I really think the show is gaining in strength as it finally settles into its groove, especially as the Hwarang boys begin to learn to be a unified team rather than individual foes. As they face their first challenge and fight for the right to stay, they will each have to think about why they want to be here. They still have a long way to go, but at least they’re ready to take their first steps.
EPISODE 7 RECAP
Ji-dwi backs Ah Ro against the wall, shedding furious tears at the way she pities the powerless king. He accuses her of rendering him insignificant, grows even more upset when she mentions her brother, and soon crushes her lips in an angry kiss.
Ah Ro pushes at him, but he doesn’t seem to notice her objection. He finally ends the kiss and he backs up, then his face softens and he leans in to kiss her again.
Ah Ro’s face screws up in fury, and she smacks him in the head with her own forehead. (That’s my girl!) She hears Sun-woo entering the building and grabs the moaning Ji-dwi, ducking them both down behind a table and warning him not to even breathe, or else Sun-woo will kill him.
Sun-woo sees the empty room and leaves, and Ah Ro takes her chance to shove Ji-dwi and make a run for it. Sun-woo doubles back, suspicious, and finds himself face-to-face with Ji-dwi. In a voice that reveals his barely controlled anger, he asks what Ji-dwi is doing, and Ji-dwi asks sarcastically if the reason he cares is because he’s such an amazing brother.
That earns him a punch from Sun-woo, who warns him not to go near Ah Ro, talk to her, or even look at her. Ji-dwi isn’t scared and makes no such promise, and admits that he likes Ah Ro.
Sun-woo heads to the doctor’s room to find Ah Ro, and she stammers excuses at his thunderous expression. He notices that she’s sweating and gives her a cloth to wipe her face, and tells her that this whole brother thing is new to him. He says that he’s never been this nervous, and promises to be a better brother if she gives him some time.
Merchant Joo-ki walks Ah Ro home, complaining that Sun-woo made him do it even though she’s capable of taking care of herself. She’s horrified that he told Sun-woo she’ll do anything if enough money is involved. He asks again if Sun-woo is really her brother, sure that he remembers Sun-woo saying that he was looking for the necklace’s match “for a friend.”
On his way back to the dorms, Sun-woo runs into Hwa-gong, who reminds him that Hwarang rules dictate that he stay with his roommates at all times. Sun-woo tells him he’s not in the mood, and Hwa-gong asks about his nickname, Dog-bird.
Hwa-gong chuckles, saying that he kind of likes Sun-woo’s attitude. He describes him as so full of anger he can’t even think straight, and says that he finds Sun-woo a challenge.
As punishment, the next day Sun-woo and his roommates are forced to carry Hwa-gong around on a litter, as a lesson that they must do everything together. Later, as they’re doing laundry, Ban-ryu tosses the whole pile at Sun-woo and warns him not to get them all in trouble again. Su-ho asks Sun-woo why he was sneaking out, but instead of answering, Sun-woo asks if Su-ho has a sister.
Ah Ro answers a knock at the door to the doctor’s room to find a grinning Ji-dwi standing there, and he pushes his way in. He’s cheerful and friendly, but that doesn’t make Ah Ro any more pleased to see him, and she palms an acupuncture needle as she backs away from him.
He mentions their kiss, and Ah Ro asks for her apology, but Ji-dwi says it was no mistake. Ah Ro warns him that she could have killed him if she’d wanted to, and suggests they forget it ever happened.
Ji-dwi’s expression hardens as he saunters up close to her, and Ah Ro warns that she knows pressure points that can paralyze him. But he keeps on coming, so she deftly pricks him in the leg with the acupuncture needle. He’s instantly frozen, ha.
Ah Ro finds her friend Soo-yeon (Su-ho’s little sister) to ask her how she can repay her debt to Ji-dwi. She suddenly changes the subject to Sun-woo, wondering if his words last night mean he’s worried about her, and Soo-yeon tells her that it’s not worry, it’s ambition.
In their room, Sun-woo asks Su-ho how a brother is supposed to treat his sister. Su-ho’s first piece of advice is to forget that she’s a girl and handle her roughly. He shows Sun-woo how to grab his sister in a headlock, and Sun-woo adorably mimics his motions.
