The immortal infant everyone was after makes it to adulthood this hour, along with some other key players in the big gamble that Jackpot is turning out to be. There’s fun to be had here, some of it unintentionally, but so far things are interesting enough to keep watching. Only, now that there won’t be a baby for people to fight over, what will they fight over? Wait, don’t answer that—it’s gonna be the throne, isn’t it?
SONG OF THE DAY
EXO-K – “Playboy” [ Download ]
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Man-geum makes the bargain with Yi Injwa, gallantly stepping in so that his former wife won’t have to endure the torture of the gamble any longer. He’s made up his mind that the baby in that blanket is his son, and he’s going to do whatever it takes to protect him.
But Injwa seeks to spice the wager up a bit, and does so by having Lady Choi tied to a tree while holding her baby, within perfect shooting range of his arrows. How did Man-geum agree to this?
So now it’s Lady Choi and the baby on the line, and Man-geum has just one chance to pick the right card in order to save both their lives. Injwa prepares by drawing his arrow taut and aiming for the pair, while Man-geum frets over which card to pick.
He realizes before choosing that the card may be in the stack and not the five laid out on the table, and his pick turns out to be correct.
Orrrr not, as Injwa reveals—or maybe he’s rigged this game so that there’s just no winning for anyone but himself. Man-geum lets out a cry as Injwa lets the arrow fly, seemingly landing in the twin targets of mother and son.
There’s a few moments of bated breath before Lady Choi looks up to reveal that the arrow narrowly missed her. It’s unclear if Injwa meant for this to happen, though he marvels that the immortal infant truly does have good luck.
Either way, Injwa says that the child will one day be his, which is his unavoidable fate for being the king’s child. He’ll take Man-geum’s life once the child is grown, which is when Lady Choi returns to the pavilion to swear that she’ll never forgive Injwa for what he’s done, nor will she continue to follow his orders. (How did she get untied, anyway?)
Injwa merely shrugs her threats off. If she can’t forgive him, what does she plan to do about it? She was born into nothing, and now has no one, not even a child to cement her place as a concubine.
“I have already thrown you away,” he hisses as he holds her by the chin. Then, releasing her, he tosses her an herbal tonic made to help expectant mothers later into their pregnancy. Curious.
A crying Lady Choi goes to her former husband, apologizing profusely for all that’s happened. She sent her child to him because she was sure that he would die if he stayed in the palace, though he ended up in danger anyway.
“I gave him a name,” Man-geum ventures, before telling her that he named the baby “Keddong,” or “Dog Poop.” (It sounds bad, but there was a belief that naming your child something lowly at birth would give it better fortune in the future.) She smiles at the name.
Later, as Man-geum takes the child away from the pavilion, Eyepatch asks what changed his mind about the baby. Now that he’s already had his chance to throw it off a cliff, Man-geum adds sagely that none of this is the baby’s fault.
Eyepatch takes this as a sign of maturity from Man-geum, who now promises to take care of the child as his own. As for whether he’s forgiven his wife, however, Man-geum says he still hates her. He’ll just look past it for the baby’s sake.
Lady Choi returns to the palace that night, only to find Lady Jang waiting for her in her quarters, ready to question her on her night out. Since she’s broken every court rule by leaving, the queen consort declares that she will be punished.
Any pleading on the part of Lady Choi goes unheeded, even as she prostrates herself in the rain outside Lady Jang’s quarters. She’s placed into a large clay pot, with heavy rocks to hold the lid firmly in place.
Time passes that way, as Lady Choi’s loyal court ladies all weep dutifully beside the pot. When King Sukjong is informed of Lady Choi’s punishment by the Spooky Twins, he has them free her, and looks on the verge of a stroke as he takes in her wan appearance.
As the royal doctor examines her, King Sukjong asks Lady Jang how she ended up in the pot, admonishing the queen for locking her up without hearing what her reason might’ve been.
That’s when Lady Choi’s loyal friend speaks up, proffering the herbal tonic Injwa gave her as she claims that her lady needed to see a doctor right away. The royal doctor confirms that Lady Choi is indeed pregnant, which seems to give her the perfect excuse for having gone out. Ah, so did Injwa knowingly give her an excuse, or did he just know she was pregnant?
