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Miss Truth (2020) Episodes 33-36
It must finally dawn on Xiao Song after all the push and pull, that despite the dangers that come from RY associating with him, she is still much better off where he can see her. (That's borne out in these final episodes) Even if he thinks that she's in love with another man or even if he values her freedom, it is impossible for him to stop worrying about her safety if she's out of sight. If he ever believed that her being out of his sight would mean her being out of his mind, he is well and truly disabused of it after she falls prey to those who have orchestrated Consort Yang's assassination. As he drags her off to the Xiao manor, she protests that she's already home at her cousin's place. In the voice over he insists that being right next to him is where home really is for her. There she returns to her tiny hovel, a chest containing newly purchased cloths that doubles as her fox's lair. ;)
It's a significant shift in their dynamic that even while she half-heartedly conducts a protest, she is pleased to be by his side at least. Because he frames the episode as a means of keeping her out of trouble, she has no expectations of him beyond his need to control her movements. At this point both seem to believe that love is out of reach for them even though they may be satisfied in the interim with being close together. Perhaps XS took his father's words to heart (in Episode 31) that perfect conditions in a relationship don't exist. Even if she doesn't love him wholeheartedly, it is enough that he wants to protect and love her.
To me it's always a lot more fun when the male lead falls for the female lead first because he does a lot of running around, moving heaven and earth to be with her... even bordering on stalkery behaviour which could be a tad creepy. But I'm an old-fashioned type and I think there's something a lot more natural when the man does the wooing. If for nothing else but demonstrate his absolute commitment to having a relationship with the object of his desire.
There's never been any doubt about XS' commitment to his beloved Fox. Even while she believed she was in love with The Other Guy, he was steadfast. He respected her need to be free... to choose but he was always looking out for her and protecting her. On hindsight, it was obvious that he would emerge victorious... to put it crudely. Of course he always wanted her. But as he stressed it again and again what he wanted was her heart because he knows that it is the rudder that determines where the ship ends up.
It's unnecessary perhaps to contrast XS and Su Fu very much especially in the home straight because SF was always really just a puppet for his masters even when he wasn't on the drugs. It was never possible for him to end up with RY. It was purely a pipe dream on his part and he pulled the wool over her eyes for a short time. Obviously there's no denying he liked her but he was deluding himself that a man who led the kind of life he did could ever experience any kind of normality. He was always firmly positioned in the antagonist camp and when he attempted some kind of shift, he put RY in jeopardy and became a permanent slave to his masters' bidding.
The genius of the love triangle is how it was integrated into the Bad Guy plot. It was in the interest of the villains to encourage it, to use it for their own end. Not just as a mechanism to effectively control SF as is revealed later but to weaponize it against the leads who would do anything for each other including risking life and limb.
Looking back it made sense for vested interests to highlight XS' finer moments that were hidden from RY... the myriad of things he did for her behind the scenes that weren't known to her at the time. I believe XS deliberately kept his good-doing in the dark because he didn't want her to feel obligated to him as she was wont to say. He desperately wanted them to move beyond their earlier quid pro quo dynamic because it became unsatisfying for a man who felt more. Earlier on he kept his distance because he genuinely believed for a time that she would be safer if his enemies were going so far as to use her as a way of getting information or the Marquis of Sui's pearl. If they severed all connection, then there was no bridge to cross over to gain access to XS' secrets especially if SF was still a part of the equation. Despite temporarily separating, she was still subject to the machinations of others because the reality is... the horse has already bolted. Everyone was well aware that those two had some kind of permanent bond between them that transcended the emperor's divorce decree.
What the villains did was to give RY hope and a reason to act on her feelings for XS. It was a double-edged sword. A high risk tactic. It's true that people in love can do predictable foolish things for love's sake but they can also behave unpredictably in undetermined ways as well. Moreover Very Smart People in love are another kettle of fish entirely. ;) All's fair in love and war, as they say but be prepared for some serious blowback if that kind of strategy gets deployed on people who don't always operate like ordinary people. The bad guys are smart... the plotting is very elaborate and their tentacles are seemingly ubiquitous but thankfully the good guys are highly adaptable especially when they present a united front.
