My continued enjoyment of Scholar Who Walks the Night is starting to get tempered by the realization that this drama might not have the capacity to do more beyond what it has already shown. That’s a disheartening feeling, liking the drama so much to want it to keep growing the mythology and digging deep into the pathos, yet all that exists is just skimming the surface. The outing of Gwi to the public doesn’t go anywhere since no one can believe there is a vampire living in the palace under the full permission of the royal family. Same goes with the arrival of Myung Hee doppleganger Hye Ryung, who spends the episode just being Gwi’s handmaiden of information.
On the other hand, the drama continues to take huge strides with the OTP romance between Sung Yul and Yang Sun, to the delight of shippers I’m sure, but to the detriment of actually showing the evolution of the romance in measured and meaningful ways. At this point it’s clear both like each other, but how that happened beyond isolated incidents of hanging out is beyond me. What does Sung Yul see in Yang Sun, and vice-versa? It’s on the budding friendship of Yoon and Yang Sun that works for me, and purely in their buddy buddy camaraderie without any romance intrusion yet. For a drama with so much fantastical elements, it really needs to be grounded in the human emotions, much like in the first episode, but that remains so cursory as to be fleeting.
Episode 5 recap:
Sung Yul cuts his palm again to use his special blood to heal Yang Sun’s ankle injury. He also notices Yang Sun’s annoyance with he said to her earlier to try and keep his distance from her. The citizens and scholars reading the flyers about the vampire in the palace are suddenly accosted by a gust of wind and afterwards the flyers have vanished.
Prince Lee Yoon tells his friend that when he was a child he was told by his father about the vampire in the palace. Little Yoon reads the book written by Prince Jonghyun describing Gwi, and how his father assured little Yoon that he discovered a way to destroy the monster. But if he failed, he wanted Yoon to look for his teacher Seo Jung Do about Prince Jonghyun’s memoir. Clearly Teacher Seo is Yang Sun’s dad since Yoon is looking for his childhood friend Seo Jin. Three days after that conversation, his father was branded a traitor and died soon afterwards.
Little Yoon went to see his dad’s remains and found the corpse completely drained of blood like in the vampire story. Beside Crown Prince Sado was his friend’s father as well as Yoon’s teacher Seo. Yoon is taken out of the room when the King arrives and overhears the subsequent conversation about how upsetting Gwi will mean the end of everyone here, including the King. The group moves to look for Prince Jonghyun’s memoir but cannot find it in the residence of Teacher Seo Jung Do.
Yoon points out that with how desperate Minister Choi, who is working for Gwi, is looking for the Lecherous Scholar, it must mean Gwi is also looking for the memoir. Yoon suddenly wonders if the missing memoir could have gone with the disappeared Seo Jin.
Turns out it was Sung Yul collecting all the flyers, likely to not escalate things with Gwi so soon. The son of the paper maker identifies the now dead man that was spreading the flyers as one of the men who came with the Lecherous Scholar to buy printing paper. The man’s arm has a slave brand on it that identifies him as a slave of Crown Prince Sado’s family. Soo Hyang points out that Crown Prince Sado’s family retainers were all killed ten years ago so Sung Yul sends his team out to investigate further, as well as looking for the still missing one-armed bookseller.
Yang Sun awakens from her nap to find her ankle fully recovered, thinking back to Sung Yul bandaging the wound for her in the forest. She’s about to put the cloth back on when she remembers Sung Yul telling her not to come look for him anymore. She’s about to angry toss the cloth away when she notices that the flyer on the table is gone. Elsewhere, Sung Yul is burning all the flyers.
Yang Sun tells her bookseller hyungs about the flyers, some got confiscated by soldiers but hers disappeared from inside the study. The booksellers are discussing whether there really are vampires in the world, with what the flyer is alleging plus what the hunter said about recently encountering the Scholar Who Walks the Night in the forest. Yang Sun wonders if the flyer is telling the truth, that would be the country is in reality being ruled by a vampire. The booksellers dismiss that possibility.
