Let me start off by revealing that Episode 7 of Arang and the Magistrate has an extended scene set in a cave. The last time I watched a sageuk drama with a scene set in a cave, it was the perfection of Damo and the scene in question left me reeling with emotion. My mental flashback to Damo feels quite apropos, because I find it sheds some light on the lingering issues I have with Arang’s storytelling. Damo was a 14 episode drama and I think the shorter length forced the story and the emotional threads tighter. I thought episode 7 dragged, dribbling out more reveals but neither moving the main characters or the great mystery forward in any significant way. The drama continues at a meandering pace, spending the time developing the mood by showing something happening from beginning to middle to end. I’m still ambivalent about it, not sure if I want the speed to pick up if that means losing some of its atmospheric charm.
This episode 7 also confused me a bit, with Arang and Eun Oh spending most of the episode together, but I while I saw their growing care for each other’s wellbeing, I didn’t quite feel it. I’m not surprised they have grown to worry about each other, but I wish it didn’t quite feel like such a leap from reluctant partners to life-and-death-allies. As for the mystery, it’s clear now that we’re dealing with one central mystery where all the other unresolved issues in this drama stem from. What or what is Lady Seo, and what is her ultimate goal? I’m actually looking forward to watching her unleash more evil because I’m getting tired of watching the two Heavenly rulers sitting up top playing Go. It’s time they got their hands dirty and returned natural order to the world they govern.
Episode 7 recap:
Eun Oh returns to forest area surrounding the hut-of-virgin-girl-sacrifices and this time his eagle eyes spot black strips of cloth hanging on certain trees with a symbol drawn on it that he discerns is a talisman. He pulls one off and goes to the mass grave and realizes the same talismans were also on the covering to the grave.
Lady Seo appears to sense that her talismans are being disturbed. She’s like a malevolent golden retriever. Eun Oh looks around and does some North-South-East-West calculations and heads in one direction. He arrives at the edge of a cliff with a large tree growing precariously near the drop off. On the tree branch is yet another black talisman cloth. Eun Oh tries to reach for it.
Up in Heaven, the powerful trio stand in a circle and stare at what appears to be a crystal ball. Cracks begin to form on the ball during Eun Oh’s talisman collecting mission.
Eun Oh tries to extend his arm to reach for the talisman he can’t grab it. He moves and climbs another branch to get closer. Which is when the three magistrate officials (the Three Bangs) arrive and one guy thinks this is the perfect opportunity to literally push Eun Oh off a cliff and get rid of their pesky magisterial nuisance.
One Bang creeps up behind Eun Oh and slowly extends his hand to push him, but you can see he’s hesitant and doesn’t have the guts to commit murder. Before his hands even make contact, Eun Oh suddenly grabs the talisman but then loses his footing and falls off the tree and rolls off the cliff. Errrr, that is not good.
The other Two Bangs thinks their guy pushed Eun Oh, but the would-be-killer Bang freaks out and insists truthfully that he didn’t push Eun Oh and he never touched him. Eun Oh lands in a bloody pile on the foot of the cliff.
Since Eun Oh snatched the talisman off the tree, elsewhere Lady Seo gasps as if she senses that happened. She looks up in the sky and murmurs that what was meant to happen has come to pass.
Up in Heaven, the splintering crystal ball shatters in one corner and a weird mist swirls around the orb. The Jade Emperor tells Moo Young to go investigate if there are any clues left behind. The Jade Emperor notes that Eun Oh managed to find what was hidden, and tells his brother the King of Hell that humans can complete a task after all. The King of Hell harrumphs like the grump that he is, though he concedes Eun Oh didn’t completely suck.
The Three Bangs are freaking out about Eun Oh falling off a cliff and make their quick getaway when they hear Arang’s voice coming closer as she looks for Eun Oh. Arang starts to worry and begins to address Eun Oh as Magistrate Kim and even calls him Magistrate Eun Oh.
As Arang arrives at the mass grave, she sees Moo Young there and assumes he’s following her as he used to do. She asks why he’s still chasing her now, only to realize he’s not. Arang toddles off to keep looking for Eun Oh, while Moo Young stares down at the grave and looks even more somber as he considers the possibility that someone named Moo Yeon may have done this.
