Welcome to the Open Thread, everyone! I have to admit that I am slightly intimidated by the thought of doing episode notes for a show as intricate and dense as Nirvana In Fire, but I’m excited that you guys are excited to watch this show together, so I’ll do my best!
Here are our usual ground rules, before we begin:
1. Please don’t post spoilers in the Open Thread, except for events that have happened in the show, up to this point. I repeat: no spoilers for future episodes please! It is possible to use the new spoiler tags, of course, but it would be better to refrain from discussing spoilers. This is also because the spoilers are still visible in the email notification that you receive, of the comment in question. We have quite a few first-time viewers among us, and we don’t want to spoil anything for anyone.
2. Discussions on this thread don’t have to close when newer threads open, just so you know! But as we progress through our group watch, please keep the discussions clear of spoilers from future episodes, so that future readers coming to this thread won’t be accidentally spoiled. Does that make sense?
Without further ado, here are my reactions to this set of episodes; have fun in the Open Thread, everyone! ❤️
So, full disclosure, this is my second watch of Nirvana in Fire, so I already have an idea of how things unfold in our drama world. At the same time, my first watch is hazy enough in my memory, that many of the details escape me (and NIF has SO many details!), so in many ways, this will feel reasonably similar to a first watch, for me.
Rewatching this first episode, I’m struck by how much information is actually given right away, and yet, how challenging it is, to piece it together in a meaningful way, particularly on a first watch, unless you are hawk-eyed at picking up details, and in possession of mental faculties akin to Mei Changsu’s, in order to connect the various fragments of information, into a semblance of a whole.
What I’d like to do, at least for this initial stretch, is to provide as much of that connection as possible, based on what is shown (ie, without delving into spoiler territory).
From the dream that we see Mei Changsu having in the present, we can see that his former / actual name is Lin Shu, and his father and their Chiyan Army had been massacred in battle. He appears to have survived alone; his father’s parting words to him, are to live on, for the sake of the Chiyan Army. That screenshot above, of the character ‘林’ carved into the bracelet, is of the Lin family name, which is the same character that we see on the battle flag, in the dream.
On a side note, I do now find it slightly strange, that Lin Shu would’ve been the one to fall from the cliff, and from his father’s grasp. Logically, it would have made more sense for his father to have been the one to fall, since it’d be harder to survive such a fall. How did he manage to survive such a fall?
In the present, Langya Hall is an important piece of our puzzle, and it appears to be a famed, almost mystical source of intel and wisdom, where people can pay for information &/or advice. It’s super cool how complicated Langya Hall’s library system is, with homing pigeons bringing in intel on the daily, and earnest, hardworking assistants dutifully filing everything away in a system that looks possibly like what Google might look like, if it had to exist without the internet.
Lin Chen heads Langya Hall, and we see that when he receives news of Northern Yan naming their Sixth Prince as the Crown Prince, he muses with a bit of wonder, that “he” actually did it. We will soon infer that “he” refers to Mei Changsu, and that his success as a strategist, is designed to lure the interest of the princes of Daliang, which is where most of our story will take place.
As a matter of clarity, I thought it’d be good to mention that Jinling is the capital of Daliang, and this is why Lin Chen’s assistant asks him whether it will be necessary to send the news to Jinling. However, Lin Chen surmises that the princes will naturally find out the news, because the Daliang ambassador is already on his way to Northern Yan.
The two princes whom we meet this episode are Prince Yu, who’s the fifth prince, and the Crown Prince, of Daliang, who appear to have always been in competition for the Emperor’s favor. The Crown Prince is disgruntled because Prince Yu keeps making him look bad, by doing an outstanding job, and from this, we can also infer that Prince Yu probably wishes to jostle his way to the throne.
Both princes receive the same cryptic tip-off (one prince with more effort than the other, since Prince Yu had to make a personal trip to Langya Hall, while the Crown Prince didn’t), which essentially says that the secret to possessing the world, is to have Mei Changsu on their side; he is the one who had helped the helpless Sixth Prince of Northern Yan become Crown Prince, after all.
Another important piece of information we gain, is that Mei Changsu has plans to enter Jinling, but on neither of the princes’ invitations which would likely be forthcoming. At the same time, we learn that Mei Changsu is in poor health, and is depending on medication that Lin Chen supplies, in order to complete his mission, which he estimates will take two years. Dang. Talk about introducing a note of futility really early; we already know that our protagonist doesn’t have long to live.
