Holy cow bells was this an awesome episode of Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love. I got shivers of the good kind from all angles – the budding romance and the intensifying political and power plays all around. There are no wasted characters or confusing motivations here and every little detail adds to the rich lustre of the narrative world being created. The story plows ahead without any gotcha moments (save for one really unexpected person being the first to find out something of critical value) but instead continues to churn the morass that is Joseon court politics. I can’t believe I’m missing Minister Min and the grasping Soron faction, but compared to the regicidal Noron faction backing Prince Boksun, he’s definitely the lesser of two evils (at this stage). When King Hyeonjong said that he was letting in the wolf to get rid of the fox, he couldn’t have realized that the wolf was the deadlier of the two animals and a greater immediate threat to his son. Lee Soon is really so very lucky he has a non power hungry uncle in Prince Dongpyung, otherwise he’s be deader than a fawn during hunting season a long time ago.
The ministers from both factions are right on one thing – the royal family is weak and cannot hope to exert power if they can’t back it up. Who would take freshly minted money unless it was backed by commensurate gold kept in the treasury, right? Lee Soon is trying too hard and too fast to change the status quo, and I hope that if he survives this Prince Boksun and Noron coup he’ll slow the heck down and change the alignment of power in court at a more gradual pace. I also think he’ll realize through this lesson that he needs to keep both factions and use them to balance each other out. I think this is where his future romantic and marriage woes will arise. As he falls for Ok Jung for real and finds a way to marry her despite their disparate positions, he’ll discover that she’s a resource for his consolidation of power. What I don’t think he’ll understand, until it’s probably too late, and in involving her in his world, he’s only going to sacrifice their love at the maws of a greater force that he cannot hope to tame. Ok Jung takes the first step into the Palace in this episode and I’m already anxious and nervous for her fate.
Episode 6 recap:
Ok Jung and Lee Soon are walking back to the hut when they see the men swarming the forest.
Lee Soon tells Ok Jung to run while he distracts the men. She’s reluctant but he tells her that he’ll be fine. Lee Soon throws a rock to catch the attention of the men and then darts away.
Ok Jung gets back to the hut and finds her mother held at knife point by Jang Hyun’s men. Before they can be taken away, the minions sent by evil Madam Jo have caught up to them and want first dibs.
Lee Soon is rescued by the arrival of Prince Dongpyung and his men, revealing that Prince Boksun and Minister Heo was behind this attack. He asks to go somewhere first before heading back to the Palace
When Lee Soon goes back to the hut, Ok Jung and her mother are long gone. He looks around sadly. Guh, these two cousins not knowing they love the same woman is going to kill me softly. Prince Dongpyung urges him to hurry back to the Palace for the New Year Prayer Ceremony.
Ok Jung and her mother are trussed up and brought back to Madam Jo’s. The crazy witch is ready to exact her vengeance even as Ok Jung and her mother beg for mercy. Madam Jo wants to brand Ok Jung’s mom and when Ok Jung speaks up, Madam Jo decides to brand her as well.
Madam Jo is about to brand Ok Jung’s face with a hot iron when finally her husband Minister Jo has enough of his crazy wife’s antics and steps forward to stop her. About time, dude.
Minister Jo finally grows a pair and puts his wife in her place. He knows she’s been getting money from Jang Hyun and doing all sorts of despicable things to Ok Jung and her mother. He’s let it go for now but enough is enough!
The royal family and all the ministers are gathered for an prayer ceremony and everyone stands around waiting for the MIA Crown Prince Lee Soon. Minister Heo secretly smirks believing Lee Soon is dead.
Suddenly Lee Soon arrives and walks through the ranks. All the Ministers start bowing and chanting and Minister Heo is the last to follow suit.
When Lee Soon walks past him, he pauses for a moment, clearly aware of what Minister Heo and the Noron faction tried to do to him.
Ok Jung and her mother are locked up in the storage shed. Ok Jung decides that one devil (Minister Jo’s offer) is better than the other (Jang Hyun shoving her to Prince Boksun).
Ok Jung meets with Minister Jo and accepts his offer to go to the Palace and become a court lady. In exchange she wants her mother freed. Minister Jo asks what’s in it for him, and she promises to help his family gain prominence and power once she has influence.
