Y’know, it’s tough being a sequel.
Everyone wants you to be everything. You need to be as good as the original; faithful to the original; not too different from the original; not too similar to it either. You need to be the same, yet different; faithful, yet fresh. That’s a tall order.
It’s even more challenging when the original is Nirvana In Fire, which is a drama that ruined me for all other dramas for a good long while, when I first finished watching it. It was so brilliantly written, so wonderfully acted, so beautifully produced (if you haven’t yet watched it, drop everything and watch it!), that when I heard that there was going to be a follow-up series, all I could think was, How does one follow an act like that? Talk about the tallest of tall orders.
So the million-dollar question is, does Nirvana In Fire 2 manage to fulfill all the criteria of a good sequel? I’m gonna say, Yes. It did an admirable job.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s a small selection of tracks from the OST, in case you’d like to listen to them while you read the review.
SO IS THIS A DIRECT CONTINUATION OF NIRVANA IN FIRE?
I’ve had several people ask me this question, so I thought it’d be good to include the answer in this review.
Basically, this second season takes place in the same drama world as Nirvana In Fire, but because the story carries on 2 generations after the first season, there is a complete change in cast. However, there are references to the first season’s events and characters, as well as the occasional Season 1 flashback, from time to time.
The current cast of characters is related to the cast of the first season, so you could say that this is a direct continuation of Season 1, except that there is a 2-generation time-skip after Season 1. [MINOR-ISH SEASON 1 SPOILER] The main characters in Season 2, are the sons of Ting Sheng, who in turn was the boy who was rescued by Mei Changsu (Hu Ge) in the first season, and eventually adopted by Prince Jing (Wang Kai). [END SPOILER]
This season is also written by Hai Yan, and I would say even though I feel Season 1 surpasses Season 2 in many ways, it’s a very solid second season; worth watching especially for fans of Season 1.
STACKING UP IN BROAD STROKES: writing, pacing, cinematography, acting, etc.
Coming from the same team that gave us Season 1, it’s not surprising that everything in this season feels polished and of high quality, from the sets, to costuming, to the writing and acting. The general style of Season 1 is present, but it’s clear to see that Season 2 is its own beast.
Like Season 1, we start our story with Lang Ya Hall, but unlike Season 1, this story doesn’t start where our central strategist is working towards justice. This story starts at the very beginning, when betrayal hasn’t happened yet. This, for me, is one of the key things that makes the watch experience feel very different compared to my watch experience of Season 1.
The benefit to showing us the story from the beginning, I feel, is that it gets me more invested in the eventual betrayal of our characters. Even as Show led us on the slow road towards that betrayal, I felt like I was getting to know these characters. Because of this, I feel that when the betrayal actually happened, I felt it more directly, compared to if Show had allowed me to feel it vicariously through our main character Pingjing’s (Liu Haoran) emotions.
Also, because Season 2 introduces fewer characters right away, I felt like Season 2 was easier to get a foothold on, compared to Season 1, where I floundered for about 4 episodes, before I felt more able to place characters and how they were related. With Season 2, I didn’t feel confused in the beginning, and I felt quite nicely engaged; that’s not a bad thing at all.
On the downside, though, I have to confess that Season 2 was a slow burn for me. To put it bluntly, Season 2 is far less gripping than Season 1, particularly in the first half. In fact, the pace of the first half of our story feels slightly languid, even, in the sense that time is given, for things to build.
IT’S A SLOW BURN
Like I said, this season was a slow burn for me. With Season 1, I’d felt sucked in very early, within the first few episodes. With Season 2, I spent a long time feeling like we were in set-up mode, just waiting for Something to happen. The story feels steady and solid, but it still feels like set-up.
Because of the different angle that this story adopts, we get to see a lot of plotting by Bad People, and we also see the Bad People achieve a good amount of success, before the tide turns. This did wear on me, and, truth be told, if I hadn’t been so invested in Season 1, I might not have managed to persevere.
