In this episode, we up the ante and we up the angst. Whatever happened to our light and fluffy romcom? We have reached the point in a drama’s story where the emotional quotient is cranked up to “max”. And if the show has been stumbling, this is the point where we roll our eyes and sigh with exasperation at the ridiculous carrying on. But if the show has been getting it right, this is the point where our hearts are stricken and we are totally on board the emotional roller-coaster.
We think we know people, especially when we get along and think we’ve become good friends. It’s quite a breath-taking shock to discover that they have been concealing a whole different side to themselves; been nursing a heavy history of death and survivor-guilt, and been flirting with danger and indulging in seditious activities.
Tenderness and Fear
It’s your new dear friend! And he is in desperate danger, with the campus abuzz with malevolent searchers for the fugitive Red Messenger. You’ve barely recovered from your shock, and you have to kick into action. First, cover your tracks. Then, get him to a safe place – where else but where you had your nearly-disastrous clandestine bath. Next, see to his wound.
But, oh, he’s so badly wounded! What can you do? He’s being brave, but he’s in a terrible way. What good can your amateurish bandaging do? He’d always been so strong and unbound, and now he slouches weak and vulnerable. Will he recover? Can he escape being caught? You feel a chilling fear. You feel the tears fill your eyes…
Pain and Tenderness
It’s not the first time you’ve been wounded. But it hurts every time. Damn. Hate being helpless and incapacitated. Guess this is what happens when one flirts with death and doesn’t value life. Yet, strangely, you feel relieved to be still alive.
Alive to see her face again. You want to send her away, away from danger. But it’s so nice to have her care for you. She’s so cute when she pretends to scold you gruffly, but you can see that she is pretty stricken. Heh.
Why, are those tears in her eyes? Damn! The pain!
Horror. The Horror.
You were trying so hard to distance yourself from your room-mate, but he came to you like a little puppy dog, begging for a little affection and attention. You had no choice but to push him away as hard as you could.
But wasn’t that too harsh? The poor boy was cut to the quick. Is he still crying? You can’t bear it any more. Hang consequences and propriety and guarding your principles – you can’t bear to leave him wounded and whimpering. You must find him…
And thank goodness, he doesn’t seem to be on the verge of slitting his wrists. But what is he doing, furtively covering up tracks in the dirt with a broom?
You follow him into the ceremonial memorial hall, and you see…
Him. With Crazy Horse. Close. Very close. Sweaty, gasping, intimate…
Shock. Denial. Feeling betrayed. Anger. Jealousy. Sadness. Profound loneliness.
You may be the court jester, but you are no fool. Tonight, you forsake your usual posture of scoffing from the sidelines and leap into the fray.
First, medical attention. You blindfold a physician and bring him to Crazy Horse’ hiding place.
Anger and Resolution: Going in for the Kill
You are the chosen one. The son of the Minister of War. And the one elected by the country’s elite civil service college to be Student President. Your power has never been challenged. Until recently. By Sungkyunkwan’s Rainbow Coalition who are undermining your political principles and who are irritatingly resistant to your schemes to break them. And by the Red Messenger who is spreading disaffection against your political affiliations and mocking your family’s inability to capture him. How dare they!
What if the Red Messenger is member of the Political Harmony Faction? Aha! Exposing him would destroy all that has been a thorn in your side. He must be found! Tonight! Mobilise everyone! Failure is not an option!
An interesting find by your henchmen. Yeorim’s fan in the ceremonial memorial hall. Hmm, very interesting indeed.
Fear and Fearlessness
You are Yeorim. You sail through life insouciantly on a cloud of mischief and mockery, floated by your wit and charm (and family wealth). You never get too involved with anyone or any cause; that would take all the fun out of it. And that would be too risky. You treat life as something to be tasted and enjoyed, but not to get too serious about. You love beautiful women and beautiful things. Even your college hostel room has nice furniture.
But there is one thing you care about, one person. And your morally indolent self will exert itself to the utmost to protect him. Even take the risk of engagement and relinquish the safety of mocking from a distant.
