Bong Sam learns the truth. Unfortunately the truth hurts.
The Merchant Gaekju Episode 39 Recap
Sun Dol tells the Nephew that Bong Sam and Mae Wol are going to get married, which will not be to their advantage. The Nephew is surprised that Mae Wol would give up her royal position.
Guess who else is surprised Mae Wol will chuck it all for Bong Sam? Mae Wol’s assistant pleads with Mae Wol (aka Gae Dong (Kim Min Jung)) not to give up the power and position she’s worked so hard to obtain. Mae Wol pushes her aside. The assistant pleads for understanding. Mae Wol says Bong Sam is her dream. She tells the assistant to let her go. Mae Wol is being bold. She is giving up everything for her obsession, Bong Sam. She’s not trying to have her cake and eat it too as So Gae tried to do.
Mae Wol visits the Queen. The Nephew is there. The atmosphere is cold. The Nephew says Mae Wol cannot get married. The Queen is not happy with Mae Wol. The other royal barks a shaman cannot marry. The Queen won’t allow the marriage. Mae Wol pleads, this is her destiny. The Queen counters that Mae Wol’s destiny is to serve the the royal family. Marrying Bong Sam would be unforgivable. The royals leave the room, except the Nephew. He advises Mae Wol to apologize and reverse her course or a death sentence from the King will be her reward. Mae Wol states Bong Sam is her destiny. The Nephew shakes his head and leaves. How many would directly say no to the Queen or King? I have to respect Mae Wol’s willingness to chuck it all for Bong Sam.
Sun Dol meets the merchants. He is pleased with the plan to gather the rice and thereby thwart Bong Sam. His assistant notes rice, cotton, and salt are Bong Sam’s triple focus. Shouldn’t they too thwart Bong Sam by buying the salt and cotton too? Sun Dol rejects this. If they control the rice they win.
Team Bong Sam Merchants discuss who will and won’t sell rice to them. They focus on the undecided territory. Gol Dae worries they don’t have enough cash to purchase rice from the undecided territory. Bong Sam (Jang Hyuk) notes that the starving citizens need the rice, so money isn’t everything, heart and kindness will count too. Man Chi encourages Bong Sam to discuss this with Mae Wol.
When Bong Sam arrives at Mae Wol’s place, he learns that the Queen rejected her request to marry and now Mae Wol is pleading with public approval. Bong Sam is stunned Mae Wol would go so far to marry him.
Mae Wol sits in the rain. The Nephew and Sun Dol note she’s sat there for 4 days. The Nephew can’t understand why she’d give up everything for Bong Sam. Obsession dude, it is obsession you are watching.
The Nephew shows the Queen the birthday gift Sun Dol (the Head Merchant) brought. She’s pleased with the gift. The Queen learns that Mae Wol fainted. The Queen tells her to make Mae Wol comfortable and call a doctor. I like that the Queen won’t leave Mae Wol to die without helping. I wonder what Sun Dol thinks as he stares at Mae Wol.
Mae Wol dreams of Bong Sam and his proposal. Her enthusiasm to help him and become a good wife is rather sweet. She wakes to see the royals gathered around her. The Queen asks who is the man that Mae Wol called for. The Nephew tells the Queen who Bong Sam is. Mae Wol asks to be released. The Queen comments that she doesn’t understand love as her marriage was arranged. She grants Mae Wol approval to leave. The Queen can’t deny that Mae Wol has been a friend to her. She asks Mae Wol to stay her friend. Wow, I’m pleasantly surprised at the Queen’s agreement. I doubt a male royal would have allowed this. Mae Wol is overjoyed and thankful. The Queen decides as wedding gift she’ll give Bong Sam the right to sell Ginseng. Wow! A major cash crop! This is huge! The Nephew is gobsmacked. Mae Wol is overwhelmed at the generosity. The ladies in the room are happy, the Nephew is livid.
