The penultimate episode of Joseon Gunman does what it does best, with lots of fighting and bang bang to deliver a long awaited political coup to shake up the stale joint. King Gojong is such a spineless waste of space I can’t even muster up sympathy to see him brought so low, but at the same time he did always try to do the right thing. Too bad he never could actually deliver on it, which makes the whole exercise even more painful to watch when he disappointed people around him like Scholar Kim and Yoon Kang over and over again. The drama has done a great job of presenting late-era Joseon, a time when the country was modernizing whether it was ready or not. Some took advantage and tried to climb higher while others were caught in the cross hairs. My support is with Yoon Kang and Soo In’s dream of a brighter future together, and if that can only happen on the back of a rather dirty coup then so be it. The problem now is that I don’t like anyone whether it’s the enlightenment reform faction or the all wiped out traditionalists. Both are no better than the other in tactics, but at least one side doesn’t aim to oppress the people.
The coup’s success (for now) was a foregone conclusion since it’s written in the history books though watching Scholar Kim go from book smart nerd to ordering executions was pretty whiplash jarring. Ho Kyung’s whole underdeveloped daddy-issues storyline reaching an expected conclusion and I shed a few sniffles for him, a character that was needed in this drama but never got his deserved due in being fleshed out. The best parts of this episode was watching Merchant Choi literally get hoisted on his own petard, suffering the greatest loss of his entire world at the hands of his own marauding weapon of destruction and due to his shoot first trigger finger. Serves you right might seem cruel but he really did bring it on himself and has no one to blame other than he got corrupted by the very power that used to oppress him. In the end everyone suffered in this drama, now the question is whether Yoon Kang and Soo In can really make it to the promised land of their hopes and reach a happy ending in tomorrow’s final episode.
Episode 21 recap:
The enlightenment faction led coup begins as all the government officials are attending the opening festivities for the new postal service. Scholar Kim and the Princess’s husband leave the ceremony as screams begin with a fire being set outside by Yoon Kang and rebel soldiers storming in to slaughter the government officials.
Minister Min follows Scholar Kim and the Princess’s husband out the side door but is cut down by the rebels and dies. Ho Kyung rushes to take his father Minister Kim to safety while Merchant Choi saw Minister Min get killed and tries to warn the others. But it’s too late and the rebels are killing every government minister in sight. Merchant Choi is slashed across the middle but saves his own life by climbing under a table.
Yoon Kang rendezvous with Scholar Kim to report that his task is done and urges Scholar Kim to get the King and Queen out of the palace now. Soo In is setting off on her own task to set off an explosive to get the King to leave.
Rebels confront Ho Kyung and Minister Kim and he saves their lives by announcing that he’s also part of the coup and providing the code phrase. After the rebels leave Ho Kyung’s dad is furious that his son came back to spy on him and be a traitor. Minister Kim asks if his son hates him that much and wants him dead? Ho Kyung just wants his dad to leave now to safety and save his life otherwise Ho Kyung can’t protect him.
Ho Kyung walks off when more rebels arrive and immediately recognize Minister Kim and kill him. Ho Kyung rushes back to cradle his dying dad who can only ask if the new world that Ho Kyung wants is one where his dad needs to die? Ho Kyung cries and says no, that’s not what he wants at all. Minister Kim uses his dying breath to reach for Ho Kyung and confess that he was really happy that Ho Kyung came back to his side however briefly. He dies in Ho Kyung’s arms as Ho Kyung sobs that he did wrong and pleads with his dad to open his eyes.
The sleeping King and Queen are woken up by the head eunuch as Scholar Kim and the Princess’s Man storm inside to take the royals away to safety as a coup has broken out in the palace. The King immediately gets up to to leave but Queen Min demands to know who is behind the coup, Japan or the Qing? Neither men answer and she becomes even more suspicious and furious and threatens to kill them unless they tell the truth.
Soo In lights her explosive while Yoon Kang heads out to look for her because he remembers she’s been told to do this. Another court lady spots Soo In being suspicious and Soo In tries to drag her away before she gets injured. Another guard arrives and Soo In keeps them both from getting close since the explosive is about to go off. Yoon Kang arrives and screams for everyone to run as it’s about to explode. Yoon Kang grabs Soo In and pulls her aside to safety. The explosive goes off and the loud bang gives Scholar Kim the reason to urge the royals to quickly leave the palace now before the rebels arrive. King Gojong agrees to leave. Soo In is cut on the arm and Yoon Kang bandages her up while she assures him that she’s fine. They head off together to rendezvous with the others.
