The Great Queen Seon Deok or Seondeok Yeo Wang — episodes 51 to 62
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.
Now the time Deokman (Lee Yo-Won) spent in the trading centre pays dividends as she plays the market, selling the army’s store of grain to stem the panic buying and, when the nobles realise their investment values are falling, continuing to sell until she triggers panic selling. When the panic sets in, she stops selling and, through a corrupt associate of Moon No (Jung Ho Bin) and Kim Chun Chu (Yu Seung-Ho), Yum-Jong (Eom Hyo-Seop), buys at the bottom price making a major profit. When the nobles complain and try to make an order she not interfere in commercial matters, she provokes them into fighting among themselves and completes her first victory over them. Even Mi-Sil (Ko Hyun-Jung) looks a little bent out of shape as her plan of forcing the independent farmers out of business comes to naught. Kim Chun Chu is apparently following Mi-Saeng (Jeong Woong-In) into the underworld and is still considered a good catch by Mi-Sil’s camp while Bi-Dam (Kim Nam-Gil) is working more successfully with Deokman. You can see the look in his eye with Kim Yu-Sin (Uhm Tae-Woong) marrying himself off.
Ha-Jong (Kim Jung-Hyun) now tries to provoke a new crisis when the tenants farming his land have a pest infestation and lose half their crop. When Deokman intervenes, there’s the first really interesting discussion with Mi-Sil. It boils down to this. Mi-Sil has been a formidable ruler behind the scenes, but Silla has not prospered. It has stagnated. Deokman offers the critique this is because she has no long-term vision. She’s only in it for short-term profit. It comes down to the mentality of ownership. The owner of a country feels no need to help the people who live there. So long as they pay their rent, they are free to live or die as they please. But the mother of a country cares about her children and wants them to prosper. Mi-Sil fires back that Deokman is naive. The people are like scared children so will never take responsibility for themselves. The only thing you can trust them to do is take whatever you give them.
To prove the point, Deokman gives the rebellious farmers some virgin land, some high-quality tools to till the land and enough food to see them through the harvest. They take the food and refuse the land so, to show she’s not to be messed with, she takes a sword and personally kills their two leaders. Now there are to be soldiers based there to encourage them to farm independently. Back in the palace, the King Jinpyeong (Jo Min-Gi) has heart problems and plans to marry Deokman off except she refuses to be a part of this succession process, demanding she be named the heir. She is, after all, of the royal blood. This is interesting because, with the world indelibly patriarchal, no-one has considered the possibility of a Queen. But with there being no other direct descendant of a King to hand, she has a good claim. At this point, Chun Chu enters the fray and convinces Mi-Sil that she should sponsor his claim for the throne. Once in the meeting to discuss the regency, he dismisses the notion of royal blood as foolishness and asserts he has a better right as a man. His father only failed to be royal on a technicality so his right should be recognised. In fact this is designed to set Seol Won (Jeon No-Min) against Se-jong (Dok Ko Yeong Jae), a device he pushes forward by abducting Seol Won’s daughter and marrying her. If he does become King, this will make Seol Won one of the royal family and Se-jong will be out.
So now there’s a moment of peace before the storm. Deokman meets with Chun Chu and speculates his plan will fail because he has failed to take account of two factors. In that eventuality, she offers him a helping hand. Bi-Dam goes on a ramble in the country with Mi-Sil, who holds on to his arm as if she was his mother. And Seol Won and Se-jong start to mobilise their factions in case there’s trouble. In fact, the sons act rashly and kidnap the other’s father. But Seol Won’s basic common sense wins through and there’s no actual fighting. Mi-Sil now emerges from her retreat with the decision she will bid for the throne in her own right. Deokman has broken the mould by putting herself forward as Queen and Chun Chu has undermined the concept of royal blood. She will trade on her years of service to the nation as justifying her claim. So Chun Chu’s attempt failed because he badly underestimated Seol Won and Mi-Sil failed to respond as he predicted. Indeed, the very idea that Mi-Sil would allow such a primitive plot to work was naive from the outset.
So now Chun Chu joins up with Deokman and they’re out to split the nobles with a tax reform proposal. The idea is simple. If they peel away Mi-Sil’s support, she will not win democratically. Since she values her reputation, she will also probably not attempt a coup. As anticipated, the nobles’ Council is seen to block the proposal so all the smaller landowners are angry. This provokes a coup attempt from M-Sil. Seol Won manipulates the Princess’ faction into appearing to stage their own coup. The palace guards are ordered to arrest everyone and we spend a long time watching first Juk-bang (Lee Mun-Shik) and Ko-Do (Ryu Dam) rescue the Princess and Chun Chu. Then Yu-Sin gets them to the gate and Bi-Dam gets Deokman and Chun Chu through the gate and away. This leaves Yu-Sin arrested, the King and Queen under guard, and So-Hwa (Seo Young-Hee) locked away under the Holy Shrine where, by coincidence, Juk-Bang is wondering around looking for a way out. Needless to say, he falls over So-Hwa and they escape together to join up with Deokman (carrying what might prove to be a vital piece of paper from Mi-Sil’s collection).
We now get into an attempted rescue that ends in tragedy. A small team infiltrates the prison complex and spirits Yu-Sin away as a dead body. Chil-Sook (Ahn Kil-Kang) is alert and follows them, trapping Deokman, So-Hwa, Yu-Sin and Wol-Ya (Joo Sang-Wook) in one of their hideouts. We then get an extremely unlikely escape strategy that enables all but So-Hwa to escape. Because he believes the masked figure to be Deokman, Chil Sook acts on Mi-Sil’s order to kill. Needless to say, he’s devastated when he realises what his blind obedience has led him to do. When Wol-Ya brings back So-Hwa’s body, we have both Deokman and Juk-Bang wailing out their misery (except whereas Lee Yo-Won produces buckets of tears, Lee Mun-Shik is dry-faced). When they are all cried out, Deokman announces she’s had enough lurking in the bushes. She’s going to come out fighting.