The Student President pays you a late night visit, prowling and bristling with suspicion. You have to play this just right. A light casual tone, a quick look to check that Geol Oh’s robe is out of sight, a nonchalant stance… You usually treat life lightly and carelessly, but this situation is so dangerous and the stakes are so high, you feel that rare emotion – fear.
But even in fear, you are fearless. For you are Yeorim. The Court Jester! The one who sees everything, who dares speak anything, and who bows to no one. You play a dangerous of cat-and-mouse, provoking In Soo by pretending to be injured, then distracting him by mocking him.
And because you are the impish Yeorim, you can’t resist a gratuitous parting poke. “You should stop playing games and get some rest, Student President. You’re over-extending yourself, slipping up.”
And predictably, you get a rise from him. “Mock me one more time and I will not let it pass, not even for our old times’ sake.” Oho, he threatens you!! Well, the cards on the table now. Which is as it should be, for what a court jester does best is to bring out into the open what should decently be hidden away.
Annoyance at Stupid Minions
You are the Evil Overlord. But how are you expected to achieve world domination if you are surrounded by stupid minions? Your gormless henchmen have failed you in what should have been the simple task of hunting down an incapacitated archer on your own campus grounds. And if that weren’t enough, the stupid interfering professorial pleb comes along and gives you demerit points for not abiding by the curfew. You! The Evil Overlord! Curfew! Demerit points! When there are enemies to smite and mortals to terrorise!
Thank goodness for the other professorial pleb, who at least endorses the hunt for the Red Messenger. Though, why? No matter, at least now you can get back on that treacherous Yeorim’s case. How did you ever think at one time that he was your most valuable minion? The weasel has turned on you and you’re pretty sure that he is hiding the Red Messenger behind his screen.
Except that, behind his screen is nothing more than his collection of erotica. Curses!
And now the stupid professorial minions are back at it. Ticking you off for breaching the sanctuary of Sungkyunkwan by searching a scholar without royal warrant. Lame. And saying you don’t have the usual search rights of a Student President because your rights as such have been suspended. Lamer still! Just he wait. When you are Master of the Universe, you’ll show him.
You have been hiding in Senior Yong Ha’s concealed closet, concealed in the wall behind the screen. What a narrow escape! Not one, but two searches! What a relief. Now you can tend to the poor young man who has been in uncomfortable agony keeping quiet on your lap.
And thank the unexpected resourcefulness and helpfulness of this Senior. Why did you ever have the feeling that he was up to mischief? Why, he has veritably swooped down to save the day. How did he know what was going on?
And how cute are these two Seniors? Jae Shin Senior mutters that Yong Ha Senior has been following him around for years. Senior Yong Ha threatens to box him, but haha he’s only kidding. They tease each other comfortably – Yong Ha caressing Jae Shin’s hand like a demented lover, Jae Shin protesting. But you’re not fooled, you can tell that these two young men share a real affection. They are so silly and so sweet! You never knew. Guys! They never demonstrate their affection for each other except in extremis.
You are just so relieved that Jae Shin is safe and the danger is past, you readily agree with Yong Ha Senior to keep this a secret. Even from Sun Joon. Of course. What Sun Joon doesn’t know can’t hurt. And we must keep Jae Shin Senior safe.
The Depths of Despair
With your forbidden love and your loveless engagement, you thought that things couldn’t possibly get worse. But they have. Though you love him so much, for the sake of rightness and for his sake, you were resolved to give him up. And there he was, frolicking with another man, like it was nothing! Nothing!
So, evidently, supposing the world we live in were one in which he would be permitted to love a man, it would be Crazy Horse he would choose, not you.
You feel that your world has rocked. You feel that everyone and everything is against you. You feel as if a cannon-ball has dropped out of the sky onto you.
Nothing makes sense. Nothing you do has any point. There’s nothing left for you. No comfort for you. And you are all alone.
Let’s drink. Let’s drink to oblivion.
The Anger of Thwarted Evil-Doing
You are an Evil Overlord and you hate being thwarted. Hate it! Hate it! Even drinking and smashing cups in your lair doesn’t take the edge off how much you HATE IT!
