We made it to the end! Which is a lot more than we can say for some of our characters — or even our interest in the show? I’ll keep all spoilers underneath the fold, but, I’m sure, we will be spoiling the crap out of this ending.
Stephanie: So. Leila. How do you feel about your first saeguk? Was it everything you wished, dreamed, or dreaded it would be?
Leila: Heh. I think this was a good one to start me on since I have a low tolerance for politics and angst, and the first 75% of the show was fairly light on both. Well, there was politics, but it was so laughable that it didn’t bother me. Sets were pretty. I got past the silly hats fairly quickly. I will be watching more. In fact, I’m well into Scarlet Heart: Ryeo now.
Stephanie: Woohhoo! I wish I could say that this was different from a lot of Saeguks but be it dramas or movies, most of them (or, actually all of them) feature the same sort of political shenanigans. I’d also like to say that the political shenanigans don’t weigh down a drama, pretty much ruining it like this one did, but, well, I’d hate to lie to you at this stage in our relationship.
Leila: The politics didn’t bother me too much. These bad guys were almost like comic book characters – single-minded, one-dimensional, and mustache twirling (beard curling?). What did bother me was some of the unexplained plot points that allowed them to continue being a nuisance. I will be forever frustrated about how a guy who was caught being corrupt TWICE was still an acting Minister in the last episode. Grr. I’m glad they finally got their comeuppance. But I’m not sure the Minister of Doom got punished enough for my taste.
Stephanie: And then we didn’t even get to see them get theirs? I didn’t even realize they had been executed until I read a recap to get clarification on something. I may be a bloodthirsty minx, but I was not satisfied with them just being dragged out of the hall, they had been caught so many times I didn’t trust that they wouldn’t just wiggle out again. I was FOR REAL looking for them, or some of the other grandfather cronies, in the group of officials at the very end when Prince is no longer prince but king. Also. Way to let us know what happened there show. Did Crazy King abdicate? Did he die? Was he kicked off because they finally realized he was…I don’t know… Crazy? Apparently, us watchers didn’t really need to know this information. We just needed to shut our faces and bask in the happy (?) ending. I know that this is a detour from the real historical aspect of the story (where, did you know the prince was a real person?) but even if you decided to free-willy your ending, you should still probably explain those happy bows your tying on everything.
Leila: They were executed? He was a real prince? Why do these saeguks insist on basing stuff on real history? Can’t they just make shit up, like Disney? Anyway… Maybe the show needed that extra episode or two that they talked about? It all felt very rushed and slapdash. Or shortened? I don’t know. There were a LOT of unexplained things: The happy ending (wha?), Jinyoung (completely out of character and unnecessary), Hyung Kim running off for no reason. So many more things… Where do you want to start?
Stephanie: I know, I feel like we’re tiptoeing around the main dealy-do, but there is so much to talk about I’m not sure where to start. Hrrmmm… Jinyoung? How much I hated what they did to him? How his death made no sense? How that was a pretty weak-ass fight scene for someone who had been through some glorious ones — I mean like the choreography? For such a big character death it seems like it was really lacking. And not just because HIS DEATH DIDN’T MAKE SENSE! And there was no emotional punch. Not that I wanted other guy to die, but it would have made more sense, story wise, beat wise, motivation-wise, for Hyung Kim to stay dead at the end. That was (while at this point I didn’t care so I wasn’t really emotionally impacted) a real misstep I think. Especially if he just plans to spend his life hovering over him out of site. What a crappy life for such an interesting character.
Leila: When Jinyoung offered to go get Ra On for his grandfather, I thought he had some clever plan! Well, first let’s address how little sense that made. Jinyoung’s character had drawn his line in the sand. He wasn’t going to play anymore. So I thought he and his grandfather would barely be talking. But the grandfather is all “Oh, OK. Go for it.” THEN, and did you have this same feeling?, he looked like he was really serious about taking Ra On to his grandfather and it was that little squeak she made when a guard shoved her that cause him to break? What? He’s been 100% on Ra On and the Prince’s side – even when it was painful and against his interests he was noble. So this sudden “I’m going to try being evil for the grandfather I hate for like 2 minutes” made no sense to me.
And I agree, while I did say during the fight scene with Hyung Kim and the guards that I was going to be really bent out of shape if he died, it really would have been full of more feels if he was the one to go. I felt bad for Jinyoung having to hang out watching the happy royal couple, but he’d have gotten over it. He was already sort of used to the idea.
