We start Episode 2 with a recap of the dramatic finish to Episode 1 – As the wee babe Baek Dong Soo is about to be boiled alive, Crown Prince Sado arrives and saves Gwang Taek, who then exchanges his left arm for the life of the baby. Our brave Gwang Taek endures this without a sound.
Prince Sado bandages Gwang Taek’s arm, apologizing for his uselessness as he does so. Gwang Taek tells him that he’ll be a king, and needs to have a resolute mind and strong heart. On the other side of the platform, the police chief, Hong Dae Ju (Lee Won Jong), tells his underling that since they’ve come this far, they really should finish the job while they have the chance. He sends the underling to contact the Hoksa Chorong – the Hired Assassins.
Gwang Taek stumbles out into the crowd holding the baby, to be met by Sa Mo and Dae Pyo. They look in horror at his amputated arm, and Sa Mo storms off to find someone. He hauls a doctor back to his home, where Dae Pyo has tucked in the babe and Gwang Taek. The doctor grovels in fear before them all. However, what Sa Mo really wants is for the doctor to treat Gwang Taek, save Dong Soo and treat his deformities. Sa Mo vividly threatens to remove the doctor’s own limbs if he doesn’t save them.
Word reaches In at the Hired Assassins lair that Gwang Taek has lost an arm, and he is inordinately pleased that while he lost a thumb, Gwang Taek is now missing an arm. In strolls in to tell Chun and Ji the news. Both of them pause in shock. And In then tells Chun that police chief Hong wants to see him.
They meet with the chief, who presents Chun with a box of gold as payment for killing Gwang Taek and the baby. Chun retorts that while it looks as if Gwang Taek is worth a lot of money, he’s not going to do it. He doesn’t kill babies. (and how cool is Chun that he’s sitting insolently and swilling a drink, while In is sitting politely and the underling is scuttling around and kneeling nervously). Lord Hong asks if this means he’s going to break their agreement (ok, that’s interesting!). Chun shrugs and says “agreements change.” Hong asks if he really means that, and Chun stands up to leave saying “that’s for you to judge,” flinging a hunk of gold across the room at Hong.
In, on the other hand, is more than pleased to insult Chun’s temper, crawl over to the box of gold and offer his own services.
Meanwhile, the doctor is fitting baby Dong Soo with bamboo braces. The doctor tells them that it may or may not work, but it’s the only thing to do. Dong Soo may have to wear them a short time or his whole life, there is just no telling.
Gwang Taek takes his leave of Sa Mo and Dae Pyo, saying that Hong Dae Ju will certainly not stop pursuing him until he kills him, so it’s safer for him and the baby to leave Joseon. Gwang Taek asks Dae Pyo to check in on their hyung Yeo Cho Sang on the way. Gwang Taek has heard that Cho Sang has had a child. Dae Pyo isn’t that thrilled, and asks if it wouldn’t be better for Gwang Taek to greet him. But he sighs and agrees. Gwang Taek tells Sa Mo to explain to the Crown Prince what is going on, and takes his leave.
And so off they go – Sa Mo back to his home, Dae Pyo off to his hometown, Gwang Taek and baby Dong Soo off into the distance. However, they don’t get very far into the forest when Gwang Taek stops, feeling something is amiss. A drink is tossed to him from above.
Chun has been waiting for him (up a tree, no less). Chun tells him not to worry, he’s not there to kill him. They banter back and forth a bit about the arm and the baby, and then Chun tells him that he should take care of himself on this road, because he wasn’t the only friend sent to kill him.
As Gwang Taek walks down a beach, he is suddenly attacked by a group of men and In. And we get our first fight scene of this episode. This time it’s a one armed man carrying a baby vs 8 guys and In. Gwang Taek is trapped in chains as In taunts him to put down the baby, but Gwang Taek insults him back. As Gwang Taek is being pressed fairly hard, a masked figure on horseback rides in to rescue him! And off they gallop!
