There’s plenty of suffering to go around this hour, both the internal and external kind. Our hero seems to be the only one who knows what he wants and is fully intent on getting it, though he’s up against some new resistance in the form of Su’s guilt. He might be the only one who can save her now—but it’s less about saving her from her situation, and more about saving her from herself.
EPISODE 12 RECAP
King Taejo orders his son and fourth prince So to go to China (specifically the Later Jin dynasty) as an ambassador. So agrees to do as he’s told, but he asks for the king to allow Su to continue working in the palace.
The king agrees, only for as long as it takes for So to leave the room. Then he tells Astronomer Choi to send Su to a place where none of the princes will be able to see her again—if So won’t let her go, then he’ll make it so he has no choice.
Astronomer Choi finds Su in the late Court Lady Oh’s room, and offers Su some comfort when it comes to her mentor’s death. But then he informs her that she’s to leave the palace, effective immediately.
Su just sighs in resignation as she asks where it is that she’ll have to go. Meanwhile, So packs his belongings, including the makeup needed to cover his scar. Before she goes, Su makes sure to find So, despite having to limp because of her wounds.
They go for a slow walk, where So gives her pointers on how to best get over her pain and grief. If she works hard, she’ll be able to forget, which Su turns back onto him: “You should forget me now.” So doesn’t take her seriously, and only asks that she stay in the palace and wait for him.
“I will not wait for you,” she replies, handing back the hairpin he gave her. “This happened to you because you tried to help me,” she adds, referencing his new appointment to go to Later Jin. She feels bad because she knows how happy he was to be allowed into the palace, but now he’s having to leave because of her.
Using a hand on her waist, So pulls her closer, and leans in for a kiss. At the last moment, Su turns her head, and So just smiles. “I said I would get your permission,” he says in light admonishment.
Then, with her guard down, So steals a very quick kiss. “I lied,” he explains with a Cheshire grin. He takes the hairpin in her hand and says he’ll use it as a good luck talisman, since he’ll be back soon. But as he walks away, Su thinks to herself that she won’t be waiting for him, even though he risked his life for her and called her his.
As he turns around and waves at her with the pin in his hand, Su thinks to herself that she can’t help but be afraid every time they meet. Despite knowing that her heart had been in someone else’s hands, she wonders, “Why is it so difficult to let you go?”
Wook sees her limping up the steps upon her return to the palace, but can’t bring himself to say anything to her. She turns around to see him turned away from her, and he walks away from her purposefully. Tears well in her eyes, but she says nothing. Only when she’s turned away does Wook chance a look back at her.
So returns to wearing a mask on his journey to Jin, while Su is sent out of the palace with a small bundle of her belongings. Fourteenth prince Jung finds Wook to tell him that Su’s gone. Wook leaps to his feet and checks Su’s room, which is now devoid of her presence.
Knowing that she’s been cast out, Wook slowly sinks to the ground, crying. “Su-ya… if you just leave like this…” He reaches out a trembling hand to her bedding, before he throws it in a rage and cries out, “Su-ya!”
Outside the palace, Su turns as if she’s heard it. Maybe she did.
Queen Sinmyeongsunseong talks casually about that “pesky creature” who’s now dead to Princess Yeonhwa, referencing Court Lady Oh. Now that she’s seen Yeonhwa’s scheming side, the evil queen thinks that they’re very much alike, but Yeonhwa puts the kibosh on this notion by reminding her that her own mother, Queen Sinjeong, was exiled for supposedly causing Court Lady Oh’s miscarriage.
Though she doesn’t outright claim that the evil queen was to blame for the miscarriage, everyone knows that she’s the reason Court Lady Oh, the woman the king loved the most, had to die. If her own mother could be exiled for causing a miscarriage, then Queen Sinmyeongsunseong is in for much worse—so Yeonhwa knows an alliance would be foolish.
The evil queen says that Yeonhwa is just as culpable as she is, which makes the princess laugh. Because she drank the poison, she’s free of suspicion, and anyone else who was involved is either dead or gone. “You are alone now, Your Majesty. Do not make my mother get on her knees ever again,” Yeonhwa adds as a warning.
