THURSDAY UPDATE TREE WITH DEEP ROOTS – EPISODE 24 RECAP #JOYPRIME @8:AM
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
The jig is up, and Jung Ki-joon knows that the Haerye lies within So-yi’s mind. He orders for her immediate murder, but the moment before his minion looks poised to strike, Chae-yoon arrives on the scene, using Jung Ki-joon’s life as a bargaining tool (again) in order to free someone he cares about. Since Jung Ki-joon has already wagered that he’ll be dying for his cause soon, he has nothing to lose and orders his minion to carry through the order.
Thankfully, So-yi’s would-be assassin chickens out. When Jung Ki-joon then orders the nearby Gae Pa-yi to kill her, the gentle(?) giant remains motionless. Chae-yoon orders So-yi to run away, and she does.
In a literal frenzy at seeing So-yi escaping, Jung Ki-joon screams for his minion to shoot her. Chae-yoon dares them to shoot those arrows if they want their precious leader dead… and when it seems like they’re going to follow orders, Chae-yoon prepares the killing blow for Jung Ki-joon.
At last, however, Gae Pa-yi steps in to fend him off – but not before Chae-yoon slices Jung Ki-joon for good measure. Nice! The two men fight, but Chae-yoon is assured that Gae Pa-yi will have to stay to tend Jung Ki-joon’s possibly-mortal wound. He can’t risk his leader dying, right? It’s this good faith that sets Chae-yoon in retreat mode, following So-yi.
But Jung Ki-joon won’t be having it, despite suffering the deep wound that Chae-yoon inflicted. Gae Pa-yi has a moment of hesitation before he takes up the bow and arrow, and aims at the fleeing Chae-yoon and So-yi. He shoots.
The arrow comes so close to Chae-yoon as to cut the binds to his topknot, but it whizzes right past him and into So-yi’s arm. Oh no!! She falters, and this falter sends her off a cliff and into the night. She better be fine.
Her fate is uncertain as Chae-yoon goes to the edge, wildly calling out her name. Though these times are dark, could it be… is that… a Mane of Glory? (Or was he out partying with Ke$ha again? It’s too dark to tell.)
Dawn breaks, and Chae-yoon is combing the forest for any signs of our girl. We find her some ways away, alive (thank goodness), but something is amiss when she sits up. The arrow just hit her arm, but the moment she rolls up her sleeve she sees a black and bloodied mess. Oh no. It’s the poison Jung Ki-joon talked about before, isn’t it?
So-yi confirms her suspicions by bravely tasting the end of the arrow, and whatever it is can’t be good. She spits it out, a look crossing her face that already puts my heart in my throat. She knows it’s poison. We know it’s poison. Oh no.
She crawls into a nearby cave, using a bit of her hanbok as a tourniquet for her arm, which is looking worse by the second. Outside, Chae-yoon seems to be so affected that he can barely walk properly, but he’s unrelenting in his search for her. Pieces of her skirt are torn up to lay down around her, and it’s a striking visual.
So-yi is progressively looking sicker and sicker as she writes the Haerye down on the pieces of her torn skirt. Her arm wound is looking worse too, relentlessly bleeding and growing blacker. No no no no no. Noooo. No no no no. If what I think is happening is happening… it better not be.
Chae-yoon continues his frantic and desperate search, falling whenever the wind grows too strong out of grief. Good god man, save your grief for later and use your speed now. Where’s that leaping martial arts method when we all need it? At least one of his falls lands him near the cave So-yi is in. All may not be lost.
Alas, Jung Ki-joon has survived Chae-yoon’s wounding and gets patched up by Pyung. Their camp is gone, all of their soldiers have either been captured or killed. Han Ga makes it inside, but he’s soon followed by a barely conscious Leader brought in by piggyback. She’s been wounded in the battle and is on her way out of this world.
After all this time, I still don’t know anything about her. She calls Jung Ki-joon “young master”, though, which leads me to believe she may have once been a slave of his once-prominent household. She soon passes, with Jung Ki-joon saying that he will follow her soon.
The Haerye is splattered with blood, but seemingly complete. As So-yi rests her back against the cave wall she takes in short, terrible breaths, as though she can’t get enough oxygen. From a ways away she hears Chae-yoon calling for her, but can’t even work up the strength to say “orabeoni”.
He makes it to the mouth of the cave and sees the harrowing sight of her surrounded by white while wearing white (bad, bad, bad). Her face is as pale as her clothing, and he desperately runs to her side. Oh goodness. This is really happening, isn’t it?
