And the word is…sacrifice. This concept is woven tightly into this series and shows itself once again in this episode.
The Merchant Gaekju Episode 20 Recap
Bong Sam (Jang Hyuk) asks if the paper vendor realizes his father did not trade opium. The paper vendor confirms he knows Bong Sam’s father was innocent of opium trading. Bong Sam asks the right question – Who put the opium in my father’s bag? So Gae (Yu Oh Seong) freaks and interrupts the conversation. Bong Sam introduces So Gae. The paper vendor remembers So Gae’s father. Bong Sam tells So Gae he wants to know who put the opium in his father’s bag. So Gae claims he’d like to know who did it too. The paper vendor says that Hak Joon funded Bong Sam’s father’s beheading. So Gae claims to understand why So Rye lived with Hak Joon for revenge and to plot his demise. Bong Sam realizes that his father made a false confession to protect someone. Who was it? The paper merchant recalls his father asking to see a youth on the night before he died. Bong Sam there were only a few that fit that description – himself and So Gae. The light goes on, Bong Sam stares at So Gae who looks uncomfortable. The paper vendor declares So Gae was the youth. Bong Sam demands to know why So Gae spoke with his father. So Gae looks at Bong Sam and asks why he has to recall something so unpleasant. Why does Bong Sam have to hear it from him? He asks the paper vendor to give them some privacy.
Bong Sam asks So Gae if he put the opium in his father’s bag? So Gae claims he revered his father. Bong Sam counters that So Gae blamed his father for So Gae’s father’s death. So Gae yells that anyone would blame Bong Sam’s father. But he couldn’t kill his future father in law. Bong Sam knows his father would die for So Gae. He knows So Gae is the culprit. So Gae punches Bong Sam. He lies again that he would never have hurt Bong Sam’s father. Bong Sam struggles to believe or discount So Gae’s words. Why did you see my father? So Gae issues a master stroke lie/truth combo…Bong Sam’s father couldn’t ask an unwilling Bong Sam to take over Chun Merchant Group so he asked So Gae. His father also requested So Gae care of So Rye and Bong Sam. So Gae claims he regrets disregarding Bong Sam’s father final wish. So Gae cries claiming regret for his desertion of Bong Sam and So Rye. He blames his youth for his bad choices. He asks Bong Sam to forget the past and move on. Bong Sam struggles with the request. So Gae cries crocodile tears. Bong Sam stares at So Gae then leaves the room. Hmm, Bong Sam’s quiet exit was anti climatic. So Gae is a skillful twister of the truth. He is loathsome. He’ll do anything, say anything, to save himself.
Bong Sam recalls his father’s final words of finding his on path. He tells his father he was foolish and young.
So Gae decides that Bong Sam must be killed during the ground transportation of the paper. I’ve got to count how many times So Gae has decided to kill Bong Sam. It seems like one attempt per episode!
Bong Sam reminds his team that paper can’t get wet or wrinkled. So Gae offers his congratulations for winning the bid for the paper. He asks Bong Sam if the paper will kill him or save him. Bong Sam tells him it will save him. Bong Sam rallies his team.
So Gae visits the bandit leader alone. So Gae asks the bandit leader to kill Bong Sam. 20,000 is the named price. So Gae is impressed with the bandit’s bold price point.
Bong Sam tells Sun Dol is the ground transportation fails they will lose the stables. Sun Dol states if the stables are worth saving then it is worth risking their lives. Bong Sam agrees the stables are worth the risk.
So Gae and the Head Merchant discuss that the paper deal went to Bong Sam. So Gae claims Bong Sam will not complete the ground transportation. Head Merchant asks if So Gae met with his nephew. So Gae claims he had to and doesn’t care about the monopoly the Head Merchant created by blocking ground transportation. We see that the Head Merchant’s conversation with his nephew warning him that So Gae must not learn about their relationship. The Head Merchant urged his nephew to continue to block the ground transportation. So Gae claims the low ball price the Head Merchant forced him to offer gave Bong Sam the opening to steal the deal. So Gae rages he hates losing to Bong Sam. The Head Merchant asks why So Gae hates Bong Sam. So Gae claims it is fate. Head Merchant agrees stealing the paper from Bong Sam is the correct next step. So Gae is thrilled to get approval for stealing and leaves invigorated. The Head Merchant realizes So Gae is like his youthful self.
