Friday, 14 June 2013

Mandate of Heaven: Episode 16

I'm just gonna take a moment to bask in that image right there. He's smart, dogged, and soliciting cuddles? Nab him, and fast!

It's a pretty major episode, with long-suppressed secrets finally spilling forth and giving our heroes solid victories. That means there's a fair amount of fist-pumping going on as we get to enjoy watching the queen squirm—she's slippery and cunning, but for right now it's pretty satisfying to see her behind the curve and slow to react, for once. She's not pulling the strings anymore—or perhaps it's safer to say that her victims have learned to pull strings right back at her.


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Won names the queen as the mastermind behind the plot to kill the crown prince. She argues that he's being absurd, though her voice takes on a hysterical tinge. The king orders her escorted away, which makes her lose her composure as she screams at Won. But today it's his turn to level her with a sneer. Yeah, that felt good.

The king asks Won if he realizes the magnitude of his accusations, and Won replies that the truth was too important to cover up. To his great relief, the king declares that he will investigate all his claims—but until a result is found, he isn't giving Won the honored guest treatment. He has accused a royal, and will bide his time in the custody of the police.

The king grimaces throughout the audience, and Jang-geum guesses his boils must be troubling him. Won offers to take a look, successfully draining them and prescribing medicine.

Won speaks knowledgeably and with conviction, which doesn't escape the king's notice. He confirms that Won's grandfather was the royal physician who once served Lee Ho, and has heard from Jang-geum that Won is quite devoted to the prince. So when Won pleads with the king to uncover the truth, the king agrees, because "I must do that for my son Ho to no longer suffer."

Maybe it's the medical attention, or maybe it's the family connection, but for whatever reason the king changes his mind and allows Won to go after all. Jang-geum sees him out and expresses her relief, and is glad to hear that Da-in is safe as well.

They're surprised by the arrival of Prince Gyeongwon, who quickly pulls Won away. It's the cutest thing, this pint-sized little boy all full of purpose.

After assuring Won that his punishment wasn't so bad after the not-kidnapping incident, Gyeongwon asks whether Won truly accused his mother of plotting to kill the crown prince, which saddens him despite knowing that it's wrong. She is, in the end, his mother: "How am I to stand by and watch Queen Mother meet with misfortune?" He says it like she's the victim of a villainy not of her own making, but I get his point.

It's too bad that the queen walks by and catches a glimpse of this conversation. She walks right up and slaps Won, accusing him of daring to kidnap the prince. Crap, so she heard that part?

Gyeongwon defends him, saying that he wasn't kidnapped—he had asked Won for a way to save his brother. Queen Munjeong puts on her martyr face and laments at her son misunderstanding her heart, when everything she does is for him. How can he side with the man who would accuse her and have her put to death?

Won watches the queen's false display of concern and coldly says that she should have thought of her son and not forced his hand in coming this far. She calls for the soldiers to detain this criminal… only to hear that the king had decreed he be let go. Every time she lets her shock show, I do a little dance inside.

The queen returns to her quarters, where her assassin boy Mu-myung kneels in apology for having been sent chasing the wrong trail. She orders him to follow Won.

Now that the confession has been delivered, Won presses Chun-bong to tell him about his grandfather. So Chun-bong leads him to his secret meeting of colorfully dressed noblemen, all of whom are nodding approvingly at Won.

Chun-bong informs him that Grandpa Choi was one of them, all followers of the executed scholar Jo Gwang-jo. In fact, Grandpa was the first to express certainty that Lee Ho would make a wise king. Now that Won has stood up to the queen and worked to save the prince, he has proven his loyalty and would do well to join them.

They're grinning like they expect him to be honored, but Won tells them flatly that he is uninterested. As we know, he's only motivated by thoughts of saving his family, not politics.

But Chun-bong challenges him to look deeper at his motivations—if he were only out to clear his name, he didn't have to go so far as to accuse the queen. Won tells them he's not who they think he is, though this declaration comes rather weakly. There's truth to Chun-bong's assessment, but still he rejects their proposal and stalks out.

And as he leaves, assassin Mu-myung watches from the shadows. He has been instructed not to kill Won hastily, so for now he merely takes note.

Won returns to Banditville, surprising Da-in, who lights up in relief to see him safe and sound. Won teases that he was at the brink of death, but the thought of his two ladies made him muster all his strength to return. I guess the guy's earned the right for a little hero appreciation.

He's soon joined by Rang and the rest of the bandits (minus So-baek, who awkwardly hangs back at the sight of him), whom he informs of his successful mission.

