THE SHORT VERDICT:
Show has a reasonably interesting central story to tell, but unfortunately, tries to stretch it out to fill a longer time slot than it really needs, which makes for a rather uneven, meandering and frustrating watch experience.
We do have a reasonably solid cast, among whom there are some very nice bright spots, but sadly, our cast isn’t quite able to rise above the limitations in the writing.
Promising in concept, but quite underwhelming in execution, in my opinion.
THE LONG VERDICT:
I was honestly really, really hoping to love this one, you guys.
I’ve enjoyed Park Hyung Sik in quite a few shows (Happiness, Soundtrack #1, and Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, to name a few), so I was Extremely Stoked at the idea of getting to see him rock the blue dragon robe as a Crown Prince (see above).
Coming away from Show’s first episode, though, I kinda felt like I’d just been on a blind date with a great guy with all the right specs; handsome, polite, nice personality, and has a stable job, but at the end of the evening, I felt like I just didn’t felt any real spark of us hitting it off?
And so, in a weird way, I felt like I’d gone on a date with the second lead in a drama? 😅 He’s nice, but there’s no spark? 🙈
But, because that first date was promising enough, I decided that I’d go on at least several more dates with him, in hopes that the spark of real connection would eventually come – and that’s how I ended up finishing this show.
Unfortunately, this one turned out to be quite a mixed bag for me, and now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I have to be honest; this one was mostly pretty meh, to my eyes. 😝
I know that there are lots of folks who genuinely enjoyed this one, and so I’m quite possibly the odd duck in the corner who just doesn’t geddit – even though I tried really hard to geddit. 😅
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while reading the review.
Overall, I found the OST pleasant and pretty, though I can’t say that any single track captured my heart.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Honestly, since I didn’t actually manage to find a way to fully enjoy this show, I don’t even know if I’m in the best position to comment on this section, but for what it’s worth, here are a few things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. Show is not heavy on the romance
Unlike what its title and posters might suggest, Show isn’t actually that romance-centric. I mean, yes, there’s a central loveline, but Show takes a very low-key approach to it, so don’t expect a whole lot of swoony OTP moments.
2. Be flexible with your viewing lens
I personally found that it was helpful to be flexible with the viewing lens I used with this show, because Show shifts between serious court politicking and its more OTT comedic beats a fair bit.
Preparing yourself to be flexible might save you some whiplash.
3. Be ready for filler
Show’s got a main story to tell, but in between the beats of that main story, we also get a good amount of filler.
Knowing to expect it, and maybe being flexible about using your Fast Forward button, might be helpful. 😉
MY MAIN ISSUE WITH THIS SHOW
If I had to name just one key thing that didn’t work for me, in this show, it would be the writing.
To be brutally honest, it felt like writer-nim had had a story in mind, and had mapped out the key points of that story in her head – without being told that this was going to be a 20-episode drama.
And so, when she’s informed that this show would be 20 episodes, she couldn’t change the key points of her story, and so she added lots of filler in-between, in order to get us to 20 episodes.
Sometimes, that filler was ridiculous silly side plot things, which I’m not crazy about, but which I’m reasonably willing to roll with.
But sometimes – what felt like a good chunk of the time, actually – that filler was achieved by increasing character stupidity (even in characters who are supposed to be Very Smart!), in order to drag out plot points.
I did not like that one bit.
That not only felt inorganic, it also felt like an outright contradiction to what these characters had been set up to be. Boo.
And so basically, whenever we were in a story space that was in service of furthering the original story that writer-nim had mapped out in her head, Show would feel quite solid, narratively speaking.
But that was a minority of the time, and most of the time, we would be dealing with lots of filler, and it would feel like Show was just spinning its wheels, until it was time to get moving again with the main plot.
I found this very frustrating, to be honest, and was often thisclose to dropping out of this show.
SO WHY DIDN’T I DROP THIS ONE, YOU ASK?
With dramas that are outright bad, or very clearly not interesting to me, or not working for me, it’s much easier to decide to drop it.
But, well, thanks to the better, tighter plotting of the actual main story that it wants to tell, this show always showed just enough promise to make me want to root for it, and hope for a turn for the better, in the watch experience.
Also, because the various fragments of information that Show reveals, in relation to its main story, feel so scattered, I was genuinely curious to see how it all fit together, in the end.
