Princess Agents 楚乔传 Rants Mostly

(Left this in my in-box for a few months to stew over... thought that I should finally post it)

Princess Agents is without a doubt one of the biggest examples of wasted potential I've had the misfortune of witnessing, squandering all the currency that it had built up in the early episodes. My view as someone who came to it not knowing much about the original storyline is that it suffered from a case of trying to incorporate too much and losing focus. Whatever changes it had made from the novel made no impact on my final verdict as I had no knowledge of it to begin with.
While there was an egregious amount of untapped potential apparently left unshot or on the cutting room floor, there was also a lot to like about it. Certainly the series had an addictive quality which saw viewers coming back for more each week. A large part was undoubtedly the eagerness of fans wanting to see their favourite pairing coming together after patiently going through the upheaval and rigours of the neverending push-pull.

On a personal note, I stuck at it all the way to the end for the male lead Yuwen Yue because quite frankly I was just holding my nose watching what the show was doing to the female titular character Chu Qiao and its primary antagonist, Yan Xun towards the end. The relationship between these three individuals could have potentially been the most interesting aspect of the show but in the end it sank into a mire of ambiguous romantic complications.

Therein lay my biggest problem with the drama... the love triangle. Because it died a slow and painful death, the rest of the show limped along with it.

Confession time: In general love triangles are hit and miss with me. I have a ambivalent-hate relationship with them but I tolerate them because they are more or less a default Asian drama trope. In this drama, the love triangle had outlived its use-by date long before the last episode. In dragging things out, the show did a grave disservice to its titular character. It became increasingly obvious that the drama was determined to play out said love triangle to the bitter end regardless of what damage it did to the characters. A gutsy, supposedly independent female freedom fighter confines herself to her bedroom sulking and angsting over how much more she can take. A vengeful prince skulking around her room waiting for her to give approval to his blood lust by painting himself as the perpetual pathetic underdog. It's obvious Chu Qiao is miserable watching Yan Xun descend into the dark spiral but believes that she can somehow reverse his trajectory. So she has a bad case of hope triumphing over good sense despite having more than inkling that whatever little chats they had about freedom in Chang'an were conducted at cross purposes.

The problem I have with Chu Qiao at this point are many. But I will mention the most important one here. By tethering herself to Yan Xun (or by the show tethering her to Yan Xun to keep the love triangle going) she's not that much better off than the slaves she waxed philosophical about. Whether she loves him romantically or not (and I'm inclined to think not) she's trapped in a cycle of dysfunctionality with him and most likely giving tacit consent to his plans.

As for Yan Xun, his villainy came across as half-baked to me. The drama evidently did not want him to go full blown Sith Lord at this point so they brought in another guy to do all the dirty work for him so that he could on the surface keep his nose clean temporarily It's not that Cheng Yuan leads Yan Xun astray but he does the very things Yan Xun would like to do but is afraid to because he knows he will incur the wrath of Chu Qiao.

On top of all that, the show also did a grave disservice to the so-called male lead who was not only impossibly devoted but became a largely reactive character whose primary purpose in life was to save his damsel in distress from all her own miscalculations along the way. Of course a man with the patience of Job and the self-sacrifice of a martyr has his charms but it diminishes something from his earlier development.

Of course the thing that really has one in tears at the end aside from the moving scenes between the leads is the cliffhanger ending. With no news still of anything in the horizon, I don't hold out much hope for a second series at this stage.