It is finally over. A drama that lasted for 25 weeks is not one for all viewers. One needs a whole lot of patience, but the payoff is great. I was apprehensive watching the last episode, because history is a big spoiler and I am upset at our titular character’s impending death.
Sure, Jeong Do Jeon may not be totally unscrupulous when attempting to achieve his goals, but politics is never for the pure and innocent. I appreciate that Show tries its best to stick to facts, and what we get in Show is not some crazy drama fare but an attempt to interpret historical events in a serialized manner.
We have to understand that essentially Jeong Do Jeon is a believer in meritocracy, which is a rather rare concept back in the past. Sure, his ideals were based on Neo-Confucianism, and Confucianism itself was in place in China more than 1000 years before Jeong Do Jeon was born. Dynasties in China adopted the Prime Minister governmental system which Jeong Do Jeon was adamant on implementing, but the coveted royal throne still holds the most power even in China. My understanding of Jeong Do Jeon’s ideal government would be one that resembles what we see in United Kingdom now, with the Prime Minister and though perhaps not a Parliament, and the Joseon King would be more than just a symbol.
So when he explains what he wanted to achieve to Lee Bangwon, who just refuses to accept it, I was in considerable amount of fury. I’ve never felt so angry watching a sageuk, and I was extremely upset at Lee Bangwon, his minions, and his wife, Lady Min. I’m not sure if historically she contributes to her husband’s (misguided) actions, but at least in this drama, to me, she’s portrayed as a devious lady who is as thirsty for power as her husband is. She sowed discords and fanned Lee Bangwon’s anger at Queen Sindeok and Jeong Do Jeon.
Whereas we see Lady Kang (Queen Sindeok before her coronation) and Lady Choi (Jeong Do Jeon’s wife) throughout the series, carried the more traditional role of a wife. Yes, they are present when their husbands discuss about politics, and while Lady Kang is more active than Lady Choi politically, she did not encourage Lee Seonggye to usurp the throne, nor commit treason. She tried to soothe the relations between Lee Seonggye and Lee Bangwon. It is understandable that she’d wish for her own son to inherit the throne, and while it was regrettable that Jeong Do Jeon, Queen Sindeok and King Taejo underestimated Lee Bangwon’s greed for power, I thought it was a rather risky move to install the youngest son, Lee Bangseok as Crown Prince, no matter how wise he was despite his youth.
Even though Lee Bangwon proved to be a capable king eventually, I believe we cannot ignore the fact that before, during, and even after his reign, too much blood was shed for his singular belief to prove himself, and the belief of absolute monarchy. I do not know whether there’re alternative interpretation of his character historically, but I find him a hypocrite who actually adopted much of Jeong Do Jeon’s ideals and practices (especially that of abolishing private armies) AND THEN vilified him. Show did a good job of portraying Lee Bangwon as known conventionally, because I would not be able to accept otherwise.
I thought it was rather poignant that Jeong Do Jeon visits his good friend, Jeong Mong Ju’s tomb before he is killed, and also he “sees” Jeong Mong Ju coming to him bring him away after he gets slashed by Lee Bangwon. The friendship between the two men may have soured because of a vast difference in ideologies, but it speaks volumes of how Jeong Do Jeon actually treated him as his best friend, respected older “brother”, throughout their tumultuous life.
The fun thing about history is always to imagine the what ifs: What if Joseon successfully wrestle back the land of Yodong, what if Lee Bangseok became King, what if Jeong Do Jeon persecuted Lee Bangwon for slashing at a general carrying out a royal order. Show allowed me to think of these what ifs, even if I’m no history student.
Show had successfully depicted the journey of Jeong Do Jeon from the conventional scholar, who had to endure years of exile, during which he experienced firsthand what most elites will never come across – a commoner’s life and hardship; to a revolutionist who sincerely wishes to change the lives of his fellow people, and altruistically pursues his dream.
The take home message of Show is, which I quote Jeong Do Jeon, “Have an impossible dream in your heart.” It is because he dared to dream, and even if the dream eventually led to his demise, he achieved the impossible, and know that nothing is impossible if you have not tried. Jeong Do Jeon is essentially a drama that encourages people to dream big, to think of what you can do to change the world for the better, that mankind can benefit from.