History has proven that dictatorships or countries with a King can fall and be rebuilt into a new nation for the people. The Second State Councilor has his own plans to put into action but our protagonists will not go down without a fight. The only constant thing in this world is change, whether we are ready for it or not — we can either embrace such an occurrence, or die trying to reject it.
We are treated to another flashback 20 years ago showing how the Second State Councilor caught and threatened Jae Kyung as a kid to change the contents of the King’s letter. King Yi Gyeom patiently awaits for his child to be born as Mo Hwa congratulates him for having a son. No time to celebrate though as the invasion happens moments after and King Yi Gyeom is killed for supposed treason. Although Jae Kyung reports back to Seoraewon about what he did, it was still too late. Yeongan entrusts him to take Hae Ryung far away so they can live a new life, just as Prince Lee Rim was saved by Sam Bo and Mo Hwa.
An officer and several guards barge into the Office of Royal Decrees and arrest Officer Min for causing “trouble” at the Royal Court. Despite the historians’ protests, Officer Min doesn’t fight back and simply turns himself in quietly. He has a stare down with his father outside, the latter being pressured by his minions to punish his own son for reading the petition.
Also worried for the Prince’s safety, Hae Ryung seeks aid from the Military Commander to sneak Prince Lee Rim out of Nokseodang. They successfully dodge anyone who can catch them in the Palace and hand in hand go to a safe hideout once outside. Both are greeted by the Queen Dowager and the Prince’s loyal followers, swearing their allegiance to help him. Mo Hwa discloses to the Prince that they plan to end things once and for all at the banquet to commemorate the King’s 20th year of reign to be held in a few days. She warns him that if things go awry, they cannot protect him anymore and must therefore escape.
A discussion occurs between opposing side between the King, Crown Prince, and the Second State Councilor. As usual, the latter insists on continuing the banquet to front that the Royal family is not affected by the issues plaguing them. The Crown Prince worries when he declares that he and his father should accept whatever happens to the Queen Dowager and Prince Lee Rim that day, but the Second State Councilor reminds them that it is because of him that they can be in their positions now. Unnerved and burdened, Crown Prince Lee Jin visits Sa Hui that night to ask her a question about the daily records. He doesn’t ask to see it but Sa Hui does not mind letting him read a copy of the actual text.
The Prince and Hae Ryung discuss their future, with the latter telling the former that she’ll follow him whereever he goes if things go south. In a role reversal, it is Prince Lee Rim who declines her offer saying that she shouldn’t move with him. It’s not a blatant rejection but he explains that he was never locked up in Nokseodang but rather, he was waiting for the right person, Hae Ryung, to come find him. If he ends up running away, he can get through anything knowing that they’ll meet again one day. He seals his promise with a kiss. Selfless and content, I think the Prince wouldn’t want Hae Ryung to have a hard time as they run away together and he understood what she meant when she said the exact same thing to him a few episodes ago.
Episode 40 (Last Episode)
It’s the day of reckoning as the banquet is held with officials, historians, eunuchs, and court ladies witnessing the event. Jae Kyung bravely walks to the middle of the place, on his knees, confessing to the King that the letter allegedly sent by the King was fabricated. He points to the Second State Councilor as the culprit and even presents evidence that the King did not believe in Catholicism and simply wanted Seoraewon to be a place where they can study different cultures. The King is unable to speak yet and the officers argue on whether or not to believe Jae Kyung or not.
In a heated exchange between the Queen Dowager and the Second State Councilor, Prince Lee Rim surpisingly marches inside and announces that he is the son of Prince Huiyeong. He bravely states that the reason why his Majesty hasn’t killed him after all this time is because he also thought deep down that stealing the throne and death of his own brother was unjustified. The King stands up in fury and orders the historians to stop writing or else they’ll be beheaded. They don’t listen though and continue to jot down history unraveling before their very eyes.
Side by side, Hae Ryung kneels beside Prince Lee Rim and unwaveringly speaks that killing them will be of no use because the truth will live and resonate in the hearts and minds of the people of Joseon. All the historians join in the protest, backing up Hae Ryung. The Second State Councilor brands them all as traitors and orders for their death but the Crown Prince orders the guard to drop his sword aimed at Hae Ryung’s neck. He walks down from the steps and gets down on his knees himself, pleading the King to investigate the truth of what happened before. Other officials bow down and in a majestic moment, they all simultaneously chant and ask their leader humbly to right the wrongs of the past and move forward with a just conscience.
