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Mr. Sunshine: Episode 2

Rampant change in Joseon is met with both excitement and resistance, and this clash is where we meet our main characters. We learn more about Ae-shin’s story, which is truly a story paved by her stubborn commitment to what she wants. And what she wants is often a bold challenge that embraces the change and all the risks that accompany it. As the timeline catches up, we’re introduced to our remaining characters, seeing how some fates are intertwined and how some just brush by as a hint of what’s to come.

 
EPISODE 2 RECAP

We begin with nobleman’s granddaughter Ae-shin narrating as she reads through the newspaper hidden behind her book: “It was a turbulent time, when yesterday was far, today was unfamiliar, and tomorrow was feared. We all, in our own ways, were experiencing a turbulent Joseon.”

Ae-shin’s older cousin carelessly searches through Ae-shin’s room, urgently looking for accessories. She’s frustrated that she can’t find a single piece of jewelry, considering how often Ae-shin meets with the peddler. Cousin searches through the blankets and hits the jackpot: Ae-shin’s newspaper collection. She excitedly runs off to tattletale to her grandfather.

Just as Ae-shin returns to her ransacked room, her maid comes to relay Grandfather’s summoning. Ae-shin looks at her maid sheepishly and speculates that she’s in trouble for her newspapers, and her maid makes a fuss.

Sure enough, Grandfather scolds Ae-shin for being curious about the world, and her spiteful cousin fans the flames by asking what a girl would possibly do with such newspapers. Ae-shin’s aunt tries to ameliorate the situation and orders Ae-shin to apologize.

But when Ae-shin apologizes, Grandfather doesn’t accept it. He doesn’t believe that she’s truly repenting, so as punishment, he prohibits all outside visitors and orders Ae-shin to read and inscribe all of the Confucian texts. Ae-shin’s eyes well with anger and annoyance, but she doesn’t fight back.

All day and all night, Ae-shin scribes the text while her maid grounds the inkstick. As Ae-shin stubbornly continues writing, sheets are spread all over her room and hung like laundry to dry. The next morning, Ae-shin is visibly annoyed, and her complaints about Confucius having too much to say wakes up her loyal maid, who unknowingly smears ink all over her face. Ae-shin finally finishes and heads over to Grandfather for her morning greeting.

Ae-shin delivers her pile of inscribed text to Grandfather, who’s incredulous that Ae-shin won’t back down once. He warns her by attributing Queen Min’s (King Gojong’s first wife) premature death to her involvement in state affairs and the king’s business. Ae-shin interprets that example to convey how Joseon is changing, but Grandfather’s convinced that Joseon is collapsing.

Headstrong Ae-shin asserts that she will only read the newspaper once a month, as even the lower class is learning new knowledge nowadays. She wants to be a woman of use, but Grandfather won’t allow it. Still, Ae-shin defies Grandfather’s orders and argues that she will read the newspaper.

Ae-shin explains that she must know the happenings in the outside world because the Western world is infiltrating Joseon, but Grandfather argues that those affairs are for the king and the government. Even if there was no government, he won’t allow Ae-shin to get involved in the fate of Joseon, especially after losing his sons (Ae-shin’s father and uncle) to the cause.

Grandfather wants Ae-shin to marry off and live a beautifully ignorant life, but Ae-shin says that she would rather die than do that. Grandfather is taken aback by her response, but standing his ground, he says, “Then go die.”

For the next four days Ae-shin refuses to eat anything and lies in her bed in defiance while her maid throws a tantrum in worry. Another servant reports this to Grandfather, but he remains unfazed and requests that he go buy meat for dinner that night. The servant blurts out that meat shouldn’t even be on his mind, but he catches himself and reluctantly follows orders.

That night, a humble man visits Grandfather. Over dinner, Grandfather laments that Joseon has become the target of impudence, the statesmen are no different than traitors, and the scholars have lost their way. He knows that Ae-shin, like her father, may respond to this turbulence by becoming a resistance fighter. He’s tried to steer her away from that path, but if it becomes an inevitable fate, he wonders… mustn’t they teach her how to live? Aw, Gramps is caving.

