This entire episode feels like a light rom-com more than a sageuk, and though it’s not exactly subtle, it is adorably earnest. I wasn’t entirely won over with the first episode, but the second one is so full of cuteness. It’s still not very fantasy-esque, but the characters are bright and cheerful, and I can’t wait to get to know some of them fully.
Today’s ratings came in even higher, at a whopping 19.9%. That pretty much secures a 20% foothold for the show, with an opening week that high. Captain came in at 10.5%, with Wild Romance bringing in the rear at 6.7%.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Prince Hwon gapes at the floating parasol, wondering if it’s a sign that he can see Yeon-woo again, but his aides freak out, calling it possessed by a ghost. Meanwhile, Yeon-woo sits in her yard still pondering the prince’s riddle, when she hears a shuffle.
She goes to the outer wall and finds a rock and a note, from Yang-myung, saying that she should stop worrying so much, and tell all her problems to this rock, specially designed to listen to all her problems. That’s so cute. I need one of those.
He tells her in the letter that it’s a gift from his travels, and though he doesn’t sign it, she knows exactly who it’s from. She sighs that he’s at it again, even though she expressly told him to stop. Ha, secret-admirer-bordering-on-stalker-boy, is he?
On the other side of the courtyard, her brother Yeom practices his swordfighting skills with his buddy Woon (Yeom’s in pink and Woon is in blue, if that helps, ’cause they look confusingly similar). Watching them from the shadows is Seol, who clearly has a vested interest in: (1) martial arts and (2) Yeom.
Woon calls his friend “young master” (meaning Woon is of lesser birth) despite the fact that Yeom chides him not to do so. Yeom sighs that he misses Yang-myung tonight, feeling the absence of his friend keenly.
Just then, Yang-myung creeps up behind them with a goofy self-satisfied grin. He bear-hugs Yeom, and then tries to jump-hug Woon, who evades the move swiftly. Damn, thwarted bromance.
Both Yeom and Woon in turn defer to Yang-myung, who is, after all, of royal birth. So basically it’s a trio of besties that straddles three massively different social rungs. (For instance, they speak to Yang-myung in jondae while he speaks to them in banmal.)
They wonder why he returned so late, and he says it’s because he had to see someone very important to him. Yeom wonders if he’s found yet another girl to admire, and then sighs, realizing he’s back to climbing his sister Yeon-woo’s wall. Ha. Okay, I love that this is a known fact.
Yeom’s got a million reasons why this isn’t okay, which he’s clearly said a million times over before. But Yang-myung is so used to being nagged about this that he just breezes past it. He changes the subject with their gifts – more rocks.
He tells them they’re good luck talismans that they should carry with them, and the very literal and humorless Woon replies, “It might be a little large to carry around.” So Yang-myung quickly gives him a smaller rock for more portability. I don’t know why, but the thought of him traveling from wherever with a sack full of supposedly mystical rocks just cracks me up.
He wonders aloud if now (that they’ve passed their civil service exams) they’ll become the Crown Prince’s people. Aw. They look at him uncomfortably, the meaning not lost on them. But Yang-myung quickly covers up his sadness with good cheer, which kind of breaks my heart.
The King receives a list of final candidates for the next phase of the Crown Prince’s education, and Prince Hwon rattles off the names on the list before his aide can even tell him, musing that the Queen dowager (aka grandma) did as expected.
He says it doesn’t matter who they are because they’re all the same – people placed there by Minister Yoon to shape his education accordingly. He readies himself to make his new teachers’ lives a living hell. Ha.
Apparently he’s already famous for this, and the handmaidens watch him go to his lessons, making bets on how long it’ll take him to go through all the teachers and make them quit, yet again.
Enter Yeom, who literally makes women faint with his fair looks. He bows to Prince Hwon and introduces himself as his new teacher, still glowing with rays of Pretty, even in Hwon’s eyes. At the same time, Yeon-woo finds out from her mother that Yeom will be the prince’s new tutor and can’t help but smile.
Prince Hwon’s jaw drops when he gets one look at Yeom, but not for the reasons we think. He finds out that Yeom is barely seventeen, and snipes that he’s certainly got some serious power behind him, for someone so young. Basically he’s assuming that Yeom is another of Minister Yoon’s puppets, while Yeom is just as confused at the accusation.