The Nephew tells Sun Dol that the Queen granted the selling right to Ginseng. The assistants are stunned, Sun Dol is stunned, the Nephew barks he couldn’t stop the Queen. Sun Dol says their market advantage is ruined if Bong Sam has the rights to Ginseng. The Nephew sends the assistants out of the room. The Nephew suggests they tell Bong Sam about Mae Wol’s part in So Sa’s death. The Nephew believes Bong Sam would reject Mae Wol and correspondingly reject the gift to sell Ginseng from the Queen. Sun Dol isn’t sure how Bong Sam would react. I find that surprising. Bong Sam is almost an ethical purist now. How could he accept Mae Wol if he knew she helped kill So Sa? How could he accept the Ginseng power up from the Queen if Mae Wol was the price?
Bong Sam is happy to see Mae Wol return from the palace alive and well. She immediately tells Bong Sam he has exclusive rights to sell Ginseng. He is stunned. Team Bong Sam is stunned.
It’s like a party around the stables. This marriage brings them an advantage. Sun Dol arrives. It’s awkward. Header beater apologizes. Team Bong Sam is gracious.
Bong Sam tells his team that the Americans are the best target to sell the Ginseng. Bong Sam leaves the meeting to meet Sun Dol.
Sun Dol offers Bong Sam congratulations for getting the Ginseng bonus for marrying Mae Wol. Sun Dol asks to speak with Wol.
Sun Dol asks if Mae Wol is there. He hands Wol a note to give Mae Wol with the instructions that she is to come to So Sa’s grave. He tells Wol the time has come. Wol wonders if that is why Sun Dol came. Sun Dol tells Wol she wanted revenge, she’ll get revenge, don’t worry about anything else.
Mae Wol reads Sun Dol’s note and burns it.
At So Sa’s grave, Sun Dol waits for Mae Wol. Wol sees Mae Wol heading to the grave. Wol tells Bong Sam she needs to talk to him at So Sa’s grave. He tells her to wait but she grabs him and implores to leave now.
Mae Wol approaches Sun Dol and asks why he wanted to meet. He tells her she cannot marry Bong Sam. Mae Wol says she has the Queen’s approval. She further tells Sun Dol that he threw away Bong Sam and the merchants. Sun Dol sees Bong Sam and Wol approaching the grave. Bong Sam wonders why Mae Wol and Sun Dol are meeting. Raising his voice so Bong Sam can hear, he tells Mae Wol he cares about morality. Mae Wol laughs. She correctly surmises the Sun Dol is upset about the Ginseng and how the balance of power will shift to Bong Sam. Sun Dol shoots his arrow and says loudly “no matter what you say the fact that you killed So Sa will never change”. Bong Sam is shocked. Mae Wol says there’s no evidence and So Gae paid for the crime. Sun Dol practically shouts, he knows, she knows, that she had a hand in So Sa’s death. Mae Wol, who has not bought a clue to Sun Dol’s raised voice, slaps Sun Dol after he asks if she can raise So Sa’s baby after she murdered So Sa. Bong Sam can’t believe his ears. Mae Wol warns Sun Dol to not speak of this again. She walks away not seeing Bong Sam. Bong Sam approaches Sun Dol.
Sun Dol tells Bong Sam he had to know the truth. Tears in his eyes, Bong Sam asks Sun Dol when he found out. He demands to know. Sun Dol tells Bong Sam the time frame. Bong Sam hits Sun Dol. Atta boy! Bong Sam demands to know why Sun Dol revealed the secret. Bong Sam correctly surmises the Sun Dol is upset about the Ginseng and how the balance of power will shift to him. Bong Sam asks if Sun Dol is walking the same path of greed for power that So Gae walked. Bong Sam asks if the Head Merchant position turns people into this. Tears running down his face, Bong Sam tells Sun Dol he still considered him his friend. But no more. Sun Dol has sold his soul. He orders Sun Dol to leave. Sun Dol spits near So Sa’s grave (shocking), glares at Bong Sam and leaves. He looks at Wol as he leaves. They both look at Bong Sam, the man that just got sucker punched by his former friend, for greed not friendship.