The Manipulator and The Manipulated
He loves having power. And power over people. It’s shame that his evil plan to trap the Red Messenger didn’t work out. But at least he scored an injury and it would only be a matter of time before his formidable son sniffed him out. On the other hand, his toy and tool has also been injured. And he does so get a rush from deploying his pet puppet. (Though, if he had any sense at all he should be feeling a little apprehensive being the hated black-mailer of a kick-ass ninja assassin.)
She hates being powerless. How much more must she do before he keeps his promise? Before she can regain her dignity? Could life get any more demeaning? But she is the Great Cho Sun and she must be strong, very strong, if she is to survive this. And she must control that deep hatred in her bosom. Killing the War Minister now probably isn’t going to improve her situation.
Hee. Basically, just “fear” sums up how the War Minister feels when he has an audience with the scarifying Left State Councillor.
The Left State Councillor who realises that the Red Messenger was protected by fighters sent from the king. The king who wants to protect the Red Messenger and find the Geum Deung Ji Sa. Which would bring down the Noron. Bring down the Noron! Be afraid, War Minister, be very afraid.
Resignation and Resolution
You are the king. You didn’t ask for it, you were born into it. But here it is. And you intend to make the most of it, making a better tomorrow for your beloved country; make the most of it while you may. But it’s not so easy. People think a king has absolute power. Alas, not so, when you are surrounded by perfidious court officials and hamstrung by a conservative political faction that would stoop even to the murder of your father. No one is safe. Trust no one.
Well, perhaps you can trust a very small few. Including this man Jung Yak Yong. You are a shrewd judge of character, and isn’t it clear that this man is no self-serving sycophant? Can you not see from his eyes that he is loyal and faithful to you? Why, see how pain clouds his countenance when he realizes that you have been rolling opium joints for pain relief.
You may not have long to live, so you must act quickly. And with resolution. The Geum Deung Ji Sa must be found! And your father laid finally to rest. Even if it means recruiting untried and vulnerable Sungkyunkwan scholars for your venture.
Professor Jung understands this. But see how much he cares for his boys? He requests that he personally bear the blame for any failure on their part. What a lovely man!
Much as you might rant about the futility of life, you feel surprisingly happy to wake up and find that you have lived to fight another day. And that your two friends have stayed up all night caring for you.
And when she wakes up (and you feign sleep), and tenderly feels your forehead before quietly leaving the room, you feel so much pure, simple happiness, you can’t help but smile to yourself.
Apprehension and Exasperation
Dashing about having great adventures and saving lives is all very well. But now you have to face your room-mate. Whom you love. Who only last night categorically spurned your friendship. Whom you still love.
And whom, it appears, has drunk himself into a sodden mess. And now needs tidying after, the silly boy. And then has the ill-manners to pout and flounce out.
You are just so exasperated with him. “Stop it. Just stop being so bad-tempered. I heard you well. I’ll just be your room-mate, nothing more, so there’s no need to throw your displeasure in my face.”
Collusion and Confusion
Nobody knows your master like you do, and you can tell that your Master’s rigid stance has softened recently, and you can tell it is because of the Pretty Young Scholar. Not too many young man can stand your anal Master, let alone be an improving influence. Must cultivate him! Together, we can make Master Lee Sun Joon a kinder and gentler man!
But why is he looking so forbidding, and dashing away with such uncharacteristic unfriendliness? Just when I mention the Master’s engagement…
And why is Master looking so grim? And saying things that make no sense, like “My heart is overflowing”. All so baffling.
Shock and Titillation
You may pose and preen, but in reality you always knew that it was a great piece of luck that you got into Sungkyunkwan at all. You had thought it the greatest excitement to be admitted, but you never suspected that student life would be quite so much filled with intrigue and scandal.
And is that, could that be, Crazy Horse and Dae Mul in an intimate embrace in the library? And, didn’t someone say that Lee Sun Joon saw something peculiar? Oho, is that what has been going on in that room? Ha! You always did think that the Political Harmony Faction was too good to be true.
