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Review: Captivating The King – The Fangirl Verdict


THE SHORT VERDICT:

Overall, I’d say that Show had a lot more promise than it ultimately delivered.

I thought Show’s first half was very, very solid; it made me feel that Show had so much potential to be an all-around excellent drama.

Unfortunately, stuff gets wobbly in Show’s second half, and I struggled especially with the characterization of our female lead, which I thought was rather, er, inadequate, to put it nicely.

Still worth a whirl, if only to see Jo Jong Seok’s outstanding performance as our titular King. 🥲

THE LONG VERDICT:

Let me put it this way.

When I was watching the first half of this show, I was so bowled over, that I thought, surely, this one would end up being a total highlight of my 2024 drama year.

However, Show’s second half worked out to be really underwhelming for me personally, and I ended up literally almost forgetting how good Show’s first half even was. 😅

I still do agree with the general sentiment that Jo Jong Seok’s fantastic delivery of our titular King, is worth the price of admission.

At the same time, I’m now thinking that perhaps I could have used that admission ticket for entry to this hypothetical performance – and then bailed at the hypothetical midpoint intermission. 😂

I’m starting to feel like I’m channeling one of those TV playboys, out to smooth-talk my  way out of a relationship that’s ceased to hold my interest, HA.

Honestly though, walking away halfway from this one, would have left me with the best memories of this show. 🥲😂

That said, some folks do love this one all the way to the end, so just because I didn’t, doesn’t mean that you necessarily won’t?

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Overall, I found the music pleasant and on-point, in terms of how it’s applied to amplify the scenes.

The track that really captured me, is Track 3, Wave, which I found very earwormy and evocative. Every time this particular song came on, I found that it amplified my feels by quite a bit.

Once again, I do find the song’s 6/8 rhythm very easy on the ears. I dunno; I seem to have an instinctive thing for 6/8 rhythms. 😅

HOW I’M APPROACHING THIS REVIEW

First I’ll talk about how to manage your expectations going into this one, and what viewing lens would be most helpful.

After that, I talk about what I liked and liked less, covering both the more macro aspects of Show, as well as selected characters and relationships. I’ve opted not to do a separate section on characters and relationships, for this review.

Finally, I also spend some time talking about my thoughts on the penultimate episodes, as well as our finale episodes.

If you’re interested in my blow-by-blow reactions, &/or all the various Patreon members’ comments during the course of our watch, you might like to check out my episode notes on Patreon here.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are a few things that I think would be useful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:

1. This is the Jo Jong Seok show

What I mean is, even though the central loveline is marketed as being the central focus (it’s implied all the iterations of Show’s title), our focus really is on the journey of our titular King.

It isn’t the loveline, no matter what Show tries to say about that.

In my opinion anyway, putting your focus on the journey of Jo Jong Seok’s King, would make for a much more satisfying watch.

2. Be ready to suspend disbelief

I personally felt that some stuff didn’t make solid sense, particularly when it came to the characterization of the female lead (more on that later), and I think that being ready to suspend disbelief when that happens, ought to help everything land better, for you.

3. Consider a different end-point

I honestly think I would have been happy to have stopped my watch at the end of episode 8, because everything up to that point, is pretty darn excellent.

Yes, watching the second half did have its highlights, but not enough to make up for the dip in overall satisfaction, I feel.

If I could go back in time and change my approach to this show, I would’ve stopped at the end of episode 8, instead of pushing through to the end.

You could consider doing that, in my stead. 😁

STUFF I LIKED

Jo Jong Seok as Grand Prince Jinhan / Lee In

I’m not overstating it when I say that Jo Jong Seok is brilliant, as our titular King. 🥲

This is my first time seeing Jo Jong Seok in such a serious, regal role, and I feel that he really blows it out of the water with his very nuanced, layered interpretation of his character, from the big moments to the small, almost throwaway ones.

When Show became less exciting for me, it was Jo Jong Seok’s amazing delivery that kept me coming back, until I got to the finish line.

So, SO well done, truly. 🥲

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1-2. Even in that very first scene, where Jo Jung Suk sits on horseback, in the rain, searching for surviving militia in the war, there’s so much presence and gravitas emanating from him, without him having to say a word.

The way Jo Jung Suk plays Jinhan, with so much natural regality and dignity, I find it easy to align myself with how Chief State Councilor says to Hee Soo, in a later conversation, that he’s born to be king, pretty much.

It’s in how Jo Jung Suk plays him, but it’s also in how Jinhan is written.

From the big things to the little things, we see Jinhan being established as a character with a truly noble and compassionate heart, who cares about politics only because of how those politics affect the people.

And immediately, in that first scene, (what I believe will be) the main tension for him, of wanting to be true to his King, and also, true to the people, is established so economically.

The order from his brother the King, to stop recruiting militia, and return to the Capital, is something that he has to obey. So he does what little he can, to console the ones in front of him, by putting his own military hat on the head of the little boy, who clearly wants to fight for and defend his country.

Jo Jung Suk’s incredible at delivering complicated emotions, and we see it at play right away, as he yields to the King’s command, even though this means that Joseon is surrendering to the Qing, which is something that he personally does not want.

The tears rising in Jinhan’s eyes, at each juncture of his journey back to see the King, tell me so much about him, and what he’s feeling.

There’s a strickenness in his gaze that I find quite affecting, as he arrives in the Capital, and sees the Qing soldiers swaggering about triumphantly. And again, he doesn’t even need to say anything, for me to feel completely sucked into his emotional and mental turmoil.

Really, really good. 🤩

His willingness to do whatever was required of him, even if it meant being taken to Qing as a hostage, is so worthy of respect, I feel.

That conversation that he has with the Chief State Councilor, when he expresses that he is indeed afraid to go to Qing, but his anticipation of learning more about them, in hopes that this will enable Joseon to find a way to triumph over them, is so illuminating.

What strength of character and mind, and what a great, economical way to establish the kind of resilience that marks Jinhan’s character.

It’s extremely impressive, that we see Jinhan gaining favor with Prince Rui of Qing, such that he’s able to negotiate with Qing, in terms of the ransom terms for the Joseon prisoners in Qing.

E1-2. In episode 2, I honestly wondered if Show was going to kill off Choi Dae Hoon’s King, because the King is so ill, but thanks to Jinhan offering to test his medicine for him, for poison, it looks like the King will live for a while yet – thus giving us more Choi Dae Hoon in the role, which I have no complaints about.

I must say, I am completely sucked in by Jinhan as a character.

I love how principled and loyal he is, in the midst of all the noise and politicking that’s going on around him, trying to pull him into its vortex and either make him a tool, or destroy him.

When Jinhan pleads with the King to take his medicine, and offers to test it for him, for poison, it’s clearly an offer that is sincere, rather than powered by a desire to gain favor with the King.

And, precisely because he is sincere, the King, who’s deathly suspicious of everyone else, accepts his offer – and thus becomes better.