Grandfather has already lost two children, and he’s not willing to lose his granddaughter. He requests, “I won’t ask you to protect her. But please teach her to protect herself.” The humble man agrees to do this, and he accepts a drink from Grandfather. As he reaches out with the cup, we see a scar on his right hand. And through a flashback, we discover that this humble man is Jang Seung-gu (Choi Moo-sung), the adolescent boy who lost his father in the battle against the Americans.

Seung-gu leads Ae-shin up a treacherous mountain path, and Ae-shin is out of breath by the time they reach their basecamp. She presumes that Grandfather hired Seung-gu to kill her (ha), but Seung-gu clarifies that Grandfather asked him to teach her how to shoot a gun. He introduces himself as her teacher from now on and sternly suggests that she use honorifics when addressing him. He’s hilariously serious about the honorifics, as Ae-shin struggles to add proper endings to her sentences.

Ae-shin’s training starts with climbing the mountain, which goes from her crawling up and down completely out of breath to her running up without breaking a sweat. She gets so good that she eventually reaches the peak before Seung-gu, and she asks when all this mountain climbing will end. Seung-gu explains that once you shoot a gun, your location is exposed, and you need to run. And now that she’s mastered the climb, he throws her the gun for shooting lessons.

Ae-shin isn’t a natural at shooting, but over time, she’s able to hit the hanging pottery with her shots. One day, as she’s practicing, she hears a sound from behind and immediately turns around with her gun aimed at the source.

It’s just Seung-gu, but he’s returned with a nasty injury on his arm. As she tends to his wound, he explains that it was from a large boar, but Ae-shin doesn’t quite believe him because he’s already used that excuse when he came back with a twisted ankle. Seung-gu looks around sheepishly, but Ae-shin doesn’t care what he’s doing to acquire these injuries — she just tells him to not die. She adds that if he asks her to join whatever he’s doing, she’s ready to accept. That’s why she’s been practicing relentlessly and points to her progess with shooting the hanging pots.

Seung-gu suggests alternative methods, like spreading information through the newspaper or medicine, but Ae-shin describes the urgency of the situation: “The queen was assassinated, and the king has fled to the Russian legation, where he pleads to other countries for help. This prompts Western countries to meddle in Joseon affairs. Words have no power. I want to become a gunner.” Seung-gu tells her to practice more and that she must be able to hit five of the five pots. She nods and accepts the challenge.

A boy runs through the streets with a special edition of the newspaper. Choon-shik, the more intelligent one of the slave-hunter-turned pawnshop-owner duo, takes the newspaper from Il-shik and turns it right side up to read. It’s news of the Spanish-American war.

Ae-shin continues to practice her shooting, and she’s nearly able to hit all five pots from a further distance. She’s focused and determined to improve her skills to join the ranks.

It’s 1898, and the Battle of El Caney ensues in Cuba during the Spanish-American war. The Americans surge into Spanish territory, and our Joseon-American naval officer Eugene is among the American forces. He aggressively shoots at the enemy and saves Kyle, his superior, from a ditch and helps him limp back from the battle.

We’re now all caught up to where we were first introduced to Eugene, at the naval academy and at the meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt. Afterward, Eugene does some research on Joseon, looking at a picture of Wan-ik with the Americans and then a map of the peninsula. Kyle joins him and comments on how Eugene will probably feel more ordinary around people who look like him in Joseon. Eugene politely disagrees, claiming that he somehow always draws attention.

Kyle hands Eugene a picture of Logan Taylor, who formerly worked in Japan and now works as a foreign affairs advisor in Joseon. But he’s selling intel on Joseon to Japan and tarnishing America’s reputation. It dawns on Eugene that if they succeed with this operation, America will receive the credit, but if they fail, Joseon will be to blame. That’s why he was picked for this task, he realizes.

