Moonlight Drawn By Clouds: Episode 3
Hey guys, I’m just popping by this week to help out because we’re up to our eyeballs in premieres. I happily jumped at the chance to recap some buckets of cute, but I didn’t anticipate how much this episode would move me. We’re starting to delve into the life story of the crown prince, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s a lot more to this cavalier prince than he lets on. I was happy to watch before, but I’m fully invested in this story now.
EPISODE 3: “Who are you: I am behind you”
As Prince Yeong is dressed in his dragon robes, faithful Eunuch Jang clucks on about how kids these days are so hopeless, turning in blank test papers without even trying. He’s referring to Ra-on’s blank entry in the last of her eunuch exams, not knowing that she’s desperate to fail and get the hell out of here.
Bodyguard Byung-yeon suddenly interrupts them to say that the prince needs to go somewhere, right this instant.
In the dungeon, Princess Myeongeun is seconds away from slicing Ra-on’s throat for her imposter love letters, but just as she raises the sword to strike, Yeong’s voice commands, “Stop!” Everyone freezes at the announcement of the crown prince, and Ra-on cranes her neck to get a look at him. But his face is obscured by light, and the guard orders Ra-on to lower her head in respect. Damnit, she doesn’t get to see his face at all.
Yeong says that the princess will hurt herself by holding the sword that way, and takes it out of her hands. Then he demands in a booming voice to drag Ra-on to the Euigeumbu, and even Princess Myeongeun says fearfully that nine out of ten people die when they’re sent there.
Yeong plans to get to the bottom of this crime and even involve the king, and the princess suddenly balks at the idea of having the entire palace know about her embarrassment. She begs for Yeong to withdraw his order, and the cheeky glint reappears in his eye for a fleeting second before he turns concerned eyes on his sister. He tells Myeongeun that it won’t make her feel better to kill this eunuch, and that she’s not capable of taking a life.
As Yeong leads his sister away, Ra-on cries out on her hands and knees that she’s genuinely sorry for ghostwriting those love letters. She says that it never occurred to her how much that could hurt someone, and says through tears that she’s deeply sorry for what she’s done.
Byung-yeon asks the prince why he doesn’t reveal his identity to Ra-on when (s)he’s bound to find out, and Yeong just answers back that in the process he’ll gain one more subject on his side. He raises an eyebrow at the disapproving court ladies who pass by, and admits that he’d be sad if Ra-on looked at him with those eyes. Aw.
Both Ra-on and Do Ki are glassy-eyed from their near-death experience as the entire class gathers for their final exam results. Ra-on slaps her face to attention and brightens at the thought that this nightmare is almost over…
Eunuch Jang shows Yeong the test that he’s been asked to grade, which of course is Ra-on’s blank entry. The question, given by Eunuch Jang, names the prince’s ailment as a hunger felt by someone who is lacking for nothing in this world.
Yeong thinks back to the night that Ra-on had guessed this about him on their first meeting, and offered him a chicken leg as a token of affection from someone who was rich in heart.
With a smile, Yeong stamps Ra-on’s blank answer with a passing mark. Eunuch Jang gapes, and Yeong says he’s already heard the answer to this question from Ra-on, and when Eunuch Jang asks what it was, he simply says, “Chicken leg.” Ha.
Eunuch Jang rushes the exam back to the hall and Ra-on’s name gets called to the front. She’s so happy at the idea of leaving that she doesn’t even register that she’s passed until she’s holding the results in her hands.
She asks with pleading horror why on earth she was given a passing grade, and Eunuch Jang sighs that he doesn’t know either, but nobody knows the crown prince’s inner thoughts. She’s shocked to learn that her test was graded by the crown prince, of all people.
The royal bodyguards are also training new recruits, and head guard Byung-yeon orders all of his trainees to shoot their arrows at the row of targets, while he walks back and forth in front of them like a badass.
It’s an impressive sight, but Yeong is annoyed by all the swooning from the court ladies on the sidelines, who literally squeal every time Byung-yeon does something cool. They call him Gat Byung-yeon (a pun on the contemporary equivalent “God Byung-yeon”), because he looks best in his gat (hat). Pfft.
Yeong gets so fed up with all the swooning that he picks up a bow and mock-shoots in the ladies’ direction. He gripes to Byung-yeon that training exercises always seem to be designed to make Byung-yeon look as cool as possible, calling him Gat Byung-yeon, while emphasizing the “byung” (short for byung-shin, meaning “idiot”).