Stephanie: Exactly! He spent the last few episodes working against or speaking up to his family and then, at the drop of a gat (get it? Heh.) he suddenly switches sides? Did anyone actually fall for that at all? Except for stupid grandfather? How dumb was he for believing that? And Jinyoung couldn’t have come up with a better plan? He was smart. Death scene, after death scene, after death scene. I really think Jinyoung (the actor, not the character who’s name I never bothered to learn) really got the short end of the stick. Man, if he’s going to go up against such strong actors, he should have done it first. We sat there just comparing his death scene to everyone else’s, and, while he’s been a really strong (or stronger than he usually is) actor, he just could not convincingly pull this off. Which, for a moment where we the audience are supposed to feel so much, left us going ‘eh’.
Leila: Yeah, they really stacked the death scenes up. And everyone recovered! Except for Jinyoung. So I had this lingering hope that his death would be exaggerated too and his nose or ear would twitch. Or Ra On would pity kiss him, and he’d recover. He’s been very good in this role but yeah, even the forgiving me was thinking it was a little … fake? Melodramatic?
In contrast, Hyung Kim’s death scene was amazing. If possible, he was even prettier on the brink with blood on his lips (there is something wrong with me – too many gothic novels). And he was pulverized with many arrows, and many stab wounds. My guess is they probably knew how to take a pulse and check for breathing back then. And they miss he was still alive? I love we get to keep him, but seriously? I really need to fly to Korea and teach these writers about the basics of physiology.
While we’re on side characters… The crown princess (New Girl). Ugh.
Stephanie: Wait! I’m not ready to leave Death Village. Jinyoung and his — you were always the girl I wanted to paint. *Eyeroll*. Even his dialog was a weak stretch. But you’re right, and I’m fighting through my cynicism. Hyung Kim’s ‘death’ was the most effective part of this whole episode. Now THIS is what an ending should be. Great acting between the prince and the guy he decides to believe and stay as his friend, the realization that there was no way out — for either of them, the Prince’s frantic words to tell him to actually keep holding the sword at his throat because that was the only thing keeping him alive? Yep. Now looking back I can appreciate it. There was more chemistry, more emotion between these two characters than there was between the main couple. Which is sad.
Leila: I’m glad that actor is only 19 now. That means we get a lot more years of him and he’s only going to get better. Death Village! Ha! I also forgot the Prince’s poisoning. It was kind of lame. At no point did I think they’d actually kill him. A lot of time was spent on it and the only point seemed to be to have an excuse to bring Ra On into the palace in a caretaker role, and to further crush the fiance princess’ heart. Well, I guess it was a shortcut to get them to forgive each other without actually having to talk about anything? Nothing like a little near death poisoning to brush all that silly betrayal stuff aside.
Stephanie: Or, maybe these were fake-outs for those who actually know Korean history and were expecting him to die at some point. “Is this it? No? Well, then it has to be now, right?” It’s funny how the heroine is basically not in the last few episodes of the drama, with the exception of a few minutes. I don’t care for the fact that almost every single male character died/almost died because of her, and she’s all waltzing into the palace again. The fact that she was wearing the bracelet of sadness and angst wasn’t enough of a gesture for me—a gesture to make her an equal part of this couple. I’m not sure what would have worked for me, but she needed to do something, and breaking into the palace again just wasn’t enough for me. Now that I think about it, I may be a jerk, but I wanted that big moment from her. I needed that moment to win me back to her side, to know she was still the person we liked at the beginning of the show.
Leila: That’s true… She wasn’t in the last few episodes much. But we got that loooooong ass scene with the evil queen and the baby. Ugh. Anyway, her big gestures were rushing to his side when he was poisoned and wearing his bracelet she had strung back together? Huh. That is … weak. And I’m now randomly angry that the male characters get all the good stuff in the plot, and the heroine is given that. She didn’t get any character development or noble moments. And the last scene where they have her selling books she wrote? I was mildly surprised because I had completely forgotten she was a writer.
Stephanie: Dude. I completely didn’t think to be mad at the writers. I blamed the character, but she didn’t come out of thin air. Someone had to create this fun, spunky, quick on her feet, street smart,heroine and then reduce her down to whatever she was at the end. Bad writer! Bad! And for her to still be doling out fish eyed kisses a year later? Come. On. There are only a few dramas out there where I ultimately didn’t buy the romance, and I’m very much wondering if this one needs to be listed in there.
