Review: The Red Sleeve

THE SHORT VERDICT:

The biggest compliment I can give Show, is that it knows what it wants to be, and accomplishes its core purpose with finesse and aplomb.

Sure, there are some narrative decisions I didn’t prefer, but Show demonstrates such a profound understanding of its key characters, and teases out the finer points of each of these characters so very well, that I’m more than willing to look past any dissatisfaction I might have with these other details.

Lee Junho and Lee Se Young are wonderful in this, both individually and together. It’s no exaggeration to say that these two had my heart, unequivocally.

Beautiful, poignant and completely worth it.

THE LONG VERDICT:

Sometimes, love shows up in unexpected places, you guys.

I hadn’t been super impressed with episode 1 of this drama, as you might recall, but this show grew on me so steadily and so relentlessly, that I found myself completely sucked into this story and its characters, long before I hit the halfway point of my watch.

And now that I’ve gotten to the end, I feel so wistful at saying goodbye, that I could totally see myself watching this one again, just to revisit these characters. ❤️

What an impressive and surprising turnaround, wouldn’t you say?

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

To be honest, with this particular show, I find that it’s the background instrumental tracks that added to my viewing experience, more so than the OST itself.

The background instrumentals are pitch perfect, and applied so well, to deepen and elevate the watch experience. My favorite is Track 1, Duk Im, Love. My brain just identifies that track with this show, instantly. 🤩

If you’d prefer to listen to the OST album instead, while reading the review, here it is, as well.

Please enjoy. ❤️

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

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

1. Show might be a touch of a slow burn.

What I mean is, I personally found episode 1 more predictable and less engaging than I would have liked (details here), but by episode 2, Show had started to grow on me nicely. So, don’t give up if you don’t take to episode 1, is what I’m trying to say.

2. The ending leans bittersweet.

I know that this might feel rather spoilery, but really it’s not that spoilery, since it’s based on history. Also, trust me, it’s better to know this upfront, than not. This will enable you to manage your expectations, and thereafter, really appreciate what Show is serving up, rather than mourn what Show doesn’t serve up.

3. Some parts can be uncomfortable to watch.

What I mean is, Show doesn’t shy away from the power differential between our leads. Instead of glossing over it in the name of romance, Show faces it unflinchingly, and I actually found this to be very thought-provoking and worthwhile.

4. Show is selective in how it spends its screen time.

What this means, is that certain portions of our story feel a bit like highlight reels, and certain otherwise-important sounding events even take place off-screen. This is Show’s way of making the most of the screen time it has, by skimming over the bits that are less relevant to our core story, and zooming in on the parts that are. I say it’s worthwhile to just roll with it.

STUFF I LIKED

I’ve decided to take a leaf out of show’s playbook, and treat this review with a similar selective hand. 😁 Meaning to say, I’ll be zooming in on our key characters and their relationships, and spending most of my time there, while skimming more lightly over characters and other things, that are less central to our story.

General writing and handling

By and large, I really enjoyed Show’s general writing and handling.

Show does a great job of making our story world and our characters come alive, such that I feel like I’ve stepped into a time travel portal, and have arrived in Joseon, to be a fly on these palace walls.

In terms of the writing, even though I mentioned earlier, that there are some narrative decisions that I didn’t prefer (more on that later), there are also times when Show thrilled me with its careful forethought.

Here are just a small handful of examples.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E9. I’m so pleased with Show, for making the initial beat this episode, with the signal kites, an actual important plot point. It had felt a little random in the introduction, but Show turned right around, when it became the crux for how Deok Im (Lee Se Young) is able to save San (Lee Junho) from the treasonous plans of Gwangan Palace. I love that.

E9. Show had me on the edge of my seat the whole time during the battle scenes, even though I knew that San would make it out of this alive. And, when the the soldiers of Sueocheong arrive, and Show first unveils their presence to us, it legit gave me chills. It just feels very moving, to see all these soldiers, gathered and ready to protect San. I thought this was all very well done.

E11. This turned out to be quite the tense hour of drama! It was exhausting, but in a good way, because even after the episode is over, I feel like I’m still kinda on the edge of my seat – even though I know San will survive this somehow. That’s really good storytelling.

E14. I’ll talk more about this later, but I thought San’s building anger over the entire episode was very well plotted and very well reasoned out.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Junho as Yi San

It’s no secret around these parts, that I love-love-LOVE Junho as San.

When I hadn’t been too into Show’s first episode, it had been that glimpse of Junho as San, in the episode’s literal last seconds, that had drawn me back to episode 2. I just.. really liked that sense of steady smolder that we got from San, in those few moments.

I basically decided that, if Junho as San was going to be serving up this sort of moderate-to-intense level of smolder, I’d very possibly roll with this. 😉

HA. This proved to be so true, y’all.

I don’t know what it is about this show; the unabashed employment of the smoldery male lead, which, in theory, sounds a bit old-fashioned in terms of Hallyu trends (like, the intent smolder was the hallmark of 2001’s Beautiful Days, for example), does not land old-fashioned to my eyes, at all.

Maybe it’s just coz my eyes are so busy trying to process the hotness that is Junho‘s smoldery intensity 🤩 that my brain doesn’t have the wherewithal to think about drama norms and trends. 😂

Sometimes, even as Show served up important developments and reveals, in which I felt duly interested and invested, I have to confess that I was also mostly flailing at Junho on my screen.

It’s not just the smolder, to be clear. I was consistently blown away by his delivery of some of the most difficult scenes. My appreciation might absolutely be blown out of proportion, but.. how is he this good? 🤩🤩

And, in case I’m giving you the (well-warranted) impression that I was just flailing at Junho the whole time, I was also very much drawn into Show’s characterization of San. Such a thoughtful, careful, layered interpretation of San as a character, so wonderfully delivered by Junho.

Here are some of my personal highlights and reflections on San as a character, along with some observations on Junho’s delivery of some of the San’s key moments.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. The way we are properly introduced to adult Yi San, with him so intent on the tiger hunt, is just the sort of thing to set me up for hearts in my eyes. He’s so focused, decisive and deliberate, as he goes about hunting down that elusive tiger.

And, that look on his face, as his attendants put on his outer robe for him, is just so offhandedly smoldery, like, “I know I’m cool (and hot), and I don’t care.” Ha.

Although I’m not quite feeling the younger version of San (there’s just something about the young actor’s performance that doesn’t quite ring true for me), I appreciate the note of pathos that we get in adult San as a result, as he thinks back on that memory, of being rejected by his father. That definitely lends a layer of poignance to the character.

The other side of Yi San that I appreciated seeing this episode, is his cheeky side.

The amused smirk, as he realizes that the court lady prostrate before him, is none other than the audacious library maid who’d chased him out with a broom and thrown salt at him, is pretty great.

His desire to haze her for it, lands cheeky to me, rather than malicious, and I was suitably tickled at the various lengths he goes to, to avoid speaking out loud in front of Deok Im, so as to conceal his identity.

E5. I very much appreciate that Show explains so clearly, why there are people against San becoming King. After all, on the surface of things, he appears to be an ideal candidate. He’s a model student, and he’s serious, dedicated and passionate. What more could one ask for in a King, right?

But as Head Court Lady Jo (Park Ji Young) lays out for us, in her conversation with the Second State Councillor (Jo Hee Bong), the problem is that San looks a great deal like his father, Sado (Do Sang Woo), who had gone mad before his death, and left a trail of destruction and bloodshed behind him.

And, the prevailing fear, is that San will turn out like his father, and become mad. It is admittedly a horrific notion, to have a mad person in possession of absolute power, so I can see why San’s detractors are so anxious to depose him.

Of course, they have no idea whether San will actually go mad like his father, but given that this is a time when little is understood about mental health and genetics, I can understand why this fear is such a strong and deep-rooted one.

I appreciate this layer of context a great deal. It informs us so well, of the sort of environment in which San has been struggling to thrive, all these years. Despite his best efforts, there is nothing he can do to change the fact that his father had died a madman, and there is nothing he can do, to prove that the same won’t happen to him.

That adds such a depth of pathos, to San’s situation, doesn’t it?

This entire situation lends lashings of plaintiveness, to San’s growing feelings for Deok Im, I feel like. It’s coming into focus in my head, that in the midst of all these conflicting expectations of him, and the weight of his status and duty, his connection with Deok Im is the only one where he’s felt able to be himself, without the baggage that comes with his title of Crown Prince.

E5. Poor San, I found it hard to watch him get roughed up, yelled at and slapped by his grandfather the King (Lee Deok Hwa), and it’s even more poignant, to realize that this is basically an event that’s been patterned into his growing up years.

E6. The brokenness in San’s gaze is unmistakable. Clearly, he’s been deeply wounded by the way the King’s treated him, all these years.

I can imagine that a large part of that, has to do with the King’s unhinged outbursts, where he beats and torments San. It honestly makes me wonder at the King’s sanity, because, why would a sane man do this, to his own grandson, whom he loves?

E9. I’m pleased to see that San is fully aware that Deok Ro (Kang Hoon) isn’t quite properly his person. That gives me a measure of peace of mind, right away. This means that he won’t blindly accept anything that Deok Ro says, and that’s a huge relief in and of itself. And of course San is smart and sharp enough to see through Deok Ro. I should’ve had more faith in him.

E10. I feel bad for San, who is in a very difficult position. It’s hard to be a Crown Prince, honestly. The King wants you to be excellent, so that you’ll be worthy of the throne, but when you are actually excellent, like San is, the King also can’t help but also feel threatened by your excellence. It’s like a damned if you do, and damned if you don’t sort of deal.

And on top of all this, San’s got this other thing working against him – the fact that he’s his father’s son, and people can’t help but wonder if he’ll go made like his father did – that he can’t do anything to change. Poor San.

E11. San is so steadfast in his loyalty towards his grandfather. Even when Grandpa is raging in his dementia, and even when San’s own safety is in question – even when his very life is at stake! – he doesn’t once waver in his resolve to stay true to his grandfather. I find that really admirable and moving, honestly.

He’s literally willing to risk death, by putting himself in his grandfather’s hands, even though Grandpa isn’t quite in his right mind, and might put him to death, on a whim. It gives me chills, thinking about it.

The way San is swift to put himself between that red-hot iron in the King’s hands, and his own mother (Kang Mal Geum), is utterly moving as well. By the process of elimination, the King concludes that the offending dishes must have been served by Consort Hyebin, and is ready to strike her with that hot iron.

In fact, he actually does move to strike – and that iron is only stopped, by San’s bare hand.

Accck!! I found it so hard to watch San grab that iron rod, so worried for the safety of his mother, while the extreme heat from the rod sears into his flesh. 😭😭😭

I am so, so impressed with Junho’s delivery of this moment. I can absolutely believe that San is physically almost buckling from the pain, even as he struggles to say the words, that his mother is not the one who had presented the offending dish, and that he will accept the punishment instead. Guh. So painfully good. 😭😭

San is absolutely dogged in wanting to protect his mother, while continuing to honor his grandfather, and I’m thoroughly moved by this, even as my heart breaks for him, for having to go through this, through no fault of his own. 💔

Later in the episode, I have to admire San for speaking up before the King, in such an unexpected manner.

“I was wrong.” … “To leave you… alone… in the darkness. You are suffering from critical illness. You are no longer like you used to be. You are not well anymore. So far, everyone has paid court to you and ignored your illness. You… fought it alone painfully.

I should have looked after you… and protected you. However, I did not. Why did I not do what I had to do? Now that I look back, I have found out the answer. Because I bore a grudge against you. Due to a deep grudge, I did not want to do anything for you.

However, now I realize… how childish it was… to hold a grudge against you. It was an extravagance I could have… only because I was alive. You were a big tree… that protected me… all your life. Now, I have lost the tree, and my life is in danger.

For the first time, I wish I still had it, and miss it, so I am begging you now. Please trust me. Please protect me. As you have always done, please do so. Your Majesty.”

Augh. So much raw honesty, and so sincerely steadfast, at the same time. It’s so beautiful, really.

E12. Lee Deok Hwa’s and Junho’s performances in the throne room scene, are both nothing short of arresting.

Lee Deok Hwa is dramatic, theatrical, and rather unhinged; quite Shakespearean, as some of you have noted. He really commands the screen as if he’s commanding a theater stage. His delivery is unhurried, and there’s a certain rhythmic ebb and flow about it, that makes it quite mesmerizing.

As the King’s delirium becomes more clear, the horror, grief and heartbreak becomes increasingly clear on San’s face as well.

Guh. The depth of tortured emotion, bottled up for so many years, now spilling out in waves of desperate, raw grief, is as spellbinding as it is heartbreaking to witness. The way San ekes out the words, with shivering breaths, through his tears, is so heart-in-my-throat plaintive yet powerful, at the same time.

“I am not Father!” … “I am San. I am San, Grandfather. Look at me. Just for once, please look at me, not my father. I am San. I am San, Grandfather!”

And then, later, when the King asks, “Are you San?,” the way San answers brokenly, through his sobs, “Yes, Grandfather,” is so full of grief and relief, in one.

Really, really well done. I feel like I’ve just watched two masters spar with each other. I’ve said for a long time that Junho’s a very good actor, but this scene really elevated my impression of him. He possesses more depth and range than I’d imagined, and I’m suitably dazzled.

Again, I’m really taken with how steadfast San is, in his decision to honor his grandfather. Even in this moment, when the King’s dementia is in full force and he’s nowhere near lucid, San continues to plead with him to get up again, to make his final decision; that even if the King chooses to kill him, he’d rather obey, than watch Joseon fall into chaos because of the King’s incapacity to rule.

AUGH. San’s unrelenting faithfulness and loyalty, even if it means risking his own life, is so moving to me.

He just will not take the route of a revolt, even if the King isn’t lucid on his throne, and that’s so.. honorable of him, considering that other kings in history had staged revolts to gain the throne, for much less.

What a powerful scene, as the King dies in San’s arms, after giving him his last words both as King and grandfather. And, what a very poignant touch, to have San’s father’s spirit there, as the King tells him that he’s kept his promise, just before breathing his last.

What strikes me most about the scene, however, is San’s reaction to the King’s passing.

Holding his grandfather in his arms, San cries, and brokenly asks how he could leave like this; there’s resentment mixed with his grief, but also, yearning and anguish. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful, as San whispers, through his tears, “Grandfather, please come back. I am… too scared and frightened… to even breathe. Please come back. Come back. Grandfather.”

Oof. Such raw love and honesty, and such.. beautiful brokenness, too, in this moment. 💔 I am so glad that San takes this time to just hold his grandfather, in the wake of his passing. He doesn’t hurry to call in anyone; he just.. sits and holds him, and pours out his heart to him, and it’s so.. brokenly beautiful.

Later, as San approaches the throne, all alone, I’m struck all over again, by how steadfast and honest he is, in the face of his new kingship. His voiceover says it all:

“The King is responsible for everything. Until now, when things went wrong, I just had to prostrate here and blame you. The world was… that easy and simple.”

“Now my sky has crumbled and disappeared. I have become the new sky. It is breathtakingly… scary and fearful. I will never… hide or run away. From now on, everything… is my responsibility.”

I love that where another ruler might have delighted in their new power and authority, San regards it as a heavy responsibility that he is fearful of, but refuses to shy away from. He is so upright and steadfast (it’s the perfect word to describe him, and I can’t find another), and I love him for it.

E13. The scene where a drunken San comes back to his quarters, really hits me in the heart too. At first, it looks like he’s just being silly, painting random little lines, dots and swirls for Head Guard (Oh Dae Hwan), Court Lady Seo (Jang Hye Jin) and Deok Im.

But then, we see that he’s actually wiping away tears, in between painting these little trifles.

In the context of the fact that he’s just spent the day eliminating people who are his relatives, because they are deemed to be rebels, this is utterly heartbreaking. 😭 Poor San. He must be feeling so conflicted, and at odds with himself. He’s always been so righteous and upright, that it must disturb him greatly, that he’s taking away the lives of people who count as his family.

I thought that Junho did a really excellent job delivering this scene, because the changes in the nuances of San’s drunken laughter, occur so seamlessly. They are slight enough, that you don’t actually notice it start to happen. But, the change is also so clear, that you can’t miss how San’s laughter eventually looks and sounds strained, as he wipes away his tears.

Really quite masterful, I thought.

E14. One of the most noticeable things this episode, is how intense San is. From the beginning of the episode, where I first notice the hint of snarl about his lips when he talks, his intensity grows more and more apparent, till he’s literally filling up the screen with his royal fury.

I think it makes narrative sense, which I’ll talk about later, but first, I just wanted to say that it was really quite thrilling, from a fangirl perspective, to see Junho in this space.

This degree of glower and the smolder is a new look on him – at least, for me it is – and I get a thrill from seeing this part of his range, which Show has only given glimpses of, so far. Plus, there’s something inexplicably sexy about the smolder, I have to admit. Sometimes it messes with my brain a little bit, which I’ll talk about later as well.

For now, just know that I pretty much defaulted to stars in my eyes every time Junho filled my screen with intense smolder, this episode. 🤩😍

E14. One of the major things that feeds into San’s anger and frustration this episode, is the thing with Deok Ro.

When we begin the episode, we learn from Head Guard’s conversation with Deok Ro, that he’s bribed and manipulated the workers from the observation facility, and that San has chosen not to punish him – but is, at heart, still angry with him.

We know that this has been brewing for quite a while now, so it makes narrative sense, that it would all come to a boil, this episode.