Hye Won is told about the rebels storming the ministerial festivities and slaughtering all the government officials present. She rushes off to look for her dad. The rebels have finished the kill and confirmed everyone is dead, but after they leave a still alive Merchant Choi crawls out from under the table and stumbles outside. Hye Won arrives with her men in time to rescue her dad.
As Scholar Kim and the Princess’s husband walk the royals out, they are told that Ho Kyung isn’t present and their side hasn’t controlled the situation because Ho Kyung is missing. Before they take another step, another group pf palace guards arrive to stop the King and Queen from leaving with Scholar Kim and accuses all the enlightenment faction officials of staging the coup and killing all the government officials attending the gathering.
The two sides accuse each other of being the rebels and start a sword fight while Scholar Kim tries to take the King and Queen away. One guard breaks free and tries to stop them when Yoon Kang arrives and takes everyone out with a few shots.
Yoon Kang and Soo In walk up to the King and announces that he’s here to take the King away. The Queen is certain now that the enlightenment faction is indeed behind the coup. King Gojong asks if Yoon Kang hates him that much he wants to kill him? Yoon Kang assures the King he wants to protect him and Soo In also assures Queen Min that they mean no harm. Queen Min is angry and now believes Hye Won’s warning that Soo In wants to be a court lady to be a spy. King Gojong angrily accuses Scholar Kim of staging the coup but Scholar Kim insists he is only doing this to see the King’s reformation dreams to fruition.
Officer Moon and Han find the King and Queen missing and hear that they are being taken away from the palace to another residence. They rush to intercept the rebels and find themselves face to face with Yoon Kang. Officer Moon orders Yoon Kang to release the royals but he refuses and tells the officers to leave as he doesn’t want to harm them.
Officer Moon draws his sword and faces off with Yoon Kang who orders the group to leave first while he fights Officer Moon. The King and Queen have no choice but to leave with Scholar Kim while Officer Moon orders his men to kill Yoon Kang. Officer Han tries to talk Officer Moon down since Yoon Kang is Commander Park’s son. The other officers are no match for Yoon Kang who dispatches all of them and end up fighting with Officer Moon before subduing him as well.
Yoon Kang points his gun at Officer Moon who tells him to shoot otherwise he will hunt down Yoon Kang. Officer Moon knows what the King did to Yoon Kang but he has no choice but to uphold his vow to protect the King, and the person who taught him this vow is Yoon Kang’s dad. Yoon Kang tells Officer Moon that he’s going to protect Joseon as the one protecting the country now is not the King. He believes his dad will forgive him for doing this. Yoon Kang lowers his gun and tells Officer Han to take Officer Moon away as he won’t harm him.
Yoon Kang runs into Sang Choo outside the palace and the latter is so relieved to see Yoon Kang safe and alive. Sang Choo is here to join Yoon Kang and refuses to go back and wait with Yeon Ha and Je Mi. He wants to be part of the revolution to create a new world where children of slaves don’t need to be slaves, a world where his child with Je Mi can have an education and a chance to be a government official. Yoon Kang hears this and allows Sang Choo to stay.
The King and Queen are safely moved to the other palace where Ho Kyung is there to greet them. King Gojong is even more furious when he sees that even Ho Kyung is part of the rebellion. After the royals are moved inside, Ho Kyung confronts Scholar Kim on not telling him about the date of the coup on purpose. Scholar Kim claims he didn’t want Ho Kyung to falter when his father was in danger and therefore put everyone else in danger. Ho Kyung reveals his father is dead now, cut down in front of his eyes and he could do nothing for him because he has to rush here to rendezvous with everyone.
Scholar Kim knows Ho Kyung must be in terrible pain but he must have known this when he joined with them. He urges Ho Kyung to do his role now and he’ll let it go that Ho Kyung wasn’t at the palace earlier where he was supposed to be.
Soo In goes to apologize to Ho Kyung for misunderstanding him and letting him suffer alone. Ho Kyung doesn’t blame her since she did nothing wrong. Ho Kyung urges her to go inside while he’ll go to his guard post. He passes by Yoon Kang arriving with Sang Choo.