Lady Jang knows she’s in trouble now, and judiciously keeps quiet as the king takes his leave. Once conscious, Lady Choi thinks back to Injwa tossing her the tonic, and wonders how he knew her secret.
Regardless, she curls her arm protectively over her belly as she inwardly declares that she will protect this child from him, and see him rise to the throne to pay Injwa back for all that he’s put her through.
Injwa’s already moved on to another woman to use as his agent within the palace, since it turns out she’s the one who told him her suspicion that Lady Choi was pregnant.
“Is there anything you fear?” she asks wonderingly of the man who seems to know everything, to which Injwa responds by looking someplace far away. There is one person he fears:
“He has risen to the top of the world alone, and governs all those below him. He is a warrior who can fearlessly face one million soldiers, and one who can even cut a mountain down. He is a monster with one hundred eyes, and one thousand ears: The King.”
We find that all-knowing monster wearing spectacles as he plays a game of chess with himself, not even bothering to look up as Lady Choi pays him a visit. “I’m telling you to stop,” he says somewhat abruptly, taking her by surprise.
He’s specifically referring to her relationship with Injwa, though he doesn’t mention him by name. He knew that Injwa was behind her coming to the palace, and admits that the only reason he hasn’t killed him was because he knew that Injwa was the only backer she had. And he knew, just as well, that she needed that support to survive the harsh daily life of the palace.
Only now, he thinks its time for her to rid herself of her sponsor, not knowing that she already has. He compares how he feels toward her to how he feels toward Lady Jang, which is its own strange compliment, before adding that because he cares for her so much, he’ll overlook the child she sent away from the palace.
Lady Jang has changed her tune when it comes to Lady Choi now (at least outwardly), and invites her to play a game with her and the woman we saw with Injwa. It’s a game of strategy commonly played by soldiers, used to unofficially delineate hierarchy and rank.
But when the shamanistic mystery woman picks up the game pieces, she’s suddenly overcome with a prophetic seizure. They focus on it for what seems like much too long, before she turns her unseeing gaze toward Lady Choi.
It’s then she has a vision of a king sitting on the throne, though his face is obscured. Red and gold imagery from the throne itself flashes before her eyes, before she returns to herself and whispers something to Lady Jang.
Whatever it is, Lady Jang isn’t too happy to hear it, and reveals why: The shaman has seen the baby in Lady Choi’s womb as a prince, and one who will one day take the throne. So she resolves to settle their dispute by gambling, which is the only way to solve problems, declaring that if Lady Choi wins, she’ll treat her as a friend.
But if she wins, she’ll kill her. Lady Choi has to throw the sticks so that all are facing upward to win, which she doesn’t, and Lady Jang laughs bitterly. It’s then that she tells Choi about all the malicious rumors being spread about her in the palace, from her lowly background, to her dead son not being the king’s, to that dead son still being alive and with her other husband.
As she mentions Man-geum, we see royal guards storm his house and arrest him. We see him next that night, bloodied and tied to a chair in the palace courtyard, with Lady Jang holding the child. She takes one look at it and declares that it can’t be the king’s son when it looks so much like Man-geum and Lady Choi, who can only stand silently nearby.
Lady Jang seeks to get a confession out of Man-geum to prove that he was once Lady Choi’s husband and the father of that baby, and has her brother torture him. Speaking through the cloud of smoke from his singed flesh, Man-geum doesn’t break, and adamantly claims that he doesn’t even know Lady Choi.
Since he shows no signs of confessing, Lady Jang turns to her rival. Since she can’t exactly torture her, she threatens to kill the baby instead, and no sooner does her maid raise the baby in her arms as if to throw it down onto the ground does a voice call for them to stop.
It’s King Sukjong, which means Lady Jang has a lot of explaining to do. She’s nervous, but claims she has witnesses to prove that the child is Lady Choi’s, and calls forth the two maids who delivered the babe to recognize his features.
Unfortunately for her, the maids claim that the baby is not the same one Lady Choi bore, leaving Lady Jang with no option but to present the baby to the king and ask him to verify if the child is his.
