EPISODE 61

 

Welcome back to chasing dramas! 

 

[Karen]

 

This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and Culture through historical historical chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 61 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace.

 

Rather unbelievable that we’re already at Episode 61 of discussing this wonderful drama. We are most certainly in the home stretch and it’s time for our players to show us what they have left.

 

This episode I would say is another episode that focuses on the set up. There’s a lot going on with many characters having short dialogue that is useful for the rest of the series. We’ll discuss these interesting pieces and, of course, the historical components mentioned in this episode.

 

Let’s get started. 

 

[Cathy]

This episode kicks off right where we left off in the last episode with the evil Empress leaving the main character, 甄嬛’s palace, after having wished 甄嬛 well for giving birth to twins. On her way out, she sees a maid whose face is bright red from slap marks. If you recall, this is the maid, 斐雯,that was punished to slapping herself on the face for opening windows after 甄嬛’s birth and causing 甄嬛 to cough. The Emperor was very angry at this and punished this maid. The Empress gives a slight nod to her head maid, 剪秋. She gets the hint and stays behind to talk to this 斐雯。 What can happen here? It’s fascinating to see how the Empress just knows when there might be a crack the take advantage of from 甄嬛’s camp.

 

After a few days, 甄嬛 now has an updated hairstyle, one that is very composed but in my opinion not as beautiful as her last style. She is viewing her two children with the Emperor. The prince has a name already but the princess does not. 甄嬛 is thinking of a name to give her daughter. She comes up with the name 灵犀.  Now there’s no good direct translation for this term, but essentially it means that your hearts are connected in your thoughts. The Emperor praises this name saying that he and 甄嬛 indeed have had both their thoughts and hearts connected these past few years. Little does he know, she named her daughter this specifically because of her love for her daughter’s real father. The term 灵犀 really works well between 甄嬛 and the 17th prince, not the Emperor but he is none the wiser. It’s funny because 浣碧 has a knowing look because she understands this is about 甄嬛’s connection with the 17th prince as well.

 

After the naming, the Emperor touches on a bit of a touchy subject, at least for 甄嬛。And it’s about 浣碧,甄嬛’s maid/sister, after she leaves the room. The emperor says that 浣碧 now looks and acts more and more like 甄嬛. The emperor had said this way back at the beginning of the drama and actually caused 浣碧 to try to think she should seduce the emperor but was corrected by 甄嬛. After all, it’s a hard life being a concubine. Now the emperor is once again bringing this up, there are probably warning signals going off again for 甄嬛。 She wants to protect her sister from the clutches of the Imperial Harem.

 

[Karen]

Well, with the twins born, 甄嬛 has another pressing matter to tend to – that is the care of her other daughter, 胧月。 She summons 敬妃, 胧月’s adoptive mother to chat. 敬妃 has always been very kind to both 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 ever since the ladies entered the palace. Otherwise, why would 甄嬛 give her daughter to 敬妃 to raise? 

 

Here, though, the two women have a rather frank conversation. 甄嬛, being as smart as she is, has deduced that 敬妃 was the one to raise the relationship between 槿汐,her head maid, and 苏培盛, the Emperor’s head eunuch, to the Empress, thereby causing both of them to be sentenced to hard labor in 慎刑司。 甄嬛 says 敬妃 and 沈眉庄 were the only 2 witnesses to have seen 苏培盛 drop a pouch that was embroidered by 槿汐 and was seen frequently visiting the Empress’s palace during that time. Essentially, this drama was caused by 敬妃 disclosing this nugget of information to the Empress.

 

敬妃 does not deny this and fortunately, 甄嬛, thought through 敬妃”s motives rather rationally. She understands that 敬妃 did this in order to keep 胧月 with her as her daughter. 敬妃 explains that she is incredibly lonely in the palace, with limited affection or attention from the emperor. She knew early on that she was just a chess piece used to counteract the powerful 华妃。If she didn’t have 胧月 as a daughter to help pass the time, the rest of her life in the palace would perhaps be lived with no joy at all.

 

[Cathy]

敬妃 explains that she didn’t really want to hurt 甄嬛, but she just wanted to keep 胧月 with her for a few more years. Unfortunately, she knows that the Empress wants the two of them, her and 甄嬛, to attack each other and she’s now at the mercy of 甄嬛’s punishment. 

 

Surprisingly, 甄嬛 requests for 敬妃 to raise Princess 胧月 as her own until she is to be married. This stuns 敬妃 but 甄嬛 explains that she already has 2 other children that require care. Plus, 胧月 sees 敬妃 as her birth mother. Forcing the 2 to be separated would harm everyone’s relationship.  Upon hearing this, 敬妃 is extraordinarily grateful. She did not expect such mercy from 甄嬛 but that is the difference between 甄嬛 and the Empress. 甄嬛 has empathy whereas the Empress does not. Now, the alliance between 敬妃 and 甄嬛 is forever solidified. That, is probably just as valuable to 甄嬛 is raising her daughter at home.

 

Though, I do think 甄嬛 would only do this because she is fortunate enough to have other children. If she came back childless, I don’t know if she would have been in such a sharing mood. For now, though at least, it seems like the Empress’s schemes for 甄嬛 and 敬妃 to hurt each other have backfired. These two are now stronger than ever.

 

[Karen]

Well next on the docket for 甄嬛 is her official promotion from Consort to Noble Consort. This is her “reward” for giving birth to the 6th prince. Her title is now 熹贵妃. There is currently only one noble consort in the palace. During the Qing Dynasty, there were only 2 noble consorts allowed. The next step is 皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble Consort and then Empress. 甄嬛 is at this point, the second highest ranking consort in the Imperial Harem. The irony of this is, 华妃 tried desperately to climb to this rank of 贵妃, only to fall shortly after this. 甄嬛 has now clawed her way up to this position with a son that isn’t even the Emperor’s. 

 

Look at 甄嬛’s makeup and cloak! We rarely see her wear black but the cloak is absolutely exquisite! 

 

甄嬛 is at her palace, kneeling while receiving her edict. There are formal steps to receiving Noble Consort rank including her official seal, she has to go through these steps. The Emperor surprises her by greeting her at her palace to head over to the Empress’s palace. The Emperor says some lovey-dovey things, which to anyone else would have been probably a tear jerker, but I think 甄嬛 just thinks – this is all your doing. I don’t care anymore. She plays her role as the loving concubine perfectly. 

 

[Cathy]

At the Empress’s palace, 甄嬛 receives her official blessing from the Empress. At this point, the Emperor inquires to the Empress her thoughts about giving 甄嬛 the reins to manage the Imperial Harem or 协力六宫。Of course the Empress is not going to give up her authority without a fight and it’s rather funny how she tries to prevent 甄嬛 from receiving this coveted power. She quickly points out that 甄嬛 will be busy with taking care of not only the twins but also princes 胧月。The Emperor quickly waves those away – the twins will be taken care of by the wet nurses and the princess will continue to be taken care of by 敬妃. This surprises the Empress because, as we know, she was hoping 敬妃 would fight with 甄嬛。 The Empress makes one final attempt to block this motion by mentioning 甄嬛’s lack of experience. 甄嬛 quickly chimes in to say that she’ll seek guidance from 端妃 and 敬妃, both of whom are more experienced than she is and would be helpful mentors. The Empress sees no other recourse and gives in. Man, her acting is amazing. She’s probably seething on the inside but she still has on a serene face, nodding, and smiling at everything before her.

 

Later that evening, there is a grand banquet for 甄嬛’s promotion and the twin’s first month celebration. The empress quotes a poem. We’ll dive into this for our analysis. The Emperor is in quite a good mood and openly states that he’ll spend the night with 甄嬛. 甄嬛 however, directs him to stay with 敬妃 on the premise of visiting their daughter 胧月. Look at that, 甄嬛 knows that giving up her daughter to 敬妃 wasn’t enough. To keep this alliance, she must also continue to push the Emperor towards the other ladies of the harem. 

