Saturday, April 16, 2016

[DAEBAK drama recap] Episode 6

Writer: Lola Devung 
Editor: Val Kaye Taozen and Tabby
Picture credit : SBS

“You change for two reasons: Either you learn enough that you want to, or you’ve been hurt enough that you have to.” ~ unknown

The episode begins with a scene seemingly unrelated to the closing of the previous episode. Dae-Gil lies unconscious on the bank of the river and is found by Hong-Mae and her gang, who apparently have been searching for him the whole day. When Dae-Gil regains his consciousness, Hong-Mae is surprised to find out that he is suffering from amnesia. However, sly as she is, Hong-Mae takes advantage of the unfortunate situation by selling Dae-Gil as a slave to a salt flats owner. After looking at Dae-Gil’s physical condition, he will only pay the ridiculously low price of five nyang instead of the ten demanded by Hong-Mae. At first, she seems unsatisfied, but eventually she gives in upon condition: Dae-Gil must work at the salt flats until his spirit is broken, and he should not be allowed to return to Hanyang until Hong-Mae buys him back. The man agrees.

Dae-Gil, not yet fully recovered but forced to stamp his fingerprint on the slave contract, starts his days of hard labor at the salt flat. Though the cruel owner insists on calling him ‘Half-Wit’, he learns from the contract that his name is ‘Baek Dae-Gil,’ and he “owes” the salt mine owner 45 nyang. He also acquires some new company, a friendly-looking slave girl named Seo-Rim. She tells him stories about the place, the other slaves, and the cruel owner, nicknamed ‘the Demon.’ In addition, Dae-Gil witnesses his fellow slaves being beaten and even killed. Several times Seo-Rim stops him from intervening and asks him to do nothing since it won’t help their situation anyway. But when he steps forward and glares defiantly at the Demon after seeing a fellow slave unjustly executed, he is punished with starvation, simply adding to all his misery so far.

Meanwhile, in the palace, Prince Yeoning has his own royal troubles. He discovers that his mother called the shaman to ask about his supposed-to-be-dead older brother. Lady Choi makes up a vague motherly reason, but Yeoning is not satisfied. As he is leaving his mother, King Sukjong summons him.  The king appears to be sick, surrounded by royal physicians diligently grinding herbal medicines, yet certainly not lacking even a bit of his charisma. The reason he has called Yeoning there is to inquire whether his younger son wants to be king or not! As he doesn’t need to beat around the bush, Sukjong acknowledges his suspicion regarding Yeoning’s degenerate behavior and the motives behind it. Even though Yeoning tries to deny it, Sukjong apparently knows the truth and again asks whether Yeoning wants to take the throne once he steps down. When Yeoning tries to reason that he cannot be a king since his older half-brother is the crown prince, Sukjong tells him that there is no law stating that the crown prince must become the king. He goes further and points out that it is a blow to his pride to even have this conversation. Yeoning seems to be thinking hard about it as the king poses his final question: “whether you become a good and wise king like Sejong or a monster like Yeonsan, that is up to you. So then, will you do it or not?” (Note: King Sejong, fourth king of the Joseon dynasty is considered one of the greatest kings; Yeonsan-gun was the tenth king, often considered the worst tyrant.)

The potential political conflict starts to emerge as Sukjong proceeds to appoint the obviously not-so-healthy crown prince as Regent, leaving Yeoning in an awkward position, as he is concerned for his brother’s health as well.

Back in the forest, Dae-Gil, who is being punished with starvation for his earlier defiance, tries to find a way to escape. In his exploration, he discovers the marks of a tiger on the trees and a middle-aged man with sharp eyes chopping a tree. The man observes him and signals with his head a viper hanging on a tree branch behind him! Now here comes one of the most daring scenes of this drama. Dae-Gil, driven by his hunger and desperate will to survive, doesn’t seem to care about the danger. He snatches the snake immediately, savagely biting it, peeling the skin away, and begins to munch on the skinned snake. The man, Kim Chae-Gun (Ahn Gil-Kang), continues his work while keeping an eye on the desperate young guy savoring his only ‘meal’ that day.

