This episode takes some decisive steps forward, which, ironically enough, come with a few big steps back — backward into the past, that is. Key memories come back to confront the present with some unveiling of secrets, much-needed reminders of what’s truly important, and a satisfying dose of righteous anger.
SONG OF THE DAY
Silhouette – “잘지내니” (How are you) [ Download ]
EPISODE 18 RECAP
Hwon lies in bed, smiling, and asks, “Isn’t it nice lying together in bed like this?” Yeon-woo, dressed in her nightclothes, agrees. This is a fakeout, isn’t it, you big drama tease? There’s no way you’d just give it to us that easy.
Pull back to reveal: Hyung-sun, blindfolded, literally sitting between their two beds. HA!
Hwon grumbles at Hyung-sun, asking if he doesn’t trust him. What, to keep your hormones in check now that your body won’t be interfering with any more consummation shenanigans? I’m pretty sure we’re all hoping you can’t be trusted, frankly.
Hyung-sun sighs heavily and says he has faith in the king’s intentions and all, but not in his “male instincts” which have been so long repressed. Hwon literally kicks his feet in frustration like a little boy, and Hyung-sun offers a compromise, if the king will make a promise. Hwon practically cuts him off in his hurry: “Promise? Whatkindofpromise?”
Hyung-sun starts to say that the king must absolutely, positively, cross-his-heart-a-zillion-times promise not to lay a finger on her. Hwon is insulted and balks, but Yeon-woo takes over, saying that with the eight years of separation, it feels like they could look at each other all day and night and still not see each other enough. So can’t he please be understanding and let them be together?
See, kingboy, flattery and sweetness work better than griping. Hyung-sun relents and excuses himself, and Hwon actually scoffs that his man listened to her over himself. Hey, dude, you’re wasting precious alone time! He lies down in a huff, now provoked by pride to declare that he surely won’t lay a finger on her, oh no not at all… and she shuts him up by reaching for his hand.
She asks him teasingly if he’s going to kick her out for daring to touch the king, or “punish” her. Rawr. But we’re not playing that game now, are we?
They lay there side by side, holding hands, and fall asleep smiling.
Bo-kyung hears that her court spy was supposedly transferred to a different station, but can’t be found anywhere. Looks like the king caught on. Furthermore, he replaced all the court ladies in his personal quarters with new ones.
Bo-kyung deduces that he must be hiding something in his bedchambers. But what?
Princess Min-hwa races through the palace, excited to tell her mother some very good news. Yeom’s mother reminds her that she has to be careful with her body from now on — omo, so she’s pregnant? Strangely, I’m thinking simultaneously, “Whoa that’s fast” and “Took you long enough.” It’s also slightly terrifying imagining her as a mother. Will she react to tantrums with tantrums of her own?
Hong Kyu-tae reports to the king that the previous king had made repeated inquiries of a certain nature before eventually closing the investigation on Yeon-woo’s death. The subject of his questioning? Princess Min-hwa’s people.
Yeon-woo overhears this from her secret room, worried at where this line of reasoning is leading. Hong Kyu-tae adds that the queen dowager also sought out the same person in Min-hwa’s entourage, and that’s enough to get Hwon’s suspicions firing.
Hong Kyu-tae reports one more piece of info: Most spells use a straw man to represent the target, but in some cases, a person can be used. This intensifies the effect of the spell, especially if that person harbors strong desire.
Hwon thinks back to his grandmother’s words, implying that he should close this case to protect his loved ones, and how his father had similar reasons for remaining quiet. Suspicions fly through his head — the dots, are they connected yet? — and he asks himself, “Why would Min-hwa…? Why on earth?”
Min-hwa and her mother-in-law convey the good news to the queen mother, who’s thrilled that a baby’s on the way. Min-hwa asks to be excused early, saying she’s eager to return to tell her husband the news, but she has a second motive for leaving the party before granny gets there.
Hwon now makes sense of his father’s grave attitude when, eight years ago, he had apologized for being unable to protect his son’s bride. He had alluded to a day in the future when he’d understand why he was telling him this. He’d warned Hwon to remember that the king’s seat is a lonely place, surrounded by enemies, who can sometimes share the same bloodline.
He’d asked the prince to forgive his father when he understood what he meant — and also to protect, although he hadn’t specified a name. Now Hwon understands that it was an entreaty to cover it up, to not wage war on his family.
He runs to the king’s stateroom, encountering more memories. Like the time he had kneeled before his father and the court, asking him to rescind the decree to make Yeom the princess’s husband, calling it a waste of his life.
(Side note: It’s a sign that the drama’s done a strong job of connecting the two Hwons in your mind when you wonder about the split-screening between past and present, before realizing they didn’t need to, with young Hwon and adult Hwon not actually being played by the same person, heh.)