So Gae asks Bo Hyun for the 20,00 to pay the bandit to steal the paper and kill Bong Sam. So Gae says stealing the paper will destroy the Head Merchant. That thrills Bo Hyun. I’m assuming he funds the 20,000.
So Sa (Han Chae Ah) is heavy with pregnancy. When the child moves, the Head Merchant feels the baby move and is thrilled. The Head Merchant believes it is a boy and the future leader of his company. He tells her to visit Mae Wol for a blessing.
Mae Wol (aka Gae Dong (Kim Min Jung)) prays for Bong Sam’s safe return. So Sa enters the room but Mae Wol does not see her. Mae Wol prays that Bong Sam is her destiny. So Sa drops her flower offering. Mae Wol turns and asks why So Sa came. So Sa recalls Mae Wol’s past words that she was traveling to her fiancee and later that her fiancee rejected her. So Gae tells Mae Wol that she didn’t know Bong Sam was in her heart. Mae Wol says that doesn’t matter. What matters is that So Sa is the Head Merchant’s wife and mother to his son thereby neutralizing her fate with Bong Sam. So Sa leaves. Mae Wol hopes she convinced So Sa.
At home, So Sa remembers moments with Bong Sam. Yes, the first song of the OST plays in the background during the montage. She remembers Mae Wol praying for Bong Sam.
Bong Sam declares direct interaction with the bandits will get them killed. Good news, fog, the magical cloak, that can hide them, has arrived. Time to make their move and hope the bandits don’t see them.
The bandit leader realizes Bong Sam and his team will make their move under the cover of the fog.
It is a cat and mouse game in the fog. The bandits search for Bong Sam. Team #1 Bong Sam tries to avoid detection. Thank goodness the bandit continually yell allowing Team Bong Sam to move and avoid the bandits. Oh No, the fog disappears! Oh no, the Bandits Team #1 find them! Bandits Team #2 hears the battle cry. Team #2 Bong Sam hears the battle cry too. Sun Dol recalls Bong Sam telling him no matter what Sun Dol must transport the paper separately and leave the second team to handle the bandits. Sun Dol resisted the plan but Bong Sam insisted, the stables’ future rests with Sun Dol. He struggles with helping Team #1 but tells them they must press forward. The bandit leader puts his knife to Bong Sam’s throat. His men realize there is NO paper. Angry, the bandit leader knocks Bong Sam unconscious.
Bong Sam tells the bandit leader the paper is safely away. Bong Sam wants to know how the bandit leader knew his name. The bandit leader scoffs that everyone knew Bong Sam and his team were coming. Bong Sam tells the bandit leader the ground transportation is now open. The bandit leader says it isn’t over yet. In a surprise move, it looks like he’ll kill Gol Dae but instead he orders him to catch up with Bong Sam Team #2 and bring the paper back. Bong Sam tells Gol Dae not to return and transport the paper to safety. The bandit leader gives Gol Dae 1 day. Gol Dae promises to return with the paper.
So Gae visits the bandit leader. So Gae chides him for falling for the divide and conquer strategy Bong Sam employed. The bandit leader claims the paper will be returned because he using Bong Sam as bait.
Gol Dae hurries and finds Bong Sam Team #2. He explains the situation. He begs for the paper. Sun Dol refuses. Sun Dol realizes the bandits will kill Bong Sam even if they return the paper. Gol Dae begs for Bong Sam’s life. Sun Dol walks away knowing he’s right. Gol Dae can’t believe it.
Bong Sam tells the bandits he’ll die tomorrow so feed him tonight. The bandit takes his merchant ID tag. Bong Sam demands he return his father’s merchant ID tag. The bandit stares at the tag. I don’t recognize the bandit. The flashback shows the bandit was a past member of Chun Merchant group. First chink the bandit armor! Another bandit recognizes the tag. And another bandit. They become upset that Bong Sam will die tomorrow. They struggle with it. To escape slavery they became bandits. Now they must kill their darling Bong Sam?