It looks like Dae-Gil is destined to meet Kim Chae-Gun. After having his lusty eyes fixed on Seo-Rim for some time, the Devil tries to rape her one night. Dae-Gil comes to the rescue when he hears her screaming, and the two slaves flee into the forest. When she learns there may be tigers, Seo-Rim tries to convince Dae-Gil to go back, but he refuses. He sweetly promises to get them out of the forest and takes responsibility for the girl's life. As expected, a tiger appears. As Dae-Gil orders Seo-Rim to run on his count of three, he braces himself to face the tiger with only a stick. In the critical moment, however, somebody comes to rescue him. It’s Kim Chae-Gun who kills the tiger with one slash of his sword and then leaves, warning Dae-Gil to go back if he wants to stay alive. Dae-Gil is then found by the Demon’s men, still in shock, and helplessly brought back to the owner’s house. He is beaten and punished even more severely, culminating in being thrown into a dung hole because the Demon wants him literally to taste the crap!

However, the young guy stays firm. He doesn’t beg for his life.  Instead he spits on the Demon’s face. The Demon angrily orders his man to stuff Dae-Gil’s lucky one nyang coin back into his mouth as his “fare” to the underworld and strikes him mercilessly. This time the blow suddenly brings back memories, from his father’s tragic death to his own cruel treatment at the hands of Yi In-Jwa. When his one nyang coin comes rolling out of his mouth and lands on the ground in front of him, he suddenly remembers Baek Man-Geum saying, “shouldn’t the best gambler in Joseon be able to do it with one nyang?” Vivid memories of Baek Man-Geum, Yi In-Jwa and Yeoning each tossing the one nyang coin to him replay dramatically while a solitary tear rolls down his face.

In the same flash back, we then return to the closing scene of Episode 5. Kim Chae-Gun walks towards Dae-Gil, who is almost completely buried in the sea of muddy salt, desperately trying to get a dead baby crab into his starving mouth. Kim Chae-Gun squats and puts the baby crab into Dae-Gil’s mouth and gives him water. Instead of giving his name to the man, Dae-Gil offers to bet whether he will survive or not. The man only smiles and says, “You should live.” As Kim Chae-Gun walks away, Dae-Gil sees his father's back instead and more painful memories return to him. In the end, he made a promise to his late father, with such determination, that until he gets his hands on the person who killed his father, he will not die.

There is a rather quick turnover here following his ‘enlightenment’ and the regaining of his memory. Soon enough, Dae-Gil shows off his card shark ability, remembering all the old tricks Baek Man-Geum taught him. His strong will to avenge Man-Geum’s murder not only strengthens him physically but also mentally. He demonstrates his skill to the Demon and offers to gamble for him in Hanyang. The man's greed drives him to accept. While preparing for the journey, Dae-Gil learns that Seo-Rim is the daughter of another ill-fated gambler—which makes him remember his father more and more. Now Dae-Gil, who looks neat and handsome again, with his unusually fierce, cold eyes, seems ready to return to Hanyang for some good revenge.

Once in Hanyang, Demon takes Dae-Gil to meet his old acquaintances: Hong-Mae and the Gang. Hong-Mae isn’t too pleased to know that the Demon has broken their sale terms and conditions.  With Dae-Gil acting like he still has amnesia, the Demon proposes to ‘sell’ Dae-Gil back to Hong-Mae for 500 nyang—100 times his earlier selling price as a slave—if Dae-Gil can beat Hong-Mae’s team in a series of card game. If he loses, the Demon won’t claim anything further. Dae-Gil beats all of them easily, which creates a buzz in the gambling house. Hearing the noise, Dam-Seo comes in, followed by Yi In-Jwa. To their surprise, they see a very familiar yet unexpected face: Baek Dae-Gil. At first, Dae-Gil continues to act as if he had lost his memory, but finally he loses patience due to the bitter memory of his father’s tragic death. The surprisingly well-prepared Dae-Gil schemes to beat Yi In-Jwa. He sets up a trap so that it seems like In-Jwa has cheated to win the game. The episode ends on a cliffhanger, with Yi In-Jwa about to receive the punishment for cheating in a gambling house. The punishment for cheating is having his hand chopped off with an axe. Somewhere on the second floor, the disguised Prince Yeoning attentively observes everything that happens.

