Love Like the Galaxy (2022) Episodes 21-22 Ramblings
While watching the events unfolding in Episodes 21, my mind went to a line from the immensely quotable Casablanca:
“I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
It seems appropriate and it sums up in some fashion the dissolution of the betrothal between Cheng Shaoshang and Lou Yao. Two young people who thought that things were finally going their way find the rug pulled from under them even before the wedding date is set. On hindsight it’s a test and a pivotal moment for the duo as they learn the art of navigating an unpredictable even hostile world with their dignity more or less intact. It’s one of those moments where the show is somewhat grounded in historical consistency. Marriage is seldom about personal happiness but the coming together of two families for a larger concern overseen by the purportedly older and wiser adults. To the modern sensibility this seems like a harsh sacrifice of personal happiness to no good end but it really isn’t a net negative for the hapless Lou Yao. He may not be in love with He Zhaojun but he gets to call the shots regarding her family’s resources as her husband. If he plays his cards right, he may even learn to like her over time. Furthermore, his marriage to He Zhaojun will in effect protect his branch of the family from the other more powerful meddlesome one, a nice consolation prize for having to live under the cloud of a multigenerational primogeniture.
At the very moment they both decide to break things off and go their separate ways for “the greater good”, they come of age so to speak. While I don’t think Niaoniao’s attachment to A’Yao was particularly about love, there has always been strong sympathy for him regarding his plight. His future seems bleak. However, it is she who initiates the break up after talking to a sombre Zisheng about what occurred at Feng Yi County where General He and most of his family perished to ensure that life goes on for the vast majority of the populace. A’Yao, as it happens, knew the general and his oldest sons well and the knowledge that his former mentors gave their lives for the good of others had the desired effect. As Niaoniao talks A’Yao through the advantages of what initially seemed like grim prospects, it feels like she is the older sister sending her younger brother off to war with last words. A’Yao on the other hand manages to sound like he is ready for the challenge of a lifetime — to be the husband of a woman he cares little for.
Marrying for love is a luxury that not many can afford.
Zisheng always seems to make an appearance during Niaoniao’s most needy moments. As noted in the previous post that he emerges at the right time to protect her from the full brunt of seeing Xiao’s execution. He takes her home in his carriage after giving He Zhaojun some untimely advice. She’s a pitiful figure undoubtedly. She needs this marriage with A’Yao and the weight of the entire future of the He clan is on her shoulders. But she can’t rely on the goodwill of others forever if she insists on living off resentment and victimhood.
It is true that He Zhaojun is living off the currency of her father’s achievements and her sense of entitlement is oddly out of place as she throws a temper tantrum in front of Niaoniao. However, she is grieving and the burden of what she has to bear is gradually sinking in. It isn’t as if any of this is her choice but she too has to grow-up and leave childhood behind forever. The childish games she once played to amuse herself have no place in her future. I can’t help thinking in light of Episodes 23 and 24 that she might well be a type and a prefiguring of what’s in store for other wealthy young ladies who whine and throw themselves to the ground when they don’t get their way. It is a terrifying thought that the only way some people will ever learn is when they lose everything in one fell swoop.
In the carriage, Zisheng tells Niaoniao that whatever decision she makes about the betrothal will be the right one because he believes that she will see it through to the end with all the determination she can rally and create her own happiness. His confidence in her sees her break down in front of him with raw vulnerability. She sobs piteously and laments at her own ill fate yet again. Her cry why it has to be her always is a moment brimming with irony with Zisheng in respectful distance. It causes one to wonder if such thoughts crossed his mind too. The thought that he finally found the woman he could love but time and time again, he’s missed the chance to approach her about the subject because duty called.
Happiness is not a state to be found in favourable circumstance because who knows what lies ahead. Circumstances are prone to change overnight and no one knows what lies ahead. Indeed individuals make their own happiness regardless. Niaoniao’s world is still relatively narrow and sheltered because it is clear that nobody not even the emperor can get the outcomes they want all of the time.
This is perhaps what Niaoniao means when she tells herself while exploring the pagoda that “I’ve only lost a husband. I’m still me.” It’s not the end of the world as long as there are new mysteries to explore and lessons to be learnt. Life can and must go on. The trip to the pagoda marks a new era — a door has closed but a window opens with Ling Zisheng on the other side.
Inside the pagoda at Mt Tugao, the inquisitive Niaoniao overhears a conversation that she shouldn’t have been privy to. Two voices conspiring to unseat the present crown prince startles her. She panics, drops her pendant and finds herself rescued once again by Ling Zisheng. In his almost inhuman effort to keep her hidden from the conspirators, an old injury flares up. This event subsequently gives him the excuse he needs to get up close and personal while further signalling to the emperor of his intentions towards the young Miss Cheng. Zisheng certainly needn’t have made a song and dance about rescuing Niaoniao by having it announced by the chief eunuch but in so doing it puts His Majesty who is ranting about the misbehaving youngsters in a much better mood.
The emperor’s indecision about whether to support Zisheng in his efforts to woo the fair Cheng Shaosheng is amusing to behold as usual and once again it highlights his deep and abiding affection for the young general. Like many parents his reaction is mixed. While he’s ecstatic that Zisheng is ready to enter the marriage stakes after endless nagging on his part, like all good parents he wonders deep down if this young woman is fit to be the wife of his precious godson. Nevertheless His Majesty is willing to go along and put on a nice bit of theatre for his beloved Zisheng who now has his eyes firmly fixed on the Fourth Lady Cheng as his future bride.
The third suitor Yuan Shen (style name: Shanjian) is going about the business of courting Niaoniao by tormenting her any which way he can. His installation as the family’s tutor gives him plenty of scope to observe and yank Niaoniao’s chain as this act of egotistical perversity is a whim he cannot resist. Part of that sees him regaling his unwilling pupils with his cynical take on the marriage institution with unholy glee. Like the pubescent boy in the classroom who pesters the female classmate that he’s infatuated with incessantly, this is Yuan Shen’s counterproductive modus operandi to have Niaoniao turn her attentions on him (“Look at me, look at me”). He is intrigued by her unconventional ways and yet is adamant on belittling her in Mother fashion. Yuan Shen is pretentiously outraged by her antics.
Speaking of Mother, Niaoniao’s parents are troubled. It is perplexing that they should be so concerned now that General Ling is now sending all kinds of messages that he’s interested in their daughter now that her engagement with A’Yao is no longer in play. It’s scarcely new information and yet perhaps it’s suddenly occurred to them that marrying into that far more prestigious family with ties to the throne is riddled with more complexity than is desirable for their wilful and clever daughter.