too little… too late

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I cannot count how many times So walked away from Soo in this episode. Soo makes a difficult decision, one which would cause heartbreak and tears all around. So grapples with the fact that he has no one besides Baek Ah and Soo. This frightens him as he is fully aware that he could be left with no one if he continues exiling and putting to death people the two care about. This just sums up what a tragic fate and life So has. Period. His path to self-destruction always seemed to be the only path for him.

Yeon Hwa rattles on why she is a suitable candidate and Soo isn’t, and reminds Soo of that darned scar that practically forbids her from marrying the king. At the same time, Wook is taunting So of the same thing and the only way So can marry Soo is to give up the throne. What will he choose – the crown or Soo? So answers tautly he isn’t going to give up both.

Suddenly, So is faced with a barrage of people insisting on his marriage and gasp! They even know about his rumoured relationship with a Damiwon palace lady… Even Wook’s mom jumps on the bandwagon. She announces she is abandoning her son and giving her daughter to the king. She hands him a book – filled with Soo’s notes in Hangul. The empress claims Soo is writing in an alien language that no one can read and is not an ordinary person. That is, So should be wary of her. But So doesn’t budge.

Soo informs Chae Ryung that the king has allowed her to remain in the palace. Chae Ryung is glad to hear the news but she is more anxious about the recent gossip that Yeon Hwa is going to be queen. She even asked the Damiwon maids to prepare for a royal wedding.

Ji Mong interrupts their conversation, and he and Soo head to the former gathering place of the princes. He reminisces of the good times they had and Soo acknowledges his love for the princes. Ji Mong confesses he does hold them dear and that’s why he is going to be blunt with her – give up So.

So won’t give her up so Soo should be the one who does so. Soo replies that she doesn’t want to – why should she give up on him after all the suffering and pain she endured to be with him? Er… correct me if I’m wrong… I don’t think she suffered much. She suffered much more when she was building castles in the air with Wook. I think So suffered helluva much more in his countless attempts to protect her.

JI Mong enunciates that Soo possesses nothing that can help So – she can give him comfort, but she can’t give him strength. Plus, she can never marry So due to her lack of all things deemed important in a king’s bride.
So is alone in the throne room, mulling over his relationship with Soo. She appears and begs him to go out of the palace with her to unwind. He mutters that he needs to prep his bodyguards but Soo hands him a mask and says no one will recognise him if he wears it.

They head out to town and have some sweet fun with tons of cuddles. Lee Jun Ki looks mighty hot in this getup and yet another new hairdo. Soo takes So to the prayer tower she has built and he teases her she made him come all the way here to wrench a proposal out of him.

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So turns serious and proposes to Soo. He waits expectantly for her affirmative answer but his expression turns dark when he sees tears in her eyes. Soo chokes out that she can’t marry him, citing Ji Mong’s reason that she can bring his comfort only and nothing else. So protests but Soo explains that if she becomes queen, she has to adhere to all those stuffy rules and regulations, which isn’t her at all. Soo strokes So’s cheek and assures him she’ll be fine.

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So articulates firmly that even if Soo doesn’t marry him, she can’t leave him because he won’t let her go. She belongs to him. He pulls her into his embrace and vows that in this eyes, she is his one and only queen. He quietly tears. AWWWWW. Lee Jun Ki. Stop breaking my heart.

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So marries Yeon Hwa and he ain’t the happiest groom. Soo wears a wedding robe in her room, So’s earlier vow reverberating in her mind and heart. Did So give her a wedding robe too as a pledge of his love for her?
Soo is back at her prayer tower and there Jung finds her. He divulges he didn’t attend the wedding even though Yeon Hwa invited him. He asks after Soo and she answers that she is fine. She relates what King Taejo – the princes’ late father – once advised her: to enjoy the present and not think too much about the future.

Jung suggests Soo just marry instead – he is sick of palace life too and propose they go far away…fly away like birds. He spots her hairpin and says they can fly away like butterflies. Soo retorts he can only bring her far away…to battlefields. Haha.

But Jung turns serious and states whenever she wants to, he’ll come get her and take her away from the palace. Soo teases him, asking whether he’ll do anything she asks of him? Jung promises he would – she just needs to say the words, “I want it.” He asks her to remember those words and he’ll come running anytime she utters them. This is sweet… but yet so bittersweet. But adorably sweet nonetheless.

Wedding night time and So can’t bring himself to be intimate with Yeon Hwa. When Yeon Hwa spitefully brings up Soo and how So needs to get rid of her before she causes more trouble, So coldly orders her to focus on being queen and not to cross the line again.

