This is absolutely late and I apologize – it appears that no amount of attempting to bend the space-time continuum could produce a scenario where this recap and my thesis could be written simultaneously. Ah, well. And for the same reason recaps for the upcoming episodes will most likely be delayed, but I will finish them. I promise!
Onto the episodes. Team Sohyeon may have won a small victory last time, but they don’t get to enjoy much of a reprieve, what with Mi Ryung muddying the romantic waters and Kim Ja Jeom a-plotting. More importantly, it’s finally our crown princess’ time to shine; I must say it’s a nice change to have two such complex and well-written female leads for a change. Thank you, Show.
EPISODE 08 – “The Crown Princess’ Wish”
The princess waits outside for the prince’s return, growing increasingly anxious when he fails to appear despite the late hour. She receives more bad news regarding Dal Hyang, Seung Po and Min Seo – all three have been arrested and are awaiting punishment. By the time Sohyeon’s carried in on a stretcher, she’s white-faced and on the verge of collapse.
She sits resolutely by the prince’s bedside while he’s being treated despite the urgings of the physician and her attendants to retire to her quarters, but when a spurt of blood splashes on her face during the operation… well, that’s the last straw for her abused nerves. She faints dead away, to the panic of her attendants.
When Yoon Seo wakes up in bed later, her first worry is for the prince and hurries to his quarters, where she immediately takes over the task of tending to him from the nurse at his side. The nurse turns to direct an intense stare at Yoon Seo, which is when we see that she’s Mi Ryung in disguise. Wow, she certainly has guts.
The staring eventually catches the princess’ attention and her lady-in-waiting dismisses Mi Ryung, though the strangeness of it leads Yoon Seo to recall her previous run-in with Mi Ryung at the Bangbangui. Connecting the dots, she realizes who the nurse must have been.
Yoon Seo tears out of the prince’s quarters and into the pouring rain after Mi Ryung, finally catching up to her and asking, “Are you Hyang Sun?” It’s all but confirmed when Mi Ryung turns to face her and the princess calls her out for having the nerve to come to the palace after what she’s done.
Mi Ryung states bluntly that she was worried about the prince, despite being the one who had stabbed him, and rubs it in Yoon Seo’s face further – he had let himself be stabbed and had afterwards said he’d missed her. Mi Ryung: “My life is pathetic, but so is yours.” The princess had to marry someone she didn’t love, while Mi Ryung is jealous of the princess.
When Yoon Seo tries to stop her from leaving, Mi Ryung reminds her that she was born low as a slave and is capable of anything. That’s enough to make the princess release her and Mi Ryung bows formally in farewell, expressing her wish that the princess will live happily with Sohyeon.
Yoon Seo returns to the prince’s bedside, drenched from the rain and in tears as she notes that she knows very little about him.
Dal Hyang’s finally dragged off to prison, where he’s greeted by the most relaxed group of prisoners ever. Seung Po’s all “what kept you” as he sprawls on the ground, while Min Seo welcomes him with an adorable smile and Pan Swe runs up to greet him like an excited puppy. Dal Hyang joins their little circle as Seung Po jokes that some prison time will make him even more popular with the ladies – it’s smiles and laughter all around and all in all the most heart-warming prison scene ever.
In his memoirs, Dal Hyang recounts what he knows of the events that took place in the ensuing month while he was in jail, though it is limited to what he had been told.
With the musketeers in jail and the prince unable to act, Minister Choi approaches his last option for help: The princess. Her task? To smuggle Ingguldai out of the palace, disguised as a monk accompanying her on her way to the temple to pray for the prince’s health. Minister Choi, meanwhile, works on persuading the king to rescind his order to kill Ingguldai and reconcile with the Manchus. The minute the king grudgingly does, Dal Hyang notes, the general is “miraculously” captured alive.
Both sides agree to smooth over the incident as a misinterpretation of the king’s order and make concessions – Ingguldai visited the palace to meet with the king and the king made an official reply to the Manchu ruler. Throughout this, Ingguldai and Sohyeon worked closely to prevent a war. Kim Ja Jeom was demoted in rank and lost favour at court.
What Dal Hyang remembers with greater clarity, he admits, are the events that he saw with his own eyes – like the princess visiting him in prison. Dal Hyang’s first question when he sees her is regarding the prince’s well-being, breathing a sigh of relief upon hearing that the prince is well. How things have changed, huh?
