Moon Embracing the Sun Dramabeans Recap

99 January 4, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 1

by javabeans

Premieres abound today, and heading the pack is The Moon That Embraces the Sun, aka soon to be MBC’s great white hope.

I had a feeling this drama would come out on top in the ratings, but I had no idea it would be such a clear-cut victory. The Moon That Embraces the Sun drew an impressive 18% premiere rating, while Take Care of Us, Captain brought home a 9.2% on SBS, and Wild Romance a 7.1% over on KBS.

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EPISODE 1 RECAP

A woman narrates:

“It is said that in the beginning, there were two suns and two moons. But day was too hot, and night too cold. All of creation was thrown into chaos, and the people in misery. It was then that a hero appeared and shot one sun and one moon out of the sky with arrows, and brought peace to the world.”

This story is told by the queen dowager (Kim Young-ae) to one of her vassals, Lord Yoon Dae-hyung. She is the mother to King Seongjo, the current (and fictional) king. We are somewhere in the middle of the Joseon era, though since this drama is not based on real history, we aren’t given an exact date.

The story about the two suns and moons is an illustration of the need for hero in times of trouble, and the queen dowager says meaningfully that they cannot just wait for a hero to appear. A veiled reference, then, to solving their own problems through their own means. She tells Lord Yoon to be the hero, because there can only be one sun in the sky; one must be eliminated.

Nighttime. A group of masked men dart through the woods and to a residential neighborhood, dispersing to fulfill separate tasks: One man sticks a yellow paper to a wall — a talisman, it looks like — and another buries a yellow pouch in a house’s yard. A frame job, perhaps?

One masked intruder readies to assassinate his target in bed, but finds it empty. He’s surprised by a sword to the throat; the victim was prepared. He is identified as Uiseong-gun, or Prince Uiseong, the younger half-brother to King Seongjo. Ah. So here’s the threat the queen dowager needed eliminated, to protect her son’s interests. She had mentioned that the brothers had a good relationship, but in her mind the younger is dangerous, just by virtue of being close to the throne.

Someplace else, a woman named Ahri — a shaman — wakes up with a gasp, filled with an ominous feeling. She knows “he” is in danger, and runs off to find him, ignoring the warnings of her shaman friend.

Prince Uiseong fights back, although it’s only one of him against four assassins. He fends them off well, but is eventually felled and disarmed. Enter Lord Yoon, who faces him smugly.

Uiseong is full of righteous anger, knowing full well that the king, his brother, will believe him over the shifty Lord Yoon. But there’s a solution for that, since Lord Yoon plans to kill him before he gets the chance to say anything. He adds that Uiseong’s good friend will be joining him on the other side, and we see that another nobleman is hanged in his home, a falsified suicide note left on his desk.

Uiseong charges, Lord Yoon slices his throat, and the terrified shaman Ahri witnesses this all from just over the wall. She’s spotted and chased through the woods, finding herself cornered at the edge of a cliff. She slips and falls far below.

The assassins check the base of the ravine and only find her official red hair sash. Ah, so she’s a palace shaman, part of the department called Seongsucheong. When the others are assembled, the head shaman notes that Ahri is missing, which identifies the runaway.

Lord Yoon reports to the queen dowager and assures her that they’ll find Ahri. The queen dowager, oddly, is pleased, saying this is a stroke of fortune. Ahri was formerly a slave to Prince Uiseong’s household, so it’s possible they were involved. What if that woman desired her lover to become king? And what if she was manipulating him through some sort of magical power? It doesn’t matter that it’s not true, since the queen dowager can make all this true with her planted evidence. Furthermore, the head shaman is firmly under the queen’s thumb, and can be trusted to act for them.

Uiseong and his murdered friend are labeled traitors, confirmed by the forged letter left at the friend’s house. The deaths are painted as suicides by guilt-stricken conspirators, and King Seongjo (Ahn Nae-sang) receives this report in disbelief.

The head shaman is brought forth to read the symbols on the talisman. She’s been coached to lie, so she tells the king that it’s a call for the sun’s power, which is a poetic way of saying that they aspired to the throne. (King = sun.) Furthermore, she identifies the charm as Ahri’s handiwork.

After wandering the woods, Ahri stumbles onto a path and crumples in the path of a traveling noblewoman’s entourage. The pregnant woman, Lady Shin, hurries to help her and orders Ahri put into the sedan chair.

When they approach the city walls, they’re stopped by police officers on the lookout for the escaped traitor. The servant woman recognizes the drawing of Ahri, but the women sense she’s a good person in trouble and feign ignorance. Lady Shin hides Ahri in her skirts and refuses to exit by saying she’s about to give birth any day now and can’t manage. The officer lets them pass.

He belatedly sees blood dripping from the back of the chair and orders them to stop. Lady Shin is quick-witted, though, and pretends she’s having baby trouble, and her servant reliably plays along, urging the lady to hurry home. Upon hearing who the lady’s family is, the officer is intimidated into compliance.

Ahri is deeply grateful to the lady, and says that her baby girl is as beautiful as the moon. Lady Shin is pleased to hear that she’ll be having the daughter she wished for. As Ahri speaks, she sees visions in her mind’s eye of the child’s future: glimpses of the girl being adorned in royal finery, of a moon, of a grave.

Ahri is unsettled by the images, but doesn’t share what she saw. But she does fervently promise that she will do whatever she can to protect Lady Shin’s child.

Ahri parts ways with the lady, but is soon captured and brought back to the palace, where she is tortured. Lord Yoon asks who the talisman was meant for, but of course she has no clue. She insists she didn’t write it, and when she is called a traitor, she grows righteous in her rage. She tells Lord Shin that if anybody is a traitor, it’s him for conjuring up false crimes.

She addresses him so ferociously that Lord Shin is unnerved.

Ahri: “You think I am the only one who saw, don’t you? You think it will end if you just get rid of me, don’t you? You’re wrong, you villain — Heaven’s Moon was watching you. That man’s blood is not the only thing that soaked into your blade that night. The moonlight of that night seeped inside, too. Wait and see! One day your wicked deeds will be revealed under the moonlight! One day that moonlight will cut your own lifeline!”

Ahri is tossed into prison to await execution. Her shaman friend, Nok-young, cries that she was foolish to let love drive her to Uiseong’s house that night. Ahri says neither one of them ever aspired to the throne, and entrusts Nok-young to protect a child in her stead. Being too close to the sun will result in disaster for the child’s entire family, so she must be protected from the sun. She urges Nok-young to protect her, but doesn’t give her a name.

The next day, Ahri is taken to be drawn and quartered for her supposed crime. As she lies on the mat, she sees the sun in the sky, diverging into two. Another vision comes to her: A smiling boy, a friendly brother, the girl again. She thinks, “Two suns, and one moon. I pray you all will remain safe.”

As she dies, a baby is born. Lady Shin gives birth to her second child, named Heo Yeon-woo (future Han Ga-in), and coos over the baby with the girl’s older brother, Yeom.

Nok-young visits her friend’s grave, remembering her last wish. She looks up at the moon, which morphs into the sun, and when we pan down again, we are years later.

At the palace, lavish festivities are prepared. A ceremony is being held today for the young scholars who have passed the civil service examination, who will give their bows to the king and receive a gift from him.

Crown Prince Hwon is called to join the proceedings, but he’s not in his room. In a room far from the hubbub, we find a table — set with foods swiped from the main event — where the young crown prince studies a drawing of the palace grounds. He finds Eunwolgak, aka the Silver Moon Building, and sets out with his royal knapsack. Aw, he’s so cute, playing hooky.

Lady Shin arrives at the palace with Yeon-woo in tow, her nose buried in a book. Not only is her father, Lord Heo, a high-ranking official who will be present at the ceremony, her brother Yeom is among those being honored. We see that nefarious Lord Yoon has now advanced in position as minister of the interior.

There are two friends in particular among the scholars who merit our notice: Yeom and Woon (which, by the way, means Cloud. Get it?). They have a third friend, Yang-myung (future Jung Il-woo), who isn’t here, but together the trio of buddies studied literature under her father.

With Prince Hwon missing, one of his guardians sends palace guards to find him quickly. It seems this isn’t the first time Hwon has caused his guards trouble, and they’re eager to find the prince before the king discovers the escapade and has a fit.

Meanwhile, the ceremony proceeds, and Lady Shin belatedly realizes that Yeon-woo has wandered off, distracted by a butterfly.

Prince Hwon emerges from his hiding place and prepares for his escape over the palace wall. Just as he’s about to jump, though, he sees Yeon-woo wander into the courtyard and is struck dumb, slack-jawed. Ah, puppy love.

Hwon falls off his ladder, knocking Yeon-woo to the ground with him. They lay sprawled together for a moment. The moment is marked by a shower of flower petals, and the wind blows away his parasol.

They get up and look away awkwardly. Hwon demands, in his best I’m-a-man-(almost) voice, how she came to be here and is suspicious of her answer. She finds him equally suspicious and intends to call the guards on him — he’s stealing palace goods and trying to escape over the wall.

Hwon stops her, stuttering a lame excuse about just looking for an exit. When he grabs his bag, though, everything comes tumbling out — teacup, sweets, calligraphy brush.

Adorably, he fumbles for yet another excuse, but Yeon-woo calls out, “Thief!” Palace guards head over toward them, so Hwon grabs her hand and runs, giving us one of the flashes from Ahri’s vision.

They escape the guards and stop running. Yeon-woo still intends to report him to the guards, which forces Hwon to tell her the truth to prove he’s not a thief. With a heavy sigh, he confides that he was actually leaving the palace to meet his hyung.

Hwon explains that his hyung was born of a different mother, and a warm-hearted person, while in flashback we see two young boys playing in the palace. The brother excelled in his both his studies and martial arts, but because he was the child of a concubine and therefore illegitimate, he was unable to participate in the civil service examination, or advance in career, or even receive his father’s love.

Hwon concludes, “The reason he has to live like this is because of me.” He explains that his hyung hasn’t sought him out in a long time, perhaps fearing their father’s anger. So he was on his way to find him himself.

Yeon-woo asks why he blames himself, since his brother’s illegitimacy is nothing he could control. She quotes Confucius, and assures him that if his brother is as warm-hearted as he says, he won’t blame him either.

Yeon-woo gets a little carried away complaining about the things in Joseon law that don’t make sense, showing a thoroughly egalitarian mindset as she wonders why slaves and aristocrats must be treated so differently. He prods, “Are you saying that the king’s politics are all wrong?” He teases, saying he’s the one who’d better call for authorities. They’re adorable.

Yeon-woo pesters him to explain who he is and how he isn’t a thief, but he’s not willing to give up his identity. He almost blurts, “I am Joseon’s…!” but cuts himself off before finishing that thought.

Lady Shin has been worried sick, so when she spots Yeon-woo, she grabs her in a relieved hug. Hwon hurries to the guard who’s with her and quietly instructs him not to say a thing, before he can call him “Highness” or otherwise blow his cover. Cute.

As she’s leaving, a court lady gives Yeon-woo a note from the “Silver Moon Building’s young master.” Hwon has added the grumpy message that he’s angry and upset and she’d better watch her step when walking around at night. Oh, so cute.

Hwon is soundly scolded by the king for his repeated attempts to leave the palace. He explains that all he wanted to do was meet “Yang-myung hyungnim.” He wants to study together while discussing things with his brother, rather than being told not to question anything. The king reacts angrily and punishes him with additional restrictions.

The queen dowager meets with Minister Yoon, and the metaphor of the day is bonsai. She indicates the little tree she’s working on, saying that it’s harder than it looks, because if you miss your chance to cultivate a certain form, it becomes increasingly difficult to get the result you want. Hint, hint.

Minister Yoon alludes to massive change in their future, i.e., a power shift. The queen dowager states that they need to find a proper instructor for the crown prince, because that person will be shaping the future of the nation. Minister Yoon has just the person for the job.

The queen, Hwon’s mother, entreats the king to understand the prince and allow Yang-myung to be allowed to move into the palace. The king refuses, and the queen sadly tells Yang-myung’s mother (a concubine) that the answer was no and offers a few words of consolation.

Yang-myung has been traveling and now returns to the capital. In the village, Yang-myung trades some fowl for money (to buy his buddies presents) and hears of someone selling a cure-all drug, which piques his curiosity.

Another figure notes this with interest– it’s Nok-young, who receives the report that the medicine merchants are quacks. As she approaches the crowd, she is struck with Yang-myung’s appearance — for some reason, he reminds of the “two suns” description.

Yang-myung sits in the crowd while a girl spouts all sorts of psychic predictions, as though she can tell what ails everybody. It helps that con men signal to each other surreptitiously and give her clues.

Yang-myung tells the man next to him that he suffered a leg accident while hunting a boar (quite probably lying in order to test out his hunch). Sure enough, when he gets to the front, the supposedly psychic girl (prompted by signals) declares that he has injured his leg.

But then the girl adds, curiously, “I see a light in you.” Nok-young is startled — is this for real, then? The girl describes a beautiful yellow-red light.

The quack medicine-dealer continues with the show, but now Yang-myung’s easy demeanor hardens and he accuses them of running a con, and abusing the child. It’s enough to convince the onlookers; they accuse the con artists of a scam and a fight breaks out.

Yang-myung grabs the girl, advising Nok-young on his way out to call the palace guards here.

Yang-myung runs away with the girl, but soon he’s surrounded by the con artists. The girl is grabbed out of his arms and taken away by the boss — who is then challenged by Nok-young, who demands the child be handed over. Behind her are palace guards.

Yang-myung gets beat up for his interference, and the thugs laugh at his claim that he learned swordfighting from an expert. He gets knocked down, and suddenly his wimpy demeanor changes. Getting up easily, he flies at them and takes down the whole crew in a flurry of punches and flying kicks.

That night, dressed in nobleman’s clothes, Yang-myung looks over the skyline and mentally addresses the king, telling him he’s returned from his travels safely. He asks for forgiveness, and wonders after the crown prince.

Inside the palace, Hwon finds his every step dogged by a whole gaggle of guards, assigned to keep a close watch on him. As he looks up, a shower of flower petals rains down on him, which makes him think of the flowers that fell when he was with Yeon-woo.

He muses, “If you knew I was the prince, I’d hear a lot more nagging. Although I suppose I won’t have reason to see you again.”

But just then, he sees the flyaway parasol hovering up above in the air. A message? A sign?

At home, Yeon-woo rereads the note from Hwon. There are two sayings written there, and while Yeon-woo understands what they mean literally, she puzzles over the actual message. One saying says, “If you draw it, it’s round. If you write it, it’s sharp.” The other one says, “The rabbit lives, the rooster dies.”

Yeon-woo is served by a young slave named Seol (future Yoon Seung-ah), whose name means Snow. Yeon-woo asks Seol about the rabbit-rooster riddle, and Seol’s prosaic answer is no help: “If the rooster dies, who’ll wake us in the mornings?”

Outside, Yang-myung comes to Yeon-woo’s house and leaps up onto the wall, where he sits. In the distance he sees Yeon-woo emerging from the house into the courtyard. She holds up the message cloth in the air, then sighs — she’d hoped the moonlight might reveal some hidden characters.

But now she starts to put the clues together, excited. It’s not rabbit/rooster, but “Born in the morning, dies in the evening.” And the other clue — what’s round in a drawing, but sharp-edged when you write it? It’s what Hwon had started to say before cutting himself off. He’d declared, “I am this nation’s…”

She realizes the answer: “…sun.” Ergo, he is the prince.

In the palace, Hwon wonders, with hope, if they might be able to meet again after all. At the same time, Yeon-woo sits down in shock and thinks how relieved she is that they won’t have to. And sitting on the wall, Yang-myung thinks, “Good to see you again, Heo Yeon-woo.”

 
COMMENTS

All in all, a solid opening. The drama is definitely well-made, with strong acting, wonderful child actors, and gorgeous visual appeal. I can see why it shot to first-place standings off the bat.

It wasn’t the most exciting first episode ever, though, and to be honest I found myself thinking that this all seemed very familiar. The players are different, but the political conspiracy, the framed traitors, the illegitimate half-brother, the childhood sweethearts, the birth prophecy — it’s all been done before. And all in fairly recent shows, no less. You can argue that all historical dramas have some configuration of these elements, but the good ones find a way to make them fresh; Moon/Sun’s handling isn’t quite there yet.

What makes this drama potentially different (rather than Sageuk Remix 2012) is the fantasy aspect, as well as making a young king its focus. Neither has happened yet since Episode 1 was about establishing the world, so I’m definitely eager to see how things unfold from here. I’m still not sure how the fantasy aspect will play into the story, and while it makes me wary, it’s also something I want more of. If you’re going to do it, might as well really go for it. It doesn’t have to be quite as blatant as in Legend, but I think it’s got to be more than just a simple moon-sun symbology, invoked ad infinitum. (That could get tiresome.)

I’m not gonna lie, I was (and am) a little disappointed that we have to wait for so long — weeks! plural! — to get our adult cast in place, even though I understand why that must be so in sageukland. And if we must have child actors, at least we’re working with some pros, who have accumulated quite a bit of experience in the genre.

To wit: Playing Hwon is Yeo Jin-gu (who has grown up so much! His voice has dropped!), always wonderful in everything he’s done, which includes Tree With Deep Roots, Warrior Baek Dong-soo, Giant, Iljimae, and Ja Myung Go. As Yeon-woo, there’s Kim Yoo-jung who may even have him beat in number of sageuk projects with Kye Baek, Iljimae, Gumiho: Tale of the Fox’s Child, Dong Yi, Tamra the Island, and Painter of the Wind on her resumé. And Yang-myung is played by Lee Min-ho — he might want to think about a stage name — who’s done Kye Baek, Thorn Birds and Sungkyunkwan Scandal.

I’m sort of trusting that this drama is going to be great once the story really gets going and the adults take over, based on the quality of the execution, the reputation of the novel and its writer, and the strength of its cast. The plot, however, doesn’t have me hooked yet. Taken alone, this episode wasn’t that exciting, but it doesn’t diminish my excitement for the series as a whole. I’m definitely still onboard and looking forward to future episodes.

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103 January 5, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 2

by girlfriday

This entire episode feels like a light rom-com more than a sageuk, and though it’s not exactly subtle, it is adorably earnest. I wasn’t entirely won over with the first episode, but the second one is so full of cuteness. It’s still not very fantasy-esque, but the characters are bright and cheerful, and I can’t wait to get to know some of them fully.

Today’s ratings came in even higher, at a whopping 19.9%. That pretty much secures a 20% foothold for the show, with an opening week that high. Captain came in at 10.5%, with Wild Romance bringing in the rear at 6.7%.

 
EPISODE 2 RECAP

Prince Hwon gapes at the floating parasol, wondering if it’s a sign that he can see Yeon-woo again, but his aides freak out, calling it possessed by a ghost. Meanwhile, Yeon-woo sits in her yard still pondering the prince’s riddle, when she hears a shuffle.

She goes to the outer wall and finds a rock and a note, from Yang-myung, saying that she should stop worrying so much, and tell all her problems to this rock, specially designed to listen to all her problems. That’s so cute. I need one of those.

He tells her in the letter that it’s a gift from his travels, and though he doesn’t sign it, she knows exactly who it’s from. She sighs that he’s at it again, even though she expressly told him to stop. Ha, secret-admirer-bordering-on-stalker-boy, is he?

On the other side of the courtyard, her brother Yeom practices his swordfighting skills with his buddy Woon (Yeom’s in pink and Woon is in blue, if that helps, ’cause they look confusingly similar). Watching them from the shadows is Seol, who clearly has a vested interest in: (1) martial arts and (2) Yeom.

Woon calls his friend “young master” (meaning Woon is of lesser birth) despite the fact that Yeom chides him not to do so. Yeom sighs that he misses Yang-myung tonight, feeling the absence of his friend keenly.

Just then, Yang-myung creeps up behind them with a goofy self-satisfied grin. He bear-hugs Yeom, and then tries to jump-hug Woon, who evades the move swiftly. Damn, thwarted bromance.

Both Yeom and Woon in turn defer to Yang-myung, who is, after all, of royal birth. So basically it’s a trio of besties that straddles three massively different social rungs. (For instance, they speak to Yang-myung in jondae while he speaks to them in banmal.)

They wonder why he returned so late, and he says it’s because he had to see someone very important to him. Yeom wonders if he’s found yet another girl to admire, and then sighs, realizing he’s back to climbing his sister Yeon-woo’s wall. Ha. Okay, I love that this is a known fact.

Yeom’s got a million reasons why this isn’t okay, which he’s clearly said a million times over before. But Yang-myung is so used to being nagged about this that he just breezes past it. He changes the subject with their gifts – more rocks.

He tells them they’re good luck talismans that they should carry with them, and the very literal and humorless Woon replies, “It might be a little large to carry around.” So Yang-myung quickly gives him a smaller rock for more portability. I don’t know why, but the thought of him traveling from wherever with a sack full of supposedly mystical rocks just cracks me up.

He wonders aloud if now (that they’ve passed their civil service exams) they’ll become the Crown Prince’s people. Aw. They look at him uncomfortably, the meaning not lost on them. But Yang-myung quickly covers up his sadness with good cheer, which kind of breaks my heart.

The King receives a list of final candidates for the next phase of the Crown Prince’s education, and Prince Hwon rattles off the names on the list before his aide can even tell him, musing that the Queen dowager (aka grandma) did as expected.

He says it doesn’t matter who they are because they’re all the same – people placed there by Minister Yoon to shape his education accordingly. He readies himself to make his new teachers’ lives a living hell. Ha.

Apparently he’s already famous for this, and the handmaidens watch him go to his lessons, making bets on how long it’ll take him to go through all the teachers and make them quit, yet again.

Enter Yeom, who literally makes women faint with his fair looks. He bows to Prince Hwon and introduces himself as his new teacher, still glowing with rays of Pretty, even in Hwon’s eyes. At the same time, Yeon-woo finds out from her mother that Yeom will be the prince’s new tutor and can’t help but smile.

Prince Hwon’s jaw drops when he gets one look at Yeom, but not for the reasons we think. He finds out that Yeom is barely seventeen, and snipes that he’s certainly got some serious power behind him, for someone so young. Basically he’s assuming that Yeom is another of Minister Yoon’s puppets, while Yeom is just as confused at the accusation.

Meanwhile, the Queen dowager rips Minister Yoon a new one for letting Heo Yeom slip through the cracks and enter the ranks, when he’s not one of “their” people. He assures her that Yeom is just a young boy and has no staying power.

Prince Hwon fumes in his chambers, and his aide comes rushing in after having done a background check on Yeom. That quickly? What, did you google him?

He tells the prince that Yeom was a renowned scholar even in his Sungkyunkwan days, as flashback footage shows us that he walked around with the Backlighting of Glory even back then. Other students fell over to give him their seats, women fell over themselves at the sight of him. And even guys who were about to start fights with him… got up close and then swooned and asked if they could be friends. Hahahaha.

That just makes Prince Hwon even madder, to hear his aide gush about the perfect, the wonderful, the genius Yeom. He makes him stand in the corner, facing the wall. Okay, Petty Prince is my new favorite thing.

That night, Yeon-woo goes to see her brother for her nightly lesson (explaining how she came to be so educated), and notes the worry lines on his face. She offers her help and asks if he’s facing problems with the prince. Yeom says that the prince clearly has a misunderstanding of his character, but he doesn’t know how to clear it up or get the prince to open up to him.

Yeon-woo bows her head, thinking to herself that it’s because of her (assuming that he’s somehow connected the dots between her brother and her political stance). He asks if she knows a way to get the prince to open his heart.

The next day Prince Hwon reads to himself, slouched and pouty, and Yeom waits patiently, and then finally gets up to declare today’s lesson over. Price Hwon declares him irresponsible for doing nothing and calling them done for the day, while Yeom says it’s because the prince doesn’t seem ready to learn. Prince counters that it’s because Yeom isn’t ready to teach.

So Yeom offers him a deal – if he gives the prince a riddle and he solves it, Yeom will quit as he asks. But if he can’t solve it, then the prince has to come to lessons with an open attitude, ready to learn. Oh how adorable—did Yeon-woo tell her brother that the prince likes riddles?

The question: What thing can make the world light in one moment, and dark in another moment? The prince declares it too easy a riddle and smirks that their next meeting will be goodbye forever. Yeom gulps.

But it turns out that the prince was bluffing, because he orders mountains of books brought to his chamber so he can figure it out. Little Sister Princess Min-hwa (later played by Nam Bora) comes running in to find out what all the fuss is about, and offers up her guess: eyelids! She demonstrates, and he shoos her away in annoyance.

The next day he gives his answer: the politics of the royal court – the decisions made by those who govern can either bring the world into light or darkness. The King and his ministers arrive outside just in time to overhear the prince’s answer.

Yeom tells him that’s incorrect. “The answer is… eyelids.” Hahaha. Prince Hwon fumes, wondering how such a silly childish answer could be right. But Yeom counters sternly: “If his Highness does not like an answer, does that make it wrong?”

Oh snap. I like his spunk. Outside, Minister Heo (Yeom’s father) bows to the King in apology, but the King just smiles, having placed Yeom there himself, and pleased at this line of questioning.

Back inside, Yeom explains that looking at the world through a child’s eyes means that everything can become darkness or light, or put more figuratively, that everything in the world has an equal chance of being right or wrong.

It’s his way to illustrate that a child’s perspective, without prejudice and arrogance – the two things he names as the biggest pitfalls against learning – is what he needs to adopt, because prejudice and arrogance have made the prince’s eyes clouded in darkness.

He asks pointedly how a leader expects to guide a nation with eyes that cannot see in the dark, and suggests the first thing the prince needs to do is adjust his attitude towards learning.

Prince Hwon fumes and stands up, calling out for his aide. But just as you think he’s about to have Yeom ousted by his coattails, he asks for a table to be set, so he can sit with his new teacher and have a discussion. Aw.

Yeom looks up in shock and quickly bows to accept the prince’s offer, and outside the King chuckles, “At last he has met his first true teacher.” Yay! Minister Yoon is not so pleased.

Princess Min-hwa hears about the prince’s lesson, and laughs hysterically at her haughty brother being brought down a peg or two, and runs out to see the face of the person who managed to do so. She catches a glimpse of Yeom as he walks out, and she’s so struck by him that she turns to hide her face.

Over tea and sweets, Prince Hwon asks Yeom if he was really prepared to give up the teaching position if he had gotten the riddle right, and wonders how he got the idea in the first place.

Yeom confesses that it was his little sister’s idea, that she told him he could probably teach the prince to get high marks noncommittally, or he could risk more to change his attitude and set it right from the beginning. She told him that the prince is a very clear person with definite ideas, and that Yeom’s sincerity would get through to him.

That piques the prince’s curiosity, and he asks her age (thirteen, the same as his), and then snatches the piece of taffy right out of Yeom’s hand. He says that the person who earned this is actually his sister, and asks his aide to wrap some up for Yeom to take to his true teacher, who remains hidden. That’s adorable.

Later he wonders to his aide how a thirteen-year old girl could be so witty and wise, and then also comes to find out that Yeom just barely passed his civil service exam days ago. Suddenly it clicks in his head, his meeting with Yeon-woo that day, her saying that she was there because of her brother. His smile grows wider and wider.

At home, Yeom gives his sister the gift from the prince, using the term for a gift bestowed upon a teacher. She says that’s Yeom, not her, but he confesses that he told the prince about her being his motivation.

She blushes and stammers at the thought that the prince might know that it was her, and takes the taffy out to the yard. As she looks up at the moon, cherry blossoms fall, reminding her of their first meeting.

She imagines Hwon standing next to her, and asks if he’s really the Crown Prince. He asks what she thinks, and she wishes he weren’t. But Imaginary Prince just smiles and tells her to eat her candy. He asks if she’s solved her riddle, and she asks him to tell her what it means, and then the vision disappears.

Minister Yoon and his colleagues fear the power that Minister Heo is gaining, considering this latest development with Yeom as a sign of him earning the King’s favor. But Minister Yoon doesn’t feel threatened and says that there’s no need to rush.

He stumbles home drunk and greets his daughter, Yoon Bo-kyung (later played by Kim Min-seo), asking if she wouldn’t like to go visit the palace. He tells her she can live there if she wants, already practically drooling at the power he’d have if he were the queen’s father. Well gee, that’s super comforting, you wanting to sell your daughter for your political gain. Not that we’re surprised, of course.

The next morning, Yeon-woo goes to buy some colorful parchment with Seol in tow, who wonders what she’s going to do with such expensive paper. Yeon-woo says it’s for an apology, or rather a reflection of fault.

Seol gasps – why would she waste so much energy on an apology? Can’t she just say the words and be done with it? Yeon-woo says it’s not that easy to do, and it’s for someone important. Seol scoffs, what, is it for the Queen herself? Well, you’re not far off. Yeon-woo says that it’s really because of her brother, just in case he suffers by association.

Seol hears the sound of blacksmiths at work and runs off eagerly, bumping into Bo-kyung in her haste. Both girls get knocked down in the collision, but though her maid makes a fuss, Bo-kyung lets Seol go with an apology.

Seol watches the blacksmiths at work with wide-eyed wonder, asking if they’re not making any swords today. She’s so cute. Suddenly, Bo-kyung’s maid realizes that her purse is missing, and she jumps to the conclusion that Seol is a pickpocket. She runs off, not realizing that she dropped it where she was standing, which Bo-kyung discovers with a smile.

She slaps Seol across the face, accusing her of thievery very publicly in the street, and when Bo-kyung arrives, Seol kneels in front of her, swearing that she isn’t a thief. Bo-kyung asks her to prove it with a smirk.

Back at the parchment store, Yang-myung appears behind Yeon-woo, teasing her about which parchment would be fit for the king. She snaps that it’s not for the king, so he teases that if it’s for the prince, he can help, since he’s the prince’s hyung and all. She storms out, annoyed.

It starts to rain as soon as she steps outside, and Yang-myung appears again, this time to shield her from the rain with his sleeve. She looks up at him, startled by the closeness, and he urges her to run with a smile.

He takes her to a greenhouse, and she oohs and aahs to see the kind of place she’s only read about in books. She asks if it’s his, and he lies badly it’s his friend’s, a guy who has means but no future, so he threw a bunch of money into this place. She looks up at him sympathetically, Prince Hwon’s words now sinking in, about his hyung living that way because of him.

He shows her one of the King’s favorite flowers, and tells her to offer it up instead of her apology, and she asks what kind of person the king is. He says with a smile the answer he’s supposed to say – that he is a righteous, respectable king who always thinks of his people – all the while in flashback remembering how harshly he treated Yang-myung and how sweetly he treated Hwon.

She asks if he’s not going to return to the palace — people might be waiting for him, thinking to herself that Prince Hwon wants to see him so badly he was climbing the palace wall. Yang-myung asks who, and she starts to say “the prince…” and quickly says, yunno, the prince, the king, everybody.

He says that they’re busy people and they wouldn’t miss him. She snaps, “He does miss you!” He just smiles like a big ol’ flirt and says she ought to understand why he climbed her wall to see her then. Gah, I’m already over the moon at the thought of Jung Il-woo playing this cheeky boy.

She says that they’re entirely different things, so he gets all serious and leans in close, until she finally can’t take it and looks away awkwardly. She stammers that they’re totally different and anyway, he should go to the palace, and he breaks into a laugh.

He notes happily that it’s been a really long time since she’s looked him straight in the eye and talked with him like this, and flicks her on the forehead to add that she should still mind her own beeswax. Why are these two so cute?

Meanwhile, Seol gets beaten to a bloody pulp by Evil Servant Lady, while Bo-kyung looks on with a satisfied grin. She mutters to herself that she should’ve been running with her eyes open, literally feeling justified in this girl’s beating because her freaking dress got dirty. Oh boy.

Seol refuses to answer any questions about whose household she belongs to, and continues to get beaten senseless.

Yeon-woo and Yang-myung head to the blacksmith’s looking for her, where they find out what happened. Yeon-woo rushes to claim Seol, saying that there must be a misunderstanding, but to beat a girl like this…

Bo-kyung comes down, pretending to be angry at her own servants for beating Seol, and one of the guys mumbles, “but you told us to beat her…” hahaha. Her maid quickly steps up to cover for her mistress, taking the blame upon herself and apologizing.

Yeon-woo offers to pay her the amount that was stolen, but Bo-kyung says she laid a hand on her possession too, so they can consider it even. Bo-kyung apologizes for her servants’ mishandling of the situation, and sighs that it’s hard to get your slaves to act properly. She adds that before Yeon-woo’s girl becomes a bigger thief, she ought to sell her. Whoa.

Yeon-woo replies that Seol is not a possession to her, but a friend and a member of her family. She doesn’t know how much Bo-kyung might have lost in money today, but does it hold up to the pain that Seol has felt? Bo-kyung’s jaw drops. Yeon-woo takes Seol away, leaving her fuming.

Yeom returns to the palace with a present for the prince, from his sister. He opens it eagerly to find that she’s returned the box he sent her, but filled with dirt and something she planted. He asks what kind of plant it is, dying of curiosity, and Yeom says he’ll have to grow it to find out.

He tries to start the lesson but Prince Hwon relentlessly asks after his sister – what’s she like? Does he talk with her about his problems often? Surprised, Yeom just tells him that they read together every night, and the prince is floored at that.

Yeom says proudly that his sister is as smart and learned as any scholar at Sungkyunkwan. The prince kind of goes slackjawed, which is so cute. I mean, who doesn’t love a boy who likes a smart girl? He covers it up by saying that he’s so impressed that he has a sister who likes to read, murmuring that his own sister doesn’t know more than two words.

Suddenly Princess Min-hwa bursts into the room bawling her eyes out, showing her true age. She totally wails through her tears, “I… hate… oraboni! (the formal word for oppa) *waaaaah*” It’s hysterical.

But what she’s really crying about is the fact that he said that about her in front of Yeom, and she runs over to him, clasping his face in her hands, insisting that she is totally not a dummy, she swears. Keh.

Yeom is so taken aback that he stays frozen like that for a second, and then quickly assures the princess that he understands, and to stop crying or else she’ll mess up her pretty face. He means it in the little girl way, but it stops her tears cold. “You… think… I’m… pretty?” Uh-oh.

After his lesson, Prince Hwon opens up the letter that came with Yeon-woo’s gift, and finds the prettiest parchment ever, covered in dried flowers. He recognizes her response as a poem by Lee Kyu-bo [An actual historical figure and renowned poet].

We hear her recite it as we watch her hand-dye the parchment with Seol, and apply the dried flowers while writing her response.

A monk living in the mountains
desired the moonlight
he saw it floating in his bottle of water and filled it
but at the temple he realized
that if you lean the bottle and pour it out
the moon disappears

[It’s a poem to reflect on the things you can’t have because they defy the laws the nature.] She continues in the letter to say that the moonlight is not something you can have because you want it, but she naïvely tried to bottle the moon. She tells him to forget what happened at the Silver Moon Building that day, and that she is reflecting on her mistakes.

Prince Hwon smiles to realize this means she solved the riddle he gave her. He ponders what she’s asking – that he forget her – and laughs that she’s a dummy after all. Aw. He looks over at her plant and smiles as he thinks to himself, “How could I forget you?”

Princess Min-hwa runs to the King, eager to learn how to read and write like her brother, or more specifically from her brother’s teacher. He’s surprised by her sudden interest, and agrees to let her learn, but he quickly says no to her learning from Yeom. She cries and kicks her feet, to no avail.

With his advisors assembled the King ponders on the princess’ education, and Minister Yoon and his cohort sneakily suggest that his daughter Bo-kyung is the best choice. The King agrees, and adds that Minister Heo’s daughter Yeon-woo should be brought in as well. Awwww yeah.

At home, Heo tells Yeon-woo about the offer, and though she hesitates, she agrees to become the princess’ teacher/companion. It doesn’t especially please her father, who worries that the palace isn’t a place where you can be free, and having both of his children there weighs on him.

His wife tells him that it’s just to be a friend to the princess, so what could be bad about that? But he worries that nothing happens in the palace that isn’t maneuvered strategically into place, not knowing what’s behind this move.

Mom tells him that Yeon-woo will be protected because there’s someone out there who pledged her life to keep her safe. He asks who, and she just says “someone.”

Nok-young tends to that someone’s grave, asking her friend to tell her who that person is, that she is to protect with her life.

The Queen apologizes to the Queen dowager (her mother-in-law) for the princess’ immaturity, but the Queen dowager assures her that having these girls around her will improve her greatly.

She asks to see them herself, telling the queen that they must be very discerning when bringing people into the palace. Besides, they never know – the Crown Prince’s future wife could be among them. Dun dun.

Outside the palace walls, the entourage of shamans arrive, Nok-young now ranking high among them, the only one carried in by sedan. Next to her arrives Yeon-woo, and they get out and meet eyes.

In one look, Nok-young recognizes her, the one who will “change the fate of the sun.” And then behind her, Bo-kyung arrives. One look at her, and Nok-young sees her dark energy.

She gasps, “Two moons.”

 
COMMENTS

Episode 2 felt much more like the show picked a direction, and though it’s a familiar one, it’s pretty clearly going to be a straight-up romance drama: the epic love square between two brothers, the two suns, and the two moons that enter their lives. Though half of the first episode was marked by light and cute, I was surprised at how rom-com-y the second episode felt, pretty much entirely light and funny from beginning to end. No complaints from me, because I’m sure we’ll eventually have plenty of angst to counter it, so I’ll take all the happy I can get.

What I like best so far is the teacher-student relationship with Yeom, as well as the brother relationship with Yang-myung, even though we have yet to actually see the brothers together. I love that it isn’t good vs. evil, but just two brothers who love each other, torn apart by fate. Both the characters are empathetic, thoughtful, and adorable, and already I’m torn because I want each of them to win Yeon-woo’s heart.

What drives me batty is Bo-kyung’s characterization, which just seems cartoonish to me. I mean, I know, thirteen-year old mean girls exist, but damn. Would it have been too much to make her at least start out sympathetic and layered, and then make her choose the path of badness to feed her ambition or whatever? I get that she was raised by the baddie, so she’s just going to adopt all his privileged, entitled attitudes, but seriously, girl is bordering on sociopathic.

Yeon-woo is fantastic, and recalls a lot of what I loved about the heroine in Sungkyungwan Scandal — a girl who defies the social order to read and learn, who thinks about how the world could be better rather than accepting it as it is. I adore that she loves words and poetry, and it just sets my heart aflutter when she and the prince write each other in riddles and poems. That’s one mark of the novelist’s work that I loved in Sungkyunkwan and here as well.

I was initially disappointed that we’d spend three weeks with the younger actors, but this episode changed my mind about the time we’ll spend with them. I can’t wait to see more of their young love in bloom.

 
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112 January 11, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 3

by javabeans

So much cuteness today, I don’t even know how they crammed it in to one episode, all while moving along the plot and giving us a glimpse of the darkness ahead. I find myself in the weird conflict of wanting to linger in these teenage moments (adorable and heart-warming — I could watch a whole drama about these years) and wanting to hurry to the adult portions, because I feel like the adult cast will be just as strong. Stay! Go! Stay! Go!

Holy moly, and the ratings keep jumping. Episode 3 drew a 23.2% rating. (Take Care of Us, Captain had a 9.4%, Wild Romance a 6.4%.)

SONG OF THE DAY

The Moon That Embraces the Sun OST – “달빛이 지고” [ Download ]

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EPISODE 3 RECAP

Yeon-woo and Bo-kyung are brought to the palace to be Princess Min-hwa’s new companions and lessonmates, and Nok-young recognizes the two girls for their true natures: Yeon-woo is the moon she must protect — the one whose proximity to the sun will ruin her family, but who is also fated to stay by the sun’s side, a paradox the dead shaman Ahri was trying to prevent. Bo-kyung is a second moon with dark, malevolent energy, which we could’ve figured on our own without mystical eyes. Seriously? Evil is written all over that petulant face.

The girls confirm that they’re both here for the same purpose, and the realization brings identical looks of Aw, HELL no to their faces.

The queen dowager asks Nok-young to look into the girls’ fortunes — to see if either one is fit to be a queen.

The girls await Princess Min-hwa, edging away from each other uneasily. Yeon-woo makes the first overture, suggesting that they let bygones be bygones. Bo-kyung has been coached by her sly father, Minister Yoon, and recalls his warning not to make enemies in the palace — or at least, to not betray her true feelings outwardly. So she slaps on a smile and agrees, saying she’s sorry for that day, too.

Relieved, Yeon-woo takes her hand to seal the “Let’s be friends” deal. Bo-kyung tamps down her well of inner evil at seeing their hands touching (does the presence of goodness cause that blackened soul to sizzle in pain?).

Prince Hwon peers at his potted plant, which is growing way too slowly for his impatient mind, and decides he’ll just have to seek out the gift-giver to ask what’s been planted. Uh-huh. Because it’s just that important to know what kind of flower she planted, yup.

His dutiful and somewhat hapless attendant, Hyung-sun, reports on the identities of the princess’s new companions. Hwon had guessed Yeon-woo might be one of them, but the confirmation brings a smile to his face and he sighs over how pretty her name is. Then he grabs Hyung-sun’s hands and asks in a tone of desperation for his help. Hyung-sun’s response? An anguished, “Prince, noooooooo!”

Hyung-sun outlines all the reasons why it would be improper, nay, impossible, for the crown prince to meet in secret with an unmarried lady inside the palace. Hwon cuts through the babble with one reminder: “Performance evaluation.” Hwon feigns a bad memory while pointedly asking who it was that helped Hyung-sun when he failed his review. And who was it who helped him study? And who does he have to thank for his promotion? Hmm? Hyung-sun crumbles. I’m pretty sure I adore this relationship.

Hwon writes a note telling Yeon-woo that he was excited to hear of her coming to the palace, and that he’ll send someone to her soon. Hyung-sun bribes the princess’s attendant to pass along his message-pouch to Yeon-woo. It’s slipped inside Yeon-woo’s bag.

The queen, Hwon’s mother, sits with Yeon-woo and Bo-kyung to welcome them to the palace. She’s demure and regal, which is why it’s doubly hilarious when Princess Min-hwa bursts into the room, plops down in front of the girls, and asks eagerly, “Which one of you is Scholar Heo’s sister? Huh? Huh?” She wastes no time, this one.

Upon confirmation that it’s Yeon-woo, Min-hwa declares her to be as pretty as her brother, and gives her a gift right off the bat. While I love that these two are hitting it off, this excess show of favor is sure to breed discontent in Bo-kyung, who is basically Discontent Central already. She glares jealously.

Then the two girls make their bows to Grandma, aka the queen dowager. At least in this scenario Bo-kyung has the upper hand, although the queen dowager hides her deviousness well. Hidden behind a screen is Nok-young, who watches the scene to get a read on the girls, per the queen dowager’s instructions.

Yang-myung finally makes his appearance at the palace, to Hwon’s utter delight. He grabs his brother in a bear hug and is pleasantly surprised to hear that Yang-myung is good friends with Yeom, whom he is on his way to meet.

Hwon is disappointed that his busy schedule means he doesn’t have time to sit down and chat with Yang-myung, so he comes up with an alternative plan: Big Bro will just have to join them, then, in a match of football/soccer between two palace groups. The game pits Blue versus Red: scholars Yeom and Yang-myung join the prince on Blue, while third buddy Woon plays for Red.

Woon is introduced as the first place winner in the recent state exams in martial arts, where Yeom placed first for literature. When Hwon and Yeon-woo had first met, she’d said her brother took first place on one exam, and Hwon had lied that his brother took the other first place. So now Hwon laughs and tells Woon, “You’re the guy who almost became my brother.” Cute how they’re all connected somehow, even if just by coincidence.

During embroidery time, Yeon-woo finds Hwon’s message in her bag and reads it. Hilariously, though, she hears the words in an angry tone — she still thinks he’s upset that she was impudent, totally oblivious to his crush on her. So when he’d written that he was unable to sleep upon hearing of her palace appointment (’cause he was excited, aw), she imagines him growling through clenched teeth, “I’ll send somebody soon, so I’ll see you then.” *Ominous glare*

Min-hwa has no interest in embroidery so she drags Yeon-woo outside to play instead, and a miffed Bo-kyung trails after them. But Bo-kyung recalls the note Yeon-woo had stuffed out of sight, and she heads back to read it. It’s signed with the name Lee Hwon, which doesn’t seem to immediately ring a bell. I’m not sure she realizes it’s the prince, but she does understand that her rival’s getting chummy with royalty.

Min-hwa leads Bo-kyung and her court ladies in a game of Marco Polo. Hyung-sun takes advantage of the moment to approach Yeon-woo, acting as messenger, and asks if she’s Yeom’s sister. Thinking she’s about to be in trouble, Yeon-woo lies and answers no.

Min-hwa sees Hyung-sun lurking and grabs him before he can hasten away, asking where Yeom is. He blurts out that a football game is in progress before catching himself, and that, naturally, Gives Her Ideas.

The three girls make their way to the game, and Min-hwa immediately picks out Yeom in the crowd. She moons after him, by Yeon-woo’s eyes are drawn to Hwon, who has a moment of glory in scoring the first point of the game. Bo-kyung notices the prince as well, her ambitions about to grow bigger.

