THE SHORT VERDICT:
This show is very ambitious, in just about every sense of the word. It aims to be this very shiny, expensive, mind-bendy parallel worlds thing, with an epic romance at its center, and it therefore aims to blow your mind and sweep you off your feet, in one fell swoop.
Because Show is that ambitious, though, I feel like it doesn’t quite manage to keep all its ducks in a row, all the way through. Sometimes it kinda-sorta blows my mind, and sometimes it kinda-sorta sweeps me off my feet, but it doesn’t manage to do either with any degree of consistency.
Ultimately, Show is neither as brilliant as its fans say it is, but neither is it as terrible as its critics say it is, either. It’s actually not bad, with some slightly hefty lens management.
THE LONG VERDICT:
You might be wondering how I ended up checking out this show, since many of you had requested me to check out this show while it was airing, only to be met with an answer declaring my early decision to give this a miss, because, 1, I don’t typically do well with Kim Eun Sook dramas, and 2, Heirs gave me a bad Lee Min Ho allergy that I still hadn’t gotten over.
So what changed my mind?
Well, awhile ago, my sister watched this show, and enthusiastically declared that this was brilliantly written. And when I asked her about whether things added up (since I’d heard that they didn’t), she said that she’d watched this show twice, and things did add up. Plus, she suggested that I check out certain bloggers who’d taken the time and trouble to break down and analyze Show’s fantasy logic around the parallel universes.
You guys know that shows that get very polarizing responses from viewers tend to pique my interest. I always wonder where I’ll land, and end up checking out the show, if only to be able to form my own conclusions.
..And that’s how I ended up watching this show, which I’d originally decided to give a hard pass.
Now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I can safely say that, unfortunately, I don’t think Show is as brilliantly written as my sister contends. I have no issue with the mathy stuff; that adds up, as far as I’m concerned. But there are lots of narrative logic leaps and stretches which don’t sit well with me (which I’ll talk more about later).
On the upside, though, Show isn’t that bad. I actually found various stretches genuinely enjoyable. AND, importantly, Show seems to have cured me of my Lee Min Ho allergy, which had lingered insistently with me for years after Heirs. That’s quite an accomplishment, I’d say. For that alone, I consider this watch worthwhile.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to the admittedly pleasant OST while you read the review. As a general rule, I did feel like the OST worked to lift my watch experience, and I count that as a plus.
In terms of tracks, I find myself gravitating to Orbit for its dreamy yet hard-edged badass vibe. Gravity is also very moodsy and has a similar-but-different ethereal but classic rock kind of feel. I also like Maze, for its wistful and melancholic sound.
MANAGING THE VIEWING LENS
Because Show seems to shift its emphasis during different portions of its story, I’ve found that it’s necessary to switch lenses from time to time, in order to maximize one’s enjoyment of the show.
Sometimes Show reminds me of Crash Landing On You
In broad strokes, this show sometimes kinda-sorta reminds me of Crash Landing On You, but with the genders switched. Instead of a rich girl landing in an unfamiliar place, and who quickly gloms onto the first familiar face that she finds, we have a king from a parallel universe landing in the Republic of Korea, quickly glomming onto the first familiar face he finds. We even have the similar repeated phone calls, where he calls her for almost nothing at all, to the similar frustration of the recipient.
When Show is in this space, it has a similar light, undemanding vibe that I got from CLOY.
Unfortunately, what I think this show doesn’t have that CLOY does, is a pair of lead characters that I can easily believe belong together. Show doesn’t take the trouble to tease out why our OTP belongs together; they just do, because it’s destiny. The sooner you’re able to just roll with that, the easier your watch will be.
Sometimes Show reminds me of Memories Of The Alhambra
By Show’s halfway point, I started to come to the conclusion that the marketing for this show, which implies that this story is all about the romance between Lee Min Ho’s parallel world king and Kim Go Eun’s cop, does this show a disservice. Which kinda reminds me of my conclusion about the marketing around Memories Of The Alhambra too.
With Alhambra, it never was about the romance; Show was much more about one man’s adventure quest. And with King, while the romance in this is more important than in Alhambra, Show seems to spend a lot more time on the conspiracy surrounding the colliding of the two worlds. I feel like understanding that right off the bat, is helpful.
As we get deeper into our story, the focus on the fragments of information surrounding the conspiracy ramps up, and sometimes the supposed key romance feels like it’s relegated to the sidelines. In fact, now that I’ve completed my watch, I think that the main romance was just a cover for writer-nim’s real Main Event, which is the parallel worlds and how that all works. In my opinion, that’s why it feels like the OTP relationship is undercooked; it wasn’t writer-nim’s main focus to begin with.
I feel like keeping this in mind is helpful, because with this in mind, I question the OTP relationship a lot less. Any time the emotions don’t ring true to me, or feel sudden or rushed, I file it away as being due to it being a secondary arc, shrug, and move on.
Sometimes Show reminds me of Nine
I found that as I progressed deeper into my watch, my main concern became: does Show still make sense? Rather than, say, do I care about these characters? I’ve concluded that this is one of those shows where it engages me more on a mental than an emotional level, kind of like what Nine was like, for me.
Show doesn’t always provide solid answers in terms of the mechanics of the parallel universes and the time travel, so dialing down expectations on those will be helpful. I figure that if other shows that I’ve enjoyed didn’t have a bulletproof theory around time travel – like Nine – then it’s only fair that I accept the same from King.
Essentially, when it comes to the parallel worlds and the details around it, you do need to work to keep on top of things, but you also need to keep your analytical lens a little blurry, to accommodate Show’s occasional lack of answers. Yes, it is as tricky as it sounds.
STUFF THAT WORKED OUT TO OKAY OR NOT BAD
I’m starting with the ok stuff, because that’s where the key characters and relationships land, for me. That said, let me state for the record that I did not hate our key actors or characters, at all. I just didn’t find them very well fleshed-out, in the overall scheme of things. Also, some of the character actions don’t make narrative sense – which I’ll save to talk about in the section on logic lapses and stretches.
Lee Min Ho as Lee Gon
To be brutally honest, I started this watch feeling like Lee Min Ho did not have the gravitas or regality I expected of a king (I feel that a king should have a regal, commanding kind of presence, just by being). For about half of our story, I found his delivery too laidback, to the point where I could understand why some viewers said that he seems to be sleepwalking through this role.
HOWEVER. What I’d heard was true; Lee Min Ho does exude a lot more gravitas and regality in Show’s second half. I cannot begin to tell you how relieved this made me, because I found it so perplexing that our king didn’t feel like what I felt a king should feel like, in Show’s first half. It was comforting and assuring to realize that the lack of gravitas was an acting &/or directing choice, and not a lack of ability on the part of Lee Min Ho. As a bonus, I thought Lee Min Ho did really nicely in the action scenes. It gave me very excellent City Hunter feels. 🤩
Show goes to great lengths to make Lee Gon a likable character, and I found myself enjoying him quite nicely, after a somewhat perplexing start. Which, as you’d recall, is a Huge Deal for me, since I was struggling to get over my Heirs-induced Lee Min Ho aversion.
E2. Lee Gon is not unlikable; he’s generally pleasant and quite patient, even when Tae Eul doesn’t talk to him nicely, or ignores him, or manhandles him. The royal-speak is also fitting for the character, and gives him a quirk that sets him apart, while feeling organic to his station.
E2. I do find it quite funny that Lee Gon, with his math genius of a brain, didn’t figure out that his diamond buttons were finite, and that he’d run out of money if he kept spending like he was doing. I guess our king is either too used to being royally well-off, or not very bright in normal everyday things?
E3. I must say, I thought Lee Min Ho did very nicely in the action scene where Lee Gon takes down the gangsters with his riding crop. His moves are swift, sharp and lethal, and I enjoyed watching his badassery very much. I wouldn’t be opposed at all, to Lee Gon showing off more action moves in the episodes to come.
E4. I do like it when Lee Gon exerts his kingly authority. When Prime Minister Koo (Jung Eun Chae) barges into his study, he’s patient and polite, but when she lets slip that she thinks he’s indebted to her, he stops her from leaving, and firmly informs her that as the King of Corea, he cannot be indebted to anyone, and he even checks for her understanding. And later in the episode, when he instructs the royal guards to take 10 steps back in order not to startle Tae Eul, that’s a really nice combination of kingly authority, mixed with gentlemanly consideration.
E4. It definitely helps my watch experience, that Lee Gon is not a cold, distant jerk of a king. Instead, he’s polite, pleasant, patient, smart, gentlemanly, and a bit idealistic, while finding time to be a math nerd. That’s all quite.. nice, really.
