The King Loves: Episodes 33-34
This is it, guys—the moment we’ve all be waiting for. The gloves are finally off, and I have to admit that though I’ve grown a bit impatient over these past few episodes waiting for the central conflict to kick into overdrive, now that it’s finally here, I’ve discovered that I’m actually not ready to deal with the consequences. I think I may need some time to get over everything that’s just happened, but also someone to hold my hand from here on out, because things are getting dark.
EPISODE 33 RECAP
As Won prepares for his wedding ceremony, he spies a bouquet of red peonies nearby, and thinks of his mother. He recalls bringing a red peony to a depressed and isolated Princess Wonsung as a young boy, and how happy it made her.
Won tells us in voiceover that sometimes his mother would cry because of the red peonies, and when he would ask her why she was crying, she had replied through tears that she wished she had never known of the flower, or come to like it.
Won readies him for his wedding, then walks out, as he thinks to himself:
“Mother’s words took root in my heart and became a thorn bush. Whenever I had almost forgotten, the thorns would prick me. However beautiful the flower, I should not love it and forget about it. Only give it the love I can do without, so that I can always turn from it—discard it. I thought that I was being smart, and was doing just that.”
As he speaks, scenes of him, San, and Rin play through his mind.
He pauses and we go back the kiss at the end of the last episode from Won’s perspective as he adds forebodingly, “I was wrong.”
We cut to the king and Princess Wonsung as they meet on their way to the throne room, where they will wait for the new royal couple and receive their greetings after the wedding ceremony. They comment on each other’s ill-stricken appearances to a neutral effect, before Princess Wonsung dismisses Boo-yong from the wedding party.
She turns to the king for support, but instead he warns her to flee while she can, since braving Princess Wonsung’s ire may cost her her life. Boo-yong smartly decides to heed his advice, and Princess Wonsung just serenely watches her go.
The ceremony begins, and though Dan smiles when Won stands across from her on the altar, her smile fades when she sees that his expression is hard, and eyes distant.
In the throne room, Won’s parents await the new couple’s arrival to receive their royal greetings. Princess Wonsung remarks on how mandarin ducks mate for life, as she nostalgically eyes the two mandarin duck figurines, customary at weddings.
The king recites a similar sentiment to Princess Wonsung’s surprise, since he uses the exact words he had told her on their wedding night when she asked what the duck figurines represented.
She says wistfully that he used to answer all her questions back then. The statement makes him pause and he turns to study her thoughtfully, then asks out of genuine concern why she looks unwell. She dodges his question anxiously, then diverts the conversation to another topic.
Won and Dan approach the throne room, and Won uses the moment alone to apologize in advance for not sharing the customary drink with her on their first night; he promises to visit later, then tries to excuse himself.
Dan attempts to stop him from leaving by using his waiting parents as an excuse, but Won assures her that his mother and father probably have a lot to catch up on and won’t even notice that he’s not there.
Won goes directly to Geumgajeong and acts unaffected when he sees Rin waiting for him. He casually states that he figured Rin was long gone by now, since he even missed Dan’s wedding.
Rin requests a private audience with Won, and things get a little tense when Rin blocks Won’s way in an attempt to get Won to speak with him. Rin follows Won inside and immediately asks for Won’s permission to marry San. Gah, please tell me you thought this through, Rin.
Won responds that the mourning period for Minister Eun is still ongoing, and thus it would be inappropriate to hold a wedding within the family.
But Rin doesn’t back down and argues that through the marriage Won will have a powerful set of allies beside him. He also refers to himself and San as a couple (as if they were already married), and explains himself by stating that people are gossiping that Won killed Minister Eun out of his great desire to marry San and gain her assets.
This gets Won’s blood going, and he asks if that’s the best excuse Rin could think of for wanting to marry San (that it’s all for Won’s sake). Rin begs Won to let San go, so Won tosses the order scroll he had his mother approve, which gives San legal authority over her father’s assets. He adds that San will need to stay beside Won and execute his orders as his subject, and as the steward of her father’s estate.
Rin explodes and asks if Won intends to keep San in a cage for his own amusement. Won throws Rin’s rage back at him and asks if Rin understands what he has sacrificed for Rin’s sake, only for Rin to stab him in the back this way.
