Well after watching the final episode yesterday, I'm going to ask for everyone's patience in getting the summary posted. The episode was jam-packed with big events, and there's one sequence that I'm not entirely sure how to describe. It's going to take some extra work and thought...and because it's the conclusion I want to get it right and do it justice. I'm going to have to watch some of the episode again. So be patient with me and hopefully I'll have it posted tomorrow.
"His Majesty summoned you to the court. My congratulations." We're at the royal temple, and a smiling Jihyo is standing next to a covered sedan chair brought here by bearers. A stunned Ban Ya is staring at it. Overwhelmed, she starts to cry. "Buddha fulfilled my wishes."
Gongmin tells his senior officials of his intent to name Monino as crown prince. Some very uncomfortable, indiscreet grumbling from Secretary Gyeong (who may be chancellor now; we're not sure) about rumors of the child being SD's...but as Gongmin fidgets uncomfortably, Lee In Im immediately pitches the story about the recently deceased Lady Han being the mother. And Gongmin decides to lie and confirm it, and asks the officials' forgiveness for not revealing it sooner. Ugh. At least some of them know that it's baloney, but nobody contests it.
Ban Ya is taken away from the royal temple, beaming and ecstatic. But back inside, Master Bou says he sees "darkness" ahead for Ban Ya. Uh-oh.
It's junior guards who are acting as Ban Ya's bearers--isn't that an odd role for them? Suddenly the take a detour off the path to the palace and head in another direction in a big hurry. Ban Ya is getting buffeted around inside and it's scaring her, understandably.
Gongmin and Monino are together, visiting the QD. Princess Deoknyeong and the consorts are there and offer their congratulations. The boy, at least he's stopped crying for his mother...but he still doesn't look all that happy.
Inspector Kim congratulates Lee In Im on impressively deflecting the Monino controversy before the other officials could doubt it. "You are the only one who can contend with Choi Young and Gyeong Cheon Heung," he says, as Lee smiles, pleased with himself.
"The offspring of a court lady?! All creation knows all too well that he's Shin Don's son!" The meeting has ended and Gyeong is complaining to Choi Young and Lee Seong Gye, who have no knowledge of the situation and are taking his word on it. Gyeong even fears this could be the end of the Wang dynasty. In a prescient moment, LSG asks him, "Is not that all the better?" Wow! He adds, "What is of utmost urgency now is turning public sentiment around" and not worrying about Monino's parentage. He warns them that as soon as the public gets word of SD's death there's going to be big trouble. Gyeong nods and offers, "We must stop them with power. We must abolish the Directorate, and return both land and slaves to their righteous owners." Ugh. LSG doubts that the people would accept that, but the other two aren't worried about it. And Gyeong wants to pursue and execute every last one of SD's supporters to send a message to anyone thinking about promoting SD's ideas in the future.
Ban Ya is taken to a remote wooded area and is rudely pulled out of the sedan chair. Then she's bound and gagged! Hong Ryun looks at her. "Do not resent me," he says matter-of-factly. "I am merely following His Majesty's orders." Now we see they're at a riverbank. A heavy stone is tied to Ban Ya's body, and she's unceremoniously thrown into the river. And doesn't float. Good heavens.
Hey it's Won Hyeon! So he didn't die in the fire at Choseon's after all. He's working as a seller in a market stall somewhere. He's calling out to the citizens in the streets, claiming that the small objects we see him holding in his hands are relics of SD's cremation! Sarira, they're called (see link in info thread). Small bead-like objects that supposedly are found among the ashes of Buddhist masters. Jihyo happens to be passing by there; can't imagine what he's thinking at the sight of Won alive, and making this weird pitch. Won tells the people that SD is the Maitreya and will resurrect in 100 days and they all must be prepared. The citizens are enthralled and captivated, and start shouting for joy. But then suddenly a huge commotion: soldiers swoop in on the scene, grab Won and haul him away, and start beating the citizens to break up the assembly. "Shin Don is a traitor!", the commander shouts to them. "Should anyone mention his name or mourn his departure, they shall be dismembered on the spot!"