It’s morning and the bandit leader mocks Bong Sam’s men for deserting him. Bong Sam says it is as he wanted. He tells his team that Sun Dol will care for the stables. They will die with dignity. The bandit leader orders Bong Sam’s death. Bong Sam asks for his father’s merchant ID tag. The fprmer merchant bandits yell not to kill him. The execution bandit reveals himself as a former Chun Merchant. The ex-Chun Merchant bandits fight the other bandits. The bandit leader kills one of them. Sun Dol and his team arrive. The bandit leader kills the second former Chun Merchant. Bong Sam kills the bandit leader. The bandits flee. Bong Sam cries over the mortally wounded former Chun Merchants that saved him. They return his father’s merchant ID tag to Bong Sam. He weeps over their now dead bodies.
At the grave markers Bong Sam wishes them peach. The last former Chun Merchant notes they died as Chun Merchants and with honor.
So Gae learns Bong Sam’s team delivered the paper successfully to the port.
Sun Dol tells Bong Sam the paper is on the way to the port.
The former Chun Merchant shows Bong Sam the payments from Head Merchant. The former Chun Merchant says the Head Merchant’s nephew was the rumored identity of the bandit leader. Gol Dae, bless his small brain, doesn’t think that is possible. Bong Sam finds the letter from the Head Merchant to his nephew / bandit leader informing him that Bong Sam and his team must be stopped. That’s concrete proof and Bong Sam et al realize it.
The Head Merchant gets the bad news that Bong Sam and his team successfully navigated the bandit laden ground route. The Head Merchant drops a vase and yells that it cannot be.
Bong Sam is stunned the Head Merchant stooped so low as to employ bandits and then tell the bandits to stop him. Why? Why?
Bong Sam realizes he is going head to head with the Head Merchant. He didn’t know that the Head Merchant was working against him using the bandits until he read the letter from the Head Merchant directing the bandit leader to stop Bong Sam. So Gae manages to go undetected for his part in communicating with the bandit leader (except the Head Merchant knows). The odds have been stacked against Bong Sam again and again in this series. This time his father’s legacy saved him. The former Chun Merchants could not kill Bong Sam per direction and instead sacrificed their lives for him. Sacrifice is an underlying theme of this series. Think how many times it has been done. I bet you could identify a sacrifice in every episode.
* Bong Sam dodges death again. Anyone have a tally of how many times he’s dodged death this series? I was pleased with Bong Sam’s divide and conquer plan. I was pleased that Sun Dol came back for Bong Sam after sending the paper forward to the port and out of the bandit’s reach. Gol Dae, that big lug, could only see Bong Sam’s death and abandoned the plan. His priority is friendship first. Bong Sam, Bong Sam, I’m a bit irritated that you allowed So Gae make you doubt what your heart told you – that So Gae planted the opium in your father’s bag. That your father died because So Gae wanted revenge for his own father’s death.
* So Gae lies, twists the truth, and omits the facts. I thought he was finally cornered by Bong Sam and the paper vendor but he managed to weasel his way out of that. Again I thought he was cornered by the Head Merchant for going behind the Head Merchant’s back and meeting with the bandit leader. Did the Head Merchant really believe So Gae’s lies that he didn’t care about the deal between the Head Merchant and the bandit leader?
* So Sa found out that Mae Wol loves Bong Sam. That was a shock to learn that Mae Wol’s former fiancee was Bong Sam. Mae Wol calmly told her to ignore that and concentrate on being a wife and mother. The Head Merchant was giddy when the baby moved.
* Mae Wol was open that Bong Sam was her destiny. She’s probably glad So Sa knows. She believes the So Sa’s marriage and pregnancy creates a barrier that Bong Sam will not breech. Not so fast Mae Wol, it isn’t going to be that simple.
The first song of the OST has been released. “Only You” by Luna is a pretty ballad. Listen via the link or the embedded video below.