Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love has gone cray cray and doesn’t look to be returning to sanity anytime soon. But you know what? Episode 13 (and to some extent bits of episode 12) contained genuine allusions to the former awesomeness of this drama. A scene here, a dialogue there, a throwaway look in passing – all of that is both a bad reminder of what was once here but is now gone, and a good reminder that there is still something lingering that helps get through what has otherwise turned into screaming and plotting without forethought or intelligence. I don’t think Ok Jung is evil, I just think she’s turned rather stupid in her tactics. Just like I think everything Dowager Queen Kim does is flashing neon signs of plotting, her style seems to have affected everyone around her so gone is the delicate and subtle strategizing and here is the ham-fisted maneuvering. It’s not just Ok Jung, Lee Soon has taken a turn for cramming his wishes down everyone’s throat (like that ever ends well?) and even Minister Min just prowls around making angry constipated faces. A bunch of great characters are marginalized such as Jang Hyun and Prince Dongpyung, and Jae Hee’s Hyun Chi Soo finally makes his long-delayed appearance which lasted less than 5 minutes top.
This drama had so much potential, the first third of its run was absolutely delightful and a homerun of acting, directing, and writing. Now it’s just a below-average sageuk where everyone digs themselves into a hole and no one is all that nuanced or interesting anymore. I’ve stopped liking any major character now and it’s a sad moment to realize that the feisty Ok Jung has turned into a carelessly scheming Palace chess piece. Scheming is fine, but I need her to do it in ways that doesn’t shoot herself in the foot further down the line. Use your brains, girlfriend, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for a pyrrhic victory. Kim Tae Hee remains the stand out revelation in her performance as Jang Ok Jung, she’s trying so hard and appears to understand her character motivations are being thrown in the crapper for the sake of makjang plot twists. But she’s restrained while smirking, luminous in moments of sincerity, and breathtaking when she’s fighting for her loved ones. She’s the best thing in this now wonky drama.
Episode 13 recap:
Lee Soon is getting dressed and hears from the servants that all is well again in his Court – the Sungkyunkwan scholars have called off their protesting sit-in and the ministers have returned to court. He’s pleased and notes that Ok Jung is not a woman to be trifled with. He asks where Ok Jung is and hears she’s still kneeling outside the Dowager Queen’s residence. Lee Soon rushes there just in time to hear that his mom tried to sterilize his new honey. Not good.
He’s furious and Dowager Queen Kim kinda stepped in that land mine herself so she takes the “angry mom” approach and screams that she did it and it was for good reason! When this drama is done, someone needs to make a gif of all of Dowager Queen Kim’s epic and ridiculous facial expressions.
Dowager Queen Kim, who might pop a blood vessel at any moment or perhaps one of her eye balls will fly out of its eye socket from all her glaring, rages that there is no way in hell she’s doing to let some lowborn witch carry the next heir to the Joseon throne. She did this for Queen In Hyun’s sake and the future of Joseon! Unless she’s dead she will never allow this.
Ok Jung cries prettily and begs Lee Soon to understand his mother’s position and don’t do anything unfilial towards his mother. That pisses off Dowager Queen even more since Ok Jung is so two-faced now, threatening her one minute and then acting all like an understanding victim the next minute and she rushes forward to confront Ok Jung.
She has a neck cramp and when Ok Jung leans over to help, Dowager Queen Kim slaps her hard and sends her flying. What is this? Joseon wrestling? Or an episode of the Joseon “Maury Povich Show”?
Lee Soon is so angry he screams for his mother to be taken inside and then he huffs off, leaving Ok Jung sprawled on the ground. These people, everyone needs a downer.
Lee Soon goes back to him room to contemplate his mom rock and his Ok Jung hard place. He flashes back to poor crying shoeless Ok Jung returning from being force fed medicine that night and realizes how much she endured.
Ok Jung goes back to her room and later Lee Soon comes to see her. He apologizes for putting her through all this and embraces Ok Jung. She can endure any humiliation for him. He asks her to do one thing for him and that is she will bear children for him. When Ok Jung brings up Queen In Hyun and how that is her right but Lee Soon doesn’t care about her and just wants to have kids with Ok Jung.