Minister Jo asks what is motivating her and Ok Jung says the fear of becoming a government slave, the desire to save her mother, and the knowledge that she is so lowborn that her only chances of succeeding in life lie with the very opportunity rich Palace world. Minister Jo will move Ok Jung’s mother to another residence away from his crazy wife, but will not release her yet because he doesn’t know if Ok Jung will work hard. Ok Jung vows to work hard and she wants to become a seamstress there and sew the most spectacular clothes. Ok Jung admits she has one more reason for entering the Palace but asks to keep that a secret.
After Ok Jung leaves Minister Jo’s study, she cries silently outside at the injustice of it all.
Lee Soon meets with Minister Heo and reveals that he was late to the ceremony because someone tried to kill him. Lee Soon feints and claims it must be those angry Soron folks trying to get back at him for kicking them out of power. He tells Minister Heo to look into it. Minister Heo walks away clearly not that easily fooled.
Prince Dongpyung chats with Lee Soon about their next move, wondering if Minister Heo bought that crock of bull. Lee Soon doesn’t know and it doesn’t matter, this is all he can do since he knows who tried to kill him but can’t even do anything about it.
Madam Jo goes to confront Ok Jung but Ok Jung stands her ground and tells Madam Jo to shelve her crazy. If she lets Ok Jung enter the Palace under the Jo family protection, then whatever power and influence Ok Jung gains there will be passed on to the Jo family. Madam Jo huffs away but does back down.
Ok Jung’s mom finds her and tries to talk her about of going to the Palace since it means a lifetime of never being married and living an ordinary life.
Prince Boksun meets with Jang Hyun and Minister Heo to discuss their failed assassination attempt. They believe Lee Soon knows its them but can’t do anything about it. Prince Boksun decides to go for broke and try again. They decide on the upcoming Minister Heo’s birthday party to assassinate Lee Soon. Jang Hyun does not look pleased about this hard line approach and Prince Boksun reminds him that he’s waited 7 years for this moment to exact revenge.
Jang Hyun goes to see Minister Jo to get Ok Jung back and finds out that Minister Jo wants to keep her and develop her talents elsewhere. Jang Hyun reveals that Ok Jung is promised to Prince Boksun, who is next in line to the throne if ever anything happened to the current King. Minister Jo is furious Jang Hyun even dares to speak of the King this way.
Minister Jo informs him that Ok Jung is under his protection and she’s going to the Palace to become a court lady. Jang Hyun is furious but keeps himself in check.
Jang Hyun rushes to the Palace to intercept Ok Jung. As he arrives the King’s procession is leaving the Palace and everyone kneels as it passes. Lee Soon orders the curtains raised because he wants to see and hear his citizens, and let them see and hear him as well. He no longer wants the King to rule from afar and be so distant from his nation.
Jang Hyun raises his head and takes a good clear look at the King’s face and is stunned to discover the King is none other than the young man who he saw with Ok Jung at Prince Dongpyung’s party.
Jang Hyun’s face goes from absolute shock to a smile like he just won the lottery without even buying a ticket. Amazing acting by Song Dong Il.
Ok Jung arrives at the Palace and Jang Hyun watches her enter without intercepting her, which confuses his minion. Jang Hyun wonders who is the true King – Lee Soon or Prince Boksun.
Ok Jung is brought to meet with the Great Dowager Queen Jo. Ok Jung’s first bow is ignored by the Queen so when Ok Jung bows twice the Queen is insulted since that is reserved for the deceased. Ok Jung reveals that she is bowing both in meeting the Queen and in saying her farewell.
The Queen looks Ok Jung over and asks a few questions to probe her personality. When asked what is the deepest thing in the world, Ok Jung says the heart. No one can ever probe the deepest recesses of the heart. The Queen can tell Ok Jung has very deep eyes but she does not know if Ok Jung is loyal. Ok Jung says that is like water in a tub, the depth can only be ascertained as the water is scooped out. Her loyalty can only be determined through time. The Queen calls her insolent and dismisses her.
After the meeting with the Great Dowager Queen, Ok Jung heads to the same bluff where Lee Soon asked her to go with him and tells her to come find him in the Palace.
When Ok Jung gets back to her store, Jang Hyun is there waiting for her. He asks what her relationship is with the young man at Prince Dongpyung’s party? Ok Jung candidly says its just a guy she’s meet a few times before.
Jang Hyun allows her to go to the Palace to be a court lady but pointedly tells Ok Jung that she will never escape his clutches.
