In a nutshell: Hated it. Hated it so much. Partially, I’m sure, because I’d been so excited for it. M/S came from the same novelist who wrote Sungkyunkwan Scandal (one of my favorite dramas), there’d been a lot of good buzz and it got amazing watch-ratings, and the first few episodes with the child-actors were so promising. Which all served to make the sudden drop feel like a betrayal. And now, I rant. *ahem*
I rant and I spoil… eventually I spoil everything. I’ll add in a second warning, but be aware.
The rant: So, so, so many things were wrong about this drama. The main leads were either flat or grating without much in between. The plot turned around on itself to such an extent it actually validated the villains and made the entire adventure an exercise in futility. And the romances were selfish and gross and featured the ugliest of love-triangles.
Now, I’m not against love-triangles. I don’t adore them because they generally mean pain for someone, but I understand what they bring to the story. And they’re usually solved in a way I like. The second lead realizes he didn’t really understand the girl he thought he loved and moves on (Twelve Men in a Year). Or the second lead is an ass that needs to get set down (Queen Inhyun’s Man). Or it’s a bittersweet one-sided love and the second lead moves on, wiser and stronger, open for a reciprocal love of his own (Sungkyunkwan Scandal).
SPOILERS! SPOILERS GALORE!
So how did M/S do it? The second lead is deeply in love with the girl. He understands and admires her for who she is and does everything in his power to help her achieve her goals. He even realizes that she’ll never love him and doesn’t try to hold onto her. But! He also realizes that he’ll never. Ever. Be loved himself. And then he kills himself. And if that weren’t gross enough, the story seemed to agree with him. It implied that the noblest thing this character could do was die certain in the thought that he will be doomed to love this girl throughout all time, without her ever loving him back. Which is the type of love-triangle solution I despise. If someone’s going to have a broken heart, let them move on! It doesn’t have to be “in-show” — any implication that the heartbreak isn’t forever is good. But I think M/S felt that a forever futile love was romantic. Somehow.
It didn’t help that the character was played by Jung Il-woo with a level of sensitivity I frankly think the drama didn’t deserve. He gives up everything (his friends, his love, any sense of life-purpose) for his brother because he thinks his brother deserves it — is worthy of this level of sacrifice. And then we see his brother being… not worth it. Mainly running around the palace shouting that he’s the king but not actually achieving anything. (Which came this close to killing the actor, Kim Soo-hyun, for me. Though I honestly think it was the writing forcing him to fall back on acting tricks — which for him includes impassioned shouting — because there was no meat to his character for him to work with. So I’m just going to be picky about what I watch Kim Soo-hyun in next.)
The death scene did turn out to be unintentionally hilarious. Jung Il-woo’s character throws himself into the path of a spear meant for the king, thereby performing the ultimate sacrifice (because he hadn’t already sacrificed enough) for his brother. But the spear-thrower took three years to stagger to his feet, they were surrounded by highly trained archers who had plenty of opportunity to take down the spear-guy, and Jung Il-woo could’ve just nudged his brother out of the way, thereby saving both their lives. So I laughed while watching. Even as I shook my head because it basically meant the character was choosing to die.
Which meant! The opening of the drama where the evil grandma says there can only be one sun, so let’s kill the older brother of the king (king = sun in this scenario), was actually right. Jung Il-woo’s character, by choosing to die, signals an agreement with evil grandma. There can be only one sun. So the whole adventure got started because that first shaman lady got it wrong and she should have just shut up and let the murders happen.
I’d read that Sungkyunkwan Scandal tweaked the ending quite a bit from the source material. Having watched M/S and experienced its slide from charming into horrifying (the reason I kept watching: I couldn’t believe it really was getting as bad as it got), I’m thinking the SKKS folks made a wise decision. If only the M/S people had done the same thing. Final verdict? Save yourself the headache and don’t watch.