Review: Under The Queen’s Umbrella

THE SHORT VERDICT:

Based on its synopsis alone – that this story is about a Queen who does everything she can, to protect her sons – Show could have been boring and dry, revolving around court politics.

In execution, though, Show is vibrant, engaging and absolutely compelling, and the secret to that, I think, is because our story is just so personal.

I love that this is more about a Mama Bear protecting her babies with all her heart, rather than about bearded men standing around and talking and talking about politics. THAT I can get on board with, and get on board, I did.

Our cast is solid, with some excellent stand-outs, but the one who stands out the most, for me, is Kim Hye Soo as our titular Queen. She’s commanding, yet vulnerable and full of heart, at the same time, I couldn’t help but love her, and by extension, her babies too.

Satisfying to the very last drop.

THE LONG VERDICT:

I have to confess that when this show was first announced, I didn’t actually have a great deal of interest in its synopsis.

I mean, a whole drama about a queen dealing with court politics, in order to protect her children?

That sounded.. kinda dry? Coz court politics often do tend to be dry? And I didn’t relish the idea of 16 whole episodes of court politics?

Ahhh. Poor misguided Past Me. 😁

Left to my own devices, Past Me might have missed this show altogether, because of my completely incorrect assumptions.

Thankfully, everyone on Patreon was raving about this one so much, that I couldn’t not sit up and take notice.

And then I couldn’t help but dip a toe in, and then I couldn’t help but get sucked in, and now, 16 episodes later, I’m feeling really quite wistful, at saying goodbye to these characters.

I’m SO glad I didn’t miss out on this one, and I hope that if you haven’t seen this one, that you won’t miss out either.

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Overall, I found the OST very effective and well-applied, such that it really worked to amplify my watch experience.

While I can’t say that any of the tracks actually became earworms for me, I have to admit that every time Track 2, By Your Side, came on, I felt my pulse quicken a little bit with anticipation for what might come next, in our drama world.

Very well done, overall. 👏🏻

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

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

1. The cast is sprawling

..which means that it can be confusing at first, trying to tell apart all the princes and concubines. It doesn’t help that the concubines are dressed quite similarly, and the princes mostly wear identical uniforms.

Hang in there, and just roll with it. After a couple of episodes, you should start to be able to tell them apart quite naturally.

2. There is heartbreak in our story

..but, importantly, Show treats it all with a humane, compassionate touch.

I think just knowing that Show isn’t all roses and rainbows, helps. And, knowing that Show is not going to allow its characters to be defeated by that heartbreak, also helps.

STUFF I LIKED

I’m going to do a quick macro look at what I liked and liked less in this drama, before doing a selective dive into characters and relationships.

With a show as twisty as this one, it doesn’t actually make sense for me to share all my thoughts on those twists, during my watch.

If you’re curious about what I thought at each juncture of our story, you can check out my Patreon notes, for a blow-by-blow account. ❤️

Show is so deftly written

The writing really is the star of the show, I feel like, because, honestly speaking, I never felt our pace falter, over all 16 episodes of this show.

That is quite the feat, honestly, because in almost every drama, there comes a time when the pace starts to lag, and my interest as a viewer gets affected, as a result.

There is none of that here, and that is thanks in large part, to the deft, confident writing.

Show always felt like it knew where it was going, and how it was going to get there.

My favorite thing about the writing, of course, is just how consistently heartfelt it comes across, despite the political setting (more on that in a bit).

The fact that Show even manages to keep tabs on all the various narrative threads while it does so, AND, give us a rollercoaster ride at the same time, AND, manages to throw in some excellent (but still sense-making) reveals, is just absolutely brilliant. 🤩

Serious kudos to writer-nim, for making it work, and making it work so well.

What a coup, really. *standing ovation*

In this spoiler section, I just want to highlight 3 times that I felt impressed by Show’s deft writing.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5. The Crown Prince’s departure

Augh. What an episode this turned out to be.

Immersive, affecting and ultimately utterly heartbreaking; I feel like I’m still trying to pick up the pieces of my heart, even as I can’t help but clock what an excellent job Show is doing, of telling its story.

Overall, I have to say, Show does a really good job making me feel engaged and invested in everything that goes down this episode, even though I already came into this knowing that our Crown Prince (Bae In Hyuk) wouldn’t end up making it.

And yet, Show manages to make me hope, and hold my breath, and eventually, cry big ugly tears, through the entire process of us losing him. That’s a sign of great writing, AND great delivery.

E11. The outcome of the taekhyeon

When a show manages to make the watch experience gripping and engaging, even though you kinda-sorta already know the outcome of the narrative arc, that’s skillz. And that’s exactly what Show managed for me, this episode.

I was accidentally spoiled for the outcome of the taekhyeon, while browsing my WordPress feed, and so I kinda already knew that Seongnam (Moon Sang Min) would end up winning the competition, and be named Crown Prince.

That’s the trouble of being a little bit behind the airing schedule, AND still trying to keep an eye on Dramaland and its happenings, but, oh well. I’ve come to accept that this can and does happen, sometimes.

Anyway. Because of that, I did wonder whether I would find the proceedings of the taekhyeon as engaging, as if I hadn’t known ahead of time, and I’m so pleased to report that the answer is absolutely YES. I am definitely very interested and engaged. 😁

E13. The big reveal

Physician Kwon’s (Kim Jae Bum) real identity as Yi Ik Hyeon is QUITE the reveal, because I never saw it coming. Consider my mind suitably blown, y’all. 🤯

And yet, now that it’s revealed, it makes perfect sense why he would be so against the current King, and why he would be so determined to bring the current King (Choi Won Young) down, and put someone else on the throne.

And who better to put on the throne, than his own son, yes? Because, tracing it all back, this makes Uiseong (Kang Chan Hee) a prince of the previous administration; the very one that they are working to restore to the throne.

Gosh, this is MINDBENDY GOODNESS. 🤩

[END SPOILER]

The politics feel personal

It occurred to me while watching, that the politics in this drama world, are very, VERY personal, and that’s what makes it all so gripping to watch.

I’m completely gripped by this story and our characters – including the politics, because of what it means for our characters – and this, when I hadn’t actually been sure that I would be interested in this show in the first place.

Really, really well done. 🤩

[SPOILER ALERT]

E6. Even the big twist this episode – that Consort Hwang (Ok Ja Yeon) had seduced Physician Kwon, and gotten him to mess with the Crown Prince’s treatment, to make him worse – is handled in a very personal way.

Her reasons for doing that, as she shares with her father (Kim Eui Sung), are very personal; there’s a lot of tangible bitterness in her, that she was not made Queen as she should have been.

And, the way the scene, where she invites skinship with Physician Kwon, somehow feels personal too. Somehow, the connection between them feels emotional, and not just physical, and I think that has to do with good directing and delivery.

This context, that Physician Kwon has a personal relationship with Consort Hwang, also makes all her efforts to keep him alive, feel suddenly very personal as well.

[END SPOILER]

Show is pretty to look at 

In general, I found Show very easy on the eyes, and there were times, when The Pretty on my screen felt extra beautiful in its framing and composition, like these few shots of Seongnam, from episode 8.

I enjoyed The Pretty a lot, is all I wanted to say. 🤩😁

Show is thought-provoking [MAJOR SPOILERS]

E13. Partly because I’ve just come away from rewatching The Princess’s Man (Review is here, and Open Threads are listed here!), I’m reminded quite sharply, that our good guys in The Princess’s Man, were in the shoes of Physician Kwon and Physician Yoo (Kwon Hae Hyo).

As Physician Kwon points out so vehemently, the current King had ascended the throne forcibly, through treason. And that really was the whole reason our good guys in the Princess’s Man had fought against the established monarchy.

And, we had rooted for them to succeed, even.

It’s a rather mindbendy, unsettling thought, to compare and contrast these two stories, because a simple switch in perspectives, really is the main difference.

Here, we are on Queen Im’s side, and therefore, naturally, on the King’s side too, and therefore we root for the rebels to fail at their cause.

But in The Princess’s Man, our protagonists had been on the opposite side; they’d been on the rebels’ side, and we’d rooted for them to succeed.

It’s very thought-provoking, that way.

Like, are Physician Kwon and Physician Yoo so wrong, then, in their quest, since I’d so recently rooted for other characters in a similar situation? 🤔😅

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I LIKED LESS

A small narrative inconsistency

In a sea of goodies, I honestly can’t find much to say, in terms of things that I felt Show could have done better at.

However, there is a moment in episode 13, which looked to me, to be a writing oversight.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E13. I did find it curious, that Queen Im would tell Cheong Ha (Oh Ye Ju) that Seongnam hasn’t learned about procreation in the course of his studies, because.. didn’t we have that scene in an earlier episode, where all the princes were running to class, because that was the topic that was going to be covered that day..?

I would fully expect Queen Im, in all her impressive capability, to be well-versed in the princes’ curriculum, so this answer feels like a writing oversight?

Certainly, it’s possible that Queen Im was referring to Seongnam perhaps missing the class, since he was fond of skipping lessons at the time, but.. since it was part of his curriculum, Queen Im’s answer, which seems to point towards the curriculum more than Seongnam’s attendance of class, seems to be inaccurate?

[END SPOILER]

SPOTLIGHT ON CHARACTERS & RELATIONSHIPS

In such a sprawling cast of characters, it’s not possible for me to cover all the characters and relationships, so here is a selective spotlight on the ones that captured my attention more than the others.

Kim Hye Soo as Queen Im

Queen Im really is an awesome, awesome Mama Bear. 😍

I can honestly say that this has been, hands-down, my favorite outing so far of Kim Hye Soo’s that I’ve seen, so far.

Not that I’ve seen her in everything that she’s done, certainly.

It’s just that in shows like Signal, Hyena and Juvenile Justice, even though her characters do have hidden angst to flesh them out, there’s mostly a case at hand – or cases at hand – that demand her duty and attention.

The characters’ actions are heavily driven by the demands of the cases at hand, and the personal angst and backstory is served up, almost as a secondary layer.

In this show, however, it’s ALL personal, and I find that very refreshing indeed.

I love just about everything about Kim Hye Soo’s portrayal of Queen Im, but if I had to name a favorite thing, it would be the way she injects Queen Im’s voice with a sense of gentleness, almost every time Queen Im speaks. I feel that that brings out Queen Im’s heart so well. ❤️

Coming in a close second, would be Queen Im’s very expressive eyebrows. 😁

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. The way Queen Im mothers her sons gives me the impression that she really does care about them; they aren’t just chess pieces to her, in the game of palace politics.

She wants them to not get into trouble, and not get sick, as much as possible. And, she doesn’t want them to miss school, either. That feels quite universal, when I look at it that way.

And it also feels quite universal, the way she gets so exasperated with her younger sons, and then takes comfort in the fact that her eldest, the Crown Prince, is such a role model of a sunshine boy.

E1. At the heart of it, it is Queen Im’s heart for her sons – well, specifically the Crown Prince, at this point – that is the stronger force drawing me into our story.

The way Queen Im goes to see the deposed Queen Yoon, to beg her on her knees, for advice on how to protect her son, is really poignant.

What I really like, in all of this, is that all of Queen Im’s efforts and desires to protect the Crown Prince, doesn’t feel like a political move to secure her own position in the palace.

Instead, it absolutely lands as a mother sincerely wanting to protect her son and keep him from harm, and because of that, I am rooting for her to succeed, with my whole heart.

E2. I can see why Queen Im sobs so much, upon learning Gyeseong’s (Yoo Seon Ho) secret.

She’s shown herself as a loving mother who doesn’t seem to want much more from her sons than for them to stay alive, so I don’t get the sense that she’s judging him for this.

The sense that I get, is that she realizes that this puts him in a great deal of danger, and she’s not sure how to keep him safe, going forward.

E2. I honestly love that while the other concubines all engage scholars to tutor their sons, Queen Im takes it upon herself to read the texts, and come up with test questions for her sons.

And I also love that she declares to Court Lady Shin (Park Jun Myun), that the reason she’d been selected as Queen, was because her capabilities were better than everyone else’s. YES, I do love a badass champion Queen! 🤩

E2. If the Queen Dowager (Kim Hae Sook) is setting similar sights on Queen Im and the current Crown Prince – and she absolutely appears to be – then Queen Im doesn’t only need to preserve the Crown Prince’s life; she needs to protect her other sons, as well as herself.