That’s what kept me watching, week after week, even though there were times that I felt extremely underwhelmed by what Show was serving up.
Was it worth it, in the end?
Well.. this wasn’t the worst thing I ever watched, for sure, but if I honestly would’ve probably been better off investing my drama hours elsewhere. 😅
SILVER LININGS: STUFF I LIKED BETTER
Aside from the central premise, which, as I’ve mentioned, was pretty well conceptualized, here are some other silver linings to my watch.
I’ll be talking about everything in a pretty macro sort of fashion. If you’re interested in my blow-by-blow reactions while watching this show, you might like to check out my episode notes on Patreon here.
Show’s pretty to look at
On the upside, I think Show is really quite pretty to look at.
For some reason, the color composition in this one really appeals to me, from the very first frame; the colors feel balanced and rich, and I find it very aesthetically pleasing, generally speaking.
This was definitely one of the silver linings of my watch.
Jeon So Nee as Jae Yi
It took a little while, but Jeon So Nee’s character of Jae Yi really grew on me during the course of my watch.
What I mean is, I didn’t care so much for when Show wanted Jae Yi to play in a more lighthearted, comedic sort of space, but I really grew to enjoy the more serious moments, which allowed a lot more thoughtfulness and restraint in Jeon So Nee’s portrayal.
In principle, I also really like that Jae Yi is a smart, quick-thinking, resourceful person, who’s as brave, compassionate and empathetic, as she is determined, analytical and confident.
Importantly, I enjoy the way Jeon So Nee delivers Jae Yi’s emotional beats, because I do feel it all come alive, and pop with a good amount of heart, in her hands.
I do have one key disappointment with the way her character is written, which I talk about, in this spoiler section.
E10. I really enjoyed the scene of Jae Yi looking so happy with her supper, and being so carefree, as she enjoys it, and invites Hwan to enjoy it with her.
I’m realizing that I came to this show for Park Hyung Sik, but it’s Jeon So Nee who’s really capturing my heart and my imagination.
At this point, I just want Jae Yi to be happy and fulfilled, and the potential romance doesn’t even feel that important to me anymore.
And so, when she talks about wanting to be a eunuch in the long term, not because she likes Hwan more than Seong On or anything, but because it gives her a sense of purpose and agency, I want her to have that.
Like, if she would prefer not to get married, and be an undercover eunuch for the rest of her life, because it makes her feel fulfilled, I’m down for it.
E15. I’d glommed onto the idea of Jae Yi wanting personal agency for herself, where she’s able to feel like she’s doing more with her life than just serve a husband.
And so, I have to admit that the idea of Jae Yi now only using that as an excuse – when what she really wants to do, is stay close enough to see Hwan during his royal parades on the streets – is admittedly a little deflating.
However, I suppose if you were always in this for the romance of the OTP, then I guess this idea of Jae Yi wanting to stay as close to Hwan as possible, is rather romantic?
Ok, but even though, as I said, I’m slightly disappointed at Jae Yi using her personal agency as a cover story, rather than as something she truly lives by, I do like the poignance of the moment.
Yoon Jong Seok as Seong On
You guys. I really, really, really enjoyed Yoon Jong Seok as Seong On. 🤩
He more or less crept up on me, in this, because I definitely noticed him on the sidelines, as our second male lead character, who’s supposed to be betrothed to Jae Yi, and who also happens to be Hwan’s best friend.
But at around the episode 12 mark, I was shocked to find myself maybe experiencing a bit of Second Lead Syndrome. Woahhh.
If you know my drama viewing ways, you’d probably know that I rarely experience Second Lead Syndrome; most of the time, I seem to naturally find myself rooting for the male lead, just like Show intended.
This is one time when I got Second Lead Syndrome pretty bad, in that I actually found myself rooting for Jae Yi to go back to Seong On, even though Show’s posters have already helpfully informed me that the main loveline is between Jae Yi and Hwan. 😅
SO WHAT’S THE WHY BEHIND MY SECOND LEAD SYNDROME?
It’s probably to do with how I’d been feeling a touch underwhelmed by how Hwan is written and delivered (more on that later), combined with how I’d been increasingly pleased with the emotional punch that I’d been feeling from Seong On’s corner, every time he showed up on my screen.
