I’d say we were in really good hands for Haechi, as this writer is a seasoned sageuk writer. I like my sageuks semi-factual (as opposed to fantasy), so after a drought of such dramas, I was ready for some serious sageuks. However, I had to admit I wasn’t fully onboard until approximately one-third way in, and I began to wish this is 50 episodes instead of only 24. As stated over at Dramabeans, other than compressing the timeline to fit in the major events leading to Yeongjo’s enthronment and his early reign, I’m glad that the writer remained faithful to history (or at least the generally accepted view).
That said, it is understandable why Haechi struggled with higher ratings or hype although it did emerge in the first place for viewership ratings. It wasn’t easy to understand (especially for foreign viewers who did not read up on that part of Joseon history) and there wasn’t much instant gratification, unlike in dramas such as Special Labor Inspector Jo, nor were there bitching and slapping as would be expected in palace sageuks because this was solely focused on Lee Geum’s road to become a king. I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of screen presence of his wife and other concubines. The loveline between Geum and Yeo-ji was alright, didn’t feel too forced or what although I think it wouldn’t make any difference if they were just platonic friends.
What I really liked was the bromance and rapport Geum had with Moon-soo and Dal-moon (I’m sorry for doubting you!). I’d gladly watch another 10 or more episodes of the trio working together to weed out corruption and faction fights in the kingdom. In comparison Lee Tan was absolutely pitiful because he never had people who truly believed in his abilities but only made use of or abuse him. Throughout the series we witness repeatedly how differently Geum and Tan approach problems and resolve issues, and it is some sort of testimonial to why Geum would make a much better king.
I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who is genuinely interested in Joseon history, or wants to know more about King Yeongjo (Geum) other than the sad history with his son Prince Sado. It’d help to have some prior knowledge of Geum’s father King Sukjong, and further reading would include understanding the faction disputes between Soron, Noron and if you would, the Nam-ins.