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[2011] Cuộc chiến hoàng cung - Deep Rooted Tree - Jang Hyuk, Song Joong Gi, Shin Se Kyung, Kim Ki Bum - Baeksang Art Awards 2012 Grand Prize

Cuộc Chiến Hoàng Cung

Cuộc Chiến Hoàng Cung

Deep Rooted Tree (2011)

  • Quốc gia:Phim Hàn Quốc
  • Thể loại:phim tình cảmphim dã sử - cổ trang
  • Thời lượng:34 Tập (45 phút / tập)
  • Trạng thái:Full 34 tập VietSub
  • Tập tiếp theo:
  • Diễn viên:Jang Hyuk, Song Joong G, i Shin Se Kyung, Kim Ki Bum
  • Đạo diễn:N/A
  • Năm phát hành:2011

Phim Cuộc Chiến Hoàng Cung xoay quanh câu chuyện trả thù của Kang Chea Yoon. Khi xưa cha của anh vì hoàng đế Lee Doo đã hy sinh tình mạng của mình nên anh đã lấy thân phận thị vệ phục dịch cho vua đề tiếp cận chờ đợi cơ hội trả thù. Phim Cuộc Chiến Hoàng Cung cùng lộ hàng loạt bí mật và âm mưu mà trong quá trình điều tra Chea Yoon đã phát hiện và anh vô tình bị cuốn vào nhũng vụ án liên hoàn do những kẻ có tài nhưng cùng có mục đích lớn để hy sinh tính mạng. Phim Cuộc Chiến Hoàng Cung lấy bối cảnh vào thời Triều Tiên rất hưng thịnh dưới sự cai trị của thời Sejong.

Ngay từ khi chưa phát sóng, Deep-rooted Tree đã là một trong những bộ phim truyền hình Hàn được mong đợi nhất cuối năm 2011 bởi cốt truyện hấp dẫn, đội ngũ sản xuất tài năng và dàn diễn viên giỏi.

Được chuyển thể từ cuốn tiểu thuyết Deep-Rooted –Tree (Cuộc chiến hoàng cung) của nhà văn Lee Joeng Myeong. Câu chuyện phim xoay quanh kế hoạch trả thù của Kang Chea Yoon , người luôn ôm mối hận với Lee Doo, vị vua thứ 4 của triều đại Chosoen-SeJong đại đế sau này.

Đồng đều từ biên kịch, đạo diễn đến diễn viên

Cha của Chae Yoon đã vì Lee Doo mà hy sinh tính mạng, thế nên anh đã quyết tâm trả thù cho cha dưới lớp vỏ là một thị vệ kiêm phục dịch. Khi việc điều tra của Kang Chae Yoon dần tiến gần hơn đến ngọn nguồn sự thật, anh lại nhận ra bản thân đã bị cuốn vào âm mưu phía sau những vụ án mạng liên hoàn này. 

Kẻ giật dây là một nhóm người gồm toàn những thiên tài, chỉ vì đạt được mục đích mà đến tính mạng họ cũng chẳng từ nan. Họ có quyền lực có thể cản trở việc điều tra của Chae Yoon….

Cuộc chiến hoàng cung chạm mốc ratting khủng - 1

Cuộc chiến hoàng cung chạm mốc ratting khủng - 2

Những âm mưu và sự thù hận luôn tồn tại ở nơi tập trung nhiều quyền lực nhất

Ngay từ khi chưa phát sóng, Deep-rooted Tree đã là một trong những bộ phim truyền hình Hàn được mong đợi nhất cuối năm 2011 bởi cốt truyện hấp dẫn, đội ngũ sản xuất tài năng và dàn diễn viên giỏi. Trong tình hình các bộ phim truyền hình đang sụt giảm ratting nghiêm trọng thì mới đến tập bốn mà ratting của bộ phim đã chạm mốc 20%. 

Lãnh trách nhiệm chắp bút cho Deep-rooted Tree chính là hai biên kịch nổi tiếng Kim Young Hyun, Park Sang Yeon từng viết kịch bản cho nhiều bộ phim cổ trang hit như Nàng Dae Jang Geum và Nữ hoàng Seon Deok. 

Bên cạnh đó, đạo diễn của Deep-rooted Tree chính là Jang Tae Yoo một tên tuổi danh tiếng trong làng điện ảnh Hàn khi thực hiện thành công bộ phim cổ trang Painter of the Wind (Họa sĩ gió).

Cuộc chiến hoàng cung chạm mốc ratting khủng - 3

Cuộc chiến hoàng cung chạm mốc ratting khủng - 4

Cuộc chiến nơi hoàng cung không phải là đề tài mới nhưng Deep-Rooted – Tree ẩn chứa một đường dây câu chuyện mới lạ và đầy bất ngờ

Ngoài biên kịch và đạo diễn danh tiếng, bộ phim còn quy tu dàn diễn viên tài năng như nam diễn viên đình đám Jang Hyuk, ngôi sao đang lên Shin Se Kyung và đặc biệt là Han Seok Kyu. Deep-rooted Tree cũng đánh dấu sự trở lại màn ảnh nhỏ của Han Seok Kyu sau 16 năm vắng bóng.

Mỹ nhân 9X và dấu ấn "sát trai"

Đặc biệt mỹ nhân 9X Shin Se-kyung đã có diễn xuất lột xác khi vàovai So-yi, người cung nữ đã hỗ trợ vua Sejong với dự án bảng chữ cái sáng tạo. Cú sốc thời thơ ấu đã khiến cô không có khả năng nói, nhưng trải qua thời gian gíup đỡ nhà vua, cô từ từ bắt đầu nói trở lại. 

Không biết vô tình hay hữu ý mà người đẹp 9x thường gặp những vai “sát người yêu”, vì gần như bất cứ ai có “dây mơ rễ má” với cô nàng đều phải chịu kết cục bi thảm. Điểm lại hàng loạt bộ phim mà Shin Se Kyung góp mặt: Năm 2009, Shin Se Kyung góp mặt trong "bom tấn" cổ trang Queen Seonduk với vai công chúa Chun Myung hồi trẻ.

Cuộc chiến hoàng cung chạm mốc ratting khủng - 5

Cuộc chiến hoàng cung chạm mốc ratting khủng - 6

Mỹ nhân 9X Shin Se Kyung đã có vai diễn lột xác trong vai diễn cổ trang nặng ký này

Những tưởng kết hôn với công chúa thì phò mã Kim Young Soo (do Park Jung Chul đóng) sẽ được hưởng vinh hoa phú quý nhưng không, anh đã hy sinh nơi chiến trận khốc liệt. Sau đó không lâu, Shin Se Kyung tiếp tục xuất hiện trên màn ảnh nhỏ với sitcom High Kich Through the Roof

Vốn là một bộ phim hài nhưng bất ngờ ở tập cuối, “người yêu” của Shin Se Kyung là Choi Daniel đã qua đời vì một tai nạn giao thông. Phim truyền hình Fashion King vừa khép lại với kết thúc nhân vật nam chính Young Gul (Yoo Ah In) bị bắn chết và đó cũng là lúc khán giả phát hiện ra rằng, cô nàng Shin Se Kyung rất “có tướng sát người yêu”.

32 tập của Deep-rooted Tree lần đầu tiên phát sóng tại VN trên kênh Let’s Viet lúc 19h30 các ngày trong tuần từ 2/12. 

Từ truyện lên phim
Đây là bộ phim truyền hình được chuyển thể từ cuốn tiểu thuyết “ Deep-Rooted  –Tree” của nhà văn Lee Joeng Myeong. Câu chuyện phim xoay quanh kế hoạch trả thù của Kang Chea Yoon , người luôn ôm mối hận với Lee Doo, vị vua thứ 4 của triều đại Chosoen-SeJong đại đế sau này. Cha của Chae Yoon đã vì Lee Doo mà hy sinh tính mạng, thế nên anh đã quyết tâm trả thù cho cha dưới lớp vỏ là một thị vệ kiêm phục dịch. Khi việc điều tra của Kang Chae Yoon dần tiến gần hơn đến ngọn nguồn sự thật, anh lại nhận ra bản thân đã bị cuốn vào âm mưu phía sau những vụ án mạng liên hoàn này. Kẻ giật dây là một nhóm người gồm toàn những thiên tài, chỉ vì đạt được mục đích mà đến tính mạng họ cũng chẳng từ nan. Họ có quyền lực có thể cản trở việc điều tra của Chae Yoon….
 
Ngay từ khi chưa phát sóng, Deep-rooted Tree đã là một trong những bộ phim truyền hình Hàn được mong đợi nhất cuối năm 2011 bởi cốt truyện hấp dẫn, đội ngũ sản xuất tài năng và dàn diễn viên giỏi. Mới đến tập 4 mà ratting ở mốc 20%. Lãnh trách nhiệm chắp bút cho Deep-rooted Tree chính là 2 biên kịch nổi tiếng Kim Young Hyun, Park Sang Yeon từng viết kịch bản cho nhiều bộ phim cổ trang hit như Nàng Dae Jang Geum và Nữ hoàng Seon Deok. Bên cạnh đó, đạo diễn của Deep-rooted Tree chính là Jang Tae Yoo một tên tuổi danh tiếng trong làng điện ảnh Hàn khi thực hiện thành công bộ phim cổ trang Painter of the Wind (Họa sĩ gió). Ngoài biên kịch và đạo diễn danh tiếng, Deep-rooted Tree còn quy tu dàn diễn viên tài năng như nam diễn viên đình đám Jang Hyuk, ngôi sao đang lên Shin Se Kyung và đặc biệt là Han Seok Kyu. Deep-rooted Tree đánh dấu sự trở lại màn ảnh nhỏ của Han Seok Kyu sau 16 năm vắng bóng. 
 
Mỹ nhân 9x Shin Se-kyung có tướng “sát người yêu”
Diễn viên Shin Se-kyung vào vai So-yi, người cung nữ đã hỗ trợ vua Sejong với dự án bảng chữ cái sáng tạo. Cú sốc thời thơ ấu đã khiến cô không có khả năng nói, nhưng trải qua thời gian gíup đỡ nhà vua, cô từ từ bắt đầu nói trở lại. Không biết vô tình hay hữu ý mà người đẹp 9x thường gặp những vai “sát người yêu”, vì gần như bất cứ ai có “dây mơ rễ má” với cô nàng đều phải chịu kết cục bi thảm. Điểm lại hàng loạt bộ phim mà Shin Se Kyung góp mặt: Năm 2009, Shin Se Kyung góp mặt trong "bom tấn" cổ trang “Queen Seonduk” với vai công chúa Chun Myung hồi trẻ. Những tưởng kết hôn với công chúa thì phò mã Kim Young Soo (do Park Jung Chul đóng) sẽ được hưởng vinh hoa phú quý nhưng không, anh đã hy sinh nơi chiến trận khốc liệt. Sau đó không lâu, Shin Se Kyung tiếp tục xuất hiện trên màn ảnh nhỏ với sitcom “High Kich Through the Roof”. Vốn là một bộ phim hài nhưng bất ngờ ở tập cuối, “người yêu” của Shin Se Kyung là Choi Daniel đã qua đời vì một tai nạn giao thông. Phim truyền hình “Fashion King” vừa khép lại với kết thúc nhân vật nam chính Young Gul (Yoo Ah In) bị bắn chết và đó cũng là lúc khán giả phát hiện ra rằng, cô nàng Shin Se Kyung rất “có tướng sát người yêu”.

Synopsis

Early in his reign, King Sejong accidentally causes the death of his in-laws and their slaves in an attempt to save them from his brutal father, King Taejong. Two young slaves, Ddol-bok and his friend Dam, survive but neither knows the other has. Ddol-bok blames the king and vows to kill him to avenge the deaths of everyone he loved. He spends several years becoming a great warrior. Dam, who has a photographic memory, becomes a court lady called So-yi (Shin Se-kyung), but she feels so guilty about her role in the other slaves' deaths that she is mute.

Ddol-bok returns to the palace under the name of Kang Chae-yoon (Jang Hyuk) in order to kill the king. However, he becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding the deaths of several Hall of Worthies scholars. The deaths were caused by a secret society called "Hidden Root," which was created long ago by followers of Jeong Do-jeon, with the goal of giving more power to ministers and less to the king. King Taejong killed Jeong Do-jeon and all of his family except his nephew, Jeong Gi-joon, who is now the leader of Hidden Root and lives in disguise not far from King Sejong.

It soon becomes known that the king, with the help of So-yi and the Hall of Worthies scholars, has been working for years on a secret project, which turns out to be the creation of the Korean alphabet. While tracking Hidden Root, Kang Chae-yoon and So-yi each realize who the other is. So-yi begins to speak, and when she shows Chae-yoon the simple alphabet and describes how it will give more power to commoners, he is convinced to work with the king instead of killing him.

However, Jeong Gi-joon believes that the new alphabet is a threat to Confucianorder, and decides to stop it at all costs. He murders the king's son, but this only makes Sejong more determined. Jeong is able to stop the king's dissemination efforts, and on the day the alphabet is to be publicly announced, both So-yi and Chae-yoon are fatally wounded by Hidden Root members. However, through their sacrifices, the event is successful, and commoners begin to use Hangul.

Cast

Han Suk-kyu as King Sejong

The creator of Hangul. During his early years as king, Yi Do had a strained relationship with his father and harbored guilt for seeing people's suffering and death (including his wife's family) under his father's tyrannical rule. After the death of his father and his wife Soheon, Yi Do (now called King Sejong) employs Kang Chae-yoon as an investigator (unaware he is the same boy whom he spared years before) and is helped by So-yi in the creation of Hangul. He later finds out that Chae-yoon is the same boy who tried to kill him.

Jang Hyuk as Kang Chae-yoon/Ddol-bok

A former slave who has become royal guard and detective of King Sejong. As a child, Ddol-bok protected his intellectually disabled father from the teasing of other servants of the Queen's family. Later, Ddol-bok 's father was arrested and beaten, finally dying in front of him and his childhood friend So-yi. Though he was actually saved by King Sejong, he doesn't know it, and because he blames Sejong for his father's death, has sworn to avenge him by killing the king. He becomes a soldier under a changed name, and also trains under a martial arts master named Lee Bang-Ji, who showed him the way of the leaping martial arts that shows incredible speed, agility, power and stamina. Chae-yoon later becomes a low-level guard along with his friends, because he wants to keep a low profile from the king. He doesn't know that So-yi is Dam, believing that she is dead.

Shin Se-kyung as So-yi/Dam

Chae-yoon's friend who was saved as a child by Sejong's wife and became a court lady. During her early years as court lady, Yi Do apologized to her for his role in her family's death. She feels so guilty about her role in her fellow slaves' deaths that she cannot speak, but she is useful in the creation of Hangul because of her photographic memory.
Sejong's bodyguard and friend who would sacrifice himself to protect his friend.
An assassin who was smitten by So-yi when he took her hostage.
Though his origins are vague, the drama refers him to be from China. He is a master assassin, and his skills exceed those of Kang Chae-yoon, Moo-hyul and Yoon Pyeong. The only one that is equally matched to him is Lee Bang-ji, whom he kills.

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Recipient Result
2011
SBS Drama Awards
Grand Prize (Daesang) Han Suk-kyu Won
Best Drama Deep Rooted Tree Won
Top Excellence Award, Actor in a Drama Special Han Suk-kyu Nominated
Excellence Award, Actress in a Drama Special Shin Se-kyung Won
Special Award, Actor in a Drama Special Cho Jin-woong Nominated
Special Award, Actress in a Drama Special Song Ok-sook Won
Producer's Choice Award Song Joong-ki Won
Top 10 Stars Han Suk-kyu Won
Jang Hyuk Won
2012
6th Mnet 20's Choice Awards
20's Male Drama Star Song Joong-ki Nominated
20's Female Drama Star Shin Se-kyung Nominated
7th Seoul International Drama Awards
Grand Prize Deep Rooted Tree Won
Best Screenwriter Kim Young-hyun, Park Sang-yeon Nominated
Outstanding Korean Drama Deep Rooted Tree Nominated
Outstanding Korean Actress Shin Se-kyung Nominated
48th Baeksang Arts Awards
Grand Prize (Daesang) for TV Deep Rooted Tree Won
Best TV Drama Deep Rooted Tree Nominated
Best Actor (TV) Han Suk-kyu Nominated
Best Director (TV) Jang Tae-yoo Nominated
Best Screenplay (TV) Kim Young-hyun, Park Sang-yeon Won
5th Korea Drama Awards
Grand Prize (Daesang) Han Suk-kyu Nominated
Best Director Jang Tae-yoo Won
Excellence Award, Actor Yoon Je-moon Nominated
1st K-Drama Star Awards
Top Excellence Award, Actor Han Suk-kyu Nominated

68 October 19, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 1

by HeadsNo2

[New recapper alert! HeadsNo2 has graciously offered to lend her recapping skills in covering the new kid on the sageuk block, Wednesday & Thursday’s Tree With Deep Roots. It’s a highly anticipated drama that’s already commanding the top ratings spot, and looks like a lush feast for the eyes. Hopefully also for minds and hearts. –javabeans]

Tree With Deep Roots is cinematically stunning and darkly thrilling – a full on assault of the senses, if you will. If this drama were a meal, it would have seven courses with a complimentary dessert just because it’s awesome like that. If this drama were your girlfriend, she’d leave you to watch Song Joong Ki play a tortured young king and Jang Hyuk a Joseon-era murder investigator. If this drama wore clothes, it-…

You know what? The opening episode was good. Let’s just go from there.

EPISODE 1 RECAP

We open in a currently unspecified year, though background material tells us that we are in the Joseon Dynasty – as we usually are – during the reign of King Sejong, who ruled from the year 1418 to the year 1450.

A royal guard, KANG CHAE-YOON (Jang Hyuk) is counting the amount of steps it takes to get from one side of the royal courtyard to the other for a future assembly. It’s nice to see that Jang Hyuk in a fancy hat, but I still miss that mane of glory from his Chuno days. Sigh.

In a brilliant bit of camerawork/CGI, we see the assembly Chae-yoon has been plotting for literally unfold in front of our eyes. He’s decided that the Sam Do (basically, the Royal Red Carpet that only the King may walk on) is the fastest way to get to KING SEJONG (Han Suk Kyu)… by one hundred and seven steps. That seems like one hundred and six steps too many, Chae-yoon, but good luck all the same.

He stands in line as part of the assembly, and with the untying of his hat we know that Operation: Kill the King is underway. I’m sure that the hat untying can be symbolic, in that Chae-yoon is shedding his oath to protect the King in order to have a killer drama opening instead – but either way, it’s captivating to see the battle scene that follows.

With a roar of a war cry, “Lee Do!” (the name King Sejong was called before he was King Sejong), Chae-yoon leaps onto the red carpet. The Royal Army springs into motion, but no one has the balls of steel Chae-yoon possesses to walk that sacred carpet, and can only toe the edges while they try to fight him off.

Chae-yoon makes it all the way to the throne, distracting MU-HYUL (Jo Jin Woong), Joseon’s best swordsman, with some kind of smoke bomb as he launches toward the King… Only to be shot not once, but twice, through the chest by arrows. Nooo! He’s still ready to persevere, but only gets pelted with more arrows for the trouble, even one straight to the Achilles tendon. Ouch.

Mu-hyul holds a sword to Chae-yoon’s neck, while he can only stare straight forward at King Sejong, blood dripping from his mouth. In a voiceover, we hear him say: “Failed.”

Turns out the assembly was all a scenario that got played in Chae-yoon’s head, and he’s safe and sound where we last saw him. He concludes that the current version of Operation: Kill the King is too risky, and that unless he shortens the distance or becomes faster, he’ll have to wait. The dream wasn’t for nothing, though, and he sketches a map of the palace into his little black book.

As fate would have it, none other than King Sejong comes across his path. Chae-yoon weighs his chances in percentages about making a move to kill Sejong now by using the sword of a nearby guard, but his chances only get smaller upon Mu-hyul’s arrival. We can see the wheels turning in Chae-yoon’s head as it’s a now-or-never decision, but his chances are already less than they were during the imaginary assembly…

And then King Sejong turns around, to ask Chae-yoon for his name. We hear a voiceover of him asking himself “What do I do? What do I do?” as we all sit on the edge of our seats. He’s quiet, glancing at the nearby guard’s sword as though he’s ready to make his move – and we hear him say, in voiceover:

Chae-yoon:“My name… My name is Ddol Bok!”

Insert flashback and collective “aww”. It’s the kid from City Hunter! We cut to a young Chae-yoon, whose earlier name (as a slave, so it seems) was DDOL-BOK (Chae Sang Woo), beating the crap out of another, way bigger kid. He’s trying to get answers as to who made fun of his father – in what proves to be a Ddol-bok Smash! button for him all throughout the episode.

We’ve moved back to the year 1418. According to history, this is the first year of Lee Do, or King Sejong’s, reign as king – with his father (former King Taejong) having abdicated the throne.

Elsewhere, a man is being tortured and interrogated (oops, are they one in the same?) by JO MAL-SAENG (Lee Jae Young) about Ddol-bok’s master and the King’s father-in-law, Chancellor Shim. We’ve started to get our political maneuvering into play, but we don’t have the full picture yet. All we know is the tortured man is both shocked and hurt to hear that these orders are coming straight from His Highness.

In stark contrast, the slaves at the very house of the Chancellor of the Hour are having a good ol’ time. Interrupting them is a well-meaning fellow slave who gets taken advantage of because of an apparent mental handicap. Before one of the slaves can quip that Ddol-bok will get them all for this stunt, Ddol-bok bursts onto the scene – in our first bit of comedy for the hour – and sets to beating the men who put makeup on his father’s face.

All the ruckus gets them dragged before the brother of the currently absent Chancellor Shim. Ddol-bok boldly defends his father, Suk-sam, and wins the impromptu debate – but the offending party, Gul-sang, refuses the terms and causes another fight to break out with the hot-tempered Ddol-bok.

Afterward, father and son share a touching moment by a stream. Ddol-bok washes the makeup off and tries to teach his father how to defend himself in the future. It’s here where we learn that Suk-sam wasn’t always this way, as he fell from a hill trying to protect his son. Now the roles are reversed and his son is protecting him. The way they are together is adorable city.

Ddol-bok spends a leisurely afternoon with another slave girl we’ve seen earlier in the episode – her father was the one that caused all the trouble earlier. I might be very wrong about this as she’s not been officially named yet, but this seems to be a young SO-YI (KIM HYUN SOO).

They’re your typical Cute Children, and have an Extra Cute Word Game. They even exchange stolen gifts, which is sweet and sad all at once. She’s made a small bag out of pilfered pieces of silk from her mistress, and he’s stolen her a partially-broken container of rouge. He even helps her apply some to her face – and she returns the favor. Aww. Wait, we’re in kdramaland. Surely this kind of adorable happiness cannot last long.

Aaand it doesn’t. The two little lovebirds return to their master’s home to find chaos, with his slaves trying to defend the homestead and getting beaten for it by Royal Troops. Ddol-bok enters the fray and saves his father, escaping with him and young So-yi(?) to a house in the woods. In order to keep his father from returning to the house, Ddol-bok binds his hands and feet.

After a brief interjection with the Queen, we cut from the torture of the captured Chancellor’s brother to former KING TAEJONG (Baek Yoon Shik), enjoying a quiet day of fishing with the Royal Court. He’s the first one to catch something and everyone makes a big to-do. How much do you want to bet that no one else baited their hooks? He’d updated on the state of the interrogations, and it becomes clear that though he’s abdicated the throne, he still hasn’t quite relinquished his power.

Mu-hyul makes it past official LEE SHIN-JUK (well-beloved Ahn Suk Hwan) into a grandiose, beautiful, and busy room to see none other than LEE DO, aka a young KING SEJONG (Song Joong Ki). He’s absorbed, almost to the point of obsession, with a floor-sized 33×33 game of sudoku. I can’t even play the kind that comes in the weekly newspaper.

The sudoku seems to be Lee Do’s way of coping, though we can see him trembling from his shoulders to his hands. Aww. When the Queen comes, as if knowing what she’s going to ask, he begins to name the men his father has had executed. In turn, she berates him for falling into his games whenever serious things happen, and begs him to save her father’s life. He’s the King of Joseon. Can he not even save a life?

Cut to: a flashback montage of Lee Do not saving lives. He remembers each one he had to watch as a young prince and how everyone asked for help while he could help no one.

Spurred by these haunting memories, he can only dejectedly tell the Queen: “I cannot save him. I cannot do anything.”

Cut to: Lee Do doing exactly what he said he couldn’t do. During the court proceedings where the fate of the traitors is decided, it’s pretty clear who wears the real kingly pants out of this father and son duo – and it isn’t the current king.

He’s more or less coerced by his father to give the seal of approval to Chancellor Shim’s grim fate, and the two kings’ conflict comes to a head in the Sudoku Room (that’s what I’m calling it for now, anyway). These actors chew up the scenery, and it’s clear that Lee Do is still under his father’s thumb as much as he doesn’t want to be. The Sudoku Room scene serves to show us the differing ideals between them – Taejong is trying to get Lee Do to see things in the singular way that he does by ‘solving’ the sudoku puzzle with only the number one. He says that the King is number one, and the only one with the power. Everything else is unnecessary.

Though told by his father to stay out of it, Lee Do embarks on Mission: Save Shim-won and sends a girl from the palace with a secrete missive. She’s meant to take it to a slave of Shim-won’s that Lee Do trusts, but because of the police presence surrounding the house the letter ends up in the hands of Ddol-bok, his father, and that yet-unnamed-girl-I’m-sure-is-young-So-yi. They’re left with the task of delivering the letter, and while Ddol-bok is initially distrustful he believes the young So-yi can read from their earlier gift exchange. He asks her to check the letter’s contents against what the girl says, and she hesitantly agrees. They’re reassured that if they deliver this to their master all will be well and their fathers will be saved, thanks to the King.

Ddol-bok volunteers to go, but in a touching moment, his dad uses the skills his son taught him earlier in the episode to take the dangerous mission of letter delivery himself. He runs through the night without stopping, and catches up to his master’s caravan.

Too little, too late – Shim-won’s reaction tells us that all is not well with this letter, and in a brief flashback we see why: Jo Mal-saeng had intercepted the court girl sent to deliver Lee Do’s letter and pulled a bait-and-switch. Whether the real letter would have helped or not is debatable, since royal troops come to surround the caravan moments later. Without knowing any better, Ddol-bok’s father admits to being the letter carrier and receives a bloody and horrible blow to the head for it. I had a feeling this was coming, but it’s still heartbreaking to see.

Lee Do hears the bad news from Mu-hyul, while Taejong hears the good news from Jo Mal-saeng, who hands over the original letter. Seems like someone hasn’t turned his king switch into the ‘off’ position.

Ddol-bok’s father, Suk-sam, isn’t dead – yet. He’s getting there, while Shim-won sits as a prisoner and lots of horrible torture implements are readied. Suk-sam cries about his son who he might never see again and Shim-won takes pity, using the precious time he has left on this world to demand a piece of paper so that he can write to Ddol-bok on Suk-sam’s behalf. The actor playing Shim Won doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but he’s established himself as an upright man with integrity, honor, and care for others. He’s dignified as he accepts the bowl of Execution Poison, and as he drinks it, we see Suk-sam holding the paper that Shim-won wrote for him.

Lee Do, no stranger to uptake, knows that the letters were switched as soon as he hears about Shim-won’s fate. At least he doesn’t live in a land of denial where his father is perfect, and as Taejong is still scheming with Jo Mal-saeng, all Lee Do has to do is stand outside to overhear proof that his father betrayed his trust.

He takes a long moment deciding whether to go in or not. Deciding against it, he can only walk away hanging his head.

Chancellor Shim’s family and slaves are being carted through the street like animals. Since the belief existed that being a traitor must be contagious, no one from Shim-won’s household is excluded from the promise of a future and probably horrible death. Thus far our two children have been able to avoid detection, but upon seeing her dad being pulled along in the procession, DAM (previously referred to as ‘young So-yi’, but she has a name now!) is unable to hold back. Ddol-bok tries to drag her back, but they both end up captured and thrown into prison with the rest of the slaves.

Meanwhile, the Queen goes to visit a deeply brooding Lee Do. Where before she had been pleading, asking a question we were all wondering with her: can’t he, as King, do anything?, now she’s taken on a more somber air befitting the execution of her father. She only knows of the letter her father actually received and not the actual letter Lee Do tried to send. In her eyes, Lee Do has betrayed both her and her father.

Ddol-bok is in prison when his dying father is unceremoniously thrown in. There have been a few moments in this episode where Suk-sam has shown real clarity in his eyes, and this is the finest yet – but sadder, since he’s about to shuffle the mortal coil.

His son is hesitant to approach him, suffering from disbelief at seeing his father this way. He is pulled down to his father, who hands him the letter Shim-won wrote for him.

In a nicely juxtaposed scene we see Suk-sam’s passing without a word, just as the Queen is relating how her father passed without a word. Her tearful words echo Ddol-bok’s feelings, as he angrily demands to know who is responsible for his father’s death. The Queen finally tells Lee Do:

Queen Soheon: “It was you who killed him.”

Owwwww.

 

COMMENTS

Sometimes bad things can come from calling dramas early, but this first episode is a veritable powerhouse of performances. I’m a little less worried than usual about this drama’s story and pacing since they’re basing it off a novel of the same name, which means that the writers know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there (usually, maybe, hopefully). That shouldn’t surprise us, since this is coming from the Queen Seon Deok team (with many other impressive credibilities), but I’ve never seen Queen Seon Deok (it’s going to happen one of these days). I couldn’t base all my future hopes and dreams for a drama just on that name.

But I *can* base all my future hopes and dreams on this episode!

I liked Sungkyunkwan Scandal just fine, and found Song Joong Ki a delight and pretty to look at. But I admit, I was really in this drama for Jang Hyuk, who I really fell in love with after giving a hell of a performance in Chuno. That drama had its flaws, but he gave the performance of a lifetime as the lovelorn and tortured slave hunter. That sort of act is hard to follow up, but I have full faith in him and am excited for what’s in store.

That being said… SONG JOONG KI.

Who knew he had it in him?! I brought up Sungkyunkwan Scandal earlier to prove I was not a rabid fangirl of his before this drama aired. I was excited to see Song Joong Ki, sure, but I didn’t really know what I was in for. He is BRILLIANT. His scenes with Baek Yoon Shik, playing his father and the former king, literally put me on the edge of my seat every time. There’s something about the inner struggles of a king lost in the shadow of his predecessor that Song Joong Ki displays as narrative information just in his facial expressions alone. I never felt like he was mugging for the camera, either.

He probably wouldn’t have all the moral crises he’s having if he were like his father, but he isn’t. And that’s the beauty of the conflict. His father intended to raise a Mini Me King and got Song Joong Ki instead. I can’t *wait* to see how this plays out!

But then when I think about it, I *can* wait to see how this plays out. Normally when I see child actors of our future stars on the screen my general thought is: “Alright, let’s grow up as soon as possible.” But Tree With Deep Roots is smart. It knows I want to see Ddol-bok grow up into Chae-yoon, and therefore be Jang Hyuk… but it also knows I don’t want Song Joong Ki to ever grow up, and become Han Suk Kyu (I’m sure he’s going to be fabulous, though). They’re unfortunately mutually exclusive, so my trust is in the production team.

Now, on to the purely superficial stuff: this drama is gorgeous. If I had to name my favorite visual aspect, it would definitely be the color palette. Jewel tones abound in this lush environment, and it has the look and feel of a big-budget film. The Sudoku Room is a technical marvel in and of itself and the director knows it, because we get plenty of wide-angle shots. It’s a feast for the senses. None of the costumes look hokey (that risk comes with any costumed drama) and everything seems well planned and choreographed (so far), with a solid and talented cast.

That being said, we’re in a 24 episode drama, and at least the first four episodes are used to set the table. This drama is selling itself as a political conspiracy/murder mystery, so I have a feeling things are going to get a lot more complicated here on out – and maybe darker. Ooo! Fun. We’re at the peak of sageuk season and I had been waiting for a drama to really captivate me since the void left by City Hunter. But there is one aspect of Tree With Deep Roots that sets it above and beyond most other dramas I’ve watched this year – it is downright thrilling.

If this is what we can expect for the rest of the run, then bring it on, Tree.

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55 October 20, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 2

by HeadsNo2

What an intense follow up to an already intense first episode. We’re still so early in the series for performances to already take my breath away, but that only gives the show extra brownie points. There’s a great blend of style and substance going on here as we get to delve deeper into what it’s like to be a young king and what it’s like to be a young slave without a master. We’re seeing the first stages of a good mystery unfold right before our eyes, and the directing and pacing (so far) seem steady and assured. And the colors! The cinematography! Living in Joseon never looked so good.

EPISODE 2 RECAP

Suk-sam has passed on while in prison, and when a guard comes in to clear the dead body the rest of the riled slaves make a prison break. Everyone is trying to get out while the royal family wants to get in, with Queen Soheon wishing to go see her mother and Lee Do still in shock that he can do nothing as King.

Queen Soheon arrives at the prison gates in time to see the chaos of the escaped prisoners attempting to fight off the guards. It’s a harrowing sight, with most of the prisoners getting viciously beaten and killed right before her eyes.

Dam’s father, Gul-sang, manages to get Ddol-bok to escape with him and his daughter, but not before she grabs Suk-sam’s written will and puts it into the bag she previously gifted to Ddol-bok.

The trio make it through the fray and to the wall, where Gul-sang helps Ddol-bok over and then his daughter. He’s stabbed in the back by a guard before he can make the same climb. As soon as a guard threatens Dam, Ddol-bok launches into the fight to save her and sends her off without him. She escapes it to the other side while he goes to her dying father, who can only gurgle out his last wish: for Ddol-bok to take care of Dam.

As she’s escaping, Dam runs straight into Queen Soheon. The Queen recognizes her (most likely from Dam being her father’s slave) and even calls her by name. When Soheon and entourage spot guards running their way, she makes a brave call and swoops Dam under her skirt to hide her. She has a short exchange with the guards (they’re forced to back down when she’s revealed as the Queen), and Dam ends up fainting in the middle of it – but at least she’s safe.

Lee Do has arrived in disguise at the prison just in time to see the prison break go to a whole new level, with more mass-scale carnage and killings. Mu-hyul urges him to leave now before he can be caught by his father, but he’s remembering again how his wife asked him to save her father, and he couldn’t. Faced once again with being able to do nothing, he sees a boy running toward him – it’s Ddol-bok – and he flashes back to a recollection of another boy on horseback, saying: “You cannot do anything.”

Ddol-bok pushes Lee Do out of the way in his quest to escape, and Lee Do is suddenly filled with the urge and conviction that he must save that child. Perhaps he’s finally become tired of being powerless and wants to latch on to this task – or perhaps it’s because Ddol-bok reminds him of the boy in the flashback.

Mu-hyul knocks Ddol-bok unconscious and they take him to a hut in the woods. Unfortunately they never heard Former King Taejong and his entire entourage (on horseback, even) arrive from behind, and Lee Do has now been officially caught unawares by daddy dearest. Taejong demands the death of Ddol-bok on the grounds that he’s the son of the slave who delivered a letter to a traitor, but this scene seems more about the power play between father and son than anything else.

Lee Do is trying his best, but still ends up too meek to face off against his intimidating father. Until…

We go from powerless Lee Do to a completely different, and completely awesome Lee Do. He musters up all his power to stand off against his father in an absolute showdown. He tells his father, flat-out, that being former King is not King, and that he is the King of Joseon. It’s the first time we’re seeing Lee Do come into his power, even as his father doesn’t even flinch as he mentions all of the uncles and family Taejong has had killed, namely one traitor, Jung Do-jun.

He calls his father out on killing Jung Do-jun (and many others) only for power, and Taejong defends himself by saying that because he did all the dirty work, this is HIS Joseon. He’s earned it. Lee Do replies, “My Joseon is different! It will be different!”

The only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly how it will be different. With Lee Do now on the ropes, Taejong orders his men to go kill Ddol-bok, and Lee Do literally throws down the gauntlet (his personal sword) between them. Taejong will have to kill him first if he wants to get to Ddol-bok now.

Lee Do: “If you want to kill that child… just like you killed my uncles, and my comrades, kill me right here.”

That privilege doesn’t come free – Taejong calls him on the bluff, and in the best moment of the night Lee Do calls to Mu-hyul, relying upon his oath to kill anyone who harms the King, even if that means his own father.

After a very charged moment, Lee Do wins this round. It’s only after his father is gone that he literally collapses from nerves. Whether Taejong is proud of his son or not remains to be seen, but there is a compliment he gives in that even Confucius couldn’t convince him – only power does. But then he swiftly orders all the royal army brought to him, so…

In the hut in the woods, Ddol-bok is crying to a royal guard he gave a concussion to about who is responsible for the death of his father. Lee Do overhears everything. Even when Ddol-bok says he must kill the King for giving the orders to kill his father, who was only a fool who had the bad luck of delivering the wrong letter at the wrong time, Lee Do takes it in stride.

It’s clear that it’s not Ddol-bok’s declaration to kill him that wounds Lee Do the most, but the whole story itself. Lee Do feels the weight of Ddol-bok’s words, and his resolve to save Ddol-bok only grows stronger. Unlike all the times where Lee Do felt powerless, he now declares Ddol-bok as the first subject that he’s saved with an adorable smile on his face. He was a King for a moment, and he is so proud – especially in the face of the recourse he knows is to come from his father.

Ddol-bok wakes up in an unfamiliar environment on high alert. He takes his pillow as a weapon when he goes outside and is met with a woman who attempts to ease his concerns. This is Ban Chon, she says – the village of the slaves that serve Sungkyunkwan University. She doesn’t know what brought him here, but no one cares – that’s one of the perks. Another perk is that the royal army can’t enter the village without the King’s command.

Former King Taejong has assembled the royal army, which Lee Do hears of with little surprise – he knows that this is the price for last night. He’s not unprepared either, as Taejong has the royal army but Lee Do has the royal stamp, commanding sword, and the various other brands of command. Still, Taejong seems to have something up his sleeve by having a lunchbox prepared for Lee Do… only without any lunch.

Lee Do’s following flashback is one we’ve seen before – a young boy riding away on a horse saying that Lee Do can’t do anything. The paper he’s reading is written by that same child, JUNG KI-JOON. To what purpose we have yet to see.

Husband and wife share a tender moment, as Queen Soheon has heard about the events second-hand. She’s come to get answers from the King, asking him if he had anything to do with the prison break, whether he saw his father the night before, and then asking if all that is why he brought the Royal Stamp, along with the various other necessary royal accoutrements.

He doesn’t lie, and answers yes to all her questions. She’s fearful for him, and he only says that he’s going to ‘stop’ because he doesn’t have an answer or a plan for his Joseon. He asks her if she’s afraid of losing her position as Queen as a light (yet darkly humored) joke, and they connect for the first time since her father’s execution.

They’re interrupted by an official carrying a wrapped gift from Former King Taejong himself. The air is tense as we flash back to another official, who has always been on Taejong’s side, protesting against sending an empty box to Lee Do. He even cautions the Former King with a story of an emperor who sent an empty lunchbox. The moral of the story: people died.

The shock registers on everyone’s faces in the sudoku room at the sight of the empty box and we find out why – it’s an order for suicide. Taken literally, it means “do not eat”. Former King Taejong has thrown down a gauntlet of his own, working around Lee Do’s earlier defense with Mu-hyul in directly ordering his son to commit suicide. Even Lee Do wonders if what he did the night before is truly worth something like this.

Back in Ban Chon, two unknown slaves meet with a scholar. He takes them inside the temple and reveals a previously-hidden package wrapped in purple – they are charged with delivering it to a blacksmith named Lee Yun-do. However, while attempting to escape the village at night they’re caught and delivered to the woman who earlier welcomed Ddol-bok into the village. A name for her isn’t specified (yet), so I’ll just call her the leader for now.

She recognizes the symbol on the journal and hides her reaction when Ddol-bok is brought into the middle of the circle with the two previously-captured slaves. He has to be gagged because he can’t stop screaming, and let me tell you, thank goodness for small favors.

First things first: the fate of the two slaves. She lectures them on how Ban Chon has survived the bloodshed of the years since Joseon was started (at this point the Joseon Dynasty was still relatively new). Ban Chon even survived the night Taejong killed Jung Do-jun by sacrificing the two slaves that had been involved – one who told Taejong where Jung Do Jun was, and one who reported to Jung Do-jun that Taejong had taken the army. We’ve heard Jung Do-jun mentioned earlier by Lee Do as a bone of contention he has with his father – and historically this is accurate, as Jung Do-jun was killed in a first-offensive coup by Taejong in 1398, before Taejong officially became the ruler we see now.

So, the first rule of Ban Chon is: you don’t meddle in the King’s affairs. The second rule of Ban Chon is: you don’t judge what’s right or wrong (the two men believe that Jung Do-jun was killed without cause). The leader demonstrates this by burning the journal of Jung Do-jun that was inside the package and ordering the two men to commit suicide. One does, and one tries not to – and gets killed anyway. Ddol-bok can only look on as the two bodies are hauled off and he’s the only one left in the circle.

Ddol-bok is young and fearless, and though the leader seems to be kinder as she deals with Ddol-bok and tells him not to be afraid (that’s going to be difficult, considering the murder-suicide that just happened), his flippant attitude and way of speaking to her is clearly disrespectful. He presses on, answering her question of who he is and what brought him here with his own question – namely, who did bring him here? She’s in a better position to know than he is, so I’m siding with Ddol-bok on this one.

His bad temper ends up getting a blade held to his throat – and even then, he doesn’t stop with his challenges. He even goes so far as to dare the man to kill him. We know that Ddol-bok has a terrible temper and that he’s been through a lot, but what really adds some nice texture to his fearless display is the fact that he loses control of his bladder – and everyone sees. Ddol-bok is probably aware, but he doesn’t let it show and doesn’t break his brave facade.

It seems as though Ddol-bok is about to be killed, but the leader puts a stop to it. We see in flash back who did bring Ddol-bok, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to us – it was none other than Mu-hyul, acting under Lee Do’s orders. He tells the leader that Ddol-bok has anger problems (after his last twenty-four hours, understandable) and that she can make him calm and as her servant. But, if she can’t control him, Mu-hyul tells her to just kill him without hesitation.

Ddol-bok definitely doesn’t seem any calmer, but she does hesitate. For what reasons we aren’t exactly sure – maybe it’s pity or instinct on her part – but she spares his life. Ddol-bok can only offer a smirk in return.

Lee Do is left to contemplate the empty lunch box while Taejong watches over an assembly for the army in full battle regalia. Mu-hyul goes into the sudoku room and kneels before Lee Do, pleading with him to ask his father for forgiveness. He says that he’s lived only by the sword and doesn’t understand politics, but:

Mu-hyul: “If this were a fight, I think this is the time you take a step backwards.”

This sparks something in Lee Do, who thinks about stepping back and waiting for the right time to strike – only he doesn’t have an answer. All he has are his useless games…

Ding! A realization comes to him as he looks over all his math games (note: the real term for his math game is the ‘Lo Shu Square’, but for ease of use we’ll call it sudoku), as he sees that the shape of the lunch box is exactly like sudoku. Mu-hyul isn’t following, but Lee Do is on a roll and brings all the court maids into the room. He’s figured out how to solve the puzzle using the pattern of the lunch box. Well, when life gives you lemons (or an order for suicide)…

He begins with the small 9×9 grid, using the diamond shape of the lunch box as a guide. I’m not a math person at all so I can’t quite tell you how it works, only that it does and it looks amazing. The very act of solving it is shot and edited so well we feel almost as accomplished as Lee Do by the end.

As opposed to his father ‘solving’ the game by removing all numbers but the number one, Lee Do has found his own way. Where his father said he should have all the power for himself, Lee Do has found the meaning of the lunch box and his own plan. Before going to see his father, he sends a slightly bewildered Mu-hyul to retrieve all the royal things (stamp, seal, and brand) that he’d taken earlier.

Lee Do enters the courtyard where his father and the royal army are assembled, practicing war formations and archery. They’ve just launched a volley of arrows at the targets situated right by the main door, and everyone halts as Lee Do enters. Only resolve paints Lee Do’s features before he begins a glorious walk forward, and the battle of wills between him and his father is back in full strength.

The archers refuse to fire when Taejong gives his first command, and so he takes it upon himself to take charge of the launching flag – and Lee Do never stops walking forward. Taejong waves the flag and gives the order to fire.

COMMENTS

Wow, what a way to end an episode. Sometimes it’s silly to base a cliffhanger off something we know inherently can’t happen (we know Sejong is a main character in this story, thus he can’t die here), but this show weaves its tale in such a way that it seems like it still could happen. It’s beautiful visual imagery packed on top of beautiful visual imagery, but I don’t feel like we’re getting style-over-substance here. When you have a good director, a good script, and a good cinematographer – style and substance can come together to just enhance the experience, like they do in this drama. It’s wonderful.

This episode really belonged to Song Joong Ki, who just owned his scenes as a king who’s finally found his spine. The scene where he first stands up to his father literally had me rooting and cheering as he went from his meek, reverent voice to his Official King Voice. He’s proven himself an actor to me now, as that scene and all the scenes that followed in this episode took major acting chops – and he delivered again and again. I’m only sad because I know we’ll have to see him go, but at least he’s made an impact while he was here.

Following Ddol-bok’s story, in comparison, was just a little more tedious to me. A lot of intense things happened to Ddol-bok during the episode, and we know he’s survived this far by being a tough kid, but I’ve never been quite so tired of seeing the whites of an actor’s eyes before. He’s constantly angry and constantly on guard (save one interlude where he marvels at the slave village), thus his eyes are always wide-open. I don’t know if this is an attempt to mimic Jang Hyuk’s intensity, but the kid had some heavy scenes to play and he still did them well, so this is really a minor point.

I haven’t been worrying at all about what this drama does or does not directly take from history since it’s based off a fictional novel (which to me makes for more fun), but it is fun to see some true historical facts taken into the narrative, like Jung Do-jun’s death by Taejong. I’m guessing that all these players are being set up now for our future political conspiracies, and at this rate, I can only be excited for what’s in store. And I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but: can we have more math, please? It’s just so darn pretty.

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41 October 23, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 3

by HeadsNo2

It’s really fun to watch a conversation between two people that makes you feel like you’re in a verbal boxing match with giants. Every time Lee Do landed a nicely-veiled hit to his father I practically cheered… Wait, I actually did cheer. We’ve got secret orders, political maneuvering, and shadowy groups of idealists bent on subverting the power of the King – all the ingredients you need to make a tasty sageuk cake. Mmm.

EPISODE 3 RECAP

Arrows rain down around him, but Lee Do doesn’t even flinch. He’s owning his slow motion walk, and whether his assuredness comes from some deeper knowledge that his father won’t actually kill him or just his newfound purpose we’re not really sure.

When he approaches Former King Taejong, he speaks as if nothing happened, even asking how his father’s morning went. His father’s reaction is not the same, as he’s more in the ‘how do you think I feel?’ department. Lee Do, however, stuns everyone by falling into a deep and very formal bow before his father and asks to be spared. Something rings strange about this, since we know the steps Lee Do has taken as a character to stand up to his father… surely he hasn’t taken one step forward just to take ten back.

Taejong is a master of poker faces, and seems nonplussed at first when Lee Do goes into detail, saying that he wasn’t in his right mind and that he can cleanse his sin through death. The Former King can take his life at any time he’d like, just pick a time and date – but… it’s also a sin to die before your parents, so he begs to be kept alive. We’re starting to see the double objective Lee Do is playing and our faith is restored – he’s doing exactly what he said to Mu-hyul last episode, in taking a step back to find a better way to strike.

He questions his son’s sincerity, and Lee Do reassures him by saying he will never go against his will again. In fact, he promises to deal with politics only at his father’s guidance and to learn his ways. Testing him, Taejong asks about what Lee Do plans to do with the command of the army. Lee Do’s reply is simple: how could he even dare to dream of mimicking his father in army command? Of course father knows best.

It’s only when Taejong approaches his son and calls him out for being insincere that we see a brilliant change in Lee Do’s facial expression. Here’s the King we’ve seen growing since episode one, no longer quivering in fear of his father’s shadow.

This father and son conversation is a trade of underhanded blows, but each line has undeniable impact. Their relationship remains one of the most ambiguous and intriguing in recent drama memory, as Taejong brings up the lunchbox and Lee Do easily deflects by saying he never received such a box, only the answer to his Joseon. It only gets more intense, as Lee Do leans in to tell his father that this should work out best – after all, he’ll live longer. Taejong has no other choice.

This answer seems to placate Taejong (or does it?), and the formalities return with the distance. His father asks what his son will do now that everything will be done by his will, and with a smile on his face Lee Do innocently says he just wants to build a study hall and spend quality time with scholars. Lee Do’s genius is coming to the fore, and he dutifully asks his father to name the library – and Taejong offers ‘Jip Hyun’. This will become the Jip Hyun Jun, or Hall of Worthies.

Father and son later discuss if Jip Hyun Jun will make Joseon any different. Lee Do wants to make a Joseon that can be ruled by rhetoric and not swords – by assemblies that can hear the people out. This is outlandish to Taejong, who believes all assemblies are made to make puppet kings… coming from a man who tried to make a puppet king out of his son.

Lee Do is stopped on his way out by two words: “Hidden Root”. He tells his father it’s just a rumor, but Taejong stands by his belief that Jung Do-jun made a secret group by that very name. Jung Do-jun was a hugely influential member of Korean politics and his clash with Taejong was over political ideologies, resulting in Jung Do-jun’s death by Taejong. Lee Do doesn’t know who’s left alive to run the group, and Taejong reminds him that Jung Ki-joon, the nephew of deceased Jung Do-jun, is still alive.

Lee Do feigns ignorance, that he doesn’t know who Jung Ki-joon is – but something in his expression seems to tell us that he does.

Back in the slave village of Ban Chon, the woman who burned the very journal of Jung Do-jun and who ordered two slaves to commit suicide stares at the journal’s sash. She’d saved it from the fire, and as she looks at it, we hear in voiceover that she has finally found the Hidden Root Scroll. Our first news about Ddol-bok this episode comes from a reporting slave, who says that Ddol-bok is like a madman. The leader suggests starving him for three days to see if that calms him down.

Lee Do walks with his royal entourage and flashes back – again – to a young Jung Ki-joon saying he can’t do anything.

We go through Lee Do’s eyes to a flashback that takes us back nine years, to an examination presided over by King Taejong and his three sons. Our third incarnation of Sejong, pint-size Lee Do, becomes curious over a strange boy who passes him by with a contemptuous look. Lee Do looks over the paper the boy submitted, finding that he’s written various inflammatory remarks about the state of Joseon – namely that the King is a puppet while the treasurer holds the power, and that Jung Do-jun built this country. The author is none other than Jung Ki-joon.

In a dynasty with a monarchy that commanded absolute loyalty from all its subjects, Jung Ki-joon’s written remarks are no laughing matter. Lee Do follows him into a Confucian Temple before his father gets hold of the paper, enraged at its contents. He orders Jung Ki-joon to be brought to him immediately.

The boys talk it out, intellectually an even match but ideologically different. Jung Ki-joon has a major bone to pick with the King who killed his uncle, but gives Lee Do the time of day because he proves different from his father. Ki-joon launches into attacks on King Taejong, speaking his mind on how Taejong doesn’t even scare people – he just kills them, like his brothers and comrades. But that’s not even what he’s most mad about – it’s because his uncle, Jung Do-jun, built an assembly system to restrict the King’s power that the King only holds twice a year.

In fact, it was not because Taejong killed Ki-joon’s uncle and destroyed everything he’d built that he came to take the test. It’s because Taejong killed Ki-joon’s uncle and still kept the laws he’d implemented – making all the things Jung Do-jun had worked for, like the assemblies and supreme chancellor positions, a puppet show to try and convince the scholars and bureaucrats that Joseon is based on those laws. It’s because Taejong stole his uncle’s Joseon. Ki-joon calling his father a thief and a murderer, however, is Lee Do’s last straw – and he finally punches Ki-joon right in the mouth.

Despite the physical turn of the debate, Lee Do’s curiosity gets the best of him and he tails Ki-joon, who knows he’s being followed and seems to allow it. There must be some strange form of mutual respect going on, especially since Lee Do grabs Ki-joon to hide him in the bushes when they see that royal troops have surrounded the scholars’ compound in search of Ki-joon. It’s an eye-opener for Lee Do, who at first doesn’t want to believe that his father could order troops to mercilessly beat and kill people over one child’s criticism. When a man is killed, Ki-joon calls Lee Do out – would he be holding Ki-joon back if he thought his father was merciful?