The queen dowager asks Nok-young for her evaluation on the girls, pleased at the reply that her wishes will come to fruition. The queen dowager is satisfied, but Nok-young leaves wondering, “What joke of Fate is this?” The one who is suited to be queen cannot occupy the queen’s quarters, while the one who is not suited to be queen is fated to do just that.

Nok-young thinks, “Two moons and two suns… and the smell of Death.”

While playing, Hwon trips over a player and sprawls hard on the ground, leading all to gasp in shock. A guard orders the terrified offender apprehended, but Hwon steps in and declares that they should be playing a fair game, and no one is to clear his path or purposely let him have the ball. Yeon-woo is impressed.

A court lady arrives and urges the princess to head back to her quarters (Min-hwa replies idly, “That’s all right, the king’s on my side,” spoken like a true daddy’s girl) and the three girls turn to go. Yeon-woo takes one last look at the field, and Yang-myung cheerfully smiles up at her — only to realize she doesn’t see him, because she’s staring at the prince behind him.

Disappointed, Yang-myung thinks to himself, “I don’t care if everybody else becomes the prince’s people — as long as you would become mine.”

The princess’s entourage crosses paths with King Seongjo’s, and Min-hwa happily chirps to Daddy that she’s made friends and likes Yeon-woo especially. Cringe. I love how candid and sunny Min-hwa is, but girl could use a few lessons in tactful politicking. Everybody is tense at the implication, especially the fathers of both girls — Minister Yoon sees that his daughter has been sidelined, and Minister Heo sees the dangers of too much outward favor.

The king asks the girls to be good friends to the princess, then adds a word of advice using a figure of speech about a palace tree. He asks whether they understand the meaning, addressing Bo-kyung first. She apologizes for not knowing, saying that her father taught her that scholarly learning was the province of men, and the king finds her response acceptable.

Then he asks Yeon-woo, who answers correctly; it’s a saying about not revealing even what kind of trees grow near the palace. Ergo: Keep your mouth shut about court matters.

Yang-myung makes his greeting to the indifferent king, and frankly Seongjo’s cold harshness toward his son makes me unable to find him the least bit likable.

He’s here to make a request of the king — his first, only, and last request. He confesses that there is a young woman he cares for, and if the king has any thought to arranging Yang-myung’s marriage, he would like to make his choice known. Yang-myung screws his eyes shut and awaits his father’s cold rejection, only to have the king ask for her name. He stutters and gives Yeon-woo’s name, incredulous but hopeful, and the king says he will take it into consideration.

Yang-myung’s excitement is adorable and — because we know which way the wind is blowing on this match — heartbreaking.

That evening, the Heo family gathers and asks Yeon-woo what she thought of her first day in the palace. She answers, “It was good.” Mom: “That’s all?” Yeon-woo: “Yes.” She declines to explain any more, throwing back the saying about palace trees. Haha. Dad gives a hearty laugh at her cheek.

There’s some adorable family repartee as Dad and daughter have their tight-knit moment of praising each other, and Mom jokes that she’s sad to be left out. So she turns to Yeom and they have their own mama-son moment. Cute.

Yeon-woo finds Seol outside, who’s practicing her sword skills with a wooden stick. She asks for advice about “somebody” who was sent a letter from “somebody else” and doesn’t understand its meaning. She relays Hwon’s words about sending a person for her, and martial-minded Seol answers that it sounds like a threat. HA.

Yeon-woo confesses that she lied when the messenger came for her, and Seol exclaims that that’s the worst thing she could have done — she’s proven herself to be a coward AND a liar. HAHA.

As Yeon-woo mulls this over, she imagines Hwon in her courtyard again. He addresses her with a smile, asking if she really thinks he means to threaten her. He asks if she’d agree to meet with him, and she says shyly that she does want to see him.

She asks if he’ll send his messenger to her again, but that’s when Dream Hwon disappears, leaving her hanging.

Minister Yoon is not happy with the way things are rolling at the palace, and he asks Bo-kyung if she did anything wrong, ready to blame her for not being able to get the princess to like her. Bo-kyung says indignantly that everybody’s on Yeon-woo’s side, and that the princess automatically likes her because she likes Yeon-woo’s brother. Even a royal relative sent her a letter.

Minister Yoon asks for the name, and she tells him it was Lee Hwon. I still don’t think she realizes it’s the prince, although his last name indicates he’s of the royal family.

Minister Yoon takes this news to the queen dowager, who is amused at the evidence of puppy love but also sees that Minister Heo is increasingly becoming an obstacle to their purposes. She’s dismissive of the prince’s crush, but Minister Yoon sees the threat now that the king has also shown his favor toward Yeon-woo. He urges the queen dowager to hurry their plans to marry off the prince.

Bo-kyung arrives at the palace the next day with new resolve, determined to find a way to stick this time. Her entrance is intercepted by Hyung-sun, who has determined that she must be the Heo girl, since Yeon-woo said she wasn’t. Oh noes! He’s here to take her to the prince secretly, and of course Bo-kyung is willing to comply.

Hwon awaits his visitor in the secret meeting place, and goes through a practice run of turning and smiling to best impress the girl. Omg, this is cracking me up, it’s so cute. He even giggles to himself in anticipation, then hastily takes his opening pose at the sound of footsteps.

Hwon keeps his back turned (nooooo!) as he addresses Bo-kyung, thinking she’s Yeon-woo. He confirms that he is the prince, then turns… but her head is bowed and he’s nervous so he continues, “I don’t know why, but after that day I couldn’t forget your face. After hearing you would be the princess’s companion, I wanted to see you again.”

Bo-kyung smiles happily and raises her eyes… and he’s floored. He demands to know who she is, which naturally confuses her, and he cuts her off to apologize and say he was mistaken. I think there’s a palace official who’s about to get his butt royally kicked.

Hwon glares at Hyung-sun and storms off, leaving Bo-kyung to puzzle this over. She’s seen by the court lady who delivered the letter previously…which hints at future complications.

Min-hwa and Yeon-woo make good-fortune bracelets, and the princess confides that she’s going to give hers to Yeom. Yeon-woo says she was going to give hers to him, too, and Min-hwa gasps, “No! I’ll give this one to your brother, so you give yours to mine. That’s fair, is it not?” Or… you could both give them to your own brothers. But I guess there’s no fun in that. Min-hwa offers to play gift-messenger, and Yeon-woo insists on making hers over, since this one’s too shabby for the prince.

Bo-kyung joins her companions, and deduces that the prince must have been trying to see Yeon-woo. But outside, the court ladies busily gossip that the prince and Bo-kyung were seen together, and this conversation is overheard by the queen, who demands an explanation.

Hwon berates Hyung-sun for the mix-up, while Hyung-sun defends himself since the girl lied about her identity. Hwon asks why she’d do that, since there’s absolutely no reason for her to avoid him. Is there?

To make sense of it, then? A brain diagram to analyze Yeon-woo’s thoughts:

HAHAHA. (Korean media/fandom loves brain diagrams, which always pop up online for various actors and characters. Here’s one example.)

According to Hyung-sun’s calculations, Yeom occupies seventy percent of Yeon-woo’s boy-related thoughts. Growing up with such an outstanding brother, most other boys don’t even land on her radar. Hwon bows his head in dismay.

Furthermore, she will have been exposed to the substantial charms of her brother’s study buddies. Cheery Yang-myung therefore occupies twenty percent, and Woon the remaining ten percent. The latter he calls a cha-gwol-nam (cold palace man), which is hysterical: it’s the Joseon equivalent to the slang term cha-do-nam, or cold city man. Oh man, pop culture cheekiness in a sageuk? It’s gold.

Hwon is discouraged, but he asks after the last dot in Yeon-woo’s headspace, only to hear, “It is you, prince.” Hahahaha. Hwon protests the tininess of his presence in her brain, and Hyung-sun hurriedly explains that it’s just because of their crossed wires and misunderstandings.

Hwon is so irritated that he tells him to face the other way: “I can’t stand to look at you!”

But bad news: Hwon is brought before the irate king, who demands an explanation of the rumors that he was off meeting the Yoon girl in secret. Hwon says that the meeting happened, but was a mistake. Or, rather, he has feelings for the princess’s companion and tried to meet her, but it’s not Minister Yoon’s daughter — it’s Minister Heo’s. The king recalls Yang-myung’s wife request with an Ohhh, crap look on his face.

The king cuts off Hwon’s explanation and says he’ll pretend that confession of affection didn’t happen. He scolds Hwon, pointing out that his thoughtless behavior could put that girl in the middle of political conflict. Thus he’ll let this incident slide, but the prince had better watch himself.

As the girls ready their departures, Bo-kyung is feeling thoroughly disgruntled and almost snaps at Yeon-woo’s innocent comment. Recalling herself at the last moment, Bo-kyung decides to twist things around and shares a “secret” — that she met the prince earlier, who admitted to admiring her from afar. Oh no, poor crushed teenage heart.

The queen dowager has started pushing for the selection of Hwon’s bride, and the king presents the issue to his council. It is decided that all unmarried girls between the ages of 12 and 16 are to be temporarily forbidden from marriage, so they can be presented as candidates for the prince’s spouse.

Tonight is host to an end-of-year ceremony at the palace, and the prince dawdles while looking over his flowerpot and asks Hyung-sun what flower is sprouting from it. Hyung-sun declares that it’s not a flower, but a type of lettuce. Hwon mulls this over, wondering what that means — another puzzle between them — but sighs, “Now I won’t be able to hear that answer, ever.” He orders the plant removed.

So when he heads out for the ceremony and finally sees Yeon-woo, face to face, he looks at her with a cold, blank face. His father’s words of warning — that his actions could end up hurting her — ring clear in his head, and Hwon walks on without a word.

At Seongsucheong, the shamans’ building, Nok-young prepares her team for the ceremony. This is a yearly occurrence enacted to drive out the ghost that reportedly resides in the former quarters of Prince Uiseong (the king’s half-brother who was killed in Episode 1, on the queen dowager’s orders).

It’s a ritual, but also a party, and palace officials enjoy food and drink while the shamans do their work. All of our main characters are present at court, and Yang-myung smiles at the sight of Yeon-woo… who looks wistfully off in the prince’s direction. Oof, this hurts already and we’ve only just begun.

Hwon steals a glance at Yeon-woo but keeps his stern face on, and Yang-myung can read the situation well enough to feel the blow.

Nok-young takes her place at the center of the ritual dance, which somehow transports her to a gravesite. Ahri’s?

As Yeon-woo watches the dance, she hears a voice warning her that this is is “not a Fate you can handle.” It’s Nok-young, telling her to cut ties now, because this is her only chance to escape.

Yeon-woo looks around curiously, wandering into the crowd, trying to find the source of these words. Time slows almost to a crawl as she sees Nok-young standing ominously before her, talk-thinking these warnings directly into her head: “You must flee while you can.”

Then time resumes and Nok-young is gone. A huge masked figure steps into her line of sight, scaring Yeon-woo into dropping the bracelet she’d made for Hwon. The masked figure takes her hand and leads her away, and the two are spotted by Yang-myung, who follows.

Once they’re in private, he takes off the mask, revealing Hwon’s sad face. He tells her, “Do you recognize me?” She nods. He asks, “Tell me who I am.”

She answers, “This country’s…” He finishes the thought, “…prince, Lee Hwon.”

There’s surprise in her reaction, but also youthful hope and thrill. The moment is marked by fireworks being set off in celebration, and Hwon repeats her words from their first meeting, asking if she truly wants him to forget her: “I’m sorry. I tried to, but I couldn’t forget you.”

Then flower blossoms flutter down around them, just like that first time.

And watching from a distance is Yang-myung, crushed.

 
COMMENTS

I make jokes about Bo-kyung being the font of all evil, but I do almost feel sorry for her. Almost. There was enough that happened in Episode 3 to justify her bitterness, because it’s hard enough to be a teenager and make friends in any time and age, but to be burdened with your father’s grand expectations? Cut out of the friendship loop before you were even given a chance? Those setbacks are understandably hard to bear. Yeon-woo seems like the golden child who gets everything she wants without trying, and Bo-kyung is the girl who schemes and plans and never gets what she wants. She is not entirely undeserving of sympathy.

In fact, I wish this was the way we first met Bo-kyung, rather than watching her being so snide and sly in the Seol-beating incident. I get why we were meant to see that side of her first, because then we get to see firsthand the dark energy Nok-young senses in her. But from a character standpoint, I would’ve liked to have seen Bo-kyung entering the palace on a level playing field, and then turning dark.

In that case — if we saw Bo-kyung driven to malicious acts through a progression of hurt feelings, jealousy, and ambition — the drama would be more about showing us that you create your own dark fate by making bad choices (like, say, Myun in The Princess’s Man). Characters in that mold retain their humanity and make for interestingly conflicted personalities. Instead, the drama opts for the Fate line about being good or bad on an intrinsic level, so much so that a shaman can tell at first sight what your nature is. I get how that symbology comes into play in a fantasy drama like this, but I personally tire of the Fate Made Me Do It line of reasoning, which always strikes me as an excuse to be a bad person.

In any case, I adore Min-hwa. In a drama that I suspect is going to drag out the Fated Moon/Sun dichotomy for a while to come, the assertive, forthright princess is a breath of fresh air. Because I fear I’ll need that fresh air to help recover from heartbreak once the brotherly love is put to the test. No, not the bromance!

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122 January 12, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 4

by girlfriday

It’s gettin’ good… conflicts heat up, stakes get raised, and dark clouds start to gather overhead. Things take a surprising upturn, but you know what that means in dramaland… there’s a big dip ahead, so hold onto your hats.

Ratings: Moon hits another high with 23.4%, Captain follows with 9.8%, and Wild Romance with 6.2%.

 
EPISODE 4 RECAP

Prince Hwon and Yeon-woo stare into each other’s eyes, not realizing that they’ve got an audience – not just Yang-myung, but Bo-kyung too, who cries from a distance. They ask each other about their names, his for Sun and hers for Rain, and Prince Hwon asks cautiously why she’s been avoiding him. Is it because she dislikes him?

She quickly stammers no, and he adorably turns to her with this giant smile, “So… you don’t dislike me?” She realizes that it’s pretty much the same as admitting that she does and turns away, embarrassed. He prods her for the truth, and she says she knows that he likes someone else, naming Bo-kyung.

He quickly clears up the misunderstanding that it was a mistake because Yeon-woo lied about who she was, and her face lights up. He suddenly realizes something and leans in close, “Is it possible? Are you… jealous?” Hee. They’re so cute.

He tells her about the pending royal order for girls of marrying age to be declared as candidates for the crown prince to choose as his wife. He tells her that he’ll wait for her, making it clear that he intends to marry her. Her eyes widen, and she smiles.

They stare moony-eyed again until the cherry blossoms stop falling, and Prince Hwon looks up in annoyance, like somehow nature is screwing with his romantic mood. But then he gives an awkward cough, and the camera pulls back to show his aide, Hyung-sun, perched on the roof above them, with a bag of petals and a fan. HAHAHHAHA.

How much do I love that Princey goes to these lengths to be romantic, and that his poor lackey actually climbs on top of the roof to comply? At the signal, he dutifully sends more petals flying down below. I love this low-rent non-mystical version of romance. So cute.

The next morning Prince Hwon stares endlessly at his lettuce plant like a lovesick doofus, as Hyung-sun pats himself on the back for not really throwing it away. He says, self-satisfied, that he knew the prince would want it back.

The prince muses that Hyung-sun doesn’t know the reason why Yeon-woo gave him a lettuce plant, but to his amazement, Hyung-sun does know, and rattles off an insightful answer: that it’s to signify waiting and the people of this nation.

Hyung-sun explains that no matter how much the prince might be anxious to grow a plant and find out what kind of flower it is, how could it compare to the waiting of farmers, who toil over crops that will feed them? The meaning of the plant is to work hard and wait faithfully.

Prince Hwon gapes: “How could YOU possibly know that?” Hyung-sun sighs, “Because it’s now the fourteenth time you’ve told me that lettuce story!” HA. The prince doesn’t even remember, and Hyung-sun says he’s been repeating it ad nauseum any chance he gets. I think Princey needs at least one other friend. He’s gonna tire this one out.

The prince just glosses right over his whining, wondering how moved he must be at Yeon-woo’s words. Hyung-sun gripes, sure, once or twice, but at fourteen… and then catches himself before making the prince angry. I hope this guy sticks around when we fast-forward in time.

The royal order gets posted through the streets, for girls of marrying age to declare themselves (and be restricted from marrying anyone else). Yang-myung sees the notice and his face grows pale.

At his lesson with Yeom, Prince Hwon asks if Yeon-woo has declared herself Bachelorette Number Seven Thousand yet, and Yeom says no. He gets on his knees to beg the prince to let his sister off the hook. Yeom: “Because you cannot be together.”

Whoa. That’s bold. I wonder if he knows something mystical, or if he’s just being a protective oppa who doesn’t want to risk a tragic future for his sister. Prince Hwon refuses, and Yeom continues to plead, willing to accept any punishment for himself in return.

The prince stands up angrily, shouting, “NO! I can’t, because… ” All the guards outside lean in, Yeom holds his breath, and the prince blurts out, “… because I LIKE YOU!” Pffft! It’s pronoun-less, the way he says it, but because he doesn’t say the Yeon-woo part out loud, it comes out sounding like a declaration of love… to Yeom. HEE.

Yeom freezes, slackjawed. Prince Hwon buries his face in his hands, and runs out, mortified. Hyung-sun runs around trying to do damage control, explaining to the guards that it’s not Heo Yeom that the prince likes. He tells Yeom, “It’s not you! I can’t tell you, but it’s someone who looks juuuuuuust like you, but is a female… person… ” Ha, you’re really not making it better.

He chastises the prince for not being specific about Yeon-woo, and Prince Hwon sighs, wondering how he’s supposed to declare his feelings for her to someone else before he’s even said it to her. Aw, true, but I think she pretty much knows by now.

He pouts that he thought he and Yeom were bros, but clearly, he doesn’t think the prince a fitting match for his sister. Hyung-sun explains that it’s not that he thinks the prince isn’t good enough. It’s in moments like this we realize how naïve the prince still is.

Yeon-woo’s parents argue over the very same matter, as Minister Heo writes Yeon-woo’s papers for Bachelorette Thunderdome. Her mother argues that it’s pointless to send Yeon-woo there when they know that Minister Yoon’s daughter will be chosen as the prince’s wife.

What she’s really worried about is if Yeon-woo gets chosen, but not as wife. Basically there’s a chance that she could be “marked” as his, unable to marry anyone else, but unable to marry him, either drifting through the world as nothing or taken in as a concubine. It’s the cruelest fate because it’s neither here nor there, just a life alone and in between. But Minister Heo refuses to disobey the law.

Hyung-sun explains to the prince that Yeom is trying to protect his sister – if she is chosen as one of the final group, but then not married, she (and all the other maidens) get ousted from the palace and live the rest of their lives marked as royal concubines, unable to marry anyone else, and eventually forgotten.

Hyung-sun adds that some are brought into the lower palace to live there as concubines – and Hwon realizes that Yang-myung’s mother was one such maiden. Hyung-sun confirms that the king took pity on her and brought her into the palace.

The prince is quick on the uptake and zeroes in on what’s important: it all rests on the queen dowager, who will surely pick Minister Yoon’s daughter Bo-kyung to be his wife. He goes straight to his father, and pleads for him to go over the queen dowager’s head. But the king declares that there are some things even a king cannot go over.

Prince Hwon asks for a fair selection process, so as to stop the line of royal power in one clan. (You wouldn’t think it’d be a crazy thing to ask to participate in choosing your own wife, but it’s not something that’s considered his domain.) We don’t hear the king’s answer, but later, the prince sends Hyung-sun to fetch a Sungkyunkwan scholar in secret.

Yang-myung arrives to see the king, and reminds him of his promise to let him marry Yeon-woo. The king says he promised no such thing, just that he’d think about it. Growing panicked, Yang-myung asks if this is why Prince Hwon’s marriage proceedings have been hurried – has he perhaps asked to marry the same girl?

The king simply says that if she’s selected, then she’s selected. But Yang-myung blurts out that everyone knows Bo-kyung has been groomed to be the queen, so what happens to Yeon-woo? “If she is not chosen, can I marry her then?”

The king roars back angrily – he knows that if she isn’t chosen from the final group that she is still the prince’s woman. Yang-myung knows only too well what fate that means for Yeon-woo, and asks how he can sit by and let that happen to her. Ugh, you’re already breaking my heaaaaaaart. I love that he doesn’t care and would marry her anyway.

The king tells him in no uncertain terms that he will consider it treason. Damn, are you really gonna turn both your sons into tragic romeos for one girl?

Yang-myung storms out in tears, and has a vision of his childhood days with Prince Hwon. He says in voiceover, addressing Little Prince in his memory:

Yang-myung: Don’t laugh that way, Crown Prince, you who takes so easily in your hands everything I have tried to have, everyone I have ever wanted. Please stop smiling that way. So that I can freely hate you…

And then imaginary Little Prince trips and falls, and without a second thought, Yang-myung runs to catch him, forgetting his angry tears. Gah, that kills me. He looks up into the child’s eyes as he continues in voiceover: “If you can’t allow even that, then please quiet this violent wind that is blowing through my heart.”

Oh just stab me in the heart, why don’t you. It would hurt less.

The king is not entirely cold, feeling heavy-hearted over Yang-myung’s visit. He decides to go see Princess Min-hwa to comfort himself with her laughter.

But she’s busy staking out her crush, and primps as she sets herself in Yeom’s path. But he absentmindedly walks right past her, deflating her grand entrance. She won’t be deterred that easily though, and runs to block his path with arms wide open.

She gives him the bracelet she made and asks if he has a wife. He says no, and she literally squeals. Ha. How about a girlfriend? Nope. She jumps up and down. Ha, this guy’s getting two love declarations in one day, and from siblings, no less?

She tells him that she’s the one who got the riddle right – the eyelid one – and demonstrates. He smiles at her, and she gets struck dumb in the middle of her sentence, “You’re pretty…” Ha. She runs off in embarrassment.

She finds the king approaching her chamber and she starts to run to his open arms, but then stops mid-way, choosing for the adult, regal greeting instead. She tells him that she’s not a child anymore, and her father laughs heartily.

She sits him down to tell him that she wants to marry Yeom, which is kind of hilarious, just because the king’s had a full day of all his children requesting to be married to Minister Heo’s kids, one right after the other.

He tells her that she can’t because Yeom is someone destined for greater things. She doesn’t get it – if he’s so awesome, then that makes him an even better match for her. The king explains that marrying her would keep him from being a civil servant, in essence trapping him from serving the greater good with his outstanding skills. Aw, harsh lesson for the little princess.

She gasps, asking if that means she has to marry someone ugly and stupid. Ha. The king says no, she just can’t marry Yeom, because he’s someone destined to guide the future king. She wails that she won’t marry anyone but him, and her father sternly tells her no. He softens to explain gently that marrying Yeom is like breaking off his wings, and there is no more tragic a fate than that.

Well gee, daddy dearest, wouldn’t it be nice if you could transfer that same logic over to his sister Yeon-woo? I know, not in this century. But the parallel is clearly on purpose – when it’s Yeom, it’s considered a tragedy, but when it’s Yeon-woo, it’s just a fate she’s supposed to accept.

Yeom comes home that night and finds Seol practicing her sword skills in the yard. She quickly hides the practice sword behind her back, but he tells her that she’s getting better. He tells her to look up at his face, and asks if there were a woman who looked just like him, who would it be? I’m beginning to think you’re not so smart, genius.

Seol says Yeon-woo, of course, and he confirms his suspicions. He sits Yeon-woo down to ask how the prince even knows her, and if she feels the same way. She doesn’t deny it, and says she understands her brother’s worry, but has no plans to back out.

He warns her that if people find out about the prince’s feelings for her, she could become a sacrificial lamb (in the clans’ war for power). He tells her to feign sick and be dismissed from the selection process, but she refuses. She confesses that her heart already belongs to the prince. Yeom’s heart sinks.

Prince Hwon has Sungkyunkwan’s class president dragged to the palace in the middle of the night for a secret meeting. He reminds him of a Sungkyunkwan scholar’s duties to guide the nation, and asks pointedly if he thinks it right that the selection of his wife be used by one family to secure power.

The next day the scholar leads the other students in a demonstration outside the palace walls. They send their protests to the king. As the king reads their scrolls, we flash back to the rest of his conversation with the prince.

Prince Hwon had declared it an abuse of power, and asked that a change begin with the selection of his bride. What cracks me up is that I do believe that the prince feels strongly about egalitarianism, but it’s not exactly the purest motive here. I mean, he wants to marry one specific girl, though yes, in a larger sense what he’s fighting against is the queen dowager’s clan continuing a line of power through his marriage.

The king had asked to be convinced, and now back in the present, he smiles to himself, impressed at the prince’s tactic of mobilizing Sungkyunkwan scholars to move the king. The student demonstration lasts for days, and the royal assembly debates the matter.

Many argue that the king oughtn’t bend his ear so easily, but Minister Heo speaks up that a king should not take the representatives of his people lightly, adding that if the law is just, it will not be toppled by their protests.

The king answers that he has considered the scholars’ arguments, and reached a decision. He declares that the selection of the queen-to-be will ruled fairly, and by a council of four, adding that the entire process will be moved outside of the queen dowager’s domain, essentially stripping the her of her monopoly claim.

She comes storming in to argue with the king, and insists that her choice for queen was because she chose the right girl, not by blood but by her own virtues. The king answers that the girl should hold up fine then, if that’s the case. HA.

She fumes at his insistence on circumventing her, but he counters that the people are united in this, and they cannot be ignored – “There are more than just fathers by blood. If the king is the father of the people, then the people are the father of the king.”

Furious, she reminds him that she and her clan have protected his right to the throne. She asks if he’s forgotten, but he somberly says he hasn’t, and how could he? Flashback to Minister Yoon killing his brother in cold blood.

Trembling, he reminds her point-blank that he could never forget what horrible thing she and Minister Yoon did to Prince Uiseong to secure his crown. She stirs in shock to realize how much he knows.

She screams that if he’s known this whole time, he really shouldn’t forget what he owes her, for keeping his hands blood-free. Yeesh. Well that’s ONE way to look at it, but I can think of a few more, lady.

He tells her not to extend her greed any further. Damn. I know it’s a long ways from her final comeuppance, but it’s still satisfying. But mostly at this point it’s just fuel for the villainous fire, because who knows what scheme she’ll come up with now.

Yeon-woo’s mother trains her for the big day, hilariously teaching her to bow by falling with a loud thump and eat her noodles with a slurping sound, and declare her hobbies as reading and writing, not silly things like needlepoint. Yeon-woo laughs, totally onto Mom’s thinly-veiled attempt to get her disqualified in round one.

Yeon-woo tells her that no matter what, she wants to make her father proud, and tells Mom not to worry. Mom just hugs her tight with a long sigh. The next day the royal proceedings begin, as young ladies file into the palace from far and wide to greet the king.

Yang-myung comes by to see Yeon-woo late that night, dressed in travel clothes. She starts to snap at him for coming by so late, but then sees that he’s leaving again. He says he just came to see her face before he goes, and leans in to take a good look.

He mutters that he’s got a good look at her ugly face now, so he can go. Keh. She asks if he’ll return this time. That stops him in his tracks, and he turns, “Do you want to come with me?” *gasp*

He tells her that Bo-kyung will be chosen as the queen, and at best Yeon-woo will be the king’s concubine, or forever forbidden from entering the palace, and forced to live alone. “If you want to run away, if you wanted to… I could throw away my birthright, my name, and protect you.”

Swoon. Could he be any sweeter? She doesn’t think he’s serious, and tells him that his joke has gone too far. He heartbreakingly laughs and agrees with her. He asks if she doesn’t have any regrets about the road she’s chosen. Without hesitating, she says no.

So he gives her a good cheer about sending Bo-kyung down with one blow, and playfully flicks her on the forehead one last time, and walks away. He runs into Woon on his way out, waiting for him.

Yang-myung tells him that he’s leaving again: “This tree wants to stay in place, but the wind keeps blowing. Before I fall or break, it’s time to go.” Woon can’t argue, knowing what he’s up against with the king.

Yang-myung looks up at the sky, “But that moon, no matter where I go, it’ll follow me, won’t it?”

Ten days later, we’re down to three bachelorettes in the final round. The king sits them down for a question: if they were to express what the king is in terms of money, what would be his worth?

The first girl answers a hundred thousand, no a million nyang, stammering that she doesn’t know money very well. Bo-kyung answers that there is no such silver on this earth to measure up to the king’s greatness – that he should ask her again when they have figured out a way to measure the height of the sky or the depth of the ocean. The queen dowager smiles.

Yeon-woo’s answer? One nyang. Everyone gasps.

Prince Hwon tries to distract himself with archery as the proceedings go on, but he keeps missing his target. Finally Hyung-sun comes running up. The prince prods him for the verdict…

The bride-to-be bows to the queen dowager, and raises her head. It’s Yeon-woo. Gah, I’ve never been so relieved in my life. The king and queen look on with smiles at the princess, their future daughter-in-law, pleased. The queen dowager accepts the bow with a rigid expression, fuming on the inside.

Flashback to Yeon-woo’s answer – that to someone who has ten thousand nyang, one nyang might not mean very much, but the poor know the full worth of one precious nyang. The king is that one nyang, precious to all, and especially to those who have nothing. Moreover the worth of one nyang is equal among all people – that is, he is the same king to rich or poor.

Princess Min-hwa continues on a hunger strike, convinced she’d rather starve to death than not marry Yeom. She’s so cute. She wails and cries, pleading with anyone who will listen, to mother, to grandmother, to change the king’s mind.

Shaman Nok-young looks out at the night sky to see an ominous dark cloud descend over the moon.

Yeon-woo takes up residence in the Silver Moon Building until the royal wedding. Her new attendant leaves her a handkerchief, saying that she’ll need it, and leaves her for the night. Once alone, Yeon-woo realizes how much she misses her mother, and starts to cry.

She reaches for the handkerchief, realizing that this is what she meant, and cries into it. But when she opens it, there’s a message inside from Prince Hwon: “You aren’t crying because you miss your family, are you? If you are, look outside your window.”

She opens it up to find him looking up at her. She quickly tells him that it’s not allowed and closes it back up, only to be disappointed when he disappears like she asked. She comes running out to find him, where he’s standing there ready, with a little makeshift theater.

He smiles, “Are you done crying now?” So cute. He assures her that he got special permission from the king, and points to her seat. Hyung-sun’s head pops up in the box, along with puppets of the prince and Yeon-woo, and her face lights up.

Nok-young gets called to see the queen dowager, who orders her to kill Yeon-woo. Nok-young reminds her that she serves the king, and now Yeon-woo is someone whom she is to protect. But the queen dowager calmly threatens Seongsucheong, the shamans’ domain, which would lose all power if she pulled her support.

She orders her to use her black magic to kill Heo Yeon-woo. She stumbles back to her room in a daze, asking Ahri if she herself was the dark force threatening Yeon-woo. What is she supposed to protect – Seongsucheong, or Yeon-woo?

She falls to the ground, and then ends up back at the same grave from her previous vision. A red ribbon marked with the characters for “two,” “human,” and “labor,” makes her gasp she lets it fall from her hand. The characters disappear and then reappear together as one character – for “shaman” – and flies out of her hand and into the sky.

As Prince Hwon and Yeon-woo watch the puppet show, Nok-young repeats the same destiny she saw for Yeon-woo – that she will suffer for being too close to the sun, but is fated to stay by its side. “Do I have no choice but to kill her?”

 
COMMENTS

It seems clear from her vision that Nok-young will be the one to change Yeon-woo’s path from princess to shaman. The converging of the characters is a way to indicate that she needn’t choose Yeon-woo or Seongsucheong, but that making her a shaman is a way to save both. It’s a fate we knew from the beginning, but it still kills me that they gave us this glimpse of what could have been – that she was rightfully chosen to be the queen and could have had such a different life. Though it’s bittersweet, I like the setup of having her chosen, of giving her a rightful place, before ripping it away from her. It’s crueler, but dramatically much more powerful.

Though the moon/sun symbology is already growing tiresome (really, we geddit), the character parallels are moving, beyond the simplistic metaphors. The fate of the son who loses everything to his brother simply because of his birthright is tragic, sure, but the fact that Yang-myung loves that brother despite it all is what breaks my heart and makes me love the character.

What I like about this drama is that every political machination has a direct relationship to our core characters, so that nothing feels outside of the central conflict. It’s something I encounter rarely in sageuks, where there’s often entire subplots of moving little characters into position for what seems like forever, until the real plot emerges. Here everyone is pointed directly at the central conflict of the moment, and each character has a different set of interests to protect. It keeps everything moving along swiftly, and makes nothing feel extraneous.

Despite the tragedy that awaits, I love how well-suited Prince Hwon and Yeon-woo are for each other. They each approach the problem of their union by appealing to the same belief in what the king means to the people. It shows a similar understanding of the world, despite their vastly different backgrounds, and as the Sungkyunkwan scholar murmurs to himself during the student demonstration, it bodes well for the future king. As it is for Yeom, perhaps Hwon and Yeon-woo’s love is something that will be sacrificed for the greater good, though of course the dreamer in me holds out hope.

 
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159 January 18, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 5

by girlfriday

Guh, it’s getting so gooood. We get the dark turn that sets the stage for the rest of the series, in a swift episode full of some heartbreaking moments and some stellar acting. It’s going to be just as hard to say goodbye to these young actors as the children they play, because this episode marks the end of their youthful innocence.

 
EPISODE 5 RECAP

Yeon-woo begins her grueling princess training, which involves learning to bow without making a candle flicker and walking with plates on her arms. She cringes adorably as plates come crashing down, one after the other.

Prince Hwon sends her a snack and a letter, saying that he wishes he could see her every day, but he’ll have to wait and cherish the anticipation of seeing her as his bride.

That night, Shaman Nok-young waits, and the queen dowager comes to Seongsucheong shrouded in black to give the kill order. Nok-young begins a spell, and raises a dark cloud of smoke. Wait, are you raising the Lost Monster to kill Yeon-woo? Because I don’t have five seasons to wait for her ineffectual demise.

The black cloud rises up and finds Yeon-woo asleep in her chamber. It wraps around her neck and chokes her, as she crawls to the door and struggles for breath. But she collapses before she can call out for help, and the cloud dissipates, leaving her lying on the ground unconscious.

The queen dowager asks if it is done, and Nok-young explains that it’s beyond her power to mess with the balance of the universe – she can’t kill someone whose death is already determined by the fates. The cloud was to give Yeon-woo an illness, grave enough to get her ousted from the palace.

The queen dowager wants to see her dead, but decides that maybe this is better all around, since killing her now would just raise suspicion. She agrees that this is a satisfactory method, that is, if Nok-young sees it through to the end, otherwise it’s both their necks.

And then she goes to the neighboring chamber to greet a trembling Princess Min-hwa, who has witnessed everything. It’s clear the queen dowager wanted her to, though for what purpose we have yet to find out.

The queen dowager says in that creepy fake-nice way that now Princess Min-hwa can have everything that she wants.

Days pass and Yeon-woo’s condition worsens, and the king meets with his assembly to discuss the matter. They argue that she be sent out of the palace at once, afraid of what contagious disease she may have brought inside the palace walls.

The king wants to wait, but Minister Yoon interjects, arguing that the future queen who is to bear the next line of kings can’t be of ill health. He takes it further to imply that it’s an illness she and her family knew about and that they must be punished for keeping it secret.

He names her father Minister Heo, and ever her brother Yeom as culprits. Oh damn, so this is what the queen dowager meant. If they can use this to oust Yeon-woo’s entire family from the palace, then Princess Min-hwa no longer has obstacles to keep her from marrying Yeom.

There’s nothing the king can do to stop the fear of a contagious disease that threatens the royal family, and Yeon-woo is escorted out of the palace, along with the order to burn everything she touched.

Prince Hwon hears the news and comes rushing to see her, eyes bloodshot from crying. Guards stand in his way to keep him from going near her, and he demands to be let in, screaming that she is to be his wife.

Yeon-woo gets led out and sees Prince Hwon trying to get past the guards. He calls out her name as tears fall, and she looks up at him, broken-hearted. He screams and screams, crying for her, as she turns back one last time to look at him before she’s led away. *sob*

The queen dowager watches it all unfold, as she thinks back to Minister Yoon’s warning that Prince Hwon is not just a silly child, as she assumes. He reminds her that he mobilized Sungkyunkwan, and that he understands how politics works.

So she gives him a talk, to urge him to forget Yeon-woo. He can’t, of course, but she reminds him that this is all his fault. He looks up, startled. If he hadn’t moved Sungkyunkwan, if he hadn’t been selfish, then Yeon-woo would just be a normal girl, living peacefully at home, and if she got sick, she’d just be tended to by her mother, without it having cataclysmic political implications.

She says that if Yeon-woo and her family, her father and her brother, all lose everything, it’s Prince Hwon’s fault. Grar, I hate that this guilt-tripping is totally working on him. She tells him to be quiet and do nothing – that the rules are there to protect him. She says pointedly that it’s the only way no one gets hurt.

Yeon-woo’s family gathers around her at home, and the doctor can’t figure out what’s wrong with her, calling it a ghost illness because her vitals are normal. Mom has a nervous breakdown as she pleads to trade her life for Yeon-woo’s, and collapses.

But then Nok-young arrives, claiming to Minister Heo that she was guided by the hand of god. He lets her inside to see Yeon-woo, and she tells him that it is indeed a mystical illness.

Minister Yoon celebrates with his cohorts, who worry what might happen if Yeon-woo suddenly gets better. Yoon confidently tells them that she’ll never return to the palace alive. Outside, Bo-kyung overhears them with a look of terror.

She finds him later to ask if he’s going to kill Yeon-woo. He asks if she’s afraid of him, or if she feels sorry for Yeon-woo, and says that it’s her fate to die either way. Well yeah, we’ll all die, mister, but that’s hardly some foolproof logic for murder.

He tells her that if she wants to live in the palace and be by the prince’s side, then she needs to lose all guilt and sympathy. He teaches her to feed nothing but her ambition, and though this isn’t new for Bo-kyung, it’s clear that it’s the first time she’s seen that he’ll kill to get what he wants.

Nok-young tells Minister Heo that the only way to treat Yeon-woo is exorcism, to possess her with the spirit of a shaman in order to fight off the illness that’s possessing her. He asks if there isn’t a way to get rid of the disease, and she tells him that there is, but it will require a life in payment. He offers up his own, but she says that the life must be Yeon-woo’s.

The ministers gather before the king to urge that he replace the princess. Prince Hwon stews in his chamber, maddened by his powerlessness. Hyung-sun has to plead with him not to go creating a stir, which will only make things worse for him.

Prince Hwon sighs that without Yeon-woo and Yeom, and with Yang-myung gone, he’s totally alone; there’s no one on his side. And then he suddenly remembers Woon. He finds the swordsmen practicing, and pretends to be royally disgruntled over the soccer match the other day.

He asks who the high scorer was that day, acting like he’s going to take his bad mood out on the poor guy. They all point to Woon and one other guy, and Prince Hwon smiles to himself, and escorts them away. Haha. I love how smart he is.

The guards all sigh, saying that they didn’t take the prince for such a petty guy, griping that the soccer match was eons ago. They worry that their friends will end up “having to take their clothes off,” the common euphemism for taking the blame and getting fired.

Cut to: a naked guard, who literally had to take his clothes off. HA. This drama is so cute sometimes. The reason why he’s naked becomes clear when Yeon-woo opens her eyes to the sound of Prince Hwon calling her name.

She thinks it’s just a vision, but there he is, dressed in a royal guard’s uniform. Hee. He asks if she doesn’t recognize him, shedding a tear as he says it’s okay, as long as he can recognize her.

She asks if he’s real, and he smiles, wondering if she’s not dumb, and she finally smiles to realize that it’s not a hallucination. He gives her a hairpin, and she asks what it is. Prince Hwon: “It’s the moon that embraces the sun.” He explains that the prince is the red sun and his bride the white moon, hence the name he’s given it.

He tells her that she is the keeper of his heart, and to hurry her recovery and return to his side. She apologizes for mistaking him for a thief the day they met, and for misunderstanding his feelings after that.

She tells him that she was really happy to have met him. But it sounds like a goodbye, and his smile fades. He tells her with tears in his eyes that there will be many more happy days to come, so she needn’t say that.

Yeom and Woon stand guard outside, and Yeom frets over the danger in bringing the crown prince out like this. But Woon says it would be more dangerous to let him stew in worry and make himself sick. Heh.

They catch Seol eavesdropping on them and Yeom guesses that she must like Woon, since she’s so interested in martial arts and always spying on them. Woon says he thinks otherwise (and I think Woon’s right – it’s Yeom she likes).

On their way back, Prince Hwon calls Woon by his full name – Kim Jae-woon – and asks if he can call him Woon like Yeom and Yang-myung do. It’s so cute that he wants to be close to him like they are. He calls him Woon-ah, (aw) and thanks him.

He sighs that Yeon-woo is suffering and there’s nothing he can do, “Even as the prince of a nation… because I am the prince of a nation…”

Meanwhile Yang-myung travels and lives as a hunter, calling himself Soonjung Macho (present-day slang for an tough manly-looking guy who’s actually innocent on the inside). Kids ask what ‘ma-cho’ means and he makes up fake roots, ’cause it’s actually just macho. Pfft. [Here’s a song about it, from Infinity Challenge.]

He finds a fight club and decides to brawl, and gives the alias Soonjung Macho. The announcer hears it as Soonjung Chima, which means Innocent Skirt, and I’m dying right now.

He starts to fight but then is struck with the memory of Yeon-woo and the king’s declaration that there are some things he cannot aspire to have. He puts his fists down, letting the other guy beat him to a pulp, as if wanting to be numbed of his other pain.

Later he overhears that a new princess will be chosen and that Yeon-woo will probably die, and races back home, pleading for her to be alive.

Meanwhile, Minister Heo sends Yeom away, to keep him safe from contagion. Yeom argues that he can’t leave his sister and his family at a time like this, but Dad reminds him of his responsibility to the prince, which means Dad’s first responsibility is to keep him safe.

It’s probably an indication that he’s considering Nok-young’s offer to end Yeon-woo’s suffering. Yeom is forced to go, without a chance to say goodbye.

He asks Seol to send word if Yeon-woo looks for him. He starts to say that she should write him, but realizes she can’t, and Seol meekly tells him that she does know how to read and write – Yeon-woo taught her “because knowing words means you can read the world.”

He smiles, assured that Yeon-woo is in good hands, and asks her to keep Yeon-woo safe in his place. He pats her on the head as she cries, and he sets off.

But as soon as Seol turns around, Minister Heo introduces her to her new master. She asks if she did something wrong, and falls to her knees, crying for him not to sell her. He tells her that she didn’t do anything wrong, and she begs him, saying that she promised Yeom she’d protect Yeon-woo.

He promises her that it’s just for a little while until Yeon-woo gets better, and that he’ll come back for her. Aw, poor Seol.

Yeon-woo gets worse, seizing and coughing up blood. Minister Heo goes to Nok-young and she gives him medicine as she promised, swearing that it will let her die painlessly. She says to herself that she’s committing a grave sin against him, and that she’ll live the rest of her life repaying him.

He prepares the drug with a heavy heart, and tells his wife that he wants to do something for Yeon-woo as a father, even if it’s this. She thinks he means heating up her medicine, while he prepares to do the unthinkable.

Yeon-woo stirs awake and uses every ounce of her remaining strength to write Prince Hwon a letter. At the same time, he wakes up to a vision of her, sitting in his room. She asks if he knows why she gave him that potted cabbage.

He reminds her that she already told him, but she says there’s a hidden meaning as well: that she hoped he’d be curious about what plant might grow in it, and that it was her way of making him write her a reply. He laughs that she should’ve just said so.

She bows to him, and then he wakes up to an empty room.

Dad comes in with medicine for Yeon-woo, cooling it with his hands as he tears up. He tells her that he’s sorry, that he should’ve let her read all the books and do everything she ever wanted. He just thought there would be endless time.

She can either sense what that medicine is really for, or can read it on his face, and asks for it. “I want to take it and stop hurting.” He looks up at her, startled. Oof, this hurts my heart. Why does daddy-daughter stuff always turn me into a puddle of goo?

Hand trembling, he takes her up in his arms and brings the medicine to her lips. She drinks it and they both cry. He asks if it isn’t bitter. She says it is.

“Daddy will hold you, until you fall asleep.” I can’t see through my tears.

He finds the prince’s gift, the moon embracing the sun, in her hands, and she says she wants to fall asleep holding it. He calls out her name, and she tells him that she’s very tired, so she’ll sleep now.

He holds her close, and to himself, he cries that he’s sorry, and that he’ll follow her soon to the afterlife. She dies in his arms.

Mom clutches her and wails, and in the palace, Prince Hwon gets word that she went peacefully in her sleep.

He stumbles out, numb from shock. The guards stop him just outside, with orders to keep him here at all costs. He tries to fight his way through them, anger and tears finally rising to the surface.