Next, Su-ho tells Sun-woo to make his sister do everything for him, and Sun-woo looks dubious that Su-ho is actually close to his sister, hee. Su-ho says that sisters are stronger than you think, and that it’s a brother’s duty to toughen his sister up.
A little while later, as Ah Ro is fretting about what Sun-woo will do if he finds out Ji-dwi kissed her, he startles her by popping up out of nowhere. He grabs her in a sudden headlock, which turns awkward the instant she chokes and he chickens out. Instead, he just pokes her in the head and walks off, assuring himself that that was toootally natural.
Queen Regent Jiso hears that Ji-gong answered her summons, and she suffers a small bout of dizziness on the way. She waves it off and continues, but she swoons for real when she reaches his room, and he barely manages to catch her.
As the queen regent lies unconscious, Ji-gong considers placing his acupuncture needle into a pressure point on her earlobe, one purported to cause death. He stops himself at the last moment, and the queen regent opens her eyes. Instead, he places the needle into a point meant to calm her, and she remembers a time he did the same thing long ago.
She’d been distraught, and had begged Ji-gong to run away with her. He’d said with some anger that his place was here, and she’d retorted that he only married his wife (who’d been low-born) to get back at her. Ji-gong hadn’t appreciated the queen regent’s insults towards his wife, and had tried to pull away.
She’d asked if he was just going to throw her away, and he had spit back that she’d been the one to throw him away. She’d clutched his hand and warned that she’d make sure he regretted it if he let go, but he had pried his fingers out of her grip.
Now she asks if he plans to kill her with his needle, but Ji-gong leans over her and caresses her face. But he only examines her eyes, and tells her that she should be well again soon.
He turns to go, and the queen regent calls after him, “He looks like his mother.” She tells Ji-gong that his daughter is acting as a doctor inside Hwarang, and he asks how it feels for her to have a hold on everything he values. He wonders to himself what he can take from her before leaving.
That evening, Yeo-wool sees Sun-woo studying, and asks how many characters he can write. He tells him not to work too hard, figuring he’ll be the first Hwarang to leave anyway, and Sun-woo tells Yeo-wool to keep his nose to himself.
Ji-dwi’s attention perks up when Su-ho wonders out loud where King Jinheung is. Ban-ryu says it doesn’t matter when he has no power anyway, which makes Ji-dwi sigh. The mention of the king gets Sun-woo’s attention too, and he suddenly recalls how Mak Mun had once panicked, saying that he just saw the king.
It’s time for the exam, and nearly all the Hwarang boys prepare cheat sheets. Han-sung worries about Sun-woo’s chances of passing, and Su-ho doesn’t seem to have much faith in his abilities, either. Hwa-gong begins the test, reminding the boys that if they fail, they could be kicked out of the Hwarang.
He restates the question they’re to answer: How does water relate to a king? The brushes fly, and Hwa-gong notices that Sun-woo is only writing a few very large characters. But it’s Ji-dwi who finishes first, after only writing a few characters himself.
Hwa-gong grades the tests, and Ban-ryu’s essay seems to garner the most approval. The rest don’t do so well, and he fusses at the boys for not having any important thoughts.
He comes upon Ji-dwi’s and Sun-woo’s pages, and holds them up. He asks them to explain their short, simple answers, or risk failing. Ji-dwi says arrogantly that the author of the Dodukyung (the Chinese philosophical text they’re supposed to answer from) didn’t always answer on paper. Hwa-gong turns to Sun-woo, who says that he doesn’t know enough characters to write what he wanted to answer.
Ji-dwi goes first, and he quotes a saying, “The law follows where the water flows.” But he notes that some land is dry and some is rich, and that following the flowing path gives strength in harmony. “That is the king’s rule and the king’s way,” he concludes.
Sun-woo speaks up, calling that a load of bullcrap. He says that Ji-dwi’s answer makes the lower class the roots and the foundation. He says that waterways flow high to low, so where does the water at the bottom go?
Sun-woo says that a path must be walked by someone before it becomes a path, and that a waterway can be formed from that path. He says it’s the law to turn away dry and infertile land, so if that dry land is the king’s path, he shouldn’t continue to be king.