E4. Lee Gon’s suspicion that the autopsy report for Lee Rim (Lee Jung Jin) isn’t a reflection of the truth can only be put down to a hunch. There’s no evidence that indicates otherwise, but I rationalize that he doesn’t find it plausible that his uncle, as tenacious and self-serving as he’s known him to be, would end up dead in the manner that the body showed up in.
I do like the gentle and respectful manner in which he nudges his uncle Prince Buyeong (Jeon Mu Song) about the matter. He basically urges Uncle to tell him the truth, in good faith, and then gives Uncle the space to think about things, while waiting for Uncle to make the first move. That feels strongly benevolent.
E7. I like the idea that Lee Gon is analytical and quick-thinking. The way he creates evidence of the time-freeze for Yeong (Woo Do Hwan), even before Yeong asks for it, is pretty cool. And it also shows that he knows Yeong very well. Also, I like that it doesn’t take long for him to realize that the time-freezes have to do with Rim moving between worlds, and that Rim is living in Tae Eul’s (Kim Go Eun) world, and needs to be eliminated.
E9. I appreciate Lee Gon’s strong conviction that the appearance of a person doesn’t mean anything, and that a person’s face is purely a symbol of the person themselves. I like how resolutely unaffected he is, by the fact that Jeong Hye (Seo Jung Yeon) shares the same face as his mother. It takes a strong mind – and a strong heart – to be so unmoved by the idea of seeing his mother’s face again.
E9. I finally got my wish: Lee Min Ho is a lot more regal as Lee Gon this episode, and I like it. It seems that Lee Gon reserves his regal, commanding air for when he’s actually facing important matters of state, and when he’s traveling to Korea and canoodling with Tae Eul, that regality is switched off. I personally prefer the idea of a king who’s innately regal, whether he’s being laidback and casual or being commanding and fierce. That makes the royalty feel much more.. in his blood, if you will. But, I can also roll with the idea of a king who’s able to switch the regality on and off, as he pleases.
E9. The way Lee Gon anticipates Lee Rim’s call is both smart and regal. Smart, for being able to anticipate it, from piecing information together, and regal, in the way that he delivers his message to Lee Rim, quoting from the Four Tiger Sword, in such a low and controlled voice. It feels like he’s holding back a wrath that could prove formidable if unleashed, and that makes me feel that he has power, but is reining it in as an initial courtesy.
E10. Lee Gon is much more interesting to me, when he’s being intent and fierce, and he’s both of those things in this episode. And the way he gives orders to his men, is sharp, fast and firm. He doesn’t panic even when things go awry, and that’s pretty cool.
E11. It was a little hard for me to watch Lee Gon basically killing a lot of people this episode. I guess it just feels a bit jarring, after Show’s set him up to be this romantic, idealistic, benevolent, nerdy guy. My rationalization is that the situation that he’s dealing with, is treason. And treason, no matter which way you slice it, ends up being a bloody matter.
He’d lived through that as a child, and seen – and shed – the blood that went with it. I guess that’s why, now, in the face of treason – by the same traitor, no less – he’s quite quickly in bloodshed mode. I rationalize that he has no time to spare on trying to capture enemies alive. Perhaps, capturing them alive involves a degree of risk, since they are traitors who are willing to die, to overthrow him.
E11. Lee Gon’s math nerd comes to the fore, to figure out the pattern of the increasing length of the time freezes. I don’t follow the exact logic of his calculations, but it’s enough for me to understand that he figured out the pattern because of his mathy genius, and that it wasn’t an obvious pattern (square root of the prime numbers!), and that the conclusion is that if the time freezes carry on in the same pattern, the time freezes will eventually last forever. I quite like that Lee Gon is smart in a nerdy way.
E12. The scene at the church, where Lee Gon cries during the time freeze, is the first concrete sign that he feels fearful. It must hit him quite hard, to see Tae Eul frozen in time, because it confronts him with the truth, that the one he loves is directly affected by the crossing of worlds. And his theory, that eventually, time would stop forever, given enough crossings made between worlds, must weigh heavily on him. It means that he and Tae Eul cannot just keep crossing worlds to see each other on an indefinite basis. This must be a daunting prospect to him. I know he’s promised her that he would cross the universe for her, but really, as royal as he may be, he’s only human. And that’s what strikes me most, in this scene.
Kim Go Eun as Tae Eul
To be honest, I’d been a little wary coming into this show, because I’d seen quite a few comments by other viewers, that Kim Go Eun’s character Tae Eul is quite brash and annoying. Basically, these viewers saw Tae Eul as an abrasive, unreasonable, unlikable character.
Now that I’ve seen the show in its entirety, I’m gonna hafta respectfully disagree. For the record, I did not find Tae Eul annoying the way those viewers did. In fact, I found Tae Eul very reasonable, generally speaking. Funny how that worked out, eh?
Overall, I thought Kim Go Eun did a very nice job of whatever she was given, in this show. Granted, sometimes I did feel rather bemused at what Tae Eul was written to say, and also, I felt that the character development was rather choppy, AND, I never actually became fond of Tae Eul, but for me, Kim Go Eun’s delivery was not one of Show’s weak links.
E1. I’d been wary that I’d hate Tae Eul, since I’d heard that she can be quite brash and annoying. So far, she isn’t brash or annoying to me. Even when she’s ordering Lee Gon to get off his horse, she doesn’t come off as giving him attitude. She just seems to be doing her job, while kind of tired, because she’s had a long day.
E2. I feel that Tae Eul is understandable and far from being the abrasive, unreasonable character that I’d heard her to be. So far, she’s perplexed by Lee Gon and his refusal-cum-inability to cooperate with her in her attempts to ascertain his identity, and she’s also somewhat annoyed by his incessant phone calls. I’d be annoyed too, honestly, if someone left a horse in my garden without seeking permission first.
I find her completely normal, so far, in the context of a kdrama heroine. Sure, in real life it wouldn’t make sense for a woman to be so patient with a man that she thinks is crazy, but in this fantasy world, I think the various bits and pieces of “evidence” that what Lee Gon says might just be true, give her pause for thought, and that’s why she’s not throwing him in an asylum for being crazy, and still listening to what he has to say. I don’t yet have an affection for her character, but that might change.
E3. I actually think Show is doing a reasonably good job of making Tae Eul more open to the idea that Lee Gon is telling the truth about coming from another world. Bit by bit, as she becomes more bemused at how things don’t add up – like with his DNA test, and with how Maximus is such a rare breed that she shouldn’t exist in Korea because there’s no record of such a breed being brought in – she starts to wonder a little bit more, about the truth of his words.
E4. It seems fitting that Tae Eul’s job not only requires her to examine evidence in order to arrive at a conclusion, but also gives her access to investigative services that help to authenticate Lee Gon’s claims. As she goes through piece after piece of evidence, the likelihood of Lee Gon telling the truth becomes more believable.
I really like the way Kim Go Eun plays Tae Eul’s response to this. It’s clear that her brain is rejecting the possibility, because it goes against everything that she knows and understands. But her heart is increasingly persuaded, and I believe that’s why she increasingly gets tears in her eyes, as she considers the evidence. Every time Tae Eul says something to Lee Gon along the lines of accusing him of making up stuff, I see it as her head talking. And every time she hesitates and gets tears in her eyes, I see it as her heart responding to the truth that is taking shape before her.
E5. Now, about Tae Eul’s reaction to arriving in the Kingdom. I’d heard that her behavior is demanding, rough and generally off-putting, but I don’t find it that bad. Yes, I’d prefer if she didn’t grab for the gun and then aim it at Lee Gon, but Kim Go Eun does add a nice layer of pathos to everything. The hint of tears in her eyes, and the slight quiver in her voice both speak to the uncertainty, and, to some extent, fear that she’s feeling.
Additionally, while it’s illogical that she would seek out people by the names that they’re known by in her own world, since she already knows that alternates have their own names in the Kingdom, I rationalize that she’s really not quite thinking straight, in this very strange new reality that she’s experiencing. And, I can understand why she would seek out the alternates. On the one hand, it’s to verify what she’s experiencing, and on the other hand, in the case of her mom, it’s to be able to see her again, alive and well, even if she’s living in a different world.
E6. I actually like how Tae Eul handles the unexpected meeting with Prime Minister Koo. I mean, to express right away that she’s a fan, and also, that she’s not local and will be leaving soon, is diplomatic, vague and a smart way to allay any fears that Prime Minister Koo might have, which might drive her to.. unexpected behavior. And, I think that if Gon had had more self-control, and hadn’t smiled at Tae Eul with such amused affection, and hadn’t put his arm around Tae Eul as they’d walked through the revolving doors, Prime Minister Koo’s hackles mightn’t have been so raised.
