"Empress Qi" is adept at throwing in plot twists and maneuvering characters and their desires into places that will have the most dramatic impact. What it lacks is the ability to fully develop characters and make their sincerity clear.
Seung-nyang is in a difficult place. Her loyalties are divided between her child, her caring for Ta-hwan, and her Goryeo heritage . Or they should be. On the surface she acknowledges this divide. She keeps her search for El Temur's treasure secret from Ta-hwan because she intends to use it to help Goryeo. At the same time, she has a child she wishes to put on the Yuan throne. She has a relationship with Ta-hwan. It's difficult to tell what she is actually feeling beyond her reactions to the situations she's in. I'd like to see more internal conflict.
Ta-hwan's character is in a strange point of development. He is becoming more ambitious, but he is not much wiser. His discernment levels of palace politics seem to vary from scene to scene. He wisely makes decisions in court, yet cannot control his behavior around the new empress. Didn't he get burned the last time he did that? Didn't he learn? If anything, his retainers constantly advise him to be wary. His behavior could be blamed on the ardor of love. This late in the show, however, I'm looking for more substantial growth from him that doesn't only happen in the eleventh hour.
Joo Jin-mo's Wang Yoo is wasted. He's brave and loyal, but he's not very developed. He loves Seung-nyang. He loves Goryeo. There is not much else besides that. He spends most of his time staring off into the distance with stony eyes. The internal monologue the show loves to run is rarely used for him - it would give much needed insight into his inner workings.
As for Hudu, the newest evil empress, she is quite effective in her ploys and Lim Ju-eun's portrayal is spot on. There hasn't been too much of her yet because Hudu's modus operandi is to work behind the scenes. It also gives the writer's time to wind down the huge hunt for El Temur's treasure.
The treasure works as a plot driver, a political tool, and as a wedge to separate Seung-nyang from Ta-hwan. That is perhaps the most potent part of "Empress Qi", if only because it's the aspect of the show that is emotionally available. The rest of it is a sequence of exciting events to be sure, but it doesn't have much emotional impact.
The show still hasn't killed of Byung-soo. He's still hovering around the edges of the action, hoping for a break. His character is much like a cockroach - it never seems to die despite the trials you put him through. Another character like him is Yon Feisu, the Turkish leader. She is around as a tool to incite jealousy in Seung-nyang over Wang Yoo. Yes, she's useful in other ways, but at this point in time, her screentime would be better used elsewhere - like for developing our leads more thoroughly.
One thing that this show always manages to be is beautiful. The costumes are stunning, the shots are well placed, and the locations of the drama are breathtaking. The next step is for the story to match the grandeur of it's looks.
Written by Raine from Raine's Dichotomy
Follow on Twitter @raine0211
Journalist, drama lover, and foodie, Lisa enjoys exploring Korea, speaking the language, and soaking in all that dramaland has to offer. Her Korean husband laughs that she knows more than he ever will about dramas and K-pop. Lisa Espinosa can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Empress Qi" Episode 40"
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