Okay, now we’re bringing the fun! The Hwarang is taking shape, though it looks like these boys aren’t any happier about being forced to work together than their fathers are to offer up their sons. Sun-woo is still scarred by his loss and isn’t ready to form new friendships yet, but it might not be up to him. The good news is, whether he likes it or not, the promise of camaraderie just might give our Sun-woo a new reason to smile.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Sun-woo is released from prison, having been ordered by the queen regent to go and wait for his father, Ji-gong. Ah Ro is waiting outside the palace and asks where her father is, but Sun-woo passes out in her arms without saying a word.
Queen Regent Jiso has taken Ji-gong to her quarters to recover from the wound she inflicted on his neck during the royal procession. He flinches away when she reaches to check his wound, and says it’s the least of the injuries she’s inflicted on him. He snarls that he’s lived in misery for twelve years after she took his wife and son away.
The queen regent asks if he’s threatening her by saving his son, and Ji-gong responds that he’s going to teach him how rotten and crazy the capital really is. The queen regent calls him evil, and Ji-gong laughs as he asks if she expects an apology.
He starts to say “after my son died,” but stops himself and amends it to, “was kicked out to the low-born village.” He asks if it wasn’t enough for her to make him and his daughter live in hell and vows that she won’t take his son again. The queen regent says they’ll see about that before ordering that Ji-gong be locked up.
Ah Ro piggybacks/drags Sun-woo toward home, moving slowly since he’s roughly twice her size. She mutters under her breath that she wishes she could just throw him out, heh.
Hwa-gong waits for his carefully-laid plans to come to fruition, and sure enough, both Su-ho and Ban-ryu lead their entourages to the appointed meeting place after dark. They talk a little smack before getting down to business, and before long, it’s an all-out brawl.
The boys are evenly matched, but they quickly realize that they’ve been surrounded by guards — the next step in Hwa-gong’s plan. They’re captured, taken to the prison, and tied to poles in the courtyard.
Ban-ryu’s father, Ho Gong, and his adoptive father, Minister Park, hear of the boys’ arrest. Since the boys were fighting in a sacred place, the queen dowager could choose to kill them. Minister Park is particularly upset, because he feels his plans to replace the king are slipping through his fingers.
Ho Gong reminds him that without Ban-ryu, Minister Park has no replacement king. He asks if Minister Park plans to end it all here, but the death glare that’s aimed his way shuts his mouth.
Tied up and angry, Su-ho blames Ban-ryu for getting them into this mess by sending that message. Ban-ryu looks surprised and starts to say that it was Su-ho who sent the message, but a loud crack of a whip silences them.
Su-ho grins his charming grin at the general in charge and asks to speak to his father. The general calls him clueless and says they won’t leave here alive, wiping the smile right off Su-ho’s face. He tells the boys that they’re waiting for the queen regent to decide what to do with them.
Ah Ro paces over Sun-woo the next morning, trying to wake him so that she can find out what happened to her father. She pokes his face with a finger, and he grabs her hand and quietly says that Ji-gong will be okay.
Ah Ro bursts into tears, but she’s afraid to believe him since the commotion at the royal procession was his fault. Sun-woo looks at her sadly and vows that he won’t allow anyone else to die in his place.
By morning, the officials’ sons are exhausted and thirsty from being lashed to poles all night long. The guards bring in buckets of water, only to toss them in the boys’ faces to wake them. Hwa-gong shows up to address them and eyes the nearby torture devices pointedly.
He tells them that the queen regent has decided they will die for defiling a sacred place. He has them moved to the torture chairs, while in the palace, their fathers bow low to the queen and beg for their sons’ lives.
The officials gather later, angry that the queen regent could kill their sons and they would be powerless to stop her. They wonder how the guards knew to find them fighting at the temple, and deduce that it was a trap.
Minister Park laughs and says that the queen regent won this round. He says they’ll allow the queen regent to form the Hwarang, but after it’s done, he believes they can twist things around to gain control of it themselves.