E11. Tae Eul’s big escape from her kidnappers is very dramatic and tense, and it definitely kept me on the edge of my seat, even though my brain knew that she’d make it out alive. It’s quite trippy to realize that she was brought over to the Kingdom while unconscious, but it makes sense that Lee Rim would do that, since his aim to let Luna take over Tae Eul’s place. It was pretty awesome to see Tae Eul’s training all come to the fore and stand her in good stead, so that she’s able to fight her way out of her prison, with enough wits about her to grab the car keys and drive away. Plus, her ability to sharp-shoot her pursuers’ car tire while the car is going at high speed, is impressive too. And then, her ability to throw down her attacker even after being knocked over by the truck’s impact with the phone booth is extra admirable, given how exhausted she is by then.
E8. We get our first longer look at Luna, and I must say that Kim Go Eun does a great job of portraying her. Credit to Kim Go Eun, Luna may look like Tae Eul, but even though both women are tough types, Luna feels completely different from Tae Eul. Luna comes across as jaded, with her patience wearing thin, like she might turn around and kill you, if she gets ticked off just a little too much.
E11. I actually feel like Luna’s words to Lee Rim say a lot about her. She says she’s hurt by his words describing her sad life, and won’t be his ally. “I may use other people’s weaknesses, but I never poke others’ wounds.” There’s a baseline of principles and compassion built in there, despite her amoral actions, and that’s more than I can say for Lee Rim.
E11. Luna comes across as a completely different person than Tae Eul, down to her very soul. And yet, her delivery doesn’t feel exaggerated to accentuate the differences between the two characters. Her delivery leans organic and natural, and I like that a lot.
E13. I do find myself needing to rationalize Luna’s sudden show of emotion, this episode. Before this episode, she’s mostly been sardonic and impassive, but this episode, she actually looks sad, and maybe even guilty and wistful. I rationalize that being confronted with the warm people who fill Tae Eul’s life makes her sad for herself, which is a reaction I prefer compared to anger, for example.
The OTP relationship: Lee Gon and Tae Eul
Overall, my experience with this OTP was.. an uneven one.
In past shows that I’ve watched by Kim Eun Sook, one of my usual beefs with her is connect-the-dots writing that clumsily strings together Big OTP Moments. In this show, I don’t have that same beef, and I concede that there seems to have been a lot more thought put into building this drama world and figuring out how the different pieces are related, and how they affect one another.
However, the trade-off, it seems, is that the believability of the OTP connection in this show is even weaker than usual, and therefore, the Big OTP Moments all tended to fall rather flat for me. At first, I tried to rationalize all the sudden feelings and intensity between our lead characters, but in the end, rationalization was futile; there was just no way to rationalize it all. I had to accept that there is this Big Destined Love between the OTP, never mind that it sprung out of nowhere.
In terms of OTP chemistry, I mostly found it reasonably ok, though I wouldn’t say that it’s particularly sparky. In particular, I think the OTP chemistry would’ve been better in Show’s first half, if Lee Min Ho hadn’t been playing Lee Gon so laidback. The laidback vibe takes away energy from his screen presence, and that doesn’t help him match Kim Go Eun’s energy onscreen, I think. On the upside, the OTP chemistry does get better later in the show, provided you’re on board with the whole idea of a Deep Destiny between our OTP.
E2. Lee Gon’s sudden decision to make Tae Eul his queen feels like it came out of left field. I was ok with him being desperate to spend more time with her, since he’s been searching for her his whole life, almost, and I was also ok with him looking at her with some kind of burgeoning intent, since he’s been curious about her all this time. But to suddenly have him announce that he wants her to be his queen feels very abrupt, to me. Am I supposed to think that he’s just fallen for her at first sight, pretty much? (Eventual answer: yes, that is exactly what Show expects me to think.)
E3. I am not fully convinced that Lee Gon loves Tae Eul with A Big, Deep, Destined Love, but, I’m willing to believe that he’s fascinated with her, and that fascination, combined with his curiosity about her for the past 25 years, is enough to make him unwilling to say goodbye to her.
E4. I must have a soft spot for the concept of a modern monarchy in Korea, which might have something to do with the fact that my gateway drama was Goong. The sight of Lee Gon being acknowledged as king in front of Tae Eul is quite thrilling to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing Tae Eul witness the truth for herself, as Lee Gon shows her his world.
Also, I appreciate that Lee Gon doesn’t come across as proud or preening. He’s considerate of Tae Eul and how shocked she feels, and his words, “See, I was right,” gently spoken, don’t sound like a taunt; it seems to me more like he’s asking for vindication from all her accusations of him being a liar. I rather like that.
E5. It’s sweet of Lee Gon to sneak out of his room to keep Tae Eul company, because he guesses that she’d be scared to be by herself. And, I thought it was cute that he’d let her follow him on his day, dressed as a security officer. Plus, it was considerate of him to let her wander around on her own to satisfy her curiosity with Yeong on stand-by as her hidden guard, while escaping the boredom of following him around on his schedule.
On the downside, I felt like the kiss was a very sudden leap forward. All this time, I’ve registered Lee Gon’s interest in Tae Eul as fascination and intrigue, and even though I accepted that he’s looking at her with a romantic sort of lens, I categorized it as more of interest and intention, something still young and as yet undeveloped. So when he leans his head on her shoulder, and then moves to kiss her, in response to her remarks that he must not have dated before, that felt really strange, to me. How exactly did we get from “oh look, we are showing each other our individual worlds – do you believe me now?” to “we’re dating now”? It feels like there wasn’t much of anything in between those two stages, and I feel quite thrown by it.
E5. It seems that Show ending on a high, where Lee Gon gets to bask in his kingly stature, is becoming a bit of a pattern, since this is two episodes in a row now. But, I honestly can’t complain too much. First of all, like I said, I seem to have a weakness for Korean modern monarchy stories, and secondly, there’s something swoony about a king who would singlemindedly suspend everything and change all his plans, and risk the royal image, for the sake of the woman he loves. So even while I rolled my eyes a bit at how Lee Gon turns his helicopter around to swoop in to save stranded Tae Eul, I couldn’t help but swoon a little, as well.
E6. So it seems that the feelings between Lee Gon and Tae Eul are full-blown romantic, and mutual as well. I don’t feel it instinctively, meaning, I don’t think Show’s done that solid of a job teasing out the development of their mutual bond. In order to keep enjoying this show, I’m going to rationalize that just as sharing a dangerous experience can accelerate the bonding between people, that the sharing of something as momentous as their world-tilting, world-hopping experience has accelerated the bonding between them. For example, they are the only two people – that they know of, anyway – who have experienced both worlds, and therefore there’s a special solidarity there.
E6. Yeong being so alarmed and horrified at Gon’s open display of affection for Tae Eul in the helicopter is very amusing. But I have to agree with Yeong’s unspoken dismay; given that Tae Eul’s existence and identity needs to be kept a secret, I can’t help feeling like Gon’s letting his royalty give him a false sense of confidence. He really should be more discreet; you never know who’s spying on you.
E6. I like that Gon knows his way around a kitchen, and made it a point to cook for Tae Eul, because he’d heard from Yeong that she hadn’t eaten much during the day. He’s very detailed and thoughtful, I have to admit. I also like that while he cooks, they talk, and the conversation feels honest and personal. I like that Tae Eul starts to think empathetically about Gon’s experience in her world, musing that he must have felt lonely. I also like that he immediately picks up on the fact that she must’ve been lonely that day, and moves to pat her on the head – although, he does it with his forehead coz his hands are busy, pfft.
E6. The running hug that Tae Eul gives Lee Gon, when he finally shows up again, is, again, hard for me to swallow. It feels like this relationship is vaulting over milestones like nobody’s business. I am rationalizing that her recent discovery about her case being connected to the Kingdom and the royal family, has amped up her feelings of missing him, which themselves have been amplified by the unspecified long stretch of time in which he hasn’t visited. I do have to admit that I feel bemused at having to rationalize the OTP connection so much. I shouldn’t have to do that, and yet, here we are.
E7. I do concede that Show attempts to explain the big leaps between relationship milestones, with Tae Eul’s remark that they don’t know when they’ll be able to see each other next, when she upgrades their skinship from handhold to having Gon’s arm around her.
