Yes, I’m clearing up my in-progress back-log in this holiday lull and Rookie Historian, Goo Hae-ryung had been in limbo at episode 6 for too long and deserved a speedier completion. Although it suffered from a slightly split personality tonally, there is a lot to recommend about this fantasy piece (because after all, it is a fantasy to think that a female, let alone a historian where she to exist, would ever be permitted the free rein to speak and act as our heroine does in a Confucian society, but let’s not let facts get in the way of our enjoyment, okay?)
It took me a while, but I’ve come around to really enjoying Shin Se-kyung’s work, and as our heroine Goo Hae-ryung she shines. I particularly like the timbre of her speaking voice which is low and melodious. She’s nobody’s patsy or plaything and an independent woman with a mind of her own. She’s got no time for romance novels, such as the drivel written and published anonymously by the youthful Prince Dowon (played by Astro vocalist Cha Eun-woo, he of the sparkling dark eyes and innocent face and coltish limbs). She wants to learn things that mean something, like astronomy or medicine or history, so when the chance comes to sit for a civil service exam given for women in a ploy by government officials to keep secrets and weaken the current regime, she does what any girl needs to do. She works out a deal with a prospective bridegroom and skedaddles!
This is a large cast of regular characters, what with the 4 women chosen as historians, the 10 or so main male historians (including Lee Ji-hoon as the 2nd in seniority but of his status), the royal family, including older brother crown prince (Park Ki-woong) and father, grandmother, etc., and the key manipulative ministers, and so on, but they all tie in… eventually. I confess, the plotting for the throne part is fairly predictable so you have my blessing to fast-forward to your heart’s content. You’ve seen one coup plot you’ve seen ’em all, but the scenes with Shin Se-kyung and Cha Eun-woo are sparkly good fun.
He’s still green as an actor and it shows, but in a way that’s kind of okay because he’s playing a 21-year-old naive and sheltered baby prince with a loving heart who wants to be loved, who’s living in virtual isolation. She’s older than he by about 6 years in the story and has a lot more life experience so it’s perfectly logical that she should be more forceful and better able to control most situations in which they find themselves. They are so appealing together that it’s not hard to imagine that they could find each other attractive.
It’s also relatively interesting to imagine the ‘what ifs’ of a court that would allow women to have any kind of role of this importance, and what it might have meant to government structure. While some women have over the course of time played influential roles, they were far and few between.
Some of the other characters of note are those played by Park Ki-woong as the crown prince, caught between a rock and a hard place — or many rocks and hard places (cruel father, wife he cares nothing for because she’s daughter to his ministerial enemy, etc.). He’s underutilized in this role, but it’s nice to see him back in dramaland. Lee Ji-hoon as the moral and honorable historian sonbae gets a little more meat in his role as the brother-in-law to the crown prince and son of the villain of the piece. He’s proving to be a versatile actor too, handling drama and comedy equally well.
I think they could have trimmed some of the subplots and had a tighter, more cohesive story, and in a way if they’d not gone a little too far into progressivist history (just saying that of all the radical insertions of modernistic takes on aspects of the plot, the ending could never, ever happen) it would have potentially had more skin in the game, emotionally speaking because the risks would have been more grave, more realistic. If it were tonally more consistent it would have been a better drama, but I’ll recommend it (with judicious use of fast-forwarding) on the whole, and mainly for Shin Se-kyung.