The next scene shifts to the Second State Councilor telling Officer Min in his room to pour him a drink in his memorial ceremony yearly. This must signal our heroes’ success in persuading the King and our villain’s acceptance of his fate. His son asks how he could change from someone noble to becoming an insatiable man seeking power. The latter explains when he gained influence himself, it was hard for him to let go of it. He does stand by the decision he made to have killed the King before as he believes that Yi Gyeom violated the principles and pillar teachings of Joseon with the study of Western culture. Officer Min cries in disagreement saying that a new world will arise and pays his last respects to his father.
Mo Hwa and Hae Ryung visit Jae Kyung in prison and inform him that the special investigation will commence with every person involved in the dethronement process will be interrogated. Hae Ryung tells him that she is trying to keep it together despite everything and Jae Kyung assures her that he never took care of her out of guilt. They are each other’s brother and sister no matter what happens.
Meanwhile inside the Palace, the Crown Prince announces to the Queen Dowager that he will step down from his position once the investigation has finished. Suddenly, Prince Lee Rim goes inside her room and asks for his dethronement as a Prince because he wishes to live life as an ordinary and free man. The Queen Dowager does not accept his decision and convinces him otherwise. I know that she means well but like I said in the previous episode recaps, her forcing him to be King is annoying! He can always learn the ropes in governing a nation, yes, but he clearly doesn’t want to involve himself in politics.
*** 3 years later ***
It’s business as usual for our hardworking historians!✍🏻 Hae Ryung looks to have been promoted as she has her own table now while A Ran and In Im have also become a junior ninth rank. They aren’t as afraid to speak their minds when Officer Hyeon, who is no longer a historian but is the same rank as Officer Yang, barges in the Office and tries to bully the girls. Sa Hui is not a historian anymore and is teaching kids instead. Her father comes bearing books saying that someone from the Palace (*Ahem* Lee Jin *Ahem*) keeps sending these for her. She smiles and graciously accepts the gift.
We can assume that the Second State Councilor had been executed as Officer Min and the now single and annulled Crown Princess is in mourning clothes. All the historians visit Officer Min and asks him to come back and work as per the order of his Majesty. They all laugh in unison as Officer Min grins back at them. The Crown Prince is now King and he has taken on the task to introduce Western beliefs and practices to Joseon. He remains optimistic and vows that Seoraewon shouldn’t only be a dream that they cannot attain.
Lee Rim comes back from his travels and surprises Hae Ryung with a trail of flowers leading up to him on her mat. He expresses how amazing it was to see dolphins on his trip but doesn’t reveal anything more so she ought to buy the travel book he wrote instead. It seems that the book isn’t doing too well compared to his romance novels, haha, but at least he is doing what he loves for a living. Lee Rim pretends to leave to give Hae Ryung time to rest but she asks him to lock the door instead for some sexy time, haha!💋 They aren’t married yet but that’s okay as they are taking their time enjoying each other’s company.
The next morning, Hae Ryung is awakened by Lee Rim realizing that she is late for work. She gives him a morning kiss on the lips before running off to the Palace. Once inside, she stops for a moment and takes a deep breath to prepare herself for what would be another great and eventful day working as a historian.
A happy ending for our lovers and Joseon🎉 I thoroughly enjoyed watching Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung for its fresh story, plot twists, and girl power!🌸 In the end, the power of the people overruled the tyrant that is the Second State Councilor and the truth shined as bright as the sun. Timing is everything and perhaps it will still take time for the people of Joseon to accept another culture; but after 23 years and no other villain in sight, I’m sure the future of their country is headed toward a positive direction.
If I had to nitpick this kdrama, maybe it would be that I wished some of the side stories would be further explored or solved. Like the stipend corruption that was never mentioned again, what happened to the kid that Hae Ryung helped in the first few episodes, and that Jean Barthelemy was simply a passing foreigner who wished to bid farewell to his brother but was never a crucial part of the overall story. I guess these instances are just meant to be accepted for what they are, an experience that may not mean so much in the big picture, but individually helped shaped our characters’ development.
Cha Eun Woo, the actor playing Prince Lee Rim, could have displayed more facial expressions in some of the show’s more tense or dramatic moments. I read that he was criticized for his poor acting skills earlier when the show just premiered but there’s always room for improvement. His character was sweet and loyal but also didn’t give up even when he had to eventually escape if they did not convince the King of their cause.
Hae Ryung had her fair share of right and wrongs as a character but the fact that she was consistent in speaking the truth & doing what’s right is her best trait for me. She and the Prince never really had a major conflict except of course when he was forced to marry but other than that, their personalities and beliefs always complemented each other. I’m glad that they showed a unique angle where women were emphasized and given a bit of power in a male dominant time proving that women, just like men, are capable of doing work equally and have valid opinions as well.