He screams at them to let go of him, that he has something left to say to the princess. “I have something left to say to her! Yeon-woo-ya! Yeon-woo-ya! Let me go! I have something left to say to her! Yeon-woo-ya! Yeon-woo-ya!”

 
COMMENTS

Why is it still so crushing when I know she won’t really die? I expected her death to be sad, but this was buckets-of-tears sad. When Yeon-woo asks to die, to stop the pain, and her father holds her? That pretense between them that she’s just going to sleep is what does me in.

And not to mention Prince Hwon’s anguish in a different way, of having his love torn from him, realizing that being a prince means he’s powerless to protect the one he loves. I love that there’s such a range, from cute romantic moments, to such pain and loss.

I appreciate that we got to experience her death along with the characters as if it were real, rather than a quick magic trick to turn her. I suspect that Nok-young will somehow take her alone, which means everyone else will continue on believing her to be dead, which will define their lives from this moment on.

There are a lot of elements of this story that are blatantly obvious, from day one. But what they’ve managed to do is engage us with characters we care about, and focus on the emotional beats rather than the totally inevitable plot machinations. I find that I actually don’t care that I know what will happen, because I’m swept up in the moment. That said, I do find myself increasingly anxious for the future adult world, because that’s when the story will finally get beyond what we know will come to pass. It’s when the story stops being obvious that things get really interesting for me. Holding my breath…

 
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191 January 19, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 6

by javabeans

FINALLY! This is what we’ve all been waiting for. And holy moly! Ratings scored a hefty 29.3% for this episode — every episode thus far has been a new high, so we’ll see how long this steady climb can continue. (Apparently in the minute-by-minute ratings, the episode topped out at a 31.56% at Jung Il-woo’s first appearance. Ha. Why am I not surprised?)

SONG OF THE DAY

The Moon That Embraces the Sun OST – “시간을 거슬러” (Going against time) by Lyn.
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EPISODE 6 RECAP

Yeon-woo dies, leaving Hwon and her family grief-stricken. Yang-myung tears back into town just in time to see her coffin being buried, and he falls to the ground in tears.

Minister Yoon tells Bo-kyung to prepare to move to the palace, since she’ll be the prince’s bride now. Bo-kyung is unsettled as she asks her father, “Is she dead?” while thinking to herself the addendum, “Did you kill her?” Nice to know that at least she isn’t entirely sanguine about killing someone to get her way, even if the dark force is strong with this one.

But as she retires to her room, she recalls her father’s words of warning — that if she’s not ready to go this far, she shouldn’t harbor the ambitions in the first place. Basically: This is the big leagues, and we play hardball here. Get used to it or get out of the game.

Bo-kyung takes out the friendship bracelet Yeon-woo had made for Hwon but dropped at the ceremonial rites. Recalling how it felt to see the two lovebirds together, Dad’s words ring in her ear: “Remember the anger you feel when something has been stolen from you.”

Yang-myung comes to see Hwon, but it’s not comfort he offers. Instead, he asks what right Hwon has to ask after the burial, and her family. What did he do for Yeon-woo? “When she was cast out of the palace like a criminal, what did you do? When she was hovering between life and death, what did you do? When she was buried in the cold ground, what did you do?!”

Oof, this hurts, even though I understand his anger — his hurt at being without power and unable to do anything, watching someone with power not doing anything either.

Hwon yells at him to stop, but Yang-myung yells back that Hwon is the prince who has everything, like the king’s affection and the loyalty of his best friend. He asks brokenly, “Just one thing — could I not have just one thing?”

Hwon is shocked, never having realized Yang-myung’s feelings for Yeon-woo. Yang-myung continues that if it had been him, he would have done everything he could — he would have put everything on the line to protect her: “You could not protect her.”

Yang-myung walks away vowing to himself to claim and protect her in the next lifetime.

The queen dowager practically cackles her satisfaction to Nok-young. Can somebody get this lady a mustache, so she can twirl it? She’s in such great spirits that she readily agrees to hear a request, happy to bestow her favors on Seongsucheong. But she balks when Nok-young asks to leave for a spell, not wanting to let go of her most skilled shaman. Nok-young assures her that she will return, and that she needs time to recover her powers because causing a death takes its toll on one’s spiritual energies. Yeah, it’s called having a soul.

And then… Yeon-woo opens her eyes. In her grave. Yeesh, I knew we were probably going to get a Romeo & Juliet-style death-fakeout, but I didn’t think they’d actually bury her alive. Aboveground, Nok-young stands guard as a gravedigger shovels through the dirt.

Yeon-woo realizes where she is and starts to panic, burning through her oxygen supply quickly. Nok-young urges the man to dig faster, and just as Yeon-woo’s about to pass out, an unexpected visitor shows up. It’s a girl with bare, bloodied feet, clutching wildflowers: Seol. Aww. That brings a surprise tear to my eye, that Seol clearly went through hell to run away and pay her last respects.

Inside the coffin, Yeon-woo starts to fade out, crying out for her parents and the prince as her life flashes before her eyes like scratchy scenes on a broken television… barely registering that she’s made it out to fresh air.

When she awakens again, she’s in a room being watched by a precocious little girl — the girl Yang-myung previously saved in the marketplace. Her name is Jan-shil, and she calls for her mistress.

Seol rushes to greet her excitedly, but Yeon-woo looks at her blankly, wondering who she and Nok-young are. Where is she? “And who… am I?”

Nok-young is shocked — this wasn’t an intended side effect — but I suppose this presents the perfect opportunity to reinvent their story. She tells Yeon-woo she’s a shaman, having collapsed after a shamanic rite that sapped her energy and must have also taken her memory.

Yeon-woo asks after her family, and Nok-young tells her she doesn’t know — that she took her in after she saw her wandering the streets, sensing spiritual energy within her. Yeon-woo doesn’t remember anybody but the thought hurts nonetheless; she tears up, asking if she was abandoned by her family after they realized she had powers. Nok-young urges her to forget her past and focus on her life now.

In the palace, Hwon crosses paths with Minister Yoon, who offers up some insincere words about having been worried about him. Two can play this game, and Hwon laughs it off, acting as though he’s taken the philosophical route regarding life and death. But his tone of warning leaves neither in any doubt that they stand as political opposites, each a danger to the other.

With the opposition twisting Yeon-woo’s illness into a political tool, they are able to get Minister Heo exiled, as punishment for allegedly trying to sneak a sick daughter into being princess. He leaves Yeom with words of warning to not hold this against the king, and to patiently await the day he may be called to serve Hwon. At least it’s fortunate that the trumped-up accusation won’t be held against Yeom, though I’m sure he’ll wear the tarnish for a while.

They’re alerted to news that Mom is at it again and find her lovingly feeding a stray girl she must have picked up off the streets, calling her Yeon-woo. Apparently this is not the first time, and Yeom ushers the girl away while Minister Heo reminds her that Yeon-woo is dead. Mom comes back to her senses and breaks down in sobs.

With the help of an ally (who knows of their situation), Nok-young ushers her girls — Yeon-woo, Seol, Jan-shil — away in secret. Yeon-woo hangs back, sensing that her family may still be here and that leaving will make reunion impossible.

As the man sends them off, he thinks, “With the moon hidden away, this country’s darkness will grow deeper. But if it waxes, it will wane, and when it wanes, it will wax again. That is the moon.” He wishes them safe until that day comes.

Nok-young recalls her dream-vision and asks Ahri if this is the solution she’d indicated — if this is the two-birds-with-one-stone answer to saving both the girl and Seongsucheong. Whether she returns to the palace or continues on as a shaman is now up to Yeon-woo and her fate.

Bo-kyung prepares to take her place as the new princess bride, and her mother gives her some last reminders about how this was her place from the start, that she is not a replacement but the original owner retrieving what was hers. Bo-kyung assures her that she will not let anyone take anything from her, and that she will be on her guard.

Princess Min-hwa, meanwhile, huddles in her bed, weighed down by guilt and fear over her part in Yeon-woo’s death. True, she didn’t do anything, but the queen dowager has skillfully manipulated her into thinking her girlish wishes were responsible. It’s a clever way to tie the princess to her side, by making her think she’s played a bigger role than she has.

Hwon dutifully makes his bows to the bride’s family, but as he waits for her to emerge, he looks up at the sky and holds out a hand to the drizzle. He doesn’t even notice Bo-kyung, lost in thought over the memory of Yeon-woo describing her name as meaning light rain, or foggy mist.

It’s a mist not unlike the haze of clouds currently covering the sun, for a moment of symbolism. (All this simplistic symbology is starting to wear thin, but moments like this are a nice touch.)

Bo-kyung registers his inattention with disappointment. Elsewhere, Yang-myung also holds his hand out to feel the droplets, remembering Yeon-woo.

And then…some time later, another hand reaches out for the mist, this time wearing king’s robes.

Hyung-sun attends on King Hwon (Kim Soo-hyun!!), who wryly reminds him of his habit of talking too much. Some things never change. He declares that he’s in the mood for a game of golf, and all the court officials are rounded up to fawn over his prowess with the club.

But as Hwon lines up a ball, he frowns in pain and momentarily touches hand to heart. He brushes it aside, though, and compliments his opponent on a good game. It’s amusing to watch the looks of nervousness and horror that cross the other ministers’ faces at the winner for claiming victory.

The winning minister says modestly that he just won because this hole was a teeny bit larger than the others, and Hwon lets out a jolly laugh… which then turns stern as he asks pointedly if the minister knows where the biggest hole in the palace is. Laughter turns uneasy — does he have another meaning? Hwon says he’ll show them what he means, then heads into a building filled with records.

Hwon finds what he’s looking for and takes out a chest containing appeals to the king. He starts reading.

He summarizes their contents in a deeply sarcastic voice: citizens unfairly punished, people given unfair loans that get their land taken from them, officials bribing their way into government. He demands to know why these appeals were kept from him.

They attempt lame excuses about reviewing the reports first, saying they were trivial enough to handle without him. Hwon challenges, “Who can call these matters trivial? Who told you to stand judgment over the citizens’ suffering?” This interference of communication between the king and his people, he angrily declares, is the palace’s biggest hole.

The ministers retire to rant among themselves. Minister Yoon has been silent throughout all these events, perhaps viewing Hwon as the threat he is, while the others are more dismissive, saying he has finally grown up.

One minister derides the king’s newfound passion, saying he ought to save that for the bedroom. Apparently Hwon has refused to share a bed with the queen all these years, and the ministers speculate that he’s faking his infirmity as an excuse to keep up the separation. One minister argues that he isn’t faking, because he can’t hide his pained expressions when his heart acts up.

They mull over the problem of what to do with the king, wondering if they can send him away on the pretext of recovering his health. Minister Yoon finally speaks to express approval, saying that it’s better to occasionally loosen your tight grasp on a dog’s neck rather than keeping it in a stranglehold, in order to get the dog under your control.

Minister Yoon presents a proposal to the dowager queen, saying that many are suggesting that the king take a royal concubine, perhaps somebody he cares for who can bear a future prince. The dowager queen balks — the prince must be born from the queen. Minister Yoon points out that the king refuses to consummate the marriage with the queen, meaning that without a concubine they may have no direct successor. And if that’s the case, there’s always the threat of Prince Yang-myung, who is quietly amassing supporters…

That’s enough to rattle the dowager queen. Minister Yoon proposes that she help him take over some of the king’s authority, since she’s the only one with the ability to check the king.

Minister Yoon does this by proposing that the king temporarily move palaces, but Hwon cuts right to the heart of the matter: If the king vacates the main palace, during his absence it is the king’s father-in-law who becomes responsible for court matters. He says this in that deceptively playful way that sounds pleasant but is really his way of informing Minister Yoon that he’s on to his power-grab attempt. In fact, when he’s informed that Grandma wants a chat, he guesses she’s about to push the same point with him, knowing they’re conspiring together.

On his way to see the dowager queen, Hwon crosses paths with Queen Bo-kyung (Kim Min-seo). She greets him warmly, but his face grows cold and he passes silently.

They are brought before Queen Mother and Queen Granny, who urge Hwon to go away for a while, for his health’s sake.. Grandma brings up the lack of royal heirs, to which Bo-young tearily apologizes. Queen Mother assures her it’s not her fault because the king is ill, while Hwon sits there stone-faced.

He firmly declines the suggestion, so Grandma argues that neglecting his health is neglecting his royal duty. Hwon makes the barbed comment that it would also be negligent of the king to leave state matters in the hands of his extended family, which Grandma understands to be aimed at her favoritism regarding her own kinfolk.

She’s offended (or rather, acts offended as though his charge is unjust) and declares that there’s only one way to respond: hunger strike. Taking on the tone of a righteous martyr, she announces that if the king will insist upon misunderstanding her motives, she will cease eating and count down the days to her death.

Hwon is cornered, all right. I’m sure he doubts very much that the old bat will die, but politically, he’s been maneuvered between rock and hard place. Then to add to the matter, Bo-kyung prostrates herself in front of his doors, crying piteously for him to let go of his anger, laying all the blame on herself. She refuses to rise until his tiff with Grandma is resolved, and he tells her she can stop because he’s already decided to reconcile.

Bo-kyung rises and stumbles, conveniently right into Hwon’s arms. There’s been no indication that she’s being deceitful, but I think we know enough of her to suspect she’s in actress mode, and Hwon knows it too. He comments how fortunate she must be to have the queen dowager backing her inside the palace, and her father outside it.

Bo-kyung stiffens to realize he’s sharper than he seems, and she tries to move away. He tightens his hold on her and reminds her of words he’d said before, leaning in close like a lover. His tone is sweet, but his words contemptuous — that she and her family may set out to gain everything, but don’t bother trying to win his heart, “Because you can never have it.” He says that last with a cynic’s laugh.

Bo-kyung looks stricken in front of witnesses but when she’s alone, her face twists into a sneer. She trembles angrily and reminds herself that Yeon-woo is dead, and that she belongs here.

Bo-kyung is visited by Princess Min-hwa (Nam Bora), who’s as bright and cheery as ever. Bo-kyung plasters a smile on her face and when Min-hwa asks about her appeal to the king, Bo-kyung says demurely that her insufficient virtue has prevented them from conceiving an heir. Min-hwa says it’s not virtue that’s needed but affection, and that the reason her brother doesn’t visit Bo-kyung’s bed is probably ’cause he doesn’t love her. Ha, so I see she hasn’t learned tact in all these years.

Min-hwa has happy news to share, and says that a date has been decided for when she and her husband can share quarters. Essentially she’s been married for a while (I presume while she was still very young), but they haven’t consummated the union. Bo-kyung deflates at this, jealous of the princess.

Min-hwa arrives outside her husband’s quarters, but pauses to write something on a piece of paper. It’s the aforementioned auspicious dates, and she adds to the list. HA. You’ve gotta love a girl who’s eager for some loving.

She enters his room and finds him asleep. Shyly, she tells him her news, that today’s one of the dates… only said husband is actually outside, having just arrived at his own door. Sleeping Dude gets up, interrupting her, and she whines in annoyance, “Yang-myung oraboni!” Hahaha. (Also: Jung Il-woo!!)

Yang-myung can immediately tell she’s messed with the dates, and she’s so miffed at his brotherly teasing that she storms out, not even stopping to chat with her beloved husband. (It’s Yeom!) In a huff, she tosses Yang-myung’s shoes onto the roof. Ha, so petty.

Yeom wonders why Yang-myung’s always picking on his sister, and he says it’s just cause she annoys him. Heh. But there’s added sadness here, and the mood briefly dims as Yang-myung sighs over his friend being stripped of his wings when he was destined for greater things; it makes him blame Min-hwa and Hwon.

Yeom has a brighter perspective on it, saying that the princess is his family’s savior, and it was through her influence that his family was allowed to live. If ever there was an apt situation to use the phrase “giving the illness, then the cure,” this is it.

When the friends emerge from the room, Yang-myung finds his shoes gone, but hilariously produces a spare pair from his bag. It’s because he’s a frequent traveler, but I love the idea that the princess’s petty revenge is so easily thwarted.

Mention of the king brings a wistful look to Yang-myung’s face, and he asks Yeom if he wonders what Yeon-woo would look like now, if she’d lived. They’re all aging, but in his mind she’s still 13.

So on his slow walk home, he imagines the 13-year-old Yeon-woo at his side. She tells him — as she once did before — that the king waits for him at the palace.

He asks, “Will he really be waiting for me when I’ve given him such pain?” She tells him, “He’s waiting.” She asks him to protect the king.

Yang-myung finds a crowd of men waiting for him at his front door, and they recognize him immediately. He turns and runs, managing to evade being spotted by the crowd.

As he emerges from hiding, he thinks to himself, addressing his words to Yeon-woo, “Are you happy now? This is my way of protecting the king.” Ah, I suspect these are the supporters Minister Yoon alluded to, who are eager to back Yang-myung’s claim to the throne. He, however, wants none of it.

That night, Hwon sleeps fitfully. He hears Yeon-woo’s dying words about how none of this is his fault, which conflict with the dowager queen’s insistence that it is. Then there are Yang-myung’s angry accusations that he did nothing to protect Yeon-woo. He wakes, and those words ring in his years.

This is a recurring dream, as Woon — keeping silent guard in his chamber — deduces. They head outdoors for some air, and Hwon explains the meaning behind this building’s name (Silver/Hidden Moon). When his father had it built, the moon above the pond was so beautiful he wanted to treasure that image, so that on nights when the moon is hidden, he could come here and look upon it.

Hwon adds that once there was a moon he hid here, and that while the sun and moon can’t share the same sky, they can be seen together in the same pond. And in the water’s reflection, we see the moon hovering over Hwon’s shoulder.

In the woods, Nok-young is in the middle of a rite when the candles are snuffed out by some unseen force. She senses something in the air, something unsettling and powerful. Jan-shil delivers a letter from a man who warns her that the spiritual energy of the heavens is shifting, and that they will meet soon. It’s time.

Several days later, Nok-young heads to meet him, with the same three girls trailing in her wake. There’s Seol, all grown up now (Yoon Seung-ah), with Yeon-woo (now named Wol, or Moon) keeping her face hidden.

Arriving at the dock, she finally comes out from under the covering, revealing adult Yeon-woo (Han Ga-in).

 
COMMENTS

Did you know that there are two suns and two moons? And that the sun and the moon can’t be in the same sky together? And that the sun loves the moon, and the moon loves the sun, and that the moonmoonsunsunOkayWeGetIt.

I’m enjoying this drama a whole damn lot, and it makes me giddy and sad and intrigued — but oy with the super-obvious metaphor. It’s not a bad one; it’s just getting really, really old. It’s a simple concept in the first place, so we’d have to be dumb not to grasp the poetry of the sun-moon divide, but it’s being handled with all the subtlety of a Hong Sisters metaphor. Circa 2006. This drama has such a lovely, stirring feel to it and terribly engaging actors, that I wish the delicacy of its artistic sensibility translated into delicacy of storytelling. Instead it’s sort of like bashing something in with a sledgehammer and then coloring it with dainty brushstrokes.

That said, I’m thrilled that we’re starting to see some great meaty stuff now that we’re finally into the present-day story. I adored the teenage moments and think it’s one of the better sageuk childhoods in recent years, but from a story point of view, this is where it really starts. This is where we start going interesting places, so it’s a welcome advancement, and not a moment too soon.

I wasn’t anticipating this rift between the brothers to happen so soon, but damn if it wasn’t moving. Their shared love of the same girl was bound to eventually lead to conflict, but I didn’t expect it to come at her death. It makes sense, though, that while Yang-myung’s love of his brother was so strong that jealousy and hurt wasn’t enough to bring him to the breaking point, death — that final, irreversible point (excepting shamanic interventions, that is) — finally pushes him there.

And yet, adult Yang-myung still loves his brother, and just as with their early-adolescent rift, both sides suppose the other wants no more to do with them while actually longing for that connection.

I’m again amazed at how spot-on the casting matches up from childhood to adulthood, and find I can easily believe the transition, even though not that many years have passed. (Heck, Jung Il-woo is just one year older than teenage Yeom, aka Im Shi-wan.) For instance, I see teenage Hwon in Kim Soo-hyun’s mannerisms, which aren’t exactly the same but make it believable that one grew into the other.

Speaking of whom, Kim Soo-hyun is doing a marvelous job — he’s got a wonderful way of adding a bitter, caustic edge to Hwon while also being able to show us that lighter, smiling side. (Even if most of his joking is satirical or mocking.) There’s a delicious undercurrent of steely nerve in Hwon’s way of speaking — he can turn from jovial to sharply incisive in a flash. We saw it in his adolescence, but it has sharpened over time and it keeps his court on its toes. It also gives me hope that this is not a young king about to get jerked around by others; he’s in control of his power. Lesson painfully learned.

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149 January 25, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 7

by girlfriday

It’s a crash course in fates, as we find out that some connections can’t be shaken, even in death. We finally get our introduction to grown-up Yeon-woo, and things move along a lot faster than I had anticipated. This episode is sort of the sister to last week’s introduction to King Hwon and his world, and this time we get to see Yeon-woo’s side, and what life has been like outside the palace walls for her.

Ratings: Moon raked in 29.7%, further widening the gap with Captain at 7.1% and Wild Romance at 6.2%.

 
EPISODE 7 RECAP

Grown-up Yeon-woo finally reveals herself as the girls send Nok-young off at the dock. Nok-young warns her not to talk to strangers, and not to form connections with anyone while she’s gone. Yeesh, I know it’s risky, but are you planning to keep her caged?

The boat approaches, and who should be sleeping on deck, but weary traveler Yang-myung (Jung! Il! Woo!). He wonders to a fellow passenger why there are so many people about, and the man wonders how he didn’t know – that the king is arriving to greet this very town today.

Yang-myung chuckles as he thinks to himself that Yeon-woo has aligned the fates so that he has to see Hwon after all. Once ashore, he walks along the dock headed straight for Yeon-woo, and then passes her by without seeing her face.

Seol relishes the temporary freedom as much as Yeon-woo, and suggests they make a day of it in town, but they soon hear the announcement that the king is on his way here. Yeon-woo perks up just wanting to do something fun, while Seol immediately says no with a worried look. Yeon-woo pouts, but Seol says no, and drags her away.

The king’s royal entourage arrives outside the town, and he orders them to open the shade on his sedan, since the good people have gathered to see his face after all. Hyung-sun regretfully obliges, and then suggests he ought to smile then.

Hwon thinks that inappropriate, plus overkill on top of his pretty face. “Do you think it’s easy for a nation’s king to look like this?” PWAHAHAHA. I’m pretty sure Vain King is my favorite of Kim Soo-hyun’s modes. Woon smiles, and Hyung-sun cringes. Visibly.

The townspeople line up to gain entry to the area where the king will pass by, and Yeon-woo and Seol join the crowd after all. Sometimes the pout is mightier than the sword. Seol reminds her that they’re just here to get a quick look and that’s all. Yeon-woo promises to behave.

A mother and son stand ahead of them in line and are refused entry by the guards for being poor, and Yeon-woo steps up to talk back to the sentry, that he has no right to refuse her. Aw, that brings a smile to my face that she’s just as idealistic as ever.

He talks down to her and Seol reaches for her sword, but Yeon-woo looks the guard straight in the eyes and tells him why his wife really left, and why she’s cheating on him. Oooh, witchy powers, activate! She tells him he should stop drinking, otherwise he’ll die of alcohol poisoning, and sends him quaking in his boots.

Just then, Yang-myung causes some kind of disturbance down the line, and the guards head off running after him. Yeon-woo happily holds up the rope to let everyone pass. Seol yells at her for acting like a shaman again when she doesn’t have any mystical powers (HA) and then stops to wonder how she managed to know about that guard.

Yeon-woo tells her that’s not magic; it’s the power of deduction. She smelled alcohol on his breath, could tell he was a mean drunk who disrespected women, and saw how angrily he reacted to Seol, assuming that she was a good-looking young man. Put it all together, and you get your answer. How funny. I expected her to be a shaman, but this is even better.

They line up and bow as the king approaches. Yang-myung continues to get chased by the angry guards for something, but they all stop to bow, swearing to pick the argument back up afterwards.

Yang-myung bows along with everyone else, but lifts his head to see Hwon’s face, and Woon’s, and lets out a wistful smile. Aw. Why are you already breaking my heart?

Yeon-woo remains face to the ground, but a little yellow butterfly catches her attention, just like the day she first met Prince Hwon. It flutters away, making her lift her head, and she thoughtlessly stands up.

It’s then that she turns to see the king’s face as he approaches. It sends a wave of emotion through her, and she suddenly bursts into tears at the sight of him. Her standing up is enough of a disturbance that Yang-myung notices her, but doesn’t think much of it. Seol tries to get her to kneel, but it’s too late, and the guards start approaching. Seol grabs her hand and they take off running.

Yang-myung suddenly senses something about Yeon-woo and darts back up, just to see her being chased off by the guards. He runs after them. All this happens ahead of the king’s view, so he looks in their direction, but they’ve already disappeared into the crowd.

Seol and Yeon-woo run through the streets holding hands, and that suddenly sends Yeon-woo into a piecemeal flashback of the day she met Hwon, and he held her hand as they ran. As the girls hide, Yeon-woo asks if they’ve ever been chased like this before, and Seol says no. Yeon-woo wonders, “Then whose memories are these?”

At the same time, Yang-myung evades the guards and starts searching for Yeon-woo. He stops a girl dressed like her, and his face falls. He wonders to himself what he was expecting, when the girl he’s looking for is six feet under.

Meanwhile, the king takes a bath while Hyung-sun blathers on, trying to put him in a better mood. But Hwon doesn’t like any of his ideas, and turns to Woon, suggesting that he join him in the tub. Rawr? The servants in the room start scrambling from the awkward, and Hyung-sun sends them all scurrying out in a big hurry.

He warns the king that there are enough rumors about already, he needn’t make it worse by inviting Woon to share a bath. HEE. Is he suggesting what I think he’s suggesting? Hwon asks what he means by rumors.

Hyung-sun stammers that well, he keeps his distance from the queen… and keeps Woon close… Keh. Hwon turns to Hyung-sun: “Then do YOU want to join me in the bath?” Hyung-sun covers his chest and runs out of there like a scared little squirrel. Hwon smiles at Woon, “Finally… we are alone…” Pfft.

Outside Hyung-sun presses his ear to the door, “He couldn’t… possibly… Have his tastes changed?” HA. He scurries about frantically, when Yang-myung arrives to see the king. Hyung-sun knocks and knocks… but of course the bath is empty.

Hwon and Woon walk through the streets dressed as regular noblemen, and Hwon stops for a second, swearing he can hear Hyung-sun’s screams from here. Heh. On their walk, Hwon encounters what he’s really here to see – how people really live, and not just what they want to show the king.

They find streets lined with the homeless, struggling to survive. A little child runs into them on accident, and Hwon stops to ask him about his parents and puts money in his hand. He promises to find his father and send him home, assuring him that he’s high up enough to do so. Yeah, I’d say.

Woon stops short, sensing that they’re being followed by a spy. Hwon doesn’t flinch, knowing that they’ve been followed this whole time. He says good-naturedly that the diligent spy followed them all the way here, so should they play with him? Off they go, running in the other direction, into the woods.

They lose the tail and stop to catch their breath, and look up at the sky to see signs of rain. Hwon: “It’s Yeon-woo. Yeon-woo is falling.” Just then, he sees a vision of 13-year old Yeon-woo smiling at him from afar. She runs, and he instinctively runs after her.

Meanwhile, Nok-young meets the shaman who helped her hide, and he warns her that she’s messing with Fate – that the king is vulnerable because she’s split him up from the one who was destined to stay by his side and keep him safe.

She says that it’s a union already broken, but he assures her that the heavens will find a way to make it right. Nok-young argues that Yeon-woo has no memories, but the shaman tells her that you cannot erase their longing for each other. Nok-young worries for what pain Yeon-woo will face if thrown back on her rightful course.

Yeon-woo sits at home in a daze, and tells Seol that she’s finally figured out whom those memories belong to. Seol’s eyes dart back and forth in worry, but Yeon-woo says that it’s her mystical power, finally settling in. Seol knows that’s not the case, but doesn’t argue. They head outside, worried that Nok-young is running late.

Woon and Hwon wander the woods in the heavy fog, going in circles, until Hwon finally admits they’re lost. I like that it’s totally Hwon’s fault but Woon is the one to apologize – it’s like the default setting.

But a light appears in the distance – it’s the light from a lantern, but they see it as a big round circle, and Hwon murmurs, “Is it the moon?” The fog lifts slowly to reveal 13-year old Yeon-woo smiling at him.

He stares wide-eyed, but it’s just his mind playing tricks on him again, because the light approaches, and it’s grown-up Yeon-woo that stands before him. They both stand frozen at the sight of each other.

She brings them home and sets a small table for them, recognizing him as the king but not letting on. She tells them that she isn’t the head of this household, so Hwon asks who is. “Who were you waiting for, in the rain? Is there someone you’re waiting for?”

The proximity, the question, it suspends them both for a lingering moment. He asks about the stacks and stacks of books in the room, wondering why an orphaned girl cares to read so much.

She tells him that she wants to know about the world, and when he scoffs wondering what she could ever do with that knowledge, she says that she hopes it will help someone someday. It stirs his memory of Yeon-woo.

She adds that she’s discovered the joy of learning about the world through the eyes of scholars, and can’t stop. He stares at her curiously, as he flashes back to the witty and wise Yeon-woo who used to quote scholars.

In his head, Hwon thinks, “It couldn’t be. It isn’t possible for a dead girl to be alive. She just resembles her. This is a dream.” He tells himself that he’s mistaken her for someone else, or that his longing for her has turned itself into a ghost to haunt him. He quickly reaches for a drink to shake away the thought.

He tells Woon to have a drink as well, to warm himself from the cold. But Woon stoically refuses to bend the rules, even here. Yeon-woo turns to him, suggesting that it’s actually wrong for him not to drink, since no one’s tasted the king’s food to make sure it isn’t poisoned (a common practice for all things the king consumes).

Woon immediately reaches for his sword. Hwon pulls her close, inches from his face, “How do you know? How do you know that I am the king of Joseon?!” Ruh-roh. He demands to know if they’ve met before, taken up by the hope that his crazy idea might be true.

She swears that they haven’t, and he screams at her to tell him how then, how could she possibly know who he is? She stammers that she saw him today, when he came through the streets. The logical explanation sends him crashing back down to earth. He lets go of her arm and lets out a bitter laugh, as if taunting himself for his stupid expectations.

He sees that the rain has stopped, and tells Woon that it’s time to return. They step outside, and Hwon stops to ask Yeon-woo her name. She tells him that she doesn’t have one – that her guardian didn’t give her one so that she wouldn’t form connections with anyone. That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.

She says that everyone just calls her agi, basically short for agasshi or “miss.” He looks up at the sky, and tells her that her name will be Wol (moon). He says it’s his payment for the warm drink, to give her a name. She repeats it to herself with a smile, “Wol. I have a name.”

That night, Yang-myung lies awake, speaking to Yeon-woo in his mind, wondering if she was there to see the king as well. He asks that in the next life, she would see him first, before his brother.

Hwon and Woon return to a harried Hyung-sun, and stop short to see Yang-myung there. He approaches with a respectful bow. Hwon doesn’t look very pleased to see his brother, and sternly asks if he’s come after all this time… and still refuses to show his face.

At that, Yang-myung lifts his head. Hwon: “Mm, you are as good-looking as ever.” Ha. He finally breaks into a big smile, and Yang-myung grins. AW. Even Woon smiles.

The brothers sit down for a drink, and Woon sits in the corner. They each try to coax Woon to join them, but of course he refuses. Yang-myung laughs that it won’t work – Woon will never bring a drink to his lips while on duty.

So Hwon offers up a bet: the one who gets Woon to drink gets a wish for anything they want. This is so awesome. Either way, Woon’s goin’ down. Yang-myung tries first, but Woon won’t budge, and Hwon finally pulls out the big guns, and ORDERS him to drink.

He complies, and Yang-myung laughs in surprise. He asks for the king’s wish. Hwon pours a drink and asks if Yang-myung is still carrying “her” in his heart. Yang-myung’s smile fades in an instant. But this is Hwon’s wish as the winner of the bet – that he answers the question. Tricksy! You didn’t say it’d be truth or dare!

Yang-myung: Even if she were still in my heart, she would still be dead. When I say I’ll forget her, I miss her, and when I miss her, I quickly forget – that is the human heart. I didn’t want to miss her or forget her, so the only thing I left in my heart is the reminder that she is no longer in this world.

Hwon repeats his words with a sigh, and each brother drinks.

The king returns to the palace and finds that the ministers have endowed more funds to a development project in his absence. He calls them out on spending more money while the people starve, and their defense is that it’s a project he approved.

So he declares that all the accounting be brought to him at once, and that by tomorrow, someone will be held responsible for any funds that have been misused. From all the scared faces, it looks like it’s quite the slush fund.

Later that night Minister Yoon meets with a shaman from Sungsucheong, offering her a promotion in exchange for her help in taming the king. She tells him that in the king’s absence she’s planted a talisman that she can use against him.

Queen Bo-kyung comes to see the king that night, and his servants have to beg him to even let her inside. She asks him to leave an heir, and that she’d even be willing to step aside and let him have a son with a concubine, because what matters is the future of this nation, not her feelings.

He shifts gears from his usual cold demeanor and says he now understands her true heart. She smiles, thinking she’s finally getting through to him. But then he leans on his hand, the cheeky, bitter bite coming back. He agrees to find a suitable concubine at once. Well THAT’s a plan that backfired. She looks up in shock.

He tells her that he dislikes everything about her, like the way she can say the opposite of what she means. I know she’s not exactly sympathetic, but I do feel sorry for her because he’s really harsh. He’s not wrong about her family and her motives, but oof, he’s so mean to her.

She gets up to go, and then stops with her back turned to him, asking how long he’s going to keep a dead woman in his heart, taking up the place where she should be. He suddenly clasps his hand to his heart, the pain in his chest causing him to seize and gag, until he passes out.

Bo-kyung doesn’t even realize it until she turns around and he’s already out cold. Doctors rush to his bedside, and outside the shaman’s talisman sits under his room, the source of his fits of pain. Thankfully he wakes up soon after.

The queen dowager uses this as the perfect excuse to call back the true head of Seungsucheong, declaring that this is happening because her powerful presence is lacking in the palace, to ward off evil. Yeah but the real evil is you, Grandma.

She plans to have Nok-young fight off the mystical curse-illness, and also break the ill will between king and queen. I’m not sure there’s a spell in heaven or hell to make this husband like his wife. Just sayin’.

Hwon stirs in bed, as Woon sits by. He asks Woon to find that girl again. “There’s something in her eyes. She’s hiding something from me.” He orders him to go find her. Woon sets off on horseback by morning.

He returns to Yeon-woo’s house, but finds it empty – not just empty, but hurriedly emptied, like they moved in a big hurry in the middle of the night. He picks up a stone from the floor.

In the morning, Princess Min-hwa screams in horror… at the sight of her bloated face, after eating late the night before. She wails that her husband will surely come to hate her when he sees her face, and that she’ll end up alone and wandering the streets, never having been properly loved. Haha, she cracks me up with her histrionics.

Yeom’s mother finds her distraught and gives him a talking-to for forgetting that he was supposed to be with Min-hwa last night, and chastises him for not being more assertive about that whole sharing-a-bed thing. Well I’m pretty sure being told to do so by your mother isn’t exactly… um… conducive, shall we say?

She says that it must’ve taken a lot for the princess to be the one to speak up about it, and he apologizes, saying that he must’ve fallen asleep while reading. I’m fairly certain that if you prefer to read, this is a bigger issue than forgetting.

Mom thinks so too, ’cause she asks if he’s avoiding her on purpose, but he swears he isn’t. He says that she’s still young though, still thinking of her more like a little sister. But Mom reminds him that she’s of age to have a child and then some (which kind of blows my mind, but that’s how they rolled back then) and that she’s not his sister, but his wife.

She adds that the princess has bestowed an immeasurable grace upon their family, and that his father said to his dying day that they shouldn’t forget it. Yeom assures her that he won’t.

The queen dowager sends a trio of ministers to bring Nok-young back to the palace, and they find her at her new home. She turns down their requests to return to Seongsucheong, and when they start getting curious about Yeon-woo, she tells them that she’ll come see the queen herself.

Meanwhile Yeon-woo heads out to town to find Seol, trying to use her new powers to see her. She puts her finger to her forehead, like an antenna (ha) to no avail. She wonders if her powers are gone, or if she never had them at all. But then, where did those memories come from?

What Nok-young doesn’t see is that one of the men eyes Yeon-woo as something more than just a curiosity. He orders his servants to capture her, and they head back toward the palace with Yeon-woo locked in a box.

She struggles to get out, and suddenly memories of waking up in her coffin start flashing back. She claws at the walls of the sedan and gasps for air.

As she clutches her heart, she wonders, startled: “Whose memory is this?”

 
COMMENTS

I’m surprised that Hwon and Yeon-woo met so quickly, since I assumed there’d be lots of fateful longing and near missteps before they came face to face. I’m happy that in that respect, the story seems to be flowing quickly, rather than teasing an encounter for so long that we stop caring. SO many dramas do that, and I do really stop caring.

I suppose I’ll have to start calling her Wol now, since adult Yeon-woo has finally been named. Han Ga-in was in some respects better than I expected – she’s playing the naïve innocent side of Yeon-woo quite convincingly, and her tears are moving. Her speech feels a little stilted, like she’s being too careful, but it’s better than the alternative, which is to sound like a valley girl reciting sageuk dialogue, which would be far worse. I felt her connection to Hwon in their scene together, though admittedly, it was his reaction that got me in the heart. Kim Soo-hyun does heartache so convincingly. I do however, feel like Kim Yoo-jung (the younger Yeon-woo) was better than Han Ga-in, so it’s hard not to miss her, especially when that’s the memory that both Hwon and Yang-myung carry around in their hearts.

Removed from the sheen of the beautiful setting and the world, there are things about the story that bug me. The brothers both still pining for the same first love is kind of ridiculous when you strip it from the circumstances. It’s because the whole situation is wrapped in such tragedy and the constraints of being royals that it has enough spin for me to care. Basically it’s the upside to her “death” – because otherwise the severity of their fixation would be troubling. It’s still a little troubling, but they’re still young.

The amnesia, I’m less troubled by, since it’s actually motivated by the trauma of waking up in her own coffin, and the divide between present and past isn’t mystical – that is, she could recall her memories at any point. I also like the surprise that she isn’t mystically endowed after all. I do think she might have some kind of hidden powers that she hasn’t accessed yet, because even 13-year old Yeon-woo seemed to have some connection to things beyond this world. That said, I do think it would be hilarious if she entered the palace as a shaman who had no powers. Her con in this episode was priceless, and I’d love it if they kept that light and amusing side of her around.

I’m happiest about the fact that growing up with the characters doesn’t mean losing the sense of humor and comic book feel that the drama had from the beginning. It’s still cheeky and light in surprising moments, even amidst the darker situations they face as adults. The characters still feel very much the same, at the core, which makes me a happy camper. I like that Yeon-woo is still sassy and defiant, and that her hunger for knowledge isn’t something that amnesia or a new name can change. And when that’s the thing that makes Hwon suspect it might be her? Love.

 
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204 January 26, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 8

by javabeans

I really appreciate that things are moving swiftly along, as girlfriday pointed out in yesterday’s recap. It’s so much more satisfying when the show remains a step ahead of you instead of broadcasting everything far in advance and cluttering up your path with obvious angsty obstacles, so that the only things lying between us and the inevitable are a bunch of pesky angst-toys that are irritating to step on. Brisk plot developments are much welcomed in my book.

Also: Welcome to the 30% club, Moon/Sun. Today’s episode brought in a 31.7%, meaning that every episode has increased upon the ratings before it. I wonder where it’ll plateau, because surely it’ll settle at some point, right? Or is the MoonSunSky the limit?

SONG OF THE DAY

Jouet – “내일 아침 (Fly Away)” [ Download ]

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 
EPISODE 8 RECAP

Yeon-woo, henceforth known as Wol, is kidnapped by the queen dowager’s minions, and the feeling of being trapped in a wooden box brings her a panic attack as she flashes back to waking up in her coffin.

It triggers other memories as well, including snippets of her youth and being with young Hwon. She wonders, “Whose memories are these?”

Princess Min-hwa applies cold spoons to her eyes and chants for the puffiness to die down. When she takes the spoons away, she sees Yeom kneeling down in front of her and sighs that her longing to see him has led her to hallucinations. Cute. Min-hwa makes him promise he won’t leave her, which cracks me up — her dramatic imagination has spiraled into a chain of events wherein he leaves her and she dies alone.

He promises and she throws herself into his arms excitedly, knocking them both other. It’s a cute scene… if only somebody weren’t watching with a sinking heart: Seol. Aw.

Nok-young finds Wol gone from the house and rips into the girls: Jan-shil stepped aside briefly to grab some food, and Seol comes home alone. They find a note from the kidnappers, akin to a ransom: Since Nok-young refused to return to the palace, the men took her girl. To get her back, Nok-young has to return.

The traumatic coffin flashback causes Wol to pass out, and when the men pull her out, they think she’s dead. She’s not, of course, and she comes to with a start. Shoving aside the lead nobleman, she runs away.

At the same time, Yang-myung is being chased through the streets by his persistent followers. They plead for a moment of his time, but he ditches them and disguises himself as a folk performer. Spotted again, he’s chased once more.

Wol finds a monk in the streets and pleads for help escaping her pursuers, not realizing that it’s Yang-myung in yet another disguise. He leads her away and holds her so close that she shoves him away and glares accusingly.

He’d recognized her on sight, and now Yang-myung asks, “Do you not know who I am?” Agh, his eyes, so full of hope and pain.

They’re interrupted by the kidnappers’ minions (ha, minions of minions), whom Yang-myung easily fights off. They run again, and in voiceover we hear the rest of their conversation as she tells him she’s never seen him before. That’s so sad — she had a visceral reaction to seeing Hwon, but no such connection to Yang-myung.

He directs her to a greenhouse and asks her to await him there. She runs on while he stays back to fight off the men. Unluckily for them, there are more henchmen, and Wol is cornered. Yang-myung hears her scream and is distracted enough to get struck in the head, passing out in the street.

Lord Kidnapper reports to the queen dowager that Nok-young refused to come back, which angers the queen who likens this to a dog biting its owner. She finds the ransom scheme crude and is not impressed, but he offers up the suggestion of making use of the shaman girl as a human talisman, which would have far greater effect than the usual paper charms.

Even so, the queen balks at the lowly shaman being involved in this way, and says the king wouldn’t go for it. But the lord makes his case for installing the shaman as the king’s nighttime companion — not in a sexual sense but as a literal sleeping aid, as a charm to ward off evil. If this improves the king’s health enough to result in the siring of an heir, it’s worth a try.

The queen dowager agrees to give them a month to try it out, until the next auspicious date for the king and queen’s consummation. (Auspicious refers to the conception of a prince, which is their foremost goal; in securing the succession, they safeguard their own power.)

The head shaman orders Wol to be prepared for her duty. This is the woman who has been put in charge of Seongsucheong in Nok-young’s absence, and she now aspires to take over permanently — hence her collusion with the baddies. So when Wol balks and demands to speak with the boss, the shaman slaps her for her haughtiness. She gives Wol the warning that one false move will lead to her execution.

Hwon hears the report from Woon that the girl disappeared, and with disappointment he sighs that she must have been a ghost after all. Woon offers to keep searching, but Hwon calls him off, saying it was just one night’s delusion.

His tea is brought in, which is purported to have calming effects to bring him restful sleep. He thinks of Wol as he says that maybe he won’t dream useless dreams tonight, and drinks.

Wol fights back her tears as she is bathed and dressed, to be presented as a literal offering to the king. She’s blindfolded and brought into the king’s chambers after he’s already asleep, presented as a mystical object rather than a person, there to ward off bad energy.

Wol isn’t uncovered until she’s in the inner chamber, and when she sees Hwon’s face, she’s again struck with a wave of emotion. She holds a hand to his forehead as he murmurs in his sleep, “Yeon-woo-ya.” Woon watches from the side, shocked to recognize Wol.

Hwon dreams of the night after she’d been selected as his future wife, when he’d treated her to a puppet show. A tear falls in his sleep, but now he smiles as well, at rest.

In sad juxtaposition, Yang-myung wakes up from his injury and also sees her at his bedside… only to find that it’s Yeom. (Ha, it isn’t supposed to be funny, but I chuckle given that Yeon-woo had previously been called the girl version of Yeom.)

In the morning, Hwon awakens feeling energetic, and asks if somebody visited while he was asleep. Hyung-sun says that a charm was briefly brought to him, and Hwon marvels that it could have such an effect, assuming, of course, that it was the inanimate type that he usually dislikes.

He’s in such a good mood that he even stops to compliment the cooking maids on his breakfast. He also praises his council’s work, having reviewed the records he demanded them to compile, which he found organized and neat.

Those words aren’t without a catch, though, because he says pointedly that the records were so tight it was almost like they were forged — ha ha ha! Isn’t that funny? The ministers shift uneasily and force laughs.

