We interestingly end up back to where we started, back to the frustrating business wars that took up the middle part of this series. It’s frustrating in a good way, but it’s interesting that this drama took that turn because we can’t really change history. And that’s the worst part – we can’t change what happens in history.
No matter what Kim Jwa Young says to Yoon Kang, he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either he’ll be executed by the law for inciting the rebellion or he’ll die by Yoon Kang’s gun.
Meanwhile Won Shin has Ho Kyung at gunpoint, but before he can shoot and force his way in to the queen’s home his daughter appears on horseback. Hye Won really pulls off the whole woman warrior look. She gives her father the signal, and then he and his gunmen retreat while Hye Won “sends her men” to “chase after the gunmen.” This is all part of the plan for if and when Won Shin had to retreat.
Soo In knows something is up, but in the queen’s eyes it looks like Hye Won and Won Shin saved her life. Ugh. Won Shin then reappears as the merchant lord that he now is and then executes some random peasants to pretend he “caught the gunmen.” He later adds that he was to protect Ho Kyung under VP Kim’s orders, which is a surprise to Ho Kyung since he didn’t know his father was calling him his son to others.
And then, VP Kim plays out his role in court. He tells Emperor Gojong that he sent Won Shin to get rid of the assassin gunmen that Kim Jwa Young had sent after the queen. At first Gojong doesn’t bite, believing that VP Kim is still one of Leader Kim’s men. But VP Kim promises to be Gojong’s loyal servant and to rally the noble class in support of the king now. That’s a tempting offer for Gojong because he needs to keep his power. Plus, one has always said to keep one’s enemies closer.
As much as Soo In does not trust Won Shin and Hye Won to keep guard over the queen, she must return to the city when Hye Won tells her that her father died.
VP Kim sends word to Won Shin to get rid of Leader Kim, but when he and the gunmen arrive at the house, Leader Kim is gone. He’s been kidnapped and hidden away by Yoon Kang, who needs him alive to present to court. Kim tries to mess with his head by saying that getting rid of him will not get rid of the problem. There will always be another person who will take his place. True, but not what anyone needs to hear right now, and Yoon Kang gags his mouth to make him shut up. Teehee! And then Sang Chu arrives with news that the Qing army has landed on the shores of Joseon.
The following morning all the lords of the conservative party, including VP Kim, have been arrested and brought before Gojong. Yoon Kang, dressed in his western Hanjo attire, arrives with Leader Kim belatedly to be judged. It’s time for the sentencing, and Gojong will, thankfully, not listen to whatever the conservatives have to say. He sentences them all to death and clears Park Jin Han’s name of treason. Woohoo!
VP Kim is not worried though as he knows he won’t die along with everyone else. He and Won Shin had been prepared for this eventuality, and that was why it is important Hye Won and Won Shin give the queen a favorable impression. She will certainly suggest to the king to save them both because they rescued her from the gunmen, and, with VP Kim already offering his loyalty, Gojong may join hands with them because he believes they’ll strengthen his power.
Of course that is exactly what happens but the Prime Minister disagrees. They shouldn’t save VP Kim because he was a traitor then, and could still be a traitor now. But the queen and even Minister Min (the annoying minister I love and hate at the same time depending on his arguments) say that if they save VP Kim and Won Shin they’ll have the support of the noblemen and thousands of merchants. That is more important in the end, and Gojong has to agree. While the arguments are compelling, it still grates on my nerves that the royals rely on such criminals to save themselves.
Gojong invites Yoon Kang to the palace to formally apologize for the last three years. However now he has a difficult request to make: He will need Yoon Kang to bury the hatchet with Won Shin, who also arrives at the palace. Since he will now have Won Shin lead all the merchants in Joseon and support him outside the palace, the two of them cannot kill each other. That’s a difficult request to make, but Won Shin agrees to it readily because he needs the king’s favor. Yoon Kang needs no favors though and refuses. He would rather the king sentence him to death for treason than forgive a despicable man like Won Shin, and then walks out.