Additionally, the King’s trust in Jinhan is established in a pretty solid way, which I’d been worried wouldn’t be possible, given the King’s suspicious nature and weak mind.

When Lord Kim tries to poison the King’s mind against Jinhan, I literally cheered, to hear the King berate Lord Kim for trying to sow discord between him and Jinhan.

YESS. I love that Jinhan’s sincerity and loyalty is clear for the King to see, in the midst of all the false niceties and covert scheming.

E3-4. The evolution of Jinhan as a character is very gripping.

In episode 3, we still see the very genuine Jinhan that we’ve come to know, in episodes 1 and 2.

For this version of Jinhan, everything seems to be driven by his heart, and it’s really so poignant now, to watch him grapple with the fact that he didn’t get to play baduk with Mongwoo like he’d wanted, and even more, with the possibility that Myung Ha knows much more about Mongwoo than he does, and the petty jealousy that comes with that.

It’s really super endearing, how much he cares about and likes Mongwoo, and that version of him stays with us, all the way until the point where we see him putting a halt to the interrogation, and promising Mongwoo that he’ll be back to save “him,” and to just be patient.

Everything changes in episode 4, though, and honestly, it feels like everything can be traced back to the King’s secret order to the Chief State Councilor (Son Hyun Joo), to send a spy to communicate with the Ming.

With the Qing catching wind of it, and taking action to enter Uiju on not-friendly terms, there’s all this pressure that comes back to the King, to solve this issue without allowing this to become a full-blown war with the Qing.

It was utterly heartbreaking to watch the Chief State Councilor eventually offer himself as the sacrificial lamb, to travel to Qing, and present himself as the mastermind behind the spy that he’d sent to Ming, under the King’s secret order.

That already sucks big time, because I really, really like the Chief State Councilor, and his stately, wise aura, and he was only carrying out an order – which he’d tried to dissuade the King from giving, by the way.

Why should he have to take the blame and most likely give up his life, for it? 😭

But such is his loyalty to his nation, and I can feel his protector heart at work, even as he fends off Jinhan’s offer to go in his stead, because Jinhan believes that he’d be able to talk to Prince Rui, to mitigate the situation.

It is quite surprising to me, honestly, that it’s only during this conversation with the Chief State Councilor, that it becomes clear to Jinhan that Prince Rui hadn’t actually been sincere in his apparent kindness to Jinhan, and that it had all been part of a greater plan, to sow discord between Jinhan and his brother the King.

I’d honestly pegged Jinhan as being shrewd enough to think of that, without needing the Chief State Councilor to point it out to him.

I put it down to Jinhan’s innate desire to believe in the good of people, even in a political context.

And, I’m thinking that what we’re witnessing, is Jinhan coming to the conclusion, step by step, that there is very little trust and true loyalty, maybe none, to be had in politics, particularly when it has to do with the throne.

Honestly, how could he not lose heart over the genuine loyalty between people, when the King even suspects him of treasonous plotting in collusion with the Chief State Councilor, even after the Chief State Councilor had set off to go to Qing as a prisoner?

E3-4. To my mind, Jinhan had two choices, after Lee Sun’s death.

1, Stick to the truth, and assist the Prince Royal to the throne, or

2, Cover up the truth, and ascend the throne himself.

And the reason he chooses the second option, I think, is because he knows that if the Prince Royal ascends the throne, the young King would be a puppet king with the War Minister’s faction using him for their own ends.

I am guessing that Jinhan makes that decision to create the lie, in order to prevent the throne from falling into the clutches of the War Minister and his camp.

It’s the lesser of two evils, basically, and even though we aren’t made privy to it, I believe that the thoughtful facade that we see, of Jinhan, belies the moral struggle that I believe he would have had, in arriving at this decision.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I believe that Jinhan makes a decision to put aside his conscience, and embrace any amorality that comes with the throne, in the belief that it is necessary for him to take the throne, in order to protect it.

Of course, I could be wrong; I’m just making this guess based on the sense of Jinhan’s values and true character, that Show’s been working to give us, from the beginning.

And, certainly, the moment Jinhan makes this decision, it’s something that he has to see to the very end, because otherwise, it’s treason, isn’t it?

Therefore, when it comes to acceding to Yoo Hyun Bo’s request, I can see how Jinhan would feel like he has very little choice but to agree, because that is the only way to have Yoo Hyun Bo’s testimony against the War Minister.

I do believe, though, that Jinhan is still a just and gracious person at heart, because of the way he offers the War Minister a way out; that if he confesses to treason and begs for forgiveness, Jinhan would spare his life.

Maybe Jinhan could guess that the War Minister wouldn’t accept the offer, but my gut says that if he’d accepted, Jinhan really would have kept his word and spared his life.

It’s just really unfortunate, that the collateral damage in all of this, are the people who’ve been dragged in as suspects or witnesses, in the whole effort to frame Jinhan as a spy.

I can see that it pains Jinhan to accede to Yoo Hyun Bo’s request, and mete out punishment that he knows is not justified, particularly on his beloved Mongwoo, but it is the price that he’s agreed to pay for Yoo Hyun Bo’s testimony, and Jinhan chooses to uphold his end of the bargain.

It does weigh on him, though, which, I believe, is why we see Jinhan visiting the State Tribunal to see Mongwoo, in the dead of night, if only to watch Mongwoo sleep. You can see the tiniest – tiniest! – glimmer of a tear, in Jinhan’s eye, even as he stands so still, outside the prison cell.

This, combined with what he says the following morning, about how he’s the King of a nation, and has only subjects and political enemies, not friends, makes me think that Jinhan’s adjusting his entire paradigm and world view, in order to process his new position.

It feels like he’s denying himself the luxury of having a friend, as a condition for being King, and I feel like I can detect glimmers of sadness underneath his impassive expression.

E5-6. I find the way Lee In carries himself quite fascinating.

There’s a measuredness about him that I find very regal; he’s unhurried and soft-spoken almost all of the time, and it makes me feel like he’s so up there and so royal, that it’s hard for things to ruffle him – like, they are so small and petty, that they do not make much of an impact on him.

At the same time, even though he is unhurried and soft-spoken, he is far from appearing meek. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

He’s got so much charisma and presence, that his unhurried and soft-spoken manner actually come across as intimidating, which is something that I find mesmerizing and fascinating in equal measure.

So, SO good. 🤩

E5-6. Lee In seems to regularly foil his ministers’ plans, by giving his own commands, AND he is very, very sharp and smart to boot; I’m sure that they can’t handle him at all, really – and that idea pleases me greatly. 🤭

A great example of this, is how the Three Hwans urge Lee In to punish Myung Ha for not doing his job well, because they want to get rid of him, but Lee In appoints Myung Ha to be the Sixth Royal Secretary instead.

I like the idea of Lee In being a King who won’t be swayed by his court, and has the chops to see through all the scheming that is going on, within it.

E5-6. It’s very telling, isn’t it, that Lee In is so intent on reviving the peach tree that his brother had planted for him.

The way he refuses to let Myung Ha move the tree or change the soil, says so much.