Shocking! Who else saw that? Your eyes weren’t deceiving you, were they? You need to check this out, confer with your friends. You know, for the sake of veracity…
Outrage. But Not Quite the Outrage of the Entirely Innocent…
You may not be having an homosexual relationship with Dae Mul. But you are in love with Kim Yoon Shik, or whatever her real name is. What a stupid rumour! Entirely stupid! But, in a twisty way, you’re not entirely sure you can categorically deny it, in all honesty…
You are not gay. You are definitely, absolutely not having a gay affair with your male room-mate, whatja talking about, you are a girl. You’re not even having an affair with him, period. Except, you can’t tell anyone you’re not a man. But, but, what’s this about Lee Sun Joon having seen something? What?
You feel betrayed by the discovery that your room-mates are having an affair. But nonetheless you can’t feel happy about the rumours swirling around them. Rumours that cite you as a witness. How you wish you could tell off all these improperly behaved gossiping scholars! Except that, who are you to tell off anyone? For you love a boy.
You have spent all your life toying with others and mounting elaborate deceptions, relishing scandals. Suddenly you feel out-manoeuvred – somehow a scandal has erupted around your dearest friend and the girl you have watched and grown a little fond of. What is happening? Perhaps this is what it feels like to be caught in a web. Perhaps this is pay-back for all the times you’ve manipulated others…
Panic and Perturbation
Homosexuality? Here? In Sungkyunkwan? On my watch??!! Oh my stars, oh my star!! This will be the death of me. The death of me!
We the righteous and blameless scholars of Sungkyunkwan must purge these hallowed halls of this uncleanness. And we must uphold our prerogatives and do it with our own hands, under our own jurisdiction. Even if it means reinstating that hateful, arrogant Student President.
Provoked and Out-Played
This is ridiculous! You march right up to the Student President and lay into him. “Call off this farce!”
But once again, you have been too hasty. This is not a “simple” stupid prosecution. This is a fishing expedition for the Red Messenger. “If you explain to us why you two were in the ceremonial memorial hall that night, why of course we’ll dismiss the hearing.”
Trouble just dogs your every step. Here he is again, with his puppy-dog eyes brimming with pitiful tears as he begs you to believe that he can’t possibly be playing around with another man. Another man! Perish the thought! How could you possibly think such a thing, he says pleadingly.
“How could you possibly think such a thing?” – Why does that cut you to the quick?
It’s not hard for you to maintain your stern demeanour as you lecture him about not letting others read the wrong message in his manners. You know best, after all, what confused emotions Yoon Shik can innocently incite. In addition, lecturing comes naturally to you, especially when you are under stress. But lecturing isn’t proving quite so cathartic this time. For, why do you feel so hollow? So alone?
Loving the Machinations!
At last! Everything is going my way. It could not be more perfect. I shall call the Noron as witness against the Soron and the Namin. Perfect! There is no way I can lose. Even the king can not interfere in the proceedings. Either the two are found guilty and expelled, or the Red Messenger will be exposed, and in either case Lee Sun Joon will turn his back on them and the pesky Political Harmony Faction will be toast. Toast! Any which way – win! Win! WIN! BWAHAHAHAHA!!
A Sharp Exchange and a Sinking
You are Yeorim. Therefore, if there is a lion to be bearded in his den, beard him you will. “You must think your scheme very clever.”
He may have terrible taste in henchmen and be boringly single-minded, but at least he has a quick understanding and you can get straight to the point. You need to get to the bottom of this. For Geol Oh’s sake. “Do you really believe they have an unlawful relationship?”
“Either that, or the wounded Red Messenger was in the ceremonial memorial hall that night.”
Damn! He suspects. He has it all worked out. You have to hand it to him. “You’re something else. This way you get at Geol Oh, Kim Yoon Shik and Lee Sun Joon.”
“One more. You. You will be left all alone.”
Damn. He’s right. Why does that hurt so bad? You are Yeorim! All you need is your wits and your pretty face! But, damn. That prospects makes you feel so uneasy.