Byung-yeon smirks but insists that it’s a misunderstanding. As he walks away, Yeong grabs an arrow and lets one fly, and it splits an arrow embedded in the bulls-eye with incredible precision.
Yeong and Byung-yeon find Ra-on slumped over in the courtyard, and Yeong chides Puppy for not greeting its master properly. Ra-on warns that she’s in a biting mood and suddenly gets up to go demand answers from the crown prince, and the boys race to block her.
She’s easily convinced that she wouldn’t be able to meet the crown prince anyway, and she slumps back down in defeat, grumbling that the prince ruined everything. Yeong huffs as she says that she has no right to become a eunuch, but now she’s trapped in the palace, no thanks to the prince.
Byung-yeon looks over at Yeong curiously as he asks why the prince would do that, and Ra-on sighs that she did something wrong, and the prince is probably planning to make her pay for it by keeping her at his side and making life miserable for her.
Yeong quietly asks Byung-yeon what he’s supposed to do when someone is so ungrateful that you’ve saved his life, and Byung-yeon humorlessly pulls out his sword and asks, “Shall I kill him, your majesty?” Hahaha.
Yeong snipes at both of them to follow, and takes them up to the top of the palace wall to watch the sunset. Yeong points out that Ra-on might not feel qualified to be a eunuch, but asks, “What about the person who’s born to find that this place is home? What right do they have to live here?”
Ra-on is amazed that anyone would call the palace home, and muses, “I’ve never had a home to call my own. Now that I think about it, I’ve never even said the words ‘my home’ before.”
Byung-yeon adds, “No one likes the palace. It’s only when you come to like someone in the palace that it becomes a livable place.” That seems to land with Yeong, and Ra-on wonders if someday that’ll be true for her.
The king is startled awake in the middle of the night by a violent attack, and he sees his guards being slashed to death on the other side of his walls. A eunuch tells him that an uprising has breached the palace, and ushers the king out to safety.
But on their way out, the king pauses to ask where the eunuch is stationed, because he doesn’t recognize his face. Suddenly a horde of ghosts close in on the king from behind, and the eunuch declares that the king’s crime is spilling the blood of innocent people.
Terrified, the king says that those people are traitors, but the eunuch says in a booming voice that their unjust deaths will come back to him in the form of a curse. The ghosts chant, “Murderer! Murderer!” as the king wakes up in a cold sweat. It was just a dream, but he looks thoroughly spooked, and the queen notes his discomfort silently.
Ra-on starts her first official day of work as Eunuch Hong, and she’s stationed in the palace of the king’s consort. ROYAL CONSORT PARK is ill, and asks Ra-on to look after her young daughter, PRINCESS YEONGON.
The queen complains to her father, Prime Minister Kim, that the king’s fitful sleep has gotten worse lately and she’s grown weary of sharing a bed with him. When she asks to sleep in a different palace until her morning sickness passes, her father warns her that this is the time to be vigilant and stay by the king’s side.
Yeong visits Royal Consort Park and sits by her bedside silently, just holding her hand. He flashes back to the time he was mourning his mother’s death seven years ago, when Consort Park had passed along a message from his mother—that he should cry when he truly needs to, and that he should borrow Consort Park’s embrace in place of his mother’s arms.
He asked to borrow her then, and she held him as he cried. In the present, he tucks her in with a sad face, knowing that she isn’t well.
Ra-on keeps Princess Yeongon busy in the garden, and tells her that these flowers in the outdoors need just a drop of water and sunshine to grow. It makes her think of Flower Scholar, whom she’d called a precious flower grown in a greenhouse, and she gripes that it made him prickly. Princess Yeongon just busies herself with sticking flowers in Ra-on’s hair and runs off after a butterfly.
Ra-on mutters aloud, “If only his personality were half as beautiful as his face…” and to her mortification, Yeong has heard every word and asks her to finish the thought. She’s startled, but then so is he when he sees her with flowers in her hair.
He puffs up when Ra-on shows an interest in what exactly he does in the palace, and she points out that she’s seen him as a eunuch, a guard, and now a playboy. He scowls at that last one, but he’s amused when Ra-on warns him “as a friend” not to get caught slacking off, and he asks when they became friends.
