Review: The King’s Affection

THE SHORT VERDICT:

Part gauzy rom-com and part serious palace intrigue, Show does have some pacing and tonal issues, and, in my opinion, also works out to be a little bloated, at 20 episodes.

However, if you can put aside the pacing and tonal issues, there are stretches in this show which are genuinely enjoyable. The central romance didn’t tilt my world, but was pretty great at serving up cute, reverse rom-com tropes, in Show’s lighter stretch. My interest wavered in Show’s last quarter, but importantly, I found the ending satisfying, and worth hanging in there for.

Not bad, overall.

THE LONG VERDICT:

I wanted to love this one, so much, from the moment I set eyes on Show’s initial teasers, which promised a very pretty, ethereal, diaphanous sort of rom-com, with cross-dressing hijinks thrown in, for good measure. All things that I love.

Plus, with Park Eun Bin and Rowoon, both of whom I enjoy? My hopes for this were probably higher than was healthy, heh.

However, like I mentioned earlier, Show turned out to have some tonal and pacing issues, which did affect my personal engagement, during my watch. Bummer.

This should come as no surprise, but I realize that my relationship with this show hinges purely on its characters and the feels that it serves up. More feels? More brownie points from me. Fewer feels? I found my attention waning and wandering.

In the end, I’m glad that I stuck with this one to the end, but I have to confess, things did get rather shaky for me, at around the episode 15 to 19 stretch. 😅

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album playlist, in case you’d like to listen to it while reading the review.

In general, I found the OST pleasant and quite enjoyable. In terms of a track that really stood out for me, I’d say it’s “IF I” by Baek Ji Young. It manages to be both light and gauzy, while also containing a stirring sort of core. In essence, I think the song manages to embody all that Show wants to be – perhaps even better than Show itself, heh. 😅

Here’s “IF I” on its own as well, in case you’d like to listen to that on repeat instead. Just right-click on the video and select “Loop.”

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are a couple of things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:

1. Show starts off pretty intense.

I actually really loved Show’s opening episodes, so this wasn’t a problem for me, but if you’re in this for the light, fluffy rom-com vibes, you might be thrown off by Show’s initial intensity. Hang in there, because the cute rom-com stuff comes soon after.

2. The rom-com stretch lasts for a good while.

If you’re not into the light rom-com stuff, know that the intensity comes back at the episode 11 mark. In the meantime, it’s pretty fun to identify how Show plays with the usual rom-com tropes, by jumping through hoops to include them in a Joseon setting, &/or by gender-reversing the tropes.

3. The tonal shifts are a regular occurrence, in Show’s second half.

Show basically works to mesh the lighter rom-com stuff with the more serious palace intrigue stuff, and this can feel a bit whiplashy. Knowing to expect it, and being ready to switch lenses at a moment’s notice, would probably be helpful.

4. Thinking of this as Dam Yi’s journey, helps.

By the last stretch, I found it more helpful to focus on Dam Yi’s (Park Eun Bin) personal journey to freedom, rather than the central romance, as the romance kind of takes a step back, at this point. If your focus is on the romance, you might find this a little disappointing.

A MACRO OVERVIEW

I thought it would be helpful to discuss my general impressions of the show, before delving into characters and relationships, so here’s a macro overview of the things I liked and didn’t like so much, about this drama.

STUFF I LIKED

1. Show is pretty to look at 

I came for Pretty, and Show does deliver.

Despite my misgivings about Show’s tonal shifts and pacing issues, everything is so pretty on my screen, that I was often inclined to just roll with it.

The colors are gorgeous, with a strong flavor of Spring, and some of the frames look absolutely dreamy, with lush greenery, bright sunshine, colorful laundry hanging out to dry, and butterflies dotting the landscape. This kind of Pretty, is one of the key things that attracted me about the trailers, so I’m very pleased that Show does live up to that promise.

2. The opening episodes are really solid

I was happily shocked, really, by how much I enjoyed Show’s opening episodes, especially since these episodes worked out to so much more intense than the gauzy rom-com I’d signed up for.

Here’s a quick spotlight on episode 1, to highlight the things that I really appreciate about it.

[SPOILER ALERT]

While I was most attracted to this show because of the dreamy trailers that promised a cute, sweet romance between Park Eun Bin’s Crown Prince and Rowoon’s scholar, I understand that there is a lot of necessary context for why our female lead would be in a position to pass off as the Crown Prince.

That context is fraught with secrecy, and that secrecy is, as expected, everything to do with political scheming and machinations. I mean, we need to get there somehow, right? Therefore, even though our opening is more bloody than I would personally prefer, it all makes sense.

I feel horrible for the Crown Princess (Han Chae Ah), that she finds herself in such a terrible situation, right after giving birth.

I mean, it’s exhausting enough, giving birth to not one, but two babies, but to then immediately fear for the life of your newborn daughter, and have to kneel, and plead, and worry, and ultimately say goodbye to the fruit of your womb? I can’t even imagine what that feels like.

I also feel sorry for all the people who served the Crown Princess, while she delivered her babies. To think they really killed everyone related to the incident, in order to keep the fact that there was another baby, a secret.

It’s not exactly new, for a sageuk, but it still blows my mind, that these maids and eunuchs lose their lives, just for doing their jobs. 💔

The meeting and quick connection between Dam Yi and Ji Un is pretty tropey, I have to admit.

A random meet-cute, followed by a quick fall into the water and subsequent rescue, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and an oddly accelerated bond between the two where they promise to meet on the bridge but never do, feels like a random collection of tropes, like writer-nim just threw a dice, to pick out the half dozen or so tropes that should apply to this young OTP.

I must say, though, in this one single episode, I became very attached to Lee Hwi, and was devastated when he died. 💔

I mean, I knew it was coming and everything, because it’s literally baked into the premise of our story. If Lee Hwi doesn’t die, there’s no need for Dam Yi to take his place, right?

YET, I grew so fond of him, that the gathering tension in my chest, as I watched the events come together to place him in mortal danger, was quite hard to bear.

I love that Lee Hwi is so bright and clear-eyed; I love that he’s intelligent yet caring; I love that he’s idealistic yet down-to-earth.

I wish we had a story where he wasn’t required to die, so that he’d be able to bond with his long lost twin sister, because to be honest, I was more invested in the scenes of the twins, than the early connection scenes of our OTP.

That said, I like Dam Yi too. I like that she’s curious and intelligent, and isn’t afraid to want to read the classics, even though that’s not a thing that palace maids do. Plus, the fact that she can even use the right royal-speak, while playing Lee Hwi, even though she’s had no time to actually prepare for this masquerade, tells me that she’s fast on her feet, and is a quick thinker.

When she finds herself in a tough spot and unable to answer the question posed by her father, I was very impressed that she thought to turn the question back at Dad.

Plus, she’s shown that she’s capable, with how she saved Ji Un, and down-to-earth, with how she answers the Crown Princess, that she doesn’t know what it’s like to be lonely because she’s never had a family. Plus, she’s kind, with how she shares the sweet treat with the eunuch (how cute is he?) because she can see that he’s quite taken with the cakes too.

While I’m sad to lose Lee Hwi, I’m also happy to follow Dam Yi on her unorthodox journey to reclaim her place, not just as a royal, but as her mother’s daughter as well.

[END SPOILER]

3. When Show serves up good writing 

While I wouldn’t say that the writing is an overall strength of the show, since I did personally feel like it was a little weak in spots, there were definitely moments when I sat up in appreciation, at what I felt was clever &/or strong writing.

Here’s the quickish spotlight, of when I thought writer-nim really did an excellent job.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. I actually feel rather impressed, that Show’s using what had felt like a farcical, throwaway flashback to Ji Un (Rowoon) saving that Ming official, to create a reason for the Lord Sangheon (Yoon Je Moon) to specifically request Ji Un’s presence at the palace – and in serving the Crown Prince (Park Eun Bin), no less.

Plus, we’ve also seen the Crown Prince’s tutor lose favor, with Dam Yi discovering him drinking with Prince Changun (Kim Seo Ha) at the courtesan house.

All that paves the way quite nicely for Ji Un becoming Dam Yi’s tutor, and I am unreasonably pleased that Ji Un and Dam Yi are now firmly in each other’s orbits, with good reason, despite Dam Yi having extracted that promise from Ji Un, to never appear before her again.

E11. This was a more eventful episode than I was prepared for, and I loved it.

One of the reasons I wasn’t prepared for it, is how (to me, anyway), everything leading up to the key events, feels kinda-sorta same-same, compared to the rest of the show. I mean, I know that stuff happens, like Ji Un leaving the capital, and he and Dam Yi  being sad, and So Eun (Bae Yoon Kyoung) also being sad and therefore chasing him down to the dock.

But somehow, watching this unfold on my screen, it didn’t actually connect in my head, that seeds were being sown for bigger consequences that would actually rock this drama world. In that sense, I feel like Show’s done a good job of creating a chain of events that feel plausible and organic to our drama world.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for how that led to demands for the Crown Prince’s deposition, and Prince Changun’s death. It feels like we just went from a steady, laidback gait, to a full-on gallop, and I need to hold on to my metaphorical hat.

With the insistent petitions for the Crown Prince’s deposition, I can understand why Hyun (Nam Yoon Soo) would approach Dam Yi, to show her a potential way out.

I thought it was a pretty powerful scene, the way he admits to Dam Yi that he knows her secret, and wants to protect her. Park Eun Bin’s portrayal of Dam Yi’s complicated emotions, at the realization that Hyun had known her secret all along, is quite profound, I feel.

There’s shock, embarrassment, fear, uncertainty, and confusion, all mixed into one, and it’s exactly how I would expect Dam Yi to feel, after she realizes that her secret, which she’s worked for so long to keep, is already laid bare. Really well done.

At the same time, I actually really like how Hyun is so calming, caring and steady, as he broaches the subject with Dam Yi. In a time where nothing is certain and danger lurks everywhere, I find Hyun’s energy very comforting. If Ji Un weren’t in this picture, I would totally root for Dam Yi to accept his invitation to run away, because I believe him, when he says that he will go with her, and protect her.

With Hyun’s invitation being an actual possible exit from her life as the Crown Prince, I can see why Dam Yi would let down her hair and try on those shoes. She’s not allowed herself to embrace her femininity all this time, and now, she’s trying on the idea, of maybe-possibly living as a woman again.

It’s a risky move for sure, in the palace where there are eyes and ears everywhere, but because she’s in her private chamber, and because this is such a potentially life-changing possibility, I can imagine her taking that risk.

How shocking, though, that it’s the King himself, who sees her in this compromised state. Ack! I’d had a feeling someone would see Dam Yi (otherwise, why have her let her hair down – is what I was thinking), but I hadn’t expected it to be the King!!

So, SO edge-of-my-seat thrilling! 😱

[END SPOILER]

4. When Show has fun with rom-com tropes

This is one of my personal highlights, during my watch.I felt nicely entertained by how Show manages to work some of the typical rom-com tropes that we tend to see in modern settings, into its sageuk story world.