Hwon voice turns hard, though, as he gets down to business. In the previous episode, the starving child whose father had been dragged off to work had tipped Hwon off to corruption in his ranks, and he had later taken his council to task. He had challenged their methods of forcing citizens into labor, all so they could perform large-scale repairs to one of the queen dowager’s buildings. Because her birthday is coming up! And they want to impress her! Hwon had ordered them to account for all the people they’d forced into work.

Today one minister assures him that the men with extenuating circumstances — those with starving children to care for — had been released from service. This includes the father Hwon had promised to return to the boy in the street, and he is brought before Hwon now.

Hwon asks what job he performed at the construction site, and the man looks to the corrupt ministers for prompting and answers nervously. Hwon leads him into a trap, asking about the lotus pattern on the bridge he supposedly worked on. He lets everybody believe he’s satisfied with the questioning and sends the laborer back to his children.

The laborer is paid off by Lord Yoon, who is warned to keep his mouth shut. The man hurries home with his largesse, only to be stopped in the forest by a gang of masked assassins. Just as one is about to strike, one of the fighters turns on his own — it’s Woon in disguise. The man is sent home and Woon reports his findings to the king.

Hwon explains how his suspicions were triggered by the man’s hands — roughened like hands handling a sword for the first time — so he tossed out the bait about the lotuses. He has pieced together enough facts to guess at the truth being covered up: That there is no palace construction. The ministers must be pocketing the construction budget, and secretly training the conscripted laborers as their own private militia.

Damn, things just got a lot more interesting.

Woon is a lot more worried than Hwon, because high treason is in play and Hwon’s life in danger. Hwon tells him not to worry, because until the conspirators have what they need, his life is safe. Oh, okay then. That’s a relief.

Minister Yoon’s Traitor Council brainstorms their next step, feeling smug. But an injured assassin staggers in to report the plan going awry. The description of the attacker’s amazing swordsmanship is enough to tip them off to suspicions of Woon’s involvement. Minister Yoon kills the assassin with his own sword, right then and there, wondering if the king is sending him a warning.

Locked in her room, Wol mulls over the king’s uttering of “Yeon-woo,” wondering what he meant by it. “If I were that person — if I were Yeon-woo and not a shaman, would I have provided him comfort?” Oh honey, you don’t even know.

The queen dowager hears that the charm did its trick, and that the king seems much healthier already. She’s amazed and decides to see the girl right away, but is blocked from entry by the interim head shaman. She says that Wol’s body has absorbed evil power (hence the king’s improvement) and must recover, but the queen dowager is offended at the impudence.

Thankfully this is when Nok-young makes her reappearance, having hurried to Seongsucheong. She assures the queen that the rumors had misrepresented the situation — she hadn’t defied royal orders, but merely felt she could not present her sullied self before Her Majesty. She was intending to come to the queen after a cleansing, but her men had jumped to the wrong conclusions.

The queen is half-appeased, but still wants an explanation for Nok-young going into hiding all these years. I’m relieved for Nok-young’s sake that she has a fast, smooth tongue — the queen dowager is sharp, but even she finds Nok-young’s explanation credible, that she was waiting for the right time. Which is now.

Nok-young seals the deal with the addition of good news: An heir will soon be on its way, and she will take up her place at Seongsucheong for good, if the queen will have her back. The queen is satisfied, while Nok-young thinks to herself that the heir will not come from Bo-kyung.

She has a condition, though, and pointedly says that one vessel does not need two boatmen. This is directed at the ambitious interim head shaman who eavesdrops outside.

The queen is happy to oblige, since she has long insisted that Nok-young is the most talented shaman and everyone else a pale substitute. She tells the eavesdropping shaman to leave immediately, now that the rightful leader has returned.

The queen dowager requests that the shaman-charm be brought to her, and Nok-young thinks fast for a way to refuse without offending her. She argues that the girl has spent all night taking in the bad energy from the king, and that this energy may latch on to the queen dowager. Furthermore, they must take care not to damage its spiritual power. Until the night of the king and queen’s next congress, they must take exceptional care with the charm.

The queen pouts, but that’s a good argument. Damn, she’s good; Nok-young may be the most spiritually gifted shaman, but she’s also a slick politician.

Seol worriedly checks over Wol’s condition, assuring herself that nothing is wrong with milady. Aw. I know that there are plenty of dramas, historical and contemporary, that have adorable bromance threads, but I love that this drama also gives us the sisterly equivalent. I’m quickly growing to love Seol and Wol’s tight bond, even more than in their childhoods.

Then, adding to the cuteness is Jan-shil, their plucky little sister, who cries her apology for wandering off for a snack while unni was being kidnapped.

The girls quickly file out when an irate Nok-young comes to talk to Wol, and come upon a couple of junior shamans huffing over the new girl. One insinuates that Wol got in based on her association to Nok-young (“So that’s why she had her nose in the air!”) rather than skill. Jan-shil starts to angrily correct them, about to inform them just what kind of illustrious person they’re slandering, but Seol shuts her up. Yeah, it would do no good to go around screaming that this is the rightful queen, though her intention is sweet.

Nok-young orders Wol to run away immediately, but Wol balks, refusing to make her loved ones into criminals over her. It’s only for one month, and she’ll be fine: “If I can do something helpful in spite of my lack of skill — if I could ease his pain just a little…”

Nok-young reminds her of the warning she’s obviously ignored — that she was supposed to avoid him, and keep her heart firmly detached. This job would reduce her existence to an object, not a person: “Though you have eyes, you are not allowed to see. Though you have a mouth, you cannot speak a word. You must rise from his bedside before he awakens. You are the closest person to him, but cannot meet.” And she still wants to do this?

Wol replies that shamans provide solace for people in pain: “Though I have eyes, I will not see. Though I have a mouth, I will not open it. I will keep him from discovering my existence.”

Min-hwa slips into Yeom’s bedroom, finding it disappointingly empty. When he arrives, she asks for a hug (claiming one anyway) and starts to broach the subject of him visiting her quarters tonight… only to have Yang-myung enter to kill the mood.

He’s only too happy to tease Min-hwa and pointedly offer to leave so he’s not interrupting the lovebirds. Though annoyed, she sees that her brother’s in no shape to leave the house, so she grudgingly tells him to stay, stalking off in a pout. Ha, aren’t brothers the worst?

At bedtime, Hwon is so bursting with vigor that he actually does push-ups to work off his “hot blooded energy.” His choice of words gives everyone hope for the future, and Hyung-sun exults (to himself, while the court ladies smirk), “An heir will be made!” Keke.

But when Hyung-sun voices these hopes aloud, Hwon yells in annoyance, “What nonsense are you spouting?!” He complains, “This is why I don’t talk to you these days!” Poor, hapless Hyung-sun, who heads to his corner meekly with a sniffle.

Hwon calls Hyung-sun for being so emotion to cry over this, but Hyung-sun tells him that he’s really crying because he feels like the old Hwon is back. He entreats Hwon to always be as forceful and strong as he is right now. Oof. Hello there, unexpected tears of poignancy.

Wol watches over Hwon on this second night, addressing her thoughts to the king, telling him she’s glad to see him looking healthier tonight.

Hwon smiles in his sleep again, recalling memories of his earlier courtship with Yeon-woo — the parasol, the lettuce plant, the brain diagram. Tonight his dreams include happy moments with Yang-myung as well.

Woon watches silently as usual, and I wonder how long he’ll be able to keep his mouth shut about this. On one hand, the king’s recovery seems dependent on maintaining this secret treatment, not messing with the spiritual powers at work. But on the other hand, Woon more than anyone understands the king’s fixation with Wol and that he’d want to see her again.

The next day, Hwon shines so brightly with good health that he half-blinds everyone with his light. Three court ladies marvel at the handsome king and his handsome bodyguard, and one wonders if those rumors are true — you know, about him preferring his hot guard to the queen.

They don’t see that Bo-kyung has overheard, and she stews over the gossip. Bitterly, she thinks how that wide smile has never been directed at her. Angered, she stalks off to see the king directly, tired of waiting for him to come to her.

She’s interrupted by her father, however, who takes her aside to scold her for her rashness. There are eyes and ears all around — has she forgotten? He tells her that the king is finally starting to recover, and this is not the time to upset him — the political blowback would be damaging. He warns her to lie low until the month is over.

Subdued, Bo-kyung agrees. But Dad is so incensed that he blames her for being unable to appeal to the king, sneering that if only she’d been able to produce an heir, things wouldn’t be in such a state.

Minister Yoon crosses Hwon’s path in the courtyard, and trades pleasantries about his improving health. Hwon thanks him for the “gift” he’d sent recently. Minister Yoon refers to a gift of ginseng, but both sides are thinking of the assassin Hwon had thwarted, and understand this as a veiled warning. Minister Yoon promises to send more in the future and Hwon replies, “I look forward to it.”

That evening, Hwon feels his forehead, almost as though he sensed Wol’s presence. When he takes his nightly tea, he chokes, although he dismisses his retainers’ concerns.

But Nok-young senses a strange energy starting to brew, and a growing darkness in the heavens.

At the king’s bedside, Wol takes her place and makes her customary greeting. As usual she speaks internally, and muses, “For the first time, I was glad to be a shaman. Would it be wrong for me to say that I consider it fortunate that I could be by your side and be of help to you?”

But as she presses her hand to his forehead, more visions — memories — of her youth flicker in her mind. And as she pulls back in shock, Hwon opens his eyes and grabs her. He pins her to the mattress and asks, “Who are you? Tell me!”

 
COMMENTS

Hm, I’m intrigued by the progression of the heart/sickness storyline, because I wonder if his heart illness is a result of his cosmic separation from Yeon-woo. The drama doesn’t treat it as a medical condition, and while the characters assume that the king is plagued by an evil energy, the story seems to suggest otherwise. That the separation of the sun from his necessary moon has disrupted the natural order of things.

I don’t really love the whole Fated By The Heavens romance angle, but I do find it interesting from a mythical-narrative perspective. In a previous episode, the queen mother commented that Hwon’s illness always rears up when he’s with Bo-kyung. You can explain it without the fantasy element, supposing that Bo-kyung brings out hateful feelings in Hwon that manifest physically. Or you could say that it’s because he’s with the wrong moon, and her proximity makes his ailment most pronounced.

I do feel sorry for Bo-kyung, although I can’t like her, either. I’m sticking to my earlier comment that I feel like it was a missed opportunity to make her evil from the get-go, rather than starting her off as a nice kid who got greedy and now suffers for her ambition. If she hadn’t been identified from the start as a bad egg (or a “dark moon”), I’d find more to sympathize with. But even so, there’s an interesting conflict that arises from Hwon’s cold treatment of her. I do think she is the lying hypocrite he accuses her of being, but at the same time, I also feel he hates her for the wrong reasons.

I have actually been thinking that Jung Il-woo has been vastly overpraised for his acting thus far, but I think this episode showed the breakthrough I wanted from him. The hope he felt when trying to confirm Wol’s identity was a lovely mirror of Hwon’s feelings in the last episode, and got me right in the heart. I love him, definitely, but in previous weeks I wondered why Jung was being heaped with so many superlatives (not just in fandom, but by the Korean media as well) when Kim Soo-hyun was doing such a marvelous job and getting half the attention. And Han Ga-in has gotten some criticism (though it seems to be fading), while I was actually satisfied with her acting thus far. It remains to be seen whether she can bring it when required to get more emotional, but for now I’m going with it.

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106 February 1, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 9

by girlfriday

Wol finds out just how much danger lies inside the palace walls, and the king struggles to keep his curiosity, and his heart, locked away. It’s a crucial episode for Wol’s character, who hits rock bottom in more ways than one.

Ratings hit another high today at 34.5%, which is kind of insane. I thought low thirties would be the ceiling on this thing, but I guess there’s no slowing this train. Captain followed at 7.8% and Wild Romance at 4.4%.

 
EPISODE 9 RECAP

Hwon stirs awake in the dark room and pins Wol to the ground, demanding to know who she is. Woon stands in the corner but doesn’t interject, because I guess you can’t exactly tell the king to take a chill pill.

He yells for Hyung-sun to have every candle lit in the room. They light the candles… and he’s still got her pinned? While they lit every single candle? Well that’s an excuse to cop a feel if I’ve ever seen one.

He finally recognizes her in the light and his eyes widen. He trembles as he asks what she’s doing here, and whom she works for. He works up to a furor, and the professor who brought her here in the first place comes running in to explain that she’s not a person, but a talisman.

The king screams back that this non-person talisman took a hand to him while he was sleeping. How is anyone to know if she intended to strangle him, or seduce him, or take a knife to his throat?

But Wol boldly speaks up and asks for a chance to explain herself. She quotes passages from texts she’s read, and says that a king who carries the weight of a nation on his shoulders needs to lay down that burden and rest properly.

He doesn’t think that explains why she touched him, and asks how she could possibly know his burdens. She haltingly says that the woman’s name he whispered in his fitful sleep conveyed enough, and that she knows it was wrong, but she wanted to give him comfort in some small way.

It’s enough to fire up his suspicions again that she reminds him of Yeon-woo. As she talks, we switch to his inner thoughts, as he tries to convince himself that this isn’t her. “No, she’s not Yeon-woo. If she were Yeon-woo, she wouldn’t pretend not to know her own name.”

She calls out to him, as he repeats to himself that it’s a mistake, and that he has to let it go. He gets up abruptly, and orders her to be kicked out of the palace at once. He trembles as he does it, as if kicking a drug habit he knows is bad for him. It’s the letting go of the illusion or hope that she might be Yeon-woo that pains him. He ignores her cries as she gets dragged from his room.

Nok-young tries to intervene by saying that Seongsucheong will punish her by supernatural law, but the professor refuses to hand her over, and locks her up in jail with a warning to the guards to keep it a secret.

She panics to be locked in a wooden box all over again, and pounds on the door screaming for help. Hwon sits up, now haunted by the memory of Wol’s hand on his head as he slept. Wol in turn cries as she remembers Hwon’s words that a thing that isn’t even a person dared to touch the king.

Yang-myung heads toward the palace, after doing a little sherlocking to figure out who’s responsible for kidnapping Wol (though he has yet to find out her name or confirm his suspicions that she’s Yeon-woo).

He enters the palace and goes straight for the guilty professor who gulps in fear. Well if you weren’t already the prime suspect, that would have given you away. Yang-myung presents his story of valiant rescue and shows his head wound, all pouty, “It looks like it hurts, doesn’t it?” Pfft. He’s totally enjoying this.

The upshot is, Yang-myung knows he took the girl. So where is she? He sputters and lies that they kicked her to the curb, and he doesn’t know where. Yang-myung heads out, dejected to hit another dead end.

He runs into queens grandmother and… er, stepmother, I guess, (queen dowager and queen mother) and bows respectfully, wondering if something’s amiss. Grandma is especially spiteful and implies that Yang-myung has come to the palace knowing that the king has been threatened.

Queen mother actually defends Yang-myung, saying that surely he’s here to comfort his brother, but Grandma’s having none of that, and warns Yang-myung to heed his orders to stay away from the palace entirely. Assuming he’s just waiting in the wings to take the throne, she pretty much says over my dead body.

They start to walk away but he stops them, musing that what Grandma’s really worried about is the fact that the king has no heir to succeed him. Her jaw hits the floor. He guesses that in order to see that happen, she’ll have to live to be a hundred, so it’s likely that he’ll outlive her. Damn. He says he’ll be praying for her to live a long, long life, and turns to go with a giant self-satisfied smile. Ha. But when his back is turned, the smile fades and his face hardens.

The queens meet with Hwon to make sure he’s okay, but Grandma’s still worked up over Yang-myung’s visit and tells Hwon that he needs to hurry up and make an heir, and secure his line of power, and keep his distance from Yang-myung. Yeesh. She says with foreboding, “His very existence is a threat to you…”

Yang-myung heads to a temple where a woman dressed in a monk’s clothing is praying. She greets him by name, and he smiles, “Mother.” Oh thank goodness. I swear, if anyone else was going to be mean to him today, I might’ve cried.

He sweetly tells her that even without all those fancy jewels and headdresses, her hair is still the fairest. Aw. She sweeps her hand over her hair shyly, and tells him that she hasn’t been able to take that final step yet as a priestess/monk, and says she’ll shave it all soon.

He tells her not to, because you never know – something might happen to Hwon and then she might end up the queen dowager, after all. She looks up at him worriedly, asking how he could say such a dangerous thing. He assures her that he’s taken her words to heart his entire life.

She repeats the metaphor we heard him use as a teen – that a tree might want to stay still, but the winds will eventually move and sway it. (Though he used it differently, to motivate his wanderer’s life by moving where the wind takes him.) She tells him not to be swayed, because that’s the only way he’ll survive. Basically: don’t rock the boat or you’ll die.

He asks if she believes in the transmigration of souls (reincarnation). He says he’s emptied his mind, and has no ambition for anything, not even the throne, “But… for one person…”

“If there’s such a thing, then there’s just one person I want to meet again.” With tears in his eyes, he continues, “That she might not recognize me… that she might choose another over me yet again… that I may have already met her, and will lose her again… that’s my only worry.”

He wanders back to the place where he lost her, and wonders to himself where he can go to find her again.

That night Hwon asks what Woon thinks about Yang-myung, since he should know his hyung better than anyone. Woon asks if he suspects Yang-myung’s motives, but Hwon says no, he’s just worried that before he bends, he’ll snap. Has everyone in the universe conferred and agreed that Yang-myung = tree? Because what’s with the over-extended metaphor, people?

Hwon: “Don’t you think it’s funny, the seat of the king? I have to treat my brother who shares my blood as an enemy. I find this seat especially tiresome today.”

It reminds him of Wol’s explanation the night before, about wanting to ease a little of his tiredness, and suddenly asks Woon to check on her.

Wol sleeps slumped over in her cell and stirs from a nightmare, or a vision, as someone calls out “Yeon-woo-ya!” over and over. It turns out to be real – her mother wakes up from another nightmare where she tries to save her daughter.

Only when she wakes up, young Yeon-woo is there by her bedside. Mom hugs her tight, breathing a sigh of relief that she’s alive after all. She asks heartbreakingly if dying wasn’t painful, or cold, or frightening.

Yeon-woo just wipes the tears from her eyes, and tells her to be strong. She wakes up to an empty room. Wol stirs in her sleep, crying, “Mother, mother.”

Meanwhile Seol is chomping at the bit to break Wol out, and rails at Nok-young for not doing anything to save her. She screams that it’s because of her that Wol can’t breathe in confined spaces.

She suggests they just tell the king everything – that Wol is Yeon-woo, so that he can save her. Nok-young shuts her up angrily, warning her not to speak those words ever again. She’s gathering her thoughts for a plan, and insists on quiet.

Yeom finds himself wandering back to his old house, flooded with memories of Yeon-woo. He’s surprised to hear sounds coming from inside, and finds his mother hunched over Yeon-woo’s things and crying.

He asks why she came back here when she was doing so well by staying away, and she cries that Yeon-woo came to see her tonight, and it felt like she had something to say. He cries to see her still so distraught, and brings her back home. He leaves Mom in Princess Min-hwa’s care and heads back to lock up their old house for good.

Apparently Wol’s making the rounds to visit everyone’s dreams tonight, because next she shows up in Bo-kyung’s dreams, making her wake with a start. She panics, wondering why that dead girl is showing up in her thoughts.

Hwon tosses and turns, unable to shake Wol’s presence from his mind. He passes by the cooks the next morning and they bow expectantly, having prepared the same meal he praised them for when he was in a good mood.

This time he snarks that they must plan to feed him the exact same thing until the day he dies, totally back to the cold and bitter Hwon. They sigh to themselves and swoon over the memory of once seeing his smile. Heh.

Bo-kyung catches them swooning over her husband and they prepare for her wrath, but she slaps on a fake smile and pretends to be fine with it. She goes to see the queen mother and cries that there are rumors circulating about the king keeping a woman close.

Mother assures her that’s not the case, but Bo-kyung pleads with her, to allow her to be by the king’s side freely, insisting it’s the only way to calm the rumors. But the queen mother says that Seongsucheong has declared they must remain apart until the day of their consummation, and forbids it. She adds that the queen dowager has brought a human talisman to aid in the king’s recovery, and it’s working well.

The king meets with his assembly, who wait on pins and needles for him to blow the lid on their palace construction project, aka their front to launder money for their nefarious private militia.

He totally toys with them, purposely giving a few false starts and putting them at ease before launching the real question, about the progress on the building’s construction. Minister Yoon offers up that if he’s concerned he ought to take a look for himself. The king responds that it seems a little late for that.

The council of evil gathers to gripe about the king messing with them, because he clearly knows something, but isn’t striking. Why? One of them guesses the meaning behind his statement that it’s too late – he knows that even if he were to overturn the construction project, it’s too late to stop their plan.

They figure that he’s waiting for the right moment, and Minister Yoon muses that the king is waiting for the chance to do a clean sweep all at once – to clear up the corruption from the roots, and not just injure one arm of the plan. Well that’s what a smart person would do.

Bo-kyung tells her father about the human talisman and worries that despite being considered an object, it is still a woman that they’re keeping close to the king, and she can’t abide it. She asks him to request the queen dowager to remove her at once. He chastises her for being so childish as to be threatened by a shaman, a nobody, and leaves her fuming.

He goes to see the queen dowager, who greets him snidely that he must be coming up in the world since he’s been by so infrequently. They laugh and smile but they each gripe to themselves that he’s gotten cocky and forgotten who gave him that position, and that she still thinks herself a powerful player. It’s great when the villains turn on each other. Makes the hero’s job easy.

He takes issue with her bringing Nok-young back as the head of Seongsucheong, because of course the interim shaman in charge was loyal to him. But the queen dowager won’t budge on this matter, trusting in Nok-young’s power even if it frightens them. Above all, she says, “The dead no longer speak,” meaning she’s proven her worth in the clearest way.

The day has come for Wol’s punishment, as guards come to drag her out of her cell. She gets strapped to a torture chair as Nok-young, Seol and Jan-shil watch in horror, but they can’t do anything to save her. A guard takes a branding iron out of the fire and raises it to her face…

Meanwhile Hwon is outside, getting in some archery practice? Dude, someone’s face is about to be marred for touching you, and you’re playing with arrows? Woon comes up and actually takes Wol’s side, which Hwon notes with surprise.

He sighs, “I know, she’s not the dangerous one. The dangerous one is me.”

Nok-young watches the branding iron get closer and closer to Wol. She asks Ah-ri what to do – if she reveals Wol’s identity it’ll save her from this, but then she’ll surely be killed anyway. She begs Ah-ri for an answer.

The iron gets inches from her face and Jan-shil screams… as someone calls out for them to stop. Ohthankgod.

It’s Hyung-sun, here with orders from the king, that Wol be pardoned to return to Seongsucheong and fulfill her duty. Tears of relief come like a wave, as she trembles.

Hwon turns to Woon and says that he knows he should push her away. “But I can’t.”

Wol sits stone-faced in her bed, not having touched her food. She asks Nok-young to be allowed to go outside the palace just once. Nok-young begins to refuse her, but she says tearfully that she has something she needs to do.

She says with a painfully broken spirit that she knows now fully what she is, and what lines she cannot cross. Oof, the way she says that she learned her lesson kills me, when you think of how bold and idealistic she was as a child.

But she says that she at least wants to break the prejudice against her for being an orphan, and asks for permission just this once: “It is my first and last request.”

So she heads out of the palace walls and walks through town, just mere feet away from her mother and Princess Min-hwa. She heads to the paper store and rifles through the colorful parchment. The shopkeeper asks what she’s choosing the paper for, and she says it’s for an apology, the same kind of admission of fault she wrote to Prince Hwon when she was young. Oh, is she going to write the king the same way? I’m already excited.

Something about being there triggers her memory, and she hears voices as if they’re in the room – young Seol and Yeon-woo talking about what sort of parchment is appropriate for this sort of thing.

She runs out, flooded with these thoughts, and realizes that she never saw that man that saved her, and never thanked him. She heads back to the last place she saw Yang-myung that day and sighs, thinking there’s no reason he’d still be here, days and days later.

But when she turns around, there he is, staring right back at her. Eeee! They meet again! He looks at her full of shock and emotion, while she smiles at him, only seeing him as the nice man who helped her that day.

They go back to the parchment store and she thanks him for helping her that day, and apologizes for not keeping her promise to return there. He laughs it off and says it’s no big deal, since it’s not like he successfully saved her anyway.

She wonders why he’s dressed as a nobleman today, and he hurriedly clears up the misunderstanding that he’s not a monk, no-siree. He says that he’s a free bird, and offers to take her away to anyplace that she wants.

She says that she’s in a safe place now and that she’s fine, but it triggers another memory – of young Yang-myung offering to throw away his identity to run away with her. Aw, even just the flashback to that moment breaks my heart all over again.

She asks if maybe he’s related to the king. Yang-myung smiles, wondering how she knew, maybe hoping that it means something more. But she says that it’s her shaman powers – she saw a glimpse of his past. No, it’s your past! Ack!

He deflates. She asks if she can give him a word of advice: “It’s time that you let go of the one you keep in your heart.” He stops cold. She tells him to empty that space in his heart for someone new.

“Don’t struggle to cover the truth with laughter anymore. Isn’t it too painful a thing to live your life in disguise while lying to your heart?” It stirs him, but then he smiles to cover it up, as if on reflex.

He asks her name, and she starts to say that she doesn’t have one, but remembers the name the king gave her. She tells him that it’s Wol. She thanks him again for his help and says that she’ll pray for him to meet someone new. He’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t realize she’s walked out.

Mom and Princess Min-hwa are headed to the same store, and Wol bumps right into her mother on her way out. But her face remains covered as she bows an apology, and Mom tells her it’s okay.

Yang-myung comes running out belatedly, and his sister grabs him in surprise, wondering what he’s doing here. He barely registers them, scanning the crowd for Wol. Min-hwa guesses that he’s got a new girlfriend, and he just agrees with her to get her off his back, and runs into the street, but she’s gone.

Back in the palace, she uses her new parchment to write her admission of fault.

Nightfall. Wol gets led to the king’s chambers, back on talisman duty. She enters the inner chamber alone and finds the king standing there, waiting for her. He says in his cold and bitter tone that he skipped the sleepytime tea tonight, and will do so each night from here on out.

He repeats her words that he needs to lay down his burdens and treat his weariness, and approaches her, saying he’s extremely tired. Whoa, is this going where I think it’s going?

He tells her that she’ll have to make him forget his troubles and lay his burdens to rest, and asks if that’s something she can do, as if challenging her. But she surprises him by saying that if he’ll let her, she’ll do whatever she can to fulfill her duty to the king. She’s basically now fully been stripped of the illusion that she’s a person. Augh that just breaks my heart.

Meanwhile Bo-kyung stews in her room, unable to shake the thought that something else is going on. She storms over to the king’s chambers against everyone’s pleas, and gets past Hyung-sun to the inner room.

She hears the king’s voice asking Wol to lift her face. Bo-kyung braces herself and cracks open the door…

She gets a glimpse of Wol from the side and scrunches her face in surprise. She looks up to see the king standing just a few feet away from her, looking into her eyes.

 
COMMENTS

So far I actually like the arc that we’re getting for Yeon-woo/Wol because we meet her as a headstrong idealistic girl and find that she’s maintained the same spunk as an adult, so that when she goes through this transformation, her spirit broken and her worth reduced to nothing, it’s certainly more heartbreaking to know who she really is on the inside.

It’s not so much the loss of status – going from princess bride to object – that gets me in the heart, but the loss of her personal self-worth that resonates with me. When she finally gives in to what the world is telling her, it’s the first time I feel that pang of true sympathy for the character.

So far she’s had some lovely moments with both Hwon and Yang-myung, and the tragic love triangle seems to be as strong as ever. There’s obviously a hefty amount of suspension of disbelief that has to go on with both brothers just believing that she’s someone else who has Yeon-woo’s face (or perhaps that she’s been reincarnated in this way), but then on the other hand, them holding out hope that she’s not dead would be just as weird.

I do like that her flashbacks are explained away by her delusion of shaman powers – she thinks she’s seeing into other people’s pasts, without realizing that the link is her, which I actually like. It feels logical to me, whereas I would have liked to see Yang-myung be a little more dogged in his disbelief, because he seemed to immediately recognize her as Yeon-woo when he saw her last week. But methinks it’s not a bone he’s about to let go so easily, and I’m sure Hwon will do his share of interrogating in due time. Hwon’s got his share of darkness so he’s set up for a good arc, but Yang-myung feels like the same person from beginning till now, just more heartbroken. It works of course because he’s an obviously sympathetic character, but I hope there’s a bigger journey in store for him.

 
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287 February 2, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 10

by javabeans

What a fantastic episode for our men. This really should be The Sun Embraces That Other Sun (And Heck, Also Those Other Friendly Suns, While We’re At It). Yes, the two suns are brothers and that would require breaking a number of taboos, but hey, I’m game if you are. Sigh.

Another ratings increase (the ninth straight one) with today’s episode bringing in a 37.1%. (Ratings were 7.5% for Captain and 4.5% for Wild Romance.) Good grief. I mean, I’m entertained so I’m not complaining — it’s just way beyond my expectation. Timing and circumstance really have so much to do with which shows hit which numbers; previous sageuk hits Princess’s Man and Tree With Deep Roots are both better dramas, but they aired in different circumstances. But Moon/Sun can thank them for setting the stage for it to come in and dominate.

SONG OF THE DAY

Feelbay – “낮잠” (Midday nap) [ Download ]

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EPISODE 10 RECAP

In his bedchamber, Hwon addresses Wol in language that I’m sure must have been carefully and intentionally selected to hint at the underlying sexual tension driving everything — this drama’s whole conflict centers around sex, after all — as he tells her she must make him forget his exhaustion and put his pain to bed. She says she will, as the spiritual object she believes herself to be.

Standing just outside, Bo-kyung cracks open the doors and is immediately alarmed at Hwon’s reaction to Wol, and readies to storm in. But Woon pushes the door closed and she loses the moment. She glares at him, but forces a smile as she tells Hwon’s entourage that she was merely worried about the king.

Back in her own room, Bo-kyung breaks down in angry tears. Her fears have been realized, because she had recognized that Hwon was looking at the shaman with the eyes of a man for a woman, not a king for his good-luck charm.

Hwon calls for the court doctor, surprising all by saying it’s not for him, but for Wol. Hyung-sun protests, because the royal physician is reserved for royalty. Hwon says that her job is to absorb the evil energy from him, and therefore ensuring her health is for the king’s benefit, overriding Hyung-sun’s horrified protests.

Hwon reads a book while his physician attends to Wol, although he can’t help sending her longing glances, which don’t escape Hyung-sun’s notice.

Then, Wol takes her usual position and watches over Hwon’s sleep. After she leaves, Hwon opens his eyes, not having slept after all.

Woon is given the note taken from Wol, intended for the king, and in the morning he gives it to Hwon. It basically tells him that though she’s not considered a person, she wishes to be the king’s citizen. He recalls his harsh words earlier, and reads this as a rebuke of his dismissal of her worth: “She means that a shaman is still a person, so I shouldn’t disregard her.”

Hyung-sun muses that it’s rare enough for a shaman to know how to write, but also that she’d dare send this kind of message. Yet this also stirs another memory, of another letter he received from a 13-year-old. His thoughts echo his 15-year-old words: “How could I forget you?”

Hyung-sun knows what he’s thinking, and gently reminds him that Wol is is not Yeon-woo. Hwon gets defensive and can’t even bear to hear Hyung-sun continue with the reminder that she’s dead, and he angrily shuts him up.

Hyung-sun informs him of Bo-kyung’s visit and entreats Hwon to consider her feelings, and how hurt she must have felt to have abandoned pride to come to him.

Bo-kyung is moping in her room when she receives word that the king plans to see her. This is great news for all the queens, especially queens mother and dowager. Granny attributes this to the shaman-charm, who has single-handedly improved the king’s health and facilitated reconciliation with Bo-kyung, and she takes this as proof that Wol is indeed the successor to Nok-young. She decides to request another fortune-reading to move the consummation date up while things are looking good.

Bo-kyung happily receives Hwon, who mentions her unannounced nighttime visit. She says it was purely out of concern for him but he cuts to the heart of the matter, as always, insinuating that it was really about keeping tabs on him.

He says that there was no person in his room that night, merely an amulet, as a way of dismissing her concerns — See? It’s just a thing. No reason for you to interfere. The words are polite but there’s a menacing quality to Hwon’s tone, and Bo-kyung is ill at ease. Hwon reminds her that they are to keep their space until the consummation in a month, and Bo-kyung understands that he’s really warning her not to visit his quarters again.

Bo-kyung grapples with her frustration after he leaves, wondering what he is trying to hide from her, and why he has to go so far as to order her away. She breaks down in tears as she wonders if the thing he’s covering up for is love. First the dead girl, and now the lowly shaman?

She orders her lady in waiting to find a court lady with close access to the king. She wants someone to watch the king’s visits with his shaman-charm and report to her — secretly, of course.

Yang-myung returns to town to search for Wol, to no avail. He recalls Wol assuring him that she was safe, and wonders if that’s true.

He passes a group of young court shamans, and Jan-shil recognizes him from that time years ago when he saved her from the quack peddlers. She runs after him, adorably calling him “Oraboni” and grabbing him in a bear hug.

He doesn’t recognize her, all grown now, and is confused until she reminds him of the “magic stone” he once talked about. Memory thus jogged, Yang-myung greets her warmly.

Jan-shil tells him she’s no longer a phony seer but the real deal, one of the shamans of Seongsucheong. And that makes the pieces fall into place for Yang-myung — Seongsucheong is the safest place for a shaman in the city — and he asks urgently whether a girl named Wol is among them.

But Jan-shil remembers how furiously Nok-young warned her to keep her mouth shut about moon/sun related talk, especially regarding Yeon-woo, and the bodily harm she was threatened with. So she shakes her head no and says that there’s nobody like that around.

Jan-shil goes to Wol’s room with a heavy heart, sorry for lying. Sleeping Wol has a fitful dream, and relives the memory of that long-ago night at the festival. Out of context, though, the sight of Hwon wearing that big mask is spooky, and the dream has teh tone of a nightmare. Just as he lifts the mask to reveal his face, she wakes up.

It’s a recurring nightmare that always ends before seeing his face. Wol’s particularly disappointed tonight, feeling like she was just about to see his face. Seol is there when she wakes and thinks sympathetically that the face she wants so badly to see is the one she looks on every night.

That evening, Hwon is waiting for Wol when she enters and refers to her letter, which conveyed her resentment of him. She protests that she didn’t mean it in that sense, and he allows that maybe she doesn’t resent him — but she did mean it as a reproach.

She answers that she only meant to say that she would undertake her duty to the best of her abilities, and that misunderstanding is bound to arise if the reader of the note approaches it with preconceived notions. If he felt something in her note, perhaps it’s because there was a reason he made that inference.

Hwon reads into that remark as well, supposing that she’s insinuating that he’s ruling badly. Even though Wol has a tendency to speak in poetic riddles, Hwon does seem to be overreacting this time and he gets worked up, reminding her of her place and that he is not to be trifled with. He exclaims, “I am Joseon’s…!” in much the same way he had at their first encounter.

Hwon cuts himself off, recalling that very thing, and declares he’s in need of some air. Wol, as his charm, is ordered to follow him outside.

He orders his entourage to stay at a distance, keeping only Wol nearby with the excuse that she’s his charm. They stand outside the closed palace building that was once hers, and that stirs a memory — of young Hwon crying after her as Yeon-woo was kicked out. Assuming her medium powers are responsible for the vision, Wol asks if this place holds sad memories for the king: “Was the person who shed tears at this place… you?”

He looms over her and asks intently, “What did you see?” Then he grabs her even closer — rawr! — and asks if she knows this because of her supernatural powers.

She says yes, and he tells her to use those powers, then, to answer a question: “What do you think I’m going to do now?”

Watching from across the courtyard, Hyung-sun and Woon avert their eyes as Hwon asks whether she thinks he would embrace her, disregarding her status. And then he eyes his uncomfortable staff, all shifting and looking down — and grabs Wol’s hand to run away. HA! (I love that he was being intentionally discomfiting to get everyone to look away.)

Racing across the palace grounds, Hwon ducks into an empty building and demands to know who she really is: “You are not Wol.” But she has no other identity, and she says that before he gave her a name, she was just a nameless shaman.

Hwon looks at her entreatingly, asking, “Do you really not know me? Have you truly never met me?” Wol asks if he’s looking to find Yeon-woo in her, and if her resemblance to that woman is why he’s keeping her close. He looks devastated as she tells him that she isn’t that person.

Lashing out, he says she’s overstepped her bounds for assuming he cared for her, and that she’s a mere charm, not a person. Who is she to send him into such chaos? He warns her to keep away — if she crosses the line again, he won’t forgive her.

His entourage awaits outside, and he leaves with them, dismissing Wol’s services for tonight. He does send Woon to follow her back to her quarters, though.

Nok-young finds Wol outside and asks in concern if something happened, alarmed when Wol asks, “Who am I?” She confesses that she’s seeing strange visions, and while they must be someone else’s memories, they feel like her emotions.

Not really believing it, Wol asks, “I can’t be the owner of those memories, can I? No matter how much I resemble her, I can’t become her, can I?” As though she wishes she were, so she could have the king’s love or maybe just ease his pain. Seol witnesses the conversation with tears of sympathy.

Yeom freaks out to have Yang-myung pop up outside his house, and the two friends are then further freaked out by the silent arrival of a third party — Woon. Ha. Woon is here to convey Hwon’s orders to Yeom to appear at the palace, and on his way out gets a glimpse of a letter written on familiarly bright yellow parchment. Yeom explains it as an old letter from Yeon-woo.

Seol once more visits Yeom’s house to get a glimpse of him, not seeing that Woon has clocked her shadowy presence. He surprises her with an attack and asks who sent her. Seol knocks his sword aside and runs away.

The two remaining friends have a drink, and Yeom asks whether it’s true that Yang-myung has a new sweetheart, wondering what she’s like.

Yang-myung reminisces about that one instance eight years ago, on the night before Yeon-woo was to be decided as the princess bride. He’d offered to take her away, but she had dismissed him by telling him not to joke, and he had let it go at that.

Yang-myung: “If I hadn’t disguised it as a joke… If I’d had more courage, and held out my hand… If I had shown my true feelings and asked her to run away… would she be with me now?”

Seol finds Wol waiting up when she returns, and explains that she was visiting her former owners’ house. Wol smiles and says they must have been good people for her to still feel attached, and Seol answers that they were: “When I was not even treated like a beast, they treated me as a person and gave me the pretty name Seol.” She finishes the thought in her head, adding, “That’s the kind of person you were.”

After Yang-myung leaves, Yeom goes to Yeon-woo’s old room… where he finds her old chest. OH THANK GOD. Will somebody find that damn letter already?

Yeom remembers Yeon-woo’s words about going through with the bridal selection despite her family’s worries. He lifts the lid to find the scrap of paper, curiously out of place, which immediately grabs his attention. He pulls it out, and sees that it’s addressed to the Crown Prince.

Yang-myung walks along the deserted road, stopping short at the sight of a dark figure. It’s Jan-shil, and she tells him emotionally that she’s sorry, and that she’ll help him find the woman he’s looking for. She grabs him in a hug, crying, “Because you saved my life. I’ll repay that kindness, I promise.”

Yeom visits his mother prior to making his trip to the palace. Min-hwa’s disappointed he didn’t tell her in advance so she could go with him, and Mom asks if she’s angry. Min-hwa says no, not angry — uneasy. Because if her husband goes to the palace alone…

Cut to: Yeom, stirring up a frenzy among the court ladies, just like old times. Hwon warmly receives Yeom, whom he still calls Teacher, and invites him to settle in for a chat.

Our axis of evil plays the role of today’s political exposition fairies as they receive word of Yeom’s sudden appearance at court and try to unravel its significance. I guess “Because I wanna hang out with my friend” doesn’t compute with this council of backstabbing conspirators?

One minister comically complains that his hottie ranking slips whenever Yeom’s around, but then they get to the crux of the problem: As the princess’s husband, Yeom isn’t supposed have anything to do with politics, and thus his presence at court is dangerous. His very existence is problematic on a symbolic level (not unlike Yang-myung), since there are those willing to rally around him, perhaps moved by his father’s lingering influence.

Yeom has deliberated over the letter, and now presents it to the king, explaining that he decided the right thing to do was to return it to the rightful recipient. Hwon can’t hide his emotion as he confirms that this is Yeon-woo’s last letter to him.

Bowing respectfully, Yeom advises Yeom to forget her now, and to remember his wife. He says that Yeon-woo wouldn’t have wanted him to stay stuck in her shadow either. Hwon notes sadly that everybody is telling him to forget her.

After Yeom leaves, he sits there staring at the unopened letter for a long while, and finally reads it.

Yeon-woo: “Crown Prince, I gather the last of my strength to leave this letter. I do not know if it will cause trouble or even if it will reach you, but I write this anyway. Before I leave, even only through the things I have learned from you, I was very happy. But now you must stop blaming yourself, and think of me as a memory. My father will bring me medicine soon. Then I will no longer be able to see you. You must forget me, and years later become a good and wise king.”

He cries, asking, “How much must she have hurt? How painful must it have been?”

He asks Hyung-sun to bring him his old chest, and sobs that he can’t remember Yeon-woo’s handwriting anymore. He has to see her old letter as confirmation.

Bo-kyung’s court spy reports to her about the king’s nighttime stroll, as well as Yeom’s visit. He was seen in troubled spirits afterward and asked for a chest bearing the hanja character for rain. Bo-kyung seems to recognize this immediately, with some concern.

Hwon takes out the old letter, the apology she’d spent so much time on. But as he reads, it triggers another thought and he fumbles for a different letter — the one he recently received.

Hwon compares the handwriting of the letters, which contain some of the same words. He orders Wol brought to him immediately.

Wol is escorted to his quarters, but along the way she’s jerked to the side by Yang-myung, who asks intently, “Do you recognize me?”

As he does, Hwon finishes his comparison and looks up with conviction.

 
COMMENTS

Ack! He knows! They both know! You’re just going to cut out here?? Right, of course you’re going to cut out here; you don’t get to 30%+ ratings by just giving it away, I guess. I’ll give it to this show — even in a slower episode (which is what I thought of this one), it always pulls out a cliffhanger designed to rope us back like a crack addict at the bottom of his pipe, or however else you run out of crack.

I said before that I wished Bo-kyung had been developed differently, to not be so outright malicious from the start, and that feeling is growing. I understand that she was raised by a villainous father, but she would have been such an interesting character if she had been allowed to “choose” her evil, so to speak, rather than have been marked from the start as a dark soul.

This also stems from Kim Min-seo’s portrayal of Bo-kyung, which I think is fantastic. And yet the problem is, I think she’s giving the character depth that isn’t there in the writing. That’s not as bad a problem as the reverse scenario, but it does give me moments of confusion as a viewer.

As a child, when she saw the lovebirds slipping away from the festival and cried, I felt nothing for her because there was nothing to show why she should feel so crushed; they had no existing relationship, and she’d never even looked at him admiringly. She could have been smitten by him at the soccer match, but again, wasted opportunity.

Thus I felt (and still feel) that Bo-kyung’s issue is about jealousy over all the things Yeon-woo had, rather than jealousy over the king’s heart — because as far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t care for Hwon, the person. It’s all about what this represents: She’s always felt inferior to Yeon-woo, and her insecurities aren’t dead just because the girl (supposedly) is. It would have been a wonderful thing to explore, wouldn’t it?

Here’s what I would have done: In their youths, I would have had Bo-kyung misunderstanding Hwon’s request to see her in secret, rather than realizing the truth in two minutes. She could have then built him up in her mind for days and read signs into everything, so when she later found out he meant to see Yeon-woo, that crushing disappointment would have had some bite. Then she could feel hurt over their relationship, whereas right now I feel like she’s a toddler unwilling to relinquish a toy because it’s hers.

I’m not saying we can’t enjoy what we have, because I’m going with the story that’s given to us and it’s still entertaining. It’s just rather one-dimensional, ignoring its early potential to cultivate richer characters and more believable emotions.

I have found the continued dumping on Han Ga-in a bit excessive, but it’s true that she doesn’t measure up to the men. I like her quite a lot in this role when she’s with Seol and Jan-shil, and I love that this drama shows us some solid female friendship, as fierce and loyal as any bromance. (More of that, please!) Han is managing the sageuk-speak pretty well and I think she bears a striking physical resemblance to child counterpart Kim Yoo-jung, so good casting on the looks front. But it’s too bad that Kim Soo-hyun blows her out of the water, and so does Kim Min-seo.

I never really thought Yeon-woo was terribly nuanced a character to begin with, though, even in childhood; she was the simplest role of them all, and I partly blame the writing for being flat on that front. That’s true of a lot of the characters, actually, and we are just blessed in some cases with some actors who transcend their material.

And boy, did they transcend in this episode. Kim Soo-hyun was pretty much on fire the whole episode through, whether he was being hurt, furious, confused, or heartbroken. And Jung Il-woo is at his best when he’s letting down that mask of mirth, as he did when he confessed to Yeom that perhaps he might have been able to keep Yeon-woo alive and with him if he’d been emotionally sincere. He’s wrong about that — y’know, Fate and all — but that regret is a bitter pill to swallow.