Third prince Yo is back, and having overheard the conversation, he tells his mother that he can’t help but like Yeonhwa for her gumption. His mother warns him to stay away from her, while Yo seems to think of it as a challenge. Besides, his uncle, Wang Shik-ryeom, has offered to support his potential rise to the throne.
One year later, the 26th year of Taejo’s reign. King Taejo is apparently not long bound for this world, and third prince Yo taunts his brothers that the king may very well decide that he should have the throne.
Now that Yo’s returned to the palace with supporters ready to place him in power, Crown Prince Mu worries that the king has made it so that anyone can take the crown. Astronomer Choi assures him that the king is only using this opportunity to find out who’s on Mu’s side, but Mu worries that those close to him will be the ones to pay for the king’s experiment.
At a festival held for King Taejo, princess-in-disguise Woo-hee is among the group of sword dancers performing for him. Suddenly, she breaks from the others, jumps onto the king’s table, and stabs him with her sword.
Of course, it’s just a daydream on her part, since she’s just practicing her sword dance. Thirteenth prince Baek-ah calls her out for getting the move wrong, since he’s providing the accompaniment. Does no one pay attention to how weird a job this is for a prince to have?
Baek-ah ends up inches from Woo-hee’s face during his admonishment, which makes her acutely aware of their proximity. But when he mentions that “the wife” has prepared food for him, her eyes go wide: “You’re married?”
Seeing her face, he pounces on the chance to taunt her as he asks if him being married would bother her. She’s quick to demur, though she’s curious to know how long he’s been married, if he has children, etc. Baek-ah continues to tout his imaginary family until he tells her that the wife he was referring to was his father’s wife, aka his mother, and gives her the modern “Okay” hand signal that Su taught him. Hah.
Tenth prince Eun scoffs at his wife for testing whether he read a book she gave him, even going so far as to bet his own wrist that he read it. Soon-deok draws a line on his wrist and says that it’s hers now, as are his eyes and nose (which she draws circles around, hah).
He tells her she might as well take all of him, but makes an exception when she tries to mark his finger—that’s Su’s, he says. When she turns away, Eun nervously asks if she’s crying, but then a dagger comes flying at them. Soon-deok protects him from it, but it cuts her hair tie in the process, causing her hair to flow loose around her face.
It was her dad who threw the dagger to test her reflexes, and she chastises him for scaring her husband. But when she offers to blow on Eun’s booboo from the fall, Grand General Park just gapes.
Yo offers Princess Yeonhwa a ring along with the promise that he’ll divorce his wife once he becomes king, and make Yeonhwa his queen. She’s not buying it, since Yo’s father-in-law is the current Minister of the Left, Park Young-gyu, and he’d be crazy to lose that alliance.
But Yo says he’ll only need Minister Park’s support before he becomes king, and not after. He deliberately places the ring on Yeonhwa’s finger even after she pushes it back toward him, though Wook’s appearance gives her a chance to pull her hand back.
Though Wook is slightly hostile toward him, Yo reminds him that with the king about to release teachings for his descendants, it means that there’ll be a major shift soon. Yo wonders if they should just attack first and get their father out of the way before that happens, but at Wook’s admonishment, he claims he was only joking.
Yo leaves, but not before reminding Wook of his promise to support him when the time comes. Yeonhwa is quick to call Wook out for making such a bargain—why wouldn’t he try to claim the throne for himself?
But Wook has clearly given this more thought than her, since he knows that whoever goes against the crown prince will become a traitor. However, if he were to rise up against that traitor, then he’d become a hero.
When Yeonhwa asks what would happen if Yo were to end up betraying him, Wook’s eyes land on the ring Yo gave her. She’s scandalized when he says it suits her well, knowing full well what he means: “Are you telling me to become a hostage?” With a humorless smile, Wook tells her to call it what she likes. “We owe each other a great debt, do we not? You should put up with this much.” Damn, Wook. That’s cold.
We find Su working as a lowly water maid for a gisaeng house, though her reputation for once being a court lady in Damiwon is well known amongst the other girls. They grow angry when the still-crippled Su refuses to gossip about any of the princes with them, and deliberately trip her when she tries to leave.