In fact, even though Show sometimes jumps through multiple hoops, just to weave these rom-com tropes in, I actually found this process entertaining, in and of itself. I rather liked the inventiveness that Show demonstrates, in working in these tropes, and sometimes it was the inventiveness itself, that made me giggle.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. Exhibit A: a shirtless shower scene, via an exasperated Ji Un getting shirtless in the water, trying to get the fishy smell off his body, from trying to catch loaches, as ordered by the Ice Prince.

Exhibit B: someone protecting our female lead from road splash using his own body, via Hyun’s instinct to protect Dam Yi, when that random villager lady throws out her laundry water without looking at where she’s throwing it.

I found these nicely amusing.

E5. Because of the crossdressing element of our story, there are actually opportunities for the gender roles in typical romcom tropes to be swapped, too.

What this gives us, is an opportunity to make this an equal opportunity game. Sometimes, Ji Un is the one playing the role of the man, like when he ties the chin strap for Dam Yi, and then at other times, Dam Yi gets to play that role, because of her authority was Crown Prince, like when she’s the prickly one, and he plays cheerful, to lighten up the mood. I thought this was pretty entertaining as well.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF THAT WAS OK

1. The tonal shifts can get a bit whiplashy

I’ve got this under the “ok” section, because the tonal shifts, though sometimes rather jarring, were not a deal-breaker, for me.

However, the tonal whiplash was A Thing, for me, and sometimes, I wondered if different sections of the story were written by different writers; the difference was that stark.

I did attempt to work around the tonal shifts by thinking of Show as music. What I mean is, with music – like sonatas, symphonies or concertos – there are several movements, and one movement can feel quite different from the next.

In Show’s earlier stretch, thinking of Show in a similar light does help. We start this concerto with a pumping sort of beginning, with danger and angst, and then move into the sweet, gauzy rom-com stretch, and then we move into something that that lends the romance more bass and heft.

HOWEVER. The success of my music lens was short-lived, because once Show starts to mesh the lighter romantic elements with the more serious palace intrigue elements, I felt my music lens stutter and fail.

An unexpected downside, to Show trying to thread together our gauzy rom-com, with heavier things like court politics, had the (likely unintended) effect, of messing with my ability to just sink blissfully into The Cute, when The Cute was served up.

It also messed with my ability to appreciate the lighter, more comic stuff that Show served up.

I mean, I know that in principle, it makes sense for Show to offer up some lighter scenes, to temper the heavier scenes, but the execution doesn’t quite work for me.

Instead of making things feel more balanced, it kinda feels like it’s making things feel more scattered, and like Show has a bit of a split personality. Tricky.

Along with this, came another conundrum, of the type of lens that was most suitable. Sometimes, a serious sageuk lens seemed appropriate, like during the more serious palace intrigue stuff.

And then at other times, when characters didn’t behave in accordance with palace protocol, and it was accepted as normal, I found that I needed a more relaxed, fusion sageuk sort of lens.

The trouble with this is, it gets tiring, over time, to be constantly trying to pinpoint exactly where I should be pitching my lens.

2. Some suspension of disbelief required.

I’ve also got this under the “ok” section because, with this technically being a fusion sageuk, suspension of disbelief is par for the course.

However, beyond the basic premise that Park Eun Bin is successfully passing for a man, over a period of many years, there are a number of other occasions, where I felt like Show required me to suspend my disbelief a little more than I felt was reasonable.

Again, this was not a deal-breaker for me. I just wanted to mention it, for the record.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E8. There is definitely some suspension of disbelief required this episode, like how everyone who gets injured, is up and about really soon after. In particular, I found it a stretch that Ga On, who’s supposed to be severely injured, is up and in normal fighting form, pretty soon after we see him lying down swathed in bloody bandages.

And there’s the detail, where I wonder why, after Hyun says that he will escort Dam Yi back to her quarters, we next see Dam Yi wandering around the palace grounds, alone. Where did Hyun go? It’s unlike him to leave Dam Yi alone like this, when he’s said that he would escort her.

E10. When Commander Yoon (Kim Jae Chul) tracks down a royal guard who looks exactly like Ga On (Choi Byung Chan), I’d assumed (incorrectly!) that Ga On had a twin. The reason I was convinced it wasn’t Ga On, because he’s required to guard the Crown Prince practically all the time.

There’s just no way that he’d be able to be the Crown Prince’s personal bodyguard AND train as a royal guard too, at the same time. And yet, that’s exactly what Show would have me believe.

And then Show promptly drops this thread as well, as if it knows that it’s too implausible to pursue.

E14. I categorize Ha Kyung running around the palace as something requiring suspension of disbelief.

I mean, Ha Kyung would have been put through rigorous palace etiquette training, before the royal wedding, so it’s just really hard to believe that she would forget to cleanly, basic things like not running in the palace.

I know this is all part of Show’s effort to inject levity into its narrative, but I have to admit that I felt a little underwhelmed at Ha Kyung’s pitching. It feels.. convenient, easy and lacking nuance, to my eyes.

E17. There’s the suspension of disbelief required, around the idea that Ga On had managed to spot the scar on the eunuch killer’s hand, in the dark, in that split second, to the extent that he’d be able to recognize it, when he saw it in broad daylight.

E18. This is a minor point, but it’s shown up more than once now, so I feel like I’d like to mention it, at least a little bit. The fact that Dam Yi is shown having her pulse taken by a doctor, strikes me as a logic stretch. From what I understand, practitioners of traditional medicine, can even tell if a woman is pregnant, when taking her pulse.

I feel like Dam Yi’s womanhood would show up in her pulse in some way, shape or form, and therefore I feel like I’m being asked to suspend disbelief, that a royal doctor, who should be highly skilled, can’t detect from her pulse, that she is a woman.

Instead, the doctor takes her pulse and pronounces that she’s in excellent shape to bed her Queen. I.. that’s just too weird, from where I’m sitting. What kind of quack doctor is he? 😅

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH

1. When Show leans comedic &/or OTT

I didn’t like it so much, when Show leaned into the comical &/or the OTT. To my eyes, it just felt at odds with Show’s two main vibes, which I categorize as gauzy rom-com and serious palace intrigue.

Again, I understand that this is Show’s way of attempting to add balance to our story world, but it didn’t work so well for me, personally.

Here’s a quick spotlight on some examples, just for the record.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. I feel like Prince Changun is made out to be some kind of larger-than-life baddie type, with his overtly insulting remarks, and his outright disrespect for the Crown Prince.

Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I’d had the impression, from other sageuks, that even if people didn’t think much of one another in the royal court, they were very careful to keep up a polite and pleasant front, even if they were actively scheming to have the other person killed.

I found this obvious disrespect, which I would argue is strong enough to be called animosity, rather jarring.

Park Ki Woong appearance as the Ming Chief Eunuch is equal parts alarming, fascinating and repulsive. It feels like this is just the sort of role that Park Ki Woong tends to shine, and I also feel like I’ve seen Park Ki Woong play some version of this rather unhinged character before. The crazy eyes are like his signature, by now! 😂

That said, I really dislike the Ming Chief Eunuch. He definitely has issues, and even though I have sympathy for the terrible things that he’s apparently gone through as a child, the way he seems to have no regard for human decency, is just the sort of thing to make even the saintliest person REACT, in big capital letters.

I do think that Show’s gone a little too hyperbolic with the characterization of the Ming Chief Eunuch, but I’ll accept that Show mostly just wants to use him as a plot device. It’s because of him, that we get to see both Dam Yi and Ji Un attempt to settle things diplomatically, and it’s precisely because he’s that unreasonable, that Dam Yi does the riled-up hero thing, and punches his lights out.

[END SPOILER]

2. When Show’s writing feels forced

There are times when the writing in Show feels, well, less than inspired, and I didn’t think that did Show any favors.

[SPOILER] For example, in episode 2, I get that all the events in the last quarter of the episode, are to get Ji Un and Dam Yi back in each other’s orbits, and perhaps the desire to have Ji Un and Dam Yi in the same frame by the end of the episode, is what caused the relative rush at the end of the episode.

Honestly, it did feel like a case of connect-the-dots writing, where writer-nim rushes from one narrative milestone to another, in order to have the OTP in the same scene, within a limited time frame. I didn’t find that very enjoyable to watch. [END SPOILER]

On top of this, I also felt in general, that Show’s efforts to mesh our gauzy rom-com with more serious palace intrigue, felt rather forced to my eyes, particularly in Show’s second half. I didn’t think this went very well, which I’ll more about, shortly.

3. The treatment of So Eun & Ha Kyung, as characters [SPOILERS]

As long as Show stayed in fun rom-com territory, I was ok with the idea of Ha Kyung and So Eun being introduced as rivals for Dam Yi’s and Ji Un’s affections, respectively.

However, Show doesn’t stay in light, no-consequences territory, and it’s not long before So Eun’s and Ha Kyung’s less than ideal fates come into focus. I found this rather difficult to digest, because, generally speaking, Show treats both of these young ladies with what feels like a rather careless hand.

In episode 10, Dam Yi actively seeks out a wife for herself, even though, 1, the King is still against it and therefore she has an excuse not to marry, and 2, she fully understands the implications for the young lady who ends up being chosen as Crown Princess.

It honestly troubles me, that Dam Yi would actively try to bring forward her marriage, and even take the trouble to approach So Eun to ask her to be the Crown Princess, knowing what kind of misery this would entail, for whomever becomes Crown Princess.

Not only would the Crown Princess forever not experience romantic intimacy with her husband, for whom she’d likely long for continually, she would also be unable to produce an heir – and there’s going to be SO much trouble around that, because that’s viewed as the Crown Princess’s primary role, pretty much.

Eventually, this fate goes to Ha Kyung, and I spent every episode after the off-screen royal wedding feeling sorry Ha Kyung, because it’s clear that she sincerely has hearts in her eyes for her husband, and wants nothing more than to grow closer to him.

Yet, at the point of her highest anticipation, the royal consummation night, her hopes are completely dashed, when her husband makes it clear to her, that there will not be any physical intimacy between them, not now and not ever.

Gosh, that’s a harsh truth for Ha Kyung to have to face, and I can only imagine how heartbroken she must be, particularly when her heart had suffered this blow when at the height of its joyful anticipation.

On the other hand, there’s So Eun, who agrees to an engagement with Ji Un, only to break it off, when she realizes that Ji Un will never love her. That broken engagement is as good as a divorce, in Joseon norms, and I feel really sorry for So Eun, because with this broken engagement, she will be looked down upon, by society at large, and will likely never marry.

All this, just to support the OTP relationship. It just seems rather too cruel to these two young women, doesn’t it?

4. Show having 20 episodes

At first, I’d been on board with Show having 20 episodes.

In fact, at the episode 13 mark, I even went into detail, in my episode notes on Patreon, talking through it seemed to make sense for Show to have 20 episodes instead of the more common 16. It really had appeared to me then, that Show has a lot of ground to cover, and therefore needed the extra screen time, in order to cover it all, properly.

