The search for Hwarang candidates begins in earnest, even as the country’s officials protest the queen regent’s plan to take their sons to use for her own purposes. Moo-myung only wants to get his revenge, but it turns out to be more difficult than he imagined, as his search threatens to involve him in political events he’d much rather avoid.
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Moo-myung searches the room full of screens for the man who (he thinks) killed his friend Mak Mun. He focuses on Sammaekjong’s voice, vowing to kill him today, and lunges. But instead of seeing his enemy at the point of his sword, Moo-myung is horrified to see Ah Ro instead, looking at him with wide, scared eyes.
Looking around for the man he’s chasing, Moo-myung walks towards Ah Ro, and she backs away from his sword. Sammaekjong assesses the situation and sneaks around behind Moo-myung, then takes a flying leap at him, sword raised high.
Moo-myung grabs Ah Ro and whirls around to face his opponent, flinging her to safety. He attacks Sammaekjong and their swords flash as they fight, until Sammaekjong flees to a safer position. As he goes, he thrusts his sword through a screen and manages to slice into Moo-myung’s sword arm before running out of the building.
Moo-myung is left behind, injured and furious. But he spots a flash of gold in the straw, and sees that in the scuffle, Sammaekjong left his dragon-head bracelet behind.
Ah Ro makes her way outside as well, but her legs have gone to sleep, and she’s stuck sitting in the dirt. She hides her face in her skirt when Moo-myung runs past her, then grumbles at the insanity of sword fighting in broad daylight.
Sammaekjong meets his bodyguard Pa Oh for a drink, and tells Pa Oh about losing his bracelet in the fight. Apparently the bracelet is special and may only be worn by the king, though Sammaekjong isn’t that concerned.
They overhear a pair of men at a nearby table discussing why the king never shows his face, and Sammaekjong’s ears perk up. One man gossips that it’s because the king is a eunuch and an idiot, and Pa Oh rises as if he plans to confront them.
But Sammaekjong stops him, and sadly says that he would rather be a eunuch and an idiot as he thinks about his mother forbidding him to reveal himself. He also recalls Moo-myung’s taunt that hiding must be his habit, and he tells himself that he can’t let that happen.
Merchant Joo-ki cheers up a morose Hwa-gong by telling him that the private information he’s been collecting on the nobles is on its way. Hwa-gong is skeptical, when suddenly Ah Ro shows up and dramatically slams down the book containing all her written notes.
Hwa-gong starts to open the book, but Ah Ro smacks his hand away, explaining that it’s nearly illegible because she was so rushed. She offers to give the information as a verbal presentation — for an extra fee, of course.
Ah Ro launches into her presentation, and explains that in Silla, there are three kinds of authority — the queen’s men, those opposed to the queen, and those in the middle, the “centrists.” The highest social rank possible, the True Bone, have authority equal to that of the queen regent.
Ah Ro starts with her nomination from the centrists, a young man known to be the most beautiful in Silla. His name is YEO-WOOL (Jo Yoon-woo), and he’s famous for his charm.
Ah Ro reports that Yeo-wool has a lot of authority, but he’s uninterested in wielding power. Yeo-wool’s mother was sister to a former king, but Yeo-wool doesn’t know who his father is, only that he’s among the True Bone.
Ah Ro moves on to her next recommendation, one of the most talented young men in Silla: Ban-ryu, who is Master Hong’s biological son and minister Park Young-shil’s (the leader of those opposed to the queen regent) adopted son. Ban-ryu is known for being handsome but cold, though that doesn’t dampen his popularity with the ladies.
We see Ban-ryu and his rival Su-ho engaged in a soccer game that looks more like a fight to the death. Ah Ro continues that if Ban-ryu is known for using his head, Su-ho is knows for using his body. He’s the son of Kim Seub, one of the queen regent’s supporters. Su-ho is also famous for being a terrible flirt, as we see him being slapped by a succession of women.
Ah Ro describes her final nomination as someone who wouldn’t know if the world were turned upside down if he happened to be concentrating on something else. We see Han-sung, the calm young man who read the Hwarang notice first, as he studies the sun through a protective film.
