It has been a great party. Our site view stats have gone through the roof. We have more posts on Sungkyunkwan Scandal than on any other drama, ever. We’ve had a truck-load of squeeing fun. We’ve made lots of new friends. I’ve (co-)recapped my first series and found that it is hard work but fun. And Thundie still hasn’t fully recovered from the exertions of partying so hard.
We’ve decided, after all, not to (re-)recap episodes 17 to 20. We hope you are not too disappointed. But really, both of us have said pretty much all that we have to say. Between the Epic Review and the Live Recaps I think our work here is just about done.
Thundie has graciously allowed me to have the last word. We all know that the show really wanted to go for five more episodes, and indeed some of us feel that the story was wrapped up in unseemly haste. What if the story had unfolded as it should? (At least, as I think it should have…) Ladies and gentlemen, in lieu of an Episode 20 recap, I present:
SKKS: Serendipity’s Krazy Koncluding Scenario
Cho Sun killed the War Minister before he could bust Yoon Hee.
Even in deep shock from the revelation that Kim Yoon Shik was a woman, Cho Sun was quick-witted enough to realize that immediate and decisive action was needed to prevent the War Minister from exposing Yoon Hee to the Left State Councillor. Exposure that would have meant certain death. Cho Sun did genuinely love Kim Yoon Shik, and even feeling humiliated and betrayed, she couldn’t bear to see him/her dead.
Besides which, she had been meaning to kill the War Minister all along. To release herself, save her family, and walk away with dignity. She had been patiently biding her time, waiting for her chance to pay him back for degrading and using her. When the crisis blew, she did not hesitate to man up and strike the fatal blow.
It was perhaps unfortunate that In Soo was in attendance when the deed was done. And unfortunate that In Soo already knew Yoon Hee’s secret. Just as well she always had the Ha offspring under her thumb…
Cho Sun black-mailed and cajoled Hyo Eun and In Soo into keeping Yoon Hee’s secret and covering up her murder of their father. She was easily intimidated. He was not so fond of his father that he felt compelled to avenge him, and at the same time he was sufficiently obsessed with Cho Sun that he didn’t want her executed for murder.
Ha In Soo was so devastated that Cho Sun would choose a girl over him and even use him to protect said girl, that he eventually gave Cho Sun up. He was intelligent enough to pass the civil service exams and from a good enough family to secure a comfortable government position. But not really clever or skilled enough to get very far with the political machinations. His political opponents snicker at him behind his back – he’s so very obvious, it’s quite laughable. So unsubtle. Doesn’t he realise that true power-play is all about the smiles and the dissimulation, and that the glare and the playing menacingly with weapons don’t actually achieve anything? He never rises to be more than a third-rate corrupt official.
Cho Sun locked herself in her room for days after that fateful day; processing, wheels turning in her mind and her heart. Exalting that she had finally defeated her enemy, savouring the thrill of having sliced through him with her own hands, turning over the pattern and course of her ill-fated love for Kim Yoon Shik, ruing the blow to her pride… How could she call herself a gisaeng if she could not even sniff out another woman? Worse still, how could she call herself a professional if she could not bring herself to hate or turn on Yoon Hee? She resolved that this had to be her last lapse.
When she emerged from her room, her employees remarked in hushed, awed whispers that she was changed. Harder than ever, even more calculating and resolute. Nobody ever messed with her again.
Occasionally, in the market-place, she bumps into the effete little professor from Sungkyunkwan. They exchange knowing and wary glances. “I’ll keep your secret if you keep mine.” They may try to keep their distance from each other, but they are bound uncomfortably together by chords of thwarted affection, of embarrassment, of mutual respect and empathy, and of apology and regret.
The little professor is of course Kim Yoon Hee. She continues to dice with death, masquerading as a man.
Shortly after Yoon Hee found the Geum Deung Ji Sa, Kim Yoon Shik finally succumbed to his illness. He died, of course, with regret that he didn’t get to live life more fully. And he died understanding that it was his redoubtable sister who was destined to be the one who would forge through life boldly. With his blessing, Yoon Hee took on his identity permanently. And by so doing, she obliterated her own.
Lee Sun Joon is a Sungkyunkwan professor too. He and Yoon Hee dance round each other on campus, affecting no more than robust academic rivalry. The other professors marvel at the passion and vigour with which they go at each others’ ideas and arguments.