It’s with a touch of exasperation that the princess asks him why he’s still in this mess despite her asking Sohyeon to send him away, but Dal Hyang only laughs it off and admits that events fell into place that way, such that his fate now appears irrevocably tied to those of the other musketeers. He assures her that he’s found the letter and burned it, but has to think on his feet and offer a not-quite-lie that No Soo was responsible when Yoon Seo asks him who stole it. Yoon Seo just smiles sadly, realizing that he’d thought to keep the truth from her to spare her pain, unaware that she already knows about Mi Ryung.
Instead, Yoon Seo asks him to step closer to the bars so that she could dab gently at the wound on his face. It makes Dal Hyang smile boyishly, which surprises her, and he jokes that he’s glad he’s in prison – he’ll make sure to note how lucky he was to have the princess herself tend to his wound when he writes his memoirs later.
She’s touched by his simple gratitude, noting that no one ever thanks her for anything in the palace. And Dal Hyang replies sincerely, “I want Your Highness to be happy. That is my earnest wish.” Argh, it pains me to see how happy these two would have been together.
The others wake up then and the princess quickly wipes away the tears that were threatening to overflow. She assures Min Seo and Seung Po that she’s here on behalf of the prince, asking them to endure awhile longer.
We fast forward to a month later, when the disgruntled men of Team Musketeer are being dragged in ropes to the torture yard. Seung Po digs in his heels and tries to stall for time, Dal Hyang asks hopefully whether the prince is up and about yet and Min Seo wonders aloud whether the prince has mentioned them at all, but nope, punishment awaits.
Seung Po and Min Seo are sentenced to an astounding 60 hits for their failure to protect the prince as well as dishonouring their position by gambling, hah (and Seung Po leans over to whisper, “Is he crazy?!” to Min Seo, who’s too stunned to even reply). Dal Hyang, on the other hand, gets only 20 – saved by the fact that he didn’t have an official position. He breathes a sigh of relief and glances over… to see Seung Po and Min Seo shooting him looks of disgust. LOL.
To add insult to injury, Pan Swe and the other servants receive no punishment; they only followed their masters’ orders, after all. Pfft.
After the most heart-warming prison scene ever, we now have the funniest sageuk torture scene ever as our three illustrious swordsmen find themselves tied down, ready for their beatings. Dal Hyang: “Does it hurt a lot?” Min Seo: “It’s my first time, too. I heard you won’t be able to walk for days.” Seung Po: “Crown Prince, you heartless bastard…” HAHA.
Poor Seung Po is picked to go first and there’s a great deal of whimpering (from him) and sympathetic wincing (from his audience) as he receives seven paddles to the bottom… before the proceedings are halted by the arrival of the crown prince. Oh, finally.
Sohyeon asks for the punishment to be put on hold so that he can speak to the king about pardoning the men and Seung Po, Min Seo and Dal Hyang are immediately untied, though Seung Po starts up a loud volley of complaints about the injustice of it all – he’s been beaten 7 times already, so what about the others? Ha. Sohyeon grins and takes a few cracks at Seung Po because he can, tut-tutting that he’s sure out of luck, getting beaten despite the prince’s very best efforts to make it on time.
The prince then smiles warmly at Min Seo and Dal Hyang (both of whom return the gesture) and thanks them before turning to leave. He glances back briefly at Dal Hyang with a smirk, though, and leans down to whisper something in his eunuch’s ear. Dal Hyang looks puzzled, but neither he nor the audience is privy to what was said.
Facing his father is a far less pleasant task – Sohyeon might have escaped the worst, but the king is seriously displeased with his apparent lack of responsibility (gambling at this time!) and blames the indignity of having to rescind his order to kill Ingguldai on his son.
In fact, he blames the lack of an heir on Sohyeon as well – the princess has won points for going to the temple to pray for the prince’s health – and now orders the prince not to show his face until he’s produced a child. Oops. At least Minister Choi manages to secure the release of Seung Po, Min Seo and Dal Hyang, though the king decides that they must be separated from the prince to prevent further… misbehaviour.
The three boys head to Seung Po’s house after their release, where Seung Po continues complaining loudly and at length about his sore behind. His wife enters and is all smiles at Dal Hyang… until he drops into a formal bow. “It’s my first time meeting your mother!” he explains. HAHA ohhh man.
Min Seo’s correction that she’s Seung Po’s wife and not his mother comes a bit too late for Dal Hyang, who panics even as Seung Po bursts out laughing and the lady in question stalks out of the room in a huff. His children enter in her place – all four of them. Dal Hyang can only agree in comical amazement when Seung Po emphasizes the enormous fortitude he needed to produce four children with his wife in search of a male heir. Not that he’s home often enough to recognize them, since he manages to mix up his children’s names, pfft.
