Welcome to the Open Thread, everyone! It definitely feels like things are gearing up, these episodes, for bigger and more exciting thrills ahead! I hope you guys are enjoying the ride! (And, isn’t this just a great shot of our Divine Talent Mei Changsu? So much thoughtful intent, so perfectly framed. 🤩)
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! ❤️
We get an important reveal about the smuggled gunpowder case this episode, but first, we learn that Minister He is bedridden because he’s too distraught over his son’s inevitable execution, for killing Qiu Ze, and therefore, work at the Ministry of Personnel has come to a halt.
As Prince Yu makes some interim arrangements, he muses that it will be difficult to get Minister He to pick himself up, which is when Banruo advises that since Qiu Ze’s father, Count Wenyuan, is looking to avenge his son, with a life for a life, they can simply give him a life.
Ooh. I wonder what poor scapegoat Banruo has in mind, to render in exchange for Young Minister He?
Meanwhile, Yujin and Jingrui pay Mei Changsu a visit, and Yujin brings a gift of several baskets of mandarins freshly delivered from Lingnan. Interestingly, Fei Liu, who usually loves mandarins, sniffs one, and discards it without eating it. This, combined with Yujin’s excited rambling, where he mentions that the mandarins were shipped directly from Lingnan Province by official cargo ships via the Fu River, which need not stop for checks, gives Mei Changsu pause for thought.
I am in awe of how Mei Changsu’s mind works. With his casual remark that Yujin should be visiting the Empress since she’s taken ill, he manages to ascertain that Yujin’s father, Marquis Yan, is not on close terms with the Empress, even though they are siblings. And, he also manages to determine that Marquis Yan is generally not big on new year celebrations, preferring to spend his time cultivating his medicine-making skills. These are two very key pieces of information which will come into play later in the episode.
Next, Prince Jing pays his monthly visit to Concubine Jing, and Concubine Jing tells him the information that she’s gathered, from the time she’d sniffed the Empress’s teacup. Prince Jing wastes no time in paying Mei Changsu a visit, in order to share this information. I like this idea, that Prince Jing now trusts Mei Changsu so well, that Mei Changsu would be the first person he would seek out, to discuss a perplexing matter such as this.
We learn that the Empress was poisoned by a type of grass called ruanhui, which, when ingested, causes dizziness, loss of strength in the limbs, and a reduced appetite, which last for 6-7 days. How very curious indeed, that someone would go to the trouble of poisoning the Empress, and yet, use such a light hand about it. Mei Changsu absently fingers his sleeve as he ponders the information, and this catches Prince Jing’s attention. Ooh.
Clearly, even though Mei Changsu now looks nothing like he’d used to, when he’d been Lin Shu, and even though he’s gone to the trouble of changing his handwriting, like we’ve seen, there are still personal habits and quirks that stay with him. I’d love for Prince Jing to figure out that Mei Changsu is, indeed, his best friend Lin Shu, but, as we’ve discussed, that in itself has its risks. Let’s see how this pans out.
I’m intrigued that seeing this, gives Prince Jing a bit of a start, and that he would even mention it to Mei Changsu. Could he be testing Mei Changsu..? For now, Mei Changsu brushes it off with a pretty convincing counter-point, that it’s probably a habit that many others have, besides him.
Prince Jing and Mei Changsu discuss the illegal fireworks case that Shen Zhui is investigating, and Mei Changsu asks Prince Jing if he is satisfied with the officials whom he’s recommended to Prince Jing. Prince Jing expresses that he’s very happy with them, because they’re all good officials, and the conversation turns to the question of sincerity. Prince Jing is uncomfortable that he can’t face these officials with absolute sincerity (because of his secret quest for the throne), and Mei Changsu counters that sincerity and artifice are both needed, particularly in something so dangerous as the fight for the Crown.
What’s interesting to me about this scene, is how much Mei Changsu leans into his “bad guy” sort of persona, as he illustrates what it means to have both sincerity and artifice. It’s almost as if he wants Prince Jing to think badly of him.
