There’s loads of development when it comes to our two lovebirds this hour, even if it comes wrapped in bittersweet packaging. It’s great to have two people who know how to be honest with each other, though there’s the inevitable trial and error as they face issues that can’t be easily ignored. And while Su may have found more of a place in a world that’s growing less and less new to her by the year, that same world always seems to want her dead. Good times in Goryeo.
EPISODE 14 RECAP
It’s the year 945, the second year of King Hyejong’s (formerly Crown Prince Mu’s) reign, and two years after the events of the last episode. Su is now sanggung, the highest attainable rank for a court lady, and rules over Damiwon like Court Lady Oh once did.
She’s also turned much more serious according to her rank, and writes down notes about the king’s somewhat ailing health in Hangul, which wasn’t an invention of that time. Chae-ryung, now a court lady as well, cheerily gives Su a pouch she can use on her injured knee. It’s Su’s birthday after all, though Su says the best gift is having Chae-ryung in Damiwon with her.
Chae-ryung said she was only freed from her servitude to Wook’s household on Su’s behalf, which causes Su to lose the small smile she had.
Thirteenth prince Baek-ah gives Su scented oil from Bulgaria, much to So’s ire. He apparently brought nothing back for Su from whatever journey they were on, which he claims is how it should be—the gift of his return should be enough for a court lady.
Later that night, Su hears the sound of a very ill dog howling, but it turns out to be So. Hah, he claims he made sure to not make the sound too realistic so she wouldn’t be fooled. Sure. He tries again in front of her, causing Su to fight the smile threatening to break out from his antics.
He takes her to an outdoor spot where they can best see the stars, and the two bicker over how much they each know about astronomy. After Su tells him the sad story of the Cassiopeia constellation, he tells her about how long ago, he’d seen his younger brother Jung in his mother’s lap and wished desperately for him to just disappear.
His mother had seen the look on his face and hid Jung, causing So to muse, “Perhaps she already knew that I would become a person who would kill my own brother.” Su tells him that it’s normal to think that of one’s younger siblings, and describes how she used to wish for her own sibling to disappear.
So smiles, “Are you trying to make me give up on you, or do you want me to only have eyes for you?” He describes how all his problems seem to go away whenever he sees her, so he can’t very well live without her now. “If you’re not going to come to me, don’t leave me with hope. It’s torture.”
He leans in for a kiss, but Su quickly puts a hand to his lips to stop him. Didn’t he say he would get her permission first? So chances a smile as he asks for her permission now, but he’s denied. He’s also denied from stealing a kiss, which Su preempts before he even has a chance. Aw.
So says that the king will marry her off to an old man at this rate, but Su’s not worried, since the king holds her in high regard. Foiled, So lies back to look at the stars before asking her to spend her upcoming day off with him. He has something he’ll tell her then.
Wook claims to speak for the ailing King Hyejong as he calls for a restructuring of the military at the next assembly, but So calls him out for using the king’s illness in order to become regent. Despite Wook being a high-ranking official now, So warns him against making up orders from the king, since he’ll start to make people angry.
His half-brother laughs, claiming to be impressed by how So’s handling politics now. So says he only got into politics to be able to go against Wook, since he still suspects him. Wook says he’ll heed the warning, but adds that he went a little further than he would have because it was something he couldn’t get done as “just” a high-ranking official.
King Hyejong’s health is failing him, and Chae-ryung acts suspiciously as she’s left in charge of adding herbs to the king’s bath. Ninth prince Won waits for her outside the bath, and makes a not-so-cryptic comment about having more mercury delivered for the palace’s mirrors. Whatever the scheme is, Chae-ryung seems to be in on it with him.
The king complains of his unease and inability to sleep to Wook, who looks on dispassionately as the king wraps himself in a blanket. Wook coldly advises the king to abdicate the throne to him, promising to help the king live in comfort if he does so.
Hyejong stars behaving even more erratically the next day as he sends his very young daughter off to be married. She can’t even have reached puberty at the age she’s at, and cries for her father not to send her away—and to the Khitan, no less.
In the king’s warped mind, he believes the marriage will provide a useful alliance for him in the future, so he won’t hear his daughter’s pleas. So does, however, since her cries remind him of himself when he was that age, and how he’d cried for his mother when she’d tied him to the top of the palace gates and… had archers use him for flaming arrow target practice? What the hell, lady?
