Under the Queen’s Umbrella season 1, episode 1 recap – a quite frantic opener

By Nathan Sartain
Published: October 16, 2022 (Last updated: January 26, 2024)
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It is quite a frantic opener and takes some time to settle into a groove, but it is an intriguing watch.

This recap of the Netflix K-Drama series Under the Queen’s Umbrella season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers.

With a massive ensemble and plenty going on, Under the Queen’s Umbrella had an undeniably frantic start. Seemingly centred around the drama of those who may or may not be able to ascend to the throne in the event of the Crown Prince dying, it’s a show with plenty of stakes, and this character-driven first instalment did a good job of raising them while introducing us to the various personalities of the palace. By the end of the episode, everything had a nice pace to it, so hopefully, things will keep improving from this point forward.

Under the Queen’s Umbrella season 1, episode 1 recap

After watching a furious Queen Hwa-ryeong (played by Kim Hye-soo) interrupt some romance, we witness Queen Dowager Cho (played by Chaerin) receive a visit from the Crown Prince and Princess. While that trio enjoy a warm conversation about the need to live a long, prosperous life, King Lee Ho is busy trying to make a decision on what to do with those who reside in Seochon, where a plague has originated from. Ultimately, to the disappointment of some of his men, the choice is made for a temporary relief station to be established near the huts, and for only food to be delivered to the Seochon residents, disabling any close contact. Additionally, security will be tightened so those quarantined can remain controlled.

As Prince Seongnam is shown horse riding, Grand Prince Gyeseong arrives calmly at the back of the line for his lessons at Jonghak (described as an educational institute for princes and those of royal descent), and Prince Uiseong is carried to the school alongside First Junior Consort Hwang. The latter two are discussing a “lacking” arithmetic tutor who will be replaced (a later scene shows Uiseong to be someone extremely smart, hence the high standards here), while Prince Simso tails behind with First Junior Consort Ko, and Prince Yeongmin moves around accompanied by Second Senior Consort Kim. Following some more introductions to the royals studying today, the scene ends.

However, there is an issue. Not every prince has gathered at Jonghak before the King and Queen Dowager’s arrival, causing Hwa-ryeong to rush those who remain along to avoid them being “doomed.” Fortunately, Ilyoung makes it just in time, but Prince Seongnam is still nowhere to be seen. As such, when the Queen gets a chance to sit down, she looks rather disappointed. Elsewhere, the Crown Prince is schooled at Sigangwon, an educational place exclusive to him.

At Sigangwon, the Crown Prince recites passages on the importance of a good ruler who is not deceived, while the princes at Jonghak are quizzed about a wise man’s duties, and are encouraged to “break free” of their studies so they can “develop the ability to come up with new ideas.” Nevertheless, some awkwardness arises in the midst of the King’s lesson to the young royals, with Grand Prince Seongnam arriving near enough to its culmination. Later on, the Queen Dowager asks Consort Hwang to have tea with her, before warning Hwa-ryeong about the Grand Princes, who she “detests” due to the worry they bring to the King, and because they are failing to set the right example.

To respond, Hwa-ryeong assures Cho that she needn’t worry, as the Crown Prince is being properly educated to become King at Sigangwon. However, the Queen Dowager is unconvinced, wondering how much one achieving royal can make up for those not at his level. Then, with a word on her busy responsibilities, the Queen leaves, frustrated, though somewhat liberated by the idea of being able to stop nagging her sons now she has no favour with Cho. Thus, Hwa-ryeong decides to postpone banquet preparations, wanting to instead pay a visit to Sigangwon, where she hears of her son’s success on his “outstanding” test. Concurrently, Uiseong is beaten over his insulting of the Queen, until the Queen Dowager intervenes.

As the Queen is happily reassured that the Grand Princes are more thoughtful than is currently believed, something shocking occurs. Suddenly, the Crown Prince collapses, requiring immediate medical attention. Meanwhile, an infuriated Queen Dowager scolds the Grand Princes over what they did to Uiseong, going as far as to force them all to kneel for an extended period of time despite the harsh weather conditions.

In the midst of tending to the ailing Crown Prince, the Queen receives a request to meet with Cho in her quarters. Elsewhere, Uiseong is beaten by Consort Hwang, chastised for the negative words he said against Hwa-ryeong (the smart royal feels he should be the Crown Prince, and his consort Queen). “One’s criticisms only ring hollow unless one earns their right,” Hwang replies to the grievances she is hearing, wanting Uiseong to surpass the Crown Prince first, then look to take his position.

That night, Hwa-ryeong is informed her son’s illness could be hyeolheogwol (a disease caused by blood deficiency and fatigue that leads to collapsing), causing the Queen to become perplexed she wasn’t told earlier about the symptoms the Crown Prince had been displaying for around a year. Sadder still, someone else had previously died from this apparently hereditary disease (Crown Prince Taein), but this does seem to signal a glimmer of hope in regards to potential treatment as physician Cho Guk-yeong may remember what was done in the past. For now though, the Crown Prince’s health status is to remain a secret.

