Bong Sam must choose – do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?
The Merchant Gaekju Episode 40 Recap
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. The soldiers race after Man Chi, Gom Bae and Bong Sam.
Sun Dol learns the Nephew must go to the palace to explain how the Japanese merchant died at the new store. Sun Dol is furious when the Nephew says the prosecutor, not police, issued a warrant for Bong Sam’s arrest. Sun Dol rightly points out that Bong Sam did not kill the Japanese merchant and should not be arrest. Too bad, so sad, someone must be sacrificed, and it will be Bong Sam, says the Nephew.
Bong Sam and Man Chi and Gom Bae hid from the soldiers. They learn Gol Dae is okay and should be released tomorrow. Their exit path is not clear. Man Chi recommends they hide with Mae Wol. Reluctant but out of options, they go to Mae Wol’s place. Mae Wol tells Bong Sam to hide there as long as he likes. Bong Sam says he’s got a big problem. Hiding won’t make it go away. She reminds him of the paper granting Bong Sam the exclusive rights to sell Ginseng but Bong Sam knows until he confronts her, he can’t concentrate on anything else. He asks Mae Wol if she killed So Sa. Boom! I like the soft way he asked. Mae Wol is stunned and declares it nonsense. Bong Sam tells her he heard everything she said to Sun Dol. She sags. Bong Sam asks if she paid So Gae to kill So Sa. Bong Sam admits the Ginseng is a big deal and will elevate him and allow his dreams to come true. Now he’s raised his voice to firm and direct. He stuns Mae Wol by holding the Ginseng rights over the fire. Mae Wol tells him that will save him, don’t burn it. Crying he demands to know the truth. He cannot accept the Ginseng if she’s weak. He demands that she tell the truth. Did she kill So Sa? Mae Wol doesn’t answer. Bong Sam answers for her, he knows she can’t lie to herself anymore. The Ginseng is worthless. He burns it. He leaves. Mae Wol stares into the fire then runs after him.
We’ve all waited for this confrontation. Jang Hyuk was impactful when he altered the tenor and cadence of his questions and demands, starting gentle to firm back to gentle with tears in his eyes. Once again, someone he loved and trusted betrayed him and lost their own soul. In a way, that may hurt Bong Sam more, that the girl, Gae Dong, he cared for, evolved into someone that instigated the murder of the love of his life. He doesn’t know this person, but that’s what Mae Wol is, and it hurts. Kim Min Jung did a good job in the scene too. She trembled with fear knowing that she couldn’t lie but couldn’t admit the truth but that confirmed her guilt.
Bong Sam tells Man Chi and Gom Bae they are leaving. Mae Wol screams kills me if you are going to leave me. Does she mean it. Is life without Bong Sam intolerable? She grabs Bong Sam and pleads with him. She can’t go forward with him, but she can’t be Gae Dong again, kill me she begs. Bong Sam brushes her aside and says they must go. Mae Wol grabs him and pleads, tear streaming, that she cannot live without him. Stoic Bong Sam tells her he won’t ever see her again. Ouch! He walks away. Man Chi and Gom Bae rush after Bong Sam. Mae Wol cries, staggers, and grabs her heart as she falls to the ground. The assistant calls for help.
Man Chi asks Bong Sam if he’s okay. Bong Sam doesn’t want to talk about it. How can they escape? Bong Sam remembers Sun Dol inviting him to his store. Bong Sam looks stunned, then takes off.
Sun Dol rails at the Japanese merchants for mucking up his plan. They are angry. Their leader died in the process of helping Sun Dol. He doesn’t care. He demands retribution. The Japanese merchants leave and Sun Dol charges after them. He tells them he will report them. Bong Sam et all are watching the exchange. The Japanese merchants tell Sun Dol regardless of his plan, they were there to kill Bong Sam. That stuns Sun Dol and the Japanese merchants make their escape.
Bong Sam bursts through the gate. He and Sun Dol stare at each other. Sun Dol invites him to talk. Man Chi demands to know how Sun Dol could do this to Bong Sam. Pragmatic, Bong Sam declares past actions don’t matter now. Sun Dol states he wants to salvage and cleanup as much of this mess as he can. Sun Dol wants to get rid of the warrant for Bong Sam’s arrest. He yells at Bong Sam that opening the store was asking for trouble and trouble is what he got. Sun Dol declares Bong Sam started the trouble. Bong Sam can’t believe the Sun Dol is blaming him for feeling upset at Bong Sam’s success and setting a bad plan in motion. Oh no, the assistants announced the Nephew has arrived. Sun Dol hides Bong Sam et all in the secret room behind the screen.
