Dong Yi — a review of episodes 37 to 41
This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in these episodes so do not read this post if you want the experience of watching the serial unfold onscreen. Further, these episode numbers are based on the terrestrial broadcasts I have seen and not on downloaded or DVD episodes. It’s possible that these numbers do not match your experience.
The scriptwriters have been playing with the convention that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. If the King (Ji Jin Hee) and Choi Dong Yi (Han Hyo Joo) had met on an occasional basis inside and outside the Palace, there would have been continuing sparks. But this forced separation has really set the relationship on fire. So, finally, we have the touching moment. From this, you will understand the pun. It’s always emotionally affecting to see a couple reunited after a long period. That it should produce an almost immediate hug sealed the deal. There have been moments of physical contact before. We won’t count Dong Yi using the King as a step ladder to climb over a wall. She didn’t know who she was standing on. Overall, there’s been a slow but steady journey to this moment of intimacy. They have been wrestling with the problem of mismatched status as affection grew more real.
The melodrama was really cranked up with Dong Yi inside the Palace as a laundry maid first able to contact Surveillance Bureau Court Lady Jung (Kim Hye-Sun) and fellow surveillance lady who have been so loyal. Then her hopes are dashed as she watches them arrested and her own safety comes under threat. The lascivious son of the Music Department’s director spotted her, sending the Palace into full lock-down as guards with the the right to capture with extreme prejudice scour every nook and cranny. Only just escaping before the doors to the outside world are closed, she retreats to the place where she and the King had enjoyed happy moments. Taking out her trusty fiddle, she plays the siren song that brings the King to her side. Good job he decided to spend the nighttime hours visiting old haunts.
Except, when you think of all the alarums and excursions she has endured over the last few episodes, running hither and thither under threat of death, it’s hardly surprising she manages only a few hours before the adrenaline finally runs out and she collapses. This leaves the King even more devastated. Having just recovered her only to find her at death’s door, the King and brother Cha Jeon-Soo (Bae Su-Bin) can do nothing but look on helplessly.
In the meantime, the Southern faction in control of the court is readying itself to fight any attempt to reopen the case of the deposed Queen. Since they are all entrenched in the most senior positions it’s going to be difficult to work around them. Although our Chief of Police, Seo Yong-Gi (Jeong Jin-Yeon), has been promoted to the highest possible position to mount a full investigation, it’s not at all certain he will be allowed access to all the available information — not forgetting the fire at the Treasury destroyed most of the key documents anyway.
With a trap set by burying fake evidence in the grounds of the Treasury, Seo Yong-Gi arrests the Treasurer and Jang Hee-Jae (Kim Yoo Suk). With the torture starting, the King asks Queen Jang (Lee So-Yeon) whether she admits any wrongdoing. He cannot cover up the crimes, but he says he will forgive her in his heart. Not surprisingly, she rejects any hint of confession and, to turn the tables, gets the Southern faction ministers to demand the King hand over Dong Yi for examination. Since she’s the source of the information being used to accuse Jang Hee-Jae, it’s only fair that she also be examined in public. When the King attempts to protect Dong Yi by declaring that he’s already slept with the girl, thus making her a Royal Consort in fact if not in the record books, the Southern faction are outraged. This girl is a declared criminal, having been convicted in her absence of burning down the Treasury. They immediately look to Lady Jang to take action.
Once Dong Yi re-enters the Palace, there are two great moments of reunion, first with her friends from the Music Department Hwang Joo-Sik (Lee Hee-Do) and Young-Dal (Lee Kwang-Su) and second, with Court Lady Jung now released from interrogation. Both meetings, in their different ways, give Dong Yi a perspective on her situation.
When the “proposal” finally comes following Dong Yi’s unilateral promotion to Royal Consort, it’s rather endearing to see how inexperienced the King appears to be. It’s fairly obvious he’s never really been in love. Yes, he has had two wives and, no doubt, several concubines, but watching how his heart races and he struggles to come to terms with his emotions, this is obviously a first for him. The combination of Dong Yi’s innocent confusion about her “status” and the King’s boyish embarrassment is all beautifully portrayed. The return of the rings from an early meeting in the market is a nice touch to show how long he has been attracted to her. It all contrasts really well with his self-confidence when confronted by Cha Jeon-Soo who wants to know what the King intends.
We now come to the supreme irony because Dong Yi is the daughter of a convicted criminal. For those of you who missed the early episodes, the entire family and clan were massacred apart from Dong Yi, Cha Jeon-Soo and, possibly, Ge Dwo Ra. That they may have been wrongly accused and killed for political purposes does not change the record. Fearing to be with the King lest her past be discovered and it affects the King’s reputation, she leaves the Palace. Fortunately, Cha Jeon-Soo is able to tell the King exactly where she will be and, at last, we have the confirmation that she will love His Majesty. The whole sequence up to this moment is very nicely paced with Cha Jeon-Soo finally giving up whatever hopes he might have had to win Dong Yi’s heart. In the end, he really is a loyal brother.
As a final thought, Lady Jang does a deal to have her brother released. There will be no more torture for now. Similarly, when told Dong Yi has been acknowledged as receiving the Royal Grace, ex-Queen Inhyeon (Park Ha-Sun) immediately instructs the Western faction to support Dong Yi. It seems loyalty between brothers and sisters, both of the blood and in spirit, runs deep in this culture.
For more general discussions of the social and political context for the serial, see:
Dong Yi — the politics
Click here for the reviews of the narrative itself: