It’s an emotion-filled episode all around, as stakes continue to rise and the story grows more serious. There are upsides and downsides to all that emotion (and teaaars), and while that often means heartbreak and longing for the characters, the show does often excel at finding ways to make its angst meaningful, and sometimes even gratifying. Well, most of the time. Not, unfortunately, all of the time.
EPISODE 15: “All those lies that seemed like truth”
Yeong walks into his room and finds a letter on his desk. His expression grows grave as he reads it, while Ra-on receives a letter of her own while in hiding. Hers is from Head Eunuch Han, who says he has more to tell her about her father and asks to meet, requesting that she name the time and place.
Yeong considers the letter for a long while, and finally makes his way out late that night.
And that’s how he ends up in that secluded building, where he faces a stunned Ra-on with a hard expression on his face and vows not to forgive her. Then he grabs her close and embraces her tightly.
At the same time, royal soldiers mobilize outside a house looking just like the one Yeong and Ra-on are in. The younger Minister Kim steps up in front and leads the charge as they move in on the building…
Yeong pulls away from Ra-on, and tells her, “I will only listen to your words. Even if you speak lies, I will believe you. Everything you showed me—was it all true?”
Ra-on lowers her eyes, seeming torn on how to respond, and then apologizes. Looking stricken, Yeong grasps her arms and looks at her intently… and then a sound from outside grabs their attention.
Oh thank goodness, it’s Byung-yeon, who bursts inside and warns that Yeong had guessed correctly and that they must escape.
So when the soldiers do finally charge the building, swords drawn, it’s only Yeong that they find inside, with his back to the door. Moments later, more soldiers join the fray—but this second group challenges the first, protecting the prince.
Minister Kim looks shocked when Yeong turns to face them; clearly this isn’t what he’d been expecting. Outside, Byung-yeon swiftly dispatches several soldiers, then leads Ra-on away.
Minister Kim averts his eyes, starting to sweat now as Yeong asks what he’s doing here. Yeong says he’d been curious to see who sent him a false letter hoping to catch him in a trap, lip curling as he concludes, “It was you?”
Minister Kim says nervously that he is merely acting on a report of a secret meeting with a traitor. Yeong fumes at the idea that someone would dare frame the crown prince for treason and orders Minister Kim to capture the culprit: “That is your only way to live. Do you understand?!”
The next day, Byung-yeon informs the prince that Ra-on is fine and will soon be relocated to a safer place. Yeong supposes that he ought not ask where that is, and Byung-yeon replies that it would only make things harder on Ra-on.
Yeong wonders, “How is it that I became the person who makes this most difficult for Ra-on?” He assures Byung-yeon that he won’t ask anything.
Flashing back to the previous night, we see how they’d escaped. After receiving the warning to flee, Yeong urges Ra-on to leave quickly with Byung-yeon. Before she does, she tells Yeong not to wonder where she is: “And even if you hear news of me, do not be shaken. I will do so, too.”
With a bow, she starts to leave. Yeong reaches out to grab her wrist with the hand that still wears his bracelet, and they stare for a long moment into each other’s pained eyes. Yeong holds Ra-on’s hand tightly, loath to let go, but Ra-on slowly pulls hers free, leaving him empty-handed. He stares down at her, brokenhearted, while she averts her eyes and leaves.
The queen meets with Ha-yeon, who is now living at the palace and being trained to be the crown princess. She seems to enjoy telling Ha-yeon that the prince continues to resist the marriage and asks if Ha-yeon is curious why.
Ha-yeon doesn’t rise to the bait, answering that the prince must have his reasons. The queen says with mock concern that the prince has been devastated following the disappearance of a eunuch he used to take everywhere with him, and asks Ha-yeon to comfort him. Having planted that seed of suspicion in Ha-yeon’s mind, the queen smirks to herself.
Byung-yeon reports to his rebel group about the previous night’s events, but tells them that he doesn’t know where Ra-on is, because she was gone when he’d arrived to warn the prince. Head Eunuch Han is gravely concerned by the fact that someone forged a letter from him, and deduces that they have an insider working against them. He vows that if a traitor is discovered in their midst, he will be punished.