They may or may not be surprised if they witness one of their rare but passionate illicit liaisons. Once in a very long while, Yoon Hee would wonder what life would have been like if she were a “normal” woman and married to Sun Joon. But very quickly she would shake herself out of any such silliness. Why, a woman could never study at Sungkyunkwan, let alone teach. And if she were married to Sun Joon she would have to clean and cook and bear his children, how boring would that be. No, this is much better. This way, she gets to live life fully. This way, they are both true to themselves and free to pursue their dreams. And their rare private meetings are so much sweeter for their rarity, and so much more exciting for the danger.
For while Yoon Hee pursues knowledge and defies the world by her very tenure, Sun Joon is only by day a professor. By night he is a special intelligence operative for the king. Both live their lives on the knife-edge, so neither wants to be tied to the other in case they drag down the other.
Yoon Hee had seen the king burn the Geum Deung Ji Sa with mixed feelings. On the one hand, was this all that her father’s sacrifice (and Jae Shin’s brother’s) amounted to? On the other hand, she was glad to see the destruction of such a potent and destructive political weapon.
It is just as well that she will never know what really happened – the king had merely pretended to burn the document in front of her. In fact he had burnt a copy, and the original Geum Deung Ji Sa is safely locked away in his secret vault. Of course he wasn’t going to give up this powerful piece of leverage over the Norons – he was merely holding it in reserve. You can only be effective as a king if you know how to use politics and wield power. Of course he wasn’t going to leave the fate of his country in the hands of four callow youths – did anyone seriously think him as naïvely Disney-esque as that? He had to use Kim Yoon Shik, he had no choice in that because Kim Yoon Shik’s late father held the key to finding the Geum Deung Ji Sa. The other three were useful to fortify him. But once Kim Yoon Shik had served his purpose, he was disarmed for his own good and sent back into scholarly obscurity.
Lee Sun Joon, on the other hand, knows all about the survival of the Geum Deung Ji Sa. For he is the king’s most trusted secret operative. He has proven his unshakeable loyalty over and over again. His doggedness is matched only by his quickness of mind. His zeal is ever fuelled by his overweening sense of righteousness. The Norons think that he has turned his back on the political arena and retired into Sungkyunkwan upon his father’s downfall. In fact he has turned implacably against the Norons and their seditious power mongering, and strikes them covert blows every bit as lethal as he ever might in public.
Wielding the Geum Deung Ji Sa, the king forced the Left State Councillor to retire from public service. But he knew that the wily old fox had merely moved his power-base underground, to a secret movement to undermine the king.
The former Left State Councillor disowned his spineless and hopelessly naïve son. The disappointing son who refused to get beyond the elementary lessons of Confucian propriety and move on to the lessons of real politics, and who instead spouted nonsense about the primacy of righteousness, loyalty to king and country, and means not justifying ends. The son who foolishly persisted in befriending the son of his mortal enemy. The son who is now, unbeknownst to him, secretly working to thwart him at every turn.
Lee Sun Joon is desperate to prove himself the best and most loyal intelligence officer ever. What he barely acknowledges to himself is that he is desperate to prove to his father that he is hard-nosed, implacable, clever and unassailable. In all his dangerous games of espionage, his formidable father tends to be one step ahead of him, curses! He is so intent on pursuit, he does not stop to ask himself the questions: What will happen when he finally causes his perfidious father’s downfall? And what if he never does?
Sun Joon will never be happy that Yoon Hee insists on continuing her dangerous game. He wishes for her sake and for his own peace of mind that she would walk a safer path. But he also loves her too much to blame her for choosing life. If he has any doubt, he just has to watch her blossom and bloom in Sungkyunkwan’s intellectual environment, and see how she touches, changes and inspires her students.
Gu Yong Ha is one of Sun Joon’s best sources. Though exposed as a “false” yangban, by sheer boldness, chutzpah and irresistible charm he has gained admittance into every influential circle. Who needs the Geum Deung Ji Sa to change society when you can do it by your own hands!