Han-sung has an older brother, DAN-SE (Kim Hyun-joon), who watches over him. However, Dan-se and Han-sung have different mothers, and Dan-se’s mother is a servant, so they’re not considered to be of the same social status. They’re also in opposite political factions, though we’re not specifically told which they belong to.
We switch back to the soccer game, which Ban-ryu and his team have won. Ban-ryu reminds Su-ho that this means he buys the alcohol for the next month, and Su-ho screams in frustration. He grabs his friend and demands to know why he can beat Ban-ryu at everything but soccer.
Ah Ro tells Joo-ki and Hwa-gong that that’s it for the noble sons in the capital, except for one person. She thinks about her encounter with Sammaekjong, and tells the men that they don’t need to know about him. After Ah Ro leaves, Hwa-gong asks Joo-ki about her, and is surprised to learn that she’s the daughter of Ahn Ji-gong and a servant.
Ah Ro skips home, and hides behind a bush when she sees Moo-myung standing outside her house. He’s gone when she peeks out again, then he startles Ah Ro by speaking from right behind her.
She’s so scared of him she can barely speak. He frightens her even further by raising his voice to ask why she’s here, and he grabs her by the shoulder as he asks if she knew that other guy in the carpenter shop.
Ah Ro shakes her head and stammers that this is her house. Moo-myung realizes that this must be the sister Mak Mun always talked about at the same time that Ah Ro realizes he’s the injured man her father brought home. She drops to her knees and starts fumbling with his pants leg, startling Moo-myung so badly that he falls.
Ah Ro says that she made these clothes for her brother, and asks why Moo-myung is wearing them. He tries to crawl away, but she sits on his chest, demanding to know who he is. She’s stopped by her father’s voice, and Ji-gong takes Moo-myung inside to talk privately.
Ji-gong tells Moo-myung that if a low-born like him is discovered in the capital, not only will the low-born be killed, but the one hiding him will also be punished. He tells Moo-myung to take on his son Mak Mun’s true name, Sun-woo, and to tell Ah Ro that he’s her brother.
Moo-myung objects and grows angry as he asks why Ji-gong wants him to do this. Ji-gong says that his fainting problem will only get worse without treatment, and the only way for him to be able to stay is to take on Sun-woo’s identity. Moo-myung is finally convinced when Ji-gong says that it would have been Mak Mun’s wish for him to stay.
Ah Ro peppers her father with questions about Moo-myung in her attempt to tell him that he’s a dangerous person. Ji-gong says that he’s her brother, and shows her the wooden necklace that matches her own.
Ah Ro goes outside to talk to Moo-myung, who regards her warily, nervous about her reaction to the news that he’s her brother. He recalls one of the times that Mak Mun told him about her, and how the love shone on his face when he talked about his baby sister.
Ah Ro checks Moo-myung’s leg and shoulders for scars she knows of but sees nothing, and Moo-myung says that the scars wouldn’t still be there. Ah Ro asks if he has any other scars, and Moo-myung tells her that old scars can’t be seen if you receive a bigger wound on top of them.
Ah Ro examines his face, finding nothing that matches her own. Moo-myung reaches a tentative hand to touch her cheek and looks hurt when she flinches away, but he agrees. Ah Ro starts to cry, though she doesn’t know why, when she’s still unsure as to whether whether he’s real or fake.
Ah Ro tells him that someone else came once pretending to be her brother, so she can’t easily take his word for it just because he has the necklace. Moo-myung reaches out and pulls her to him, but he’s not trying to hug her — he pulls her collar from her neck, revealing an old scar.
Ah Ro pulls away and says that everyone has childhood scars, so this proves nothing. Fully taking on the role of Sun-woo, Moo-myung tells her to ask him if she wants to know anything about her childhood, because he remembers everything she’s forgotten.
That night, Ah Ro thinks about Moo-myung, and seems to tentatively accept that he’s her brother. She thinks that he looks familiar, and when she accidentally kicks off her shoe, it reminds her that he was the one who saved her from being trampled when she was drunk.