As Eugene packs his bags, he pauses for a moment at the sight of the ornament, the one that cost his mother her life. He’s interrupted by a Japanese friend, who first attempts to speak English but soon resorts to Japanese. Conversing about the Joseon people in New York, the friend wonders if Joseon is better off now, but Eugene thinks that those people may despise Joseon. The friend invites Eugene to visit Tokyo, which he claims has much more luxuries than Joseon. Eugene suggests that the friend bring these luxuries on his visit to Joseon, but the friend presumes that he won’t be welcome there.

Bag in hand and top hat on head, we watch the dramatic transition from Eugene walking in New York to him stepping foot in Joseon in 1902, now in its 6th year of the Gwangmu Reforms, an attempt by King Gojong to modernize Joseon.

Ae-shin has returned to her grandfather’s home, and as she steps out for an outing, she’s greeted by an old friend she doesn’t remember. Luckily, the maid remembers her, and they awkwardly exchange greetings. The friend is accompanied by an American woman who is her English teacher, and Ae-shin politely asks why one learns English. She wonders if her friend perhaps wants to join public service.

Her friend bashfully admits that she has no interest in public service — rather, she’s interested in “love,” which she says in English. Ae-shin looks at her blankly, clearly not understanding what the word “love” is. And before she can ask, the friend and the English teacher need to head on their way.

In her room, Ae-shin wonders what this “love” is — she knows it’s good because it’s somehow better than public service. Her maid tells her that she can have this “love” or anything she wants — just don’t ask to go to school. But she’s fixated on this curious “love” that her friend ranks higher than public service.

Eugene arrives at the Glory Hotel, where Logan Taylor (the dishonorable American who is Eugene’s target) and the Joseon minister (formerly seen in the royal court as Daewongun’s right-hand man) discuss in Japanese how the American technical skills in installing street lamps have greatly advanced Joseon. The Joseon minister offers to express his gratitude that night at a renowned geisha house. Eugene eavesdrops on the conversation and makes note of this location.

Logan and the Joseon minister arrive at the geisha house, where Logan continues to boast about the American technology surrounding them. A geisha opens the window to let the smoke out, and across the way, Ae-shin aims her gun on her target. She waits for the right moment, and then a bullet pierces Logan’s head. But it wasn’t from Ae-shin’s gun.

She looks around and sees a cloaked figure running from the scene across rooftops. The enemies begin to shoot in the direction of the shooter, and Ae-shin shoots back at them before fleeing the scene. The other cloaked figure, Eugene, notices his company, and they chase each other, jumping from rooftop to rooftop.

Then, Eugene stops and points his gun toward Ae-shin, who does the same. Their faces are covered, but they stare at each other, wondering, “One target, two shooters. Could this be a comrade?” Before they can engage, they hear their pursuers nearby and run off in opposite directions.

Meanwhile, a group of people wait on a bridge, shivering in the cold. One man asks his friend if he heard the gunshots, but the friend just assumes that it’s the sound of electricity. They’re all waiting to watch the street lamp light up as the pursuers push through the crowd, searching for the shooters.

Eugene and Ae-shin have changed back into their normal clothes, and they pass by each other on the street. But they both stop a few steps after passing each other at the smell of gunpowder. “That man,” she thinks. “That woman… woman?” he wonders. Then they turn around to face the other at the same time, their faces exposed in the night, which soon illuminates with light from the street lamps.

They continue to watch each other as a train rolls by between them, but once the train passes, Eugene disappears. Ae-shin looks around confused for a moment before walking through the crowds. She reaches an empty area, just past the crowds, and Eugene appears again.

He asks if she was looking for him, and she denies this. But Eugene’s keen instincts say otherwise. He shares that he believes they both discovered each other’s secret and asks where she lives so that he can also head in that direction. Ae-shin once again denies his claim and calls him a foreigner. He seems offended by this title and asks why she would perceive him as such. She points out his uncommon attire, his manner of speaking, and most importantly, his unfamiliar gaze towards her.

She explains that locals know her, and to prove her point, a group of passersby immediately recognize her and ask with deference what she’s doing alone this late at night. She claims that she’s waiting on her servants to finish their errands. Confirming this, her servants and her carriage arrive right then.

