Daebak Episode 19 ~ Beginning The Second Turning Point
Just as an early episode represented a change from Gae Ddong to Dae Gil, this episode represents a major turning in the politics of the nation as well as a major turning point for our leading protagonists, Dae Gil and Yeoninggun. But let’s step back into history first.
With the death of King Sukjong, Crown Prince Yi Yoon assumes the throne as King Gyeonjong. He’s not an especially bright individual and easily swayed by whomever get to him first. Moreover, he’s physically sickly. Unlike his mother in the drama, history records her as saying she wanted him to die with her and, using a wooden instrument, inflicted a wound on his body that prevented him from reproducing. Nevertheless, the new King is allied with the Soron party – the party of In Jwa and Jeong Hee Ryang. Shortly after Yi Yoon assumes the throne as King Gyeonjong, a major merge occurs. The Sorons take power and throw the Norons out. Worse, a multitude of Norons are killed. The remaining Norons continue to pin their hopes on Yeoninggun whom Gyeonjong has named Crown Prince.
Partly of self-interest and partly out of concern because of the King’s illness, the Norons push to make Yeoninggun Crown Prince Regent. Their plans fails, however, and more Norons are exiled or killed. After that plan fails, the Norons decide to assassinate the king. Again their plan fails and more lose their heads.
Meanwhile, the Sorons are not satisfied with having momentarily defeated their political opponents, they still fear Yeoninggun who has assumed control of most the government due to his brother’s illness. They want him dead. Their first plot to assassinate him while on a hunting trip to rid the palace of a white fox fails. Yeoninggun learns of the plot and hides out with the Dowager Queen Inwon who protects him. Afterwards, he tells his brother, the King, that he wishes to resign his station and live as a commoner. This plea was not the first nor the last time Yeoninggun used this ploy to show his loyalty to the Crown. His plea, though, is refused, and he remains Crown Prince. The only ones who suffer from the plot are the Soron servants who assisted their masters.
At the end of four years, Gyeonjong dies after eating shrimp salad. The shrimp had been brought from the coast, some 30 miles away, during the heat of the year without any ice to keep them fresh. Seeing their chance again to rid themselves of Yeoninggun, the Sorons accuse him poisoning the King. However, given the absolute rules of succession, they can’t stop him from assuming the throne as King Yeongjo. Once he does, the Norons regain their ascendency and the Sorons not only lose power but also forfeit thousands of lives. The History of Korea says Yeongjo was probably powerless to stop the Norons from their bloody revenge, but he grew so distraught by their blood lust that he brought back some Sorons to counterbalance the control of the Norons.
The Sorons, though, don’t give up. Determined to regain the former power, they spread the rumor throughout Joseon that Yeongjong poisoned his brother, the former King. Yeongjo constantly battles those rumors and eventually beheads Kim Il Kyung, one of the leading Soron ministers who spread the rumor. However, the Soron plot to rid themselves of Yeongjo doesn’t end with Kim’s beheading. The Sorons decide the only way is revolution. Continuing to spread their rumor throughout Joseon and building up support, they devise a coup d’etat. Both Yi Injwa and Jeong Hee Ryang are recruited as generals. At first, Yeongjo doesn’t take their posters and activities seriously. However, when word reaches the palace of the Soron backed armies marching north, taking town after town and garrison after garrison under the banner of the dead King, towards Hanyang, he mobilizes the five military branches. He sends extra troops north, east, west and south. In an almost surprising move, he promotes a Soron, O Myeong Hang, to General In Chief. Needless to say, the main instigators of the rebellion are caught and beheaded. Jeong’s army is defeated fairly early, and General O defeats In Jwa’s army on their march towards Hanyang. General O captures In Jwa and takes his prisoner to Hanyang. The heads of the revolutionary leaders are mounted on the city gates. And King Yeongjo holds a palace feast to celebrate the victory and to reward General O and others for their loyalty.
So, with all of that history having been said, we can begin to see where Daebak is heading. Sukjong is dead; Yi Yoon ascends the throne as Gyeonjong; Yeoninggun becomes Crown Prince; Jeong Hee Ryang is in prison; and In Jwa remains free and able to influence the new King. Given how closely the script writer, Kwon Soon Gyu, has chosen to follow actual history, it’s not impossible to assume that Jeong will be released from prison at the insistence of In Jwa and that many of the Noron leaders will disappear as a result of both Soron revenge and their own aborted treasonous plots against Gyeongjong. Both Dae Gil and Yeoninggun will be caught in the middle of this political battle for ascendency. How Kwon, in the few remaining episodes, deals with all this political upheaval obviously remains to be seen. But we know Yeoninggun survives to become King Yeongjo. And Dae Gi;’s fate? Maybe he will become the Dynasty’s fabled corruption fighter.
Now, episode 19. Here I have a couple of nitpicks with writer Kim concerning logic. First, why was the young, murdered prince living outside the palace (or so it seems) and unguarded? Okay, I get that he wanted to spend as little as possible on himself and give his allowance to the poor, but still…unguarded and living outside the palace? Second, why did all the ministers assume or want to assume that Yeoninggun committed the murder of his younger brother? What would he gain by killing a younger brother? I could understand Yeoninggun wanted to rid himself of his older brother to gain the throne, but his younger brother? My last nitpick concerns the portrayal of the rebel Jeong. He’s portrayed as this great hero of the common man fighting against the deep corruption and rot of the government who suddenly turns out to be as corrupt and rotten as the government.
Nevertheless, many of the plot threads, through this episode, begin to come together into a tightly woven tapestry of political intrigue and psychological warfare. And episode provides the turning point that brings all those threads together. At least I hope that is the case. Quite honestly, in my opinion, episode 19 is one of the best of the drama. It didn’t leave me sitting on the edge of my chair, demanding to know what happens next, or leave me stunned shock. Rather it sparked some psychological nerve that said slow down, look closely and think about what occurred. Where will the drama – and the characters – go now while at the same time remaining true to history? How are the multiple threads coming together? And why is Man Geum running around so mysteriously? Does he really believe his son, whom he raised and knows so well, will choose to be King or has he lost his mind? What was the point of bringing him back to life when he seems like such a doomed character? Is he aligned with In Jwa and Jeong as this episode indicates or not as episode 17 led us to think. I can’t quite figure out his presence yet…or why Dae Gil with all his seeming allies can’t find him. It’s all these questions that cause me to say this drama is a suspenseful mystery rather than just a historical drama. And perhaps only mystery addicts would love it as we try to figure out “who done it” and why.