The past two weeks have flown by and “Mr. Queen” has, without a doubt, made it better. This show remains fantastic in plotting and character development without any of the teeth-gnashing, anger-inducing tropes that unnecessarily drag out conflict in other shows. For those of you who are waiting for the show to end to determine if it’s worth the watch, “Mr. Queen” is definitely worth it.
Without further ado, let’s dive into what we loved and hated about the latest quartet of episodes.
Warning: spoilers for episodes 13-16 below.
(Note: due to the confusion in addressing Bong Hwan and So Yong, fans of the show have coined the term “So Bong” to refer to the two merging characters. I’ll be using So Bong to refer to our favorite Queen, and the pronoun “he” because this show is called “Mr. Queen” after all!)
1. LOVED & HATED: The bed scene and its aftermath
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Consent. After hiding in the kitchen and drinking himself silly to avoid seeing Cheoljong (Kim Jung Hyun), our Queen (Shin Hye Sun) falls into a deep sleep. So deep in fact, that when he wakes up and sees Hong Yeon’s (Chae Seo Eun) lovely face, he tenderly tells her that she’s the first person he saw upon entering Joseon and the last thing he thought of before jumping in the lake. They kiss and well, go from there. That’s a big confession, but as it turns out, it isn’t Hong Yeon gently watching over the Queen but Cheoljong. So imagine So Bong’s shock when he a) wakes up next to Cheoljong whom he’s seriously catching feelings for and b) liked their night together.
His shock and horror is played for humor but there is the question of how consensual this was. After all, the Queen had no idea it was Cheoljong and would definitely have refused if she had known. Yet, Cheoljong had no idea So Bong was drunk or thought he was Hong Yeon. The confusion goes both ways because the poor man was under the illusion that So Bong was consenting.
However, many people will rightfully point out the following: Doesn’t this mean that So Bong’s in love with Hong Yeon? We’ve seen how tender he is with her and he’s made it clear that he genuinely cares for her, so why the King? Why not Hong Yeon who makes perfect sense as a love interest?
The answer is simple. Love doesn’t make sense. Byeong In (Na In Woo) has rooted for So Yong from the very beginning. He’s fought his father for her, risen through the ranks to ensure her safety. It would make sense for So Yong to fall for him, but that’s not how it works. Hwa Jin (Seol In Ah) has lied, yes, but she also genuinely loves the King and many of her feelings (for example, regarding the concubines) are valid. It makes sense for Cheoljong to stay with her, but that really isn’t how it works.
So why use Hong Yeon as a plot device at all? Because So Bong’s reaching for what makes sense to avoid his feelings which don’t make sense to him and because mistaken apprehension is the name of the game with our royal couple. We’ve seen time and time again, our couple wouldn’t be together were it not for the mistakes. They’re both strong personalities (despite the King having had to keep his under wraps for years) and tend to be quite set in their opinions once they form them. So it makes sense that Cheoljong, colored by his dislike of the Andong Kim clan, never gave So Yong the benefit of the doubt, and that So Bong, colored by his impression of Cheoljong from history books and how he treated So Yong (and of course that murder attempt) would be equally reluctant. They would never have willingly sat down together and talked things out.
Sleeping together is the final nail in the coffin for So Bong’s confusing identity, telling him to open his eyes already. It was beyond time for So Bong and Cheoljong to come together on their own as opposed to by mistake, so it’s equally refreshing when they stop dancing out each other and finally talk things out. Cheoljong finally learns that So Yong saved his feast and So Yong finally learns that she’s been writing sappy love letters to Cheoljong this entire time (much to her horror of course).
And thus, begins a powerful alliance. We could have gotten here much sooner, but instead we got to see each half of our royal couple build their own lives within the palace. And who doesn’t love seeing poor Cheoljong chase his identity-confused Queen around?
2. LOVED: Dam Hyang’s rescue
In possibly the most devastating move this show has pulled since the King’s near-fatal accident, little Dam Hyang (Kang Chae Won) saves So Bong’s life after the Grand Queen Dowager (Bae Jong Ok) attempts to poison him. Instead of being rightfully lauded, the little girl is promptly arrested for knocking the drink out of So Bong’s hands.
