Now this is the kind of episode I’d been waiting for, and boy, does it deliver an emotional wallop. Everything seems to happen at once, leaving Su powerless against the much greater forces surrounding her. It’s not so easy for her suitors to swoop in and save the day this time, and the divide that causes may spell the end of one beloved relationship, while opening the door for another.
EPISODE 11 RECAP
So takes that one last, longing look at Su after ingesting the poison, and excuses himself before any of his symptoms can be revealed. Princess Yeonhwa jumps up as though to say something, but ends up merely smiling instead as she tells the king that she has a request on behalf of her brother, Wook.
As Su walks away, So stumbles in his attempt to follow her as the vision of her begins to blur. He reaches out his hand toward her, but it’s only when he coughs in a spray of blood that Su turns around and sees him. He falls, and Su immediately runs to his side to call for help.
He attempts to silence her so that she won’t be found with him, but he falls unconscious before he can tell her why. She just resumes her panicked cries for help.
Princess Yeonhwa claims that she also wants to make three toasts (as So did) before giving the king her requests. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong watches as Yeonhwa pours herself a cup from the crown prince’s tea. Even refreshed, is it still poisoned?
Her first request is for the king to let Wook remarry, prompting Wook to say that there issomeone he has in mind. King Taejo permits the request without knowing who the girl is, and Yeonhwa brings the cup to her lips.
But instead of drinking, she stealthily pours the liquid down her sleeve. She acts as though she’s been poisoned, however, and dramatically swoons. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong scoffs at the act before announcing that it’s poison (as if she didn’t already know), while Yeonhwa weakly calls for them to help her half-brother, So.
Blood drips from the corner of Yeonhwa’s mouth as everyone around her panics. Baek-ah finds So and Su first, but the other princes aren’t far behind. Ninth prince Won immediately blames Su for serving the tea, though it’s Astronomer Choi who announces that she’s being arrested for attempted assassination of a prince.
Court Lady Oh watches as Su’s room is torn apart, though she recognizes that there’s a darker plan at work—Su wasn’t originally supposed to serve the tea, and the court lady who was has mysteriously gone missing.
Minister Park Young-gyu seems delighted when he finds a necklace (the one the crown prince gave her) among Su’s things, while one of the soldiers “finds” the vial of poison.
Queen Sinjeong frets as the royal doctor checks her daughter’s pulse, though he claims she’ll be fine. Only when the queen is gone does Yeonhwa rise from her bed, completely fine. She only pretended to drink the poison, she tells the doctor, and bit the inside of her lip to cause the bleeding.
This she announces freely to the doctor, while warning him to keep silent now that she’s freed herself from any suspicion. No one would believe that she willingly poisoned herself.
The antidote is spoon-fed to an unconscious So by another royal doctor as Astronomer Choi, Baek-ah, and Crown Prince Mu look on. Astronomer Choi notes that So just might make it because Grand General Park trained his body to resist poison, but neither of them can figure out why So would have drank three glasses. Surely he knew it was poison after the first.
Crown Prince Mu accurately guesses that the true target of the poison was him and not So, while Baek-ah and Astronomer Choi figure that he tried to leave before his symptoms could be known in order to protect the culprit. But who?
Wook finds said culprit curled up against the wall of a prison cell, and he takes in her bloodied hands when she grasps the wooden bars. He puts his hand over hers, but pulls away when her first question is to ask how So is doing.
Her concern for So seems to make Wook very unhappy, and it’s with a flat voice that he tells her that So will be fine. She needs to worry about herself now that she’s suspected of poisoning the tea, and while he believes in her innocence, there’s no proof.
He warns her that they might very well torture her to find out who was behind the poisoning, but he implores her to endure long enough for him to get her out. She puts on a brave face as she says that she won’t let them use her to frame someone else, so she’s prepared. (Hasn’t she ever seen a sageuk?)