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140 February 8, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 11

by girlfriday

Yay, the fun is back! I love this episode. It’s full of funny pranks, stealthy missions, and some new mystical elements that work nicely to integrate our characters further. Hwon finally starts playing detective and asking some key questions, and I say, IT’S ABOUT TIME.

 
EPISODE 11 RECAP

Yang-myung pulls Wol aside to ask if she recognizes him (this time he means from their recent encounter, not when they were tweens) and she doesn’t have a chance to respond.

The guards tear them apart, but this time Yang-myung pulls royal rank, disclosing his identity. The guards immediately bow. He turns back to Wol, but this time Nok-young intervenes, and just in time. She tells them to take Wol away and stands in Yang-myung’s path to block him.

Meanwhile Hwon sits in his chamber, just after having compared Wol’s letter to Yeon-woo’s. (Eeep!) He wonders to himself over and over, “It can’t be…” She enters the chamber and he looks up, angry.

Outside, Nok-young explains that Wol is just a mystical object, no different from a paper talisman. Yang-myung counters that his life is worth nothing more than a slip of paper too, and continues to charge forward.

Nok-young stops him again, saying that it’s not fated to be. He yells back, wondering who determines such things. Nok-young says she’s simply delivering the message of the gods. Yang-myung: “That is not for God to decide, but me.” Gah, could I love him any more?

She finally draws her last card – that going any closer puts Wol in danger. She tells him that his actions could put her in the middle of a war, and warns that he’s putting her life at risk. She tells him the only way to keep her safe is by backing away.

Inside, Hwon is screaming at Wol, demanding to know where she was born. He interrogates her in rapid-fire – where is her family, was she always an orphan, what happened to them.

She explains that when a shaman is endowed with mystical powers she must cut her ties and her memories of her past life. Interesting. So she thinks her amnesia is not specific to her, but a commonality among all shaman?

Still as frantic as ever, Hwon demands she reopen those memories – who was she in her past life, and does she have any memories of him?

But she cries, pleading with him to stop. “I cannot give you the answer you seek. Because I am not that woman you are looking for. I don’t know how much I look like her. But if you wish to inquire more, please, ask her directly.”

His heart sinks, and he backs off the inquisition. Urg, I wish you people would consider the possibility that she CAN’T remember who she is.

At Seongsucheong, Nok-young rips Jan-shil a new one for her colossal mistake, in front of everyone. She wonders why she even bothered to crawl back in here, and kicks her out.

Jan-shil cries and pleads, and Seol tries to get Nok-young to soften, but she means it this time. She wails that it’s because she felt so bad for oraboni, because the king gets everything while he gets nothing. She wanted him to have just one thing…

Nok-young turns around and shoots her a death glare and Jan-shil freezes, covering her mouth. But it’s a little late to take back mention of the king. Nok-young screams at her to get out and turns her back.

Suddenly Jan-shil gets a vision or is possessed, because she stands up defiantly, calling Nok-young “Mother.” She asks why she’s always living to serve others, and Nok-young looks back in shock.

Yang-myung wanders outside the palace walls, and wonders if even this time, he lost the girl AGAIN, to his brother. He finds his mom praying late into the night at the temple, and asks what she’s doing.

She says that as always, she’s praying for the king. He cuts her off angrily, “Just once, can you not call my name before the king’s?” Oof. She asks how he could say such a disloyal thing.

Yang-myung: “It’s disloyal! Hold back! Give it up! Hide it! Don’t waver! Aren’t you tired of it, Mother? Once, just once – Do as you want. It’s okay to be selfish once – Couldn’t you say those words to me?”

Tears fall, but he fights them back and looks up with determination. “I will no longer live for other people!”

Cut back to Jan-shil, who we see now is channeling Yang-myung having this very conversation with his mother. She finishes his words: “If I want to laugh I’ll laugh. If I want to be angry I’ll be angry. If I want to steal [her] away, I will! I’m going to live that way!”

Nok-young watches her in stunned silence, and then Wol walks in. Jan-shil runs over to her, still channeling Yang-myung. “Let’s run away. Run away with me. If it were me, I would’ve protected you. If it were me, I wouldn’t have left you to become like this.”

Oh wow, I just love this scene, the way it cuts back and forth without spelling it out. You can just tell by what she says that she’s a stand-in for Yang-myung. How can a conversation via medium still break my heart for this guy?

Nok-young steps in to wake her out of the connection, and then has her dragged out of Seongsucheong on the spot. She declares that anyone who lets her back inside the palace walls will be punished the same way.

Wol worries and tries to change Nok-young’s mind, but she won’t budge. Seol is more confident that Jan-shil will return in no time, and that Nok-young will eventually take her back in, as always.

Wol sits down with Nok-young and says that if Jan-shil is out then she’ll go too. She confesses that Nok-young was right about her foolish decision to remain here – that she thought she could help the king.

“But I have discovered that I can do nothing for him.” She realized that she’s only made things worse for him, and thrown him into confusion. She thinks that the best she can do is leave him.

Hwon sits obsessing over the letters through the night and into the next day, as Woon and Hyung-sun plead with him to get some sleep or eat. He doesn’t even hear them, and asks what it means when Yeon-woo says in her last letter that her father will bring her medicine and that she won’t see the king anymore.

Woon guesses that she’s predicting her own death. Hwon agrees, and thinks that’s weird. Finally, you are asking the right questions! Hyung-sun gasps—is he implying that Minister Heo had a hand in killing his own daughter?

Hwon thinks back even further – Yeon-woo was always healthy, so what’s with the sudden illness? They ask what he’s getting at, and he spells it out: the princess’s death was not a simple illness.

He wonders if Yeom might know anything, but Woon confirms that he was sent away, and spent his whole life regretting it, because he couldn’t protect his sister. Hwon agrees that bringing up those memories for him would be cruel anyway, and orders him to look into that mysterious medicine that Yeon-woo was given the day she died.

For good measure Hwon actually orders Yeom to go away on a trip, and he packs to leave. Princess Min-hwa is in hysterics, of course, and he comes in to say goodbye. He promises to return soon, but she’s inconsolable.

She asks if he dislikes her because she’s always crying and throwing tantrums, and then wonders if he hates her because he’s locked away in the house, unable to fulfill his potential.

He reassures her that he doesn’t hate her, and that she saved his family. She’s also the one who brought laughter back into this house, and for that alone, he’s grateful. Aw.

She asks if he won’t leave her, and he smiles, wondering what other proof she needs that he won’t. But that’s enough for her, and she decides that she’s going to trust him—that he won’t ever leave her, and that he’ll return from his trip soon.

He wipes her tears and she beams. They’re so cute.

Meanwhile the Council of Evil meets on their latest plan of attack—to go after Yeom for breaching the rules and going on this trip. The assembly gathers and they present their case to the king, that Yeom is required by law not to act as a civil servant in any capacity because he is married to the princess, essentially meaning he ought to stay put in his house.

They argue that his journey could have political implications, but the king argues that there’s nothing wrong with a man taking a vacation. Well now I’m doubly curious about his destination, ’cause it sure isn’t for sun and surf.

Hwon muses that he can just hear the cries ringing in his ears that he’s nothing but a scarecrow, a puppet king. He leaves the council fuming, and decides to kick up a fuss. He storms into the records room where one of the ministers is in charge of sorting civilian requests to the king.

He tears the room apart while yelling at the minister for the same issue he’s always had—that the people’s problems never actually reach the king’s ears. But the whole thing turns out to be a diversion for Woon to steal into the back room and snatch some record books.

He stealths them into Hyung-sun’s hands while everyone else is focused on the king. Nice. Can we get one of these Mission Impossible things in every episode?

Hwon scans the record books from the time of Yeon-woo’s death, but finds nothing other than the official stance that she fell ill. Well that’s not surprising. Did you expect the baddies to write down: “But it was really a super-secret plot to kill her so that Bo-kyung could continue her clan’s line of power”?

Meanwhile Bo-kyung gets a report from her spy that she overheard the king say to Wol that she looks like someone, and that Wol insisted she wasn’t this other person. Bo-kyung starts to get nervous about her hunch.

She walks past the closed Silver Moon Building, and stops short when she hears an echo of a woman crying. Oh creepy. She’s the only one who hears it though, so she tries to shake it off.

Nok-young tells the queen dowager that it’s time to stop using the talisman that draws out bad energy, since remaining by the king’s side might mix good with bad. She says that it’s time to trade her in for a new talisman made specifically for the marriage consummation.

We know it’s all a crock of bullshit, but the queen dowager laps it up, and tells her to do whatever is necessary. Nok-young smiles, now everything in place to get Wol out.

She runs into Bo-kyung on her way out, who asks directly if Wol resembles Yeon-woo, citing the rumors and the fact that the king is acting out of character. She asks to meet the girl.

Nok-young doesn’t flinch and avoids an answer by going on the offensive: “Since when have you been hearing cries coming from Silver Moon?” Bo-kyung trembles. She assures her that Wol is leaving the palace soon, and that her consummation date has been pulled forward, so everything will go according to her wishes. Bo-kyung smiles, reassured.

Nok-young gives the news to Wol that she’ll leave the palace in the morning, and Wol sighs, disappointed to be leaving the king’s side despite knowing that this is what she asked for.

She gets a letter from Jan-shil that says she’s doing well because of a certain someone. We cut to her writing the letter, with Yang-myung behind her. Aw. I knew he’d take care of her.

She swoons about how awesome he is, and then requests a favor, that Wol pack up some clothes and bring them to her, except without Seol, because she suspects that Seol’s on Nok-young’s side. Heh.

Wol packs up her things as asked, and then finds something in the chest. She unwraps it to find the hairpiece—the moon embracing the sun. She doesn’t react to seeing it though, and wraps it back up among Jan-shil’s things.

Meanwhile Hwon goes over the details of what happened eight years ago, and hits dead end after dead end, figuring that everyone who might know what happened is dead. Suddenly he remembers someone who’s still alive—the king’s servant, ie. his dad’s Hyung-sun.

Hyung-sun comes in to see the king, and he’s carrying… a snowman on a tray? Hee. It’s so cute. He wonders why the king suddenly requested he bring him a snowman. Oh no. Hahahaha. I can already see where this is going…

Hyung-sun enters with his little snowman proudly, and of course, the room is empty. HA. Hyung-sun cries out, and out in town dressed as noblemen, Hwon and Woon laugh.

They go to see the former king’s attendant, and his servant lies that he’s away on a trip, even though his shoes are sitting right there on the stoop. Hwon just says loudly enough for him to hear that the king requests his presence in the palace no later than tomorrow, or else.

Outside he tells Woon that today he just wanted to confirm his suspicions – that Yeon-woo’s death really wasn’t a simple illness, because clearly this man has been told to keep his mouth shut about something, for eight long years.

It also tells him that his father must have known what happened, but had a reason he couldn’t do anything about it. “That reason – don’t you think he left that somewhere?” Yay, treasure hunt?

They walk a while, and right past Yang-myung who laughs as Jan-shil devours a chicken. He tells her to return to Seongsucheong, but she doesn’t want to, scared that she won’t even get to beg and plead, because she’ll be tortured first.

He wonders why she stuck her neck out to help him then, if she was so scared. Jan-shil: “It’s because you were the first. You were the first person who ever put his life on the line to help me.” Aw, I love these two.

He can’t help but smile as she tells him that she doesn’t even remember the faces of her mother and father who abandoned her, but his face, she’s never once forgotten. He sighs that her situation isn’t too different from his own.

She perks up, “Were you abandoned by your parents too, and do you have someone you can’t forget either?” He gives a long sigh, “Well, it’s similar.”

She asks about the person he can’t forget. He says that she’s wise and pretty, and that just looking at her brings him comfort. “She caused me a lot of pain, but she brought me a lot of happiness too.”

Jan-shil sighs, “Then maybe I shouldn’t have called Wol here.” That gets his attention right quick. He asks her to repeat it, and she says that it seemed like he wanted to see her, so she called her here. Who needs fate when you’ve got a mystical munchkin?

Wol walks through the streets on her way to them, but when she passes by the parchment shop she gets another flash of memories of being there with Seol, and then again when she passes by the blacksmiths.

The memories come flooding in, of the festival, the prince wearing his mask, and she starts to get dizzy, and falls.

But someone catches her by the waist before she goes down, and when she opens her eyes, Hwon is holding her. Guess you can’t beat Fate, munchkin.

He’s just as shocked as she is, and they stand frozen like that, looking into each other’s eyes.

They walk for a little while, and Hwon is super awkward, all why are you here, oh yeah, I already asked, and I’m here on business, oh right, I already said. Aw, it’s like he’s a teenager again.

He wonders if it’s okay for her to be wandering about during the day when she’s supposed to be preserving her mystical energy and whatnot, joking that that must be why he feels tired.

She doesn’t get that he’s just pulling her leg, so she looks up with concern, asking after his health. In her defense, it wasn’t a very funny joke. He awkwardly has to explain that he was kidding.

She takes her leave and he starts to call out for her, but then sees one of the palace ministers headed straight for him. Woon says there’s a whole group of them coming this way, so they turn around to get back to the palace before they’re discovered.

But Wol stops when she sees that minister berating a child for running into him and ruining his very expensive clothes, and orders his minion to cart the kid away as a slave. Wol steps in to ask that he forgive the child, but only incenses him further, causing him to turn his slave-intentions toward her instead.

The minion grabs for her, but then Hwon comes out of nowhere and runs off with her, head bowed so no one can see him. They take off running down the street, and happen to zoom right past Minister Yoon.

He doesn’t see them straight-on, but after they pass, it gives him pause and he wonders to himself—could that have been the king? Ruh-roh.

Hwon and Wol manage to get away, and he berates her for being so fearless, and not in a good way. She asks if she sees wrongdoing, is she supposed to just ignore it?

He argues that it’s not wrong to expect recompense for ruining expensive clothes, and she starts to ask how expensive they could possibly be, and looks up at the clothes he’s wearing. She says that the higher up you are, shouldn’t you live more simply?

She quotes a story about a king’s duty to set an example in living humbly, so that his subjects follow suit, and it pretty much shuts him up. He wonders how she always knows the right answer to aggravate him. Heh.

He starts to complain but something grabs her attention and she turns away. He’s about to pitch a fit about not paying attention to the king, but sees what she’s looking at – it’s a puppet show.

A wave of emotion hits him, as they stand there silently watching. A man comes up to sell them the best seats in the house, and ushers them to the front of the crowd. He takes Hwon and then sticks out his hand for payment.

But of course, he’s got no money. He’s the king. He looks down sheepishly and Wol laughs to herself and pays for them. Ha. Not so easy to look cool when you don’t have a penny to your name outside the palace walls, eh?

They sit down and he awkwardly says he’ll repay her, and she holds back a laugh. The puppet show happens to be his tragic love story with Yeon-woo, of all things. Hwon is actually bored since he lived it, but Wol watches, captivated.

He turns to look at her, taken with her expression.

Yang-myung paces back and forth, waiting for Wol. He finally can’t take it anymore and heads out to look for her.

Wol turns to Hwon and asks if he’s met that woman he’s looking for yet. He says no. She wonders why, so he finally tells her, “Because she is no longer in this world.”

Wol asks how. Hwon: “It’s my fault. I wanted to protect her, but I couldn’t. There were so many things I wanted to say to her, but I couldn’t. That’s why I haven’t been able to let her go.”

He asks if a shaman can speak to the dead. She says she can. He asks her to send a message: “That I really, really liked her.”

Aw, it’s so sweet and sincere. She looks at him with tears brimming in her eyes, and then he breaks into a cute little smile.

They sit smiling at each other, which is the way Yang-myung finds them. Oh no. Heart breaaaaaaaak.

 
COMMENTS

Damn, if it’s one thing this show does well, it’s that perfectly tragic love triangle where you’re literally rooting for both brothers, and torn up about it each time one of them loses out to the other. It’s like whiplash, but every five minutes it’s Hwon! No Yang-myung! No Hwon! Aaaaaaagh.

It’s certainly not something you could pull off without such strong leads. Jung Il-woo slays me with his puppy angst more each episode, but his character is very naturally sympathetic anyway. Not that it doesn’t KILL ME every time, mind you, but you’d have to be void of a heart not to feel his pain. It’s actually Kim Soo-hyun who has the harder job of making the king sympathetic despite his character type. Hwon can often times come off quite assy, and bratty in an entitled way (like the small moment when the puppet-watching crowd takes issue with his view-blocking and he blurts, “Do you know WHO I AM?” like a big spoiled brat).

But the glimmer of the old Hwon is in there, and it shows at the seams which is what I love about the portrayal. And the more he’s with Wol, the cute teenage version of him comes out to play. The intensity and strength is a given, but the smiling, that just does me in.

I really love the new turn with Jan-shil and Yang-myung—both their team-up (’cause oh-so-cute) but also the way she channeled him and spoke directly to Wol. I want to see more of that kind of thing, because so far most of the magic has been a big con. I like the con, mind you, especially where Wol is concerned, but I also want to see more mystical interference from Jan-shil or others who really do have a direct line to the other side.

The best thing about this episode was the breath of fresh air it brought by taking everyone outside the palace walls. I love any time we come outside, because those walls feel suffocating to me (in a good narratively-effective way, but it still feels stifling). I love any chance to see Hwon outside his normal protected environment, and I certainly wouldn’t mind if they played hooky more often. Poor Hyung-sun will just have to start a little snowman family.

 
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250 February 9, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 12

by javabeans

All right, time to up the stakes, and ratchet up the emotion on all sides. People are pushed into corners, and characters take one step closer to making some finite decisions. Hwon takes one step forward in the big mystery of years past, but also suffers a setback as the baddies get crafty, too. And that cliffhanger leaves us wondering if we’ve hit a point of no return, or if our hero can find a way out. (Okay, I’m pretty sure it’s not a real point of no return, but at the same time I’ll have to remain in suspense another week. As will we all.)

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Lucid Fall – “어부가” [ Download ]

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EPISODE 12 RECAP

A discouraged Yang-myung walks away from the puppet show, having seen Hwon and Wol sitting together. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Without looking, he addresses the silent follower he knows is nearby, asking, “How long have you known?” Woon steps forward and asks if she really looks that much like that child. That’s enough to tell Yang-myung that the king has that same feeling of deja vu, and he suspects that this was meant to be kept a secret from him. He tells his friend, “Now you’ve become the king’s man entirely.” Woon looks sad, but can’t exactly protest that.

That evening, Hwon and Wol walk through the town. He says he enjoyed the show, but calls the story ridiculous — a commoner girl meets a king without knowing he’s the king, and they fall in love? How does a king even have time for romance with all his duties? The nation’s in trouble with such a foolish ruler at its helm. You might want to tread lightly there, King Loverpants, you’re pretty much asking to be smacked on the head with an anvil of irony.

Then he adds that the girl is just as absurd, for not realizing he’s the king from his kingly aura. Lol, I enjoy that Hwon has a streak of vanity. He starts to go on a rant about the implausibility of the script, but finds Wol looking at him, and she says, “The story is possible, because they are people. How can you explain what happens between person to person using only logic?”

He says he’ll pay her back later, and as he goes, she thinks to herself sadly that she won’t be seeing him tonight.

Yang-myung approaches as she walks along, telling her he sent Jan-shil back home. She confirms that he’s Jan-shil’s supposed generous and free-spirited helper, having worried that she’d gotten caught in a scam. Yang-myung steps up and asks, “If such a scammer were this handsome, wouldn’t it be worth being caught once?” Ooh, yes please.

Wol turns to leave, and he gets serious all of a sudden, asking why, if she was so worried, she’d only remembered Jan-shil now? He asks if she was so captivated by something that she forgot who she’d come for, and who would be waiting for her. He says he doesn’t know if he can do it again: “Watching you looking at another place, another person.”

He leaves her wondering at those words.

Hwon is prepared for bed by a nagging Hyung-sun, who is lecturing him about the wild snowman chase from earlier and all the pains he went through to get the pointless thing, with fresh snow from the roof. Hwon just says, “But luckily, you’re still alive.”

Hyung-sun whines about his poor hands, so cold from all the snow, so Hwon grabs them in his own. He pulls Hyung-sun toward himself and says, “Let me warm your hands with my hot chest.” Omg, he cracks me up. Hyung-sun is the very definition of “can’t take a joke” and given the rumors that are already swirling about the king’s preferred bedmate, Hyung-sun reliably freaks out and scrambles to leave, arms crossed over his chest.

Hwon smiles as he anticipates Wol’s arrival, having prepared money as repayment for the puppet theater.

At the same time, Nok-young is giving Wol her instructions for leaving the capital the next morning. Wol has misgivings and asks if she can see the king one last time, wanting to say goodbye and last words. She promises to leave right away, and pleads for permission.

Bo-kyung stews in her chambers, recalling her spy’s latest report about Wol’s resemblance to Yeon-woo. So she sets out and intercepts the shaman-charm on her way to the king; she slaps on a smile and asks Wol to uncover herself so she can speak to her.

She complies, but it’s not Wol — just another shaman. Bo-kyung finds nothing remarkable in her appearance, and looks appeased.

Hwon hears his doors opening and starts to address Wol, but when he looks up his face hardens — it’s Bo-kyung standing there. She tells him she has figured out what he’s been hiding from her, because eight years ago when she first met him in the Silver/Hidden Moon building, he had shot her the same look when he realized she wasn’t who he meant to see.

Hwon angrily reminds her of his warning not to drop in unannounced. Bo-kyung raises her voice too, asking what about that lowly shaman has him so captivated. She tells him to go ahead and take that shaman into his heart; she won’t care. Because no matter whom he loves, she is the one seated at his side: “You will have to acknowledge that soon.”

The new shaman enters, explaining that she is the new amulet, working to facilitate the consummation. The amulet to draw out evil has finished her duty and will be leaving Seongsucheong soon.

Seol can tell from Wol’s expression that she’s on the verge of tears as she packs her things, saying that the hard-hearted Nok-young could have at least consented to let her say goodbye. Just then Nok-young enters and orders Wol to dress as the amulet; she’s been called by the king.

As he leads her, Hyung-sun tries to politely ask her not to upset the king, but she understands without being told and assures him that she won’t.

Hwon paces anxiously, and when Wol enters he demands to know who gave her permission to leave, especially after she told him she would ease his pain. She says that her job is done now, and that she can’t replace that other woman. He loses his temper and she reminds him forcefully that he’s the one who ordered her not to come close. Hwon yells back, “I did not order you to go far away!”

He calms down and tells her she’s right. Looking at her now throws him into confusion, because he can’t tell if he’s looking at that child or Wol’s past self: “But until I can put that confusion to rest, until I can know what it is I feel, don’t you dare… go far away. That is a royal order.”

Queen mother tells Bo-kyung of their new consummation date, which is in several days’ time. She’s smug that this time Hwon won’t be able to thwart the issue with excuses of his health, and asks to see her father.

Minister Yoon finds record books being taken outside and confers with the minister in charge. He hears of Hwon’s angry fit, and how the damaged books are now being laid out in the sun. Now they realize that a few volumes are missing from eight years ago, and this fact strikes Minister Yoon as alarming. And yet, when the official goes to check, the books are back in their place, thanks to Woon.

That’s one point for Team King, but they’re met with bad news: the former attendant to the previous king has committed suicide.

Officers swarm the estate, where they find the man’s body hanging from the ceiling. The chief officer declares that it’s a pretty obvious case of suicide, so what they should look at is the reason for the death.

Hwon fixates on the mystery: What was the man hiding? What is it that he’s being kept from finding out? He sends Hwon to bring every relevant record on file with the Euigeumbu (a royal investigative/judicial department, like a cross between police and courthouse), and to make sure this remains hushed up.

This calls for the reappearance of a familiar face, and a man is brought before the king, wondering at the summons and feeling a sense of deja vu. It’s the same Sungkyunkwan scholar young Hwon had once persuaded into leading students in a rally, now in service at the Euigeumbu, named Hong Kyu-tae.

Hwon explains that when records pass through other hands first, he is kept from the truth. Therefore, he assigns Hong Kyu-tae to pretend to be investigating the suicide, while actually finding out the truth of the princess’s death eight years ago.

Minister Yoon is wary enough to report to the queen dowager that the king has been engaging in suspicious behavior that seems linked to the events of eight years past. On the other hand, queenie is feeling comfortable, saying that moving up the consummation was a heavenly boon.

Ah, and here we have another fissure in this alliance, with one side using logic and the other relying heavily on the Powers That Be. I find the queen’s obsession with the supernatural intriguing, and wonder if it will be her undoing.

The queen dowager says the king won’t find anything, and even if he does, they’ll cover it up. What, with six feet of dirt? Her complacency is interesting, and satisfying (given that she’ll get hers in the end).

Yeom reads, bathed in soft backlighting, which is the way Min-hwa views him through her lovestruck eyes. She tells him dreamily that he’s at his most handsome while reading, but then sighs that he won’t spare a glance for her. An idea pops into her head: “If I covered myself in writing… would you look at me more?” Ha. I dare you to say yes, just to make her do it.

But a servant is on hand to dash the romance in that idea, telling her that erasing the writing is sure to be a pain. And then we see that Yeom isn’t in the room after all — since he’s away on his travels — and Min-hwa had been fantasizing the whole thing. Hilariously, she’s annoyed at her servant for interrupting just when she was about to meet Fantasy Yeom’s gaze. What, you can’t even make him love you in your dreams?

She decides to look after Yeom’s mother, per his request, finding her reading a letter from the queen dowager. Hearing about the soon-to-be consummation night, Min-hwa decides to drop by the palace to see Bo-kyung.

First, Min-hwa consults her books to jot down some helpful tips, like how lying on one side increases your likelihood of bearing a son.

She runs into her grandmother at the palace, who teases her about never visiting. Min-hwa visibly stiffens to confront her grandmother; it’s likely she’s never been comfortable around her since witnessing Yeon-woo’s death rite. She stammers at Granny’s invitation to walk together, inventing an excuse to leave right away.

Hwon is visited by the head of the royal astrology office, which is in charge of designating those consummation dates. He is given the new date, and responds that his health is not improved enough, overriding the physician who declares him fit. The astrology officers urge him to make use of this fortune before the heavenly energy shifts, but he angrily orders them away.

Bo-kyung tells her father she’s not worried that this upcoming date may not happen, saying that she’ll find a way. Her father is alarmed when Bo-kyung tells him that the king’s behavior points to him being in love with the shaman, and he wants to dismiss her immediately. Bo-kyung says no, that until the royal consummation, that charm must remain by his side. She will use the king’s affections in ensuring the consummation. Um, I hope we’re not talking about costume changes or tricks, because I foresee that ending badly for all.

Bo-kyung has accepted — prehaps for the first time — that she wno’t win Hwon’s love after all, so now she says that if she can’t have it, she’ll at least use it to her own ends.

An extravagant delivery is made to Seongsucheong, containing shamanic accessories of high quality. Jan-shil (who has been accepted back after all, perhaps after Nok-young was assured she’s been scared straight) hands over the deliverer’s letter — Yang-myung.

Wol immediately heads out and finds Yang-myung waiting. She asks why he sent her the gifts, and he says, “Because I like you.” Woot woot for the assertive prince! She tells him the joke is inappropriate (the same words Yeon-woo used), and he says he’s not joking.

She says he can’t know enough about her to declare affection. He replies, “Because you were the first. You told me not to hide behind laughs, and not to deceive myself. That I should let go of the pain in my heart. You were the first to say that to me, and those words comforted me.” He concedes that she’s right in saying he knew little about her, but for her resemblance to someone else, “But now that’s not the case. The person I see now is you.”

Aww. Pick him! Pick him!

Nok-young stands before her shrine, worried that the fates of those who must not meet are once again entwining. Bad mojo is in the wind, and it makes her uneasy. She’s with her old accomplice, who wonders how a human can interfere with the winds of fate. Nok-young answers that the chance to end all this disruption comes in three days’ time. If the consummation is successful, the connection will sever and she will be able to send Wol away to safety.

Her accomplice warns her of “the truth we buried” coming to light, but she says that it won’t matter even if it does.

That night, Wol sits with Hwon, looking at him while he reads. He tells her that he knows he’s good-looking, but that she shouldn’t stare, and she laughs. He gets all, “Did you just laugh at me?” and orders her to follow him out for a walk.

Standing outside in the snowy courtyard, Wol asks what has him especially troubled today. He tells her that a man took his life today, and that he was the reason for it: “Death’s shadow always follows those around me. The people I care for all fall into danger. I could not protect them all, and not only that, but I could not ease their bitterness.”

Wol tells him this is not his fault, and that those people all know how he tried to protect them. He tells her to use her mystical powers to answer him: Will the truth he seeks come to light? She says yes, and he repeats the question, asking her to answer with her personal thoughts this time. She says yes again, telling him she has faith in him: “A tangled knot will not unravel all at once. But if you pull at each part of that knot, one by one, one day that hidden truth will be revealed.”

He thanks her, moved by her faith: “That is the first warm comfort I have received in a long time.”

Minister Yoon presses to retain the new consummation date, to the ire of Hwon, who insists he’s not well enough. But the minister has prepared a crafty trap of technicalities, saying that he has kept the evil-warding amulet with him for quite some time now. Is he saying that it has had no effect? Because if not, perhaps it’s the fault of the amulet, who will be have to be dealt with accordingly. You know, destroyed in the name of national security.

Ah, so this is how Bo-kyung will manipulate Hwon using his love. The end result will be that Wol leaves the palace, either alive or dead. Minister Yoon had asked her what she would do if Hwon insisted on keeping Wol with him even after the consummation.

She had replied that this means Daddy gets to step up and mobilize the scholars for his purposes, because how could the king, the model of the state, justify hiding a woman away in the palace in light of the Confucian principles holding up the nation?

The shamans busily clean Seongsucheong, and when Jan-shil protests at the excessive chores, another shaman tells her that they have to prepare for prayers, in light of the consummation tonight. Wol registers this with alarm, while Hwon sits in gloom, immune to Hyung-sun’s attempts to reason with him.

Hwon bursts out, “How can you say that, too?” Hyung-sun tells him that continued refusal only increases the danger to Wol. Hwon puts his head in his hand and tells Hyung-sun not to bring her to him tonight.

He is attended to that night by the royal physician, dressed, and treated with acupuncture and medicine.

Bo-kyung, meanwhile, is dressed in her own finery and awaits the king’s arrival. He makes the walk to her quarters like someone heading to his execution, stone-faced and morose.

Wol is given an order to stay away. Yang-myung finds her fighting tears in the courtyard, having guessed she heard the news. He tells her that this is to be expected of the king, who must provide an heir, which doesn’t ease her heartsickness any. She knows everything he’s telling her but her tears come anyway, and with hers come his. He asks if he can’t be the one for her.

The king and queen sit together, and he starts to undress according to the procedure outlined for them. Are they not even to have this allowed them in their own way? Yeesh. I’m pretty sure the order of hat-belt-sock removal won’t affect rate of conception.

Unforgiving to the last, Hwon says that Bo-kyung must be happy to finally have gotten her way. She answers that this isn’t something only she wants; it’s the hope of everybody, including their citizens.

Wol tells Yang-myung to go back home, but he presses — will she come with him? It’s an echo of their earlier conversation as teenagers, only this time he won’t back down and play it off as a joke. He says he’s tired of being a prince and wants to leave that position. He is ready to run away, and furthermore, continuing as shaman is not good for Wol, either. If she wants to run away, will she run with him?

Hwon sits silently simmering, and Bo-kyung reminds him that no matter what, she is his woman. And all of a sudden he grabs her, pulling her toward him, and touches her face. He says, “Even if you cannot have my heart, you still want to mother the nation’s next king. Fine. For you, I will untie my robe.”

 
COMMENTS

Lordy, this drama takes “Will they or won’t they” literally, and to extremes. It’s an interesting conflict, and one we don’t often see, so I welcome the fact that we’re exploring a familiar problem (two lovers who Cannot Be) in a new way.

That said, it does keep the romantic angst at a fairly basic level, which makes me wish there were more to this story. Somewhere in the past week or two, the story has become all about the king refusing to bed his queen, and the opposition insisting he do it. The arguments have been going around in circles for a while now, and every time the king roared, “I cannot!” and “This is a royal order!” I felt like we were pulling the string in the back of the talking doll.

I wish the Hwon-Wol romance had more development to it, because now it’s in that stage of the story where they’re apart, then they’re not, and then they are again. If this were a modern drama, this would mark the umpteenth time the hero moved out of the apartment, or the heroine ran away to spare him pain, or maybe an enraged parent stepped in to oppose the relationship. Round and round we go.

On one hand, I really like that the hero is married, on a narrative level. It takes the forbidden romance to a realistic place, with some real stakes. But on the other hand, this also trips me up a little, because he’s married. It wasn’t to the woman of his choice, but as a head of state in a patrilineal system of rulership, he’s also got a duty to procreate. (Not saying I agree it’s right, but them’s the facts of the time and of the position.)

So when he refuses to bed his wife out of hatred for her clan, I don’t know what to make of it. Is he actually defying the entire dynastic system and determined to let it die out? Or is he just crossing his arms and digging in his heels like an angsty teenager refusing to be ordered around? I’d like to believe his stance has a nobler intent behind it, but since he’s never expressed a problem with the nature of succession or an ideological resistance to monarchial rule, I can’t help but feel the latter is more likely. And that feels like a narrative problem to me.

I suspect that if the romance felt more… desperate, I might be rooting more for him to chuck aside the wife. I buy that he loves Yeon-woo and is attracted to Wol, and I buy that she’s starting to fall for him too, but their attachment seems so tentative. I might be pulling for them if their relationship felt stronger, if it conveyed the feeling of star-crossed lovers like Moon Chae-won and Park Shi-hoo in The Princess’s Man — there, the connection ran so deep and was fueled with such fierce attachment that you believed they’d do anything to stay together. Here, not so much. I don’t need them to be like the other couple; they just have to have more rapport. He’s the king who — like the puppet he mocked — is preoccupied with a love life that keeps him in fits, and she’s a morose, fatalistic heroine who decides she has to just let things happen as they’re meant to happen.

Yang-myung is the only character who’s showing some gumption now, which is such a relief. Despite my love of Jung Il-woo, I was pretty much on the Hwon train all this while, more than anything because Wol/Yeon-woo has never shown interest in him. But when he gave his “I see you” speech, I felt myself pulling for him for the first time.

I don’t know. The show’s entertaining, for sure, but it’s not really sticking with me these days. There isn’t enough to cling to, because the story’s sort of stuck at surface level. At least it’s a very pretty, elaborately designed surface. I hope the upcoming murder investigation delving into Yeon-woo’s death will bring some of that excitement back.

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170 February 15, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 13

by girlfriday

And thus begins the noble sacrifice portion of the drama. At least the dramatic tension is certainly higher when the baddies gain some traction—it’s been a while since we’ve felt some real conflict around here other than broken hearts, and this episode marks a turn in upping the stakes. (At least death and torture are inarguably scary, as opposed to the gasp-he-might-sleep-with-his-wife storyline.) Ratings hit another high at 38.4% today.

 
EPISODE 13 RECAP

Hwon flips Bo-kyung on her back, ready to bed her angrily out of duty. ‘Cause nothing says romance like royal heir-making on Grandma’s orders.

Bo-kyung cries a tear, saying that she’s a woman too. How long will he keep his heart filled with the memories of a dead woman?

But elsewhere in the palace, two forces are at work. Nok-young and the others in Seongsucheong pray for the consummation to go well, while the other shaman that Nok-young confides in casts a spell to disrupt it.

Suddenly Hwon clutches his heart and gasps for air. Bo-kyung practically rolls her eyes, asking if he’s going to play this ol’ game again and set everything back to zero. But he’s not playing, and loses consciousness, right on top of her.

She screams for help. Looks like you’ll have to wait another supernatural cycle to get your man.

Meanwhile Yang-myung asks Wol if she won’t come with him, and she says that a shaman cannot love because, “We are simply bowls to be filled with the spirit of the gods, and nothing else can fill that bowl.”

But she thanks him sincerely for treating her like a person, for wanting to take her away from all this. Wol: “But I can’t give you a false heart, out of gratitude.” Oof. It hurts, but it’s the truth he needs to hear.

That shaman stuff doesn’t make any sense to Yang-myung, who just sees people as people, and asks, “Is there no one who can move your heart?” Her gaze shifts, but she doesn’t answer.

Jan-shil comes running up to her to say that the king has collapsed and they’re calling for her. She runs off in an instant, leaving Yang-myung to muse that she shouldn’t have given herself away so easily. Man, little bro beats you even when he’s unconscious.

The king’s physician tends to him, everyone in worried fits and Hyung-sun in tears. Wol rushes in and sits by his bedside, and then instantly, his condition changes and he gets better. The doctor gapes at the sudden recovery. Well if they didn’t believe in Wol’s powers before, this pretty much settles it.

She sits by all night, crying and worrying. The gong sounds and it’s time for her to go, but suddenly Hwon grabs her hand and opens his eyes. She smiles in relief and he asks if she was worried, “That I would be with another woman?”

She says she has no right to feel anything about that, and he smiles, asking her to stay till morning.

The Euigeumbu investigates what happened to the king—is the consummation date to blame, or did his physician miss something? But they sensed a new spiritual energy at work last night, and determine that someone was purposely attacking the king.

Queens Mother and Grandmother rest assured now that the king’s condition has stabilized, and go to see Bo-kyung. She apologizes profusely to them, saying that it’s all her fault. They tell her there’s no way she could be at fault for this, but she says there’s something she didn’t tell them…

Trembling, she says that she had a bad dream the night before last—a woman dressed in white came to her in her sleep and said that the king’s bedside would be hers to protect from now on, and that Bo-kyung would never bear his heir.

Oooh, nice move. I find it entertaining that everyone in this world is so superstitious, and that for the smart characters, this is an advantage—they use it to get what they want.

She tells them everything—the rumors that the king has shown affection for this shaman, the fact that he knows of her presence (despite her duty to slip in and out in the night without his knowledge). They reel from the shock, and Bo-kyung smiles to herself.

I like that she’s stepping her game up. Bo-kyung was mostly ineffectual before, but now her sharper instincts are showing, and she’s starting to be a bigger obstacle. Bad for the heroes, good for the story.

Meanwhile the council of evil meets to discuss what they should do with this delightful new development. If the king acknowledges that he kept a shaman by his bedside every night knowingly, he’s admitting to an unapproved union.

And even if he denies it, they’ve decided that Wol will carry the blame for using her mystical powers to keep the king from bedding the queen. Well, it does make for a salacious tale. Basically it’s a win-win for the baddies, who know how to manipulate the power of public opinion. They gleefully debate how to begin their smear campaign.

Wol overhears some of the other shaman discussing theories on why the king always falls ill whenever he’s with the queen. One thinks that he’s faking it because he can’t forget his first love.

The other thinks that’s ridiculous—it’s been eight years. Yeah, I’m not really that sold on it either, but whadduya gonna do? She says the other rumor must be true: that the ghost of the dead princess bride who lives in the Silver Moon Building haunts the palace and keeps the king from being with anyone else.

I like that theory. Untrue of course, since she’s standing right there, but it’s more poetic. Er, poetically vengeful, but yunno… she had some stuff to feel revengey over, if you’ll recall. Wol thinks back to Hwon’s reaction to that building, and her own.

Kyu-tae (the Sungkyunkwan-scholar-turned-cop) is on the case that Hwon secretly assigned him, and heads to question the apothecary who gave Minister Heo medicine for his daughter eight years ago (though not the fatal dose he’s looking for).

The old man recalls being called after Yeon-woo’s death to find her parents clutching her for hours, and remembers how odd it was that her body was still so warm after she’d been dead for a while.

Yeon-woo’s mother arrives soon afterwards with Princess Min-hwa in tow, to order some medicine to help her bear a child. Min-hwa adorably whispers to the old man that she’d also like something for her husband as well, wink-wink. She’s so cute.

Mom stops to stare wistfully at some old markings in a pillar, recalling that she used to bring Yeon-woo here when she was little, and they’d mark her height. “I wonder how tall she’d be now, if she were still alive…”

Min-hwa watches uncomfortably, carrying the guilt of Yeon-woo’s death in secret. The old man notes that a man was just here, asking about Yeon-woo. He had claimed he was a distant relative, which surprises Mom.

Wol sits in her room saying the pieces of the puzzle aloud: “Silver Moon Building… princess bride… daughter of Heo… Yeon-woo… Heo Yeon-woo. Heo Yeon-woo. Heo Yeon-woo.” It triggers memories of others calling out her name—Hwon, Yang-myung, Mom and Dad. Her eyes grow wide.

Suddenly there’s a call from outside—the Euigeumbu is here to arrest her. And it’s Kyu-tae who leads the charge. Seol and Jan-shil discover her as she’s led away in red ropes like a criminal.

Nok-young goes to see the shaman who cast the spell, and argues that Wol’s connection to the king was to be severed. He’s firmly in the other camp though—he argues that the place by the king’s side is Wol’s, and that it’s a union that must be protected.

Nok-young says they crossed the point of no return when she first made the deal to save Yeon-woo’s life. But the man argues that it was an act to save her, and that everything must be given a chance to return to its rightful place.

He says it’s not too late to put things back, but Nok-young digs her heels in and recites that age-old nonsense that paves the path to evil: that she’s come too far to turn back now. WHY IS THAT EVER A REASON FOR ANYTHING?

Wol gets interrogated about her whereabouts the evening of the attack, and when asked if there’s someone who can vouch for her alibi, she remembers Yang-myung, but says she was alone, of course, to protect him.

Minister Yoon charges in to question her himself. She insists she didn’t cast the spell, but he says she misunderstands him: “Someone must pay for that crime. Whoever that might be.”

He says that she will undergo unthinkable torture and have every bone in her body broken to pieces. But depending on her answer, he can change that and let her walk out of here on her own two legs.

She asks what it is he wants. He lays out the charge: that she had a secret affair with the king, and that to disrupt his consummation with the queen, she cast that spell to harm him. She denies it fervently.

Yoon: “That’s not the correct answer.”

The deal is basically this: if she acknowledges it as truth, she gets to walk out with her life, and if not, she pays the price in torture and death. She quakes in fear.

Seol paces outside, waiting for a chance to see Wol, and Nok-young joins her. They quickly hide when they see Minister Yoon walk out. He pauses outside, wondering where he’s seen Wol before, because her face feels familiar.

Nok-young finally gets inside to visit Wol in her jail cell, and the first thing she asks is if the king is okay. Nok-young chides her—her life is at stake and THAT’s what she’s worried about? The king’s health?

Nok-young asks if she doesn’t understand the serious charges against her. But Wol knows exactly how serious they are, and also how little it matters whether or not she’s guilty of them. She knows now how convenient and disposable a shaman is, to use as a political scapegoat.

She says there’s no way out for her now, and begs Nok-young to help her figure out how to save the king—what can she do to keep him from falling into their trap? Nok-young calls her crazy for planning to admit to the crime just to save him, and reminds her that her sacrifice will scar him just as well.

Wol cries to think how much he’d suffer and blame himself, for not being able to protect her, because she is one of his people. Yeah, that and he’s in love with you, but whatever, let’s go with a king’s love for his people.

Nok-young shares the same exasperation I feel, because for crying out loud, You’re facing death and torture and many many broken bones! You’re worried about the king’s FEELINGS? Someone knock her upside the head, please.

Soon enough, word spreads and Hwon hears of her capture and scheduled sentencing.

Yang-myung does what he always does after a broken heart, and packs for another trip. He takes one step out the door when Jan-shil comes running up to ask for his help. She pleads with him to help just this once, but he turns away, saying that Wol doesn’t concern him anymore. Well you sure picked a fine time to get over it, didn’t you?

Wol gets dragged out and tied to the chair for her sentencing, and Minister Yoon keeps wondering to himself where he’s seen her before. His associate remembers her from the street the other day, and that jogs his memory—he saw her run past him with the king. He smiles.

But before they can begin, Hwon bursts in, demanding to know what they’re doing without his orders. Wol turns away and hides her face from him, and he trembles with anger to see her bound like that, feet cut up and bruised.

But of course he finds that they’re just salivating in wait for him to do something about it. Minister Yoon practically taunts him to his face. Back in his chamber he roars in rage, and then gets up to go back there and save her anyway…

Hyung-sun stops him with a reminder of who he is. He is the king of the people, and if he tries to save her, then the people lose a king. He says that Wol is a sacrifice he has to make—”You must lose one to save the rest.”

Hyung-sun reminds him that Wol is smart (yeah I’m not sold on that either, judging from her recent actions), and that he should trust her to save herself.

Wol screams in pain as they torture her, and everyone winces except for Minister Yoon, who presides as if he’s watching a soccer match. He finally raises his hand for them to stop and asks why she did it.

She grits her teeth and declares that no matter how many times he asks, the answer will always be the same: she did not commit this crime.

He approaches her and mutters under his breath that he gave her a way out, but she’s not taking it. Oh well, then he’ll just have to torture her until she complies. And they begin again.