Hwa-gong hands out failing grades freely, and Han-sung, Su-ho, and Yeo-wool all fail. Ban-ryu passes, as does Ji-dwi. Sun-woo is failed, not because his answer was bad, but because he didn’t use the proper reference material to back up his answer.
After dismissing the others, Hwa-gong reminds Sun-woo that he only has two more chances, then he’s out.
Later, as he fishes in the pond, Hwa-gong repeats Sun-woo’s answer to himself, secretly impressed. Ji-dwi approaches to ask why Hwa-gong failed Sun-woo, since he knows that Hwa-gong feels the same about the high-borns as Sun-woo does. Hwa-gong asks what king could look up and see things from below, and Ji-dwi counters that a hidden king could.
Hwa-gong scoffs, asking what a sequestered child could possibly do. He has no faith that a young, useless king could oppose strong officials, and he worries that the king will come back soon and create anguish for Silla. He says this is why he created the Hwarang — to protect Silla’s future.
Ah Ro rescues Sun-woo and Ji-dwi’s papers before they’re burned, sees that Ji-dwi didn’t even bother writing an answer, and goes on a manhunt for Hwa-gong. She finds him rushing to find a place to relieve himself, and stops him to accuse him of favoritism and corruption.
Hwa-gong has to go so badly that he can’t even explain, but Ah Ro refuses to let him pass. She threatens to tell the officials that she was paid to secretly investigate their sons, and at the thought of the queen regent’s disapproval if the Hwarang is disbanded, Hwa-gong loses control of his bladder. Ewww.
Next, Ah Ro finds Ji-dwi, and hands him a bag of silver to repay him for the money he threw at her attacker. She tries to wipe off his debt marker from her arm, and says that they have no reason to cross paths again.
She turns back to ask why he was learning to write from her, if he had such strong backing that he didn’t need to write anything at all. She blames him for getting in the way of her supporting Sun-woo, but Ji-dwi twists her words in his favor, saying that she was thinking of him too much to even think of Sun-woo.
Ah Ro says that it’s not like that, it’s just that she felt sorry for him because he seemed lonely. She makes sure to mention that that kiss won’t happen again, and turns to go.
Ji-dwi calls after her, asking what he has to do to make her look at him. He says that she makes him crazy because he becomes nothing around her, that he doesn’t know who he is or what he’s doing. From a short distance away, Sun-woo witnesses their intense conversation.
Ban-ryu’s father Ho Gong, and his adoptive father Minister Park, are turned away at the Hwarang gates. Apparently this is a regular thing, and Ho Gong is losing patience at not being allowed to see Ban-ryu. He’s handed a note which he turns over to Minister Park, and Minister Park laughs to see Hwa-gong’s repeated invitation to share a drink… in thirty years.
Minister Park affably says they can come back later, and goes to see someone else he needs to speak with — Ji-gong. He pretends to be here for a physical and congratulates Ji-gong on finding his son, asking if it’s true that he’s the queen regent’s Hwarang.
Ji-gong ignores him and just prescribes medicine, but Minister Park makes a veiled reference to Ji-gong’s long-ago relationship with the queen regent. He advises Ji-gong not to keep his resentment bottled up.
Ah Ro wonders to herself if “the pervert” really likes her, figuring that he can’t be that bad if he’s Hwa-gong’s nephew. She calls his looks okay (HA), then stops herself and calls herself crazy for even considering it, especially today.
Sun-woo comes up behind her, and asks what she means by “especially today.” She changes the subject and tells him not to be too upset about the test, since nearly everyone failed.
Sun-woo attempts to be brotherly again by tentatively tousling Ah Ro’s hair before telling her to head home. She calls after him that today is their mother’s memorial day, and he looks guilty that he didn’t know. Ah Ro reassures him that their mother will be glad she finally found him, and says she’ll handle the memorial ceremony tonight as usual.
Han-sung quietly invites himself to eat with Sun-woo and his roommates, and they’re all too preoccupied to object. Ban-ryu snarks that it looks like Sun-woo won’t be here long, but Yeo-wool defends Sun-woo’s test answer, calling it the best.
