A solid start to SBS’s newest late Goryeo-era sageuk, the premiere of The Great Seer (aka Daepoongsoo) delivered on setting an epic table for future conflict to come. We’ve already got a historical period rife with conflict (with the whole fall of Goryeo and the rise of Joseon), and within that conflict we find the beginnings of a love story. Of course, that’s a blip on the radar when everyone and their mother is focused on finding a piece of land that only one man knows how to find.
The few emotional tethers in the episode did leave me wanting, and while I’m willing to give the show more time to establish its many many characters, I do hope we can find some heart in all this grandness. That’ll be like the icing on my sageuk-loving cake. With Ji Jin-hee as the cherry on top.
SONG OF THE DAY
The Great Seer OST – Gyuri [Kara] – “Breaking Fate” [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open on a bleak and rainy vista eight days after an event known as the Wihwado Retreat began the first stirrings of rebellion that would eventually be responsible for turning the tides of power from the longstanding Goryeo Dynasty into the Joseon Dynasty.
It’s the year 1388, and General YI SEONG-GYE (Ji Jin-hee) is making his return to the capital after refusing to carry out a campaign to invade Liaodong.
Aware that there is no turning back now, he remarks to the bright-eyed man at his side, JI-SANG (Ji Sung) that if they fail now, what they have done will be considered treason. There’s no arguing with that, but Ji-sang offers a comforting thought: “If you succeed, it is a revolution.”
Ji-sang is our seer and scholar of divination, and tells a questioning Yi Seong-gye that the heavens aren’t on his side on this one. However, there’s comfort to be had when he tells the general that he is a human who can change the mandate of heaven.
So it’s with this new sense of assuredness that Yi Seong-gye chooses to advance on the capital, while Ji-sang holds out his hand to catch raindrops from the storm.
A star falls from the heavens, and all different mythical animals appear larger than life – dragons, phoenixes, some kind of dinosaur. Their respective colors pool together in the midst of the mountains.
We’ve jumped back to the year 1342, where a head shaman receives what looks to be the same vision, and it causes her to tremble from head to toe before she faints in front of an audience of young shamans in training.
She’s seen a constellation which carries prosperous news for the current royal family (King Chunghye’s reign at the time), and they’ll need to now find this place of mythical convergence. To do this, they choose to send a great seer from Seowoongwang (the office of astronomy and divination) named Dong-ryoon, who has the gift of sight as well as silence, something they’ll probably need most.
Dong-ryoon goes alone on this great journey, braving rapids and cliffs in an effort to find the land. We flashback briefly to see the Head Shaman give this great order to him based on a prophecy that it would be found, even though the road will be beyond difficult. But she believes the sacred land will protect Goryeo, and charges Dong-ryoon with burying a seal once he reaches it.
One of the girls hovering at the shaman’s side, YOUNG-JI (future Lee Seung-yeon), expresses her desire to go with Dong-ryoon on his journey, only to be rejected. He believes in purity of mind and spirit in order to find this spot, and even rejects the ring Young-ji tries to give him before he heads off alone.
In a forest heavy with fog, strange mystical forces seem to be at work as the trees around him grow branches instantaneously and the sky above him grows dark. The appearance of a pack of wolves sends Dong-ryoon running for the safety of a cave, the threshold of which strangely keeps the wolves at bay.
With the way in blocked, Dong-ryoon heads into the cave and over a skeleton, whose clothes he then commandeers to use as a torch to help lead the way.
After breaking through a rock wall at the end of the cave, Dong-ryoon lands in a dreamily-lit valley overseen by a very young and very tiny monk, who promptly chides Dong-ryoon for arriving fifty years too early, and even talks down to him despite his age. Ha.
But the little monk reveals no answers except for a thwack over Dong-ryoon’s head, which causes him to disappear and the valley to reveal the site in the mountains he’s been looking for. There he sees the mystical animals – a blue dragon, a white tiger, and a green tortoise.
It’s here that he sets to burying the seal, only to find a stone buried there first with the inscription that this is the site of the great king to come in fifty years. Kind of like a ‘Don’t Open Till Christmas’ thing, and it has Dong-ryoon remembering the same words from the tiny monk.
There’s no welcome party waiting for Dong-ryoon upon his return, as the Head Shaman directly oversees his torture in order to glean the sacred site’s location from him. He believes that divulging the location before the fifty years have passed will cause harm to the people, and gets an eye poked out for his trouble.
She tries to get answers next by making him responsible for the life of a common man, but he keeps his lips sealed even as the prisoner is beaten mercilessly in front of him.
