Welcome to the Open Thread, everyone! We get some key developments these episodes, and a good helping of poignance to go with. 😭 I hope you guys are ready to dig into it! (Dontcha love it, though, when Mei Changsu steals looks at Nihuang?)
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. If you really need to talk about a spoiler, it is possible to use the new spoiler tags, but please know that spoilers are still visible (ie, not hidden) 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! ❤️
Ooh, this episode, we learn more about the background of why Mei Changsu got involved in bringing the Lan Mansion case to light, and we also see more of his exceptional strategist skills at work.
As the Emperor chews on the news that the Ministry of State Revenue is being temporarily overseen by Shen Zhui, who hasn’t been submitted as a candidate for Minister Lou’s replacement, even though he is very smart and capable, we see that Mei Changsu has already anticipated Shen Zhui’s importance, and written to Prince Jing, to ensure that Prince Jing would make a connection with him.
Mei Changsu really thinks on a different level than Prince Jing (and everyone else, really). When Prince Jing remarks that Shen Zhui would have difficulty getting promoted because he is neither aligned with the Crown Prince nor Prince Yu, Mei Changsu points out, “When a snipe and a clam fight each other, the fisherman benefits.” Meaning, it would be to the Emperor’s benefit, to promote Shen Zhui to take over Minister Lou’s position, precisely because Shen Zhui doesn’t have specific loyalties to either prince.
..Which is exactly what happens. The next thing we know, Shen Zhui’s the Minister of State Revenue proper. Mei Changsu’s scarily accurate in his predictions, isn’t he?
Although it’s not super obvious, it’s nice to see that Prince Jing is more trusting towards Mei Changsu now, compared to before. When Mei Changsu asks Prince Jing about his selection of his jurors for the Duke of Qing’s case, Prince Jing quite easily asks for and accepts Mei Changsu’s help. That’s pretty significant progress, isn’t it?
It does feel like Mei Changsu is demonstrating consideration for Prince Jing’s values and sensibilities, in that moment when he tells Prince Jing that the list of people he’s given him, are fine to associate with as acquaintances, but there’s no need for Prince Jing to actively take them under his wing. Additionally, the way Mei Changsu is encouraging Prince Jing to help true, hardworking officers with giving them the opportunity to shine, is totally in line with Prince Jing’s own values as well. I feel like Prince Jing is softening towards Mei Changsu as a result, which we can see from the thoughtfulness and relative tentativeness of his gaze.
Even in casual conversation, like when Mei Changsu asks Prince Jing to let him see the strange beast when his men catch it, it feels like things are more relaxed between them now, which is nice.
Fei Liu’s fight with Qimeng, one of Prince Jing’s soldiers, gets rather extended because of Fei Liu’s fascination with Qimeng’s sword. However, Qimeng’s so incensed that he’s getting trashed by what appears to be an insolent little kid, that he sends a flying blade in Mei Changsu’s direction. I think he does it as a desperate attempt to outwit Fei Liu, but neither Mei Changsu nor Prince Jing is amused.
I’m rather surprised that the flying blade doesn’t ruffle Mei Changsu one bit, and he simply stands there and lets it fly past him. It seems that Mei Changsu may have lost his fighting abilities, but his ability to gauge and judge a weapon’s trajectory, is completely intact. It’s so passive-aggressive, the way he responds, when Qimeng tries to apologize.
“Don’t be sorry towards me. His Highness is the one who’s embarrassed, not me. [To Prince Jing] I have always admired your tactics in training your army but I’m disappointed by what I see today. Your army’s discipline is so lax, how can His Majesty think greatly of you? Your Highness’s control over your army can’t even be compared to me, a chief from the pugilist world.”
Ooh. So evenly said, but so full of intent and meaning. It’s no wonder Prince Jing punishes Qimeng thoroughly, ordering not only that Qimeng be given 50 lashes, but also demoted. Somehow, this scenemakes me feel like Prince Jing is standing on Mei Changsu’s side, because he’s punishing Qimeng for daring to threaten Mei Changsu’s safety. Well, for embarrassing him too, but still.
I have to admit, I was a little confused at first, about why Inspector Dong would make things difficult for Cai Quan, the juror that Prince Jing sends to her Investigation Bureau, for the purpose of collecting evidence for the case. It was only after I’d checked in with my mom (who’s seen this show something like six times now), that I realized that this prickly behavior stems from Inspector Dong’s frosty relationship with Prince Jing, which Show shines the quick spotlight on, in episode 2; she’s cold towards Prince Jing because he’s never accepted the official verdict, that the Lin family had killed her husband.
I have to respect Cai Quan, for staying so calm yet firm, the entire time. It’s very shrewd of him, to point out that the reason the Investigation Bureau is so widely respected, is because it is such a law-abiding institution, because that effectively stops Inspector Dong in her tracks.
