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Love Like the Galaxy (2022) Episodes 35-36 Ramblings
Jealousy is a curious emotion. Shakespeare once had a character describe it as “the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on”. Under fertile conditions, it is a common enough human emotion that can easily get out of control and destroy everything in it wake including its stricken host. In the Bible, a jealous Cain kills his brother Abel, an event with the notorious distinction of being the first recorded murder. Furthermore history is replete with examples of jealousy reshaping the socio-political landscape. The power of jealousy as a force for evil to wreak havoc should never be in doubt. It makes rogues and villains out of weak corrupted minds.
Jealousy is what animates the Fifth Princess to act against Niaoniao in these most recent episodes. It is telling that the snobbish princess deigns to take this much interest in someone supposedly beneath her. It is almost as if “who-cares-if-she-dies” Cheng Shaoshang actually matters to the point where she feels the need to take action — an actual threat that needs to be defused. Soon it’s a case of “oops” “bump” and “who goes there” which sends Niaoniao unceremoniously downwards into a pond in the vicinity of Changqiu Palace. The spoilt princess doesn’t get her hands dirty. Of course not. Why bother when a nameless minion at her behest can carry out orders while she washes her hands of the matter. After all, accidents happen in the palace all the time. Even accidental deaths involving snakes. Who can say what really happened if the dead tell no tales?
Jealousy causes Yuan Shanjian, who is secretly and helplessly in love with Niaoniao, to denigrate her engagement with the young general under the cover of waxing philosophical. She is quick to pick up on his annoyance despite the veneer of moral elitism which she shrewdly attributes to jealousy. In response to his acerbic remarks she helpfully offers to introduce him to some nice girl on the guest list and chafes him for being inordinately slothful in the matrimonial game. His pronounced indignance is a cause for suspicion and leaves Niaoniao bewildered by the over-the-top hostility that marks most of their interactions. There’s an old saying that seems appropriate here: If you snooze, you lose.
Jealousy leads court lady Luo Jitong, who once was given to believe that marrying the General Ling was on the cards, to see herself as the unlucky victim of Heaven’s cruel whims. She might well be right that fate isn’t on her side but then there are these inconvenient things called facts — Cheng Shaoshang is unequivocally General Ling’s only choice of a spouse. Regardless of what she might have been led to think, the young general’s perspective on matrimony was infamously conspicuous for its disdain of highborn women and lack of urgency to mate for life.
First come isn’t always first served.
Jealousy in all its unsightly manifestations have this at their core. It preys on the mind and clouds judgment. It is a sin that stokes the pride of the sinner. Entitlement creeps in and overwhelms the anxious mind. The object of desire that might have been within reach has been cruelly snatched out of their hands. Loss and regret turns to anger. For Yuan Shanjian it results in a largely harmless adolescent display of playground tactics. For the Fifth Princess on the other hand, who thinks she’s above “ordinary” moral restraints, she’s determined to do serious damage.
It is not without irony that Niaoniao (and by extension Ling Zisheng) should arouse so much jealousy when things are looking up for her because for the longest time she fervently believed that she was followed by misfortune every where she went. Hilariously it’s now Luo Jitong’s turn to sing from the same tune for her missed opportunities with Zisheng and to personally witness Niaoniao steadily gain the empress’ affections before her very eyes with her wit and warmth. There’s no verbal acknowledgment that Niaoniao’s recent gains are about what she brings to the table — that despite her lack of education, she’s got something to offer the people who hold her dear.
It is easier for the self-indulgent Fifth Princess to believe that Niaoniao as a barrier to Mother’s favour than to conceive that she is her own worst enemy. She’s foolish, incompetent, materialistic and has an over inflated view of her abilities. It’s a lethal combination that sees her acting in foolhardy fashion. Her embarrassing stint at Ruyang’s Got Talent shows her up as the ridiculous pompous creature that she is. As a member of the mean girls cult, she’s in all likelihood destined for a trip to the sin bin. As someone reliant on her status as her only accomplishment, it is the only justification she needs to remove undesirable obstacles in her path. Being reprimanded by Mother and rejected as a candidate to manage the birthday banquet should have been an opportunity for self-reflection and self-improvement but she’s surrounded by paid sycophants whose only purpose is to inflame her ego and rubber stamp her ideas. Sadly there’s no room for circumspection at this point. Perhaps Niaoniao is merely a pebble in her shoe that needs removing. Whatever her reasons for resenting Niaoniao are, the only thing she does well is take her frustrations out on others.
Hence, living in the palace becomes a double-edged sword for Niaoniao. On the one hand for the first time in her life she enjoys the effusive expression of parental love from the father and mother of the nation who are quick to compliment her intelligence and diligence. The neglected child feels loved and repays the compliment with all of her energy and talents. True to her promise, she takes on the role of the dutiful fiancee with everything she’s got to the envy of the young general’s colleagues. Soon her accomplishments echo through the palace and the city where, if Zisheng is to be believed, they sing her praises as a woman of great virtue.
Now that she’s much less resentful of her lot in life, Niaoniao even has time to show a little kindness to exiting mean girl, Wang Ling whose family has been reduced to a hollow shell of what it was due to Mother’s indiscretions. One gets the sense that Wang Ling is the product of irresponsible parenting and without the influence of Mother Dearest, she would have been far less haughty and unruly. Mother, the Lady Wen Xiu, with all her pretensions to borrowed glory has finally fallen from grace. (To which we all say a hearty “Amen”) She has no one to blame but herself because she clung on to a desperate unrealistic hope that she would revive her family’s glorious past — an enterprise that requires backing and brains, neither of which were in bountiful supply. The chief and only conspirator was deluded in her belief that somehow anyone else apart from her cared enough for this hopeless cause.
