If there were any doubts left as to who is the Boss in this show, I think these recent episodes would have removed them entirely.
Even if Xiao Song seemed to be on the outer on this occasion due to his estrangement from Ran Yan, his presence was both missed and felt. While the others did well on their own and were able to come up with some of the goods rather quickly, it became clear that XS was sorely needed to tie up loose ends and wrap things up. All the circumstantial evidence easily pointed to one individual but no one could speak to the motive. Enter XS to save the day and he finds method to the perpetrator's madness.
The show also drew a deliberate contrast between how the head of Da Li Si does things and how XS does things regarding criminal investigations. Indeed Lord Sun has his own agenda but he is also an arrogant man who has an image to protect. XS is consistently meticulous and gets right down to the bottom of things. He cares deeply about the truth. For him justice is really the endgame. It isn't just about dealing with political fallout or personally proving his credibility. Clearly he doesn't need to prove anything because he already has an established reputation for solving crimes.
Of course XS doesn't stay out of it completely throughout. On the surface he seems indifferent and even actively hostile towards RY but he's poking around behind the scenes and lending a hand discreetly where possible. It also gives him a good excuse to investigate those who show a keen interest in the Marquis of Sui's pearl while they're busy chasing a serial murderer linked to a woman who likes dragonflies. It is noteworthy to add that XS is a world class detective because he takes every piece of evidence seriously.
More than being a reputed criminologist, XS demonstrates excellent leadership skills. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to appreciate talent and use people well. Only he would even consider managing this motley crew that he has unofficially cobbled together. Take the case of Sang Chen who is a veritable scaredy cat. A very gifted scaredy cat nonetheless. Most people would quickly find him trying but XS was able to see past all that and employ him to tasks eminently suited to his abilities. Of course it doesn't escape his notice that he is also crushing on Ran Yan but XS can put that aside for the big picture. Speaking of the big picture, he also knows how to work with Su Fu when he has to even with all the mistrust and baggage that exists between them.
If there's a scene that encapsulates the kind of man XS is and what he's all about it would have to be the final showdown between the erotomaniac serial killer and our sleuths (Episode 31). When the culprit who is holding Ran Yan hostage, realises that he's been tricked, he attempts to retaliate by whipping out a dagger. XS's first instinct is to lurch forward and grab the offending dagger with his bare hands to prevent it being used on RY. It seems to me that his default mode is to protect RY disregarding even his own safety. A trait that he has shown repeatedly throughout the drama. He releases her from her bonds and his first comment to her is "Are you alright?" in a gentle tone of voice he reserves only for her. Despite putting on a good show of being thoroughly angry and wanting to keep his distance from her, at the end of the day, his love for her perpetually trumps disappointment and suspicion. He can't help himself.
Xiao Song is a larger than life creature who is big on the truth and loves greatly. It must be hard on him to have to reconcile these apparently contradictory positions. I don't think they're especially contradictory categorically but for him having to deal with his repeated disappointments with RY, it must appear to be. It is ironic that for a man who can see through criminal motives and seemingly read the minds of men at a pinch, the woman he loves is a perpetual puzzle to him. The fault doesn't lie with him but the nature of their ever evolving relationship which is fraught with complexities made more difficult by her history with her former betrothed who is a persistent presence. Who wants to be a continual sap for a woman who has her eye directed elsewhere? It must be a blow to an intelligent man that despite all his best efforts and correct assessments of RY's change of heart, he can never be certain of her loyalty.
To his credit he doesn't actively act against SF because he is a perceived rival for RY's affections. XS is much better and far more intelligent than that. I don't even think that XS really tries to win her heart in the traditional sense. He does what he does for her because of who he is... of the good he wants for her. All of it comes from that place of love he has for her. I wouldn't say that he does things for her necessarily to turn her heart towards him. It is true though that he wants her heart unequivocally. And what self-respecting man wouldn't?
I doubt that he's willing to share especially with a man who's background and activities are highly suspect to begin with.
In defence of RY, I think underneath all that bravado she is a good sort of girl. She's a softie for a hard luck story despite the arrogance and posturing. She wants to help everybody and insists on not taking sides. Some of that comes from being a physician of sorts. I can understand the impulse on some level because there are bigger political forces at work that she's quite unaware of. On top of that she is in the middle of a tug-of-war between two men who happen to be in rival camps. Despite her natural intelligence, she doesn't have all the tools to navigate this tumultuous triangular relationship with clarity. Her inability to draw the line in the sand could also possibly be attributed to the fact that she does genuinely feel sorry for SF.
Moreover, she doesn't completely understand XS and how he operates. I'm always struck by how well everyone can see through his actions and see the obvious signs of blossoming romance at play but for one reason or another she is fraught with uncertainty. Is it really a case of once bitten, twice shy? I appreciate her cousin, Ran Yunsheng, for standing in XS' corner and cheering him on the sidelines. He is a much needed sounding board. My conclusion is that her world so far has been small, very black and white, believing that what one sees is always what the truth is.
It's not the first time that I'm surprised and a little impressed about how broadminded XS' family is about his relationship with her. An obvious contrast with her own upbringing. Despite everything and even though they don't entirely approve of her, they really care about what he likes or wants. Perhaps this broadmindedness translates into his own meritocratic attitude towards her and her abilities. I was thinking when XS was in conversation with his father and stepmother at different times about how much they respect his choices and want to encourage him in them because they actually respect him. It's harder to be sure about the uncle's wife because she has her own agenda but she does seem to be genuinely fond of him. Dad at least seems wise enough to grasp what it is that Song'er sees in this arrogant upstart that goes against conventional proprietary for a family of their status.
Su Fu has never been for me an obviously bad guy. I wouldn't even consider him an antihero because he is so obviously developed as a foil for the leads. He has his difficulties and yet he has made certain choices which means his trajectory ends up being at odds with RY's. I don't doubt that for him RY is a ray of sunshine in his very bleak existence. Is it just the drugs talking because I'm not clear on why he changed his mind about letting her go. Now he's becoming increasingly possessive and dangerously so.