Writer: Christine Romalewski
Editors: Val Kaye Taozen & Tabby
Pictures credit: SBS
Yeoning and Suk Bin
Episode 15 continues where Episode 14 ended, with a stunned Yeoning trying to process the incomprehensible idea that Daegil could possibly be his deceased older brother. He apprehensively but directly asks his ailing mother if Daegil is his brother, and she tearfully confirms that he is and explains the reasons for her giving him up. No one – not the ministers, not the queen, not even the king himself – would have allowed this child to survive. But even in the midst of her emotional pain in relieving this abandonment of ‘that poor child’, we see her ever-present pragmatism when she tells her son that if she hadn’t done this, ‘I would not be where I am today. Yeoning, you would not be here today.’
She tells Yeoning about her continued anguish over Daegil’s imprisonment, until Yeoning tells her that the king has released Daegil and sent him to capture the gambler, Cutter! Fearing for the danger that the king has put Daegil in and convinced that Sukjong has ulterior motives for releasing Daegil, she determines to confront the king, but collapses from weakness. Yeoning tells her not to worry - he will discover the king’s real intent.
In Jwa unwraps a copy of a book named Jeonggamrok, and explains to Hwang Jin Ki (his swordsman) that it is a book of prophesy that foretells the future demise of the current Yi dynasty and the rise of the Jeong dynasty. In Jwa doesn’t know who that Jeong is.
We flashback to a 1697 meeting where the finishing touches are being put on a plan to overthrow King Sukjong. A figure, whom we assume is Jeong, the leader of this rebellion, remains in shadow, backlit behind a window screen and listening to all that’s being said. Among the gathered rebels is young man busily sharpening the blade of his cleaver to use on the king. His little sister, Soon Im, joins him. She says he won’t need that sharp blade because the king is hers to kill with her short sword. (The resemblance between Soon Im and present day Seol Im is instantly apparent, and we realize that the young man is Cutter, minus all of that hair!) The banter between Cutter and Soon Im clearly shows the affection they feel for each other. Treasonous palace guards will assist by opening the palace gates to the rebels at 11pm. The rebels have only this one opportunity to succeed in killing the king. In Jwa tells us that many people were in favor of this rebellion because they believed that this was the Jeong of the prophesy, and that King Sukjong fears this prophesy more than he fears a thousand rebels.
Yeoning and Jeonggamrok
In an audience with King Sukjong, Yeoning tells his father, ‘Politics is about giving up something in order to gain something else,’ and he asks his father what the king has to gain from both releasing Daegil and sending him after Cutter. Speaking from behind his ever-present screen of vapor, the king turns the question around and asks Yeoning how much he knows about Daegil. Yeoning tells Sukjong that Daegil is the son of gambler Baek Man Geum, a pupil of master swordsman Kim Chae Gun, his friend, and… The king cuts him off and cynically tells him he’s wrong! Daegil is not his friend but instead is a hunting dog, useful for bringing you prey when it’s needed but, when his usefulness is finished, good only for being hunted down and eaten himself!
King Sukjong then brings out the original Jeonggamrok book. He tells Yeoning how the prophesy that a Jeong will bring down the Yi dynasty led to the deaths of thousands and caused a revolt against Sukjong himself. In a gory flashback to the 1697 rebellion, we see the palace guards opening the palace doors; the rebels rushing in; and intense fighting between the rebels and the king’s men - with a wounded, bloodied king in the thick of the fight. Fiercely defending the king is Kim Chae Gun (Daegil’s teacher). As the rebels are cut down, Cutter and little Soon Im remain among the few rebels left in the palace. Cutter sees his father struck down by Kim Chae Gun, and then watches as ferocious little Soon Im barges toward Kim Chae Gun, only to be struck down. He’s stunned with grief and fear as Kim Chae Gun hovers over him, while his sister desperately cries for him to save himself. As Soon Im dies, shell-shocked Cutter runs away. The badly wounded King Sukjong inflicts one last, bloodthirsty lunge at a rebel leader, who with his gravelly dying breath yells ‘The Yi dynasty will become extinct. Jeongs will be the new monarchs!’ Back in the present time, Sukjong tells Yeoning that Cutter is one of the rebels and a traitor. Sukjong says his ultimate goal is to destroy the root behind both Yi In Jwa and Cutter!
Yeoning determines to learn everything he can about Jeong; He pours through 1697 rebellion documentation and learns from minister Kim Chang Jib that a servant of the rebel leader survived the rebellion. Yeoning visits this man and finds a poor creature whose head is permanently bent because Jeong broke his neck. Yeoning solicits the man’s help in identifying Jeong.