It tells me that he sees himself as that peach tree, and he wants a way to revive the tree, without removing himself from the throne, or removing the context – the ministers? – around him.

Although it’s possible that he wants that as evidence for the people at large, that he is approved by the Heavens, as well as his brother, as King, I get the feeling that this is a very personal quest for him.

I feel that he wants that assurance and approval, for his own peace of mind; again, very likely because his own conscience continues to haunt him.

E7-8. We get some narrative confirmation, about where Lee In stands, in terms of the previous King’s final wishes.

That scene near the end of episode 7, where he looks up at the sky, and addresses his brother with tears in his eyes, asking him to watch over him to the very end, as he prepares for what is to come.

To me, this is a pretty strong indication that Lee In plans to fulfill his brother’s last wish, and that everything that he’s done thus far, is in support of that.

E11-12. I appreciate that even though the Princess swap was done without his permission, Lee In sends the Royal Secretary to take Princess Jangryeong to a safe place.

I appreciate even more, the way Lee In mentors Grand Prince Moonsung, and teaches him about the duty of a king, and why it is important to avoid wars, for the sake of the people.

To me, these actions really show Lee In’s benevolence as a king, I feel.

He could have reacted with a great deal of anger and violence, and no one would have faulted him for it, because it’s true that the prince and princess had defies his orders – but he does not.

Instead, he reacts with grace, care and wisdom, even though you can also see clearly, the tiredness and sadness in his gaze.

Honestly, I feel bad for Lee In, because I feel like I can see that he’s doing his best to be a good ruler for his people, and it’s wearing him down and also, breaking his heart, that the ones close to him don’t trust his intentions or his judgment.

Plus, it seems to me that there’s some sort of imposter syndrome at work in his mind as well, which is, I think, the reason he is so affected by the burning down of the peach tree.

I believe that, as much as Lee In’s intentions are noble towards Grand Prince Moonsung, and towards his late brother, the fact that he’s used lies and deceit in order to take the throne, so that he can protect Moonsung, weighs on him.

I feel that Lee In’s core character is so upright and just, that he finds it difficult to justify to himself, even, the lies and deceit that he’s employed.

To my eyes, Lee In’s relief at hearing Kim Je Nam’s explanation for the lightning strike and suggestion – that they should right the wrongs of the land – is quite palpable.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Kyu Hoe as Lord Park

I’m slightly surprised to be naming Lord Park in this section, because Lord Park as a character, is evil and devious, and works out to be a main antagonist, in our story.

But, I’m just so fascinated by Lee Kyu Hoe’s delivery of the character, that I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention him.

What strikes me most is his gaze, which legit looks like it’s glittering with glee, in some scenes.

Yes, he’s our bad guy, but I also find him interesting to have on my screen, so props to Lee Kyu Hoe for quite the performance.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E11-12. I find myself kinda-sorta appreciating Principal Director, for how devious he is.

I mean, he’s not wrong about the swapping of Princess Jangryeong; he’s able to confirm it even without seeing her face, and his logic makes perfect sense, that if she’d been the real princess, she would not have tried to hide her face.

And his answer to Yoo Hyun Bo’s query about not having evidence; that it doesn’t matter, because as long as he plants a seed of suspicion in the King’s mind, he will be able to execute them all, during the interrogation.

If Lee In weren’t so firmly on Mongwoo’s side, and so determined to cover up the incident, I’m pretty sure that Principal Director’s conniving methods would actually get him the results he wants.

I’m.. morbidly fascinated by that.

E11-12. As much as I don’t agree with the Principal Director’s methods, I have to admit that he’s something of an evil genius.

I mean, when his plan to make use of Princess Jangryeong’s swapping fails, he decides to plant that seed of doubt in Mongwoo’s mind, about Lee In insisting that her death was a necessary sacrifice, when he himself had intended to spare her life.

That is so devious, but so effective.

Because, even though he has no evidence, and even though Mongwoo has just experienced Lee In’s grace in how he doesn’t sentence her to death for plotting to swapping the princess, this seed of doubt does work to poison Mongwoo’s mind against Lee In.

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-out:

Choi Dae Hoon as Lee Sun

It’s not a spoiler to say that Choi Dae Hoon’s character, Lee Sun, is a guest role, since we basically know, from Show’s poster and title, that Jo Jong Seok’s character becomes King soon enough.

I just wanted to say that in the limited screen time that Choi Dae Hoon had in this show, he was completely arresting.

Honestly, I feel like his casting was a stroke of brilliance, because he made Lee Sun absolutely fascinating to watch.

Really, really good.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1-2. I am so impressed by Choi Dae Hoon’s portrayal of the Lee Sun.

There’s a distinct weakness of mind that pervades his portrayal, whether it’s before or after Jinhan’s time in Qing.

While sending off Jinhan, the King is tearful and conciliatory, asking Jinhan to address him as Brother, as he hugs him.

And then when Jinhan returns, the King is haunted and nervous, as he regards Jinhan with suspicion and misgiving.

Both are very different states of mind, and yet, Choi Dae Hoon infuses his delivery with a sense that the King is weakminded, and in the process of being crushed by his own frailty of mind.

E3-4. The way the War Minister (Jo Sung Ha) spins the situation to the King, to convince him of the probability of Jinhan colluding with the Chief State Minister to usurp the throne, is really quite impressive.

It’s little wonder that the weak-minded King wouldn’t be able to hold onto his original thought – that Jinhan and the Chief State Councilor are loyal – for very long.

The spin doctoring can be really persuasive, and even with your wits about you, it can be confusing – let alone when you’re a weak-minded King who’s been exposed to all kinds of persuasive spin-doctoring from all corners, over the course of many years.

I can see why the King would lose his mind, pretty much, as a result.

And the defining moment for Jinhan, I would guess, is the moment that the King draws his sword and makes to kill him, for his treasonous disloyalty.

After all that Jinhan has done, including putting himself at risk to be the King’s poison-tester, this would, I think, be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

I mean, before the King’s collapse, Jinhan does basically give up and tell the King that he cannot commit suicide as ordered, but that the King can kill him by his own hand. He really was giving up there, wasn’t he?

I just want to pause here and say that the performances by both Choi Dae Hoon and Jo Jung Suk are simply outstanding.

The King’s increasing madness, desperation and frailty of mind and body is so well brought out by Choi Dae Hoon, with the wild-eyed intensity where it really looks like he’s a hair’s breadth away from completely losing his marbles – and his bodily functions.

And Jinhan’s increasing desperation, which culminates in profound resignation is played with a sense of restraint, layered over with deep sorrow. Just really, really well done. 🥲

[END SPOILER]

Son Hyun Joo as Lord Kang

I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to Son Hyun Joo as Lord Kang, the Chief State Councilor.

I basically loved him practically on sight. 🥲

I love that Lord Kang is so stately and wise, and so grounded. I also love that he’s not easily intimidated, and has a clear emotional side to him, unlike most other ministers, who seem solely driven by political ambition.

