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406 August 29, 2016August 30, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 1

by javabeans

Today saw the premiere of a new Monday-Tuesday drama, SBS’s much-anticipated Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, which is another entry into the ranks of the 100 percent pre-produced dramas. (That’s also a mouthful of a title, so we can call it simply Moon Lovers from here on out.)

With the pre-produced dramas performing erratically (Descended From the Sun was a huge hit, but Uncontrollably Fond has cooled excitement for the format), there’s a lot of attention on Moon Lovers and how well it performs. Plus, of course, there is the ginormous cast and the name director; PD Kim Kyu-tae’s previous dramas include It’s Okay, It’s Love; That Winter, the Wind Blows; and IRIS. (The writer is a little less experienced, having worked on 2004’s Save the Last Dance and 2009’s Cinderella Man.)

Moon Lovers also decided, for some godforsaken reason, to air three episodes this week: Monday saw the broadcasts of both Episodes 1 and 2, with Episode 3 to air tomorrow. That makes our lives extra difficult (I am only one person!) but we’ll do our best to be caught up as soon as we can.

It’s too early to allow ratings to be a deciding force in anything yet, but you can’t deny that they mean something: I was actually quite surprised to see that Moon Lovers premiered in last place, even if its number (7.4%) wasn’t terrible and has room to grow. It was more that the adorable youth sageuk Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, which had a modest premiere week last week, doubled its ratings today to claim top spot with 16%. Monster held steady in second place with 10%. Moon Lovers’ second episode had no drama competition and ticked up to 9.3%.

 
BACKGROUND NOTES

This drama is set in the year 941, the 24th year in the reign of Goryeo’s first king, Taejo Wang Geon. Taejo had 29 consorts, and many many children, which explains why there are so many princes in the mix.

Our hero is Wang So, posthumously known as King Gwangjong, fourth ruler of Goryeo; his reign stretched from 949 to 975. There are eight princes in our cast; one is the Crown Prince (No. 1), while the others are often referred to by their number in the lineup (e.g., “the tenth” or “number fourteen” and so on).

Note: The court terminology used in Goryeo times was reflective of an empire (as opposed to a kingdom, which Joseon terminology reflects). But while the people of the times used terms like emperor and imperial highness, we often refer to them as kings now, so for consistency’s sake I’ve stuck to mostly using terms like kings and princes.

 
EPISODE 1 RECAP

Present day Korea. A young woman huddles forlornly on a pier that overlooks a mountain spring, sporting a busted lip and wounded heart. We haven’t learned her name yet but it’s GO HA-JIN (IU), and she swigs from a soju bottle before noticing that the homeless man sitting nearby (Kim Sung-kyun) is eyeing the bottle thirstily.

Ha-jin offers the bottle, which the hobo eagerly takes. She asks glumly, “Have you ever wanted to sleep for a hundred or thousand years?” She describes trying to tell herself things will get better, only to have one thing or another crop up again: “I’d rather just go to sleep forever and never wake up.”

Apparently, some bastard left Ha-jin with a mountain of debt, and a girl deceived her and ran away with him. She regrets trusting them now, and says that she believed that if she didn’t change, the people she loved and trusted wouldn’t change.

She starts sobbing, and the hobo mutters that you can’t change life just by willing it, “Though if you died and came back…” He settles down to sleep.

As Ha-jin collects herself, she notices a child reaching out over the water, and a moment later he falls in. Ha-jin’s first impulse to jump in and save him, but she tells herself that it’s not her place, and that there are plenty of others who are already helping.

But a glance around proves that nobody’s even noticed, and she starts running for the water, bemoaning, “Why me again?!”

At the sound of Ha-jin diving in, the child’s parents belatedly notice what’s going on. The hobo wakes up from his nap and squints up at the sky—just as an eclipse starts to occur.

Ha-jin gets to the child safely, and the child’s father rows out in a boat to collect them. Ha-jin hands over the boy first, but as she reaches up to take the father’s hand, the sky darkens overhead and her eyes widen in shock… and then, she’s dragged underwater by some unknown force.

The last thing she sees as she looks up toward the water’s surface is the thinning of the crescent as the moon covers the sun.

Her vision blurs, and a sequence of images flash before her eyes: a couple kissing, Ha-jin slapping the woman, getting slapped in return, a man splitting them up and siding with the other woman. Then, Ha-jin being chased by an angry mob.

Ha-jin continues to sink as we reach total eclipse of the sun…

…and as the eclipse then begins to clear, on the other side we emerge with a rider on horseback. He carries a sword, and is headed toward the capital city of the Goryeo nation, with a team of riders in tow.

The riders gallop into the heart of the city, causing a ruckus and sending alarmed bystanders darting out of their path. The leader’s face is partially masked, and he is identified as WANG SO (Lee Jun-ki), the fourth imperial prince of Goryeo (he would later become the fourth king). This puts us in the mid-tenth century.

At the palace, we meet more imperial princes. In order of appearance: Tenth prince EUN (Baekhyun) is mischievous and joking, and seems to always be paired with fourteenth prince JUNG (Ji-Soo).

Third prince YO (Hong Jong-hyun) has a devious look to him, in contrast to smiling thirteenth prince BAEK-AH (Nam Joo-hyuk). His actual name is Wook, but he must go by Baek-ah because an older sibling also goes by Wook: the calm, thoughtful-looking eighth prince (Kang Haneul).

Then there’s ninth prince WON (Yoon Sun-woo), and while there are admittedly a ton of princes thrown at us at once, right away there are glimpses of their personalities. The younger ones are boyish and playful, the mean-looking Yo is quick to anger (and wears eyeliner, telltale evil hint), and Wook seems like the peacemaker.

Wook notes that fourth prince So is absent, and that if he’s much later he’ll miss their ritual ceremony, meant to cleanse the palace of evil spirits. This is So’s first ritual with his fellow princes, and the others wonder if the king had a special reason for summoning him.

We learn a few things in the princes’ exchange: So and Wook are the same age; there are rumors of So killing people viciously, in a wolf-like manner; and So, fourteenth prince Jung, and eyelinered Yo all share a mother. Also, So is only here for a short time before returning with his entourage to the northwest city of Shinju.

Annoyed, Yo snaps at tenth prince Eun’s joking and warns them all to watch what they say to the king. Unflaggingly chipper, Eun just changes the subject and dives into the next pool, just outside.

And as he immerses himself, just behind him someone else pops up—our modern-day heroine Ha-jin, bursting out of the water, fully dressed in traditional Goryeo clothing. She looks around at the surroundings—possibly the same place she’d been a thousand years later—and gasps in relief that she made it out alive.

Then she meets eyes with Eun, and they simultaneously scream. Eun calls for his fellow princes just as a slave girl catches Ha-jin’s attention from the nearby shrubbery, urging her to get out right away. While the princes watch in shock, their intruder climbs out of the pool and over the barrier, disappearing from sight. Curiously, Wook whispers a name: “Hae… Su?”

The slave girl, CHAE-RYUNG (Jin Ki-joo), ushers Ha-jin away, scolding her all the way. Belatedly, she thinks to ask Ha-jin if she’s feeling okay now. Ha-jin can’t make heads or tails of anything, and wonders why she’s being called Lady and why she’s here.

Then she registers the sight in front of her: people wearing period clothing, bathing at the outdoor pools. Ha-jin supposes she died after all, and that she’s in the hereafter. And then faints.

Fourth prince So finally arrives at the palace, and his lead attendant reminds him to uphold his adopted family name with the king, and then return to Shinju.

So sneers at the mention of being an adopted son, replying sarcastically that he thought he was a hostage all this while. His face hardens as he rides inside the palace gates alone, dismounts, then grabs for his sword. He takes a swing, and—crap, did he just kill his horse?

That he did, and everybody in the courtyard freezes in horror. A soldier stutters that he isn’t allowed to carry a sword in, and So just hands it over. The man adds that he’ll prepare a horse for So’s departure, and So replies, “I won’t be going back.”

Our homeless man from the 21st century is also in this time period, and he takes in the exchange closely from within the palace walls. So stalks off alone, and thinks to himself that he won’t be taken hostage again to return to Shinju.

When Ha-jin comes to, she’s called Hae Su by an older woman called Lady Hae. In confusion, she identifies herself as Go Ha-jin, then laughs, “Oh right, I died.”

Slave girl Chae-ryung clarifies that she had a near miss, and Ha-jin blurts, “I didn’t die?” She darts outside and takes in the unfamiliar sights, head pounding and alarm growing. “Where am I?” she wonders.

Ha-jin asks Lady Hae for clarification, who identifies herself as Su’s cousin. Ha-jin realizes, “Have I come into someone else’s body?”

Lady Hae tells her to think hard, explaining that they’re at the residence of the eighth prince, Wang Wook, in Songak. Finally, that name connects dots for Ha-jin: Songak was the old capital city, and she asks, “Is this Goryeo?” Lady Hae says the current king is the man who established the nation, and that, at least, is a fact Ha-jin recognizes: She’s in the time of Taejo Wang Geon.

That very Taejo currently presides at court, with the six princes (So is absent) in attendance. A dead bird is presented as evidence of tampering with the crown prince’s breakfast, having dropped dead with one bite. Taejo orders the culprit found, but an official speaks up—Wang Shik-ryeom, the king’s cousin—to argue that the crown prince, aka first prince WANG MU, isn’t fit for the position. There are even rumors that he suffers an incurable disease.

Wang Shik-ryeom entreats Taejo to dethrone Mu (Kim San-ho) in favor of another prince, just as Mu himself arrives outside the door, hearing everything. Inside the throne room, Taejo asks Mu’s half-brothers if they agree, and who would like to replace him. At that, the princes look around—some shiftily, some in surprise.

Level-headed Wook is first to react, and kneels before the king to beg him to retract those words, stating that there is none among them who wishes to replace the crown prince. Thirteenth prince Baek-ah quickly follows suit, and then third prince Yo joins them. Catching on, the younger princes kneel too as they all plead in one voice for the king to reconsider.

The king calls forth his astronomer and fortune-reader, CHOI JI-MONG (Kim Sung-kyun again), who launches into an explanation of the stars and their meaning, and how they indicate that the crown prince is not unfit. Taejo reaffirms this, and declares that Crown Prince Mu will take the leading position in the upcoming rites. Shifty-looking third prince Yo seems displeased at this—although to be fair, he kind of seems displeased at everything.

Next we meet Taejo’s third queen and the mother to Yo, So, and Jung, Queen Sinmyeongsunseong (Park Ji-young). She meets with Wang Shik-ryeom and seems surprised that Crown Prince Mu escaped unscathed; Mu was born to the second queen, so I presume that Queen Sinmyeongsunseong was angling for her own sons to advance.

She grows irritated when her court lady informs her of a visitor and refuses to see him—even though it’s her own son, So, standing outside waiting to see her. He’s turned away.

That night, Ha-jin shuts herself in her room and huddles in fear, still convinced she’d died in the water that day, and that her host body, Hae Su, must have also have died in the water. “Then am I Go Ha-jin, or Hae Su?” she wonders.

She decides to consider this a stroke of fortune and a new chance at life, which means she ought to stick it out as Su. And yet, she’s aware of how obvious it is that she isn’t Su, and how very little she knows about Goryeo. She’s not even sure which king comes after Taejo, and guesses incorrectly.

Eighth prince Wook arrives home and hears from his wife, Lady Hae, that Su was in the water for two hours before resurfacing, and had been “like dead.” Slave girl Chae-ryung adds that Su lost her memory, while Lady Hae worries that Su may harm herself.

A look of concern comes over Wook’s face, and moments later, Su’s door comes crashing in. Wook tells her not to fear: “I brought you here, so I will help you through to the end.”

Wook holds out a hand and asks her to trust him, and she looks at the hand, thinking that she can’t go back or change her appearance. But she’s hit with a wave of new determination to live, and takes his hand.

So thinks back to his childhood, when he’d been a young boy and his parents—Taejo and Queen Sinmyeongsunseong—had just lost their firstborn. The queen is alarmed that Taejo intends to take another wife, asking if he even feels sadness. But he’s motivated by military and political concerns, seeking to fortify the border with this marriage.

The queen grabs So and orders Taejo to make the choice between his marriage and his son, holding a dagger to the child’s throat. The king warns that she won’t be able to stop his marriage this way, but it doesn’t stop her—she raises her hand to strike.

Before she can do damage, Taejo grabs her arm—but then she wrenches her arm out of his grasp, and the blade slashes So’s young face, spraying blood. Which explains the mask he wears now.

In the present (Goryeo) timeline, Astronomer Choi and Taejo observe So from a distance, and the astronomer suggests positioning So on Crown Prince Mu’s side. But the king says they don’t know whether So will become the Mu’s shield, or the knife that seeks his life.

At Wook’s residence, Su (the show calls her Hae Su, so we will too) is shown around the grounds by Chae-ryung, who fills her in on her life. The “amnesia” is a handy excuse for her to learn things about herself, and she pretends that some of this is coming back to her. Her maid can tell something’s off, though, and asks if Su is faking her condition—maybe she had a secret relationship with a young man, or incurred a debt.

That makes Su pause and ask if Hae Su was two-faced, acting quiet on the surface while sneaking around at night. But Su’s tendency to talk about herself in the third person convinces Chae-ryung that she really is hurt.

Su thinks to herself that she can’t very well explain that somebody else’s spirit is in this body, and heaves a sigh. On the upside, she realizes that her face feels fresher than she’s used to it feeling, and marvels at how well preserved these Goryeo ladies were.

With the rites approaching, the princes gather in Astronomer Choi’s tower, noting at all the contraptions he’s built and invented (such as telescopes and flying devices). Suspicious Yo asks if that talk about Crown Prince Mu’s star was even real, and ninth prince Won points out that it’s well-known that Astronomer Choi is loyal to Mu.

To prove that he wasn’t lying, thirteenth prince Baek-ah challenges the astronomer to read his fortune; if he’s accurate, he’ll accept his reading for Mu. But the princes are unimpressed with the all-too-obvious reading that Baek-ah is lucky with the ladies—everyone knows that.

The half-brothers all laugh and joke with each other, until one wonders why fourth prince So is still yet to be seen. They’ve also heard the story of how So killed his horse and wonder at the reason. Yo says tersely that he wouldn’t welcome someone like that even if he did show, while Wook says gently that he’s still a brother, advising the rest not to be too harsh.

That’s when So arrives, all glowery and dark. The only one to greet him is Wook, while everyone else holds their breath until So stalks off.

Back at Wook’s residence, Su observes Wook’s doting attention to his wife and asks about him. Chae-ryung replies proudly that he’s the best man in all of Goryeo, often thought of as the one who should have been the first prince. Su wonders with her limited history knowledge whether this was the prince who became King Gwangjong. (He isn’t; that’s So.)

From a distance, Su watches the couple and recalls how thoughtful Wook was with her earlier; she’d also felt then that he was trustworthy.

Enter a sharp-eyed woman, who snaps at Su for being rude for staring. Chae-ryung immediately bows and prods Su to follow, because this is Princess YEONHWA (Kang Han-na). The princess says sweetly that it’s too bad that Su has forgotten her manners along with her memory, and insinuates that Su could stand to relearn a lot of things.

Su sizes up the princess, internally grumbling at her bitchiness, then smiles widely and advises, “If you dislike me, just say so.” The princess is speechless with shock, while Su points out that the princess is the type to bide her time waiting for a moment to swoop in with criticism. Su says that doesn’t work with her, and her carefree attitude offends the princess, who calls her a bitch and raises her voice.

Su raises her voice right back, just as Wook interrupts, his presence immediately quieting the argument. Wook takes Su aside, noting that she must have lost her memory of proper greetings. Su immediately bows and gives a modern hello, fumbling to respond appropriately.

Wook supposes that her amnesia means she doesn’t remember him either, and asks if she peeped on the princes’ bath before or after her memory went. She doesn’t remember.

He asks what she wants to do with herself now, intending to facilitate those wishes; he’d planned to look after her from the outset, when she first accompanied his wife here. But Su wonders why he’d go to such trouble, even if she is related to his wife. He’s taken aback when she says she’ll take care of herself, and some of her word choices are even more puzzling, since she’s thrown in modernisms without thinking. Su nervously clarifies that she means she’ll stick it out and livehere.

As Wook makes his way around the bookshelves in the library, Su attempts to follow him while assuring him of her many talents and promising that she’ll find a way to make herself useful. She nearly runs into him, tensing in surprise as he stares down at her.

Wook notes, “You seem like someone else.” There’s definite tension here, although I’m not sure if it’s on both sides, or just Su’s at the moment. She’s flustered by the closeness, while he’s as calm as ever, telling her that it doesn’t matter. He won’t ask further about her memory, either: “But you must not worry my wife any further.”

Su agrees, then runs off when dismissed.

So browses through Astronomer Choi’s library, smirking to find erotic texts. Astronomer Choi sneaks up on him and offers to lend him the books, but So cuts to the chase: Why was he called here?

Astronomer Choi informs him that the court lady who prepared Crown Prince Mu’s (poisoned) breakfast was found hanged—and a death disguised as a suicide suggests that the culprit is a member of the royal house. Quite possibly even a prince.

“Find the culprit,” the astronomer tells him.

So scoffs, “What am I, a dog? People keep calling me dog-wolf, dog-wolf. You must think I actually became one.”

But Astronomer Choi supposes that So’s horse-killing display was because he no longer wants to live as a hostage. Fulfilling this task will give him the opportunity to be free.

So still isn’t convinced, but does stop short when he’s told it was Mu who wants this investigated. That’s when Mu appears, and Choi explains that they’ve received word of a planned assassination attempt on Mu’s life during the upcoming ritual.

Mu promises that if So catches the culprit, he’ll give him anything he asks for. So names his price: He wants to live in the capital city.

The ladies of Wook’s household work on fashioning lanterns shaped like flowers, and Su is utterly hopeless at it. Princess Yeonhwa points it out, of course, and dismisses Su from the task. Su insists on helping, and the princess sets her to work making glue—a labor-intensive, dirty outdoor job.

She pauses from stirring glue to stretch, and the unusual sight has Wook gaping at her ungainly poses. When she leaps back to tend to the glue and sees Wook watching her, Su explains that the princess put her to the task. He dryly uses Su’s own words to tease her, saying that she sure is demonstrating her many talents.

The princes prepare for the rites with a type of sword dance, and tenth prince Eun is by far the worst at it, crankily giving up in the middle of practice. As the princes pause for a break, ninth prince Won asks if it’s true that the king intends to abdicate his throne to Crown Prince Mu following the ceremony. That brings everybody up short, and Astronomer Choi declares that he knows nothing of it.

After Astronomer Choi leaves, Wook frowns at his brother, telling Won he was foolish for saying that, and that they can’t have the king hearing it. Third prince Yo counters that they’re all curious, and that it’s not Won’s fault for asking. Furthermore, Choi didn’t exactly deny it outright.

Exhausted from the glue-making, Su rests outside, and happens to see Astronomer Choi walking by. She instantly recognizes him as the hobo on the pier and takes off after him, chasing him through the city before eventually losing sight of him.

Just then, So comes riding furiously through the street, once again sending villagers diving for cover. Su doesn’t see him until very late, freezing to see him thundering towards her.

A passing peddler’s pack knocks her backward, and she loses her balance and starts to flail at the edge of the ravine, about to fall backward into the ditch below…

And at the last minute, So reaches down and grabs her about the waist, pulling her up into the saddle with him.

 
COMMENTS

Well, it felt like a jam-packed episode while it was going but once it was over, I could see why they wanted to air two episodes off the bat, because so much information was crammed into the premiere that there was actually not that much plot covered. And while I enjoyed the princes and all their distinct personalities, I found myself itching for more Lee Jun-ki, who remains a cipher as of this point in the story.

There were a lot of really promising things in this episode, and with high production values and gorgeous cinematography, you could really see where the pre-produced format shines; it allows this show (and director) to achieve that cohesive feeling that gives it a movie-like feel. Everything looks amazing, and I was constantly struck with how pretty the scenes were, how interesting and varied the shots.

Admittedly, after I had a chance to step back and think about what happened in the episode, I was a little less wowed, because so far I don’t think we’ve really gone anywhere. Obviously, the heroine has traveled over a thousand years, but I’m still waiting for the results of that action. For one, we’ve had so many time-traveling dramas by now that the heroine hasn’t encountered anything new or unusual, which contributes to the static feeling of the episode. Also, I find myself both liking and disliking the choice to have her jump into an existing person’s body, because that eliminates much of the identity crises that a time-travel incident would normally incur; she’s got a ready-made identity, so she’s relatively safe, and there’s no immediate sense of peril—and therefore, no immediate stakes.

But that’s not a permanent criticism; if the story makes good use of that, I’m fully willing to embrace it when we get there. I did at least find Ha-jin/Hae Su likable (although, who names their drama’s lead couple So and Su? That’s the only reason I’m not spelling her name Soo, which would be even more confusing). I wanted more confusion and flailing from her, because she accepted her outrageous predicament pretty easily, but she’s endearing and charming with an undercurrent of sadness, and I can respond to that.

Another mark in the plus column is the introduction of all of the princes; given the sheer number of them, I’d wondered whether it would be a mistake to dump them all in our laps at the same time, because how are we to keep them all straight? But I found them easy to keep track of, even if their names haven’t stuck yet—I suspect I’ll be thinking of them as their actor names for weeeeeks. (In fact, I wonder if that’s one upside to casting name actors for most of the roles, because there are fewer new faces to learn and keep track of.) So that turned out to be much less of a concern than it had been.

I also really took to the Su and Wook connection, even if it felt like the introduction skewed too far in favor of the second lead while leaving the main pairing in the dark. They have a curious chemistry, and normally I’d be jumping up and down to see them delve into that fully, except that minor complication where he’s married. I know it’s a period drama and that it’s inevitable that some, if not all, of these princes were already married, but this is just the risk you run when you set a modern drama in the past, okay? You have to deal with us modern viewers and all our annoyingly modern standards, so I’m a bit mentally blocked with their romance—at least for now. I’m willing to see where they take it. Although, that takes a backseat to the main couple, whom I’m impatient to see more of. Onward to Episode 2!

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275 August 30, 2016August 30, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 2

by javabeans

And now it’s time for Episode 2 of Moon Lovers, which I know aired yesterday, and there’s a whole third episode sitting here waiting for me to get to it. I’m recapping like the wind, I swear! A really slow, tired wind with joint problems.

The second episode was a lot more action-packed than the first, since we could move past most of the introductions (even though I’m still working to keep all the princes and bloodline loyalties straight in my goldfish-memory brain). I do wonder if there was a better way, conceptually, to start this series in a way that could still introduce everyone properly and have more plot happen off the bat. I think there probably are other approaches, but barring a whole rehaul of format and gazillions of flashbacks and other devices, I think it’s just inevitable that it would take a little while to settle in. So let’s start settling.

 
EPISODE 2 RECAP

Hae Su (or to be more accurate, 21st-century Ha-jin, who’s decided to live as Hae Su) is rescued from a fall off a ridge by Wang So, the fourth imperial prince of Goryeo, as he charges by on horseback. Well, I suppose it was his fault she almost fell, so it’s the least he could do.

Su stares up at So with wide eyes, clinging tightly as he continues riding for a bit before halting the horse. She’s transfixed, looking intently into his face, and he glances back at her… before dumping her onto the ground in a heap. Heh.

Glaring, she stops him to chastise him for his rudeness. He’s taken aback at her forthrightness, but responds by purposely rearing his horse up on its hind legs to scare her. She falls down and he rides on with a smirk, leaving her fuming in his wake.

Su exclaims the she ought to report him to the police, but a bystander lets her know that he was the notorious fourth prince—it’s a lucky thing she survived the encounter.

Su’s maid Chae-ryung comes running up to tell her that Princess Yeonhwa is looking for her.

Currently, the princess is with her brothers, or at least the six of them that get along; So is absent. The meeting is for the princes to prepare for the upcoming ceremony, held on the last day of the year to chase out evil spirits from the palace. The others take this opportunity to complain about how difficult it is to get along with So, who’s moody and scary.

Which is, of course, the moment So chooses to step inside, and the princes snap to attention, tensing with worry. The only one who looks happy to see So is Princess Yeonhwa, who (historical spoiler alert!) is both his half-sister and future wife. She lives here with eighth prince Wook (her full brother), and invites So to stay in this house while he’s in the city, which Wook agrees with.

But shifty-looking third prince Yo interjects, telling Wook not to try too hard with So: “He’s understands the language of beasts better than people.”

The others stiffen at the barb, but So just replies, “Ah, that’s why I understand my hyungnim’s [Yo’s] words so well.” Nice burn.

The maids enter with snacks, which is also Su’s cue to join the gathering, although she does her best to hang back out of sight. Her skulking behind a pillar gets the attention of tenth prince Eun, who gets in her face and tries to place why she’s so familiar, while she goes cross-eyed and prays that he won’t figure it out.

Eun makes the connection, though, and asks if she was the peeping tom at the baths. Su blurts a denial, and accidentally knocks down a maid carrying a tray, sending plateware crashing to the ground.

Faced with the princess’s anger and a roomful of staring princes, Su runs out in mortification.

Thirteenth prince Baek-ah comments that Su has changed; she used to be quite modest and careful. Wook merely replies that he was never that close with her and wouldn’t know. (Or so you say—I’ve got my eye on you.) Princess Yeonhwa supposes that Eun was mistaken, since it would have been impossible for Su to get entry to their royal bath.

Su calms her racing heart and tells herself to hang in there, then spots Eun stepping outside—he’s still convinced he recognizes her correctly and goes searching for her.

Su initially ducks for cover, but then sees Eun stopping to peer through a tear in the door. He doesn’t find Su there, but he sure doesn’t stop watching the maid undress.

Then maid girl Chae-ryung sees him and screams, sending Eun running, only to be blocked by a stern-faced Su. Eun insists, rather unconvincingly, that he’s innocent of the slave’s accusation, and Chae-ryung can’t be absolutely sure it was him.

But Su retorts that she saw it clearly, and scolds the prince like an ajumma schooling an errant schoolboy. She orders him to apologize, which Eun can’t even fathom doing—a prince, bowing to a slave?

He storms off, and Su chases him to insist he apologize, grabbing at his cloak. He shoves her off, and when she crashes to the ground, that just pisses Su off more. She trips Eun, then engages in a full-on hair-grabbing tussle.

The sounds of their yelping reach the other princes indoors, and they get up to take a look. All but So, who remains disinterested.

By the time the princes get outside, the fight has progressed to headlocks (his) and biting (hers). Eun knocks her down, she kicks him over, and then she climbs on top of him and smacks him repeatedly. Eun warns that she won’t escape unscathed, but Su is caught up in her fury, calling him a sexual harasser.

He mocks her openly, and then Su delivers the final blow: a mighty head-butt that stuns everyone watching. She rolls up her sleeve and pulls back to deliver a doozy of a slap—only this time, a hand grabs her wrist.

It’s So, who seems amused while she gapes in surprise. Eun tries to charge at Su, but Wook intervenes, warning him that there are many eyes watching. Eun flounces off in a pet.

Su finally wrenches her hand free of So’s grasp, then follows him to have more words. She demands an apology from him, too, for his rudeness. He asks who she is to demand that—what is her social status, that she could treat royalty so roughly?

It’s not an argument she finds persuasive: “So if I’m a slave you’d ignore me, but apologize if I were a princess?” She declares that she’ll get her apology from him, and also “that little kid prince” too.

So nods along, as though conceding—but then he leans way down to look her eye to eye, warning that after he apologizes to her, “You’ll have to die. And you’ll be okay with that?”

He starts to say the words, “I’m sor¬—” but Su exclaims, “Unni!” and uses the arrival of her cousin, Lady Hae, to cut him off.

She then accompanies Lady Hae to the temple for prayer, and Lady Hae tells her that no matter the reason, she laid a hand on an imperial prince—she won’t be able to escape punishment. It’s even possible that Wook will face punishment considering she’s in his care.

Lady Hae wonders how Su could have changed so much, and explains that this is where mothers come to pray for their children. She doesn’t have children, but indicates her tower of prayer stones and explains that these are on behalf of Su.

Lady Hae explains having decided to look after Su, who’d lost her own mother, as a mother would. But on a day like this, she fears her efforts and affection have been insufficient, and feels ashamed thinking that Su’s mother is watching.

At that, Su starts to cry, thinking of her own mother. Lady Hae envelops her in a hug, and asks tearfully what she is to do with her. She tells Su to get along well here, if only for her mother’s sake, and that makes Su cry harder.

Su sits outside the temple for a long while, thinking of how she’s causing trouble for people who take care of her. She wonders if there’s a way to go back and asks Chae-ryung after that man she’d seen earlier (Astronomer Choi)—she recognized his face as the homeless man on the pier, the only link to her time.

Su considers the bathing springs, but Chae-ryung shudders at the thought, warning her against returning to the site where she almost died.

Astronomer Choi examines Eun’s black eye while ninth prince Won and thirteenth prince Baek-ah snicker in amusement. Eun fumes over the audacity of the girl who’d dare raise a hand to royalty, but Won teases him about his “fateful meeting.”

Baek-ah fans the flames, saying that a woman wouldn’t bother raising a hand to him if she were uninterested. Clueless Eun actually seems to believe that, and asks follow-up questions while his brothers try not to laugh.

They clam up when So enters the building, and watch curiously as he makes his way to a room, shoving aside a court lady to force his way in. So wears a smile of anticipation on his face as he enters the room…

But it fades when he sees that his mother, Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, is sitting with his two full brothers, third prince Yo and fourteenth prince Jung. Ouch, that’s got to hurt, considering that she treats him with indifference at best.

So joins them anyway, and his mother consciously refuses to look at him. Younger brother Jung fills the silence by talking about So’s recent improvements in martial arts. At that, the queen asks if he’s really been learning martial arts, and So replies that he hasn’t. The queen supposes that his adoptive family in Shinju would have no reason to do that.

Yo chimes in with the rumor of a dog-wolf appearing in the city, clearly aimed at So. So just replies levelly, “He’s said to be from Shinju, isn’t he?”

The queen calls the visit to a close, and So can barely mask his disappointment, saying that it’s been two years since they’ve seen each other. The queen merely says it’s out of consideration for his adoptive mother, but So replies that he intends to stay longer this time, and asks to stay with his brothers at the family’s private residence.

It’s almost painful to watch So alternate between hope and disappointment, continuing to try for his mother’s affection despite the constant rejections. The queen balks at his suggestion, declaring So a member of the Shinju Kang clan; his return to his birth family would cause strife between the two clans.

So chokes back his bitterness, saying, “They said I was sent as an adopted son, but hostage was right.”

Yo mocks his use of “hostage,” as though So is being overly dramatic, and the queen asks, “How could I use you as hostage?” So replies, “When you say that, I must believe you.” Then he reaches into his cloak to give his mother a present.

But Jung beats him to the punch, presenting her with a lovely hairpin that she fawns over. Stunned and hurt, So keeps the hairpin he’d brought her tucked in his cloak.

He excuses himself to leave, and Yo throws a parting shot at his back, remarking that it’s quite an embarrassment to see a prince so pathetic. So doesn’t react as he exits, not even when he finds his other half-brothers eavesdropping in the hallway.

After his departure, the queen tells her other two sons to make sure So is sent back after the ceremony, calling soldiers if necessary.

Then Jung shares an interesting rumor he’s heard, that the queen herself was the cause of So’s disfigurement. He says it like it’s unbelievable, but Yo rebukes Jung sharply for repeating groundless rumors.

On his way out, So is stopped by Astronomer Choi, who suggests he bathe before the rites and has a servant escort him away.

That night, Su makes her way alone to the bathing pools in search of a link to that man she’d seen. She supposes seeing him could have even been a divine sign, and hopes that means there’s a way for her to return home. With her prince-hitting punishment hanging over her head, she’s motivated to leave Goryeo as soon as possible.

Once in the bathing pool, So removes his mask (oh thank god, I’ve been dying for that thing to come off), and we see the multitude of scars all over his back and torso. He stares into the still water… and then rears back when Su bursts out of the pool.

She comes up gasping, and as she locks eyes with So, they both freeze. After a beat, he claps a hand over his scarred eye, looking ashamed.

“Did you see?” he asks hesitantly. Su just stares in shock, speechless, and So grabs her throat and bellows, “I asked if you saw!”

She begs for mercy, and when he orders her to forget him, she nods jerkily. So grabs his mask and clothes and leaves the pool—and misses seeing that the hairpin he bought for his mother falls to the ground.

Su spots it and takes it with her, then takes the long walk back home. By the time she arrives, the whole household is outside waiting for her, which stuns her.

Lady Hae chides her for leaving without a word, leaving the whole family to worry. The word “family” sticks with Su, and she realizes, “I’ve… come home.”

Later, Su asks her maid Chae-ryung about the fourth prince, and Chae-ryung freaks out just at the mention of him, urging Su to avoid him at all costs if she were to run into him—his cruelty is famous.

Chae-ryung describes his background as we see an exhausted, bloody So making his way down rocky terrain, to the men who wait down below. They’re his adoptive family members from the Kang clan, and the leader seems both awed and disappointed that So didn’t die—they forced him to battle wolves for sport, and he’d supposedly killed all the wolves in Shinju.

Chae-ryung adds that So is said to kill people, too—especially those who see the scar on his face. Alarmed, Su realizes that she really did just escape death. She’s also surprised to be told that So’s royal status is what enables him to travel freely, because people here can’t stand to look upon people with disfigured faces. Su grumbles to herself that the tendency to give the upper classes preferential treatment hasn’t changed in a thousand years.

So’s mother, Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, bathes alone and thinks back to a recent conversation she’d had with her eldest son, Yo. They’ve been biding their time for a while, and they feel the need to speed things up because of the recent rumors that the king may abdicate the throne to Crown Prince Mu. The queen says that the upcoming ceremony is their best chance at eliminating Mu, and Yo assures her not to worry.

On the day of the ceremony to chase out evil spirits, the palace bustles with preparations. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong is elaborately dressed and adorned, and comments that she will shine the brightest in the palace today.

She encounters another royal consort in the courtryard, Queen Sinjeong, mother to Wook and Princess Yeonhwa. (Queen Sinmyeongsunseong is the third consort, while Queen Sinjeong is the fourth.) With her and the princess is daughter-in-law Lady Hae.

The queens exchange pleasantries, and Queen Sinmyeongsunseong invites the princess to visit her for a chat sometime. They maintain smiles until Queen Sinmyeongsunseong moves on, at which point Princess Yeonhwa’s face darkens.

The princess dislikes the idea of her mother having to deal with Queen Sinmyeongsunseong all alone in the palace, and wishes her brother Wook would bring his mother into the private residence. At that, Lady Hae cautions her to watch her words in the palace.

Queen Sinjeong agrees, and advises her daughter “to forget it all.” The princess asks bitterly, “How can I forget that grudge?”

Queen Sinjeong wonders why Su wasn’t brought along with her, and Lady Hae replies that Su has been making many mistakes in the wake of her accident, and she thought it best to leave her behind.

The princes do one last run-through of their sword-dance, and Crown Prince Mu beams in approval. Tenth prince Eun asks Wook if Su will be here today (now that the idea is planted that she likes him), and that question gets him roundly teased by his brothers, who joke about him getting another black eye to match his first. It brings a smile to everyone’s face, even So’s—although the second he sees Wook noticing, the smile fades.

Meanwhile, shifty-looking Yo looks over at a line of black-clad men arriving for their part in the ritual, wearing demon masks.

But Crown Prince Mu is working his counterplay, and secretly exchanges costumes with So.

Meanwhile, Su and Chae-ryung head out into the city to enjoy the festivities there, admiring the dancing and lights.

At the palace, So takes the lead position as the ceremony begins, though everybody else believes him to be Mu. In this ritual, he plays the part of the leader in driving out the demons from the palace, with princes providing backup.

The performance is a mix of martial arts and dance, and Queen Sinjeong compliments “Mu” for his skilled showing. (This is not a surprise, since Mu has a military background, though notably, So does not—despite his reputation for savagery, his lack of official fighting training has been noted.)

Then it’s time for the demon-masked men to join the performance, and So takes them on in an impressive choreographed display. Masked Yo joins So as they drive out the demons, reciting an incantation together.

But suddenly, more masked men fly in from above, and immediately the king and Astronomer Choi know that this wasn’t part of the planned ritual. The demons draw their swords to attack So, and Astronomer Choi sounds the call to protect the king.

Soldiers rush the king’s platform to guard him, and by now the princes realize something’s amiss. So—still masked—takes on an army of demons, and Wook is the first to charge into the fray to help. The other princes follow suit, evening the numbers.

At one point Yo exchanges a glance with the demon he’s pretending to fight, then maneuvers their swords and points it at So—to the eye, it would look like an accidental stabbing. The sword slices So’s arm and he goes down, and then a demon swoops in for the kill.

But a masked prince jumps in at the last second and defends So—ah, the real Mu—and the demons sense defeat and scatter. Yo orders the soldiers to catch the assassins, and the king hurries to check on his son. The mask comes off, and he’s stunned to see So’s face instead of Mu’s.

Immediately, the king demands to know where Mu is, and ouch, there’s such a look of hurt on So’s face as he registers his father’s priorities, and how he doesn’t figure in them. Mu reveals himself, the king relaxes, and the queen realizes her plot was foiled.

So says he will catch the culprits and runs off alone. Mu grabs his sword to follow, but his father stops him.

So heads into the city streets, spotting the assassins traveling on rooftops, and chases. The pursuit leads him through the city streets, and at one point Su spots him while taking a break from sight-seeing.

Curiosity compels her to follow, even as the chase takes So into the woods. What. Why are you going into the woods?! Don’t be that idiot!

So catches up with the assassins and engages in a swordfight with one of them. They face off in a fierce clash, while Su wanders into a different area of the woods. There, she happens upon a meeting of the other assassins as they meet with their leader—Prince Yo—and bow before him with heads bowed. And then, at his command, Yo’s guards kill the failed assassins.

Su stares in horror and quietly retreats, but lets out a tiny gasp… and Yo hears it. When he whirls around, however, she’s gone.

Back to So, who demands to know whom the assassin is working for. He offers a deal to spare the assassin’s life in exchange for the name, and the assassin wavers, uncertain.

And just as he starts to lower his sword, Su comes running up, gasping about the scene she just witnessed. Gack!

So obviously, the assassin now grabs Su hostage, and holds his sword to her throat.

But So just tells him to go ahead and kill her, to the assassin’s shock. “Or should I do it?” So asks.

He raises his sword and points it at Su’s face, and as one blade digs into her neck, she begs to be saved. So smirks that one woman means nothing to him and presses the assassin for a name.

Once more the assassin wavers, loosening his grip, and So feels victory in his grasp… but Su sees the blade moving away from her neck and bites the assassin’s hand, shoving him away. I think this is the definition of digging your own grave.

The assassin moves to kill her anyway, and So starts to react, but a dagger flies in and embeds itself in the assassin’s head. It’s Wook, arriving in the nick of time.

Except, it’s not good timing for So, who’s just been robbed of answers. He grabs Su angrily, raging at her for ruining things. His sword presses close to her neck.

But Wook holds his sword to So’s neck and tells him to let her go. In one quick move, So whirls to clash swords with Wook, and replies that he won’t.

 
COMMENTS

This episode was more satisfying than the first, although I found the premiere episode entertaining and adequate for its purposes. (Although maybe “adequate” is part of the problem, when we were promised glorious. I suspect that the undercurrent of disappointment I’m hearing has a lot to do with elevated expectations, that killer of dramaland fun. Perhaps it’s not the only reason, but surely it’s a big one.) We got to see more of the princes we cared about (So), and it was easier to relegate the lesser princes to background territory, offering moments of levity while the primary princes did the dramatic lifting.

I also liked the way the show had Su slowly seeing this world as more of a permanent place to live, even as she’s still searching for a way out. I still find her reaction to being dropped in Goryeo to not quite ring true, but aside from that point, I like the moment she realizes that her actions have consequences for the people here, who have been very nice in looking after her, and that for now, this is the closest thing to family she has. (I don’t think my feeling of disconnect has to do with time constraints—i.e., needing to set up story quickly—because I recall that the heroine in Splish Splash Love got that across in even less time. It’s all about taking some care to establish tone and emotional connection, and I feel like we’re skipping some of that here.)

And don’t get me started on the frustrating foolishness of her wandering into a forest at night alone while men were clearly fighting to the death. At that point I had to throw up my hands and think that if she died, it would be her own damn fault. I appreciate that she has spunk, and doesn’t let social rank cow her into deference, mostly because that means nothing to her. I like that version of Su, who is driven more by what’s right than what’s expected of her. But the end of this episode was an annoyance, and the show had better smarten her up from here on out, y’hear me?!

By contrast, I think the show’s doing a marvelous job with So, or maybe that’s Lee Jun-ki’s work. Probably a combination of the two. It’s partly to do with the way the story is setting up his background and affection-starved life, but also owes much to his diverse range of expressions and microexpressions. The scene with the queen and her two other sons is a prime example of this, because there was so much emotion going on there and I could track every single thread—So longing to see his mother, feeling hope at her reaction and disappointment at her lack of one, being hurt and her continued rejections, and forcing nonchalance to act like none of this affects him.

It also provides a meaty basis for the adult he’s grown into, who can commit savage acts without flinching. I can’t say I love the way he treats our heroine, but I do like that the drama is humanizing him and providing the explanation without necessarily romanticizing his brutishness. At least, I really hope they don’t take it in that direction; so far, I feel hopeful about the portrayal. And his reaction when she caught him in his most vulnerable state was a lovely moment—not lovely that he tried to strangle her, of course, but that we saw him drawing back first, and then lashing out to cover up. It’s pretty telling of his M.O. all around.

I’m not sure I’m feeling all of the princes, and while we have plenty of time for each one to get his own moment in the spotlight, I think it’s a four-man show with four bridesmaids. Which, really, is fine by me, so long as the conflict remains interesting. Yo’s scheming is familiar strife, but I hope we have more than that as a source of conflict; I find Wook the more interesting potential source of clashing. He’s the most civil and friendly, but he’s also the one I’d peg as the smartest and likely to play his cards close to the vest. I wouldn’t take my eye of him… not that I’d want to.

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724 August 31, 2016August 31, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 3

by javabeans

The story heats up and there’s a lot more of everything in Episode 3—more blood, more intrigue, more confused feelings, and more all-around action. The intensity gets dialed up a notch, too, with tension built into many of the interactions today. And while I still find my interest mostly in the main three characters, I’m ready now to enjoy branching off with the lesser princes and side relationships too. I know the bromance is fanservice, but isn’t the definition of fanservice that I don’t care about that?

 
EPISODE 3 RECAP

Following the assassination attempt at the palace and the chase through the forest, fourth prince Wang So faces off against his half-brother (and eighth prince) Wook, holding Hae Su in a threatening grip—she caused him to miss out on vital information about the assassins, and he’s furious.

Wook keeps his cool and says that Su has nothing to do with this matter. She asks So to believe that she merely lost her way, but he says darkly that he has no reason to, since he doesn’t know her.

Wook slowly drops his sword to the ground, and reasons that they can find proof of Su’s guilt once the soldiers arrive. Until they do, Wook asks So to let her go.

So grudgingly lowers his sword and shoves Su aside, and she hurries to Wook’s side. Wook asks in concern whether she’s okay.

Su stammers that people were killed nearby, and that they were dressed like the dead assassin, wearing similar demon costumes. The princes exchange alarmed looks.

At the palace, Crown Prince Mu is feeling regret, thinking that he shouldn’t have had So take his place in the ceremony. Astronomer Choi tells him that So took this opportunity for himself, so it’s not something Mu should feel guilty about. But Mu replies that using his younger brother’s desperation for his own benefit is a sin. Aw, I like you. You seem nice.

In the forest, So and Wook lead soldiers to the spot where Su saw the assassins die—only, now the area’s empty. So asks suspiciously how dead bodies could have disappeared and demands answers of Su that she doesn’t have, such as who the culprit was. At least Wook finds clues in the surroundings—blood spatters and sword cuts—and he deduces that the same person who mobilized the assassins also killed them.

Now So turns his frustration on Wook for killing their last witness, although Wook holds firm and says he couldn’t let harm come to Su. He suggests taking care of So’s injured arm, but So flings off his hand, shoots a dark glance at Su, and stalks off.

Su slumps to the ground, sapped of energy, and then starts to cry. Wook looks increasingly uncomfortable at her tears, while she sobs that So is always threatening to kill her when all she wanted to do was return what he dropped (the hairpin he’d bought his mother).

Wook offers a meager pat on the shoulder, but Su hilariously yanks him down by the cloak, worrying what will happen to her. Wook finds her cute in that moment and holds her closer, soothingly.

The scheming Queen Sinmyeongsunseong fumes in her bath, thinking of her failed plot to get rid of Crown Prince Mu. She blames So for ruining everything, and tells her son, third prince Yo, that he was supposed to be named crown prince today.

Yo informs his mother that he took care of the loose ends, and that none of the conspirators are alive. The queen says that at least King Taejo won’t be attempting any abdications for the near future; she’ll find some satisfaction in that.

Yo suspects that Astronomer Choi has a hand in this, and possibly has a hidden connection to So. The queen realizes So was indeed learning martial arts, but is puzzled as to how—it’s not something his adopted family, the Kang clan, would have enabled.

The queen declares that they must find out who So has been meeting, and thinks that if Astronomer Choi is involved, so might be the king. Yo says that their spy in Shinju has reported that nobody ever came to see So.

The queen advises Yo to be even more vigilant, so that they can uncover So’s motivations—then they’ll be able to get rid of him, or make him loyal to their side. “Do not forget,” she tells Yo. “Goryeo must belong to my son.” (But So is your son too…)

Back at Wook’s home, So regards the gash in his arm, and flinches when Princess Yeonhwa starts to tend to it, despite his initial protest. She asks when he’ll leave Shinju and come live in the capital like the other princes. Despite the fact that this is exactly what he’s fighting to do at the moment, So replies that he’s not like the others, and that he’s comfortable living his life fighting mountain animals.

Princess Yeonhwa smiles, saying that he’s gotten better at hiding his true feelings. She’s got him there.

Then she leans closer to wipe his face gently, and he tenses. There’s definitely something here, and I get the sense that the interest is greater on her end, though he doesn’t exactly refuse it. (Meanwhile, I have to tell myself, Historical accuracy, blah blah blah, since she’s his half-sister and all. Also the mother of his children! Maybe I’ll pretend there’s a convenient birth secret involved that history never knew about.)