HOWEVER. Unfortunately, I don’t think Show does a very good job of sustaining audience interest, over its extra episodes.

Personally, I found my interest dipping from the episode 15 point onwards. I basically felt fatigued from my efforts to keep in step with this story, and I actually wished that Show would hurry up and take me to its finish line – because I still did have enough interest, to want to see how everything played out.

And it was, that as Show amped up its efforts to make things more and more dramatic, in our final stretch, I found my interest waning more and more as well, such that I had very little interest in the actual plot developments that Show served up.

I think this could have been avoided, if Show had challenged itself to tell its story within the usual 16 episodes instead.

5. When Show mixes the politics and the loveline too much

Like I mentioned earlier in this review, as Show gets into its finale stretch, it mixed the central loveline more and more, with the palace intrigue.

While I get why this is necessary in principle, I didn’t think the execution worked very well.

Essentially, Show would serve up OTP moments, still in the vein of the fluffy rom-com genre, and have that sit among the serious drama of the palace intrigue. This didn’t work very well, for me personally.

Basically, I’d be trying to get into the serious drama of the palace intrigue, and then, a moment of OTP cuteness would pop up, amid the danger.

For one thing, it felt inappropriate and ill-advised for our characters to behave so frivolously while danger was everywhere, and for another, I found it perplexing that Show was inviting me to engage with the cute, after drawing me into a head space that was more focused on palace intrigue.

[SPOILER ALERT]

A great example is the OTP kiss at the end of 14.

From an OTP perspective, it’s supposed to be a sweet moment, but when Ji Un reaches out to hold Dam Yi and even kiss her, right there in the open, but honestly, how can anyone enjoy this moment, knowing that Commander Jung’s right there, watching it all?? 😱

So on the one hand, I blame the OTP for being so reckless about embracing in the open, where they can be seen, and on the other hand, I blame Show for putting Commander Jung there. Like, what am I supposed to do with this sweet OTP moment, that you’ve effectively ruined for me, by putting A Big Enemy there, to witness it??

Also, how am I supposed to indulge properly in the various moments of cuteness, when I’m so concerned that our OTP is going to be found out? In fact, I’m concerned enough that they’ll be found out, that I’d be willing to forego the cuteness, for safety.

Like, DON’T steal kisses in the throne room, and DON’T go making moony eyes at each other, even if no one’s around, because you could literally die. 🙈

This had the weird effect of me wanting the OTP to just tone it down, already, and focus on more urgent, dangerous things.

[END SPOILER]

SPOTLIGHT ON CHARACTERS & RELATIONSHIPS

Park Eun Bin as Dam Yi

I think Park Eun Bin does a pretty fantastic job of playing the various facets of Dam Yi. From being the stoic Ice Prince, to revealing shades of her inner angst and vulnerability, to giving us glimpses of the young woman falling for her royal tutor, against her better judgment, Park Eun Bin deftly manages it all.

In particular, I am pretty impressed with how Park Eun Bin channels her inner Crown Prince, because I can clearly see all the mannerisms and gestures that make up the male vibe that goes into creating the persona of Lee Hwi. Sure, her features are delicate, but she can’t help that, and it’s true that there are some men who have very dainty features.

What’s important to me, is how she carries herself, and to that end, I find Park Eun Bin’s delivery very excellent indeed. I find that it’s not hard to convince myself that this is a Crown Prince who’s had to deal with teasing and behind-his-back ridicule, for being small, and looking like a girl.

I find that I’m not too bothered by the fact that Park Eun Bin is petite, and therefore makes the Crown Prince appear very tiny compared to the men around her. I rationalize that there are men out there, who are small built. I also rationalize that there are men out there, who have rather feminine features, but who still identify as men.

Putting that together, I find that I accept quite easily, that everyone around Dam Yi believes that she is the Crown Prince.

It totally helps that Dam Yi carries herself with a good amount of male flair, from the big gestures to the small ones. In this sense, I find Park Eun Bin’s crossdressing turn a lot more believable than Park Min Young’s turn in Sungkyunkwan Scandal, for example.

Altogether a very, very solid outing by Park Eun Bin.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. Altogether, I think Show does a very solid job of showing us why Dam Yi needs to forsake her true personality, and take on a harsher, more prickly, arrogant sort of persona.

In a dog-eat-dog world that is the palace, where there are people around every corner who would like to get rid of her, Dam Yi’s best line of defense, is to become a strong personality who would not hesitate to exert her power.

This is the safest way to ensure not only the preservation of her own life, but also, the preservation of the lives of Court Lady Kim (Baek Hyun Joo) and Eunuch Hong (Ko Kyu Pil), who are helping her keep her secret.

E3. I appreciate that Show gives us a glimpse into the trauma, angst and lingering doubts that Dam Yi has to deal with, even though 10 years have passed.

I mean, her death had been ordered from the moment of her birth; her grandfather had had her twin killed believing that she was the one being gotten rid of; she’s living in constant fear that her secret will be discovered. It’s a lot to deal with, and she routinely swallows it all. It’s no wonder she suffers from nightmares.

Given how Dam Yi’s not cruel at heart, and doesn’t actually want to kill people who know her secret (like we see in that flashback, where she’d been unable to kill the palace maid), and how she’d been so fond of Ji Un in their younger days, I’m not surprised that she chooses to let him live, even though logic says that it’s dangerous to do so.

The reasons that Dam Yi gives to Court Lady Kim and Eunuch Hong sound decently logical, but it’s clear that she’s coming up with excuses to make her decision appear reasonable, rather than actually making a logical, reasoned decision.

E3. I found Dam Yi strutting her Crown Prince stuff, and putting people in their place, rather satisfying to watch, I have to admit. I like the idea that she won’t be intimidated, even though things have turned violent. She gets out there, and exercises her fantastically withering stare, and basically forces the belligerent Prince Changun to back down. I kinda love it?

E8. I like that Dam Yi isn’t one to back down easily. I feel that someone else in her shoes, might beat a hasty retreat, after such hostile confrontations with the Ming Chief Eunuch, where she comes out looking quite disadvantaged and defeated.

In particular, I’d thought that perhaps she would comply, when the King (Lee Pil Mo) commands her not to get involved any further, with the Ming ambassadors. Instead, Dam Yi earnestly requests one more chance, to solve the problem that she has created. I love that principled, steely quality about her.

And while I found the resolution of the Ming Chief Eunuch’s arc a little cheesy, I do very much appreciate Dam Yi’s compassion and empathy, which are the qualities that essentially cut through his decades of emotional baggage, to touch his heart.

E13. I love the scene where Dam Yi goes to see Prince Jehyeon (Cha Sung Je), and the young prince tells her that he’s afraid to die. There’s so much compassion and empathy in Dam Yi, for the boy.

“I am truly sorry, Gyeom. I thought the hardships only fell on me. I thought it was only I who lived in fear. It was I who led our father to his death. I am to blame for his passing. Do not worry. I will save you. You will not die. Never will I let them take your life.”

The sincerity in Dam Yi’s words, is so clear to see, through her tears. It moves me, that she’s so determined to protect Prince Jehyeon as a brother, even though she’s never really been close to him, and they’ve been pitted against each other as competitors, all this time.

With this determination to save Prince Jehyeon, as well as Court Lady Kim and Eunuch Hong, I can see why Dam Yi would agree to be crowned King. Although Hyun and Ji Un each invite her to leave the palace under their escort, I can fully believe that Dam Yi would never agree to it, because the lives of multiple people hang in the balance.

[END SPOILER]

Rowoon as Ji Un

To be honest, I don’t think Rowoon’s required to do a great deal in this show, besides support Park Eun Bin’s outing as our Crown Prince turned King.

He mostly is there to look handsome, be cute during the rom-com bits, and be sweet and supportive, during the dramatic bits. And he does all of that competently, even though I can’t say he blows me away or anything.

I warmed up to him in the role of Ji Un quite nicely – though that is kind of expected, given how much I enjoyed him in She Would Never Know. And, he’s basically playing a similar smitten puppy sort of character here, too. Rowoon just seems to play the Smitten Puppy very well.

On a completely shallow note, I find that there’s something very.. luscious about Rowoon (perhaps it’s the lips?), which I find that I’m digging very much. 😍

I don’t have much to say about Ji Un as a character, except that he’s dependably upright and pure-hearted, all the way through to the end. I’ll talk more about him in the OTP section (coming up next), but for now, here’s just one example of how dependably upright he is.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. I like Ji Un quite well, pretty much right away. I mean, Dam Yi literally throws a dagger at him and tries to attack him with his own dagger. Yet, he feels compelled to help her, because he believes that she’d be in danger from being near the hunting grounds, if left to her own devices. That already makes me feel like he’s a good, decent person.

Plus, there’s how he refuses to have anything to do with his father, because of how his father had killed innocent I Wol (Kim Si Eun), even though 10 years have already passed. That’s very principled of him, and further endears him to me.

[END SPOILER]

Dam Yi and Ji Un together

Just like Show itself is served up in varying tones, our OTP relationship, likewise, is portrayed in varying tones as well.

I have to confess that I liked this OTP best, and I felt this OTP worked best, in the gauzy rom-com space. I feel like that’s where our leads’ chemistry was best utilized, and where Rowoon’s strength as a smitten puppy, was best brought into play as well.

As Show became more serious and angsty, I have to admit that somehow, this OTP didn’t work as well for me. Partly this was because of the unfortunate juxtaposition with more serious, dangerous stuff, thus rendering their love a little less urgent and important almost, in comparison, and partly, I think it was because I’m not sure there’s enough OTP chemistry here, to go the epic route.

However, when I enjoyed this loveline, I liked it a great deal, and this next section is mostly about deconstructing that, with some small attention given to when this OTP loveline started to work less well, for me.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. While I didn’t much care for how we rushed headlong into that final scene, I have to admit that I do rather like where we leave our OTP.

Ji Un is suitably startled, like I mentioned, but it’s Dam Yi’s fierce, suspicious, almost feral vibe, as she faces off with him, that has my attention. That’s totally the look of someone who’s learned to be wary of everything and everyone, and is ready to kill if necessary, in order to protect herself.

Even though I’ve heard that Show tends to veer into tropey territory with its story from this point forward, I’m still hopeful that it’ll be enjoyable. Tropes done well are fine by me; fingers crossed that Show manages to that!

E3. The fall into the water, and the water rescue, so strongly echoing the water rescue from their younger days, was definitely tropey – but I found myself giggling at the tropeyness of it all, rather than rolling my eyes at it.

E4. I hadn’t been sure where Ji Un was going with the lotus seed thing, but I find that I do like how the lotus flower has become something of a motif in our story. Not only is it part of the name that Ji Un had given Dam Yi, it’s become a symbol of not being tainted by corruption, even when one is surrounded by it.

I find it pretty clever of Show, to use this as the bridge between Ji Un and Dam Yi. Dam Yi clearly doesn’t want to be sucked into the oily politics of her grandfather, Lord Sangheon, and not only does Ji Un’s metaphor give her food for thought, it connects her to him in a very fundamental way, because of how he tells her afterwards, that he had been thinking of himself, when explaining the metaphor.