Next, we are introduced to Tong Lu, who delivers vegetables to Mei Changsu’s manor. He’s clearly part of the Jiangzuo Alliance, since he kneels and addresses Mei Changsu as “Chief.” As it turns out, Tong Lu’s sister had been one of the victims in the Lan Mansion case, and Mei Changsu had gotten involved in pushing that case to court, in order to help Tong Lu get justice for his sister.
That’s such a compassionate thing to do for his follower; I can see why Mei Changsu’s followers are so loyal to him. He is loyal to them too.
I’m also rather amused at how Mei Changsu gets Li Gang involved, in deciding which ministry he will take down next, as part of his grand plan. I’d imagined that Mei Changsu would have everything mapped out, down to the order in which he would deal with the various ministries. Instead, he literally lays out the wooden tablets in a row, and asks Li Gang to pick one. Ha. I am growing very fond of Mei Changsu’s dry sense of humor.
Li Gang happens to pick the tablet for Prince Yu’s Ministry of Personnel, and Mei Changsu gives orders for Mr. Thirteen and Gong Yu to get ready. This is where our next arc begins.
We learn that twins Xinliu and Xinyang have been preparing for this moment for a long time. Their younger brother had been beaten to death at the age of 13, by Qiu Ze, son of a Duke, and they are intent on avenging his death.
Gong Yu makes quick work of this, by riling up Young Master He, Qiu Ze’s regular rival, with an overheard assertion that Young Master He is no match for Qiu Ze whatsoever. With that, and a quick and targeted flick of her wrist, to get Qiu Ze on his knees, Young Master He hits him on the head with a vase, and kills him. Revenge on Qiu Ze, check. Next up, taking down the Ministry of Personnel, via the troubles of Young Master He, it looks like.
Minister He begs Prince Yu to help his son, and Prince Yu’s advisor, Advisor Ji, suggests that Minister He allow his son to surrender for a start, after which they can blur the evidence, such that the case will be submitted to the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice could then request for a retrial, at which point Prince Yu would be able to step in to assist.
This all sounds rather risky to me, but.. I suppose Minister He doesn’t have many options.
Meanwhile, Prince Jing reports the successful closure of the Duke of Qing’s case to the Emperor, and the Emperor praises Prince Jing for a job well done. However, it’s Prince Yu who receives a reward from the Emperor, basically for not interfering in Prince Jing’s work. Huh. Clearly, Prince Jing is still out of favor with the Emperor.
Prince Yu goes after Prince Jing and makes a show of consoling Prince Jing, that the Emperor plans to reward him after everything’s taken care of, and he even offers to send his own rewards to Prince Jing’s manor. I.. don’t believe Prince Yu is being sincere about that offer.
Prince Yu also makes a show of inviting Prince Jing to a banquet on the 5th day of the Lunar New Year, saying that Prince Jing’s never joined him before. When Prince Jing deadpan asks if Prince Yu’s ever invited him before (ha!), Prince Yu makes as if it’s the fault of his servants, that the invitations never reached Prince Jing. Pfft. As if anyone would believe that. 😏
While this is going on, Mei Changsu asks Yujin if there’s any way for him to cheer up Jingrui, who’s been despondent ever since he realized the truth about his father, and Yujin brightens up when he hits on the idea of taking Jingrui to visit Grand Prince Ji, the Emperor’s youngest brother, who’s said before, that Yujin can bring his friends to enjoy his hot spring facilities at any time.
That’s how Yujin and Jingrui end up enjoying some wine and music with Grand Prince Ji, and it isn’t long before Grand Prince Ji remarks that he’d been there, when Young Master He killed Qiu Ze. Ooh. A witness!
Banruo receives the intel that Grand Prince Ji had witnessed Young Master He killing Qiu Ze, and, as expected, this new piece of information throws a spanner in Prince Yu’s plan to save Young Master He. Now, with Grand Prince Ji as a potential witness, the fudging of evidence isn’t going to get Prince Yu very far.
Meanwhile, Marquis Xie prods the Crown Prince on the matter of getting his mother Concubine Yue reinstated in the palace, because with her basically under house arrest, their faction loses a pair of eyes and ears in the palace.
The way in which Marquis Xie approaches this, via the rites performed at the end of the year, in preparation for the new year, is so obtuse, that I conclude all over again, that it is very complicated living in the palace. I highly doubt I’d be able to survive in such an environment! 😅
It is very smart of Marquis Xie to choose to move through the Ministry of Rites, because it really does appear to be a legitimate concern of the court, and yet, he can basically stand around pretending to look innocent, and be called upon to provide an “objective take” on the matter, when he’s the one who set this whole thing in motion.