The arrival of an official bearing the king’s orders interrupts the chit-chat – hilariously, the punishment is hardly bad news for Seung Po and Min Seo, since they essentially receive a holiday after they’re banned from working for 100 days. Dal Hyang, however, has to return to work immediately with the envoy reception – and the official adds that he means right now. LOL. The envoy team is leaving Hanyang now, so Dal Hyang had better skedaddle if he doesn’t want to miss them altogether. Poor Pan Swe is sent with him; just when he’d thought he’d returned to service with a master who lives the good life, hee.
The envoy procession is lined up and ready to roll when Dal Hyang and Pan Swe literally run and stumble their way there on foot, arriving in the nick of time. Ingguldai is there to crack a few jokes at his expense – asking how he’s planning to protect the general with his rather lacking skill – and even throws a mischievous wink Dal Hyang’s way. Dal Hyang doesn’t understand a word of what’s being said, but nevertheless can tell when he’s the butt of the joke and grumbles to himself. Heh, these two are fun when they’re not trying to kill each other.
Surprisingly the prince’s eunuch is also present; he’s there to deliver a gift from the crown prince – the prince’s own sword, with Sohyeon’s personal name (Yi Wang 李𣳫) incised on the hilt. Along with it is a letter, in which the prince fondly refers to Dal Hyang as an arrogant punk who pledged loyalty to him without his permission: “So I have no choice but to give you this as a token of your allegiance. Use this sword only for good. Are you touched? I know how cool I am.” Pfft.
Dal Hyang unsheathes the sword proudly, holding it up to catch the reflected rays of the noon sun before replacing it and joining the marching envoy procession with renewed vigour.
Too bad it turns out that Kim Ja Jeom will be playing host to the envoy team. He receives an unexpected boon in the form of No Soo, who blames Mi Ryung for ruining his plans. He wants to join Kim Ja Jeom’s side instead and has brought Mi Ryung herself as offering – she’s about to die anyway, he adds, so he thought it best to deliver her into Kim Ja Jeom’s hands to punish as he pleases.
Sohyeon tries to visit Seung Po and Min Seo that night, but he’s stopped by the king’s eunuch who reminds him that he’s grounded. LOL. Not just that – he’s supposed to be at the princess’ quarters! Sohyeon looks gravely offended at being treated like an errant schoolboy, but he doesn’t exactly have any other options with Daddy still furious.
So to the princess’ quarters Sohyeon goes, looking a little pained as he explains awkwardly to Yoon Seo that he’ll just stay to appease the king – no need to, you know, actually worry about conceiving a baby.
Yoon Seo politely offers Sohyeon a cup of wine, and when he refuses, proceeds to gulp down cup after cup herself. Haha, he’s utterly baffled and Yoon Seo apologizes, noting that she thought it would be better since she doesn’t “do this” often… and then begins undressing him methodically. She states nervously that she’s following the king’s orders and women she’d met at the temple had advised her to behave like a gisaeng at night, and doesn’t give Sohyeon a chance to reply before she leans over to kiss him.
It takes a moment for him to push her away and he tries to pre-empt a second approach by grabbing her wrists, resulting in him tipping over with her on top of him. Awkwardddd. The rejection cuts Yoon Seo deep and a tear slips from her eyes to fall onto Sohyeon’s cheek as she asks whether he really wants to avoid his own wife that much.
Sohyeon tries to fall back on his usual joking manner after Yoon Seo moves away from him to cry, but hearing her question how he could have let “her” go when it hurt him so much makes him sit up quickly, all light-heartedness forgotten. Yoon Seo clarifies: “While you were ill, Hyang Sun was here.” Not just that, but she had met with Mi Ryung’s mother and had found out the full story of the prince’s past. Instead of being angry with him, however, Yoon Seo admits that it made her understand him and why he claimed to hate women.
Meanwhile, Kim Ja Jeom hurries off to find the aforementioned person, thinking back to what No Soo had told him. The sequence of events – with Hyang Sun stabbing the prince but then giving him evidence on Kim Ja Jeom, while the prince warned her to escape – is enough to raise Kim Ja Jeom’s suspicions about their relationship, and No Soo’s done enough digging to confirm them.
We flash back to the beginning of the tragedy, where we find that the real Mi Ryung was not the renowned beauty that everyone thought she was, but rather a girl who was mentally challenged. Ashamed of her daughter, Minister Yoon’s wife had kept her at home – instead, Mi Ryung’s beautiful servant Hyang Sun was posed as her daughter outside. The lie comes back to bite her in the rear end as rumour spreads quickly to the palace that “Mi Ryung” was a great beauty, and the queen herself chose her as a crown princess candidate.