Based on what we see this episode, we can conclude that Mei Changsu has been planning his mission for many years, and his ascension to the top of the Langya List, thus making himself attractive to both princes as a potential advisor, is part of his plan.
I will say that the scene in which Mei Changsu intervenes on the waters of Jiangzuo, leans way more mystical than logical. I mean, there’s no explanation for how Mei Changsu controls that boat that he’s standing on. If he were a powerful pugilist, I’d reason that he was controlling the boat using his qi, but we’ve already been told that he’s not, so unless his feisty assistant Fei Liu is propelling the boat forward with his qi (which still doesn’t explain the initial solo appearance), I got nuthin’. 😅 I think that this is just to impress upon us, just how powerful and respected Mei Changsu is, in the pugilistic realm, to the extent that it’s quite mystical.
As for Fei Liu, I’d been rather puzzled by his savant-like characterization, until phl1rxd kindly shared some background from the novel, on my NIF review. Allow me to quote what she says here:
“Fei Liu was caught by a very mysterious Japanese organization. The leader of this organization kidnaps and buys children with great potentials for martial arts, and cuts them off from all contact with the outside world. He uses drugs and poisons to control these children. When these children grow up, their mental capabilities cannot fully develop, and cannot tell good from evil, right from wrong. They lack common sense, but they are also highly skilled at the martial arts, and are controlled by the leader for acts of espionage and assassination. […] Fei Liu was the youngest of the children, and had just been taught the tricks of their trade, but had not been released on any of their missions yet; he had no enemies, but was displaced from his home, left alone to freeze and starve to death.”
So Lin Chen and MCS find him on the street, take him in and MCS treats him like a younger brother.”
Thanks, dear phl1rxd! That really helps to add insight and perspective! ❤️
Mei Changsu travels to Jinling with Xiao Jingrui, who tells his friend Yan Yujin, that he’d met Mei Changsu two years ago, by a fated coincidence, and that Jingrui had written to invite him to recuperate from his reported poor health, at his house in Jinling. Heh. I’d wager that that coincidence had been closely manufactured by Mei Changsu, in order to create an excuse for him to travel to Jinling in the future, without having to associate himself with either of the princes.
On a side note, I thought it might be useful to explain why, in romanizing characters’ names, some names are romanized with a spacing in between, and some are not.
In the standard hanyu pinyin (汉语拼音) system of romanizing, family names stand alone, while given names are romanized without the spacing in between. Therefore, Jingrui’s full name is Xiao Jingrui, where “Xiao” is his family name, and “Jingrui” is his given name. Lin Chen’s name appears to be treated differently, but really isn’t. “Lin” is his family name, while his given name is a single character, “Chen,” and therefore, when expressed together, there is a spacing between the characters, ie, Lin Chen. I will be using this convention through all of our episode notes.
Outside the capital, we meet Princess Nihuang, who immediately proves to be a badass warrior, judging by the way she’s dressed in armor, and also, by the way she goes into instant spar mode, when she realizes that she’s crossed paths with Jingrui and Yujin.
What’s interesting about this scene, is Mei Changsu’s reaction, while he sits in the carriage, hidden from view. His expression is.. complicated, to say the least, and it’s clear that he recognizes Nihuang, and has some personal history with her.
It’s only later, after Nihuang’s conversation with the Emperor about his plans to find her a husband, that we learn that she’d once been bethrothed to the Lin family – which is when we can quite safely conclude that Nihuang had been Lin Shu’s fiancée.
Notably, from the way Nihuang appears to have put off marriage for a long time since Lin Shu’s supposed death, and still seems to be reluctant to marry despite the Emperor’s intentions, she appears to continue to mourn his loss.
Meanwhile, Mei Changsu assumes the name Su Zhe, for the sake of anonymity, and enters the Xiao household. Significantly, when he sets eyes on Jingrui’s father, Marquis of Ning, Xie Yu, he flashes back to the man who had sliced him down that fateful day. Which means to say, Xie Yu is an enemy, and not a friend.
This episode, we find out that the Emperor’s real reason for being so intent on marrying off Princess Nihuang, is because she’s been doing too good of a job as a general in Nanjing, and he’s afraid that, given too much time, Nanjing will become part of the southern country, instead of being loyal to the Liang royal family. This is why he wants to marry her off, and bequeath her title to her brother instead. As genial as the Emperor appears to be, it’s becoming clear that he is very shrewd as well.
