Seven Day Queen: Episode 2
There’s sweetness and cuteness and poignancy, and also hints of something darker around the bend, and I’m finding that Seven Day Queen is hitting the balance just right. The characters are drawn with such depth that I’m already feeling waves of sympathy pangs for them all, and eager to dive in deeper. Things are so light and cheery right now that I’m not sure how sad the drama will turn (I’m expecting some sadness, but not necessarily an onslaught of misery), but even so, I’m feeling invested already and ready to let this drama take my heart through the wringer. Enduring pain is character-building, right?
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Yeonsangun bathes in a moonlit spring on the mountainside, still fuming from his earlier confrontation with his brother, Yeok. He recalls how he’d ordered his brother to marry, live quietly, and die childless, and how heartbroken Yeok had seemed while insisting he still trusted his older brother.
He’s shaken out of the memory by a voice calling out to him. It’s Chae-kyung, still dressed as a boy, having followed him from the palace; she’d recognized his white horse as Yeok’s and is determined to settle the score between them.
Yeonsangun flings a piece of clothing over Chae-kyung’s head, demanding to know who she is. She fumbles underwater, then gains her bearings… only to lose them again at the sight of Yeonsangun’s bare-nekkid torso. Flustered, she dives back underwater to hide.
He waits for her to resurface, and warns her against a third dive, saying she’ll catch cold. She stammers a thank-you for his concern over her health, and hastily excuses herself.
But then she turns back to make a nervous request: “Please be my hyungnim!” Suffice to say that every one of her reactions has Yeonsangun furrowing his brow in confusion.
She ends up leading him to an inn and asks him to pose as her brother so she can rent a room, suspecting that her age will get her turned down if she tried on her own. (She calls him warrior-nim, having no other clue as to his identity.)
Yeonsangun asks why he ought to, and she tries to convince him that helping the less fortunate is what makes humans human, rather than animals. He looks at her sharply, but he does start walking toward the inn, to her glee.
Then he promptly reports her to the innkeeper as a runaway, telling the lady to turn Chae-kyung over to the police in the morning. Chae-kyung protests and invents a story about her brother trying to abandon her because they’re poor, and when Yeonsangun challenges her to prove that he’s her brother, she declares that he has a birthmark next to his belly button.
The innkeeper tells the two to continue their family squabble indoors, and Chae-kyung grins, having won this round. It’s a cute moment, though capped off with a suspicious beat when the innkeeper looks around furtively and blows out the lamp in front.
Over dinner, Chae-kyung complains to Yeonsangun about her encounter with the hooligan who stole her money, meaning Yeok. More than the money, she laments the loss of that letter meant for her parents, which was her excuse for making the journey to Hanyang against their wishes. Yeonsangun asks why she needs an excuse to see her own parents, and she says dejectedly that they’d told her not to come.
Yeonsangun notes that she fears being unwelcome, which is something he understands. She asks what he was doing at the mountain spring, and he replies that he was cooling off the heat of anger, because his dead father persists in testing him and his younger brother.
Chae-kyung clocks his mood and starts telling a story about a race that was held in her village, where the winner was promised a prize. But when everyone finished, the teacher told them all to redo the race, repeatedly, until one runner suggested racing as a group, and finally the teacher smiled and gave them their prize. He gets her point about cooperation, and she suggests that he try working together with his brother.
“Sadly, it’s not something that can be shared,” he starts to say, just as Chae-kyung’s eyes roll back and she keels over. Seconds later, Yeonsangun is hit with a wave of pain and falls unconscious, leaving the innkeeper couple free to rummage through their belongings.
When Chae-kyung comes to, she finds herself bound and gagged in a storage shed, with Yeonsangun unconscious nearby. She struggles to her feet and grabs a clay pot, which she drops on the ground. The sight of a dead, bloody woman nearby nearly makes her panic, but Chae-kyung holds it together and saws away at her ropes with the shards.
She frees herself and bolts for the door, but turns back, unable to leave Yeonsangun behind. He won’t stir, so she manages to get him onto a cart and pulls it onto the road. Aw, she sure is plucky, isn’t she?
Yeonsangun stirs awake in the cart and registers that she’s pulling him along, even as she’s crying in fear for her mother and father. He settles back to look up at the moonlit sky, smiling when Chae-kyung starts whistling.
