It’s interesting for me, watching as a modern viewer, to be cheering on such a classist way of looking at things. Why do I want the throne to gain strength when it’s a position passed down via birth-luck rather than any kind of merit? I must credit the show-creators and their clever job in pulling me so firmly onto Lee Soon’s side.
Mild spoilers through episode 13 below…
Their first move: Minister Min and all his lackeys (which includes the Dowager Queen) are horrifying snobs. Min’s sneer to Ok-jung that horses are worth more than slaves, the court’s consistent insistence that being a part of the aristocracy (or the yangban) makes them far better and worthier than commoners, the Queen Dowager’s horror at the thought of Ok-jung’s lowborn blood mingling with her royal son’s. Those attitudes are perfectly designed to disgust me and pretty much guarantee I side with the other guy.
Solidifying my support for him as “the other guy,” Lee Soon consistently shows concern towards the commoners of his kingdom. He links his rise in power to a rise in the commoners rights and protections. And he sees the weakening of the bigoted yangban class as a necessary step to raise both himself and the common man. Is it historically accurate? I suspect figuring that out would take a greater dive into Joseon era tax law than I’m willing to make. But in-show it works.
The throne’s wealth (and therefore power) is dependent on the taxes it can collect from the common man. Which means wealthier (and therefore more powerful) commoners is good for the throne. In-show it’s specifically pointed out that the yangban class is exempt from taxes. So Lee Soon’s game of rising the commoner while weakening the yangban makes sense to me. And thus — via clever use of classism — I’m on the king’s side. (There is so much irony in that statement.)
Then there’s the sexism of the inner-palace politics… This part is harder for me and my modern views to get behind. The race to be the first to give birth to a son isn’t exactly female-friendly. I totally understand it’s how things worked in that day and age. Women really were judged by their wombs. It sucked, I’m glad we’re steadily moving past that outmoded way of thinking, but it was the way things were. I still don’t like it. However, the show has made it more palatable.
Once again, they make use of the ugly classism of Minister Min’s side and show Lee Soon rejecting that way of thinking. He wants his son (*sigh* I know… ye olden days) to be from Ok-jung because he totally doesn’t care about clean blood and dirty blood because he’s just that cool. He loves Ok-jung, respects her intelligence and (because he’s still a ruthless game player –which is such a bonus for me) he knows it’ll further weaken Minister Min’s power. Historically accurate? I have no idea.
(I kind of suspect Lee Soon is sporting some anachronistic views towards class and worth. But I’ll take it! Especially since it’s supported in-show. He believes the throne is so far above the yangban class it automatically raises whomever it touches. A son from Ok-jung would be royalty because of his blood — she’s raised by association with him — that’s the power and strength of the throne.)
So the opposing classism sweetens the bitter pill of sexism a little. And Ok-jung’s awesomeness washes it down. She’s actively going after what she wants — not just leaving it up to the menfolk to decide. (The scene where she waylays Lee Soon on his way to In-hyun was so, so cool — especially since she was so upfront about it.)
And she’s using the usual attacks men use to denigrate women against her enemies — which is so, so clever.
To help Lee Soon achieve his goals, Ok-jung willingly plays to the bigoted view that she’s a power-greedy vixen. So the court wastes all their protests on her… and totally forget to look into why Lee Soon wanted those men specifically in his court, and what tasks he’ll be giving them. It’s smart on her part. And stupid on the part of the male courtiers who totally dismiss her because she’s a woman (and a lowborn woman at that).
Also, I can tell that she’d like to have Lee Soon’s child regardless of the power plays (they are so obviously in love). In fact, she had to fight to have the right to make that choice — to keep control over her own body. (This might be pushing it a little, but she’s also been protecting Lee Soon’s choice as well. He was heading off to have sex with a woman against his own will — she gave him an out.)
So the show has been very clever in getting me, and keeping me, on Ok-jung’s and Lee Soon’s side. (I’ll be interested to see how they handle the ending. My prediction? Ok-jung sacrifices herself to keep her son and Lee Soon safe. History records her as a wicked woman; those close to her (including Lee Soon) know differently. I’d love it if she lives so it’s only semi-tragic (alive but forever apart)… but I really, really hope Lee Soon continues to hold her in his heart.)
Okay. Are the subs for ep. 14 out yet? (Yes they are! Diversionary tactics for the win!! …but that’s another post.)