Next, we meet General Meng, Commander of the Chu Army, who immediately lives up to his reputation as a formidable fighter, easily trouncing the pair of fighters who are sparring with him. He also comes across as an all-business, stoic straight-shooter, from the way he speaks with Prince Yu and Marquis Xie.
We also learn that everyone who’s anyone, is vying for the influence and power that would come from being Princess Nihuang’s husband. For this reason, Prince Yu and the Crown Prince have men in the race as well.
It’s about this time, that Mei Changsu’s cover becomes a little unstable, with Fei Liu’s happy flitting amid the Marquis residence rooftops triggering suspicion from a visiting Commander Meng, thus giving rise to an exchange of blows. As Commander Meng puts it, Fei Liu’s impressive martial arts prowess is highly unusual, which in turns begs the question of how exceptional Su Zhe himself must be.
This gets Marquis Xie’s attention right away, and it isn’t long before he guesses correctly that Su Zhe is in fact the Mei Changsu that he and the Crown Prince are looking for.
Privately, Jingrui expresses concern that his father won’t be able to believe that Su Zhe is an ordinary man of the pugilist world, and Mei Changsu says quite freely, that he’d taken on the name Su Zhe for convenience, but if his secret can’t be kept, then it can’t be helped. It does appear that Mei Changsu says this knowing that someone is eavesdropping on the conversation, and that someone is Jingrui’s brother Xie Bi, who immediately takes the information to Prince Yu, the way Marquis Xie is taking the same tidbit to the Crown Prince.
..Which is how both princes become aware that the precious person that they’re both looking for, is actually already in Jinling, and under Marquis Xie’s own roof, no less. Clearly, this is all by Mei Changsu’s design, so it’s not like his plan to keep a low profile had failed. I believe he had allowed that plan to appear to fail, so that the princes would find him.
Next, we meet Prince Jing, whom Princess Nihuang and Inspector Dong run into, on the city outskirts. It turns out that the relationship between Inspector Dong and Prince Jing is frosty, because Prince Jing has never accepted the verdict, that Lin Shu’s father had killed her husband.
We’re not told why, but this could also be at least part of the reason that Prince Jing seems to be out of favor with the Emperor as well as the Crown Prince and Prince Yu.
I do feel sorry for Prince Jing, who seems the straitlaced, stoic, hardworking sort. We’re told that he’s been doing battle for his nation, and yet, when he comes back, he’s kept waiting outside in the courtyard for a long time, before the Emperor – who’s forgotten that Prince Jing was even waiting at all – agrees to give him an audience.
Once he gains that audience, the Crown Prince wastes no time picking on him, asking why he didn’t go home to change before seeking an audience with the Emperor, when in fact, Prince Jing had once been punished harshly, for doing exactly that. Ugh. It’s really a case of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
Prince Jing isn’t exactly coming across as likable right now, but I already feel sympathetic towards him. And since I don’t like the oily vibes that the two other princes are giving off, I guess I’m rooting for him, by default?
The next thing we know, the Empress and Princess Nihuang show up at Marquis Xie’s abode, and request to meet their house guest Su Zhe. At first, I wasn’t sure why Jingrui gets so worked up and refuses to accommodate the request, but after he explains it to Xie Bi, it all makes sense.
He’s right; the Empress wouldn’t ask to meet Su Zhe for no reason. She clearly already knows his identity as Mei Changsu, and is likely here to test him. Jingrui’s determined not to allow his friend to be put in a difficult position, and would rather be rude to his royal guests in order to protect his friend. That’s really loyal of him, I must say. Jingrui’s definitely endearing himself to me, with that stand.
However, it does seem that Jingrui is pretty naive about his father’s political stance. He knows that his brother is aligned with Prince Yu, but seems completely oblivious to the fact that his father is aligned with the Crown Prince.
Mei Changsu, however, seems more than aware, judging from his serious expression when he says, “The state of the capital is so chaotic that even the sons of Xie have been caught up in it, yet the Marquis can remain neutral? How rare.” Ooh, that’s sarcasm, so well disguised, that Jingrui doesn’t even pick up on it.
