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Love Like the Galaxy (2022) Episodes 29-30 Ramblings
Ling Zisheng is an all or nothing kind of guy and it shouldn’t come as any startling revelation that he expects the same of his future bride. Niaoniao is committed to the cause now that she’s made up her mind to go through with the marriage but she’s strenuously (and obstinately) resisting his offers of protection as if to say that she can handle everything on her own as an inexperienced apprentice traipsing into a den of lions. In unfamiliar territory wit and courage can only take one so far. It’s certainly a much bigger pond than what she’s been accustomed to and there seems to be conspiracies in the offing. Furthermore, the palace is the country’s symbol of sovereign power inhabited by a hierarchy of players with varied and complex motivations. As one who is no stranger to palace politics he cautions her against taking people at face value and taking sides.
When she stands up for the empress against the domineering Madam Wen Xiu in a confrontation awash with sound and fury, Zisheng takes the opportunity to offer an insight in its aftermath. Why would Niaoniao think that she needs to defend and speak on behalf of the empress, the mistress of the Changqiu Palace. Her status is highest than hers. In her response Niaoniao appeals to her own sense of justice. Besides the empress is kindness itself. Regardless of status or the strength of a person’s personality — bullying is bullying and no just person should hold back in such a scenario. Well, that happens to be Zisheng’s point exactly. Why wouldn’t she accept his protection then? Why does she view it negatively as condescension and control? What self-respecting man who loves a woman would watch his beloved get hurt and do nothing? It’s not a sign of disrespect to aid her in her time of need. On the contrary. To accept his offer of marriage is to accept both his love and… his protection. It’s par for the course. And he can do no less.
Of course some of her thinking is the result of Niaoniao’s own history with her mother. Rewatching Episode 6 reminded me that Niaoniao was pretty much manoeuvred into an attitude of self-protection by her mother’s inadequacies as her guardian and mentor. Let’s just call a spade a spade: Mum handled the writing table incident with all the dexterity of an elephant. Everyone was in unequivocal agreement over that. Instead of giving Niaoniao that little bit of justice she was asking for, she wanted to punish the servants quietly for causing a divisive ruckus. On that occasion, by her actions Yuanyi caused Niaoniao to conclude that she would have to stand up for herself because the most important attachment in her life was incapable of doing even that much for her in public. In fact the whole issue of lifelong neglect is what leads to Niaoniao to be fiercely protective of her independence. She can’t rely anyone to barrack for her because she’s only known strict control, and deprivation in place of heartfelt maternal love.
This is why Zisheng feels moved to throw down the gauntlet by testing her resolve. He knows precisely what kind of woman he’s marrying (and loves her for it) but does Niaoniao, on the other hand, know what kind of a man she’s marrying? Loving someone is seldom straightforward and it costs something from both parties. It might mean swallowing one’s pride now and again. She can’t expect him to accept her as she is (warts and all) if she doesn’t respect him for who he is and especially what he wants to do for her. If for instance, she’s adamant about making her stance known in the face of opposition, she will have to accept his protection and understand his pride as a husband and a man. He cannot and will not watch other people walk over her as a matter of principle. This is deeply rooted at the core of who he is. If she wants to walk the road that he walks, she must grapple with this sooner rather than later.
The process of accommodation begins when two people talk at this level… and talk they must. Zisheng wants Niaoniao to feel free to be vulnerable in front of him. She doesn’t have to act tough all the time and certainly not in front of him. He is not the enemy and he wants to help — not to curb her freedom but so that she can be more at liberty to be who she is in a place like the palace. Realistically who is she trying to fool with her tough girl act anyway — he’s already seen at her most vulnerable.
This is all the more important for Niaoniao to realise when we find out that Zisheng was clearly made to feel his place as the outsider in his early days in the palace. He wants to protect her not because he’s a princely figure who imposes his will on his subject but because he knows exactly what it’s like for an outsider to “trespass” the sanctity of the palace walls. The crown prince’s consort, Chu informs her that Zisheng has always been a man of the common people in fact and when he first entered the palace he was treated worse than she was — a fact confirmed by the sharp-tongued Third Prince who is a chip off the old Mother block.
