The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 4
It’s gettin’ good… conflicts heat up, stakes get raised, and dark clouds start to gather overhead. Things take a surprising upturn, but you know what that means in dramaland… there’s a big dip ahead, so hold onto your hats.
Ratings: Moon hits another high with 23.4%, Captain follows with 9.8%, and Wild Romance with 6.2%.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Prince Hwon and Yeon-woo stare into each other’s eyes, not realizing that they’ve got an audience – not just Yang-myung, but Bo-kyung too, who cries from a distance. They ask each other about their names, his for Sun and hers for Rain, and Prince Hwon asks cautiously why she’s been avoiding him. Is it because she dislikes him?
She quickly stammers no, and he adorably turns to her with this giant smile, “So… you don’t dislike me?” She realizes that it’s pretty much the same as admitting that she does and turns away, embarrassed. He prods her for the truth, and she says she knows that he likes someone else, naming Bo-kyung.
He quickly clears up the misunderstanding that it was a mistake because Yeon-woo lied about who she was, and her face lights up. He suddenly realizes something and leans in close, “Is it possible? Are you… jealous?” Hee. They’re so cute.
He tells her about the pending royal order for girls of marrying age to be declared as candidates for the crown prince to choose as his wife. He tells her that he’ll wait for her, making it clear that he intends to marry her. Her eyes widen, and she smiles.
They stare moony-eyed again until the cherry blossoms stop falling, and Prince Hwon looks up in annoyance, like somehow nature is screwing with his romantic mood. But then he gives an awkward cough, and the camera pulls back to show his aide, Hyung-sun, perched on the roof above them, with a bag of petals and a fan. HAHAHHAHA.
How much do I love that Princey goes to these lengths to be romantic, and that his poor lackey actually climbs on top of the roof to comply? At the signal, he dutifully sends more petals flying down below. I love this low-rent non-mystical version of romance. So cute.
The next morning Prince Hwon stares endlessly at his lettuce plant like a lovesick doofus, as Hyung-sun pats himself on the back for not really throwing it away. He says, self-satisfied, that he knew the prince would want it back.
The prince muses that Hyung-sun doesn’t know the reason why Yeon-woo gave him a lettuce plant, but to his amazement, Hyung-sun does know, and rattles off an insightful answer: that it’s to signify waiting and the people of this nation.
Hyung-sun explains that no matter how much the prince might be anxious to grow a plant and find out what kind of flower it is, how could it compare to the waiting of farmers, who toil over crops that will feed them? The meaning of the plant is to work hard and wait faithfully.
Prince Hwon gapes: “How could YOU possibly know that?” Hyung-sun sighs, “Because it’s now the fourteenth time you’ve told me that lettuce story!” HA. The prince doesn’t even remember, and Hyung-sun says he’s been repeating it ad nauseum any chance he gets. I think Princey needs at least one other friend. He’s gonna tire this one out.
The prince just glosses right over his whining, wondering how moved he must be at Yeon-woo’s words. Hyung-sun gripes, sure, once or twice, but at fourteen… and then catches himself before making the prince angry. I hope this guy sticks around when we fast-forward in time.
The royal order gets posted through the streets, for girls of marrying age to declare themselves (and be restricted from marrying anyone else). Yang-myung sees the notice and his face grows pale.
At his lesson with Yeom, Prince Hwon asks if Yeon-woo has declared herself Bachelorette Number Seven Thousand yet, and Yeom says no. He gets on his knees to beg the prince to let his sister off the hook. Yeom: “Because you cannot be together.”
Whoa. That’s bold. I wonder if he knows something mystical, or if he’s just being a protective oppa who doesn’t want to risk a tragic future for his sister. Prince Hwon refuses, and Yeom continues to plead, willing to accept any punishment for himself in return.
The prince stands up angrily, shouting, “NO! I can’t, because… ” All the guards outside lean in, Yeom holds his breath, and the prince blurts out, “… because I LIKE YOU!” Pffft! It’s pronoun-less, the way he says it, but because he doesn’t say the Yeon-woo part out loud, it comes out sounding like a declaration of love… to Yeom. HEE.