The Nephew arrives and reports that he’s worked hard and needs food before he reports. Everyone looks at each other. Gom Mae almost sneezes but Man Chi stops it. The Nephew reports that the royals are already in debt from the last incident with the Japanese and now things are worse. Sun Dol can’t believe the past mistake is intruding on the present mistake. The Nephew gets mad – they don’t want Bong Sam dead, they don’t like the Japanese, and the Queen is personally upset that Mae Wol’s fiancee is in trouble. The Nephew predicts Bong Sam will get the death penalty. I love that royal logic to Bong Sam – we like you, we know you didn’t create this mess, but you must be sacrificed to clear up this political incident. Sun Dol refuses to accept the decision. Accept it the Nephew declares. Bong Sam is the sacrificial lamb. He storms out. The assistants smirk with glee. They want their old nemesis Bong Sam punished. Sun Dol follows the Nephew to the court yard still arguing. The Nephew has had enough. Bong Sam will be sacrificed. He warns Sun Dol not to consider hiding Bong Sam. Too late for that! He warns Sun Dol would be punished if he hid Bong Sam.
The assistant decides he need to make a move.
Sun Dol apologizes to Bong Sam. Things went farther than he ever imagined. Bong Sam recognizes that Sun Dol felt the end justified the means. He tells Bong Sam they will help him escape. They make their break. Before leaving Man Chi asks Sun Dol to help Gol Dae get out of trouble with the police.
The assistants tell the Nephew that Sun Dol is hiding Bong Sam. The Nephew orders the solider to go get the prosecutor and his soldiers ASAP. The assistants smirk.
Bong Sam, Man Chi, and Gom Bae stare at their likenesses and the warrant for their arrest. They flee.
In prison, Gol Dae cries to Bong Sam for help.
Bong Sam asks the merchant to help them. The merchant agrees. He’s livid that Bong Sam is merely the excuse to ruin the merchants associaiton.
The Nephew wakes Mae Wol’s sleep. He asks if she’s hiding Bong Sam. He thinks Bong Sams only allies are Sun Dol or her. Mae Wol admits she’d help Bong Sam if he’d accept her help. She realizes that the Nephew and Sun Dol created this mess. The Nephew says Bong Sam could never be allowed to have the Ginseng rights. He leaves.
Is anyone seeing that this mindset “I must have X, therefore my actions to get X, are justified” is the fiber of the villainy of this show? Are these people – So Gae, Mae Wol, Sun Dol, the Nephew and the Head Merchant, evil incarnate? No, but to achieve their goals they’ve used and abused.
Mae Wol stares in the darkness of the night. Her world is shattered. Bong Sam, her love, could she have avoided him and their destiny?
Who’s in the box? The funeral is well attended. The Nephew shows up and sees the masses of merchants. What if they all revolved? Could the soldiers win against them? Would the monarchy be overthrown? After the funeral the merchant tells the Bong Sam trio that the Nephew and the soliders couldn’t make a move against the mass of merchants. Bong Sam is thrilled. He wants the merchants to band together. He gets concerned when they talk about revolt. He refuses, revolts destroy the merchant’s lives and families.
The Nephew and Sun Dol discuss NOT arresting Bong Sam. Needless to say, the Nephew doesn’t think Bong Sam will stay silent for long.
The Nephew tells the Queen the merchants could revolt and they must prepare. Sun Dol agrees with the Nephew, the merchants association must be shut down.
Bong Sam wants all the merchants to purchase more rice to save the people. The merchants report the soldiers have come to shut down the merchants association.
The merchants threaten the soldiers. The soldiers look threatened. The Nephew wants to issue a royal order. Bong Sam arrives to take the order. The royals are impressed, Bong Sam is bold indeed. Bong Sam declares he is the merchants association leader. The Nephew issues the order. The merchants association once an independent group is now closed. Bong Sam is surprised. The merchants are not happy. The Nephew warns that not complying means treason. The Nephew tells Bong Sam to accept the order. Bong Sam looks at all the merchants. He considers – accept or reject? He states he will respectfully…obey the order. I adore the way Jan Hyuk hesitated, like he was forcing Bong Sam to utter the words he must but did not want to utter. Sun Dol is relieved, the Nephew is relieved, Bong Sam has tears. But Bong Sam is consistent – the needs of others he cares for outweigh his own needs. Bong Sam stops the Nephew from leaving.
In a side room, the Nephew tells Bong Sam there will be punishment if the merchants disobey the order. Sun Dol offers to help as many merchants as he can. Bong Sam doesn’t like that option – Sun Dol’s “help” is servitude for proud, free merchants. The Nephew snaps, the merchants association must be divided. Bong Sam counters why do you care about the merchants association when the country could be destroyed by the foreign merchants? The Nephew spits out that the internal revolt is the bigger problem.