Regardless, the boy gives himself up to prevent further bloodshed and is beaten. The man leading the troops, Jo Mal-saeng, raises his sword to kill Ki-joon – but fails when Ki-joon is swept away on horseback by his father, a scholar named Jung Do-gwang. This is the flashback Lee Do sees over and over, and from that point we’re out of the past and back in the present.

We’re only in the present long enough to establish that we’re going back into the past (I know, bear with me), this time through Taejong’s eyes. In the hunt for Jung Do-jun’s brother and son, Jung Do-gwang and Jung Ki-joon, King Taejong and his loyal shadow Jo Mal-saeng find a secret door leading into a Secret Cave. Carved into the wall is a message from Jung Do-jun.

Basically, it reads that if the King is the flower, the world is the roots. If the flower withers, the tree doesn’t die. If the roots wither, the tree dies. Withered flowers can be chopped off – the King is that flower, just a fancy decoration of the tree called “Joseon”. The roots are the scholars. He, Jung Do-jun, made the root of all roots – hidden roots.

The message rings of foreboding, and in the middle of a dark and dank cave, Taejong mysteriously hears the sound of owls.

Back in the present (again), Lee Do is apprised of the actions of Jo Mal-saeng, who was unable to report to Former King Taejong moments ago as he’s hot on the trail of Jung Ki-joon and his father. Lee Do knows Jo Mal-saeng is getting secret orders from his father, and wants to know where he is – like yesterday. Mu-hyul tells him that protecting Jung Ki-joon means war with his father. But in Lee Do’s Joseon, Jung Ki-joon must be there. War it is.

Two men on horseback, one being Jung Ki-joon’s father Jung Do-gwang, are on the run from the royal troops that Mal-saeng has used without the King’s command. They manage to sneak out by ditching their horses – and Mal-saeng knows the only place that they could have gone to hide is Ban Chon.

I don’t know if the following scene was meant for some laughs (considering the serious context, probably not) but it was funny nonetheless. An official tells Taejong that if soldiers enter the Ban Chon village, students and scholars won’t just stand down – especially since it’s Jung Do-jun’s brother, and we all know how the scholars feel about Jung Do-jun’s death…

Taejong says that he knows all that, that’s why he’s trying to kill Jung Do-gwang and Jung Ki-joon quietly. You literally see the official facepalm.

Ddol-bok’s hands are bound by rope to a weight bigger than he is. The leader’s tactic of calming him down by starving him in a shed doesn’t seem to have worked. He does, however, get a bright idea. If he can somehow maneuver that torch off the wall and onto a bed of flammable straw in a shack made of dead wood…

The female leader of Ban Chon, meanwhile, goes to the Confucian Temple in the dead of night. It’s a secret meeting, as the two men we saw earlier on horseback have taken sanctuary from the royal army inside.

They’re in the safest place in Joseon – or so they believe, without knowing that Jo Mal-saeng has the royal army surrounding Ban Chon as they speak. Jung Do-gwang is performing a hidden ceremony for his brother, the deceased Jung Do-jun. He says that he will avenge his brother, and the woman tells him that that day is not far away. He doesn’t believe it, but she hands him the sash she saved from Jung Do-jun’s journal.

Cleverly tucked away inside the sash is the last message of Jung Do-jun, in what they refer to as the Hidden Root Scroll. His brother is overcome with emotion as he admits that they couldn’t rebuild Hidden Root without the scroll, but now they can. The woman tells him that he can now become the second leader of the secret group and that all scholars will follow him.

Jo Mal-saeng has been waiting with a good number of royal troops outside of Ban Chon for Taejong’s secret command. The Former King has given it, just as Jo Mal-saeng finds out where the two men they’re hunting have hidden. He calls the rest of the troops in and tells them that they’re going to raid the Confucian Temple.

In order to get around that pesky technicality that the royal army can’t enter without the King’s command, Jo Mal-saeng’s idea is to dress everyone in black. If anyone falls behind, however, they will die as a traitor. The royal army can’t claim them.

Lee Do is nearly floored that his father would order troops to enter Ban Chon, it’s that unthinkable. There’s not a way to prove that his father did do the literal ordering, but it’s clear enough to the sharp King. He tells Mu-hyul that he must bring Jung Do-gwang and Jung Ki-joon back alive.

Mu-hyul, who was earlier told by Lee Do that it was time for him to “stand up” (presumably in the war against his father), doesn’t waver anymore and takes the order.

By standing on his head and using his feet to knock the torch off the wall, Ddol-bok has succeeded in both freeing himself and starting a pretty big fire in Ban Chon. He even deals another head blow (he did this sneak-attack to a royal guard last episode) to the man who opens the doors to help him and makes his escape.

The villagers seem less concerned about the fire and more concerned with catching Ddol-bok. Soon he has all the Ban Chon men chasing him with torches and makeshift weapons as he runs headlong toward the temple.

The royal army, led by Jo Mal-saeng, begins to converge on the temple where Jung Do-gwang has taken temporary sanctuary. I’ve been wondering about Jung Ki-joon the whole episode, and at least we know he’s somewhere and safe. His father can breathe easier, especially now that he has the scroll he’s spent years searching for.

As the disguised royal army is about to swarm the temple, they’re stopped when the doors fling open to reveal a little Ddol-bok running for his little life toward the temple. The look on Jo Mal-saeng’s face (we can only see his eyes, which makes it even better) is priceless. Ddol-bok runs all the way up the steps and stops, immediately shocked to see a small army of men all dressed in black – just standing there. I don’t know if this is fate, providence, or just plain bad luck and timing on Ddol-bok’s part – but he’s brought the entire village on his heels and thus saved himself from getting killed by Jo Mal-saeng’s men.

The arrival of pretty much the entire village of Ban Chon throws a wrench into Jo Mal-saeng’s plans. Ddol-bok has unknowingly bought Jung Do-gwang time to escape through a trap door in the temple as the royal army is forced to stay outside to battle the villagers. Even in all this turmoil, as Ddol-bok is trying to escape again, some villagers leave the fray to chase him.

Ddol-bok only has survival on the mind, and as Jung Do-gwang and his follower emerge into the forest from the trap door/tunnel system of the temple to get on horses for an escape… Ddol-bok runs up, throws Jung Do-gwang off his horse, and steals it so he can run away.

It’s only when the horse is galloping at full-speed through the forest does Ddol-bok realize that the bag Dam made him is gone. As he was hijacking the horse, the man with Jung Do-gwang tried to grab him but only ended up tearing Ddol-bok’s bag away. Meanwhile, as the two men try to make their escape on foot, they realize that the Hidden Root Scroll is on the horse Ddol-bok stole. Escaping isn’t as important now as finding that scroll again.

A mad chase begins, with Ddol-bok at the front of the line. His mission: find his father’s will. Jung Do-gwang’s mission: find the scroll. Jo Mal-saeng’s mission: kill Jung Do-gwang no matter what. Mu-hyul’s mission: save Jung Do-gwang.

COMMENTS

Our four main story lines are beginning to converge, though I can’t help but feel that Ddol-bok is the odd man out. His original tie to Lee Do, with the King having saved his life, becomes almost irrelevant to how he gets roped back into the main events. Fate is dealing Ddol-bok a heavy hand, though, and we can’t help but be swept along wherever he goes.

Ddol-bok has a habit of lacking in care towards others (excluding his father and Dam), so it wasn’t out of character for him to throw Jung Do-gwang from his horse and steal it. It doesn’t do wonders for trying to like his character, though, which is something I found myself having a bit of a hard time doing. He’s still a kid though, so he has a lot of room to grow – into Jang Hyuk, I mean. And when is that a bad thing?

Something I’ve been meaning to mention is how much I like the score. The music isn’t beating us over the head or trying to manipulate us into feeling. It’s doing what a good score should do, by supplementing what’s happening on the screen rather than blasting us with the same lyrics over and over again. It’s nice to sometimes have no lyrics and just instruments when the dialogue is already so good. Every conversation Lee Do has with Taejong is just too good to be overshadowed.

Song Joong Ki being amazing is just a given, and his performance this episode only increased my respect and admiration. He’s just so good, especially with his transformation into a more self-assured King. The only thing that could make me sad in regards to Song Joong Ki is that he played most of the episode from a throne. He just kept looking like he really wanted to jump out of it… but then if he did, we wouldn’t have gotten this face:

How can a King be so adorable when he’s so shocked over his father’s political subversion methods? How?

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35 October 25, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 4

by HeadsNo2

There’s blood, guts, and glory as our young actors grow into their older counterparts and the murder mystery begins to unfold. The bodies are starting to pile up, and it’s scholars against officials and Chae-yoon against his multiple personalities in this tightly-edited episode that shows us it’s still cool to be King… just not when there are dead people in your library. The next time I hear an owl, I’m going into hiding.


EPISODE 4 RECAP

Everyone is either running, riding, or limping toward their various different yet intersecting goals. Mu-hyul, meanwhile, comes to a stop in the forest after he’s sensed something strange. He turns around with his sworn drawn just as Ddol-bok tries to stab him, and the force of his sword breaks Ddol-bok’s in half and sends him flying three trees away. He’s also left with a nasty arm cut, though all considering (going against Joseon’s best swordsman) – he didn’t do too bad.

He recognizes Ddol-bok, and only advises the boy to flee or die before he’s off again on his mission to save Jung Do-gwang.

Jung Do-gwang is fatally shot with an arrow by the advancing royal troops, and gives the bag they managed to tear off Ddol-bok to the man with him. He charges him that he must – even if it means his life – deliver it to his son Ki-joon and tell him about the Hidden Root Scroll. That bag is their only tie to Ddol-bok, who unknowingly has the scroll in his possession. He doesn’t make it far before he too is shot – but that doesn’t stop him from making it all the way home to deliver the message he promised he would.

Jung Ki-joon, at last! And wearing the same outfit we saw him in as a child – all the better to identify him with.The last man who spoke to his father alive has come here to die in the arms of his young son, and is barely able to eke out that Jung Do-gwang is dead to Ki-joon before he can hand Ddol-bok’s bag over. He tells him that the child who owns this bag has the Hidden Root Scroll, and dies. Hmm. I had a feeling about young Ki-joon probably growing up to be our antagonist, and it seems like that might be the case. Hooray for super secret group leaders!

Ddol-bok, meanwhile, has mercifully calmed down this episode. He also displays a kind of worldliness kids that age shouldn’t have – but considering that he’s grown up a slave, perhaps all the death and dying isn’t new to him. He’s able to look from afar at the royal army carting Jung Do-gwang’s arrow-pierced body away with a sort of detached curiosity, thinking to himself that it wasn’t that dead man who has his father’s will. It’s just another dead man also shot full with arrows not too far off.

The show makes sure we get enough shots of Ddol-bok hanging out with the horse he stole for us to know that Ddol-bok probably isn’t going to lose the Hidden Root Scroll. As he tries to mount the horse Jung Do-gwang’s bag falls, and Ddol-bok gets to see the Scroll for himself. It means nothing to him, though, as he can’t read.

Ddol-bok has found the mass grave for his deceased master’s slaves. The fact that he would have been rotting in this horror movie pile had he not escaped doesn’t seem to occur to him, as he goes body-by-body, searching every face. He’s trying to (not) find Dam, and soldiers on until he sees the broken container of rouge he’d given her as a gift lying inside a skeleton. He breaks down into heartwrenching cries as he clutches the rouge in his hand, thinking that Dam is now dead – and it’s the King’s fault.

It’s a harrowing scene, and not just because this drama has the budget to put a lot of bodies – living or dead – on screen at once. His heartbreak seems real, and we’re reminded that he’s so young to now be so terribly alone.

Ddol-bok stands alone on a cliff overlooking the city, holding the rouge container close. He says that he will definitely return, and with all the soft-lighting and two-shots of him and his horse it suddenly seems like the show could go two very different directions. It could go toward a royal murder mystery, or it could be a slave-and-his-horse story, a heartwarming coming-of-age tale. Aww. I probably wouldn’t watch that.

Regardless, with Ddol-bok riding away into the sunrise we know two things: that he at least has that horse, and that horse has a very hidden secret document with it.

Some years have passed, and we come upon a northern military border outpost. The men inside are talking about none other than Ddol-bok, who they think has probably run off due to the hard life. They’re forced to eat their words when a severed head rolls in – and it’s been brought by a slightly-grown version of Ddol-bok. They said that he could become a member of the army if he brought them a head. So can he stay now?

In the palace, meanwhile, Former King Taejong is dying. An older Lee Do (in sageuk facial hair, no less!) has come to be with him in his last moments, and Taejong asks his son if he still plans to continue with his idea of Joseon. Not killing people, using words instead of swords, having patience – all the things Taejong still finds foolish. One day Lee Do will go kneel at his tomb, Taejong says, and cry out that he was foolish. Looking for an ‘I-told-you-so’ even beyond the grave, are we, Taejong?

Lee Do leans in to tell his father that this won’t be so. The King of Joseon doesn’t have that kind of idle time. Ohhh, good one! Taejong tells him that he better accomplish these big goals of his – so that way, putting Lee Do on the throne will have been his greatest achievement. It’s a very powerful moment, but then every moment with these two actors tends to be amazing.

Taejong smiles, and at last, the Great King dies. The palace erupts in mourning cries while Lee Do can only numbly walk away. I’m only sad for the loss of dialogue this death means.

Both of our male leads are thinking about their fathers – and both in very different circumstances. Tears wells up in Lee Do’s eyes as he’s now able to look at a world free from his father’s shadow. Ddol-bok, meanwhile, is about to enter a bloody battle – and in voiceover we hear him thinking to his father, and to Dam, that he will make the King pay.

The time has come. Let’s all take one last look.

As Lee Do stares at the pond, hearing nothing but the quiet sound of water, a small butterfly begins its ascension from hovering near his reflection. It travels up, growing into a large butterfly (oh, the symbolism) to reveal…

I’ve introduced him in episode one, but since this is his first official step into the role it’s worth repeating – it’s KING SEJONG (Han Suk Kyu), the all-grown-up version of Lee Do. Now that he is officially grown up, from here on out I’ll go ahead refer to him as King Sejong, or just Sejong. Though this name was given him posthumously, it’s how history knows him now.

He’s told by his royal entourage that there’s a ceremony he has to attend, and he curses at the fact. Why does the King have to attend so many damn ceremonies? It’s kind of adorable how mad he is, but more adorable that he’s told to tone down his language and he says he is toning it down already.

The assembly that King Sejong refused to cancel or move forward is being prepared for by royal officials, and Jo Mal-saeng is among them. He laments that they’ve already had 1,800 of these lessons, and for that matter, why isn’t Sejong just reading books like he said he would? It’s a little hilarious that the officials are revving themselves up for a battle with the scholars, and we get the distinct impression that this happens often. The scholars’ logic normally supersedes theirs, so it’s like the officials are prepping their top fighter for a battle royale. My inner nerd is so happy right now.

Mu-hyul, meanwhile, just got a little white hair in his beard but otherwise hasn’t seem to have aged a day. Sejong needs to find out what this guy is eating, because it’s doing pretty well for him so far. He asks if there’s any news from a general in the north, only to find out that someone already came to deliver a letter.

Today’s agenda: a bill that banned the ability of citizens to report officers for misconduct that Taejong passed during his reign. Sejong is not his father, however, and is not your typical stuffy King either – he even sits in front of Jo Mal-saeng while they debate, like they’re having a low-key discussion instead. Mal-saeng believes that law and order are upheld when citizens don’t complain about their officials even if the officials did do something wrong. It’s how it was always done before, up until now.

Mal-saeng seems to have a point about law and order degrading, and Sejong gives him that. But he needs two questions answered. One of the young scholars, SUNG SAM-MOON (Kim Hyun Woo), is itching in his seat to correct the King that it should be three questions… The two Sejong lists are: who is going to control the local governors if complaints are banned, and how will the officials hear the voice of the people that way? Unlike what Sung Sam-moon believes, the King never forgot the third question. He waits until Sung Sam-moon pipes up about it, and for the room to try and hush him, before saying that this is the point. If officials try to ban people from expressing their opinions, how is he, as King, supposed to hear the people’s voice? Aww. Sejong is living up to his young self in his devotion to the people.

Sejong meets with Mu-hyul, who updates him on events that he’s been learning of while Sejong was in the assembly. Namely, that General Kim Jong-suh from the North sent a letter about a military official, Goh In-sul, who’s dead. The King knows that it was a murder, and it was all due to “that” object – the Scroll of Biba. It’s safe, but this is bad news regardless as someone seems onto the King’s plan.

The person who brought the letter, however, is none other than our grown-up version of Ddol-bok, aka KANG CHAE-YOON (Jang Hyuk). Since that’s the name he’s going by now, I’m officially switching over from calling him Ddol-bok to Chae-yoon. He’s currently trying to avoid being beaten on the thighs by a wooden rod, probably because he tried to offer a bribe the moment he came into the palace. Our first (technically, second) introduction to Chae-yoon is an interesting one, as he seems very hyper-active and just a little unhinged. Since we’ve seen him before, we can assume this is an elaborate (albeit really convincing) act.

Chae-yoon is brought before Mu-hyul, and he can’t contain his excitement at getting to meet the best swordsman in all of Joseon. Mu-hyul isn’t falling for it. Every time Chae-yoon’s words aren’t well received, he’s deftly able to change tactics during the course of the conversation as he reads and adapts to Mu-hyul’s reactions.

Mu-hyul is just on the cusp of being able to see right through Chae-yoon, and orders him beaten just for good measure. Chae-yoon has to walk away holding his rear end in pain, but as soon as he’s out of sight we see the other side of Chae-yoon – the cold, calculating side. He now knows Mu-hyul’s face, and can map out the interior of the palace he just saw for future use.

It’s worth noting that we’ve heard/seen suspicious movement twice this episode, once with two night guards and now with Chae-yoon. But whoever/whatever it is passes so fast that no one even thinks they’ve seen a thing.

Ever since the opening with Chae-yoon in episode one, we’ve basically been in one giant flashback. Now, we’re officially in the same time and place as everyone else, and we see all the events that spurred Chae-yoon’s flashback (counting the steps to the assembly, bowing to Sejong as they cross paths) happen again. Only this time it’s different, as he tells the King his actual name, and Sejong passes without further ado.

Sejong is on his way to Jiphyunjun, only to find that the scholar inside is dead. Hearing the sound of owls afterwards gives the impression that it wasn’t an accident, either.

The same group of young scholars we saw during the King’s assembly is denied access to Jiphyunjun the following morning. The official story is that there’s construction inside. One of the scholars, Sung Sam-moon, tries to get out of studying by saying he’ll do it at home – and his fellow scholar, PARK PAENG-NYEON (Kim Kibum) thinks that’s a great idea – and wheedles Sam-moon adorably. Seeing all these young scholars reminds me of Sungkyunkwan Scandal in the best way possible.

Meanwhile, Sejong is trying to get the facts straight about the murder. He’s more than dismayed to hear that the Scroll of Biba has disappeared as well, meaning that someone targeted that book and is also targeting his people and killing them.

Chae-yoon is put on guard duty outside Jiphyunjun and gets the real story from a fellow guard: a scholar died inside. Since Jiphyunjun is now empty, Chae-yoon sees a golden opportunity and feigns intestinal trouble so he can slip into the building unnoticed.

Only, he is noticed, and is pulled from the room by Mu-hyul. Chae-yoon has already mapped out the room in his little black book by this point, finding that the crime scene has been curiously maintained for a death. Also, this will be the best place to try killing the King in the future.

The future seems a little more far off than Chae-yoon would like, though, as he finds himself arrested and under harsh questioning by Mu-hyul. If Chae-yoon doesn’t come clean he’ll be suspected of the murder of the scholar, and Chae-yoon has a flashback that reveals he delivered a cloth-covered package to the dead man not days before.

The very man who transferred Chae-yoon to the palace from the north, General Kim Jong-suh, arrives as Sejong is talking strategy. They can’t have the prosector’s department handle this, because his plan might be revealed – and there’s also news of Chae-yoon being held under suspicion. Just in time for General Kim Jong-suh to pipe in that that can’t be possible – when Goh In-sul died in the north, it was Chae-yoon who found out that it was a murder.

Chae-yoon, with his fast-moving conversation skills, seems to be shaking Mu-hyul’s doubt when he gives the master swordsman his investigation report of Goh In-sul’s death and by sharing his belief that it was the same person that killed both Goh In-sul and the scholar.

King Sejong arrives, acting on the General’s word, and glances over the investigation report. Chae-yoon is instructed to tell him how the cases are similar, and he says that both the men had a cloth-wrapped package, which must have been the goal of the killer, and that the murder methods were different but both were disguised as accidental deaths. Also – on that night, and this last one, owls could be heard.

The fact that Chae-yoon has deduced all this is enough to convince King Sejong, who appoints Chae-yoon as investigator of Heo Dahm’s murder case. He can pick whoever he needs among the royal force to help him. But – and this is a big but – if he can’t solve the case, he’ll be under suspicion. This case means his life.

Chae-yoon, thinking fast, sees an opportunity. He asks the King if he could have one wish – provided he solves the case, that is. If he can get a drink personally poured by the King, his deceased father would be so happy…

Sejong needs this case solved, and acquiesces to Chae-yoon’s request to serve him a drink. That means we are going to have one dead king, if Chae-yoon has anything to do with it.

 
COMMENTS

Dun dun dun. So this is how it all begins.

I’m putting my mourning clothes away for the loss of Song Joong-ki by next episode, I promise. I was left wondering if I was spoiled as far as the character of King Sejong went after Song Joong-ki’s portrayal (at least during this show). That being said, Han Suk-kyu turned me over to his side a lot quicker than I expected. He’s not his younger counterpart, sure, but he still displays the same kind of characteristics – and he’s a likable character in the process. How can you not like such an awesome king, anyway? He’s so unlike his father in all the best ways. King Sejong is already regarded as one of Korea’s greatest kings, and the writing (along with Han Suk-kyu’s portrayal) seems to be filling their very big shoes quite nicely.

I’ve always thought Jang Hyuk was a talented actor, but Chuno really sealed the deal for me. He seems best at playing characters that aren’t inherently likable and riddled with flaws but still manage to be engaging. Even if you don’t like him, you believe him. That’s a hard talent to come across.

Here’s the thing: I think Jang Hyuk might be too good of an actor sometimes. I say that because I feel like he lacks a certain kind of vanity that a lot of other actors have, and that you can see holding them back sometimes. You know they think to themselves, “Well, I can’t make this face or contort this way because it’ll make me look bad!” But I don’t think that occurs to Jang Hyuk, who strikes me as the kind of actor who isn’t vain about his appearance and will do whatever he needs to do to get the character across. This provides a thrilling performance but also more bad angles than you can shake a stick at:

I still probably wouldn’t want him to hold back if that means we get less of the multi-dimensional character I know he can deliver… but it was still off-putting to see him in his first scene since the grand opening, jumping all over the place and switching between a high-pitched voice into a really low, gravelly one. This kind of dichotomy is part of Chae-yoon’s personality, and one that I think he employs to get others off his scent – but he’s almost too effective at it. The moments he has where he drops the simple act are shaping up nicely, however, and I’m way more ready to avidly watch the super smart Chae-yoon as opposed to the bumbling idiot Chae-yoon.

Judging by the fact that he’s now an investigator for the King and has to do a good job in order to get the revenge for his father and his childhood love that he’s been preparing his whole life for… My guess is that we’ll be getting more of the super smart Chae-yoon. I can’t wait.

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22 October 27, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 5

by HeadsNo2

We get to follow our revenge-minded hero down the rabbit hole, and we have no idea how deep it goes. The ever-widening conspiracy leaves us with more questions than answers as Chae-yoon begins to shed light on all the different powers that might be at play. Everyone is a suspect… Or maybe they aren’t. Or they are. It’s a mystery! If we knew everything now, it’d spoil all the fun. Or would it?

 
EPISODE 5 RECAP

Mu-hyul couldn’t be unhappier with King Sejong’s agreement to pour Chae-yoon a drink if he succeeds in the murder investigation – or the fact that Chae-yoon was appointed to investigate the murder at all. Sejong sticks to his guns on this one, and Mu-hyul has no choice but to let it go (he certainly doesn’t have to like it, though), but sees a suspiciously unique scar on Chae-yoon’s arm. Chae-yoon may be covered in scars, but Mu-hyul can recognize his own handiwork. Chae-yoon is oblivious to the suspicion and leaves quietly.

Looks like we’re going to be getting some buddy-cop comedy, as joining Chae-yoon in his palace guard duties is a friend from the same Northern outpost, CHO-TAK (Kim Ki-bang) – and the guard Chae-yoon met outside the library last episode, PARK-PO (Shin Seung-hwan). It’s good they all know each other, since their superior puts the three on the same investigative team.

While on patrol with Cho-tak later that evening, Chae-yoon is asked about the man he’s been wanting to kill. Apparently he’s kept it no secret in the past, but Cho-tak doesn’t know who he is. Is it an official? Chae-yoon deflects the questions, only saying that opportunity comes to those who wait. They see a scholar trying to get into the closed Jiphyunjeon (the library Sejong created, known as the Hall of Worthies), who identifies himself as YOON-PIL. He tries to sweet-talk his way inside by saying he left something (sure you did), but Chae-yoon won’t budge and the scholar is forced to leave.

Crown Prince Gwangpyeon, the fifth son of King Sejong, goes to his father’s two righthand men – Mu-hyul and informations’ officer Jung In-ji – and tells them to go see the King in the nursery. The smell of manure is thick in the air as they find the throne absent, asking a nearby farmer for the whereabouts of the King… only it’s the man himself, dressed up in farmer’s garb and doing farmer’s work. It’s a nice, well-played light moment where we get to see more of Sejong’s character – and when it comes to the plight of his people and officials doing little to nothing about it, he is adorably crotchety and sarcastic.

Mu-hyul even cracks a smile when Sejong is legitimately upset, probably because he’s throwing manure around every time he wants to stress a word. If he doesn’t do this kind of work, he asks, who will? Certainly not the officials he’s charged with obtaining farming research. This is a historical nod, since Sejong created a farmer’s handbook during his reign to teach better farming techniques to improve agriculture in Joseon. And while he is really upset about the matter, he can’t be upset at Mu-hyul for laughing even though he tries. It’s a really cute moment, and it’s refreshing to have these lighter scenes in actual daylight as opposed to this show’s usual perpetual night.

Sejong is very interested in a man who can speak Dog, but it seems like he’s more interested in the actual sounds. This scene first seemed beyond strange to me (a man is kneeling on the ground barking to the King), but it seems like information-gathering on Sejong’s part for the future creation of the phonetic Hangul alphabet. Mu-hyul gets some more moments to shine through as a nuanced character as he gives his try to what he thinks a dog sounds like, and I officially love this whole scene.

The best part, however, comes when Sejong asks a young court lady what she thinks the dog sounds like. The air of the conversation is light and friendly, so she cheerfully answers that she thinks the dog sounds like “wang” (the word for “King”). Sejong immediately grows serious and asks her if she thinks that all dogs in Joseon sound like the King and is basically insinuating that she’s insulting him, which turns the mood serious fast. She throws herself on the ground to apologize and is almost in hysterical tears… as Sejong cracks a slow smile. “How is it that you get tricked every single time?” he asks. Hahahaha! I’m dying – sure the joke is a little cruel, but it’s only funnier that this isn’t the first time. Sejong’s character is also just infinitely more endearing the more we see that he’s not a cardboard cutout King or a despot. He’s a nice, friendly guy who punks his own court ladies.

The Royal Investigative Task Force (aka Chae-yoon and company) have gone to Ban Chon at the suggestion of his superior to have a look at the corpse of Heo Dahm. Normally the corpses are housed at the Royal Investigation Bureau, but since this isn’t going through official channels it’s at the next best place – the butcher’s shop in the slave village. Fortunately that butcher is also a coroner.

They run into a familiar face on the way – it’s the woman who took Ddol-bok in and proved a tough leader – and Chae-yoon hides his face with his hat the moment he recognizes her.

Meanwhile, the King asks to see the butcher himself. This is slightly unheard of as not only is the man in question a slave of Ban Chon, but he’s also a butcher, which is about as low on the totem pole as one can be. Why can’t he leave it to Chae-yoon instead? But Sejong surprises me – he’s not putting any faith in Chae-yoon. He’s only bait to lure the enemy.

Time to examine the scholar’s dead body at the butcher shop, and the butcher/coroner GA RI-ON (Yoon Je-moon) explains that it wasn’t a weapon, a knife, or poison that killed him. There are, however, signs of suffocation – which is a little bizarre, since there are bound to be signs of resistance. If Heo Dahm would have suffocated on a piece of food, he would have marks around his neck from his hands – since humans instinctually do that. Heo Dahm has nothing but the blue splotches on his skin indicating suffocation, and Chae-yoon’s eyes widen as he realizes something.

The only peculiar thing was the fact that the dead man’s clothes were wet – and the coroner checked for poison, but it was just plain water. We hear Chae-yoon think to himself that this is a martial arts form – and apparently one that he knows of. Once he’s alone, we find out that his Teacher knew the method. But how was it used to kill Heo Dahm? Curiouser and curiouser.

Chae-yoon has a flashback, and we see the kind of conditions that took him from a scared teenager to the hardened man we see today. He goes through multiple battles over the years in mud-soaked, bloody terrain, and just as it seems as though he’s outnumbered by foreign tribesmen, an old man calmly arrives. Chae-yoon tells him to go and save himself, but the older man is a wizard (okay, martial arts master) and with only one kick per tribesmen, soundly defeats them all single-handedly.

What follows is a truly intense moment for Chae-yoon, who asks the old man to teach him everything he just saw – because he has someone to avenge. The old man asks, “That’s why you can’t sleep at night?” And it’s a telling question, as we find out that the two of them must know each other even tangentially and that Chae-yoon’s suffering is deep. Chae-yoon is refused, and won’t take it lying down. If the man won’t teach him, then he might as well kill him. Chae-yoon was trying to die in that fight, so the old man technically ruined his plans.

Chae-yoon: “Why don’t I sleep? Why? It’s not that I don’t sleep. It’s because I can’t. When I close my eyes… whenever I close my eyes… my fa-…” [He chokes back tears] “If I slept I could have forgotten it all. I would have forgotten it all. So I looked forward to kill him only. Yes, I lived to this day like that. That’s how… that’s how I managed to live!”

Chae-yoon proves that he knows the man, and calls him by his name – Lee Bang-ji. When Lee Bang-ji won’t kill him, Chae-yoon tries to fight him, and is unsuccessful. Bang-ji says he doesn’t fight those who aren’t warriors, but Chae-yoon is made of tougher stuff and we know from his childhood that he never gives up. He may not be a warrior, but he can die like one.

We don’t see the change of heart Lee Bang-ji makes, only that he must have made one for Chae-yoon to now refer to him as Teacher.

At the other end of the palace, Mu-hyul is taking out his frustration through martial arts. The King’s other right-hand man, Jung In-ji, remarks that Mu-hyul really must be Joseon’s best swordsman… only Mu-hyul doesn’t agree, since he was beaten once twenty years ago. We flash back to that very moment, only to find that Mu-hyul had been defeated by the very Lee Bang-ji that saved Chae-yoon’s life. He’d asked to be killed, but Lee Bang-ji went and subverted everyone’s expectations – again – and left Mu-hyul in shame. Ahh, so that’s the eyebrow scar Mu-hyul still has today.

The butcher/coroner, Ga Ri-on, has come to the palace to deliver meat but gets led to a secret meeting with the King instead. They’re separated by a thin cloth, but Ga Ri-on looks in wonder at the silhouette of the man speaking to him. Sejong asks if he’s sure Heo Dahm’s death was a murder – that’s a yes – and if he’s told anyone. Ga Ri-on says no, but that the method of death was an assassination technique called Geoniksagong.

Ga Ri-on is trying to explain the method to the King while Chae-yoon is perfecting it (in flashback) and a masked assassin is performing it on the unsuspecting Heo Dahm (also in flashback). It seems that Lee Bang-ji took on Chae-yoon as a student, perhaps moved by his spirit. He’s teaching a drowning method for assassination, one where the assassin takes a small bamboo pipe and blows water at a great speed into the victim’s nose from a small distance. As long as you don’t allow them to lower their head to get the water out, they die. This is, as we see, what happened to Heo Dahm.

An interesting note: the King makes some small talk with Ga Ri-on over a mutual acquaintance that Ga Ri-on says saved his life. When the King asks why, the butcher/coroner replies that when he was young his father was shot full of arrows and it was hard to bear. It might be completely unrelated, but I know one guy who delivered Jung Do-gwang’s last words to Jung Ki-joon while dying from being a pincushion for arrows in the arms of his son that we haven’t caught up with yet…

While an official goes to convince Chae-yoon’s superior that all future investigation reports need to go to him, the scholars have a meeting. We’ve seen some of their relationship before but the friendship between Scholar Sung Sam-moon and Scholar Park Paeng-nyeon is adorable, especially with the latter being the fuddy-duddy one and scolding Sam-moon for being late. He only replies that he’s always late, so why does Paeng-nyeon always wait, huh? So cute.

But the meeting itself isn’t so lighthearted as the scholars discuss the rumor going around – that Scholar Heo Dahm was murdered. This isn’t new news to us, but it strikes them hard.

Wait – where’s Scholar Yoon-pil? Uh oh.

The missing scholar’s name is being burned at this very moment by the woman leader of Ban Chon. She’s with a man carrying a fan (you really can’t miss it) but whose face is kept hidden from us. He’s the one who apparently gave the order, which calls for an assassination of Yoon-pil… that’s supposed to happen that night. It’s clear now that she’s still running the seedy underground of dirty work that needs to be done, but now we have only the slightest glimpse of the man orchestrating it all. Iiiiiinteresting.

Official Jung In-ji rushes to tell the King that Scholar Yoon-pil is missing, and gets stopped by a court lady at the door. He’s not allowed to go in under any circumstances, but he can hear what’s going on inside… and it sounds like some really illicit moaning of a court lady with Sejong’s encouragement. The scene is played for it to sound really wrong at first – and it does – but we can either attribute it to the creation of Hangul or Sejong’s super secret sound fetish. Either way, it’s almost more awkward that Prince Gwangpyeon comes to answer the door, but he’s soon pushed out of the way by Sejong when he hears the bad news.

Chae-yoon has come to check the crime scene one last time before the Jiphyunjeon opens again to the scholars the next day. Someone’s beaten him to it, and hiding under the deceased Scholar Dahm’s desk is none other than the missing Scholar Yoon-pil, who’s managed to find a secret message. Chae-yoon and Cho-tak know someone is in the library, though, and Yoon-pil makes a mad dash with both palace guards hot on his tail.

Yoon-pil seems like he’s running for his life, and he tries to destroy the evidence of what he found by throwing the paper into a fire. Chae-yoon makes a big leap, one that leaves a deep imprint in the dirt from where he jumped off, and practically flies to save the paper from burning. In the meantime, Cho-tak has employed a handy method for knocking the scholar unconscious.

Cho-tak recognizes the intruder they chased down as the supposedly missing Scholar Yoon-pil, and has a short exchange with Chae-yoon about that special leap – it’s a martial arts technique that Chae-yoon doesn’t want anyone else in the palace seeing. But just as they’re figuring out what to do with the scholar, they hear owls.

A masked man appears (or “the” masked man, we saw him assassinate Heo Dahm earlier) and – using the same leaping technique that Chae-yoon used – flies away with the body. I’m sure I typed that correctly.

King Sejong’s reaction is, as expected, a mix of outrage and disbelief. So there was an intruder in Jiphyunjeon, but that intruder was the missing scholar, but that scholar was caught by Chae-yoon, who was then kidnapped by another intruder? Does he have this correctly? Mu-hyul says yes, if he believes everything Chae-yoon says. He doesn’t give a reason why Sejong shouldn’t, though, and considering the more pressing matters at hand Chae-yoon’s trustworthiness is tabled for the next discussion.

He does, however, ask the opinion of a nearby court lady – it’s none other than SO-YI (Shin Se-kyung). She doesn’t give him an answer verbally, but writes it instead. Whatever it is is exactly what Sejong was thinking, and he tells her to go to the printing office – which is the first thing he thought of once he heard the news about Yoon-pil.

So-yi is able to get past palace guards in order to enter the printing office. We don’t quite know what she’s looking for other than that she’s trying to find it in the block letters and doesn’t seem to be succeeding. She’s interrupted by a man’s voice offscreen asking: “Who is it?”

The palace is on high alert due to Yoon-pil being kidnapped by the man in the mask, and Chae-yoon and Cho-tak have been tracing him only by knowing that the leaping martial arts technique lets a man fly twenty steps before he has to land to jump again. This is how they’re found by their superiors not far outside the printing office, but Cho-tak says he smells something, and Chae-yoon confirms: it’s sulfur.

The printing office explodes. It’s all-out pandemonium as palace guards and court ladies alike try to fight the fire, but the blaze is already out of control. Chae-yoon finds that a palace guard has been killed by a slit throat – and is almost giddy as he realizes that the assassin must be inside.

There’s only decisiveness in his gaze as Chae-yoon douses himself in water and throws only a straw mat over his head for cover before he runs inside the burning building.

Mu-hyul arrives on the scene, trying to get a grasp on what happened while Chae-yoon materializes from the blaze carrying someone over his shoulder. It’s So-yi, who’s hovering somewhere this side of conscious. But Chae-yoon didn’t save her with a noble purpose, as he quickly grabs ahold of her collar and pushes everyone who comes near away with masterful force.

He shakes her, yelling: “Who was it? Who was he? Tell me! Who was he?!”

But this sounds familiar to Mu-hyul, who remembers hearing a young slave boy ask those questions in the exact same way.

And then he knows: it’s Ddol-bok. Chae-yoon is Ddol-bok.

 
COMMENTS

Wow, so the jig is already up! I wasn’t expecting Mu-hyul, or anyone really, to realize that Chae-yoon is a grown up version of Ddol-bok just yet. It just seemed like that wouldn’t jive with Chae-yoon’s plan to kill the King, since Mu-hyul is way too sharp and way too suspicious to let that one go. I should have seen it coming when Mu-hyul recognized the scar, but still. I’m excited to be surprised and worried for the unexpected.

I really enjoyed this episode since it nicely balanced both light and dark elements, with some intrigue and action to spare. Now I’m left with more questions than answers, which is a good place to be in this early in the show. How fun is it to try and figure out who everyone is, now that so many years have passed? Is the butcher anyone we’ve seen before, and tied to the conspiracy? Or that other creepy guy in the butcher shop? Who’s the man in the mask (if he’s not the Phantom of the Opera)? Who is this master of martial arts that taught Chae-yoon but who might have taught the secret group? Who’s the man with the fan? So many questions, so many possible answers.

Jang Hyuk never fails to impress in heavy scenes, and his flashback scene was no different. I was riveted the whole time Chae-yoon poured his heart out – and that scene also effectively grounded me to his character. I had never not been with him on his journey, but had been wavering a bit in my lingering bitter taste over his child incarnation. But he loved his father so much that he can’t sleep at night thinking about the injustice of his death and doesn’t just want revenge but needs it? I’m so in. Revenge all the way.

I can’t weigh in on So-yi yet since we saw so little of her – but Shin Se-kyung is pretty and engaging, even as a mute court lady. It’ll be interesting to see how she handles her scenes later without being able to speak.

And because I like Chae-yoon, I can be oddly happy that he has a friend in Cho-tak. Who knew we’d be getting buddy cop comedy in a murder mystery? I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be completely stoked.

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37 October 29, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 6

by HeadsNo2

Something wicked this way comes, and our hero might be the only one with the ability to stop it. I love rooting for the underdog, and enjoy every moment Chae-yoon subverts expectations during his crime-solving adventures. We can’t help but put our faith in him – sure he wants to kill the king, but we have to depend on Chae-yoon to save him first. He’s no fairytale prince charming, but we’ve been there and done that. Bring on the flaws.


EPISODE 6 RECAP

Chaos still reigns supreme as everyone tries to fight the fire in the printing office, but Chae-yoon is a man on a mission. He’s lost in his anger as he shakes So-yi, trying to rouse her from her semi-conscious state so she can tell him who the man in the printing office was. He literally has to be pulled off of her by Park-po and Cho-tak just so So-yi’s fellow court ladies can carry her away.

As Mu-hyul is flashing back to memories of Ddol-bok, So-yi does the same during the night and wakes up with a start. She desperately clutches a bag that’s an exact replica of the one she once made for Ddol-bok as she remembers when he blamed her in the prison for everything. He thought she could read when, really, her memory was just impressive – but if she had then they would have known that the court girl had been lying about the letter all those years ago. I’m sure she also takes Ddol-bok’s death upon herself, since she has no idea he is alive and well.

Sejong is only left deeply troubled from the events of the night before, since Scholar Yoon-pil’s body was found in the printing office. This is the third death in a matter of days, and we can see the toll it’s taking on the weary King.

When he goes to meet the court, his attitude is much changed and far more serious. He wants to be in and out of there as quickly as possible, and only lists the problems – the fire wasn’t extinguished fast enough, and there was an intruder in the palace. However, the printing office can be rebuilt and the intruder can be found, but nothing can bring Yoon-pil back. That’s the note he leaves on, and the rest of the royal court is left slightly taken aback.

Chae-yoon and So-yi, separated for so many years, sit across a table from one another for a question and answer session. He’s already been told by the court ladies outside the door that So-yi can’t speak, and so he takes it in stride when she has to write all of her answers down. We do, however, hear So-yi in voiceover telling us what’s written on the paper – so it’s almost like an actual conversation.

It’s clear neither of them recognize each other from their childhood, but it makes sense when both of them believe the other is dead. This leaves Chae-yoon with the ability to question her freely, making the dialogue nicely paced and intense even though half of the party is having to write everything down. She’s quick, but he’s quicker, and whenever she tries to deflect questions (like why was she in the printing office at night) he doesn’t buy it and presses her for straighter answers.

She’s only telling him things that he already knows. He saw her in the printing office with the masked man – why didn’t he kill her? She finally draws a symbol on a piece of paper, and it’s from the masked man’s bracelet. She can memorize anything by looking at it once (a trait she had even as a child).

Further questioning is stopped by the arrival of Prince Gwangpyeon, who’s been staying behind the scenes the last few episodes but has remained on my Radar Of Suspicion. She went to the printing office on an errand for him, he tells Chae-yoon, and puts a stop to it by escorting So-yi out. This curious exchange is not lost on the sharp Chae-yoon.

Chae-yoon goes to what’s left of the printing office to find Ban Chon’s resident butcher and coroner, Ga Ri-on. The body of Scholar Yoon-pil is among the burned remains, and Ri-on explains that there aren’t any obvious murder wounds. Chae-yoon takes this in, and thinks aloud that so far it’s been earth, water, and fire used to kill the three men.

Ga Ri-on hears this with piqued interest, and gives a Mysterious Glance towards Chae-yoon’s back. He realizes that Chae-yoon knows the secret method which killed Scholar Dahm.

Now we’re seeing the fallout from Mu-hyul’s realization of Chae-yoon’s identity, and he’s reacting as I thought he would – by planning to kill Chae-yoon. He remembers how Ddol-bok was hellbent on killing the King even at such a young age, and the fact that Chae-yoon asked for a drink to be poured by Sejong isn’t lost on Mu-hyul. He wants Chae-yoon brought to him outside of the north gate, in secret, where he’ll kill him.

Only, his plans are subverted when Chae-yoon gets called to personally explain the events of last night to Sejong. We see the wheels turning in Chae-yoon’s head as he sizes up the guards present and his distance to the King – and thus weighing his chances if he were to try and assassinate Sejong now.

We get to see what happened inside the printing office through Chae-yoon’s eyes as he tells it to the King. Inside, he found the masked man and So-yi standing apart but looking quite calm, considering the circumstances. Just as the masked man made a break for it, So-yi fainted. He had to choose between chasing the assassin or saving So-yi. As we know, he chose So-yi.

Sejong asks how Chae-yoon happened to be outside when it happened, and he’s reluctant to say… but then he asks if he can demonstrate in order to explain it better. We don’t know if he really is or is not planning to try the leaping method on the King, since we know it can take him twenty steps in one jump. Either way, Mu-hyul comes bursting in to stop him and Chae-yoon leaves empty-handed – but not before assuring himself that he made the right choice. His chances were too low to kill Sejong this time. He’ll wait until the King pours his drink – he can’t fail then.

Mu-hyul tells King Sejong about his revelation – that Chae-yoon is none other than Ddol-bok. When Sejong remembers, his entire demeanor changes – and we see that familiar tortured sadness that was so part of his younger self shine through. He remembers what Ddol-bok said, and feels the weight of having killed that boy’s father and everyone else he knew. There’s even a throwback to his younger self when he says “wait a minute”, which used to be his coping method for his problems.

He’s not reacting the way Mu-hyul would like about the fact that Chae-yoon has come here to kill him, and so Mu-hyul reminds him that Ddol-bok is the very person that So-yi misses so much. She thinks he’s dead, and Sejong grows fierce with resolve. She must never find out that Ddol-bok is alive. Ahh. So even though the news of Ddol-bok/Chae-yoon being alive would soothe her soul, Sejong is not going for the noble path on this one. All’s fair.

King Sejong has a flashback to his younger years, and comes across Dam (young So-yi) as she throws a rock at his back. She’s now a young court lady in training, having been saved by Queen Soheon, who also makes a reappearance. The Queen tells him that Dam lost her ability to speak the night all her family was killed. Lee Do’s guilt for Queen Soheon’s dead father and all his household shows on his face and, in a beautiful moment, he apologizes to young So-yi. How I’ve missed you, Song Joong-ki.

Sejong has come to meet with So-yi, who delivers what she memorized and wrote about Yoon-pil before he died. It’s clear he didn’t come for this news, as he begins to list all the dead: Yoon-pil, Scholar Dahm, Go In-sul. His father-in-law, all his uncles, all So-yi’s family and friends. Everyone is dead. He’s filled with emotion as he says that since that night, he took an oath not to let anyone die, but now dead bodies are piling on his doorstep and he’s lost.

She’s been writing her responses during the conversation, but when she writes that all of that wasn’t his fault, his demeanor completely changes.

In the blink of an eye he goes from sadness to anger, managing to be frightening and menacing all at once. It is his responsibility, he yells. Everything that happens in Joseon is his responsibility. He killed all those people.

So-yi writes that it isn’t his fault. He rips the paper from her hands. She writes it again. He rips it away. Over and over and over and over, until he starts to rip them away slower, his resolve fading. When she goes to write it yet again, he stops her with a hand on her own and breaks down. It’s a deeply powerful and moving scene, and one where we can see that So-yi has moved past the idea that he is responsible for her family’s death and cares for his well-being.

As he’s leaving, he orders her not to cry. He doesn’t want her to shed one tear for him, though we hear him in voiceover say that the person she’s missed so much, Ddol-bok, is here to kill him.

King Sejong: “If you are shaken, then I will collapse too. Don’t be shaken.”

In the butcher shop, Ga Ri-on is removing typeset letter blocks from the recently-dead scholar’s throat as Chae-yoon and his team look on. I love that each death so far has led us to the butcher shop in Ban Chon, because it’s like Joseon CSI – if the crime lab was forced to be in someone’s basement. They’re the underdogs, even if it’s by official mandate, so these scenes are somehow just more fun.

No one knows what the four blocks mean, especially a man Chae-yoon brings in just for his big mouth (in the hopes that he’ll spread the news all over town). We don’t know why he wants everyone to know yet, only that he does. And he’s proven himself more than capable so far, so we can only trust that this is a brilliant idea.

While Ga Ri-on has gone to deliver the four symbols to King Sejong on four different pieces of paper, Chae-yoon and Cho-tak find something curious. On the dead scholar’s body, hidden right at the ankle, is a tiny tattoo of a square within a circle.

Chae-yoon’s plan has worked, and in no time at all Sung Sam-moon goes bursting into the scholars’ study hall (they are in mourning, Park Paeng-nyeon tries to say – and Sam-moon adorably shuts him down by saying he doesn’t have to listen). Scholar Yoon-pil has left a dying message, and none of them know what it means, but they give it a good try.

I love how Chae-yoon knows he can just sit back on this one. He may be smart, but he doesn’t know everything – after all, Scholar Yoon-pil made being smart a profession. He isn’t going to waste one minute of his time solving an unsolvable puzzle. Why? Because he can’t. But he knows that someone who recognizes the secret code will, and all he has to do is wait. In the meantime, he wants to head to Jiphyunjeon to follow up on the tattoo lead they now have.

When they arrive at Jiphyunjeon, they recognize the second head scholar SHIM JONG-SOO – they just saw him wearing plainclothes in the market while soundly defeating havoc-wreaking men from Ming. He had displayed superior martial arts skill while wielding only his identity tag, and he’s already on my Radar of Suspicion for the way he studies Chae-yoon through his conversation with the head scholar.

Needless to say, Chae-yoon’s request to body-check every scholar is quickly denied and he is all but thrown out. Every scholar has heard the conversation, and he shares a look with all of them. They all know his face, but he knows theirs.

Everyone is trying their hand at solving the puzzle. In the other room, all the head scholars could come up with was that it could be pointing to the Ming Embassy, abstractly. All the other scholars are gathered, but all their minds combined can’t seem to solve it. Sung Sam-moon’s mood is light as he jokes with them, clearly not taking it too seriously… until he goes quiet and we see that he is taking it seriously. He invites Park Paeng-nyeon out just because he wants to get him away – right now isn’t the time to solve the puzzle, as he tries to communicate to his friend telepathically. Nice – we’ve just gotten new players in our intrigue game.

Chae-yoon and fellow palace guard Park-po have taken to people watching outside the Jiphyunjeon. The fact that Park-po is munching on something excitedly makes it seem like he’s watching a red carpet gala, and he happily points out every person coming and going along with every detail short of who they’re wearing. Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon are in good spirits as they leave the library, and Park-po says that Sam-moon is the most human of the scholars because he has no thoughts. Ha.

There to spoil Park-po’s good time is Cho-tak, who runs all the way across the courtyard to tell the two of them that the corpses have disappeared from the butcher’s shop. This is bad news to Jo Mal-saeng, who already had to strong-arm his way into finding out where the corpses were being hidden, only to find that they’ve now been stolen.

Our resident corpse-stealers turn out to be none other than the scholars Paeng-nyeon and Sam-moon. They don’t have any nefarious purpose in mind other than a little amateur sleuthing. My intrigue-o-meter just went up ten points – I knew the scholars were involved somehow, but the two of them seem to be acting separately from the sub-group we don’t really know of yet that might exist within Jiphyunjeon.

The ‘man with a fan’ mystery is solved, as the camera pans up to reveal Assistant Chief Scholar Shim Jong-soo. Clearly he’s part of the Hidden Root group, since he joins the woman leader of Ban Chon with the four symbols of a puzzle they can’t figure out. It’s also a bit reassuring to know that our two favorite young scholars don’t seem to be part of this nefarious group, since the woman has been trying to find out where the bodies have disappeared to with little luck.

She claims that Yoon-pil found out about their group before he died, so the four symbols must point to them… but they can’t figure out in what way they do.

It’s bad news for our scholars, as it seems they stole the bodies so they could see what Chae-yoon saw – the small square-within-a-circle tattoos. It’s with a kind of growing horror that they find the tattoos on both bodies… and then roll up their sleeves to reveal that they’re branded with the same tattoos. Oh dear, this can’t be good.

Neither scholar apparently had any idea that they were not the only members of an organization they call Chun Ji. Their organization chief must be on a secret mission, but neither of them know what it is. Both are aptly shocked, and I would be too. Does this mean they’re next on the murder list? Noooo!

There has been a lot of scene intercutting between the scholars, King Sejong, and Shim Jong-soo with the woman of Ban Chon. While the scholars are trying to solve their own piece of the puzzle, Sejong and Shim Jong-soo have the pieces of the actual puzzle Yoon-pil left behind. It gives us a good idea of who’s where in the power struggle, as it seems like Yoon-pil did have a leg up on the frustrated Shim Jong-soo, who can’t seem to solve the puzzle no matter how hard he tries.

King Sejong, however, has only been quietly contemplating the pieces. In contrast to Shim Jong-soo growing so angry he rips the paper, Sejong puts the pieces together in a formation that shouldn’t seem too unfamiliar to a modern audience:

The first three characters add up to ‘mil’. Yoon-pil knew he was going to die, and swallowed letters from an alphabet that only eight people in the world know – and in fact, not even all the members of the Chun Ji group know (as demonstrated by our two scholars). But Yoon-pil knew Sejong would be able to read it, and as the King completes the second word with a few brush strokes, darkness falls over his face. He knows what Yoon-pil was trying to tell him: Hidden Root.