So abruptly stands up, calling an end to their momentary closeness. But he does tell her, “I did wonder what kind of woman you grew up to be.”

Su’s neck cut from the assassin’s sword has Lady Hae newly worried, and she asks why Su went into the forest in the first place. Wook surreptitiously shakes his head at Su, so she just says she lost her way. Wook says that the assassin had been out for Crown Prince Mu’s life, so they should just be glad that Su is safe, and Su agrees wholeheartedly, declaring herself exceedingly lucky. She goes so cutely overboard that Wook can’t hide a smile.

After sending Su off to rest, Lady Hae thanks her husband for his help, apologizing for always adding to his burdens. Wook assures his wife that he’s never thought of Su as a burden, even adding that he finds her delightful.

That wording takes her aback, but he explains that theirs is a serious, heavy household, and people are always telling him of their troubles. “But Su is not like that,” he says. “She struggles to do everything on her own strength, and I find that appearance delightful. I feel like I can breathe. And it makes me look forward to seeing her.”

He seems so pleased that Lady Hae is startled, but all she can do is force a smile and say that she’s thankful that he cares for Su.

On her way back to her room, Su freezes to see So sitting out in the courtyard, then tries to hurry past him. He orders her to stop, then shoots one look at the maid to get her to leave them alone.

Su starts to blabber nervously, insisting that she didn’t see anything else in the woods, and that she already told him everything. So advances on her slowly, grabbing her face and ordering her to remember more.

Wook steps in shoves So’s hand away from Su with difficulty, but as Su falls back, she remembers one more detail: The assassins’ leader was wearing fur.

Instantly, So recalls that Yo had worn fur during the ritual ceremony, and it looks like Wook comes to the same conclusion. So orders her to erase what she saw in the woods, and Wook concurs, for her own safety.

Su excuses herself with a surly look at So, but he stops her departure to warns her not to show herself before him again.

At that, Su faces him and asks, “What did I do wrong?” With growing indignation, she points out that he’s the one who threatened to kill her: “Am I supposed to just do nothing? I should do whatever I can to live, and you’re telling me to die like a dog?”

She calls after him, “Is it a crime to want to live?” So clenches his jaw, but leaves without a word. Su watches him go, then blurts, “That jerk!” Ha.

Wook sees Su to her room and advises her to sleep with the candles lit, in case her ordeal gives her nightmares. She asks after his condition, since he killed someone because of her; she worries that he might suffer post-traumatic stress or nightmares.

Wook is surprised that she’d ask, and tells her that it wouldn’t do for him to struggle after every time this happened. She gapes, asking if he’s killed before, then cuts herself off at hearing the tactless question. He answers anyway, explaining that he was eleven when he first took a life, protecting his mother and sister.

“But I didn’t have nightmares,” he says. “I protected my family with my own hands, which made me happy. I was proud.” Tellingly, he almost struggles to say the words, even as he adds that a prince ought to be able to handle that much.

“But you keep remembering,” Su says. “You can’t forget, so how can the heart be easy? It’s obvious you’re suppressing it.”

He calls that a weight he must endure. Brightening, Su tells him she won’t be clingy, so he needn’t worry—she won’t add to his burden, so he can live a little more lightly. She says cheerfully, “So you don’t have to worry about me! I can take care of myself.”

He laughs that in place of her lost memory, she’s found blustery overconfidence. Wook also tries to sound out the strange word she’d used, asking what “stress” is. Heh, another word slip.

King Taejo discusses the attempted assassination with So, Crown Prince Mu, and his astronomer. The bold act suggests a mighty power, and their next step is to find clues that may lead them to the culprit.

The king asks So after his injury, and it’s rather heartbreaking to see how startled So is at the small show of concern. He replies that it was not serious, and he tended to it.

The king asks why So would take Mu’s place in the ceremony, risking his own life. So answers that fifteen years ago, Mu saved his life—so now, he intends to stay in the city while ferreting out the perpetrator.

The king gives his approval, and instructs Astronomer Choi to inform the Shinju family that So’s return will be delayed. It takes a lot for So to tamp down his happy reaction, but it’s there, just a flicker of it. Yay!

The princes gather again, and talk turns to So’s unexpected martial arts skills. Third prince Yo scoffs that he must have picked it up from battling wild animals, but fourteenth prince Jung thinks that his level of skill indicates proper teaching. Yo counters that So’s adoptive family would never have allowed it when they’re essentially holding him hostage—he’s important politically as a prince, but they’d hardly encourage empowering him when they’d rather have him under their thumb.

Wook asks Yo if he chased any of the culprits last night, watching carefully as Yo replies that he did, but took the wrong path. Both princes are careful with their words as Wook searches for any slips and Yo makes sure he doesn’t make any.

The king happens by and stops to greet his sons, but frowns to see the bruise on tenth prince Eun’s face. When Eun nervously mentions a fight, the king is outraged—who would dare lay a hand on royalty?

The next thing we know, Su is pacing anxiously at home, awaiting the king’s punishment. She alternates between imagining the worst, like getting her limbs cut off, and assuring herself that nothing bad will happen.

Eun comes galloping in, chipper as can be, and announces that his father took one look at his face and ordered the offender flogged. Su narrows her eyes, supposing he left out all mention of his own wrongdoing, and he retorts that he’s not so small-minded as that. He explains how he finagled forgiveness out of the king—by asking how if a girl who hit a prince were to be punished, what happens to the prince who got hit by a girl?

I suppose it’s an effective argument in such patriarchal times, and Eun puffs up in pride at coming up with a solution. Su can only manage a sarcastic thanks and turns to leave.

Eun stops her, intent on saying something else, only to mumble and fidget, suddenly shy. Su registers his nervous posture and stalling and wonders, “Could it be… that he’s fallen for me? You’re the first woman to treat me like this, that sort of thing?”

Eun finally starts to speak, and says exactly those lines: “You’re the first woman to treat me like that.” Su marvels at the longevity of that pick-up line, HA.

Eun adds that it was the first time he was able to fight freely, since everyone always just let him hit them—it was never a proper fight. “It was fun,” he declares. Su wryly tells him to come by when he wants to fight, and he asks excitedly if that means he can visit whenever he wants. She retorts that it’s the least she can do, and he calls after her, “Today’s our first day!” Ha, some things never change.

In the city, thirteenth prince Baek-ah draws scenes of the city from a tavern, then hears a commotion as people run to watch a fight. Not one to miss out, he heads over to get a look.

Baek-ah stands at the edge of the crowd drawing while two men fight, and the younger fighter whirls and kicks with skill, knocking out his older opponent. Aha, it’s Prince Jung, and he roars in victory… just as the two brothers lock eyes.

Jung’s not supposed to be out of the palace in street garb (or fighting, at that) and pesters Baek-ah to let this go, making ineffectual grabs for the sketchbook containing pictures of his fight. He tries bargaining first, and then switches to threats of exposing Baek-ah too.

Baek-ah argues that his trip is approved, then kicks Jung away. Jung fakes grave pain to draw his brother closer, then runs off floating with Baek-ah’s sketchbook.

Baek-ah pays a visit to Lady Hae, and they reminisce on the good old days, having been quite close. Baek-ah says he blames Wook for not giving his wife more of his heart, while Lady Hae chides him for his familiar address (he uses a term meaning noona). He counters that he knew her as noona before she became his sister-in-law.

Baek-ah sees Su across the yard, where she’s practicing her best sageuk speech. Okay, that’s cute. They laugh, and Baek-ah notes how completely Su has changed.

Lady Hae agrees, though she’s pleased with how much more thoughtful Su is lately. Baek-ah balks when Lady Hae says he and Su are similar, but she explains that they’re both free at heart, say unexpected things, like fun things, and hate to lose.

She adds that Baek-ah’s real noona is Su, not herself. He tells her not to say that, his tone turning slightly serious as he adds, “You know how I feel about you.”

So and Crown Prince Mu start their investigation with an examination of the dead assassin corpses. They find something alarming in one mouth and confirm that the rest are the same: The tongues have been cut out.

They can’t imagine who would cut out their own tongue as a show of fealty, and mull over the mystery. Then Astronomer Choi speculates that it’s possible that the assassins hadn’t cut out their tongues for this purpose, but were already lacking them.

Apparently, there are renounced monks who get their tongues cut out for their sin, and as Choi explains this, So envisions Yo carrying it out.

There aren’t people who could harbor so many denounced monks without drawing notice, and Mu orders Astronomer Choi to look into who donated to temples.

The next thing we know, So is charging at Yo and accusing him of being the mastermind. Yo challenges him to show proof, and So reminds him that he killed all his assassins. Yo doesn’t betray much when he’s accused, but when So asks if their mother is behind this, his face freezes and he can’t quite pull off the indifferent act. But So seems to have his answer.

Su finds Lady Hae preparing clothing and goods to be sent along as donations to the village. Wook customarily delivers them on his own, but Su suggests that Lady Hae accompany him and take the opportunity to spend the day with him. Lady Hae has never thought to do so, but Su urges her, and offers to make her up prettily for the occasion.

As Su makes up Lady Hae’s face, she tells her of a “dream” she had where she sold cosmetics. We see that she’s talking of her modern-day life, when she worked for a cosmetics company, and Su explains that she felt important and needed when helping her friend look her best.

But then, her friend went and met her boyfriend behind her back. Su sighs about the betrayal, and how they’d stolen everything from her, and still she couldn’t manage to confront them properly about it.

Lady Hae advises her to quickly forget nightmares like that, and Su muses, “Who knows, maybe it was that side that was the bad dream.” When she finishes, she holds up the mirror, and Lady Hae is astonished at her transformation—her formerly pale, wan face looks blooming and healthy.

It’s a family affair in the village, as Su and Lady Hae join Prince Wook in the alms-giving. Su hands out treats to the children, then chases down a boy who takes one from someone else and scolds him for his behavior. She sees Wook smiling at her and waves, and without thinking he waves back, before catching himself and awkwardly swatting at the air instead. Oh, you.

A bit later, Wook joins Su at the apothecary, surprised at her familiarity with medicinal herbs. She says she’s used them to make soap that brightens and beautifies the skin and offers to make some for his wife.

He receives medicine for Lady Hae, and also a salve for Su’s cut. She does such a poor job at dressing her neck cut that Wook takes over, sitting close and brushing her hair aside.

There’s a loaded moment as they stare at each other, and another when he leans close to dab at her neck. Su grows shy and quiet, sitting there looking like she’s doing her best to contain her feelings.

Lady Hae is weak and asleep by the time they arrive home, and Wook carries her to bed while Su helps settle her in. As they smooth the blankets over her, Wook’s and Su’s hands touch—just briefly, just their pinky fingers, but it makes them freeze in awareness. Su is the first to pull back, and she quickly hurries out.

Wook finishes tucking his wife into bed and watches her sleep, but his gaze turns toward the door, after Su.

Su’s rattled at the touch, and heads to the temple to pray at Lady Hae’s tower of stones. She prays to her mother not to cry over her, because she’s doing well, and then admits, “My heart is wavering. I tell myself I shouldn’t, but… it makes me tremble.”

The next day, So find out that a group of renounced monks are hidden away at a temple hideout, and races there. Mu also makes his way with soldiers in tow, but So arrives way ahead of the rest, finding the temple atop a steep, rocky hillside.

Inside, the rundown place seems abandoned, but we’re given the sensation that there are unseen eyes on him. So closes his eyes and concentrates.

Suddenly, a man flies at him. So reacts swiftly, knocking aside the incoming dagger with his sword, whirling to avoid being impaled by a spear. He quickly cuts down the two men who come at him, but in seconds he’s surrounded by more.

So asks for their leader, and when he gets no response, wonders if there’s nobody here capable of speech. One man grunts and charges him, but So slashes his throat readily, and demands to know who’s in charge.

Then a full-scale swordfight breaks out, and So holds his own easily in a crowd of at least twenty. The scene grows bloodier and bloodier, and So displays remarkable dexterity with both the long sword and short dagger. Definitely not something you just pick up while fighting wolves. So is so brutal and efficient that in no time, the last man falls. Damn, that was like a Tarantino movie.

Bodies litter the ground, with So the last one standing. Suddenly, the doors blow off a nearby building and a monk steps out, bowing to So.

So asks if he is the one responsible here, and the monk replies that these men had their tongues ripped in punishment for their grave sins; he looked after them. So replies, “Then all I have to do is get rid of you.” The monk asks who he’s doing this for, then adds meaningfully, “Does your mother know?”

So smiles dangerously, noting that this is a place of no speech, yet there’s someone here with a lot of words. He raises his sword, hardens his face, and strikes.

The monk deflects his first blow, but So takes him down with a series of quick slashes, and then a blade through the gut. As the man gurgles, So leans in to say, “You’ve lived mooching off the queen, so die for her sake.”

He walks out and staggers away, covered in blood, while the temple burns behind him. When Mu and his soldiers arrive, the building is ablaze. Mu wonders what could have happened and orders his men to retrieve any survivors.

That night, Queen Sinmyeongsunseong awakens in bed as a figure approaches—So, carrying the sword that’s still dripping blood. She shrinks back as he steps forward out of the shadows and smiles.

 
COMMENTS

Okay, so all that blood and killing was a little much, but I don’t suppose I mind because I felt the energy really tick up when So went wild on those monk-assassins. I thought he’d need to keep some alive for questioning (lack of tongues notwithstanding) so I wasn’t expecting full-on slaughter, but it was cool in the way that Tarantino is cool; the deaths are somewhat stylized and mostly there to highlight how badass So is.

Then if that weren’t enough of a statement, we got that sunset moment with So strutting out of there like a mofo, with the temple burning behind him. It was a strong moment, beautifully shot, and had an edge that I really liked. I’m not actually sure I can count on the show to be that dark going forward, since it isn’t that on the whole (plus I just know Episode 4 will disappoint me just because there’s no way he kills his mother and that’s what I really want)—but I’ll take the bits of darkness when I can get ’em.

Character-wise, I was happy with today’s developments, giving us either movement or insight about several different relationships: So and Su, naturally, as well as Su and Wook, but also So and the princess (as unsettling as I find it), and young Baek-ah and his noona dynamic with Lady Hae. I can’t tell yet whether Baek-ah’s feelings are romantic or protective in a brotherly way, or maybe it’s a lot of things mixed up in one, but I’m glad for Lady Hae’s sake that someone clearly loves her and thinks that her husband should pay her more attention.

I agree with that sentiment in the sense that Wook is a decent guy (I hope?) who respects his wife and cares for her, and also because my modern sensibilities are apparently still old-fashioned in their view of monogamy and fidelity. And even if Wook isn’t too conflicted (he appears to be somewhat conflicted), it ought to be a moral dilemma for Su, whose sensibilities are as modern as mine.

Of course, then you have chemistry futzing with everything and confusing the matter, since theirs is fairly sizzling, in a way that conveys more sexual tension than, say, the hero and heroine. (Theirs is the more conventional opposites-attract, love-hate, contentions dynamic—more external fireworks, but much less repression.) Not that either is better than the other; with all these princes hovering around, I’m sure we’re gonna be able to enjoy allllll of the chemistries.

The reception to this drama has been a titch cooler than I’d anticipated, and I don’t think this show is as bad as the worst of its criticism, although perhaps there are grains of truth in there. I find it entertaining and engaging (now that the heavy introductions are out of the way), though admittedly I’m still waiting for something fresh or exciting to come from the story, and I wonder if I’ll be waiting for ages. Perhaps I’ll be better served by not expecting freshness, and being fine with it as a beautifully produced, gorgeously shot version of a show I’ve seen many times before.

One thing I noticed particularly in this episode was that there was a lot of style in action; the director’s flair was on full display, and when it works, it can be exciting and thrilling. However, that didn’t preclude some jumpy narrative cuts, and moments of confusion when I didn’t register that we’d switched scenes, or wasn’t sure if something was a legitimate scene or a flashback/fantasy moment because the scene change had been so abrupt. That can be a directorial flaw but I’d also put it at the writer’s hands, since it’s her job to structure scenes so that the logic flows fluidly. Trust me, I’m paying a heckuva lot of attention to details with multiple rewinds, and if I have trouble figuring out the flow, it’s no longer my problem. Style isn’t solely good or solely bad—too little makes for ugly dramas, and too much can feel empty—but as long as it comes backed up with some meat, I’m all about it. Today it worked well (the previous episodes were a little less successful at matching content to the style, I thought), and I hope the drama keeps it up as we continue.

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653 September 5, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 4

by HeadsNo2

Feelings start to get murky as our heroine becomes more and more a part of our princes’ everyday lives, and though she may not always have the best solutions, at least she’s always willing to try. And while this hour has its dark moments, it seems like the show is willing to reveal its softer underbelly, which goes a long way toward helping to endear it to us. Angsty princes covered in blood are all well and good, but angsty, vulnerable princes with a soft spot for a certain someone are even better. The more princes, the merrier.

 
EPISODE 4 RECAP

So stalks into his mother’s room, his sword still dripping wet with the blood of the renounced monks he just killed en masse. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong wakes with a start to see her unloved son looking so dangerous, even as he steps forward with a smile.

But he’s not there to menace her—just the opposite, actually. “Do you know what I’ve done for you, Mother?” he asks, still smiling. He’s made it so that no one can come after her, and erased all traces of her wrongdoing. He’s like a little boy coming to his mother for approval, only this little boy killed a bunch of people and burned a temple down.

The queen slowly realizes what he’s done, but shatters So’s expectations when she asks him if he thought she’d commend him for what he did. “You’re like a beast,” she adds, and the smile instantly dies on So’s face.

“I did it for you, Mother,” he begins again, unsure, but she takes offense to his almost pleading use of the word “Mother.” She tells him that hearing that word come from his lips makes her skin crawl, and orders him to leave.

A broken-hearted So can’t help but wonder why his mother cares so little for him, only to be coldly interrupted by the queen, who says he’s not her son, but rather the son of the Shinju Kang clan. I doubt she means literally, but there’s certainly no better way of renouncing blood ties than that.

With tears in his eyes, So asks her if she turned her back on him because of his face. That’s why she sent him to be adopted, he knows, and in his rage, he breaks one of her vases as he collapses to the ground. As tears roll down his cheeks, he tells her of the horrid life he led with the Shinju Kang clan, and how he killed all the monks and burned the temple. The mother who adopted him was cruel and likely insane, and he was frequently left in a locked room for days in a row without food or water.

“What of it?” his mother interrupts, as coldhearted as ever. So’s face twitches and contorts in pain as she identifies with his adoptive mother for treating him the way she did—a mother only loves a son who makes her proud, after all, and So was nothing but a disgraceful burden to her. That’s why she sent him away.

After getting to his feet, So smiles a rueful smile. “You will remember this day. You may have abandoned me, Mother… but I shall not leave. I ask that you will only see me.” His mother denies his words, afraid that they may come true, but he staggers out, heedless.

He happens upon the heaps of prayer stones stacked by mothers for their children, and in his rage, he knocks one over. Su rushes forward to stop him, but he roughly shoves her off. He laughs maniacally when she notices the blood left on her hands from their brief tussle, and further shocks her by adding, “Yes, it’s the blood of those I killed today!”

So denounces the prayer stones, crying out that his mother shouldn’t come here to pray, but should go to him to beg instead. Su holds him back, and gets his attention only when she says he’s injured. She means his hand, but he grabs her by the collar and warns her, “I told you, I killed people!”

He seems taken aback when she doesn’t respond with fear, but understanding. She asks him to tell her about what he did and why in a calm voice, which causes him to loosen his grasp. Confronted, he shakes as he tells her to go, but she claims to understand him.

She knows that the times he lives in required him to wield a sword at a young age, and knows just as well that he had to kill in order to live. “But what can you do?” she asks. Reiterating that she understands him, she adds, “You must be feeling so miserable right now. I think I can relate.” She leaves him to grieve by the prayer stones.

The elder princes give King Taejo their account of the assassination attempt from the night before, and their attempts to find the culprits. No one knows yet that it was So who burned down the temple, but they do know that the temple full of monk-assassins belonged to Queen Sinmyeongsunseong.

Taejo asks the queen directly if she’s responsible for the assassins, which she denies. Third prince Yo jumps in to take responsibility for his mother, but it soon turns into a blame/defense game, even as So steps up to admit to killing the monks and burning the temple. But before the blame can shift to him, eighth prince Wook steps up (or kneels) to defend So’s actions—he wanted to erase any evidence that could be used to frame the “innocent” queen.

So claims Wook’s statement to be true, and needless to say, the queen looks decidedly unhappy with So’s attempt to protect her.

When Lady Hae finds the servants arguing over who gets the unwanted task of delivering So his meal, the responsibility falls to an unwilling Su, who has to climb her way up a mountain to reach him. He stiffens a bit to see her, likely uncomfortable after his show of emotion yesterday, and tells her to just leave the food.

She tries to comply, but can’t help herself from sitting back down—she has to take the empty plates back anyway. He warns her against saying anything about what she saw yesterday, and she’s quick to remind him that she has better things to do than go around talking about him.

Noticing that he’s eating within perfect vantage point of the palace, Su comments on the palace being his future home. So doesn’t appreciate the warm sentiment, because in order for it to be home, he’d have to have a family. But his mention of that sparks Su’s interest, as she turns around to ask him why he went on such a rampage yesterday.

He’s shocked by her boldness as well as her closeness, and suddenly blusters a question of his own: How did she get into the royal bath that day, anyway? Su’s quick to avoid that question, which means that So gets a free pass on answering hers.

So seems to have warmed up to Su as they walk back from the mountain, and finds her lack of grace amusing. He reaches out to take her burden from her, but she’s oblivious, and he retracts his hand before she can realize he even offered it. He can’t help but laugh just a little (but not like a crazy person this time).

Wook and Su stand vigil by the ill Lady Hae’s bedside that night. She sends Su away to speak to her husband alone, but Su overhears Lady Hae tell her husband to take a second wife. Lady Hae knows that she’s too ill to perform her duties as a wife, and entreats her husband to marry another girl or divorce her—only then can she die peacefully.

Even though Wook refuses, Lady Hae repeats her request. Then she hesitates as she adds, “I know that you don’t… love me.” Tears form in her eyes as well as his, but it seems a truth they both know all too well.

Errant tenth prince Eun comes upon Su brooding, and brings her a host of toys to play with, claiming he just bought everything since he didn’t know what she would like. Aww. She calls him out for playing with such things at his age, and his forlorn reaction is adorable.

Despite her less than friendly reception, Eun still wants to do whatever he can to help lift her spirits—he’s a prince, after all. “Are you married?” she asks, clearly wanting some insight into the life of a married prince like Wook. But he takes it as her asking about his availability and gets hopelessly excited as he replies, “Not yet.” Hah.

He thinks he’s being interviewed for his suitability as a husband, so when Su asks if he’d take another wife should his become ill, he puffs his chest out as he replies that he’d never do such a thing. Su sighs that it would be nice if everyone was just like him, leaving Eun to gleefully mull over how fast she’s moving.

Su gives Chae-ryung instructions to hide the hairpin So left behind in a place where he’s not likely to find it right away (so he’ll think he just misplaced it on his own), but things look bad for the slave girl when Princess Yeonhwa walks in to find her rummaging around the prince’s things with a seemingly stolen hairpin in her hand.

Chae-ryung gets whipped for stealing, but Su comes to her defense, claiming that she told Chae-ryung to put it in the prince’s quarters. Princess Yeonhwa isn’t inclined to take her word for it, and Wook comes by just as Su tells the princess to whip her instead.

The princess is all too happy to comply, and the princes watch as Yeonhwa ties Su up and strikes her twice. But before any of the princes can interfere, it’s actually So who comes to the rescue. Su turns around to meet his gaze, and he replies to Yeonhwa’s questions about who Su is to him by telling his half-sister, “She belongs to me.”

Su looks at him unblinkingly, and he reiterates his statement, sending a small smile her way. Princess Yeonhwa is defeated when Eun comes to Su’s defense, as well as Wook. But the look she sends Su’s way as she and Chae-ryung go looks positively murderous. (Did Chae-ryung and Prince Won share a moment with that glance?)

Of course, Yo is the only prince to commend Princess Yeonhwa for doing the right thing, since twisted minds think alike. So doesn’t leave without making Yeonhwa give the hairpin back, though she quips that it’s unlike him to stop her from doing anything. “You don’t have feelings for her, do you?” she asks, and So’s restrained answer doesn’t seem to help ease her mind.

Wook stops So before he can leave to set him straight on one thing: Nothing in this place belongs to him. Not his sister Yeonhwa, or his wife’s cousin, Su. He warns his half-brother against behaving carelessly again when it comes to his people.

Su cries in bed that night, and Wook stays respectfully outside her door as he announces that he’s brought her medicine. He hopes that she’ll be able to forget what happened today too, which causes her to jump out of bed to see him face-to-face. He hands her the box of medicine personally, and she apologizes for pretending to be asleep—she was just embarrassed to see him.

Wook smiles knowingly as he tells her he already knew. It’s not the pain that bothers her, she says, but the disrespect. She asks if Goryeo really is the kind of place where someone can be tied up and beaten like an animal, and Wook can only reach out a hand to comfort her. “I’m sorry I could not stop it. But, I promise you this: No one will ever be able to treat you in such a way again. Trust me.”

It’s enough to make Su waver, and she forces herself to think of Lady Hae in order to break the moment.

Sometime later, Su seems to just be minding her own business as she paces, but when she turns around, she bumps right into So. She confronts him over the whole “She belongs to me” business, which only causes an amused So to ask her if she doesn’t know how to just say “Thank you.”

Su’s ready to argue still, going on about how he always wanted to kill her but now is all about saving her, until she finally murmurs a simple “Thank you.” When asked about where she found the hairpin, she admits she found it in the bath, but didn’t say anything because he was so adamant about her saying nothing about seeing the scarred side of his face. Well, she did keep her promise.

“Are you not scared of me?” So asks wonderingly, noting how she’s so quick to talk back to him. She says she’s still wary around him, but isn’t scared of him anymore. Still, she won’t have him going around saying she belongs to him either—she’s not a thing to be owned.

Finding this amusing, So leans in until she’s having to lean backward to keep some distance between them. “Then… should I call you ‘my person?'” he asks, which gets a stutteringly uncomfortable response from Su, which serves to keep him entertained.

Fourteenth prince Jung is back to fighting in the market while disguised as a commoner, but he’s dragged away by some shady men when his true identity is discovered. Upon seeing him, Su sends Chae-ryung to get help while she pursues them, catching So’s eye in the process.

The men drag the prince to a bamboo forest, where their leader shows Jung the stump of a right arm he has, which he claims was his fault. He won in a fight against Jung, which prompted the queen to punish him by having his arm chopped off, something Jung had no knowledge of.

The leader plans on returning the favor by ridding Jung of his arm, but just before he strikes, Su comes running and screaming, brandishing nothing but a branch. Oh, Su. Not the brightest hanbok in the wardrobe, is she.

At least the diversion is enough for Jung to free himself, and her very unladylike threats do take the men by surprise.

Meanwhile, Princess Yeonhwa excitedly announces that Lady Hae has requested a divorce from Wook in front of their mother, Queen Sinjeong. Wook isn’t pleased with her outburst, despite Yeonhwa seeing this as an opportunity for her brother to marry advantageously. At least the queen recognizes the good that Lady Hae brought to their family, and seems disinclined to throw her daughter-in-law away so easily.

They’re interrupted when Chae-ryung brings news of Su, causing Wook to instantly jump to his feet.

With his back to Su’s in the forest, Jung apologizes for getting her involved. Her advice is for them to make a run for it, which doesn’t jive with Jung’s pride, and gets them embroiled in an actual fight. Jung curls himself around Su in order to protect her from the blows as he promises to protect her, causing Su to hilariously wonder, “Who’s saving who?”

But then it’s Wook to the rescue, and he’s surprisingly adept at throwing grown men far out of his way. It’s enough to cause the others to fall back as he checks in on a relieved Jung and Su, moments before the men resume their attack.

Wook is vastly outnumbered, but even so, he’s much faster and stronger than his opponents. It’s only when more men materialize out of the bamboo that he begins to look worried, but they all disperse when they see the infamous So, the dog-wolf, ride up.

Even though So asks Jung if he’s hurt, Jung would rather not acknowledge So’s contribution to saving his arm, instead thanking Wook. (Wook, for his part, did try to get him to thank So.) Jung thanks Su as well, promising to treat her life as though it were his own from now on… only for Su to pat him on the back and talk to him like a doting older sister.

Jung is surprisingly fine with that, and even goes so far as to call Su “Hae Su Nooeui,” an archaic form of “noona.” Su gets so caught up in the moment that she gives Jung a good ol’ “Fighting!”, and it’s adorable to see him try to wrap his mind around such a strange word.

Wook won’t slow down for Su on their way home, causing her to wonder if he’s angry. She gets him to stop by feigning pain in her leg, but he grabs her by her shoulders and forces her to face him. Finally, he says, “I thought I had lost you. I thought… I wouldn’t be able to see you again. I was scared.” Awwwww! Stahp it, you guys.

He starts leaning in as though to kiss her… but the moment is broken by the search party out to find them, which includes Lady Hae. Wook just walks away from all of them. At least all the showers in Goryeo were cold, right?

So takes Jung to task for not taking responsibility for his actions, which caused a man to lose his arm. Jung doesn’t take kindly to being lectured by his older brother, and pushes all the most hurtful buttons So has, even ending his tirade by repeating what third prince Yo said about being embarrassed to have come from the same womb as So. (Yo, So, and Jung are all direct brothers.)

Jung gets a slap across the face for that remark, which is right when Queen Sinmyeongsunseong comes in. She shoves So away to tend to the son she actually loves, and Jung suddenly changes his stripes to defend his brother, claiming that he saved his life earlier. Mommy Dearest couldn’t care less.

She orders So out only after she makes him swear not to go near Jung again, and as he brushes past his younger brother, he makes a remark about him living behind their mother’s skirts. Burn. The familial strife is enough to bring angry tears to Jung’s eyes, even as the queen fawns over him worriedly.

Wook gallops his horse through the forest, coming to rest at a secluded spot. There, he struggles with his feelings, while Su does the same from her bed. So does some sorting out of his own while rearranging the prayer stones he’d thrown around during his tirade, though of course, his thoughts are of his mother.

Crown Prince Mu takes So to the king, and makes an entreaty for So to live in the palace as one of his people. Astronomer Choi helps out by saying he saw the fourth prince’s star rising over the palace, but it’s of no use when the king calls So out on account of his mother, who tried to kill the crown prince. And his brother, Yo, who wants to be the crown prince. Sharp king.

So claims to share none of his family’s aspirations, but when he’s asked about the household he was adopted into, he grits out that he was never treated as a son—he was a hostage, and his father knew this well. He pledges his fealty to his father and the crown prince, saying he’ll live as a loyal subject from here on out.

After hearing Astronomer Choi’s pro-So advice, King Taejo relents, and announces that from this day forward, So will live in the palace.

It’s a much more somber affair in Wook’s home during his dinner with his wife, and he’s not doing the best job hiding his inner turmoil from her. Lady Hae invites Su to sit down with them to eat, and despite the awkwardness, Su has no choice but to acquiesce.

Wook is short with his words at the table while Lady Hae just expresses her concern for her cousin. She wants Su to take up more womanly and safe ways to spend her time, like needlework. I feel like that’s as close to putting a helmet on Su as she can get.

When Su eventually leaves, she finds So messing with the prayer stones outside and stops him, thinking that he’s out to destroy them again. She’s surprised to hear that he’s rebuilding what he tore down, but even more surprised when he tells her that he’ll be moving into the palace. She’ll be seeing a lot less of him now.

Su gives him some parting words of advice on how to comport himself around others like she’s some sort of expert on the matter, but it’s all well-meaning. She hopes that he’ll eat and sleep well, and her concern softens his expression considerably.

She asks him why he’s looking at her like that, and he replies that it’s because he remembered how she’s not afraid of him. “I’m afraid of myself, not you,” she sighs. At least she’s quick to distract herself when she looks up at the stars, noting how she can see so many in Goryeo.

Of course, So doesn’t know what she means by that, but they’re both soon distracted by the falling snow. Su smiles innocently up at the sky, and So just stares at her. When she catches him, they’re both quick to look away, which, hah.

Wook also watches the falling snow, but So’s got a better vantage point, as he resumes his thoughtful staring at Su.

 
COMMENTS

It’s not a perfect situation to have one corner of the love triangle married, but setting aside that fact (somewhat jokingly, because we all know that this is entertainment and not a reflection of our own social mores, even if what we find entertaining can be a reflection in and of itself, [insert existential disclaimer here], so on and so forth), it’s kinda fun, isn’t it? What’s important in a case like this is for the characters involved not to ignore the fact that there are some majorly forbidden feelings going on, and on that front, it feels like Wook is doing more of the heavy lifting than Su. Though I guess we could just as easily say that she’s not the one blurting out what she really feels to him, so maybe she is doing a better job of this than he is.

Despite Su mentioning the differences she sees in Goryeo versus in her time throughout the episode, it so far hasn’t really felt as though she’s absorbed any of those differences, nor has she seemed to really take in what’s happened to her. It’s a misstep that I think happened early on with her initial reactions to her new world, and while she can comment on how the stars are different in Goryeo and how the treatment’s worse, something about it all just isn’t hitting home for me. I wish I could put my finger on exactly what it is—whether it’s writing, acting, or both—but I’m not sure I’ve actually bought into her character yet. Maybe it’s that she acclimated so quickly, and so we’ve been robbed of most of the fish-out-of-water moments we’d expect from seeing a modern girl thrust into a decidedly un-modern world.

But all that’s about to become as dead a horse to beat as the one So cut down in the first episode, so I’ll just try to remain cautiously optimistic for the time being. The thing is, I want to like Su because I like the characters who like her, and that’s almost enough. And while the main love triangle certainly wins all the brownie points, I’m really enjoying her interactions with the other princes we’ve gotten to spend some individual time with so far. I especially like that while three of those princes think of her romantically, she unknowingly friend-zoned Jung, and the thought of those two sharing future noona/dongsaeng moments is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Eun’s crush on Su is as adorable as it is harmless, and the scene where he brought her a box of toys had me sold. Su’s worldly enough to realize he has a crush on her, but doesn’t seem to think of him coming from that perspective as much when she’s lost in thought. It’s funny to see how the two of them are on completely different pages when they interact, but it’s really endearing that Eun makes a good sounding board for her, however vacant he may sometimes be.

Of course, the unexpected turnaround came from So this hour, who warmed up to Su a lot sooner than I would’ve expected. The scene where she comforted him during his tirade made sense as to why he’d soften toward her, even though it seemed a rather uncharacteristic way for her to act under that sort of pressure. Still, if she can be a source of comfort for So’s tortured soul, I’m all for it. After this episode, he needs whatever comfort he can get.

Even with the intensely well-acted insights we got into So and Queen Sinmyeongsunseong’s relationship, it’s hard to understand exactly why she has so much hatred toward him. He’s not a son born of a concubine that she’s had to just put up with, but her own flesh and blood child born of the king, so what makes him less than her two other sons? I’d like to think that she’s just manifesting her guilt toward scarring his face into hatred, but that may be giving her more credit than she deserves. At least there was a turning point in their relationship this episode, enough to where So will (hopefully) stop seeking her approval. Or maybe nothing says “I love you, Mom” like a pile of burned corpses.

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830 September 6, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 5

by HeadsNo2

Our heroine gets put through the wringer when it comes to history this hour, and manages to be pretty darn entertaining while she’s at it. Her flailing around provides some much-needed (and honestly surprising) levity during an episode rife with confused feelings and repressed emotions. I laughed, I cried, I cursed at certain characters for being awful people. It may not be perfect, but it’s fun.

 
EPISODE 5 RECAP

The princes, dressed ceremonially, look on as King Taejo pays his respects to the ancestral tablets of kings past. What’s important is that So is counted among the princes, and it’s clear by the queen’s glare toward him that she is not happy about it.

But rather than choose to live in his designated palace quarters, So brings his things to Astronomer Choi’s tower, much to the man’s dismay. Despite the astronomer’s arguments, So claims he can’t see the sky from his room the way he can here in the tower, and smiles at the thought of what Su said about being able to see the stars in Goryeo.

Lady Hae presents Su with a host of medicinal herbs courtesy of eighth prince Wook, since she’d expressed interest in them before. Su is delighted, and mixes a concoction together to create soap for both Lady Hae and the queen. Wook watches from afar, a smile lighting his face.

His wife doesn’t miss this look from him, but only mentions how happy Su is, and how much she’s changed since her injury—for the better, in most respects. But when Lady Hae mentions that she wants to find a good husband for Su, Wook’s face turns unreadable. He only agrees with his wife’s wish to keep Su around for as long as possible.

Lady Hae sees the change in her husband’s expression, and looks from him to Su. Next thing we know, she’s asked Su to meet her in the library… only when Su enters, it’s not her cousin she sees, but Wook. This is cute and disturbing all at once.

Wook decides that being politely dismissive is the best course of action, and goes about his work as best he can. Unfortunately, Su is too awkward to just ignore, so he has to speak up in order to guide her to the ink she was supposed to fetch for her cousin.

This requires Su to come closer to Wook at his writing desk, where she becomes transfixed with his calligraphy. He notices her staring awkwardly and smiles, telling her that it’s a poem originally penned by the famous Chinese poet Tao Yuanming, and that he’s including it in the letter he’s written for his wife (since she always sends a poem along).

He suddenly asks her whether she likes poems or songs more, but he’s surprised when she answers that she likes songs, which were more popular with commoners than poetry, which required literacy. She realizes this belatedly and changes her answer to the much more ladylike “poems,” which gives Wook pause. When did she learn to make ink, anyway?

Wook decides to give her a poem instead, instructing her to read it carefully. Is he, by chance, testing her? Su has no hope of being able to read the complex Hanja characters, and she’s severely misguided if she thinks that her slave Chae-ryung will be able to read it, which she can’t.

Su tries her best to figure the poem out one character at a time, only to bemoan the fact that she’s as good as illiterate in this time period. After spending a moment cooing over how the characters are written as handsomely as their writer, she falls back into her illiterate lamentations, which thirteenth prince Baek-ah overhears.

“Are you illiterate?” he asks. Su claims that she totally does know how to read, she just conveniently forgot when she hit her head. Baek-ah begins to read for her, only to be interrupted by the arrival of Lady Hae, who finishes the poem from memory. The poem is by Liu Yuxi, entitled “Song of Bamboo Branch,” and one of the lines is, “Hark and I hear on the river, songs from my love, my beau.”

When Baek-ah asks if Su understands what the poem means, she looks at it from the surface level only, guessing that because it mentions willows and water, it must be about nature. His expression grows grave when she innocently reveals that Wook gave the poem to her.

Lady Hae seems happy that he gifted her such a poem, and tells Su to prepare to visit the queen tomorrow to gift her the soap she made. When Su’s gone, Baek-ah gets angry with his brother on his sister-in-law’s behalf, since the poem is a love poem. “Is my brother in his right mind?” he all but bellows.

He calms considerably when he sees Lady Hae’s shaking hand go to her chest, figuring out that she already knows how Wook feels. Instead of answering, she only asks Baek-ah to finish a drawing he was preparing for her. It sounds like she’s on a timeline, and Baek-ah realizes this, despite not wanting to acknowledge it.

Su tries to parse out the poem based on what she heard, but isn’t able to get very far in figuring out its true meaning. Or rather, she doesn’t want to acknowledge that there’s another meaning to it, and tries to convince herself to think of Wook in non-romantic ways.

The next day, she’s all smiles as she travels with Lady Hae to the palace. Wook admires the wonder in her eyes as she takes in all the sights, smiling.

Queen Sinjeong, Wook’s mother, pays a visit to the surly Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, and the two share barbed comments about whose son is superior in scholarly pursuits. Queen Sinjeong shares her desire to get medicine for her daughter-in-law from one of the concubines, which Queen Sinmyeongsunseong sneers at—the concubine is nothing more than a court lady, and she certainly is no doctor.

They’re interrupted by the arrival of Lady Hae, Wook, and Su. Queen Sinjeong is happy to see them, especially Su, but Queen Sinmyeongsunseong only knows Su from the bruise she gave the tenth prince, Eun.

Su gives Queen Sinjeong a box of her handcrafted soap, and struggles hilariously to speak properly in front of her, eliciting a muffled laugh from Wook. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, who wasn’t doing her best in hiding her dismay in not receiving a gift, tries to act nonchalant when Su gives her a box of soap.

Since Queen Sinmyeongsunseong can’t be happy about anything, she lands a barb about Wook and her rival queen’s daughter-in-law being childless, but before she can go on, they receive another visitor: King Taejo.

Su’s eyes grow as big as saucers as she beholds the founder of Goryeo, who she’s only ever seen in dramas before (hah). She can’t help but gape at him, but the king instantly recognizes her as the girl who got into a fight with Eun. Wook tries to defend her, but the king isn’t having it.

Su’s first line of defense is to fall to her knees and beg forgiveness, but when that elicits a less than favorable response from the king, she realizes something vital: Tyrants feed off fear, but wise kings value virtue. So when the king asks her if she’s afraid of him, she rises to answer that she isn’t afraid, since she knows him to be a good and wise king.

This seems to please Taejo somewhat, but when he asks her why she thinks he’s wise, she’s without an answer. It just lands her in hotter water now that the king thinks she was using empty flattery, so Su racks her brain to think of something to say… and comes up with the baseline bits of history she knows about Taejo, like how he united the three kingdoms, founded a new nation, etc.

The king laughs, and Su inwardly thanks her junior high school history teacher for making her memorize these facts, when she used to curse her for it. Hah! The king rewards her with a fine rug, and Wook prods her to thank him. She launches into a parody of sageuk when she does, causing even more laughter. They must think she’s absolutely insane.

Once out of there, Su goes running around for a restroom, the nerves finally getting to her. Just as she’s about to use something that’s probably not a bathroom, she’s stopped by none other than So, sporting a more refined hairdo and mask.

She takes one look at him in wonder, noting that no one would see him as anything other than a prince now. He quips back that he’s always been a prince, but then turns the subject back to her, and what she’s doing at the palace.

They share a brief but friendly conversation about So’s adaptation to palace life, though it becomes clear that Su thinks he has a much better relationship with his family than he actually does. She realizes just the opposite is true when she spots his mother coming and hides within perfect earshot to hear his mother spew vitriol at him.

Even so, So thanks her for her her concern and remains cordial. When he turns around to find Su, she’s already gone, feeling awkward about having overheard them.

Lady Hae alarms her mother-in-law when she coughs up blood in front of her, but she quickly falls to her knees to remind the queen that she’d once promised to honor any request she made.

Queen Sinjeong grasps her beloved daughter-in-law’s hands and asks what she wants, but is taken completely aback when Lady Hae asks her to accept Su as Wook’s wife. If she didn’t know before, Queen Sinjeong knows now that Lady Hae doesn’t have much time left.

While on her way back with Wook, Su spots Astronomer Choi, recognizing him as the homeless man from her time. She grabs him by the shoulders to ask if he recognizes her. Doesn’t he remember the drink they had together?

The astronomer just shakes his head, and hilariously imitates Su’s whole-body shaking as he imitates her whining about having looked all over for him with a similarly whiny, “But I don’t know you, Agasshi.” She insists he does, reminding him that the last time he saw her was one thousand years in the future.

“Be careful,” he warns her, and for a moment, it seems like he’s warning her because he’s in on the secret. But his words are eerily similar to his future counterpart’s as he tells her, “If you ended up living here, you should abide by the norms here. Your life can’t change just because you want it to.” Then he winks at her. It is him!

After their meeting, Su trudges after Wook in the heavy snow, with him occasionally looking back to check on her with a smile. She doesn’t seem to notice that he’s caught onto the fact that she keeps stepping in his footsteps (either for fun or to make it easier for her to walk), but he’s there to catch her the second she stumbles. Likely because he made his steps wider just for fun.

He asks her about Astronomer Choi, though she claims that she only thought she knew him. She offers him a bar of soap she made just for him, saying that she did it to thank him for all that he’s done for her—even the poem.

Wook takes the gift with gratitude before asking if she’s discerned the meaning behind the poem. Su recites what she knows from it, claiming only that it was beautiful. Wook can’t help but laugh, seeming to know that she didn’t truly understand it, but advises her to respond with a poem of her own. It’s only proper etiquette, of course.

That night, Su sits down with a brush and paper, trying her best to copy the characters from another page. It’s useless, and she soon gives up on the endeavor. She can’t even begin to wonder how she’ll compose a reply… but then a smile lights her face as she thinks of something.

Instead of writing a poem, she draws a reply, and eagerly leaves it on Wook’s desk where he’s most likely to see it. But she’s greeted instead by all the princes and Princess Yeonhwa, and the eager tenth prince Eun is quick to snatch up the letter she left.

Su sends a pleading look Wook’s way, but he can only move his eyebrows by way of silent response—it’s like they’re kids having to hide notes in class. Luckily, he steps in before she can be completely humiliated, and gives her leave to go, though it means admitting that she was responding to a poem he gave her.

This makes thirteenth prince Baek-ah decidedly unhappy, and Wook is powerless to stop Eun and fourteenth prince Jung from opening her letter and finding what they can only decipher as gibberish on it. It’s not a poem or a drawing. Is that… an emoji?

The princes each take a turn trying to figure out what the strange symbol (\^0^/) means, with Wook being the most puzzled of all. Omg, I’m dying. It’s So who tells Eun how to raise his arms and contort his face to mimic the symbol in the drawing. Hahahahahaha! He is WAY ahead of the times.

Everyone has a good laugh at this, as So recognizes the drawing as a face laughing with excitement—Su must have been pretty happy to receive Wook’s poem. Jung also tries to mimic the expression, much to everyone’s amusement.

Baek-ah is less than thrilled, and pulls Su aside when he finds her. He asks her how she could do this to Lady Hae, though she doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about.

“You steal glances at each other,” he accuses her. “If your hands happened to brush, you [two] would reflect upon that for days. I’m sure the thoughts of ‘What sort of food would that person like, what would make that person laugh’ would likely never leave your mind. Anything you see would make you think of him. How you and Wook would fuss over one another! Did you think that no one would find out?”

He grows more and more upset as he goes on, leading Su to look fearfully up at him. It’s only when he tells her that Lady Hae knows everything that’s been going on that she looks absolutely stunned into silence. Baek-ah warns her against interfering in Lady Hae and Wook’s relationship, threatening that he won’t stand idly by if she hurts Lady Hae.