E8. This episode, we get a voiceover from Tae Eul talking about how our decisions shape our fate, but sometimes fate chooses us – and she’s decided to love the fate that chose her. I mean, it’s not a whole lot, but I am somewhat mollified that Show acknowledges that her love for Gon is basically sudden and unexplainable. It’s just fate, and just as she is simply choosing to accept it, I get the idea that we are also invited to simply accept it. Ok then. I’ll try to stop quibbling about this and just accept that Tae Eul and Gon are just Deeply In Love.
E9. I somehow find it rather endearing, that Tae Eul is jealous of the idea that Lee Gon might have made the steak with rice for Prime Minister Koo. That’s a small petty jealousy that neither Tae Eul nor Lee Gon take seriously, and somehow the fact that it exists in the midst of all this dark treason talk – and that they can jest about it – gives me a mild sense of sweetness.
E11. Curiously, Tae Eul says in voiceover that she was able to tell that the Lee Gon who’d brought her flowers and then disappeared, was from another time, not just from another world. Interesting. I guess we can put that down to lover’s instinct? Also, when she says that she probably made up her mind about a lot of things, in that moment, it’s interesting that she speaks the way Lee Gon speaks. I’m no expert, but that sounds like the more formal courtly language that Lee Gon uses, rather than the way she usually speaks. Is that a hint of her decision?
E12. Ok, as I expected, Lee Gon was already looking for Tae Eul, and had harnessed all his people and technology to search for her. It’s a nice touch that the detective who called Lee Gon had already been tasked to search for Luna, and had called Lee Gon, thinking that he’d found her. I like the idea that Lee Gon is able to recognize Tae Eul, even though there’s someone who looks just like her.
E12. I do rather like that our OTP gets some cute couple time together, with Lee Gon remembering Tae Eul’s petty jealousy about whether he’d ever cooked rice for someone else while wearing his navy uniform, and doing just that, for her. I mean, since the OTP was the main draw that was advertised, it only seems right that Show remembers to deliver on its promise, at least sometimes.
E12. In some ways, I feel like our OTP relationship vibes like some kind of arranged marriage, in that they come together very suddenly, almost like they’re at the mercy of an external force (in their case, Fate / Destiny, instead of Family), and it’s only afterwards, that they seem to get to know each other, a bit at a time. That scene in front of the church feels that way, to me. After all the big love declarations, they realize that they haven’t shared big pieces of themselves with each other; he tells her about his mother and how she’d died, and she tells him about hers.
E12. Well. I must say the kiss on the neck was unexpected. I found myself immediately looking at the top right hand corner of my screen, just to double-check what network this show aired on, ha. Bold move, SBS. That was quite sensuous and lovely. I’m quite impressed by the fact that this scene managed to land with some feels for me, even though I have had a fair amount of struggle in rationalizing the speed and intensity of the development of this OTP relationship. Or maybe I’ve come to accept that Lee Gon and Tae Eul really are just that in love. Whatever the case, I did believe Lee Gon’s longing and desire for Tae Eul, in this moment. Nicely done.
Jung Eun Chae as Prime Minister Koo
Prime Minister Koo is written as a character whose main goal is to snag the king as her husband. And I totally get why people would roll their eyes at this. As a Prime Minister, it’s just not very businesslike at all, to flirt with the king. I agree with other viewers before me, that she would be much more interesting if there was more to her than her ambition to be queen.
On this point, I know that some viewers found it problematic that a female prime minister is portrayed as being man-hungry and flirtatious. I do think that Prime Minister Koo didn’t need to be made out to be man-hungry and flirtatious. However, I also concede that women like her exist, and therefore, characters like her should be allowed to exist.
Importantly, Show doesn’t seem to be saying that her behavior is commendable; quite the opposite, in fact. And, because Show doesn’t say that it’s good and right and expected of her to behave this way, I’m ok with that.
Also, color me surprised, but I came away from my watch with a small measure of grudging admiration for PM Koo.
E2. I do find it rather disappointing that our Prime Minister of Corea is written as a man-hungry vamp who somehow managed to make it into office. That remark that she made, about being dismayed because she’d thought that she’d be surrounded by handsome men after entering office, tells me everything I need to know about how writer-nim intends to position her.
That remark just makes her look like she has no smarts, competence, or any kind of political ambition, unless it has to do with her snagging a man. She specifically has her sights set on Lee Gon, and it seems that all she cares about is how their photos turned out, and whether netizens feels that they make a cute couple.
E3. Although Prime Minister Koo is set up to be a scheming man-hungry character, I do like that she is cognizant of the need to take public opinion on cabinet salary into consideration. This is our first indication that she’s not just a man-crazy airhead who likes red lipstick, and I find that quite welcome.
E4. I’m actually quite pleased to see Prime Minister Koo actually overseeing national affairs, and asserting herself and demanding that her ministers do better. I don’t know whether her political stance is benevolent or not, but I just like the idea that she knows what she’s talking about and isn’t just a pretty face.
E6. For all of Prime Minister Koo’s fixation on wanting to date Lee Gon, I find that she’s also a competent Prime Minister, and that’s important to me. I like that even though she’s surrounded by people – mostly men – who seem to doubt her knowledge and her abilities, she’s quick to assert herself and prove them wrong.
E8. To Show’s credit, Prime Minister Koo’s brain doesn’t implode on realizing that Luna isn’t the same girl that she’d met before. I like that she asks the more logical question, of whether Luna has a twin. This seems like a much more logical human conclusion, and I just like the idea that our characters can behave like normal human beings.
E9. While I don’t exactly like that Prime Minister Koo is written to covet the position of Queen, “because there’s no limited term for the Queen,” I have to admit that I rather like how she owns her ambition. The way she puts it to her ex-husband (Tae In Ho), that she’s simply being sincere with her emotions, and that greed is the most sincere emotion, is so frank and unapologetic.
From the way she describes it, she has a habit of getting what she sets her mind to, and that makes her come across as quite capable, really. Wanna be an announcer? Done. Wanna marry a chaebol? Done. Wanna be Prime Minister? Why not? Done. So.. why not be Queen? There’s something quite badass about her bold, unabashed manner. She doesn’t care what other people think or say; she just wants what she wants, and focuses herself on her goal, while blocking out the naysayers. I may not like what she sets her mind to do, but the chutzpah and audacity is quite admirable.
E13. I’m not entirely surprised that Prime Minister Koo decides to set herself against Lee Gon, since all her efforts to become his queen have failed. The only other way to her goal, then, is to replace him, basically. I’m wondering why she (presumably) killed her alternate while in the Republic. I’m guessing it was for insurance, so that Lee Rim wouldn’t have the option of replacing her. That makes the most sense to me.
Lee Jung Jin as Lee Rim
I thought Lee Jung Jin does a nice job of being our resident baddie. Show makes Lee Rim a bit of a larger-than-life sort of villain, and Lee Jung Jin delivers an appropriately theatrical performance.
As a villain, Lee Rim is consistent mainly in one thing: he’s evil. In terms of his smarts, he’s sometimes presented as pretty sharp, but at other times, he sometimes comes across as not that sharp after all. I honestly don’t feel like a whole lot of thought was put into crafting his character. For me, he remained a two-dimensional sort of villain, there just to fulfill the role of the Big Bad that our story needed.
STUFF I LIKED
Kim Kyung Nam as Shin Jae
You guys. I am not exaggerating when I say that Kim Kyung Nam is my favorite thing about this show, hands down.
Even though Shin Jae is a supporting character, and often doesn’t have a lot of lines to speak, in Kim Kyung Nam’s hands, he has a way of consistently grabbing my heart and not letting go. To my eyes, he literally stole every scene that he was in, with his heartfelt, nuanced and layered delivery of Shin Jae. He basically didn’t actually need dialogue, to communicate to us in a detailed manner, exactly how Shin Jae felt, at any given moment. So good.
I would watch an entire drama with Shin Jae as its protagonist – provided he’s played by Kim Kyung Nam, of course. ❤️
E3. Unsurprisingly, Kim Kyung Nam already has me by the heart, with his underdog set-up and his mournful longing wistful gazes in Tae Eul’s direction. A lot of the reason Shin Jae is working for me as a character, is because of how Kim Kyung Nam is playing him. Somehow, he just pops for me, and I feel his discomfort at having a handsome stranger hang around Tae Eul, whom he’s been quietly crushing on, for years.
E4. Shin Jae’s arc really hits me right in the heart. That scene where he gets so frustrated with his mom (Hwang Young Hee) for gambling, and for playing into the gambling house’s hands, is heartbreaking. It’s clear that he feels deeply conflicted, and it’s also obvious that it pains him to have to choose between his duty and his mom. I feel gutted for him, as he steps aside to allow the raid officers to take everyone in – his mom included. Plus, we learn that he’s been experiencing nightmares, and had gone to consult a therapist. Poor Shin Jae. My heart really goes out to him. I want to comfort him with ice cream and hugs.