A similar desire to remain untainted even while in muddy waters, is a really nice way to smoothen the connection between Ji Un and Dam Yi, I feel.

In fact, we start to see Dam Yi soften towards Ji Un, in the way that she warns him not to speak so freely in court, going forward, because it is dangerous to do so. That’s a definite indication that she’s softening towards him, and reconsidering her opinion about him.

And by the time we’re rounding off the episode, we get Romcom Trope Exhibit C: a moment of hyperproximity and hyperawareness, via Ji Un moving to put his gat on Dam Yi’s head, because hers got damaged during Exhibit B.

Yes, it’s predictable and yes, it’s tropey, but I’m absolutely slurping it up, and with a goofy grin on my face, to boot. Like I said, I’m a sucker for this kinda stuff. 😍😅

E5. I do enjoy this growing hyperawareness between Dam Yi and Ji Un. First, there’s Dam Yi feeling extra self-conscious about the memory of Ji Un tying the gat strap for her, and then, there are all these moments where Ji Un starts to see the Crown Prince in a womanly light and has to keep shaking himself out of it, literally.

Hahaha. He’s like some kind of distracted, dazed puppy when he does that. It amuses me.

The whole sequence of Dam Yi inspecting the palace, after being triggered by Ji Un’s words about understanding her people better, is reasonably amusing, but what draws my attention more, is that when Ji Un finally shares his thoughts with her, Dam Yi’s response, is to tell him that he’s very naive.

She follows that by saying, “Trust people’s love and loyalty, you suggest? Human emotions are the hardest to trust. Deceiving others for selfish reasons and killing others to protect oneself. That is human nature.”

This really brings home, for me, just how much Dam Yi’s suffered and changed, in the last decade that she’s been playing the role of the Crown Prince.

When she’d first taken on the role, she’d been idealistic and caring, but was quickly told by her mother, that the only way to survive, was to make other people fear her. Plus, there’s how she’s personally witnessed how people are disposed of unscrupulously, for political gain, like her own supposed death, along with I Wol’s.

Compared to before, Dam Yi now sounds so jaded and disillusioned, while Ji Un still has that bright-eyed idealism to him.

E5. I was waiting for Show to serve up its requisite quota of romcom tropes, and it all finally comes together at the end, when Ji Un spies Dam Yi sleeping and is mesmerized (trope, check).

And then, there’s how she knocks against the book shelf, thus dislodging a vase, which would have fallen on her head, if Ji Un hadn’t been there to spin her out of the way, right into his embrace (trope, check again).

On top of that, we get more hyperawareness, accentuated by what sounds like one united racing heartbeat, as she considers the sensation of being held in his arms, while he looks discombobulated by the sensation of holding her in his arms.

It’s all very delicious to my fangirl brain, and I’m slurping this all up with relish. Relish, I tell ya. 😍

E6. I’m suitably amused that this episode, the rom-com tropes are  mostly gender-flipped. We have Ji Un carrying colorful flowers and running to plant them – and then getting starry-eyed at the sight of the Ice Prince taking down her sparring partners with flair. Tee hee. I found this cutely amusing.

I have to confess that I’d felt a little peeved at the Samgaebang blow-up, because that’s turned out to be quite an interruption to our light sageuk rom-com, but I realize that we couldn’t just keep going, status quo, indefinitely, either.

I mean, out of sight, out of mind, but now that I’ve been reminded of the fact that Ji Un’s friends have been kept in prison all this time that he’s been having hearts and stars in his eyes for the Ice Prince, it does feel wrong. We need to get his friends outta there, and safe and sound – and then go back to the hyperawareness and romance, ha.

It’s definitely interesting to see the reactions of Eunuch Hong and Court Lady Kim, to the news that Ji Un’s in trouble. They look so pleased, on Dam Yi’s behalf, and it’s a little jarring, because – perhaps like Dam Yi – I’d forgotten that Ji Un’s a plant by Lord Sangheon.

Dam Yi’s internal conflict is clear to see, and while she does the practical thing of saying her goodbye to Ji Un, I feel like it’s significant that she even has that internal conflict.

Whether it’s purely her lingering attachment to Ji Un from her youth, her current hyperawareness of him as a man, or a combination of both, it matters, that Dam Yi has to wrestle with herself, in order to decide to do the practical thing.

Even though I’m not super hot on the childhood connection trope in general, I did rather like the detail, that it was Dam Yi herself who had inspired Ji Un to do something to help the orphans in the poor community.

And it makes complete sense, that this would be the thing that would break Dam Yi’s resolve, to not get involved, and let Ji Un face whatever fate awaited him. Show’s given us hints that Dam Yi’s old nature is still there, underneath her cold resolve, and this was a pretty perfect way of bringing that out in a more obvious manner.

While we don’t get our gauzy rom-com back (yet?), Show isn’t exactly withholding on the rom-com tropes. I mean, traditionally, it’s always been the female lead who’s found herself in a pickle, and that’s when the male lead swoops in to save the day. Here, we have the roles reversed. It’s Ji Un who finds himself in a pickle, and it’s ultimately Dam Yi who strides in there and does the macho thing, saving Ji Un and all.

E7. I am suitably amused at the gender flip in terms of the rom-com tropes, this episode.

Not only does Dam Yi come to Ji Un’s rescue, this causes him to have even more stars in his eyes, for the Ice Prince. I do find it endearing, that Ji Un has so much admiration and affection for the Ice Prince, and is so unabashed about it.

I can’t blame him, though. I mean, not only does Dam Yi save Ji Un from potentially losing his life, she is empathetic, in the way that she alerts him to the location of his two assistants. He doesn’t have to ask, and she nudges him towards them anyway, because she knows that their wellbeing is something that he’s very concerned about. I’d grow stars in my eyes in his shoes, too.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Ji Un would want to stay at the palace longer than he actually needs to. If I had stars in my eyes for someone, I’d want to spend more time in their presence, too.

I couldn’t help chuckling at how brazen Show is, in flipping the gender roles on their heads.

I mean, not only is Ji Un starry-eyed around Dam Yi, he even puts a flower behind his ear, and then trips – so that Dam Yi gets to catch him, in the typical hero-catching-a-falling-damsel style that we’ve seen in so many other dramas – gender-flipped, of course. 😁

Tee hee, that Ji Un, hastily dropped by Dam Yi, would still look like he’s been swept off his feet, and eke out an admiring, “How cool..,” as he looks at Dam Yi’s retreating back. Pwahaha. It’s rather extreme, but I’m tickled enough not to care.

I like how Show frames Ji Un’s determination to stay close to Dam Yi, as a desire to be to Dam Yi, what she’s been to him, in a time of need, “Like the good rain that falls when most needed, I will be someone who you can count on. Just like you were to me when I needed you the most.”

This definitely feels in keeping with Ji Un’s character as we know it.

And, how significant, that Dam Yi’s starting to think upon Ji Un, with a smile on her face, even when she’s not in his presence.

Plus, there’s how he’s bringing her medicine (candy?) for when she’s having a hard time, and is all bashful and clumsy about it. Ha. It reminds me classic kdramas like Playful Kiss, where the warm girl is unabashedly smitten with the cold guy, and brings him baked goods, and is clumsy on her way out. 😆

For this reason, I’m amused at the role reversal. Also, there’s an endearing quality about Rowoon that I think lends itself well, to this sort of character treatment.

E8. This episode, we get multiple occasions where Dam Yi and Ji Un get to be alone together, and as a result, this episode is pretty well stocked with hyperawareness feels. Very nice.

Him holding her while she cries; him gently tending to her wounds, while she averts her eyes; them clearing the air over him being at the courtesan house before; him establishing that they are of the same heart (literal translation), and asking Dam Yi not to keep him at a distance anymore.

Him coming to her defense, when the Ming Chief Eunuch’s bodyguard threatens her with his weapon; the way she jumps in to fight alongside him, when he’s outnumbered by Ming guards; the way she tends to his wounds, when he’s hurt; her thanking him for helping her; him telling her that he’d like to continue to do so, by her side, if she’s willing.

I kinda love how they take turns to save each other, this episode. It’s a rom-com trope that the hero swoops in to save the heroine, but this episode, it feels like an equal opportunity save fest, with them taking turns to be the one swooping in to save the day. I think that’s pretty cool.

I also love the heartfelt moments of honest conversation that we get between these two. Because of these little nuggets, I feel like the connection between them is growing in a nicely organic fashion, amid all the other happenings in our story world.

Because of this build-up, it feels pretty organic, that Ji Un would be wrapped up in thoughts of Dam Yi, by the end of the episode. After all, even before this episode, he’s been having stars in his eyes for the Ice Prince. What more, now that they’ve spent all this additional time together, and overcome danger together?

E8. I also really like the scene where Ji Un comes upon a quietly weeping Dam Yi, still on her knees from her audience with her father, and decides to just hold her and let her cry. I find this very touching, partly because it seems to me that Ji Un isn’t thinking of Dam Yi as the Crown Prince, or as a fellow man, and therefore, deserving of more manly treatment.

To my eyes, it seems that Ji Un just.. feels the pain in Dam Yi’s soul, and wants to offer comfort, one human to another. He senses that she needs comfort, and offers it in the way that feels most organic to him, and I do love that.

And then we get that scene of Dam Yi stumbling into Ji Un’s little garden paradise on her own, and sitting down with him, for some alcohol-fueled unguarded, heartfelt conversation.

The situation feels perfectly set up, such that a tipsy Ji Un, who’s already got stars in his eyes for Dam Yi, and who already feels comfortable holding the Ice Prince while she weeps, would, entranced by the sight of her smile, lean in to kiss her on the cheek.

Ahhh! This is certainly significant, wouldn’t you say, in the development of the OTP relationship? I’m pretty certain this will get brushed off as a drunken move that means nothing, but I’m sure this is going to trigger Dam Yi to become much more aware of Ji Un than she already is, and I’m also sure that this is going to discombobulate Ji Un even more than he already is. That sure sounds like a fun time, to me! 🤩🤩

E9. A good chunk of my enjoyment this episode, comes from Ji Un trying to deal with his growing feelings for the Crown Prince.

This is most likely because I’m already fond of Rowoon, but I found it nicely amusing, to see Ji Un continually fumble, so thrown by how flustered and discombobulated he is, over the Crown Prince.

I was particularly amused to see him dance so joyfully back to the royal institute, with his box of candy, only to deflate so visibly, when he realizes that all the other royal tutors and helpers have also received an identical box of candy from the Crown Prince.

Aww. Little does he know that Dam Yi had likely given away those other boxes as safety decoys, so that she could give Ji Un a box of candy.

On a tangent, can I just say that in Ji Un’s reverie, where he imagines that it’s Dam Yi dressed as a songstress, Park Eun Bin looks amazing?? 😍😍 Just, beautiful.

The other chunk of enjoyment comes from Dam Yi also trying to deal with Ji Un continually popping up in her thoughts. The hyperawareness is strong, and it’s mutual. Eee!