Yoon Jong Seok just has a way of making Seong On’s emotions really pop in every key scene he’s in, and that draws me in to connect with him, very naturally.
Every time I saw Seong On on my screen, especially when Jae Yi is in his orbit, I found myself perking up, and sinking into his onscreen presence, with some pleasure.
Like that scene in episode 12, where Minister Jo (Jung Woong In) ambushes Jae Yi while she’s out delivering Hwan’s secret letter, and Seong On appears on the horizon, just when I think Minister Jo’s about to bust Jae Yi’s secret.
“Ahhh. Our Hero..” – is what instinctively came to mind, at that moment, sorry to Park Hyung Sik. 😅
I just really like the amount of intensity and fire that we see in this scene from Yoon Jong Seok.
Another tell-tale sign that I think I’m suffering from a case of Second Lead Syndrome?
Seong On starting to look more and more handsome to my eyes. Where before, in our early episodes, he’d just looked fairly ordinary to me, in later episodes, I found him more and more good-looking. 😅
I knew that it was futile for me to root for Show to reconcile Seong On with his lost fiancée Jae Yi, but I just couldn’t help myself.
I was pretty much a sitting duck waiting to have my heart broken. 😝🙈
In this next spoiler section, I highlight some of my favorite Seong On scenes.
E9. The relationship between Hwan and Seong On has been strained for quite a while now, so it feels like a real breakthrough moment, when Hwan decides to trust what he knows of Seong On, and believe in the innocence of Seong On and his family.
I do like the detail, that even though Jae Yi has the ledgers stolen from her, it doesn’t compromise Hwan’s belief in her words.
And, I do like the idea of Hwan stepping out personally, to protect Seong On and his family from ruin.
The thing I found very poignant, is how panicked Seong On looks, trying to tell Hwan that he’ll explain everything, when Hwan really is there to protect him and save him.
It makes me think of how much anguish Seong On must have been through lately, believing that Hwan’s turned away from him, for good.
..Which is why it’s so touching to see them finally reconcile officially, after the officials have left Seong On’s residence.
The way Seong On ekes out the words, “Your Highness. I thought… you no longer trusted me,” is so full of tamped down angst. 😭💔
It’s great that in response, Hwan quotes Jae Yi’s words on trust, demonstrating that he’s been listening, and taking her earnest pleas to heart.
And then there’s how Hwan asks Seong On if Seong On would be his friend again, and the way Seong On answers, tearfully, that he was never not Hwan’s friend.
AUGH. What a moment.
I have to confess, it’s Seong On’s tearful expression in this scene that gets me the most. The relief; the wonder; the heartbreak; the gratitude; it’s all written on his face and expressed in his tearful gaze and the waver in his voice.
I truly believe that his heart is for Hwan, based on this moment, and now I just want Seong On and Hwan to be on the same side, always.
E12. The scene where Seong On buys that ribbon for Jae Yi.
I love the casual, sincere kindness that we see from Seong On, when he buys that ribbon for Jae Yi later in the episode, believing it to be for Soon Dol’s sister.
He’s so forthcoming with his kindness, in this moment, that I just can’t help but root for Jae Yi to reveal her true identity to him, so that they can be reunited properly.
E15. This episode, Show plants the idea, for Seong On, that even if Jae Yi is alive, the fact that she’s not coming to seek him out, indicates that there’s a likelihood that she doesn’t intend to return to him.
While this makes me sad for Seong On, I do appreciate Yoon Jong Seok’s heartfelt delivery of the scene.
And, I did very enjoy Seong On’s vibe during the scene; open-hearted in wanting to believe in Jae Yi and her innocence, yet wistful and sad, at the thought that she might have already decided to leave him behind.
This pinched my heart in the best way possible; it’s like, it’s hurts, but it hurts so good?
E18. Seong On finally finds out the truth about Soon Dal’s identity, and Yoon Jong Seok does not disappoint.
There is a lot that he doesn’t say, when he confronts Jae Yi about it, but there is so very much that his eyes, red-rimmed from the tears burgeoning in them, communicate.
I love this moment so much, for the raw emotion that we get from Seong On, on his realization.
The relief that Jae Yi’s ok, blended with the hurt that he feels, at the fact that Jae Yi had not sought him out, and that Hwan had kept this secret from him; it just shines from his eyes with so much depth, and I find it all very affecting.