Hah! Yoon Kang just totally showed up the king and proved that he’s more powerful than Gojong. Even Gojong knows it, but believes that Yoon Kang would come around and listen to his command. Ummm I don’t think so…
Ho Kyung attends a meeting with the other lords who believe that the enlightenment will now suffer because of Gojong’s decisions. Those lords include Kim Ok Gyun and Park Young Hyo, the son-in-law of the previous King Cheoljong. They are afraid that the king will choose security of his own power over the good of Joseon, and these men are willing to take any steps necessary to make sure Joseon progresses as fast as its neighbors. Since Ho Kyung agrees to take part in this, Kim Ok Gyun gives him a special mission: He is to return to his father and stay by his side as a spy, taking notes on what VP Kim plans to do. Though many will outwardly call him a traitor to the enlightenment cause, Ho Kyung can never say what’s truly on his mind.
During all this, Soo In has returned home to grieve for her father. A huge funeral is held, and Yoon Kang and Yeon Ha are in attendance to comfort her. Suddenly they get an unwelcome visitor: Won Shin. He was ordered by the king to deliver some goods that would help for the funeral. Yoon Kang is ready for a fight and literally throws Won Shin out of the house. Yeah, Won Shin wants to kill Yoon Kang too, but both know that if Won Shin kills Yoon Kang he’ll be worse off. Yoon Kang really holds the cards here.
Ho Kyung visits to see if Soo In needs anything, but she has a lot of helpers already. He promises that he’ll help fulfill her father’s wishes for the future of Joseon, but is unable to say exactly how he’ll help. Instead he heads over to visit his father and make sure VP Kim is well after the ordeal of a near brush with death. VP Kim accepts his son’s concern and readily welcomes him back home. His willing acceptance of his illegitimate son makes me think that Ho Kyung is probably the only son he can rely on.
Won Shin visits Leader Kim in his cell to bid him a final farewell, and totally stick it into his face that the “hunting dog” managed to get out alive. Heh. To maximize Leader Kim’s suffering, he is beheaded last after watching all of his cronies lose their heads first. For such an evil crazed man, he manages to find some peace and dies with a smile on his face.
Soo In then learns from Yeon Ha that Won Shin and VP Kim have been pardoned of their crimes, and that Won Shin will become the head of the commerce department. Truly her righteous father’s daughter, she barges in on Won Shin’s banquet with other merchants and, in front of everyone, warns him that he’ll pay for his crimes. Hye Won tries to slap her again but Soo In catches her wrist; Hye Won will pay too for the wrongdoing she’s been involved in. Ha HA! But this also means that Yoon Kang is going to have to find a way to bring down Won Shin and VP Kim without using guns. He can’t become a criminal while making them pay for their sins, and while all that is happening he’s going to have to delay his happy future with Soo In a little longer.
Just then, Yamamoto (Kim Eung Soo) arrives. And he’s not happy. (YAY WE SEE HIS FACE! At least.) He wants to know what Hanjo, a.k.a Park Yoon Kang, has been doing running around Joseon not doing business for him. He won’t let Yoon Kang go until he makes up the business Yamamoto has lost.
We flash back to three years prior where we finally learn how Yoon Kang got his identity. He worked with Hanjo in delivering some goods and while both were discussing how only the best merchant group actually gets to see Yamamoto’s face, they are attacked by bandits on the road. It’s a fierce fight and suddenly Hanjo is fatally stabbed. Only Yoon Kang is left standing, and Hanjo bids him to take his name and the goods to Yamamoto.
Yoon Kang successfully brings the goods – which happen to be gifts for the government – to Yamamoto and Kanemaru, finally meeting the elusive businessman face to face. While Yamamoto thanks him he knows right away that Yoon Kang isn’t really ‘Hanjo’ as he claims to be. He wants Kanemaru to kill him, but Kanemaru argues to save Yoon Kang’s life as the latter had protected Yamamoto’s goods.