Dowager Queen Kim goes back to her chambers and realizes desperate times calls for desperate measures. She needs Queen In Hyun to get pregnant first so she summons the shaman again. Queen In Hyun arrives to check on Dowager Queen Kim and the two woman hold hands to reassure each other. In Hyun isn’t keen on stealing back the King’s and doesn’t know how. Dowager Queen Kim says her son will never abandon the woman who gives him a child. So she needs to bear a son for him.
When the shaman arrives, she sees Queen In Hyun and looks disturbed. Queen In Hyun is asked to step aside and then the shaman reveals that Queen In Hyun likely will not bear a child. Dowager Queen is furious and asks the shaman to make it happen no matter what. They need to get Lee Soon’s heart away from that witch by having In Hyun give him a son first. The shaman suggests three nights from now as ideal for a wedding night. If they miss that day, there will be no more chances again.
Ok Jung meets with Minister Jo and Great Dowager Queen Jo to discuss how Dowager Queen Kim has arranged for the wedding night between Lee Soon and In Hyun. They fret about what that might bring. Ok Jung asks the time and date for the wedding night. She knows Lee Soon will listen to his mother since he’s a filial son and the royal wedding night is a national requirement. Dowager Queen Jo is furious since she knows Great Dowager Queen Kim purposely picked the time that In Hyun will get pregnant so this must be stopped!
Lee Soon meets with Minister Jo and Hyun Moo to discuss the problem with the Qing dynasty encroachment on Joseon. They want to build more fortresses but worry the Qing dynasty will claim its a violation of their peace treaty. He asks Minister Jo to handle the problem with the Qing dynasty and if does so, Lee Soon will allow Minister Jo to handle the construction of the fortress.
Ok Jung meets with Minister Jo and hears about the construction of the fortress. Ok Jung says she has a good idea. She’s willing to take the heat for the King and let others think its her suggestion and let them hate on her.
Court Lady Joo returns to the Palace to serve In Hyun and reveals that Ok Jung kidnapped and used her to threaten Minister Min (leaving out the part where her dad tried to burn Ok Jung alive). Well, at least In Hyun knows the truth now. Court Lady Joo calls Ok Jung a hundred year old gumiho living in the Palace.
In Hyun confronts Ok Jung about threatening her dad Minister Min and kidnapping Court Lady Joo. Ok Jung says she didn’t, it was Court Lady Joo who first kidnapped her and tried to get rid of her. She asks what her father would want with Ok Jung. Ok Jung asks In Hyun to ask her father how she came to be the Queen. In Hyun got this position because of Ok Jung’s tears and agony. Ok Jung smirks and asks In Hyun to give her dad Ok Jung’s greetings as Ok Jung is quite pleased with how things turned out.
Ok Jung says that before In Hyun comes to confront her, she should learn what lengths her dad went to in order to make In Hyun the Queen. In Hyun chides Ok Jung for her rudeness and points out her dad is Joseon’s highest ranking minister. Ok Jung smiles coldly and asks In Hyun to find out from Court Lady Joo all of Minister Min’s dirty little secrets.
Before a bitch fight can break out, Lee Soon arrives looking for Ok Jung. He wonders why In Hyun is here. Ok Jung makes the excuse that In Hyun is checking on her after her self-imposed punishment. In Hyun takes her leave.
In Hyun leaves and Lee Soon holds Ok Jung’s hand and head off for a stroll. He asks how she resolved the impasse with the Soron faction and congratulates her on subduing Joseon’s most formidable beast Minister Min. He is ready now to start using the Noron faction people more heavily and worries that she will become an even bigger target for the Soron faction. Ok Jung is fine that that, she can help take the heat off him and live up to her reputation as a temptress evil witch.
Outside the gates of Ok Jung’s residence, Minister Min and Kim walk by and see Lee Soon so lovey dovey with Consort Jang. Minister Kim says they can’t let this go on, what if she gets pregnant with the heir? Minister Min is upset but is relieved that Dowager Queen Kim has arranged for the wedding night between Lee Soon and In Hyun.