Now we’re in the year 1352, the first of King Gongmin’s reign. Soldiers raid a village to steal women and girls, even taking a bride from the middle of her wedding. This act is overseen by official YI IN-IM (Jo Min-ki), since the girls are tributes to be sent over to Yuan.
Though he looks dispassionate, the pleas of an earnest mother and father cause him to free their young children. Which is nice, I guess?
…Except, when the husband of the stolen bride pleads for her return, In-im stabs and kills him with a sword that can only be made once every twelve years. So, not so nice? What’s up with him?
A neat mock battle/dance is held in front of King Gongmin and a sour-looking ambassador from Yuan. He doesn’t enjoy the show, and accuses Gongmin of preparing those soldiers to fight against the empire.
Gongmin denies the accusation and Princess Noguk, his wife, defends him. The Yuan ambassador has a stick up his bottom and attacks the warrior leader for kicks. It’s sad to see him willingly give himself to the ambassador’s cruel ways after telling King Gongmin that it was an honor to serve him – effectively knowing that there’s nothing they can do to stop what’s coming.
So Gongmin looks on with tears in his eyes while his warrior gets cut down in front of him, unable to do anything to help. The final blow proves too much for Princess Noguk to bear, and she grabs a sword to wield against the ambassador in an effort to make him stop.
Her husband stays her hand, reminding her that they can’t let the warrior’s death go in vain. He has to put on a brave and humble face as he placates him, even though all the man does is cut Gongmin down. Does he think he’s a real king sitting on that throne?
The girl we first saw at Seowoongwan, Young-ji, finally stands up for her king and calls the emissary out on his disrespect. Gongmin orders her to be executed for her insolence, though In-im tries to save her by telling her to beg the ambassador for her life. She would rather die.
He’s spied in the hallway by one of the female shamans from before, SOO RYUN-GAE (Oh Hyun-kyung), and we cut to them sharing a passionate moment in bed. She knows his heart belongs to another woman (I’m gonna say it’s Young-ji), and that she’s just a booty call, but seems okay with that. For the moment, anyway.
In-im is disgusted at what he sees as Gongmin’s cowardice in always bending to Yuan’s will by sending girls and letting his warriors die. He hates having to be ready at such a king’s command, which has Ryun-gae using a vial of poison around her neck to instantly kill fish in order to prove a point – she wants Gongmin gone.
And, unsurprisingly, she wants In-im to kill him.
Young-ji gets taken from prison to what she presumes to be her execution, only to face the Head Shaman instead. She reminds Young-ji of Dong-ryoon’s quest ten years ago to find the sacred site, and how he’d tried to hide its location.
She was under the belief that he’d died on the journey, so this is all coming as a surprise to Young-ji. Even more so when she asks why the location was hidden, only for King Gongmin to make a surprise entrance and answer her that Dong-ryoon said that it wasn’t time yet.
Gongmin claims that him being a puppet of the empire is due to a lack of power (really?), and that finding the sacred site will make him a real king. He charges Young-ji to get Dong-ryoon to talk. Apparently they’ve been holding him prisoner for a decade.
We catch up with Dong-ryoon sportin’ an eyepatch while he exercises in prison, and he’s able to stab a beetle on the wall from across the room in an excellent display of martial arts skill. Then he eats it. Ew.
He’s prepared to kill the guard who retrieves him, only to be faced with the Head Shaman instead. The sunlight is too much for him to bear once he’s taken outside, so this is probably the first time he’s seen it in a long, long while.
Young-ji gets to visit him while he’s chained up like a dog, and he can’t even open his one good eye to get a look at her due to the overload of light. She entreats him to give the location of the site so Gongmin can grant him freedom and wealth in return, something Dong-ryoon scoffs at.
It’s definitely been a while since he’s even heard a woman, so he’s a little hot and bothered by Young-ji’s presence. She asks him if he’ll divulge the location if she gives him her body, and his response? “I don’t like skinny girls.” Ha. I don’t think it’s supposed to be funny, but it is.
With tears in her eyes, Young-ji asks Dong-ryoon to open his eye (keh) and recognize her. She’s almost offended when he asks her how she’s been: “I told you that I would wait for you. The person I waited for for so long didn’t come. How do you think I have been?”
She doesn’t understand why Dong-ryoon would stay this way if he found the site, to which he cryptically replies, “I found it. But I didn’t find it.” She calls him stubborn and stupid like the old days, and it finally gets a smile out of him. She’s not as amused.
And just like that, ten years of torture becomes meaningless as one look at her causes him to agree to tell Gongmin everything. However, according to him, a decade would change the landscape, so before he can draw a map he’ll have to find the site all over again.