Wook is standing there when he turns to leave, and soon the two forbidden lovebirds are left alone together. They both apologize to each other, though Wook says it’s not her fault—he’s the one who gave her a poem and received hers in an effort to make her laugh. “It’s all my fault,” he adds gravely. “Don’t blame yourself.”

But she does, because she knows that her complicity and silence didn’t help matters. She knew what was going on but hoped things would resolve on their own, even though she made advances of her own, like taking his hand, or leaving her room that night when she pretended to be asleep at first.

Tears spring to Wook’s eyes as he tells her not to say things like that, and tears fall down her own cheeks as she apologizes for always crying when she’s with him. She bows in apology and leaves, going home to hide the poem he gave her within the pages of a book.

Likewise, Wook locks away the soap she gave him in a box. The metaphor is clear, but it still makes me sad.

Princess Yeonhwa visits her father the king to gift him a silk pillow she embroidered. King Taejo loves the gift, but the talk soon turns to marriage, and how one of his daughters by Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, Princess Naklang, was married and left the palace.

Though Yeonhwa tries to hide her true emotions behind smiles and kind words, she’s unhappy at the thought of a potentially unwanted marriage. She brightens at the sight of her half-brother, So, noting that she’s still unused to seeing him in the palace.

She mentions that their father is planning to marry her off, but when So asks who, third prince Yo interrupts with a haughty, “You don’t think it’s you, do you?” He’s… teasing his half-brother over being too ugly to marry their half-sister?

When Yo asks Yeonhwa if she could stand to look at So’s ugly mug forever, Yeonhwa demurs by saying that she only wants a man who will cherish her. Yo’s quick to say that he would regard her as an empress since her potential husband would need to know her value in order to treasure her, but she’s more interested in So’s reaction.

So refuses to put a value on her (nice), and says that he wants a woman who would treasure him, and one who would think nothing of his face. Yo just scoffs at his reaction, claiming that he’s just like an animal. Yeonhwa smiles, seeing it as a challenge: “How fun would it be to turn an animal into a human?” Ack, stop it.

Su finds Lady Hae burning clothes and trinkets that seem precious to her, and intervenes only when she finds her cousin coughing blood. Lady Hae picks that time of all times to ask Su what her feelings are for Wook, but when Su goes quiet, she calls her foolish. Both of them are foolish.

With tears in her eyes and blood on her lips, Lady Hae then asks Su to do her makeup for her, one last time. “I want him to remember me as being beautiful,” Lady Hae adds, which is just heartbreaking.

Lady Hae studies Su as she prepares her makeup, and Su does her best to hold back her tears as she applies it. We hear what she doesn’t say aloud to Su, willing her to control her actions and temperament in the future, especially around the royal family. But most of all, she wills Su to be a good wife for her husband, and to be his “pillow,” someone he can depend on and somewhere to rest his head in order to help ease his many worries.

Su’s tears fall despite her attempts to smile, and Lady Hae’s cheeks grow wet as well. The two share a moment where it’s like they’re speaking to each other without words as Su brings color and brightness back to Lady Hae’s wan face.

Next thing we know, Su is rushing out to bring Wook to see Lady Hae. Despite how ill she is, Lady Hae still manages to walk with the support of her husband out in the snow. She reminisces about when they first met, prompting a flashback of her seeing, liking, and subsequently hiding from him.

She tells of how she was the one who pushed for marriage because she wanted to help him, since he was a prince who had been kicked out of the palace when they met.

In the present, Wook tells her he knows exactly how she feels. She reaches a hand up to touch his face with tears in her eyes. “Now… I want you to watch over Su,” she pleads. But soon, she’s doubled over in pain, and Wook has to carry her home on his back.

As he walks her home, Wook mentions how she’d said he didn’t love her before. He tries to amend that now, but Lady Hae stops him from finishing. “I was able to love you more,” she breathes. “That was enough.”

And then, she goes limp. Su, from behind, calls out for her cousin. Wook’s eyes fill with tears as the realization of her death hits him… or not. He turns and shushes Su: “Let us not wake my wife.” Oh. Oh no.

Su clasps both hands to her mouth to stifle her sobs as Wook walks on, carrying his dead wife.

 
COMMENTS

Gah, the whole “They’re just sleeping” thing gets me every time. I wish we would’ve gotten to hear the rest of what Wook had to say to Lady Hae, and if he was going to admit that he loved her—though, knowing her, she wouldn’t want him to say it so as not to feel guilty. Lady Hae presents an interesting picture overall though, especially since she deviated so far from the norm of what we’d expect to see.

Despite being a wife who desperately loved her husband, she also desperately wanted him to be happy, and was more than aware of her own mortality. Situations like this can easily come off as making the wife in the relationship look bad, but here, she actually came off as a bonafide saint. I was repeatedly surprised by just how selfless she was being, and found her relationship with her husband and Su as heartfelt as it was morbid and strange. It’s as confusing for the viewer as I’m sure it was for those three characters, but definite props are deserved for the story being much more immersive this hour.

It’s a tough day to be So as a romantic lead though, even if it feels like we’re setting up for the end of Wook and Su as we know it. Lady Hae’s death is bound to cause a shift of some kind, and it’d be way too easy for them to just be happy now that the main obstacle to their romance is gone. (I know this sounds clinical, but it’s true.) Years of dramas tells me that there’ll have to be some scaling back with the second lead in order to make room for the first, but I can’t help but like where we are now. Change is scary, even if it’s good.

Su was definitely much more endearing this hour, and I’d credit that to us seeing her sweat a little—her illiteracy and her thoroughly modern reply to Wook’s thoughtful poem was a hoot. But there were also deeper feelings going on, and not just between Wook and Su. I’m not quite sure what Baek-ah’s game is at this point, but he seems primed and ready to be the one prince (besides Yo, who hates everyone) to be a foil for Su, which gives him a whole new exciting layer. Slowly but surely, we’re getting to know each prince in turn, so I feel confident that no one’s going to get lost in the shuffle.

But how hilarious was it to see Su use what little she remembered from her history class to get on the king’s good side? These are the kind of fish-out-of-water moments I was missing, so I was glad to have them today. Watching her flail about spouting “Your grace is immeasurable!” to the king was enough to make my belly ache. And having So of all people discern the true nature of her emoji reply was priceless. If only we had gotten these moments sooner, maybe it would’ve changed some things. Alas, the most we can do is look forward to next week.

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725 September 12, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 6

by HeadsNo2

As if our resident damsel in distress couldn’t get into any more trouble, a sudden marriage is thrust upon her that she’s in no way equipped to deal with. (For that matter, neither are we.) It comes down to her troop of loyal princes to save her from an uncertain fate, though some need a little prodding to agree. And in the end, there’s only so much that they can do for her—the rest is up to Su.

Note: There are some different versions of these episodes floating around the vastness of the net, but for our purposes, we’ll be recapping off the version streamed live in Korea. So don’t be alarmed if you read of some scenes you haven’t seen, or don’t read of some that you have.

 
EPISODE 6 RECAP

Everyone’s dressed in white mourning robes for the funeral of Lady Hae, but it’s her husband, Wook, who lights the funeral pyre. Thirteenth prince Baek-ah keeps to himself as he cries over his own drawings of his late sister-in-law. Not just a sister-in-law to him, it seems.

Su sobs as the pyre goes up in flames, with So taking particular notice of her sadness. Wook remains in control of his expression.

Next thing we know, we find Su sitting with Baek-ah, who talks about having to wait to join Lady Hae in the afterlife. Su cries about how much she misses Lady Hae, and the two commiserate together. Are you guys friends now? When did this happen?

Su comes upon Wook sitting on the floor in his library later that night, but says nothing. He stares forward as he begins to talk aloud, though it seems like he’s talking more to himself than to her: “Why could I not say it? I knew she wanted to hear it, but I could not tell her that I loved her. I did not think that I did love her.”

But then, he says, he realized that his feelings were love, and that he did in fact love her. He was confused between what he thought were feelings of gratitude and general comfort with her, but in the end, he realized it was love.

Wook begins to cry piteously as he asks Su what he should do now. Like a lost child, he reaches forward to grab her skirt, desperately needing her comfort and assurance. “I should have told her,” he cries. “She waited so long.”

Wiping away at her own tears, Su kneels before him and takes him by the shoulders as she tells him that Lady Hae already knew. It’s not enough to soothe him, as he only sobs more deeply while blaming himself for being unable to tell his wife while it still mattered. He pushes Su’s arms away as he retreats back into himself, crying.

On her own, Su worries about what she’ll do now that Lady Hae is gone, but is interrupted by an insistent knock at her window. She opens it, and up pops a hand puppet dressed just like her. Joining it is another puppet of tenth prince Eun, as the real tenth prince alters his voice and uses the puppets to perform a cute little play of their first meeting (and his first beating).

Su can’t help but smile at the display, and Eun pokes his head up between the puppets to make sure his show is having its intended effect. Of course, he promptly proceeds to fall, having been standing on a servant’s shoulders to reach her window, which also serves to make Su laugh.

She admits that she was touched by the puppet show, adding, “You’re awesome!” (She uses the modern Korean term “Jjang!” with a thoroughly modern thumbs up). Eun’s glad to hear it, since he knew she needed some cheering up. But he hilariously wonders what the thumbs up means, and when she explains that the thumb rules over the five fingers, he thinks that’s a bit too much—the king should be the thumb.

He tries his index finger instead, thinking it a little more respectful. She laughs and goes along with it, telling him again that he’s jjang. He adopts the term as well, and mimics their conversation with the two puppets, adding some flourishes of his own, like Puppet Su gushing over how good looking Puppet Eun is. Hah.

Third prince Yo antagonizes So as has become his habit, but this time, So pushes back. He even helps his younger brother, Baek-ah, after Yo insults the artistic prince for his less than desirable lineage. Yo claims Goryeo is in danger, and So calls him out for acting like a big shot when their father still rules the throne. It’s all big talk, So claims, since Yo wouldn’t dare say any of these things in front of the king.

Su pays a visit to Lady Hae’s grave, mulling over her life here in Goryeo and how long she’ll have to live as Hae Su. These were the sorts of things she wanted to talk to Lady Hae about while she was alive, but she never got the chance. Even so, she thanks her cousin for all that she did.

Baek-ah and fourteenth prince Jung find her there and greet her warmly, so I guess we’ll have to take it on faith that Su and Baek-ah bonded over Lady Hae’s death. Jung can’t get over how fun it is to say “Fighting!” the way Su taught him. Hah.

The trio runs into Princess Yeonhwa in the palace, who claims to have good news for Su: she’ll be getting married. Cut to Wook finding out about the marriage, which Princess Yeonhwa and her elder supporters seem to be all about. It’ll be an advantageous match, and they’ll have to move on it quickly or risk losing it.

Something about it all seems fishy, and there’s only so much protesting Wook can do without looking suspicious. Baek-ah, however, is more than upset on Su’s behalf, and tries to get So to agree with him. So is unwilling to do so, since it’s Wook’s family affair—and after all, Su is of marrying age.

The other princes are thrown into a panic at the news, with Jung notifying everyone that the man Su is intended to marry is old, and has many sons. They realize that she’s not being married, she’s being sold—and ninth prince Won seems to be the only one who could care less. (Yo, who probably would care less, isn’t present.)

Wook overhears them, and asks for more information about the home Su is supposed to marry into. After hearing the details, he asks for his brothers’ help.

Slave girl Chae-ryung cries piteously as she packs her mistress’s things to prepare for her marriage, while Su looks to be in shock. Finally, she snaps herself out of it and tells Chae-ryung that she has to run. Chae-ryung completely supports her decision, and vows never to speak a word of her escape.

Luckily, Su is helped out by tenth prince Eun, who sneaks her out using the same window he used to perform the puppet show. Baek-ah also lends a helping hand, eventually getting Su to Wook, who disguises her in a hood as he leads her to a horse. “I can’t send you away like this,” Wook says, in answer to her questioning look.

Princess Yeonhwa spots Wook galloping off with Su sitting on the saddle in front of him, knowing full well who’s under the cloth. She orders a chase, and joins in it herself as her search party catches up to Wook, Jung, and his wrapped bundle.

But when it’s revealed that Eun is the one hidden under the silk, Princess Yeonhwa knows they’ve been fooled. The real Su is with So and Baek-ah, galloping as fast as they can on horseback. As they ride, Su looks back at So and thinks that she’s surprised even he pitched in to help her.

As if he can read her thoughts, So thinks, “It’s not because I like you. I simply don’t want to see you live a life where you’re controlled by others. That kind of life is not worth living.” Aw, you big softie.

All the princes converge on a common point in the forest, only to be stopped by Astronomer Choi and his party. He says he’s come to take Su into the palace, and it’s with dawning horror that Wook and the other princes come to realize exactly what he means.

“The king will marry Lady Su,” the astronomer says, much to the princes’ surprise. Wook confronts his uncles (well, the late Lady Hae’s uncles) over the match, but they’re both pleased as punch that they could become in-laws with the king. And if Su were to have the king’s child, even better for them.

Still, So refuses to let the men take Su, despite Princess Yeonhwa telling him that all of them could pay dearly if he doesn’t comply with the royal command. Su, hearing this, decides to go on her own so that no one will get hurt because of her.

Before she does, So stops her to ask if she won’t regret this. She tells him not to worry, and that she’ll try talking to the king. She can only offer a smile to Wook, but looks back up to So. Then, she’s gone. The princes are left to digest what just happened, which doesn’t seem to be an easy task.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong confronts the king over choosing a new bride now, of all turbulent times. Worse yet, he’s in such a hurry that he’ll have the bedding before the actual ceremony even takes place. She wonders if this has something to do with him still suspecting her in the crown prince’s assassination attempt.

King Taejo basically tells her to mind her place, since he still doesn’t quite trust her and her greed. And since there are disputes on the borders, he claims, he needs the help of the Hae Clan—and the only way to get it is to marry a girl from that clan. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong huffs, and she puffs, but fails in blowing the palace down.

As she’s being carried to the palace in a palanquin, Su tries to think over her options without letting herself devolve into panic. In the palace, ROYAL CONCUBINE OH (Woo Hee-jin) is notified of the king’s soon-to-be wife.

Astronomer Choi gives Su a tour of Damiwon Palace, and completely ignores Su’s attempts to try and talk her way out of marrying a man she doesn’t know. Enter Concubine Oh, who comes to take a personal look at the new bride.

The astronomer couldn’t be happier to exit the scene, and warns Su under his breath to just follow her fate. That fate includes being checked over by Concubine Oh and her maids, since the concubine claims that a woman with scars on her body can’t marry the king.

Su crosses her arms over her chest protectively, unwilling to disrobe in front of strangers. The maids take her and strip her forcefully, with Concubine Oh claiming that they’re on a timeline—she’s to share the king’s bed tonight. What on earth is going on?

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong seems to be much more upset about the king’s potential new bride than Queen Sinjeong, but has no idea that the girl is actually Su. She finds this out when fourteenth prince Jung comes in to beg for her intervention.

Now Queen Sinmyeongsunseong understands why Wook’s mother was so calm about the wedding, because she stands to gain from it. But then Wook enters, presumably to plead with his mother for her intervention. When Queen Sinmyeongsunseong asks why he’s against Su’s marriage, Wook says it’s because he sees her as a younger sister. Also, it’s all very sudden.

Next up is Princess Yeonhwa, though we don’t get to hear what she has to say. In the meantime, Baek-ah tries to get So on their side, though he seems willing to let Su sort her own business out—she volunteered to go, after all. Baek-ah tries explaining that they’d all be dead if she hadn’t (for disobeying a royal command), but So just asks if he has feelings for her.

“I am not the one who has feelings for her,” Baek-ah retorts, though he doesn’t say who does. Instead, he tells his half-brother about how he and Su bonded after Lady Hae’s death, supplying us with flashbacks about their drunken antics following the funeral.

Su had asked him about his own feelings for Lady Hae, but Baek-ah explained that his status was too low for him to do anything about his feelings back then. Thoroughly wasted, Su had bemoaned the status system in Goryeo, and told Baek-ah to wait a thousand years—there (then), no one is above anyone else.

Though he’d tried to hush her, Su had gone on to tell Baek-ah that a person only lives once, and that death can come at any time. “You can just fall right out of the sky and end up living in a place like this,” she said, alluding to her own situation. So with that philosophy in mind, she’d advised Baek-ah to just live in the moment, and do whatever made him happy.

In the present, So gets after his little brother for listening to Su spout such nonsense, but Baek-ah firmly believes in what she espoused about status and rank. If it’s this bad for them as princes, how bad is it for ordinary citizens?

Baek-ah has no aspirations for the throne, he adds. “I only want to be free. That’s what you want too. And what about Hae Su?” So knows as well as he does that a girl without parents or siblings won’t survive in the palace, and that the king won’t pay any attention to her past the wedding night. She won’t survive living such a life, and they both know it.

Su looks like she’s had better days after her full body examination, and asks for some time alone—none of this has set in yet, since she didn’t even know what was going to happen when she woke up this morning.

The second Concubine Oh leaves, Su plans her escape, remembering the secret passageway from the bathhouse… but she’s foiled in that attempt by none other than Concubine Oh.

Now it’s So’s turn to confront Astronomer Choi over the marriage, likening him to a rabbit who always digs two holes to always guarantee at least one escape route. He knows Choi wouldn’t have just banked on one plan, and demands to know what the other part of his plan is.

King Taejo is notified that Su is waiting in the marriage chamber, which gives him momentary pause. It turns out that even he didn’t know he was marrying Su, only that he was marrying someone from the Hae household. Though he wishes it didn’t have to be Su, he’s pretty businesslike about it, and is ready to do what must be done.

Su waits in the wedding chamber dressed as a bride, but as King Taejo walks toward it, he’s stopped by the sight of his son, Prince Wook, kneeling in his path. Wook knows that what he’s doing is dangerous, but he asks the king why he’s bringing another household into the palace.

The king explains that he needs the help of the Hae Clan to settle border disputes with the Kitan (the people of Manchuria to the north), then asks Wook what stake he has in stopping the marriage. That’s when So steps in to provide another solution.

Their intervention doesn’t please the king in the least, but So goes on to say that he has a witness who saw one of Lady Hae’s uncles conspiring with the Kitan, adding that the Hae Clan should be punished, not brought in as in-laws. Their strength should be hindered in his view, and not helped.

But King Taejo says he will proceed with the marriage, since none of the options So presented are feasible. He has a responsibility to protect the border, and he sees no better way than to marry within the Hae Clan. Punishing them is not an option.

Su, having overheard the boys trying to stand up for her, runs out of the chamber. The king advances with the princes powerless to stop him, until he hears a crash and turns around. In her hand, Su holds a bloody vase fragment, which she’s used to cut her wrist.

In a shaking voice, Su tells the king that she cannot marry him with a scar on her body, which she’s now created. “Let me go now,” she pleads, and the king can’t help but admire her gumption. He orders Lady Hae’s uncle brought in, and Su proceeds to collapse.

Wook scoops her up in his arms and carries her outside where the other princes have been waiting. They all hurry around her, their faces painted with worry, as So watches on from the palace steps.

While unconscious, Su dreams of falling into the water, and of a death shroud covering King Taejo. She sees him drown, and also sees the fourth king of Goryeo, King Gwangjong, falling to the ground with a knife in his hand.

His face is obscured because she can’t remember which prince becomes King Gwangjong, but she does know that he kills his brothers in order to ascend the throne. “Which one of the princes is it?” she wonders.

She wakes with a start to see Concubine Oh at her bedside, who affirms that Su is alive and unmarried. She took over caring for her in lieu of a doctor, but Su is still being held in the palace. She also notifies Su of her impending punishment now that she’s conscious, but Su is ready to face it—she has no regrets.

Wook enters the room next, and Concubine Oh seems to understand why Su did what she did to escape the marriage. He comes to sit at Su’s bedside and takes her bandaged wrist in his hand as tears form in her eyes. “Everything will be all right now. It’s over,” he soothes her.

He informs her that the marriage has been cancelled because of her scar, and that the Hae Clan will stop pressuring her to marry. “Last night, I felt so pathetic,” he says in a low voice, almost in a whisper. He admits that he bent so low as to pray to his dead wife to return her to him, and that he would pay his wife back by showering Su with all the affection he could never give her.

“I asked her for her forgiveness, and for her to send you to me,” he confesses. “I begged her. If you had become the king’s woman, I would have never been able to forgive myself.” Crying, Su says that she was so afraid she’d never see him again, and couldn’t bear to part with him just like that.

Wook pulls her into his arms and tells her that she’s safe now—he lost her once, so he won’t let it happen again. She cries into his shoulder as he continues to soothe and comfort her.

When Astronomer Choi asks King Taejo what he plans to do with Su, the king nonchalantly says he’ll send her into slavery. Astronomer Choi is quick to do some damage control, claiming that Su could be of much more use as a court lady—Concubine Oh put in a request for her, since Su knows so much about herbs and cosmetics.

He frames it in such a way as to make Su seem pivotal to the success of the royal household, but Taejo knows his sons likely had something to do with it. He doesn’t know what her relationship to the princes is, but he seems game to go ahead with Astronomer Choi’s suggestion.

Wook and Su go for a walk in the garden, and share a silent moment as he looks down at her bandaged wrist, then pulls her sleeve down to cover it. In voiceover, we hear him say that he’s happy to take her to see his late wife, believing that she would’ve liked to see them together at her grave. Aw. So cute. So morbid.

Astronomer Choi meets them to deliver the news of Su’s new appointment as a court lady, and surprisingly, Su’s all for it. She knows court ladies get paid, and Choi’s more than happy to tell her about all the perks she’ll enjoy if she does her new job well.

Su is pretty positive about the job, and tells Wook not to worry about her. He gives a manly clearing of his throat before handing her a piece of paper, which she unfolds to reveal: \^ㅁ^/. (He uses the “ㅅ” and “ㅁ” Hanja characters to make up the face. It looks more like Hangul, but Hangul wasn’t invented yet.)

But the best part? Wook tries to imitate the symbol for her, and literally couldn’t be any more awkward about it. Love. At least he’s happy that he’ll be able to see her often in her new appointment.

All the princes (minus the crown prince and Yo) come running out to see Su, all hovering around her protectively as they each tell her how they worried about her and tried to save her. Su smiles up at all of them, until she remembers that one of them will go on to be King Gwangjong and kill all his brothers… and she wonders if it’s either Wook or So.

When it’s time for Su to go into the palace, fourteenth prince Jung gives her a little, “Fighting!” Wook tells her not to be afraid, and So just tells her nothing, even though he takes note of her bandaged wrist and small bundle of clothes.

Su walks alone into Damiwon Palace, and clutches her small bundle ever tighter when she sees the formidable Concubine Oh standing before her.

 
COMMENTS

This was a bit of a strange watch, and I wonder if that has something to do with the airing order having changed due to the first week’s triple header. I’m trying to figure out if this episode would’ve been better served had it come directly after Episode 5 as opposed to one week afterward, and while I think that might’ve mitigated some of the problem areas here, it wouldn’t necessarily have fixed them.

It’s hard to know whether there’s an issue in the editing, directing, or writing, but this episode more than ever had a sort of disjointedness about it, like we were seeing scenes chopped from other scenes that didn’t need to be in any specific order. A through-line emerged as the episode wore on that I was more than happy to cling to, but I felt more confused than Su ever was about what was happening to her and why. We slowly but surely came to understand the king’s reasoning even if he seemed to get short-sheeted in terms of information, but it all happened so fast that it was hard to actually get invested in Su’s struggle to not marry the king of Goryeo.

It was adorable that all the princes jumped to her defense though, even if Baek-ah’s storyline was resolved so quickly—and the presentation of it was a little lacking, what with them acting friendly directly after the funeral to us getting a flashback explaining their sudden friendship after the fact. I love Baek-ah being supportive and cute, but he lost a little bit of his personality in the process, since all the princes (minus Yo and the crown prince) all dote on Su now. Still, maybe complaining about having so many men at one’s disposal is neither here nor there, and we should just be happy that Su has such a ready and willing support system.

But since Baek-ah was on her side by whatever offscreen means necessary, it was great to have him be the one to convince So as to why he needed to intervene in the marriage. Even so, So’s reason for intervening was mostly left up to the imagination, and we got only snippets of moments from him this hour. I can’t help but want to see more So despite loving every moment with Wook and Su, primarily because I don’t want to be disappointed in the end by going down with the wrong ship. But man, this show really isn’t making it easy to not care about Wook and Su, who are just so sweet with each other—how are we honestly supposed to resist that?

It feels like we’re on the verge of a major shift in the story at least, with Su moving into the palace and out of Wook’s direct orbit. Maybe this means she’ll be in So’s orbit more, and we’ll get to know more about our most enigmatic of princes. But maybe, it just means we’ll get to know more about Su, who’s perhaps better off not knowing who becomes the future King Gwangjong. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, even if it kills everyone else.

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1,203 September 13, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 7

by HeadsNo2

Working in the palace may have its downfalls, but when it has perks, it has perks. Su gets to know the princes a little bit better, and the princes get to know her and her bubbly attitude even more than before. She makes an impression on everyone she meets, that’s for sure—but with the hearts of at least two men (and counting), these relatively uncomplicated days might soon seem like a faraway dream.

 
EPISODE 7 RECAP

Su tries out her new court lady digs to face Court Lady Oh (who I’d mistaken as a concubine—in reality, she’s sanggung, the highest attainable rank for a court lady, charged with managing the palace), who asks Su about her knowledge of herbs.

She’s more than happy to tell her superior about how much she knows about both herbs and cosmetics, but when the court lady asks her whether she can read and write, Su shrinks considerably as she murmurs, “No.”

Outside, she finds So waiting, and is chipper as ever as she tells him about her new appointment and how great she’ll be at it—did he know she was good with makeup? She also acknowledges that the whole affair with the king must’ve been shocking for him, but wasn’t it great that she didn’t have to marry him?

Suddenly, So grabs her bandaged wrist. “You could have died,” he finally says. “If the cut were any deeper, you would have.” Su’s smile disappears as she somberly says that she didn’t die, but that’s not good enough for So, who tears into her about scarring herself and the ramifications of becoming a court lady, since she might never be able to leave the palace now. If that’s the case, he asks, why didn’t she just marry the king?

“I don’t know!” she answers in her defense. She tells him that she just couldn’t go through with it, and knew that only she could save herself. Tears well up in her eyes as she tells him this, but So just answers by calling her a fool. Then, his soft underbelly shows as he adds, “Don’t think about doing that again. I won’t ever forgive you.”

So gives her a pessimistic tour of one of the palace lakes, explaining the rigors of palace life and how everyone within its walls is alone. Relentlessly optimistic, Su says she’ll be fine since she’s not alone, and indicates the prince standing next to her as proof.

She’s confident that no matter what happens, she’ll be able to endure, and even So is inclined to believe it just based on her positive attitude. Though he doesn’t resist quipping that palace life certainly won’t be boring with her around now, he can’t help but smile once he’s turned away from her.

Princess Yeonhwa has a candlelight chat with her brother Wook, telling him that she’s looking into another match for him. Wook says one arranged marriage was enough, but Yeonhwa feels deeply about this issue—if he doesn’t marry advantageously, then they may as well let Queen Sinmyeongsunseong drive their family out of the palace.

It seems like she’s alluding to the queen’s dark past since Wook says he’s forgotten it, and he advises Yeonhwa to do the same. But she keeps going, insisting that since third prince Yo entered into a political marriage, he must have eyes on the throne. If the evil queen drives Crown Prince Mu out, then her and her brother’s future is obvious: “We die, or we get cast out.”

Wook switches topics slightly, and asks if Yeonhwa still likes So. She replies that she would like anyone who can help her, whether that be So or anyone else. “Whether it’s an arranged marriage or I’m sold off, I will not enter into a marriage that does not help you,” she adds, making it clear that her endgame is to see Wook crowned as king.

Meanwhile, Crown Prince Mu mulls over his own future as Astronomer Choi treats him for his illness. That same illness caused him to miss another morning assembly with the king, causing the crown prince to worry that he might be dethroned.

Astronomer Choi does his best to cheer the crown prince up, assuring him that he was born under the star of an emperor—he wouldn’t con the nation about something so huge, so all the crown prince needs to do is focus on his illness.

We’re introduced to Grand General PARK SOO-KYUNG (Sung Dong-il) and his daughter, PARK SOON-DEOK, who wears men’s armor and who seems, for all intents and purposes, to be a warrior. Her relationship with her father is adorable, as she refuses to give him the skin of a bear she presumably killed, claiming that it’s for someone else.

They’ve arrived at the palace, and Grand General Park goes straight to see King Taejo. From their discussion, it sounds as if fourth prince So was once in General Park’s care, and he’s the one who taught the prince martial arts. It’s clear that he thinks highly of So, enough to suggest that were it not for the scar on his face, he’d make a fine crown prince.

After the general and Astronomer Choi have a thoroughly ajusshi-like verbal sparring session, we find all the princes having a bit of fun. Split into teams of four, they each hoist their champion onto their shoulders (for Yo’s team, it’s fourteenth prince Jung, and for Crown Prince Mu’s, it’s tenth prince Eun) to do “battle” with the other team’s champion.

Yo eyes So on the other team specifically as he says that he won’t lose today, and both teams rush each other in an attempt to knock the other’s champion off balance. There’s laughs and smiles all around.

Next we see the princes at their studies, but before we have time to figure out what’s going on, we cut to So (in his team outfit from earlier, strange) and Grand General Park doing some catching up. Though So insists that he’s been occupying his brain during his time at the palace, the grand general cavalierly mentions all those men So killed before setting them on fire.

“They all deserved to die,” So states, but it’s clear that the general isn’t so convinced. Despite the fact that he taught So how to kill, he clarifies that he only did so in order for So to have the power to protect someone else, and he didn’t intend for him to use those powers for murder.

So still insists that what he did was just because it helped the royal family (and thus the nation), leading the general to ask what’s keeping him in the palace. He doesn’t get a straight answer out of So, and seems to know that all the answers So gives him aren’t all that truthful.

He knows that only one prince will remain in the palace, and that’s the prince who will sit on the throne. Again he asks what So’s real reason for staying in the palace is, but So gives him a silent look rather than an answer.

Court Lady Oh and Su go to check in on Queen Sinjeong, who’s been suffering from chronic headaches lately. Su is as bubbly as ever as she tells the queen that she’s happy in her new appointment, and offers to make her more soap if she liked the last batch.

But before she can step in to adjust the queen’s makeup, Court Lady Oh sends her out, since she’s still too new to attend to a queen. Once they’re alone, Queen Sinjeong admits her genuine concern for the court lady, who she knows suffers from chronic stomach pain. She wants to arrange for her to see the royal doctor, but Court Lady Oh politely demurs.

Su ends up drawn to the sounds of a man screaming, and it turns out to be Crown Prince Mu. Shirtless, his torso and arms are covered with angry red sores, and he screams that it feels like insects are crawling over his body. Su seems to recognize the symptoms of eczema, and rushes to stop the prince from applying cold water to his skin, which would only make it worse.

The crown prince angrily grabs her by her clothes for her interference, but is calmed somewhat when Su asks if his condition gets worse after eating certain foods, or after sweating. Now that he’s listening, Su advises him to only take baths in hot water, and looks through the available herbs to make a concoction she can apply topically to soothe his symptoms.

Court Lady Oh sees this and throws a fit, which includes throwing Su to the ground. She punishes Su by having her hold up heavy medical texts while kneeling, though she’s the slightest bit interested in how Su knew to use peppermint for itching. Su explains that she knows how to treat it because her mother suffered from the same illness, but Court Lady Oh warns her never to speak of the crown prince’s illness to anyone. She seems to be coming from a caring place, at least.

Su is sent to water the plants in the garden, unaware that she’s thrown water onto a napping Prince So. He hears her grumbling about how she doesn’t like her job, and when she mentions running away, he makes himself known: “Run away? Where do you think you can hide from the king of Goryeo?”

She blusters that she didn’t actually mean it, and So seems to know this. He hears her out as she complains that she has so much talent that’s just being overlooked here, and catches her slip about being right about how to treat the crown prince.

He warns her to be careful about what she says, since another slip might land her in a much worse place than Damiwon Palace. She gives him tips about how the crown prince can manage his illness, and he puts to bed her groundless worry that Court Lady Oh went too far with her—with the crown prince’s life on the line, Court Lady Oh actually let her off easy.

Then, with a smile, he adds that based on what he’s seen with her watering skills, she’s not so much overflowing with talent as she is lacking talent. He proceeds to give her some tips on naming plants in order to help them grow, and seems to be coming up with tree names on the fly to try and cheer her up.

So then tells her about a tree he named when he was in Shinju, though he also tells her of how he burned it down on a cold night to ward off wolves. But then he abruptly switches to a much lighter tone as he pokes Su in the head and tells her not to think about running—she should commit to the choice she’s made and work hard.

She does as he instructed and throws herself into her work, however exhausting. She’s still a bit clumsy, and Wook steals moments of her time before Court Lady Oh can notice. Awwwww. Just seeing him seems to re-energize Su.

Su makes some sort of poultice for tenth prince Eun’s fingers, though we don’t know why. He’s annoyed at having to leave it, until Su informs him that if that herb is left on until the first snow falls, then the wearer’s first love will come to them. He looks at Su and smiles, thinking that he’ll finally have some luck then.

Wook comes upon Su trying to practice reading and writing, and corrects her mistakes. This is the first he’s heard about her not being able to read, so when he asks her how she was able to read his poem, she tells him that Lady Hae read it for her. His face falls at that, as he says to himself that he owes his late wife.

He watches her continue to try writing and laughs, eventually covering her hand with his own so he can help her write properly. She’s too busy staring at his close proximity to notice what he’s doing with the paper, and he draws even closer to her as they start their next character: his name, Wook. “It means the rising sun,” he adds, and she smiles.

The smile leaves him when he notices the scar on her wrist, now old, and he ties a bracelet onto her wrist to cover it. The red thread is to protect her from misfortune, and the jade symbolizes a happy relationship. “Please promise me… that you will never take it off,” he says.

Su looks up at him and nods, breaking out into a small smile. Wook assures her that he’ll return her to where she belongs, and tells her to wait for him. Then, he leans forward and kisses her on the forehead, causing her to really smile. D’aww.

She studies the character that stands for his name that night, and thinks on the meaning behind it. She also studies her new bracelet, and mulls over how she’s happy to wait, because she likes Wook. “If I’m with him… I think I would be okay being Hae Su, and not Go Ha-jin.”

Baek-ah gets caught drawing pictures of the common people by a common girl, who calls him out for looking down on them and mocking their suffering. But she’s not so common after all, since she wears an expensive trinket, and the men attending her call her “Princess.” She must be in hiding.

It’s tenth prince Eun’s birthday, and the princes all gather for a ceremonial dinner and round of drinks. Wook spends his time not-so-subtly looking to spot Su from the crowd of attending court ladies, while Eun’s brothers (under Crown Prince Mu’s direction) switch out the alcohol Eun’s drinking for something that’s probably much stronger.

Princess Yeonhwa organized the event, and makes it known that she’ll be married off soon to a powerful family far outside the palace. Yo is not happy, and Eun doesn’t know any better, since he gets wasted in no time at all.

Yo drags Yeonhwa out to tell her to just come to him rather than be married off (yes, he means it exactly the way you wish he wasn’t), since he knows that she wants to make her brother, Wook, the king. But if that happened, she’d still only be a princess—if she married him, she’d be queen.

For as mean as Yeonhwa can be, she aptly fires back that she wouldn’t be Yo’s first wife, so this whole queen talk doesn’t really hold much water. Would he give up his other wives for her? “I don’t give up what’s mine just to get a girl,” Yo growls, before pulling her in against her will. Then, he leans in to kiss her…

But thankfully So sees and interrupts before he can. Yo leaves in a huff, and So tells Yeonhwa to take Yo off her balancing scales (implying that she’s weighing all her options), because she won’t get what she wants from Yo. She counters that if he doesn’t want her to marry Yo, he should offer her something better: “Do you not want to step onto my scale?” Every time she comes onto him I feel like hitting her with a rolled-up newspaper.

After being given leave by Court Lady Oh to throw her own party for Eun, Su sets up decorations, replete with her own chibi drawings of the prince, she finds Eun drunkenly stumbling back to his quarters. He’s so drunk he sees three of her, and she just shakes her head.

Thirteenth prince Baek-ah and fourteenth prince Jung also leave the party, only to come face to face with a bear… or rather, the general’s daughter, Soon-deok, wearing her bear pelt. Baek-ah recognizes her immediately, and she just brushes past them with a surly look on her face, intent on getting to her target.

Eun is over the moon when Su shows him the party spread she’s prepared for him, and is more than happy to wear the silly birthday hat she’s made for him. Su thanks him for being the first friend she made in Goryeo, and tells him she has an even more special gift: She sings “Happy Birthday” for him, while adding some flourishes of her own. Wait, is that… the robot? Is she doing the robot?

So sees the display and laughs, much to Princess Yeonhwa’s ire. The other princes soon come upon them, with Crown Prince Mu revealing that he was in on the plot to let Court Lady Oh let Su take the day. It’s hilarious how all the princes get after ninth prince Won for comparing Su to a gisaeng, even though he meant it in the good way. (Gisaeng were known for their singing and dancing, which wasn’t a very common practice for noble ladies.)

But the boys all want her to sing for them too, even though Eun would rather keep her all to himself. Su obliges, and they all fall silent as she launches into a simple, yet thoroughly modern song. So and Wook seem most entranced by her, but it seems safe to say that all the boys have now fallen under her spell.

So seems especially moved, and once he becomes aware of it, he awkwardly leaves. A morose-looking Soon-deok watches from beneath her bear suit—is she looking at Eun? I can’t tell.

Jealous over Su’s little display, Princess Yeonhwa tries to send her off when the boys aren’t looking. Su doesn’t take kindly to the princess reminding her of her place, but luckily, Crown Prince Mu intervenes. It was he who gave Su permission to throw the party, because Eun enjoys spending time with her. That was the present he thought to give to his little brother.

Princess Yeonhwa acts nice as she takes her leave, but not before shooting Su a terrible glare. The crown prince and Su get to share a friendly moment, with him thanking her for helping him, and Su promising to help him in the future if he ever needs it.

Eun gets his presents next, and while some are toys (which he loves), Jung gifts him a book, which he’s much less happy about. Wook and Su smile at each other as Eun opens his gifts, but then they all get a shock when Soon-deok, still dressed as a bear, lays a paw on Eun’s shoulder.

It takes a moment for Eun to recognize her as Grand General Park’s daughter, and she stutters that the pelt is for him as she hands it over. She stutters enough for it to seem like a problem, and Eun breaks her poor heart by not liking her gift. (From the sound of it, she used to gift him bear pelts when they were younger, which he didn’t even like back then.)

So takes some time to himself, but he can’t stop from thinking about Su. Baek-ah tries to bring him back to the festivities, and resorts to pulling him back when So doesn’t want to go.

Inside, Yo seems to deliberately ask Eun what gift So gave him, only for Eun to reply that it was enough that So even came. Yo claims that there’s a special present only So could give before whispering something to Eun, only for him to reply that So wouldn’t give him something like that. I wonder what game Yo’s playing.

Eun runs over to Su to ask if she knows anything about the gift, and if she can help him get it. That’s when Baek-ah drags So back into the party, and he can’t help but smile a little when he catches Su smiling at him.

Yo puts So on the spot for not getting a gift, so So offers to get his younger brother anything he wants in return. Eun makes him promise, and once he does, Eun innocently asks: “Show me your face without the mask!” So that’s what Yo suggested. What a douche.

Crown Prince Mu admonishes Eun for asking for such a gift, and Eun ends up implicating Su in the plot, because he can’t seem to take a hint. So relents and carefully unties his mask in front of everyone.

Revealing his whole face, his scarred face, causes Princess Yeonhwa’s hand to go to her mouth in shock. So locks eyes with Su before he finally can’t take anymore and leaves. Yo laughs, and Yeonhwa demands that Eun apologize to his older brother. Crown Prince Mu admonishes the lot of them, but mostly Yo, for exploiting people’s weak spots far too often.

Yo scoffs at the crown prince’s words, and wonders aloud if he must’ve taken it personally when he said Mu’s in-laws were too lowly, and that he had a lot of nerve to remain as crown prince. Yikes.

Su chases after So, who ends up taking out his frustration on her. She tries to get him to stay so that he can hear Eun’s apology or else he’ll rip all the brothers apart, but So uses the hand she lays on his own to push her up against a column.

“Look at me. Look at me properly!” he commands, face to face with her now. “That look… that look in your eyes… I hate it so much that it makes me crazy.”

Su can only stare at him with that look, and he stares right back.

 
COMMENTS

Way to go, Eun. You’re young, but you’re not so young that you wouldn’t understand social cues, or the difference between right and wrong. It would’ve made more sense if he was still drunk, but he seemed to sober up rather quickly between the first round of festivities and the third—why’d he have to go and do that? And just when So was trying to be an accommodating older brother, too.

It feels like So gets kicked every time he’s even remotely happy, which is more of a reason for him to turn his back against the world than if he were to get kicked every time he was down. Every moment of happiness has to be earned, and it always comes at a cost, so it figures that So would be extra wary of opening up to others and becoming vulnerable. And though Yo might disagree, what So did in unmasking himself took more guts than it would’ve taken to just keep his mask on. He made a promise, and he had his pride to consider. Now, all bets are off.

This now seems like a minor issue when there’s such systemic editing problems going on, but I do wish the production had been a bit braver with So’s scar. Though the show established how unwanted any bodily flaws are among royalty, enough to justify why So would be ashamed of even light scarring on his face, it’s not enough to even distract from how pretty he is. I totally realize that’s hardly a valid complaint, but it would’ve been truly tragic if the scar was more than just a couple scratches, enough for So to feel like he had to hide that ugliness from the world. Right now, we have to kind of put ourselves in the time period to understand just how big of a deal that scar is—of course, it wouldn’t be pretty in any time period. Maybe it’s just that Lee Jun-ki sells it too well, so on this side of the screen I’m just left to think that the scar isn’t as distracting as it seems meant to be. Again, hardly a complaint, I know.

I like that this episode more or less established So’s crush on Su, and for once, warranted an actual flashback montage of their moments together. We needed to be reminded that they did have these meaningful moments, and it would make sense that So didn’t think much of them until his new feelings came to light. Now, he remembers every moment because it means something, which means trouble is bound to brew for the too-cute Wook and Su couple. (That calligraphy scene? Stick a fork in me, I was done.)

It’s a bit harder to reconcile the vulnerable So we’ve kinda sorta come to know with the cold-hearted, brutal prince that he can be, and nothing brought that more into focus than So’s conversation with Grand General Park. Though we barely got to see General Park, it became clear that his moral compass operates much differently than So’s—and that So, even when reminded of this, would choose to stand by his horrific actions without even a shred of remorse. It didn’t seem like false bravado as much as So being fully convinced that what he did was just and good, which is actually more frightening than if he was just putting up a front. Don’t let the dark side have you, So!

On the other hand, it was refreshing to see Su having more interaction with the princes, which helped to justify their attentiveness toward her. While it’s still strange to think of the levelheaded crown prince temporarily losing his mind, it served to help him see that Su only ever means well, effectively netting her another strong ally. Plus, that birthday party was adorable, and even more so because the crown prince sanctioned it. Regardless, Eun’s going to have to work to make up for what he just pulled, birthday or no. Good luck.

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788 September 19, 2016September 19, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 8

by HeadsNo2

Now it feels like we’ve finally dispensed with the setup to get to the actual meat of the character interactions, which is a definite plus in my book. Even if everything in this hour revolves around a newly introduced (and swiftly resolved) problem, it at least gives our heroine more opportunities to form new alliances, or to strengthen the ones she already has. One thing’s for sure—her makeup brings all the boys to the yard.

 
EPISODE 8 RECAP

Continuing straight from where we left off last week, So demands that Su look at his scarred face properly. He tells her how he hates that look she gave him, and adds that he doesn’t ever want to see it from her again.

Confused, Su asks him what look he’s talking about. Growing angrier, So claims that it’s a look of pity, and he doesn’t need her, of all people, to feel sorry for him. As he slowly loosens his grip on her wrist, he leaves her with a warning: “Stay out of my sight. Next time… I don’t know what I’ll do to you.”

Su is left to lean against the same column for support after he leaves, looking more than a little dazed and concerned by their encounter.

That night, So is back to wearing his mask as he lies under the stars in Astronomer Choi’s tower. Thirteenth prince Baek-ah finds his older brother in much more agreeable spirits as he apologizes for not putting a stop to the unmasking earlier. For the record, he also adds that errant tenth prince Eun regrets what he did.

So mentions that Baek-ah didn’t look at him when he unmasked himself, and Baek-ah replies that he was worried it would upset So if he did. So sighs that feelings are so fickle—he can be mad at one person for looking, and one person for not looking. Yeah, tell us about it.

At least Baek-ah stands up for Su, who he says was just manipulated by the much-eyeliner’d third prince Yo. So cuts him off, not wanting to hear any more about Su.

Along with Court Lady Oh, Su attends to the king’s morning routine, which includes a light smattering of cosmetics. He backhandedly reminds Su of her place when it comes to the princes, who she admits she hasn’t seen much of lately, before Court Lady Oh coifs the king’s hair into a topknot.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong intervenes in this process, demanding that the court lady allow her to do the tending. She’s offended by the simple wooden pin Court Lady Oh was to use to secure the topknot, until King Taejo informs the queen that he’s dressing simply to reflect the drought their nation is suffering.

In keeping with that theme, all the princes enjoy the personalized tea Su serves them—well, all except for So, who admonishes her for serving tea when there’s such a drought going on.

Su takes Baek-ah aside afterward to make sure he didn’t make a mistake in telling her all of So’s favorite things to eat and drink. It’s funny when Baek-ah comments that he had to give her everyone’s favorites so it would be less obvious that she was catering specifically to So, which is why it upsets her that So rejected her offer.

She’s frustrated that So seems to only be angry with her, which even Baek-ah confirms—he forgave Eun right away, so why is he still so sore at Su? Baek-ah has a suspicion, but Su tries to bow out before the other court ladies see them.

Unfortunately, Baek-ah intentionally doesn’t let her go, which only makes things look worse. Su is punished by the other girls and by Court Lady Oh, who warns her to stay away from the princes and out of trouble.