While Mi Ryung’s mother fretted, the slyly ambitious Hyang Sun jumped at the opportunity and plays Mi Ryung’s mother like a fiddle, convincing her to let her enter as candidate since she totally wouldn’t be chosen anyway.
Hyang Sun also had luck on her side, because she and Sohyeon first laid eyes on each other at the palace and fell in love at first sight. She continued to play the part of Mi Ryung and met him secretly, her hope to become the crown princess growing when she was chosen from the candidates and subsequently introduced to the queen.
But her luck ran out when Minister Yoon returned home and was resolved to tell the truth – in her desperation, Hyang Sun first begged him to accept her as his daughter and (when that failed) screamed that she was chosen by the queen based on her own merits and thus deserves to be Mi Ryung, the future crown princess. All she receives is a sharp slap for her arrogance.
Later that night, Hyang Sun leads the simple and trusting Mi Ryung to the well and pushes her down to her death in cold-blood. But by some trick of fate, the crown prince had arrived and witnessed the whole incident.
Back in the present, No Soo tells Kim Ja Jeom that Mi Ryung had refused to eat or drink and had fallen ill as they neared the border. That’s how Kim Ja Jeom finds her – tied up and lying on a bed, sweat mixing with tears as she waits for death. Kim Ja Jeom notes mockingly that he’d thought Mi Ryung cleverer than that; if all she had wanted was to be with the crown prince, then he could have made her the princess. He offers to help, though we don’t get to hear the price.
At the palace, the princess continues to explain that she sympathizes with Sohyeon’s pain and wants to console him, but isn’t sure she can: “No matter how I try, there is no room (in your heart) for me.” And so, she asks instead for a favour: “Please… set me aside.”
She adds that no one will criticize him for it since she has not produced an heir after five years of marriage, and Sohyeon is stunned. This is hardly a favour – a divorced wife, particularly a former princess, will be forced to live out her life in isolation; remarriage is not an option and her family will be disgraced by association.
Sohyeon asks her whether she knows that, but Yoon Seo replies that she doesn’t care anymore: “I want to live with a man who loves me, even if it is only for a day.” She breaks down, but regains her composure with some difficulty to reiterate: “Please, cast me aside. That is my wish.”
EPISODE 09 – “Summary Execution”
Even Sohyeon looks shaken that the princess would go as far as to make that request and replies, after a long pause, that he cannot grant that wish. Lest we hope that it’s because he’s developed any affection for her, though, he switches back to his joking front and reasons that she is essentially hoping to elope with another man, and he can hardly allow that, can he?
He fixes his clothes and leaves the room, but seeing the disapproving attendants outside reminds him why he was visiting the princess in the first place. You know, that pesky must-have-a-baby-with-wife ultimatum. One glance at Yoon Seo’s face when he turns back tells him that he’s not on her list of favourite people at the moment, though, and he awkwardly offers to stand outside on the balcony instead. Yoon Seo, meanwhile, proceeds to drown her sorrows in drink.
A loud crash breaks the awkward silence – utterly plastered, Yoon Seo has managed to stumble past all her attendants and out into the courtyard in her underclothes, where she proceeds to address the two gaping eunuchs. LOL. Her lady-in-waiting tries to cover her up to preserve her modesty, but Yoon Seo shrugs it off and declares drunkenly that she needs to see the king – she wants him send her out of the palace for being unqualified to be the crown princess.
She gets even more fired up when her lady-in-waiting tries to calm “her highness” down, protesting that she actually has a NAME and isn’t just a crown princess: “There was a time when I had that name and a dream!” Poor Yoon Seo – not only was she forced to sacrifice her identity and dreams for duty, but the crown prince’s indifference makes it impossible for her to even find fulfilment in that duty.
Sohyeon finally appears to cut her tirade short by literally picking her up and carrying her back into the room, though she kicks and fights to be set down the whole time. The king’s eunuch asks his companion: “Does that happen often here?” Hee.
The princess passes out in bed, though her eyes flicker open once to see the prince sitting by her side and the sight puts a faint smile on her face. The next morning, however, she wakes up alone – with the mother of all hangovers, ha. Her lady-in-waiting scolds her for the disastrous episode from the night before and the memories all come flooding back, to Yoon Seo’s extreme chagrin. She asks nervously about the prince, but is told that he’d already left on a trip to the hot springs, ostensibly to recover his health.
The prince had left her a letter, though, in which he explains that it would be awkward for the two of them if they were in the same palace (what with Daddy Dearest breathing down their necks over an heir), so the trip is just an excuse. But he admits frankly that the fault is his and assures Yoon Seo that she is not to blame – Mi Ryung is a paradox from his past that he cannot understand.