Ignoring the conversation as usual, Sun-woo asks if a “memorial” is something important. They guys all stare at him when he says softly that it’s his mother’s memorial day, and Han-sung says that he should go home.
Sun-woo and his roommates lie awake that night, unable to sleep. Yeo-wool gets up and suggests they sneak out, and though Ban-ryu objects, the others look excited. Are they about to break out? This is awesome.
Yeo-wool even has a plan, and he takes Hwa-gong a decanter of expensive liquor, a gift from his mother. Hwa-gong and his assistant proceed to get astoundingly drunk and pass out, removing the main obstacle to the boys’ plans.
The boys are all eager to get out, though Ban-ryu refuses to participate. They nearly get caught by the burly bouncer, surprised that he’s not dead asleep like the others. Su-ho takes a closer look, and notices that the bouncer actually is drunk when he walks into a post before proceeding to attack it. Ha.
The boys sneak past him and go over the wall. Ban-ryu paces in their room, and it’s not long before he’s following the others out.
The guys split up to enjoy their evening, and Ji-dwi whistles for Pa Oh, who fusses at him for sneaking out. Ji-dwi just tells him to protect him, because he’s going home.
He sends his mother a message, and she finds him in the throne room, dressed in his kingly robes. She asks if he’s strong enough to be sitting there, and Ji-dwi agrees with her that he’s still too small and weak. His mother says it’s a relief to hear him admit it, and tells him to leave the Hwarang.
But Ji-dwi says that while he’s waiting, she’s just gaining strength. He compares himself to a child learning to walk, becoming stronger as he learns how to fall. He thinks about Sun-woo’s test answer that a path must be walked before it can become a waterway, and he tells his mother that he needs to learn how to walk to go on the king’s path.
Ah Ro and Ji-gong hold their memorial ceremony for Ah Ro’s mother, and she tells her father that she’s a little sad Sun-woo couldn’t be here tonight. She asks Ji-gong what happened to Sun-woo just before he came that caused the injuries that nearly killed him.
Before Ji-gong can answer, they hear footsteps and look up to see Sun-woo entering the yard. Ah Ro can’t hide her wide grin, and Sun-woo solemnly steps in and takes over the ceremony.
Ban-ryu doesn’t really have anywhere to go, and he laughs at himself when he ends up at home. He hides around a corner and watches as his father and adoptive father arrive home on horseback, and Minister Park makes Ho Gong bend down to act as his step stool.
Yeo-wool and Su-ho walk around town, attracting plenty of female attention, but the ladies don’t hold a candle to Su-ho’s recollections of the beautiful queen regent. Yeo-wool notices Su-ho’s dreamy expression, but Su-ho just curses at himself.
Soo-yeon is out tonight as well, shopping the street carts for pretty things. She sees her brother Su-ho as he walks past her, but he’s gone before she can call out to him. She gets an impish gleam in her eye, and decides that today’s the day she gets some sisterly payback.
She spots him standing with his back to her, and readies her grabby-fingers. She sneaks up behind him and grabs his butt in both hands, but it’s not Su-ho who turns around… it’s Ban-ryu, looking about as scandalized as you can imagine. BWAHAHAHA.
They gape at each other, then Soo-yeon lets out a bloodcurdling scream. It has the entire crowd turning to look, including Su-ho and Yeo-wool, who points out that it was Su-ho’s sister who yelped.
Soo-yeon attempts to preserve her reputation by crossing her arms over her chest and accusing Ban-ryu of grabbing her, and she silently begs him with her eyes not to tell the truth. He’s too stunned to react, and before Soo-yeon can explain, Su-ho pushes his way through the crowd.
Soo-yeon suddenly slaps Ban-ryu, though she looks like she doesn’t even know why she did it. Su-ho grabs Ban-ryu, demanding to know what he did to his little sister, and behind his back, she begs Ban-ryu not to tell on her.
Yeo-wool pulls Su-ho away, and Soo-yeon tries to tell him what happened. Su-ho stops her and grabs a huge candlestick to bash Ban-ryu. But before he swings, he’s knocked out himself, by a bottle wielded by his own sister.
She rushes to Ban-ryu and cups the cheek where she slapped him, and he stares at her. One look at her worried face, and he’s a goner.