Everyone’s upset to hear the Concubine Yue’s been reinstated as Royal Consort, and it all sounds like a watertight situation, until Commander Meng brings the news to Mei Changsu. I’m impressed that Mei Changsu immediately sees the loophole in the situation, when everyone in the court hasn’t seemed to notice anything amiss for all the years that Noble Consort Yue has been participating in the ceremony.
When Mei Changsu lays it out, suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a conundrum after all; the Crown Prince could just hold the edge of the Empress’s garment during the ceremony, since she is technically his royal mother, and that’s how things have always been done. How interesting, that the exception that was made for Noble Consort Yue, became so entrenched in people’s consciousness, that it became the norm instead of the exception.
I love how undaunted Mei Changsu is, even though the Emperor has already issued his edict. I mean, isn’t it the case, that a word spoken by the Emperor is considered absolute and inviolable? Yet, he works through Prince Yu, to have the Minister of Rites challenged in the royal court, which then gives Prince Yu the opportunity to ask for the Emperor’s endorsement of a scholarly debate on the matter – which the Emperor cannot refuse. Smart!
While Prince Yu gathers his scholars for the events, so does the Crown Prince. I love that Mei Changsu has so much foresight, that he’d arrange to have Prince Mu seek out the very respected Master Zhou Xuanqing, who’s been in seclusion in Lingyin Temple for many years, in order to lend weight to Prince Yu’s side of the debate.
On a tangent, though, I just wanted to talk about how nice it was, to see Mei Changsu and Princess Nihuang take that walk together on the grounds of Mu Palace, to enjoy the plum blossoms. They almost – but not quite – look like a happy couple.
I’m fascinated, really, that someone as sharp and aware as Mei Changsu, would forget himself enough, in Nihuang’s presence, as to pick plum blossoms out of her hair. That’s completely not in line with the decorum of the times, because as Mei Changsu, he’s only known her for a short time, and they are nothing more than pleasant acquaintances. They are definitely not in a relationship where it would be normal or acceptable for him to touch her hair. And, given Mei Changsu’s mission, where he is so set on keeping his identity as Lin Shu a secret, I’m sure that he’s not purposely giving Nihuang hints either.
Whatever the case may be, we see that Nihuang has definitely been entertaining the possibility that Mei Changsu really is Lin Shu. She’s confused and blindsided, when she compares handwriting samples from Mei Changsu, and letters from Lin Shu that she’d kept, and find the two completely different.
Nihuang’s disappointment at the thought that Mei Changsu might not be Lin Shu after all, is palpable. I really feel for her; it’s clear that she’s quietly pined for her Lin Shu all these years. The thought that he might possibly have come back to her as Mei Changsu, must have been such a wondrous thing to entertain. And now, the thought that she must have been wrong after all, must be such a huge blow. 💔
What a rare show of emotion, when Mei Changsu laments to Li Gang, that his hands had used to bend bows and tame horses, and now can only stir the pot while hiding in the dark. It’s so startling to watch, honestly, because Mei Changsu is usually so controlled and calm. With this glimpse into the turmoil that he keeps in his heart, my heart breaks even more for him, for all that he’s gone through, and everything that must weigh on him, even now.
It must be so tough on him, to have to contend with the frailty of his body, even as he seeks to right the injustice done to his family. And, it must be so hard for him, to be so near Nihuang, and yet, so far from her, at the same time.
Meanwhile, Prince Jing finally tells his mother, Concubine Jing, about his decision to vie for the throne. I’m surprised that Concubine Jing has so little to say, in the face of such a dangerous undertaking. However, it says a lot about the trust that she has in her son; she only needs to ascertain that Prince Jing is aware of how difficult the task is, before she accepts and supports his decision.
When Prince Jing expresses hesitation, it’s moving to me, how Concubine Jing says to him, that it doesn’t matter whether he succeeds or fails; that there is nothing to fear, as long as they share the burden together. The exact phrase she uses is 生死共担 (shēngsǐ gòng dān), which literally translates as sharing equally, the burden of life and death. Wow. This means that Concubine Jing is willing to die with Prince Jing, if he fails in his quest for the throne. That’s.. heartbreakingly deep, especially when she offers that support so unequivocally, and so swiftly.
As we close the episode, Mei Changsu shares a brief meeting with Master Zhou on the city’s outskirts, and we learn that the token which had afforded Prince Mu an audience with Master Zhou, had been a gift from Master Li Chong, who had once been Mei Changsu’s teacher. Master Zhou seems intrigued that he’s never met Mei Changsu, when Master Li, an Imperial Tutor, had had so few students that he was proud of, and Master Zhou had met them all. Ooh. Is Mei Changsu’s cover going to be blown..?
Well. Mei Changsu’s cover does get blown, a little bit, this episode, but not by Master Zhou, heh.