Cut to: Hidden Root (I know!). They’re having to make some changes to the plan due to the loss of all their armed forces. If he wanted to just assassinate the King, Jung Ki-joon says, he could have just used the secret passage. This isn’t about just killing Sejong, it’s about bringing his downfall in front of thousands of onlookers during the promulgation ceremony.
Gae Pa-yi receives a written order as his final mission and Jung Ki-joon’s last command. He wonders if he’s strong enough for the task. Jung Ki-joon retorts, “Aren’t you the best swordsman on the continent?”
So-yi smiles to see Chae-yoon, though she can barely breathe. He sees her technicolor arm, and knows immediately that it’s poison and that they have no time. Desperately, he tries to get her on his back so he can carry her away but she pushes him away. He’s losing it, and she’s trying to get him to stay focused.
She charges him with taking the explanation for the letters that she’s painstakingly written down in her last moments. She also alerts him that Jung Ki-joon has something terrible planned for the Promulgation Ceremony, and Chae-yoon has to stop it.
He throws the Haerye to the ground, caring nothing for it when she’s dying. Once again he tries to pick her up, and once again he’s forced away. “I won’t make it,” she says. “Are you going to dither around? With the excuse of saving me, with the excuse of tending my corpse, are you going to waver?”
So-yi is handling her impending death like the champion she is (I’m handling it like Chae-yoon), as she comforts him about her impending death. Probably because he’s taking this a lot worse than she is, but it’s also a testament to her how her personality has always been warm and almost motherly to him. She tells him not to be afraid, but he pleads with her. Don’t. Don’t go.
So-yi: “Don’t cry. And look at me. Back then… when I was reunited with you, as I was going back to the palace by myself, do you know what was hardest on me? Sleep. After meeting you, after twenty-some years, for the first time I slept sweet as honey. ‘If I leave together with Orabeoni, I could probably continue to sleep like that, right?’ Just thinking about it, made me so happy already. Again… for allowing me to dream happily again… thank you so much, Orabeoni.”
Tears slip from her eyes as she smiles:
“The image of our letters getting promulgated successfully. The citizens, those letters, the image of them reading them. Through your eyes, Orabeoni, I will see it for sure. Orabeoni… you must see it.”
Wah. That’s the line that broke me. Strong to the end, she tells him to hurry and go. Because he has to see the promulgation so she can see it through his eyes… oh goodness. That’s so horrible.
She draws her last, strained breath… and dies.
The moment she passes, Chae-yoon holds her close and lets out this heartbreaking sigh, as if her leaving this world has just hit him. He can’t even speak as he holds her to him and lets out these horrible sounds that aren’t even cries but ones that break my heart, until he lets out the real cry of anguish. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.
The sounds of Chae-yoon’s grief can be heard through the forest. Cho-tak and Park-po, who have been aiding Chae-yoon in his search for So-yi, follow the sounds into the cave to see her dead body covered, and beside her are the two wooden wedding ducks Chae-yoon bought. Oof. Kill some baby seals while you’re at it and really bring this home, Tree.
Chae-yoon, however, is looking mighty dead inside even as he shoves the Haerye into his clothes. Perhaps knowing that now her corpse will be taken care of, he runs off without a word to fulfill her dying wish.
Shim Jong-soo has survived his fall off a cliff, and comes to crash Lee Shin-juk’s good time. Quick to recover, Lee Shin-juk assures his good friend that whatever he’s thinking is probably a misunderstanding, and that he was sooooo worried…
But instead of being angry, Shim Jong-soo merely hands over the Hidden Root Scroll and the roster of names. He says that Jung Ki-joon is dead, but this smells more like Shim Jong-soo’s wish to keep Hidden Root a secret.
Once he’s alone, Lee Shin-juk has a nice moment where he laughs, cries, and burns the Hidden Root Scroll. After all these years of work, he’s free at last.
With the approval of the three state councilors (thanks probably in large part to Lee Shin-juk), the day of the promulgation ceremony finally arrives. Though most of the commoners don’t know why they’re being called, they arrive by the hundreds anyway to fill the grounds. Officials and common people alike all bow grandly before King Sejong, who sits on his throne at the front of the assembly. Next to him, Jung In-ji begins to read proudly from a scroll.