I gotta say, I do love the way the confrontation scene is delivered. Junho delivers San’s fire against Deok Ro with such a wide range of expression, from a loud shout, to a growl-whisper, as he bites out his words. I find myself quite mesmerized by it.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Se Young as Deok Im

Lee Se Young does a fantastic job of inhabiting the character of Deok Im.

Admittedly, when the more grown up version of Deok Im is first introduced at the end of episode 1, I hadn’t taken to her right away.

I’d misunderstood Show’s intention, basically. I’d thought that Show was trying to make Deok Im cute, by getting her to run everywhere and be kind of clumsy, when in actual fact, as it turns out, Show was gunning more for funny – which worked for me a whole lot better.

Lee Se Young is so, so very good as Deok Im, honestly.

When I look back on the entire show, and consider the extremely wide range of emotion that she goes through over the course of our story, I have to give props to Lee Se Young for inhabiting Deok Im in a manner that feels so effortless and real.

From Deok Im’s younger days, to her more mature seasons, and from her happier, more mischievous times, to her most grieved and fragile, Lee Se Young is pitch perfect through it all.

It’s really very impressive, particularly because, as a court lady, and then later, as a concubine, Deok Im necessarily has to keep her reactions tamped down a lot of the time. Yet, Lee Se Young always makes sure to give us such sure glimpses into Deok Im’s inner emotions, that I never felt disconnected from her.

Really, really well done.

Here are a few Deok Im highlights, for a start. I will talk more about her in the OTP section.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. Lee Se Young’s got good comic timing, and I found myself giggling at the water scene, even though there was nothing particularly inventive about it. The execution just worked, for me.

E2. I like the detail, that Deok Im likes it when she gets to make a choice; that having control over various things in her life, brings her joy.

This cognizance of hers, that she values personal agency, is a nice foundation on which to build her character. And perhaps because Show lays this out early, it feels like all the other, more lighthearted stuff layered on top of it, has a solid foundation of sorts, to stand on.

E5. What a rude awakening it is for Deok Im, to realize that no one really cares how she feels about San; only San’s feelings are deemed important, because he is the Crown Prince, and she, a mere Court Lady.

E5. I love Deok Im’s reaction to the conversation between Consort Hyebin and San, which Hyebin carefully orchestrates for Deok Im’s ears.

I love that she focuses on how they ruined the only day that’s actually hers, and made her feel worthless, not on the fact that Princess Hyebin’s nipping any romantic possibilities between her and San in the bud. I can’t help but love Deok Im’s sense of self. 🤩

E6. I actually really like that Deok Im’s answers to the Queen’s (Jang Hee Jin) riddles, turn out to be interesting and thought-provoking, despite being different from the standard “correct” answers.

Not only is the Queen astute to notice Deok Im’s keen mind and refreshing view of the world, she’s also quick to tap on Deok Im’s smarts, by striking that bargain with her. Plus, Deok Im’s answer, that the Crown Prince views the Queen as a mirror, is such a wise one.

E7. This episode, there are several times when Deok Im emphasizes her need and desire for personal agency. Like when Orabeoni (Yang Byeong Yeol) says that it’s sad that she has to live as a court lady, and she defends herself, saying that she loves her work and is good at it.

Also, when Head Court Lady Jo asks Deok Im if she’d like to be the Crown Prince’s concubine, Deok Im declines, saying that she would like to continue to live as a court lady.

E11. This episode, we finally get some solid insight into why Deok Im does not wish to be a royal concubine, even though she loves San.

She can see the pain and indignity of having to support a royal harem sort of arrangement, and would rather not subject herself to that heartache. I can understand that. I mean, it’s completely understandable that she wouldn’t want to share the man she loves, with a hundred other women.

Deok Im’s perspective, of caring for herself first, and protecting herself first, even though her heart might be invested in San, is really interesting to see. This brand of self-love and self-awareness is quite aspirational, I feel like.

E11. I’m so relieved that Deok Im manages to convince the Queen to speak on San’s behalf, by presenting the potential benefits from the Queen’s point of view. Such quick, shrewd thinking, on Deok Im’s part!! I love it.

E12. I can’t help but notice that the way Deok Im approaches the King, is somewhat similar to the way San approaches him, in that, she continues to trust in the King’s ability to function, and remember.

She doesn’t tell him where the Document of Truth is, even though she’s deciphered the clues that point to its hiding place. Instead, she tells him that he already knows it, and asks him to remember – which he does. I love that quality of steadfast faith in her.

[END SPOILER]

San and Deok Im together

Although this loveline between our OTP leans bittersweet, I have to say, I love – deeply! – how careful Show is, in teasing out this relationship, and all the various shades and nuances in San’s and Deok Im’s developing interactions.

Writer-nim clearly put a great deal of thought into why San &/or Deok Im would behave in a certain way, at any given point in time, and part of my enjoyment of this loveline, was taking the moments that Show served up, and working to understand what exactly is going on, in San’s mind and heart, and likewise, what exactly is going on, in Deok Im’s heart and mind as well.

Even the things that might not seem intuitively “normal” make so much sense, when put into their larger contexts.

On another note, Junho and Lee Se Young share a chemistry that is very, very believable. From the initial sparky bickering, to the angst of forbidden, burgeoning feelings and all the pent-up desire that goes with, to the momentous expressions of love, I believed it all, and loved it all.

Kudos to writer-nim and to both actors; together, they made San and Deok Im’s love story come alive, and capture my heart, and I am utterly verklempt. ❤️

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. A childhood connection between the OTP is basically par for the course in a story like this, so I did roll my eyes slightly, on principle. However, the execution of this was.. not bad, I felt. It did feel clichéd and predictable, but I liked the idea that Deok Im turned out to be a forthright, sensible yet sensitive source of support for San, at a vulnerable moment in his life.

In particular, I liked Deok Im’s reframing of Crown Princess Young’s (Nam Gi Ae) death for San, because it causes his greatest regret, to become his source of comfort. Rather than thinking that the Crown Princess died never knowing how he feels, he now thinks of it as her finally knowing how he feels, because the dead know everything.

E2. I feel inexplicably tickled by the whole situation between San and Deok Im, as she interacts with him, having no idea that he is the Crown Prince. His disgruntled expressions and shocked sputter make me laugh, and I find myself lapping up all the veiled identity hijinks with glee.

San pretending to be Deok Ro in front of Deok Im amuses me more than it should, in the sense that the way it’s played isn’t all that surprising, and yet, I find myself giggling through most of it, like I’m seeing this sort of stuff for the first time. It’s all in the delivery and execution, and I say, very well played, Show.

I’m also suitably amused the running gag of Deok Im trying to write that apology letter, only to have San – as himself – continually rejecting every iteration of it that she serves up. This is the sort of thing that gets funnier as it gets dragged out, and by the time Deok Im’s barely containing her frustration, even as she kneels before the Crown Prince, I’m thoroughly amused.

I like that in the midst of the funny, Show takes time to have Deok Im actually help San with finding that map, and tell him that she thinks he’s a great person. That moment feels guileless and genuine, and I can see how this affects San.

This is likely a rare (perhaps the only?) occasion when someone tells him something positive about himself in a frank and unguarded manner, without taking his identity as the Crown Prince into account. I can see why that would be touching and important to him.

E3. I find it interesting that San lingers in the library on his own, in the middle of the night, thinking of Deok Im. It feels a little soon, to my eyes, but.. y’know, I’m not going to complain about this, because he’s spent a fair amount of time interacting with her, and lots of drama characters have fallen in love on much less. 😁

What I’m most interested in, is our closing scene where Deok Im finally sees the Crown Prince’s face, and realizes that the “lecturer” whom she’s been interacting with, is actually the Crown Prince himself.

The way he tries to cover his face with the fan, and try to get out of interacting with her as himself; the way Deok Im spies his reflection in the water; the way his eyes meet hers in the reflection, and he realizes that the jig is up.

Ahhh! This is such a great little beat. I love it.

E4. On San’s side of things, I feel like he’s more preoccupied by thoughts of Deok Im than he’d like to admit, and that’s likely one of the big reasons that he tells her not to appear in front of him again. Something along the lines of it being unseemly for him to be on such familiar terms with a court lady, I think.

Of course, there’s also the thing where I do think that San’s pride is hurt, by Deok Im’s pronouncement that he needs to learn how to ask forgiveness from his subjects.

With his excellent track record with all his royal tutors, and everyone always praising him for being such a model student, it must be a smack in the face to be told – by a court maid apprentice no less – that he’s lacking as a leader, and has greatly disappointed her.

I’m nicely amused by the fact that after the all-important (albeit accidental) Identity Reveal, Deok Im’s first reaction, is to feel hurt and upset that San had lied to her.

In fact, that’s pretty much all she feels, for quite a while, and I find it rather endearing, that her thoughts never once go to, “Wow, I was rubbing shoulders with the Crown Prince?!?”

In fact, Deok Im seems pretty desperate to get out of serving the Crown Prince, which feels like it’s coming from a personal place, over and on top of San’s order, for her to stay out of his sight henceforth.

On that note, I have to say that the scene in the library, where Deok Im talks smack about the Crown Prince, only to freeze in shock and then quickly change her tune, when she comes face to face with San, tickled me quite a bit.

I put that down to Lee Se Young’s comic timing, and her facial expressions, which are pretty great. Deok Im’s stunned expression, when she realizes that the Crown Prince has just heard her talk bad about him behind his back, is gold. 😂

It gets even funnier, when San pretends to leave the library, closing the door “behind” him, and that gives us yet another shocked, stuttering reaction from Deok Im, who realizes that she’s been caught talking smack about the Crown Prince, a second time in the span of, like, 5 minutes. Ha. 😂

Of course it would be Deok Im’s cluelessness, that leads her to getting selected as the Crown Prince’s personal handmaid, all because she didn’t know to pretend to be terrible at grinding the inkstone. Pfft.

While it’s amusing that Deok Im fumbles as much as she does on her first day on the job, I can’t help but get a bit of a thrill, from the fact that San admits, almost absentmindedly, that he’s been distracted by her presence, for the entire day.

Ahhh. All his tough words are just that then; tough words. San’s way more aware of Deok Im than he’d like to be, and this pleases me.

And what about that scene where Deok Im leans to look out the window at the rain, and San just.. can’t keep his eyes off her? That gaze definitely smacks of more than a passing interest. And, as you know, I do tend to spazz a little, every time San turns on the smolder – and there was definitely a bit of smolder in that gaze. 🤩

E4. We see that San is pretty sharp, in the way he interacts with his aunt, Princess Hwawan (Seo Hyo Rim). He doesn’t back down easily, and takes every opportunity to save Deok Im from his aunt’s clutches.

Of course, there’s also Deok Im, who manages to be of help to San, even while she’s still in the hot seat, in the way that she prompts him how to answer the King’s question, of what he should do with the rice cake, since the Queen’s intentions are at odds with Princess Hwawan’s expressed concerns.

I’m glad that this happening works to mend the rift between San and Deok Im, with him not only telling her that it wasn’t her fault, but also thanking her for helping him out, and even praising her for being meticulous – with a gentle smile.

Dang. If I were Deok Im, any resolve I’d had, to be angry with San, would melt in that moment, for sure. 😅

E4. YAY that San intervenes to stop Deok Ro’s men from killing Deok Im! I know this is a trope, in the sense that the hero typically saves the damsel in distress, but Show’s done a solid job of creating a situation where Deok Im would find herself in danger, and so it’s reasonable to expect that San would step in.

The intensity in his gaze; that purposefulness about every fiber of his being; I can’t help but have stars in my eyes, a little bit. 🤩

E5. I’m very pleasantly surprised by how honest San is, about his feelings, not only to himself, but to Deok Im too.

Certainly, other people are sitting up and taking notice too, because of how San goes to great lengths to protect Deok Im, like he does at the gibang house, when she’s caught tailing him. Deok Ro, for one, is quick to check in with Deok Im, to try to find out what San’s feelings are, towards her.

I kinda love how worked up San gets, when he realizes that Deok Im’s following his mother’s orders, and that’s why she’s trailing him. His righteous indignation, that he’d assumed her loyalties were to him and not someone else, smacks of a sense of betrayal.

What strikes me as interesting, is that this sense of betrayal isn’t the straightforward betrayal felt by a master who’s been betrayed by a servant whom he’d assumed to be loyal. This betrayal feels much more personal, and vibes like that of a jealous lover, who’s just now realizing that the affections he’d assumed were his, were actually for someone else.

Kudos to Junho for his portrayal, because I do feel like that’s the only thing that’s giving this scene the vibe of the betrayal felt by a jilted lover. Everything on the page reads like a straightforward sense of betrayal felt by a master.

And yet, in experiencing the scene, San’s feelings come across as deep, raw and very, very personal.

Tee hee, that Deok Im’s reply is so effusive and full of praise, that San gives her the suspicious side eye, and asks if she’s just sucking up to him. Pfft.

Even though she says she’s completely sincere, her answers definitely strike me as being more theatrical and dramatic than her true feelings warrant. 😆

I’m suitably amused, that San’s gift of books, which he sincerely thinks of as a reward, is received by Deok Im as punishment. HA. Just goes to show how well San knows a woman’s  – or at least, this woman’s – heart, eh?

What I love most about the scene, is how San is so spontaneously frank about how he feels about the time he and Deok Im had shared in the library.

Clearly, he hadn’t been planning to talk about it, but when it comes up in such a tangential manner, he just.. articulates it so naturally, without any visible hesitation.

“A few moments ago, even when I said I could have you killed you were not fearful. Now I know why. To you, I am still the gyeomsaseo from the past.

I still wonder why I pretended to be a gyeomsaseo. At first, I saw no need to correct you. But as time passed, I lost the will to tell you. That’s because… the moments we shared in the library were special to me.

The moments we were together there, I thought you were captivated by me. But I’m not sure anymore. Did I captivate you? Were you… really captivated by me? Or was it…. that I was captivated by you?”

Swoon.

I can see why Deok Im would be dumbfounded, to the extent that she’d drop the books. To my eyes, San actually appears disappointed that he doesn’t get any indication from her, of her feelings, and I think that’s why he leaves her so abruptly, and tells her to make her own way back to the palace.

I do love that even though San leaves Deok Im in such a rather unceremonious manner, we find out later in the episode, that he actually heads straight to his mother’s residence, to ask her not to call on Deok Im again.

Again, Kudos to Junho, because the way this scene is played, it does feel like he’s being protective of her person, rather than of his rights as her master.

Another scene that I loved, is the one where San spots Deok Im in her ceremonial attire for the Court Ladies’ coming-of-age ceremony (which is basically marriage attire, because the coming-of-age ceremony is treated as a wedding of sorts, for them), and, alarmed that Deok Im’s gained the favor of the King, and therefore getting married to him, legit breaks into a run. A run!

How undignified, for a Crown Prince to break into a run, and for a court lady, no less. It’s no wonder his attendants raise their eyebrows more than a little, at the break in decorum.

BUT, how swoony, that San would throw decorum to the wind, when he’s gripped by the thought that Deok Im might be getting married to someone else (his grandfather, gasp!). The way he grabs her arm and asks her so urgently, why she’s in wedding attire, is just very intense and uncalculated, and therefore, very melty. 😍

E5. The scene where Deok Im reads to San through the closed doors is sweet and comforting in itself, but the way this scene continues, after the King leaves, is a whole other level of raw and vulnerable.

I love how Deok Im asks if San is ok, and how she manages to show that her primary concern is his wellbeing, rather than the orders that she receives.

The way San answers her through that door, with tortured breaths, a tightness in his voice, and tears still making their way down his face, is so gutting. Kudos to Junho all over again, because I was gripped by San’s every breath and every word, in this scene.

It’s bittersweet to see how honest San is, with Deok Im, in this very vulnerable moment, and how understanding Deok Im is, without San having to say very much.

I love that in Deok Im’s question, “Do you bear it because you have no other choice?,” there is an unspoken assumption that San has chosen to bear this for a reason.

And I love San’s ardent, heartbreaking answer:

“I hold back to attain my aims, and I bear it to get what I want. I know what pain is. And I know how many others are also suffering. I am the Crown Prince of this land.

One day I will have the strength. With that strength… there are so many who I can help. I have so many plans in store for the future. Do you know? As for you… just stay by my side. That’ll be enough.”

He’s so tortured, and he continues to allow himself to stay in this situation where he’ll continue to be tortured, for a greater good and higher purpose. 😭💔 How moving, and how worthy, of a future King.

How utterly bold of Deok Im to open that door, in defiance of the King’s orders, in order to pledge her allegiance to San:

“There is something I must tell you, my lord. It is what is in my heart of hearts. Until the succession day to the throne, My lord may rest assured that I will be a loyal assistant and protector. I believe my lord will achieve his ends.”

“I am merely a court lady, but I am your servant. I will remain by your side until the very end as your loyal servant. Until the day life leaves me for you, my lord, I shall assist and protect you.”

Augh. This is many times deeper and more heartfelt than the first expression of allegiance we hear from Deok Im at the top of the episode. This time, her heart is all in, and it’s clear to see, from her gaze.

How significant, that as she makes her bow to seal her promise, one last tear escapes from San’s eyes. This gesture by Deok Im is clearly reaching him at his core, and, in a world where it feels like he needs to question the loyalties of so many people around him, this feels profoundly precious.

E6. I really, really like how Show is teasing out the growing connection between San and Deok Im. The growing mutual trust between them, and the growing mutual appreciation, is just really nice to see.