Soon-deok, Grand General park’s daughter, finally works up the courage to face tenth prince Eun directly. Her stuttering problem prevents her from getting her thoughts out properly, and Eun is doubly unhelpful, his only concern being that the drought has left him with nothing to do.

But she has a solution to his boredom, and takes him to a spot where she’s set a trap. Eun is too impatient to wait, but Soon-deok pulls him down when she sees a bird approach the trap. The fact that she gets to hold Eun’s hand, however inadvertently, makes her break out into a wide grin.

They wait for the right opportunity to spring the trap, and Eun couldn’t be more excited that they’ll get to eat it… at least until Soon-deok breaks the bird’s neck. Disgusted, he calls her a murderer and leaves, and poor, clueless Soon-deok is left to wonder if he was upset because he wanted to eat the bird alive. Hah.

Her father watches the display and tsks from a distance, eventually sitting down with his daughter to cook the bite-sized bird. It’s adorable how he tries to attack Eun’s lack of manliness to make his daughter feel better: “What kind of man can’t even catch a bird?” Soon-deok: “I can catch them.” Grand General Park: “Then… how can he protect his wife and children!” Soon-deok: “I can protect us.”

It’s both funny and sad that Soon-deok has accounted for all these possibilities in her mind, though we’re not let in on the whole story between her and Eun. It seems like her father knows that she’s leaning toward Eun, and has given up on dissuading her.

Eighth prince Wook heads over to Damiwon, presumably to see Su, but he finds the doors barred with a note that since the palace will be holding a ritual to bring rain, all outside access will be blocked. Later that night, Su finds a note near her bedside, and is just barely able to make out the Hanja characters to realize that Wook wants to meet her in the secret entrance to the baths.

She grins from ear to ear when she finds him there, and he admits that Chae-ryung told him of the location when he expressed his frustration at being unable to see Su. Aw.

Sitting in the dark cave, Wook remarks on how easy it would be for her to use the tunnel to escape the palace. Su knows this well, but tells him how So told her that there would be no way for her to truly escape the king. Since Damiwon suits her well, she says she’d rather wait until she can leave the palace with the king’s blessing.

“Until then… could you… not forget me?” she asks hesitantly. By way of reply, Wook tells her that if the upcoming rain ritual produces rain, the king will be apt to grant favors accordingly. He’ll request that the king free her from her service, which causes Su’s face to light up from within at the thought of being able to return to his house.

Wook smiles broadly as he says that when she does return, he’ll buy everything she’ll need to make soap, and fill the house with all her favorite supplies. Su jokes that Princess Yeonhwa would hate that, but adds quietly, “I desperately hope it will rain. It has to.” Wook agrees.

She closes her eyes as she rests her head on his shoulder, and Wook can only smile as he holds her hand and leans in closer.

Su helps treat Crown Prince Mu’s condition before he heads off to quell a rebellion caused by the ongoing drought. The crown prince, appreciative of her help and discretion, says that he’s left her a necklace back at Damiwon.

So pops in to tell the crown prince that everything’s ready, looking visibly unhappy to find Su there as well. Once the two are left alone, So seems suspicious of the basket of supplies she’s carrying out of the tent, and sees her being apprehended by Queen Sinmyeongsunseong’s court ladies outside.

Su is brought before the queen and third prince Yo, and is asked to account for her absence. Yo calls her out for being with the crown prince and demands to know what she was up to. The basket she carried is used as evidence against her, and the herbs inside cause the queen to ask Su if the crown prince is ill.

When Su claims to know nothing, the queen grabs her by the hair. So sees this but doesn’t interfere—thankfully, Court Lady Oh does, with a working alibi for Su’s whereabouts.

Though Queen Sinmyeongsunseong questions Court Lady Oh’s claim that she sent Su to tend to the king, the court lady is sharp, and asks if the queen would have preferred that she tend to him herself. After a stare-down, the queen leaves.

So approaches his mother afterward, though as usual, she’s less than thrilled to see him. He’s not as concerned about her demeanor toward him as he is about the way she treats others—most notably Court Lady Oh and Su. No matter how much contempt she has, he cautions her, she should also maintain her dignity. Now the queen can’t help but wonder if this is all because of Su.

Court Lady Oh looks to be having some stomach trouble again, and is in no mood for Su’s gratitude. She turns around and slaps the girl across the face for going against her orders to stay away from the crown prince. Court Lady Oh says she regrets ever taking her in.

This finally seems to break Su, who asks what she’s done so wrong in treating the crown prince. Why shouldn’t she, if she knows how? When Court Lady Oh says she knows nothing of the palace, Su agrees, but then asks why Oh hasn’t bothered to teach her. Why, out of all the other court ladies, does Oh treat her so hatefully?

With a hand over her stomach and sweat on her brow, Court Lady Oh finally says that she gets so upset with Su because she reminds her of herself when she was younger—she’s too trustful and too good. “A girl like you could easily die here,” she says. She adds that she’s worried… but before she can say more, she doubles over in pain.

She wakes in her bed with Su tending to her, though her attempts to be gruff enough to make the girl leave don’t work—now that Su knows she was just being hard on her because she cared about her, she’s not scared of her anymore. Court Lady Oh’s demeanor changes, and soon both she and Su are smiling at each other over the terrible porridge Su made.

King Taejo performs the rain ritual to plead for the heavens to end the drought by kneeling repeatedly in supplication. It’s a strain on his knees and his stamina, so Astronomer Choi suggests that one of the princes take over for him.

In order to make the selection fair, all the princes put their names in a pot to be drawn at random. Yo scares the rest of his brothers by claiming that the people will call for their blood should the ritual fail to bring rain, at least until So aptly points out that the ritual isn’t held to make it rain, it’s held until there’s rain.

“A person cannot move the heavens. We just have to make it look as though they can,” So adds. Lo and behold, his name is chosen by the king to take over the ritual, and So has no choice but to accept.

He doesn’t get to just bow at the temple like his father did—he has to first walk through the capital as part of the ceremony, which subjects him to the ridicule of the people for being more monster than man. Believing that a masked prince won’t help their cause any, they throw stones at him, and sling what might very well be feces on him. (It also looks like mud, but they’re in a drought, so.)

So still does his best to go through with the ritual, offering no verbal complaint. By the time he actually makes it to the palace covered in muck, Queen Sinmyeongsunseong actually smiles to see him so, as does Yo.

Poor So looks frightened from the ordeal, only to shake with anger when he sees even Su looking at first away from him, then right at him. Defeated, he drops the ceremonial jug and runs away.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, pleased with this recent turn of events, has something even worse up her sleeve—she and Yo have conspired to have the crown prince attacked by thieves on his way back to the palace. Yo comments on how he had been the one who hoped to be in charge of the rain ritual, yet So was chosen instead.

The queen believes that it was King Taejo and Astronomer Choi who conspired to make sure So was chosen, having no belief that it was by some divine chance. Even so, she still sees this as an opportunity for Yo to gain more of a foothold to the throne, though we’re not told exactly how.

Su goes looking for So, who she finds napping in a boat (the boat’s stuck in mud due to the drought). She almost falls over, but either Su was faking sleep or his reflexes are so quick that he’s able to pull her to safety.

Of course, that means pulling her down with him, and the two share a moment as they find themselves in such close proximity. Su finally scrambles up to tell him that it’s time for him to come out of hiding now. He shouldn’t take what happened too hard, she adds—the people are just desperate and angry.

So snaps that he doesn’t want her pity, then asks if she knows why she was born. She admits that she’s thought about it, but there’s no answer. She can only determine how she’ll live, and she doesn’t want to live a life controlled by others. “No one in this world has an easy life,” she adds sagely.

He at least pays attention while she talks, but pretends as though he’s above it as he resumes fake-napping. At her advice that he return to the rain ritual and forget what happened, he calls her out for pretending to know everything about the world when she’s still so young.

That night, Su thinks over So’s question about why she thinks she was born and, unable to sleep, she attempts to concoct her own BB cream and succeeds.

It’s the day of the rain ritual, and Crown Prince Mu has yet to show up. Worried that something must have happened to him, Astronomer Choi volunteers to go find the crown prince himself. But since that would mean leaving So to appease the people on his own, So declines.

Astronomer Choi gets on his case about being too obsessed with the scar on his face, and advises him to get over it if he hopes to be able to help the crown prince and resolve his mommy issues. That’s when So realizes that Choi made it so that his name was picked.

The astronomer doesn’t deny it, but adds that he just wanted to help him build his confidence. So sees it as a lowly appointment in and of itself, thinking that Astronomer Choi just needed a slave to perform the ritual until it rained.

“If it rains because of that slave,” the astronomer says, throwing So’s words back at him, “then that slave will become a king!” Ah, so now the plan comes out—he’d only wanted to help So’s standing with his own family and the people, in order to make sure So stood in solidarity with the crown prince. But, he adds, he can only set the table. It’s up to So to take charge of his own destiny.

Resolved, So grabs a new set of ceremonial robes to perform the ritual, only to be stopped by Su, who claims to have found a way to rid him of his mask. Sitting him down before her table of makeup, she takes off his mask. They both look into each other’s eyes for a long, charged moment, until Su brushes his bangs aside to reveal the full extent of the scar.

He grows nervous when she reaches up to touch it, tracing her finger down the long, crooked line. Suddenly, he grabs her by the wrist and asks if she’s not afraid of his face. “Do you feel sorry for me?” She answers back that she can’t feel sorry for someone who’s always threatening her—and besides, the man behind the scar matters more.

She only finds it unfair that he’s had to suffer all his life because of a scar no bigger than the palm of her hand, causing him to search her face as he asks if he can really trust her. Su says that because she’s been betrayed so much in her own life, she will make it so that he can trust her by not changing who she is. If he trusts her, she adds, she won’t betray that trust.

“As long as it’s you… I can put myself in your hands,” So says quietly. “Do as you wish. I am now yours.” (He uses the same language as he did when he said she was “his” earlier on, only now, it’s reversed.)

Su sets to her work in covering his scar as we cut to the king and family waiting for the ritual to resume. The ministers suggest that the king appoint Yo to head the ritual since the crown prince has yet to show.

Feeling sure of himself, Yo tells Astonomer Choi that he should stop expecting the crown prince—he won’t be showing up anytime soon. Subtlety, Yo. Heard of it?

We find Su applying makeup to So’s scar, and once it’s done, she holds up a reflective surface for him to see for himself. He then grabs her by the shoulders when she rises and turns her to face him in all his unscarred beauty.

“Do you remember? I told you that you were mine,” So says. “Then and now, and the moment you touched my face… I decided that you would be mine. So prepare your heart from this point forward. I… will never let you go.”

He leans in as if to kiss her, causing Su to go still with shock. Seeming to sense her reluctance, So doesn’t push things further, and gently loosens his grasp on her shoulders. He leaves, and Su’s hand goes to her wrist, where Wook’s bracelet still rests.

Before Yo can make it to the ceremonial palanquin, So stops him, though he’s back to wearing his mask. He claims that only he and the crown prince have the right to be in the palanquin, and in his anger, Yo punches the mask off his face.

But when So rises from picking it up, Yo can’t believe his eyes. So takes his place in the palanquin and departs, ending up in the same place as before on his march to the palace. The people are ready to start throwing stones again, until they notice that his scar is gone.

Thinking it some sort of divine sign, the people all begin to bow to So as he walks among them, all of them praying for rain. Astronomer Choi looks pleased as he walks behind the prince, but Yo, looking from afar, looks positively murderous.

The royal family is surprised to see So walk back into the palace with the people supporting him rather than throwing stones, which makes the evil queen very, very angry. That, and she expected the son she actually loves to head the ritual.

All the princes react with restrained surprise to see So’s unblemished face, but it’s Wook who seems to figure out how such a thing could’ve happened. He looks over to Su, who’s only got eyes for So. Is that… is that jealousy? Please say yes.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong is at a loss when she sees So’s face, but is unable to say anything as So heads up the steps toward the ceremonial altar. He turns to look at all gathered, his eyes resting specifically on Su. He smiles, she smiles back…

But suddenly the scene in front of her changes. She sees the unmarred So in a king’s garb atop the steps, his smile gone. Just as quickly, the scene returns to normal, but Su is still shaken.

Then, what starts as a few droplets turns into a torrential downpour. There’s surprise and jubilation among the royal family, though Queen Sinmyeongsunseong couldn’t look any more unhappy with all these developments if she tried.

Astronomer Choi just smiles, his plan having worked. Su, however, looks more frightened now than ever as So turns back to look at her. She can’t help from wondering if So will become King Gwangjong, the fourth king of Goryeo.

So turns back toward the altar and smiles a dangerous smile, as the rain washes the makeup away to reveal his scar once more.

 
COMMENTS

That last shot was great, not just because it gave us a frightening glimpse into that side of So we know to be lurking there, but because it’s an actual appropriate use of the close-up. I’ve been deliberately not commenting on PD Kim Kyu-tae’s work in this drama, preferring to wait to see the whole of it before weighing in, though it’s no secret that I’ve found his style and approach problematic over the years. And while he chronically overuses close-ups to the point where they lose their meaning, sometimes, the style yields positive results. In this case, getting close-ups of So’s face sans scar worked very well—getting endless close-ups of Su staring, not so much. But I’ll take what I can get, even if it means relying on luck and an actor’s ability to make some of the more questionable shot choices mean something.

Seeing So look so calculated near the end raises some concerns, the least of which being: How well do we actually know him? Like Astronomer Choi noted, he’s completely capable of killing people, yet completely powerless when it comes to his scar and his own insecurity. I wonder if, by helping to disguise the deformity that’s held So back all this time, Su’s actually created the monster she seems to think King Gwangjong is. That seems to be the reason she suddenly saw a flash of the future (or imagined it), of So as king with a scarless face. Which also brings up a whole host of questions about how Su is or isn’t impacting history with her presence in the past. It’s not an issue the show seemed to want to touch with a ten foot pole until now, and even then, I don’t know if they were making the direct correlation that Su just opened the door for So to become King Gwangjong. Or maybe they were, who knows.

I wish So had gotten more of a moment with the mirror before he turned all his attention to Su, if only because it would’ve been nice to see more of a meaningful reaction from him after he saw the one thing that’s held him back his entire life just disappear before his eyes. It seems like such a missed opportunity to not showcase the range of emotions we can only imagine he had at seeing himself as normal. But at least we got a glimpse of it in his thankfulness toward Su, despite there being more to their moment than just gratitude.

But one did get the feeling that all So’s ever wanted is someone he could trust and depend on, and maybe even love—it’s difficult to separate his need to be accepted and wanted by his mother with the solace he’s now found in Su. All that acceptance he could never get from Mommy Dearest, he suddenly has from Su. All that compassion he wanted, he now has. So it’s not so out of line to believe that all he needed from Su was her permission to trust her in order to fall for her completely, enough to where he’d declare himself to be hers. Granted, he also declared her to be his, but at least this time was an even trade, an “I am yours, and you are mine,” sort of scenario. It would’ve been nice to get Su’s input on this, but there’s plenty of time.

At least she grasped enough of the situation with So to think of Wook’s bracelet, which symbolizes the promise she made with him. What’s extra interesting about them is how the show even reinforced their relationship this episode—while it was left to Wook to tell her to wait for him last episode, it was Su who more or less asked the same of him this round. I’ve come to love those two together so much that I’m worried about all the conflict that last sequence of scenes promised (in the best way possible), with Wook looking at Su, and Su looking at So. Don’t break his smolder, Moon Lovers. Pretty please?

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1,205 September 20, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 9

by HeadsNo2

Our poor hero just can’t catch a break most days. Just when things start to look up for him and he dares to hope for more, it all comes crashing down around him. It doesn’t help that Su blames him for things he hasn’t even done yet, leaving him without someone he can reliably depend on and call his own. Then again, maybe she does have reason to be afraid, when he’ll do anything it takes to keep her.

 
EPISODE 9 RECAP

The moment Su looks at So and wonders if he will become King Gwangjong, Astronomer Choi turns as if he’s heard her. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong leaves the ceremonial grounds in a rage, while the people in the capital dance in the streets, celebrating the downpour.

“A hero is born,” ninth prince Won says of So, who seems to have brought on the drought-ending rain by his mere presence at the ritual. While he wonders how So managed to cover his scar, fourteenth prince Jung guesses he must have used someone skilled in cosmetics… and Wook, hearing this, turns to look at Su. He knows.

As So completes his ritualistic bowing, Su realizes with certainty now that So will become King Gwangjong, who was known for killing his brothers and other family members in his quest for the throne. She sends a worried look toward Wook’s back.

The townspeople rejoice as So is carried through the capital in a palanquin, but Su looks more frightened than anything. She worries that she’s helped make it possible for So to become King Gwangjong by covering his scar, before swiftly denying this to herself—according to history, So would’ve become King Gwangjong with or without her help… right?

She can’t stop from worrying that So is going to kill his brothers, and doesn’t snap out of it when Wook grabs her in celebration. “Will they all die because of me?” she wonders, her eyes distant. “That person… will he become like that because of me?”

Looking up at Wook, she urges him to stay safe as her eyes return to So’s retreating form. Wook follows her gaze, but whatever she’s saying must sound like nonsense to him.

Third prince Yo rails against his bad luck in not being chosen for the ceremony, since all the glory is now So’s. His mother is even harder on him as she slaps him across the cheek for letting So take his place. He apologizes, saying it was a mistake, but the evil queen ruthlessly responds that there is no room for mistakes.

If she is to become a king’s mother, she spits, then Yo must be ruthless. While the queen vows to set Damiwon on fire because of Su, Yo looks like he’s seeing his real mother for the first time.

So pays a visit to his father and Crown Prince Mu, who returned later than planned due to his being waylaid by thieves. His father is proud of So, and is even happy to see his son’s full face for the first time in many, many years.

“Show your face to the world now and be confident,” King Taejo says. He also tells So to devote himself to helping the crown prince build a strong nation, and that he’s put his trust in him. So seems overwhelmed by his father’s acceptance, and even the crown prince seems happy for his little brother.

Su is still out of it when Wook finds shelter for them underneath an eave, and can only nod when he asks her if she covered So’s scar. He thinks she’s worried she’ll be punished for touching the face of a prince, but tells her not to be—she did a good thing.

That’s not what eases her worries as much as him telling her that nothing changes just because So stood in for the crown prince at the ceremony. Wook is on a different frequency as he says that the king is sure to grant her freedom now, but Su says she can’t just do nothing, and runs off to find Astronomer Choi.

“Do you know who the next king will be?” she asks. Astronomer Choi smiles that it’ll be the crown prince as long as nothing changes. Su asks about who’ll take the throne after him, and Choi says that it will be Gwangjong. That’s what she said, wasn’t it?

Then, Astronomer Choi tells her that when he was a child, he drowned and came back to life. This sounds familiar to Su for many reasons, and it seems like Choi knows why as he explains how different he was once he came back. Now, he sees things—though whether they’re from a dream or not, he can’t be sure.

Once, he tells her, he saw a big bird carrying people in the sky (airplane), and even a building as high as the sky with countless people (skyscraper). Su doesn’t voice her theory that he may very well be from the future like she is, but that he maybe can’t remember because he was so young at the time.

“I also heard that you died and came back,” Astronomer Choi notes, “so I wondered if you had the gift of foresight like I do.” He tells her she can ask what she truly wishes of him, but Su has too many questions to voice all at once: Will So become King Gwangjong? Will he kill his brothers? What will happen to Wook?

Instead, all she can ask is, “What should I do?” Astronomer Choi’s answer is a firm, “Nothing.” Regardless, Su is convinced that she can change the terrible course fate is about to take.

Princess Yeonhwa tries to goad her brother, Wook, into being jealous of So for leading the rain ritual. He doesn’t bite, or at least he doesn’t outwardly seem to, as Yeonhwa says that now So might be getting other ideas. Wook notes that Su said So might change as well.

But then again, Wook thinks it’s a good thing for So to receive the king’s favor after so many years of harsh, unfriendly treatment. Yeonhwa presses him for more information about Su, who he says was the one to cover So’s scar, and who now fears something will happen because of what she did.

Wook, however, may not be as without ambition as we thought. He muses, more to himself than anything, that there must be a place he’s designated to fill. “What could it be? I am very curious.”

While walking through the palace, Su suddenly finds herself in So’s arms. She screams and pulls away, absolutely terrified. So thinks she was just surprised by his sudden grab, having no idea that what she’s afraid of is actually him.

He’s happy to tell her that he was able to call the king “Father” for the first time in his life. It had been fifteen years since he looked at his face properly, he adds, and yet the king told him to be confident. With a smile, So adds that all the pain he suffered seemed to disappear when the king told him that. Aw, sad.

“Everyone keeps thanking me,” he goes on. No one thinks him frightening, or calls him a monster. “I’m starting to like myself this way. The one who made me this way is you, Hae Su.” Now, Su has a hard time believing that the So she’s seeing right now could become as cruel as the Gwangjong history knows.

Even though she remembers what Astronomer Choi said about not getting involved, Su thinks it’s her duty to help change So’s future. Out of the blue, she gives him advice to hold in his anger no matter how bad it gets, and to definitely not kill anyone.

That’s when Su resolves that she can and will change the future and his fate, in order to save everyone from misery.

Now that it’s time to find Grand General Park’s daughter a husband, King Taejo looks through his roster of sons for a good match. It’s hilarious how General Park cites reasons why each prince suggested won’t work, because he knows how much his daughter loves the tenth prince, Eun.

When he finally leads both King Taejo and Astronomer Choi to that conclusion, they seem very surprised by his preference. Hah.

The king pays a visit to the princes, commending each of them on their hard work–especially So. In return, he says So may ask a favor from him, and So looks over at Su as he asks the king… to give her to him. Whoa, what?

King Taejo acquiesces to this, and promotes Su up a rank so that she can serve So directly (still as a court lady, though). Wook contains his unease as the king announces that there will also be a royal wedding: Eun is to be married to Soon-deok, General Park’s daughter.

Of course, Eun doesn’t understand how being a prince works, and says that he refuses the marriage. He even drops to his knees to beg the king to withdraw his command: “If you insist on this marriage, I would rather die.” It’s only when Crown Prince Mu urges him to thank the king for his grace does Eun reluctantly do so.

But as he rises, a bag of marbles drops from his sleeve, seeming to emphasize just how young and unprepared Eun really is. Ninth prince Won takes it upon himself to give Eun terrible advice about women, like how they’re all the same after the first night. As for him, he can’t even get his first and second wives straight sometimes.

Won attempts to brighten Eun’s spirits by taking him to watch a fight, but he wasn’t aware that Soon-deok was in it. Eun won’t be deterred, and sees Soon-deok wrestle fourteenth prince Jung and win. You go, girl.

On the day Su’s set to leave Damiwon, she hands Wook a gift, which she says is for the bracelet he gave her. Inside is a silk pillow she made, since Lady Hae had wanted her to become a pillow for him. Methinks Su took the meaning literally rather than figuratively, which is why Wook looks a bit disappointed.

In return though, Wook gifts her a book, which Su isn’t too pleased about because of all the work it involves. Wook laughs, then shows her that it isn’t any normal book—it’s a flip book, making the drawings inside look as though they’re moving.

And, adorably, the drawings are of Su and Wook’s walk in the snow. He drew it himself, much to Su’s joy, and she happily flips through the pages. Wook’s expression grows grave as he tells her that because there will be a royal marriage, it means that a court lady won’t be released from service this round.

Su takes this in for a moment before replying that they’ll be sure to get another chance. Wook’s not so sure, but Su tells him that as long as he’s willing to wait for her, she’ll wait for him. What she doesn’t say is, “I asked you to wait for me because I did not wish to tell you that I was worried. Because I felt like something would go wrong.”

Wook tells her that when it snows again, they’ll walk the same path featured in the flip book. “I will wait,” Su says, with tears brimming in her eyes. Wook pulls her into an embrace and tells her, “I love you.” She wraps her arms around him and smiles into his shoulder. Omo omo.

While helping brew the king’s tea, Su suddenly receives a warning from Court Lady Oh to be careful of So. Now that she’s shown him affection, she has to be straight with him if she’s not going to give him her whole heart. “What if I can change that person’s life?” Su ventures.

Court Lady Oh says she once loved a common man who she thought would give up everything to be with her. But in the end, he rose to a position far out of her reach, and that’s why she believes that there’s no sense in trying to change a person. (I wonder if the man she’s talking about is King Taejo.)

Su gives So her makeup tips as she helps to cover his scar again, so that eventually, he’ll be able to do it himself. She even writes out a guide so that he can make the mixture himself should he need to. It makes So curious as to why she’s distancing herself—she, the girl who loves to talk, is now being demure. Once Court Lady Oh gives her an out, Su tells him that she’s been immature, and is making an effort to change that.

The not-so-common girl we first saw reprimanding thirteenth prince Baek-ah for mocking commoners, WOO-HEE (Seohyun), is now dressed in her finest silks as she does a sword dance in the middle of the forest. She’s not as good as she’d like to be, and becomes distracted when she hears a nearby bamboo flute.

It’s Baek-ah, playing for a group of children. They see the swords in her hands and panic, but she reassures them that she was only practicing a sword dance. Baek-ah recognizes her from before, and demands that she pay for the drawings she ripped from his notebook.

If she can’t, he claims, she can pay him by showing him her sword dance. She’s less than thrilled at the idea, claiming she doesn’t dance for strange men, and she certainly doesn’t believe him when he introduces himself. He’s just about to tell her that he really is the thirteenth prince, but she disappears when she spots her two attendants lurking nearby.

But where she stood, Baek-ah finds a gold norigae pendant she left behind.

It’s Eun’s wedding day, and Su finds herself accosted by the soon-to-be bride as Soon-deok asks for her help in getting through to the tenth prince. Su is reluctant to interfere, which Soon-deok thinks must be due to her feelings for him. She promises that Su can become Eun’s second wife if she helps her now, which is really not the time for Su to be silent.

Eun has apparently locked himself in his room, and just as fourteenth prince Jung is about to break down the door, Soon-deok arrives with Su. Su’s able to get him to open the door for her, and she slips inside to have a chat with him.

Of course, Eun is drunk as a skunk, and Su has to grab the bottle away from him. “You don’t know how I feel,” he whines. Su does know, and replies that he likes her, but is having to marry another woman he doesn’t like.

It becomes clear where Soon-deok got the whole “second wife” idea from when Eun asks Su if she’ll take the job. Despite him promising to be good to her, Su says she doesn’t want to share her husband. “Liar,” he calls her. “Even if I had asked you to be my first wife, you would have said no.” Awww.

Sinking to the floor, Eun admits that he’s always known himself to be a fool, which must be why she doesn’t like him. “I was happiest whenever I was with you,” Su says, as she extols his virtues. “You laugh when you’re happy, and you know to cry when you’re sad.” That, she claims, is why she was always at ease when she was around him.

But Eun doesn’t want that kind of consolation, and calls her cruel for giving it. “If I said I was sorry, that would truly be cruel, wouldn’t it?” she asks. That’s when Eun asks if she ever truly liked him, and with a small smile, Su says she still likes him very much.

And with that, she wishes him happiness and leaves. Eun follows her out of the room, ready to go through with the marriage, much to Soon-deok’s joy.

At the ceremony, Eun and his wife are showered with gifts from his brothers, which Soon-deok is more than grateful for. Her father, Grand General Park, watches from afar and grudgingly notes that if she were to grin any wider, her face would simply split. Aww, what a good dad.

Su also watches the festivities, but the scene of So’s bright, laughing face suddenly changes before her again. In her vision, she sees So laughing with blood splattered on his face as he cuts down Eun and his new bride.

She staggers backward when she comes back to reality, though Wook and So notice the terror on her face. Wook follows her as she runs off. “Be careful of Wang So.” She tells him in a trembling voice. “Stay away from him. Don’t ever try to stop him. If you try… you will all die.”

Wook grabs her by the shoulders to seek some clarity, but Su is too overcome. She wants to leave the palace, she says, and in answer, he pulls her into an embrace. He promises her that he’ll help her to leave, and tells her that everything will be okay. Poor Su can only cry.

Once the newlyweds are alone, Eun attempts to lay down the law with his wife: “We may be married, but I can’t acknowledge you as my wife.” He plans to keep living exactly the way he did before, but she reminds him that they’re formally married.

She also tells him of an old principle that a true union lasts a thousand years, which means a married couple’s conjugal harmony lasts a hundred years. This language is beyond Eun, who wonders how he’ll ever grow fond of her.

On that note, he says he’ll be needing all the bed, and presumes to fake sleep. Soon-deok, kind soul that she is, watches him for a time while smiling, then makes her bed on the floor. After she’s out, Eun sighs, “You said to just wait until the first snowfall. Hae Su, you’re a cruel liar.”

Elsewhere, Wook muses over what Su said to him, repeating it multiple times: “Be careful of Wang So. Don’t ever try to stop him.”

After the king gives third prince Yo his “new appointment” to leave the palace, thus giving So his old responsibilities, Yo asks Astronomer Choi if the king is casting him aside. Choi denies it, but he’s no fan of Yo’s greed and ambition, and makes that much known. Yo just warns him to wait and see what he’ll come up with.

That seems to involve a tense family dinner with Queen Sinmyeongsunseong and her three full sons, Yo, So, and Jung. The strange thing is, the evil queen acts cordial to So, even going so far as to compliment him. You guys better not do something awful to him, I swear.

Yo and the queen turn the conversation toward So taking Yo’s responsibilities in the palace while he’s away, which will involve him being in close proximity with the crown prince. Only then does So figure out the game they’re playing, and his mother clarifies: “Kill the crown prince. It isn’t the first time you’ve killed someone for me. Will you do it?”

So asks his mother if that’s what she truly wants, before responding that… he’ll do it? But then he adds that after he does, he’ll sit on the throne. All she wants is a son of hers as king, right? Why can’t he be that son, and not Yo?

As evidence, So claims that he has heaven’s will behind him (as evidenced by the rain ritual), and Yo only has his in-laws. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong claims that Yo is destined to become king, and So laughs. But he does ask what would happen if he were to sit on the throne, causing his mother to quip that he must think he can do anything just because of “a few brush strokes.”

This seems to get to So, but of course, she doesn’t stop there. She claims that the only reason he was chosen for the rain ritual rather than the crown prince was so that he’d be the one who would pay with blood if it didn’t rain. His father, she adds, used him.

So refutes this, saying that he didn’t just let himself be used—he knew what he was getting himself into. After he leaves, Yo comments to his mother that they may as well sever their ties with So. Jung finally speaks up to ask his mother why she gave birth to them if she was going to raise them as enemies. Good question.

Outside, So chides himself for daring to expect more from that family meal than what he was given. Aww. He approaches Su’s quarters, and we can see her huddled in a terrified ball inside.

Getting too stuffy inside, she rushes out for some fresh air. So finds her, and grabs her into a backhug when she attempts to run from him. “Let go of me,” she says, but he asks her to just stay like this for a moment. She wrests herself from his grasp and says, “I’m afraid of you!”

Poor So looks like he’s just been punched in the gut as he all but whispers that she said she wasn’t afraid of him. “I thought I could change things,” she stammers. “I was wrong. You will ruin everything in the end! Go! You’re better off running far away from here!”

“Not you as well!” So shouts as he advances toward her. “Don’t try to push me away. Don’t tell me to leave. Don’t tell me that I bring misfortune, and that I am a beast. You, at the very least, cannot do that to me. Because you… are mine.”

He grabs her as he says this, but Su only replies that she isn’t his. “You are mine,” he stresses. “You belong to me. You are mine! Without my permission, you cannot leave me, nor can you die. You are completely mine.”

And then, he swoops in to kiss her. Su tenses against him.

 
COMMENTS

Well. Uh. Hm. That was… intense. That was pretty intense. Right, I should write some words here. Just give me a second—we’ll talk about some other things first.

I have to admit to being a bit confused as to the visions Su’s having of the future. At first I thought that her overactive imagination was just inserting So into what she thought he’d look like as King Gwangjong, but the vision of him killing Eun and his new wife in cold blood was much too specific to seem like anything but an actual flash of the future. But, given that the show hasn’t touched on Su wondering where these visions are coming from, it also seems possible that it is just her putting two and two together. They really do seem like glimpses of the future though, no matter which way you slice it.

There seemed to be a lot of promise in Su’s resolution to change the future, but then we arrived at the end to hear her say that she thought she could, but now believes she can’t. When did she try? Or was it supposed to count when she told So not to kill people? I wish we were able to get a glimpse into Su’s thoughts when it comes to her relationship with history, or even her perceived relationship with it. She swapped back and forth between thinking that she could change history, to giving vague warnings, to giving up on the idea wholesale. I’m sure this isn’t the end of her struggle with the matter, and there seems to be no better way to make her confront it than what So’s unintentionally doing right now.

I felt so bad for So during that most awkward of family dinners—he always has his guard up, but sometimes, you can just see him want so desperately to be able to put it down for just one second. Which is why he finds solace in Su, and why it’s so doubly sad that even she’s turned against him now.

That last scene had a lot going on, and more than anything else, it served to make So and Su’s relationship the most compelling one in the series. I wasn’t expecting that to be honest, but it came on like a freight train. It’s not just another romance for Su, or a romantic rival for Wook—So is a very dangerous man, capable of doing terrible things, and Su knows that. What she’ll do with that knowledge is the big question, especially now that she’s more or less stuck with him as his court lady.

And it all only serves to make So more complicated, so that we can’t sort our feelings out one way or the other. On the one hand, we have the son striving for acceptance, wanting desperately to be wanted. That’s the So we saw when he approached Su, and why he looked so heartbroken when she, of all people, said she was afraid of him. He could’ve been more delicate in his reply to that, but tensions were running high, and since he has massacred people and burned a temple down in the past, we can safely say that he doesn’t tend to make the wisest decisions when emotions are involved. He was raised killing wolves, so maybe we can’t exactly hold it against him that he doesn’t know how to properly communicate his feelings. Or maybe we can. Only time will tell.

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675 September 26, 2016September 26, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 10

by HeadsNo2

Our heroine now has two suitors with two completely different approaches vying for her affections, and with restrictions aplenty, hers doesn’t seem the most enviable position to be in. Despite everyone having something to say in the matter, ultimately the choice is up to Su, even if that means she’ll have to find a way to make her voice heard if she hopes to change her present, much less the future.

 
EPISODE 10 RECAP

After his “You are mine” speech, So goes in for the kiss, and Su struggles weakly against him. Then, she goes still as a tear runs down her cheek. Only then does So pull away, his eyes intent on her face, her shaking hands.

He stumbles backward, regret over his actions seeping in. Su continues to cry silently until So grabs her by the wrist and pulls her after him. Next thing we see is fourteenth prince Jung spotting the two leaving the palace on horseback.

Jung reports what he saw to Wook, who’s in disbelief that Su would have left the palace in the first place—and with So, for that matter. He loses his temper at the fact that she, a court lady, left the palace, though Jung says that So wouldn’t have been concerned about breaking that most sacred of rules. If anyone’s going to pay, it’ll be Su.

That’s what Jung is worried about the most, and he won’t accept Wook’s order for him to just stay in the palace. He wants to help Wook look for Su, since he knows what would happen to her if she gets caught. Wook apologizes for still thinking of Jung as a child, and accepts his offer to help.

We find the two escapees looking out at the sunrise on horseback, and their conversation can only be heard in voiceover as Su notes that neither of them will be safe now. “Then should we run away?” So’s voice replies. “If you want to, I will.”

On their feet now, So explains that he had been wanting to bring her here. She looks up at him as he offers a small smile in return, but her gaze returns to the rolling waves. He asks her if she still wants him to leave the palace, claiming that he’s never brought misfortune or used his sword without caring for the costs.

Only now does Su try to convince herself that the visions she saw of So as King Gwangjong must have been a hallucination, and even if they weren’t, she should still try to stop him. When she speaks, she gives him platitudes about living life with a smile (and without spilling blood) no matter where he ends up living.

So says she needs to just say the word and he’ll run away with her, but Su insists that as a court lady, she can’t leave the palace. But the real reason is much more complicated: “I have feelings for another.” So: “Baek-ah?” Hah. Okay, he really is clueless.

When she says it isn’t, So says it’s fine as long as it’s not Baek-ah. Because he’d have to kill whoever it is she does have feelings for, and he likes Baek-ah. “You already belonged to me the day Yeonhwa was beating you and I called you mine,” he adds. “You saw me for who I was. There was no need for explanations or excuses.”

As far as her being afraid of him, he says he doesn’t believe it. “You are the only one on my side. Therefore, I am not sorry for anything. Not for kissing you, or for bringing you out here.” He adds that he won’t be sorry even if he makes threats against her for having feelings for another man, and hands her a hairpin.

Su shakes her head as she looks down at the gift, insisting that she’d only meant to help him, and that she never intended for him to have feelings for her. “Try running away from me then,” he says with a smile. Putting the hairpin in her hands, he tells her she can throw it away if she so chooses.

Wook and Jung see them on the road and promptly dismount, with Su worrying that her absence from the palace has already been noted. Wook looks positively livid as So makes it so that Jung can’t escort Su off the horse. He’ll be the one to return her to the palace.

At least Wook has enough sense to tell him that people will start to talk if they return to the palace together, but So counters that the king already gave Su to him. “Gave her to you?” Wook repeats the words, clearly not liking the taste of them in his mouth.

But then Su inexplicably says that she’ll go back to the palace with So, leaving Wook and Jung with no other options. I wonder if it’s because So would have to take the responsibility of removing her from the palace rather than the two other princes, but it’s hard to be sure.

Wook makes So promise that nothing will happen to Su on his watch before he lets them set off. “This is the last time I’ll send her away like this,” Wook tells Jung, a dangerous look in his eyes.

So brings Su back to a waiting Court Lady Oh, and immediately takes the blame for removing Su from the palace. Once he leaves, Court Lady Oh blames Su’s small act of kindness as the reason why So’s feelings have gotten out of control, and the only advice she has is for Su to wait for So’s feelings to subside.

Third prince Yo imparts some tips on archery to Wook, who keeps missing the mark. Yo claims that he always imagines a person as the target, and in this case, he’s clearly imagining So as he hits the target time and again. While Wook claims to take the higher road, he keeps missing, and Yo tsks at what he perceives as weakness.

Yo knows that the king is sending him away from the palace to die, but he’s resolved that he’ll come back safe and sound. He plants the seed of doubt in Wook’s mind as to who he should be targeting in the meantime—and Wook, seemingly filled with new resolve, draws his bow and fires. It’s a bullseye.

Su and Wook meet again in the not-so-secret cave beneath the baths, where she tries to explain that she only chose to return with So to be sure that Wook wouldn’t get in trouble. “I am not angry,” Wook assures her. “I am just disappointed.” Oof, that’s always worse.

Wook claims that he was always too busy worrying about the consequences of taking her out of Damiwon, yet while he was agonizing, So took the action that he couldn’t. Now, he says that he’ll request the king’s permission to marry her.

Her eyes widen at this, and Wook explains that he almost lost her to the king—he won’t make the mistake of losing her again. Su was the one who brought joy and laughter back into his life, and because of that, he’s willing to leave the palace to live the rest of his days with her, and give her all the love he never gave Lady Hae.

“Therefore, Su… will you be my wife?” Su’s instantly flooded with conflicting thoughts, as she tells herself that he won’t ever change, nor will he ever hurt her. (Is she using So as a point of comparison?) She would be happy with him. But if Gwangjong were to kill him…

Wook doesn’t get to hear any of this inner monologue, so he’s left to wonder if she no longer wants to be with him. Su says that isn’t so, prompting Wook to ask for an answer: “Will you marry me?”

Before she can answer, Court Lady Oh intervenes to take the two to task for their secret meeting. If word were to get out, Su would be killed, and Wook would be stripped of his rank and punished. Why do I get the feeling that she’s pro-So?

Once they’re alone, Court Lady Oh asks Su to leave the palace with her while she recuperates from her illness. In reality, she’s known about Su and Wook, and wants to remove Su from what she sees as a dangerous situation.

Su disagrees, saying that Wook asked her to marry him, and she wants to say yes. Court Lady Oh’s disapproval couldn’t be any more clear as she mentions that it simply wouldn’t work with So in play—the two brothers would be at each other’s throats, and she’d be in danger.

Again, Su disagrees. She trusts Wook, and knows he’s not the type to change. At this, Court Lady Oh loses her cool as she says that the palace has a way of changing people, and it’s a place where promises mean nothing. Only now does she tell her that the man she once gave her heart to is now the king of Goryeo, and though they were once lovers, the throne was more important to him.

And she, wanting to stay by his side, resolved to live as his court lady. But tears form in her eyes as she tells Su that while she once addressed the king as her lover, now she’s in charge of bathing the women who will actually be his lovers.

Regardless, Su says that she knows she can trust Wook—as long as he has no ambition for the throne, they can be happy. Court Lady Oh can only sigh, having failed to convince her.

After a night spent brooding over the hairpin So gave her, Su finds So waiting outside her quarters. He’s done a less than admirable job covering his scar, so Su invites him inside in order to help. In voiceover, she says that she’s not afraid of him, nor does she hate him. She just worries about him.

As she applies the makeup over his scar, Su tries explaining that there are different types of affection. Naturally, someone feels affection for another who helps them through a difficult time, but they’d be more inclined to call that person a friend. What she worries about, she claims, is that So might be confusing friendly affection for love.

So takes her hand as he tells her that he doesn’t differentiate between friendship and love—it’s all the same to him. He knows that she’s trying to push him away, but her tactics won’t work on him. As he says this, he grabs her around the waist, pulls her close, and begins to lean in for a kiss…

But Su quickly covers her mouth with her hand. Amused, he tells her not to worry, since he won’t try kissing her without her permission again. Thank goodness for small favors.

Jung finds Su on the palace grounds and explains that he was worried about Su when she went off with So, but she says they only went to see the sunrise. It was fun, even.

She tells him to try thinking of things from his brother’s perspective, since he was never able to receive their mother’s love. Jung just says that his mother and Yo have changed since So came into the palace, and sighs wistfully for the uncomplicated nature of the past. The days that Su spent her days smiling at Wook were their happiest, he claims, and Su agrees.

Wook meets with his mother and Princess Yeonhwa to announce his plans to request the king’s permission to marry Su. He doesn’t want the throne and wishes to live with Su in the Northern city of Hwangju. He may as well have slapped Yeonhwa in the face with the way she reacts, with her spitting that he’d just be leaving her and their mother without protection.

Surprisingly, Queen Sinjeong intervenes to give Wook her permission to follow his heart, though she warns him to be prepared. Once he leaves, Yeonhwa tears into her mother for not stopping him, even though the queen reasons that she’s tired of vying for the throne, and knows that Wook must be too.

Without Wook’s protection as king, Yeonhwa says, they’ll just be pushed out of the palace, or worse. That’s when Yeonhwa declares that she no longer intends to just live as the sister of a king—she’ll become the wife of one, and rule over him.

Queen Sinjeong is powerless to stop her as she goes straight to Queen Sinmyeongsunseong with a “story” to share. We don’t get to hear what it is, but this alliance is probably the last thing anyone needed.

Baek-ah’s heard a new dancer has arrived at the gibang, and goes to see the new girl for himself… only to recognize Woo-hee, the sword dancer from the forest. She grows suspicious when she recognizes him, though he claims he just comes to the gibang to play accompaniment for the gisaeng there.

She’s content to just shoo him away, but Baek-ah says that they should share names now that they’ve met three times. She claims her name is Bok-soon, but her attempt at secrecy is foiled when one of the other gisaeng immediately calls out, “Woo-hee-ya!” Hah.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong and ninth prince Won meet with minister Park Young-gyu in order to ask his advice on how to separate the king from So. Minister Park says that they’ll have to make the king believe that So is Crown Prince Mu’s enemy, so all the queen needs to do is act like she supports So—he’ll handle the rest.

Won then claims he stole one of the crown prince’s secret documents and gave it to So, that way the crown prince will think So stole it. The queen believes all their preparations are going swimmingly.

Baek-ah pays a visit to So to ask him if it’s true that he took Su out of the palace—and if so, he wants to know what his half-brother is thinking. Since Su is a court lady, there could be severe ramifications for her if she’s caught, and Baek-ah doesn’t want So making things any harder on her.

So says that wasn’t his intention, and confesses that he’s not all that good at relating with others. But he has no intention of making things difficult for her, and when he says that, Baek-ah realizes that his feelings for Su are real. So claps a hand on Baek-ah’s shoulder as he says that he and Su are the only people he truly cares about.

They’re interrupted by Astronomer Choi bearing bad news for Crown Prince Mu—his mother’s family has been accused of embezzling tax money, so the ministers are calling for him to be deposed. The ministers instead want So to be installed as the new crown prince, since he’s been the nation’s hero after the rain ritual.

Ninth prince Won plays his part in the plot by claiming that all of this happened because he told So about the dealings of Mu’s unscrupulous uncle, making it seem as though So was the one who made that letter public. He acts completely innocent, leaving Crown Prince Mu to suspect So.

Seeking to nip this problem in the bud, King Taejo informs So that he’ll be sent back to Shinju. Despite the king knowing that Queen Sinmyeongsunseong’s machinations are the reason that So’s name has been put in for the crown prince position, the only viable solution the king can think of is to send So away.

Princess Yeonhwa, in disguise, orders a court lady to deliver a vial of what’s probably poison to a very specific court lady. (Su, perhaps?) Though Yeonhwa warns the woman not to speak a word of this to Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, it seems the court lady does just that.

So bursts into his mother’s room then to demand answers, though his mother only demurs, claiming that she was just trying to help him get the throne. Isn’t that what he said he wanted?

He tells her to stop pretending like she does anything for his sake, but his mother just smiles at him as she tells him that the crown prince will die from drinking poisoned tea on the ninth day of the ninth month—she’s already delivered the poison, so he can’t stop it now.

So begs to differ, but his mother practically laughs. Even if he tells someone that she delivered the poison, she’ll just claim she did it to make her son king.

“Try to stop it if you can,” she challenges. “But you’ll only be tightening the noose around your own neck.” She manages to stop him when she mentions how the king is trying to drive him out, but if the crown prince dies from poison, So will take his place. One measly court lady will die, and he’ll have everything he wants.

Understandably, So is wary of trusting her, though not wary enough. She bats her eyes at him and claims that she fully supports him and trusts him not to kill his brothers. Dramatic music tells us he’s considering her proposition. No, So! Don’t trust that witch!