 
COMMENTS

Things with the scholars just got a whole lot more interesting. This show has been brilliantly setting up its mystery all along, and somehow it keeps adding new layers every time I think I’ve solved one. But my favorite development has been our two scholars finding out they weren’t the only ones in this secret group, because if the Hidden Root group is going after everyone with one of those tattoos, then our boys are in trouble. There’s already been a murder-of-the-day, but now one of those future murders might be someone I like? That’s a whole new level of good.

So many different groups are coming into the fore that seem to have so many different goals. This list includes but is not limited to: King Sejong and his Scholars, Hidden Root, Chae-yoon and his Mission to Kill the King, So-yi, Court Officials like Jo Mal-saeng, Prince Gwangpyeon (they’ve given him too many Meaningful One-Shots for him not to count in this game), and the two young scholars Park Paeng-nyeon and Sung Sam-moon.

There are more wild cards like Chae-yoon’s teacher, the butcher Ga Ri-on, the man in the mask (although technically he falls under Hidden Root), and more. Some of these groups have clear-cut goals, but some are like the court officials and Prince Gwangpyeon, whose motives are more ambiguous.

We haven’t heard a thing about Jung Ki-joon in a while, and my curiosity only goes up since this show has been playing actor merry-go-round with each character since episode one. Now that everyone is grown up we can’t judge who people are based on what they looked like in the past, since that no longer applies. That being said… I may be completely wrong, but I found myself wondering if Shim Jong-soo is Jung Ki-joon, running a very elaborate deception. He seems to be the one running Hidden Root, when that seemed like a job that would go to Jung Ki-joon, so where is that guy?

It’s nice that we’re getting to see more So-yi, especially in that beautiful scene with King Sejong. I knew that Ddol-bok and Dam were close as children, but was a little surprised that she still holds the memory of him so close after so long. It does makes sense though, considering that he blamed her for everything. What is going to be interesting is the fact that So-yi seems to have moved on from the idea that Lee Do’s order killed her whole family and Ddol-bok, which is completely different from how Chae-yoon sees the events. He has no intention of forgiving or forgetting, but we don’t know how she feels for Sejong, and how Chae-yoon might eventually feel for her. I haven’t felt like this show is missing romance, inasmuch as the cherry can be missing from the top of your cake. You still get to eat cake, but if you get that extra treat? Delicious.

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36 November 2, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 7

by HeadsNo2

You know that feeling you get when you’re part of a secret society and then you realize that other members of that society are getting killed and you might be next? Our characters do. There’s a line in the sand, and Chae-yoon is figuring out who’s on what side and who isn’t on any side – yet. Our hero is clearly going above and beyond the call of duty for our entertainment, and one can only hope he’s getting some overtime with that side of revenge. Is that promise of revenge tasty, Chae-yoon? Because it better be, for all the grief you’re giving me over your future well-being.

EPISODE 7 RECAP

King Sejong fills in the missing character from the ‘puzzle’ left by Scholar Yoon-pil, and ‘Mil Bon’ (Hidden Root) is created. No one else has been able to solve it because it’s a language that they don’t know, and one that Sejong has been working to create with painstaking care and the utmost secrecy. He’s more than dismayed to know the truth to Yoon-pil’s dying message, and it’s only made worse when Mu-hyul arrives to tell him that the dead bodies of the scholars have gone missing.

It looks like my theory of Shim Jong-soo secretly being Jung Ki-joon was incorrect – Jong-soo talks about the ‘group leader’ of Hidden Root and how he has yet to make a move. The female leader of Ban Chon disagrees, and hands him an order from the leader himself… whose identity we don’t know. We do find out the identity of the masked man, PYUNG, who informs the Leader that scholars Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon are the ones who’ve stolen the bodies.

As if reading our thoughts, Chae-yoon sits his teammates down to discuss who’s on what side. He’s written down all the players – the living (and dead) scholars, So-yi, the masked man, the cloth-covered package, the corpse stealers. He separates them to the right and left – basically, who’s on the side of the King and who is against him. It’s a great moment to get a general feel for how Chae-yoon is breaking down the case, and he’s come to his own good conclusions. The most pressing matter is where the corpses are, and he knows that the corpse-stealers must be Jiphyunjeon scholars (after that stunt he pulled by asking the head scholar if he could body-check each scholar for tattoos).

The only wild card, at least in Chae-yoon’s opinion, is So-yi. They don’t know why the masked man didn’t kill her, and there are enough suspicions to place her right in the middle.

Chae-yoon wants to find out who stole the bodies, and knows that the scholars have enough ethics to return the bodies to their families – so that’s where they’ll go to wait.

In an interesting turn, Jo Mal-saeng proves his loyalty to the monarchy (he may be a political schemer, but he’s not as nefarious as Hidden Root) by leading King Sejong to the very cave that his father once saw – complete with the carving in the wall by Jung Do-jun. He’s done this to prove to Sejong that Hidden Root exists, because Former King Taejong had charged him with a last order to help his son, future King Sejong, should bizarre happenings begin to occur in the palace. Bizarre things are indeed occurring, and Jo Mal-saeng has stepped up to the plate.

Juxtaposing this dark and eerie scene is a dark an eerie plot set in broad daylight, as Shim Jong-soo follows the Hidden Root group leader’s mission to find Master Hae-gang. If they can bring him over to Hidden Root, then half of Joseon’s scholars will follow him. The older man asks the same question Sejong asks – who’s left alive to lead Hidden Root? They both pretty much find out the same answer at the same time – Jung Do-jun and his brother Jung Do-gwang may be dead, but Jung Do-gwang’s son, Jung Ki-joon, survived. And that’s exactly who’s leading Hidden Root. Dun dun dun!

Chae-yoon is going step by step in his investigation, and ends up at the house of Heo Dahm to give his consolations for the fact that they don’t have a body to mourn. He asks about the package he delivered to Heo Dahm when he first arrived – the one wrapped in green cloth. It was a book – what they’re referring to as the Bi Ba Sa Ron – but the most curious thing is that it was written in Sanskrit.

He wants to know who he can ask about it, which leads him to the bookstore in Ban Chon. The woman at Heo Dahm’s house said he had discussed the book with the owner of the store, only Chae-yoon doesn’t find the owner when he pays a visit – instead he finds PYUNG, our resident man-in-a-mask.

Chae-yoon acts like he wants to buy a book, and sees Pyung’s iron bracelet in the process – recognizing the symbol as the one So-yi drew for him. He couldn’t be less obvious about knowing, and soon finds a sword held to his neck. Pyung asks Chae-yoon how he was recognized, but Cho-tak comes bursting in and the fight begins. Pyung has no choice but to make a break for it – and he flees out the window and uses the rooftops of Ban Chon to make his escape.

It isn’t the first time Pyung has used the leaping martial arts technique, but when Chae-yoon tries to do the same to follow him he’s stopped by Cho-tak – too many people are around as witnesses. They try to chase down the man-without-a-mask using traditional methods (meaning: only their feet) and are met with failure. In a moment of frustration, Cho-tak calls Chae-yoon out on his Teacher’s possible involvement. Pyung knows the same leaping method that Chae-yoon’s always bragged about, after all. Chae-yoon says that can’t be possible, though, since his Teacher disappeared two years ago… and it’s a strange thing for him to say, because disappearing for two years makes it seem exactly possible.

The King finds himself alone in the assembly room (only he isn’t, as So-yi proves to be a silent bystander). It’s there he vents, as loudly as he pleases, about all of his many troubles. Not only is he figuring out that Hidden Root is alive and well, but that means Jung Ki-joon is alive and well. And on top of all that, Chae-yoon is alive and well, and that other small detail – that he’s there to kill him.

The female leader of Ban Chon gets wind that the palace guards have infiltrated the bookstore, and calls the whole slave village to arms. It’s expressly forbidden that royal troops enter Ban Chon, and both the villagers and the palace guards have a charged standoff outside.

Chae-yoon diffuses the situation head-to-head with the Leader, although she doesn’t seem to recognize him from his younger days. He points out that they came unarmed, and asks her about Pyung. She may be chief of the town, she says, but she doesn’t know everyone. So-yi is among the crowd, however, as she’s on a mission from the King and has a wordless exchange (ha – I swear I’m not doing this on purpose) with a scholar, JANG SEONG-SOO, in disguise.

Her presence isn’t missed by Chae-yoon, who wonders what a court lady is doing in the middle of Ban Chon. Once she’s able to meet with the scholar in private, she hands him a letter. He’s to deliver all the data he has so far (presumably on the super-secret Hangul project) and hand it to her, and then burn all the books related to it in Jiphyunjeon. It’s the King’s command, and he can’t help but oblige. He tells her he’ll met her later tonight at a temple to hand her the information she needs.

Jo Mal-saeng is giving us some nice surprises this episode. I’d originally written him off as just another official bent on subverting the King’s power, but really his objectives are the exact opposite of Hidden Root. He might gripe about the monarchy, but he doesn’t want it demolished. Thus, he goes again to King Sejong – repeating news that Sejong just heard from Mu-hyul about Chae-yoon and other palace guards storming the Ban Chon bookstore.

But he’s there for another reason – to warn the King against trusting anyone. Hidden Root is everywhere, he can trust no one. Not Sungkyunkwan University, not even his beloved Jiphyunjeon scholars. There’s no telling who’s part of Hidden Root, and Sejong must come to terms with the fact that he must suspect those who are hardest to suspect… and then says that he should entrust the investigation to him, and not the palace guards.

Sejong has a waitaminute moment… if he’s not supposed to trust anyone, why should he trust Jo Mal-saeng? In a little bit of a ‘good, let the hate flow through you’ moment, Jo Mal-saeng says he’s done his job and leaves.

Official Lee Shin-juk has been doing some shadowy things through the past few episodes, and it’s been unclear which side he’s on. But now that Jo Mal-saeng has revealed himself to be trustworthy (for now) the following exchange between him and Lee Shin-juk is worth noting. The palace is full of eyes and ears, and Lee Shin-juk knows all about Jo Mal-saeng’s secret comings and goings. What has he been discussing with the King?

In a bit of a witty moment that only makes me like Jo Mal-saeng more, he simply replies that if Lee Shin-juk knows about all these secret meetings then they aren’t much of a secret, are they? He effectively cuts off further questioning by asking Shin-juk about Hidden Root – and we can see, after Mal-saeng leaves, how rattled this question leaves his fellow official.

Jo Mal-saeng’s words have affected Sejong deeply, and Mu-hyul finds him just lying down without his official Kingly robe while he soaks it all in. It’s clear Mu-hyul is his closest and most trusted confidante, and Sejong asks him a simple question.

King Sejong: “Do you believe in people?”

Mu-hyul replies that he believes in Sejong, who says that if that’s so, why does Mu-hyul want to kill Ddol-bok so bad if he knows him so well? Basically, Mu-hyul kills people because he believes them, other people kill people because they don’t believe them, and Sejong feels like killing people the most when he can’t believe himself. Aww, these moral crises bring back fond memories of the young Sejong.

The Leader of Ban Chon meets with her loyal assassin, Pyung, and asks him how he was figured out by Chae-yoon. He doesn’t know, and she simply tells him that he can’t make a mistake again – because Sung Sam-moon is next. Nooooo. Damn you, Show! I knew you were going to do this to me.

Meanwhile, the scholar that So-yi met with in Ban Chon, Jang Seong-soo, is called before the rest of the scholars for some illicit drawings he’s been keeping. It’s clear that Scholar Jang knows he’s been let off easy (the drawings are better than his colleagues finding out about his secret mission) and he hams it up, falling to his knees to say that he’s done wrong. He’s to be kicked out immediately.

Scholar Sung Sam-moon was present when Scholar Jang was brought to task for the naughty drawings, but saw something that the other scholars seemed to have missed. He waits to catch Jang Seong-soo alone, and asks him up front about all the things that have piqued his curiosity – Scholar Heo Dahm was studying Sanskrit, Yoon-pil was studying printing blocks, and now Scholar Jang was caught studying Phags-Pa Script (Phags-pa script was an alphabet designed for Kublai Khan, the emperor of Yuan. The alphabet was used for only a century before the Yuan Dynasty gave rise to the Ming Dynasty, and the alphabet became extinct).

Scholar Jang denies everything, until Sam-moon grabs his clothing to reveal the same square-within-a-circle tattoo that he has – and the same tattoo that’s on the dead scholars. Jang says it’s just a mole, and that there wasn’t anything special about the drawings – he just wanted to look at some pornography. Sam-moon knows better, displaying the curiosity that Hidden Root wants him killed for, and gets into a physical scuffle with Jang to try and wrestle answers out of him.

There’s more to Sam-moon than just curiosity. He knows that members of the Chun Ji (Heaven and Earth) organization are being killed, and he probably fears for his own safety. More than that, though, he wants to know the truth that’s being hidden from him by other members of the same organization, like Jang. He pleads with his fellow scholar to tell him what the King is working on – because only then can he find out who’s killing off the scholars, and why. More importantly, who’s next?

Jang finally seems to give in, and tells Sam-moon to go back and wait – he’ll give him the answer. Something tells me that this won’t happen, since they’re watched in the shadows by Pyung, in his Killing Mask.

Chae-yoon and Sam-moon have, as the truism goes, taken different paths to get to the same point on the mountain (literally). Our investigator has been going step by step, painstakingly working to find out who stole the bodies of the scholars – and after an interrogation with the old man who housed the bodies after Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon took them, he’s made it to the mountain to try and find our curious scholar.

Only, they see another person coming up the same mountain path heading towards the temple – it’s the mysterious court lady, So-yi. She’s come to meet with Jang Seong-soo to get the information he promised her earlier.

Pyung confronts Scholar Jang at the temple, but curiously doesn’t cut him down with his sword – which gives the scholar enough time to yell from the mountain that whoever is coming should run away. It’s clear that he’s probably addressing So-yi, who seems intent to still head up the mountain and toward the screams that end abruptly. Chae-yoon knows that this means the man is dead, and reveals himself to So-yi in order to physically stop her from going any further. He tells her to run back down and inform the King that Scholar Jang is dead.

Scholar Jang isn’t quite dead yet, but suffering greatly. It looks like the effects of poison as he’s bleeding from the ears, and Pyung effectively steals the cloth-covered package that Scholar Jang was carrying. I’m having a little trouble keeping up on my cloth-covered packages – the Bi Ba Sa Ron, a Buddhist scroll written in Sanskrit, was what Chae-yoon originally delivered to Heo Dahm, but that package was stolen – presumably by the bad guys. So is that package the Bi Ba Sa Ron, or something else having to do with Phags-Pa?

Pyung makes his escape, but not before finding Cho-tak in the forest and landing a hit on the palace guard’s shoulder. I love that Cho-tak seems nearly as capable as Chae-yoon, and isn’t relegated to being the bumbly sidekick. When Chae-yoon finds him moments later, Cho-tak tells his friend that no one is around – use the leaping method to his heart’s content and catch that masked bastard.

Chae-yoon catches up to Pyung, who arrogantly asks if Chae-yoon is on the hunt for the coral-cloth-covered-package. Chae-yoon is still upset that he got a slight knick on the neck from Pyung in the bookstore earlier, and quips back – what package? He just wants Pyung to take his mask off. He’s seen his face anyway, so what’s there to hide?

So-yi has run all the way from the mountain to the King without stopping, and uses the ground as a writing pad as she’s without paper. It’s with growing anger that Sejong reads that Scholar Jang Seung-soo is dead. She’s just the messenger, but Sejong directs his cursing and yelling at her – he can’t stop these killings, and now news of another one has literally arrived on his doorstep. Saying that he’s upset is an understatement.

While Pyung is of the mind that Chae-yoon is inconsequential and therefore useless to kill, Chae-yoon proves him wrong when he uses the leaping method against him to cut his mask (and a bit of his forehead) off. Now Pyung’s interest is piqued – so far he’s been the only one able to use the leaping method that Chae-yoon knows, which somehow ties back to Chae-yoon’s teacher – in a way that has yet to be revealed.

Pyung wants to know who he is (oh, now you care) and Chae-yoon isn’t about to tell him. Instead, he’s more than happy to bait the mysterious man into a fight.

 
COMMENTS

Fight! Fight! Fight!

This episode had its good, intriguing moments, but was a little bit slower overall. We still got plenty of good information about our characters as we delved deeper into what makes them tick. It was especially fun, for me at least, to see Chae-yoon go through the case-solving steps to unravel the mystery. There’s some comfort to be had in knowing that he’s capable, and in fact, he might be the only one capable enough to save the King. Sejong has his brilliant mind, but he doesn’t know who to trust and it’s clearly taking an emotional and moral toll on him. Chae-yoon only has to trust in himself, so he’s less burdened by the things that are weighing Sejong down.

Even though Chae-yoon is working toward eventual revenge on the King (which I hope he changes his mind about – we know from drama experience that characters who live on one side of the extreme normally end up dead), it’s interesting that he’s working so hard for his enemy in the process. Maybe Sejong knows this too, because he’s pretty much choosing to do nothing with the knowledge that there’s an assassin in the palace.

I’m really pleased with the way this show is carefully revealing what everyone’s real goals are, and enjoyed all of Jo Mal-saeng’s moments in this episode. His aims, while not the stuff heroes are made of, still differentiate him from the real bad guys in Hidden Root.

I say that with a grain of salt, because Hidden Root is just an idealistic group whose ideals aren’t too bad (in theory) – restrict the power that one man has, and give more to the people. It’s more in line with Sejong’s ideas about being King that were so different from his father’s, which makes it interesting that these two groups are so at odds. There’s the whole matter of revenge for Jung Do-jun, though.

The butcher’s assistant has been silent background material since early on, but the amount of time the camera spends on him is curious. He got plenty of Meaningful One-Shots during the Ban Chon scene, and against my better judgment I’m beginning to wonder if he’s Jung Ki-joon. But maybe that’s what the writers want me to believe and they’re still secretly hiding him somewhere… Damn it! Just tell me already!

I’m just kidding. You take all the time you need, Tree. I trust you.
 

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48 November 3, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 8

by HeadsNo2

Is the King losing his mind? How are we properly equipped to deal with this?! Okay, maybe I’m overreacting – but we’ve seriously got a King In Crisis. It makes for some awesome dramatic material when a character can have intense ideological conversations with his younger self, but someone get that man an inhaler and a hug, stat! He’s got a country to run!

 
EPISODE 8 RECAP

Chae-yoon and Pyung duke it out in a fun fight sequence (how fun? some of it takes place IN MID-AIR), as Chae-yoon seems thrilled that he’s pretty evenly matched. He’s also not above baiting his opponent, and assures Pyung they’ll have some really good times once he’s arrested and therefore available to be officially tortured. That’s a little dark, Chae-yoon, but we’ll roll with it.

They’re both out of breath in the middle of the fight, but are ready to continue until they hear Mu-hyul in the distance. So-yi has alerted both him and the King per Chae-yoon’s command, but now that’s working against him since it gives Pyung time to escape. Pyung does, however, end up dropping the cloth-covered package. At least Chae-yoon makes sure to secretly pocket it before he gives chase.

The assassin knows that Chae-yoon won’t give up, and devises a pretty neat plan to keep him at bay. He uses the leaping method to make it back to Cho-tak, who’s still wounded from their earlier encounter, and stabs him through the chest. Chae-yoon can now choose between saving his friend, or leaving him to chase Pyung. No matter how enraged Chae-yoon is, he’s still a good person (this is the second time he’s chosen to save someone over pursuing Pyung) and tends to his friend instead while Pyung gets away.

He has a short exchange with Mu-hyul and leads him up the mountain, where he’s sure that someone has died. They don’t find a body, only some evidence that a body was there (along with some blood-covered leaves). They conclude that the assassin must have stolen the body again. Goodness, can a dead body just be in the proper hands for once? Dead bodies might as well be currency, for the amount of times they’re traded/borrowed/stolen/returned.

In the morning, Chae-yoon enters a room to find that Park-po called the butcher/coroner/now-surgeon (what doesn’t he do?) Ga Ri-on, to save Cho-tak’s life the night before. Park-po has established a joking rapport with Cho-tak, and says something about saving his ‘lowly life’ – which is curious for two reasons: one, that Cho-tak hears those words and nervously looks toward Chae-yoon because of reason number two, that Chae-yoon takes those words Very Seriously. There are lowly people and lowly ranks, he says, but a lowly life doesn’t exist. Park-po better get that straight, and fast.

They’re interrupted by their superior, who looks like he’s seen a ghost and can barely speak. This sends Chae-yoon, Park-po, and the butcher/coroner/surgeon to a crime scene in the making.

It’s like a modern movie crime scene, and everyone is gathered as a body is being found and there’s commotion and chaos. This time, however, it’s over a boat that’s been found floating in the water. The King, the scholars, and even all the court ladies are waiting with bated breath, but Sejong has his finest of poker faces on. My guess is that he has a very good idea of what’s in that boat.

Mu-hyul certainly knows, and orders Ga Ri-on to take a look at the corpse. He pulls back the cloth to reveal Scholar Jang Seong-soo, looking incredibly dead, to everyone’s horror and shock. So-yi takes one look at the body before her eyes roll back into her head, and she faints on the spot.

Everyone gets their chance to give their best Shocked Face, but it isn’t until the message underneath the body is revealed that Scholar Sung Sam-moon falls to the ground, and the King looks like he’s trying just a little too hard to keep his temper. The note is written in hanja, and reads: “A flower is just a flower. It cannot be a root.” Why, that’s exactly what was carved in the wall by Jung Do-jun in his personal cave! And also what his nephew, Jung Ki-joon, wrote on his test paper so many years ago. There’s a family resemblance going on here.

It’s the motto for Hidden Root, and the message can’t be more clear: Hidden Root is here. It’s time for Sejong to officially start watching his back.

Mu-hyul gets a bad feeling when Sejong sends everyone away because he wants to take a nap. He knows Sejong can’t even sleep at night, so who is he fooling that he wants to sleep during the middle of the day?

Only a nap was never on Sejong’s mind, as he tosses and turns in bed, stewing on his rage and clutching his heart. He’s left grappling with the idealistic version of who he used to be along with all the implications of Hidden Root, and it’s taking a very physical toll on him. He remembers how his father mocked him on his deathbed, saying that the path his son was choosing to lead the country with would be far more wretched – and Sejong agrees and yells it into the empty room. It is more wretched. He couldn’t be more wretched as he fights with his darker side, the one that doesn’t want to hide the venom of power, but he won’t give in. That would mean losing to his father, who’d be smugly winning this battle from far beyond the grave.

In a mirror of Sejong’s suffering, So-yi is also in bed, grasping her heart and unable to breathe. The other court ladies muse that it isn’t like So-yi was the only one to see the dead body, but they don’t know that So-yi knew that man one moment, before he was dead the next. If she’s that involved in the King’s language project, then everyone who has died so far has been someone she knows. Just like it’s taking a toll on Sejong, the deaths are taking a toll on her.

Sam-moon, deeply affected by all the recent body-related events, gives his friend and fellow scholar Park Paeng-nyeon notice for a leave of absence. He needs to take the time off to get to the bottom of this mystery – no matter what it takes.

Revelation time! Points to whoever called Official Lee Shin-juk as a member of Hidden Root (haha, just kidding – about anyone actually calling it). He tells a fellow official-turned-confidant (by revealing this secret, he’s effectively bound their fates together) that it has been twenty years since he last received an order and he thought the group had disbanded. But, in true sleeper cell fashion, he’s just gotten an order to reactivate – and it seems like these twenty years on his own haven’t changed his views. He’s siding with Hidden Root.

He has a flashback to a conversation he had with Jung Ki-joon twenty years ago – when he asked where Jung Ki-joon would go, the latter replied that there’s nowhere he can’t go. He’ll hide among the people.

Pyung, meanwhile, meets with his fellow cohorts in Hidden Root, and the wound on his face isn’t missed by the Leader. He lies about Kang Chae-yoon being the cause, maybe out of intrigue for Chae-yoon’s skills. Once he’s outside, though, he sends a man to go find Lee Bang-ji – the very teacher of Chae-yoon that’s been missing for two years.

It’s time for the body examination scene that’s become routine (but no less fun) every time a new dead body springs up. This time it’s only Chae-yoon and the butcher/coroner/surgeon (I can’t help it, I love that he’s a jack of all trades) and the body of the recently-deceased Scholar Jang Seong-soo. Ga Ri-on pulls a long needle from the base of his skull, placed in the acupuncture point of the brain that causes instant and horrible death. But that’s not all, because of the way the body is contorted so strangely, Ga Ri-on also concludes that a form of very deadly poison was also used to murder him. Curiouser and curiouser – why would Pyung use two completely different methods of murder, when one or the other is completely capable of killing a man?

Chae-yoon knows he’s being followed when he leaves the morgue, but he’s such a cool cat that he lets himself be followed and ‘captured’ by none other than Scholar Sung Sam-moon, who clearly is missing some experience in human abduction.

Sam-moon may be professionally smart for a living, but he’s terrible at being secretive and menacing and is swiftly outmaneuvered by Chae-yoon. He even ends up with a shiner as their roles are switched, and it becomes clear who’s really wearing the investigator pants in this new duo that I love so much.

These two complete each other intellectually and Chae-yoon could use a good scholar on his side, precisely because he doesn’t know everything – so everyone wins. He gives the teamwork proposition to Sam-moon with a burned piece of paper, giving the scholar three reasons why they should work together: one, that piece of paper is what Yoon-pil left before he died, two, if Sam-moon finds out what it means Chae-yoon will give him the book Scholar Jang had before he died, and three, they have the same goal. They both want to solve the mystery, and now they can work together to help each other.

In a bit of dark humor, the King calls a sudden assembly between the scholars and the officials. The room is tense as everyone expects the talk to be about all the recent murders… but Sejong’s mood is light as he declares he agenda for the day: tax law reform!

It’s a brilliant move by Sejong, because he’s able to use this hot-button issue to completely sideswipe everyone… into forgetting about the murders and talking about tax laws. The only one who sees through this is Jo Mal-saeng, and his expressions are truly priceless. Words can’t express how much I adore this character as of late – it’s like he’s the only adult in a room full of squabbling children, and he knows it.

As an audience, we know that the tax reform move was a ploy on Sejong’s part, but when Prince Gwangpyeong tries to make the same assumption to his father, Sejong goes strangely still. Prince Gwangpyeong is really just calling out the truth – that Sejong brought up the tax issue to see which officials are or are not on his side – but perhaps Sejong has taken Jo Mal-saeng’s words about suspecting everyone to heart, as he doesn’t confide anything to his own son about his true plans.

Park-po saw So-yi leaving the palace in disguise earlier in the day (she wasn’t wearing her Official Court Lady Hanbok), and shows Chae-yoon where she’s gone – it’s none other than the mountainside of all the happenings of the past night, and she seems to be looking for something. What she doesn’t know is that Chae-yoon has been secretly keeping the package, and he wants to let her find it. Since he still doesn’t have a grasp as to where her loyalties lie, he’s confident that he’ll find out once he sees what she does with the book she’s so desperately searching for.

So-yi may as well be blind and deaf (but maybe she’s just too focused), because Chae-yoon and Park-po are pretty much putting no effort into concealing themselves two feet from where she ‘finds’ the book. If Chae-yoon was hoping he could follow her around with that book he finds himself sorely mistaken, as instead So-yi studies every page, committing the entire work to her uncanny memory before she rips the pages and burns them.

This doesn’t give Chae-yoon any better idea as to where her loyalties lie, but he’s intrigued.

To Sejong’s dismay, his idea of bringing up tax law reform and another census have worked to alienate him from officials and scholars alike (he had to have known this was bound to happen before he started it). Shim Jong-soo is under covert operations from Hidden Root, and doesn’t shy away from riling the others against Sejong by saying that what the King is really saying with all these ‘tax reformation’ ideas… is that Neo-Confucianism Can’t Lead Joseon. Gasp! Unacceptable.

When Mu-hyul apprises Sejong of these secret meetings behind his back, he goes into a frenzy. Poor King. He’s upset because his best just isn’t good enough. What on earth did he ever did so wrong? All he ever wanted to do was build a country. All his opposition ever does is throw the book (of Confucius) at him. He’s genuinely upset and bewildered when he honestly asks Mu-hyul: “When did Confucius ever say a nation couldn’t make their own almanac? When did Confucius ever say we couldn’t hear what the people have to say in person?” It’s slightly (unintentionally) hilarious that he’s asking these questions in such a serious context, because they’re funny questions to ask.

Sejong has been losing his mind a little all episode, buckling under the weight of the crown and the secret group that clearly has it out for him. In a truly brilliant scene he finds himself alone in Jiphyunjeon, the place that he created against his father’s wishes, face-to-face with his younger self (how I missed you Song Joong-ki, let me count the ways).

Sejong is hopping mad as he spits profanities to his younger self, telling him that he (the younger Lee Do) killed those innocent people. If he hadn’t been so petty and lofty when he was young, this wouldn’t have happened. If he hadn’t decided to take the wretched path and try to use words and rhetoric instead of using power, maybe things would be different.

With a beautiful hint of menace, the younger Lee Do assures his older counterpart that it’s not too late to change things. Sejong can still go to his father’s tomb, just like the Great King predicted so long ago, and go cry and beg for forgiveness. These are exactly the words that Sejong needs to hear but doesn’t want to, and he goes from rage into a crying mess as he finds himself left alone once again, faced with only his inner demons.

Goodness. Give me a moment to collect myself from how unexpectedly awesome that scene was. I know what will help take my mind off of the sheer win of what just happened…

A romantic montage, of course! Chae-yoon has been following So-yi around as part of his investigation, and he ends up at the butcher/coroner/surgeon’s shop/morgue where So-yi has just recently come and gone. He finds out that she’s been coming to get two types of herbs – one as a sort of speed to stay awake, and the other a really strong anesthetic to put her into a minor coma. Something concerns him about this, and it’s enough for him to step out of the role of silent watcher to warn her against doing that to herself. He’s taken that exact combination of herbs before, and knows she won’t last long.

But he also knows why she’s taking them – what happened to her, he asks, that makes her so afraid of what’s in her dreams? If only he knew that words he said to her so long ago still haunt her dreams today.

Neither Chae-yoon or So-yi heard Sejong and his entourage arrive, but Sejong has heard their conversation. He wants to know how Chae-yoon knows about the herbs, and this scene is interesting for many reasons. There’s the subtext of the conversation itself, added to the weight of the secret (Ddol-bok is alive, So-yi!) that Sejong knows but isn’t telling.

Chae-yoon doesn’t lie, and tells the King that he took those herbs because his father was his whole world, and when he died, Chae-yoon was alone. He couldn’t sleep at night because he felt like his father would be in his dreams, asking him why he died. It’s pretty terrible to imagine, and judging by how emotional Sejong and So-yi get, they must feel the same way.

Sejong is more interested as to how Chae-yoon overcame this drug habit, clearly looking out for So-yi’s well-being. Revenge, according to Chae-yoon, is what fixed his miserable situation. But it still didn’t make his heart less heavy, and Sejong wonders why he’s continuing a path that makes him wretched (see the parallels?).

Chae-yoon: “I, without determination, am no longer myself.”

And Sejong, realizing that he’s not himself without his determination, has a revelation. He even tells Chae-yoon to continue on his path. He’ll go on his.

 
COMMENTS

Whaaaat? Goodness gracious. This King takes ‘understanding’ to a whole new level. It was a little different when he was selectively ignoring the fact that Chae-yoon wanted to assassinate him, but now he’s even encouraging him? If Mu-hyul was upset about Chae-yoon before, he is positively going to have an aneurism over this.

This is the second time Chae-yoon has inadvertently saved Sejong during a time of kingly crisis. I wonder how Chae-yoon would react to know that he helped to shape the very kind of man and ruler that Sejong is now. If it weren’t for him, maybe Sejong (the Sejong in this story, not the historical Sejong) wouldn’t have ever stood up to his father. And even now, if it weren’t for Chae-yoon, maybe Sejong would have stayed in the emotional rut he’s been in these past episodes. But both times, Chae-yoon has managed to give the King a revelation just by being frank.

Seeing Song Joong-ki again was unfair because I MISS HIM. Therefore, it was bittersweet but so great to see the two versions of this character face off against each other. Han Suk-kyu is a more jaded version of his younger self and it shows – he still internalizes everything, but instead of being sad, he’s angry (most of the time). Where Song Joong-ki would have given us teary eyes, Han Suk-kyu gives us bared teeth. It suits the amount of years that he’s been bearing the heavy and terrible burden of ruling a country, but it’s definitely a new and interesting take on King Sejong. I’ll be glad if this conversation with Chae-yoon normalizes him for the following episodes, because I get the feeling the murders are going to keep piling up. But Han Suk-kyu can’t really get much angrier, so what’s a King to do?

In contrast, my love of Chae-yoon has only grown since my shaky first impression. He’s resourceful, which I like, and smart – which I love. How awesome is it that he’s paired up with Sam-moon? I can only hope we’ll get some crime-solving hijinks out of this relationship.

 
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27 November 9, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 9

by HeadsNo2

Things are getting personal for our Joseon-era Sherlock Holmes, and that means our hopes can only rise and fall on Chae-yoon’s never-ending thirst for the truth… Or his thirst for a drink personally poured by the King that he’s been promised if he solves all this madness, which I’m sure he plans to enjoy only after he’s killed the man who poured him the drink in the first place. Can’t everyone just play nice and not want revenge for the deaths of their fathers? Wait, that’s what gives Chae-yoon the extra-dark depth that I’m currently enjoying? Well, I can’t argue with that.

 
EPISODE 9 RECAP

Everyone is given some time to brood over Sejong’s parting words to Chae-yoon about both of them following their own paths (except that their paths are mutually exclusive since Chae-yoon wants to end his life), but none more than So-yi. When she’s alone, she grasps the lookalike bag to the one she had once made for Ddol-bok/Chae-yoon and cries. The words Ddol-bok spoke to her in the jail out of anger still weigh on her as she believes herself responsible for the death of all those people, and all because she lied about being able to read. It’s a nice tie-in to all of the literacy-related happenings in the series thus far.

Our two young scholars, Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon, are in the burned remnants of the printing office while they try to figure out the riddle left by Yoon-pil at his death: “Goon Na Mi Yok”. Sam-moon may have an idea on how to solve it, and we literally see it come to life as words begin to float off the page in front of him.

What he comes up with is a tongue twister of sounds starting with “s”, and Paeng-nyeon can’t even say it without getting all caught up. It’s adorable.

Sejong has an uncanny ability to sneak up on people when he’s with his whole entourage, and the two scholars are shocked to be face to face with the King. He’s heard Sam-moon’s tongue twister and confirms it, saying that he had the right idea with the tongue twisters (words that gather saliva in the mouth). The “Goon Na Mi Yok” is a collection of sounds, drawing from all different kinds – lingual, guttural, etc.

Sam-moon has been on the very cusp of discovery, and asks Sejong why Yoon-pil would try to hide this fact before his death. Ask and you shall receive…

Sejong takes the two scholars into the former Sudoku Room (oooor out of the darkness of that printing press and into the light, if we’re looking at this symbolically), only now he’s chosen to finally reveal his super secret project. He opens one of the drawers so Sam-moon can see what’s inside – drawings to represent words that have been organized by their sounds. He shows them the rest of the drawers, squares made of wood and gold like the former magic square pieces he was so fond of in his youth. Finally, the big reveal:

King Sejong: “I am making our writing system. Our letters built on our sounds. Our alphabet.”

In shock and disbelief, Sam-moon goes from drawer to drawer, amazed to see all the pictures, all the words, categorized by sound. This scene is magical, amazing, beautiful, epic… I can’t even say enough about it. We’re literally seeing the creation of an alphabet.

Sam-moon can’t help but ask the King why he’s going against the established Chinese order and history, saying that artificially-created alphabets just don’t last. Just look at the Phags-pa script (what Scholar Jang Seong-soo was studying before his murder). Did that alphabet fail because it was bad? No, it’s because an alphabet has to be established over thousands of years – like the Chinese alphabet. He’s simply floored that the King has the stones to go through with this.

Sejong still has another reveal – he’s appointing Sam-moon and Paeng-nyeon to judge his Hangul project. Their judgment, and the judgment of one other person who isn’t named, is what’s going to either save this project or damn it. Sejong will throw away all these years of work if this system causes Joseon to regress and offers no help to the people.

Mu-hyul meets with Chae-yoon to relate the good news – the King has appointed him as the official investigator for Hidden Root. He hands over Jo Mal-saeng’s initial journal chronicling Jung Ki-joon over the years, but nothing is confirmed since the group has been relatively quiet for oh, just the last twenty years.

But it’s only when the master swordsman says the words specifically, “Hidden Root”, that Chae-yoon’s eyes widen. Looks like he remembers something important from his childhood…

In the dead of night, Chae-yoon runs to a patch of earth he recognizes and digs through it with his bare hands. He’s saved Jung Do-gwang’s bag from when he stole the man’s horse as a child, and inside is none other than the Hidden Root Scroll.

The score works perfectly to heighten the element of mystery to these proceedings, brilliantly revealed piece by piece. Chae-yoon takes a sort of pleasure in his new knowledge that the men that he took this scroll from have his father’s will. And now they’re the masterminds behind all the recent murders? Oh, it is on.

The officials are still having their secret meeting from last episode, and Shim Jong-soo’s ‘Hidden Root’ is showing as he stirs the pot. The officials clearly have a bone to pick about Sejong’s consistent rulings against Confucianism as well as a secret project they know he’s doing. But because of him, three scholars have died. The verdict? Sejong is doing something none of them know about, and no one is happy about it.

There’s been a spy outside of the meeting, and he goes to report his findings to King Sejong. In an odd turn, though, Sejong says no more – he doesn’t want anyone spying on the High Officials anymore. I can’t help but wonder why – he knows that everyone is plotting against him, so why wouldn’t he want to know what they’re plotting?

Official Lee Shin-juk decides to pay a visit to the Ming Reception Hall, where he meets with Ming Ambassador GI JE-YEON, and asks him if he’s aware of all the strange happenings within the court. The ambassador says not really, but that they have been keeping an eye on Shim Jong-soo ever since he met with Master Hae-gang. Their spies normally lose him every night around Ban Chon.

This sparks the curiosity that’s already eating at Lee Shin-juk about Shim Jong-soo, but perhaps he’s eased that the ambassador is sending their deputy supervisor to personally do some spying on the suspicious official.

What’s curious to note is that when Lee Shin-juk meets with his lackey later, he seems to keep using the past tense when he refers to himself as “having been in Hidden Root.” There’s a chance that in these twenty years things have changed for him, and he might not actually consider himself a member anymore even though he’s been receiving orders from the secret group.

Mu-hyul kind of lets it slip in front of everyone that Chae-yoon has other intentions and that it’s probably not wise for the King, or for the general social order, to give everything in the investigation over to the palace guard. Both he and Sejong pretty much ignore official Jung In-ji when his jaw drops at the idea of Chae-yoon’s “other intentions” (if only he knew that those intentions were to KILL THE KING), as Sejong pretty much says that Mu-hyul should get used to this level of Extreme Kingship. Mu-hyul better put his training pants on, things are only going to get more intense from here on out.

Sejong wants to know what So-yi thinks, which she naturally writes down on a piece of paper for him to read. The exact details aren’t revealed to us, but it has something to do with the butcher/coroner/surgeon, Ga Ri-on, and whether he should receive Sejong’s trust. Their relationship remains pretty ambiguous, but this much is clear: Sejong absolutely adores So-yi.

Turns out the spy sent by the Ming Embassy is a woman we’ve seen before halting a fight in the marketplace, GYUN JEOK-HEE. She’s an interpreter for the Ming Reception Hall, and gets into a fight with Shim Jong-soo as he’s on his way to a secret meeting for Hidden Root. She holds her own against his exceptional martial arts skills, and even manages to cut half his hat off… before saying that she wasn’t following him, she just sensed a threat from the other side of the wall. Oh, okay then – forgive and forget. It’s a totally honest mistake to almost cut someone’s face off.

Chae-yoon’s been doing some sleuthing on his own, and is already a step ahead of everyone else as far as the Hidden Root investigation goes. He certainly has a leg up because of the Hidden Root Scroll, but he also knows that the woman Leader has a part to play – and finds the temple in Ban Chon that he’d tried to escape to as a child. His memory is keen, as he remembers the Leader coming outside when the fight had broken out between the villagers of Ban Chon and Jo Mal-saeng’s secret army so many years ago.

Unfortunately, Chae-yoon makes a sound while listening to the meeting from outside the door. When it’s clear to those inside that he isn’t Yoon Pyung, the masked assassin, the Leader’s right-hand man gives chase. Chae-yoon is not so easily caught, however, and escapes by cleverly clinging to a rooftop. Nice! But someone definitely does notice his escape – it’s none other than Jo Mal-saeng, who’s hiding in some shadows of his own nearby.

The scholar that Sejong appointed as Official Census Taker, NAM SA-CHUL, is all but quivering in his boots as he tells his superior that he’s terribly sick and is unfortunately unable to do the job. Through some prodding, he reveals that the real reason for his fear is that during the previous night a threatening message had been left on his desk and he’d gotten a sword held to his neck. It must have been that man who killed Yoon-pil. He could fly, right?

Filled with some righteous indignation, the Deputy Chief Scholar takes the knife and the message to Sejong. The message clearly states that whoever helps the King, or even those linked to whatever he’s doing, will be killed. The scholar gives Sejong an ultimatum: either the King tells him what the secret project is, or he won’t send out any scholars to do his tax reform census study. He’s already had three scholars die, and he almost lost a fourth last night. There won’t be any more if he has anything to do with it.

Chae-yoon has decided to move into Ban Chon. What’s the fuss? So what if it’s a slave village – he gets cheap rent and all the meat he wants. We know he’s got other motivations for moving into the village (and all I have to say is: nice!), and it’s not long before he sees the Leader. He knows she’s got a connection to Hidden Root, and cheerfully announces that he’ll be living in her neck of the woods starting today. Aww, if only they’d be actual roommates. Hello, hijinks!

It’s time for an awkward exchange between Chae-yoon and Sung Sam-moon, as the palace guard has come like a debtor expecting payment. Only what he really wants to know is whether Sung Sam-moon solved the ‘Goon Na Mi Yok’ like he said he would when they made their agreement.

Now that Sam-moon knows all there is to know about the secret project, his incentive for working with Chae-yoon has dwindled to nothing and he simply says he’s decided not to do it anymore. Chae-yoon isn’t buying what Sam-moon is selling, but can’t say anything to the contrary either, so he has to let it pass.

Cho-tak has recovered well enough from his stab wound by Pyung to insist his help upon Chae-yoon – and to move in with him in Ban Chon. Aww, roomies! While Chae-yoon would rather his friend stay out of it and heal, Cho-tak won’t have any of it. After all, while they were fighting up in the north he still carried Chae-yoon to safety while being shot with three arrows, right? But this isn’t the north, Chae-yoon says. Things are going to get a lot more intense (or extreme, as Sejong would put it).

Their superior comes to interrupt the friendly moment, reporting the news that the incident with the knife and the threat at Scholar Nam Sa-chul’s house has been given over to the Royal Investigation Bureau, and by proxy Jo Mal-saeng specifically. Chae-yoon must not interfere. Absolutely. Must. Not. Interfere. I’m sure Chae-yoon only hears: “You absolutely must interfere.”

Jo Mal-saeng is probably best suited to questioning, because he always looks like he never believes anyone. It’s because of his facial expressions that I can’t tell if he actually doesn’t believe Nam Sa-chul or whether he’s just skeptical, as he notes that Nam Sa-chul is acting awfully shifty for a victim. I couldn’t agree more, but maybe that poor scholar is just really that frightened.

When the scholar is gone, Jo Mal-saeng is left to consider the knife left at the scene. He asks for some vinegar, and I smell some crime-solving ahead!

I love that Chae-yoon takes a small amount of satisfaction in the fact that it’s probably killing the Leader that he’s moved in. But all is not well when he goes inside and finds a hair on the ground – and it was one that he specifically placed in the crevice of the door so he could tell if someone opened it or not. Aaah! Why are you so cool, Chae-yoon?! He even goes to his drawer, taking out a diagram he drew of exactly how he placed the items inside – only to find that everything has been rearranged. Someone’s already been in his room.

No sooner does he come to that realization that the butcher/coroner/surgeon Ga Ri-on comes to invite them for a drink. They have friendly conversation that shifts only slightly when Chae-yoon tells him to stop giving So-yi those drugs, because she won’t get better if she keeps taking them. Aww, it’s sweet that he still has her plight on his mind.

Ga Ri-on says he gives them to her because he feels bad and knows what it’s like – she can’t sleep due to a guilty conscience. We know what that’s about, but all Chae-yoon hears is that she wanted to play smart when she was young and got her whole family killed. Ga Ri-on has an effervescent, friendly personality that Chae-yoon responds to – clearly the butcher is used to being treated as nothing, but Chae-yoon treats him like one human to another.

It’s only when Ga Ri-on goes to pour Chae-yoon another drink that he notices something strange about his fingertips…

Not only did Chae-yoon put a hair in the door and made a diagram of his drawer – but he also put yellow wax on the drawer handle that would stain the intruder’s fingertips so he could then be easily found. This means that Ga Ri-on is certainly the one who searched his room. Hmm, the plot thickens! But goodness, Chae-yoon, I do wish more people would break into your room so I could see all the other tricks you have up your sleeve.

While Chae-yoon is crime-solving, so is Jo Mal-saeng. The official uses the vinegar he called for on the knife, and suddenly the edges turn green. This means that there has been pig blood on the knife, and pig blood would only be on a butcher’s knife, and there’s only one butcher we know… oh no!

Jo Mal-saeng and a small army find Ga Ri-on down a road, and present him with the evidence of his knife found at Nam Sa-chul’s house. Ga Ri-on, to his credit, seems genuinely surprised and dumbfounded. It is his knife, but he has no idea why the royal army has it, and is likewise horrified when they set to beating him. Out of desperation he grabs a sword to defend himself, when really he just wants them to hear him out – but it’s useless, so he drops it and runs for his life.

Chae-yoon caught wind of Ga Ri-on’s arrest barely a second behind Jo Mal-saeng, and he grabs the butcher out of view and promptly throws him to the ground. He’s acting on his own, and asks Ga Ri-on if he’s a member of Hidden Root with a knife to his throat. The butcher seems completely taken aback by the question – he has no idea what’s happening and why it’s happening.

Chae-yoon levels all the accusations that point to Ga Ri-on being the one who threatened Nam Sa-chul. Ga Ri-on defends himself, saying he was there, but only to deliver beef – but he guesses that Nam Sa-chul must have hidden this fact, since beef is against the law. And as for searching Chae-yoon’s room, he only did it because Mu-hyul ordered him to… which comes as quite a shock to Chae-yoon.

As far as the most damning piece of evidence, his knife, Ga Ri-on says that it disappeared that night. He’s the only butcher in town, he would be crazy to use his own knife when it would lead back to him. Chae-yoon takes this all in, and pretty much says fine – if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you can defend yourself.

In a beautifully sad moment, tears fill Ga Ri-on’s eyes. Is he a nobleman, he asks? Are all lives the same? His life is worth less than that of a fly – if he gets taken to the bureau, as a slave, he’ll only be killed. Doesn’t Chae-yoon know that by now? His life is worth nothing, and that’s how his lowly life will be treated.

His words hit Chae-yoon straight in the heart, as he remembers when he was in prison as a child and all the people he knew, himself and his father included, were regarded as less than human. A change comes over his face as he’s hit with Heroic Resolve.

Chae-yoon: “There is no such thing as a lowly life. In this world, there are no lowly lives. If you are indeed wrongly accused, I won’t let you die unfairly.”

But for the moment, Chae-yoon can only watch as the royal troops beat Ga Ri-on until he’s unconscious before they drag his body away.

 
COMMENTS

Ahhh! Save Ga Ri-on! I’ve liked that character ever since he proved himself a jack of all trades, even without knowing what side he’s really on. There’s just something about the way that character is written, or the actor playing him, that makes him one of my favorites in the series. Maybe it is because he’s so genuine and helpless in this situation, but the whole time he was getting beaten all I could think was: “Don’t kill him, he’s a neat character!”

The moment Chae-yoon has where he promises Ga Ri-on that he’ll save him is my favorite moment of his this whole series. I can’t help it – when heroes do heroic things, it just gets me right where it matters. It’s also nice to see Chae-yoon’s complicated backstory come to the fore, since being a slave and finding the Hidden Root Scroll aren’t just random things that happened in his past – they are things that have clearly impacted his future and have shaped who he is, what he knows, and how he behaves. In this case, his perception of Ga Ri-on flipped in an instant because he’s been through the same thing. And Ga Ri-on is right – he doesn’t have a chance if he gets taken to the bureau. Even just in the realm of this series, we’ve seen how quickly officials can get tortured and put to death in prison. How can Ga Ri-on, a slave, ever hope to survive?

But, oh man, how cool was it to see the unveiling of the Hangul project? I love how the drawers in the Chest-O-Characters are made to look like the magic square/sudoku Sejong used to play with when he was younger. He found his Joseon by solving that puzzle, and we’re seeing that manifest now years later into more than just a puzzle, but an entire alphabet. That is a Big Freaking Deal. I’m only glad to see that it was treated like the Big Freaking Deal it is by the production team, because that scene was appropriately awesome.

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67 November 10, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 10

by HeadsNo2

Mind = Blown.

Every time this show chooses to reveal a part of its many mysteries, I’m consistently left floored and wondering why I don’t just watch mysteries. It’s easy to forget how great a brilliant mystery can be when they don’t set themselves up as well as this… because then we forget just how good a well-timed, pitch-perfect reveal can be. There really aren’t enough good things to say about this episode, but maybe I should pick my jaw up off the floor before I try to say them.

 
EPISODE 10 RECAP

News spreads fast, and it’s not long before Sejong hears that Ga Ri-on has been arrested by the Royal Investigation Bureau. He’s being charged with threatening Scholar Nam Sa-chul, but at one hour to midnight (when the crime was purported to have happened), Ga Ri-on has an alibi with our favorite court lady, So-yi. She was meeting with him at that very hour, which effectively clears him of the charges. The only (major) hiccup is that they can’t reveal this fact to the Bureau, because then they would have to explain why So-yi, as a court lady, was out past her mandated curfew time.

Not one for beating around the bush, Chae-yoon confronts Mu-hyul directly about his orders for Ga Ri-on to search his room. Mu-hyul pretty much shrugs this off, saying that if it’s Chae-yoon’s job to investigate, then it’s his job to investigate Chae-yoon. Simple as that. And as for the matter of Ga Ri-on’s innocence, Mu-hyul doesn’t seem to disagree – and says that if he’s so innocent, then it will be revealed.

Chae-yoon doesn’t react well to that kind of sentiment, even though he agrees. Sure, maybe the truth will be revealed – but at what cost? What kind of shape will Ga Ri-on be in by the time the truth is revealed? Will he even be alive?

Jo Mal-saeng constantly surprises me with how cool a customer he really is, this time by having a low-key, no-torture interrogation with Ga Ri-on. Like everyone else, he doesn’t believe that the butcher/coroner/surgeon can be a criminal. Ga Ri-on is quick to agree that he would be a madman to receive special favor from the King, only to turn around and commit a crime.

The official has done his digging, and is curious as to why Ga Ri-on is in Ban Chon when he wasn’t born there. The butcher then tells his sorrowful story about how his father was shot full of arrows and killed, while he as his son was unable to even collect the corpse. When he was twelve, his father left him in Ban Chon. Jo Mal-saeng listens to the whole story, nodding at all the appropriate moments, and then we find out what he’s really after – if Ga Ri-on was running errands last night, who asked him to do them?

Official Lee Shin-juk, who had been keenly watching Ga Ri-on’s interrogation, is in utter shock when he re-enters his room to find that someone has been inside, even though the guards outside say they’ve seen no one. What the invisible person came to deliver, though, was an order from Hidden Root. It’s a little funny that Lee Shin-juk stays in this same state of complete shock all the way to his home, where he retains the same expression even after he’s moved places and changed outfits. How did he change his clothes when he looks absolutely paralyzed by fear?

Meanwhile, Shim Jong-soo confronts the Leader about secrets she’s been keeping from him. She explains that it was for all the best reasons, because they’re preparing for a visit to Sungkyunkwan by Master Hae Gang. And that’s the time that the First Root, Jung Ki-joon, has chosen to reveal himself.

Chae-yoon’s sheer tenacity is a marvel in and of himself, and time and time again he’s proven just how well he can read others. This skill comes in handy when he asks Ga Ri-on a series of questions in the hopes of helping the man clear his name, but is like a dog with a bone when he senses the slightest of hesitations. He won’t take no for an answer, and his intensity is telling me that he’s way beyond just taking this case a little too personally.

