It’s been 50 days since the finale of The King: Eternal Monarch and I am still here going back and forth the portal to the Kingdom of Corea. Usually 2 weeks of K-drama hangover is enough (or even too much) but this is TKEM, the drama that loved me back and helped me through pandemic anxiety. In this essay (lol) I try to process why I still live here.
[Obviously spoilers everywhere. This is your first and only warning. Ok go]
Reconciling with Lee Minho. I came here because of Kim Goeun whom I loved since Goblin. When casting news came out about her reuniting with writer Kim Eunsook (Goblin, The Heirs, DOTS) with LMH as her main man I went ‘eh’, the kind of eh made by a person who has seen and enjoyed LMH’s previous things (Boys Over Flowers, The Heirs) and never quite getting what made him click. Well in this drama I got it, okay. I don’t know if it’s the character, the post-serving-the-country aura (they all get it, we know this), his chemistry with KGE (I’m not going to even but here is one bts clip of many enjoy!!!) or all of the above. It is likely all of the above. But it works okay, I am into this LMH. And by the time he was dropping ‘I am your King’ to a poor gobsmacked Kang Sinjae I was there facing my Netflix screen going ‘ye Pyeha.’
Lee Gon and Jeong Taeeul. It always goes back to these two. I was unsure of how I would feel about this couple (see above re reconciling with LMH, and there’s also my Goblin and Cheese in the Trap feelings) and have admittedly tripped on how fast burn their love was but once I got into it there was no turning back. KES was said to have explained the quicker-than-most progression of their love as fate, but there are also the little things that matter.
- The way Gon has been patient with Taeeul from the start, understanding that yes, ‘okay my truth is weird but I have scienced and mathed this for 25 years, I do believe this is a parallel universe and you are the face that has helped me feel less lonely for same number of years. And I’m going to stay here and get to know you and try to make your world a little rounder.’ He is a King who is surrounded by people who do his bidding in a single word. How many times has he uttered ‘this is a King’s order’ to full effect? But with Taeeul he understands how little that mattered and he is willing to work from the ground up.
- The way Taeeul warms up to him, first as a cop when the evidence starts favoring his claims, then as a woman when she decides to accept that a beautiful man is proclaiming all these beautiful things to her and alright why not? She sees for herself that he is a good man, a just and beloved leader, and someone who grew up well despite the gruesomeness of his past. She talks about accepting the fate that chose her–the goodness and uncertainty of loving this man. It was a brave, very Taeeul thing to do.
- The way they work together. I love it so much how their rule of command shifts across universes. In the Republic of Korea, Taeeul is the boss, but in the Kingdom, Gon is her King (he is always her King, but you get me). I love how even when they only have literal numbered days being in the same universe together, they know the big picture and the important roles they play and they do the work. They look for the root of evil, and then they meet up later for chicken and MSD. It’s an equal relationship. No one is treated above the other, which is especially beautiful to see in this story where the man is a literal King. He knows she is strong and has her own mind and is good at her job. He calls her a warrior. And he not only respects this but cherishes it. Basically these two together are competence porn. They are both awesome in what they do, and seeing them put their heads together (in the non-kissy sense but the kissing is also A++) and solve things is wonderful to watch.
- The way they are honest to each other. In Kdramas we often reach a point where at least one hurts the other, usually in an act of noble idiocy. Here throughout their journey Gon and Taeeul are always finding their way to each other, from the progression of their hugs and kisses (again, best, A++), to Gon opening all the doors in the universe and Taeeul keeping faith that he will come. Even when they said goodbye, they did so not to hurt each other, but with the honest knowledge that it was the only way to make things right. Their love is fate but fate is bigger than they were, and they had sacrifices to make.
- More little things: Gon walking in pace with Taeeul not just in her world but also in his, where as King he walks ahead of everyone else. Taeeul giving Gon the numbers of five people who would help him no matter what, thereby embracing him in her world and protecting him too. The way Lee Gon the King empties the kitchen to cook for her I’m ??? heartheart. Wew, a lot. Love languages and the things they do to meet each other.
- The hugs and kisses because it really needs to be said again. They hug like there is no tomorrow which is literally the thing hanging over their heads all the time. And the kisses haha wew see Episodes 12 and 16.
The squad. Kdramas are good with squads, though sometimes there’s a tipping point of too many people and not enough time to know about them all. TKEM was able to do its cast justice for the most part.
