THE SHORT VERDICT:
Show works out to be a solid homage to the xianxia genre, while still managing to be its own thing.
And, as its own thing, Show manages to stick to its internal mythology, while mixing its more dramatic arcs with spots of comedy and levity, and remains interesting and engaging, all through its 20 episodes. That in itself feels like a writing coup, credit to the Hong sisters.
Our cast is generally strong and varied, and I especially enjoyed the performances by Lee Jae Wook and Jung So Min, which I thought worked to ground the emotional beats in particular.
A very enjoyable ride from start to finish, and here’s hoping that Part 2 (review here!) will remain just as good.
THE LONG VERDICT:
I’m honestly quite shocked at how much I ended up liking this one, you guys.
After all, like I mentioned in my episode 1 notes, on paper, there were just so many reasons for me to feel wary about this one.
I hadn’t loved a Hong sisters drama in quite a while; I hadn’t had very good experiences with magic-heavy kdramas *coughLoversOfTheRedSkycough*; I’m not typically into xianxia, and this one is clearly heavily inspired by the xianxia genre.
Despite ALL of that, though, I ended up liking this one A LOT.
And, despite Show’s 20-episode length, I didn’t actually find my interest flagging, all the way through.
That’s skillz, y’all.
20 episodes later, I’m pretty darn convinced that the Hong sisters are back in top form, which is very happy news indeed.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it as you read the review.
Overall, I enjoyed the OST very well, even though I can’t say any single track actually managed to get under my skin.
However, I have to admit that every time Track 1, Scars Leave Beautiful Trace, came on, I felt it give my watch experience a bit of a rock-edged boost of feels, and I liked that very well.
Here’s Scars Leave Beautiful Trace on its own, in case you’d prefer to listen to that on repeat. Just right-click on the video and select “Loop.”
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind, which I believe will help you maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. This drama world is very magicky.
What this means is, there aren’t any rules, except for the ones Show explicitly establishes. I think it’s helpful to keep an open mind around that, and allow yourself to just go with the flow.
2. It can be confusing at first.
With a sprawling cast and many different sects and organizations populating our drama world, it can feel a bit overwhelming at first.
My suggestion is to just bear with it for a bit, because the who’s who and what’s what all somehow starts to fall into place, after a while.
STUFF I LIKED
I’ll be doing a macro look at the various things I liked and liked less about this show, before delving into characters and relationships.
Our drama world is nicely fleshed out
I really like how rich our drama world feels.
It’s big, broad, and sweeping, and it feels like our writers have taken pains to color in the various corners of this story world, so that it all comes together as one organic whole.
And, even though it can feel confusing at first, because of the many moving pieces, it all somehow comes together relatively easily in my head, just from rolling with what Show serves up.
That’s very nicely done, considering there’s so much that goes on, in our story, and in this drama world.
I feel like this show has managed to mesh the best of kdrama and xianxia together, to make something that’s the best of both genres.
On the one hand, this ride is magicky and wild, because you just never know where the story might go next, thanks to all the magic.
And on the other hand, you get something that’s heartfelt and emotionally engaging, which is what kdramas do best, and which is what many C-dramas don’t succeed so well at (or in some cases, don’t even seem to try very hard at, actually).
The result is pretty cracky, I have to say, and I had an excellent time watching this one, while feeling like I was in deft hands.
Fingers crossed that Show keeps this up in Part 2 (review here!), coming up in December 2022!
Our story is well-plotted and coherent
Despite its ambitious scope, Show is well-plotted and coherent all the way through, which I thought was very impressive.
Driving the story forward
I realize that this is a show where my main hook is wanting to know what happens next.
With a lot of shows, my main hook tends to be affection for the characters, and wanting to root for them on their journey.
Not in this case. I find that my affection for the characters pales in comparison to my interest in knowing what happens next. I want to see how our writers keep taking the story forward, within the rules they’ve set for themselves within our story world.
And, I’m happy to say that, by and large, Show delivers.
There is, admittedly, a camp of viewers which seems to think that this drama crashed and burned pretty early on, but I’m not in that camp. I actually really like what Show serves up, pretty much from start to finish (of Part 1, anyway).
Connecting plot points
I also really like how our writers connect various plot points, so that they build on one another, and end up coming together to create this cohesive whole.
Beyond that, I also like how Show manages to keeping a finger on each main thread of our story, without losing hold of any of them, even though there are often several at play, at the same time.
Importantly, Show takes care to make sure that the threads are as intertwined as possible, so that it doesn’t actually feel whiplashy when Show switches its focus from one location to another.
Nicely done, I feel.
For example, in episode 12, I like the way Show pulls together the two threads, of the soul-shifter arc, and Uk (Lee Jae Wook) competing with other mages, in an effort to get back the jade egg that he’d given Mu Deok (Jung So Min).
On the surface, these two look like two completely separate arcs, but by the time we reach the end of the episode, it feels like they’re tied together quite nicely, and I rather like that.
Respecting its internal mythology
I also really like how our story just keeps going in new directions that I don’t expect, and yet, still makes sense within its internal mythology. That is very excellent.
Episode 13: 3 examples
1. The whole thing of bringing Eunuch Kim (Jung Ji Soon) back to life from the dead – and he was very, very dead, with stone eyes and everything – is exactly the kind of plot twist that a high-intensity makjang would whip out.
And yet, it makes perfect sense that the fake Queen would be able to do that, because she has the ice stone.
I like that cohesiveness a lot.
2. And, even though I hadn’t paid too much attention to the magical floating sparks that resulted from Mu Deok dropping her hand into the water, this episode, Show links it back to how being in the lake had unlocked her energy before.
Which means that where Mu Deok’s concerned, there’s something about water, that helps her tap into her energy. Nicely done.
3. And, I love how Show taps back into the magnetic energy of the jade eggs.
Last we see this, it had been played for comedy, with both Uk and the Crown Prince (Shin Seung Ho) being kinda weirded out by the feeling of attraction that the eggs create, when filled with energy.
This episode, it makes perfect sense for Uk to tap on that, to call on the Crown Prince, when he and Mu Deok are stuck in Cheonbugwan, with no way out.
In this case, the Crown Prince really does become a savior of sorts to them, because with him present, Jin Mu can’t do anything to hurt Uk and Mu Deok.
Nicely played, Show.
Show regularly takes surprising narrative turns
While watching this show, I began to understand why folks like JJ like fantasy shows so much; when in the hands of writers who (so far, anyway, seem to) know what they’re doing, there is so much possibility to mine.
Because we are in a fantasy world where magic is the order of the day, there’s a lot of room for our writers to take our story in unexpected directions.
Just the existence of those possibilities, keeps me on my toes somewhat, because I can’t write off certain plot directions. Our writers could literally go in just about any direction, and it could work – if they play their cards well, and so far, they have been.
All in all, that is a pretty cool thing, in my opinion.
Nice balance of tones
Generally speaking, I found that I really liked the way our story navigates its more serious narrative bits and its funnier beats very deftly, so it never feels like an uneasy cohabitation of two different shows on my screen.
That’s hard to do, and I think it’s quite remarkable that Show does it so effortlessly, honestly.
Overall, this ensured that the watch experience never got too heavy, and also, never got too silly either.
I liked that a lot.
The CGI is solid
When it comes to CGI in dramas, there’s a wide range of quality out there, with some dramas being stuck with obviously cheap CGI, most likely due to limited budget.
With heavily magicky stories, this can become an issue, since these shows tend to need a lot more CGI than the average drama.
I’m happy to say that I thought the CGI in this show was nicely done.
My gaze is on the uneducated side of CGI things, but I can safely say that I never felt distracted from the story by poorly executed CGI, and I count that a plus, especially since Show has 20 pretty hefty episodes.
The spots of humor work for me most of the time
With k-humor and I not getting along so much of the time, I’m especially happy to say that, by and large, Show’s sense of humor worked for me – most of the time.
There are little spots of humor sprinkled throughout our story, and I enjoyed those little beats; they felt like little Easter eggs, in a way.
And, many times, these little spots of humor give off that trademark Hong sisters sort of flavor, from their heyday, which, as an added bonus, gives me positive nostalgic vibes.
Also, shout-out to our actors their excellent sense of comic timing, because that contributed a great deal, to the scenes actually landing as humorous, rather than try-hard.
Here are just a handful of examples, for the record.
E2. We don’t know what Cheonbugwan means, but I’m thinking this just miiight be a tongue-in-cheek homonym for 全部管, ie, “taking care of everything,” and, it if is, is exactly the Hong sisters’ kinda style. 😁
E7. First of all, I’m tickled that this whole concept of the Mirror Of Longing, brings out into the open, that facts that the Crown Prince and Yul were both longing for Mu Deok, while alone in their chambers.
Tee hee. Yes, this is a play on the reverse harem trope, where everyone seems to be attracted to a single female character, but it’s working out in a pretty amusing fashion.
I’m especially amused because neither the Crown Prince nor Yul should really have any business thinking about a maid who has nothing to do with either of them, and they know it.
Their awkward embarrassed looks, when called out on thinking about Mu Deok, tickle me.
Secondly, I’m actually very pleased that neither of them falls for the illusion, because they know Mu Deok well enough, to be able to call out a fake when they encounter one.
This endears them both to me a little more, because this shows that their feelings for Mu Deok are at least rooted in some real understanding of Mu Deok and her personality.
It also amuses me, that when it comes to entering Jinyowon to search for Mu Deok, both of them volunteer to go with Uk – even though it’s quite ludicrous that the Crown Prince should be seen in search of a maid who doesn’t even work for him.
His excuse, that it’s a rare chance to see the inside of Jinyowon, is a pretty good one, heh.
E8. While the whole thing with Uk becoming an urban legend with the blue cloth wrapped around his face is quite amusing, I have to admit that when Uk first tossed that blue cloth around his face, I was quite grossed out by this.
I mean, that blue cloth had just been around Gil Ju’s (Choi Ji Ho) swampy, petrified, oozy face. Blech. 🤢
But, I am suitably amused that this whole thing ends up creating a larger-than-life urban legend, that the blue mage is Naksu, soul-shifted back to life, and now invincible, because she’s found a strong body.
Lol. That’s so near but so far from the actual truth.
The whole thing where the blue cloth becomes a hot trend within the capital, is so fun. That’s classic Hong sisters for ya; never forgetting a bit of pop culture, even when in a sageuk setting. 😁
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Certain aspects of Show’s internal mythology aren’t clear
There isn’t much of this going on, since, like I’ve mentioned, Show’s pretty good about unpacking and respecting its internal mythology.
However, there is one thing that does niggle at me, which Show hasn’t made clear.
Here it is, for the record.
With all the soul-shifting going on, Show isn’t clear about what happens to the souls that are displaced from their original host bodies.
When Show does explore this a little, it’s only in the context of Mu Deok and Bu Yeon, which I conclude is a special case, because of Bu Yeon’s identity.
But, when it comes to other instances of soul-shifting, Show doesn’t shed any light on that. Where do the original souls go, when their bodies are taken over by soul-shifters?
We see quite a few soul shifters turn to stone in their borrowed bodies, over the course of our story. Doesn’t this mean that the unsuspecting hosts, whose souls we don’t know the whereabouts of, die wrongful deaths?
This did bother me a bit, when I thought about it.
Some logic stretches
Show’s generally pretty good about keeping to its internal logic, but there were a few instances where I felt like logic got conveniently stretched, in order to nudge our narrative along.
Here they are, for the record.
E3. I do wonder at some of the moves that Mu Deok’s able to pull off. She’s supposed to be suuuper weak, but we see her showing more strength than before, without any discernible reason for that increase in strength.
Maybe the treatment at Sejukwon has made Mu Deok stronger, but I can’t help feeling like this is a convenient narrative leap, to help our story along.
E15. It’s smart of Mu Deok to seek Maidservant Kim’s (Oh Na Ra) help to take her to Jinyowon to ask Cho Yeon to be her witness and alibi, but.. it makes no sense to me that Cho Yeon (Arin) would hide Mu Deok in Bu Yeon’s room while she talked with Madam Jin and Maidservant Kim.
I mean, I get that the idea is to have Mu Deok interact with Bu Yeon’s surroundings, but that was one of Show’s less natural beats.
E17. The King’s request, that they see the power of the ice stone to raise the dead – and his singling out of Mu Deok, to be the test subject, felt really random and out of left field, even though it does help to push our story forward.