In Hyun is being bathed and prepped for her wedding night, with Dowager Queen Kim looking on contently. Lee Soon is getting dressed to head over to In Hyun’s residence.
Ok Jung is calmly primping herself while Court Lady Uhm frets about the King’s wedding night tonight with Queen In Hyun. Ok Jung coldly puts on makeup and then inserts into her hair the accessory that Lee Soon gave her after they slept together that first time.
In Hyun is all ready and nervously waits in her room for Lee Soon to arrive.
Lee Soon’s sedan chair is being carried through the Palace when he passes by Ok Jung’s residence. His eyes pop when Ok Jung, wearing her sleeping clothes and all made up, walks by the doorway and strikes a come hither pose. She then disappears into the residence and Lee Soon orders the chair stopped.
Lee Soon runs into Ok Jung’s residence while his poor eunuch tries to whisper loudly and frantically for the King to return. Dude, your King is off on a booty call, and not with the lady he was scheduled to have a booty call with tonight.
In Hyun realizes too much time has passed and suddenly remembers her first meeting with Ok Jung when she described how the clothes was made so beautiful so the flower can attract the butterfly. In Hyun rushes out.
Lee Soon stands before Ok Jung in the garden and they stare at each other. Lee Soon jokes that he got lost and now can’t find his way to the Queen’s chambers. Ok Jung has totally turned on her lady charm and she notices out of the corner of her eye that In Hyun has arrived.
Before Lee Soon can turn his head and see In Hyun, Ok Jung smirks at In Hyun and then grabs Lee Soon’s head for a kiss. In Hyun looks crushed while those two make out.
In Hyun goes back to her room and cries. I think Ok Jung finally succeeded in making an enemy out of In Hyun for good.
Lee Soon and Ok Jung lay in bed post-coital and he teases her for seducing him purposely knowing he had to go sleep with In Hyun tonight. Ok Jung teases back that he knew she was purposely seducing him and still he chose to be seduced. Lee Soon laughs and admits there is no man who can withstand her seduction. They snuggle and Ok Jung teases that everyone will think he’s gone crazy for a woman. Lee Soon wants them to think that, if they take him for a love sick fool, he can sneak up on them.
Dowager Queen Kim finds out the next day that the wedding night didn’t happen because her son took off to sleep with Ok Jung instead. Apparently the Court is in an uproar because of it.
In Hyun comes to visit Dowager Queen Kim who is so upset on her behalf and worried that she won’t bear the next heir to the throne and that the witch will bear the son first since the King is always sleeping with her. Does this entire drama have to be about which woman the King likes and/or is sleeping with? Isn’t there a country to govern? In Hyun promises to take care of things but Dowager Queen Kim is upset because the perfect timing was missed. No matter what, she will never ever forgive that witch for what she did.
Lee Soon is at Court and makes massive personnel changes, elevating ministers in the Noron faction while changing out ministers from the Soron faction. The Soron’s protest loudly and blame that evil witch Consort Jang for the King’s increasing favor for the Norons.
Lee Soon yells at them to accept his decision since he is the King and he put a lot of thought into it. He asks if they think Minister Jo bribed Consort Jang and she whispered sweet nothings in the King’s ear to get her way. Wouldn’t that imply the King was bribed to elevate Minister Jo? He asks how dare they insult the King especially as ministers of the Court! The Soron ministers shut up but glare at him very angrily.
In Hyun invites Ok Jung over for tea and decides to school her in history. She brings up Chinese Emperor Liu Bang, founding emperor of the Han dynasty (his great battles with Xiang Yu during the Chu-Han period is stuff of legend) whose wife was Empress Lu. After the Emperor died and Empress Lu’s son became the next Emperor, she got to work eviscerating her husband’s stable of consorts and concubines.
None received the brunt of Empress Lu’s ire more than Consort Qi, who had a son with the Emperor and once plotted to make her son the Crown Prince but failed. Empress Lu first made Consort Qi into a slave doing hard labor. When Consort Qi lamented in a song about her fate, Empress Lu got even more pissed and went to town on her.