Because, if she’s not careful, the way ex-Queen Yoon (Seo Yi Sook) puts it, Queen Im may end up not just losing the Crown Prince, but all her sons, and her own life as well.

This makes the task ahead of Queen Im land with even more urgency and poignance.

To her, this is not about retaining position and power; this is about survival. And as a mother, she’s absolutely determined to do everything necessary, to keep her sons alive.

There’s definitely an undercurrent of irony and pathos in the fact that her sons have no idea that their mother is fighting for their survival.

They just want to continue coasting along like they always have, and find it uncomfortable and inconvenient, that their mother is suddenly showing such a strong interest in their studies.

Part of me wants Queen Im to take Court Lady Shin’s advice, and tell the Grand Princes the truth, because that would certainly get their attention, focus and cooperation.

Surely if they know that their lives on the line, they’d buckle down right away. As it is right now, getting them to cooperate is akin to what it must be like to herd a bunch of cats, yes? 😅

But, Queen Im has a point, that even if the Grand Princes are careful, it’s very likely that their words and actions would give the game away, even if it’s out of concern for their brother.

E2. The tears that Queen Im sheds alone, mirrored by the tears that Queen Yoon had shed alone, in the same place, really brings out the poignant, lonely nature of the role of Queen.

She can’t cry openly, because that would make her vulnerable to attack from those who want nothing more than to see her go down, and yet, her tears have to fall somewhere, because her heart is so pained, on behalf of her children. 💔

That does make my heart go out to her, a great deal.

E3. I love that Queen Im’s entire purpose is to keep her sons alive – and herself too – and that she appears to only have a cursory sort of interest in the political power play that exists within the inner court.

What I mean is, her interest mostly appears to only go so far as it is relevant to her sons’ and her survival; she doesn’t appear to be interested in grabbing power for herself, for its own sake, which is what the Queen Dowager and other concubines appear to be doing.

Queen Im’s big heart is on full, unapologetic display, in this story, and I am so here for it. It’s literally my favorite thing in this show right now. 🤩

This episode, a good chunk of our story is all about Queen Im’s handling of Gyeseong’s big secret, and even though I wasn’t super sure where Show was going with it for a while, I am so, so satisfied with where we end up, by the end of the hour.

Of course, there’s also the issue of the Crown Prince’s illness, and how she, as his mother, has to make some tough decisions, in her son’s best interests.

The thing I love about her, is the way she consistently bites the bullet and takes the risk, in order to give her son his best chance of survival and recovery.

Even though it is a risk to have rumors floating around the palace, about the Crown Prince’s condition, she makes the decision to cancel everything on his schedule anyway, because that would be best, for his recovery.

It’s a delicate balance that she needs to dance around, doing what’s best for the Crown Prince, while bearing in mind the risks that she takes, because there are vultures everywhere, eager for the Crown Prince’s downfall.

That’s the reason she keeps his condition such a secret, even though it does limit some of his treatment options. I believe it’s because she knows in her gut, that it would be even more dangerous to have his condition be known to their enemies.

Gah. What a difficult situation to be in, honestly.

And yet, Queen Im never loses heart, and keeps on doing her best for her son, even lying to the King, and also, personally reading the medical journals, in order to be as informed as possible, about the illness that plagues her son.

I’m so impressed, really, that even while all this is going on, Queen Im has the bandwidth in both heart and mind, to care about Gyeseong and his secret. Not only does she care, she cares deeply, and puts heart into her consideration of what to do.

That is so impressive to me, honestly.

E5. I have to say that my entire heart was with Queen Im, this episode. She goes through so very much, from the moment the Crown Prince collapses.

I hate that she gets confined to her quarters, for hiding the Crown Prince’s condition, and I hate even more, that she’s banned from seeing him, even though he’s so ill, and might be actually dying.

That’s the harshest, most cruel thing that I can think of, to do to a mother 😭, and Queen Im suffers that, this episode, while still having the rest of her burdens – the politics of it all, and the safety of her other sons – still on her shoulders.

It’s a lot to deal with, and I am in awe at how resilient and strong she is, in the face of all this.

I feel like a lot of women might break down, cry, fall into depression, or just generally lose it, in her shoes, being kept from seeing her very ill, possibly about to die son, but she doesn’t do any of that.

I’m so impressed that she is adamant, in doing whatever she can, to work the situation, as impossible as that situation appears.

I’d wondered at the feverish, determined way she transcribes those punishments texts overnight, but when she demands to see the Chief Eunuch, because she’s finished, it all makes sense.

Finishing the transcription gives her an excuse to summon the Chief Eunuch, and thus affords her the chance to talk to him, and ask him about the Crown Prince’s condition.

This was the only way to get information about how he was doing, and given that she’s so desperate to know how his condition was progressing, and I can completely understand, in hindsight, why she would press on like that, through the night.

And then, even when the King orders that she stop transcribing the texts, that doesn’t stop our Queen from finding a way to get around this roadblock.

I like that she’s got an intricate network of people who have been trained in how to pass on secret intel, that she can tap on so quickly, and who respond so efficiently. That was pretty cool to see.

E5. I’m actually glad that Queen Im’s not the kind to stay nicely within the confines of the lines that are drawn around her.

The way she decides to leave her quarters in disguise is so bold, and the way she then makes her way to see ex-Queen Yoon, is so unconventional and daring.

She isn’t supposed to do either of these things, but she does them anyway, because she’d rather defy the rules and DO something, rather than allow the rules to slowly suffocate her and the ones who are dear to her.

The way puts herself at risk, in order to protect her sons, is a thing of beauty, and I have a feeling that that’s going to be a recurring motif, in our story.

I love that when the King himself is at a loss as to what to do, in the face of his ministers pleading, en masse, that he depose the Crown Prince, it’s Queen Im who stands up and makes a fiery case against their plea for the Crown Prince’s deposition.

The way she approaches individuals by name, and charges them to answer her, is so smart.

There is power in numbers, but when it’s one-on-one like this, the individual ministers cannot overpower her. Not only does she outrank them, they simply don’t have solid answers to the questions she poses.

It’s such a passionate, fiery, profound display of indignation and protectiveness; I was spellbound, truly. 🤩

E6. I feel sorry for Queen Im, that she isn’t free to mourn the death of her son, because she needs to think about how to protect her other sons, now that everyone’s vulture tendencies are out, as they eye the seat of the Crown Prince.

That said, it is oddly heartwarming, to see her spend time with her remaining sons, as she now puts them through Crown Prince training, in order to protect them.

It also feels like a growing up moment for the Grand Princes, as their mother talks to them about the seat of the Crown Prince, and how people doubt their qualification to be considered for the position of Crown Prince.

I’m glad that Queen Im’s quite upfront about the reality of the situation with her sons, even though she doesn’t actually get into the life-and-death possibilities.

In this sense, I feel like she’s demonstrating trust in them, by telling them this much of the truth; trust that they will be able to understand and handle it; trust that they will be able to rise to it; trust that they will be wise to keep this to themselves.

It feels good, versus how she’d kept these realities to herself in the beginning, and therefore had had to be fierce, in order to get her sons to cooperate with her.

At least now, they have a better understanding of the situation, and will be that much more likely to work with her, instead of rebel against her.

And yet, in the small pockets of quietness, we do see that Queen Im is still very much grieving.

That moment when she tells the King that he doesn’t need to check on her every night anymore, because he’s also grieving the loss of a child; that moment when she carries her granddaughter, and thinks back on the Crown Prince’s words to her, asking her to promise to be strong, and then cries into the baby’s blankets.

Her pain may be quiet now, but it is no less raw and deep, and whenever we get glimpses of it, it makes me appreciate all the more, how much she is pushing herself, to be strong for everyone, while her heart is still broken. 😭

E7. I didn’t think I could like Queen Im any more than I already did, but I do.

I feel myself growing in admiration for her, as I watch this episode, and I’m just in awe of how resilient she is, in the face of everything that she has to face.

Truly, it’s no easy task being Queen, but Queen Im rises to the task wonderfully – and sometimes in surprising ways. She’s definitely the Mama Bear whom I want in my corner. 😁

Certainly, things don’t always work in Queen Im’s favor, nor work out the way she expects, but that doesn’t keep her down, which is the thing I admire most about her.

The way she goes after that nursemaid is totally in peak Mama Bear mode; she’s so clearly out to protect her little grandson, no matter what it takes – even if it means poking out the eye of the nursemaid, or killing her. Eep.

They say it’s a jungle out there, but it’s even more jungle-like in the palace, where you sometimes literally have to kill, or be killed. 😬

E7. I feel like it must be so exhausting, to be in Queen Im’s position. She is so isolated, in her grief over the loss of her son.

I’m glad that her sons have her on their hearts, though.

That scene, where the three of them go to her chamber, with chicken dumplings that they’ve personally prepared, because they’re worried about her, is so sweet.

I find it even sweeter, that they’re concerned for her, even after hearing that there’s a possibility that they will be killed, if the taekhyeon is approved.

I mean, what a scary thought that must be, for such young boys, and yet, they put their concern for their mother first.

That touches my heart in no small way, and I can see why Queen Im might be even more motivated to protect them from harm.

The way she admits that she is scared too, but that her fears are all washed away when she looks at them, is so touching too.

The reason she is brave, despite being scared, is because she needs to protect her babies. That’s why she rises up so strongly, even when there might be fear in her heart. Bless her. ❤️

E7. I have no idea how Queen Im managed to magic the Crown Princess (Han Dong Hee) and her kids out of that prisoner’s wagon, but I’m so glad that she’s successful at whisking them to safety, huzzah!

That sense of victory and liberty, that comes from seeing them all gather at the new safe place, where Queen Im tells the Grand Heir that he can be happy and not be scared anymore, is just so, so precious.

I also love how she does what she says she will do – talk the King around to agreeing to allow taekhyeon – but does it in a way that will surprise her opponents, and keep the process fair.

E8. I like how unabashed Queen Im is, about her position being at stake, when the other concubines ask her about it. I love how she refuses to be intimidated by the possibility of losing her position, and instead, is so bold, in stating it, and inviting others to stake their positions too.

That certainly puts things into perspective for the others, and very quickly too.

And, it’s pretty great how she assures Consort Hwang that if one of the Grand Princes becomes Crown Prince, even so, she will continue to make sure that Consort Hwang keeps her position.

That’s such a fantastic line, because, on the surface, it sounds like she’s giving assurance to Consort Hwang, but underneath it, it’s not hard to see that she’s telling Consort Hwang that she will never allow her to rise to become Queen.

And, it’s clear that Consort Hwang doesn’t miss that point, judging from the disgruntled look that flashes across her face, before she smoothly replies that she hopes that the Grand Princes will prove themselves, so that Queen Im will be able to keep her position.

Ooh. The claws are technically hidden, but you can definitely see glimpses of them peeking out, and that definitely adds to the dramatic tension.

I do love how Queen Im resolves to play by the rules, even though all the concubines are clearly playing dirty, to give their sons any advantage they can, in the competition.

The way her embroidered panel (which stresses out Court Lady Shin so much, heh) turns out to be part of her scheme to trap the concubines in a room together, is pretty darn great, from where I’m sitting.

I love how perplexed the concubines are, when told to embroider, when all they want to do, is get out there and help their sons.

Muahaha. That’s a stroke of brilliance on Queen Im’s part, I have to say! 🤩

E9. I do really enjoy watching Queen Im, to see what she does, in the face of the obstacles that cross her path, and I like how she taps on Consort Tae (Kim Ga Eun), the moment she hears that Consort Tae has been frequenting the Queen Dowager’s quarters.

Knowing that Consort Tae will spend a chunk of time with the Queen Dowager as a result, she pays a visit to the Chief State Councilor, and informs him that the Queen Dowager had tried to frame him for the death of Seongnam, and that the Queen Dowager now seems particularly fond of Consort Tae.

Ooh. Way to sow some discord between the Queen Dowager and the Chief State Councilor, who have been strong partners, up to this point! Very Strategic Move indeed, Queen Im! 🤩

E10. I know I keep saying this, but I just find myself loving Queen Im more and more, with each passing episode. How is this even possible? 🤩

First, I do like the way she intentionally unsettles Consort Hwang, by asking her specifically about Physician Kwon.