King Sukjong just looks at her when she holds the baby up to him, before finally taking it into his arms. He gives the boy one glance before proclaiming that he isn’t the prince.
His intensity leaves Lady Jang so frightened that she crumples to her knees, unable to believe what’s happening. She turns her ire to Lady Choi, but is stopped from advancing on her by the king, who grabs her by the hair. Oh, he mad now.
Roaring at the gathered spectators to disperse, King Sukjong drags Lady Jang by the hair and throws her out the nearest gate. Man-geum is released with the child, leaving Lady Choi to weep alone.
It turns out that Man-geum grabbed the wrong baby, though likely on purpose, and he returns it to the angry mother that night in exchange for his son. That’s why the witnesses weren’t able to recognize the baby, or the king. And here I thought the maids had been bought off.
Ministers amass outside the king’s quarters in the rain to call for Lady Jang’s punishment, which the king grants by having her brother arrested.
It’s the year 1694, and Lady Choi narrates what we’ve missed over scenes of her giving birth to Prince Yeoning, the future King Yeongjo. Along with her brother’s arrest, Lady Jang is deposed and exiled, but her son is allowed to remain in the palace as crown prince.
She gives him one last word of advice as his mother, which is to destroy whoever ends up in his path. He’s to never forgive or forget, which is the only way he can become king. Her son promises to do as she says, and looks on tearfully as his mother bows one last time to his father, who turns his back on her and leaves.
Injwa appears like a monster from the closet to a young Prince Yoon, future King Gyeongjong, and presents a bag of black and white stones which he claims will be able to tell the boy’s future. If the prince picks a black stone, he’ll die miserably, but if he picks a white stone, he’ll have a long and prosperous life sitting on the throne.
The frightened boy reaches into the bag, and pulls out a white stone. He smiles with relief upon seeing it, leading Injwa to promise his unyielding support to the prince. He needs something in return, and the young prince foolishly promises to give him everything he has—even the throne—as long as he can protect him.
Injwa holds to his word, and pays off those who would try to depose the young crown prince in order to guarantee his safety. The shaman from earlier marvels at how far Injwa has planned ahead, since everything that’s happened has gone according to his wishes, and he just chuckles.
He’s planned much further ahead than even she thinks, as he spills the bag of stones he’d offered to the young prince, revealing all of them to be white.
Twenty years later, in the town of Sangju. KEDDONG (Jang Geun-seok) is all grown up now, and is up to the same tricks as his father, Man-geum. Both of them have a lot riding on this next cockfight, and try to rig the game by feeding their rooster crushed peppers to make him crazier.
They get all excited that their rooster is going to win, until he suddenly decides to stop fighting and just sit around instead. We cut from Keddong’s dejected face at the fight, to Keddong’s dejected face as he sits in front of a roasted chicken, presumably their losing rooster. Hahaha.
They share the chicken with Eyepatch, all three of them dejected over their recent loss. Keddong tries to cheer his father up by telling him he can make the money back by playing cards—he’s the infamous Baek Man-geum, after all.
We catch up to Injwa, who calmly admires some flowers as his bodyguard and a grown-up DAM-SEO (Im Ji-yeon) engage in a sparring sword fight. After all, he’s the one behind the peddler who told Man-geum about the upcoming Tujeon (ye olde playing cards) match, in the hopes he would attend.
Keddong urges his father to go to the capital to play in the match, bemoaning the fact that he’s grown up in a small town all his life—he should at least see the capital once before he dies. Eyepatch even chides the boy, who calls him “Grandpa,” for pushing the issue when his father doesn’t want to participate.
But Keddong doesn’t back down, reminding his father of his promise to make him a nobleman and marry him to a beautiful bride when he turned twenty. Well, he’s twenty now, so what gives? “If I continue to believe what you say, what does that make me? An idiot?”
Man-geum can’t deny that his son needs a wife, but claims that they don’t have the money to get to the capital. Keddong latches onto this idea, and devises a way to get the one hundred nyang his father claims they need to get to the capital.