Yi In Jwa
Yi In Jwa continues to pull strings behind the scenes. He sends Moo Myung (his right hand man) to bring the drawing he did in Episode 14 to Mother Hwanggu (In Jwa’s shaman). Moo Myung says the dragon fish represents the king. However, the two fish in the lotus pond symbolizes rebellion! Hwanggu says she personally will deliver this drawing to the Master (Jeong?). In addition to sending the drawing to Hwanggu, In Jwa also tells Hwang Jin Ki that he has three immediate goals: redirect the king’s venom away from himself and towards Cutter; get the list of all the people who paid Cutter to assassinate palace officials; and find out who Jeong is…and only Cutter knows who he is. Then, surprisingly, In Jwa says he doesn’t believe the prophesy about Jeong being the next king. Instead, he predicts the next king will be Baek Daegil!
Daegil and Cutter
After his release from prison, Daegil runs purposefully down a road at dusk. He stops suddenly when he hears a rustle. He closes his eyes, listening very intently, and draws his sword. He hears six attackers. He disables one archer with a forcefully flipped coin and catches the arrow of the archer, flinging it back to pierce the attacker. His blue satin garments spinning like a pinwheel around him, he fends off four swordsmen, twirling and slashing with his sword and scabbard in each hand! Daegil, then, demands one of the defeated swordsmen lead him to Cutter.
Before Daegil arrives, Seol Im asks Cutter why he won’t release her as he agreed to do after Six Ghosts death. Cutter tells her that he simply changed his mind. Seol Im is shocked when Cutter also tells her that tonight he’s going to crush this Daegil whom she cares so much about. When Daegil arrives at Cutters gambling house, the two men share lengthy, intense stares with each other. The room quickly fills with gambling house patrons who know that they’re going to see a good show. Among those present are Yeon Hwa (Gol Sa’s daughter) and Dam Seo, who sits quietly on the sidelines. Cool-headed Daegil flippantly says, “This is too much of a welcome”, and equally flippant Cutter responds, “You must be happy. You have so many mourners at your funeral.” Cutter challenges Daegil to beat him at the ‘whoever picks the 10 card wins the gambling room’ game. Daegil says he didn’t think this challenge would be this easy. Cutter replies he hasn’t yet heard the one rule that guides the game: there are NO rules and ANYTHING goes. The show begins. Cutter signals two henchmen to attack. Daegil fends them off easily, even tipping the brim of his hat like a cowboy at the end of one of the encounters. Cutter ups the ante by covering all of the candles in the room, plunging the room into darkness, and turns his henchmen loose onto Daegil. After the sounds of swordplay end and the candles are uncovered, Cutter sees the floor littered with the writhing bodies of his henchmen and Daegil standing directly in front of him with a slightly mocking smile on his face.
Cutter refuses to admit that he’s lost, so Yeon Hwa suggests they play one-on-one with each other. She deals two cards face down and tells says whoever picks the ten wins the game. Daegil immediately chooses a card, and also says that he’s unsure if Cutter and Yeon Hwa have rigged the game against him. Cutter says Daegil can kill him if he thinks the game is unfair. Daegil responds by having one arm tied behind his back to better match Cutter’s one good arm in a fight. The sword fight between the two men begins in earnest. Attempting to stop the fight and protect Daegil, Seol Im runs in front of him, necessitating a beautiful spin by Daegil in front of Seol Im to protect her from Cutter’s blade. Cutter’s blade misses. Cutter goes to the table, picks a card without looking at it, and claims victory because he clearly won the blade fight. Daegil, however, challenges him to show his card, insisting that if he wins he gets both the gambling hall and Seol Im. Cutter still seems certain that he’s won until Daegil asks him if he trusts Yeon Hwa, again implying that Yeon Hwa rigged the game. Cutter shows his card – it isn’t a 10! Daegil proclaims that the other card must be the ten, so he’s won! Cutter looks at Yeon Hwa. She stares at him, directly asking, “Why did you kill my father?” Cutter looks from Yeon Hwa to Daegil and starts laughing, saying, “So, you knew?” Yeon Hwa furiously replies, “I just found out now…when you confessed to it!” Daegil moves to the table and turns his card face up – it isn’t a ten! “The goal of this game was to get you to confess on your own”, he tells Cutter.