I actually really appreciate how Park Eun Bin plays Dam Yi’s hyperawareness. It’s very much tamped down, yet, at the same time, it’s also very much visible to us, as the audience. I say a lot of this comes down to Park Eun Bin’s detailed delivery, particularly of Dam Yi’s micro-expressions.

When Ji Un asks for that hug from Dam Yi (to test his feelings towards the Crown Prince), I find Dam Yi’s reason for agreeing to his request, so wistfully poignant.

To think that she’s getting ready to get married, while embracing the identity of her twin brother, and therefore committing herself to a lifetime of lies, with a spouse whom she cannot love. And in the face of that, her one concession, is that she’s allowing herself to feel things for Ji Un, just for a while; she’s allowing herself to hug him, just once.

There’s so much pathos about this, isn’t there?

What I like about how Ji Un approaches all of this, is that he isn’t horrified by the thought that he likes another man. Rather, he’s just keen to determine how he actually feels about the Crown Prince.

When the Crown Prince’s impending marriage is announced, he actually feels thrown, and rather disappointed, and has to convince himself that this was never going anywhere anyway, and therefore there really isn’t a solid reason to feel sad.

How thrilling, though, when Ji Un realizes that his recurring dream, is of an event that actually happened; that the Crown Prince really had kissed him, that night.

I love how Ji Un wastes no time in seeking out the Crown Prince, and states, so earnestly, exactly how he feels:

“I thought it was a dream. I believed that my impure feelings for you came to haunt me. However it wasn’t a dream.

I will believe you if you say the feelings were momentary. But it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t admiration from a subject. I thought it was my loyalty to you. But it was affection. I have a deep affection for you, Your Royal Highness. Although you’re a man and the Crown Prince of this nation, I love you.”

Eeee!!! His feelings! They’re out there now!! 🤩

E10. Given how decorous Dam Yi is, and how cognizant she is, of the fact that she cannot have any sort of romantic future with Ji Un, I’m not surprised that she backs away from his love confession.

However, it’s clear that she’s extremely moved by his confession, and his expressed desire to stay by her side, if she would but allow it. Gosh, I found myself melting, at the poignance of Ji Un’s readiness to love her silently by her side, and not expecting more. That’s so.. sacrificial, isn’t it? 😭❤️

And, it still kinda blows me away, that Ji Un doesn’t actually seem fazed by the “fact” that the person he’s in love with, is a man. We’ve had no indication that Ji Un’s ever been attracted to other men, so for all intents and purposes, it seems that the Crown Prince is the first man Ji Un’s found himself having feelings for.

There’s something incredibly touching about how readily he embraces those feelings, isn’t there?

The whole thing around Dam Yi taking Ji Un out, for a day of fun, smacks so much of a “goodbye date,” which just underscores all the smiles and fun times, with a current bittersweet sense of poignance.

I kind of think that Ji Un can guess that this is meant to be a goodbye date, even before Dam Yi produces that recommendation letter, and tells him her intent, for him to work elsewhere.

Although Dam Yi terms her action as selfish, I actually see this as her attempting to set him free.

Of course, it’s also because she can’t afford to keep him near her, because of the inherent danger of, 1, him discovering her secret, and 2, others discovering his feelings for her, and trying to use that as a weapon against her, to take her down.

At the same time, I can’t help but feel like there’s a strong element in this, of her wanting him to be set free. A life of loving her silently, while they can never be together, is a state of affairs with a great deal of torment built into it, and I feel like she’s trying to spare him from that.

It seems to me that Ji Un and Dam Yi are rather alike, in the sense that when Dam Yi’s asking Ji Un to leave, she takes him on a goodbye date, and then, when Ji Un’s ready to tell Dam Yi that he’s leaving, he gives her one last lesson.

I actually appreciate Ji Un’s sincerity in this whole matter. Even in his departure, I can feel his sincerity through his words, his gaze, and his actions.

“I swore to myself I would never come back to the palace. If I hadn’t, I would have regretted it. The truth is, I’m not the type to stay in one place for too long. So I plan to go back to the way I used to live.

I hope you will be happy not just for a day, but every day. Because when I had no dreams or hopes, you brought happiness to my life.

I don’t think I can accept a different position as you suggested because if I stay, I will keep coming to your quarters. I might use saying hello to the royal tutors as an excuse. Or I might use the beautiful tree at your quarters as an excuse too. If not those, I might pretend to look for Lord Jaeun at your quarters when who I really want to find is you.

Please stay healthy, Your Royal Highness. I hope you won’t be lonely.”

Oof. I so appreciate his honest estimation of himself, that he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from seeking out Dam Yi, even if he were to take on a different position.

The way I understand it, Ji Un is leaving not because Dam Yi’s getting married to someone else, but because he knows that he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from seeking her out, if seeking her was in any way possible. He’s leaving, in order to stop himself.

And with my very recent possible-epiphany, that Dam Yi might be rushing the marriage, in order to stop herself from growing too close to Ji Un, that all comes together in such strongly poignant strokes.

It hurts, but it actually hurts good.. I like how all of this is pushing all these weighty emotions to the forefront, and giving oomph to our story.

E11. Through all of this, we do get glimpses of Ji Un settling into his new life, being a doctor for the people again, and y’know, he looks happy. It feels like this lifestyle suits him. And, it’s nice that Hyun manages to pay him a visit, even, and ask Ji Un how he’s doing, and they get to spend some quality time together.

It’s just.. rather wistful and poignant, to see Ji Un still miss Dam Yi, when he’s alone with his thoughts.

That scene, where he stands next to the flowering shrub in his yard – the exact same type of flowering shrub that Dam Yi had admired – and imagines Dam Yi right there in front of him, is so full of yearning.

“Even when I am here, all I do is think about you. I am worried and I miss you. Says the man who chose to move out here. A place this secluded. I wish to be by your side, take you in my arms, have conversations, and be together with you.”

And then, there’s also how we see that Ji Un’s hung a wind chime at Nokungak in the hidden garden, because Dam Yi had once said that she loved the sound of them. Augh, that’s so sweet and thoughtful. ❤️

Ji Un’s so earnest and sincere, that I want him to be reunited with his Crown Prince soon, but at the same time, I also feel like it’s just safer, for him to stay away from the palace.

E12. I can see why everything is all very overwhelming for Dam Yi, and I can see why she’d seek solace at the secret garden.

I can also see why Ji Un would find his way to the palace, upon hearing news of the Crown Prince’s dethronement. He’s never wanted to leave the Crown Prince’s side, after all, and now that the Crown Prince’s life is in disarray and possibly in danger, I totally buy that he’d be determined to find his way back to the Crown Prince’s side.

I gotta say, I kinda love how Ji Un never actually seems bothered that he’s in love with a man (or so he believes). I love that he’s so.. unabashed about it, and so eager to express it.

There’s literally no awkwardness about him, as he walks up to his Crown Prince, and takes “him” in his arms. There’s only a strength and depth of emotion that seems to propel him forward, and I just.. love it, honestly.

He just loves this person, and doesn’t care about the Crown Prince trappings – or the lack of the Crown Prince trappings, and he doesn’t care about the (supposed) fact that he loves a man. He just.. wants to love this person. I can’t not be moved by that, honestly.

I got chills at the tearful kiss, not gonna lie. It feels like Ji Un’s ready to put aside the entire world, in order to love Dam Yi, and it’s swoony, melt-your-knees sort of stuff. I completely get why Dam Yi is so moved, that she cries too, as she kisses him back.

At the same time, I also understand why she attempts to send him away, so that he can be happy living his own life, instead of being shackled to her burdens.

This isn’t noble idiocy, from what I can see. It’s true that regardless of what happens to Dam Yi, she can never be fully divorced from her identity as the Crown Prince – even a dethroned Crown Prince – and I can understand that this is not the kind of politically fraught future that she wants for Ji Un.

It’s so like Ji Un to want to litter Dam Yi’s path with red ribbon flowers, that I don’t even question the frivolity of running around, tying red ribbons to tree branches. Which is convenient, because then Ji Un’s right there, to come to Dam Yi’s aid, when Commander Yoon’s men fake-ambush the dethroned Crown Prince’s entourage. In this way, I find that it comes together quite nicely.

I was so nervous, when Inspector Jung’s men ask to see Dam Yi’s face, on the boat, and SO relieved, to have Ji Un show up, and act as Dam Yi’s over-protective and very affectionate husband, to save the day. What a great little spot of cuteness, in an edge-of-your-seat turn of the narrative! Very nice meshing there by Show, I thought. 🤩

I love the tentative quality about Ji Un’s gaze, as he tells Dam Yi that she looks good in her disguise. There’s something incredibly endearing about the fact that he feels awkward about seeing the man he loves, in women’s clothing, and liking the result.

Dam Yi’s awkwardness is very endearing too. This is the first time she’s worn women’s clothing in a really long time, and the first time, since she’s grown up into a woman, and here she is, standing before the man whom she loves – and who loves her. That self-conscious quality to her mannerisms, is very sweet to my eyes.

It’s such a big thing, that Dam Yi is prepared to tell Ji Un her secret, since it’s such a life-threatening one. Plus, there’s also the question of how he would react, upon finding out that the person whom he thought he loved, is actually someone else, in a manner of speaking. Yet, she makes the choice to tell him.

That tells me that she really, really trusts him, and wants to honor his truthfulness to her, by being truthful to him too.

It’s kind of par for the course, that Dam Yi would be interrupted in sharing her secret with Ji Un, by Inspector Jung and his men – and then gets injured, such that the reveal would entail her actually taking off her jeogori. It’s a little tropey, yes, but I don’t even care, because I love the delivery, so much.

There is so much complicated emotion about Dam Yi, as she prepares to take off the jeogori. There’s hesitance, fear and trepidation, shyness, awkwardness, years of pent-up pain from suppressing her true self, nervousness, embarrassment; it’s all written on her face, in a mass of colliding emotion.

And as she tells Ji Un, “This is my secret,” there’s such a strong note of plaintiveness about her. She truly feels so vulnerable, in this moment.

E13. This episode, I’m glad that Ji Un and Dam Yi get some time away from everything, to just be themselves around each other.

I’d expected Ji Un to be accepting and loving in the face of Dam Yi’s reveal, but I’m still completely moved by his unconditional love for her.

Not only does he barely flinch at the shock of the reveal, his biggest reaction turns out to be a deep sense of compassion for all that Dam Yi’s been through, and a sense of regret, that he hadn’t known sooner, so that he could share her burden. Augh. That’s soo touching, honestly.

Ji Un’s concern is consistently first and foremost for Dam Yi’s wellbeing, and this hold true this episode, first with his focus on treating her wound, never mind if she never has a chance to tell him her whole story, and then later on as well, when he’s fought his way into the palace and is finally face to face with her. His first tearful words to her, are to ask her how she is, and if she’s ok.

I love that. I love how pure Ji Un’s care and love for her is. Also, it’s very moving to me, how ready Ji Un is, to leave his entire life behind, if that’s what it takes, in order to spend his life with her. He’s all in, without a second thought or regret, and that just heart-melty stuff.