In flashback, we see him penning that very sentence in his letter as he recalls the moments after he had witnessed Hyang Sun murdering the real Mi Ryung in cold blood. While Mi Ryung’s parents grieved over their daughter, the eunuch had proposed to the shell-shocked young prince that ordering Hyang Sun to kill herself would allow the matter to be resolved quietly. He had reluctantly done so, as we know, but the guilt of making that decision had haunted him since.
In his letter, Sohyeon apologizes and asks Yoon Seo to give him time, to give both of them time. He adds that his words are sincere, which is enough to bring a smile to the princess’ face – it’s a definite improvement from the unfunny jokes, that’s for sure.
Pan Swe breathes a sigh of relief after the envy procession finally reaches their stop at Anju. Dal Hyang, for his part, is too busy feeling perturbed by the steady gaze and shy smiles that a Manchu girl has been directing at him from where she’s perched on top of a cart. Aww, she totally has a crush (I feel you, girl).
Dal Hyang’s all meh at her attention, though hearing Pan Swe translate her compliment on his good looks draws a pleased smile out of him. But wait, Pan Swe can understand Manchu? Turns out he’s been picking up some basics and a quick exchange with the girl produces the information that her name is Tani and she’s 15 years old, leaving Dal Hyang thoroughly impressed with his brains.
Kim Ja Jeom is tickled pink when he sees Dal Hyang’s name listed with the envoy party – now he has Mi Ryung, Ingguldai and Dal Hyang walking right into his hands. Will you walk into my parlour, said the spider to the fly. All he has to do, he crows, is turn them on each other and watch them self-destruct – and as he says this, he contemplates a woman’s hairpin suggestively. Hmm, didn’t Mi Ryung have that with her?
Maybe Dal Hyang should’ve found a way to keep Pan Swe with him as translator, though watching him attempt to communicate with people despite having zero knowledge of the Manchu language is absolutely hilarious (it mostly involves hand motions and Morse-code-by-eyebrows). Thankfully, Ingguldai realizes that talking at each other in their respective languages isn’t really getting them anywhere and writes his question in Chinese, which Dal Hyang can read.
Ingguldai notices that Dal Hyang is carrying the prince’s sword and delights in teasing him about having a great sword but none of the skill to match it. Dal Hyang glares at him sourly – though he perks up with reluctant interest when Ingguldai offers to teach him so that he could win that bet against the prince. The general suggests meeting for their first lesson in his room after the welcome party that night and Dal Hyang can barely keep up his air of indifference, hiding his grin until after he’s turned away to leave. Not that Ingguldai doesn’t read him like an open book, anyway. I love their dynamic when they’re not at each other’s throats, hee.
Dal Hyang’s on guard duty at the entrance when Kim Ja Jeom arrives for the party and the latter fairly drips with feigned solicitude. It’s enough to make Dal Hyang raise an eyebrow, though he quickly dismisses the unpleasant encounter.
Ingguldai, meanwhile, makes a note of warning his second-in-command to avoid dealing with Kim Ja Jeom – the slimeball is bad news. It seems his concerns are immediately realized, however, because the message that a certain someone is waiting for him causes him to look sharply towards Kim Ja Jeom.
He pours himself a drink in his room as the guest arrives – looks like Mi Ryung is back. She admits candidly that she’s still working with Kim Ja Jeom, having attempted escape only to be caught again, and she’s there to carry out his orders. Which is to drug him, she explains… and right on cue, the effects begin to kick in even as he glances down in horror at the cup he had already drunk from. Too late.
Mi Ryung steps closer to the disoriented general, professing to have a secret to tell him “about Park Dal Hyang’s identity.” Huh?
We don’t find out whatever it is that Mi Ryung told the general, but she leaves with a smirk and Ingguldai immediately orders for Dal Hyang to be brought to him.
Dal Hyang’s puzzled that the general has called for him this early when they had originally agreed to meet after the party, but makes his way to Ingguldai’s room anyway, letting himself in because the guards are gone. He finds Ingguldai with his back turned to him, staring at a sword rack, and cheerily admits that he’s looking forward to the lesson; the opportunity to learn from a general was too good to pass up.
Ingguldai remains silent and slowly draws his sword, which Dal Hyang assumes is preparation for their lesson… and nearly has his head taken off when the general whips around with a wild swipe, catching him by surprise. Dal Hyang’s quick reflexes barely preserve his neck as he makes desperate parries under the furious onslaught, growling all the while that this is rather too much for mere practice – though when he’s backed up against the door and subsequently slashed across the shoulder, it finally becomes abundantly clear that the general’s gone plain berserk. What on earth did Mi Ryung drug him with?