Dae Pyo is strolling through the marketplace on his way home, when he sees his hyung-nim Cho Sang being pummeled by the crowd. He wades in to rescue him, and pays off his debts. He sits down with him and Cho Sang tells him that his son has been born with a destiny of a killer. Dae Pyo berates him for believing such nonsense. But Cho Sang says that while he was never as good a fighter as Gwang Taek, he was matchless at seeing someone’s destiny. And his child’s destiny is to be a vicious killer. (well, that’s cheerful!)
Dae Pyo tells him to stop it, take better care of his health and stop drinking because the drinking will kill him some day. Cho Sang tells him off and proceeds to get plastered. Dae Pyo sighs in resignation as Cho Sang heads off home. At home, he continues to drink, pondering deeply the killer fate of his son. His wife tries to run away from him with the baby, but he chases her down and tosses her aside.
He grabs a spear and as he tries to stab the baby, his wife throws herself over the baby, and gets stabbed in the back. She dies at his feet (which he bizarrely blames on the baby), and we see Cho Sang hovering over the baby with the spear. And he STABS!!!
And with that, we cut to Gwang Taek in a secluded spot with his rescuer. It’s Ji! He isn’t terribly surprised, and asks her if it’s really alright for her to help him. He also uses her real name, Ga Ok. She doesn’t really reply but bandages his wounds. She asks about the baby, and then they have a rather cryptic conversation as to whether the baby will see her kindly when he grows up, or will more likely grow up to hate her. They obviously have some serious backstory going here. He asks her if she would come to Qing with them, and she wonders if she can really do that. He nods gently, and then we get that rarest of sageuk beasts….the kiss. (As drama kisses go, this one is more along the mannequins pressing lips, but hey! )
Ji wakes up beside Gwang Taek, quietly gets up, thinks to herself that she can’t even dream of happiness, that she will treasure the sincerity of his offer. Then she dresses and leaves. He is not unaware of what she is doing, as he opens his eyes, but doesn’t move to stop her.
The next morning, he is left with only baby Dong Soo, but he snaps awake, alert to danger. He tucks the baby in behind a rock and ventures out to lure the followers away. It’s In again, with more minions. (It seems to me that being a minion of In is likely a short career.)
And so, our second fight sequence although this is more of a chase, attractively starting beneath a tree of ribbons (where he cuts one down to use as bait in the fight), and going through a field, as Gwang Taek picks off the minions one by one. He finally ends up with just In, who begs for mercy.
This fight is intercut with scene of a hunter, Hwang Jin Ki (Sung Ji Ru) following a wolf through the forest, and he ends up in our pretty little spot. He hears the baby crying as does the wolf, and he is appalled as the wolf nears the child (and a less vicious looking wolf/dog I’ve never seen). He pounds a stick on the ground to scare away the wolf (who frankly looks bored with him, and more likely to take good care of a kid than any of these humans).
Anyway, as Gwang Taek is busy telling In that he’s not even worth killing (sigh…will the good guys ever learn?), Jin Ki picks the baby up and carries him off.
Gwang Taek comes back to the pretty little spot and finds nothing but a blanket left behind. He starts searching for Dong Soo in a panic. Apparently tracking is not one of his skills because he doesn’t find Jin Ki’s trail. He searches desperately and randomly for the poor kid, but is left feeling that he’s the world’s worst baby guardian.
Luckily, however Jin Ki stops to check on Dong Soo’s diaper (HAH!) and finds the little cloth that identifies his father. Apparently, Jin Ki knows enough to haul himself over to Sa Mo and hands Dong Soo over. Sa Mo is shocked that only the baby was there alone, and assumes that something really drastic has happened to Gwang Taek.
Gwang Taek is now in Qing, where a monk finds him sleeping on the street and takes him to a monastery where he starts studying their martial arts.
We get a really lovely set of scenes of our secluded little spot through the seasons to fast forward us in time. And it’s now 12 years later…. (which would make it about 1755, and time for the young cast to show up)
Baek Dong Soo (Yeo Jin Goo) is wearing what is essentially a bamboo body cast, and enduring the taunts and mimicry of the other village kids. The lead bully tells him they’ll be his friends if he jumps off a cliff into the water. Really? Oh sure! They promise! And of course if he doesn’t jump, he’s a chicken. So our poor Baek Dong Soo jumps!