STUFF THAT WAS OK

The politics in this story world

Honestly, I’d been wary of starting this one, thinking that the politics might be too much for my taste.

However, I must say that when Show was great, I was gripped by those very same politics, thanks to how Show made it all such an integral part of helping us understand our characters and what makes them tick, and an integral part of their journeys as well.

When Show was less great, I still found the politics accessible enough for the average viewer, which is why it’s in this section.

The OTP relationship

To be honest with you all, I almost put this OTP in the “Stuff I didn’t like so much” section (below), because I had been that underwhelmed by this OTP, by the time I got to the finish line.

HOWEVER.

As I started organizing my notes for this review, I remembered all over again, just how much I’d enjoyed this OTP arc, up until the end of episode 8 (see, what did I say about maybe ending your watch at the end of episode 8? 😁), and decided that to be fair to Show, I should give credit where it’s due.

Here’s a wistful revisit to the great OTP moments in our first 8 episodes, followed by some lowlights after that point. 😅

[SPOILER ALERT]

THE GREAT OTP STRETCH

E1-2. So far, I like the pairing very well; I think that it works.

I also like that Hee Soo clearly has fangirl stars in her eyes for Jinhan, even before she meets him.

To me, this speaks of an alignment of ideologies, which I think will be very important to the foundation of their relationship (I’m assuming that there will be a relationship).

It’s a little tropey in principle, that Jinhan hears Hee Soo say all those positive affirming things about him, right when he’s so discouraged by the terrible rumors going on about him being a spy for the Qing, but in execution, I found this to be quite organic and natural.

I think a lot of it has to do with how Jo Jung Suk plays the moment, because the tears in Jinhan’s eyes, as he listens to all this, feels so real and affecting to me. 🥲

I like that Hee Soo is the daughter of the Chief State Councilor, whom Jinhan addresses as Master.

This makes it easy to understand how she would have heard so much about Jinhan and his way of thinking and doing things, as well as how she herself might have gained her own perspectives and values; she would have learned them all, from her father.

In terms of the growing connection between Jinhan and Hee Soo, I really like how Show is treating it, so far.

I love the idea of them becoming friends, and that detail, of Jinhan giving her the nickname Mongwoo, is very endearing to me.

It feels fitting that baduk is the basis for their connection, and I like that this indicates that they are intellectual equals, and I also really like that their connection quickly grows to become a friendship outside of rank.

Of course, it’s cute how Jinhan seems to have no idea that his new friend Mongwoo is really a noble lady in disguise, but that’s exactly how we get little moments of hyper-proximity, like when he hoists her up, to help her to the stream, where she can soak her injured ankle in cold water.

I do appreciate that Hee Soo tells Hong Jang that she plans to tell Jinhan her true identity, when the right opportunity arises; that it doesn’t feel right for her to be friends with him, when she’s deceiving him.

That feels like a great foundation for a relationship, and I’m hoping that Hee Soo will get to tell Jinhan the truth, sooner rather than later.

E1-2. It made me happy to see that both Hee Soo and Jinhan are happy when the Mongwoo rain comes again, because that is their next agreed meeting.

The way Hee Soo loses that baduk game on purpose, so that she can hurry to meet him, and the way Jinhan remarks that he’d been worried that she might have forgotten about their agreement, feels so full of promise, not in a romantic way, but in a meeting-of-souls sort of way.

E5-6. In terms of Lee In’s feelings towards what he’d done to Mongwoo, I think it’s safe to say that it’s complicated.

The way his eyes get kind of red, and sheen with tears; the way he gets upset; the very fact that he remembers Hong Jang’s name, even though it’s been three full years since he’d made the decision to allow her to die.

All of that put together, makes me think that he’d found it a very difficult decision to make, in the first place, and that he’s likely put it as far back in his mind as he’s possibly could, in order to be as free from his conscience as possible.

And now, with Mongwoo reappearing in his life, he feels confronted, all over again, by the condemnation of his own decision – a decision that he’d made, in order to ensure his ascension to the throne, so that he’d be able to keep the promise that he’d made to his brother.

When he questions Mongwoo, and basically accuses her of having treasonous thoughts and plans, is very telling.

The way Mongwoo responds, asking why he would think such a thing, is so brilliant, really.

It’s his own guilty conscience at play, isn’t it? Because, if he didn’t feel that he’d wronged her, why would he even think that she would be back for revenge?

E7-8. Jo Jung Suk continues to blow it out of the water, with the various nuances and layers he’s giving his delivery, and I just loved watching Lee In, this set of episodes, as he grapples, in such a restrained yet completely noticeable way, with his growing feelings for his Mongwoo. 🥲

So. Freaking. Good. 🤩

I feel like our opening scene, where Lee In comes upon Myung Ha hugging Mongwoo, is when Lee In is first confronted with the possibility that he might have romantic feelings for Mongwoo.

Or rather, I feel like this is when he’s first confronted with the idea that it was possible for a man to have romantic feelings for another man.

Meaning, I think that Lee In might have already been having special feelings toward Mongwoo, but had categorized it in his head as extra special feelings for an extra special friend, and this is the moment when it hits him, that extra special feelings for another man, might actually be A Thing.

I’m pretty sure that’s why he looks and sounds so offended, when he comes upon Myung Ha hugging Mongwoo, and demands to know what they are doing.

Not to say that Lee In is slow on the uptake; one of the things I love about him, is how sharp and quick he is.

Like how he picks up immediately, on the fact that, for someone claiming to be admitting a wrong, Myung Ha sounds unusually confident.

And also, how he connects right away, that Mongwoo’s deference to him, in pardoning Myung Ha’s discourtesy, is basically Mongwoo asking him to turn a blind eye to Myung Ha’s inappropriate behavior.

I just think that this was so out of his world view, that it was basically an impossibility, in his paradigm.

But this scene definitely works as a seed-planting catalyst, because, as we see in the rest of this pair of episodes, Lee In wastes very little time digesting this possibility, and coming to the conclusion that he does like Mongwoo, and very much, at that.

We can totally see the jealousy coming to a gradual boil, the way Lee In pursues the matter under the thin guise of enquiring after Mongwoo’s relationship with Myung Ha, during their baduk game, later.

I love how we can see it in the annoyed flick of his gaze, and the sharp manner in which he puts down each baduk stone.

And, I also really like how Mongwoo continues to hold her own, and answers him steadily and without flinching; if she is afraid of him, it doesn’t really show much.

I can’t help noticing that there’s a layer of sadness in Lee In’s countenance, as he thinks about Mongwoo, like during the conversation with Sang Hwa, when Sang Hwa tries to caution him against Mongwoo.

E7-8. I love this idea that Lee In remains completely unmoved, even when other people try to poison his mind about Mongwoo.

On Mongwoo’s side of things, I’m inclined to think that she has complicated feelings towards Lee In, for what he’d done to her and the people she cared about, but has never actually managed to stop loving him.

At least, that’s how I’m reading her, during moments when she declares that she will not be swayed, nor taken in by the King, ever again.

