Prime Minister Second Lead (A video essay on The King: Eternal Monarch)

THE ESSAY


ORIGINAL SCRIPT

So, I watched The King: Eternal Monarch, and I have a few things to say about one character who annoys and fascinates me and I’m very confused about what the writer, Kim Eun-suk is trying to say through her.

For those who know me, they can tell you how much I love conflicted, grey characters. Especially if she’s a woman.

BUT from her very first scene, when PM Goo Seo-ryung walks into the palace and flirts with a clearly uninterested Lee Gon, she has been problematically characterized.

She’s the youngest Prime Minister of her country AND she’s a woman. These things should have already won her the respect and support of a lot of people, but she doesn’t actually seem to be accorded much respect from her peers or her colleagues. Even her secretary looks at her derisively.

A lot of this can be and is attributed to sexism. Old politicians mocking her inexperience and questioning her authority because she’s young and pretty is absolutely sexism. Her friends bitching about her because she’s more powerful than their husband is also sexism.

But the constant focus on what she’s wearing, her makeup, her own absorption with whether she’s prettier than another woman, her insistence on pretending that she’s dating the king, when they have no rapport whatsoever, and then feeling jealous because he smiled at another woman in a way he’s never smiled at her?

That’s just second lead pettiness. And the audience knows this code of characterization. We are trained to hate her.

And she’s a bit of a relic at this point. In the last few years, you haven’t had too many dramas with these typical bitchy second leads. Because women have layers. Obsessing over an unattainable guy is not ALL that they are. Especially when that guy hasn’t even remotely reciprocated her flirtatious overtures.

So, does the drama want us to hate the PM? I don’t think so. Because they take pains to show that she’s a decisive and competent leader, and she’s very secure in her feminine tastes and won’t play by men’s rules in her clothes or how she presents herself. That’s excellent… but that’s also why I’m so conflicted.

If she had been a man, the dynamic between Lee Gon and the PM would have been an exciting push and pull between the king and the democratic head. We know from the real world that this can make for really tense drama. Just read up on the English monarchy’s relationship with their prime ministers.

Instead they threw in an unnecessary romantic interest angle that just makes our female PM into a petty and manipulative second lead who goes after any girl the king shows interest in.

This feels like ingrained sexism in the writing.

As if no matter how powerful or intelligent a woman is, IF there is a more powerful man around, she WILL be casting lures at him.

And that’s my problem with this character. She could have been path-breaking. As a self-made woman, if she was resentful of the king’s hereditary power, that could have made for some pretty great drama. But her ambition is not what’s emphasized in this drama, her petty manipulative-ness is.

And that’s where writer Kim Eun-suk is failing the Prime Minister.

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