The Secret Romantic Guesthouse: Episodes 15-16
It’s the penultimate week, which means it’s time for taking action, breaking hearts, spilling secrets, and drawing lines in the sand. And did I mention shedding tears? Some of our characters are about to face their worst fears, even as they prepare to realize their most desperate dreams.
Ambushed and unarmed, Shi-yeol nevertheless snatches a sword from the men cornering him and Hong-joo. She won’t leave without him, so he asks her to take just five steps back and finishes the fight. He leaves the men alive, probably because he doesn’t want Hong-joo to see him as a killer. But that’s a mistake, because their report tells Tae-hwa everything he needs to know about where the Watchman has been hiding all this time.
Once they’re safe, Hong-joo requests they keep the incident a secret. Shi-yeol agrees, reluctantly, so long as she tells him who was behind the attack. And that’s his next mistake, though it’s a necessary one, because she finally tells him her fiancé was Tae-hwa’s son.
Just like that, Shi-yeol’s entire world comes crashing down. He’s known all along that he’d killed Tae-hwa’s son on the eve of his wedding, but never quite put together that the bride-to-be was Hong-joo. Now, realizing he was the one who caused her so much sorrow, he buckles beneath the emotional weight of every life he’s either taken directly or filled with grief.
He wallows in anguish for days, lashing out when San tries to ask what’s wrong but quickly reining his emotions back in and labeling it “just one of those days.” Eventually, he works up the courage to face Hong-joo again, but only to declare that some pasts can’t be erased and it’s all his fault for daring to think otherwise. He lets her believe his feelings for her have changed, desperately wishing he could believe it, too, and leaves her in tears.
Elsewhere, the king’s hunt come to an end as his and San’s arrows cross paths midair. San dodges, the king doesn’t, and San’s arrow lands deep in the king’s chest. While Dan-oh waits anxiously for any sign of his return, San flees.
The royal guards back him up against a steep wooded hill, and because he can’t bring himself to kill his friend and fellow guard, YOON GU-NAM (Choi Tae-hwan), he ends up tumbling down the hill to escape. (Gu-nam later returns the favor by vouching for San’s alibi.) Thus, San returns to Dan-oh amidst the falling snow, and promises never to make her wait like this again.
Sadly, the king isn’t dead, though he is unconscious with very little hope of recovery. Which is sufficient justification for the queen dowager to declare a new king in his place. First, though, San and Yoo-ha visit her together to confess their true identities, and she once again proves herself awesome by understanding and empathizing with the reason for Yoo-ha’s deceit. Then she tells San exactly what he most needs to hear: that none of what happened was his fault.
As the day of the queen dowager’s announcement approaches, everyone prepares for life as they know it to change. Yoo-ha, intending to leave and open up a school somewhere, asks Hwa-ryung to accompany him. San and Dan-oh cautiously dance around the topic of their relationship, San committed to staying at her side and Dan-oh unsure if she has the right — let alone desire — to imagine herself becoming queen.
Since San is about to be named king, Shi-yeol declares his duty as Watchman ended and leaves Ihwawon. San tries to convince him to stay, but nothing — not even Hong-joo’s tears — can change his mind. It hurts so much to see Shi-yeol like this. The moment he gained his freedom was supposed to feel satisfying and joyous; instead, it feels like a retreat into despair. As he says goodbye, he barely musters the tiniest smile and urges San not to end up a “monster” like him.
That’s when everything goes wrong again. The king wakes up. The queen dowager’s declaration is interrupted. Minister Shin and his followers are arrested. The palace gates are shut. The head eunuch names Yoo-ha as Lee Seol, and Tae-hwa is tasked with capturing him.
Tae-hwa kidnaps Hong-joo and Dan-oh and demands that San, Yoo-ha, and Shi-yeol come together to rescue them. Since Shi-yeol is about to sail for China, San and Yoo-ha go alone, and are quickly captured and kept as hostages alongside the women. After all, it’s Shi-yeol Tae-hwa really wants. But Shi-yeol has so completely closed off his emotions by now that when San’s bodyguard reaches him with the news, he hardens his face, declares it none of his business, and boards the boat.
Left to their own devices, San and Dan-oh work together to move a pottery shard close enough that San can cut through his bonds and free them all. He takes a hostage of his own, but Tae-hwa calls his bluff and threatens to kill the others — starting with Dan-oh — if Shi-yeol doesn’t show up soon. Desperate, San offers himself: he’s Lee Seol, and he’ll come quietly if Tae-hwa lets the others live.
But it’s not so simple. Tae-hwa fully believes Yoo-ha is Lee Seol, and Yoo-ha himself confirms it, ignoring San’s protests. Just then, Hwa-ryung — who found the note San left for Shi-yeol — arrives. She jumps in front of Tae-hwa’s sword and dies in Yoo-ha’s arms, both addressing each other as mother and son for the first and last time.
Still, all is not lost, because Shi-yeol comes to the rescue yet again. He’s quickly unmasked, but San leaps to defend him, and together, they take down all six of Tae-hwa’s elite warriors. In retaliation, Tae-hwa names Shi-yeol as his son’s killer in front of everyone. Oof, Hong-joo’s heart shatters, and so does what’s left of Shi-yeol’s.
More guards are on the way, so San sends Dan-oh and Hong-joo away first. Yoo-ha, despondent but resolved, shoves San and Shi-yeol aside so he can be the one holding Tae-hwa at sword point. He urges them to flee, too, and let everyone continue believing he’s Lee Seol. San isn’t having it, but time is running out. “So come save me,” Yoo-ha says. “I’ll be waiting.”
Well, now my heart is also in pieces. Between Shi-yeol and Hong-joo, Shi-yeol and San, and San and Yoo-ha, there’s so much emotional intensity and heartbreak (and potential for more to come) that it actually makes me appreciate how much more low-key San and Dan-oh’s relationship is in comparison.
While all these other relationships are threatened by emotional or physical separation, theirs remains supportive and reassuring, even in the face of uncertainty. It may be less interesting, but it’s no less valuable, and I especially appreciate that they’re taking time to consider what they each really want for their own futures.
Relationships aside, my favorite thing about these episodes is how the Lee Seol lie is playing out. Instead of manufacturing more contention between the brothers, it’s helping them work together, confounding their enemies, and maybe even saving their lives. Our revolutionaries may not have the best of plans (or any plan at all, at this point), but they sure are doing their best with what they’ve got — making mistakes, yes, but learning from those mistakes, and sometimes even turning the consequences to their advantage.