We’re finally at the end of this wonderful drama that depicts (and re-imagines) the life of Joseon’s, or maybe even the entire of ancient Korea’s greatest scientist and inventor, Jang Yeong Shil. I always thought it’s a 50-episode drama, so I was really surprised that it was only planned for 24 episodes. Ah well. I think the entire cast was fantastic, and King Sejong and Jang Yeong Shil. That was some real bromance there, chemistry and all.
We pick from the preceeding episode, where Jang Yeong Shil was still trying to complete the most epic clock ever, which includes telling the changes of season as well as the movement of celestial bodies automatically (I know, it sounds totally incredible). Every figurine on the device has a purpose, except for this particular trough of water that will spill over each time a certain amount of water drips into it. Everyone who saw the trough thought Jang Yeong Shil left it there as a caution to King Sejong, and all the ministers begin once again calling for the impeachment of Jang Yeong Shil.
Jo Gwang continues to plan for the ultimate removal of Jang Yeong Shil and scientific advancement of Joseon, and manages to bribe Jang’s youngest helper (I hate this old man). Jo Gwang gets wind of Jang Yeong Shil’s latest project, a horse carriage for King Sejong to travel in for his next trip to the hot springs. Jo Gwang fans the sentiments of the young helper, who felt left out as Jang’s other assistants were elevated from their slave statuses and given an office postition in the palace, but not him. Young man actually calls for a group of villagers to create ruckus when the other assistants came back from their promotion ceremony, and Jang Yeong Shil realises the young man’s unhappiness but brushes it aside.
On the day of King Sejong’s excursion, Jang Yeong Shil found out that the wheels of the carriage were uneven, and requests to change the wheels. He demanded everyone to leave the workshop, and made sure the wheels were properly fitted. Thus, not long after King Sejong left the palace ground, the wheel snapped under immense weight and the carriage fell. Nails were left under the seat (I think) and King Sejong was almost hurt by the nails.
This is all part of Jo Gwang’s plan, as he got the young helper to swap out both the wheel and the nails Jang Yeong Shil will use. Jo Gwang was so proud of himself that he correctly predicted that in Jang’s hurry, he wouldn’t realise the nails are faulty and will snap easily when pressure is applied. The old fox knows someone will realise he’s behind this whole incident, and thinks his time is up since he would have successfully sped up the removal of Jang Yeong Shil, and requests for his loyal fool of a bodyguard to kill him. He was right, as Lee Chun realises Jo Gwang orchestrated the entire event, but was too late in nabbing him as he’s already dead. Argh. I was so mad like Lee Chun was.
As expected, all the neo-Confucianists in the government calls for execution of Jang Yeong Shil, but King Sejong was at a loss at how to prevent it from happening. Lee Chun, Hwang Hee and Ha Yeon advice King Sejong that he has no choice but the abandon Jang Yeong Shil, as not doing so will further aggrevate the displeasure and instigate more disruptive plans those narrow-minded neo-Confucianists have in mind to stamp out scientific development. They also reminded King Sejong that he has yet to announce the new Korean alphabets, which will meet an even greater obstruction than Jang’s inventions. Jang Yeong Shil meets with Lee Soon-ji the mathematician one more time, and Jang’s passion for science moves Lee Soon-ji so much that he promises to carry on the unfinished job of unraveling the mysteries of Nature and coming up with better and useful inventions.
King Sejong had no choice but to compromise on exiling Jang Yeong Shil, when he is told that Jang confessed that he deliberately made the carriage fall apart, because he was angry that King Sejong did not give him a ministerial position after all the hard work he had done. King Sejong requested that Jang be brought to him, and revealed to Jang that he understood the true meaning behind the tipping over bucket on the big new clock: it is to remind King Sejong that he must abandon Jang Yeong Shil when the time comes. And so the big punishment for Jang Yeong Shil before exil – to be publicly displayed and shamed before receiving 80 hits on the back. One of the nasty neo-Confucianist low ranking minister even bribed one the prison guards to hit Jang harder to make him die faster.
And everything after this is re-imagined by the Writer-nim, as there were no records of Jang Yeong Shil historically after exile. Here, Jang Yeong Shil slipped into a trance which lasted for years, after his punishment. He couldn’t recognise anyone anymore, not even his bestie King Sejong, who visited Jang (apparently staying with Princess Sohyun, or at her private estate methinks) some time before his death. King Sejo visited Jang too, and it was the words he said to Jang that finally woke him up in the trance. I think it’s because Jang Yeong Shil feels the vast difference between King Sejo and King Sejong, and Jang doesn’t like the overly ambitious vibes that Sejo gives.
We end Show exactly the same as the beginning of it, an old Jang Yeong Shil plodding along on a vast open field, admiring yet another accurately calculated solar eclipse. I think Show tried to stay true to historical records, and it certainly is inspiring for those who have a passion for science. Entertainment value-wise, Show is just another sageuk for those who avoids sageuk actively. The politics involved, as well as the lack dramatic makjang (and love story) will probably turn the average viewer away.
I do recommend Show anyway, for the inspiration and messages it gives, which I think is what many people would need in times of motivation. Jang Yeong Shil defied all odds in the olden days where science is feared upon and has no place whatsoever in a conservative society. He perservered despite setbacks, but that doesn’t mean he did not experience depression. It was his passion that pulled him through, and the support and encouragement he received from those who believed in him. Show is definitely one of the more meaningful and well-made sageuks in recent years. And of course, Song Il-kook. Bravo!