I can’t believe the ratings legs on this drama, which almost hit 35% today. While I like and enjoy it, I admit that quality-wise it’s nowhere near deserving that kind of ratings based on a really heavy handed story, laughable sageuk politics, inconsistent casting from various leads, and general just-okay feel of it. I suppose a runaway train chugs along partially on momentum, and I feel like my love of the children portion is keeping me more emotionally involved, and might be the case for other folks out there. Dong Yi never cracked 40%, so if The Moon that Embraces the Sun crosses that threshold, it’ll joined the rarified ranks of MBC‘s biggest sageuk in years Queen
Snore Seon Deok. I still feel the most invested in the Hwon-Wol story, but Yang Myung sorta crept back up on me in this episode, reminding me of why I adored his sad one-sided pining for Yeon Woo many years ago. The man has it rough, and if the only thing in life he wants in Yeon Woo, it’s hard not to wish he could have that one solitary wish comes true. Plus Hwon was mostly a total meanie in this episode, so he’ll have to be extra nice to Wol to win brownie points with me.
Episode 9 recap:
Hwon wakes up when he ought to be sound asleep, much to the surprise of Wol who is looming over him and Woon who is watching over him. Hwon grabs Wol and switches their positions until he is on top of her. He demands to know who she is. Wol is stunned and cannot answer. Hwon calls out for his retainers to light the candles. Hyung Sun and co. run inside, alarmed to see the King awake and aware of the human amulet. The candles are lit, leading Hwon to stare in shock at the face of Wol, the shaman he met in the forest. He asks how she came to be here?
Seol lays in bed and tosses and turns, while Jang Shil sits by the bed and sews. Seol senses something bad might have happened and asks Jang Shil if she also has such a sixth sense. Jang Shil says darkness is coming, and then clarifies that to mean she is sewing a black robe.
Hwon faces Wol and demands to know who sent her? Was she also under orders the day they met in the forest? What was she intending to do now – seduce him, strangle him, stab him? Wol stays silent while Hwon rages at her, demanding to know who sent her. Wol explains that she is but the shaman sent to absorb his ills. The minister who brought Wol into the Palace comes running in and explains that Wol is a shaman of the Royal Astrology Office and is here ease the King’s ills. He explains that this shaman is not even a person, but is a human amulet.
Hwon asks how dare this person touch him, and who can be sure she doesn’t intend him any harm? Wol asks for a chance to explain. The parched earth needs to rest before flowers can grow in it. The King must also rest so he can govern a country. She is only wanting his majesty to lay down his weary body and get some rest. Hwon asks if she knows how he feels because she is a shaman and can read his mind? Wol apologizes, she heard him call out a person’s name in his sleep and it clearly weighed on his heart, so she wanted to ease his suffering.
Hwon thinks to himself that this woman could not possibly be Yeon Woo. If she were, she would recognize her name. It’s just an illusion and he’s mistaken. Hwon gets up and orders this woman immediately kicked out of the Palace. Woon and Hyung Sun look stunned while Wol begs him as she’s dragged out. The minister rages at Wol for daring to touch the King. He wants her locked up to await her punishment. Nok Young arrives and asks for the Royal Astrology Office to determine the punishment. The minister is pissed, ordering Wol to be branded with the word for criminal, and not to receive any water while she is imprisoned.
Wol is tossed in a dark completely enclosed space, which immediately freaks her out since she is claustrophobic. Wol bangs on the walls and begs to be released, crying out for Nok Young, Seol and even his majesty. Hwon sits in his chambers and remembers Wol touching his forehead, and also how she cried out for him as she was dragged away. Wol finally gives up banging on the walls. She remembers how the minister called her not even a person, and then how the King asked how this non-person dared to touch him.
Yang Myung goes to the Palace because he has a recollection of the attackers calling Wol a shaman. In the Palace, he finds the minister (the professor of astrology), who immediately looks all sorts of guilty. Yang Myung laughs and tells the guy to relax, but then he touches his hurt head dramatically before the minister. Yang Myung gets the minister to admit that he tried to abduct Wol, but then the minister lies that he was ordered to arrest Wol because she performed dark magic. He claims not to know where she is now.
Yang Myung runs into the two dowager queens on his way out of the Palce. He notes that they appear to be rushing to the King’s chambers, is something the matter with Hwon? Queen Yoon is cold to him, asking why he is here, and perhaps he wants to hear something is wrong with the King. She notes that people have been trying to curry favor with Yang Myung, but it will not succeed. As long as she is alive, he will never have a chance.