It’s also very interesting to me, that Prince Jing seems distinctly uncomfortable, that Mei Changsu is making himself out to be such a cruel and heartless person. Is this because Prince Jing sees that Mei Changsu is not a cruel and heartless person? Or is it because Prince Jing is uncomfortable at being associated with a cruel and heartless person? Or perhaps it is both?
I do like the idea that Mei Changsu presents, that while Prince Jing looks at character, Mei Changsu looks at talent; sometimes it’s character that is most needful, and sometimes it is talent. This makes the two of them appear very complementary to me.
When Prince Jing reminds Mei Changsu that people repay in kind what they receive, Mei Changsu replies that he doesn’t care about that, and he also doesn’t care about what methods Prince Jing may use to test him; he knows what he’s loyal to, and he’s never thought to betray anyone. At this point, I feel like Mei Changsu almost looks like he’s in a trance, while he stares into the fire. I feel like this conversation has touched a deep, raw nerve, for him.
We see Noble Consort Yue approach the Emperor and, making a show of being concerned for the Empress’s health, suggest that Noble Consort Xushu be appointed to assist in the ceremonial rituals.
I’m pretty sure that Noble Consort Yue’s intention here, is to get the Emperor to have her assist in the rituals in the Empress’s stead, but her efforts come to naught, because the Emperor simply concedes that even though he hadn’t been happy about the debate, that it had been the right thing to do. He even reminds Noble Consort Yue to mind her sense of propriety in front of the Empress, and Noble Consort Yue does look rather disappointed, underneath her demure smile.
While this is going on, Mei Changsu paces, with Li Gang by his side, as he works to piece together the various fragments of intel that he’s gathered, about the gunpowder smuggling case. He stops in his tracks, when he connects the gunpowder to an intent to blow up the year-end ritual ceremony, and in turn, connects the smuggling to someone who’s no ordinary person, since they are able to make use of the official cargo ships for the transport of the gunpowder, while making use of the Ministry of State Revenue and the illegal fireworks factory as a cover-up.
Mei Changsu pays a visit to Yujin’s residence, asking to meet Yujin’s father, Marquis Yan. While waiting for Marquis Yan to return, Mei Changsu chats with Yujin and Jingrui, and, at Yujin’s expression of admiration for envoy Lin Xiangru from the historical records, Mei Changsu proceeds to tell them the story of an amazing envoy from Liang, from 37 years ago, who had, at the age of 20, threaded through enemy camps alone, and debated with their ministers, thus forming rifts in their alliance, which had then given the Liang forces the opportunity to successfully fight off the enemies.
Yujin is thoroughly shocked to learn that this envoy is none other than his own father, Marquis Yan.
Meanwhile, Prince Yu is having servants beaten, in hopes of getting a confession related to the Empress’s poisoning. No confessions are forthcoming, however, and this gives Prince Yu pause.
Upon Marquis Yan’s return, Mei Changsu essentially confronts him with his conclusion, that Marquis Yan, is, in fact, the person who had smuggled in gunpowder, intending to kill the Emperor by rigging the censer with gunpowder, designed to explode when the Emperor ignited the fuse with the burning of sacrificial notes.
Not only that, Mei Changsu states evenly that even though Marquis Yan is not on close terms with his sister the Empress, he values family ties enough, to find a way to prevent the Empress from attending the ceremony – which explains the light-handed poisoning.
Wow. What a reveal! 🤯 It’s amazing how Mei Changsu’s mind works, piecing together all these seemingly unrelated fragments of information, to form one cohesive whole. I’m so impressed, honestly.
When Marquis Yan asks Mei Changsu if it was the Empress’s illness that had made Mei Changsu suspicious of him, Mei Changsu answers that it was actually the mandarins, because it is indeed strange, that Marquis Yan, who famously won’t even spend new year’s with his family, would make a special order of mandarins just for the occasion. Mmm. Fair point, though I do think most people wouldn’t be able to make that connection!
It all comes out, that Marquis Yan had been in love with Noble Consort Chen, who’d been taken from him by the Emperor, after he’d worked to help the Emperor ascend the throne. Marquis Yan had tried to let it go, and move on with his life, telling himself that it was fine as long as she was happy in the palace. However, with the Chiyan Army case, her son Prince Qi had been sentenced to death, and Noble Consort Chen had committed suicide soon after. Ack. What a tragic story! 💔
Marquis Yan says that if not for his pursuit of Dao, he would have joined them in death long ago, and now, he’s willing to pay any price, if he can kill the Emperor.