The king had railed on Hwon in private, who had defended his actions as merely protecting Yeom. The king had told him very clearly that Hwon had only exacerbated the situation, naming all the people he had endangered, including Yeom, the Heo family, and the king himself by acting on his emotions.
Hwon had fired back, “Are you telling me to simply sit by and watch? To do nothing, to change nothing, to protect nobody?! To follow the reasoning set by other people, powerless and feeble? Are you telling me to live like that? Is that what it means to be king?”
His father had replied that trying to protect would only lead to pain, and trying to gain would lead to loss: “That’s the fate of the king’s seat you will have to take.” Um, great pep talk, coach.
Also, I know this is a fantasy sageuk, but we’ve established that we are in the latter Yi dynasty of the Joseon era, which means: Your forbears were Sejong and Sejo. When did the Yis turn all weak and fatalistic?
Dad had added that politics means that gaining something requires losing something. Great — as it just so happens, he has a wife he’d like to lose, and another he’d like to gain… The king had thought to himself of his own trade-off: losing Yang-myung to protect Hwon, losing the princess bride to protect Min-hwa.
Hwon had declared that he would do differently, and do what’s right: “That will be my Joseon.”
That youthful Hwon storms out of the room, coming face to face with adult Hwon, confronting his memory. Young Hwon challenges him, asking if he’s forgotten his resolve and lost his way.
Hwon returns to his quarters to find Min-hwa there, and faces her with heavy heart. He asks if she desired Yeom that much for her to do such a cruel thing to his sister. Min-hwa is shaken but denies knowing what he’s talking about, until Hwon demands to know why she participated in the ritual against Yeon-woo. She breaks down, begging him not to tell her husband.
Hwon looks at her with eyes that’ll break your heart, ordering her to look him in the eye, and asks how she could do such a thing. She cries, “With those same eyes, that same voice, those same words… that is how Father also spoke to me.”
Flashback: Soon after the king had uncovered the truth, Young Min-hwa had sobbed to her furious father, saying she had no idea what she had done. Grandmother had merely told her to sit there, and Yeom would become hers. She had no idea Yeon-woo would die.
The king had grabbed her and told her intently that nobody must know — that she would have to keep her mouth shut till the day she died.
She sobs to Hwon that she truly hadn’t known, and hadn’t realized until later what she had done. Hwon tells her she committed an unforgivable sin against her father, against him, and against Yeon-woo as well. He screams at her, “How will you repay this? What will you make up for it?!”
And just as we’re possibly learning to accept Min-hwa’s deed, if not outright forgive her, she declares, “Even if I were to go back to that time, I would choose my husband.” Whaaaa? Okay, girly girl. I stuck with you for eighteen damn episodes, but a stupid childhood mistake versus willful murder? Dead to me now.
Hwon stares, heartbroken, as Min-hwa declares that she may be punished a thousand times over or fall to hell, “But I will not regret that choice.” Well, it’s a good thing you’re okay with hell then…
Hwon says he’ll punish her — that’s the only way he can hold grandma’s clan accountable for their crime. Min-hwa readily offers to accept his punishment, but begs for mercy for her husband’s child in her belly. What a way to deliver that bomb, and Hwon is stunned even further. He watches her leave, aghast, and sobs.
Min-hwa comes home with a long face, but Yeom is thrilled at her pregnancy news and takes her mood for concern. She tells him tearfully that she has something to tell him, but while she’s searching for the words, Yeom thanks her and apologizes for not being able to repay her many kindnesses. She sobs in his arms while he’s none the wiser at the true reason.
From the wall, Seol watches, as always. She comes home feeling gloomy, and Jan-shil takes one look at her and says in her deepened shaman’s voice that the child will be a boy, smart and handsome like his father.
Seol starts to sob, and Jan-shil looks at her in surprise, not realizing she’d made another of her eerie predictions. Seol cries for the injustice of Yeom having a child with the woman who killed his sister, lamenting the Heo siblings’ bad fortune.
Hwon is so shaken that when Yeon-woo — who has overheard everything — asks to join him, he denies her request, saying he can’t bear to see her now that he knows his own flesh and blood is responsible for those wrongs against her.
Yeon-woo emerges from her secret room anyway and tells him that this is what she had been afraid of. He says that the blood connection means that he’s also to blame for those wrongs, which makes me want to sit him down and explain that the transitive property of math does not apply to murder. Yeon-woo tells him not to think that, because it’ll make her blame herself for living, which, ARGH.
He asks what she would have him do, and she tells him to cover it up. Her brother wouldn’t be able to bear knowing the truth. He asks if that doesn’t make her angry about all the suffering she endured, but she says she doesn’t want her brother to share that with her. He asks in a heartbroken voice if this doesn’t make them both pitiable beings, and you’ll get no argument on that.