It’s actually really nice to be reminded that this is what emotional heft looks and feels like; if only we were able to get more of it, in this show. 😅
STUFF THAT WAS OK
In actual fact, a lot of what Show served up, falls into this category for me. So if I didn’t mention something – a character, relationship or plot point – as a silver lining, or as something I actively disliked, it probably falls into this category.
Here are some of the main pieces that come to mind, when I think of this category.
Overall, I’d say that Show’s execution was generally in the “ok” range of things.
It’s not terrible, but it does strike me as coming across as pretty formulaic, like it’s just going through the paces, while following in the footsteps of the many sageuks that have come before it.
From where I’m sitting, it feels like Show often relies on a formula of tried and tested beats, in order to get the job done, and therefore, it doesn’t feel very fresh or organic.
It’s not terrible, but it’s not terrific either, which is why it’s in this section.
Park Hyung Sik as Hwan
First things first; I like Park Hyung Sik, I really do. In fact, I came to this show, largely because I so wanted to see Park Hyung Sik rocking a Crown Prince role (and the Crown Prince robe too, of course).
The upside to Park Hyung Sik’s outing as Hwan, is, whenever Show leans into a space where our Crown Prince is leaking niceness &/or smitten gazes, that’s where Park Hyung Sik really shines, for me.
Because, Park Hyung Sik’s smitten gazes are like kryptonite to me, and anything that is adjacent to that, is very welcome as well. 🥰
Like in episode 4, the way Hwan looks so ruffled by the idea that Jae Yi would find Seong On more attractive than he, is quite amusing.
I love when we get that moment of tamped down but still very visible discombobulated fluster on Hwan’s part, because of Jae Yi leaning in close to help him with his garment; I legit squeed.
Like I said, this is the kind of thing that Park Hyung Sik shines at. 😍😍
This is the kind of thing that makes Hwan more endearing and adorable to my eyes.
Unfortunately, partway through my watch, I came to the conclusion that while Park Hyung Sik is very good at certain things (like unsettled discombobulated expressions and smoldery smitten looks), he currently lacks a certain gravitas, when it comes to more emotional, and therefore, more demanding scenes.
He’s doing all the right things, ie, mustering tears when there are supposed to be tears, but there’s just something about his delivery that makes me feel like he’s not filling the moment quite enough.
Like I mentioned earlier, Seong On’s emotional reaction to being reconciled with Hwan, in episode 9, really popped, for me.
But in episode 10, Hwan’s despair at the thought that his father the King intends to abandon him, fell short of that, for me.
Hwan’s emotional scene with the King, about how he’d wanted to be a Crown Prince that his brother wouldn’t be ashamed of, also fell short of that, for me.
I want him to fill these moments more, and make those scenes pop more, because that feels needed, for such heartfelt, deep sentiments, and I’m disappointed that it’s not forthcoming.
Let me just state for the record, that I do think that intensity in period shows hit differently compared to intensity in modern day shows.
I honestly think that that’s why they tend to do eyebrow makeup differently for period shows; the eyebrows on men in particular tend to look more fierce in period shows, and I think that’s because characters often tend to be fiercer and more intense, than in modern day show – generally speaking.
I think that that’s probably to do with how life is different, in times of yore; a lot of stuff is life-of-death, and you might need to fight to the death, at the drop of a hat (at least, that’s how it seems to work in dramas and movies).
All that to say, personally, I think that Park Hyung Sik isn’t quite reaching the kind of intensity that I think is suitable for a Crown Prince character.
Not that he hasn’t successfully pulled off intense scenes before; I’m pretty sure he had a number of those in Happiness.
It’s just that he’s not quite hitting sageuk levels of intensity for me, and because that’s where Show focused a lot of attention in episodes 1 and 2, his delivery just wasn’t quite working as well for me as I would have liked.
The OTP loveline
I know that there are folks who really, really love this OTP, but.. unfortunately, the OTP loveline also falls into the region of “just ok” for me. 🙈😅
I honestly like the OTP interactions more, before romance is overtly introduced into the equation.
I liked the idea of them working together to solve the cases at hand, and I liked the idea of them being able to respect, appreciate, understand and empathize with each other, as fellow human beings, rather than as a Crown Prince and his fake eunuch.