The royal family is a family like no other but in its essentials, it is a family that are plagued with the same sorts of dysfunctions. The first generation put in the hard yards, made sacrifices and brought peace to the land but the offspring who have had it easier are a very mixed bag of kind, petulant, sensible and idiotic. If there were ever an argument against polygamy, the royal harem would provide more than ample ammunition. This harem, however, is not the worse I’ve seen and is relatively small by historical standards. The empress and Consort Yue are not at each other’s throats and coexist harmoniously. The children on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish. Then there are also those who are at the periphery of the royal family — cousins, aunts and all manner of distant relatives who are far too eager to name drop as a none-too-gentle reminder that they are owed a lifetime of His Majesty’s favour. These people operate on an unwritten ledger that they’re eager to trot our at their convenience. Madam Wen Xiu is particularly laughable because she has nothing to show for as a bargaining chip except to trade on the borrowed currency of a deceased relative’s achievements.
This entitled attitude is bewildering on all levels. When one absurdly pampered creature after another try to prosecute arguments that they are owed favours by virtue of their connections to the emperor, it serves as a stark contrast to the military types who have actually put their lives on the line for the country. It is as Niaoniao points out to the rather dimwitted Madam Wen Xiu. Whatever accolades Zisheng has enjoyed has been earned from his exploits on the battlefield. Wen Xiu’s late father may have sacrificed greatly for the stability of the state but she, her husband, daughter (Wang Ling) and even brother who aren’t particularly outstanding, live fairly comfortable lives at His Majesty’s grace. Instead of being grateful, mother and daughter throw their weight around as if they matter. Consort Ruyang whose granddaughter has been consistently infatuated with Zisheng gatecrashes General Huo’s memorial day with all the tact of a bull in a china shop to give Zisheng a piece of her mind about rejecting Yuchang for Shaoshang. She among others tattle endlessly about etiquette and regulations but have no common courtesy for those who are genuinely grieving for a loved one since passed. Not only are they ripe for ridicule but are paraded as unqualified role models for their charges.
There are all kinds of maternal figures in this show and indeed the show has plenty to say about parenting from the bottom to the top since the first day. It’s nature vs nurture in contest and it seems here that nurture overrides anything that nature brings to the table. The over-indulged children become self-indulgent adults whose moral compass are shaky at best. They grow up believing that life owes them. Moreover they deserve everything that is good by right of birth. Privilege untampered by a sense of responsibility is a dangerous thing.
Consort Yue’s tirade is undoubtedly calculated to remind everyone of their place in the machinery and to offer the future bride and groom safe passage into the bowels of royal family politics. She’s an equal opportunity disciplinarian that is not above dropping searing home truths about misbehaving family members regardless of age. Her tribute to General Huo, Zisheng’s maternal uncle, shifts the emphasis of impending nuptials back from Consort Ruyang’s personal grievances to what really matters — who Zisheng wants so he can do his duty to his ancestors. Yuchang is irrelevant. The poor lad has suffered enough from the loss of his uncle, the adultery of his father and carries the weight of his maternal clan on his shoulders. He certainly doesn’t need a nagging hypocritical elder, who has mollycoddled her granddaughter to the point of stupidity, beating him over the head with “etiquette” legalism with the goal of shaming his newly acquired fiancee. As Consort Ruyang tries to bully Zisheng and Niaoniao into submission, Consort Yue who knows the family history has little compunction about embarrassing the older woman into silence. Zisheng, like the emperor was once despised by the aristocratic heavyweights until he achieved a decent set of achievements under his belt. In Consort Yue’s chastisements, Zisheng is reminded too that he owes no one in the room anything least of all a cosseted commandery princess.
It’s clear that despite her tendency to play it lowkey Consort Yue is a powerful figure in the royal family and is a hidden weapon that the emperor lets loose when the occasion requires. She’s the woman he’s loved since childhood and yet she’s willing to take a backseat to the empress. This is a formidable woman by any metric and one that shouldn’t be crossed. Her razor sharp tongue and mind are plain to see. She’s secure in the emperor’s affections and takes the long view. Moreover she is only too aware that the gains made to establish prosperity enjoyed by all came at a high price. Clearly her no-nonsense attitude is a breath of fresh air to the entitled affectations that pervades the palace walls.