The boys are informed that their fathers have found a way for them to avoid torture and survive: They will become Hwarang. All they have to do is sign the pledge, and they can go home.
Su-ho is relieved and says that he was going to join the Hwarang anyway. Hwa-gong asks for those who wish to join to say so now, and the boys start to speak up, one by one. Big Brother Dan-se asks his younger brother Han-sung if he doesn’t plan to sign, and Han-sung says he wants to because it seems fun, but he won’t.
Dan-se asks why, and Han-sung says, a bit sadly, that it’s because he’s his grandfather’s grandson (his family opposes the queen regent). Dan-se calls the guard to untie Han-sung, saying that even if he signs, he can’t become Hwarang because he’s only half-noble. So he refuses to allow Han-sung to miss out on something he wants to do and let the last of their line die here. Awww.
In the end, they all sign up to become Hwarang, with one holdout: Ban-ryu. He sits alone, prepared to suffer his torture and die.
The queen regent couldn’t be more pleased with the way things have turned out. She tells Hwa-gong to take anyone who wants to become Hwarang from now on, with no conditions. He has reservations about that, so she says that she’ll allow him to bring on one person he wants, no questions asked.
A messenger is sent to Ji-gong’s home, where Sun-woo is commanded to join the Hwarang. Sun-woo takes the news solemnly and asks if Ji-gong will be released if he complies. He’s told to continue waiting.
Ban-ryu’s father, Ho Gong, must have pulled some strings to get him released. But he still refuses to join the Hwarang under Queen Regent Jiso, even if it means dying. His father slaps him and warns him not to act this way in front of his stepfather/adoptive father, Minister Park.
Despite his fiery refusal, Ban-ryu holds his tongue when he and his father go to see Minister Park. Minister Park tells Ban-ryu that he shouldn’t have stirred up trouble, and when his father apologizes for his son’s stubbornness, Minister Park calmly beats him to a pulp while Ban-ryu watches helplessly.
He then approaches Ban-ryu and tells him that this is what power looks like. He says that if Ban-ryu can’t command power, then he’s of no use to them. Ban-ryu can’t stop his angry tears, and Minister Park wipes them away while telling him that the world is a dirty place. He orders Ban-ryu to join the Hwarang and gain power if he wants to change things.
Queen Regent Jiso visits Ji-gong in his jail cell and tells him that she’s making his son a Hwarang. She says she’ll make his son a dog for her son, but Ji-gong answers that he heard the Hwarang will be the future of Silla.
The queen regent laughs at him for believing such a thing, explaining that this is merely her way of locking down those who oppose the king. Ji-gong asks what made her this way, but the queen regent just tells him not to forget that his son’s life is in her hands.
Ji-gong is allowed to go home and tells Sun-woo to leave because the queen regent is after his life, but Sun-woo has already made up his mind to join the Hwarang. He says (with a look towards Ah Ro) that as long as he can do something to protect them, he’ll be okay.
Sammaekjong goes back to Merchant Joo-ki’s store looking for Hwa-gong. He asks Joo-ki if a letter has come for him from the queen regent, but Joo-ki just mutters that he’s lost his mind.
Hwa-gong arrives and ignores Sammaekjong’s greeting. He takes a look at Joo-ki’s outfit and orders him to follow him to a clothier. Sammaekjong tags along and listens in as Joo-ki tells Hwa-gong that the rumor is that the Hwarang isn’t the queen regent’s to control, but Minister Park’s.
Joo-ki has a bit of a Pretty Woman moment, trying on outfit after outfit as Hwa-gong watches (they’re shopping for the Hwarang uniform). At one point, Sammaekjong brings up the Hwarang, and how Hwa-gong said he wanted to change things in Silla. Sammaekjong says that to change things, you must first break them down.
He describes a country where the people are happy and don’t worry, yet one where the king still cares for his country. He asks if this is the country Hwa-gong wants, and Hwa-gong says that he does. Hwa-gong asks again who he is, and Sammaekjong replies, “Someone who wants Silla to change.”