When the funny didn’t work for me
The Intended Funny didn’t always work for me, and this particular instance, in episode 4, made me cringe, even though the intention was clearly to make me laugh. 😅
I didn’t find it funny, the way Mu Deok, then Uk, then Maidservant Kim, then Dang Gu (Yoo In Soo), get into the act of arguing over who should drink the rest of the chamber pot water, to appease the Crown Prince. Ew.
That went on way too long for my taste. 🤪
SPOTLIGHT ON CHARACTERS / RELATIONSHIPS
Lee Jae Wook as Uk
I really, really enjoyed Lee Jae Wook’s turn as Uk, in this show.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that Uk’s search for identity and purpose accounted for a large chunk of the human part of our story.
And, Uk’s search, in all of its layers – from poignant, to defiant, to wistful – really tugged at my heartstrings.
I couldn’t help but root for him, even when I sometimes wondered at the wisdom of his choices.
Kudos to Lee Jae Wook, for infusing Uk with so many layers, and making it look effortless, from start to finish.
E3. Poor Uk, to be expected to live a sickly existence, where he can’t withstand strong cold or heat, and can’t learn magic the way everyone else does.
And, it’s made so much worse, because he has no idea why his father, Jang Gang (Joo Sang Wook), would do that to him. If he at least knew the reason, perhaps it would’ve made it easier to bear.
But to be expected to bear such an existence, for no apparent reason? That’s not something most people would be able to accept.
It’s no wonder Uk is so determined to open his energy gates, since, as far as he can see, that’s the key to him being able to live a normal life like everyone else.
E4. When Uk’s torrent of energy gets unlocked during his duel with the Crown Prince, it only becomes clearer after a few minutes, that the sword is dragging Uk around, and not the other way around.
Kudos to Lee Jae Wook, because I imagine it’s hard to do a fighting scene where it looks like you’re being dragged around by the sword instead of wielding it, but he does it very convincingly! And, I found it quite funny in the execution too, which is bonus.
E4. I feel so bad for Uk, though, that Park Jin (Yoo Joon Sang) chooses to tell him that he’s not Jang Gang’s son, but the result of an affair that his mother had had with someone.
That must be such a huge blow to Uk, since he’s spent his entire life trying to prove that he really is his father’s son, and is worthy of being acknowledged as such.
Now, with this semi-reveal, Park Jin’s basically made all of Uk’s efforts utterly meaningless. Poor Uk.
For years, he’s never flinched in the face of rejection, because he’s so used to it, but now, he really does appear broken, at this realization. 💔
I can see why Uk would suddenly lose all his determination to train.
E7. It’s interesting that Uk’s encounter with the magic Mirror Of Longing, has him pondering reality and illusion in such a personal way.
I find it thoughtful and quite insightful, the way he tells Park Jin,
“All my life, I tried so hard to prove to everyone that I was my father’s son. But you told me I was not. Though it hurt, it got rid of my illusion.”
“The illusion I tried so hard to prove no longer exists. So from now on, I am going to try even harder to find out who I really am and what I must do from now on.”
I do really like how this seemingly side plot point, has turned into a core issue of identity, for Uk.
Nicely played, Show.
Jung So Min as Mu Deok
This has worked out to be a pretty great role for Jung So Min, because I feel that, 1, it gives her a lot of space to show her range, and 2, it taps into many of her strengths as an actor.
When she’s in Naksu mode, she channels that piercing fierceness really well. And then, when she’s just Mu Deok, she’s the complete opposite, all soft and helpless.
On top of that, there’s a nice amount of comedic touches about Naksu-as-Mu Deok, and Jung So Min delivers those funny moments really well too.
Really well done, overall.
I realize that as a character, Mu Deok’s also on a search, not unlike Uk.
[MINOR HIGH LEVEL SPOILER]
Most of the way through our story, Mu Deok believes that she’s in search of revenge, and also, in search of her powers.
There’s so much more to it, though, beneath the surface.
While she may not be cognizant of it, Mu Deok, not unlike Uk, is also in search of identity, and a place to belong.
Even though she resists it a lot of the time, part of the gratification of witnessing Mu Deok’s journey, is seeing her form connections with others, and come to appreciate those connections, in spite of herself.
Here’s a quick-ish spotlight on some of the highlights in Mu Deok’s journey.
E1. The way Jung So Min leans so fully into the physical comedy, like when Naksu-as-Mu Deok hangs from that bridge, suddenly realizing that this body has no strength to pull itself up, is quite funny.
Also, the way she keeps deadpanning those voiceovers, where she decides that she will kill this person and that person, once she’s regained her strength, leans comical too.
I think it lands comically, because she’s so obviously hapless and at the mercy of others; the only thing she can do to console herself, is make all these empty-sounding promises to herself, that she will kill these useless people, the moment she regains her strength.
E4. I like the way Mu Deok goes after the Crown Prince with Naksu’s sword, then praises him to the high heavens, while assuring him that he most certainly did win that day, since he’s leaving with what he’d wanted.
The way Mu Deok plays it, the Crown Prince’s peevishness seems completely smoothed over, and it does look like she’s successfully made sure that he won’t return another day, to continue to badger Uk.
I just love Mu Deok’s sly skill in all this, as well as her no-holds-barred, no-vanity way of brown-nosing the Crown Prince. She really doesn’t care about her pride or her dignity, in order to achieve what she wants.
And even though I know that ultimately she’s thinking about her deal with Uk and what she stands to gain from it, it somehow still feels significant, that she would do this, to protect Uk from having to fight the Crown Prince again, before he’s ready for it.
E4. How smart of Mu Deok, to make use of the fact that Jin Mu (Jo Jae Yoon) is out to have Uk killed in a duel with the Crown Prince, to force Uk to flee with her.
I mean, she didn’t create the situation – Jin Mu’s evil that way, all by himself – but she’s really quick to assess the situation and figure out how to use it for her purpose. I do rather admire her for that ability, honestly.
And Yul has a point, that Mu Deok keeps putting Uk into danger. And Mu Deok’s counterpoint, that this is how he will get what he wants, is valid too.
E7. I thought it was very clever – and a bit sly – the way Mu Deok provokes Cho Yeon by leading her to believe that the person who breaks the yin-yang jade will, as a result, never experience a long-lasting relationship.
Muahaha. That was quite perfect, because that’s the very thing that would terrify Cho Yeon.
E9. I find myself reaching for the conclusion that Mu Deok’s very good at playing along with people, and getting them to like her – or at least trust her.
Like the way she talks to Yul (Minhyun) this episode, and also, the way she talks to the Crown Prince.
Her way of approaching each of them is extremely different – with Yul, she’s gentle and thoughtful, and with the Crown Prince, she’s bubbly and full of easy praise – but the outcome is rather similar, in that both of them end up looking towards her, and wanting her company.
In that sense, it does seem to me that Mu Deok’s good at reading people.
E18. I’m intrigued by Bu Yeon’s words to Mu Deok, that the power will be more than she can handle, and she will have to bear the price of overflowing power, where earning one means losing another.
I hadn’t understood it when Bu Yeon had said it, but when Mu Deok analyzes the situation and concludes that her gaining that power, would mean sucking all the power out of the people within the barrier, thus killing them, it becomes clearer to understand.
And, given that the key people with whom Mu Deok’s built emotional bonds are within the barrier, it makes sense that this would cause her to hesitate the way she does.
I’m actually glad that she does hesitate, because that reinforces that the relationships she’s built with people like Yul and Uk are real, and not merely transactional, like she’s been telling herself.
She can’t actually bring herself to kill Yul or Uk, or allow them to die by any other means, in order to use the ice stone’s power to shift her soul into another body.
This is also why she keeps putting off taking any action about it, whether it’s telling Uk the truth about regaining her powers, or actually using that power to shift souls.
It becomes a bit of a running gag, how she keeps making excuses all episode long, to stay as Mu Deok juuust a little longer, because of this reason or that.
I find it rather endearing and poignant, actually, because her reasons for making those excuses have everything to do the people she cares about, and keeping them alive.
Uk and Mu Deok
The loveline between Uk and Mu Deok was one of my personal highlights of my watch.
Even though sometimes the OTP developments felt a little slow in the coming, I lapped up all the various tidbits Show served up, whenever they appeared on my screen.
That said, I have to confess that because of the way our OTP is positioned, with Mu Deok resisting the connection with Uk more often than not, I didn’t feel a really sparky connection between them, until our late epiosdes.
However, I very much enjoyed the plotting and writing around the love story between Uk and Mu Deok.
Here’s a sprawling look at the OTP connection, since it was such a highlight of my watch.
E1. We end the episode with Uk breathlessly pronouncing that Mu Deok is the master whom he’s looking for, and I’m pretty pumped to see how this unfolds, in our next episode.
After how Uk’s tormented Mu Deok this episode, I’m pretty sure Mu Deok, who’s already displayed a grudge-holding petty streak, isn’t going to let this go easily, once he acknowledges her as his master. 😁
E2. It’s just like the Hong sisters, to have Uk keep telling Mu Deok that her eyes are beautiful, not because he actually thinks so, but because he’s referring to how the soul shifter’s blue mark has bloomed in her eyes, like flowers.
Ha. It’s amusing yet rather poetic, at the same time.
And how cute, that Mu Deok then thinks to check how visible the blue marks are, in her eyes, by standing closer and closer to Uk, who then advises her that she just has to be careful when she kisses someone, ha.
This half serious, tongue-in-cheek style of banter, complete with played-straight serious expressions, is really working for me.
I actually like how Uk and Mu Deok come to learn more about each other, and come to understand each other’s situations and constraints better, this episode, while all these other things are going on around them.
Like how Mu Deok learns that Uk is very weak, and could literally die, if he falls sick. And how Uk learns that Mu Deok herself is very weak, and needs the energy from her sword, if she hopes to regain her strength.
And, I also appreciate how one of the things that keeps recurring, is the two of them, working to keep each other safe. Not so much because they really care about each other just yet, but because they need each other right now.
Like how Uk shields Mu Deok from the Gwigu (ghost dog), because he knows that they won’t let him be harmed, and how he breaks Gwigu’s pottery in order to save Mu Deok.
And there’s how Mu Deok steps away from Uk when she thinks the Gwigu’s found her, and tells him to pretend not to know her, and how Mu Deok brings Uk a warm cup of tea while he’s being punished, because she knows how weak he is.
It also feels significant, that Mu Deok tells Uk that he’s the first person she’s encountered, who’s tried to save her, instead of kill her.
That feels like a big deal for Mu Deok, so I’m guessing that there will be some loyalty born out of this, at least.
E2. I like that Uk goes to search for Mu Deok, once he realizes that it’s highly likely that she did go out there to the lake, to die.
At this point, he has no idea that he could gain anything further from her, and he still goes out there to search for her, which tells me that he does care about her, from a humane sort of perspective.
I like that sense of humanity and compassion, because up till now, all they’ve had between them, overtly, had been a tenuous agreement, that she would be his master, and he would be her pupil, if he could help her regain her energy.
And yet, even when he doesn’t believe that she can be his master anymore, he saves her, and gets her those eye drops, to treat and lighten the color in her eyes.
All these efforts by Uk to help her, might just be the reason Mu Deok hatches that audacious, crazy, risky plan, to poison him, and force those with enough energy, to open Uk’s energy gates and remove the poison from him.
Far out. It really is a risky plan, because she and Uk could both die, if things were to go wrong.
But she just goes for it anyway, and, whaddya know, it actually freaking works!
I hafta love that Mu Deok’s crazy, audacious, spectacularly hazardous plan actually works, and Uk gets his energy gates opened. High risk, high gain?
Our Mu Deok’s not afraid to play big, that’s for sure. Plus, you gotta love that amused smirk that she lets out, even as she addresses him as her pupil, before passing out.
And I do love that Uk looks as perplexed as he looks stunned and awed, by the craziness of his new master.
Ahhh. This is working out to be an unpredictable, fun ride, and I can’t wait to see how this crazy student will deal with his even crazier master, when the next episode rolls around. 😁
E3. There’s a bit of an undercurrent of Something, between Uk and Mu Deok.
Like the way he casually tells her that he’d personally changed her clothes, and Mu Deok looks awkward and hyperaware, for a long second, as she considers the implications.