Maybe Ga Ri-on sees the genuineness in Chae-yoon, and so he tells him that during that night, at the time that crime happened, he was receiving the King’s Command from So-yi. Chae-yoon is taken aback. What kind of royal command?

We can all but hear the ticking clock that prompts Chae-yoon to go directly to So-yi about the order that Ga Ri-on received. She wants him to save Ga Ri-on, which Chae-yoon says is a tall order – because without her confession to prove his innocence, she’s condemning him to die.

He’s clearly been upset since he talked to Ga Ri-on, and rushes to judge both her and Sejong when she tells him that the order was for a great cause that can’t be revealed. Chae-yoon knows a lot about sacrificing for “greater causes”, and accuses her of just trying to ease her own conscience. She knows Ga Ri-on can’t be saved without her testimony, but she still asks Chae-yoon to save him? His words are tinged with some menace as he asks her if Ga Ri-on should just be grateful that they didn’t kill him outright, he should be happy enough with the knowledge that it was all for a great cause. Isn’t that right?

His words are biting, and So-yi responds with a long letter and a deep bow. She doesn’t get upset at his words, maybe because she understands exactly how he feels.

So-yi[in writing]: “You asked me why I eat a mixture of Chinese date and snowbell, right? When I was little, on account of my childish behavior, my father and the people I loved died. His Majesty’s great cause is not only His Majesty’s. It is linked to me as well. I also want to sleep. I want to break away from it. I want to live. Mine and Ga Ri-on’s life, and the great cause, hang on you. Please save him.”

Even I’m moved, so it doesn’t surprise me that Chae-yoon has to reluctantly acquiesce.

I love and admire that he wastes no time, and heads straight to Ban Chon to literally ask the entire village if anyone saw someone take Ga Ri-on’s knife from the butchery/morgue/doctor’s office. He seems to grow more desperate as no one seems to have seen or heard anything, but the Leader’s right-hand man (the same that once held a knife to young Ddol-bok’s neck) pipes up that he heard cows crying that night.

He’s quicker on the uptake than I am, and goes straight to the Man Who Can Make Any Sound In The World. He’s the one frequently called to Sejong’s court, and since Chae-yoon knows there was no cow in the butchery that could have cried, he pinpoints that the village man heard what he thought was a cow, when it was really this strangely talented person.

Through some poking, prodding, and excellent sleuthing (Cho-tak is so the Watson to his Sherlock Holmes!), Chae-yoon is able to find out that the Sound Man saw two people coming from the butcher’s shop last night. Chae-yoon is off running, and my heart is already in my throat. Go, Chae-yoon, go!

Sejong literally comes alive as he’s explaining his creation process to his two new allies/critics. It’s beautiful to see how passionate he is about his great achievement, and his happiness is infectious. Just as we saw how Sejong adores So-yi in the last episode, it becomes clear that she too adores him, and may even go so far as to idolize him. She also firmly believes that one day, Chae-yoon will place the same kind of trust in Sejong that she does.

Not only do we get to see the magical unveiling of the Hangul project, but by bringing in both scholars on the refining process, we too are effectively drawn into that world. The two scholars are adorably blunt, and even though Sejong asked for critical judgement, a little positive feedback wouldn’t hurt. That’s not what he gets, though, as the two scholars point out problems with the alphabet – namely that it’s a bit incomplete. It’s hilarious to see Sejong’s puffed chest deflate a little at the criticism, but also curious when he tells them that he planned to solve the incomplete part with Ga Ri-on.

Sejong and Chae-yoon prove to be on some equal mental footing when both of them come to respective realizations at once. Chae-yoon’s has come about through some joint work with Jo Mal-saeng (effectively crossing him off the suspect list), while Sejong’s came from a conversation with the two scholars. He immediately arranges a meeting with Chae-yoon, who is no closer to finding the culprit because every noble family stands to gain from the census study not going through. If Chae-yoon can’t save Ga Ri-on, then no one can.

In yet another example of how their two minds complete each other (and how Sejong has to depend on this fact for Chae-yoon to solve crimes), Sejong gives him some cryptic words about how humans act irrationally in times of danger, leaving him with a question: Can Chae-yoon read terror?

Sejong needlessly worries later about his words being too cryptic (Mu-hyul doesn’t seem to have any idea what the conversation was about) because Chae-yoon is lightning-quick to get to what the King was implying. This leads him to the very scene of the crime, Scholar Nam Sa-chul’s house. The scholar claims that it was the masked assassin terrorizing the palace lately, but Chae-yoon is able to easily see through this lie when no evidence of the leaping martial arts method is left behind. But the most damning evidence? Nam Sa-chul looks terrified. Seems like Chae-yoon can read terror after all.

Chae-yoon devises a cleverly hilarious way to find the truth. He’s given instructions to his two cohorts, Cho-tak and Park-po, so that they both come running into Nam Sa-chul’s yard while the scholar is two feet away. The two palace guards speak like they’ve just memorized their lines (which they have, in a Kang Chae-yoon Production), and say loudly that they’ve found an eyewitness who saw the person that stole Ga Ri-on’s knife. And, what luck, he’s a painter! He’s painting so fast he needs both hands, and is literally preparing for them a montage of exactly who the culprit is. They’ve got him now!

It’s a good thing Nam Sa-chul is gullible, because Chae-yoon is an adorably hammy actor. The desired effect of the makeshift stage play is achieved – Nam Sa-chul is now worried that the artist is going to depict one of his men stealing the knife. His solution? Find an assassin. Wait, what?

Meanwhile, in Ban Chon, the man Chae-yoon had previously utilized for his big mouth proves to be a member of Hidden Root. He’s frantic as he says that “they” are already in the capital, and that “it’s” already happening. We don’t get many details other than, oh, a planned revolt in two days, but Pyung is decidedly calm as he relates that their people will be leaving secret codes all over the capital tonight just for the occasion.

I don’t know whether I should be glad that the Ming Embassy is involved now or not, but I have to warm up to them a little when it seems like they’re working against Hidden Root. And by ‘working against’, I mean the Ming “translator” that the ambassador set on the spying case, Gyun Jeok-hee, happens upon a Hidden Root member writing a secret code in the ground and swiftly captures him for some intense questioning.

Nam Sa-chul has played right into Chae-yoon’s hands, and comes upon the palace guard in a dark alley. He thinks he has the upper hand on an outwardly dim-acting Chae-yoon, and uses his hired muscle to take the ‘portrait’ from him. But he’s been had, and a friendly-looking dog stares out at him from the paper instead of a portrait of his right-hand man.

The relationship between Jo Mal-saeng and Chae-yoon is never explicitly explained, but I’m pleased as punch that they seem to be working together this episode. Chae-yoon has at least been coordinating with him, so when Nam Sa-chul decides to run, Jo Mal-saeng and his army are there to catch him.

It’s back to the comedy hour with Sejong and Mu-hyul, as the King is made aware that Nam Sa-chul confessed. About everything. The scholar fabricated everything about that fateful night – so there never was a man in his house, and there never was a threat. Sejong wonders the same thing I do… namely, how did that guy ever become a scholar?

But he’s definitely pleased with Chae-yoon, and doesn’t miss the opportunity to rib Mu-hyul about being a little slower on the uptake. Mu-hyul’s role is one that has a chance to go flat fast, but in the hands of such a skilled actor he’s both charismatic and funny as he gets adorably flustered. They’ve been around each other long enough for Sejong to read him like a book, and at last he drops the joke to mention a more serious matter: trusting Ga Ri-on with all his affairs. Clearly, if the butcher/coroner/surgeon didn’t buckle under pressure and spill the beans, then he’s a man to be trusted.

Chae-yoon and Ga Ri-on have a heartwarming and well-deserved moment outside of the Bureau. The butcher couldn’t be more thankful that Chae-yoon went to such lengths to save his life, and I’m happy right with him and cheering for both of them. Ga Ri-on muses that he’s probably the only slave to ever make it out of the station alive, and he’s probably very right about that.

But what’s extra nice? Jo Mal-saeng has even packaged a bottle of wine to give to Ga Ri-on. Awwww. It’s so nice when people care about other people.

Cho-tak notes that Chae-yoon seems pretty pleased with himself, and he definitely deserves every minute. We knew that Chae-yoon was taking this case personally due to his past, but an added detail comes with Cho-tak asking if Chae-yoon tried so hard to save Ga Ri-on because he reminded him of his father. Another round of ‘awwwww’.

Chae-yoon has still kept the rouge he’d once given to So-yi, and takes a trip down memory lane when his friend jokes around with it. He clearly misses his childhood, and tries to play the same word game he’d play with So-yi with Cho-tak instead. This scene is played so simply, but it makes me sad for the childhood that Chae-yoon can never return to.

Ga Ri-on is barely limping his way home, and doesn’t realize that he’s being followed. Noooo! That poor guy just got out of prison! Can’t we cut him a break? Apparently not, as uniformed men converge upon the poor butcher alone in an alley. What poor luck.

Meanwhile, Shim Jong-soo has worked himself into a mighty fit that he decides to take out on Pyung. For reasons unknown he happened to visit the Ming translator spying on him, and ended up saving the Hidden Root member that she’d captured earlier. It was only through him that Shim Jong-soo finds out that both the Leader and Pyung have been keeping secrets (mostly regarding the Super Secret Revolt) from him, and he is pissed enough to get into an awesome (at least, awesome for us) fight with Pyung.

The man responsible for recapturing Ga Ri-on is none other than Official Lee Shin-juk, who starts off friendly and warm to the poor man before dropping the Big Question… is he a member of Hidden Root? Ga Ri-on can only sputter out that he just got out of prison (I know!) and gets beaten again.

But Lee Shin-juk unfolds a piece of paper in front of him – it’s the order he received earlier from Hidden Root, that reads: Save Ga Ri-on! He can’t understand why Hidden Root would order him to save Ga Ri-on if he’s not one of their minions. So, holding a knife to his throat, Lee Shin-juk asks again. Is he a member of Hidden Root?

Ga Ri-on breaks under the pressure, and claims he’ll tell Lee Shin-juk everything if he sends all of his minions away. The official then sets to scolding him from one class to another, saying that he can do one-hundred things right – but if he does one thing wrong, as a slave, it’ll be the end of the line. Doesn’t he know that? Ga Ri-on’s face grows more serious as he says, well, what happens if one or two things were done well, but something else wasn’t? For example, if someone like Lee Shin-juk received an order to become a government official that he carried out, but the second order he received in twenty-four years was ignor-…OH MY GOD.

AHHHH! GA RI-ON IS JUNG KI-JOON. He’s Jung Ki-joon! HE’S JUNG KI-JOON?! Ahhh!! He’s Jung Ki-joon! Who, what, where, when, why, HOW? I knew he said he wanted to hide in the crowd, but I never dreamed that he’d hide himself as the lowest caste of society… but then, that’s probably why he picked it – no one would think to look there. And no one did. Genius!

The bomb gets dropped on Shim Jong-soo directly by the Leader, and all the pieces start falling into place. When Ga Ri-on was first being chased by Jo Mal-saeng, Pyung appeared to save him, but Ga Ri-on sent him away only moments before Chae-yoon appeared. So the whole prison act was an elaborate farce, then? It caused understandable chaos at Hidden Root with their master being arrested, so the Leader is the one who gave the order to their inside man in the government – Lee Shin-juk – to save Ga Ri-on.

I think it’s safe to say the butcher/coroner/surgeon/Ga Ri-on/Jung Ki-joon is holding a grudge since Lee Shin-juk left him to rot in prison. Didn’t he see all the signs (prints burning, blood in the court) indicating that he was supposed to reactivate? He ominously tells the former(?) Hidden Root member to await his next orders…

As Sejong rounds the corner, in disguise, happily looking forward to visiting the friendly butcher, Ga Ri-on.

 
COMMENTS

Oh no!! Turn around now, Sejong!! Doesn’t your Hangul project need you?! Oh, I think I hear So-yi writing you frantically, clearly you should be home at the palace… I’m out of excuses, just don’t go there!

I realized that I should be calm, cool, and collected about the whole Big Reveal… but that’s kind of impossible when the reveal BLEW MY MIND. My jaw dropped, and stayed there, through the end of the episode. And then dropped again when I saw our lovable, friendly King is on the way to his number one worst enemy… who I still really, really like.

Tree With Deep Roots brilliantly led me on a merry chase with all its red herrings, enough so that while I suspected Ga Ri-on for his shady past about having his dad shot through with arrows (that happened to two kids at the same time), I didn’t really think he was the Jung Ki-joon. And even if I did, the fact that he was in prison and helpless with only the dedicated Chae-yoon to save him surely wiped away any doubt in my mind that he was anything but a good and pitiable person. He has a great kind of charm, and it’s clear that I’m not the only one who’s fallen for him – but Jo Mal-saeng would probably die of shock if he found out he gifted wine to the enemy that he’s been chasing for decades. Now I can’t wait for everyone to find out.

I can only applaud the writing team (and the original novel writer) for basically tricking us. It’s easy to dislike Hidden Root because it stands against our affable King (and that small thing about assassinating scholars), and so far I haven’t liked any of the Hidden Root members as autonomous characters. But I really started to like Ga Ri-on for his street smarts and demeanor… and now he’s our bad guy?! I can’t un-invest myself from this character, so that means I’m going to have to give a damn for what happens to him here on out, even if he’s doing bad things… Like killing good people. Ahh! I’m getting tricked again, aren’t I? This show is giving me a moral crisis, and I literally couldn’t ask for a show to give me any more.

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41 November 16, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 11

by HeadsNo2

Contrary to the popular saying, dead men in this show tell nothing but tales. Testing alliances, helping secret projects, and making court ladies cry for mommy are just some of the jobs that are performed by cold and lifeless bodies this episode. But our warm, life-filled bodies have enough problems with each of their respective pet projects gaining momentum – whether that’s revenge, an alphabet, or the burning desire to clip the King off the tree that is Joseon. Ouch.

 
EPISODE 11 RECAP

Ga Ri-on’s humble act is back in full force when he finds none other than Mu-hyul waiting in the butchery. He’s to bring meat and follow the master swordsman up to a hill near Sungkyunkwan University. It’s with shock that the butcher/coroner/surgeon/LIAR finds who he’s bringing meat to… it’s none other than his mortal enemy, King Sejong.

It’s really hard to see Ga Ri-on as Jung Ki-joon when the revelation is still so fresh, and especially when he’s still so good at playing the part of a constantly shocked simple man. But my shock matches his when the King sits down, and offers to pour him a drink. Not only would this be a big deal if Ga Ri-on were really just a butcher, since they were pretty much the lowest members of society, but it’s all the more engaging for us as the audience since we know Ga Ri-on’s big secret.

But, in an even stranger move, Sejong reveals to Ga Ri-on (granted, this is something that he probably already knew, but Sejong doesn’t know that) that where they’re sitting is the very same place where the traitor, Jung Do-jun, discussed learning in the early days of Sungkyunkwan. Students still come here to honor his soul. There’s a very small change in Ga Ri-on’s features, and he maintains a poker face as Sejong goes to the edge of the cliff, offering a drink up into the sky. This drink is, presumably, to honor the soul of Jung Do-jun, Jung Ki-joon’s dead uncle. Whoa, we’ve got one progressive King on our hands… So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jung Ki-joon. Sejong’s not so bad, just give him a chance.

Ga Ri-on is wondering how the command the King gave him (we still don’t know what its exact contents are) relates to him, or Jung Do-jun. Sejong informs the butcher/coroner/surgeon/antagonist to get ready for… an autopsy that will take place in the palace.

What kind of animal, Ga Ri-on asks? “It’s not an animal,” Sejong replies. Whaaat?

Chae-yoon finds So-yi outside, and they have a Moment. I like this exchange better than their Romantic Music Montage from episode eight, because this feels more real. She seems a bit flustered and nervous to communicate with him (it’s adorable), and Chae-yoon seems a lot softer with his words than usual. She thanks him for what he did (saving Ga Ri-on without exposing her and the whole bit), and he tells her that she should get away from here if she really wants to be able to sleep and truly live. Forget whatever great cause she’s working on.

She wonders silently how that’s working out for him, since she knows he used to eat the same speed/downer herbs, and he reads her thoughts and responds that he’s not doing so great. But, she’s still young – she should give it a go while she still can. When he turns to leave, she stops him with a hand on his arm. She writes that she trusts the King more than herself, and trusts whatever he’s doing. That great cause Chae-yoon wants her to abandon? That’s what she claims will save her.

Ga Ri-on/Jung Ki-joon is alone on the hill, wondering if the King is in his right mind about this autopsy idea. Body dissection is against Neo-Confucian beliefs, and Sejong knows that – but it isn’t stopping him, which seems to be the running complaint about him by his officials.

He meets with Pyung, sporting some slick new hair, and both the Leader and Shim Jong-soo (neither of which, unfortunately, have a new hairdo). It’s a bit awkward on this end since it seems like the Leader wasn’t really too excited about bringing Shim Jong-soo along, but that’s just the way it happened. He gives a formal bow to the First Root, Jung Ki-joon, who he’s been following without ever seeing his face. Jung Ki-joon is not just a figurehead, it seems – he’s nearly worshipped by his followers.

Park-po had been given the assignment to keep a sharp eye on the Leader, but to no one’s surprise he lost her trail. He tries to defend himself by saying there are way more exits than there are entrances in Ban Chon, and that the roads are like a maze… but then says that, oh yeah, some guy came looking for Chae-yoon. He left a message: “Ddol-bok.”

Chae-yoon’s eyes widen. Someone knows the slave name he used to go by? Uh oh.

In the morning, Park-po is happy to find the same man who had been looking for Chae-yoon the night before. He runs off to bring Chae-yoon, but we see Pyung in the crowd, looking especially shifty now that we know he’s been gathering intel on our hero. The Message Man is on to the fact that he’s being followed, and is beaten and captured by Pyung before he can get away. Curiously, though, he leaves white powder behind purposefully before he can be dragged off.

With the Message Man tied up in a storeroom (the Joseon equivalent of abandoned warehouses), Pyung asks him directly if he came to meet Chae-yoon. And on that note, what is the relationship between Chae-yoon and his Teacher?

The Message Man grows angry as he replies: “He isn’t your teacher! He never thought of you as a disciple.” Ooo, this is interesting. I was wondering how the whole Lee Bang-ji matter was going to be brought up again.

Chae-yoon and Friends have been following the trail left by Pyung using the leaping martial arts method, but it goes cold. They know they’re close, as Pyung spies on them from around a corner, but it isn’t until Park-po finds the white powder that they’re back in the game. Both Chae-yoon and Cho-tak recognize the powder as being something that scouts use to mark their locations, and they remember that the man spoke in a Northern dialect – which means they might know him, after all their years they lived and fought up there.

Pyung’s lackey is left in the storeroom with the Message Man, wondering what the big deal is – all the Message Man has to do is divulge information on how Chae-yoon knows the Teacher, Lee Bang-ji. But the Message Man performs a daring escape by biting his captor’s ear off, and ends up running straight into our boys outside.

While Park-po and Cho-tak go after Pyung’s man who has fled, Chae-yoon pulls the Message Man aside. Who is he, Chae-yoon asks, and how does he know the name Ddol-bok? The man is able to eke out only the name ‘Lee Bang-ji’, before he’s shot in the heart with an arrow. The shooter, Pyung, has taken up position on one of the nearby rooftops with a bow and arrow. He’s preparing to shoot at Chae-yoon, who readies to defend himself with only a knife.

All isn’t well just because Pyung is busy, as we only see the shot of a man’s hand breaking a flimsy branch off a tree while he’s stalking Park-po and Cho-tak. He’s holding it like a weapon as he approaches the backs of the two guards (doesn’t the way this is shot look like the Jackass Shave Prank?).

When Chae-yoon is once again faced with the option of pursuing Pyung or saving his friends, he chooses to save his friends. They’ve been knocked unconscious nearby but not killed, which is more than can be said of their captive. The man with the Killing Branch (there’s some tree symbolism for you) turns out to be none other than our long-haired butcher’s assistant, who’s back to being sweet as pie with a cute little girl after the murder.

It’s been a pretty bad day for our boys so far, who have two dead bodies and little to show for it. Neither Park-po or Cho-tak can remember who attacked them, but everyone marvels at the fact that such a tiny tree branch was stabbed through a man’s back with enough force to break through his ribs, pierce straight through his heart, and come out through his chest. Who has these kinds of killing skills? Cho-tak wonders if it’s Pyung, but it can’t be when he was fighting Chae-yoon at the same time.

The member of Hidden Root who has never passed a government exam meets with Shim Jong-soo. It’s all friendly smiles (well, if you forget that Shim Jong-soo never smiles) as they discuss the upcoming meeting with the elders who were originally loyal to Jung Do-jun. Shim Jong-soo is sure that any problems can be fixed by Master Hae Gang (they really are making his return sound like a god is coming to earth), and doesn’t seem too concerned.

The loud-mouthed member doesn’t agree, because he claims that the elders will want to see “that” item. And by “that”, of course, he means the Hidden Root Scroll. They don’t have it, but they know it was exchanged for a pouch from a slave named Ddol-bok before he went to the north. Yikes – I didn’t think they even knew that much!

It’s so nice to see that Chae-yoon and Jo Mal-saeng are actually working together, after the fake-out that was Sung Sam-moon (I really wanted that to happen). He shares the belief he has that Hidden Root has a secret army, and Jo Mal-saeng casually shares that it’s old news, but Joseon’s best swordsman was in Hidden Root. Does he mean Mu-hyul?

No, thank goodness. He’s referring to a better swordsman before Mu-hyul’s time, who was a personal guard to Jung Do-jun…

And is none other than Chae-yoon’s Teacher, Lee Bang-ji. Jo Mal-saeng still doesn’t know why the head guard to Jung Do-jun disappeared the night he was killed by Taejong’s forces, but does know that the Hidden Root Scroll disappeared with him.

Chae-yoon goes to the secret hiding place where he’s been keeping the Hidden Root Scroll all these years – which, of course, is buried at the root of a giant tree. He’s still digesting the new information about his Teacher, and even with the Hidden Root Scroll in his hands he doesn’t quite know what it is… Which seems to be the question of the hour with all our various groups.

He decides that whatever it is, it doesn’t matter to him. Wait, who are you and what have you done with Chae-yoon?

Both Prince Gwangpyeong and Official Jung In-ji are fretting over what Sejong is doing while they wait outside. Sejong’s most trusted court ladies, the same helping him with the Hangul project, are tasked with preparing a room for the autopsy of a human body. Mu-hyul brings Ga Ri-on into the palace by disguising him as a grunt.

Ga Ri-on is shocked just to be in a room of the palace with a dead body, and is more shocked to see Sejong in his Autopsy Clothes. Sejong wants to watch the autopsy to learn, while Ga Ri-on can only wonder why he’s been tasked to do this. Where does the King even want to start?

Sejong instructs him to start the autopsy at the mouth and throat, and I think I understand what Sejong is getting at. He’s been so obsessed with sound and how the human body makes it for his alphabet project – that’s probably why he called for the autopsy, and why he instructs one of his loyal court ladies to draw the anatomy of the human mouth and throat.

We get an Autopsy Montage instead of the actual full autopsy, which is a nice relief. The poor court lady tasked with drawing keeps looking like she wants to faint, cry, or vomit – but in the end, she only ends up fainting with a side of crying. At least she got the job done.

Earlier, Lee Shin-juk was made aware of an order by Hidden Root to meet that night, and finally see Jung Ki-joon. It seems pretty clear by now that he doesn’t want a part of Hidden Root, and after stewing for the day over what he should do he hurries over to the palace to speak with Sejong immediately.

Sejong is surprised to see the official, and clearly nervous that his activities have been found out – but covers it with an adorably awkward smile. That would be funny on its own, except it looks like Lee Shin-juk is about to confess to him about that Hidden Root meeting tonight…

Only he’s stopped in his tracks by a face that appears from Mu-hyul’s back – it’s the disguised Ga Ri-on (ironically disguising Jung Ki-joon), who shoots him a death glare. Lee Shin-juk is scared into immediate silence, and I’m right there with him – how can Ga Ri-on be so smiley one moment, only to deliver a look like that?

Ga Ri-on attempts to explain the different parts of mouth and throat anatomy to the King, speculating on where sound actually comes from. The part of Sejong’s alphabet that’s been missing is a sort of “ho” sound, which Sejong is trying to figure out how to solve by studying how sounds are first made.

The butcher/coroner/surgeon/liar wonders if the King would tell him what he actually needs this information for – that way, he might be able to help. Oh, sure. Sejong seems to consider telling him, and calls in So-yi to demonstrate her muteness. He tells Ga Ri-on that because of him, her father and her ability to speak have been lost. He’s doing all of these sound studies to help her speak again.

Later, So-yi asks if the King thinks he fooled Ga Ri-on. He admits his words weren’t the full truth (and thank goodness for that!) but they were no less sincere. He does want her to speak once more, and tries to get her to pronounce another simple syllable. Like earlier, she can only open her mouth and try. No sound comes out, so she gives up.

For his part, at least, Ga Ri-on/Jung Ki-joon isn’t buying what Sejong is selling, and knows that there must be more to what the King is doing than just trying to get So-yi to talk again.

Two major meetings are going on, and the scenes are juxtaposed with each other for maximum effect. At the same time that dozens of scholars are sneaking out of Sungkyunkwan University to attend the secret Hidden Root meeting, Sejong enters the Hangul Room to find he has to do some damage control. Master Hae Gang demands to see Hidden Root, Sung Sam-moon demands that the King explain the reason for the autopsy.

The poor court lady that made the detailed anatomy drawings is still traumatized, and she’s the one who spilled the details to the other court ladies and the scholars. Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon are outraged at Sejong. How could he spit in the face of Neo-Confucianism by dissecting a body? Sam-moon even seems to go over the line as he accuses the King of having an obsession to know everything about sound, which must have led him to do this unthinkable act. Everyone demands to know his reasoning.

Sejong doesn’t want to explain, and wonders why everyone can’t believe him and just follow his way. No one relents, and he gives in when even So-yi tells him (in writing) that he must explain.

The First Root, Jung Ki-joon, arrives at the secret meeting-place where he had shared a drink with the King only hours ago. This is the country of scholars, he says, and they must gather all their resources to protect their country. They are going to start by closing down Jiphyunjeon, since those are Sejong’s personal scholars and are embraced more than the officials themselves. If Sejong has a hand in it, they don’t want it. They call for parliament instead.

A voice calls out from the crowd – it’s Lee Shin-juk, who’s becoming more and more interesting lately – asking Jung Ki-joon to see the dying testament of Jung Do-jun… The Hidden Root Scroll. Ohh! Lee Shin-juk is officially playing hardball, and it’s pretty amazing. His words have the desired effect, as all the gathered scholars start asking to be shown the scroll.

Jung Ki-joon doesn’t have it, and covers by reciting the motto of Hidden Root – about the King being nothing but a flower on the tree called Joseon. The scholars buy it, all of them happy that they’ve been told they’re the true roots of Joseon, but Lee Shin-juk is not sold.

Sejong laments that his alphabet lacks the commonality of the Chinese alphabet because of its artificial creation. He starts going into why he made an alphabet based on sound, growing more emotional, before he gives up on that argument and explains the real reason – sovereignty.

Instead of copying another country’s letters, these letters are like his tongue, his vocal chords, and his teeth. He wants these letters to become the alphabet for the people of this country, not foreign characters. He wants to believe that if he makes an alphabet this way, the people will use them. Is that so wrong?

Everyone in the room is moved by his passionate display. Sejong sinks down into his chair, exhausted. What a King. What a scene!

The pressure is on for Ga Ri-on/Jung Ki-joon, since Master Hae Gang warned him that he has four days to produce the Hidden Root Scroll or he and all his scholars are a no-go. The next morning, both he and So-yi simultaneously see a message literally written on the walls…

It’s a message left purposefully by Chae-yoon for Hidden Root to see. It’s a call for a late-night meeting for whoever can recognize that bag – which, as luck would have it, Jung Ki-joon still has in his possession.

 
COMMENTS

Chae-yoon surprises and delights me constantly, and I was missing his presence in the latter half of this episode as much as I was enjoying all the new developments between King Sejong and Jung Ki-joon. Chae-yoon’s message is the perfect bait, since we can already see that Jung Ki-joon is probably going to bite. I just don’t think Chae-yoon counted on Dam/So-yi still being alive and able to recognize a bag that she herself made.

This episode was filled to the brim with important plot moments. Besides all of the scholars looking like beekeepers at the secret meeting, Jung Ki-joon’s real beliefs are extra interesting. We’ve heard the song and dance from Hidden Root about how useless the King is before, but his discussion with Master Hae Gang about his ideology only made it more confusing.

So, he’s for scholars – but against the particular brand of scholars Jiphyunjeon possesses because those are the King’s scholars. He’s for the people, but the scholars he wants to empower aren’t the people, they’re a very small percentage. Mostly I was intrigued at his admission that Sejong can be an amazing king, and that’s what makes everything worse. I get the feeling it’s not a personal vendetta against Sejong so much as it’s a vendetta against the very idea of a monarchy. I may have it all wrong though, but that’s part of the fun. I’m enjoying everyone’s discussions, since it’s an aspect I love about this show – nothing is black and white. Especially political ideologies.

So much now hinges on the written words of two dead men – Jung Do-jun’s dying testament, and Chae-yoon’s father’s dying testament. We still don’t know what either of these documents really say, and I wouldn’t put it past the show to deliver us a shock when Suk-sam’s will is finally revealed.

I don’t know what I should call Ga Ri-on/Jung Ki-joon from here on out. He’s been called ‘Ga Ri-on’ for so many episodes, I don’t know about making the official switch to ‘Jung Ki-joon’ when everyone in the show is still going to be referring to him as Ga Ri-on until the secret is out. Jung Ri-on? Ga Ki-joon? I’m sort of just kidding with those. Maybe.

 
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46 November 17, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 12

by HeadsNo2

In life, sometimes we have to try and forget things in order to cope. But what if you couldn’t? What if you remembered every single detail from every moment that ever happened in your life? That’s a curse, and it’s one that So-yi deals with like the champion she is. She’s not afraid to get drenched or dirty. Her makeup isn’t always perfect.

This episode just plain belonged to So-yi. She owned it. And I love her for it.

 
EPISODE 12 RECAP

So-yi is visibly shaken from seeing the drawing of the bag she made for Ddol-bok so many years ago. She’s spent all these years assuming he’s dead, so the thought that he might actually be alive consumes all her waking moments. Once she reaches the palace, she can’t help but lose her balance as it all sets in.

The word she wrote on the bag, ‘blessing’, only Ddol-bok would know it, right? It must be him, because the word was written incorrectly due to her running out of thread (that she had to pilfer from her mistress). That must mean he’s alive. And after all these years that she thought herself responsible for his death, this must come as an amazing relief.

Sejong is proudly showing off his newest achievement to all of his allies: the “ㅇ” letter that finally represents that guttural sound that he’d been missing. We can assume that he came up with this from the autopsy, because the throat is a round shape and he made the letter to correspond with that shape and sound. He seems less concerned with pleasing everyone else as he is with pleasing So-yi, whose mind is completely elsewhere. All she can think about is Ddol-bok and that pouch.

His smile falters a little, and my heart breaks. But then he becomes ecstatic that he can make So-yi’s name in his new alphabet, and giddily shows them to her for her approval. Awwwwww!! He’s so happy that it kills me when So-yi doesn’t react, causing his smile to fade.

He sends everyone out except for So-yi, wanting to know what’s on her mind. I was half-expecting her to reveal what she’d found, but So-yi completely surprised me by lying to the King. She writes that she’d like permission to go see Ga Ri-on tonight to learn about sound, and to practice making sounds more.

Sejong’s worries are eased, and he’s pleased as punch that she wants to learn to speak again. He happily gives her permission, and my heart breaks a little more. We know she’s not going to meet Ga Ri-on tonight.

Cho-tak finds Chae-yoon dozing off on duty, and wonders how his friend can sleep without worrying about the meeting tonight. Chae-yoon shrugs it off, saying he was never planning to go tonight anyway. Why would he walk into a trap, when he knows that Hidden Root would spread assassins all over the mountain? He’s adorably confident, and with Chae-yoon I never believe it’s bravado. He knows what he’s doing.

Sure enough, Pyung is sent with a small army to scour the site before the meeting. He finds a taunting note left by Chae-yoon (who Pyung thinks is simply Ddol-bok – Hidden Root is unaware that the very same young slave grew into Chae-yoon), saying that if they want to see that Scroll he’ll have to meet him at a later time with three hundred nyang.

Oh, and if he’s not alone next time, Chae-yoon will burn the Hidden Root Scroll.

The other court ladies are aghast to hear that So-yi lied to the King, and refuse to offer their help in providing her with cover for her so she can sneak out tonight. Even if Ddol-bok is alive, it’s expressly forbidden for ladies of the court to meet a man – it’s a crime deserving of death. Add that with the crime of lying to the King, and it doesn’t look good. They tell her to just forget about him and live.

So-yi [in writing]: “I don’t have the ability to forget. I… don’t have the ability to forget anything. The day with oppa, the word-game sequence we played. The shape of the spider web at the corner inside the royal prison. The color of the ribbon worn by the young court girl who delivered the letter. Even the pattern of the roof tile on the stone wall where my father and I were separated. Everything! I can draw everything that happened. Forget it? There is no way to forget it. Do you know how much I want to kill myself?”

Bomb. Dropped. The moment is both powerful and profoundly sad to imagine the torture of never being able to forget. Ever. The court ladies can’t help but agree to help her.

Nothing is bringing Sejong down today, not even the news from the court physician that his diabetes is only getting worse (spoiler alert: historically, this is the disease that later blinded and killed him). He takes it all lightly, saying that he needs at least five years to see his project to fruition. So the pressure is on for the court physician, who looks like he’d rather be dead than saddled with that responsibility.

After the doctor leaves, Mu-hyul takes his seat near Sejong. Before he can even open his mouth Sejong warns him that if he’s just there to nag, he might as well leave. They’re just like an old married couple, and Sejong’s constant teasing of his friend is adorable. Mu-hyul asks: “Your Highness, why do you treat me like a jealous woman?” Hahahaha! I have so much love for Mu-hyul right now.

Sejong laughs and apologizes, but can’t help being happy because So-yi said she wants to learn how to speak again. He’s practically giddy at the thought, and my heart just keeps sinking every time I see him happy over this lie. It means the reveal is only going to hurt that much worse.

So-yi goes to the mountain after midnight, exactly where the message said to go. The hours wane on, and she remains alone. She cries, wondering if it was all a joke. She waits all night, returning to the palace only once dawn has broken – but on her way she sees a new message that Chae-yoon has posted during the night. It’s the same drawing of the bag, and it calls for another meeting at one in the morning.

She has no plans to go this time, however. She is going to try to forget. Good luck with that, So-yi.

While Hidden Root meets to strategize about the upcoming meeting, Chae-yoon is leisurely preparing by writing notes. Hidden Root thought it was imperative to find a man, KUK-SE, who they want to send to meet Ddol-bok at the Song Jook Arbor tonight. Pyung is to go with a group of his top men to kill Ddol-bok and retrieve the Scroll.

Chae-yoon is as worthy an adversary for Hidden Root as there could be, since he knows everything they’re going to plan as they’re planning it. He knows they’ll try to kill him, and that they’ll bring extra men, so he plans to send them on a merry chase to different meeting spots and thin out their numbers in the process.

So-yi fights a losing battle with her curiosity over Ddol-bok. She tries to convince herself that he’s dead, thinking only of him even as she goes through the motions of trying to produce sound while Sejong tries to teach her. He sees her cry and, thinking it’s because she feels pressure from him to speak, tells her all will be well. Aww. She passes him a note that she’d like to meet Ga Ri-on again. We know that means she’s decided to try and meet Ddol-bok again.

Sejong acquiesces, but later in the night decides that he’d like to meet Ga Ri-on again. Oh no!! He’s going to know that she lied!

Both he and Mu-hyul find the butchery empty, and when he confronts the other court ladies about So-yi’s whereabouts they break and tell him that she went to meet someone she knew from a posting she saw, a “Ddol-bok”. He takes it better than I expected (compared to his outrage at the thought of them meeting episodes ago), and orders Mu-hyul to bring both Chae-yoon and So-yi to him – he’s going to tell them everything.

Everyone has shown up to the meeting place – Chae-yoon, Mu-hyul and his palace guards, and Pyung with his men. Only an old man waits at the meeting spot, until So-yi arrives… and she looks at the man strangely, before recognizing him as one of her fellow slaves from her childhood! So this is the ‘Kuk-se’ Hidden Root wanted to send, because they knew Ddol-bok would recognize him from when they were both slaves under Chancellor Shim. Only, no one was counting on So-yi’s arrival.

The number of surprised people includes Chae-yoon, who readies to send the arrow bearing his message to meet at a different place. But he hesitates when he sees So-yi’s back, though he can’t see her face.

Chaos breaks out as everyone discovers everyone else. Chae-yoon is discovered by one of Mu-hyul’s men, but is not recognized and incapacitates the man. Pyung becomes aware, a little too late, that Mu-hyul and his men have come from behind and a battle breaks out. A masterful fight takes place between Pyung and Mu-hyul, but when it seems like Mu-hyul gains the upper hand, Pyung escapes, leaving him to fight more secret soldiers for Hidden Root.

At the first sign of trouble, the old man makes a run for it. So-yi desperately runs after him, able to catch up only because he trips and falls. She’s trying to get him to recognize her, thinking: “It’s me. Dam. It’s Dam!” Unfortunately, he can’t read her thoughts. She tries to write it, but he doesn’t know how to read.

She keeps trying to sound out her name, but can’t. She thinks back to how Sejong tried to explain sound to her, and makes the same motion of her tongue to create the “da” sound, until, with all her might, she manages to whisper out “da” and “mi”. Oh my goodness, she talked?! She can actually talk?! She did it!

The old man recognizes her, and she sobs with relief and exhaustion. Pyung watches from a distance, and doesn’t attempt to make himself known.

In what will probably go down as a bad decision, So-yi takes the old man to Jung Ki-joon (who she only knows as Ga Ri-on). She says the butcher is the only person she can trust, and asks him to read what she writes to the old man so that they can communicate. I have a bad feeling about this.

She wants to know if the old man knows the “blessing” character from the poster, because that’s what she wrote on the pouch she made for Ddol-bok. Oh crap! Oh crap. Crap. Now Jung Ki-joon knows that So-yi knows Ddol-bok. The old man says he was only there because someone came to him before, saying that a letter by his deceased father got switched with Ddol-bok’s pouch, so that if he ever saw Ddol-bok again, he should report to him. He saw the posting and went to the meeting place, thinking it might be Ddol-bok. Hmm, I’m not buying his story. Especially not when Hidden Root searched him out by name to meet Ddol-bok.

Now that people seem to be after Ddol-bok, the chances of him ever showing his face again are slim. But So-yi says that there is a way to call Ddol-bok… which I just wish she wouldn’t have said in front of Jung Ki-joon.

So-yi leaves a posting for Ddol-bok to see the next morning. She smiles, genuinely happy and excited – and totally unaware that Pyung is only two steps behind her. He reads the posting after she’s gone before abducting her with a hand over her mouth. Uh oh.

We find So-yi bound and blindfolded (I guess a gag was unnecessary – ha), and completely aware of her surroundings as she’s being carried in a palanquin. She’s calm as she memorizes what direction the sun is coming from, able to deduce what direction they’re going. She’s also counting every step so that, ideally, she’ll be able to find her way back once she knows where she’s going. Her and Chae-yoon seem to think quite alike.

Everyone finds out about the posting at the same time, including Mu-hyul, who’s been tasked with finding So-yi and Chae-yoon at all costs. Chae-yoon and Cho-tak come across it, and it calls for another one a.m. meeting, but this time at Mt. Gye Eon. Curiously, the posting also includes the words “ma-ui”, which translate to “horse doctor”. Chae-yoon seems to find it curious, but can’t quite put his finger on how those words are significant.

Before our two guards are off again, Chae-yoon tasks Park-po to find out why there were royal guards at the mountain last night. They run off with a purpose, and Chae-yoon sends Cho-tak to go scout the mountain… only, Cho-tak doesn’t know where that mountain is. Come to think of it, neither does Chae-yoon. This scene is played dead straight, but that’s what makes it funny.

So-yi finds herself in a storeroom after having trekked up a mountain, blindfolded, behind Pyung. She’s kept track of her steps, and guesses which mountain (I know, people love their mountains in this show) she’s on… give or take four-hundred steps. Still, all things considered, she’s pretty sharp.

Most of Hidden Root is there (excluding Jung Ki-joon), and they’re operating under the belief that the message on the wall was another one written by Ddol-bok. They only have four days to retrieve the Hidden Root Scroll from Ddol-bok, or they lose Hae Gang and all his scholars – so time is ticking. They think So-yi must have the answer to the riddle of the message, and task Pyung with getting answers out of her.

She asks him if he’s part of Hidden Root, but he just replies that if she doesn’t tell him what the message means, she’ll die. She quips back, in writing, that if she dies he won’t have his answer – so it’s not a loss for her. He suggests torture. She’s not afraid – he has no idea what inner pain she’s going through.

The palace is aflutter with activity as everyone attempts to solve the meaning behind the message So-yi left. They’re also on a ticking clock with Sejong’s most beloved court lady missing, and the meeting at whatever place that message describes at one a.m. tonight might be their only chance to find her and Hidden Root. Sejong’s already had his passing suspicions about Chae-yoon or So-yi possibly being involved in Hidden Root (due to Hidden Root crashing their reunion the night before) but my suspicions are now with his right-hand scholar, Jung In-ji, who’s been acting funny ever since his heated meeting with some disgruntled officials earlier.

No one knows what it means or where the message is saying to go, and even Sejong is trying his hand at helping to solve the puzzle. He quips that Jung In-ji should get to work – if even the King is working, what’s his excuse? Sejong’s fuse is getting shorter with each passing hour.

Jung Ki-joon has now joined the other Hidden Root members, presumably in the same building that So-yi is being held prisoner in. Pyung reports that she’s said nothing – and when Shim Jong-soo suggests that they torture her, Pyung seems surprisingly reticent to hurt her. Maybe this explains why he didn’t kill her in the printing office – he always wears his mask when he’s with her, but it seems like she doesn’t know him at all. He might just have a soft spot for women.

In lieu of torture, Hidden Root decides to send in their secret weapon: the slave she once knew, Kuk-se. He goes in to appeal to her – Hidden Root saved his life when he should have been killed, and has kept him alive until now. He reminds her that, due to the King’s order, everyone she ever knew was killed, with their corpses being left outside to feed the crows. Hidden Root doesn’t care about her or Ddol-bok, they just want what’s theirs. If she tells them, she can see Ddol-bok again.

She relents (though I’m sure it’s all a ploy) and is brought outside and blindfolded so she can lead Pyung to Mt. Gye-eon. Pyung’s soft spot seems to be showing, as he assures her that the blindfold will be taken off once they’re at the bottom of the mountain.

Time is running out on Sejong’s end, as it’s close to midnight and no one is any closer to finding out what the message really means. When one of the court ladies ends up giving him a lot of papers in lieu of an answer, he loses his temper. His words are cold and biting as he blames the poor girl, and her frightened tears certainly don’t move him to an apology. He’s clearly worried for So-yi, and is faced with the thing he hates the most: not being able to do anything.

But, through her perfect memory, So-yi is able to act like a Joseon GPS and triangulate her position in reference to maps she’s memorized. She knows that there’s a river nearby that feeds into the Han River – but it can range from five to ninety feet deep. If she jumps into the water when it’s at the shallow depth, she’ll die – and if she’s miscalculated the amount of steps it takes to get there, she’ll die.

She makes a run for it anyway, with Pyung in hot pursuit. She was exactly right about being twelve steps from the cliff – and without hesitation, she jumps off for a looooong fall into the river below.

Like everyone else, Chae-yoon is left clueless at the message. He’s so close, at least enough to change the way he considers it. The message can either be one of two things – either it wasn’t written for him, or it wasn’t written by Hidden Root. C’mon, Chae-yoon… you’re almost there!

So-yi calculated her fall correctly (or just got lucky), and she makes her way towards the shore. Her hands are unbound, and it’s a nice detail from earlier – where Pyung noted that she’d only get her bonds off if she doused them in water, as opposed to the tiny amount she had tried to pour on them while she was in captivity. She sees where the moon is in the sky and knows she’s not out of time yet to meet Ddol-bok, and begins a mad run toward the spot. I have to admire her tenacity, So-yi has proven herself to be hardcore. We can hear her thoughts as she runs, begging Ddol-bok to solve her message. He has to remember. He must remember!

Park-po is in a panic when he finds Chae-yoon and Cho-tak, since the palace guards have been looking everywhere for him. The reason the royal guard was at the mountain the night before was because So-yi had gone missing, and Chae-yoon connects that dots to identify So-yi as the woman he saw there. He’s… so… close…

Park-po says that a nickname for a ‘horse doctor’ (the phantom phrase in the message) is ‘ni ma’, which Cho-tak happily presents to Chae-yoon. ‘Ni’ was always how Chae-yoon would win his word games, because if he used a word that ended in ‘ni’ no one could come up with a word that started in ‘ni’. But with the word ‘ni ma’, that means that there is, in fact, a word that starts with ‘ni’… which is how So-yi lost their word game so many years ago.

With the word game, everything comes flooding back to Chae-yoon. The fictional mountain made of the characters ‘gye’ and ‘eon’ translate to the words for ‘linking’ and ‘word’, so Chae-yoon knows that the message is calling for him to meet her at the hill they would play their word games on as children.

It all finally hits him. It’s Dam! So-yi is Dam! That means she’s alive! This isn’t a new revelation for us, but it’s a pretty life-shattering revelation for him.

Both So-yi and Chae-yoon are racing toward the hill where they used to play word games as children. The suspense is killing me, because every second they get closer is one second for an outside party to come and stop their happy reunion. When Chae-yoon arrives, she hides – wondering what he’s doing there. Oh, So-yi, you can’t put two and two together on this one?

Chae-yoon is heartbroken when he sees no one there, and he desperately calls out her name, over and over: “Dam! Dam! Dam!”

She turns around…

 
COMMENTS

Welcome to the comments section! If you’re wondering how you got here, it might be due to some lingering shock over the fact that the writers just denied us a reunion. Let that sink in a little.

I know I screamed some expletives when we cut to the credits, because that was the first time I could breathe ever since our two childhood lovebirds began their epic run toward one another. And, for the sake of a really good cliffhanger, we didn’t get a reunion?! That’s cold, Tree. It’s a really great move, but so so cold.

I tried to convince myself that I was fine with there being no romance in this show, but now that it’s here (or ALMOST here), I’m kind of digging it. Maybe it’s because these characters are now rooted in my heart and I just want everyone to be happy. That includes Sejong, who was extra adorable this episode. Let the shit hit the fan next episode – I can’t wait to see the fallout.

 
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41 November 18, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 13

by HeadsNo2

What a ride! I literally feel exhausted from all the caring, worrying, and happy sighing I did this episode. So many secrets, so many emotions. And these secrets aren’t just out, they’re stripped and laid bare for all the world to see. How can this show just keep getting better? It seems to defy the very laws of the universe, but I’m going to try not to look this gift drama in the mouth and just enjoy.

 
EPISODE 13 RECAP

With Chae-yoon calling out the name So-yi once went by, she rounds the tree and they come face to face. Both of them are emotional as he remembers how he once told her how his father had died and how frightening the world seemed to be once he was alone. “Dam! Are you really my Dam?” he asks.

She cries and nods, and for a moment he seems frozen and unsure of what to do…

…And then he pulls her into a desperate embrace, holding her like his life depends on it. She’s trying to say something but can’t… Please excuse me while I wipe my tears away like the little girl that I am. Reunion scenes just get me right in the heart, and this one is a reunion lover’s paradise.

The two share another tender moment by a river as Chae-yoon wraps the ankle she hurt while running to him. She can’t help but wonder if he’s really Ddol-bok, and reaches out to touch his hair. He takes her hand and asks her about her muteness. His voice and his mannerisms are so much more tender, it kills me. Also, so much touching already? I’m in heaven. This is not your mom’s Joseon.

He realizes, just as she’s thinking it, that her muteness is not just from the horrible trauma of the prison break and her father’s death, but from the words he spoke to her while they were young. He blamed her for everyone’s death. Goodness, what a heavy burden for both of them to bear. He knows it too, and grips his heart as he cries for her. She doesn’t blame him, and wraps her arms around his shoulders to hold him while they both have a good cry.

Chae-yoon is at the water’s edge when So-yi finds herself able to say the “oh” in “orabeoni”. She gets up, excited to show him that she can talk, when Pyung comes in to crash the party by holding a sword to her neck. As his lackey binds her, Pyung bargains for the Hidden Root Scroll. Chae-yoon wants him to set So-yi free first, and holds the Hidden Root Scroll over the fire as leverage.

Pyung isn’t without his own bargaining tool (as if holding So-yi hostage wasn’t enough), and produces the pouch So-yi made for him that houses his father’s will. Chae-yoon is distracted when Pyung drops it, giving Pyung the perfect opportunity to take the Scroll and throw a blinding powder in Chae-yoon’s eyes.

They begin a sword fight, but Chae-yoon is left unable to see. He tries relying on his sense of sound to predict Pyung’s movements, but Pyung is having a good time and makes most of his sword movements unnecessary to distract his opponent. Chae-yoon is sustaining wounds, and just as it looks like he might get a killing blow…

…So-yi speaks, full on speaks, and says: “To the right!” Chae-yoon is able to deflect the blow, and the tide begins to turn in his favor with So-yi there to be his eyes, as she directs him to spare him from killing blows. So. Epic. So epic. Yes!

Just as it looks like Chae-yoon is about to win, even blinded, soldiers from Hidden Root seem to materialize from nowhere and surround them. Pyung instructs them to kill So-yi first, and Chae-yoon kills who he can before shielding her with his body. He can’t kill them all.

At the last moment, Mu-hyul arrives with the royal army to save the day. The secret soldiers of Hidden Root are forced to flee, along with Pyung. Before anyone sees, Chae-yoon pockets the pouch he’s been searching so long for.

They have an unexpected visitor, however, in King Sejong. Both Chae-yoon and So-yi give formal bows as the King, stone-faced, approaches. Ohhhh man.

Jung Ki-joon has been relegated to doing what evil villains do best – sitting and plotting. I’ve been a little sad that the pickings have been slim each time we cut to a Hidden Root scene, since they’re either waiting for that damn scroll or talking about something else that’s not going right for them – like losing So-yi.

In this case, they’re on a ticking clock for that meeting with Hae Gang and his scholars – where they’re supposed to produce the Hidden Root Scroll. Pyung is desperately fighting off the royal army to deliver it to them in time. Will he make it or not? Is this scene as much fun to us as all the delicious drama going on elsewhere?

King Sejong should win a medal for being the Most Understanding Person Ever. After handling the shock/happiness that So-yi can now speak (she says “Your Highness”, which is the first time Sejong has been able to hear her voice), he even looks over the fact that Chae-yoon reaches for a sword to kill him when Sejong calls him ‘Ddol-bok’.

They have a surprisingly frank confrontation where Sejong apologizes about Chae-yoon’s father. So-yi realizes that Sejong knew about their childhood identities the whole time and that he said nothing, but she doesn’t seem to feel horribly betrayed over it.

Sejong tells Chae-yoon that a different path lies before him – one with So-yi. He gives both of them his blessing, telling Chae-yoon that he’s gained Dam, but he (as the King) has lost So-yi. Aww. Good thing no one bothered to check with So-yi about how she feels, because that would just be terrible.

It’s time for a flashback, and it’s not a happy one. I always assumed Sejong was just a naturally enlightened King, but this flashback seems to prove otherwise. Basically, an epidemic is going around and Sejong knows the right herbs to cure it, but no one has followed his advice. Why? Because the common people couldn’t read the notices for the prescription Sejong wrote, making his effort meaningless and causing an untold number of deaths.

He takes his anger out on one of the villagers, wondering why the man can’t read. It’s not like his King asked him to memorize Confucius, it’s only a thousand characters. Sejong can’t seem to understand the citizens’ illiteracy, and his anger is anger at his own general helplessness to save all those lives.

Once he’s in the palace, he throws a temper tantrum about his own inefficacy and scares everyone in the process… except So-yi. She remains completely unaffected and cold, so Sejong’s only reaction is to grab her by the collar and spit his words into her face. He seems to equate her to the rest of the citizens by calling her a child, always badgering him for something.

Her response to his severely long-winded personal attack, where he also looked like he wanted to… well, do more than yell at her?

