The Great Queen Seon Deok or Seondeok Yeo Wang — episodes 16 to 25
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.
Well, the troop is full of confidence now they have been formally accepted as part of the Hwarang. They also discover the perks of free food courtesy of the state and the delights of female company to cook and serve it —supposedly they are kept at arm’s length but this doesn’t apply to Juk-bang (Lee Mun-Shik). The officers meet for a ceremonial drink. Bo-Jong (Baek Do-Bin) and Suk-Poom (Hong Kyoung-In) insult Kim Yu-Sin (Uhm Tae-Woong) who gets drunk and passes out while talking with Deokman (Lee Yo-Won). This gives Princess Cheon-Myeong (Park Yeh-Jin) a chance to sneak in for a chat still disguised as a nun. This is getting to be a more common feature as the twins find themselves comfortable in each other’s presence. Mi-Sil (Ko Hyun-Jung) refuses to do anything to attack Kim Seo-Hyeon (Jeong Seong-Mo). His return from the campaign has left him highly popular and it would be too obvious to bump him off immediately he returns to the court. There’s then an interesting piece of realpolitick. Mi-Sil explains her camp will always be disadvantaged because they are not of royal blood. They only have power because of the alliances they make. They cannot simply seize the throne. It will require support from all the major power brokers. If she’s known as too quick to kill her enemies, too many will keep their distance.
Seol Won (Jeon No-Min) is angry he failed to kill Kim Seo-Hyeon on the battlefield and Bo-Jong takes this as a hint he should arrange for the man to die. He instructs an archer to lay in wait as the general leaves the evening meal to celebrate victory. As our fairly drunk Kim Seo-Hyeon passes close by where the Princess and Deokman are chatting, the assassin shoots an arrow but misses. However, he’s able to pin the blame on Deokman as the Princess runs off.
When the Princess returns to the palace King Jinpyeong (Jo Min-Gi) and Queen Ma Ya (Yoon Yoo Sun) are waiting for her. Upset she’s going to damage her status if she’s found to be flirting with the common troops, she’s confined to barracks and the royals prepare to let Deokman die. Fortunately Kim Yu-Sin is on the case. He leaks the news he’s found the nun and is going to get her. When Bo-Jong hears this, he sends the archer out again, but he’s caught and brought into the compound where Deokman is being tortured to death. The heroic assassin confesses his guilt and runs on to a sword held by Kim Yu-Sin. At this point, the Princess does a jail-break and runs into the compound. If anyone says anything to tie the Princess to Deokman, this could get difficult for everyone. Except Deokman passes out (such are the penalties of a torture session) and the King arrives which distracts everyone.
Yet again, I want to complain about the fundamental stupidity of this cross dressing device. Even if she could manage to avoid detection while living in the same accommodation as the men and on the battlefield, how come the torturers didn’t notice. More to the point, I understand that medical science was weak in those distant days, but the Princess sends the Royal Physician to treat Deokman when she was released from torture. How could this doctor not tell the difference between a man and a woman? More importantly, did no-one undress her to see how badly injured she was or make arrangements for a change of clothes? Even more incredible is the speed of her recovery. She’s immediately up and walking. A day or so later, she’s running through the woods. So much for the effectiveness of the torture. Perhaps the torturers should go into spa management specialising in foot therapy.
We now get into what’s obviously going to be the next set-piece. When King Jin Heung was alive, he instructed Moon No to search for the source of Mi-Sil’s rise to power. The King Jinpyeong decides the Princess should take over this work. Moon No wrote a cryptic note about “Sadaham’s Plum Blossom” in his journal. The Princess, Eul Jae (Shin Goo), Deokman and Kim Yu-Sin try to make sense of that phrase, concluding it must have something to do with the early love affair between Mi-Sil and Sadaham. However, we then have Doekman and Kim Yu-Sin scouting a temple mentioned in the journal. They hide in plain sight and overhear a conversation between one of the monks and Mi-Sil’s brother Mi-Saeng (Jeong Woong-In) confirming that the Plum Blossom is on the way with a trade delegation due to arrive soon. This now confirms this magic ingredient as something to be imported and Deokman is going to infiltrate the mission to find out what it is. A raid on the temple finds Mi-Sil enjoying a quiet retreat for prayer and nothing else of significance.
Who would have thought a knowledge of how to cook curry would get Deokman through the door of the trade delegation’s accommodation. Anyway, with Juk-bang to pick the pocket of the suspect merchant and then cut a duplicate key, we have Deokman open the box and find herself looking at her own childhood book and the personal identity tag carried by her “mother” So-Hwa (Seo Young-Hee).
Now we have two flashbacks to explain what’s going on. Chil-Sook (Ahn Kil-Kang) dug So-Hwa out of the sand and has been carefully looking after her while slowly working his way back to the capital. In a letter, he reports both maid and twin died in the fire. He sends the message to Mi-Sil through the merchant carrying the Plum Blossom. As to Mi-Sil, she had a passionate affair with Sadaham, partly to gain access to the lunar calendar he was working on. Even though she cheated on him, he still gave her the completed calendar before dying. This has allowed her to predict weather patterns and astronomical events with divine accuracy, beating the performance of the local priest using the local calendar. There’s then a demonstration of the “power” with Mi-Saeng producing a nice piece of stage management to get the message from Heaven across and a lunar eclipse as a sign of Heaven’s displeasure should the message be ignored.
Meanwhile Chil-Sook and So-Hwa have been picked up by Mi-Sil and medical attention is being lavished on both. Doekman has seen Chil-Sook but, because he’s all but lost his sight, he could not warn her away (yes, he may be a good guy now). Meanwhile we have an incredibly stupid set of maneouvres to get Deokman as a spy inside Mi-Sil’s camp and they are now chatting away on philosophy and statecraft. Except, Mi-Sil sees through this transparent ploy and taunts the Princess, Yim Yu-Sin and Deokman with the truth about the lunar calendar. What can they do when they can’t second guess the calendar? Such is the power of superstition in that culture (see Dong Yi — superstition and magic).
The world now gets complicated as Deokman decides to get proactive to find out who she is. Juk-Bang plants a petition in the locked room but it’s intercepted by Eul Jae (Shin Goo). When he sees someone wants to return the old King’s dagger, he sends out Al-Chun (Lee Seung-Hyo) and some hand-picked troops to capture and/or kill the man at the designated place. Al-Chun fights with Deokman but lets her go, reporting this to Kim Yu-Sin. The Princess independently asks the King and Queen for details about the story of the twin. This triggers the King into inquiries about what’s happening in the Palace and he’s outraged by Eul Jae’s decision to search the Hwarang for evidence of who broke into the Palace to plant the petition. He stops this before Deokman is forced to undress in public but not before Juk-Bang works out Deokman is a woman. Walking through the Palace, he’s shocked to see So-Hwa wandering around before she’s rounded up by the Temple Maids. Knowing that the twin is a woman, the Princess and Kim Yu-Sin compare notes.
Now the secret is out, the Princess and Kim Yu-Sin decide it’s no longer safe for Deokman to stay in the capital. She must be removed to a place of safety. Except, to string out the plot, they decide not to tell her why. Meanwhile, Mi-Sil decides to separate Chil-Sook and So-Hwa only to have troops loyal to the King snatch her away. At least this turn of events enables Mi-Sil to confirm Chil-Sook’s loyalty. Now everyone pauses to decide what to do next except, in a moment of script madness, So-Hwa is allowed a sight of Deokman before she’s bundled away. Shame no-one gives her a piece of paper and a pen so she can overcome her speech problem.