Hwa-gong grudgingly smiles, and he can’t deny that the chosen Hwarang uniform looks pretty good on the secretive young man.
Ji-gong asks Ah Ro to teach Sun-woo what he needs to know to pass as the son of a noble. He notices that Ah Ro seems nervous, though she says they’re just awkward with each other.
Sun-woo shows Ah Ro his many-sided dice, and proudly says that he knows the characters written on it. Unfortunately, that’s all he knows, and he’s adorably defensive about it. Ah Ro starts by writing his name and instructing him to copy it. Sun-woo grows flustered when Ah Ro takes his hand to show him how to write, and jerks his hand away.
He insists on doing it himself, but Ah Ro says that there’s no way he can learn all this alone. She takes his hand again and guides it through the motions, but Sun-woo can’t take his eyes off her face as she works, completely mesmerized by her beauty.
Sun-woo’s heart starts to pound so loudly that Ah Ro actually hears it, and she leans closer, trying to figure out where the sound is coming from. Sun-woo panics and flails the arm that’s holding the pen, drawing a broad line right across Ah Ro’s forehead, HA. The sight makes him laugh, which helps to break the ice a little.
Ah Ro asks if she’s ugly compared to when she was a child, and Sun-woo truthfully replies that she looks different than he expected. They’re interrupted by Ah Ro’s friend Soo-yeon, who drags Ah Ro off to complain that Ah Ro never said her long-lost brother was that tall and handsome.
They realize that Sun-woo has wandered off, and Ah Ro gets an idea. She finds Sun-woo at the riverside, where he’s drawn his new name in the sand, asking the memory of Mak Mun if he’s allowed to take his name. Meanwhile, Ah Ro has borrowed a couple of horses, and takes Sun-woo for riding lessons.
Su-ho is disappointed to see Ban-ryu show up to the first Hwarang training session, though Ban-ryu repeats that he has no intention of becoming the queen regent’s dog. Su-ho taunts him by asking which father made him sign up, and Ban-ryu suggests they finish their soccer match.
Su-ho accepts, ignoring his friend’s reminder that they always lose to Ban-ryu. He tells Ban-ryu to wait while they find two more men for their team.
Sun-woo is hilariously bad at horseback riding, too scared to even sit up straight in the saddle. Ah Ro warns him that his horse will know if he’s nervous as she walks Sun-woo through the basic commands.
He manages to sit up, and even smiles a bit before Ah Ro notices. A nearby child knocks a stick into Ah Ro’s horse’s face, scaring it and causing it to take off running, and Sun-woo has no choice but to give chase.
He somehow manages to keep his butt in the saddle, despite his flailing and screaming. They gallop through the streets and right past Sammaekjong, who grabs the nearest horse and sets off after them.
Su-ho and his friends can’t find any more teammates, but Su-ho perks up when he sees two men on horseback chasing a third runaway horse. Sammaekjong runs his horse around some trees and cuts off Ah Ro’s horse from the front, but her horse rears and dumps her off its back.
Sun-woo sees the tragedy about to happen and leaps off his own horse. He runs and slides underneath Ah Ro, catching her in his arms and preventing her from being seriously hurt. He sits up and asks if she’s okay, and Ah Ro bursts into frightened tears.
They finally notice Sammaekjong standing there, watching Sun-woo steal his hero moment with Ah Ro. He spots the dragon-head bracelet that Sun-woo is wearing, and recognizes him as the man who tried to kill him in the carpenter’s shop.
The three run into Su-ho and his friends on the way back to town, and Su-ho asks the guys to join their match. They don’t seem eager, until Su-ho mentions that they’re Hwarang, and Ah Ro volunteers Sun-woo to play. Not to be overshadowed, Sammaekjong also agrees.