But he bucks up and puts the ol’ game face on to pays granny a visit, where he announces that she should move her residence to a different location, citing the favorable surroundings as beneficial for her health. Two can play this game of health-benefits-my-ass-I-just-want-you-out-of-my-hair, and he says it’s time she retired from politics.
Naturally the queen dowager isn’t about to let him have his way, so he frames it as a choice: Either she hie herself away, or she face a stern royal court. He lays out her crimes plainly — killing the princess, for using the other princess as accomplice — and granny just tells him to prove it. He shocks her, though, by warning that he won’t go easy on her just because they’re related, unlike his father. The extent of his filial loyalty is to offer her the option to retire and move: “I will return everything to its place.”
She growls that he can’t do this to her, screaming after him, “Do you not know whose power it was that gave you your seat? ME! It was I, your grandmother, who racked my brains and stained my hands with blood to protect that seat for you!”
She rages that he cannot send her away, and literally screams herself unconscious. I tell ya, it’s pretty satisfying. It’s not supposed to be funny, but for the fact that her eyes literally cross, Looney Tunes style.
The council of evil receives news of the queen’s eviction and decides the king must know everything. A political purge is inevitable, they fear, and with it they’ll all go. Minister Yoon declares that the only thing to do is to strike first.
Recovered from his wound, Yang-myung is ready to leave the temple. He walks with his mother, clocks her worry, and starts to rattle off a string of assurances of why he’ll be fine. She surprises him, though, by telling him to follow his heart and live the way he wants.
Mom tells him that time will pass, this sadness will eventually fade, and he’ll make a new connection with someone new. She trusts him to make the right choices, no matter what, and he looks bittersweet at that faith in him.
When he returns home, he finds the usual crowd of noblemen waiting outside his home. For once he doesn’t flee, and invites them inside. The men refer to Yang-myung being the first in line, with a king who is still childless. It’s dangerous talk but Yang-myung plays along, and they’re bolstered by his encouragement.
That confidence turns to nervousness when Yang-myung picks up his sword, examines the blade, then in a swift move points it at them. Whose neck will be cut first for this treasonous talk? They quickly backpedal, saying they meant nothing of the sort, and they realize they’ve misjudged his reaction. He leaves them with one last warning, that if they ever mention such a thing again, their heads will have to say bye-bye to their bodies.
The leader of these rebels reports back to their silent backer, who turns out to be — surprise surprise — the council of evil. Minister Yoon chuckles, figuring Yang-myung wouldn’t cave so easily. The leader has a message from Yang-myung, who’d instructed its delivery to their hidden supporter: If he has something to tell him, come in person.
One minister wonders why they’d gone for Yang-myung when it’s known that he’s faithful to the king. Another retorts that the girl came between them, though he concdeds that it won’t be easy to manipulate that friction into outright betrayal. Not in two episodes, it won’t be.
Minister Yoon still feels confident that they’ll be able to bring Yang-myung over to their side, and puts his scheming hat back on.
Bo-kyung brightens to see her mother arriving at the palace with a girl, Soo-hyang, in tow, but ducks out of sight when her father appears. Mom greets him with the niece she has brought to be a companion to Bo-kyung. Minister Yoon is pleased with Soo-hyang’s forthrightness as she expresses her admiration of the palace and declares that she’d like to live here.
Bo-kyung hears the eerie echo of her father asking her similar things years ago, and how he’d used her youthful desires to his own ends. But when her father sees Bo-kyung standing there, he silently turns away in disapproval, leaving his daughter looking crushed at his neglect.
Bo-kyung tells her mother that she thinks her father will abandon her. Her mother protests, but Bo-kyung says that he’s plenty capable of it, particularly if he deems her useless. Mom asks exasperatedly who would fill Bo-kyung’s spot as queen, and Bo-kyung looks pointedly at the young Soo-hyang. If Dad can’t control his daughter as the queen, why not replace her with a younger, more malleable version?
Mom removes the girl before continuing the conversation, saying the even if that were to happen, Soo-hyang would just be a concubine. And why would the king take in such a young girl anyway?
Bo-kyung replies that it’s not out of the question, if the throne were to fall to someone else: “If it’s Father, such a thing is more than possible.”
Yang-myung has another late-night visitor: It’s Minister Yoon, who gets right to the point by asking whether Yang-myung wants to become the sun. He proposes an alliance: One will become king, the other will back his claim.
Yang-myung declines, and says that if they let this subject die here, he’ll keep it from the king. Minister Yoon asks, “Will you live your entire life under the shadow of the king?” Yang-myung says that even if they were to do this — join forces and stage a coup — they would need a justification for the overthrow. Minister Yoon has no doubt they can rustle up reasons: He’s the irresponsible king who ignores his duty to secure the succession, who consorts with a shaman, whose immorality causes him to forsake filial duty.