To my eyes, it lands as a statement of where she’d like to be, rather than a statement of where she is; she always has tears in her eyes when she says things like this, and while those tears are absolutely for the ones whom she’s lost, I feel that those tears are also an expression of a conflicted heart, where she loves Lee In, but has chosen not to acknowledge her heart.

Honestly, when Show introduces the idea that Lee In loses his mind, a little bit, during the gisinje each year, I’d imagined that it would have to do with the last wishes that the previous King had made, which had thereafter effectively become Lee In’s burden to carry, all alone.

I imagined that perhaps all of his angst had to do with how much he has to sacrifice, in terms of living the life that he would have preferred, in order to carry out his late brother’s wishes.

And, to be sure, there is a great deal of sacrifice.

He is allowing himself to be misunderstood on multiple fronts, and even dipping into morally gray areas that Past Him would have denounced (like betrayal of a friend), in order to stay true to the only plan that he could see, of bringing about an outcome that would not entail selling out the throne to the likes of Lord Kim, who’d wanted to control the Prince Royal.

And so, what a reveal it felt like, to me, when Show eventually indicates that Lee In’s angst these years, hadn’t been about this at all; it had always been about Mongwoo.

How do we know this? It’s because of that moment when Minister Min reveals that it’s the coming of the Mongwoo rain that triggers Lee In’s bouts of intense moodiness.

I thought this was a great reveal (that felt so organic, at the same time! 🤩), because it makes complete sense, since the gisinje coincides with the time when Lee In had abandoned Mongwoo.

He’d looked completely cold and distant when he’d done so, but now we see that this event has been tormenting him ever since.

He’s likely able to hold it in at other times, but the anniversary of the abandonment, coupled with the coming of the Mongwoo rain, which had been such a key cornerstone of their friendship, must be too much for him to bear, and that’s why he’s known for such scary-touchy behavior, such that even the favored Court Lady Dong has to walk on eggshells around him.

Guh. I just have to say, this realization hit me like a ton of bricks, and I find it just so, so well done.

It’s elegantly and organically portrayed, yet it still feels like a narrative twist, to me at least. Very, very good.

No wonder Lee In himself steps in when he sees Mongwoo being attacked like that by the guard whom Yoo Hyun Bo had paid off.

(On a side note, that was a pretty neat twist-reveal, to have Mongwoo turn out to be at least halfway decent with a sword, thanks to having received training from Chu Dal Ha.)

I just love how Lee In handles this whole thing, honestly.

I mean, from where I’m sitting, it’s clear to me that the true reason he’s intervening, is because he wants to protect Mongwoo.

But the way he plays it, so regal, and with such leadership flair, I could believe that he’d stepped in purely on the principle that he wanted to impress on his men, that they are not to look down on or attack one another.

Ahhh. I had legit stars in my eyes for Lee In, in this moment.

Way to achieve a personal goal, while upholding his leadership duty towards his men. 🥲

Of course, the way Lee In then gets all concerned about the fact that Mongwoo is bleeding, and has Mongwoo set up in his own royal quarters, in order to receive treatment from a royal physician, is pretty melty, even as it points everyone to the fact that the King very much favors Mongwoo.

Additionally, I do like how this naturally works to inform Lee In himself, of how he feels.

The very fact that he can’t take his mind off Mongwoo, out of worry and concern, even during the very solemn gisinje rituals, must definitely give him food for thought, I’m sure.

The final beat at the end of episode 7 is such an excellent one, I love it so much.

I love that this is the moment we realize that Lee In’s angst had always been about Mongwoo, because right after Minister Min rushes off, saying that the drizzle always signals that start of the King’s bout of insanity, we see Lee In walking towards Mongwoo in that very drizzle, smiling.

That’s when we realize that, after the last several years of grappling with this angst, this year, he doesn’t have to angst anymore, because the source of his angst is how he’d lost Mongwoo, and now, Mongwoo is right here, in front of him. 🥲

It’s little wonder that in his good mood, Lee In puts his arm around Mongwoo, to guide them out of the rain.

Mongwoo’s reflex, to push him away, makes sense, given her real identity, and her complicated feelings towards him.

And then I just love how grounded and thoughtful Lee In is, as he states, “You dislike me.”

“No, Your Majesty.”

“Do you like me, then?” … “I do. I like you, Mongwoo.”

As grounded and matter-of-fact Lee In is, in this moment, there are also definite glimmers of vulnerability, in the slight quiver of his lids, and the tiny tremor in his voice, and I just swoon in the face of all of this emotion. 🥲

(Also, Jo Jung Suk’s bearded side profile is really quite mesmerizing, I’m finding. 🤩)

We get a fair bit of what amounts to incognito dating, in episode 8, and I am not mad about that at all. 😁

The way he offers to buy her a baduk table, because he’s feeling generous; the way she asks for rice cakes instead, and then eats them happily, while he watches her with an indulgent smile; the way they basically flirt through baduk moves, when they take over that game from the grandfather playing with his grandson.

Of course, there’s that moment when Lee In turns to Mongwoo and says, “Mongwoo, if you were a woman, I would have definitely married you.”

At which I’m like, “Eee!!!! She IS a woman!!! Just wait till you find out!!!” 🤗🤭

That subsequent beat, where Lee In tries to test his feelings by hugging Sang Hwa is an unusual spot of levity, but it works because Jo Jung Suk’s got such comic timing – a trait that I tend to forget, since he doesn’t show it often, in Lee In’s skin.

While all this is going on, there’s also a bunch of drama around the rumor about the King attracted to men, and on that point, I just love that Lee In’s basically all, *shrug* “So what?” about it. 🤭

E7-8. I appreciate that the entire reason Lee In agrees to spend the night with Court Lady Dong, is also the entire reason that he backs out of it, so definitively; it’s all because of Mongwoo.

I feel like it’s partly because his heart is elsewhere, and that’s why he can’t bring himself to be intimate with Court Lady Dong, and also, partly because he just can’t shake his worry for Mongwoo, knowing that she’s out there on her own, somewhere, without the protection of Sang Hwa’s men.

The way he rushes out there, personally, to look for her, because he feel that he can’t entrust it to someone else, even Sang Hwa, says so much.

I think that the place where he finds her, is the place where they’d enjoyed that partial game of bantering baduk, but I can’t be sure.

I do love how Lee In insists on carrying Mongwoo himself, even though there are many able-bodied guards at his disposal.

It gives off this impression, that Mongwoo is so precious to him, that no one else should be allowed to touch him.

And then we get that final beat at the end of episode 8, where Lee In realizes that Mongwoo – his Mongwoo! – is really a woman.

Ahhhh!!! I hadn’t thought that we’d get here this soon, but I am perfectly happy to go where Show takes me, at this point. 🤩

I love the way Jo Jung Suk plays the moment of realization; there’s doubt, then disbelief, then anger, then.. fear, I think, mixed in with the anger, as the thought – completely unwanted, I’m sure – of killing Mongwoo a second time, inevitably comes to his mind.

