TL;DR: I’m not in love with it, but I’m still interested in continuing with the show. We’ll see how long it takes to get through the childhood portion.
I’ll just say this straight up—I don’t think Flower in Prison is going to end up being a sophisticated classic that gets put on countless recommendations lists. Subtlety is not (so far) a frequently used tool by the actors or the writer. (That said, I really loved the brief fight in the bamboo forest—more of that, please.) And for the most part I wouldn’t mind, except for our resident villain, the king’s brother-in-law, Won-hyung. I should’ve kept track of how many times he said do you know who I am in various shades out outrage. Yes, you’re the insecure, power-hungry asshole. Can we shove him aside and allow his sister, Queen Munjeong, more of the spotlight? At least she has the sense to chide him for his lack of scheming skills and total disregard for others overhearing their evil plots. Sure, he’s a change up from the standard 50+-year-old-forever-talking-in-secret-meetings villains palace-centered sageuks tend to have, but I’m frankly missing those guys’ endless cries of your highness while simultaneously plotting massacres.
Also on the bad end of the subtlety meter is the matter of the hair-ornament—calling it now that Ok-nyeo is probably the love child of the king, somehow, because how else would she have the same one the queen has and have the queen and her brother doing the best to murder her mom? Looks like they were worried about offing another possible contender to the throne.
There are a few touches I like—small details in prison life, like roll-call and the women working there to keep the prisoners and soldiers/officers fed. I’m extremely curious why the face reader/teacher has been in prison for fifteen years. I mean, he is clearly of the noble class, so why are you just hanging on to him for that long? Aside for him being Ok-nyeo’s teacher. I’m used to sageuks going with exile, death-by-poisoning, clandestine murder, enslavement, and/or state-sanctioned beheading to get rid of troublesome nobles. So what did he do that was bad enough to get a long prison sentence but not bad enough to get dealt one of the earlier cards?
Which reminds me of Nan-jung, our obligatory gisaeng with absolutely no fear and a thorough understanding of the law. Why’d you get thrown in jail and then let go? And what are you going to do for the story in the future? I’ve honestly got no clue—for a while, I thought you might be revealed to be Ok-nyeo’s mother or maybe her teacher, but those roles have been filled by others. I hope you get lots of screen time because even though you weren’t around for very long, you grabbed my attention.
The Flower in Prison is also setting the stage hard and fast for law, law, law everywhere, from Nan-jung snarling at the prison chief about how he didn’t have the legal right to beat the prisoners to Ok-nyeo spouting some lesser-known laws and rules in order to further a scheme to help her adoptive father. I expect we’ll get a lot more title cards explaining law terms as we go on; with any luck, they’ll be used cleverly.
Ok-nyeo hasn’t had much screen time so far, but I like this younger actress and the start of her character. I’m always up for tiny girls picking up skills no one expects them to have, whether that’s pickpocketing or lawyering or face-reading(?). Here’s hoping she continues to acquire these skills and that she gets to use them once we transition to the main timeline. I want to believe it when she becomes the heroine of the people. We’ve got the start of a good foundation so far—please don’t screw it up.
By the Numbers
- Death by childbirth: 1
- People who attempted to be noble and died for it: 2
- Story-significant prisoners: 3
- Bechdel Test: 1* episode passed
*I’m pretty sure both those palace ladies who talked to Ok-nyeo had names, but for the life of me I can’t tell you what they are. Next episode!