She’s deeply relieved when she reaches the palace gates, not noticing that Yeonsangun has gotten out of the cart. She asks the guards to let her in, pointing back at the empty cart to say she needs a doctor. But exhaustion finally overtakes her, and she collapses mid-sentence.
Yeonsangun rushes forward to catch her, then gives the royal order for the guard to open the gate.
Chae-kyung is taken to the doctor, and upon awaking, the first words out of her mouth are to ask whether Yeonsangun is okay. He scolds her for enduring all that suffering just to save him rather than just saving herself, and her answer takes him aback: “How could I leave family and leave alone? Warrior-nim, you became my hyungnim, didn’t you? Family should survive together, and die together.”
Chae-kyung starts to cry at the thought of family, wanting to go home and chiding herself for almost getting herself killed. Yeonsangun pats her shoulder comfortingly.
As he leaves, his bodyguard cautions that he had a near miss, and vows to protect him more closely. “Do that,” Yeonsangun says coldly, “if you want to die.”
When Yeonsangun appears at court, he takes his statesmen to task for the lack of safety in the capital, telling them that criminals are running wild, posing as innkeepers (after killing the real ones) to take advantage of travelers. At that, guards drag in the innkeeper impostors to kneel before the icy king, who grabs his sword and slashes their throats without even blinking.
He declares that if such a thing were to happen again, he will fire the heads of the police and city administration, and also hold his statesmen responsible. The ministers bow deferentially while looking unnerved.
Yeonsangun returns to his private quarters to find Yeok huddled in front of his door, asleep hugging his bipa instrument. Yeok jolts awake and starts to speak, but his brother cuts him off to say that nothing has changed, and that he still expects Yeok to marry Minister Shin’s daughter.
When Chae-kyung wakes again in the infirmary, she finds a note left by Yeonsangun, which offers to repay her a wish if they meet again. Thinking of Yeok kicking her aside (during his life-and-death horse race), she vows that her wish will be to catch that punk.
Chae-kyung walks home worrying about how to present herself, and sees an elaborate entourage arriving in front: It’s the queen dowager and Yeok, here to see her parents. Chae-kyung brightens at the thought that her parents surely won’t scold her in front of guests.
Inside, the queen dowager explains the reason for her visit, which only makes Chae-kyung’s parents look more worried, since they don’t want to marry their daughter into royalty. Chae-kyung is greeted by her nanny outside, but they hush when they overhear the adults’ talk of marriage.
Chae-kyung pokes a hole in the paper wall to peek inside as her parents explain that their daughter is unfit to marry the prince. Her heart sinks to hear her mother call her barely literate and her father describe her as without proper decorum. The queen dowager assures them that Chae-kyung can be taught all the things she is lacking, so Minister Shin replies that Chae-kyung will be a detriment to her family.
Chae-kyung wonders morosely why her parents think so ill of her, just as Yeok speaks up to say that he is not interested in this marriage.
Chae-kyung gasps to recognize Yeok as the supposed pickpocket, and Yeok looks over to see her eye peering through that hole in the wall. He opens the doors to reveal her hiding there, and is startled to recognize her, though he still thinks she’s a boy.
A short time later, Chae-kyung makes her proper greeting to the queen dowager, now dressed in girl’s clothing. Yeok looks incredulous at her sudden demure act, even as his mother smiles approving at her politeness as she promises to work hard to correct her flaws.
Yeok gripes that Dad was right in his description of Chae-kyung as lacking decorum, and declares that he will not marry her. Chae-kyung hurriedly exclaims that she will go along with the marriage, to the shock of everybody.
Chae-kyung chases him outside to ask why he refuses, and Yeok replies that thanks to her interference, he nearly died from losing that race. He already didn’t want to marry the minister’s daughter—learning that it’s her just makes it worse.
Yeok asks if her willingness to marry is because she’s power-hungry, pointing out that her family is heavily involved in politics. Why else would she say yes?
“Because I want to show that I can do it!” she shouts. She’s not a problem child or the ugly duckling of her family, she insists, and she’s just as worthy of marrying into royalty as anyone.
