Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People: Episode 24
It feels like we’ve just been preparing for the past twenty episodes, and finally, we’re starting to make some headway. Key decisions are being made and events are propelling us toward the final confrontation we’ve been waiting for. But for some reason, I’m not feeling as much excitement as I was last week. Perhaps it’s the lack of blood, guts, and fighting, which I must admit are my favorite parts of the show at this point. You can’t help what you love.
EPISODE 24 RECAP
Both Yeonsangun and Gil-dong are plagued with nightmares, but the causes behind their respective restless nights are vastly different. The king fears Gil-dong’s return and replays Gil-dong’s last words to him over in his dreams. He wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, and Eunuch Kim rushes over to him with a worried expression.
Yeonsangun tells him his theory that Gil-dong must be an illegitimate nobleman’s child or a long-lost royal cousin, because there’s no way a plebeian could have that much confidence facing a divine being such as himself. When Eunuch Kim protests, saying that Gil-dong even professed that he was a commoner with no special bloodlines or family ties to speak of, Yeonsangun is convinced that since Gil-dong is a thief, he’s a liar as well, and he must have deceived everyone about his ancestry.
Whereas, in Gil-dong’s nightmares, he is haunted by the suffering of the people that are rotting away in Yeonsangun’s packed cells—bloodied, bruised, and without hope. So he resolves to save them, and the following day, he gathers up all of the people in the cave hideout to recruit volunteers.
Gil-dong announces that while they have no power over the weather or mother nature, they do have the power to bring down the king. Then, he brings up his plan to steal the citizens in prison from Yeonsangun’s cells. He asks for recruits because he needs all the help he can get to rescue so many people.
However, the people can’t follow his mindset—they say that they only followed Hong Hero because they needed the food and shelter in order to survive. They didn’t come there necessarily because they wanted to defend justice and go against the king. But a courageous woman stands apart from the crowd and says that although she doesn’t know how to fight, she’ll help Gil-dong in any way she can, and some other brave souls follow her example.
But it seems like most able-bodied men don’t agree with Gil-dong’s plans—they followed him because they wanted to live, not because they wanted to die. So, in huddled corners, they think about betraying Gil-dong to the king because that would ensure their survival. Yonggae overhears their conversations and reports back to Gil-dong about the fear that these people have. Gil-dong looks troubled after hearing this news, but then the shamaness appears at the Hong brothers’ strategic planning table.
She gives them a new insight into the state of the people’s mindset: They’ve lived oppressed all their lives and don’t know the taste of freedom and success. So, she suggests that each of the Hong brothers tell their individual stories of outwitting the corrupt system, fighting for justice, and of how following Gil-dong has been liberating for them.
After being told these stories, the people who were initially so against Gil-dong’s people-napping plan earlier come back to him to ask whether he really has confidence in his success. His face breaks out into a grin, and he says yes. And so, they also say that they want to join the effort.
But instead of telling them to be a part of the actual operational force to infiltrate the palace, he asks them to stay in the hideout to protect the people, and the men seem immensely pleased. It’s not as high-risk as being captured at the palace, and it still gives them a sense of purpose as part of the overall effort. Then Eop-san and Keutsae enter with a whole cadre of old Hong family brothers from Ikhwari, who are here to help with Operation: Steal the People. They all reunite in happiness.
Back at the palace, the officials talk amongst themselves, fearing the king’s retribution. They try to think of ways to avoid his wrath because it seems that people’s necks have been severed just based on the whims of the king. Having heard from others that Scholar Song has the king’s ear, the highest officials in the land ask Gil-hyun to introduce them to him so that they may grovel for his goodwill, and by extension worm their way into the king’s good graces.
As per their request, Gil-hyun leads them to a meeting with Scholar Song. Gil-hyun’s mentor half-gloats at how the tables have turned. He refers to his former fall from glory and continues by saying that he thought that all the court officials hated him. But at the end of his speech, he adds that perhaps the men gathered here don’t hate him, because everyone who openly showed dislike of him died under the king’s orders. The scholars nod eagerly at Scholar Song’s words and try to please him the best they can.
Gil-hyun reflects in his secret correspondence to Gil-dong that he’s disappointed in the self-serving attitude of the court officials, who are supposed to be the moral pillars of Joseon. He thinks that they may not be able to consider the Joseon people because these officials have spent their entire lives secluded from the realities of life, first because they needed to study for the civil servant exams, and afterward because they’ve lived lives of privilege near the palace. So they only know the selfish desire to preserve their own skins, he claims.