Nok-young begs the queen dowager to let Wol go, since she doesn’t even possess the kind of power it takes to cast a spell of that magnitude. But Grandma’s more than suspicious of Nok-young now, since she’s heard that Hwon has known of Wol’s presence for some time.

She accuses Nok-young of trying to use Wol to seduce the king and gain political favor. That just gets Nok-young fired up, asking if she has such little faith in her, how she trusted her to kill the princess bride eight years ago.

The veiled threat isn’t lost on Grandma. Nok-young spells it out for her, since she points out that she has nothing to lose—what if she just wanted to kill the king? How about that? Or better yet, what if she felt like telling the king about what really happened eight years ago? Grandma’s face goes white.

Hwon comes to see her, cutting the conversation short. He surprises Grandma by bowing to her, and asking for her help. She asks if it’s true then that he’s fallen in love with a shaman, and he smiles and says he’s man, is he not?

He admits that he was attracted to her, but that it was nothing serious. He’s mindful enough of his position to throw it away for a lowly shaman. He smiles and appeals to Grandma’s vanity, saying that she’s the only one who has the freedom and the power to intervene.

He thinks to himself that if one is to be sacrificed to save the rest, then he’ll give up himself to save her. Of course you are. Le sigh. Although your current tactic (if it works) is sly enough not to throw yourself completely to the wolves.

Minister Yoon continues relentlessly with the torture, and asks Wol for the millionth time what she was doing the night in question. Suddenly Yang-myung bursts through the gate to declare that she was with him.

That throws a wrench in Yoon’s plan, and he asks Yang-myung quietly why he’s throwing himself into suspicion. (Admitting that he was at Seongsucheong that night means he’s a suspect, and of course, next in line to the throne is the highest motive there is in threatening the king’s life.)

Yang-myung doesn’t budge, and says, duh, what other reason is there for a man and a woman to meet secretly in the night? See, I think this plan could work… but then Wol cuts in to say that she asked him there, to beg him to take her away.

Okay, what now? Let’s everybody jump on the freaking merry-go-round of noble idiocy. Can’t we at least let one person go at a time without piling up on top of each other? You’re getting in each other’s idiot paths!

So to try and keep Yang-myung out of the crosshairs, Wol says that he’s just someone who’s saved her life before, and that she called him there and pleaded with him to take her away from this life. She’s essentially taking the fall for seducing him.

Yang-myung says in any case, they were together that night, so doesn’t that prove what he wants to know? Just then, Minister Yoon gets a message from the queen dowager to halt the interrogation.

He goes to see her and asks what she’s doing, but she says that they’ve gotten what they wanted from this—to show the king who’s boss. Besides which, Wol’s sudden new alibi provides them with something even better—a way to get rid of Yang-myung once and for all. They chuckle in evil glee.

Yang-myung comes to see Wol in jail, and tells her reverse her statement—that he seduced her and not the other way around. That clears her of everything and he says he’ll deal with the fallout. I’m not quite sure how this works out as a solution, because basically they’re just splitting hairs at this point.

Regardless, she refuses. He says she did a good job of lying earlier, so what’s another? If she’s trying to protect him… but she cuts in to say harshly that she didn’t do that to protect him; she did it to save herself. Well that’s just a load of crap.

They both lie through their teeth at each other, all I’m totally not doing this for you! even though it’s absurd because there’s no one else in the equation.

Alone, she says to herself that she’s sorry for the heartache she might’ve caused, but this is the only way to sever ties to both Hwon and Yang-myung and keep them from harm. She asks them not to forgive her.

Hwon hears of his brother’s intervention, which is the first time he finds out that Wol and Yang-myung even know each other. He sees from Woon’s expression that it’s not news to him.

Yang-myung comes to see him and the air is tense between the brothers. Hwon says he heard about the witness testimony he gave today, and muses that it’s unlike him, to stick his neck out for some shaman.

Yang-myung: “Then you don’t know me very well. Unlike Your Highness, to gain one that’s precious, I am willing to give up the rest.” Hwon: “Are you saying that because of my greed to protect all, I don’t know how precious the one is?”

Yang-myung asks him point-blank for Wol, declaring that he’s willing to give up everything to protect her. But Hwon fights back, refusing the request: “When I was a prince, you said that you would’ve protected her… that you would’ve staked everything, your life, to protect her.”

Hwon asks if this is really the way to protect Wol—would she truly be safe by his side? Well listen, she’s safest away from both y’all, but I’m not sure you’re one to argue that she’s safer by YOUR side. Just sayin’.

Yang-myung storms out of the palace, burning up with anger. He thinks to himself: “You who grasps so easily in your hand everything I’ve tried to have, everyone I’ve ever wanted… If you won’t grant me this one request…” The screen goes white before we hear the rest of his thought.

Hwon sighs to Woon, wondering if he was cruel to his hyung. “Woon-ah, I no longer want to lose the people precious to me.”

He says with a heavy heart that now Yang-myung isn’t safe anymore—just as they tried to use Wol to attack him, now they’ll use his illicit love affair with her to kill him. And he says the worst part is, the one who will suffer the most is Wol.

 
COMMENTS

Okay, so we knew it was coming, and yeah, noble idiocy is the name of the game in a drama like this. But it was far from the smoothest execution around, because I couldn’t help but feel that it came a little too soon. The minute-by-minute is certainly better now that the stakes are raised and everything has big dramatic consequence. I do like that we’re going somewhere with the plot in that department.

But the thing that I find a little hard to reconcile is the fact that the political stakes are now up at 10, but the love affair has yet to become an actual love affair. It’s true that to keep Wol in noble sacrifice territory, you want to keep her free and clear of the crime, sure. But it’d be more of a dramatic push-and-pull if she actually DID have a love affair with the king. And I don’t mean just sex, but they’re barely in the flirting/denial stage with each other, except now it’s suddenly life or death. It feels a little like we skipped the crucial steps, yunno, like when two lovers realize their feelings and declare them to each other?

If their relationship had come to a point where they were declaring their undying secret love, this merry-go-round of noble sacrifice would have a little more weight. In some ways Yang-myung actually has the upper hand in this scenario, because not only has he declared his feelings for Wol and not ghost-of-Yeon-woo, but he acts on them.

The problem right now is that Wol doesn’t think she’s allowed to love either man, but is willing to die for them both. That’s tragic and all, but it doesn’t get me in the heart. Because if she’s not going to save herself, and fight for love, then why am I rooting for her? I’d feel differently if she were madly in love with Hwon and willing to sacrifice that love due to the impossibility of their positions. That I get. But right now she’s acting out of a sense of duty to what the king is, not who Hwon is.

I don’t think it’s a leap to say that they love each other. I don’t need to be told that in words to know. But the way the drama has unfolded makes us rely on the love of teenagers to carry the dramatic consequence of their actions as adults… and that’s starting to buckle under the weight of all the noble sacrifice. I feel like it just needs a push to anchor the love in something real and in the present, to make me feel like it’s the kind of love I’d go to the gallows for. I’m not opposed to all noble sacrifice, because if it’s done right, I’m right there with you, bleeding heart and all. Make me want it, Show, or else you risk taking your characters to the brink but leaving us behind.

 
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200 February 16, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 14

by javabeans

Woohoo, things finally get good with some major, major developments up in this hizzy. I’d been slowly losing interest with every episode, resigning myself to the fact that maybe this would just be one of those dramas that lost steam as it went on. Thankfully, I think it just found its second wind.

I’m not going to cry about the loss of the child actors because that was always going to happen so there’s no use saying “I miss the kids” in every episode. What I missed wasn’t the kids, but the sense of a smoothly unfolding plot, and once Yeon-woo lost her memory and the two brothers basically turned into Mopey and Piney, it felt like the drama was just hanging on to one very simple plot element and dragging it out till kingdom come.

Now things take a huge turn, finally kicking the plot into motion again after spinning its wheels for ages. Better late than never.

SONG OF THE DAY

Wheesung – “눈물길” from the drama’s OST. [ Download ]

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EPISODE 14 RECAP

Wol is spared the greater charge of plotting against the king, but because of her and Yang-myung’s confessions, she’s culpable for seducing a member of royalty (using her dark arts), she’s to be driven out of the capital to care for the sick. She’s given a leather patch to wear as a scarlet letter, marking her as a lewd woman.

Hwon sits with Queen Grandma, his game face on as he smiles pleasantly and compliments her tea selection. It’s a special kind with health benefits, and he replies that it’s also known for growing more potent with age: “It’s like you in that way.” Did you just call Granny old? She laughs, saying it’s not a bad thing.

She makes sure to remind Hwon that he now owes her one, and that she’ll come to collect on that later — he’ll have to grant her a favor in return. I’m pretty sure she’s going to demand your firstborn, so I’ll give you a big hint now: Rumplestiltskin.

The king’s council informs him of an upcoming solar eclipse, and the ceremony that the court will hold on that day. They advise the king to be particularly cautious, because an eclipse is a big heavenly deal. With the folks in this drama being so superstitious, it strikes them as a bad omen to have the sun (aka king) completely covered by another entity (aka the moon). As an aside, can we take that symbology a step further for some solar-lunar convergence/covering happytimes, please? I mean, if we’re going to be so literal with the whole sun-moon business…

Hwon agrees to their advice to be careful. The ministers then inform him that Wol is going to be sent away the day before the eclipse, which angers Hwon — she was declared innocent of their trumped-up accusations, so why the punishment? But now both Yang-myung and Wol have been endangered by their nobly stupid attempts to save each other, because their association opens them up to the whole plotting-to-overthrow-the-king storyline that we saw in the previous generation, with Prince Uiseong and Ahri.

Yang-myung discovers this firsthand when he finds his path blocked by officers, who inform him that his movements are being restricted on royal orders. More like royal council orders, but in this drama the council basically pulls the little puppet strings. Yang-myung fumes thinking it’s Hwon’s doing.

Wol receives an unexpected visitor at her cell that night: Hwon, who reminds her of the order not to leave until he found a way to calm his chaotic feelings. He says that she had been right: “I had not been seeing you, but seeing her through you.”

Wol’s face crumples at that, as Hwon continues, “Now you can leave.” He offers her the chance to say anything to him, even if the words are hateful. But she says no, there’s nothing to say.

Hwon staggers out of the prison and breaks down into sobs in front of Woon, saying that he could offer no soft words for the woman who’d given him such comforting words when he needed them. Woon tells him he has done what he can to protect her, in his own way, but Hwon sobs, “Can you call this protecting?” I know, right?

Minister Yoon mulls over the matter of Wol’s familiar face, unable to place where he’s seen it before. Yesterday I assumed this was a reference to Yeon-woo, but today Minister Yoon lands upon the eerie resemblance to Ahri, whom he’d similarly tortured. He recalls how she’d defied him and vowed that the heavens would punish him for his evil deeds.

That night, Bo-kyung hears the crying sound again coming from the dead princess’s Hidden Moon Building, and asks her court lady if she hears it. But it’s only Bo-kyung who does, and that fact is almost as alarming as the crying sound itself. And then when she glances in her mirror, instead of her own face she sees 13-year-old Yeon-woo’s.

Ah, but tonight Queen Grandma hears it too. Like Bo-kyung, she’s unnerved when her court lady can’t hear it, but she’s sure it’s coming from the Hidden Moon Building.

Nok-young looks up into the skies with fear, understanding that the heavens will insist on uniting the connection that human hands have tried to sever. She feels the gathering energy for the impending “blood wind that will rage,” which nobody will be able to escape.

Min-hwa is also a bundle of nerves, though hers is fed by the guilt and trauma over Yeon-woo’s death. She cries alone in bed, thinking of Grandma’s words that manipulated her child’s mind into thinking that Min-hwa was the reason Yeon-woo was killed.

She perks up to hear that her husband has returned early from his trip, and rushes to see him. She grabs Yeom in a backhug and tells him how she missed him, and he turns and hugs her face to face.

The queen dowager calls the head of the royal astrology department to ask about the rumored crying sound, and is a little mollified when he chalks it up to the disturbance of the coming eclipse. But she gets defensive when he asks if she heard it herself, and she dismisses it as a ghost story.

The astrology official suggests she call the head shaman of Seongsucheong to deal with it, but the queen refuses. After all, telling the powerful (and currently angry) shaman who threatened to reveal your murder plot that you’re hearing the victim’s voice just gives her more ammo to use against you. She orders him to deal with it alone, and secretly. He suggests a memorial service to console the spirit, but since this is a rite performed by Seongsucheong, the queen is reluctant. He has one alternative proposition…

Nok-young bribes the prison guards to visit Wol, and gasps in horror to see her bloodied condition. The first thing Wol does in her tortured, battered, and soon-to-be-exiled state is apologize for worrying everyone, which sort of makes me want to slap her. You’re good, we get it. We don’t need to see the little birds braiding your hair to get the point.

Nok-young tells Wol of once having a best friend, whom she last saw sitting in this very prison. And that friend’s last words were to beg her to protect Wol. Tearily, Wol asks if that woman was her mother. Nok-young shakes her head no, saying that in trying to protect Wol, she endangered her.

Wol counters, telling her that she raised her well. She reminds her of the time Wol had been so dead-set against becoming a shaman that she’d been about to end her own life, but Nok-young had told her that if God had chosen her, there was a reason for it: “That no matter the pain or the despair, he had given me the ability to bear it. From then on, I began to think that there is no such thing as meaningless pain. God must be giving me this pain I feel now be for a reason.”

Yeah, or maybe there are sadistic fuckers using you as a political pawn. Just sayin’.

At that, Nok-young removes her outer cloak, rises to her feet… and sinks into a deep, respectful bow. Oh, now that’s lovely.

At Seongsucheong, Seol and Jan-shil arrive in time to hear a group of young shamans gossiping over Wol’s fate, gleeful in their schadenfreude. The leader is the girl who’s always been jealous of Wol, and she’s all but cackling.

Seol screams and attacks, knocking down the leader with a satisfying kick and drawing her sword on the others. They run scared.

Nok-young tells Wol she will have tribulations to face in the future, but that she alone will know what to protect and what to leave behind: “But do not seek answers from outside, but from within yourself.”

Wol is confused at the cryptic words, and also at the sudden change of address, now that Nok-young speaks in jondae and calls her “agasshi,” the equivalent of Lady. She urges her to remember that she is strong, and that her wisdom will lead her to make the right choices. Well, thankfully somebody remembers Yeon-woo’s supposed to be wise, since she seems to have lost that with her memory.

Nok-young ends by telling her to believe in herself, adding silently to herself that Wol ought never to forgive her.

She returns to find Seol waiting for her, brimming over with fury. Is she just going to leave Wol to rot in prison? Seol says she’s done everything Nok-young ever told her to do, including lying about Wol’s past to her.

Nok-young says that even if everything is cast in darkness, nothing can block the brightness of a waxing moon — so they can do nothing but wait for the moon to wax. The truth will come out in time, and it’s all in Wol’s hands.

Hyung-sun regards the despondent Hwon with sympathy, and tells him he’ll go make a snowman — understood to be code for letting him see Wol — but that this is the last time: “When spring comes, the snow will melt.” It’s a lovely moment in one of the drama’s subtler, more poignant relationships. Hyung-sun is showing himself to be quite wise, restraining Hwon from giving in to all his emotional impulses, but it’s not at the expense of feeling.

So Hwon, disguised as a nobleman with Woon, watches as Wol is led away by officers, wearing her scarlet letter.

Bo-kyung is enraged to hear that last night, Hwon was seen heading toward the Euigeumbu prison, and berates herself for letting Wol live. But another passing glance at her mirror shows Yeon-woo’s face yet again, spooking her further. She screams and throws her vanity chest from her, cutting her hand on broken glass.

The physician is called, but Bo-kyung screams that nobody is to be let inside. She shakes uncontrollably, holding her bloody hand.

Hwon encounters the physician on his way in, however, and arrives in Bo-kyung’s chamber unannounced. He sees the damage and takes the dressing cloth to bind her hand. Bo-kyung tells him he’s not the only one with a longing heart, because hers feels the same — he was her first love. She asks how he, after so painfully losing his love, could be so cruel to her.

At that, he leans forward to hold her while she cries, thinking that they’re all so sad and hurting — himself, Bo-kyung, his brother, “and her.”

Wol’s very public procession through the city attracts the attention of the people, who see her mark and hurl both insults and objects at her. Her mother is walking nearby and hears the commotion, and upon glimpsing Wol, she starts with immediate recognition. She pushes her way through the crowd and yells Yeon-woo’s name, which might be more affecting had we not seen her mistaking every random street urchin for her dead daughter in the past.

Wol turns back briefly at the sound, but her mother falls in the crowd and goes unseen.

But then the royal officers hand off Wol to new hands, accompanied by a bribe. She’s alarmed at this change in plans — if she’s not going to her intended destination, then something shifty’s afoot. She challenges her new captor — is he really defying royal orders? The man drags her away, saying he answers to a more frightening power.

Yang-myung hears the news that Wol disappeared in transit and never arrived at her destination. Perhaps she was attacked by robbers en route. He heads out immediately, only to be confronted by Woon, who tells him to go back inside.

Yang-myung takes out his sword, remembering that Woon can’t draw his without royal order. So will he break his loyalty to that rule to defend himself, or not? Yang-myung starts to fight him, and Woon gives a final warning — that holding a sword out of anger or love is a dangerous thing — before drawing his sword.

They fight, but Woon readily disarms Yang-myung, sending his sword clattering away as he asks, “Who is your anger directed toward?” Yang-myung says, looking desolate, “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be acting like such a madman.”

Woon asks why Yang-myung can’t understand how the king feels; Yang-myung counters, “How can you not understand your friend’s feelings?”

Yang-myung asks if Woon will report that he raised a sword to him. Since Woon is acting on royal orders, it’s equivalent to defying the king, aka an act of rebellion. Woon replies that although he has not forgotten his duty, today he was acting as a friend. Awwww.

It’s nighttime by the time Wol is taken to her new destination, and she’s surprised to find that she recognizes where she is: the palace. The queen dowager’s astrologer is there to greet her, and now we’re clued in to the suggestion he’d proposed to the queen to rid the palace of the ghost. They can use Wol as a spiritual vessel, capturing the ghost’s spirit in her body during the eclipse.

He calls it a type of sacrifice, because this practice is dangerous for the vessel. In cases where the ghost is strong, the shaman can go mad or die, which is why shamans rarely perform the ritual. But hey, this shaman is an expendable presence, right? I do love that they’re unwittingly reuniting Wol with her “ghost,” thinking it’ll serve their purposes when I suspect we’ll be met with a surprise.

The royal astrologer shuts Wol up the Hidden Moon Building with a brief explanation that she’s to comfort a ghost. Wol looks for an exit but finds all the doors and windows barricaded, and marked with talismans.

Now she recalls the gossip about the dead princess crying and realizes with some shock, “The soul I am supposed to comfort is the king’s woman?” Aw, that’s got to hurt — even though we know she’s really just jealous of herself at this point.

The day of the eclipse arrives, and preparations are made for the ceremonial rites. One Euigeumbu investigator is curiously absent: Hong Kyu-tae, the king’s secret mole. His hyungnim goes looking for him and finds him, hilariously, embracing a dead half-naked dude.

The officer jumps back and gives him the shifty eye, but Hong Kyu-tae is immersed in his investigation and wonders if his hyungnim has ever seen a dead body that hadn’t gone cold. If a living person holds a dead person long enough, can that heat transfer? (Side note: Who else thinks the royal physicians must’ve bribed their way through royal medical school if they buried a body that was still warm?)

The hyungnim retorts that if that happens, the body ain’t dead yet. Thank you. Somebody give the man a medical license.

Hong Kyu-tae reports his findings to Hwon: The body expired from an unknown illness, and bore no marks of poisoning or murder. The body remained warm for hours, although the doctor had confirmed that her pulse had stopped.

In the morning, Wol wakes up to find she’s not alone in the room. Her 13-year-old self sits there with her back to Wol, who has expected something of the sort and addresses her sympathetically. She asks what happened to make the girl cry — is it because she misses the king? Is there something she wants to tell him? She asks to know what it is, so she can do what the ghost wishes.

Yeon-woo slowly turns to face Wol — and Wol’s eyes widen, as though in recognition.

And Wol awakens. She’s in the same room as before, but no Yeon-woo this time. Are we in a dream, or are we in a possession? Wol painfully crawls from her sleeping position, gasping for breath.

She drags herself toward the door, mirroring young Yeon-woo dragging herself out of bed the night she was attacked by dark magic in this room. Ah, so it looks like possession, allowing Wol to relive the story the ghost wants her to see.

Hwon takes his place at the rites, as the court awaits. The eclipse begins.

Nok-young narrates as the eclipse reaches its zenith, explaining the heavenly event that will reunite that severed connection, and how everything will be returned to its rightful place.

Hwon sits under the darkened sky, mulling over the details — an illness with no source. A murder leaving no trace. He thinks of his own mysterious illness, and connects the dots: spiritual attack.

Wol collapses at the door, flashing back to eight years ago when she heard Nok-young explaining to her father that Yeon-woo was suffering a spiritual ailment. She remembers the coffin she was trapped in, and being pulled out. Looking up at the face of Nok-young. Her father feeding her the medicine. Dying in his arms.

Are the dots finally connected? Wol cries, “Father. Mom. Mom!”

More flashes: seeing young Hwon for the first time, running through the palace with him, the puppet show they watched together. All her memories come flooding back, and Wol cries in great, anguished wails.

Nok-young comes to Ahri’s grave and thinks sorrowfully that Wol will have uncovered her own secrets, but now is headed for a different, new kind of pain. She prays for their protection.

As the eclipse ends and the sun reappears, Hwon comes to a conclusion: “Black arts.” He orders Hyung-sun to bring Seongsucheong’s head shaman to him, but secretly. He needs to ask her whether one can kill using such arts.

The queen’s astrologer comes to Hidden Moon Building, ready to have Wol’s dead body disposed of quietly if necessary. He finds her in the room, hunched over creepily, and sends his officer to check whether she’s dead.

Wol raises her head slowly, and he asks nervously if she was able to console the ghost. Wol answers, “Yes. That girl will cry no more.”

 
COMMENTS

Finally! I think it took way too long to get here, but at this point I’m just relieved that we’re here at all. At first I worried that Wol’s memories would again be interpreted as shamanic visions, since she could have just believed that she was possessed by the ghost, and that the memories belonged to the girl. But coming face to face with the dead princess, and realizing that she looks just like herself at that age — that provides a jolt she hasn’t had before. (I suppose that’s the flaw in using flashbacks for memory sequences, since WE see what Yeon-woo looked like as a child, but Wol wouldn’t be seeing herself in her memories.)

So I’m relieved to find that the amnesia arc is indeed over — Nok-young’s comments are fairly decisive about Wol recovering her memory — and that we can proceed to the fallout. Because in stories that hinge great big dramatic devices like amnesia (or birth secrets, or identity swaps), the fallout is way more interesting than the setup anyway. Are we gonna get a taste of some revenge? Oh, I hope Wol gets all revengey on the queen’s ass. Pretty please?

Wol finally stepped it up as an interesting character in this episode, after being rather placid and frustratingly passive for a while. I understand why she was that way, given the whole shamans-are-not-people line of thinking that has been drummed into her head, but it doesn’t mean I liked her for it. But I love the ending of this episode, since an angry Wol — or should we call her Yeon-woo now? — is a much more compelling character. I want to see her go all-out and finally put her wits to good use in combating the old bat and her cronies, and giving Bo-kyung what-for.

Now that she knows what her rightful place is, and has an understanding of how things have been stolen from her, I anticipate a fiery clash. And while I thought her reunion with the king as an adult left something to be desired, now I’m on pins and needles to see how the reunion goes, now that she’s in possession of her full identity.

Nok-young foretold of things returning to their rightful places, and if we’re going to get a restoration of order and a downfall of our villains, we’re gonna have to get this train movin’. Lots of ground to cover in three weeks, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — maybe it’ll speed up the plodding pace and recapture some of that early excitement. And speaking of remaining episodes: Extension rumors are, as yet, simply rumors. The articles reporting an extension cite no sources, while the subsequent reports denying the story cite an actor’s agency and the production company. The current situation: Nothing has been decided. It may happen, but I wouldn’t count on it yet.

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157 February 22, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 15

by girlfriday

Well look who turned the ship around in the eleventh hour. Okay, so it’s more like the ninth hour. Whatever. The important thing is, I like the heroine again. Halle-freaking-lujah. And Yang-myung kills it, and me, in this episode. Moon/Sun consistently inches higher in the ratings, with this one hitting a new series high at 39.1%.

 
EPISODE 15 RECAP

After recovering her memory, Wol runs out and finds Seol looking for her, worried that she might have been kidnapped or killed. Wasting no time, she launches straight into pointed questions about her past and Seol’s:

When they first met, and when Wol first received her mystical gifts. Seol gives the standard answers nervously, but Wol takes it all in and says, “Why are you lying to me? I saw it very clearly—the day I was pulled out of that grave and you were standing there waiting for me.” Oooh. I love badass Wol. (Oh and by the by, I feel like still calling her Wol until she outs herself publicly.)

The blubbering astrology professor who trapped Wol in for the possession now answers to the queen dowager, reporting that the shaman did indeed survive, which is a first. Grandma actually sighs that it’s too bad they had to cut loose such a powerful and potentially useful force, but oh well.

She asks if the girl was exiled as per his orders, but he adds that she gave a warning and request—that if she was not given time to pray at Seongsucheong and properly get rid of the evil spirit, it would take revenge on all those involved. Finally! Her brains came back along with the memories! He stammers that she was not the same girl who entered that building the night before. Yeah, I’ll say.

Seol cries, pleading for forgiveness, but Wol tells her she doesn’t have time for that now, and asks specifically what she knows. Seol tells her the version that Nok-young told her: that in order to save their daughter who had been possessed, her parents fed her the medicine so she could fake-die and then live without a name.

Wol looks up, heartbroken: “My father knew I was alive?” No, no he didn’t! But Seol says yes, he did it to save the family name. Sadness. What a horrible thing to believe. She asks why the rest of her family wasn’t told that she was alive, and Seol repeats Nok-young’s warnings that it would endanger Wol’s life if anyone knew.

Wol wonders about her supposed supernatural powers as well, and Seol says it always made her curious too, but she was told all manner of things, like Wol hadn’t yet learned to harness her power, or that it was due to her memory loss.

Wol says it’s strange… she has no memory of ever coming into powers or receiving a shamanistic anointing as such… but Nok-young went so far as to bring her into the palace as a shaman.

She remembers that when she entered the palace as the princess bride, Nok-young was the head of Seongsucheong, and under the queen dowager’s thumb. She wonders, isn’t it strange that she happened to fall ill just then?

She asks all the right questions: Why did she suddenly fall ill when she became the princess bride? Why was Nok-young the one to save her? What she assumed was her shamanic powers was really just her memories flashing back. If it wasn’t a demonic possession, then what was her illness? Seol thinks they should ask Nok-young, but Wol stops her immediately: “We can trust no one.” Thank ye gods. I love memory-boost-Wol.

Meanwhile Hwon hits another hurdle in his investigation, when Hyung-sun reports that head shaman Nok-young has gone away to pray in the mountains. He doesn’t think it a coincidence that she has disappeared just as he’s gotten close.

He heads out for a walk and runs into Bo-kyung, who smiles pleasantly and offers him tea. He shoots her down, but then catches himself, perhaps remembering that she’s not so different from him, and offers to take a walk together. She beams.

She chatters, but he doesn’t hear her because he’s paused in front of the Moon Building, lost in a trance. She tells him that she’ll wait as long as it takes, for him to see her, and that she won’t even urge him to forget “her.”

“They say the king is the sun and the queen the moon. As each keeps its place, if you would see me, I’ll go wherever that is, and be there.” It’s a nice sentiment, but tragic, since you’re not the moon he wants to look upon.

Sure enough, her words just trigger his memory of the hairpiece he gave to Yeon-woo on her sickbed.

And at the same time, Wol takes out the very same thing, and clutches it to her heart with tears. Memories of their promises come flooding back, and when Hwon turns to look at his queen, it’s Wol standing beside him.

Oof, that hurts. Seeing what she could have been, dressed as a queen, wearing The Moon That Embraces the Sun in her hair. She looks up at him, and Hwon’s hardened face slowly melts into the sweetest smile, equally heartbreaking because you know he’s smiling straight at Bo-kyung but only seeing Wol.

Wol sends Seol on a stealth mission, dressed as a lady. She stops to marvel at how pretty she looks, like a real girl, and Seol pouts, “Was I a boy before?”

Woon finally releases the guards he had stationed in front of Yang-myung’s house, and Yang-myung immediately packs a bag, ready to head out. Woon tries to stop him, knowing he’s headed straight for Wol, but Yang-myung asks why not?

He says it might have been a different story with Yeon-woo, who was the king’s girl, but he sees Wol for who SHE is, and Hwon has no claim on her. I totally agree… but as it turns out, fate’s not on your side, puppy. I’m sure it’s asking too much that you shed your savior complex and just pick a girl who likes you back. Sigh. Heartbreak it is.

Woon tries to hold him back, reminding him of his princely position. Yang-myung growls, “That tiresome name! The freedom to throw it away whenever I please… well that’s the one thing that I possess, that the king cannot.”

True, and it’s no small thing. The king will never have the freedom to act on impulse or defy the law, or even to simply follow his heart.

Yang-myung heads to the place that is to be Wol’s prison—Hwalinseo, a sort of triage for the sick and poor, outside the main the city. But he finds that she still hasn’t arrived, to his ever-growing panic.

The man in charge is pretty much sub-human, not just in his lackadaisical approach to his charges, but towards the sick as well. A man runs in, frantic that his daughter is dying, and he just shrugs it off. Yeesh. So this is pretty much where poor people go to die, huh?

Later Wol gets led there by royal guards, and she’s shocked to see the conditions—people young and old, huddled together, bloody and hungry. She wanders inside where there’s a big commotion in the corner.

She stops short to see Yang-myung with his arm around a little girl—the one whose father ran in earlier—trying to save her. He calls for some medicine and they meet eyes, and suddenly I have this newfound hope, like maybe the New Wol would see Yang-myung with new eyes.

The girl is saved, and they smile. As he eats, she asks how he knew what to do, and he talks about his teacher (her father), brining tears to her eyes. He says his teacher gave him the love of a father, taught him everything he knows, and treated everyone equally with respect. Aw, now I’m crying. She struggles to hide her reaction.

She walks him out, and he thanks her for being alive, and enduring what must have been unspeakable pain. He assures her that he won’t be back (aw) but he had to come and check on her, when he heard she was missing.

Now that he’s made sure that she’s alive, and okay, and seen her ugly face (ha), he says his goodbye…

But then a group of nurses comes running up to stop him. They say that they’re short-handed here, and need his help—won’t he return, and often? He looks over at Wol and smiles, “This darned popularity of mine. Can’t get rid of it anywhere.” HA.

She smiles as she thinks to herself that he hasn’t changed, and that a bright demeanor suits him. From the shadows, Woon keeps watch.

Hwon asks after Wol, and Woon reports that she is healthy and well. And then he asks about his hyung, and Woon falters as he says he’s good too. Hwon can tell immediately when Woon is lying, and guesses the answer without being told: “Is hyungnim with her?”

As Woon leaves the king’s chamber, Hong Kyu-tae enters, and Woon spies one of the Council of Evil ministers spying on them. The council meets to discuss why the king would be calling the Euigeumbu, while Minister Yoon thinks to himself that the king must be looking into Yeon-woo’s death.

Hong Kyu-tae reports that it’s difficult to get anything solid on such an old case, and then Hwon thinks of a new lead: the teacher who was in charge of Yeon-woo’s princess education. They guess that she must have seen something that could be of help.

Just as the Council of Evil decides to track Hong Kyu-tae’s every move, the king warns him to watch his back, and Kyu-tae assures him that he can protect himself. Let’s hope it’s true.

But it turns out that Wol is a step ahead of all of them, since Seol is the first to arrive on the woman’s doorstep. Awww yeah. Girls for the win. Let’s do some sleuthin’!

The woman recalls the prince and princess’ sorrowful parting with tears in her eyes, as she describes them both with respect. Seol asks if she remembers anything strange about that time—maybe unusual food, or a change in personnel, but there wasn’t anything like that.

But she does recall that night, when Princess Min-hwa came to see Yeon-woo. Yes! Finally! The woman remembers that Princess Min-hwa looked distressed, asked after Yeon-woo’s health, and then turned to go back, without seeing her.

Hong Kyu-tae arrives just as Seol takes her leave, and they pass each other in the street. He approaches the gate, but senses something amiss, and ducks away in time to miss a sword coming at his head.

He fights off two masked swordsmen, and runs inside the house, but he’s too late. The woman lies dead on the ground, her throat slashed.

Hwon fumes at the loss of another innocent life on his watch, and worries that Kyu-tae’s life is more at risk than ever. He offers an out, free and clear. But Kyu-tae doesn’t hesitate, saying that his life already belongs to the king, and refuses to back off the case.

Aw, Hong Kyu-tae is fast becoming one of my favorite characters, probably because he’s the one doing the actual sherlocking, while our hero has to sit there and just be angry. I get that he’s the king, but sometimes it’s hard to root for a guy who sits pretty while other people stick their necks out and get the action scenes.

Hwon does get one thing out of this, for certain: there is an enemy alive and well, covering his eight-year old tracks.

He runs into Minister Yoon, who quotes a text to give a thinly veiled warning not to dig too deep. Hwon counters that an honorable man shouldn’t let the truth be covered up. I love that they exchange pleasantries about the king’s future success, all the while threatening each other’s lives in subtext.

Seol reports what she learned, about Princess Min-hwa’s visit the night she fell ill. Wol doesn’t remember anything about that, and then asks Seol to accompany her to her father’s grave, where she tearfully bows and says aloud for the first time: “It’s me, Father. It’s Yeon-woo.”

At the same time, Mom, Yeom, and Min-hwa walk up the hill towards Father’s grave. Yeom thanks Min-hwa for always being so bright and cheery, and a happy presence in their home, and she smiles, but also reminds him to stop thanking her. That’s always the problem with them—he’s always grateful, but she just wants to be loved.

When they reach the grave, Wol and Seol are gone, but they find traces that someone was just there, not very long ago. Min-hwa wonders if maybe Yang-myung came by.

Mom puts her hands on the grave, and Yeom comes up to console her. But she whispers a confession instead: “Your father did not die of an illness. He committed suicide.”

She falls to the ground in tears. Yeom’s heart stops.

She finally tells him the truth—that Father lived in pain and darkness over Yeon-woo’s death, and the guilt consumed him. Once Yeom’s future had been secured by Min-hwa, he ended his own life.

Min-hwa overhears this now and breaks down in tears, never having known the full extent of her actions (or what she believed to be hers, since Grandma twisted the truth). But the sad part is, it’s still a consequence of her keeping her mouth shut to get what she wanted.

Mom speaks to Dad directly, telling him that she saw a young woman the other day who looked just like Yeon-woo. She wonders if it could be possible, that their daughter could be alive. But to be cast aside, spit on by the world… “Our Yeon-woo wouldn’t be living that way, would she?” Oof.

She wails, “Tell me it isn’t so! Tell me that she’s with you, at peace, in that place! Tell me!”

She cries and cries, and then we find that Wol is still there, on the other side of the wall, and has heard it all. Augh, heartbreak. She covers her mouth to drown out her cries.

As she and Seol walk down the hill, she chokes back her tears and says it’s all her fault. “I was so young. I thought that if I died it would save everyone. I should’ve pleaded, begged to live.” *crumple*

Seol tells her to go tell her family now that she’s alive. But Wol says no—she did the same, didn’t she, to protect them? Someone wanted her dead, and she can’t endanger her family, or the king, until she finds the truth.

“Until the truth is uncovered, Heo Yeon-woo needs to remain dead.” I love her newfound determination. If it were purely out of noble idiocy, I would hate it, but I don’t disagree with her in this case. She needs to find out what happened, and she can’t do that if she just outs her identity.

Bo-kyung encounters a group of shamans entering the palace, and mistakes one of them for Wol, throwing wild accusations at her for trying to reenter the palace. Eek, I’m a little embarrassed for you. I guess this is what happens when you have nothing but your obsession to keep you company.

She receives confirmation that the shaman she’s looking for has been sent away to Hwalinseo according to her punishment, but then comes to a start when she hears her name: Wol. It’s the first time she’s hearing it, and it rattles her. (Just based on the symbology?) She orders Wol to be brought to her at once, in secret.

Wol returns in low spirits, and happens to catch a little stick that comes flying in her direction. She looks up and sees Yang-myung surrounded by a group of kids. He comes up with a stick pointed at her like a sword, as he declares, “You are now my enemy!” Hee.

She ignores him, so he does it again, and then she just walks right past him. He’s like, I have to spell it out for you? You are now on the other team. She looks confused, and he explains, duh, you caught my ball, now you’re on the other team.

Omg, schoolyard Yang-myung is So. Cute.

She smiles as the kids run up to her, and then gets all serious as she winds up to play what looks like a primitive form of baseball. I love it—she gets all into the game, and every time they switch batting/fielding, Yang-myung flicks her on the forehead when he’s won the inning. It’s adorable that he brings out the childish side in her too.

She gets all huffy, not wanting to give up the bat, and they play-fight over it, giggling like little kids.

But something wipes Yang-myung’s smile right off his face: It’s Hwon and Woon, watching them from a distance. Aw, damnit, I don’t know who I feel worse for.

Hwon watches bitterly, frozen in place. Wol notices the change in Yang-myung’s expression and starts to turn in Hwon’s direction…

Thinking quickly, Yang-myung grabs her in a hug, to keep her from seeing him. Hwon should turn away and hide, but he doesn’t, his heart wrenched further to see Yang-myung holding her like that.

Yang-myung gives his brother a pointed look, as if to stand his ground. Hwon finally turns away.

Wol stammers, trying to pull out of the awkward hug, but he waits until Hwon is gone before letting her go. He covers it up by saying she looked like she was going to fall, so not to read into it or anything. Right, back support. Sure.

They finish the game and the kids run home, leaving them alone. Yang-myung asks if she’s okay now, wondering what worries were weighing her down earlier. Surprised that he noticed, Wol asks if he did it on purpose then, making her play the game.

He says that when you play with children, you can toss off all your cares and worries. Aw. She agrees, saying that she feels much lighter now. He pouts, And not because you were playing with the handsome, awesome me?

As they laugh, he thinks to himself that it’s a good thing she’s a shaman. At least he can be with her in this way, and look upon her smiling. (Meaning with Yeon-woo, he couldn’t even be by her side.)

He picks up a rock from the ground, wondering if they should play a game with it tomorrow, and she says it’s too pretty a rock to be hit. She asks him to give it to her, so she can tell it her problems, calling it a haewooseok.

Awwww, she’s purposely asking him for the same gift he gave her when she was thirteen. He happily wipes the dirt from it and hands it to her as a gift, and watches her go with a smile.

She takes the rock and tells it, speaking to her father, that she’ll put everything aside until she finds out the truth.

A woman approaches, asking if she is Wol. The queen requests her presence.

At the same time, Yang-myung walks home with a grin, and then suddenly remembers the rock he gave to Yeon-woo eight years ago, and that he’s the one who named it a haewooseok. Eep! A flash of recognition crosses his face.

The moment is interrupted by a call from the shadows: “Hyungnim.” It’s Hwon.

They share a drink at Yang-myung’s house, and Hwon asks how he can be so reckless, by going to Hwalinseo so often. Yang-myung: “I don’t go often. I go daily.” Oooh. Them’s fightin’ words.

He continues, “The woman in my heart has fallen into disrepute. How can someone who calls himself a man just stand by and pretend not to notice?” Dayum. I love that he does not mince words with Hwon.

Hwon reminds him of his orders not to go near her, but Yang-myung repeats that he can throw his name away. Hwon shouts, asking if he’s going to disobey. Really, this is not the tactic you should be employing. Tell him the truth, that you’re worried for his safety! (Not that it would do any good, I suppose.)

Bo-kyung sits in her chamber, nervously awaiting Wol’s arrival. She bites her nails, practically clawing at the walls, and I wonder if Wol will really show her face.

But in she comes. She’s told to bow, and so she does. Bo-kyung finally looks up at her…

Wol raises her head with a smile, calm as you please. Awesome.

Bo-kyung reels, recognizing Yeon-woo in her at first glance.

 
COMMENTS

Nice. I’m much happier watching a show with a heroine I like, who’s got brains and some wicked wit to spare. I’d love it if she just said screw love, imma go Lady Vengeance on you people, but I suppose that would kill the romance.

This episode reignited my second-lead love, mostly because it kills me to see how happy Yang-myung could make her, how at ease they are together. I know she’ll always choose Hwon, but for a while with all his mopey-mopey, I had forgotten how sweet Yang-myung could be, and the things that he always saw in Wol and Yeon-woo that differed from the things that Hwon saw. Hwon’s love is the only one that’s requited, but I like that we’re seeing more dimensions to Yang-myung’s pure-hearted, protective love too, even if his heart will end up trampled for it, along with mine.

I really hope this episode is an indication of Wol’s path to outwitting every baddie there is, because so far, I love this new turn in her character and the story. I was getting really tired of watching our main characters get beaten into tragedy over and over, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when Wol recovered her memory but more importantly declared that the little girl “would cry no more.” Now her tragedy fuels her desire to set things right, and her new agency gives me cause to like her again.

In watching Wol take a more active role in figuring out the big mystery, it did highlight a big lack in Hwon’s character for me—namely that he’s so stationary. Being the king limits him, yes, and it’s perfectly logical that he sends Kyu-tae or Woon to do things and then gets reports. It just that from a drama standpoint, it’s hard to really pump your fist in alliance with your hero when he’s sitting around in his silk robes all day.

It’s why I’ve always loved any time he sneaks out of the palace, because even in the brief moment with Yang-myung in this episode, he came alive. I don’t even think it’s a fault of being the king, so much as this drama’s lack of action for him, even inside the palace walls. I want him to DO more, because right now, I’m with Yang-myung, asking what on earth he’s doing for the woman he supposedly cares for, other than being mad. It’s hard not to be swayed the other way, when Yang-myung can bring out that carefree young girl in her, and give her a tiny bit of the childhood that we thought was lost for good.

 
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182 February 23, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 16

by javabeans

Aww yeah, the show is good again! This was a strong enough episode to make up (almost, sort of) for the boring stuff in the middle — lots of secrets discovered, truths ferreted out, and big reactions all around.

This is also the episode to finally break the 40% mark, bringing in a 41.3% rating. I’m glad the show delivered a strong episode to mark the big moment since it would be pretty anticlimactic for it to snag “national drama” status via one of the dull episodes where everyone cries and nothing moves forward — although I suppose it makes sense that the strong episode probably had a li’l something to do with the ratings increase in the first place. Wild Romance bowed out with a 5.4%, while Take Care of Us, Captain brought home a 5.8%.

SONG OF THE DAY

Cotton Candy – “어떻게든 살아보려해” (Try to live anyway) [ Download ]

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 
EPISODE 16 RECAP

Backing up a few moments before the end of Episode 15, we follow Wol as she is called to see Queen Bo-kyung. On her way, she flashes back to a conversation with Seol, where she learns that after her “death,” Bo-kyung was made the new princess bride, without going through another selection process. Ah, I love to see the wheels of suspicion turning in Wol’s brain.

The brothers sit in tense confrontation. Yang-myung declares that he is prepared to give up his royal status to be with Wol — can Hwon do the same? If Yang-myung does as the king wishes and leaves her alone, will Hwon be able to protect her?

Very good questions. I love you, Hwon, but you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too — you can’t have her, but you will insist that she remain alone so that nobody else can, either, making everybody unhappy — and it’s not one of your better moments. Yang-myung comes to that very conclusion, asking how he thinks he can protect her by refusing to give her up, in the process turning the innocent Wol into a criminal. Yang-mung keeps asking these difficult questions until Hwon bangs his fist on the table (a favorite pastime of his) and asks him to stop. Some truths are just too hard to hear.

Yang-myung asks, “Can you let go of Yeon-woo? I can.” Oh, nice — calling out Hwon for his inability to care for the woman in front of him without linking her to the woman he lost. (Never mind that they’re technically the same person.) He declares that Hwon won’t be able to do that, and Hwon can’t argue.

Wol sits calmly while Bo-kyung gasps and stutters, asking how she came to be here, meaning Dead Girl Yeon-woo. Wol reminds her that she called her here. Bo-kyung starts to ask, “You couldn’t be…?” but cuts herself off, telling herself forcefully no, it can’t be.

Wol says evenly, “Heo. Yeon. Woo” and visibly rattles Bo-kyung. Then she says innocently that she keeps hearing that she looks like that girl, but that she is merely a shaman. She says that while she was in the Hidden Moon Building, she saw the ghost of Yeon-woo, which spoke to her. Bo-kyung looks like she’s about to crumple into hysterics at any moment, as Wol adds with creepy intensity that the ghost wishes the queen happiness.

Ha, I love Wol as the cat toying with the mouse. A very smart cat (but aren’t they all?), because it makes Bo-kyung burst out, “There’s no reason she would say that! She would never say that to me!”

