Feelings start to get murky as our heroine becomes more and more a part of our princes’ everyday lives, and though she may not always have the best solutions, at least she’s always willing to try. And while this hour has its dark moments, it seems like the show is willing to reveal its softer underbelly, which goes a long way toward helping to endear it to us. Angsty princes covered in blood are all well and good, but angsty, vulnerable princes with a soft spot for a certain someone are even better. The more princes, the merrier.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
So stalks into his mother’s room, his sword still dripping wet with the blood of the renounced monks he just killed en masse. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong wakes with a start to see her unloved son looking so dangerous, even as he steps forward with a smile.
But he’s not there to menace her—just the opposite, actually. “Do you know what I’ve done for you, Mother?” he asks, still smiling. He’s made it so that no one can come after her, and erased all traces of her wrongdoing. He’s like a little boy coming to his mother for approval, only this little boy killed a bunch of people and burned a temple down.
The queen slowly realizes what he’s done, but shatters So’s expectations when she asks him if he thought she’d commend him for what he did. “You’re like a beast,” she adds, and the smile instantly dies on So’s face.
“I did it for you, Mother,” he begins again, unsure, but she takes offense to his almost pleading use of the word “Mother.” She tells him that hearing that word come from his lips makes her skin crawl, and orders him to leave.
A broken-hearted So can’t help but wonder why his mother cares so little for him, only to be coldly interrupted by the queen, who says he’s not her son, but rather the son of the Shinju Kang clan. I doubt she means literally, but there’s certainly no better way of renouncing blood ties than that.
With tears in his eyes, So asks her if she turned her back on him because of his face. That’s why she sent him to be adopted, he knows, and in his rage, he breaks one of her vases as he collapses to the ground. As tears roll down his cheeks, he tells her of the horrid life he led with the Shinju Kang clan, and how he killed all the monks and burned the temple. The mother who adopted him was cruel and likely insane, and he was frequently left in a locked room for days in a row without food or water.
“What of it?” his mother interrupts, as coldhearted as ever. So’s face twitches and contorts in pain as she identifies with his adoptive mother for treating him the way she did—a mother only loves a son who makes her proud, after all, and So was nothing but a disgraceful burden to her. That’s why she sent him away.
After getting to his feet, So smiles a rueful smile. “You will remember this day. You may have abandoned me, Mother… but I shall not leave. I ask that you will only see me.” His mother denies his words, afraid that they may come true, but he staggers out, heedless.
He happens upon the heaps of prayer stones stacked by mothers for their children, and in his rage, he knocks one over. Su rushes forward to stop him, but he roughly shoves her off. He laughs maniacally when she notices the blood left on her hands from their brief tussle, and further shocks her by adding, “Yes, it’s the blood of those I killed today!”
So denounces the prayer stones, crying out that his mother shouldn’t come here to pray, but should go to him to beg instead. Su holds him back, and gets his attention only when she says he’s injured. She means his hand, but he grabs her by the collar and warns her, “I told you, I killed people!”
He seems taken aback when she doesn’t respond with fear, but understanding. She asks him to tell her about what he did and why in a calm voice, which causes him to loosen his grasp. Confronted, he shakes as he tells her to go, but she claims to understand him.
She knows that the times he lives in required him to wield a sword at a young age, and knows just as well that he had to kill in order to live. “But what can you do?” she asks. Reiterating that she understands him, she adds, “You must be feeling so miserable right now. I think I can relate.” She leaves him to grieve by the prayer stones.
The elder princes give King Taejo their account of the assassination attempt from the night before, and their attempts to find the culprits. No one knows yet that it was So who burned down the temple, but they do know that the temple full of monk-assassins belonged to Queen Sinmyeongsunseong.
Taejo asks the queen directly if she’s responsible for the assassins, which she denies. Third prince Yo jumps in to take responsibility for his mother, but it soon turns into a blame/defense game, even as So steps up to admit to killing the monks and burning the temple. But before the blame can shift to him, eighth prince Wook steps up (or kneels) to defend So’s actions—he wanted to erase any evidence that could be used to frame the “innocent” queen.