So Bong pleads with Cheoljong to save the little girl’s life but at the royal conference, Cheoljong’s words are met with dismissal as both parties seek to punish the King via hurting So Bong. Dam Hyang is sentenced to death by poison (ironically enough) and there’s a heart-stopping moment when So Bong runs to the scene to find what he believes is Dam Hyang’s dead body.
He berates Cheoljong in front of all his advisers, raging that “incompetence is a sin too.” It’s a brilliant scene because of the pain in Cheoljong’s eyes and the way he winces. It’s only when Cheoljong turns away that So Bong sees that his fingers are crossed in the universal sign for lying that he taught him.
What’s so great about this scene, in addition to Dam Hyang being alive, is the way it finally gets rid of that label of incompetence that So Bong’s placed on Cheoljong. We’ve seen that our king is far from it, but that competent decision-making hasn’t really been visible to the queen.
If the bed scene is about So Bong and Cheoljong finally coming together romantically, this scene is about making them come together politically. Both have their own know-how and ways of doing things, and life for their enemies is about to get very interesting.
3. LOVED: So Bong’s revenge
Previously, we talked about how So Bong was going to have to wise up to the realities of life in the Palace and stake her own ground, and the attempted murder of her and Dam Hyang is precisely the powerful motivator for revenge she needed. So Bong’s series of victories is so powerful because he’s doing it on his own.
As So Bong tells Kim Jwa Geun (Kim Tae Woo), he has “no back.” There’s no one behind him to ensure his safety. So Bong’s just doing what he has to do without relying on Cheoljong to do everything for him. Despite So Bong technically having a man’s soul, this is still a powerful act for a Joseon woman to pull off. So Bong tailors his revenge for each aggrieved party, sly for the Grand Queen Dowager, direct for Hwa Jin and the Queen Dowager, metaphorical for Kim Jwa Geun (oh that short sword, brilliant!), and straight threatening for the Andong Kim clan ministers.
So Bong and Hwa Jin’s interaction in particular is brilliant. So Bong calls Hwa Jin out on everything, every single insecurity and weakness Hwa Jin has is laid out bare. He rightfully points out that Hwa Jin hopes the dead body found in the well is her maid Oh Wol because only that would excuse all the awful things she’s done. Hwa Jin loves to play the martyr, to pretend that she has no agency, and that all choice was taken from her because then any choice she makes would be understandable.
This starkly contrasts with So Yong who genuinely had no agency and no choice upon entering the palace but tried so hard to forge an alliance with Cheoljong. She took her anger and frustration out on the servants but finally gave up and ended her life before turning into a monster. So Bong contrasts that with how Hwa Jin has slowly become a monster in her purposefully misguided view that she is fighting against one. It’s the put down we all wanted and it feels so good to see.
It was about as refreshing as So Bong and Cheoljong tossing back a love shot and drinking to revenge well-served. Ah, it’s a good day to be King and Queen.
4. LOVED: Hwa Jin’s wake-up call
To say that Hwa Jin has driven us viewers up the wall would be an understatement. She’s been off-putting from the beginning with her blatant dislike of So Bong. At first, there was the possibility of So Yong genuinely having wronged Hwa Jin in the past, but as it turns out it was the other way around. It still remains a mystery as to what on earth poor So Yong and So Bong ever did to Hwa Jin to make her hate them so much. The Oh Wol matter arrived much later on the scene and their enmity had already been established.
Nevertheless, our least favorite concubine has also had her moments. She’s a great marksman and painter and surprisingly cute in her own way. Cheoljong’s brother, Prince Yeongpyeong’s (Yoo Min Kyu) recollection of Hwa Jin as she painted showed that she was quite adorable. Moreover, as the King admitted, he did love her for two years. I wish we had gotten to see more of their two years together such that we could feel for her more, but her perspective makes sense on paper. She saw her boyfriend fall for another girl while they were together, as opposed being on a break or having broken up. So Bong didn’t intend to break the two up at all but it just ended up happening.
