8 Reasons We’re Even More Hooked On “The Last Empress” After Episodes 5-8

SBS’s “The Last Empress” had such a shocking and suspenseful premiere that we were eagerly waiting to see how the drama would follow up in its second week. Would it continue to wow with the action and plot twists? Or would it try to do too much, and crash and burn in an overdramatic blaze of glory?

Well, episodes 5-8 were certainly dramatic, but in the best possible way: “The Last Empress” knows how to keep us on the edge of our seats with one sensational scene after another, and how to poke fun at itself when it borders on too absurd. This is exactly the kind of over-the-top action that we can’t look away from, so here are eight reasons why we’re even more obsessed with “The Last Empress” after week two!

Warning: spoilers for Episodes 5-8 below!

1. The main characters are the worst… but it’s awesome.

Somehow, “The Last Empress” is consistently enthralling despite the fact that not a single one of its main characters is likable. In fact, it’s because the characters are all so flawed that the drama is so fascinating. The baddies are all shades of manipulative, narcissistic, and just plain evil, and it’s pure fun to watch.

And even characters that are at least good people aren’t exactly likable people. Oh Sunny (Jang Nara) is the only lead character who doesn’t (yet) have a vendetta against anyone, but it’s hard to deem her the show’s heroine when she’s so maddeningly clueless. After the emperor dumped her in an incredibly disdainful and cold way, how could she believe him so easily when he turned around and proposed to her shortly after?

From the plain evil to the frustratingly naive, the unlikable leads actually add to the suspense of the drama in a way: we’re waiting to see which characters are going to step up to the task and make us root for them!

2. The intriguing new characters.

All that being said, this week we did get to know some newcomers who show the potential to be neither pure evil nor too nice for their own good. A mysterious young man (Oh Seung Yoon) has just arrived home in Korea, and he seems to have a good head on his shoulders.

He also likes the grand empress dowager (Park Won Sook), arguably the only character in the palace right now who we actually like, so hopefully these two can team up and add an interesting new dimension to the story!

3. Na Wang Sik’s transformation.

Was that…? Yes. Yes, that was a weight-loss workout transformation montage set to the “Rocky” theme song. We knew the change was coming, but we didn’t know exactly how the rather large and unruly Na Wang Sik (Tae Hang Ho) we had been introduced to was going to become the sleek, stoic Na Wang Sik (Choi Jin Hyuk) that “The Last Empress” promised us. The answer, it appears, is a lot of exercise…

And a really good haircut.

It’s times like these when I swear “The Last Empress” fully knows how absurd it can be and is actually making fun of itself. If “The Last Empress” had taken this scene seriously, we could complain about the unbelievability of the drama swapping two very different looking actors and pretending they’re the same person. But because it made the montage into a parody of sorts, the drama is admitting that it understands this is rather absurd, and asking us to go along with it anyway. And if the result is the introduction of Choi Jin Hyuk, then sure, why not!

4. The mysterious guru.

No good training montage is complete without a wise, stern master, and Wang Sik would be dead if it weren’t for this strange man (Kim Myung Soo) picking him up off the beach, getting him medical care, and then whipping him into shape.

The man also clearly knows a thing or two about the palace, so we can’t help but wonder what his relationship to the monarchs might be… Banished member of the royal family? Father of the previous, now-dead empress? A former palace guard himself? We can only speculate for now!

5. The palace newcomers.

With both Sunny and Wang Sik in the palace, we’re one step closer to getting their romance/revenge plot underway. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, given that Sunny and Wang Sik are both a bit odd and socially awkward. On the one hand, this means they could be cute together. But on the other, it makes it difficult to imagine them enacting a well-executed revenge plot together on a palace full of cunning villains.

Choi Jin Hyuk also gives Wang Sik a very different vibe than Tae Hang Ho did, and I am admittedly having a hard time seeing the new Na Wang Sik as the same person as the old one — not only because they look so different but also because so far the new one is much more stoic and composed than the loud, hot-tempered, blundering man we saw from the first few episodes. I’m curious to learn more about Wang Sik’s new persona, and what hints of the old Wang Sik will come through.

6. Shin Sung Rok’s wardrobe.

Now that our screens are also being graced by Choi Jin Hyuk, we would be remiss in not paying respects to how majestic Shin Sung Rok looks in this drama. One of the best parts about the show’s unique alternate reality setting is that it’s an excuse to put the emperor in everything ranging from everyday clothes to three-piece suits to full on hanbok-style robes… and we are 100 percent here for it all.

7. The emperor’s unexpectedly tragic past.

Usually when there’s a stoic male K-drama lead, there’s a sad backstory that is supposed to explain his cold, cruel behavior. And we were especially curious as to whether “The Last Empress” would try to make us feel bad for Hyuk with this device, because it was going to be a hard sell after some of the things we’ve seen the man do: covering up his hit-and-run, marrying Sunny to protect his relationship with Yoo Ra (Lee Elijah), exhibiting general sociopathic tendencies…. And yet this scene in which Hyuk sees Sunny on their wedding day and imagines her as his former, deceased wife still stirred some sympathy for him.

It’s a total credit to Shin Sung Rok for bringing such feeling to this moment, and it makes us wonder if the emperor used to actually be a real person with real feelings, until some horrible tragedy befell his first wife. Because it certainly seems as though he loved her.

8. The steamy, twisted romance between Hyuk and Yoo Ra.

The emperor’s sad backstory gives a new perspective to his relationship with Yoo Ra, which up until now has been a bit puzzling: the two have undeniable chemistry, but Hyuk is going to great lengths to protect Yoo Ra — a drastic change from a man who, a few episodes ago, had been willing to have her “taken care of” because she knew too much about his hit-and-run.

But now his obsession with her makes a little more sense if the tragedy surrounding his first wife turned him into the cold, apathetic man he is now. After watching Yoo Ra’s (staged) willingness to sacrifice herself for him, he fully trusts her, and is willing to make all kinds of sacrifices to keep her.

And it certainly helps that she knows how to keep him infatuated with her, with increasingly bold moves like coming onto him while Sunny gets a massage in the same room, with nothing but a screen dividing them….

Yoo Ra is manipulating Hyuk who is manipulating Sunny, Wang Sik is out to get the emperor, the empress dowager is out to get everyone, and we even have some new characters to look out for. We can’t wait to see what next week will bring!

Watch this week’s episodes of “The Last Empress” below:

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Hey Soompiers, are you watching “The Last Empress”? What did you think about this week’s episodes? Let us know in the comments!

hgordon stays up way too late on weeknights marathoning K-dramas and trying to keep up with the latest K-pop releases.

Currently watching: “The Last Empress,” “Mama Fairy and the Woodcutter,“ and “Clean with Passion for Now.”
All-time favorite dramas: “Scarlet Heart: Goryeo,” “Goblin,” and “Hwayugi.”
Looking forward to: Death Song.”

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