Like the way Deok Im applies herself to helping the Crown Prince have his confinement orders lifted, and the way San entrusts her with this task, even though, logically speaking, she is but a low-ranking Court Lady without power or influence.

And she does it! Huzzah!! She really is brighter and more talented than most people realize.

I do love that even though San believes Deok Im’s audience with the Queen to be a bust, he still thanks her for her help.

And, do I detect a measure of pleasure, as San says the words, “because you are my person”?? Eee!!

The way he smiles, as he hears the stammering discombobulation in her voice, at his pronouncement that she’s his person, is discombobulating to me.

Excuse me while I squee. Again. Eeee!! I just love that he’s amused by her, y’know?

E6. It’s great to see San back in action, and back in his blue dragon robes, after having been in confinement for so long.

That moment when he walks out of his quarters, and his eyes search for Deok Im, says a lot. He might have all of his servants’ full attention, as they congratulate him, but he just wants to know that Deok Im is there.

And when she does appear, and their eyes meet, that spark of connection is unmistakable, and quite thrilling to witness. His gaze speaks of contentment and satisfaction, while hers speaks of pure joy. He’s just happy to see her, and she’s just happy that he’s ok, and out of confinement. I love it.

How cute, though, that it’s San who’s left in a state of bemused bluster, as Deok Im soon informs him that the Queen would like to retain Deok Im for a little longer. Aw. He wants to see more of her right away, but he can’t have his wish. Poor San.

How cute, that he mutters to himself that he hopes the Queen doesn’t keep Deok Im permanently. I guess he must have a sense of how valuable Deok Im’s presence is, if he even entertains that thought?

E6. Pfft. Of COURSE San sees Deok Ro grabbing Deok Im’s shoulders and gets the wrong idea, and then terrorizes his servants by being in a bad, bad mood because he’s stewing in jealousy, ha.

And of COURSE the skittish maids pounce on Deok Im and get her to finish drawing San’s bath, because they know that she is most able to navigate his moods. And of COURSE that leads to Deok Im coming upon San, bare-bodied and glistening, sitting in that bath. Ahhhh!!! The tension in the air is killing me.

I love how he recognizes her voice, with her single uttered syllable, in response to his order to work quickly and leave.

I love his shocked, discombobulated expression, as he processes the fact that, 1, she’s right there in front of him, and 2, he’s only half clothed. Hee. It’s SO CUTE, that he’d ask her to turn around, so that he can put his robe back on. Is our Crown Prince feeling a little shy? It’s adorable. 😍

I like how San tries to act normal, but quickly gives in to the burning desire to question Deok Im about her close encounter with Deok Ro. Oh ho! This is definitely jealousy that I’m seeing here! I love how Deok Im answers so confidently, with quiet fire, that Deok Ro’s been harassing the court ladies, and San should reprimand him instead of questioning a helpless palace maid. Ooh. I love her.

Ah, San is so full of bluster, as he blurts, “I don’t care about the other court ladies. The only one I care about… is… my person.”

So much awkward hyperawareness, in this moment. 🤩

And then there’s how San gets up to help Deok Im with the bucket of water, and literally throws Deok Im off-balance, by the power of his glistening abs. HAHA. 😂 I love it. It’s hilarious, and I’m lapping this up with the goofiest grin on my face; my inner teenager is absolutely delighted, I tell ya.

And then, as San rises to his feet, his hand on Deok Im’s waist, and just looks at her, the entire moment feels suspended in time, while they both struggle to regulate their breathlessness. Guh. All that tension feels so thick, I feel like I can hardly breathe too.

E7. For now, Show’s sucked me into its world, where San is grappling with his feelings for Deok Im, and Deok Im also appears to be grappling with her feelings for San, and it’s delicious to witness.

Mostly, I’m taken with San’s hyperawareness of Deok Im, San trying to stay calm and not show that hyperawareness, San delighting in any indication that Deok Im might like him too, and it’s just pretty darn great, all around.

I have absolutely no complaints at all, that Show serves up the bath scene again at the top of the episode. All the better to spazz over again, amiright? 🤩

I’m slightly chagrined, but nicely amused, that Court Lady Seo’s arrival throws both San and Deok Im into a fit of skittishness.

I am particularly amused that at the end of it all, it seems that San’s more disconcerted and unsettled than Deok Im. Muahaha.

After all, Deok Im has the presence of mind to look for a change of clothes, while San is completely confused by the sight of her hurriedly rummaging through the cupboard.

I do like the little detail, that San is gentlemanly and decorous enough to avert his gaze, the minute he realizes that Deok Im’s about to start getting changed.

Aside from San’s reluctance to see Deok Im leave, and his perplexed gaze around that, it’s also nice to see Deok Im take a blushy moment to herself, trying to banish the vision of San’s wet, glistening, chiseled abs from her mind’s eye.

Ahahaha. I can see why it’s so hard not to think about it, Deok Im! 😂

Previously, even when San’s thoughts had been preoccupied with Deok Im, he’d been perfectly able to function at his studies and other official matters, so it’s very telling, that this time, he’s not only spacing out during his lessons, but is also unable to function, even when he snaps out of his reverie.

Those feelings are definitely growing very well, if San’s reaction is anything to go by!

I found it very amusing indeed, to see how pleased San is, to overhear Deok Im tell her friends, that she adores him. The way he runs out on his own, so that he can delight in this new piece of knowledge, is really cute.

Too bad his belief comes crashing down later in the episode, when Head Guardsman fills San in, on the rest of Deok Im’s spiel, which effectively neutralizes her entire “confession.” Aw. San’s disappointment is palpable through my screen.

In the meantime, though, we do get to see multiple little indications of San’s growing attachment to Deok Im.

The way he opens up to her and tells her something personal related to his childhood memories of his father; the way he shows her the blooming flowers and asks her what she thinks it means; the way he shows such deep concern, when Court Lady Seo fibs that Deok Im’s not feeling well.

Also, how about the way San reaches to touch Deok Im’s forehead, when she plays along with Court Lady Seo’s fib, and says that she’s caught a cold. Eee! The gentle manner in which he touches her forehead, and the intent way in which he looks at her, it’s all quite swoony. 😍

The very conscious, deliberate manner in which Deok Im quashes her feelings for San, and puts away any potential for a relationship with him other than that between master and servant, is quite interesting.

The point, I think, is that Deok Im wants to have the right to choose, and have that choice be respected. And, for reasons that we aren’t quite clear about right now, her choice is not to pursue these feelings between her and San.

She makes that very clear, when San tries to offer her the orange that he’d cutely hidden in his sleeve for her, asking San to allow her to decline.

It honestly feels like there are feelings everywhere, and these human wills are trying so hard to control them, but it’s not clear to me, whether these feelings are actually being brought under control.

I mean, when San tells Deok Im that he’s in his favorite place, with the person whom he likes, he looks so intensely smoldery, that I feel like I’d waver in my decision, if I were in Deok Im’s shoes. 😅

Poor San, though. He looks so frustrated, as he mutters, “Are we truly talking about the orange?”

E7. I’m glad that Deok Im’s unexpectedly reunited with her brother, and their reunion is suitably poignant, but the minute Show introduces Orabeoni, I’d had a feeling that San was going to mistake Orabeoni for Deok Im’s suitor, which is exactly what happens at the end of our episode, ha.

I can’t help but feel mesmerized by San’s intensity in the library, as he confronts Deok Im and questions her about whether her everything belongs to him.

On the one hand, the fact that he’s this disturbed by the sight of her with Orabeoni, whom he assumes to be Deok Im’s suitor, tells me that his feelings for Deok Im are very strong.

On the other hand, his assumption that as his court lady, everything of Deok Im’s should belong to him, is a dictatorial, oppressive stance, that feels jarring compared to his sweetly burgeoning feelings for her.

Deok Im’s reiteration of her right to personal agency, even in the face of San’s rather intimidating stance, is really quite admirable, particularly for the times.

“Even a court lady has her own will and heart even though they may seem trivial to others. Even though I belong to you, my everything does not belong to you.”

The way San then grabs Deok Im by the neck, is quite alarming, honestly. This is a different side to San, that I may have conveniently forgotten exists, with all the sweet intensity that we’ve been seeing from him, of late.

E8. We start the episode where we left off last episode, with San holding Deok Im’s neck in his grasp, and I’m sobered to realize that everything that he says is true. Deok Im’s life and death does lie in his hands.

Even though Deok Im values and aspires to personal agency, there is a definite limit to the areas in which she can exercise that agency, and in this world, in this context – particularly given what happens this episode – this feels like a solemn reminder of the system in which Deok Im lives.

While it may be startling to us, to see our swoony male lead deliver such a dark warning to the woman that he loves, I realize that San’s not wrong, in his statement.

I do wish that San had found out that the object of his jealousy, isn’t Deok Im’s lover, but her long-lost brother, but.. I suppose that reveal will have to come another day. We do get another key realization between our OTP this episode, though, so I’m quite happy to trade one for the other, for now.

E8. That was a close call for Deok Im, with the cranky King not immediately remembering that he’d ever given the book, and ordering that her heel tendons be cut, and that she be thrown out of the palace. Geez. That’s horrible.

It’s no wonder San hadn’t wanted Deok Im to see the King, and had instead requested for Deok Im’s exile.

He was probably afraid for her life, if she were to see the King, particularly with the King suffering from dementia. I’m sure he didn’t actually want to send her away, but with her life in danger, the lesser evil, was to save her, by sending her away. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for San, too.

It says so much, that when the King’s made his pronouncement of Deok Im’s punishment, San actually gets down on his knees, to plead with the King to give Deok Im more time. That literally saves Deok Im’s life.

And, it’s a huge deal, for the Crown Prince to plead on his knees for anything, let alone a court maid. That should tell Deok Im all she needs to know, about San’s heart to save her, rather than to punish her.

I’m glad that Deok Im realizes this, and that she prepares to thank San, even practicing what she’ll say – which is when San overhears and answers her. Aw. I like it when these two get to interact alone, in that secret garden, away from prying eyes and ears.

I’m pleased that Deok Im tells San why she’d been upset, and that she’s grateful that he saved her.

And, I kinda love how San leads Deok Im to the realization that the boy who had paid his respects to Consort Yeong, along with her, had been none other than San himself.

“Do you remember… the name of the boy?”

“His name was… San.”

“My name… is San.”

Ahhh. For some reason, I find this exchange so satisfying. I love that he leads her through her memories, and I love that he tells her his name.

After all, this is a very personal thing, and if I’m not mistaken, royals’ names are not to be uttered by their subjects, and therefore are not known by their subjects. I’m not super sure if this is true of all royals but this is certainly true of the King, and I am guessing, therefore also the Crown Prince.

Regardless, it feels like a momentous thing, that San would tell Deok Im his name like this.

Ahhh. The way San takes her in his arms, and grasps her shoulders tightly, makes me feel like he’s found a treasure that he wants to hold onto with all his might.

That is swoony. 😍 Deok Im hugging him back is a big deal too, since she’s been consistently keeping him at arm’s length, even though she knows that he likes her.

This hug feels primarily driven by the gladness, surprise and relief, that they’ve found that childhood connection that they’d shared. But from San’s side, at least, I can feel a great deal of deeper, stronger emotion that’s running undercurrent.

I love me some smoldery, intent San. I can’t help myself. 🤩

E9. I’m not surprised that Deok Im pulls back from that embrace that we ended the last episode on. After all, she’s decided that there cannot be any romantic developments between her and San.

The fact that she’d hugged him back, for that one glorious, precious moment, was purely an instinctive reaction to the realization that he had been the boy who had gone with her to pay his respects to Princess Young.

Therefore, it makes sense to me, that she would pull back, and be all cheerful, nothing-happened-what-are-you-talking-about decorum, as soon as she came to her senses.

I feel bad for San, but his disgruntled, unhappy expression is super cute, and his grumpy reaction to her pledge to protect him, amuses me. It’s just that much more entertaining, knowing exactly why San is grumpy, ha.

I do appreciate what San says, about how he’d missed Deok Im, and longed for her, after they’d parted ways all those years ago.

It sounds a lot less like a forced childhood connection, when he puts it into context. For a young Crown Prince with the weight of the world on his shoulders, she had been a source of solace, comfort and encouragement, without judgment for his station as Crown Prince.

That must have been very precious to him, and so, I can believe that he would long to see her again, because of it. I like how Show paints that in for us, because this is much more believable and compelling, than, say, some random run-in on a bridge when they were kids, and made eye contact, like some other shows might serve up.

E9. Ok, so from the moment Court Lady Seo instructs Deok Im to warm the bedding for the Crown Prince because the floor heating’s broken, it’s super easy to see where Show’s going to go with this. Because, of course Deok Im’s going to fall asleep, since she’s so tired. And of course San is going to come upon her, asleep in his royal bed.

BUT, I lapped it all up anyway. I appreciate that Show does a solid job of laying the groundwork, so that it makes narrative sense for Deok Im to be tired, and for the heating to be broken. Therefore, even though it leans predictable, it still feels organic, and that’s important.

I love, love, LOVE the way San looks at her, when he comes upon her sleeping in his bed.

I love that all the tension that San had been feeling, over the petition about the disappearing children, and also, over Deok Ro’s continuing disturbingly heartless misjudgments, just melts away, at the sight of Deok Im.

The way he puts aside the papers in his hand, to just sit by her side; the way he pretend-touches her face, so that he won’t wake her; the way his gaze turns so tender; the way he smiles that quick, gratified little smile. AUGH. I love it, so much. Melt. Meltmeltmelt.

How very sweet, that San actually takes himself out of the room, and then instructs that the room be strictly guarded, just so that Deok Im can have a good rest. Aw.

E9. It was hard to watch Wol Hye and her fellow assassin court ladies prepare for the revolt, but I was so, SO glad that Deok Im’s quick to piece things together when they find the soaked gunpowder sacks, and uses her new knowledge of signal kites, to let San know. Ahhhh!! I loved this detail, so much.

Plus, it’s quite moving, honestly, the way she and Court Lady Seo start running back to the temporary palace, even though it’s a very long journey. It’s a 4-hour journey on foot, so I’m guessing that she must have sprinted for at least 2 hours, in her desperation to warn San.

I love that San’s so sharp, that he would immediately consider the possibility of the enemies being from within, than only from without. That is so key to his defense strategy, and I just.. LOVE that both San and Deok Im are so smart! 🤩

It is a little tropey, yes, that every tumble that San takes while fighting the assassins, is mirrored by a tumble that Deok Im experiences, while running back to the palace.

But, I do like the symbolism of it all; that they are each fighting through this, as much as the other; that they are both in this together, and are equally invested, and are facing obstacles and taking setbacks equally. That sense of equality and togetherness, is definitely worth a bit of tropeyness, I think.

Last but absolutely not least, I love the final scene, of San’s reunion with Deok Im, so much.

The way he spots her from a distance, as she runs towards the palace, and recognizes her immediately; the way he runs to her, even though this is definitely not within royal decorum to run, and especially not towards a court maid.

The way he immediately takes her into his arms, and kneels to the ground in one fluid motion, as Deok Im collapses from sheer exhaustion; the way he instinctively cradles her head with his hand, even as he holds her. Augh. My knees. They’re toast.

And then there’s the way he looks at her, completely moved, as he tearfully tells her that he did see the signal kite, and that he’d known immediately that it was her. And also, the way he hushes her and tells her to just rest, right then and there, in his arms.

As Deok Im falls asleep from the exhaustion and relief of it all, there is so much tenderness and tearful emotion in his face and in his voice, as San cradles Deok Im in his arms, and whispers:

“When I saw that kite, I knew that it was you. It could only be you. When I thought that I could die, your face came to mind. I prayed to the heavens for one more chance… to see… your face… Deok Im-ah.”

And how beautiful, that as he sits there and allows the tears to fall, a single tear falls from his face, to trail down Deok Im’s cheek. Ahhh. The poetry of it all, is so, so lovely. ❤️

E10. San’s personal context makes his connection with Deok Im all the more precious, because this is the one channel of breathing space that he’s found.

I love that scene in the library, where Deok Im dreams of San, and reaches out to touch him in her dreamscape, only to wake up to realize that he’s not there, and that she misses him.

The tear that she sheds, feels so organically poignant, and it’s all the more meaningful, when we realize later, that San had seen it all.

It’s just like San to pretend that he hadn’t seen it, but still test Deok Im on the tears on her cheek, and it’s also just like Deok Im, to pass off her tears as a side effect of a yawn, coz she’d been dozing off on the job.

These two. They make me chuckle, with their efforts to act like everything’s fine and normal, and yet, it’s so clear to see, that there is a lot more going on underneath the surface.

I actually really like the dynamic of San getting more overtly smoldery around Deok Im, even as she tries to speak lightly. Like when she teases San that he sounds as if he’d do anything for her, when she asks for a reward, and instead of flinching in any way, he looks right at her, and says seriously, “I will… do anything for you.”

Dang. That’s swoony.

And then there’s how Deok Im attempts to keep thing playful, while she tests out the telescope. And instead of reprimanding her for being impolite, he just keeps looking at her, with that thoughtful gaze.

He’s so gently serious, as he asks, “Deok Im-ah. Who did you miss in the library earlier? That made you cry.”

