Post by ajk on Mar 15, 2015 20:37:10 GMT -5
Note: This summary will be longer than they'll typically be (I hope!) because of all of the background information that was introduced. I wanted to include it all in case anyone who wants to watch the series missed the first episode.
1604, a snowy winter's night in the Andong countryside. Inside a modest home, an old man sits alone, writing by candlelight. Writing about the death of Yi Soon-shin. Obviously this is Ryu Seongryong. As he writes he's plagued by coughing spells. And now he's coughing up blood. Well we all know what that means....
Flashback to 1589, Hanyang (Joseon's capital, present-day Seoul): An impressive ceremony is taking place inside the palace. King Seonjo and hundreds of high officials...and it looks like it's all about a book! A simple-looking book that sits on a table. We learn that this book is one volume of the Daemyeongjoejeon--the complete laws of Ming. What's the big deal? For 200 years Ming had refused to recognize Joseon's legitimacy, recording in its laws that Lee Seonggye was Lee In Im's son and became king illegitimately by killing a reigning king. Joseon had tried repeatedly to get Ming to correct this misstatement, unsuccessfully...until Seonjo. No wonder he looks so relieved and content. No more questions about the dynasty's legitimacy from their powerful neighbor. The book on the table, it's just one volume; an entire set of Ming's law books is due to arrive soon. And Seonjo promises rewards to all of the officials when the books finally do arrive, for helping achieve what everyone present feels is a great blessing. Wait, not everyone. An argument breaks out over whether or not to send Ming a "thank you letter" (a/k/a an expensive gift of some sort; Ming apparently loves their bribes and gifts) for the "blessing" they've bestowed. Ryu is there; he's the War Minister and disturbs everyone by grumbling that "It's not a blessing, it's writing a wrong. We suffered for 200 years...We should receive an apology from Ming." Well from the way everybody else is looking at him, apparently he's the only one who feels this way, or at least is willing to say so out loud. Seonjo listens to him with an amused smile on his face, enjoying watching him make everybody else squirm. But he's going to send the gift anyway.
Port of Busan: Two envoys have arrived, on behalf of the Japanese king. Actually they're from Tsushima Island. They've brought gifts from Japan for King Seonjo--but the Joseon official who reviews the list says only, "We'll give them to the court." Hmmm...They've also brought something not on the list: a musket. Obviously a message there, but what is it? We learn that Japan first sent envoys to Joseon two years earlier and has been trying to establish diplomatic ties with them...but Seonjo rejected them. And that Tsushima is desperately trying to make it happen, because if Japan can't get relations established, there may be a war. A war that would turn Tshushima into a forward base for the Japanese, ruining the island's lucrative trading operations, draining it of food and basic resources that its people need to survive, and likely conscripting its able-bodied men to fight in the war. Hence the musket.
As the high officials discuss the envoys' arrival, we learn that the two nations used to have relations but that they dissolved 150 years ago. And their king, Hideyoshi, became king by killing the existing king...which, from what we saw earlier, is going to be a huge sore point for Seonjo and Joseon. But the officials agree that the king should at least receive the envoys, if only to get a better idea of what's going on in Japan.
That is going to be a big problem, though, because when Ryu asks Seonjo to do so the king flat-out refuses, just as he did two years ago. "A country that kills its king is a country of beasts!", he tells Ryu angrily, and reminds him about the 200-year struggle to be accepted by Ming. You can go meet the envoys but I will not. "Don't mention it again."
Nighttime: We meet a man named Jeong Cheol, who's identified as the leader of the Westerners political faction. But he's hardly dressed like a government official; he looks like a simple farmer as he wanders through a small town somewhere on his horse. We learn that the Easterners are in control of the government now and have just about vanquished the Westerners. Jeong has been completely out of the government for four years. He and two other once-powerful Westerners, Song Ikpil (who actually has been reduced to slave status and has been dodging slave-hunters) and Seong Hon, are reuniting for a meal. They despair over the direction the country has taken under the Easterners. And yearn for the day when they can drive out the "small-minded people" and set the country on a better course.
The envoys from Tsushima have been escorted to Hanyang and now Ryu is meeting with them. They implore him to get the king to receive them, because "the citizens of Tsushima will be slaughtered" if they return to Japan unsuccessful. Oh, also because the envoy who tried two years ago was executed! "The gwanbaek is a scary person," So says, referring to Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Japan's leader. "If you don't establish foreign relations, he might start a war." Wow, really?...Flashback to two years earlier. We're in Kyoto, and there's Hideyoshi. And the envoy who couldn't get relations established. Apparently the official didn't exactly try very hard, though; so reports a spy. Long story short, the the warrior/official Kato Kiyomasa kills him on the spot...Flashback ending, So warns that the Japanese have "hundreds of thousands of well-trained soldiers." And lots of rifles. It's a sobering message for Ryu, who says he'll present it to the other high officials.