And then, there’s his reaction when Mongwoo approaches, and kisses him.

In this moment, I believe that Mongwoo isn’t scheming to save her life, so much as she’s choosing to finally follow her heart, like the Head Courtesan had advised, while she can.

She literally doesn’t know if she will live or die; all she knows is that this is very likely the last chance she has, to follow her heart and allow it to love Lee In. I believe that she’s acting on that, and expressing her heart, rather than trying to manipulate him into sparing her.

Lee In’s confusion and conflict is so well-played, in response, as he backs away from her kiss, then advances to kiss her. He does so, so gingerly, with his gaze conveying so well, his perplexity and torn feelings.

And then, the tears actually start to fall from his eyes, as he starts to comes to terms with the reality that Mongwoo – his Mongwoo! – is, indeed, a woman, and stands before him, waiting for his embrace. Augh. So good.

It seems like Mongwoo goes weak in the knees from the emotion of the kiss, and that’s why she drops down to the ground like that.

I love how gentle he is, as he kneels down to meet her gaze.

And I love how, this time, he lets her take the lead, and she’s the one who assents, by reaching out to hold him, as she leans in to meet his kiss.

Guh. I am quite overcome with the emotion of this scene; it’s just so full of all these layers and nuances of feeling, from both Lee In and Mongwoo – though I am admittedly more entranced by Lee In. 🫠

I am very, very curious to see where our story takes us next.

I didn’t think much of it initially, but upon revisiting the scene where we see them play baduk after Lee In’s candid confession of his feelings for Mongwoo, I can’t help feeling like this could have been a bit of foreshadowing?

I’m thinking specifically of when Lee In says to Mongwoo, that defense alone cannot lead to victory, and that’s when she makes an actual move in the offensive – which immediately renders her the victor.

I’m wondering if this had been foreshadowing for this final scene, where the one move Mongwoo makes, is to kiss him, and in so doing, reveal her heart to him.

THE NOT-GREAT OTP STRETCH

E9-12. I feel like a summary of the not-great section is the best way to go about this.

There are two main things that bothered me about the OTP connection, after the episode 8 consummation.

1. The lack of OTP chemistry

Essentially, I felt like the OTP connection went flat as a pancake, the moment we hit episode 9.

I don’t know how it is, that all the potential spark in this OTP connection seems to disappear, the moment the OTP actually spends the night together, but that’s what happens.

In fact, what we get is a very tepid (to be honest, almost cold) sort of OTP consummation, where they both seem so careful to touch each other as little as possible..?

At least, that’s what it looked like to me, and it just felt really weird, honestly.

I can understand that perhaps this was directed this way, out of respect for Jo Jung Suk’s wife, and perhaps to uphold the idea of Joseon decorum, but it really fell very flat for me, not gonna lie. 🙈

This tepid sort of chemistry felt strange to me, and didn’t reflect the kind of strong bond that I think we’re supposed to believe exists between the OTP.

2. The lack of communication between the OTP

I’ll talk about this in the next section, but for now, I’ll say that I wanted Mongwoo to have more trust in Lee In, so I’m a little bummed that she’s swayed to the point that she almost allows him to be assassinated by Chu Dal Ha, in episode 12.

BUT. We do see her grappling with her thoughts, at least, and we do see her wanting to trust him, which is more than what Show had given us before, so this does mollify me quite a bit.

At this point in the show, I was honestly quite frustrated at the fact that Mongwoo is still unable to trust Lee In.

I mean, I’d thought that she’d know Lee In well enough by now, to be able to guess that his words to Principal Director – that he can get rid of Moonsung anytime – is just Lee In’s way of getting Principal Director to keep quiet and allow Moonsung’s crowning.

However, I am mollified by the fact that she does turn around and save Lee In, at the last minute, preventing him from being assassinated by Chu Dal Ha.

At this point, I honestly feel most for Lee In, who, being as shrewdly intelligent as he is, must realize, immediately, that this must mean that Mongwoo had been complicit in Chu Dal Ha’s plan to assassinate him.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH

The characterization of Hee Soo / Mongwoo

Unfortunately, I found myself getting really frustrated with Mongwoo as a character, in Show’s second half.

This isn’t a criticism of Shin Se Kyung’s delivery of the character.

Sure, her delivery isn’t in the same league as Jo Jung Seok’s delivery of Lee In, but I find that that doesn’t matter. I found her pretty decent and serviceable in the role, so I’m not complaining about her acting, to be clear.

Mainly, I’m frustrated with the writing around Mongwoo as a character, and I feel that my frustration with Mongwoo as a character, also directly impacted my feelings towards the OTP.

The more frustrated I was with her, the less interested I was in the OTP development.

Honestly, if writer-nim had put as much thought into developing Mongwoo as a character as Lee In’s character, this could have been a really strong drama.

[SPOILER ALERT]

I found Hee Soo understandable up to the point where she comes back to the Capital, and enters the palace as the gidaeryeong.

It made sense to me that after all that Hee Soo goes through, particularly with the death of Hong Jang, who had been a precious friend to her, she would feel bitter, and want to retaliate against Lee In, and make him feel the pain of betrayal.

However, once we reach the point where Mongwoo re-enters Lee In’s orbit, things started to get hazy for me.

At the episode 5-6 mark, I felt like I had some big-picture clarity about Lee In and the game that he was playing, but I didn’t have the same clarity, about the kind of game that Mongwoo was playing.

And then, at the episode 7-8 mark, I felt very bemused by Mongwoo’s reaction, when Yoo Hyun Bo’s man approaches her.

The reply that she sends through him, to Lord Oh, who’s the one wanting to meet her, is quite inflammatory, the way she states that she only answers to the King, and therefore, if he wants to meet her, he should be the one coming to her.

I just couldn’t figure out how giving such a potentially triggering answer, could benefit her plan..?

Was it really to get to Yoo Hyun Bo, and send him off on that trail of wanting to reveal her identity to everyone, including the King, and therefore having him punished by Lee In himself?

So.. she was setting herself up as bait, and expecting Yoo Hyun Bo to take that bait and attempt to harm her – thus incurring Lee In’s wrath..?

That feels more like a gamble, rather than a calculated move?

Additionally, once we got to the episode 9-10 mark, I found myself looking at Mongwoo rather uncharitably.

First of all, I found it rather hard to swallow her declaration, that even though she loves Lee In, it changes nothing about her plan to dethrone him.

I tried to rationalize this, like, yes, I can see how you could love someone, and still be convinced that they did something wrong, that needs correction, and deserves punishment.

However, I struggled with this, because if she does love him, then why doesn’t she try to give him the benefit of the doubt? Talk to him and test him, and find out more, before taking any action, is what I’m thinking.

If you love him, doesn’t he deserve at least that much?

And if you love him, don’t you want to exhaust all other possibilities, before you firmly decide on a course of action?

Yes, she has come to her conclusion, and that’s why she’s here in the first place, but here and now, for the first time ever, she has access to Lee In’s inner thoughts. He’s willing to open up to her in a way that he’s not willing to open up to other people.