I was fine with the idea of the romance, but found the development of the loveline quite awkward, and I also found the way Show introduces the romantic feelings that Hwan and Jae Yi have for each other, rather sudden and out of place.
I just.. didn’t feel it, honestly, though I clocked that Show does introduce the overt feelings right on schedule, at Show’s halfway mark.
Overall, I just feel like Show doesn’t give enough focus and attention to teasing out these feelings, so that when they’re demonstrated by our characters, it feels organic to me, as a viewer.
Once I got used to the idea that Hwan and Jae Yi were in love (never mind how we actually got there), I was more amenable to the OTP moments that Show served up – which, for the record, were on the tamped down, subtle side of things, so.. any squee was pretty tamped down squee as well.
Additionally, there’s the thing, where Jae Yi’s officially still betrothed to Seong On, while Hwan and Jae Yi are making OTP progress together.
This layer of tension made it hard for me, personally, to root for the OTP relationship, and I really think Show should’ve dealt with it earlier, rather than in Show’s final stretch.
Overall, I don’t begrudge Hwan and Jae Yi their happy OTP ending, but I really feel like Show could have done a better job of selling this romance.
Lee Tae Sun as Myung Jin & Pyo Ye Jin as Ga Ram
Myung Jin and Ga Ram were also on the “just ok” side of things for me, both individually and together.
They were often written to bring the Funny, in our story, and Show’s sense of humor just didn’t jive with mine, unfortunately. 😅
I found Myung Jin too OTT and theatrical a good amount of the time, especially with his forced big laugh, and I found Ga Ram played rather too girly, for a woman who’s supposed to be effectively disguised as a man.
But, because Show eventually balances it out with some lashings of poignance on both sides, they grew on me enough, that I didn’t actively dislike them as characters.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
There are only two things in this section, but these were pretty big factors for me, during my watch, and count a lot towards my final grade of this show – just so you know. 😅
Character stupidity being used to create narrative delays
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, the way stuff was unfolding on my screen, caused me to come to the hypothetical conclusion that when writer-nim conceptualized this story, she’d had the key things figured out.
That’s why the plot details that have to do with our main mystery feel pretty solid, when they are brought to the forefront and given their moment in the spotlight.
It also feels like it was only after she’d conceptualized these points, which gained the big money’s approval, was she told that the show would be 20 episodes – which she hadn’t anticipated.
And so, that’s why we get weirdly bloated arcs that are dragged on for far too long, and character stupidity that’s harnessed in service of dragging out those bloated arcs; it’s to get us to the required 20 episodes, which writer-nim hadn’t expected, in the first place.
That’s why we have smart characters (who’ve demonstrated their smarts in other portions of our story) suddenly acting really dense and dumb; it’s to slow things down, because otherwise, we’d be done with this story a lot sooner than schedule permits.
And so, in effect, it just feels like writer-nim was just filling up screen time, because padding it up in small beats multiple times, would surely add up to something, to get us that much close to 20 episodes of material, right?
There are lots of instances when Show does this, but here are a handful of example of when this particular device aggravated me extra.
E7. I find it hard to buy that Hwan, as a Crown Prince, who’s supposed to be potentially wise enough to rule an entire nation, would be so shortsighted, as to be unable to see that there is a possibility that Shim Young’s (Kim Woo Seok) death had been staged, or that Shim Young had been threatened, or that the suicide letter had been faked.
There are a number of possibilities here, which logic and common sense should quite easily inform him of, even if he doesn’t see all of them.
My beef was, really, HOW COULD A SUPPOSEDLY OUTSTANDING CROWN PRINCE, WHO’S SUPPOSED TO BE SO SMART AND PROMISING, BE SO SHORTSIGHTED AND GULLIBLE???
And then there’s the way he kicks out Jae Yi, and then acts surprised, when Tae Kang (a slightly wooden Heo Won Seo) reveals, the next morning, that he’d locked the secret library, which is where Jae Yi had been sleeping.
This paints the picture of a Crown Prince who’s not only shortsighted, but extremely emotional, and who has a tendency to be quite stupid, when he’s being emotional, and I did not like that.