Scholar Kim has imprisoned King Gojong and Queen Min inside the side palace and tells them to call Soo In if they need anything. Once alone, Queen Min urges they need to go back to the palace so they can send word to the Qing to come help. They are being kept here because it’s smaller and easier for the rebels to guard.
Merchant Choi gets ready to head out and refuses to let the enlightenment faction win and control the government. He has his man send word to all the merchant groups to bring their forces to the capital to fight the rebels. His man warns that without the seal the merchant groups won’t listen to his summons. Hye Won plans to go to the new business bureau to get the seal for her dad.
Queen Min overturns her tray of food and refuses to stay at this small palace because it’s too small and cold. Soo In urges the royals to eat and take care of their health and she’ll go add more heat for the residence. The King’s eunuch speaks up and orders Scholar Kim to take the royals back to the palace. Scholar Kim warns the eunuch to stop speaking or else he’s dead. The eunuch goads Scholar Kim to kill him and prove that Queen Min’s suspicion is right and Scholar Kim is indeed behind the coup. Scholar Kim orders his man to kill and the loyal eunuch is killed right before King Gojong’s eyes.
The King drops to his knees in shock while even Soo In looks at Scholar Kim with frightened eyes. Scholar Kim tells the King to not be shaken. He leaves and Yoon Kang walks inside to see the dead eunuch on the ground everyone in a state of shock.
Yoon Kang confronts Scholar Kim on taking things this far and Scholar Kim claims he’s doing so because the eunuch was urging the King to ask the Qing for help. Yoon Kang chides Scholar Kim on losing his cool since they need all the palace servants on their side. Scholar Kim finally admits that he did wrong.
Soo In sits with Yoon Kang and shares her fear and doubt at seeing people die before her. Yoon Kang takes her hand and reminds her that their dream to create a new world was bound to be hard with many difficult decisions made. He assures her that Scholar Kim did step over the line earlier and he also acknowledges and regrets it. They sweethearts hug and Yoon Kang assures Soo In that after tomorrow everything will be settled and she can take off her court lady outfit and he can stop being a fugitive.
Yoon Kang is informed that the merchant groups mobilizing which Yoon Kang knows has to be directed by Merchant Choi. He rushes off and goes to the government gathering to check all the dead bodies and predictably doesn’t find Merchant Choi’s corpse. He heads out to stop Merchant Choi from acquiring the seal to order the merchant groups to mobilize with their men and attack the side palace to rescue to royals. He orders Sang Choo to head back to protect Soo In while he goes to Minister Min’s office to get the seal before Merchant Choi does.
Merchant Choi along with Hye Won and his men point a gun at a lower official and orders him to retrieve the seal from Minister Min’s office. He hands the seal to Hye Won and orders her to leave first and after she steps out he has the official shot. Yoon Kang shoots the seal out of Hye Won’s hands while she’s dragged to safety. Yoon Kang picks up the seal and dispatches a few more of Merchant Choi’s men.
Merchant Choi runs out and engages in a gun fight with Yoon Kang. Hye Won gets involved and approaches Yoon Kang’s hiding place from another end and points her pistol at him. Yoon Kang has his gun pointed at her as well but chooses not to pull the trigger and instead jumps through a window into an inside room.
Merchant Choi, Hye Won, and Yoon Kang are all inside the dark room and in the darkness Hye Won steps out with her pistol pointed and Merchant Choi ends up mistaking his daughter for Yoon Kang and shooting her in the chest.
Yoon Kang stands up in shock staring at Hye Won dying. Merchant Choi screams in agony and goes to help Hye Won which gives Yoon Kang the chance to escape. There is something called karma that Merchant Choi ended up shooting his own daughter.
Merchant Choi carries Hye Won back home while calling for the doctor and demanding that she hang in there. Hye Won urges her dad to go get the seal back but he doesn’t care since without her nothing matters. Even dying Hye Won wants her dad to survive going forward. Hye Won thinks it was happier back then when they had nothing after they escaped the yangban residence but managed to earn a few coins doing business and bought a bowl of hot food which they shared with each other. She doesn’t know how they ended up like this when all they wanted was a bite of food to eat and asked for nothing more.