The queen has not yet been accused formally of anything, but already her credit with the king has diminished greatly. When he falters and she moves to hold his arm, he shakes it off angrily and ignores her.

The king calls for his son and Jung-hwan, who corroborate Won's story. Jung-hwan informs the king of his findings and urges him to reveal the whole truth for the good of the country and the law. Thus the king gives Jung-hwan the order to get to the bottom of everything.

Thus Jung-hwan is able to burst into the queen's chambers on the king's authority, here to arrest a traitor. Minister Yoon has been quaking in his socks and practically pees himself to be apprehended, and the queen barks at Jung-hwan for his insolence. But Jung-hwan says simply that he has come to arrest a criminal—does she know anything of the crime? The queen certainly isn't putting her own neck on the line and shuts up.

The king meets with his council, and his statesmen urge him to do the lawful and right thing. Yes, she's a queen, but she has also flouted the law and attempted to murder the prince. The king is reluctant to take that final step in condemning her and argues that there's no proof that she was directing the ministers.

The queen bursts into the meeting unannounced to fall on her knees and beg for mercy. She asks for him to spare Prince Gyeongwon and allow them to live in obscurity, and says through her tears that she raised Lee Ho as a son for 27 years. Funny how attempting to kill him rather negates that care, though, hm? Life can be funny that way.

Her agitation sends her into collapse, though I'm not convinced this isn't all for show. She's cold and calm on her way back to her chambers, and orders that the ministers' homes be searched for her secret missives. They cannot be found, which would incriminate her.

Woo-young doesn't believe Jung-hwan this time when he assures her that her slave days are almost over, since she's heard it before and gotten her hopes dashed. He says that this time she really will be able to shed those slave garments, and she grudgingly allows herself a little hope. Only, the question comes out thusly: "Do you really mean it? You'll really take these clothes off me?"

He promises to make that happen, totally straight-faced. I'm going to make sure he keeps it, is all I'm sayin'. They're totally blind to the entendre, but I thank the show for the fanservice anyway.

But he notices that she's not excited, and she admits that once she's outta here, she won't see him again. Thus the news doesn't make her quite as happy as it used to.

So when she turns to go, he grabs her and stares into her eyes, asking, "Do you truly not know?" He gathers her to his chest, saying, "Still, you'll have to remove these clothes, so that I can buy you pretty new ones to wear." All together now: Awww.

Jung-hwan meets with Won to fill him in, and I love the buddy vibe we're getting these days. By request, he has also found Won a house to move into, then starts mumbling about Won being unconcerned about his sister. Won guesses the source of his concern and asks Jung-hwan to take good care of her. To which Jung-hwan does the whole Well-only-since-you-ASKED routine, like he totally wasn't hoping Won would give him that excuse to stick close to her.

So-baek raises eyebrows (literally) by decking herself out in hanbok, and asks hopefully, "Do I look like Pretty Lady?" Jaws drop when she bursts in on Won and her father talking, though she disregards their shock because she's in shock herself at the idea of Won leaving. She exclaims that she can't stand a single day of not seeing him—if he goes, she goes!

But in the end, there are only three who make their goodbyes: Won, Rang, and Da-in. Won thanks Geo-chil for all his help, and offers his help if ever they need it. Rang returns her pretty new shoes, asking sadly if Geo-chil gave them to get her to leave. (Old wives' tale: A gift of shoes will result in your lover leaving you.) Hurt, she says she won't wear them.

Geo-chil puts the shoes back on her feet and tells her that he gave her shoes to take her to good places. He urges her to be healthy so that she can see him when she's as big as So-baek, and asks for her special finger-kiss promise.

So-baek isn't part of the goodbye party, to keep her from sobbing over Won. So he excuses himself to seek her out, and apologizes for not treating her hurting heart before he goes. She asks him to stay anyway, but he shakes his head no—for her own good, he should leave.

Won tells her to continue being brave and plucky, and that she's a beautiful person even without these pretty clothes.

Thus the family of three heads off, leaving a glum So-baek behind. They stop mid-journey to allow Rang to rest, and Won thanks Da-in for her help in restoring Rang to health. She says Rang was just as helpful to her in her moments of loneliness, which actually gets Won pouting like a little boy, asking, "What about me?"

He says that in his darkest hour, she held out her hand to him, and he kept her at arm's length for fear of bringing her harm. But at some point he started missing that hand and took it even when he felt he ought not, ignoring the voice that told him to let go. Now Won takes her hand and promises not to let go, no matter what.

They arrive at the house Jung-hwan has found for them, where he and Woo-young are waiting. Woo-young has a happy reunion with her niece, who is sharp enough to see that Aunt and Scary Ajusshi are no longer at each other's throats. She asks if they're friendly now, which makes Jung-hwan stutter awkwardly. Won and Da-in smile knowingly.