As expected of our very shrewd and very prepared Mei Changsu, he finds a way to answer Master Zhou’s question, and impress him, at the same time. Not only does Mei Changsu demonstrate a deep understanding of Master Li, thus allaying Master Zhou’s concern that his involvement in court affairs may not have been in line with Master Li’s wishes, he also demonstrates wisdom, in the way that he reconciles Master Zhou’s foray into the court, with Master Li’s conviction.
“At the time, Teacher knew he was going against the Emperor, but he did not waver from his convictions, remaining outspoken and just. It is the character of a great philosopher. Hence, I believe that there are many paths in the world; secluding oneself in the mountains is one way, to display oneself in Court is another. If you can maintain a pure heart, not giving voice to opinions contrary to your conscience, to immoral thoughts, then why worry about where you stand?”
How poignant is that moment, though, when Master Zhou makes a clear reference to Lin Shu, who had been Master Li’s favorite student, saying that if Mei Changsu could have been there with Lin Shu, they would have made a glorious pair. If only he knew, that the person standing in front of him, is none other than Lin Shu himself.
Augh. Any time Mei Changsu has moments like this, where he’s confronted by the ghost of his identity as Lin Shu, it makes my heart ache for him.
Even more emotional, is the meeting between Mei Changsu and Nihuang, which happens next. As it turns out, Nihuang has no evidence to prove that Mei Changsu is Lin Shu, but her female intuition is absolutely convinced that the person before her, is, in fact, her Lin Shu gege.
The desperation in her tears, and the heartbreak in his eyes, is just heart-in-my-throat emotional to watch, and I’m kind of relieved, actually, that Nihuang just follows her instincts and grabs Mei Changsu in an embrace, breaking his last ounce of resolve, to keep up the pretense. It feels like such catharsis, not only for her to finally have confirmation of his identity, but also, for him to finally be able to be present, as himself: Lin Shu.
Lin Shu asks Nihuang to keep his identity a secret at all costs, and Nihuang readily agrees, saying that she’s willing to wait for him to become her Lin Shu gege again. Ack. She doesn’t know about his health condition, and he’s not telling her. Instead, he changes the subject and tells her not to cry, because Mu Qing is going to return soon, from sending Master Zhou back. This is going to be so heartbreaking for her, when she finds out, isn’t it?
I’m surprised, actually, that when Nihuang calls after him to ask if she can visit him at his residence, he tells her, “If you really want to see me, then come.” This feels like such a big concession for him, since keeping his identity and mission a secret, and keeping Nihuang out of danger, are equally important to him.
How worrying, that Mei Changsu doesn’t even make it back to his carriage, before he coughs up blood. Gah. Coughing up blood is never good news, in any drama. EVERR. 😬
Clearly, Mei Changsu has overexerted himself, being out in the cold, when his body is so weak. Physician Yan orders strict bed rest, saying that Mei Changsu should decline all guests for at least a couple of days.
In the meantime, Prince Yu has apparently been trying to send expensive gifts to Mei Changsu, to express his gratitude for Mei Changsu’s help in the matter of the scholarly debate, but all the gifts have been returned. It’s smart cookie Banruo that manages to get Mei Changsu to accept a delivery of gifts, by making the gifts a collection of toys for Fei Liu. That is very shrewd. She definitely understands Mei Changsu better than Prince Yu does.
While all this is going on, Prince Jing happens to meet newly appointed Minister of State Revenue Shen Zhui, and joins him in a visit to the ports, to look into the discrepancies that Shen Zhui has found in the canal transport records.
We (but not Prince Jing and Shen Zhui – yet) soon find out that there is a good amount of gunpowder that’s being smuggled as “fruit” and other such cargo, and Mei Changsu has people working undercover on the docks, gathering intel.
Our Jiangzuo gang, led by Mr. Thirteen, pool their intel and conclude that the Crown Prince is using the illegal gunpowder imports, to make illegal fireworks, and is making a huge profit from it. Tong Lu reports their findings to Mei Changsu, who orders that they hand the information to Shen Zhui.
Last but not least, the Empress suddenly collapses while holding court with all the consorts and concubines.
After a flurry of panic and anxiety from everyone, especially Prince Yu, the imperial physicians pronounce that there’s nothing seriously wrong with the Empress. However, the sudden onset of the Empress’s illness, raises not only Mei Changsu’s suspicions, but Concubine Jing’s as well.
In considering the possibility that the illness might be “man-made,” Mei Changsu assesses that this wouldn’t be the doing of the Crown Prince’s camp, since they would have attempted much worse, if they’d orchestrated the illness.
While Mei Changsu orders Li Gang to, 1, ask Nihuang to visit the Empress to get a feel for the situation, and 2, get a copy of the prescription, Concubine Jing herself appears to find a clue, from sniffing the Empress’s teacup. Hmm.. this definitely seems to be a case of sabotage.. But who’s behind it? Or.. might this be a set-up by the Empress herself..?? 🤔