That night, Ra-on’s mother asks if she resents her father for the difficulties Ra-on and her mother have had to endure because of his actions. Ra-on reminds Mom that she’d said he was doing important and necessary work.
Mom concedes that that’s true, but still didn’t like that it was her husband doing that work: “Rather than someone doing important work, I needed someone to be family who would eat, sleep, cry, and laugh with me.” So naturally she hated him for it, too.
Ra-on says that those words sound like “I miss you” to her ears, and Mom has to laugh. Then when Ra-on steps outside, she notices a bundle just outside the door.
A terrified court lady cowers before Yeong, who confirms that she delivered the forged letter to his desk. He prods her to describe who sent her on the errand, and she says that he was an unfamiliar face, and one she recalls clearly.
A man wearing a black bamboo hat makes his way to the Kims’ inner circle… and it’s Byung-yeon’s direct boss in the rebel group. Prime Minister Kim notes that there’s no guarantee that a traitor to the rebel group wouldn’t also backstab him. Black Hat replies that he’s trusting in the power of money, not Prime Minister Kim himself: “You can buy only what you need to buy, and I will sell only what I can sell.”
That answer satisfies the Kims, who hand over an envelope. Black Hat is ordered to deliver Ra-on immediately.
Yoon-sung cradles a baby, and a flashback informs us that this is the discarded princess, born to the queen and swapped for the court lady’s boy. Shortly after the queen’s eunuch had smuggled the princess away, Yoon-sung had knocked out the man taking her away.
Yoon-sung has entrusted the baby to a gibang matron, who assures him that the gisaengs adore the child. She’s curious about the baby’s background, and Yoon-sung explains that she was orphaned and has no place to go. The woman is moved by that plight and vows to raise her with the utmost care.
That night, Ra-on enjoys some air outside the house and assures her mother she’ll be in shortly. All of a sudden, she’s grabbed from behind by a masked intruder, while a second one knocks her mother out cold. She struggles against her captor, but is no match for them and gets dragged off.
But seconds later, Byung-yeon leaps into the fray and cuts down one intruder, takes down a second, and then faces the remaining one—his rebel boss Black Hat, although Byung-yeon doesn’t know it yet, with the mask covering the man’s face. They come together in a fierce clash of swords, and Byung-yeon gains the upper hand, sending down his boss down on one knee and knocking away his sword.
They lock eyes for a long beat—does Byung-yeon recognize him? Is there something there?—and then Black Hat runs away. Byung-yeon remains behind, while Ra-on rushes to her unconscious mother’s side.
The prime minister visits the queen to see her newborn baby, and she brightens at his praise of the child. The queen adds that she feels lighthearted to have borne a prince—words that make Yoon-sung’s face even stonier. He asks if she is happy, and there’s something to the way he presses her on it that makes the prime minister and queen look at him more closely, wondering what he could be driving at.
Black Hat makes his way back to the Kims… and this time, around the corner we see that Byung-yeon has followed him here. He seizes the opening to attack his boss from behind, then holds a blade to the man’s throat, deducing that Black Hat sold out the rebels to work for the Kim family.
“So?” his boss asks, shocking Byung-yeon. If Black Hat is outed, the covers will be blown for both Head Eunuch Han and Byung-yeon, who have been undercover for years at the palace.
Furious, Byung-yeon drops his sword and punches Black Hat in the face and gets in several solid hits. But then a halt is called as they are surrounded by royal soldiers, who recognize Byung-yeon. Holding up a drawing resembling Black Hat (which must have been based on the court lady’s description), the lead officer informs him that they’ve come to arrest the man. For the moment, there’s nothing Byung-yeon can do.
Yeong announces to his court that the culprit who tried to frame him for treason has been captured. Ministers Dumb and Dumber tense, and Yeong shoots a look over at Prime Minister Kim as he says that the man admitted to taking orders from someone.
Minister Dumber blusters that he’ll have the criminal interrogated by the tribunal, but Yeong adds that the man has already volunteered for a special interrogation before the king and the court where he will reveal all he knows. The Kims quake a bit in their shoes.