And then, with a quiet sense of building urgency, he just keeps his intent gaze locked on her, as he says, “Deok Im-ah. Deok Im-ah. I cannot pretend anymore. And I do not want to. If… you feel the same way I do… So what I want to say is… I… think…”

Omona. My heart felt like it was about to burst with anticipation of San’s love confession – until Deok Im cuts him off, and pleads with him not to say it.

I’m guessing that Deok Im finds it hard to articulate why she cannot get involved with San, particularly with the whole Gwangan Palace thing in the picture.

And, there’s possibly her family background too? Whatever it is, it’s clear to see from her expression, that she cares about him, but does not feel able to acknowledge those feelings.

And, I’m touched that San appears to get where her heart is coming from. At first, it feels like he’s disappointed, as he turns to walk away, but he hears Deok Im’s bare whisper, to, “Please be safe,” and I feel like that’s when he realizes for real, that she does feel the same way, but is holding back.

It feels like there is so much going on that is left unsaid, as San turns to walk towards Deok Im, and, grasping her shoulders gently, leans in and slowly kisses her on the forehead.

Ahhhh!!! This feels like such a significant milestone, even though there is very little that’s said out loud.

It’s like, Deok Im’s whispered feelings (which are only tangentially clear) have found their way to San’s heart, and he accepts those feelings as they are. He accepts that she doesn’t feel able to talk about the feelings between them, but because he’s heard her heart now, there is an acknowledgment between them now – which he expresses in that kiss.

Their regard for each other goes deeper than the relative frivolity of “I like you;” they each sincerely and deeply care for the other person’s wellbeing, and are ready to be sacrificial about their feelings, if it means being able to keep the other person safe.

That’s what I feel is being expressed in this beautifully understated scene, and I find it altogether moving. ❤️

E11. That scene where San imagines Deok Im holding his hand, and tenderly wrapping the bandage around his hand, is so poignant, to my eyes. San is so lonely, in this moment, where it feels like the entire world has suddenly started to come crashing down on him, and all he wants, is the comfort of Deok Im by his side. 😭

The fact that through all of this, San and Deok Im long for each other, not for any fluffy romantic reasons, but for the hunger of solidarity, so that they can be next to each other, through this calamity, is so touching.

On Deok Im’s side, I’m touched by how steadfast she is, in striving to help San when he’s in trouble, even though her means are limited.

From trying to get that ointment to him, to searching for the “Document of Truth,” to persuading the Queen to speak on San’s behalf, she is so zealous and tenacious about wanting to help San, even when the obstacles before her appear insurmountable. I love that passion and resilience about her.

It feels like such a missed opportunity, that San is unable to hear from Deok Im, her findings about the Document of Truth, because he cannot afford to be late for the summons that the King has issued.

But the way he looks at her, and tells her not to tremble; that he will be back soon, is so tender. San doesn’t actually have the assurance, in this moment, that everything’s going to be ok, but he assures Deok Im anyway, and I feel like he’s drawing a good amount of comfort, just from being able to see her, before facing the King.

E12. The scene in the garden, where San finds Deok Im waiting for him, is so full of tenderness.

The way she reaches for his hand, so gently, as she tells him that she’s been waiting in hopes of seeing him, and asks how his wound is; the way he looks quietly moved, as he tells her that she’s the first person to have asked about his wound, even though he’s talked with hundreds of people.

The way he says that he knew she would be there, if she felt for him the same way he feels for her; the way she demurs, but his gaze is so quietly, insistently plaintive, as he holds her hand, and tells her that he’s made up his mind, and will tell her how he feels about her later, and hear from her how she feels, too.

The air between them feels so rich and so thick with unspoken, steadfast emotion; I feel slightly giddy from it all.

We soon see, though, that in the 3 years that pass, San is so wrapped up in his duties, that he doesn’t have time to pay Deok Im much heed at all.

And while my heart is a little sad at that, I also find it quite romantic, that in spite of this, San’s heart for Deok Im doesn’t waver, in the least.

In our closing scene, it seems to me that San’s continued to love Deok Im (steadfastly!) all this time, even though he doesn’t have time to talk to her or spend time with her. He’s just been waiting for the right moment, to continue where he’d left off previously, in wanting to make her his consort.

The way he brings it up at first, sounds rather serious and official (though I must say, that ginger-feeding moment has quite the understated sensual touch about it 🤩).

However, the more he talks, the more I detect nuances of closeness in the timber and gentleness of his voice, particularly when he says, “I want to keep you by my side. Not as a court maid, but as a woman. What I am saying right now… is that I want you to be my consort.”

But, it’s as Deok Im walks away, that San drops the decorum, and addresses her by name, “Deok Im-ah. I want to be family with you.”

My subs say, “I want to make… a family with you,” which can sound rather.. suggestive, but examining the actual Korean dialogue, I think it’s more accurate to translate it as, “I want to be family with you.”

Either way, this is San, putting aside all decorum and just laying his heart bare, as San facing Deok Im, rather than a King facing his court lady, and it makes my heart wobble. There’s so much earnestness in his eyes; how can Deok Im’s heart not waver..?

E13. I enjoyed the spirit behind the stone-skipping scene. The comedy around Deok Im trying to sabotage San by giving him a large stone, was low-key kind of amusing, but the thing that really gets me in the heart, is how San puts Deok Im’s joy before his own.

The entire deal had been made, because San desired to hear Deok Im’s answer to his request, that she become his royal concubine.

But when he realizes what Deok Im’s request, that her friend Bok Yeon be allowed to return to work at the palace, means to her, he cedes the game to her – even though he could have easily won, and gained the answer which he’d wagered.

I love that. I find it really touching, that San consistently wants Deok Im to be happy, and prioritizes her happiness, even when it means that it puts a damper on his own happiness.

On a frivolous tangent, I can’t help getting a bit of a fangirl thrill, that San is so good at skipping stones, even though he hasn’t had much practice, and even though Deok Im gives him a really large stone that’s completely the wrong shape, for their purpose. 😁

E13. San’s tipsy confrontation with Deok Im, over how she’s been avoiding him, feels raw and honest. It really feels like San puts away his royal identity, and simply talks with Deok Im as an equal, as he complains of her avoiding him, and talks about how he’s afraid of himself, because he’s a man who’s killed his own brother.

There’s a forlornness in his eyes, and resignation and bitter plaintiveness in his voice, as he asks why Deok Im looks at him the way she does.

While I completely believe Deok Im when she talks about how her heart aches for the fact that San’s never looked comfortable ever since he took the throne, I also understand San’s frustration, that she’s evading his feelings for her.

Part of my brain is disturbed by the fact that San basically threatens to rape her, right there and then, but the other part of my brain rationalizes that, 1, this is not actually out of the ordinary, for kings who desire their court maids, and 2, this is likely San drunk-talking and spilling his feelings without filter or decorum.

He’s basically saying that he wants Deok Im, and is resentful of the fact that she keeps pushing him away.

Plus, there’s how he says it all, which I think makes a difference. He’s not actually very aggressive, as he says all this. In fact, it feels like he’s half-hypnotized, as he whisper-mutters his words to Deok Im. This does make the moment feel less threatening, in its execution, at least by a bit, I think.

Yes, I’m jumping through mental hoops, in order to find a way to not be disturbed by this scene. And again, I think it goes back to the idea that San really does have the power to do this, if he wished. Like that time in the library, where he grabbed Deok Im by the neck, and reminded her that her life was in his hands. Importantly, though, he doesn’t, so there’s that.

Also, I’m of the opinion that, if sober, San would never have even threatened Deok Im, let alone get close to carrying out his threat.

I think that’s shown very clearly, in how San reacts, when he finds out that his mother had asked Deok Im to be his royal concubine, and Deok Im had declined. He’s clearly upset, and confronts Deok Im to tell her so, but he doesn’t force her in the matter – even though he could have.

As the Queen Dowager put it, he can literally pick any woman he wants, to be his royal concubine, because there isn’t anyone who should be able to turn him down.

He has the power to force Deok Im into becoming his royal concubine, but he refuses to use it. It’s important to him, that Deok Im comes to him willingly, and that’s why he delays his request, even though it upsets him to do so.

While I don’t know if San fully understands Deok Im’s reason, when she explains why she doesn’t want to be a royal concubine, I get the feeling that he wants to understand, and that’s important.

I think Deok Im puts it quite poignantly this episode:

“If I become your royal concubine, I need to give everything to you… and I will have nothing.

All humans are the same. If you give everything to someone, you will want to receive everything as well. But you are a person who can not do that. To you it is just adding… an unimportant woman to your daily life, but my whole petty life will change. I will not be able to go back to my old life ever again. I am afraid… of losing.”

“I am afraid of losing myself.”

It makes sense to me, that, because Deok Im loves San so much, she’d want him to give her everything too, in a love relationship.

After all, who would want to share the man they love, with a whole legion of other women? But inevitably, because of the harem system, she would be but one of many women in his life. That’s hard to accept, and I can understand Deok Im’s thinking around this.

However, the alternative, of waiting on him and for him, as he continues to fulfill his royal duties with his concubine(s), is possibly just as hard, it looks like. 💔

Augh. The angst. San pines for Deok Im, and Deok Im in turn pines for him too, but they feel so far apart right now. 😭

E14. I am basically hypnotized by San’s smolder this episode, and that’s starting from our opening scene, where the camera pans from Deok Im’s face to show us that San is sitting next to her, and her head is resting on his shoulder.

Even the way he silently sits there, and looks at her through lowered lids, while she comes to herself, is so sexy. To my eyes, it feels like all of his feelings – his love, desire and frustration – is oozing out of his very pores, as he looks upon her. Rawr.

I do love that Deok Im’s first reaction to San, after getting over the initial surprise that this is not a dream, and he’s actually there, is to ask him if something bad has happened, because he looks unhappy.

As much as Deok Im denies that she loves San, her concern for him says a lot, about how tuned in to his moods and facial expressions she is, and how her first instinct, is to make sure that he’s ok.

I have to admit, I love how San tells Deok Im so honestly, even with lashings of frustration coming through in his voice and his expression, that he can’t stop thinking about her, even when he’s supposed to be working.

I kinda love how perplexed and annoyed San is, by Deok Im, and yet, how, in the midst of his annoyance, he still desires to be honest with her, and tell her how he feels.

There’s no resolution to San’s thrumming frustration around the situation with Deok Im, and that sets the tone for all the rest of his interactions with her, going forward, this episode. Not only is that frustration always there, it grows in intensity over the course of the episode, until San seeks release for his anger, later in the episode.

I have to say, I love how Show is careful to set the tone early, such that by the time San explodes at Deok Im later, it feels like something that’s been organically brewing in the background, for a long time. I love that attention to detail.

And, I have to admit that I personally enjoyed seeing evidence of San’s growing frustration. Does that make me sadistic? 😅

Like, the scene where he summons Deok Im to see him in the private garden, and asks her why she had been coming from Queen Wonbin’s quarters.

When Deok Im goes into Dutiful Mode and advises him to spend more time with Wonbin, and be nicer to her, San’s overt irritation and resentment, and the distinct plaintiveness in his voice, at the fact that Deok Im is trying to send him into the arms of another woman, is quite thrilling to me.

I guess I just love the idea that San wants Deok Im be jealous over him. In a roundabout sort of way, it registers to me, as San wanting to belong to Deok Im alone, and I find that a pretty darn thrilling idea, particularly for a King who can literally have thousands of women at his beck and call.

There are legit notes of fear and worry in San’s face, as he asks Deok Im if she doesn’t see him as a man anymore, and that just makes my heart go out to him. He’s being so honest with Deok Im, with his feelings, and Deok Im keeps refusing to acknowledge her own feelings for him, in return.

To San’s credit, he does keep trying to express his heart to Deok Im and seek her acknowledgement of her own feelings for him, this episode, first at the top of the episode, and then here in the garden. I think this does add some important context that helps our closing scene to land better – which I’ll talk about later.

“Do you not care about how I feel? Do you… not see me as a man anymore? You are merely a court maid, and you bragged about protecting me. Until the day I die, I shall protect you. You sacrificed yourself to protect my life.

How can I possibly… not love such a woman? I have always thought… that you also have feelings for me. That you love me… as much as I love you. If that is not true, tell me right here, right now. Do you… really have no feelings for me?”

Augh. San is so.. plain, about how he feels about Deok Im, and I love it.

The OTP-rooting fangirl in me is somewhat disappointed that Deok Im refuses to admit that she loves San too, but I have to admit that I appreciate where Deok Im is coming from.

She’s already told San – and us – why she does not want to be a royal concubine. And to be fair to Deok Im, she doesn’t specifically say that she doesn’t love San; she merely states that she’s never wanted to be his woman, which is basically the same as saying that she’s never wanted to be a royal concubine.

I can respect that she chooses to love San from afar, because she does not wish to share him with other women, and does not wish to live the burdensome life of a concubine.

While it’s uncomfortable, I do think it’s realistic, for Show to let us see that San is contemplating whether or not he should take Deok Im by force. Like I’ve mentioned before, this is the reality of the times in which our story occurs.

The King can literally order any woman in the entire country, to sleep with him, or be his concubine, if he wishes. And importantly, this is widely accepted as his right.

If San were to take Deok Im by force, whether by raping her, or by ordering her to be his concubine, he would be widely regarded as simply doing what a King does.

Because of this, it actually feels more true to the times, that San would at least entertain the idea, particularly after being thwarted in his romantic advances to Deok Im, so consistently, for so long. After all, even the Queen Dowager had encouraged him to do so, in an earlier episode.

It’s to San’s credit that he even asks Court Lady Seo for her opinion, and I do think it’s to his credit, that Court Lady Seo can truthfully say that this is not the kind of man, or King, that he is.

E14. When it comes to Deok Im, I just love having San show his feelings for her, even when it’s not his will to do so.

Like when he spies Deok Im jump into the lake to retrieve the perfume sachet, and thinks that Deok Im’s trying to kill herself. The way he rushes to her, grabs her, and shouts at her, is such a plain expression, for all to see, of just how important she is, to him. Not gonna lie; that gives me a thrill. 🤩

And then when she can’t stop the tears from falling, as she later explains her actions to him, I do love how frank he is, even in front of Deok Ro, “Stop crying. When you cry, I become powerless.”

Augh. That’s an honest statement of vulnerability, isn’t it?? And it feels particularly significant, spoken by a King to a court maid?

Seeing how things play out in regards to Deok Ro and the kidnapped court maids, I do think that Deok Im is right in pointing out, later in the episode, that as King, San calculates everything, whereas for her, she’s simply terrified that Kyung Hee might die, before being rescued. Deok Im’s not wrong.

And, San’s not wrong in making those calculations either; that’s basically part of his job, as King, isn’t it?

Therefore, I can understand why Deok Im would risk San’s wrath, to involve the Queen Dowager. To Deok Im, this is a life and death situation. Whereas, to San, Deok Im’s action implies a lack of trust in him.

I have to say though, I cheered – and swooned, too – when Deok Im’s being threatened by Deok Ro, in Gwangan Palace, and San comes thundering into the place, ordering Deok Ro to let go of Deok Im, RIGHT NOW!

Ahhh!! What a hero moment!! 😍😍

Plus, the way San glowers so fiercely, as he slo-mo walks into the middle of Gwangan Palace, is so cool. 🤩🤩

E14. In our final scene of the episode, when San summons Deok Im to the library, it’s telling of how well Deok Im understands him, when she points out the real reason San didn’t want the Queen Dowager to be involved; because he would not have been able to spare Deok Ro’s life.

Deok Im’s plain statement of the uncomfortable facts, her insistence that her way of seeing things is just as valid, and her blunt pointing out that he had known the truth, but had lied to her, brings San’s anger to a boil, as the main uncomfortable truth between them gets laid bare: she is but a court maid, and he can have her killed, if he doesn’t like her.

The power imbalance now becomes the key focal point in the room, and all of San’s futile efforts to get Deok Im to acknowledge her feelings for him, is, I think, what culminates in that kiss.

Especially since, Deok Im once again, for the third time this episode, denies San’s efforts to reach her heart, by telling him this time, that she’s never loved him, and will never loved him. Oof. That’s gotta hurt.

I feel that it’s essentially San invoking that power imbalance, to test Deok Im’s feelings for him. I would like to think that if Deok Im had truly protested this kiss, and hadn’t kissed him back, San would have stopped.

But.. again, that’s my fangirl heart trying to rationalize that this is still a swoony romance, even though San is shown forcing himself on Deok Im, at least for a while.

I guess the important thing is, we know that Deok Im does love San, and has been denying her feelings as a matter of principle. And while that’s perfectly legitimate, I do think that in choosing to kiss him back – versus pushing him away – Deok Im is finally giving in to her feelings for him, and also, giving San the confirmation that he seeks.

She does love him, and this is her, finally allowing herself to show it. Ahhh. Is it too early to squee?

[END SPOILER]

Lee Deok Hwa as King Youngjo

In a word, I found King Youngjo extremely fascinating.

Thanks in part to the writing, and thanks in part to Lee Deok Hwa’s delivery, King Youngjo comes across as very.. Shakespearean, as some of you have noted, over on Patreon.

Show isn’t ever conclusive about what the real deal is, with King Youngjo. Instead, Show drops an array of hints via various circumstances, and we are allowed to make our own conclusions.

It’s an interesting choice, since most dramas would, I think, offer a conclusive reason for a character’s behavior. However, in this case, it works, because what is most relevant to our story, is how King Youngjo’s behavior affects San and the people around him, more so than the reasons for that behavior.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from coming up with my own hypotheses, which I’ll share in the next section.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. The King appears to be perhaps more reasonable than he lets on, as in, if he were really as fixated on San undermining his authority as he appears to be, then the way he embraces Yi San, behind that fence of dragon screens, wouldn’t quite make sense.