At the next assembly, Minister Park posits that it was Crown Prince Mu who tried to poison So through Su. Mu vehemently defends himself, but Astronomer Choi stops him, lest he end up revealing his illness to the court.
Wook’s theory is that the poison was intended for the crown prince, but was accidentally given to So. Princess Yeonhwa’s poisoning proves as much, though it doesn’t alleviate any of the suspicion with regards to Su’s role in all of it.
King Taejo announces that Su will be hanged for her crime, but the crown prince isn’t willing to let another person die for him, even if it means keeping his illness under wraps. He asks that the king cast him aside instead, but Taejo refuses. Mu is his firstborn, and he wants to give him everything he can.
So attempts to leave his sickbed early to go to Su, who he knows must be alone and suffering. Wook updates him on the allegations against Su, and despite all of them knowing that it makes no sense, he can’t see a way to get her out of it. “I should have never let Hae Su get mixed up with you,” Wook adds, under his breath.
After sending Baek-ah away, So reveals to Wook that it was his mother who was behind the poisoning. At first, Wook accuses So of drinking the poison to protect his mother, but So claims that he did it to save Su and the crown prince.
So adds that he was trying to prevent anyone from finding out about it, but that all changed when Princess Yeonhwa drank the poison. He admits that he wasn’t able to say anything about it before it happened, but now he has to depend on Wook to expose Queen Sinmyeongsunseong’s machinations and save Su.
That night, So goes to the prison to see Su trembling on the floor of her cell, covered in blood from the day’s torture. She rises with great difficulty, yet her only happiness is in seeing that So isn’t dead. “You knew it was poisoned,” she says. Did he drink it in order to save her from suspicion?
So calls the theory nonsense, claiming that he’s not the kind of man to drink poison for a girl. Aw, you big softie. She sees through the lie and tearfully asks why he would do such a thing—did he think her feelings would change? But in her mind, she thinks, “Who am I that you would put your life on the line for me? If you do this, it makes it harder for me to turn away from you.”
He gives her a small smile, admonishing her for always causing him problems. There’s so much left unsaid between them as they manage to make light of the situation despite the severity of it all, as he tells her that she’ll be freed soon. She just sighs, “I don’t know what to do with you.” So replies in kind. That’s oddly sweet.
Meanwhile, Wook tracks down the court lady who first conspired with Princess Yeonhwa, now receiving another package from her. The princess is in disguise, so Wook uses his metal hairpin to threaten the court lady into revealing the truth—if she does, he’ll let her live.
He asks the cloaked figure to reveal himself, only to be taken aback when it’s his sister. The court lady uses the opportunity to make an escape, with Wook too shell-shocked to stop her.
The princess, ever the arrogant one, knows that Wook can’t reveal her crime without damning his entire family as traitors. When he demands to know why she did it, she fires back that he was about to throw away his chance to be king for that girl, and she had to stop him.
When he retorts that he has no desire to be king, she challenges him to search his innermost thoughts. Didn’t he feel wronged when So performed the rain ritual? She knows he wants to be king, and if he still denies it, he can throw both her and their mother away.
Wook suddenly throws the hairpin he’d been holding, and it lands straight in the scheming court lady’s neck. She knows as well as he does that he can’t just cast his own family aside. “From this point on, Yeonhwa, you are no longer my sweet sister. You are a debtor. You to me, and I to you.” He seems resigned to his fate as he says this, and Yeonhwa accepts his offer, though she claims she’ll repay that debt by giving him the throne.
Defeated, Wook says that she can now do with him as she wishes. He has no choice but to submit to her control in order to save his family, even if it means giving up on Su.
He still goes to the prison that night, clutching the bloody hairpin he removed from the court lady’s neck. He drops it outside and turns to leave after one tortured look.
Now fourteenth prince Jung feels like he has to take it upon himself to try and save Su if no one else will, but Wook only acknowledges the presence hiding in the room: Chae-ryung. She falls to her knees as she tearfully begs Wook to save Su. He remains silent, though her pleading makes him visibly uncomfortable.