He seems to be concerned about his Dae Mul. But then, how could he have been so careless as to let Kim Yoon Shik be implicated and endangered in this sorry, sordid fashion? Infuriating and reckless boy! How he deserves one of my sternest lectures on taking proper care of things!
But, why is he looking at me in that strange, sardonically half-amused fashion? As if he knows something I don’t?
Why can’t she explain to me, her professor and protector, what happened? Obviously the charges are not true. Why is she being infuriatingly tight-lipped in this perilous hour? What is going on? Is this going to blind-side the king’s plans? Is this precious child going to ruin herself, and everything? And, what for?
Overcome with Honesty (For Once)
You are Yeorim. And you never show your hand.
But some things are more important than your dignity. Geol Oh give himself up? No. Over your dead body. You will threaten, you will beg, you will do anything to ensure he stays alive.
Geol Oh coolly says he’s pondering the best course of action. But who knows what he will think is best? He’s infatuated with that girl! Who knows what he will do!
(What you don’t know, is that Yoon Hee overhears this whole conversation. How amused you would be, if only you had any heart left for amusement!)
You are Lee Sun Joon. And you won’t let the school provost bail you out. You will stand witness. And you will do what needs to be done.
The provost keeps rabbiting on about the fatality to a nobleman of being caught up in a gay scandal. Ha. The irony. You’d warrant he wouldn’t be so eager to save your butt if he only knew your forbidden desires. How hollow and how hurting his words are. How hollow and how hurting the world is. Well, you will just have to be resolute and do what needs to be done.
Is there no end to stupidity? The stupid students are crudely mocking Kim Yoon Shik. Throwing vegetables and salt in his face? Oh, for pete’s sake! You should walk away. You need to walk away, for both your sakes. But you can’t. The stupidity and injustice get your goat, and the hurt and humiliation in his eyes strike your heart. You can’t help but walk over, give the students your best nobleman’s glare, and lead him away.
He is grateful. Ah, this is why you should have walked away. Now he is pleading again. That you help him. Pleading with those beautiful beseeching eyes. That you believe in his innocence.
But you saw what you saw. There are so many things you could be angry about, but what cuts you the most is his lying to you. Why can’t he tell you the truth? He trusts you so little, alas.
“I can’t say what really happened. For Geol Oh’s sake. But we’re innocent. Please believe us. Please help us.”
He’s most concerned for his lover’s sake? He doesn’t seem to be concerned for himself! Foolish, foolish boy! He has no idea. If he would only ask, you would do anything for his sake. And what is he asking? That you who are unable to fulfil your own desires help him to fulfil his, by saving his lover? How much more hurting a request can he make? How much farther do you have to go against your own grain for him? How much more do you have to defy all logic, all self-preservation, and all propriety for him?
You say as much. But silly, foolish boy, he thinks you are completely rejecting him. He really has no idea what you are talking about. He really has no idea how much your heart is breaking.
A Spot of Cathartic Intimidation
What to do? Still don’t quite know. But you can do what you do best – physical persuasion.
You march up to those dumb-ass slanderous scholars and hug one of them. “Let’s see now – Go spread the rumour that Geol Oh is having an affair with you.” That’ll learn ‘em. Not sure what that solved but, ah, you feel so much better!
A Spot of Cathartic Scheming
What to do? Still don’t quite know. But you can do what you do best – scheming and ingratiating.
You wine and dine scholars. “I vouch for them – they don’t have that sort of thing going on!” And, well, you know, it’s true. You know for a fact they can’t be having a homosexual relationship! (Sadly, they don’t seem to be having any kind of illicit relationship.)
But the scholars don’t look very convinced, though they don’t refuse your drinks. Hmm. Not sure what that achieved. But at least you tried.
And these bird-brained lackeys of In Soo. So annoying. So obnoxious in their crowing over the inevitability of the downfall and disgrace of the accused. Such idiots! So why can’t you just ignore them, and why do you have such a sinking feeling?
