This episode takes our story to a very dark place, but one that’s necessary if our heroes are to rise from the rubble. Moo-myung’s life is changed forever in a single traumatic moment, and he’ll have a long way to go to right the wrongs he sees all around him. As the political climate threatens to shift and change, what can one man do to make a difference?
EPISODE 2 RECAP
After stopping the bully from beating his friend Mak Mun to a pulp, Moo-myung neatly divests him of his sword and uses it to slice a circle into the floor around him. He announces that if their law is to kill a low-born who enters the town without a pass, then his law is to kill any aristocrat who crosses this line.
Over in the storeroom, king-in-hiding Sammaekjong has cornered a scared Ah Ro — but rather than ravish her as she fears, he instead tells her that he wants her to help him go to sleep with her stories. She takes offense that her stories could lull anyone to sleep, but he asks where else she’s going to make money tonight.
Ah Ro changes her tune when Sammaekjong tosses her a bag of coins before he tries to take it back. She can’t let go, no matter how much he tries to pry her fingers off the bag. She finally says she’ll do it even though he seems like a pervert, but only until he falls asleep.
Out in the main room, Mak Mun’s attacker crosses Moo-myung’s line, and Moo-myung beats the tar out of him with only a blunt club, avoiding his sword completely. During a lull in the fighting, pretty boy Su-ho asks rival Ban-ryu why he’s not helping his friend, which goads one of Ban-ryu’s lackeys into lunging at Su-ho. But Ban-ryu says for them not to get involved, and leaves.
The bully goes after Moo-myung again, and Moo-myung delivers a series of blows that drive him to the ground. He kicks his sword away and steps on his hand, and calmly asks if anyone else wants to fight. When nobody comes forward, Moo-myung gently helps the injured Mak Mun to his feet, and they leave together.
As they leave, Mak Mun jokes that he’d have won the fight of Moo-myung hadn’t come so soon, ha. He gives the building a longing look and tells his friend that he saw something inside, but he’s ready to go for now.
The queen regent’s guard Hyun Chu reports that a low-born (Mak Mun) saw the king’s face on the night the assassin attacked, so Queen Regent Jiso orders the man killed. Men are dispatched with drawings of Mak Mun’s face with instructions to find him.
The merchant Joo-ki goes to see the healer, Ji-gong, and tells him that he met someone who has a necklace just like Ah Ro wears. It looks like the one Ji-gong’s son had, he adds, and Ji-gong asks where he saw it.
Ah Ro tells Sammaekjong one of her racy stories (while wielding a heavy candlestick just in case, ha), and he nods off. He dreams of entering his throne room to find his mother sitting on his throne, and as she angrily asks why he’s here, he reverts to his young self, crying.
Sammaekjong wakes with a start, and breathes, “I lost again.” He looks over to see Ah Ro conked out, snoring loudly. Pfft. He takes her candlestick and chuckles that he’s the one who should be scared.
Ji-gong follows the necklace’s trail to the club, but the matron says that there was a fight, and the low-borns left. She says she didn’t see their faces well but both were tall, which seems to excite Ji-gong as he rushes out to look for them.
Hyun Chu’s men have no luck finding Mak Mun, but one reports that a man fitting his description was seen heading towards the East Gate. Hyun Chu spurs his horse in that direction, intent on killing the man who saw the king’s face.
Mak Mun and Moo-myung make it to the woods outside the city and decide to rest for the night. Mak Mun looks sad when Moo-myung returns his necklace, and he tells Moo-myung that he saw someone wearing one just like it. But Mak Mun just sighs that there are many necklaces like his in the city.
Moo-myung refuses to let his friend mope and says that they still need to confirm it. He pulls Mak Mun back to his feet, and they head back towards town.
Sammaekjong and his guard Pa Oh go for a ride outside the city, and though it didn’t work very well, Sammaekjong says that he thinks he’ll need to see Ah Ro again if he wants to sleep. Pa Oh wonders if she’ll help him again, having heard her call Sammaekjong a pervert, hee.
Sammaekjong asks if they’ve caught the man who saw his face, and when Pa Oh says the guards are handling it, he says, “That’s what I’m worried about.” Just then, Hyun Chu goes speeding by on his horse, and Sammaekjong guesses what he’s after and follows him.
