This episode marks the beginning of the end. Seon has been trapped between his powerful convictions and the complexity of Joseon politics. Those who wish to retain power will do anything to keep it, which puts Seon at a severe disadvantage when he refuses to do wrong by his people. Throughout the drama, his father, King Yeongjo, has tried to teach him that to live and maintain power is to compromise. Compromise is not what Seon does.
In comparison to the cruel, insane lecher that Crown Prince Sado is historically known to be, this fictionalized Sado is an idealistic hero who eventually will uphold his convictions at the cost of his life. It's a much more relatable account and one that will make the ending of this tale hard to bear, but oh-so-effective. It was a smart production decision to make Seon so loveable. His convictions carried the show.
The twenty-third episode itself was a bit choppy and confusing, a result of the live shoot process no doubt. But it did its job. Seon's idealistic academy was twisted by his enemies and his unhappy people who wanted to use force to change their lives. Seon's ideals trapped him because they cannot exist in a Joseon as it is. It's a tragic, powerful dilemma. We had to watch Seon bring himself to the point of no return. His father finds out about his secret doings and can no longer protect him. In that moment, King Yeongjo breaks and the love and tension between him and his Seon is palpable in every scene they are in together. It's tragedy at its best, and at its worst.
The failings of the show are shadowed by the sufferings of father and son, both of whom are easily relatable and pitiable. Ji-dam is now no more than a minor character when she was once Seon's fellow idealist. Cheol-joo is unsteady in character development. Characters like Lady Moon are dropped without notice. Characters like the king's newest queen consort suddenly develop motivations that are not realized. These are significant gaps in planning, but again, the heart of the story lies with the ill-fated relationship between father and son.
There is a beautiful parallel in King Yeongjo's relationship with Seon in the relationship between Seon and his son, the boy who grows up to be the next king of Joseon. Both fathers love their children deeply; both fathers will not relinquish their convictions for that love. Seon's child questions what is right and true so perhaps he can continue Seon's legacy. HIstorically, Seon's son was a great ruler who did much for the common said before that the legacy would be what would make this journey worth it no matter what kind of character Seon was: a hero or a villain. If he lives on in his son and in his father, than this show will end as strongly as it began.
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 23"
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