Obviously, Queen Im doesn’t actually expect Consort Hwang to give up any meaningful information, but I do get the idea, that Queen Im is unsettling her on purpose, so that she will make some moves – which would then give Queen Im something useful to pick up on, perhaps.

She’s so strategic that way, and necessarily so, because it sure looks like one couldn’t survive in the palace, without some – or a lot of – strategic smarts.

And then, there’s how she responds to the situation when she finds Muan (Yoon Sang Hyeon) has been sleeping with Cho Wol (Jeon Hye Won), instead of actually participating in the taekhyeon competition.

Oh my goodness, if I were in her shoes, I don’t know if i could resist the urge to pull him out of bed by the ear, right then and there, and yet, Queen Im holds back, not for her son’s sake, but for Cho Wol’s dignity.

I love even more, the idea that she’d started that safe haven, Hyewolgak, in order to provide for mothers and their children.

Augh. That is so kind and compassionate of her. 🤩

That flashback, where we see how she’d stood up for a pregnant servant girl, who had been raped by her master, gave me a big thrill, not least because everyone got such a big shock to realize that the person they were dealing with, was none other than the Queen herself. 😁

E11. One of the things that keeps me very engaged this episode, is watching how Queen Im deals with the various obstacles that threaten to make the competition an unfair one.

At the heart of it, I do love that, unlike the other mothers, Queen Im is not looking to give Seongnam any kind of advantage over the other participants.

She’s simply asking for a fair competition, and then putting her trust in Seongnam, to be the best possible candidate he can be. I love that about her. 🤩

First, she’s so strategic in her thinking; the way she calmly decides that it may not be a bad thing for the Queen Dowager’s camp, to fight against Consort Hwang’s camp, is so calmly badass.

And then, when she decides that it’s time to take action, she’s so wise and gracious about it.

Instead of pointing fingers, and making a big fuss out of the evidence that she finds, she chooses to exercise grace, and appeals to the integrity of the scholars instead.

Is it a little fairytale, that the scholars would be so thoroughly moved by Queen Im’s appeal to their deeper values?

Maybe. But I want to buy the idea, honestly. 😅

And also, there’s probably also some measure of fear mixed in there, because they’ve been caught redhanded by the Queen herself.

Putting that together with their personal values, I can buy the idea that they wouldn’t want to mess with breaking the rules any further, for the duration of the contest.

How serenely gracious is Queen Im’s handling of the whole thing, where she gets the outcome that she wants – a fair, unrigged competition – without creating a ruckus, and without getting anyone into trouble.

I am in awe of this woman. 🤩

E11. I am very touched at the kindness and compassion that Queen Im shows to Consort Tae, after Consort Tae is forced by the Queen Dowager, to remove Bogeom (Kim Min Ki) from the Crown Prince race.

She doesn’t have to, but she takes the trouble to fake-punish Consort Tae, in order to give her a way to clear her mind, and then she counsels Consort Tae, on what she should focus on the most, in parenting Bogeom.

Not only that, she also makes sure to talk to Bogeom about it first, and counsel him first, so that it doesn’t become a shock to him, when Consort Tae gets “punished.”

And, I do love how she opens his eyes to see that there are other ways to prove his worth, besides becoming the Crown Prince. That feels like a moment of epiphany to Bogeom, and I get the feeling that he will become a strong ally to Seongnam, in the future.

Most importantly, I also love how she makes sure to tell Bogeom that it’s ok to say that he’s not ok.

There’s just so much kindness and acceptance about her, as she talks to him; this is totally the kind of mothering that Bogeom needs, and I’m glad that she’s available to him, as a mother figure.

The way Queen Im handles the situation around the rumor that Seongnam isn’t of royal blood, is so shrewd. 🤩

When the results from the blood test are compromised because of Consort Hwang and the Chief State Councilor messing with the water, I love how she requests for the same test to be performed for them, using the same water. 

Muahaha. Their faces when their results are just as compromised, are priceless.

AND. It’s so great that afterwards, when Queen Im asks the Queen Dowager to perform the checks on the ears of all the princes, we get a bonus result, of the Queen Dowager discovering that Uiseong does not, in fact, have the same bony protrusion behind his ear.

The way Seongnam passes this test with flying colors, is already pretty great. But to have Consort Hwang looking all kinds of guilty as well, and the Queen Dowager looking verrryyy suspicious of her, feels like such a bonus. 😁

E11. When it comes time for the former Crown Prince’s quarters to be prepared for Seongnam, I love the way Queen Im goes in there, to say goodbye to the former Crown Prince.

There is so much wistfulness and tenderness, as she looks over the space that had once been his, and fingers the blue dragon robe that he’d once worn.

It feels sweetly sorrowful, as she thinks upon the times that they’d spent together, and the promise that he’d made to her, to be with her, even as the wind.

In this moment, as she tells him that she feels that she can let him go now, I see it more as her freeing him from that promise, so that he can finally rest in peace, instead of worrying about watching over her and the rest of his family.

She’s never going to let him go in her heart, for sure; she will always love him as her son. But now, she feels like she can let him go, in peace, to the other side. It’s bittersweet and beautiful, at the same time. 🥲

E13. I love how gently, sincerely concerned Queen Im is, when talking with Seongnam about the situation with the Crown Princess.

I love so much, that her starting point has nothing accusatory about it; instead, she starts from a point of genuine concern.

“Perhaps.. do you not like the Crown Princess?” and said with such tender, gentle care, so that it’s clear that she’s primarily concerned with Seongnam’s happiness, and not over the politics of his marriage.

And then, she’s so assuring, as she reveals that she had personally chosen Cheong Ha to be the Crown Princess, not only because of her positive personal qualities, but importantly, because she could see that Cheong Ha loved her son.

Ahhh. Such tender, loving kindness.

It’s no wonder Seongnam looks quietly assured, and doesn’t even mention his original concern, that Cheong Ha’s father is known to be aligned with the Queen Dowager.

It feels like his mother’s words have been enough, to set his heart at ease. I love that this is the effect Queen Im has on him, and I love that this is representative of the trust in their relationship. 🥰

E14. I do admire Queen Im for her shrewdness, in persuading Park Gyeong U (Kim Seung Su) to show her the gajangsacho that his father had worked on.

While Park Gyeong U thinks that his father had died in order to keep the gajangsacho hidden, Queen Im’s suggestion that his father had died in order to protect the gajangsacho, so that it could one day come to light, causes him to see things completely differently.

And, she makes a very valid point as well; just because you give of yourself to hide something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you intend for it to be hidden forever. Such a wise woman! 🤩

E14. I love that Queen Im is so fully present, regardless of what issue she’s dealing with.

When she’s with Seongnam and Cheong Ha, it’s like the only thing she cares about in the world, is the happy and successful consummation of their marriage.

At the same time, she’s fully concerned with Muan’s situation with the baby, and when Court Lady Shin reports on the rumors swirling around Seongnam, the minute she’s alone with Court Lady Shin, she enquires if there have been rumors about the baby.

And, through all of this, she’s still actively involved in investigating the death of the former Crown Prince.

I feel like a lesser person in her shoes, would probably be fully focused on just one thing – the reinvestigation, most likely – and thus be unable to dedicate full attention and care to the other issues at hand.

But Queen Im seems to have such a large capacity to be fully present, and to give what appears to be her full attention – while not forgetting other things as well. I am so impressed by this, seriously. 🤩

I feel like when you’re in her presence and seeking her help, you’d feel like you’re the only person in the world, with the way she gives you her full attention. ❤️

[END SPOILER]

Kim Hae Sook as the Queen Dowager

Kim Hae Sook is – in a word – fantastic, as our Queen Dowager. 🤩

She’s dynamic, compelling, and altogether quite mesmerizing, in every scene that she appears in, and to my eyes, she brings so much to our drama world, in terms of her onscreen charisma and presence.

Without getting into spoilers, I feel like this role gives Kim Hae Sook so much room to flex her impressive acting chops, and showcase just how good she is, at her craft.

Plus, she does have such a great withering stare!

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. Our Queen Dowager is already getting her ducks in a row, in order to put some other prince, who is to her liking, in the Crown Prince’s soon-to-be empty seat.

Perhaps it’s because Show presents Queen Im as such a universally relatable mother with relatable motherly concerns and protective instincts, the Queen Dowager’s attitude towards the Crown Prince’s seat feels particularly cold.

However, when I think about it in a more logical, detached sort of manner, I definitely see that the Queen Dowager’s take on the matter makes a good amount of sense.

What I mean is, our Crown Prince’s chances of survival are murky at best, and so, while I understand Queen Im’s fierce motherly instinct to protect him and absolutely not entertain the thought that he might die, I also see that the Queen Dowager’s approach is better for succession planning purposes.

Because, if Queen Im had her way, there would be no suitable prince-in-waiting to take the seat of the Crown Prince, should the Crown Prince not survive his illness, and that is not great for the nation.

THAT SAID. I have to concede that the Queen Dowager, while making a good amount of sense in this, definitely comes across as shady and manipulative.

To her, this isn’t just about prudent succession planning; this is personal.

First of all, there’s the thing where the Queen Dowager makes sure to send the physician who’d treated the previous Crown Prince of the same condition, out of the capital, so that he’s unavailable to treat our current Crown Prince.

That isn’t about succession planning; that’s about clearing the way for succession planning, on purpose. 😬

It’s actually really disturbing to think that the Queen Dowager is scheming to allow her grandson to die, so that she can put someone else in his place.

Also, when Queen Im reminds her that the Crown Prince, whose potential death she speaks of so coldly, is her own grandson, the Queen Dowager says, “I worry more about the future of my son’s nation and my palace (emphasis mine) than I worry about him.”

That use of the phrase “my palace” definitely gives me the impression that the Queen Dowager isn’t approaching this in any detached, for-the-greater-good sort of way.

She’s absolutely in this to consolidate her own personal power as well, and that definitely makes her feel like a dark presence, in our story world.

Plus, there’s the way she instructs her court lady to distribute those King-grooming books to the various concubines who had come to see her, but with specific instructions to make it seem like each court lady is the only recipient of the precious manuscript.

This makes it feel like our Queen Dowager is staging her own Joseon-style survival game show, where the players don’t even know that they’re on said game show. 😅

It’s definitely got dysfunctional tones to it, but I have to say, that undercurrent of dysfunction and darkness actually adds to my interest to see what’s going to happen next.

E5. It’s honestly horrifying and mesmerizing at the same time, watching the Queen Dowager play her cards, in this life-and-death game.

Not only does she personally oversee the interrogation and torture of Physician Kwon, she’s also grooming the various concubines, and priming them for future use.

And, she does a pretty convincing job of influencing the King, allegedly for his own good, and the future of his Kingdom, when she tells him that he has to listen to the ministers and depose the Crown Prince, because without them, he would essentially be nothing, with no one to rule.

And, the way she dares him to put his foot down and scatter them, somehow implies that she does not believe it would be possible for the King to effectively stop them.

She’s an evil genius, is what she is.

E8. Show really had me going for a while, in that I’d assumed that the person who had ordered Seongnam’s assassination, had been Consort Hwang.

And, Consort Hwang’s jumpiness at hearing that Seongnam’s attackers had been captured, led me to conclude that she must have been the one to give the kill order.

But no. Queen Im’s investigation and interrogation of the sub-leader, actually leads her to none other than the Queen Dowager.

Woahh. So the Queen Dowager had ordered Seongnam’s death? That’s not super shocking, I suppose, since she’d also been behind the Crown Prince’s death, and the death of Taein, before him.

But still. It’s dark, to think that a grandmother would have her own grandsons assassinated, for political gain. 😬

E9. I have to grudgingly admit that the Queen Dowager is very smart indeed, to use the poisonous cuckoo pint that Queen Im had presented her with, get really sick from it, and then put on a whole pity party, to show just how weak, fragile and maligned she is, in front of the King.

Woww. The way she leans into her sickly act is quite something, and I have to admit, I was slightly agape in wonder, at just how audacious she is, to put on such a show, and in front of her attendants, who would have seen and heard it all.

