The most difficult thing to wait for, after a drama has aired, is probably the next episode. Oh, how hard it is to count the days until the next Monday! tvn’s 왕이 된 남자 (The Man Who Became King/ English title: The Crowned Clown) is slowly and surely out there messing with my mind and heart, but I don’t mind it at all. It’s just…a bit heart wrenching, especially after watching this week’s episodes. Do I stop watching at this point, fearing that my heart will be shattered into pieces? Most definitely not, because I have to see this until the end, be it a bitter or sweet, maybe bittersweet ending.
Ha-seon and Lee Gyu grew closer and braver to challenge their rivals in the court, but they were quite intoxicated in their moments of victory that they forgot one variable in the equation: Yi Heon. Although Lee Gyu often reminded Ha-seon that the sick king would definitely make his return – suddenly like a cracking thunder or slowly like a rising sun – and warned the clown to be cautious; being able to move one step closer towards his big dream made him delirious, and Heon barged in, like a deadly typhoon.
With plenty of Yi Heon’s screen time, I think it is easy to understand why the writer decided not to directly adapt Gwanghae’s character in the drama. Why not Gwanghae? Probably because of Heon’s slow descent into state of intoxication and lunacy. Here’s my take: the two famous instances of crazy royals were Prince Yeonsan and Crown Prince Sado, and there were no records of Gwanghae doing out of ordinary conduct while sitting on the throne. His records were compiled by his rivals, and since he was dethroned in a coup by King Injo and his supporters (thus his records were compiled as it was as The Daily Records of Prince Gwanghae instead of a proper Annals for a king), so there was no reason not to include another detail that would smear his reputation, especially for the descendants and modern people to know. But there was none! Heon’s symptoms are closer to Sado’s (based on Lady Hyegyeong’s diary Hanjungnok), but killing people were included for these three: Gwanghae, Yeonsan, and Sado, although it could be directly or indirectly. But Heon’s drugged self is probably closer to Yeonsan’s than Gwanghae.
So, it can be concluded that Heon is a combination of few different kings of Joseon: forsaken by his father because his birth brought upon his birth mother’s death, living as a heir who is the son of a concubine, fighting against the Japanese invasion but still unable to please his father, and then living in agony after the birth of his half-brother, who is also a legitimate son born from his father’s second Queen. The warmth he exuded in his youth; the passion burning in his blood for a better nation; the ardent wish for him to become a better king than his father; all got doused with a cold shower of insecurities mixed with the intoxicating drug. His clouded judgement masked his true potential, and it has to be a huge disappointment and regret to see what he has come to.
And the one who has seen it all to feel the weight of the disappointment is no other than Lee Gyu.
I asked this question in my previous post: where does Lee Gyu’s loyalty lie? In the sovereign (which is Heon), in the nation, or in his own interest? The drama has answered my question, and the answer, no matter how heart wrenching it was, still could not be compared to how Gyu was feeling all these while.
One thing I noticed about this drama is that it does not rely on heavy flashbacks of the characters; instead, it makes use of the characters’ present moments. They are living in the present, yet ironically, they are bound to the painful past and feelings they could understand. We don’t get to see Gyu’s younger self; how he devoted himself to Daedong Group and spent his youth working for the greater good, only to have the ambition he held dear to his heart being reduced to a pipe dream. He lost everything: his friends, his teacher, and his dream. But instead of backing down, he made a decision to enter the service and supported someone whose potential became a light in his dark life. That light was the young Heon, who exuded the promising features of a sage king so loving and full of benevolence for his citizens.
They both found things in each other: Gyu a master he could serve with all his heart without any doubt, and Heon a substitute father who believed in him, listened to his every word without questioning, sung songs of hope, and shared the same dreams of a beautiful new world. A world without war; a strong, unrivaled nation, a stable country where the citizens live in prosperity. They probably thought that they could walk to the end of the world hand in hand without fear, regardless of what would come in their way.
But then, reality is cruel to both of them.
Gyu stood still beside Heon as a subject who had full trust on his king, but Heon was slowly crumbling to his own complex. He had too much burden on his shoulders, and Gyu was forced to witness how the master he was willing to sacrifice his life for was out slaying people left and right. A sage who turned into a tyrant. Despite his efforts to try and turn Heon’s mind into the right path multiple times, he soon found it futile. Heon was too far gone.
Then, came along Ha-seon.
Gyu thought that he could make Ha-seon under control while Heon was gone to recuperate but he probably never thought that he would find another light in the form of a humble clown. A man who is as fearless as he is, but at times oozes innocence…like the way Heon used to be. The innocence Heon has lost in exchange for the crown, is still intact in Ha-seon. The lowly man is like a mirror to Heon’s past self. A man still untainted by the dirty court tricks, Ha-seon is not afraid to do things he thinks that should be done, despite having to bear grave consequences. There is this fear of shortsightedness instilled in Gyu, especially in decision making, but Ha-seon always presents an argument that he cannot disagree with; deep down, he knows that it is right. And from Ha-seon, he learned something: that there is not just right or wrong decision, but there are necessary decisions he has to make.