On another front not everyone approves of Zisheng’s choice of a bride. To some it’s unfathomable that an upstart from a lowly military family should be allowed to turn the head of the young general and win the heart of the empress. The attribution of luck to her success is one kind of coping mechanism and the other seems to be the perception of brazenness. In the eyes of some, Cheng Shaoshang doesn’t know her place. Her personal qualities and abilities don’t come into it. By virtue of her status she should be disqualified. The role of her own achievements in earning royal favour seems irrelevant to some. Thankfully the emperor and empress in their manifold wisdom see the potential and Niaoniao’s allowed to flourish despite her own initial resistance doing so much heavy lifting. This has set the stage for a role reversal for Niaoniao who is now “the virtuous protege” of the surrogate mother empress while the Fifth Princess is seen as the wayward, ungovernable, reckless child of the despairing empress.
Despite restrictions and foes, the palace becomes a place where Niaoniao is able to thrive under the watchful eye of the empress, the emperor and Zisheng. It is a place where her passions for agriculture and mechanics can take flight. Rather than being restrictive and an imposition of her personal liberty as she once thought, being the future wife of Zisheng has opened up new avenues of knowledge to explore. Her hunger for learning is being satiated to the extent that it hasn’t before.
In the end Zisheng proves to everyone that his judgement is impeccable as always. It’s why I’ve been a fan from the first. He perceived that Cheng Shaoshang was the One very early on despite so-called disparity in status and her propensity to wade into trouble. He has always understood that she is destined for great things. Under the right conditions with the right kind of encouragement, Niaoniao is blossoming against expectations. Success does have its trade-offs. It too can attract the wrong kind of attention and undoubtedly there are those who would love to see Niaoniao fail. That is part of life in a fallen world. Does this mean Niaoniao shouldn’t bother because it’s safer? But honestly, apart from saying “yes” to the first guy that proposes marriage, does Niaoniao ever prioritize playing it safe?
Zisheng is well aware that Niaoniao has a tendency to live dangerously. That’s the unrestrained part that he likes apparently. For some (Yuanyi, for instance) this might signal troubles ahead but he has a knack of channelling all that frustrated energy to towards a higher good. Even when she thinks that he’s blackmailing her to steal the Shu map from the Wan household, the acquisition of the map itself has ramifications beyond her own need for revenge. He doesn’t stop her from getting justice for herself but he piggybacks on it to protect the Wans and serve the country. That too is the case in the more recent “tiger seals” incident. He knows precisely what she would do and what the Marquise Yue would do so he acts accordingly to ensure that the crown prince would be safe from the machinations of his detractors.
It is true that Zisheng never really thought he would end up marrying because of his revenge scheme. Moreover he was indifferent to the attentions of attractive young women all around him. When the “right” woman finally came along he was always eager to protect her even when she was ready to marry another. However, when his chance to marry her came he grabbed it with both arms wide open coupled with the unmitigated blessing of the man on the throne. Whether she knew it or not, this was something she needed — a man who can help her live the way she really wants according to what she said in the gingko grove: to explore new methods of agriculture, build useful machines and come up with new designs. In that cultural context, that would never happen without patronage from the highest in the land. Furthermore they are not characteristics of an ordinary life and certainly not one of safety. A fact that he knows better than her. Still nothing in life comes easy especially when you’re trespassing on the complacent status quo.
When I see the mischievous bedroom antics of the usually stoic Ling Buyi, I am astounded that the lad that played Fei Liu in Nirvana in Fire is now a mature young man who flirts shamelessly with his fiancee in such an intimate setting. I don’t even remember Ashile Sun of The Long Ballad attempting anything on this scale. Wu Lei has certainly left the role of Fei Liu behind forever with these moments in the show. Ling Buyi who is usually on top of everything finds himself in a position only a man who has gone through the ceremonial rites of marriage should be in. He has Niaoniao lying in a vulnerable position and yet he refers to his 命门 ming men, his gate of vitality, (as it is known in traditional Chinese medicine) the area thought to be between the kidneys, as hers to command. The significance of that also comes from the fact that ming men is bound to libido and reproduction. The region ignites, it is believed, the maturing of sexual energy and fertility. With that gesture he is assuring her that he won’t take advantage of her and that he is completely at her disposal. As proof of his unerring devotion, he allows himself to be the opening act in the empress’ birthday bash, something that even the emperor can’t get him to do.
There’s palpable progress between the leads as they openly show their affection over drinks to the envy of others who have skin in the game. The camera shifts in turn to show the reactions of allies and rivals alike to showcase multiple perspectives on their developing romance which is going from strength to strength. It’s an entirely public affair which cannot escape public scrutiny considering the two people involved and their relationship with the royals. General Ling who doesn’t usually front up to these sorts of occasions, much less get co-opted for a song and dance, shows how much he’s enamoured with the young Lady Cheng. The young Lady Cheng on her part is gradually and visibly falling for her deeply committed fiance. Under the shelter of de facto parents — the emperor, empress and Consort Yue — the pair’s shaky bid for matrimony are given wings. It’s really the case that without them, this relationship might never have taken off because of all the obstacles that were in the way that had to be removed one at a time. Having royal sanction not only gave them a fighting chance but a chance to fight back for that rare bit of happiness that’s eluded them thus far.