In my mind, I was all, “How is he even alive, considering that there are people out to drag him down from his position, and are actively scheming against him? If he’s this emotional and shortsighted, surely he would’ve died by now?” 🙈
I was also disgruntled, because I’d been really taken with the growing trust and bond between Hwan and Jae Yi, over the last several episodes, and this episode, it feels like Hwan undoes all of that goodness, by throwing it all away. Boo.
E11. This episode, we have that bizarre (to my eyes) interlude, where Hwan decides he wants to take a walk, and Jae Yi accompanies him with the lantern.
Several things bother me about this scene.
One is, the sudden onslaught of mellow instrumental music that one would associate with a romance drama, the moment Hwan starts on his walk.
The scene before this is a pretty serious one, with Hwan being perplexed about the lack of results from interviewing the eunuchs and court ladies from Beokcheon, so this does not feel like a natural segue in any way, to my eyes.
And then, there’s the way Jae Yi – our VERY SMART female lead, who’s got a great analytical and investigative mind, who’s solved cases that other people fail to crack – can’t figure out that Hwan just wants to go for a stroll, when he walks around without an apparent destination in mind.
I found that really far-fetched, because SURELY our investigative-minded Jae Yi wouldn’t be so dense as to be unable to figure this out?
And then, there’s the beat where she throws herself over that rock, WHICH ISN’T EVEN ON THE PATH THAT HWAN’S WALKING, in order to protect him from tripping over it.
I found this so dumb and cringey, that I legit felt insulted that Show thought that I would find this in the least entertaining or cute.
In the end, it’s clear that the entire reason for this scene, is so that we’ll get that ending shot of Hwan catching Jae Yi in a dip.
But, see, that’s just too connect-the-dots for my taste.
E13. I think one of my problems, is that I expect Show to make sense in a consistent manner.
And so, when our otherwise smart characters suddenly stop acting smart for a period of time, in service of furthering a particular plot point or point of narrative tension, it grates on me.
In episode 11, one of those things had been Jae Yi’s inability to deduce that Hwan had just wanted to go for a walk, when he started walking around with no end-point in mind.
This episode, it’s the fact that neither Jae Yi nor Hwan even seem to consider the possibility that there might be someone out there, who bears a striking resemblance to Tae Kang.
I mean, even if Tae Kang doesn’t have an evil twin, and Show gives us a completely different explanation for Jae Yi’s memories containing Tae Kang’s face, I’d expect that smart characters like Jae Yi and Hwan, would at least consider the possibility that there’s someone out there who looks like Tae Kang, thus explaining why Jae Yi would remember Tae Kang’s face at places and times when Hwan is himself Tae Kang’s alibi.
And so, the longer Show dragged this plot point out, the more it grated on me, that our characters weren’t being smart, where before, they’d demonstrated that they are more than capable of such critical and deductive thinking.
After all, twins existed in Joseon times, no? And even if not twins, there are instances where siblings look remarkably like each other.
It just seems like lazy writing, that Show would gloss over this possibility.
E16. Basically, it feels like Show couldn’t figure out how to be smart, and so reached for a different solution, than actually being smarter; assume your audience is dumb, so that your average smarts can pass for “smarter,” is, I think, the solution Show went with.
Unfortunately, that’s not working for me, and while our characters are making a big deal out of the idea that they’ve finally hit upon, that Tae Kang must have a twin, I’m rolling my eyes that they’re only considering the possibility now, when this should have been one of the first possibilities they considered, especially since Jae Yi’s supposed to be so good at solving cases.
It makes me wonder what our actors might be thinking, while acting out these scenes, and pretending to be sooo shocked at the idea that Tae Kang’s probably got a twin.
Like, are they internally rolling their eyes as much as I am? 😅
On a related tangent, I really am starting to think that Hwan is being written as pretty darn dumb, because, not only is he slow to consider the possibility of Tae Kang having a twin, he’s still assuming that Jae Yi’s in love with someone else, even though, this episode, Tae Kang spells it out for him, that the only person Jae Yi spends time alone with, is him.
Uninspired writing in general [SOME MINOR SPOILERS]
The writing in this show feels very uninspired, overall.
We get this connect-the-dots type of writing for a lot of the OTP scenes, where something’s introduced, just for the sake of the desired outcome, and cohesiveness doesn’t seem to be a priority, at all.
