Yesssss, finally! This is the episode that I’ve been waiting for – big reveals and action aplenty, but most importantly we finally get to see Dal Hyang play the game rather than being played. Previously he had always been the one who’d been dragged along for the ride, unsure of what he’s doing but caught up in something too big for him to disengage from. Now he finally gets to choose his next course of action – and it’s up to him to find out whether the result will be high risk and unrewarding, or high risk, but at least for a worthy cause. We also get an answer to the question of trust between prince and subordinate much faster than I’d expected, but perhaps that is something I should have expected instead. Thus far this drama has consistently surged ahead with plot and character developments so that the audience isn’t left to stew over their predictions; always ahead or on schedule, never late.
EPISODE 07 – “Mi Ryung and Hyang Sun”
Court Lady Kim’s corpse has been found and the prince’s eunuch has the unpleasant task of identifying her before breaking the news to the princess, who’s stunned to be told that the lady’s not only dead, but is most likely also the thief who stole her letter.
Yoon Seo puts her foot down when the eunuch hedges again at the question of who the mysterious “woman” is – things have gone far enough that she needs to know. He hesitates, but finally reveals that the woman is Mi Ryung, the one originally chosen to be crown princess before Yoon Seo.
The princess is naturally stunned and disbelieving – isn’t the girl dead? But no, the eunuch insists; she’s very much alive. And the real twist? “Minister Yoon’s daughter, Mi Ryung, is definitely dead. But Mi Ryung’s servant, Hyang Sun… is alive.” Uhm, WHAT?
As the eunuch’s voiceover continues to explain that the one we all think is Mi Ryung is actually Hyang Sun, we’re now shown what had occurred between Mi Ryung (let’s just keep calling her that for simplicity’s sake) and Sohyeon when they’d met – pre-stabbing. With his usual talent for understatement, Sohyeon greets her calmly: “It’s been a while. I didn’t know you were alive. How have you been?” Not surprisingly, Mi Ryung brushes the question aside as ridiculous and asks what he wants to know – how she’s lived the last 5 years or how she’s still alive? Sohyeon: “Both. I’d heard that you’d hung yourself that night.”
Mi Ryung is happy to share the gory details and we see a flashback of how her servants had forced her onto the ladder as she’d struggled and screamed to be allowed to speak to the prince. The prince’s eunuch had watched as the entire horrendous ordeal took place, even ordering the building set on fire and only sounding the alarm for the rest of the household after he’d seen that she’d lost consciousness.
One of the servants had taken advantage of the chaos to cut her down from where she’d hung from the rafters and had whisked her away to the relative safety of woods, but not out of kindness – he claims that she is now his Hyang Sun. With his twisted logic, he reasons that someone like him is better suited for her, since they’re from the same class; she had played the part of Minister Yoon’s daughter, but had eventually been thrown away by the prince anyway. And it’s with that same twisted logic that he then attempts to rape her.
“That’s when I knew that all men are the same,” Mi Ryung says. She goes on to explain that she had killed that servant and made it look like a suicide, adding defensively (almost as if she’s trying to convince herself) that she suffers no guilt: “I did nothing wrong. It was all of you who had used me.”
The young Mi Ryung had wandered through the countryside, dirty, battered and in her underclothes, until she’d chanced upon a village where a man took her in and fed her. He had offered to take her into Manchu territory with him, adding with a greasy smile that he pitied her and it was therefore free of charge. But Mi Ryung knows how it works by now, and silently removes her clothing.
She’d used her body as payment to cross the border and learnt how to control men from that point, even becoming the sixth concubine of one of the wealthiest Manchu men before poisoning him for his money.
With money in her pocket, she’d finally had time to turn her attentions to Sohyeon, the man she deems responsible for making her who she is. Dealing with Kim Ja Jeom, who’d needed a spy fluent in Manchu, allowed her to get closer to the crown prince, but she marvels aloud at how unexpectedly easy it was to bump into Sohyeon in the end. “How terrible it must be for you, to find that the woman you’d thought dead is still alive,” Mi Ryung says mockingly.
Sohyeon had been listening with nary a change of expression thus far and finally shakes off his reverie with a calm rejoinder: “No, I was glad to see you alive. I have regretted the last five years every day, for having ordered your death.”