As they walk back to town, Mak Mun tells Moo-myung about the very pretty girl who was wearing the necklace, grinning as he says she looks just like him (HA). Moo-myung suddenly starts staggering and seeing double, and Mak Mun panics.
Moo-myung can’t shake the spell, and as he stares at Mak Mun through narrowed eyes, he sees a rider approaching, brandishing a sword. He whispers to Mak Mun to run, but it’s too late. Hyun Chu dismounts and Mak Mun tries to run, but Moo-myung stumbles to the ground.
Mak Mun trips and falls, and looks back in horror as Hyun Chu slices Moo-myung from behind with his sword. Nooo! Hyun Chu delivers another vicious blow to Moo-myung’s ribs, and he goes down.
Mak Mun finds his feet and runs to Moo-myung, only for Hyun Chu to cut him down as well. Mak Mun falls on top of Moo-myung, and with a shaking hand he smears his blood on Moo-myung’s face, telling him to stay still and survive. Oh my god, this is horrible.
Moo-myung is cognizant of what’s happening but unable to move. He opens his eyes to see Hyun Chu raise his sword for the killing blow, then passes out. He rouses some time later and sees two men standing over him. He can’t see their faces, but one is wearing a blue and gold robe.
Moo-myung hears a voice saying that he killed this man, then the two men turn away. As they go, he sees a dragon-headed bracelet gleam on the blue-robed man’s wrist.
Ji-gong is also looking for the man with the necklace, and he’s followed clues to the road outside town. Hyun Chu races by him on his way back to the city, which makes Ji-gong nervous.
Somehow, both Moo-myung and Mak Mun are still alive, and Moo-myung finds the strength to carry his friend back toward the city to get help. He weakens and drops to the ground, and Mak Mun gasps for him to leave him.
Moo-myung refuses, saying, ”You are me. You are my parents, my brother, and my body. If you live, I live. If you die, I die.” He pulls Mak Mun back up and continues on.
A little while later, Healer Ji-gong finds a trail of blood and follows it to where Moo-myung cradles Mak Mun in his arms under a tree. Ji-gong immediately sees Mak Mun’s necklace, and grabs it with shaking hands.
He asks in a halting voice if it’s Mak Mun’s, and Moo-myung weakly nods. Ji-gong realizes that the dying young man is his missing son, and takes Mak Mun’s face in his hands. “Sun-woo, it’s your dad. Sun-woo, your dad is here.” Oh, this is breaking my heart.
Mak Mun is barely hanging on, and Ji-gong starts to panic when he sees his chest wound gushing blood. He pulls out one of his instruments, then hesitates, and Moo-myung (who isn’t faring much better than Mak Mun) asks why he’s not doing anything. But Ji-gong knows there’s nothing he can do.
Mak Mun is fading fast, but he remembers a sunny day when he was small and he and his father went for a walk. He gasps through a mouthful of blood, “Father, I missed you.” Ji-gong breaks down in tears, and Mak Mun reaches for Moo-myung’s hand.
He starts to say something to his friend, but it’s too late — he’s gone. Moo-myung screams his friend’s name as Ji-gong sobs, but there’s nothing they can do to bring Mak Mun back.
In the morning, Ji-gong carries an unconscious Moo-myung to the city, leaving behind a fresh stone cairn as Mak Mun’s grave.
Ah Ro wakes in the back room of the club, and freaks out to realize that she slept there all night. The club matron tries to tell her that Ji-gong was here, but Ah Ro isn’t listening and rushes out.
She goes to see her friend SOO-YEON (Lee Da-in), who isn’t the least bit scandalized that Ah Ro spent the night with a “pervert.” Ah Ro tells Soo-yeon about the two mysterious men she met yesterday as if it’s one of her stories, describing one who rescued a maiden and disappeared, and the other who made an offer she couldn’t refuse.
Queen Regent Jiso is visited by her political opponent, Park Young-shil, who reports that the people want to see the king wearing his crown. She answers that it’s not time, as there are still assassins going after young men traveling alone.
Park Young-shil retorts that those rumors will be silenced when the king takes his proper place, but the queen regent refuses to allow it until she’s killed all the “rats” hidden within the palace.