This makes me think that perhaps he’s only putting on a show of being angry with Yi San, in order to mislead his scheming subjects.

E4. We see that the King is cheerfully shrewd, in the way he turns the rice cake situation over to San, to “test” him. We do see that the King had intended to save Deok Im, if San’s judgment had turned out to be too harsh. This King is definitely starting to grow on me.

E5. I’m coming to the conclusion that the King’s more shrewd and sharp than he lets on, but is also subject to spurts of irrationality and delirium. I mean, his reaction to the “evidence” that’s brought against San, really vibes like a crazed rampage.

E6. I find the King very interesting, in how he receives the Queen’s words, persuading him to lift San’s confinement orders, and then proceeds to pretend in court, that he never confined San to begin with.

He comes across as forgetful and slightly unstable, but this is clearly an act on his part; a show to get around outright lifting San’s confinement orders – by pretending that there never were any, to begin with.

This makes me wonder what else the King has pretended not to have said or done, or pretended not to know, all this time. Later in the episode, when he tells San that one day, when San is King, he will fully understand his grandfather, makes me think that there is a lot that the King manages, while pretending not to know things.

E9. I have to wonder whether the King’s decision to give San the military token was a keenly lucid one, disguised as an old man’s scattered thoughts. I mean, the King’s definitely given me pause for thought, with some of his actions in the past, where it feels like he’s acting like he’s got dementia, more than he actually has it.

Perhaps this is his way of using his advancing dementia, to his advantage? Like, perhaps he could sense that his memory was deteriorating, and rather than allow it to run its course and rob him of personal agency, he pretended to be farther along than he actually was, so that he could shape the way things panned out?

If that’s the case, then perhaps he knew all along, that Gwangan Palace existed, and he knew that they would oppose San’s ascension to the throne.

And therefore, perhaps he purposely created a situation where San would be able to defeat them and prove his worth, and that’s why he made sure to give San the military token, for “just in case”?

E12. What a master move by the King, to summon Princess Hwawan, and instruct her to hand the royal seal to San, with her own hands. In doing so, the King is basically commanding Princess Hwawan to acknowledge San’s legitimacy as the future king, and to submit herself to his authority.

Ahhh. So much meaning, in one single gesture. It’s no wonder Princess Hwawan rails against it for so long, before she gives in to her father’s royal command. I can’t help but feel a flash of satisfaction, that Princess Hwawan has to submit so publicly to San, in the end.

[END SPOILER]

Oh Dae Hwan as Head Guard

I just wanted to say that I did grow very fond of Head Guard, who’s mostly in our story as a stoic, slightly slow-on-the-uptake comic relief sort of character.

Beyond the lashings of humor that he brought to the watch experience, though, I found Head Guard endearing in his earnest loyalty towards San, from beginning to end.

In particular, I thought he deserved a shout-out for this important scene in episode 14.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E14. Major credit to Head Guard, for picking up on the fact that San does not actually want to kill Deok Ro, despite Deok Ro’s terrible crimes.

San’s pained, conflicted bellow, with tears streaming down his face, absolutely confirms how difficult this is, for him. Because, aside from all of Deok Ro’s terrible crimes, San does look upon him as a friend and brother. And, it is within San’s nature, to not want to kill others, particularly those who are dear to him.

Even though San reacts with righteous anger at Head Guard’s plea, it is clear that Head Guard’s appeal on Deok Ro’s behalf, was exactly what San wanted to hear.

[END SPOILER]

Jang Hye Jin as Court Lady Seo

I always find Jang Hye Jin a delight; I love her comic timing and expressiveness, so Court Lady Seo was a highlight for me, just by virtue of the fact that she’s played by Jang Hye Jin.

I loved Court Lady Seo for how warm and tender-hearted she is, particularly towards Deok Im, whom she mothers like her own child.

She’s so cute and endearing so much of the time, and yet, at the same time, so compassionate and gentle, at the most important times too.

Love her, so much. ❤️

Deok Im and her friends

I couldn’t not give a shout-out to Deok Im and her friends, Kyung Hee, Young Hee and Bok Yeon (Ha Yul Ri, Lee Eun Saem and Lee Min Ji).

I love their friendship, which is so steady, strong and unwavering, through the years. I love how they are unquestioningly there for one another, through each and every milestone and challenge that they face.

I also love the detail, that all four of them have such different personalities, and yet, they find a way to get along, and love one another, through all the good times and bad. ❤️

Jang Hee Jin as Queen Jungsoon

I found the Queen to be a very interesting character. Sometimes, she strikes me as compassionate, and at other times, she strikes me as shrewd to the point of being calculative.

The odd thing is, I found myself liking her character, despite the streaks of craftiness that she shows. I think that definitely is thanks to the writing, as well as Jang Hee Jin’s smooth, very pleasant, very unruffled delivery of the character.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. We see that the Queen is a pretty wise woman, with the way she navigates the situation. When Princess Hwawan refuses to back down, the Queen essentially forces her to stay (in a polite fashion, of course), so that the King would be in a position to take over the judging of the case. Well played, Queen.

E11. On the one hand, the way the Queen confronts Princess Hwawan and takes her to task is quite thrilling, because someone needs to get Princess Hwawan to wake up and see things more clearly. And on the other hand, the way she sneers at Deok Im for not having any bargaining chip with which to strike a deal, strikes me as rather callous.

I guess the conclusion I’ve come to, is, the Queen is a good person to have on your side, but don’t count on her loyalty, if you can’t secure it with a good amount of bargaining chips.

[END SPOILER]

Kang Mal Geum as Consort Hyebin

I also wanted to give Consort Hyebin a shout-out, because I found her very likable, in Kang Mal Geum’s hands.

I didn’t always like her actions – [SPOILER] like that time in episode 5, for example, where she sets things up to draw a firm official line between San and Deok Im, so that he won’t be distracted by frivolous feelings for a court lady [END SPOILER] – but I could always see that her actions were to protect &/or support her son, rather than to scheme for power.

Plus, I just really liked her measured, down-to-earth, pleasant, kind sort of vibe.

STUFF THAT WAS OK

Kang Hoon as Deok Ro

I believe many viewers found Deok Ro very charming, and therefore deliciously confusing as a character, because on the one hand, you really like him, but on the other hand, he’s doing all these morally questionable things.

I’m going to have to admit upfront, that I am not one of those viewers. 😅

I didn’t like Deok Ro from the start, and I personally didn’t fall for his charms, even when he was smiling his sweetest, and therefore, I never ended up feeling conflicted about him, at all.

I did eventually feel a tiny little bit sorry for him, but I’ll talk more about that later, in my spotlight on episode 15.

For now, here’s a broad overview of my thoughts on Deok Ro as a character.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1.  I already don’t really like Deok Ro. Just the fact that he lies to San about how the page in the book came to be torn, gives me pause. If he’s lying to San at this young age for self-gain, isn’t it likely that he’s going to do more of that, on a bigger scale, once they grow up?

I suppose this is by design, ie, that’s just how his character is designed, but yeah, I’m on guard against this character already.

E2. I gotta say, thanks to Deok Ro making that decision to claim the credit of tearing out the offending pages in the book all those years ago, I am viewing him with a decided amount of suspicion. Like when he offers to investigate the sender of the secret message for Yi San, I can’t help wondering if he’s the one who’d sent the message.

E3. This episode, Deok Ro’s back on my Dubious List, all over again. The first red flag is when he meets Deok Im by the well. The way he replies to her shock, that the Crown Prince is being penalized for the tiger hunt, is so full of sardonic contempt.

And, his words, that he should have advised the Crown Prince to wait until more people had died, absolutely do not sound like they’re being spoken in any kind of jest.

Of course, there’s also how he carries himself, when he visits the Second State Councilor. There’s definitely an air of danger and possible evil intent about him. I’m thinking that his transfer to my Dubious List ought to be permanent. 😅

E4. This episode, Deok Ro’s paying way more attention to Deok Im than average. On the surface, this might look like a reason for her to squee, since he’s the person whom all the court ladies swoon over, and he’s paying such keen attention to her.

However, with the context that Deok Ro’s definitely got his own agenda, and that agenda leans dark, the cynical side of me tends to think that he’s showing an interest, mainly because Deok Im is now in a position where she’s granted a great deal of proximity to San.

If Deok Ro can get Deok Im on his side, she could prove to be a useful spy – is why I think he’s being so sweet to her.

Context really makes the world of difference, eh? Coz now I’m viewing all his gentlemanly actions with very narrowed, very suspicious squinty eyes.

E4. I knew Deok Ro was bad news; look at the way he orders Deok Im’s death, this episode, like it means nothing to him.

E5. The more I see of Deok Ro, the more repulsive I find him. He comes across as such a hypocrite, all genial smiles and smooth words on the surface, but snide, disdainful,  and ruthless, whenever he shows his true self. Blech.

I think one of the reasons I dislike him so much, is because of how he pretends to be sooo nice and gentlemanly and considerate, when he’s actually got no consideration whatsoever, except when it comes to his own agenda.

E6. I find it ironic that Deok Ro is the one who notices Deok Im’s talent, rather than the San, though it makes sense that San would trust Deok Im, where Deok Ro doesn’t.

Therefore, it’s Deok Ro who catches on, that Deok Im’s behind the Queen’s involvement in the lifting of San’s confinement orders, while San himself is still in the dark, assuming that there are other factors involved that he’s not yet aware of.

E6. Ugh. It seems that every episode, Show gives me a reason to dislike Deok Ro a little more. This episode, it’s how he acts towards Deok Im, after she helps his sister gain entry into the palace.

I mean, at first he seems pleasant enough, and I even feel a stab of compassion for him, when his sister talks about how he’s never had a nice new official robe, because their family can’t afford it.

But then, the way he tells Deok Im to stay away from his sister, feels so unnecessary and hostile, almost.

From the way he asks his sister whether she likes the palace, I’m getting the idea that he intends for his sister to enter the palace, and he’s already planning how to use his sister for his personal gain – and that does not involve any sort of bond with Deok Im.

I’m guessing that Deok Ro’s eventual goal is to come against San, and he’s likely worried that if his sister and Deok Im are friends, then that would compromise his sister as a secure channel of intel?

All that is FINE, I guess, because I suppose you choose your goal and take your gamble with it, but the manner in which he manhandles Deok Im, and intimidates her, is just extremely distasteful to me.

E8. It niggles at me, that Deok Ro is supposedly on San’s side, but is definitely more interested in his own fortunes, than in being loyal to San. There’s that moment, when he tells his sister that his name will be known all over the land. It makes me wonder just what Deok Ro has in mind, and how that will affect San. Is Deok Ro possibly planning to steal the throne from San, at some point..?

E10. This episode, it strikes me just how eyeroll-worthy Deok Ro is. I mean, just look at how offended he gets, when San says that it was Deok Im who had saved him.

I’m so surprised, that Deok Ro’s first reaction is to basically say (and I paraphrase), “But what about me?!?? I saved you too! I rode alllll night, even though it was reaaally hard. How could you forget about meeee?!???”

Pfft. Dude. That’s so childish and immature, at the heart of it. And, I’d have expected someone with as much alleged intelligence as he, to know what San means, when he says that Deok Im had saved him.

I mean, if no one had flown the signal kite to warn San, how would he even know, to send Deok Ro to activate the troops, right?

It’s probably a good thing for him, that San is too preoccupied with keeping his promise to Deok Im, that he doesn’t stop to admonish him for his outburst.

But, I must say that it gave me a lot of gratification, when, later in the episode, after Deok Ro blurts out that San should just bed Deok Im and get it over with, San orders him not to speak of Deok Im, period. YESS. It’s so clear that San’s had it with Deok Ro and his bigoted opinions, particularly when those opinions have to do with Deok Im.

E11. I’m not impressed by Deok Ro’s plea, for San to overthrow the King, but I’m not surprised that this is his approach either. He might make strategic sense, but he consistently fails to meet San where it matters: San’s heart.

E14. I was honestly rather taken aback from Queen Wonbin’s sudden death, and the royal physician’s hapless statement, that he doesn’t know why she died, but I recognize that this is but a plot device, designed to galvanize Deok Ro into doing more shady things, in the interest of “avenging” his sister’s death.

I do understand though, that the main focus this episode, as far as Deok Ro is concerned, is his growing arrogance, in terms of his personal standing with San. Plus, there’s the thing, that aside from mourning the death of his sister, Deok Ro is also thwarted in his plans for his own future, by her death.

That doubles his anger and frustration, which, I suppose, does help to explain (though not justify) his actions this episode, of kidnapping the court maids, and torturing / forcing them to implicate Queen Kim, in Wonbin’s death.

I absolutely do not buy Deok Ro’s claim, that aside from his sister, San had been his reason for living. I honestly doubt that? From what we’ve seen of Deok Ro, he’s been self-serving this whole time, and I’d wager that any allegiance he’d shown to San, had been with his own eventual gain in mind.

[END SPOILER]

Seo Hyo Rim as Princess Hwawan

Most likely because I have residual affection for Seo Hyo Rim from her role in Sungkyunkwan Scandal, I find her Princess Hwawan more amusing than aggravating, to watch.

As in, Princess Hwawan is definitely supposed to be one of the baddies, since she’s clearly out to take down San. But because I rather like Seo Hyo Rim, I’m amused to see her channel her inner Evil Aunt, and carry herself on my screen, like a slinking, scheming, hissing cat. 😂

Park Ji Young as Head Court Lady Jo

To be clear, I actually think Park Ji Young does a great job delivering Head Court Lady Jo, as a character.

She’s suitably smooth, artful and pleasantly, charismatically manipulative, and yet, not quite hateful, in spite of it all. Plus, when Head Court Lady Jo goes claws-out as a villain, I actually found her very clever.

In terms of what makes Head Court Lady Jo interesting, I would credit almost everything to Park Ji Young’s delivery of the character, with the writing coming in as a secondary factor.

Importantly, I also feel a little underwhelmed at the way Show deals with Head Court Lady Jo’s backstory. Overall, it felt a little.. thin, to support all the years of scheming that Head Court Lady Jo undertakes.

[SPOILER ALERT]

In episode 10, I’d imagined that with San having averted disaster with Deok Im’s help, that he’d be in the clear. After all, people had plotted to kill him. And yet, Head Court Lady Jo manages to be more devious than I’d imagined.

She’d literally plotted treason, and now that she’s failed, she’s turning around and pointing the finger at San, saying that he’s plotting treason against the King, and that’s why he’s riding around with this fleet of soldiers – when he’d had to activate those soldiers, while fighting for his life. DANG.

That’s so devious, and yet, I have to grudgingly admit, really quite clever, too.

At the same time, I personally found it rather underwhelming, that all of Head Court Lady Jo’s motivations – the whole quest for power, and the whole “going to the dark side” thing – is written as being because she’d been snubbed by the King, when he’d chosen Consort Yeong instead of her.

I mean, it feels very.. disempowering, put that way? Like, she’d been so incensed at being snubbed by the King, that she’s dedicated her entire life to being evil, and then, to punish him, she eventually kills herself, in front of him?

It.. kinda makes her look weak and rather pathetic, honestly. But.. maybe that’s what Show was going for..?

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH

The whole thing with Gwangan Palace [SPOILERS]

In theory, I understood why Show included Gwangan Palace as a plot device, but in execution, I always felt like this arc did not feel organic to our drama world.

In episode 8, there’s the reveal of Gwangan Palace, the shadow organization of court maids, headed by Head Court Lady Jo. The fact that so many court maids are involved in this organization, which is basically a network of spies and assassins, is quite startling.

That story that Young Hee starts telling her friends, about the moon fairies coming down to earth to help the King was fine and good – until it started to bleed into the reality of Gwangan Palace. I found the whole thing quite unorthodox and weird.

It’s just a rather strange narrative touch, to have court ladies organized like this, to spy on the royals, for their own agenda. After all, they’re supposed to be wholly serving the King.

Generally speaking, Gwangan Palace vibes like an assassin sect to my eyes, like the one in Warrior Baek Dong Soo, for example, where people are groomed to be assassins. The way they operate feels a lot like that, and the way Head Court Lady Jo tortures Court Lady Park (Cha Mi Kyung), barely keeping her alive – because court ladies are not allowed to die the palace – is quite surreal to witness.

Honestly, the way Gwangan Palace is portrayed feels rather out of step with the rest of Show’s tone; when we get scenes of Head Court Lady Jo commanding her minions by flickering firelight, it always feels like I’ve momentarily moved into a different drama world.

Some suspension of disbelief is required

This is not a major issue, in that I mostly found Show to be cohesive and careful in its execution of detail. However, there were a number of times when I felt that suspension of disbelief was required, because of the logic stretches that Show employed.

Here they are, for the record.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E10. Just how did Deok Im and Court Lady Seo manage to get Court Lady Park out of the palace, in that state? Wouldn’t they have had to find a way to get past any guards? And how did they have the time to dress neatly in non-court lady clothes, while trying to make their getaway..?

E11. There’s some suspension of disbelief required, I think, around the fact that the tattoo on Deok Im’s shoulder is part of the puzzle, for where Crown Prince Sado had hidden that Document of Truth.

This would mean that in tattooing Deok Im, her father had already had the confidence that Deok Im would be closely related to the palace, when the clues would be needed. He couldn’t have known then, that she would become a court lady, right? That feels like a pretty big risk?