Jung-hwan turns the tables, reminding them that they were sooooo insistent that they weren't lovers. In the end his hunch was right, wasn't it? Da-in soothes his grumpiness by praising his investigative skills, which puffs up his pride. Flattery will get you everywhere.

Keok-jung fumes about the hanbok and throws it to the ground, while So-baek grabs it protectively saying that she's going to grow her hair and be pretty like Da-in, and find Won again. Keok-jung bursts out, "What about me? You're everything to me!" He thumps his own heart, saying that she makes it ache, and begs her to return to her past self.

She's stunned by the confession (well, we've established that her brain wasn't the sharpest), but more because it finally dawns on her that the pain she felt over Won is also the pain she's inflicting on Keok-jung. That's a good sign, right?

Pretty boy Mu-myung leads a team of henchmen to raid the home of one of the secret society members, stealing a book that the queen takes to the king. It's a roster of names of Jo Gwang-jo's followers, and Do-saeng's name is included. The queen argues that a follower of Jo would never have tried to poison the prince (whom they support). Therefore, this whoooole thing was a plot by Jo's secret society to frame the queen and eliminate Prince Gyeongwon. Oh, so that's your plan. Crap, it's a credible explanation, too.

The queen says that Won and Lee Ho (despite not being in the book) must be at the center of that society, and it doesn't help that Won was seen leaving one of the gatherings. The king doesn't swallow the story wholesale, but the seed of doubt has been planted, and the queen pours on the tears and wounded lamb act. How could she plan to kill the prince? And how could he then stick a knife into her heart like this? Oh, WOE!

Won asks Da-in how she feels about her dream being thwarted, because she had said she wanted to be like Jang-geum. He must feel guilty for taking that away. She admits that it was her dream, but that has changed. Being with him and Rang, she hasn't longed to be back at the hospital.

Jung-hwan delivers the bad news that Won is under new suspicion, and they marvel at the craftiness of the queen. The problem is, the best proof is her flower-marked orders, and they're nowhere to be found—they've already searched the conspirators' homes and found no trace.

Da-in offers that her father had a secret hiding place, renewing their hopes. They head over to the house that night, where Da-in finds the hidden compartment in her father's chest.

Among the pile of irrelevant message is one crucial one: the order to eliminate Do-saeng. The men exult at this incontrovertible piece of evidence, only to deflate when Da-in points out that there's no flower on it. A corner of the page has been torn out. Ah, is this the piece Rang had been keeping?

Won pulls out that piece, and the pieces fit perfectly.

Now they wonder why Won's father had the letter in the first place. (Refresher: Daddy Choi came to find receipts of a transaction that Merchant Jang wouldn't give him, and instead found the queen's order. Realizing its importance, he ran with it and was tracked down by Do-saeng, who ripped the letter from his hand after killing him. The flower piece remained stuck in his grasp, and Rang later found it dropped under a table.)

The men relocate to Jung-hwan's office to piece together the story. Jung-hwan finds the receipt, and Won deduces that Merchant Jang was one of the Evils who framed him. It's a double blow, to realize that his father died trying to clear Won's name (not via suicide), and also that his sweetheart's father killed his own. It's a hard blow.

Now Won realizes that Merchant Jang's dying words were likely an apology to his father, though at the time it hadn't made sense.

Won returns home in a heartbroken daze, mourning his father all over again. He doesn't explain his mood to Da-in, telling her it's nothing and cutting their talk short. Da-in insists on washing his feet for him before bed, which is something she used to do for her father. So he lets her, though not with an easy heart.

He drinks alone later, drowning his sorrows. The sight alarms Da-in.

Jung-hwan wants to speak with Woo-young that night, and because he needs an official reason to call her, he "spills" some water on the floor so he can order her to clean it up. He carefully broaches the topic of her father, and thinking of her family has her a bit emotional today. He says she ought not wallow in her sadness, so she asks, "Then can I go to you?"

Woo-young explains, "When you held me before, your embrace felt like the ocean and the mountains. It felt like my father's arms. I miss him." Ignoring the awkwardness where your honey reminds you of your father, it's super sweet how Jung-hwan casually-awkwardly sliiiiiides his butt over closer to her, which is half-smooth operator, half-geek-at-the-prom. I luff him.

And then he just opens up his arms to her, by way of answer. Awww. Not gonna lie, that actually brought a tear to my eye. (Yes, that tear dries the moment he says he'll be her father for the night, which is TOTALLY not the image I'm itching for, but it's still sweet.)