Lee Gyu already breached his promise he made with Heon when he stabbed Ha-seon, for that was the first instance of him following his own interest in creating the better world to live in. He decided that he would support and hold hands with a humble, kindhearted clown with a clear mind who dreams of changing the world with his king’s visage, at the same time defying the years of trust he had for this young king oozing with potential, who is getting crazy and giving in to his cloudy mind in front of his very eyes. There is a very thin line separating a faithful and a treacherous subject, and Gyu is treading on that thin line. At that moment, he undeniably put his own interest above the sovereign, and he was forced to rethink his decision: was it safe to follow blindly and standing still behind Heon because of his faith in the king, after witnessing how Heon could destroy everything he worked hard for should he make his proper return? The king was only back for a few days, yet he could smash everything Gyu did in the blink of an eye.
The end does not justify the means, but Lee Gyu is the man who will do any mean needed for the end he wishes for. He had been cornered and found out that this would be the last chance to execute his dream. He is really going down a very dangerous route for the greater good, and only time will tell whether he will come to regret this decision of his. Plus, we learned that he was the one who personally delivered the poison to Grand Prince Gyeongin (Heon’s brother, Yi Yul), and he was literally the one who had Yul’s blood on his hands. No wonder he looked so heartbroken each time he witnessed Heon’s breakdown over the haunting image of the dead brother of his. The decision they made to curb off the Dowager’s influence backfired and hit Heon real hard. What he thought could be the shield ended up becoming the sword stabbing Heon’s already shattering heart. Was Heon really beyond repair? Probably. We’ll never know. Only Gyu knew, and thus, he made that bold, bold decision: abandoning the King with whom he shared his dream with, the young man who regarded him as his own father.
No matter what his reason is, regicide is no small thing. Gyu has now transcends from a faithful to a treacherous subject. Especially to Heon, who confides in him, he has betrayed the young king’s trust and that is a fact. Back to the question, Lee Gyu abandoned the sovereign and chose the nation, which became his own interest. The line could be blurry, and this is where the justification for the possible deposal and death lie.
The act was done, and there is no turning back at this point.
Heon’s disappearance might be kept a secret for the time being, for Gyu will want to have Ha-seon fully focused on transforming himself into a perfect splitting image of Yi Heon. He might prefer to keep it to himself for the longest as he can, because the knowledge alone is enough to make someone a traitor for not reporting it. I do wonder how he will explain Heon’s sudden disappearance to those who are aware of it (Eunuch Jo, Moo-young, Ha-seon)…or he will choose silence and feign ignorance. Now that Shin Chi-soo is aware of Ha-seon’s existence, he will likely try to track him down and runs into Dal-rae, and Ha-seon will be forced to rethink his life choices, as Gyu will be left dealing with Prince Jinpyeong and the Dowager’s rising influence.
Ha-seon’s promise that he would see So-woon every day and protect her as his precious person until she is sick of him…and her waiting for him at the end of his road are both ominous. Will they be deposed in the end? Very likely, I think. Now that Heon is dead (is he…really? I am still dazed, unable to believe it to be honest)…his conscience won’t let him stay in that position, especially when he learns about Heon and he gets to taste the downside of having the authority without power, which could turn someone into a beast. He casually asked whether Heon was dead, but I bet he won’t be that shameless to not feel anything should he knows the truth about Heon. Hopefully there will be no birth secret or twins separated at birth because that is too easy of a justification to put Haseon on the throne…but if that’s the case, Gyu won’t be safe either under Ha-seon, should he learn the truth about everything. Maybe, that could be the reason and justification for dethronement by Prince Jinpyeong, when Haseon, too, finds himself succumbing to his own wrath, becoming another beast just like Heon..
I’m actually so scared and nervous for So-woon. She refused to be close to Heon because she probably sensed he was off, but at the same time she was still hoping that he could turn around one more time. She kept her distance, not because she’s afraid, but she believed in him that he could overcome it by himself. Little did she know that she was very, very wrong…and perhaps, Heon might be able to save himself should she lend him a hand. But then, no one, not even Lee Gyu, who was so close to him, could make him change his mind, so would So-woon be able to? I think it was wise of her, as a woman of that time, to believe in her husband and wait for him, supporting him in her silence.
But it was different with Ha-seon, who held out his hand first for So-woon. When Heon was ready to let go one of their ties through Lord Yoo’s death penalty, Ha-seon stopped So-woon from sacrificing herself. I don’t think Heon would bat an eyelid when So-woon was trying to kill herself in front of him but would only find himself regretting it, should he just let her be; because he was that person who would take extreme measures just to keep people dear to him closer, even if it included killing other people. It was too late when So-woon’s first attempt to hold out her hand towards her husband was met with a stranger posing as her husband. She got to see how shaken Ha-seon was after Gye-hwan’s death, and I could not help but to imagine if it was So-woon whom Heon met first after the bold assassination attempt…maybe she would realize how dangerous it was to leave him figuring out things by himself, and that she should have stayed with him. It was too late, when she realized how she had fallen in love with her husband, who would only turn out to be the mirror of her husband’s past.
Will So-woon ever learn that Ha-seon is a different man? I think she will and she’s bound to feel disgust towards herself and Ha-seon (probably to the point of contemplating and then pleading for deposal herself)….but I really, really hope she will never find out about Heon’s death. She will break down from all the shock. At least, realizing Ha-seon is a different man will let her retrace her steps and give it a good thought on where her heart really lies…but if she ever know Heon is dead? She probably will never recover and choose to live in exile by herself as a way to atone for her sins..
And maybe, happily ever after is not a dream worth dreaming for. At least for this drama.