BUT. I must say that persevering was completely worth it.
This show somehow took root in my heart when I wasn’t looking, and in the later episodes, I suddenly became cognizant of the fact that I was finally enjoying this show properly. This show felt meaty and satisfying, and I found myself feeling distinctly wistful that I was getting to the end.
Long story short: I’m glad I hung in there, despite the slow burn. I hope you guys hang in there too.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Generally speaking, I thought Season 2 was polished and solid, but there were a couple of things which I felt didn’t work in its favor.
The addition of the magicky stuff
Season 2 adds the element of mysticism and is therefore more magicky than Season 1. I personally didn’t like that so much.
To my eyes, it felt like Season 2 was grasping for something to make itself as interesting as Season 1, and decided on magic. Unfortunately, for me, all the sorcery and creepy magicky preparations made Season 2 feel like Season 1’s unorthodox, willful cousin, which just isn’t quite as brilliant, no matter how hard it tries.
It generally feels a little less refined
To me, Season 2 feels solid, but not masterful. On both the writing and acting fronts, I felt that Season 1 topped Season 2, and noticeably so.
I guess that’s what happens when you’ve already used the top tier of actors in the industry, and can’t use them again in the same franchise since all their characters are either dead or way too old to be played by the same actor. Also, even though this season shares the same writer in Hai Yan, I would guess that it’s hard to produce a second masterpiece, basically on demand.
I don’t know what kind of production pressures this crew faced, but I spotted what I thought was a rather sizable oversight, in episode 25. [SPOILER] In episode 25, Pingzhang removes his garment to ready himself for the procedure to save Pingjing. But, there is no sign of a scar, even though Pingzhang nearly died of a major arrow wound to his chest in the early episodes. [END SPOILER] That’s an oversight I didn’t expect of this production team.
One (pretty) important thing not explained [MAJOR SPOILER]
In the first major arc of our story, Big Bad Puyang Ying (Guo Jingfei) wreaks havoc by unleashing a plague in Jinling, because of how he, as a youth, had previously been unable to escape a plague because Jinling had kept its borders shut. That part I get, even though it takes some rationalizing.
What I don’t get, is why Puyang Ying targets Pingzhang (Huang Xiaoming) specifically. I mean, if Pingzhang dies, Pingjing will be appointed Heir of Chang Lin in his place, so systemically it feels like not quite a dent in the overall scheme of things? And yet, we are shown that Puyang Ying has a specific target in Pingzhang, and will not rest until Pingzhang dies. It bugged me that Show doesn’t provide a good reason for this, and we have to assume that it’s just because Puyang Ying is a delusional crazy person. That.. is not a very solid nor satisfying reason, for such a big plot point.
STUFF I ENJOYED
Liu Haoran as Xiao Pingjing
I am officially impressed with Liu Haoran, you guys.
But first, let me back up. Pingjing starts the story as a carefree youth who is outspoken, impetuous, and even a little brash. At times, I wondered about Pingjing’s lack of decorum and manners, since he grew up in a military household. So for a start, I was not terribly impressed with Pingjing as a character.
Over the course of our story, however, Pingjing grows up a great deal. He has to face a whole lot of loss and heartbreak, as well as immense pressures from the court, and this is when I sat up and really took notice. Because, Liu Haoran just kills it, as older-and-wiser Pingjing. Liu Haoran was only about 19 or 20 when he filmed this show, and yet, in the later episodes, he plays Pingjing with such depth.
[SPOILER] I was watching episode 36 and thinking, times sure were different then; at such a tender young age, Pingjing is a general who’s led thousands of men in battle, and he needs to grapple with such heavy issues of life, death and the court. And then I remember that Liu Haoran is only about 19 while playing Pingjing, and yet, he brings out the depth of Pingjing’s emotion and struggle, and he gives Pingjing’s role as a general the weight and gravitas that a general needs, as much as he brings out Pingjing’s youth. [END SPOILER]
It’s very impressive indeed, and I am officially wowed.