I suppose, though, that there’s a reason she’s been able to make herself the Queen Dowager; she must have more than a few tricks up her sleeve.

Watching her, I have to say that I’m both repulsed and impressed at the same time, by the Queen Dowager and her act.

[END SPOILER]

Queen Im and the Queen Dowager

Again without getting into spoilers, I’ll just say here, that I loved watching Queen Im and the Queen Dowager facing off of each other.

With such skilled actors at the helm, having Queen Im and the Queen Dowager come face to face, was a real treat, each and every time.

Sometimes, it honestly feels like the air between them is crackling with electricity, the tension is so thick.

Like I said, SUCH a treat. 🤩

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. The Queen Dowager’s intentions become more tangible, this episode, and the vibe I get, that this Very Personal Agenda of hers, has just as much to do with getting rid of the Queen, as it has to do with putting someone of her choosing, in the seat of the Crown Prince.

This is the feeling I get, based on the conversation that she has at the top of the episode, with Consort Hwang, where she expresses regret that Consort Hwang had not been selected as Queen, because the late King had deliberately chosen someone from a family with no roots.

That’s our Queen, and the Queen Dowager expressing that regret, and asking Consort Hwang how she feels about the seat of the Crown Prince for her son, while the current Crown Prince is still alive, absolutely smells of a whole lotta dark scheming.

And, there’s how the Queen Dowager speaks in code, about that sickly tree, to Consort Hwang, and how they agree that the sickly tree ought to be pulled up by the roots.

Gah. It’s chilling, how Show overlays scenes of the sickly Crown Prince, over this conversation, so that we are clear, of what this coded conversation is really about. 😬

With the context that ex-Queen Yoon gives Queen Im, it’s quickly coming together in my head, that the Queen Dowager had systematically gotten rid of Queen Yoon, along with all her sons, including the then-Crown Prince, and then had continued to eliminate the Grand Princes, even after they’d left the palace.

Plus, there’s the thing where ex-Queen Yoon talks about how Crown Prince Taein had not appeared to have died from his illness – the very same illness from which our current Crown Prince is suffering.

..Which means that the Queen Dowager must have had him killed by other means, and then blamed it on his illness. Which means that our current Crown Prince is in danger of the very same thing happening to him.

That is utterly horrifying, isn’t it?

E7. I do love how Queen Im barges into the Queen Dowager’s quarters, and faces off with her, with no fear in her eyes.

What. A. Scene. 🤩

Seriously, I cheered on the inside, when Queen Im refuses to be intimidated by the Queen Dowager, and instead, boldly negotiates with her, using that piece of information – that the Queen Dowager had admitted to killing Crown Prince Taein – as leverage.

The deal that she strikes with the Queen Dowager and the Chief State Councilor is nothing short of audacious, and I love how bold and confident she is, at the negotiating table.

She dares to play big, is what I can say, judging from the way she doesn’t hesitate to say that if none of the Grand Princes succeeds in becoming Crown Prince, she will give up her position as Queen.

She’s such a straight shooter; I love how she cuts to the chase and plainly articulates what the Queen Dowager and Chief State Councilor want – the taekhyeon.

AND, she also calls them out for tampering with the witness and framing her, without so much as batting an eye, as she states the facts. Gosh, I love her.

E8. I am completely blown away by the way Queen Im marches into the Queen Dowager’s chambers, and confronts her, with that special mix of genteel politeness and badass savagery.

The entire scene is nothing short of electrifying to watch, but my favorite moment has to be when the Queen Dowager slams her palm onto the table, in order to intimidate Queen Im, and Queen Im slams her palm on the same table, in direct retaliation – and with the bloodied kill order on show, for good measure.

Ooh. Fierce.

I just love how Queen Im then delivers her direct threat to the Queen Dowager, that if the Queen Dowager takes one more step, she will expose every immoral thing she’s done against her grandson, and make her pay the price.

Oooh. Has any Queen ever spoken to any Queen Dowager like that, in the history of Joseon? I tend to think not?

What a badass Queen Im is! 🤩🤩

I am sure that more sparks will fly between her and the Queen Dowager, in the episodes to come, and I am here for it!

E9. It’s honestly quite delicious, that when Queen Im goes to see the Queen Dowager, and calmly tells her to get up, the Queen Dowager does get up, quite capably, and even chuckles as she smooths her hair.

I mean. THE AUDACIOUS GALL. It’s quite magnificent and yet quite terrible, all at the same time, yes?

And yes, there’s that crackling tension in the air, between her and Queen Im, which is just how I like it. 🤩

E10. I have to admit, I was very much taken by surprise, by Queen Im’s move, to frame the Queen Dowager for faking Gyeseong’s suicide note.

And, I do love Queen Im’s smooth response, when the Queen Dowager asks what she’s doing; that she’s only doing what she’d learned from the Queen Dowager.

Previously, the Queen Dowager had tried to frame the Chief State Councilor for her attempt on Seongnam’s life, and now, Queen Im’s just flipping it around, such that the Queen Dowager is framed for the Chief State Councilor’s attempt on Gyeseong’s life.

Oh wow, when she puts it like that, I kind of love it? Even though, at the same time, I can’t help feeling for Queen Im, that she’s had to deal with attempts on two of her sons’ lives, in such a short span of time.

It feels like the perfect tit-for-tat revenge, while driving an effective wedge between the Queen Dowager and the Chief State Councilor. Divide and conquer is the best strategy, after all, right?

[END SPOILER]

Choi Won Young as the King

I like Choi Won Young as an actor, so in principle, I was glad to see him as our King, and I thought he did a solid job of the role.

While I did generally find our King reasonably fair and just through much of our story, I have to admit that there were times when I felt less than satisfied with the King’s.. shall we say, moral integrity.

It’s.. complicated, to say the least, and I appreciate that Show is able to tease out the various nuances of complication, so that we can fully understand the dilemma that the King faces.

Here’s a collection of my various thoughts on the King and his position, over the course of my watch, which I hope helps to reflect my evolving impressions of him.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E7. The way the King talks about the throne being filthy, combined with that little tidbit, that he’s been the one to express a desire to be Crown Prince in the first place, makes me believe that he must be harboring a good amount of guilt over his ascension to the throne.

Crown Prince Taein (Cho Deok Hoe), who had died under the Queen Dowager’s hand, had been his brother, and therefore, he likely feels the burden of Taein’s death on his shoulders.

That’s a terrible burden of guilt to bear, and combined with how he’s always being pelted with pleas by ministers with their own agendas, I’m getting the idea that the King isn’t having a good time on the throne, like, at all.

And of course, there’s the thing where he actually feels powerless, even though he’s the King.

Like here, in this scene, even after all that he’s said, the Queen Dowager declares, with fire in her eyes, that if he doesn’t consent to the taekhyeon, she will bring down Queen Im with her own hands.

E8. I’m glad that the King takes the attack seriously, but it’s too bad that the Chief State Councilor basically threatens him with the truth of Taein’s death, to get him to delay the investigation until after the taekhyeon concludes.

On a side note, woah, that the now-King, had actually witnessed Taein’s last moments, at the Queen Dowager’s hands.

Yikes. I’m sure that would mess anyone up, with or without the political pressure that comes with the throne.

E11. I’m glad that the King takes the feedback seriously, and even takes the opportunity to discuss the real issue, from which the feedback stems.

This feels great on two levels, to me.

1, this feels like real outcomes that will benefit the people, are going to result, from Seongnam’s answer, and that’s very excellent indeed, and

2, because the King is as open to the feedback as Seongnam is, this gives me the feeling that Seongnam is a prince after the King’s own heart.

I like that a lot. 🥰

E14. With the King so firmly declining Queen Im’s request to re-investigate the cause of Crown Prince Taein’s death – because he knows that it was the Queen Dowager who’d killed him and wants to protect her – part of me actually wishes that he would be toppled.

He talks about how, even after 20 years on the throne, he’s still surrounded by those who threaten his authority, like he’s in such a difficult position.

However, listening to him say that, I can’t help but think of how he’s knowingly taking advantage of his brother’s murder, while protecting said brother’s murderer, in order to sit on that throne.

I dunno; I get that there are many kings in history who get rid of the previous kings, in order to take the throne.

But.. there’s just something about this situation, where the King’s trying to keep his hands looking clean, while basically condoning the murder of his brother, that rubs me the wrong way. 😅

Like, if you’re going to be one of those murderous kings, then own it, rather than try to pretend that you’re all innocent?

[END SPOILER]

Queen Im and the King

Honestly, the King and Queen don’t spend a lot of time together, in this drama world, and the thing that strikes me about that, is, despite their apparent lack of couple time, their trust in each other is very strong.

That’s my favorite thing about this royal couple, honestly.

On top of that, I also really love how they tend to communicate.

He’s open to listening to her thoughts and perspectives, and she is ever wise and judicious, in how she shares those thoughts and perspectives, such that those perspectives end up having the maximum positive impact on his decisions. Very nice, I thought.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5. I’m so glad that the King steps out, and backs Queen Im up, saying that he’d released her from confinement, and then backs her up further, saying that her words are his words too. YES.

It’s pretty darn great, how the King silences everyone thereafter, by saying that anyone who continues to speak of deposition of the Crown Prince, will be held accountable for treason.

DOUBLE YESS.

E7. The way Queen Im talks to the King is a thing of beauty; I love how she quotes him on what he’d once said – that he wants to fear his people, and not his ministers – and tells him that this was the moment she knew that he was a great man.

That’s so stirring and affirming; I’m not surprised that the King is inspired to do as she says, and bring the original spirit of taekhyeon back, by making it a fair process, that will reward the worthiest candidate.

E9. I’m actually pleasantly surprised twice over; first, by the fact that Queen Im immediately goes to the King and tells him what’s happened, and second, by the fact that HE BELIEVES HER.

Ahhh. I can’t tell you how gratifying that feels, because I feel like in every other sageuk, any attempt to tell the King that his mother had tried to kill a prince, would have resulted in disbelief, and counter-accusations of trying to frame the Queen Dowager.

Here, though, it’s quite the opposite.

The King believes Queen Im right away, and wants to punish the Queen Dowager and the Chief State Councilor, for attempting to harm Seongnam.

I suppose a big factor at play here, is the fact that the King has seen for himself, exactly what his dear mother is capable of, when her ambition is at play. He’d witnessed the death of Crown Prince Taein at her hands, no less, after all.

I figure it doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch to him, to believe that she would do the same again, now that the Crown Prince seat is empty, and waiting to be filled.

On that note, I’m glad to see that the trust is proving to be pretty strong, between the King and Queen Im. When she tells him something, he’s more apt to believe it than not, and that feels reassuring.

[END SPOILER]

Bae In Hyuk as the Crown Prince

I very much enjoyed Bae In Hyuk as our Crown Prince, not only because I have a growing soft spot for him as an actor, but also because I think he did a really excellent job, with the role.

Without getting into spoilers, I’ll say that I loved how warm and genuine our Crown Prince is, towards the people around him.

His soft spot for his family is clear, and I loved seeing him share time with them, and in particular, with his children, his brothers, and his mother.

Somehow, despite the short amount of screen time we get with him, I felt his heart coming through, in a very real and tangible way.

Really well done.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. It seems like our Crown Prince might have a sense of his own mortality, judging from the way he asks to see Seongnam, and asks him to be there for the rest of the Grand Princes, as well as his own son, if / when he isn’t around.

That whole thing carries such a sense of pathos to me, because the Crown Prince is so young, and should have such a bright future ahead of him, and yet, here he is, making arrangements in the event of his passing. 😭

I do love the way he asks Seongnam to be his cohort, saying that he misses him, brother to brother.

That feels so much more human and warm, compared to everyone else’s reasons for applying to be the Crown Prince’s cohort.

E5. I was completely gutted that Queen Im doesn’t get to see the Crown Prince, one last time, before he passes. Sob. 😭

That’s so tragic, honestly. It feels like such a cruel thing, that Queen Im hasn’t been able to see her son, not only during his last days, but even at his last breath.

I can only imagine the anguish that she must feel, as a mother, and I have to say, serious kudos to Kim Hye Soo, for her delivery of Queen Im’s reaction, to the Crown Prince’s death.