Moo-myung sits in his room, contemplating the dragon-head bracelet that he retrieved after his fight. He puts the bracelet on, and hears Mak Mun’s voice asking if he’s sorry. He sees Mak Mun sitting next to him, who asks again if Moo-myung is sorry he’s about to sleep in his room.
Moo-myung says he is, and Mak Mun smiles, asking, “My sister is pretty, right? And she’s nice?” Moo-myung quips that Mak Mun doesn’t know his sister very well, saying that she’s strange and cries easily. But he does agree that she’s pretty, and Mak Mun reminds Moo-myung to take care of her.
Moo-myung asks what he’s supposed to do, and Mak Mun smiles and tells him to just be himself. Moo-myung whispers, “I’m looking at you, but why do I miss you so much?” Mak Mun only smiles, which is when we see Moo-myung fast asleep.
Ah Ro makes a big meal the next morning, and breakfast is awkwardly silent. Ji-gong says that he doesn’t feel well and excuses himself. Ah Ro can’t help but stare at Moo-myung/Sun-woo as he eats (we’ll call him Sun-woo from here on out, now that he’s taken on his friend’s identity), and he tells her to knock it off.
He informs Ah Ro dryly that she unknowingly seems flirtatious at times, what with getting drunk in the middle of the day and all. Ah Ro glares, but later sits with her friend Soo-yeon in the teahouse, banging her head on the table and thinking about how she does and doesn’t wish that he’s her actual brother.
Soo-yeon says that brothers are like that, but wonders how Ah Ro could be feeling this way about him so soon. Ah Ro bangs her head again, cringing at the thought that she might have drunkenly flirted with her own brother.
The scarred gambler is still looking for Sun-woo, and tracks him down to his adopted father Woo-reuk’s home. Scarface doesn’t buy Woo-reuk’s story that he’s dead, and not-so-casually mentions that Sun-woo was looking for the owner of a necklace. He figures he only needs to find that necklace’s owner to locate Sun-woo.
Sammaekjong watches from a distance as Ah Ro gives a man some medicine for his cough. He gets called a pervert again when he shows himself to her, and when she asks why he’s here, he gives a hilariously weak little cough.
Ah Ro gives him the stink-eye and asks if he’s here to sleep. He says he was worried thinking about how she was nearly hurt during his fight with Sun-woo, but he tells her to just consider him sick.
He lies down, and Ah Ro says she’s too busy preparing for the royal procession tomorrow to deal with his shenanigans right now. Sammaekjong scoffs at the mention of the planned procession, since the king can’t even show his face, but he’s surprised when Ah Ro hotly defends the king for being young and weak.
She says it must be terrible for the king not to be able to show himself to his own people, adding that Sammaekjong should be more understanding. She clucks at him and leaves him thinking.
Hwa-gong listens to the court factions argue as they discuss their reservations about the Hwarang. Hwa-gong thinks that these people are the reason Silla is the smallest and weakest of the kingdoms, regarding the noisy men with disdain.
Silence falls with Queen Regent Jiso’s entrance. She announces that the king’s consent won’t be possible (the condition the factions imposed to grant their agreement to send their sons to the Hwarang), so they refuse to agree.
Minister Park Young-shil surprises everyone by saying they should wait and see if the king shows up to participate in the royal procession. Until now, the walk has always taken place with the king’s empty seat, but Minister Park muses that the king may be in the city already.
Later, Hwa-gong privately advises the queen regent to cancel the royal procession. She refuses, saying that it’s a chance for the people to meet their monarch, and if they cave to the officials, then the royal family will lose their authority. She’s insistent that they must form the Hwarang, or the Silla royal family may be harmed irreparably.
Hwa-gong promises to make it happen, and goes to Merchant Joo-ki’s back room to plan a rebellion. He pens two letters by using his left hand to obscure his handwriting and sends out two messengers to deliver them — one to Ban-ryu, and one to Su-ho. The letters each look to be from the other rival, inviting them to meet the following night.
Queen Regent Jiso prepares for the royal procession the next day, dressing up in her finest clothing and jewels. She steps outside to find that Minister Park and most of the officials are claiming to be ill, though it’s obvious this is actually a protest. Unfortunately for them, it only makes the queen regent that much more determined to form the Hwarang.