Ryu did, and obviously it hit home, because now all of the officials are outside of the king's closed throne room, on their knees and begging him to receive the envoys. And they raise a new (to us) issue: that a lot of Joseon citizens have been getting killed by Japanese pirates. Receive the envoys, they beg, to help put a stop to the pirates. "We should have the gwanbaek control them," Ryu says. "We're not asking for friendly relations. We have to watch the gwanbaek and use him." The king has been trying to ignore them but finally opens the door and begs them to stop. "Stop making me suffer!", he shouts, falling to his knees in front of them. "If I become the king of a country of beasts," he says in desperation, "the people will become beasts. That's more tragic." No question it's a really tough problem with no easy answer.
"It's like the Easterners are king of this country." Back in that little town, still that evening, the three Westerners are still talking...but Song has a plan to start "removing the pus," as he puts it (yecch). He knows stuff about a guy named Jeong Yeorip, a former Eastern official who had headed the Office of Special Advisors but who left the court and returned home to Hwanghae province. The stuff: "Jeong has soldiers." Well that's not a secret...so what? Song wants to accuse Jeong of plotting treason! Song says that first an appeal must be submitted to the king to oppose the envoys. "We have to create a mood to eradiate the Easterners' party.
So now here are some officials and scholars kneeling in front of the palace arguing loudly to the king against receiving the envoys...and later in another part of the palace here are other officials on their knees arguing just as loudly to the king in favor of receiving the envoys...and now we see out in a public street that even among the citizens there's intense, passionate debate about it.
But wait! The Second State Councilor Lee Sanhae has come up with an idea...and he and Ryu take it to the king. The idea is, tell the envoys, We don't want Japan sending us envoys, we want the pirate leader Sakadou! "We can see their intentions and comfort the people." That is a heck of an idea. It intrigues Seonjo enough that he makes them an offer: "If Woe agrees and I still oppose, you won't talk about it any more?" Hmm...eventually Lee nods. Deal. Go ahead, Seonjo says. But later, outside, Lee tells Ryu that he only agreed to the deal because it's very unlikely that the pirate leader will ever be captured and turned over. He's only concerned about the present situation with the envoys.
So now here they come, into the throne room. The two Tsushimans to pay their respects to Seonjo. The king is calm and cordial to them, but quickly asks for the pirate leadership to be captured and handed over. And for all of the Joseon people who have been abducted by pirates (obviously no small number of them, to raise the issue) to be returned home. It surprises and unnerves the envoys, who insist that the pirates operate entirely outside any governmental authority. Genso begins to protest...but So cuts him off and says he agrees to the terms. Well this is interesting. Can they possibly deliver?
Somewhere out in the countryside, a place called Jukdo (not sure if this is Jukdo Island): We get a glimpse of Jeong Yeorip and his private army. Around 500 soldiers. A scout gets a look at them and gives a report to Song Ikpil...
...and now a horrified Seonjo is reading a report that was delivered to him about the soldiers, accusing Jeong Yeorip of plotting reason. He goes ballistic: "Get him right now!"
Later we see all of the high officials kneeling in the throne room as Seonjo laments his own perceived failings. For some reason he singles out Ryu as War Minister for failing to protect him--not really fair because a treason plot is hardly the War Minister's responsibility. But he's just plain mad right now and storms out of the room.
Well here's a sight: Back at his camp, Jeong Yeorip is kneeling on the ground, dead! Suicide. Literally fell on his sword; it skewered him like he was a kabob onion. And we see the obligatory torture of his associates (no details necessary). And we learn that the Westerners and scholars pressed the matter by submitting more appeals that led to more prosecutions. We see the king reading them--including one that accused Third State Councilor Jeong Eonsin of dragging his feet and preventing a more prompt investigation, and another that tried so indirectly link Ryu Seongryeong to Yeorip.
The next day, Ryu heads to see the king about something. A subordinate stops him and tells him Jeong Eonsin has been removed from his position and replaced by Jeong Cheol! And that Jeong has been given criminal judicial power over the treason investigation. And that "Your name is mentioned in the letters of the traitors." Ryu retreats for a while to absorb all of this...
...but when he returns to the palace that evening, there's a smiling Jeong Cheol waiting for him. And tells him that he won't be allowed to see the king "since you're under investigation too." Ryu is chagrined but heads inside anyway, kneeling outside of Seonjo's throne room door and asking for an audience. Seonjo is in there but doesn't budge.