This time, Young-ji and an entourage follow Dong-ryoon on his journey, which he has to make shackled. One look from him seems to indicate that he’s got other plans in mind, and he manages to get the guards to undo his shackles so he can bathe.
However, when he gets into the water, he uses his small dagger to dispatch the two swordsman following him and makes a daring escape. The entourage of soldiers loses him while Young-ji finds and follows him, braving the river on her horse with shackles in hand. Yeah, like that’s really going to work.
Her horse can only go so deep before it falters, causing her to tumble off and into the water. Even though Dong-ryoon is a ways away on an escape boat, he can’t ignore the sight of Young-ji in danger and saves her from drowning.
She’s pulled into the hull of his boat like a fish, still grasping the shackles and keys. She shackles her wrist to his before he has time to react, and throws the keys into the river. Yikes.
When Dong-ryoon asks her how she knew he would escape by water, she replies that a peek into his fate showed that he would become wood, which floats. Ergo, all she had to look for was water. He’s kind of surprised that she’d look into his fate, and almost jokingly asks if she looked into their fate together. I’d say yes.
He reveals that he had no plans to go to the sacred site, and ends up getting her help in rowing away once the entourage of soldiers arrives on shore. Shackled together, they row down the river to safety.
It’s raining and dark by the time the two make it to a town, and Dong-ryoon sneaks them into a blacksmith shop to chop the chain binding them. He watches Young-ji as she sleeps across the room, and focuses specifically on her bare feet.
In the morning, Young-ji wakes up to find him gone. She’s about to run out in a panic only to have him return bearing a gift of shoes. Aww. Except they’re way too big on her. Double aww.
I love that her feet become a point of contention, where she has to convince him that she can follow him wherever he goes even if her feet are small, all while he’s intent on trying to convince her to go home because they’re too small. She’s got no plans of doing that, and stays intently by his side.
News of the escape has reached King Gongmin, and he orders In-im to find Young-ji and escort her until she finishes the mission. And, once it’s done, he’s to release both Young-ji and Dong-ryoon. If she fails, then Dong-ryoon must be brought back alive.
In-im humbly says that he’ll follow Gongmin’s command, which we know are words he hates to say. At least Gongmin seems suspicious of him, since he asks the hiding Shaman whether In-im is trustworthy after he’s gone.
“He is a vicious man,” she admits. “He will get the job done.”
In-im is waylaid on his way out by Ryun-gae, who reveals that Gongmin wants to find the site in order to gain independence from Yuan. In-im finds this laughable since his impression of Gongmin is that of a coward, until the Yuan ambassador reveals himself from the shadows.
Ryun-gae must have planned for him to overhear, and the ambassador offers In-im a separate mission – give the location of the site to him, so he can kill the spirit of Goryeo. Also, he’ll give In-im a personal introduction to the emperor.
In-im agrees, which has me scratching my head. I get he’s in a tough spot, but really? He hates Gongmin’s servitude to Yuan and now he’s like, Sure, I’ll submit to your will and kill my country. Doesn’t make sense.
Either way, his mission is to now kill both of them, even though Young-ji is a princess. He’ll have to make it look like an accident.
He’s sent off to find Dong-ryoon’s brother, which seems to be where Dong-ryoon was heading. Dong-ryoon gets there a little too late with Young-ji and finds his brother’s home in ashes without a soul in sight.
There’s movement in one corner, but it’s only a small girl that emerges from her hiding spot. She readily takes food Young-ji offers, and when asked about who’s responsible for the destruction, she claims it was a monster who came to eat her mother and father.
She points out the monster as living in the forest, so Dong-ryoon and Young-ji go on the hunt. They don’t realize that they’re being tailed by human-like shadows until they come across a den in the forest decked out in blood red cloth and human skeletons. Eek.
Their footsteps activate a trap, causing them to be swept up by a huge net underneath their feet. They’re soon surrounded by men wearing animal skull headdresses wielding swords and taken to their main encampment, which includes ladies scantily clad in leopard skins serving wine and thrills in a den. Hmm. Okay.
It’s not clear who the Headdress Guys are, but they’re clearly worried about spies since they think our couple might be some. But Dong-ryoon only wants to find his brother, and when the tribesmen don’t answer yes or no on whether they killed him, Dong-ryoon goes into a rage.
He’s no match for them, and is clotheslined before he can even get a hit in. What looks to be one of the head honchos orders them to be executed, but as they’re dragged out, Young-ji yells over her shoulder that they can find an enemy encampment the tribesmen have been unable to find.
This rouses the interests of a drunken man, who saunters up to her and carelessly croons, “What did you say?” Young-ji: “I said we can find their base for you.”