 

[Karen]

After the festivities, 甄嬛 is at her own palace. 槿汐 and 小允子, her main eunuch, are documenting all of the presents they received for the occasion. The list is quite extravagant, including a special pair of poison detecting chopsticks from the Meng family. The daughter of the Meng family, 孟静闲, was meant to wed the 17th prince but was rejected by him. She’s still in love with the fellow and has refused to marry anyone else. 浣碧 is all up in arms against this woman, like who does she think she is? Ouch. 

 

Speaking of the 17th prince, he actually also sent a gift. An exquisite coral bracelet. 甄嬛, to 浣碧’s surprise, decides to wear it. 浣碧 is right to worry – this could be a dangerous signal if 甄嬛 openly wears a present from the 17th prince. 甄嬛 doesn’t think it’s a problem especially tonight since the Emperor is staying with 敬妃 and decides to visit the pregnant 沈眉庄。

 

[Cathy]

In her carriage, 甄嬛 encounters a surprising visiter. 宁贵人 or her actual name, 叶澜依. She is a former horse tamer maid who fancies the 17th prince. The two ladies discuss some pleasantries about 叶澜依’s cat and 叶澜依 invites 甄嬛 over for a closer look. 甄嬛 dismisses everyone except for 浣碧 and follow 叶澜依 into the garden. No sooner than they reach the gardens does 叶澜依 turn around and pin 甄嬛 to the wall with a dagger. 

 

Here, we get confirmation that it was indeed she that lured all the cats the other day and caused 甄嬛 to give birth. 甄嬛 already knew this of course. She openly tells 叶澜依 that it’s not worth it to kill her over the 17th prince. It’s 叶澜依 who is now shocked. You knew? Of course 甄嬛 knew, she does her homework. She knows all about how the 17th prince rescued 叶澜依 years ago. 

 

The funny thing is, 浣碧 doesn’t make a peep until the topic of the 17th prince is brought up and then she immediately begins criticizing 叶澜依. 叶澜依 coldly points this out. Girl, you are way too obvious. Or actually everyone is way too obvious. Everyone likes the 17th prince. This is what like 4 ladies in one episode? 

 

[Karen]

 

叶澜依 is furious with 甄嬛. She knows of what happened between 甄嬛 and the 17th prince during her exile. She doesn’t understand why 甄嬛 returned to the palace. She admits she was the only who overheard 甄嬛 and the 17th prince’s conversation in the previous episode. 叶澜依 wants to kill 甄嬛. She will kill anyone who harms the 17th prince and over the years, no one has done more harm to him than 甄嬛. 

 

Bahaha – 叶澜依’s face is sooo close to 甄嬛’s face. I’m sorry – I’m gonna root for them as a couple for like 2 seconds. HAHAHAHA

 

甄嬛 gives some hints as to her predicament but of course no one was going to understand that hint. 叶澜依 spots the coral bracelet and immediately recognizes it as a gift from the 17th prince. She demands how 甄嬛 got it. 浣碧 rightfully responds…ask him.

 

叶澜依 pulls the dagger away. The coral bracelet on 甄嬛’s wrist is a testament of the 17th prince’s love for this woman. 叶澜依 doesn’t want to harm anyone precious to him. She haughtily walks away after giving 甄嬛 a dire warning to watch herself. 

 

Well – we now absolutely know of 叶澜依’s affections and love towards the 17th prince. Man, I guess being a gentleman in those days was hard to come by? Literally every woman falls head over heels over this one guy? Should we count 甄嬛 as lucky or not to be the one who won his affection? The first time I watched this, I was screaming at the screen. Tell her the truth! It’ll save everyone a bunch of time. 

 

[Cathy]

The rest of the episode revolves around the Empress’s posse of terrible concubines as they try to fight back against the now much more powerful 甄嬛。 With 甄嬛”s new title as 熹贵妃 and her 3 children, she is going to be incredibly difficult to overthrow. 

 

The Empress is in her palace with 安陵容 and 祺贵人。 Notice the seating arrangement now. 安陵容 has a higher rank than 祺贵人 so she sits higher up whereas previously, she would be seated lower than 祺贵人 when they were both imperial concubines or 嫔。 It;s because 祺贵人 got demoted.

 

Anyways, the Empress says they need to attack 甄嬛. The same old, same old. But guess what, 祺贵人, not being able to stand that 安陵容, who is of lower birth and education, would dare to have the same rank, decides to attack 安陵容 instead. Um Ok.

 

A drink was given to 安陵容 that caused her to lose her voice. She wakes up the next morning and she cannot speak well anymore. Her voice is completely gone. This is essentially a death sentence for her because her claim to fame in the palace is entirely based on her ability to sing. Now that she cannot, the emperor will have no interest in seeing her and her status in the imperial harem is threatened.

 

[Karen]

She of course knows this reality. Originally, she was forbidden from leaving her palace because she was seen as a bad omen to the pregnant women in the palace. But now, after her voice is gone, she doesn’t care as much and going so far as to stop 甄嬛 while she is in her litter for a chat. And dear lord, the chat between these two is exhausting. 甄嬛 clearly hates 安陵容 because she has done terrible things to 甄嬛 but for appearance’s sake, they have to pretend they are dear sisters. They veiled messages are great to listen to. One line in particular I loved is how 甄嬛 says that for the help and care 安陵容 has given her, she will give back in greater magnitude. This is a play on the idiom that giving a drop of help behooves an entire stream in repayment. In this case though, 甄嬛 is threatening 安陵容 by saying that with all the “help” aka hurt 安陵容 has given to 甄嬛, she will give back in kind, if not worse. And indeed, after the conversation ends, 甄嬛 orders 浣碧, her sister/maid, to tell the other concubines and servants to “take care” of 安陵容。 By now, we know that ‘taking care’ means tormenting her. 甄嬛 decides to go this route instead of straight up killing 安陵容 because this is a fate worse than death.

 

Sure enough, 2 concubines come in to wreak havoc at 安陵容’s palace, treating her like dirt and making a mess of her palace. In the dead of winter, 安陵容 has also run out of coal. Sounds familiar? 甄嬛 herself experienced this pain previously. These 2 concubines show up with terrible coal that smokes up the entire room as another form of humiliation. Luckily for 安陵容,the Empress’s head maid comes to the rescue and provides her with coal to get through the winter. The aim here is to push 安陵容 to find another means of survival in the palace.  How does she do so? We’ll find out in the next episode.

 

The last interesting piece to note in this episode is that 甄嬛’s younger sister, 玉娆 has now come to visit her in the palace. She is a beautiful young lady at this point. Before, 玉娆 was sentenced to exile with her parents in 宁古塔 but fortunately, by grace of the Emperor, they have been able to return home. 玉娆 came back first to see her sister sooner. As the sister’s meet, 苏培盛, the emperor’s head eunuch, also says that the 17th prince has gifted all of his 合欢花 to 甄嬛 as a gift for being promoted. She understands that this is his special gift to her and accepts it.

 

 

[Cathy]

Alrighty, there’s quite a lot to discuss today!

 

Let’s get started! 

 

First up is the princess’s title 灵犀. 

 

甄嬛 quotes these two lines 身无彩凤双飞翼,心有灵犀一点通 and picks 灵犀 as the title for her daughter. 

 

The poem was written by the Tang Dynasty poet 李商隐. The title of the poem is actually unnamed. 

 

These two lines translate to the following

身上虽然没有彩凤的双翅可以飞到一起,但是两个人的心却像灵异的犀角一样

 

Even though we don’t have wings to fly to each other, our hearts and minds are as one, just like the magical horns.

 

So this is really cool. In Chinese legend, the rhinoceros has a mythical horn called 灵犀. This horn has a white pattern on it and the power to be in tuned with the heart and mind. The last line, 心有灵犀一点通, is often used between lovers to demonstrated their connection with each other. 

The next  poem to discuss today is the poem the Empress recites during 甄嬛’s banquet. 

 

郎情似酒热,妾意如丝柔。酒热有时冷,丝柔无断绝

 

Surprisingly, this poem is an original from this show. How neat! Let’s translate this.

