Moon Lovers Retrospective: Eps 1 and 2

This is the first of a series of posts celebrating Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo in retrospect. These are analytical posts based on a re-watch rather than straight recaps.

I’m sure I’m giving way to my inner dark impulses when I say that there's something highly, HIGHLY attractive about Wrathful, Dark and Bloody So insisting that he didn’t want to let Su go? I’m sure he didn’t mean it the way he means it later in episodes 17-19 but there’s a little part of me that believes he just might. The dishevelled mane accompanied by that brooding, defiant smirk only adds to that impression. It does beg the question obviously… of whether he was he already attracted to Su to some degree especially because she bit her hostage taker among other insane things she’d already been doing prior to this encounter?On hindsight, it feels like foreshadowing… the three of them embroiled down the track in some love triangle while she would be the meddlesome bystander caught in a game of thrones she ends up exacerbating albeit unwittingly.

What strikes me as even more fascinating is the implication that despite being treated like a cast-off sack not once but twice, Su finds the intrepid 4th Prince an intriguing figure already. in spite of hearing half-truths and embellished tales of the 4th Prince’s apparent wonton bloodlust and pariah status, it doesn’t seem to put her off whatsoever. Au contraire. She follows him into the forest when observing him in hot pursuit of someone or something. It can mean one of two things, she really does have a thing for bad boys or the first time she laid eyes on him as he swooped down on horseback to grab her was when it all began for them. Either way the seeds of attraction were laid long before she was wooed by the scholarly Uk. Whether it’s a case of them lying dormant before taking root and finally bearing fruit under the right conditions, the work of falling in love between those two would never be the work of a single moment but over a period of long, hard years.From my second viewing the romance does present interesting ambiguities right from the start. The connections are formed but the attractions are obviously not the endgame which is to say that the romance is the vehicle but not the destination.
It never gets old watching Eun getting his behind handed to him. With our modern sensibilities we applaud Su’s spunk for taking him on because we think he deserves the sound beating and black eye he gets. Here he is ML’s Domyouji to Su’s Makino but thankfully romance isn’t on the cards for them. However, realistically no matter what kind of brat he is, he is still a prince. It’s probably fortunate for her that everyone thinks that she’s off her rocker since her near-death amnesia because otherwise she should be flogged rather soundly for laying hands on a prince. Luckily the people that matter find the whole thing rather hilariously shameful that a prince should be at the mercy of a girl and mirthfully finding some entertainment value in the entire debacle.
I’d forgotten how wonderfully spectacular the exorcism sequence was. For a longtime martial arts fan, it’s a breath-taking visual feast from start to finish. The wirework which was beautifully used adds to the artistry and storytelling of the moment. The rousing track, the tense build up, LJG’s skill and athleticism on display… the choreography… made for immersive viewing. I’ve started to wonder if they didn’t blow the entire budget on this episode (leaving no moolah for an extra episode or two) because it looked absolutely amazing.
The big thing for me would be the obvious symbolism in the use of masks and costumes as exposition of the appearances vs reality theme. There’s a lot of talk about So’s disfigurement and the justification behind his ostracisation due to his physical appearance. In addition there are two scenes of women being dressed. Su is dressed to the nines and utterly bored by the entire experience while wondering about the practicality of being saddled so many layers. Queen Yu revels in being dressed and adorned. For her appearance is the key to being the belle of the ball and catching the eye of the King. This is a woman who is obsessed with physical beauty to the point where she’s vehemently hateful towards a son she scarred for life. This is also demonstrated by her many leisurely hours spent in beauty bath therapy and trying to outdo the other women in the palace in the beauty stakes. She’s clearly modelled after Snow White’s witchy stepmother but without the magic mirror. Her disdain for the son she birthed is not just because she slashed his face in a fit of rage but because the man whose eye she had meant to command was looking unsentimentally elsewhere. Her obsessive attachment to Taejo not only disfigured So but reminds her that she does not have Taejo’s undivided attention despite all her machinations. Her son is the mirror as it were… that she’s not the fairest of them all. At least she’s not fair enough for Taejo to stop taking wives even if for political expediency.
In a significant enough way, ML is also about the dysfunctionality of families that polygamy brings. I’ve always thought that a good case can easily be made against polygamy purely on the basis on what it does not just to the women but also to progeny. While polygamy and in-breeding are 10th century realities in Goryeo, it’s still breeding ground for family disharmony in the worst possible way. No doubt there’s some kind of superficial, precarious brotherly affection that’s carefully held in balance by the 8th Prince. As long as No.3 doesn’t see any of his other brothers but the Crown Princes as genuine threats to his goals, he is quite willing to play happy families in the interim. His contempt for So is plain but his disfigurement puts him out of game of thrones contention.