Da-in is shrewd enough to guess why Won is upset, and goes to Jung-hwan to ask about it. He says it's not his place to say, but his uncomfortable reaction is enough to confirm that Won's behavior has something to do with her father.

That evening, Rang asks her father whether he fought with Da-in, because he hasn't been smiling like normal. Did she do something wrong? He says no, so Rang says wisely that he's in the wrong then, for putting such a nice unni through pain.

He hadn't realized he'd been so obvious, and takes Da-in aside to talk. His explanation of his behavior isn't a lie, except for the part where it's lying by omission—he says he's been preoccupied thinking of his future, and also feeling guilty for promising to take care of her when she she's the one always helping him.

It sets her mind at ease, and she admits that she'd been tormenting herself thinking that it was related to her father. At that, Won pulls her close and apologizes. "I'm sorry. I won't put you through such troubles again."

The king hesitates before his newly procured proof, the book of names. The queen urges him to act on it, thinking his hesitation out of fear for his son, and assures him that she wishes no harm to Lee Ho.

But then Lee Ho's arrival is announced, and her smile fades to realize the king was waiting for him. The queen starts in again on urging the king to have Won executed immediately, only to be interrupted by yet another arrival.

Jung-hwan enters… and next to him is Won, dressed in his former finery. Ah, that's a beautiful sight.

They kneel before the king, who exchanges a few pleasantries and compliments Won for his skills in alleviating his pains. This has the queen confused and alarmed, particularly when the king asks, "Do you truly still believe he is a criminal?"

With that, the king presents the queen with that letter and advises, "If you do not wish further humiliation, remain quiet." Booyah.

The king declares that Won is no murderer. He recognizes that Won is the victim of a false accusation and decrees, "From henceforth, Choi Won, you are innocent!"


I wish I could bask more in this turn (and I do bask partially), and I would if we were a week out from the finale. But with four more episodes to go, I'm decidedly uneasy, even with this seemingly clear-cut victory. There's gonna be a twist or two, right?

Even so, I'm relieved to have this chapter at an end—Won is cleared, which means (1) we get to move on to new complications, and (2) we no longer have to belabor the point of him needing to clear his name. It's one of those necessary evils of dramas, where people fall into narrative shorthand in calling things by a certain term, and then keep using the same two or three words to describe it for the next twenty episodes. It makes sense since you don't want to change your terminology and confuse the audience, but it does mean that the drama's vocabulary starts feeling pretty limited when you're always using the same words.

Now we get to move on, and I don't know where we're going to head for the final stretch but I trust that there are plenty of complications still in the pipeline. Some of them are bound to be emotional, since we've had more breathing room to focus on the relationships in recent episodes, but I'm sure the queen will find ways to save her neck. Although I do hope for at least a scene of our main baddies in prison with their heads locked up, just for the comedy factor. When they had the three guys sniping at each other in prison this episode, I was cracking up at the hilarity of watching them turning on each other.

The main romance is getting increasing screentime, which makes sense I suppose, given how the trajectory of the crime plot is near its end. And I don't mind, really. I'm not invested in them, but I do want the drama to give them their happy ending and show us a hard-earned happy family dynamic in the finale. And I've long accepted that theirs wouldn't be an exciting romance, exactly.

So it's actually a nice turn to bring up the father issues, which was something that was always present and waiting to be discovered, yet something I hadn't really paid much heed to. Her father killed his father, which adds a whole new dimension of conflict to their romance, and just when they're settling into a rather stable relationship. It's what made me realize that part of my indifference to them has been the lack of emotional development between Won and Da-in—they may have gone through a lot together, with plenty of angst and strife, but most of that was related to the crime and the royal coup. It wasn't about the two of them relating to each other.

Thus I perked up a little when Won said this episode that he wouldn't let go of her hand for any reason, and my knee-jerk reaction in the moment was to suppose that he would have to. You don't make a dramatic vow like that and then just… keep it. Making the promise is just asking for Fate to challenge you! I couldn't see an immediate reason for that, but with the sins of the fathers coming to haunt them, maybe we'll get a little more development. I don't want a lot—we've got Sword and Flower to fulfill that revenge/angst quota—but something meatier would add some nice dimension.


  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 15
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 14
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 13
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 12
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 11
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 10
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 9
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 8
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 7
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 6
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 5
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 4
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 3
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 2
  • Mandate of Heaven: Episode 1
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Tags: featured, Im Seul-ong, Lee Dong-wook, Mandate of Heaven, Song Ji-hyo, Song Jong-ho, Yoon Jin-yi

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