Sun-woo also recognizes Ban-ryu and his cronies as the ones who nearly killed Mak Mun in the club, and looks forward to playing against them. Ah Ro thinks this is a great opportunity to make connections, but Sun-woo doesn’t feel the same way.
A crowd gathers to watch the game, which I can only describe as a cross between Olympic-level gymnastics and full-contact soccer. Su-ho tells Sun-woo and Sammaekjong to just pass the ball to him and let him handle it, but they don’t listen.
Sammaekjong makes a beautiful catch, only to have the wind knocked out of him and the ball stolen. Then Sun-woo tries to protect the goal and gets kicked in the chest by Ban-ryu, who scores a point.
Angry now, Sun-woo asks Su-ho if this game has any rules. Su-ho grins and says that the only rule is to win, and Sun-woo mutters that he’ll do that, then.
Sun-woo executes one of his magnificent leaps during the next play, snatching the ball out of the air, and Su-ho crows with excitement. But Sun-woo runs in the wrong direction and makes a goal for the other team, and is uncharacteristically psyched until he finds out it was the wrong goal. Well, that’s embarrassing.
Still, Su-ho’s team is energized, and they quickly score a point. At some point during the game, Scarface, the gambler that works for Minister Park and who’s been looking for Sun-woo, slips into the stands and recognizes Sun-woo immediately.
Sun-woo gets the ball and delivers another superhuman jump move, spiking the ball into the goal. Su-ho can’t hide his excitement, though Sun-woo is adorably nonplussed by all the bro-hugging. At this point, Sammaekjong is growing frustrated at all the attention Sun-woo is getting, particularly at the way Ah Ro is cheering him on from the stands.
Pa Oh waves Sammaekjong over to the stands, excited to see his master doing something so normal as playing soccer. He notices how Sammaekjong looks at Ah Ro, who waves at Sun-woo and is rewarded by a tiny smile. The gambler also spots Ah Ro, noticing that she seems to be connected with Sun-woo.
Sammaekjong is so jealous that he actually steals the ball from Sun-woo during the next play. But he’s knocked down on his way to the goal and loses the ball again. Sun-woo recovers it and passes it to Sammaekjong, who kicks it in for the winning goal. Ha, I love Pa Oh’s victory dance and Sammaekjong’s annoyed sneer.
Ah Ro compliments Sun-woo on his athletic ability on their walk home. She thanks him for saving her from falling off the horse, and he notices that she’s limping a little. She mentions Sammaekjong, asking if Sun-woo is his friend and nearly mentioning that they “slept together,” but she stops speaking before she can make it sound any worse.
Poor Sammaekjong, he’s had a rough day. He thinks about Sun-woo saving Ah Ro, Sun-woo comforting her while she cried, and Sun-woo smiling at her as she cheered him on during the game. He can’t stand the fact that, out of all the guys, his rival for Ah Ro is the one who tried to kill him.
Sun-woo piggybacks Ah Ro the rest of the way home, and she asks if his personality has always been this rough. She warns him that making connections is key in the capital, but he doesn’t respond. Ah Ro gets cheeky and makes bunny ears on Sun-woo’s shadow, which he sees, but he doesn’t say anything and just smiles when she can’t see him.
Sun-woo looks mighty handsome in his Hwarang uniform, and soon he and Ah Ro head to the palace for the Hwarang’s opening ceremony. She gets all up in his face, flustering him again, then decides that he’s missing something. She heads to a nearby vendor while Sun-woo waits.
Ah Ro looks at a hair ornament, but Scarface pops up and takes it from her, saying that he likes it. The sight of him makes her nervous, and her eyes grow wide when he casually asks if she’s Ahn Ji-gong’s daughter.
Sun-woo is distracted for only a moment, but when he turns back to find Ah Ro, she’s gone. He spots her being dragged off by Scarface and his minions and quickly runs after them.
Sammaekjong scoffs to see Sun-woo running full-out in his Hwarang uniform, then decides to follow him to make sure he’s not wearing the dragon-head bracelet to the Hwarang ceremony. He tracks them to an empty courtyard, and rounds a corner to find a knife suddenly at his throat.