Directorate for Farmland Reclassification: Well not any more it isn't. The high officials watch with satisfaction as the building's sign is pulled down from above the front door. Gyeong takes the sign and with satisfaction tosses it into a fire that was lit for just this purpose. "From here on in, the Directorate is history!", he shouts happily, as the other officials laugh and applaud. All except Lee Saek, who walks away looking concerned. Hmmm....
...he heads back to the Sungkyunkwan academy and finds a large group of concerned scholars who worry that all of SD's reforms may be cast aside, including the national examinations and even the academy itself. Saek agrees there's much reason for concern, but says all they can do for now is observe because the officials are reclaiming their power. They realize they lost "a very valuable person," as they describe him, when SD died.
Princess Deoknyeong has come to see Gongmin, to protest the Directorate's abolishment. She calls it "a crucial part of the righteous path Goryeo shall walk on to find survival," even without SD. But Gongmin says firmly that all of SD's work is going to be snuffed out. "Shin Don attempted to slay his king and replace me on the throne. Would that kind of person establish the Directorate for this country's sake?! He merely did so to curry favor with the gullible masses!" Oh dear, this is the paranoid Gongmin we saw previously; how said that the paranoia is back. The princess has no words to answer him.
Won Hyeon has been tossed in a cell with some other prisoners and all of them are eating their lunch. All except Won, who's playing with his food. Seriously--he's trying to smoosh his rice into an image of a bulgasari. He starts ranting about SD creating a bulgasari out of boiled rice and how it turned into a giant metal-eating monster (seriously that is exactly what he's saying). The other prisoners giggle at him and make some , which infuriates him and he starts physically attacking them for slandering SD's name. But he's outnumbered and soon is on the wrong end of a beating.
Council hall: A full council meeting. The high officials are all standing to the sides as Monino stands before the king on his throne. A VERY nervous Gongmin pitches the officials the Lady Han story, and then tells them that "This boy's name is U, and after proclaiming him as Prince Gangnyeong, I plan to nominate him Crown Prince, as the heir to my throne." A moment of uncomfortable silence as some of the high officials look at each other with concern on their faces...and then Lee In Im shouts, "Hurrah for His Majesty the King! Hurrah for His Highness the Crown Prince!" Well what can the rest of them do but join in. Gongmin didn't see the concerned looks, but the cheers lift his spirits immensely and his nervousness evaporates. He smiles and then laughs heartily. The kid still doesn't look too happy, though.
"Try to confuse our people with that deranged palaver again, and I shall make sure you will spend the rest of your days behind bars." Won Hyeon has just been unceremoniously tossed out the front door of the jail, and gets a scolding from the commander who arrested him. He looks pretty badly roughed up...but Jihyo was nice enough to show up and help him back to the royal temple. Won says he figured he'd try to stir up the people's fury over SD's death...but he's crushed that it hasn't had the effect he wanted. And now he's claiming (again) that SD will resurrect. And then he calls out to him. "Monk Pyeonjo! Blame this man's folly. I had faith in these injudicious masses, and opened the gates of demise for you. Goddess of Mercy..." And with that he falls into a sobbing heap...and with that, well now we understand. He figured SD's dismissal for the trumped-up charges he lied to Gongmin about would so anger the people that they would overthrow the government, and then SD would return to lead it. So that's the deal. Now we know. (The resurrection business, well, that just seems to be some sort of recurring delusion or else grief-denial.)
Evening: Oh dear, another one of these "meals" where Gongmin and the consorts and junior guards are in his office. Gongmin is dancing around the room, and now insists that everyone else dance with him. Most of them are too uncomfortable to really do it, though. Gongmin grumbles, "Without Ikbi this isn't any fun." Oh yeah, look at that, Ikbi isn't here. Hong Ryun tells him that she's bedridden with a bad cold. Well that doesn't sit well with the king; he's so giddy about the Monino thing going well that he still wants to have fun. So he asks one of the junior guards, who's the best swordsman among them, if he'd like to duel! Ugh. Well the kid should just nod his head and accept...but..."Would you fulfill my every wish, should I win?" Wow that's rather injudicious, to put it mildly...but Gongmin smiles and nods. "Even if you ask me for this throne, I will! But if you lose, it will be your head I shall take as my prize." Oh come on now...the boy gulps...