Rolling in riches as a successful merchant and broker, married happily into nobility, connected openly to every coven of influential wives and covertly to every influential gisaeng, flamboyantly flippant, he is the Scarlet Pimpernel of the late Joseon. Except that he is not nearly as noble or sacrificial as Sir Percy Blakeney. For he is Gu Yong Ha. And Gu Yong Ha looks after Number One. He is ultimately deeply self-interested. Sure he has principles: He will not bow and scrape before the yangban, or play the government officials’ power games. His pride runs to that. And he will fight for his right to live his colourful life with a (bejewelled) cloak of dignity. But he’ll not endanger himself for any “Better World”, he’s not so naïve as that. He will sell information to Sun Joon, but at the right price. He cultivates Sun Joon partly for old times’ sake – those sure were fun Sungkyunkwan days – but mostly because he is fascinated by the mental and moral games Sun Joon plays with Yoon Hee and with the pater. He wants a ring-side seat when Sun Joon finally has a melt-down with all his machinations and contortions.
Moon Jae Shin is an esteemed police chief. Efficient, clever and scrupulously clean, he is trusted by the king himself.
In fact, unknown to Sun Joon, Jae Shin is often the brains behind the intrigues which are passed on to Sun Joon for execution. Jae Shin could easily obtain a lofty government position, but he resists promotion and chooses to stay on the local beat, keeping on eye on Sungkyunkwan and ensuring that he would be the official on the spot should any ruckus erupt on the campus. Say, oh, if they find out that one of their professors is a woman. He is married to a nice comfortable woman and has two children he dotes on. But when he writes his deep and bittersweet poetry, as he often does, it is usually Yoon Hee whom he thinks of.
Jae Shin keeps in touch with Yong Ha. He never gets entirely comfortable with Yong Ha’s lavish attentions, but he submits with good nature to the indignities because he is quite fond of Yong Ha and grateful for his affection and constancy, and because Yong Ha is a useful source of information. But he also wants to keep a close eye on Yong Ha as he never knows when he might take to setting up another elaborate prank. They all share a volatile secret, and he would hate for Yong Ha to bring down Yoon Hee in one of his games gone too far. He also realises that Yong Ha suspects the truth about Sun Joon’s double life, and he wouldn’t want Yong Ha to harm Sun Joon in his excess either, for that would hurt Yoon Hee, which would never do.
Once a while, the four of them get together to have a meal and drinks, bound by bonds of friendship held still strong by their joint guardianship of Yoon Hee’s secret. Then, just for a moment, they would forget their cares and compromises, cast aside their masks and pretences, and be young and carefree, beautiful and unbeatable again.
Professor Jung Yak Yong carried Yoon Hee’s secret to his grave. First as her professor, then as her mentor as she learned to be a professor herself, and finally as her step-father. In sharing Yoon Hee’s deadly secret and in watching over her together, Prof Jung and Yoon Hee’s mother got increasingly attached to each other and increasingly reliant on each other’s strength of character. Yoon Hee’s mother was never fully reconciled to the perilous course her daughter had chosen, but with Prof Jung at her side she was just about able to bear the difficult lot that fate had cast her.
Hyo Eun got married to a nice young nobleman, but soon realised that a real-life partnership bore very little resemblance to a romance novel. She dutifully gave her husband three children and was faithful to him. But now more than ever she escaped into the pages of romance novels. She became quite an expert in the genre, and often lamented that they just didn’t write them like they used to. Then one day she thought, “Well, why don’t I write them myself?”. Her novels (published anonymously, of course) sell like hot-cakes. No one can say that they are particularly well-written, but they somehow manage to connect with her readers at a visceral level. While her stories always end happily (well, of course they must), her characters’ paths to true love are often littered with misunderstanding, hurt and loss, which are portrayed with surprising poignancy and depth of feeling.
Believe it or not, this mangling of the SKKS story ending is my tribute to SKKS. My perverse way of saying that SKKS is special, greater than the sum of its parts. You see, I always swore that I would sooner poke my eyes out than write fanfic, yet here I am… And that’s because I have an affection for SKKS which has survived the soul-destroying intensity and deconstruction of recapping (and which has survived what I thought was the mother of all cop-out plot endings). The characters have been so well drawn I don’t find it difficult to crawl into their personalities and take them where I want them to go. I’ve not found it hard to find inspiration, even if merely to gratify my twisted sense of humour and lamentable weakness for slow-burn pathos. And if you have made it this far, dear reader, I’m gratified that you have put up with my flights of fancy. Thanks for your company. It’s been a blast!