 

The man’s love is intense like wine, the woman’s affections are long like silk. The wine might get cold but the silk will never break. 

 

This is an interesting poem for the Empress to state. The Emperor only loves you now but that’ll fade. The woman can only continue to love the Emperor.  It’s quite misogynistic if I might say so myself. It’s also a wake up call directed at 甄嬛. Not a threat to 甄嬛 but the Empress’s attempt to “wake” 甄嬛 up. Perhaps, the Empress is trying to remind the 甄嬛 of the Emperor’s fickle and quite frankly cold nature. If we look back at the scene, 甄嬛 fully understands the Empress’s meaning because 甄嬛 smirks before drinking. She knows the Emperor’s fickleness. 甄嬛 is not here for love. She’s back at the palace for revenge. Who cares about feelings?

The next poem comes from when 甄嬛 sees the coral bracelet as a gift from the 17th prince. The full poem goes like this. 

珍珠十斛买琵琶,金谷堂深护绛纱。

掌上珊瑚怜不得,却教移作上阳花。

 

She only says the last two lines but it gets to the point. The poem was written by the Ming/Qing Dynasty poet 吴伟业. Born in 1609–1671, he was named as one of the three master of 江左。He was famous for his seven syllable long form poems. As part of a collection of poems called 古业, this poem actually refers to the love story between Emperor 顺治 and his beloved 董鄂妃。

 

The meaning of the last two lines roughly translates to this. Even the most beautiful coral flowers and trees, even if they are protected by your palms, will never truly be yours. They will just be placed in a more prominent palace as a flower that’s facing the sun. 

 

This I think is quite apt for 甄嬛’s situation. She’s that coral flower that will never truly belong to the 17th prince. She is now just a flower in the palace.  

EPISODE 60

 

Episode 60 – A Sigh of Relief

 

[Cathy]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today, we are discussing episode 60 of 后宫甄嬛, Empresses in the Palace.  In the previous episode, the Empress went on the attack. She discovered 槿汐,甄嬛”s head maid and 苏培盛’s, the Emperor’s head eunuch’s, relationship and promptly sentenced them to hard labor in 慎刑司. 甄嬛 has been desperately trying to find ways to free her loyal maid even requesting help from 端妃. Let’s see if her efforts paid off.

 

As always, if you have any comments or questions, please reach out to us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com and follow us on instagram and twitter!

 

Let’s dive right in!

 

The Emperor strides into 甄嬛’s palace in good spirits. The harvest was good this year! The Emperor mentions that he paid a visit to 端妃 the previous evening and thought much of what she said made sense.

 

甄嬛, hearing this news, knows that 端妃 has played her part. Now she must strike with her own ace up her sleeve. What’s her ace? Why the previous Empress 纯元 of course! She first showers the Emperor with compliments as a leader of the Empire. Then she casually drops Empress 纯元 into the conversation and more importantly, how 槿汐 knew of 纯元. She says – if the Empress 纯元 was here, the Imperial Palace must be very different. The Emperor is intrigued – you’ve heard of her stories? 甄嬛 continues to emphasize how 槿汐 was able to share these stories. She then calmly asks if 纯元 was still alive, how would she handle the situation with 苏培盛 and 槿汐。 Before the emperor can offer any thoughts, 甄嬛 cuts him off and suggests that 纯元 is very kind, she wouldn’t actually want to kill 苏培盛 and 槿汐。 She continues by saying that the current Empress is sisters with the first empress, so their thoughts are probably aligned. Since the emperor is also forgiving, the current Empress most likely won’t do anything counter to what he and the former empress would do. 

 

[Karen]

The emperor cannot stand the current empress being compared with her sister and says as much. But it seems like he understands 甄嬛’s words and brings up how there are 2 pregnant concubines in the palace right now, it’s not fortuitous to enact any type of executions. 浣碧, 甄嬛’s loyal maid/half sister suddenly chimes in about why 甄嬛 is currently 篦头 even though it’s later in the day and essentially tells the emperor that 甄嬛 hasn’t been sleeping well. This implies that the drama with 槿汐 could cause damage to the babies. 甄嬛 cuts her off and tells her not to complain in front of the emperor but the emperor is softened to hear that she’s not doing well. After some more conversation where 甄嬛 continues to be apologetic about what happened, that she didn’t manage her staff well, and how 苏培盛 has been serving the emperor for many years, the Emperor decides to step in and release those two from hard labor and return to their original posts. 

 

THe point in this whole conversation is how well 甄嬛 has mastered the politics of the imperial harem. She knew exactly what to say to the emperor. First invoking how much 槿汐 knew about 纯元. Before, 甄嬛 was heartbroken about being a replacement for 纯元 but now, she uses 纯元 as a weapon to her advantage. Because she knows the emperor has such a soft spot for 纯元, evoking anything she may or may not say will help her cause. She feeds words into 纯元’s mouth as to how she may handle this current situation and her forgiving attitude.  This helps capture the Emperor’s attention.

 

甄嬛 also most likely trained 浣碧 to say that bit about her not sleeping well. Notice that she only cut 浣碧 off after she said her piece, not before so as to make it look like she didn’t want the emperor to hear these words but the info is already out there. I’m sure this was planted by the master/servant duo. 

 

Something I didn’t mention in previous episodes but is very present in this conversation is 甄嬛’s body language. Notice how when she is talking to the emperor now, she is much more demure. Her eyes are generally looking down, very rarely directly at him. She also smiles in a blushing way. She’s trying to gain his sympathy, attention, and affection by being this smaller woman to stroke his ego. But as we’ve seen her in front of other people such as 安陵容 or the Empress, she is definitely not this woman. She is much more confident and brimming with repressed rage. It is a stark contrast to when she was first in the palace to now. She has no true emotions left for the emperor but is merely playing the game. That’s how she is able to manipulate him to releasing 槿汐 and 苏培盛。

 

[Cathy]

Shortly after, 槿汐 is released from hard labor. Her only punishment is forfeiting one year of salary. The eunuch 苏培盛 is also released and allowed to serve by the Emperor’s side again. All in all, the punishments were extremely light. I’m sure if the Empress had her way, both of them would have been tortured and then killed. Interestingly, the Emperor is persuaded by the eunuch to allow his relationship with 槿汐 to continue. That’s very different to his normal predelication of murder first, ask questions later. Maybe he’s going soft?

 

Well it’s time for a morning greeting at the Empress’s palace. We haven’t seen one of those in a while. 欣贵人 is waiting outside with some other concubines whom we haven’t really met. They are gossiping about 甄嬛 and 槿汐. 祺嫔, who has been finally released from house arrest, saunters in to add her two scents. She sneers and says, if this happened to me, I would just hide for the rest of my life. This is so embarrassing. 

 

I do enjoy the attention to detail in this scene – especially the curtseying. 祺贵人 enters, the maids behind the other concubines first curtsey, then 祺贵人 and her maid curtsey, and then the rest of the concubines curtsey. However, notice 欣贵人’s curtsey is not as deep because she right now is of a higher rank. Love it!

 

[Karen]

Just as the concubines are gossiping (except for 欣贵人), 浣碧 coughs to make their entrance known. 甄嬛 enters and immediately starts schooling 祺贵人. 祺贵人, who always likes to retaliate, retorts back, if I’ve done anything, at least it was just me and not one of my servants. A servant’s actions represent her master, who knows, her master might just be as bad. 

 

Look at the glare 甄嬛 gives to 祺贵人. She is so much more direct now than before. 甄嬛 doesn’t even have time to respond before 槿汐 comes with a cloak for her. It’s time for 槿汐 to shine! We haven’t really seen how eloquent 槿汐 can be but she just dishes all of 祺贵人’s insults right back at her to the point where 祺嫔 is literally speechless. It’s so satisfying to watch. 

 

The ladies are escorted into the Empress’s palace where the Empress casually comments on the pending return of the 17th prince 果郡王. There will be a grand banquet for his return and to celebrate the pregnancies of 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄.