Empress Lu had Consort Qi’s hands and feet cut off, gouged out both her eyes and cut off both her ears, and then made her drink poison to turn her into a mute. She then had Consort Qi tossed into a deep privy to receive everyone’s defecation. I know, I know Empress Lu is one crazy bitch (and she did way worse stuff to more people), Dowager Queen Kim has a long ways to go. She then led her son the new Emperor to see how she treated Consort Qi, and her son was horrified by his mother’s cruelty and thereafter fell ill and could no longer and rule and died shortly thereafter. Chinese history’s crazy is very hard to top.
In Hyun finishes this story and Ok Jung gets the warning but sasses back that she’s not Consort Qi and In Hyun is no Empress Lu. In Hyun says she is definitely not Empress Lu, if her son became Crown Prince she would treat Ok Jung kindly to show her what true generosity and class is. So that Ok Jung will leave the Palace on her own. Ok Jung says that will never happen, she will never leave the Palace on her own. Ok Jung walks out but does appear slightly affected by this talk. In Hyun calmly drinks her tea after Ok Jung leaves.
Lee Soon goes to the archery field with Prince Dongpyung, who has heard about all the uproar at Court with the recent personnel changes. Lee Soon can see that the yanbans are targeting their ire at Ok Jung and that makes Prince Dongpyung worried. Lee Soon vows that he will protect Ok Jung because she’s his most beloved woman.
Ok Jung goes to the seamstress wing and all the seamstresses who once bullied her are afraid she’s here for revenge. Instead Ok Jung wants to thanks Head Court Lady Cheon for her great tutelage and appears to want to butter her up to align with Ok Jung.
After Ok Jung leaves, she runs into Ja Kyung by the laundry room and confront her on trying to burn Ok Jung alive when they were kids. Ja Kyung confesses she did lock the door to the storage room because she was jealous about Chi Soo liking Ok Jung, but she didn’t set the fire, a man with a scar set the fire. Ja Kyung is so scared she slips and falls into the washing pond.
Ok Jung walks away crying, still remembering her childhood pain of losing her father and almost getting burned alive. She remembers Chi Soo orabeoni always helping her.
Hyun Chi Soo finally returns to Joseon as he steps off a boat from the Qing dynasty. He runs into Hee Jae at the dock but Hee Jae doesn’t know who he is.
Chi Soo goes to a gisaeng house and changes into proper attire. He meets with Minister Min and reveals that he’s the richest merchant in Joseon and is willing to assist the Soron faction. All he wants in return is the head of Jang Hyun.
Hee Jae discusses with Jang Hyun about how Ok Jung is getting all the King’s love. Hee Jae remarks that he heard a rich merchant was on his way back from the Qing dynasty, someone named Lord Jin. Jang Hyun says that even that name makes him upset.
In Hyun has tea with Dowager Queen Kim and brings up all the mother’s being invited to the Palace for tea but Ok Jung’s mother wasn’t. She suggests inviting her otherwise the King will get mad if he finds out. She heard the mother was formerly a slave of Minister Jo’s household, which make Dowager Queen Kim even more upset. In Hyun asks Dowager Queen Kim to treat Ok Jung’s mother well, which leads to Dowager Queen Kim getting an idea to get Ok Jung back through her mother.
Ok Jung is dressing Lee Soon in the morning for court. When she’s done, he tenderly pulls her in and kisses her forehead. He can tell she’s happy because she looks well.
Ok Jung blushes and then says that her mom will be coming to the Palace for an event. She is so happy to invite her mother to tour the Palace. Lee Soon promises to come by later after he’s done with work. Lee Soon is hurried to attend Court but he turns around to kiss Ok Jung one more time before leaving.
Ok Jung’s mother, dressed very plainly, enters the Palace. A Court Lady rudely tells her to come alone. She runs into Minister Jo as she enters and he’s surprised to see her here. He asks why she looks so worried and she explains that as a mother she is worried about all the danger her daughter might be in. Minister Jo says there is no need to worry, Ok Jung is exceptionally smart.