She dismisses Wol, who is barely out the door before Bo-kyung erupts into screams. Wol notes that Bo-kyung faced her with horror, not as a woman seeing an old acquaintance: “Why?” Such good questions, finally being asked. If Bo-kyung had nothing to do with her death, you’d expect shock and denial, but not terror.

Bo-kyung sobs to herself, trying to deny that her worst fears might be true. She flashes back to her teenage self deciding she would take that place as princess, knowing that meant death to Yeon-woo.

Wol sees herself out of the palace, stopping by the familiar Hidden Moon Building, which holds such poignant memories. She enters the building, looking around the rooms, opening the windows where she’d once found Hwon waiting for her with the puppet show… and finds adult Hwon standing there now, looking up at the very same window.

She jerks back and shuts the window, then steels herself to open it again — only the courtyard is empty this time. Was he a figment of her imagination?

Wol hurries outside and sadly confirms that he’s not there after all. Just as he walks up from the side, staring intently all the while. He demands to know why she’s here instead of at Hwalinseo. She explains that she was summoned and lost her way out, then excuses herself. He grabs her hand to keep her there, though he doesn’t turn to face her.

They stand with backs to each other as he asks after her health, offering to send her away, perhaps someplace where she’ll be completely anonymous. Wol struggles to control herself, keeping her voice steady as she tells him she’s fine, and not to worry about such trifling affairs. Inwardly she thinks that she won’t be able to see him anymore if he does that.

He asks if she’ll continue living as a criminal for a crime she didn’t commit, and she answers, “How can you say I have not committed a crime?” To herself she thinks that she can’t make up for the crime of not being having recognized him at first glance. Lordy. Okay, I’m docking a few of the brownie points you’ve earned this episode, sappy lady. Thankfully you’ve built up a nice stash, so you can spare a few.

He takes her words at face value, though, asking if she really did seduce a royal (i.e., Yang-myung). She tells him to steel himself and be firm, to not be shaken by his feelings anymore. Their turned backs mean that he doesn’t see her starting to sob, and he drops her hand, telling her dully to leave and never show herself to him again.

She watches him walking away and cries.

Wol returns to find Nok-young awaiting her and faces her coldly, telling her to leave. She hasn’t made sense of everything yet, but she’ll find her when she’s ready. Nok-young says the king has summoned her, and she needs to speak with Wol to know how to answer his questions.

Nok-young explains being caught between the queen dowager’s command and her friend’s plea: “And so, I killed you. And so, I saved you.” She says she is ready to accept whatever punishment Wol intends to mete out.

There’s one thing that Wol cannot understand or forgive, and it’s that Nok-young deceived her father into thinking he’d killed her: “You should have killed me outright.” She says that her father killed himself out of guilt: “No, the moment he fed me that medicine, he had already died. That medicine meant to save my life became poison stealing my father’s life. Do you understand? You did not kill me, you killed my father!”

Wol demands, “The eight years that my family and the king have spent shedding tears of blood — how will you repay them?”

But there is one more bomb to be dropped, and Nok-young explains that spells of this kind require an offering. In her case, there was a young girl who offered herself up in order to realize her personal desires, who participated in the chant and prayed for Yeon-woo’s death. Oh, interesting. I wonder if she was tricked into participating, or if she’s more culpable than we’ve been led to believe.

Wol asks, “Was it the queen?” Nok-young shakes her head, and this makes Wol think of the information she recently discovered — about Princess Min-hwa visiting her room before her death. She shakes her head in denial, but Nok-young confirms that it was the princess.

Min-hwa huddles in her room crying, riddled with fresh guilt over contributing to Lord Heo’s suicide. She thinks of her childhood infatuation with Yeom, and how she had begged her grandmother to help her marry him. And Granny, asking deviously if Min-hwa would “help” her, in order to get what she wanted.

Yeom drops by and sees that she’s been crying. He’s concerned because she’s been holed up ever since visiting his father’s grave, and that reminder sets her off crying again. She makes up the excuse that she’d had a nightmare that he disappeared, and he holds her comfortinly. He says with smile, “I told you that you’re pretty when you laugh, but now that I find you pretty when you cry, I’m in trouble.”

Aw. What poor timing for him to finally soften toward her, when she’s realizing the extent of her selfishness. She asks him to forgive her “for everything,” and he urges her to sleep, promising to stay with her through the night.

Nok-young has a reason for revealing Min-hwa’s part in this, and explains that participating in a rite to kill the princess bride is, naturally, a capital offense. If the truth came out, the king would be forced to punish his sister, and Yeon-woo’s own brother would be punished by association, being married to the criminal. That’s exactly why the queen dowager chose Min-hwa as the offering, because it would be a safeguard: If the king and/or Wol ever discovered the truth later, they’d find themselves forced to keep silent.

Wol asks what she must do. Nok-young tells her she must choose: Reveal all and go to the king, or cover it up and live like this.

Now Wol understands why Nok-young has remained silent — it wasn’t her decision to make. Nok-young says that she will follow Wol’s decision when she meets with the king.

The next day, the king’s entourage happens upon the path of Yang-myung as he’s confronting one of the ministers in the Council of Evil. Yang-myung gives the minister the choice to send the promised provisions to the sick and poor (which he’d embezzled for himself), or face having his corruption revealed to the king.

Hwon interrupts and asks what’s going on. Yang-myung covers for now, saying he was merely informing the minister of the poor conditions of Hwalinseo, because it seems he’s unaware. Hwon stiffens and reprimands Yang-myung for poking his nose into politics, which he is forbidden to do. Seriously, king? You’re going to let your jealousy speak first, rather than dealing with the injustice? C’mon, priorities.

Yang-myung says he is not getting political, but merely offering testimony to the travesty of Hwalinseo — which, by the way, happens to literally mean “place where lives are saved.” But the current Hwalinseo “is a lot more like a place that kills people.”

Hwon says coolly that he had no idea his brother who’d left to go traveling was so interested in the poor and needy. Well, someone’s got to do it, King Mopeypants. Yang-myung reminds him of a king’s service, and Hwon asks if he’s telling him that he’s ruling poorly and sending his nation into danger. Yang-myung holds firm and asks for his understanding.

Hwon blasts his council for the corruption, speaking so harshly that they protest that he’s overstating the offense. He warns them that he won’t stand for embezzling funds meant for public aid.

Nok-young makes her appearance before Hwon, which the queen dowager hears with alarm. She orders Nok-young brought to her the moment she emerges from her meeting with the king.

Hwon starts by asking about Nok-young’s departure from Seongsucheong eight years ago, and she basically cuts to the chase, telling him to ask what he really wants to know. He asks, “Is it possible to kill a person with a spell?”

She replies that it is not possible — or rather, it’s possible but the person behind the spell will die, because a spell always has consequences. If she had ever done a thing, she would have died. (I don’t think her answer is an outright lie, because she could have known this all along; since Yeon-woo was never going to stay dead, her spell didn’t kill Nok-young. But it’s purposely misleading, for sure.)

Hwon is disappointed with that response and so am I, but this is Wol’s decision. In a flashback, we see Wol instructing her not to say anything, because she doesn’t want to add to Hwon’s pain.

Then Nok-young points out that she’s still alive, in a loaded tone. (By extension, this means the subject of the killing spell should also be alive…) Read between the lines, Hwon!

Next, Nok-young is taken to the queen dowager and first lies about Hwon’s reason for meeting her. The queen sees through it right away, so Nok-young admits that the king mentioned Wol; he ordered her to make sure her shamans kept their mouths shut, to prevent harmful gossip about her from spreading.

She also apologizes for challenging the queen previously, saying that she lost her temper out of worry for her shaman charge. She begs for forgiveness, and the queen is appeased. Nok-young thinks to herself that it’s quite ironic that the more the queen attempts to interfere, the more she’s helping the two people.

Hwon is thankfully skilled at reading between the lines after all, because he puts together the clues: spell-caster is alive, and the body was warm even after death. Ergo: “She may still be alive.”

Wol sits with a girl at Hwalinseo who refuses to eat and guesses that the girl intends to starve herself to death. She prods her to talk about what’s bothering her, and the girl says that there’s no point in living when she’s just a useless burden to her parents. If she dies, her family will have one less mouth to feed.

Wol tells her she understands, sharing her own experience of thinking her death would end her family’s suffering. But what parents would be fine after losing a beloved daughter? She tells the girl not to think of dying again and comforts her… just as Yang-myung arrives behind her, having heard the exchange.

What he once desperately wished were true is now a hindrance to him claiming her, and he thinks despairingly, “Please, say it’s not true — that you’re not Heo Yeon-woo. That you’re just the shaman Wol. That you have no connection to the king.”

With the corruption discovered, Hwalinseo receives its delivery of supplies, and Yang-myung gives Wol a book containing medical information. He offers his aid in explaining the contents, but Wol opens the book and gets to reading it right away, which is another telling clue.

He also has a change of clothing for her, saying that he’d like to take her to visit an old friend. He watches her face closely as he refers to Yeom, but Wol turns away to hide her reaction.

Hwon considers the possibility that Yeon-woo is alive, and wonders why she wouldn’t find him if she were. And if it’s Wol, why would she pretend ignorance? She didn’t look like she was lying. Then there’s the fact that nobody confirmed that Yeon-woo was buried in that grave. He shakes his head — this is an absurd line of thinking. Or is it?

Hong Kyu-tae next takes his secret investigation to Yeom. He asks for his explanation of his sister’s death, but Yeom doesn’t have much to add. He’d been sent away and was only there for her funeral.

Yeom hears a sound outside his walls and briefly looks for the source. As he walks away, Seol peers over the wall, on another of her silent vigils. In voiceover, she tells Yeom that his sister recovered her memory, and that he’ll be able to reunite his family.

Yeom finds his mother at her annual wardrobe cleaning, to send the unused clothing to Hwalinseo. This year she intends to send it to the other aid camp — the one where Wol was sent — and he guesses that it’s because of that girl who looks like Yeon-woo. Mom says that even without the Yeon-woo connection, she feels sympathy for that girl and her parents, who’d hate seeing her treated so badly.

He tells his mother of the king’s investigator who asked about Yeon-woo, and that in itself is enough to rouse their suspicions.

After Hong Kyu-tae leaves Yeom’s house, he grabs one of the servant men to ask some more questions. The man admits that there was one disturbing thing that he didn’t tell his master for fear of worrying him. The day after the burial he’d gone to the girl’s grave and found it all torn up, like wild animals had been pawing at it.

Just then, the man spots Seol walking by and recognizes her as the family’s former slave girl. Hong Kyu-tae turns and recalls having seen her in more recent encounters.

Hong Kyu-tae informs Hwon about the grave digging, and also about the curious woman he’s seen a few times. According to the servant, she used to serve Yeon-woo… and based on his own knowledge, she’s Wol’s bodyguard. Finally, a concrete connection!

Hwon sets out to speak with Nok-young immediately, all the bits and pieces finally arranging them in his head. He lines up the facts: “A spell. A corpse that didn’t go cold. A hurried burial without shrouding the body. A dug-up burial ground. A murder that leaves no trace. Another spell. Seongsucheong. Head Shaman Jang. And Wol’s slave girl who appears at every investigation site.”

Bo-kyung trembles uncontrollably in her inner chamber, shoved into a corner. Her mother pleads with her, but Bo-kyung bursts out that Yeon-woo is alive. She cries that she’s back to claim the king, kick her out, and retake her place.

Her mother tells her that she didn’t steal her position because it was always hers, and that it’s only her guilt in thinking so that led her to hallucinate. Bo-kyung screams, “I’m NOT seeing things!” Now she’s defiant, declaring that she knows everything: “I know Father killed Yeon-woo.”

Mom must be in on all the intrigue, because she looks around furtively and tells Bo-kyung that if she keeps her mouth shut, all will be fine. She whispers, “Have faith in your father.”

Just then Daddy dearest walks through her doors, but his presence sets her off and Bo-kyung screams, “Leave!” She breaks down into sobs and Minister Yoon looks disturbed. He recalls the shaman’s familiar face, and wonders if Yeon-woo could be alive: “Could this possibly be the work of Head Shaman Jang?”

That head shaman is currently receiving the king, who demands the truth — no evasions, no wordplay. He asks when she took Wol as her protege — and whether the dictate for a new shaman to cut ties with her former life means she must intentionally not think of her past life, or if it means she literally cannot remember it.

She answers that it’s usually the first, but she has seen a case of the second, after “surviving the agony of death.” He asks if she’s referring to the horrors of finding oneself buried alive. Did that woman recover her memory, or does she still not know who she is? “And is that shaman’s name… Wol?”

She looks at him in stunned silence, and he demands, “Is the shaman named Wol the same girl who died eight years ago, Heo Yeon-woo?!”

Nok-young nods.

Hwon turns silently and walks out, reeling from the shock.

Outside, he breaks down, recalling all the harsh words he had for Wol, and all the hardships she has suffered recently.

He sinks to his knees and cries, clutching his heart, sobbing, “Yeon-woo-ya…”

 
COMMENTS

Thank heaven for that! I’d been starting to tire of Hwon, which was a very sad feeling because I loved his character earlier on and love both actors. It’s just that he’s so frustratingly stuck in ONE mode, one point in space and time, and it’s hard to sympathize with someone who gets super-angry at the hand he’s dealt but seemingly does little about it.

In that sense I’ve been siding with Yang-myung in all their recent arguments, even though ultimately I want Hwon and Yeon-woo to find their happy ending. It’s just that Hwon’s struggles are all internal, with himself, and it makes for very little movement in his character. He’s also locked into the past, unable to separate Yeon-woo from Wol. Forget for a moment that we don’t technically have two different women vying for his heart; his inability to distinguish is still important, because it locks him into the past, and you can’t do a whole lot of good about something that’s over. It points to Hwon’s inability to do the hard thing and deal with the present, as Hyung-sun so earnestly begs him to do. He has dug in his heels, conflating past with present.

I think the drama is going with the “undying love that will never change” theme, but there’s a delicate balance to be struck in that kind of scenario. You don’t want your hero to seem fickle, but at the same time, you go too far the other way and he’s foolishly obstinate. It would have loved for the couple to fall in love anew, which would have made that theme even stronger — he’ll love her as Yeon-woo, and he’ll love her as Wol. We got a few moments early on when he was struck by her wise answers, but mostly it feels like he’s superimposing a dead girl over Wol. I was therefore more moved by Yang-myung’s trajectory than Hwon’s, because he loves the woman for who she is now, not for a memory.

The problem for Hwon really extends far beyond Wol, even though she’s emblematic of the issue, because it affects other quarters of his life. As a king, he knows who his enemies are and he’s deeply suspicious of their motives, and yet, most of the time he’s just reacting to them rather than being active. Or, better yet, proactive. I miss the wily young prince who outsmarted his crafty grandmother by mobilizing the scholars, who got stuff done.

Now that he knows, and she knows, and everybody and their mother (literally!) knows, I really want Hwon to step it up. Show us what you’re made of, please! I know there’s a lot more to you than a fist-banging, order-slinging, angry puppet king.

The last three episodes really stepped things up for the drama, and I find my interest finally back after waning for a number of weeks. One of the big problems is that for so long, almost every single element of conflict was driven by lies. One person lies to another, who lies to another, ad nauseam, sending people in this round robin of truth-seeking, who are spun around in so many directions by secrets and lies and noble idiocy. It’s a lot of talking, but not a lot of doing. So I’m especially excited now that the lies are out in the open, because maybe now we’ll finally get the plot moving again.

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143 February 29, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 17

by girlfriday

These brothers, they kill me. Half the time they make me cry, and half the time I just want to lock them in their rooms for a timeout. There are some major developments in this episode in the romance department, which means that it’s time for princes and kings to work out their issues. Let’s just say it doesn’t go well, ’cause tears get shed, and not just mine.

 
EPISODE 17 RECAP

After dropping off medical supplies and confirming some suspicions of his own, Yang-myung bids Wol a goodnight. Suddenly he turns to her, “You’re not going to disappear suddenly tomorrow, are you?” Hey, legitimate question where you’re concerned.

But she reminds him that she’s a criminal (meaning she can’t go elsewhere if she wanted to). He smiles, remembering himself, “That’s right. You’re a criminal. A shaman. You’re Wol.” It kills me how much he doesn’t want her to be Yeon-woo.

But something in that relief-and-recognition gives Wol pause as she watches him go.

Yang-myung makes his way down the road, empty save for three men walking by, dressed plainly but carrying swords. As they pass, Yang-myung whirls around and stops in his tracks, feeling death in the air. (It’s not supernatural, his feeling – just that niggling intuition that screams: assassins!)

Wol stands alone in the courtyard, and from the shadows someone calls out, “Yeon-woo-ya.” Eep! It’s Hwon!

He slowly emerges from the shadows, calling her name. Not believing it at first, she asks if he’s a hallucination, but he promises that he isn’t. “I’m sorry that I only recognized you now. Yeon-woo-ya,” calling himself an idiot. It would be wrong to argue with the king. Idiot it is.

She breaks down in tears and he pulls her into an embrace.

A few yards away, Yang-myung watches, crushed. Aw, Puppyyyyyyyyy!

He turns to go and comes upon Woon standing guard on the bridge just outside. But there’s no time for angry reunions just now, because Woon motions at him to shush, as the three assassins arrive behind him. That must’ve been some shortcut you took, Yang-myung.

The men draw swords and attack, and Woon handles them without breaking a sweat. But it means the king is unguarded… He takes off running, and Yang-myung grabs one of the men’s swords and follows.

Sure enough, Hwon and Yeon-woo are backing away slowly from a group of black-clad assassins. One lunges forward… as Woon swoops in to fight him off. They surround him, and then Yang-myung runs in to join the fight, which worries me because you’re not Iljimae anymore.

He kills one, but then gets stabbed by another. Hwon: “Hyungnim!” He quickly trades places with Yang-myung, taking his sword. They stop to look at each other, nodding silently. At that, Yang-myung grabs Yeon-woo’s hand and they take off running.

A fresh crop of assassins comes at them, and they fight to buy Yang-myung and Yeon-woo time. Woon suggests they find her and go into hiding, but she’s nowhere to be found.

An assassin reports to Minister Yoon that they were unsuccessful in their mission because Hwon, Woon, and even Yang-myung were there. So she was the target after all. He orders them to find her, and to also kill Nok-young quietly.

But Hwon is already one step ahead where Nok-young is concerned, having ordered her to go into hiding until the time came to reveal the truth. As she, Jan-shil, and Seol run away from the palace that night, Seol breaks off on her own, and Nok-young notes that it’s obvious where she’s headed, but that she’ll return like she always does.

Hwon scours Yang-myung’s house, finding it empty. Even you would have to agree that he’d be dumb to bring her here. But Hwon returns to the palace furious and wondering if his brother is to be trusted. Really?

By the time they reach their destination, Yang-myung can barely stand. It’s the temple where his mom lives, and she runs up, shocked to see him this way. He calls out to her, “Mother…” and collapses.

As Yeon-woo helps her carry an unconscious Yang-myung inside, Mom recognizes her on sight. As they dress his wounds, she asks directly if she is Minister Heo’s daughter. She answers truthfully. At that, Mom cries, asking Yang-myung why he’s chosen such a painful love. You and me both, Mom. You and me both.

Outside Mom tells her that Yang-myung came to her once and said that he could lay down everything—his name, his position—but he could not lay down his love for one girl. She guesses that he must’ve wanted her to see the woman he loved.

In the distance, Woon appears. So he found them after all. Only… when he returns to the palace, he LIES and tells Hwon he didn’t find them. Huh. Curiouser and curiouser. But didn’t we already establish that Hwon knows if you’re lying?

At request, Woon follows the king to his bath, where Hwon orders everyone outside except for Woon and Hyung-sun. He asks for Woon’s sword. He draws it, and suddenly holds it up to Woon’s throat. Whoa.

The room goes silent. Hwon: “Take off your clothes.” Uhhhh… Hyung-sun crosses his hands over his chest. Pffft.

Hwon says it’s no fun to play pranks on Woon when he doesn’t even flinch at a sword, putting Hyung-sun’s mind at ease. He then orders Woon to take a bath, because he’s prepared it for him. Woon says he can’t, but Hwon won’t let him defy orders.

“Defying the king’s orders is disloyalty… And shaking the relationship between the king and his brother… is treason.” Damn. Woon closes his eyes, knowing he’s been caught red-handed.

Hwon orders him to take a bath, and tells Hyung-sun to cut him with his own sword if he comes out any sooner than ordered. Ha.

Hwon says that though he can’t give Woon any higher honors, he cherishes him more than any other (aw) but adds for him not to be in pain, because Hwon can feel it too.

Yang-myung wakes up the next morning and rushes out, breathing a huge sigh of relief when he sees Yeon-woo sitting with his mother. He admits thinking she’d be gone, but she says she waited.

As they walk, she asks how long he’s known—was it because of the haewooseok? He says it’d be weirder if that didn’t tip him off, since he’s the one who named the worry-listening rock, and told no one else its name. She asks why he pretended not to know then.

Yang-myung: Because I didn’t want to know. If I could, I wanted to pretend till the end. You, coming back from the dead—at times it made me so happy I couldn’t stand it. But then on the other side, I knew that the moment I acknowledged it, everything would float away like a mirage.

Errrrf. Why do you break my heaaaaart? He tells her that waking up every morning with purpose, having a place to go, people who needed him, and seeing her… “It made me so happy.”

She says she was happy too, that he was her light when she couldn’t face the world. She calls him “Yang-myung-gun,” like she used to when they were kids, and tells him that he made it so she could lay down her burdens for a while and smile and laugh.

“When I was Wol, and when I was Heo Yeon-woo, I was always grateful. And… always sorry. But I can’t give you the answer you seek.” *Craaa~ack* There goes that final piece of his heart. She tells him to be free and happy, and turns to go.

He stops her, and without turning around to face her, he asks, “In the last life, I was that child’s person. In this life… can you not stay by my side?” Waaaah.

She turns to face him, but Hwon’s voice calls out to answer for her, “No, it cannot be.” He steps in to pull her away and tells Woon to escort her. He turns to Yang-myung: “Do you know what you’ve just done? Running away with the king’s woman is treason.”

Aw, really? Why do you always default to orders and laws? This is why your relationship with your brother sucks! She already CHOSE you.

Hwon tosses him a sword. Oh crap. Oh no. No no no no no!

Yang-myung asks what he’s doing, and Hwon says his crime is one he could present to the assembly. Or, Yang-myung could use this opportunity right now to slit the king’s throat and take the throne. He draws his sword.

Yang-myung’s eyes sting with tears, but he draws his sword as well. Hwon charges. Bollocks.

WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING?

They fight, as we flash back to their youth, play-fighting with wooden swords. And just like back then, Yang-myung wins the present fight, as we cut back to him holding his sword at Hwon’s throat.

Hwon yells at him to do it. “Do you think rising to the throne means you can hold everything in your hand?” Yang-myung: “At least sitting on the throne means I won’t be charged with treason.”

Hwon: “Then do it!” He’s either got balls of steel or he knows his brother won’t do it, because he doesn’t even blink. Yang-myung, on the other hand, trembles as his eyes fill with tears.

Hwon screams, “Why are you hesitating? Slit my throat!” But he can’t do it, of course, and swings the sword away, turning his back.

Hwon: “You are the one who wasted the opportunity today. Don’t seek another.” Yang-myung turns back angrily. Goddamn, you guys are killing me.

Hwon returns to the palace and enters his room, speaking to Yeon-woo who is hidden from view. He asks worriedly if he brought her here against her will. She in turn asks if he plans to let her go then.

“My heart already belongs to your majesty. What has you so nervous?” He asks if he can open the door, and she tells him to do as he pleases. The screen gets pulled back and a hidden door opens to reveal Yeon-woo dressed in beautiful clothes. Aw, I love that Hwon just basically reverts to being a teenager around her. It’s so cute.

He asks her to come closer, and closer, and finally he can’t take it and grabs her in a hug. Everyone averts their eyes, and she reminds him they’re not alone. He looks back awkwardly at Hyung-sun, who gives them the cutest smile, as he orders everyone out and shuffles out behind them.

He hugs her tight, saying her name over and over to make sure it’s true. I’m happy for your reunion but I sure hope you know what you’re doing, exposing her to danger inside the palace and all.

The next morning he can barely hide his beaming smile, though he balks at Hyung-sun for doing the same. Heh. Must keep up appearances.

He runs into Minister Yoon, who coos in fake concern over the king’s recent brush with death. Hwon says it’s a curious thing that he even knows about it, since the only people who knew were him, and the assassins. Ha. Yoon says it’s his job to concern himself with the king’s well-being.

Hwon mentions that the next military training session is coming up, and asks Minister Yoon to teach him his famed sword skills. Minister Yoon says it’s not really a secret skill, so much as the refusal to stop what he’s started, if he’s raised his sword with the intention to kill. Hwon thanks him for the helpful tip.

He tries to concentrate on his work, but he can’t contain himself, with Yeon-woo so close in the next room. Suddenly we’re in a roommate rom-com up in here.

He asks what she’s doing. Reading of course, and he whines that she was reading earlier too. “Is that book really that interesting?” She answers absent-mindedly, “Yes, it is.” He sighs in exasperation, tossing his scrolls aside. Hee.

Suddenly he lights up with an idea. Yeon-woo looks up from her book to find Hwon standing in her room, desk in hand. HAHAHAHA. Why so cute?

He awkwardly sits down right across from her, and tries to look nonchalant as he goes about his business. He grumps that she thinks more of that book than of him, asking if she knows how difficult it was for him to “protect his innocence” for eight years—what effort and physical strength it took. Pffft.

She asks if it takes strength to guard purity and he snaps that she doesn’t know how much exercise it takes to fight a young man’s boiling blood. Rawr. She counters that it’s actually a lie, since he clearly had the hots for Wol. HA.

He guffaws that it is SO not true. Are you two seriously fighting over this? It cracks me up. Hwon: “That was… wait… but that was you.” I take it back what I ever said about you two being smart.

He breaks into laughter at the idea that she’s jealous of herself, and she pouts and tells him to go back to his work, covering her face with a book. But he just moves his desk aside (why is that hot?) and pulls her book down.

He leans in close, “You being jealous of yourself is pretty funny, but me falling for you twice is not exactly normal either.” Yeah, THAT we’ve firmly established hun.

And then he startles her with a kiss.

I don’t know what’s cuter, the kiss or the fact that he goes right back to work like it didn’t happen.

Bad news though: Queen Grandma finds out that Yeon-woo is alive. Minister Yoon guesses that Hwon has hidden both Nok-young and Yeon-woo, because they’ve disappeared since the night Hwon discovered the truth.

Grandma wonders if that means he’ll bury what he knows, but Minister Yoon thinks it’s more likely he hasn’t found out the full truth, or that he’s waiting for the right time to strike. Either way, they have to find Yeon-woo and Nok-young first, and get rid of them.

They figure with the only two witnesses to the crime dead, the truth will stay buried forever. And then we get a pair of weird-ass zooms into their faces, like we need help to know that these are the baddies, circa 1930.

Grandma decides to pay a surprise visit to the king, and thinking quickly, Hyung-sun calls out to him to announce her presence extra loud and extra long. But she bursts in before he’s done, and Hwon freezes, standing in the middle of his room with his desk in his arms.

She looks at him strangely, so he starts lifting the desk like a weight, as he tells her it’s exercise. HA.

Grandma cuts right to the chase and reminds Hwon that she did him a favor in sparing Wol’s life, and now she’s come to collect on that. She asks him to give her Nok-young and Wol. Both sides play dumb as to why, but all he can do is agree to do as she asks. He simply asks for some time to find them, assuring her that they will meet. To himself he thinks that it will be a meeting of victims, witnesses, and the guilty.

She also tells him to stop digging around concerning the “incident” eight years ago, warning him that the reason they covered it up was to protect the king and his people. He asks which people, and she just tells him to ask himself who is most precious to him.

Yeon-woo overhears all this, and understands an implication that Hwon doesn’t—Princes Min-hwa’s involvement, which puts her brother Yeom at risk.

Yeom reads late into the night, remembering Hong Kyu-tae’s investigation and thinking of Yeon-woo. He looks up at the night sky and hears a noise, so he calls out and rounds the corner to find Seol spying on him.

She tells him who she is, still calling him “young master,” and he tells her she needn’t call him that anymore. To herself she thinks, “But you’re still the master of my heart. Like the day you gave me my name: Seol.”

He asks how she’s doing and she says she found a new master who treats her well, but when Mom appears, she slips away undetected. Mom tells him that it’s been days since they went to Father’s grave and Min-hwa’s been sick ever since. She plans to take her into the palace to see the doctor.

Both Hwon and Yeon-woo stay up late each lost in thought, and he apologizes that she had to spend the day locked up in a secret closet. Yeon-woo: “But it’s next to you. If it’s by your side, even if it were hell rather than a closet, I wouldn’t refuse.”

They go for a walk and he asks why she didn’t tell him she had recovered her memory the last time they met here at the Hidden Moon Building. She says she couldn’t because he now has the queen by his side, a fact they both seem to have conveniently forgotten until now.

Bo-kyung stirs awake screaming hysterically after another nightmare, convinced that the crying from the Hidden Moon has stopped because Yeon-woo is somewhere in the palace.

She cries that her father get rid of her at once, but then stops herself, remembering that she can’t show weakness in front of Daddy. Trembling in fits, she finally decides to call for the spy she used once before.

Yeon-woo knows what coming back from the dead means in upsetting the king’s world, so how could she just return? Hwon blames himself for what happened to her, and they go back and forth blaming themselves.

The fact that he didn’t forget her for eight years is enough for her, and she adds that even if he forgets her for the rest of his years, she vowed that she’d go on remembering and missing him enough for the both of them.

He tells her he’ll never forget, and vows to punish every person who ever caused her pain, and put everything back in its rightful place. But she surprises him: “Bury the past with the past.”

She urges him to let it go, not because she doesn’t trust him, but because she’s afraid that the truth will hurt him more. She says that it’s enough for her to have been near him, and she doesn’t seek any more than that.

Hwon: You like being in that place where the light of the sun doesn’t reach?
Yeon-woo: The sun is nearby. I don’t need another light.

Smiling, he takes her by the hand into the royal assembly room, to show her the king’s throne. He tells her that she taught him what was wrong with politics the first day they met, and she sheepishly says she was just a child.

He quotes his teacher, her brother’s words, about seeing with a child’s eyes, and tells her that he often stopped to wonder what his teacher or Yeon-woo would advise. He points out the artwork behind the throne, picturing the moon and the sun.

He says as a young prince he requested that a hairpiece be made of the moon embracing the sun, “So that it would represent my proposal, when I asked if you would be my moon.”

He takes it out of his sleeve as he tells her that he had two made—one he gave to her, and the other, he had planned to give on the day she became his queen, here in this place.

He takes the other out, saying that he asked her things to be brought here from Hwalinseo, and puts the pair in her hands. She starts to cry.

Hwon: “Only now, the two become one.”

He wipes the tears from her eyes, and kisses her.

 
COMMENTS

I like that Hwon is more proactive now, because leaving Yeon-woo to go be a noble idiot AGAIN would just about make me give up on them altogether. Not that she’s not going to try, obviously. I just hope that he’ll give her a fight, and not give up in his quest to right the wrongs. It annoys me that she’s trusting Grandma’s words at face value. I know it’s because of Min-hwa, but you don’t think that maybe, just maybe the evil lady used her to cover her own tracks? I know Min-hwa’s not innocent, but there’s got to be a way around that failsafe.

At this point I’m honestly more concerned about the brother relationship and whether it’ll ever get back on track, because what the hell with the swordfighting over a girl? GAH. I just wanted to knock their heads together and ground them for a week. And I don’t even know who’s stupider. It annoys me that they can each be so loving to Yeon-woo and then be such asshats to each other. I say this with love, of course, because they both break my heart, but seriously, the fighting and misunderstanding of brotherly concern needs to stop.

The episodes themselves have been getting better and this one had great drama and romance, but overall the series is headed to a really predictable place, which has been its problem from the get-go. That is, we’re operating on the very obvious trajectory of Big Lie to… wait for it… Big Lie Gets Revealed. That’s pretty much it. It’s kind of confounding how little this plot is based on, on a large scale. The micro movements are of course where the drama has its strengths, but I find that when I step back and look at the big picture, it leaves a lot to be desired. It’s like the opposite of a Monet. Pretty up close; just don’t stand too far back.

We’re at a good place since the last episode (especially since I thought we’d spend more time putting obstacles in the way rather than letting the lovers be together). But the problem for me is that Yeon-woo’s just traded one prison for another—she just doesn’t see it. That closet room is no different from the prison she was in before, maybe worse. I’m happy for the cute romantic moments, but what she gives up to have them hurts more. It’s why I have a hard time being fully on Hwon’s side, because yes he loves her, but that love has cost her everything. Please, do something big to make her faith in you worth something, because if she just continues to suffer for loving you, I’m going to kick you in the royal nuts.

 
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188 March 1, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 18

by javabeans

This episode takes some decisive steps forward, which, ironically enough, come with a few big steps back — backward into the past, that is. Key memories come back to confront the present with some unveiling of secrets, much-needed reminders of what’s truly important, and a satisfying dose of righteous anger.

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Silhouette – “잘지내니” (How are you) [ Download ]

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EPISODE 18 RECAP

Hwon lies in bed, smiling, and asks, “Isn’t it nice lying together in bed like this?” Yeon-woo, dressed in her nightclothes, agrees. This is a fakeout, isn’t it, you big drama tease? There’s no way you’d just give it to us that easy.

Pull back to reveal: Hyung-sun, blindfolded, literally sitting between their two beds. HA!

Hwon grumbles at Hyung-sun, asking if he doesn’t trust him. What, to keep your hormones in check now that your body won’t be interfering with any more consummation shenanigans? I’m pretty sure we’re all hoping you can’t be trusted, frankly.

Hyung-sun sighs heavily and says he has faith in the king’s intentions and all, but not in his “male instincts” which have been so long repressed. Hwon literally kicks his feet in frustration like a little boy, and Hyung-sun offers a compromise, if the king will make a promise. Hwon practically cuts him off in his hurry: “Promise? Whatkindofpromise?

Hyung-sun starts to say that the king must absolutely, positively, cross-his-heart-a-zillion-times promise not to lay a finger on her. Hwon is insulted and balks, but Yeon-woo takes over, saying that with the eight years of separation, it feels like they could look at each other all day and night and still not see each other enough. So can’t he please be understanding and let them be together?

See, kingboy, flattery and sweetness work better than griping. Hyung-sun relents and excuses himself, and Hwon actually scoffs that his man listened to her over himself. Hey, dude, you’re wasting precious alone time! He lies down in a huff, now provoked by pride to declare that he surely won’t lay a finger on her, oh no not at all… and she shuts him up by reaching for his hand.

She asks him teasingly if he’s going to kick her out for daring to touch the king, or “punish” her. Rawr. But we’re not playing that game now, are we?

They lay there side by side, holding hands, and fall asleep smiling.

Bo-kyung hears that her court spy was supposedly transferred to a different station, but can’t be found anywhere. Looks like the king caught on. Furthermore, he replaced all the court ladies in his personal quarters with new ones.

Bo-kyung deduces that he must be hiding something in his bedchambers. But what?

Princess Min-hwa races through the palace, excited to tell her mother some very good news. Yeom’s mother reminds her that she has to be careful with her body from now on — omo, so she’s pregnant? Strangely, I’m thinking simultaneously, “Whoa that’s fast” and “Took you long enough.” It’s also slightly terrifying imagining her as a mother. Will she react to tantrums with tantrums of her own?

Hong Kyu-tae reports to the king that the previous king had made repeated inquiries of a certain nature before eventually closing the investigation on Yeon-woo’s death. The subject of his questioning? Princess Min-hwa’s people.

Yeon-woo overhears this from her secret room, worried at where this line of reasoning is leading. Hong Kyu-tae adds that the queen dowager also sought out the same person in Min-hwa’s entourage, and that’s enough to get Hwon’s suspicions firing.

Hong Kyu-tae reports one more piece of info: Most spells use a straw man to represent the target, but in some cases, a person can be used. This intensifies the effect of the spell, especially if that person harbors strong desire.

Hwon thinks back to his grandmother’s words, implying that he should close this case to protect his loved ones, and how his father had similar reasons for remaining quiet. Suspicions fly through his head — the dots, are they connected yet? — and he asks himself, “Why would Min-hwa…? Why on earth?”

Min-hwa and her mother-in-law convey the good news to the queen mother, who’s thrilled that a baby’s on the way. Min-hwa asks to be excused early, saying she’s eager to return to tell her husband the news, but she has a second motive for leaving the party before granny gets there.

Hwon now makes sense of his father’s grave attitude when, eight years ago, he had apologized for being unable to protect his son’s bride. He had alluded to a day in the future when he’d understand why he was telling him this. He’d warned Hwon to remember that the king’s seat is a lonely place, surrounded by enemies, who can sometimes share the same bloodline.

He’d asked the prince to forgive his father when he understood what he meant — and also to protect, although he hadn’t specified a name. Now Hwon understands that it was an entreaty to cover it up, to not wage war on his family.

He runs to the king’s stateroom, encountering more memories. Like the time he had kneeled before his father and the court, asking him to rescind the decree to make Yeom the princess’s husband, calling it a waste of his life.

(Side note: It’s a sign that the drama’s done a strong job of connecting the two Hwons in your mind when you wonder about the split-screening between past and present, before realizing they didn’t need to, with young Hwon and adult Hwon not actually being played by the same person, heh.)

The king had railed on Hwon in private, who had defended his actions as merely protecting Yeom. The king had told him very clearly that Hwon had only exacerbated the situation, naming all the people he had endangered, including Yeom, the Heo family, and the king himself by acting on his emotions.

Hwon had fired back, “Are you telling me to simply sit by and watch? To do nothing, to change nothing, to protect nobody?! To follow the reasoning set by other people, powerless and feeble? Are you telling me to live like that? Is that what it means to be king?”

His father had replied that trying to protect would only lead to pain, and trying to gain would lead to loss: “That’s the fate of the king’s seat you will have to take.” Um, great pep talk, coach.

Also, I know this is a fantasy sageuk, but we’ve established that we are in the latter Yi dynasty of the Joseon era, which means: Your forbears were Sejong and Sejo. When did the Yis turn all weak and fatalistic?

Dad had added that politics means that gaining something requires losing something. Great — as it just so happens, he has a wife he’d like to lose, and another he’d like to gain… The king had thought to himself of his own trade-off: losing Yang-myung to protect Hwon, losing the princess bride to protect Min-hwa.

Hwon had declared that he would do differently, and do what’s right: “That will be my Joseon.”

That youthful Hwon storms out of the room, coming face to face with adult Hwon, confronting his memory. Young Hwon challenges him, asking if he’s forgotten his resolve and lost his way.

Hwon returns to his quarters to find Min-hwa there, and faces her with heavy heart. He asks if she desired Yeom that much for her to do such a cruel thing to his sister. Min-hwa is shaken but denies knowing what he’s talking about, until Hwon demands to know why she participated in the ritual against Yeon-woo. She breaks down, begging him not to tell her husband.

Hwon looks at her with eyes that’ll break your heart, ordering her to look him in the eye, and asks how she could do such a thing. She cries, “With those same eyes, that same voice, those same words… that is how Father also spoke to me.”

Flashback: Soon after the king had uncovered the truth, Young Min-hwa had sobbed to her furious father, saying she had no idea what she had done. Grandmother had merely told her to sit there, and Yeom would become hers. She had no idea Yeon-woo would die.

The king had grabbed her and told her intently that nobody must know — that she would have to keep her mouth shut till the day she died.

She sobs to Hwon that she truly hadn’t known, and hadn’t realized until later what she had done. Hwon tells her she committed an unforgivable sin against her father, against him, and against Yeon-woo as well. He screams at her, “How will you repay this? What will you make up for it?!”

And just as we’re possibly learning to accept Min-hwa’s deed, if not outright forgive her, she declares, “Even if I were to go back to that time, I would choose my husband.” Whaaaa? Okay, girly girl. I stuck with you for eighteen damn episodes, but a stupid childhood mistake versus willful murder? Dead to me now.

Hwon stares, heartbroken, as Min-hwa declares that she may be punished a thousand times over or fall to hell, “But I will not regret that choice.” Well, it’s a good thing you’re okay with hell then…

Hwon says he’ll punish her — that’s the only way he can hold grandma’s clan accountable for their crime. Min-hwa readily offers to accept his punishment, but begs for mercy for her husband’s child in her belly. What a way to deliver that bomb, and Hwon is stunned even further. He watches her leave, aghast, and sobs.

Min-hwa comes home with a long face, but Yeom is thrilled at her pregnancy news and takes her mood for concern. She tells him tearfully that she has something to tell him, but while she’s searching for the words, Yeom thanks her and apologizes for not being able to repay her many kindnesses. She sobs in his arms while he’s none the wiser at the true reason.

From the wall, Seol watches, as always. She comes home feeling gloomy, and Jan-shil takes one look at her and says in her deepened shaman’s voice that the child will be a boy, smart and handsome like his father.

Seol starts to sob, and Jan-shil looks at her in surprise, not realizing she’d made another of her eerie predictions. Seol cries for the injustice of Yeom having a child with the woman who killed his sister, lamenting the Heo siblings’ bad fortune.

Hwon is so shaken that when Yeon-woo — who has overheard everything — asks to join him, he denies her request, saying he can’t bear to see her now that he knows his own flesh and blood is responsible for those wrongs against her.

Yeon-woo emerges from her secret room anyway and tells him that this is what she had been afraid of. He says that the blood connection means that he’s also to blame for those wrongs, which makes me want to sit him down and explain that the transitive property of math does not apply to murder. Yeon-woo tells him not to think that, because it’ll make her blame herself for living, which, ARGH.

He asks what she would have him do, and she tells him to cover it up. Her brother wouldn’t be able to bear knowing the truth. He asks if that doesn’t make her angry about all the suffering she endured, but she says she doesn’t want her brother to share that with her. He asks in a heartbroken voice if this doesn’t make them both pitiable beings, and you’ll get no argument on that.

But he bucks up and puts the ol’ game face on to pays granny a visit, where he announces that she should move her residence to a different location, citing the favorable surroundings as beneficial for her health. Two can play this game of health-benefits-my-ass-I-just-want-you-out-of-my-hair, and he says it’s time she retired from politics.

Naturally the queen dowager isn’t about to let him have his way, so he frames it as a choice: Either she hie herself away, or she face a stern royal court. He lays out her crimes plainly — killing the princess, for using the other princess as accomplice — and granny just tells him to prove it. He shocks her, though, by warning that he won’t go easy on her just because they’re related, unlike his father. The extent of his filial loyalty is to offer her the option to retire and move: “I will return everything to its place.”

She growls that he can’t do this to her, screaming after him, “Do you not know whose power it was that gave you your seat? ME! It was I, your grandmother, who racked my brains and stained my hands with blood to protect that seat for you!”

She rages that he cannot send her away, and literally screams herself unconscious. I tell ya, it’s pretty satisfying. It’s not supposed to be funny, but for the fact that her eyes literally cross, Looney Tunes style.

The council of evil receives news of the queen’s eviction and decides the king must know everything. A political purge is inevitable, they fear, and with it they’ll all go. Minister Yoon declares that the only thing to do is to strike first.

Recovered from his wound, Yang-myung is ready to leave the temple. He walks with his mother, clocks her worry, and starts to rattle off a string of assurances of why he’ll be fine. She surprises him, though, by telling him to follow his heart and live the way he wants.

Mom tells him that time will pass, this sadness will eventually fade, and he’ll make a new connection with someone new. She trusts him to make the right choices, no matter what, and he looks bittersweet at that faith in him.

When he returns home, he finds the usual crowd of noblemen waiting outside his home. For once he doesn’t flee, and invites them inside. The men refer to Yang-myung being the first in line, with a king who is still childless. It’s dangerous talk but Yang-myung plays along, and they’re bolstered by his encouragement.

That confidence turns to nervousness when Yang-myung picks up his sword, examines the blade, then in a swift move points it at them. Whose neck will be cut first for this treasonous talk? They quickly backpedal, saying they meant nothing of the sort, and they realize they’ve misjudged his reaction. He leaves them with one last warning, that if they ever mention such a thing again, their heads will have to say bye-bye to their bodies.

The leader of these rebels reports back to their silent backer, who turns out to be — surprise surprise — the council of evil. Minister Yoon chuckles, figuring Yang-myung wouldn’t cave so easily. The leader has a message from Yang-myung, who’d instructed its delivery to their hidden supporter: If he has something to tell him, come in person.

One minister wonders why they’d gone for Yang-myung when it’s known that he’s faithful to the king. Another retorts that the girl came between them, though he concdeds that it won’t be easy to manipulate that friction into outright betrayal. Not in two episodes, it won’t be.

Minister Yoon still feels confident that they’ll be able to bring Yang-myung over to their side, and puts his scheming hat back on.

Bo-kyung brightens to see her mother arriving at the palace with a girl, Soo-hyang, in tow, but ducks out of sight when her father appears. Mom greets him with the niece she has brought to be a companion to Bo-kyung. Minister Yoon is pleased with Soo-hyang’s forthrightness as she expresses her admiration of the palace and declares that she’d like to live here.

