Tale of Nokdu: Episodes 7-8
Cross-dressing, cohabitation hijinks, and love lines that are getting completely tangled by all the identity swaps — I don’t know what I was expecting but this show is delivering all I ever wanted and more. As our hero continues his quest to uncover the truth of his past, he finds himself getting more and more caught up in the affairs of one spunky gisaeng. Luckily, neither really seem to mind.
EPISODE 7 “Second Chance”
Entering the guest house, Dong-joo braces herself for the worst but it stunned to find Nokdu waiting for her instead. He cheekily introduces himself as her mother and a flashback reveals that after Dong-joo was taken away, Nokdu had gone to Lady Cheon and asked to adopt Dong-joo (thereby freeing her from the gibang) in exchange for the gold frog he’d received from the runaway widow he’d helped.
Lady Cheon was incredulous of his motives and Nokdu admitted he’d grown fond of Dong-joo, saying he wanted to protect her from doing at least one thing she didn’t want to. Additionally, he promised to stay nearby and live with Dong-joo in the widows’ village. Having gained Lady Cheon’s approval, Nokdu had ran ahead to the guesthouse and practiced his big reveal.
Catching sight of himself in the mirror, Nokdu had been shocked by his womanly appearance and, finding a set of men’s clothes in a cabinet, had changed before Dong-joo arrived. In the present, Dong-joo asks why he’s going through so much trouble for her and Nokdu stutters that he has to stay in the village but Dong-joo keeps kicking him out.
She remains unconvinced and Nokdu teasingly asks if she’s worried he’ll get caught. He’s surprised when she agrees, but Dong-joo whines that her reputation will suffer for helping a womanizer. Hee. Dong-joo gripes that she still has a lot of questions, but promises to help Nokdu to repay him for saving her. She thinks that will make them even, but Nokdu gently takes her hand… and presses her thumbprint on the document he’d written before she arrived.
It’s an IOU with an exorbitant interest fee and Dong-joo accuses Nokdu of fraud. They bicker playfully until they hear someone calling for Dong-joo outside. She rushes out to find Yul-mu and he’s momentarily struck speechless at the sight of her dolled up as a gisaeng. Yul-mu starts to explain that he’s come to retrieve Dong-joo, but trails off when Nokdu (as Lady Kim) exits the guest house.
As they walk back to the gibang, Nokdu muses that he’d wondered what had happened to the perverted nobleman that Dong-joo was supposed to meet, realizing Yul-mu had taken care of it. Nokdu briefly wonders if Yul-mu is from a high-ranking family himself, but dismisses it since he’s more handsome. Heh.
Sensing something, Nokdu suddenly tells Dong-joo to go ahead. Once she and Yul-mu have gone, Ssook appears from behind a tree and holds her sword to Nokdu’s throat. She demands to know why he abandoned his mission (to kill a corrupt aristocrat) and Nokdu corrects that he merely delayed the task in favor of saving Dong-joo first.
Ssook points out that wasn’t the deal and Nokdu agrees she has the right to kill him. However, he doesn’t regret his choice and is confident that Ssook won’tkill him. She’s surprised, but allows him to live with the caveat that if he steps out of line again, she’ll have his head.
The following morning, Lady Cheon sends Dong-joo and Lady Kim off to the widows’ village. The vice-curator has Nokdu fill out a record of his in-laws and Nokdu puts down Lord Park (the father-in-law of the widow he’d helped escape). He calls after Dong-joo as she and Nokdu leave, urging her to treat him like a father and call if anything happens to Lady Kim. Hee.
As they walk, Dong-joo balks at Nokdu’s insistence that she greet him every morning and evening. He clarifies that he means for her to stay away from him the rest of the day. That proves to be a difficult demand when they arrive at the village to find they’re to share a room in the home of the Virtuous Women Corps’ trio. Nokdu and Dong-joo try to protest, but the women just pitch them in the room and excitedly chatter about their plans to indoctrinate Lady Kim into their squad.
Meanwhile, at the brewery, the Muweol ladies worry over the disappearance of Nokdu’s assassin. Ssook suggests they continue to search for her, thinking it’s possible she just went on a solo recon mission. The lonely widow coyly wonders what she plans to do about Lady Kim. Ssook commends Lady Kim for caring for a friend, but Yeon-hoon snaps that rules are rules.