How convenient, that Uk’s the only one who knows about the blue marks in Mu Deok’s eyes – making him the only person who can safely get that near to her, heh.
Through all this, it’s the facial expressions of Uk and Mu Deok, that make these types of moments as amusing as they are. Mu Deok’s shifty eyes and stiff upper lip, and Uk’s knowing smirk; it all comes together really nicely.
As Uk and Mu Deok officially become master and pupil, Mu Deok’s condition – that their master-pupil relationship last only until she gets her energy back, because then he’d have no reason to protect her and she’d have no reason to spare him – does hint at some potential angst in their future.
I don’t relish the idea of Uk and Mu Deok being on opposite sides, because I’m just now becoming quite fond of the idea of them sticking through thick and thin together, but.. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
In the meantime, I’m reasonably entertained by Mu Deok’s efforts to teach Uk, now that they’re officially master and pupil.
E3. Generally, I’m quite tickled by the dynamics between Uk and Mu Deok.
Sometimes, Mu Deok’s all commanding and Uk’s nicely obedient, but then at other times, because he’s still the young master whom she serves, he’s smart alecky and talks back, and refuses to do what he’s told.
But then, at other times, Uk does thoughtful things like save the nourishing ginseng soups that Maidservant Kim prepares for him, for Mu Deok.
I’m sure Uk’s discombobulation, when Mu Deok undoes his clothing to check his energy core, has something to do with his apparent jealousy later on, when he realizes that Mu Deok’s checked Yul’s energy core as well. Hee.
E3. I also really like how Uk gets suspicious and low-key jealous, when he notes Mu Deok’s expression, after having been in close proximity with Yul.
I mean, he’s so proud of himself for getting the breathing pattern off a drunk Heo Yeom (Lee Do Kyung) – which, well done, by the way, Sneaky Uk! – but he still gets all perplexed and blustery, when he tells Mu Deok that it’s not safe for her to allow anyone else that close to her – except for him, heh.
That moment when he states emphatically, “Only I get to come this close,” Mu Deok does have a bit of awkward hyper-awareness in her expression, as she tries to agree in as nonchalant a manner as possible.
I do love how Show turns on its heel after this, and goes right into comic territory, with Mu Deok saying she’ll try not to fall for Yul because Yul’s handsome, and Uk getting all perplexed when she says that with Uk, she doesn’t need to try not to fall for him. Snerk. 😁
E4. It’s nice to see Mu Deok supporting Uk through the hot and cold portions of the energy journey.
It really feels like she’s the only one in the world on whom he can truly depend, in this moment, because she’s the only one who knows what he’s going through. And I just like the idea that they’re in this together, for better or for worse.
While there’s a bit of hyper-proximity thrown in there, when Mu Deok climbs under the covers to help warm up Uk, who’s shivering like a leaf, I would say that Mu Deok is extremely matter-of-fact about it, so it doesn’t actually feel romantic.
What I do like, is the story that Mu Deok tells Uk, when he asks her to say something heartwarming, during his coldest time.
The way she describes that egg as alone and helpless, with only the mother bird to protect it and care for it, then compares herself to that egg, and Uk to the mother bird, is really quite heartwarming indeed.
E4. I do love how Mu Deok takes things into her own hands when Uk is in danger of losing the duel with the Crown Prince, and uses a big splash of chamber pot water, to get the Crown Prince to retreat – right over that line that he’d drawn in the ground. YAY, Mu Deok!
I love how she won’t let Uk get hurt, and will step in to save him, even if it means offending the Crown Prince.
E4. That beat in the middle of the episode, where Uk searches everywhere for Mu Deok, so that he can hug her and tell her that he finally did it, feels heartwarming too, just like that earlier beat where Mu Deok had been the only one who knew what he was going through.
After this momentous achievement, Mu Deok really is the only person who can understand what he’s been through to get here, and what it means to him, and therefore she’s the only person he wants to celebrate it with. Aw.
E5. The whole thing about Uk feeling so flustered at having drunk the chaste tea, which lowers his libido, is rather amusing.
And, I can’t help but notice that when Mu Deok remarks that there’s no harm in lowering his libido since he’s not going to need it, Uk asks Mu Deok if she’s sure that he won’t need it.
Ahemm.. Is that an indication that Uk had actually been hoping to use it – and with Mu Deok? It kinda sounds that way? 😏
Coupled with the little touches of Uk caring for Mu Deok – like the way he puts her on the bed and himself sleeps on the floor – I can’t help but think that Uk has most likely started to like Mu Deok, whether he’s aware of it or not.
Plus, there’s the way Uk looks at her, when he accidentally uses his energy and knocks that bowl right into Mu Deok’s forehead, causing her to bleed. Even though Mu Deok laughs it off quite gleefully, Uk’s look of concern is quite pronounced, and it feels distinctly personal, to my eyes.
I also find myself rather amused that Master Lee (Im Chul Soo) assumes that Uk and Mu Deok are a married couple, based on the way they talk to each other.
That’s true, that the comfort level that we see between them, in the way they bicker back and forth with each other, does vibe like that of a married couple. And now that Master Lee’s pointed it out, I can’t quite unsee it, heh.
Another thing that I found unexpected, is how Uk seems to take to the rural domestic lifestyle, so much so that he even considers living like this long-term.
E5. As we get near to the end of the episode, Uk’s care for Mu Deok becomes clearer, I feel like.
For example, the way he goes out of his way to look for her, then takes her back to Danhyanggok, while muttering to himself, while looking in Mu Deok’s direction, that there’s just one thing that’s preventing him from giving up everything to live a quiet life.
It seems to me, like he genuinely cares about Mu Deok getting her energy back, and therefore he feels that he can’t break the pact that they’ve made.
Also, when Uk spies Mu Deok staring at Yul, when Yul talks about his experiences in Danhyanggok, and how he’d loved the birds so much, it definitely gives Uk pause, like it matters to him what Mu Deok thinks and feels about Yul. Ooh.
And thennn, there’s how he promises to take Mu Deok to the top of the tree, because she can no longer climb it herself. This, even though it means that he would have to master Chisu in order to fulfill that promise.
So far, nothing that Mu Deok has said about the duel with the Crown Prince, has motivated Uk to want to train, but this moment of Mu Deok’s almost throwaway remark, that she’d like to see the moon from the top of the tree, does exactly that.
Oohh. Doesn’t that feel quite significant? 😁
E6. For a good chunk of the episode, Show gives us lighter, funner stuff, with Yul spending time with Mu Deok, and Uk getting all jealous about it, which, ha, I’m not going to complain about.
I find it amusing to see Uk feeling flustered and trying not to show it, when he sees Mu Deok getting comfortable with Yul. His feelings; they are showing, whether he’s cognizant of them or not. 😁
It’s cute how Uk’s quite instinctive about sensing a “cheating vibe” with Mu Deok’s interactions with Yul, and demands that she not cheat on him.
Mu Deok’s droll response, where she humors him to an extent, saying that he’s her ooonly pupil, and asking if it’s ok if she responds to Yul and Dang Gu when they call out to her – before she skips off to do the opposite of Uk’s request, that she be cold and indifferent when responding, is the kind of small-petty-funny things that I find amusing.
It does feel rather significant, though, when Yul offers to take Mu Deok up to the top of That Tree – which we know is her sincere wish – and she declines, saying that she doesn’t want to climb the tree with just anyone.
Ooh. So I guess Uk isn’t just anyone then? 😁
My fangirl heart is (perhaps prematurely) squeeing a little at the the idea that Mu Deok declines, because she’s already made that promise with Uk and doesn’t want to break that promise.
However, the more rational corner of my mind reasons that it’s more likely that Mu Deok refuses, because she recognizes that she needs to keep Uk motivated to train, and his promise to take her to the top of the tree, forms a good chunk of that motivation.
Heh. This is where my Emotion cell comes right back with puppy eyes and says, “But maybe it’s a bit of both..?” Ha. I crack me up. 😂
The truth is, though, I do think Mu Deok’s much more focused on Uk’s training and his training outcomes, than Uk himself.
Mu Deok’s decision to train Uk to master Tansu, regardless of the danger it poses to his life – which we only hear about later, from Master Lee – demonstrates that she is extremely focused on getting Uk into fighting shape; perhaps even dangerously so.
And I have to admit, seeing Uk’s hand all red like that, is rather painful.
E7. I am loving the way Show is bringing out all these indications that Uk and Mu Deok are more bonded and connected than the people around them might expect.
First, there’s the way Uk refuses to leave Jinyowon without Mu Deok, even if it means being sealed in there with her.
The risk is real too; as we see, Madam Jin (Park Eun Hye) is ready to seal Jinyowon with Uk in it, even if it means that Uk would then die inside.
Second, there’s the way Mu Deok knows Uk’s hand, without him having to say anything.
She recognizes everyone’s voices, and responds to them all correctly, but when Uk takes her hand, he doesn’t say a word. And she simply turns to him and addresses him correctly, as Young Master.
Eee!! I mean, to everyone else, isn’t this evidence that she and Uk have held hands before?? Otherwise, how would she know him by his hand, right??
Backing up a bit, I also really like the conversation that Uk and Mu Deok have, while she’s still inside the mirror.
“I thought about it after I heard about my marriage. “He finally has a way out.” “But how will I manage without him?” I bet you thought that and felt lost. But now that you are not here, I feel just as lost. Mu Deok-ah. I miss you.”
Ahh. I love the empathy and vulnerability inherent in these words.
I love that when Uk was faced with his marriage news, he didn’t think as much of himself, as he did of Mu Deok and what this development might mean to her.
And I love that he’s being so open now, in telling Mu Deok that he misses her. That’s the most overt sign of affection that he’s shown thus far, even though we’ve been reading the signs, that he cares a great deal about her.
E7. It makes sense that Mu Deok would be tempted to lead Uk to Gil Ju as demanded; she’s always spoken in very transactional terms, when it’s come to her relationship with Uk.
She’s been consistent in reminding Uk of how their relationship is only for a season, and that they will part ways, when the time comes.
So, it’s not entirely surprising that she would default to a transactional way of thinking, when presented with her choices by Gil Ju.
What I do love, is that it’s Uk’s sincerity that moves her to change her mind. In making that decision, she’s essentially putting herself in danger, in order to keep him safe, and I find that very touching.
Beyond that, I might love even more, that Uk won’t let Mu Deok go just like that, and manages to figure out that there’s something about the empty temple where she’d been taking him.
And, I love that what that results in, is Uk and Mu Deok working together to face Gil Ju, instead of one of them sacrificing themselves for the other. Partnership for the win, I say! 🤩
It’s pretty great that, working together, they manage to wound Gil Ju significantly, with Mu Deok being the strategist, and Uk being the one to carry out the strategy, without his binding bracelet to hold back his energy.
E8. Not gonna lie; my personal highlight this episode, is the showcase of how close Uk and Mu Deok have become.
From the way Mu Deok vows to kill Uk, thinking that it’s Gil Ju who’s soul-shifted into Uk’s body, to the way she knows it’s Uk, not just after hearing his words, but gazing into his eyes, to the way she throws herself into his arms in relief; it’s all such great evidence, that she cares about him too.
And then there’s how Uk’s shocked hands relax into position on Mu Deok’s back, to soothe her as she cries in relief, that he’s ok.
Augh. These signs of reciprocal care is melting me on the inside.
Additionally, I love all the various times this episode, where we see Uk and Mu Deok communicating with just their eyes.
They don’t need words; all they need to do is look at each other meaningfully, and it feels like a lot has been communicated, and with nuance to boot. I love that.
I feel like anyone seeing that would be able to pick up on how close these two are.
Like the way Mu Deok gets Uk to play along with the story that he’d run away from Gil Ju out of fear, leaving her behind.
There’s that beat, when he leans in to check her shoulder, when they exchange meaningful looks, that I really like. I don’t know; it just feels like they communicate so much, with that quick exchange of looks and tiny nods.
It certainly is enough to give Yul pause.
And, it does feel very momentous when Uk promises Mu Deok that he will find the ice stone, so that she will not be petrified and turn to stone.
The tiny smiles that they both tamp down, as they come to an agreement that Mu Deok will continue to push him towards death, because that’s how he’s been progressing and improving, also tells me that they’re both just happy to have a reason to stay together, which, aw.
