Part 1 of “My Dearest” has ended and was just as heartbreaking as expected. The show has made no promises of a happy ending, and the further it goes, the more likely it seems that Lee Jang Hyun (Namgoong Min) and Yoo Gil Chae (Ahn Eun Jin) may never get the happiness they deserve. Yet, the ride remains so, so painfully good. As we begin the arduous month-and-a-half long wait to Part 2, here’s where we leave off with our beloved characters.
Warning: spoilers for episodes 9-10 below.
1. Nam Yeon Joon: selfish, weak, and making Eun Ae save him day after day
Last week, Nam Yeon Joon (Lee Hak Joo) was jailed by King Injo (Kim Jong Tae) after refusing to go to Simyang (an outpost of the growing Greater Jin empire) to take a message to Crown Prince So Hyun (Kim Mu Jun). Yeon Joon has always been ridiculously inflexible and naive from his belief in the glory of war (quickly shattered) to his certainty in the divine wisdom and justice of the king (unfortunately not as easily shattered). Every other courtier understands that the King’s favor is mercurial and that they occasionally need to do unsavory things to keep it, like bowing to the enemy and taking a message to the Crown Prince. But Yeon Joon is so focused on keeping his Confucian ideals to the letter that he doesn’t care about the results of his actions. After his imprisonment, Kyung Eun Ae (Lee Da In) and Gil Chae, their maids, and family are thrown out to live on the street.
Eun Ae tries to be cheerful, but they barely have enough for food and have to sell their clothing, resulting in people looking down on them for falling so low despite being of noble birth. They look down even more upon Gil Chae when she decides to take matters into her own hands. This brave, resourceful girl is still grieving Jang Hyun, whom she thinks is dead. But she doesn’t shut down despite her grief. She recognizes that their family won’t be able to last long with so many mouths to feed, so she decides to do what Jang Hyun did and try her hand at commerce. To do this, she needs the help of Goo Won Moo (Ji Seung Hyun), the soldier who has falsely claimed credit for saving her on Ganghwa Island this whole time when it was Jang Hyun who did. And that’s where the tragedy really begins.
2. Eun Ae: Gil Chae’s rock and heartbroken for her
Eun Ae knows how heartbroken Gil Chae is and admires her resolve to help them, but she recognizes that their predicament is due to her husband being imprisoned. She seeks out a well-respected scholar who has been gaining popularity for pointing out the King’s unfair, paranoid behavior. King Injo knows he isn’t popular. People blame him for submitting to the intruders, and now, it seems that the Crown Prince is more beloved than he is. Injo deposed King Gwanghae to get to the throne, and he fears that the same will be done to him, so he keeps everyone who refuses him in jail, even if they do so for good reason.
Eun Ae’s heart breaks seeing Gil Chae work away in the forges, trying to become an entrepreneur and chancing her future on whether her bowls sell. She hates seeing people talk poorly of Gil Chae for fraternizing with Won Moo or polishing bowls. Talking one-on-one without marriage? Noble women working? Scandalous. She appeals to the scholar who uses his network to send hundreds of appeals to the king. Injo has no choice but to release Yeon Joon given the people’s wrath, once again proving Jang Hyun’s point from so many years ago: that Yeon Joon hides behind the women in his life and waits for them to solve his problems for him.
3. Gil Chae: heartbroken, sacrificial, resourceful, and engaged
At this point it’s been three years since Jang Hyun left for Simyang, and Gil Chae has believed he was dead for a long time. But she still hasn’t forgotten him and keeps thinking of him at important junctures in life, like when her business succeeds and she becomes a wealthy tradeswoman. The only catch is that she’s dependent on Won Moo’s forge. If he ever pulls his support, she has no place of manufacture. Won Moo has been taken with her from the start and proposes to her. She turns him down, but he makes another plea, saying that he knows about Jang Hyun, but that he’s dead. He asks her to come to him, even if she has Jang Hyun in her heart. The words are so similar to what Jang Hyun said so long ago that Gil Chae pauses. She rejects him time after time, but reality gets in the way of everything. She realizes that she needs to marry well for her sister and for her maid to be able to marry. This isn’t about just her happiness. So many people are depending on her that she genuinely can’t choose to stay single forever.
So when she runs into Ryang Eum (Kim Yoon Woo), her heart breaks, and she tearfully asks him whether Jang Hyun suffered a great deal before dying. She doesn’t know that Jang Hyun sent Ryang Eum ahead to let her know that he had been allowed to return from Simyang and that he was coming to her. But Ryang Eum, always jealous of Jang Hyun’s love for Gil Chae, lies that he’s dead instead. And Gil Chae agrees to marry Won Moo.
4. Jang Hyun: heartbroken, self-hating, and possibly in a love triangle
Oh, Jang Hyun. This guy has had the worst time of it in Simyang. The Greater Jin empire has become the Qing empire, and Jang Hyun is stuck between a rock and a hard place, between allegiance to the land of his people and slavery to the land that has conquered it. The sad thing is that Jang Hyun never wanted to be involved in warfare or politics, but his love for Gil Chae and his determination to keep her safe resulted in him taking risk after risk to keep her safe—all of which caught the attention of higher-ups in both the Qing empire and within Joseon. As a result, Jang Hyun has had to keep the Crown Prince safe and keep himself safe, both of which have required him to turn into a double agent and commit horrible deeds in order to survive.