The start of the tournament to select Princess Nihuang’s consort begins, and it’s both amusing and rather sickening, to see how both princes take turns fawning over Mei Changsu and trying to win him over. Prince Yu strikes me as immediately quite rude, the way he freely acknowledges Mei Changsu’s identity right away, as though Mei Changsu never took on the name Su Zhe. I would say both princes try really hard to win his favor, though, and the Crown Prince even gives Mei Changsu a jade token that will afford him easy entry into the palace grounds.
Ha. I love how Mei Changsu immediately passes it over to Fei Liu, as if it’s a casual plaything, and not some precious thing that the Crown Prince has just parted with.
The Grand Empress Dowager summons Jingrui and Yujin, which is how Mei Changsu manages to extricate himself from this conversation with the princes.
The Grand Empress Dowager turns out to be a sweet, affable old lady who seems to love asking her great-grandkids whether they are married, and whether they have children. It just so happens that she’s also having trouble recognizing who’s who, due to her age and deteriorating faculties.
What a Moment, though, when she looks at Mei Changsu, and immediately addresses him as Xiao Shu, which is what we’d previously heard his father using in flashback too, as Lin Shu’s pet name. Notably, because he is introduced as Su Zhe, everyone else easily concludes that the Grand Empress Dowager is simply using a common casual term of address, by using the word “xiao” (ie, little) paired with his family name, which, in this case, is Su. The truth is, though, she isn’t saying Xiao Su, she’s saying Xiao Shu, and the impact on Mei Changsu – or rather, Lin Shu – is quite great.
His composure, usually so immaculate under all circumstances, is definitely ruffled. And it’s ruffled even further, when Royal Gran asks for Nihuang, and puts their hands together, asking when they are going to get married. Ahh! Royal Gran might be showing signs of dementia, but her clarity in recognizing Lin Shu is outstanding.
And how significant, that when Nihuang tries to pull her hand away, Mei Changsu grabs on and doesn’t let go. Ooh. It’s not clear why he does this, but it certainly appears that he just can’t help himself, given the emotion of the moment. This does give Nihuang pause, but clearly, Lin Shu looks so different now, compared to 10 years ago, that she – and everyone else except for Royal Gran – cannot recognize him.
However, this entire incident does seem to pique Nihuang’s interest in Mei Changsu, since, after they leave Royal Gran’s audience, she does call after him to ask if he would be agreeable to accompany her for a stroll.
When Nihuang starts to make mention of the earlier happenings at the pavilion, Mei Changsu is quick to apologize. He explains his actions by saying that he was being considerate of the elders’ feelings, and Nihuang tells him with a slight smile that she doesn’t mind – though if this had been a normal day, his body would have been separated from his hand by now. Tee hee. She’s a badass.
It appears that Nihuang is testing Mei Changsu a little bit, as she asks him if he really doesn’t have the heart to chase fame, since he’s chosen the busiest and most chaotic place to rest. However, when Nihuang presses in to ask which prince Mei Changsu would pick, Mei Changsu evenly replies, “The house of Mu has always guarded the southern border and never asked about the political matters of the capital. Why are you interested in my future, Princess?”
Smooth and guarded, just like I would expect of the master strategist who’s top of the Langya List.
Nihuang’s conversation with Mei Changsu is interrupted when they notice a eunuch berating and beating a young slave boy for being clumsy, and for stealing books. According to the eunuch, this boy is favored by Prince Jing, and he assumes that the boy is being wayward, believing that Prince Jing will have his back. Just then, Prince Jing steps in to stop the eunuch from beating the boy.
The eunuch immediately apologizes, but also quickly name-drops Noble Consort Yue (mother of the Crown Prince) as the person who had given him the authority to supervise the area. Nihuang will have none of it, and interjects by literally whipping him on the lip. Ooh. Like I said, she is such a badass. And how handy, that the whip is compact enough, that she keeps it on her at all times. Perfect for moments like these, when she needs to make a quick and lethal point, ha.
We learn from Nihuang’s conversation with Prince Jing, that because of a matter relating to Prince Qi (whom we haven’t learned anything about yet), he is treated as a joke by the other princes. Hmm. Something to file away, since this will surely come up again later.
We also learn that the boy’s name is Tingsheng. Mei Changsu seems particularly interested to help Tingsheng learn to read, and offers to find a way to bring him out of slavery. Prince Jing is doubtful of Mei Changsu’s intention at first, but Nihuang counters that Prince Jing’s own interest in Tingsheng is just as interesting, considering how many other slaves there are in the palace besides Tingsheng, which effectively puts a stop to Prince Jing’s line of questioning. I love Nihuang; she’s turning out to be so strong and smart!