Yang Sun’s father comes to see her and asks that she stop her work looking for Prince Jonghyun’s memoir. When he worked as a bookseller for Crown Prince Sado, he spent 7 years looking for that book, and afterwards Crown Prince Sado was killed and everyone related to it was taken away. Yang Sun’s dad managed to avoid capture and survived until now because no one other than the one-armed bookseller knows what he did. He apologizes for hitting Yang Sun that day but he was too shocked when he heard she was looking for the book.
Yang Sun asks if her dad knows where the one-armed bookseller went and her dad makes the excuse that he’s probably getting a new shipment of goods from the Qing dynasty. He begs her again not to work for the Scholar anymore to look for the memoir so they can stay safe.
Soo Hyang invites a corrupt official who is susceptible to bribes to meet with Sung Yul, who pays the man off to acquire the slave register in the country. The official is so happy to get another box of money that he happily offers to do whatever Sung Yul needs going forward.
Yang Sun arrives at the gisaeng house just as Sung Yul and Soo Hyang walk the corrupt official out. Sung Yul pointedly ignores Yang Sun which Soo Hyang is happy to see. Soo Hyang walks up to Yang Sun and asks what she wants to see Sung Yul about? Yang Sun returns the bag of money and explains she can’t work for Sung Yul anymore on his task. Soo Hyang asks Yang Sun to keep the money and in the future if Soo Hyang needs her help to find a book.
Yang Sun thinks this is too much money but Soo Hyang asks why she would accept the same amount from Sung Yul but not her. Yang Sun admits she needs the money and agrees to it. Soo Hyang tells Sung Yul that rumors about Gwi continue to circulate in the public which worries Sung Yul because Gwi is likely to hear about the flyers soon. Soo Hyang brings up Yang Sun not working anymore for Sung Yul going forward which is odd since Yang Sun clearly needs money right now.
The loan sharks find their pictures being plastered around town as wanted for violating usury laws. Yang Sun finds them intending to repay the debt, not knowing that Lee Yoon already paid it for her and got the loan sharks in trouble with the law.
Yoon walks with his friend through town, discussing how word is spreading about the vampire in the palace that the royal family is keeping quiet about. He notices Yang Sun waiting outside the magistrate’s office and asks his friend to buy him some time so he can find out what Yang Sun is here for. Turns out Yang Sun is here to repay the money that Yoon paid off to the loan sharks.
Officers on horseback ride by and Yoon pulls Yang Sun into his arms out of harms way. He feels immediately that she’s a girl but doesn’t tell her that he knows her real gender. Yoon figures based on her looks that she’s got a stubborn prideful streak that won’t let her accept help. Yang Sun thinks he’s helped enough as the loan sharks believe she’s got powerful backers now including the royal grandson, though she’s unaware that Yoon is said royal.
Yoon asks Yang Sun to start calling him hyung-nim before he will accept the money, and keeps insisting until Yang Sun says it. He then notices that she doesn’t have good shoes and asks if she won’t be paying him interest. They go shopping, him to secretly buy her shoes but she believes he wants her to buy him something as interest. Yoon sees the cut on Yang Sun’s cheek and hears she got injured when she was taken away by fake officers when she went to Crown Prince Sado’s memorial service.
Yoon tries to elicit information about where the people were taken and hears it was a place in the forest but later when she went back the entire place had been burned down. Yang Sun is happy that everyone was safe in the end. Yoon asks if she’s on the side of public traitor Crown Prince Sado and Yang Sun admits she thinks he’s a great person. Because of his writings, many people learned to read in order to educate themselves on his works of wisdom. Yoon smiles hearing Yang Sun speak so highly of his dead dad. Talk turns to the flyers from yesterday alleging there is a vampire in the palace which Yang Sun finds it hard to believe even if the flyers mention Crown Prince Sado.
Yoon notices someone following them so pulls Yang Sun behind him as they run through the marketplace. Yoon’s men capture the follower who turns out to be Soo Hyang’s retainer, the same guy who followed Yang Sun in the forest. The man explains he wasn’t following Yoon but was following the bookseller Yang Sun.