Ah Ro is bound and gagged with a sword to her neck, while Sun-woo stands nearly, Scarface’s wicked-looking knife aimed right at his jugular. Scarface laughs to see a low-born dressed in such finery, and Sun-woo tells him to let Ah Ro go and settle his score with him.
Scarface muses that he’s never seen “Dog-Bird” so scared, and guesses that it’s because of the girl. Sammaekjong is led in, and he hears Scarface tell Sun-woo that Ah Ro’s life depends on what he does next.
Scarface jeers at Sun-woo, saying that he’ll die first, but Sun-woo roars that Scarface will die right now. He grabs Scarface’s knife in both hands, and as his blood runs down the blade, he growls that if Ah Ro is harmed, Scarface will die by his hands.
I have to say, while I guessed that the queen regent has nefarious reasons for forcing the officials’ sons to join her Hwarang, the way she’s going about it is pretty genius. Putting them in a situation where they must join or die, and making sure that the sons of the officials who support her are also included, is downright brilliant. This way, she has control over the officials who oppose her, and they know it. But, they can’t prove it because she also has the sons of her supporters in her clutches. It gives the queen regent plausible deniability — she can say that politics has nothing to do with it, since she controls the sons of both factions. I normally don’t care much for the political machinations in sageuk, but in this case, I actually enjoy watching the queen regent pull the strings. At least for now, anyway — I’m sure that at some point soon, she’ll go full-on evil, and I’ll be ready to see Sammaekjong take her down.
Speaking of evil, Minister Park is getting worse the more we see of him. It’s sometimes difficult to deduce people’s political goals in this drama, but from what I can tell, Minister Park wants to wrest the monarchy from Sammaekjong’s line and return it to his own, which used to be in power. He plans to place his adopted son Ban-ryu on the throne and control him, thus taking all the power for himself. It’s frightening that he’s so confident that he will succeed that he’s willing to let the queen regent have her Hwarang, because he’s sure he can control it as well. I’m banking on Sammaekjong to be a stronger king than Minister Park expects, and I look forward to seeing the face-off between the two.
I was happy to see the show lighten up a bit in tone with this episode, and was happy that it allowed Sun-woo and Ah Ro some room to get to know each other. Sun-woo’s obvious crush on Ah Ro is precious, though incredibly complicated by the fact that she’s been told he’s her brother. I actually don’t think she believes it, because she constantly hints that he’s supposedly her brother. It seems to be a way to keep their attraction from getting too weird, and it’s succeeding, because it doesn’t really bother me much at this stage. Sun-woo’s attraction to Ah Ro is completely normal, since he knows that not only are they not related, but that Ah Ro’s real brother actually hoped they would someday meet and marry. On Ah Ro’s side, I’m choosing to believe that her continuing awkwardness with Sun-woo is a mild attraction and a bone-deep feeling that he’s not really her brother.
I was also glad to finally see some real interaction between the boys, and to watch Sun-woo gain acceptance with at least one half of the future Hwarang team. It makes sense that it’s Su-ho who took to Sun-woo first, seeing as Sun-woo is so incredibly athletic, which is something Su-ho values. Sun-woo needs nothing so much as a friend right now, and while I understand his reluctance to open up to anyone new after the traumatic way he lost Mak Mun, I think eternally cheerful Su-ho is just the person to break through the wall he’s built around his heart.
Sammaekjong is also very physically fit, not to mention he’s accustomed to getting his own way, so watching him let his jealousy over Sun-woo get in his own way was hilariously fun. As king, no doubt he’s used to being the best at whatever he tries, just by virtue of the fact that the people around him are scared to one-up him. But in the Hwarang group, he’s just one of the guys, and getting knocked down a peg or five will be good for him. As he said himself, you can’t change something if you don’t break it down first, and if he wants to be a good, strong king, he’ll need to rebuild himself from the inside out.