Joo Wal is on his knees begging forgiveness from Lady Seo for his failure to procure her a victim. He repeats again that he killed the girl and even made sure she stopped breathing. So he’s genuinely stunned that she appeared to have resurrected and ran away. Lady Seo stops and repeats about a dead person becoming alive again and now she looks intrigued.
Back to the game of “Where’s Eun Oh?”, Arang finally locates him at the foot of the cliff and she ties a rope to the tree and scampers down to where he’s laying unconscious. As she lands, she almost goes flying past the landing and into the water below. A bloody hand reaches out and grabs her. Eun Oh wakes up and asks if she’s trying to save him or kill him? Arang is so relieved that he’s alive.
Arang looks up and realizes that the rope she tied to the tree has broken. Eun Oh suggests that Arang kill herself by leaping into the water and then since she can resurrect, she can head off to find help. She looks at the water and then scrunches her eyes and moves to dive in. Eun Oh grabs her and he asks why she can’t tell that he’s making a joke. He tells her to let him rest for a bit and maybe he’ll think of an idea. Eun Oh passed out again and Arang is frantic with worry. She sees a small opening in a rock.
Two of the Bangs are toasting to having gotten rid of Eun Oh, while the One Bang who almost pushed him can’t be happy about it. Dol Swe is starting to worry about his young master especially since it’s starting to rain. He asks the Three Bangs if they’ve seen Eun Oh. They are acting all nervous and shifty but insist they don’t know where Eun Oh went.
Arang manages to bring Eun Oh inside to a hidden cave to seek shelter. As she moves him, she realizes how profusely he’s bleeding. Arang wanders through the cave and then moves Eun Oh deeper inside. She tells him to hang in there and promises that she’s the Arang that even wild beasts and dead ghosts are afraid of so she’ll keep him safe.
Arang drags him inside but he’s starting to shiver from the cold. She can’t find anything to start a fire so she ends up laying down beside him and backhugging him. Sadly Eun Oh tells Arang that she doesn’t have any body heat.
Arang gets up and tries to blow hot air from her mouth and touches herself, confirming that she really isn’t human. She tells Eun Oh that she’ll go find something to start a fire. Arang runs off and carefully navigates her way through the cave. She complains about that old fogey resurrecting her but not giving her any body temperature.
Arang wanders through the cave and encounters a man walking with a bag and a cane. He wonders how Arang came to be here, and she asks for his help to tend to an injured person. Arang takes him to Eun Oh and the man says Eun Oh is seriously injured. Arang asks if he has something to start a fire and the man sudden twitches and starts slapping himself.
He’s pleased to have two victims and chases after Arang to get her liver. She asks what he is and the man says he doesn’t even know what he is. Before he can bit Arang, Eun Oh manages to get up and throws a rock at the man to get him off Arang.
Eun Oh tells the man that he doesn’t care if the man wants Arang’s liver, but he’s not getting Eun Oh’s liver. Eun Oh manages to pull the man up and sucker punch him. Arang helps Eun Oh up but the man manages to get up and starts attacking Eun Oh. Arang grabs the man and tries to fight him but he easily subdues her.
He reaches in for her liver and then looks amazed, asking her what creature she is? She is neither a ghost nor is she human. Arang head butts him and yells that she’s a human. The man wonders if maybe she’s…….and then he starts to get excited and tries to attack Arang again. She screams and the man stops because Moo Young has arrived. Yay! Never been happier to see him.
Moo Young pulls out his sword and the man asks how a Soul Reaper could possibly find this place? Arang asks Moo Young who this man is but the man laughs maniacally and says even he doesn’t know what he is, how could anyone else. The man sniggers at Arang and says she’s got bigger problems now. Moo Yoing slashes the man and we see his black and blue spirit exist his body and then his clothes fall in a heap on the ground.
Arang asks Moo Young what the man was and Moo Young explains that the man was a malevolent spirit. A malevolent spirit is a ghost who has wandered the earth for too long and forgotten his own existence. Arang wonders why that man was trying to scare her? Arang runs back to Eun Oh and is relieved that he’s still breathing.
