[HanCinema's Drama Review] "The Royal Gambler" Episode 24 (final)
By Lisa Espinosa | Published on
And with a final episode that was a concoction of everything but the kitchen sink, "The Royal Gambler" comes to and end. The show had a few highlights, but mostly it was messy. The finale emphasized the loneliness of the throne, the fight with politics to do what is best for a nation at large, and a friendship between brothers of different social standing. The buildup to the Musin rebellion was long and arduous, minor characters were left half-developed and our main characters suffered personality changes and strange character trajectories.
The most beautiful moment of this final episode, and indeed in quite a few episodes, was the last scene of the brothers meeting in secret, enjoying one another's company and allowing a lonely king to have, if but for a moment, a true friend with whom he can feel a bit less lonely. They overlook the country that they worked so hard to protect. If the show had worked backwards from that moment and built the rest of the drama to support the long, arduous journeys of a king and a citizen, so many wonderful things could've happened. As it stands, the show tried to do so and on several occasions pointing out that a king's destiny is difficult indeed, but it was waylaid by unfocused themes and plot devices.
The beginning of the drama focused on luck and how Dae-gil was to become great because of it. Gambling and luck faded as time passed, and Dae-gil became more like In-jwa (a nearly infallible being) rather than retaining his core light-heartedness that had been refined into a capable warrior moved by the plight of his people. I missed the goofiness of yore and his nearly perfect judgement of the people was not interesting. It made me miss his flaws. The same holds true for Yeoning/Yeongjo. His precocious youth, wit, and passion morphed very suddenly into a stiff statue of ruthlessness and loneliness that could've been more gradually introduced. Instead, the change was explained away by exposition. A lot of things were explained away.
Take, for example, Dam-seo's death, her lack of true romantic involvement, and the lack of impact her life left on Dae-gil and Yeoning. Dae-gil is slated to marry Seol-im, but we saw little of their love, or their partnership beyond working on quashing the rebellion and Yi In-jwa. Seol-im lost her interesting story. All of these things are faults of a lack of follow through. An idea is started, left, and randomly picked up. A character is partially developed and then left to half-function as a part of a plot thread.
Yi In-jwa, the major antagonist, was best when he was vulnerable, but "The Royal Gambler" didn't do this historical figure justice. He was a caricature of brilliance, which is rather sad. His is such a rich story. I'm sad for what could've been.
What was good was the scenery, the costuming, and the setting of scenes. This excellence boasts of experience with sageuk drama and film and the production team has definitely dealt with this time period before. It is the writing that was choppy and unfocused.
All small characters got their small moment in the sun and had their storylines tied up. Almost all either died or ended up doing the right thing, which is really quite dull for a viewer.
Jang Keun-suk, Yeo Jin-goo, and Jeong Kwang-ryeol were solid as was most of the rest of the cast. One cannot blame actors for the material given to them. It was good to see these people on the screen. I hope next time they choose better roles.
Written by: Raine from 'Raine's Dichotomy'
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.