Here are a handful of Pingjing highlights, that stood out for me.
E31. In Show’s early episodes, Pingjing sometimes even came across as clueless and presumptuous, but in episode 31, it’s clear to see that Pingjing is carrying himself differently than before. Now, there is a strength in his jaw and determination in his gaze, which make him feel more grown up and mature, and a little bit fierce. I really liked this change.
E34. The way Pingjing addresses his soldiers is so heartfelt and noble. I can feel their loyalty and allegiance resonating through my screen. In the same episode, when Pingjing is caught between disobeying royal decree, or losing the chance of a lifetime to secure peace for the border, he doesn’t hesitate for more than a microsecond. The way he chooses peace for the border, even at risk of his own life, with so much conviction in his voice and his gaze, is just moving, inspiring stuff.
E37. Pingjing shows a lot of grace, in the face of the verdict that Grand Secretary Xun (Bi Yanjun) delivers. It’s terrible timing, clearly the result of political scheming, and the old man is obviously being two-faced, but even when Xun says infuriating things, Pingjing bears it all and accepts his punishment without complaint. I found that very gracious, and that showed me that Pingjing is very much the bigger man.
E37. The way Pingjing breaks down and cries in Lin Xi’s (Zhang Huiwen) arms is so heartbreaking. He’s kept so much bottled up, and most of all, the sense of guilt, coupled by the heavy sense of responsibility, is just crushing his soul. Add on the fact that he’s just lost his father, and is basically a victim of politicking, and it’s just all too much. His grief is palpable through my screen and my heart bleeds for him.
E40. Pingjing analyzing the battle records and finding that it doesn’t make sense. No one else in the Liang court has noticed, except for General Yue (Jin Zehao), whom we are introduced to this episode. I do love that Pingjing is a talented and smart cookie. Plus, we are told that if not for his ties to his country and the likelihood that he will return to it, he would have made the Langya List. That’s world-domination levels of impressive.
E41. I know more serious things are happening this episode, but on a fangirly note, dang, Pingjing suddenly looks sexy to me. The way he gently flirts with Lin Xi with that knowing gaze. And also, the meaningful gaze he wears, while having that multilayered cloak-and-daggers conversation with Yuanqi (Wu Haochen). I was very much distracted – and rather taken – by how Pingjing suddenly looked so sexy to my eyes. Dang. I mean, Liu Haoran was only 19 or 20 when filming this! Where does he dig it up from? *hearts in eyes*
The loveline between Pingjing and Lin Xi
Fans who found the romantic loveline in Season 1 too muted would be pleased that the loveline in Season 2 enjoys more screen time and a greater focus. That said, this loveline is also of the slow burn variety, so don’t expect lots of fireworks either.
The upside to this loveline being such a slow burn, is that the connection betwen Pingjing and Lin Xi (Zhang Huiwen) feels like it’s organically grown. Over the course of our story, these two develop a friendship which then eventually gently progresses into something more. A lot of the time, their connection remains more unspoken and implicit, but through their actions, their growing care for each other is clear to see. His growing openness with her, and her growing appreciation of him, were lovely to witness.
I started out feeling rather neutral about this loveline, but ended up sincerely moved by the way these two loved each other.
Here are my favorite OTP highlights:
E20. That scene where Pingjing searches Lin Xi’s face, when they are talking about the epidemic, is pretty intense. This is the first time I felt a deeper connection between our OTP.
E21. In the face of possible death, the feelings between Lin Xi and Pingjing become clearer, as they each allow more of their true feelings to show. That was gratifying to witness.
E24. Lin Xi being willing to sacrifice herself for Pingjing’s sake, is very touching. She won’t actually get to do so, but she is absolutely serious about being willing to die so that he might live, and that is no small deal.
