Under the Queen’s Umbrella: Episodes 13-14
Our heroine walks her toughest political tightrope act yet as she balances solving her eldest son’s murder with hiding her middle son’s illegitimate child. Meanwhile, sedition brews, and the threat of regicide looms…
EPISODES 13-14 WEECAP
Hwa-ryeong faces Cho-wol, straight-backed and stern. The baby is indeed Muan’s. Cho-wol wants to leave her in the palace — soon, before she begins to recognize her mother’s face. If it means a better life for her daughter, she’s prepared never to see her again.
Muan hardly knows what hit him. One moment, he’s summoned by his furious mother. The next, he’s holding… an adorable infant child? To his credit, he’s prepared to raise her as his own. To his detriment, he hasn’t the slightest clue how to do it. Hwa-ryeong leaves him desperately cuddling his crying child, frantically pondering the issue of diapers, and — much to my concern — apparently forgetting that babies need to eat. Still, he’s committed. After a long night during which neither baby nor father have much fun or sleep, Hwa-ryeong takes pity, swooping in with grandmotherly wisdom to show him how it’s done. Smiling, she and Muan bond over tales of Muan’s fussy babyhood.
Meanwhile, Seongnam has his own domestic woes. It’s tough when a) you abandoned your wife on your wedding night, b) somehow, the entire palace knows, and c) your grandmother is asking pointed questions about your sex life. However, Cheong-ha is quick to lie on his behalf before the Dowager Queen. Granted, the poor boy’s got trust issues for days, but it’s beginning to occur to him she might not be a spy. Cheong-ha, blissfully unaware that her allegiances are being doubted, seeks clarification from Hwa-ryeong with her usual frankness. Seongnam is aware of how the whole, erm, birds-and-the-bees thing works, right? …Right?
This remains to be seen, as Seongnam’s got more than marital duties on his mind. The King wants to put his new Crown Prince in charge of straightening out Uichang, a social reformation scheme that has fallen to corruption. Predictably, the Chief State Councilor has a thing or two to say about that: those two things being “but, Your Majesty,” and, “over my dead body.” He’s shocked to find that his usual yes-men aren’t piping up in support. The political tide is turning; they’re siding with the King.
Afterwards, Seongnam has a long-overdue talk with his mother. Didn’t he know, says Hwa-ryeong, that Cheong-ha is completely in love with him? No, he did not — because, well, did I mention the trust issues? There’s more, though: Seongnam has made an urgent discovery. Thumbing through the late Crown Prince’s textbooks, he found a torn-off page from his medical journal. It’s a chilling read. The Crown Prince, horribly aware of his own body failing him, records how the pain and bleeding intensified every time he was given acupuncture. Hwa-ryeong’s old suspicions resurface: without a doubt, her son was murdered.
Elsewhere, a resentful Uiseong attends a clandestine meeting — with Physician Kwon and Master Toji. They’re here to convince him of the unthinkable. Uiseong’s already killed one innocent civilian. What’s to stop him from going further? From killing, for instance… a king? Uiseong is outraged, until he learns that Physician Kwon murdered the last Crown Prince — on his mother’s order.
Meanwhile, Muan bursts into Hwa-ryeong’s rooms with a feverish baby in his arms. Hwa-ryeong lovingly reassures him that this isn’t his fault: it’s just colic. Still, Court Lady Shin ought to fetch the child’s wet nurse. Overwhelmed, Muan looks up to see — Cho-wol. It turns out, Hwa-ryeong wasn’t willing to let a mother abandon her child, even for the best of reasons. Not after Seongnam. Instead, she devised a scheme to disguise Cho-wol as a court lady, and was pleasantly surprised by her son’s shouldering of responsibility. One day soon, the couple will be able to live in the open with Princess Ah-ra, their child.
Hwa-ryeong has been busy — she’s summoned someone else to the palace. Namely, Physician Kwon. Allegedly, he’s to be her ally in solving the case of her son’s murder. It’s a tense political standoff that boils down to this: she knows that he knows that she knows he poisoned the Crown Prince. He knows that she knows that he knows that she’s only inviting him back to find proof.