The queen regent is carried through the streets in her palanquin, followed by the empty palanquin of the absent king. Sammaekjong and Pa Oh watch from the street, and Sammaekjong wonders what the people would think if they knew he was among them — and on his birthday, no less. He thinks of Ah Ro’s words that it’s no sin to be young and weak, and growls that that’s not true today.
Ji-gong sees Sun-woo leaving the house with his sword in hand, but he only tells him not to be back late. He follows Sun-woo from a short distance as he finds his way to the crowd watching the procession, wondering what all the fuss is about.
Ban-ryu is stopped from crossing the street by a guard and is led to a spot where he can wait until the procession passes. He grumbles to see Su-ho already there and reluctantly stands next to his rival. They each threaten the other that they’d better show up to this meeting, thinking that the other one sent the message.
As the queen regent is carried past, her guard points out Su-ho as the son of one of her supporters, and Ban-ryu as Minister Park’s stepson. Su-ho seems particularly struck by her, and can’t keep his eyes off the queen regent as everyone else bows their heads.
Hwa-gong isn’t interested in seeing the procession, and Sammaekjong finds him at Joo-ki’s store. He asks to speak to him privately to discuss joining the Hwarang. When asked, he introduces himself as Ji-dwi, and says that his family isn’t important.
Sammaekjong spins a tale about wanting to join the Hwarang so that he can form connections and become a merchant later. He apologizes for not using jondaemal (the truth is that as king, he would never have needed to form the habit).
Hwa-gong sees right through his lies, and tells him to get out if he won’t tell the truth. Sammaekjong smirks and asks if he wants the whole truth, or half of it. Hwa-gong laughs and asks for the half-truth first, and Sammaekjong says he wants to bring the queen regent down.
Sun-woo only half-watches the ceremonial walk until the queen regent’s palanquin draws close. Her bodyguard Hyun Chu catches his eye, and he recognizes him as the man who killed Mak Mun. Sun-woo starts to shake with fury, and from across the street, Ji-gong sees him and realizes that he’s about to do something very foolish.
Images from that horrible night overcome Sun-woo, and Ji-gong’s warning comes too late — he’s already drawn his sword and is charging towards Hyun Chu. He cuts his way through the guards and leaps over the last few to attack. Hyun Chu fends him off, and swiftly kicks him to the ground.
Even though he’s dropped his sword, Sun-woo jumps up and charges again, but the guards stop him and hold him in place with several swords to his throat. Hyun Chu prepares to kill him, but the queen regent steps down from her palanquin and approaches.
She asks Sun-woo who he is, but he’s so far gone he can only roar in fury. She asks again, and when he still doesn’t answer, she orders her guards to kill him. But Ji-gong can’t let that happen, and just as Hyun Chu raises his sword to strike Sun-woo dead, he calls out.
The queen regent freezes, almost as if she recognizes Ji-gong’s voice, and he pushes through the crowd to throw himself to his knees. She slowly turns to look at him, and the sight of his face recalls a memory. On a dark night long ago, the queen regent had gone to Ji-gong and tearfully begged him to take her and leave the capital city.
Now the queen regent slowly turns to look at Ji-gong’s face as he says that Sun-woo is his son. He blames Sun-woo’s actions on growing up without a father’s influence and begs her to kill him instead. The queen regent says cryptically that Ji-gong always commits crimes that are punishable by death.
She turns and grabs Hyun Chu’s sword and holds it to Ji-gong’s throat with a shaking hand. She says that the father should be punished for his son’s sins, and Sun-woo starts to insist that he has nothing to do with Ji-gong.
He begs to be killed instead, and the queen regent looks at him as she says that the father will be punished in the son’s place. She tells him to watch closely to what happens to his father because of him, and she raises the sword high in the air as Sun-woo screams. Ji-gong holds the queen regent’s gaze bravely as the sword comes down.
Ah Ro is late to the procession, and she hears from a bystander that Ahn Ji-gong’s son ruined it. She panics and asks what happened, whether Ahn Ji-gong was with them, and where those people are now.