Some personal thoughts:
Is it eventually the end? Or is it yet another beginning?

This episode may be the end of Gae Ddong, who suffered a lot, physically and mentally. The innocent, happy-go-lucky village boy went through a lot of pain before he finally reached the peak of all the possible sufferings. Some of Dae-Gil’s unfortunate scenes revolving around betting games might seem too extreme and exaggerated for some people in our generation. However, looking back at history, particularly at the harsh social caste system that shaped the lives of Joseon people, it is not uncommon to see slaves' lives treated as cheaper than a one nyang coin. They easily could lose their lives or rights through a single tujeon or card game. 

Dae-Gil’s extreme sufferings as depicted in this episode, then, might not solely serve as a long, redundant process of proving his inborn great fortune the hard way. Instead, these incidents might be the so-called triggers for something even more important in his life: a change for a new beginning.  Without this very unbearable pain—up to the utmost embarrassment of being literally shat on—would the new Baek Dae-Gil appear all of a sudden? Well, probably not. Thus, the new Baek Dae-Gil, the real card shark, was reborn as more resilient because he went through so much hurt that it led him to change himself accordingly. As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”.

On the other side of the story, we have Prince Yeoning, who slowly changes to what he might truly be: the intelligent, just, throne-protecting prince who looks up to his charismatic father. He changes because he wants to. The two cubs belonging to the old tiger Sukjong have started transforming into young tigers with stronger claws, ready to play their games against Yi In-Jwa in their own respective ways.

Finally, to me personally, the storyline of Daebak has been presented in the most beautiful, metaphorical narrative pattern possible. Therefore, I am looking forward to digesting it slowly and carefully since it can be as overwhelming as it is interesting. I’m ready to see the new beginning in the next part of the story. Let the dice be thrown and the cards shuffled. Let’s see if we can finally hit the jackpot!


  1. Whoa! Great recap! I now understand what is mean with King Sejong and Yeongsan. Thank you for explaining it in the recap.
    You said it right, it might be beginning to later hit the jackpot. About the graphic scen, I wonder if the drama team did not make it that way, will we feel so good seeing the move of Daegil at the end of episode?

  2. Thank you for the recap! I, too, hope that this is the end of the suffering period and the beginning of a better life for Dae Gil! The ending is such a teaser lol...

  3. Thank you for posting my recap, TEF! Huge thanks for the amazing editing team as well :). This is indeed one of the most difficult episodes to watch but I'm glad I could manage to retell it and share my personal thoughts as well. 'Daebak' follows a common narrative pattern but it amazes me that the writer has used three phases i.e. 'Complication' (Climax), Resolution (Ending) and Re-orientation (A new start) all in the single episode! No wonder it's not an easy piece to follow. However, I have been enjoying the story so much despite my personal grief as an eel upon seeing Jang Keun Suk being beaten and such lol. Anyway, I hope more people will grow to like this drama- it's worth-watching!

    1. Thanks for sharing your great recap...this was indeed a very difficult episode...this is really not an easy drama to watch..there is so much going on..with history and fantasy entwined

  4. Such a great recap, and so insightful! Thank you for bringing even more dimension to an already deep story!

  5. Such a great recap, and so insightful! Thank you for bringing even more dimension to an already deep story!

  6. These recaps and insights always show me things that I didn't see or completely understand. Thanks to all of the authors for your perception and for all of the work it takes to put your thoughts in writing :)

  7. I really enjoy reading this recap. So insightful.

  8. Just one more thought as I re-read this recap. I really hate that Yi In-Jwa was correct when he said that extreme suffering was the way to create a tiger out of a country bumpkin. I have to hold onto the expectation that in the end the suffering needed to create this tiger will have been necessary not to help Yi succeed in his plans, but to cause Yi's downfall.


Thank you for sharing with us, Cri!