So-yi [in writing]: “If you say we’re children, then you need to raise us.”

Good gracious! Gauntlet thrown, and a good call on So-yi’s part. It seems to snap Sejong out of his angry funk, as next we find them they’re starting the basic process to creating his alphabet – one he wanted to create for its ease of use, and one that anyone could learn. So-yi, and her weirdly perfect memory, prove integral to the process of creating Hangul.

It’s time for that secret meeting we’ve all been waiting for (okay, maybe just the secret meeting Hidden Root’s been waiting for). Master Hae Gang is there as promised, and all those gathered insist upon seeing the Hidden Root Scroll. Just as it seems like Jung Ki-joon doesn’t have it, he pulls out the sash containing what I thought was the Scroll… but the paper that Chae-yoon has been reading (and the one we’ve all been seeing) is just a cover for the real paper nestled inside, the one that damns every official present with their signatures pledging their allegiance to Hidden Root.

I should have expected something like that – I was beginning to wonder if a genie came with the Scroll, especially with the way it was being revered. Now it all makes sense, because without that Scroll the officials present could just bow out of Hidden Root if they wanted to, and no proof would exist that they were traitors. Only now with that paper, Jung Ki-joon calls upon the oath they once made to his uncle, Jung Do-jun.

Power can’t leave the hands of the government even for a day, as Jung Ki-joon explains in his monologue (we know by now that when Sejong has a monologue, Jung Ki-joon gets one too). Directing his ire to Lee Shin-juk – whose lackey may or may not have just been killed by the long-haired butcher’s assistant – Jung Ki-joon asks how the official will atone for the crime of allowing Sejong to run rampant like he has.

Chae-yoon and So-yi have found an abandoned house to spend the night in, and in the morning, Chae-yoon goes outside to scrounge around for cooking utensils. Awwww, he’s cooking for her? Awwwww! It’s only more meaningful because he’s still wounded from the night before, so he’s limping around as he tries so hard to make her a proper meal.

He takes it inside, and proudly shows her the food he’s made. I’m dying of ‘squee’ right now. She jokingly asks if he stole it, and he says of course – psh, does she think he’d make this for her? Aww!

So-yi finds a large chestnut in her rice, a food that she had once fed to Ddol-bok when they were children. Tears spring to her eyes, both of them still overcome by the emotion of their reunion as they eat the Saddest Meal Ever (since the Saddest Meal Ever in Chuno).

As Chae-yoon and So-yi walk together in a beautiful forest, he daydreams about their future. The more he smiles, the more I worry… but that dream is adorable. In it, he’s a simple farmer, smiling to see So-yi approach. She smiles back. They’re living simple, adorable lives… oh dear. My drama senses are tingling – surely there’s heartbreak ahead.

The happier he becomes, the more burdened So-yi looks. Unlike her daydream counterpart, the So-yi of the present keeps flashing back to her times with Sejong. Ah, so are these flashbacks to shore up that leg of the love triangle? Or just to show how near and dear the Hangul project is to her?

The heartbreak comes fast and swift. Just as Chae-yoon turns to tell So-yi about the future he envisioned (where they’re together and in love), she stops him and says that they must return to the palace. She wants to go back to work on that great cause, which is not only His Majesty’s great cause, but her own. She chose to do it to atone for the deaths of his father, her father, and all the other slaves they knew.

He tells her that the King is using her heart against her, and that they’re just slaves – no matter what, they’ll get used and thrown away like the garbage that they are by the higher class. Has she been with all those highly-ranked people so long that she thinks she’s one of them? Ouuuch, Chae-yoon. You are digging your own grave on this one. So-yi doesn’t give up or let his words sway her, and begins to explain that he misunderstood about that letter…

Chae-yoon: “Right! Let’s say I misunderstood. His majesty saved you, and what happened wasn’t his intention. Let’s say that’s true. So let’s say I fully understand His Majesty. But… my father. What becomes of him? If I understand His Majesty fully, my father… my father is too pitiful. And what about me? Isn’t my life too pitiable? And what about you? You should be thinking from me and my father and your father’s side. What are you? You are one of those people too. Why do you keep on, for that great cause or bullshit, pretending you don’t know about your father’s death? Why do you not think from my side and why do you think from that King’s side?!”

They’re at an ideological stalemate, with both of them being too stubborn to give in. Chae-yoon can’t give up his revenge, and So-yi can’t give up her stake in the Hangul project. Both of these great causes they’ve staked their lives on are, unfortunately, only bound to clash.

But, she comes to a realization as she flashes back once more to Sejong – when the King once said that Chae-yoon is the one he fears the most, and trusts the most. She knows that the third judge of his alphabet, his life’s work, was meant to be Chae-yoon. Whew. That is going to be one tough sell.

The moment finally comes. After all these years, Chae-yoon is finally able to read his father’s will. He laughs and cries as he reads it, probably a little let down after all this time – we don’t get to see what his father said, but we can assume it didn’t carry any great revelations. He’s spent all this time searching, and the message was very simple.

Now that Chae-yoon feels like he lacks purpose when he’s lived his entire life for revenge, he takes out his knife… and holds it to his neck. Is he thinking of suicide?! He sure seems to be, but after a charged moment, he puts it down. He can’t do it. Phew. Chae-yoon, you are going to give me a heart attack!

So-yi resumes her place in the palace by the King’s side. Sejong doesn’t seem pleased with this (though I’m sure he is secretly pleased), and tries to send her away again. She refuses to go because the alphabet is her work and she will see it to completion.

What does get his attention, though, is when she says that the final judge of his work is sure to come. She knows by now that Chae-yoon means to kill Sejong, and yet she is calling for them to have a direct confrontation. Gauntlet = thrown. Again.

Mu-hyul, always the worried wife, is there to warn Sejong that if Chae-yoon returns, it will be because of So-yi. Determination has taken over our King’s features as he tells Mu-hyul that he is not to stop Chae-yoon. In fact, clear out all the palace guards and anyone else in Chae-yoon’s path. Whoa, what?! Waitaminute, Sejong. Let’s think about this…

King Sejong: “My second judge is coming. Didn’t you hear? She said to endure and wait and be patient, then persuade. So I’m doing that. The one who is furthest from me… She’s saying to persuade him myself, right? Telling me to have it out with him in person, isn’t she? Though So-yi’s action is audacious, it makes me aflutter. She made me aflutter.”

Whoa, are those feelings? I can’t tell when his face is so grim, but that sounded like some feelings, mixed in with determination to win Chae-yoon over. Chae-yoon is the last piece of his puzzle, the last person whose approval he needs to move forward… it’s so poetically perfect.

Chae-yoon wastes no time, and before I can mentally prepare myself he’s already at the palace gates. He’s dressed in his assassin’s finest, apparently unconcerned with the fact that every single guard has disappeared into thin air. There’s not a soul in sight to stop him from stalking like a predator into the palace, though we can see hidden guards everywhere – they’re on roofs, or in the shadows of the rooms that Chae-yoon passes by. Whether he hopes to actually get away with this assassination, or whether he’s gone for a final hurrah before suicide, we’re not sure. He can’t expect to make it out alive, at least.

He walks carefully, step by step, holding his sword at the ready. Was he prepared to cut his way through to the King? The very King that cleared away all opposition so that Chae-yoon’s assassination attempt would go unimpeded?

He approaches the throne room…

…Where Sejong, Mu-hyul, and So-yi are waiting. Just like in the drama’s opening, Chae-yoon thinks: “Lee Do.” But unlike the opening scene, Sejong has been expecting him.

 
COMMENTS

Well, this whole episode took the intensity meter up about fifty notches. Just when I think that this show can’t get much more intense, it surprises me by going balls to the wall. I will say I wasn’t expecting this confrontation between Chae-yoon and Sejong to happen so soon, since I was fully prepared for their conflict to go on over the entire series. With the misunderstandings and secrets out of the way, the emotional moments in this episode seemed to come at a breakneck pace. So-yi and Chae-yoon reunited, then clashed, then Chae-yoon finally found his father’s will, thought about suicide, and now finds himself IN THE THRONE ROOM. Granted, he’s only made it this far due to Sejong’s good graces. But goodness gracious!

This episode advanced so many core story lines faster than I could imagine, even though it did so through long scenes and many monologues. Everyone had a chance to shine through a monologue this time around, but I never felt that this episode got too mired down in conversation. It might be because the acting is top-notch, or that everyone still had something to say even if they took a long time to say it. No monologue tired me, even though I felt tired by the end of the hour just because of the sheer range of emotions I ended up feeling all throughout. We really got to see the inner souls of our lead characters in the best way possible.

Sejong had some truly frightening moments this episode, and some moments that I didn’t know what to make of. It’s a true talent for an actor to be able to turn the tables from one scene to the next, and Han Suk-kyu does so with aplomb. I’m used to seeing flawed characters (and love them), but there are a million layers to this man. Especially in his scene with the diseased citizens, his anger was really palpable. We know his anger is misdirected, and that he’s lamenting the injustice of their illiteracy when literacy could save lives, but the very point is that he doesn’t know to whom he should direct his anger. When he changes the direction of his temper to So-yi, I found myself actually worrying for her safety. It’s certainly not that Sejong is a bad man (far from it, actually), it’s just that his temper does have a tendency to get out of control.

It’s not a criticism, I’m actually very impressed at the incredibly human side of this revered historical character that we’re getting to see. Likewise, even though Chae-yoon opened up about his feelings this episode, his motivations remain a little harder to read. He seemed to give up on the idea of revenge, at least momentarily, when he thought of a future with So-yi. But because she wanted to return to the palace, does he think his life is only worth the price of his revenge (again)? I can’t wait to see what comes of his confrontation with Sejong – mostly because I have no idea how Chae-yoon is going to get out of this one.

 
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81 November 19, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 14

by HeadsNo2

How can this show only get more exciting, more intense, and more heartfelt? We’re all wondering, and we’re also probably wondering whether this show can uphold this sheer level of awesome for the remaining episodes or whether it will just run out of energy and fold under the weight of its pitch-perfect story, characters, and pacing. It just can’t keep going at this level, because that would literally make it too good, right?

But if it does keep this up… Drama of the Year? Any takers? Because this show deserves some sort of award, even if its just for… I don’t know, being the best.

 
EPISODE 14 RECAP

Sejong is the one who approaches Chae-yoon, but Mu-hyul is never far away. So when Chae-yoon points his sword at Sejong’s neck, Mu-hyul is there to stop him. It’s a regular Mexican standoff, but Sejong seems to want to tip the scales in Chae-yoon’s favor by ordering Mu-hyul to step down. In a daring move, Mu-hyul flatly refuses that order. He’s someone who was once willing to cut the head off Former King Taejong to protect Sejong, and he won’t step back now.

The King seems unafraid, and even steps forward so that if Chae-yoon so wished, he could kill him. But when he steps forward, Chae-yoon takes an uncertain and tiny step back. He wants to know why Sejong is putting himself in harm’s way… and then Sejong drops the bomb: “You’re not here to kill me, right? You are here to die.”

He’s right. Chae-yoon has now had his opportunity to kill the King (or at least try), and he’s purposefully chosen not to. But then, he turns his own blade around and holds it to his neck as if he’s about to commit suicide. Mu-hyul thinks fast, and knocks his blade out of his hands before he can do it. Chae-yoon ends up on the floor, wondering why the King is sparing his life. He’s only a lowly slave, and now he’s tried to kill the King. So why?

Sejong’s reply is beyond what I expected: it’s because everything he is, everything he’s done, is because of Chae-yoon. That night that Chancellor Shim was killed, and the night of the jailbreak, it was Chae-yoon’s wailing words about how the King should cut the bullshit that stayed with Sejong. If he’d never heard Chae-yoon that night, he’d be much happier. He would not be who he is today. Why?

King Sejong: “That night, we fell into hell together. But now you want out by yourself?”

Good. God. Both of these men have shaped each other’s lives, and now both of them know exactly how. Chae-yoon knows that Sejong is the one who saved him that night, and that he’s responsible for the ‘Lee Do’ we see today – the one who rebelled against his father on Chae-yoon (or Ddol-bok’s) account, and who is now creating an alphabet. So that’s why he needs Chae-yoon to judge his alphabet – everything he’s doing is all because of Chae-yoon. It’s so epic. Epic epic epic.

Chae-yoon laughs, and openly mocks Sejong for acting so serious while spouting such bullshit about writing. He argues with the King over whether the commoners can actually benefit from an alphabet, saying that writing can’t make them nobles and can’t make rice. Sejong fights back, saying that it may not make rice – but it’ll teach the people more ways to make it. It won’t make them nobles, but they’ll have the tools to fight back. Why does Chae-yoon look at it so negatively?

It’s because of his father’s will, Chae-yoon replies. His words bring tears to my eyes as he reveals that his father’s wish wasn’t for him to avenge his death, or to declare his innocence… Instead, it said: “Ddol-bok, since I don’t know how to write, since I am a halfwit, I wronged everyone. You must learn how to write. Serve our master well. And live well.”

So that’s what broke him. He’s lost completely, because both his father and Dam are on Sejong’s side. Chae-yoon did go to the palace to die, but he couldn’t even do that as he wanted. There’s only horrible sadness and desolation on his face as he begins a lifeless walk away.

But in this scene’s real turning point, Sejong calls out to Chae-yoon, telling him that they should fight. When his alphabet is complete, he’ll even pour Chae-yoon a drink, and they can fight then. I can’t even control myself – he knows that Chae-yoon has nothing left to live for and is desperately trying to give him any reason to live, even if it’s for revenge. But all spirit has left Chae-yoon, and he becomes like a zombie as he leaves the palace. Even So-yi can’t stop him.

It’s time for another round of ‘Whose Side is Lee Shin-juk Really On?’. He calls for a meeting with Jung Ki-joon, who’s been a busybody with all the materials left behind by the dead scholars – the Buddhist sutra, the Yuan Dynasty erotica, and the ‘Goon Na Mi Yok’ left by Yoon-pil from the printing press. Lee Shin-juk is the kind of man that follows where the power leads, and Master Hae Gang seems to be fully on board as well. But instead of an oath of allegiance, Lee Shin-juk gives tangible proof – it’s a mold for a printing block, and though we know it’s Hangul, no one else does. Yet.

Jung Ki-joon brings this mold back to Hidden Root Headquarters (aka the Confucian Temple in Ban Chon). Thanks to the mold provided by Lee Shin-juk, which sort of serves as the last piece of the puzzle, Jung Ki-joon now realizes the common thread that all these materials have – alphabets. Sejong’s secret project is an alphabet.

Yikes, the cat is really out of the bag on this one. Jung Ki-joon swiftly declares Jiphyunjeon, Sejong’s pet scholar house, an enemy of the government. Let the games begin.

It’s nice to see our buddy cops Cho-tak and Park-po again, since both of them are worried about Chae-yoon’s well-being. They get distracted, however, to see a familiar face and figure in the crowd… it’s none other than Pyung, our unmasked assassin who likes to try a different hairstyle each episode. I’m not complaining.

He walks himself straight into the police bureau, tosses a package down, and declares that he’s the culprit who murdered the Jiphyunjeon scholars. Seems like Jung Ki-joon was pretty serious about starting trouble. But what does Hidden Root have to gain from Pyung’s sacrifice?

Sejong is stressing the necessary secrecy of their project to his allies, some of whom we haven’t seen in a while. He knows that if the project were to be made public, they’d be faced with so much opposition that they’d have to give up the alphabet. He plans to release it all at once, wide-spread, so that even if there’s opposition it will come too late. He’s also aware that the Hidden Root Scroll has made it back to Hidden Root, so their chances of finding out its contents have dwindled down. When it comes to his attention that Pyung has not been arrested but in fact turned himself in, he knows that Hidden Root is behind it. But, like us, he doesn’t know how.

Yoon Pyung is being held at the investigation bureau, and freely admits that he’s the son of Jung Do-gwang’s guard (I knew someone had to be) and the murderer. But he’s brought all of the dead scholars’ projects – like the Phags-pa script, the Sanskrit sutra, the printing block mold for Hangul. So, why would he do such a thing? Pyung: “Now, everyone in the country will find out the reason.”

They’re interrupted by someone bringing a posting that’s been littered everywhere. That same posting makes it to everyone – including all the officials, the King, and the scholars. It details that the King has been doing a secret project, and that he even keeps a secret society, and that he’s been breaking the law by not having officers in attendance at all times (like all those times he’s in his Hangul Room). The anonymous writer even outs one member of the secret society – our resident scholar, Sung Sam-moon. The reader is challenged to find a tattoo on Sung Sam-moon’s body. If they do, they’ll know the author was correct.

The shit hits the fan, as that posting makes its way to everyone – officials and scholars alike. Now everyone knows that the King has been trying to make an alphabet. Having their own sovereign alphabet separate from the Chinese alphabet? How positively barbaric! Everyone’s in an uproar, because no one reading that posting stands to gain from Sejong’s user-friendly alphabet.

Our poor scholar Sung Sam-moon is probably the only person who hasn’t read the posting, and he walks into the library of scholars completely unaware. They turn on him and search him, finding the Chun Ji (Heaven and Earth) tattoo on his arm, just like the posting said. Crap.

The Deputy Chief Scholar, while being outraged at this whole mess, has a heart inside him and he pulls Sung Sam-moon for a private meeting… that’s unfortunately also attended by Shim Jong-soo, who has been stirring the pot as a secret double-agent for Hidden Root this whole time. He tells Sung Sam-moon to leave the court and hide at a temple, and to take Scholar Park Paeng-nyeon with him. Park Paeng-nyeon hasn’t been publicly outed like he has, but it might only be a matter of time.

Jung Ki-joon’s evil genius is showing, as he’s the mastermind behind the postings and now only has to sit back and watch as the palace rips itself apart. He knows exactly which offices the chaos will start with, one right after the other, and is right on the money when the Office of Inspector General (and I mean the whole office) ends up knocking at Jiphyunjeon’s door. They demand to body-check Sung Sam-moon to test out that tattoo theory.

The Deputy Chief Scholar meets with Sejong’s right-hand man, Jung In-ji, and personally asks him about the alphabet. He is not a fan, seeing as every country with their own alphabet is a barbarian country. That’s not what he wants Joseon to become – so Jung In-ji better relate that to the King.

Jung Ki-joon also put Master Hae Gang into place, and the old man comes to kneel before the Gwanghwamun, the biggest and baddest gate of the palace. He’s come to stage a protest (with such a public display, all his scholars will soon join him) about the barbarian alphabet – demanding to hear the truth from the King.

The Prime Minister meets with Sejong, and it turns out he wasn’t totally unaware of the Hangul project… but the last time he’d heard about it was ten years ago. He’s curious to know if Sejong has finished it or not, but he also gives a warning. In order to placate the palace, Sejong must open his Hangul Room to the public and stop his project. He can’t disregard Confucian scholars as he pleases, it’ll only end badly for him.

Sejong says he plans on opening the Hangul Room to official scrutiny… tomorrow. I sense a plan.

Chae-yoon is taking time for some sad introspection, and finds himself at the same stream he’d once come to with his father… only his father appears right in the same spot as a vision. Chae-yoon is instantly a young boy again, lost and alone, but his father is there to tell him that sometimes life just doesn’t go the way you want it to. He’s basically being a dad to the Chae-yoon who could have sorely used one, and the greatest part is that his father is in possession of all his wits. In the afterlife, he’s happy.

What a beautiful, beautiful scene. Dam/So-yi’s father is even there, and he teases Ddol-bok/Chae-yoon about his daughter, who always used to take Ddol-bok’s side against her father when they were young. Their happiness seems infectious, and though Chae-yoon tries to join them soon he’s only left with their lingering voices. This is a good thing, because we don’t want him to join his father quite yet. There’s still too much for him to do.

Poor Chae-yoon. I normally feel so confident in his ability to take care of himself, but the moment the vision fades, he suddenly just seems so alone. Who’s there to help him? But at least he’s come to an important decision: he’s wasted his life until now, and it’s time to move on. He says goodbye to Ddol-bok – his childhood self, and everything he was before. Aww.

Chae-yoon returns to his friends, and not a moment too soon. They don’t know what’s gone on with him (and to explain fully would take a lifetime), but are just happy to have him back. Chae-yoon, for his part, seems carefree. Even when they tell him that Pyung has turned himself in over at the bureau, he’s disinterested and has no care to go.

It’s interesting when they go to their local inn, and discuss the alphabet rumors with the innkeepers and the Sound Man (that man who can make any sound in the world). Chae-yoon wants to know why everyone thinks what they think about the alphabet, presumably beginning to open his mind a little bit to the possibility that this alphabet can actually be useful to the common people.

Later, Chae-yoon innocuously asks Park-po about the going rate of rice paddies these days. Park-po is wondering what I’m wondering – is he asking about these things for a woman? We know that his ideal life is also a simple one from the visions he’s had. Chae-yoon deflects, and then as he sees So-yi coming from the road he adorably runs and hides.

So-yi has come to see Chae-yoon, but Park-po turns her away (I get the feeling she’s very sure he’s lying and that Chae-yoon is inside). She gives him a letter instead, and as she’s leaving Chae-yoon pokes his head out to think that this is all for the best. There’s no Ddol-bok anymore, and Dam should live as So-yi. Nooo!

It’s no secret that the Hangul Room is going to be opened tomorrow, and everyone is preparing to either enter it (everyone not in on the project) or to get information out of it (everyone in on the project). Sejong displays some teamwork by helping his court ladies shuffle out old papers from storage. So-yi, meanwhile, is committing everything to memory.

That is a handy tool to have, when you think about it. Considering that they’re very aware of their paper trail, So-yi is like a portable Joseon hard drive and is perfect for times like these.

Prince Gwangpyeong, Sejong’s fifth son, has been stepping up to the plate recently (considering that he seems to be the only son in on his father’s project). He’s going to help his father with this elaborate bait-and-switch…

…Using the Queen’s palanquin? Queen Soheon?! Where have you been? We don’t see her, and haven’t seen her since Sejong’s early days, but it seems like she’s still alive. Historically, Queen Soheon died the same year that Sejong published the document containing Hangul – so it’s nice to know she’s still around.

Chae-yoon reads So-yi’s letter as he’s all dressed up for a long journey. She wants him to meet her at five in the morning at the paper-making office, but he seems to have no plans to go. He says there’s no Ddol-bok anymore, and that if he sees Dam, he won’t be able to leave. In a bit of meta, he wonders why he’s talking aloud to himself. Ha! He’s left letters for Park-po and Cho-tak, and it seems like he’s preparing to leave for good. Something tells me that won’t be as easy as you hope, Chae-yoon.

Sejong’s sent out two palanquins, each to a prince’s house, and at each house they’re overtaken by Hidden Root’s secret soldiers. Shim Jong-soo has severely underestimated Sejong, as he finds that both palanquins were completely empty. He decides to reroute his forces to the paper-making office, since Sejong has ordered double the amount of paper for tomorrow (probably for So-yi to transcribe everything that she memorized).

So-yi is working closely with Prince Gwangpyeong on this pseudo-heist (okay, they’re not stealing anything, but it’s so orchestrated it seems like a heist), and reports Hidden Root’s movements to him. He’s pleased that they’ve fallen into his trap.

It’s five in the morning, and So-yi is outside of the paper-making office with Prince Gwangpyeong and the real cart of data spirited away from the Hangul Room. This is exactly where she told Chae-yoon to meet her, and she seems to be looking for him in earnest while he stays hiding around a corner, watching her.

As he leaves without saying a word, he sees some slaves pulling a cart. He finds it a little curious, but is determined to go on his merry way.

Those slaves were secretly Hidden Root’s soldiers, and easily overtake Prince Gwangpyeong and So-yi. The two find themselves being pulled along in the same cart that they used to ferret information in, and they’re both bound and gagged. Prince Gwangpyeong looks wounded, too.

Chae-yoon, however, is not able to shake the suspicion of hearing iron in that cart the slaves were pulling. He gives them the mental benefit of the doubt before he realizes the obvious – and that So-yi’s in danger. And then he’s off to the rescue! Hooray!

So-yi can hear that Chae-yoon has arrived to challenge her captors. I can’t help but wonder if she knew something like this would happen, and wanted Chae-yoon to meet her there at five a.m. specifically for the purpose of getting her out of a tough spot. Either way, he’s there. And he at least gives the men a chance to run away – but if they stay, they won’t be so lucky. See the black/white parallels from his outfit at the end of the last episode?

What matters, Chae-yoon says, is who he is…

Chae-yoon: “I’m Ddol-bok of Hanjigol village, got it?”

 
COMMENTS

Boom! Our boy is back! And not a moment too soon.

While I understood why Chae-yoon wanted to rid himself of all things Ddol-bok, I also didn’t think it was the best idea. Sure, we can try to forget our pasts and move on, but they’re still our pasts, and we can’t ever undo them. So while I feel like it’s good for Chae-yoon to want to live in the now instead of being consumed by his past, I was also sure that he had to find a happy medium in there somewhere… surely it couldn’t all boil down to: “I accept my past and want to live for revenge” or “I’m going to shed my past and become a completely new person.” And judging by the end of this episode, he’s merged both the past and the present at last. He can be Ddol-bok without having to live only for revenge. He can be Chae-yoon without feeling like he’s dishonoring his father’s memory.

I’m not usually a fan of afterlife scenes, but I really love how the scene with his father (and Dam/So-yi’s father) was done. As an audience, we need to see Chae-yoon move on into what I like to think is the ‘second act’ of twenty-four episode dramas. Unlike his second act in Chuno, where his crushed dreams slowly ate him alive, he seems to be going good places. He’s growing, but in a good way. His deus angst machina has come and gone, and we won’t be seeing that pity party last another ten episodes – which is such a huge relief. That means he can just be badass.

Also, he’s the only one I trust to save Sejong. There are plenty of people on Sejong’s side, but Chae-yoon really is the other half of our King. Now he’s not in this fight just for the promise of revenge – he’s in it for a higher purpose. And that’s what makes him a hero.

 
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55 November 26, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 15

by HeadsNo2

This show isn’t going to invite you out for a tea party as much as it’ll throw that hot tea in your face while ordering you to grit your teeth and take it like a man. You want less intensity? You don’t get less intensity. There’s no crying in sageuks!

Except for all that crying they do in sageuks. Tree With Deep Roots has a fantastic tears to action ratio, though.

 
EPISODE 15 RECAP

Hidden Root’s secret soldiers are no match for Chae-yoon, who cuts them down in order to free So-yi and Prince Gwangpyeong from the wagon. So-yi seems no worse for the wear, but Gwangpyeong is nursing a bloody injury on his arm.

Chae-yoon completely ignores the presence of the royal family member, and takes So-yi by the hand (and not the wrist, can you believe it?) to lead her away. When she puts up some light resistance, he unceremoniously throws her over his shoulder.

Gwangpyeong, however, is having none of it, and defends her by holding a sword to Chae-yoon’s neck. Chae-yoon seems mostly unaffected by this as he puts So-yi down, almost comically ignoring Gwangpyeong as he finally confronts her about what she wanted to say (he’s referring to her letter where she asked him to meet her at the paper-making office). She’s frank when she says she didn’t have anything to say, she just wanted to keep him around. Aww.

Chae-yoon seems to be guarding his own heart when he tells her that he can live without seeing her, and only came when her letter called so he could cut their ties. He tells her to quit the work she’s doing (that great cause and all that). She doesn’t have to come with him, but he’s not going to see her die either. So far he’s saved her from death three times (the first time they met at the burning printing office, the time Pyung assassinated Scholar Jang Seong-soo, and now), and he can’t see her be used and thrown away by the King any more.

Gwangpyeong may be the third wheel on this date, but he’s not going down without a fight. It’s time for an Ideological Battle, and Chae-yoon is outnumbered in his opinion that the King can sacrifice a person like his father for his great cause, but if Hidden Root would have succeeded in kidnapping Gwangpyeong and using him against Sejong, his father wouldn’t allow him to die. Why? Because he’s the King’s son. People like Chae-yoon’s father, of the lower class, should just consider it an honor if they’re sacrificed for the greater good, right?

Wrong. Gwangpyeong stands firm in the belief that Chae-yoon, being of his status, can’t possibly understand the King. His death wouldn’t shake his father from his great path of creating the alphabet, since the King thinks other lives are more valuable than his own. He’s not the sort of person to save his son but sacrifice others if they were in the same situation.

So, to test that theory, Chae-yoon wonders what would happen if the King were forced to choose between the alphabet or the Prince. He plans to use Prince Gwangpyeong as a hostage against his father, pitting the Prince’s life against the Hangul Project. Wait, what? Chae-yoon! What are you doing?!

Gwangpyeong steps up to the plate – fine, but if he wins (so, if Sejong were to choose the alphabet over his life) what is Chae-yoon going to bet? Chae-yoon’s response is that the King said that he needed him for his project. So, if Sejong is not willing to give up the alphabet when his son’s life is threatened because of it, then Chae-yoon will follow Sejong without hesitation.

But… if Chae-yoon wins, and the King is willing to give up the alphabet to save his own son’s life when he wouldn’t do so for anyone else, then the King will know what it’s like to live through the hell of losing a family member. Good God, this is the most hellish bet ever.

Everyone’s in crisis mode. Hidden Root, operating under the assumption that they have safely captured Prince Gwangpyeong, So-yi, and all the data on Hangul, preemptively put out posters for the public to read that accuse Sejong of using his son to move the data the night before he was supposed to open the Hangul Room. Only, now that they’re missing their crucial evidence, they wish they hadn’t have acted so rashly.

Mu-hyul reports to Sejong that the paper-making office was raided yesterday and Gwangpyeong, So-yi, and the data were taken. They believe Hidden Root is behind it, while Hidden Root is sure that the jig is up because Gwangpyeong must have already returned to the palace.

Cho-tak and Park-po find the letters Chae-yoon left for them the night before. Cho-tak’s letter mentions revenge, and Park-po wonders what Chae-yoon’s revenge was about. Cho-tak merely responds that Chae-yoon came to the palace to take revenge on his father’s enemy. Unfortunately, Jung Ki-joon (as Ga Ri-on) passes by at that same moment and overhears their conversation.

When he returns to Hidden Root Headquarters, he finds out that a fellow named ‘Ddol-bok’ is the one who defeated their soldiers and took their hostages. Crap. They know Ddol-bok is Chae-yoon, and after the conversation Jung Ki-joon overheard earlier… he puts the pieces together, coming to the conclusion Chae-yoon came to the palace to assassinate the King. Shock! He thinks that they’ve hit the jackpot – now all they need to do is find Chae-yoon. I wonder if he thinks Chae-yoon could be recruited to their side, if his goals seemingly look the same as theirs.

Because of his deadly bet with the Prince, Chae-yoon has taken both him and So-yi as prisoners. When So-yi asks about the information from the cart, Chae-yoon responds that he’s hidden it (I hope he hid it at the root of that giant tree, because that’s poetry). Per their agreement, Gwangpyeong writes a letter to Mu-hyul on a piece of his own clothing dictating the terms of the agreement – Sejong can give up the alphabet to save Gwangpyeong’s life, or sacrifice Gwangpyeong’s life for the alphabet.

Chae-yoon returns to the capital to presumably deliver the agreement, but finds it curious that everyone is gathered around a posting – one that claims that Prince Gwangpyeong has been captured by the traitors. He runs in to see Cho-tak, who probably didn’t expect to see his friend again, to ask for information. Who put the poster up?

Cho-tak responds that it was somewhere between five and seven a.m., and Chae-yoon’s brilliance shines through as he realizes that Hidden Root put those postings up before they physically had Gwangpyeong. But, that also means that they must know he now has the Prince.

Meanwhile, the wound that Gwangpyeong acquired during the snafu at the paper-making office seems to either be more serious than we thought, or it’s festering. All color has drained from his face and he’s running a high fever.

When So-yi offers to escape in order to find him medicine, he physically stops her. He believes so much in what his father is doing that he’s willing to sacrifice himself – if his father honestly believes he needs Chae-yoon for the alphabet, then he is going to make sure to deliver Chae-yoon to his father. So-yi counters, though, that it’s not actually the alphabet Sejong needs Chae-yoon for. According to her, both Chae-yoon and Sejong are ill people – and only they can cure each other’s illnesses.

It’s time for Ideological Battle: Round Two, and neither man looks as though he’s ready to back down. Gwangpyeong says his father will never give up on the alphabet because his father’s blood, King Taejong’s blood, runs through his veins. Gwangpyeong explains his own stubbornness because his grandfather’s blood runs through his veins, too.

Our hero stands by the belief that the alphabet is useless to the common man, who has to work from sunrise to sunset. When can he have time to learn the letters? Chae-yoon claims that it took endless time and effort for him to learn the amount of Chinese characters that he does know, and he doesn’t even know all of them. So how many letters has King Sejong made? Five thousand? Three thousand? One thousand?

To Chae-yoon’s surprise, he was nowhere near the right number. Gwangpyeong tells him that his father’s alphabet is only twenty-eight letters.

If Gwangpyeong is right, then Chae-yoon is without an argument. He’s in disbelief that there can only be twenty-eight letters – there are more than twenty-eight objects in the shed they’re in, for instance. How can those twenty-eight letters create all the words necessary just to describe the objects in the room? But the beauty and simplicity of the Hangul alphabet is that any amount of words, every word, can be made with only those letters. So-yi writes them down on a piece of her skirt to prove it.

So-yi: “With just these twenty-eight characters you can write our names that can’t be written with Chinese characters, dialects you like to speak, accents, our hearts… the sound of the wind, the birds… we can make all these sounds using these characters.”

Gwangpyeong is sure that Chae-yoon can learn it in a day, while So-yi knows he can learn it in an afternoon. This is a nice tie-in to the historically published notes that were written as commentary on the Hunminjeongeum, the document that promulgated Hangul. The historical text read (in regards to learning Hangul): “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.” Chae-yoon is challenged to try learning the alphabet in one afternoon and seeing for himself.

The royal army has been searching for Gwangpyeong and So-yi in vain, so Sejong decides to take matters into his own hands by visiting Pyung – who conveniently is still being held in prison after turning himself in. Sejong delivers a powerful tour de force that has Pyung shaking in his boots.

King Sejong: “If you touch the Prince or So-yi, every member of my military I will call to arms, and will sweep all of you around the village market in front of the people. We will display all of your dead bodies. Those dead bodies will be ripped to pieces and sent all over the country. After re-establishing the fundamentals of the nation, I will perish the three generations of those three generations. I will punish you miserably!

Not even a second after his outburst, Sejong’s entire demeanor changes. Suddenly he looks like a lost little boy as he immediately apologizes for what he said. Hmm, seems like someone is fighting with their inner Taejong. He breaks down in front of Pyung, his voice shaking as he says: “Please… save Gwangpyeong. I will give up everything… everything!” Pyung seems to have been frightened earlier, and perhaps about to give in and speak, but now with this turn of events a triumphant look comes over his features. He believes that he’s won over the King.

However, Sejong’s entire demeanor changes yet again…

“Did you expect that I would do this?” he asks Pyung. Wow. That is a ‘psych!‘ if I’ve ever seen one, and one that I completely believed. Sejong put on an elaborate but awesome act to prove his superiority, and tells Pyung that he doesn’t care who he is, or what they want from him. Whatever it is that they want, they won’t get it. He won’t negotiate with people like them, nor will he pay back the offense in blood. He’ll pay them back by showing them how they are bound to fail.

Again, wow. Team Sejong for the win!

We find Chae-yoon outside the Hostage Shed, in the dark, writing Hangul into the dirt with a blade. He wonders if it’s really possible, that a world can exist where everyone is able to write letters. So-yi finds him outside, reading what he wrote. Things like: “I met Dam. I want to see Father.” Aww. He’s like a child when he asks her if he’s written it correctly, and she praises him for learning the alphabet in half the afternoon. Gives you a whole new appreciation for Hangul, doesn’t it?

They hear a sound inside, and find Gwangpyeong on the floor and writhing in pain from his wound. Chae-yoon was unaware, and is unhappy to find out that he’s had this wound since the paper-making office. For some reason Gwangpyeong wants to play tough and continue to refuse treatment, but Chae-yoon rips off a piece of his own clothing to use as a bandage and instructs So-yi to keep pressure on the wound while he goes to find help.

Unfortunately for him (and probably for Prince Gwangpyeong), the help he goes to find is none other than our resident butcher/coroner/surgeon/liar Ga Ri-on, whose real identity as Jung Ki-joon is still unknown to Chae-yoon. Luck just seems to fall into this villain’s lap in times like these, as he was just with his Hidden Root cohorts talking about how they have yet to find Chae-yoon… and now Chae-yoon is right there, pretty much dangling the Prince in front of his eyes.

Jung Ki-joon looks quite shifty as he gets some medicine from a shelf. Is it even medicine at all? Yikes.

The woman Leader of Ban Chon claimed that the only reason Chae-yoon had not been found yet was because they didn’t have Pyung, so when a key mysteriously drops into the assassin’s cell, we assume it’s Hidden Root that’s freeing him. He seems to believe the same, even as he runs out of the prison to find a horse just waiting for him. He makes his escape ahead of the royal army, unaware of the bag attached to the horse spilling white powder behind him.

The prison break was planned by Mu-hyul, who is not far behind and can follow Pyung to the Hidden Root hideout by using the white powder (Joseon’s version of breadcrumbs) to track his movements. It’s only later, when Shim Jong-soo reports the prison break to Lee Shin-juk, that the latter realizes it’s a trap.

All the other concerned parties (Pyung and Hidden Root, Mu-hyul and Sejong) are afraid of the sunrise when Gwangpyeong is still missing. Acting as Ga Ri-on, Jung Ki-joon successfully treats Gwangpyeong’s arm injury (phew!) but then claims he brought no medicine for fever in his hurry. There are herbs in the mountain, though – and I get the feeling he’s telling Chae-yoon this just to get him out of the shed so his soldiers don’t have to meet with resistance.

Chae-yoon is onto the plan – or more so onto the fact that they’re being tailed – and gets the right idea to abscond with So-yi and Gwangpyeong before both the Royal Army and the Hidden Root Army descend upon their tiny shed.

Gwangpyeong is unable to walk, and so Chae-yoon carries him on his back as they try to escape through the forest. The two men have formed a grudging alliance now that Chae-yoon has seen the true nature of the alphabet, so when Gwangpyeong tries to play noble and sacrifice himself in order for Chae-yoon and So-yi to escape from the Hidden Root soldiers swarming the mountain, Chae-yoon is having none of it. He tells Gwangpyeong that because he is his hostage, he has to take responsibility for him. So there’ll be no self-sacrificing on Gwangpyeong’s end if Chae-yoon has anything to do with it.

It’s an all-out battle between Pyung and Mu-hyul, who discover each other in the forest outside of the shed they both believed Gwangpyeong to be in. Mu-hyul and his small number of men seem sorely outnumbered by the army Pyung has brought – but Mu-hyul is the Best Swordsman In Joseon, and handles them with ease. When it comes down to just him and Pyung, it seems like curtains for our formerly-masked assassin…

Until the long-haired butcher’s assistant comes, wearing a mask, to challenge Mu-hyul. It takes one clash of their swords for Mu-hyul’s to be knocked out of his hands. Whoa. I knew that the butcher’s assistant was strong (seeing as how he killed that one guy with a tiny tree branch), but this is a whole new level. Mu-hyul’s fate is uncertain, but it seems as though both men have disappeared by the time he turns around. Hopefully.

Sejong needs some time to himself, and it’s only when he’s alone that he breaks down. He cries for his son, and it breaks my heart. We don’t know if he’s crying over the choice he has to make, or the fact that everything is crumbling around him – but one thing is certain, in that he does love Gwangpyeong.

Like he’s done before, Sejong is all smiles once he gets to the much-dreaded forum with the officials and scholars. He reads the posting aloud like it’s ludicrous, and then does exactly what Jung In-ji told him not to do: he admits everything. Yes, he created letters secretly and they’re almost complete. Gwangpyeong wouldn’t want him to stop his great project because of him, and he is not going to negotiate or cow-tow to Hidden Root just because they’re threatening him.

He’s in and out relatively quickly, leaving the officials befuddled at his attitude, but leaves them with one last thing. If there is a member of Hidden Root within the forum, he’d like to send a message to the head of Hidden Root. It’s something that Jung Ki-joon had once asked him as a child, when a young Sejong had gotten so mad he’d punched the boy. The question is: “Only violence?”

Gauntlet thrown.

Sejong has come to peace with the fact that no matter what happens to Gwangpyeong, he will endure without shedding any tears. Hardcore, Sejong. Hardcore. But when he walks alone into the Hangul Room to see Chae-yoon, So-yi, and his beloved son standing there he collapses from shock. Their reunion is both tearful and beautiful.

Sejong is more amused than angry (his son is back, so his mood is light) at the fact that Gwangpyeong and Chae-yoon placed a bet on the heart of the King. So, what was the bet, anyway? Gwangpyeong explains that he won, and Chae-yoon says that he will now follow the King’s orders without a word – on one condition. He hands the King a piece of paper where he’s written, in the new alphabet he learned, his father’s name – Suk-sam. His only wish is for the Sejong not to forget his father’s name.

The King promises him that he will never forget.

 
COMMENTS

What a beautiful ending to a beautiful episode. It wasn’t much in the way of cliffhangers, but it was perfect in its closure. Everything has a purpose, and nothing is done in vain – so the fact that Chae-yoon gave Sejong his father’s name written in Hangul is not only symbolic of his wholehearted acceptance of the King’s ways, but also justice for his father (at last). By learning the letters in half an afternoon, Chae-yoon has singlehandedly proved the usefulness and resourcefulness of the alphabet and everything Sejong has been trying to prove thus far that he didn’t want to accept. Everything just fits together so well, so that moments like this seem organic. It just blows my mind.

It’s also so important for an actor to be believable with big character changes, and Jang Hyuk delivers superbly. I thought it would be near impossible for Chae-yoon to move past his thoughts of vengeance – and even if he did, actual acceptance is a whole other matter entirely. Yet I find myself buying everything, with nothing being too out of bounds. We have superb actors to thank for that, as well as incredibly assured writing and directing. What can I say? This show has done no wrong.

In terms of the alphabet and everything surrounding it, the shit has really hit the fan, and it isn’t just Hidden Root that’s against Sejong’s great cause. But even then, Jung Ki-joon has a line in this episode where he’s sort of over this whole alphabet nonsense. If that’s the case, what are they really after? Is it just the fact that the alphabet represents the King’s power, and they just want none of it? It’s been interesting to see the checks and balances system come into play these recent episodes, and even more interesting that for the first time in my life I can feel myself siding against a checks and balances system because it would have stopped the promulgation of Hangul. Either way, I’m excited to see what Hidden Root’s next move will be now that they have every letter of the Hangul alphabet in their hands.

 
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103 November 27, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 16

by HeadsNo2

Imagine a world where everyone can read and write. Then imagine how our villains can’t imagine that world. Then imagine how the King can’t imagine how his opposition can’t imagine that imaginary world. Confused yet? Don’t be, because King Sejong breaks it all down for us as he fights his tireless fight for the good of the people. Go Team Sejong!

 
EPISODE 16 RECAP

Now that Chae-yoon has officially joined Team Sejong, he fills everyone in about his Hidden Root theories. He knows that there are suspicious people in Ban Chon, but they can’t go in there without a plan because they risk sending Jung Ki-joon and the other core members into deeper hiding. Chae-yoon comes up with a brilliant plan – if no one reports that Prince Gwangpyeong is back in the palace, and if he returns to his normal job as a palace guard, Hidden Root will approach him out of curiosity. If he can get inside Hidden Root like a super-secret double agent…

But, he has one condition (doesn’t he always?). Sejong jokingly asks him if he’s going to ask for another personal drink from the King, because it’s totally fun to joke with your new friends about how they dedicated their life to assassinating you.

Sejong tells him that, no matter what it is, he will promise to do it. Chae-yoon gives a deep and formal bow to the King, while Sejong nods like he heard Chae-yoon’s wish… But we didn’t, and I’m dying of curiosity to know what he asked for.

Chae-yoon and Mu-hyul have a long-overdue conversation about where they stand with each other. Joseon’s Best Swordsman is pretty clear in the fact that he still doesn’t like Chae-yoon, but he’ll help in the investigation if he needs it. I hope this is a budding bromance between two awesome martial arts masters. He wonders if Chae-yoon knows that Hidden Root has another strong assassin (that isn’t Pyung), and Chae-yoon’s flashback to the Death By Tree Branch tells us that he does.

We know Team Sejong’s plan is working when Shim Jong-soo seems utterly shocked to see Chae-yoon traipsing the palace in his official palace guard uniform. Chae-yoon greets them like nothing’s wrong, although they’re probably wondering how on earth he’s back doing his old job when he’s responsible for kidnapping the Prince. When Chae-yoon is gone, Shim Jong-soo hurries to find out if the Prince has been brought back to the palace or not.

The court ladies have run a tight ship, because no one outside of their group knows that Prince Gwangpyeong is safe and sound within the palace. When Shim Jong-soo reports that Gwangpyeong is still missing, that the royal troops are still on high alert in order to find him, and that Chae-yoon has returned to his position as a palace guard… Jung Ki-joon can only marvel at Chae-yoon’s balls of steel, believing that Chae-yoon might have killed the Prince and returned to the palace to complete his revenge. Thus, Jung Ki-joon has fallen right into Chae-yoon’s trap in believing that they both share a common goal. This is going to be good.

Sejong is as calm and collected as ever, despite all the setbacks he’s now facing. Jung In-ji is not so calm, as he desperately asks why Sejong had to tell everything at the forum instead of denying all of it like he’d told him to. He doesn’t know how they can fix this situation, because the original plan was to have a sudden promulgation of Hangul. Now that everyone knows about it, even if they don’t know the letters, it’s impossible. They’ve failed.

The King chides him for worrying too much, assured in the fact that what’s past has past and now they just have to find a new strategy. Instead of using force, he will use words to show that they are scarier than swords (a doctrine he’s believed in ever since he was young). He asks Mu-hyul how he would be evaluated if his words were actually considered as powerful as swords. Mu-hyul adorably answers that Sejong would be the best warrior in Joseon… no, the best warrior in the world. Aww. You two.

Sejong has prepared himself for the upcoming forum with both scholars and officials, only to walk in and see… only three officials. Ha! It’s sad, but also a little funny, because even the voice of the man announcing the King’s arrival seems more pitiful. He’s mostly surprised to know that his Jiphyunjeon scholars didn’t come, but the present officials are quick to tell him that it’s because the Deputy Chief Scholar, Choi Man-ri, is firmly against the new alphabet and is currently drafting a severely long argument against it.

The King’s anger shows through as he leaves the chamber, and Jo Mal-saeng says a cutting line when he’s gone: “When he acts this way, he is exactly the same as the Former King.” Yikes.

We cut immediately from Jo Mal-saeng’s line to a scene where Sejong acts the exact opposite of his father and proves how open his mind is. He’s gone to the gate of the palace where Master Hae Gang and his scholars are protesting, and he sits down amicably and asks for the scholars to explain to him how his letters are against Neo-Confucianism (which is what he’s being accused of).

Hae Gang’s main argument hinges on the fact that Chinese letters aren’t just letters, they have the heart and soul of Confucianism within them. The character he uses as an example displays a contradiction within itself – that fighting will stop the fight. He asks Sejong if his coveted writing system can display a dichotomy like this, and Sejong simply replies that it can’t.

However, while his alphabet can’t display a complex contradiction in one character, it is in better keeping with the ideals of Jung Do-jun. I wonder if this takes Hae Gang for a ride, considering how he considers himself so loyal to Jung Do-jun that he joined Hidden Root. According to Confucianism, the King must listen to his people. But because Chinese characters were so difficult and only people who knew Chinese characters could become officials, the people were forced to voice their opinions through an official – but those same officials would twist and distort their words. Thus, in order for Sejong to be able to truly listen to his people, he created letters that all people could learn. He effectively uses Confucianism against the supposition that he’s not using Confucianism. Stick a fork in Hae Gang, he’s done.

It’s not easy being King, and especially not one that wants to use rhetoric instead of force. This is exactly the path that Taejong said would be more wretched, and Sejong is putting hard work into it by going to all the different opposition groups to properly debate his case. The officials are worried that the characters will be too easy and that scholars will give up learning Chinese characters. Sejong basically says that it shouldn’t be his fault if scholars are lazy. I love him.

The other arguments vary, but none of them seem to trump Sejong’s. One argument even suggests that in order for commoners to read Sejong’s book of agriculture, they can just increase the number of officials… to do what? Read it to them? Really, guys? Sejong scoffs at this idea, saying that the people are the ones who have to pay for it. Therefore, creating more officials will only impoverish his people.

Park Paeng-nyeon and Sung Sam-moon are back! This is a short scene without any real resolution (The Deputy Chief Scholar, Choi Man-ri, has brought them back so they can tell him about the King’s alphabet and they flatly refuse), but it’s just good to see them again.

Hidden Root, meanwhile, has another table discussion (I’m starting to miss the days when he could move around) about what Jung Ki-joon plans to do about the promulgation of the alphabet. Like before, he doesn’t seem to think the letters are a big deal simply based on historical precedence – a brand-new alphabet can’t compete against the thousands of years that the Chinese alphabet has behind it.

Therefore, if Sejong publishes the letters it’s no loss to them. But if they act like it is going to be a loss, they can forge a deal with the King for their acceptance. What he wants, ultimately, is milestones put in place for the creation of ultimate bureaucracy – but what he wants immediately is the abolition of Jiphyunjeon.

The palace is completely empty, with most officials leaving their posts unmanned in protest of an alphabet they’ve never seen. Lee Shin-juk and the Prime Minister, Hwang-hee, take this opportunity to do Hidden Root’s work as they bring their appeal to the King. If he dismantles Jiphyunjeon, then they will use their political muscle to persuade the high officials to accept the alphabet.

Sejong becomes enraged at the thought of dismantling his personal creation with his own hands. I get the feeling those scholars are like his children, even though they’re rebelling against him. What the officials are offering seems to be a veiled threat (either you do this or we can’t stop what’s coming). We don’t know Sejong’s answer.

But Sejong, as it turns out, has once again used his keen wit and latent acting ability to pull another fake-out on the officials. We know that the Prime Minister has at least been aware of the alphabet, even if he doesn’t agree, and it turns out that Sejong asked him to bring up the topic of Jiphyunjeon before the meeting. He knows that everyone thinks no one will learn the alphabet, which is why it’s the perfect time for him to promulgate it (before the opposition realizes that everyone will learn the alphabet and that they’ve truly lost in the end). Jiphyunjeon was his way of rebelling against his father so he could gather people on his own side, and thus he’s always thought of it as a temporary organization.

So, he plans to trade Jiphyunjeon for a separate department that will just handle the alphabet so that it can be widely adopted, and even used in the government official’s exams. Will it work? Wait and see, he says. I’m still waiting to find out what Chae-yoon’s wish was.

Shim Jong-soo takes the idea of giving in to the alphabet (on the grounds that no one will actually use it) to Choi Man-ri, who staunchly disagrees. When has Sejong ever done anything that hasn’t worked? The new alphabet will prove a force to be reckoned with. By Shim Jong-soo’s expression, I get the feeling that this idea never occurred to him before.

Pyung has staged an assault on Chae-yoon’s humble abode that includes the Joseon version of a smoke bomb, only to find that Chae-yoon isn’t inside. Instead, he’s dressed in Killing Black (truly his best outfit in this show) in order to pay a hostile visit to the Leader instead.

He’s officially begun his operation to fool Hidden Root, and he seems to do so without a single hitch. Acting under the guise of a man still out for the King’s blood, he tells her that Hidden Root has ruined everything for him – namely, the revenge he’s planned his whole life for. He claims he had to kill Prince Gwangpyeong because he was attacked again. That’s a major claim, and she buys it. It doesn’t take her long to drop the demure act, and she coldly responds that whatever has happened to him is nothing like what he’s done to them. By keeping the Hidden Root Scroll, he kept their group disbanded for years. He also ruined their attempts to gain evidence of the project (by saving So-yi and Gwangpyeong that night).

He feigns disinterest, only asking for the whereabouts of Jung Ki-joon. If he delivers him to the King, he’ll get a personal drink poured and then Sejong’s head will roll. This scene is infinitely more fun to watch because all of this is exactly what Chae-yoon used to think, and now he’s using all his past anger and resentment against Sejong to work for Sejong instead. That’s poetry.

It’s clear she’s fallen right into his trap when she wonders if Chae-yoon ever thought that they don’t have to do this to each other.