She demands the return of her purse, and he retorts that she’s misplacing the blame. Chae-kyung tells him to prove he’s innocent, and that until he does, he’s her pickpocket.
Yeok starts to argue, but his mind flashes back to when Chae-kyung was pickpocketed, and he now recalls seeing a boy behind her making away with her purse. So he tells her to meet him tomorrow in a certain village if she wants to catch her thief. “In exchange, this marriage is off,” he says.
Yeok remains pouty with his mother on the trip back, who scolds him for causing a ruckus. Chae-kyung’s mother is equally unhappy with her, berating her for running away, for coming back to Hanyang, and for backtalking. Minister Shin joins in to reprimand Chae-kyung for her impoliteness in front of the queen dowager and orders her to return to the countryside tomorrow. Moreover, he will call off the marriage talks.
Tearing up, Chae-kyung asks, “Why? Because I’m not qualified to marry the prince? Are you afraid I will damage our family name if I marry into the royal family?” She starts to list all the reasons the prince is a worse match than she is, like peeping on bathing women and stealing. Her father thunders at her for speaking such rude things and not knowing proper decorum.
Chae-kyung cries, “You never taught me! You were ashamed of me, so you hid me away in the countryside! You have never given me a chance to receive love and approval, on behalf of Father or Mother or my family!”
That mollifies her parents’ anger, but while her father speaks more calmly, he doesn’t change his mind. He says he’ll give her that chance now—by returning to the countryside tomorrow as instructed. Chae-kyung’s face falls.
Later that night, her mother suggests to her father that they at least tell Chae-kyung the reason. Minister Shin replies that she’s not likely to believe some prophecy to be wary of getting close to the royal house, and sticks to his decision to send her away.
Yeok, meanwhile, thinks of Chae-kyung’s question earlier asking why the king would want to kill him (for losing the race). He wonders the same.
While practicing archery, Yeonsangun also mulls over Chae-kyung’s words, about how family should live and die together. He recalls his brother’s declaration that he trusts him, and just as he readies another shot, he suddenly whirls around and fires it at a pillar.
It’s Yeok who stands there, and he falls back in surprise. He’s come to ask Yeonsangun why he chose that particular bride, adding that while he doesn’t care if had to marry the daughter of a lowly butcher, he won’t marry Minister Shin’s daughter.
Yeonsangun asks if Yeok isn’t afraid of him, because he could have killed him moments earlier. “You will not do that,” Yeok says. “But I do know that I am not a welcome presence. And so, I can live the rest of my life not marrying, growing old remaining single. If you order it, I will not become an adult for the rest of my life. I will only live as your younger brother.”
Yeonsangun seems to be affected by those words, and excuses himself with the excuse of being tired. But he stops to ask if Yeok will play his bipa for him, and Yeok lights up in a smile.
So Yeok plays for his brother in his bedchamber, as Yeonsangun thinks to himself that Yeok will have to do everything to prove his words about living only as his brother. “Because I am using all my strength to hold back in order not to kill you, and to protect you.”
Chae-kyung stays up trying to figure out a way around leaving tomorrow, not ready to accept this fate without a fight. She declares that she’ll seduce the prince and marry him to stay here in Hanyang, and her rendezvous with him tomorrow will be her opportunity. She tells her nanny to prepare her prettiest clothes, which prompts Nanny to hedge, hilariously, “Clothes and shoes can transform a person, but only to a limit…”
That doesn’t deter Chae-kyung from her plan, and the next day, she heads out in a sedan chair wearing her finest dress, recalling Nanny’s seduction advice (ha): don’t lose her temper, and do her best to act feminine. Before long the bumpy ride up the hillside makes her gag from motion sickness, though, and she gets out on foot for the rest of the journey
Yeok waits at the appointed spot, trudging through wet mud as he tells himself that he’ll just catch the thief and end his association with Chae-kyung forever. Famous last words, of course. He picks up a small branch and tosses it in dissatisfaction.
He overhears a commotion in the village square, and follows it to see an angry crowd gathered around a family accused of stealing from the town’s rice tribute to be sent to the king. A villager demands that the family confess to the crime before the king’s wrath turns on the entire village, but the family members protest their innocence. The villagers argue that they had rice to cook this morning, despite being dirt-poor—where did they come up with the money for that?