As expected, Dal Hyang’s sword skills are no match for the general’s and he’s knocked to the floor, staring up helplessly as Ingguldai draws his sword back for the killing blow. He strikes, and we see blood splatter across his face. Holy crap.
Pan Swe, still drinking happily with other servants at the entrance, is surprised to see Seung Po and Min Seo ride up. Something is clearly afoot, because they immediately ask whether anything’s wrong and inquire regarding Ingguldai’s whereabouts before gate-crashing the party.
They’re just in time to be greeted by a disturbance building inside – a group of ministers and envoys rush through another door to the sound of screams and general panic. They follow, pushing past the guards barring the entrance to Ingguldai’s room, and find the general slumped at his desk, hand still gripping his sword. On the floor next to him is… a headless corpse. WHAT.
When the ministers demand the identity of the body, the guards reply that it’s Park Dal Hyang.
We jump back to 5 days earlier – Sohyeon is still on his vacation when ministers arrive to inform him that he’s been urgently recalled by the king. Upon his return, his father immediately asks whether the vacation was really for his health or whether it was due to his argument with the princess. When Sohyeon steadfastly denies having had an argument at all, the king explains that he’d thought the fight had occurred because the prince had heard “the rumour.”
The rumour, it turns out, is that the princess had made a trip to the temple for a secret tryst with Ingguldai; praying for the prince’s health was merely a cover. It’s a rumour that’s spread quickly throughout the palace, finally reaching the king’s ears through Princess Jeongmyeong, half-sister to the deposed Prince Gwanghae. Ridiculous as it sounds, the fact that the general was captured near the temple unfortunately lends credence to the rumour. There’s even mention that the princess had given the general her hairpin as a love token (and we see in flashback that it’s the same hairpin in Kim Ja Jeom’s possession. Well well.) When the king had asked to see the hairpin, the princess was unable to produce it.
Sohyeon flatly dismisses the rumour as absurd, feigning outrage that anyone would even dare to insult the princess and the royal house by claiming such a thing. It’s enough to somewhat shake the king’s conviction, though he nevertheless wants the princess to provide solid proof that the rumour’s false by showing him that hairpin.
Sohyeon goes immediately to his wife afterwards, surprising her when he asks whether she’s lost the very hairpin that she was searching for earlier. Unaware of the rumours, Yoon Seo is baffled that the prince knew about it and her eyes go wide when the prince warns her seriously to deny having lost the hairpin at all costs – the minute she lets on that the hairpin’s gone, she’ll be dethroned. Not only that, but they’ll all be in danger, so for once she has to be good at lying.
At the prince’s orders, his eunuch seeks out the musketeer sidekicks for an urgent mission. In his message, Sohyeon briefs Min Seo and Seung Po on the rumour about the princess and Ingguldai and orders them to make for Anju with all haste. The rumour must have originated with Kim Ja Jeom, who had known that the princess had hidden Ingguldai at the temple and helped him escape.
For her part, the princess gives lying her best go – she apologizes to the king for being unable to produce the hairpin because she’s actually sent it away for cleaning. Pfft. She’s stiff, nervous and not particularly convincing, though it does buy Team Sohyeon 15 days until Princess Jeongmyeong’s birthday celebration, where the princess had promised to wear the hairpin. Luckily, Sohyeon is also aware how terrible his wife is at lying and had anticipated that the suspicious king would send his eunuch to find the hairpin, which is why he tells Min Seo and Seung Po that they must retrieve it from Anju before that happens.
Back to the present, Seung Po shakily bends down to investigate the bloody and headless corpse, who is carrying the prince’s sword and wearing Dal Hyang’s identification tag. Ingguldai finally regains consciousness then and looks around, more stunned than anything when he’s faced with a headless corpse. The matter is reported to Kim Ja Jeom, who obviously isn’t the least bit surprised – he’s the mastermind, after all.
Seung Po and Min Seo pace around the body in frustration, unable to confirm their fears that it is Dal Hyang until soldiers locate the head. Min Seo spots a letter slipped into the deceased’s robes and its content makes his eyes widen in shock – crap, it’s more planted evidence, isn’t it?
With impeccable timing, Kim Ja Jeom arrives with the rest of the ministers in tow and order the musketeers to be dragged out of the room. Worse, Min Seo didn’t get a chance to tuck the letter away and Kim Ja Jeom has it removed from him, too. Well, bugger. Kim Ja Jeom makes a point of loudly identifying the document as a secret letter from the prince and orders a search of the general’s quarters based on the content.
