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The Secret Romantic Guesthouse – Entering the Third Act

Six weeks feel like a very short time when you are watching (or more like following closely..or borderline obsessing over) a particular drama, and when you realize it, the drama somehow reaches the finale week in the blink of an eye. The Secret Romantic Guesthouse has been a constant source of happiness and the cast my weekly dose of vitamin despite the rollercoaster ride it has been giving me week after week. I need to blow off some steam because there is a lot to unpack after 12 episodes, so proceed at your risk with the spoilers ahead!

Staying true to the “who is the Deposed Grand Heir” game, the drama does a good job (way too good, I have to admit) in giving away red herrings along the way, keeping me guessing about who the real Lee Seol is among the three flower scholars. At first, I find Kang San the most suspicious among the three of them with all the running away from patrolling guards, but Si-yeol’s mysterious monk companion addressing him as Your Majesty and the way too smooth backend transaction to fish him away from the prying eyes make me wonder if he is indeed the person everyone is searching for. And then there is Yu-ha, whose birth secret actually manages to throw me off with the revelation.

First, San. The drama does a very good job in making everyone suspect him early on, then slowly pushing him off the screen so the suspicion on him being Lee Seol fades a bit. Then, it becomes clearer that Officer Jang is actually hunting down the watchman shadowing the Deposed Grand Heir instead of the heir himself to avenge the death of his only son. Dan-o, who has been eyeing the three of them with eagle eyes in her mission to save her house and family, slowly realizes that San might be the person who will be her lifeline but at the expense of exposing him to danger for being the watchman.

But then, San is a bit weak to be the esteemed Royal Watchman, whose martial arts skills had been extraordinary even when Jang’s son Hyun met his demise years ago, so he would have been even more untouchable with more years added to his already honed sword fighting skills. I know that San is shot with the poisoned arrow at that time, but that becomes the first clue to me that he might not be the watchman.

Next, there is Si-yeol and his sketchy connections and his sketchy past and his sketchy identity, all catching the attention of Officer Jang who drags Si-yeol to his house in order to lure the watchman into the trap. I am so confident that Si-yeol, given his offhand and sometimes jaded remarks, might be suppressing something and not simply hiding a secret. His love turns out to be directed at Dan-o’s hidden sister Hong-joo instead of Dan-o due to their shared pain of living in hiding. The drama really plays me well and I am convinced that Si-yeol might be the heir on the run.

Still, both San and Si-yeol are more or less the top contenders to be the heir or the watchman, since both seem to have a sidekick respectively, supporting them for whatever they are cooking behind those bright eyes of theirs. Yu-ha seems the least likely to be the heir despite his birth secret revealed in the first quarter of the drama because of few reasons, with one of them being Hwa-ryung.

Hwa-ryung, unlike her composed exterior most of the time, is visibly shaken upon learning about Yu-ha’s identity being an illegitimate son of a nobleman she was familiar with. This is when the guessing game about Yu-ha’s identity gets interesting for me: at first, I thought that Yu-ha was Hwa-ryung’s child with the nobleman who was separated from her due to her humble status; then, upon learning that Hwa-ryung used to serve at Grand Prince Geumryeong’s household, I suspected that Yu-ha was the secret child of hers with the late Grand Prince, who was the current king’s younger brother, so that would make him a royal grandson at the time of his birth and Lee Seol’s cousin.

However, the real identity of Yu-ha turns out to be Lee Gyeom, the secret love child of the Deposed Crown Prince Lee Pyeong with Hwa-ryung, hidden at the Grand Prince’s private residence with Hwa-ryung before being stowed away to be under the care of his father on papers in the Jung household. That makes him Lee Seol’s half-brother, although they neither met nor made to be aware of each other’s existence prior to this. So, will all of these happenings boil down to the power struggle between half siblings or will they work together to topple down the tyrant Lee Chang?

Well, if that is bound to happen, then it will be either Lee Seol (our San) or Lee Gyeom (our Yu-ha) who will be ascending the throne. If I dare to make a guess, I have to admit that it is less likely for San to suddenly rise to the throne despite being the true heir in the drama. Yes, there is the issue of legitimacy of those in line to inherit the throne as well, but it we are basing this on the drama alone, I think that San’s real aim seems to be more about avenging his family’s injustice and untimely death instead of the throne. He views the throne as something he has to deal with in order to protect his found family he cherishes. He never considers his uncle Lee Chang as a king he has to bring down in order for him to sit on the dragon throne, but rather a family foe. His goal is more about personal gain than public interest, probably because he has lost so much and the only thing he wishes is to ensure the safety of precious people around him.

What about Yu-ha then? From the very beginning, Yu-ha shows himself as a scholar who wishes for a better world for everyone to live in instead of the current situation where the citizens live in fear of the tyrannical throne. He joins the secret society Mokinhoe himself in order to change the world at the expense of endangering or even sacrificing himself for the cause. But then, from a mere follower, he is pushed to pose as the leader of the secret sect when his real identity is known to Minister Shin. I think that despite being the Deposed Crown Prince’s secret child, Yu-ha still has his claim to the throne with the keepsake (a topknot pin it turns out to be) and the letter endorsing his royal blood. But Minister Shin feels that having the Deposed Grand Heir as the leader will make their cause even more justifiable and attract more people, so he pushes Yu-ha into claiming himself as the missing heir. It is a problem (a huge problem) when the real heir is so close to him.