Nokdu and Dong-joo dismay over their close-quarters and Nokdu reassures Dong-joo that they won’t have to live like this forever. She sullenly guesses he means to leave once his lady comes, and Nokdu agrees, but wonders what she’ll do. Dong-joo quips that she’s planning to leave too. She vows to pay him back first, but Nokdu is more concerned about where she plans to go.
Dong-joo says it’s a secret and Nokdu sighs that he understands the woes of being a parent, grumbling that he saved her life and now she’s keeping secrets. He starts to leave, but hearing that he’s off to the market for household necessities, Dong-joo decides to tag along. Nokdu tries to chide her for not addressing him properly, but both shudder at the idea of her calling him “mother” and decide to drop it.
In the market, Dong-joo glares at Nokdu as she shifts the heavy packages in her arms. She demands he consult with her before purchasing anything in the future, grumbling that he’s awful spendthrift for a servant. Ignoring her, Nokdu divvies up the household tasks and they easily find a compromise. Dong-joo suddenly runs off and Nokdu finds cooing over a basket of chicks. He suggests they get some, but Dong-joo argues they’ll grow on her.
Walking home, Dong-joo stares longingly at a swing. Nokdu asks if she’d like to ride it, but Dong-joo shakes it off. Before they reach home, their path is blocked by Yeon-hoon. She takes Nokdu to the brewery where the Muweol ladies discuss his fate. Bloodthirsty Yeon-hoon continues to vie for his head but Ssook is still impressed by his actions the night before and offers an alternative test of his loyalty.
Nokdu surprises Dong-joo with two baby chicks, saying “So what if they grow on you? You should raise them if you want.” He adds that he’d already named them — Dong Dong and Dong Joo — and hopes they’ll keep her company while he’s away. Her excitement falters as Nokdu says he’s going to Hanyang to see his lady.
Elsewhere, Aeng-du sighs heavily that she wants to go to Hanyang to meet Nokdu and Hwang-tae smiles as he guesses she misses him. The vice-curator pouts as he records Lady Kim leaving and offers to arrange a party for her when she returns. Nokdu tells him not to and the vice-curator cries that he’ll wait for her.
Dong-joo lies listlessly on the floor of their room and tells the chicks that it’s nice having the space to herself. The door swings open and she springs up excitedly only to realize it was just the wind. She heads over to her mountain hideout, but she’s too busy cursing Nokdu to focus. She realizes she needs a hinge for her contraption and brightens when she recalls Hanyang is the best place for iron, leaving her “no choice” but to follow. Hee.
Dressed as a man, Dong-joo arrives at the inn Nokdu had said he’d be staying. She asks the innkeeper if a single widow had rented a room, claiming the woman to be her older sister. Nokdu isn’t in the room and Dong-joo angrily guesses he’s out to see his lady. In reality, Nokdu is on a reconnaissance mission and a flashback reveals that the alternative task Ssook had assigned to him was to steal the precious iron elephant belonging to Lord Park (whom Nokdu had claimed was his father-in-law).
The Muweol ladies had given him 3 days to succeed, saying if he failed, Lord Park would kill him and warning him that if he tried to run, they’d kill Lady Kim’s supposed family. Success, however, would earn him a place on their team. In the present, Nokdu leaps down into an abandoned courtyard just as Dong-joo walks up to the front doors.
She shakily reaches for the door, muttering to herself that she’ll just take a peek. As her hand touches the iron ring, a posse rushes down the street towards her. She collapses to the ground, staring in horror as the men storm past her into the house. One officer takes notice of her and draws his sword. Just as he’s about to strike, another sword blocks him and when we look back, Dong-joo is a child.
Her mother takes her hand and pulls her along, but Dong-joo looks back and sees her father cut down by the officers. Dong-joo’s mother calls her “Eun-soo” and urges her to run faster as they race through the woods. The servants with them are shot down and Dong-joo trips. Mom falters and is shot twice in the back. Unable to run or hide, she covers Dong-joo’s face in her blood and huddles around her. When Dong-joo next opens her eyes, she’s lying in a mass grave with her dead mother.
Snapping back to the present, Dong-joo pulls herself up on the door only to fall forward when it swings wide. She starts to run, but Nokdu catches her. He asks why she’s here and Dong-joo barks that she didn’t follow him. Nokdu’s brow remains furrowed as he asks instead why she’s crying. Swiping at her tears, Dong-joo snaps that she wasn’t and storms off.