Outside the palace, Sammaekjong sits in his discarded palanquin, thinking about his conversation with Hwa-gong. Hwa-gong had asked what he hoped to gain by pulling down the queen regent, and told him that by forming the Hwarang, he was trying to change Silla. He’d refused Sammaekjong’s request to become a member of the Hwarang.
Sun-woo sits in prison until the queen regent comes to talk to him. She says almost conversationally that she’s thinking of killing his father and sister — oh whew, she must not have killed Ji-gong. Yet.
Sun-woo says he has nothing to do with those people, but the queen regent doesn’t believe him. Sun-woo bows his head and begs her not to hurt them, but to kill him instead. She kneels and tips his face to hers as she says that he’s weak, and weak people can’t die or live on their own. She says that whether his father and sister die is up to him, and tells him to go and wait.
Ah Ro waits outside the palace in tears, having learned that her father was taken there with Sun-woo. Sammaekjong sees her waiting for news, and marvels that he’s seeing her when he didn’t even look for her today.
Eventually the gates open, and Sun-woo staggers out alone. He looks dazed and exhausted, and he looks at Ah Ro without a word. The approach each other as Ah Ro asks what happened to her father, but Sun-woo doesn’t answer.
Ah Ro asks again why he came out alone, but Sun-woo only stares at her. He walks forward a few more steps, then suddenly tips forward into her arms, unconscious.
Okay, what in the world is causing him to pass out like that? It happens mostly when he’s stressed, but not always. Whatever it is, according to Ji-gong, it could kill him if it happens when he’s not otherwise healthy, and I can’t for the life of me think what could be wrong with him.
I hadn’t really found Queen Regent Jiso to be terribly interesting — until this episode, anyway. That brief flashback showing her begging Ji-gong to take her away piqued my interest, and made me wonder if there was something between them. Clearly they have a history that she’s not over, judging by her highly emotional response to seeing Ji-gong again. Did they have a romance and the queen wanted to run away with him? Was she in danger and asked a friend for help? Why did Ji-gong give up his high status and become a lowly doctor, and was it even his choice, or was he forced? All of a sudden I’m curious to find out more about their past and whether it caused his separation with Mak Mun, and what happened between them that made the queen regent so willing to kill Ji-gong with her own hands when they saw each other again.
My heart is just breaking for Moo-myung/Sun-woo in the last couple of episodes — he has so little, and has lost so much. Mak Mun was all he had in the world, and his death broke something vital inside Sun-woo. Every time we see his blank eyes it just hurts all over again, remembering that the only person he had in this world is gone. A large part of what made him the person he is was Mak Mun, and the way he died was so traumatic and painful that I’m not surprised that Sun-woo seems to have just been destroyed. Then to have to see Mak Mun’s father nearly killed in his place — the guilt Sun-woo feels must be beyond overwhelming.
I imagine that it won’t be easy for him to take over the identity of Sun-woo, both in his social interactions and his relationship with Ah Ro. He’s spent so many years hearing about Mak Mun’s baby sister that I’m sure he can pull it off, given that it seems she was pretty young when they were separated, so probably doesn’t remember enough about her brother to debunk Sun-woo’s claims. But it’s going to make things super awkward when they begin to have feelings for each other, and I only hope the show finds a way to handle that without it becoming so icky that it turns the audience off to their romance.
As much as I like seeing Sun-woo’s origin story as it unfolds, and I’m finding Sammaekjong’s conflict regarding his inability to take his place as king very interesting as well, both of their trajectories are beginning to spin their wheels a bit. We get it, Sun-woo is bent on revenge, and Sammaekjong can’t tell anyone he’s really the king and he’s upset about it. It’s time to move forward now — I’m ready to get to the Hwarang part of the action, and to see the boys interact with each other on a more personal level. Not to mention, there are at least five other Hwarang-bound young men to get to know, and we’ve barely seen anything of them in three whole episodes. I understand there was a lot of background that needed to be laid down before we could get to the formation of the Hwarang, but it feels like now’s the time. I think things will get a lot more fun and lighthearted once these young men are forced into reluctant cohabitation, and I’m more than ready to lighten things up and see some youthful hijinks.