For example, the whole thing of the little kid trying to steal that bit of food from the Eatery Couple in episode 11, came out of nowhere, and was clearly introduced, in order to get us to that scene where Hwan speaks up in front of the Minister of Justice.
This kind of writing grates on me a lot, because I don’t actually want to be spending my time watching a show that feels like its writers are suffering from burnout and are just churning this out on a schedule.
Like, what can we introduce into our story, in order to us from Point A to Point B? It feels sudden or doesn’t feel organic? Doesn’t matter. As long as we get to Point B, it’s all good.
I feel similarly when it comes to the development of the bond between Hwan and Jae Yi. A lot of their more special moments feel like they come out of nowhere, like in episode 11, when Jae Yi makes her shadow lean against Hwan’s shadow.
That really felt like it came out of nowhere, to my eyes, like it was a sudden leap forward in their connection, which, up to this point, hadn’t indicated this type of affection between them.
On that note, I feel similarly, about Hwan’s suddenly introduced voiceovers, where he articulates that he misses Jae Yi, or likes her. To my eyes, these also feel quite sudden, like they came out of almost nowhere, with very little supporting context.
In the late stretch of my watch, I found myself thinking, “Man, these writers need a vacation. None of this feels truly inspired or lovingly created.”
See, that’s the thing, I want to watch something that feels lovingly created and inspired. And this isn’t it, unfortunately. 😔
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
So full disclosure: I did not have high expectations of this finale, to be honest. 😅
After having my initial expectations quite thoroughly under-met through most of my watch, I realized, upon coming into the final two episodes, that I had zero expectations of the finale.
Literally, the only expectation I had, was that Show wouldn’t kill off any of our good characters.
If Show had decided to kill off any of our main characters, I would’ve had many upset words to say. But, happily, Show didn’t, and so, I suppose you could therefore say that Show did meet my expectations for the finale, after all? 😅
At the end of episode 18, it had felt like Show was gearing up for pretty exciting things, in its finale stretch, but.. I mostly didn’t find it as exciting as Show did?
Generally, a lot of the finale stretch is Show acting all dramatic about stuff, with dramatic, tense music pumping, and characters looking all shocked and dismayed – and most of the time, it’s about stuff that we as an audience already know, which, unfortunately, makes all that amped up drama mostly feel quite superfluous? 😅
To Show’s credit, it does answer a lot of questions in this finale stretch, and it feels like it doesn’t leave any major plot-holes unanswered.
For example, I’d been quite skeptical of how the Queen had managed to pass off her baby as being fathered by the King, since, in my head, the timeline didn’t add up, but Show provides an explanation that works.
With the scenario that Show provides, where Minister Jo had passed her off as his relative, and then presented her to the King, I suppose it’s possible that she would gain favor with the King, and thus be able to pass off the child in her womb as that of the King.
I am not entirely convinced that this is how a King selects his Queen, as in, in cases like this, where the King grants his royal favor to a woman in his orbit, the woman thereafter becomes a royal concubine at most, rather than the Queen, but oh well, I suppose I can buy the idea that the King had been so taken with her, that he’d been willing to make her his Queen.
On another note, I did like the scene where Jae Yi confesses to Hwan, that he’s the one whom she’s loved all along.
I mean, I do find it a stretch that Hwan (still!!!) wouldn’t have any clue that the man she loved was him, but I do like the emotion of the moment, when Jae Yi tearfully admits that she loves him, despite knowing that he’s someone whom she shouldn’t have feelings for.
Another moment I really liked, is when Seong On seeks out Hwan, and asks if he will really leave Jae Yi like that, when he loves her, and she loves him.
I keep saying this, but Yoon Jong Seok gives Seong On so much emotional heft; I love watching him inject so much solid emotion into Seong On’s expressions, despite the general restraint that Seong On practices, as a character.
I also like that Hwan and Seong On work together on a plan to save Jae Yi – as well as everyone from Beokcheon – with the King’s endorsement and permission.
Although it’s not exactly a surprise, it’s still rather nice to see Seong On play double agent, and get that incriminating promise letter from Minister Jo.
I also smiled a bit, to see Tae Kang save Jae Yi as she’s being escorted to the execution grounds. The way it’s their bickering dynamic that convinces Jae Yi of his identity, is quite cute, as is the way she then tries to brush off the dirt that she’s gotten on his clothes, when she’d kicked him in the chest.