The crown prince is as inflexible as his father, and it’s up to Jang Hyun to show him that being flexible and cunning with the Qing empire will allow the prince to live long enough to throw off their yoke. But Jang Hyun also knows that the crown prince’s flexibilty will result in King Injo distrusting him. But he has his own problems because Yong Gol Dae (Choi Young Woo), righthand man to the Qing emperor, is determined to find out if he’s a spy. So he’s assigned Jang Hyun to become a escapee-hunter to capture Joseon refugees who are trying to flee Qing persecution or rule. It’s a distasteful job, and Jang Hyun hates doing it, but he has no choice. His will to survive is too strong. He hates himself for it but captures the escaping refugees and hands them over to be killed. His competitor in escapee-hunting is a mysterious, masked figure in blue that Jang Hyun is slightly curious about, but he’s too busy hating himself to care more. That is, until his work pays off.
The crown prince’s flexibility has earned him a reprieve. He can go home back to Joseon for a bit. And that means that Jang Hyun can finally see Gil Chae again. He sends Ryang Eum ahead to let her know. And he’s so excited to see her, until he finds that she’s engaged. His heart shatters into a thousand pieces, and Gil Chae, looking at him, is equally torn apart. She leaves her engagement party to go to him, and they finally have a heart-to-heart that’s been years in the making. Jang Hyun and Gil Chae have never had a chance to sit down and actually show each other who they are. The vision they have of each other is still that vision from four-five years ago, where he thinks she’s immature but capable and kind, and she thinks that he’s reliable but leaves the second he faces hurt. Gil Chae has matured in the interim into a strong, capable, and brilliant woman while using the skills Jang Hyun taught her to survive. But those same skills have only resulted in Jang Hyun having to commit acts he hates himself for. He hasn’t matured during their time apart. Which is why his first request to her is that they run away together.
5. Our couple’s fate: heartbroken, fractured
Jang Hyun finally knows the depth of Gil Chae’s feeling and is horrified to hear that she agreed in part to Won Moo’s proposal because he saved her at Ganghwa Island. Jang Hyun finally tells her the truth: that he fought the invaders 17 to one. The fact that Gil Chae isn’t surprised means that she always suspected it, but her engagement is almost irreversible at this point. If she breaks it off and immediately goes to Jang Hyun, a man with a questionable reputation as is, she’ll be excoriated by the townsfolk. And that won’t just affect her, it’ll affect Eun Ae, Jong Jong (Park Jeong Yeon), Bang Doo Ne (Kwon So Hyun), her father, and her sister’s prospects of marriage. That’s why Jang Hyun proposes that they run off together. Gil Chae wants to. So badly. She even runs off with him that night.
They stay at an inn, where she refers to him as her husband, and they’re so happy. Jang Hyun’s eyes just light up around her. He gives her the shoes he got for her as promised (even though giving someone shoes in dramas means that you’re about to be separated from them!). He vows to be hers in the most romantic of ways, and Gil Chae looks like she’s finally happy again.
Eun Ae protects her when Won Moo goes hunting for her and Jang Hyun, and she even encourages her to run off, telling her not to worry. Gil Chae’s all set to leave on a boat with Jang Hyun. And Won Moo knows that there’s no chance of getting her back. So he does something despicable: he turns Gil Chae’s mentally-broken father out on the street. He knows Gil Chae will frantically go search for him. And that’s what Gil Chae does. When she finally finds her father, Won Moo is watching, and she realizes just how deep her duty to her family extends. Her father would die without her, and her sister would have nothing. And no matter how much she loves Jang Hyun, Gil Chae has never been a selfish person.
So she returns home, picks up the engagement where she left off, and writes Jang Hyun a letter that she does not mean, saying that she doesn’t love or trust him enough to run away with him. And when she watches him sail away in the boat that should have held them both, she weeps for the future they could have had as he throws away the shoes he saved for her. In the distance, Ryang Eum watches her and Jang Hyun, abandoned for his part in the deceit that destroyed Jang Hyun and Gil Chae’s future.
Two years later, Jang Hyun is still in Simyang in the service of the crown prince while having to kill Joseon people to keep the favor of the Qing. Only, he seems to be secretly attacking his competition, the mysterious masked escapee-hunter in blue. Jang Hyun makes him miss his shot and catches him as he falls from his horse, only to find that the escapee-hunter is a woman. He’s above her in a shot that would be romantic in any other circumstance. And perhaps it is. It has been two years after all. And Part 1 has officially ended.
What a heartbreaking ending to Part 1! The writing here is frustratingly realistic. The show has never tried to bill itself as a fantasy where women are respected, have rights, or can choose their destiny. It isn’t clear whether Jang Hyun doesn’t understand the real reason Gil Chae didn’t come with him or whether he just cut and ran like he always does when he’s hurt. It’s sad because he accuses Gil Chae of never giving him the benefit of the doubt, but he’s the one who has hidden so much of himself from her and is surprised when she sees exactly what he wanted her to see and doesn’t trust it. Ryang Eum is 100 percent the white-haired man in the asylum whom we met at the start of Part 1, and Gil Chae’s voice-overs indicate that Jang Hyun could be dead in the present. Plus, the addition of Lee Chung Ah as the blue-dressed escapee hunter (literally the best person they could have chosen Namgoong Min to be in a love triangle with!) means we’re due for a whole lot of heartache in Part 2 as these two find their way back to each other. If they do at all. Oh, it hurts so good.
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Shalini_A is a long time Asian-drama addict. When not watching dramas, she fangirls over Ji Sung, and spins thrillers set in increasingly fantastic worlds. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and feel free to ask her anything!
Currently Watching: “Longing for You,” “My Dearest,” and “My Lovely Liar.”
Looking Forward to: “Gyeongseong Creature,” “Ask The Stars,” “The Girl Downstairs,” “The Worst of Evil,” “Queen of Tears,” “Vigilante,” “Daily Dose of Sunshine,” and Ji Sung’s next drama.