They accuse her of killing her own superior, calling her bad luck. They throw her laundry back into the river, and as Su struggles to collect it all, Wook and Jung happen to see her struggle. Wook is the first to turn away.
Once in the palace, Wook confronts Jung over deliberately taking him to see Su. Wook claims to be indifferent to her plight, but Jung knows that he loved Su once, so what’s the reason he can’t go to her? Wook claims that it’s because he can’t go against the king, but Jung doesn’t quite look like he buys it.
That night, Wook finds Su eating a meager meal alone. She sets it aside when she sees him and rises unsteadily, causing Wook to ask if her leg still pains her—he knows Jung has been sending her medicine. In a flat tone, she tells him that it only bothers her sometimes, but that she’s fine otherwise.
“Do you hate me?” Wook asks tentatively. Su’s eyes fill with tears as she looks blankly forward. Wook explains that he couldn’t come because he couldn’t promise her anything, and that it’s his own shame over being so useless to her.
Because the king was so upset over Court Lady Oh, he explains, he couldn’t even dare to bring up the idea of marrying her to his father. Only then does Su speak up: “Did you miss me? Even once? Has there been a time when you missed me?”
After a pause, Wook quietly replies, “Every day. I longed for you every moment.” Su takes this in for a moment, her expression softening with relief as she says, “That is all I need then. That is enough.” But when Wook says that everything will get better once he has more power, Su tells him not to put himself in danger on her behalf.
With tears in his own eyes, Wook can only tell her to keep herself safe. “Please don’t make me feel sorrier than I do,” he adds, before abruptly leaving. A tear snakes down Su’s cheek as she watches him go.
So returns from Later Jin, and updates his father on the political goings-on there, including a possible conflict between Jin and the Khitan. King Taejo wants to send him back to deal with it but So refuses, since he knows his father broke the promise he made to keep Su in the palace when he left.
His father asks if he still has feelings for Su, which soon turns into a tirade about how kings should be willing to throw anyone and anything away. So retorts that he isn’t a king and won’t become one, so that rule doesn’t apply to him. He even adds in a subtle threat that if the king wants him to remain as an ally for Crown Prince Mu, then he shouldn’t make things harder for him. “I, too, will live like a human now.”
Grand General Park does some damage control once So leaves, but it’s not that Taejo is upset with So’s actions—he’s actually pleased with his new attitude. “Now, he will not lose no matter who he fights,” the king says, adding that only now will he be able to die in peace.
As Su hangs laundry to dry, she thinks she sees a vision of So, only to turn around and find nothing there. But then she stops suddenly, feeling a presence behind her. “You never did listen,” So’s voice says.
He wraps his arms around her from behind and adds, “I missed you.” Su tells him that he shouldn’t be there as she pulls away from his grasp, but he just takes her work-roughened hands in his and smiles: “You are beautiful, as always.”
That’s when she finally notices his mask, which breaks her out of her stupor. Suddenly she’s all questions, but he unmasks himself to reveal a perfectly covered scar beneath. “I didn’t take it off so I wouldn’t forget you,” he says. “I was determined to come back to you.”
Su reminds him that she’s just a water maid now, and therefore not in a position to be having any contact with him. She’s glad he returned safe, and now he knows she’s fine. That should be enough.
She tries to limp away from him, but So grabs her by the wrist, claiming that he’ll find a way to fix her situation. Su finally breaks and pulls away from him, half-crying that she’s trying to just forget everything through hard labor. But what she doesn’t say aloud is, “You must put a stop to your affections toward me.”
So says he’ll help her just the way she helped him, and together, they’ll find a way for her to forget, without having to live the way she’s living. In voiceover, Su says, “Please do not throw yourself away because of me.” But aloud, she says that So’s the one she wants to avoid—when she looks at him, she’s reminded of everything she’s trying to forget.
She tells him to forget about her too, which is the only way no one will get hurt. She returns to her room, where she’s approached by Astronomer Choi. Hmm.
King Taejo’s health is failing, so as a last resort, Astronomer Choi serves him a specially concocted tea to bring back his appetite. Taejo knows upon tasting it that Su made it, and so he tells Choi to bring her to him.