So tries to step in on the little girl’s behalf, but the king has gone stark raving mad. That’s when he turns to So and asks if he’ll marry the princess and protect him. Oh no.
As promised, Su waits for So on her day off, adorned in silk clothes and the hairpin he once gifted her. So notices the hairpin immediately, and carefully masks his inner turmoil as he puts on a smile for her. But when Su reminds him that he said he had something to say to her, So plays dumb and says he can’t remember what it was.
He pokes fun at her for having high expectations for what he was going to say, and Su does her best to hide her disappointment. Since So feels bad, he promises to make it up to her, which includes a boat ride out on the water. Noticing her tight grip on the boat’s edges, he tips the boat to and fro as a joke, unaware of just how much Su fears falling into the water.
She asks him if this is his boat, and he claims he brought it to the palace when he was younger. She scoffs a bit at him saying the boat is his favorite thing in the palace since she never sees him in it, to which he replies, “Because I like it too much.” Afraid that he’d come to like it too much and not want to leave the palace because of it, he didn’t use the boat on purpose. I’m guessing this is less about the boat and more about a metaphor for their relationship.
Su looks thoughtful for a moment before she says, “I was thinking about what it must be like to turn away from something you like. I also thought that it’s a relief you don’t have to do that anymore.” The meaning behind her words has So feeling guilty, and he apologizes for “forgetting” what he wanted to say to her.
We find out later that So has made the decision to marry the king’s young daughter in order to help protect his older brother. That way, he’ll make his evil mother and the Shinju clan believe he’s next in line for the throne, which will enable him to deflect some of the attacks aimed at the king.
Astronomer Choi praises him for his political calculations on this one, even though So’s not happy about the decision. “Am I back to being a dog on a leash to protect my brother?” he asks. “Is this my destiny? I am sick and tired of having to turn my back on the things I like.”
When he asks how he can free himself from such a situation, Astronomer Choi seems to jokingly imply that he could revolt. But in the end, he can only thank So for helping to protect the king in his hour of need.
The king, back to being sane for the moment, knows that Wook is only reading him appeals for the fourth prince to leave the palace because Wook wants to clear his own path to the throne. Wook claims that he only said what he said out of loyalty, but the king knows better than to buy it—he does plan on sharing his burden with one of his brothers, but it’s clear it won’t be Wook.
It’s So who comes to visit, which is when the king declares that So will be marrying his daughter. But since she’s too young to have children, he’s agreed that So can make her his second wife only. The king tells Wook that he plans on giving the throne to So, who is not only his brother, but also his son-in-law.
Wook pretends to accept this information with a congenial smile, but he can’t resist the pointed barb at So: “I hope there aren’t any girls crying over losing such a good man for a husband.” Oooh.
Su fashions modern face masks for both fourteenth prince Jung and tenth prince Eun’s wife, but afterward, Eun takes issue with how much Jung compliments his wife on her skin. She leaves in a huff after he compares her to Su (again), and Su chastises him for acting that way toward a wife who everyone knows he likes. It’s been three years and he still treats her like she has cooties?
Thanks to Eun’s big mouth, Su finds out about So’s impending marriage and spends the evening brooding. So knows she’s heard the second he sees her face, but he doesn’t attempt to shift the blame. She can hate him all she wants.
He reminds her that he promised to take her out of the palace and set her free, but now, he won’t be able to keep to his word. “Are you not even going to give me an excuse?” Su asks dejectedly. So knows that he can’t give her a reason for breaking her trust, so he’s not going to try. All Su can do is half-heartedly congratulate him, even as tears fall from her eyes.
Baek-ah delivers a letter from So to Su, claiming that this is So’s excuse. The poem reads, “Walking until the water’s edge, I sit and watch as clouds rise up and appear.” It’s from “Villa on Zhongnan Mountain” by Chinese poet Wang Wei, and Su sighs that she didn’t know he could write so well, adding that there’s a lot she doesn’t know about him.
Su tries to parse out the poem excerpt as she remembers what So said about wanting her to experience the same freedom he did when he was an ambassador, and how being king would mean nothing to him if he didn’t have her. The latter part of the voiceover continues as So keeps vigil at his sick brother’s bedside.
She attempts to trace over his characters with her own, mimicking his handwriting as best she can. She repeats the poem over and over with tears in her eyes as So gets married in another part of the palace.
Jung pays a visit to his mother in a nearby temple, only to find her with a bearded and somewhat bedraggled third prince Yo. Of course he’s alive. No one’s ever died from falling off a cliff in sageuk.