Yeom freezes, slackjawed. Prince Hwon buries his face in his hands, and runs out, mortified. Hyung-sun runs around trying to do damage control, explaining to the guards that it’s not Heo Yeom that the prince likes. He tells Yeom, “It’s not you! I can’t tell you, but it’s someone who looks juuuuuuust like you, but is a female… person… ” Ha, you’re really not making it better.
He chastises the prince for not being specific about Yeon-woo, and Prince Hwon sighs, wondering how he’s supposed to declare his feelings for her to someone else before he’s even said it to her. Aw, true, but I think she pretty much knows by now.
He pouts that he thought he and Yeom were bros, but clearly, he doesn’t think the prince a fitting match for his sister. Hyung-sun explains that it’s not that he thinks the prince isn’t good enough. It’s in moments like this we realize how naïve the prince still is.
Yeon-woo’s parents argue over the very same matter, as Minister Heo writes Yeon-woo’s papers for Bachelorette Thunderdome. Her mother argues that it’s pointless to send Yeon-woo there when they know that Minister Yoon’s daughter will be chosen as the prince’s wife.
What she’s really worried about is if Yeon-woo gets chosen, but not as wife. Basically there’s a chance that she could be “marked” as his, unable to marry anyone else, but unable to marry him, either drifting through the world as nothing or taken in as a concubine. It’s the cruelest fate because it’s neither here nor there, just a life alone and in between. But Minister Heo refuses to disobey the law.
Hyung-sun explains to the prince that Yeom is trying to protect his sister – if she is chosen as one of the final group, but then not married, she (and all the other maidens) get ousted from the palace and live the rest of their lives marked as royal concubines, unable to marry anyone else, and eventually forgotten.
Hyung-sun adds that some are brought into the lower palace to live there as concubines – and Hwon realizes that Yang-myung’s mother was one such maiden. Hyung-sun confirms that the king took pity on her and brought her into the palace.
The prince is quick on the uptake and zeroes in on what’s important: it all rests on the queen dowager, who will surely pick Minister Yoon’s daughter Bo-kyung to be his wife. He goes straight to his father, and pleads for him to go over the queen dowager’s head. But the king declares that there are some things even a king cannot go over.
Prince Hwon asks for a fair selection process, so as to stop the line of royal power in one clan. (You wouldn’t think it’d be a crazy thing to ask to participate in choosing your own wife, but it’s not something that’s considered his domain.) We don’t hear the king’s answer, but later, the prince sends Hyung-sun to fetch a Sungkyunkwan scholar in secret.
Yang-myung arrives to see the king, and reminds him of his promise to let him marry Yeon-woo. The king says he promised no such thing, just that he’d think about it. Growing panicked, Yang-myung asks if this is why Prince Hwon’s marriage proceedings have been hurried – has he perhaps asked to marry the same girl?
The king simply says that if she’s selected, then she’s selected. But Yang-myung blurts out that everyone knows Bo-kyung has been groomed to be the queen, so what happens to Yeon-woo? “If she is not chosen, can I marry her then?”
The king roars back angrily – he knows that if she isn’t chosen from the final group that she is still the prince’s woman. Yang-myung knows only too well what fate that means for Yeon-woo, and asks how he can sit by and let that happen to her. Ugh, you’re already breaking my heaaaaaaart. I love that he doesn’t care and would marry her anyway.
The king tells him in no uncertain terms that he will consider it treason. Damn, are you really gonna turn both your sons into tragic romeos for one girl?
Yang-myung storms out in tears, and has a vision of his childhood days with Prince Hwon. He says in voiceover, addressing Little Prince in his memory:
Yang-myung: Don’t laugh that way, Crown Prince, you who takes so easily in your hands everything I have tried to have, everyone I have ever wanted. Please stop smiling that way. So that I can freely hate you…
And then imaginary Little Prince trips and falls, and without a second thought, Yang-myung runs to catch him, forgetting his angry tears. Gah, that kills me. He looks up into the child’s eyes as he continues in voiceover: “If you can’t allow even that, then please quiet this violent wind that is blowing through my heart.”
Oh just stab me in the heart, why don’t you. It would hurt less.
