Arang and the Magistrate is adorable and crazily ambitious. It pulled a huge game changer in episode 4 that reset the OTP and raised the stakes to astronomical levels for all the main characters involved, even the omnipotent ones. This is no longer just about the mystery of Arang’s death, this drama now is about the curiously unbalanced state between the world of the living and the dead, and how it can be fixed through Arang investigating her own life and death. So while Arang is in it for the personal pay off, the world (and audience) waits with bated breath to see how it has greater ramifications. If episode 3 was Shin Mina‘s episode to shine as Arang grieving over the unfairness of her life cut short, episode 4 was Lee Jun Ki‘s opportunity to show us a reluctant new magistrate trying to do the right thing for a ghost that has somehow wormed her way into his life. I love that Eun Oh is the one who can’t let go of Arang, and he’s now using his mother search as justification to stick around. I can foresee the OTP falling for each other gradually, and the angst of a relationship with an expiration date due to the whole dead-alive schism is so daunting and painful that I want to believe it’ll all work out once Arang finds her killer. But we have no guarantees on that, which is why I love this drama so. It’s gorgeous to look out and makes me feel all sorts of alive while watching it, despite its patently morbid subject matter.
Episode 4 recap:
Eun Oh looks around but can’t find Arang anywhere. He finally locates Bang Wool who is running back home after the frightening encounter with opening the portal and the Soul Reaper. He finds out that Arang did the unthinkable – she summoned the Soul Reaper and went with him to the afterlife. Arang walks behind Moo Young and tries to engage the poker face in some conversation, asking about what would happen if they went into the portal. They would cease to exist, and that is far worse than even being dead. Arang isn’t scared, but she’s not sure why Moo Young appears to care. Moo Young brings Arang to the edge of a river, and in folklore this is the River of Forgetfulness that dead spirits must cross upon death.
Arang gets into the boat and it sets sail, though she looks back (towards Eun Oh and the land of the living) knowing that this is a one-way journey and she didn’t say her goodbyes. The boat sails and the screen turns from color to black and white, and then Arang steels herself as the boat heads towards a massive waterfall. The boat tumbles over the waterfall which is really a giant circular sinkhole.
Arang is in the water and then she hears Eun Oh’s voice telling her to look over there. She opens her eyes and she’s in darkness following behind Moo Young. They arrive at the end of the road where a supernatural being appears to be guarding an entrance. The being has red glowing eyes and long sticks for arms and legs. The supernatural being leaps towards Arang and they stare at each other.
Cut to Eun Oh talking with Bang Wool, who is using her shaman knowledge about the afterlife to tell Eun Oh that Arang has gone willingly to a Hell that has ten-levels worth of torture. Where a dead person goes depends on what that person did when alive, and Arang has done the unforgivable to the Soul Reaper so she’s sure to end up in the worst level of Hell. Eun Oh looks worried, but tries to reassure himself that Bang Wool is just a fake shaman and knows not what the situation is like for Arang.
While Eun Oh is away trying to find his Arang, Dol Swe the trusty servant is keeping watch over the agasshi’s body per his master’s instructions. Lord Choi hasn’t given up trying to get the dead body so he sends minions to go get it by force. Dol Swe vows to die before letting his master down, so he valiantly fights the thugs who easily beat him up. Thank god Eun Oh arrives in time and he throws around a shoe to disarm a minion first, and then throws around his dad’s name to get the minions to back down. No one is ready to piss off Lord Kim, one of the highest ranking officials in Hanyang. Lord Choi’s thugs leave and Dol Swe hugs his master tearfully, while Eun Oh pats his trusty servant on the back for a job well done.
Since Eun Oh can’t find Arang, who might have gone to the great afterlife, he decides to handle her body the best way possible. As magistrate he orders her body prepped for burial, and sends out a decree for all the citizens of Miryang to come apologize to her body for dishonoring her these past 3 years with gossip that she ran off with a servant. The day of the burial arrives and Eun Oh is wearing all white in place of the agasshi’s kin (since her father the former magistrate has died).
As Eun Oh walks out of the room to head to the burial service, Arang runs up to him and he stares at her like she has five heads and is spewing fire. What’s even more jaw dropping is that Dol Swe can see Arang as well, and wonders who is this pretty lady? Eun Oh yells at Dol Swe to leave (so he can speak with Arang alone), which leads Dol Swe to jealously assume his master has secretly found himself a girlfriend.
Once alone, Eun Oh touches Arang and she happily announces that she’s human now. Uh, care to explain, missy? Eun Oh asks what happened, but Arang is more interested in talking about how Eun Oh is trying to regain her honor and giving her a proper buriel. All very touching. When Eun Oh presses her again, Arang smiles and explains.