Meanwhile, the Queen dowager rips Minister Yoon a new one for letting Heo Yeom slip through the cracks and enter the ranks, when he’s not one of “their” people. He assures her that Yeom is just a young boy and has no staying power.
Prince Hwon fumes in his chambers, and his aide comes rushing in after having done a background check on Yeom. That quickly? What, did you google him?
He tells the prince that Yeom was a renowned scholar even in his Sungkyunkwan days, as flashback footage shows us that he walked around with the Backlighting of Glory even back then. Other students fell over to give him their seats, women fell over themselves at the sight of him. And even guys who were about to start fights with him… got up close and then swooned and asked if they could be friends. Hahahaha.
That just makes Prince Hwon even madder, to hear his aide gush about the perfect, the wonderful, the genius Yeom. He makes him stand in the corner, facing the wall. Okay, Petty Prince is my new favorite thing.
That night, Yeon-woo goes to see her brother for her nightly lesson (explaining how she came to be so educated), and notes the worry lines on his face. She offers her help and asks if he’s facing problems with the prince. Yeom says that the prince clearly has a misunderstanding of his character, but he doesn’t know how to clear it up or get the prince to open up to him.
Yeon-woo bows her head, thinking to herself that it’s because of her (assuming that he’s somehow connected the dots between her brother and her political stance). He asks if she knows a way to get the prince to open his heart.
The next day Prince Hwon reads to himself, slouched and pouty, and Yeom waits patiently, and then finally gets up to declare today’s lesson over. Price Hwon declares him irresponsible for doing nothing and calling them done for the day, while Yeom says it’s because the prince doesn’t seem ready to learn. Prince counters that it’s because Yeom isn’t ready to teach.
So Yeom offers him a deal – if he gives the prince a riddle and he solves it, Yeom will quit as he asks. But if he can’t solve it, then the prince has to come to lessons with an open attitude, ready to learn. Oh how adorable—did Yeon-woo tell her brother that the prince likes riddles?
The question: What thing can make the world light in one moment, and dark in another moment? The prince declares it too easy a riddle and smirks that their next meeting will be goodbye forever. Yeom gulps.
But it turns out that the prince was bluffing, because he orders mountains of books brought to his chamber so he can figure it out. Little Sister Princess Min-hwa (later played by Nam Bora) comes running in to find out what all the fuss is about, and offers up her guess: eyelids! She demonstrates, and he shoos her away in annoyance.
The next day he gives his answer: the politics of the royal court – the decisions made by those who govern can either bring the world into light or darkness. The King and his ministers arrive outside just in time to overhear the prince’s answer.
Yeom tells him that’s incorrect. “The answer is… eyelids.” Hahaha. Prince Hwon fumes, wondering how such a silly childish answer could be right. But Yeom counters sternly: “If his Highness does not like an answer, does that make it wrong?”
Oh snap. I like his spunk. Outside, Minister Heo (Yeom’s father) bows to the King in apology, but the King just smiles, having placed Yeom there himself, and pleased at this line of questioning.
Back inside, Yeom explains that looking at the world through a child’s eyes means that everything can become darkness or light, or put more figuratively, that everything in the world has an equal chance of being right or wrong.
It’s his way to illustrate that a child’s perspective, without prejudice and arrogance – the two things he names as the biggest pitfalls against learning – is what he needs to adopt, because prejudice and arrogance have made the prince’s eyes clouded in darkness.
He asks pointedly how a leader expects to guide a nation with eyes that cannot see in the dark, and suggests the first thing the prince needs to do is adjust his attitude towards learning.
Prince Hwon fumes and stands up, calling out for his aide. But just as you think he’s about to have Yeom ousted by his coattails, he asks for a table to be set, so he can sit with his new teacher and have a discussion. Aw.
Yeom looks up in shock and quickly bows to accept the prince’s offer, and outside the King chuckles, “At last he has met his first true teacher.” Yay! Minister Yoon is not so pleased.
Princess Min-hwa hears about the prince’s lesson, and laughs hysterically at her haughty brother being brought down a peg or two, and runs out to see the face of the person who managed to do so. She catches a glimpse of Yeom as he walks out, and she’s so struck by him that she turns to hide her face.
Over tea and sweets, Prince Hwon asks Yeom if he was really prepared to give up the teaching position if he had gotten the riddle right, and wonders how he got the idea in the first place.