Her wordless, guttural screams are so raw and primal; my heart goes out to her, so much, even as she reaches to hold her lifeless son. 💔

It truly is heartbreaking to see her despair, that she wasn’t in time to say goodbye to him, and tell him that she agrees to his request, that she stay strong, and protect his children and his brothers, on his behalf.

And then, it’s so, so poignant, to hear her make that promise anyway, and ask him to rest in peace, and not worry about her.

Chills and tears, y’all. Chills and tears. 😭😭

[END SPOILER]

Moon Sang Min as Seongnam

I’m gonna hafta say that Seongnam was a character who snuck up on me and then stole my heart.

In the beginning, he was just one in what felt like a sea of princes, and I didn’t have any special opinions about him.

However, I do think that Show does an excellent job of peeling back his layers, and making him a very appealing character, so much so that I found myself perking up at his scenes, and rooting for him, before I knew it.

That said, I have to concede that Moon Sang Min is still rough around the edges as an actor, and I do feel that his acting range is still on the more limited side of things.

However, I do feel that the role of Seongnam works well within his acting limitations, while bringing out his charm.

So, while I wouldn’t (yet?) say that Moon Sang Min’s the Next Big Thing, I felt that he was very well matched to this role, which worked within his limitations and showcased his strengths very nicely.

Altogether, I’d call that a win, yes? 😁

Here’s a bit of a sprawling look at my growing impressions of Seongnam, over the course of my watch. 🤩

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. The fact that Seongnam rushes to apply to be the Crown Prince’s cohort, when he originally hadn’t planned to apply, shows just how much this brotherly bond means to him.

That does endear him to me a little bit already.

E4. I find myself growing more fond of Seongnam, as we get to see more of what he’s about.

I really like that, like his mother, he’s sincerely concerned about his brother’s health.

There’s no smell of political ambition about him, unlike some of the other princes. He really only cares about the fact that his brother is ill, and his passion is that everything be done, to ensure his brother’s recovery.

Aw. That alone already endears him to me, y’know? And we haven’t even gotten to the part where he puts himself in actual danger, in order to help ensure his brother’s recovery, even.

I actually really appreciate that when Seongnam confronts Queen Im, and asks to know about what’s really going, she actually tells him, at least in broad strokes.

That indicates that she sees him as being strong and mature enough, to handle this much information; it indicates to me that she trusts him enough, to even tell him that much.

That’s more than she tells the other princes, so vicariously, I feel like my trust in Seongnam grows, as she demonstrates her trust in him too, if that makes sense.

This is all the more poignant, given that Show reminds us that Seongnam had spent his early years growing up apart from his family, and without his mother’s guidance and support.

The fact that she’s putting her trust in him now, and that he likewise puts his trust in her, even though she hasn’t told him about why he’d had to grow up alone outside the palace, is pretty moving stuff.

Also, Seongnam’s affection for Gyeseong is very real, too.

It turns out that Seongnam had known about Gyeseong’s secret and his secret hideout, and had been helping him keep his secret safe, without letting on that he knew.

The way he now goes to Gyeseong, in the wake of his hiding place being burned down, to ask if he’d like to have a drink together, makes me feel like this is his way of consoling Gyeseong, again, without letting on that he knows.

He’s really very thoughtful and sweet, in his own stoic way, isn’t he?

And then there’s the way Seongnam takes it upon himself to look for a physician who would be able to treat the Crown Prince’s illness.

There is so much purpose and determination about him, as he does that.

Not only is he willing to pay big money to the dudes who do that kind of detective work, he doesn’t hesitate to enter the plague-ridden Seochon, to seek out the physician, even though it’s a dangerous task on more than one level.

Because, first of all, he shouldn’t be sneaking out of the palace like that, and being discovered could get him into big trouble.

Beyond that, there’s the issue of the plague. He’s putting himself at very real physical risk, purely for the chance, that this physician would be able to help his brother, where other physicians have failed.

That is so devoted and loyal, isn’t it? 🥹

My heart goes out to Seongnam extra, when we see the context that, as a young child just back in the palace, the Queen Dowager had intimidated him by (presumably) killing his favorite eunuch, for Seongnam’s own curiosity about something.

That must have been so traumatizing for him, as a child.

And yet, here he is, fiercely wearing his heart on his sleeve, for his brother.

Augh. I think I might luff him.

Plus, there’s the way Seongnam’s participation in the debate demonstrates his heart for the people, as well as his very real understanding of how things work on the ground, in Seochon.

He doesn’t get selected as the Crown Prince’s cohort, but I’m pretty impressed with his performance all the same, particularly since he hadn’t shown any interest in participating in the exam, in the first place.

E5. I appreciate Seongnam’s tenacious spirit, and the way he refuses to give up hope of helping his brother, if at all possible.

The way he sneaks into prison to see Physician Kwon, and then sneaks back to Seochon, to talk with Master Toji, in the hope of finding out how to save the Crown Prince, tells me just how deeply he cares about his brother, and that really endears him to me.

E6. I appreciate the approach that Queen Im takes with Seongnam, where she asks him to think carefully about what his brother the late Crown Prince would have wanted from him, instead of simply scolding him to get a hold of himself.

This feels so much more meaningful, and given how much Seongnam loves his brother, and I can see how her approach would cause Seongnam to make a sincere, farsighted decision to honor his brother by applying himself the way his brother would have wanted, instead of fighting his mother for the sake of it, or continuing to wallow in his sorrow.

E7. I really appreciate Seongnam’s determination to bring the truth to light, in order to clear his mother’s name.

He’s so brave as well, because, as the King points out, if anything goes wrong, he could die for this, because he had been the one to bring the medicine into the palace in the first place.

And yet, he’s set on working to prove the truth of the matter, because he doesn’t wish to live in guilt.

Ahhh. He really does have the makings of a Crown Prince. His character is upright and just. I like that a lot. 🤩

E7. At this point, I have no idea what the contest is going to be like, and whether anyone will be able to sneak around the stated rules, but I’m glad to know that Seongnam has agreed to strive for the position, in honor of his brother.

The way he tells his mother that he’s ready to risk everything, if it means that he has a chance of making things right again.

Augh. I do love that upright, righteous streak in him. 🤩

E8. I find myself liking Seongnam more and more, the more I see of him.

I like how he is a man of his word; the moment he agrees to do his best to become Crown Prince, in order to honor his brother, and to set things right, is the moment that he really starts to apply himself to the task, wholeheartedly.

I like focused and intent Seongnam a lot; it becomes him. 🤩

Also, I love the fact that because of the time that Seongnam had spent with the Crown Prince, he had naturally learned a lot of things that he will now be tested on, in the taekhyeon.

The stuff that the Crown Prince had taught Seongnam, weren’t taught specifically to prepare him to be Crown Prince; they were just a natural by-product of them spending time together as brothers, and now, the things that he’d learned, are coming in so useful, in the taekhyeon.

LOVE. ❤️

And, in a mirroring of how his mother is tending to things, I really like how Seongnam is able to survive with his skills and smarts, even as the other princes resort to foul play, in their efforts to win the competition.

E8. It’s a nice contrast, to see how Bogeom and Seongnam approach things so differently, when given the same task.

Bogeom’s going by the book, and from the looks of it, has the expectation that Park Gyeong U will cooperate, simply because he’s delivering the King’s order.

On the other hand, Seongnam is a lot more dynamic, and reacts in what he feels is the most useful way, according to the situation.

I’m already seeing how Seongnam would be a better Crown Prince than Bogeom, even though Bogeom’s been more consistent in his studies, all this time.

We see this most, in the way Seongnam’s able to prove that Park Gyeong U is not blind like he’s pretending to be – by leaping off the side of the cliff. Woah. 😳

E9. Between Seongnam and Bogeom, I do get a thrill out of seeing Seongnam outperforming Bogeom, in his assessment of situations, because he’s proving that he has a better, more dynamic understanding of things and people, than Bogeom.

This makes me feel like Seongnam is impressing Park Gyeong U more, and therefore has a greater chance of completing the task. Or at least, that’s my hope. 😅

E10. I’m really heartened to see Bogeom decide to work together with Seongnam, even though they are technically supposed to be up against each other, on the basis that if Park Gyeong U is swindling the people, then he ought to be brought to justice.

It feels like Seongnam’s determination strikes a chord with Bogeom, that this is about something larger and more important than a competition among princes – which, I think, is the quality that will set Seongnam apart from the other princes, actually.

Because, at the end of the day, the King is looking for someone who will have a heart for the people, and who will be able to mobilize others accordingly, not someone who only cares about beating his brothers, to emerge the victor.

I really like the partnership between Seongnam and Bogeom, in this moment, and it’s a far cry from the time that Bogeom had left Seongnam hanging off the side of the cliff, that’s for sure.

It makes me think that given the right conditions, Bogeom and Seongnam could be pretty great partners in a real life application, like if Seongnam were to become Crown Prince, and Bogeom were his cohort, for example.

I really like how, when they put their findings together, they are able to conclude, together, the truth behind Park Gyeong U and the missing money in his accounts; that he’s not embezzling it, but using it to help and empower the villagers.

And, similar to how Seongnam had managed to get Bogeom to work with him to find out the truth about Park Gyeong U for the greater good, I really like Seongnam’s approach, in persuading Park Gyeong U to accept the post that the King is bestowing – not for any other reason, than to help other children like the ones he’s already helped here in the village.

That’s something that I can easily believe Park Gyeong U would be able to get behind, and again, I’m thinking that Seongnam would make an excellent Crown Prince. 🤩

E10. I love the reunion between Queen Im and Seongnam, as she sees him for the first time, since the start of the taekhyeon.

I love how warm, tender and caring she is towards him, telling him that he’s done well and worked hard, and I love how gentle he is, in telling her that she can tell him all these things, when the contest is fully over.

It’s just a heartfelt, lovely moment, and such a huge contrast to the scene between Consort Hwang and Uiseong.

THIS is why Seongnam should be Crown Prince, and not Uiseong. And THIS is also why Queen Im should be Queen, and not Consort Hwang. 🤩🤩

E11. I really like watching Seongnam excel, more than the other princes.

When the King does his secret assessment of Seongnam, Uiseong and Bogeom, I got a thrill out of Seongnam’s answer standing out so much.

To me, it’s partly from him being so bold as to relay frank feedback to the King, even if it’s not pleasant to hear, and also, partly from his perspective being so focused on the wellbeing of the people.

The way he talks, is like a real leader and ruler, whereas Uiseong’s and Bogeom’s answers lean more noticeably theoretical.

Like Seongnam tells his mother later in the episode, the fact that he’d lived outside the palace really did do him good, in the end.

E11. Another thing I like a lot, is that even as Seongnam gives his answer, the vibe I get is that he’s sincerely more concerned about the wellbeing of the people, and the feedback getting to the King so that something can be done about it, than trying to outperform his brothers.

In fact, through the entire taekhyeon, I get that feeling, that Seongnam is simply sincerely doing his best, but not specifically trying to outshine, outwit or outperform the other princes – but which the other princes are definitely doing, on their parts.

I really like that about him too.

Show’s done a really good job of having Seongnam sneak up on me, come to think of it.

At the beginning of our story, Seongnam had been just another one of the many princes, to me. But now, I find myself perking up extra, when he’s on my screen. I do think he’s become my favorite of the princes. 🤩😁

E11. Although it must not have been comfortable for Seongnam to have had to undergo that blood test, with his paternity in question, I really do like that, as a result, the truth comes out, and he and Queen Im finally have a frank conversation about how and why he’d had to live outside the palace.

I’m glad that Queen Im gets to apologize for this thing that’s been weighing on her heart for so many years, and I’m glad that Seongnam sets her free from that guilt, by telling her that he had known that she’d visited him, and also, that he was grateful that she had sent the Crown Prince to him as well.

This feels like such a healing moment, between mother and son. I love. 🥰

E12. I love how we start Seongnam’s journey as Crown Prince, with a special moment between him and Queen Im.

The quiet joy and contentment that radiates from them both, as they look upon each other, is such a treat to behold, honestly.

I love how Queen Im tells him that she can’t help but smile, just looking at his face, and I also love how she gives him such a thoughtful, tender, practical and meaningful gift of knee pads, because they will protect his knees, even as he serves those whom he’s called to serve.