The merchants are not happy. They spot the Nephew. They yell at the royals and Sun Dol. They raise their weapons and consider murder. Bong Sam bursts through and tells the merchants to stand down. The merchants can’t believe it. They are willing to revolt. Bong Sam holds up the royal order. If they disobey the order, they become traitors to their country. They can’t become traitors. He begs them to put down their weapons and let the royals pass. The merchants agree. Bong Sam thanks them. Bong Sam leads the royals through the merchants. I love how in that moment Bong Sam was more royal than those he escorted. The Nephew tells Bong Sam to turn himself in. He’s the scapegoat for the Japanese Merchants’s death. He promises no merchant will die and offers to trade Bong Sam for the merchant they already have in prison. He leaves. Bong Sam wonders which merchant is in prison. Sun Dol tells him Gol Dae is in bad shape and the merchant in prison. That is like sticking a knife in Bong Sam!
The Nephew is relieved they escaped. Sun Dol states they created the mess but Bong Sam is the one that will create calm or chaos. The Nephew realizes that Bong Sam has a difficult choice. He must give up his life. The Nephew worries about the fate of the nation.
Bong Sam considers what to do. Isn’t it easy? He’s alone and the leader. He lives for the merchants. Bong Sam tells So Sa at her grave marker his decision. When Wol arrives. Bong Sam is pleased to see his son. He chides his son for sleeping through his visit. So cute, his chiding. He tells Wol to care for his son. She asks what he means. You know what he means and I know what he means. He tells So Sa he’ll see her soon.
Bong Sam turns himself in. Of course, what else could he do?
The Nephew is surprised to learn something about Bong Sam. What is that about?
Mae Wol is upset to learn that Bong Sam turned himself in. She rushes out.
Clad in prison wear Bong Sam sits next to Gol Dae. His friend is asleep Bong Sam calls to his friend and helps him sit up. Gol Dae is surprised that Bong Sam was captured. Tears in Bong Sam’s eyes spring forth as he declares if Gol Dae was in prison, Bong Sam had to come. That gets me. I feel that sums up Bong Sam. A true friend. A man that believed that everyone else a true friend like he was. Unfortunately he learned time after time that his definition of friendship and loyalty was the exception rather than the rule. Gol Dae tells Bong Sam to leave. He cries and hugs Bong Sam. Man, this is killing me. My Achilles heel is that big lug Gol Dae.
Outside the prison the merchants gather. Soldiers aims their rifles at the gate if the merchants should riot.
The Queen is upset. She asks Sun Dol what to do about the merchants association. Sun Dol says on Bong Sam can stop them. The Nephew is uncomfortable with that solution.
The soldiers take Bong Sam. Gol Dae freaks out.
Bong Sam is taken to meet with the Nephew and Sun Dol. The Nephew says the merchants are fighting the soliders. Bong Sam is stunned and livid. Why am I here? The Nephew says they want the same thing. To stop the merchants from revolting.
Man Chi and Gom Bae whip the merchants into a fighting frenzy. They march on the prison to save Bong Sam.
The merchants burst through the gate. The soldiers aims their rifles.
The Nephew arrives and orders them to put down their rifles. The merchants see Bong Sam and declare they are here to save him. Bong Sam tells his merchant friends that it is time to stop.
Bong Sam has been the lighting rod this entire series and this episode proved that again. Sun Dol wants Bong Sam gone to have power over the merchants. The Nephew wants Bong Sam gone to nullify the power of the merchants. But they can’t control the loyalty of the merchants. They need Bong Sam to control the merchants.
* Bong Sam confronted Mae Wol about killing So Sa. That was a satisfying confrontation. It was subtle. It was direct. It was gentle. It was direct. Both actors hit a home run in that scene. Gol Dae, Gol Dae, he is a pure soul. His loyalty to Bong Sam is touching as is Bong Sam’s loyalty to him. Their scene in the prison cell ripped me up. Bong Sam giving up his life for Gol Dae and the merchants…it is who Bong Sam is. While Sun Dol’s switch to anti-Bong Sam has been jarring and doesn’t ring 100% true, Bong Sam has been a model of consistency once he decided that the merchants were stronger together and better off rejecting the Head Merchant’s (who ever was Head Merchant) servitude and crumbs. Bong Sam is a quiet revolutionary. Unfortunately, I don’t see how Bong Sam can survive being that.
* Mae Wol silence dammed her when Bong Sam asked if she conspired with So Gae to kill So Sa. Superb scene between them. Mae Wol can’t release herself from her Bong Sam obsession.
We are here. One episode to go. Can you believe that this show began on September 23, 2015? Here’s my wish list for the final episode:
* Bong Sam doesn’t die. Do I think that will happen? Unlikely.