In this final phase of the Bad Guy plot, it becomes clear that all activity is directed at taking Xiao Song down. With XS around, the emperor, who is the ultimate target, is almost untouchable. The villains know that the country's premiere crime solver is almost invincible except for his Achilles heel, Ran Yan. He would do anything for her including marrying the nauseating younger half sister, Ran Mei Yu who is actually inane enough to believe that she's being backed by the mastermind to make all her dreams come true and get away with it. It shouldn't come as a huge surprise as she has a track record for this sort of stupidity. Although I don't care for the character much but her banter with XS in the latter part of Episode 33 was very well done. The rich irony that accompanied the underlying revulsion from him and the confidence glee from her was beautifully portrayed by both actors.
At the start of the drama we know that XS has a reputation for solving mysteries so he is tasked to find a legendary pearl that is supposed to lead to some great treasure left behind by the previous Sui dynasty that could be used to build an army. With XS on the job, the conspirators have been hampered from reaching their goals at every point. Yes, they have their spies but XS manages repeatedly to get to the bottom of things and root them out. Unfortunately for him, his primary adversary, Su Fu first notes early on that XS has a soft spot for RY and uses that to get him to unwittingly reveal information. But of course XS seldom lets his guard down, easily using the enemy's stratagems against him for his purpose. While using RY as a conduit to XS, SF soon falls for her which ironically compromises his own effectiveness as a spy for his side. Consequently he undergoes an existential internal tug-of-war, which his handlers uses to their advantage by forcing him to imbibe a mind-control "puppet" drug.
Love is really at the heart of all of the resolution which explains the continuing push and pull. True they are first exploited by others but as always they adapt and manage to outwit the baddies at their own game. However, if it weren't for their willingness to openly sacrifice themselves for one another, or their ability to finally understand each other's intentions it would only remain on the level of emotions.
Once she finally understands the motives behind XS' angry bluster, RY quickly makes up for lost time. She throws herself into the fray with characteristic boldness and takes his side unequivocally. Once she's in, she's all in. No longer is she just his partner-in-crime but his wife and lover.
Even the emperor understood the potential dangers inherent in this dynamic. On his own, Xiao Song is a formidable individual but coupled with Ran Yan, they are an unstoppable force of nature. Especially when he witnessed first hand what XS was willing to do for her... break laws at will and go against royal decrees. ;) So he forcibly separates them again only for us to see XS take matters into his own hands yet again at the end. I suppose we're meant to understand that what they have is something that transcends the norm that no convention, no human agency can hold back. :D
On top of all that, it was the love triangle that saved the day. For a moment SF broke free of his mind control and found his bit of redemption by sacrificing himself for the woman he loved in spectacular fashion. Oddly enough (or may be not), I don't grieve for him. He is a tragic character in a quintessential Bradleyan sense. He is the sum of his choices and is ultimately the architect of his own undoing. There's no denying though that he protects RY where possible but his trajectory ultimately diverges from hers. I always think that if he had just let go of her after she had married XS, he would have seen a different ending. Character is destiny.
It was also pleasing that the show paid tribute to XS' relationship with Bai Yi, his doggedly loyal 2IC. This is someone who knew the real XS even when RY didn't. Someone who has always cared about his master's good reputation and welfare, and would have defended it to his dying breath. As I always thought... and it was confirmed here... that they were more like brothers than master and servant. I've always enjoyed his adversarial relationship with RY, his feet planted firmly in his master's corner.
Revelations about the mastermind in the finale was shocking to say the least. It brought home more clearly as to how ugly and wicked the entire scheme was. The lengths that the individuals were willing to go to get what they want even sacrificing subordinates and relatives to their own ends was horrifying in its magnitude. Tyrants come and tyrants go but nothing is more frightening than someone who thinks that they are above the law... everything and anything is possible as long as they can reach their goals.