I can see how Dam Yi would feel safe with Ji Un, despite having been constantly on her guard, for so long. And it’s really nice to see her sink into his embrace, not because it’s romantic (though it is); it’s nice to see her sink into his embrace, because she finally looks like she’s found a safe place, where she can fully let go of the tension that characterizes her entire life.

E14. I find myself quite nicely drawn to the angst of Ji Un being near Dam Yi, but them having to deny themselves any further conversation or contact than strictly necessary. There’s the whole so-near-yet-so-far quality to their scenes, which I find myself liking, for the bittersweet pain of it all.

Also, because Ji Un states upfront, that he will stay by Dam Yi’s side for just two months, while her wound heals, the impending goodbye creates this layer of dramatic angst that really works for me.

Each time they look at each other, it’s clear that it’s extremely poignant for the both of them. He knows, and she knows, that their time together is running out – and even then, they are holding themselves strictly to decorum, and not speaking on anything other than official matters, or her wound, when he’s treating her.

That creates this burgeoning dam of emotions, that’s threatening to burst, the closer we get to that goodbye.

E15. While I have struggled to enjoy the OTP’s stolen romancey moments this episode, I do appreciate the closing beat, where Dam Yi tells Ji Un that she’s ready to bear the consequences of her feelings for him.

It makes me feel like Show’s possibly going to give more heft to the OTP romance, in our final stretch. And that would be a very welcome thing indeed.

E17. I get why Ji Un feels he needs to obey his father and getting married. What I DON’T understand, is why Ji Un chooses not to tell Dam Yi the real reason that he’s getting married. I mean, the fact that Commander Jung knows Dam Yi’s secret is of real and important consequence to Dam Yi, particularly in Ji Un’s absence.

I’m extremely perplexed and frustrated, that he doesn’t tell her something that has a real bearing on her safety, when he won’t be around to help keep her safe. Argh.

E18. I know the moment that Ji Un finds out that the King whom he loves is actually Dam Yi, is supposed to be very dramatic and heartfelt and all kinds of touching, but I have to confess that I feel it’s weirdly placed in our story.

I mean, Ji Un’s been in a love relationship with Dam Yi for some time now, and it’s only now, when she’s in more danger than ever, that Show decides it’s finally time for Ji Un to be told that she is the same girl whom he’d liked, all those years ago?

I dunno. It feels almost.. irrelevant, in a way? Like, this realization should not cause him to love her any more than he already does? (Which is why Dam Yi should’ve told him much, MUCH earlier, in my opinion.)

I rationalize that perhaps Ji Un is overwhelmed by the realization of  just how much Dam Yi has gone through, all these years, and that’s the thing that’s driving this emotional outburst, but honestly, that’s still not enough for me to get behind the swelling emotions that Show wants me to engage in, as we close out our episode.

Still, I’m glad Ji Un knows now. I hadn’t liked him being kept in the dark all this time, even when he and Dam Yi were being all lovey-dovey. I don’t quite see how Ji Un’s going to help keep Dam Yi safe, going forward, but at least she has someone in the palace, who’s clearly on her side, and in whom she can confide. That’s definitely worth something.

[END SPOILER]

Nam Yoon Soo as Hyun [SPOILERS]

From the moment we meet Hyun, it’s pretty clear that he has a protective attitude towards Dam Yi, and in episode 5, we finally learn that he knows her secret, and has nursed romantic feelings towards her, for a long time.

The more Show demonstrates Hyun’s heart for Dam Yi, over the course of our story, the more I felt for him.

He’s so consistently considerate and protective towards Dam Yi, and so gentle towards her. Plus, there’s something so tragic about his one-sided love, because, short of him running away with her, there’s no way for his feelings for her to ever come to fruition – and yet, he continues to love her anyway.

There’s something very pure and selfless about that. Like I said earlier in this review, if Ji Un weren’t in this picture, I would totally root for Dam Yi to accept his Hyun’s love.

I also really appreciate the tone of the conversation that Hyun has with Ji Un in episode 14.

There’s so much honesty here, as Hyun tells Ji Un about his feelings for Dam Yi. And there’s no jealousy, only wistfulness, as Hyun cautions Ji Un about the pain of a love that cannot be.

I like that Hyun doesn’t try to dissuade Ji Un from loving Dam Yi because only one of them can love her; he dissuades Ji Un from it, because of the pain that it will bring Ji Un. Hyun really feels like a true friend.

In fact, the more our story evolves, the more I found myself feeling sorry for Hyun.

He clearly still loves Dam Yi, and has been staying out of her orbit out of consideration for her, but also, because of his own heartache, I believe. And so, when Dam Yi asks him, over tea, in episode 16, to treat her the same way he always has, I feel like I can see the pain shoot through his eyes.

I know that Dam Yi doesn’t mean any harm, and sincerely wants to remain friends with Hyun. However, from Hyun’s point of view, her request is a painful one indeed. In asking him to be near her as before, she’s basically asking that he continue to live in that painful space where he loves her, and she’s so near, but so far.

The way Hyun sits and ponders Dam Yi’s request afterwards, I feel like his heartache is so clear to see, in his gaze. 💔

[END SPOILER]

Bae Yoon Kyoung as So Eun

In the beginning, I rather liked the introduction of So Eun into the picture.

At the episode 7 mark, she’s clearly smitten with Ji Un, which makes for a rather fun and unconventional love triangle, in the sense that I felt that this had quite a lot of potential for hijinks and amusement.

However, my stand on that only lasts for as long as Show stays in its fluffy, lighthearted rom-com groove. Once Show got into more serious territory, this became rather problematic, for me, as I explained in the section above.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E7. The whole thing where they all sit together to eat, and Ji Un only cares about taking care of Dam Yi, while Dam Yi eyes So Eun suspiciously and refuses to allow Ji Un to serve her, is made all the more amusing by the fact that Dam Yi is incognito as the Ice Prince, who’s incognito as Ji Un’s colleague.

I thought this was quite fun.

E16. I do appreciate the private conversation that Ji Un and So Eun have, when Ha Kyung leaves them alone on purpose. It feels quiet and dignified, and I like that So Eun is considerate of Ji Un, and apologizes for not thinking of his feelings earlier.

I also like that Ji Un is kind to So Eun, even though he doesn’t return her affection. There appears to be a mutual respect between these two people, that I.. kinda like. I feel like in a different world, and in a different time, these two could have been friends.

[END SPOILER]

Jung Chae Yeon as Ha Kyung

My feelings towards Ha Kyung as a character align very closely to how I feel about So Eun as a character, for pretty much the same reasons.

Ha Kyung is introduced as a contender for the Crown Prince’s affections, and it’s fun and funny – for as long as Show stays in fluffy rom-com territory, where there are few consequences, if any.

However, as Show turns more serious in its later stretch, this stops being funny, and I soon found myself feeling sorry for Ha Kyung a lot of the time, and this wasn’t something that I felt Show managed to resolve very well, even though it does attempt to do so.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E9. From the moment Show introduces Minister of War’s daughter Ha Kyung, I’d had a feeling that she would be picked by the Queen Dowager to be the Crown Princess. Plus, Ha Kyung herself is immediately, cutely, smitten, during her chance encounter with the Crown Prince.

I find her very warm and likable, and I immediately feel sorry for her, that her quest to become Crown Princess, is only going to bring her a life of loneliness, where she will never be able to win the heart of her husband.

E15. I am feeling more sorry for Ha Kyung than ever. She’s basically the sacrificial lamb in this whole situation, where her entire life is doomed to isolation and misery, because she’s on a futile quest to win her husband’s heart, and hopefully, bear him children.

That just feels very cruel, particularly for a character as childlike and guileless as Ha Kyung.

Perhaps it might have worked better for me, if Dam Yi had taken Ha Kyung into her confidence, so that that might at least spare Ha Kyung the futility of trying to win her husband’s heart.

At the same time, I can understand that that’s too much of a risk to undertake, especially considering that Ha Kyung’s father is someone whom Dam Yi’s wary of.

E17. I still feel sorry for Ha Kyung this episode, particularly as we watch her bright, guileless hopefulness, fade into a resigned, sorrowful, jaded acceptance of her fate. Her request to Dam Yi, to simply allow her to fulfill her duty of bearing an heir, is so sad, honestly.

E18. As a silver lining, I did like the moment that Dam Yi shares with the Queen, where, in response to the Queen’s heartfelt, tearful plea to allow her to fulfill her royal duty as mother to the nation, Dam Yi reaches out to hug her, and promises that she will tell her the truth, eventually.

It’s not a lot, certainly, but it’s a step in the right direction, to lessen the burden on Ha Kyung’s heart, that she’s of such distaste to her husband.

[END SPOILER]

Dam Yi and Court Lady Kim

Although it’s not given a great deal of screen time, I really like the relationship between Dam Yi and Court Lady Kim.

There’s a lot of care that flows both ways, between them. Court Lady Kim would literally lay down her life for Dam Yi, and Dam Yi would do the same for her. It’s altogether very moving, and I loved it, each time Show gave us a bit of the spotlight, on these two.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E8. Notably, I loved the scene where Dam Yi tenderly ties Court Lady Kim’s unceremoniously shortened hair for her, and tells Court Lady Kim, that her hair is beautiful, even though it’s shorter.

There’s so much heart shared between both women in this scene, even though, keeping in mind Dam Yi’s identity as the Crown Prince, and the propriety that should be observed in accordance with that, not a lot is actually said.

However, the tears in both their eyes says everything that I need to know; there is a great deal of love here, and they are, in effect, family to each other.

[END SPOILER]

Choi Byung Chan as Ga On

Hrm. How do I put this delicately?

I, uh, don’t think Choi Byung Chan was well-cast, for the role of Ga On. If you’re a fan of his, you might want to look away now. 😅

[DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU]

I know he’s an idol-actor who’s pretty new to acting, and they probably thought that a strong, silent, broody bodyguard type of character would be safe for him to stretch his acting abilities with.

I have nothing against the strong, silent, broody bodyguard type; in fact, I loved Kwak Dong Yeon’s turn as Park Bo Gum‘s strong, silent, broody bodyguard in Moonlight Drawn By Clouds.

However, Ga On just doesn’t give off the same effortlessly broody vibes. This is completely subjective, but to my eyes, the casting and styling all seems a little try-hard, like they were looking to serve up this archetype, but failed to find someone broody enough, and so settled on Choi Byung Chan, who’s just not bringing enough broody smolder to the table, for my taste.

Also, as we get into Show’s later stretch, and as Ga On gets more lines to deliver, and is required to look more conflicted, I found him rather painful to watch. 😛

I’m sorry to say that I found myself willing him off my screen, whenever he appeared, in Show’s last stretch. 🙈😅

Bae Soo Bin as Commander Jung

It’s honestly a bit of a mindbender, to realize that Bae Soo Bin is literally now old enough to be cast in a father role, where his character spends most of our story as an older man in his fifties. I mean, I still remember him playing a handsome second lead in 2009’s Brilliant Legacy! 🤯 How very surreal.