As the queens walk away, Yang Myung finally speaks up to remind Queen Yoon that the reason the flies are gathering outside his house is not because of him, it’s because the King does not yet have an heir. If the King is doing well, he hopes Queen Yoon also lives long and well. Yang Myung smiles and leaves, bidding the queens farewell and good health. But as he turns away, his smiles drops immediately and he stalks off.
Hwon faces his mother and grandmother, informing them that he is fine and healthy. Queen Yoon immediately brings up Prince Yang Myung, reminding Hwon that his very existence is a threat. Hwon must stay healthy, he must produce and heir, and he must stay away from Yang Myung. That is the only way Hwon can secure his throne.
Former Royal Consort Park is now a would-be-nun and is praying at a temple. Yang Myung visits with his mother, saddened that she is ending the rest of her life here. He puts on a smile to see her, confirming that she is doing well. He compliments his mother on having beautiful hair despite having no accessories. His mom isn’t yet ready to shave it. Yang Myung tells her to keep it for now. If something where to happen to Hwon, she would become the Dowager Queen. His mother warns him not to speak like this.
His mother tells him that a tree that doesn’t stay with the wind is destined to have its branches sheared off. She wants him to live well. Yang Myung has already cleared his heart, he has no desires for wealth or power. But there is someone, if there is another life, he wants to see that person. But he worries that she won’t recognize him, and once again she’ll choose someone else over him. He’s afraid of losing yet another opportunity with her. That is his only worry. Oh poor boy, I totally feel your pain. Yang Myung walks through town, wondering how he’s going to find Wol again?
Hwon sits with Woon, asking if he also misses Yang Myung. He asks Woon to share his thoughts because he knows Yang Myung very well. Hwon confirms that he doesn’t suspect his brother. But as the King, he is forced to keep his brother at a distance. Today he feels the weight of this position keenly. This leads Hwon to remember what Wol said, about wanting to ease his worries. Hwon asks Woon to check with the Royal Astrology Office for Wol.
Wol is curled up in her prison cell and has a dream. Her mother also wakes up from a nightmare, but this time she sees young Yeon Woo by her side. Mom cries as she hugs Yeon Woo, telling her beloved daughter how much she missed her. She asks how Yeon Woo is alive, and who she is wearing so little. Yeon Woo only cries as she looks at her mother, and then reaches out her hand to stroke her mother’s face. Yeon Woo finally talks, telling her mother to please stay healthy. Yeon Woo’s mom awakens again and this time she is alone in her room. Wol calls out for her mom, crying in her sleep for her mom.
Seol rages at Nok Young for not saving Wol and leaving her to rot in prison and to be branded a criminal. She wants to tell the King that the shaman is Heo Yeon Woo. Nok Young warns Seol to never say this again or else she’ll rip Seol’s mouth apart. Nok Young orders Seol out so she can have peace and quiet to think of a solution.
Yeom goes to visit the old Heo family estate, remembering his sister Yeon Woo and how they used to study together. As he turns to leave, he suddenly hears crying from inside. He runs in and finds his mother crying in Yeon Woo’s room. His mom cries that their Yeon Woo came to find her and appeared to want to say something. But she was afraid of making her mom sad so all she could do is cry.
Minhwa pricks her finger while she is stitching, which she takes as a bad omen. She wants to go check on her husband when she runs into Yeom helping his mother back home. Yeom confirms that his mom went to the other estate. Yeom asks Minhwa to take care of his mother.
Bo Kyung also has a dream about Yeon Woo, who causes her to wake up frightened out of her wits, wondering why a dead girl is appearing in her dreams. Hwon also wakes up in the middle of the night, but he’s calm and composed. He remembers Wol discussing how he called out for Yeon Woo, leading Wol to want to comfort him.
Hwon heads to court the next morning, passing by the kitchen ladies. Instead of complimenting them, he asks if they want him to eat the same food everyday until he dies? If they serve the porridge again, he won’t let them off easy. Hwon storms away, leading the ladies to wonder why the cold King is back and where the handsome smiling one went. Bo Kyung sees their fawning over Hwon and pretends to be fine with it, but her face grows ugly as she storms away.