In terms of Show making sure that the various schemers got their just desserts, I feel like it was ok overall, though I did feel perplexed at how the Queen’s arc was handled.
For example, I can see why Show would kill off Tae San by having him save Tae Kang and Hwan like that. It’s a way to let him die a heroic death, and not have to face punishment for all the crimes he’s committed.
But when it comes to the Queen, I struggle.
I did feel like her decision to eat the fish eggs and go crazy was rather sudden, although, when I examine it on hindsight, I rationalize that she felt that this was the only way she could foil Minister Jo’s plans, because as long as she and Myung An were alive and in the palace, they would become his tools to gain personal power.
However, I really find it difficult to accept how the King just lets the now-crazy Queen just walk out of the palace like that, with no shoes, no money, and no one to watch over her.
She doesn’t even have her wits about her; there’s such a high chance that she would die, isn’t there? In my head, this is the equivalent of sending a toddler out onto the highway, on foot.
And I felt that, since the King does care about her, that he would at least send her out with someone looking out for her, at the very least. Or, have her escorted somewhere into exile, so that she would be able to safely live out her days.
The only way I can rationalize this, is that perhaps the King feels that it’s his duty to let the Queen be punished for her crimes, and since her crimes would have likely warranted the death penalty, this was as good as that..?
I’d also felt quite perplexed at Hwan’s decision to attempt to dig a well in Naean Village, because it felt like such a waste of energy, but then, I came around to his reasoning, that he had to demonstrate his sincerity to the villagers, so that they would believe him.
While I did feel like Myung Jin just rattling off what happened to everyone, while reading the announcement notice to the townsfolk was rather convenient, but because I wasn’t actually that interested to see all these things play out on my screen, I was pretty happy to roll with it.
Minister Jo gets executed, which feels very warranted, and then.. one-year time skip later, Show suddenly puts on its youthy rom-com fusion sageuk hat, and trots out romantic happy endings for Myung Jin and Ga Ram, followed by Hwan and Jae Yi.
It’s not that I begrudge them their happy endings, but I have to say, the tonal shift was pretty sudden, and it really felt like I was watching a totally different drama, all of a sudden. 😅
I mean, the scene where everyone around Hwan, from the eunuchs, to the royal physician, to Tae Kang, all pretty much chanting at him, that he’s suffering from lovesickness because Jae Yi’s not in the palace anymore, is fine for a particular type of youth sageuk, but Show hasn’t been vibing like that kind of youth sageuk, so it feels odd?
But, I am glad that Hwan goes to seek out Jae Yi, at the house where she’s now teaching kids, just like she’d said she would, and finally gives her his answer, to her love confession.
I have to confess, my first reaction was, “Really? He’s only giving her his answer now? After more than a year since her confession?” 😱
It’s a good thing Jae Yi ribs him about it, and insists that he give her a proper confession, if he’s waited this long to do it.
And so, we have a handhold, a hug, and a kiss, as the curtain falls on this story world, and we’re left to imagine that Jae Yi will become Hwan’s very capable Queen, by his side.
I’m just kind of bummed that in the end, Seong On is all by himself in Beokcheon, as the new governor.
I mean, I know it’s important work, but this important work means that he’s far away from all the people who matter most to him, and I feel lonely, on his behalf.
Maybe what I really want, is a shorter, better-written offshoot drama, where Seong On is our protagonist, and gets his own proper story and happy ending. I’d be quite happy to watch that, honestly. 😁
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Pretty good in some spots, but mostly uninspired and mediocre, unfortunately.
FINAL GRADE: B-
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Our Blooming Youth, is Oh No! Here Comes Trouble [Taiwan]. I’ve taken an initial look at Oh No! Here Comes Trouble and I’m happy to say that I like this one right away. 🤩
You can check out my E1 & 2 notes on Oh No! Here Comes Trouble on Patreon 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 notes of all shows covered on Patreon (that’s 2 episodes for kdramas and 4 episodes for cdramas)
Early Access (US$5): True To Love (Bo Ra! Deborah) [Korea]
Early Access Plus (US$10): +Silent [Japan]
VIP (US$15): +Nothing But You [China]
VVIP (US$20): +Oh No! Here Comes Trouble [Taiwan]
Ultimate (US$25): +Call It Love [Korea]