Red Heart: Episodes 3-4
Having patiently bided his time for this very moment, our young king finally sets his carefully-crafted plan in motion. However, his adversary proves to be a formidable foe, and not one to ever be underestimated.
EPISODES 3-4 WEECAP
It clearly pains Tae, but he insists that he needs his betrothed for a plan he has set in motion. Jung asks plaintively if he loves that person, and while Tae tellingly doesn’t answer, he maintains that his betrothed is “someone important.”
We see Jung’s strength of character when she pushes past her heartbreak to carry out her duties for the workshop. Fiercely loyal DDONG-GEUM (Yoon Seo-ah) swears to take revenge on her behalf, but all that does is make Jung realize how little she knows about Tae — not wanting to hit a sore spot, she hadn’t asked about his background at all.
Tae and Jung cross paths in a chance encounter at the marketplace, though she recognizes his stoic refusal to acknowledge her, and she pretends she doesn’t know him. In private, though, she asks what he’s struggling with, insisting that she wants to help him just as he did for her.
Tae’s still carrying the guilt of causing Jung’s parents’ death and ruining her life, which makes her declaration that he saved her life and gave her the strength to continue living all the more heartrending. Despite clearly wanting to be swayed, Tae remains firm that his world has no place for her.
Unfortunately, their clandestine meeting is spotted by Gye-won’s right-hand man, who reports back as such. Gye-won’s onto Tae, and he interrogates one of the thugs involved in Jung’s attempted kidnapping. (Nice to see Go Geon-han again after Through the Darkness!) Suspicious that a supposed noblewoman is dabbling in commerce, Gye-won orders a background check, and the next thing we know, the village is being raided.
Tae’s plan to charm Yeon-hee into marrying him proves effective, and she begs her father to put her name in the running for Crown Princess. Minister Jo knows more than he lets on, though, and he reveals that the truth of Queen In-young’s death had been fabricated, covered up, and manipulated for the gain of both Gye-won and Tae. He warns her about how scary the palace can be, but she isn’t deterred one bit.
Still, Minister Jo’s staunch refusal to enter his daughter’s name into the running is tested by Gye-won, who repeatedly infringes on his jurisdiction. It’s a calculated power play meant to humiliate Minister Jo, and it culminates in him paying Tae a visit.
Reluctant to put his daughter on the line without a guarantee that she will become queen, Minister Jo asks Tae how he could possibly defy the queen dowager and Gye-won if they pick someone else. In response, Tae reveals all the machinations he put in place — including orchestrating meetings with Yeon-hee — to make this very moment possible.
“The one who made you come here was me,” Tae says, extending his hand to Minister Jo. “Trust me, and take my hand.” It’s a powerful moment, and tears brim in both men’s eyes as Minister Jo swears loyalty to Tae.
Gye-won isn’t backing down without a fight, though. Not only does he confront Tae about his plan to regain power through the queen selection — which leads to a tense moment where Tae shoots an arrow at an animal behind Gye-won — but he also lures Jung and Lord Im to his residence under the false accusation of theft.
Jung doesn’t waver, astutely pointing out that Gye-won must have an ulterior motive. She’s right, and he bestows upon her the name of his niece — he’s entering her into the running to be Tae’s queen. Ohmygod.
In the face of Gye-won’s threats against her family and everyone she holds dear, Jung has no choice but to acquiesce. Luckily, there’s at least one person in the household who isn’t all bad — the apple seems to have fallen far from the tree, and Gye-won’s son PARK NAM-SANG (Lee Tae-ri, yay!) is upright and noble.
Jung tricks him into letting her “sick” friends out of Gye-won’s captivity to see a physician, but interestingly, Nam-sang turns a blind eye even when he sees them escaping. Believing Jung to be his cousin Ah-ok, Nam-sang asks if she can’t tell him what’s going on — he simply wants to help her.
It’s hard to read his true motives just yet, but I really do hope he ends up joining the fight against his father. (Or is that just my bias for Lee Tae-ri showing in my hope to see him team up with Lee Joon?)
In any case, Jung is thrust into her new role as queen-to-be. Ddong-geum spots her walking into the palace, and with a bit of quick thinking, she gets herself chosen as Yeon-hee’s maid in order to enter the palace too. Aw, Ddong-geum vows to rescue Jung from the palace — we see in a flashback that Jung had saved Ddong-geum from near-death, and gave her food and a roof over her head.
Tae realizes something bad might have happened to Jung when she doesn’t show up on their usual meeting date, but his eunuch’s investigations prove fruitless. That is, until Tae notices a very familiar face walking through the palace as part of the potential queen candidates. Oof, the disbelief and despair written across his face…
Unfortunately, Tae isn’t allowed to enter the selection hall. With no way of confirming his suspicions, Tae convinces himself that he must have been mistaken.
To no one’s surprise, the queen dowager chooses Jung, further reinforcing her collusion with Gye-won. Tae isn’t cowed, since he already has a plan; he calls for the chief scholar to arbitrate, since even Gye-won doesn’t hold sway over him.
Pointing out that the three-year mourning period for the late queen has not yet ended, Chief Scholar Kim advises that the queen selection process be canceled, which sparks exactly the ire that Tae wants. He has the court stay in assembly until a decision is made, which lasts for three days (and results in many unhappy ministers).
Finally, Tae offers up a proposal to end everyone’s suffering — he will take both Jung and Yeon-hee as concubines, and only make a decision once the three-year mourning period is over. Whoa, that’s a bold move.
That night, Tae disobeys the consummation date set for him and Jung, intending to visit Yeon-hee instead. Following Gye-won’s orders to do anything it takes to get close to the king (in order to keep her loved ones safe), Jung speaks up in protest, demanding that Tae’s eunuch remind him to adhere to proper custom.
There’s more to her actions than it seems, though. Jung’s rude behavior could get her deposed, which is exactly what she’s hoping for; if Tae chooses to oust her, then she can end this charade and leave the palace.
Tae recognizes this, and decides to head to Jung’s quarters to inform her of her deposal — and that’s how the two come face-to-face, simultaneously realizing each other’s identity. Jung freezes in shock, and Tae reels in anguish. Elsewhere, Gye-won lays down a chess piece — it’s checkmate.
Gosh, I knew the drama was leading up to that very moment, but it still hit so hard. In addition to the breathtaking cinematography that skilfully draws out each moment, the acting here is simply top-notch.
I love that Jung has mettle and tenacity in spades, and that she’s more than willing to stand up against authority (all while maintaining poise and composure). It’s so refreshing to have a leading lady with a backbone, especially in an era where the ones engaging in power play are mostly all men. Jung isn’t afraid to wrest her own agency back from the people attempting to manipulate her, and it makes her such a compelling character.
She’s not the only one, either — I have such a big soft spot for Ddong-geum! She was so adorably spirited when standing up for Jung, and I love that she’s taking matters into her own hands to protect her lady. While I fear for her safety in the palace, I’m excited to see more of her.
And of course, I can’t leave out our two leading men — need anything more be said, though? They simply command the entire screen whenever they appear, and the air is always so rife with tension whenever they share a space. Jang Hyuk is outdoing himself again; I will never get over how expressive he can be without saying a single word, and Gye-won intimidates me (and everyone else, let’s be real) with just his gaze alone.
Meanwhile, Tae may have been forced into a corner his whole life, but he’s finally starting to let his fangs show. Lee Joon perfectly captures that feeling of teetering on the edge, a tempest contained beneath a cracking shell, and I can’t wait to see what happens once he’s tipped over the edge. There’s definitely more heartbreak to come, but if it hurts this good? Bring it on.