Yeok spots the nervous boy amongst them and has a guess as to what happened, but recalls his mother’s warning to never interfere or draw attention to himself. He steps back to leave just as Chae-kyung arrives, and she recognizes the poor boy and gets fired up at the talk of anyone dying over this.
Yeok argues that thievery deserves punishment and that the law will take care of it. Chae-kyung points at the bone-dry fields and argues that the drought has rendered these people’s situations dire, and that it’s unfair to kill people for not having enough rice to offer as royal tribute.
He retorts that this isn’t his problem, that they don’t know these people, and that the boy is the thief who pickpocketed her purse. Chae-kyung fires back, “Well he’s not a stranger then!”
That’s when the boy is grabbed and packets of medicine fall out of his shirt. The angry mob declares him the culprit and starts to rough him up, and when Chae-kyung tries to step in, she gets shoved to the ground.
Yeok remains frozen in indecision for long moments before finally blurting, “I know who did it!” Chae-kyung is so surprised she calls him grand prince without thinking, alerting the people to his identity. Yeok has no choice but to go with it, admitting to his identity and prompting a flurry of bowing.
Yeok thinks fast, and points to the rice storage building and the field next to it. The thief would have had to cross the field, and the fertilizer has made the field sticky. Hence, the culprit is the one with dirt-stained shoes. Everyone looks around curiously, and Yeok announces, “Thus, I am the culprit!”
He points to his muddy shoes, and the confused villagers wonder why he’d resort to stealing anything. Before his hole-ly logic gets poked thin with too much thinking, Yeok declares that he dropped a shriveled tree branch while he was stealing the rice, and a woman finds it in the middle of the field.
He reminds the villagers that reporting someone of higher rank to the authorities is risky for them, and offers to settle the matter with repayment of the stolen rice. Despite the fact that the story makes absolutely no sense, the villagers are so grateful to have a solution that they gratefully accept his offer.
Chae-kyung is amazed at this neat resolution, but Yeok can’t resist throwing a wrench her way, and looks to her expectantly like she will settle it. With the villagers waiting for her solution, Chae-kyung thinks fast and points to her family’s sedan chair, declaring that they will sell it. Hey, nobody said fast thinking was good thinking.
Despite the horrified reactions of her father’s servants, Chae-kyung does indeed have the chair sold, providing plentiful rice for the villagers. She distributes it to the villagers with a great big grin on her face, and Yeok finds himself involuntarily smiling at the sight of it. He’s vaguely discomfited by the gratitude heaped on him by the villagers, and doesn’t quite know what to do when a grandma puts persimmons into his hand. He stares at them blankly, almost in awe.
That night, Yeonsangun has a fitful sleep, dreaming of the bloody events leading up to his enthronement as king. He was watching when his ailing father, King Seongjong, was urged by advisors to write a secret will so that Yeok would be king over Yeonsangun. He remembers being shown the bloodied clothing of his mother, who was deposed and then executed, and then cutting down ministers in court who opposed him.
Yeonsangun jerks awake in a cold sweat, knocking over a bowl of liquid and staining his outer robe. In an agitated fit, he flings it off and orders it burned, stating that he will never wear it again.
After settling the rice affair, Yeok and Chae-kyung make their way to a pavilion, where they shoot each other sidelong glances—hers smiling, his awkward. She asks why he changed his mind, and he grumbles that she was the one who asked why he was even born if he wasn’t going to do anything. She clarifies that one should merely do one’s part in this life, and that since he was born to a high position, he will do meaningful things.
It seems like a new thought for Yeok, to do important things, and Chae-kyung points out that he just saved a life. Still, he replies that nothing changed, and the coward he saved hasn’t said a peep.
But back in his village, that thief boy is getting a pummeling by a group of men. When they’re done, he begs for the return of his things, because they’d promised that ten blows was the price.
Chae-kyung asks how Yeok knew the kid was the culprit, and he replies that he comes to the village enough to know the people there, and he recognized him. He’s unnerved at the way Chae-kyung smiles at him knowingly, and she says that he’s actually quite interested in people despite pretending not to be.