 

[Cathy]

Someone is very excited to hear this news and it’s not 甄嬛. Back at her own palace, 甄嬛 receives the newly released 苏培盛. He comes with a dessert 红枣雪蛤 or Hasma with Jujubes or red dates. I don’t think I’ve had any but a quick search says that it’s dried fatty tissue found near the fallopian tubes of frogs. Interesting…

 

甄嬛 offers 苏培盛 a seat. He expresses his gratitude for her aid in his release from 慎刑司. 甄嬛 calmly accepts it. She does however warn him to be more careful. The whole situation came to light because of his slip up. 苏培盛 even straightens up upon hearing this. It was his fault. He takes his leave shortly after but this conversation also had the purpose of strengthening 甄嬛’s alliance with 苏培盛。

 

When 苏培盛 returns to his own residence, he’s surprised to see 槿汐 there. He was afraid that all the gossip and the hard labor scared her from wanting to have a relationship with him. But as 槿汐 rightly puts it, why kill yourself just so others take pleasure. She’s happy to be with someone who actually treasures her. That’s very sweet. 苏培盛 is very touched.

 

This I think is also a commentary on the low status of eunuchs throughout Chinese history. Eunuchs were at times extremely powerful but people looked down on them. People always commented on how they weren’t real people and I think oftentimes masters in the didn’t treat them as human beings with real feelings. Several emperors died at the hands of Eunuchs due to their poor treatment of them.

 

[Karen]

The drama between 苏培盛 and 槿汐 comes to a close. The rest of the episode revolves around 甄嬛’s pregnancy. 

 

It’s time for the mid-autumn festival and the ladies are getting ready for the evening’s events. 甄嬛 has her hair and clothes adorned with gold and red. When her maid 浣碧 walks in, 甄嬛 comments on how 浣碧 looks nice. Honestly, 浣碧 only added a tiny bit of decoration to her person, I don’t see a huge difference but I guess via dialogue, we’re supposed to see that she is more done up? 浣碧 responds that she didn’t dress up to look good in front of the 17th prince, if 甄嬛 dressed up, she would look even better.

 

At this point, I’m thinking – 甄嬛 is absolutely freaking gorgeous. Bright red lips, and her coiffure is solid gold. How much prettier can she get? Jesus. If this isn’t “dressed up”, I don’t know what is.   

 

甄嬛 joins the Emperor and Empress at the mid-autumn festival banquet and who appears? The 17th prince. It turns out that the 17th prince was away for several months and got sick when he arrived at his destination, thus why he looks a little frail. Of course, we and 甄嬛 know that he left because he was heartbroken and probably became ill due to 甄嬛 returning to the palace.

 

The 17th prince exchanges some platitudes with the emperor and stoically greets both 沈眉庄 who is now pregnant and 甄嬛 for her pending birth. 甄嬛 is able to not betray any extra emotion but you can tell it’s tough for both her and the 17th prince. Fortunately, 浣碧 is currently a wonderful servant and sister. SHe promptly uses the fact that 甄嬛 needs to drink medicine as an excuse for her to leave the banquet and get some fresh air. This allows 甄嬛 to compose herself a bit from the overwhelming feelings she’s getting at seeing her love, the 17th prince. 

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 and 浣碧 go for a stroll but the 17th prince comes to find them. 甄嬛 initially is reluctant to speak to the 17th prince but 浣碧 gives them some private space to chat. They clearly care for each other except in their current circumstances, they cannot spend too much time together. 甄嬛 also wants him to forget her. She feels guilty for what she’s done but he still loves her. They return separately to the banquet so as not to arouse any suspicion but it looks like the conversation was overheard by someone. 

 

As they’re heading back, 甄嬛 is sitting on a litter being carried by a number of eunuchs. Out of nowhere, a bunch of CGI cats appear and attack 甄嬛‘s group. The eunuchs are unable to hold her up properly and she falls, causing her to gasp in pain and pass out. 

 

These CGI cats are quite bad but I thought they were REALLY effective. It was kind of spooky!

 

[Karen]

Back at her palace, she is now in labor. 4 imperial doctors are kneeling outside as the midwives are helping 甄嬛 push. Her trusty friend, the imperial doctor 温实初 asks a crucial question as she’s pushing – if it comes to saving her or the babies, whom should they save? She says the children must be saved. They must sacrifice her in order to save the children. Of course, we know it’s because she wants to save her children that are the bloodline of the 17th prince. I don’t think she would have cared as much if this wasn’t the case. This line is a really important line that will come into play later on in the drama.

 

Fortunately, after an evening of labor, 甄嬛 successfully gives birth to a pair of twins, one boy and one girl. Woot! In chinese, it’s called a 龙凤胎 or dragon-phoenix pregnancy. This, as you can guess, is a huge honor and is incredibly fortuitous. It suggests that peace will come to the empire. Everyone is overjoyed. The emperor is there to see 甄嬛 when she wakes up. Shortly after, the Empress Dowager’s head maid comes over to check in and report back. The emperor, delighted at having a new prince and princess, says that he will promote 甄嬛 to 贵妃 or Nobel Consort. This is a high honor but considering that she’s now given birth to 3 children, it’s quite fitting that she receive this title. In the midst of the joy, the Emperor also formally award’s his head eunuch, 苏培盛,with 槿汐 to be his wife. So, a great day all around. 

 

The funny thing is that even though the initiation of 甄嬛’s birth was a little suspicious with the hoard of cats that arrived, it worked out perfectly for 甄嬛. We all know that the children were nearing the delivery date, even though other folks think it’s a month later so she delivered on time, without additional medication needed. 

 

The rest of the episode revolves around various people meeting the newborns and expressing their euphoria, or at least outwardly expressing their euphoria, for these additions to the royal family. First up, is the Empress dowager. The children are brought to the Empress Dowager’s palace where the Empress and the Emperor are both there, marveling at the newborn children.  The Empress Dowager is, of course, very pleased to have new grandchildren. After seeing them. she makes a nonchalant comment about the 6th prince, 甄嬛’s newborn son, is a white and fat boy, not like the emperor who was born rather dark. The emperor states it’s because 甄嬛 is very pale. The empress dowager didn’t mean anything by it but we the audience know it’s because the children are not the Emperor’s kids.  

 

[Cathy]

 

Back at 甄嬛’s palace, 甄嬛 is speaking with the Emperor about how now that she has given birth, she has proven that those nasty rumors about her children were untrue. There was much talk about how her child was not the Emperor’s child because her pregnancy was too big but when you have twins, of course the pregnancy was bigger than usual! At this point, the Emperor fully trusts 甄嬛 and doesn’t suspect anything. He even says he needs to manage the tongues of people in the imperial harem. 甄嬛 tactfully brings up the Empress which prompts the to Emperor express some annoyance at how the Empress also agreed with these rumors. 

 

As if on queue, the Empress arrives. I think she knew that she needed to do some damage control given that 甄嬛 gave birth to twins and she suspects the Emperor may not be pleased with her. Why do we say this? Because when she arrives, she promptly brings up how she doesn’t have anything valuable to give to the new children, but remembered that her sister, the first empress, 纯元,had a high quality jade that she, the Empress, made into 2 pendants for the children. This pleases the Emperor and he comments that 纯元’s stuff is of course good, glad that you a willing to part with it. 

 

[Karen]

You know that the Empress is talking about her sister in order to make the Emperor forgive her for what she’s done. 甄嬛 knows full well what she’s doing. You can see the cuts to her face where she starts looking down with a faint smile. 甄嬛 and the Empress both know when to use the dead 纯元 to their advantage. 甄嬛 did it earlier this episode and the EMpress is doing it now. 

 

The Empress continues to bring up how she reviews her sister’s belongings from time to time which prompts the Emperor to note that he has not seen her for many months.  And look at that, it seems like the annoyance the emperor had with her has diminished quite a bit. The Empress is intelligent enough to know when to back off because she urges the emperor to go see younger concubines that are prime to give birth, before noting that she left her sister’s belongings out and needs to return to them.