...but obviously accepts because now they all go out into the moonlight, in the plaza. The king and his challenger are holding swords. The kid is hesitant, so Gongmin urges him to attack. "Should even a single drop of my blood grace your blade, did I not promise I would even give you my throne?!" That gets him going...and the battle starts. The kid's good! Quite good. But he forgets who he's dealing with...and in about five seconds Gongmin knocks the sword out of his hand and sends it flying. Well of course the kid has to drop to his knees and grovel. "My swordsmanship could never compete with yours, Sire!" The king smiles. "Then just as you promised, I must take your life as my prize now." And good heavens, he kills the kid! One shocking slash and the kid is dead! No one can believe it; everybody just figured that all of the talk between them was just talk. Then Gongmin points his sword at the rest of them, laughing hysterically. "Anyone who covets my throne, should you vanquish me, it shall be all yours! But you should at least put something of your own on the line." The other guards can only stand there, jaws dropped and mouths open, and then scramble for cover as Gongmin waves his sword at them.
Afterward, Hong Ryun goes to visit Ikbi. "How many times did I tell you?," she says; "He is completely deranged." But now we get another big surprise. Ikbi doesn't have a cold...she's pregnant. And Hong is the father! Hong is terrified of what's going to happen when her pregnancy becomes obvious...which will be soon, apparently. But Ikbi isn't worried. "Should this child inherit the throne as the new king, this Goryeo would become our world." What about Monino? "Could the child of a lowly slattern dare to dream about the throne? Once His Majesty perishes and succession is deliberated, things will surely change." Wow, she's really been thinking this through.
Gongmin is back in his office, taking a nap. Eunuch Choi and another eunuch decide that Gongmin should never be within reach of a sword again, and they quietly take his sword away and out of the room. Choi shakes his head. This is getting to be too much for him.
Nighttime. The bright moonlight shows us a body of water. Something disturbs the surface. It's Ban Ya's body...somehow freed from its stone and now floating on the surface. Not sure we needed the confirmation, but yes she is dead.
Next day: Outside a palace building, Hong Ryun has brought a box full of jewels to Eunuch Choi. It's a bribe. Get me out of this, he begs Choi. "If we keep staying by His Majesty's side, death could befall anyone." Choi knows about Ikbi's pregnancy so he's not the least bit surprised that Hong wants out. "His Majesty would never spare you. And it would not end with your death alone. Your entire clan could bear the brunt of his fury." Choi takes the box and tells him not to worry. "Let us take our time, and reflect upon it." We'll find a way out for you, he says, walking away and laughing oddly. Hong looks immensely relieved.
Gongmin is painting. That's good therapy and he looks calm. But oh dear look at what he's painting...it's a self-portrait...but it has no face, just a skeleton head! Wow that is beyond morbid. Seriously creepy-looking. "While wearing the mask of a man," he explains to Eunuch Choi, "I committed sins even a beast would never dare to." And he says it like he's giving Choi the time of day, completely matter-of-factly. Choi reminds him of how well the country is doing, but it does nothing. "I am nothing but a puppet ruler. Is there even one official who deliberates state affairs with me?! They all act as they see fit...but to protect my throne, I keep living in silent denial." He puts down his brush, and now he frowns. "The heavens punished me. For slaying a loyal follower of mine such as Shin Don." Choi thinks for a moment. "Sire. I have very propitious news to convey to you. You shall soon gain another heir." Gongmin wonders who could possibly be carrying his child. So Choi tells him it's Ikbi. The news angers him. "I never even touched her, and she's pregnant?!" Demands to know who the father is...and after Gongmin threatens him with death, Choi points the finger at Hong. Gongmin is furious. "Pyeonjo tried once to infiltrate his own son into the palace, and now those youthly scalawags are trying the same!" But he hesitates and catches his breath..."Then again, there is nothing wrong with having more than one heir." He chuckles. I'll just think of it like an adoption, he says to himself. "Fine then! Whoever the father is, just give me boys. I shall acknowledge them all as my offspring." Choi asks whether or not he should remove Hong from the palace. Hardly that..."You must get rid of him." Doink! Choi's eyes widen. "As price for my acknowledgment of this son of his, shouldn't we make sure he will never utter any words on the matter?!" And adds, "His mother will wish for her son's success, so she shall keep this secret."