She asks teasingly if he’s preparing to be a bride, explaining that young women are told to pretend not to see things, to not hear things, and to say nothing in preparation for marriage. “You’re right,” he replies. “I’m told I have to do that to survive.”
That’s when the bloodied thief boy runs up to the pavilion and gets down on his knees, thanking the prince for what he did and handing Chae-kyung her stolen pouch with the letter inside.
Chae-kyung accepts it with a huge sigh of relief, and grins up at Yeok to parrot back his words from earlier: “You asked what would change. This has changed!” She dangles the pouch in his face, and Yeok grudgingly concedes that the boy isn’t a coward after all, and that he has a conscience.
Yeok guesses that he got beat up for the letter, and the boy says, “I have nothing to give your highness, so I will give you my life. I will die for you!” Yeok balks at the declaration as excessive, but the boy insists that the prince saved his life, so he will repay it with his life. He bows so fervently that he nearly bashes his head into the stone, and Yeok hurriedly places his hand underneath to prevent injury.
Yeok puts on his gruff, “Whatever, I don’t care” face, but Chae-kyung suggests they all accept each other as friends: “You will look at him and feel proud of yourself, he will reflect on his deeds and not do any bad things. And me, if I have a friend in Hanyang, I have an excuse to come visit.”
Yeok asks teasingly whether she’s really her father’s daughter and the queen’s niece, and to his surprise, that flips her mood and suddenly she’s in tears and barking that she’s the ugly duckling that makes everyone think she has a birth secret. (Ha, she’s really taken that comparison literally, hasn’t she?) Bitterly, she says she’ll just go back to the sticks and marry there, her hopes of having a Hanyang friend utterly crushed.
She mutters that the prince is probably ashamed to have a friend like her, and the other boy shoots Yeok a look, as if to say, Aren’t you going to fix this?
So Yeok grudgingly holds up his hand in a pledge, declaring, “I, Grand Prince Jinseong, Lee Yeok, and Shin Chae-kyung, and…” The boy adds his name, Sun-woo, so Yeok continues, “…and Sun-woo vow to the heavens to become friends as of this day!”
Chae-kyung’s face lights up and she eagerly joins with her own vow. The idea strikes her to seal the deal with something more ceremonious, explaining that girls trade secrets and bond. Yeok rejects this idea flatly, but his exit is blocked by Chae-kyung on one side and Sun-woo on the other. You’re bonding whether you like it or not, buddy.
Yeonsangun’s insomnia is wearing on his temper, and his consort Nok-soo lights candles that are purported to help him sleep. Making things worse is Chief Secretary Im’s report that they have not found the deceased king’s secret will. He barks at him to find that will so he can sleep properly.
Sun-woo leads his two new friends to his house, and as they enter, Chae-kyung thinks of Nanny’s last bit of advice in seduction: If nothing else works, don’t cling or be so desperate as to offer friendship instead. But Chae-kyung tells herself she’s in no position to be choosy, shaking off Nanny’s words.
The three friends sit around a candle for their ritual, and Yeok pulls out his naughty book, which Chae-kyung recognizes and tries to hide from Sun-woo’s eyes. Yeok makes the argument that he’s really reading this book for educational purposes, since his education hasn’t been encouraged. She wonders why, and he’s just about to answer when he shushes them suddenly.
Four scary-looking warriors make their way toward the house, hands reaching for their swords… but it turns out that Yeok hasn’t alerted to their presence, and is just in a hurry to use the outhouse. He can’t bring himself to go inside, however, put off by the smell and his fear, so Chae-kyung promises to stand watch outside.
She starts to whistle, explaining that she does so when she’s scared to calm her fears, and Yeok hesitantly gives it a try.
Yeonsangun finally gets word from Chief Secretary Im that they’ve found a lead: They’ve located one of the previous king’s former night guards, who has been living under a new name in a small village. The man has been put under secret watch—aha, is this Sun-woo’s father, perhaps?
Yeonsangun instructs Chief Secretary Im to have the man brought to him after the upcoming rain prayer ceremony. The secretary adds that the queen dowager has been making movements of her own, and took Yeok outside the palace on an unofficial trip. Yeonsangun’s gaze sharpens, and he surmises that she’s searching for a way to protect her son.