The king is not entirely cold, feeling heavy-hearted over Yang-myung’s visit. He decides to go see Princess Min-hwa to comfort himself with her laughter.
But she’s busy staking out her crush, and primps as she sets herself in Yeom’s path. But he absentmindedly walks right past her, deflating her grand entrance. She won’t be deterred that easily though, and runs to block his path with arms wide open.
She gives him the bracelet she made and asks if he has a wife. He says no, and she literally squeals. Ha. How about a girlfriend? Nope. She jumps up and down. Ha, this guy’s getting two love declarations in one day, and from siblings, no less?
She tells him that she’s the one who got the riddle right – the eyelid one – and demonstrates. He smiles at her, and she gets struck dumb in the middle of her sentence, “You’re pretty…” Ha. She runs off in embarrassment.
She finds the king approaching her chamber and she starts to run to his open arms, but then stops mid-way, choosing for the adult, regal greeting instead. She tells him that she’s not a child anymore, and her father laughs heartily.
She sits him down to tell him that she wants to marry Yeom, which is kind of hilarious, just because the king’s had a full day of all his children requesting to be married to Minister Heo’s kids, one right after the other.
He tells her that she can’t because Yeom is someone destined for greater things. She doesn’t get it – if he’s so awesome, then that makes him an even better match for her. The king explains that marrying her would keep him from being a civil servant, in essence trapping him from serving the greater good with his outstanding skills. Aw, harsh lesson for the little princess.
She gasps, asking if that means she has to marry someone ugly and stupid. Ha. The king says no, she just can’t marry Yeom, because he’s someone destined to guide the future king. She wails that she won’t marry anyone but him, and her father sternly tells her no. He softens to explain gently that marrying Yeom is like breaking off his wings, and there is no more tragic a fate than that.
Well gee, daddy dearest, wouldn’t it be nice if you could transfer that same logic over to his sister Yeon-woo? I know, not in this century. But the parallel is clearly on purpose – when it’s Yeom, it’s considered a tragedy, but when it’s Yeon-woo, it’s just a fate she’s supposed to accept.
Yeom comes home that night and finds Seol practicing her sword skills in the yard. She quickly hides the practice sword behind her back, but he tells her that she’s getting better. He tells her to look up at his face, and asks if there were a woman who looked just like him, who would it be? I’m beginning to think you’re not so smart, genius.
Seol says Yeon-woo, of course, and he confirms his suspicions. He sits Yeon-woo down to ask how the prince even knows her, and if she feels the same way. She doesn’t deny it, and says she understands her brother’s worry, but has no plans to back out.
He warns her that if people find out about the prince’s feelings for her, she could become a sacrificial lamb (in the clans’ war for power). He tells her to feign sick and be dismissed from the selection process, but she refuses. She confesses that her heart already belongs to the prince. Yeom’s heart sinks.
Prince Hwon has Sungkyunkwan’s class president dragged to the palace in the middle of the night for a secret meeting. He reminds him of a Sungkyunkwan scholar’s duties to guide the nation, and asks pointedly if he thinks it right that the selection of his wife be used by one family to secure power.
The next day the scholar leads the other students in a demonstration outside the palace walls. They send their protests to the king. As the king reads their scrolls, we flash back to the rest of his conversation with the prince.
Prince Hwon had declared it an abuse of power, and asked that a change begin with the selection of his bride. What cracks me up is that I do believe that the prince feels strongly about egalitarianism, but it’s not exactly the purest motive here. I mean, he wants to marry one specific girl, though yes, in a larger sense what he’s fighting against is the queen dowager’s clan continuing a line of power through his marriage.
The king had asked to be convinced, and now back in the present, he smiles to himself, impressed at the prince’s tactic of mobilizing Sungkyunkwan scholars to move the king. The student demonstration lasts for days, and the royal assembly debates the matter.
Many argue that the king oughtn’t bend his ear so easily, but Minister Heo speaks up that a king should not take the representatives of his people lightly, adding that if the law is just, it will not be toppled by their protests.
The king answers that he has considered the scholars’ arguments, and reached a decision. He declares that the selection of the queen-to-be will ruled fairly, and by a council of four, adding that the entire process will be moved outside of the queen dowager’s domain, essentially stripping the her of her monopoly claim.