So goes to the king to ask for Su’s life, even daring to ask if the king is so willing to sacrifice her for the crown prince’s sake. King Taejo doesn’t see the big deal in sacrificing a lowly life in order to save an important one, which So takes particular offense to. Is this what being king means?
Taejo clocks him for his impudence, and warns his son that he’ll kill him if he asks about Su again. The same will happen to anyone else who thinks to plead for her life.
Court Lady Oh visits the prison that night wearing a veil, and tears up at the sight of a bloodied and broken Su lying on the ground. Resolved, she returns to the palace to find Wook waiting for her. He has one request for her: “Stand up for Hae Su. You are the only one who can change the king’s mind.”
When she says that she can’t make such a request, Wook asks if she’ll just let Su die. “I know you feel like a mother to her,” he says, adding that he realized that was the reason Court Lady Oh never liked seeing Su with him. Court Lady Oh turns that back on him, asking why he can’t save Su—doesn’t he love her?
She accurately guesses that it’s his own household holding him back, and his own ambition for the throne. “The reason why men in the royal family become cowards is always the same,” she notes with disdain. “Someday, you will come to regret your cowardly actions today. This one time you turned your back on her will haunt you for the rest of your days.”
With this said, she assents to go to the king herself, since she does care for Su and knows that Wook can’t save her.
After serving the king’s tea, Court Lady Oh waits until she is called upon to speak in order to say: “It was I who tried to poison the crown prince.” Oh no. Oh no! She goes on to give adequate reasons, like the loss of her child (which previous episodes hinted at being Queen Sinmyeongsunseong’s doing), though King Taejo would rather pretend she said nothing.
She lays out the bloody clothes of an infant as she tells him that someone in the royal family sent her tea to drink while she was pregnant ten years ago. Seven days later, her baby died, his baby died, and she’s not about to let the same person who poisoned her get away with killing a girl who’s like a daughter to her.
King Taejo tells her that Su isn’t a replacement for her dead child, and that there’s no evidence against Queen Sinmyeongsunseong. “Will you look the other way this time as well?” Court Lady Oh asks him tearfully. “I will die soon,” she adds, putting a name to the illness that’s been plaguing her: cancer of the stomach.
She knows that King Taejo is acting to save the crown prince, but requests that he help her save Su, so that she won’t lose another child to the evil queen. His eyes wet with unshed tears, Taejo asks if this means she’s finally casting him aside, and a tear snakes down Court Lady Oh’s cheek in answer.
The next morning, So runs to the execution platform, where a bloody and bedraggled Su is being taken to the noose. Her eyes widen in fear as she wonders if this is the end for her, but she only begins to panic when she doesn’t see Wook.
As she looks around for him, it’s not Wook who arrives, but So. He fights his way through the guards, announcing to them that he’ll be taking her with him. He’s willing to spill blood their blood if he must.
But then, Astronomer Choi runs to the execution grounds with a royal command in his hand: There won’t be a hanging, as the real culprit has been discovered. Su promptly faints.
Court Lady Oh walks with dignity to the soldiers ready to take her away, taking one last look around the palace. Su witnesses her assenting to her own punishment and limps over to her, demanding to know what’s going on. “I put the poison in the crown prince’s tea,” the court lady replies.
Su knows she’s lying, but Court Lady Oh has to keep up the pretense in order to save her. So holds off the guards long enough for Su to drag Court Lady Oh into the secret tunnel beneath the baths, only to come up against the newly blocked exit.
Despair washes over Su as she takes this in, and she takes it upon herself to pull at the rocks blocking their exit. “You said we should go to your hometown,” she says, her voice distant. “Let’s go now.” Oof, this is hard to watch. Even Court Lady Oh sheds a tear as Su tries in vain to clear the way.