Mei Changsu counters that this plan of Marquis Yan’s, would only result in chaos, where the court would be in disarray, the borders would be unguarded, and Prince Yu and the Crown Prince would just continue fighting each other. Not only that, all the people who had died unjustly, would still be branded as traitors.
Despite Mei Changsu’s words, Marquis Yan is still adamant about wanting to kill the Emperor, which is when Mei Changsu reminds him to spare a thought for Yujin, his son, who would ultimately be implicated, if Marquis Yan is charged with regicide. Mei Changsu makes an earnest suggestion to Marquis Yan, to stop, while he still can.
Meanwhile, Commander Meng inspects the altar for the year-end ritual ceremony, and finds the fuse hidden in the censer. He removes it, looking darkly troubled.
Marquis Yan is pretty stunned to realize that the purpose of Mei Changsu’s confrontation, isn’t to bring him down, but simply, to stop him from acting on his plan. He is understandably suspicious of Mei Changsu’s intentions, particularly since Mei Changsu does not appear to want anything in return from Marquis Yan, for keeping his secret. I mean, that’s totally not how things tend to work, particularly when it’s anything to do with palace politics and potential treason, right?
Mei Changsu manages to convince Marquis Yan that he recognizes and appreciates Marquis Yan’s devotion (to Noble Consort Chen) and loyalty (to Commander Lin, who, unbeknownst to Marquis Yan, is actually Mei Changsu’s – or rather Lin Shu’s – father), and wants to save him.
We also learn from Marquis Yan’s expression of concern, that among the princes, Prince Yu is most like the Emperor, in that he is cold and cruel, even though he may appear righteous. That’s interesting information, because thus far, we have not seen the Emperor reveal that much of his cold and cruel nature. Mei Changsu basically sidesteps Marquis Yan’s expression of befuddlement at why a person of such talent as Mei Changsu, would align himself with a person such as Prince Yu, and advises Marquis Yan not to think too much.
I do think it’s a distinct sign of respect, when Marquis Yan’s parting request of Mei Changsu, is that if anything were to happen to him, that Mei Changsu would save Yujin, out of consideration for their friendship.
Also, I think it’s so humane and considerate of Mei Changsu, to actually convince Marquis Yan to spend new year’s eve with Yujin. We learn this in retrospect, since we don’t actually see the two men talking about it, but from the way Mei Changsu gives Yujin the news, to the way Marquis Yan does actually invite Yujin to welcome the new year with him later in the episode, it’s clear that this had indeed been part of their conversation.
Next, we learn that what Banruo had meant, in suggesting to Prince Yu that they give Count Wenyuan a life for a life, is that they replace Young Master He with a lookalike. Gosh, wouldn’t that mean that they plan to have some poor innocent dude executed in Young Master He’s place? That’s terrible. 😱
Prince Yu doesn’t appear too thrilled at this either, but he doesn’t seem to be that conflicted either, musing that they don’t have a choice in the matter, because of how much Minister He treasures his son (and how much Prince Yu needs Minister He to be fully functional, which he leaves unsaid).
This means that not only is Minister of Personnel, Minister He, involved in this scheme, Minister of Justice, Qi Min, is involved as well, because it is only with his complicity, that they are able to swop out Young Minister He with his lookalike. Minister Qi advises Minister He not to allow his son to spend new year’s at home, to which Minister He readily agrees.
Meanwhile, Shen Zhui notes with curiosity, Minister He’s sudden revival from his bedridden state. I thought Shen Zhui’s observation a very keen one; that because Minister He had been suffering from an ailment of the heart, the remedy that would cause him to rise from his bed, would have to have been a remedy for the heart as well. That’s such a penetrating observation, isn’t it? Shen Zhui’s quite the wise sage, it looks like.