The white-haired Queen Sinmyeongsunseong is overjoyed at her son’s re-emergence, though he’s had to stay in hiding because of his current status as a traitor. Jung tells his older brother that he’ll ask the king to pardon and reinstate Yo, but even Yo knows how foolish an idea that is when he’s known for trying to steal the throne.
Yo already knows about the wedding to take place between So and the king’s daughter, which has raised suspicions that the king plans to abdicate to So. Jung admits that he’s against So taking the throne, but he won’t become a traitor to stop him. That’s when Yo claims that it isn’t treason if you win. (Isn’t it?)
Still, Jung says that he’ll stand by the king, despite Yo telling him that the king has gone mad. Does he want to leave Goryeo in the hands of a mad king, or any person a mad king leaves in power?
That night, Jung sneaks into the palace despite the king closing it off to any and all outsiders. So sees this and gives chase with a contingent of guards, eventually ending up at Su’s quarters. They’ve somehow deduced that this is the only room Jung could be in, but Su firmly forbids them from entering, using her high rank as the reason they cannot enter.
When So decides to ignore her order and search the room himself, Su threatens to use her hairpin to pierce her own throat with if he takes one step further. Claiming that she can’t suffer the disgrace of having him enter her room (as she’s unmarried), she’d rather die.
She further adds that if So wants to gain entry, he’ll have to bring an order from the king to do so. So asks if she’s sure that no one’s in her room, and she flatly answers that she’s sure, and scratches her neck with the hairpin for added effect.
So and his men are forced to leave, and Su collapses once she gets back into her room. Jung is hiding there after all, and worries over her scratch—was she really going to stab herself with her hairpin? Su says that she didn’t have much of a choice, since she wants to avoid any conflict between the princes.
Jung asks her which side she’d take if the princes were ever to fight each other, prompting Su to answer that she’d have no reason to take anyone’s side. He reminds her that they can’t go back to the days where they were all friends, and that she’ll have to choose a side soon.
“Even so,” Su replies, “I don’t think I will be able to take anyone’s side, because I do not wish for anyone to get hurt. I’m going to make sure that happens.” Jung can’t help but smile at her when she eventually falls asleep, and even tucks her in just to be adorable.
So confronts Su the next day, and forcefully drags her out of Damiwon to ask her if Jung was in her room. Despite her claiming that didn’t happen, So knows better, and demands an explanation. Su asks him to do some explaining to her then, and he can start with his marriage.
He tells her that he had to save the king’s daughter from becoming a hostage to the Khitan, and marrying her was the only option he had. Su gets teary-eyed as she tells him that he should’ve just said that from the beginning, but says he couldn’t because he didn’t know what he could say to her.
He knows she hates the idea of multiple wives, and all his attempts to avoid that happening have now amounted to nothing. What could he have said to her? At least Su is honest in response, as she admits that Jung was in her room last night, though for reasons she claims are innocuous.
So wants her to make a promise not to lie again, but Su asks what she should do if there’s something neither of them want to admit. In that case, So says, she should just admit she doesn’t want to say whatever it is, because he hates liars the most. In return, he promises not to lie to her either.
“Are you not angry anymore?” he ventures carefully, and Su shakes her head. She asks if he regrets getting married (we only saw a glimpse of the ceremony earlier), and he shakes his head as he replies that he doesn’t. He did what he had to do to protect the king, and the princess was sent away to a temple, just as the king promised.
So still proves that he’s still clueless when it comes to Su’s feelings when he asks if the man she claimed to love before was actually Jung. Hah. She dispels that thought but fails to tell him who it was, and he doesn’t press the issue either.
She confronts him over what he “forgot” to tell her in the boat, knowing that he didn’t actually forget. In answer, he closes the distance between them as he says, “I love you.” Su smiles and closes the distance even further by leaning up to kiss him. “Next time, don’t forget it.”
So smiles, grabs her around the waist, and pulls her in. Holding her face, he leans in for a real kiss, which she finally accepts and reciprocates. Huzzah!
While Baek-ah just so happens to be thinking about Woo-hee, she magically appears before him. “Is this a dream?” he wonders, as Woo-hee admits that she’s thought of him during the time they’ve been apart. He pulls her into an embrace, happy to have her back.
Won arranges a meeting between Wook and Yo, who comes into the palace in disguise. Yo reveals that Wook was the one who ordered Won to use mercury in Damiwon, which is presumably why the king is currently ill, and commends his half-brother for being so coldhearted.