Turns out the supernatural being allowed her to pass and Moo Young brought her flying through the Heavenly skies to meet with the Celestial Jade Emperor. Arang stands before both gods, the Jade Emperor and the King of Hell, and she mistakes the latter for the ruler of the skies since he looks old and wizened. She’s shocked to be corrected by the handsome youngster, who announces that he’s the one she seeks.
Arang demands to know what happened to her, but Jade Emperor claims not to know since he can’t be expected to keep up with everything happening down there. The Jade Emperor and the King of Hell have clearly conferred beforehand and Arang is told that she has a choice – either go to Hell now, or she can be given human form to investigate her death. Arang barely thinks about it before accepting, since what is there for her to lose. The Jade Emperor and the King of Hell use their ying and yang energy, which forms the bedrock of all living things on Earth, to resurrect Arang and give her a human form.
Arang is swept into a ying-yang swirling wind ball and reborn in the water as a human again. Her spirit isn’t dimmed though, and she emerges on the surface yelling at the Gods for being crazy to let her be reborn buck naked and nearly drowned. Ha, I love her sassy ways!
Arang steals some clothes and runs into a ghost, who she can still see, which means she’s like some hybrid ghost-human thingie now. Arang enters Miryang during the day and asks a little boy what he sees, and is pleased as a peach that he calls her a pretty lady. Arang flounces off but then stops when she spots the notice of her burial and everyone is to apologize for besmirching her good name. She runs off to find Eun Oh.
Which leads us back to Arang telling Eun Oh how she came to stand before him in human form. Eun Oh drags her into the room to talk and Arang cheerily says she can help him with her own murder investigation now. Eun Oh questions why the omnipotent Gods would allow her this chance, which Arang doesn’t know and doesn’t care to think about. Dol Swe comes calling so Eun Oh tells her to stay put since he’s got to lead a burial service now. Arang goes to the room of her former self and can finally see her own reflection in the mirror.
Arang thinks back to her meeting with the Gods, and how the King of Hell wants her soul forever more if she fails in her quest to find her killer in three months. She’s given a metaphorical bell which will ring when she finds her killer. Arang asks for a favor if she succeeds, which is that she can become human again. Arang has full confidence she can do it since she’s confident and assertive unlike her former self.
Back on Heaven, this quest is taking on even more stakes, as the King of Hell asks his brother the Jade Emperor whether he ought to be trusting Arang with this task. It’s clear that Arang finding her killer is just a McGuffin, and the Gods are likely using her quest for other means. The Jade Emperor has faith everything with work out. The King of Hell asks for his own bet with big brother, which is that he gets big brother’s pretty youthful form should Arang fail. This actually startles the Jade Emperor, who nonetheless agrees with this bet. This round of Go goes to the King of Hell, which actually means someone dies on Earth.
The burial for Arang’s body heads out to the mountains. Joo Wol stares at the sky with his usual sullen wide-eyed look. In a courtyard somewhere a lady sits inside a room, and then we see Joo Wol locks the courtyard door securely. Oooh, what’s he locking inside?
Lord Choi has decided to give away his stores of rotted food to the people and gain their gratitude. This despicable behavior doesn’t sit well with his son Joo Wol. Lord Choi points out that tomorrow is a full moon, and one in a leap month, so that is extra important. What will happen to Joo Wol if he doesn’t find “the girl” before tomorrow? Will “the person” cast Joo Wol aside? Joo Wol isn’t fazed and counters that Lord Choi ought to attend the funeral of his once-future daughter-in-law and buy drinks afterwards to garner thanks, rather than giving out rotted food.
Arang changes into the uniform of a magisterial officer and and sneaks off to the burial to say her goodbyes to her own corporeal body. Along the way she runs into Joo Wol, who grabs her arm to keep her from falling. His black ring glows red when he touches her and this alarms him greatly. She thanks him and leaves, while he follows her.
Arang arrives at the burial site and tries to stay inconspicuous, but the Three Stooges wonder why she’s not shoveling dirt so she sasses back to them. This causes them to wonder who this new officer is, and Arang has no choice but to run away. Eun Oh sees it and looks worried and takes off after her.
Arang runs through town as the Three Stooges chase after her. She runs to a dead end and tries to climb over the wall. Joo Wol arrives and she asks him for a lift. He helps her and she promises to remember this favor. Eun Oh spots Arang disappearing over the wall. He runs over and sees Joo Wol there. Commence yet another round of Eun Oh-Joo Wol stare off. Oh this will never get old for me, and I know which cute pie I’m rooting for the whole way.