E8. I like that Mu Deok’s come up with a strategy for Uk, and that even Master Lee is in on it, kinda, from the way she gets Master Lee to bring in those crocks of water into the hall where the duel is to take place.
I was quite concerned when we see that Jin Mu has his men break the crocks, based on a suspicious bad feeling, but mannn, Mu Deok comes through, by slashing her palm, to creating the “water” that Uk needs, in order use his Tansu move.
Woah. I really hadn’t seen that coming. And, ouch. 😝
I’m supremely pleased at their teamwork, though, and I’m also extremely pleased that Uk wins the duel, and that nobody has to die.
E8. I definitely got a thrill, that in order to make his decision on which organization to join, Uk asks Mu Deok, in front of everyone, what choice he ought to make – and then does exactly as Mu Deok says, and chooses Songrim.
I know that will probably get people’s hackles up against Mu Deok, whether it’s out of jealousy that Uk listens to her, or out of anger that Mu Deok advised against their own organization, but I’m too psyched at Uk’s open demonstration of implicit trust in Mu Deok, to care too much about that right now.
E9. In terms of Uk joining Songrim, I do like the beat where Uk gets dressed in his new uniform, and Mu Deok compliments him as his Master, saying that he looks impeccably cool in it.
Also, I can’t help but get a bit of a kick from the fact that Uk and Mu Deok switch roles so seamlessly while bantering with each other.
One moment he’s addressing her as Mu Deok, and himself as Young Master, and when she feigns ignorance in response to his question about how he looks, he changes tack and addresses her as Master instead, while referring to himself as her pupil.
The way they switch back and forth like it’s as natural as breathing, makes me feel like they’ve spent a lot of time together, and there really have a strong foundation for their relationship. I like that.
Of course, there’s also the thing where Uk seems to have developed a habit of hugging his Master during important occasions, and she doesn’t seem to mind too much, even though she might grumble a bit, that she can’t breathe.
This casual skinship also gives me a bit of a thrill. 😁
And, not forgetting the fact that when it comes to sharing good things – like food, or like that special pill that Master Heo sends – Uk’s first instinct, is always to share it with Mu Deok (to Maidservant Kim’s dismay, heh).
All of these little details makes the connection between Uk and Mu Deok really pop for me, and I find myself perking up in a big way, any time Show gives us another tidbit to prove their closeness. 🤩
E9. I love that at the close of the episode, we get that bit of clarity from Uk, where he realizes he misses Mu Deok, and articulates it out loud.
“Mu Deok-ah. I miss you so much.”
E10. I actually liked watching Uk and Mu Deok work so hard, in their individual capacities, to overcome the obstacles that have suddenly popped up between them, in order to be together.
The all-in, valiant efforts on both sides is quite moving, in and of themselves, and I liked watching each of them reach out to the other, in their own ways.
In this case, it does feel like absence makes the heart grow fonder. 😁
I think that the thing that surprises me most, this episode, is the fact that Mu Deok is actually cognizant of the feelings between her and Uk.
For some reason, I’d thought that she wouldn’t be, and that she’d be so focused on her goal, that she wouldn’t really notice or stop to think about the feelings aspect of things.
Instead, at the very top of the episode, she acknowledges in voiceover, that love may have seeped in between them, but resolves that she will eventually leave it behind, once she’s accomplished her goal.
Meanwhile, it seems like she’s allowing those feelings to exist, and isn’t doing anything to proactively stamp them out – which I like, as a viewer, heh.
E10. In the end, I’m glad that Mu Deok and Uk do manage to see each other face to face, even though it’s pretty fleeting.
The sense of urgency on both their parts, to make the most of the few moments they manage to have, as Uk’s boat passes by, is quite thrilling, I have to say.
It’s pretty great to see that seeing Mu Deok’s face, even if it’s just for this quick moment, is enough to satisfy Uk.
And, it’s also pretty great, that Mu Deok finds a way to let Uk know about how she plans to join him at Songrim, by tossing him the flyer about the Songrim hiring competition, so that he’ll have peace of mind that he’ll see her soon.
While it’s true that Mu Deok would’ve failed the first round of the competition without their help, she passes the second and third rounds, all on her own effort.
And seeing as how Mu Deok literally passes out after passing the third round, she really did push herself very hard, in order to pass – and all for the sake of reuniting with Uk.
Sure, it’s to further her own goals, ultimately, but somehow, I still feel touched that she would push herself this hard, in order to gain the chance to be in Uk’s orbit again.
In his own way, Uk’s works hard this episode as well.
Even though Master Lee does give Uk a clue in terms of how to approach the magic book, Uk cracks that code on his own effort too – and the reason he works so hard to do that, is so that he can leave that room, and see Mu Deok.
In fact, the moment he completes the task of reading the magic book, he goes straight to Mu Deok, to bring her to Sejukwon for treatment.
Aw. He really cares about her a lot, doesn’t he? 🥰
E10. It feels like sweet relief, to see Uk and Mu Deok sitting together and chatting; it feels like they’ve been apart for too long already.
I love how Uk interprets Mu Deok’s thrown flyer not just as a letter, but one that says, “I will go this far just to see you. I can do anything if it means being able to see you.”
And then he tells her his reply, “I also missed you.”
Melt. Even though Mu Deok’s regretting already that her love letter (which she acknowledges! Eee!) should never have been delivered, I have to admit, that’s some sweet, swoony stuff.
E11. Granted, Mu Deok doesn’t actually want to embrace the feelings that are growing between her and Uk, and this episode, she undoes all the progress we got last episode, by telling Uk that he’s essentially been poisoned.
Poor ol’ Uk, he really is so hurt by this, that he becomes disillusioned with regards to his training, and he’s also painfully embarrassed, thinking that his feelings for Mu Deok are not actually reciprocated.
It doesn’t help at all, that Dang Gu (Yoo In Soo) gets all excited by the (completely wrong) idea that Yul and Mu Deok absolutely, definitely have feelings for each other.
If only Uk knew the truth, which is that Mu Deok does like him too – but just isn’t willing to admit it.
Also. If only Mu Deok knew the truth, which is that if she’d just be honest with Uk that she likes him too, his motivation levels to train would go shooting right up, and she wouldn’t need to resort to this elaborate bet with the Crown Prince.
That said, I did find the bet quite amusing, in that in the end, the Crown Prince ends up providing a platform for Uk to fight some of the best mages at Jeongjingak, at the cost of his own golden toads – but he doesn’t even want that jade egg, now that he learns that it must be part of a pair. Tee hee.
I do feel bad for Uk, though, because through this whole thing, he just feels more and more hurt that Mu Deok appears to treat his feelings so cheaply.
I would be upset too, in his shoes, because if that jade egg was so precious to her, then she wouldn’t have bet it so easily, particularly since there’s a real chance that Uk might not be able to win it back.
E12. Even though I do think that Mu Deok was being rather cruel in the way she forced Uk into this situation, by offering up the jade egg as ransom, I do like that this gives them something to focus on together.
The scene of Mu Deok doing a post-mortem of the most recent fight with Uk, analyzing what he could have done better, and how he could have avoided losing, feels fruitful and useful.
I also like how there’s an aura of satisfaction about Uk, as he shows Mu Deok his new ability to harness energy with his hand. Mu Deok looking all proud of him, as his Master, is very gratifying to see as well.
Those little beats, where they show concern for each other, are like catnip to me.
I love that Uk is all concerned about Mu Deok getting enough rest, and nutritious food, and fusses over her changing her dirty shoes.
And in turn, I love how Mu Deok gets all concerned when Uk mentions that he has more wounds than she can see, and starts to feel him up, asking where else he’s been hurt.
Aw. The idea that these two can’t help but let the mutual care and concern spill out into the open, gives me the warm fuzzies. 🥰
The very fact that Uk doesn’t even seem that angry with Mu Deok, for not seeming to care about their shared jade eggs, really endears him to me.
It feels like he’s picked up on the fact that this process is helping him to grow stronger, faster, and the way he’s rolling with that, and embracing that, without seeming to hold a grudge against Mu Deok, really increases my fondness for him.
And, it seems it might be causing Mu Deok to waver a little more towards him, too. It definitely gives her pause, at least, particularly when she realizes that he plans to give her the egg again, once he gets it back.
Augh. After she’d given up that egg for ransom so recklessly, I feel like most people in Uk’s position wouldn’t risk giving it to her again. But not Uk. He’s so intent on getting it back, and then sharing it with her again, that I find that incredibly swoony.
His unwavering affection for and trust in her, is what’s making me melt.
E12. Through all of this, Mu Deok isn’t immune to her feelings for Uk either.
The way she looks like she’s been slapped in the face, when she walks into Uk’s chambers and sees Yun Ok there, definitely says a lot, as does the fact that she later asks Uk not to go back to his chambers to change his clothes, and that she would fetch his clothes for him instead.
Uh-huh. Pretty sure our Mu Deok’s starting to feeling jealous of Yun Ok, not because of anything Uk’s said or done, but for the pure fact that Yun Ok’s better positioned to be Uk’s romantic interest.
While Mu Deok’s just his maid, Maidservant Kim’s actively hoping that Yun Ok is the person to whom Uk’s given his heart.
Since Mu Deok does have feelings for Uk, I’m not surprised that she can’t help but feel a bit territorial.
I’m beginning to see that even if Mu Deok were to get her energy back, she’d also need a whole new path and purpose in life, because everything that she’d ever believed, has turned out to be a lie.
I find it sweet that Uk, learning about this because he overhears Park Jin’s conversation with Master Lee, finds ways to comfort and care for Mu Deok.
The way he gets a hot mugwort massage, so that he can pass that warmth to Mu Deok via a hug, is really endearing to me. And, he passes it off as taking her advice, and getting her to verify it – clever!
This episode, Show shines the spotlight on the troublesome fact that Mu Deok, is, in fact, a soul-shifter.
First, we have Yul talking about the implications with Uk, where he outlines the basic path of a soul-shifter, that they become monsters once they need to start feeding on the energy of others, and how it’s their duty to protect the world from such monsters.
That’s pretty ominous, considering that the way to protect the world from such monsters so far, has involved killing them.
But Uk, unmoved from his desire to protect Mu Deok, reframes it as protecting the monsters from the world, where, as long as they keep the monsters in check, all is good, not just for the world, but for the monsters too.
I like that idea, but at this point, I don’t know how he’s going to achieve that for Mu Deok, without her ending up taking energy from others. I guess he must be thinking of the ice stone?
I basically like how Uk’s always thoughtful and protective of Mu Deok.
The way he volunteers to go with her on her errand to Cheonbugwan, and then fast-talks a way for them to get inside, is also out of consideration for her, and I like that she picks up on it. At least she knows that he’s doing this for her.
It’s too bad that they get stuck in that constellation room, when leaking-petrifying (ew) Eunuch Kim comes in, followed by Jin Mu.
For a hot second, I really thought that Uk would end up getting soul-shifted, since this is the second attempt on his body, so I’m hugely relieved that that’s not the case.
It’s great that he manages to escape the magic barrier that Jin Mu puts around him, powered by thoughts of Mu Deok, and it’s good that Mu Deok doesn’t end up having the energy sucked out of her by Eunuch Kim, but.. what an unexpected conundrum that she ends up sucking the energy outta him.
Ooh. Aside from my immediate reaction of, “HA. Leaky dude had that coming!,” I’m very quickly concerned, just like Mu Deok’s concerned.
Now that she’s fed on one person’s energy, will that make her hungry for more? Or is this an optional thing for her, since she’s survived just fine for so long without needing to feed on anyone?
It’s touching to me, that Mu Deok, who’s been fairly consistent in keeping her interactions with Uk on the more transactional side of things, is so insistent on keeping him away from her now, in order to protect him.
She’s literally worried that he will die, if she allows him to touch her, because she might instinctively suck his energy out of him.
AND YET. Uk, all intent, just moves forward to hold her to himself, despite the risk. He’s all in with his love for her, and my gosh, this has me in a flailing puddle.
E13. I was also rather amused at the way Mu Deok gets Uk out of there, even though Jin Mu has demanded that Uk be punished at Cheonbugwan.
Beyond my amusement, though, I really like the idea that Uk and Mu Deok are so in sync, that he immediately recognizes what she’s doing, and plays along, to make their escape happen according to her plan.
I mean, it did take me a hot second to figure out what Mu Deok had in mind, so it gives me some warm fuzzies, to think that it didn’t take Uk a hot second; he just knew, right away.