 

[Cathy]

By now, the Emperor is thinking once again about how this Empress is sisters with his beloved 纯元 and is likely to forgive her for believing nasty rumors about 甄嬛。 It seems that the most powerful trump card in the imperial harem for both women, is the dead 纯元。One, because 甄嬛looks like her, and the other, because they are related.

 

The only other main piece to note before we get onto the analysis is that right after 甄嬛 gave birth, she started coughing. It turns out, a maid, 斐文, opened the windows by order of the imperial doctors which let in a draft. This angers the Emperor who punishes her to 20 slaps to the face. She is very upset by this but there’s not much she can do. This will come back to bite 甄嬛 in the future.

 

That was it for the recap. There’s a bit to discuss today!

 

[Karen]

 

First let’s start off with the poem called 八至. The poem is named as such because here are 8 至’s in the poem. Or, the 8 extremes. The lines are 

 

至近至远东西⑵,至深至浅清溪。

至高至明日月,至亲至疏夫妻

甄嬛 recites this poem at the end of the episode as she and the EMperor are discussing her innocence amidst all the rumors. After she says these lines, she says that as long as the emperor believes her, they will be the most intimate husband and wife. So what do these lines mean? 

Here’s my translation

The closest and the farthest are east and west

The shallowest and the deepest is a clear stream

The highest and the brightest is the earth and moon

The most intimate yet most alien are husband and wife

These lines were written by the Tang Dynasty female poet 李冶. Cool! She was born around 730 and died 784AD. 李治 was known as one of the 4 female poets of the Tang Dynasty. I wasn’t familiar with her work. She has a fascinating yet sad story. 李冶’s talents were evident even as a young child but her father didn’t really encourage her. She was sent to a daoist temple when she was only 11 and became a daoist nun. Nevertheless, she continued to write poems and became great friends and acquaintances with some of the most famous male poets of the day. She fell in love but was spurned but she still continued to write. Her understanding of love and the world shaped her writing style and as a nun, she was able to write poems such as 八至. The last line of this poem highlights her understanding of the world and I think is quite illuminating. 

[Cathy]

Late in her life, the Emperor heard of 李冶’s poetry and talents so he summoned her to 长安. Her stay in 长安 turned out to be her nightmare. Shortly after arriving in 长安, the general 朱泚 rebelled and invaded 长安. The Emperor fled the city but 李冶 was not one of the lucky ones to do so. Captured, she was brought in front of the newly self-proclaimed Emperor 朱泚. He demanded that she write a laudatory poem for him. Under threat, she did. The following year, a Tang dynasty general 李晟 successfully routed the rebels in 长安. The previous Emperor reclaimed his throne. Unfortunately, this Emperor wanted to make examples of anyone who praised the traitor and 李冶 was one of them. For her poem, she was sentenced to prison and beaten to death in 784AD. 

 

[Karen]

Lastly, let’s talk about the 甄嬛’s children! In the drama she just gave birth to the 6th prince or 弘曕。In history 弘曕 was born in 1733 in 圆明园. His mother was 谦妃, someone that doesn’t exist in this show. He is 雍正’s youngest son. That’s all we’ll disclose for now. His real life historical counterpart does have an interesting storyline so we’ll save that for later. As for 甄嬛’s daughter, she does not exist in history so she’s just here for the story.

Well that is all for today’s episode! 甄嬛 successfully gives birth to her and the 17th prince’s twin children, much to the relief of everyone in the palace. Her position is secured now that she has at least one prince to call her own. This is a big triumph for her. 

 

Thank you all so much for listening. Hope you enjoyoed the discussion and we’ll see you in the next episode!

EPISODE 59

 

The Empress Strikes Back 

 

[Cathy]

This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 59 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. We are in the last stretch of the drama I would say where 甄嬛, our main character, is essentially coming back to the palace, solidifying allies and facing enemies. 

 

In this episode, there’s quite a bit that happens or at least many players involved with various bombshells.

 

The episode starts off with the result of the evening spent together between 沈眉庄 and 温实初 in the last episode. She, an imperial concubine, he, an imperial doctor.  We don’t need to tell you this but this is a huge no-no! But she is in love with him even though she knows he is in love with her best friend and his childhood friend, 甄嬛。 Anyways, the doctor comes to check on 沈眉庄 to realize she is… pregnant. He is dumbfounded whereas she is actually very happy to have her suspicions confirmed. And we know that he has to be the father because she has not spent the evening with the Emperor in years.

 

Poor doctor. He has so many secrets to keep! His love child is going to pass off as the Emperor’s and he has been caring for 甄嬛’s secret love-children as well. 沈眉庄is also lucky that 温实初 is her personal doctor as opposed to anyone else.

 

[Karen]

In order to protect her child, 沈眉庄 wastes no time enacting the same plan as 甄嬛! Make the Emperor think that the child is his! Her plan is so simple that 苏培盛 the emperor’s main Eunuch is like, where did the sun come up from? She pretty much stopped on the road where the Emperor normally takes after going to court and says a few things that invokes nostalgic feelings between the two and also invites him over to her residence. He happily obliges. Later that evening, he requests she spends the night. 

 

That afternoon, 甄嬛 wastes no time in congratulating 沈眉庄 during a sisterly chat. Notice the words that 沈眉庄 uses, she says that people still need to survive in the palace. It has nothing to do with changing her outlook. Of course, she’s hiding a secret. Little does she know, 甄嬛 is hiding the same secret. Wow isn’t that funny? Best friends using the Emperor for the same purpose.

 

It’s also fantastic to see that 沈眉庄 is not worried she won’t get the affections of the Emperor. She knows he still harbors interest in her, plus the Empress Dowager is always putting good words in for her. She just says a few words and voila, the emperor requests that she spends the night. Look at that confidence. I appreciate that she now has the maturity to play the game very easily but doesn’t do so in a condescending manner. She is very classy in how she approaches the emperor. This also tells me that if the emperor never treated her so poorly in the beginning of her time in the palace, she would be very powerful and favored now by the emperor.

 

[Cathy]

In the next scene, we’re outside at a pagoda where 沈眉庄, 甄嬛, 宁贵人 and the Emperor are having a meal outside. 沈眉庄 asks the Emperor for the same plum drink as 甄嬛. The emperor says no, you can drink alcohol. This is when 沈眉庄 reveals that she is 2 months pregnant. Tada!

 

The Emperor is utterly shocked and extremely pleased. There haven’t been new children produced in the palace for several years and suddenly two of his concubines are pregnant. That is such fantastic news is it not? While we the audience are all chuckling that none of the those children are his. He says something very interesting in response to 沈眉庄’s news. He said that the chrysanthemums bloomed very early this year. Originally it was thought to be some ominous omen but now, he knows that it was to welcome good news. Remember how we’ve always said that 沈眉庄 is the chrysanthemum flower? This theme has returned here.

 

The news that these two friends are pregnant at the same time spreads fast. There are those who are genuinely happy for 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 such as 敬妃 and the Empress Dowager, whereas the Empress is probably fuming. Fortunately for both these ladies, the trusty 温实初 has been tasked with taking care of their pregnancies. And thank god for that because otherwise, their secrets would be revealed!

 

敬妃, the good friend of both 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄, and the adoptive mother of 甄嬛’s first daughter, are out for a walk in the palace where they bump into a napping 苏培盛. He’s startled by their arrival and accidentally drops a pouch. 敬妃 picks it up and comments how delicate the embroidery is. She jokes that this looks like 瑾汐’s handiwork. Of course, we know that it most likely is her gift to him. The camera shifts showing their faces confirm this suspicion. At least 敬妃 doesn’t make a fuss and the ladies all carry on.