Augh. So good.

It feels like such a perfect note on which to begin Seongnam’s journey as Crown Prince, with the assurance of his mother’s love and support, and a gentle reminder of the challenges ahead of him, as well as the thought of all those whom he’s called to serve, to anchor it all.

And, those challenges are not slow to show themselves, either.

From the Queen Dowager making meaningful, borderline threatening remarks to him, to his tutors hazing him with difficult questions, it’s gratifying and comforting to see Seongnam take it all in stride, and face each challenge with measured calmness.

In particular, I like the scene where he meets with the Queen Dowager, because it’s such a stark contrast to the flashback that we’ve seen, of him meeting her when he’d been a young boy, just freshly moved into the palace.

Back then, he hadn’t been able to stand up for himself, and had been terrified of his grandmother, as she’d told him not to see or say anything.

But now, he’s standing firm and holding his head up high, and telling her, “I will fill my eyes with what I see, remember what I hear, and if I must, speak forthrightly as the Crown Prince.”

What a great echo of that scene, with so much having changed in between. 🤩

I also love how Seongnam sets the tone, when he meets Consort Hwang and Uiseong, outside the Queen Dowager’s chambers.

The way he pauses, in order for them to bow to him, and the way he addresses Uiseong, so that Uiseong has to answer while addressing him as Crown Prince, is all quite subtle and yet quite pointed, at the same time.

These are all the daily decorum that should be observed towards the Crown Prince, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But the way he goes about it, makes me feel that he’s intentionally setting the tone and asserting his authority over them.

It’s like a subtle warning, that he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with, and to not take him lightly, and I kinda really dig it. 🤩

[END SPOILER]

Yoo Seon Ho as Gyeseong

Out of all the other princes, I have to say that Gyeseong’s arc is the one that tugged at my heartstrings the most.

This was my introduction to Yoo Seon Ho, so I don’t know if he’s playing Gyeseong like this on purpose, or if this is just his natural vibe, but in his hands, Gyeseong has a delicate, slightly otherworldly sort of quality to him, which is perfect for the character.

My heart went out to Gyeseong a great deal, and I’m glad that Show remembers to wrap up his arc in a way that gives us a reasonable sense of closure.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. Show had me going for a while there, with Gyeseong’s secret.

I think it’s in the way that Yoo Seon Ho is playing him; there’s just something a little unfocused about his eyes, that makes him look like he’s maybe not all there – at least to my eyes.

Because of that, I half thought that perhaps he was into some drug or occult thing, and that’s perhaps why there’s this slightly unfocused quality about his gaze, sometimes.

But no, he just likes to crossdress, which is a lot more harmless, certainly, but which could definitely still be used against him, in the race to become cohort – and eventually Crown Prince.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the palace, especially when it comes to any kind of race that has to do with the throne, and therefore, I would classify Prince Gyeseong’s secret as a potentially deadly one, because someone could well use this to eliminate him, somehow.

E3. I really appreciate how Queen Im approaches Gyeseong and his secret.

She could have burned his secret hideaway right away, now that I think about it. But because it’s his secret place and is precious to him, her initial effort is towards keeping him from visiting it, for the time being.

It’s only when the hideaway is under the very real threat of being revealed by the Queen Dowager, that she decides to burn it.

It’s true that it then becomes a blow to Gyeseong, but given the circumstances, I really do think that it was the best way for her to keep him and his secret safe.

It blows me away, that afterwards, Queen Im even thinks to take Gyeseong to have his portrait done, as a woman, so that he will have a safer way to see his true self, when he feels the need to do so.

And, she even gives him her favorite hairpin, which she tells him she would have given to her daughter, if she’d had one, and then embraces him.

That must be so very precious to Gyeseong, because this is support and acceptance from his own mother, where before, he’d believed that he was all alone in this.

And, I do so love what Queen Im says to Court Lady Shin, as they wait for Gyeseong to have his portrait done.

“I tried to imagine how he must have felt when he failed to overcome it and had no choice but to accept it. He must have been so scared. That is why I could not look the other way. I am his mother.”

Augh. That is so beautifully affecting, truly. 🥹

I also really love the closing scenes, this episode, of how Queen Im literally keeps Gyeseong sheltered, under the shade of her umbrella.

The way she holds it over him, with little care for whether she gets wet in the rain, is such a great metaphor for how she is protecting him and her other sons from harm – with little care for whether she gets hurt in the process.

What a champion Mama Bear she is. Love. ❤️

E10. I’m so, SO relieved the Consort Ko really does come around, after Queen Im saves her son Simso, because it’s Consort Ko’s tipoff, that eventually helps Queen Im to save Gyeseong’s life.

SO MUCH PHEW, seriously. 😅

It’s just horrifying, to think of what Consort Hwang had in mind, to fake his suicide, and expose his secret, so that he would be doomed anyway.

I’m so, so relieved that Queen Im’s men manage to save Gyeseong, even though Consort Hwang’s men have already hung him up on a tree, to fake his suicide.

Gah. The fact that they had to shoot him down from the tree gives me chills. Like, what if they’d been just a little later, right? Poor Gyeseong would have died. 😭

I’m so glad that Queen Im is there for Gyeseong when he wakes up, so that she can comfort and assure him, that he can rest for some time, before returning to the palace, and that he doesn’t need to worry, because the King is already aware of Seo Ham Seok’s (Tae Won Seock, who was Bong Seon, in Sisyphus: The Myth! 🤩) treasonous plan.

[END SPOILER]

Yoon Sang Hyeon as Muan

For a good chunk of our story, I had Muan categorized in my head as the flighty one, since we mostly see him having no interest in his studies, and being fixated on love, romance and the possibility of sexytimes, as soon as possible.

I mean, with a profile like that, I naturally defaulted to thinking of him as a bit of comic relief, and not much else.

So color me surprised, when Show actually gives him a growth arc that makes organic sense for his character, and which actually unexpectedly endeared him to me, more than I’d originally thought possible.

Nicely played, Show.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E13. This episode, I’m quite amused at how Queen Im makes it Muan’s sole responsibility, to take care of the baby, because, it’s just as she says, later in the episode: this is a baby taking care of a baby.

And, while Muan’s mostly been more of a comic character to me, given his fixation and talent for romantic pursuits, over actual princely ones, this episode, his earnestness really comes through, as he does his best to look after the baby.

For all his flighty romantic tendencies, he really is sincerely sorry to think upon the fact that baby will have to grow up without her mother.

On top of that, the way he basks in the baby’s beauty – and in the fact that this really is his baby – is endearing as well.

It’s actually quite lovely to see how this surprise baby leads to a growth spurt in Muan; by the end of the episode, he literally appears to have matured by more than a few years.

When Show gave us a glimpse of Baby Ari’s wet nurse, I’d already had an inkling that this might be Cho Wol, assigned by Queen Im to be her own baby’s wet nurse, but it was still a very satisfying moment, when Show does the official reveal, at the end of the episode.

I love how Queen Im handles the entire situation, honestly.

Even though her first reaction is to be incensed at Muan for being irresponsible and fathering a child out of wedlock, her actions have no hint of spitefulness about them.

As all is revealed, it becomes clear that her decisions, through the entire process, were grounded in wanting to do her best by not only the baby, but also, Muan and Cho Wol as well.

She wasn’t punishing Muan by making him take care of the baby; she was helping him to grow up, so that he’d be able to be a good father.

She wasn’t punishing Cho Wol by hiding her; she was making a way for Cho Wol to still see her baby, even after giving the baby up.

There’s so much love that’s evident in Queen Im through this arc, and none more obvious than in the look in her face, as she holds her granddaughter.

That look of serene contentment, as she soothes the baby to sleep, is quite incandescent, to my eyes; she literally looks like a magical goddess who brings peace to everything and everyone she touches, in that moment. 🤩

[END SPOILER]

Kang Chan Hee as Uiseong

It should come as no surprise to you that I disliked Uiseong as a character, very, very much.

Maybe Kang Chan Hee’s just too good at playing callous and annoying, because I found myself disliking Uiseong more and more, over the course of my watch. 😅

That said, Show does make it such that he, uh.. learns a different perspective, by the time we get to the end of our story, so by the finale, I actually felt a little bit sorry for him.

In this section, though, all I’ve got for you are all the different reasons I disliked Uiseong. Enjoy..? 😅

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. I really dislike Prince Uiseong, right away.

I know he has a lot of dissatisfaction in the belief that he is the rightful Crown Prince, but that doesn’t justify his snide treatment of everyone, the Grand Princes in particular.

He’s downright rude and nasty, and I honestly want to see him fail at his quest to become Crown Prince, and it would be nice if he failed hard, honestly.

E5. I do dislike Prince Uiseong quite a lot.

There’s his callous attitude in talking about the Crown Prince’s illness (and in talking about things to do with the Queen in general as well), and there’s also something about the way Kang Chan Hee is playing him, that makes me want to just smack him, every time he acts out in his entitled, self-centered way. 😅

I also hate that he bullies his brothers the way he does. We’ve seen him do it before, and he does it again, this episode, with the way he taunts Seongnam.

I just.. really don’t like him. 😬

E8. In terms of the foul play displayed among the various princes, I was most horrified by the way Uiseong puts stuff in the horses’ feed, in order to make them sick, so as to hold up the other princes. The poor sick horses! 😩

Also, it definitely says something about him, that he would have that medicine at the ready, for a situation like this, since the actual competition details aren’t revealed to the princes ahead of time.

He’d already planned to play dirty, before the competition even started, and I dislike him, as much as I dislike his mother – maybe more, coz his annoying face is very effective. 😅

E9. Between Gyeseong and Uiseong, I’m of course rooting for Gyeseong, because Uiseong is a little petty ball of scum, to put it bluntly. 😅

I like how Gyeseong’s able to unearth some very important information about Seo Ham Seok, because that looks like it would be very useful to the King.

At the same time, I’m bummed that it’s Uiseong who seems to have the upper hand, and that, through underhanded means. I’m shocked – and yet not surprised – that Uiseong is the one who’s framed Seo Ham Seok for murder, and is now using that to force Seo Ham Seok to come back to the capital with him, according to the edict.

E10. As we see, Uiseong’s not above playing dirty, even if it means plotting Gyeseong’s death. UGH.

Gosh, I hate Uiseong, so much. 🤮

The way he sends word to his grandfather and mother, that he’s killed a man, and needs to also have Gyeseong killed, and the way his mother, Consort Hwang, actually rises to the occasion with a glint in her eyes, is just horrifying.

No wonder Uiseong is like this, if his mother is like this. 😬

[END SPOILER]

Moon Sung Hyun as Simso

Simso’s actually a pretty secondary character, in our story, but I wanted to give him the spotlight for a bit, because his arc during the taekhyeon in episode 9 really hit me in the heart, and made my heart go out to him in a big way.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E9. I really feel for Simso, that when he finally makes it back to the palace, after being robbed, and manages to convince the guards to let him see his mother (Woo Jung Won), she immediately refuses to let him come back, and instead, throws him back out, with nothing more than her norigae in his hands, to help him.

My heart couldn’t help but drop, when we see Simso simply drop down where he’s been tossed by the guards, and just.. pass out, like that.

I’m so glad that Court Lady Shin finds him, and brings him back to Queen Im, and I’m so glad that Queen Im feeds him and speaks to him kindly.

The awful thing, though, is that when Consort Ko sees him, she’s horribly cruel to him, and I hate the way she tells him that she regrets giving birth to him, and that it would have been better if he’d died.

Oof. Could a mother say anything more cruel to her own child? 😭

It’s little wonder that Simso, delicate soul that he is, would decide to hang himself, after hearing such cutting, hurtful words from his own mother. 😭

I’m so relieved that Queen Im finds him and gets him treated in time, to save his life. And, it’s so good of Queen Im, to speak to Consort Ko with compassion, even though it had been Consort Ko’s cruel treatment of Simso, that had driven him to try to kill himself.

AND, I really, really love the conversation that Queen Im shares with Simso, on the pretext of teaching him to drink.

I love how she basically tells him that nobody is perfect, and even so, it’s possible to live a good life.

I love how she tells him that he didn’t fail to become the Crown Prince, but simply chose not to, and therefore should not feel ashamed.