Yang Sun confronts Soo Hyang about setting a man to tail her so Soo Hyang reacts by slapping the man silly and ordering him to never appear before her again. She asks Yang Sun is satisfied with her response but Yang Sun stands her ground, wanting Soo Hyang to answer her question about having her followed. Before Soo Hyang can start a bitch fight with Yang Sun, Sung Yul arrives and accepts full responsibility, claiming he ordered Soo Hyang to have Yang Sun followed.
Sung Yul steps aside to talk with Yang Sun, explaining that he wants to know what she’s up to because she seems to know more than she told him before suddenly not working for him. Sung Yul is about to dismiss Yang Sun when she tearfully admits she really wants to help him find the book and understands why he may not be able to trust her. She’s about to take the bag of money back to return to Sung Yul personally when she can’t find it.
Lee Yoon walks up waving the bag of money, calling Yang Sun his dongsaeng and wanting her to return the money so they can go have a drink. Sung Yul immediately recognizes Yoon as the royal grandson and wonders how he came to be friends with Yang Sun. She takes the money and returns it to Sung Yul who reluctantly accepts. Yoon heads off with Yang Sun and passes by Ho Jin who recognizes Yoon, explaining that he’s a scholar who draws erotic pictures and must be working with Yang Sun now to draw pictures for her books.
Yang Sun starts drinking and all she can talk about is Sung Yul, how he doesn’t answer her questions and just stares coldly at her, or how he seemed upset by her smell and left the room. Yoon asks if Yang Sun wants him to go teach Sung Yul a lesson so Yang Sun back hugs Yoon to stop him from going. She explains that Sung Yul saved her life many times and she owes him a debt of gratitude. Yoon asks her not to hug him around the waist while talking about another man because it’s so awkward.
Yang Sun releases her hold around Yoon and he asks with a smile if she’s feeling better. Yang Sun thanks Yoon for cheering her up and takes a big drink while noticing that Yoon is back to staring at her. She wonders if she really looks like his old friend and Yoon explains not so much anymore, thinking to himself that Seo Jin is a man. Yang Sun brings up the money she still owes him and Yoon wants her to repay it when his erotic drawing collection sells like hotcakes and she makes the big bucks. Yang Sun toasts to Yoon’s dream to become renowned in Joseon for his erotic drawings, and this scene is taken in by Sung Yul.
The drinking goes deep into the night, with Yang Sun explaining her high tolerance for alcohol because she needed to drink with the bookseller hyungs. Yang Sun says people can’t even tell she’s drunk because she doesn’t slur her words or weave when she walks. Yoon believes she can drink but wonders if she can outdrink him. He sees a retainer signal him so asks to drink with Yang Sun another time. Yang Sun bids him goodnight with a cute hyung-nim.
Hye Ryung pays Gwi a visit and he can sense her arrival by her strong scent, explaining that she has no idea how alluring her blood smells and how hard it is for him to keep her alive. Hye Ryung hands Gwi one of the flyers outing his existence to the world.
Yang Sun finishes drinking by herself and calls it a night after getting completely sloshed. She recalls past conversations with Sung Yul, when he asked if it was hard for her to pretend to be a boy. Yang Sun admits it’s been very hard but she needs to take care of her dad and her little sister’s leg injury medical bills. Sung Yul returns and finds Yang Sun all drunk and teary-eyed, with her believing that he’s just a figment of her imagination.
Yang Sun explains how she sees Sung Yul often now in her mind, as well as hearing his voice. Even though it hurts, she still worries about him and she doesn’t know why her heart feels this way. Is it because she’s falling in love with him? Sung Yul’s eyes widen to get this drunken confession from Yang Sun and he just stares at her. Yoon returns later with new shoes for Yang Sun but finds that she’s gone already.
Sung Yul goes back to the gisaeng house to find Soo Hyang nervously waiting for him to explain about what happened earlier. Sung Yul lets it go and wants Soo Hyang to stop having Yang Sun followed since she doesn’t work for Sung Yul anymore. He wants Yang Sun moved to place that Gwi cannot find her. Sung Yul suddenly clutches his chest in pain, sensing death coming from the palace.