Minister Park Young-gyu is called to the gibang to meet with Woo-hee, who pressures him about a rebellion. As the last princess of Baekje (one of the Three Kingdoms, which King Taejo unified into Goryeo), she wants to kill the king, and she threatens to tell the people of Baekje of his treachery should he fail to help her.

He reveals that he’s her uncle by marriage, and all but dares her to make him bend to her will. What power does she have? Woo-hee threatens him with her silver dagger, but when they spot Baek-ah nearby, she acts like a gisaeng fighting off a suitor trying to have his way with her. Her uncle plays along and stalks off.

Baek-ah seems to recognize the minister, but before he can connect the dots, he rushes over to ask Woo-hee if she’s okay. Bitterly, she says that if he was going to see what was happening and not rush in to save her, then he should’ve stuck with that choice. He says it didn’t look like she needed his help and dangles the norigae ornament she dropped in front of her, teasing that it doesn’t seem like she wants it back.

After Wook pays a visit to his late wife’s grave to ask her to watch over him and Su, he joins the royal family in an afternoon of games and general merriment (which so happens to take place on the ninth day of the ninth month). So focuses intently on the crown prince every time he seems about to drink.

The family plays a drinking game based around who can recite stanzas from a famous poem by Zhong Hui, and they motion to the next person who must drink and recite the next part of the poem. But when it’s Jung’s turn, he can’t remember it. Hah.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong notices that Crown Prince Mu is reluctant to take a drink, which opens an opportunity for the poisoned tea to be delivered instead. The one part of the plan So wasn’t let in on, though, was that Su was to be the doomed court lady delivering the poisoned tea.

Tenth prince Eun and his new wife Soon-deok are late to the party, and end up running into Su as she’s on her way to deliver the tea. Eun’s a bit icy to Su, claiming that he doesn’t want to see her face if he can avoid it. After he storms off, Soon-deok asks Su why she didn’t just take her offer to become Eun’s second wife.

Su admires Soon-deok’s consideration for her husband, and bids her to take care of her husband. Soon-deok gets a little offended at Su’s specific advice, claiming that Eun is her responsibility now.

The tea Su brings to the crown prince is first tested for poison by a silver spoon, but before it arrives, So loses his nerve and prepares to tell the crown prince everything. But once he sees Su and realizes the predicament she’s in, he goes silent.

When he speaks again, he covers smoothly by saying that he’d like for his brother to pour three drinks for him. Princess Yeonhwa looks nervous as the clueless Su takes the tea to So, who then drops the cup. He claims he was just being clumsy, so Su is asked to pour him another, this time in a fresh (and hopefully poison-free) cup.

So drinks the first cup without incident, though he begins to falter before he can drink the second. He covers again, continuing his toast to the prince as he downs the second cup. As Su pours him a third, So sends a look to his decidedly unapologetic mother as he thinks, “It wasn’t the cup, but the tea you poisoned.”

She practically shrugs, leaving So to bear his pain in silence as he takes the third cup from Su and realizes that he’s drinking poison she poured for him. His hand shakes as he takes it, but his toast doesn’t falter. He looks at Su as he brings the cup to his lips, while Princess Yeonhwa looks ready to jump out of her seat.

Because of So’s toasts, the crown prince requests that the king not send him away to Shinju as planned. Su, still clueless, goes to prepare more tea, while So looks after her longingly and tries to control his shaking.

So excuses himself gracefully, but the world around him begins to blur as he starts walking away. All he can do is try to control the symptoms long enough to get out of sight, even as blood trickles from his clenched lips.

 
COMMENTS

Now that’s a noble sacrifice. I admit to being pretty disappointed in So for going along with his mother’s plan on any level, because he should know better by now than to trust her. And for a while there, it seemed like he really did know better, so the only reason I can think of for him to have let himself be fooled was that he truly does desire the throne.

What confuses me is how openly awful Queen Sinmyeongsunseong gets to be without any repercussions whatsoever. I’m honestly surprised that there’s a soul in the palace who isn’t aware of her machinations, which she may as well be announcing from the top of the palace roof, for all the subtlety involved. And yet, even with her explanations, her true motivations aren’t clear—specifically, with what she hoped to accomplish by letting So know about the poisoning. It was clear to us that she was manipulating him yet again, but to what end? I wouldn’t buy that she counted on So drinking the poison himself, but then again, I don’t buy a whole lot when it comes to her.

It’s at least worth noting that So might’ve stopped the poisoning himself by implicating his mother, though he had no choice but to switch tactics when Su arrived. He’s not entirely free of guilt since he tacitly agreed to the poisoning at first, but seeing the way he literally poisoned himself to save the woman he now loves helped erase any lingering feelings of doubt. The fact that he realized the irony in drinking the poison she poured him was doubly sad, because his sacrifice was twofold—and neither party he was saving had any idea that they were even being saved.

Maybe it’s just me being morbid at heart, but So’s sacrifice on Su’s behalf seemed a much more romantic gesture than his unapologetic steamrolling over her feelings from the start of the episode. Even though I do get the steamrolling to a degree, and understand that he’s just not adept at expressing his feelings. He wants so badly to have Su all to himself that he’s missing the essential aspects of actually wooing her, and thinks that if he can possess her, then the only person who’s ever shown him any real affection will stay by his side and continue to support him.

He has a certain amount of self-awareness to know that he’s not the best at being social, but that self-awareness only gets him so far. Although it was funny how clueless he was when Su told him that she liked someone else—enough to think that it was Baek-ah—it’s not so funny when he follows that question up with a threat to kill whoever it is that she likes. And, as he added, to deliberately not be sorry about saying that.

Su’s reactions would be in keeping with a woman who was actually from that time period, but this episode more than ever had me wondering where all of Su’s modern sensibilities went. Even if we take into account that she’s been living in Goryeo for a while and has grown accustomed to life there, her being a time traveler had absolutely zero impact on her actions this episode. It’s not even that I’d like her being from the future to play a bigger role, but it’d be helpful if she spoke up for herself once in a while. Telling So that she liked someone else was a step in the right direction, but then saying nothing to his threats to kill said person felt like we took three steps back. If she’s not afraid of him anymore, what’s preventing her from speaking in her own defense? Or from speaking much at all? I feel like we actually still know just as much about Su as we did starting out, which isn’t that much at all. Here’s hoping that our modern girl will find her voice sooner rather than later.

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1,283 September 27, 2016September 27, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 11

by HeadsNo2

Now this is the kind of episode I’d been waiting for, and boy, does it deliver an emotional wallop. Everything seems to happen at once, leaving Su powerless against the much greater forces surrounding her. It’s not so easy for her suitors to swoop in and save the day this time, and the divide that causes may spell the end of one beloved relationship, while opening the door for another.

 
EPISODE 11 RECAP

So takes that one last, longing look at Su after ingesting the poison, and excuses himself before any of his symptoms can be revealed. Princess Yeonhwa jumps up as though to say something, but ends up merely smiling instead as she tells the king that she has a request on behalf of her brother, Wook.

As Su walks away, So stumbles in his attempt to follow her as the vision of her begins to blur. He reaches out his hand toward her, but it’s only when he coughs in a spray of blood that Su turns around and sees him. He falls, and Su immediately runs to his side to call for help.

He attempts to silence her so that she won’t be found with him, but he falls unconscious before he can tell her why. She just resumes her panicked cries for help.

Princess Yeonhwa claims that she also wants to make three toasts (as So did) before giving the king her requests. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong watches as Yeonhwa pours herself a cup from the crown prince’s tea. Even refreshed, is it still poisoned?

Her first request is for the king to let Wook remarry, prompting Wook to say that there is someone he has in mind. King Taejo permits the request without knowing who the girl is, and Yeonhwa brings the cup to her lips.

But instead of drinking, she stealthily pours the liquid down her sleeve. She acts as though she’s been poisoned, however, and dramatically swoons. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong scoffs at the act before announcing that it’s poison (as if she didn’t already know), while Yeonhwa weakly calls for them to help her half-brother, So.

Blood drips from the corner of Yeonhwa’s mouth as everyone around her panics. Baek-ah finds So and Su first, but the other princes aren’t far behind. Ninth prince Won immediately blames Su for serving the tea, though it’s Astronomer Choi who announces that she’s being arrested for attempted assassination of a prince.

Court Lady Oh watches as Su’s room is torn apart, though she recognizes that there’s a darker plan at work—Su wasn’t originally supposed to serve the tea, and the court lady who was has mysteriously gone missing.

Minister Park Young-gyu seems delighted when he finds a necklace (the one the crown prince gave her) among Su’s things, while one of the soldiers “finds” the vial of poison.

Queen Sinjeong frets as the royal doctor checks her daughter’s pulse, though he claims she’ll be fine. Only when the queen is gone does Yeonhwa rise from her bed, completely fine. She only pretended to drink the poison, she tells the doctor, and bit the inside of her lip to cause the bleeding.

This she announces freely to the doctor, while warning him to keep silent now that she’s freed herself from any suspicion. No one would believe that she willingly poisoned herself.

The antidote is spoon-fed to an unconscious So by another royal doctor as Astronomer Choi, Baek-ah, and Crown Prince Mu look on. Astronomer Choi notes that So just might make it because Grand General Park trained his body to resist poison, but neither of them can figure out why So would have drank three glasses. Surely he knew it was poison after the first.

Crown Prince Mu accurately guesses that the true target of the poison was him and not So, while Baek-ah and Astronomer Choi figure that he tried to leave before his symptoms could be known in order to protect the culprit. But who?

Wook finds said culprit curled up against the wall of a prison cell, and he takes in her bloodied hands when she grasps the wooden bars. He puts his hand over hers, but pulls away when her first question is to ask how So is doing.

Her concern for So seems to make Wook very unhappy, and it’s with a flat voice that he tells her that So will be fine. She needs to worry about herself now that she’s suspected of poisoning the tea, and while he believes in her innocence, there’s no proof.

He warns her that they might very well torture her to find out who was behind the poisoning, but he implores her to endure long enough for him to get her out. She puts on a brave face as she says that she won’t let them use her to frame someone else, so she’s prepared. (Hasn’t she ever seen a sageuk?)

At the next assembly, Minister Park posits that it was Crown Prince Mu who tried to poison So through Su. Mu vehemently defends himself, but Astronomer Choi stops him, lest he end up revealing his illness to the court.

Wook’s theory is that the poison was intended for the crown prince, but was accidentally given to So. Princess Yeonhwa’s poisoning proves as much, though it doesn’t alleviate any of the suspicion with regards to Su’s role in all of it.

King Taejo announces that Su will be hanged for her crime, but the crown prince isn’t willing to let another person die for him, even if it means keeping his illness under wraps. He asks that the king cast him aside instead, but Taejo refuses. Mu is his firstborn, and he wants to give him everything he can.

So attempts to leave his sickbed early to go to Su, who he knows must be alone and suffering. Wook updates him on the allegations against Su, and despite all of them knowing that it makes no sense, he can’t see a way to get her out of it. “I should have never let Hae Su get mixed up with you,” Wook adds, under his breath.

After sending Baek-ah away, So reveals to Wook that it was his mother who was behind the poisoning. At first, Wook accuses So of drinking the poison to protect his mother, but So claims that he did it to save Su and the crown prince.

So adds that he was trying to prevent anyone from finding out about it, but that all changed when Princess Yeonhwa drank the poison. He admits that he wasn’t able to say anything about it before it happened, but now he has to depend on Wook to expose Queen Sinmyeongsunseong’s machinations and save Su.

That night, So goes to the prison to see Su trembling on the floor of her cell, covered in blood from the day’s torture. She rises with great difficulty, yet her only happiness is in seeing that So isn’t dead. “You knew it was poisoned,” she says. Did he drink it in order to save her from suspicion?

So calls the theory nonsense, claiming that he’s not the kind of man to drink poison for a girl. Aw, you big softie. She sees through the lie and tearfully asks why he would do such a thing—did he think her feelings would change? But in her mind, she thinks, “Who am I that you would put your life on the line for me? If you do this, it makes it harder for me to turn away from you.”

He gives her a small smile, admonishing her for always causing him problems. There’s so much left unsaid between them as they manage to make light of the situation despite the severity of it all, as he tells her that she’ll be freed soon. She just sighs, “I don’t know what to do with you.” So replies in kind. That’s oddly sweet.

Meanwhile, Wook tracks down the court lady who first conspired with Princess Yeonhwa, now receiving another package from her. The princess is in disguise, so Wook uses his metal hairpin to threaten the court lady into revealing the truth—if she does, he’ll let her live.

He asks the cloaked figure to reveal himself, only to be taken aback when it’s his sister. The court lady uses the opportunity to make an escape, with Wook too shell-shocked to stop her.

The princess, ever the arrogant one, knows that Wook can’t reveal her crime without damning his entire family as traitors. When he demands to know why she did it, she fires back that he was about to throw away his chance to be king for that girl, and she had to stop him.

When he retorts that he has no desire to be king, she challenges him to search his innermost thoughts. Didn’t he feel wronged when So performed the rain ritual? She knows he wants to be king, and if he still denies it, he can throw both her and their mother away.

Wook suddenly throws the hairpin he’d been holding, and it lands straight in the scheming court lady’s neck. She knows as well as he does that he can’t just cast his own family aside. “From this point on, Yeonhwa, you are no longer my sweet sister. You are a debtor. You to me, and I to you.” He seems resigned to his fate as he says this, and Yeonhwa accepts his offer, though she claims she’ll repay that debt by giving him the throne.

Defeated, Wook says that she can now do with him as she wishes. He has no choice but to submit to her control in order to save his family, even if it means giving up on Su.

He still goes to the prison that night, clutching the bloody hairpin he removed from the court lady’s neck. He drops it outside and turns to leave after one tortured look.

Now fourteenth prince Jung feels like he has to take it upon himself to try and save Su if no one else will, but Wook only acknowledges the presence hiding in the room: Chae-ryung. She falls to her knees as she tearfully begs Wook to save Su. He remains silent, though her pleading makes him visibly uncomfortable.

So goes to the king to ask for Su’s life, even daring to ask if the king is so willing to sacrifice her for the crown prince’s sake. King Taejo doesn’t see the big deal in sacrificing a lowly life in order to save an important one, which So takes particular offense to. Is this what being king means?

Taejo clocks him for his impudence, and warns his son that he’ll kill him if he asks about Su again. The same will happen to anyone else who thinks to plead for her life.

Court Lady Oh visits the prison that night wearing a veil, and tears up at the sight of a bloodied and broken Su lying on the ground. Resolved, she returns to the palace to find Wook waiting for her. He has one request for her: “Stand up for Hae Su. You are the only one who can change the king’s mind.”

When she says that she can’t make such a request, Wook asks if she’ll just let Su die. “I know you feel like a mother to her,” he says, adding that he realized that was the reason Court Lady Oh never liked seeing Su with him. Court Lady Oh turns that back on him, asking why he can’t save Su—doesn’t he love her?

She accurately guesses that it’s his own household holding him back, and his own ambition for the throne. “The reason why men in the royal family become cowards is always the same,” she notes with disdain. “Someday, you will come to regret your cowardly actions today. This one time you turned your back on her will haunt you for the rest of your days.”

With this said, she assents to go to the king herself, since she does care for Su and knows that Wook can’t save her.

After serving the king’s tea, Court Lady Oh waits until she is called upon to speak in order to say: “It was I who tried to poison the crown prince.” Oh no. Oh no! She goes on to give adequate reasons, like the loss of her child (which previous episodes hinted at being Queen Sinmyeongsunseong’s doing), though King Taejo would rather pretend she said nothing.

She lays out the bloody clothes of an infant as she tells him that someone in the royal family sent her tea to drink while she was pregnant ten years ago. Seven days later, her baby died, his baby died, and she’s not about to let the same person who poisoned her get away with killing a girl who’s like a daughter to her.

King Taejo tells her that Su isn’t a replacement for her dead child, and that there’s no evidence against Queen Sinmyeongsunseong. “Will you look the other way this time as well?” Court Lady Oh asks him tearfully. “I will die soon,” she adds, putting a name to the illness that’s been plaguing her: cancer of the stomach.

She knows that King Taejo is acting to save the crown prince, but requests that he help her save Su, so that she won’t lose another child to the evil queen. His eyes wet with unshed tears, Taejo asks if this means she’s finally casting him aside, and a tear snakes down Court Lady Oh’s cheek in answer.

The next morning, So runs to the execution platform, where a bloody and bedraggled Su is being taken to the noose. Her eyes widen in fear as she wonders if this is the end for her, but she only begins to panic when she doesn’t see Wook.

As she looks around for him, it’s not Wook who arrives, but So. He fights his way through the guards, announcing to them that he’ll be taking her with him. He’s willing to spill blood their blood if he must.

But then, Astronomer Choi runs to the execution grounds with a royal command in his hand: There won’t be a hanging, as the real culprit has been discovered. Su promptly faints.

Court Lady Oh walks with dignity to the soldiers ready to take her away, taking one last look around the palace. Su witnesses her assenting to her own punishment and limps over to her, demanding to know what’s going on. “I put the poison in the crown prince’s tea,” the court lady replies.

Su knows she’s lying, but Court Lady Oh has to keep up the pretense in order to save her. So holds off the guards long enough for Su to drag Court Lady Oh into the secret tunnel beneath the baths, only to come up against the newly blocked exit.

Despair washes over Su as she takes this in, and she takes it upon herself to pull at the rocks blocking their exit. “You said we should go to your hometown,” she says, her voice distant. “Let’s go now.” Oof, this is hard to watch. Even Court Lady Oh sheds a tear as Su tries in vain to clear the way.

Court Lady Oh pulls her away, but Su cries—she knows that this is only a cover-up, and Oh will die in her place. She turns back to the exit, but Oh pulls the crying girl into an embrace. “It’s not your fault. I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for the king.”

She strokes the girl’s back as she says that she would die soon anyway, so there’s no need for Su to feel burdened. “I’m fine,” Court Lady Oh says through her tears. As she looks down at the scar on Su’s wrist, she mirrors what Su once said about having no regrets for protecting what she needed to protect.

Su sobs piteously as Court Lady Oh again takes her into her arms. She doesn’t say this aloud, but she repeats the advice she’s been giving to Su all this time, because she doesn’t want Su to end up like her.

We find Su in a fresh set of clothes as she limps her way to the king’s quarters. She kneels in front of the steps to make a formal protest for him to allow Court Lady Oh to live, despite her voice being too weak to carry far.

Wook tries to run to her aid only to be stopped by his mother, who refuses to let her son risk his life. Princess Yeonhwa reminds him that he turned his back on Su once, so why can’t he do it again? Wook sends his sister a look: “How much more indebted to me do you want to become?”

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong comes over to gloat and challenge Wook—if he doesn’t believe Court Lady Oh is the culprit, does he believe her to be guilty? His mother immediately prostrates herself at the evil queen’s feet, begging for her to leave her children alone.

Wook tries to pull his mother to her feet, but she brushes him off to continue her heartfelt plea. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong remains arrogant, admonishing Queen Sinjeong for raising her son poorly as said son remains powerless to defend his own mother.

Su’s pleas grow quieter as she grows weaker, even though she continues into the night. By now it’s just a whisper, and she has to struggle to keep from falling over. Baek-ah tries to tell her that her pleas are futile, and that despite everyone knowing that Court Lady Oh is innocent, no one would dare stand up to the king.

He reminds her that Court Lady Oh just barely managed to save her, and if she keeps being stubborn, Oh’s efforts will be for naught. “It is better than doing nothing,” Su replies, causing Baek-ah to give up on trying to stop her. But before he leaves, she asks where Wook is. Ouch.

The next morning, Queen Sinjeong asks the king to rescind the order for Court Lady Oh’s execution. He refuses, and when Astronomer Choi says that Su has been outside protesting for two days, King Taejo announces that if anyone takes her side, they’ll have to answer to him.

It begins to rain, and poor Jung has to be held back by his other brothers from going out to Su with an umbrella. Jung, finally having enough, leaves the safety of the eave to kneel in solidarity with Su. Baek-ah joins him, as does the crown prince (though he stands). Ninth prince Won refuses to have any part of it.

Wook finally approaches Su in the pouring rain, and this look of hope spreads across her features that’s just heartbreaking. But when he stops and begins to back away, realization seems to set in. As he turns away from her, Su can only ask, “Why?”

Just when it seems all hope is lost, a figure emerges next to her and spreads his cloak to cover her. It’s So, who says nothing as Su straightens just enough to remain under the meager protection.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong takes a moment to taunt Court Lady Oh, who’s on her way to the gallows. She says that Oh dying first means she’s lost, but Oh says the queen has never once beaten her. The evil queen makes sure to have the last word, as she says that Oh is nothing but a lowly court lady who no one will remember after her death.

“If one person remembers me,” Court Lady Oh thinks to herself, “that is enough for me.” In the king’s courtyard, the princes and Su hear the gong signifying the execution. What they don’t see is the support drop out from under Court Lady Oh’s feet as she strangles on the end of the noose before going still.

The king suddenly loses his footing, which is likely all the emotion we’ll see from him regarding her death. In the courtyard, So tries to comfort Su as she screams for Court Lady Oh.

“If I had known someone would die because of me, I would not have been so greedy to live again. If only this was a dream… if only I could wake up without remembering any of this,” we hear Su say in voiceover as she faints in So’s arms.

 
COMMENTS

I knew that the show would have to work hard to drive a believable rift between Wook and Su, but I was honestly surprised at how well they managed to pull that off this episode. Everything seemed dialed to eleven today, and to great effect—this is definitely the best effort we’ve seen from this show, and it’d be hard to pinpoint just one reason why. It’s one of those situations where everything finally just seemed to work, enough to where those little inconsistencies ceased to matter, and we could just focus on the emotional impact of what we were seeing.

Wook’s turn to the dark side was really unfortunate, if only because it wouldn’t have happened were it not for Princess Yeonhwa’s meddling and manipulation. I thought she’d resolved to become more than just the sister of a king, but now it seems like she’s thrown her entire weight behind the idea of making Wook king. And at the cost she’s made him pay, she better have been truthful about everything she said—it was her own ambition for power that caused her to implicate Su in the first place, and while her words to Wook about doing it all for him didn’t ring untrue, it made her seem much more selfless than she actually was. The “I did what I did for you” could’ve made sense had she not conspired with Queen Sinmyeongsunseong in the first place, especially knowing that the evil queen has always had it out for her family.

At least Yeonhwa seemed to realize her mistake when she saw her own mother prostrate herself in front of the queen, but by then, it was too little, too late. It helps to know that Wook disdains his sister for her actions even if he had no choice but to fall into her trap—which is why I can’t hate him for it. Yeonhwa really did make it so that he had to choose between his own family or Su, and for someone as upright as Wook, it would have been unreasonable to expect that he could throw the lives of his mother and sister away, even for the woman he loves.

I actually felt like the show handled his transition much better than expected, because it would’ve been too easy for him to just go wholesale bad. But he knew enough to feel guilty for his inaction, and tried his best to still be of some help to Su, even if it meant helping her from the shadows. Him walking toward her only to literally turn his back on her toward the end was a little heavy-handed, admittedly, but it was the kind of closure Su needed for the question that had been undoubtedly plaguing her throughout the episode’s events: Where was the savior she was promised?

The fact that her savior came in the form of Court Lady Oh was even more unexpected, but fitting. And when that thread really got going, it was absolutely heartbreaking. Court Lady Oh had been one of the deeper characters presented to us, and her constant watchfulness over Su had already clued us into the depth of feeling she had for the girl. We knew that she looked at Su as a younger version of herself, but the parallels between taking her on as a daughter to replace the child she’d lost—to the evil queen’s machinations, no less—were solid enough for her sacrifice to ring as both believable and extremely, extremely sad.

Her sacrifice didn’t come off as a deus ex machina to save Su from the gallows, but as more of a natural progression of their relationship, made easier to bear by Court Lady Oh’s terminal illness. I doubt that she needed Wook to ask her for her to have done what she did, and even if it was a teensy bit hard to buy that Su and her could just run off together, the moment they had in the cave was worth the suspension of disbelief required to get them there. Giving them that last chance to say their goodbyes was hard to watch, but along with making Court Lady Oh into one of the best characters ever, it went a long way toward endearing Su as a character. She still doesn’t have any agency, but at least she’s still willing to try despite being powerless.

While I did think it was a bit of a letdown to miss out on Su’s inner thoughts during her torture and even directly afterward, I guess we could say that she was counting on Wook to rescue her until the end, which is why she didn’t show fear until she realized that he wasn’t coming to save the day. Still, it was jarring to see how well she handled being cruelly tortured and imprisoned, but that’s neither here nor there anymore.

Despite whatever Wook was trying to do in the background, it was really So who emerged as Su’s defender, and that almost reckless abandon for his own status and future was what sold his love for Su to me. I’d been on the fence about their relationship before, which wasn’t helped by So’s emotional immaturity, but seeing him throw caution to the wind to save Su—or at least die trying—was powerful. It’s enough to make me think that even if Court Lady Oh hadn’t stepped in, So’s efforts might’ve just been enough to save Su. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. I can’t tell if Su is just that lucky, or just that unlucky anymore.

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681 October 3, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 12

by HeadsNo2

There’s plenty of suffering to go around this hour, both the internal and external kind. Our hero seems to be the only one who knows what he wants and is fully intent on getting it, though he’s up against some new resistance in the form of Su’s guilt. He might be the only one who can save her now—but it’s less about saving her from her situation, and more about saving her from herself.

 
EPISODE 12 RECAP

King Taejo orders his son and fourth prince So to go to China (specifically the Later Jin dynasty) as an ambassador. So agrees to do as he’s told, but he asks for the king to allow Su to continue working in the palace.

The king agrees, only for as long as it takes for So to leave the room. Then he tells Astronomer Choi to send Su to a place where none of the princes will be able to see her again—if So won’t let her go, then he’ll make it so he has no choice.

Astronomer Choi finds Su in the late Court Lady Oh’s room, and offers Su some comfort when it comes to her mentor’s death. But then he informs her that she’s to leave the palace, effective immediately.

Su just sighs in resignation as she asks where it is that she’ll have to go. Meanwhile, So packs his belongings, including the makeup needed to cover his scar. Before she goes, Su makes sure to find So, despite having to limp because of her wounds.

They go for a slow walk, where So gives her pointers on how to best get over her pain and grief. If she works hard, she’ll be able to forget, which Su turns back onto him: “You should forget me now.” So doesn’t take her seriously, and only asks that she stay in the palace and wait for him.

“I will not wait for you,” she replies, handing back the hairpin he gave her. “This happened to you because you tried to help me,” she adds, referencing his new appointment to go to Later Jin. She feels bad because she knows how happy he was to be allowed into the palace, but now he’s having to leave because of her.

Using a hand on her waist, So pulls her closer, and leans in for a kiss. At the last moment, Su turns her head, and So just smiles. “I said I would get your permission,” he says in light admonishment.

Then, with her guard down, So steals a very quick kiss. “I lied,” he explains with a Cheshire grin. He takes the hairpin in her hand and says he’ll use it as a good luck talisman, since he’ll be back soon. But as he walks away, Su thinks to herself that she won’t be waiting for him, even though he risked his life for her and called her his.

As he turns around and waves at her with the pin in his hand, Su thinks to herself that she can’t help but be afraid every time they meet. Despite knowing that her heart had been in someone else’s hands, she wonders, “Why is it so difficult to let you go?”

Wook sees her limping up the steps upon her return to the palace, but can’t bring himself to say anything to her. She turns around to see him turned away from her, and he walks away from her purposefully. Tears well in her eyes, but she says nothing. Only when she’s turned away does Wook chance a look back at her.

So returns to wearing a mask on his journey to Jin, while Su is sent out of the palace with a small bundle of her belongings. Fourteenth prince Jung finds Wook to tell him that Su’s gone. Wook leaps to his feet and checks Su’s room, which is now devoid of her presence.

Knowing that she’s been cast out, Wook slowly sinks to the ground, crying. “Su-ya… if you just leave like this…” He reaches out a trembling hand to her bedding, before he throws it in a rage and cries out, “Su-ya!”

Outside the palace, Su turns as if she’s heard it. Maybe she did.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong talks casually about that “pesky creature” who’s now dead to Princess Yeonhwa, referencing Court Lady Oh. Now that she’s seen Yeonhwa’s scheming side, the evil queen thinks that they’re very much alike, but Yeonhwa puts the kibosh on this notion by reminding her that her own mother, Queen Sinjeong, was exiled for supposedly causing Court Lady Oh’s miscarriage.

Though she doesn’t outright claim that the evil queen was to blame for the miscarriage, everyone knows that she’s the reason Court Lady Oh, the woman the king loved the most, had to die. If her own mother could be exiled for causing a miscarriage, then Queen Sinmyeongsunseong is in for much worse—so Yeonhwa knows an alliance would be foolish.

The evil queen says that Yeonhwa is just as culpable as she is, which makes the princess laugh. Because she drank the poison, she’s free of suspicion, and anyone else who was involved is either dead or gone. “You are alone now, Your Majesty. Do not make my mother get on her knees ever again,” Yeonhwa adds as a warning.

Third prince Yo is back, and having overheard the conversation, he tells his mother that he can’t help but like Yeonhwa for her gumption. His mother warns him to stay away from her, while Yo seems to think of it as a challenge. Besides, his uncle, Wang Shik-ryeom, has offered to support his potential rise to the throne.

One year later, the 26th year of Taejo’s reign. King Taejo is apparently not long bound for this world, and third prince Yo taunts his brothers that the king may very well decide that he should have the throne.

Now that Yo’s returned to the palace with supporters ready to place him in power, Crown Prince Mu worries that the king has made it so that anyone can take the crown. Astronomer Choi assures him that the king is only using this opportunity to find out who’s on Mu’s side, but Mu worries that those close to him will be the ones to pay for the king’s experiment.

At a festival held for King Taejo, princess-in-disguise Woo-hee is among the group of sword dancers performing for him. Suddenly, she breaks from the others, jumps onto the king’s table, and stabs him with her sword.

Of course, it’s just a daydream on her part, since she’s just practicing her sword dance. Thirteenth prince Baek-ah calls her out for getting the move wrong, since he’s providing the accompaniment. Does no one pay attention to how weird a job this is for a prince to have?

Baek-ah ends up inches from Woo-hee’s face during his admonishment, which makes her acutely aware of their proximity. But when he mentions that “the wife” has prepared food for him, her eyes go wide: “You’re married?”

Seeing her face, he pounces on the chance to taunt her as he asks if him being married would bother her. She’s quick to demur, though she’s curious to know how long he’s been married, if he has children, etc. Baek-ah continues to tout his imaginary family until he tells her that the wife he was referring to was his father’s wife, aka his mother, and gives her the modern “Okay” hand signal that Su taught him. Hah.

Tenth prince Eun scoffs at his wife for testing whether he read a book she gave him, even going so far as to bet his own wrist that he read it. Soon-deok draws a line on his wrist and says that it’s hers now, as are his eyes and nose (which she draws circles around, hah).

He tells her she might as well take all of him, but makes an exception when she tries to mark his finger—that’s Su’s, he says. When she turns away, Eun nervously asks if she’s crying, but then a dagger comes flying at them. Soon-deok protects him from it, but it cuts her hair tie in the process, causing her hair to flow loose around her face.

It was her dad who threw the dagger to test her reflexes, and she chastises him for scaring her husband. But when she offers to blow on Eun’s booboo from the fall, Grand General Park just gapes.

Yo offers Princess Yeonhwa a ring along with the promise that he’ll divorce his wife once he becomes king, and make Yeonhwa his queen. She’s not buying it, since Yo’s father-in-law is the current Minister of the Left, Park Young-gyu, and he’d be crazy to lose that alliance.

But Yo says he’ll only need Minister Park’s support before he becomes king, and not after. He deliberately places the ring on Yeonhwa’s finger even after she pushes it back toward him, though Wook’s appearance gives her a chance to pull her hand back.

Though Wook is slightly hostile toward him, Yo reminds him that with the king about to release teachings for his descendants, it means that there’ll be a major shift soon. Yo wonders if they should just attack first and get their father out of the way before that happens, but at Wook’s admonishment, he claims he was only joking.

Yo leaves, but not before reminding Wook of his promise to support him when the time comes. Yeonhwa is quick to call Wook out for making such a bargain—why wouldn’t he try to claim the throne for himself?

But Wook has clearly given this more thought than her, since he knows that whoever goes against the crown prince will become a traitor. However, if he were to rise up against that traitor, then he’d become a hero.

When Yeonhwa asks what would happen if Yo were to end up betraying him, Wook’s eyes land on the ring Yo gave her. She’s scandalized when he says it suits her well, knowing full well what he means: “Are you telling me to become a hostage?” With a humorless smile, Wook tells her to call it what she likes. “We owe each other a great debt, do we not? You should put up with this much.” Damn, Wook. That’s cold.

We find Su working as a lowly water maid for a gisaeng house, though her reputation for once being a court lady in Damiwon is well known amongst the other girls. They grow angry when the still-crippled Su refuses to gossip about any of the princes with them, and deliberately trip her when she tries to leave.

They accuse her of killing her own superior, calling her bad luck. They throw her laundry back into the river, and as Su struggles to collect it all, Wook and Jung happen to see her struggle. Wook is the first to turn away.

Once in the palace, Wook confronts Jung over deliberately taking him to see Su. Wook claims to be indifferent to her plight, but Jung knows that he loved Su once, so what’s the reason he can’t go to her? Wook claims that it’s because he can’t go against the king, but Jung doesn’t quite look like he buys it.

That night, Wook finds Su eating a meager meal alone. She sets it aside when she sees him and rises unsteadily, causing Wook to ask if her leg still pains her—he knows Jung has been sending her medicine. In a flat tone, she tells him that it only bothers her sometimes, but that she’s fine otherwise.

“Do you hate me?” Wook asks tentatively. Su’s eyes fill with tears as she looks blankly forward. Wook explains that he couldn’t come because he couldn’t promise her anything, and that it’s his own shame over being so useless to her.

Because the king was so upset over Court Lady Oh, he explains, he couldn’t even dare to bring up the idea of marrying her to his father. Only then does Su speak up: “Did you miss me? Even once? Has there been a time when you missed me?”

After a pause, Wook quietly replies, “Every day. I longed for you every moment.” Su takes this in for a moment, her expression softening with relief as she says, “That is all I need then. That is enough.” But when Wook says that everything will get better once he has more power, Su tells him not to put himself in danger on her behalf.

With tears in his own eyes, Wook can only tell her to keep herself safe. “Please don’t make me feel sorrier than I do,” he adds, before abruptly leaving. A tear snakes down Su’s cheek as she watches him go.

So returns from Later Jin, and updates his father on the political goings-on there, including a possible conflict between Jin and the Khitan. King Taejo wants to send him back to deal with it but So refuses, since he knows his father broke the promise he made to keep Su in the palace when he left.

His father asks if he still has feelings for Su, which soon turns into a tirade about how kings should be willing to throw anyone and anything away. So retorts that he isn’t a king and won’t become one, so that rule doesn’t apply to him. He even adds in a subtle threat that if the king wants him to remain as an ally for Crown Prince Mu, then he shouldn’t make things harder for him. “I, too, will live like a human now.”

Grand General Park does some damage control once So leaves, but it’s not that Taejo is upset with So’s actions—he’s actually pleased with his new attitude. “Now, he will not lose no matter who he fights,” the king says, adding that only now will he be able to die in peace.

As Su hangs laundry to dry, she thinks she sees a vision of So, only to turn around and find nothing there. But then she stops suddenly, feeling a presence behind her. “You never did listen,” So’s voice says.

He wraps his arms around her from behind and adds, “I missed you.” Su tells him that he shouldn’t be there as she pulls away from his grasp, but he just takes her work-roughened hands in his and smiles: “You are beautiful, as always.”

That’s when she finally notices his mask, which breaks her out of her stupor. Suddenly she’s all questions, but he unmasks himself to reveal a perfectly covered scar beneath. “I didn’t take it off so I wouldn’t forget you,” he says. “I was determined to come back to you.”

Su reminds him that she’s just a water maid now, and therefore not in a position to be having any contact with him. She’s glad he returned safe, and now he knows she’s fine. That should be enough.

She tries to limp away from him, but So grabs her by the wrist, claiming that he’ll find a way to fix her situation. Su finally breaks and pulls away from him, half-crying that she’s trying to just forget everything through hard labor. But what she doesn’t say aloud is, “You must put a stop to your affections toward me.”

So says he’ll help her just the way she helped him, and together, they’ll find a way for her to forget, without having to live the way she’s living. In voiceover, Su says, “Please do not throw yourself away because of me.” But aloud, she says that So’s the one she wants to avoid—when she looks at him, she’s reminded of everything she’s trying to forget.

She tells him to forget about her too, which is the only way no one will get hurt. She returns to her room, where she’s approached by Astronomer Choi. Hmm.

King Taejo’s health is failing, so as a last resort, Astronomer Choi serves him a specially concocted tea to bring back his appetite. Taejo knows upon tasting it that Su made it, and so he tells Choi to bring her to him.

Quick cut to Princess Yeonhwa asking So to marry her. (This seems sudden.) She tells him that she’s thought about the kind of person she is, and that she’s not satisfied with her lot. She wants power, which means she wants the throne.

So smiles gently at her as he replies that he’s the opposite of the kind of person she’s looking for, which Yeonhwa claims to know already. But what she wasn’t counting on was that she was a woman with feelings, as she admits, “I have loved you for a long time. I am destined to be with you.” (She mimics the same words Yo said about the two of them.)

After a long silence, So says that when he was very young, someone told him he was fated to be king—but that’s the day he received the scar on his face. He wasn’t even treated as a prince, let alone a king. “We’re destined to be?” he all but scoffs. “I don’t believe in destiny. And there’s someone else I want.” Yeonhwa knows he’s talking about Su, and warns that he’ll ruin his future if he ties his fate to such an unlucky girl.

“I wouldn’t even have had a future if it weren’t for Su,” So replies. “Now that I’ve said it, I know for certain—without her, I’m nothing.”

Su limps into the throne room to meet the ailing king, who readily drinks the tea she made him. Looking at him, Su recognizes the same symptoms she once saw in her own grandpa, and guesses that he doesn’t have much time left.

Taejo seems to read her thoughts, and then asks, “Where did you come from?” He admits that he looked into her after Court Lady Oh’s death, and after questioning anyone who ever knew her, he concluded that she became a completely different person. But then, he astutely tells her that he thinks she’s similar to Astronomer Choi: “You know the future, and we do not.”

He asks her if she knows So was fated to become king, and sighs that if Crown Prince Mu and So are both destined to become king, no one knows what will happen. He knows she’ll be able to see it all happen, but warns her against getting involved.

Su’s only request is that the king send her away instead, because she doesn’t have the courage to live in the palace anymore. Taejo’s advice is for her to learn to close her eyes to the things she can’t fix with her own strength, otherwise, her situation will never change.

“Do not get so hung up on the future that you lose what you have now,” the king adds. “If [Court Lady Oh] called you her daughter, then you are a daughter to me, which is why I am giving you this advice.” Oh, now she’s like a daughter to you?

As Su leaves the palace, she suddenly finds herself surrounded by the sounds of battle in the courtyard. A premonition of events to come, perhaps.

Meanwhile, Woo-hee cuts herself while practicing her sword dance, and in his worry, Baek-ah discovers scars from old cuts crisscrossing her wrists. He knows better than to ask, so he asks if he can hold her instead. She shakes her head, but he pulls her in anyway.

He says he’s sorry for any hardship she endured, even though he wasn’t around then. “I want only good things to happen for you, and I want to make you happy now. Trust me.” Woo-hee pulls away, angrily asking who he thinks he is to promise such things. When she leaves, Baek-ah quietly admits, “I still have more to confess to you.”

Su happens to see Woo-hee crying, and next thing we know, the two are sitting down for a chat. She seems to know that it has something to do with Baek-ah, which makes Woo-hee question how Su knows him. They talk as if they know each other, which must’ve come about because Su works as a maid for Woo-hee’s gibang.

To cover for Baek-ah (since Woo-hee doesn’t know he’s a prince), Su claims she met him before she entered the palace. She tells Woo-hee that he’s a good person who she shouldn’t be pushing away, but Woo-hee claims she doesn’t have a choice.

Woo-hee fills in some of the gaps on how she and Su know each other, as she says both of them bonded over their shared hardships. She wants Su to do her makeup for the big ceremony tomorrow, because she wants it so that Baek-ah will look at her once and never forget her. “That’s how I want to be remembered,” she says more quietly.

After Yo plots with Minister Park to use Woo-hee to kill the king at the ceremony, he pretends to feign disinterest in whether the king does or doesn’t attend. But that’s because he knows Wook has his back, since Wook is the one who convinces the king to attend.

Yo looks on approvingly as Wook puts his prince’s garb over another outfit. The ailing king presides over the ceremony, but So waits outside to catch Su so he can give her back the hairpin. “Let’s get married,” he says suddenly.

If she marries him, he says, she can leave the gyobang (gisaeng house that focused more on the arts) as well as the palace. At her reluctance, he adds that they can divorce after he gets her out of the palace—all she has to say is yes.

Of course, Su doesn’t, because she doesn’t want to make So leave the palace. So claims to not care if he’s with his father or not, to which Su asks, “What if you were to become king? Would you still leave?” So: “If I were king, would you leave with me?”

Handing her back the hairpin, So smiles a bit as he asks her to come with him—she’s still his, after all. Su seems to waver for a moment, but then she gives the hairpin back. She can’t marry him, she says, and turns to see that Wook has overheard the entire conversation.

Wook grabs So before he can chase after her, telling him not to fill her head with lies that he, a prince, could marry a water maid like her. “If I say it’s marriage, then it’s marriage,” So fires back. But then Wook reminds him that he’s the reason Su’s in such a lowly state, which is why he can’t forgive him.

But So won’t take the blame from him, and says that he gave him everything he needed to prove Su’s innocence. Wook’s uselessness is the reason Su’s there, he adds, which only makes Wook grab his half-brother by the collar.

At the ceremony, Woo-hee takes part in the sword dance. As the music crescendos, she sees Baek-ah in the crowd, realizing from his clothes that he’s a prince. Baek-ah watches her gaze and has a realization of his own: She was practicing the wrong movements earlier because she had another plan in mind.

As Woo-hee rushes the king, Baek-ah jumps in front of her and takes the sword meant for his father. He couldn’t just tackle her?

Back with the two warring men, So tells Wook to stop pretending like he cares about Su—he can just turn his back on her like he already has. But he can see whatever Wook’s wearing underneath his robes by the hold he has on him.

And then, quick cut back to Baek-ah, who pulls back from Woo-hee.

 
COMMENTS

Well, now I’m more inclined to think that Episode 11 was a lucky fluke. I feel spoiled from having a clear emotional through line that we could easily follow to having the sort of hodgepodge of scenes we got in this episode, where I was left struggling to figure out who we were following and what we should be rooting for them to accomplish. Was this about Su? So? Woo-hee? Killing the king? Focus, Moon Lovers! Focus.

I had a feeling we were in for a ride when that time skip rolled around, since we were already back to being excluded from the events of the episode—and then suddenly, we were dropped into the story a year later without even one exposition fairy to help catch us up. It was disorienting, and for the remainder of the episode I couldn’t help but feel like the show was just trying to keep itself afloat.

The rapid-fire succession of scenes would’ve been much easier to swallow if we had at least one point to anchor us, but we were effectively shut out from seeing Su’s point of view. What she’s been through has been extraordinary and more than enough to cause a person to shut down—but she’s still our heroine, and we need her to at least try to play an active role in events. Su’s biggest issue has been her lack of proactivity, which we could somewhat blame on circumstance before. And even now, we can point to circumstance as being the reason why she can’t help herself, only now she’s willingly given up on trying.

So without her even making an effort to change her fate, and with her being completely resigned to suffering in silence, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to want for her. Obviously, any viewer will want her to snap out of the funk she’s in, but to what end? It’d be great if So really could swoop in to save the day here, but Wook may have a point about his marriage solution not being that feasible. Even so, what is it that Su actually wants? For a hot second, her goal was to try and dissuade So from fulfilling his destiny. I can see why that’s changed now, but that doesn’t mean that she should be the one helping history along by suggesting that So should become king. What does she want to happen?

At least So’s trying, and in an hour so full of doom and gloom, that counts for a lot. Right now I’ve got all my hopes pinned on him, though it’s interesting to note how his father’s opinion has changed in such a short while. Then again, King Taejo seemed to be much more open to a lot of things, considering that he realized that Su was a time traveler. If he’d figured this out about her before and knew that it would’ve made Court Lady Oh happy for him to treat her as a daughter, why did that change now, after a year of hard labor? Was it really just that one cup of tea? More than ever, that would’ve been a scene to hear Su say something. Anything. Or for her to even realize that Astronomer Choi may know more than he’s letting on, and that he could be her ticket out of her misery. But that’d mean she’d have to want something first. So c’mon, Su. You’re from the future. Act like it.

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1,149 October 4, 2016October 4, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 13

by HeadsNo2

This episode puts everyone’s loyalties to the test as alliances are formed and rivalries are created all in the name of one golden chair. The fate of Goryeo comes to rest on Su’s generally incapable shoulders, leaving her to choose which of the two prominent men in her life she should entrust with information that could end their world as they know it. No pressure or anything.

 
EPISODE 13 RECAP

So notices the armor beneath Wook’s outer layer, just as Woo-hee rushes the king. Baek-ah takes the blade meant for his father, but the feat goes mostly unnoticed—everyone gets too distracted by the king suddenly collapsing on his own.

Baek-ah kicks the bloody sword away to hide the evidence and tells Woo-hee to run. She does, while third prince Yo tells ninth prince Won to find Wook. He knows their plan has failed.

On his deathbed, King Taejo ruminates over what he’s managed to accomplish in life with only Grand General Park and Astronomer Choi at his side. They assure the king that he made the right decision in choosing Crown Prince Mu to ascend the throne, and in turn, he tells them to watch over both Mu and So.

That night, Su thinks over So’s marriage proposal. The next morning, Yo, Wook, and ninth prince Won approach the king’s quarters with a devious plan in mind. All roads in and out of the palace have been blocked, with Yo intending to receive the king’s final decree (presumably for him to succeed the throne) without the crown prince finding out.

But before they can advance any further, they’re joined by fourteenth prince Jung and surrounded by Grand General Park’s soldiers. General Park knows exactly what Yo’s about, and cautions all four princes to leave—should they not, they’ll be charged with treason.