 

[Karen]

Afterwards, back at 沈眉庄’s palace, she is embroidering a cap for her unborn child and who shows up to visit? None other than 安陵容, her and 甄嬛’s frenemy. They have a pretty non-confrontational interaction where 安陵容 helps 沈眉庄 with some embroidery but the next day when the Emperor visits 沈眉庄, he comments how she looks very frail. She and her maid mention that it’s 安陵容’s visit that may have caused this so the Emperor swiftly sends orders that 安陵容 is no longer able to visit 沈眉庄. I can’t tell if 沈眉庄 was faking this or if 安陵容 was purposefully trying to harm 沈眉庄 somehow but the result is positive. With 安陵容 you never know. She may have been carrying some type of fragrance pouch with musk on it to damage 沈眉庄’s pregnancy.  At least now沈眉庄 is able to avoid 安陵容 with a legitimate excuse. She knows that 安陵容 is dangerous and this provides her with some cover from this formidable adversary.

 

[Cathy]

Why is it that the Emperor never seems to sit straight? That’s definitely an acting choice but it just makes the Emperor seem small and frail! I noticed it in the last episode…he just seems tired. If I was a woman, I’d definitely try to hook up with a younger man.

 

[Karen]

Back to 敬妃’s palace, she’s teaching her adoptive daughter 胧月 to read. What a sweet scene. Remember though, 胧月 is 甄嬛’s birth daughter whom she gave to 敬妃 to raise because 甄嬛 left to go to the nunnery. But the bond between 胧月and 敬妃 is very strong. 敬妃 in particular loves 胧月 deeply.  The 4th Prince, or 甄嬛’s adoptive son, arrives to pick 胧月 up and head to their mother’s palace for their morning greeting. 敬妃 reluctantly agrees to let her go but she’s worried that this is all a part of 甄嬛’s plot to take back her daughter. She’s standing at her palace doors wiping away tears and WHO just so happens to see this scene? 剪秋, the head maid for the Empress. Ugh well that can’t be good. Also, why is 剪秋 even there??? 

 

Sure enough, 剪秋 leads 敬妃 straight to the Empress. We don’t see their conversation but we’ll know exactly what was said. 

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 summoned the good doctor 温实处 to remind him of a few things, ranging from her pregnancy to 沈眉庄’s pregnancy. This is so funny – 温实处 knows both of these children are not the Emperor’s children, hahaha. Poor guy is pretty distraught though about 沈眉庄’s situation. He doesn’t disclose anything but asks for forgiveness. Buddy, that ship has long sailed…

 

Right after he leaves, the Empress leads a whole posse to 甄嬛’s palace. The entourage includes 端妃 and 敬妃. 敬妃 we’ve just seen but 端妃 isn’t usually out and about. All three Consorts are now present which means that whatever is about to happen is serious. 敬妃 is looking quite dodgy. She keeps glancing down. 

 

The Empress gets straight to the point. 对食 is forbidden in the Imperial Palace. It’s inconceivable that there are examples in the palace but I have proof. She believes 甄嬛’s maid 瑾汐 and the Emperor’s head eunuch 苏培盛 have this sort of relationship.

 

We discussed at length the practice of 对食 , check out our discussion on episode 52+53 for a refresher. It’s the practice of establishing a relationship between a eunuch and a maid. As mentioned, this is strictly forbidden in the palace.

 

[Karen]

The Empress has her maid bring out evidence. It’s the same pouch we saw earlier that the Eunuch, 苏培盛, dropped. 甄嬛 acknowledges that it looks like 瑾汐’s handiwork. The Empress deliberately brings 敬妃 forward to tell the story, which she does. 敬妃 just recounts their earlier encounter with 苏培盛. She very timidly squeaks out the rules – eunuchs are not allowed to have gifts from maids. 

 

甄嬛 tries to wave it away but the Empress closes in for the kill. The pouch is fine but the embroidery on the pouch is very clear – 柳叶合心 or willow leaves which is meant for a lover. That hints to an actual relationship between the two which is forbidden.  The Empress immediately orders a thorough search of 瑾汐’s quarters – 甄嬛’s helpless to watch. Uh oh this could be bad, and indeed it’s really bad for 瑾溪. They straight up find a box with a really inappropriate image on it. I guess that’s the modern day equivalent of sending inappropriate photos. 

 

This actually is quite shocking to me – this is like as raunchy as a show like this will get. 

 

The Empress is “furious” at these findings. She will take swift action against these perpetrators of filth and dishonor in the Imperial Palace. You know deep down though that she is relishing in this slip up from 甄嬛’s team and cannot wait to remove one of her lieutenants and 槿汐 is her most trusted one at that. 甄嬛 calmly tries to request that she herself punish 瑾汐 but the Empress dismisses her attempt, coldly stating that she will clean up the palace as she is the Empress. The Empress haughtily leaves 甄嬛’s palace with the entourage. The empress is probably super excited right now.

 

[cathy]

I love 甄嬛’s response after the Empress leaves. 甄嬛 knows the Empress was just waiting for an opening and took it. She can’t let anything happen to 瑾汐 or else she’s next. She immediately heads towards the Emperor’s palace. We see that 苏培盛 isn’t there anymore so something must have happened. Sure enough, the Emperor already knows about this and has dismissed the eunuch. 

 

Upon hearing that the Emperor already knows about the situation, 甄嬛 doesn’t request for clemency on behalf of 瑾汐, instead she apologizes for the embarrassment. As she rightly explains to 浣碧 outside of the Emperor’s study, the Empress would have pounced if she heard that 甄嬛 tried to persuade the Emperor to release 瑾汐.

 

After seeing these developments, 甄嬛 decides to head over to 慎刑司. In the drama, 慎刑司 is a Qing Dynasty Agency specializing in punishment. We’ll discuss this in the analysis portion of the episode.  甄嬛 visiting 慎刑司 is a really big gesture though because she is pregnant and a concubine that is in favor. Not many masters would have tried to save her servants in these situations which shows why 槿汐 is so loyal to 甄嬛。I mean, 甄嬛 is indeed going all out for 槿汐。 For her crimes, 槿汐 has been sentenced to hard labor there. That’s crazy fast – didn’t the whole thing happen just that morning? I love 甄嬛’s rationale and decision to go. She needs to protect 槿汐 – if she goes to 慎刑司, others will think twice about harming 槿汐. 甄嬛 coldly states – I’ve already gone to the cold palace twice, what can 慎刑司 do to me? You go girl. If only everyone could have bosses and masters like her.

 

[Karen]

She heads over with 浣碧 and her eunuch 小允子, but even she isn’t prepared for what she sees. The ladies are currently punished to pound rice for hours at a time in addition to other forms of hard labor. The ladies only sleep 4 hours a night, given poor sleeping conditions and basically left to die. What’s shown on screen is relatively clean.

 

槿汐 is shocked to see 甄嬛. She tearfully begs 甄嬛 to sacrifice herself, 槿汐. The opportunity to return back to the palace was hard earned. 甄嬛 can’t risk saving her and losing everything. 槿汐 is truly loyal. 甄嬛 correctly points out though, that sacrificing 槿汐 does nothing for them and plays directly into their enemy’s hands. 甄嬛 promises to find a way to rescue 槿汐. We find out that even under torture, the eunuch 苏培盛 did not divulge his relationship to 槿汐. That’s quite touching. 槿汐 even admits as much, she didn’t really think much of this relationship at first, but she’s now had a change of heart towards him. 苏培盛 is a eunuch but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings. 甄嬛 tells 槿汐 to sit tight. She’ll do everything she can to save them.

 

甄嬛’s brilliance in playing harem politics is now on display. After seeing 瑾汐 in 慎刑司, her next stop is actually to 端妃‘s palace. 端妃 is one of the oldest concubines in the palace and became an ally of 甄嬛’s in order to help take down the powerful and arrogant 华妃 in the first half of the drama. But I don’t think the Emperor knows they are good friends. 端妃, true to her title which means level headed and refined, as a gentle mannered woman but is not simple or stupid. She knows that there is chaos at 甄嬛’s palace. 甄嬛 comes out directly to say she wants to save 瑾汐 and 苏培盛 but the interesting part if that she focuses on 苏培盛 rather than 瑾汐。 端妃 cares more for the emperor than 甄嬛“s personal maid which is why 甄嬛 continuously focuses on how the emperor will not be able to function as properly now without his trusted eunuch by his side.  