Cut to: Yo bringing an army to the gates of the palace to begin his revolt. (I know.) Jung prepares to go out to face his brother in order to protect the king, but his mother tells him to kill her first—she can’t bear to see her sons fighting against each other. Unless Jung wants to kill his own mother, he can’t leave.
From within the palace, Su and Chae-ryung have a non-reaction to hearing the sound of screaming outside. The king steps out of his bath coughing blood, and Chae-ryung hightails it out of there before Yo’s soldiers can arrive to drag Su away from the ailing king.
King Hyejong recognizes Yo when he struts into the room and begs for his life, but Yo coldly pries his hand away. Yo almost seems to pity his brother, but then he pushes him into the bath.
The king flounders as he drowns in what can only be three feet of water, but Yo just watches dispassionately. Su loses her ability to stand once the king goes still, floating face down in the water. He’s dead.
So and Astronomer Choi arrive too late to save him, but the sight of the king floating in the water fills So with murderous rage. He cuts through the remaining soldiers to reach the bath as Astronomer Choi goes into the water to retrieve the king. He cries for him to open his eyes again as the realization of his death hits him, causing everyone else to stop fighting.
Yo is quick to claim that he didn’t come here in full battle regalia to kill the king—he was already dying from the poison Su was putting in his bath. Su’s eyes widen at this, but Won throws her to the ground as he claims that mercury was discovered in the bathwater, and only she was allowed to administer to the king’s baths.
Yo gives So a choice: He can stay loyal to the dead king and die with Su, or join him and save her life. But he’ll keep Su’s crime of regicide in his back pocket should he ever need it, which seems to be his way of keeping So in check.
So strikes at Yo, and the two lock blades as So demands that he let Su go. Yo has Won hold a sword against Su’s neck as he tells So, “Wolves tend to devote themselves to one female until death. And you are the same as a beast. Choose. Is it Hae Su, or the dead king?”
How is this even a viable choice So has to make? There are few things more annoying than villains providing an ultimatum by using the heroine as bait, but this whole situation is really something else. Considering that Yo’s been branded a traitor for storming the palace with an army to kill the man who was his father, how did he think this was going to work out? He doesn’t honestly think that he can storm the palace again and mystically claim that someone else committed regicide, can he?
The sad thing is, I think he does think that, and he’ll likely get away with it for no other reason than it being in the script. There’s no reason for the mercury plot to have existed at all if the king was going to die of drowning anyway—at that point, Yo could’ve just held him under those three inches of water until he stopped breathing. I can understand that the point was (maybe) to make Su seem culpable, but it’s not as though nobody saw Yo and his army come into the palace. It’d be different if Yo was just paying a friendly visit to his brother, but after being branded a traitor, who would honestly believe that Su was the one who would kill the king, as opposed to the guy who came back from the dead after trying to kill the last king?
Time skips are a given in sageuk when ground needs to be covered, but this is the second time Moon Lovers has been unable to use a time skip effectively—we get the illusion that time has passed, but nothing changes. We resumed exactly where we were before with the character relationships, leaving us to wonder if Su spent two years denying So’s advances, and why that only changed in the span of this single episode. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that nothing major happened offscreen (aside from Su getting a frankly insane promotion), but it only served to create a disconnect between what we thought we knew about these characters and what was actually happening before us.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, since I found Su and So’s honesty with each other to be quite refreshing, even if the circumstances surrounding their honest conversation were bizarre. We completely rushed through So’s marriage to a child, and though we understood his reasoning behind it, it’s hard to see what impact that had on the story when the king passed so quickly afterward. Also, was no one even remotely concerned about the king going absolutely mad? Was So not even a little suspicious that something horrible was going on behind the scenes to make his previously normal-seeming brother into a lunatic?
I guess we just have to take it on faith that everyone thought this progression of events was normal for the king, which would be easier to buy if we were dealing only with people from this time period. But Su, who could recognize illnesses with one glance and prescribe the perfect ye olde herbs to remedy them, has less of an excuse for standing idly by while the king’s condition went south. She knew he had eczema, which everyone else assumed was a life-threatening condition, but she’d know better than anybody that his skin condition wouldn’t cause madness. Or maybe she wouldn’t, and I’m giving her too much credit. Just throw us a bone, Su—we want to like you, but you’ve got to help us out a little.