Choi goes back to Hong and tells him of the plan. Hong is to be killed tomorrow during a pilgrimage to Noguk's shrine. "Escape while you still can," Choi advises. He returns to Gongmin's office, and in the hallway hears something from inside that stuns him. "Slay Eunuch Choi?!" Gongmin is ordering another one of the junior guards (I think it's Han An but I'm not positive) to kill Choi at the same time he himself kills Hong Ryun. The kid is terrified and shaking like a leaf. "You cannot muster the resolve? That cunning old fox must vanish if you wish to take his place!" Even that doesn't seem to comfort the kid...and it hardly comforts Choi, who stands in the hallway in disbelief with his hand to his throat.
An edict has arrived from the Ming Emperor. Gyeong, who clearly is now the chancellor, has called the highest officials together to discuss it. Gyeong knows that Gongmin "is in no condition to deal with this. He spends every night in vile debauchery with the youth guards, and he recently has even started committing murder." So this group is going to decide how to handle it. The emperor supposedly wants to "reconcile" with Goryeo...but at the price of a tribute payment of 2,000 horses. Ugh. Where are they going to get 2,000 horses? Jeju Island, that's where; they realize they can go there and seize them from the Tamna government. Choi already has started planning an excursion to Jeju to get the horses. Gyeong asks him, "Why don't you entrust this to Commander Lee Seong Gye?" Good question, seems like a natural assignment for him. Choi tells him, "I shall command all such crucial campaigns by myself, from now on." Well LSG is sitting right there! Doesn't react outwardly, but you know it won't sit well with him, being snubbed like that.
Afterwards Gyeong and Lee In Im discuss what looks like tension between Choi and LSG. "Isn't that all the better?," Lee asks. Military officials "are easier to manipulate" when there are rivalries. Maybe so...then Gyeong changes the subject. "By the way, I hear you found Shin Don's offspring?!" Lee says Yes I have...and "You needn't worry. By now, his traces should already be disappearing." Lee walks away with a laugh so troubling that it startles Gyeong.
Won Hyeon walks to the front of one of the palace gates. He's made himself a small bulgasari (not out of rice, looks like clay), and leaves it there, facing the gate.
Gaetae Temple. Actually, near Gaetae Temple, by the tiny chapel where SD was doing his hermitage. The same squad of soldiers that arrested Won Hyeon before is there, holding a baby. What's going on here? Oh my goodness--Deokun and Auntie are lying there in the grass, dead. So are Park Seobang and his wife. And inside the chapel, with its doors smashed open, so is Choseon! So the baby, it must be Choseon's--she obviously delivered safely, enough to survive the delivery. But all five of them were slaughtered by the soldiers. The soldiers take the baby and head back to the capital. Not a word is spoken, just shocking, horrifying images. Frankly, from the way they're carrying the baby, doubtful that it's still alive either.
That evening. "Deep in the night, when His Majesty falls asleep..." Eunuch Choi is outside Gongmin's office building, whispering to Hong Ryun and Ha An.
Inside, hey it's Lee In Bok! Gongmin is overwhelmed to see his visitor. Lee tells him, "How could I leave this world without bidding you farewell, Sire?" Oh dear, it sounds like Lee has some sort of terminal illness. He tells Gongmin he's come to apologize and ask forgiveness. "I was foolish and hidebound, and I could not grasp the grandiose vision you and Pyeonjo shared." And he obviously means it, too--like his having some time to reflect on everything made him realize that he supported the wrong things. But Gongmin only blames himself. "The more time passes by, the stronger my longing for Pyeonjo becomes. How could I ever abandon him?! This country of ours has been cursed by the heavens. At this crucial juncture, being hampered by a foolish ruler like myself." And now they're both sitting there crying, the wisdom of hindsight filling them with regrets and second-guessing.