Gwi is currently killing yet another of the King’s wives, sucking her dry in front of the King and another minister. The King wants Gwi to just kill him but Gwi needs him alive to find the Lecherous Scholar. He shows the flyer to the King and demands to know how the Lecherous Scholar knows of his existence. The minister reprimands the King for not telling Gwi about the flyers but the King is uncowed, explaining he wants to keep his throne which he exchanged the life of his own son for.
Gwi hands the search for the Lecherous Scholar to the minister and warns the King that if the royal grandson were to bring him the Lecherous Scholar then the King’s precious throne will need to be reevaluated. Sung Yul goes to the palace and sees retainers carrying the blood drained corpse of a concubine away, a sign that Gwi won’t stop killing until he finds the Lecherous Scholar.
Yang Sun wakes up in her family home courtyard with a splitting hangover and no clue how she got home. She notices brand new shoes on her feet and flashes back to Sung Yul giving her new shoes and putting it on her feet.
Yang Sun has trouble believing her drunken memory which takes her back to a scene with her being so happy with the news shoes and even happier that Sung Yul is smiling at her. She thinks he’s a figment of her dreams which is why he’s smiling at her and giving her new shoes and not getting mad at her or shooing her away. Yang Sun leans in to kiss Sung Yul since this is just a dream to her.
Sung Yul’s eyes widen by the sudden quick kiss. Yang Sun touches her lips and admits her heart is beating so fast even though this is just a dream. She clutches her chest with one hand while the other reaches out to touch Sung Yul’s chest to hear his heartbeat. She smiles hearing his heart beating as fast as her heart, wondering how this dream feels so much like reality. Sung Yul finally speaks, telling Yang Sun that this is a dream and when she wakes up she’ll forget it all. He then leans in to kiss her deeply.
Sung Yul is in his study and clutching his rapid beating heart. He then walks to another room, opening the door to a room where sunlight is streaming in. He holds his special black sun protection robe and chides himself for wanting some sort of ridiculous confirmation. He tosses the robe aside and walks towards the sunlight. He immediately starts to burn and tells himself to remember this lesson as proof that he’s just a vampire in human skin covering, with no hope of ever having normal things.
Yang Sun stares at her lips in the mirror, wondering if it’s swollen as proof that all the dream kissing was real. She shows her little sister the new shoes, with the shoes being proof that her Sung Yul dream may be real, which means the kissing in the dream was also real.
Ho Jin reports to Sung Yul that a lot of people are looking for Choi Do Gap, former bookseller to Crown Prince Sado. Sung Yul remembers Yang Sun asking him to keep secret knowledge that the one-armed bookseller may know something about Prince Jonghyun’s memoir. Ho Jin believes the one-armed bookseller is Choi, who was rumored to have died or went abroad after the Crown Prince was killed.
Yoon continues to keep the bookseller alive and in his captivity, asking him to assist in finding Prince Jonghyun’s memoir. As Yoon leaves, he notes that the soup today can’t compare to what he drank at Choi’s house ten years ago when he was just a little boy.
Yang Sun takes the news shoes and goes to see Sung Yul to confirm whether last night was a dream. Before she can knock on the door, Ho Jin and Sung Yul step out which leads Yang Sun to immediately turn around and run off. Sung Yul tells Ho Jin to leave Yang Sun be as he heads off. Yang Sun hides behind a tree, totally too scared to talk to Sung Yul. After he leaves, she wonders if she’s gone crazy since Sung Yul doesn’t even spare her a glance.
Soo Hyang finds an official from Jeju to help relocate Yang Sun and her family there because there is a doctor who lives there that can heal her little sister’s leg injury. Sung Yul is pleased since the further from Gwi the safer she will be. Hi Jin interrupts with urgent news that officers are arresting every single bookseller in the city.
Yang Sun is with her little children buddies in the outskirts of town, handing out books and promising to come back in three years. Officers raid the camp and Yang Sun drops her special amulet necklace and a book as she helps a child to hide.
