Dong Yi — a review of episodes 70 to the end
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.
I suppose there should be rejoicing in the streets because the Jang clan has finally come unstuck. Their assassins have been captured and, with Choi Dong Yi (Han Hyo Joo) undergoing treatment, Shim Woon-Taek (Kim Dong-Yoon) passes on the good news about the curse to the King (Ji Jin Hee). Needless to say, he’s very disappointed in everyone involved and suggests the interrogators ask a few pertinent questions. What makes this interesting are the reactions of Dong Yi, Crown Prince Kyung-Jong (Yoon Chan) and Jang Hee-Bin (Lee So-Yeon).
For Dong Yi, there’s frustration. It need never have come to this if the Jang clan had made better choices. But it’s the old scorpion story of the animal that can’t change its essential nature. If you put a predator into a jungle, it fights for dominance. Sadly, the palace is a jungle where the most dangerous animals fight and kill. It should not be so but such is the way the power game is played. So Hee-Bin sees nothing wrong in trying to kill Dong Yi. That’s just the way the world works. Indeed, she has no faith Dong Yi can remain uncorrupted by those around her. As the threats to her son multiply, Hee-Bin expects Dong Yi to run into the arms of the strong as the only way of keeping the young Prince, Lee Geum (Lee Hyung-Suk) alive. Sooner or later, she opines, Dong Yi will kill or be killed.
This makes her realpolitik appeal at the last breath all the more calculating. Having said she will never apologise, she sees the only one left standing is the only one who might be able to protect the Crown Prince. So in the interests of preserving the Royal Succession, Hee-Bin falls to the ground and begs Dong Yi to be the Crown Prince’s mother. Hee-Bin finally goes with dignity, supping down the poison in a quiet ceremony in the palace. Jang Hee-Jae (Kim Yoo Suk) and his mother, Lady Yoon (Choi Ran), have to face being carted through the streets where the likes of Lady Park (Lee Suk) can incite the crowd to throw stones — revenge is in vogue even though there may be karma involved.
Wracked by guilt that his disclosures to the King have contributed to the uncovering of the family’s crimes, the Crown Prince wants to give up everything and die with his mother. Dong Yi and the young Prince are doing their best to rescue him from depression and there are signs of a thaw.
When Dong Yi refuses to become the new Queen, she avoids direct conflict with the nobility. The most extreme right-wingers are not only averse to bending the knee to a commoner, but even baulk at the notion of accepting a half-blood like the young prince. When Dong Yi also turns Jang Moo-Yul (Choi Jong-Hwan) away, he allies himself with the radical right who want to kill the young prince to avoid any problems with the succession. To achieve their aim, they plan to exploit the inexperience of the new Queen In-Won (Oh Yeon-Seo) and move the young prince out of the palace where he will be easier to kill.
The appointment of the new Queen is not explained. It seems to be a recruitment campaign where a few eligible ladies are headhunted into an interview panel with a winner eventually emerging. She seems to be a stickler for getting everything in the right place which makes the failure of the King to take her to one side to explain the situation all the more contrived. In their first serious meeting, Dong Yi warns her she will not get very far unless she quickly learns to distinguish truth from the more pervasive lies. In the lying corner comes Jang Moo-Yul who manipulates the Queen into marrying off the young prince. The court’s convention is that married princes have to live outside the palace. This threat shows Dong Yi at her most formidable. At the suggestion of Kim Goo-Sun (Maeng Sang-Hun), her exploitation of the local superstition about a kingly spirit potentially anointing the young prince is delightful. What’s also interesting is the new Queen’s incomprehension as to why Dong Yi should have selected the daughter of a scholar as the young prince’s wife. Jang Moo-Yul is quickly on the case, arguing this is obviously a deep-laid plot by Dong Yi to unseat the Crown Prince, but the Queen is showing she has a brain. A sign more obviously signalled when her attempt to turn away food prepared for the Crown Prince on safety grounds is rapidly rejected by the Crown Price who roundly asserts Dong Yi is the only one who cares about him in the palace.
In the meantime, Jang Moo-Yul is struggling to understand the latest secret moves from the King. For him, it’s never appropriate to accept things at face value. A decision to confirm the Crown Prince as heir and throw Dong Yi out of the palace cannot be the real intention of a King known to be in love with Dong Yi. So, after killing a few guards, he knows the King intends to abdicate. He immediately jumps to the wrong conclusion, namely that Dong Yi would then have all the power and would come after him. So now, with the King out of the palace to talk with the Chinese about his proposed abdication, this is the time to launch a final attack to dispose of Dong Yi and the half-commoner prince.
It has been a delight to watch Jang Moo-Yul sitting or standing quietly as he calculates what’s happening. There’s a great calmness about him. But he’s hitched his horses to the wrong wagon this time. Even though it’s a well-crafted plot to threaten the Crown Prince and blame it on Dong Yi, and he thinks he can talk the Queen into arresting everyone (and hopefully executing them before the King returns), some of this is less than credible. Does he not think the King will see what has happened? Then we have the survival of Cha Jeon-Soo (Bae Su-Bin) when he willingly runs into the trap. . . But, in the spirit of the program, this is a good way of ending all the conflict and giving the King a chance to purge all the most dangerous nobles. The new Queen turns out to be a human being behind her stickler facade and solves the problem of the royal succession.
I think we could have done without the marriage of Oh Ho-Yang (Yeo Ho-Min), the nutty son, to a Dong Yi look-alike, but it did provide some comic relief and tie up a script loose end. The final episode gives us a rerun of the original scenario of a murder blamed on an innocent commoner. But now Dong Yi has set herself up as a Champion of the People, all investigative hands are called into play and the King has fun stomping on the corrupt nobility and their lackeys. There are moments of sentimentality but it has a feel-good quality about it that celebrates the spirit of the show. It’s good to see Chief Seo Yong-Gi (Jeong Jin-Yeon) smile again. He went from happy minion to dour leader after the death of his father, but now can finally relax as he also leaves the palace. Uncle Cha outlives everyone and the Kingly kids look into the future with bright eyes thanks to the good upbringing from the King and Dong Yi.
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: