For whatever reason, episode 5 of Arang and the Magistrate dropped a pretty significant amount in ratings (over 2%), and I’m not sure if this fantasy-detective sageuk is simply not the viewer’s cup of tea after they realize the tone and subject matter of the drama, or because Gaksital’s second-to-last week is hooking all the viewers. I wish I could say that episode 6 flipped my switch, but it remains that I enjoy watching the drama but can’t feel a personal vested interest in it. I suppose justice for Arang is important, but justice is hard to connect with unless the character is fleshed out and we see what Arang has lost by having her life cut short. I guess Eun Oh’s mommy search is compelling, but knowing that his mom may be the ultimate soul-sucking Big Bad makes me shudder for his eventual discovery of her.
Strangely the writers haven’t capitalized on any of the great chemistry between Eun Oh and Arang, with their relationship development crawling at snail’s pace so that we’re about half a step forward six episodes later as we were from the outset. The two of them are more comfortable with each other and appear to care about each other beyond curiosity and mutual need, but the lack of an emotional hook between them renders their relationship devoid of any urgency for me. I don’t need them pining over each other or making out like rabbits, but I want to see them slowly falling for each other so that the Arang’s final fate becomes one that becomes personally and important to both of them. The drama is now all about the detective mystery, which granted is eerie and compelling, but the character development remains wafer thin.
Episode 6 recap:
Joo Wal stands in the courtyard deep in thought, probably praying for reprieve for his failure to secure her a victim. Lord Choi arrives to mock his fake son for failing Lady Seo, believing this may be the end of their fake father-son relationship if Lady Seo casts Joo Wal aside. Lord Choi chuckles, wondering how “the wife” (WTF!?!?!) will punish Joo Wal since she’s gone hungry due to his failure. Lord Choi tells Joo Wal that, as his sunbae down this very road, “the wife” will just change her diet if she can’t consume the pure souls of girls. I am totally grossed out now.
Eun Oh finds his mother’s hair pin embedded in the wall of the sacrificial hut and worries what might’ve happened to his mom. I can’t fault Eun Oh for not making the monumental leap of logic in assuming his mom might be the perpetrator instead of the victim in this situation. Dol Swe, waiting outside and taking a leak break, stumbles over a burial site dug into the ground. He screams for Eun Oh to come take a look, and Eun Oh immediately runs over.
The area is covered with wooden boards and Eun Oh removes them and jumps into the hole underneath. He starts digging, worrying that he may find his mom’s remains. The hole contains lots of rocks and stones, but underneath it all Eun Oh unearths a set of female bones. Looks like Mommy sucks souls and then chucks the bones. Shudders.
Up in Heaven, the Jade Emperor stops playing his gayageum because clearly he’s distracted. The King of Hell reminds big brother that he doesn’t have faith the humans can do the task properly, and cackles for big brother to take good care of his “body”. When Eun Oh opens the mass grave, the Jade Emperor summons Moo Young to see him.
Eun Oh yells for Dol Swe to bring the magisterial gang and Dol Swe complies. The entire magistrate’s office heads into the mountains and bears witness to the mass grave. I swear, this drama has got some cojones and manages to make it spooky. Eun Oh wants all the bones in the grave unearthed, as well as any belongings that remain, and take back to the magistrate’s office so it can be sifted through to find out who the victims are.
Lady Seo senses a disturbance in the Dark Force and sends her padawan Joo Wal to hurry to her mass burial site. Joo Wal arrives and hides behind some foliage to assess the situation. He sees Eun Oh directing the collection of bones. He wonders if Eun Oh was responsible for taking Arang’s body away last night, and what Eun Oh possibly knows.
Arang wakes up finally, after dreaming about the pain of being stabbed last night. Poor baby, getting offed twice is like beyond unfair. She wonders why she’s not dead, especially when she sees that her stab wound has healed.
She cuts her own arm and then wipes the blood away to reveal the wound has sealed itself. She wonders what she is – alive but not completely human. Hey girl, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. You’re like a regenerating super being right now! Arang curses out that old (looks young) bastard up in Heavens, resurrecting her and then allowed her to get killed again. But then allowing her to regenerate and come back to life. She wonders what games he’s playing with her.
The Jade Emperor, still sporting his beyond hideous coif, summons Moo Young for a chat. He discusses how these unnamed deaths have been going on for four hundred years now, deaths where the decedent’s soul and body disappears afterwards. Moo Young takes the blame for this. The Jade Emperor reveals that the burial site for those decedents will be revealed soon and for Moo Young to be prepared. Moo Young asks if the Jade Emperor sincerely wants to help Arang right the injustice of her death hence he was the one who released her rope when Moo Young was leading her away? The Jade Emperor just smiles.