Bong Sam tries to touch So Sa’s grave but pulls away. That is a brilliant acting choice by Jang Hyuk. He tells So Sa he’s been foolish. He tells her not to forgive him. He cries imagining how angry she must have been at his choices after her death. He sobs. The pain grips him. He sobs that So Sa should never forgive him. He still can’t touch her grave, he’s not worthy. Sun Dol and Wol leave him to his solitary agony.
Wow! I loved that scene. This had an emotional punch. Bong Sam understood that Sun Dol’s betrayal was to use the truth to hurt Mae Wol and Bong Sam for monetary gain. But Bong Sam’s realization that So Sa must have turned over in her grave seeing him engaged to the woman that killed her was gut wrenching. Tour de force moment for Jang Hyuk. Frankly, I’ve been waiting for such a stellar moment. He does not disappoint.
Mae Wol prays unaware that her world will be destroyed soon. She’s thrilled that Bong Sam will finally be hers. Their destiny will finally join instead of being parallel. She tells her assistant she’s the shaman now.
Bong Sam ponders his next move. He remembers So Sa’s stunned looks when she saw Mae Wol was at her death bed. He remembers Mae Wol begging the Head Merchant not to share something. He sees it now. He knows. Gol Dae finds him and asks if Bong Sam is okay. Bong Sam does answer. Gol Dae sits next to him and takes his hand. Wow, that touched my heart! Part of me loves that big sweet lug Gol Dae. Gol Dae reminds Bong Sam when they first met. He admits he’s not the brightest bulb but he’s a true friend. Bong Sam says Mae Wol killed So Sa. Gol Dae is stunned and upset. He cries upset for the fate of So Sa and the pain of his friend. He understand how much Bong Sam has lost and it hurts him. I’m loving Gol Dae’s simple honesty and empathy for his friend in this moment. Bong Sam asks Gol Dae to keep quiet about this. Gol Dae (who again proves he’s not dumb) asks if the silence is about the Ginseng. Bong Sam confirms this. The Ginseng is the game changer. He can’t give it up. He can’t lose everything in business too. He’ll figure out how to punish Mae Wol, get the rice, but he needs time. Gol Dae agrees to keep quiet.
The Queen directs the Nephew to give Mae Wol another gift. The royals aren’t happy to see Mae Wol get another lavish gift. Mae Wol is thrilled. The Nephew states this will help Bong Sam soar in business. She grins with pleasure.
Sun Dol is not happy to hear his merchants are not making the deals to procure the rice. Everyone wants to work with Bong Sam because they realize the Ginseng advantage will help them. Sun Dol learns that Bong Sam opened a shop (named for his son, nice touch) that sells rice, cotton, and salt. Sun Dol is livid. I love it!
Sun Dol meets with the Nephew and wants to shut down the merchants. No can do. Not without the King’s approval. What can they tell the King to garner his support?
Sun Dol wonders what to do. This Head Merchant gig, isn’t as easy as he thought. He directs his assistant to locate a specific merchant. Sun Dol mutters you catch an enemy with an enemy.
Bong Sam’s co workers tells Mae Wol he’s too busy to see her today. She finds that odd.
Bong Sam tells unveils the store sign to Team Bong Sam. Everyone is excited. This is the next step to build the merchant’s unification. Mae Wol shows up. Gol Dae is surprised to see her. Bong Sam looks neutral.
Mae Wol offers the gift from the Queen, the Ginseng. Bong Sam pulls it together and tells Mae Wol he’s very happy. He doesn’t look at her but he does smile. He reads the scroll from the Queen. He says he can do great things with the Ginseng advantage. His plans can come true. Mae Wol tells Bong Sam that the Queen approved their marriage. She wants to set the date. Bong Sam drops the scroll. Mae Wol takes his hand. He’s not exactly responsive. He asks to delay their marriage until the store is open. She drops his hand and says nothing but is obviously disappointed. He beats a retreat. She stares at him wondering what is going on.
