by ridiculous and juvenile jealousy; he just twisted it around to his favour afterwards. And who was a little uncomfortable when the prince mentioned “taming” Dal Hyang? Sir, he ain’t a horse.
This setup with Sohyeon vs. Dal Hyang provides us with two heroes who are almost polar opposites in their character make-up, however – Sohyeon is cunning, with motivations that even his closest friends do not understand and he’s clearly not above using trickery to win, while Dal Hyang is the quintessential straight arrow; he’s guileless, loyal (at least once his trust is properly won) and honest to a fault. It makes them an interesting combo that has the potential to form a dangerous partnership if they ever get to the stage of mutual trust – or at least mutual interests so that they can work together effectively and counterbalance each other’s limitations.
For Sohyeon, he needs all the allies he can get and Dal Hyang is a good fighter, trustworthy and, more importantly, the type of person to whom people would be inclined to give confidences. I’d be far more likely to confess my deepest and darkest secrets to an upright-looking soul like Dal Hyang than the crafty prince, that’s for sure. As for Dal Hyang, he’s already betrayed his weakness more than once. He’s earnest and straightforward, which is both a boon and an Achilles’ heel; he wins trust easily, but it also makes him an open book that’s painfully easy to read. Right now it’s that character trait that’s playing straight into Sohyeon’s hands, but spending more time with the wily prince may also result in some of the prince’s shrewdness and talent for trickery rubbing off on him. Surely he’ll need some of that guile if he’s to be an effective general in the future, right?