Isolation. Then, Intimacy
In very danger of ruining your life by merely being in Sungkyunkwan, you never thought that life could get any worse. But somehow, it has. It has. You are now in eminent danger of ruining your life. And your buddy is in danger of losing his. And your beloved is getting engaged. What is the point of anything? What can you do? Might as well fend off everyone and escape the world by hiding behind a book.
But Geol Oh won’t leave you alone. With his perspicuous eyes (extremely sane eyes. Crazy? Horse? Ha!), the expert in fending off everyone and escaping the world has searched you out and called you out. “Come. I’ll take you to something 20 times better than a book!”
Wow! What a view! The wind on your cheek. The world at your feet. A strong friend by your side. Your life may be crashing, but for a moment, just for a moment, you can soar and be happy.
Because of this dear person. You can’t help but reach out to him. “Why do you do it? The Red Messenger? Why risk your life?”
You have turned this light moment into a heavy one. But it’s worth it, to catch a glimpse of his soul. “I don’t know. Because I feel compelled. Because I need to do it to feel alive. What about you?”
Ah. If he but knew. You too, you too feel compelled. You too are taking risks with your life in order to live. If he only knew…
He continues: “Someone once said that when you are up here, you can hear Sungkyunkwan breathe. And some such other stuff; that the doors of Sungkyunkwan open not to the palace, but to the poverty of the servant’s quarters.”
And somewhat to your surprise, Geol Oh reveals his innermost thoughts: “It’s because of him, because of that someone, that I do it. Because I feel that the world needs to know that he once walked upon it. My Hyung.”
“Kim Yoon Shik. There will be a way for your name not to be sullied. And, I’m sorry.”
Oh. You’re so moved, you don’t know what to say. He has a very strange look on his face. He has revealed so much, but you feel that he is not telling you everything. Best not to say anything, and just accept his apology and his presence for the heart-felt gift that they are.
You are Lee Sun Joon, and you will do what needs to be done. Yes, even tying yourself to this insubstantial, almost laughable man in a power matrimonial-match.
And attaching yourself to this insubstantial girl who keeps gushing about her life being like a romance novel (whatever that means). And fawning disconcertingly over you. And sidling up to you. Yoon Shik never fawns or sidles…
And listening to your father give you unwelcome advice on why you should put up with your in-laws and how you should use them. Oh, if he only knew that the in-laws were the least of your problems!
But this much control you still can have over your life: You can leave Sungkyunkwan. Leave that place of bliss and of blistering pain.
Thankfully your father accepts your decision.
I am Lee Sun Jon, and I will do what needs to be done.
The day has come. The student council is convened. In Soo is prowling and roaring. Jae Shin is reining in his temper. Yong Ha isn’t quite his usual exuberant self. Yoon Shik… Yoon Shik looks like he often does – in over his head. And as he sometimes does in spite of all his bravery and fire – hopeless.
Yoon Shik denies the charges. And just says, “Please believe us, Student President.” The stupid, naïve, sweet fool!
I am called as a witness. This is my moment. I will do it now. For something higher than self-preservation or even my own principles. For what I feel is right is do. For Yoon Shik. For love.
“The homosexual… is me.”
Loved this episode. Loved all the angst. I think I am basically a closet Wagnerian.
One blight on the landscape: Remember I said I don’t fret over the casting of Micky YooChun, who frankly is not the strongest actor in town? Well, this is the episode where I take that back. I think Micky was fine when he was being stodgy, or when mildly perturbed and puzzled. But now when Lee Sun Joon calls for full-on raging inner conflict and passion, I’m just not buying it. Micky is like a light tenor who does ok for Gilbert & Sullivan, but is quite unable to carry Tristan und Isolde.
At the same time, I totally love Lee Sun Joon the man. I love exploring his point of view – it’s so fascinating and complex. Yoon Hee started out being the more interesting of the two, but she seems to have paled recently as a character. I find his pathos far more compelling than hers.
But, all in, minor quibbles. Overall, a winning piece. The romantic tension is convincingly heart-tugging and mercifully non-nonsensical. Another solid episode in a well-crafted series.