What is the difference between good and justice? Goodness tolerates and accepts even if it doesn’t suit. Justice never tolerates evil. Just is only just when it prevents evil.Lee Bang-won, Six Flying Dragons
Inspired by Jung Do-jeon’s rousing speech, Lee Bang-won approaches scholar Heo Kang (Lee Ji-hoon) and asks him how he can become a follower of the man who just spoke. He’s advised to attend Sungkyunkwan, the highest institute for scholarly learning in Goryeo. Bang-won tells his rather bemused father that he’s not returning with him but will instead be attending the University. Which he does – and quite quickly. I’m pretty sure people don’t just decide to attend their nation’s pre-eminent educational facility but okay. He’s a pint-sized scholar now.
Lee Bang-won identifies quickly and completely with the Confucianism being taught by the Sungkyunkwan scholars. In particular, he’s impressed by the words of Minister Hong delivered with heartfelt pathos while he’s being arrested for his part in in Jung Do-jeon’s ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ moment.
Bang-won’s feeling of belonging and his belief that he’s found the moral centre of Goryeo means he is quickly and brutally disillusioned at the betrayal of those values by almost everyone around him, including Minister Hong himself. When beloved Hyung and Sunbae Heo Kang is targetted in a series of vicious reprisal attacks for his father’s refusal to sell some land to Guyliner Gil (torturer and Goryeo’s best swordsman, Gil Tae-mi), the future Taejong takes his first steps to being the systematic killer he will become.
What’s the difference between good and evil?
There is a lot of brutality in this episode. Gil Tae-mi proves a sadistic opponent in his gleeful torture of Jung Do-jeon but he’s not the only one. His son’s posse of Sungk Scholars are just as sadistic; brutalising Heo Kang’s friends and associates by forcing them to burn a copy of the teachings of Mencius and tattooing a phrase that basically means ‘traitor’ on their heads if they refuse.
Heo Kang’s best friend refuses to burn the book and kills himself from the shame of the tattoo. Bang-won burns the book and then murders the three scholars that made him do it. Good, evil and justice.
He also plants a tree that he says symbolises Lee In-In-gyeom, planning to chop it down he finally defeats him. “Lee In-gyeom, I will make sure to break you with my own hands.”
To be honest, there is once again a lot going on in this episode. New characters are introduced every three minutes and complex schemes, counter schemes, motives and shifting allegiances pepper the script.
The two beggar children, Boon-yi and Ddang-sae, continue their quest to find their mother. It leads them to follow Jung Do-jeon into exile and he tells them she may have been a Palace Maid that was thought to have died 18 years ago. Lee In-gyeom continues his schemes, which mostly involve doing things to benefit Lee In-gyeom. The famous General, Choi Young, shows up to order the country be stabilised by exiling everyone involved in Jung Do-jeon’s scheme, including Do-jeon himself. Guyliner Gil is being followed by an old white-haired Chinese man who proves to be an expert swordsman himself. There’s a lot of jockeying for power, property and philosophical precepts both in Sungkyunkwan and in the political sphere generally.
It’s almost impossible to keep it all straight and is at time extremely confusing. Nonetheless, the show’s underpinning themes remain firm and the episode builds satisfyingly to a powerful climax. Goryeo is portrayed as a crumbling kingdom, with its leaders and officials scrabbling for wealth and influence while their institutions are corroded by self-interest. Torture, brutality, and bullying are rampant.
And through it all, that corruption is seeping into the heart of a once idealistic child as an avenging darkness. If goodness is impotent against evil, then better to be justice.
There were three more saplings planted in that forest.
All three have been chopped down.