She asks what their relationship is if not friends, and he answers, “Master and Mung-mung-ie [doggie].” She grouses that she has a perfectly normal name in Hong Sam-nom, and Yeong argues that Sam-nom isn’t a normal name. She asks huffily what his name is, then, and he stops in his tracks, thinking of how everyone in the palace simply addresses him as “Your majesty” and “His majesty the crown prince,” never by name.
Yeong doesn’t answer, and just leans in close to peer at Ra-on’s face carefully. Whatever he’s thinking, he snaps out of it and yanks the flowers out her hair, calling it unmanly. He complains that everything she does is weird and plops her hat back on her head with a playful bop before walking away.
Prime Minister Kim runs into little Princess Yeongon as she’s chasing the butterfly, and though he smiles to greet her, she runs away from him with a fearful look.
That evening, the king’s head eunuch comes to tell Yeong that his father wants to see him. Yeong tells him to come up with an excuse and say they never saw each other, but the eunuch says the king came here looking for him the other night, and the eunuch spotted Yeong coming to see his father but stop short of going inside. He asks how long father and son will be staring at each other’s backs.
That seems to move Yeong, because he goes to see the king straightaway. Yeong seems disappointed and weary to hear his father’s paranoid talk, as the king admits to going crazy and not knowing what is real and what is a dream anymore. The king tells Yeong to prepare himself, because he’s going to make him prince regent very soon. Yikes. It never goes well when they do that to the crown prince!
Yeong firmly says he doesn’t want to become regent, but the king slams his hand on the table and says, “It’s not a position you take because you like it! Before being my son, are you not my crown prince?” Yeong answers stoically, “Yes. I had no choice in becoming crown prince. But is it not my choice what kind of crown prince I become?” With that, Yeong bows and walks out, his eyes brimming with angry tears. He leaves the king shaking even more than before, clearly at his wit’s end and overtaken by paranoia.
Royal Consort Park sends Ra-on to the main palace with a letter for the king, and on her way out, Princess Yeongon runs up with a written note (oh, can she not speak?), urging her to please deliver that letter from her mother to the king. Ra-on promises to do so, except when she gets to the king’s palace, the eunuch there already has a prepared answer for her to take back. She quickly discovers that this is the routine—the consort’s letters never reach the king, and all that ever gets sent back is a blank page in reply. (Ah sad, that stack of letters by the consort’s bed was a collection of the king’s blank replies.)
Ra-on decides to take the letter back to try another way, but she’s discovered by the queen, who slaps Ra-on across the face and tells her to shut up and take the reply that the eunuch gave her. Ra-on clutches her stinging face as tears slip out, and from the courtyard, Yoon-sung happens to witness the whole exchange.
Yoon-sung asks Ra-on to go somewhere with him, acting as if it’s urgent business, and then deposits her at the foot of a large tree, where he suggests playing hooky because she looks like she could use a breather. She smiles and leans back like he’s doing, and muses that Yoon-sung always seems to show up whenever she’s having a hard time. He says that’s called fate, and that he even knows what she’s thankful for when it comes to him: “Pretending not to know,” he says.
She’s surprised that he knows that, and Yoon-sung says that it’s a man’s duty to pretend not to notice when a woman has a secret. Ra-on balks at the reference to women, and Yoon-sung quickly adds that it also applies to men and the secrets they want to keep. Ra-on thanks him for not asking questions, and Yoon-sung tells her to hurry up and enjoy slacking off. They lean back and enjoy the afternoon nap.
That night, Ra-on skulks around the king’s palace wondering how to complete her mission properly, when she accidentally bumps into another eunuch who’s on his way to deliver scrolls to the king. Light bulb! Ra-on manages to slip the consort’s letter into one of the scrolls as she helps clean up the mess, and that night it reaches the king.
In the morning, Ra-on runs to Royal Consort Park with happy news of the king’s reply, written himself and even scented, but when Consort Park opens the letter, it’s blank like all the others. Aw no, what happened? She sighs that maybe she shouldn’t bother the king any longer, thinking that this is confirmation of his true intentions, and asks Ra-on to burn all of the king’s blank replies so she can let go.
Yeong and Byung-yeon find Ra-on sitting outside with all the blank letters, pouting in disappointment over the king’s non-replies. Yeong recalls seeing the stack of letters in Royal Consort Park’s room and says these aren’t the king’s replies because her letters never reach the king anyway.
Ra-on says this last one was different, because she made sure to deliver it properly. What she doesn’t understand is why the king called her aside to give her the reply if it was going to be blank like all the others. Yeong says that Ra-on cut the last thread of hope that Royal Consort Park had, and walks away.
