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Love Like the Galaxy (2022) Episodes 39-40 Ramblings
Despite the levity that marks a large proportion of this drama, the satirical bite of the story bares its teeth when the decisions of agencies made in the past come back to haunt in horrifying fashion. Over a decade earlier when the crown prince took his consort to be his lawfully wedded wife, she knew that she was marrying a man who was in love with another woman — a woman who grew up with the crown prince, who was her superior by every criteria of their day. Despite knowing all that and despite being warned against this union, she married the crown prince and has never once felt secure in that marriage, plotting and scheming against the other woman who has been systematically abused by her husband as a result of the consort’s machinations.
While I suspected that Consort Chu was not a trustworthy character after the “tiger seals” incident, the depth of her jealousy-induced depravity took me completely unawares. All this time, portraying herself as the victim of adultery and confecting a love triangle of soap opera proportions to reconcile her own insecurities, the consort has been trying repeatedly to destroy another woman’s life — a woman whose only crime apparently was that she used to be the crown prince’s childhood sweetheart and was the frontrunner to marry him. Because she paints herself as The Victim, Consort Chu finds moral justification in her actions against an intrusive Qu Lingjun that’s a figment of her imagination. In the consort’s ever suspicious mind and a perverted twist of self-abasement, she cannot conceive of the crown prince genuinely loving her when he had to give up a much better woman (Qu Lingjun) to oblige his father’s political commitments.
The cautionary tale that comes attached to this fiasco is why I cannot in earnest root for Yuan Shen’s candidacy for Niaoniao’s affections. Certainly not now and certainly not even if Ling Buyi were to die in battle tomorrow. In another universe Yuan Shen and Niaoniao would be the leads in a fluffy rom com bickering endlessly until one of them falls on top of the other with their lips accidentally touching. But this is not that universe. Yes, he’s late to the dinner party but being tardy isn’t an unforgivable sin. Latecomers can also have their day. What’s troublesome though is that Ling Buyi is a really tough act to follow, especially because he can rescue his damsel in timely inhuman fashion. So it begs the question: Is Yuan Shen up to task? It’s hard to say at this point. He certainly has brains. Even so, the lady in question claims to be wholeheartedly devoted to one Ling Zisheng and can Yuan Shen live with that for the turn of his natural life? Because she sure is rubbing it in his face with effusive praise of her fiance. Not to mention also that he’s personally witnessed public displays of affection between them. What will a man do with what his eyes and ears have shown him? Can he overcome all this history?
This is my dilemma with Yuan Shanjian especially now that we know that his parents loved other people to the extent that it impacted their marriage negatively. Their sins fell on him and it’s become his burden to bear. He, of all people should know better where that road of feeling like the consolation prize leads but the heart wants what it wants. Moving on would be a wiser course of action but in this matter he will not be wise. Who can blame him? Cheng Shaoshang is rather unique in that landscape.
I am well aware that there are many who don’t think that Ling Buyi with bloody revenge in his soul should have ever gone near Shaoshang much less ask for her hand in marriage. However, in his defence, Ling Buyi is not living in our cushy 21st century therapeutic age where safetyism takes precedence over all else. Neither is Shaoshang for that matter. For Zisheng, life is a battleground of competing interests where the sharpest and the best prepared stay alive in an unpredictable arena of hidden motives. Life is about navigating tragedy with the hand that one is dealt. Evading suffering altogether is a fruitless exercise so why not just make the best of the opportunities and roll with the punches come what may. Afterall life is short and hard… damnably hard for some. Besides Zisheng is an incurable risk taker who is willing to gamble everything on this one shot at love. This is it for him. There won’t be anyone else if it fails. Even if there’s no revenge to pursue he’s a soldier and there’s no guarantee that he’ll see his 22nd birthday every time he goes into battle.
As someone who has been watching/reading superhero comics, graphic novels, screen adaptations for most of my young life, it’s not especially difficult for me to accept that Zisheng might want that tiny bit of happiness for himself regardless of how fleeting or paradoxical that may be. Or how all that ends up affecting the woman he loves. I can’t judge him for it. I can’t judge Yuan Shen either for wanting what he cannot have. They’re in a predicament I cannot even begin to imagine. Among pop culture heroes Spidey, Daredevil, Bats and Supes… just to name but a few have struggled and resisted getting romantically entangled due to the nature of what they do and yet in the end they all succumb at some point and even marry. Indeed it is not good for a man to be alone. The desire for lifelong companionship is hardwired into our DNA. As Zisheng himself says, there is a heart of an ordinary man beating underneath all that superheroic military paraphernalia.