Court Lady Oh pulls her away, but Su cries—she knows that this is only a cover-up, and Oh will die in her place. She turns back to the exit, but Oh pulls the crying girl into an embrace. “It’s not your fault. I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for the king.”
She strokes the girl’s back as she says that she would die soon anyway, so there’s no need for Su to feel burdened. “I’m fine,” Court Lady Oh says through her tears. As she looks down at the scar on Su’s wrist, she mirrors what Su once said about having no regrets for protecting what she needed to protect.
Su sobs piteously as Court Lady Oh again takes her into her arms. She doesn’t say this aloud, but she repeats the advice she’s been giving to Su all this time, because she doesn’t want Su to end up like her.
We find Su in a fresh set of clothes as she limps her way to the king’s quarters. She kneels in front of the steps to make a formal protest for him to allow Court Lady Oh to live, despite her voice being too weak to carry far.
Wook tries to run to her aid only to be stopped by his mother, who refuses to let her son risk his life. Princess Yeonhwa reminds him that he turned his back on Su once, so why can’t he do it again? Wook sends his sister a look: “How much more indebted to me do you want to become?”
Queen Sinmyeongsunseong comes over to gloat and challenge Wook—if he doesn’t believe Court Lady Oh is the culprit, does he believe her to be guilty? His mother immediately prostrates herself at the evil queen’s feet, begging for her to leave her children alone.
Wook tries to pull his mother to her feet, but she brushes him off to continue her heartfelt plea. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong remains arrogant, admonishing Queen Sinjeong for raising her son poorly as said son remains powerless to defend his own mother.
Su’s pleas grow quieter as she grows weaker, even though she continues into the night. By now it’s just a whisper, and she has to struggle to keep from falling over. Baek-ah tries to tell her that her pleas are futile, and that despite everyone knowing that Court Lady Oh is innocent, no one would dare stand up to the king.
He reminds her that Court Lady Oh just barely managed to save her, and if she keeps being stubborn, Oh’s efforts will be for naught. “It is better than doing nothing,” Su replies, causing Baek-ah to give up on trying to stop her. But before he leaves, she asks where Wook is. Ouch.
The next morning, Queen Sinjeong asks the king to rescind the order for Court Lady Oh’s execution. He refuses, and when Astronomer Choi says that Su has been outside protesting for two days, King Taejo announces that if anyone takes her side, they’ll have to answer to him.
It begins to rain, and poor Jung has to be held back by his other brothers from going out to Su with an umbrella. Jung, finally having enough, leaves the safety of the eave to kneel in solidarity with Su. Baek-ah joins him, as does the crown prince (though he stands). Ninth prince Won refuses to have any part of it.
Wook finally approaches Su in the pouring rain, and this look of hope spreads across her features that’s just heartbreaking. But when he stops and begins to back away, realization seems to set in. As he turns away from her, Su can only ask, “Why?”
Just when it seems all hope is lost, a figure emerges next to her and spreads his cloak to cover her. It’s So, who says nothing as Su straightens just enough to remain under the meager protection.
Queen Sinmyeongsunseong takes a moment to taunt Court Lady Oh, who’s on her way to the gallows. She says that Oh dying first means she’s lost, but Oh says the queen has never once beaten her. The evil queen makes sure to have the last word, as she says that Oh is nothing but a lowly court lady who no one will remember after her death.
“If one person remembers me,” Court Lady Oh thinks to herself, “that is enough for me.” In the king’s courtyard, the princes and Su hear the gong signifying the execution. What they don’t see is the support drop out from under Court Lady Oh’s feet as she strangles on the end of the noose before going still.
The king suddenly loses his footing, which is likely all the emotion we’ll see from him regarding her death. In the courtyard, So tries to comfort Su as she screams for Court Lady Oh.
“If I had known someone would die because of me, I would not have been so greedy to live again. If only this was a dream… if only I could wake up without remembering any of this,” we hear Su say in voiceover as she faints in So’s arms.