As she boards her carriage, she asks a passerby to help this lost man get home. The kind strangers ask Eugene where he’s headed to, and he responds in English to get them off his tail. The men are frazzled by this foreign language and run away.

In the carriage, Ae-shin wonders about the identity of this man. She thinks to the brief face-off on the rooftop. If he were a comrade, he would be running away from the scene, and if he were an enemy, he would be running faster. And why would he ask to walk home in her direction? Is he bold or reckless?

The next morning from his hotel, Eugene thinks back to his confrontation with Ae-shin. He remembers the ornament hanging from her dress, and associates that with his ornament that cost his mother her life.

Eugene arrives at the U.S. embassy, and he’s approached by IM GWAN-SOO (Jo Woo-jin), who’s skeptical of Eugene. Gwan-soo doesn’t believe that Eugene is an American emissary until Eugene takes out his passport as evidence. Gwan-soo is surprised that a Joseon person is representing America, but Eugene makes it a point to correct him — he’s American.

Eugene asks to meet with the U.S. ambassador, but he’s at Logan Taylor’s funeral. He asks to be taken to the funeral, where he watches from afar. Gwan-soo points out all the ambassadors by country and name, as well as the two Joseon ministers of external affairs. Eugene asks how many foreigners outside of the Japanese are in Joseon, and Gwan-soo lists the number from Germany, France, Russia, Britain, and the United States — a total of 227. Eugene subtracts one to account for the newly deceased and corrects that number to 226.

A group of armed Japanese men rummage through Logan’s house, and a young servant carries the crying baby outside, where a man casually leans against a wooden beam. The young girl asks who he is, and he answers that he’s the leader of the men searching the house. With a tone of entitlement, he explains that as the leader, he gets to stay outside and do nothing while the other men do everything. This is GU DONG-MAE (we’ve been waiting for you, Yoo Yeon-seok).

Dong-mae asks the girl if the men are doing a good job searching, and she answers that everything is broken. He reminds her that those things don’t belong to her, but that doesn’t ease her worries. The men rush out and report to Dong-mae that they didn’t find the document. They’ve sent a few men to follow the widow at the funeral, and now they’re heading over to join them.

After the men leave, Dong-mae asks if the girl is sad that her noble died, and the baby on her back begins to cry. He’s amused that the baby is crying like it understood what he just said, and the girl explains that the baby must be scared. Dong-mae assures her not to be scared, since he only kills people that he can profit from.

As Eugene and Gwan-soo watch the U.S. ambassador comforting the widow at the funeral, Gwan-soo directs Eugene to his next duty, which is an investigation of the murder. Eugene will be in charge of this, since the ambassador has his hands full.

The ambassador expresses his exasperation for the death of foreigners by Joseon mobs and requests for the approval of American troops to be deployed in the interest of restoring peace to Joseon. Both ministers of foreign affairs disagree with this plea — one suggests Japan as their means of defense while the other argues for Russia. But the king has grown wiser with age and asks if anyone has confirmed that the killer was actually a Joseon person. There is no confirmation, and the king chides the two ministers for remaining silent at the claim that all Joseon people are mobsters.

The king expresses his condolences for the deceased American and asks the ambassador about the funeral. The ambassador is a bit too peppy in his response about coming from the funeral, and the king notices this. He dismisses everyone and heads to his quarters.

Eugene rides through the village on horseback while Gwan-soo explains the celebration of the street lamps from the night before. The light show of 600 street lamps attracted a crowd, and there’s sure to be witnesses of the shooting. Eugene orders for all the witnesses to gather at the embassy, and Gwan-soo predicts that they’ll get plenty of witnesses hoping to get a tour of the embassy. With that, Eugene calls it a day and rides off.

Eugene stares out at the serene waterfront, where a boat floats against the dock. He remembers his desperate chase from his youth, when he jumped into a similar boat and hid under a straw mat, crying.

He sits at a small inn nearby and stares at his food. Seung-gu arrives at the same place with his hunted game, and he’s clearly a regular. The server joins him and asks Eugene if he knew the chicken in his soup, since all he’s been doing is staring at it, not eating it. Eugene responds that he’s never had this food before, but the server doesn’t believe him because he looks like he could afford much more. Eugene watches curiously as Seung-gu devours his chicken — looking and feeling like a foreigner.