Sammaekjong kills time at the club, and the matron asks if he’s waiting for Ah Ro. He takes notice that the matron called her agasshi, denoting that she’s of some status, and he’s surprised to learn that she’s Ahn Ji-gong’s daughter. But that doesn’t mean she shares his high status, since her mother was a servant.
Ah Ro sneaks home, ready to explain about staying out all night, but she forgets everything when she sees her father covered in blood. He says stiffly that there’s a seriously injured patient inside the house, and he asks her not to go in. Ah Ro asks if he’s okay, but Ji-gong just says he won’t be taking any other patients for a while.
Moo-myung is in very bad shape, but Ji-gong works tirelessly to save his life. He stitches his wounds and feeds him while he sleeps, begging Moo-myung to live.
Some time later, Moo-myung wakes from nightmares of seeing his friend cut down in cold blood, and a blue-robed man with a dragon-headed bracelet. He’s still weak and in a lot of pain, but he sits up and shuffles outside. Ji-gong tells him he’s been unconscious for five days, but Moo-myung wants to know about Mak Mun.
Ji-gong simply says, “Sun-woo… I buried him well.” Moo-myung looks stricken and breathes that he should have saved him. He says that if Ji-gong hadn’t kicked Mak Mun out to the low-born village, he wouldn’t have died.
He starts to scream that Ji-gong killed Mak Mun, sobbing that Mak Mun missed his family so much. Ji-gong takes the blame, saying that he searched throughout Silla for his son for years. He tells Moo-myung that “they” took his son away, and all he could do was watch.
Ji-gong has already discovered Moo-myung’s condition, the one that makes him grow dizzy and pass out. Moo-myung tells him it’s none of his business whether he lives or dies. Ji-gong gives Moo-myung the clothes and city pass he was going to give to Mak Mun when he found him, in case Moo-myung wants to go back to the low-born village.
Moo-myung asks about the law making it legal to kill any low-born people who sneak into the city. (Oh, he thinks that’s why Mak Mun was killed.) Ji-gong says it’s the disgusting rule of the country, clearly hating the law as much as Moo-myung. Moo-myung tells him that he saw who killed Mak Mun and says they can get revenge.
Moo-myung descends into a black depression, refusing to eat or sleep, and Ah Ro sees that he’s left his food tray untouched. Despite her father’s request not to go inside, she takes the tray to Moo-myung and introduces herself as the daughter of the household. Moo-myung realizes that this must be the sister Mak Mun always spoke of so highly.
Mak Mun had talked about how pretty and kind she was, and how he always wanted to see her get married. He’d told Moo-myung that once they found her, he’d give her to him (to marry). Moo-myung had hilariously objected on the grounds that Mak Mun kept saying she looked like him, and Mak Mun had bitten him. Hee.
The memory only makes Moo-myung sad now, and he doesn’t even turn around to see Ah Ro’s face. Ah Ro leaves the tray of food along with tea for his headache, and Moo-myung whispers that it’s true that she’s kind.
Moo-myung eyes the tea and decides that he has to live. He dresses in the clothes Ji-gong gave him and makes his way to Mak Mun’s burial cairn, sinking to his knees. He tells Mak Mun to wait, and he’ll exact revenge on those who did this to him.
The queen regent’s rival, Park Young-shil, receives a report from his informant, who just happens to be the scarred gambler that Moo-myung and Mak Mun tangled with. Park Young-shil is interested to hear that the queen’s guards were out looking for a low-born instead of guarding their queen.
He guesses that they must have seen something very important for the queen regent to intervene. Scarface tells him that he saw the low-borns’ faces, and Park Young-shil sends him to look for them.
Mak Mun and Moo-myung’s adopted father, Woo-reuk (the one who was shooting arrows at them previously), hasn’t seen the boys in a while, but he tells his friend that he doesn’t bother concerning himself after they ran away. But he looks up from where he’s panning for gold to see Moo-myung standing there, dressed in fine clothes and looking infinitely sad.
Moo-myung and Woo-reuk go home, where Moo-myung tells him that Mak Mun died. He blames himself, but Woo-reuk says that Mak Mun’s fate was sealed the moment he climbed that wall. Moo-myung vows to discover why Mak Mun was killed and get revenge. Woo-reuk begs him to stay and give up this dangerous quest, but Moo-myung says that he knows what kind of person he is, and he relents.