E33. I really appreciate the conversation that Pingjing and Lin Xi have this episode. He’s been avoiding having a conversation with her about what happened with Pingzhang, and instead of continuing to avoid it, he goes to see her, and they have this amazing conversation, where he tells her that she’s his most precious friend in the world, and asks if she would be patient with him a little longer. And she, when he shamefacedly says that he’s weak and chose the easy way out, defends him to himself, telling him that in choosing to tend to his responsibilities, he did not choose the easy way out, and instead, was demonstrating a type of courage. Augh. And then she tells him not to lose focus with a battle at hand, but that, when he’s ready to talk about it, she will always be there, ready and waiting. AUGH.
Such a wonderfully honest conversation, where they are so vulnerable with each other, and so supportive and understanding. They do know what the other is thinking and feeling. I love that they are able to acknowledge all of this, without feeling the need to take the conversation further right away. It feels so healthy and so.. space-giving and respectful. I love it. <3
E38. I appreciate how Pingjing says that he has no reason to want to try to change Lin Xi, and I love how he offers to go with her, on her future travels.
E43. Aw. I do enjoy the scene where Lin Xi finally tells Pingjing her identity, that she is his betrothed. And I do love that he asked her to marry him before she told him, and I so love that he asked her in such a gentle and respectful manner. Seeking her permission, to allow him to stay by her side, for the rest of their lives. I swoon. <3
E46. I am so moved by the love between Pingjing and Lin Xi. It feels mature and deep; it endures over time, and isn’t light or fleeting. They love each other, and deeply want to spend their lives together, but they also each have a deep grasp on their sense of self. Pingjing knows that he must go back to Jinling to save the Emperor (Hu Xianxu), and Lin Xi knows that she will always love him and wait for him, but that she would never be able to completely change herself for his sake, if he chooses to stay on in the capital.
What a poignant and bittersweet request Lin Xi makes, in view of Pingjing’s return to Jinling; that it’s ok even if they never meet again (though she believes that he will always find her no matter where he goes), just as long as he stays safe. Their love for each other is palpable, and so is their grace and understanding for each other. It’s moving stuff, and my heart aches and is moved, at the same time. So. Good.
Sun Chun as Grand Prince Xiao Tingsheng
In Show’s second third, I suddenly realized that I really loved Grand Prince of Chang Lin.
This took me somewhat by surprise, since I’d started the show feeling relatively neutral about him. By Show’s mid-point, though, it became clear to me that he consistently speaks with deep gravitas and conviction, and uses both wisdom and heart in equal measure, and always feels so balanced and worthy of all the respect, that I couldn’t help but love and respect him too, and root for him, all of the time.
Here are the Grand Prince moments that left the deepest impression on me:
E28. That moment, when the Emperor (Liu Jun) holds the Grand Prince’s hand and addresses him as 哥哥 (older brother), I legit teared up. That moment felt so raw and honest. In the midst of politicking and decorum, the Grand Prince was literally the only person around whom the Emperor felt free to be himself, and in his final moments, in wanting to be in his brother’s arms – and not his wife’s or son’s – and in calling out 哥哥 instead of the more formal 王兄 (Royal Brother), it feels like the Emperor is stripping away everything else, and just calling for his brother, in yearning, in wistfulness, and in earnestness. Augh. My heart. I felt this moment hit me like a ton of bricks.
E35. Grand Prince has so much wisdom and foresight. Even though it is his son who is at stake, he knows that gathering ministers to support Pingjing would do more harm than good in the long run, and he abstains from action. How much self-control must that take, for a father who loves his son?
And what a moving, loving welcome Grand Prince gives Pingjing, when Pingjing returns. Telling Pingjing that what he achieved was something that neither he nor Pingzhang were able to do, even though they very much wanted to; telling Pingjing that both he and Pingzhang are proud of him; that the previous Emperor would be proud of him. Such a salve for sore ears, and it’s clear to see in Pingjing’s tearful gaze, that it is, more than that, a salve for his soul. The embrace between father and son is so moving to behold, it’s so full of love and conviction, yet tinged with a helplessness at the context in which this great achievement rests.