Quick cut to Princess Yeonhwa asking So to marry her. (This seems sudden.) She tells him that she’s thought about the kind of person she is, and that she’s not satisfied with her lot. She wants power, which means she wants the throne.
So smiles gently at her as he replies that he’s the opposite of the kind of person she’s looking for, which Yeonhwa claims to know already. But what she wasn’t counting on was that she was a woman with feelings, as she admits, “I have loved you for a long time. I am destined to be with you.” (She mimics the same words Yo said about the two of them.)
After a long silence, So says that when he was very young, someone told him he was fated to be king—but that’s the day he received the scar on his face. He wasn’t even treated as a prince, let alone a king. “We’re destined to be?” he all but scoffs. “I don’t believe in destiny. And there’s someone else I want.” Yeonhwa knows he’s talking about Su, and warns that he’ll ruin his future if he ties his fate to such an unlucky girl.
“I wouldn’t even have had a future if it weren’t for Su,” So replies. “Now that I’ve said it, I know for certain—without her, I’m nothing.”
Su limps into the throne room to meet the ailing king, who readily drinks the tea she made him. Looking at him, Su recognizes the same symptoms she once saw in her own grandpa, and guesses that he doesn’t have much time left.
Taejo seems to read her thoughts, and then asks, “Where did you come from?” He admits that he looked into her after Court Lady Oh’s death, and after questioning anyone who ever knew her, he concluded that she became a completely different person. But then, he astutely tells her that he thinks she’s similar to Astronomer Choi: “You know the future, and we do not.”
He asks her if she knows So was fated to become king, and sighs that if Crown Prince Mu and So are both destined to become king, no one knows what will happen. He knows she’ll be able to see it all happen, but warns her against getting involved.
Su’s only request is that the king send her away instead, because she doesn’t have the courage to live in the palace anymore. Taejo’s advice is for her to learn to close her eyes to the things she can’t fix with her own strength, otherwise, her situation will never change.
“Do not get so hung up on the future that you lose what you have now,” the king adds. “If [Court Lady Oh] called you her daughter, then you are a daughter to me, which is why I am giving you this advice.” Oh, now she’s like a daughter to you?
As Su leaves the palace, she suddenly finds herself surrounded by the sounds of battle in the courtyard. A premonition of events to come, perhaps.
Meanwhile, Woo-hee cuts herself while practicing her sword dance, and in his worry, Baek-ah discovers scars from old cuts crisscrossing her wrists. He knows better than to ask, so he asks if he can hold her instead. She shakes her head, but he pulls her in anyway.
He says he’s sorry for any hardship she endured, even though he wasn’t around then. “I want only good things to happen for you, and I want to make you happy now. Trust me.” Woo-hee pulls away, angrily asking who he thinks he is to promise such things. When she leaves, Baek-ah quietly admits, “I still have more to confess to you.”
Su happens to see Woo-hee crying, and next thing we know, the two are sitting down for a chat. She seems to know that it has something to do with Baek-ah, which makes Woo-hee question how Su knows him. They talk as if they know each other, which must’ve come about because Su works as a maid for Woo-hee’s gibang.
To cover for Baek-ah (since Woo-hee doesn’t know he’s a prince), Su claims she met him before she entered the palace. She tells Woo-hee that he’s a good person who she shouldn’t be pushing away, but Woo-hee claims she doesn’t have a choice.
Woo-hee fills in some of the gaps on how she and Su know each other, as she says both of them bonded over their shared hardships. She wants Su to do her makeup for the big ceremony tomorrow, because she wants it so that Baek-ah will look at her once and never forget her. “That’s how I want to be remembered,” she says more quietly.
After Yo plots with Minister Park to use Woo-hee to kill the king at the ceremony, he pretends to feign disinterest in whether the king does or doesn’t attend. But that’s because he knows Wook has his back, since Wook is the one who convinces the king to attend.
Yo looks on approvingly as Wook puts his prince’s garb over another outfit. The ailing king presides over the ceremony, but So waits outside to catch Su so he can give her back the hairpin. “Let’s get married,” he says suddenly.