Ok Jung’s brother Hee Jae returns from the Qing dynasty and goes to meet with Jang Hyun first. Jang Hyun welcomes him back and tells him that Ok Jung is headed to the Palace to become a court lady and she will be their Jang family key to success. Hee Jae promises his uncle that he will support Ok Jung’s path and if anyone tried to block her, he will remove that person.
Hee Jae goes to see his mother and Ok Jung and the remaining Jang family members tearfully hug.
Queen In Kyung is sewing and the Dowager Queen Kim goes to see her daughter-in-law. She drags In Kyung out to spend more time with her husband, purposely putting her in the path of the King and blatantly suggesting they play a tossing game.
Lee Soon and In Kyung play the tossing game in the courtyard with all the servants standing around. In Kyung is clearly affected when Lee Soon gets close and touches her hand to show her how to toss.
But then her heart breaks when Lee Soon leans in and whispers in her ear that this is all for show because that is all their marriage is.
Dowager Queen Kim meets with In Kyung’s father Minister Kim, who is now the one offering her jewels and presents to curry her favor. He is worried that the King does not visit the Queen but the Dowager Queen tells him not to worry. The King is uninterested in any other woman and he’ll turn to the Queen eventually.
In Hyun hears from her friends about the goings on in the Palace that Queen In Kyung is being ignored by the King. She shushes them, saying it is unseemly to gossip about the Queen and the Mother of the Nation.
Lee Soon plays chess with Minister Heo. The Minister invites Lee Soon to a party held at his estate. Lee Soon declines saying he is scheduled to go hunting. And then he realizes what is happening and suddenly asks if he can bring back his former martial arts teacher Jo Hyun Moo to be an official in the Palace. Minister Heo trades Lee Soon that appointment for Lee Soon attending his birthday party.
Minister Min meets with another minister to get an update and learns that Lee Soon has brought back Jo Hyun Moo into the Palace as a military official.
Lee Soon decides on how to handle Minister Heo and the Noron faction. They know all the army officials will be at the party except for Minister Kim. As long as Hyun Moo and his guards arrive in time at the party, they can still win.
In Hyun goes to pay her respects to her father who brought his new wife home. After the new wife leaves to get tea, Minister Min asks if its hard on In Hyun that he got a new wife this quickly.
In Hyun knows he is doing it for her future. Minister Min says he will avenge her humiliation and one day put her in the spot of Queen which is her rightful place. In Hyun asks to visit Queen In Kyung and Minister Min allows it.
Ok Jung gets ready to go enter the Palace. She thinks about how going into the Palace is her only hope, and this hope is the only thing sustaining her.
Ok Jung arrives and is immediately taken to the bustling court lady quarters. She is assigned to the seamstress position. She meets another court lady who is very nice to her. Head Court Lady Cheon arrives to inspect her crew. She’s very no-nonsense and exacting and all the young court ladies are scared of her.
The only court lady she approves of turns out to be Ja Kyung, Ok Jung’s nemesis from childhood. Of course it is! Ja Kyung disappeared and managed to finagle herself a court lady position though god knows what. The sheer willpower to continue to torment Ok Jung? Who knows, ’tis the magic of the two-degrees-of-drama-connections. Ja Kyung recognizes Ok Jung, but not the other way around.
Lee Soon is getting dressed and he asks after the clothes that Ok Jung made for him. He finds out it was washed and asks to wear it today under his royal robes. Awwwww. He thinks back to his promise to Ok Jung as he is dressed to go out for Minister Heo’s party.
Lee Soon talks with Prince Dongpyung and finds out Hyun Moo has not yet arrived. They discuss Hyun Moo needing to arrive straight to the party and if he doesn’t get there in time, then their lives will be on the line. Minister Heo’s side starts preparing for the party (and the assassination) and we see Hyun Moo and his troops rushing to get back to the capital. HURRY!!
As Ok Jung walks through the Palace, Dowager Queen Kim sees her and is not pleased. She is relieved to hear Ok Jung works in the laundry room, far from the King’s presence, ordering that that girl not be allowed to ever be near the King.
After Ok Jung washes all the clothes, the other court ladies come over and taunt her for being low born. They dirty the clothes by stepping on it, and then pour dirty water all over her.