She confronts Queen Han, tearfully asking if it’s true that the King has a woman by his side. She asks for permission to visit the King’s chambers. But even Queen Han is against it as per the suggestion of the Royal Astrology Office to keep Bo Kyung away from the King until the marriage consummation night. Queen Han tries to reassure Bo Kyung that a shaman is treating the King.
Hwon sits before his court of ministers, all of whom are on pins and needles waiting for his decision on their government construction project. Hwon toys around with them, using words that sound like he knows their secret plans, but each time skirting around it. Finally he gets to the construction, asking how it’s progressing. Yoon Dae Hyung offers the King to visit the site. Hwon replies that it’s perhaps a bit too late.
Yoon Dae Hyung and his cronies bitch about the King toying with them, clearly knowing something but refusing to act, leaving them all anxious and worried. One minister is happy to drop their plan, but the others want to continue. Yoon Dae Hyung is called to meet with Bo Kyung, who informs her dad that Nok Young is back as the head of the Royal Astrology Office. Bo Kyung wants her kicked out because she’s preventing Bo Kyung from seeing the King. He refuses to do as she wants. If the King isn’t even interested in Bo Kyung, he wouldn’t be interested in a lowly shaman.
Dae Hyung is still worried about Nok Young’s presence so he goes to meet with Queen Yoon, who snarks that he’s never around now that he’s the father-in-law to the King. The two are clearly not aligned tightly anymore, with the Queen thinking to herself that Dae Hyung has forgotten who got him that position, while Dae Hyung thinks that the Queen is a toothless tiger who still thinks she’s running the show. Dae Hyung wants the Queen to get rid of Nok Young and place the temporary shaman back. Since both shamans were involved in their past conspiracies with the two Kings, Queen Yoon insists on using Nok Young because she is the most powerful shaman in the country. She tells him not to worry, the dead tell no tales.
Wol awakens in her prison and it’s already morning time. She’s dragged out to receive her branding punishment. The minister is there, as is Nok Young and Seol. He orders her branded for the grave crime of breaking the law and defiling the Royal Astrology Office. Wol is tied down while the brand is slowly raised to her face.
Hwon is practicing archery with Woon, who reports the Wol is listed in the shaman registry. Furthermore, it appears Yoon Dae Hyung didn’t even know about the human amulet, so Wol is clearly not his spy. Woon asks Hwon to pardon Wol, who is not a spy. Hwon notes that it’s odd Woon would speak for this woman, but he concedes that Wol is not dangerous, it is Hwon himself who is dangerous.
Nok Young asks Ari for help on what to do. If she tells the truth, Wol will be immediately killed, but if she doesn’t, Wol will be maimed but stay alive. Suddenly Hyung Sun arrives just in time and orders Wol released and returned to the finish up her task. Everyone lets out a sigh of relief. Hwon knows that he has been bewitched. Much as he would like to shake her off, he knows he cannot. We see that every arrow Hwon shot missed its target.
Wol sits in her room, leaving her medicine untouched as she broods. She begs Nok Young to let her leave, it’s just a quick outing so she can do something. She knows that she cannot leave, and is just a lowly shaman who has no power or control. All the shame and ridicule she receives as a shaman is something she wants to try and change. She begs Nok Young for this first and last request.
Wol walks through town, and we see Princess Minhwa and her mother-in-law are also out getting some air. Minhwa tries to cheer her mother up, suggesting they buy some paper for Yeom who is running low on supplies. Minhwa’s consideration for Yeom makes her mother-in-law happy. Wol goes to the same paper seller that she once visited as a child to buy paper to write an apology note to young Hwon. When asked, she tells the seller that she is not intending to write a love note, but an apology letter. Suddenly she hears the voices of her youth, and then flashes back to Yang Myung saving her from the kidnappers.
Wol hurries back to the part of town where they parted, realizing that she didn’t keep her promise to meet him here. She never got to thank him, but so many days have passed that he can’t possibly still be here. Suddenly Yang Myung shows up and they stare at each other. He accompanies her back the paper seller to finish her purchase. She thanks him and is so happy to have a chance to see him again. Wol thanks him for trying to save her that day, and apologizes for not keeping her promise to meet him again.
Yang Myung tells her not to worry, he didn’t manage to save her last time anyways. She notes that he’s dressed differently and Yang Myung quietly explains that he’s not a real monk and is in fact an available bachelor. He notices the scratch on her cheek, worried that she has a lot of worries. If she wants to run away, she can tell him and he’ll help her. Wol says she’s in a safe place and is fine now. She then remembers teenage Yang Myung offering to run away with her, leading Wol to ask adult Yang Myung if he’s a member of royalty?