Moo-myung leaves the low-born village, and promises that if he lives through this, he’ll come back. He gives Woo-reuk a wave and a wry smile and marches off towards his destiny.
Hwa-gong visits Queen Regent Jiso to discuss her plan to create a royal guard. Hwa-gong warns that the royal council will object, and asks for complete control over the project. She agrees, and they decide that it’s time to make the public announcement.
They choose a name: “Hwarang — Boys who are lovely as flowers.” They will be loyal soldiers to the king, willing to lay down their lives for the nation regardless of their family origins. They will be wise and respected, the future of the country.
Announcements are posted throughout the city, and one young man we’ll come to know as HAN-SUNG (Kim Tae-hyung) reads that the beautiful sons of nobles will be selected to join the Hwarang. He thinks it sounds interesting, but Ban-ryu and his posse show up to scoff that the queen regent is looking for “dogs.”
Su-ho also reads the announcement, and he teases Ban-ryu about wanting to join up. Ban-ryu tells Su-ho to go suck up, and Su-ho retorts that sucking up is Ban-ryu’s specialty, as that’s what he does with his stepfather. Oh, burn.
As expected, the royal council is up in arms over the news about the Hwarang. They think that the decision to choose the sons of noblemen is an attempt to hold them hostage, but Park Young-shil thinks he can work with this.
He adds a caveat to the royal council’s approval — the queen regent must get the king’s approval, to show the council that she’s trustworthy. She can’t argue the logic, though she knows that this is really a ploy to bring the Sammaekjong out of hiding.
Sammaekjong already knows about the plans for the Hwarang, having seen the posted announcements. He grumbles that it’s not for him or the country’s future, but for his mother.
Ah Ro takes the bag of silver she earned from Sammaekjong, and uses it to pay off a debt to the merchant Joo-ki. He’s happy to see the silver, and mentions that he has another job for her.
Joo-ki talks with Hwa-gong later and reassures him that he found someone to perform his little “favor.” Hwa-gong complains that he only found one person, but Joo-ki reminds him that this favor requires great secrecy and says that he hired the best person for the job.
Ah Ro’s new job is to secretly monitor the noblemen’s sons to determine who possesses the necessary skills to become Hwarang. She manages to do a thorough job, though her mind wanders back to her encounter with Moo-myung when she was drunk, and she has to shake herself back to reality.
Meanwhile, Moo-myung visits Joo-ki at his shop again, and he’s recognized as the man with the necklace. He doesn’t respond when Joo-ki says he talked to Ji-gong and asks if his friend found his father. He only says that he needs to buy a good sword.
Ah Ro needs to find more noble sons, and she decides to visit the carpenter’s shop to look for guys who like bows and arrows. She doesn’t notice Moo-myung walking right past her, headed for the Daiseo.
Sammaekjong just happens to be there, and his bodyguard Pa Oh breathlessly reports Ah Ro’s location. Sammaekjong steps out to find her, and as he walks past Moo-myung, Moo-myung recognizes his blue robe and spots the dragon-head bracelet he wears.
Sammaekjong finds Ah Ro and follows her, and he covers his face when he senses that he’s being followed as well. Ah Ro enters the carpenter’s shop, and Sammaekjong ducks around to slip in the back way. The shop appears to be empty, so Ah Ro enters the back room, which is full of wooden screens.
Suddenly Sammaekjong grabs her and holds his hand over her mouth. He says he won’t hurt her, but warns her of the assassin that’s following him. Soon, Moo-myung enters the room and calls for Sammaekjong to show himself.
Sammaekjong answers, then steps away from Ah Ro and tells her to leave. But she’s lost in the maze of screens and can’t find the door.
Sammaekjong asks who’s following him, and Moo-myung snarls that Sammaekjong owes him a debt. He says that his friend was killed by Sammaekjong’s sword, and Sammaekjong recalls that night.
As it turns out, he’d arrived in time to stop Hyun Chu from striking that killing blow. Sammaekjong had blamed himself for Mak Mun’s death, which is what Moo-myung heard, though he assumed that meant that Sammaekjong was the killer. Sammaekjong had seen Moo-myung still breathing but left, assuming he would die as well.