Ahhh. That is so affirming and kind! I just love Queen Im so much, in this moment.

The warmth she shows Simso is the kind of stuff that gives life.

And, the grace and compassion she shows to Consort Ko is totally the stuff that melts hearts of ice, at least to me.

She’s saved Simso’s life, in every way that he needed to be saved. 🥹

[END SPOILER]

Oh Ye Ju as Cheong Ha

I’m actually very pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking Cheong Ha, as a character.

In the beginning of our story, she had seemed like just some random girl, who happened to have a crush on Seongnam.

As we get to know her better, though, I found that I couldn’t help but grow fond of her. She’s just very endearing, when you get to know her.

Here are a few instances where I found my affection for Cheong Ha growing, during my watch.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E13. Cheong Ha is proving to be such a sweet, endearing soul. I really, really like her.

I mean, when Seongnam left her alone on their wedding night without a word, someone else in her shoes might have gotten all petulant and spiteful, but she’s not like that at all.

Her sweet sense of cheer and positivity still shines through her disappointment, and she’s genuinely puzzled and curious about Seongnam’s reason for walking out on her like that.

I mean, she even muses about his potential lack of knowledge and comfort in the bedroom, which I found quite amusing, honestly. 😁

What strikes me most, is that when Cheong Ha muses to her court lady that she’d pondered over the possible reasons for Seongnam’s behavior all night, and still doesn’t know the answer, there’s no bitterness in her words or her expression.

Instead, there’s still an open sort of innocence on her face, and that really, really endears her to me.

The way she’s all, “I’ll just ask him about it when I see him,” with a smile, is so simple and innocent; I find it very charming.

E14. I love how bright and guileless she comes across, even when she’s deflecting the Queen Dowager’s questions.

Even when the Queen Dowager raises her voice and starts banging on the table to emphasize just how important it is for the Crown Prince to sire a son, Cheong Ha remains calm, and assures the Queen Dowager, brightly, that she will put an end of the rumor that Seongnam is infertile.

Gosh, I do love how she is unfazed by the Queen Dowager’s tactics to intimidate, and I love how she deflects it all, with a cheerful sheen of guilelessness.

..And then I love how she goes straight to Queen Im, to ask for help.

So, it’s not that Cheong Ha is unaware of what the Queen Dowager is trying to do; she just knows when to act like she’s clueless and naive, and she also knows how to look for help in the right places. Very nice.

[END SPOILER]

Seongnam and Cheong Ha

To be honest, when Show started teasing a potential loveline between Seongnam and Cheong Ha early on in our story, I wasn’t very convinced nor interested.

At the time, I was all, eh, I could take it or leave it.

I even had it in my head, that our story might be better off without this loveline.

BUT. As we got deeper into our story, and as Cheong Ha became more fleshed out as a character, I found myself actually enjoying this little loveline very well.

Not only did I perk up with this loveline got some screen time, I even found myself wishing, from time to time, that Show would give it a little more time, even. 😅

Funny how that worked out, eh?

Nicely played, Show. 👏🏻

Here’s a quick overview of my thoughts on this loveline, up till episode 14.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. Altogether, I’m liking Seongnam very well, this episode, and so, when Show hints at a potential loveline between him and the Minister of War, Minister Yoon’s daughter, listed as Cheong Ha, I have no complaints whatsoever.

I mean, I can see why Cheong Ha would take an interest in him. 😁

E9. I’m still feeling quite neutral about the burgeoning loveline between Seongnam and Cheong Ha, in that I’m not super sucked in by it, and right now, it does seem like it’s Cheong Ha who liked Seongnam, while Seongnam’s more quizzical about it than anything.

This episode, however, we do see a glimmer of softness coming from Seongnam, like when he stops the boat from moving off, because he realizes that Cheong Ha isn’t on board.

The way he kind of smiles a bit, after she gets on board, makes me think that he might be softening towards her more than I’d originally expected him to.

E12. It feels like a bit of a highlight reel, almost, with how quickly things trot along, for the Crown Princess selection, and y’know what, I don’t mind that at all.

Given the limited screen time that we have left, I would rather the selection be skimmed over quickly, so that we can have more time focusing on the actual relationship between Seongnam and Cheong Ha, upon their marriage.

It’s played in a lighthearted fashion, but I really do love how Queen Im is so personally involved in the matter, key word being, “personal.”

It’s so great, to me, that she stakes out the fabric shops, to observe the noble young ladies in the running, to see how they behave towards the people around them, and I love that she takes their conduct so seriously, never mind about which families they come from.

I’d been a tiny bit worried, that Queen Im wouldn’t be in favor of Cheong Ha becoming the Crown Princess, because her father, the Minister Yoon, is aligned with the Queen Dowager and the Chief State Councilor.

I was so wrong.

I LOVE that Queen Im only cares about Cheong Ha’s character, and it’s so fantastic, really, that Queen Im observes Cheong Ha stepping in to save that lady who was being taken advantage of, because that’s not so different from the flashback that we were treated to not so long ago, of Queen Im herself, stepping in to save a young pregnant woman, who was being taken advantage of.

The way Cheong Ha puts herself protectively between the woman and the shopkeeper, reminds me of how Queen Im had also put herself protectively between the pregnant woman and the man who had been her master.

It’s little details like these, that convince me that Cheong Ha is a young woman after Queen Im’s own heart, and I feel like, with the right guidance, Cheong Ha could become a queen who’s worthy of following in Queen Im’s footsteps.

I also like how Queen Im talks with Cheong Ha, to personally get a feel for what Cheong Ha’s thinking is like, before asking her about submitting an application to be considered as Crown Princess.

Admittedly, it’s a touch convenient that Cheong Ha’s got a portrait of Seongnam to show to Queen Im during their conversation, so that there can be no further misunderstanding about Cheong Ha liking someone else, but I appreciate that Show planted that seed a while back already.

And so, it’s become reasonably organic to our story, that Cheong Ha would be smitten enough with Seongnam, to carry that portrait around with her at all times. 😁

It’s pretty important to our story too, because it’s truly only because Cheong Ha knows that Seongnam is the Crown Prince, that she suddenly becomes so eager to be the Crown Princess, and it is that eagerness, that catches the Queen Dowager’s eye.

E12. At the selection of the Crown Princess, I’m quite thrilled, actually, to witness the way Queen Im allows – nay, encourages – the Queen Dowager’s selection of Cheong Ha, by opposing it.

Ha. It’s obvious that Queen Im understands what makes the Queen Dowager tick, and she knows that opposing the Queen Dowager’s choice, would only make the Queen Dowager dig her heels in, even harder. So sneaky; so smart. 😁

It’s pretty neat that Queen Im manages to give Cheong Ha a hidden advantage, by testing her on the very topic that they’d discussed, during their private conversation before, and before we know it, Cheong Ha’s passed the selection, and is in place, to become Crown Princess.

I seriously love how Queen Im makes it her personal mission to help prepare Cheong Ha for her role as Crown Princess, and oversees Cheong Ha’s studies and practices so closely.

Truly, what better coach and tutor could Cheong Ha have, eh? And Queen Im knows exactly when to cut Cheong Ha some slack, and offer her the cliff notes, to help her succeed. 😁

I love that flashback that we get, where we see that Queen Im had visited the Minister Yoon and his wife, and spoken to them about her desire to have Cheong Ha be Crown Princess.

The way she assuages their fears, and offers the Minister Yoon a different path, where he protects the Crown Prince, while she protects Cheong Ha, and prevents her from being used and discarded like the Queen Dowager plans, is just brilliant.

This truly is the way to the Minister Yoon’s heart; he loves Cheong Ha and doesn’t want anything bad to happen to her. Queen Im’s promise to protect Cheong Ha is probably the only thing that could have caused him to reconsider his political loyalties.

The only problem now, is that Seongnam isn’t aware of this arrangement, and immediately assumes that Cheong Ha, being the Minister Yoon’s daughter, is part of the enemy camp.

I’m bummed for Cheong Ha, that Seongnam, after giving her a long look, gets up and leaves the marriage chamber.

But, I do think that this will create narrative space for Show to tease out the romance between them, as Seongnam comes around to Cheong Ha being his wife, and I could definitely get behind that, especially if Show handles it as well as it’s handled all our other arcs so far.

E13. For the record, I do think that even before Queen Im makes things clear to Seongnam, Cheong Ha herself actually paves the way for Seongnam to see her in a different light, in the way she’s quick to cover for Seongnam and speak up for him, in front of the Queen Dowager, when the Queen Dowager questions him about leaving the Crown Princess alone on the their wedding night.

That’s such clear evidence that Cheong Ha isn’t in cahoots with the Queen Dowager, isn’t it? And, it does look like the moment gives Seongnam pause.

And then, later, when Cheong Ha seeks an audience with Queen Im in her effort to find out why Seongnam had left her on their wedding night, again, there’s no hint of accusation or bitterness or malice, as she asks Queen Im about it.

Again, there’s that genuine sense of curiosity about her, which I very much enjoy.

E13. I also just wanted to touch on Cheong Ha and her cheerful attempt to see more of Seongnam, by bringing him the grain syrup that he consumes every morning.

That scene, where she bursts into his chambers, and comes upon him half dressed, is so classically tropey and yet, still so delicious, somehow.

It’s just as tropey, that Cheong Ha trips and falls, and Seongnam catches her in his arms, but it’s STILL just so delicious, to notice that she’s got his hand on his bare chest. Ahem. 😋

I can feel the hyper-awareness growing between these two, and I’m actually looking forward to them becoming the lovey-dovey couple that I’m convinced they’re going to be. 🥰😁

E14. It’s quite entertaining, how the rumors about our young royal couple having bedroom troubles results in Queen Im calling in some professional help, in the form of the nursemaid who’s specialized in helping to make successful royal consummations.

Given how other sageuks have touched on what a community event the royal consummation tends to be, often with court ladies in attendance outside the door, to make sure that the consummation is progressing as intended, I’m not exactly surprised by all the preparation details that Show delves into.

But, that doesn’t mean that I’m not entertained by it, especially the part where Seongnam is supervised doing squats, to strengthen the, er, correct muscles, heh. 😁

I like that when the appointed time comes, Seongnam’s wearing a softer gaze with Cheong Ha than previously, which, importantly, bodes well for their relationship.

I’m amused that they get all drunk as a way to mitigate their feelings of awkward shyness – and then end up not actually consummating their marriage, despite allll of the preparation, by multiple people, that’s gone into the event. 😁

The way they wake up side by side, with Seongnam stealing glances at Cheong Ha and trying to extricate his arm from under her neck while trying not to get caught, is very cute.

And afterwards, when Seongnam tries to broach the subject with Cheong Ha, to check how far they managed to get, I love how blithely matter-of-fact Cheong Ha is, in telling him that they didn’t “do it,” but that she managed to get a good look at his body, to make sure that there’s nothing to be concerned about.

Tee hee hee. Seongnam’s embarrassed mortification is very cute. 😁

I do hope that Seongnam becomes more able to articulate that he doesn’t dislike Cheong Ha, because in this scene, he does start to say it, but cuts himself off and walks away – and I don’t want Cheong Ha to get hurt because of this.

[END SPOILER]

Yang Joon Myung as Physician Kwon [SPOILERS]

I just wanted to say that Show does a really good job of unveiling the context around Physician Kwon, layer by layer.

He’d really struck me as an innocent physician, who’d felt stuck because Queen Im had asked him to treat the Crown Prince outside of approved royal guidelines.

And then, I’d fully believed that the reason he was keeping mum under interrogation, was because of his promise to Seongnam, that he wouldn’t speak of the outside medicine, for fear of his life.

BUT THEN. That extra reveal just turns everything on its head, and then I felt like the real reason he was keeping mum, was because he desired to protect Consort Hwang, for whom he seemed to have real feelings.

BUT THENNN.

Show reveals that Physician Kwon isn’t really Physician Kwon at all, and has this entire backstory that is driving his actions (which I talk more about in the finale section).

It’s very cleverly done, and Yang Joon Myung does a very impressive job portraying Physician Kwon’s many different faces and facets.

Special shout-out:

Queen Im and Court Lady Shin

I just had to give a shout-out to the relationship between Queen Im and Court Lady Shin; I just love their friendship a great deal.