Why not pause for a second, and use the time to find out more, through this new channel of information that you hadn’t had access to, previously?

What frustrates me more, really, is that on top of this (what appears to be) willful ignorance of a very important source of new information and perspective, Mongwoo’s coming across (to me, anyway) as being quite self-righteous in how she goes about her scheming?

I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but what I mean is, she comes across to my eyes, as taking it upon herself to teach Lee In a lesson.

What makes this frustrating, is that her actions turn out to be quite muddling and meddlesome?

Like, when I was watching her put her plans to swop out Princess Jangryung with Bun Yeong, all I could think was, “No, no, noooo… you’re just complicating things and making it harder for Lee In to stay focused on his plan, which is to protect the throne and give it to Grand Prince Moonsung!” 🤦🏻‍♀️

Granted, it’s true that Lee In’s holding his cards very close to his chest, so it’s not like Mongwoo would have an easy time getting any information out of him.

But, I want to see her at least try, y’know?

On a different but somewhat related note, I thought Mongwoo wasn’t very smart about how she responds to Court Lady Dong, when Court Lady Dong tries to convince Mongwoo that Lee In would never abandon her.

I don’t know about you, but I did not feel a stab of satisfaction, from the way Mongwoo answers Court Lady Dong, with that whole (and I paraphrase), “I’m not sure why you’re explaining this to me, if you’re so certain of His Majesty’s affections.”

Maybe some folks would get some satisfaction from that, because it lands as a put-down to Court Lady Dong, who isn’t a particularly endearing character, but to my mind, it would have been wiser of Mongwoo to have shown restraint and grace, in this situation.

I feel that she should have just bowed in acquiescence, because that might have helped to soothe Court Lady Dong’s hurt pride, while possibly smoothing things over.

Seriously, why make yourself more of a target than you already are, right?

This scene made me feel that Mongwoo’s not as wise as she needs to be, which just added to my feelings of discomfort and dissatisfaction.

Also, I’m thinking that if Mongwoo had more openness to giving Lee In the benefit of the doubt, then the fact that he plays long and obtuse games in order to achieve his goal – like how he saves her from being arrested for treason – should give her a clue that perhaps he might be playing a long game with regards to Grand Prince Moonsung too.

Plus, he explains his plan to save her, at the beginning of episode 10, and even tells her that he will come running to her, if she calls him, which I would hope would give her a sense of direction, when it comes to Lee In’s heart and character.

However, I rationalize that she’s felt deeply betrayed by him before, so this does little to assuage the pain and trauma and devastation that she must have suffered.

I also rationalize that it’s very hard to see beyond this, when you’re the one who’s been in so much pain that it blinds you to everything else.

But still. I wish she would at least try to see if there’s anything she’s missing, in her understanding of Lee In, y’know?

At the episode 11-12 mark, I was mollified that we at least see Mongwoo trying to give Lee In the benefit of the doubt, this pair of episodes.

It’s a little “too little, too late,” yes, but it’s also better later than never, and better some than none, I suppose.

Overall, I just found myself very frustrated at Mongwoo’s meddling, to the point where I wanted her to suffer some kind of consequence, for all her meddling, y’know?

(Yes, I know it’s quite terrible of me to wish some kind of serious punishment on our female lead. I blame the writing. 🙈)

[END SPOILER]

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODES [SPOILERS]

E13-14. Overall, I’d say that this pair of episodes was more interesting and engaging than I’d originally expected.

As you guys know, I’d been rather underwhelmed by the entire arc around the assassination attempt in our last pair of episodes, so I was honestly not really looking forward to these episodes, because I’d figured that we’d get more of the same underwhelming stuff.

So color me pleasantly surprised, to find that these episodes were actually pretty solid. 😱 <- this is my pleasantly shocked face. 🤭

Honestly, I feel like a big reason for my comparatively greater enjoyment of these episodes, is the fact that Show radically reduces Mongwoo’s meddling; that had really grated on my nerves for a good stretch.

Now, with Mongwoo being unconscious, and then afterwards, coming to finally (FINALLY) understand Lee In’s intentions towards the now-Crown Prince, she’s finally, FINALLY not meddling anymore, and I couldn’t be more relieved.

As you know, I’ve always found her meddling misguided, and I found it frustrating that she wasn’t actively trying to give Lee In the benefit of the doubt, despite claiming to love him.

The entire thing now seems like a thing of the past, because now, finally (FINALLY – can you tell how relieved I am, from all the FINALLY’s? 😂) she’s come to see his true intentions, and we even get a scene of her consoling him, saying that he’s not a criminal, but has only taken the throne because he wants to protect the throne for the now-Crown Prince.

Another thing that’s finally out in the open – between our OTP, I mean – is Mongwoo’s true identity. I was honestly starting to despair that Lee In would ever get to know the truth. 😅

But YAY for Kim Je Nam, who inadvertently spills the beans for her, which I’m amused  by on a meta level, just because it feels like Show got tired of waiting for Mongwoo to be ready to tell the truth herself 🤭, BUT, mainly, Lee In’s emotional reaction is – as it is through both of these episodes, and this entire show – a highlight all on its own.

In fact, even after Mongwoo wakes up, I’d still argue that these episodes belonged to Lee In.

Although, I do concede that it feels quite refreshing to have Lee In and Mongwoo actually engage in open conversation. FINALLY. 🥲

(Speaking of secrets coming to light, I’m SO glad to hear that Mongwoo’s father, Lord Kang, is still alive. I really like him; he’s always been so stately and wise, and has shown himself to have such an affectionate, tender heart. 🥲)

However, I do feel like we’re way past the stage where the central focus was the connection between Lee In and Mongwoo; instead, now I feel like this is all about Lee In working to realize his goals, and grappling with all the obstacles in his path.

With that lens on, you could even say that Mongwoo has been one of those obstacles, although, to be fair to her, she does provide Lee In with a great deal of comfort, these two episodes, so she should receive credit too.

That said, I do find myself more interested in the scenes between Lee In and Principal Director Lord Park, than between him and Mongwoo.

I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy watching Lord Park this much, but I have to say, Lee Kyu Hoe, who plays Lord Park, has quite a way of making Lord Park pop.

And of course, it makes sense that Lee In would be keen to take down Lord Park once and for all, with Chu Dal Ha’s help.

On that note, I found it interesting, that Lee In admits to Kim Je Nam, that the reason he’s giving weight to Chu Dal Ha’s testimony, despite Chu Dal Ha’s attempt on his life, is because Chu Dal Ha’s testimony is aligned with his own goals.

This means that if Chu Dal Ha’s testimony weren’t aligned with his goals, he would have likely taken a different course of action.

That’s a lot of self-awareness there, on Lee In’s part.

The entire arc of Lee In and Lord Park tussling to get the upper hand, was pretty engaging to watch, mostly because Lord Park is a smart adversary who often manages to stay just out of Lee In’s grasp.