Sun-woo and Ah Ro walk through town, and she asks him how he got out of Hwarang. He says he didn’t leave for good, he just came out for the memorial. Ah Ro says that actually, they just don’t know when Mother died, so they hold her memorial on her birthday.
She reminisces about her mother as they walk, recalling her scent, and how she’d stroke Ah Ro’s hair. She says that the wind and the mountain birds were her lullaby. Sun-woo smiles, and asks why Mother didn’t sing to her.
Ah Ro stops, and tells Sun-woo, “Oraboni, Mother couldn’t sing lullabies… because she couldn’t speak.”
Well, now that seems like something a true older brother would know, now doesn’t it? I wonder if this will finally be the moment when Ah Ro realizes that Sun-woo isn’t her real brother. We know that she’s had little nagging doubts that he might not be, and Joo-ki’s recollection that Sun-woo said he was looking into the necklace for a friend backs up her suspicions. But I wouldn’t put it past the show to drag the whole fake-brother scenario out for a few more episodes, even though in my opinion, it’s done its job and is starting to get into icky territory with Ah Ro’s growing feelings for Sun-woo. Generally, the show doesn’t draw things out for too long, so here’s hoping this particular trope dies a natural death sooner rather than later.
I was glad to see Ah Ro taking care of herself instead of needing saving several times in this episode. She’s been a bit too damsel-in-distress for my taste, especially for a character who seems so independent otherwise, so watching her take control of Ji-dwi not once, but twice, just made me happy. I don’t think that a head-butt and an acupuncture needle will be enough to stave off his attentions, but at least Ah Ro has given him something to think about. She is not some delicate feminine flower ready to swoon because a handsome man looked her way — she’s a spunky, opinionated hellion who’s more than capable of taking him down.
And it seems to be working, because the next time Ji-dwi confronted Ah Ro about his feelings, he kept his distance and just talked. He was (a bit) less accusatory, and more open about his feelings of confusion and hurt. And his change of tactic seemed to be getting through to Ah Ro — he still has quite a ways to go when it comes to talking to girls, but his more respectful approach had her at least considering what he has to offer.
I find the queen regent much more interesting now that we know a little more about her past with Ji-gong. She’s been sort of a stick figure for me until now, a placeholder that represents the formation of the Hwarang and Ji-dwi’s pain at being forced to live in secrecy, but she hasn’t really done much to make me interested in her personally (it’s that whole “show don’t tell” thing — we know she’s done things because we were told, but we haven’t actually seen it). But Ji-gong is a very fascinating character, so the queen regent’s history with him makes me more interested in her by default. I do want to see her do more in the present besides sit primly and glare at people, but at least now I will care a little bit once she does.
While I admit that I didn’t quite understand Ji-dwi’s and Sun-woo’s test answers, I did get the gist of them, and I liked how it reflected their attitudes about the upper and lower classes. From what I understood, Ji-dwi’s answer followed the prevalent thinking of the day — that the king rules when “water,” or the people, are obedient and biddable. As a highly educated yet until-now isolated young man, I can’t really blame him for believing what he’s been taught. But it shows how much he has to learn about people and how to govern them, that his attitude is that they just have to obey and make his kingship easy for him.
Sun-woo’s answer, on the other hand, came straight from the mouths of those very people that the nobility expect to just shut up and not make waves. Why should they trod the difficult path, getting muddy and exhausted, so that the king and the high-borns can have an easy time of it? They’re both correct in that kings are made on the backs of their people, but Sun-woo’s answer makes it clear that mistreating those people isn’t the right way to go about it. I appreciated that Ji-dwi actually thought about Sun-woo’s answer and confronted Hwa-gong about failing him. He may be ignorant about the world — in fact, I’d say both boys are equally ignorant, though in different ways — but he’s not unwilling or unable to consider a different way when he’s shown that it exists. His conversation with his mother in the throne room proves that, while he knows he’s not ready to be king yet, he’s aware that he needs to learn a lot more before he becomes the king the country needs. He looks awfully good in those kingly robes… maybe he’ll be the king that can walk the new path first and lead his people, rather than just follow where they’ve already gone.