Lady Seo sits in her chamber and stares at Joo Wal who is kneeling outside. Lord Choi lays in his bed asleep. It’s getting dark and the rain is starting to fall, so Dol Swe gets more and more worried. The Three Bangs asks him to wait until it stops raining to go search for Eun Oh. Dol Swe ignores them and runs out into the rain and vows that even if his young master dies, he’ll die with him.
Moo Young reports to the two Heavenly rulers that he found a malevolent spirit in a hidden cave. Because of those talismans placed there, malevolent spirits are sure to form. The King of Hell wonders how that person got to be so powerful. The Jade Emperor points out that the person is living on earth consuming human souls. He tells them not to worry since they have the secret weapon. Not sure if he means Arang or Eun Oh.
Arang sits besides Eun Oh and talks with him. They bicker as usual. Arang vows that she will never become a malevolent spirit. Even if she goes to hell, she won’t ever lose her decency. Arang lays down and sleeps besides Eun Oh, telling him to sleep well and don’t die. Arang asks if that young doronim, the fiancée of the dead Lee Seo Rim, did he attend the funeral? Eun Oh says he was there as the magistrate and didn’t have time to notice those things.
It’s morning time and Arang wakes up to find herself alone in the cave. She calls out for Eun Oh and looks relieved when he returns. The quickly scramble outside when parts of the cave start caving in. Arang mutters about how horrible her fate is even now after she’s been resurrected.
Outside on the cliff ledge, Dol Swe has arrived to rescue Eun Oh and he throws a rope down. Eun Oh grabs the rope and gives it to Arang first, but Dol Swe refuses to pull her up first. Arang tells him to go first. Dol Swe pulls Eun Oh up and we see the rope is rubbing against the jagged rock. Eun Oh’s shoulder starts to bleed as he climbs but he manages to reach the top and Dol Swe pulls him to safety. Eun Oh immediately turns around and calls out for Arang to climb up.
Arang starts climbing as Eun Oh holds the rope, while Dol Swe holds onto Eun Oh to keep him secure. Arang clmbs and we see the rope is frayed where it rubbed against the rock edge and suddenly it snaps. Arang falls off the cliff and lands on a rock before rolling into the lake. Eun Oh screams out her name and tries to go save her, but he passes out.
Back in Heaven, the Jade Emperor asks if the owner of the tomb has been located? Moo Young replies that no clues were left. The Jade Emperor tells him not to worry, something will likely pop up. The King of Hell orders Moo Young to capture all of the malevolent ghosts milling around there causing trouble. Even though they know that person is hiding on earth, they still have no way to find that person. SWhat a headache!
The King of Hell blames the Jade Emperor for this situation. He wanted to take that person straight to Hell, but the Jade Emperor broke protocol. Protocol is important, and now that person is showing us what dire consequences could happen when protocol is broken. The Jade Emperor says that now the mass grave has been unearthed, that person is sure to act soon.
Lady Seo tells Joo Wal not to kill that girl Arang for the time being. She wants Joo Wal to get closer to Arang. Joo Wal stammers about the magistrate and Lady Seo says the magistrate can live for the time being since Arang is also being allowed to live for the time being. Joo Wal asks for his marching orders and Lady Seo explains that he is to find out what Arang wants. She tells Joo Wal to hurry.
Lady Seo uses her powers to lift the curtain separating them and beckons for Joo Wal to enter into her chamber. Joo Wal walks up to her and kneels back down. Lady Seo reaches out and touches his cheek where she cut him with her ring in anger. She asks if it hurts? She leans in and tells him with a smile that he is her son and her most precious thing. She wants him to trust her and not be afraid. Joo Wal walks away and looks back at Lady Seo’s residence, wondering to himself what she’s really thinking? Oh, now you ask that question?
Lady Seo walks into a small room and a trap door opens on the ground. She descends into a dark chamber and walks to an area with an altar set up ringed with four posts. On the altar table are two ceramic pots. She touches those pots and says that their situation is about to be exposed. The talisman seals have been broken and soon they will find this place.
Lady Seo releases what looks like two Soul Reapers from the pots. She says its now their turn to protect her. She doesn’t believe in humans, and now that the talisman seal has been broken, consequences will befall them. Nothing is more important for her than to see “that child” and find herself again. Lady Seo curses that useless old bastard.