While Mei Changsu is making his way out of the palace, he’s attacked by a guard on the pretext of wanting to spar with him (we later find out that this man was sent by Nihuang’s brother Mu Qing, who’s suspicious of the fact that Mei Changsu’s been seen spending time alone with his sister). Fei Liu steps in just in time, to save Mei Changsu, but it’s Commander Meng who uses his authority to send the man packing.
What an intriguing reveal, that Commander Meng knows Mei Changsu is actually Lin Shu, and that they had been exchanging letters for the last 12 years! From this exchange, we can tell that they are very good friends. Not only does Commander Meng believe in Lin Shu’s innocence and the innocence of his father, he was also able to recognize Lin Shu right away, when they’d crossed paths at Marquis Xie’s manor.
According to Commander Meng, Lin Shu’s appearance has changed so completely, that there are no traces of the old him, in his current appearance. That would explain why everyone in Jinling has not been able to recognize him. As to how Commander Meng managed to recognize him, we are not told, but I’m putting it down to his instincts as a longtime friend and comrade-in-arms. There was probably something about the way Mei Changsu carried himself, &/or perhaps his gaze, that first clued Commander Meng in.
Commander Meng later visits Mei Changsu in his quarters at Marquis Xie’s manor, and offers to help him in his plans. However, Mei Changsu tells him that he does not want to involve Commander Meng, in case his plans go wrong, and he ends up destroying the reputation of Commander Meng’s entire household. This definitely has whiffs of treason about it, no?
Meanwhile, we learn that one of the key reasons Nihuang is so interested in Mei Changsu, is because she suspects that the person who had come to her aid in battle 2 years ago, almost like an angel who had appeared and then disappeared, had been sent by the Jiangzuo Alliance, of which Mei Changsu is the head.
Innteresting. Does that mean that Mei Changsu’s been keeping tabs on his fiancé all this time, and had sent help, when she’d run out of options? That’s.. pretty romantic?
Mei Changsu gets dragged into the goings-on of the tournament even though that wasn’t in his original plan. Not only does the Emperor appoint him to look over the written test scripts by the shortlisted suitors, he’s also tasked to deal with Bai Liqi, the candidate from Northern Yan. For political reasons, the Emperor absolutely does not want Nihuang to marry someone from Northern Yan, but the tricky thing is that Bai Liqi is turning out to be a very formidable fighter.
In the midst of all this, we get some insight into the interesting circumstances surrounding Jingrui’s birth. Due to a possible mix-up of two babies because of a thunderstorm that had blown out the lights, Jingrui technically belongs to two families, because the other baby had died that night, and the Emperor had decreed that the two families would share the one baby. It sounds rather bizarre, but ok. Besides Marquis Xie’s household, Jingrui is also considered part of the Zhuo family. Another nugget of information to file away for another day, I believe.
At the feast for the ten shortlisted candidates, Jingrui’s hope is to spar with Bai Liqi and have the chance to injure him at least a little bit, in order to dampen Bai Liqi’s quest for Nihuang’s hand. This is where we end the episode, with lots of fancy fighting, while the rest of the court – including Mei Changsu – looks on.
As you probably have noticed, Chinese dramas don’t tend to end each episode on a cliffhanger like Korean dramas do. Instead, it feels like the episode just stops when the 45 minutes is up. This is why it feels like we’re ending this episode a little randomly in the middle of the fight scene; it’s coz we are. 😅 The upside of this, is that we don’t have to deal with the jumps in story that many Korean dramas use, to get us to the cliffhanger in time by the end of one episode, only to then backtrack next episode, in order to fill up the story gaps that were jumped over previously. Instead, we get the story as it was intended to be told, from beginning to end.
One last thing I think I should mention, is that, yes, most fight scenes in Chinese dramas are this fanciful, with lots of flying in the air and leaping from rooftops. This is supposed to be made possible by each fighter’s “qi” which you might have come across as “ki” in Korean and Japanese dramas.
For now, even though Show has given us a lot of information to chew on, it definitely feels like we are still in set-up mode, with more information that promises to come our way. So hang in there, my friends!
PS: Many thanks to phl1rxd, who’s kindly volunteered to share updated character lists, as we go! She will post the list in the comments, and I will pin it to the top, so that her comment with the list, will be easy for everyone to find. Thanks phl1rxd, you rock! ❤️