If she and her brother had not approached Consort Hyebin for help, when they were little, there was every possibility that they could have gotten help from some other kind person, and grown up somewhere else, far away from the palace.

E13. I’m using a blurry lens for the whole rebel thing, where Wol Hye (Ji Eun) and her fellow rebel court maids stage an attack on San. I mean, the whole thing feels quite random, in that I hadn’t expected them to attempt anything, after what had happened to Head Court Lady Jo.

This attack feels sudden and rather foolhardy, really, and I suspect that this is just writer-nim’s way of wrapping up the whole thing with Gwangan Palace, so that we can move on to other things.

[END SPOILER]

Certain comic beats didn’t work so well for me 

Again, this is not a major thing, because I mostly found myself jiving with Show’s sense of humor quite nicely. It’s mostly around this one single thing, that I found myself not quite in alignment with Show’s idea of Funny.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. I think the scene where all the other court maids are gathered to confront the court maid who’d dared take Deok Ro’s umbrella, is meant for comedy.

However, I have to confess that I found the scene rather disturbing. These court maids are all Deok Im’s friends, and some of them are her closest friends. And yet, it seems that they would have attacked her mercilessly, if they’d known that she was the court maid that they were looking for. Yikes. 😬

I just.. didn’t find the funny in this one.

[END SPOILER]

SPOTLIGHT ON EPISODE 15 [SPOILERS]

This turned out to be quite the pivotal episode, and I feel slightly overwhelmed. There’s a lot to process, this hour.

We start the episode with the kiss scene where we’d left off, last episode, and it feels like there’s so much going on, between San and Deok Im.

The kiss starts out angry, with San forcing himself on Deok Im, but it isn’t long before it turns tender, with a sense of wonder about it, as Deok Im relaxes into San’s arms, and kisses him back.

But then, San pushes Deok Im away from himself. Deok Im looks somewhat dazed and disorientated, like she’s been woken from a dream, and I interpret that to mean that she’s reeling from the shock of not just the kiss itself, but of her own reaction to the kiss, which vibes involuntary, to my eyes.

What surprised me more, is San’s angry demeanor and reaction, post-kiss, where he orders Deok Im to leave the palace before dawn, and to never show herself before him again.

I had to think on this one, for a bit.

And, after thinking on San’s reaction for some time, I conclude that it’s.. complicated.

I feel that part of it, is San testing Deok Im, to see if she would ask to stay, because I believe that San wants some kind of evidence to show that Deok Im feels the same way about him as he does towards her, and Deok Im not wanting to leave, would indicate, at least in some measure, that she doesn’t want to be apart from San.

I feel that another part of it, is San attempting to spare himself the torment, of being near Deok Im, but feeling so distant from her, because she keeps pushing him away.

Of course, this is somewhat at odds with the fact that Deok Im’s just kissed him back, but I think that San understands that this is unlikely to change Deok Im’s official stance on the matter, and that’s why he’s attempting to remove her from his life.

On hindsight, I also think that it’s very possible that this is also San’s effort towards protecting Deok Im. As he describes later in the episode, if he were to bed her, and if she then refused to accept the title of royal concubine, she would be relegated to the back corners of the palace, where she would be ridiculed by other court maids.

In fact, the more I think about this, the more convinced I am, that San ordering Deok Im out of the palace, is to protect her from such a fate.

Because, now that he’s kissed her, and tasted what it’s like to be intimate with her, it’s likely that he realizes that it would be extremely difficult for him to stop himself from taking this further – particularly in the context of the times, where there is no reproach for a King who decides to bed his court maid.

And so, my conclusion is that San’s primary reason for expelling Deok Im from the palace, is to protect her from himself – and from the dismal fate, that would come from her continuing to refuse the title of royal concubine, if he really were to have his way with her.

Of course, San looks angry, as he bites out the words with a snarl, “Leave the palace before the dawn breaks. Get out of my sight! I do not wish to see you again.”

My interpretation of that anger, is that, 1, he wants to get through to Deok Im, that he is serious about his order for her to leave the palace, and 2, he’s angry at having to send her away, because it’s not something that he actually wants to do.

And, I do think there is resentment in there towards Deok Im as well, because the whole reason he’s sending her away, is because she refuses to acknowledge her feelings for him – feelings which have made themselves apparent, in her reflexive response to his kiss.

Although Deok Im is not privy to the reasons behind San’s command, she clearly knows him well enough, to know that he is serious about ordering her to leave the palace, which is why she packs up immediately, despite Court Lady Seo’s protests.

I do believe what San says, when he tells Court Lady Seo the next morning, that the reason he is there at the court ladies’ quarters, is to see with his own eyes, that Deok Im is no longer there.

I feel that Deok Im is so much a part of his life at the palace, and so much a part of his consciousness, as he lives each day at the palace, that it feels surreal to San, to think that Deok Im would really not be there anymore.

That, I think, is why he goes to Deok Im’s quarters, and along with that, I believe there is a part of him that hopes that she would still be there, in spite of his own orders to her, to leave.

Ahhh, it really is complicated.

Not gonna lie; I was a little thrown at first, by the one-year time skip, but I rationalize that again, this is just how Show treats the passage of time. If there is nothing of particular importance to our central OTP story, Show is going to skip over that, and I’d rather we had the time skip, than, say, one to two episodes delving into San’s and Deok Im’s lives, during the one year separation. 😅

What strikes me about Deok Im’s run-in with Deok Ro, is firstly, how annoying he continues to be, in his accusations towards Deok Im, even after all this time has passed, and he’s no longer a member of the palace.

Beyond that first layer of annoyance, though, it occurs to me that the reason Deok Ro interprets Deok Im’s actions as a calculated risk, where she’d bet on San not being able to take her life for an infraction, is because that’s exactly what he himself had done.

That’s the only way he knows, to interpret the world, and that’s why he assumes that Deok Im had taken a carefully calculated risk, rather than actually wagered her life, as she acted on her heart.

I actually found this last arc with Deok Ro quite illuminating, in terms of helping us to understand his character.

When Deok Im later goes to see him, to take back her words about him having caused his sister’s death, there are 2 things that come to my mind.

1, that Deok Im is such a decent person, that her conscience will not allow her to have said such an unjust thing to someone, and possibly have that false guilt weigh on their conscience, even if that person is someone who has done many things wrong, and has been cruel to her and her friends. I love that about her.

2, that Deok Ro really is driven by ambition, to his very core. It really hits home for me, when he talks about the reason he’s asking Deok Im to run away with him: so that he can console himself with the thought that he has the one thing that San cannot have. Wow. Talk about messed up values.

But also, that probably speaks of an entire lifetime of Deok Ro comparing himself to San, and using San as a measure of success. What a miserable life that must have been, for Deok Ro, because he must have always felt like he was never enough.

As for San visiting Princess Cheong Yeon’s residence, the whole thing hits differently on hindsight, now that we’re told that San himself had made arrangements for Princess Cheong Yeon to take in Deok Im, upon Deok Im’s departure from the palace.

This means that San agrees to the suggestion to spend the night at Princess Cheong Yeon’s residence, knowing that there was a good chance he would run into Deok Im there. But he agrees anyway.

There’s a heaviness in his voice, as he agrees, which indicates to me that he likely wants to see Deok Im, because he misses her, but also, kind of dreads seeing her, at the same time, because it would likely be a disappointing, frustrating &/or heartbreaking encounter.

At first, I’d thought that San freezing in his place, as his eyes come upon Deok Im returning to Princess Cheong Yeon’s residence, is out of surprise. However, now that I know that he had full knowledge that Deok Im worked there, his reaction to seeing Deok Im lands differently, as well.

His reaction is not out of surprise; his reaction is a pure response to the fact that Deok Im is once again in his line of sight. Even after a year, she still affects him so deeply. There’s definitely something romantic about that.

I feel like there are a number of things that factor into Deok Im’s eventual act at the end of the episode, of reaching for San, and I believe one of those things, is finding out from Princess Cheong Yeon, that it had been San, who had personally arranged for Princess Cheong Yeon to take Deok Im in.

Deok Im’s musing, that he had shown her grace, even though she had specifically said things to hurt him, is, I think, the first major piece that leads towards her eventual change of heart, in terms of her decision to maintain her distance from San.

And then, there’s the scene in the garden that night, where Deok Im encounters San while lighting lanterns.

From early on in the scene, it’s apparent that Deok Im’s eyes are teary, as she faces San, even before his mood turns hard and angry. I think that’s reflective of just how deeply it’s hit her, that San had shown grace and mercy to her, when she had deserved punishment.

I also tend to think that this teariness, is an expression of her feelings for San, which we know are real, but which she has suppressed, for so long.

I think that the reason Deok Im asks San to ignore her in the future, is her way of shaping her own punishment, since, to her mind, San didn’t actually punish her properly, in ordering her to leave the palace. Because, it would surely hurt her, to have San ignore her, even though it’s something that she herself is asking for, right?

I see San’s anger at Deok Im’s request to ignore her, as him being upset that she’s asking to put distance between them again, rather than at the idea that she’s telling him what to do.

It messes with my brain, that San’s threat, to untie Deok Im’s blouse, and basically bed her right then, is equal parts disturbing, yet distinctly hot, with sexual frisson, as he leans in to her, and gazes at her so intently through lowered lids, as he mutter-growls his words.

In terms of whether San is actually considering the idea, I feel like he’s likely.. testing out the idea, both on Deok Im, and on himself. It’s almost like he’s thinking aloud and fingering the idea, even as he fingers the ribbon tie on her blouse.

Importantly, he ultimately rejects the idea, and I feel it’s because, as it’s always been from the beginning, San wishes for Deok Im to come to him willingly.

The interesting thing that I take away from this scene, is that in laying out the exact ways in which San could have taken advantage of his power – to bed Deok Im, and then relegate her to the back rooms of the palace, if she were to refuse a concubine position – San is actually, in a reverse, possibly accidental, sort of way, also making clear just how much grace he has exercised, towards Deok Im.

It’s a bit of an irony, but it makes a lot of sense when I think about it. It’s only when we know just how much power San has, to make Deok Im’s life miserable, that we can see clearly just how much San has favored Deok Im, by refusing to use that power.

I feel that this implication isn’t lost on Deok Im, and this added realization, probably does factor in to her eventual change of heart, at the end of the episode. Not out of fear of San, of what he might do to her if she doesn’t comply, but out of a realization, of just how precious she is to him, that he would restrain his hand so much, in order to honor and protect her.

On another note, the introduction of Princess Hwabin, San’s new concubine, proves to be quite the catalyst, in our story. Show sure doesn’t waste much time at all, in showing Princess Hwabin’s not-so-nice colors, eh?

Because of this, it gives me a definite measure of satisfaction, to see San treat Princess Hwabin with such a distinct businesslike sort of vibe, from the moment he sets eyes on her.

On hindsight, I’m pretty convinced that she had known that approaching San like that without permission, was an infraction of royal etiquette, but had calculated that she would be forgiven for not being familiar with palace norms, and therefore approached him on purpose. I’m so glad that San cuts her off, and instructs Head Guard to escort her home instead.

It’s pretty sneaky of Consort Hyebin to sneak Deok Im back into the palace, by making her one of Princess Hwabin’s court ladies, and this awkward placement does give rise to a good amount of discomfort for not only Deok Im, but San and Princess Hwabin as well, but I suppose this really was the only way for Consort Hyebin to get Deok Im back into San’s orbit.

And, as San’s mother, I can understand her desire to maximize her son’s chances at happiness, even if it’s via such an unorthodox, awkward sort of arrangement.

I’m rather curious about whether Princess Hyebin had received any special tip-off about San’s affection for Deok Im, because it appears that Princess Hyebin has it out for Deok Im, right from the beginning, almost. Or, perhaps, just the look on San’s face, at spotting Deok Im from among the group of court ladies, was enough to raise Princess Hyebin’s hackles.

The way she immediately sends Deok Im to inspect her bedding, thus implying her own right to share San’s bed, is such a power move, designed to impress upon Deok Im, the difference in status between her and Deok Im.

And, dissatisfied with her findings, Princess Hyebin then soon sends Deok Im on that errand to San, to deliver the date of their royal consummation, specifically during San’s bath time.

I feel that this was to, again, impress upon Deok Im the rightful nature of her relationship with San, as well as to test the waters, to see what would happen, if she sent Deok Im to San, particularly at a time when San would be in a state of undress. Sneaky, manipulative woman!

Judging from Princess Hyebin’s actions, she’s going to be someone whom Deok Im will have to contend with, going forward, even after she becomes San’s royal concubine. Just from this episode alone, we can see that she’s scheming, territorial, malicious, and quick to lord it over someone who’s weaker. I dislike her a great deal already.

On another note, my heart aches for both San and Deok Im, as they meet in the bath chamber. Even though it’s clear that San is terse and on edge, it’s easy to see that in testing Deok Im, by asking her if she is happy to be back, or if she had been forced to come back, San actually deeply desires to get an indication from Deok Im, that she is happy to see him again.

Deok Im’s studied, decorous manner only serves to maintain the distance between them, and it hurts both San and Deok Im, as we see from their tearful countenances afterwards.

There’s frustration and resentment in San’s eyes, and resignation in Deok Im’s, but the one emotion that they have in common in this moment, that is clear to see, through the other emotions on their faces, is sorrow. 💔

I hate that Princess Hyebin accuses Deok Im of trying to seduce San, and beats her for it. UGH. She definitely has people spying on San &/or Deok Im, that’s for sure.

The more stoic and impassive Deok Im is, during the beating, the more furiously Princess Hyebin hits her. That’s definitely the mark of a bully.

It makes her angrier, that she can’t get a reaction out of Deok Im. Not only that, it’s clear that she’s out to get Deok Im now, with the way she assigns Deok Im to do laundry in the icy night weather.

I’m SO glad that San comes upon it, and takes Princess Hyebin to task for disrespecting both him and his mother, in the way she treats Deok Im.

To San’s credit, he doesn’t even know that it’s Deok Im, when he makes his way over there. He only knows that it’s a court lady washing clothes at a time when it’s forbidden to do so, which means that he is fair; he would’ve spoken up for and saved any other court lady, in Deok Im’s place.

I like that it is when San is pondering his mother’s words to him, to be happy, that he comes upon Deok Im shedding that tear, on the bridge.

With everyone around them removed, and therefore, a temporary lifting of context, I like how San speaks frankly with Deok Im, asking first after her hands, and then, asking if she’s crying because Princess Hwabin has harassed her again, “I’d rather you cry because of me. Only cry when I can see you. Do not cry by yourself when I cannot see you or know you are crying.”

Deok Im’s musing, over Deok Ro’s death, and how everything changes so rapidly, and how, once changed, it can’t go back, also feels like another factor, on top of the earlier ones I mentioned, in her eventual change of heart. There is a lot that has changed, between her and San, and this does feel like a precious remnant of happier times, that, if she lets go of now, may never return to her again.

I believe, though, that the deciding factor, is when San, coming to the realization that it had been Deok Im who had saved him all those years ago, by tearing out the offending pages of the forbidden book, thanks Deok Im, for having always saved him.

Besides the fact that San is laying his heart bare before her, and telling her that he cannot bear it when she cries, which is touching in itself, I feel that the fact that he thanks her, affirms her self-worth and self-value, in a way that very much aligns with why she’s always desired personal agency to begin with.

I feel that the fact that San is able to recognize her value and express it in his thanks, is the final, decisive thing that causes Deok Im to reach for his sleeve, as he turns to walk away in sad resignation, believing her silence to mean that there really is no way for things to go back to the way they were.

The fact that she reaches for his sleeve, is everything, in this moment. This is the first time she’s reaching for him, and in the context of everything that he’s said, this is her, telling San, that she would like for things to go back to the way they were; she would like him to come close to her; she does want to be close to him. Ahhh!

The realization of all these things, registering in one long moment, in San’s eyes, feels like that breathless moment, on the precipice of a rollercoaster, where you feel like you’re suspended in time. And then, the quick, decisive, way San takes Deok Im into his arms, and holds her tight, feels like the switch with which San’s emotions are finally given release.

It’s a small release for a large dam of emotions, but that release is so very heartfelt, as San whispers, “I’ve missed you so, Deok Im-ah.”

Ahhhh!! So, so precious, and so, so poignant, that these two are finally at a place where their thoughts and their feelings meet. I feel like I can barely breathe; it’s so precious.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

What a journey this penultimate episode turned out to be.

We begin the episode with out OTP’s hands joined, in that scene on the bridge, and end the episode, with their hands also joined, with San and Deok Im together, in her chambers, but so much happens in between, that I feel like I need to just sit and breathe, for a bit, to process it all.

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed at how the bridge scene ends, because Deok Im continues to maintain that she would like to stay in her court lady position, if possible. However, there is still beauty in this scene, for the moment of raw honesty, that San and Deok Im share.

He is so open with her, as he tells her that he’s missed her, and he’s gentle, as he asks if she would come, if he asked, and also, if she would come to him willingly of her own accord, and for the first time, Deok Im is honest with San, as she tells him that perhaps she would be, and perhaps she wants to do so – but that she would rather keep her position.

It’s not exactly the full acknowledgment of her feelings as my fangirl heart had hoped for, at the end of the previous episode, but it is Deok Im being more truthful about her feelings for San than he’s ever seen or heard before, and that feels precious.