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Soo is still at the prayer tower and Chae Ryung accompanies her. So sees them together and turns to leave. He returns to his quarters but again he can’t bring himself to spend the night with Yeon Hwa. Soo spends the night awake and alone in her room.

The next day, the clansmen gather at the morning assembly. So announces he would like name his reign/era, “Kwang Deok”, meaning brilliant and just. He also reveals his decision to exile Jung to his mom’s hometown for his part in trying to revolt through contesting the late king’s will. This culpable to treason, which is punished by death, but on the account they share the same mother, Jung’s life will be spared. He would be under house arrest and is not allowed to step into Songak ever again. The second he does, he’ll be executed. Baek Ah is dismayed by So’s decision but doesn’t voice it. Wook isn’t happy to hear the news since Jung is technically on his side.

Jung’s mom collapses when told of the news that her favourite son has been exiled. Baek Ah informs Soo and Woo Hee about Jung, and Soo insists they try to talk So out of his decision. Woo Hee rebukes her saying it would be dangerous to do so since Soo technically is a nobody, and Baek Ah agrees. He suggests holding off trying to talk to So about Jung until the king has calmed down.

Jung’s mom is gravely ill and calls for Jung. But it is So who appears at her bedside – he is going to care for her and no one is allowed inside without his permission. Jung rushes to see his mother but is not allowed to see her. He growls that he won’t leave until he is able to see his mom.

At dinner, Soo pleads with So to let Jung see his mom. So guesses that Soo was the one who informed Jung and she admits as much. So snorts that Soo is the only person who would blatantly ignore and disobey his order. He reminds her that Jung breaking exile is punishable by execution. He stands up to leave and gripes that he is not going to forgive anyone who lets Jung see his mom… Soo included.

Jung stands in front of the palace for days and Baek Ah goes to see him with some water. The water refreshes Jung and he remains unmoved. Meanwhile, So is busy caring for his mom, who doesn’t care for being cared by her abandoned son. She had refused to eat anything for the past five days. She still weakly calls out for Jung.

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So rails that her perfect Yo is dead, her favourite Jung can’t come to see her – she is left with him. He has become the king and is protecting her. Flashback to long ago to the night where So killed the monks and set fire to their hideout. He had said then his mom should always remember the day: though she abandoned him, he would never leave the palace. From that day forth, he would make sure she would only look at him.

She recalls his words and for the first time, she cries for him. So rambles on that he will build a temple in her name – grand and beautiful just like her. He will spread rumours that they had a loving relationship so that everyone would think they adored each other and missed each other while they were separated. That would be his revenge on her for abandoning him. Struggling for breath, she reaches up to touch his scar and draws her last breath. So is devastated. I can’t describe how brilliant Lee Jun Ki is in this scene. DAMN.

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Soo lets Jung enter the palace. He mourns at his mom’s bedside and So walks in. He tells Jung he can leave now – he’ll bury their mom. Also, he will punish Jung for breaking exile at later date. Jung simply sheds tears. Awww… Ji Soo cries so lovely here.

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So rips into Soo for being on Jung’s side when she can only be on his. Soo argues it is not about whose she is on, but because of So, Jung couldn’t say his last farewell to his mom. So grits that he was the son who was cast away. His mom only dared to touch his scarred face at her last breath. He never had her to himself all these years – was it wrong of him to be the one by her side at her death?

Soo sighs at his words and reaches out to touch him but he stops her. He berates her, saying she should have understood how he felt. With that, he walks away.

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So questions Won about his involvement with well, everything bad. So knows Chae Ryung used to work for Won, and he was the one who sent her to Damiwon to spy on Soo. ER. Wasn’t she working at Wook’s household before that? Is So saying that Won sent Chae Ryung to Damiwon after Soo was sent to Damiwon? I’m a little confused. So also knows Wook is the mastermind and Won admits as much. Won adds that Wook and Yo were the ones behind Moo’s death. So is infuriated.

Soo visits Damiwon and Chae Ryung is missing. She is horrified to find out that So had ordered her beaten to death for spreading gossip. Soo faints at the sight of Chae Ryung’s bloodied body.

So is at her side when she stirs and he screams at him for treating Chae Ryung no better than a dog. He reveals that Chae Ryung was spying on her all this while – stealing her things to pass to Wook, spreading rumours about the relationship between Soo and So, was the one who poisoned Moo’s bath with mercury…etc.