I’m quite amused that Li Gang affably hits on the possibility of a lookalike scheme in Young Master He’s case, when thinking aloud about the matter with Mei Changsu, though I’m sure Mei Changsu himself would have arrived at a similar conclusion on his own. There’s something really good-natured and easygoing about Li Gang, that I really like. Also, how shrewd of Mei Changsu, to act on this, by using Xie Yu.
Essentially, he’s making use of the fierce contention between Prince Yu and the Crown Prince to his advantage. All he has to do, is feed Xie Yu the damning information about Minister He and Minister Qi, and Xie Yu wastes no time in taking them down.
Thanks to Minister He taking his son home to see his grandmother one last time, Xie Yu, with Count Wenyuan in tow, is able to catch father and son redhanded, as Minister He is trying to get his son to leave, early the next morning. You can practically hear the sound of Minister He and Minister Qi going down at the same time, with Count Wenyuan’s decisive declaration, that he’s going to drag Minister He before the Emperor.
Yujin discusses the case with Jingrui, and when Yujin criticizes the ministers for their scheming, Jingrui quotes Mei Changsu, saying, “Is this all the fault of the ministers? An Emperor is the source. Clear springs begets clear flows, turbid springs begets turbid waters. (From “A Gentlemans’ Way” by Xunzhi.) Right now in the Court, treating others with sincerity is considered naivety. If you don’t scheme, you are immature; the social vogue is as such. Whose fault is it?”
This conversation is the trigger, which causes Yujin to question whether Mei Changsu is indeed helping Prince Yu, as everyone assumes.
We see Mei Changsu and Nihuang exchanging thoughts on the situation, which means that Nihuang is fully aware of Mei Changsu’s intentions, with regard to the politics of the court. Nihuang reacts with some surprise at the idea that Mei Changsu intends to bring down Xie Yu, but Mei Changsu replies matter-of-factly, that he’s planned everything from a long time ago.
On the eve of the new year, we see various celebrations in progress; the princes ready themselves to receive gifts bestowed by the Emperor; a joint family celebration is held between the Xie and Zhuo families; Yujin spends a quiet but meaningful time with his father; everyone at Mei Changsu’s manor warmly gets together to eat dumplings.
While the Emperor’s gift of special dishes to various honorable families are distributed, the vibe at the joint family celebration at the Xie household is warm and jovial, with everyone seeming to dote on Jingrui extra. Brother-in-law Qingyao has even prepared a special stallion as a gift for Jingrui.
Interestingly, Xie Yu and Zhuo Dingfeng insist on excusing themselves early, even though, in previous years, they would wait together for the arrival of the special gift bestowed by the Emperor. Even more interestingly, Zhuo Dingfeng gives Qingyao a Meaningful Look, at which Qingyao immediately moves to take Jingrui away, on the pretext of showing him the stallion.
The next thing we know, a group of Imperial Guards, along with the eunuch bearing the gifts, are attacked and slain by a masked attacker – and we see that the masked attacker is none other than Zhuo Dingfeng. Hrmm. I wonder what this scheme is about? Why would Xie Yu have Zhuo Dingfeng kill this group of guards, and the eunuch too?
Poor Commander Meng. The Emperor takes him to task for not guarding the palace grounds and its surrounding areas sufficiently, and not only orders that he be given 20 lashings, but also, that he solve the case within 30 days, or face further punishment. Yikes. That’s quite terrible? How would Commander Meng be in good shape to investigate the case, if he needs to recover from being flogged? 😱
When Nihuang asks Mei Changsu whether he needs her to ask the Emperor for mercy on Commander Meng, Mei Changsu expresses that it’s not Commander Meng’s current situation that is cause for concern. It’s that, if there are further cases that crop up before this one is solved, that this would erode the Emperor’s trust in Commander Meng.
..And, as it turns out, that is exactly what Xie Yu has in mind.
He tells Zhuo Dingfeng to lie low for the time being, because, even though this recent attack on the Imperial Guards went smoothly, the close relationship between the two families would invite suspicion, if Zhuo Dingfeng were to be involved in Xie Yu’s other schemes.
This is when we learn that Xie Yu has already asked Zhuo Dingfeng to recruit highly skilled martial arts experts, for such a time as this. He’s determined to now find other opportunities to undermine Commander Meng’s credibility in the palace, using these martial arts experts.