At least San knows that in Deok Im’s heart, there is a measure of desire in her, to come to him, even though her desire to keep her position is also important to her.

The whole arc, of Princess Hwabin doing her darndest to destroy Deok Im and condemn her to death, makes me loathe her so, particularly when she persists in asking for a death sentence for Deok Im, even after Consort Hyebin (bless her heart) steps in to explain that the man who has been seen in Deok Im’s company is her elder brother, and how she had saved Deok Im and her brother in their childhood, and how they’d come to have different surnames.

The way Princess Hwabin puts her foot in her mouth, by declaring that Deok Im is the daughter of a traitor, because her father had served Crown Prince Sado, a grave sinner, was particularly satisfying to watch, especially when San rises to his feet and spits out with royal fury, that HE is the son of Crown Prince Sado. YES.

I have to confess to feeling extremely gratified by the horrified look on Hwabin’s face, as she registers what a terrible mistake she’s made, in her hyper-focus to get rid of Deok Im. Muahaha.

I also couldn’t help feeling pleased at the Queen Dowager’s pronouncement, that she never wanted to see Hwabin again. I’m.. pretty sure that San has similar sentiments around whether he’d like to see Hwabin again, which, I think means that Hwabin’s likely going to be relegated to spending a lot of time on her own, in her quarters.

I can imagine that if this incident hadn’t occurred, that San might well have allowed things to have remained as they were, with Deok Im keeping her position as a court lady, and San pining for her from afar.

However, now that this has happened, I think it becomes clearer than ever, to San, that Deok Im is in danger, and I believe that’s why he gives the royal order, for Deok Im to no longer serve Hwabin, and for Deok Im to be brought to his bedchamber that night. On hindsight, it’s true that if he had not acted quickly to do this, the Queen Dowager would have snatched up Deok Im by the following morning.

Importantly, even though Deok Im comes to San’s chambers by his royal command, he does not force her to do anything that she does not want to do.

In fact, I’d assumed that Deok Im’s somber mood had to do solely with the fact that she does not wish to give up her life as a court lady.

It only becomes clear, when she starts to talk to San, that she actually believes his actions to be rooted in anger, and a desire to punish her, in the way that he’d once described, in Princess Cheong Yeon’s garden.

Ahhh. Yes, context is everything, after all. With that memory relatively fresh on her mind, and the whole thing with Hwabin technically a bit of a debacle, it’s understandable that Deok Im would misconstrue San’s desire to save and protect her, as an effort to punish her, instead.

I love how, when San realizes this, he doesn’t actually get angry with her, even though he could, because she’s technically rebuffing his heartfelt feelings. Instead, he stops, and he tells her, so gently and so plaintively, that he doesn’t want to lose her again.

And, when Deok Im explains that she will lose everything in the morning, and requests that he let her go, I’m touched that he listens, and then quietly, intently, gently, says to her, as he holds her hand, and looks into her eyes:

“Can you live… your whole life without seeing me? Tonight, if you mean to turn me down, I will let you go. But we will never get to see each other again, and this will be the last day we meet.

I love you. It is okay if you do not love me back. I do not care… what feelings you have for me… whether it is loyalty… or love. If you just stay by my side. Give me an answer. Must I truly… let you go? Tell me. Deok Im-ah.”

Gurgle. It’s all so heartfelt, I’m literally drowning in all my feels.

San is truly laying bare his heart, and, in that moment when he thinks that Deok Im’s silence, and her averted gaze, indicate her rejection of him, and he starts to let go of her hand, my heart almost broke for him, because, in that moment, his heart must have dropped at the thought that he was going to lose Deok Im, and never see her again.

BUT. Deok Im reaches for his hand, and grasps his fingers, to keep his hand on hers, and it’s everything, in this moment. She doesn’t say a word, but to San, it’s all that he needs.

This is Deok Im telling him that she doesn’t want to live her life never being able to see him again; this is Deok Im choosing to stay with him, even though he’s offering to let her go. Ahhhh!

The way San draws her to himself, and kisses her, is so hungry, yet so gentle, in one. He’s waited a long time for Deok Im to come to him willingly, and now, in this moment, she finally is, and it’s quietly emotional, very, very tender, and really quite beautiful.

Perhaps the most beautiful moment, this episode, though, is the morning after, as Deok Im silently gazes upon San’s sleeping face, and moves to gently touch his cheek. With all of their context momentarily stripped away, this feels like a moment suspended in time, where she’s just able to be with San, the man she loves.

The way he reaches for her hand is so gentle, and the way they smile at each other, is so tender. And the way he rolls over, to kiss her all over again, is so gentle and so.. content, at the same time.

I love that in this moment, their togetherness is all that matters to San. He doesn’t seem to care, that he’s late for the morning assembly, or that he has royal duties that he needs to fulfill. In this moment, Deok Im is his entire world, and I can’t help but swoon at that.

Of course, the realities aren’t quite so simple, in broad daylight, and I’m glad that Deok Im still has her friends to rally around her. I’d been halfway afraid that Deok Im becoming a concubine would mean the end of her friendship with Kyung Hee, Young Hee and Bok Yeon, but nope, those 3 still have her back, and are still fiercely loyal to her, and I love that, so much.

I’m sobered to hear Deok Im tell her friends, that if she does love San, she would make sure that he never finds out. On the one hand, that makes my heart break for San, because he has been so honest and upfront about how much he loves Deok Im.

On the other hand, listening to Deok Im talk about it, I can understand that, to her, this is arguably the last frontier of her personal agency. She now has so little control over anything, that this feels like the only thing which she has control over, and therefore, I can understand her wanting to hold onto that.

I do feel sad for Deok Im, who spends the next 10 days waiting in vain, for San to visit her, and I can understand why she might think that San now regrets his actions, and is ready to banish her to the backrooms of the palace.

HOWEVER. Isn’t context really everything, after all, because the moment San does come to see her, he’s all gentle smiles and tender kisses.

I have to confess that my heart wobbled, when San tells Deok Im that he’d missed her, and that the reason he’d stayed away, was because he’d believed that she would need time to think. Aw. San really is consistently considerate of Deok Im’s needs, isn’t he?

Also, I couldn’t help but chuckle, at how San tells Deok Im that he would have come to see her sooner, if he’d known that such useless thoughts had been plaguing her mind.

How significant, that Deok Im now tells San that she doesn’t resent him any longer, and had missed him too. Aieee!!! I know she hasn’t told him that she loves him, but this thing, of her telling him that she’d missed him too, comes pretty close, yes?

My fangirl heart swooned (and rawred) at the tidbit of information, that San makes sure to visit Deok Im every night, and then giggled, and then melted, when San rushes over to see Deok Im, at the (fake) news that she’s unwell, and then refuses to leave, and holds her in his arms all night. 🥰

Sigh.. Deok Im really looks so happy and content, as she lies in his arms.

And then, my heart lurched at how San, thrilled at the news of Deok Im’s pregnancy, actually stops himself in his tracks as he’s on the way to see her, in order to visit the Queen instead.

What strikes me about it all, is how.. bittersweet their love has to be. Unlike ordinary people, San has a duty to his nation, as well as to his Queen, and Deok Im has to understand that, in order to honor him and all that he is.

How sobering and heartbreaking it must be, though, to anxiously await the arrival of the father of your baby, to rejoice in the happy news together, only to realize that he has to spend the night with someone else, because you are pregnant.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and I’m beginning to understand, more than ever, why Deok Im hadn’t wanted to be a royal concubine, despite her clear love for San.

On that note, I believe that Deok Im made her choice knowingly; she’d simply finally come to the conclusion that, after all is said and done, San means more to her than her freedom.

She could not bear the thought of never seeing San again, and therefore chose to be with him, even though she knew that it meant that her whole world would change, and that she would never be able to leave the palace again.

On a related sort of note, I also wanted to say that while it might sound a little jarring to the ear, to hear San say, a number of times this episode, that it doesn’t matter whether Deok Im loves him or not, because she is his, I don’t think that this is meant to establish his position of power over her.

Rather, I tend to think that this is San’s way of comforting himself, that Deok Im has not told him that she loves him. From everything that we’ve seen of San’s feelings towards Deok Im, I’m convinced that San wants nothing more, than for Deok Im to tell him that she loves him.

However, she has not done so, and even though she has given little indications, like telling him that she misses him, it isn’t quite the same as her telling him that she loves him. And, San reiterating that it doesn’t matter because she is his, is his way of coping, I feel.

I do love our closing scene, where San thinks of the title that he’d like to give Deok Im, if she were to give birth to a son and therefore become a Consort, because the title that he picks for her, is pitch perfect. It’s about family, and love, and that’s exactly what Deok Im is, to him.

What a sweet little picture of family bliss, as Deok Im asks San if he can feel the baby, and he smilingly says that he can, while she chuckles at how amazing he must be, if he really can feel the baby.

Awww. Can we have San and Deok Im be happy like this together, always? Pretty please? ❤️🥺

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

Augh. What. A. Finale.

How did this final episode manage to make me cry so much from heartache, and yet, manage to leave my heart feeling full? I feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me, and yet, it feels absolutely worthwhile.

I have to admit, I’d balked when I first saw the length of this episode. A whole hour and 40 minutes; that’s basically a full-length movie, is what I thought. And yet, once I started watching it, I was pulled along effortlessly by the story that Show wanted to tell. I didn’t once feel like the episode was too long and therefore I needed a break.

If anything, the only breaks I took, were because it was all a little much to process, emotionally. It was my heart that needed the break, and that has nothing to do with the episode feeling too long.

Before I get started on my thoughts, though, I feel it would be useful to address the potential elephant in the room: that Deok Im dies just a few short years after becoming San’s concubine. My mom disliked Show’s ending because Deok Im died.

And, well, fair enough, I get that this can be an upsetting turn of events in any story.

However, I’d like to offer the perspective, that Show had chosen to tell this story from within the pages of history, and the fact is, there’s no getting around Deok Im’s early death, unless Show completely ignores history, and writes an alternative ending.

And while that might be the choice that some shows make, that isn’t the choice that this show makes, and for that, I think Show deserves respect.

Show chooses to stick with the most difficult part of this history – that Deok Im dies an early death – and manages to weave (what I think is) a beautifully poignant perspective into its narrative, which I very much appreciate.

Because of the monster length of the episode, I don’t foresee that I will be able to talk about everything in detail. But I do want to make sure that I touch on all the things that really stood out to me.

First of all, Show absolutely does not shy away from showing us how difficult and painful life could be, for both Deok Im and San, with the opening scene being of their young son on his death bed, with San cradling him as a tearful, helpless father, and Deok Im, unable to see him, because he’s got the measles, and she cannot risk the wellbeing of the child in her womb.

The fact that Deok Im doesn’t get to see her son one last time, before his passing, is really heartbreaking. The fact that she’s expected to gird herself up and be strong, because she’s not the only one who’s lost her child, feels cruel, particularly when that statement comes from San.

My heart broke for Deok Im, within seconds of starting this finale, and it continued to break for her, through this entire episode.

At the same time, it’s not hard to see that San himself is heartbroken at the loss of his son, and isn’t allowing himself to grieve, because of his duty to the nation, as King. That scene, where San breaks down sobbing, all alone in his study, made my heart ache for how sad and lonely San is.

That pretty much sums up the dilemma for San, through his reign. He’s continually torn between acknowledging his own feelings and needs, and fulfilling his duty as King.

I feel that Young Hee’s affair, imprisonment and eventual death serves a few different purposes, in our narrative.

It serves as an example of how San has to be faithful to his royal duties, even though he has the power to save Young Hee. In order to be a fair and just King, San has to sentence one of Deok Im’s dearest friends to death.

That has to hurt both him and Deok Im, and yet, they are both sadly stoic about it, because they both understand that this is not his choice.

At the same time, this event does serve to add to Deok Im’s deteriorating state, not only emotionally, but also, mentally and physically.

Even though Show is not clear on Deok Im’s eventual cause of death, I feel that her grief over her son’s death, and then Young Hee’s death as well, definitely caused her physical deterioration, and very likely also eroded her will to live.

On a more symbolic sort of level, I feel that Young Hee’s story serves as an echo to Deok Im’s own story. Young Hee tells Deok Im that she had chosen love, even though she understood the risks that it entailed, and the danger to herself that she was undertaking, in choosing love. Even though, in the end, her love has led her to death, she does not regret the choice that she’s made.

Isn’t that essentially Deok Im’s story, summed up? Deok Im, too, chose love, even though, in choosing love, she knew the pain that it entailed. But she chose love anyway, because she had felt that it was a worthwhile choice. And in the end, her love does, in a way, lead to her death, but she does not resent San for it, and neither does she mourn the choice that she’d made.

Because of this, I actually appreciate the inclusion of Young Hee’s story, because it serves as such a great mirror for Deok Im’s love and Deok Im’s choice, which we’ve been witnessing, over the course of our story.

In that scene where Deok Im, Kyung Hee and Bok Yeon talk about meeting again (in the inferred afterlife), where they would wait for one another and live in a house by a bookstore, Deok Im is the one who asks what the penalty would be, if any of them doesn’t keep the promise.

On hindsight, that serves as a foreshadowing of our eventual ending, doesn’t it, where we see that Deok Im has been waiting for San, at the little house that had served as her royal quarters, instead of for her friends, as previously promised.

I’d like to think that even then, Deok Im had known that she would end up choosing to wait for San in the afterlife. That’s just how much she loves him.

Also on hindsight, I think that that’s why Deok Im had asked to see Kyung Hee and Bok Yeon on her deathbed, instead of San. She says that it’s because she knows that he’ll be alright, because he is strong, and he is the King, while she is all the girls have.

Beyond that, though, I believe it’s because, by this point, Deok Im’s already clear that she will see San again, because she will wait for him in the afterlife, but this is the last time she might see her friends, because she will not be waiting for them, as promised.

Even though Deok Im tells San, on her deathbed, to pass her by if he were to meet her in their next life, I don’t see that as Deok Im rejecting San.

I feel that it’s mostly Deok Im expressing her desire for personal agency, if she were to have a next life. And, in the context of our eventual ending, where Show hints that San and Deok Im stay together forever in the afterlife, this statement lands more as a hypothetical desire, than an actual request for San to stay away from her in their next life.

At the same time, I feel sorry for San, not only for having to say goodbye to Deok Im, but also because, even though Deok Im’s actions have indicated her love for him, there are seeds of doubt in his mind too, because of her decision not to articulate her feelings for him.

And, over the years, it’s easy for those seeds of doubt to take root and grow stronger.

In the wake of Deok Im’s death, it’s clear just how heartbroken, and just.. generally broken, San is, from losing her. Because of this, I feel that his articulated decision to forget Deok Im, isn’t really about forgetting her per se.

Rather, I see this as San choosing to put away his thoughts and memories of Deok Im – bury them in a corner of his heart, if you will – so that he’d be able to function, and fulfill his royal duties.

I do believe that if San had not made that choice, to put away his thoughts of Deok Im, that he would have been paralyzed for a very long time, and that would’ve been just unacceptable, for a King.

Therefore, when San once again speaks of Deok Im, later in the episode, and asks to see the belongings that she’d left behind, I don’t think of it as him suddenly remembering her, after having forgotten her. I see it more as him finally giving himself permission to think upon her once again.

In that scene where Kyung Hee tries to tell San about Deok Im’s true feelings for him, I feel like San’s strong reaction, where he refuses to allow Kyung Hee to finish speaking, comes from those seeds of doubt that I talked about earlier.

I get it, actually. Coz sometimes, even though the actions do speak louder than words, you still want the assurance of the words themselves, and that’s something that San didn’t get, from Deok Im.

The scene of San opening the box, and fingering each of Deok Im’s belongings, and thinking back on the memories associated with each piece, as the tears fall freely, is so very poignant. The happy memories, though sweet, are now tinged with pathos, with Deok Im gone from San’s side.

In particular, I find San’s tearful realization, as he holds her jeogori and then sobs into it, that Deok Im had been so tiny, extra poignant. It’s like Deok Im had been smaller and more fragile than he’d realized, and he’s overcome now, at the realization that she had needed more protection than he’d thought.

What a moving interpretation of the scene by Junho, truly.

I very much appreciated the nugget of a scene, where the always-contrary, always-grumpy minister tells San that he’s actually glad that San is his king, because it gives San the assurance that he’s done right by the throne, after having given it his all, all these years.

It’s so poignant that on his deathbed, San’s thoughts immediately go to Deok Im. The sheen of tears in his eyes, says so much, about how much he loves her and misses her, even now.

I actually really, really love the idea of the “reverse dream,” where, in falling deeper into unconsciousness, San wakes up from his nightmare all over again, lying in Deok Im’s lap, just like he had before.

Except, this time, even though Deok Im urges him to go back to tend to royal matters, San chooses to stay.

I love this idea, that San has a choice in the matter.

He knows that going through that door, he would get to live a longer life, and do more for his country, as a King. But where before, he’d always made the choice to put his royal duties first, this time, he chooses to put Deok Im and their love, first.

Deok Im’s been waiting for him, all these years, and I believe that even if San had chosen to go back to his royal duties, that she would have continued to wait for him, until he had been ready to come to her. But this time, San makes her his priority, and chooses to stay with her, rather than go back.

I do love the closing voiceover that we get from San and Deok Im, who together indicate that, however one interprets this moment, they are together forever, now.

San: “If this… is a past memory, it is fine. If it is a dream, it is fine. It does not matter if I am dead. I will… always choose this moment with you… and hope… this moment to not change. For this moment… to be forever.”

