The Oath of Love (2022) Progression
Thoughts from Episodes 13-18
An age gap is really not something to be looked upon lightly. Not even in a contemporary backdrop where dating dynamics have become liberalized. Furthermore it seems to be an important enough issue that the drama itself feels obliged to make a song and dance about it. I don’t hold extreme positions one way or another on this issue because there are so many factors that can make or break a long-term relationship outside of considerable age differences. I’m old enough to have seen far more marriage breakups than I care to and it’s not always immediately obvious what that single determining factor might be. In more recent days, Gu Wei (Xiao Zhan) has appeared before his very own Spanish Inquisition ie. the ordeal of ‘fessing up to his parents about the girlfriend who is roughly a decade younger than he is. A decade can be a long time especially considering that she is in her early twenties and he in his early thirties so their reaction, it seems to me, is reasonable. I certainly wasn’t expecting them to welcome the news with open arms particularly because they were already throwing all their weight behind the other candidate, Gao Xi, and in all frankness some of his mother’s immediate objections have to be countered with more than “I think you’ll like her when you meet her” or “I support her career”. Whatever that looks like. While she might portend bad news on the parental front, she’s far from being the melodramatic mother who thinks that her son is too good for the woman he loves. There are genuinely practical issues that will need to be addressed down the line if the leads are dating with a view towards marriage. Feelings alone are notoriously inadequate to the task of forging a partnership that lasts a lifetime. Questions posed by Mother are concerned with practical matters related to their compatibility as a couple to go the distance. These aren’t hurdles erected by obstinate parental objections, they are consequences of real life choices that require hard-headed thinking by all concerned.
In all honesty, the age gap does give me pause because of how both leads are presented and fleshed out. It’s a double-edge sword that the show is getting plenty of mileage out of showcasing their differences in various scenarios which I can only imagine that are meant to be in jest. He’s an older man established in his profession while she hasn’t yet graduated from the music programme at her university. While both are similarly inexperienced in the dating game, Lin Zhixiao’s girlish naivete is given full flight. This poses something of a dilemma to me as a viewer. Yes, it’s endearing to watch the ebb and flow of two people falling in love for the first time at first but now that they’re actually dating, there’s a feeling of unease hanging over their relationship. Maybe even dread. A case in point: The leads are off on what is officially their first date. Their friends invite themselves and offer to tag along to provide a helping hand. On the day, Zhixiao shows up all dolled up in an off shoulder top and staggers around in a pair of painful looking stilettos which she obstinately insists on keeping on her feet. Luckily it isn’t an actual mountain she has to ascend but still the footwear is entirely inappropriate for the amount of walking required for the outing. During this event, Sansan and another close friend attempt to school Gu Wei on the art of romancing Zhixiao. Perhaps this is well-meant. Perhaps this is the show’s attempt at humour. There’s an undeniable cringe factor. But after a series of misadventures featuring Sansan’s untimely meddling, it’s difficult to chalk it up just to frivolity because it does highlight a flaw in this dynamic. Apart from one instance in which I thought it might have been appropriate for Sansan to intervene, her subsequent meddlings have been rather uncomfortable to watch. Zhixiao must fight her own battles and navigate the differences between Gu Wei on her own. By hook or by crook, she has to build some stamina for this fight because parental objections on all sides will have to be met face on. If she can’t clear the first level of difficulty, how can she deal with the blowback which is bound to come?
Left to their own doings, the leads seem to fare much better as seen at the end of that long day when they are happily out of sight of so-called friends. He massages her feet and puts on more comfortable shoes. She talks. He talks and they reach some blissful conclusions. The fireworks (literally) come on in the background, their lips meet and all is well with the world. Until they encounter their next hurdle, of course.
So what’s the attraction for Gu Wei? What is it about Zhixiao that lights the fire, so to speak? That’s the sticking point for the bitterly disappointed Gao Xi. His answer is instructive. I laid down my speculations in a previous post and there’s a certain satisfaction to be had in getting it right. What we have are once again, competing narratives about dating with a view to marriage. For Gu Wei, he’s heeding a call to adventure. His entire life up to when he first encounters Zhixiao is revolved around medicine and he was on the verge of taking a different course due to but still within the same field. Enter a music undergraduate, a family member of a patient and he is reminded that surgical medicine can be fascinating again. But more importantly life can be fun — that there is plenty more to life than being a great doctor. He only needed someone to nudge him along during his early mid-life crisis. In a real enough way, she’s an antidote to the relentless demands from his relationship with clinical practice. The fact that she’s not from that world, is an advantage, a breath of fresh air, a refuge from the intense pressure of being in that environment day in, day out. For now at least.
