Joseon Attorney: Episodes 15-16 (Final)
Determined to corner their devious enemy once and for all, our protagonists join hands to trick him with his own tactics. Multiple heads are certainly better than one, but not every battle can be won — some victories come at a price.
Devastated in the wake of his sister’s death, Han-soo teeters on the edge of a rooftop. His wine gourd clatters down to the ground below, but before Han-soo can follow suit, Dong-chi yanks him back down to safety. Both boys are mired in their guilt and regret, and no matter how much Dong-chi tries to coax some life back into Han-soo, nothing works.
As such, Yeon-joo gets the bright idea to snap Han-soo out of his grief-induced depression by faking Dong-chi’s kidnapping and leading Han-soo to the newly reopened Sowongak inn. Never mind that it basically triggers Han-soo’s trauma of losing his loved ones — by some rhyme or reason, Yeon-joo’s plan works, and Han-soo regains the energy to avenge Eun-soo. And that’s the last we get of the Eun-soo arc, which petered out like a soggy campfire. Sigh.
In any case, our leads’ revenge scheme launches into full swing. Yeon-joo plans to use her wedding ceremony with Ji-sun as a podium to expose Councilor Yoo’s misdeeds, revealing all his crimes to the numerous wedding guests. Then they’ll have Master Jo testify about how Councilor Yoo murdered Judge Choo and ordered him to tamper with the crime scene, corroborating their accusations.
However, Master Jo suddenly goes missing. A search effort leads Han-soo, Dong-chi, and Chu-sal straight into a trap, where Master Jo’s life hangs in the balance between a noose and a rapidly melting block of ice. Just as the concealed archers draw their bows, Ji-sun jumps into the fray, fending off arrows with his sword (So. Cool!) and saving the day.
As usual, Han-soo and Ji-sun end up bickering with each other (over the use of banmal, ha) instead of fighting their enemies. Still, they make a great team when it counts, even though Ji-sun gets struck with a poisoned arrow in the process. After Han-soo sucks the poison out, Ji-sun makes a request — to use him against his father, whatever form Han-soo’s revenge may take.
Before we see what exactly that entails, we first witness the plan in action. On the wedding day, Yeon-joo abruptly coughs up blood. She’s been poisoned, and Lady Hong points to two ministers — who immediately throw out Councilor Yoo’s name. Behind this turn of events is Han-soo, who uses his father’s intercepted letter — retrieved thanks to Eun-soo — to maneuver the two ministers into assuming Councilor Yoo wants to employ the same method of eliminating Officer Kang again, thereby proving his guilt.
Then one thing throws a wrench in the proceedings — the signature at the end of the letter belongs to the queen dowager, implying that she was involved in the cover-up. Does Han-soo mean to accuse the royal family, too? Unexpectedly, however, the queen dowager admits to her crime. Back then, she’d believed that quashing dissent was the way to bring peace to the royal court. Now, she realizes she’s aided and abetted a monster in Councilor Yoo.
Councilor Yoo continues to deny it, so Han-soo throws down his final trump card — the only other possible culprit is his very own son. That’s because Ji-sun and Councilor Yoo share the same handwriting quirk, making their calligraphy easily identifiable. Trapped between a rock and a hard place — the same tactic he callously used on his ex-allies — Councilor Yoo finally declares himself the culprit, unwilling to throw his son under the bus.
After the case wraps up, Officer Kang’s name is cleared, and his title is restored posthumously. There’s just the matter of how to punish Councilor Yoo — and Han-soo urges Hyul to keep Councilor Yoo alive. Executing him would merely lead to a Sarim monopoly of the royal court; instead, Hyul needs both sides to keep each other in check. The true revenge is forcing Councilor Yoo to watch as his plans crumble to dust and Hyul rises to power as a good and competent king.
Alone in exile, Councilor Yoo’s sanity slips away, haunted by the ghosts of the people who died at his hands. By the time Ji-sun pays him a visit, Councilor Yoo’s senility has transformed him into a guileless shell of his former self. He’s tender and caring towards Ji-sun — but then he asks for his name. He no longer recognizes his own son.
Blinking back tears, Ji-sun explains the meaning of his name; his father had hoped for him to grow into a kind and virtuous person. That’s particularly poignant, given that Ji-sun did indeed live up to his name — only for his father to go off the deep end in the opposite direction.
So, what about our poisoned princess? Well, it turns out that Yeon-joo ingested actual poison, since she knew that was the only way to convincingly fool Councilor Yoo. Unfortunately, she succumbs to the toxin, and the royal family holds a funeral procession. But Han-soo is well-aware of the K-drama golden rule — it isn’t a death until you’ve seen the corpse. Together with his trusty allies, he searches high and low for Yeon-joo.
That lasts for three years, during which Han-soo passes the state exam with flying colors and becomes a governor in his hometown. Then one day, he comes across a flier advertising the legal services of a certain “Lee So-won” — and it leads him right to Yeon-joo, living under the guise of a man.
As it turns out, the poison had left Yeon-joo infertile — a grave dishonor as a princess. In an attempt to atone for her past transgressions, the queen dowager assisted in faking Yeon-joo’s death so that she would be able to live freely. Yeon-joo retreated into hiding, believing that it was for Han-soo’s own good so that he could live his life to the fullest. Except he still only harbors one love in his heart, and that’s her.
Cue a tearful reunion, after which Han-soo fires off endless questions at her — is she back to full health? Why did she disappear? How did she become an attorney? Instead of answering, Yeon-joo interrupts his interrogation with a kiss. They’ll have plenty of time to sort things out later, she declares. For now, what matters is that they’re together again. (Meanwhile I’m over here yelling: what an irresponsible and selfish cop-out!)
In any case, the drama ends on a hopeful note. Our lovebirds are back together. The Sowongak inn is back in business. And, at long last, the legal book that Officer Kang dreamed of is finally completed through the hard work of Han-soo, Yeon-joo, Ji-sun, and Hyul. At the end of the day, the law prevails.
Well, I guess that’s the end — and honestly, it feels like we limped our way to the finish line while also tumbling down a landslide along the way. Both the obstacles and their solutions poured in much too quickly in the final stretch, making it a chore to trudge through them despite the fast pace. It feels like the show brushed all their problems away with a handwave and a wink — as if giving us a happy ending rectifies all the missteps it made along the way. Except this just diminishes the emotional weight of all the problems it tried to throw in during the last stretch.
One thing I’ll never forgive this drama for is how they absolutely butchered Hyul’s character, ruining Eun-soo’s redemption arc in the process. The show spent so much time building Hyul up as a righteous and compassionate king who cared for his people — as someone humble enough to regard people below his station as equals and befriend them — only to tear all that to shreds with his obstinate cruelty against the Kang siblings. And then just one week later, we’re supposed to accept him as a friendly ally once again? It just doesn’t add up.
Honestly, what makes me the most upset is how strong this show started out. It had so much going for it — a witty script, gorgeous cinematography, and the captivatingly versatile Woo Do-hwan headlining. Except it then proceeded to squander everything it had on predictably boring cliches, inconsistent characterization, and needlessly dramatic story arcs that wrapped up so quickly they might as well have been excluded in the first place.
The final episode certainly wraps up our story, but it does it in a manner that’s nowhere near satisfying or logical. At the end of Joseon Attorney, I’m left feeling like I just watched two very different dramas spliced together — and the first half far surpasses the latter.