Dumb and Dumber confer privately to figure out what to do, nervous that Black Hat will spill the beans on their involvement.
Ra-on is surprised by a visit from Head Eunuch Han, whom she has deduced was a friend of her father’s involved in the same work. Eunuch Han confirms it, saying that he wanted to enlist her to join in her father’s cause, but Ra-on is firm in her denial.
He guesses that it’s because of Yeong and explains that the prince is pushing back the wedding, and is not eating or sleeping well. He tells her that pulling on entangled threads only tightens the knot and renders it impossible to untangle: “When that happens, you must cut it loose without regrets.” That, he explains, is the path that’s best for the prince.
Eunuch Han says that he’s sorry and tells Ra-on to take care of herself as he leaves. She’s left shaken and heartsick.
Dumb and Dumber slip into the prison with a royal doctor, who carries needles hidden in his sleeve. Poisoned, perhaps? The doctor starts to enter the cell where Black Hat sleeps, only to have a voice call out to the group—Yeong, who wonders at their late-night visit.
Minister Dumb lies that he was merely checking on the status of the criminal, indicating the man inside the cell. Yeong narrows his eyes and asks how he knew that was the criminal in question. Aha! Yeong points out that he’d never disclosed the man’s identity, and the ministers gulp to be caught in their lie.
To make his point clear, Yeong asks the head prison guard if he knows the man’s name or crime, and the guard replies no. With that, Yeong orders the criminal roused, so they can ask who he is taking his orders from.
But when the guard goes over to Black Hat, the body just lies there limply—he’s already dead. Oh noooooooo. Fuming, Yeong accuses Minister Kim of interfering before the interrogation.
The next day as Yeong holds court with his ministers, the prime minister makes a late entrance. He’s notably dressed out of his red ministerial robes, which are set down before the prince.
He explains that despite his faithful service, he is suspected of criminal acts, and will resign his post in turn his efforts to clearing his name. Yeong tells him to clear his name using different methods, but at the cries of the court to accept the dismissal, he finds himself outnumbered. (Ex-)Prime Minister Kim promises to capture all the rebels and deliver them to the prince.
A notice is posted in the city with Ra-on’s name and picture, identifying herself as a traitor and leading participant on the attack on the prince. Soon after it’s posted, an unseen man rips it down.
Byung-yeon brings one of the posters to Yeong and warns that it won’t be safe for Ra-on to remain in the city. The idea is a blow to Yeong, who asks, “You mean she will be leaving soon, don’t you?”
Ra-on mulls over Head Eunuch Han’s advice to cut the knot free, crying to herself at the thought.
Bitterly, Yeong asks, “Does she really not have anything she wants to ask me, or hear from me? Or argue with me, or request of me? Does she not even wonder about me, or miss me?” He looks up at the moon with tears pooling in his eyes, asking, “Is she even alive?”
Then he faces Byung-yeon earnestly to say, “My words about not asking anything—forget them. Once, even just once, could you have me meet her?”
Ra-on and her mother both lie awake in bed that night, and Ra-on’s mother seems to sense her mood and suggests moving far away. Ra-on’s face crumples, but she forces a smile when she turns to face Mom and agrees to leave.
“But before that,” Ra-on says, “there’s something I have to do.” Her mother asks what that is, and she replies, “Sending [him] away. So that he can live well without me. So that if someone were to come and take my place…”
Mom asks if she means to make it so Yeong won’t carry lingering feelings for her, but she replies no: “So he won’t be sorry to me.”
Mom sighs and pulls Ra-on close, patting her comfortingly while shedding tears of her own. Ra-on cries quietly in her mother’s arms.
Prime Minister Kim sits Yoon-sung down, looking at the wanted poster of Ra-on as well as the portraits Yoon-sung had painted of her in her female guise. The prime minister sneers in disgust at the idea of Yoon-sung falling for a rebel’s daughter and barks that he could have called any number of gisaengs if he wanted a woman to draw or hold.
“Like you, Grandfather?” Yoon-sung asks pointedly. “Is it fine to hold them for one night and then abandon them?” He asks if it’s their family tradition to embrace people, including children, when needed and discard them when not.