E5. Poor Shin Jae. He’s all alone this episode, and I feel extra lonely for him, because he’s feeling down about having just allowing his mother to be arrested, and yet, Tae Eul’s not answering his text, and has even gone off with Lee Gon. He looks quietly disappointed about that realization, and I want to stroke his hair and offer to keep him company.
With everything Chief Detective Park (Park Won Sang) had been telling his wife about how Shin Jae had asked him to have a drink with him, I’d thought that at least Shin Jae would be getting some company. So I’m quite bummed when Chief Detective Park reaches out to Shin Jae – only to ask him to be his alibi for the evening. Aw. There’s a distinct sadness in Shin Jae’s eyes that makes me want him to be surrounded by people who love him, always.
E6. Every time Shin Jae has a flashback, he makes my heart squeeze. That scene of him getting beaten up by 6 other boys back in high school, is heartbreaking. Why would they do that to him? Tae Eul’s quite the hero, getting involved, calling the police, then beating up all of the boys and saving Shin Jae, then inviting him back to the judo academy, so that she can teach him. I can see why Shin Jae’s got his heart firmly fixed on her; he’s like a baby duckling that’s glommed onto the mother duck who’s saved him. Aw.
E8. We get a big reveal this episode, that Shin Jae is actually from the Kingdom, and is the son of the palace worker who’s his mom’s alternate. And his bio mom turns out to be the spy who’s putting information in the book at the bookstore. Poor Shin Jae. His entire world is spinning right now. What a revelation to have: that your entire life in Korea has been a lie, basically.
Kim Kyung Nam plays Shin Jae’s complicated emotions so well. His expression, as he eats dinner with his mother after getting her out of the holding cell, is a mix of sadness, resignation, wistfulness, helplessness and hopelessness. I can feel that he dearly wishes things would be different, but knows that they are unlikely to be, and feels really sad about how things will likely turn out.
And his expression is so perfect, as his new realizations and old, forgotten memories collide and cause his entire world to spin. I can feel his mind going at a mile a minute, all the cogs working overtime, trying to piece things together in a way that makes sense, and yet, he’s unwilling to embrace the conclusions that his brain is coming to, and can only reel from the shock and disbelief in the moment. Oof. I feel so bad for Shin Jae, in this moment. He’s already struggling with his life, and now, he’s realizing that he’s got a whole other dimension to worry about, too.
E9. I feel for Shin Jae, who’s hiding away from Tae Eul, and trying to drink himself to oblivion – and failing. He even goes to the therapist, to try to get a prescription to help him sleep. Poor guy. He looks so quietly tortured. I just want to give him a hug.
E10. The quiet angst in Shin Jae’s eyes, even as he tells Tae Eul what he knows about his background, makes me feel for him, so much. How overwhelming it must be, to realize that your entire life is likely a lie, and that you’ve been plucked from your true home, and planted in a different universe, for some kind of political reason probably rooted in treacherous conspiracy? I appreciate him for having the courage to be vulnerable and share this with Tae Eul, rather than keep everything to himself.
The plaintive lost-little-boy way in which he looks at Tae Eul, and the slight occasional wobble in his voice, as he admits, with tears rising in his eyes, that he’s not sure who he is, and asks if she’ll welcome him, is so heart-pinching. I love that Tae Eul hugs him and cries with him, in this moment. She doesn’t need explanations; she’s more interested in his well-being, and I really appreciate that.
E13. I rather like the grudging partnership that’s forming between Yeong and Shin Jae. Shin Jae wants nothing to do with him, but there’s a growing mutual respect and acknowledgment between them that I like. And even though Shin Jae says he doesn’t want information on anything, Yeong knows, without Shin Jae’s admission, that he’d be curious about his mother. Aw.
E13. Shin Jae’s all messed up from the encounter with Luna, because he’d been thinking of Tae Eul, coming from his conversation with Yeong, and then he’d believed he’d been kissed by Tae Eul, only to be told, seconds later, that it was Luna. That’s quite the rollercoaster, and I can understand him needing a time-out. I’m annoyed with Luna for messing with him, and I want to comfort him and rub his back, to help him get over the shock. Poor Shin Jae.
Woo Do Hwan as Yeong / Eun Sup
Woo Do Hwan was my second-most favorite thing in this drama, after Kim Kyung Nam.
I thought he did a very solid job of toggling his two very different characters, Yeong and Eun Sup. Even though I feel like his delivery of Eun Sup could have been handled with more restraint (more details in the spoiler section), I was impressed with Woo Do Hwan’s wide acting range. I believe this is the most range I’ve seen from him in a single drama, to date.
Even though it was quite a hoot to see Woo Do Hwan embracing physical comedy and spouting Satoori as Eun Sup, my favorite thing about his performance, was when he’d inject Yeong’s stoic expression with small flecks of emotion. I thought that was really nicely done, and I felt that perhaps showcased his acting skill more than his performance as Eun Sup.
E1. I am suitably amused that Precocious Crybaby grows up to be the very decorous and rather stiff Captain of the Royal Guard. Dare I hope that he’s still got some of that precocious crybaby inside of him?
E2. Woo Do Hwan’s doing a nice job toggling his very different roles, and I think part of the fun is just seeing him be Eun Sup, all bubbly and spouting Satoori. I do like Yeong’s seriousness and his dedication to his job, and the fact that he’s kind of a celeb among the people, for being Captain of the Royal Guard, amuses me.
E7. I did quite enjoy the comedy around Yeong meeting Eun Sup, especially when Eun Sup muses with wonder that he’s quite handsome after all, and Yeong quizzically asks if he really hadn’t known that, since people around him would’ve surely told him so. Ha.
I also appreciate extra, Woo Do Hwan’s portrayal of Yeong this episode. Even though he still plays Yeong mostly as stoic and expressionless, there are distinct nuances that we can see, in the fluctuations in his gaze. The exasperation morphing into fearful concern, as he verbally wrestles with Lee Gon over their combined trip between worlds, just makes my heart go out to him. Poor Yeong; he’s trying to grapple with so much new and weird information, while trying to do his job in protecting Lee Gon.
E8. Ha. Eun Sup going undercover as Yeong, and getting busted when Gon calls on Yeong to fight off the bunch of gangsters, is quite funny. Gon fighting them off himself is cool to watch; he’s got such a sharp way of wielding his riding crop. Yeong flying in to take them all down, is badass. But what steals the entire scene, is Yeong breaking into Satoori, in order to make the detectives believe that he’s Eun Sup. Lol. That was unexpected. But I can believe that Yeong is smart enough to have thought ahead of the possible need for a cover, and quick enough, to pick up Satoori so quickly.
E9. Yeong might be good at going undercover as Eun Sup, but I can’t say the same for Eun Sup. His efforts to act like Yeong are terribly stilted. Also, the more they play with this idea of Eun Sup and Yeong switching places, the more we see the limitations in Woo Do Hwan’s delivery, I feel like. When Eun Sup and Yeong were kept clearly separate, his delivery of both characters felt solid, distinct, and entertaining. But here, when he’s required to mesh the two together into different permutations, with Eun Sup pretending to be Yeong and vice versa, I feel like we can see the struggle to create shades of Yeong in Eun Sup’s disguise, that feel like Yeong but are not Yeong, which requires more nuance and skill than I think Woo Do Hwan is perhaps ready to deliver. As a result, we get a lot of overacting from Eun Sup, which I personally find rather cringey to watch. But, I rationalize that maybe this level of overacting is exactly what PD-nim asked for..?
E10. Eun Sup is an earnest dearheart, for literally putting his life on the line to protect Lee Gon, all because Jo Yeong had promised to protect Eun Sup’s siblings the same way. Aw.
E12. I hate to say it, but I find Eun Sup quite caricature-y, in delivery. I know he’s supposed to be a comedic character, and more theatrical than Yeong, but there’s something about how Woo Do Hwan’s playing him, that makes him feel more cartoony than real. I think if Eun Sup could’ve been portrayed with a touch more restraint, while retaining his exaggerated style in essence, that would’ve worked better. This OTT delivery is distracting, I feel.
But, it is still rather amusing that Eun Sup is doing such a terrible job at acting like Yeong, and still gets so pleased with himself, thinking he’s rocking the Yeong persona.