Also, I’m with Uk in finding Mu Deok’s statement, that they should refrain from being alone, in case she devours his energy, and that if it comes down to it, he should kill her, very touching.
Like Uk says, this is essentially an indirect answer to his love confession. She’s essentially saying that she would rather die than kill him; that to her, his life is more important than her own.
That’s a big statement, even though Mu Deok herself doesn’t appear to realize it.
And Uk’s response, that he will find the ice stone, so that she will never have to worry about devouring his energy, feels like an appropriately romantic response, even though it might not sound like it, on the surface.
In essence, though, he’s meeting her where her concerns are, and speaking her language. And so, if her statement had been a statement of love, his reply is also a coded statement of love.
I like it, particularly because it’s so tailored to their relationship. No one else outside their relationship (except us viewers) could understand the depth and weight of the words that have just been shared, and that makes it feel extra precious and special.
E14. We get some crossed signals between Uk and Mu Deok, with each of them witnessing the other being smiley with someone else, and assuming that the other other person has forgotten about them.
First, Uk sees Mu Deok smiling with Yul, over that homing pigeon, and his expression falls. And then later, Mu Deok sees Uk smiling with Yun Ok, and her expression falls. Oh, these two. 🤭
But at least Uk has more discernment than Mu Deok, when it comes to her feelings for him, than she is, when it comes to his feelings for her?
At least he figures out that she’d asked him not to go back to his chambers the other day, because she hadn’t wanted him to cross paths with Yun Ok.
And, our boy even gets her heated, probably rather reckless permission to prove himself – and then kisses her. Now that’s definite progress, I’d say! 😁
Plus, for all of Mu Deok’s stiff upper lip facade, she does definitely care about Uk, which is why she goes to so much trouble to find the blue egg, and makes sure to tell him so.
Nice, nice. It’s things like these that make me want these two to have more time together, despite my not exactly feeling a great deal of romantic chemistry between them, so far.
On another note, it’s so thoughtful of Uk to have made arrangements for Ju Wol to pay off anyone necessary, in order to protect Mu Deok’s identity.
It’s because of his proactiveness, that Mu Deok’s cover isn’t blown, when Park Jin asks to see the man who had brokered her sale to Chwiseonru.
E15. I was pretty pleased with how Show handles the arc where Park Jin corners both Uk and Mu Deok, and forces them to confess their secret to him, with Mu Deok’s life as ransom.
I love that even under such dire circumstances, their thoughts flow together so seamlessly, such that they arrive at the same conclusion, without needing to discuss anything.
And, it’s a really nice way to pull the focus back to the OTP relationship as well, with both Uk and Mu Deok telling Park Jin that they like each other very, very much.
That’s pretty heart-wobbly stuff. 🥰
However, I have to confess that I’m getting a creeping sense of foreboding, because Mu Deok instructs Uk not to love her to the death; that if it ever were to come down to it, to choose life over love.
Uk’s being rather romantic now, in how he states so emphatically that he’s in this with her, and that he’ll keep going, no matter what (which, melt, really), but I can’t shake the feeling that the time is going to come soon enough, when this love will be put to the life-or-death test. Eep.
E16. I’m pleasantly surprised, actually, that Mu Deok’s asking Uk for some kind of promise to prove his love for her.
Sure, she does it with a rather squint-eyed, perplexed, suspicious expression on her face, which doesn’t exactly spell romance, but honestly, when I think about it, this is the first time that Mu Deok’s actually wanted a confirmation of Uk’s affection in any way, isn’t it?
That’s progress, on the OTP front?
On the other hand, the message that Master Lee leaves Uk, together with Naksu’s sword, does imply that death might come into the picture of this loveline, after all.
Because, Master Lee’s instruction to Uk, is to kill the person who tries to use the sword, or die.
Dang. That’s a tough one, isn’t it?
AND YET. It seems that Uk plans to stay true to his word, to love Mu Deok to the death, because the promise he asks her to make, is to first point the sword at him, if she were to ever unsheath it.
“When you regain your energy and if you must draw and point that sword at someone, point it at me before at anyone else.
If you stab me, then I will die as the one who released the assassin.
If you withdraw your sword, I will make you another promise. Something along the lines of the promise you wanted to hear from me about our future. I will look for the ice stone so you do not run wild because I promised to do so.”
Gosh, I do think that the swooniest thing about this OTP loveline, is how Uk loves Mu Deok.
Even though Master Lee’s made this dire pronouncement, Uk still gives Mu Deok a choice, instead of trying to control her actions.
He’s willing to die by her hand, if she wishes to draw the sword again. But, he also tells her the other options, which is to not draw her sword, and therefore not kill him – which is when he’ll be able to make her a love promise.
Aw. Uk. He really is all in, in his love for Mu Deok, isn’t he?
At the same time, this episode, we do get an indication of Mu Deok wavering, somewhat?
I mean, when she looks upon her sword, she does wonder to herself, if she’d still be able to slash people as relentlessly as she’d had before.
This is the first time we’ve seen Mu Deok waver like this, so perhaps there’s a chance that Mu Deok won’t want to go back to being Naksu, even when she regains her energy?
That would be excellent, because then Uk won’t be obliged to fight her and kill her. 😅
E17. On the OTP side of things, we do get a little bit of teasing playfulness, when Uk comes upon Mu Deok looking into the mirror, after her visit to Jinyowon.
Uk’s such a cute deadpan dork. I kinda love the way he manages to make Mu Deok smile and laugh, even though she wasn’t in a smiling or laughing mood to begin with.
Also, I do love how affectionately matter-of-fact he is, when he remarks to Mu Deok that he’d used to think that only her eyes were pretty, but now he thinks that she’s just pretty no matter what. Aw. He is very sweet. 🥰
And even though Mu Deok doesn’t want to admit it, she’s definitely growing fonder of him by the day, judging from the way she flicks her gaze away from Uk, as if to catch herself.
E18. As we close out our episode, it feels like everything comes to a head for Mu Deok, when she hears that Uk’s life is in danger, because he’s decided to lure the soul-shifter to the secret room.
It feels so significant, that she would go there to confront the soul-shifter, even though everyone else is convinced that no matter what happens between Uk and the soul-shifter, Uk’s already a dead man.
Again, it’s really trippy to see Mu Deok wield her power and her sword like Naksu had, at the beginning of our story, and it’s definitely satisfying to see her take out the soul-shifter without too much difficulty.
I have no idea how Uk had managed to lure the soul-shifter into the secret room without getting killed, but I’m VERY GLAD that he’s ok.
And then we have the moment of reckoning, where Mu Deok must choose whether to point her sword at Uk and kill him, or withdraw her sword and her intent to use it again, and allow Uk to live – and make her a new promise.
I’m not surprised that Mu Deok chooses Uk, but I’m still pumped to see her withdraw her sword and invite Uk to make her that new promise he’d talked about.
It’s a culmination of all of her growing feelings for Uk, and now, when it’s time to make the choice, she chooses Uk, in spite of everything that she’s been telling herself thus far.
Ahhhh! I feel so gratified on Uk’s behalf!!
And then we have kisses!! Actual, rather electrifying kisses, where I can feel the sparks coming through my screen. 🔥
Spazz. This is verrry excellent, and I’d like more of this, please. 🤩
Minhyun as Yul
This was my introduction to Minhyun, and I found him well-cast for the role of Yul.
What I mean is, I didn’t think Minhyun was particularly brilliant in the role, but he did a decent job of filling the role, such that Yul felt like an organic part of this story world.
To my eyes, Yul’s main job was to be polite, reserved, upright, skilled at the magic and fighting, and perhaps most importantly, handsome to boot.
Check, check, check, check, and check. That’s not bad, all around? 😁
Mu Deok and Yul
From pretty early in our story, Show introduces Yul as a potential contender for Mu Deok’s affections, and we even have some early charged moments between the two.
However, with Show bringing the OTP relationship to the fore, it wasn’t long before I found this connection between Yul and Mu Deok more of a non-event than anything.
I do have some thoughts around that though, which I’ll share next.
E3. The cover story for Mu Deok wanting to be near Yul (that she has feelings for him) is pretty perfect, though. Not only does it give her an excuse for wanting to be close to him, it’s.. also rather true, judging from the flashbacks that we get of her and Yul together, in their youth.
I do like that Yul’s smart enough to figure out that the reason Mu Deok’s following him around and trying to touch him, is because she’s trying to learn his breathing pattern; I do like a smart second lead.
Mu Deok’s pretty smart too, though, with the way she steals that bird whistle off him, and then strikes that bargain with him.
Honestly, that moment, when Yul allows Mu Deok to read his breathing pattern, just for three breaths, is pretty charged; more charged, in fact, than the various moments of hyper-proximity we’ve seen between her and Uk.
Ooh, I do like the idea of a worthy second male lead; that makes him a potential romantic rival to be reckoned with, since Mu Deok already seems to have feelings for him.
E13. I was quite surprised to hear Yul say to Uk that he’s returning to Seoho Fortress soon, and that there’s someone whom he’d like to bring with him, when he does.
However, it does make sense, in the context of Yul showing increasing concern over the fact that Mu Deok is a soul-shifter and could therefore run wild at any time.
Even though it might seem like a low blow, for Yul to want to take Mu Deok away from Uk, I do think that this is Yul’s way of protecting Mu Deok.
If Mu Deok stays and runs wild while in Songrim, she will most likely die, because Songrim’s stance is that soul-shifters should be eliminated because such sorcery should not be practiced.
In that context, Yul taking Mu Deok away, is more in line with Uk’s earlier stated stance on the matter, that it will be fine as long as the monsters are protected from the world.
I think Yul’s desire to take Mu Deok to Seoho Fortress, is him trying to protect Mu Deok from being killed.
E14. I’m assuming that the person Yul wants to take with him to Seoho Fortress is Mu Deok.
If that’s true, then I would have much preferred that he be upfront with her about it, instead of vaguely telling her that he wants to take someone with him to Seoho Fortress, and that when the time comes, she must help him do so.
If Yul really is referring to Mu Deok herself, then this feels like he’s being purposefully withholding and almost.. deceitful, and I don’t like that so much. But.. I could be wrong about his intentions?
Yoo Joon Sang as Park Jin
Of late, I’ve really come to appreciate Yoo Joon Sang’s work and chameleon-like abilities (it blew my mind that his characters in Heard It Through The Grapevine and The Uncanny Counter were so different!), so I was definitely pleased to have him on my screen as Park Jin.
I thought Park Jin made an interesting father figure for Uk, because his caring heart for Uk, and his strict, almost cold, treatment of Uk, often appeared to be in contradiction to each other.
The journey towards Park Jin coming to understand Uk better, and vice versa, was one of the things I appreciated about my watch.
At the same time, I thought Yoo Joon Sang’s comic timing was put to good use as in Park Jin’s dorkier moments, which only seemed to grow in number, over the course of our story.
E3. With the backstory of Uk’s birth revealed, Park Jin’s actions towards Uk become more understandable as well. He’s not out to punish Uk for punishment’s sake; he’s more concerned with keeping Uk safe too.
This explains why Park Jin would give permission for Uk to receive treatment at Sejukwon, at the beginning of the episode, but then expel Uk from Songrim, at the end of the episode. To Uk, this might seem very contradictory, but knowing what we know, it actually makes perfect sense.
Outside of this, though, in the small beats, I have to say that Park Jin sometimes reminds me of Yoo Jun Sang’s other character that I watched recently, Han Jung Ho, in Heard It Through The Grapevine.
That whole sequence of Park Jin denying that he ever keeps wine in his study, to him hunting down Dang Gu, for stealing that very wine that he keeps in his study, is quite comical, and reminds me so much of the kind of antics that Han Jung Ho would get up to, in Grapevine. 😁
E4. I don’t blame Park Jin for his decisions around Uk, because I can see that he is doing this to protect Uk.
If Uk hadn’t had his energy gates opened, and grown so strong so fast, Park Jin wouldn’t have felt the need to stop him in his tracks, I’m sure.
E13. I appreciate that Park Jin does believe that Uk is telling the truth, even though Jin Mu claims otherwise.
Considering that Park Jin’s traditionally been suspicious of Uk, this feels like a positive development.
Oh Na Ra as Maidservant Kim
I wanted to give a shout-out to Oh Na Ra as Maidservant Kim, because she is such a warm presence in our drama world.
