Spoilers through episode 10 below:
I’m happy to report my fears were unfounded. The show was fully aware that Jang Ok-jung was approaching a major shift of priorities. And they carefully showed us each step that took her to that final, chilling scene on the mountain top.
It was completely believable that her character would begin to stand up against those that threw her down. After all, she’d spent her life trying to fight the system — she’s shown grit and courage from the beginning — and now that determination is harnessed in a different direction. But I really appreciated that we see begin to see her stand (tricking the lying Ja-kyung into confessing) before the crap really hit the fan. It was a nice reminder that she’s not a meek little thing, easily trifled with.
So when she makes the decision to love the King — to live for herself — you expect her to go all in. What I appreciated is that she honestly wasn’t political and wouldn’t have been political if her relationship with Lee Soon had been left alone. I think she’d have been perfectly content to be the steadfast companion in the inner palace, living as close to a quiet domestic life together as they could achieve.
But because the Queen Mother is doing her best to will her own personal desires into fruition (she fights fate every painful step of the way — and pays a strong price for it) and because Uncle Jang is a deliciously cunning and diabolical manipulator, and because Lord Min is a prejudiced, prideful and just-evil-enough ass, Ok-jung is dragged into the game.
The other player is, of course, In-hyun. And it’s fascinating how sympathetic she remains even while she’s shown to be a very cool and calculated thinker with as strong attachments to her own goals as Jang Ok-jung. Episode 10 created game-changers for both characters and I can’t wait to see them both at the palace, interacting with each other.
Though now I’m beginning to suspect that the end of this story may fall within the basic outline of the actual history. My new fear is Ok-jung’s rage towards her enemies will twist her love for Lee Soon. That she’ll either abuse his love or his trust, and that he’ll find In-hyun’s impersonal coolness a balm. So he’ll end up executing Ok-jung out of anger and only regret it after she’s dead and gone and he’s had a chance to think.
I do know, I’m really, really happy with how the players have all been reshuffled. And I’m beyond eager to see what happens next.