E36. OMG I love the Grand Prince. He’s so dignified and wise, and devoted and selfless. I love how he shows his love for not only Pingjing, but also the Emperor and his nation, in this episode. He pushes himself to attend court when he’s literally close to his deathbed, and he still carries himself with such regality and propriety and stateliness. Even when his body is running out of time, he speaks in strong, measured tones, and makes sure his words enjoy the time that matches their weightiness. That is just so regal and admirable.
I love too, that he speaks from his heart, not only with compassion and foresight for his nation, but also, with love for his son. His last moment in court, where he grasps Pingjing’s hand and speaks on his behalf, allowing the facts to speak for themselves, feels so momentous and meaningful. There is clearly no guile in him, and his upright standing is clear to see. And at the same time, his father’s heart is also so clear to see. He speaks until he literally collapses, which means that he is literally willing to devote his life to his country to his last breath. How moving is that?
E37. The Grand Prince’s final moments with Pingjing literally brought tears to my eyes. So much grace and wisdom, in the way he carries himself, even to the very last. The way he told Pingjing that he was proud of him, the way he released Pingjing of any lingering burden, to take care of everyone and everything, it’s so lovely and so giving. And the way Pingjing cried in his father’s arms, is so heartwrenching as well.
The relationship between Pingzhang and Xiaoxue
One of the things I really enjoyed in this show, is the portrayal of the marriage relationship between Pingzhang and Xiaoxue (Tong Liya). There is decorum, just like in other marriage relationships that are portrayed, but there is also genuine affection, gentle ribbing, open conversation, and a whole lot of tenderness.
Watching them, I genuinely believe that they are deeply in love with each other, and care for each other greatly. I wish more dramas would allow their character relationships to be showcased this way.
Here are some of my favorite highlights featuring this couple:
E9. The way Pingzhang holds Xiaoxue and comforts her, as she grieves the knowledge of why she has not been able to conceive all these years, is so gentle and loving.
E24. The final scene of Xiaoxue and Pingzhang saying their possible last words to each other, pledging to be married to each other for eternity, is so very moving.
E26. Pingzhang choosing to sacrifice himself for his brother and his father is very much in character. Importantly, this was a joint decision of the couple, rather than a decision that Pingzhang made on his own, and I found the way they arrived at that joint decision very moving indeed. If Xiaoxue had truly wanted it, Pingzhang would have chosen to save himself at the cost of his brother’s life, but she is wise enough to know that this decision would haunt him forever afterwards. How courageous and gracious, is her decision to support Pingzhang in his decision to save Pingjing, even though she knows that it will cost him his life, and her, her husband. Augh.
And how fitting, that she would then choose to go into battle with him, even as he goes knowing that he will die on the battleground. This is the truest and highest expression of her love for him, and I am truly moved. <3
The brotherhood between Pingzhang and Pingjing
This is one of the major relationships in our story, and I must say that the deep love between Pingzhang and Pingjing moved me. Even though they are different in so many ways, there is a mutual care and respect between them that shows through again and again. These two would literally die for each other, and that’s just the kind of stuff that gets me right in the heart.
The thing that took me by surprise, is the revelation in episode 13, that Pingzhang is adopted, and he and Pingjing aren’t blood brothers. The subsequent scene between Pingzhang and Pingjing, is heart-tuggingly sweet. Pingzhang’s kind gaze, upon the wayward little brother who’s confused and scared. And Pingjing’s little-boy gaze, anxious for his big brother’s trust in his word, that nothing’s changed just because Pingzhang’s adopted.
Guh. I love that they consciously – without the need to even pause to think about it – refuse to let the lack of blood relation dilute their brotherhood. If anything, it almost feels like they love each other even more fiercely, to make up for it.