Yeom confesses that it was his little sister’s idea, that she told him he could probably teach the prince to get high marks noncommittally, or he could risk more to change his attitude and set it right from the beginning. She told him that the prince is a very clear person with definite ideas, and that Yeom’s sincerity would get through to him.
That piques the prince’s curiosity, and he asks her age (thirteen, the same as his), and then snatches the piece of taffy right out of Yeom’s hand. He says that the person who earned this is actually his sister, and asks his aide to wrap some up for Yeom to take to his true teacher, who remains hidden. That’s adorable.
Later he wonders to his aide how a thirteen-year old girl could be so witty and wise, and then also comes to find out that Yeom just barely passed his civil service exam days ago. Suddenly it clicks in his head, his meeting with Yeon-woo that day, her saying that she was there because of her brother. His smile grows wider and wider.
At home, Yeom gives his sister the gift from the prince, using the term for a gift bestowed upon a teacher. She says that’s Yeom, not her, but he confesses that he told the prince about her being his motivation.
She blushes and stammers at the thought that the prince might know that it was her, and takes the taffy out to the yard. As she looks up at the moon, cherry blossoms fall, reminding her of their first meeting.
She imagines Hwon standing next to her, and asks if he’s really the Crown Prince. He asks what she thinks, and she wishes he weren’t. But Imaginary Prince just smiles and tells her to eat her candy. He asks if she’s solved her riddle, and she asks him to tell her what it means, and then the vision disappears.
Minister Yoon and his colleagues fear the power that Minister Heo is gaining, considering this latest development with Yeom as a sign of him earning the King’s favor. But Minister Yoon doesn’t feel threatened and says that there’s no need to rush.
He stumbles home drunk and greets his daughter, Yoon Bo-kyung (later played by Kim Min-seo), asking if she wouldn’t like to go visit the palace. He tells her she can live there if she wants, already practically drooling at the power he’d have if he were the queen’s father. Well gee, that’s super comforting, you wanting to sell your daughter for your political gain. Not that we’re surprised, of course.
The next morning, Yeon-woo goes to buy some colorful parchment with Seol in tow, who wonders what she’s going to do with such expensive paper. Yeon-woo says it’s for an apology, or rather a reflection of fault.
Seol gasps – why would she waste so much energy on an apology? Can’t she just say the words and be done with it? Yeon-woo says it’s not that easy to do, and it’s for someone important. Seol scoffs, what, is it for the Queen herself? Well, you’re not far off. Yeon-woo says that it’s really because of her brother, just in case he suffers by association.
Seol hears the sound of blacksmiths at work and runs off eagerly, bumping into Bo-kyung in her haste. Both girls get knocked down in the collision, but though her maid makes a fuss, Bo-kyung lets Seol go with an apology.
Seol watches the blacksmiths at work with wide-eyed wonder, asking if they’re not making any swords today. She’s so cute. Suddenly, Bo-kyung’s maid realizes that her purse is missing, and she jumps to the conclusion that Seol is a pickpocket. She runs off, not realizing that she dropped it where she was standing, which Bo-kyung discovers with a smile.
She slaps Seol across the face, accusing her of thievery very publicly in the street, and when Bo-kyung arrives, Seol kneels in front of her, swearing that she isn’t a thief. Bo-kyung asks her to prove it with a smirk.
Back at the parchment store, Yang-myung appears behind Yeon-woo, teasing her about which parchment would be fit for the king. She snaps that it’s not for the king, so he teases that if it’s for the prince, he can help, since he’s the prince’s hyung and all. She storms out, annoyed.
It starts to rain as soon as she steps outside, and Yang-myung appears again, this time to shield her from the rain with his sleeve. She looks up at him, startled by the closeness, and he urges her to run with a smile.
He takes her to a greenhouse, and she oohs and aahs to see the kind of place she’s only read about in books. She asks if it’s his, and he lies badly it’s his friend’s, a guy who has means but no future, so he threw a bunch of money into this place. She looks up at him sympathetically, Prince Hwon’s words now sinking in, about his hyung living that way because of him.
He shows her one of the King’s favorite flowers, and tells her to offer it up instead of her apology, and she asks what kind of person the king is. He says with a smile the answer he’s supposed to say – that he is a righteous, respectable king who always thinks of his people – all the while in flashback remembering how harshly he treated Yang-myung and how sweetly he treated Hwon.