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Soo can’t believe her ears but in the end, she opines sadly that Chae Ryung’s only crime was being born a slave. Despite all her grave sins, Soo still thinks her punishment was too cruel. So advises Soo to sleep over it and leaves her room. She spots a letter on her dresser.

So is getting drunk in Baek Ah’s presence and is furious at how Wook has been manipulating him. Baek Ah suggests they investigate the case further. And So says, “Who is there left with me? Only you and Soo.” Because of Wook, Soo now thinks So is a monster. So swears he’ll never let Wook live this down.

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Soo reads a blood-written letter from Chae Ryung and realise that the slave could read and write all along. She wonders despairingly where the lies would end. So I wanna know when Chae Ryung wrote the letter? Before she was tortured? If that was the case, she could have used normal ink unless she had no access to ink. So I guess the writer chose blood to up the dramatics.

Anyway, Chae Ryung says in her letter she wanted to tell Soo everything but just couldn’t. She reveals that Won was her first love since he saved her from the streets when she was a kid. He was the one who taught her how to write. Soo is resigned after reading the letter. She surveys her cold, dark room.

So is wasted and stumbles into his room where a woman with mask is waiting for him. He thinks it is Soo and is about to kiss her when he senses it isn’t her but wifey. She ridicules him for almost being fooled by a mask and he retorts that he once told her not to cross the line.

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Yeon Hwa isn’t deterred – since So ordered her to focus on being queen, part of her job is to help him stay on the throne and produce an heir. She wants her son to be the next king. She steps in to hug him.

But So turns the tables on her – is she willing to betray Wook and her family to gain what she wants? If she does, he’ll install their son as the crown prince. She’ll become queen and the empress dowager. DAMN. So is pretty evil here – it’s a brilliantly simple plan and he knows Yeon Hwa would be tempted by it.

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Soo is at Damiwon and holds her hairpin in her hand. Baek Ah appears and figures she would be here since she wasn’t in her quarters. Soo agonises that the man she loves killed someone who was like a sister to her. Baek Ah defends So, saying the king knew about Chae Ryung all along and that’s why he wanted to send her out of the palace but Chae Ryung insisted on staying put, which inevitably led to her death.

Soo comments that Chae Ryung’s punishment was simply too cruel. Baek Ah tells her to snap out of it – he gets worried when he sees her like that. So is genuinely very concerned too. Awwwww…. Baek Ah refers to So as “Hyung-nim” here.

Soo asks Baek Ah for a favour – she holds out her hairpin and requests he pass a message to Jung. Baek Ah asks what the message is and Soo replies, “I want it.” Baek Ah seems to guess what the message represents and he shakily returns, “If I pass the message to him, would that stop your tears?” When Soo nods, Baek Ah repeats her words. Soo says, “Hae Soo desperately wants it.”

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Such a sad episode for So. He is going to lose Soo and I hope to the heavens that Baek Ah sticks with him. He seems to be doing a pretty job so far, seeming to understand what his brother is going through. Actually, he gets that So is a king and has different responsibilities and struggles to juggle and handle. He is sharp enough to know what Soo was alluding to in that last scene – he knows Soo leaving would tear So apart but at the same time, he understands where Soo is coming from. He is always grappling between being a good friend and a good brother, and he has been doing well so far. I trust that he would until the end because So needs him so desperately. Baek Ah – and maybe Ji Mong – seems to be the only person who loves him unconditionally.

I don’t think Soo knows that a king is different from a prince – and that is probably why the wedge between them is growing deeper. Sure, his callous attitude is part of the reason but as So accuses her after his mother’s death – she doesn’t seem to understand him any longer. I think Soo doesn’t understand how So’s role has now changed drastically. She wanted him to be king but didn’t know what it entailed. She simply thought he being king meant they could be together. It is a rather naïve train of thought which irks me because So’s character is so much more complex and layered in contrast, and Soo being this way doesn’t do the story justice.

I’m curious to know what went through the Empress Dowager’s mind just before she drew her last breath. Was she finally regretful she abandoned So? Did she finally understand how So felt? What was she thinking? In that last moment, did she see the unscarred little boy he was before the terrible incident?

So’s revenge on his mom is diabolical in every sense. His so-called planned revenge is what he has been yearning for and fantasising all his life. It also struck me that So was the only son and child at the deathbed of both his parents. Is it symbolic in any way? Maybe. For the late king, So was the son who unconditionally loved him and thus he being the son to send him off seem right. The couple was accompanied by the son they abandoned in the last stage of their lives. Atonement or retribution? I don’t know whether the writer wrote the scenes this way with a hidden symbolism in mind but I would like to think that it was meant that way.

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