He says that now, no official goes against the king’s will to offer their own opinions. Seeing this happen, he realized that Yeonsangun wasn’t acting in an impulsive manner when he started his reign of violence. Instead, he’s deduced that this is a cold calculative move by the king to consolidate his own power. His purpose was to shift the balance of power so that it would be heavily skewed toward the reigning monarch.
Later, Gil-hyun and Scholar Song sit together, and Scholar Song says that their relationship is analogous to his and the king: without any secrets. But of course, Gil-hyun thinks otherwise, especially since he knows that Yeonsangun is keeping Gil-dong’s escape a secret from Scholar Song.
Meanwhile in the palace, the king is in a good mood and declares that he wants to host a banquet of renewed peace. Breathing a sigh of relief after all the bloodshed, the scholars finally feel somewhat reassured, and they feel that going to Scholar Song was what made the difference.
Incognito, Gil-hyun meets with Gil-dong and tells him that this banquet is the opportunity that he was waiting for, since it’s the perfect chance to infiltrate the palace. Gil-hyun hands over a blueprint of the palatial grounds, saying that while he can let Gil-dong and the others in, they’ll have to figure out their own way from there on.
Starting on phase one of their plan, Gil-dong and his crew of experienced thieves begin raiding armories for weapons and teaching the people in the caves the proper maneuvers in combat skills, each according to his specialty. Although the people have never used these weapons before because they’ve never had to, it’s clear that they begin to feel empowered as they learn how.
In Ga-ryung’s voiceover, she says: “In prison, people who were torn apart from their children and their homes languished, thinking they were going to die, not knowing that far away, Gil-dong and his seven merry men were preparing to rescue them. But even as he was readying his forces, Gil-dong would lose sleep every night, worrying that more people would die before he could get to them. Whenever he had time, he’d pray in his heart that they would stay alive until he could rescue them.”
In the palace and unbeknownst to her, Gil-hyun sees Eorini from afar with tears in his eyes. He vows that they’ll be there soon as he silently pleads to her to wait until they can come for her.
Jeong-hak, who suspects Gil-hyun, visits Park Ha-sung’s family home. He sees an empty house with three graves in the yard, but one has an unknown name. He reports back to Scholar Song what he found and claims that it’s highly suspicious.
Scholar Song thinks Jeong-hak is just being petty and jealous about Park Ha-sung and the king’s close relationship. But when Park Ha-sung brings up Gil-hyun’s strange desire to save Gil-dong and the fact that despite the criminal’s death, the king hasn’t paraded his decapitated head around like the heads of all the other traitors to the nation, Scholar Song’s mind begins to change.
During his audience with the king, Scholar Song sneaks in a question about why Yeonsangun didn’t publicly display Gil-dong’s death, and Yeonsangun gives a noncommittal reply about how he didn’t feel like it. That’s when Scholar Song realizes that the king has been keeping secrets from him.
Meanwhile, Choongwongoon is still bitter that Scholar Song is taking all the credit for their coordinated efforts to bring down Gil-dong. He tries to tempt Mistress Jo with ideas of Jeong-hak’s potential rise to the highest levels of government if Scholar Song was out of the picture, and successfully plants a seed of rebellion against the old mentor in her.
Afterward, Choongwongoon talks with Mori to reinforce that he must do everything the king says. Mori tries to bring up the fact that he’s seen Gil-dong since his purported death, but he ends up remaining silent about the matter.
In the palace, the apprentice musician girls practice under Wolhamae’s careful watch for the king’s upcoming banquet performance. She emphasizes that they must never cry or appear dirty in front of the king.
Behind her, Nok-soo tells Ga-ryung that she should heed Wolhamae’s words as well, because the palace is not like the gibang they were in together before. When they sit down to have tea together, Nok-soo remarks that Ga-ryung has changed, and for the first time, she brings up the topic of Gil-dong.
Carefully, Ga-ryung asks if Nok-soo regrets leaving Gil-dong for the palace, but she replies that she thinks it’s the best thing she’s ever done. She chose the man who could give her the most security, but sometimes she does still wonder what a life would be with a man who truly cared for her. When Ga-ryung says that she has the king for that, Nok-soo states sadly but matter-of-factly that the king doesn’t understand what it is to love.