It’s a basic explanation of what we’ve seen happening over the course of the series, explaining that the Hunminjeongeum (the previous name for Hangul) consists of twenty-eight letters, and that offices are in place to ensure that it’s dispersed widely for use by the people.
All looks as if it’s going well, until we see Jung Ki-joon disguised like all his neighbors in a sea of pastel colors. Through this crowd a figure dressed in black moves among them like an angel of death, headed straight for the throne.
It’s Gae Pa-yi, who sheds his cloak once he’s near the throne to reveal his new haircut and a new uniform. Also a very large spear. In front of all the onlookers, including the King, he becomes a one-man army against a literal army. He’s a giant among men, a complete force of nature, and though he’s surrounded he’s able to take down dozens of palace guards without sustaining one hit. Mu-hyul looks on with something akin to resignation.
Mustering a war cry that just sounds like it might be his last, Mu-hyul jumps down from the platform to try to defeat that which is undefeatable.
Mu-hyul manages to get a hit in, but it’s not long before his sword is broken in half. He’s met in the stomach with the business end of Gae Pa-yi’s spear, but bravely grabs onto it to keep the giant in one place so soldiers can come from behind to cut him down. They’re like mosquitos to Gae Pa-yi, who’s able to use only one hand to beat them away.
Because he’s the best, Mu-hyul breaks the spear in half so he can rip it out of his body and stab Gae Pa-yi. Good. Gracious. He’s a hero until the end, as even though he’s stabbed the giant in the chest, Gae Pa-yi uses the other half of the spear to again slice through our favorite swordsman.
This is the blow that breaks him, but even as Mu-hyul is brought to his knees he makes a last-ditch, desperate attempt to keep Gae Pa-yi from reaching the throne by grabbing hold of his clothing. It’s useless of course, as Gae Pa-yi continues his rampage toward the King’s platform. Why isn’t Sejong protected by a human shield made of loyal bodies again? Where did everyone’s loyalty go?
Unprotected, Sejong can only look at his would-be assassin. Gae Pa-yi makes a leap, but is derailed in mid-air by Chae-yoon, who’s made it at last!
…Except he looks like he couldn’t be more dead inside. At least he faces off with Gae Pa-yi in an epic battle, both of them exchanging blows and sustaining serious injuries. Chae-yoon looks like he’s only half-trying to win the fight.
He does, however, hold his own against the inhumanly strong Gae Pa-yi, who was already wounded before our hero arrived on the scene. Brought to his knees, blood spills from Gae Pa-yi’s mouth as he levels a look at Chae-yoon… and dies in front of the eyes of everyone present, as well as the little Yeon-doo. Wait, that was it? Huh. Guess he wasn’t so invincible after all.
Sejong wonders aloud what we’re all wondering – why is no one even trying to treat Mu-hyul? His sentiments echo that of Jung Ki-joon when he too wondered why no one was treating the Leader as she died. Maybe it’s all over once they’re breathing blood.
To the end, Mu-hyul is worried only for Sejong’s well being. He tells him not to stop with the promulgation, and to return to his seat. Aww. When leaving his friend of countless years doesn’t seem like it’s the first thing on Sejong’s mind, Mu-hyul manages to crack a joke in keeping with their married couple rapport. “Your Majesty, please listen to the Royal Guard Commander a little.” Awwwwww. This is the best death non-speech of the episode, because it has a little humor.
He’s not dead yet, at least, and Sejong sees him carried off on a stretcher before he once again ascends the platform. All the bodies, including Gae Pa-yi’s, have been removed from the grounds. But someone else emerges from the crowd…
It’s Jung Ki-joon, and he’s got a knife. He looks about ready to try the assassination himself, but is stopped when he hears a rush of voices around him. When Chae-yoon was stabbed by Gae Pa-yi in the beginning of the fight, the Haerye So-yi had written down before her death had gone flying into the crowd. Many people have now picked these pieces up, and to Jung Ki-joon’s utter amazement he realizes that they’re… reading. They all know the alphabet!
No one is explicitly having this flashback, as it’s meant only for us as the viewers to understand how it came to be that everyone knows how to read. Back when Chae-yoon and So-yi were first working through the circulation mission, she had asked her orabeoni if he had a better idea than teaching a singing troupe the Hangul Song. I forgot that he did, and now we get to hear it – he mentions a legend from Japan about a book that would kill those who didn’t show it to others. He wants to use that sort of manipulative method to spread the letters, basically making them into a Joseon chain letter. Ha!