It's nighttime now, and Gongmin is taking Monino by the hand and showing him around the palace complex. This seems awfully odd; Gongmin is calm and relaxed and shows none of the paranoia or weird behavior we've been seeing lately. "This is the Royal Palace," he tells the boy as they reach the plaza in front of his office. "It is the place where all our former kings deliberated state affairs." He proceeds to tell the boy about King Taejo, who founded the Goryeo dynasty--"a land with no nobles or commoners." He adds, "It was Emperor Gwangjong who laid the groundwork for such a society." Gwangjong was Goryeo's fourth king. "Isn't that right, my Guardian?!" Huh? Who's he talking to? Now out of the darkness, from one side of the plaza, SD steps forward! "Speak to me, Guardian." So SD tells Monino about Gwangjong creating the first national examination and installing procedures for reviewing the status of slaves...which is similar to what SD's Directorate was trying to do. "By releasing those people from slavery," SD continues, "the number of commoners paying taxes increased, and as a result, state finances were quickly invigorated, in turn securing stability for the throne. That is the reason Shin Don and I wished to reestablish the Directorate." Then SD speaks with pride about the Goryean people and their dogged resistance to the Yuan empire. "Not a single country was able to resist their might for so long." And then at Gongmin's request, offers a few words of advice to the crown prince. "May you become a wise ruler our people can pledge allegiance to. To reach that goal, you shall be the first pledging allegiance to our people." With that, Gongmin turns to the other side of the darkened plaza. "Bless him with a few words of your own, my dear." Now Noguk steps forward! "Your father was an outstanding ruler," she tells Monino. "He contended with the mighty Yuan, and repelled the collaborators. He reclaimed Goryeo's lost territory, and protected our people from the tyranny of the powerful clans. When corruption engulfed the court, he never hesitated to eliminate even his closest confidants for their misdeeds. May you follow his footsteps." We see Monino turn from his father and look out into the plaza, in the spots of light where SD and Noguk are standing...but he sees no one. Okay, so this is all Gongmin's delusion, talking to people he imagines being there. Then Gongmin kneels down to Monino's eye level. He smiles at the boy. "Your father was a failed ruler. He could not create the world where commoners would dance on the streets, the same the Guardian so fervently dreamed of. And he also failed to fulfill his queen's dream of creating a powerful empire dominating the great north. So you must surpass your father and become a truly great ruler." "Yes, Father." Finally the boy speaks! Gongmin turns to SD and Noguk. "The Crown Prince is not your average specimen." Yeah, sure, whatever..."Should we not celebrate with a dance?" And he starts dancing around, working his way down to where he sees SD and Noguk. The boy watches with amusement as Gongmin is twirling around in the plaza all by himself. Then, what's this, four more areas of lanterns suddenly glow with light. In each area someone stands up. The first one, that's Eunuch An. Jung Se Woon is the second, followed by Kim Yong and Jo Il Shin. Gongmin's three supporters from his days in Yanjing, and the loyal eunuch who gave his life for Gongmin. They all step forward and join in the dancing, with broad smiles on their faces. But only Gongmin sees them. And from a corner, in the darkness, Eunuch Choi and the junior guards are surreptitiously watching the king spinning around by himself...
The next glimpse is of Choi running out of Gongmin's office and into the plaza, and frantically waving several of the junior guards inside. The guards come running. What's going on here? Inside the front hall to Gongmin's office, Lady Kim and the other female attendants have been bound and gagged! They're sitting there on the floor. Lady Kim looks at Choi, tears of frustration in her eyes. Choi nods to Hong Ryun and Han An, and the two junior guards nervously step into Gongmin's office, where the king is sleeping, or possibly passed out from alcohol. They're carrying daggers! They approach him and unsheathe the daggers, and raise them over his body...but they're too scared to strike. Choi has followed them in and whispers frantically, "What are you waiting for? Slay him at once!" But they can't...they're too fear-stricken to move. So Choi pulls out his own dagger, steps forward--and delivers the first stab himself! Gongmin recoils from the blow, which sends Choi staggering backwards in fright...but he doesn't really wake up--so maybe his sleep is alcohol-aided. Whatever. Now Choi orders Hong and Han in a panic, "Slay him! Make sure he never breathes again!" And with that the two step forward and repeatedly stab the king until their hands are covered with his blood. All three are shaking and horrified by what they've done...but none of the other eunuchs or junior guards in the hallway or in the plaza have tried to stop them, so they've all agreed that this must be done. And now Gongmin lies dead. In a final irony, he dies facing the self-portrait he had created, with only a skull where his face should be. And he dies with a smile on his face.