Now, will Minister Shin makes Yu-ha slay San in order to get rid of the obstacle that could hinder their seemingly smooth-sailing plan so far? The phrase “There can’t be two suns existing at one time” does not sit well with me, hence I am hoping that Yu-ha remembers San’s wish to live in a world where one could win without slashing his opponent. Even if San indeed turns out to be a hindrance to his plan, Yu-ha will remember that it will also hurt Dan-o when he harms San…right?

As if our resident watchman will let his master be in danger just like that. Since it is either San or Si-yeol, and San reveals his identity, so it is most likely Si-yeol who is the much sought watchman. Honestly speaking, I am so, so glad to see that Si-yeol are having a separate loveline with Dan-o’s sister Hong-joo, but with all the clues pointing Si-yeol being the watchman who spared no one when it comes to Lee Seol’s safety, I am in denial. Hence, the revelation (and the thrilling first bow to his master) weighed heavily in my heart, because one of those slain by Si-yeol during Lee Seol’s encounter with Yukinhoe years ago was no other than Hong-joo’s betrothed, Jang Hyun.

I am more nervous about Si-yeol and Hong-joo’s budding relationship than San and Dan-o at this point, since Si-yeol is the one who relentlessly tries to pull Hong-joo out of her room and fills her emptied, sullen heart. Despite Hong-joo’s initial resistance and fear, Si-yeol patiently and persistently coaxes and convinces her into coming out of the shrunken shell she built around her because of her heartbreak and guilt. Si-yeol, who knows too well how it feels to live in hiding, sees himself in Hong-joo, thus he does not stop bringing the world to her before encouraging her to step out to see the world. He does not force Hong-joo to share her heart’s burden all at once, for he is also a man with secrets to keep. Now, it seems that Hong-joo is ready to take another step further in their relationship, with her bidding the final goodbye to her lover, who is forever youthful in the afterworld.

Will the drama be cruel enough to push Hong-joo into the abyss on Earth again when the truth reaches her? Will Si-yeol blame himself and his wretched fate for causing years of heartache for the person he finally come to sincerely care for after all these years? Will Hong-joo be able to forget the past and the bad blood in order to forgive Si-yeol and accept him for who he was and is? Will Si-yeol be able to forgive himself and escape the lifelong duty of being a shadow to his master? Only the drama will tell us in the final four episodes what will happen to these two poor souls. I just cannot bring myself to say that I am ready for the heartbreak, because I just am not and will never be ready for the impending and upcoming heartbreak for them. No, not these two…

At least there is a glimmer of hope and a touch of spring love in the winter faced by these youths, thanks to San and Dan-o’s blooming relationship (since everyone agrees that they have passed the blossoming stage, right?). Oh, how I love them for being so innocent yet so direct with their feelings with each other, taking each and every step with confidence after much deliberation on their respective parts. Dan-o is one smart girl who takes everything into consideration before coming up with a solution or taking any action, but her family is her utmost priority. Family, to her, is not just her immediate ones, but also extends to people residing at her guesthouse, so that makes San, Si-yeol, and Yu-ha part of her family too.

Despite having known Yu-ha longer than the other two, Dan-o’s heart eventually finds its half in San’s. Funny how at first, San seems to be helping her begrudgingly, yet he is always there trying to be of assistance in his own way. It is only after the revelation that all those slightly longer and lingering stares he had towards her are, after all, intentional: he is looking at his saviour, his happy memory, and his reason to continue living. We probably will never get to see his point of view when he first realized that the guesthouse owner turned out to be the person he was looking for, but the drama has shown enough that San is showing his gesture of appreciation in each and every action of his towards Dan-o. His acts of service are not simply because of his affection but also imbued with gratitude. San was not just lucky to have Dan-o saving him years ago, but he is also lucky to have found a lady who is ready to stay by his side through thick and thin, for better or for worse.

I am less worried about KangDan (Kang San and Dan-o, or DanSan, or Kitty Couple, whatever suits you lmao) since San seems to have his plan of staging something to avenge his passing blood family, but he is careful enough not to go all out, storming into the palace and running amok to assassinate the king, endangering his found family in the Garden of Flowers. He already expresses that everything he does is for Dan-o’s sake (oh, you hopeless romantic tsundere…) including the possibility of him sitting on the throne, so he might choose Dan-o over the throne if he is presented with the opportunity to make a choice. After all, there is Yu-ha ready to sacrifice his personal gain for the great cause and the greater good, so we already have a candidate to be the next king. Easy peasy, right?

Not really. The drama now has a huge task of spinning the tale into convincing the viewers on how the characters will deal with the fake heir issue and how they will justify Yu-ha as the person who possess the legitimacy to overthrow the current king and to be crowned as the subsequent king. Unless the issue does not get out of the inner circle, maybe they will have a simpler way of dealing with and explaining it to us. For now, I am enjoying every single bit of the drama, including Hyun Woo’s ruthless Lee Chang (he is still as sweet as ever behind the camera so do not hate him <3) and the opportunist and returning Chief Eunuch No Sung-gil (played by the ever adorable Lee Jun-hyeok despite his cunning character here). Hoping that this drama will hold itself well until the finale, so that I can recommend this to others without any remorse. Do not disappoint me please, drama 😉

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