Even though she functions mostly as a secondary character, and is often the butt of a more than a few teasing jokes, I just really enjoyed her warmth and kindness.
The arc that really brought that out, I feel, is this one, from episode 13.
E13. Master Lee is so right; Maidservant Kim is warm-hearted indeed.
The memorial service that she prepares for Cho Chung (Yoon Seo Hyun) and Cho Yeong turns out to be such a comfort to Mu Deok.
This must literally be the first time she’s had a memorial service for her father, ever since he’d died, and Jin Mu had taken her away to train her as Naksu the assassin.
The fact that Mu Deok can now sit before her father’s memorial feels quite healing and important, and the only reason she can do that, is thanks to Maidservant Kim’s thoughtfulness.
Park Jin and Maidservant Kim
Through most of our story, Show teases a romantic tension between Park Jin and Maidservant Kim, which I found low-key amusing, mostly.
Do I think that Show drags it out a touch too long, with all the misunderstandings and crossed signals? Yes, definitely.
But did I still find it amusing, in a silly sort of way? Also, yes.
And, when Park Jin is allowed to turn on the smolder in Maidservant Kim’s direction, I did find my heart wobbling, just a tad bit. 😁
Shin Seung Ho as the Crown Prince
With the way the Crown Prince is introduced to us, and also, because I’m so used to seeing Shin Seung Ho in bully type roles, I was fully expecting the Crown Prince to turn out to be a big bully whom I would then proceed to dislike for the rest of my watch.
Huh. That was so not how it worked out. 😅
Instead of making the Crown Prince into a bona fide bully, Show instead chose to make the Crown Prince more and more dorky and endearing in degrees, until I was shocked to find that I actually had grown rather fond of him, when I wasn’t looking.
This was a pleasant surprise indeed. 😁
E5. I’m rather pleasantly surprised that the Crown Prince actually allows Mu Deok to appeal to him to save her from the Cheonbugwan guys. I’d thought that he would’ve been too heartless to care.
Instead, he listens to Mu Deok, with all her buttered-up praises used to season her words, and then even offers her his personal sachet, so that she can use it as protection, if the Cheonbugwan guys hassle her again.
I know Mu Deok doesn’t take to the scent, but this is honestly more than I’d expected, from the Crown Prince.
And, sure, he’s a bit petty, and punishes Mu Deok by plying her with drinks that are strongly flavored with cinnamon, since she seems to hate the smell of cinnamon, but this feels quite harmless and petty, and therefore feels like it’s almost done in jest.
Maybe the Crown Prince isn’t as awful as person as I’d first thought?
E6. Mu Deok getting taken to the Crown Prince’s chambers all dressed as a gisaeng, after the Cheonbugwan dudes forcibly take her from Chwiseonru, is low-key amusing.
It’s a rather tongue-in-cheek twist on the makeover trope, where an ugly duckling female character gets glammed up, and bowls over an unsuspecting male character.
The Crown Prince says that this look doesn’t suit Mu Deok at all, but I do think that he might be looking at her a little differently now than before?
At any rate, I’m pleased that Mu Deok talks to him the same way as before, and that he gets all perplexed and dumbfounded when he offers Mu Deok a job, and she declines outright, saying that she doesn’t serve just anyone.
Pfft. Way to slide in an insult there, Mu Deok. 😏 Well done. 😁
On a tangent, I realize that I don’t dislike the Crown Prince so much now. I mean, even though Jin Mu advises him to kill Uk, he tells Mu Deok to do whatever it takes, to convince Uk to avoid the duel.
I do wonder if this stems from mistrust of Jin Mu, or a general lack of desire to kill Uk? I’m curious about what’s really driving the Crown Prince’s actions.
E8. This episode, I’m mildly amused that the Crown Prince is still thinking about Mu Deok, and gets all defensive that no one else should use the nickname he’d given Mu Deok, because that is his alone to use.
Heh. Tell me again that you don’t care about Mu Deok, Princey. I will won’t believe you. 😉
The Crown Prince and Uk
One of my favorite things in this show, is the reluctant partnership that grows between the Crown Prince and Uk.
Show plays it for comedy, mostly, and I found myself giggling alongside, with no complaints.
At the same time, I found a faint heartwarming undercurrent to these funny-silly interactions, which I really liked as well.
Yes, these two are reluctant partners, but underneath it all, I feel like I can sense a growing sense of mutual respect and appreciation, which I really do like.
E10. The Crown Prince could’ve totally ratted on Uk, since he catches Uk redhanded, taking a stroll outside Songrim when he should be ensconced within Songrim at all times.
And yet, he pretty much agrees to keep Uk’s secret, in exchange for a honey cookie.
Tee hee. It amuses me greatly, actually, that the Crown Prince can be bribed with a sweet cookie.
E12. That little side arc, where Uk and the Crown Prince are so drawn to each other because of the energies coming from the respective jade eggs in their possession, is quite funny.
Muahaha. I have to admit that I enjoyed that moment a little too much; I was gleefully waiting for the realization and disgust to register, particularly on the Crown Prince’s side of things, because I could just imagine how annoyed it would make him feel. 🤭
E16. I do love the thing where Uk and the Crown Prince end up working together, in their investigation around the soul shifting in the palace.
Their reluctant partnership might just never grow old, for me.
They both look like they wish they could be working with anyone else in the entire world, and yet, there is no other choice, so they work together anyway, while looking kinda grumpy about it. It’s great. 😁
Dang Gu and Cho Yeon [SPOILERS]
In Show’s second half, it starts to tease a possible loveline between Dang Gu and Cho Yeon, and I just wanted to say that I ended up enjoying this little loveline more than I’d expected to.
They’re both equally dorky, and therefore make a cute couple, I think.
At the same time, I’m reasonably impressed with how Show is gives us a bit of side entertainment via this loveline, while still using it to further our story. That’s pretty great.
Im Chul Soo as Master Lee
Im Chul Soo’s become one of my favorite character actors of late, and I was immensely pleased to have Show introduce him as Master Lee.
All in all, I do think that Im Chul Soo’s perfectly cast as the quirky-yet-powerful Master Lee, and I perked up every time he showed up on my screen.
For one thing, I really enjoy Master Lee’s offhandedly magicky ways. For some reason, I find it very satisfying to watch him get everyday tasks done, by casually using his magic to his advantage.
No such thing as not misusing your magic, or not being responsible about your magic. He just uses it for every little thing that he might need, like chopping wood, or increasing the flame of his fire, or drying his clothes.
Another thing I found amusing, is the fact that Master Lee is actually way older than Heo Yeom and Park Jin.
The visual disconnect doesn’t get old for me, and I got a kick out of Heo Yeom constantly bowing before him and calling him “Master.” 😁
Last but not least, I was also nicely amused by Master Lee’s crush on Maidservant Kim.
At first, that had felt like it came out of nowhere, but somehow, Im Chul Soo makes it work, and it wasn’t long before I was fully convinced that Master Lee was wistfully pining over Maidservant Kim. 😁
Seo Hye Won as So-I [SPOILERS]
I’m actually rather surprised that Show manages to make me feel rather sympathetic towards So-I, even though she’s literally trying to get Mu Deok killed.
Perhaps it’s as Yul and Uk say, during their conversation; that it’s because she’s being used by Jin Mu.
I also think it has something to do with the way Seo Hye Won is playing So-I; there’s a fragility about her, even as she works to navigate her way through this terrible maze in which she’s found herself, at Jin Mu’s mercy.
She might have bad intentions on some level, but she’s also terrified through pretty much the entire process, and I think that’s why I have some sympathy for her, despite her murderous intent.
Plus, she does try to save Yul, even though it means blowing her cover, so I conclude that she’s not all bad.
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]
Well, what a dramatic penultimate episode this turned out to be.
It really feels like A LOT happens, this episode, and it also feels like we get a reasonable amount of resolution, so much so that this could well have been the place our writers chose to pause our story, before taking us into the final act with Part 2.
But it isn’t, which makes me think that this is perhaps the closing of the Act, and our finale might be the introduction to Act 3, to whet our appetite, before Part 2 actually airs?
In flashback, we finally see how Bu Yeon had “died” that day, and I’m rather shocked to see that Jin Mu had pushed her into the water, in order to get his hands on the ice stone.
Wow. The nerve of Jin Mu, to then make the offer to Madam Jin, to help her find her missing daughter!
I’m also glad to find out how Bu Yeon had become Mu Deok; it hadn’t been a soul-shifting thing after all. She’d simply lost her memory and gained a new name, a happening which would have been much easier to guess, if I weren’t so distracted by the magicky possibilities in this particular story world. 😅
Also, although we’ve been told Jang Gang’s story in broad strokes, it somehow hadn’t come together in my mind, that he’d been to blame for so many of the terrible things that had happened.
It’s true that if he hadn’t dabbled in the alchemy of souls, that many things wouldn’t have happened. And it’s also true that if he hadn’t used the ice stone to save Bu Yeon as a baby, a lot of things could have been avoided as well.
And yet, somehow, this didn’t come together in my head until this episode spelled it out for me. Whoops. 😅
What I don’t understand, though, is why Jang Gang considered a soul-shifter, in this episode, and why he gets petrified and dies.
I mean, he’d switched souls for a while with the late King, but he’s been back in his own body for decades?
I’d assumed that soul shifters who get petrified are the ones occupying bodies which aren’t their own?
How does that work, if this is Jang Gang’s body, and also, his soul? 🤔
Beyond that, though, I’m touched by Uk’s choice to sacrifice his energy, in order to save Yul and everyone else within Jeongjingak.
It is a big sacrifice, and I can see why both Mu Deok and the Crown Prince separately balk at the idea at first.
What I like, though, is how, when Uk frames his decision as wanting to protect someone, just like the way Mu Deok chooses not to use her chance to use the ice stone’s energy in order to protect Uk himself, Mu Deok begins to understand, and comes around to support his effort.
That’s so giving, on both of their parts, and I really like that.
And, the way Uk asks the Crown Prince to take responsibility for the lifting of the fog, in his stead, also feels somewhat sacrificial, even though Uk phrases it as the Crown Prince helping him to clean up his mess.
After all, it does have to do with ceding glory and honor that rightfully belongs to him, to the Crown Prince. I do admire Uk for doing that, and without hesitation too.
Unfortunately, the appearance of the King’s Star means that several people are now out to kill Uk, and among them, it pains me most, that the Crown Prince is starting to perceive him as a threat.
Aw, nooOoo. I was just starting to really enjoy the reluctant partnership and mutual respect that we were getting between him and Uk. 😩
On another note, I really do appreciate the note of closure that we get between Yul and Mu Deok.
It’s time that they both acknowledge the truth, and put the past to rest, so that they are both free to move forward.
I really like the vibe of their final conversation; there’s care and respect, and amidst the lashings of wistfulness, there’s a gentle groundedness that I really like. It’s perfect.
I’m also glad that Uk comes to find out that the man he’d met at Gaema Village had been his father. Ok, well, technically not his father, I suppose, but the person closest to a father that he’s had in his life.
It feels fitting, that in their short conversation, Jang Gang had looked him in the eye and identified him as the son of Cheonbugwan’s Gwanju. That was him giving Uk his acceptance and approval, wasn’t it?
It feels meaningful as well, that Jang Gang had given Uk a drink. It makes me think of how fathers teach their sons to drink, and while it may not be much in the overall scheme of things, it does feel like a precious father-son sort of moment.
And of course, at the end of our episode, there’s the scene where Uk asks his Master for permission to end his training as her pupil.
I love what Uk says, in his little spiel, because it acknowledges and cherishes the efforts that Mu Deok’s put into helping him as his Master, but also points the way to a new chapter, in their relationship.
“Master. As of today, I wish to end my training as your pupil. I am grateful that you always pushed me to train harder despite how lacking I was.
I know that you gave up your chance to regain your energy. And I, too, chose to give up the energy I tried so hard to build.
But instead, I now have someone precious that I wish to keep by my side forever. I do not wish to be used and discarded. I wish to protect and cherish you. Thus, allow me to quit.”
“I, Mu Deok, your Master, will allow my pupil, Jang Uk, to quit.”
“All right, then. Marry me, Mu Deok-ah.”
Awww! Melt. That is so casually, offhandedly, sincerely sweet.