Even the queens are denied access to the king, with Queen Sinmyeongsunseong slowly realizing that Astronomer Choi must be trying to buy time before Crown Prince Mu arrives. Inside, only Su is allowed to tend to the king in his final moments.

Taejo knows he doesn’t have much time, so he asks Su to bring the crown prince to him. It must be her, he says, because no one else can find out about his death before the crown prince arrives. “Once you leave this room, someone will approach you,” he breathes. “To the person who only asks how I am feeling, tell them that I am asking for more tea. But beware of the one who asks if I have died—that person eyes the throne.”

After warning her not to trust anyone, he adds that the fate of Goryeo rests on her shoulders. “That may be the reason why you are here,” he continues in voiceover, as Su weaves through the soldiers outside the palace to reach her destination.

So attempts to leave the palace grounds, only to be blocked by his half-sister, Princess Yeonhwa. When she tells him that no one’s allowed to leave, he surmises that those are Wook’s orders—he’d wondered why Wook was wearing armor beneath his robes at the ceremony, but now he knows that Wook was planning on attacking the king.

Despite her limp, Su tries to make a run for it. Wook stops her to ask where she’s going, and she lies that she’s going to Damiwon to fetch more tea for the king. Wook then asks her about the marriage proposal from So like he has a right to be jealous, and though she begins to tell him he’s got it all wrong, she soon remembers the task she was originally sent out for.

It’s only then that Wook asks if the king passed away, causing Su to realize the kind of person she’s facing. The king specifically warned her against anyone asking if he had passed. “Do you… wish to become king?” Su asks haltingly.

Yeonhwa asks the same question of So, despite his adamance that the crown prince is set to succeed the king. While Su asks Wook if he will become king, we return to So, who mockingly asks his half-sister if it’s so easy to become king that all one has to do is wish for it. Yeonhwa says it would be for So, since she and her clan could throw all their support behind him.

To Su, Wook claims that the reason he wants the throne is because he needs that power to protect the ones he loves. Quick cut back to So (I’m getting whiplash), who asks Yeonhwa what power being king would grant him. “If I become king, would the heart I so desire become mine?”

Back to Wook, as he says that he will become king. Then back to So, who now says that he will become king.

The queens are finally allowed in the king’s quarters, though he already has one foot in the afterlife. He imagines Court Lady Oh in a verdant field with an armful of flowers, and whispers her name before passing on.

Surprisingly, Queen Sinmyeongsunseong cries as she tries to shake the king back to the land of the living: “You cannot leave me like this! Your Majesty! Come back! Come back!”

“For your sake, I will surely become king,” Wook tells Su. That’s not at all what she wants, but he tells her it’s already begun—he’ll attack the king’s quarters with Yo tomorrow. He takes a protesting Su by the shoulders as he adds that the crown prince won’t be returning anyway. Someone has to take the throne, so all she has to do is hide and wait for him.

He asks again whether the king has passed, and with dead eyes and a flat voice, Su only says that the king asked for more tea. That’s when he tells her that the crown prince is too far to the south for her to get to him on her own, having guessed that that’s the mission she’s on. Su just runs away in response.

Meanwhile, Yeonhwa scoffs that the only reason So wants to become king is to win a girl’s heart. (Because he used one second to convince himself that he could, or something.) So doesn’t care what she thinks, since that’s all the throne means to him.

He orders her to make way for him, but she refuses, guessing that he might try to bring the crown prince back.

Baek-ah seems unharmed for the most part as he meets with an indignant Woo-hee, who blames him for ruining her plan to kill the king. When he asks her why she did it, she claims that it’s because his father killed every member of her family.

He actually apologizes on his father’s behalf, which causes a tear to snake down Woo-hee’s cheek. She fights him when he pulls her into an embrace, but eventually gives in. “I am sorry for being my father’s son,” he adds. Are there really going to be no consequences from that ceremony? Really?

Yo figures that if the king isn’t already dead, he will be soon. Fourteenth prince Jung doesn’t seem aware of his brother’s plans, and blurts that the king is probably feeling better due to the tea Su’s been making him. Since that means that Su knows of the king’s condition, Yo is determined to stop her before she gets to the crown prince.

Su sees that ninth prince Won is looking for her, and is pulled to safety by So. Trusting him, she tells him that the king has passed away, and that he tasked her with finding the crown prince. She also tells him of Wook’s plans to attack tomorrow, earning a rise out of So, since that means that she would’ve had to have talked to Wook in order to find out.

Since all the roads out of the palace are blocked, So tries to think of another way for them to get the word out. When he says that the crown prince is in former Later Baekje territory to the south, the displaced princess from Later Baekje, Woo-hee, instantly comes to Su’s mind.

Speaking of, Baek-ah asks Woo-hee if she’d be willing to forget everything and just be with him, since no one would recognize her from the ceremony. Before she can answer, they’re interrupted when Su arrives with So to ask Woo-hee about her hometown.

Since So trusts Baek-ah, he tells him that the king has passed, which causes Woo-hee to lose her footing. Baek-ah steadies her as So fills him in on what Su told him about their brothers’ plans, asking Baek-ah to be the one to send word to the crown prince. He’ll stay behind to try and stop their brothers—and thankfully, Woo-hee knows a secret road Baek-ah can use to leave the palace.

Princess Yeonhwa tells her brother about her encounter with So, though the more pressing issue is the king’s health. No one knows if he’s alive or dead, since his queens have basically been held hostage inside his quarters so that no word will leak out.

Yeonhwa sees this as an opportunity for Wook to storm the king’s quarters and declare himself king (which would mean altering the king’s final decree), but Wook doesn’t want anyone to be able to call him a traitor. “I wish to be seen as flawless,” he says, much to his sister’s dismay.

She claims to not understand what he wants, since he even went so far as to wear armor to the ceremony the night before. Wook only tells her that he’s weighing his options. Seeing his scheming side makes Yeonhwa happy, as she arrogantly notes that she’s no longer having to force his hand—he genuinely wants the throne now: “You’ve changed, Orabeoni.”

“If the situation will not change, then I must,” Wook says, resigned. But the only thing that worries him now is the thought of having to betray Su, or so he says.

So finds Su staring at the empty throne in the dark, and jokingly asks if she wants to sit in it. Does she not want the seat that everyone’s now fighting for? Su says she doesn’t, not when the king had to kill Court Lady Oh to keep it. And now that So’s having to fight his brothers for it. “Even if you fight tomorrow, you won’t harm them, will you?”

He guesses that she’s worried about Wook, but not for the right reasons—he still thinks that she only considers Wook a relative. But if that were the case, he wonders, why did she come to him? “He said it was for my sake,” Su begins. “He was angry that he couldn’t do anything when I was driven out, so he says he wants more power.”

So nods in understanding, claiming that he once felt the same way. Looking back up toward the throne, Su says that because the king told her to live her life according to reason, she’s siding with the crown prince. But that doesn’t mean she wants to see Wook hurt, since she claims that would scar her for life.

Surprisingly, So is more than willing to go out of his way not to harm Wook, since he doesn’t want to see Wook die either. “I could be injured too,” he adds. “Are you not worried about me?” She isn’t, because she knows he’ll go on to become King Gwangjong, though of course she can’t say as much. All she tells him is that she knows he’ll be fine. So smiles at her, then looks toward the throne.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong becomes insanely possessive over the king’s body, enough to where she refuses to let Queen Sinjeong anywhere near him. Their tiff is interrupted by So, which makes the evil queen intensely unhappy—she’d rather either of the sons she actually loves to be the first to see the king dead.

So kneels at his father’s bedside as Astronomer Choi relates the king’s last words to him, which were about how fleeting life is. It’s then that So flashes back to two years ago, when Choi had gone to Shinju to give him a new mask, which his father gifted him every year.

While trying it on, So had turned and accidentally caught sight of the king in his palanquin nearby. He’d come with the astronomer to see his son receive his gift, even if it was only from a distance. Seeing how So’s face just lit up at the sight of him is heartbreaking.

In the present, he lays his father’s funeral cloak over him. Only then does he tell Astronomer Choi to gather General Park and his men to prepare for the rebellion Wook and Yo have planned for tomorrow. The king wanted the throne to go to the crown prince, so now it’s their job to make sure that happens.

Queen Sinjeong is shocked to hear about her son’s involvement in such a plot, but of course, the evil queen threatens to kill So if he so much as breathes on Yo. “You expect him to live after committing treason?” he growls, pulling his arm from her grasp. “You have too much greed.”

Queen Sinjeong is the one to think on her feet, since she and Queen Sinmyeongsunseong now have a common goal. If they don’t figure something out fast, both their sons will die.

Woo-hee forces Baek-ah to make camp later that night, since his wound is paining him. Over a warm fire, Baek-ah tells her that he never intended to hide that he was a prince from her. At least she knows she has no room to be upset, since she hid things from him too.

But Baek-ah can’t help but wonder what their lives would have been like if he were only a musician, and if she were only a gisaeng. Woo-hee just tells him to rest by way of answer, since they’ll reach her hometown tomorrow. They both know that they’ll have to part ways then, and neither will have a reason to meet again.

Woo-hee’s much more adamant about this point than he is, so Baek-ah just resigns himself to that fact. “If we can’t see each other again, then… can I do as I like tonight?” he asks, before leaning in to kiss her.

Wook and Yo show up at the palace gates in full battle regalia, and though Yo is somewhat concerned that it’s so quiet, they know that most of the king’s forces are with the crown prince. Regardless of what happens, Wook only has one request of Yo: “If So tries to stop us, make sure to kill him.” Yo readily agrees.

They walk their massive forces through the gates, encountering So and Grand General Park with an army of their own. Wook has the decency to look guilty when he spots Su looking at him from behind the lines, but it’s too late now.

Yo proclaims that he’s come to free his mother, who’s been unjustly held in the king’s quarters without reason. Yo is the first to draw his sword, but Wook and So are the only ones to go at it, acting as their respective armies’ champions.

Wook is strong in his offense, leaving So to parry his blows. But when So takes the initiative to rush him, it sets Wook back more than a few paces—and from there, the blows only become more intense. The two men lock arms and swords in combat until they’re at a standstill, which is only broken when archers on the roof send arrows raining down on Yo’s forces.

More soldiers come rushing through the gate, but So’s got his eyes locked on Wook as he crouches into a battle stance. But the arrival of the soldiers signifies a much bigger arrival—they’ve come with Crown Prince Mu and Baek-ah. Busted!

Yo orders Wook to go into the king’s quarters while he holds their eldest brother off. Instead, Wook spins around and holds his sword to Yo’s neck. Yo calls his brother out for his betrayal, though Wook says that it can’t be considered betrayal when they weren’t even on the same side.

Indeed, Crown Prince Mu claims that it was Wook who told him all about Yo’s treasonous plan, which makes Wook look like the real hero here. So’s face twitches in minor annoyance, but it’s not like he can interject—everyone wins with Yo looking like the big bad.

Only then does Astronomer Choi officially announce that the king has died, and that he decreed before his death that Crown Prince Mu would become king. Wook shocks them all by being the first to raise a victory chant: “Manseh! Manseh! Manseh!”

So joins him in the chant, and soon, everyone in the courtyard does as well. Crown Prince Mu is the only one left standing as everything hits him at once—his father is dead, and now he’s king.

A white-haired woman stumbles out of the king’s quarters to hear the news… and it’s Queen Sinmyeongsunseong? Did she go white overnight?

The princes take turns seeing their dead father, with fourteenth prince Jung being particularly affected by the sight. Princess Yeonhwa only thinks to herself that she’ll make this nation her own.

Meanwhile, Soon-deok does her best to stop tenth prince Eun from attending the funeral, because she knows all too well what happens when a new king ascends the throne. If Eun stays quiet and keeps to himself, she says, then the king will surely leave them alone.

Eun refuses to take the armor she tries to give him, refusing to wear his wife’s armor just to save his own life. Soon-deok gets a little too excited at the thought of them dying together, which Eun quickly refutes. “Why should we die at all?” he wonders. “Let’s both live.” By that, he means live together, which puts his loving wife over the moon.

Su confronts Wook about having lied to her about being on Yo’s side, realizing that he meant to test her. He admits as much, but adds that she still went to So in the end. With wide eyes, she asks if he was planning on killing So, and he levels her with a look as he says that he fully intends on becoming king, so he may as well start getting rid of anyone who’ll stand in his way now.

She can’t believe what she’s just heard—Wook knew how much she suffered from being the cause of Court Lady Oh’s death, so what did he think would happen if he used her to kill So? “You have changed. You are not the person I once knew,” she says, stunned.

Wook throws that right back at her, claiming that she hid things from him, too. “I wanted you to tell me that the king had died. Didn’t you care if I would die or not?” But Su tells him she was on a special mission from the king, and that So had promised not to hurt him.

That gets to Wook most, but with desperation in her eyes, Su reminds him that he’d once told her that they could leave the palace and live in peace. Approaching him halting step by halting step, she tells him that she’s ready to do that now, and firmly believes that the new king will grant their request if Wook only asks. Oh no, Su.

Wook simply says that won’t be possible, which causes Su’s eyes to fill with tears. “You said you would become king for my sake. You’re lying to yourself,” she realizes. She steps away from him as she adds that she’ll keep her distance from him starting now.

Su takes a special kind of offense when Wook asks if this is because of So, asking him if he ever trusted her and her feelings for him even once. Confronted, all Wook can do is claim that he’ll make her return to him. “It won’t be easy,” Su replies.

Yo runs for his life, pursued by Wook, So, and a small army of soldiers. They corner him on that cliff you’ve definitely seen in a sageuk before, and left with no other option, Yo fights and kills many of his pursuers. So stops Wook from shooting him with an arrow, as that would be too humiliating for Yo.

As Yo continues to cut down the men who approach him, So finally comes forward to fight him directly. He’s incredibly quick and agile as he fights Yo with his sword sheathed, though his goal is to talk him off the ledge (literally and figuratively). When Yo proclaims that he won’t give up, So unsheathes his sword and plunges it into his older brother’s chest.

The force of the blow pushes Yo back toward the edge of the cliff. He seems to sense that So won’t kill him, so he knocks the sword away, only for it to be plunged once more into his belly. Even So looks surprised at what he’s just done, and he rushes forward to catch Yo as he goes tumbling over the cliff…

But he’s too late. A crash can be heard far below as So just stares forward in shock. Jung cries for his hyungnim, who’s presumably (and luckily) fallen into the water below, then turns from grief to anger as he stares accusingly up at So.

Jung is the one to inform their mother of the death of her son, but it takes a while for the white-haired queen to believe him. If she didn’t have it out for So before, you can bet she does now.

Su finds So keeping to himself with tears in his eyes, and he tells her that he thought she’d never forgive him if he went to her. “But you might be understanding,” he says with hope, then adds the fateful words, “I… stabbed my older brother.”

He cries, and Su reaches out a tentative hand to pat him comfortingly on the shoulder. Just that touch seems to do him in, and when his crying intensifies, Su just pulls him into an embrace and lets him cry his heart out.

 
COMMENTS

It’s still difficult to actually swallow the change in Wook, no matter how organic the show tries to make it feel. It’s not that I can’t buy that he’d do these things, only that it seems like such a giant shift for someone who was so upright and principled before. People change, of course, and maybe he was just waiting for an opportunity to let it all hang out—but call me old fashioned, because I miss the Wook of yore.

Now he’s seemingly more cunning than all his other brothers combined, which is already making him a force to be reckoned with. I knew he’d planned to flip the situation with Yo to make himself the hero, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so swift, so I was actually taken by surprise when Wook turned on him. He couldn’t have done it because he thought he would be king, but because he wanted to get rid of the competition and endear himself to the new king. I do wonder if he would’ve actually killed So had he been given the chance, and based off his conversation with Su, it seems he would have.

It certainly makes a difference that Wook now seems to be the more cold-blooded brother out of him and So, since he was ready to shoot Yo down without so much as a second thought. It was So who cared about maintaining Yo’s dignity, no matter how treasonous he’d behaved. And even before, it was So who promised Su that he would (to the best of his ability) try to not harm Wook, since he didn’t want his half-brother dead. Wook wouldn’t make the same promise to Su under any circumstance now. He’s made that much clear.

What worries me now is how So might change once future events start calling for him to do so. Compared to Wook, he’s much too trusting and good-hearted—but now that we’ve seen that side of So, it’d be absolutely devastating for him to turn to the dark side just to get his hands on the throne. I can’t quite get a read on how badly he wants the seat, since he tends to fluctuate between saying that he wants it and definitely will have it, to seemingly forgetting that he ever thought of it. Was he lying when he told Yeonhwa that he wanted to be king so he could win Su’s heart? I’m actually hoping that he was, because the alternative doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. When did he decide that being king was the way to Su’s heart? And when did he intend to act on that?

But this episode was a great showcase for Lee Jun-ki and the range of emotions he can portray with only silence. Whether it was that facial twitch of annoyance when Wook stepped up as the crown prince’s savior, or the look of horror and sadness when he stabbed his own brother, So gives us the most open window to his soul out of all the characters presented. Wook would probably come in second, since we can usually see what he’s feeling even if he makes an active effort to hide it.

Su still continues to be Su, but at least she took some action this hour, and realized that her future wasn’t with Wook. Her last conversation with him was as confusing as it was necessary for her to move on, though I can’t help but wonder if she actually meant what she said about being ready to run away with him. Why now, of all times? Did she actually believe that he was doing all this for her sake, and would she have truly run away with him had he agreed? How many men are going to profess to become king just for her?

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756 October 10, 2016October 10, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 14

by HeadsNo2

There’s loads of development when it comes to our two lovebirds this hour, even if it comes wrapped in bittersweet packaging. It’s great to have two people who know how to be honest with each other, though there’s the inevitable trial and error as they face issues that can’t be easily ignored. And while Su may have found more of a place in a world that’s growing less and less new to her by the year, that same world always seems to want her dead. Good times in Goryeo.

 
EPISODE 14 RECAP

It’s the year 945, the second year of King Hyejong’s (formerly Crown Prince Mu’s) reign, and two years after the events of the last episode. Su is now sanggung, the highest attainable rank for a court lady, and rules over Damiwon like Court Lady Oh once did.

She’s also turned much more serious according to her rank, and writes down notes about the king’s somewhat ailing health in Hangul, which wasn’t an invention of that time. Chae-ryung, now a court lady as well, cheerily gives Su a pouch she can use on her injured knee. It’s Su’s birthday after all, though Su says the best gift is having Chae-ryung in Damiwon with her.

Chae-ryung said she was only freed from her servitude to Wook’s household on Su’s behalf, which causes Su to lose the small smile she had.

Thirteenth prince Baek-ah gives Su scented oil from Bulgaria, much to So’s ire. He apparently brought nothing back for Su from whatever journey they were on, which he claims is how it should be—the gift of his return should be enough for a court lady.

Later that night, Su hears the sound of a very ill dog howling, but it turns out to be So. Hah, he claims he made sure to not make the sound too realistic so she wouldn’t be fooled. Sure. He tries again in front of her, causing Su to fight the smile threatening to break out from his antics.

He takes her to an outdoor spot where they can best see the stars, and the two bicker over how much they each know about astronomy. After Su tells him the sad story of the Cassiopeia constellation, he tells her about how long ago, he’d seen his younger brother Jung in his mother’s lap and wished desperately for him to just disappear.

His mother had seen the look on his face and hid Jung, causing So to muse, “Perhaps she already knew that I would become a person who would kill my own brother.” Su tells him that it’s normal to think that of one’s younger siblings, and describes how she used to wish for her own sibling to disappear.

So smiles, “Are you trying to make me give up on you, or do you want me to only have eyes for you?” He describes how all his problems seem to go away whenever he sees her, so he can’t very well live without her now. “If you’re not going to come to me, don’t leave me with hope. It’s torture.”

He leans in for a kiss, but Su quickly puts a hand to his lips to stop him. Didn’t he say he would get her permission first? So chances a smile as he asks for her permission now, but he’s denied. He’s also denied from stealing a kiss, which Su preempts before he even has a chance. Aw.

So says that the king will marry her off to an old man at this rate, but Su’s not worried, since the king holds her in high regard. Foiled, So lies back to look at the stars before asking her to spend her upcoming day off with him. He has something he’ll tell her then.

Wook claims to speak for the ailing King Hyejong as he calls for a restructuring of the military at the next assembly, but So calls him out for using the king’s illness in order to become regent. Despite Wook being a high-ranking official now, So warns him against making up orders from the king, since he’ll start to make people angry.

His half-brother laughs, claiming to be impressed by how So’s handling politics now. So says he only got into politics to be able to go against Wook, since he still suspects him. Wook says he’ll heed the warning, but adds that he went a little further than he would have because it was something he couldn’t get done as “just” a high-ranking official.

King Hyejong’s health is failing him, and Chae-ryung acts suspiciously as she’s left in charge of adding herbs to the king’s bath. Ninth prince Won waits for her outside the bath, and makes a not-so-cryptic comment about having more mercury delivered for the palace’s mirrors. Whatever the scheme is, Chae-ryung seems to be in on it with him.

The king complains of his unease and inability to sleep to Wook, who looks on dispassionately as the king wraps himself in a blanket. Wook coldly advises the king to abdicate the throne to him, promising to help the king live in comfort if he does so.

Hyejong stars behaving even more erratically the next day as he sends his very young daughter off to be married. She can’t even have reached puberty at the age she’s at, and cries for her father not to send her away—and to the Khitan, no less.

In the king’s warped mind, he believes the marriage will provide a useful alliance for him in the future, so he won’t hear his daughter’s pleas. So does, however, since her cries remind him of himself when he was that age, and how he’d cried for his mother when she’d tied him to the top of the palace gates and… had archers use him for flaming arrow target practice? What the hell, lady?

So tries to step in on the little girl’s behalf, but the king has gone stark raving mad. That’s when he turns to So and asks if he’ll marry the princess and protect him. Oh no.

As promised, Su waits for So on her day off, adorned in silk clothes and the hairpin he once gifted her. So notices the hairpin immediately, and carefully masks his inner turmoil as he puts on a smile for her. But when Su reminds him that he said he had something to say to her, So plays dumb and says he can’t remember what it was.

He pokes fun at her for having high expectations for what he was going to say, and Su does her best to hide her disappointment. Since So feels bad, he promises to make it up to her, which includes a boat ride out on the water. Noticing her tight grip on the boat’s edges, he tips the boat to and fro as a joke, unaware of just how much Su fears falling into the water.

She asks him if this is his boat, and he claims he brought it to the palace when he was younger. She scoffs a bit at him saying the boat is his favorite thing in the palace since she never sees him in it, to which he replies, “Because I like it too much.” Afraid that he’d come to like it too much and not want to leave the palace because of it, he didn’t use the boat on purpose. I’m guessing this is less about the boat and more about a metaphor for their relationship.

Su looks thoughtful for a moment before she says, “I was thinking about what it must be like to turn away from something you like. I also thought that it’s a relief you don’t have to do that anymore.” The meaning behind her words has So feeling guilty, and he apologizes for “forgetting” what he wanted to say to her.

We find out later that So has made the decision to marry the king’s young daughter in order to help protect his older brother. That way, he’ll make his evil mother and the Shinju clan believe he’s next in line for the throne, which will enable him to deflect some of the attacks aimed at the king.

Astronomer Choi praises him for his political calculations on this one, even though So’s not happy about the decision. “Am I back to being a dog on a leash to protect my brother?” he asks. “Is this my destiny? I am sick and tired of having to turn my back on the things I like.”

When he asks how he can free himself from such a situation, Astronomer Choi seems to jokingly imply that he could revolt. But in the end, he can only thank So for helping to protect the king in his hour of need.

The king, back to being sane for the moment, knows that Wook is only reading him appeals for the fourth prince to leave the palace because Wook wants to clear his own path to the throne. Wook claims that he only said what he said out of loyalty, but the king knows better than to buy it—he does plan on sharing his burden with one of his brothers, but it’s clear it won’t be Wook.

It’s So who comes to visit, which is when the king declares that So will be marrying his daughter. But since she’s too young to have children, he’s agreed that So can make her his second wife only. The king tells Wook that he plans on giving the throne to So, who is not only his brother, but also his son-in-law.

Wook pretends to accept this information with a congenial smile, but he can’t resist the pointed barb at So: “I hope there aren’t any girls crying over losing such a good man for a husband.” Oooh.

Su fashions modern face masks for both fourteenth prince Jung and tenth prince Eun’s wife, but afterward, Eun takes issue with how much Jung compliments his wife on her skin. She leaves in a huff after he compares her to Su (again), and Su chastises him for acting that way toward a wife who everyone knows he likes. It’s been three years and he still treats her like she has cooties?

Thanks to Eun’s big mouth, Su finds out about So’s impending marriage and spends the evening brooding. So knows she’s heard the second he sees her face, but he doesn’t attempt to shift the blame. She can hate him all she wants.

He reminds her that he promised to take her out of the palace and set her free, but now, he won’t be able to keep to his word. “Are you not even going to give me an excuse?” Su asks dejectedly. So knows that he can’t give her a reason for breaking her trust, so he’s not going to try. All Su can do is half-heartedly congratulate him, even as tears fall from her eyes.

Baek-ah delivers a letter from So to Su, claiming that this is So’s excuse. The poem reads, “Walking until the water’s edge, I sit and watch as clouds rise up and appear.” It’s from “Villa on Zhongnan Mountain” by Chinese poet Wang Wei, and Su sighs that she didn’t know he could write so well, adding that there’s a lot she doesn’t know about him.

Su tries to parse out the poem excerpt as she remembers what So said about wanting her to experience the same freedom he did when he was an ambassador, and how being king would mean nothing to him if he didn’t have her. The latter part of the voiceover continues as So keeps vigil at his sick brother’s bedside.

She attempts to trace over his characters with her own, mimicking his handwriting as best she can. She repeats the poem over and over with tears in her eyes as So gets married in another part of the palace.

Jung pays a visit to his mother in a nearby temple, only to find her with a bearded and somewhat bedraggled third prince Yo. Of course he’s alive. No one’s ever died from falling off a cliff in sageuk.

The white-haired Queen Sinmyeongsunseong is overjoyed at her son’s re-emergence, though he’s had to stay in hiding because of his current status as a traitor. Jung tells his older brother that he’ll ask the king to pardon and reinstate Yo, but even Yo knows how foolish an idea that is when he’s known for trying to steal the throne.

Yo already knows about the wedding to take place between So and the king’s daughter, which has raised suspicions that the king plans to abdicate to So. Jung admits that he’s against So taking the throne, but he won’t become a traitor to stop him. That’s when Yo claims that it isn’t treason if you win. (Isn’t it?)

Still, Jung says that he’ll stand by the king, despite Yo telling him that the king has gone mad. Does he want to leave Goryeo in the hands of a mad king, or any person a mad king leaves in power?

That night, Jung sneaks into the palace despite the king closing it off to any and all outsiders. So sees this and gives chase with a contingent of guards, eventually ending up at Su’s quarters. They’ve somehow deduced that this is the only room Jung could be in, but Su firmly forbids them from entering, using her high rank as the reason they cannot enter.

When So decides to ignore her order and search the room himself, Su threatens to use her hairpin to pierce her own throat with if he takes one step further. Claiming that she can’t suffer the disgrace of having him enter her room (as she’s unmarried), she’d rather die.

She further adds that if So wants to gain entry, he’ll have to bring an order from the king to do so. So asks if she’s sure that no one’s in her room, and she flatly answers that she’s sure, and scratches her neck with the hairpin for added effect.

So and his men are forced to leave, and Su collapses once she gets back into her room. Jung is hiding there after all, and worries over her scratch—was she really going to stab herself with her hairpin? Su says that she didn’t have much of a choice, since she wants to avoid any conflict between the princes.

Jung asks her which side she’d take if the princes were ever to fight each other, prompting Su to answer that she’d have no reason to take anyone’s side. He reminds her that they can’t go back to the days where they were all friends, and that she’ll have to choose a side soon.

“Even so,” Su replies, “I don’t think I will be able to take anyone’s side, because I do not wish for anyone to get hurt. I’m going to make sure that happens.” Jung can’t help but smile at her when she eventually falls asleep, and even tucks her in just to be adorable.

So confronts Su the next day, and forcefully drags her out of Damiwon to ask her if Jung was in her room. Despite her claiming that didn’t happen, So knows better, and demands an explanation. Su asks him to do some explaining to her then, and he can start with his marriage.

He tells her that he had to save the king’s daughter from becoming a hostage to the Khitan, and marrying her was the only option he had. Su gets teary-eyed as she tells him that he should’ve just said that from the beginning, but says he couldn’t because he didn’t know what he could say to her.

He knows she hates the idea of multiple wives, and all his attempts to avoid that happening have now amounted to nothing. What could he have said to her? At least Su is honest in response, as she admits that Jung was in her room last night, though for reasons she claims are innocuous.

So wants her to make a promise not to lie again, but Su asks what she should do if there’s something neither of them want to admit. In that case, So says, she should just admit she doesn’t want to say whatever it is, because he hates liars the most. In return, he promises not to lie to her either.

“Are you not angry anymore?” he ventures carefully, and Su shakes her head. She asks if he regrets getting married (we only saw a glimpse of the ceremony earlier), and he shakes his head as he replies that he doesn’t. He did what he had to do to protect the king, and the princess was sent away to a temple, just as the king promised.

So still proves that he’s still clueless when it comes to Su’s feelings when he asks if the man she claimed to love before was actually Jung. Hah. She dispels that thought but fails to tell him who it was, and he doesn’t press the issue either.

She confronts him over what he “forgot” to tell her in the boat, knowing that he didn’t actually forget. In answer, he closes the distance between them as he says, “I love you.” Su smiles and closes the distance even further by leaning up to kiss him. “Next time, don’t forget it.”

So smiles, grabs her around the waist, and pulls her in. Holding her face, he leans in for a real kiss, which she finally accepts and reciprocates. Huzzah!

While Baek-ah just so happens to be thinking about Woo-hee, she magically appears before him. “Is this a dream?” he wonders, as Woo-hee admits that she’s thought of him during the time they’ve been apart. He pulls her into an embrace, happy to have her back.

Won arranges a meeting between Wook and Yo, who comes into the palace in disguise. Yo reveals that Wook was the one who ordered Won to use mercury in Damiwon, which is presumably why the king is currently ill, and commends his half-brother for being so coldhearted.

Cut to: Yo bringing an army to the gates of the palace to begin his revolt. (I know.) Jung prepares to go out to face his brother in order to protect the king, but his mother tells him to kill her first—she can’t bear to see her sons fighting against each other. Unless Jung wants to kill his own mother, he can’t leave.

From within the palace, Su and Chae-ryung have a non-reaction to hearing the sound of screaming outside. The king steps out of his bath coughing blood, and Chae-ryung hightails it out of there before Yo’s soldiers can arrive to drag Su away from the ailing king.

King Hyejong recognizes Yo when he struts into the room and begs for his life, but Yo coldly pries his hand away. Yo almost seems to pity his brother, but then he pushes him into the bath.

The king flounders as he drowns in what can only be three feet of water, but Yo just watches dispassionately. Su loses her ability to stand once the king goes still, floating face down in the water. He’s dead.

So and Astronomer Choi arrive too late to save him, but the sight of the king floating in the water fills So with murderous rage. He cuts through the remaining soldiers to reach the bath as Astronomer Choi goes into the water to retrieve the king. He cries for him to open his eyes again as the realization of his death hits him, causing everyone else to stop fighting.

Yo is quick to claim that he didn’t come here in full battle regalia to kill the king—he was already dying from the poison Su was putting in his bath. Su’s eyes widen at this, but Won throws her to the ground as he claims that mercury was discovered in the bathwater, and only she was allowed to administer to the king’s baths.

Yo gives So a choice: He can stay loyal to the dead king and die with Su, or join him and save her life. But he’ll keep Su’s crime of regicide in his back pocket should he ever need it, which seems to be his way of keeping So in check.

So strikes at Yo, and the two lock blades as So demands that he let Su go. Yo has Won hold a sword against Su’s neck as he tells So, “Wolves tend to devote themselves to one female until death. And you are the same as a beast. Choose. Is it Hae Su, or the dead king?”

 
COMMENTS

How is this even a viable choice So has to make? There are few things more annoying than villains providing an ultimatum by using the heroine as bait, but this whole situation is really something else. Considering that Yo’s been branded a traitor for storming the palace with an army to kill the man who was his father, how did he think this was going to work out? He doesn’t honestly think that he can storm the palace again and mystically claim that someone else committed regicide, can he?

The sad thing is, I think he does think that, and he’ll likely get away with it for no other reason than it being in the script. There’s no reason for the mercury plot to have existed at all if the king was going to die of drowning anyway—at that point, Yo could’ve just held him under those three inches of water until he stopped breathing. I can understand that the point was (maybe) to make Su seem culpable, but it’s not as though nobody saw Yo and his army come into the palace. It’d be different if Yo was just paying a friendly visit to his brother, but after being branded a traitor, who would honestly believe that Su was the one who would kill the king, as opposed to the guy who came back from the dead after trying to kill the last king?

Time skips are a given in sageuk when ground needs to be covered, but this is the second time Moon Lovers has been unable to use a time skip effectively—we get the illusion that time has passed, but nothing changes. We resumed exactly where we were before with the character relationships, leaving us to wonder if Su spent two years denying So’s advances, and why that only changed in the span of this single episode. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that nothing major happened offscreen (aside from Su getting a frankly insane promotion), but it only served to create a disconnect between what we thought we knew about these characters and what was actually happening before us.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, since I found Su and So’s honesty with each other to be quite refreshing, even if the circumstances surrounding their honest conversation were bizarre. We completely rushed through So’s marriage to a child, and though we understood his reasoning behind it, it’s hard to see what impact that had on the story when the king passed so quickly afterward. Also, was no one even remotely concerned about the king going absolutely mad? Was So not even a little suspicious that something horrible was going on behind the scenes to make his previously normal-seeming brother into a lunatic?

I guess we just have to take it on faith that everyone thought this progression of events was normal for the king, which would be easier to buy if we were dealing only with people from this time period. But Su, who could recognize illnesses with one glance and prescribe the perfect ye olde herbs to remedy them, has less of an excuse for standing idly by while the king’s condition went south. She knew he had eczema, which everyone else assumed was a life-threatening condition, but she’d know better than anybody that his skin condition wouldn’t cause madness. Or maybe she wouldn’t, and I’m giving her too much credit. Just throw us a bone, Su—we want to like you, but you’ve got to help us out a little.

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1,066 October 11, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 15

by HeadsNo2

Our heroine finally does some stepping up this hour, and it couldn’t come at a more welcome time. Just when we thought we’d lost our eyes and ears into this strange world of princes and transparent political machinations, we get a semblance of that back with the resurgence of Su as a thinking, decision-making human being. All this action will probably end in high stakes death threats for her, but what else is new?

 
EPISODE 15 RECAP

Given the choice between saving Su or remaining faithful to the late King Hyejong, So drops his sword and drops to his knees before Yo. With tears in his eyes, So grits out his allegiance to the new KING JEONGJONG, third monarch of Goryeo.

We get a flashback of a young Crown Prince Mu, an equally young Astronomer Choi, and a tiny So (before he was scarred). Astronomer Choi had reassured Mu that he had the star of a king, but he’d asked Mu what he would do if his lifeline didn’t last very long.

The young prince had claimed that the length of his life wasn’t as important as who he spent his final days with, proving that he had a good temperament even as a child. That’s when So Lite chimed in to say that he wanted to become king too, and Astronomer Choi told him not to worry—he would also become king.

In the present, Astronomer Choi looks down at the pitiful corpse of King Hyejong and calls upon the other princes to respectfully see to his remains. Elsewhere in the room, Su whispers for So to rise to his feet, claiming that all of this happened because of her.

In answer, So drags her out of the palace, only to be stopped by ninth prince Won. Won delightfully informs him that under the new king’s command, if Su were to somehow disappear from Damiwon, then he’d spread the news throughout Goryeo that she poisoned the late King Hyejong.

There’s turmoil over at tenth prince Eun’s home as King Jeongjong seeks to solidify his power by ridding himself of his pesky brother. Eun and his wife have already escaped though, so the king returns to the palace to commend Wook on his evil deeds. Apparently, it was Wook who advised him to use Su to keep So in check.

The king’s uncle, Minister of the Left Wang Shik-ryeom, bids Wook to kneel before his new king. Wook keeps his poker face on as he does so, repeating the same chants of “Manseh!” as So did earlier.

King Jeongjong sits on the throne he coveted for so long, decreeing that Eun must be found in order for their plot (of making Eun’s grandfather seem as though he was planning a revolt, or something) to work. I love how Wook is all, “If only we knew a hunting dog skilled in matters like these…”

Eun’s grandfather Wang Gyu is caught and executed, along with other members of Eun’s family. Queen Sinmyeongsunseong watches the butchery and smiles her biggest smile yet, since she couldn’t be any prouder of her son. I’m officially convinced that this woman is the devil.

However, what King Jeongjong says next takes her by surprise: He wants her out of palace affairs, which he’ll take care of from now on. She can just live comfortably, which is not what the new Queen Mother wants.

She’s especially incensed that King Jeongjong is even entertaining the idea of keeping So around, despite Jeongjong’s claims that So saved his life by holding back when he stabbed him on the edge of the cliff. He gives So the mission Wook not-so-subtly hinted at: Find Eun and kill him. If he doesn’t, then he’ll be putting Baek-ah, Astronomer Choi, and even Su in danger.

After So’s gone, the king proves that he’s not grateful at all to So for saving his life, and finds the sympathy So showed him upsetting. As to why he’s keeping him around, he tells his mother that it’s more fun to try taming him for now.

So tells Grand General Park and Astronomer Choi of the new mission the king’s given him, but leaves out the part about killing both Eun and his wife. Since Soon-deok is General Park’s daughter, he warns So that he won’t stand by and let his daughter get caught up in a fight amongst princes.

Later, So pulls Su aside to tell her that it’s now common knowledge that the king died from mercury poisoning, but no one knows who the culprit is. He wants her to lay low for the time he’ll be out of the palace, and tells her to go to Astronomer Choi if she’s in danger.

Su knows enough to guess that she’s been used against So for the mission he has to go on, but he simply pats her on the head and tells her not to worry about it before he pulls her into a farewell embrace.

Despite knowing that only she and Chae-ryung attended to the king, and despite Chae-ryung’s immediately suspicious protestations that it most definitely wasn’t her, Su doesn’t suspect her in the slightest. There goes that.

But when Chae-ryung tells her that Eun’s entire family was killed, Su has a dramatic flashback to what So just told her about having to leave the palace to hunt down a traitor. She knows now that he was talking about Eun and panics.

She shuffles around listlessly afterward, only seeming to come back to reality when Soon-deok approaches her, disguised as a court lady. Since Eun trusts Su, they tell her that they only need to hide in her room until they can prepare safe passage out. Su promises to do what she can to help them.

Poor Eun still thinks that he can get help from his brothers, but it’s Su who puts a stop to that line of thinking when she reveals that So’s been sent to find him. She carefully sidesteps around telling him what’s happened to his family, and thankfully, he’s blissful in his ignorance. Soon-deok seems to know much more, but of course, she’d be mad to tell him now.

Evil minister Park Young-gyu is in attendance as Woo-hee tries to broker a deal with the new king for the benefit of the starving people of the Later Baekje region. King Jeongjong seems wary of her claims that she no longer has revenge on her mind, and proposes a different deal, one that would be more beneficial to him. (We don’t get to hear what it is.)

While at a tavern with So, Baek-ah makes it clear that he doesn’t trust or respect their new king, and worries whether So actually plans to capture Eun and take him back. “You don’t trust me either,” So says ruefully, causing Baek-ah to backpedal quickly. He’s managed to track down four boats that Eun and his wife could take, but he doesn’t know which of them they will take yet.

Woo-hee finds the two half-brothers and exchanges pleasant greetings with So, who knows that Su will be happy to see her. But it’s when Woo-hee says that she’ll return to the gyobang that Baek-ah sputters, and he doesn’t seem soothed when she tells him that she won’t be a gisaeng, but just a dance instructor. As they talk, the sinister Minister Park watches.

So confronts Wook over the very suspicious events surrounding their late brother’s death, explaining that the plot to poison him with mercury for two years was much too detailed for someone like Won to come up with. It could’ve only been Wook, and the fact that the king hasn’t killed him means that he’s working with Jeongjong.

Wook forces a smile as he claims that So has always been suspicious of him, and throws back So’s accusation that he killed their brother with one of his own: “How about you? Are you going to become the king’s dog and kill Eun?”

He claims that they’re both just struggling to survive, causing So to ask what changed him. “I did not poison the late king,” Wook finally says. It doesn’t seem like So believes him.

Since Su’s been called to tend to him, Jeongjong asks her what she would do if she were tortured for a confession about the mercury in the bathwater, which she denies having any part of. Su manages to win some points when she says that she would blame it on him, even if she died doing so.

Impressed, King Jeongjong interestingly notes that she’s the same as she used to be when she was younger (interesting because no one seems to mention that the actual Su had a past), and assures her that he won’t get rid of the only leverage he has over his brothers.

With that in mind, Su asks him to divulge who the real culprit was just to sate her curiosity—she won’t be able to tell anyone anyway, since all Jeongjong would have to do is accuse her of killing the king to make her disappear.

Before he can answer, Wook’s entrance is announced, and Jeongjong smiles wickedly as he says that Wook arrived right on time. Su just got her answer, and she can’t control her expression as she turns to look at Wook. Jeongjong just fans the flames by telling Wook that Su is simply dying to know who poisoned the king, and gets a kick out of Wook falsely claiming that the king died of an illness.

Once they’re outside, Su seems to already know the answer when she asks Wook whether he had any hand in the poisoning. It seems like she’s testing to see whether he’d lie to her directly, but the scene abruptly cuts to Queen Sinjeong tearing into Wook for his latest string of traitorous decisions.

“Is it because of Hae Su?” the queen asks. Much to her dismay, Wook answers, “Yes. I did think of her. It is because of her. Su said I tried to have everything for myself, and that that was wrong. But what of it? I tried to protect my family and my heart. What’s so wrong about that? Mother, you told me to live a proper life, and I lived my life that way. So… why am I still lonely?”

With tears in his eyes and on his cheeks, Wook claims that he’s already chosen the path he has to follow. He will get what he wants even if it means taking a different path than what he once intended: “I will no longer lose what I desire like a fool.”

Cut back to him and Su (oh, it was a flashback) as he flatly tells her, “I have done nothing wrong.”

So finds Su after hearing about her meeting with the king, though she assuages his fears by telling him that the king has no plans to kill her or kick her out of the palace. So knows it’s because the king plans to use her to manipulate him, but he’s just happy she’s safe for now.

In stark contrast to Wook, So comes clean to Su about being sent to hunt Eun down when she broaches the topic. Even though the king wants Eun dead, So says he’ll do whatever he can to help Eun escape, though that doesn’t jive with the premonition Su had about So cutting Eun down in cold blood.

So wonders whether he can keep trusting Astronomer Choi, since he didn’t even know that Yo would become king. Choi admits as much, but claims that Yo was born with the star of a traitor, so there must have been some deviation along the way that caused him to change course and become king. They’re not going to try and blame this on Su, are they?

Wook keeps repeating the words of warning Su once gave him about So, since he now feels like her prophecy is coming true—everything is becoming So’s, and Wook can’t stop him. “What should I do?” he wonders.

Despite Soon-deok’s best(?) efforts to blend in as a court lady, Jung is able to recognize her by her quick reflexes. Luckily, he’s Team Eun, and joins in on their plans to get Eun and his wife safely out of the palace. Since all the ways out are closed, Su remembers the secret tunnel beneath the palace.

Soon-deok wants to see her father before she leaves, but Su doesn’t think that’s a good idea—it’d put her too close to So. Soon-deok asks why Su doesn’t trust So considering the relationship they have, seeming to trust So more than Su does.

Her words, along with King Taejo’s “Do not get so hung up on the future that you lose what you have now” advice causes Su to admit that Soon-deok is right about trusting So. She volunteers to fetch Astronomer Choi herself, which she was reluctant to do before because of his ties to So, and ends up leaving him a note when he isn’t in his tower. That’s safe.

Jung and Soon-deok work together to clear the rocks blocking the secret tunnel, and he seems mildly discomfited by her constantly brushing her sweat-soaked hair away. He gives her a hairpin of Su’s to hold her hair back, causing her to wonder if the pin belongs to the woman he loves.

He smiles as he admits that the hairpin’s owner risked her life for him, specifically remembering the time Su saved him from those thugs in the forest by waving a stick around. Admitting that he fell in love with her when he saw her sing, he now admits that he hopes that she’ll only sing for him one day. Aww.

Soon-deok can relate to him, having felt the same feelings once herself. She describes her childhood (as we see it in flashback), claiming that she was always different from the other girls because she didn’t like the same girly things. That’s when Eun Lite offered her a ring made of flowers, which she happily accepted.

In the present, Soon-deok tells Jung to have courage when it comes to the woman he loves. She’ll be cheering him on, but Jung gives himself his own cheer: “Fighting!” Cute.

Princess Yeonhwa pays a formal visit to the new King Jeongjong, deliberately showing off the ring he once gave her. Jeongjong laughs at the sight of it, and tells her that he’ll be sending her off to the Khitan to be married. “Congratulations on your marriage, Yeonhwa-ya.”

Yeonhwa can’t help but wonder why it is that everyone who sits on that throne tries to control her through marriage: “You must believe there is no better way to control a woman other than marriage. I’m disappointed in you.” But Jeongjong reminds her that her brother betrayed him, so he can’t very well accept her as his queen.

Now that the Jeongjong avenue is closed, Yeonhwa thinks about So, and how he already proclaimed to love someone else. Left with no other options, all she can do is cry.

Because Eun is suffering from cabin fever so badly, Soon-deok allows him one excursion to the baths, since those aren’t occupied at night. Eun tries to get some while he’s at it, but Soon-deok avoids his grasps for her clothes.

She’s wowed when Eun makes her a rabbit out of a towel, so he decides to make all sorts of things for them to play with, which includes two toy boats that they use to race against each other. When Eun wins (because she let him), he prepares to give her a smack on the inside of her wrist, only to notice that her wrist is already reddened from him doing that too much. Yikes. At least he refrains this time.

Soon-deok then gifts him with his favorite slingshot, which she managed to take with them despite all the chaos. Eun admits that he never wanted to be a prince, and Soon-deok says that they’ll be able to live out their dreams freely once they move to the island of Tamra.