After weighing up whether to inform the King of the Crown Prince’s condition, Hwa-ryeong ends up retreating anyway when she sees His Majesty has another visitor. Then, the Queen is met outside by the Queen Dowager, with the two briefly discussing the punishments being endured by the Grand Princes for their attack on Uiseong. When departing, Cho makes a quick note to check on the location of the Crown Prince.

Once the Grand Princes are spared of enduring their full punishment, Hwa-ryeong goes back to the Crown Prince, holding his hand as he remains in her house. Then we move to the next day, where all the young royals are rushing to Jonghak to learn about relations. With a lesson blunt enough to teach about “wise, disciplined” sexual intercourse, it’s fascinating stuff, not least because everyone in the room is engrossed in learning how often they should have sex, and the positions that could be used. Elsewhere, Queen Dowager Cho asks the King about Kim Ja-hong and his son being sent to China, which has left an important vacancy set to be filled by one of the Jonghak princes.

As a new Special Court Lady is appointed, kickstarting gossip on His Majesty’s taste in women, an announcement is made of the plans to give the Jonghak princes a chance to become the cohort of the Crown Prince. Hwa-ryeong asks the concubines to remain calm during this evaluation period, yet it’s clear there is some level of anticipation rife. Concurrently, the young royals are told about this opportunity, leaving Uiseong looking bitterly determined at this “unprecedented” chance to rise up the ranks (usually, such a role is reserved for court officials or royal children). However, his mother, Consort Hwang, is far more coy, vocally musing to her fellow concubines that there’s no telling whether this is “an opportunity, or a trap.”

Continuing, the concubines soon end up all crossing paths when trying to figure out whether the Queen Dowager had any “secret methods” in making her son the King despite her initially low ranking, though it’s a mostly fruitless endeavour. Even the cheery Consort Tae, who manages to have a sit-down conversation with Cho, is unable to draw out any immediate tips, and finds herself needing to make an offer should she wish to get a hold of a book containing all the necessary information for Kinghood.

When hearing of Royal Physician Guk-yeong’s current unavailability, Hwa-ryeong is quick to quell any worries the King has about his son’s health status, and instead moves the topic onto why a cohort is being selected upon princes. Hearing that it was Queen Dowager Cho’s idea, the Queen seems curious over the situation, particularly as the elder also played a role in moving the physician away from the palace. To make matters worse, Hwa-ryeong is soon told of Consort Tae’s newly possessed book containing the secrets behind raising a King, igniting further suspicions.

In due time, things get more uncomfortable for the Queen. Forced to face Dowager Cho at the bedside of the ailing Crown Prince, she talks with the elder about hyeolheogwol, the death it could cause, and the lack of competency any of the Grand Princes possess should a new heir to the throne be needed. Naturally, Hwa-ryeong is annoyed by this, frustrated that the Queen Dowager is more concerned with the royal court than her grandson. Here, it’s revealed bluntly by Cho that she believes the Crown Prince is the Queen’s only worth, before heavy implications are made over plans that could be in the works which would see someone else put in a high enough position to prevent any of the Grand Princes ascending.

Fearing the Queen Dowager, Hwa-ryeong turns to long-time servant Senior Court Lady Shin for definitive answers on what happened to the late Crown Prince Taein, and his mother, the deposed Queen Yoon. As we hear, this is a secret kept between Cho and Yoon, with the only revelation a subtle statement that the former would do anything for His Majesty, who managed to achieve Kinghood despite being the son of a concubine. Teary-eyed, the Queen holds the hands of the Crown Prince as he lays unconscious.

Meanwhile, the Queen Dowager sits comfortably in reflection, wanting Consort Hwang to be interested in putting her son up for the role of cohort. That, and the elder reveals her intention to give her tip book to all the mothers of “promising princes.” However, she wants the gifts to be kept low-key, so no information is shared along, “and so that they will swear their loyalty to me and obey me.” Again, this appears to cement the cynical plans Cho has up her sleeve.

The ending

In the pouring rain, Hwa-ryeong heads out to see the deposed Queen, who doesn’t take kindly to the unannounced visit. Wanting an urgent answer to her questions, the Queen is desperate, even when told she can face a treason charge just for being seen with the former royal. “I mustered the courage to stand my ground, but I do not know how to protect the things I have,” Hwa-ryeong states, prior to getting on her knees to ask the deposed Queen what she would do if time was turned back, admitting she is facing the same situation as Yoon once did.

“From one desperate mother to another, do you not have any words of advice for me?” is the question posed that finally opens the gate for Yoon to consider sharing the secret of what happened between her and Cho. With Hwa-ryeong firmly posing her query to receive the guarded information for the sake of her own life’s protection, the episode ends.

What did you think of Under the Queen’s Umbrella season 1, episode 1? Comment below.

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