The idea sticks, though, and we flash forward (while we’re still in the flashback) to the favor we never heard So-yi ask of Yeon-doo. It turns out to be a huge lie, but one where the ends justify the means – So-yi tells Yeon-doo that knowing the letters will cause abscesses to grow aaall over her body, and if she doesn’t want that to happen, she must teach the letters to three other people. Relieved, Yeon-doo admits that she doesn’t need to worry – she’s already taught her mom, the Sound Man, and her friends. So-yi then replies that she must tell all those people the same thing about the abscesses, so that they can teach three other people, and so on.
Ha, I like it. It was a bit manipulative (okay, very manipulative) but sometimes you just can’t argue with results. It’s a beautiful, cathartic moment as Sejong looks upon all his subjects, all of them reading the alphabet that he created just for them.
Chae-yoon takes it all in, doing it so that So-yi can see her life’s work to completion through his eyes. In voiceover he speaks to her spirit, “Dam… are you watching? The people are reading the letters, Dam.”
He’s barely keeping himself propped up with his spear, but without a proper hold the blade is digging through his hand. When Sejong finally approaches him to ask about So-yi, Chae-yoon replies, “In here. Isn’t she in here?” He means himself, but also the Haerye. Echoing Mu-hyul’s sentiments earlier, Chae-yoon urges Sejong not to waver, and to complete the promulgation. He must, because So-yi is watching. With one foot already in the next world, Chae-yoon is intent on allowing So-yi to see everything through him.
Blood still stains the ground as the pieces of the Haerye are collected from the people and given to the King. He returns to the throne, unfurling his foreword to address the crowd.
The foreword, or what he has written of it, is taken word-for-word from the true historical foreword of the Hunminjeonggeum that King Sejong penned. In it, he explains his motivation for creating the letters, that because their spoken language is different from that of China’s, and so the written words do not match. When he reaches the end of what he’s written, he addresses the crowd from the heart.
While he uses the Haerye to begin the detailed explanation of how each of the letters came to be, we get our requisite load of flashbacks to show how far we’ve come (answer: very far). Jung Ki-joon, defeated, seems to give up. Within the crowd, Jo Mal-saeng seems to finally notice him just as he’s making his exit. Soon the crowd offers a unified cheer, officials and common people alike. Even Lee Shin-juk gets swept up in the rush, and cheers along.
Chae-yoon watches it all, saying in voiceover, “Dam, you’re watching, right? Ddol-bok is watching clearly. You can see too, right, Dam?” But his grip is slipping, maybe because he doesn’t have enough flesh left on his hand to hold that spear with. Blood pools at his feet as he finally collapses, falling to his knees as blood drips from his mouth. Et tu, Chae-yoon?!
Sejong, finally taking notice, descends from the platform to hold Chae-yoon up by his shoulders. Every breath seems like a chore to our hero, as he stands firm to So-yi’s dying wish. “Your Majesty,” he ekes out, “We should watch. With out Dam’s life, with Dam’s eyes, we should watch. See, what did I tell you? The people have always bore their responsibilities through pain. Please smile. Dam… Like Ddol-bok…” He breathes out one line of a song, about what a great day it is, before his body goes lax and he falls into Sejong’s arms.
I’m going to call this one and say it’s a vision Chae-yoon has in his final moments, before he completely shuffles the mortal coil. In it, he lives his ideal life of a humble house with his true love, So-yi, and their children. He teaches them Hangul. Everyone is smiles and laughter. Taking this as the last thing Chae-yoon thinks of before he dies makes it heartbreakingly sad. Or maybe it does. I’m out of tears with which to measure.
With So-yi’s body having been brought by Cho-tak and Park-po, Sejong lovingly lays Chae-yoon down next to her. He places Chae-yoon’s hand together with hers, and looks over their corpses with nothing but sadness.
Jo Mal-saeng has sent his troops after Jung Ki-joon, who’s busy fleeing with Pyung. Jung Ki-joon is bleeding from a wound on his arm, while Pyung is mostly covered in blood that isn’t his. Coming one last time to protect the First Root, Pyung sizes up the number of soldiers and knows that this will be his last battle. A warrior’s thrill enters his eyes as he sets to keeping the soldiers distracted in order for Jung Ki-joon to escape.
One of the soldiers is wise to the plan, and shoots an arrow that lands straight into Jung Ki-joon’s back. I think it’s fitting that it’s his retreating back that was shot while he runs away like a coward.