The remains collection is completed and Eun Oh realizes nothing belongs to his mother. He wonders to himself what he’s worried about? If his mother had died, her ghost would have come to find him. But he can’t figure out how her hair pin came to be at that sight, and what could have happened to her aside from being dead or missing?
The three magisterial officials confer about this shocking state of affairs. The discovery of this mass grave means the entire nation is now watching what is happening in Miryang, and likely their happy free days without a magistrate will never return again. They curse the new magistrate for ruining their good gig, and worry that Lord Choi will be so mad at them that he’ll slay them when they sleep.
Eun Oh is frustrated the find has yielded no additional clues about his mother. He senses Arang standing behind him and turns to grab her arm and take her away to talk in private. He tells her about the mass grave discovery and asks her to go investigate that location. Since she wore his mother’s hair pin, and the hair pin was discovered there, she might remember something if she goes there.
Arang refuses because she’s scared she’ll die again, though Eun Oh points out that she can just resurrect herself. Arang explains that the moment of death is a frightening experience and he can’t know what its like since he’s never died before. She’s regained the memory of how the magistrate’s daughter Lee Seo Rim died. Arang agrees to go investigate when she’s ready, which is not right now.
Lady Seo discusses with Joo Wal about how her mass grave has been unearthed, and all because of that new magistrate. She orders Joo Wal to kill the new magistrate and retrieve the dead body of the girl Arang. Joo Wal agrees to do as she bids. Lady Seo will deal with Joo Wal after he’s take care of this new complication.
Joo Wal exits and runs into Lord Choi outside, who cackles with glee about Joo Wal falling from Lady Seo’s grace. He hopes this will mean the end of their fake father-son pretense. When Lord Choi enters Lady Seo’s chambers, before he can ask her what she wants him to do, he starts choking and writhing on the floor. So this woman has supernatural powers she can inflict on humans. She really is resembling Emperor Palpatine more and more.
Arang heads towards the mountains, wondering what she needs to remember her own death. Perhaps that memory is the beginning of solving the mystery, though she rages at the Jade Emperor some more for putting her through all this. But she is determined to solve any difficult problem he places before her.
While Arang is in the sacrificial hut, she climbs back on the altar hoping that laying in the same position will trigger some memory. Initially she remembers nothing and that frustrates her. Suddenly a flash of memory appears and she remembers pulling the hair pin off the head of a woman whose back was to her.
Eun Oh waits outside in the courtyard for Arang to return. He sighs that he knows how she feels and mutters for her to come back quickly. We see Joo Wal wearing all black getting ready to assassinate Eun Oh. Eun Oh is getting angsty and wonders why Arang isn’t back yet. Just because she was a ghost before doesn’t mean she should be so cavalier about staying out late. Before Joo Wal can strike at Eun Oh, Arang returns and seeing her stops him in his tracks. He mutters that she ought to be dead.
Eun Oh asks grumpily why she’s back so late? Arang happily informs him that she’s remembered something, but Eun Oh wants to act like he wasn’t outside waiting for her since even a lost dog would cause him to come out and look for it. Arang reveals she grabbed the hair pin from the back of a woman’s head though she never saw her face. All she felt at that moment was fear or anxiety. Eun Oh wonders how she remembered this and learns that Arang went to the sacrificial hut by herself. He is upset she went alone and didn’t ask him to accompany her.
Arang turns to go inside when Joo Wal, changed out of his ninja outfit, walks up to her as if he was just passing by. He stares at her in shock, though he pretends its shock over seeing that she’s a girl. Arang explains her cross-dressing as an officer due to other reasons and smiles at him. Eun Oh sees this and grabs Arang’s arm to take her inside. Hee, he’s so jealous.
After Eun Oh and Arang leave, Joo Wal stands there still processing the shock at learning Arang isn’t dead. He wonders what he did wrong? I would ask what you did wrong in terms of bring innocent girls to be sacrificed to a soul-sucking succubus first, douchebag.
Eun Oh thinks to himself about Arang’s memory of plucking the hair pin from a woman’s head. He wonders if that woman could be his mother? If it was his mother, does that mean she’s alive? And if she’s alive, what was she doing there?
