"Secret Door" is both keeping its streak of excellence and taking a few jaunts into the unnecessary. The prince is very deeply involving himself in politics and making very dangerous, but clever, moves to reform the government towards equality of classes. His father and the reigning nobility are firmly against this, but that's what puts the meat and potatoes on "Secret Door"'s proverbial plate.
Politics can quickly spiral into very boring stuffs in a drama. What makes "Secret Door" unique is that it humanizes (or villainizes) the players, which makes it easy support or oppose them. Seon and King Yeongjo are the crux of every political battle, but the retainers and the civilians involved with them are given weighted plot responsibility. In this episode, Seon's eunuch, Eunuch Jang, has a meatier role. He has always been supportive of the prince despite his small role. Each time the camera lands on him his face is sufficed with emotion. Actor Kim Kang-hyun always performs like he is the star and that makes the moment he steps out in this episode even more powerful. Watching Seon react not only to the ministers, but feel moved by those who serve him and who others disdain show us more of who he is. While its a great tool, "Secret Door" is falling into the trap of highlighting people only when they are useful to the plot. It happened with Minister Kim's son and it happened here. It was more organic this time because Eunuch Jang is easier to like than Minister Kim.
Eunuch Jang's family issues bring out the risk taker in Seon. He has gotten wiser with time, but he still lives on the edge when it comes to politics. Watching Seon grow and change while retaining his fervent desire to help his people is one of the biggest viewing pleasures of the show. What adds an edge to it is the conflicting emotions his father experiences every time Seon takes a risky move. King Yeongjo has put a political leash on Seon for that very reason, and still, Seon pulls at it. Yeongjo has doubts on how tight he wants to keep the leash. He has nightmares about the atrocities that have happened because of his desire to keep his crown. He is divided in hoping for Seon's naive dream for peaceful politics to become reality and hoping that the past thirty, violent years he lived not to be rendered moot by that dream. It's a powerful dichotomy within the ruler and father.
Aside from the royals we have Cheol-joo who has become a faceless, but very powerful tradesman. He has teamed up with Ji-dam to take down the royal family, which sounds more excited than it is. Each move he makes is decided by how he views the prince rather than by his cause to fight for a just government. It makes his character, and Ji-dam's, flaky. He'd be more exciting if they showed more than just his reactions to the prince. As of now, he and Ji-dam think the prince stopped caring for them and was lured by power. It's a waste of Kim Min-jong as an actor to have him be so reactionary. It doesn't really matter with Yoo So-hee since she only has one expression. Her character, Ji-dam, is also very reactionary although the writer does showcase the cleverness we fell in love with a bit more this episode.
Princess Hyegyeong is still as riveting as ever. She holds major battles with the king's consort on palace grounds, and they are all subtle, played with words, knowledge, and status. It is magnificent how exciting she can make these things that sound boring on paper.
Another powerful aspect of "Secret Door" is that it takes on the big institutions of Joseon government that were eventually overturned to become modern day South Korea: punishing families for a single member's crime; allowing only nobility to take exams to become government officials; taxes that exempt nobility from military service. It's meaty stuff that is relevant and educational for those of us not very familiar with Korean history. I can't wait for more.
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 email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Secret Door" Episode 17"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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