Mi Ryung glares at him with tear-filled eyes and her voice trembles as she says that he must be lying. In contrast, he appears serenely unconcerned, replying that this is her chance to repay him for what he’d done to her – and regardless of what method of revenge she chooses, he has nothing to say. The blasé attitude jerks her back into focus and her face hardens as she bites out, “You’ll regret this.” And then she makes good on her words by stabbing him in the shoulder.
That’s how Dal Hyang finds them when he rushes downstairs and he attempts to rush to the prince’s aid. No Soo bars his way with a sword at his throat, but what really stops Dal Hyang in his tracks is the prince’s order for him to “step outside.” He tries to argue that he can hardly leave the prince like this, but Sohyeon insists that the matter is between him and Mi Ryung. Dal Hyang can do little but allow No Soo to drag him back upstairs.
Mi Ryung presses for a reaction of any kind from Sohyeon – an expression of pain or acknowledgment of her own – grasping for a reason to continue hating him as she asks whether it hurt as much as it did when she was hung. But Sohyeon just lifts a trembling hand to wipe away her tears, telling her: “I missed you.” She finally stumbles back at those words, her dagger falling to the floor.
Kim Ja Jeom receives a report that the prince has yet to reply to his offer, but he’s not terribly concerned, believing that the prince has no option but to join forces with him if he wants to avoid being arrested for treason.
Dal Hyang is wound as tightly as a spring as he waits upstairs for Sohyeon, though at least he’s stopped pacing back and forth. No Soo offers him a drink, but right then the prince emerges slowly from the stairwell, face pale and slick with sweat and his shoulder bloody. Sohyeon ignores Dal Hyang’s worried inquiry and goes directly to No Soo with his instructions – he’d best return across the border to Manchu territory with Mi Ryung as quickly as possible, since Kim Ja Jeom will turn on them soon.
It’s hard to say whether Dal Hyang or No Soo looks more surprised, but Sohyeon doesn’t give them time to respond before he turns to Dal Hyang; they’re leaving. No Soo charges downstairs to demand an answer from Mi Ryung, but her mind’s clearly elsewhere.
Dal Hyang attempts to convince Sohyeon to see a doctor first, but Sohyeon dismisses it, claiming that the bleeding has stopped (yeah, right) and asking him to let Mi Ryung and No Soo go. Dal Hyang’s understandably a bit hesitant at letting murderers go scot free, but Sohyeon has a good distraction on hand – he’s retrieved Yoon Seo’s letter. “You claimed that it is yours, so you take care of it.” With that, Sohyeon turns and heads towards their waiting mounts.
It’s not bad as far as a show of faith goes, and there’s a moment of thoughtful silence during which the enormity of it hits Dal Hyang – it’s not every day the husband of the woman you love returns her love letter to you, particularly considering the political stakes if he chooses to keep it. But we know what kind of person Dal Hyang is by now; he does the right thing and burns it to prevent any further threat to Yoon Seo. He watches for a minute as the only remaining evidence of his first love is consumed by the flames before walking up to the prince.
Sohyeon notes sardonically that Dal Hyang has learnt the hard way how dangerous first loves are – just look at what happened to him with Mi Ryung. He’s now heading to Minister Choi’s house and bids Dal Hyang farewell, telling him that he’s completed his mission well and can now return home to Gangwondo. The prince sighs that he was going to officially include Dal Hyang on his team at the end of this mission, but it was not to be – and, he adds, the princess had asked him to keep Dal Hyang away, though he’s not sure for whose benefit it was. Sohyeon stubbornly refuses Dal Hyang’s company and goes on his way.
We get a brief flash of Yeon Ahm as he’s recording Dal Hyang’s story many years later and we are told that Dal Hyang had described the events of that day thus: “The prince’s words were correct. The king’s order was merely an excuse; I had disliked him from the beginning. I was upset that he had taken away the woman I loved and could not even make her happy. It seemed that he neither deserved my loyalty nor my woman’s devotion.” But he had changed his mind that day, after seeing him covered in blood and recognizing their shared pain over their first loves. In fact, he also wonders whether Mi Ryung isn’t in a similar situation.
As Dal Hyang narrates, we see that he had quietly followed the prince at a distance on his way to Minister Choi’s house and was about to turn his horse at the entrance when he sees the prince slumping forward in the saddle. Judging by the prince’s pallor and the visible streaks of sweat on his face earlier, I’d say it’s plenty unsurprising. Dal Hyang catches him just as he slides off, a bloodied letter slipping out of his robes. He carries the bleeding and unconscious Sohyeon on his back and is quickly admitted into Minister Choi’s house, where first Min Seo and then Seung Po pokes their heads out at the commotion and then rushes towards them in alarm.