Back on the mountains to practice shooting, Ae-shin tells Seung-gu about the person she encountered on her mission to assassinate Logan. She assumes that this person is a comrade from a different area, but Seung-gu warns her not to trust so easily. “A comrade today may not be one tomorrow, so don’t trust anyone. Including me.”

Ae-shin responds that it’s been a while since she’s stopped trusting Seung-gu. She explains, “How can I trust someone who doesn’t have a house or servants?” Ae-shin’s honesty negates the nobility in Seung-gu’s statement, and an awkward silence ensues. He tells her to go home and fakes a yawn to convince her that he’s tired. She happily agrees and prances away.

Eugene begins his investigation by interviewing all the witnesses, but no significant stories or information arise. One servant mentions that Ae-shin was there along with Eugene, and Gwan-soo suggests that they bring her in for an investigation, though he doesn’t suspect her involvement in the least. Eugene seems nervous about this idea but agrees to it.

Gwan-soo visits Ae-shin’s home to very apologetically request her compliance with the investigation, since she was spotted at the street lamp lighting. Her servant is offended that they would ask Ae-shin to do such thing, but Ae-shin offers to visit the embassy. She wonders who would have reported seeing her, and her mind immediately goes to her encounter with Eugene that night — it must have been him.

At the Glory Hotel restaurant, a man grabs a passing waitress and asks how much she costs for the night. The waitress tries to pull away and declares that she’s a waitress, not a prostitute, but the man finds those two things synonymous. Another figure intervenes and orders the man to let go. The man looks at this intervening woman and agrees that she’s much more desirable. The woman isn’t fazed by this scumbag and tells him that he won’t be able to have either woman. Then, she breaks a plate and scratches his wrist, drawing blood, to make him let go of the waitress.

The scumbag is infuriated to be disrespected by a woman, but his friend tries to shut him up because this woman, KUDO HINA (Kim Min-jung), is the owner of the hotel. Hina expresses disappointment in the scumbag’s friend and his choice of friends, and they quickly exit the hotel.

The waitress apologizes and worries about the expensive broken plate, but Hina says that the waitress is more precious to her. She tells the waitress to respond more aggressively if this happens again. Addressing the crowd in Japanese and then in English, Hina apologizes for the commotion.

Eugene watches the scene unfold, and Hina notices him watching from afar. She approaches him and apologizes in Korean. She hadn’t met him yet and asks what room he’s staying in. When he tells her, she’s a bit confused because she was told that an American was staying there. Eugene reciprocates the confusion by saying that he was told that a Japanese person owned the hotel.

She’s amused by his wit and offers to send a free drink to make up for all the commotion. Then, she reaches out her hand as a greeting between two foreigners, but he hands her a handkerchief instead, seeing that she’s bleeding from breaking the plate. He says that he’ll take the handshake later and heads out.

As Eugene leaves, Dong-mae enters the lobby and watches the new face with some suspicion. Dong-mae notices that Hina is hurt, and she suggests that they head up to the room. As she cleans her wound, Dong-mae asks if she got hurt or if she hurt someone. She says she hurt herself trying to help a girl, so he walks over to her saying, “Then, looks like I’ll have to help this girl.” He proceeds to tend to her wound, and I proceed to swoon.

She asks if he’s found the document he’s looking for, and Dong-mae is impressed that Hina knows everything. He asks if she knows anything else, since he’s come up empty, but she has nothing to offer. Dong-mae asks if Logan’s widow is a secret guest at this hotel, but Hina refuses to share her guests’ information. Empty-handed, Dong-mae heads out and tells Hina to tend to her wound well, since a scar doesn’t match that hand of hers.

Ae-shin arrives at the embassy, and Eugene looks a bit uneasy at the sight of her carriage. As Gwan-soo escorts Ae-shin to the office, she notices Eugene looking out the window. She asks if he’s also been called in for questioning, but Gwan-soo clarifies that he works there — he’s an American consul. Ae-shin’s maid thinks that he’s just an interpreter, but Ae-shin looks determined to find out.

