Love Like the Galaxy (2022) Episodes 15-16 Ramblings
It occurred to me in my previous post that I’ve more or less put most of my cards on the table with regard to the characters. I am unabashedly biased as to who I’m led to think is the best suitor. That said, I’m reasonably certain that whoever she ends up with will inevitably bring its own set of problems so it isn’t that marriage itself will be the escape valve from family woes that she might believe it to be. Or any substantial guarantee of a happy-ever-after in the short term. Unlike what she thinks, despite her rocky relationship with Yuanyi, living at home does have its attractions. I’m also certainly not naive enough to believe that a life with Ling Buyi will be one free from conflict or trials considering the kind of man he is but why I am convinced that he’s the man for her is simply because he has repeatedly shown himself capable of protecting her even from herself. Regardless of whether he ends up with her, he is a figure in the narrative that’s worthy of respect because he lives by principles and not expediency
It struck me while rewatching these two episodes how flustered Niaoniao often is around Ling Buyi particularly when he’s giving her what seems to be an extraordinary amount of attention for a man of his standing. On some level he represents a kind of ruthlessness — he is not one to suffer fools gladly — and yet he’s also capable of unexpected tenderness and thoughtfulness. It’s a contradiction that she, even in her youthful normally cynical mind is unable to reconcile during their encounters.
There are two sequences in these episodes that are among my favourite in the series so far. The first is a strange dinner party apparently hosted by Huangfu Yi, the mentor of Yuan Shen which sees the three suitors and Niaoniao in conversation over a story that’s drawn from Huangfu Yi’s past. He tells it under the guise that it’s purely fiction but everyone knows that it’s autobiographical with special reference to the Third Uncle’s wife, Shunhua. The story itself is mildly interesting insofar as it provides insights into the relationship dynamics of the characters within the narrative. However, what is far more compelling about its utility is the discussion that it generates among the youngsters and the card-carrying teacher. It is also a layered and tension filled moment that exposes (and conceals) multiple agendas. Perhaps too there’s an element of prefiguring during all that talk of fidelity and steadfastness. But there’s also various types of irony at play. The dialogue also reveals (and confirms) what the minds gathered at that event are thinking about the situation that they’re in. Niaoniao, of course, is curious about Huangfu Yi as he’s Shunhua’s former fiancee. A’Yao is there because of her. Yuan Shen and Ling Buyi, on the other hand, are also there in order to prevent a wedding.
It’s hilarious watching the back and forth because 1) A’Yao seems cheerfully, largely oblivious to the undertones of the conversation, piping up the one time to assert his commitment to Niaoniao; 2) Everything else that is said has two or more layers of meaning. There’s dramatic irony, there’s sarcasm, there’s subtle rebuke and there might even be prefiguring of how Niaoniao’s relationship with these men will end up being tenuous and tumultuous to one degree or another; 3) Yuan Shen realises to his chagrin some time during the exchanges that his real rival is not the naive A’Yao but Ling Buyi; 4) Ling Buyi shows himself far more brusquely perceptive about the nature of the love triangle featured in Huangfu Yi’s story than the man the centre of it.
Even from the few moments that we witness Huangfu Yi’s activities, it’s fairly clear that he’s an indecisive man. He can’t make up his mind whether he should pay Shunhua a visit. He goes all the way to Hua County, gets cold feet and ends up dodging her. As Ling Buyi notes, a lack of trust caused by indecision is what separated Huangfu Yi and Shunhua in the final analysis. Huangfu Yi took for granted Shunhua’s patience and steadfastness and ultimately paid the price for it: She married someone else. As Shunhua says, he’s not a bad guy but he certainly exemplifies the fact that even with all his learning and accomplishments, he can’t prioritize. Even from the story, it indicates that he hides his indecision behind the veneer of good will and/or generosity.