“The most definitive way would be the secret document,” Secretary Im says. “The previous king’s will.” Okay dude, are you stirring shit now? Because we know the queen dowager believes marriage is the most effective protective measure. The secretary suggests, “What if the dowager queen knows of the secret letter too? What if she is searching for that officer, as we are, to secure that letter?”
Yeonsangun orders Secretary Im to find the letter first, and destroy it. “Only the secret document?” Secretary Im asks leadingly. “Do you think this will end by just getting rid of the secret document?” Yep, definitely stirring the pot.
Yeok steps out of the outhouse to find Chae-kyung still whistling, arms stretched out to the wind. Transfixed, he joins her quietly and spreads out his arms too, thinking that she’s an interesting girl.
Seeing a twig in her hair, Yeok reaches out to pluck it out. Before he does, she opens her eyes, making him a bit embarrassed to be caught in this position.
But Chae-kyung smiles to herself, then whirls to face him, grabbing his wrist and declaring, “I’ve been thinking it over, and I think I have to marry you.”
So far, so good. This is the kind of sageuk I really enjoy, where the components work together harmoniously—the acting is solid, the characters are well-defined and painted with thoughtful detail, the imagery is beautiful, and the director knits everything together into a seamless package. It’s that last aspect that can really elevate a show, because a seamless narrative feel enables me to immerse myself fully into the world without bumping up against little flaws of editing, or acting, or whatnot.
And this is a story I can feel myself wanting to be immersed in—there’s such a wonderful range of feeling depicted here, from character to character and across the whole show. I love our three main characters, and find them eminently relatable; all lonely in their own way, all wanting their lives to be different but not quite knowing how to make that happen.
It’s the brothers’ relationship that is most overtly heart-pinching, quite possibly because it’s the one that’s hardest to find a solution for. They were both born with the fate to be kings, so they’ve been made enemies right from the start, so their childhood love for each other is as much a tragic circumstance as it is the thing that could save them. We know historically that there was no happy resolution between them, but within the context of this story, I find myself hoping against hope that it may yet happen.
What makes me love Chae-kyung as a character is what I anticipate will also draw both brothers to her, and that’s her admirable unwillingness to take her fate lying down. (I understand that the age gap may seem uncomfortable, but if it helps, historically Yeonsangun is only about a decade older than his brother at this point, in his early twenties. Lee Dong-gun is in his late 30s so it may feel discomfiting, but I wouldn’t wish for anyone else to be playing younger Yeonsangun so it’s just a bit of knowledge I’m keeping tucked in my brain.)
Chae-kyung may have some truly harebrained schemes that are driven more by gut than brain, but at every turn she’s trying to seize what little control she can and to find solutions where you might think there are none to be had. It’s that kind of thinking that moves both Yeok and Yeonsangun, too, and I enjoyed how some of her statements seemed to turn on that proverbial light bulb over their heads. Her suggestion about working together also seemed particularly sad in a dramatic-irony sense, because the answer seems so simple but also feels entirely impossible at this stage. Mostly because Yeonsangun would have to let go of his hyper-paranoia about his brother being the biggest threat to him (when I’d argue that he’s his own downfall), and he’s so wrought with insecurity and anger that I can’t imagine him letting go of it.
I do, at least, look forward to her becoming a positive influence on Yeok—I wouldn’t say change him for the better, but rather draw out the goodness that’s dormant inside of him, which has been stifled by his fear of his brother and his mother’s constant warnings. I have to say that I’m impatient to get to the adults’ storylines, but the children are doing such a charming job being alternately bickering and adorable, and I’ll enjoy however long we stay in this time period. (Hopefully not much longer though? I never thought I’d say this, but I want my achy romantic angst and I want it now.)
- Seven Day Queen: Episode 1
- Premiere Watch: My Sassy Girl, Seven Day Queen, Best Hit, Duel
- Arranged marriages and love at first sight for the Seven Day Queen
- Queen for a week, heartbreak to last a lifetime
- Seven Day Queen’s young lovers realize their tragic fates
- Elegant tears and waking forbidden hearts in Seven Day Queen
- Thwarted kisses and rom-com hijinks in Seven Day Queen
- Blood, thorns, and tears in first teaser for Seven Day Queen
- Seven Day Queen team puts in their first four hours at script read