Bo-kyung hears the eerie echo of her father asking her similar things years ago, and how he’d used her youthful desires to his own ends. But when her father sees Bo-kyung standing there, he silently turns away in disapproval, leaving his daughter looking crushed at his neglect.

Bo-kyung tells her mother that she thinks her father will abandon her. Her mother protests, but Bo-kyung says that he’s plenty capable of it, particularly if he deems her useless. Mom asks exasperatedly who would fill Bo-kyung’s spot as queen, and Bo-kyung looks pointedly at the young Soo-hyang. If Dad can’t control his daughter as the queen, why not replace her with a younger, more malleable version?

Mom removes the girl before continuing the conversation, saying the even if that were to happen, Soo-hyang would just be a concubine. And why would the king take in such a young girl anyway?

Bo-kyung replies that it’s not out of the question, if the throne were to fall to someone else: “If it’s Father, such a thing is more than possible.”

Yang-myung has another late-night visitor: It’s Minister Yoon, who gets right to the point by asking whether Yang-myung wants to become the sun. He proposes an alliance: One will become king, the other will back his claim.

Yang-myung declines, and says that if they let this subject die here, he’ll keep it from the king. Minister Yoon asks, “Will you live your entire life under the shadow of the king?” Yang-myung says that even if they were to do this — join forces and stage a coup — they would need a justification for the overthrow. Minister Yoon has no doubt they can rustle up reasons: He’s the irresponsible king who ignores his duty to secure the succession, who consorts with a shaman, whose immorality causes him to forsake filial duty.

Yang-myung points out that the shaman is no mere shaman, but the princess. Minister Yoon is surprised to find that Yang-myung knew all along, and asks how he remained loyal to the king anyway.

Hwon has another pressing matter to entrust to Hong Kyu-tae and gives him a letter detailing his duties. He knows that his enemies will be preparing to counterattack with slanderous propaganda and is preparing for the onslaught. Yeon-woo fears that she’s caused him more trouble, but he counters, “You didn’t think I would just sit here and be attacked, did you? Wait and see. Soon a very interesting tale will spread amongst the people.”

Hwon invites Yeon-woo out for a walk to Hidden Moon, then tells her he has hidden a present for her here. She replies, “I already have everything. What more could I want?” Barf. Look, lady, sometimes the polite thing to do is just accept the damn gift, okay?

Hwon directs her to find it, so she starts looking in the courtyard. He points out that she’s looking awfully hard for someone who just said she doesn’t want anything, ha. She wonders if it’s so small that she can’t see it, and he retorts, mock-insulted, “Small?! It’s not small!”

That gives her an idea, and she asks incredulously if he means to give her Hidden Moon. He bursts out laughing and says that’s too big, then builds up the moment of reveal by saying that his gift is something important, unique, that all women would want. You aren’t referring to yourself, are you?

She wonders, “You don’t mean…” and he confirms it. “Yes, I mean me.” Ha! You cocky bastard, how I’ve missed you.

He steps forward to hug her and says that she gave him her heart, so now he will give her all of himself.

Minister Yoon plays the part of shoulder-devil, telling Yang-myung that he cannot have already given up the battle, reminding him of how the previous king treated him so poorly.

Yang-myung laughs that Minister Yoon has played his hand entirely wrong, though there’s a forced quality to the laugh that makes me suspect he’s not entirely immune to the logic. He says, “Did you take me to be so small-minded that I would let resentment and jealousy drive me to usurp power? I’ve no interest in the throne. Restoration, honor, and power — I have no need for such things.”

Minister Yoon thinks to himself that he’s disappointed in Yang-myung’s lack of drive, and reaches for a hidden dagger. Like Bo-kyung said, he has no need for useless things, and he readies his hand.

Yang-myung says, “What I want are a place for my ancestral rites at Jongmyo Shrine, and Heo Yeon-woo. Just those two things.”

Uh-oh… did you just say you wanted a king’s burial and the current king’s woman? Are you turning to the dark side after all, Yang-myung?

 
COMMENTS

I don’t buy Yang-myung’s defection to the rebel forces for a minute, though part of that is due to the fact that we’ve got two episodes left, which is hardly enough time to delve into that conflict with any heft and then also resolve it. It’s something that could — and should — have come much earlier, so that we could actually worry for his potential shift in loyalties. It’s not like Yang-myung was busy fulfilling any important narrative duties, other than moping around.

Furthermore, there’s only so much mileage we can get out of the two-brothers-fighting-over-the-same-girl storyline, and I’ll go so far as to say we got our fill while they were still kids. But to double up that tension by adding political maneuvering — maybe some ideological sparring as well — could have really heightened the conflict in a way that simple romance can’t.

Plus, I’m intrigued by Bo-kyung’s newfound insecurity over her own place in the palace. She did a fantastic job showing fear over a ghost, but even more than that kind of terror, I would love to see her fear over a much more insidious danger — her own father. This shifting in political alliances could have even given the drama an excuse to put Bo-kyung and Yang-myung together — not romantically, I mean, but as an acting exercise, and why not? They’re both up to the task of playing wounded, suspicious, heartbroken, morally conflicted, and angsty. It makes me wonder why the drama stayed for so long in the same simple conflicts when it had all this potential stuff up its sleeves. And now that they’ve pulled them out, they tend to lack bite because there just isn’t the time to get worked up over these new complications. Sadness.

On the other hand, I loved older Hwon getting schooled by his younger angry self. It’s a bittersweet reminder of how awesome Hwon was in his youth — and I mean the character, not merely the actor — and how, as king, he has turned into a facsimile of his father: a puppet, frustrated and powerless. The adolescent prince may have been idealistic but the adult has gone too far in the other direction, giving up altogether, fuming at his lack of agency but at a loss to claim it.

I love that he gets the kick in the butt now, with his old self shaming him with the reminder of what he once held so dear. He doesn’t get the right to be angry at his father when he’s just done the same, does he? The conflict is pretty reminiscent of Tree With Deep Roots, but hey, why not take inspiration from a superior source? Yang-myung has on occasion thrown the same challenging words at Hwon, but I suppose that coming from the bitter mouth of a disappointed romantic rival, they read more as jealousy than wisdom. So most of all I love that the person to spur this self-actualization… is himself.

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123 March 14, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 19

by girlfriday

Things finally come to a boil, as the baddies up their game in a big, big way. Will Yang-myung cross over to the dark side? Will Hwon finally get to protect the person he loves till the end? Will logic hang on by a thread? It looks like you can wound the beast, but you can’t slow it down by much: Today’s episode recorded 38.7% ratings, even after a week’s hiatus.

 
EPISODE 19 RECAP

After the big fancy declaration and swirling kiss, Hwon and Yeon-woo walk back outside, and he wonders if she doesn’t have anything to give him, since he gave her his heart and everything.

She says she doesn’t have much – what does he want? He starts to inch closer… “You know, IT… I want to try it…” Rawwwr. She wrings her hands nervously. He leans closer…

Hwon: “That thing you did with hyungnim…” Uhhh… she did THAT with Yang-myung? “…with the long stick…” HA. Okay, am I just supposed to pretend I didn’t hear that? Dirty!

But he means the game, of course, the one he saw her play with Yang-myung and the kids. It’s adorably childish of him, but I still say it’s a wasted opportunity for some smooches!

She shows him how to play, and he’s hilariously bad at it. Hyung-sun has to sneak in some tips to help him out, and then the poor man has to run and chase the ball every time. But he finally gets the hang of it, to resounding applause.

Meanwhile Yang-myung is busy being coaxed to the dark side by Minister Yoon. Yang-myung asks if he’s willing to give up his position as the queen’s father, since he knows Bo-kyung to be his only daughter.

Minister Yoon just gives an evil smile, “One can always make another.” Ew. I don’t want to think about you making babies. Stop that. Well that explains the sudden entrance of the niece into the palace. Turns out Bo-kyung wasn’t paranoid about how far her father would go to control the throne.

But as we know, Yang-myung only cares about one person: Yeon-woo. Minister Yoon appeases him by saying that he can’t exactly marry her, but one should keep what’s most precious close to him, in secret.

Yang-myung agrees to board Ship Evil. Please tell me this is a plot-within-a-plot, otherwise I’ll have to assume you ran off and got a lobotomy during the hiatus.

Bo-kyung stirs with fear, guessing her father’s moves before he even makes them. She wonders to herself, “Father, are you abandoning me, and the king?” She realizes that means Hwon is in danger, and she rushes out to find him in the middle of the night. Oh no… but he’s with Yeon-woo out in the open!

And that’s exactly what she sees. Her faces goes dark, and she stops in her tracks before they notice her.

The first plan of attack against the king is swaying public sentiment, so news comes out of Hwon’s secret affair with a shaman. Hong Kyu-tae does his best to counter the smear campaign with rumors of the truth—that the princess bride returned from the dead and she’s the shaman in question.

Hwon meets with the assembly and they argue against prosecuting for Yeon-woo’s fishy “illness” eight years ago, while Hwon in turn wonders why they’re not up in arms about the accusations against the king and his shaman. Are they just saving themselves and watching the house burn down, or are they the ones that lit the fire?

Cue awkward guilty coughs ’round the room. Oh that’s not conspicuous or anything. Hwon laughs it off like a joke, but eyes the room warily.

Bo-kyung tells her father that she saw Yeon-woo with her own two eyes this time, and it wasn’t a figment of her imagination. But Minister Yoon is tired of her paranoia, and tells her it doesn’t matter whether that girl is dead or alive.

She realizes that he’s already decided to cut her loose along with Hwon and decides that she’s the only one who can protect what’s hers. Oooh. Bo-kyung is the interesting wrench in this whole thing, because she could ruin either side’s plan enough to muck up everything. She orders that the last temporary head of Seongsucheong be brought to her at once.

Yeon-woo asks Hwon for a favor, and requests that she be allowed to see Nok-young one last time. He reminds her that Nok-young is the reason she suffered this much, but she counters that she’s also the reason she’s alive.

“Whenever I look upon your face, I feel grateful that I am alive.” She says that eight years’ affection isn’t something to be taken lightly, and asks to see her.

Bo-kyung meets with the evil shaman and asks if she can kill a person with black magic. She says that the most she can do is cause great physical pain, like she did with the king. Bo-kyung only now realizes that Hwon’s attack was her father’s doing.

The shaman says she needs to know exactly where the target will be, and must be physically nearby, and also requires a boost of energy to power the spell, much like Min-hwa’s involvement the last time. She’s specific about needing a virgin. Well I know where you can find a drama full of those. She says if the energy is powerful enough, the target could die. (Desire fuels the energy, thus the more fervently the source of the power wants to harm the target, the stronger the spell.)

Nok-young’s spidey sense is tingling, as she sees a bowl of water turn to blood before her eyes. She gets called to the palace to see Yeon-woo, and greets her with a bow. Yeon-woo asks about her friend Ahri, the one whose dying request it was for Nok-young to protect her.

She says she doesn’t know much, but that Ahri was saved once by her mother, before Yeon-woo was even born. “So the person who saved you was not me, nor her, but your mother.”

Yeon-woo says she hasn’t yet forgiven Nok-young for everything, but she understands why she made those choices.

Yeon-woo: Before it’s too late, I wanted to say this. Thank you. For saving me, thank you. For taking me in, for raising me, for protecting me, thank you. For the last eight years… for being my mother… thank you.

Nok-young cries, hardly believing her words. It’s actually the one instance where Yeon-woo’s overwhelming goodness moves me – to give her thanks when even forgiveness is asking a lot of you… it’s just really touching.

At the same time, Bo-kyung meets the shaman for the spell, shrouded in black. As expected, she offers up herself to fuel the dark magic.

But Nok-young has seen what’s to come, and warns Yeon-woo that a spell is headed straight for her. “But I’m going to stop it.”

It’s shaman vs. shaman as they cast their spells, and Nok-young uses her own blood to power the evil spell back to where it came from. It makes her cough up blood, but she knocks the other shaman down.

Bo-kyung trembles, and then the shaman suddenly wakes up… but it’s Nok-young’s voice that comes out of her mouth. She jumps out of her skin, recognizing her immediately.

Nok-young calls her out for all her sins—keeping her mouth shut about the murder, trying to have what was never hers—making it clear that she is not the victim that she believes herself to be. Bo-kyung screams in terror, and then Nok-young leaves the shaman’s body, sending it back down to the ground. It leaves Bo-kyung in hysterics.

Yeon-woo’s mother gets ready to go pray at a temple for a while, telling Yeom that it’s time to let Yeon-woo go onto the next life, so that she’s not still holding onto the past when the baby comes. Yeom sees her off.

Once she’s gone, one of the servants asks Yeom if he’s heard the rumors – that Yeon-woo’s death may have been murder, and what’s more… that she may still be alive. He adds that there’s something that’s always niggled at him: eight years ago, he remembers going back to the grave the day after they buried her, and it looked like the grave had been dug up. You’re saying this just NOW?

Suddenly their conversation gets interrupted by an arrow that lands inches from his face. It has a note attached, from Minister Yoon. He details the plot to kill Yeon-woo, naming Princess Min-hwa as the culprit, and Hwon as the one who covered up her crime. Oh no.

Yeom reels from the news, realizing now what Min-hwa meant when she had cried and said she was sorry for everything. It’s a piss poor way to find out, but I’m glad he knows.

He comes in to confront her, stone-faced while she chatters on about making clothes for the baby, hopefully a son just like him. He finally opens his mouth, “Was it me you wanted to have? And do you have what you wanted now? What was it that you wanted to have that badly?”

He looks at her hatefully, and she starts to cry. He steps closer, begging her to say that it’s not true, that he’s wrong. But she collapses to the floor in tears, “Please forgive me!” He can’t believe that she’s been lying all these years, betraying their whole family.

She insists she was going to tell (For eight years?? Yeah you were really on the ball with that…) but it makes him complicit in her crime. He says he’s to blame too, for letting it happen. Well that’s taking it a bit far. He turns to go and she clings to him, but he pushes her away coldly.

The Council of Evil sits around waiting for Yeom to make a move, hoping that he’ll be incensed enough to blame the king. But once they figure he’s not going to do what they want, they decide to kill him. But… THAT MAKES NO SENSE. It’s only been like a few hours. Urg, let’s just swerve around that plot hole for now.

Yeom hears noises outside so he heads out, only to be confronted by a group of assassins headed straight for him. He backs away, and then suddenly Seol jumps out from nowhere, wielding her sword. Awww yeah. Finally, some badassery!

She tells him to get behind her, and he’s like, but you’re a girl! Well she has a sword and you don’t, so back the hell up!

She fights them off, killing one, and then another… but she gets stabbed. It doesn’t stop her though, and she lunges forward… as another sword goes clean through her torso. Ack!

Just then, Woon arrives. She crumples to the ground and Yeom runs over to her. Woon takes care of the attackers, but Seol is already bleeding out.

Yeom clutches her close, “Seol-ah! Seol-ah!” She uses her last ounce of strength to open her eyes, “Yeon-woo is alive.”

His eyes widen. Seol: “You asked me to look after her while you were away. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep that promise until the end. I’m going like this. Forgive me.” Trembling, he tells her how grateful he is that she protected Yeon-woo until now, and tells her he’s sorry for giving her such a huge burden.

She tells him not to be sorry: “You were the one who gave me a name. From that day until this very moment… even though I know I shouldn’t… I kept you in my lowly heart.” She asks him to forgive her and her eyes start to close.

Crying, he shouts, “Sorry? Forgive you? For what?!” To herself she thinks: “Master, because of you, I became a person. I became a woman. I became Seol. It was a short life, but right now, I am happier than any woman in the world.”

She dies in his arms, as he cries out her name over and over.

Nok-young wakes up with a sharp pain in her chest, and finds Jan-shil crying outside. They both know without being told, that Seol is gone. Jan-shil says Seol keeps telling her to be well, and to tell Nok-young thank you.

As they cry, snow begins to fall.

Woon reports to Hwon that he’s moved Min-hwa and Yeom to a safe place. He asks if anyone was hurt. Woon pauses, knowing that Yeon-woo is hearing all of this, and then tells him about Seol. Yeon-woo muffles her cries in the next room, barely able to contain them.

Suddenly Hwon orders him to check on Grandma, because she’s next. Sure enough, in her chamber she starts choking on her own blood, after eating something poisoned. She gasps for air, cursing Minister Yoon.

She looks up, happy to see what she thinks is Hwon. All we see is a headless red robe, covered in shadow. Oh THAT’s not creepy. *shivers*

She tells him it was all for his own good, as she coughs up more and more blood. But the vision just turns his back to her and walks away, leaving her to die. It’s then that she flashes back to Hwon’s accusations, which were the exact same words that his father had said to her eight years ago.

And with that, she dies. Well at least there’s one satisfying death to counter the one that makes me angry.

The Council of Evil chuckles at Grandma’s demise, and then Yang-myung joins them for some more plotting. They worry about opposition since public sentiment could be turning against them, so Yang-myung suggests they move up the timetable for the coup.

He assures them that public sentiment is something he holds in the palm of his hand. He notes his last big public deed, making sure that Hwalinseo got the medical supplies that they needed, thus framing him as the perfect King of the People. Gathering support will be a breeze.

Yeon-woo sits in her room, holding in her cries, and Hwon tells her to cry as much as she wants. She says she doesn’t even have the right to cry. Gah, I don’t even know what that means.

Yeon-woo: “She has always protected me, but I could do nothing to protect her.” Well if there’s anyone who understands that, it’s Hwon. Yeon-woo: “She was my friend, my family… no… more than that.”

“I don’t understand why she had to die.” Yeah me neither, but this is where we are.

He pulls her to him in an embrace, and tells her that he will not stop until this evil is put to rest.

Yang-myung meets with the people behind the coup – the extended Council of Evil, if you will. He laughs to see some familiar faces, like the astrology professor who first took Wol into the palace.

He chuckles, wondering aloud who would’ve thought that a publicly-known wastrel like himself would suddenly be eyeing the throne. Listen, if you’re just going to point out the logic holes, it’s going to make it harder for me to ignore them.

Minister Yoon says the time will be during the upcoming hunting festival, where the king goes hunting with the people to celebrate open season. Only “the hunt will be inside the palace.” Yang-myung finishes his metaphor: “…And the prey will be the king?”

He then takes out an empty book and tells Minister Yoon to fill it with the names of all those who will stand with him. Aha! Maybe our first sign that perhaps you did not get a lobotomy after all?

The book gets passed around the room and they all write down their names. Yang-myung betrays a little smirk.

They sort out their plan of attack, while Hwon prepares the same, intending to turn the tables on Minister Yoon. He talks to the assembly about the hunt with a smile on his face, but inwardly thinks to himself that they’ll see who’s hunter and prey when it’s said and done.

He looks worried though, and tells Yeon-woo that he’ll relocate her somewhere safe while he’s out hunting. She just asks him to return safely, and he promises that he will.

Yang-myung looks up at the night sky, and says aloud, “See, what’d I say? I said that moon would follow me wherever I went.” But he’s not talking to himself, because Woon comes out from the shadows, knowing that the comment was meant for him.

Yang-myung: “I’ll ask one thing. Are you here on orders, or are you here as a friend?” Woon: “I came as a friend.”

Yang-myung sighs that “friend” is a good word. “I’ll ask one thing.” Woon: “You already asked.” Hee. Yang-myung points out how little fun he is. “Then I will ask one more thing. Do you consider me a friend, even now?”

Woon: “I have done so until now, and will continue to do so.” Yang-myung smiles, “Then no matter what choice I make, no matter what I do, will you remain a friend?” That alarms Woon, and he asks what it means.

But Yang-myung shakes it off as nothing, and says it won’t matter now, because the choice is made. “How did we end up like this?”

The day of the hunt arrives, and everyone prepares. Hyung-sun tells Hwon that it’s time to go, and then suddenly stops to say that it was an honor to serve by his side. Oh no. Hyung-sun, not you too! Stop it!

Hwon asks why he’s talking like he’s going to die, and reassures him that he’ll be fine. He turns to Woon: “Are you ready?” They brace themselves and march out.

The king is announced. Hwon thinks to himself: “It is time. The time has come for everything to find its rightful place.”

He comes down the steps and meets eyes with Minister Yoon, and then Yang-myung.

As they march forward, Yang-myung follows just behind him. Flashback to the plan, which begins as soon as the king approaches the main gate. The doors burst open, and soldiers come running in.

Everyone raises his sword in defense, surrounding the king. Yang-myung and Hwon stand back-to-back, in the center of the circle.

And then at the same time, both brothers turn around and raise their swords, poised at the other’s neck. No! Crap crap crap crap crap. THIS ISN’T HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO GO.

Woon whirls around, his sword now pointed at Yang-myung.

Following that cue, the Council of Evil turns around, now joining the attack against the king, and killing off anyone who’s defending him. It leaves Hwon completely outnumbered.

With his sword held to Hwon’s throat, Yang-myung’s voice cries out:

Yang-myung: I have come to inform you: The sun lives in the sky. But the sky has banished the sun. Fate has shifted and you have reached the end of your providence.

Damn, he went there. High treason it is.

 
COMMENTS

It’s both better and worse that Yang-myung has gone this far. It’s better because it’s at least one unexpected turn in a plot that otherwise left very little to surprise. But it’s still completely under-motivated, because he’s been a totally different character up until now. It’s not like he’s been harboring a dark side since the beginning (which by the by, would’ve made for a MUCH more interesting character). I just refuse to believe that it’s happening… even as it happens before my very eyes. I know, I know. Maybe it’s my Jung Il-woo love that’s making me hang on, but I swear, sans lobotomy, it doesn’t make sense. Call me an optimist, but I’ll put my money on a double reversal.

There were a lot of big reveals in this episode, but they clearly maneuvered the big ones for the finale, like Yeon-woo’s reunion with Mom and Yeom (though I don’t get why he isn’t charging into the palace to see her the instant he knows she’s alive). Yeon-woo’s character really took a backseat in this episode, which I didn’t understand, given how close we are to the end. It kind of makes me give up hope that she’ll have any agency at all in restoring her name. Ever since she moved into that closet room, she’s done nothing, which kind of makes me throw my hands in the air. So much potential, so little done with her in the end.

Seol’s death wasn’t exactly necessary, but I understand it in terms of giving her character an ending. She probably never would’ve confessed her love for Yeom if she weren’t on her deathbed, and it seems fitting that she’s the one to tell him that Yeon-woo’s still alive, and that she kept her promise to him all these years. Personally I wanted her character to be more badass throughout the series, because her one show of swordfighting skills got me all excited and then ended with her death so prematurely. Though Yeon-woo/Jan-shil/Nok-young’s reactions to her death were heartbreaking, it felt wrong that they were all apart, and that they weren’t the ones to be there in her passing.

At least we go out on this episode at a high point in the action, which hopefully means that tomorrow’s finale will deliver a satisfying epic battle, though I really should stop anticipating Baek-Dong-soo-style badassery in a drama that is just not going to give me that kind of action. Still, heads better roll from somewhere inside those walls, because I have had enough of the sitting around with clenched fists, waiting for the baddies to get their due. Off with their heads!

 
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257 March 15, 2012January 24, 2016

The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 20 (Final)

by javabeans

Finally, the finale! The show sure has poured on the speed in the last several episodes. hurtling us toward conclusions and endings, both happy and sad. Whether or not the show’s ratio on that latter point is satisfactory is up to you to decide.

The show bowed out with series high ratings of 42.2%, crushing the (nonexistent) competition. (To be fair, there was basically no competition, with a Drama Special on one rival station and a Salaryman special on the other.)

SONG OF THE DAY

Wheesung – “눈물길” (Tear ducts) from The Moon That Embraces the Sun’s OST.
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FINAL EPISODE RECAP

The brothers face off over their drawn swords, surrounded by rebels. In flashback, we see that Minister Yoon had demanded that Yang-myung be the one to kill the king, in order to convince everybody this wasn’t a trick. Yang-myung had agreed.

Now, Minister Yoon shouts at Yang-myung to finish the deed without hesitation. The brothers stay frozen in place while everybody watches, waiting for him to make his move.

Another flashback takes us to a previous confrontation, when Hwon had given his brother the opportunity to attack him and Yang-myung hadn’t taken it.

Yang-myung’s words had sounded cryptic then, but make sense now: this was a test to determine how Yang-myung would act the next time he challenged Hwon’s life.

Ergo, both brothers know in advance that Yang-myung won’t do it. So do we, for that matter, and the suddenness of Yang-myung’s flip-flop (and subsequent flop-flip?) means that none of this carries the dramatic impact it ought (oh, what could have been). But points for trying.

So now, Yang-myung raises his sword and sounds a battle cry… then whirls and strikes down one of the minister-rebels instead. This gives Hwon the chance to race to safety alongside his brother.

More flashbackery shows us that this was all planned by Hwon, who had predicted that Yang-myung would be approached by the traitors, and given him the instructions to go along with the plot. Everything had been Hwon’s idea, to crush the rebels once and for all, for the safety of the nation and, specifically, Yeon-woo.

Minister Yoon leads the charge to advance anyway, since they’ve got numbers on their side. Until, that is, a surprise contingent of troops swarms in, having waited for their moment to catch the insurgents off-guard. Tide turned.

The king’s troops shut the gates, ensuring that the swift battle be confined in the small courtyard. Hwon orders the “hunt” to begin.

The fight commences, with Woon and Yang-myung joining the fray together. Minister Yoon holds his own and demands the deaths of the king and prince.

Without needing to be told, Bo-kyung already knows that her father and her husband are battling it out. No matter which way the wind blows, she’s doomed; as she walks despondently through the empty palace dragging a white cloth, she knows she is about to be deposed. She thinks sadly, “From the day I first saw you, all I wanted was one thing: your heart.”

She comes to her destination and starts tying the cloth to a tree. She has decided that she will die a queen, still Hwon’s woman, before others strip her of that title. Aw. Suicide can be a storytelling crutch for many a melodramatic finale, but there’s a sad logic to her actions.

One by one, the lesser ministers in the Council of Evil go down. Yang-myung declares that he’s got the roster of traitors: “Take it from me if you can.” No, don’t tempt Fate! I have a bad feeling about this.

Minister Yoon is literally the last man standing, and he sees all his men lying dead around him. Now it’s Hwon’s turn to raise his weapon, and he sends an arrow flying into his leg. It’s not a fatal injury, and Minister Yoon charges the king anyway. Yang-myung cuts him down, delivering the deathblow, and the brothers smile in relief that all is done.

Except no, it’s not quite done. A rebel staggers to his feet behind Yang-myung’s back — ack, you can’t kill him now, when he’s safe! Hwon sees the danger and calls out a warning as the traitor grabs a spear.

Yang-myung sees the threat, who’s gathering his strength to attack… and then turns his back to the rebel. WHAT? You could just walk away, and you’re giving him a clear shot?

He faces the king, who looks at him in dawning horror, and thinks, “Please forgive my foolish choice. The heavens can only contain one sun. Now I will be the cause of no more chaos.”

Yang-myung drops his sword and awaits his fate. Arrrrrghasldkfjaldkjfalkjfas. Hulk angry, keyboard smash.

The spear flies through his abdomen, and Hwon screams, “Hyungnim!”

Nok-young and Jan-shil look up at the sky to see two suns converging. Just in case the metaphor wasn’t clear enough and you spent twenty episodes not getting it. The moment the suns meet, we also see one moon being swallowed up, symbolizing the death of Bo-kyung.

Woon cradles Yang-myung in his last moments while Hwon cries at his side. Yang-myung is smiling to the last, joking with his dying gulps that he’s gotten tired of playing the profligate. He tells Hwon not to cry: “I am fine.” He takes out the book of names and hands them over.

Yang-myung: “Once, I resented you for having everything. And so, I even desired your throne. But my friends and you, my brother, were too precious to me, to take that place from you. Be a strong ruler, and protect this nation’s people alongside her. I will watch over you from that place.”

Yang-myung looks up at the sky, now thinking inwardly that he will meet his father soon — not as king, but as a parent. If he has regrets, it’s for the mother he leaves behind. His last memory is of young Yeon-woo, and then he dies.

Hwon begs his brother to open his eyes, sobbing that it’s a royal order.

Yeon-woo is taken to a house where she will be safe, and steps inside the gate. Who should cross her path but her mother, who recognizes her on sight. Yeon-woo bursts into tears, and confirms that she’s really alive.

They hold each other and sob, which brings Yeom outside to check on his mother. His reaction is more contained, although it’s not a surprise to him because he was prepared for this by Seol.

Yeom has told his mother the gist of Min-hwa’s involvement, and she laments the dilemma of Min-hwa’s wrongdoing with her place in this family, and her unborn child to boot.

Yeon-woo leaves her mother to rest and finds Yeom outside, but he refuses to look at her. She understands that he blames himself, and tells him not to — that so doing would just make her blame herself for staying alive. Oh good lord, you wonder duo of noble idiocy. Then again, I suppose it’s an argument that works, since they’re equals on this front.

Yeom says he’s wronged her horribly, and that everything is his fault. (Which… totally doesn’t compute. Is he blaming himself for being so pretty that Min-hwa couldn’t help but be forced to dark sorcery to have him? That just takes “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” to new extremes, yeah?)

Yeon-woo just asks for him to be pleased that she’s here and living, and he hugs her, thanking her for being alive. She thanks him for the same.

At the sound of a visitor, Min-hwa insists she won’t eat, thinking it’s her lady in waiting, only to realize Yeon-woo stands there. Yeon-woo asks if she has decided to die along with her baby, and Min-hwa asks if that’s what Yeon-woo would like; it makes no sense to her that Yeon-woo would want her to live. Yeon-woo concedes that Min-hwa consoled her mother over the years, and has given her brother a child.

If Yeon-woo’s excessively good response is cause for frustration, at least there’s consolation in the fact that she doesn’t sound happy about it. Min-hwa can’t understand it and tells her to fly at her in a rage, or grab her hair, or do something — then, at least she could beg for forgiveness.

Yeon-woo fires back angrily, “Do you need my forgiveness? Fine, I’ll give it.” She says she’ll do it for Yeom and Hwon, who have been hurt by Min-hwa’s actions and have begged her forgiveness and suffered in Min-hwa’s place: “But live. Beg for that forgiveness, and atone for your sin yourself. Not through the king or my brother, but you yourself.”

Well, that’s actually pretty satisfying, as far as conflicted smackdowns go. Chastened, Min-hwa starts to eat and says, “Thank you… for living.” Yeon-woo replies, “Give me a reason to say the same.”

That night, Woon imagines Yang-myung coming to see him, healthy and joking. It’s not a crazy vision; Woon speaks to him as a ghost, asking how it feels on the other side. Yang-myung answers that he likes not having to fake smiles anymore, or pretend to enjoy drinking, or be a danger to the king. Most of all, he can carry a torch for Yeon-woo to his heart’s content.

Woon asks a question he’s often had to answer: “Do you still consider me your friend, even now?” Yang-myung replies, “Of course. All this while, and from now on as well, you are my friend.”

Another body lies silently in the palace: Bo-kyung, who has been discovered and laid in her chamber. There’s a rope burn around her neck and her ladies sob.

Hwon comes to her bedside and closes her eyes, then staggers out of the queen’s quarters with a heavy heart. Yeon-woo meets him in the courtyard and comforts him as he cries.

Hwon presides over his court — with some conspicuously empty seats — and outlines the path to recovery. Fitting punishments will be doled out to the guilty, while the falsely accused will be cleared.

This includes punishment for Princess Min-hwa, who will lose her status and be made a government slave after giving birth. Yeom is culpable by association, and as punishment he will be divorced and “demoted,” taking back his previous status before marrying into royalty. At least silver lining isn’t hard to find there, since the so-called punishment effectively gives back his clipped wings.

Nok-young is given special consideration for saving the princess’s life, and will leave Seongsucheong following the upcoming memorial rites. Jan-shil wants to follow her, but Nok-young tells her to remain behind and watch over Seongsucheong.

Nok-young performs rites for the recently departed, assuring them that she will take them on to the hereafter. She prays for heaven to wash clean the evil from this land, and offers up her own body — an instrument in so many sins — as the sacrificial offering for this last spell. (It sort of makes you wonder at all the grief that would’ve been spared if she just refused to cast the first spell, doesn’t it? I mean, what was to stop her from lying and just saying, “Sorry queenie, that’s not possible”?)

She prays for the remaining sun and moon to see happiness and light, and falls to the ground. Dead.

With order restored, it’s time for another wedding ceremony as Yeon-woo is made the new queen. On their wedding night, Hwon practically twitches in impatience and interrupts the court lady — who’s pouring wine slooooooowly — telling everybody they’re dismissed. Rawr.

The court lady reaches to help him out of his robes, but he rears back and warns her away: “The queen hasn’t even touched this body yet!” He declares that the queen will attend to him (I’m sure she will; waggles eyebrows) and orders them out.

He holds out a hand to Yeon-woo, then pulls her toward himself, sliding her across the floor. That’s a pretty slick move for a virgin king. Then he whirls her to the bedding, landing on top of her, in an echo of that night he discovered her as his sleep-aid amulet. He repeats the same words: “Who are you? What is your true identity?”

Yeon-woo replies, “I am your woman, the mother of this nation, Heo Yeon-woo.”

Fade to black…

…and when we reopen, several years have passed.

At the palace, two young boys run around the courtyard together — cousin princes, from the look of it. Yeon-woo sits with her brother, now wearing the robes of a government official. One son is his, and the other one hers.

She tells Yeom that Min-hwa has been granted a status change, raised from the lowest class to commoner status. The king has deemed her punishment fulfilled and released her from servitude. Yeom looks troubled at the news, but Yeon-woo tells him that if his continued resistance toward Min-hwa is out of lingering regret for Yeon-woo, he can stop feeling guilty. Furthermore, the child needs his mother.

To underscore that point, the prince trips and falls, and Yeon-woo hurries to check that he’s fine. His cousin looks sad (I’m going with sad; it’s hard to tell the acting of kiddos this young) and envious over the example of motherly affection.

The king joins the party and the prince totters off happily with Woon to learn swordfighting. Yeom’s boy says he likes books better than fighting, prompting a comment on apples not falling far from trees.

Hwon says that the prince is a lot like Yang-myung, given his interest in swordsmanship and his fondness for Woon. Yeom replies that you could say the prince resembles Hwon, too, in that.

As Yeom leaves the palace, he asks his son if he misses his mother; it’s something the boy has tried to hide, but Yeon-woo’s words have made Yeom attentive.

A group of shamans happens across their path, and Jan-shil recognizes him, asking if he knows Seol. She explains that Seol asks her the same question every day: “Is he happy? He must be happy, he must.” Yeom looks pensive at the question, thinking it over.

That night, Yeon-woo surprises Hwon with one of his games: She has hidden a gift in this room for him. The word “gift” strikes a chord, though, and he immediately gets up with a nervous gulp and excuses himself. His departure makes his court ladies wonder — he’s usually so insistent on being with the queen that he won’t leave until he’s called away. Could he have finally tired of her? Does he perhaps have another woman hidden away in his quarters?

In his own chamber, he asks if preparations are complete, and sure enough, a woman steps out of his secret room: his gayageum teacher. She’s here to prepare him for a surprise performance on Yeon-woo’s birthday, ha. Hwon boasts that he’s a fast learner and will be a quick study, then hilariously struggles to follow along. I think Hyung-sun’s expression says it all.

Frustrated, he shoves the gayageum away and blames it for sucking. Hyung-sun offers to check the validity of the instrument, then demonstrates his own amazing proficiency on it. He determines that the problem doesn’t lie with the gayageum, rubbing in the fact that he learned by watching the king’s lessons. Haha. Thoroughly schooled, Hwon pouts, “Face the wall.”

Yeom and his son walk hand in hand down the road, not seeing Min-hwa peering around the corner. In tears, she watches her men walking away before continuing on her own way.

To her surprise, she finds Yeom and her son standing in her path. To explain her unwanted presence, she tells him that the king has lifted her slave status, but now she has nowhere to go: “I wanted to see you one last time…”

The boy guesses that she’s his mother, and her spirits lift. Out of respect for Yeom’s feelings, she keeps her distance and promises not to come looking for them anymore. She keeps her head bowed and meekly asks forgiveness for this transgression.

Yeom watches tearily as she turns to leave, and then runs after her. As he back-hugs her, she says that she thought he wouldn’t forgive her. He says he meant not to, if anything as self-punishment: “But now, I want to be happy.” Family hug.

Hilariously, the king steadily practices his musical skills in his spare moments, taking a meeting with a puzzled Hong Kyu-tae (now a minister) while working his air-gayageum. That cracks me up.

Hwon’s preoccupation with his wife’s birthday present leaves Yeon-woo bored and alone, until she’s finally taken to Hidden Moon for the performance.

Hwon awaits with his gayageum and wishes her a happy birthday, then proceeds with a relatively proficient performance that Yeon-woo finds moving. All goes well until Hwon breaks a string, and Yeon-woo hurries to his side to check on his hand… at which point a gayageum continues playing, elsewhere. Omg, did you just pull a Singin’ in the Rain? Is Hyung-sun hidden in some room, rockin’ out?

Thoroughly busted, Yeon-woo levels him with a mock-reproving look, while he looks like an errant schoolboy with his hand in the cookie jar. He asks if she’s disappointed at this weak gift, and she says no, she enjoyed it.

He offers a different gift instead, and she teases, “Will you send flower petals from the rooftop?” He laughs that Hyung-sun’s too old to climb roofs these days. Good thing he has something even better.

Smooch.

And yes, as we pull away, we find Hyung-sun indeed around the corner, playing his little heart out.

 
JAVABEANS’ COMMENTS

And the juggernaut comes to an end. How’s that for a way to tie up loose ends, nice and neat? Regardless of whether they were tied in logical ways, that is. The point is: they’re tied, all right?

I suppose how you feel about the drama’s finale depends on what you wanted out of it: A return to its heyday of feel-good warmth? A sudden upswing in storytelling skill to do the premise justice? A happy romantic ending for Hwon and Yeon-woo? A happy ending for everyone? Retribution for all the evils perpetrated and a return to “order”?

Some of those things, we got. Others were a pipe dream. It was a pretty bloodthirsty wrap-up with a high body count, especially counting yesterday’s deaths. That’s not surprising given the gravity of crimes and conflicts we’re dealing with, but it does feel a bit like people got killed off because that was the easiest way to tie off that loose end, rather than necessarily working with our story. (And we’ve established that narrative integrity isn’t exactly this drama’s high point.) In that regard, the final body count sort of proves the skewed focus of the drama all along, because Hwon and Yeon-woo are the only ones who get their happy ever after, and the others die.

It proves (lest we forget) that this has always been, first and foremost, a romance drama. In fact, it’s basically only a romance drama. The other stuff — court plots, family strife, struggles with power — are just incidental to the love story. As such, they’re used as story tools, picked up and dropped when convenient, without having a life of their own. That’s a shame, because if any of the characters outside of Hwon and Yeon-woo had purpose beyond their function in Hwon and Yeon-woo’s story, they could have been lovely and interesting.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the character of Yang-myung. I’m deeply dissatisfied with the way he went out, even though I recognize that it makes a lot of sense for him to die. His life would always endanger Hwon’s (although I’ll argue that it’s no reason to kill yourself), so I get his stupidly noble decision to spare his brother more strife. And I was predicting that he probably would sacrifice himself; thus, death in itself isn’t the issue. It’s the fatalistic, offer-myself-up-to-fate way he faced his attacker that drove me a little bit insane.

It’s something of a no-win situation to begin with, because if he’d been taken by surprise, that would’ve been horrible. And yet for him to march into the face of death willingly? Urgggg, I just hate that he gave up, and worse, the drama then had the audacity to tell us he’s happy with this because he can stop pretending to be happy when he’s not. Or, yunno, you could’ve just become an emotionally honest person WHO’S ALIVE. In this case I would have preferred the extremely cliched, unoriginal scenario where he takes the deathblow saving his brother, because at least there it’s a choice that isn’t quite so much like suicide.

But, as we know, Yang-myung isn’t really an autonomous character so much as he is a narrative puppet to the whims of Storyline Hwon and Yeon-woo — so he is easily sacrificed, right? Just as long as we camouflage the death in the trappings of glory and sacrifice. Ugh, stupid moon-sun metaphor.

Another example of a wasted character: Seol. I’ll hand it to the show for knowing how to wring out the pathos of a moment in a purely technical sense, because I found myself crying over her death despite having no particular opinion of her character. In fact, that goes for the entire finale, because this is a drama that has long ceased to have any emotional grip on me, and yet I found the tearful moments appropriately tear-inducing, and was surprised at how much I cried along with the characters. Even though I could really not care much less about them as characters.

I feel like Seol got her heroic death as an afterthought, because what else were they going to do with her? Sure, let’s give her an ending that’s completely out of step with her place in the story, if that means we wring a few extra tears out of the audience. (I say this having wanted for Seol to play more of a role all drama long and being disappointed at her lack of presence or significance.)

Bo-kyung, too, got knocked off because the story needed the queen out of the picture and death was a convenient way to do it. Like Yang-myung, death was the only way to remove her as a threat to our characters, because even if she had been merely deposed, she would always be a threat who might garner support from more rebels. So yes, it makes sense. On the other hand, it feels like a cop-out to just wipe out all our opponents; in that, you’re not really solving problems. You’re just benefiting from happy coincidence. But of all the deaths, I’ll give the drama some credit for giving Bo-kyung a compelling logic for her actions, as her last way of asserting herself in a situation where she had no power. She could at least choose to die the queen, and not a dishonored usurper.

I do have to say the drama drives me batty with its shit-for-brains approach to women characters, though, which has been a problem all the way through. The ending only solidifies the problematic approach to the ladies, who are depicted as pawns or slaves to love. Every single woman has reduced her own identity to its association with a man. That she does so of her own accord makes it more infuriating. You have a queen, a princess, a noblewoman-turned-princess, a (supposedly) badass warrior — and each woman defines herself in relation to a man. I want to scream at them to have a little agency, to be better than that.

Even the smart-as-a-whip Yeon-woo — who as a thirteen-year-old railed against the injustice of the class-based social order — in the end just sat around, willing to leave her fate in the hands of others, until her man stepped in solved the problem, all, There ya go, little lady, I fixed it fer ya.

All that said, I thought the finale was true to the spirit of the show. It wasn’t going to miraculously turn a corner and start making perfect logical sense, but our good guys prevailed (although some in death), and our baddies saw the business end of the pointy stick. The drama was never at the top of the narrative game — or even the acting, or production-quality games, for that matter — but sometimes you have to give props to something that can capture attentions. Regardless of whether it was for the “right” reasons, Moon/Sun had a certain something that had the nation tuning in, eager to see how things ended up for our characters. You can’t quantify that kind of magnetic pull. Or maybe you can, and its name is 42.2%.

 
GIRLFRIDAY’S COMMENTS

URG. What the frack, drama? WHY DID YANG-MYUNG HAVE TO DIE? It wasn’t even a heroic death, or a strategic one. I thought that if he were fated to die, it’d be motivated by a last big heroic deed to protect his brother. But to just lay down his sword? I get the basic concept (repeated ad nauseum) of there-can’t-be-two-suns-in-the-sky, but it’s kind of moot when you’ve already conquered all the baddies. They’re all defeated. Time to party. Not time to die. You could go live your life as a wanderer and have all the friends you want, or have no friends and tell all your problems to rocks! Whatever! Gah. I’m fine with death if it’s properly motivated, but this was just senseless.

I think my biggest problem with this drama is that all our main characters were entirely reactive, passive characters, always one step behind and reacting to whatever happened to them. It took twenty episodes of build-up to have the king orchestrate one really big coup-reversal, but there was so much more that both he and Yeon-woo could have done to actively change their fates. It just wasn’t a priority for this drama, which consistently drove me crazy.

Overall they took one flimsy premise and then tried to stretch it for twenty episodes, instead of building a complex world with layered characters and trusting that new conflicts would drive the story forward. We basically knew exactly what would happen with the central story from day one, and it never once deviated from that path. I was behind the main couple, but their journey never really gripped me or swept me up in an epic way. And I wanted it to, really.

Perhaps when everything is left to Fate and the players given so little agency, it’s hard to root for them because they just remain in the same place for so long. I actually think the reason everyone praises the childhood portion of this drama compared to the adult years has little to do with the actors, and more to do with the characters. They were young, idealistic, and had wide-open possibilities. They spoke their minds and wanted to change the world. Of course we rooted for them.

But they quickly grew up into dutiful, passive adults who time and again let other people decide how their lives would be. Yang-myung giving up like that was just the nail in the coffin for me. Yes, Hwon turned it around in the end, but it doesn’t make up for the drama hours I spent watching him be a shell of his former spunky prince. Had THAT been the central focus of the drama, it might’ve helped to ground the conflict in something a little meatier than restoring the princess bride to her rightful place.

It was undeniably a very beautiful show to look at, and there were adorable moments of lightness and cute that made the episodes themselves very easy to watch and enjoyable. I had a good time, so I certainly don’t hate the drama or have any horrible grudge against it. I just wanted more from it, because the story had potential to be much more complex. But it chose to stay on the surface, which means I consumed it much like cotton candy – it was sweet and colorful, but disappeared into thin air.

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