Rin demands to know who killed Minister Eun, and if it was Princess Wonsung. Won cuts to the heart of his fears and asks Rin what he wants: San, or his title. He mentions Rin’s secret meeting with the king and Prince Gangyang, when Rin should have been doing his job as inspector general.
Won states that he would have simply given Rin his position if he had asked him back when he still trusted him. Rin is completely taken aback, and knows that no matter what he says, Won won’t believe him. (How about trying anyway!?)
Rin half-demands/half-begs Won to give San up again, then half-warns/half-threatens to fight him if Won doesn’t. At his boiling point, Won beats Rin to the punch and declares war by ordering Rin imprisoned for abandoning his post and for spreading slanderous word about Princess Wonsung.
We return to the throne room, where Dan greets Won’s parents alone. The king isn’t even surprised that Won couldn’t be bothered to show his face. He makes a snide comment to Dan as he leaves, suggesting that she should watch herself and do what she can to keep herself alive.
Princess Wonsung also stops by Dan on her way out to ask if Rin was at her wedding, but she doesn’t wait for her to finish her thought. She walks away after confirming that Rin was absent, startling Dan with her cool indifference.
Meanwhile, San is also being held prisoner, and tries to flee to no avail. She outsmarts a pair of court ladies and is successful in escaping from her enclosure, only to run directly into Won’s path. He asks knowingly if she came to the palace to see him, so she replies that it was her intention originally, but she changed her mind at the last minute.
She starts to recount the events and mentions running into Rin, before awkwardly trailing off. Won remains tight-lipped on The Incident, but says that he gets it. She doesn’t understand why the guards brought her back under Won’s orders when she tried to leave the palace, so he explains that he did it to protect her from the people who wish to harm her, and from those who killed her father.
She’s surprised, but then weirded out after she asks Won about his wedding, and he replies disinterestedly that it happened, and it’s over now.
He registers her confusion, then stops to ask her tenderly if she’s been crying a lot lately. He comments that he wasn’t there for her, then takes her hand and tries to get her to come with him, but she pulls away. She says that she’ll leave now that she’s seen him and fulfilled the promise that the ring represents.
Won asks if she understands what a royal order from the crown prince means, since disregarding it is a big “no-no.”
Some of Won’s bodyguards take Rin to his cell, but en route, they are ambushed by Moo-suk and his men, who rescue Rin. They flee via some back staircases, where Song In is waiting.
He asks Rin pointedly if he’s going to San, before telling him that it’s too late, since Won got to her first. Rin warns Song In not to speak San’s name with his filthy mouth, and so Song In tells Rin that his little rescue mission will have to wait because the king has called for him.
We return to Won and San as they walk through the garden, and San notes the increase in Won’s security, so he explains that the added muscle is for her protection, not his.
Suddenly, he starts confiding in San about his father’s fear of him, and how the king refused to let himself be alone with him, or eat with him, because he thought his own son might poison him.
Won says that it doesn’t matter what he said because there was always someone around the king to misinterpret his actions and spin lies about him to his father.
Won says that he could never understand why his father was always so anxious and delusional, but now finds himself feeling the same way— always fearing that someone might hurt San. He plucks a flower from a nearby bush and puts it behind San’s ear, smiling, then stops her when she tries to remove it.
He insists that he is keeping her beside him to protect her, and now he has the power to accomplish that, as evidenced by the guards around them. He takes her hand, but again she pushes him away, and he sighs.
Some of Won’s bodyguards return to report Rin’s escape, adding that he had the help of some unknown masked men.
Rin goes to the delirious king’s side, and though Rin offers to call the royal physicians, he insists that Boo-yong is all that he needs. He tells Rin that he doesn’t have much time left, and Rin argues that it isn’t like the king to utter such self-defeating words.
Boo-yong steps away for a moment, and that’s when the king grabs Rin’s hand urgently and asks in a low voice for Rin to save San… and himself, while checking to make sure Boo-yong and the Song cousins are out of earshot. Whoaaaaa.
Afterwards, Rin leaves, and Minister Song follows him out into the hall to fill him in on Won’s latest actions (calling him deranged), including ditching Dan and instead holing up with San. Then he adds that visiting Won could be considered treason at this point.