Later on, Yeonsangun and Nok-soo sit on a dais while Wolhamae parades a talent show of the apprentice girls in front of him to receive his judgement on their skills. Sang-hwa, with her quick energetic movements, is given a positive review, as is Ok-ran for the clear fluid lines in her dancing. Yeonsangun smiles in approval and shows that he is pleased with them both.
Then he singles out Ga-ryung to also perform, but when she comes in front of him, she truthfully tells him that she knows no other song than the one she sang in the forest during their first meeting. However, she tells him, she has one ability: to tell stories. He’s amused and says that he’ll call for her the next time he’s having trouble falling asleep.
Following that occurrence, Sang-hwa confronts Ga-ryung because she thinks that Ga-ryung is being manipulative by telling the king that she can tell stories. She thinks it’s a calculated attempt by Ga-ryung to get into the king’s bed, and she resents that Ga-ryung has it so easy while she had to labor for hours under Nok-soo to even rise to the king’s attention. Ga-ryung grabs her wrist and warns Sang-hwa not to bother her efforts to get close to the king, and the animosity between them is palpable.
At his house, Scholar Song receives information from his spy that Nok-soo had a pointed interest in Gil-dong when he was in the palace cells, and it puts him in a contemplative mood. He wonders what the gisaeng-concubine might have had to do with the People’s Thief.
At night, Yeonsangun still experiences nightmares, but instead of having Nok-soo come to him, he asks for Ga-ryung. In their dorms, the apprentice girls are gossiping about their day. Ga-ryung admits that she did have a little tiff with Sang-hwa, and she looks a bit sad that the girl doesn’t seem to like her.
However, she learns from Ok-ran that Sang-hwa isn’t a bad person, she’s just very loyal to her adoptive mother and wants to rise quickly in the ranks in order to make their family’s station in life better. Ok-ran, similarly, is also an orphan, having been separated from her brothers a long time ago. Before she can inquire further, Ga-ryung is whisked away by Eunuch Kim.
Eunuch Kim takes her aside and asks Ga-ryung to tell Yeonsangun a heartwarming story that will melt the king’s inner anger away. Although she is in the palace for her personal revenge, Ga-ryung looks touched as she sees the genuine care that Eunuch Kim has for the king.
In the royal bedchambers, she begins her storytelling with animated motions and expressions, and the king listens intently in return. The next morning, Yeonsangun awakes with a sense of wonder that he was able to sleep through the night. He smiles to himself as he remarks to Eunuch Kim that he can’t believe Ga-ryung’s story was so boring that he was able to sleep the entire night.
Sang-hwa reports to Nok-soo that Ga-ryung was by the king’s side the entire night, and Sang-hwa shows her displeasure because she thinks it should have been Nok-soo by Yeonsangun’s side. Nok-soo puts on a forced smile, saying that there has to be nights like these as well. But later, her actions are indicative of her real feelings. When she sees Ga-ryung laughing with the other girls who have flocked to her side after learning that she’s become the king’s favorite, she calls Ga-ryung aside to ask about her loyalties: Will she put Nok-soo first, or herself?
She looks a bit shaken, but Ga-ryung carries on with her day. As she’s hurrying to a musician troupe meeting, Ga-ryung picks up a purple ribbon—it’s the same one that Gil-dong had that tied him to Eorini. Ok-ran takes it from her hand, causing Ga-ryung to make the instant connection that Ok-ran is Gil-dong’s sister.
As all the apprentices are being inspected by Nok-soo, Ga-ryung only has eyes for Ok-ran, so happy to have finally found her lost sister-in-law. But Ok-ran makes a huge misstep that causes Nok-soo to trip and have her hair ornaments displaced. As a result, Ok-ran is whipped by Nok-soo’s own hand until Ga-ryung comes to her defense. But that only increases Nok-soo’s ire, and Ok-ran is taken away to prison.
Nok-soo demands another apprentice girl to accompany her to serve the king. She tells Yeonsangun that she sent a girl to prison for stepping on her skirts, and the king says that she did well in doing so. When she asks what final punishment she should give Ok-ran, the scene cuts to an announcement that the accompanying girl makes.
Nok-soo made her tag along as a witness, and the girl tells the rest of the apprentices that they should not presume to even think that they’re on the same level as the higher-level master musicians. And, she adds, they will be punished with consequences like death if they dare to do so.
Ga-ryung pleads with Nok-soo to be lenient toward Ok-ran, but the older woman just challenges her to try and stop her by using her own influence with the king. The other person who’s upset with the Ok-ran situation, Sang-hwa, cries as she looks at her closest friend in prison from afar. She says that she’ll try to save her and already has a plan in mind.
