Jang Ok Jung is promoted to level one concubine and the Queen Mother takes a turn towards the nice…well at least fake nice. The court intrigue is at top form in this episode as it is revealed who knows what and who is crazy enough to plot the next move. Hint- the next move is pretty crazy.
The Queen and Ok Jung have a tense conversation which mainly constitutes Ok Jung accusing the Queen of knowing she was pregnant before she was subjected to the horse ride that ended in a miscarriage (wow, what a mouthful of an accusation). We are treated to flashbacks that reveal just that, the Queen was in the know and still let Ok Jung get on a crazy drugged up horse. I guess In Hyun is not so passive after all.
Meanwhile the Queen Mother must have watched the last fourteen episodes and realized her tactics just aren’t working. Hitching her wagon to a new train she tells the King she will accept Ok Jung, cries her regret over all of her terrible misdeeds, and invites Ok Jung for tea. Of course the session of tea ends with Ok Jung being threatened and bullied into giving up her parental rights to any child she may give birth to. The Queen Mother, taking a queue from Ok Jung herself, threatens suicide if the concubine will not give up her children to be raised by the Queen. Ok Jung, backed into a corner, agrees.
After Ok Jung leaves the room the Queen (who has also joined the angry threatening tea session) is subjected to a medical examination. The Queen mother wants to be sure the royal shaman was right and much to her sorrow she was- In Hyun is fertile. The physician in no uncertain terms explains that no matter what In Hyun cannot have a child- she is barren. In Hyun, this being the first time hearing of her fertility situation cannot help but cry (way to be sensitive in your reveal Queen Mother). Ok Jung, who stuck around outside during the exam, overhears everything and now knows the Queen is infertile. Ok Jung also overhears the Queen Mother say, in no uncertain terms, that her and In Hyun’s strategy must involve taking the children of the King to be raised by the Western Party and end in Ok Jung’s death.
The King pays a visit to Ok Jung, who is visibly upset at his Mother’s words. She does not reveal to the King the threat from his Mother and instead pleads with him to love her no matter what she does- because all of her future actions will only be because she loves him. This cryptic message hints at future plotting to come, a fact that seems not to register with the monarch
Ok Jung calls for her uncle. She explains to him that his dream- to be the father in law of the King- will most likely never happen; after all she is only a concubine who will not even have the ability to raise her own children. Uncle picks up on her meaning right away and the two concoct a scheme to see Ok Jung as Queen before she has her future child taken away from her.
We cut to the King, Ok Jung, and Prince D having a friendly meal. Prince D remarks that Ok Jung does not need to be the food tester for the King (a position usually reserved for a court maid- after all this person tastes the King’s food in case it is poisoned and will feel the full effects of such poison if it is present). Ok Jung tells him it is her pleasure to do so. The dinner is interrupted by a message that the royal inspectors, sent to the eight provinces, have returned. The King cuts the meal short and leaves to meet them.
The inspectors bring word that the Western party has been abusing their power- committing a bevy of petty and serious misdeeds through out the land. The next day the King confronts his retainers with the evidence from the inspectors- only to have the father-in-laws two tell him that if he keeps up such distrust the retainers will no longer be loyal. The King wisely explains that he has inspectors to make sure the people of the kingdom are safe and well treated- a statement that the father in laws cannot really argue with. As they leave they note the political savvy of the king over that of his late father.
Ok Jung pays a visit to the Queen, complete with a tray of food. The Queen questions Ok Jung’s gift. Ok Jung tells her majesty that tray contains the King’s favorite food. Ok Jung explains that she was very upset by the Queen Mother’s suggestion that she gives up her children but now, upon being accepted by the court, is ready to let the Queen have her moment in the sun. She suggests that the Queen prepare the King’s favorite dishes that evening and spend time with him. Ok Jung tells the Queen she will be out of the way that night; she is planning a visit to see her Mother.
The King takes a trip (in disguise) to the local market in order to understand how the new currency is faring with the people. The first thing he tries to purchase gives him his answer- he is given change consisting of fake coin. Master Jin happens to come by at this moment and interrupts the exchange, telling the merchant that he will report him for using counterfeit coins.
The King is intrigued by Master Jin and follows him- peppering him with questions on the currency, who he is, and what his new business venture consists of. Master Jin mistakes the King for a spy and holds a sword to his neck, only to have the King’s faithful guard return the favor. It is then that the King’s identity is revealed; leaving Master Jin to look shocked as the monarch leaves to return to the palace.
The Queen follows Ok Jung’s suggestions and has the King’s favorite dishes prepared. We are privy to a scene in the kitchen, where a maid sneaks in and proceeds to sprinkle a strange powder in the food. Meanwhile a royal physician instructs the kitchen to start brewing the Queen Mother’s medicine stronger- an instruction met with protest from the Kitchen. The physician will hear none of it and reminds the kitchen maid that this is an order from the higher ups.
Ok Jung leaves the palace for her Mothers house but quickly turns around (without warning). We cut to a scene of the King at his desk when a woman (her face not shown) enters the room. He looks up at her.