Moreover I never underestimate Niaoniao’s inner resolve or ability to recover from tragedy. She’s done it before and will do it again. I don’t think she’ll have any regrets having this time with Ling Buyi because it’s made her a more mature person. Besides, her resilience is such that she has to get involved with things she shouldn’t and save the people that are close to her heart even when odds are stacked against her. Her love for the empress will see her embroiled in much more ahead. In this regard the leads are not that dissimilar. Because of their formative childhood experiences, they’re robustly independent to a fault. Some people are just fighters — whether a product of nature or of their environment. Like Zisheng, Niaoniao can be ruthless. She’s made of much sterner stuff than she’s being given credit for. So it isn’t surprising that he would fall for her this hard and peg her a suitable wife for a soldier that’s carrying the weight of an entire clan on his shoulders.
The simplistic labelling of good and bad that Niaoniao uses with regards to people like the crown prince and the empress are insufficient to describe the entire gamut of who they are. While there’s little doubt that the empress and her firstborn are good-hearted people, their more obvious virtues are not kept in check by the cultivation of other attributes such as shrewdness, the courage of conviction and tenacity. Can a person be “good” when there’s no balance? “Good” in what way? And “good” for what? Yes, the crown prince has a strong sense of justice but it’s not coupled with discretion. The way he handled the Qu Lingjun case was woeful for a grown man with responsibilities. Why meet with a married woman personally and privately? It’s a bad idea in any age of history. He could have sent an intermediary to approach her or launch an investigation. Do good intentions make up for foolishness? Not in this case and not usually. Yuan Shen’s mother is an astute woman who is right on the money about how this murderous tragedy came about, how it could have been averted at some point during its unfolding.
Hence, the issue of blame is a fascinating one. There’s certainly plenty of blame to go around the Liang family living room regarding who did what to whom and it’s an opportune moment to give bad parenting a sound bashing once again. A family with competing agenda and distinct lack of harmony was doomed at its foundations. A house that’s divided cannot stand. But it also seems to me that the existing class structure brings with it its own set of problems because it fails in large part to address the core issue of self-interest. It assumes that the vast majority of the populace will buy into the system with the same amount of enthusiasm because the benefits for everyone are obvious. On the surface it gives the impression that there’s some kind of law and order in operation but there’s brewing discontent underneath that can’t be entirely attributed to bad parenting. The application of polygamy, primogeniture may solve issues of property rights and maintaining bloodlines but at what cost? Unless its real purpose is to allow for the flourishing of a privilege class made up of educated wealthy and/or noble families who will rule for as long as they can hold power. Nobody should assume collectively that they have the greater good in mind. Sure, it’s possible to drum into a child all the received wisdom of the sages till the end of time but in the end self-interest wins out.
My favourite economist once said that there are no solutions, only trade-offs. Nowhere is this clearer than the way the emperor or Wen Di hands out punishments. It’s not hard to see where the crown prince gets his ideas about justice from if Wen Di cannot set aside family feelings and practice real justice — rewarding good and punishing evil proportionately. There’s a place for leniency and good will but not in the case of Marquise Yue who is a known, self-professed conspirator against the state. This is a crime called treason, until more recently, an offence in most societies that is punishable by death. Why? Because it concerns the fate of an entire population, most of whom are vulnerable. Whether the crown prince is competent or is in part to blame is irrelevant on this point. A court official has obligations to king and country. He must work within the confines of the legal framework. If he conspires to undermine the government in any way he should have the entire book thrown at him. Leniency has no place because what was done before can be done again. Furthermore this practice of one rule for thee and one for me is not justice. Can anyone blame Zisheng taking matters into his own hands when he stuck a knife into Prince Yong and twisted it? Or for that crestfallen look when Marquise Yue gets a mere slap on the wrist? Even Consort Yue has the decency to express her embarrassment at the emperor’s verdict. Wen Di prioritized his beloved consort and her family over the long-term interests of his country as well as the victim’s family’s need for justice. This royal family is showing itself to be a veritable house of cards because the emperor cannot make the hard calls on something as straightforward as that. And yes, while we’re on this topic, he should depose the crown prince and put the more capable son on the throne regardless of how the empress feels.
Emperor Wen acted unjustly. He did not live up to the demands of the office as head of state. He did not give Zisheng justice and hence some of the closure that he needs as as survivor of Gu City. If he wants Zisheng to stop thinking about revenge and get on with the business of making babies then he should accommodate him in some fashion. It isn’t as if Zisheng is an unreasonable person who sheds blood for its own sake. In the case of the Liang family murder, he gave the culprit time to confess and turn himself in. It was the individual members of the family that dodged the issue and escalated the situation. It could have been a quiet domestic murder solved without fanfare but all the main actors in that drama wanted a shot at the soap box. It was a tragic tale of greed… and a timely reminder that it’s never ever a good idea to play a game of bluff with Ling Buyi.
The fallibility of the emperor as seen in his failure to protect the integrity of the country’s institutions may be his downfall and in all likelihood the downfall of others. His policy about having quotas on officials coming from various families is another instance of a trade-off — a cure that could end up being worse than the disease. There’s a cost for every decision that Wen Di makes not just because the buck stops with him. And in truth… it’s naive to believe that there’s ever such a thing as a free lunch.