Poor Commander Meng, getting targeted like this, even though he’s not actively scheming against anybody. I feel bad for him. 😭
I just love the way Mei Changsu’s mind works; he’s brilliant, is what he is.
It’s amazing to me, that via a relatively quick process of deduction and elimination, Mei Changsu manages to figure out that Xie Yu is the most likely person behind the attack on the eunuch and the Imperial Guards. Essentially, Xie Yu has the most to gain from Commander Meng losing his position, and would even be a prime candidate for Commander Meng’s replacement; a position that would give Marquis Xie much-coveted opportunity to control the Palace.
On a side note, I do like this repeated motif, of Mei Changsu discussing things with Nihuang. It’s a smallish thing, but it makes their relationship feel that much closer, because they’d most certainly have to be in regular contact, in order for these conversations to happen as often as they appear to.
Also, we see that Nihuang addresses Mei Changsu as 兄长 (xiōngzhǎng); this is simply a more formal way to say 哥哥 (gēge). I’m assuming that this difference between her past and current terms of address towards Lin Shu, has to do with her own maturity. It was probably fine to address him as 哥哥 (gēge) in her teens, but now, it’s probably more proper to address him as 兄长 (xiōngzhǎng).
Mei Changsu has a sudden realization, that it’s important that this case involving Commander Meng, must not be perceived to have anything to do with the fight for the crown, because this would touch a raw nerve with the Emperor, and be counter-productive, which is why he rushes immediately to see Prince Yu, to talk with him about this.
While this is going on, the Emperor assigns the case to Inspectors Xia Chun and Xia Dong from Xuanjing Bureau, just like Xie Yu had predicted. The Emperor acknowledges that he doesn’t actually expect Commander Meng to be able to solve the case, and had only commanded him to solve it, as a way of intimidating him. He orders both inspectors to investigate covertly, and solve the case.
It’s interesting to see Xia Chun and Xia Dong exchange thoughts during their preliminary investigations, as it reveals to us how their minds work, just like how we’d seen Mei Changsu’s mind work, while thinking about the same case. I suppose they need to be thorough in considering all possibilities, but it is rather amusing to me, that in the amount of time they spend on futile theories like it being a mugging, or someone wanting revenge on the eunuch, Mei Changsu had already arrived at his logical and very correct conclusion.
I will say, though, that it does appear that Xia Dong’s arguably a better investigator than Xia Chun, given that she’s the one whose train of thought is more accurate and makes more sense, while Xia Chun’s theory about Jiangzuo Alliance being behind the attack makes no sense at all.
Meanwhile, Mei Changsu’s displeasure is quite clear, as he awaits Prince Yu’s return from the palace. On Banruo’s advice, Prince Yu has gone to ask for mercy on Commander Meng’s behalf. Mei Changsu explains to a somewhat perplexed Prince Yu, upon his return, why it is not a good idea for the Emperor to think that Prince Yu is trying to get on close terms with Commander Meng.
Essentially, it is because this would imply that Prince Yu hopes to have Commander Meng on his side, and at his command, in the future. On top of this, Mei Changsu also talks Prince Yu through the potential scenario of Commander Meng losing his position, which would then make things ripe for Xie Yu to step in.
Prince Yu is suitably chastened, and poor Banruo looks worried and troubled, because her counsel to Prince Yu has just been proven unsound; her advice now looks like child’s play, in comparison to how Mei Changsu analyzes the situation.
Next, we see that Mei Changsu already has Li Gang investigating which martial arts experts Tianquan Manor has been in contact with in the last several years, and he’s also ordered heavy surveillance of Xie Mansion.
At the same time, we see that Mei Changsu receives an update via homing pigeon, that Lin Chen’s mission in Southern Chu has gone smoothly. Mei Changsu instructs Li Gang to send a reply, that Lin Chen should arrive in the Capital before 12th April, so as not to interfere with their plans.
(OHH. We learn later this episode, that Jingrui’s birthday is on 12th April, AND, we see that Mei Changsu agrees to attend the banquet. This definitely seems related!)