Yang-myung points out that the shaman is no mere shaman, but the princess. Minister Yoon is surprised to find that Yang-myung knew all along, and asks how he remained loyal to the king anyway.
Hwon has another pressing matter to entrust to Hong Kyu-tae and gives him a letter detailing his duties. He knows that his enemies will be preparing to counterattack with slanderous propaganda and is preparing for the onslaught. Yeon-woo fears that she’s caused him more trouble, but he counters, “You didn’t think I would just sit here and be attacked, did you? Wait and see. Soon a very interesting tale will spread amongst the people.”
Hwon invites Yeon-woo out for a walk to Hidden Moon, then tells her he has hidden a present for her here. She replies, “I already have everything. What more could I want?” Barf. Look, lady, sometimes the polite thing to do is just accept the damn gift, okay?
Hwon directs her to find it, so she starts looking in the courtyard. He points out that she’s looking awfully hard for someone who just said she doesn’t want anything, ha. She wonders if it’s so small that she can’t see it, and he retorts, mock-insulted, “Small?! It’s not small!”
That gives her an idea, and she asks incredulously if he means to give her Hidden Moon. He bursts out laughing and says that’s too big, then builds up the moment of reveal by saying that his gift is something important, unique, that all women would want. You aren’t referring to yourself, are you?
She wonders, “You don’t mean…” and he confirms it. “Yes, I mean me.” Ha! You cocky bastard, how I’ve missed you.
He steps forward to hug her and says that she gave him her heart, so now he will give her all of himself.
Minister Yoon plays the part of shoulder-devil, telling Yang-myung that he cannot have already given up the battle, reminding him of how the previous king treated him so poorly.
Yang-myung laughs that Minister Yoon has played his hand entirely wrong, though there’s a forced quality to the laugh that makes me suspect he’s not entirely immune to the logic. He says, “Did you take me to be so small-minded that I would let resentment and jealousy drive me to usurp power? I’ve no interest in the throne. Restoration, honor, and power — I have no need for such things.”
Minister Yoon thinks to himself that he’s disappointed in Yang-myung’s lack of drive, and reaches for a hidden dagger. Like Bo-kyung said, he has no need for useless things, and he readies his hand.
Yang-myung says, “What I want are a place for my ancestral rites at Jongmyo Shrine, and Heo Yeon-woo. Just those two things.”
Uh-oh… did you just say you wanted a king’s burial and the current king’s woman? Are you turning to the dark side after all, Yang-myung?
I don’t buy Yang-myung’s defection to the rebel forces for a minute, though part of that is due to the fact that we’ve got two episodes left, which is hardly enough time to delve into that conflict with any heft and then also resolve it. It’s something that could — and should — have come much earlier, so that we could actually worry for his potential shift in loyalties. It’s not like Yang-myung was busy fulfilling any important narrative duties, other than moping around.
Furthermore, there’s only so much mileage we can get out of the two-brothers-fighting-over-the-same-girl storyline, and I’ll go so far as to say we got our fill while they were still kids. But to double up that tension by adding political maneuvering — maybe some ideological sparring as well — could have really heightened the conflict in a way that simple romance can’t.
Plus, I’m intrigued by Bo-kyung’s newfound insecurity over her own place in the palace. She did a fantastic job showing fear over a ghost, but even more than that kind of terror, I would love to see her fear over a much more insidious danger — her own father. This shifting in political alliances could have even given the drama an excuse to put Bo-kyung and Yang-myung together — not romantically, I mean, but as an acting exercise, and why not? They’re both up to the task of playing wounded, suspicious, heartbroken, morally conflicted, and angsty. It makes me wonder why the drama stayed for so long in the same simple conflicts when it had all this potential stuff up its sleeves. And now that they’ve pulled them out, they tend to lack bite because there just isn’t the time to get worked up over these new complications. Sadness.
On the other hand, I loved older Hwon getting schooled by his younger angry self. It’s a bittersweet reminder of how awesome Hwon was in his youth — and I mean the character, not merely the actor — and how, as king, he has turned into a facsimile of his father: a puppet, frustrated and powerless. The adolescent prince may have been idealistic but the adult has gone too far in the other direction, giving up altogether, fuming at his lack of agency but at a loss to claim it.
I love that he gets the kick in the butt now, with his old self shaming him with the reminder of what he once held so dear. He doesn’t get the right to be angry at his father when he’s just done the same, does he? The conflict is pretty reminiscent of Tree With Deep Roots, but hey, why not take inspiration from a superior source? Yang-myung has on occasion thrown the same challenging words at Hwon, but I suppose that coming from the bitter mouth of a disappointed romantic rival, they read more as jealousy than wisdom. So most of all I love that the person to spur this self-actualization… is himself.
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- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 9
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 8
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- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 6
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 5
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 4
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 3
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 2
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 1