[SPOILER ALERT. IF YOU ARE JUST GETTING STARTED WITH THE IMPRESSIVE DRAMA KNOWN AS THE LAST EMPRESS, THIS POST IS AN ANALYSIS OF WHY IT'S MOSTLY VERY GOOD BUT IN SOME PARTS NOT SO GOOD. IT CONSIDERS EVERYTHING UP TO EPISODE 38.]
I think Last Empress started out being a thriller pure and simple, but somewhere along the way, Shin Sung Rok's fans probably clamored loudly enough for him to have a role less scary than that of the bossy murderer in Return.
Blood, Hwayugi, While You Were Sleeping, and Yong Pal, are my idea of dark comedies.
I mean, based on the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare and stuff, a comedy is often full of the same elements as a tragedy. In a tragedy EVERYBODY dies, but in a comedy, after betrayal, war, dismemberment, death, etc., there are characters who survive. Characters reconcile. Charaters get married.
But for a long, long stretch The Last Empress was so violent, and all the characters (except Oh Sunny and her family) were so flat out selfish and manipulative and evil that I thought Sunny was going to end up dead.
But, even though she's unleashing her inner witch more and more as time goes by, she is a "pure" character. She has no hidden motives. I mean, she's a schemer just like everybody else, but she's honest about it, and it's founded on seeking justice rather than seeking personal gain. And pure characters tend to survive.
As the show has progressed, the purported explanation for Lee Hyuk's behavior is that he isn't really evil, he has been driven crazy by a whole lot of assorted crap, most of which is the doing of his mother. So, keeping in mind that he has killed Na Wang Shik's mother and seems to be getting a pass on that, I'm not buying his sudden transformation into a loveable goofball as if he were a cast member of Father is Strange.
In fact, during the exceedingly long and complicated back story to the opening scene of digging up the body of Lee Hyuk's drowned first wife, it seems to me there would have been plenty of time to establish that, contrary to the way so many episodes have reinforced, Sunny is not an idiot, and Lee Hyuk is emotionally broken and not an out and out demon from the dark regions.
So their apparent personality changes would have been less shocking and more believable.
Still, I am going to keep watching!