I knew that the show would have to work hard to drive a believable rift between Wook and Su, but I was honestly surprised at how well they managed to pull that off this episode. Everything seemed dialed to eleven today, and to great effect—this is definitely the best effort we’ve seen from this show, and it’d be hard to pinpoint just one reason why. It’s one of those situations where everything finally just seemed to work, enough to where those little inconsistencies ceased to matter, and we could just focus on the emotional impact of what we were seeing.
Wook’s turn to the dark side was really unfortunate, if only because it wouldn’t have happened were it not for Princess Yeonhwa’s meddling and manipulation. I thought she’d resolved to become more than just the sister of a king, but now it seems like she’s thrown her entire weight behind the idea of making Wook king. And at the cost she’s made him pay, she better have been truthful about everything she said—it was her own ambition for power that caused her to implicate Su in the first place, and while her words to Wook about doing it all for him didn’t ring untrue, it made her seem much more selfless than she actually was. The “I did what I did for you” could’ve made sense had she not conspired with Queen Sinmyeongsunseong in the first place, especially knowing that the evil queen has always had it out for her family.
At least Yeonhwa seemed to realize her mistake when she saw her own mother prostrate herself in front of the queen, but by then, it was too little, too late. It helps to know that Wook disdains his sister for her actions even if he had no choice but to fall into her trap—which is why I can’t hate him for it. Yeonhwa really did make it so that he had to choose between his own family or Su, and for someone as upright as Wook, it would have been unreasonable to expect that he could throw the lives of his mother and sister away, even for the woman he loves.
I actually felt like the show handled his transition much better than expected, because it would’ve been too easy for him to just go wholesale bad. But he knew enough to feel guilty for his inaction, and tried his best to still be of some help to Su, even if it meant helping her from the shadows. Him walking toward her only to literally turn his back on her toward the end was a little heavy-handed, admittedly, but it was the kind of closure Su needed for the question that had been undoubtedly plaguing her throughout the episode’s events: Where was the savior she was promised?
The fact that her savior came in the form of Court Lady Oh was even more unexpected, but fitting. And when that thread really got going, it was absolutely heartbreaking. Court Lady Oh had been one of the deeper characters presented to us, and her constant watchfulness over Su had already clued us into the depth of feeling she had for the girl. We knew that she looked at Su as a younger version of herself, but the parallels between taking her on as a daughter to replace the child she’d lost—to the evil queen’s machinations, no less—were solid enough for her sacrifice to ring as both believable and extremely, extremely sad.
Her sacrifice didn’t come off as a deus ex machina to save Su from the gallows, but as more of a natural progression of their relationship, made easier to bear by Court Lady Oh’s terminal illness. I doubt that she needed Wook to ask her for her to have done what she did, and even if it was a teensy bit hard to buy that Su and her could just run off together, the moment they had in the cave was worth the suspension of disbelief required to get them there. Giving them that last chance to say their goodbyes was hard to watch, but along with making Court Lady Oh into one of the best characters ever, it went a long way toward endearing Su as a character. She still doesn’t have any agency, but at least she’s still willing to try despite being powerless.
While I did think it was a bit of a letdown to miss out on Su’s inner thoughts during her torture and even directly afterward, I guess we could say that she was counting on Wook to rescue her until the end, which is why she didn’t show fear until she realized that he wasn’t coming to save the day. Still, it was jarring to see how well she handled being cruelly tortured and imprisoned, but that’s neither here nor there anymore.
Despite whatever Wook was trying to do in the background, it was really So who emerged as Su’s defender, and that almost reckless abandon for his own status and future was what sold his love for Su to me. I’d been on the fence about their relationship before, which wasn’t helped by So’s emotional immaturity, but seeing him throw caution to the wind to save Su—or at least die trying—was powerful. It’s enough to make me think that even if Court Lady Oh hadn’t stepped in, So’s efforts might’ve just been enough to save Su. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. I can’t tell if Su is just that lucky, or just thatunlucky anymore.