The focus is on King Yeonsangun here, as he gets embroiled with an exceptionally pedantic dispute regarding rules interpretation with his ministers. I have to admit that at minimum, this is a rather more innovative approach than just making King Yeonsangun a straight-up villain. We’re watching King Yeongsangun burn himself out on technicalities, to the point that by the end it’s not clear he or anyone else remembers the policy disagreement that prompted this legal battle in the first place.
The modern political parallels are glaring. All over the world we see people becoming increasingly hostile to the elected class for exactly this reason. Consider how Park Geun-hye has been prolonging her impeachment through a process that is technically legal but blatantly against the spirit of the law, infuriating everyone and badly hobbling South Korea’s ability to act in the face of any actual crisis. Like, say, a neighboring country practicing increasingly aggressive missile tests. And don’t get me started on American politics, where eight years of arguing about process instead of policy directly led to the election of Donald Trump.
That digression serves to explain why by the end it’s easy to feel so ambivalent about the bums being thrown out of the King’s chamber. Yet whatever we, King Yeonsangun, or the people may think, this is not a victory for justice. It is a victory for the technocrats who best knew how to manipulate the rules, and this is a power that exists outside of whether a person actually has good intentions. The short term gratification, though, is what King Yeonsangun is now so ominously hooked on.
As for Gil-dong, well, he still doesn’t really do much except watch and observe. The execution of a crucial step of his plan depends in part on the general political chaos, although like most people, Gil-dong doesn’t really understand the details so much as he does the results. And again, while the results may seem like the important part, there’s Amogae ominously hovering in the background.
The explicit flashbacks Amogae has are what really drives the overall point home. Consciously or not, Gil-dong’s plan has a lot of structural similarities to the schemes Amogae himself has pulled off in the past. This establishes that Gil-dong is playing with a maelstrom. While it’s guaranteed that some people will be destroyed, it seems equally inevitable that Gil-dong and his merry crew themselves may find themselves the inadvertent victims of an aftershock.