The leader, a young Yi Seong-gye, sniffs at them like a dog before deciding that they can only be spies, to which Dong-ryoon protests that he’s only looking for his brother. But, because he’s a prophet, he can find the base they’re looking for.
…Except they don’t really use their skills of divination as much as the power of plain old deduction to help them narrow down the list. Young-ji thinks that the base must be near a huge rock able to shield them from landslides, which have been prevalent for the year due to heavy rainfall.
When one of the men asks what they’ll do if they don’t find the base, Seong-gye pulls back a bowstring without an arrow and aims it at Dong-ryoon. “I will kill you,” he says, with a devil-may-care smile.
But lo and behold, Young-ji and Dong-ryoon manage to lead them straight to their enemy base. Seong-gye can’t help but suppress a delighted glee, eager to jump into the thick of battle while his comrades urge him to use caution.
I love that he’s like, “Screw that” before he grabs a quiver of arrows and rushes to the entrance, yelling for his enemies to notice him. He couldn’t be happier, and his comrades can only shake their heads at his trigger-happy antics.
Seong-gye is an excellent marksman, and shoots down one man for every arrow like it’s nothing, in what turns out to be a really fun sequence.
By the time the army inside is alerted enough to storm through the gates, Seong-gye’s merry band of men pour out from the forest, ready to go to battle.
We covered an insane amount of ground for a first episode outing, and we’re really not even on the first course yet. Our leads haven’t even been conceived at this point (as far as I know), so it’s interesting that we’re going so far back into the world that shapes them.
But, we’ve still got Yi Seong-gye as an adult on screen, and since this story’s got to happen in the span of his lifetime, it seems like we need to be getting to our leads sooner rather than later. Then again, I’m always the viewer chomping at the bit to see child actors turn into adult actors, since I figure the real story starts once we’re over the prologue stages. I think I’m going to be in for a long wait with this one.
As for what we did see, The Great Seer gave us an overall solid premiere that hit most of the right notes. I think one of the pitfalls of having so much story to tell in such a short amount of time is the fact that we can lose the human connections in wave after wave of epic grandeur, and it wasn’t until about halfway through the episode that I figured out who we’re supposed to be focusing on/caring about. Dong-ryoon’s story ended up moving me most even without knowing much of anything about him or what drives him, unless it really is just a pure-hearted love for the greater good.
That being said, I think it’s telling about him that he’d let an innocent man be killed to protect his secret, though I wish we would have gotten to explore these smaller moments with him a little bit more before making him jump from crisis to crisis. Having a decade pass where nothing changed in the middle of all that didn’t seem to help his cause much either, though I’m guessing it was to get us closer to that fifty-year mark.
While it was nice to see Young-ji’s love story develop with Dong-ryoon, it was also a little confusing to see her feelings unchanged after ten years and her reaction to not only finding out that he’d been alive for a decade but also imprisoned and tortured under her king seemed lacking, somehow. Whether that’s an acting or writing issue I’m not really sure, but it’s like we just had to keep moving right along with no time to sweat the small stuff.
That trait can be both good and bad, but more the latter when we enter the case of villain (or possible villain, we’ve only got a hunch at this point) territory. In-im has a lot of potential to be a layered foil, though his motivations confused the heck out of me. I get that he wants King Gongmin out, but what else? He spent most of the episode blaming Gongmin for being a pawn in what’s essentially a flawed system, only to feed right back into that system by submitting to the Yuan ambassador’s every whim. Did I dream the part where he was upset that the ambassador killed one of Gongmin’s warriors in cold blood?
I’ll be especially honest and admit that I had no real idea what was happening in regards to the tribesmen, though I’m guessing we’ll see that story fleshed out more as we see more of them. Young Yi Seong-gye was an utter delight, though, and Ji Jin-hee‘s screen presence was like a bolt of charismatic and incredibly sexy show-stealing lightning to the trailing end of this episode. Sure, he’s channeling a little Jack Sparrow, but he’s just so fun, isn’t he? Crazy warpaint and headdress notwithstanding.
We know he’s destined to become the future King Taejo of Joseon, but I hope we’ll get to spend more time with this version of him, at least. Or that this fun-loving, ready-for-battle version of himself doesn’t get lost in the throes of endless politicking later on. A girl can dream, anyway.
I think we’ve got a lot of potential with the fantasy/divination aspect of this show, and if the script can focus a bit more on the human stories amidst the grandiose scale, we’ll have a solid sageuk offering on our plates. Whether this one will hit it out of the park or not will end up depending on what the story is once our leads take the stage, but we’ve got a good foundation and a future king in pretty epic guyliner to get us there.
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