It’s hard to know what to do with the newly arrived Shang Jie to be honest. An old school mate of Zhixiao who has so conveniently returned to the homeland just about the time that Gu Wei and Zhixiao are on the cusp of taking their relationship to the next level. Without any warning, he unceremoniously bulldozes back into her life offering the promise of better cancer treatment for Dad Lin elsewhere, in the bid to get on side with what he hopes will be future in-laws. In so doing he unwittingly causes fault lines in the family dynamic which erupts. Even when he finds out that Zhixiao and Gu Wei are dating, his attitude seems to be “Well, as long as you’re not married, I have a chance.” Which is a feeble attempt to throw down the gauntlet. Of course Zhixiao politely turns him down in no uncertain terms because she doesn’t find it romantic to hear of herself talked about as a trophy.
The reality is that despite all his declarations of abiding love, Shang Jie probably never really prioritized Zhixiao as much as he’d like for others to believe. Not from where I’m looking at least. Certainly not as much as he loves his violin. Which isn’t necessarily a sin. However, the brass tack is this: He wasn’t ever ready (even now) to have a family with her. For four years he didn’t make much of an effort to keep in touch with her which is hardly the sincere expression of true love. His question to her was about his timing but it’s a non-sequitur. Not sure why these so-called love rivals are so obsessed with timing. If he really thought she was important enough that he wanted to marry her one day, why didn’t he do more in those intervening years? And now he wants to play dirty and take short cuts? A man of sense or a man of wisdom would probably think… “Well, it’s been a while, she might have met someone else by now. Let’s observe and see.” Instead he acts as if he’s the one who had the girl in his grasp and some “other” guy came along and stole her… when in fact, he was never in the running.
In deliberate contrast, is the quietly thoughtful Gu Wei. There’s been a lot of praise for Gu Wei as the romantic lead and it’s scarcely surprising because he is unequivocally the best written character in the entire piece. He’s my favourite in this too because there are fascinating aspects to him and he really doesn’t fit into any type of archetype comfortably. Gu Wei, it feels to me, is what makes this occasionally problematic romance plausible and I find myself wishing him all the best because he desperately wants it to work as if his entire well being and future depends on it. Maybe it just comes naturally to him as there’s now finally something else outside of medicine to think about and find pleasure in. As a lover he is much much better than he’s been given credit for even if he doesn’t conform to a schoolgirl’s fantasy of what an ideal boyfriend is supposed to look like. As a whole the leads do better navigating this potentially risky dynamic on their own than when well-meaning onlookers think they know better. By that I mean Sansan. It isn’t entirely Sansan’s problem if Zhixiao keeps looking to her as a reliable guide to romance.
When a rival comes to town (or in this case a rival returns to town), his purpose in the narrative is to disrupt the male lead’s complacency, strengthen his resolve to act and hasten the inevitable. Jealousy, the double-edged emotion, emerges from the debris of an unspoken stand off. It isn’t wholly unexpected for Gu Wei to feel the deep inner rumblings that results when he senses that Shang Jie is on the offensive but more than that he is uncertain of Zhixiao because he loses the kind of access to her that he’s gradually become accustomed to. A maelstrom of trouble follows Shang Jie whose scheme to to endear himself to his hoped for future in-laws, backfires to a large degree. Not because of Gu Wei but because Shang Jie himself is still living in the past. He somehow thinks that nothing has changed in the last 4 years. Or that he can rely on the currency accumulated from the past to gain favour for the present. The Lins have undergone a great deal in the past six months. More importantly, Gu Wei isn’t just Daddy Lin’s surgeon. He is now their neighbour who has clear objectives for getting close to their daughter. Shang Jie clumsily stumbles into a situation that he barely has knowledge of. He assumes too much and knows only a little. However, he does give Gu Wei a very compelling reason to act and to do it sooner rather than later. It’s a sequence of events orchestrated to act as a time of testing and soul searching. The angst of having a rival is real, the possibility that her world doesn’t and can’t revolve around him must give him food for thought
Is this new epoch in his life journey really likely to yield the kind of results that he hopes for?
That’s a question that only a man who loves can answer. The success of this entire project rests almost entirely on his shoulders because hope without substance is no hope at all.