Eun returns the favor by giving his wife an ornament to wear, though at first, she thinks he’s gotten it for Su. Embarrassed, he says that it was for her, and repeats the same words he’d said when he gave her the flower ring as children about “all pretty girls” liking such things.

Of course, Eun is quick to say that she’s just okay and not necessarily pretty, but Soon-deok is so overcome with happiness that she kisses him. Then, she suddenly grows paranoid that kissing could make her pregnant, causing Eun to maturely note that they should’ve lived happily like this from the very beginning. But now, it’s business time.

Yeonhwa comes to the baths looking for Su the next day, and like Chae-ryung, she takes notice of all the homemade toys suddenly lying about. She orders Su to leave So immediately, and claims that she can get Su married out to a decent family.

Su says that the reason she wants to marry So (and not just into any good family) is because he makes her feel like she’s worth something, adding that she has no reason to leave him as long as he stays true to her.

“Now I know why I’ve always hated you,” Yeonhwa grits out. “Feelings and marriage are just silly games to you. It isn’t life and death for you like it is for me.” After promising to make Su pay for her refusal to bend to her wishes, Yeonhwa storms off.

Wook advises King Jeongjong to get rid of So as soon as possible, but even the king has enough sense to know that it’s too soon for him to act without arousing suspicion. In that case, Wook claims his only chance is to drive a wedge between So’s two biggest allies: General Park and Astronomer Choi.

Yeonhwa barges in unannounced and intent on making a deal: If they like what she has to say, then she doesn’t have to be married off. It’s only revealed in a scene with her and So that Yeonhwa revealed Eun’s hiding place, having recognized the towel-animals in the Damiwon bath as his doing.

Su sees Eun and Soon-deok to the secret entrance of the cave and tells them that Jung will be waiting for them on the other side. Soon-deok thanks her, and Eun says he’ll see her when he returns, which seem like some famous last words if there ever were any.

Before they can enter the tunnel, Jung comes rushing out to tell them to run—there are guards everywhere. He’ll hold them off for as long as he can.

Su tries to find another escape route, but they’re surrounded by the sounds of swords and screams. Soon-deok tells Su to take Eun, assuring him that they won’t dare to kill her, a general’s daughter. I don’t think she honestly believes it, but she wants Eun to so that he can escape.

Despite Su’s best efforts to drag him away, Eun refuses to leave his wife. “What can I do?” he sighs. “I am all she has.”

And then, he pulls himself from Su’s grasp. She can only look after him with tears in her eyes.

 
COMMENTS

Huzzah, Su did something! It’s amazing what a difference a little proactivity makes, since I suddenly found myself invested in her story this episode. And all it took was for her to have things she wanted to accomplish! How hard was that?

But in all seriousness, it really did feel like she was wandering around without goals or anything she necessarily wanted, which made it intensely difficult for me to get on board with pretty much anything she was doing. And on a much larger scale, I still don’t know what she wants out of her time here in Goryeo, and found it somewhat confusing that she suddenly reverted back to fearing So based on her still unexplained premonition. And then she reverted back to not fearing him based on other people’s advice, which was a bit disappointing—I would’ve liked for her own feelings about So to dictate how she felt about him, rather than other people having to remind her that she should trust him based off her feelings.

On a smaller episodic scale though, I was just happy that I could finally follow her, though I’m wary of trusting the show to keep delivering on the Su front after they let us down following that epic Court Lady Oh episode. Still, we’re at that stage in the game where we have to take what we can get, so I’ll take Su finally thinking for herself and even (gasp) defending herself. Against a king, no less! And I could completely buy that she’d do whatever she could to save Eun because he was her first friend in Goryeo, so giving her that common goal with both Eun and Jung went such a long way toward making her more relatable to us.

Even without Su’s premonition, dramas have taught us that hope is bad, and too much of it will kill you. So when we started spending a disproportionate amount of time with Eun and Soon-deok while they planned their escape, we pretty much knew that they were doomed. The show only cemented that fact by suddenly giving tons of screen time to the couple, which for once, was actually bearable. Most of that credit belongs to Soon-deok, who’s simply way too good for Eun—and the tragedy is that he didn’t realize what a saint of a wife he had until it was too late.

And though Jung’s been pretty low on the princely totem pole up until now, his role’s been increasing these past few weeks, and I actually like where we’ve ended up with him. His one-sided crush on Su is likely going to bite him and us in the behind later, but the show was smart to use its one remaining and uncommitted prince (Baek-ah’s sort of been decommissioned with whatever it is Woo-hee’s still around for) to help move the plot along. Even though everyone’s pretty much had a crush on Su by now, I really felt for Jung and his innocent, pure love for our heroine in ways that I never felt for Eun when he was in the throes of his one-sided love. Maybe it’s easier because we know what’ll happen to Eun even if I’m dreading whatever Su-related reasons the show might cook up to justify it, but not knowing what’ll happen to Jung is much more frightening.

At least Yo is making for a more entertaining king than his predecessor, though I couldn’t be more disinterested with the political machinations in this show. It feels like they’re checking the boxes for the basic requirements needed to make a fight for the throne seem appealing, but the story’s been so erratic when it comes to the succession of kings that it’s hard to really drum up interest when everyone on the throne or hovering directly around it is terrible. Yes, that means you too, Wook.

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1,129 October 18, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 16

by HeadsNo2

There’s only one episode this week due to a pre-emption yesterday, but it certainly is an eventful one. Su has to come to terms with her trust issues this hour, despite some of her visions of the future (in the past) coming true. But the question remains: Is the future she saw one that’s already taken her into account, or is it all just inevitable anyway?

 
EPISODE 16 RECAP

King Jeongjong looks on as Soon-deok valiantly fights to protect her husband, though tenth prince Eun steps in when Soon-deok is wounded. He asks his brother to spare them, but with one look from the king to one of the soldiers, Soon-deok is cut down in an attempt to spare Eun.

Eun crawls over to her with tears in his eyes, and cradles her face as he tells her that everything’s going to be all right. But she passes on, leaving Eun crying and helpless.

It’s then that King Jeongjong takes his bow and fires an arrow straight into Eun. Just before he can fire the other, So jumps into the fight to protect his brother as fourteenth prince Jung and Su arrive to see the scene before them rapidly deteriorate. So tries to fight off the soldiers, but that doesn’t stop Jeongjong from shooting an arrow into Eun’s chest.

So catches Eun before he can fall, and Eun, gasping for air, reminds his older brother of the birthday where So said he’d grant him any gift he wanted. Motioning to Soon-deok, Eun says that he can’t let her go alone, and asks one, final gift of his brother: He wants So to kill him so he can be with his wife, rather than the cruel Jeongjong.

With tears in his own eyes, So slowly raises his sword and cuts Eun down even as Su whispers, “No, you can’t.” It’s the same as it was in her vision, except that So watches in horror as a dying Eun reaches out toward his wife before he joins her in the afterlife.

Jung runs to his brother, urging him to wake up as So struggles even harder to contain his emotions. He breaks and begins to laugh incredulously instead, which fulfills the final part of the vision Su had—except that what she had considered to be victorious laughter is instead something much closer to a sob.

She crumples to the floor in shock as So looks toward her, but he leaves without saying a word. Su flashes back to all her fond memories with Eun as she sits, too shocked to even cry.

Grand General Park has to only look at So’s bloody sword before he goes running to the courtyard to find his precious daughter and son-in-law dead. He cradles the limp form of his daughter as Su continues to look blank, and says with a rueful smile that Soon-deok was the one who wanted to marry Eun, because he was her first love.

He was against it, General Park adds, because he knew this would happen. “Was my Soon-deok very adored by the prince?” he asks. “Very much,” a shell-shocked Su finally replies. “Very, very much. They loved each other.” The general seems soothed by this somewhat, though he cries pitifully as he holds his dead daughter in his arms.

“I’ll kill him,” Jung says, breaking the emotional moment. “I’ll kill Wang So.” Wait—you’re blaming him and not Jeongjong? Su grabs onto his robes and tells him not to do it, because that’s what Eun asked So to do. Jung can only drop his sword and cry out in frustration.

Outside the palace, a still-bloody So tells Astronomer Choi that he thinks he should become the rabid dog-wolf everyone once accused him of being—the king who ends lives, bites his master’s hand, and takes over his master’s house.

As he walks away, he thinks to himself, “I, Wang So, will become King of Goryeo.”

When King Jeongjong relays the news of Eun and Soon-deok’s deaths to Wook, Wook’s hands tighten ever so slightly even as his face remains neutral. Well, at least he still feels something.

That’s when Jeongjong decides to announce his plans to move the capital from Kaesong to Seokyeong, which will make his uncle, Wang Shik-ryeom, happy.

An emotional Baek-ah tells So that they won’t be allowed to mourn for Eun because he was labeled as a traitor, and though he and his wife’s body were thrown outside the palace gates to rot, they were able to give them a secret burial.

So tells Baek-ah about how Eun asked for one last gift from him, and Baek-ah completely understands why So did what he did—he knows that Eun would be thankful. Astronomer Choi interrupts to give So a letter from Su he just found, where she told him that Eun was hiding out at Damiwon.

So finds Su by the river, and despite her running up to him with hope in her eyes, he gives her a hard look. “I must look like a monster in your eyes. I killed Eun.” While Su claims she understands, So asks her why she hid Eun’s secret from him—was she that worried that he would kill Eun if he knew?

Su admits that she was only worried about Eun, and wanted only for he and his wife to escape together safely. “I didn’t realize we could end up hurting each other until it was too late. That was why I left that letter. I trusted you. I know it took some time, but I truly trusted you, enough that I would trust you in any situation,” she adds tearfully.

“But… now I no longer feel that way,” So says. He adds that he won’t be able to disassociate her from what he had to do because she didn’t trust him: “Eun died because of you. I will remember how I had to kill him.” Even when he had to become the king’s dog to save her, his feelings didn’t change. But now, he says coldly, they have.

“Let’s stop,” he says, turning away. But when Su calls him a liar, So gives her a small smile as he amends that they promised never to lie to each other. Ouch.

When So’s alone, however, we see him falter as tears spring to his eyes. Oh, you did lie! And broke your promise! Tsk.

So is rewarded with land by King Jeongjong for his help in executing the traitors, and is sent to see to the construction of new fortresses in the soon-to-be capital of Seokyeong. So commits himself to the royal command in a dead voice.

Jung calls his older brother out for his crimes while simultaneously announcing his plans to travel along the borders to help secure them. King Jeongjong warns him to stay away from the front lines for their mother’s sake, but Jung refuses to acquiesce, claiming that he lived like a coward for too long.

But before he leaves, he drops the two arrow stems they broke off Eun’s body in front of the king as a reminder. As if on cue, Jeongjong hears Eun’s voice as he pleaded for his and his wife’s lives. Fearful now, the king orders that sacrificial food be left for the dead—though he can’t specifically make an altar for Eun and Soon-deok, he might be hoping to calm their ghosts.

Grand General Park sarcastically wishes So prosperity in his new endeavors, especially considering that he gained land and wealth for hunting down and killing his daughter and son-in-law.

However, a flashback reveals that So, Baek-ah, and Astronomer Choi went to see the general, who already knew of So’s desire to become king. General Park also knew that So was born beneath the star of a king, and King Taejo knew it too, which is why he sent So to him to learn martial arts.

So claimed to not believe in such things, but despite that, he fully intended to become king, even if he had to kill for it. General Park reminded him that King Taejo once said that to become king, one had to throw everything else away, so General Park planned to wait and see what So would be willing to give up for the throne.

Cut to Su, the sacrifice So had to make, as Baek-ah tells her that So’s left for Seokyeong and won’t be returning for a long while. She runs out with the hope of catching him before he’s gone, but when she doesn’t, she only says into the air: “I will wait for you.”

And wait she does, as seasons come and go around her. It’s been two years, and Chae-ryung comes with exciting news that someone Su really wants to see has come to the palace.

Su runs to greet the visitor, and barely hides her disappointment when it turns out to be Jung. She manages a small smile as she greets him for the first time in two years, with Jung looking a bit more mature (and now a general) from years spent protecting the borders.

Jung admits that he paid a visit to Eun and Soon-deok’s graves, and that he was worried that Su would’ve left the palace before he returned. He thought she would’ve gotten married by now, but Su says that she plans to work until she retires, and only then will she travel the world.

Baek-ah and Woo-hee get to greet the recently returned Jung, though it’s Jung and Woo-hee’s first meeting. Su introduces her as the highest ranked lady of the gyobang, and Jung recognizes her as the former gisaeng. He says this in order to insult Baek-ah, who he claims keeps bad company—So is another example.

He also accuses Baek-ah of sending a spy to keep an eye on the troops, but it’s only when Jung’s gone that Baek-ah and Woo-hee smile over how “cute” Jung is. And how quick, too—Baek-ah did send a spy, but only because he wanted to know how his brother was doing.

Su’s face loses its smile when Baek-ah asks which room So’s staying in, because he assumed that So was also here. Su hasn’t heard such a thing, but is clearly hopeful/worried.

With enormous dark circles under his eyes, King Jeongjong rings bells and gongs to ward away spirits at a temple, the altar of which is riddled with protective talismans. His concerned mother walks in to ask what he’s decided to do about Jung, and struggles to talk over the loud noises the clearly mad king is making.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong finally grasps her son’s hands in order to quiet the noise, as she urges Jeongjong to make Jung the crown prince. Jeongjong looks distant as he asks his mother what he is to her—why is he pressuring her to pick a crown prince when he’s not dying anytime soon?

“Does Jung want the throne?” he suddenly asks, causing the queen to slacken her grip. Just then, So comes to give his greetings, and King Jeongjong just laughs that if his mother is so afraid, he’ll just make So the crown prince.

Su and Wook run into each other in the palace, but their encounter is formal and silent. Wook continues on to meet with the king, who’s acting slightly less mad as he berates So for the lack of progress with the fortress in Seokyeong.

So claims that it’s due to a lack of manpower and supplies, but the king chucks a cup at him before threateningly grabbing a nearby Su by the wrist. He tells So to do whatever it takes to get it done as he grabs Su’s wrist ever tighter, and before Jung can intervene, Wook grabs him to stop him.

It’s not until So drops to his knees to apologize for his error that the king slackens his grip, helped in part by Wook suggesting that they discuss this further in private.

Chae-ryung finds Su rewriting the same poem Su once gave her (“Walking until the water’s edge, I sit and watch as clouds rise up and appear”), recognizing the same characters despite her illiteracy.

She knows Su can’t sleep and suggests she go for a walk, and when she does, she finds So staggering at the spot where she’d go to wait these past two years. She chastises him for not coming to visit once, which he doesn’t deny. He also claims that he just came to this place because he was lost.

As he walks away, Su grabs him into a backhug. While he claimed to have forgotten everything, she says she hasn’t, and tearfully asks him to bear with her embrace just for now. Since he left on his own, she claims she has a right to do this much.

So hesitates, but stops himself from covering her hands with his own. She hesitantly asks if he still hates her, which is when he wrenches her hands off him and walks away. Su can only cry in his wake.

Woo-hee gives a report to the king about So’s false progress on the fortress in Seokyeong, claiming that he’s deliberately making it so that the fortress can’t be built. Though the king’s uncle Wang Shik-ryeom was supposed to oversee the construction, Woo-hee claims that he isn’t doing his job because he’s ill.

King Jeongjong wonders irately if this is all a ploy on So’s part for the throne, but Woo-hee has another concern: “Why have you broken your promise?” Since the king has mandated that those who can’t pay their taxes will be sold into slavery, the people of Later Baekje are being forced to work to death on the fortress.

“What meaning is there for me to be your eyes and ears, Your Majesty?” she asks, adding that the deal they made is no longer beneficial to her. The king calls her “Princess” as he threatens to tell Baek-ah about their little arrangement.

So flashes back to his fond memories with Su, smiling. He then thinks about how she asked if he still hated her as his smile fades—but just then, he turns around to find Su right behind him.

Apparently neither of them see King Jeongjong, ninth prince Won, and an entire party of attendants on the pavilion just feet away, watching them. Won uses this as evidence that Jeongjong can’t trust So, despite Jeongjong being sure that the two had no more feelings for each other. He even checked to make sure they never sent letters to each other during So’s absence.

In order to test where So’s loyalties truly lie, the king shoots an arrow at Su. So sees it just in time to grab her out of the way, getting slightly grazed by the flying arrow in the process.

He gets up immediately when the king and Won come down, with Won making it a point to notice that the two of them are closer than they appear. So just claims that it would’ve looked bad for the king to kill a court lady, though he’s probably not fooling anyone anymore.

Su takes the arrow that almost killed her back to her quarters, where she’s called Woo-hee to deliver a message to Baek-ah. We hear his response in voiceover as Su goes to the house where So is recovering, as Baek-ah mentioned that the gash on his arm got worse while he was traveling back to Seokyeong.

She finds So near the palace, with the arrow wound on his arm looking red and angry. He only catches half-unconscious and feverish glimpses of her as she tends to it, while she reaches out a tentative hand to trace the numerous other scars littering his body.

When he wakes, he finds Su sleeping across the room and gets up to kneel closer to her. Reaching out a hand, he moves as if to cup her face, only to be interrupted when Su wakes up.

Caught, he simply asks why she’s here. She said she asked Baek-ah for a favor so she could come ask him one question: “You still haven’t forgotten me, have you? You said you no longer liked me. You were lying, weren’t you?”

But that’s not the question she came here to ask, as she tearfully reminds him that she risked her life to leave the palace so she could be here. “In the past two years, there was not a day when I wasn’t waiting for you. I wanted to go back to that time. I wished for it again and again. So I wanted to tell you… that I trust you.”

She says she’ll ask him once more, and wants an honest answer from him: “Do you still love me?” There’s a long pause before So answers by turning around to kiss her.

He pulls back to see her crying, and wipes away one of her tears with his thumb. He swoops in for another kiss, and Su pulls him in tighter. A nearby candle flickers out, which can only mean one thing…

We return to find the two lovebirds lying in bed, with So stroking Su’s cheek. She wakes from her sleep and smiles at him, and they spent the rest of the night making shadow puppets on the wall. So’s actually pretty darn good at this.

They’re as adorable over breakfast the next morning, with Su hand feeding him bits of protein while smiling. That night, they study the stars together as Su points out constellations, though of course their bliss is interrupted by the arrival of Astronomer Choi.

He’s come with bad news: The king is very ill. Apparently the monk who was tending to the king got hit by lightning (hahahaha, sorry), and the shock of it was too much for the king to bear. We see the king going literally mad as he imagines Eun in his room and outside of it, as well as the ghost of King Hyejong or King Taejo.

Upon finding the king, Wook immediately left to see Wang Shik-ryeom in Seokyeong, which is why Astronomer Choi has come to So. General Park is gathering his forces, so it’s up to So to decide whether he wants to make a grab for the throne.

“Do you want the throne?” Su asks him. “I do,” So admits. Now Su realizes that the throne is the reason he left her, though he tells her that it was because the king was using her against him that he had to make it look like he no longer loved her.

She asks what he’d do if she asked him to give up the throne, and he just smiles at her as he says he’d convince her. Reminding him that he once said he didn’t need the throne as long as they could be together, she’s noticed that he doesn’t say that anymore.

Since they agreed not to lie to each other, So tells her that he came to realize that the world can change if the king changes. “I will not let others keep me on a leash. And if it is a seat where I can put an end to irrational matters, then I surely desire… to become king.”

 
COMMENTS

I’m at least glad they didn’t drag on the separation storyline for more than one episode (despite years passing in the timeline), though I’m still scratching my head over why it was necessary in the first place. It felt obligatory, like this was just the point in the story where we needed some noble idiocy and forced separation, and even if it was there to just provide some angst, it was so short-lived that by the time I noticed that this was where we were really going, it was over.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take the cute romantic moments between Su and So, even if their togetherness kind of negated the reason they had been driven apart. I get that So wanted to fool Jeongjong into thinking that he no longer loved Su so that she wouldn’t be used against him, but what good did that ruse do? It’s not like Jeongjong has a conscience that would’ve kept him from making Su’s life a living hell if he suddenly thought that So didn’t care, and it certainly didn’t stop him from manhandling her in front of So anyway. Or are we supposed to believe that the only thing standing between Su and that arrow was Jeongjong’s intel that they hadn’t sent each other any letters in two years?

Speaking of Jeongjong, I admit to being fatigued by what now feels like a parade of mad kings in this show, especially since the directing seems to have no desire to rein in any of these performances. It’s all just too much, what with Hyejong screaming his head off like a lunatic, and now Jeongjong constantly staring off into the middle distance while he talks crazy.

It’s fine to portray him as being plagued by guilt, even though guilt isn’t an emotion Jeongjong ever even hinted he could feel, but what’s the reasoning behind taking that idea to the absolute extreme? It’s to the point where I feel like they’re using madness as a cop-out to create an easy way to delegitimize whoever’s on the throne without having to create character-driven reasons for it, that way we’re left with only one option to root for. The simplicity can be nice sometimes, but we lose out on the complexity of So having to actually make plans against a worthy foe when that foe imagines dead people in his room at night.

I thought it was interesting that the scenario with Eun played out exactly as it did in Su’s original vision, but the intent behind So’s actions was (potentially?) different. It’s a question I dearly wish the show would explore a bit more, since we had Su looking wide-eyed at all the events happening before her, realizing that they were happening just as she saw them, and then… thinking nothing else about it. Are her visions true glimpses into the future? Is she seeing a future she already had a hand in, and does that mean everything’s predetermined to happen with or without her interference?

But now that she’s seen that So didn’t actually want to kill Eun, I wonder if she’s considered that perhaps the past has already changed, and that So won’t leave a trail of bodies on his way to the throne. I did like that So called her out on not trusting him this episode, and do feel that he was genuinely hurt by that—but I like it more that they’re back to being cute. At least we have a week to enjoy it.

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588 October 24, 2016October 24, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 17

by HeadsNo2

It’s lonely up at the top, and no one’s coming to realize that more than So. Everyone’s becoming increasingly more isolated with all the major changes taking place within the palace, and friends seem to be in short supply. Loyal family members are in even shorter supply. But there’s always love, and these two better relish it while they still can.

 
EPISODE 17 RECAP

After telling Su of his desire to become king, So manages a smile as he asks, “Why, do you not want me to become king?” Su says she doesn’t, but that she hates the idea of being separated from him even more.

“You will become king,” she tells him. “I know that.” But concern floods her expression as she implores him to not kill his brothers, to which he nods his head in agreement, taking her hands in his.

March of 949, one year later.

The palace gates are closed against the sound of a revolt let by So, as Su nervously tends to the king. He swats away the tea she offers, claiming it’s poison, but then he decides to blame his entire situation on her.

According to King Jeongjong, the reason he’s plagued by the ghosts of Hyejong, Eun, Soon-deok, and even King Taejo is because she helped So to cover up his scar. Because So was able to then take what was rightfully his, he’s ended up like this.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong rushes in to declare that So’s leading a revolt. She pleads with her son to put it to paper that he’ll be abdicating the throne to Jung, since they can’t lose the throne.

“Then… what will become of me? Am I even your son? What am I to you, Mother? Just something that exists to sit on the throne?” Jeongjong cries as he says this, the realization hitting hard. Despite her pleads to the contrary, he now claims to finally understand So, and orders his mother to be taken away.

Su turns to leave, but the king rises on shaky legs to advance menacingly toward her.

Unlike the evil queen, Queen Sinjeong is much more levelheaded about what’s to come, and though she says she’ll follow Princess Yeonhwa’s lead, she tells her daughter that there was something she never taught her: “If you want to become master of the palace, you must be willing to give something up.”

She tells Yeonhwa that she could give up love in order to have the world at her fingertips, or have love, but not the world. “What if I want the whole world?” the princess asks haughtily. To that, her mother can only say that she will cast Wook aside, presumably in order to survive.

Alongside Grand General Park and Baek-ah, So leads an impressive number of forces to storm the palace gates. But before they can advance, Princess Yeonhwa comes out to meet them, accompanied by only a few soldiers.

“I will help you enter the palace without any bloodshed,” she says, the gate open behind her. So says he won’t forget what she’s done, and the men behind him cheer.

King Jeongjong starts laughing as the sounds come ever nearer, though tears fill his eyes as he pours his soul out to Su. “What have I done so wrong?” I was afraid that I would be cast aside as well, just like So was.” Sounding like a lost little boy, he says that his mother told him he wasn’t lacking.

But then he pivots back to blaming Su for everything, throwing her to the ground in the process. As he coughs from his mysterious illness, he begins to write the decree his mother wanted, but with a twist: Su gets to pick the next king. Yes, really.

Before she can answer, and with the sounds drawing ever nearer, Jeongjong writes his answer and holds it out to Su in shaking hands. But then he chokes, coughs, smiles just a little, and promptly collapses. In voiceover, we hear him say, “I was just trying to survive.”

Su cries in fear as the king’s dead eyes stare up at her. So bursts in, takes stock, and quickly reads what the king left behind. After asking Su if she’s read it, he tears it up.

Queen Sinmyeongsunseong comes in to see her son dead. Su drops to her knees to pay her greetings to the new king, So, with the traditional cries of “Manseh! Manseh! Manseh!” So claims that the king abdicated to him before he died, which is all everyone else needs to hail him as king.

Cut to: So being officially crowned as KING GWANGJONG, fourth king of Goryeo (but for ease of use, we’ll stick to calling him So). And Su, no longer dressed as a court lady, smiles to see him in his kingly robes as she thinks to herself that he’ll no longer be remembered for leaving a bloody trail behind his ascent to the throne. “I will help you,” she adds, smiling at him.

We finally get a glimpse of Wook as he broods over his mother’s warnings for him to distance himself from the royal family—their own family will push to have a queen in the palace instead of a king now.

Princess Yeonhwa asks her brother why he didn’t attend the coronation, but he calls her cruel for wanting him to see So on a seat he desperately wanted for himself. All his best laid plans went to waste, since So became the hero who brought down the traitor (Jeongjong) instead of him.

Despite that, Yeonhwa still pleads for his support. If he helps her to become queen, she promises to repay him for all the pain he’s suffered. But she can’t seem to get a reaction—positive or negative—out of him.

So reads through kingly missives until he arrives at one asking for the capital to be moved to Seokyeong (which was Jeongjong’s original plan). But So orders a stop to be put to all the construction, declaring that the capital will stay exactly where it is.

Once he hears that Su is waiting for him, So enters his quarters to find her sleeping sitting up against his bed. He apologizes for making her wait, and shares his kingly dinner with her and Baek-ah, who keeps referring to him formally as “Your Majesty” despite So telling him to just call him “hyung-nim” when they’re alone.

Since Baek-ah replied with the incredibly formal “Your grace is immeasurable” when So put a bit of meat on his rice, Su pranks him by sneaking another piece of protein onto Baek-ah’s plate, prompting the same knee-jerk reaction from Baek-ah. She and So have a good laugh at Baek-ah’s expense.

So is genuinely happy to be sharing a meal with them, seeming more at ease than he’s ever been before. Later, Su approaches him as he sleeps and tucks him in, though he wakes suddenly from a nightmare, calling her name.

When he comes to his senses, he immediately pulls her into an embrace: “I thought you were gone.” She tells him that she won’t leave until he’s asleep, but instead, he pulls her down into the bed with him. “We can just sleep together,” he proposes, though she leaves the warmth of his arms.

She’s afraid of rumors spreading, though he isn’t, and doesn’t want her to leave him alone. He feels suffocated by the specters of those who’ve slept in this room before him, and asks her to stay with him. Then, like a little boy, he snuggles up to her with his head in her lap, asking for her to tell him a story.

She decides to tell him the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” which he falls asleep to. In the morning, Su wakes up in his bed to find him gone. We cut to her confiding in Woo-hee later, though Woo-hee warns her to be careful—the king will need a new queen, so everyone will have their eyes on her.

She’s called to Queen Sinmyeongsunseong’s quarters only to be confronted by Jung with the remnants of the decree So tore up. The queen wants to know if the king truly did name So as his successor, and Su shakily answers that he did. (They couldn’t just… piece together the remnants to find out?)

The evil queen calls Su out on her lies, demanding to know the truth. She’s stopped by So’s intervention, as he pulls Su out of his mother’s grasp and tells her to ask her questions to him directly. When the queen asks why he tore the decree, So denies being the one who did it.

Su’s hand tightens within his own as So claims that Jeongjong definitely gave the throne to him, even though Jung raises the question as to why he’d do that when Jeongjong had a son of his own. “If you are that curious,” So ventures, “do you want to ask him in the afterlife?”

So makes the threat very clear that if Jeongjong hadn’t abdicated to him, then he would have been forced to usurp the throne, which would have been much, much bloodier. He does take issue to his mother refusing to be called Queen Mother though, since she all but disowns him as she calls him a thief who stole the throne from her real son.

After leading Su out by her hand, So tells her that she’s not to heed anyone’s summons without his permission first. Before she can get a word in edgewise, he’s gone.

Astronomer Choi tells the king that there are rumors going around that he fabricated the late king’s final decree and that Jeongjong’s only son should have been king.

But So puts his foot down, and orders that anyone submitting an appeal against him be charged with treason, and to kill everyone associated with the late king. “I shall not let a single soul live,” he adds menacingly.

Minister Park Young-gyu knows he’s soon to be arrested for spreading rumors that So fabricated the late king’s will and plans to take Woo-hee down with him by exposing her as a spy. Instead of letting him do that, she kills him, and he breaks off her norigae ornament as he falls.

This turns out to be a flashback, since we find Woo-hee nervously holding the very same ornament. She grabs it back from Baek-ah when he takes notice of it, but he has other things to focus on, like getting her adopted into a noble family so that they can be married.

They both know that it’s because she’s from Later Baekje, and because Baek-ah’s family has some bad history with Gyeon Hwon, the once-king of the region. A confusing voiceover from Minister Park tells us that Woo-hee is the granddaughter of Gyeon Hwon, and that he foresaw that Baek-ah would be in danger if he were to find out about her true lineage.

She can’t help but note the irony of their situation, in that the king of Goryeo killed her family, while the king of Later Baekje killed his grandmother’s family. But Baek-ah knows that none of that was their fault, and just wants them to focus on being together.

Despite So wanting him to stay close, Grand General Park formally asks to be allowed to retire peacefully to his hometown. He can’t help but be reminded of his daughter every time he looks at So, though he doesn’t seem to blame him for it—he only wishes that So become a good and wise king in his absence.

So tells Su about General Park leaving, before asking her if she’s curious to know whose name was written in the late king’s final decree. Does she think he stole the throne? Su says she couldn’t be any less curious about whose name was there, but So reveals that there wasn’t a name written at all.

Knowing that a blank space would leave the throne open to more fighting and confusion, he ripped it up, which Su commends him for. But then he grows more introspective as he notes how alone he really is—General Park is gone, Baek-ah sees him only as a king now, Jung sees him as a murderer, and his own mother considers him a thief.

“You were right,” he says, tears welling in his eyes. “The throne is frightening and lonely.” As one tear spills down, Su comforts him by telling him that he still has her, and comes to rest her head on his shoulder. “I will not leave you.”

Chae-ryung tells Su that she’ll be among the court ladies released from service now that there’s a new king, though she makes it clear that she doesn’t actually want to leave. She pleads for Su to ask the king to allow her to stay in Damiwon, which is later revealed to be part of ninth prince Won’s plan.

Won clearly wants her to stay in Damiwon as his spy, but Chae-ryung wonders if they shouldn’t use this opportunity (of her being freed) for them to just be together. But Won couldn’t be less interested in Chae-ryung as a free woman, and needs Chae-ryung the spy.

It’s made to seem as if they’re being spied upon themselves, though we don’t see who it is. The quick cut to So looking smug might tell us something, even as he faces off against fourteenth prince Jung and family members from his mother’s side.

They refuse to pledge loyalty to him, and Jung declares that they’ll find out what was really on the late king’s decree before they all leave as a group. Astronomer Choi warns So that it’ll be dangerous to leave the Chungju clan against him, which he can fix by either showing them the decree, or by getting even more powerful families on his side.

But all So can think about is that his mother refuses to acknowledge him as a son to the end. Aw.

Now that Su’s been moved to the king’s quarters, she and Woo-hee prepare food for him as a gift. Woo-hee tries to vaguely ask if actions have consequences—say, if she were to wrong someone else for her own happiness. Would she be forgiven?

Su says that she shouldn’t hurt others just so she can survive, but she wants to believe that the universe would be kinder to the two of them, who’ve had their share of suffering. “Even if we were selfish at times, we’ll be able to be forgiven. I plan on believing that,” she adds.

That night, Su encounters Wook outside, and he has the gall to be upset that she went to So in the end. “Now you are the king’s woman. How am I to accept that?” he asks stoically. Su simply replies that So was honest with her about his greed to have both her and the throne.

“Why is it that you insisted I could not become king? In your eyes, was I not enough to become king?” he asks. She insists it wasn’t like that, explaining that So was born under the star of a king. “It is not your fault,” she adds. “It is only nature taking its course, and it is fate.” So… it’s fate, and it’s fate?

Wook’s offended that she made her decision off what she believes to be fate. He broods in his library later while looking at the bracelet he once gave Su, and flashes back to their fond memories together. Then he shatters the jade pendant on the bracelet.

When Yeonhwa walks in, he tells her that he’ll help her become queen. “No one can have everything. Isn’t that only fair?” Ohh, he just wants revenge on Su. That’s cold.

So writes the verse of the poem Su so loved over and over again, though she doesn’t tell him the reason why she needs so many copies. They act like a normal couple with normal problems, with So smiling widely. But it’s that smile that unsettles Su, and she asks if anything happened to him today.

He denies it, and half-jokingly tells her not to try to know everything about him: “If you keep doing that when we’re not even married, I’ll want to run away.” She pouts that it’s because she spends all day waiting for him, so she’d rather spend her days in Damiwon being productive, at the very least.

She picks that time to bring up Chae-ryung’s plight, and So readily agrees to whatever she asks. When she says that she’d be lonely without Chae-ryung, So tells her that she won’t have to worry about that for long—not if they’re going to have children, anyway.

With a grin, So tells her that she’ll be visited by a doctor soon so she can start taking care of her health for their future children, though Su blusters that they aren’t even married yet. So blinks as though the idea hadn’t quite occurred to him, but he’s more than open to it: “Marriage? We can get married. When should we? Let’s do it when you want to.”

His overeagerness is adorable, but Su complains that the proposal isn’t impressive enough. Hadn’t he planned on proposing to her at the prayer stones? He jokes that he’ll have to come up with a satisfying proposal in order to marry her then, adding that it’s tougher to deal with her than it is to rule a country.

As promised, the royal doctor comes calling, and concludes that Su’s knee may make her unable to walk someday (from being tortured). But there’s a bigger problem in that she has heart palpitations, which has him claiming that all the frustration she’s had in life has caused an illness in both her heart and body.

“At this point,” the doctor says, “I cannot guarantee how long you will live.” (What.) Su blinks at him before flatly asking him to be honest with her about how long she’ll live.

We find her making her own pile of prayer stones later as she prays to just have ten more years, though she knows that she’s asking for a lot. “I want to be with him a little longer,” she all but whispers.

Jung and his sideburns come upon Su and her stones, causing him to wonder if she’s praying for So to live a long life as king. She instead replies that she’s praying for Jung to be her friend again, but he throws back that she once said she wouldn’t take anyone’s side—and then she took So’s.

Su reminds him of what a horrible king Jeongjong was, claiming that So ascending the throne was only natural order. Jung agrees with her there, but says that things only started going wrong when So came to the palace. Plus, he still believes So stole the throne.

He’s also worried about her, since he asks if she really thinks she can become queen. She’d just be one of many women for the king, and he doesn’t think that’s the life she wants, not when she told him of her dreams for the future. “Tell me whenever you get tired of this place. If you really want to leave, I have a way out,” he adds.

Wook pays a visit to the new king, claiming to be a representative of his vassals. He doesn’t waste time before listing the demands of said vassals, who want him to give up his hold on both the military and the treasury. In exchange, they’ll do their jobs and actually show up to court.

But So recognizes his requests for what they are, and plainly says no—by cutting him off from the military and the treasury, he’d be cutting off both his wings. “If you do not want to lose your wings,” Wook says, with a dramatic close-up, “how about your heart?”

That’s when he proclaims that his family requests to be joined with So’s in marriage.

Princess Yeonhwa visits Su, who’s less than happy with her company. But Yeonhwa claims that she’ll accept Su as the king’s woman, since she won’t care about who else he’s with. “What I want is honor and recognition. Also, I want my son on the throne,” Yeonhwa says, before adding with a smile, “I will be marrying His Majesty. I will be the king’s wife. I will be queen.”

With a mirthless smile, Wook tells So that he’ll have support from all the powerful families if he marries Yeonhwa, pointing out that So can’t protect that seat alone. “If you want to sit there for a long time, you need them on your side.”

So says that he already promised to marry someone else, and Wook knows he’s talking about Su. “That girl cannot become a queen,” Wook replies, though So shoots back that he always does what he says he’ll do.

Wook doesn’t need to remind him that she scarred her body to get out of marrying King Taejo, but he does. And they both know that a woman with a scar cannot be allowed to marry the king.

 
COMMENTS

This cliffhanger could’ve done more if events weren’t now tainted with the knowledge that Su is going to die—and though we can hope in vain that the doctor was just misinformed, sageuk doctors are never wrong in their diagnoses unless they’re being paid to lie. So sayeth the rules of Sageuk Dramaland.

And that just really puts a huge damper on everything, not necessarily because Su’s a character who’s earned our emotional investment, but because if there was a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel, it’s effectively gone now. Which isn’t to say that a show can’t be good if it doesn’t end happily, since that would be disingenuous to the generally unhappy spirit of Moon Lovers. My main concern is that the final episode will end with Su dying, and while that in and of itself wouldn’t be a terrible ending, the idea that we’ve been forewarned takes the dramatic tension away. Now we’ll just be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I’m sincerely hoping that the next episode will put all my fears to rest about us spending this show’s last hours with Su being a noble idiot and hiding her illness, so I’ll table those concerns until we have a better idea of how she plans to deal with this news. It’d be nice if she helped us out by giving us even an inkling of how she really feels, but we got no information from her during the scene where she was told she didn’t have long to live, and having her calmly praying for ten more years made it all seem like a nonevent. Even though it is, and I’m sure it’ll be an even bigger one when it matters.

I wish I could tell what it is that made So’s coronation feel like just as much of a nonevent, despite the fact that it all happened so quickly. Having Jeongjong just die of unknown reasons before So barged in was a bit of a letdown, though maybe that’s just because we jumped a year ahead and suddenly So was waiting with an army at the gates to take over the palace. And all Jeongjong could do was blame Su for everything that ever happened, because he was crazy.

It was even more of a missed opportunity to keep Wook completely out of the events leading up to So’s coronation, just because I feel like we could’ve mined a lot more dramatic tension if So had a worthy rival. But since we didn’t, and since So seemed to become king in a vacuum, we instead got that really bizarre scene with So threatening to kill everyone who didn’t agree with his reign. It was an extreme character shift for him, and it would’ve been slightly more palatable had the show at all carried through with it—but instead we continued on as though it never happened.

It’s disappointing that So would devolve into mindless violence the second he got on the throne, because now more than ever is the time for him to play politics, and he’ll find himself outclassed by someone like Wook unless he gets his head in the game. But then I suppose his threats really didn’t matter when he didn’t carry through with them (at least as far as we know), so maybe we can just chalk it up to him learning on the job.

While it was strange to see Bloodthirsty So immediately followed by Puppy So, there was at least some solace to be found in So and Su’s scenes together, though it did feel like we were on borrowed time. I really wish that So could prove everyone wrong and not suffer the same constraints as those who’ve come before him, but things are admittedly looking a little bleak right now. But it’s not the end yet, and if this show has taught us nothing else, it’s that being king turns people into lunatics, and everything can change in an instant. In the meantime, I’ll start collecting prayer stones.

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1,027 October 25, 2016October 25, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 18

by HeadsNo2

There are no shortages of bitter pills for Su to swallow this episode, and for the most part, she seems to base her decisions off what’s best for So and his fledgling rule. At the same time, his being king requires him to make some tough decisions, and Su has trouble understanding why the man she loves can’t always be benevolent. Basically, it just sucks to live in Goryeo.

 
EPISODE 18 RECAP

When Princess Yeonhwa declares that she’ll be marrying the king, Su says she won’t believe it until she hears it from So’s lips. Yeonhwa takes the time to school her on the politics she knows nothing about, telling her about all the opposition So now faces as king—including all the powerful families that now seek to dethrone him. Where were these people when we had two mad kings on the throne?

Regardless, Yeonhwa notes with a sigh that while Su may be happy to wait in the king’s quarters, a woman who’s happy with only that cannot become queen without endangering the king’s position. Also, there’s the scar issue to take into account, which is why Yeonhwa proposes that the two of them merely coexist when she inevitably becomes queen.

Wook tells So much of the same thing, making sure to mention the scar. But, he adds, if So really wants to marry her, he can… only if he gives up the throne. So what’ll it be? “I will not lose either,” So says confidently. “I rose to the throne in order to acquire everything. Do you really think I would cast Hae Su aside over a scar?”

That’s when he points to his own face, to the scar hidden beneath the makeup. “I became king with a face like this,” he reminds Wook.

We get a quick cut to a quiet dinner with Su and So before cutting back to So at court, with yet another official telling So all the things he’s already heard. The only solution, in this day player’s opinion, is for So to marry Yeonhwa. All his problems will disappear that way.

Still, So remains steadfast in his decision to marry Su. Next up to state the obvious is Queen Sinjeong, who gives her two cents about what So should do in order to keep the throne, adding that she even cast her own son out so that she could do what was best for the nation.

The queen hands over a book written by Su, filled with symbols no one recognizes (Hangul, which wouldn’t be invented until 1446) as proof that she’s not normal. Again, So claims to not care about such things. “What is so great about this seat?” he mumbles, causing Queen Sinjeong to note that the only way he’ll leave that throne is if he dies.

Su tells Chae-ryung that her wish to stay in the palace has been granted, but she soon gets pulled away by Astronomer Choi. He laments that this tower used to be so full of life when all the princes would gather and visit, pointing out all the things each prince liked best. But those times are gone now, which is why he’s brought her here: “You must give up on marrying the king.”

He says that she should be the one to end things since So will remain stubborn until the end, but Su meekly protests that she doesn’t want to. “I’ve been through a great deal and waited a long time. I only did so because I believed I would be happy one day. If I were going to give up like this, I would have given up long ago,” she says.

But Astronomer Choi asks her to remember all that’s happened in this palace, and all the danger the king is now in. The only way to prevent more tragedy is to consolidate power around the throne, and he very bluntly says that Su is not the person to help So do that. Su starts to have trouble breathing, and puts a hand over her heart.

Su goes into the king’s quarters with a huge smile on her face and something hidden behind her back, which she reveals to be masks. She wants them to go out to the market and have a bit of fun, and proposes that they disguise themselves in order to leave the palace.

So out they go, with the town all lit up for the exorcism rite festival. She teaches him how to pinky promise, and he takes her hand as they walk, like a true couple. At one point, he pulls her into a backhug and kisses her on the cheek, and there are smiles all around.

She takes him to the prayer stones she piled, causing him to jokingly asked if she did so to pray for him to propose. She unabashedly says yes, considering that he said he’d propose to her at the prayer stones. So says that she should’ve run away when she met him, and she fires back that she did run, but he caught her.

“I don’t remember what drew me to you,” So says. “There are so many reasons now. I have to live with you. Let’s live together. Marry me.” He waits for her reaction, but as her eyes slowly well with tears, his expression turns concerned.

“I cannot,” Su replies. (You could have tried leading with that.) “I cannot do anything for you except to provide you comfort. It will be hard for me to marry you.” Angry now, So asks who’s been putting these ideas into her head, though he stresses that no one can force him to give up on her.

She says she won’t give up either and will continue to stay with him, but that if she became a queen, she’d be too constrained by palace rules. She promises that she’ll be all right as she touches his cheek, and So says that she can’t leave him even if he can’t marry her.

“I will not let you go,” he continues. “Because you are mine. You can’t go anywhere—I will never allow it.” Then, pulling her into an embrace, he softly adds as a tear rolls down his cheek, “You are my only queen.”

Cut to: So and Princess Yeonhwa’s low-rent marriage in front of a meager audience. Wook leads the celebratory cries of “Manseh!” at Yeonhwa becoming queen, even as Su tries on the bride’s wedding hanbok for herself, looking longingly at her reflection.

Jung and his mutton chops find her at the prayer stones, as he claims he also wasn’t invited to the wedding. He jokingly asks if she won’t just come to him now, offering to take her far away if she were to ask him. If she ever wants anything, he adds, all she has to say to him is, “I want it.”

So unveils his bride in the marriage chambers, and gives her a long silent look before turning away from her. When he does, she warns him that Su could be used against him in the future, so getting rid of her now might be best.

He cuts her off there, telling her to focus solely on being queen. Burn.

Chae-ryung finds Su still at the prayer stones later that night, offering her an herbal pouch(?) to ease her suffering. They reminisce about Lady Hae and her prayer stones, which has Chae-ryung thinking of her late mother, who suffered from illness before she died.

Su kneels down next to her and prays to her own mother, repeating over and over again that she’s doing fine. Chae-ryung knows better and takes her hands, as So watches them from afar.

Later that night, he stands outside Su’s room, but can’t bring himself to open the door. She just stays curled up inside.

Now that So’s married Yeonhwa, his vassals finally show up for court, and So’s all smiles as he decides to adopt the era name for his reign as Gwangdeok. Everyone’s agreeable to this and his other decrees, save for one: Wook still wants the king to relinquish his control over the nation’s finances.

Surprisingly, So agrees to Wook’s terms, and declares that he’d like to spend some time reading important literature while his loyal ministers help run the government. He cavalierly declares that fourteenth prince Jung is guilty of treason and will be stripped of his title and sent to his maternal family’s hometown, which gets a rise out of Baek-ah.

But So continues as if he were discussing the weather, adding that he’s not going so far as to execute Jung—that’ll only happen if he steps foot within the capital.

Of course, when Queen Sinmyeongsunseong hears of this, she collapses. Baek-ah tells Su and Woo-hee the news, explaining the severity of the punishment. Su’s knee-jerk reaction is to try to talk to So in order to help Jung, but Woo-hee warns her that she doesn’t have the authority to do so. For now, Baek-ah says, they’ll just have to wait until the king calms down.

