Love Like the Galaxy (2022) Episodes 17-18 Ramblings
The most painful aspect of two otherwise amusing episodes is that Ling Zisheng knows exactly what he wants but the woman he loves, Cheng Shaoshang is much less certain. There is something inherent about selflessness that is excruciating to watch. I know I’m supposed to be moved by these grand gestures displayed by the man who loves much and yet there’s a pervasive sense of frustration accompanying this knowledge. Zisheng’s generosity towards the would-be-couple before he leaves to suppress an insurrection is shown to be extraordinary… out-of-this-world in fact. In other words… it is as large as the galaxy. He uses his clout with the emperor to protect Niaoniao before he departs. All of this positions him in stark contrast to the doe-eyed, uninspiring Lou Yao who is incapable even of standing up to his domineering relatives.
But never mind, once he marries Shaoshang, she will take care of things on his behalf. Or so she claims. She’s proven that she can handle the bossy first chamber First Aunt just fine. It doesn’t much matter that Lou Yao is fairly useless against his relatives since his new wife is quite capable of taking care of herself and him. Niaoniao, declares — with all the bravado she can muster — who says a man has to be the one to protect his family? She’ll be the one to protect them. Except that she needs protecting too. Her mother inevitably has to step in here and there. Therefore Zisheng’s selflessness feels counterproductive almost because it means he’s doing the heavy lifting for another man and the woman in the middle of it doesn’t have to deal with the real fallout of her choices.
The writing is absolutely savage with regards to Lou Yao. There’s more than one instance of humour at his expense. One very memorable laugh out loud moments sees Wan Qiqi conclude that Lou Yao is nothing more than a glorified maidservant that’s constantly at Niaoniao’s beck and call. The not-too-subtle suggestion here is that he has become little more than A’Miao’s substitute. On another occasion when Niaoniao finds out that Yuan Shen is being officially hired as the family’s new tutor, she tries to find an alternative ploy even offering up Lou Yao as a possible teaching candidate. A’Yao, ever humble about his mediocrity doesn’t miss a beat and insists that he too needs to learn from an intellect like Yuan Shen, completely misunderstanding the pleading undertones from his fiancee to get her out of this predicament. All of this is made more entertaining because Yu Cheng’en aptly wears a perpetually puzzled-frown look on his face everywhere he goes. Clearly he’s a cute manchild that’s written to be mercilessly mocked.
There are distinct disadvantages about pairing up with a naive suitor who cannot read the room he’s in or pick up quickly on non-verbal cues. In the end he assumes that everyone is as guileless and trustworthy as he is. He’s certainly not as easy to control as Niaoniao thinks not because of his impressive cognitive ability but on the contrary, it’s his guilelessness that’s at play. A man this innocent is troubling. In short, A’Yao is a stop-gap measure not a long-term prospect in the matrimonial stakes. The line from The Importance of Being Earnest “I have always been of the opinion that a man who desires to get married should know everything or nothing” seems rather fitting in this context.
More hilarious still is the emperor going on a fatherly tirade about the scoundrel Prince Xiao enticing the fair He Zhaojun leading her to break off her engagement with Lou Yao which then led to the young master Lou forming an understanding with Cheng Shaosheng, leaving Zisheng up the creek without a woman to marry. It apparently doesn’t matter as much that Prince Xiao is plotting treason as the fact that he’s ultimately responsible for Zisheng missing out on marrying someone he likes.
It’s moments like this that makes this show an absolute treasure.
All the loving attention of the writer certainly has been poured into Ling Zisheng who isn’t just the great love of Niaoniao’s young life, but has got to be the busiest person in the entire city. I am also reminded of Lady Bracknell’s line that “A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is.” For Zisheng though, busyness is an art form in ubiquity. He is certainly making up hammer and tongs for the idle rich in his neighbourhood. Not only is he out and about catching conspirators, he also manages to eke out time to protect his lady love. It is calculated to tug at the heart strings that the fate of king and country lies on his capable shoulders alone when vast swathes of other aristocratic lads sleep soundly in their beds whose primary concerns are how to fill up their day. It seems unfair too that unlike A’Yao, Zisheng can’t wait hand and foot on Niaoniao because there’s the business of state to attend to. The immature Niaoniao thinks marriage is about spouses lovingly spending all their time together like her Third Uncle and his wife which everybody knows is the exception rather than the rule. Also she conveniently sidesteps the fact that Shunhua waited seven years for her first fiance to return and had suffered plenty in the meantime before getting what looks to be her happily-ever-after.
Ling Zisheng is an extraordinary young man who deserves an extraordinary young woman at his side. He is a man with lofty notions and the pool of possible candidates is small and shallow. But what to do when the woman he loves is not ready to be a wife of a dedicated general? Presently she’s willing to settle for the mundane and the ordinary while living with doubts about the wisdom of her choices. She’s committed to A’Yao not because she adores him or even because he’s quick with compliments but because it’s her choice. She can’t allow herself to be wrong in this instance especially something on this scale. In part because it would mean that her mother is right about her wilful character. In part also because Niaoniao also genuinely believes that she can’t do better for herself. She knows deep down that A’Yao is no great catch (its undeniably objectively true) but at least he has spoken and treats her well. It’s low hanging fruit but it’s still a fruit to a girl who hasn’t had the taste of many. It’s also flattering for some girls to have this kind of undivided attention of a man especially in the glow of early courtship. Moreover A’Yao is a rather pitiful figure in her eyes and he needs all the help he can get. Like most of us, she has a thing about barracking for the underdog especially because she is one herself.
Niaoniao is gambling with her future rather unnecessarily but she seems committed to the bitter end as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. Part of the problem is that she jumped with both feet at the first opportunity and now she feels obligated to dig her heels in. It’s not entirely true that A’Yao is the only one that’s spoken either. He’s certainly spoken loudly and clearly but the language of love comes in different forms as the adults in the room well know. Mother and father knows it. It’s a joy to watch Yuanyi try and encourage the young general to act before it’s too late but the young general is an officer and a gentleman who respects the wishes of the object of his affections. As long as she’s happy, he can live with the consequences of not having her at his side.
Cheng Shaoshang’s world which already has had a taste of real misery needs to go beyond the familiarity of petty cat fights. There are rumblings and more rumblings of war. Although I think the emperor is a hoot, I can’t say I’m surprised that there are plots afoot to overthrow the incumbent. He’s far too sentimental to be a respectable leader.