Rin pushes back that he needs to meet with Won, and Minister Song takes that to mean that Rin is ready to go full-coup mode, then trails off. Rin calls for Song In instead and tells him that he will believe Song In’s claims that he intends to serve him, then gives him a few tasks to do, which we don’t hear.
San stands awkwardly in Won’s royal quarters, and so Won tells her to take a nap in his lavish bed. She’s uncomfortable with the idea, until Won points out that she’s done it a couple of times already with his bed at Geumgajeong.
She decides to help him finish his work so he can visit his new wife. Won ignores her suggestion and says that he has a lot to say to her. He teases her when she looks at him hesitantly, then reiterates that she is his priority, even though she seems to forget that constantly.
She jokes that she miiiight have heard him say something similar before, but then he amends himself and says, “I thought you were my priority then, but now I see that you are not. I think you are my last. I do not have anyone else on my side apart from you because I drove them out.” (Meaning that she’s now his first, last, and everything).
She recalls Dan’s words, warning that she will only bring pain to Won, then looks toward Won’s smiling face.
San steels herself and says that she lied about coming back to honor the promise sealed by her mother’s ring, and says that she returned so that she could ask Won to help her save Rin, who was taken away.
Won remarks quietly that from what he knows, Rin was not forcibly taken away, but San continues and says that she and Rin planned to leave together, until she was brought to Won…
Won understands what she is trying to say, and asks if she is acting this way because she believes that his mother killed her father. If so, he asks if getting revenge for her father would be enough to allow herself to stay by his side.
He says finally, with pain in his eyes, “Sometimes people ask me to choose between two choices. And you are not an exception.”
EPISODE 34 RECAP
We open to find royal guards dragging Court Lady Jo from Princess Wonsung’s palace to investigate Minister Eun’s death. Princess Wonsung roars at the guards for taking away her people, as Court Lady Jo cries for help.
Princess Wonsung goes immediately to Won’s residence, but is barred from entry by a rope tied across the entrance to “ward off evil spirits,” and a small army of guards. The guards inform Princess Wonsung that Won has ordered anyone killed on the spot if they try to enter, regardless of who they are. Eeeeeeeeek!
Princess Wonsung stumbles backwards from shock and weakness, and we see that Rin has been watching from around the corner.
Inside, Won retreats to his room and studies San as she sleeps. He takes her hand into his and thinks, “You already shook off my hand twice within the day, and now, your hands are finally still. If I keep you asleep all the time… if I do that… would we always live in peace? So please fall fast asleep for a long time.” Come on, Won. You know this isn’t right. This isn’t love.
After searching for Teacher Lee, Rin enters the building where he is being kept by Won, only to come face to face with Furatai’s sword. He’s eventually allowed inside alone, and finds Princess Wonsung sitting with Teacher Lee.
Rin says that he’s heard that Teacher Lee accused Princess Wonsung of murdering Minister Eun, and asks Princess Wonsung if she is here to kill Teacher Lee. Princess Wonsung asks provokingly if Rin intends to stop her should she decide to, and he says that he’s going to take Teacher Lee with him.
Teacher Lee stops him so that they can all have an honest chat. He tells Princess Wonsung that she should have gone to Rin with her troubles since Rin is uniquely smart and compassionate, and will be faithful to Won until his last moment.
He continues that they’ve discovered that a court lady confessed to poisoning Minister Eun with an incense stick, but was murdered shortly thereafter. Princess Wonsung remarks snidely that she knows someone good with incense, then offers some harsh words about Boo-yong.
She says vulnerably, acknowledging her historically less than welcoming attitude toward Rin, that Rin and Won always insisted they were friends, and thus, as Won’s friend, she begs Rin to help Won now.
However, Rin only coldly responds, “It is too late.” He tells a distressed Princess Wonsung that Boo-yong now works for him, and Won is no longer his friend. Damn it all.
Moo-suk and his men enter, and so Rin takes Teacher Lee away and leaves Princess Wonsung howling after him.
Outside, Teacher Lee asks Rin for the reasons for his actions, and Rin replies emotionally that he needs to see “her,” but there is no other way to get to her.
Won is called into the throne room for an emergency deliberative council ordered by the king. He’s enraged to have his authority undermined and questioned, and so Minister Song gleefully informs Won that the king has appointed a special judge to oversee the proceedings: Rin.