 

Not long after this conversation, 皇上,the emperor, comes to visit 端妃. It’s really interesting to see that 甄嬛 knew he would visit 端妃 for a discussion and planned accordingly. He notices that 端妃 is reading 孟子 or Mensius. This tells us that she is quite educated. We’ll discuss this in the analysis portion of our episode but she brings up how, in reading this text, she realizes that the Mencius scholar, 朱熹, is someone who has no empathy or feelings. His teachings are counter to what the emperor decrees throughout his dynasty. 

 

Her words immediately cause the Emperor to be suspicious so he asks her if she has recently seen anyone. He clearly is wondering is she has spoken to the likes of 甄嬛 because he can sense this conversation is steering towards the drama between 苏培盛 and 槿汐。She lies and says that she is generally frail and she doesn’t like to gossip, the emperor knows this, who would she see? The Emperor is appeased by this answer. 

 

So he, actually asks her opinion on the whole matter between 槿汐 and 苏培盛. I have a feeling that 端妃 would have helped 甄嬛 regardless but after her visit, 端妃 uses her own method to convince the Emperor that the situation is not as bad as the Empress makes it out to be. She appeals to his empathy and highlights how these two haven’t done anything to cause drama in the palace. They are only spending time together to help with their loneliness in the palace. It;s possible that all of the palaces have such instances of eunuchs pairing with maids, does the emperor want to kill everyone?

 

The emperor overall seems to still be mulling her response over. She comes in with a final thought that impacts the needle- The 2 pregnancies in the palace. 端妃 highlights how both 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 are pregnant right now so it’s not good to have killings in the palace. The emperor immediately agrees to this and says he appreciates the conversation with 端妃. The episode ends with the Emperor leaving her palace but not before she stops him to suggest he should drink some chrysanthemum tea for his dried lips. 

 

You can clearly tell she cares deeply for the Emperor but can only show her love in such simple ways.  

 

The Emperor is such an inconsiderate asshole – all he does is pat her on the shoulder? Come on…

 

The only other I guess notable scene in this episode is that the Empress, now fully on attack mode against 甄嬛, visits 祺贵人 who is currently under house arrest. In the last episode, 祺贵人 got demoted from being a royal concubine to now just a noble lady because of her abusive antics. She hates 甄嬛 for causing her demotion and is fully ready to work for the Empress to enact revenge.

 

Ok— that was the episode recap. Now onto the analysis for the day. 

 

Today there are a few items we want to discuss. 

 

慎刑司

 

慎刑司 is a Qing Dynasty agency and you can think of it as an office of punishment. It was originally called 尚方司. The name was changed in 1655 to 尚方院 and finally 慎刑司 in 1677. 慎刑司 has a few roles. Its primary role was to enforce punishment for the crimes from the upper three banners – made up of the bordered yellow banner, the plain yellow banner, and the plain white banner. It also of course was in charge of punishment and torture of eunuchs and maids. We have heard 慎刑司 mentioned throughout the show and it will continue to pop up – it’s a deadly and dangerous place. Like we said earlier, 槿汐’s punishment is quite PG right now but others will not be so lucky in 慎刑司. 

 

The torture enacted in 慎刑司 are akin to if not worse than what is experienced in european medieval torture chambers and this agency has a lot of authority to enact punishments however it wants. From whippings, to stabbing people’s fingers with needles, to hard labor, to beheadings, this place can be considered “hell on earth” and is most definitely a scary place everyone tries to avoid. 

 

The next bit of interesting history is about the Neo Confucian scholar, 朱熹。

 

端妃 has a copy of 孟子 or Mencius but the major conversation between her and the Emperor actually revolves around a Neo-Confucian scholar 朱熹. So let’s talk about him. 

 

朱熹 is a Song Dynasty scholar, philosopher, and calligrapher. Born in 1130 – he is one of the founders of Cheng-Zhu School of Neo Confucianism, which 端妃 mentions. It’s also known as the Rational school. His writings and commentaries of the Four Books formed the basis of the civil service curriculum and exams for 600 years. That’s very impressive. For his contributions, he has a memorial tablet in the confucian temple at QuFu and is venerated as one of the 12 Philosophers of Confucianism. He is the only philosopher who was not a direct disciple of Confucius. 

 

The specific line that is debated in this drama is 存天理,灭人欲 a central teaching of 朱熹. My translation of this is keep natural law, eliminate all desires. 端妃 criticizes 朱熹 for being too heartless. Mencius wrote 男女居室,人之大伦也 – That male and female should dwell together, is the greatest of human relations。 This is natural. 朱熹 however is advocating to rid of desire. These are in direct conflict. 端妃 believes 朱熹’s teaching’s lack empathy and do not reflect what the Emperor wants to convey for his empire. She’s trying to portray the relationship between 苏培盛 and 槿汐 as a normal one and that the rulers in the Imperial palace should show some empathy.

 

I personally don’t think that’s 100% what 朱熹 meant. Yes, he did focus on vital force and principle over desire but I don’t think it was to rid of all desire. I’m not a philosopher so someone can correct me on this. 

EPISODE 58

 

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. Today we are discussing Episode 58 of Empresses in the Palace, 后宫甄嬛传. We are your hosts, Cathy and Karen.

In the last 2 episodes, our main character, 甄嬛 returned to the palace, pregnant with the 17th prince’s child, but has made the emperor believe the child was his. The reason 甄嬛 did this was to 1) save her father’s life and 2) try to enact revenge on behalf of the 17th prince who was presumed dead. We find out that he is alive but she’s stuck returning to the palace.

Now that she’s back, she is now no longer the 汉 woman, 甄嬛, instead, she is the Manchu woman, 钮祜禄甄嬛。She’s powerful, well dressed, and has an affinity for red lipstick.

In the last episode, she was stopped by her former friend, 安陵容, who came to give her some “advice” which were more like threats. 甄嬛 returns to her palace and we start the episode here. As always, we will do an episode recap and analysis at the end of the episode.

As 甄嬛 returns to her palace, her maid/sister, 浣碧 is all in a huff because clearly 安陵容 had a pouch that contained the terrible 麝香 or musk. See? Now any time you smell ANYTHING, you know it might be 麝香。 That’s why the Empress, so many episodes back, said she never likes any scent or fragrance that is not natural. On command, 甄嬛 asks her other trusty maid 瑾汐about the lay of the land in the palace. Fortunately, 瑾汐 is paired up with the Emperor’s head eunuch, 苏培盛 and he tells her how 安陵容 and 祺嫔 are very favored in the palace but the Empress generally favors 祺嫔。 甄嬛 can guess why. 祺嫔 is arrogant yet simple, much easier to manipulate.  You can see the change in tone and behaviour now from 甄嬛. She has her sources of information and knows how to manage her enemies. She is generally on the offensive rather than the defensive. 

[Cathy]

The biggest asset 甄嬛 could ever have acquired in the palace, is having the Emperor’s head eunuch 苏培盛 on her side. Since he’s in front of the Emperor most of the time, he’s able to put in a good word for her or request things on her behalf. In the next scene, 苏培盛 does just that. While the Emperor is in his study doing work, 苏培盛 brings some soup for the emperor and mentions that 甄嬛 is generally a little down. A visit from her family would most likely cheer her up. This prompts the emperor to allow her sick father to visit once he is recovered.

The emperor visits 甄嬛 to tell her the news. She is very pleased to hear that her father will be able to see her. Now I’m wondering if 瑾汐 asked 苏培盛 to make this ask, or if 苏培盛did it out of his own kindness. I’m hoping the latter, but, regardless the end result is positive. She is much more at ease. 