Which freaks out our crowd of little bullies, because Dong Soo not only can’t swim, but his bamboo splints are preventing him from even trying. So he’s drowning.
Two of the boys fetch Sa Mo, who hauls Dong Soo out of the water and then……we cut to the home of Yeo Cho Sang! Who is busy getting drunk and yelling for Yeo Un. It turns out he didn’t stab his son to death. Yeo Un (Park Gun Tae) is out in the rain in the woods, practicing with a wooden sword, beating the daylights out of some wooden poles. When his father finds him there, he beats the tar out of the poor kid for practicing when it had been forbidden. Un takes the beating, with almost a psychotic smile on his face.
Dong Soo is back at home, feeling depressed as Sa Mo tries to feed him some nice warm broth, telling him he’s lucky to be alive. Dong Soo is more of the opinion that his life is pretty sucky, since he’s the butt of all the neighborhood bullies and he can’t even feed himself. And he uses that cry of teenagers the world over – “I wish I’d never been born.” That earns him a smack from Sa Mo. Dong Soo cries out that his life isn’t living and he should have joined his father in death, and dramatically starts banging his head against a pole.
Sa Mo hugs him. He tells Dong Soo that he’s sure of one thing, that Dong Soo will not die in a meaningless way. (foreshadowing much, Show?)
Yeo Un is back in the forest practicing with his wooden sword, when the neighborhood brats come across him. He over hears them gossiping about him – saying that his father murdered his mother. Apparently this is news to him, and he runs off to confront his father, who is once again getting drunk. His father admits the murder, and Yeo Un cracks him over the head with the wooden sword! His father’s head starts bleeding, but otherwise this is rather ineffective, and Yeo Un screams and stalks off into the forest again.
It’s his fate that at this moment, he crosses paths with Chun, who is ambling along on horseback.
Chun takes in the sight of the angry young man with the wooden sword and turns back to have a wee chat with him. But since Yeo Un is in a snit, he doesn’t even answer when Chun asks his name. Instead, he stalks past the group of brats, and when their game piece goes flying by he swats it away. Then he stalks up to the head brat and threatens him. He’s going to stomp off, when the head brat talks back – your father is a killer and so are you – pffft. That of course starts a fight, and while Yeo Un takes a crack over the head, he also gets in his licks and scares the daylights out of the gang.
And as Yeo Un collapses to beat the ground in frustration, Chun ambles up on his horse. He is about to destroy his own hand, when Chun asks him again for his name.
Chun bandages him up and proceeds to show him more kindness than he’s probably ever seen before. Chun takes him back home, but when Yeo Un obviously doesn’t want to go back, Chun gives a little laugh and asks if Yeo Un wants to come with him. He says that if Un wants to, all he has to do is follow him. Un looks at his father, who drinking again, and then at his bandaged hand. He makes his decision and quietly follows after Chun. He follows all the way back to the home of the Hired Assassins (the lair of evil), where he is handed off to an underling for training.
Dong Soo, meanwhile, is still trying to learn to feed himself. And getting mighty frustrated at it. As Sa Mo pesters him to eat his dinner, Hwang Jin Ki shows up for a visit, being followed by a girl with a bow and quiver. This is Hwang Jin Ju, who follows Dong Soo off to where the other kids are playing. When one picks on Dong Soo, Jin Ju sticks up for him and then beats up on the bully. Which of course, embarrasses the heck out of Dong Soo, and he stalks off back home with her following.
Jin Ki has brought a bundle of jewels and other items to be sold, which will take a while. Sa Mo asks if Jin Ju is his daughter, but Jin Ki never really answers, just telling Sa Mo her name. Dong Soo is not thrilled that Jin Ju will be staying with them for about a month, but Jin Ki is pleasantly surprised to find Dong Soo alive and more or less well.