Kim Young Ok as Court Lady Noh
I basically think Kim Young Ok is great, and I mostly love her in anything she does, so it comes as no surprise that I really enjoyed watching her as Court Lady Noh. Court Lady Noh’s exasperated fussing over Lee Gon felt so motherly; given that Lee Gon is a character who’s grown up without his mom, this was very sweet to see.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Show’s handling of where we are in terms of universe & time
In terms of what I’d like Show to do better, I wish Show would be clearer in terms of, 1, which universe we are in, in any given moment, and 2, the passage of time.
Oftentimes, when we start a new scene having switched worlds, I find myself having to cast about madly for clues as to where we are, before I find a piece of information that helps me get my bearings. This feels disorientating, and if done on purpose to increase viewer immersion in some way, then I think it’s unnecessary and ineffective, because I find it more distracting than immersive. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough that I furrow my brow and want to give someone a Good Talk about why it doesn’t work.
The passage of time
We’re often not told how much time has passed between story milestones, and I found this confusing and unhelpful.
[SPOILER] For example, towards the end of episode 4, three or so weeks pass from the time Tae Eul applies for her new ID, but we don’t actually know it, until we’re told that it’s the 11th of November. That makes me wonder at how long has passed between Lee Gon’s first visit and his second one, but.. I really have no clue. In drama time, it feels like mere days, but now, I know it’s been at least three weeks. Maybe more. Maybe quite a lot more. But Show isn’t clear on this, and while it’s not a deal-breaker, it does niggle at me. [END SPOILER]
Alongside this, I experienced trouble placing characters, especially characters that don’t appear much, and then have a change of appearance because they’re now in a different timeline. [SPOILER] In episode 4, I was utterly confused this episode, when Lee Rim visited Jeong Hye. First of all, I wasn’t clear which world he was in, and then, I couldn’t place her because so much time had passed since we saw this character, that she was being played by a different, older actress. I had to do some searching online, in order to figure out who she was. That’s really not helpful either. [END SPOILER]
One more thing
One thing that Show does sometimes, that I kinda wish it wouldn’t. There are times when Show mashes up a scene to include people from two different worlds, in apparently the same space.
[SPOILER] We saw that with Lee Gon and Tae Eul in the library in episode 4, and then in episode 5, we see it with Tae Eul and Shin Jae, in Shin Jae’s old neighborhood. For a while, Show had me going, thinking that Tae Eul had come face to face with Shin Jae’s alternate, but it just turned out to be Shin Jae in Korea, crossing the same road as Tae Eul in the Kingdom. [END SPOILER]
I found this confusing, and it made me feel like Show was messing with me on purpose. Since it doesn’t really serve any real purpose, except for maybe a “clever” way to switch scenes, I would rather Show not do that.
Show keeps up this vague and confusing treatment of universe and time all the way through to the end, and the deeper I got into my watch, the more confusing it felt, because we’d toggle between the two worlds so much, that I’d start to get confused over where I was at any given moment. And it really didn’t help that we had multiple doppelgängers walking around, on top of it all. *Grumble*
Logic stretches, lapses & unanswered questions
As promised, here’s a collection of the things that made me raise my eyebrows during my watch. Some of them are mere logic stretches, which only niggled at me, and which were easy enough to shrug off. Some of them are, I think, actual plot holes or logic lapses, and then a bunch of them are questions that Show disappointingly doesn’t provide answers for.
As a general rule, I found that things felt messier in our later episodes compared to our earlier ones.
If you have answers to any of the questions I’ve listed, feel free to share your insights in the comments!
E5. Stretch: I was admittedly a little thrown by the Mysterious Pink Sunset In-between Place that is apparently between the entrances of the two worlds. I think it’s hard to accept because from the way Lee Gon exits this world and then comes galloping into the other one, it looks like the portal is a direct entryway. But, since this is fantasy, and Lee Gon’s already stated that this Pink Place can’t be explained by science, I’ll just roll with it. I’m guessing that this Pink Place will have more narrative significance later; otherwise, why create it at all, right? At the same time, that whole balloon thing makes me imagine Lee Gon riding into the portal holding a balloon to release while he’s the Pink Place, and that’s a very ludicrous mental image that I wish Show could’ve spared me, ha.
E5. Stretch: Turns out Maximus is at least 25 years old, and horses that age shouldn’t be ridden regularly. Now I feel uncomfortable at the thought that Lee Gon made Maximus take the weight of two riders, and, after making mention of her old age, gets her to take her two riders to the stable, at a bit of a gallop. Why, though? A gentle trot would’ve seemed more suitable, given his concern.
E6. Stretch: So I get that Gon took Tae Eul through the portal to the Pink Place and let her go on her own from there. But.. I do find it hard to believe that with a possible threat of war imminent, that Gon could have taken time to escort her to the bamboo forest, without everyone else throwing a fit. How would he have explained it? “My guest will be leaving via the bamboo forest; I’ll be right back after escorting her there”?
E7. Unanswered: With regard to Rim’s slow-aging because he’s in possession of half of the flute, wouldn’t it make sense that Gon would also experience slow aging? However, so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case?
E7. Stretch: I find it a bit silly, that people in our story react so strongly to seeing people with the same faces. They go straight to mind implosion, skipping over more normal explanations like lost twins, and doppelgängers, which are an actual thing in this world. That seems a bit of a stretch, to me, especially since there’ve been viral stories of people bumping into their doppelgängers.
E9. Unanswered: What is this, about Lee Gon watching a video off Yeong’s laptop, that seems to be from the future? And why does the lightning in that video activate the pain in his shoulder? This is something new. Also, how did that video get on Yeong’s laptop to begin with?
E10. Unanswered: Why is Tae Eul suddenly crying so much this episode? Is there a reason that hasn’t been revealed, or are we to simply assume that all this long distance loving is getting to her? Her tears at Lee Gon’s return at the beginning of the episode felt like they came out of left field. I mean, she was outright sobbing and clinging onto his jacket. Her tears at the end of the episode, when she sees Lee Gon in the garden, and he gives her flowers, are just as dramatic. I feel like we are not given enough access into Tae Eul’s emotional landscape, so while she may have a perfectly good reason for crying so much, or, there’s a perfectly logical progression of her emotions to back it up, we are not privy to it, and I am left feeling rather blindsided by her tears.
E10. Unanswered: How did Lee Gon know to go to Haeundae to meet / lure Lee Rim? Or, if he went to Haeundae to lure Lee Rim out, rather than hunt him down, how did he know that Lee Rim would go to where the king was announced to be? Or was there an equal possibility that Lee Rim would have hidden from him and avoided Haeundae, and Lee Gon was just taking a chance?
E10. Logic lapse: What is this about Eun Sup’s internal organs being protected by his bulletproof vest, but he’s suffered muscle and ligament damage? I thought he was shot in the shoulder? There are no internal organs there?
E10. Stretch: How is it that Prime Minister Koo could become Prime Minister despite having an ex-husband in jail? I guess the Kingdom is very understanding of such connections..?
E11. Logic lapse: I get that Lee Rim’s offering Luna a new life by way of stealing Tae Eul’s, but what about Luna being terminally ill? Switching lives doesn’t change that. What’s the point of switching lives, if Luna’s going to die anyway, and soon?
E11. Unanswered: What’s the reason that Prince Buyeong’s son cannot stay in the Kingdom, nor be considered as a potential successor to the throne? Did he do something against the throne in the past, or is this some kind of royal protocol?
E11. Unanswered: How curious, that apparently Prince Buyeong knew that his trip to the bookstore would be a hint to Lee Gon. What did Prince Buyeong know about the bookstore? Also, if that is the case, he seemed to expect that Lee Rim would come for his life?
E11. Stretch: The scene of Luna cutting her hair and preparing to take over Tae Eul’s life, is quite trippy, because in this scene, finally, Luna is starting to look more like Tae Eul. I do think that part of the effect is achieved by altering how the skin makeup is done for Luna. Previously, her skin looked all rough and freckled, but now, it seems more even. That’s kind of a stretch.
E11. Unanswered+logic lapse: Why do the streets of the Kingdom look so completely deserted? It feels like some kind of dystopian future. Also, it is odd that everyone shows up on horseback wielding swords. It’s not like swords are the default weapon of the Kingdom, since Yeong carries around a gun instead of a sword. I went back to check, and the gang of men is literally running around carrying swords too. Ahahaha. This is quite funny, seriously. Why are they running around with swords? Surely they aren’t all running towards Tae Eul to stab her?
E11. Unanswered: Who is yo-yo boy, really? Increasingly, he’s coming across as some sort of neutral, almost deity-like presence. There’s the way that he keeps saying cryptic things whenever he appears, and seems to be a neutral observer of events without much or any emotion, and then there’s the way he says that there is only one of him (and he’s been in both realms – how?), and the way he tells Tae Eul that he’s helping her because of a need to restore balance. Who is he? And is he even human?