Next we find the Queen bringing the food she has had prepared to the King’s bedroom. As she enters she is shocked to find Ok Jung there. Ok Jung explains that she decided not to visit her Mother and that upon returning to the palace was summoned by the King (who is out for a walk). The Queen looks uncomfortable but before she can leave the King returns.
The three sit down for an awkward wife-husband-concubine meal. Ok Jung once again assumes food tasting duties. After tasting the dish she proclaims it safe. Just as the King and Queen are about to eat the food Ok Jung collapses to the floor in convulsions.
The King carries Ok Jung to a physician. He takes up at her bedside as she slips into critical condition, the apparent poison taking its affect. The King orders a full investigation, led by Master Jo of the Southern Party.
The court is on pins and needles as the rumors fly: the Western party is to blame and the poisoning was plotted by no less than the Queen. The investigation, managed by the party opposite that of the Queen and Queen Mother, does not bode well for those in charge. Master Min, the Queen’s father, confronts her and learns that Ok Jung suggested the meal. Meanwhile the Queen Mother also learns this detail but before she can verbally conclude the concubine’s part in the plot she falls into a coughing fit, blood coming from her mouth.
Ok Jung wakes up to find the King still at her bedside. She hugs him, telling him she is just so happy to have returned from death to be at his side. We hear a voice over of what she told the King earlier- not to hate her for what she would do. It is not clear if this is something that the King remembers or something Ok Jung is replaying in her head.
A flashback fills in the background of how Ok Jung ended up being poisoned: her uncle (and Ok Jung) schemed to have her ingest a medicine that would make her unconscious for a time but not kill her, the end goal being the take down of the Western Party. Like a phoenix she would rise from the ashes more powerful and ready to claim the spot of Queen.
The current Queen is outside her quarters with her maids when the royal guard busts in. The investigation has indicated the Queen was somehow involved with the poisoning, leading the King to order that the Queen should be confined to her chambers as the investigation continues. With tears in her eyes In Hyun watches as her personal maid is dragged off to be tortured.
“Then he showed those men of will what will really was.”
~The Usual Suspects, description of Keyser Soze
There is a time for everything- like quoting the film Usual Suspects when talking about a Korean drama. Thank you JOJ episode 15. I introduce you to Keyser Söze Jang Ok Jong- she would poison herself to get back at her enemies. That is how hardcore she is. Seriously, the sad thing is I am not even kidding. Apparently Ok Jung has been subjected to so many failed plots that she has learned to streamline- she enacts the plot herself and ends up with the same result (more power and more love). Yay for plotting efficiency! I think. Seriously this was screwed up. This episode made one thing certain- Ok Jung will do almost anything now that she has been pushed to the brink.
Do I hate Ok Jung for her plotting? Not quite but the one thing that bothered me in this episode more than the others is the innocent people that were involved. To me it is one thing to have bad people who do bad things to you cause you to seek revenge. It is another to have their maids tortured in the name of revenge. I guess I am a softie like that. But I still don’t hate her when I consider the environment she is in, after all she is playing the grander game of court plotting and therefore going with the norm. I am a little disappointed she would see innocent people hurt but I get it- after all she has been: almost killed, forced to have a miscarriage, and almost forced to drink infertility medicine. Her mother was embarrassed beyond belief and everyone wants her to die. She is living in a world where her enemies are protected by social status and not afraid to hurt innocent people to get what they want. It would be kind of hard not to be pissed in that situation and fall into the court plotting method of revenge. I just hope for a little less innocent people torture in the future, Ok Jung…I mean Keyser Söze Ok Jung, you are better than that.
Still waiting to see what Master Jin will do and how he will play into the larger story. This episode he met the King and it was evident that his love of Ok Jung made him look at the monarch as a bitter rival in love. Master Jin’s burning look is going to go somewhere and I am anxious to see where.
Speaking of uncertainty I am have major anxiety going on right now in regards to our yet to become a story factor concubine- Suk Bin Choe. There is no doubt she will play a major part in our story, history and the casting of this drama tells us so. I have some suspicion that she may be the one who entered the King’s study in this episode; after all he was surprised to see Ok Jung in his bedroom and made no hint that he had seen her that night prior to that encounter (someone please let me know if I missed something here, to me it seemed like this mystery woman was not Ok Jung). Suk Bin Choe is a big unknown with a huge historical precedence, the actual person was the concubine that restored the power of the Western Party and took the spot of Ok Jung as King Sukjong’s favorite concubine. I am too much of an Ok Jung fan at this point to be happy about this, so I will make a sad face and move on to the next episode. Stupid history.
As of this entry in the series I think we have reached the point where the Western party is on its last leg (at least for now)-I would love to see them get out of this one. Because even if the truth is revealed it is too screwed up for anyone to believe- she poisoned herself! I mean come on. Well played Ok Jung. That said I am starting to puzzle over where in this alternate history this show will end. The “real” history of these two women, these two parties, and King Sukjong is a story of reversals. We have nine episodes left, will we see this story all the way to the end (and by end I mean end of this trios lives together) or are we going to end up somewhere in the middle with a fictional ending that speaks little of the reality of history? I am not sure but I am thrilled to find out. A call for more…next episode why are you so far away?