Pyung has taken his men straight from Chae-yoon’s house to the Leader’s, knowing that Chae-yoon is inside. Chae-yoon takes the Leader outside with him as a hostage to hold Pyung and his men at bay, and it works. The Leader tries to reason with Chae-yoon that his plan of just cutting off the head of the King isn’t enough – if he were to do that, how would Sejong know what he is dying for?

Good gracious. This woman is basing her argument on how to make his theoretical revenge so cruel that it leaves Sejong as a powerless, sad little man crying for his mommy. That’s real revenge, she says. This woman doesn’t play around.

They have different methods but the same objective (or so she believes), and so she suggests that they work together. Oh, man, you were so easy. While she says that Chae-yoon wants the King’s head, all they want is the King’s Joseon and to steal everything Sejong has in order for him to die sad and alone. If what’s also what Chae-yoon wants, then she’ll prove her trust in him by sending Pyung and his men away. It’s brilliant, because Chae-yoon only has to nudge her to do all the work in ‘convincing’ him to go along with this scheme. He seems to have naturally come to the following conclusion (all the better to fool her with) as he replies that he doesn’t want to be a part of Hidden Root, but that they can help each other. Sold!

So-yi and Chae-yoon use teamwork for the ultimate win. The Leader reports to Jung Ki-joon about Chae-yoon turning over to their side, but this alone wouldn’t have been enough to free Chae-yoon of Jung Ki-joon’s suspicion. But, Chae-yoon planned for that, so when he was with the Leader earlier, So-yi found herself with Kuk-se – the fellow slave from her household that was saved by Hidden Root. Kuk-se has by now reported the contents of their conversation to Jung Ki-joon, which effectively corroborates Chae-yoon’s story – So-yi said that Chae-yoon killed Prince Gwangpyeong, that he plans to kill the King, and that she can’t say anything for fear that Chae-yoon will be killed. Hidden Root is caught hook, line, and sinker.

So-yi and Chae-yoon meet up later that night to discuss their plan. She relates that Kuk-se cried to hear that Chae-yoon planned to assassinate the King, and wonders whether she would be planning to kill the King too, if she had been saved by Hidden Root and not by Queen Soheon.

But then, she finally asks what his one wish was. His response is a little awkward and dodgy, as he’s about to tell her (and us) what it was… and then he doesn’t. The camera cuts to Hidden Root instead. Nooo! I’m pulling my hair out wondering what this wish is!

Chae-yoon meets with Sejong and asks him for a diagram of the letters, so that he has something with which to prove himself to Hidden Root. Sejong says that absolutely can’t happen. Right now Hidden Root is willing to broker a deal with him without having seen the letters, because they think they have nothing to lose if the letters are going to amount to nothing. But, if they see the letters, Sejong is sure that they will realize that his letters are no trifling matter and will oppose it wholeheartedly. Chae-yoon must find another way.

He accepts this, and claims that his newfound drive is because Sejong said that the common people should enjoy all that life has to offer – and now he’s seen that life had something to offer. Sejong asks if this is related to his wish, and even starts a voiceover: “Your wish is…”

…Before he gets cut off by Mu-hyul. Okay, Tree, this is too much. Now you’re just being mean.

Ever since they found the written alphabet accidentally left by So-yi and Chae-yoon, one of the more visible members of Hidden Root, HAN GA-NOM (Jo Hee-bong), has become obsessed with it. No sooner has Sejong said how detrimental to the cause it would be for Hidden Root to see the letters that Han Ga-nom pulls Jung Ki-joon into his room of crazy to explain them. Using only So-yi’s writing, he’s gone through a lengthy process to decode the alphabet. All he had to do was change the way he thought about the characters. Once he stopped thinking that each character had to mean something, and started thinking in terms of individual consonants and vowels…

With this new knowledge (and Jung Ki-joon’s growing horror), he’s able to finally crack the code behind the printing blocks Scholar Yoon-pil swallowed before his death. If he puts them together, it should pronounce the words for ‘Hidden Root’. Uh oh.

Lee Shin-juk has been in high spirits since the deal with the King, as he believes that with the abolition of Jiphyunjeon and Hidden Root implementing its own bureaucratic policies, he will overtake the Prime Minister position and have absolute power. Cue evil grin.

The King, on the other hand, is getting ready to fight the good fight. He’s prepared to make this deal before Hidden Root knows what really hit them, and instructs Jung In-ji that they must publish the letters right after the deal is made.

The true magic of Hangul is seen not only through the eyes of those within the palace, but through the eyes of the commoners who can benefit from it the most. Han Ga-nom has already shown the letters to the long-haired butcher’s assistant, GAE PA-YI, and the little girl the assassin has befriended. She’s the same little girl who was in favor of the alphabet just so she could write her big friend’s name, which could not be written with Chinese characters.

Now Jung Ki-joon can see that Gae Pa-yi can not only write his name, but the little girl can write down everything she hears. It can write exactly what they say, and they can read exactly what is written. It’s only been two days since Han Ga-nom showed them the alphabet, and already both of these previously-illiterate people have learned how to read and write. That’s what you call amazing.

Thinking of a world where everyone knows how to read and write has never occurred to men like Jung Ki-joon or Han Ga-nom before, and both are left in shock from what they’ve just seen. But Jung Ki-joon comes to the realization that words are weapons stronger than swords, and that bureaucrats aren’t just bureaucrats because they’re born into noble families. They get that privilege because they’re literate.

Here’s the problem (though Jung Ki-joon’s eyes): if everyone can just read and write as they please, then that effectively takes away the power of the bureaucrats and upsets the whole class system, leading to complete and utter chaos. Jung Ki-joon refuses to let that happen.

Lee Shin-juk and Hwang-hee are already on their way to broker the deal of their unconditional acceptance of the King’s alphabet…

…While Jung Ki-joon flips a lid at this information, declaring that they must be stopped from making that deal at all costs.

 
COMMENTS

Well, Jung Ki-joon, I take back everything I ever said about liking you when you made that initial switch from Ga Ri-on to your current version. You’re the worst.

Hidden Root has played the antagonist role well so far, and even with some scholar murders on their plate I could understand where they’re coming from. The idea of wanting to spread power out instead of consolidating all of it into only one fallible person that can easily abuse all that power isn’t just good thinking. However, now that Jung Ki-joon has seen how beneficial Hangul can be with his own eyes, he’s actively choosing to do everything he can to stop it so as not to upset the order of the world.

I find his stance interesting on a few counts, but I wonder how he can so easily think in such a way when he’s lived in the lowest caste of society for so long. Even though the whole butcher persona was only a disguise, I’m sure he had to live the day-to-day hard life of being a slave (not to mention his brush with the afterlife when he was imprisoned and tortured). It’s not like he is incapable of knowing what it’s like to be of such a low class and to be powerless. It’s almost worse that even with him knowing how terrible life can be, and even with knowing that the King’s new alphabet can be learned in two days by people who never knew how to read or write before, he’s choosing to completely disregard the common people’s interests. That’s lame, Jung Ki-joon.

Also, I’m sure the writers had a good time devising all the different scenes in which they could mention Chae-yoon’s wish without actually telling us what that wish is. It’s like the reunion cliffhanger all over again. The writers are just too good at this.

 
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46 December 1, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 17

by HeadsNo2

This show takes the universal notion that knowledge is power and puts it to the most extreme test. If power is only power when it can be traded for something (so claims one of our characters), then knowledge is a power that is priceless – and therefore something that scholars are unwilling to trade for anything in the world. The best part about this episode’s commentary on literacy and who really deserves the power to put their thoughts into words is still something we can all find relevant today.

 
EPISODE 17 RECAP

Jung Ki-joon is now aware of the power that the King’s new alphabet has, and he wants anything and everything done to stop the deal between Lee Shin-juk, Hwang-hee, and Sejong. The message goes from slave to official, and then all the way to Lee Shin-juk, who’s pulled aside just as he’s taking off his shoes to go inside. Agh, you were this close!

This message isn’t relayed to the Prime Minister, who is noticeably surprised when Lee Shin-juk renegades on his promise in the middle of the meeting. Just as Sejong is talking about how he made an agonizing decision the night before (to abolish Jiphyunjeon), Lee Shin-juk interrupts him to say that he’s just not confident in his ability to convince the other officials, and therefore can’t uphold his side of the bargain. He’ll work hard to get officials back in their posts, but that’s about all he can do.

In other words, the deal is off. Sejong does not seem pleased. He’s sure Hidden Root is pulling the strings here, but what can he do?

Lee Bang-ji, the martial arts master and Chae-yoon’s teacher, has been the rare white elk of this series thus far. His name hasn’t come up for a few episodes and it’s time to remind the audience he still exists, so Jung Ki-joon charges Pyung with the mission to go retrieve Lee Bang-ji. Jung Ki-joon claims that Hidden Root will need his strength, while the Leader questions whether Lee Bang-ji would even go to their side. Jung Ki-joon is sure that if they tell him that his only disciple (Chae-yoon) has joined their cause, he is bound to come. Really? Is he actually going to come this time?

One of the two orders Lee Shin-juk received that day was to bring the exam theme to be used on tomorrow’s government exam to Jung Ki-joon. He does, but in the following meeting with Jung Ki-joon it’s very clear he’s unhappy about all the recent happenings. If they had gone through with the deal with Sejong, then Jiphyunjeon could have been abolished and they could have put into place the de facto parliament system they’ve been wanting so much. He demands to know why Jung Ki-joon thought that stopping the promulgation of the alphabet was more important than their goals.

What follows is a literal debate between these two powers, but one made wonderful because of the quality of acting involved. Lee Shin-juk really gets to shine as he asks Jung Ki-joon questions that we as the audience have been wanting to know, but most of Jung Ki-joon’s answers are a rehash of what’s been said before – that writing is power, and if that power falls into everyone’s hands (as opposed to the sadaebu, the bureaucratic force of scholar-officials) then the very order and fabric of Joseon will be ruined.

Lee Shin-juk thinks that Jung Ki-joon is taking this whole alphabet thing a little too seriously, and is upset enough that he uses sarcasm as he quotes something Jung Ki-joon said: “Look at Phags-pa! No one will use it. A world where everyone uses writing? That is the same as the sun rising from the west!”

Jung Ki-joon: “These are letters that will make the sun rise from the west.”

Sejong knows that it’s Hidden Root… no, Jung Ki-joon behind the broken deal. But what he can’t figure out is why Jung Ki-joon would turn down this kind of opportunity, and what their other aim might be. He seeks the advice of Mu-hyul, and I really love that anytime he seeks Mu-hyul’s advice on a political matter he words the question in sword fighting or battle terminology, presumably so the warrior-minded Mu-hyul can properly understand. He asks that, if he were in a battle, and he made a great blow but missed… what would happen?

Mu-hyul replies that an enormous counterattack would be next on the list, which Sejong has guessed. He said that this deal was his great blow, and he missed. He knows a counterattack is coming, but can’t figure it out. I’m as worried as he is – if our super-intelligent King can’t see Jung Ki-joon’s next move, how is he going to fend it off?

Jung Ki-joon’s debate with Lee Shin-juk is still going, with neither man backing down. Lee Shin-juk finally says, fine – if the letters are so great, why can’t he see them so he can judge for himself? This is something that Jung Ki-joon absolutely forbids, because he knows that the letters will spread like an epidemic. No one can see them, no one can learn them, lest people actually use them (cue collective gasp).

Lee Shin-juk brings up a very good point in this argument – even if they assume that every commoner learns these letters, does that automatically make them government officials? Jung Ki-joon’s main rebuttal is that anyone who learns these letters will disregard Chinese characters for being too difficult – and as we all know from Hae Gang’s protest, Chinese characters carry the heart and soul of Neo-Confucianism within them. Therefore, a lack of Chinese letters makes for a lack of Neo-Confucianism, which Jung Ki-joon just can’t abide by in any universe whatsoever ever in the world forever and ever amen.

If I thought all the bombs that could be dropped during this conversation had been dropped, I was sorely mistaken. Jung Ki-joon only digs his grave deeper (as far as my esteem for him goes) when he says: “Once they [the common people] know writing, they will naturally know the joy of reading. If they know the joy of reading, they will wake up.” Goodness gracious, Jung Ki-joon! You were that kid on the playground that never shared his toys even if you had toys to spare, weren’t you?

Chae-yoon and So-yi have another late-night meeting where he’s updated on the state of affairs. So-yi is fairly sure that Hidden Root has somehow gotten ahold of the letters and thus have seen their power (she with the perfect memory that can’t remember the paper she left behind with all the characters on it for Hidden Root to find).

What I find interesting is that Chae-yoon’s take on the whole deal-breaking matter is in line with Lee Shin-juk’s thinking: will ordinary citizens instantly become aristocrats if they know how to read and write? So-yi says that the aristocrats seem to think so, and that’s why they’re putting a stop to it. Sejong doesn’t believe it will end with just that broken deal, either.

It’s the official day of the government exam, and Jung Ki-joon has been a busy bee. He sends an official order to the exam grounds (we don’t know what it contains), and Sejong is asked to assess the most impressive answers picked out by Hwang-hee in order to determine who has achieved first place. Sejong finds an answer worthy of such an honor, and both scholars and officials gather with the test-taker in ceremonial clothing. He’s poured a drink by the King, who asks him what family he’s from.

The man gets up, and begins to take off his ceremonial robe…

…In order to reveal that he is not from a prestigious family, but in fact is a slave from Ban Chon. Shock reverberates through the room and through our screens as this bomb is dropped, and we instantly know that Jung Ki-joon orchestrated this, which is why he asked for the exam theme ahead of time – in order that he could cheat, and write the perfect answer. I’m as floored as Sejong.

The man says that though he knew how to write since he was young, he never planned to advance. But when he heard that the King was creating letters and thus creating a world where everyone will know writing, he came. He demonstrated all his talents, and has no regret even if he dies.

The fact that a slave pretty much tricked everyone (even if Jung Ki-joon was behind it) and had his drink personally poured by the King before he revealed his status is unacceptable (slaves were also forbidden by law to take government exams), and Sejong looks like he is barely containing his rage. He knows that it’s Jung Ki-joon behind this, but he’s basically had one pulled on him because he couldn’t read ahead into his enemy’s plans. Now that very essential seed will be planted in every official’s mind – will this alphabet make slaves into officials? Oh man. But well-played, Jung Ki-joon. I have only awe for you at this moment.

News travels fast, and soon Park-po is relating the events to his fellow palace guards, Chae-yoon and Cho-tak. He says this is the biggest incident since the founding of Joseon. How could a slave enter the exam grounds? And how could that same slave win first place, at that? It’s pandemonium in the palace.

Cut to: pandemonium in the palace, as Choi Man-ri is hopping mad when Jung In-ji suggests that they make the second-place winner first instead. The slave is going to be punished by law, but Choi Man-ri doesn’t see how that will solve anything. He’s been against this alphabet since the start, and blames Sejong as the reason for that slave finding the nerve to even enter the exam. To Choi Man-ri (and probably a bunch of other officials against the alphabet), this is a warning that even a slave can become the Prime Minister.

The brand of Sungkyunkwan student this drama produces is not your model Sungkyunkwan Scandal student, since many of them have proven to be Hidden Root members. The slave that won first place in the civil exam (or did he?) has caused an uproar among scholars and students, but one group of hot-headed youngsters decide to take their beef directly to some poor slaves who probably did nothing wrong. One in particular catches Chae-yoon’s eye, as he recognizes the look on that student’s face as one he’s seen in battle before. It’s that look when everyone around you is dead and you’re left alone to go nuts. Yikes.

Chae-yoon is once again left wondering, as he watches the scene unfold, if slaves learning a little writing is really enough to make nobles so furious. It’s almost beyond him.

Jung Ki-joon, meanwhile, has already got his hands on that enraged student. The student is convinced Joseon is headed for ruin, and when Jung Ki-joon asks if that same student is ready (to stand up for his beliefs, presumably), the student says he’d planned to come forward even without the order. Uh oh. This can only end badly.

Acting on a warrior’s intuition, Chae-yoon follows the student to the water’s edge. The slave that took the civil service exam is set to be exiled, but before he can make it to the boat, the same student gets his fellow students to hold the guards back so he can repeatedly stab and kill the slave.

Chae-yoon’s next stop can only be the gates of Sungkyunkwan, where he’s prepared to make an arrest on the grounds that he was eye witness to the murder. But he’s distracted by a very loud voice not too far off…

And it’s none other than our resident murderous student, loudly protesting (to mostly residents of Ban Chon, which seems counterproductive to his cause) King Sejong’s alphabet. He echoes Jung Ki-joon’s exact sentiments when he laments Neo-Confucianism over and over, saying that only officials can lead the nation, and only those who are cultured can serve in the government. The very idea of that alphabet defies Neo-Confucianism and will single-handedly shake the bureaucracies that are the roots of Joseon.

With that, he announces his name, his status, and his cause. He doesn’t confess to the murder of the slave so much as says he ‘disposed’ of him, and that for the sake of duty and loyalty he’ll offer his life.

He jumps from the high wall, and falls to his death in front of all the onlookers. Well, that is a hell of a way to make a statement, I guess.

Chae-yoon is left more thoughtful than ever, as he barely registers the death. He seems to be in some sort of shock, not at this suicide, but more at the idea that all of this chaos is happening at all. He ends up standing next to Jung Ki-joon (disguised as Ga Ri-on), and wonders aloud if this whole everyone-being-literate thing is enough to be the catalyst of such wrath, and if it’s enough for that scholar to even give up his life.

Jung Ki-joon seems to be feeling him out (in terms of Chae-yoon’s involvement with Hidden Root) as he says that all they are as people is what they do, and the strength of scholars lies in writing. So if they’re about to lose that strength, their outrage is understandable. It’s as if Jung Ki-joon is studying Chae-yoon to see if his words are taking root (ha).

It’s time for our hero to sort through all of his thoughts – and he does so on his own, then he does so while watching Sejong take in the night air from a distance, then he does so while meeting with So-yi. The two of them are able to meet at their leisure, it seems, with neither of them having to be held accountable (especially So-yi, as a court lady). He wants to know if So-yi thought that the alphabet would become this huge of a deal.

She replies that she didn’t at first, but now that she’s been with the project and has seen it nearly come to completion, she feels both happy and apprehensive. Happy because the letters are truly easy and good for the lower class, but apprehensive because of how the upper class would inevitably feel.

Chae-yoon knows that Hidden Root is the one manipulating all of these events, and that Jung Ki-joon must be caught. So-yi says that no one knows what he looks like, with Jo Mal-saeng being the last person to see him at the age of twenty. Chae-yoon finds this news curious, which brings out another quick thought montage that takes him back to what Jo Mal-saeng said about that ‘former’ best swordsman of Joseon, Lee Bang-ji.

But then (at last!) So-yi brings up Chae-yoon’s wish. Right, he says, that wish… He gives an adorable smile, but then I suddenly want to smack it right off his face when he says he’ll tell her after he catches Jung Ki-joon. No! Not okay, Chae-yoon. Not okay! If I had one wish, it would be for you to tell me your one wish!

Pyung finally meets with Lee Bang-ji, who is less than thrilled to see him. The assassin says he’s come to relate an order from Jung Ki-joon, but Lee Bang-ji reminds him that he’s not part of Hidden Root and therefore will not take orders – and if Pyung says that one more time, he’ll kill him. Pyung calls him Teacher too, and Lee Bang-ji threatens to kill him over the use of that word as well. Curiouser and curiouser.

Pyung relates the message/order anyway, that Lee Bang-ji should join the cause. After all, he knows Chae-yoon, right? Chae-yoon has joined hands with Hidden Root (or so they believe). Lee Bang-ji seems shocked at this news.

Chae-yoon goes directly to Mu-hyul in order to ask about Lee Bang-ji, with the current best swordsman worrying at what a bad fate it is the moment he finds out that Chae-yoon was once a disciple of the former best swordsman. Chae-yoon wants to know what happened that night that Jung Do-jun was killed by Former King Taejong’s forces. He’d heard from Jo Mal-saeng that Lee Bang-ji abandoned his duty (to protect Jung Do-jun), so what could have been the cause?

We cut to a severely blue flashback of Lee Bang-ji on the night of Jung Do-jun’s murder. Former King Taejong had known Lee Bang-ji would be the biggest obstacle to killing Jung Do-jun, so he devised a plan to lure him away the night of the murder by threatening the woman he loved, who also happened to be the woman of his master, Jung Do-jun. When he went to save her, she expressed her desire for him to quickly return and protect Jung Do-jun by stabbing herself with the sword being used to threaten her. Even her last words were only to tell Lee Bang-ji to hurry to his master’s side.

This is all according to Mu-hyul’s memory, and when Chae-yoon asks him why his memory is so lucid, Mu-hyul replies that he was only a teenager then and that night had been his first day on the field. Chae-yoon finds Mu-hyul’s account much better, and mentions that he knows more details than Jo Mal-saeng, who said that he didn’t know the reason why Lee Bang-ji up and disappeared that night. Mu-hyul finds this curious, since a young Jo Mal-saeng was the one who had been tasked to stall Lee Bang-ji and thus was the man who threatened the woman he loved. Ouch.

Chae-yoon is back in his Sunday best, ready to go on a journey to find Lee Bang-ji. It’s cute that Cho-tak flips a lid and frantically looks for a letter, afraid that Chae-yoon plans on leaving forever again. Their friendship is one of the greater ones in this drama, even at its most understated moments.

But it seems like Lee Bang-ji has taken Hidden Root’s bait, since he’s resurfaced again after many quiet years. So many, in fact, that Jo Mal-saeng forgot he gave an order to a man to report to him if he were to see a man pouring a drink on a tomb. That very man was none other than our rare white elk, Lee Bang-ji.

The martial arts master has gone to visit Ban Chon, and receives a cool and controlled ‘welcome’ by Jung Ki-joon. I imagine most of Jung Ki-joon’s animosity (as he explains) is due to the fact that his uncle, the venerated Jung Do-jun, could have lived that night if Lee Bang-ji had been at his side. But because Lee Bang-ji had been tempted by a woman to leave his station, he ruined Joseon’s history by allowing Jung Do-jun to die. That’s a serious charge there, Jung Ki-joon.

Lee Bang-ji says he has nothing to say about that incident, because he’s offered his head to them and asked them to kill him. Instead, they wanted to make a deal – ohhhh, so that’s how Pyung came about. Part of Lee Bang-ji’s penance for the death of Jung Do-jun was to teach Pyung martial arts, which explains why there’s so much animosity between them and why he doesn’t consider Pyung a true disciple.

So, in the end, Jung Ki-joon lays down the terms. He wants Lee Bang-ji to come to the dark side together with Chae-yoon. Lee Bang-ji doesn’t seem to believe Chae-yoon could be in Hidden Root, claiming that Chae-yoon’s exterior is harsh and biting to properly conceal his inner, frail child. Politics are not for him.

Jung Ki-joon is happy to report that Chae-yoon involved himself in politics the moment he became a palace guard. This seems to surprise Lee Bang-ji, which only delights the inner evil maniac in Jung Ki-joon. He’s honestly surprised to know that the martial arts master never knew who Chae-yoon wanted revenge against. He pretty much spells it out: Chae-yoon came to kill the King.

However, Chae-yoon has arrived outside on his way out to get some dried meat for the journey. Jung Ki-joon takes this as fate and invites him inside, where his guest is still sitting…

…And teacher and disciple meet again, under the eerily giddy eye of Jung Ki-joon.

 
COMMENTS

There you are, Awesome Cliffhanger! I missed you this past week! I’m glad to see that this show has its cliffhanger mojo back, because while last week’s were still good, they weren’t as crack-filled as some. And this cliffhanger is especially good, leaving me chomping at the bit to see how this conflict is escalated or resolved next episode.

I’m venturing to say that Lee Bang-ji looks to Chae-yoon as a sort of son figure, seeing as how Chae-yoon is the only true student he’s ever taken on and that he’s gone out of such deep hiding to confirm whether Chae-yoon is going down the wrong path. I might have that totally turned on my head next episode, but it seems like there’s some disappointment coming from Lee Bang-ji to hear that Chae-yoon is mired up in all this Hidden Root business. Of course, he’s unaware that Chae-yoon is working as a secret double-agent. Such is the lonely life of a spy.

My favorite thing about this episode was seeing all of the bedlam arising from that test-taking slave through Chae-yoon’s eyes. I couldn’t quite get a read on what he was thinking most of the time, but it’s part of what I love. He is like Lee Bang-ji says – a little boy inside. Chae-yoon isn’t being painted as our cold hero who secretly knows all, because in the world of politics, he really is lost. So to see him watch as things go from bad to worse is just a joy, because he effectively grounds all of these crazy happenings in the best way possible.

 
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72 December 3, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 18

by HeadsNo2

Gauntlets are thrown, jaws are dropped, and our heroes find themselves much closer to their enemies than they probably ever wanted to be. This show keeps secrets just so it can reveal them to us in explosive ways, effectively taking the shock-o-meter up with every single episode. What else can I say? I’m in awe of the awesomeness that is this show.

 
EPISODE 18 RECAP

Both Chae-yoon and Lee Bang-ji recognize each other, but neither of them act like they do. Caught by surprise, Chae-yoon can only ask for the meat he came for and go, leaving both men in the butchery.

It’s clear that Lee Bang-ji has nothing but derision for Jung Ki-joon, definitely not taking up the mantle of his former master’s nephew. He considers his business with Hidden Root complete, but Jung Ki-joon feels differently – surely Lee Bang-ji can’t think that just because he taught Pyung martial arts, it clears him of the sin of letting Jung Do-jun die?

Jung Ki-joon lays out his plan. He wants Lee Bang-ji to handle Mu-hyul, while Chae-yoon handles Sejong. It’s just this once, and he wants Lee Bang-ji to help him. Lee Bang-ji not only refuses, but assures him that Chae-yoon won’t be taking part either. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jung Ki-joon.

Chae-yoon has been waiting for Lee Bang-ji outside, and the two men smile at each other before heading to a rooftop to catch up. Bang-ji is certainly playing the father figure here, as he feels Chae-yoon is headed down the wrong path on siding with Hidden Root. Our hero weighs his options before telling his teacher that his goal is no longer to kill the King, but to catch Jung Ki-joon.

Chae-yoon: “Teacher. I’ve garnered a very small wish. To live with the woman I cherish, wearing white clothes and digging in the ground. That kind of life.”

He smiles, and hearts melt around the world. The wish is finally revealed – and though it’s not a surprise, it’s still nice to finally hear it. Their conversation turns idealistic, in that Chae-yoon is now daring to dream just a little bigger because of what he’s seen in the alphabet. He envisions a world where together with Dam, his children will know how to write and be able to learn by reading. It’s sweet and adorable, but Lee Bang-ji is there to bring our hero back to reality by pushing his past onto him, asking Chae-yoon what he would do if he were to lose everything (meaning Dam). Like Sejong, Chae-yoon replies that his version of the future will be different. But Lee Bang-ji wonders how Chae-yoon, with his yearning for a court maiden considered property of the King, is any different from his past yearning for his master’s woman.

He basically tells Chae-yoon that he’s aiming too high, and that he needs to reevaluate his priorities. Chae-yoon is working for the great cause because Dam is the most important thing to him, but the most important thing to Dam is the great cause. Lee Bang-ji says that he’s lived his life thinking he’s no better than an insect in order to protect what’s important to him. People of low birth like the two of them, he claims, must throw away their pride in order to protect what is precious to them.

There’s fire in Chae-yoon’s eyes as he asks why that has to be so, why a citizen has to be the only one being dishonorable and cowardly to protect what he cherishes most. I’m so proud of him – he’s daring to think that he can be more than what he was born as, and it’s probably because of Sejong’s alphabet and influence. Lee Bang-ji’s only reply is that if Chae-yoon is willing to give up what he cherishes the most, then he’ll help him. This gives our hero some major food for thought.

Chae-yoon still has Jung Ki-joon completely fooled, since the Hidden Root leader believes that the long talk he’s having with Lee Bang-ji is about convincing the elder to join Hidden Root. But he hasn’t just been waiting on news of this conversation, since he’s decided that he must stop the promulgation of the alphabet at all costs. Even if his name becomes branded as a traitor forever, he must do it. Even if that means assassination of the King. Wait, what?

Chae-yoon is left with a lot to think about, his confidence in working for the great cause of Hangul shaken by Lee Bang-ji. His conversation with So-yi is cut short as it’s her turn to do kitchen duty, and he watches her from afar while wondering if such a thing exists that’s worth him losing her. Hmm. I can already tell that everything is going to come down to whether he’s willing to sacrifice for the Great Cause or not.

Choi Man-ri meets with the King in order to deliver his severely long protest letter. He stands firm in his belief that the fact that a slave entered the exam grounds is just the beginning of the absolute chaos that could be caused if everyone learns how to write. It’s really hard to find any good in Choi Man-ri’s points when Sejong says that his letters will allow the common people to find a little joy in life, and Choi Man-ri responds that it’s exactly that joy that will collapse the ranking order of Joseon. Really, Choi Man-ri?

His argument hinges on the fact that Sejong can’t un-slave slaves and un-noble nobles, so what’s the use of giving the people the useless hope of an alphabet? They both bring up instances of history, with Choi Man-ri saying that they’re already better than the previous Goryeo Dynasty, whose nobles were decided on hereditary basis alone. Sejong replies that it’s not much different, because the only people who can take their civil exams are those who can read and write – and those who can read and write tend to only be in the upper class. If the common people have this alphabet, he believes they will pull through on their own so Joseon can go on for thousands of years. But if not, Joseon will rot and disappear just like the previous Goryeo Dynasty.

Back in the Hangul Room, Sejong still finds himself in a rage. Everyone, including a young Jung Ki-joon and his father, asked him how his Joseon would be different. But now he feels like he can say it honorably – this, the alphabet, is his answer. This is his Joseon.

He opens the box where he’s kept Jung Ki-joon’s exam paper all these years, and throws it to the table below. When he sees it resting among all of the papers displaying the different letters of the Hangul alphabet, he gets an epiphany. He wants to meet Jung Ki-joon. The very same Jung Ki-joon who’s probably been watching his actions more than anyone else, and someone that he must persuade, even if he’s at risk of being persuaded himself.

Mu-hyul seems more than unhappy at this idea, claiming that Jung Ki-joon is a traitor that must be killed on sight. Sejong doesn’t seem to even be listening, and insists that he must meet him. Who among his ministers can he go through, assuming that some of them must be in Hidden Root?

Alone, Lee Bang-ji is unable to escape memories of the past. Jung Ki-joon’s words are still with him, and he wonders whether he can betray Hidden Root a second time. He remembers how the woman he loved was indadvertedly killed by Jo Mal-saeng (he held the sword, but she’s the one who used it to kill herself) and how he went to Jo Mal-saeng afterwards, looking for blood. Jo Mal-saeng offered his life calmly, but assured Lee Bang-ji that wasn’t him who was responsible for the deaths of Jung Do-jun and the woman. It was because of Lee Bang-ji’s hesitancy. Besides, didn’t Lee Bang-ji want Jung Do-jun to die so he could have his woman all for himself?

In the present, Lee Bang-ji considers his past actions. He’s hesitating even now, and realizes that it’s come to his detriment when Mu-hyul and his soldiers arrive outside to storm the house. He leads them on a chase deep into the forest.

We get just a taste of an epic battle, but the two men have no intention of killing each other. Mu-hyul sends his own men away as a gesture of good faith, and flatly asks Lee Bang-ji to reveal Jung Ki-joon’s whereabouts. Not because he wants to kill him, but because the King wants to meet him.

It sounds like a ruse and Lee Bang-ji even goes so far as to call him out, but Mu-hyul defends his honesty. He explains by saying that Sejong is different – he even once ordered Mu-hyul to save Jung Do-gwang and Jung Ki-joon. Lee Bang-ji, in a moment of adorable father-like love for Chae-yoon, asks Mu-hyul if Sejong is ‘different’ enough to send So-yi and Chae-yoon away after their work is done.

Mu-hyul promises him, both as a warrior and as a man who owes him his life, that if the King does not do it then he will. Aww. It’s adorable that Lee Bang-ji is looking out for Chae-yoon’s welfare, and that that’s the deciding factor in which side he’ll choose.

Chae-yoon and the Leader have a sudden meeting, and it reminds me so much of the way spies meet in most/all modern spy movies where they’re close enough to be able to speak, but try not to look like they’re speaking. She tells him that Jung Ki-joon has made a decision… and Chae-yoon knows instinctively that his decision is to kill the King.

She goes to report the conversation to Jung Ki-joon, but they’re soon interrupted by Shim Jong-soo with the breaking news that Mu-hyul encountered Lee Bang-ji and let him go. Everyone thinks it’s strange, and it only serves to throw suspicion onto Lee Bang-ji, as the members wonder whether or not he gave away any information about them.

Sejong thinks his chances of seeing Jung Ki-joon are good, now that they might have Lee Bang-ji on their side. While the martial arts master didn’t immediately give away information on Jung Ki-joon, he did ask for some time, so things are looking up. Sejong is consumed with the desire to meet Jung Ki-joon (with the idea of making a convert out of him), and says that it must happen, even at the risk of his own safety. Nooo, don’t even say that! You can’t afford to risk your safety when someone wants your head!

Lee Bang-ji still seems to be weighing his options, as is Chae-yoon. He’s come with food and a question: why did Lee Bang-ji say that he would lose what he cherishes most if he carries out this work? His teacher’s reply is that Chae-yoon shares the same birth signs as him, and he doesn’t want his love story to end the same way as his did. Yikes. Forebode much, Lee Bang-ji?

But he seems to be erring more toward the side of good, as he wonders if all these problems could be solved if there was peace among the aristocracy. He thinks this peace will come if Sejong and Jung Ki-joon were to meet, and seems to think favorably of Sejong since he knows about the King pouring drinks to soothe the soul of Jung Do-jun. Only because Sejong is Sejong, peace might be possible.

Jung Ki-joon is preparing for his meeting with Lee Bang-ji, although the Leader is uneasy ever since Mu-hyul let him go. They’re interrupted by a frantic Han Ga, who carries a letter from Lee Chi-seong, provincial governor of Hamgildo (who Shim Jong-soo remembers as being present during the big Hidden Root meeting). He loudly proclaims that they’ve all been fooled by Chae-yoon. Yikes! The cat’s out of the bag already?

The letter relates the fact that Prince Gwangpyeong… is alive. Ohhh crap. This is bad. This is really bad.

Lee Bang-ji is about to head out for the meeting, but Jung Ki-joon is already waiting creepily outside. He tells Jung Ki-joon that the King wants to meet him, and that Mu-hyul is the one who relayed the message. He seems to offer his services for Jung Ki-joon’s security if he wants to go to the meeting, but Jung Ki-joon only laughs at him. He berates Lee Bang-ji for not betraying Hidden Root once, but twice now, and that no matter his martial arts skills he’s just an insect incapable of using them.

He says he was foolish for ever wanting to join causes with either him or Chae-yoon, and that this will be the last time they see each other…

…Because he leaves Gae Pa-yi behind, who we’re supposed to see as some sort of wizard (but it begs the question of Pyung’s necessity if they have this force of nature at their beck and call). But still, yikes. Does this mean the end of Lee Bang-ji?

The two men have a fight in the forest, where it’s more than hinted at that Gae Pa-yi might be something more than human – Lee Bang-ji uses a term ‘Daejeokbulga’ to refer to him, saying that he thought it was only a myth. But he gets to meet, and fight, with this living myth in his old age at last. A strange yellow glint appears in both men’s eyes.

We don’t see the end of the fight since next we see Gae Pa-yi, he’s with Hidden Root explaining that he lost Lee Bang-ji off the egde of a cliff. Curiously, when Jung Ki-joon asks if Gae Pa-yi verified the corpse, the latter responds that he can’t enter water. Not in a way that suggest he can’t swim, but maybe because of some supernatural rule. Whatever the case, it’s intriguing.

Hidden Root is in a tizzy over what to do, since Lee Bang-ji knows Jung Ki-joon’s identity and might still be alive. They come to the conclusion that they have to move their base out of Ban Chon secretly, but they’ll leave Han Ga there as a spy.

Sejong has set a time to meet with Lee Bang-ji and Jung Ki-joon, but Mu-hyul ends up waiting in vain. He’s sure that even if Jung Ki-joon decided against the meeting, that Lee Bang-ji would have come regardless to relate the news. Something must have happened.

Chae-yoon comes to the same conclusion, because he arrives at his Teacher’s house to find everything in disarray. He follows a trail of blood into the forest where there’s been evidence of a major fight – namely, that a stone statue has been neatly sliced by a sword.

Chae-yoon and Mu-hyul end up working together to try and find the whereabouts of the missing Lee Bang-ji. The only other acquaintance that Lee Bang-ji had was Ga Ri-on, so Chae-yoon is tasked with searching Ban Chon… only to find that both Ga Ri-on and the Leader haven’t been seen lately.

Meanwhile, the King is more than upset to hear that the meeting fell through. He truly believes that if he can just talk to Jung Ki-joon, he can bring him over to his side. After all this it still seems like he’s willing to forgive Jung Ki-joon because he wants him in the fold so badly, which is sad considering that it looks like that will never happen. He’s unaware that Jung Ki-joon has already seen the alphabet and that he already recognizes its worth, but it’s still meaningless to him.

The King needs a pick-me-up, and so he dresses himself in disguise (along with Mu-hyul and So-yi) to catch the night air. Mu-hyul isn’t entirely happy about this decision (always the worried wife) because of all the scholar unrest against Sejong, but there’s not much he can do. Sejong isn’t worried at all – he has Mu-hyul with him, so what could happen? Ahh, don’t even ask that question!

At the butchery, Jung Ki-joon is preparing to make his leave when he’s interrupted by Mu-hyul, who’s come to ask for him to bring meat and follow him to the same cliff he’d been to before… where the King once honored Jung Do-jun’s soul. Jung Ki-joon, thinking fast, says that it would be better to grill the meat on-site, and calls for Gae Pa-yi to help him. Mu-hyul gets a look at him, but apparently can’t recognize him (the hair didn’t give him away?) as the man who attacked him before. This is such bad news bears.

Two children interrupt a conversation between Park-po and Chae-yoon (one is the little girl Gae Pa-yi had befriended) over a toy, which Park-po takes away to scold them. Chae-yoon is uninterested until he takes a look at the toy… which looks to be a horse, only the body is made of stone and the legs are twigs that have been stuck inside. Chae-yoon flashes back to the man who had a Death By Twig, and the sliced stone lantern in the mountain – knowing that tools weren’t used to create the toy. Only someone with severe martial arts skills could have forced a twig into a stone.

The little girl names her friend as Gae Pa-yi, who Park-po knows as Ga Ri-on’s assistant. Chae-yoon connects the dots, that Gae Pa-yi is Hidden Root… Augh, you’re so close, Chae-yoon!

Cho-tak bursts onto the scene, proclaiming that Mu-hyul visited Ga Ri-on at the butchery. They rush inside, Chae-yoon with his sword drawn, but they find no one there. Cho-tak mentions that it was strange to start with, because he’d been outside for a long while and never saw Ga Ri-on go in… but when Mu-hyul called from outside, Ga Ri-on answered from within. So how did he get inside?

Part of Team Sejong, along with Jung Ki-joon and Gae Pa-yi, are having a barbecue on Jung Do-jun’s cliff, and the air is light and fun. Sejong says that when he’s reborn he’s sure he will do well, but he would not like to be King again. When So-yi asks what he’d like to be reborn as instead, he replies that he’d make a great Royal Guard Commander (Mu-hyul’s job) – because when he thinks about it, Mu-hyul does nothing and can just eat for free. Ha! And aww. So cute.

Mu-hyul adorably tries to defend himself by saying that if Sejong is reborn into his job, hopefully he gets to serve a master like Sejong. They all have a laugh, and their happiness only makes me more worried at what could be coming around the corner…

Mu-hyul, at last, sees the ring of flowers on Gae Pa-yi’s finger that he always wears, and one that he wore the day he attacked Mu-hyul. Suddenly he realizes the danger they’re in, and though he draws his sword in an instant to make an attack, Gae Pa-yi is just as quick (if not quicker) with his own sword and they end up in a stalemate. Mu-hyul tells Sejong he’s in danger, but the King doesn’t understand. Oh crap. Ohhhh crap.

The look on Jung Ki-joon’s face instantly changes as he asks, “Why did you want to meet me?” Ahhh!! It’s finally happening! Sejong looks shocked and confused, and I’m right there with him.

Just as Sejong is making the realization, Chae-yoon is doing the same. Via a secret tunnel from the butchery, he’s found the room we’ve been seeing so much of recently – it’s Hidden Root’s table-scheming room. In it, he finds the piece of cloth that So-yi used to teach him Hangul, and suddenly he knows. This is Hidden Root’s hideout, located right beneath Ga Ri-on’s butcher shop.

Jung Ki-joon reaches forward and takes the King’s drink, downing it right in front of him. My jaw just dropped. He even goes so far as to stand while Sejong is sitting, arrogance radiating from every pore.

Jung Ki-joon: “Nothing! I thought you could accomplish nothing. But don’t you think you’ve done too much, Lee Do?”

Sejong stands slowly, locking eyes with his foe. “Are you Jung Ki-joon?” he asks, as a small smile crosses his features.

 
COMMENTS

Wow. Wow! Wow. Just wow.

What really made this face-off so exciting was Jung Ki-joon’s shamelessness and arrogance. I was in shock when he took Sejong’ drink and drank it straight in front of him (rather than turning his head to the side to drink, as a sign of respect). It fits well with Jung Ki-joon’s character, because he has to have some major balls to do what he just did. I guess it’s no big deal to him when the King is just a flower on the tree that is Joseon, but still. Goodness gracious.

There’s always been a little hint of the supernatural in this show that they don’t ever really bother to explain. It suits me fine, and sort of seems like a heightened reality, which is part of the fun. When all of the high-jumping happened earlier on, though it looked a little cheesy, it seemed like something that could actually be possible in the world this drama has set up. So now, with Gae Pa-yi and Lee Bang-ji, we saw a glint of something supernatural in their eyes. It comes as no surprise with these two, who are truly capable of inhuman feats, but Gae Pa-yi is being set up as this unstoppable force of nature who’s been consistently called a ‘beast’ for his very inhuman-like aura. I had held out some hopes that Gae Pa-yi would switch sides after he learned the alphabet, but we still know so little about what makes him tick. He’s certainly become more interesting as of late, that’s for sure.

Something I’ve mentioned before about this show, but something that still continues to consistently amaze me is how everything that comes about just seems so organic. I always remember something my dad would tell me if I ever asked him about why something implausible happened in a movie, and his reply was always: “Because it’s in the script.” Obviously everything here in the show is ‘in the script’, but I feel like I don’t have to ask why something happens because I find it implausible. Everything is plausible, and everything is handled so masterfully. Chae-yoon finding out Ga Ri-on’s secret at the same time as Sejong, though they were in two totally different places? That’s poetry. Those two really do complete each other.

 
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155 December 8, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 19

by HeadsNo2

Wow. Just wow. This show really is a feast for the senses. Though it always manages to be an intellectual and emotional tour de force, it’s episodes like this that take your heart out, grind it up into little pieces, and return it to you by leaving it in a palanquin outside your door. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read on, and keep some tissues handy. This episode will take you for one wild ride.

 
EPISODE 19 RECAP

Even though Mu-hyul is engaged in a standoff with the assassin Gae Pa-yi, Sejong decides to sit down and have a good old fashioned debate with his newly-revealed nemesis, Jung Ki-joon. So-yi is forced to stand on the sidelines as the two men verbally duke it out, and once again we’re watching a conversation that’s as thrilling as a battle sequence just because of the stakes involved. Seriously, when has dialogue been so engaging?

It all boils down to the alphabet, of course. Sejong’s first argument is that his alphabet is really in keeping with Jung Do-jun’s ideals, in opening communication between people and politicians so that politicians can be held accountable for their actions directly. Jung Ki-joon gives him that point – he’s not opposed to the alphabet solely because of the belief that they’re against Neo-Confucianism. Sejong asks him why he’s against them then… is it because they defy the long-established Chinese system of writing?

Jung Ki-joon once again says no, that this opposition isn’t because he has some great love of China. So what is it? Sejong asks if his opposition is because of the harm it would do to the vested interests of the aristocrats. This raises Jung Ki-joon’s hackles. It’s not vested interests or something so selfish as Sejong is implying – but order, harmony, and balance. Unlike their Goryeo counterparts, Jung Ki-joon explains, Joseon’s nobility have to work for their positions.

Next argument on Jung Ki-joon’s list: people can’t be trusted. Masses are frightening enough, but masses with power are something else entirely. Just as the Roman Empire used Christianity to govern in the West, just like Goryeo was ruled by Buddhism, even Confucianism… they’re all interchangeable methods used to govern the ambitions of the masses. Sejong, to Jung Ki-joon anyway, is opening a door to hell by empowering the people.

Once again we hear about the joy of writing, and once again Hidden Root is there to stamp out that joy – Jung Ki-joon claims that if the people gain wisdom from reading and writing, then they’ll use that wisdom for politics (cue gasp). And that they might even want to elect a ruler of their own (heaven forbid!). In the words of Jung Ki-joon, how can there be such an irresponsible system? Just as we had literary relevancy in last week’s episodes, this time we’re faced with political relevancy. History isn’t just for the textbooks.

Sejong doesn’t see how giving the people power is a problem, but Jung Ki-joon seems to know the reason why Sejong thinks that way. He proclaims that the King’s real intention isn’t to share authority with the people, but to share responsibility.

During the course of this conversation, Chae-yoon and Cho-tak have been busy exploring the tunnel system Hidden Root has created beneath the slave village of Ban Chon. They find themselves exiting one of the tunnels right into the Leader’s backyard. When they hear from a nearby slave (the Sound Man) that Ga Ri-on was called away with Sejong, Chae-yoon springs into action (literally) while Cho-tak goes to retrieve the royal guards. Hurry, Chae-yoon! Or don’t, because that debate could go on a while.

Sejong seemed to have had the upper hand for most of this powerhouse debate, but the tides have now turned. Jung Ki-joon has found his weak spot, and he’s unrelenting as he accuses Sejong of creating this alphabet because he’s tired of the people (we have a flashback where Sejong tells So-yi that the people are always badgering him, so this isn’t a non-truth), and that Sejong thinks that if he gives the people his alphabet the responsibility of saving people no longer lies solely on him because they will have tools to save themselves. Jung Ki-joon claims that he isn’t a monarch who loves the citizens, as everyone likes to say – instead he’s the guy that gives a girl he loves a sword and tells her to protect herself on her walk home instead of escorting her himself, which would be far too troublesome. Jung Ki-joon wonders if that’s love. I don’t know, but I really love the fact that he made an analogy like that.

The open-to-debate, amicable King is gone, and in his place Sejong shows his humanity as he grows angry at this kind of personal jabbing. Jung Ki-joon’s argument is gaining validity by the second, and I’m left amazed. I didn’t think Jung Ki-joon could have a tide-turning argument that wasn’t “oh it’s against Neo-Confucianism” or “oh it’s going to cause absolute chaos”. He hits the King right where it hurts – his sincerity.

But because Mu-hyul is otherwise occupied, Pyung crashes the debate with inhuman speed and all of a sudden he’s holding a sword to Sejong’s neck. Oh. My. Goodness. With no one there to defend him and his enemy grinning in front of him, Sejong is just a sitting duck.

The good King takes this all in stride, and doesn’t seem as bothered by the threat to his life as he is by the fact that he’s not done with this debate. Jung Ki-joon is almost giddy as he tells Sejong that there’s nothing to be done. This is what happens when the balance of power is skewed. Since he believes these are Sejong’s last moments, he informs him that he plans to kill everyone who knows the alphabet and burn everything related to it. With that, he bids the King farewell and gives the silent order for Pyung to deliver the killing blow…

…But then Chae-yoon arrives, holding a sword to Jung Ki-joon’s neck. He finds out that the man he once staked everything to save from prison is Jung Ki-joon, which he registers like the champion that he is. Even though Jung Ki-joon knows that he will be killed by Chae-yoon if Pyung kills the King, he purposefully goads Chae-yoon into striking first so Pyung will be free from his guilt in order to strike Sejong down… something that Pyung is refusing to do, because Jung Ki-joon’s safety is his first priority. Everyone is at a stalemate, and just as it looks like Chae-yoon is about to give into his anger and kill Jung Ki-joon, So-yi stops him.

I kind of love how So-yi turns into The Mom/The Voice of Reason for all the boys involved. It’s her words alone that allow both Pyung and Chae-yoon to discard their swords at the same time – something that makes Jung Ki-joon very, very unhappy. Once they’re taken care of, our heroine turns to Mu-hyul and Gae Pa-yi and orders them to do the same. Eventually, everyone disarms themselves and the standoff is (temporarily, at least) resolved. Everyone gets to go home for now (with parting promises of future alphabet-promulgation-blocking by Jung Ki-joon). How awesome is she?

Jung Ki-joon’s biting words about Sejong’s motives in creating the alphabet are weighing heavily on him, but he didn’t make it out of the debate without giving his nemesis food for thought either. When Han Ga goes to him with the message that Prince Gwangpyeong has gone to Gaeseong (located in modern-day North Korea, it was once the capital of the Goryeo Dynasty before it was moved to Hanyang when Joseon was established) on a secret printing mission and asks if he wants to send Pyung to take care of it, Jung Ki-joon seems distant even as he agrees. He’s caught up on something Sejong said in the debate.

If the ideal of Buddhism is for everyone to be Buddha, then the ideal of Neo-Confucianism is for everyone to be junzi (a term that was changed by Confucius from having a political connotation to a moral one, literally meaning someone worthy of high station by virtue of their moral achievement). So if the people were to learn writing, then would they better be able to achieve Neo-Confucian order? This is extra interesting, because Jung Ki-joon actually seems to be rethinking his stance.

With soldiers unable to enter Ban Chon without the explicit sanction of the King, Chae-yoon and Mu-hyul go to Sejong to ask for it. Like his nemesis Jung Ki-joon, Sejong seems preoccupied with his thoughts and gives only a half-hearted agreement. But this is all the agreement Chae-yoon and Mu-hyul need, and with that order Ban Chon devolves into pure chaos as royal troops infiltrate and tear everything apart, looking for any sign of Hidden Root.

Though the word reaches every corner of the palace, no one seems explicitly against the raid. Ban Chon may be off limits, but not when they’re harboring a secret society bent on killing the King.

Word reaches the Prime Minister, who wonders why Jo Mal-saeng is never around during times like these. They say something about his illness having relapsed (I know, news to me too), and that he didn’t report to the palace for work today.

But we find Jo Mal-saeng looking no worse for the wear as he enters his home, going on high alert the moment he hears a strange sound. He knocks down the folding screen in his room to find none other than Lee Bang-ji, who looks like he’s already got one foot in the next world. He collapses immediately, and Jo Mal-saeng attempts to revive him (shaking a man who’s near-death and injured by the shoulders is a surefire method).

The prison is experiencing overflow thanks to the Ban Chon raid, and Chae-yoon has called So-yi to the prison. She’s unhappy to meet there and tells him as much (presumably because of her previous bad experience in prison as a child), but he’s brought her there for a reason. The little girl who’d befriended Gae Pa-yi, YEON-DOO, just ends up crying if he asks her any questions. He wants So-yi to ask instead, because she’ll be less frightening.

So-yi agrees, but only on the condition that they release Yeon-doo from prison. She’ll be too scared to answer otherwise. Chae-yoon’s a big softie at heart, and he allows it – but not before asking So-yi how she’s doing. She replies that she’s apprehensive, because Sejong isn’t giving orders as fast as he should considering that Prince Gwangpyeong is fighting on his own right now.

Speaking of Gwangpyeong, we find him in Gaeseong discussing printing blocks. The man he’s meeting with has already made a copy of a book using printing blocks made with Hangul. And we finally get a mention of his brother, Prince Suyang (who’s apparently helping on the process, and who later becomes King Sejo, the seventh king of Joseon).

But all is not well, as Pyung arrives with some Hidden Root lackeys. They assassinate a man coming out of the office with the printing blocks, and Pyung swiftly kills the man Gwangpyeong was meeting with before turning his attention to the Prince. Uh oh. Oh no.

So-yi has taken Yeon-doo from the prison, and shows nothing but softness and concern for the little girl who probably reminds her of herself as a child. She asks about Gae Pa-yi, and Yeon-doo replies that he’s like a father to her. So-yi wipes her tears away with an embroidered cloth, and then offers to give it to Yeon-doo. It’s very sweet.

Yeon-doo finally offers up a key piece of information – that she and Gae Pa-yi used to play by a mountain, where there was a crumbling temple nearby.