If she marries him, he says, she can leave the gyobang (gisaeng house that focused more on the arts) as well as the palace. At her reluctance, he adds that they can divorce after he gets her out of the palace—all she has to say is yes.
Of course, Su doesn’t, because she doesn’t want to make So leave the palace. So claims to not care if he’s with his father or not, to which Su asks, “What if you were to become king? Would you still leave?” So: “If I were king, would you leave with me?”
Handing her back the hairpin, So smiles a bit as he asks her to come with him—she’s still his, after all. Su seems to waver for a moment, but then she gives the hairpin back. She can’t marry him, she says, and turns to see that Wook has overheard the entire conversation.
Wook grabs So before he can chase after her, telling him not to fill her head with lies that he, a prince, could marry a water maid like her. “If I say it’s marriage, then it’s marriage,” So fires back. But then Wook reminds him that he’s the reason Su’s in such a lowly state, which is why he can’t forgive him.
But So won’t take the blame from him, and says that he gave him everything he needed to prove Su’s innocence. Wook’s uselessness is the reason Su’s there, he adds, which only makes Wook grab his half-brother by the collar.
At the ceremony, Woo-hee takes part in the sword dance. As the music crescendos, she sees Baek-ah in the crowd, realizing from his clothes that he’s a prince. Baek-ah watches her gaze and has a realization of his own: She was practicing the wrong movements earlier because she had another plan in mind.
As Woo-hee rushes the king, Baek-ah jumps in front of her and takes the sword meant for his father. He couldn’t just tackle her?
Back with the two warring men, So tells Wook to stop pretending like he cares about Su—he can just turn his back on her like he already has. But he can see whatever Wook’s wearing underneath his robes by the hold he has on him.
And then, quick cut back to Baek-ah, who pulls back from Woo-hee.
Well, now I’m more inclined to think that Episode 11 was a lucky fluke. I feel spoiled from having a clear emotional through line that we could easily follow to having the sort of hodgepodge of scenes we got in this episode, where I was left struggling to figure out who we were following and what we should be rooting for them to accomplish. Was this about Su? So? Woo-hee? Killing the king? Focus, Moon Lovers! Focus.
I had a feeling we were in for a ride when that time skip rolled around, since we were already back to being excluded from the events of the episode—and then suddenly, we were dropped into the story a year later without even one exposition fairy to help catch us up. It was disorienting, and for the remainder of the episode I couldn’t help but feel like the show was just trying to keep itself afloat.
The rapid-fire succession of scenes would’ve been much easier to swallow if we had at least one point to anchor us, but we were effectively shut out from seeing Su’s point of view. What she’s been through has been extraordinary and more than enough to cause a person to shut down—but she’s still our heroine, and we need her to at least try to play an active role in events. Su’s biggest issue has been her lack of proactivity, which we could somewhat blame on circumstance before. And even now, we can point to circumstance as being the reason why she can’t help herself, only now she’s willingly given up on trying.
So without her even making an effort to change her fate, and with her being completely resigned to suffering in silence, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to want for her. Obviously, any viewer will want her to snap out of the funk she’s in, but to what end? It’d be great if So really could swoop in to save the day here, but Wook may have a point about his marriage solution not being that feasible. Even so, what is it that Su actually wants? For a hot second, her goal was to try and dissuade So from fulfilling his destiny. I can see why that’s changed now, but that doesn’t mean that she should be the one helping history along by suggesting that So should become king. What does she want to happen?
At least So’s trying, and in an hour so full of doom and gloom, that counts for a lot. Right now I’ve got all my hopes pinned on him, though it’s interesting to note how his father’s opinion has changed in such a short while. Then again, King Taejo seemed to be much more open to a lot of things, considering that he realized that Su was a time traveler. If he’d figured this out about her before and knew that it would’ve made Court Lady Oh happy for him to treat her as a daughter, why did that change now, after a year of hard labor? Was it really just that one cup of tea? More than ever, that would’ve been a scene to hear Su say something. Anything. Or for her to even realize that Astronomer Choi may know more than he’s letting on, and that he could be her ticket out of her misery. But that’d mean she’d have to want something first. So c’mon, Su. You’re from the future. Act like it.