Boasting character complexity, surprises and convincing drama, My Country: The New Age Episode 2 was a stellar second outing for this new K-drama.
This recap of My Country: The New Age Episode 2 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
For most of its feature-length runtime, My Country: The New Age Episode 2 was a respectable if unremarkable follow-up to its impressive premiere. But towards the end, it began firing on all cylinders and I found myself honestly riveted; sharp plot turns, complex characterization and fine acting all helped to offset the odd bit of contrivance that crept in here and there, and the result was an emotional climax that really sets up the rest of the season.
Most of that contrivance comes from the characters all seeming to be intimately tied to one another in a way that doesn’t always ring true. Han Hee-Jae (Kim Seol-hyun) met Seo Hwi’s (Yang Se-jong) notorious swordsman father Seo Geom (Oh-seong Yu) as a child when he saved her from her mother’s killers, and she was also present at his suicide; in a later flashback we learn that Hwi took his father’s body to Nam Sun-ho’s (Do-Hwan Woo) father, Jeon (Nae-sang Ahn), a friend of his who nonetheless refused to help in fear of inheriting Geom’s disgrace. It can all seem a bit much, even if I don’t think it necessarily hurts proceedings either. It’s just a noticeable quibble that I don’t feel is entirely necessary.
But it does, I suppose, help the connections between these characters to feel stronger, and My Country: The New Age Episode 2 spent a fair amount of time fleshing out the relationships at the show’s core: Hwi’s love for his darling sister Yeon and his burgeoning romantic connection with Hee-jae; the lifelong friendship between Hwi and Sun-ho; and Sun-ho’s abusive and bitter treatment at the hands of Jeon, who has always treated him as illegitimate, especially after the death of his son by drowning — an event Sun-ho was present for.
The centerpiece of My Country: The New Age Episode 2 is the military exam, which follows a very Rocky IV-inspired training montage, with Hwi practicing using ramshackle equipment while Sun-ho enjoys the privileges of his father’s station. By the time the actual test occurs — a series of martial challenges, from marksmanship to horseback jousting to swordplay — you have a pretty good sense of what’s going to go down. Hwi and Sun-ho are the final two participants, forced to square off against each other, but an injury that occurred earlier in the episode allows Hwi to get the better of the fight. Believing he has won, he stops fighting, confirmed by a nod from the examiner. But then Sun-ho clambers back to his feet and sucker-strikes Hwi over the head — he’s declared the winner. It’s obviously a fix, and Hwi knows it; he approaches the examiner in a rage but is badly filled in by the guards. An interesting wrinkle here is that Sun-ho, seeing this, still tries to help his friend, but lacks the strength to do so.
That seems to be a running theme in My Country: The New Age — Sun-ho is handsome and talented, but he’s weak-willed, desperate for the approval of a father who has never considered him a son. It’s a classic dynamic, admittedly, but executed exceptionally well here — especially later in the episode. What I’m glad about is that the show doesn’t take the easy way out here, allowing Sun-ho to become a mustache-twirling evildoer, even when it seems like it might. Jeon confesses to Sun-ho that he bribed the test examiner, a secret which is later uncovered by the general, who forces Sun-ho to “sever the knot”, aka execute the messenger who was intercepted and thus knows about the fix, or be executed himself, alongside his father. Sun-ho does the deed, assuring the general that in future blood will be on his hands and his alone, and promising his father that he will entrap and destroy the only other person who knows about what happened — Hwi.
But this isn’t entirely true. Sun-ho does trap Hwi, stitching him up to be forcefully drafted into the military. But when Hwi resists and is brutalized, Yeon has another seizure, banging her head on the table. Sun-ho watches from nearby, sobbing, and when the guards are gone he retrieves her and takes her home. Jeon tries to have her removed, but Sun-ho is having none of it. He insists he won’t let her die. In a great exchange, Jeon berates Sun-ho for losing it with the guards: “How many times have I told you to threaten instead of yell?” In a gangster response, Sun-ho promptly threatens his father into allowing him to care for Yeon.
Yang Se-jong delivers a sensational display of desperation and grief during Hwi’s brief imprisonment before being shipped off to war; he insists that his friend, Sun-ho, who passed the state exam, be informed of what has happened so he can care for his sister. But the guards take great pleasure in telling him that it was Sun-ho himself who got him drafted — something that I’m sure he won’t forget. My Country: The New Age Episode 2 ends with Hwi, three years later, waking up at war.