I hafta say that for most of my watch, I found Commander Jung as a character rather boring, particularly with the deadpan sort of way that Bae Soo Bin plays him, for much of the show.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself feeling more interested in Commander Jung’s arc in our final stretch. That’s not something that I’d expected, particularly after spending most of the show feeling unimpressed with Commander Jung’s perpetual deadpan, hangdog expression, so that was a welcome change.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E14. The way Commander Jung makes his request of Lord Sangheon, even going so far as to couch his request as his reward, after all his years of support, is extremely surprising to me. It feels like a personal risk of some sort, for him to even broach the subject with Lord Sangheon, given that Ji Un had tried to flee with Dam Yi, while Lord Sangheon’s men had been trying to get her back to the palace.

This is the first time that I feel like Commander Jung actually cares about Ji Un, as his son. It feels like he does want a good future for his son, and is willing to take some personal risk, in order to secure that future for his son.

Commander Jung’s conversation with Commander Yoon on that bridge is quite illuminating to me. I’d never thought that Commander Jung might have once been on the righteous, upright side of things, because he’s been so darkly focused on serving Lord Sangheon, and has never appeared to even flinch, at killing innocent children, if it served Lord Sangheon’s purpose.

I mean, yes, this does feel like a bit of a convenient reveal, at this stage of our story, almost like Show needs him to have a heart soon, and therefore, it’s time to reveal that he’s always had one.

However, I can sort of buy his explanation, that he’d believed that this was the only path available to him. I can imagine that being poor and without any sort of backing, he wouldn’t have a great deal of wiggle room, if Lord Sangheon picked him out and decided he wanted Jung to do his bidding.

If he’d refused, Lord Sangheon could have easily had him killed, right? So in that way, it isn’t so hard to believe that Jung had decided to throw in his lot with Lord Sangheon (since he didn’t have a choice anyway), and use it to better his family’s social standing.

So while it takes a bit of rationalization, I can buy the ideas that Show is serving up this episode, that 1, Commander Jung does care about Ji Un, and 2, he does have a heart, underneath that impassive, ruthless facade. Both things are going to be pretty important going forward, it looks like, judging from where we end the episode (more on that later).

E15. It’s an odd sensation, to actually feel more interested in Commander Jung’s position right now, than in our OTP.

I find it quite fascinating, to see him react to the realization that he’d made a mistake, and killed the real Crown Prince, when he’d been tasked to kill his twin instead.

And now, as he watches Lord Sangheon deal with other subordinates who have made mistakes – where even a single mistake results in death – I can see how Commander Jung is growing more and more troubled.

It’s a bizarre situation to find oneself in, certainly. There is literally no way for Commander Jung to fix this mistake; he’d singlehandedly created this situation, where it’s Dam Yi who sits on the throne, instead of Hwi. He can’t out her, because that would unveil his gigantic mistake, and therefore, he probably will have no choice but to help keep her secret – in order to preserve his own life.

That makes all of Commander Jung’s looks at Ji Un feel complicated. He probably has no idea what to do, in response to his new knowledge, that his own son is romancing the King, who’s actually the girl that he himself was supposed to have killed. He can’t take his son to task for it, because that would out his own secret, but it’s way too dangerous to just let things alone.

E16. The arc that I find most interesting this hour, is that of Commander Jung, which is a sentence that I hadn’t expected to write, given how I’ve found Commander Jung’s rather deadpan and uninteresting for much of our story.

Now, however, his arc is coming together quite nicely, and I am shocked to say that I might just find his arc the most compelling, right now.

I was sorry to see Commander Yoon go; that whole death scene had felt rather exaggerated and belabored. Like, why did the soldiers have to keep shooting arrows at him, when his entire torso was already riddled with arrows? They should’ve just aimed for Ga On instead. But ok, I get it; Show wanted to show just how much it hurt Commander Jung, to see his old friend like this.

And, I understand, too, that it would take something momentous like this, to actually galvanize Commander Jung to truly reconsider his position. From their conversation at the bridge, and then, from the flashback this episode, it’s clear that Commander Jung and Commander Yoon go way back, and had been close brothers.

I can imagine how Commander Yoon’s death, combined with the troubled thoughts that have been brewing in Commander Jung since his realization that he’d killed the wrong twin, would come together, to jolt him into finally reclaiming his previously lost principles.

That final scene, when Dam Yi and Ji Un are in danger (hello, conveniently alive-again Prince Changun!), and it’s Commander Jung that comes to their defense, is one of the best surprises that Show has sprung yet.

[END SPOILER]

Yoon Je Moon as Lord Sangheon

I didn’t any similar uptake in interest in Lord Sangheon, as I did with Commander Jung; Lord Sangheon really is the Big Bad in our story, and Yoon Je Moon does a solid job of making him unlikable.

However, I just wanted to add a bit of perspective to his character’s actions, which had basically set this entire story into motion.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. Given our context, I can kinda-sorta understand where Lord Sanheon is coming from.

According to the law at the time, there can be no royal twins. Therefore, Lord Sangheon’s choices were basically, 1, allow both babies to be killed under that law, or 2, kill only one baby, and cover up the fact that there was ever a twin.

Put that way, it’s hard to say that he was absolutely wrong to want to kill one child, since the other option was to kill both.

Also, while it can be argued that he could have hidden one child and allowed the child to live, I do understand his perspective, that it is too dangerous to do so. If that deception were to be discovered, that would mean death for everyone involved, as Show impresses on us, this episode.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Pil Mo as Dam Yi’s father

Although we don’t actually spend any significant amount of time with the King until around episode 12, I had to give Lee Pil Mo a shout-out, because when we do spend that time with the King, it turns out to be both moving and memorable.

Part of it is in the writing, but the other part of it, is Lee Pil Mo’s delivery, which is so subtly full of emotion. I loved it.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E12. I am so thrown by the idea that the King’s known for such a long time, that the Crown Prince is actually his daughter, and not his son. Dang. That was a great twist, Show.

I mean, when he explains it, it makes perfect sense, because, honestly, there must have been many points at which the secret was at risk, particularly for sharps eyes and suspicious minds. It’s not a stretch at all, come to think of it, that the King found out before last episode’s cliffhanger. And yet, I’d never guessed it. That’s really good writing, and I am thrilled about that.

I am thoroughly moved by the love that the King shows, this episode. I mean, it’s all pretty tamped down, but in the way he’s kept Dam Yi’s secret all these years, and in the way he wants to protect her, and let her live her own life, without having to worry about being found out at any time, we can see his father’s heart for her.

And there’s the way Lee Pil Mo plays those scenes.

The restrained, wistful glimmer of tears in the King’s eyes, tells me all I need to know, about how much the King loves his daughter, and how sorry he feels, for everything that’s happened, and how much he wishes things could be different, and how torn he feels, about sending her away.

It’s fantastic, and I’m reminded all over again, of how underrated Lee Pil Mo tends to be.

With this context, I can easily see the King’s decision to dethrone the Crown Prince, as an act of love, rather than as punishment. He wants to set Dam Yi free, now that the opportunity has presented itself, even though it will mean throwing the various factions into an uproar.

I love the letter that he gives Dam Yi later in the episode, along with the gift of a very pretty set of women’s clothing. It might be a simple gesture, but I find that gift so profound.

It says everything, about how he wants his daughter to be able to live freely, as herself. And his letter is so full of tenderness and affection, which he has been holding back from showing, all these years.

Augh. It’s such a gift, to Dam Yi, honestly.

That’s a pretty brave decision, to my eyes, and I’m starting to grow very fond of this King. I was sincerely sorry to see him go, in episode 13. 😭

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-out:

Choi Myung Bin as Dam Yi / Lee Hwi

I just have to blurt out my main takeaway from episodes 1 and 2 : Choi Myung Bin, who plays both prince and hidden princess, is just mindblowingly good! 🤩

She is fantastic at portraying both a bright and confident prince, and a curious yet shy palace maid-in-training. Seriously, how is she this good?!? 🤯

There are so many shades in her delivery – the prince Lee Hwi, Lee Hwi pretending to be a girl, the maid-in-training Dam Yi, and Dam Yi pretending to be the prince – and it’s all so very believable.

Even though I know in my head that both characters are played by Choi Myung Bin, I completely feel like I am watching two distinct people on my screen. And, even though there are a number of times we get both characters in the same frame wearing the same clothes, it’s always clear who’s who, in the way Choi Myung Bin fleshes out her delivery of each character.

It reminds me of Yeo Jin Goo’s fantastic outing in The Crowned Clown, where he plays both King and clown.

The thing is, though, Choi Myung Bin is only thirteen. She’s still so young, and is already showing so much skill and talent. I’m completely floored to realize that she’s literally so young, that she’s only ever played the younger version of adult characters.

And in this outing, which I find completely amazing, she’s still in that space; she is playing the younger Park Eun Bin. I am so very impressed. I already love her and want to see her in other roles, right away. 🤩

Choi Myung Bin is the bomb. She literally carries the entire early portion of our story, and with aplomb, too.

There is so much that Dam Yi goes through, this episode, and so many deep and complicated emotions at play, and she delivers all of it in such a convincing manner, that I instinctively felt for Dam Yi, and got sucked into her journey, as she finds her entire world turned upside down.

Han Chae Ah as Dam Yi’s mother

I just had to give the Crown Princess a shout-out, even though she doesn’t have much screen time, in the overall scheme of things.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. I feel for the Crown Princess, because her entire world is turned upside down, as well. She desperately wants to protect both her children, but ends up suddenly losing her son, and then, without having proper time nor space to grieve, she has to move on, by impressing on her newly found daughter, that she now must carry on in her brother’s place.

This lady hasn’t ever had the time to grieve, or rest, has she? From the moment she gave birth to the twins, she’d had to scramble in fear for her daughter’s life, and now, she doesn’t even get to give her son a proper send-off, after he’s been killed.

It’s completely heartbreaking, and even more so, that the person behind Hwi’s death, is the Crown Princess’s own father.

It’s no wonder she gets sick not long after, and dies. It’s just so much to bear, and swallow.

Plus, she did say to Dam Yi that she will take on all the blame, so it kind of feels like Show is making her atonement take the form of an early death.

What I love about the Crown Princess, is that she is first and foremost, a mother. She doesn’t care about the faction fights; she’s only interested in the survival and wellbeing of her children. That’s why she’d sent Dam Yi away, and that’s why her last request of her husband, on her deathbed, is for him to protect their child.

She doesn’t care about what her father says – that everything he’s done, is for the good of their family. In her eyes, he killed her son, and she will never forgive him for that. 💔

[END SPOILER]

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

We are finally at our penultimate episode, and that, in principle, makes me somewhat more amenable than normal, towards the various developments that Show serves up this hour. I keep telling myself, that it’s all for a good cause – the happy ending that I’m here for, ha.