Meanwhile, Kim Ja Jeom stews in silence; by now, it’s quite apparent that the prince has missed the sundown deadline. Kim Ja Jeom calls in his servant, declaring that it’s time to abandon the prince if he would not cooperate – it won’t be difficult to turn King Injo against the prince, since he’s already paranoid and suspicious.
If Kim Ja Jeom could see King Injo in the silence of the empty council room, he would probably rub his hands together in glee with the realization that he might not even have to lift a finger after all.
Kim Ja Jeom’s insinuation that the traitor could be someone who’s very high up in position replays in the king’s mind and he begins looking around him, beginning to envision the two rows of ministers lining the center in front of him. One by one, he walks past their imagined spectres, considering whether each could be the traitor and then eliminating their involvement as impossible. But then he whirls back towards the throne as suspicion hits him in full force that there’s one other possibility he hadn’t considered: Sohyeon. The suspicion grips him even harder when he remembers how the prince was mysteriously unavailable on the night of his nightmare… the same night that Kim Ja Jeom’s meeting with Ingguldai took place.
Yoon Seo recalls the prince’s eunuch telling her that the real Mi Ryung’s body was found in a well and she flashes back to a past encounter with Mi Ryung’s mother – the woman had fallen to the ground at her feet and wept that she should have died instead of her daughter.
The eunuch’s arrival interrupts her thoughts and she instructs him not to tell the prince that she knows about Mi Ryung/Hyang Sun. He’s actually there to inform her that she’s been summoned by the king, however, in the absence of the prince. Oh dear.
The doctor has bad news – the stab wound on the prince’s shoulder isn’t too deep, but he’s lost a significant amount of blood and will need the palace physicians to help him. Reporting the matter to the palace will be tantamount to identifying the prince as the accused traitor, though, since Kim Ja Jeom had directed everyone’s attention to someone who’s wounded. It would be rather inconvenient if they lose their heads before they even manage to save Ingguldai’s.
Minister Choi decides that their only way out is Kim Ja Jeom – even if they have to beg him and join his side, their primary concern is to save Sohyeon.
Dal Hyang has been waiting outside and is finally joined by Minister Choi, who demands to know what he was up to with Sohyeon and why the prince has been stabbed. Dal Hyang cannot tell him the details – he was sworn to secrecy by Sohyeon, after all – but hands Minister Choi the bloodstained letter that the prince had received from Mi Ryung.
When the minister inquires as to how he came by the letter, Dal Hyang asks instead, “What does it mean to protect the country?” He admits that he’d thought long and hard over the question Minister Choi had set for him last time, but he has yet to find the answer. “Is what the prince is doing right?” Protecting Ingguldai might mean preventing the war, but it also means disobeying the king – do the ends justify the means?
Minister Choi’s answer isn’t particularly helpful; he merely replies that history will judge whether their choices are right. What Dal Hyang has to do, he advises, is to decide on his own answer to that question and then choose a path: Will he side with Injo, Sohyeon or take the risk-free option and go home?
The two musketeers join Minister Choi and Dal Hyang outside and are handed Mi Ryung’s letter with the incriminating evidence against Kim Ja Jeom – they now have dirt on him for their counterattack. Day saved!
Minister Choi warns the two musketeers that they’re in trouble for not doing their job with protecting the prince before turning his gaze back to Dal Hyang: “And what will you do? How will you protect our country? Decide here.” Dal Hyang, meet your life’s crossroads.
We don’t get to hear Dal Hyang’s answer – instead, we follow as Team Sohyeon leap into action now that they have their ammo. Min Seo pushes aside the startled doctor and pours alcohol all over the prince, explaining that it’s the way to save his life. Seung Po, meanwhile, has recruited a confused Pan Swe and another servant as extra muscle. They raid Seung Po’s armoury for muskets before he cringes at the thought of his next task – waking up his very overweight wife, who’s currently drooling in bed. The goal? To borrow money, ha.
Seung Po and Min Seo meet up afterwards and douse themselves with alcohol as well, ready to pretend to be absolutely plastered. Poor Pan Swe begins to regret not leaving with Dal Hyang when Seung Po asks his servants whether they’re ready to perish with their master, heh. But no fear, Dal Hyang’s still in town.