Merchant Choi sobs while begging his daughter not to talk so she can conserve her breath. Hye Won takes her dad’s hand and apologizes, blaming herself for everything he did. She dies in her dad’s arms.
Yoon Kang goes back to the side palace and finds Soo In pacing worriedly for him. She lights up to see him come back safe but notices his sad expression. Yoon Kang doesn’t tell her anything and insists nothing happened. He just hugs her tightly and tries not to cry.
Yoon Kang encounters King Gojong outside and tries to walk past but King Gojong brings up how many people has to die because of him, including Commander Park. He asks Yoon Kang one favor, to stop killing government ministers, and he will do as they want and create a new world. He knows Yoon Kang hates him but he thinks Yoon Kang will be willing to hear him say this. Yoon Kang assures the King that he doesn’t want to see anymore deaths either. King Gojong thanks Yoon Kang and puts his faith in him.
King Gojong and Queen Min sit stone-faced before Scholar Kim and the Princess’s husband and agrees to the new government regime where the royals are basically figureheads.
Scholar Kim reads all the new edicts in front of the remaining ministers: to stop all tributes to the Qing and summon the hostage daewonggun back, to end slavery and all people all equal, to have open selection of all government officials, to end court ladies and eunuch and have people serving willingness, to abolish useless departments and severely punish the corrupt officials. The scholars all rejoice to have their dream new political world finally a reality.
Yoon Kang gets dressed in a suit while Soo In changes back to her high born young lady clothes and hairstyle. Yoon Kang waits outside for Soo In to join him. He compliments her on being so beautiful and assures her that things have gone back to the way it is between them and she can finally be by his side. Yoon Kang pulls Soo In close for a hug and tells her to forget all the painful memories and think about what they want to do in the new world before them.
Yoon Kang asks Soo In to live with him and he doesn’t ever want to be apart from her again. Soo In accepts his marriage proposal and wants to be with him forever. The couple sweetly kiss and a single happy tear rolls down Soo In’s eye.
Thoughts of Mine:
I appreciate the carrot before the final bit stick drops in the next episode. There is no way Queen Min would roll over that easily and at this point anyone can manipulate the King so why not her as well. No wonder Joseon was a mess towards the end of its reign, there was internal strife and when external forces are invited in as the muscle then there will be no peace or autonomy in sight. Not sure the enlightenment’s coup was all that well thought out since keeping the King locked up doesn’t mean his loyal supports couldn’t get word out to the Qing. Not to mention Scholar Kim got Japan involved and that’s clearly not to end well for his dreams of a better tomorrow. I can enjoy this brief success while it lasts and it has been much too long since the good guys got in a win. I was dismayed by the high body count but Minister Kim’s death was nicely done and I’m glad Ho Kyung got some closure with his dad. He had to have known there was no way his dad would be allowed to live, I sometimes wonder if he really reconciled what he was doing was destroying his father completely. Soo In finding out he was one of the good guys was such a throwaway moment, as was everything related to Ho Kyung other than his emotional conflict with his dad. The OTP in this drama remaining so certain and committed to each other works for the central romance but strips away any other meaningful competition so the two second leads end up scrounging around for their own solo story lines. Ho Kyung’s didn’t quite fly and Hye Won’s briefly took flight before crashing spectacularly.
Hye Won’s death wasn’t a surprise and neither was how she went out. Merchant Choi had killed so many people during the course of this story, it was only fitting that he pulled the trigger on his own daughter in one of his missions to hold onto his power. Hye Won also interjected herself squarely into the conflict time and again, I wished I could feel sad at her passing because her life was so tragic, but like she said there was a moment when they headed down the wrong path and ended up suffering for it. Merchant Choi is also such a hypocrite I can’t stand him now, he can kill others but no one is allowed to hurt him back the same way. The writer gave the Choi father-daughter a pitiable back story but didn’t allow them to have any remorse for their own misdeeds while constantly justifying the ends for their own personal means. When characters I dislike die, such as Minister Kim and Hye Won, I can still be moved by their acceptance of the end, but wish there was just more complicated color to their personalities and thought processes so I can applaud them for staying true to their principles. Yoon Kang remains the one character that had really developed layers to his thought process through all the trials and tribulations and I trust in his decision to join the coup. I remain finger-crossed this drama will elect a happy ending over something bittersweet just so the audience can feel like the good guys came out on top in the end.
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