She asks if he’s not going to return to the palace — people might be waiting for him, thinking to herself that Prince Hwon wants to see him so badly he was climbing the palace wall. Yang-myung asks who, and she starts to say “the prince…” and quickly says, yunno, the prince, the king, everybody.
He says that they’re busy people and they wouldn’t miss him. She snaps, “He does miss you!” He just smiles like a big ol’ flirt and says she ought to understand why he climbed her wall to see her then. Gah, I’m already over the moon at the thought of Jung Il-woo playing this cheeky boy.
She says that they’re entirely different things, so he gets all serious and leans in close, until she finally can’t take it and looks away awkwardly. She stammers that they’re totally different and anyway, he should go to the palace, and he breaks into a laugh.
He notes happily that it’s been a really long time since she’s looked him straight in the eye and talked with him like this, and flicks her on the forehead to add that she should still mind her own beeswax. Why are these two so cute?
Meanwhile, Seol gets beaten to a bloody pulp by Evil Servant Lady, while Bo-kyung looks on with a satisfied grin. She mutters to herself that she should’ve been running with her eyes open, literally feeling justified in this girl’s beating because her freaking dress got dirty. Oh boy.
Seol refuses to answer any questions about whose household she belongs to, and continues to get beaten senseless.
Yeon-woo and Yang-myung head to the blacksmith’s looking for her, where they find out what happened. Yeon-woo rushes to claim Seol, saying that there must be a misunderstanding, but to beat a girl like this…
Bo-kyung comes down, pretending to be angry at her own servants for beating Seol, and one of the guys mumbles, “but you told us to beat her…” hahaha. Her maid quickly steps up to cover for her mistress, taking the blame upon herself and apologizing.
Yeon-woo offers to pay her the amount that was stolen, but Bo-kyung says she laid a hand on her possession too, so they can consider it even. Bo-kyung apologizes for her servants’ mishandling of the situation, and sighs that it’s hard to get your slaves to act properly. She adds that before Yeon-woo’s girl becomes a bigger thief, she ought to sell her. Whoa.
Yeon-woo replies that Seol is not a possession to her, but a friend and a member of her family. She doesn’t know how much Bo-kyung might have lost in money today, but does it hold up to the pain that Seol has felt? Bo-kyung’s jaw drops. Yeon-woo takes Seol away, leaving her fuming.
Yeom returns to the palace with a present for the prince, from his sister. He opens it eagerly to find that she’s returned the box he sent her, but filled with dirt and something she planted. He asks what kind of plant it is, dying of curiosity, and Yeom says he’ll have to grow it to find out.
He tries to start the lesson but Prince Hwon relentlessly asks after his sister – what’s she like? Does he talk with her about his problems often? Surprised, Yeom just tells him that they read together every night, and the prince is floored at that.
Yeom says proudly that his sister is as smart and learned as any scholar at Sungkyunkwan. The prince kind of goes slackjawed, which is so cute. I mean, who doesn’t love a boy who likes a smart girl? He covers it up by saying that he’s so impressed that he has a sister who likes to read, murmuring that his own sister doesn’t know more than two words.
Suddenly Princess Min-hwa bursts into the room bawling her eyes out, showing her true age. She totally wails through her tears, “I… hate… oraboni! (the formal word for oppa) *waaaaah*” It’s hysterical.
But what she’s really crying about is the fact that he said that about her in front of Yeom, and she runs over to him, clasping his face in her hands, insisting that she is totally not a dummy, she swears. Keh.
Yeom is so taken aback that he stays frozen like that for a second, and then quickly assures the princess that he understands, and to stop crying or else she’ll mess up her pretty face. He means it in the little girl way, but it stops her tears cold. “You… think… I’m… pretty?” Uh-oh.
After his lesson, Prince Hwon opens up the letter that came with Yeon-woo’s gift, and finds the prettiest parchment ever, covered in dried flowers. He recognizes her response as a poem by Lee Kyu-bo [An actual historical figure and renowned poet].
We hear her recite it as we watch her hand-dye the parchment with Seol, and apply the dried flowers while writing her response.
A monk living in the mountains
desired the moonlight
he saw it floating in his bottle of water and filled it
but at the temple he realized
that if you lean the bottle and pour it out
the moon disappears
[It’s a poem to reflect on the things you can’t have because they defy the laws the nature.] She continues in the letter to say that the moonlight is not something you can have because you want it, but she naïvely tried to bottle the moon. She tells him to forget what happened at the Silver Moon Building that day, and that she is reflecting on her mistakes.