I really love the happy, contented smiles they smile at each other, after Uk’s proposal; it makes me think that these two will be happy together for a long, long time.
I would honestly be happy to just stop our story here (because, happy ending!! *grabby hands*), but I realize, of course, that there are still many unfinished threads to develop, and therefore more story to tell.
I just.. want to bask in The Happy, for a bit. 🥰
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Wow. What a finale! 🤯
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this finale, since I tend to like my dramas in single seasons, with closure at the end, and this is most definitely not that.
I’m very pleased to report that all in all, I really liked this finale, AND, I’m also very much looking forward to seeing what else Show is planning to serve up, in Part 2 – which is due on air quite soon, in December, which is just a few months away.
When I’d first heard that this was just the first of a two-parter, I’d been a bit afraid that Part 2 would be a long time coming (like with Arthdal Chronicles, which I’m now glad I didn’t get around to watching 😅), so this is excellent news all-around, from where I’m sitting.
This episode, Show does give us many elements of a conventional finale, with good amounts of sweet and cute among our various characters.
From Park Jin finally coming to realize that Maidservant Kim likes him and not Master Lee, to Uk and Mu Deok getting wedding rings made out of their yin-yang jade eggs, to Dang Gu and Cho Yeon preparing for their wedding, there are many things which signal Happy Ending, this finale.
Also, there’s how the Crown Prince tells Jin Mu that he does not see any real reason to eliminate Uk, since Uk’s lost his energy and his ability to cast spells.
I’m glad for that, because I can see that the Crown Prince is really speaking out of a reluctant affection for Uk, and sincerely doesn’t want to hurt Uk.
BUTTTT. Jin Mu’s not one to give up easy, certainly, and that’s when he brings out those darned magic bells, which he uses to essentially hypnotize Mu Deok, in order to make her his weapon.
Urgh. That was pretty hard to watch, even though my brain did clock that Jung So Min does a really good job of toggling between Zombie Mu Deok and Sentient Mu Deok.
Of course, there’s other stuff that unfolds to support the unraveling of our key mysteries, of what had really happened with Mu Deok’s father, and who Mu Deok really is, and of course, the secret that Uk is the one born under the King’s Star.
But, the thing that grabbed my attention the most, is the way Jin Mu turns Mu Deok zombie, and harnesses her for his purposes.
It’s trippy, and unsettling, and upsetting, all at the same time, to see Mu Deok not only attack Jin U Tak, but also, swiftly kill servants whom she’s worked with, and then, fight both Dang Gu and Cho Yeon, looking like she’s ready to kill them.
Most of all, though, it was trippy and upsetting to see Mu Deok come face to face with Uk, and then, after a moment of coming to her senses, slip right back into zombie mode, to stab him with her sword.
Ack. That’s just so horrible and worrying.
And it guts me that Uk seems willing to die by her sword, just like he’d said before, because instead of trying to get away from her, he holds her to himself, which is how she stabs him a second time. ACK. 😭
And then, as Mu Deok comes to, and realizes what she’s done, her anguish is also so sharp and harrowing to witness. What a horrible, horrifying thing for Mu Deok too.
I was expecting Uk to survive somehow, because we’re only in Part 1 of this story after all, but no, he dies, and they even cremate his body, which felt very surreal to me.
I mean, I know that this is a magical world where many things are possible, but it still felt weird to see Uk getting cremated, y’know?
WHAT A TURNAROUND, though, when the power of the ice stone within Uk actually brings him back to life via the fire.
As the fire started burning blue, I remembered all the various times that our characters have mentioned that the ice stone has no form, and therefore, can be water, or fire, or wind.
And it started to come together in my head, that with the cremation, the ice stone is taking the form of fire. Perfect.
I love how that comes together, and how Show’s been educating us on this, enough that it comes together for us (or at least, for me), at just the right time. I love it.
I also love the drama with which we see Uk walk out of that fire. It reminds me so strongly of the legend of the phoenix, which is an immortal bird that gets reborn through the fire. That’s just perfect, isn’t it? 🤩
I’m not super sure of how Mu Deok’s being saved from the water, as Uk comes out of the fire, but I can’t help but think that it also has something to do with the power of the ice stone, since Uk’s wish has always been to use the power of the ice stone to save her.
It feels like SUCH a great moment in our story, where both our leads are being reborn, in a manner of speaking, and in Uk’s case at least, with more power than I’m sure anyone could imagine.
The narrative possibilities arising from this feel very exciting to me, and I’m so pleased to say that I’m very much looking forward to see where Show will take our characters next.
Bring on Part 2, Show – I’m ready! 🤩
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Solidly consistent and engaging. Very good.
FINAL GRADE: B++
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Alchemy Of Souls, is Love Between Fairy And Devil [China]. I’ve taken an initial look, and I’m happy to say that I am having fun watching this one, right away. My E1-2 and E3-4 notes on Love Between Fairy And Devil can be found here.
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I liked the drama.
With some exceptions like somebody has mentioned about master lee and some not so funny funny part, king was not that impressive (like from nif, lltg), antagonist was okayish kinda.
ML is my fav from dodolala world. So I had to watch this anyhow. His mere presence is sufficient on the screen.
And then who doesn’t like magic, fairyworld, love, CGI, some (i am not sure how many) billions dollar production expenditure (well, it reflects).
For me the most romantic/ swoonworthy part was, when he says, “i missed you too, this is my reply to your letter”.
More than the kissing scene in that secret room towards the end of the drama.
I liked the way director/writer created that impact in that particular moment, by creating the required background atmosphere, by dedicating some 2odd episodes for that letter deciphering by Uk part.
It literally moves something in your (it did at least mine) heart when he says, “I missed you too”.
This scene reminds me of that “hand holding under the table” scene from drama “something in the rain”.
KFG, you were so perfect in noticing the change in sound undulation by Mu Deok when she is acting as master and when as servant.
Really, great acting by the actress.
Completed AOS part 1.
Liked a lot.
Read your review, Excellent one.
Just done (😓) with part2.
For part 1, I was always like looking ‘forward’ to the next episode…………and for part 2, well I am fast ‘forwarding ‘ every episode (except 1st one) (might be because it was still floating on the glory of part 1), so was not the case with rest of the 9 episodes.
Was I the only one, who felt like this?😔
[…] note that I am, as KFG from The Fangirl Verdict says, flailing at this […]
Ooh, I just finished Alchemy of Souls and enjoyed it very much, and what a treat to relive it with your review, kfangurl!
I thought the show was solid start to finish, and the finale was brilliant! The ‘map’ of the world we were in was a tad confusing to begin with – maybe I never got to grips with the different areas and how near they were to each other, and why they were divided into groups like houses at school – but I liked very much the way we were fed information about soul-shifting, the consequences, the magic, the weaknesses of characters, the unexpected loyalties. It all hung together well – and, as others have commented, I think it was clear that the souls swap with the bodies and are then killed off. It meant Naksu, albeit unknowing of the whys, was a ruthless assassin and therefore a dubious hero. I loved that!
Another quibble was actually the romance on all fronts – I didn’t really believe in any of them much, not even our leads. I understood the feelings for Mu Deok and Jang Uk ran deep, and there were many lovely things he said to her, as you highlight in your review. I guess the chemistry was a bit off for me. It in no way spoiled my enjoyment, though, which actually is a credit to the writing and acting otherwise. The world-building and characterisations were top-notch.
I eagerly await season 2!
@Ele: I just finished Alchemy of Souls too and agree it was very good. I actually liked the “immature” relationships among the older triangle and thought the Leads had excellent chemistry, this is a pretty much “eye of the beholder” perspective.
[spoiler title=”The Body of Mu Deok”] [I think that both souls, Naksu’s and Mu Deok’s inhabit Mu Deok’s body. Naksu’s body has the blue mark which I think shows her soul left the body but Mu Deok’s doesn’t, it’s just her eyes show very blue. Naksu being the dominant personality and more skilled magically dominates the body but Mu Deok’s (actually Jin Bu Yeon) soul comes to the fore in critical time when her mother is trying to kill her as an experiment for the King. I think Season 2 will see Bu Yeon recover control of her body while Naksu’s soul returns to her body, which has been cremated so it will be interesting how the writers effdect this. ) /spoiler]
That’s interesting you thought they had chemistry! It’s not that I thought it was bad or anything, just fairly plutonic, somehow – yes, I saw the kisses! Yes, I swooned a bit 😊
Hopefully season 2 will make it all clear!
I’ve seen 8 out of 13 of the Hong Sisters’ dramas and Alchemy of Souls feels like a complete tour de force—it makes use of everything that fans (both new and old) love about their dramas, while showcasing how they’ve matured as writers through balance and restraint.
Here are common elements that I have grown to love about their work (present in all their dramas):
– Refreshingly honest/blunt lead characters, are able to make sacrifices (grudgingly at first, builds up to huge acts of sacrifice later) but with a dash of pettiness that makes them hilarious and interesting
– OTP has a chance meeting and learns a critical secret and are forced to cooperate, resulting in many shenanigans
– Story follows general tropes but takes surprising twists to achieve said tropes
– Use of an older couple as a side romance
– Use of an initially detestable second male/female lead who becomes grudgingly nicer in the later episodes (probably started with Yoo In Na in The Greatest Love)
– Makes good use of folktales and cleverly reimagines them with lots of pop culture references
Hit and miss:
– Their dramas are known for the constant “push and pull” between the leads but can’t sometimes find the right balance. All start fun and cracky but some spiral to too much angst later on (The Master’s Sun).
– Also, their newer dramas have been too into the “ghost/monster of the day theme” that I missed the smoother continuity of their older dramas.
Enter Alchemy of Souls (AoS) that uses bits and pieces from their previous dramas but with the right mix of flair and restraint:
– Fusion sageuk setting (Hong Gil Dong; I didn’t watch this but I think this started the trend of using rock/rap music in sageuks that Chuno and others later adopted), also I love the outfits and fabrics in AoS!
– Reverse harem with one who’s grouchy, one who quietly observes, one who’s puppy-like in giddy happiness (You Are Beautiful)
– Soul-swapping conundrum (Big; a drama most fans surprisingly hated but I found just as fun and later, thought-provoking; plus it’s Gong Yoo at his muscular peak)
– Spooky mirrors and leaky ghosts and bodies getting taken over (The Master’s Sun, repeated in their newer dramas too), AoS makes this work because it doesn’t use the ghost of the day format and the mirror and sporadic “ghosts gone wild” moves the plot forward
– Huge ensemble cast that makes watching such a treat (Hwayugi aka A Korean Odyssey; the main OTP didn’t sweep me off my feet but I’d watch it again for everyone else)
– CGI done well (Hwayugi disappoints overwhelmingly in this but AoS is a post-pandemic product and now has more time than previous live shoots, I hope it stays this way in dramaland)
– Reversed formula for their leads: Powerful but crotchety female lead and a weaker but more even-tempered male lead (first seen in Hotel del Luna)
-An ending that isn’t rushed, gives us plenty of moments between the OTP (my favorite, The Greatest Love!), as for AoS I chickened out 20mins away from finishing part 1’s finale 🙈 and I’m still deciding if I should still watch it or just wait for part 2.
I’m glad the Hong Sisters are back—not just in top form but with leaps of improvement.
Jiyuu – great comment!
Wonderful review! I loved this drama too. It was fun and engaging from start to finish. It really embodies what I like in a historical fantasy. I’m really looking forward to season 2! 🙂
We loved this one all the way. Sure there were plot holes, but Show fixed most of them as details were filled in. Though it never did fully explain why UK’s Dad got so deeply involved in sorcery in the first place. The acting was fantastic, the Hong sisters at peak form, the production terrific. The only real objection I had was the final episode, which felt more like a first episode to me than a finale. Buffy (the only show I feel that has ever been able to properly pull off seasonal story arcs) always ended it’s seasons with full resolution, then kicked off the new season at the beginning of the next year. Show could have done this by ending at episode 19. Instead we got a finale that was half fan service and half setup, which I didn’t find satisfying at all. Plus Jin Mu started having supervillain invulnerability in the episode as well, which is usually a sign of a show not being able to come up with new ideas.
Still, we will be waiting for season 2 with bated breath. A much better fantasy than the two bloated prequels currently sucking up all the oxygen in the US.