When they enter the office, Ae-shin sits down in Eugene’s chair at his desk, ready to be questioned. Eugene asks if she noticed anything and anyone strange on the night of the street lamp lighting. She responds that there are many strange things in Joseon right now and requests that he ask more specifically what she could have seen.

Her maid intervenes and says that Ae-shin isn’t one to notice anything strange. She’ll pass right by it without a glance and doesn’t know anything. Her maid claims that Ae-shin is just an innocent child. Ae-shin adopts this persona and apologizes to Eugene for not knowing anything.

Eugene speaks in English to Gwan-soo and orders him to take the two servants out of the room for some tea while he speaks to Ae-shin alone. When Gwan-soo tries to escort the servants out, the maid worries that Ae-shin can’t understand a word of English. But Ae-shin throws her a look, and they obediently exit the room.

Now that they’re alone, Eugene cuts to the chase and outlines in great detail the circumstances of that night: It was the street lamp lighting ceremony, so the sound of the electricity would hide the sound of gunshots and the crowds would hide their traces. He asks if that’s why that day was chosen, and Ae-shin feigns ignorance. Eugene continues that gunshots were traced to two different locations and asks if Ae-shin saw anything. Once again, Ae-shin denies knowing or seeing anything.

Eugene walks around the desk and stops right in front of Ae-shin. He slowly lifts his hand to cover the bottom half of her face, and then says that he thinks he may have seen her. Ae-shin lifts her hand to do the same, staring right into his eyes, and says, “If that’s suspicion, then I think I saw you as well.”

 
COMMENTS

This cat and mouse chase is progressing quickly, and the unspoken acknowledgement of each other is a secret bursting at the seams. It seems like Eugene is more keen on revealing their secrets than Ae-shin is, which may be because he’s searching for a deeper connection to his homeland. Although he claims to be an American, I sense that he’s just waiting for an invitation to reconcile his past trauma in order to find his home in Joseon. I’m definitely liking Ae-shin’s character more than Eugene, which is what I totally expected. Her spunk and tenacity are charming, and I love that she’s still slightly less street smart during the day than she is at night as a resistance fighter. She’s proud and flawed, and I’m ready to see more of her.

This episode definitely moved a bit slower for me, but it’s starting to feel a little more Kim Eun-sook to me, with its witty banter along with the lengthy emotional beats full of dramatic cinematography that we got a lot of in the first episode. The English jokes are a fun distraction from the real plot on hand, but I’m hoping the lighthearted comedy will be balanced so that we don’t get whiplash. It’s been a common thing, so I’m not holding my breath. But one can hope.

Grandfather is a man of tough love and practicality. His sorrow for his lost children definitely manifests in his overprotective nature of Ae-shin, but he knows how the cookie crumbles. Ae-shin is her mother and father’s daughter, and there may be no way for him to stop the resolve and obstinate force that is Ae-shin. The tension between the two is a relatable one between a guardian and a child, and it’s clear that Ae-shin gets her stubbornness from Grandfather. I love that he actively sought out Seung-gu to be Ae-shin’s teacher, and even though he openly believes that the reforms are ruining Joseon, I think Grandfather may secretly believe in his granddaughter’s potential.

Ugh, Yoo Yeon-seok really is just the perfect tragic second lead. We saw him for maybe two minutes in this episode, but his character is already screaming tragic second lead. He’s got that smolder and charm that is just irresistible, so it’s going to be difficult to believe that he’s the one getting overlooked. Our other charming new character, Kudo Hina, had the strongest introduction of the bunch through her calm yet defiant confrontation with the scumbag. She’s outspoken, commanding, and seemingly coy about her intel. This show’s women so far are distinctly strong and brave, and I hope this trend continues throughout. The changes and reforms in Joseon may make it unstable politically, but the few moments that showcase the growing equality in society is fascinating and hopeful to watch. Give us more of the good stuff, show! I believe in you!

 
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