“What is it you hate so much?” his grandfather asks. Yoon-sung replies, “The picture that you have drawn. That big picture you have carefully prepared with me in mind.”
His grandfather asks if he really opposes their family’s long tradition and his grand future. Yoon-sung says, “Yes. Even if it is low and crude, I will live the painting that I draw for myself.”
Late that night, Yeong waits alone in a building, and breaks into a smile when Ra-on comes into view. It fades a little when she keeps her eyes averted and asks why he wanted to see her, and he registers her stiffness.
Yeong asks why she’s keeping him at a distance, worrying that that his request put her in danger. Ra-on clenches a fist and looks up at him, saying, “Being next to you right now is the most dangerous time.” Her voice hardens as she adds, “At one order from you, could I not be dragged off at any moment?”
Hurt at that thought, Yeong calls her name and starts to step toward her, but Ra-on suddenly pulls out a small dagger and brandishes it at him. What are you doooooing.
Her hands shake and she breathes unsteadily, and Yeong tells her to put down the weapon, declaring that he would never order her killed. “Do I have to say these unbelievable words?” he asks incredulously.
Ra-on tells him that things are different now from the time when he knew nothing about her. She has heard that the king is unwell, much like how he suffered ten years ago because of her father’s actions.
Yeong tells her she’ll hurt herself and slowly reaches up to take the knife, but pauses when she brandishes it with more vigor.
“You must have many resentments yourself,” Ra-on tells him, raising her voice. “But I am the same. Who is it who made my father a traitor and made him die?!”
Yeong takes a step toward her anyway, and then another. With one firm movement he grabs her hands in both of his. And then, slowly, he angles the dagger’s tip inside the loop of his eternity bracelet. With a twist, he cuts the cord, sending its beads scattering. Nooooo. The dagger clatters to the floor.
Ra-on looks up in shock. In a pained voice, Yeong reminds her, “No matter what, I said I would believe everything. Your lies. I understand, so go on. We will not meet again.”
Ra-on stares at him for long, heartbroken moments, tears spilling from her eyes, matching the ones in his.
And now, finally, the royal wedding.
The palace is prepared for the ceremony, and Yeong and Ha-yeon are dressed in their wedding finery. He looks dead-eyed through his preparations, while she looks both nervous and sad.
Ha-yeon’s father joins her for some emotional final words, momentarily taking her aback with his newly formal address (as a princess, she outranks him). He warns her that she may find palace life very difficult, but Ha-yeon assures him not to worry, and for a brief moment he drops the formalities to call her by name for the last time. He entreats her to be healthy and safe, and Ha-yeon sheds a few tears as she hugs her father.
Eunuch Jang finishes dressing Yeong and gets emotional himself, reminiscing on how much Yeong has grown from boyhood, wishing him happiness and health. He places the hat on Yeong’s head, and Yeong flashes back to Ra-on doing that for him in her eunuch days, and how he’d playfully tiptoed out of reach.
Today, though, Yeong’s face remains bleak and sad.
From a faraway hill, Ra-on looks over toward the palace, knowing that the ceremony is unfolding today.
(Park Bo-gum sings this ballad, “My Person,” whose lyrics tell us: “You’re my everything, you’re my person / As much as my heart hurts, this love that cannot be erased / this love that cannot be stopped even if the world freezes / I would rather that I hurt more / Do not worry about me, even if it hurts and hurts, it’s love / I’m happy because you are forever my person”)
Wearing a grim expression, Yeong walks out of his palace to head for the ceremony.
On her walk back home, Ra-on sees a troop of soldiers marching through and ducks out of sight. Luckily, she’s not spotted.
Meanwhile, her mother waits for her at home, but stiffens when someone else arrives: a man wearing a bamboo hat, who slowly reveals his face. Mom’s eyes widen in shock. Is that… who I think it is?
At the palace, an officer bursts in to deliver unfortunate news to the king.
Ra-on arrives home to find her place ransacked, and her mother sits in a daze.
