Beware of spoilers for existing episodes…
It is surprising how much I’m liking this. I wasn’t really expecting the level of complexity that’s playing out right under our noses because the light-hearted elements that dominated the early part of the drama overshadowed the underlying darker tones of an emperor that’s playing a high stakes game, constantly treading on knife’s edge fending off attacks from competing agendas. I can’t say it’s heavy stuff but it’s no featherweight either. The inclusion of a hidden hand among the web of deceit has kept everyone on their toes so far.
The complete fiasco that was the Morning Dew Rebellion the backdrop for what transpires 8 years later was on hindsight an ill-conceived enterprise by well-meaning individuals who were too eager and completely out of their depth. Wang Yang (the emperor’s former tutor) predicted it wouldn’t end well. A bloodbath resulted because the eunuchs used this opportunity to rid themselves of those who were a thorn in their side. This latest attempt at dislodging the grip of the eunuchs and to unseat the reigning monarch by survivors appear similarly misguided because all the wrong lessons were learnt from the previous operation. Most of those who survive didn’t know why they survived. Therein lies the rub. They knew not the enemy. Good intentions fuelled by thoughts of vengeance aren’t enough to attain success.
The events that made up the disaster that was the Morning Dew Rebellion were not what conventional wisdom would have anyone believe. It’s far more complex than first meets the eye. Qi Yan is hardly the egregious sinner that he’s painted to be. The common perspective of it and its aftermath is a piece of theatre meticulously calculated to grab power back from the ruling autocrats.
That’s why Cheng Ruoyu’s perspective is immensely valuable. Her role in all of this is not just to provide a lifeline to a desperately lonely Qi Yan who can trust no one but also to offer another perspective on the man who purportedly betrayed his brother and his respected teacher to gain the throne. Her strong sense of duty to the office leads her to demonstrate unwavering loyalty to the man. Yes, she talks too much for someone who is an officer of the royal court. She’s too indiscreet in an environment where walls have ears. But if she wasn’t who she is, Qi Yan would never have sat up and taken notice. Her sincerity and authenticity wins his trust… and his love. Without any expectation of anything except to support his endeavours, she’s a stark contrast to all the other women who for one reason or another scheme to win his affections. Yu’er achieves that by just being herself. Each time he pushes her away, she comes running back to him at the first hint of trouble. Still, it’s a two-way street. Her devotion to him breaks his resolve over and over again. Like a moth to a flame, he’s drawn to her lively, good natured personality. The part of him that once was a happy-go-lucky prince must be craving for some true companionship that he has found in this guileless girl.
There’s a powerful moment in Episode 20 when the eunuch Qiu Ziliang attempts to unseat Qi Yan by making him drink a bowl of poisonous soup. Coming out of nowhere Yu’er makes a grab for it and is about to take a gulp when Qi Yan puts a stop to it. It’s uncertain if Qiu Ziliang is genuine when he says he envies Qi Yan for having such a loyal sidekick. I like to think he is because Qiu Ziliang rules his minions with fear. They all want something from him and he knows it. He probably knows he doesn’t have their hearts and all that might be irrelevant to be a man who is sure of his own power. Moreover he treats his minions like pawns that can be disposed of if it suits.
Another memorable moment is when an injured Yu’er is moving debris one piece at a time looking for the emperor who may or may not have been buried under a pile of rubble. Yanzhi and A’Xiu look on in amazement at her unmitigated devotion to a man they don’t have much time for. Yet Yanzhi at least was witness to Qi Yan’s repeated attempts to have Yu’er released by putting himself in jeopardy.
I’m not as enamoured with Qiu Yanzhi as many seem to be. Although she’s supposedly the smart sister, it feels as if she’s heading down a moral slippery slope into nowhere good with her choices. I worry about where she’s heading because she’s made a deal with the devil that she defaults to. It’s true that she’s not exactly happy about the position she’s found herself in. I’ll grant her that. Yet it is somewhat ironic that she’s in essence doing what Qi Yan did but she can justify it in the name of righteous vengeance.