Now we see several scenes from throughout the series: of Pyeonjo and Shin Don talking about how "We must turn it upside down, this damned world!" Of Gongmin promising Pyeonjo that "If I become the King of Goryeo, I shall make you a noble." Of an exasperated Noguk barging into the small chapel where Pyeonjo was doing his hermitage. Of Gongmin proclaiming SD as prime minister. Of throngs of people lining the streets to cheer SD. And of SD's final words to Gongmin--"The rise and fall of a country is but a speck of dust in the desert of time. May you create a new country from its ashes."--before he steps out into the plaza and is executed.
And finally, as the series credits roll, we again see the scene from near the end of Episode 3, with Pyeonjo carrying Wolseon on his back and climbing up a steep hillside. Pyeonjo stands atop a high cliff at one side of the tall hill and looks out over the surrounding countryside.
Just to be complete, I'm going to include some subtitled text that was shown as the closing credits ran. It didn't appear that this text was in the episode itself, but rather it was added by whoever at WITH2 did the subtitling.
The year 1388. King U and Choi Young put Lee Seong Gye in charge of a campaign headed for Liaodong. Lee turned back at the border, betraying the two and his country, and after a coup d'etat, followed by a few years with a puppet ruler, he founded Joseon in 1392. To legitimize their usurpation, most of the historical "record" Goryeosa was manipulated by Joseon court historians under the watch of several kings--even the beloved Sejong. From simple distortions conforming Goryeo's Buddhist legacy to Confucian canon, to pure character assassination, as in Gongmin's and Shin Don's cases. Man has always used the smoke and mirrors of history to forget its vicious circles, to make heroes out of those who merely protected the status quo, demonizing anyone brave enough to kindle the darkness of creation with change. But as long as people will keep telling stories about the vanquished, and show us what we can learn from their mistakes and sacrifices, this will always be an enthralling fancy worth fighting for. Until someone turns this damned world upside down.
Thank you for joining us on this long journey.
Certainly there is room for disagreement with this text...particularly the idea that LSG was betraying his country by turning back at the Liaodong border. But as I said, this didn't appear to be part of the episode itself so I won't do anything more than post it here for the sake of completeness.
I wondered what the final episode would contain, with SD dying early in the previous episode. Very satisfying that they took the story through Gongmin's death. Really this series was about Gongmin more than SD anyway so I'm glad they showed us his death.
And it was an interesting version of it. His killers were scared to do it; the idea of killing the king nearly paralyzed them when it came time to do the deed. A different portrayal than in Jeong Dojeon. And in JD Choi didn't strike the first blow; actually he was killed by the junior guards before they killed Gongmin. I don't know which way it actually happened, but this version is entirely plausible, that Choi and Hong and Han would have had the sudden fear like that.
Okay, so now we finally get some sort of understanding of why Won Hyeon betrayed SD. He figured Gongmin would remove SD and the people's wrath over it would bring down the government. He did not figure Gongmin would order SD killed. Dummy.
The scene in the plaza, we've never had anything like that in any of the historicals we've done here. Not sure I cared for it, frankly. Bringing back those important dead characters for a final bow, just didn't see the point of it. Totally unnecessary. But it certainly was an original idea; using Gongmin's delusional mental state like that was clever.
Anyway, overall it was a good final episode. Especially since the story didn't exactly end on a happy note, with seven named characters murdered! But they didn't shy away from what needed to be told in the story just for the sake of a happy ending, so give the series big-time credit for that.
P.S. And I'll just say, it was great that Jeong Dojeon picked up the story from here. We had a couple of episodes of overlap; it worked out perfectly.