Mei Changsu then pays Commander Meng a visit, and essentially tells him to focus on getting better, and not bother too much about solving the case, because it’s not for him to solve. However, Mei Changsu does make a promise to Commander Meng, that he will not let Xie Yu off, for daring to touch Commander Meng. I love how Mei Changsu basically says (and I paraphrase), “Since they want to play on my grounds, I’ll show ’em who’s boss.” 😆
Ooh. It feels at least a little bit significant, that at their next meeting, Nihuang clues in on the fact that Mei Changsu’s hands are unusually cold. Mei Changsu brushes it off, saying that he’d just touched some cold water, but it’s easy to see that this observation does unsettle Nihuang, at least a little bit.
Also, Mei Changsu makes a very keen deduction, that if Commander Meng comes out as being able to solve a case that even the famed Xuanjing Bureau is unable to solve, it wouldn’t be a pleasant surprise for the Emperor at all, and would instead strike fear into the Emperor. After all, an Emperor’s always on his guard against people who might possibly be a danger to him, right?
How very suspicious, that on the night where a fire breaks out in the Palace, Jingrui actually sees Qingyao returning to the Xie Mansion at an unusually late hour. I’m pretty sure this means that Qingyao was somehow involved in setting that fire at the Palace, even though the Imperial Guards are reported to have swiftly executed the eunuch who’s supposedly the culprit. Hrmm.. I wonder how Qingyao would have been involved, because his behavior definitely seems suspicious.
Unfortunately for the Empress, the Emperor harshly blames her for not taking better care of Inner Court matters, just as Prince Yu (likely under Mei Changsu’s counsel) had predicted. As a result, the Empress comes down on any and all wrongdoers in the Inner Court with a harsh hand, ordering every single offender to be put to death by flogging. Yikes. That’s harsh too.
I’m rather troubled about the fact that Gong Yu pays a visit to Mei Changsu’s residence, even though she does not get to see him. I mean, if she’s under strict orders not to go to the manor without permission, might it not be possible that it’s because it’s important for her not to be seen as connected to Mei Changsu? I’m a little concerned that perhaps Gong Yu might have been spotted entering the manor? You can’t ever be too careful, in this world that’s full of people anxious to take one another down?
Speaking of whom, we see Xie Yu spinning terrible and completely untrue tales about Shen Zhui making up cases to harm the Crown Prince, and feeding those tales to Zhuo Dingfeng and Zhuo Qingyao. He even tells them that Shen Zhui is definitely on Prince Yu’s side, and orders them to destroy all evidence that Shen Zhui might have obtained in his investigations – and then adds that if necessary, they can destroy Shen Zhui too. Ugh. Lies!
Meanwhile, Shen Zhui pays Prince Jing a visit at his home, and it’s nice to see them have a relaxed conversation together.
When Prince Jing hears that Shen Zhui’s investigation on the illegal fireworks factory case is going well, and that he’s getting ready to report his findings to the Court once it resumes on the 16th day of the new year (I assume it has to be the 16th at the earliest because the Chinese new year is 15 days long), he cautions Shen Zhui that he ought to be more careful, and shouldn’t walk around so freely. I’m glad that Prince Jing thinks to send Shen Zhui off with his second-in-command, Lie Zhanying, as his escort, because we see Qingyao lurking around the corner, watching Shen Zhui’s every move.
I love how shrewd Mei Changsu is. The way he asks Jingrui to demonstrate his martial arts prowess to him, is in the context of friendly concern, but clearly, he gains some insights from the demonstration. Namely, he gets to observe the sword technique which is practiced by Zhuo Dingfeng, since Zhuo Dingfeng is the one who taught Jingrui, and he also gets to confirm that Qingyao also practices the technique, and is, in fact, much more well-versed than Jingrui himself.
How intriguing, that when Li Gang reports back to Mei Changsu, with the list of martial arts experts who have been associated with Tianquan Manor, Mei Changsu doesn’t even bother to look at the list. He only instructs that each of these experts be challenged to fights in accordance with Jianghu rules, and beaten just bad enough, so that they’d be unable to get out of bed.
Ooh. Look at Mei Changsu disarming Xie Yu’s weapons, even before those weapons are called into action! 🤩