TL;DR: Sorry, Boong-do, but no matter how many times I watch this drama, I never quite remember all the details of your tragic backstory.
Possibly because it’s fairly standard sageuk fare, what with the fridged women and wrongfully murdered father and the unnecessary torture of political rivals. Even his transformation from a bookish scholar to a badass fighter isn’t all that unique among the sageuk heroes I’ve seen.
And that’s a shame, because in the course of forgetting Boong-do’s rather standard backstory, I’ve forgotten a lot of Yoon Wol’s history, too. Lest we forget, Yoon Wol has an equally tragic backstory, which we’ll dive into more later on, but the most relevant points are this: she served Boong-do’s wife, she charmed her way into Min Ahm’s household as a gisaeng in order to help Boong-do, and she is most definitely is in love with him. As much as Hee-jin will sob in this drama, Yoon Wol is the one who breaks my heart—she is the tragic heroine with an unrequited love who makes the rest of the story possible at the cost of her own happiness.
I do love that Min Ahm is the one who advocated for Boong-do’s pardon (on the grounds that he didn’t know anything about his father’s “crime,” the rest of his family had already been punished, and if he is executed, his family line ends). It’s a self-serving, short-sighted action, designed to earn himself and Consort Jang’s points from the king, the people, and even Boong-do himself. Perhaps, on a lesser hero, that would have worked, but Boong-do is a scholar first, and he can see right through Min Ahm’s maneuverings: Everything is because of your grace, My Lord. One day, I will definitely return your favor.
Mmmm, I do love some well-done irony.
One of the clever things this show has done is the creation of Dong-min as a subversion of the rich, successful, and powerful male lead. His character is as infuriating as it is brilliant, and we continue to build off the foundation that was established in the previous episode. In many other realities shows, Dong-min would be the romantic hero. After all, isn’t it the domain of the romantic lead to doubt the heroine’s skills to her face, force her to prove herself to him on his timetable, ask her to date him, blame her for the fact he can’t get her off his mind, surprise kiss her, and then graciously “give” her something that she never wanted his help with?
How many kdrama heroes can you think of that are scarily similar? Especially with the asshole-ish charm?
That’s why Dong-min works for me as a character: he is an excellent foil for Boong-do, who is the actual romantic hero. A hero who truly loves the heroine and won’t go nuclear when he doesn’t get what he thinks he is entitled to (i.e., Hee-jin). Every step of the way from here on out, the show is going to compare and contrast Dong-min with Boong-do and take sly jabs at the Rich Asshole Love Interest in order to reveal his true colors. Dong-min exists to demonstrate that assholes are just assholes, and you shouldn’t go for them, no matter how cute they are at first. The honeymoon period will always wear off.
I love that the show takes Hee-jin’s plotline as an actress seriously at the start. Sure, Boong-do’s got life-and-death politics, but Hee-jin is given plenty of screen time as she struggles to deal with her ex-boyfriend as a co-star and with the revelation that he tipped the casting scales in her favor. Plus, the addition of Na-jung gives her a rival of her own (with evil winged eyeliner, just in case her attitude wasn’t enough of a clue). Hee-jin is excited and apprehensive about her first leading role after working in the theater and doing mostly modeling, and it’s a wonderful touch to see her and her manager alternating between worried and elated at how things are turning out with New Consort Jang. Her world is just as important to her as Boong-do’s is to him.
(Hee-jin and Soo-kyung are super cute together, just for the record.)
I do have a moderate gripe about the end of this episode, though. For as much as I appreciate the dramatic visual of Hee-jin collapsed in Boong-do’s arms, it makes very little sense. If I remember right, this is the only time Boong-do jumps to the present and drags someone along with him. I don’t understand the logistics for it at all as (we’ll later learn) the talisman’s sole purpose is to save his life. Why would it bring an enemy with him? That is entirely counter-productive.
Regardless, episode two did a great job finishing the setup for Hee-jin and Boong-do’s main plots—and romance. I’m looking forward to the next episode.
By the Numbers
- Unwanted kisses: 1
- Politely veiled threats: 1
- Phone calls: 3
- Split screen sequences: 1
- Metaphors pondered over: 1
- Bechdel Test: 2 episodes passed