Leila: And they started with such good chemistry! I thought we’d moved on from goldfish kisses in dramas, but I guess she’s still pretty young? PBG did give it his best shot, though. He moved his lips. Let’s just take a minute out of our displeasure at some of the plots to appreciate that we actually got a happy ending for our couple. It was a greater than 50% chance that one or the other of them would be dead, and/or separated forever, pining away alone till they died, bitter and lonely. Instead, we got smiles and flirting and walking through the flowers holding hands. Though, I still don’t know exactly what that resolution was. Is he waiting to marry her? Is he not going to marry her? Is he married to her secretly? Dad seemed OK with it. And, look, Dad! And no sign of mother at all. And randomly returned Hyung Kim, with no explanation for why he snuck away. Gah, this show!
Stephanie: You mean the dad we didn’t get any explanation from? The dad who was little more than a clumsily used plot tool? Ra On was pardoned, but we don’t know anything about him. You know what else we didn’t see? The aftermath of the head eunuch’s death? What a waste. He was like the one confidant of the crazy king. I needed to see the king learn that after all these years, after him being paranoid over everything, it was actually his closest advisor who betrayed him. It was an interesting parallel between the King and the Head Eunuch’s story, and the relationship between the Prince and Hyung Kim. A parallel which was underused without giving us that other scene.
Leila: Oh wow. I hadn’t thought about that. Good point. I felt like the show was always trying to convince us the Head Eunuch was evil but he never really did anything too terrible. It was the Minister who promoted the paranoia. The HE actually had several good moments – he rescued Hyung Kim as a child, and though they threatened to use Ra On, he ended up helping her a number of times. I too would have liked to have seen the King come to a few realizations and see how he died? So many frayed ends!
I’m not sure I have the energy to discuss the gross evil queen and her baby plot. And the weird little power struggle between her and her father. And then the stupid guards letting the Minister end his life in his own way. Like the old goat really cared what happened to his son. Let’s talk about something happy. Looking back, what was your favorite part or parts of the show?
Stephanie: Wait! Gross evil queen and baby plot/weird power struggle with her father. I thought that conversation between them was interesting. When she said all she wanted to do was be accepted by him and he’s all ‘So says the lady who just swapped out her own kid for a replacement baby and ordered hers murdered,’ and she’s all ‘Good point?’ For some reason, I really enjoyed this moment and her realization that she was no better than he. Or that she had sunk to his level in order to get his approval. And the fact that she was of questionable birth and he hid that? And that this was one of the reasons he was sentenced to death? I thought that was interesting. I wonder what happened to the babies, though.
Leila: Oh! I wondered what that was all about. I was thinking that was weirdly random exposition. That he was just being insulting? (Writers, Imma gonna need you to write clearly and complete your thoughts if you want me to pick up on all of your great ideas.) I did like her little slap at her father with “I really am your daughter, look at me doing just what you would do.” And I think they were trying to show us that she really did have motherly feelings? But then they didn’t really carry that through? Baby abuse plots just made me angry. They’re such an easy target, and so overused. It was a super cute infant, though. I wonder who’s baby they used? I did know that they sentenced her to death because they had her in the White Robes of Execution being escorted by guards. But we didn’t get that for any of the men like you said.
Stephanie: Nah, I don’t think she was executed, I think she was just dethroned. Although, no, she’s not headed towards a happy ending like other dethroned ladies, like our girl b-lead. You know what? I’m fine with her ending. She tried, she gave him up knowing she would have to be alone, and yet she was allowed a way out. She was not a bad character, and at the end, I’m happy with her. It’s a little overly simplistic that she got away from everything, but with the prince coming back from the dead twice, and the bodyguard doing the same? The heroine getting her name cleared, why should she not be let off the hook?
Leila: I was a little annoyed at how pathetic she was there in the last few episodes, but yeah, she wasn’t a bad person so I’m also happy she gets a clean slate to start with. It was a bright happy spot in a pretty grim couple of episodes. AND, we get our happy Not-So-Fat Princess and Gawkward Scholar Guy romantic proposal. And alive and super swoony Hyung Kim! He and his gorgeous messy bangs will live fondly in my memory along with PBGs adorable smiles.
Stephanie: So. Ultimately successful? Unsuccessful? Worth the hype?
Leila: It was really fun for most of it. I’ll probably score it a 7. The ending was like a flat soda. But I’m learning this happens a lot with dramas, so it’s hard to be too surprised. We got a happy ending.
Stephanie: Did we, though? Did we? Or is it a superficially happy ending that can not sustain itself in the long run? Unfortunately, I vote that one. To end on an upside, though–it was fun watching with you, Leila! Let’s do it again sometime.