Ok Jung endures the hazing and glares at them. Ja Kyung stares and smiles as the mean girls join her. After they leave, Ok Jung goes back to washing clothes. Ok Jung she flashes back to her interaction with Lee Soon there when he took her to find cloth to make In Kyung a skirt.
All the Noron folks are arriving at the party and giving each other looks. They sit in a room and all of them write down their names on a piece of paper, but Jang Hyun is purposefully skipped over. Dudes, that is stupid, to piss off and ignore the guy with the money and nothing to lose. Jang Hyun keeps his anger in check at this deliberate slight. The book is given back to Prince Boksun and everyone’s name written down represents those who support Prince Boksun and he will reward after the coup.
Lee Soon and Prince Dongpyung arrive at the party and are seated.
Prince Dongpyung steps away talks with Jang Hyun, claiming he’s looking for a place to whiz by the wall rather than the smelly outhouse. He wonders how Jang Hyun got so close to the newly arrived Minister Heo. It’s pretty fantastic double-cross for Jang Hyun to backstab Prince Boksun and the Noron because he knows Ok Jung has an even better way to the throne through the King. Love it!
Prince Dongpyung says he and Jang Hyun are the same, they go where the wind blows. So doesn’t Jang Hyun know what is to come? Jang Hyun warns Prince Dongpyung about what is to come, bringing up famous Chinese historical folklore about the sword dance assassination attempt between Liu Bang and Xiang Yu during a banquet. Prince Dongpyung tries to rush back to the banquet but Jang Hyun grabs him and says its too late now.
A group of sword dancers are brought out to entertain the guests. Belly dancers would have been better, though there would no nowhere to stash the weapon of assassination.
We see the King’s guards led by Hyun Moo racing to reach the party.
When Lee Soon picks up his tea cup, he sees the words “Xiang Yu Sword Dance” written on it and his hand shakes. OMG, someone already secretly warned him. Suddenly one dancing girl breaks from the group and flies towards Lee Soon with her sword aimed straight for his heart. Yikes!
Thoughts of Mine:
Wow. Let me take a moment here. No, I’m not worried about Lee Soon’s life or the assassination attempt. Even without this being loosely based on history, there is no way a drama would off its leading man in this early on. Nevertheless, everything about the assassination attempt was totally riveting and heart pumping because of all the feelings and plotting that went into it. Lee Soon knows there is an assassination attempt waiting for him yet he still goes to that birthday party. That’s some balls on this new King, but he’s not going in with brash bravado, he’s actually scared and genuinely believes his life is on the line. But he has no choice – Prince Boksun and the Norons are coming for him no matter what. He’s either going to take them out now or wait for them to keep striking and that is the worse of the two options. I appreciate the drama really digging into showing us the treacherous waters that Lee Soon swims in as King, and even if all he does is sit on the throne and do no actual ruling, his position still will never be secure. It’s either attack or be attacked, and he’s getting a hard lesson that he cannot effectively govern without becoming as ruthless as his enemies. He has no allies, all he has is the ability to turn his enemies against each other to maintain the balance of power. Even were he to later use his wives to further his political agenda, would we have the heart to castigate him when we know the odds he is up against and that he aims to truly be a good King and make the lives of his citizens better?
Ok Jung’s life also took a drastic turn in this episode as she decides on her own to enter the Palace as a court lady. I love that she’s no rash or full of herself, she believes in her skills as a seamstress but she’s accepted that her lowly birth will always prevent her from her dreams of freeing her mother and make clothes that will change people lives. She’s learning to live and work within the system, and for once I’m not baffled by a heroine clinging to totally unrealistic expectations and expecting the world to adapt to her ideals. It’s extra meaningful that one of the motivators for her to enter the Palace is to look for Lee Soon. The way the OTP thinks about each other in their down time or when the memory comes to unbidden is the slow romantic buildup that really sucks me into their story. Their falling in love is a part of the bigger story, and while it will surely play a pivotal part in how things unfold it’s not the end all be all in their life. Goosebumps were literally crawling up my back when Jang Hyun became the first person (and really the last person we want knowing this information) to learn that Ok Jung and Lee Soon have met privately and are clearly interested in each other. In the world of warring ministers from rival factions angling for power, its this supposedly lowly merchant that strikes me more and more as the true master waiting in the wings. We need to all put on our big girl or big boy hats because the ride is about to start getting serious.