We join Dal Hyang just as he rides up alongside Kim Ja Jeom, who’s within shouting distance of the palace gates. Dal Hyang’s here with the prince’s reply, which Kim Ja Jeom accepts with an expectant smirk… though that slips off his face when he reads the content of the letter. It’s a list of the names of the real traitors who had sworn allegiance to the Manchu and the message (which Dal Hyang cheerfully declares was written by Minister Choi) rather pointedly notes that Kim Ja Jeom no longer has the upper hand, and thus the prince politely refuses his offer. Hee.
Kim Ja Jeom sneers that it’s only a copy anyway and rips it up, but Dal Hyang beams complacently at him before remarking that it’s precisely why they gave it to him – the prince has the original signed version.
At the door of Kim Ja Jeom’s residence, Seung Po feigns drunkenness and declares that he’s there to collect his gambling money before letting off a warning shot into the air with his musket. The guards pull back in alarm as Seung Po’s party storms in – the musketeers leave their servants to distract the guards and household staff while they head further in to raid the house. A madcap battle ensues.
Seung Po locates a hidden compartment behind the folding screen in Kim Ja Jeom’s room (oh, Kim Ja Jeom, that is a cliché) and rummages through it, eventually locating the original copy of the incriminating list. He hands it to Pan Swe with instructions to pass it to Minister Choi before resuming his drunken act.
At the same time, Dal Hyang is happily informing the house owner where they’d found the original list. Kim Ja Jeom demands to know who had leaked the information and Dal Hyang responds with a shit-eating grin on his face: “My father used to tell me this back home – ‘Be careful of women.’” He rides off, leaving Kim Ja Jeom seething at the realization that Mi Ryung had betrayed him.
The princess greets the king, who immediately begins grilling her on the prince’s whereabouts that night when she and everyone else had claimed that he was too deeply asleep to respond to his summons. The angrier and more insistent he is that she replies with the truth, the more visibly nervous she gets – in his state of heightened agitation, that all but confirms that she had lied. The king begins screaming his accusations at her and the prince and Yoon Seo can only stammer her denials in the face of his furious onslaught. She’s finally saved by the arrival of the head of the royal guard, who’s brought a messenger. The guard steps aside to reveal —Dal Hyang.
Yoon Seo spins around to look at Dal Hyang in shock as he introduces himself to the king (who remembers him as the one who’d shot the horse, heh). He states gravely that the prince has been stabbed and is seriously injured, which definitely gets the king’s attention.
Having realized that Mi Ryung is responsible for his current pickle, Kim Ja Jeom heads straight for the secret room where she’d been installed. The room looks like a tornado had torn through it, and from the midst of the wreckage Kim Ja Jeom picks up the bloody dagger which Mi Ryung had dropped. And lying nearby in repose is… the prince himself?
Kim Ja Jeom doesn’t have time to ruminate over this latest mystery for very long, because the royal guards rush in right then in search of the prince and find Kim Ja Jeom in a very compromising position – holding a bloody dagger and standing over the unconscious and bleeding prince. Oh, this is genius.
To make this even better, Dal Hyang has been dragged along on search and is now standing at the door, feigning surprise – didn’t he just see Kim Ja Jeom at the gambling establishment? Though he was too drunk to really remember…
We jump back to the Dal Hyang’s audience with the king earlier, where Dal Hyang goes on to tell the king that the prince has been into gambling lately and was injured tonight in a fight that took place after a big game in his secret gambling room. The culprit had not known who the prince was when he’d stabbed him, but Dal Hyang notes pointedly that he does know that he’s a yangban with plenty of money. He adds that Seung Po had chased after the man to retrieve the money.
And of course, Seung Po had made perfectly sure that he was caught at Kim Ja Jeom’s house, complete with vocal complaints that he’s working for the prince and was just trying to retrieve his money. HA.
The king laps up Dal Hyang’s explanation eagerly, even conveniently jumping to the conclusion that the prince’s mysterious absence that night was due to his gambling habits and that was what the princess was trying to cover up with her lies. You couldn’t ask for a better way out, and quick-witted Yoon Seo grabs the chance after receiving a minute go-ahead nod from Dal Hyang – she apologizes profusely to the king for being unable to stop her husband’s gambling addiction.
