The Con Artist
Episode 1 of The Forbidden Marriage starts with a decree announcing a marriage ban after Crown Princess Ja-Yeon dies. The townspeople are angry as the decree states that no lady of suitable age can get married until Crown Prince Lee Heon remarries.
Ye So-Rang, our heroine and con artist, takes advantage of this ban. She decides to become a messenger between lovers who are desperate to just stay in touch now that they can’t get married. She also comes up with ways for men to find brides and hold secret marriages as she constantly plays a cat-and-mouse game with the royal guards.
The ban goes on for 7 years and Lee Heon becomes King. After her latest stint in prison, So-Rang’s father pleads for her to settle down with the money she had scammed. In the meantime, the royal staff hope to change King Lee Heon’s mind by drugging his tea with an aphrodisiac and getting a court lady to sleep with him. The King is immediately affected after drinking the tea and she tries to seduce him. However, he remembers his late wife and that wakes him up from the stupor.
He is furious with the staff but is stopped by his longtime friend, Captain Lee Shin-Won. The King reveals that Shin-Won doesn’t really care about the ban and roots out his motive as he has been in love with a mysterious woman who vanished just like the King’s lost love.
So-Rang and her father, Ax head to Hanyang, the capital. She sets up a shop ‘Aedaldang’ in the Insagol area where she resumes her marriage compatibility services. While setting up the shop, she hears the guards discussing the rumours that the palace is haunted by the Crown Princess’ ghost.
The Grand Queen Mother and the Royal Court all beg the King to lift the ban as it has started affecting the birth rate and unsavory rumours have spread about the King. The Minister of Military confronts the King hoping to bully him into withdrawing the ban. The King tired of the wisecracks declares he will select a new wife within the year.
We see a flashback to a time when the King was young and happy, going on boat rides with his wife. She had shared that if she was to be taken away, for him to look after himself. The flashback also shows the King finding his wife’s body and believing that she was murdered with it being set up to look like death by hanging. Since then, he is haunted by his dreams and by those claiming that her death was a suicide.
So-Rang restarts her business but it is difficult as the men don’t fall for her tactics but Ax comes to her rescue. They hire the jobless Hae-Young who loves reading romance novels. They turn Aedaldang into a tea house as the women line up to have their fortune read by Ax. It makes the royal guards suspicious. The King thinks the women gather to gossip about him and decides to visit the shop.
So-Rang runs a side hustle where she forges ID cards so that young women can pass off as older women in their 30’s who are not subject to the ban and can get married. The King, Shin-Won, and royal guard Chun-Seok overhear and chase So-Rang. She runs into Shin-Won who realizes that she looks like his mystery woman. She is arrested and tries to bluff her way out. She pretends to be possessed and piques the interest of the King.
He is convinced that she has divine sight and is possessed by the spirit of the matchmaker. Quick-witted So-Rang analyses the King’s breakdown and exploits it, making him believe that he is indeed being haunted by the ghost of his wife. She acts like the Crown Princess has possessed her and the King wanting to see only what he wants believes her. So-Rang as the Crown Princess pleads Lee Heon to let her go but it backfires and she is put back in jail. While requesting to be let go, she recognizes Shin-Won, adding to the viewer’s theories that she might indeed be his mystery woman.
The King reveals to Minister Kim Sul-Rok whom he trusts why he never married as he feels that if he doesn’t find the Crown Princess’ murderer, his next wife will also face the same fate. Turns out every time the King tried to find a new bride, the most suitable prospect was found dead in the same spot as the Crown Princess.
The Military Ministry shows his hand as the one controlling the previous king and was the one who didn’t let Lee Heon hold a funeral for his wife which is why he thinks she is haunting him. His minister, Sul-Rok believes in So-Rang’s divine powers and suggests keeping her as the King’s maid till she soothes the Crown Princess’ soul. The King agrees but asks Shin-Won to guard her so that she doesn’t get killed by the same killer. While in a trance, he sees her and mistakes her for his wife. He ends up hugging a shocked So-Rang and acknowledges that he might be going crazy.
The Episode Review
So-Rang’s breaking of the fourth wall to reveal her plans to the audience sets the tone for this otherwise dark story. Lee Shin-Won is blunt and not afraid of the King, while the King is happy with his honesty, showing us a different dynamic otherwise not seen usually in Joseon dramas.
Shin-Won’s missing lady sets up the suspense as the audience, used to a loveable second couple, awaits her appearance which hopefully happens soon. However, nicknames like Hunny for a king, funny sound effects and the act of a pinky swear in serious scenes feel odd and don’t match the atmosphere, with the only hope being that it only gets lighter from here onwards.
But Kim Young-Dae as always does a brilliant job as King Lee Heon as we see the dichotomy from the young and free-spirited king to one wracked by sadness and guilt as he is haunted by the memories of his dead wife while being comically stoic. The first episode of The Forbidden Marriage keeps a constant pace allowing enough exposition and cliffhangers to keep the viewers hooked who are bound to tune in to see what happens next.