- I wish PM Koo Seoryeong was written differently. Edited a bit? I wish I was able to understand and see her more as shades of gray rather than someone whose conscience darkened all the way to evil by the last plot turn. Then I remembered how in sageuks the PM is often the power-grabbing foe with the usual plot of marrying his daughter to the King, and I guess here Seoryeong takes on both roles. She is the politician who also desires to be Queen, not for love but for ambition. Maybe I should have foreseen her end from there. But still one hopes there was space in the drama for more than one woman who was excelling in a world mostly occupied by men.
- Yeong and Ensup. Watching Woo Dohwan here is such a joy. How he got to play with two totally different characters and mix them up when Gon did the exchange was brilliant. These two gave the much needed laugh breaks when shit was really hitting the fan. And I love love how these characters, especially Yeong, was a constant reminder to Gon that he is not alone, and he doesn’t have to go through everything on his own.
- Nari and Seunga. I mean a girl who is consistently rich and landed with a sharp tongue in both universes, yes please. And she drives awesome cars and serves milk tea. I love her friendship with Taeeul (would have wanted more of this but ok) and how she is a foil to both Yeong and Eunsup. And also how, as a fellow monied person, Nari understood Gon and lent him when he needed it (could have given him free milk tea but there are limits I guess).
- Taeeul and Sinjae hyungnim. Huhu I still cry. I love this friendship. It was worrying to think of a second lead versus a King (and versus the walking tree charisma of LMH which makes it an extra extra challenge), so it was nice to see a gentle, light hand on this one-sided love. Sinjae knew Taeeul saw him as a brother and that was what he became for her, only deciding he needed to be honest with his feelings when she told him she was going on a suicide mission. He never liked Gon because of course, jealousy and negative bias, but he respected him, and he respected that Taeeul loved and chose Gon. Which in conclusion made that confession/goodbye scene so much more cathartic and heartbreaking. If I have one gripe about the ending, it’s that Taeeul didn’t get to properly grieve the loss of hyungnim, a lifelong friend she was apparently not fated to have (brb crying).
- Lee Lim. Such an evil megalomaniac that there was no hope for him, which then made it super satisfying seeing him die not once, not even twice, but three forking times.
Happy ever after ever ever! Still cannot believe I invested in this series without the assurance of a happy ending, when I am the type of anxious person who reads up on the synopsis of a movie on Wiki in the middle of watching said movie in a theater, just because I need to know how it ends.
When a book is declared romance, readers know the HEA contract and the author delivers this. Kdramas on the other hand can pin the genre on its title and then turn around to trample viewers’ hearts with an open-ended finale at best. (Never getting over my Cheese in the Trap grudge) The King, however! Despite the heart wrenching goodbyes of the penultimate episode and the puzzle of how the doors in the universe work, our King and Queen were able to arrive at a beautiful solution. It wasn’t a royal wedding or the birth of royal twins, because that wasn’t the point.
From the start, Gon has been saying he has no desire to marry and have an heir, and in any case the lineage was safe with good uncle Buyeong. Even when Gon proposes to Taeeul and asks her to be with him in his world, he knows she wouldn’t, and he could not bear her to do it either, because her life isn’t less than his. So what they did–keeping their lives and spending weekends discovering universes together was the most sustainable and the most responsible solution. Gon and Taeeul’s fight with Lee Lim taught them two important things–that the universes must be kept separate and parallel, and that they cannot live without loving each other. And so they chose to accept both responsibilities by having dates in different universes. And since this is Gon and Taeeul with eternity and infinity in their hands, they will live for today, only today, and it will be a loooong day.
The brilliance of Kim Goeun. She is just an absolute joy to watch. In Goblin she portrayed a bubbly, heart-on-her-sleeve high school girl growing up to be a lonely, struggling 29-year-old woman, with a clear transition and separation of both roles. Here in TKEM she portrayed not one, not even two but–Taeeul, Luna, Luna pretending to be Taeeul, new timeline Luna, and four alternate universe characters. Every appearance was distinct, from how she moves to her speech to the look in her eyes. Huhu amazing I love her.
Something to look forward to as the world burns. Obviously the drama wasn’t perfect. There were some narrative decisions that could have been handled differently for better clarity and less stressing over things for the viewer, since we were already breaking our brains with the theories and the math (the math is legit by the way and it’s awesome). But it’s a beautiful drama, and although I’ve never watched a drama while it is airing before, I do not regret doing it with TKEM. It was nice having Fridays and Saturdays to live for, having an alarm set to the time I was going to watch it together with a friend (annyeong Chi, thank you forever for doing this with me). It was a light guiding me through days when I’ve lost the context of time. And as Chi said, we loved TKEM and it loved us back. It loved me back so much that I’ve been writing again (thanks to both the actual drama and the unfolding romcom that is the bts reel oops).
So yeah, MSD and chicken for this hangover. Long live the King and Queen.