Yeong actually goes to ask his father in person to visit Royal Consort Park because she isn’t feeling well. But the king just offers to send a doctor and deflects, saying that the queen is very sensitive right now because she’s pregnant.
Yeong actually smirks at his father’s cowardly answer and asks directly, “What are you afraid of? What are you so afraid of that you cannot do anything—no, that you do not do anything?!” He accuses his father of doing the same when his mother passed away.
In flashback, Yeong had run crying to the king in the wake of his mother’s death, asking his father to explain why she died. The king said she had an unknown illness and died a natural death, but Yeong had overheard people saying otherwise. He asked who would want his mother killed, but the king warned him never to speak of it again.
Back in the present, Yeong shouts that the king did nothing and told him in this very spot to just wait. “Even if it changed nothing to come forward, even if it were a futile endeavor, you should have done something instead of hiding in here, trembling! Because you… are the king of this nation of Joseon,” he cries, angry tears spilling out. The indictment from his son shakes the king deeply, and yet he does nothing, again.
Ra-on hesitates to burn the last of the king’s letters, especially since this one smells so fragrant. Byung-yeon doesn’t see why she’s so hung up on someone else’s letters, but she catches his interest when she mentions that it smells of crabapples.
Yeong visits Royal Consort Park late that night, reminding her that he promised to check in every day until she’s feeling better. She admits to giving up on waiting for the king, after seven years of sending letters and not having seen his face.
Yeong just asks her to let him repay the kindness she showed him seven years ago when she comforted him after his mother’s death, and hugs her warmly. Ugh, why am I crying? He hugs her sweetly and they both shed tears.
Ra-on finally decides to torch the last letter, when suddenly Byung-yeon gets an idea and flings a dagger across the room, slicing the wick right off the candle. Dayum. He flies down from his perch in the same moment, scaring Ra-on half to death.
He relights the candle and starts to burn the letter slightly, and the writing appears like magic on the blank page. Ra-on’s eyes widen, and Byung-yeon explains that it’s apple vinegar, which only shows up when you burn the page.
She’s so happy that she immediately starts calling Byung-yeon “Kim hyung,” and no amount of protesting will get her to stop.
Ra-on is in such a hurry that she runs right into Yeong on her way out, and tells him happily that the king’s reply wasn’t a blank letter, but a secret one. She runs to tell Royal Consort Park that the king is waiting to see her right now, and shows her the letter eagerly.
As Consort Park heads out to meet the king, we hear his reply to her in voiceover, calling himself a powerless king and husband, and a pathetic father. He writes that he hopes she’ll forget him someday, but every night he still goes go the garden they used to frequent.
From the look in the king’s eyes when he sees Consort Park approach, it’s clear that he’s still in love with her and has been waiting as long as she has for this reunion.
Yeong and Ra-on watch from across the pond and Yeong thinks back to his argument with his father earlier that day. After he’d gotten up to leave, the king had finally blurted out, “I cannot do anything! I must not do anything! That is the only way you won’t be hurt! When I tried to be king, I lost two thousand of my people, and when I tried to be king, I lost my queen! My teacher, my friends—they’ve all left. This is the only way I know not to lose my people—doing nothing!”
Ra-on watches the king with a smile and wonders why, even as the powerful king, he felt the need to hide his feelings and send a letter in secret. Yeong thinks to himself, “I only came to know it now—that before he is the king wearing the crown, he is a husband to the wife he loves, and my only father.”
The next morning in court, the king appears to be back at the height of his paranoia, arguing that he meets nothing but opposition from his ministers, and it’s not his policies they oppose, but the king himself. The ministers practically roll their eyes as they give him the usual lip service, insisting that it’s not true. The king suggests they’d be happier if the prime minister were to rule in his place, and then remembers that he has a crown prince, who is then called to be present at court this instant.
On the king’s orders, Yeong marches to the palace half-dressed as usual, his eunuch trailing after him in a frantic attempt to finish clothing him before they arrive. Yeong kneels before the king, who announces to his ministers that the country is suffering because of his incompetence as a ruler, so he will make the crown prince regent, to rule in his place. Crap.
Yeong looks terrified, and the ministers start whispering and begging for the king to take back the order. But to everyone’s surprise, Prime Minister Kim approves of the idea, as long as the crown prince is willing.