I have to admit that there is definitely a noticeable amount of fatigue on my part, with this show. Trent’s comparison, during our discussions of this show on Patreon, of this watch experience with that of Bossam, really hits the nail on the head, for me.

As with Bossam, I am also feeling the length of this show, and not as interested as I’d like to be, in Show’s developments. But also, again, as with Bossam, I’m willing to hang in there, because I’m invested enough in the promised happy ending, to want to see it through.

Show continues with the Big Reunion between Dam Yi and Ji Un, this episode, and I still struggle with how big of a deal they continue to make, of the connection they had shared in their tween years. I mean, I get that they didn’t have much, at the time, and their limited time together had meant a lot to them both.

But.. I also can’t help thinking that since then, they’ve shared so much more, as adults? I mean, shouldn’t that outweigh their tween connection? At least, that’s what’s going through my mind, as Dam Yi and Ji Un look at each other with tearful doe eyes, and reminisce about the past.

Show also takes the time to somewhat resolve the pain of So Eun and Ha Kyung this episode, with So Eun breaking off the engagement, and Ha Kyung finally learning the truth about Dam Yi’s secret.

I have mixed feelings about this. I mean, yes, it’s important that this is resolved, but I still feel sorry for So Eun, because, if I understand the norms of the times correctly, even though she calls off the engagement, going forward, she is still considered as good as a divorced woman, ie, she is going to be looked down upon for this broken engagement, and is unlikely to marry someone else.

That’s.. not great? Of course, it’s still better than being trapped in a loveless marriage with an unwilling husband, but this is still far from a happy ending for So Eun, I feel.

As for Ha Kyung, I’m glad that Dam Yi chooses to tell her the truth, because I feel that Ha Kyung deserves that much. And, I appreciate that when Ha Kyung asks Dam Yi why she would risk Ha Kyung using this information against her, Dam Yi chooses to put her fate in Ha Kyung’s hands, as a demonstration of trust.

I hope that Ha Kyung takes up Dam Yi’s offer to leave the palace quietly, and start a new life elsewhere.

At the same time, though, I feel sorry for Ha Kyung, because this would mean giving up her entire world as she knows it. She would have to leave her family, and her life of nobility, in order to start a new life where no one knows her. That’s harsh.

So, even though Dam Yi is offering Ha Kyung freedom, I still see Ha Kyung’s options as very limited, and rather cruel, when all is said and done. 💔

Lord Sangheon and Commander Jung turning against each other was only partially satisfying to watch, in that it’s cool as long as Commander Jung has the upper hand, and then, the minute he loses that upper hand, it’s not cool any longer. 😝

I guess I just want Lord Sangheon to be foiled, and that’s.. not quite working out so well, this episode.

I mean, it’s a relief that Hyun doesn’t die, and manages to get to Dam Yi, and it’s pretty cool that Dam Yi arrives on the scene in her royal glory to save the day, but the fact that Lord Sangheon breaks out of prison so soon – and is poised to actually stage a revolt, next episode, with Prince Wonsan’s help – is kind of disappointing.

I know that this is all in service of Show wanting to amp up the dramatic tension in this penultimate stretch, but my brain’s like, “Are we still not there yet..?”

Sigh. Oh well. Show will have to give me my happy ending, next episode, so I guess that’s my silver lining? 😅

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

Considering how perplexed and disengaged I’d been feeling about Show, over the last couple of episodes, I’m actually pleasantly surprised by how much I genuinely like some of the beats, this finale.

I have to confess that I didn’t feel very interested in the attempted revolt, though I did feel sorry for Gyeom, who died so suddenly, and, I feel, needlessly. I mean, it feels like Show killed him off just so that we could have Hyun on the throne at the end, which, I do admit, is rather nice to see, after Hyun’s stayed on the sidelines for so long.

It’s just.. Poor Gyeom, y’know? He never managed to do anything much, and got killed just because of his inconvenient lineage.

Among this hour’s more touching moments, which I found myself more engaged in, we have:

1. Commander Jung’s death, because of that final moment between him and Ji Un, where he tells Ji Un that he’s glad that Ji Un is nothing like him. It’s a small glimpse into his father’s heart, which has been shrouded in hardness and ambition, and while it may not be a lot in the grand scheme of things, it feels precious.

2. The scene between Dam Yi and Court Lady Kim, where Dam Yi tearfully thanks Court Lady Kim, and tells her that she’s always seen Court Lady Kim as a mother. This scene was heartrending and beautiful, at the same time.

3. Court Lady Kim attempting to take her own life, in order to follow after Dam Yi. I felt her sorrow, and I found it moving, that she loved Dam Yi so much, that she would follow her in death.

4. Dam Yi using the sonangcho, Lord Sangheon’s own weapon, against him. There’s a touch of poetic justice about that, and also, I found it touching that Dam Yi was prepared to die, in order to take down Lord Sangheon.

Show isn’t specific about why Dam Yi survives the sonangcho while Lord Sangheon doesn’t, but I’m going to put it down to that pill that Dam Yi took, which Ji Un had given her, which was supposed to make her strong. I’m guessing that that probably dampened the effect of the sonangcho, enabling Dam Yi to survive.

And while it’s not among my favorite moments, I did want to give a mention to Dam Yi’s request to Ji Un, to give her a hairpin (binyeo), because, as I understand it, offering a binyeo to a woman represented a marriage request. And therefore, Dam Yi asking Ji Un for a binyeo, was basically Dam Yi asking Ji Un to marry her, if she managed to survive.

I also wanted to say that while I still think Show’s been rather.. careless with Ha Kyung’s and Seo Eun’s fates, I do appreciate Show taking a moment to let us know, that Hyun has erased Ha Kyung’s stint as Queen, from official record, thus enabling her to marry again, if she wishes.

I suppose that is the best that Show could have done for Ha Kyung, given the circumstances of our story.

My favorite mini arc this hour, is the one where Dam Yi refuses to allow the Grand Queen Dowager to fake Dam Yi’s death, to allow her to leave the palace secretly.

Dam Yi’s decision not to hide, but to face her punishment, and the officials all standing by her, one by one, because of how righteous and magnanimous she’d been as a King, legit brought tears to my eyes.

I love this idea, that the officials choose to look beyond protocol, to see the kind of King that Dam Yi had been, when she had been thrust into the position. I love that they stand by her for her character, rather than attack her for her gender and her deception.

This was, for me, the best moment in the entire series, and I was glad to have hung around, despite my flagging interest, so that I could witness this moment of solidarity, victory and liberty, for myself.

The thing that I hadn’t been prepared for, was the sense of bittersweet poignance, around Dam Yi’s new life.

I suppose I had known it in my head, that when Dam Yi left the palace, she would also leave behind the people whom she cared about, but it didn’t really hit me, until we see Hyun, sitting in his new royal robes, thinking about her wistfully, and wondering how she is.

That, I decided, was the one big downside to Dam Yi leaving to start a new life.

However, Show makes up for it quite nicely, by showing us that Hyun pays Dam Yi and Ji Un a visit, along with Court Lady Kim, Eunuch Hong and Eun Seo. Ahh. That’s comforting, that Dam Yi’s departure with Ji Un, doesn’t mean goodbye. I love the idea, that Hyun and the gang, will continue to pop in on Dam Yi and Ji Un from time to time.

This way, Dam Yi will have a happy new life with Ji Un, without having to sacrifice the relationships that are important to her. And that definitely leaves me with a sense of warmth, and a smile on my face. 🥰

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Reasonably engaging, although Show is a little too long for its own good.

FINAL GRADE: B

TEASER:

MV:

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of The King’s Affection, is Twenty Five, Twenty One. I’ve taken an initial look, and I am happily shocked at how much I like it, right away! My E1 notes on Patreon can be found here.

Here’s an overview of what I’m covering on Patreon right now (Tier benefits are cumulative)!

Foundation Tier (US$1): Confession (bonus show!)

Early Access (US$5): +Our Beloved Summer

Early Access Plus (US$10): +The Red Sleeve

VIP (US$15): +Uncle

VVIP (US$20): +Reset [China]

Ultimate (US$25): +Twenty Five, Twenty One

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. ❤️

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kate
kate
1 month ago

Late to the party 😉 I actually watched this show a long time ago, right when it came out. I never finished it for the same reasons you mentioned. I just disengaged and was frustrated with the squandered potential in the last third of the show. Starting every new episode felt like work to me and after the “confession” scene I barely managed another half episode. Ugh. Thank you for your review, much appreciated your thoughts as always <3

M McCauley
M McCauley
2 months ago

They should have stayed with the English subtitles. It was ruined with the dubbing.

maj
maj
3 months ago

I love this site…so many times I start out loving a drama and then things start to disintegrate in ways I can’t articulate.. something just feels wrong…then TFVG explains it for me..I just couldn’t finish last 3 episodes.. just peeked at end..

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
3 months ago

Insightful review as usual, ! I think show would have worked better as a pure palace intrigue drama with our heroine’s journey as the main story line, and the secret high-stakes romance as a secondary plot. I thought that the cute romantic tropes were overdone. I also feel sad for Prince Lee Hwi. I hoped that he was still alive and was expecting him to make a dramatic entrance as a grown-up and set things right. I agree with you about So Eun and Ha Kyung. Their characters’ arcs could have been resolved better. We never found what happened to So Eun. At least Ha Kyung has a chance of a happy life.

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
3 months ago

Fangurl – I hung in there until the end and did so mostly for Park Eun Bin and
Nam Yoon Su who I think is pretty adorable. Your whiplash comment was on point.

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
3 months ago

Ah, what could have been 🥲 I loved the early episodes, but then show imploded for me. So, I’m grateful for your review kfangurl, because you painted in all those moments I subsequently missed, which I am more than comfortable with. I like the sound of how it ended. As for Choi Myung Bin, she is one fine young actress and very good in any show she is in. Here is also to Eun Bin continuing her ascendency in future shows 😊

Trent
3 months ago

I think you got this show pegged just about right.

Random thoughts:
This really is Park Eun-bin’s show. It’s her turn as Crown Prince and then the King that supplies show’s core and really carries it through to the finish line. She’s a talent, for sure. Most of my enjoyment of the show was from watching her soldier on in a near-impossible situation.

Rowoon is fine. He does what’s necessary to hold up his end? I don’t think he’s ever going to be my favorite leading man, but that’s okay. He acquits himself well, even if he doesn’t blow me away or anything.

Choi Myung-bin is a revelation; she was so good in the opening two episodes, and really set a tone and a level that show only intermittently reached in later episodes, in my opinion. She’s got a bright future, if there’s any justice, and I am beyond delighted to see that she is (so far, two episodes in) serving as the framing-device character for the utterly delightful Twenty Five, Twenty One.

The final episode did indeed have several scenes that were worth waiting for, in spite of the growing fatigue over the last few episodes. As cliché as it was, the final scene of the happy couple meeting friends on the beach was noteworthy first and foremost for just how radiantly happy Park Eun-bin looked, freed from the burden of being someone she never really wanted to be, dressed freely and openly in a traditionally feminine outfit. Her happiness was contagious, and it was a nice note to go out on.