Joo Wal goes to see Lady Seo and she tells him to hurry home since his “father” Lord Choi has fallen ill. Lady Seo thinks back to her conversation with Lord Choi, wondering if she should spare his life or Joo Wal’s. She knows that things have begun at last. Lord Choi promises to do anything she asks. Joo Wal goes to see Lord Choi, who warns that Joo Wal will end up like him one day. Lord Choi’s minion returns from his trip to Eun Oh’s hometown. Joo Wal says his father is ill and cannot meet with him right now. The minion reveals he was sent to find information about Eun Oh.
Dol Swe watches Arang sleep, since she’s too scared to sleep alone in the room where she was almost murdered again. He remembers how happy he was to find his master safe and sound. He was all worried something bad happened to Eun Oh. Dol Swe tearfully tells Eun Oh that he’s like a servant, family member, best friend, spouse, all rolled into one when it comes to how he feels about Eun Oh.
Eun Oh wonders what’s gotten into Dol Swe for him to gush out an emotional confession like this? Dol Swe says that Eun Oh is also the son of a slave, just like him, though the circumstances are somewhat different. Eun Oh informs Dol Swe that he’s going somewhere to investigate further.
The three magisterial officers are conferring about what to do with respect to Eun Oh. They wonder if they should off him, and if that is what Lord Choi would want. They decide to go ask Lord Choi first. They are turned away from meeting with Lord Choi who is sick, though Joo Wal does manage to learn from them that the girl currently residing at the magisterial residence is the daughter of the master who taught the new magistrate.
Arang can’t find Eun Oh anywhere and she sees the three magisterial officers huddled together. She stops to chat with them and then realizes that one month has passed in the three months she was allotted.
Arang discusses with Dol Swe about where Eun Oh is. Dol Swe vows that he will drive Arang off no matter what he needs to do.
Bang Wool is calling out for customers to tell their fortune when Dol Swe walks up to her and asks for a talisman to drive away an unwanted female. Bang Wool says a simple talisman is cheaper than a complicated one and asks what the relationship is between the woman and the man? Dol Swe huffs that there is no relationship and his master is completely pure and untouched. He’s so incensed by what he assumed Bang Wool is insinuating that he shakes her roughly and she ends up smashing a metal lid on his head to get him to release her.
The Jade Emperor, the King of Hell, and Moo Young all stand up in Heaven and stare at a crystal ball intently.
Eun Oh goes back to the mountainside and wonders where all those souls went? It can’t be that they all went to the afterlife. Eun Oh finds black strips of cloth nailed to trees and on it is a symbol that he compared to the symbol painted on the wood planks used to cover up the mass grave and sees that it’s the same. He heads off.
Thoughts of Mine:
This drama does fantasy better than any K-drama I’ve ever seen, which means it’s completely immersed in the mythical world created and presents it without any tongue-in-cheek. The cinematography is dazzling, the saturated colors blending with the murky darkness transitioning into the glow of the Heavens. Eun Oh’s colorful dopos are just like candy pops and Lee Jun Ki rocks each one like no other. Shin Mina remains effervescent and luminous, and the world of Arang and the Magistrate is both like a dream and a nightmare. But without spending time on character development and focusing on the detective mystery with macabre elements, this drama remains all style and little emotional substance.
I am sufficiently freaked out by Eun Oh’s mom in every way. She looks freakishly plastic, with her face pulled taut and her wide eyes screaming “I am a crazy bitch!”, and every revelation of her actions and intentions sends shivers down my spine. She apparently “feeds” on the souls of innocent girls, but can also sate her hunger in other ways, ways that sound like “mating” with a man? To say that grosses me out is an understatement. On one hand I wonder if she’s really Eun Oh’s birth mom? On the other hand, Eun Oh’s powers of seeing the dead probably came from having a mom with her own supernatural abilities, so that makes sense. But what of her rage at the death of her “family”? Is she talking about human beings, or an entire family made up of creatures such as herself, whatever she is?
Joo Wal continues to elicit not a shred of sympathy from me. I don’t care how sad and pathetic his childhood was, and how much he’s under the control of Lady Seo now, he’s got to pay for killing all those girls over the years. I know he’s not relishing in the task of being a serial killer, what with his looks of guilty conscience at times, but knowing right from wrong and still doing wrong makes him even more despicable in my eyes. I think it fascinating that Lord Choi was in the same position of Joo Wal when he was young, so that makes Lady Seo’s reign a very long one indeed. What kind of monster is she? And what exactly is the Jade Emperor planning to do about stopping her? I’m curious about all the great plot threads in this drama, and simply wish I could care more about the characters that inhabit this fascinating world.