So claims Wook’s statement to be true, and needless to say, the queen looks decidedly unhappy with So’s attempt to protect her.
When Lady Hae finds the servants arguing over who gets the unwanted task of delivering So his meal, the responsibility falls to an unwilling Su, who has to climb her way up a mountain to reach him. He stiffens a bit to see her, likely uncomfortable after his show of emotion yesterday, and tells her to just leave the food.
She tries to comply, but can’t help herself from sitting back down—she has to take the empty plates back anyway. He warns her against saying anything about what she saw yesterday, and she’s quick to remind him that she has better things to do than go around talking about him.
Noticing that he’s eating within perfect vantage point of the palace, Su comments on the palace being his future home. So doesn’t appreciate the warm sentiment, because in order for it to be home, he’d have to have a family. But his mention of that sparks Su’s interest, as she turns around to ask him why he went on such a rampage yesterday.
He’s shocked by her boldness as well as her closeness, and suddenly blusters a question of his own: How did she get into the royal bath that day, anyway? Su’s quick to avoid that question, which means that So gets a free pass on answering hers.
So seems to have warmed up to Su as they walk back from the mountain, and finds her lack of grace amusing. He reaches out to take her burden from her, but she’s oblivious, and he retracts his hand before she can realize he even offered it. He can’t help but laugh just a little (but not like a crazy person this time).
Wook and Su stand vigil by the ill Lady Hae’s bedside that night. She sends Su away to speak to her husband alone, but Su overhears Lady Hae tell her husband to take a second wife. Lady Hae knows that she’s too ill to perform her duties as a wife, and entreats her husband to marry another girl or divorce her—only then can she die peacefully.
Even though Wook refuses, Lady Hae repeats her request. Then she hesitates as she adds, “I know that you don’t… love me.” Tears form in her eyes as well as his, but it seems a truth they both know all too well.
Errant tenth prince Eun comes upon Su brooding, and brings her a host of toys to play with, claiming he just bought everything since he didn’t know what she would like. Aww. She calls him out for playing with such things at his age, and his forlorn reaction is adorable.
Despite her less than friendly reception, Eun still wants to do whatever he can to help lift her spirits—he’s a prince, after all. “Are you married?” she asks, clearly wanting some insight into the life of a married prince like Wook. But he takes it as her asking about his availability and gets hopelessly excited as he replies, “Not yet.” Hah.
He thinks he’s being interviewed for his suitability as a husband, so when Su asks if he’d take another wife should his become ill, he puffs his chest out as he replies that he’d never do such a thing. Su sighs that it would be nice if everyone was just like him, leaving Eun to gleefully mull over how fast she’s moving.
Su gives Chae-ryung instructions to hide the hairpin So left behind in a place where he’s not likely to find it right away (so he’ll think he just misplaced it on his own), but things look bad for the slave girl when Princess Yeonhwa walks in to find her rummaging around the prince’s things with a seemingly stolen hairpin in her hand.
Chae-ryung gets whipped for stealing, but Su comes to her defense, claiming that she told Chae-ryung to put it in the prince’s quarters. Princess Yeonhwa isn’t inclined to take her word for it, and Wook comes by just as Su tells the princess to whip her instead.
The princess is all too happy to comply, and the princes watch as Yeonhwa ties Su up and strikes her twice. But before any of the princes can interfere, it’s actually So who comes to the rescue. Su turns around to meet his gaze, and he replies to Yeonhwa’s questions about who Su is to him by telling his half-sister, “She belongs to me.”
Su looks at him unblinkingly, and he reiterates his statement, sending a small smile her way. Princess Yeonhwa is defeated when Eun comes to Su’s defense, as well as Wook. But the look she sends Su’s way as she and Chae-ryung go looks positively murderous. (Did Chae-ryung and Prince Won share a moment with that glance?)