Later in the show, we see that both brothers are literally willing to die for each other. Pingzhang actually does give up his life for his little brother, but when Pingjing wakes up and realizes what’s happened, he fiercely contends that he would have much rather been the one to die.
Even after Pingzhang’s death, Pingjing continues to be faithful to the memory of his brother. He takes on Pingzhang’s military duties, and basically attempts to live his brother’s life for him, as far as possible. It’s clear to see that even in death, their brotherhood cannot be broken. How deeply moving. <3
NEUTRAL STUFF THAT I JUST WANTED TO TALK ABOUT A LITTLE BIT
Huang Xiaoming as Xiao Pingzhang
This was my introduction to Huang Xiaoming, so I have no preconception of his acting prowess. I did hear that C-netizens were not pleased with his casting in Season 2, and some even declared that they would not watch Season 2 because he was in it.
I’d say that overall, Huang Xiaoming did a very decent job as Pingzhang. He plays Pingzhang as stoic, measured and thoughtful, and because of that, his more limited acting range did not pose much of a problem, I felt. In fact, there were many occasions in Show’s earlier stretch where I found Pingzhang regal and imposing; both very good things.
It was only at around the episode 15 mark that I first found myself finding fault with Huang Xiaoming’s delivery. I felt like his interpretation of Pingzhang seemed to be stuck in a rut, so to speak. Basically, I felt like he almost always had Pingzhang wearing one particular expression, which I could call studied, with the slightest squint, and the slightest purse of the lips. Yes, that does look suitable, but when that’s almost the only expression he ever wears, it starts to get old.
Ultimately, Huang Xiaoming’s delivery didn’t tank Pingzhang as a character for me, and I do feel that he did a reasonably solid job. I.. would’ve loved it if he could’ve done better.
Bi Yanjun as Grand Secretary Xun
I’ll admit, there were times during the show where I wanted to throttle Grand Minister Xun for being stubborn and thickheaded.
But, I just wanted to put it out there, that Grand Secretary Xun is not an evil person. He truly does believe that everything he does is for the good of the country. He’s not spiteful or petty, even though sometimes his behavior seems unreasonable. He’s actually consistently acting out of a place of loyalty to his country. [SPOILER] So in removing the power of Chang Lin, he had no evil intentions specifically towards Pingjing. That’s a contrast to the Empress Dowager (Mei Ting), who seems to truly hate Pingjing and want bad things for him. Additionally, in episode 43, when doubt is cast on Yuanqi , Grand Secretary Xun doesn’t dismiss it straightaway, but considers the possibilities carefully. [END SPOILER]
Therefore, in spite of the aggravation that he sometimes brought to our story, I didn’t actually hate him.
Wu Haochen as Xiao Yuanqi [SPOILERS]
I actually appreciate that at the beginning of our story, Yuanqi is far from being the villain that he turns out to be. In fact, Yuanqi is the one who sticks out his neck in an early episode, to help protect innocent physicians from Ji Feng Hall, from being arrested and killed.
In episode 13, Yuanqi even resists the poisonous words that Puyang Ying and Marquis Mozi (Cheng Taishen) sow. He defends the verdict that his father was guilty, and insists that the previous emperor was gracious in allowing he and his mother to live as relatives of royalty. But, Yuanqi’s weak-minded, and more power-hungry than probably even he himself thought, and eventually gives in to the dark side. By the end of our story, Yuanqi is fully delusional, and wields a cruel and twisted power over those who serve him.
I’d say that Yuanqi made a reasonably good villain, since there were a good number of occasions when his actions really grated on me, and I couldn’t wait for him to be dealt some good ol’ justice.