She comes storming in to argue with the king, and insists that her choice for queen was because she chose the right girl, not by blood but by her own virtues. The king answers that the girl should hold up fine then, if that’s the case. HA.
She fumes at his insistence on circumventing her, but he counters that the people are united in this, and they cannot be ignored – “There are more than just fathers by blood. If the king is the father of the people, then the people are the father of the king.”
Furious, she reminds him that she and her clan have protected his right to the throne. She asks if he’s forgotten, but he somberly says he hasn’t, and how could he? Flashback to Minister Yoon killing his brother in cold blood.
Trembling, he reminds her point-blank that he could never forget what horrible thing she and Minister Yoon did to Prince Uiseong to secure his crown. She stirs in shock to realize how much he knows.
She screams that if he’s known this whole time, he really shouldn’t forget what he owes her, for keeping his hands blood-free. Yeesh. Well that’s ONE way to look at it, but I can think of a few more, lady.
He tells her not to extend her greed any further. Damn. I know it’s a long ways from her final comeuppance, but it’s still satisfying. But mostly at this point it’s just fuel for the villainous fire, because who knows what scheme she’ll come up with now.
Yeon-woo’s mother trains her for the big day, hilariously teaching her to bow by falling with a loud thump and eat her noodles with a slurping sound, and declare her hobbies as reading and writing, not silly things like needlepoint. Yeon-woo laughs, totally onto Mom’s thinly-veiled attempt to get her disqualified in round one.
Yeon-woo tells her that no matter what, she wants to make her father proud, and tells Mom not to worry. Mom just hugs her tight with a long sigh. The next day the royal proceedings begin, as young ladies file into the palace from far and wide to greet the king.
Yang-myung comes by to see Yeon-woo late that night, dressed in travel clothes. She starts to snap at him for coming by so late, but then sees that he’s leaving again. He says he just came to see her face before he goes, and leans in to take a good look.
He mutters that he’s got a good look at her ugly face now, so he can go. Keh. She asks if he’ll return this time. That stops him in his tracks, and he turns, “Do you want to come with me?” *gasp*
He tells her that Bo-kyung will be chosen as the queen, and at best Yeon-woo will be the king’s concubine, or forever forbidden from entering the palace, and forced to live alone. “If you want to run away, if you wanted to… I could throw away my birthright, my name, and protect you.”
Swoon. Could he be any sweeter? She doesn’t think he’s serious, and tells him that his joke has gone too far. He heartbreakingly laughs and agrees with her. He asks if she doesn’t have any regrets about the road she’s chosen. Without hesitating, she says no.
So he gives her a good cheer about sending Bo-kyung down with one blow, and playfully flicks her on the forehead one last time, and walks away. He runs into Woon on his way out, waiting for him.
Yang-myung tells him that he’s leaving again: “This tree wants to stay in place, but the wind keeps blowing. Before I fall or break, it’s time to go.” Woon can’t argue, knowing what he’s up against with the king.
Yang-myung looks up at the sky, “But that moon, no matter where I go, it’ll follow me, won’t it?”
Ten days later, we’re down to three bachelorettes in the final round. The king sits them down for a question: if they were to express what the king is in terms of money, what would be his worth?
The first girl answers a hundred thousand, no a million nyang, stammering that she doesn’t know money very well. Bo-kyung answers that there is no such silver on this earth to measure up to the king’s greatness – that he should ask her again when they have figured out a way to measure the height of the sky or the depth of the ocean. The queen dowager smiles.
Yeon-woo’s answer? One nyang. Everyone gasps.
Prince Hwon tries to distract himself with archery as the proceedings go on, but he keeps missing his target. Finally Hyung-sun comes running up. The prince prods him for the verdict…
The bride-to-be bows to the queen dowager, and raises her head. It’s Yeon-woo. Gah, I’ve never been so relieved in my life. The king and queen look on with smiles at the princess, their future daughter-in-law, pleased. The queen dowager accepts the bow with a rigid expression, fuming on the inside.