Cutter is stunned that Daegil and Yeon Hwa planned the entire scenario. With Yeon Hwa screeching at him, asking why he killed her father, he tells her no reason is needed to kill a gambler and the game isn’t over yet. Daegil accepts still another challenge to fight. Cutter removes his arm sling and shakes out his arm, which crunches from lack of use. Cutter says, “This time it’s real” to which Daegil counters, “You’ll feel it, the wide gap between you and me.” The two men begin a brief but intense match, which includes a slow motion backward airborne flip by Daegil. The fight ends with Cutter being disarmed and driven to his knees. With his sword at Cutter’s throat, Daegil orders Cutter to reveal who hired him to kill Gol Sa – it’s Yi In Jwa. But Cutter goes on to say that he didn’t kill Gol Sa for the money; he did it solely because he wanted to. He looks tenderly at Seol Im, saying he thought for a moment that he’d escape being what he’d become – a killer – but he’s gone too far. He has a sweet, poignant memory of seeing a starving Seol Im ravenously eating when she first came to him, and when Seol Im looks at him he sees little Soon Im looking at him with a smile. With a tear rolling down his cheek, Cutter tells Daegil to take responsibility for Seol Im – and we see both surprise and empathy in Daegil’s eyes.
Suddenly, Yeoning enters the hall with the crooked neck man shuffling behind him. Cutter realizes that in addition to confessing to Gol Sa’s murder, part of the plan for tonight was to get him to reveal who Jeong is, but he refuses to talk. Undeterred, Yeoning asks the crooked neck man to see if Jeong is in the room. Crooked neck man and Cutter look intently at each other; then, crooked neck man looks twice around the room but doesn’t see Jeong. He apologizes to the prince and shuffles out.
Yeoning orders the arrest of Cutter as a traitor, but Cutter asks permission to have one last drink in his gambling house. Of course, Cutter drops fast-acting poison pellets into his drink. He takes one last look at Seol Im, whose big eyes are fixed on him with concern, and drinks the potion. Dam Seo, who’s been invisible during all of this, unsheathes a knife. Cutter collapses; Seol Im and Daegil race to his side, and Yeoning and Yeon Hwa stare in horror. Dam Seo leaves the room. As he’s dying, Cutter tenderly touches Seol Im’s tear-stained cheek and tells her “For a brief moment I was happy because you were here, Seol Im. Thank you.” He, then, turns his head to Daegil, whose eyes show a mix of compassion and understanding. Cutter says, “ completely lost”, and dies.
Jeong Eui Ryang
Outside, crooked neck man and Yi In Jwa cross paths. In Jwa asks “Is it you?” When the men turn to face each other, crooked neck man straightens his head (!) and says it’s unwise for them to meet openly like this for fear of being discovered by the king. In Jwa persists and suggests they join forces. Crooked neck man is skeptical that In Jwa won’t betray him after he’s king. In Jwa tells him he has trust issues – in fact he won’t even reveal his name. The man says, “I am Jeong Eui Ryang.” In Jwa recognizes the name as being that of a prominent leader from Yongnam, and suggests that if they combine their resources they can “chew up the government and eat it.” Daegil appears on the street. Jeong instantly becomes crooked neck man again and shuffles away after giving In Jwa a flower, but the two men clearly agree to discuss business again.
The Brother Bombshell
In the street outside of Cutter’s gaming house, Daegil tells In Jwa that he’s the only person still alive on Daegil’s list of people to eliminate. As Yeoning walks up to join them, In Jwa drops the “you’re Yeoning’s brother bombshell” on Daegil! A stunned Daegil looks at an equally stunned Yeoning, asks if it’s true, then follows In Jwa to his home. At Daegil’s request for the full story, In Jwa tells him the truth, carefully leaving out his role, about Suk Bin’s marriage to Man Geum, how she became Sukjong’s concubine and left Man Geum, and how she abandoned her premature baby to Man Geum. Daegil sarcastically asks why should he believe that Suk Bin is his mother, but In Jwa encourages him recall the few inexplicability tender moments he’s had with Suk Bin. With all of these thoughts swirling through his head, Daegil still hasn’t grasped the fact with the greatest repercussions. The episode ends with In Jwa telling him that his father isn’t Baek Man Geum – it is the king!
I initially thought that this episode would be less emotionally engaging than some of the others because there are so many action scenes, but while scrutinizing each scene for this recap I realized how wrong I was. The excellently executed action scenes actually provide a welcome break from all of the pain that permeates this episode. Suk Bin’s reliving of the loss of her son; Yeoning’s confusion and sense of betrayal at the existence of an unknown brother; Daegil’s world turned upside down after learning that his heritage isn’t anything close to what he thought it was. Most surprising to me, though, is the heartbreak that the writers and actors made us feel for the assassin Cutter. The moment I saw his sister Soon Im, I knew that I was going to mourn for a man who lived an emotionally shut down life doing terrible things. The scene where Cutter looks at Seol Im and sees Soon Im’s smile is one that I’m having difficulty getting out of my brain. I truly love how the writers had every ‘upright’ character both horrified and devastated by the poignancy of the last moments in the life of this killer. If redemption is possible at the end of a badly lived life, Cutter was redeemed.