Park Ha-sung reports to the king that the scholars are preparing to answer Yeonsangun’s writing prompt with joy in order to put the king in a good mood. Then, he asks that he be put in charge of inspecting the outside workmen who will enter the palace on the day of the banquet, and Yeonsangun readily agrees.
Later, Gil-hyun hands over the scheduling details for the banquet to Gil-dong, giving him instructions on how to enter the palace without notice. The cave people tell the Hong brothers goodbye with well wishes regarding their mission.
Back at the prison, Ga-ryung brings Ok-ran some porridge, despite the possible danger to her own person. When Ok-ran asks why she’s risking so much to do so, Ga-ryung tells her about the purple ribbon, which was her husband’s. But in the middle of her explanation, Ok-ran interrupts and tells her that the ribbon is actually Sang-hwa’s, and Ga-ryung is completely taken aback.
Yes, finally! We know that Sang-hwa is Eorini, the secret Geo-in loyal to the Sugwidan who has been dispatched as a spy in the palace. She reports to Scholar Song that she knows that Gil-dong is alive from Nok-soo’s unconscious word slip-ups. She then starts to bring up that she needs a favor (possibly regarding Ok-ran’s situation).
On the day of the banquet, Gil-dong and his crew successfully pass through the palace gates with Gil-hyun giving all of them a pass. Yeonsangun is outfitted in fiercely regal red fur-lined attire, while the courtiers read praises about his works and pray for his healthful longevity.
He’s pleased with everything so far, when suddenly seven silhouettes wearing capes and masks appear on the rooftop (it’s kind of cheesy to the max because of the totally copycat Batman-esque costumes). Gil-dong announces his presence in a loud shout and calls the king by his given name, Yi Yung. Grenades explode all around Yeonsangun, and Gil-dong leaps from the rooftop, coming straight at him.
The plot is going through all the correct motions, so I’m enjoying the drama on a surface level. But I’m still having trouble connecting with most of the characters. To be honest, I’m much more invested in Ga-ryung’s story arc than Gil-dong’s, because we all know he’s going to succeed: First, because he’s the hero and there’d be no story without him, and second, because of that beginning scene in the very first episode.
But wouldn’t it be awesome if the writers suddenly took a different direction, killed off Gil-dong, made Ga-ryung the star of the show, and had the rest of the episodes be about her slowly and craftily wreaking her revenge on Yeonsangun from the inside? I’ve always been fascinated by the harem power struggles, and for me, the changing dynamic between alpha Nok-soo, and her potential successor Ga-ryung was one of the most interesting parts of this episode. Cerebrally, Nok-soo has already accepted that a man’s (at least Yeonsangun’s) attention will wander, but when she faced it in reality, she still reacted with jealousy.
Compared to the males in this story, the female characters are definitely drawn as more complex (with the one exception being Amogae). Nok-soo’s motivations are so complicated—she first entered the palace so that she and women like her would never have to cower in fear of a man’s power. However, now she’s actively putting down other women, absolutely terrified that she’ll one day fall out of favor with one man, the king. She says she’s given up on love because she has already chosen Yeonsangun, but her will to survive seems to be strongly dependent on her desire to save Gil-dong, her one true love. Thus, her relationship with Ga-ryung is doubly confounded by these two men.
Speaking of powerful women, man, I love it that Sang-hwa—the fierce one—is Eorini, instead of Ok-ran, the doe-eyed one. Ok-ran was nice but bland as a character, and I wanted more spice from Eorini, although her brothers have devolved into Mr. Bland Good Guy and Mr. Blander Good Guy. Sang-hwa seems like a real person, with small petty jealousies when she can’t perform as well as her friend, while still having fierce loyalty to the same friend when she’s in trouble. Once she and Ga-ryung get on the same page, I’m sure they’ll be an amazing sister duo.
I guess I can’t end my commentary without talking about the actual main characters, as much as I am reluctant to do so. By showing the parallel nightmares, the writers are hammering home that the righteous Gil-dong, who uses his strength and potential for violence for good, is a foil to the corrupt character of Yeonsangun, who uses his birthright for cruelty. I honestly don’t know what else is left for their story arc other than the final battle. Perhaps there’ll be a small subplot where Yeonsangun holds Ga-ryung hostage, but other than that, these two just need to fight it out.