Sung Yul is perched on the rooftop watching all the booksellers rounded up inside the magistrate’s office. He finds it weird that there are no guards around until he sees Gwi nearby. Gwi walks up to the booksellers and shows off Yang Sun’s bag, asking who it belongs to. He sniffs one and confirms it’s not the same scent as on the bag. He wants to know if the owner of the bag is here right now? Gwi grabs one bookseller and bites him on the neck right in frnt of everyone there.
Thoughts of Mine:
Gwi remains the most entertaining character to watch onscreen, even as he really has zero character development and limited MO in everything he does. Kudos to Lee Soo Hyuk for the fun performance, but right now Gwi seems to do whatever he wants however he wants with nothing to constrain the collateral damage. Doesn’t he know that there is a trigger to his power play, which is the truth about his existence potentially undermining the royal family that’s at his beck and call. If the public knew about the vampire in the palace, there could conceivably be a coup and even Gwi can’t win over a too numerous public unable to support this type of regime. I feel like Gwi seems bored and wants some fun, hence his constant prowling around to exert his presence and influence, even as the current threats against him seem like all smoke and mirrors. His interactions with Hye Ryung are pretty fascinating as well, the way she really doesn’t cower before him, and how cold she appears to everything around her. Nothing phases this girl, not a vampire or a dude mistakenly professing undying love for her. Speaking of which, Sung Yul certainly moved on fast from moping over Myung Hee to wishing for the possibility of a normal life with Yang Sun. Nothing wrong with that, but there is so much residual Myung Hee angst I want Sung Yul to work through with doppleganger Hye Ryung and it feels like the story line got introduced and halted in one fell swoop.
Good thing Yoon gets more screen time in this episode, and with it the background on what he’s been planning these past ten years. So he knows about the vampire Gwi, and was aware of his father’s brave but ultimately futile fight to destroy him. Poor Yoon certainly had to grow up overnight in the most painful of ways, including hearing first hand that his own grandfather chose to sacrifice his son to preserve the throne. I wished there could be more depth provided on the King, how he did it because he had grand plans for Joseon’s future and couldn’t let Gwi end the royal family line. He doesn’t come across as selfish but it would help if he brought Yoon, and the audience, into the loop. The dang memoir remains a pipe dream in this episode, and for the foreseeable future it seems, with me wondering if Yang Sun really might have it since she’s the daughter of the teacher who taught the prince. Right now her character is really so dull, the search for the memoir went nowhere and she’s not plugged in directly on the action. Except she gets so much screen time and it’s not all that substantive. Her pining for Sung Yul felt too superficial and too soon, and same goes for all the kissing they’ve been doing. Sung Yul is a major kissing bandit, and I’m counting on the tab the CPR he performed on Yang Sun since there was way too much lip movement just for air passing. If Soo Hyang found out she would blow a gasket and probably end Yang Sun’s life right then and there LOL.
Theoretically the OTP look great on paper, though not nearly as compelling as the trajectory of the romance as developed on the pages of the original manhwa. But the drama deviated from the get go in every way, and with it went the more teasing and tremulous romantic development of Sung Yul and Yang Sun. Right now they’ve barreled into pining for each other phase, when I’m all “but I don’t feel how and when they fell in love in the first place!” It would be great if he could share more about himself with her, but he doesn’t say much so she’s really falling for a specter of a person who happened to have saved her life many times. I still want Sung Yul to get fleshed out more as a character, just investigating and plotting Gwi’s destruction is commendable but doesn’t make as him interesting to watch as he has the potential to really gut the audience with his dilemma. That was briefly shown when he touched the sunlight to remind himself that he was a monster with no hopes for a normal life, but doing so because of Yang Sun doesn’t give me the same pathos. There is nothing inherently lacking about Scholar 5-episodes in, the action remains decently interesting and the visuals still a pleasure to take in. Ultimately it doesn’t pop, and a drama that doesn’t pop runs the risk of being one of those average rides that ends up forgotten the moment it’s done. This one really has the potential to be a searing drama experience, if only the writing could be elevated to deliver it.
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