The store sign is put in place, they are open for business. The soldiers patrol in front of the store. Team Bong Sam tells them to patrol somewhere else.
Bong Sam and Gol Dae greet all the merchants. Bong Sam says they may be small but they are grateful for the business.
Sun Dol tells Nephew today is the day to stop the Ginseng advantage. The Nephew puts his faith in Sun Dol’s plan. The foreign merchants arrive. The Nephew and Sun Dol lead the way. Team Bong Sam wonders why Sun Dol, the Nephew and foreign merchant have arrived uninvited. Bong Sam asks why they are there. They compliment the store. Sun Dol jabs Bong Sam for not inviting him. The foreign merchants wish them well. Bong Sam invites them to eat. The Nephew invites the foreigners to eat. The Nephew nods to them as they go with Team Bong Sam to the tables.
The foreigners get angry that they aren’t being sold the rice they were promised. The merchants get upset at that. They have to feed their own people first. The foreigner said they broke the contract. One foreigner pulls out a gun. Bong Sam orders him to put down the gun. He shoots the merchant he was arguing with. A fight breaks out as Team Bong Sam attacks the foreigner. The Nephew calls for the soldiers. Sun Dol and the Nephew flee. The soldiers come and pull Team Bong Sam from killing the foreigner. Too late, he’s dead. The soldiers declare they will arrest Bong Sam. Team Bong Sam fights the soldiers.
Man Chi tells Bong Sam to run. Man Chi says this is a set up. Bong Sam refuses to leave. Man Chi takes matters into his own hands, he knocks Bong Sam out and carries Bong Sam away. Sun Dol sees the melee and Bong Sam’s body over Man Chi’s shoulder. Man Chi decides they need to go to Mae Wol. Gol Dae tries to stop them but the soldiers arrival has them turn and flee. The solider shoot Gol Dae! Bong Sam wakes up when he hears the gun shots. Bong Sam calls to Gol Dae who tells him to run. Bong Sam demands Man Chi put him down. Gol Dae yells run. Man Chi runs. Bong Sam calls out to Gol Dae. Will Bong Sam lose another friend?
Excellent episode. The pacing was strong, the reveals were peeled away one by one. Bong Sam saw clearly that Sun Dol used Mae Wol’s crime for his own agenda. Bong Sam saw clearly that to reject Mae Wol would crush his opportunity to create the world he envisions for the merchants. I did not envy Bong Sam’s decision on how to proceed.
* Bong Sam finally knows that Mae Wol killed So Sa. Bong Sam was blown away by Sun Dol’s reveal. That was Jang Hyuk’s best scene to date. His inability to touch So Sa’s grave told us non-verbally that Bong Sam did not consider himself worthy. I was pleased that Bong Sam saw Sun Dol’s motivations clearly. He asked a fair question – was Sun Dol going down the same unethical path So Gae did? I loved the subtly of his withdrawal from Mae Wol. Honey, I’m too busy with work was his delaying tactic. Finally the scene in the woods with Gol Dae was surprisingly touching. The actor that plays Gol Dae, Lee Doll Hyung, hit a home run simply by taking Bong Sam’s hand and declaring his friendship. It was exactly what Bong Sam needed in that moment.
* Mae Wol got the gift of Ginseng for Bong Sam. The Queen was generous to give Mae Wol and Bong Sam the Ginseng trade. The Nephew knew, Sun Dol knew, Bong Sam knew, this was a game changer. Mae Wol’s interchange with Sun Dol at the grave was solid. Good to see Mae Wol dig her own grave with her words. Bong Sam heard the admission from Mae Wol. It couldn’t have been clearer. Mae Wol was so blissfully in love that she couldn’t decipher Bong Sam’s withdrawal from her. They say love is blind.