The third episode is finally here, and while I can say I’m thrilled, I also have my fair share of disappointments. In Episode 2, it seemed that King Lee Gon (Lee Min-ho) had unofficially asked (more like ordered) Jung Tae-eul (Kim Go-eun) to be his bride and the Queen of the Kingdom of Corea. But from there on, the excitement just died. The hype around the episodes is inconsistent, and I saw that the ratings have also slightly dropped. Although I expected that, considering The World of the Married is getting all the attention right now, but to be fair, nothing significant and noteworthy happened in the third episode of The King.
A little recap: There is now commotion in the Kingdom of Corea because King Lee has not been sighted for a while. In the Republic of Korea, Violent Crimes Squad 3 is still investigating a murder, and they finally get a new addition to the team. The twist with the newbie got me good. When the two handcuffed men walked through the door, I thought we were getting another tall, dark, and handsome oppa on the team, but the direction in this scene was clever and took me by surprise. Although, Tae-eul’s line referencing Signal (2016) came off as unnecessary and unfunny.
In my review of episode 1, I had mentioned that the plot shared similarities with writer Kim Eun-sook‘s past works and I stand corrected. There was a LOT of overlap with her award-winning series Goblin (2016). The King Lee-Royal Guard Jo (Woo Do-hwan) duo? They remind me of Kim Shin, who was a general and the head of the guards, and Wang Yeo, who was the King. The ending of the first episode where Gon suddenly grabs Tae-eul to hug her and Tae-eul responds with an irritated “What do you think you’re doing?” because she doesn’t recognize him? That was the same as Eun-tak’s rooftop scene with Kim Shin in his Goryeo warrior form after he comes back from the dead, while everyone has forgotten about him. The dialogue, tone, and expression in these two scenes were exactly the same. Lee Gon’s back markings also remind me of Eun-tak’s goblin tattoo on her back (those markings better not start disappearing in the later episodes). And Canada, the Goblin couple’s favorite place has just made a cameo in The King as Myeong Seung-ah’s place of origin. I mean, Kim Eun-sook could’ve picked from the other 196 countries, but I guess Canada is her favorite.
So has anyone figured out the key to the door between the two universes? Since the magical flute manpashikjeok was cut in two by Lee Gon as a child, one part remains with him and the other with his uncle Lee Rim (Lee Jung-jin). In this episode, Gon was finally able to realize that the pathway appears whenever the manpashikjeok is near. I’m guessing he keeps it hidden inside his horsewhip, and Lee Rim inside his umbrella. At first, I thought that the horsewhip and the umbrella were just the characters’ trademarks because several shots focused on these items without context, like Gon having his whip close even when meeting Tae-eul down at his hotel’s lobby. And you know what folks say – no better way to protect something precious than by always keeping it within reach. Although I do hope my hypothesis is wrong – it’s so predictable that having it confirmed would be a total bummer.
I also realized that the time-stopping element as a side effect of King Lee and Lee Rim’s crossover into the parallel world was foreshadowed in the first scene of the first episode – when Lee Rim is being interrogated by Tae-eul and Shin-jae. In response to Shin-jae asking why he hasn’t aged a bit since 1994, Lee Rim reveals that time has stopped for him. Turns out he meant that literally. This is another connection with the 1865 classic Alice in Wonderland, in which the rabbit carries a clock to symbolize time.
Another noteworthy thing is that the parallel characters in both worlds have the same family names. So far, we know of two: Jo Young and his doppelganger Jo Eun-seob, as well as Myeong Na-ri (Kim Yong-ji) who works at a beverage shop and Myeong Seung-ah, the newly hired PR Manager of King Lee. Speaking of Na-ri and Seung-ah, I don’t think her character has been properly introduced. Sure, she’s a supporting role, but getting a counterpart in the other world must mean that she plays an important part in the story.
For now, all we know is that Na-ri works at a cafe and calls Tae-eul unnie, but is not Tae-eul’s sister (she’s not included in Tae-eul’s family portrait, which is shown several times in the succeeding episodes). Seung-ah is a bit of a blur too – we just know that her family is originally from Canada and that she first appeared while taking photographs of Jo Young, so it’s obvious that she has the hots for our Royal Guard. Now, she’s been hired as some sort of social media manager for the King. An explanation of her character in the next episodes would be appreciated, although I’m aware that certain characters are never explained in some shows.
Woo Do-hwan is doing a good job so far, switching personalities between the quirky, playful Eun-seob, and the cold, uptight Jo Young. The one character that has disappointed me is Prime Minister Goo Seo-ryung (Jung Eun-chae). At first, I was hyped because she gives off that classy, elegant vibe that screams strong independent woman, kind of like Jang Man-weol from Hotel del Luna (2019) and Seo Dan from Crash Landing On You (2020). Let’s admit it – we’re all weak for women who run the world in red lipstick and high heels. But at the cabinet meeting, when she was being ridiculed for vetoing the salary raise for government officials, her bland facial expression left me wanting more.
For me, the most important aspect of a show after the cinematography is an actor’s ability to emote. It’s their way of connecting with the audience. I want to be able to see the character of Seo-Ryung, Prime Minister of Corea, and not actress Jung Eun-chae acting as the Prime Minister. I also expected Seo-ryung to have a sassy comeback ready for the official who ridiculed her, but that didn’t happen. Then again, it’s only the third episode; I’m sure there will be scenes in the next episodes where she will assert her authority.
Speaking of authority and dominance, this episode explored instances of women facing gender-based discrimination at their workplace – and it seems like both the Kingdom of Corea and the Republic of Korea are equally patriarchal. When an official comments on Seo-ryung’s appearance, it’s more than just an insult – it’s an indication that he does not accept her as someone above him. This happens again when a gangster tells Tae-eul that he should just be a house husband because she’s a detective; he’s not just ridiculing her, but his perspective reflects the social norm of traditional gender roles where men do the fieldwork and women do the household chores. He refuses to recognize Tae-eul’s role in society as a law enforcer, which for some people, is a “manly role.”
This episode was certainly the least exciting out of the three, but I’m still staying for the ride due to my strong, personal bias towards three of my favorite artists — Lee Min-ho, Kim Go-eun, and Kim Eun-sook; it’s not every day the heaven grants your wish. Besides, the storyline is still promising, and this series does not disappoint when it comes to details. If you’re watching closely enough, there are hints scattered in every episode, some less noticeable than the others. The directing is also good, seeing as there’s no awkward tension between the characters, and the transitions between scenes flow smoothly and consistently from one episode to the next. I’m expecting the hype to come back around the show’s halfway mark because that’s usually when the climax starts to build up. But from here on, I will be cautiously watching the development of the story and hoping it doesn’t disappoint me.