And thus begins Yoon Kang’s career with Yamamoto. The Japanese businessman leaves Yoon Kang’s home only to run into the ever-opportunist, Won Shin. Clearly he still needs to make a deal with Yamamoto and now Won Shin doesn’t need to deal with Yoon Kang as the middleman.
Kim Ok Gyun visits Soo In after the funeral is over to see how she’s doing. Soo In had discovered her father’s journal and realizes that he was really proud of her intelligence and accomplishments.It has driven her into wanting to follow his footsteps, but she doesn’t know how yet since a Joseon woman is limited by society in what she can do outside of the home.
We meet the gunpowder technician, Yoon Tae Ho, again. This time he’s fully healed from his injuries and enjoying the touch of a gisaeng. Yoon Kang and Sang Chu interrupt his bliss with a business proposition to work at the mines again, this time under him instead of Won Shin. They then meet with the Songdo merchants who have land to mine gold, and they all agree to work together.
At first Yoon Kang and Sang Chu think that Tae Ho would work with them because of the money and increased pay, but it’s not about that. Tae Ho tells them about the terrible working conditions under Won Shin’s command, and how the slaves are basically worked to death because he tries to cut costs and get results faster. Meanwhile Yamamoto makes a deal with Won Shin to purchase raw silk and cow skin, since that is in demand in Japan. Won Shin then proposes a gold mining business, once again assuring that he’ll have a gunpowder technician in no time and has enough workers to mine. Of course, Yamamoto is interested and agrees.
What they don’t realize is that Yoon Kang is already saving Won Shin’s slaves. He catches the slaves arguing against hired guards for more food, and just before the confrontation turns violent Yoon Kang shoots one of the guards down. He easily defeats the other guards and then tells the slaves to just run for it. It’s better to just leave. One child doesn’t want to run because his father is buried in the mine, having been beaten to death. Identifying with the boy on some level, Yoon Kang tells him to bury his father in his heart and to just run so that he can live.
The following morning Won Shin is doing his best to control his anger in front of his guests when he realizes that all of his workers are gone. Kanemaru expresses doubt on whether Won Shin can now fulfill his promise on the gold mining business if he doesn’t have any workers, since it is generally very difficult to get anyone willing to work in mines. That’s when Yoon Kang arrives with Tae Ho, the Songdo merchants, a mining manager, and a civil engineer. He’s got land secured in an area with a richer gold vein, and all the workers ready. Yamamoto won’t have to work with Won Shin over this gold mining business because Yoon Kang will be able to do it and make up for any losses he caused him.
Yamamoto goes wherever the money is, and so he tells Won Shin to just worry about the other goods and to forget about the gold mining.
It’s showdown time.
So we are pretty much back to where we started, eh? Now that the story arc with Kim Jwa Young at the head of all things evil is totally done – because no one could possibly come back to life after being beheaded – we are back to Yoon Kang facing his main enemy Won Shin. Who needs to be beheaded too since he can come back to life after being shot three times.
Hye Won is becoming that evil second female lead we usually see who thinks violence is the way to get what she wants. Her slapping spree against Soo In reminded me very much of Rachel from Heirs, where they disguise their weaknesses with force. If Hye Won had done this from the beginning I would have felt that she was too two-dimensional for me. But knowing what she’s gone through and seeing her progression, it’s made more sense to see her become this kind of woman. She and her father have the most to fear and the most to lose, and that is why they’re constantly so defensive and sometimes violent.
Compared to Hye Won’s fire, Soo In seems so complacent. I really enjoyed that bit of feistiness when she regarded Won Shin and Hye Won suspiciously because it was like I saw the old Soo In from earlier in the series. Now all she does is say “Young Master Yoon Kang…” wistfully, and it’s a little tiresome. While I love Yoon Kang and Soo In as a couple, their scenes together just suck out the life from the screen because he won’t let her fight with him. Instead of discussing tactics they’re just talking about a future they many never have together. Soo In, please don’t be so tired of the stress of life! Rediscover your inner vigor and fight to the end!