The third episode of Damo continues to develop the back stories of Hwangbo and Chae Ohk, and their conflict over Chae Ohk’s safety comes to a head. While the Left Police Bureau engages in a sting operation to lure out counterfeiters, the audience sees signs that the counterfeit operation is just the tip of the iceberg.
SPOILER ALERT: Stop here if you haven’t watched yet.
The episode opens where Episode 2 ended – in the dark and pouring rain, in a field. Hwangbo delivers an ultimatum and stalks off, ignoring the woman in the parasol hat. She goes to comfort Chae Ohk. It’s clear both women see the situation as an emotional impasse which affects all three of them.
Later, a police spy who had infiltrated the counterfeiter gang is found dead, and in an appalling act of animal cruelty (which I really, really hope was simulated), Hwangbo proves that he was murdered. He orders all officers off the case except himself and the elite forces. I guess 17th century cops didn’t expect to be endangered… because life was so much safer then??? Or could it be that Hwangbo’s vulnerability issues are flaring up?
Chae Ohk soon determines where the police spy was murdered. She goes undercover with another officer (the village in this scene is great), and they flush out the counterfeiters, only to be captured by angry gang members. Chae Ohk temporarily talks her partner’s way out of this by offering herself as a hostage. He heads back to the Left Police Bureau for reinforcements, but doesn’t dare tell Hwangbo that he left the damo alone with the gang.
He doesn’t get back quickly enough, and an especially creepy gang member decides to rape Chae Ohk before he kills her. Although she seems helpless, hanging from a tree by her bound hands, she kicks the knife out of his hand, catches it between her feet, kicks them over her head to cut herself down, and trounces her guards. Women everywhere salute the Damo! Just then Hwangbo arrives, having finally been told what was going on. He’s livid, ordering her off the case and confining her to quarters. He won’t let her explain. Frustrated that her successful efforts are received so negatively, she turns in her badge.
The police round up the remaining gang members, finding a stash of coins and ginseng, but not the plates with which the counterfeit coins were made. They are mystified – weren’t these the counterfeiters? Hwangbo decides to consult with his boss, who is visiting the Right Police Bureau.
Little do they know that earlier, at this same warehouse, Kim Min Joon was meeting with a magistrate, an intermediary for an unnamed higher-up “Lord.” They discussed the growing hostility of the villagers toward abusive nobles, the stockpile of guns and explosives they have been accumulating, and a mountain hideout. Not just a counterfeiting ring, then.
As Chae Ohk is packing her bags, Hwangbo stands outside her door, gazing at her peasant shoes and flashing back on their longstanding bond, forged through shared hard times. Inside, Chae Ohk is having the same flashback.
They have a cup of tea, and a calmer, but terminally stilted conversation. First, he confides a piece of his back story which she must already know, and asks her whether she has ever looked into her heart. She is confused, or says she is. He’s really trying to ask whether she shares his feelings, but instead he plays the part of a concerned mentor, telling her he doesn’t want her to quit, just take fewer risks. This is a little ironic since he always arrives on the scene after she has already won the fight.
She apparently doesn’t feel a damo is worthy of his attention, and doesn’t want to impede his opportunity to marry a higher status woman, but can’t say so outright. Plus, his rage when finding her in dangerous situations is completely out of hand, but she can’t say that, either. It’s the rainy field fight all over again, and they are both so poetic and indirect that they only make things worse. We yearn to give them a gift certificate for couples counseling!
Ha Ji Won and Lee Seo Jin have great chemistry, and their palpable sadness and frustration is underscored (literally) by the Celto-Korean-sounding song I mentioned earlier. When Hwangbo emphasizes that leaving the police bureau means ending her relationship with him and Chae Ohk seems unmoved, he is wounded, and huffily tells her it’s fine with him if she leaves. He stalks off again, and she bursts into agonized sobs.
Magistrate Choi and Boss Jang (as we now learn Kim Min Joon is called) discuss the capture of one of Jang’s men for passing counterfeits. Magistrate Choi is ready to write him off and leave him in prison to die for the greater good. This angers the usually smooth and self-possessed Boss Jang, and we get our first glimpse of the iron fist in his velvet glove. However, he controls himself, and argues tactics with the magistrate as if they are equals. There is something exceedingly familiar about their caution-versus-passion dynamic. As the episode closes, Boss Jang vows to break into prison himself if that’s what it takes to perform the rescue.
HANGEUL IN THIS EPISODE ^
“Song of Devotion” – this YouTube version [sorry, this video is no longer available] features scenes from the drama, and lyrics in Romanization, Hangeul AND English. Stop the video at 3:48, though, as the last few seconds are jarringly raucous.
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