Flashback to Yeon-woo’s answer – that to someone who has ten thousand nyang, one nyang might not mean very much, but the poor know the full worth of one precious nyang. The king is that one nyang, precious to all, and especially to those who have nothing. Moreover the worth of one nyang is equal among all people – that is, he is the same king to rich or poor.
Princess Min-hwa continues on a hunger strike, convinced she’d rather starve to death than not marry Yeom. She’s so cute. She wails and cries, pleading with anyone who will listen, to mother, to grandmother, to change the king’s mind.
Shaman Nok-young looks out at the night sky to see an ominous dark cloud descend over the moon.
Yeon-woo takes up residence in the Silver Moon Building until the royal wedding. Her new attendant leaves her a handkerchief, saying that she’ll need it, and leaves her for the night. Once alone, Yeon-woo realizes how much she misses her mother, and starts to cry.
She reaches for the handkerchief, realizing that this is what she meant, and cries into it. But when she opens it, there’s a message inside from Prince Hwon: “You aren’t crying because you miss your family, are you? If you are, look outside your window.”
She opens it up to find him looking up at her. She quickly tells him that it’s not allowed and closes it back up, only to be disappointed when he disappears like she asked. She comes running out to find him, where he’s standing there ready, with a little makeshift theater.
He smiles, “Are you done crying now?” So cute. He assures her that he got special permission from the king, and points to her seat. Hyung-sun’s head pops up in the box, along with puppets of the prince and Yeon-woo, and her face lights up.
Nok-young gets called to see the queen dowager, who orders her to kill Yeon-woo. Nok-young reminds her that she serves the king, and now Yeon-woo is someone whom she is to protect. But the queen dowager calmly threatens Seongsucheong, the shamans’ domain, which would lose all power if she pulled her support.
She orders her to use her black magic to kill Heo Yeon-woo. She stumbles back to her room in a daze, asking Ahri if she herself was the dark force threatening Yeon-woo. What is she supposed to protect – Seongsucheong, or Yeon-woo?
She falls to the ground, and then ends up back at the same grave from her previous vision. A red ribbon marked with the characters for “two,” “human,” and “labor,” makes her gasp she lets it fall from her hand. The characters disappear and then reappear together as one character – for “shaman” – and flies out of her hand and into the sky.
As Prince Hwon and Yeon-woo watch the puppet show, Nok-young repeats the same destiny she saw for Yeon-woo – that she will suffer for being too close to the sun, but is fated to stay by its side. “Do I have no choice but to kill her?”
It seems clear from her vision that Nok-young will be the one to change Yeon-woo’s path from princess to shaman. The converging of the characters is a way to indicate that she needn’t choose Yeon-woo or Seongsucheong, but that making her a shaman is a way to save both. It’s a fate we knew from the beginning, but it still kills me that they gave us this glimpse of what could have been – that she was rightfully chosen to be the queen and could have had such a different life. Though it’s bittersweet, I like the setup of having her chosen, of giving her a rightful place, before ripping it away from her. It’s crueler, but dramatically much more powerful.
Though the moon/sun symbology is already growing tiresome (really, we geddit), the character parallels are moving, beyond the simplistic metaphors. The fate of the son who loses everything to his brother simply because of his birthright is tragic, sure, but the fact that Yang-myung loves that brother despite it all is what breaks my heart and makes me love the character.
What I like about this drama is that every political machination has a direct relationship to our core characters, so that nothing feels outside of the central conflict. It’s something I encounter rarely in sageuks, where there’s often entire subplots of moving little characters into position for what seems like forever, until the real plot emerges. Here everyone is pointed directly at the central conflict of the moment, and each character has a different set of interests to protect. It keeps everything moving along swiftly, and makes nothing feel extraneous.
Despite the tragedy that awaits, I love how well-suited Prince Hwon and Yeon-woo are for each other. They each approach the problem of their union by appealing to the same belief in what the king means to the people. It shows a similar understanding of the world, despite their vastly different backgrounds, and as the Sungkyunkwan scholar murmurs to himself during the student demonstration, it bodes well for the future king. As it is for Yeom, perhaps Hwon and Yeon-woo’s love is something that will be sacrificed for the greater good, though of course the dreamer in me holds out hope.
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 3
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 2
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 1
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