He asks how she knew and Wol chalks it up to spiritual visions. As a shaman, she offers him a word of advice. Wol asks Yang Myung to let go of the person he’s clinging onto in his heart. Stop pretending to laugh and use it to conceal his real emotions. He needs to love again, and to do so he needs to make room in his heart. Yang Myung asks her name, to which Wol initially wants to answer that she doesn’t have one, but then remembers Hwon naming her Wol. She gives her name as Wol to Yang Myung.
As Wol walks out of the paper store, she bumps into her mother. She apologizes profusely, but since her face is covered under her robe, her mother does not see Wol’s face. Yang Myung rushes out after Wol but she’s already walked away. His sister recognizes him and keeps him from rushing off, asking if he has a lover? Yang Myung says he does and quickly runs off in the direction Wol went. Yeon Woo’s mom wonders who the lady is that captured Yang Myung’s heart, noting that she looks close in age with her Yeon Woo. Minhwa suddenly loses her smile when she hears the name Yeon Woo. Yang Myung fails to find Wol again in town.
Wol sits in her room and prepares the paper and ink and then writes her apology letter to Hwon. Night falls and Wol is once again brought into the King’s chambers to act as a human amulet. She walks in and takes off her robe. She looks up in shock that Hwon is not sleeping, but is instead standing off to the side waiting for her. Bo Kyung stews as she thinks about a female shaman being placed besides the King. She rushes off, threatening to kill herself right now if she’s stopped.
Hwon tells Wol that he does not intend to drink the sleeping tea going forward. He wants Wol to honor what she said, to ease his sorrow. Hwon confirms that he is very lonely right now and he doesn’t want this pain in his heart anymore. He wants Wol to ease the pain in his heart, can she do that? Wol vows to block the bad energy coming towards the King, and to ease the suffering in his heart. She will be the King’s human amulet for the remaining days left in this month.
Hyung Sun paces outside the King’s chamber. He sees Bo Kyung arrive and immediately moves to block her path. She orders him to move and walks up to the door. She hears Hwon’s voice asking Wol to raise her head and show her face. Bo Kyung opens the outer door to Hwon’s chambers and walks in. She slowly opens the inner door, peering inside to see Hwon standing face-to-face with Wol and looking at her directly in the face.
Thoughts of Mine:
While I liked this episode overall, which continued to move the story forward at a furious pace while doing little bits of character reveals here and there, I found myself really checking out on the overarching conspiracy on a macro level. It is beyond silly, the over-the-top completely blatant evil plotting by Queen Yoon, her former henchman-turned-potential-rival Yoon Dae Hyung, and the rest of the gang of one-dimensional ministers. The level of elementary politics in MoonSun makes me long for a real sageuk, one which understands politics is about layered rivalries and power struggles that aren’t necessarily about right or wrong.
Sometimes when I watch a super dense sageuk I want more romance or smoochies. But having seen MoonSun pour on the romance at the expense of nuanced storytelling, it’s really not my thing if the result is dumbing down the essence of the conflict to this degree. Here’s to hoping it ratchets up a notch soon. I want this drama to be written with more depth because I want to care about more than if Hwon and Wol get married and have babies. I used to care about a lot of the other characters, but they are now written with such broad strokes it’s impossible to connect with their storylines.
I’m still of the opinion that adult Hwon and Wol have very little chemistry together, and what little exists stems purely from his side. She just stands there looking alternatively dazed and stunned. And no, I don’t think she’s supposed to come across as vacant. The nuance I expect from Wol isn’t there because Han Ga In doesn’t hit the little notes in the quiet moments with Hwon. She’s doing much better in her solitary scenes, such as when she was locked up in prison. With Yang Myung, I also saw a flicker of life in her acting, almost like she suddenly woke up and stopped sleepwalking through this role. This doesn’t bode well for my Hwon-Wol ship if Wol has more chemistry with Yang Myung, but the romance aspect of the OTP fated love story still keeps me firmly onboard.
Not sure what purpose most of the secondary characters serve up to this point – Seol just worries about Wol, Jang Shil is pretty much useless, Minhwa just acts playful or cute, Yeom does nothing except miss his sister and remain clueless to Minhwa, and Woon has as much charisma as a piece of wood. I need a bit more juice from the plot lines for the supporting players because otherwise the story stalls except for when the leads show up.