Despite a cliched love triangle being hinted at and a couple of ill-placed K-Pop songs, My Country does well to further the characterisation for our trio of protagonists while setting the scene for the conflict to come following a dramatic finale.
With the arrowhead firmly in the desk, the officer approves Hwe’s entry into the exam as the two friends meet Hee-Jae outside, evading the guards before discussing flying kites. As they agree to reconvene after going their separate ways, we’re graced with a flashback into Hee-Jae’s troubled past. Back home, Hwe promises to fly the kite with Yeon after revealing the good news about the exam. Preparing to fly the kites, Yeon arrives wearing a thick layer of blush while both Hwe and Sun-Ho look at Hee-Jae with romantic eyes. Intimidated, Yeon stands off from her as she approaches before Hee-Jae warmly offers to help with her make-up.
The quartet begin flying their kites but Yeon’s happens to break, forcing Hwi to hike up the mountain-top to retrieve it. Here, Hee-Jae talks to him about foreshadowing an early death before they work together to retrieve the kite, despite a risky fall. They look upon one another with love before watching the sky lanterns fly.
After Colonel Choe’s ultimatum toward Chi-Do, the guards work tirelessly to hunt down the trio they believe put up the posters. While out, they find Sun-Ho who originally wandered off to find Hwi and Hee-Jae and arrest him. Only, Chi-Do stops it from happening and plunges his sword into the guard. While Sun-Ho patches himself up at the palace, he remembers Chi-Do’s ominous words about what he’s done. It’s a trying ordeal for Sun-Ho too, especially given his past involves his sister drowning in the river.
As night turns to day, the duo prepare for the military state exam, as we jump back and forth through time to see both Hwi and Sun-Ho’s turbulent pasts leading up to this moment. From here, the duo take part in their respective challenges, including archery and sword fighting – with the final round seeing Sun-Ho and Hwi inevitably forced to battle it out. Both men are evenly matched – so much so they trade matching blows to the stomach. As they face off again, Hwi is the one who stands victorious.
Unfortunately, Hwi lets his guard down and winds up sneak-attacked by Sun-Ho from behind. With Sun-Ho declared the winner, an angry Hwi confronts the ministers over the decision, seeing himself beaten down as he grabs the official by the scruff of the neck. As he’s escorted out, we’re graced by a tonally jarring K-Pop song as Hwi looks on in regret while Sun-Ho ascends.
Beaten and bloodied, Hee-Jae brings an exhausted Hwi back to Ihwaru where Seo Seol questions her over the blossoming romance with Hwi. As she patches him up, the two share a tender, romantic moment together that sees them kiss.
Spoiling Sun-Ho’s celebrations, his father reveals he bribed the examiner. Bitter, he tells his father he’ll never forgive him for ruining his friendship with Hwi. In the morning, the General informs Sun-Ho that a letter is circulating about the exam being rigged. He tells the General no one else knows but rumours spread fast. He turns and fires an arrow at Sun-Ho’s father, narrowly scraping his cheek. A warning shot for sure and one well-received. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Sun-Ho takes the initiative and shoots the captive dead, vowing that all blood will be on him from now on. This happens to be the catalyst that sees him finally end up on the same page as his father.
In the middle of dinner with Yeon, Hwe’s drafted to the military after having failed to pay a tax. Beaten, Hwi pleads with the guards to let him go and tend to Yeon who begins fitting and having a seizure, helplessly convulsing on the ground. He asks Chi-Do to provide a gag but he refuses, dragging him away as she passes out on the ground. Sun-Ho watches on from afar and races to the scene, snatching her up and taking her to the palace, demanding a physician be present. Unfortunately his father arrives instead but defiantly, he tells him he needs to keep Yeon alive.
As Hwi pleads for his life, he finds out that Sun-Ho is the one who orchestrated his arrest. Beaten and bruised, he sits on the boat ready to be shipped out to the front lines as Hae-Joo rushes to the shore-line to say goodbye. Unfortunately she’s too late and as she watches on in the pouring rain, we cut forward 3 months where we end the episode with Hwi on a battlefield surrounded by dead bodies.
Following on from the good work done last episode, My Country offers a substantial amount of plot development here, as we see allegiances formed and broken through the 80 minute episode. As mentioned before, the choice of music for the soundtrack is a little questionable and as a personal preference, I feel the show would be so much stronger without the hinted love triangle at play. Having Hae-Joo as the conflicted friend in the middle would not only have helped add depth to her character, but also benefit both male leads as they focus on their growing feud without a sidelined love interest.
Despite that, there’s enough here to make for a very good historical drama, armed with some gorgeous cinematography and slick production design. This is certainly one to watch and quite where this drama is likely to go next, remains to be seen.