Of course, Yo is the only prince to commend Princess Yeonhwa for doing the right thing, since twisted minds think alike. So doesn’t leave without making Yeonhwa give the hairpin back, though she quips that it’s unlike him to stop her from doing anything. “You don’t have feelings for her, do you?” she asks, and So’s restrained answer doesn’t seem to help ease her mind.
Wook stops So before he can leave to set him straight on one thing: Nothing in this place belongs to him. Not his sister Yeonhwa, or his wife’s cousin, Su. He warns his half-brother against behaving carelessly again when it comes to his people.
Su cries in bed that night, and Wook stays respectfully outside her door as he announces that he’s brought her medicine. He hopes that she’ll be able to forget what happened today too, which causes her to jump out of bed to see him face-to-face. He hands her the box of medicine personally, and she apologizes for pretending to be asleep—she was just embarrassed to see him.
Wook smiles knowingly as he tells her he already knew. It’s not the pain that bothers her, she says, but the disrespect. She asks if Goryeo really is the kind of place where someone can be tied up and beaten like an animal, and Wook can only reach out a hand to comfort her. “I’m sorry I could not stop it. But, I promise you this: No one will ever be able to treat you in such a way again. Trust me.”
It’s enough to make Su waver, and she forces herself to think of Lady Hae in order to break the moment.
Sometime later, Su seems to just be minding her own business as she paces, but when she turns around, she bumps right into So. She confronts him over the whole “She belongs to me” business, which only causes an amused So to ask her if she doesn’t know how to just say “Thank you.”
Su’s ready to argue still, going on about how he always wanted to kill her but now is all about saving her, until she finally murmurs a simple “Thank you.” When asked about where she found the hairpin, she admits she found it in the bath, but didn’t say anything because he was so adamant about her saying nothing about seeing the scarred side of his face. Well, she did keep her promise.
“Are you not scared of me?” So asks wonderingly, noting how she’s so quick to talk back to him. She says she’s still wary around him, but isn’t scared of him anymore. Still, she won’t have him going around saying she belongs to him either—she’s not a thing to be owned.
Finding this amusing, So leans in until she’s having to lean backward to keep some distance between them. “Then… should I call you ‘my person?’” he asks, which gets a stutteringly uncomfortable response from Su, which serves to keep him entertained.
Fourteenth prince Jung is back to fighting in the market while disguised as a commoner, but he’s dragged away by some shady men when his true identity is discovered. Upon seeing him, Su sends Chae-ryung to get help while she pursues them, catching So’s eye in the process.
The men drag the prince to a bamboo forest, where their leader shows Jung the stump of a right arm he has, which he claims was his fault. He won in a fight against Jung, which prompted the queen to punish him by having his arm chopped off, something Jung had no knowledge of.
The leader plans on returning the favor by ridding Jung of his arm, but just before he strikes, Su comes running and screaming, brandishing nothing but a branch. Oh, Su. Not the brightest hanbok in the wardrobe, is she.
At least the diversion is enough for Jung to free himself, and her very unladylike threats do take the men by surprise.
Meanwhile, Princess Yeonhwa excitedly announces that Lady Hae has requested a divorce from Wook in front of their mother, Queen Sinjeong. Wook isn’t pleased with her outburst, despite Yeonhwa seeing this as an opportunity for her brother to marry advantageously. At least the queen recognizes the good that Lady Hae brought to their family, and seems disinclined to throw her daughter-in-law away so easily.
They’re interrupted when Chae-ryung brings news of Su, causing Wook to instantly jump to his feet.
With his back to Su’s in the forest, Jung apologizes for getting her involved. Her advice is for them to make a run for it, which doesn’t jive with Jung’s pride, and gets them embroiled in an actual fight. Jung curls himself around Su in order to protect her from the blows as he promises to protect her, causing Su to hilariously wonder, “Who’s saving who?”