Meanwhile, Ingguldai pulls his hand away from his face and it comes away stained with blood, the sight of which jolts his memory with a brief flash of Dal Hyang’s terrified face as he struck with his sword. Troubled, he admits that he cannot be certain that he didn’t kill Dal Hyang.
He allows the Joseon search party to conduct their search unhindered, telling his men to stand down when they object – they hardly need the situation to get any worse. But worse it does get, because the princess’ hairpin is soon found amongst his belongings and Ingguldai can offer no explanation as to why it’s there.
Poor Pan Swe is sent to Sohyeon with the news that Dal Hyang has been beheaded by the Manchu, though all he can eke out at first is, “He’s dead.” The princess pokes her head into the room at that moment, wondering whether there are updates, and Sohyeon has to quickly lock her out to prevent her from hearing about Dal Hyang. Pan Swe hands him Seung Po’s letter, which summarizes the full sequence of disastrous events.
The letter found on the body is a plant by Kim Ja Jeom, as expected. Kim Ja Jeom carefully outlines its fictional contents to his laughably gullible audience – the letter is supposedly from the prince to Dal Hyang, with details on the princess’ affair with Ingguldai and orders for Dal Hyang to search the general’s belongings for the hairpin. Ingguldai had happened upon Dal Hyang searching his room and had killed him to protect the secret.
Kim Ja Jeom points to the prince’s sword (accompanying the headless corpse) and the hairpin as supporting evidence, adding that he can also confirm that Dal Hyang is the prince’s man and thus verify the letter’s legitimacy. Of course you can. It’s the worst case scenario for Team Sohyeon – not only is Dal Hyang apparently dead, but the general has been arrested and the hairpin at the heart of the rumours is in Kim Ja Jeom’s hands, thereby putting the princess in danger as well.
It’s all rather pat, but no one at Anju questions the story. In fact, the governor of Anju is persuaded by Kim Ja Jeom to have Ingguldai quietly executed, supposedly to protect the royal name and prevent the matter from becoming a diplomatic incident. Seung Po and Min Seo attempt to speak reason, but are unable to do much when they’re so far away from Hanyang and the prince’s authority.
In his letter to Sohyeon, Seung Po notes that he and Min Seo are continuing the search for Dal Hyang’s head instead (having been forced to bury the decomposing headless corpse) so that they can prove that the body isn’t their friend and Kim Ja Jeom’s story is false – though shots of a grieving Seung Po drowning himself in drink suggest that the optimistic words lack any real conviction. Seung Po adds that their only lead on the identity of the woman who’d drugged Ingguldai is the name “Hyang Sun” – and while the musketeer sidekicks do not know her real identity, Sohyeon certainly does. His fist clenches around the letter, crushing it in barely restrained fury, and he orders the eunuch to prepare for his immediate departure for Anju.
Yoon Seo is anxious to hear the news when Sohyeon finally emerges, particularly since she’d heard that someone had died (though not who). The prince merely tells her that he’ll need to search for the hairpin in person and she’ll be better off staying outside the palace while he’s gone – they both know that Yoon Seo wouldn’t be able to lie to the king.
The princess finds herself drinking in the sight of her room with an uneasy feeling of finality as she readies to leave. She admits as much to Sohyeon, who’s there to see her off, and he looks at her for a long moment before joking that leaving was precisely what she’d wanted – wasn’t it?
She smiles sadly in agreement, though she clearly doesn’t feel the same way now. Expression turning serious, Sohyeon says: “Don’t worry, your wish will not come true. You’ll come back, even if you do not want to.” Is that a promise, Sohyeon?
Yoon Seo turns back to look at him as her palanquin is carried away, smiling through her tears.
A subdued Ingguldai is dragged to his execution under the charge of murdering a Joseon military officer and insulting the royal family through undisclosed crimes. The executioner readies his blade for the blow.
Elsewhere, a figure dressed in an officer’s garb slips into the now-deserted crime scene in Ingguldai’s room – it’s No Soo in disguise. He glances around, unsheathes his sword and plunges it through the cracks in the floorboards…
…Narrowly missing the decapitated head hidden underneath. And lying next to that decapitated head is Dal Hyang, who’s very much alive and has just been given a rather rude shock upon regaining consciousness. Having failed to find anything with his blade on the first try, No Soo moves on to the next floorboard crack and Dal Hyang’s eyes widen as he watches the blade driving straight down… towards him.