Confused yet? Wait till we start examining the secret documents. Hwa-ryeong discovers a prescription written for Prince Taein’s hyeolheogwol by Royal Physician Yoo. It’s the same as Master Toji’s prescription for the Crown Prince. Once again, Master Toji finds himself at the wrong end of a sword and Seongnam’s glare. He shows him the autopsy report of the late Crown Prince — and Master Toji confirms that it’s identical to Prince Taein’s. How does he know? Master Toji is Physician Yoo. Seongnam pretends to trust him — but he knows that Seongnam knows that there’s something fishy going on.
During all this wheeling and dealing, the Dowager Queen — our Schemer in Chief — has been biding her time since learning that Uiseong isn’t the King’s son. Now, we rejoin her, along with First — sorry, Fourth Junior Schemer Hwang, who has brought her pine needle tea, served with a sickly smile. It’s poison, right? It’s transparently poison. The Dowager Queen lifts the cup and lets it smash against the table, commenting dryly that she clearly must have found out something she shouldn’t have. Except — Consort Hwang drinks long and deep from her own glass. Against all odds, it isn’t poison after all. It doesn’t need to be. After all, Consort Hwang is secure in the knowledge that Uiseong is of royal blood… he’s the firstborn son of His Majesty.
On a secret road outside the palace, with tears in his eyes, Physician Kwon approaches a woman from whom he’s been parted for years. It’s Queen Yoon… his mother.
Years in the past, two boys face one another on a quiet road. They stand beside Master Toji and the deposed Queen Yoon. One is Prince Ik-hyeon, only living son of the queen. The other is Seung-seon, Master Toji’s son. Seung-seon steels himself through his father’s goodbye and Ik-hyeon’s thanks. He will willingly follow Queen Yoon to preserve the life of her heir. Ik-hyeon takes one last look at his mother. They have already said their farewells. As he moves to follow Master Toji, it becomes clear that he has a limp identical to Physician Kwon’s.
In the present, Hwa-ryeong petitions her own King to re-open the investigation into Taein’s death. The King insists this is impossible: if Taein was poisoned, then his own legitimacy as monarch will be called into question. Nonetheless, he holds a private audience with his new minister, Gyeong-woo. All official records regarding Taein’s death were destroyed. However, Gyeong-woo is the son of Official Historian Park Jung-ho, who died shortly after recounting those events — and whose first draft notes, the King suspects, are in his son’s possession.
Hwa-ryeong has reached the same conclusion. Reluctantly, Gyeong-woo agrees to let her see the notes — but not without warning that it will pit her against an enemy she cannot match. She must swear to keep its contents secret. Hwa-ryeong learns that after conducting Taein’s autopsy, ROYAL PHYSICIAN CHO GUK-YEONG (Kim Jung-ho) concluded the prince was poisoned. Unexpectedly, the King demanded that all records of this be purged. He then spoke with his other son — who would later become King. Hwa-ryeong reels back in shock. Her husband was complicit in Taein’s death. Now, in the present, the King burns what he believes to be the last copy of Historian Park’s notes.
Elsewhere, a plot continues to brew. Uiseong, now thoroughly wedded to Team Regicide, engineers a meeting between the Chief State Councilor, Master Toji, and — well, it seems cheap to call him Physician Kwon now, doesn’t it? — Ik-hyeon. The Chief State Councilor is more than a little aghast to see Master Toji — or rather, Physician Yoo — alive. Don’t you just hate that awkward moment when you run into someone you thought you assassinated years ago? Still, at this point, it’s water under the bridge: there are more pressing murders to attend to. Knowing the illegitimate Uiseong needs allies — and knowing his daughter trusts the man he knew as Physician Kwon — the Chief State Councilor agrees to help Ik-hyeon claw his way back to power.