Keddong tries to accomplish this by sounding the alarm at a nearby trader group so that he can steal from them while they’re away, but he’s caught easily enough.
He’s left with no choice but to fight his way out, and ends up running with a lot of angry, fur-clad men hot on his heels. Hah. His father and Eyepatch end up having to run from the group too, when Keddong tosses them the one hundred nyang he stole, with the angry men still in pursuit.
Lady Choi, now promoted to the rank of Sukbin, believes a guest is on the way when she sees the omen of a swallow nesting in the palace eaves. We follow the swallow (unintentional, I swear) until it reaches Keddong, who’s just arrived outside the capital after a long journey.
He’s absolutely elated, and tells the big city that he’s Keddong, the best card shark in Joseon.
Meanwhile, Hong Mae is called out by one of her subordinates to see the gambler who cleaned them out a month ago back in her casino. And though they have no idea who he is, we recognize him as PRINCE YEONING (Yeo Jin-gu) in disguise. He’s described as a troublemaker and playboy, the scourge of Joseon.
Keddong starts to feel self-conscious over his name when he hears children singing about actual “dog poop” in the capital, and he wants a real name. A consummate gambler, he promises his father and grandfather that he can turn the little bit of money they can spare into more.
In answer, his dad gives him one nyang, and tells him that if he’s such a good gambler, he can turn that measly coin into more. He doesn’t recognize the place Eyepatch drags him by the ear to, until his father says that this used to be the house he lived in with Keddong’s mother.
Man-geum can’t help but fondly remember his wife as she used to appear to him there, and wonders if she’s doing well. Apparently, the house is still his, so he and Eyepatch just have to use a little elbow grease to bring it back up to living standards.
Keddong uses this opportunity to take his one nyang into town, and ends up on a busy street. A horse and rider make their way through the crowd, and Keddong looks up to see the beautiful Dam-seo, partially obscured by her veil.
Ah, cliffhangers like this remind me of the old days. Since we’re so heavily entrenched in the setup phase for now, this is the kind of cliffhanger that works solely by hinting at what’s to come, which in this case, is the idea of Keddong and Dam-seo interacting. We don’t need to know much more than that, if only because the casting alone is exciting. And since everyone’s coalescing around one area for the big match to come, it means everyone will finally get a chance to meet.
The introduction of Jang Geun-seok’s character came at just the right time, because while he couldn’t singlehandedly save the show from its own silliness, his character felt like a breath of fresh air by being purposefully silly. We needed someone to latch onto at just that time, and since it wasn’t going to be Lady Choi or Man-geum, the younger cast’s injection of energy felt sorely needed. They’re the reason we’re here—well, them and the scene-stealing Choi Min-soo.
Maybe it’s just the excitement of seeing Jang Geun-seok in something half-decent after what feels like forever, but his entrance definitely gave off Warrior Baek Dong-soo vibes in the best of ways. That show could veer into silly territory as well, but was consistently brought back by the virtue of its talented young cast. Hopefully, the same production team that brought us the flawed but lovable Baek Dong-soo can recreate some of the same magic here. They’ve certainly got the talent to give it the good ol’ college try, if nothing else.
Because if we’re just looking at events by their execution alone, there’s not a whole lot to fawn over, necessarily. I’m not too concerned about that yet, since the show could make up for its failures in certain areas by excelling in others, but there were a few moments in this episode that had a tendency to fall short of what I can only assume was the production’s intent.
For instance, when you hinge reveals on pivotal moments that happen off-screen, we need to at least have an idea of how and why they came about. It’s great that Man-geum switched babies before he was taken in for torturing/questioning, but how did that come to pass? Did he know he was going to need that decoy child, or was it just pure happenstance? And if it was, then, what?
Injwa also relies on a lot of coincidence to get things done, although the show would have us believe that everything we’re seeing is actually happening according to his plan. It wants to make sure we know this by inserting a Yes Man into Injwa’s scenes, whose sole purpose is to say “Wow, you’re so great at planning!” whenever we begin to doubt him. I can buy that he is that devious, but only if the show acknowledges that it’s still pretty weird for a guy to go around stealing babies and sneaking into kids’ rooms at night.