When asked what he thinks, Yeong says that he’s still a child afraid of leaving his parents’ arms, and asks in a trembling voice why the king is giving him such a difficult responsibility. The ministers whisper that the prince is shaking just like his father, and Yeong looks every bit as scared as the king.
But then… his expression suddenly hardens and he says assuredly, “But on second thought, I don’t see why I can’t do it.” Lol, you faker! Yeong sits upright and says in a loud, confident voice that he will happily accept the king’s command.
Father and son exchange emotional glances, and then we flash back to the night before, when Yeong had gone back to tell his father that he’d like to share his father’s burden. Yeong asked the king to give him the regency, but in return, he asked for one thing: “When I become weak and scared, I need a father I can lean on.” Geez, I’m crying again.
Filled with emotion, the king called out to him by name: “Yeong-ah.” And back in the present, they smile at each other in court, the king looking on with proud tears in his eyes.
Ra-on gets reassigned yet again, this time to the palace of the crown prince. Eunuch Jang sneaks up on her as she enters, thinking it funny that she’s so easily spooked when she lives with ghosts in that haunted room. She says she made friends with the ghost, and Eunuch Jang is pleased to get a junior who won’t scare easily.
The one thing that terrifies her is running into the crown prince, and she cringes when her first assignment is to return some books to the prince’s private library. She tiptoes in and takes a look around, and is surprised to see Yeong there. This time he’s dressed in his dragon robes, but she can only see his face through the bookshelves, and chides him for being in the prince’s private space. Ha, she’s not so bright, is she?
Another eunuch sees her in there and warns her to get out, so she urges Yeong to come out too, before they get caught by the prince. He hesitates, but then he starts to follow her out, remembering her words that they were friends now.
He steps out into the open and then calls out to her, “You asked what my name was.” She turns around to face him, and it takes a moment for the shock to settle in. He walks up to her with purpose and then breaks into a smile. “It’s Yi Yeong,” he says, “my name.”
What a great character arc for the prince. I know we saw hints of his inner strength and his whip-smart mind in little pieces here and there, but it’s a powerful moment when he shows how strong he really is and how deep his thoughts run, despite his outward reckless demeanor. I enjoy the cheeky prince, but the full picture is even better, because there’s a reason he’s angry at his father and acting out like an angry teenager. He has all of the status, but none of the power, a staff of hundreds, but only one friend, and no one, not even his father, called him by name. And yet, despite lacking for affection in his life, he doesn’t seem closed off and incapable of giving love either. I was impressed by his political prowess to use his father’s paranoia and his hapless image to their advantage in court, because I don’t think anyone expected him to step up to such a risky position.
Things rarely go well when a crown prince is made regent, because it puts the prince in a position of real power to govern, but it also puts him in the hot seat if anything goes wrong. In this narrative it’s a good thing that Yeong is stepping up to enact change in place of his powerless father, but I worry because I always feel like a prince is wearing a target on his forehead the second he becomes regent. The conflict in this episode made me wonder if this drama might do a better job of dealing with the emotions of this setup than Secret Door did, because while that drama was far more intricate politically, it also failed to deliver on some of the key emotional turns that Moonlight Drawn By Clouds might actually manage to do in a simpler, more straight-to-the-heart way.
I really like that the king is so weak and afraid to do anything, because it provides such a stark contrast for Yeong’s boldness. He’s quick to act and even quick to forgive, and I was surprised by his maturity when he began to see his father as a person with flaws instead of as an all-knowing king who was withholding secrets from him. It was cathartic to have him ask his father why he chose to sit there and do nothing, and moving when he offered to share his burden. And when he asked for a father to lean on when things get rough? Forget about it.
It was fun to have the episode’s title end up being so literal, since the prince is standing right behind Ra-on when he reveals who he is to her, but figuratively it’s also an entire episode of Yeong being there for the people in his life—for Royal Consort Park and for his father—and reestablishing who he is in the process. He might’ve spent a long time regretting his lot in life to be born with a palace as a home, but I like that seeing another’s perspective like Ra-on’s can spur him to see the world differently, and that a simple reminder that the king is a husband and father can give him the understanding he needs to see him as a man and not just a king.
It’s pretty amusing that Ra-on continues to be a love messenger even inside the palace, and I wonder if the show will give us a case of the day like it’s Dating Agency Cyrano: Joseon. Normally I dislike a heavy procedural element, but so far I’ve found the stories engaging in Moonlight, and anything that helps our trio bond over solving a puzzle is a good thing.
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