E12. Unanswered: Lee Rim is basically forcing Jeong Hye to stay alive, despite her efforts to end her own life. He says at the end of the episode, that she’s the best bait because she shares the face of his nephew’s mother. But.. why does he ask her about the lightning scars? I mean, why would he think she knows? I thought he’d know more about it, since he’s the one who’s been traveling back and forth between worlds? Also, why does he keep visiting her, even though she hates his guts? Did he used to love her alternate or something?
E12. Unanswered: I find it interesting that Tae Eul doesn’t tell Gon about their other meeting, when he’d come to her with flowers. Why not, though? If they’re in this together and trying to figure things out, surely sharing information is better than withholding it?
E13. Unanswered: Why does Luna kiss Shin Jae? I mean, I know he’s a handsome man, but this feels like it came out of nowhere?
E13. Logic lapse: I don’t understand why PM Koo digging into information regarding the traitors is considered treason? Looking for them doesn’t imply anything about her intentions? An investigator could look for them too?
Show’s heavy-handed with the PPL
Y’know, I’d heard that the PPL is at an unreasonable level in this show, and while the PPL in Show’s first half is quite a lot, it feels particularly aggressive past Show’s halfway mark.
The PPL is often accompanied with actual lines said in favor of featured products. During my watch, I felt like I was running into a featured product every few minutes, almost. I know this is a very expensive production and so they need more PPL to pay the bills, but this really is A LOT. 😳 And it’s distracting.
SPOTLIGHT ON EPISODE 14 [SPOILERS]
This was a very solid episode that I enjoyed a lot. Everything gets mind-bendy in a good way, and I’m surprised by how engaged I felt. It almost-sorta feels like Show was keeping its best ammunition for its later episodes, because where most shows tend to slump in the later stretch, this one actually feels like it’s becoming stronger. I mean, there are things that are still unclear to me, but I felt the thrill of this episode, and I’ll count that as a big plus.
I like that we finally get to see Lee Gon go back to save himself. The twist, that Lee Rim goes with him – and the reveal, that the portals they are using, are different and run parallel to each other – was very interesting, I thought. The new bit of information, that when the flute is whole, the time axis opens up, is interesting too. I also find it macabrely poetic, that Lee Rim dies by his own sword – wielded by his suspicious younger self. I guess younger Lee Rim just decides that he won’t go back in time, when he reaches 70?
How interesting, that Lee Gon meets Court Lady Noh, while at the scene. No wonder Court Lady Noh has seemed to know much more than she lets on, all this time.
I like how Lee Gon figures out that with only half the flute, he can only travel laterally, and therefore goes to the Republic to meet young Tae Eul, in order to give her a message via a new created memory. I rather dig this idea of the new memory forming in present Tae Eul’s mind, thus clueing her in to where (and when) Lee Gon is.
I get this new memory forming thing is unique to this show, ie, most other shows dealing with time travel would probably not allow the characters to be cognizant of new memories forming, or would at least have an explanation for why they’d be able to recognize that these are new memories, but I like the effect enough to just accept that it can happen in this world, and just roll with it.
However, I’m really curious to know how Lee Gon is managing to travel through time, the rest of the episode. It’s not like he suddenly has more flute on him. And what does he mean when he says that the flute’s cracks are deepening? Is it because the other half disintegrated when Lee Rim died?
Despite not knowing that (yet, I hope?), I actually really enjoyed watching Lee Min Ho this hour. When Lee Gon is intense and focused, he’s much more interesting.
Also, I found it interesting to see how his time traveling and message-leaving creates differences in events that have already happened. The way Tae Eul reacts to his episode 1 arrival at Gwanghwamun Square is quite different, and this time, she’s the one hugging him, not the other way around.
My question, though, is why she does that? Can she actually sense the urgency of Future Tae Eul, who’s telling her to grab onto him? Can all this memory-leaving flow backwards..?
It dawned on me just before it dawned on Shin Jae, that the patient in the room was his alternate. I appreciate that we find out what happened to Original Shin Jae, and how Lee Rim had made the deal with Original Shin Jae’s father because he’d wanted to buy the care center in order to have a place to store inconvenient dead bodies.
I thought Shin Jae’s reaction to seeing his alternate on the hospital bed was quite perfect. There’s shock, disbelief, and a sense of being overwhelmed, both mentally and emotionally. Kim Kyung Nam’s great. He pulls me into every scene, and it feels so organic and effortless.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
Watching this penultimate episode, I feel like I’m at a crossroads and need to make a choice. The choice to try to analyze Show’s internal logic and attempt to makes sense of it all, or the choice to surrender to the story that Show wants to tell, and not think too hard about whether the narrative pieces actually add up.
I’ll say that I watched this episode with my analytical lens set to very blurry, and even then, I can tell you that this episode skips around the various timelines like it’s tapdancing between them for dear life, and it is very whiplashy.
Every couple of minutes, we change scenes, and I find myself floundering, trying to get a clue as to where we are in our timeline, and which set of characters I’m seeing on my screen, not just in terms of which world we’re in, but which time we’re in, and which Lee Gon I’m watching; the 2020 one who traveled back in time to try to stop Lee Rim, or Original Lee Gon, who’d crossed over to the Republic. It’s all very confusing, especially when that scene-switching, timeline-switching, character-switching sort of thing is done every couple of scenes.
I didn’t think very hard this episode, and I still felt tired by the time I got to the end. And even then, I have a sneaking suspicion that logic takes a beating this episode.
Let me just throw a few questions out there, before I effectively shut down the analytical part of my mind to try a more visceral angle with this episode.
1. Show still doesn’t explain how Gon travels through time with just half the flute. How did he get back to 2020 with only half a flute? Are we ever going to get an answer on this? My best guess is that he just spent a lot of time in the In Between Place, where time stands still, and waited for real time to pass, outside of it?
2. If Lee Gon had always gone back to save himself that night, that means that Lee Rim would’ve always gone back with him, since the whole flute is needed for time travel. If Lee Rim survives past that point of going back, which is what we see in the updated present, doesn’t it mean that he didn’t go back, this last round, as he was supposed to? Wouldn’t that have broken the cycle and prevented Lee Gon from saving himself, and therefore changed everything in the present?
3. If Lee Gon has the whole flute in his possession, why does he still need the flute to cry, in order to bring him back to the night of treason?
4. Why does Gon have to think of his second attempt at stopping Lee Rim as a suicide mission? He’s traveled through the portal with other people before. As smart as he is, why didn’t he think to take Yeong with him, to ensure his own survival, while taking down Lee Rim? It all seems overly dramatic for nothing?
5. If PM Koo cares so much about her mother’s safety, why didn’t she try to get her to a safer location, rather than just give her a code word?
But ok, I concede that once I take all these questions, put them firmly in a box and shove it all out of the way, Show does manage a rather viscerally affecting watch. Poetry without the need for prose (or sense-making), if you will.
The emotional scenes this episode did manage to land quite nicely for me, even though sometimes it felt like there was little context for it.
First of all, Lee Gon’s reunion with Tae Eul is tearful and full of pent-up emotion, and their desperation and relief at seeing each other again, kinda works, even though part of my brain is (a) still confused about the details (which I’m trying not to think about), and (b) still not fully convinced of their epic love (but ok, I’ve decided to just accept it).
And, although I don’t think Lee Gon needs to think of his mission as a suicide one, I can appreciate the dread and wistfulness of the prospect of saying goodbye to Tae Eul again, without a guarantee that he’ll ever see her again.
The emotional goodbye between Yeong and Eun Sup took me by surprise, because we’ve had very little context for this. And, it also seems quite sudden to me, that they would be looking at this goodbye as a forever goodbye as well. (This idea of forever goodbye seems to basically take over the entire episode, without warning, and I do feel a little confused by it.)
But, the tears in both their eyes sell the moment for me, and I quickly rationalize that they must have become quite fond of each other, while being together in the Republic for this unspecified period of time. Yeong dropping his things and moving in for the hug, is also pretty significant, since he’s always been the more stoic one.
I also appreciate that Shin Jae gets to meet his real mother and ask her about whether she’d lost him or abandoned him, because it’s a question that haunts him. Poor Shin Jae looks so broken and hurt, even as he looks as her, that I just want to pluck him out of both worlds, and put him somewhere safe and happy where no one will hurt him again.