Jin Ki is strolling along when he meets Ji on a bridge. He kneels and she greets him and commands him – clearly she is his superior. It’s hard to say whether they are speaking in a particular code or if she’ s just the master of cryptic discussions. She asks him if the way is always full of danger, and he replies no. Dangerous business happens on this road, though. As she turns around, he looks worried and starts to say “Surely…”, but she says she doesn’t know what will happen and that he should always be careful. She strides off back into the forest. (Well, that was interesting!)
Back at the palace, Prince Sado is practicing with his guards. The lance that he is using (sorry I don’t know the technical name of this particular weapon) feels a little odd in his hands, and he takes it away to inspect it. The collar of the weapon opens to reveal half a coin. The Prince knows immediately that it was left behind as a clue by King Hyojong to find the fabled plan for the Northern Expedition of 100 years earlier.
Alas, part of this discussion has been overheard by the underling of Lord Hong- and just in case we aren’t up on the point of this whole 5 minutes of discussing it, the minion finally asks “what is this plan about?”
Alas, at that point we switch over to watching Baek Dong Soo’s tutoring session, where he proves that he has a nearly photographic memory, and at the moment is learning the entire pharmacopeia of Joseon, including poisons – their sources and remedies. That should come in handy.
And then we find Yeo Un going through his paces in what appears to be an exam. He has to reach the lair before time runs out, fighting and reasoning his way through (ah, another fight sequence…this time with long haired guys in black). He makes it back in time, and is handed a sword.
Chun asks him if he knows the meaning of the sword, and when Un smiles at it, In tells him that he’s either crazy or a smart. Chun tells him that a hired assassin must never waver in hesitation, and asks if he understands what that means. He says yes, and In then asks if he knows what the final exam is – he replies to kill the person he cherishes most. In says “ding dong” (which just makes me want to kill In a little more) and Un chooses his father, which seems to worry Chun a little.
Dong Soo is outside studying, as the kids go running by into a storehouse and start messing around. The brats manage knock over a burner and set the storehouse on fire. They run out, screaming for help and tell Dong Soo that Jin Ju is trapped inside. Dong Soo looks around, grabs a mat and goes into the building to save Jin Ju. As the building starts to collapse around them, he braces the timbers with his bamboo covered arms, leaving them trapped in the burning building.
And on that fiery note, we finish episode 2!
Episode 2 gave us a few additional introductions, but also had more plot developments and fewer action sequences. We now know that the Plan for the Northern Expedition (I really need to come up with a better moniker for that) is going to be the MacGuffin of this series. What is a MacGuffin, you ask? Well, it’s that thing around which the story is going to revolve, for whatever reason – the Maltese Falcon, the painting in Painter of the Wind, the hidden will, the missing person, whatever. They spent most of Oh Man Seok’s scene pounding home that THIS was going to be the thing.
So, what is it? This takes us back to the 1650s when King Hyojong of Joseon was around. Remember Chuno? Remember Prince Bongrim, who they track down to ask for mercy for his nephew the little princeling? – he’s the guy who becomes King Hyojong. Just before his death in 1659, he apparently had been planning an expedition to the north, similar to the successful battles fought in alliance with the Qing in 1658 against Russia.
What good this is going to do them 100 years later is anyone’s guess, but the Plan (there’s a good name) is what they are all looking for.
And it’s now very clear that the Hired Assassins and Gwang Taek have some serious backstory to clear up. Which is good, because I really like all of the older generation except In, who needs to stop screeching.
As for new personnel – we have Hwang Jin Ki and Hwang Jin Ju. He seems to be a friend or ally of Sa Mo, but on the other hand turns out to be a minion of Ji. Jin Ju the tomboy is clearly going to be of interest to our boys, but just who she is – well that is not clear.
And overall, I’ll just slip in a note mentioning that the show continues to be VERY pretty, and that so far, the soundtrack has been a big plus for the show.
If you’ve made it this far in the recap – you are a brave soul indeed! And I’ll see you again in episode 3.