Prince Hwon smiles to realize this means she solved the riddle he gave her. He ponders what she’s asking – that he forget her – and laughs that she’s a dummy after all. Aw. He looks over at her plant and smiles as he thinks to himself, “How could I forget you?”
Princess Min-hwa runs to the King, eager to learn how to read and write like her brother, or more specifically from her brother’s teacher. He’s surprised by her sudden interest, and agrees to let her learn, but he quickly says no to her learning from Yeom. She cries and kicks her feet, to no avail.
With his advisors assembled the King ponders on the princess’ education, and Minister Yoon and his cohort sneakily suggest that his daughter Bo-kyung is the best choice. The King agrees, and adds that Minister Heo’s daughter Yeon-woo should be brought in as well. Awwww yeah.
At home, Heo tells Yeon-woo about the offer, and though she hesitates, she agrees to become the princess’ teacher/companion. It doesn’t especially please her father, who worries that the palace isn’t a place where you can be free, and having both of his children there weighs on him.
His wife tells him that it’s just to be a friend to the princess, so what could be bad about that? But he worries that nothing happens in the palace that isn’t maneuvered strategically into place, not knowing what’s behind this move.
Mom tells him that Yeon-woo will be protected because there’s someone out there who pledged her life to keep her safe. He asks who, and she just says “someone.”
Nok-young tends to that someone’s grave, asking her friend to tell her who that person is, that she is to protect with her life.
The Queen apologizes to the Queen dowager (her mother-in-law) for the princess’ immaturity, but the Queen dowager assures her that having these girls around her will improve her greatly.
She asks to see them herself, telling the queen that they must be very discerning when bringing people into the palace. Besides, they never know – the Crown Prince’s future wife could be among them. Dun dun.
Outside the palace walls, the entourage of shamans arrive, Nok-young now ranking high among them, the only one carried in by sedan. Next to her arrives Yeon-woo, and they get out and meet eyes.
In one look, Nok-young recognizes her, the one who will “change the fate of the sun.” And then behind her, Bo-kyung arrives. One look at her, and Nok-young sees her dark energy.
She gasps, “Two moons.”
Episode 2 felt much more like the show picked a direction, and though it’s a familiar one, it’s pretty clearly going to be a straight-up romance drama: the epic love square between two brothers, the two suns, and the two moons that enter their lives. Though half of the first episode was marked by light and cute, I was surprised at how rom-com-y the second episode felt, pretty much entirely light and funny from beginning to end. No complaints from me, because I’m sure we’ll eventually have plenty of angst to counter it, so I’ll take all the happy I can get.
What I like best so far is the teacher-student relationship with Yeom, as well as the brother relationship with Yang-myung, even though we have yet to actually see the brothers together. I love that it isn’t good vs. evil, but just two brothers who love each other, torn apart by fate. Both the characters are empathetic, thoughtful, and adorable, and already I’m torn because I want each of them to win Yeon-woo’s heart.
What drives me batty is Bo-kyung’s characterization, which just seems cartoonish to me. I mean, I know, thirteen-year old mean girls exist, but damn. Would it have been too much to make her at least start out sympathetic and layered, and then make her choose the path of badness to feed her ambition or whatever? I get that she was raised by the baddie, so she’s just going to adopt all his privileged, entitled attitudes, but seriously, girl is bordering on sociopathic.
Yeon-woo is fantastic, and recalls a lot of what I loved about the heroine in Sungkyungwan Scandal — a girl who defies the social order to read and learn, who thinks about how the world could be better rather than accepting it as it is. I adore that she loves words and poetry, and it just sets my heart aflutter when she and the prince write each other in riddles and poems. That’s one mark of the novelist’s work that I loved in Sungkyunkwan and here as well.
I was initially disappointed that we’d spend three weeks with the younger actors, but this episode changed my mind about the time we’ll spend with them. I can’t wait to see more of their young love in bloom.
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 1
- Hanboks galore at press conference for Moon That Embraces the Sun
- Moon That Embraces the Sun releases posters
- Yoon Seung-ah cast as badass warrior in Moon/Sun drama
- Jung Il-woo replaces Joo-won in fantasy-sageuk drama
- Joo-won in contention for Moon That Embraces the Sun
- Kim Soo-hyun takes the lead in fantasy sageuk romance
- A sageuk next for Han Ga-in?