Unlike the weirdly forced comedy of the Ban Chon interrogation scenes earlier, the very image of Chae-yoon being led by Yeon-doo into the mountains while he tries to be amicable and friendly is funny. It’s adorable that he’s trying to impress her, and doubly adorable that she’s having none of it. He even offers her a piggyback ride, but he feels the cold hard stab of rejection as she simply eyes him and keeps walking. Aww.

But Hidden Root isn’t without its own Joseon alarm system, which happens to be bells tied to a string that Yeon-doo unknowingly steps on. Pyung offers to take care of Chae-yoon, but Shim Jong-soo advises against it and only wants them to move the hostage (Prince Gwangpyeong). Thus, when Chae-yoon finally arrives at their hiding place, they’re already long gone with only a shoe left behind.

So-yi expresses her concerns to Chae-yoon – namely that Jung Ki-joon caught onto Sejong’s original intention. His decision to create letters didn’t come about from his love of the citizenry. The King is expected to act like a junzi (a paradigm of morality), and he would act on that moralism again and again. But the citizens wouldn’t accept him, and it developed into fear on Sejong’s part. It’s because of that fear that he developed the will to refuse to yield, but Jung Ki-joon has now unnerved that. She fears that Sejong must feel as though everything has collapsed.

Chae-yoon takes her by the hand to comfort her. Isn’t this the King she trusts the most, he asks? He’ll make the right decision. Awww. Look at you being awesome, Chae-yoon.

If Jung Ki-joon was ever rethinking his opposition to the letters based on the fact that they could help propagate Neo-Confucianism, it all ends when Pyung delivers the book that Gwangpyeong was attempting to publish. Instead of a book in Hangul teaching the tenants of Neo-Confucianism, it’s the story of Buddha instead. The following scenes with Sejong and Jung Ki-joon are intercut brilliantly, so that it seems like they’re having a conversation with each other when in fact they’re both thinking the same thing at the same time.

King Sejong: “Jung Ki-joon’s words are right. More than anything else, I put these letters on top. I did not want to think it was because of my affinity for something I created. Saying it was for the citizenry. I wanted to firmly believe in it. Hence, with my desire to have the people master them quickly, not the difficult doctrine of Neo-Confucianism, but the easy and interesting. The story of Buddha is what I had translated.”

Oh dear. This could not sit any worse with Jung Ki-joon. Sejong’s intentions were noble – he wanted to teach the citizens the alphabet first by giving them something more interesting to read – but Jung Ki-joon takes it as an insult and a direct affront, believing that Sejong lied to him about using the letters for Neo-Confucian ideals. Thus, all bets are off. Jung Ki-joon may have wavered, but he’s not wavering anymore.

He goes to the shed that Gwangpyeong is being held in, and the moment he offers the Prince a formal bow my heart sinks. He pays the Prince respect he didn’t bother to pay to his father, calling him by his formal title and addressing him properly. But Sejong has overstepped his bounds, and he has to pay for it. How else to get to him than through his beloved son?

Jung Ki-joon: “As a Confucian scholar of Joseon, even if I am to lay in the heinous seat in history, I don’t care. The King, just as he put everything down for the letters, I, for everything, shall block these letters. I will take that as my mandate from heaven. Hence, please forgive me for my misdoing. Furthermore I also, upon completion of my mandate, shall go to you, Prince Highness.”

Oh crap. Jung Ki-joon bows, again, and we know it’s over. Tears slip from Prince Gwangpyeong’s eyes as he musters up the courage to tell Jung Ki-joon that he’ll never succeed – because that Haerye he wants to burn so badly? Even Gwangpyeong has never seen it.

Our Prince smiles at his last triumph before he’s left alone with Pyung, the silent reaper.

Later that night, Park-po brings Cho-tak and Chae-yoon outside the palace gates to show them a suspicious palanquin that’s been there since his night shift. Oh no. Oh no. It’s the Prince, isn’t it?

Chae-yoon reads the note attached to the exterior, and with growing horror, he kneels down to pull back the curtain. He sees the feet of the dead body of Prince Gwangpyeong, missing one shoe that Chae-yoon had found earlier when he went to the Hidden Root hideout in the mountain. He’s lost in shock, and Cho-tak and Park-po run to the palace to sound the alarm.

Sejong is the last to know, and he begins a slow and horrifyingly unbearable walk to the palanquin. He looks at the outside of it with a mix of terror and apprehension, and folds back the curtain to see his dead son inside. His smile is disconcerting as he reaches forward to touch Gwangpyeong’s face. Oh god.

Gwangpyeong is taken from the palanquin, and his father holds him in his lap… and then heartbreakingly takes his hand and holds it to his own face, as though he’s trying to feel the touch of his son’s hand again. He repeats this again and again, as if he’s in denial of his son’s death, while everyone witnessing collapses in grief. I’m there with them, I can’t even process this, it’s too horrible.

The King has become lost in his grief, and is like a madman. When So-yi attempts to comfort him he turns on her in the blink of an eye, with an expression that can only be described as terrifying.

Sejong begins to rant, saying that everything was wrong in the first place. He started everything with an ulterior motive. He never loved his people, he loathed them. He only loved the letters that he made. By prioritizing his letters above everything, his son is now dead. He devolves further into his grief-induced insanity, laughing hysterically while crying. Yikes. He’s really lost it.

Everyone can hear what’s going on outside, and Chae-yoon doesn’t ask for permission before he enters. He goes straight to So-yi to drag her out, but she forcefully pulls her hand from his. What does he think he’s doing in front of His Majesty?

Chae-yoon replies, “His Majesty? Who is His Majesty?” He looks over to the King, who’s lost himself. “The one bullshitting over there?” Sejong’s laughter immediately stops, and he finally registers Chae-yoon’s presence. Chae-yoon continues relentlessly, “Is that man belittling himself and disgracing his dead son truly a King?” Ohhhh man. Chae-yoon is there to save the King, like he’d done once before as a child, albeit unwittingly. It’s just too good.

Chae-yoon is speaking to So-yi, but it’s clear that his words are meant for Sejong to hear. He reminds her (and thus Sejong) about how proud Prince Gwangpyeong was to be Sejong’s son, but that they were all deceived by the King, who can’t figure out whether his feelings are love or hate. What can they do now, when they didn’t know what kind of person Sejong was? Gwangpyeong even sacrificed his life for that kind of person.

Sejong, becoming consumed with misguided rage, grabs Mu-hyul’s sword and lifts it as if he’s about to strike and kill Chae-yoon… who doesn’t even flinch. Chae-yoon looks Sejong dead in the eye and begins to beat his own chest with his fist, right over his heart.

Chae-yoon: “Why? Does it hurt here? You, Your Majesty, have no right. Prince Gwangpyeong once said that because he believed in you so much, that he could die happily without a slightest doubt. Although you may not shed one tear, Prince Gwangpyeong, he… he said that it didn’t bother him. Your Majesty, you have no right to shed even one tear!”

This finally hits home for Sejong, and we see reason filter back into his gaze. He drops the sword and collapses to the ground, nearly rending his garments in grief. Instead, he begins to let out horrifying, gut-wrenching screams.

 
COMMENTS

I can’t even… I’m sitting here just blown away by this ending scene. This drama has been filled to the brim with powerhouse performances, and I’ve been blown away by the acting before, but this scene really frightened me with its raw emotions and sheer intensity. Everyone is playing a motive, and though Chae-yoon’s words were harsh, it was what Sejong needed to get out of his self-blaming hysteria. Chae-yoon unknowingly saved Sejong’s soul when he was a child, and he’s doing it once again. Once again, Chae-yoon proves to truly be Sejong’s other half. Where So-yi could not console him, Chae-yoon’s brilliant mind thought of a way to help him even if it meant hurting him as well.

And even with so many amazingly talented actors on screen, there’s such a harmony. No one steals scenes, because everyone contributes to the whole. Sejong’s emotions were real and raw, and Chae-yoon’s reaction was organic and just as raw. Amazing dialogue, like what we saw in the opening scene, is truly the bread and butter of this show. It’s not your typical sageuk political scheming, and the words are never empty. We care about these characters, and what they say resonates with us. Not to mention how the things they say resonate to the modern times we live in.

The initial debate between Sejong and Jung Ki-joon filled up the first twenty minutes of this episode. Yet, every piece of the conversation was riveting. Finally our two enemies meet and talk to one another, and I find it amazing that Jung Ki-joon came up with an argument to rattle Sejong – and that Sejong came up with the Neo-Confucianism argument to rattle Jung Ki-joon. I wish I could just go on forever about their differing ideals and the dynamics that have now changed because of their debate.

Thus, this is a perfect time to thank all of you. I’m always amazed at the wonderful level of intellectual discussion that goes on in the comments section. I’ve received such a warm welcome and thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the fact that things I can’t cover are covered so thoughtfully by everyone here. Who knew history could be so enjoyable?

 
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92 December 10, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 20

by HeadsNo2

What do you get when all of your characters happen to be great at playing actors? One amazing show, is what. It’s Conspiracy Pretend Time, and no one is more prepared for any and every eventuality than Team Sejong. Who needs the Thirty-Six Stratagems of War, anyway? Okay, maybe our good guys do, but at this point they could probably write their own (way better) book of stratagems just based on their fight against Hidden Root. Using Hangul. In your face, Jung Ki-joon!

 
EPISODE 20 RECAP

We find ourselves back with Sejong and his heart-wrenching grief, but even then, Chae-yoon refuses to let him wallow in it for long. He begins a beautiful monologue to the grieving King, who has now wavered in his drive due to Jung Ki-joon’s actions.

When Sejong said that he never loved the people, Chae-yoon assuredly tells him that he did. The emotion of the scene is too much for even our hero, who fights back tears as he tells Sejong why he didn’t just take So-yi and flee. It was because the letters were that amazing – and mostly, because he was in awe of the fact that Dam had something she wanted to wholly dedicate herself to. He was jealous of her ambition and drive, and so he thought that maybe if he learned the letters, he could be like her. This line is one of the greatest to me, because it gives us a little more insight into what makes Chae-yoon tick. He’s just a lost boy in search of purpose. His main beef with Sejong is that he finally found purpose (outside of killing the King), and thus, finally found the ambition that Jung Ki-joon claimed was like opening a door to hell. So what’s so wrong about that?

Yet, he claims that he’s angry with himself for ever thinking about making his wish to the King to take Dam and leave, bear children, and teach those children letters. He was a fool for trusting Sejong. This is literally reverse psychology of the highest order, and severe props go to Chae-yoon for his intelligence.

Chae-yoon once again takes So-yi’s hand, ready to lead her out of the Hangul Room. And once again, this is the catalyst to spring Sejong back into action. Chae-yoon’s words have returned the King to himself, but he’s still in the self-blaming stage and still shaken by Jung Ki-joon’s words about his true motives. Sejong claims that though he wanted to give the people power, but in the end he only wanted to share responsibility.

Here’s where Chae-yoon’s past really comes to the fore, as he reminds the King that the people have been carrying ‘responsibility’ for thousands of years. What will really change if Sejong leaves that responsibility behind? That the people might actually gain something they might want to do, that they might actually have (gasp) ambition? Is that such a hell after all? And, in the way that only Chae-yoon seems to be able to talk to the King, he calls him out for being spineless. Sejong finally smiles with pride in his eyes. Chae-yoon, you’ve done it again.

When Chae-yoon first took himself outside to have a good cry, I thought it was simply because he was overcome with emotion from the scene that just transpired. But when we see a flashback to Chae-yoon carrying the Prince on his back as they escaped from Hidden Root, and then we see the Prince’s shoe that Chae-yoon had found sitting right next to him… it becomes clear that he’s actually crying for the Prince, which is infinitely more endearing. He really is a big softie at heart, and the fact that the Prince’s death affects him this much just gives him that much more depth. So-yi is watching from a distance, and just like when she looked back toward Sejong when Chae-yoon took her hand earlier, once again she turns and looks back toward the direction of the palace.

Alone, Sejong is once again left to stare at the alphabet that has now cost him his son’s life. But Chae-yoon has brought him back from the brink, and Sejong finds himself filled with purpose as he begins to write Chinese characters on pieces of paper. He lays them out among the Hangul characters, and together they spell Hunminjeongeum (meaning the correct/proper sounds for the instruction of the people), which is the name for the true historical document that promulgated Hangul. It’s nice to see how that name (could have) come about.

Over at the new Hidden Root Headquarters, Jung Ki-joon is busily planning on how to nip this alphabet thing in the bud. He knows that the minute they letters are spread they’ll be like a plague, so anyone and everyone who knows about them must be killed. For sure he knows that Jung In-ji, Sung Sam-moon, and Park Paeng-nyeon are involved. He entrusts his lackeys to find out who else has been given secret missions. Any killings that may happen will be permitted. Good gracious, Jung Ki-joon. You really are ruthless.

Team Sejong has a meeting of their own, and it’s nice to see the whole gang back together. Sejong knows that they need a new strategy for the promulgation of Hangul, and suggests using the eighth stratagem from the ‘Thirty-Six Stratagems’ from China, that usually illustrate unorthodox or deceptive means. The eighth stratagem happens to be ‘Openly repair the gallery roads, but sneak through the passage of Chencang’, meaning that Sejong plans to deceive Hidden Root with an obvious approach, so that they’re too distracted to notice the sneak-attack. This is very much like the fifth stratagem, ‘Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west’, except it’s more intense due to the use of physical bait (rather than just misinformation) to assure the enemy of the truth of the misinformation. Thus, whoever gets chosen as the bait must act as though what they meant to do isn’t actually what they meant to do, in order to truly draw in the enemy. Phew, it sounds complicated already.

So, that leaves us wondering… who’s going to be the bait? And what’s the exact attack? Everyone in the Hangul Room hears it, but we don’t.

With his (seemingly) last words, Lee Bang-ji told Jo Mal-saeng about Jung Ki-joon’s true identity. In response, Jo Mal-saeng goes straight into the King’s assembly and drops to his knees, asking Sejong if he actually listened to the advice he was given about suspecting those closest to him. Determination is literally pouring from Jo Mal-saeng’s pores as he tells the King that from this moment, the investigation into Hidden Root must be done by him. Even if Sejong doesn’t grant him permission, he will do it. Even if he’s fired, he will do it. Even if he’s forced to leave the palace, he will go at it alone.

He seems to be taken aback slightly when Sejong nods and agrees. He entrusts the entire investigation of Hidden Root to Jo Mal-saeng. And as for the promulgation of the alphabet, and so his son’s death was not in vain, Sejong promises that he will wager his life to see that the letters are promulgated. Stakes, meet Upped.

In a meeting with Lee Shin-juk and Jo Mal-saeng, Sejong orders that Jo Mal-saeng must be provided with all the personnel and troops he needs to carry out his investigation. The new investigator’s first charge is to find out how Hidden Root became aware of Prince Gwangpyeong’s whereabouts. Jo Mal-saeng basically asks if he’s free to do whatever he deems necessary to carry out his investigation, even if that means interrogating everyone within the palace. Sejong says yes, and suddenly I’m very worried. I know this is part of the stratagem, but Jo Mal-saeng is pretty old-fashioned when it comes to mercy… meaning that he doesn’t have much of it.

Lee Shin-juk, the resident Hidden Root official, looks like he’s about to die from holding his breath. Whether Sejong suspects him or not is still up for debate, but he’s sent out so that Sejong and Jo Mal-saeng can speak in private. When he meets the other Hidden Root members, he can only convey his worries on how strange it is that Sejong would entrust the entire palace to Jo Mal-saeng.

Meanwhile, just as Sejong said, the printing office within the palace is making printing blocks to mass produce the story of Buddha in the new alphabet. Deputy Chief Scholar Choi Man-ri, the strongest opponent to Hangul that’s not in Hidden Root, bursts into the office with other Jiphyunjeon officials in order to start tearing it apart.

Mu-hyul interrupts their destruction session, followed by Sejong. Choi Man-ri boldly confronts the King, adamant that the life story of Buddha cannot be printed within the palace and that he’d rather die instead. I don’t know if he was counting on Sejong’s good nature, because it seems all but gone as Sejong orders him and the other scholars to be imprisoned at the Royal Investigation Bureau at once.

Han Ga, responsible for most of the spying, reports all of the recent events to Jung Ki-joon – namely, that Choi Man-ri has been arrested and that Jo Mal-saeng has taken over. The Leader notes that it’s like they’re back in the era of Former King Taejong, where good or bad didn’t matter and deeds were done recklessly. Lady, I don’t think you’re in a position to make it seem like you’re the one doing good things here.

But this kind of chaos and pandemonium is exactly what Jung Ki-joon wanted. He firmly believes that good people and bad people aren’t any different from each other – because a good person is just one that hasn’t been thrown into bad circumstances. Because he killed Gwangpyeong, he threw the ‘good’ Sejong into ‘bad’ circumstances, and believes Sejong’s true colors are showing. Oh, Jung Ki-joon. Once again you don’t know when you’re being fooled.

But maybe I don’t know when I’m being fooled, because now I’m beginning to doubt where Sejong’s control ends and where reality begins. Jo Mal-saeng has dragged all the court ladies out of their rooms to conduct a search, and their rooms are torn apart. Good gracious, it’s become a Joseon witch hunt. The moment So-yi arrives, he orders her immediate arrest. Wait, what? What’s going on here?

Park-po runs to the station to tell Chae-yoon the news, which sets him off running. Run faster, Chae-yoon!

Jo Mal-saeng has wasted no time, and has already begun to torture So-yi. Did he not even wait one second? He accuses her of being part of Hidden Root, since the only person besides Sejong who knew about Gwangpyeong’s whereabouts was her. She protests her innocence, and he only orders more torture (as well as the arrest of all the other court maidens who shared her room). She screams, and it breaks my heart. Not So-yi!

Chae-yoon bursts into the bureau to see that So-yi has already passed out from the pain. He demands to know what evidence Jo Mal-saeng has against So-yi, who’s only been doing the King’s work. Jo Mal-saeng turns on him instantly, asking what Chae-yoon was doing when the Prince died, thus effectively throwing suspicion onto our hero.

It comes as a slight surprise to Hidden Root that even the court maiden So-yi has been imprisoned, and Pyung doesn’t seem to like the information that he’s hearing. Jung Ki-joon might be suspecting Sejong has a secret plan at last, thinking that Sejong is truly either suspicious of everyone or there’s something that they don’t know.

But Pyung goes outside with a mixed expression on his face. We see him flash back to the time when So-yi cried in the woods after finding Kuk-se and how he had watched silently from afar. Oh my goodness… does someone have a crush? Really? That wasn’t all just in my mind?

Chae-yoon has tried already to see the King about So-yi, but is quickly rebuked by a court matron who chides him for his bad manners (no one sees the wizard!). Sejong is taking a walk outside with his entourage, and that’s where Chae-yoon eventually finds him, interrupting his conversation by falling onto his knees and asking whether Sejong sanctioned So-yi’s arrest.

Sejong, to my complete surprise, says that it’s true. I was at least expecting shock, like Sejong didn’t expect Jo Mal-saeng to go so far as to arrest his most-trusted court lady, but there’s nothing there. But the moment he quickly turns on Chae-yoon, blaming him for the secret mission Prince Gwangpyeong underwent and ordering his arrest, I’m beginning to wonder whether everything, including So-yi’s torture, was planned.

Stuck in prison and looking like he’s seen much better days (or like he just finished partying with Ke$ha), Chae-yoon is forced to listen to another torture session going on outside with So-yi and the other court ladies through the night. One of them reveals that they spoke of the Prince’s whereabouts while they were doing their laundry, and perhaps that’s how someone else became aware. Regardless, Jo Mal-saeng believes that they must be punished for speaking so frivolously, and orders that their names be erased from the palace roster, and that they be sent away as government slaves. Good god.

Meanwhile, Choi Man-ri is interrupted from his prison protest-staging by the King’s pardon. Jo Mal-saeng tells him that this favor should put the kibosh on his insubordination, but Choi Man-ri merely scoffs at this notion.

Chae-yoon is pulled from the prison as well, and ordered to follow Jo Mal-saeng.

The total tally of chaos caused at the palace is: twenty officials ousted, everyone named by the court ladies arrested, Choi Man-ri and the other high officials arrested, as well as Chae-yoon and other palace guards being thrown into prison. Even though Choi Man-ri and Chae-yoon have been recently released, is this everything that Jung Ki-joon anticipated?

Everyone at Hidden Root thinks that Sejong has played right into Jung Ki-joon’s strategy, but Jung Ki-joon seems either wary or disappointed. Or both. He wonders if this is all Sejong truly amounts to.

Jo Mal-saeng has brought Chae-yoon before Sejong, and tosses him down to the floor. When he rises, he does so slowly… and then he brushes some of his hair from his face as he coolly asks, “Do you think I fooled them?” Ohhh! I knew there was an act going on, but Team Sejong really is something else. And I wasn’t sure of Jo Mal-saeng’s involvement either, but it seems like Sejong is truly the grand puppet-master.

We finally see how all the pieces came together, starting with Sejong letting Jo Mal-saeng in on the plan. Sejong knew that he had to get someone out of the palace without arousing suspicion in order to complete the mission, and found the perfect way to do it through exiling the court ladies as government slaves. Of course, as it turns out, everything was staged – the torture, Chae-yoon’s reaction to hearing So-yi was being fake-tortured, all of it. We even see Chae-yoon practicing his lines before he did his heroic burst into the torture courtyard. Ha.

It’s good to know that the torture was feigned and that none of the court ladies had to lose a limb for the great cause. At the place where they’re to take a boat for their slave exile, they’re freed instead. Everything went off without a hitch, and now So-yi and her fellow court ladies are charged with completing the promulgation. How awesome is it that we have empowered women that even the King trusts with the most monumental of tasks?

In flashback, we also see that the wavering Sejong did due to Jung Ki-joon has passed, and that he’s filled with new resolve to promulgate the letters no matter what that promulgation brings about. He’s doing it for his people now, and will no longer worry about what the future holds.

Later, when Chae-yoon has dressed to prepare for a secret mission, he shares a telling moment with Sejong. He asks Sejong if he ever told him that his grace is immeasurable, and Sejong wonders why his grace is suddenly so immeasurable now in a joking tone. But Chae-yoon isn’t joking at all.

Chae-yoon: “To come to a decision like this, your grace is immeasurable.”

Wow. What a perfect moment for these two. Both of them are in it to win it, and Sejong has earned Chae-yoon’s complete and total respect and admiration at last.

Jo Mal-saeng finds Chae-yoon on his way out of the palace, and takes him to his home. It turns out Lee Bang-ji is still alive, but barely. Though he received the best medical care, his wounds are too grave and he’s not long for this world. Chae-yoon gets to be with his teacher in his last moments, at least, and Lee Bang-ji is a father figure until the end – even telling Chae-yoon that he was proud to have him as a disciple… because he had no talent as an assassin anyway. Ha! Even on his deathbed, he’s cracking jokes.

He says something we already know, that Chae-yoon is one of the most good-natured people he ever knew. But on the bright side, he’s getting to die a warrior’s death due to fighting the greatest warrior he ever faced – Gae Pa-yi. With that, Lee Bang-ji dies in Chae-yoon’s arms.

Han Ga is busy looking through all the names of people within the palace who might have received secret missions, and is befuddled when Pyung seems to have something to say. Pyung hesitantly brings up the court maidens who were chased out of the palace. Han Ga muses aloud that it’s sad since they were wrongly accused. But what of it?

Pyung adorably edges into his next words, as he wonders if those court maidens might hold a grudge now that they’ve been exiled and maybe… maybe they could be drawn into Hidden Root? They could be useful to the cause, right? Awwwwww. Pyung, your crush is showing.

But Han Ga literally laughs in his face, immediately calling Pyung out for bringing all this up because he just likes So-yi. Pyung is immediately embarrassed and tries to take back his words, but Han Ga isn’t finished poking fun at him. Aww, poor little assassin and his poor little heart. But before he can suffer further embarrassment, they’re interrupted by Jung Ki-joon. He actually thinks Pyung’s idea is worth something and wants to find out where So-yi and the others are. Uh oh.

Chae-yoon has arrived at the simple house where So-yi and the other court ladies are staying, and his happiness bubble at thinking she’s making rice just for her orabeoni is swiftly popped when she replies that it isn’t for him. In fact, she tells him to go call who the food is actually for, and Chae-yoon only looks puzzled.

Unfortunately Pyung’s crush on So-yi looks like it will only cause trouble, as he sends Kuk-se to gather information about where the court maidens were transferred. He finds out that no government slaves arrived in any precinct, and doesn’t look happy about it.

It turns out that the people So-yi had planned to feed were a roving band of singers, which makes sense when Sejong had mentioned earlier that even songs about the establishment of Joseon would be used to teach and spread Hangul. The following scene is light and beautifully moving, as So-yi leads a band of children through the streets singing songs. Ah, so this is how Sejong is mounting the offensive. Brilliant!

I was hoping Pyung wouldn’t relate the So-yi information to Jung Ki-joon, but he does (bros before… well I can’t say the other word, because So-yi is too awesome). And the Hidden Root leader is made aware that he’s been fooled – again. Sejong and his nemesis have another conversation across space and time, as Sejong wonders aloud about how Jung Ki-joon had likened the letters to a plague. Smirking triumphantly, Sejong thinks that he was right – his letters will spread like the plague.

 
COMMENTS

Forget Jung Ki-joon, Sejong proves that you don’t have to be evil in order to be a maniacal genius. Okay, maybe not maniacal, but a scheming mastermind. Whatever. Jung Ki-joon may not have been outsmarted for very long, but this isn’t the first time Sejong has gained the upper hand. Their battle of wills is just too fun to watch, and I take pleasure in seeing Jung Ki-joon fail. Now that he’s killed Prince Gwangpyeong, all bets are off where he’s concerned.

I’m wondering if Sejong would have actually fallen into Jung Ki-joon’s trap if Chae-yoon wasn’t there to snap him out of it. But once again, all of Team Sejong comes together to form a whole. With Chae-yoon and Sejong, it truly does seem like there can’t be one without the other now. Sejong had purpose but lacked a way to achieve it, Chae-yoon was without purpose but with the means to achieve almost anything. Together, they’re just an amalgamation of awesome.

I wavered a bit during the big pretend party that went on during this episode, wondering if Jo Mal-saeng was a part of it. And even if he was, I wondered if Sejong was really allowing his court ladies to be tortured just to fool Hidden Root. When the full conspiracy was revealed, I admit that I thought: “This show should win every award ever made past, present, and future!” But I calmed down. It should just win 99.9% of every award ever made.

Last episode I remember wishing that we’d just get one sageuk-grade longing glance from Pyung to So-yi, because their relationship is something the series has been toying with for a long while. Now that he’s been ousted, I feel gleefully gratified. Yeah, he’s a heartless assassin – but he’s got a crush, and when is that not adorablesauce? And yeah, maybe that crush will put So-yi into life-threatening danger, but I’m going to pull a Sejong on this one: I’m just going to think about the now.

 
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48 December 15, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 21

by HeadsNo2

Who knew an alphabet could be so dangerous? And who knew that a show about a dangerous alphabet could be so utterly thrilling at every turn? Add in some good ol’ fashioned psychological warfare and we’ve got yet another amazing episode. We’re beginning our fight to the finish, and it looks like we’re going full speed ahead as everyone and their mothers pick a side, join the fight, and simultaneously make our hearts race with anticipation. All Hail the King… of sageuks.

 
EPISODE 21 RECAP

Now that Jung Ki-joon has realized that the King secretly sent out his court maidens to complete the mission of promulgation, he’s a bit more than upset. He knows the letters have the potential to spread like a plague, and now knows that that’s what Sejong intended to do all along. At all costs, they have to find those court maidens. Pyung is assigned to do the dirty work, as usual.

Meanwhile, we find two of our four Promulgation Maidens preparing to spread the alphabet through the use of old-school incantations. It’s good to know that Sejong didn’t just send protection for So-yi, since both Park-po and Cho-tak are there as undercover bodyguards. With assigning amulets with Hangul incantations to people who will be led to believe that reciting them every day for one hundred days will grant their wishes, the girls have found a pretty ingenious (and slightly devious) way of forcing people to memorize the new consonants and vowels.

So-yi and fellow court lady Deok-geum have become a team, but Chae-yoon takes the opportunity to have a talk with So-yi while Deok-geum goes to make taffy (presumably to lure over children to sing Hangul songs). She’s pretty absorbed in her work, but he’s still happy just to be able to talk to her. Still, he doesn’t know if using singing beggars and children to spread the alphabet through songs will work as fast as they need it to. So-yi looks up at him, and with a bit of teasing asks if her orabeoni has a better idea. Ha. I love her.

Surprisingly, he claims that he does. But we don’t hear it as we cut to…

…Hidden Root! Jung Ki-joon still seems to be suffering the aftereffects of being made a fool (sorry bud, can’t feel bad for you) and is dead-set on finding the court maidens, and the Haerye (if Hangul is a code, the Haerye is the decoder and explanation of the letters) he presumes is with them. But what he’s more upset about? The fact that even with the death of Prince Gwangpyeong, Sejong didn’t waver.

Chae-yoon has told So-yi about his alternate plan while we’ve been away, and So-yi tells him that she’s pretty sure his method includes threatening. He defends himself, saying it’s not threatening so much as manipulating, which So-yi still says sounds a little like threatening. The exchange is adorable.

But she calls him out, teasing him in that he must be desperate and impatient because of what Sejong promised him that day. Chae-yoon gets adorably awkward, but smiles as he says he won’t deny it anymore. So what won’t he deny, and what did Sejong say?

We enter a flashback with the King, Chae-yoon, and So-yi. This is where the whole Hangul Circulation plan was hatched, and where Sejong asks for Chae-yoon’s permission to keep So-yi until the mission of promulgation and circulation is complete. Both of these tasks must be completed simultaneously – because if the letters are only circulated amongst the people and not into the civil exams, then they have a chance of dying out fast. He’s taking the official promulgation onto himself, but So-yi is tasked with circulation, and Chae-yoon is tasked to protect her. When the mission is complete, Chae-yoon is to leave with So-yi.

Chae-yoon is more than eager to agree, and his happiness is infectious to those around him. Even through a smile, though, So-yi asks for her own promise of the two men closest to her. If she is to fall into any kind of danger or die carrying out this mission, she doesn’t want them to waste any time trying to find her. Above all, the mission must be completed. Sejong says the same about his own life, and So-yi agrees – no one’s death can be allowed to block their path. They don’t take this as foreboding as much as they take it as a challenge, and the three of them rallying together is such a nice sight to see. But I don’t like hearing them talk about death. (If the writers are trying to prepare us, so help me.)

I’m really liking Jo Mal-saeng and how he represents Former King Taejong in a way, since he’s one of the remaining remnants from his rule who’s now working to help his son. He and Sejong are a deadly combination for Hidden Root because of their sheer intelligence, as they’ve already rooted (har) out Shim Jong-soo and Lee Shin-juk as possible Hidden Root members. Now, when faced with the question as to what the Hidden Root Scroll might have contained, Jo Mal-saeng is fairly sure that it was a roster of allegiance signatures (based on how things turned serious in the court right after Chae-yoon surrendered the scroll).

So, in order to promulgate they need the help of the state council to circulate the letters in the civil exams. Hidden Root will inevitably stand in their way – but once again, Sejong showcases his superior intellect by guessing that there already must be some friction within the group. Not only was the deal for a de facto parliament system halted because of Jung Ki-joon, but he can’t imagine that everyone was on board for killing his son, the Prince.

Therefore, Sejong is betting on the possibility of a rift. And then abruptly he tells Jo Mal-saeng to hop to it and get to work. Jo Mal-saeng is confused as to what his task actually is, and I love that Sejong uses Mu-hyul as a sort of Scale of Understanding – so when Mu-hyul says that he understood what Sejong meant, the King takes that as proof that he was clear enough and leaves Jo Mal-saeng to it. Except Jo Mal-saeng hilariously doesn’t know what “it” even is.

Just as Sejong predicted, and just as we’ve been seeing over the past few episodes, a rift has been forming within Hidden Root (spearheaded by Lee Shin-juk). This time he meets with the veterans of Hidden Root, worrying over how extreme Sejong has become since the death of Prince Gwangpyeong. Are they headed down the same route as Taejong? Master Hae Gang is only concerned about all of the members they don’t know about within Hidden Root, including Sungkyunkwan and Confucian scholars, and that there’s no telling how deep their allegiance goes. But it doesn’t seem like the veterans will be switching sides away from Jung Ki-joon any time soon.

Shim Jong-soo, however, is switching sides. After some consideration it seems like he’s taking Lee Shin-juk up on his offer to part from Jung Ki-joon – but not Hidden Root. Like Lee Shin-juk, he feels like Jung Ki-joon has become lost in his obsession to block the promulgation and that he’s furthered himself from the goals of their organization. It seems as though Lee Shin-juk isn’t coveting the First Root position though, as he claims that he wants to play second fiddle while Shim Jong-soo takes that spot. In order to overthrow the current First Root (Jung Ki-joon), they’re going to need to get ahold of the Haerye before he can so they can use it as a bargaining chip.

They’re interrupted by Lee Shin-juk’s lackey, who tells them that the King has called everyone together for a sudden meeting.

Sejong gives all the officials and scholars present a roadmap of his discussion: first he’ll give an apology, then a proclamation, and finally a proposition. The first is shocking enough when the King bows his head, apologizing for the fact that he made letters without any of the ministers knowing. That bow is a huge move.

Then comes his declaration that Prince Gwangpyeong was not murdered by Hidden Root. In fact, he won’t punish Hidden Root in any way – he will acknowledge them as a political party that clashes with his own political view and accord them proper debate. Jo Mal-saeng is understandably furious, and I’m left wondering if this is all (again) part of an elaborate scheme.

His proposition, then, is for Hidden Root members to reveal themselves and step into the court plaza. As for the deaths caused, he’s putting the blame on Jung Ki-joon and Yoon Pyung, and everyone else has a seven day window in which to show up at the Gwanghwamun (main gate) Plaza, where he will promulgate the letters. If they don’t, and choose to work from secrecy, what harm comes is then their responsibility. Done and done.

As the ministers are leaving, Lee Shin-juk is very publicly called to meet privately with the King. Fear and apprehension are evident on his face as he enters the room, and we can literally see him wondering if the jig is up and he’s been ousted. After all, the King just claimed that he received an ‘anonymous’ letter listing some members of Hidden Root.

But Sejong is too cool of a customer, and he calmly sips tea while wreaking psychological havoc on the minister. He offers Lee Shin-juk the Prime Minister position on the grounds that Hwang-hee is due to resign because of his health. He knows Lee Shin-juk wouldn’t accept right away, but leaves the minister to think about it. The beautiful thing is that the scheme works, and Lee Shin-juk is now assured that he is definitely not under suspicion for being Hidden Root. Sejong wins again.

It’s Jo Mal-saeng’s turn to do some manipulation, and this time he goes to Choi Man-ri to plant the seed of doubt that Shim Jong-soo might be a member of Hidden Root. In Choi Man-ri’s usual brusque manner, he asks Shim Jong-soo the moment he enters if he is, in fact, a member of the nefarious organization. Shim Jong-soo tries to laugh it off. The best part about this psychological warfare plan? It’s aimed to turn even Shim Jong-soo and Lee Shin-juk against each other, as Shim Jong-soo is told that Lee Shin-juk is one of the ministers who suspects him of Hidden Root activities. Bam.

Shim Jong-soo, meanwhile, finds out that the current Prime Minister never submitted his resignation but chooses to leave that out next time he talks with Lee Shin-juk, requesting a temporary leave of absence so he can find the Haerye.

It’s only once Shim Jong-soo is gone that Lee Shin-juk finds out he’s been betrayed. But he’s also got the King’s betrayal to deal with, because at the same time he’s finding out that Hwang-hee (the current Prime Minister) never submitted his registration, he finds out that Shim Jong-soo knew this all along and never told him.

Sejong’s plan has indeed worked to create a fissure between the two, as Shim Jong-soo proudly proclaims that he’s going his own way from both Hidden Root and Lee Shin-juk. Now everyone (Hidden Root, Shim Jong-soo, and Lee Shin-juk) is going to be after the Haerye, since whoever has it will have the greatest chance of gaining power over their adversaries.

Chae-yoon and So-yi are happily watching the children learn the Hangul Song, and Chae-yoon is packed for a journey. He’s to go meet Cho-tak and share information, and So-yi acts the worried wife and mother as she reminds Chae-yoon of every task he has to do. He laughs when he tells her enough already, he isn’t a child. Awww, you two are adorable.

She’s packed him some road snacks, and he assures her that he’ll be back before she can count to ten. But as he’s leaving he looks back to her, and they adorably smile and wave to each other… in slow motion. No. Nooooo. No you better not be doing what I think you’re doing, Tree. I don’t want to see slow motion waves! We all know slow motion waves are the harbingers of doom!

The other court maiden, MOK-YI, is putting on a grand show acting as a shaman to attract a good crowd of townspeople. The best part is that she’s placed Park-po in the audience so she can “read” his mind and fortune, and the other court lady, GEUN-JI, is also placed among the crowd to rile them up and get them to believe that there’s a true shaman in their midst. It’s a delightful scene that serves us some great comic relief, as Shaman Mok-yi gets all the crowd hanging on her every word… but then says that today’s fortune is bad, so they must come tomorrow with more family members to receive the incantations. What a brilliant way to get a bigger crowd. And a brilliant way to spread Hangul, no less. Sure it’s a little manipulative – but no harm, no foul.

Pyung goes to the local paper peddler to see if there’s been any bulk orders recently. The man says no, which might have gotten our court ladies off the hook… until he says that there’s been a curiously large order of talisman paper.

It’s this news that’s taken to Jung Ki-joon, who finally realizes the scheme. They’re not planning to print the Haerye or the letters, they’re planning to distribute it amongst the people in a format familiar to them. The common people don’t read or write (and thus books are unfamiliar to them), but talismans are common to every household. It’s only now that Jung Ki-joon sees the genius of Sejong’s plan and exactly how much he’s been tricked. His rage, however, leads me to believe that he’ll be getting revenge. We all remember how he got revenge last time he was upset, and it wasn’t pretty.

Shim Jong-soo is out to find the Haerye, and he’s quick to shake off the man Mu-hyul sent to tail him. He’s unaware, however, that he’s being followed by Jeok-hee (remember her?) from the Ming Embassy. I never forgot she existed, but had assumed that the show had just dropped the whole Ming Embassy storyline. It’s nice to see her back and put to work, as it turns out that she’s been commissioned by Lee Shin-juk to trail Shim Jong-soo and to find the Haerye (just like everyone else).

Cho-tak goes to the paper peddler to collect the talisman paper and to meet Chae-yoon. However, Pyung has had the place staked out, and though Cho-tak is able to use his inhuman senses to realize he’s being followed he can’t seem to shake the assassin… until he comes upon a man with a cart and hitches a ride. What he doesn’t know (and what we do) is that this has all been planned by Pyung in order to find out where the court maidens are staying. Oh no.

When Chae-yoon comes to the meeting place, he’s happily carrying two wooden wedding ducks (someone’s got marriage on the mind). Awww. My heart keeps sinking at all these symbols of future happiness. But, his happiness party is soon crashed when he sees a symbol Cho-tak left on the post in his haste. Whatever that scribble may look like to us, it means bad news bears to Chae-yoon.

Cho-tak is made aware that he’s led Hidden Root straight to the court maidens he’s been tasked to protect a little too late, and finds himself surrounded by Hidden Root soldiers. It looks like a battle they can’t win, and both he and Park-po choose to fight instead of surrender.

They try to distract the soldiers so that both Geun-ji and Mok-yi can get away, but the two girls are caught in the forest by Pyung (who’s left his soldiers in order to pursue them) and find themselves bound and gagged in a wagon before they know it.

Pyung has been double-crossed by one of his men, MAK-SOO, who’s switched his allegiances to Shim Jong-soo. He assassinates the other Hidden Root soldiers traveling with Pyung just as Shim Jong-soo reveals himself – but it’s not long before Pyung realizes that Shim Jong-soo has taken his own path, and that they’re no longer on the same side. A fight ensues over who can take control of the Cart o’ Court Ladies, where Pyung shows he has a heart (maybe), or just the desire to keep power in his own hands. He drags the court ladies from the cart, and when it looks like he may be about to kill them, he cuts their bonds and sets them free instead.

With our resident assassin busy having an awesome fight with Shim Jong-soo, our resident betrayer Mak-soo runs after the court ladies and catches one – Geun-ji, the court lady who was rousing the crowd during Mok-yi’s Shaman Show. Only he doesn’t get to hold onto her for long, as the woman from Ming, Jeok-hee, easily overpowers him and captures Geun-ji.

Pyung seems to be losing the fight against Shim Jong-soo and uses the leaping martial arts method to escape the fight in order to catch up with Mok-yi, the remaining court lady. Goodness. Earlier in the show dead bodies were commodities, now it’s court ladies that are being traded off like currency.

Chae-yoon finally finds Cho-tak and Park-po, who have apparently defeated that small army of Hidden Root soldiers without sustaining any major injuries. Now that they know the court ladies are off on their own, all three are soon off to (hopefully) save the day.

Geun-ji has been brought to a shed in the woods by Jeok-hee and a Ming Minion. They want to know where the Haerye is, and instead of using torture they decide to use the Joseon version of truth serum, which ends up being Truth Incense. For lack of a better term, Geun-ji is soon tripping balls and telling her captors everything they ask. But curiously, she says the Haerye… doesn’t exist. Wait, what?

Without a Haerye, Jeok-hee then asks where the other court maidens are. Geun-ji can’t help but tell her their location, and with that, Jeok-hee sets off. She leaves her minion to kill Geun-ji, but he’s stopped in the nick of time by Shim Jong-soo. Is that good or bad?

When it’s his turn to ask where the Haerye is (though he’s saved her from death, he’s not above using the advantage given by the Truth Incense), she says it’s in the same location where So-yi and the other court maiden is. The Ming Minion is surprised, because just moments ago she’d said the Haerye didn’t exist. (Also, it’s a bit funny that a man from Ming’s inner thoughts are in Korean.)

Luckily Shim Jong-soo’s minion is stopped from dragging out and hiding the body of Geun-ji by Chae-yoon and Friends just in time. Shim Jong-soo has already set off to find So-yi and Deok-geum, right on the heels of Jeok-hee and Pyung. Unfortunately Geun-ji is still heavily under the influence when Chae-yoon finds her, and it takes a shot of water to the face in order to get her to come to.

She’s able to eke out that everyone is after the Haerye – Ming’s people, Shim Jong-soo, Hidden Root. She tells Chae-yoon that he must hurry and protect the Haerye. Chae-yoon doesn’t know what she means. He asks if So-yi and Deok-geum have the Haerye with them…

Geun-ji: “So-yi is the Haerye! Haerye is not a book. From the beginning, it has always been a person.”

Oh. Crap.

 
COMMENTS

This revelation isn’t that big of a surprise when we already knew that So-yi served as the Joseon Hard Drive for all the Hangul information, but the way in which it’s revealed still puts chills down my spine. Sure, we’ve been suspecting it all along, but the rest of our characters haven’t and the way Geun-ji delivers that line is just filled with such weight and gravitas. I’m literally giddy to see everything collide in the coming episodes.

With everyone after one thing (the Haerye, which is now So-yi), fond memories from episode four come to mind, when everyone was chasing Jung Do-gwang. We have lots of factions at play now – the official palace guards, Pyung (for Hidden Root), Shim Jong-soo (for himself), the Ming Embassy (operating under Lee Shin-juk, who’s now in this for himself), Chae-yoon, and So-yi. Everyone is careening toward one goal, which now happens to be a person we all know and love, and the consequences could be dire. That’s just another thing to love about this show – if the Haerye were just a book, it would still be a big deal. But now that the Haerye is a person, and that person is So-yi, we’ve got some blindingly high stakes.

This is the first time that the first half of an episode hasn’t been in-your-face-mind-blowing, but that was more than made up for in the second half. Still, the first half had some really great moments for Sejong. I especially loved his tea party with Lee Shin-juk, because you just know that he knows exactly what he’s doing, and that he’s once again playing the role of a grand puppet-master. I have a feeling that the finale, when we come to it, will be one for the ages.

But for now, all I can say is… run, Chae-yoon, run! Save So-yi!

 
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37 December 17, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 22

by HeadsNo2

Power plays, intrigue, conspiracies, mysteries, mass murders, storytelling assassins, awkward tea parties, and drug-induced confessions are just some of the delicacies we’re being offered as we head toward that final and much-dreaded stretch. Who will remain rooted, and who will inevitably be rooted out by King Sejong’s ultimatum? And, more importantly, will our hero save the girl from an enemy he can’t even find?

We’ll have to tune in next week for all of our answers… But is it so bad that I want to tune in next week for the next one hundred weeks?

SONG OF THE DAY

Kim Bum-soo – “말하지 않아도” (Even Without Speaking) from the Tree With Deep Roots soundtrack. [ Download ]

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


 
EPISODE 22 RECAP

Shim Jong-soo, Jeok-hee, and Pyung are all headed straight for So-yi. But where the other pursuers pass up the roving band of singing beggars, Pyung stops them in order to ask about the location of the missing court maidens. The song they’re singing is the one So-yi taught to them in order to circulate Hangul, and Pyung has a brief flashback to the moment when he received the order that anyone and everyone who knows the alphabet must be killed.

With that in mind, he waits until So-yi’s location is divulged before he sets to slaughtering the whole band. He’s merciless, and doesn’t even spare the woman in the group. Fortunately the leader of the roving band is saved from a horrible death due to being away at just the right time, but that also means that he’s left to witness the murder of all his friends and comrades.

Court maiden Geun-ji, who was previously drugged into revealing So-yi’s whereabouts to Jeok-hee, has made it back to the palace. She’s an emotional wreck, hardly able to even begin to tell her story – and the moment Sejong walks into the Hangul Room, it’s over. She breaks down into pitiful sobs, blaming herself for the fact that So-yi and Deok-geum might now be in danger.

Sejong wants to know how much she told them, and in a shaking voice, she says she told everything. They were looking for the Haerye, and she told them where So-yi was. No one doubts her story, and Sejong looks deeply affected as he considers all the implications this might have. Namely, So-yi. Ahh!

So-yi and Deok-geum have been preparing taffy as incentive to get children to sing the Hangul Song, both of them completely unaware that any danger is headed their way. And though it seemed like Shim Jong-soo and Jeok-hee had a head start over Pyung, he’s the one who makes it to So-yi’s house first. When she goes outside expecting to see her orabeoni, it’s Pyung that’s waiting there instead. Uh oh. Oh no.

Shim Jong-soo and Jeok-hee arrive at So-yi’s house after having found their own ways separately. There’s signs of a scuffle, but no court maidens. A woman passing by is swiftly interrogated by both of them for anything she knows, and the unlikely duo comes to the conclusion that Pyung is the one who spirited away So-yi and Deok-geum before they arrived. Both Shim Jong-soo and Jeok-hee decide that, for the moment at least, they might as well work together since they’re after the same thing (the Haerye).

We find Pyung back in the town, alone. He comes across the group of children commissioned by So-yi to sing the Hangul Song and… oh no. They cut away from this scene, but does that mean Pyung is so ruthless that he’d kill all those kids?!

Both Sejong and Jung Ki-joon are trying to figure out exactly what has gone on in their respective camps. Jung Ki-joon is having to deal with betrayal, as news comes from Pyung that Shim Jong-soo has turned on them and that he even attempted to steal their court ladies (hey, they captured them first).

I kind of love that Sejong has made the Joseon approximation of a graph in order to make sense of the story Geun-ji told him. What Team Sejong has come away with is that Pyung showed up, then Shim Jong-soo showed up and fought with Pyung, and in the middle of all of that, a woman from Ming came and captured Geun-ji, acting under orders from Lee Shin-juk. At least Sejong is able to tell that all three of those parties must be working separately from each other, but even he’s wondering why everything is getting so tangled.

Chae-yoon has come too late to rescue So-yi, and sees the bloodied bodies of the singing band strewn in the street. This propels him straight to So-yi’s house, but there’s no sign of the one he loves. We can see this weighing on him as he yells in anguish, knowing that for the moment, at least, he can’t do anything.

In the street he runs into some of the singing children (looking very much like they haven’t been murdered – phew!) to ask them about So-yi. They say that they were supposed to meet her to receive taffy, but she never came. Instead, a tall man with a ghostly voice showed up.

I don’t know why this flashback is funny, but it is. It’s Story Time With Pyung, as he gathers all the children around and asks them to read Hangul to him. If anyone can, he has a biiiig prize to give them (I assume this big prize is certain death). Fortunately for all of those children, none of them can read the letters – they’d just been taught the song. This spares them from being murdered, and the nice assassin ajusshi tells them that they must never sing that Hangul Song again, because it only calls for death.

Knowing that Pyung has captured So-yi but not knowing where he might be, Chae-yoon goes to Sejong. He blames himself for leaving So-yi and Deok-geum for even a moment, and Sejong is brought up to speed on the status of his court maidens. This doesn’t stop us from launching into a blame-a-thon, though, as the King then takes blame onto himself for not anticipating Jung Ki-joon’s moves sooner. But now, along with their missing court ladies, they’re also hit with the fact that their circulation plan has failed.

So-yi finds herself bound in a room with the two other captured court ladies, Mok-yi and Deok-geum. They’re soon faced with a triumphant Jung Ki-joon, who’s positively reveling in the belief that he’s won over their silly little Hangul circulation plan. I love that So-yi’s got spirit, and she shoots him the most defiant look she can muster. What becomes of this conversation is a mystery to us, as we cut to the outside of the shed where Pyung is grimly standing guard. If Jung Ki-joon has any plans against So-yi, I hope Pyung steps up his game so his crush isn’t all for naught.

Clearly Jung Ki-joon’s single-mindedness and obsession with blocking the letters is taking a toll on even the most loyal members of Hidden Root, as the Leader wonders aloud to Pyung as to what is to become of them. Something must have happened in the palace to cause all of this ruckus, but what could it have been? Hmm, seems like no one’s told them about Sejong’s proposition yet.

It’s time for some cute, as little Yeon-doo has gone alone into the forest to cry over her missing ajusshi friend, Gae Pa-yi. It’s a nice little moment when she writes his name in Hangul on a stone (Jung Ki-joon has seen her use the new alphabet before, but I wonder if he hasn’t had her killed because of her relationship with Gae Pa-yi), and suddenly he appears. She immediately hugs him, which is adorable, and despite all the bad things Gae Pa-yi has done it’s so hard to not like him when he’s just so sweet with her.

She doesn’t know if he’s eaten or not since Ban Chon has been in chaos due to the whole Hidden Root With Hunt, and offers to go and bring him some food. Double aww.

Promulgation Day is approaching, and you can all but feel it in the air. Team Sejong is working hard to sway their dissenters – first by Park Paeng-nyeon and Sung Sam-moon persuading other Jiphyunjeon scholars, and then by Jung In-ji trying to persuade his old friend and schoolmate, Choi Man-ri.

Our two young scholars seem to have more luck, as they’re able to win the debate on whether or not Hangul will be a detriment to learning Chinese characters. Their answer is simple but brilliant (in a way that I’m upset I didn’t think of before), in that Chinese characters can’t be currently learned just by self-study alone. But with an alphabet like Hangul that can be mastered in ten days, manuals and other helpful material can be made in Hangul in order to teach traditional Chinese characters to those who wish to self-study. Therefore, how can the scholars say that Hangul is working against Chinese characters when more people could learn them?

As far as Choi Man-ri is concerned, it’s nice to see that he is rational and logical (as he should be, with his position), but that he’s also human. His rational side acknowledges that Sejong only has good intentions, but it’s his human side that simply won’t allow him to consent to these letters. The Jiphyunjeon scholars may be able to be persuaded, but Choi Man-ri is already too set in his ways. It’s a lost cause, but at least there aren’t any bitter feelings.

Like Sejong, Jung Ki-joon is having his time of wavering and indecision. But unlike Sejong, Jung Ki-joon doesn’t have a Chae-yoon to bring him back from the brink, and so he just seems to be slipping deeper and deeper into himself and his obsession with the alphabet. In many ways he’s become the polar opposite of Sejong – they’re both obsessed with the same thing, but in two completely different ways.

The other Hidden Root members have become aware of this, and it’s Han Ga who specifically pleads for Jung Ki-joon to come to his senses and make some decisions. The offer Sejong made for all Hidden Root members to safely out themselves can effectively make their Hidden Root Scroll (and thus their allegiance roster) moot, thus ending the blackmail-like hold they have over their veterans. At this rate, Hidden Root will collapse. Even the Leader interrupts, knowing that Jung Ki-joon has changed upon seeing the letters. But he can’t forget the mandate fated onto him. He can’t forget how Jung Do-jun died so terribly, and how his father, Jung Do-gwang, also died.