Did someone say Buffy??!!!! Loooooooooove Buffy. Several Buffy fans on this site as well 🙂 YES! That was what was great about Buffy the absence of Season Finale Cliffhangers and sometimes even absence of episode cliffhangers. I read that was a intentional decision from the team, I think Jane suggested that to Joss, but I cannot remember clearly. And now every Show, seemingly, loves to emotional ruin everyone with every episode with a cliffhanger. So frustrating.
Ohhhh, I like that Episode 20 really could have been the beginning of Part II. I do think something happened with the last episodes when they mentioned a 1 week hiatus. Not sure what, but everything seemed different OR I was anticipating trouble and looked for it closely.
Regardless, SUPER Excited to see what they do in Part 2 🙂 Part 1 was a GREAT ride 🙂
Agreed. Can’t wait to see what happens next, but am a little anxious that they might lean into the tragedy too much the way sageuks too often do.
Yay you liked it too! It was so enjoyable from start to finish. So many laughs. So many thrills.
I would give this show a solid A. Some points of distinction:
“But, when it comes to other instances of soul-shifting, Show doesn’t shed any light on that. Where do the original souls go, when their bodies are taken over by soul-shifters?”
This was definitely explained, but it could’ve been easy to miss.
Aside from Mu-Deok, soul shifting was always two people swapping bodies. Jin-Mu would then send Naksu to assassinate the victim-soul in the now discarded original body of the bad guy soul shifter.
I lost interest after the first episode. What I really dislike is when they stuff too much information into the first episode.
Also the way FL talked was very annoying
I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It’s one of the rare fantasy romances where the fantasy and romance get equal time.
To address your note about what happened when people moved souls, I believe the show established that the powerful person would exchange souls and then Naksu (without knowledge of the switch) was sent to assassinate the powerful person. She was being used to clean up the possible loose end.
Excellent review, per usual!
Cards on the table, I enjoyed this waaay more than I was really expecting, and it not only stayed interesting to the end, it actually picked up momentum and got more engaging as it careened toward climax. Of course, there would be rioting in the streets if that was the final final, but we are comforted in the knowledge that not only wil there be a second installment, we don’t have to wait too long. Hands down the best Hong sisters show I’ve seen (although to be fair, I’ve only seen Gumiho and Hotel del Luna).
I loved how, even in her “humble” servant guise, Mu-deok was kind of a force of nature. She was just so deft in how she handled everyone, by turns brusque, cajoling, flattering, commanding…I realized somewhere near the middle of the show that she actually had all these powerful people interacting with her in a way that seemed decidedly non-typical for a “mere” servant, treating her in some ways almost like a quasi-peer. Of course that’s attributable to plot magic, but also I felt like it was some fairly deft writing, and even more, a very skilled job by Jung So-min. She really brought the role to life. Although I do like Go Yoon-jung a lot, and am very interested to see what part 2 has prepped with her stepping up, it will be in some ways a bittersweet feeling not to have JSM as our Mu-deoki anymore 😥
I found that final parting scene between Mu-deok and Yul unexpectedly moving, so much so that I actually found myself tearing up a bit. Very well done; as you said, perfect.
Very much looking forward to the continuation of the story!
Yes, the Hong Sisters are back, and I’m quite excited about that because they are good story tellers.
I am going to start with the final episode first – quite simply the best finale to a kdrama in a long time. I absolutely loved how it was done.
In terms of show overall, I loved the first two episodes. Then I thought episodes 3 and 4 were solid. What I was enjoying was the use of language, a lot of interesting talking, so rather cdramaish in that respect. My wife commented she enjoyed this aspect of the show very much.
I then found myself not tuning out, but the next five episodes were ones that I could happily do the housework to etc (yes, I do do housework) and I remember at the time j3ffc asking if show was worth watching. I was going to comment it is definitely a show he could watch and grade student papers at the same time 😂
Then, I found ep 10 completely had my attention, and there it stayed to the very end.
Jung So Min as Mu Deok was very good. Every time she faux bowed or aquiesced, I grinned. So Min wasn’t the original actress to play Mu Deok. It was Park Hae Eun (who is playing a blinder in Adamas). Apparently, she struggled with the role. So, well done to So Min making Mu Deok her own.
Lee Jae Wook did turn in a very good performance.
And, I agree, Oh Na Ra was delightful as Maidservant Kim. I enjoyed the way she fired up re how clueless Park Jin was.
I’m looking forward very much to Season 2, not because of what everyone thinks it will be, but for some awesome unforeseen twist. It’s going to be a shorter system so that will be interesting 🤔
@seanfletcher – GASP!!! Oh you have to explain how you loved the finale, please. I have so many issues with the last two episodes after 18 excellent well done consistent episode of pure Fantasy Glee! One glaring issue in particular with the finale….omo you have to explain this one please. We discussed it at length on Patreon in the Deep Dive Zone…..ugh
SPOILERS ON THE FINALE!!!
I actually FF the last 20mins of the Episode 20 once I realized they were going to use the Sham trick of the bells completely controlling Naksu in the powerful priestess body. I call total Fantasy Foul on that one because we have seen twice how the most powerful priestess Bu Yeon saved Naksu TWICE in mystical moments. And silly ridiculous Jin Mu throws some powder and rings some bells when he isnt even a Shaman. Nah, not buying and total fantasy foul in my book. AND then, to have Mu Deok/Naksu go on a killing spree. Come on, how will they ever redeem that one for Naksu’s character? Prior to that it was an excellent Fantasy Ride one worthy of a rewatch for sure.
Even with my grousing about the finale I am looking forward to Part II and thought the Show was excellent 🙂
I totally agree with the Fantasy Foul. As I said on Patreon in the Deep Dive Zone, I think the finale was barbarian. A total useless mess! (Well, not useless if you wanted a second season and didn’t have better, gentler ideas).
I don’t think a season 2 would have been needed, they just added unnecessary heart-breaking trouble. As someone else put it the writers went for a “tragic ending” instead of focusing on how to best develop character arcs and keep the characters consistent. The ending feels patched, so we could have a terrible cliff-hanger and a Season 2. There are too many things that do not make sense, starting with how Jin Mu got away from the Assembly and how he has the Crown Prince eating from his palm.
What happened to the extra powerful priestess Buyon who kept Naksu’s powers in check until now and also kept her from running wild? Gone with… the bells! Totally believable… not!
And after 20 eps no one has figured out that Buyon, the great princess, was actually Mudeok! Come on, smart bad-ass mags, no one? Eye-rolling. There were plenty of hints but Uk and Mudeok/Naksu really didn’t care that much, which I find perplexing.
Also, guys how are you to marry when the bride inhabits another person’s body? You know, there’s another living soul in there, how about finding out about it and maybe (just saying!), find a solution to split the souls? One soul, one body? It just didn’t make sense for me that they don’t seem to care. Not only for humanitarian reasons but it is obvious that the situation could result in trouble at some point.
Whatever Part 2 brings, I don’t think it will organically make up for making Mudeok/Naksu a murderer again.
I liked the show, but the plot wholes seem to add up and they really messed with the main characters.
@JJ & @Alexandra:
It grieves me to say, but I must very respectfully disagree on an important point
Simply put, if we agree that Mu-deok/Naksu’s will was overborne by Jin Mu–as we have to, if the final scene is to have any coherence–and that Mu-deok/Naksu had zero intent to engage in those actions–which I believe is the case–then she is not the murderer. She is not guilty of murder. Jin Mu is. He simply used Mu-deok as his insensate tool. It’s both tragic and enraging that she was able to be used liked that; I hope Jin Mu fully receives his punishment in the course of the story yet to come. But I do not blame Mu-deok for actions that she could not stop.
That still leaves the question of where was Bu-yeon’s powerful counter-vailing spiritual essence. I halfway disagree with JJ here–I don’t think it’s silly to postulate that the powder and bells could be extremely potent in their own right. Fantasy is all about powerful forces of numinous provenance; we just spent 20 episodes watching powerful mages throw around potent “energy” spells at the seeming drop of a hat, after all. Why can’t a shaman have access to an alternate school, as it were, of similar strength but different origin? I don’t regard that as a “fantasy foul” at all. BUT. The question of Bu-yeon’s quiescence during that whole sequence–yes. That’s a legit criticism that I do share, and would hope to see somehow addressed in the story yet to come.
This also sets aside how everyone else sees and perceives what has just happened. Of course to their eyes, now, Mu-deok is a murder, an assassin. That’s part of the tragedy of it all. How does that get dealt with? I will be watching to see, of course.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk…
I see what you mean and I agree with you
@Alexandra — a perfectly understandable position to take. I do agree that
Yes, it reminded me of a Greek tragedy (and I’m not a fan). It is indeed very uncomfortable to see someone you care about not being able to make a choice.
This is how I feel as well, especially what you say about Jin Mu. I find it a sign of unimaginative writing when the villain keeps coming back again and again no matter how many times their villainy is revealed.
@JJ – Get ready, here we go:
I liked how matters were resolved throughout the final episode. They weren’t the usual let’s sit around the table and chat, smile and go our separate ways that so many kdramas do unsatisfactorily ala The Uncanny Counter.
The Hong Sisters are good at driving viewers crazy with plot devices. However, for my mind, I happily accept that the divination bells are a powerful tool, that can be used either effectively or not, depending on who is wielding them at the time.
The bells are a simple tool – and as we know, in a traditional fantasy sense, symbolic of the greatest power.
We must remember that Jin Mu is a very powerful magician who uses forbidden sorcery effectively. In this sense, he is like Sauron – except Jin Mu has ended up with one of the many rings of power “ring my bell ell…, ring my bell.” Sorry – I couldn’t help myself 🤣 Jin Mu, like Sauron was also less superior than his master, so he will do anything to prove he is the best.
We must remember, shamans are channellers of others – whether of the spirit or whether it is a power that comes with that. Jin Mu is more than the next level up Reg ability in this regard.
What we then see and think is “gasp, shock, horror, surely not the divination bells and a murder spree.” Scarlett is happily chewing on her popcorn at this point.
Those scenes of Mu-deok/Naksu in action were very, very good. The parting of ways, heart breaking, but also worthy of such a story.
I thought the funeral pyre scene and Mu-deok/Naksu entering the lake we’re fine symbols of rebirth. The fire, reminiscent of a certain mother of dragons and the lake a nod to Excalibur.
Naksu is fine. Her reputation will be fine. She is reborn a new. As Trent says, she is not the murderer here. Jin Mu is. Proving it, if done well, will be something worth watching for.
I shall now go off and watch the next episode of The Rings of Power 😊😊😊🔮🪄🔮
Thank you, kfangurl 😊😊😊
Sean – I finished it over the weekend. Your spoilery content is a great read. You know how I love those shaman bells and I laughed out loud and burst into song over the 4th paragraph. I still love that song.
Phl – I am glad you enjoyed the spoilery content 😊 I’m sure there will be more shaman bells in season two. It has always been an earwig of a song 😂
Okay Sean – your comment seals the deal. I am going back in and pick it up from the beginning again first thing tomorrow morning. I had dropped out midway through E2 because my attention was diverted by a CDrama. All the episodes have dropped so it looks like a binge weekend for me. I have that much faith in your assessment.
I’m feeling the pressure now, phl! However, I’m sure you will get into the groove 😊
The Hong Sisters have, in the end, produced a show that, despite quite clearly containing many of their well recognised traits throughout, breathed new life into kdramas and also opened up a whole new avenue of genre possibilities.
Sean – no pressure! 😅🤣😂 I have really enjoyed the works of the Hong sisters.
@phl1rxd – You wont regret it phl!!!!!!! It was an amazing ride and I refused to discuss it in real time because I just wanted to enjoy the ride of a real true Fantasy Show from Kdramaland. I hope you love it as much as I did 🙂
JJ – so far so good. I am enjoying it. I am glad I went back to watch this.
@phl1rxd – EXCELLENT News 🥰❤️🥰❤️
Yes! I am ready for Part 2 as well. I started watching this drama mostly for Lee Jae Wook, half expecting it to crash and burn. Not only did that not happen, but I also found myself invested in the story and the characters. I thought that the world building was (mostly) coherent, and the story was engaging. It is a classic Hero’s Journey/Bildungsroman with many Harry Potter-esque tropes cleverly mixed with unique Korean flair. The only thing that bothered me was that evil Jin Mu managed to not get punished for his actions. He better get what he deserves in Part 2!