Yeonhwa calls on the ailing Queen Sinmyeongsunseong, who only wants to see Jung. But it’s So who comes to see her first, decreeing that only he will see to his mother’s care from now on.

He tends to her like a son while she can only stare up at him, wheezing. His use of the word “Mother” has her struggling even harder, though her power is now limited. Jung is still refused entry to the palace.

Over dinner that night, Su asks So to allow Jung to see their mother, but So slams his chopsticks down as he calls her out for sending for Jung—he’d forbidden anyone from sending him messages, so he knows that only she could’ve done it.

She admits as much, but claims her reasons are just, since the queen is on her deathbed and Jung deserves to be there. But So is adamant that Jung can’t take one step into the palace, or it’ll be his execution. “If Jung is allowed into the palace,” he warns her, “I will not let it go, even if it is you.”

Jung stands outside the palace gates in silent protest until he can barely stand anymore. Baek-ah passes him a jug of water as he goes into the palace, but Jung only pours it over his head.

So tries to spoon medicine into his mother’s mouth, but she keeps her lips clamped firmly shut. She’s been doing as much for five days, refusing to take even a sip of water, and turns away from So’s touch like a possessed person from a crucifix. The only word she manages to repeat is Jung’s name.

But So tells her to take stock of the son who’s actually caring for her now, not the son in the afterlife, or the one who can’t even be with her now. He is king, and he is taking care of her.

The queen opens her eyes then, remembering when So walked into her room covered in blood after massacring a temple full of monks. The words he’d said to her then come back to haunt her now: “You may have cast me aside, but I will not leave. From now on, I will make sure I am all you see.”

So smiles in the present to see this realization dawn on her face. He promises to build her a grand temple and spread tales of how wonderful a mother she was. A tear rolls down his cheek as he adds that everyone will know of their relationship, and their relationship only.

“I will become your one and only precious son. This… is my revenge for you abandoning me as your child.” The queen gasps for air, struggling to say “You… you!” as she reaches up a hand to his face, though it’s almost as if she wants to claw at him rather than caress him.

She has the strength to do neither though, and dies. So breaks down into pitiful tears as he holds her hand to his face, relishing a mother’s touch he could never receive in life.

Su is the one to venture out of the palace gates to deliver the news to Jung, and presumably is the one to allow him into his mother’s quarters to see her body. So allows for this small visit, but says that after he’s done saying his goodbyes, Jung’s punishment will be reinstated.

Later, So tears into Su for taking Jung’s side, and takes special offense to her pitying Jung when she, of all people, should be on his side. “He is not the pitiful one. I was always the one who was cast aside!” So bellows.

Pointing to the scarred side of his face, he tells her that his mother touched him right before she died. “In all my twenty-five years of life, I have never had her to myself. Is it so wrong for me to send her off on my own?” he cries.

Su reaches up to touch his face, but he catches her wrist before she can. “You should have said you understood me,” So grits out with tears in his eyes. He leaves, and all Su can do is sigh.

So finally confronts ninth prince Won over how involved Wook was with the mercury in the bathwater (he knows that Chae-ryung was a servant in Won’s household before she came to Damiwon), and Wang Gyu’s supposed revolt, which ended with the deaths of Eun and his wife.

Though initially reticent, the idea of being plunged into boiling water as punishment gives Won the courage to blame everything on Wook, who he claims colluded with the late king Jeongjong. So has just one more question for him, but we don’t hear what it is.

Su goes looking for Chae-ryung in Damiwon, but notices that there’s a pallor over the other court ladies. Woo-hee would rather show her than tell her what’s going on, since outside, Chae-ryung has been rolled up in a torture taco to be beaten. The king has ordered all the court ladies to watch as a warning.

Su can’t understand why the king would do such a thing, until Astronomer Choi explains that a court lady from Damiwon committed a very serious crime. It’s only then that she’s told who’s in the taco, causing her to stumble toward the bloody mess that was once her friend.

Woo-hee’s there to catch her when she faints, at least. We get a flashback montage of Su and Chae-ryung’s memories before finding Su lying in bed, with the king on a rampage over the royal doctor not telling him of Su’s illness.

Su wakes whispering Chae-ryung’s name, and pushes So off when he reaches out to her. “How could you? How could you do that to someone?” she screams. That’s when So opts to tell her that Chae-ryung had been spying on her the whole time, and that she was the one to deliver the book of Su’s Hangul to Queen Sinjeong.

He adds that not only was Chae-ryung partially responsible for them not getting married, but that it was she who put the mercury in the king’s bathwater. It was Chae-ryung who betrayed Eun and prevented his escape by telling Won and Wook about the secret cave beneath the baths.

That’s when Su remembers that Wook had told her he heard about the cave from Chae-ryung, so she knows what So says is true. Therefore, he stands by his decision, though Su tearfully claims that Chae-ryung’s only crime was being born a slave.

She doesn’t brush off the comforting hand So puts on her shoulder at least, but she gives him no other reaction as he gets up to leave. Seeing a letter that wasn’t there before, Su reaches for it…

But we cut to So throwing a fit in the throne room, as he realizes how much he’s been played by Wook. He knows he only has Baek-ah and Su left on his side, which he blames on Wook: “Now I’ve become a monster to Su. I will never let him get away with this.”

Su opens the letter and recognizes Chae-ryung’s hand instantly, which is yet another reminder that Chae-ryung lied to her (she’d claimed she never learned how to read). In the letter, Chae-ryung claimed that she’d wanted to confess everything to Su, but knew her time was running short.

We see Chae-ryung Lite in flashback as a beggar on the streets. Ninth prince Won had shown her mercy by giving the little girl silver, and when she became a servant in his house, he taught her how to read and write. In the letter, she tells Su that she loved him, and has no regrets, nor does she resent anyone. Is that letter supposed to be written in blood? When did she have time to write that thing?

So stumbles into his room (I’m guessing he’s drunk?), and thinks that Su is the one waiting on his bed wearing a mask. But as he pulls her close and lifts the mask just enough for him to be able to kiss her lips, he pulls back suddenly before he does, unmasking Yeonhwa instead.

He pushes her away, roughly reminding her that he warned her against getting greedy. She reminds him that he told her to fulfill her duties as a queen, and part of her duty is to bear him a son.

She more or less embraces him, causing So to smile ruthlessly. “What if I tell you to turn your back on Wook and your family? Can you do it?” If she were to do so and become his only queen, he adds, then he’d make their son the crown prince. She’d be both the queen, as well as the queen mother.

Su stares listlessly at the baths in Damiwon while clutching the hairpin So gave her. When Baek-ah approaches, she whispers flatly that the person she loved killed her little sister, and doesn’t seem to listen when Baek-ah says that the king already knew that Chae-ryung was up to no good. That was why he tried to send her away from the palace in the first place.

“No matter what she did wrong, how could he punish her so cruelly?” Su replies. “I don’t know how to escape this misery. Chae-ryung was just a girl in love.” She grips her chest as she becomes asthmatic again, causing Baek-ah to worry for her.

She turns to him then, and offers him her hairpin. She wants him to give it to Jung, and to send him a message: “I want it.” Of course, Baek-ah doesn’t know the meaning behind the message, but promises to deliver it just as she said it.

 
COMMENTS

I’m having a tough time understanding Su on this one, despite the understandable pain of losing someone she thought well of. It’d be a completely different situation if Chae-ryung had been killed and no one thought to explain her crimes to Su, but Su got a pretty good breakdown of Chae-ryung’s deceit from So and Baek-ah. Plus, she had proof that Chae-ryung was lying in the letter. So why can she not understand that Chae-ryung’s actions had consequences?

It’s not even as though Chae-ryung was only caught spying—So went into detail about her poisoning King Hyejong’s bathwater (and Chae-ryung had no qualms whatsoever about leaving the blame for that on Su’s shoulders), how she deliberately betrayed Su’s trust in stealing her writing and reporting on her, not to mention how she was directly involved in the deaths of Eun and Soon-deok. Doesn’t Su feel even remotely wronged? Can she really blame all of Chae-ryung’s actions on the fact that she was only taking orders? Enough to not trust the man she loves when he justified his actions?

Trust has always been a prevailing problem between Su and So, though it’s been a one-way street for a long while now. So never fails to give Su the benefit of the doubt, but she spares none for him—and it’s really beginning to feel like whenever she does have an opportunity to take his side, she opts not to. I get that he was being unreasonable when it came to his mother, but he had character-driven reasons for wanting her all to himself. All he wanted from Su was for her to understand him, but she couldn’t. Though that I can understand from her end just a little, since she likes Jung, and thought it would only be fair for him to see his mother. She got her wish in the end, and So didn’t fight her on it, which says a lot.

That being said, So’s scenes with his mother were the highlight of the episode, and they felt like the only anchor in the sea of fly-by-night scene cuts we’ve been getting. Finally, the camera saw fit to linger on something for more than a few seconds, and what a face to linger on. So’s been all over the map now that he’s become king, and it’s been hard to follow his lines of thinking when, for instance, he acted very bizarrely in court. All that smiling and agreeableness might’ve hinted at some ulterior plan, but the directing did nothing else to help lead us to that conclusion. Barring any hints, his behavior just left me scratching my head. I honestly don’t know what to make of it.

But his behavior with his mother felt grounded in something real, something we could actually understand, as we saw in So the lost boy who only ever wanted his mother’s love. He did get his revenge after all, but his revenge was just another way for him to try and reach out to her—if he couldn’t have her love by choice, he’d at least have the illusion of it. In the end, he only wanted her to acknowledge him as her son, and even at the bitter end, I’m inclined to think she didn’t. And that seems fitting for her character, who’s been thoroughly and unexplainably awful her entire life. It’d feel like cheating if she were redeemed in the final hour.

However, I have no qualms about So believing whatever he wants to believe about the intention behind his mother’s touch, because he’s just so pitiful. It’s heartbreaking that he’d take that ambiguous, clawing hand as affection, only because it was the first time his mother ever even touched him. But the facade melted away when she actually passed, and he looked more lost and devastated than ever as he held her hand to his face just to feel that touch she’d never willingly give. It was very well played, and I was with him every step. With Su, I just feel resigned. But who knows—maybe the time spent apart will help give everyone some perspective. Or it’ll just make everything worse.

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498 October 31, 2016October 31, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 19

by HeadsNo2

Love is a fickle thing indeed, and that love is put to the test this hour more than ever before. Does it pass that test? Not exactly. Su seems to have made up her mind when it comes to So, and any attempts to convince her to the contrary fall on deaf ears. Now all that’s left for us to do is hope and pray that we all come out of tomorrow’s finale unscathed.

 
EPISODE 19 RECAP

So finds Su sitting dejectedly in front of the Damiwon baths, and offers her his hand to help her stand. He’s been wanting to talk to her, he says, but Su rejects the offer: “I cannot go back to that room.”

He knows that this is about Chae-ryung, and reiterates to Su that all Chae-ryung ever did was fool her. But Su remembers differently, and insists that Chae-ryung was always sincere to her. (Really?) So asks if she’s really going to trust Chae-ryung over him, but Su just says she wants to leave the palace.

“What about me?” So replies, an edge to his voice. “Do you think I’ll let you go? You can never leave me.” But when he returns to his room and sees the folded wedding hanbok, he looks more conflicted than ever.

While bathing with an unnecessary amount of candles, Yeonhwa considers So’s proposal for her to leave her family behind and become his only queen. In return, he promised that he would make their future son the crown prince, so Yeonhwa decides that she’ll take him up on it—she wants Goryeo to belong to her son.

Su hands a small box of Chae-ryung’s belongings to Astronomer Choi, asking him to deliver it to the girl’s family. But when ninth prince Won passes by, she tells him in a flat voice that Chae-ryung has died, clearly waiting for a reaction he won’t give.

At his blasé attitude, Su reminds him that Chae-ryung died because of him, and warns that he’ll come to regret it. Won just scoffs that a king’s mistress thinks she can talk to him in such a way, with the “mistress” part catching her by surprise.

Word makes it fast to So, who tells Su that he’ll have to give her an official title as concubine in order for her to be considered more than a mere mistress. She’ll be second only to the queen—and if she has a child, she’ll be considered a second queen entirely.

Su insists that she doesn’t care for a title and simply wants to leave the palace, but So steamrolls over her. “You know that you can’t leave, so stop being so stubborn,” he says. He’s not saying it to hurt her, as he takes her hands in his and calls for an end to their bickering.

“Have you forgotten how long we had to be apart from each other?” he asks tenderly, adding that they shouldn’t let this fight ruin their relationship. But Su pulls her hand from his wordlessly. Sigh.

Meanwhile, Wook tries his hand at political maneuvering, deciding that he’ll act loyal to So outwardly for the time being while planning his next move. Whatever it is, it has something to do with Baek-ah, since both Wook and Won know how much So favors him.

Speaking of, Baek-ah can’t help but wonder why Woo-hee won’t marry him, especially now that they’ve had her registered under a noble family’s name. He guesses it might have to do with her stance on the treatment of people from Later Baekje, but no sooner does he promise to remedy that do they see dead runaway slaves from Baekje displayed for all to see. Woo-hee can barely contain her rage.

Astronomer Choi informs the king that slaves from Later Baekje have been setting fire to the houses of noble families. Wook speaks on behalf of the families being attacked as he asks that So send soldiers to protect them, though So is reluctant to enter a conflict that could bring more chaos.

Under pressure, So finally relents, but adds that the soldiers must use non-lethal force to subdue the slaves in order to avoid bloodshed. Strangely though, Wook proposes that Baek-ah lead the forces, despite Baek-ah never having even held a sword before.

His reasoning is that doing so would dispel rumors that So cares more for Baek-ah (whose mother was of Silla royalty) and the people of Later Baekje than he does for the people of Goryeo, considering that he had a former noblewoman of Later Baekje adopted into a noble family.

It could then be construed that someone close to So (Baek-ah) is being manipulated by someone from Later Baekje, should the marriage happen. Despite the accusations sounding ridiculous, Wook says it would be very easy for them to be spread as rumors.

Baek-ah wants to volunteer to lead the troops despite everything, hating the idea that he and Woo-hee are being used against So. Though So would rather go himself, it’d be seen as him taking sides, so Baek-ah reassures him that he’s not going to die.

We know it’s serious when we get a lovey-dovey scene with Baek-ah fixing Woo-hee’s hair into a bun, indicative of her new status as a wife. Though they aren’t officially married yet, Baek-ah promises that they will be as soon as he returns.

The rebelling slaves of Later Baekje read a posting of the king’s decree that they will not be harmed, and that those forced into slavery or taken from their homes will be reinstated as full citizens of Goryeo. However, the slaves think it’s all talk, and resume their march through the city.

Poor Baek-ah is so nervous as he prepares for the oncoming conflict that he drops his sword, though fourteenth prince Jung is there to pick it up for him, despite him supposedly being exiled to his hometown.

He helps Baek-ah into his armor and tells his brother to come back alive. Baek-ah asks if he received the hairpin from Su, and adds the message only now: “I want it.” He tells him exactly what Su told him, but he knows that it’s a cry for help.

He gets emotional as he asks Jung to remain a friend to Su as well as the king, since he doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him. Jung can only wish him a final farewell and depart, moments before Baek-ah looks up to see Woo-hee standing precariously atop the gates, where a banner reading “Later Three Kingdoms: Reunification of Goryeo, Baekje, and Silla” hangs.

The oncoming slaves stop at the sight of their princess, urging her away from the edge. Baek-ah runs up to confront her, knowing what it is that she’s thinking of doing.

All Woo-hee tells him to do is turn around, and with tears in his eyes, Baek-ah does as she asks. “If you see,” Woo-hee says tearfully, “you won’t ever forget.” And then, she steps off the ledge. Why is any of this happening?

“I thought I could ignore it and live my life,” we hear her say in voiceover as she falls to her death. “I was going to deny my parents. But I can’t turn my back on my people, who look to me as a mother. I don’t think I have the strength to live like that. Goryeo and Baekje, Gyeon Hwon [founder of Later Baekje] and Taejo Wang Geon. I will pay for their sins with my life. Perhaps… this is the reason I was born.” Was it, though?

Su sinks down when she hears the news, and So seems similarly stunned. We find Baek-ah clutching Woo-hee’s lifeless body and sobbing as her voiceover continues to tell him how much she loved him.

Later, he looks at the drawings he’d made of her, and thinks back to their memories together (including that time she stabbed him). Su finds him holding the hairpin he’d given her as he wonders why Woo-hee didn’t say anything to him.

He blames himself for not recognizing Woo-hee’s unhappiness sooner, believing himself to be shallow. But Su says it was Woo-hee who betrayed them, since in the end, she wasn’t selfless enough to care how they would feel.

Now, Baek-ah turns his ire to the king, guessing that he knew everything from the beginning. He confronts So over the deal he’d made with Woo-hee, though So insists that he didn’t know she would die because of it. All he wanted to do was save Baek-ah, and though he claims he didn’t know Woo-hee would commit suicide for it, even if he had, he would’ve done it again if it meant saving Baek-ah.

Baek-ah knows how his brother feels, but he can’t accept it. He gives the king a deep, formal bow, usually reserved for farewells. So recognizes this and desperately admits that he was in the wrong, but Baek-ah takes the blame upon himself. He wishes his hyung a long and healthy life and leaves, despite So calling for him to come back.

So approaches Yeonhwa in the bedchamber, asking if she’s sure about her decision. She says she is, and the rest is left to the imagination.

As he previously discussed with Won, Wook gifts So with a hunting hawk in front of the rest of the court. But when the cage is unveiled, the hawk inside is dead, and the serious music cues us into this being a Bad Omen.

Wook looks more shocked than anyone, having clearly not expected this, as one of the ministers cries out that it’s considered a curse to gift a king a dead hawk. Wook tries to explain that it was just a misunderstanding, but Won makes sure to place the blame squarely on his shoulders.

So asks Wook if he’s committing treason by placing such a curse upon him, and the entire court echoes the sentiment. Wook drops to his knees to beg for the king’s forgiveness, and So smiles grimly: “If it is treason, you will have to pay with your life.” Wow, how is it that I feel sorry for Wook again?

Queen Sinjeong rushes to Yeonhwa with the news of Wook’s predicament, but Yeonhwa couldn’t be more cavalier about the whole matter. She refuses to heed her mother’s request that she save her brother, claiming that she can’t cover up her brother’s crimes for him.

Reminding her mother that she’s queen now, she tells her to let her go as her daughter. She has bigger things to worry about, which leaves her mother trembling with rage.

Wook doesn’t move from the spot where he prostrated himself, despite the throne room being empty now. Su begs So for Wook’s life, claiming he was framed, and even drops to her knees to do so.

That gets So’s attention, since he knows she has bad knees. He kneels to help her up, but she reminds him of his promise not to hurt his brothers. Then, she adds that she knows it was he who killed the hawk and put Wook’s life in danger.

He pulls away from her slightly, asking if there’s a reason he shouldn’t have done so, considering that Wook killed King Hyejong and Eun, chased Baek-ah off, tried to kill him, and tried to separate the two of them. “That’s the kind of person he is,” So argues.

But Su says that whatever goes around comes around, and that if So continues to be too harsh in meting out punishment, everyone will soon turn against him. She doesn’t want him to go down in history as a tyrant, to which So finally relents that he’ll let Wook live. But he’ll be forever confined to his home, and won’t be allowed to take one step out of it.

“He will suffocate in that house,” So all but growls. And now that he thinks of it, he likes this punishment much more than killing him outright. His laugh unsettles Su as she looks up at him in bewilderment, but there’s nothing she can do.

For now, Wook is confined to his library, with soldiers standing watch outside. At the same time, Yeonhwa finds Su near the baths, and strangely admits to pushing Wook too hard. However, she places the blame regarding the change in Wook on Su, since Su was the one who warned him about So. Because of that warning, Wook believed that So would become king.

“He had feelings for you. He hated more than anything that you were acknowledging another man as king. I may have been the one who pressured Wook, but it was you who hammered in the nail,” Yeonhwa grits out.

Su thinks back to King Jeongjong blaming her for everything too, because she helped So to cover his scar. She remembers telling Wook to stay away from So lest he die, and also remembers her prophetic visions about So. “It was all my fault,” Su realizes in the present.

Yeonhwa goes on to say that if Su hadn’t have gotten involved, then Wook wouldn’t have changed the way he did. “You ruined everything. And yet, shamelessly, you still live.” Oh, okay. Right. You’re completely blameless, Yeonhwa. It’s not like Wook had to kill someone and put himself at your mercy because of something you did, right?

Of course Su believes every word Yeonhwa says, and has more heart troubles because of it later. In the meantime, So has his portrait painted because he has a special someone he wants to give it to.

The portrait session is interrupted by Jung, who’s managed to enter the palace despite his exile. He’s brought a decree from the late King Jeongjong, in which he declared his approval of a marriage between Jung and Su.

Flash back to when Jung had been given one wish due to his bravery on the battlefield by King Jeongjong. We never heard what it was he asked for then, but now we know he asked for Su’s hand in marriage. In the present, So throws the decree to the ground, claiming it to be fake.

Jung challenges him to compare the handwriting, but So says that even if it’s a match, he’ll refuse to allow it. So tries to use the “Everyone knows she’s with me” line, but Jung just as easily throws back that she’s not a wife or a concubine—thus, there’s no reason why she can’t be free to marry him.

He throws down the gauntlet by adding that he’s already informed the ministers of the decree, and that they know he’s waiting for the king’s consent. It’s only when Jung says that this is what Su wants that So stops with his threats to punish him.

So goes straight to Su, asking her if she already knew about the decree of consent. So says that Jung claimed she wanted to marry him, but since he knows she doesn’t, he’ll—… “I want to,” Su interrupts.

She mentions how it would only be harmful for So to go against the late king’s decree, and brings up how he’d talked about their longing for each other when they were apart. She admits this was so, but says that now, she sees him daily and sometimes even despises him.

This comes as a shock to So, but Su continues that if they were to keep going as they are, only hatred would remain. Her reasoning is that if she leaves now, she can prevent that from happening, or something. “I will never allow that to happen,” So answers in a low voice.

Yeonhwa tears into So for ignoring the late king’s decree, since he’s not helping his case. She can’t understand why he can’t just let Su go, but warns that she won’t just stand by and let him throw the throne away.

While confined to his library, Wook flashes back to when he was still prostrated in front of the throne. Su had gone to him to say that the king had agreed to let him live, though Wook had worried that people might begin to suspect her.

Su had answered that she would have done this for anyone, and had kneeled before him to tell him to give up his aspirations for the throne. “No one can escape this misery if you do not leave this place. You must give up first,” she said, leaving Wook with much to consider.

In the present, he returns to the letter he’d been writing, only to get an unexpected visit from a disguised(?) Yeonhwa, asking for his help. Well, well.

Cut to: Wook greeting the king in the throne room, which he was only able to do because Yeonhwa made it so. Yeonhwa is sent from the room as Wook confesses to the one thing So has stubbornly not known until now: that he and Su had once promised to marry each other.

He explains that their relationship took place before Su became So’s woman, adding that back then, Su was his. We cut to So confronting an oblivious Su over this newfound bit of information, explaining that he knows all about the bracelet and her secret meetings with Wook.

“Is it all true?” he asks, clearly wanting it not to be. But she affirms it asthmatically, leaving So to put all the pieces together that he hadn’t before. So would rather her lie to him and tell him it was all a misunderstanding, desperate for things to go back to the way they were.

“We said we would not lie to one another,” Su reminds him. “How could you do this?” So asks desperately. “How could you hurt me like this? Why is it Wook, of all people?” He steps back when Su approaches him, a tear running down his cheek. “Wook was the only one in your heart,” he adds, believing it to be true.

Su looks tearful herself, and reaches out to take his hand. So pulls it away with a warning: “After today, I will never see you again.” Su collapses in his wake, crying. I’m so confused. Isn’t this what she wanted anyway?

Su takes her leave of the palace as Astronomer Choi warns So that if he throws Su away like this, he’ll lose a part of himself as well. But then So says the truest statement ever told: “I did not throw her away. Su threw me away.”

Baek-ah and Su share a parting drink, taking a moment to discuss the marriage Su didn’t know about. And while she claims not to love the idea, she’s ready to go through with it just to get out of the palace, explaining that she fell out with So because “there’s just too much blood in our relationship.” (That’s literally what she says, but I have absolutely no idea what she means.)

Regardless, Baek-ah says he’s grateful for their relationship, and ends his farewell there. He tries to chase Wook off when he comes to say his farewell, but at a nod from Su, Baek-ah relents and takes his leave.

Su thanks Wook for what he did, though he clarifies that his intentions were far from righteous. She believes that statement to be false, knowing that he would never have said those things if he thought she didn’t want to leave.

“Jung will be good to you,” Wook manages to say, along with a well-meaning wish for her to forget the past and think only of the future. He looks like he’s just barely holding it together as he takes a long pause, and then sighs.

“Su-ya,” he says, returning to the endearing way he used to say her name. “I think you understand me,” he adds, reaching an uncertain hand out to gently grasp her shoulder. Pulling her in closer, he tells her that this life is now over.

He smiles when he pulls away, and Su watches him go for a very long time. After a brief cut to So looking to the wedding hanbok Su only ever got to try on, we return to her as an inner monologue begins:

“If I had not met him, I would not yearn for him. If I did not know him, I would not think of him so much. If we had not been together, I would not have to disappear. If I did not treasure him so much, I would not have so many memories. If I did not love him, we would not need to throw each other away. If we had not crossed paths, we would never have been together. Perhaps, if I had not met you at all…”

And then, we find So holding the wedding hanbok in shaking hands as he cries.

 
COMMENTS

In the vein of Su’s inner monologue, we could say that if we had never watched this show, we would never have had to try to understand an indecipherable heroine. If we didn’t love seeing Lee Jun-ki on screen, we wouldn’t have gotten this far. If things made sense, we wouldn’t have to yearn for explanations. If we knew what Su was saying, we would have something to go on.

But alas, there’s been this permeating sense of malaise ever since So took the throne, because things only started to go downhill from there. What’s strange is that I thought that the throne would be the grand goal we needed to reach, but it was treated with such little fanfare that it felt like just another day in the life. Which meant that the only story left to tell was Su and So’s, and we can all see how well thought-out that part of the story is going.

I’m honestly confused by Su’s motives and her ever-shifting loyalties, since it didn’t take much for her to go from “I’ll help you” to “Never mind, I’m leaving you.” Even if we tried to see things from her perspective, i.e. that So is a ruthless murderer and killed her friend for no reason, he actually tried to talk things out with her, which should really count for something. For her apparently thinking him an unreasonable monster, he was the only one speaking sense, and it was Su who willfully decided to believe only what she wanted to be true. Instead of taking all the evidence So presented to her and thinking back to the times Chae-ryung has been shifty, she thought only of the time Chae-ryung held her hand and staunchly refused to believe that she could ever have been insincere or false.

So instead, she’d have to believe that So was the one lying to her, and it was beyond aggravating to see her just shut down. At that point, I threw my hands up, because her misery seemed self-inflicted, and her path to ignoble idiocy firmly secured. Granted, So isn’t exactly an angel to be with, but after an entire series about them finding each other and discovering their love, was this where it was all going? I feel cheated.

I suppose all isn’t lost since there’s still one episode left, and I don’t want to think that we’ve been hoping in vain. I’m not even sure where I’d want things to end in an ideal world, since everyone’s paths have gotten so twisted and crossed. As of right now, I don’t think a marriage between Jung and Su would be the worst thing that ever happened, if only because he deserves props for being true to his word. After this episode, I’m kind of sad that they didn’t develop their loveline to its fullest potential however one-sided it is, because out of everyone, Jung has been selfless in loving her and has never asked for anything in return. Marriage was just the only way he knew how to honor her request, and he planned ahead enough to make it so that even So couldn’t argue the point.

If things had been left there, they would have been moderately better, but then it felt like the show was throwing everything and the kitchen sink in as reasons to drive Su and So apart. At least Wook’s confession had an ulterior motive that wasn’t awful, so I appreciated that they gave that couple a bittersweet sendoff, which worked in its own way to ever-so-slightly redeem Wook. (Does he not know that his sister betrayed him, though? Or does he not care?)

But then we come to all the nonsense Yeonhwa spouted, and the fact that the show could’ve actually gone somewhere in having Su believing herself to be responsible for the way historical events turned out. It’s only that we were given that scene with Su believing everything to be her fault, and then… nothing. They went nowhere with it. It didn’t influence Su’s decision to leave, nor did it seem to weigh on her conscience for very long. Somehow, it seems worse that the show dropped in actual, real reasons for Su to be conflicted, but it chose to go with her just being over it all instead. C’mon, Moon Lovers. You’ve got one last chance to be the show we all wanted you to be—don’t waste it.

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1,271 November 1, 2016November 4, 2016

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: Episode 20 (Final)

by HeadsNo2

We must not have wished hard enough for an ending that would magically solve the issues endemic to this production, since I can think of no other reason why this happened. It could’ve been worse (they all can be worse), but it’s certainly not what we would’ve hoped to see at the end of this sometimes rewarding, sometimes grueling journey through a modern girl’s integration into a time far from her own. Which leaves us to wonder, was it all about love? Altering history? Fate working in very mysterious ways? Who knows.

…No, really, does anyone know?

 
FINAL EPISODE RECAP

Su arrives at Jung’s secondary home, and finds herself thinking of So when Jung outstretches his hand to help her out of her palanquin. But since they’ve been forbidden from marrying by the king, Jung’s prepared a more secret ceremony, though he tells her not to worry—even married, he’ll just consider them as friends.

He explains how she’ll be set up nicely in this house, and that he’ll come to visit her often. She’s all smiles until he gives her back the hairpin she’d given him as a symbol of her desire to leave the palace, which carries with it the memories of So, who had given it to her.

The small box of belongings she brought with her contain the multiple copies of the poem she had So write, and she looks at them with tears in her eyes. We then cut to her married life with Jung, as Su etches a likeness of So on a stone, and Jung practices his swordsmanship.

But Jung gets the eerie feeling that they’re being watched, and suddenly leans forward as though to receive a kiss from his wife. She just smiles and dabs his sweaty forehead instead, which is when Jung gently takes her hand and tells her that he’s arranged for the recently retired royal doctor to pay her a visit.

It’s clear that Jung’s putting on a husbandly show for whoever it is that’s spying on them, but we can’t see who. Inside, the doctor feels her pulse to check on the baby in her womb—apparently this is something Su’s known about, but when the doctor first checked her, it was too early for him to tell.

However, he warns that her already shaky health will be tested with the baby, but Su is adamant that she’ll do whatever it takes to ensure the health of the child. Jung is taken by surprise with the news, and orders that the doctor stay with them for a time, since they can’t risk this secret getting out.

So receives an account of events from his spy, detailing how affectionate Jung and Su are. He’s livid since Baek-ah said the marriage would only be a formality, but this report claims anything but.

While completing her rock drawing of So, Su is suddenly overtaken by heart trouble, and So gets there in time to see Jung fret over her and carry her inside.

Adorably, Jung sleeps in a separate bed only feet away so that he can at least look at his wife. “Do you remember when we first met?” he asks. She wonders whether it was when she ran into the forest to save him, and the two reminisce over fond memories.

So can hear the two of them laughing from outside, and returns to his throne in a daze as he tells Astronomer Choi that he never wants to hear a single word spoken about Jung or Su ever again.

Meanwhile, Su imagines sitting across a table from So, both of them smiling at each other. “We have finally left the palace, and are alone together. You and I… we are the only ones left. We can forget the truths, lies, misunderstandings, and jealousy… the restless bickering over the throne and the many deaths. It is a time meant only for us, and I can love you to my heart’s content.”

Six months later.

Jung paces nervously outside the birthing room, the sounds of a crying baby coming from inside. The midwife comes out with a perfectly healthy baby girl, though Jung instructs the midwife to claim that the baby was stillborn to anyone who asks.

He goes in to find Su in a sorry state, though he reassures her that the baby’s in good hands—now all she needs to do is worry about herself. A tear snakes down Su’s cheek as she weakly hands him a letter to be delivered to So, though it’s not news of the baby. “I… want to see him,” she explains, and Jung readily agrees (though he changes the calligraphy on the front, claiming that his wife’s writing is too identical to the king’s).

Su holds her infant daughter in her arms, but is suddenly stricken by an illness that has her swaying on her feet. We don’t hear what the doctor has to say, and Su doesn’t seem to notice the letter she wrote to the king sitting on the table nearby. Or is it another letter? I can’t tell.

After discussing matters of state with Astronomer Choi regarding a plan to cut off supplies to the most powerful clans to silence their voice, So is given another letter from Su.

But since the envelope is in Jung’s handwriting, he believes it to be from his half-brother and throws it into a pile of other unread letters, all of them from Su.

Looking sicker than ever, Su wonders why So hasn’t come yet, considering how she’s sent him so many messages: “Does he hate me that much?” Jung stops himself from saying that he’s already sent messengers, instead claiming that he forgot while promising to get on that immediately. Aww. Just live happily ever after, you two.

In an effort to cheer her, he brings her outside, where he’s gathered musicians from the capital to sing for her. Su is too weak to speak, so Jung ushers the singer to sing anything she wants, and the singer opts for a song that a court lady sang which made the king fall in love with her.

Su’s eyes open a little wider at that, and the singer commences with her song. Su recognizes it as the song she did, in fact, sing at Eun’s birthday. So had overheard from a distance.

This sparks more memories to come flooding forth as Su murmurs, “Long ago, you promised that you would treat my life as if it were your own. Do you remember that?” Then she turns to Jung as she weakly tells him to protect her daughter in her stead, and to never let her go to the palace.

Jung looks like he’s trying to hold it together, but Su’s given up all hope on So ever coming to see her before she leaves this world. He pulls her in so her head rests on his shoulder, saying, “Su-ya, in your next life, you will remember me, won’t you?”

Instead, Su whispers, “I’m going to forget you. I will forget everything. Even in my dreams… I will forget all of you.” She dies in his arms, and Jung can only cry as he holds her to him.

So receives news of her death in utter shock, only now coming to realize that all those letters he ignored were from Su. He tears them open one by one and reads them, and in them, she explains that she loved him completely. She knew that she left him with hate rather than love, and wondered if he resented her for it.

He clutches the letter in his hands and sobs, only now realizing the depth of Su’s feelings for him. And too late, at that. We flash back to her writing more letters of her love for him, recognizing each time he was there for her, and each time he was there to save her.

The voiceover continues as So spurs his horse to Jung’s house as fast as he can:

“I still love you. In the rain, when you tossed everything aside and stood at my side, when you threw yourself in the path of a flying arrow for me, I became unable to forget you for the rest of my life. The opposite of ‘to love’ isn’t ‘to hate’ — it’s to throw away. That I threw you away, and that you threw me away… I’m afraid [we’ll] think that. I miss you, but I cannot be close to you. Hoping we will meet again inside a winding fence, I wait for you every day.”

Baek-ah finds Jung in mourning clothes, caressing Su’s urn. He hands him a letter, which Baek-ah begins to read with tears in his eyes. They’re interrupted by a frantic So, who comes in crying for Su to show herself.

But when his eyes come to rest on the urn, devastation hits. Jung blames him for waiting too long, but So blames him for writing his own name on the letters—he had no idea they were from Su. Jung says he did it only because her handwriting was so similar to his (again, what and why?), but he can’t believe that So wouldn’t have known Su was dying when he knows So was tracking them with spies.

Baek-ah is the one to tell Jung that So stopped receiving reports once he learned that they were getting on so well, leaving that realization to hit as So grasps Su’s urn and sobs his heart out. “Su-ya, let’s go,” he says, clutching it. “Let’s go.” Ouch.

Jung refuses to let him pass, reminding So that she was his wife. “Su may be dead, but she is still mine,” So cries, and it’s only with Baek-ah’s intervention that Jung allows So to take the urn. Baek-ah laments that Su spent her life caught between all of them, and urges Jung not to make it any harder on her, even now.

But poor Jung can only take out the hairpin he originally took from Su as he cries pitifully. Only then does Baek-ah realize that Jung actually loved Su, and embraces his half-brother in solidarity. Aww.

So takes Su’s ashes to the spot where she’d once stacked her prayer stones, thinking back to his memories of her, and how she promised she wouldn’t leave.

After what Won only describes as “a long time” has passed, he’s given a ceremonial cup of poison with which to kill himself. But before he does, Baek-ah hands him the letter Chae-ryung wrote in blood to Su, which Su had wanted delivered to Won.

While the soundtrack transports us to The Lord of the Rings, Won reads Chae-ryung’s letter and thinks back to their few scenes together. He feels a shred of remorse as the chyron tells us that he was put to death for treason. (He’s not worth the screencap, guys.)

Baek-ah finds himself shadowed by a small girl, who he recognizes as Wook’s daughter. He tells her that he’s her uncle, and is momentarily off-put by her name being Bok-soon, since that’s name Woo-hee tried to give him once (before she was promptly outed for lying). Even stranger, he recognizes the ornament that Woo-hee favored on the little girl, who claims to not know where it came from.

But in the time it takes him to flash back to his memories with Woo-hee, the little girl disappears.

An older, bearded, and seemingly ill Wook takes a walk with Baek-ah, mentioning the changes So has made since becoming king. Rather than have any aspirations for the throne himself, Wook only says that he wants to see the kind of king So becomes. “I wonder if perhaps Goryeo has its most powerful king in history,” Wook adds thoughtfully.

Baek-ah asks if he still misses Su, prompting a rueful smile from Wook. “I don’t know,” he answers. “I was always giving my heart, but I was always making mistakes. I’ve only come to realize that now.” He coughs, and you know what that means—it’s time for Wook’s obligatory flashback to the past, though he surprisingly thinks of his first wife, Lady Hae.

Yeonhwa tears into her husband for not going to see his firstborn son, Wang Ju (future King Gyeongjong), even on his birthday. She thinks he only sees his son as competition, reminding So of the royal nephews he’s killed in order to keep his reign secure. The least he can do is trust his own son.

But So basically says that he doesn’t trust Ju because he doesn’t trust Yeonhwa, and he knows the two of them will turn against him one day. Yeonhwa blames his thinking on Su, since she was the only person who ever said that all people should be treated as equals. That’s why she believes So passed a law emancipating slaves (this was a reform Gwangjong was well known for).

Claiming that she now understands why Su left, Yeonhwa is all too happy to bring that up just to hurt So. He says nothing, and goes instead to the spot where Su once set up her prayer stones.

A little girl bumps into him and makes a big fuss about it, which reminds So of how Su once did the same thing. And lo and behold, the little girl runs to the man she calls “Father.” It’s Jung, of course—and oh God, his sideburns have only gotten bigger.

Jung apologizes for breaking his exile to come to the palace, claiming that it was only because today is the anniversary of Su’s death. When So asks if the child is his, Jung says yes, though So notes that the child is too old to be from his recent marriage.

Taking this as his cue to leave, Jung turns with the girl in his arms, which is when So notices that she’s wearing the same hairpin he’d once given to Su. He orders Jung to leave the girl with him, and Jung drops to his knees to give his firmest “No.”

He confirms So’s suspicions when he says that Su never wanted her daughter to live in the palace, leaving the poor little girl clueless as to what the adults are talking about. She looks over to her real father as So looks to Jung, officially releasing him from his exile. In fact, he wants him to come visit the palace as often as he wants. Aw, that’s going to be the only way he’ll ever see his daughter, isn’t it?

Astronomer Choi decides to retire from his position, but doesn’t leave without telling So to forget Su, who was never of this world anyway. Now it’s time—wait for it—for Astronomer Choi to get his own flashback to happier times. Has anyone not gotten a flashback yet? No?

The sky darkens suddenly with an eclipse, and So looks to the sky as the light disappears. A rider rides against the darkening horizon as we get a flashback montage of Su falling into the water and ending up in Goryeo under an eclipsing sky…

…And then, Su wakes in her own bed, in her own time, with tears running down her cheeks over the mysterious man haunting her dreams. Oh no. No no no no. You are not pulling the Dream Card on us. Anything but that!

While working at her cosmetics job, Su tells her coworker that she’s been having dreams about a man dressed in ye olde clothes with a scar on his face for nearly a year. Her coworker says it’s because she almost died from drowning, spent a year in a coma, and then woke up. Thanks, Exposition Fairy.

Su overhears snippets of a presentation being given on cosmetics in the Goryeo era (which she may have had a hand in helping along?), and is approached by the presenter afterward. It’s Astronomer Choi, although, not him, and he gives her an enigmatic smile as he reads her name tag.

Seeing her name as “Go Ha-jin,” he tells her that in the Goryeo era, “Go” was known as “Hae.” She notes that it’s a funny coincidence since she’s selling makeup inspired by the era, to which Choi says, “There is no such thing as coincidence. Things only return to their rightful place.”

But when she introduces the line of makeup to him, she remembers Baek-ah’s voice mentioning Bulgarian rose oil to her—though she’s confused as to where she remembers hearing that. Choi seems to study her knowingly, though Su does her best to shake it off and introduce some BB cream, which she claims was invented in Goryeo as well.

Saying that prompts her to think of So and his scar, leaving her severely shaken and confused. She leaves work early, but finds herself drawn to an exhibit of Goryeo paintings, each reminding her of scenes she doesn’t know how she remembers.

The paintings show the rain ritual, which she remembers in vivid detail, and King Gwangjong. “It wasn’t a dream,” she thinks, as some honestly random images are put forth in paint form—scenes that literally no one would have thought to paint, like her bowing deeply to the king on their first meeting, her saving Jung in the forest, etc. But we’ll just have to go with it.

Su looks around the gallery with tears in her eyes, seeing herself in every painting. Only then does she stop at a portrait of King Gwangjong, remembering So in detail. The biography accompanying the portrait tells of his legacy as a good king, which makes Su think of the day she’d been sure that So wouldn’t go down in history as a tyrant.

“I’m sorry,” she cries. “I’m sorry for leaving you alone.”

As she cries, the painting before her slowly comes into focus as we return to Goryeo during the eclipse. So looks up as though he’s heard her voice, which is when Baek-ah tells him that Wook has died, and he’ll be leaving the palace as well.

Standing alone like he was in the painting, So looks back over his shoulder, as though expecting someone. But he’s alone, and comments, “Life is fleeting.” It was the same thing his father said before he died.

He’d related what his father said to Su once, and had worried over her lost facial expression. He’d wondered what she was hiding, but Su only said that she felt anxious every day she was there.

“If we had met in another world, and in another time, I can’t help but think how great that would have been,” she said. “If only that were so, I wouldn’t fear anything. I could freely, truly, love you all I wanted.” The flashback fades, and So is left in the present (of the past) to rub the makeup off the scarred side of his face with a shaking hand.

“If you and I are not of the same world,” he thinks, “then I will find you, my Su-ya.”

Cut to: The two of them walking together in flashback, with So offering to carry Su on his back due to her hurting knees. Together and laughing, they run forward.

 
COMMENTS

Really, Moon Lovers? Not one hint that Su would find her present day So? Not even after that line? You chose to show a piece of flashback footage instead? That’s how you wanted to end this, by having So look to the future, but think of the past instead? That’s your big message?

I admit it would’ve been a cheap fix to have So appear in the present day, but I was willing to take anything. It’s not as if the show established any kind of rules when it came to Su’s time-traveling, but this ending gave me horrible Dr. Jin vibes, in that both were adaptations of much more successful foreign dramas, both protagonists woke up in the present day remembering the past, and no questions were ever answered. Ever.

While we can point to failures on many levels, it was really the execution that bogged this show down, and that was never more apparent than in the episodes leading up to this finale. Su gradually lost any sense of self she may have possessed, and we lost our eyes and ears into the strange world she’d entered into. Nothing solidified that more than when we found out she was pregnant this episode, which was something she already knew. There’s a cardinal rule for protagonists in TV, especially those whose point of view we’re seeing the show through: You can keep secrets from everybody else, but you can’t keep them from the audience.

Because at that point, we’ve lost our point of entry into the events happening on screen. At the point where Su had her own agenda that we weren’t privy to, why keep trying? Who were we following? Why did it matter? I hate how bad finales bring up existential questions, but I sat for a good five minutes after this show ended just trying to think of the why of it all. What were the resonant themes? Where was the dramatic clarity, or tension? How did Su hope to solve anything by leaving?

If her main reason was her pregnancy, then we were really cheated when it came to her realization happening off-screen. The reason why it sucks to have protagonists keep secrets is because we can’t follow them, and it would’ve been a great help for us to know whether Su was playing the noble idiot and leaving the palace because of the baby. But instead it felt like she left because she just had to, but she missed So every day because she left. So why? Why anything?

By the time we reached the end, I realized that what was missing was a central conflict. I still don’t know what we were supposed to want for this show and its characters, because I couldn’t buy into the love story between Su and So despite desperately wanting to. Unfortunately for So, he was virtually nonexistent for much too long, and we only knew he would be important later on by virtue of him being played by Lee Jun-ki. But were he a total unknown, and were this not an adaptation, we would’ve been sorely misled in the beginning with the Su/Wook loveline, the development of which seemed to outweigh the thought put in to the development of the Su/So pairing.

Which isn’t to say that they made a mistake in focusing on that loveline first, but they did make one in not laying down a better foundation for us to jump to the So ship later. It’s entirely possible that these two lovelines worked out great in the much longer original version, but there’s really no excuse for this show’s inability to tell the story it wanted to tell in the time allotted to it—and with it being pre-produced, it’s even worse. It’s not like that twentieth episode just snuck up on the writer, or that the writer didn’t have time to plan out how to adapt a longer drama into a shorter format. That’s the whole point of pre-production!

Going back to the episode, and bypassing all the WTF-ery surrounding Su’s return to the present, her year in a coma, presumably another year having dreams about the past, Astronomer Choi being back in the future (but not as a homeless man), the eclipse that somehow blurred the lines between both worlds, the paintings of scenes no one else would’ve seen or thought to paint, the fact that Su spent years in the past while only a year or so passed in the present, the fact that Su physically died in the past and all the questions that raises about whatever happened to the girl who used to inhabit Su’s body, what were we left with?

We’re left with Lee Jun-ki putting on a one-man show. And, okay, Ji-soo got his moment to shine this week, which made me desperately wish we’d focused on his love for Su rather than the tenth prince’s crush. But that’s neither here nor there at this juncture. I guess it’s the same as with any show that limps its way to its finale: I wish it had been better, because there was a good drama underneath all the nonsensicality and noise. But we can’t win ’em all.

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