Back at the inn, Nokdu keeps pestering Dong-joo about following him. She coolly tells him she needed iron and ended up at this inn by coincidence because she totally doesn’t care. Nokdu guesses she lied to Lady Cheon about visiting Lady Kim’s family and Dong-joo fakes snoring. After a beat, she turns the question on him, wondering why he was at the house she was visiting.
It’s Nokdu’s turn to feign sleep, but when Dong-joo presses, he lies that he’d gone in to ask for water but found it empty. She refuses to tell him why she was crying and throws her pillow when he gripes that she’s mistreating her mother. Nokdu cheekily tucks the pillow under him but Dong-joo just smacks his head and takes his.
EPISODE 8: “Childhood Memories”
Day 2 of Nokdu’s reconnaissance mission, he clings to the bottom of a cart that’s being delivered to Lord Park. While getting a clear look at the iron elephant he’s to steal, Nokdu also overhears that Lord Park’s servants have also located his daughter-in-law and are in the process of bringing her back to the house where she’ll be forced to commit suicide and buried next to her husband.
Meanwhile, King Gwanghae smugly relays a story to his officials about a boy he’d met in the street crushing insect eggs. He says he’d questioned the boy’s cruelty towards helpless eggs and the boy had replied that the eggs would grow into rice weevils that would destroy their food stores.
The king laughs that he’d learned no matter how small or insignificant a creature may seem, you must strike at the first hint of danger. Prince Yeongchang’s shouts interrupt the meeting, but he freezes when he sees the king. His handler apologizes profusely as Prince Yeongchang cowers under his father’s gaze before running off in fear.
Nokdu accompanies Dong-joo to the blacksmith shop, grumbling about how he’s supposed to steal the elephant when Lord Park spends all day cuddling it. While browsing the wares, he’s perplexed by an odd stone which Dong-joo explains is magnetite, an ore that sticks to iron. She further tells him that iron rusts when exposed to water and suddenly struck with an idea, Nokdu asks for her help.
Back in their room, Nokdu shows her a sketch of the bow and arrow he wants her to construct. She tuts that he must be a thief and Nokdu argues that he just wanted to send his lady a letter. Dong-joo is unconvinced, but Nokdu offers to deduct her service from her debt and she agrees.
Elsewhere, Nokdu’s father, Yoon-jo, once again insists on finding Nokdu. Master Hwang suggests they eat first but soon discovers Aeng-du is missing. His eyes widen and he runs down to the river where he starts to shout after a passing boat. Aeng-du pops up amongst the cargo, shouting that she’s off to see Nokdu. Master Hwang jumps in and swims after the boat. Yoon-jo and Hwang-tae watch from the dock as he dragged into the boat, unaware they’re being watched.
Minister Heo is informed that Yoon-jo has been located. Over at the brewery, Ssook prepares to head to Hanyang after learning that Lord Park’s daughter-in-law has been caught (thinking that it’s Nokdu). Meanwhile, in Hanyang, Nokdu and Dong-joo come across another swing. This time when Dong-joo insists she doesn’t want to ride, Nokdu doesn’t take no for an answer.
Nokdu knows Dong-joo isn’t being truthful with her denials and adds, “I know that restraining yourself like so won’t do you any good.” He tells her to do as she pleases without worrying what others think. A hand reaches out to pat her head and Dong-joo is once again in her past as her father gently pets her hair as she stands with her family near a swing.
Back in the present, Nokdo ushers Dong-joo into the seat and starts to push. The memory continues to flood to the surface with each push until Dong-joo stands and starts to swing on her own. She smiles brightly as she sees the faces of her lost loved once standing around her until they all fade, leaving only Nokdu.
It starts to rain and Nokdu rushes off to “meet his lady.” Lord Park fawns over his iron elephant in his room that evening. He shuts the doors to protect it from the rain, but it’s in vain as Nokdu breaks a hole into his roof, creating a substantial leak. Lord Park bursts out of his room and demands his guards climb onto the roof.
Nokdu takes the chance to use the bow and arrow Dong-joo built for him and snags the elephant, using the string attached to reel it in and escape before anyone has time to react. Lord Park orders his guards to follow, but Nokdu easily evades them.
Back at the inn, Dong-joo thinks over Nokdu’s words about restraint and resolves to visit the house again. Nokdu sees her walking down the street and follows. This time, Dong-joo manages to enter the courtyard and is stunned to stumble across Yul-mu. From his vantage point on the roof, Nokdu sees him as well and slinks away.