Team Sohyeon’s plan has gone off without a hitch and Kim Ja Jeom’s led away by the guards. Before he’s hauled off, however, he pauses to confirm Dal Hyang’s identity again and promises that he’ll remember that name and will definitely see him again. Dal Hyang is, after all, the prince’s hidden pawn at the center of the ploy that outmanoeuvred Kim Ja Jeom… this time.
The prince finally stirs as he is being transported by stretcher and is informed of what happened. He calls for the attendants to halt when he passes by Dal Hyang, who’s bound and flanked by guards, and asks him what he’s still doing in Hanyang. To that, Dal Hyang replies lightly (in a manner hilariously reminiscent of Sohyeon’s usual one) that he can’t go home after he’d been told how he was tricked by the prince – the bet is now invalid and they’ll just have to duel it out with a second round after the prince gets better.
Sohyeon points out wryly that Dal Hyang will be in prison for the rest of his life – how will he compete with him? Dal Hyang’s confident that the prince will release him, though, “Because I’m one of your people.” When the prince challenges him on who says that’s the case, he quips, “That’s what everyone thinks – Mi Ryung, Kim Ja Jeom and even the king. So you don’t have a choice. I’m your man.”
The attendants carry Sohyeon away, but a faint smile ghosts across his face as he looks at Dal Hyang, who smiles in reply.
Awwww, bromance! The bromance is alive, guys!
It’s nice to see Dal Hyang and the prince finally reach an understanding; there’s nothing like a bit of shared pain over tragic first loves to push the bonding along, right? More importantly, it also shakes up the established power structure just a bit – now that Dal Hyang really gets the prince and has taken his previous lesson aboard, he knows just where he can push and where he can’t. And that, in turn, gives him almost as much leeway as Seung Po to alternatively needle Sohyeon and play nursemaid – like I said previously, Dal Hyang now knows how to play the game instead of blindly being played. The prince certainly won’t have a tamed horse on his hands, that’s for sure.
Dal Hyang’s moment at the crossroads and his choice to throw in his lot with the prince also heralds another major step for Dal Hyang – gaining flexibility, despite him jokingly using the inflexibility of his nature as an argument against the prince at the end of the episode. In a way, the scene with Minister Choi is the point at which he finally left behind the youthfully idealistic, straightforward and unbending Dal Hyang who had viewed the world in blacks and whites. Aiding the prince and Ingguldai against the king’s orders goes against the very grain of Dal Hyang’s code, but it rings true with his gut feeling of what’s right and brings with it renewed conviction. It lends him confidence in his dealings with the prince too, I suspect – after all, knowing that the man you work for is just as capable at being wrong as you are and has an even messier tale of first love than yours tends to even the odds. At this rate, he might not even need extended buddy time with the prince for the latter’s guile to rub off on him – just look how far he’s come this episode! With that open face of his, Dal Hyang can probably charm the nose off your face before you realize you’ve been tricked. The era of Park Dal Hyang has definitely begun in earnest.
We can’t forget Mi Ryung, whose layers we’re slowly peeling back with each episode. I do like that she’s a complicated villain whose revenge is rooted in reason rather than being confined to the “jealous ex” stereotype or being evil simply for the sake of evil. Mi Ryung’s juicy backstory has finally been revealed, but we’re still left with several intriguing mysteries.
The first is the reason for the Mi Ryung and Hyang Sun switch – we don’t know why they needed to be switched, but what we do know is that the switch took place before Mi Ryung/Hyang Sun’s introduction to the queen and that Mi Ryung’s mother was involved in some way. Was the real Mi Ryung murdered or did she kill herself for some reason? The second is Mi Ryung’s motivations from hereon; despite her understandable resentment towards the prince, his apology and admission that he’d missed her had evidently touched her. Not enough to stop her from stabbing him to provoke a stronger response, granted, but she had come through with her end of the bargain (providing Kim Ja Jeom’s list) and didn’t actually kill the prince, so… Will she regret her mercy and continue gunning for the death of the prince and destruction of the royal house, or has her goal shifted? Thirdly, we have yet to receive an answer on the reasoning behind the prince’s order for her to kill herself. The involvement of the prince’s eunuch in actually being present for her hanging confirms that it wasn’t a hasty slip of the tongue to be later regretted, but rather a cold-blooded order to be carried out to completion. But why? Even if he had discovered her true identity as a slave and had felt betrayed by her duplicity, there seemed to be little reason to order her commit suicide. I can’t help but think that there has to be more to it than a flash of prideful anger. There’s much food for thought here, and I want them to give me more, give me more.