Lord Choi has recovered from his illness and meets with his minion who has returned from investigating Eun Oh. Turns out Eun Oh is Lord Kim’s son, but an illegitimate son he had with a slave. Lord Choi is pleased to learn that Eun Oh is a paper tiger without any real power behind him. He’s told that for some reason Lord Kim is keeping the circumstances of Eun Oh’s birth a secret.
Joo Wal learns from One Bang that the new magistrate has died. He wonders where the girl went and is told she’s not been seen since yesterday. Suddenly Dol Swe returns carrying Eun Oh on his back and calls the Three Bangs to get medical help. The Three Bangs fret about Eun Oh, with the One Bang continuing to insist that he didn’t push Eun Oh off a cliff.
Eun Oh has been treated by a doctor and is all bandaged up and resting in bed. Dol Swe keeps watch over him. He cries and begs him young master to not leave him.
Arang has washed up on the beach, still in her not-dead-or-alive state. Joo Wal rides his horse to the edge of the lake and spots Arang laying on the beach. He runs over and pulls her into his arms, shaking her to see if she’s dead or alive.
Arang coughs and regains consciousness. She touches Joo Wal’s cheek to make sure if he’s real or a figment of her imagination. She realizes he’s warm and must be real. She asks how he happened to be here and he lies that he was just passing by,
Arang stands up and staggers off. She can barely stand and Joo Wal runs up behind her and picks her up in a princess carry. You know what this is? This is the opposite of romantic, what with their previous encounter involving him stabbing a knife through her heart. He puts her on his horse and gets up behind her before riding off. Arang passes out as Joo Wal rides off with her. We see Eun Oh laying in bed and opening his eyes.
Thoughts of Mine:
I’m so frustrated that Arang can’t hook me beyond being curious about the Big Bad and the overarching mythology behind the story, because without an emotional connection with the two leads Arang and Eun Oh, I find myself merely a dispassionate viewer. This happens when a book I’m reading is just so-so, and books that like can easily be forgotten once something more intriguing comes along. This being my Lee Jun Ki’s first drama in over 2 years, it compounds the pain I feel that I can’t love it wholeheartedly. Jun Ki’s last drama Hero was wildly inconsistent and aimed high but delivered very little, but his character in that drama was the heart of the story and the audience could relate and truly step into his shoes to feel what he felt. Right now I can’t feel either Eun Oh or Arang. The writer needs to delve deeper into their thoughts and personalities otherwise they become narrative drivers but not our emotional surrogate to this story.
Lady Seo continues to be all sorts of creepy and mysterious, and I like that she appears strong and powerful as opposed to just evil. I’m sure she’s connected to Moo Young somehow, and probably has a grudge to settle with the two Heavenly rulers on top. I’m getting a little tired of the same Heavenly courtyard set piece for every single Jade Emperor, Moo Young, and King of Hell convo. Can we go back to the Heavenly garden so that the Jade Emperor can water his goat with the flower coat. Anything but the chintzy feeling that Heaven is but just one room in the house. I concede Arang does well on the imagery and cinematography, but it could truncate hammering a point home when it comes to presentation or narrative. The Arang-saves-Eun-Oh encounter felt like it took forever, even if the cave sojourn revealed the presence of malevolent liver eating spirits roaming the earth. I wonder what that’s all about?
Watching episode 7, I felt like yelling “get to the point” a few times at the screen, but it was a passing urge and one that got placated by all the visually arresting scenery. It does hurt my eyes to squint so much when half the episode was set in darkened interiors, which does add to the eerie factor but makes me long to shine a strobe light in there and blind someone. I’m pretty sure now that Arang was sent back to earth as bait to lure Lady Seo out (oooh, is she gonna be pissed at the Jade Emperor when she finds out), but I still can’t figure out what the celestial beings can’t seem to find much less capture Lady Seo. It would be hilarious if she were a disgruntled wife of one of the brothers run down to earth to wreak havoc because of a marital spat. I doubt it, but I’m curious to find out her connection with the powers up top, as well as the source of Eun Oh’s ghost-seeing ability.