This sets him in contrast to all the other younger men in the room who know exactly what they want — Niaoniao — and are placing themselves in the position where they can have access to her. On some level it feels like petty competition but it does show resolve. I doubt very much that either Ling Buyi or Yuan Shen have given up on Shaoshang just because of engagement talk. Neither has a high enough view of A’Yao to let sleeping dogs. Like most of the people in Niaoniao’s life that matter, they harbour the not-so-secret belief that he’s not exactly choice pickings for a woman of great ability, ambition and wit. It’s clear he can’t read a room on the two occasions in Episode 15. There’s tension filling the atmosphere when they’re at the outdoor pavilion too but he seems blissfully unaware and glibly announces his engagement with Niaoniao to his fellow rivals who are none too pleased. A’Yao doesn’t notice a thing. Ling Buyi arranges for all of them to head to a retreat belonging to the emperor where he’s supposed to be recuperating. He’s not one to be discouraged as he strategically places the arrowhead that she extracted from his person in the carriage that transports Niaoniao to their destination.
I am often reminded of LM Montgomery’s Anne Shirley when I’m watching and thinking about this show. There are, to my mind, more than a few parallels in those two trajectories. It’s in Anne of the Island where Anne is finally proposed to by the dashing Roy Gardiner. It’s the moment she’s been waiting for and yet when he finally opens up, she rejects him realising that he is not someone she can spend the rest of her life with. She allowed sentimental romantic ideas to affect her better judgment for a time. For her, Roy is not someone she can share ordinary moments with. In the case of Niaoniao she had effectively placed herself within a victim narrative and allowed it to cloud her judgment. Just because a guy is saying all the things you’ve ever wanted to hear from your mother and indulges you with goodies doesn’t mean he is husband material.
The other scene that I’ve rewatched multiple times is the one where the Chengs are stuck outside the city gates enroute to home waiting to be given the all-clear to enter. A fugitive has broken out of the imperial prison and so the entrance has been blockaded. Along comes Ling Buyi in his all military authority and manages to throw his weight around to expedite matters but before he does it he ticks off the commander with his usual good sense and then proceeds to have a very personal conversation with Miss Cheng in front of her parents and fiance. As usual A’Yao is clueless about the subtext but not the parents who realise that Ling Buyi and their daughter are much better acquainted than they had known. Ling Buyi then proceeds to use her polite query about his injury to inform everyone within earshot that they had braved death together and she had tended to his wounds.
Like their daughter Ling Buyi is a much more cunning and tactical man than the one who might become their son-in-law. It also gives lie to the claim that Niaoniao makes later that she’s been unlucky her whole life and if she doesn’t grab the first guy who offers marriage there will be no other opportunities. Apart from the fact that it’s a ridiculous claim for a 15 year old girl to be making (even for that time), it also a flat refusal to acknowledge the reasonableness of her mother’s objections to the match. It may be that Yuanyi is only now having a taste of her own medicine but it doesn’t mean that she has bad notions about marriage having experience its ebbs and flows.
Buyi in effect is inserting himself into this marriage narrative as it were. Lou Yao isn’t the only admirer in the offing. In fact, in terms of closeness and intimacy, Niaoniao and Ling Buyi have found themselves in a position where conventionally only two people who are married should be. He might also be claiming near-family status as tells them not to stand on ceremony. It too may well be a subtle declaration of war as he announces his candidature in the marriage stakes.
It’s also humorous that he completely ignores A’Yao the entire time he dialogues with Niaoniao and the parents. A’Yao seems to be irrelevant in the scheme of things as he finds a rationale (she looks pale and sickly) to throw his weight around and offers to personally accompany the family into the city. Before he departs, he respectfully addresses both General Cheng and his wife directly and instructs them on the best route home as if to suggest that he knows practically everything about them.
In this entire sequence (and every other) Ling Zisheng shows himself to be a confident, take-charge kind of guy. His confidence is born out of accomplishment even if he has plenty of political clout behind him. When he speaks, people are obligated to listen and even obey. It’s also telling that when A’Yao makes the observation afterwards that it’s no wonder the young women of their city go gaga over him and instead of responding directly to the comment, Niaoniao quickly tells him to rush home to inform his elders about their wedding plans lest her parents change their minds… and hers.
Zisheng is the only person that makes her feel her place. He is clearly an intimidating figure. She can’t outthink him, outtalk and outwit him. Very few people can or dare to. It’s one of the reasons why I think he’s better fit for her. More important than loving one’s husband, a woman must respect him. It’s a fact of life and one that can be seen all throughout the drama too.
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