GAH, that cliffhanger! We know that Dal Hyang must survive somehow – he has to write his memoirs, after all – but still. At least this isn’t a show where we can complain about the stakes not being high enough? The best thing about the What Happened to Dal Hyang mystery is that it leaves plenty of room for big reveals in the next episode – the mystery doesn’t end with our hero being located and the fun is in finding out how Ingguldai could have been convinced to kill Dal Hyang, even in his drugged state. And what was that “secret” regarding Dal Hyang’s identity anyway? Whatever it is and whether it’s true or false, it must have been pretty significant to send the general into a bloodthirsty rage.
More importantly, perhaps, is the mystery of who saved Dal Hyang. The most likely option is Mi Ryung; Ingguldai was too drugged to stop himself from killing Dal Hyang (let alone stash him beneath the floorboards), Kim Ja Jeom has no conceivable reason to want to keep him alive and No Soo is trying very hard to make sure Dal Hyang’s dead. It’s frankly difficult to believe that Mi Ryung would so easily be swept up in Kim Ja Jeom’s dastardly plans again after her apparent change of heart, despite his tempting offer. If Mi Ryung is truly still after Sohyeon’s heart, she has to realize that killing Dal Hyang will win her no brownie points, anyway.
While we’re talking about Mi Ryung, the full backstory in Episode 8 answers our questions about what had happened regarding the identity switch, the death of the real Mi Ryung and the reasoning behind Sohyeon’s order for Hyang Sun to kill herself. As most viewers had suspected, Sohyeon had a pretty good reason behind what had (without context) sounded so cruel – it still is, but given that Hyang Sun was clearly a murderess, she would have been put to death anyway and having the identity switch revealed in the process would have likely led to either death or severe punishment for Mi Ryung’s parents, as well. The crown prince’s decision had saved the lives of the parents, even if the guilt had cost him dearly.
However, it also raises a few issues with Mi Ryung/Hyang Sun’s character – whether the problem lies in the writing or a difference in execution by the child actress versus the adult, I’m not sure. For starters, she clearly had a dark streak to begin with; her murder of the real Mi Ryung was motivated by a mixture of greed and desire, rather than being a case of her being pushed over the edge by Sohyeon’s order. On top of that, her sense of self-entitlement and self-justification is a large part of her problem – she believed that she deserved to become Mi Ryung and despite the fact that it was her own crime that forced the prince’s hand, she blamed the prince for her subsequent suffering and felt justified for seeking revenge. Considering these aspects, is it realistic that a simple expression of love (or guilt, remnants of affection – take your pick) from the prince would shake her so much that she would do a 180 and actually express her well-wishes for the prince and Yoon Seo?
Even more problematic is the disconnect between the child Hyang Sun’s character and the adult Hyang Sun. As mentioned earlier, the child Hyang Sun was predominantly driven by greed and a sense of self-entitlement – she may have loved the prince as well, but that was secondary. The adult Hyang Sun, however, is a woman scorned by love; she holds a grudge against the prince because he had tossed her aside, but despite everything her feelings for him are enough for her to forego her plans for revenge. If, at the height of her love affair with the prince during their childhood, she did not love him more than she loved herself, how does she apparently become more fixated on love after he had ordered her to commit suicide?
Moving on – Sohyeon and Yoon Seo’s relationship takes two steps forward and one step back yet again, but what’s promising this time is that Sohyeon has finally been forced to drop the joking façade to express words of true sincerity. It’s sad that it took the princess’ heartbreaking emotional outburst and the threat from Kim Ja Jeom to tip the scales, but at least they’re now at a point where they fully understand each other. In a way, this trial is actually positive for their development; by forcing them to work together to survive and putting them in a situation where they have to confront the possibility of being separated, perhaps they’ll realize that they actually make a pretty good team. Despite how badly Sohyeon has treated her so far (and he’s really been quite a jerk), it’s obvious that he does care enough to try and protect her from harm. Baby steps, baby steps.
Admittedly I’m not terribly invested in them as a couple, though I find their relationship fascinatingly complex and full of possibilities – if I want them to eventually work out, it’s mainly because I’d like to see poor Yoon Seo happy. Her character has been fairly understated so far, but her quiet courage makes her one of my favourites. It’s easy to mistake her tears and helplessness for weakness, but true strength isn’t expressed by hiking up one’s skirts and going on a one woman crusade, particularly considering the period, her status and its inherent restrictions. Trapped in an environment in which she has no freedom of expression and no friends to rely on, Yoon Seo’s held up remarkably well.
But enough about the romance – how about more Dal Hyang/Everyone bromance? Can we possibly get that sword fighting lesson between Ingguldai and Dal Hyang after he’s released? I can’t be the only one who wants more teasing written banter and fun with language barriers.