If anything, Cheoljong’s the bad guy here for falling in love with another woman while still being with Hwa Jin. Though he was honest about his initial attraction, he all but ignored Hwa Jin after falling headfirst in love with So Bong. Hwa Jin’s perspective, her hurt and pain, is extremely valid. In Hwa Jin’s eyes, she was wronged and is the victim. Worse, she lost to the girl everyone was comparing her to for years. For a girl as insecure as Hwa Jin, this is untenable. As the heroine of her own story, she sought revenge too, just like So Bong did. Yet her revenge was darker, more insidious. Where So Bong was direct and didn’t actually hurt anyone, Hwa Jin lost herself to revenge.
That said, she manages to dig herself out of that pit by confessing the truth to Cheoljong, regarding who his rescuer was in the well all those years ago, and that she gave the ledger to the Queen Dowager. Most importantly, she finally lets go and takes responsibility for her actions. It’s a beautiful scene because she admits that she loved Cheoljong more than she loved herself and that was the mistake. If she had loved and treasured herself, she wouldn’t have gone as far as she did because her worth would not have been tied to another person. In contrast, we see that So Bong loves himself a great deal and it’s that confidence and inner strength that he brings to everything around him.
So Bong is strong, not because of Cheoljong, but because he wants to be, and it’s exciting to see Hwa Jin learning that for herself. Poor girl does deserve some happiness, and we’ve all done stupid things for love.
5. LOVED: The late night discussions
There isn’t an arena in which our royal couple doesn’t get along. Politics, romance, philosophy, they just mesh so well together. Cheoljong wasn’t able to have these discussions with Hwa Jin or his brother but So Bong unleashes the full force of his curiosity regarding the future. We finally have both of them sitting down and just talking and it’s amazing. Court Lady Choi loves it and her gleeful smiles are the best.
So Bong and Cheoljong did but the cart before the horse so to speak, having slept together before really getting to know each other, but they’re rapidly catching up. The king’s delight is infectious and So Bong’s pride at his teaching skills and the pleasure he takes in spending time with Cheoljong is evident.
That being said, you can’t help but wonder how seriously the King takes So Bong’s initial assertion of being a man from the future. Cheoljong evidently remembers it but seems content to dismiss it as a joke or a result of So Bong’s sojourn in the lake. But he also hangs onto So Bong’s every word. It’s the final secret, so to speak, between our royal couple and I’m very curious as to how “Mr. Queen” will handle it. With four episodes to go, we have the time for a well-crafted answer!
6. HATED: The axe hanging over the Queen’s head
Despite all the fun and games of this quartet of episodes, an ominousness hangs over our couple’s late night meeting of minds. With Byeong In having found the annotations in So Yong’s book that mention beliefs held by Donghak believers (a Neo-Confucian philosophical movement), and the palace abuzz with So Bong and Cheoljong’s nightly meetings, it’s only a matter of time before So Bong is framed for instilling heretical beliefs in the King. This wouldn’t come out of nowhere as the King has skated very close to being accused to this due to his past as a commoner and the fact that he spent time with Donghak believers (a fact he hides). It makes sense as a source of conflict.
Nothing comes without a price, and it’s worrying to think that the fun revenge and close shaves the royal duo has faced will cost them dearly. It’s even worse now that So Bong’s pregnant. That places him squarely within everyone’s sights as a target.
There’s also the matter of Bong Hwan’s 2021 body. Is it still on life support? Is it dead? What will happen when it comes time for So Bong to give birth? “Mr. Queen” has been a delight from the very first episode, and yet the next quartet of episodes determines if history will remember this show as fantastic or as incompetent (the way Cheoljong is remembered). With only two weeks left, let’s hope that both Cheoljeong and this show are remembered as the former. Fingers crossed!
Check out the drama below:
What are your thoughts on this week’s quartet of episodes? Do you agree with how So Bong and Cheoljong’s romance is progressing? What do you think is happening to Bong Hwan in 2021? Let us know in the comments below!
Shalini_A is a long time Asian-drama addict. When not watching dramas, she works as a lawyer, fangirls over Ji Sung, and attempts to write the greatest fantasy romance of all time. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and feel free to ask her anything!