As for the interrogation scene where Lee Rim is held in custody, out of curiosity, I went back to episode 1, to where we start our story, because that scene is apparently from the same incident, since Tae Eul and Lee Rim are wearing the same clothes. And it occurs to me that immediately, Show doesn’t make sense, because why would Shin Jae have a record of Lee Rim in the Republic, if Lee Rim only exists in the Kingdom?? But in episode 1, Shin Jae holds a record of Lee Rim, printed on paper that has an emblem of the Republic, and questions him on why he doesn’t look 70 years old, even though he’s born in 1951. Dang. I’d hoped that this was a show that would make more sense when revisited, not less.
But anyway, ok. The ramping up of everything to prepare for a final showdown is appropriately dramatic and emotional, and while I find it a bit of a stretch that Tae Eul would trust Luna enough to let her live in her place while she purportedly puts her own life on the line for the sake of her love for Gon, I appreciate that Yeong refuses to let Gon go alone. That’s deep loyalty, and I dig that. And, much as I’m kind of not super confident that Show will wrap up its logical threads in a satisfying fashion in its finale, I’m still in, for the emotional ride.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I think this finale is definitely a case of: your mileage may vary.
If you’re hoping that this finale will answer all of your questions about time- and dimension-travel, then I’m afraid you are likely to be disappointed. But, if you’re focusing more on the emotional journey and are ok to rationalize what you can, and let go of what you can’t, this finale could work quite nicely for you.
Personally, I was surprised to find myself enjoying this finale quite well. I think that keeping a flexible lens has helped me a great deal, in my quest to enjoy this show to the maximum of my ability.
While I did say earlier in this review, that Show shifts its focus in the middle stretch, to emphasize the time- and dimension-traveling and Lee Rim’s treacherous plans, in this last stretch, I find that Show shifts the focus back to the emotional experience of the OTP. Even in the midst of this finale’s action scenes, I feel like what Show cares about – and what Show wants us as an audience to care about – is the emotions of our characters, rather than the mechanics of the magic flute &/or the ripple effects of the time- and dimension-hopping.
I thought it was quite a waste of time for Yeong and Gon to argue over who would go to Cheonjongo to face off with Lee Rim and his men; I always thought it made more sense for them to go together, to ensure young Lee Gon’s survival, and to fight shoulder-to-shoulder, against the traitors.
For the record, I did think it was kind of odd that Lee Gon just left the Four Tiger Sword by the palace back gate. I mean, it’s precious and royal, and it would make more sense to me if Gon had taken it with him. But, I was pleased that I got what I wanted in the end, and Yeong and Gon make a cool dual hero entrance, guns blazing in unison. Nice.
My heart fell to the ground when Yeong got shot multiple times (where is that amazing Kingdom bulletproof vest in this scene, huh?) and I thought Gon had left him to die. Happily, Gon goes back for him – after hunting down Lee Rim, and sentencing him to beheading for treason, which Gon then carries out himself. (Technically Gon only slits his throat, but I guess it’s hard to detach Rim’s head for the scene, ha.)
As for Tae Eul and Lee Rim in the In-Between Place, I rationalize that once Lee Gon succeeds in securing the whole flute, that somehow, the two In-Between Places (darn, I should’ve come up with a better name), which I now reason must have been previously separated because the flute had been chopped in half, now merge into one, and time and space start to function again, when the flute functions as a whole.
I rationalize that that’s why Tae Eul is able to shoot Lee Rim, and I rationalize that this is also why Tae Eul is able to retain her memories of Lee Gon. It seems to me that those who were dimension-hopping while history was being changed, are not affected by a memory reset. Gon, Yeong and Tae Eul all retain their memories of the original timeline.
Shin Jae tells his mom the truth about her real son, and takes her to see him. Mom kinda goes berserk for a bit, and rails against (our) Shin Jae, blaming him for everything. Poor Shin Jae. But Mom makes up for it all, when she chases him down and hugs him, crying that she’s sorry, and that it’s not his fault, and that he’s her son too. Aw. The tears running down Shin Jae’s face tell me that this is the very thing that he’s ached to hear, all his life. Poor baby.
Thereafter, things get pretty trippy.
First of all, we’re still not told who Yo-yo Kid is, but we see him grow up in an apparent instant, and hear him say in voiceover, as he looks at the red string of his yo-yo, “I thought this would break. But it sprouted instead. The door will close, and only the memories will remain.”
And then, we see scenes of Yo-yo Kid at various ages, appearing in various locations, blending in with the crowd. “Should I break it? Or just let it be?”
I.. do not understand. This is very obtuse, especially for a mainstream drama, and I do not even have a good guess as to who Yo-yo Kid is supposed to be, or what he’s supposed to represent. Fate? A deity? A time- and dimension-traveling wizard? No one will ever know.
Also, we never do get an explanation for the scene in episode 10, where a time-traveling Lee Gon visits Tae Eul with flowers. What was that supposed to be about?
This, I consider negative trippy.
On a more positive note, I thought it was quite a positive trippy thing, to see how everyone’s lives turned out, in both dimensions, after Gon changed the course of history by killing Lee Rim and stopping his treacherous plans.
Some key things change, but notably, some things remain roughly the same. For example, Seong Jae (Lee Rim’s alternate) survives, but Jeong Hye’s husband still gets killed (except it’s presumably not by Lee Rim, since Lee Rim’s dead). This makes me feel like some things are just meant to be, with or without human interference.
Hyun Min (our Shin Jae) and his mom are, again, saved from a watery death, but this time, it’s Prince Buyeong that stops the double suicide. Kid Luna tries to steal from Koo Seo Ryung’s (PM Koo) mother fish shop, but ends up getting adopted instead, and grows up well, and becomes a police officer – who works alongside Hyun Min. Aw. I do love that little detail, that she calls him “Hyung-nim” just like Tae Eul used to do, with Shin Jae.
We also see that it’s Luna (now named Seo Gyeong) and not Tae Eul who’d appeared in the CCTV footage walking past the bookstore – but I still question how that footage had made its way to Yeong’s laptop. That’s something we never find out.
Apparently, Luna in this version of events doesn’t suffer from cancer, and is a much more well-adjusted individual, yay. It’s Seo Ryung who ends up in prison for stealing taxpayers’ money as an Assemblywoman, and it’s her former secretary who ends up as her correctional officer, hur.
Also, Lee Ji Hun (Lee Gon’s alternate), who’d been killed by Lee Rim in the original timeline, grows up to be a fine, well-decorated military man.
In the meantime, Lee Gon travels in search of Tae Eul, because, as it turns out, there are multiple worlds, not just two, and in each one, a version of Tae Eul exists. This.. feels like it’s being thrown at us kind of last minute, but I’ll rationalize that this is something that Gon discovers only now, because the flute is finally whole, and its powers are only able to function at their full capacity when it is whole.
After traversing many worlds and visiting many versions of Tae Eul, he finally finds her, and their reunion is tearful and emotional.
Lee Gon and Tae Eul continue their romance by continuing their day-jobs during the week, and then spending their weekends dimension-hopping, popping into whatever timeline or dimension the portal spits them out at, kinda like a world-tilting version of spin-the-wheel. Any ripple effect implications are completely ignored, and we are meant to take this in a light and positive frame of mind.
Significantly, during one of their travels, Lee Gon saves original Shin Jae from ever having his accident, and Shin Jae grows up into a dignified chaebol prince. Eee! The handsome! 😍
We also find out that Eun Sup married Na Ri, which is cute. In the Kingdom, we also see that Yeong seems to have a secret romance going on with Seung Ah (Na Ri’s alternate), ha.
Gon and Tae Eul continue their world-hopping for a long, long time, and we see their clasped hands morph from young to old, as we hear them say in voiceover, that no matter what kind of a door opens before them in life, they wish to be able to love tirelessly, and love the fate that chose them, “just for today,” everyday, until everyday becomes forever. The end.
All in all, because I managed to keep my analytical lens to a blurry setting, and ramp up my emotional lens to a high setting, I found this finale quite gratifying, not least because my favorite characters – Shin Jae and Yeong and their alternates – all get to live and not die, and where applicable, experience better lives than what they’d had before. (I mean, isn’t Chaebol Shin Jae so handsome? Cough.)
We don’t know if spending all this time in the In-Between Place actually makes Lee Gon and Tae Eul stay young forever (wasn’t that what Lee Rim wanted, in the first place?), but after all is said and done, I find their happy ending unobjectionable, and quite sweet.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Uneven in pace and focus, and overflowing with PPL, but a reasonably pleasant ride, given the right lens(es).
FINAL GRADE: B
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of The King: Eternal Monarch, is 18 Again. I’ve taken an initial peek, and I’m kinda shocked by how much I like it, right away!
If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️