With Pyung distracted, the nearby soldiers set to cutting him down. He fights on till the end, bloodied and gruesome. He doesn’t make it out alive, but it was a fitting sendoff. Without a redemption (he was too far gone), he still manages to leave a favorable impression.
It’s only later that Sejong hears word that Mu-hyul has died. It breaks him to think of all those who have died, and in a bout of misplaced anger and sorrow he decries them for being so disloyal that they would all dare to die at their own whims. Poor Sejong. He’s literally the last man standing.
Meanwhile, Jo Mal-saeng is made aware that the royal guards have lost Jung Ki-joon. But the exact place where he was lost is one that Jo Mal-saeng remembers as housing a secret passage that leads into the palace. Flabbergasted, Jung In-ji doesn’t understand how Jung Ki-joon would know about a secret kept only within the royal family. But the how, as Jo Mal-saeng explains, is because Jung Ki-joon’s revered uncle and the founder of Hidden Root, Jung Do-jun, designed the freaking palace. (Historically, this is accurate. Jung Do-jun is credited with the design of the freaking palace.)
Unaware of this, Sejong steps into the throne room alone…
…And sees Jung Ki-joon Sitting. On. The. Throne.
Ooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhh!! This visual, executed with aplomb, is perfect in so many ways I can’t even describe. It’s the moment of the episode for me.
Upon seeing his nemesis wheezing and bleeding, Sejong can’t help but laugh as he says, “Look at your shabby state, Jung Ki-joon. Thank you. Because of you, I came to love the citizenry.”
I couldn’t imagine a more perfect reaction, and it is funny to see Jung Ki-joon watch as the King reacts that way to his serious and grave manner. After all, he came all this way to sit on that throne. Yet, like all his other ploys, Sejong remains unaffected.
“Yes,” Jung Ki-joon says. “You would do that. However, what about other politicians?” He claims that though he sometimes thought it’d be nice for his dog at home to understand his words, politicians will inevitably regard the people in that same manner. Knowing the letters will only open the people up to more use and abuse by politicians, like the dog that understands human words.
King Sejong: “That is perhaps possible. However they will, in the end, find their paths through their wisdom. And time after time, they will fight and fight again. At times they will win, and at times they will be tricked. And at other times, they may lose as well. Even if they lose yet again, it’s alright. Numerous royal families and hierarchies have suffered annihilation. However, the citizenry, upon this ground they have lived through tens of thousands of years. Since they can just fight again.”
Jung Ki-joon considers him for a moment before he replies, with his last breath, “Now, I can only hope that the King’s words… will come true.”
With that, Jung Ki-joon dies. Sejong approaches his body, saying, “Once in the past, you said this to me. That I don’t love the people. Fine. At the time, I thought maybe that was really true. However, now I know. That is precisely love. That is precisely love! This place…” He indicates his heart. “…hurts so much like this. How can that not be love? Thank you, Jung Ki-joon. Thank you.”
When Sejong leaves the Hangul Room to an engulfing white light, we cut to Shim Jong-soo as he fosters the new recruits of Hidden Root bent on subverting the use of the letters by deeming them lowly. We even get some nice historical tie-ins, as it’s hinted at that Hidden Root played a hand in influencing King Sejong’s second son, Grand Prince Suyang (known later as King Sejo, a king more like his grandfather than his father). As an added twist, we finally hear what Han Ga’s name really is – it’s Han Myeong-hoe (who later became one of King Sejo’s most trusted advisors). On his way out, he bumps into our two scholars Sung Sam-moon and Park Paeng-nyeon, with Sung Sam-moon getting a weird chill down his spine at the contact. (It’s a premonition, as both of them are later executed under Han Myeong-hoe’s advice during Sejo’s reign.)
Later in his life, Sejong reflects on a palace absent of Mu-hyul, Chae-yoon, and So-yi. Now that the proper system for the letters has been created and the seeds have been spread, he no longer gives them the attention he once did. “And now,” he says, “the letters, they belong to the world and they belong to them [the people]. What kind of a world these letters might create, that’s their responsibility.” And so he does what he has to do – continue to work. A scene with him cursing at the fact that ministers are complaining about an upcoming forum harkens back to our first introduction of him. Aww.
As a bookend, we return to the vision where Chae-yoon is teaching his children letters, and where he’s being adorable with So-yi. One of his children is named Suk-sam, after Chae-yoon’s father.