Rin enters dramatically and reads the king’s order to an incredulous Won, which instructs him to investigate Minister Eun’s death and facilitate a candid assessment of Won’s leadership by the ministers.
Elsewhere, Jeon confronts Song In for siding with Rin after promising to make him king for years. He grabs Song In angrily by the collar and rams him against the wall, then demands to know what Song In is up to. He tells Jeon that they tried for so long to gain the upper hand over Won in vain, and yet Rin was able to formidably threaten Won in just a few days. Song In adds that they will use Rin to get rid of Won, then make him king.
Meanwhile, Won’s dissatisfied generals testify in front of the council about Won’s inaction on the grain situation. (Are you going to point out that this directly benefitted the special judge at the time? No? Nobody?)
The matter of the incense and Minister Eun’s death is brought up, and Rin asks Won to have Princess Wonsung brought to testify for framing and murdering Minister Eun.
Won orders Rin to stop his line of reasoning, but Rin will not be stopped and asks that Princess Wonsung have a chance to explain herself.
Bi-yeon arrives to see San (while in cahoots with Moo-suk and with a large package), and marvels at Won’s fancy pad. She tells San that most of the servants are waiting out the chaos for San to return so that they can serve her again.
She says that Rin came to them and has been looking for a way to get her out. Bi-yeon quotes Rin by saying, “‘I will get the one you are with out. Lady San can leave after that.'” San is confused, so Bi-yeon unpacks her sack, hands San a set of clothing, and tells her that Rin said he would be waiting at the place where they “cut the string.”
In the king’s private quarters, Boo-yong and Song In lounge together like lovers and plot their treason, while the king remains unconscious (under the influence of deadly incense) in an adjacent room.
She asks if he was lying to Jeon about intending to make him king after all, and Song In replies in confirmation that Rin is too much for them to control.
They’re startled when Princess Wonsung appears suddenly (with Furatai), and screams at them for their disgraceful behavior. She goes to the king and begs him to open his eyes and see the treachery occurring right under his nose.
However, the king does not wake no matter how much she calls out to him. She spots the table of incense burning besides the king’s bed and flips it over with rage. She orders Song In and Boo-yong arrested, then vows to uncover what they’ve done to the king.
She gives a heart-wrenching scream for the royal guards to enter from outside, but instead, a group of Moo-suk’s masked men fill the room. Song In narrates a scenario for Princess Wonsung where armed assassins killed the king’s guards and infiltrated the king’s chambers. (And killed the king? Is that what you’re saying? What are you saying?)
Furatai urges Princess Wonsung to leave or risk endangering herself, but she can’t bear to as she keeps looking back at the king’s sleeping form. Furatai urges her out again, but the king stirs at last and calls out fearfully.
Amid the standoff, Boo-yong appears beside the king and assures him that all is fine. At the same time, she casts a menacing and triumphant glare at Princess Wonsung, who is forced to flee.
Furatai protects her valiantly, but alas, he’s unable to escape the room alive. Song In stabs him through the heart when his back is turned, which shatters Princess Wonsung.
Song In watches as a numb and quickly fading Princess Wonsung is escorted back to her palace, as Won narrates in voiceover from the throne room while staring down a guilty-looking Rin (who soon leaves):
“My mother loves peonies. She did not laugh often, but only when she saw peonies. Sometimes, she would cry because of them. When I asked why, she said this: ‘It would have been better had I not known.’ She wished that she did not know these flowers existed. That however beautiful they were, she should not have liked them.”
As Princess Wonsung makes her way back to her seat in her room, she weakly takes a single peony in her hand, then resumes her walk down the hall. Then slowly, her grip weakens, and her head bobs downward, until finally, she takes her last breath as the peony falls to the floor.
Bi-yeon helps a disguised San slip through Jang Eui and the other Geumgajeong boys’ watchful notice, and she makes her way to her meeting place with Rin to find him waiting for her.
Eunuch Kim reports Princess Wonsung’s death to the entire throne room, and immediately all the attendees drop to their knees and bow to Won in mourning as Won begins to feel himself spiraling.
Won adds in voiceover, “My mother’s words cut deep and stayed with me, but I never understood. Why did I never think of becoming a peony for her? Instead of being a flower, I became a thorn bush. I pricked those who came close, as well as myself, and I still kept growing.”