Minister Min and his cronies walk by and he asks who the woman is that Minister Jo is speaking with. He learns that she is the mother to Consort Jang. Minister Kim laughs about the reason she is here and another Minister whispers in Minister Min’s ears about the plot to embarrass Consort Jang through her mother to get back for the insult to Queen In Hyun on the wedding night that never happened.
Ok Jung is preparing gift for her mother happily. She’s about to rush to the banquet but a Court Lady is sent to intercept her and tell her to go do something else instead, promising to take care of Ok Jung’s mother at the banquet. All Ok Jung needs to do is arrive at the end to greet her mother. In Hyun’s stepmother arrives along with other noble ladies to join in a banquet held by Dowager Queen Kim.
Dowager Queen Kim greets all the ladies warmly until Ok Jung’s mother arrives and she purposely insults and puts her down. How can a former slave dine with wives of nobles! How can she expect to dine with the Dowager Queen! She makes Ok Jung’s mother dine on a grass mat on the dirt ground outside the pavilion. Man, I really hate Dowager Queen Kim!
Ok Jung’s mother endures the humiliation and belittlement of her status silently. Another nobleman calls out for Ok Jung’s mother to bring her water since as a slave that must be what she does. In Hyun quietly drinks her tea, not stepping forward to stop it.
Ok Jung arrives happily to see her mother at the banquet and stops in her tracks when she sees her mother outside alone. She walks up and asks what happened but her mom tries to defuse the situation and makes an excuse and says she is fine.
Ok Jung doesn’t buy it and angrily rushes into the pavilion to confront Dowager Queen Kim, who rolls her eyes at her. Ok Jung demands to know if her mother was purposely invited for this. In Hyun says Ok Jung is the noble now but her mother is not. Ok Jung tells In Hyun to think about how she would feel if her own mother was treated this way? In Hyun says its good Ok Jung cares, but the class society in Joseon cannot be changed.
Dowager Queen Kim and even In Hyun are all aligned with putting Ok Jung and her mother in their place. Dowager Queen Kim even insults Ok Jung’s father.
Ok Jung is so furious that she turns and slaps Dowager Queen Kim’s head court lady loudly across the face. She’s punishing the court lady for promising to take good care of Ok Jung’s mother at the banquet earlier and this is the treatment she gets? Slap her Ok Jung! This time I approve. Ok Jung’s mother looks on in horror as this confrontation escalates.
Ok Jung and In Hyun have a stare off. In Hyun says slapping the Dowager Queen Kim’s court lady is akin to slapping the Dowager herself. Ok Jung says the court lady is a member of the Palace but Ok Jung personally serves the King, and an insult to her mother is something she cannot endure.
Thoughts of Mine:
I’ll keep this short. The good – Kim Tae Hee trying her darndest especially in light of her character getting tossed around motivation-wise like a ship in a rough sea, the final confrontation in the pavilion over the humiliation heaped on her beloved mom, a few passing moments of sweet affection between Lee Soon and Ok Jung in their morning dressing scene that harkened back to how they fell in love without artifice. Everyone else is just plain stupid. Chi Soo is no longer needed here, his character feels superfluous since we have seen nothing between him and Ok Jung so why should we care what he feels about her. Plus she’s all in love with Lee Soon, sleeping with him, and about to carry his baby. So what possible interaction could she have with Chi Soo that could impact this story and how we feel about the OTP? Lee Soon continues his downward spiral in torpedoing his own legitimacy and rule by cramming his wishes down everyone’s throat. Ok Jung declaring open warfare on In Hyun by seducing Lee Soon on the arrangement wedding night was just a dumbass thing to do. He wouldn’t have slept with In Hyun anyway, Ok Jung is making more enemies than she needs when really the adage is to keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. She’s not even attempting to win over Dowager Queen Kim or In Hyun anymore. While all the sageuk logic gets tossed out the window for the sake of Ok Jung turning into a bimbo seductress to get her way with Lee Soon and everyone else in the Palace hating on her without any subtlety, I end up zoning out to laugh at the histrionics and admire the succession of beautiful hanboks worn by Ok Jung and her many hair accessories. I’m sad the writing is letting the cast down (with the exception of crazy-face Dowager Queen Kim) because they work so hard and clearly love making this drama and it comes through.