Now he realizes that this is the man who lived, but before he can say anything, Moo-myung screams and charges through the screens. Sammaekjong avoids him, so Moo-myung kicks down a line of screens, determined to reveal his target’s location.
When Moo-myung draws close, Sammaekjong says that there are doors that people like him shouldn’t open, and that he’s in front of that door right now. Moo-myung scoffs, asking if he thinks it’s right that there are roads people can’t cross and doors they can’t open.
He announces that he does not, and bellows for Sammaekjong to show himself. Sammaekjong does, leveling his sword at Moo-myung through a gap in the screens, and tells him that he’ll spare his life if he leaves. Moo-myung just draws his sword and says that there’s no need, because he’s going to kill him.
Moo-myung lunges, but almost immediately draws himself up short. His expression turns to horrified surprise when he sees that his sword point is only inches away from Ah Ro’s throat.
If nothing else, this show is visually striking. I was captivated by the way the camera played with light and shadow in the more dramatic moments, especially during that final scene, and how angles are used to heighten the drama and suspense. The show could have gotten away with leaning on the bright colors of the costumes and beautiful faces of its cast for visual impact, so I’m impressed that it’s going the extra mile to make the more dramatic images interesting in different ways. What’s curious is that the first episode didn’t do this quite so well, but I definitely noticed the improvement in the cinematography of this second episode. Let’s cross our fingers that it continues through the series.
Mak Mun’s death was probably one of the most traumatic I’ve seen in a drama — I cried buckets during that entire scene, even though I’ve been expecting it (I knew Lee Kwang-soo was only a cameo, and it’s not the first time a Flower Boy drama broke up a friendship in such a final way). We’d seen Moo-myung save his mild-mannered friend from a beating twice by that point, so I wasn’t expecting to see Mak Mun run into the blade of a sword to help his friend, or for his last coherent action to be to smear his own blood on Moo-myung to make him look more injured than he was.
I do like the character trajectory that his friend’s death is sparking in Moo-myung, and the edge of sorrow and anger he carries now makes his character that much more intriguing. I’ve no doubt that it will be a while before the confusion over who killed Mak Mun and why is straightened out, and that it’s this conflict that will carry Moo-myung to the Hwarang to look for answers.
I really love the king as a character nearly as much as Moo-myung, and I find his conflict regarding his mother and his throne to be pretty compelling. He’s been king for over a decade, yet he’s never been allowed to actually rule, and even now his mother controls his life to the point that anyone who sees his face and knows he’s king has to die. At first I thought the queen regent was protecting her son, but now I believe that she’s simply making sure that nobody knows who he is, to make it easier for her to wrest control of the country from him. It’s interesting that despite her placating words, Sammaekjong seems to know instinctively that his mother can’t be trusted, and I think that his entry into the Hwarang will be a clever move on his part to discover the queen regent’s true motives. But mostly I just like him as a person — he can be a bit high-handed, but he’s remarkably down-to-earth for a king, and seems to be fair-minded and intelligent.
I admit that I’m a teeny bit unclear on the queen regent’s motives. People keep saying she has her eye on the throne for herself, and Sammaekjong obviously fears that she’ll take it from him, but she claims to be forming the Hwarang to protect the king when he comes out of hiding. Her true motive appears to be exactly what the royal council fears — that she’s planning to hold the noblemen’s sons hostage, in order to keep those who oppose her under her thumb. So that’s what I’m going with for now, that the queen regent plans to form the Hwarang on the principle of protecting the king, but when it comes time for him to officially take his throne, that she will use the fact that she controls the council’s sons to claim the throne for herself. I believe she’s banking on Sammaekjong being too young and weak to stand up to her, but I think she has a big surprise in store.
I think this premiere week did a good job of setting the tone and flavor that we can expect in the coming episodes — plenty of intrigue and societal commentary, with the sometimes-silly comedic flare that we expect from a Flower Boy drama. I’m excited to see the boys join the Hwarang and start to interact with each other, and how that affects the palace as factions struggle to take control of the throne. But it’s Moo-myung’s personal battle that interests me most, and I hope that he’s able to make new friends sooner rather than later. Not that Mak Mun could ever be replaced, but a man needs strong support as he sets out to buck the system.