But then it’s Wook to the rescue, and he’s surprisingly adept at throwing grown men far out of his way. It’s enough to cause the others to fall back as he checks in on a relieved Jung and Su, moments before the men resume their attack.
Wook is vastly outnumbered, but even so, he’s much faster and stronger than his opponents. It’s only when more men materialize out of the bamboo that he begins to look worried, but they all disperse when they see the infamous So, the dog-wolf, ride up.
Even though So asks Jung if he’s hurt, Jung would rather not acknowledge So’s contribution to saving his arm, instead thanking Wook. (Wook, for his part, did try to get him to thank So.) Jung thanks Su as well, promising to treat her life as though it were his own from now on… only for Su to pat him on the back and talk to him like a doting older sister.
Jung is surprisingly fine with that, and even goes so far as to call Su “Hae Su Nooeui,” an archaic form of “noona.” Su gets so caught up in the moment that she gives Jung a good ol’ “Fighting!”, and it’s adorable to see him try to wrap his mind around such a strange word.
Wook won’t slow down for Su on their way home, causing her to wonder if he’s angry. She gets him to stop by feigning pain in her leg, but he grabs her by her shoulders and forces her to face him. Finally, he says, “I thought I had lost you. I thought… I wouldn’t be able to see you again. I was scared.” Awwwww! Stahp it, you guys.
He starts leaning in as though to kiss her… but the moment is broken by the search party out to find them, which includes Lady Hae. Wook just walks away from all of them. At least all the showers in Goryeo were cold, right?
So takes Jung to task for not taking responsibility for his actions, which caused a man to lose his arm. Jung doesn’t take kindly to being lectured by his older brother, and pushes all the most hurtful buttons So has, even ending his tirade by repeating what third prince Yo said about being embarrassed to have come from the same womb as So. (Yo, So, and Jung are all direct brothers.)
Jung gets a slap across the face for that remark, which is right when Queen Sinmyeongsunseong comes in. She shoves So away to tend to the son she actually loves, and Jung suddenly changes his stripes to defend his brother, claiming that he saved his life earlier. Mommy Dearest couldn’t care less.
She orders So out only after she makes him swear not to go near Jung again, and as he brushes past his younger brother, he makes a remark about him living behind their mother’s skirts. Burn. The familial strife is enough to bring angry tears to Jung’s eyes, even as the queen fawns over him worriedly.
Wook gallops his horse through the forest, coming to rest at a secluded spot. There, he struggles with his feelings, while Su does the same from her bed. So does some sorting out of his own while rearranging the prayer stones he’d thrown around during his tirade, though of course, his thoughts are of his mother.
Crown Prince Mu takes So to the king, and makes an entreaty for So to live in the palace as one of his people. Astronomer Choi helps out by saying he saw the fourth prince’s star rising over the palace, but it’s of no use when the king calls So out on account of his mother, who tried to kill the crown prince. And his brother, Yo, who wants to be the crown prince. Sharp king.
So claims to share none of his family’s aspirations, but when he’s asked about the household he was adopted into, he grits out that he was never treated as a son—he was a hostage, and his father knew this well. He pledges his fealty to his father and the crown prince, saying he’ll live as a loyal subject from here on out.
After hearing Astronomer Choi’s pro-So advice, King Taejo relents, and announces that from this day forward, So will live in the palace.
It’s a much more somber affair in Wook’s home during his dinner with his wife, and he’s not doing the best job hiding his inner turmoil from her. Lady Hae invites Su to sit down with them to eat, and despite the awkwardness, Su has no choice but to acquiesce.
Wook is short with his words at the table while Lady Hae just expresses her concern for her cousin. She wants Su to take up more womanly and safe ways to spend her time, like needlework. I feel like that’s as close to putting a helmet on Su as she can get.
When Su eventually leaves, she finds So messing with the prayer stones outside and stops him, thinking that he’s out to destroy them again. She’s surprised to hear that he’s rebuilding what he tore down, but even more surprised when he tells her that he’ll be moving into the palace. She’ll be seeing a lot less of him now.