Meanwhile, Seongnam and Cheong-ha find themselves at the business end of a billion scurrilous rumors, spearheaded by the Dowager Queen. Chief among them is the downright dangerous claim that Seongnam is infertile. Hwa-ryeong leaps into action. She enlists the help of the formidable NURSEMAID (Park Hyo-joo), a woman who, in another life, would have made a killing as a Cosmo columnist. The royal couple are given a veritable A to Z of Joseon marital remedies. Essence of eel! Squats! Scented baths! Lights, camera, action!
Never has one man’s sex life been subjected to quite so much choreography. As the night of consummation approaches, it’s no wonder Seongnam is standoffish. Cheong-ha, ever the pragmatist, suggests they drown out the awkwardness with a couple of drinks. One drink turns into another, which turns into a blur… Waking with his arm uncomfortably wedged beneath his wife’s shoulders, Seongnam cudgels his brains to remember what happened last night. Did they sleep together? According to Hwa-ryeong and his entire extended family (awkward), they totally did. According to Cheong-ha — only in the literal sense. They’d kissed, but she hadn’t taken advantage while they were drunk. She did take a peek while he was naked — which, honestly, isn’t as cute as the show seems to think. Still, Cheong-ha is determined that when they sleep together, it’ll be because they both want to.
Meanwhile, Hwa-ryeong embarks on her latest gambit: asking Ik-hyeon to deduce which poison was used to kill the Crown Prince. Ik-hyeon cleverly shows her the actual poison he used, on the basis that she’ll know he’d never do that — not realizing that she knows that he’s double-bluffing. (Still keeping up?) Eventually, Hwa-ryeong learns that the poison used was gansu, a salt solution that causes the victim to scratch their own skin in agony.
Aghast, Hwa-ryeong runs to find Queen Yoon — before realization hits. The man staying with Queen Yoon, whom she had assumed was the last living son, has a faked limp. When Physician Kwon left the palace, he mentioned wanted to look after his old mother — despite allegedly being an orphan. When Hwa-ryeong confronts Queen Yoon, she doesn’t deny that the real Ik-hyeon is none other than Physician Kwon. She is glad that her son, robbed of his birthright, will see justice done.
Ik-hyeon’s revenge doesn’t stop with the Crown Prince. Now, he pays a visit to Physician Cho, Taein’s killer. As Physician Cho begins to splutter and choke, clawing at his skin, Ik-hyeon explains he’d studied medicine in order to kill him with the same poison used on his brother. However, if Physician Cho tells him where he’s hidden Taein’s autopsy report… he might just give him the antidote. Physician Cho hastens to comply. Unfortunately for him, the primary lesson this drama teaches us is to never accept a mysterious potion from Physician Kwon. The antidote is, of course, more gansu. Physician Cho dies screaming.
Ik-hyeon scrambles to find the autopsy report, hidden under a floorboard in the library. Of course, he’s too late. As his fingers clutch at nothing, he looks up to see that Hwa-ryeong is already here.
Beanies, I’m delighted: twisty political plotting and theatrical tales of vengeance are what I live for. I’ll admit, I find Ik-hyeon super compelling — in another drama, he’d be the perfect hero of a revenge tragedy. I love how devious he is beneath all that calm! I love his boundless capacity for lying through his teeth! Plus, the reveal was genuinely splendid; it struck the perfect balance between deftly-foreshadowed and difficult to guess. It’s always fun when the political past comes to haunt the present, and this is done super satisfyingly with the King’s complicity in Taein’s death.
There’s some chunky conflict coming up, with Hwa-ryeong unable to trust her husband — especially as she’s been leaning on his support these past few episodes. Over the drama, our heroine has been backed into a series of impossible corners; it feels pleasantly inevitable that her final challenge will involve going toe to toe with the throne itself. All along, the Dowager Queen was being bigged up as the final boss, but of course the real struggle is bound up in unjust power structures and the palace’s history of violence. This drama has a wonderful way of allowing us to relish in Hwa-ryeong’s victories, whilst sustaining the tension up until the very end. I’m raring to go for next week!