Dong-joo sits with Yul-mu and he comments on her robe. Dong-joo explains that she’s wearing Lady Kim’s and then asks why Yul-mu is here. He shyly admits he didn’t want anyone else to live here, nor for it to sit abandoned, on the chance Dong-joo would return. He smiles that his efforts paid off and tells her that when their marriage was arranged in their youth, he’d snuck away to see her.
Yul-mu chuckles that he’d planned to have his father cancel the wedding if she was ugly. “But after I saw you, “ he says, “I begged my father to let me marry you as fast as possible.” He tells her that this home is always available to her, but Dong-joo shakes her head. “My lady,” Yul-mu blurts out, admitting he’d always wished to call her that here.
Tearfully, Dong-joo begs him not to call her like that. She thanks him for keeping the home beautiful, but say she won’t return. Instead, she reminds him to keep his promise to treat her like a gisaeng. She takes her leave and Yul-mu offers to walk her back, but Dong-joo says she’d prefer to go alone.
Nearby, Nokdu balks at Dong-joo meeting Yul-mu alone in an empty house so late at night. He grumbles that she’d treated Yul-mu so coldly at the gibang, but things are different in Hanyang. He tsks that she must’ve lied about needing to visit the forge but his train of thought is interrupted by a small procession coming up the street.
It’s Lord Park’s servants carrying the palanquin holding the real daughter-in-law. He leaps down to block their path, warning them he’s not in a good mood. Nokdu exhibits his excellent fighting skills as he makes quick work of the servants and releases the widow.
Nokdu urges her to run, but she throws her arms around him, sobbing just as Dong-joo exits her old home and spots them. Dong-joo hurries past before Nokdu can explain… but soon comes rushing back having spotted Ssook. Ssook had also seen Dong-joo, but only the jacket, which belongs to Nokdu and chases after the woman she believes to be Lady Kim.
Dong-joo mimes Ssook is coming and they quickly hide the widow in Dong-joo’s old home. Nokdu knows Ssook will be suspicious if he runs, and urges Dong-joo to go ahead. Instead, she shoves him into the palanquin and crawls in with him. Ssook calls out to Lady Kim and Dong-joo covers Nokdu’s mouth with one hand as she starts to strip him with the other.
Ssook knocks on the palanquin but gets no answer. Just as she reaches for the door, Lord Park’s guards arrive and hold her at sword-point. Inside the palanquin, Nokdu stares in horror as Dong-joo determinedly wrestles his shirt open.
Y’all after a series of dark dramas, this show is such a breath of fresh air! I am completely enamored with the characters and the story and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t squeal like a piglet watching it. Balancing light moments with the heavier plot points is always a challenge in dramas but I’m thrilled with the execution of this one and can only hope they keep it up. Every character is so rich and fun to watch (except the king, who so far is bad just for the sake of it).
Nokdu is such a fun character and while I was a little iffy about Jang Dong-yoonat the beginning, he quickly won me over with the flawless way he transitions between the Nokdu and Lady Kim personas. I won’t dwell on it, since it seems to pop up every recap, but there is very little suspension of disbelief needed and as a big fan of the cross-dressing trope, that’s always a joy. I am glad, though, that Dong-joo picked up on it so quickly. She may not possess much grace, but she make up for it in spades with her sharp mind (and tongue).
I adore both of our leads immensely, but I also enjoy the side characters and that’s honestly just as important. The only time I ever find myself starting to space out is when the king is onscreen and I think that’s due in part to the fact that I find his character the least interesting thus far. The politics are also not gripping me, but it’s hard to be invested in them when all I want to do is watch Nokdu and Dong-joo bicker about who’s washing the dishes.
That’s not to say I’m not invested in the birth secret plot. I really loved Lollypip’s theory that the missing baby isn’t Nokdu, but Hwang-tae. That makes for a much more interesting twist. We still don’t know why that baby was such a threat to the king or why after all this time, someone is sending assassins to kill him. I am very confused by Minister Heo who is clearly unhappy with the king’s rule and plotting to overthrow him, but I’m unsure whether it’s because King Gwanghae is morally reprehensible or because he wants someone more malleable on the throne (as every saeguk I’ve ever seen has taught me that the ministers want to make the rules).
Only time will tell and for now, I’m far more invested in whatever Dong-joo has up her sleeve!