Su gives him some parting words of advice on how to comport himself around others like she’s some sort of expert on the matter, but it’s all well-meaning. She hopes that he’ll eat and sleep well, and her concern softens his expression considerably.
She asks him why he’s looking at her like that, and he replies that it’s because he remembered how she’s not afraid of him. “I’m afraid of myself, not you,” she sighs. At least she’s quick to distract herself when she looks up at the stars, noting how she can see so many in Goryeo.
Of course, So doesn’t know what she means by that, but they’re both soon distracted by the falling snow. Su smiles innocently up at the sky, and So just stares at her. When she catches him, they’re both quick to look away, which, hah.
Wook also watches the falling snow, but So’s got a better vantage point, as he resumes his thoughtful staring at Su.
It’s not a perfect situation to have one corner of the love triangle married, but setting aside that fact (somewhat jokingly, because we all know that this is entertainment and not a reflection of our own social mores, even if what we find entertaining can be a reflection in and of itself, [insert existential disclaimer here], so on and so forth), it’s kinda fun, isn’t it? What’s important in a case like this is for the characters involved not to ignore the fact that there are some majorly forbidden feelings going on, and on that front, it feels like Wook is doing more of the heavy lifting than Su. Though I guess we could just as easily say that she’s not the one blurting out what she really feels to him, so maybe she is doing a better job of this than he is.
Despite Su mentioning the differences she sees in Goryeo versus in her time throughout the episode, it so far hasn’t really felt as though she’s absorbed any of those differences, nor has she seemed to really take in what’s happened to her. It’s a misstep that I think happened early on with her initial reactions to her new world, and while she can comment on how the stars are different in Goryeo and how the treatment’s worse, something about it all just isn’t hitting home for me. I wish I could put my finger on exactly what it is—whether it’s writing, acting, or both—but I’m not sure I’ve actually bought into her character yet. Maybe it’s that she acclimated so quickly, and so we’ve been robbed of most of the fish-out-of-water moments we’d expect from seeing a modern girl thrust into a decidedly un-modern world.
But all that’s about to become as dead a horse to beat as the one So cut down in the first episode, so I’ll just try to remain cautiously optimistic for the time being. The thing is, I want to like Su because I like the characters who like her, and that’s almost enough. And while the main love triangle certainly wins all the brownie points, I’m really enjoying her interactions with the other princes we’ve gotten to spend some individual time with so far. I especially like that while three of those princes think of her romantically, she unknowingly friend-zoned Jung, and the thought of those two sharing future noona/dongsaeng moments is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.
Eun’s crush on Su is as adorable as it is harmless, and the scene where he brought her a box of toys had me sold. Su’s worldly enough to realize he has a crush on her, but doesn’t seem to think of him coming from that perspective as much when she’s lost in thought. It’s funny to see how the two of them are on completely different pages when they interact, but it’s really endearing that Eun makes a good sounding board for her, however vacant he may sometimes be.
Of course, the unexpected turnaround came from So this hour, who warmed up to Su a lot sooner than I would’ve expected. The scene where she comforted him during his tirade made sense as to why he’d soften toward her, even though it seemed a rather uncharacteristic way for her to act under that sort of pressure. Still, if she can be a source of comfort for So’s tortured soul, I’m all for it. After this episode, he needs whatever comfort he can get.
Even with the intensely well-acted insights we got into So and Queen Sinmyeongsunseong’s relationship, it’s hard to understand exactly why she has so much hatred toward him. He’s not a son born of a concubine that she’s had to just put up with, but her own flesh and blood child born of the king, so what makes him less than her two other sons? I’d like to think that she’s just manifesting her guilt toward scarring his face into hatred, but that may be giving her more credit than she deserves. At least there was a turning point in their relationship this episode, enough to where So will (hopefully) stop seeking her approval. Or maybe nothing says “I love you, Mom” like a pile of burned corpses.