By the end of episode 14, though, Lord Park’s decided that it’s time to get rid of Lee In, and put the Crown Prince on the throne – which he will control, of course.

In the end, it’s Court Lady Dong who ends up being the center of this tussle, because each of them sees her as being critically useful against the other.

Lee In wants her to testify against Lord Park, while Lord Park wants her to poison Lee In.

Ooh. Talk about being in tough spot.

Also, now that Show’s revealed that Court Lady Dong has harbored feelings for Lee In all this time, even when he’d been Grand Prince Jinhan, and even before she’d been summoned to the chambers of the late King, everything about her actions hits differently.

All this time, I’ve thought that Court Lady Dong’s been at Lee In’s side as a strategic move, more than anything, and I’d assumed that her desire to become his bedmate had been a strategic power move as well, particularly since we’ve seen Lord Park put pressure on her to bear Lee In’s child.

However, now that I know that she’s been in love with Lee In all along, I can’t help but feel sorry for her, because of how he’s held her at a distance, while refusing to part with her services.

The failed consummation must have been so hard for her to bear, not only from the point of being humiliated in the eyes of the rest of the palace, but also, in terms of being rejected by the man whose heart she longed for. 💔

And now, she’s being threatened by Lord Park, that if she does not poison Lee In, he will accuse her of being the one to poison the late King, for which Lee In would never forgive her, and would have her executed.

Oof. That’s a tough spot to be in, for sure.

I do feel for Court Lady Dong, as she prepares to poison Lee In, because this isn’t something that she wants to do, but she feels that she’s cornered and has no other choice.

As we close out episode 14, she’s about to place her poison lips on Lee In’s, and I’m sure Lee In’s going to survive this, so I can only assume that this does not end well for Court Lady Dong. 😬

Poor Court Lady Dong. I feel like she’s turned out to be quite the tragic character.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

E15-16. On balance, this worked out to be a rather uneven finale for me, personally.

There were things that felt solidly handled, and then there were things that I found that I just didn’t really care about all that much. 😅 Let me break that down.

First of all, like I’d guessed, Court Lady Dong ends up dying, and I found it to be a pretty heartbreaking scene, honestly.

I felt sorry for Court Lady Dong, because she’d loved Lee In all this time, and had never actually wanted to get involved in all the power play, but had been dragged into it against her will, and manipulated every step of the way, always with her life at stake.

This time as well, it had pretty much been, “Kill Lee In, or you die,” and we see that she’d chosen to protect Lee In to her last breath, and that is very moving indeed.

It’s not very much at all, in the grand scheme of things, but it feels like a consolation, that Court Lady Dong gets to tell Lee In the thoughts and feelings that she’s kept hidden all this time, and that she gets to spend her last moments in his arms.

Poor Court Lady Dong. 💔

The next big arc is about Lee In taking down Lord Park, and that did feel important and meaningful, because this was about Lee In making an independent stand as King, and not being swayed or pressured by the ministers of the court.

It was an interesting echo of Lee In’s ascension to the throne, to have Yoo Hyun Bo be the key witness, once again.

The difference here, is that this time Yoo Hyun Bo testifies with the truth, instead of with lies, like he’d done, three years ago.

That feels like an intentional echo, where this time, it’s the truth that prevails, instead of falsehood.

One of the highlights of this arc, is Lord Park’s death scene, which Lee Kyu Hoe delivers with a mesmerizing, dramatic mix of determined defiance, crazed delusion, and finally, as the poison takes effect in his body, unavoidable surrender.

I honestly felt like I couldn’t look away – which is exactly the vibe I’m getting from Myung Ha’s who’s tasked to deliver the poison, as his punishment for having been swayed by Lord Park’s offer.

I thought this was a wise and merciful punishment that Lee In chose, for Myung Ha. It allows him a second chance, while offering a stern warning about what could become of him, if he were to entertain thoughts of treason again.

After this point, though, I found my engagement with the finale dipping, as our story works to tie up all the various loose ends left behind – including the situation with our OTP.

First of all, the administrative stuff is necessary, yes, but it’s also not very compelling watching, so that in itself feels like a bit of an anticlimax.

The second thing is, by this time, I’d lost most of my interest in the OTP, so to have the OTP become the central focus again, and in the context of more angst and separation, was not very enjoyable for me, personally.

I do understand the thought behind it, however.

Given that Mongwoo doesn’t actually want to be a lady of the court, whether as a concubine or even the Queen, there’s really no proper way for her to stay in the palace, is there?

She can’t continue dressing in men’s clothes and pretending to be a man, certainly.

I mean, yes, our story could theoretically have chosen to make that our “happy ending,” but that wouldn’t have been proper, and that would have been at odds with Lee In being someone with such a deep conscience.

In order to allow him to stand tall, and with a clear conscience, Mongwoo’s deception could not be allowed to continue.

And, it makes sense that she accept the mission to go to Qing territory, because this allows her the chance to see her father, whom she’s been longing for, all this time.

Ultimately, though, Show offers us a vague but happy ending, when Mongwoo returns.

I am rationalizing that she doesn’t let Lee In know of her return, because it wouldn’t be proper, but that she’d wanted, deep in her heart, to see him again, which is why we have Jageunnyeon bawling at Sang Hwa, that Mongwoo had been waiting for Lee In, for such a long time.

That’s the only way her actions make sense to me, because there really isn’t much indication from Mongwoo, that she actually wishes to be reunited with Lee In.

In the end, we aren’t told the logistics of the “how;” we only see that Lee In tells Mongwoo that he will never let her go again, as he savors the sound of her name on his lips.

For what it’s worth, I’m guessing that Lee In would make a residence for Mongwoo – now Hee Soo again – where he would visit her regularly.

This way, she doesn’t need to become a lady of the court, and retains her freedom, but she and Lee In still get to spend time with each other.

Perhaps it’s not a happy ending that would appeal to everyone, but it’s a happy ending that works for them, and that’s the most important thing.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Somewhat uneven in its second half, but Show’s strong first half, and the chance to see Jo Jung Seok in his most regal role yet, makes it worthwhile.

FINAL GRADE: B+

TRAILER:

MV:

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Captivating the King, is The Midnight Romance in Hagwon [Korea]. I’ve taken an initial look at The Midnight Romance in Hagwon and while it’s early days yet, I’m happy to say that I’m feeling cautiously optimistic.

You can check out my E1-2 notes on The Midnight Romance in Hagwon on Patreon here.

Here’s an overview of what I’m covering on Patreon right now (Tier benefits are cumulative)!

Foundation Tier (US$1): Entertainment tidbits + the first set notes of all shows covered on Patreon (that’s 2 episodes for kdramas and 4 episodes for cdramas)

Early Access (US$5): +Blood Free [Korea]

Early Access Plus (US$10): +Will Love in Spring [China]

VIP (US$15): +The Atypical Family [Korea]

VVIP (US$20): +Lovely Runner [Korea]

Ultimate (US$25): +The Midnight Romance in Hagwon [Korea]

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️



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