Deok Im: “So the moment… became forever.”

Through the lens of a reverse-dream, it’s their duty-bound lives that make up the dream, while their time now, together, is their reality, and.. that’s quite beautiful, I feel.

If they can be together now, for all eternity, in this happy bubble that’s suspended outside of time, then it feels like all of the obstacles that they’d overcome together, in order to love each other, are worthwhile in retrospect. At least, that’s how I’d like to think of it.

Be happy together, San and Deok Im.. May you now enjoy many, many lifetimes’ worth of love, joy and happiness together, now that you are each other’s forever family. 🥲❤️

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Beautiful, intricate and rich in its characterization, and poignantly satisfying in its storytelling.

FINAL GRADE: A

TRAILERS:

MV:

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of The Red Sleeve, is Thirty-Nine. I’ve taken an initial look, and so far, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that it’ll work out to be a heartfelt and worthwhile watch.

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

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

Early Access Plus (US$10): +Thirty-Nine

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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BE
BE
1 day ago

I watched this on your rec K, and for the m ost part thought it was a very good and somewhat surprising sageuk. But reading the responses, as almost always I found m;yself out of step with others watching it. I thought the plot of secret society of palace maids, especially in response to San’s father’s outrrageous mass murder, the patriarchal arrogance that however much Junho’s performance gave San a sympathetic air, lent a complexity to the story and characterizations that provided something both new and from a contemporary view necessary to the usual presentation of political realities of Joseon dramas, even if the trope of the lady ninjas brooked realism. If one was to take all in all of Deok Im’s fate, one can whole heartedly state the picture of the life of women, even an empress, let alone the King’s favorite concubine, let alone the maids, was indeed a gilded prison.

And for me, after that part of the plot finished, I thought the show lost direction, jumped around a bit much. And settled for tragic death followed by a quick summation of the rest of his life with flashbacks, the King turning out to be a groovy guy and not a mass murderer as if there was any chance of that.

Acting was great and carried the drama. Glad I watched it all the way through, but unlike you dear K, I could not figure if show knew where it was headed at all, trying to do two very different things–comment on the outrageous misogyny and its upshot of Joseon courtlife or present a kind of tragic love story for which it’s main character because of that embedded misogyny, however dashing, passionate, in many ways virtuous, never really got the why of his paramour’s heartache, while almost dusting the force of the major historical force involved.

Really good sageuks do speak to historical injustices in Korean history. I know a lot of folk watching them find that to be the least interesting part of the stories, but I will raise the great classic Chuno here. Dae Gil’s story is epic and tragic because he was a noble and his love a slave. That component of his character goes to the heart of his tragic flaw, his tragic end. On the other hand Bossum, for example, is based on kidnapping without really ever interrogating that via characterization. The Red Sleeve almost got there but just did not take the show’s fundamental historical conflict all the way out. Leaving its hero off the hook and giving him a fantasy at the end of a long life in which his love’s effect never is really presented registering.

Sam Butler
3 days ago

Sadly, we were completely thrown out of this story by the extraneous ninja court ladies narrative in the middle. (Though we would truly adore a show that was actually about ninja court ladies!) The beginning and end were magnificent, however, marvelous in every way. Twelve episodes without any logic defying ninjas would have given us a perfect show.

Moi
Moi
2 months ago

Kfangirl, this is my first comment on your blog although not my first visit. I really enjoy your reviews and seeing whether our perspectives matched up. I think the only major disagreement I’ve had with your viewpoint was with your review on the Descendants of the Sun. It’s one of the few shows that I dropped. But like you, I was pulled into the whirlpool that is Junho through TRS. I’m a solid, solid fan now. I loved your k-love post on him too, btw! I felt the same way about the series as you did in your review. But your interpretation of the last episode goes into so much more detail and just makes so much more sense. A+ for that amazing, brilliant review! I agree with your A for the series because of the moon fairies portion. I must confess, I go back to my favourite parts of TRS for some of that smoulder and deep voice😂 Thank you once again for that amazing review!

Moi
Moi
2 months ago
Reply to  Moi

P.S. There’s a blog where one of Junho’s fans translates the Korean novel called Unlock The Red Sleeve if you’re interested.

enapeters
enapeters
3 months ago

I actually felt the opposite of your compliment to the show that it knows what it wants to be. This show was all over the place for me. The first 1/3 was light, fluffy, and slurpable. The second 1/3 was full of intrigue with the unrealistic court lady ninjas. There were a lot of plot holes and logic lapses, but with the idea that the writer wanted to show that court ladies had their own thoughts and desires, I could buy into it. Once San became king, though, it became hard to watch. He may have been a good king, but he wasn’t a good relationship partner. I could totally see why she didn’t want to become his concubine, and I was hoping the story would take a turn so she could find a happier path. The last 1/3 was more historically accurate, though, which meant she finally agreed (was coerced) to be with him, and it was just so tragic and sad. Then the very end was confusing. Was it meant to be romantic (like they are eternally in a place where they can be happy together)? The problem is that she wasn’t happy being with him because of all she had to give up, so that doesn’t sound to me like it would be heaven for her. That ending also doesn’t fit thematically with the rest of the show that focused on the terrible lives of the court ladies.

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
3 months ago

The Red Sleeve is a very well written show that is superbly acted. In fact some episodes had great dialogue e.g. episode 11. The actors must have known they were onto a “good thing.”

I absolutely adored the first six episodes and I did wax lyrical about it somewhat. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here was a show that was going to appeal to what I truly like in a romantic tale, and not only that, we were being treated to exquisite detail regarding the life of a palace maid that we often observe in the very good historical CDramas. 

Like kfangurl, I did feel that the maids secret society was at odds with the main story. However, I did enjoy the mythology of it all, I mean who isn’t intrigued by the concept of moon fairies? However, it felt like a random nod to those secret societies we have seen in some classic Sageuks. 

Lee Deok Hwa as the regal grandfather was magnificent. And yes it was a Shakespearean performance. In real life, King Yeongjo was a great reformer, in fact he pushed his court very hard on legal and criminal reform, which San took even further. King Yeongjo did say “Must we really sever people’s toes to uphold the law?” For example, he made great inroads into stopping the illegal beatings, knee pressings etc that we see played out in so many Sageuks. His view was harming the body would impact on several generations after – especially when it came to matters of capital punishment. So, it was all the more perplexing, despite the untenable behaviour by his son, when he made the decision to condemn San’s father.

So, as I progressed with my watch, I thought I would delve more into what really happened between our famous couple. I should have stopped, because, I found, despite the very good writing in this show, The Red Sleeve couple’s actual story was for me, far more appealing. Okay, I doubt they would have experienced all those swoony bits that show was so good at torturing the viewers with, but you never know 😂

In short, I found myself at odds with what the writers were on about, apart from pointing out that a maid’s life was not necessarily an easy one. For instance, Deok Im’s rejection of San’s proposals were not to do with her wanting to keep her independence, but were to do with the level of respect she had for the royal family. For example, the first time San proposed at age 15, Deok Im (14) rejected the proposal because his queen had not yet had any children (San was married at age 10). 

However, I admit there is not much written from Deok Im’s perspective in the documented history. However, what is clear is that she was well beyond her years in terms of maturity. Also, Deok Im was allowed to stay in the palace after such a rejection. So, something was definitely in the water re their relationship.

So, although the power dynamic was a very real thing re Kings and their subjects (love interests) and certainly played out with royal couples elsewhere, I had my doubts this would be the case here. So, I wasn’t too happy with certain scenes. However, I understood their use to drive the narrative forward. 

History shows Deok Im was well loved by the royal family and the people, and even more so when she gave birth to potential heirs. So, when she did pass, the sadness was beyond great. As a concubine, she was the only one ever that was allowed to keep in regular touch with her family once married to the king. She had seven brothers and sisters!

Now as for Deok Ro, I picked him from day one as a “total slime bucket,” as we say where I am. I can’t really say more than that, other than he got what he deserved, eventually. The other supporting actors, as kfangurl mentions, were on the money too.

As I began my journey through episodes 14 – 17, I found myself wishing for expanded air time, more episodes. I wanted the story to flesh itself out more, to see what would be included in a developing poignant narrative. 

The final episode I found, despite its sad rendition with unrestrained grief, was handled in a fitting way. Junho and Se Young were/are marvellous. At the end of the day, it’s difficult to find a more fitting couple in a drama. They acted their socks off and brought great delight to most of us 😊😊😊

Psst, kfangurl, your notes are a fabulous study of Red Sleeve, and a useful “notes page view” for anyone seeking to navigate each episode 🤗😉

Reem
Reem
3 months ago

I remember having to take a break from this drama before watching the last episode because I suspected the ending would hurt (and I was right! Though I’m very glad it didn’t align with the details of my suspicion). I found myself choking up a little again reading the highlights here too 😭

It was such a wonderful moving and poignant story, if the social dynamics were frustrating (despite their accuracy). I have a big soft spot for sageuks and this one and the romance within will definitely stick with me (perhaps more than some other elements). There’s just a…sobering quality to the story’s romance; it’s not Perfect or Idealized the way some sageuk romances these days might be, in the way it doesn’t shy away from or try to dodge the power imbalance (and for that reason this is probably not a drama i’d recommend to others lightly, despite its high quality).

I nodded along with a lot of your review too ha. I did not find Deok Ro the least bit charming and didn’t understand the court maids’ collective crush on him haha. I feel like the drama was trying to sell us this sort of…doomed bromance between him and San but it just couldn’t, whether it was a flaw in the writing, a failing in the actors, or the characters themselves. Deok Ro’s affection or lack thereof was suitably dubious (likely by design) but I had trouble believing San even liked him. I did lowkey love the fact that Head Guard was at his most serious/sharpest when it came to Deok Ro though.

(Also I too adored Court Lady Seo. and loved all of her interactions with Head Guard hehe)

I do wish we’d seen more of the princesses (San’s sisters) though. They were a light-hearted delight too.

This drama was certainly heavy, but it gave me a lot of fuel for thought, especially about the nature of choice and power dynamics. I don’t see myself rewatching it because of its heaviness, but I’ll definitely be thinking about it for a long time.

Natalia
Natalia
3 months ago

[Tiny voice:] I dropped the show after ep. 2 [sorry]

JJ
JJ
3 months ago
Reply to  Natalia

@Natalia – LOL!!!! 😂😂😂😂😂 – “[Tiny voice]😂😂😂😂😂

uyen
3 months ago
Reply to  Natalia

Natalia, I completely respect dropping shows that are very hyped and loved but doesn’t work for you!! I’ve had my own share of that too lol

Shahz
Shahz
3 months ago

I cried buckets at the end of episode.And the last episode stuck with me for weeks. I had waves of what felt like grief.

The whole ” walk on by” made me cry but it made complete sense to me and in line with Deok Im’s character. And we also know in our heart of hearts that despite her words she would grab his Red Sleeve and stop him because they always need to be in each others orbit .

And the box had me in my knees, when he rolled out the apology letter( one my favourite scenes from the beginning)and then then the uniform 😭😭😭.

I struggle with Sageuks and only watched this because of FOMO and expected to drop this sharpish but Junho, LSJ and the story had either ideas.
Beautifully acted and beautifully written.

And that ending put my broken heart back together. Still cracked and scarred but back together nevertheless.

uyen
3 months ago
Reply to  Shahz

I also haven’t watched too many sageuks too because of the politics/angst but this one was just right for me

CarpControl
CarpControl
3 months ago

I really, really enjoyed the artistic re-telling of the history behind the Joseon Lover-King who got rejected by his court-lady thrice, yet managed to ‘wed’ her at an unusually late age, fathering his first children (with her) in their respective early to mid 30’s. (The loyaltyyy!!!) While I wasn’t a fan of certain story arcs, the characters were written logically enough to sell me the premise of this story. The dialogues were beautifully poetic, and istg, every moment between Junho & Lee Deok Hwa was acted to cinematic perfection!!
I mentioned earlier in KFG’s fangirling post, and I’ll mention it here again: the scene where the middle aged Yi San opens Deok Im’s box, was acted by Junho without any prior preparation. He refused to know the contents of the box, so that his expressions of surprise, wonder, and profound sadness could be as authentic as possible! 😭 The dedication this man has towards his craft… oof!

In many ways, the Red Sleeves was what I wanted my Saeguk Romances to be. Enough of court-intrigue & harem chick-fighting, yet the romance not completely overshadowed by them. Flawed characters, yet not totally unlikeable! ^^
I’ll finish off by recommending ‘the Story of Yanxi Palace‘, a Qing-Dynasty c-drama, if you enjoyed the lighter earlier episodes featuring a wisecrack Court-Maid (who we knew would eventually become a high ranking woman in the Palace), a slightly crazy emperor, behind-the-scenes of the Palace functioning, and of course, the very obvious & beautiful cinematography, color-grading & framing.💕

uyen
3 months ago
Reply to  CarpControl

I didn’t know the little detail about Junho acting that scene, that is very cool!

uyen
3 months ago

Oh goodness, reading your review made me cry again and want to torture myself by rewatching. I had so many thoughts reading through but now I feel emotionally wrecked again like I did after actually watching the show 😂 I’m reminded again that the banter/youthful fun parts in the beginning were worlds away from the end (although I actually was pretty annoyed by San and the whole letter thing, I think jerk princes turn me off lol, that low key turned me off in the beginning of Love in the Moonlight too). Some of my fav scenes were the first rain scene (BEN? singing? while San tries to hide that he’s staring at Deok Im? I’m sold), the whole scene where San is crying and Deok Im comforts him by reading through the screen, the running to each other super dramatically that somehow did not feel cheesy to me, the Yeongjo-San throne encounter, the moment San said he was the new sky (chills, I got chills), the Deok-Ro throne encounter.

I’ve mentioned this before, power dynamics in relationships make me feel icky, but I do like that it was acknowledged and not glossed over here. I like that we don’t see San as perfect. It also helped that a good chunk of the earlier episodes focused on his backstory/struggles. Looking back, that scene when he’s so determined to be king makes a lot of sense with some of the later actions when he seems more distant because of his duty.

I also didn’t love the Ganghwan palace arc, although looking back it makes sense with the themes of the show and the autonomy of palace women.

what I didn’t like about Head Court Lady’s arc
You mentioned this, but I hated HATED her motivation. When it had been for fear that San would be like Sado, I understood that more and that was more interesting to me, but the devolving into spurned love felt sloppy to me. I think there could have been a focus on power and the yearning for power as a court lady, without the jealousy/having a decades long vendetta against the descendant of your rival.

Turning to the end,

I don’t really know how spoilery this is but I’ll just lump it all here to think through the ending
so I actually was not able to feel the romance, and a large part of it is really just my modern day mindset and me gnashing my teeth when I felt Deok Im become a shell of herself. I know, I know the whole point was the context of their situation and positions in society, and really San was constrained by his duty in many ways. But it still hurt to see Deok Im a) lose her freedom (even seeing that picture in this review of her as a consort with tears in her eyes in the waving scene makes me tear up!!), b) see her friends die, 3) have to share her kids with the country — ahh I know this is the whole point of the themes in the story, but for me it made it really hard to sit through the end when she died. I think I found it difficult to be drawn into San’s grief because I felt a lot of residual grief for Deok Im and frankly found the ending scene with both of them together sort of painful instead of happier and hopeful. It’s funny, my sister and I had 2 completely diff reactions to Deok Im asking San to bypass her in the next life – she was upset that Deok Im didn’t want to say bye to her husband esp when he would be losing her and their child and was like “ok yeah San, move on and find someone else” while I was feeling like I wanted an alt universe of Deok Im being happy, independent, traveling the world and using her wit to get involved in some internal intrigue and was like “yes PLEASE leave her alone and let her go.” Obviously 2 extreme reactions, KFG’s interp that Deok Im knew she would be with San in the afterlife is much more balanced lol
.

What I do love is that both San and Deok Im are SO savvy, and I liked both of them teaming up. They had that solid friendship before things got romantic, and I did like that, that they knew each other very well. Ok this turned out much longer than I intended, my only other thought is I would totally be down for a reincarnation, modern day special ep or 2 where the dynamics are flipped, I saw Lee Se Young mention this in an interview, that she’d love to be in a modern drama where she gets to boss Junho and Kang Hoon around, and I’m here for that.

Elaine
Elaine
27 days ago
Reply to  uyen

Oh wow, a modern reincarnation remake would be amazing!

Azlina
Azlina
3 months ago

i would give it A+ actually. Both the Show and your wonderful, heartfelt review of it ( including the fangirling moments on Junhoooo😍). Many thanks!!

JJ
JJ
3 months ago

Ah dang, I read Trent’s comment and thought nah Ill be ok. And reading your closing thoughts I went and did the same darn thing as Trent…….. Shahz watched it first the final episode and had to take breaks like you and I found I had to do the same thing. The final episode totally ruined me and barely could discuss it on the drama exchange. Barely, Trent and Shahz did a beautiful job though summing up the final episode.

Thanks to Sean for encouraging this one to be watched as I was Sageuked out after Bossam. I am so glad we all watched this together. I cannot imagine watching this one without company.

Leslie – you ok?????

Trent
3 months ago

Aw, damnit. I ugly cried at the end of the final episode, and now reading your summation of it, I went and did it again.

A show that went from strength to strength and consistently got deeper and more powerful as it went along. An absolute cut above the usual sageuk romance, in my view.