Just as Yeong is about to step into his palanquin, Eunuch Jang comes running up with bad news: The king has collapsed, in response to news that Hong Kyung-rae has been arrested.
All right, I’ll just come out and say it: This was the first episode I was actively dissatisfied with, as the story went from reasonably angsty to frustratingly so. I’m sure we all have different tolerance levels for how much plot complication and angst we can take before our enjoyment of an overall show starts to wane, but for me, I can generally hang in there as long as I find the story and characters credible—if it still makes sense to my head or my heart, I’m usually somewhat appeased.
This dissatisfaction isn’t purely because our couple is still apart, or because one is lying to the other (although that certainly doesn’t make me happy), but because (1) the plot spent more time away from the main couple, and (2) the underlying logic failed me for the first time. The romantic relationship doesn’t have to be in an happy, cute phase for me to find it rewarding, but shifting away from it for long periods of time had my interest flagging at points. Previous episodes tugged at my heart despite the painful goodbyes and longing heartbreak, because I was there with both characters, understanding the need for their present circumstances and feeling the dilemma as they lived through it. I understood, and even agreed with, Ra-on pushing away Yeong and running away and leaving behind the bracelet, and when she grieved her lost love privately, I felt that pain with her.
But today, she pulled the noble idiot card—a trap this drama has been so good as to avoid till now—and employed that logic I abhor and have never found compelling, where you essentially say, “I don’t want him to hurt, so I’ll prevent him from being hurt in the future by hurting him right now.” Oh gee, that’s so considerate.
I’m sure there are ways we can rationalize Ra-on’s behavior with elaborate character analysis and argued defenses, and because I love this show I recognize a knee-jerk compulsion to think up explanations on behalf of the show. And to a small extent I think that’s fair, that when a show has built up a bank of goodwill by consistently exceeding expectations and delivering awesomely, that it’s allowed a bit of a grace—but for me, it’s only a very small bit of leniency. Because as fans, we can love a thing beyond what it delivered but we can’t conjure up something it didn’t do, or argue something it didn’t argue itself.
All that said, there were moments that did touch me, such as the motif of lying and truth, as reflected in the episode title. Going back an episode, it seems the straight reading of “lies that seemed true” is Yeong doubting that Ra-on was sincere in her love of him. But I loved that the prince subverted that expectation, giving her permission to “lie” and accepting her answer no matter what. That’s why it particularly hurt my heart when she pulled her knife on him (which I’m still angry about) and tried to turn him away by making it seem she resented him, because she inflicted pain intentionally when it wasn’t even necessary, when he would have accepted her answer without her needing to invent false logic.
So she disappointed me, because this “I did it for your own good” logic frequently ignores the other person’s agency in a situation by denying them the opportunity to react. You’ve decided that in order for that other person to do as you want, you must control (or manipulate) the information they have at hand, and ultimately it signals a lack of faith. I don’t condemn Ra-on for it; she’s human and young and in an impossible situation, and in any other show I would probably just accept it. It’s just, this show has been so great about writing characters who rise to the challenge, and I don’t think she did today. I feel that he, on the other hand, did: It’s bittersweet and touching to see that ultimately he accepts her choice without agreeing with it or necessarily even believing it; it’s the fact that she made a choice at all that compels him to respect it.
As for the rebel plotline, well, I’ve watched a lot of sageuk dramas so it’s no surprise that this drama is starting to feel the drag of going shifting to external conflicts like political machinations and rebellion plots. Really, I was expecting it to come sooner, so on the upside I have to commend this show for making it Episode 15 before I felt we’d hit that drag. It seems like standard sageuk procedure to get to this point a few weeks earlier and spend more time in it, so I’m relieved that we’re not really in very much danger at all, given that we’re so close to the end. That said, being ahead of the curve compared to other dramas is fine and all, but Moonlight has been a remarkable experience by consistently hitting high levels of heart, fun, and warmth, and today I thought it fell short of its own standard.
But to leave on a happy note: Who else laughed when me made it through yet another episode without a royal wedding? This show is determined to keep our crown prince unattached and monogamous, history be damned, and you know, I’m really okay with flouting historical record on this one.