Props to Wu Haochen, who made Yuanqi believable in every stage of his character’s journey, from wide-eyed earnest innocent, to bloodlusty cruel villain. I believed him every step of the way, and that’s no small accomplishment, for a character journey so varied.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
First of all, I need to put into context that I’m thinking of the ending as Show’s last 4 episodes, rather than simply episode 50. For a show of this length, there are many things to resolve and wrap up, and in order for this to be done in a satisfactory manner, time is needed. When I think of the ending as simply episode 50, I find that it feels a little anticlimactic, because by episode 50, a fair bit of the action has already taken place. But, when I think of the ending as episodes 47 through 50, it feels so solid, so satisfying, and so right.
I was most moved in episode 47, when I saw all of the previous subjects pledge their allegiance to the Prince of Chang Lin, one after the other. No hesitation over what that might mean for them personally, be it injury or death. Their loyalty is so full that it resonates and reverberates through my screen, and I feel like I can’t breathe; it’s just so deeply moving. All of the sacrifices and loyalty of the House of Chang Lin isn’t gone; it’s been held firmly all this time, in the hearts of those who have tasted it. Every time I saw the troops moving toward the Capital, with Pingjing in the lead, and the banner of Chang Lin flying in the wind, my heart squeezed with emotion, and the tears rose to my eyes.
Dang. Chills for days. It’s viscerally affecting, and I love it.
It’s late in the game, but this plot point caused me to feel in awe of writer Hai Yan all over again. These seeds had to be planted from the very beginning, and the resolution works so well, in an arena where our hero looks like he has no way out. And yet, his way out is presented as a fruit of all that he and his family has poured out, in the many years prior. Augh. So good.
Through it all, I am completely taken by the fact that Pingjing’s gaze is so strong and unwavering. It’s not aggressive or wild, only steady and strong, like a rock that will not be moved, and I love it.
In the end, we get an ending that feels true to these characters, which is something I appreciate very much. At the same time, I felt like there were echoes of earlier events, in some parts of the finale. For example, Feizhan’s deep brush with death, and then being nursed back to life and health by a physician from Ji Feng Hall, reminds me so much of Pingzhang’s early-show brush with death.
Additionally, Pingjing being challenged to a fight in the throne room by Yuanqi, also reminds me of when the Northern Yan princess challenged him to a fight in that same room, earlier in the show. Pingjing prevails in both fights, because he’s just that skilled. The difference this time, is that there is absolutely no question about Pingjing’s intentions nor loyalty.
Afterwards, it feels bittersweet that Pingjing leaves the capital, but it’s comforting that it’s not portrayed as a forever kind of goodbye. He promises the emperor that if he’s needed, he will come back to help his country at any time. And his farewell with Feizhan is also of the “see you later” variety, although “later” is a word that I use loosely.
Still, this departure feels true to Pingjing’s character; he never did consider himself cut out for the court. He’s a free spirit – albeit a deeply talented one, who’s an asset in any battle – and he’s learned that living his brother’s life will never make him, or his brother, truly happy. I teared a bit on the inside, when Pingjing said his goodbye to his brother at Pingzhang’s grave. It’s poignant, but true; he needs to let go, so that Pingzhang can let go too. He needs to live in peace, so that his brother can rest in peace.
As Pingjing leaves Jinling behind and rides into the distance, it feels like a moment of liberation for him. He’s finally done all that he feels he needs to do, and is now free to live led only by his passion and his principles.
It’s bonus that we get to see Pingjing reunite with Lin Xi, and witness their promise of forever to each other, as they ride off into the sunset together. I found their reunion sweet and well-earned. These two have been through so much while loving each other, and understanding and waiting for each other. I imagine that they will live happily together, gathering herbs, healing and helping people, and loving each other, for a long, long time to come.
In the meantime, I’m heartened to know that the name of Chang Lin has been reinstated, and that the army will always bear that name, regardless of its commanding officer. Long live Chang Lin, and everything that it stands for. <3
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A slower burn than I would like, but ultimately so solid, moving and satisfying, that it’s worth the wait.
FINAL GRADE: A