San makes her way to Rin, but becomes confused when she suddenly sees the entire palace in an uproar. She stops a court lady to inquire about the cause, and is stunned to hear that Princess Wonsung has died.
She looks in the direction the palace workers are running to, and is overcome with conflicted feelings.
In the throne room, Won looks around the room as his eyes water.
I need a moment because, holy shit, I did not expect all of that. I’ve been losing my mind waiting for Won to go dark, and I’m totally blindsided by the fact that it’s the death of his mother that drives him over the edge. All the signs were there, and yet I didn’t understand how emotionally resonant it would feel until it happened. In fact, for a few episodes now I’ve been actively hoping that the king and Princess Wonsung would die soon so that their power struggle baggage could end, and so both Won and Rin could have more agency to declare an all-out war against each other. I thought Rin “cutting the string” with him would be Won’s breaking point, but that scene was not what I was hoping it would be, and now I’m overwhelmed that it’s the gradual yet absolute weakening (physically, politically, and emotionally) of his mother and wrongfulness of it all (and his role in that), that likely breaks him. I honestly thought Princess Wonsung and the king’s passings’ would be almost non-events because it was so inevitable at this point, but I have been a fool.
In retrospect, it’s clear that a show would want to use the death of an important supporting character in an affecting way, but I suppose I’ve been clouded by my own biases against the king and my focus on Won and Rin that I didn’t calculate Princess Wonsung’s dramatic importance in this basic way, and how it would circle back to the king in the end. I really have always viewed Princess Wonsung as a reflection of Won and a vision of his future that he cannot circumvent, but not as the “love” that breaks him.
I love how resigned and unguarded the king and Princess Wonsung were in their final moments together. It was a nuanced end to their in-your-face dysfunction, and more importantly, the predominant emotion highlighted in their last couple of exchanges was the twisted, but genuine affection (and Princess Wonsung’s deep, though undeserved love) they shared. It really left me feeling a lot of things that I haven’t fully processed yet, and although that describes a number of other aspects of this show (namely the love story), this time, it’s a positive kind of confusion. To me, this mixture of emotions shows how successfully this drama created a prism-like emotional landscape between everyone, making it difficult to compartmentalize characters and their aggressively incongruous and intertwined lives in a concise way. And if that isn’t a description of human life in the most fundamental way, then I don’t know what is.
Admittedly, I still think the storytelling of this show tends to be needlessly muddled, but I appreciate the complexity. I feel like we are naturally predisposed to overanalyze a Korean drama that is built around a love triangle in terms of romance (because, duh), so it felt refreshing to me to analyze this show through the lens of friendship instead. But I realize only now that though I’ve come to find Princess Wonsung’s fraught and highly complicated relationship with her son fascinating, I didn’t consider it to be such a prominent pillar of Won’s journey until now. It kind of clicks now as to why his relationship with San has never taken off, and that’s because it’s secondary—almost peripheral—to the emotional arc of Won’s other relationships.
But back to the topic of reflections, I have no idea what Rin is doing, but I suspect he is hiding his true agenda for the sake of San and Won equally. Because if he isn’t, then I’m going to have to flip a table. I just don’t believe that Rin is abandoning Won for San, because at every step he’s tried to do things with both of them in mind and still rightfully hates all the baddies. Won is often forced to choose between Rin and San, but I feel like Rin has always refused to truly choose. Whatever the case, I am ready to get a better insight into his thought process. In many ways, Rin and Won really are mirror images, and I think Rin is fulfilling something Won said once before about being able to become a villain in order to protect Rin/San. Ultimately, I think Rin and Won are afflicted with what I like to call “I Know Best” Syndrome, which can distort the judgment of the best of us and make it difficult to talk slowly and at length with your loved ones without pissing each other off to the point of no return. That said, I really think Won and Rin can return from this. Please?
- The King Loves: Episodes 1-2
- Premiere Watch: School 2017, The King Loves, Man Who Dies to Live, Reunited Worlds
- A house and friendship divided in The King Loves
- Tension in a garden of flowers for The King Loves
- Assassin-filled forests and masked dances in The King Loves
- Main writer behind The King Loves revealed to be Song Ji-nah
- The King Loves to play in azalea-filled forests
- Yoon-ah steals the hearts of two best friends in The King Loves
- Im Shi-wan as a young prince for MBC’s The King Loves