The way Queen Im talks with Court Lady Shin, often in confidence, with Court Lady Shin offering her own insights and perspectives, gives me the impression that they are almost like friends, even though they are officially master and servant.

And, the loyalty that Court Lady Shin demonstrates towards Queen Im is steadfast and unwavering as well.

I just love this shot of them together, because in this case, it’s Court Lady Shin’s who’s shielding Queen Im, under her umbrella. ❤️

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

Ahh. What a solid, solid ending, to a solid, solid story. Really well done, Show. 👏🏻

First of all, though, I just wanted to say that, while I usually have a separate section for the penultimate episode, I’ve decided to smush it all together in one finale section here.

That’s just where my brain and heart is at, after watching both episodes back to back. I hope you guys don’t mind. 😅

The penultimate episode is mostly dedicated to what happens to Yi Ik Hyeon, after his encounter with Queen Im in the library, and mostly, I find it altogether quite tragic.

His story is actually very thought-provoking, because, honestly, the only reason he’s even plotting treason, is because the Queen Dowager had killed his brother, in order to put the current king on the throne.

From his point of view, he’s merely seeking justice for his family, and who can blame him, really? Not only did the Queen Dowager kill his brother Taein, she’d made sure that his other brothers were systematically killed as well.

I can see why he would have such a deep resentment for the current king, and why he would risk his life, in order to try to tear him down from the throne.

It feels fitting, that he kills the Chief State Councilor, because it’s true that the Chief State Councilor had played a significant part in killing his brothers.

And then it’s so tragic, that he eventually gets killed by his own son, who wields the death blow without even knowing that he’s killing his own father.

On that note, what a horrible revelation for Uiseong, truly.

Suddenly, his entire world and his understanding of it, gets turned on its head. His father is not his father, and, he’s killed his own real father, without ever getting to know him.

I can only imagine how that must mess with his mind.

I’m glad that the king shows mercy to him and Consort Hwang (who somehow appears to have lost her sight (or maybe her mind?), since she can’t seem to see Queen Im standing in her yard when Queen Im visits?), and allows them to live while in exile.

It’s a huge step down from the life of luxury they’d been used to, but better a shabby life than none at all?

More importantly, I do feel like I like this version of Uiseong more than any other side of him that I’ve seen, all series long. There’s a sober quality about him now, and the arrogance and entitlement is gone. That’s a step in the right direction, I say.

Going back to Yi Ik Hyeon’s death for a bit, I just wanted to say, what a terrible trap that the Queen Dowager sets, in order to make that happen, and how fascinatingly repulsive, really, to see her satisfaction at her plan, and her regret, that she doesn’t get to witness the killing with her own eyes.

Oh my. The way she treats other people’s lives so lightly, definitely amps up her villain credibility in my eyes.

On top of that, it’s downright awful that the Queen Dowager actually tries to terminate Cheong Ha’s pregnancy on the sly, by ordering the royal physician to give Cheong Ha herbs that will hurt the baby, but – OHTHANKGOODNESS – she’s foiled in her terrible plan.

With all of these terrible crimes stacking up against her, I’m glad that the King finally comes to the conclusion – with help from some very wise, persuasive perspective from Queen Im – that it’s his duty to bring the truth to light, even if it means punishing his own mother.

That scene, where the Queen Dowager thinks back to the warm, happy times that she’d shared with the King, over food, is so poignant, and such a stark contrast to where they’ve ended up, thanks to her greed and ambition.

It feels fitting to her character, that the Queen Dowager would rather take her own life, than allow herself to be subjected to a lifetime of confinement as punishment for her crimes.

It’s really quite poignant to learn, in her death, that she’d been crowned Queen for a day, before the King had died, forcing her to step down from her freshly acquired position as Queen.

It’s little wonder then, that she would choose to die while dressed in her coronation robes; she’d always wanted to be Queen, and she therefore chooses to be Queen, even in death.

There’s also a great deal of pathos, in seeing how Queen Yoon struggles to keep on living, and putting one foot in front of the other, even after her name’s been cleared, and she’s been reinstated.

Truly, there’s only so much that one can do to right the wrongs of the past. 💔

On a happier note, it’s nice to see Seongnam becoming more tender and affection towards Cheong Ha, in this finale stretch.

It’s like the pregnancy announcement becomes his license to show overt care towards her, with the way he sits up and reads to her, and watches over her.

It’s also very sweet, that when he sees her wishlist of the things she’d like to do with him, he makes it his mission to fulfill each and every one of those wishes, one by one.

Aw. That’s really very sweet.

I do love the little scene where Seongnam pulls her close, and tells her that he does absolutely remember how they’d spent their consummation night. Sweet. And also, rawr?. 🔥😁

It’s also great to see Queen Im take Cheong Ha to Hyewolgak, and invite Cheong Ha to work with her, to protect the women who take refuge there.

It’s such a great way to show us that Cheong Ha will absolutely become a Queen after Queen Im’s own heart. 🥰

As for Muan, kudos to Queen Im, for speaking up for him, and saying that he might be the first to break with tradition, when he declares that he would like to marry Cho Wol.

Afterwards, it feels fitting, that he moves out of the palace, and then becomes the most doting father ever. It’s so cute, how he keeps visiting the palace, to ask the concubines for tips on child-rearing. 😁

On a related note, although it’s a very quick beat, I’m glad to know that Simso’s happily married, and expecting his first child with his wife.

After all that he’s been through, this feels like a great step in the right direction, where he’s no longer living in constant stress, and trying to function beyond his natural abilities.

The most poignant beat of all, though, has to be Gyeseong’s, and I’m so glad that Show doesn’t forget about him.

With everything else that’s been going on, Gyeseong’s story had taken a backseat for a fair while, and it’s fitting and poignant, for us to see that even though a lot of things have changed, his struggle to be true to himself, has not changed, over the time that has passed.

I absolutely teared up at the scene where he tells Queen Im that he’d like to leave the palace to see the world, and she cries in response. And, I also teared up at the goodbye scene, where Seongnam leads his brothers in a group hug, as they bid farewell to Gyeseong.

Although Gyeseong appears to hesitate when Ilyoung broaches the subject of yearly visits from him, I would like to think that as time goes by, and as Gyeseong gets to live more comfortably in his own skin, that he will become more comfortable with regular visits to see his family, back in the world where he’d once felt rejected for being himself.

As we close out the finale, I like the idea that life goes on, and Queen Im’s work as mother of her sons is never done.

Even more than that, though, I love the symbolism of Seongnam now being the one to shield her, under his umbrella.

Where once that protection could only flow one way, from Queen Im to her sons, it feels like such a significant milestone, that now, Seongnam is able to reciprocate, and offer her that  same protection that she’s always offered to him and his brothers.

We’ve kinda come full circle, but instead of going back to our starting point, we’ve arrived at an elevated new starting point, where Seongnam will protect his mother, as much as she’s protected – and continues to protect – him, and all the rest of her children and grandchildren.

What a beautiful, satisfying end, which points to a rich and fulfilling new beginning. LOVE. 🥰

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Immersive, engaging, and oh-so-personal. Highly recommend.

FINAL GRADE: A

TRAILER:

MV:

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Under The Queen’s Umbrella, is Recipe For Farewell. I’ve taken an initial look, and I’m happy to say that I like it very well, and right away! 🤩 My E1 & 2 notes on Recipe For Farewell can be found here.

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

Foundation Tier (US$1): Entertainment tidbits + the first set of notes of all shows covered on Patreon (2 eps for kdramas, 4 eps for cdramas)

Early Access (US$5): Recipe For Farewell

Early Access Plus (US$10): +First Love: Hatsukoi [Japan]

VIP (US$15): +Reborn Rich

VVIP (US$20): +New Life Begins [China]

Ultimate (US$25): +Alchemy Of Souls: Light And Shadow

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️

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Filippo Gorlero
Filippo Gorlero
25 days ago

I really liked this show, but there are some plot holes I found quite disappointing.
1 – Why in the world the mother of the king hate so deeply the actual queen?
She looks like the typical Machiavelli style person, which acts only to keep the power.
Then why she oppose the queen in a way that could even harm her son and herself?
It looks like: “I’m mean because I’m mean”
2 – Ok, the king confessed the crown prince before himself was poisoned by his mother.
So he was basically confessing he has no right to be king anymore.
Probably prince Uiseong, illegitimate son of a legitimate heir, has more right than him, as the king’s mother was pointing out.
Then how is possible all this has no consequence and the story ends without dealing with them?

uyen
1 month ago

I very much enjoyed this show, more than I expected. Completely agree on how the politics felt very personal and that’s how it hooked me in, even being interested in some of our antagonists.

Kim Hye Soo was very close to being my fav actress of the year.

Have heart eyes for Bae In Hyuk

mild spoiler
from his cameo (that I really did not realize was a cameo!
Went ahead to watch Kiss Goblin after hehe 😉

Loved loved the parent child and sibling relationships here

Kay
Kay
1 month ago

This one is on my watch list and looks so interesting. Thanks for the review 🙂

anonymous
anonymous
1 month ago

This one definitely had more potential. The politics were as boring as all the other dramas.
Till this day I am not sure what exactly this show is… a Thriller? a Comedy? No clue. Anyways the tension was pretty low and the comedy was made for 5 year olds.
Too many characters intruduced of the bat and even then they added more.
None of the characters were really likeable.
The sons were all blant and boring. And the dynamic between the characters was not very intruiging.

Only good thing about this show is Kim Hye Soo.

uyen
1 month ago
Reply to  anonymous

Oh no, this is one where it’s interesting to see how we can have wildly differing opinions 😂 Yeah, I didn’t love all the comedy but I’m ok with the tonal shifts bc I think I do like shows that mix up angst with comedy.

I do agree there were a lot of characters (was so confused at first on who the princes were and thought some of the concubines were their consorts oops) and it would have been nice to have some characters be more fleshed out (never really cared for Uiseong and actually felt more lukewarm with parts of the ending politics). But I actually did enjoy the relationships between some of the characters and think that’s what helped made it stand out for me even with the usual politicking.

Agree on Kim Hye Soo and watching her stare down Kim Hae Sook!!

anonymous
anonymous
1 month ago
Reply to  uyen

You will get used to the fact that I am usually anti mainstream ^^.

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
1 month ago

It is on my watch list.
Merry Christmas!

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
1 month ago
Reply to  Snow Flower

Merry Christmas Snow Flower! 🎄🎅⭐🌹

Trent
1 month ago

Excellent review, thank you! I think it is safe to say that this is one of those shows that significantly exceeded its initial expectations, at least in my eyes. I was expecting to maybe check out the first couple of episodes, and then be on the fence over whether it was worth the time to continue. Instead, by the end of the second episode, it was already quite interesting, and then it just kept upping its game from there.

I think some of the early promotional vibe was a bit misleading; it was giving the idea of unruly frat boy princes getting up to hijinks, with their mother the queen running around trying to keep them on the straight and narrow. And it’s really not that. There are a few hijinks, and some nicely organic humor, but the heart of the show is really the Queen and the growing realization the show provides us of her heart, capacity, and competence.

A show very much worth devoting the time to watch. Great entertainment.

Leslie
Leslie
1 month ago

This has been on my list since you started following it on Patreon, KFG. Now with your strong endorsement, I can’t wait to get started! In the meantime, Merry Christmas to you!

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
1 month ago

A very Merry Christmas to you KFG 🎅🎅🎅 Your review is a masterpiece in itself and I consider the definitive guide to Under The Queens Umbrella.

For me, UTQU is a treasure, a show that has overwhelmingly forced its way into my Top 10. Well, not so much as forced, but gracefully announced its presence – following in Queen Im’s footsteps. 

I have not seen a better battle of wits between a protagonist and adversary. I just loved how show read my mind and granted every wish in terms of how events would unfold. Lastly, we have seen more of how a queen runs her court than any other show.

In terms of the politicking and treatment of close relatives. Staying on top of your game the way Queen Im did is straight out of the “users manual, I can attest to that. Then, in terms of the Dowager and her grandsons – this sadly, is a very real dynamic and one we can see played out even today.

Finally, I just loved our couples – specials regarding their lives going forward wouldn’t go astray 🎄☃️🎁🤩