Through all this, Jung Ki-joon remains eerily silent.

Sejong and Chae-yoon are both lost souls, since both of them are helpless to save the woman they cherish. After uselessly obsessing over a map (he doesn’t even know where to start, so it can’t do him any good), Chae-yoon goes straight to Sejong, who doesn’t seem all that happy to see him. Maybe he reminds him of So-yi.

Chae-yoon: “Were you wavering again? Don’t. Due to my error, Dam has fallen into great danger. So I will find her no matter what. As of now, I don’t know how or where to find her. However, remaining like this inside the palace, I cannot forgive myself, Your Majesty. Hence, your humble subject, at this moment, will be leaving to find Dam. Hence, Your Majesty should also go on Your Majesty’s path. May you press forward without faltering, Your Majesty. If Dam were here now, she would have said that to you.”

He fights tears as he says this, and it’s clear that leaving the King, and thus breaking his promise to follow wherever Sejong would lead, is a gut-wrenchingly difficult decision for him to make. He doesn’t ask for permission to leave, nor does Sejong stop him. They just have a tacit understanding of each other.

Chae-yoon is left to wander Ban Chon in misery until he sees a ray of hope… the little girl, Yeon-doo. You can just see the thought processses in Chae-yoon’s mind and how he immediately latches onto her because she’s the only tie he has to Hidden Root now, and the only tie he has to finding So-yi. He treads so carefully that it feels like even his words are treading on eggshells as he asks her if she’s going to her friend, Gae Pa-yi.

He appeals to her both as a child and as an adult, using a soft voice and words she can understand. His eyes glassy, he all but pleads with her to tell him where Gae Pa-yi is, because the court lady he loves is at the place where Gae Pa-yi is at, and So-yi is all Chae-yoon has left. Just when it seems that Yeon-doo is going to acquiesce, her mother interrupts for her to hurry up and tell the kind palace guard so he can catch that horrible Gae Pa-yi. With Yeon-doo’s trust in Chae-yoon effectively broken, she chooses to side with her ajusshi friend and heartbreakingly lies to Chae-yoon that she hasn’t heard from Gae Pa-yi. Aww.

Fortunately Chae-yoon gets the bright idea to follow Yeon-doo anyway to see if she leads him to Gae Pa-yi. He’s saved from a killing blow by her inhumanly strong just in the nick of time, but he’s thrown a good ways away just by blocking the blow. By the time he gets up, which is mere seconds later, all traces of Gae Pa-yi and Yeon-doo have disappeared. Believing Yeon-doo is the one in danger, Gae Pa-yi has set to running away with her on his back.

With his only lead gone, our hero is left alone to wander the forest, crying Dam’s name in the saddest, loneliest voice ever. My heart is breaking for him.

We’re soon back to Lee Shin-juk, whose house of cards is falling down all around him since Shim Jong-soo’s betrayal and Sejong’s proposition. The ticking clock of Promulgation Day can be felt by everyone, and thus the span of time in which Lee Shin-juk can choose to reveal himself or not is slowly disappearing. Through a message from the Ming woman, Jeok-hee, he’s made aware that Sejong most likely knows about his movements. So now, he must debate on whether or not to trust Sejong and reveal himself as a member of Hidden Root – or forever stay silent and suffer the inevitable consequences.

Jung Ki-joon finally breaks his long silence as he tells Han Ga that every grievance that’s been brought against him from the rest of Hidden Root is true. A genuine parliament system would make for a better Joseon, and it would be in keeping with Jung Do-jun’s ideals. Instead of trusting one man (the King) with a nation, it’s better to trust many. However…

Jung Ki-joon: “These letters, you see. Lee Do and myself… It’s a fight between us, with us laying down our thoughts. As for me, this extremely dangerous mischief of Lee Do’s – casting aside history – I cannot just wait and watch. One who understands politics… casting the citizenry aside, without even knowing the end result for which he himself can’t even be responsible… he tries to experiment? This from the likes of a mere King who, at best, can govern for just fifty years?!”

Whichever way anyone puts it, Jung Ki-joon simply can’t accept these letters, and can’t accept King Sejong. At least he recognizes that he’s being single-minded, and says he’s come up with a plan. What is it? Of course we don’t hear it, because that would ruin the surprise.

As Chae-yoon is on his way out of the city to do anything he can to find So-yi, he passes by the only man that survived Pyung’s massacre. He’s trying to get justice for all his people that have been killed, and just when it seems like Chae-yoon is about to pass him up, he hears the man sing the Hangul Song. This instantly warrants our hero’s attention as Chae-yoon instantly takes the singing man aside, desperate to be told every single thing that he saw. He has to find So-yi, and is clinging to what might now be his last remaining lead.

Sejong’s done a little maneuvering himself, and through the use of Sung Sam-moon and his father’s palanquin, he’s able to arrange a secret and sudden meeting with Lee Shin-juk. It’s The Most Awkward Tea Party Ever, as Sejong switches between being jokey and serious as he prods the minister about his involvement with Hidden Root. Lee Shin-juk couldn’t be less obvious, and we know that the King knows about his involvement in Hidden Root… but for the course of most of their conversation, they speak as if they’re roleplaying, with Lee Shin-juk answering questions as if he were a member of Hidden Root. Which of course he’s not. Right? Right. Cue strained laughter all around.

The question of the night is why Hidden Root would have denied themselves that deal to realize a genuine parliament, when that seems to be their highest goal. Through Lee Shin-juk, Sejong is able to discern that there has been a fissure within Hidden Root over Jung Ki-joon choosing to block the promulgation over making the deal for a parliament. Sejong is a master at this psychological warfare stuff, because he keeps laughing to calm Lee Shin-juk down when the minister seems to get worried, in a tone that’s like: Oh, we’re still joking, right? This is so fun, isn’t it? Look at us, just a couple of good buddies having a good time. I love this scene.

While they’re roleplaying, Sejong goes ahead and asks why Lee Shin-juk hasn’t stepped forward as a pretend-member of Hidden Root. The minister boils it down to trust (mainly, that he doesn’t trust in Sejong), even though the King already said that he would acknowledge Hidden Root as a separate political faction, and one that could be debated with, at that. So how much more trust can Sejong offer?

Shim Jong-soo knows that if the court lady Geun-ji made it back to the palace, then she’s surely told everyone that he’s a member of Hidden Root. What he’s also deduced on his own? That So-yi is the Haerye. That’s yet another strike against our favorite girl, and one that Shim Jong-soo seems to be holding up his sleeve when he goes to meet with Jung Ki-joon in Hidden Root’s secret camp.

When Jung Ki-joon accuses him of betrayal, Shim Jong-soo throws it right back at him. It wasn’t he who betrayed Hidden Root, it was Jung Ki-joon, when he chose the letters over a genuine parliament. He claims that Jung Ki-joon was everything to him, but he’s changed too much. Regardless of how frightening the letters can be, he accuses Jung Ki-joon of not looking to the future (which is interesting, since this is exactly what Jung Ki-joon is accusing the King of) since he’s wagered his life on blocking these letters. What’s to become of Hidden Root once he’s dead?

Jung Ki-joon finally asks what Shim Jong-soo wants, and the formerly loyal member responds that he knows where the Haerye is. Well, this can’t be good.

Sejong and Lee Shin-juk carry out their pretend party all the way till the end, neither of them saying what they actually mean yet somehow managing to convey exactly what they mean at the same time. It’s only when Lee Shin-juk is leaving that Sejong drops all pretenses and lays it out straight. Lee Shin-juk is to hand Jung Ki-joon over in exchange for becoming the head of the political faction called Hidden Root, and he can use that power in the court to insist on a parliament system. Win-win, right?

Shim Jong-soo, in the same breath, offers a deal of his own to Jung Ki-joon. In exchange for the Haerye he wants so dearly, he’s to step down from his position as First Root and give it over to Shim Jong-soo. As the new leader of Hidden Root, he’ll be the one to realize Jung Do-jun’s will.

 
COMMENTS

While this wasn’t my favorite episode ending, I understood its necessity. We’ve been flirting with the power play within Hidden Root for a while, so we needed to see payoff in some form. Still, I’m getting the sinking feeling that Jung Ki-joon is becoming more and more impotent – and I don’t think a change in leadership is necessarily going to make Hidden Root menacing again. Especially with Shim Jong-soo, who I’ve honestly never taken very seriously. His scenes aren’t anything to throw away, but I admit that my attention tends to waver when he’s usually on as so far he hasn’t carried all that much weight. Now that it seems like he might be carrying a great deal of weight, I’m not sure if my perception of him can really change this late in the game. But who knows, this show has surprised me many times before.

I’m beginning to question Jung Ki-joon more and more, and not in the way I used to. One wonders if he ever received Sejong’s message throwing his youthful words back at him: “Only violence?” Of course, it’s dramatically fun for him to be at one end of the extreme (in that he feels charged by heaven to block those letters), but goodness, sometimes I wish he’d just move a little more. It does baffle me a little as to how he can get so angry – like when Shim Jong-soo walked in – and still have no desire to even stand. It’s as if he’s been told that he can only act with his face and that he’s not allowed to move his body. This might just be a result of ‘what happens when you’re evil’, though, since he’s pretty limited in the places he can go and the things he can do while occupying the top spot on Joseon’s Most Wanted list.

Of course I still loved the episode as I’ve loved every episode, and perhaps Jung Ki-joon is bearing the brunt of my impatience to see what becomes of Chae-yoon and So-yi. Honestly, whatever happens within Hidden Root is fine – I just want to have a good showdown as we head into the last two episodes. Tree has been so good to us thus far, I’m hoping the final week will really cement this as, you know, the best drama ever.

 
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35 December 22, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 23

by HeadsNo2

How are our heroes going to get out of this one? That’s a fun question to have any show pose to us, and it’s one that Tree has posed quite well. How will they defeat that which is undefeatable? How will they save the girl? How will they save the King? How will they save people from mass murder by an evil mastermind? How will they save my nerves, because they’re all tied up in knots for the finale? How will they get this show ten more seasons?

 
EPISODE 23 RECAP

We’re back where we left Shim Jong-soo and Jung Ki-joon last week, only now we’re hearing the exact terms that are being laid out. In exchange for the Haerye, Shim Jong-soo wants the name of every Hidden Root member, the Hidden Root Scroll (of pledges of allegiance), and the Jung Ki-joon’s position of First Root. Since Shim Jong-soo’s been outed as a Hidden Root member to the King he has little left to lose. Ergo, power play.

Jung Ki-joon seems slightly amused and amazed more than anything, though this isn’t a matter he’s taking lightly. Shim Jong-soo wants an answer the day after tomorrow. Or else Jung Ki-joon won’t get the weapon necessary to stop the promulgation in a few days.

It’s fate that Chae-yoon found the Singing Man (the last survivor of the troupe that met massacre at the hands of Pyung) when he did, as he now has a lead on So-yi’s whereabouts. He’s taken to a boatman who remembers two warriors with maidens in tow crossing the river to a place called Rabbit Rock in a mountain up north. Chae-yoon hurriedly tells Park-po to report this information to Mu-hyul while he and Cho-tak board. When the Singing Man tries to board with them so he can have revenge on Pyung, he’s quickly stopped by Chae-yoon. “I’ll do it,” he assures him. “I’m the reincarnation of revenge.” (Epic.)

With the news having reached Mu-hyul that there’s a lead on So-yi, it’s quickly related to Sejong. From a distance, our King entreats Chae-yoon to find So-yi. He must. He must.

We enter a flashback through Sejong’s eyes, moments before So-yi was set to leave on her circulation mission. She promises her return, and gives Sejong a very deep and formal bow. He doesn’t care for this bow now – he says she can do so when she returns (he’s not going to let her go quietly into the night). When she brings up the promise Sejong made to Chae-yoon, he adorably tells her that she is definitely to leave with that mannerless punk. And though Sejong can’t get a fortune for her, he’ll get her enough to buy a house. Awww. So-yi can’t control her emotions and falls into tears, and Sejong takes her hand in his to comfort her. Double aww.

King Sejong: “So-yi. Thank you. I’m sorry. Though it’s true I wish for you to be at my side, it seems I will get to breathe at last once you leave. Isn’t that true for you as well? Day by day, you must live in joy together with Kang Chae-yoon. Promise me.”

Awwwwwwww! Their relationship has remained ambiguous up to this point, but if there’s one thing that’s evidently clear, it’s that they do love each other. Whatever form of love doesn’t matter, it’s still love.

This show has no lack of existential conversations that span space and time, and it’s almost as if So-yi has heard the inner thoughts of the King. With her hands bound along with the two other court ladies also held captive by Hidden Root, she thinks to herself that she will keep her promise to Sejong. There must be a way out… there just has to be. And this is why So-yi is such a winner in my book – she’s just awesome.

To Han Ga’s utter dismay, Gae Pa-yi has brought little Yeon-doo to the secret Hidden Root Camp in order to protect her from danger that he feels he’s caused. It’s a sweet sentiment, but the moment Jung Ki-joon agrees that she should stay my heart feels heavy – and through a brief flashback we see that he hasn’t forgotten that she knows the new alphabet. Since he’s promised to kill anyone and everyone who knows it, it doesn’t seem like Yeon-doo would be off limits. It’s a good thing that she has the strongest protector in the land, because I get the feeling that Gae Pa-yi’s loyalty to Hidden Root will last only as long as her safety.

During an assembly of scholars and officials, Sejong reaffirms his proposition that he will accept Hidden Root as a political party and that its members only need to step forward. Obviously no one has, so he offers another proposition – he’ll carry out the promulgation in front of the eyes of ten thousand citizens while ministries for Hangul books, Hangul printing blocks, and Hangul in the civil exams will be made.

In the fact of everyone’s outrage (including Choi Man-ri, who has started to become a little grating with his endless litany of “Noooooo!”), he chuckles and assures them not to worry – he has a caveat. After all, Joseon isn’t a nation where the King can just do as he pleases, there’s the State Council to be accountable to. The decision of the promulgation will rest upon the three high councilors. In the end, he’s putting the fate of his alphabet in their hands.

This seems like a terrible idea for Sejong, knowing how many officials are against him, but his earlier conversation with Lee Shin-juk pays off. When Choi Man-ri gets up in arms again, it’s Lee Shin-juk who quiets him down with rationalization. He’s taking Sejong’s side here, but he hasn’t yet decided whether to accept the King’s offer.

In the Hangul Room, Jung In-ji expresses his concern over leaving the fate of promulgation in the hands of three state councilors. Does Sejong think they’ll receive approval? The King chuckles as he admits that he’s not sure. Now, it’s really up to fate.

Sejong has begun the foreword to the Hangul publication, but he hasn’t finished it. He’s a bit stuck, and Jung In-ji seizes this opportunity to ask Sejong if he’d like to postpone the promulgation even by a few days. It turns out this request isn’t because of the lack of a finished foreword, but because they don’t have the Haerye, and thus they don’t have a way to explain the design of the letters. He suggests that perhaps he could just write what he can in lieu of a Haerye, since there’s no guarantee that So-yi will return before the promulgation…

…Which sends Sejong into another So-yi flashback, where he stopped her from writing down the Haerye from memory before she embarked on her circulation mission. It seems like Sejong did this as an impetus for her to never give up on returning should harm come to her – as she remains the only source of the Haerye. Without her, it’s lost.

She’s not so sure, and still wants to put it to paper. She knows that danger is inevitable, but Sejong refuses once more. He won’t accept the notion that she might not return, because she has to see the promulgation with her own eyes. Therefore, she promises that she will return. That’s what Sejong is counting on, and his faith in our favorite court maiden will not be shaken.

Any hope that Choi Man-ri would change his mind is lost, because now he’s even gone so far as to write his resignation letter. Though Sejong put his trust in Jung In-ji to try and bring Choi Man-ri around, his words fall on deaf ears. When he asks his old friend why he must go to such lengths, Choi Man-ri’s answer is that there must always be people like him to dissent. That’s what makes a country.

Shim Jong-soo, meanwhile, becomes apprised of the news that Sejong will follow the advice of the three state councilors. He’s pleased to know that no Hidden Root members have yet come forward – that means they haven’t given in to Sejong’s sweet-talking. Hidden Root must, above all, remain a secret society so that their position never fluctuates even if the monarchy does.

Chae-yoon and Cho-tak have made it to the mountain, and are combing the forest for signs of Hidden Root in vain. Finding a sign he’d left before, Cho-tak realizes that they’ve just been going around in circles. Something about the mountain itself is strange – they’ve been going around and around, but they haven’t seen a single animal. Chae-yoon remembers how Hidden Root disappeared in a flash the last time he tried to hunt them down (during the search for Prince Gwangpyeong), and that it was almost as if they were alerted to his presence. C’mon, Chae-yoon, you can solve this one…

Lee Shin-juk shows up at Shim Jong-soo’s humble abode hopping mad, lamenting how untrustworthy Shim Jong-soo turned out to be. It’s moments when Lee Shin-juk is angry that I like him the best, because he doesn’t go overboard while keeping the scene moving.

He thinks everything’s gone wrong now – they have no hope to usurp Jung Ki-joon, who must even now be devising his final plan for the King’s promulgation. Their efforts to preserve Hidden Root away from the rot that is Jung Ki-joon have failed… or have they? Shim Jong-soo decides to let Lee Shin-juk in on his recent offer/blackmail threat to Jung Ki-joon involving the Haerye. Lee Shin-juk’s ire immediately fades, and he’s soon nothing but smiles.

Outside, the woman from Ming, Jeok-hee, has been listening in under Lee Shin-juk’s orders. For a man who starts yelling the moment he sees untrustworthiness in others, he sure is untrustworthy himself. Then again, that’s why Sejong chose him.

In a tiny room covered in Chinese characters, Jung Ki-joon is maniacally plotting his next move. Somehow he’s surprised that Sejong is still pushing forward with the promulgation ceremony tomorrow (apparently his plan of killing princes and capturing court maidens hasn’t panned out), but he takes heart in the fact that the Haerye must not be in the palace. If Shim Jong-soo could offer it, then it means Sejong doesn’t have it, and if Hidden Root has it they can block him easily. After that, it’s just a matter of killing everyone who knows the letters. Jung Ki-joon says to ready the poison… wait, what?

Jung Ki-joon: “In the arrows, as well as the swords and the spears. They all need poison. We must kill everyone with the attack. And the Haerye must be destroyed no matter what. Even if everyone is killed, if the Haerye remains, the letters will revive. Those who know the letters, as well as the seeds of the letters… All must be destroyed.”

Alright, so… Jung Ki-joon has lost his mind. Shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose. I do think it’s almost funny when Han Ga asks, “And the aftermath? What about Hidden Root after that?” And Jung Ki-joon’s dead serious reply, “What do you think about Shim Jong-soo?” As in, what do you think about my possible replacement?

Our three brave court maidens have not lost hope, but they’re not having much luck figuring out an escape plan with all the secret soldiers around either. Through a stroke of luck, So-yi sees Yeon-doo playing nearby their shed. Because calling out to her would be too attention-grabbing, she uses a handkerchief dangling through one of the five hundred cracks in the wall to try and get the little girl’s attention. Just as Yeon-doo sees it and takes notice, their potential rescue party is crashed by Pyung. He’s come to take So-yi away.

This is like a moment from a Bond film, where the evil villain treats his captive kindly while explaining all his evil motivations. Can we get this man a furless cat to stroke while he speaks? No?

They seem like distant but cordial strangers, which is interesting when one remembers that they used to be friends. So-yi knew Ga Ri-on well, but Ga Ri-on was just a sham for the villain lurking inside. A villain that tries to convince So-yi that she should blame the King for what happened to her father. Shouldn’t she be ashamed for helping her father’s killer? So-yi’s answer is simple. They both must have shared the same victim mentality, she replies, but their methods in overcoming it couldn’t be more different.

Such victim mentalities, So-yi claims, can ruin a person from the inside. I think it’s interesting that So-yi, Sejong, Chae-yoon, and Jung Ki-joon are all linked together in the way they each overcame their victim mentalities. So-yi and Sejong used the letters to overcome it, and while Chae-yoon once thought like Jung Ki-joon in blaming the King he changed for the better when he saw the letters. Jung Ki-joon changed upon seeing them too, but instead of going to the side of good he’s become the twisted man we see now. Chae-yoon might have ended up the same. Thematically, that’s fun.

Jung Ki-joon grows progressively more angry in the face of So-yi’s persistent calmness, and says many lines that Chae-yoon once said. Like how it affected him he could not love the sage King the whole country loved. However brilliant the letters may be, Jung Ki-joon feels as though it’s heaven’s mandate that he block them. And since tomorrow is the ceremony, he’s got a big plan involved to end the debate between Sejong and himself. With that, So-yi is escorted back to the Prison Shed by Pyung.

It turns out that in order for Hidden Root to have their alarm system (made by strings attached to bells) be foolproof, they’ve systematically exterminated all the animals in the mountain so nothing can accidentally trip the alarm. It’s so nice to see Chae-yoon solving problems again, as both he and Cho-tak use this newfound information to finally find one of the trip wires and follow it. It leads to one set of bells, which Chae-yoon purposefully hits to alert a nearby Hidden Root soldier. As the man goes to sound the next alarm, Chae-yoon knocks him out cold. Now they can follow this string to the Hidden Root Camp and save So-yi.

Yeon-doo is caught talking to So-yi through the wall, and though she refused to help the court maidens escape she does seem to agree to do some sort of favor for them – but what that favor is, we don’t know. Jung Ki-joon sees the Hangul that Yeon-doo wrote on the rock, and then with a quiet sort of menace he kneels down in front of her and gently takes the little girl’s hand in both of his own. He tells her that ajusshi is thankful… and sorry. Uh oh. No, Jung Ki-joon! I’ve got some ideas as to where you can shove these apologies.

She doesn’t understand, obviously, and at least to Jung Ki-joon’s credit he looks genuinely remorseful. Well, he was remorseful to the Prince too, and we all know how that turned out.

When she goes off to play, Jung Ki-joon turns to one of his men and orders him to kill her, but painlessly. I guess it’s good he has at least that much of a heart.

Yeon-doo is lured into the forest with her assigned assassin under the pretext that she’ll get to see Gae Pa-yi. She becomes slightly suspicious when she can’t find him, but the moment her back is turned we enter a horror movie, complete with creepy violin crescendos that are synchronized to the way the assassin readies the strangling rope. Hahaha. I know, it’s a serious moment, but the music really kills it. However, just as the assassin throws the rope around her neck to kill her, Chae-yoon appears just in time and throws a dagger into his back. Hooray! They’ve made it!

Now that her life has been saved by Chae-yoon, Yeon-doo agrees to help and maps out some of the camp (namely, the Prison Shed) using sticks on the ground. They now know that So-yi is with the two other missing court ladies, and Chae-yoon swiftly sends Cho-tak back with Yeon-doo so he can apprise Mu-hyul of the camp’s location and send reinforcements.

It’s nearing dawn, and while Mu-hyul and Jo Mal-saeng are rallying the troops to storm the mountain, Jung Ki-joon arrives on location for his promised predawn meeting with Shim Jong-soo. For reasons unknown So-yi has been brought along, and we get to hear Jung Ki-joon sing Shim Jong-soo’s praises about him basically being only loyal to his creed and not people, thus why he’ll do well (as First Root). The thing is, Jung Ki-joon acknowledges that Shim Jong-soo was never loyal to him or the great late Jung Do-jun. So… what does Hidden Root stand for again? I know Jung Ki-joon went off track, but you’d think he’d appoint a new leader in keeping with the group’s founding ideals.

When Shim Jong-soo finally arrives, Jung Ki-joon doesn’t hesitate in handing over the Hidden Root Scroll (aka the blackmail allegiance pledge) and a roster of all the members. So where is the Haerye? Jung Ki-joon sort of needs it so that he can kill Sejong on promulgation day, along with everyone else who knows the letters. Shim Jong-soo hesitates, before he says that the Haerye is not a book…

Before he can spill the beans, they come under sudden attack by none other than Jeok-hee and a good lot of Ming soldiers. Nice! She’s managed to land a poison dart right over Shim Jong-soo’s heart, but informs us that it won’t kill him because she needs him to find the location of the Haerye. He’s soon bound and drug off by a small contingent of soldiers only to escape later by jumping off a cliff.

Pyung believes the number is too great, even for him, and entreats Jung Ki-joon to run while he stays to distract them. He even frees So-yi’s bonds, claiming that it’s better for her to run than be captured by the Ming.

Thus, Jung Ki-joon and So-yi are left to run while Pyung carries on alone against a small army. I know he’s done some bad things (murder, murder, murder), but I do hope this isn’t his last stand.

A much bigger army, the Royal Army, storms the Hidden Root Camp under the cover of darkness. Chae-yoon and Cho-tak have helped to pave the way by assassinating the soldiers in the various watchtowers along the wall. Thanks to Chae-yoon’s help, both Mu-hyul’s forces and Jo Mal-saeng’s forces have made it to the mountain. And Mu-hyul, at least, has made a promise to Chae-yoon that the safety of the hostages (aka So-yi and the court maidens) is of top priority.

It’s a well-coordinated attack, not to mention a visually stunning one, and it seems like Hidden Root’s forces have little chance of winning.

Jeok-hee has managed to make it past Pyung, and swiftly chases down the fleeing Jung Ki-joon and So-yi in the forest. For once I’m rooting for Jung Ki-joon (mostly because his fate is tied with So-yi’s), but it doesn’t look good for them. She’s there, under Lee Shin-juk’s orders, to find the Haerye. But before So-yi can say something about it, Gae Pa-yi suddenly emerges from the darkness.

It’s only when Jeok-hee meets Gae Pa-yi’s eyes that she screams at her soldiers to stop, and her utter terror sends a chill down my spine. Clearly she’s seen something she recognizes, and is suddenly like a frightened child as she entreats Gae Pa-yi to let them retreat. He does, and it’s only once her and her soldiers are back on the move that she speaks of him in a reverent tone. He’s a vestige of the Yuan Dynasty – “undefeatable on earth”. Ooo, this is interesting.

Even with the battle still raging outside, the first place Chae-yoon runs to is the Prison Shed. The two court maidens are more than happy to see him, but he’s a bit less so when he realizes that So-yi is not among them. The moment they tell him she was dragged away by Jung Ki-joon, he begins a mad dash to find her. Time is against him.

Gae Pa-yi, as well as one of Jung Ki-joon’s minions, have informed him that the camp’s been ambushed. He finds this a hard pill to swallow, now left alone in the forest with what remains of his group (the Leader and Han Ga have fled). Triumphantly, So-yi tells Jung Ki-joon that he’s lost. His base is destroyed, his peers are captured, he doesn’t have the Haerye. It’s over.

But Jung Ki-joon isn’t witless. By putting together all the clues (like Shim Jong-soo saying the Haerye isn’t a book, then ordering that So-yi be brought to their predawn meeting, and of course her pitch-perfect memory), he figures out the truth. Instantly telling one of his men to kill her upon his revelation, he then turns to her with a vicious gleam in his eyes.

Jung Ki-joon: “You. You… are the Haerye.”

 
COMMENTS

Boom! The latter half certainly outdid the first in terms of excitement and intrigue, but how can a dialogue-heavy (but still completely riveting) First Half expect to compete against its older brother, Second Half, who’s full of white-knuckled action and fun reveals (and is clearly the family favorite)? But that’s what this show achieves best – balance.

Just like the plot, I appreciate that all the characters are so intertwined. Just look at Sejong, trying time and time again to put the brush to paper to complete the foreword but unable to because he keeps getting waylaid by thoughts of So-yi. She’s his motivation but not his sole reason for existing, which is not unlike the rest of our characters. And as far as the thematic ties of victimhood go, it’s like if everyone was drowning in a river and Sejong threw in the life raft that is Hangul. So-yi and Chae-yoon would grab on, recognizing that the life raft is something good and necessary – but Jung Ki-joon, too prideful, would prefer to drown and take his would-be rescuer with him if he could. He’s completely lost his way, so consumed with blocking the promulgation that he can’t see the forest for the tree with deep roots. Hee.

This was a great, suspenseful finale lead-in. I like all the questions we’re left with, and even with knowing Sejong’s penchant for solving problems with words rather than swords – I’m still kind of hoping for an epic fight of some kind. And I’m hoping that no one from Team Sejong meets their end. Either way, let’s put our game faces on.

 
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104 December 24, 2011January 24, 2016

Tree With Deep Roots: Episode 24 (Final)

by HeadsNo2

All told, a pretty epic finale. Okay, really epic. Was it wholly satisfying? No, not completely. Was it filled with operatic flair, covered in blood, grandiose in scale, and riveting from the first charged moment until the very last? Of course. This is Tree With Deep Roots we’re talking about.

At times tragic, at times hopeful, this finale wrapped up our stories with some nicely added twists along the way. And some tears. Okay, lots of tears.

 
FINAL EPISODE RECAP

The jig is up, and Jung Ki-joon knows that the Haerye lies within So-yi’s mind. He orders for her immediate murder, but the moment before his minion looks poised to strike, Chae-yoon arrives on the scene, using Jung Ki-joon’s life as a bargaining tool (again) in order to free someone he cares about. Since Jung Ki-joon has already wagered that he’ll be dying for his cause soon, he has nothing to lose and orders his minion to carry through the order.

Thankfully, So-yi’s would-be assassin chickens out. When Jung Ki-joon then orders the nearby Gae Pa-yi to kill her, the gentle(?) giant remains motionless. Chae-yoon orders So-yi to run away, and she does.

In a literal frenzy at seeing So-yi escaping, Jung Ki-joon screams for his minion to shoot her. Chae-yoon dares them to shoot those arrows if they want their precious leader dead… and when it seems like they’re going to follow orders, Chae-yoon prepares the killing blow for Jung Ki-joon.

At last, however, Gae Pa-yi steps in to fend him off – but not before Chae-yoon slices Jung Ki-joon for good measure. Nice! The two men fight, but Chae-yoon is assured that Gae Pa-yi will have to stay to tend Jung Ki-joon’s possibly-mortal wound. He can’t risk his leader dying, right? It’s this good faith that sets Chae-yoon in retreat mode, following So-yi.

But Jung Ki-joon won’t be having it, despite suffering the deep wound that Chae-yoon inflicted. Gae Pa-yi has a moment of hesitation before he takes up the bow and arrow, and aims at the fleeing Chae-yoon and So-yi. He shoots.

The arrow comes so close to Chae-yoon as to cut the binds to his topknot, but it whizzes right past him and into So-yi’s arm. Oh no!! She falters, and this falter sends her off a cliff and into the night. She better be fine.

Her fate is uncertain as Chae-yoon goes to the edge, wildly calling out her name. Though these times are dark, could it be… is that… a Mane of Glory? (Or was he out partying with Ke$ha again? It’s too dark to tell.)

Dawn breaks, and Chae-yoon is combing the forest for any signs of our girl. We find her some ways away, alive (thank goodness), but something is amiss when she sits up. The arrow just hit her arm, but the moment she rolls up her sleeve she sees a black and bloodied mess. Oh no. It’s the poison Jung Ki-joon talked about before, isn’t it?

So-yi confirms her suspicions by bravely tasting the end of the arrow, and whatever it is can’t be good. She spits it out, a look crossing her face that already puts my heart in my throat. She knows it’s poison. We know it’s poison. Oh no.

She crawls into a nearby cave, using a bit of her hanbok as a tourniquet for her arm, which is looking worse by the second. Outside, Chae-yoon seems to be so affected that he can barely walk properly, but he’s unrelenting in his search for her. Pieces of her skirt are torn up to lay down around her, and it’s a striking visual.

So-yi is progressively looking sicker and sicker as she writes the Haerye down on the pieces of her torn skirt. Her arm wound is looking worse too, relentlessly bleeding and growing blacker. No no no no no. Noooo. No no no no. If what I think is happening is happening… it better not be.

Chae-yoon continues his frantic and desperate search, falling whenever the wind grows too strong out of grief. Good god man, save your grief for later and use your speed now. Where’s that leaping martial arts method when we all need it? At least one of his falls lands him near the cave So-yi is in. All may not be lost.

Alas, Jung Ki-joon has survived Chae-yoon’s wounding and gets patched up by Pyung. Their camp is gone, all of their soldiers have either been captured or killed. Han Ga makes it inside, but he’s soon followed by a barely conscious Leader brought in by piggyback. She’s been wounded in the battle and is on her way out of this world.

After all this time, I still don’t know anything about her. She calls Jung Ki-joon “young master”, though, which leads me to believe she may have once been a slave of his once-prominent household. She soon passes, with Jung Ki-joon saying that he will follow her soon.

The Haerye is splattered with blood, but seemingly complete. As So-yi rests her back against the cave wall she takes in short, terrible breaths, as though she can’t get enough oxygen. From a ways away she hears Chae-yoon calling for her, but can’t even work up the strength to say “orabeoni”.

He makes it to the mouth of the cave and sees the harrowing sight of her surrounded by white while wearing white (bad, bad, bad). Her face is as pale as her clothing, and he desperately runs to her side. Oh goodness. This is really happening, isn’t it?

Cut to: Hidden Root (I know!). They’re having to make some changes to the plan due to the loss of all their armed forces. If he wanted to just assassinate the King, Jung Ki-joon says, he could have just used the secret passage. This isn’t about just killing Sejong, it’s about bringing his downfall in front of thousands of onlookers during the promulgation ceremony.

Gae Pa-yi receives a written order as his final mission and Jung Ki-joon’s last command. He wonders if he’s strong enough for the task. Jung Ki-joon retorts, “Aren’t you the best swordsman on the continent?”

So-yi smiles to see Chae-yoon, though she can barely breathe. He sees her technicolor arm, and knows immediately that it’s poison and that they have no time. Desperately, he tries to get her on his back so he can carry her away but she pushes him away. He’s losing it, and she’s trying to get him to stay focused.

She charges him with taking the explanation for the letters that she’s painstakingly written down in her last moments. She also alerts him that Jung Ki-joon has something terrible planned for the Promulgation Ceremony, and Chae-yoon has to stop it.

He throws the Haerye to the ground, caring nothing for it when she’s dying. Once again he tries to pick her up, and once again he’s forced away. “I won’t make it,” she says. “Are you going to dither around? With the excuse of saving me, with the excuse of tending my corpse, are you going to waver?”

So-yi is handling her impending death like the champion she is (I’m handling it like Chae-yoon), as she comforts him about her impending death. Probably because he’s taking this a lot worse than she is, but it’s also a testament to her how her personality has always been warm and almost motherly to him. She tells him not to be afraid, but he pleads with her. Don’t. Don’t go.

So-yi: “Don’t cry. And look at me. Back then… when I was reunited with you, as I was going back to the palace by myself, do you know what was hardest on me? Sleep. After meeting you, after twenty-some years, for the first time I slept sweet as honey. ‘If I leave together with Orabeoni, I could probably continue to sleep like that, right?’ Just thinking about it, made me so happy already. Again… for allowing me to dream happily again… thank you so much, Orabeoni.”

Tears slip from her eyes as she smiles:

“The image of our letters getting promulgated successfully. The citizens, those letters, the image of them reading them. Through your eyes, Orabeoni, I will see it for sure. Orabeoni… you must see it.”

Wah. That’s the line that broke me. Strong to the end, she tells him to hurry and go. Because he has to see the promulgation so she can see it through his eyes… oh goodness. That’s so horrible.

She draws her last, strained breath… and dies.

The moment she passes, Chae-yoon holds her close and lets out this heartbreaking sigh, as if her leaving this world has just hit him. He can’t even speak as he holds her to him and lets out these horrible sounds that aren’t even cries but ones that break my heart, until he lets out the real cry of anguish. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

The sounds of Chae-yoon’s grief can be heard through the forest. Cho-tak and Park-po, who have been aiding Chae-yoon in his search for So-yi, follow the sounds into the cave to see her dead body covered, and beside her are the two wooden wedding ducks Chae-yoon bought. Oof. Kill some baby seals while you’re at it and really bring this home, Tree.

Chae-yoon, however, is looking mighty dead inside even as he shoves the Haerye into his clothes. Perhaps knowing that now her corpse will be taken care of, he runs off without a word to fulfill her dying wish.

Shim Jong-soo has survived his fall off a cliff, and comes to crash Lee Shin-juk’s good time. Quick to recover, Lee Shin-juk assures his good friend that whatever he’s thinking is probably a misunderstanding, and that he was sooooo worried…

But instead of being angry, Shim Jong-soo merely hands over the Hidden Root Scroll and the roster of names. He says that Jung Ki-joon is dead, but this smells more like Shim Jong-soo’s wish to keep Hidden Root a secret.

Once he’s alone, Lee Shin-juk has a nice moment where he laughs, cries, and burns the Hidden Root Scroll. After all these years of work, he’s free at last.

With the approval of the three state councilors (thanks probably in large part to Lee Shin-juk), the day of the promulgation ceremony finally arrives. Though most of the commoners don’t know why they’re being called, they arrive by the hundreds anyway to fill the grounds. Officials and common people alike all bow grandly before King Sejong, who sits on his throne at the front of the assembly. Next to him, Jung In-ji begins to read proudly from a scroll.

It’s a basic explanation of what we’ve seen happening over the course of the series, explaining that the Hunminjeongeum (the previous name for Hangul) consists of twenty-eight letters, and that offices are in place to ensure that it’s dispersed widely for use by the people.

All looks as if it’s going well, until we see Jung Ki-joon disguised like all his neighbors in a sea of pastel colors. Through this crowd a figure dressed in black moves among them like an angel of death, headed straight for the throne.

It’s Gae Pa-yi, who sheds his cloak once he’s near the throne to reveal his new haircut and a new uniform. Also a very large spear. In front of all the onlookers, including the King, he becomes a one-man army against a literal army. He’s a giant among men, a complete force of nature, and though he’s surrounded he’s able to take down dozens of palace guards without sustaining one hit. Mu-hyul looks on with something akin to resignation.

Mustering a war cry that just sounds like it might be his last, Mu-hyul jumps down from the platform to try to defeat that which is undefeatable.

Mu-hyul manages to get a hit in, but it’s not long before his sword is broken in half. He’s met in the stomach with the business end of Gae Pa-yi’s spear, but bravely grabs onto it to keep the giant in one place so soldiers can come from behind to cut him down. They’re like mosquitos to Gae Pa-yi, who’s able to use only one hand to beat them away.

Because he’s the best, Mu-hyul breaks the spear in half so he can rip it out of his body and stab Gae Pa-yi. Good. Gracious. He’s a hero until the end, as even though he’s stabbed the giant in the chest, Gae Pa-yi uses the other half of the spear to again slice through our favorite swordsman.

This is the blow that breaks him, but even as Mu-hyul is brought to his knees he makes a last-ditch, desperate attempt to keep Gae Pa-yi from reaching the throne by grabbing hold of his clothing. It’s useless of course, as Gae Pa-yi continues his rampage toward the King’s platform. Why isn’t Sejong protected by a human shield made of loyal bodies again? Where did everyone’s loyalty go?

Unprotected, Sejong can only look at his would-be assassin. Gae Pa-yi makes a leap, but is derailed in mid-air by Chae-yoon, who’s made it at last!

…Except he looks like he couldn’t be more dead inside. At least he faces off with Gae Pa-yi in an epic battle, both of them exchanging blows and sustaining serious injuries. Chae-yoon looks like he’s only half-trying to win the fight.

He does, however, hold his own against the inhumanly strong Gae Pa-yi, who was already wounded before our hero arrived on the scene. Brought to his knees, blood spills from Gae Pa-yi’s mouth as he levels a look at Chae-yoon… and dies in front of the eyes of everyone present, as well as the little Yeon-doo. Wait, that was it? Huh. Guess he wasn’t so invincible after all.

Sejong wonders aloud what we’re all wondering – why is no one even trying to treat Mu-hyul? His sentiments echo that of Jung Ki-joon when he too wondered why no one was treating the Leader as she died. Maybe it’s all over once they’re breathing blood.

To the end, Mu-hyul is worried only for Sejong’s well being. He tells him not to stop with the promulgation, and to return to his seat. Aww. When leaving his friend of countless years doesn’t seem like it’s the first thing on Sejong’s mind, Mu-hyul manages to crack a joke in keeping with their married couple rapport. “Your Majesty, please listen to the Royal Guard Commander a little.” Awwwwww. This is the best death non-speech of the episode, because it has a little humor.

He’s not dead yet, at least, and Sejong sees him carried off on a stretcher before he once again ascends the platform. All the bodies, including Gae Pa-yi’s, have been removed from the grounds. But someone else emerges from the crowd…

It’s Jung Ki-joon, and he’s got a knife. He looks about ready to try the assassination himself, but is stopped when he hears a rush of voices around him. When Chae-yoon was stabbed by Gae Pa-yi in the beginning of the fight, the Haerye So-yi had written down before her death had gone flying into the crowd. Many people have now picked these pieces up, and to Jung Ki-joon’s utter amazement he realizes that they’re… reading. They all know the alphabet!

No one is explicitly having this flashback, as it’s meant only for us as the viewers to understand how it came to be that everyone knows how to read. Back when Chae-yoon and So-yi were first working through the circulation mission, she had asked her orabeoni if he had a better idea than teaching a singing troupe the Hangul Song. I forgot that he did, and now we get to hear it – he mentions a legend from Japan about a book that would kill those who didn’t show it to others. He wants to use that sort of manipulative method to spread the letters, basically making them into a Joseon chain letter. Ha!

The idea sticks, though, and we flash forward (while we’re still in the flashback) to the favor we never heard So-yi ask of Yeon-doo. It turns out to be a huge lie, but one where the ends justify the means – So-yi tells Yeon-doo that knowing the letters will cause abscesses to grow aaall over her body, and if she doesn’t want that to happen, she must teach the letters to three other people. Relieved, Yeon-doo admits that she doesn’t need to worry – she’s already taught her mom, the Sound Man, and her friends. So-yi then replies that she must tell all those people the same thing about the abscesses, so that they can teach three other people, and so on.

Ha, I like it. It was a bit manipulative (okay, very manipulative) but sometimes you just can’t argue with results. It’s a beautiful, cathartic moment as Sejong looks upon all his subjects, all of them reading the alphabet that he created just for them.

Chae-yoon takes it all in, doing it so that So-yi can see her life’s work to completion through his eyes. In voiceover he speaks to her spirit, “Dam… are you watching? The people are reading the letters, Dam.”

He’s barely keeping himself propped up with his spear, but without a proper hold the blade is digging through his hand. When Sejong finally approaches him to ask about So-yi, Chae-yoon replies, “In here. Isn’t she in here?” He means himself, but also the Haerye. Echoing Mu-hyul’s sentiments earlier, Chae-yoon urges Sejong not to waver, and to complete the promulgation. He must, because So-yi is watching. With one foot already in the next world, Chae-yoon is intent on allowing So-yi to see everything through him.

Blood still stains the ground as the pieces of the Haerye are collected from the people and given to the King. He returns to the throne, unfurling his foreword to address the crowd.

The foreword, or what he has written of it, is taken word-for-word from the true historical foreword of the Hunminjeonggeum that King Sejong penned. In it, he explains his motivation for creating the letters, that because their spoken language is different from that of China’s, and so the written words do not match. When he reaches the end of what he’s written, he addresses the crowd from the heart.

While he uses the Haerye to begin the detailed explanation of how each of the letters came to be, we get our requisite load of flashbacks to show how far we’ve come (answer: very far). Jung Ki-joon, defeated, seems to give up. Within the crowd, Jo Mal-saeng seems to finally notice him just as he’s making his exit. Soon the crowd offers a unified cheer, officials and common people alike. Even Lee Shin-juk gets swept up in the rush, and cheers along.

Chae-yoon watches it all, saying in voiceover, “Dam, you’re watching, right? Ddol-bok is watching clearly. You can see too, right, Dam?” But his grip is slipping, maybe because he doesn’t have enough flesh left on his hand to hold that spear with. Blood pools at his feet as he finally collapses, falling to his knees as blood drips from his mouth. Et tu, Chae-yoon?!

Sejong, finally taking notice, descends from the platform to hold Chae-yoon up by his shoulders. Every breath seems like a chore to our hero, as he stands firm to So-yi’s dying wish. “Your Majesty,” he ekes out, “We should watch. With out Dam’s life, with Dam’s eyes, we should watch. See, what did I tell you? The people have always bore their responsibilities through pain. Please smile. Dam… Like Ddol-bok…” He breathes out one line of a song, about what a great day it is, before his body goes lax and he falls into Sejong’s arms.

I’m going to call this one and say it’s a vision Chae-yoon has in his final moments, before he completely shuffles the mortal coil. In it, he lives his ideal life of a humble house with his true love, So-yi, and their children. He teaches them Hangul. Everyone is smiles and laughter. Taking this as the last thing Chae-yoon thinks of before he dies makes it heartbreakingly sad. Or maybe it does. I’m out of tears with which to measure.

With So-yi’s body having been brought by Cho-tak and Park-po, Sejong lovingly lays Chae-yoon down next to her. He places Chae-yoon’s hand together with hers, and looks over their corpses with nothing but sadness.

Jo Mal-saeng has sent his troops after Jung Ki-joon, who’s busy fleeing with Pyung. Jung Ki-joon is bleeding from a wound on his arm, while Pyung is mostly covered in blood that isn’t his. Coming one last time to protect the First Root, Pyung sizes up the number of soldiers and knows that this will be his last battle. A warrior’s thrill enters his eyes as he sets to keeping the soldiers distracted in order for Jung Ki-joon to escape.

One of the soldiers is wise to the plan, and shoots an arrow that lands straight into Jung Ki-joon’s back. I think it’s fitting that it’s his retreating back that was shot while he runs away like a coward.

With Pyung distracted, the nearby soldiers set to cutting him down. He fights on till the end, bloodied and gruesome. He doesn’t make it out alive, but it was a fitting sendoff. Without a redemption (he was too far gone), he still manages to leave a favorable impression.

It’s only later that Sejong hears word that Mu-hyul has died. It breaks him to think of all those who have died, and in a bout of misplaced anger and sorrow he decries them for being so disloyal that they would all dare to die at their own whims. Poor Sejong. He’s literally the last man standing.

Meanwhile, Jo Mal-saeng is made aware that the royal guards have lost Jung Ki-joon. But the exact place where he was lost is one that Jo Mal-saeng remembers as housing a secret passage that leads into the palace. Flabbergasted, Jung In-ji doesn’t understand how Jung Ki-joon would know about a secret kept only within the royal family. But the how, as Jo Mal-saeng explains, is because Jung Ki-joon’s revered uncle and the founder of Hidden Root, Jung Do-jun, designed the freaking palace. (Historically, this is accurate. Jung Do-jun is credited with the design of the freaking palace.)

Unaware of this, Sejong steps into the throne room alone…

…And sees Jung Ki-joon Sitting. On. The. Throne.

Ooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhh!! This visual, executed with aplomb, is perfect in so many ways I can’t even describe. It’s the moment of the episode for me.

Upon seeing his nemesis wheezing and bleeding, Sejong can’t help but laugh as he says, “Look at your shabby state, Jung Ki-joon. Thank you. Because of you, I came to love the citizenry.”

I couldn’t imagine a more perfect reaction, and it is funny to see Jung Ki-joon watch as the King reacts that way to his serious and grave manner. After all, he came all this way to sit on that throne. Yet, like all his other ploys, Sejong remains unaffected.

“Yes,” Jung Ki-joon says. “You would do that. However, what about other politicians?” He claims that though he sometimes thought it’d be nice for his dog at home to understand his words, politicians will inevitably regard the people in that same manner. Knowing the letters will only open the people up to more use and abuse by politicians, like the dog that understands human words.

King Sejong: “That is perhaps possible. However they will, in the end, find their paths through their wisdom. And time after time, they will fight and fight again. At times they will win, and at times they will be tricked. And at other times, they may lose as well. Even if they lose yet again, it’s alright. Numerous royal families and hierarchies have suffered annihilation. However, the citizenry, upon this ground they have lived through tens of thousands of years. Since they can just fight again.”

Jung Ki-joon considers him for a moment before he replies, with his last breath, “Now, I can only hope that the King’s words… will come true.”

With that, Jung Ki-joon dies. Sejong approaches his body, saying, “Once in the past, you said this to me. That I don’t love the people. Fine. At the time, I thought maybe that was really true. However, now I know. That is precisely love. That is precisely love! This place…” He indicates his heart. “…hurts so much like this. How can that not be love? Thank you, Jung Ki-joon. Thank you.”

When Sejong leaves the Hangul Room to an engulfing white light, we cut to Shim Jong-soo as he fosters the new recruits of Hidden Root bent on subverting the use of the letters by deeming them lowly. We even get some nice historical tie-ins, as it’s hinted at that Hidden Root played a hand in influencing King Sejong’s second son, Grand Prince Suyang (known later as King Sejo, a king more like his grandfather than his father). As an added twist, we finally hear what Han Ga’s name really is – it’s Han Myeong-hoe (who later became one of King Sejo’s most trusted advisors). On his way out, he bumps into our two scholars Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon, with Sung Sam-moon getting a weird chill down his spine at the contact. (It’s a premonition, as both of them are later executed under Han Myeong-hoe’s advice during Sejo’s reign.)

Later in his life, Sejong reflects on a palace absent of Mu-hyul, Chae-yoon, and So-yi. Now that the proper system for the letters has been created and the seeds have been spread, he no longer gives them the attention he once did. “And now,” he says, “the letters, they belong to the world and they belong to them [the people]. What kind of a world these letters might create, that’s their responsibility.” And so he does what he has to do – continue to work. A scene with him cursing at the fact that ministers are complaining about an upcoming forum harkens back to our first introduction of him. Aww.

As a bookend, we return to the vision where Chae-yoon is teaching his children letters, and where he’s being adorable with So-yi. One of his children is named Suk-sam, after Chae-yoon’s father.

 
COMMENTS

Toward the end of this extended-length finale, I began to feel a little like Count von Count from Sesame Street. For those who were counting along: “That’s seven! Seven dead characters! Ah ah ah ah!”

But really, there was a part of me that knew there existed a chance for such a sageuk-like ending. However, I felt as though we weren’t being set up for the deaths of Chae-yoon and So-yi throughout the series. Truthfully, I was more resigned than upset about their dual deaths until the last bookmark of the episode – this dreamy, cloud-like vision of the perfect life Chae-yoon had imagined with So-yi. I would have felt better had our last images of them been when they were dead, or in flashbacks. But a vision of something that could have very well happened narratively, but for whatever reason did not happen? Thank you for the offer, Tree, but I’ll have to respectfully decline.

I’m left to wonder why they couldn’t have just actually lived, and why that final scene we were shown truly couldn’t have come to pass. Did their deaths really change anything? Were those deaths necessary to propel the story? Not really. The fact that the show gave us fanservice in the form of a dream once the characters were dead and gone seems to negate whatever effect the deaths of So-yi and Chae-yoon were meant to accomplish. Chae-yoon’s transformation through the series was something to behold and admire, so to see him give up on living was heartbreaking, and it effectively lessened the emotional punch of his death because he made it inevitable. My only concern is that our hero and heroine might have been killed just for tragedy’s sake, and if that’s the case, it’s an unfortunate waste. Seeing that final scene with the two of them together only drove home how poignant, cyclical, and meaningful their being alive could have been – if only it had been real.

After all, this drama set up Hangul, the process of making it, and the process of promulgating it as a message of hope. A hope not without its risks, of course, but hope all the same.

Thematically, though there was oodles of violence, the violence-free final debate between Jung Ki-joon and Sejong was a treat to watch. Though Jung Ki-joon was already at death’s door, Sejong’s words seemed to actually wound him, harkening back to Sejong’s principles of words being mightier than swords. Here we saw it in a tangible way. However, for a second there I really believed that Jung Ki-joon was feigning his death in order to draw Sejong closer so he could at least attempt to stab the King with that dagger we saw him carrying before. As long as Sejong stayed safe, that would have been a fun twist.

More so than the epilogue, this scene between two enemies eloquently laid out the pros and cons of the theme of the series – empowering the individual. Sejong won that debate, and I was glad to see Jung Ki-joon acknowledge that in his final moments.

Despite the slightly bitter taste in my mouth over the ending, it doesn’t tarnish how much I loved the drama as a whole. For me, Tree With Deep Roots has become the one to beat, and it was as much a tour de force for the mind and senses as it was for the heart. The story moved along at a breakneck pace, balancing all the words the characters spoke with an emotional undercurrent that grabbed hold of me and never let go. It’s a hero story, a love story, a creation story, and an underdog story all wrapped into one beautifully shot, edited, and well-directed package. The team behind this drama and its actors have truly achieved something wonderful, with some of the greatest performances in recent memory helping to create a truly unforgettable viewing experience.

 
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