Red Heart: Episodes 9-10
The stakes escalate, as all our players struggle to hold on to what they value most. For some, that means tightening their grasp on the marionette strings in their hands; for others, that means scrambling desperately to avoid losing what little control they have.
EPISODES 9-10 WEECAP
Jung melts into Tae’s kiss for a moment, but she comes to her senses and pushes him away. She reminds Tae that by saving her, he’s essentially supporting Gye-won too.
However, Tae’s done with suppressing his feelings; he vows that he’ll find a solution, so she should never attempt to die again. Moved, Jung goes in for a tearful kiss. And another, and another, and they wind up spending the night together.
Deeply shaken by Jung’s reversal of their power dynamics, Gye-won tells a visage of Jung’s late father that he’s never felt this powerless before.
Gye-won reveals the reason he’s so fixated on having control over the country’s king — under the reign of the previous tyrant, Gye-won had to see the decapacitated heads of his friends staked along the path to the palace. Ugh, that’s horrifying.
Gye-won’s determined to never bear witness to such tyranny again, but it almost sounds like he’s trying to convince himself that the ends justify the means.
It’s disturbing, and almost sympathetic, to see how much Gye-won’s trauma has warped his perspective. His world has been shaped by violence and vengeance to the point that he’s convinced everything Jung has done to date was all for the sole purpose of laying the groundwork for her revenge — he refuses to even entertain the possibility that she might have been genuinely altruistic in helping her village.
I think the most interesting aspect of Gye-won’s character is that he isn’t unaware of the monster he’s become. On the contrary, he explicitly admits that he knows he’ll be condemned for his actions — but to him, that is still preferable to having a tyrant for a ruler. It’s not that he’s amoral, but that he’s willing to be immoral in the eyes of others to uphold his own moral code.
In yet another cunning plot, Gye-won offers to release the imprisoned bamboo crafters and clear the name of Jung’s father, but there’s a catch. Posters claiming that Jung’s father was framed, and that Gye-won was the real culprit behind the assassination of the late queen, have been put up all over the scholars’ village.
As such, Gye-won requests for Tae to open a formal investigation into the matter, knowing full well that he will have to divulge the full truth in doing so. All along, Jung has despised Gye-won for murdering the queen and framing her family, but Gye-won points out that the queen’s death protected Tae from being deposed — so who truly stood the most to gain from her death? And who is her true enemy?
Jung’s unwilling to believe it, but Tae knows she deserves the truth, and admits it to her. More than anything, though, Jung’s hurt by the realization that Tae had been keeping this under wraps, and that he likely would have continued burying the truth if not for Gye-won’s intervention.
Still, Jung knows Tae’s sincerity better than anyone, and his display of humility through engaging in manual labour with the common farmers is enough to reaffirm her faith in him.
Jung meets Gye-won privately to give him her answer — she chooses not to take vengeance on her enemies, so as to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. Vowing to never turn into someone like Gye-won, Jung asserts that she will stay by Tae’s side and shape him into a good leader. It’s essentially the same goal as Gye-won’s, except she approaches it from optimism, whereas he views it through pessimism.
Gye-won has little to no faith in Tae’s ability to be a good ruler, but Jung’s response has proven herself a worthy queen in his eyes. With the support of Tae and Gye-won, along with the queen dowager and the state officials, Jung is officially crowned as queen-to-be.
Meanwhile, Yeon-hee is understandably hurt to be passed over in favor of Jung, but there’s even more trouble brewing. Realizing that Jung bears a resemblance to the bamboo box merchants that once paid her a visit, it dawns on Yeon-hee that Gye-won’s so-called niece is an impostor.
Yeon-hee isn’t the only one feeling threatened by Jung. Fueled by a monk’s ominous divinations, the queen dowager has begun to fear that Gye-won may replace her with Jung, now that she has outlived her usefulness.
All this leads to what seems like a partnership between the two ladies on the surface, in which Yeon-hee offers the justification for the queen dowager to oust a queen she does not like. However, the queen dowager is one step ahead — she’s hired mercenaries to kill Jung, so as to frame Yeon-hee and Minister Jo for the crime.
Thankfully, Jung’s saved in the nick of time by both Tae and Gye-won. Jung’s smart enough to recognize a trap when she sees one, and she realizes that behind Yeon-hee, there’s someone more powerful who orchestrated the assassination attempt.
Through an interrogation, Minister Jo learns of the queen dowager’s involvement, and he informs Gye-won as such — but Gye-won counters that with Yeon-hee’s servants at the scene, it’s clear who people will view as the most likely culprit. Neither side refuses to back down, and Minister Jo poses an ultimatum to Gye-won — he ought to pick a side between Jung and the queen dowager.
Gye-won does, and it’s just as the queen dowager feared. He urges her to leave the capital of her own will, before Tae finds out about her scheming.
Gye-won claims that he’s doing this to protect her, but the queen dowager is still mired in her fear of abandonment. Rather than heed his advice, she sets the palanquin on fire, determined to remain in the palace.
It was sad to watch the queen dowager’s downward spiral, and I wonder how much of the monk’s prediction was a self-fulfilling prophecy fed by her insecurities. Her actions are inexcusable, but Gye-won’s treatment of her has put her through so much pain and loneliness that I find myself feeling sorry for her.
The drama really dialed up the melo these two episodes (as if it wasn’t dramatic enough already!) and while I’m not quite a fan of how much our two leads cry, I’m enjoying the political machinations. Perhaps I’m still not quite invested in the love line, but I’m definitely very intrigued by the depth of our characters and the layers underneath every strategy.