To continue reinforcing how powerful and influential 苏培盛is, he steers the conversation next towards where the Emperor will be staying that night. The Emperor initially says to stay with 甄嬛  but 甄嬛 says he’s not supposed to stay with her so she nudges him elsewhere. He says fine, I’ll go visit 宁贵人. She’s the concubine who was formerly a lowly horse tamer maid. Here is where 苏培盛 is impactful. He says sure, we’ll let 宁贵人 know that you will be arriving, but when we pass where 祺嫔 lives, we’ll probably hear her grumbles. The Emperor is a little surprised by this and asks if 祺嫔 always says negative things. And here is where 苏培盛 chooses his words wisely, he says, I’ve only heard it a few times. But it’s no wonder. THe empress dowager doesn’t like 宁贵人, so it’s no surprise others don’t either. This promptly annoys the Emperor. He even says, the empress dowager is the empress dowager, who does 祺嫔 think she is.  

I really haven’t noticed this in previous viewings but 苏培盛 is planting the seeds of annoyance and distrust in the Emperor’s mind about 祺嫔。甄嬛 says he shouldn’t mind, but on cue, a eunuch comes to alert the emperor that 祺嫔 isn’t feeling well. Does the emperor want to go take a look? The emperor initially was like um no and tells the eunuch to lie to 祺嫔 as to why he won’t go. Once he’s gone, 甄嬛 actually recommends the Emperor to see 祺嫔。Could it be out of the kindness of her heart? Absolutely not.

[Karen]

At 祺嫔’s palace, 祺嫔 is beating her servants, one in particular, because the Emperor isn’t coming. But who comes to see her? The emperor. 祺嫔 is in shock and immediately kneels to the ground. She knows this doesn’t look good. 

The emperor is very angry to see 祺嫔 behave this way, especially after learning that 祺嫔 has been beating the maid who used to work for 甄嬛. 欣贵人, who is in the same palace and has been belittled by 祺嫔 for a long time, swiftly uses this opportunity to explain how 祺嫔 uses her 嫔 or Concubine title over her so that she can’t even protect her servants from such abuse. These words, I’m assuming chosen very wisely, prompt’s the Emperor that 祺嫔 isn’t deserving of this title. He demotes her, moves her to another residence and places her under confinement. All managing responsibilities of the palace will now fall to 欣贵人.

Tada. And with that! 甄嬛 is able to put 祺嫔 in her place and gain an ally in 欣贵人。 After all, it was 欣贵人 who came to 甄嬛 in the last episode to ask for help and be on the same team. This seems simple enough of an obstacle to remove. 甄嬛 didn’t have to do much work. She leveraged 祺嫔’s own arrogance to bring about her punishment. Oh and she has to thank 苏培盛。

[Cathy]

In the next scene, 甄嬛 stops by to visit the Empress Dowager along with the Emperor. There, she shares a big secret. She’s actually having twins! That’s why her stomach looks bigger than normal.  That’s quite a pleasant surprise isn’t it? Look at those genes from the 17th prince.  It means she doesn’t have to hide the fact that her pregnancy is actually earlier than expected because who is going to really know how big a stomach is with twins. The empress dowager and the emperor are very excited but 甄嬛 requests they keep this information a secret until she gives birth. Part of this is her master plan. 甄嬛 wants to bait those who are ill willed against her because they will surely think her pregnancy is too big and suggest she actually cheated. Well, she did, but the twins luckily hide this fact.

During this conversation, the Empress Dowager mentions that the Empress is still sick. The Emperor should speak to the Imperial Astronomer qin tian jian again to see what’s going on. The Emperor agrees and we get to the next scene.

The emperor has a meeting with Qin Tian Jian but instead of the Imperial Astronomer, he’s meeting with the deputy. This guy says the top guy is sick, so that’s why he’s here. A few months ago, the Imperial Astronomer persuaded the Emperor that Zhen Huan was unlucky due to the current alignment of the stars. This astronomer acknowledges that over the past few months, the danger has subsided but a new threat is written in the stars. This time the Jing or Well mansion and 鬼 or Ghost mansions of Vermilion Bird of the South Symbols both appear in the sky. It’s unlucky, whoever lives in the southside of the palace that has parents or names that include characters relating to wood or 木 should be avoided. 

[Karen]

Don’t get any of this BUT it’s quite clear, the Emperor will avoid whoever fits that criteria. Su Pei Sheng is listening to this on the side and he makes a recommendation. Once again! MVP right here! Su Pei Sheng is the key person here. He pipes up that An Ling Rong fits the bill. 

The Emperor is somewhat suspicious at first but Su Pei Sheng gives several reasons why it could be her. The Empress is still unhealthy, it could be due to her close associate with An Ling Rong. The Astronomer simply states that this woman should be away from people. With this recommendation, the Emperor orders An Ling Rong to be confined or restricted. Oh look – one more of the Empress’s posse is now confined. 

If you remember though that in the last episode, Shen Mei Zhuang was the one to say that this deputy in Qin Tian Jian is probably someone they can rely on. I’m assuming she and Zhen Huan did something behind the scenes to cause the Head to fall ill, thereby giving the deputy this opportunity to speak to the Emperor. And what do you know? The emperor makes this guy the head. I don’t know if Shen Mei ZHuang and Zhen HUan fed him these lines about making An Ling Rong a bad omen. It’s suggested that this is in fact what happened. Otherwise, it seems too neat that their enemy is now being isolated from her master. A simple and effective way to separate An Ling Rong from support and not once will the Emperor suspect Zhen Huan or Shen Mei Zhuang had anything to do with it. These ladies are definitely building up a list of people to rely on and is quite impressive.

[Cathy]

Now this is where we get to, how shall I say a sad but funny part of the episode.

The emperor decides to visit Shen Mei Zhuang who now lives in Zhen Huan’s previous residence, Sui Yu Xuan. This is quite the event and everyone knows. Su Pei Sheng comes to tell Zhen Huan who is playing chinese go with another concubine, Duan Fei. They’re all very surprised about this meeting because Shen Mei ZHuang has avoided seeing the Emperor for quite some time and the Emperor himself has refrained from visiting her. The Empress Dowager also hears this news and is happy to hear it.

Seriously. The emperor visits someone and the entire palace knows in an instant. 

The truth is, Shen Mei Zhuang had her heart broken way back when during her fake pregnancy scandal. She was tricked into believing she was pregnant by the powerful Hua Fei and was severely punished by the Emperor. Since then, she has become very detached towards him and does not care for his attention. So, she turned her focus towards caring for the Empress Dowager.  During dinner with the Emperor, the Emperor pretty much says he knows that the reason why Shen Mei Zhuang moved to Zhen Huan’s old residence was to avoid him for these years.

[Karen]

As they’re having this rather somber discussion, the Empress Dowager decides to help them along and send them a bottle of liquor that will um…help them with their emotions. Her maid drops off the liquor. He pointedly asks her what type of liquor this is. She doesn’t hesitate and point blank tells him that it’s to help the 2 of them spend a good evening together, courtesy of his mother. 

That’s pretty funny to be honest.  

But unfortunately, this drink serves the exact opposite purpose and shortly after the maid leaves, the Emperor also decides to leave. I mean it makes sense. Bringing this drink means that they two need help getting to where they should be. The Emperor probably doesn’t mind, but he feels a barrier from Shen Mei Zhuang and doesn’t want to force her. PArt of me thinks it’s more ego driven. He doesn’t want to resort to such means for a woman to be with him. He wants her to be willing on her own. She clearly isn’t so he leaves.

Shen Mei Zhuang is understandably sad, not because he left, but because she thinks he’s hypocritical. And that’s fair. She laments why he’s saying all these heartfelt things when he was the one to break her heart in the first place?

She is saddened and starts to drink the liquor alone in her residence, without her servants. After a while, she becomes drunk, crying in her room. 

Her servants, worried about her, quickly call for the Imperial Doctor Wen Shi Chu to come provide some medicine to sober up.  He hurriedly arrives to see her in a pretty drunk state. He tells the servant to boil the medicine and is then alone with Shen Mei Zhuang. Though he tries to persuade her to stop drinking, she turns around and asks him to drink with her. He worridley obliges but i think in an instant, you look at his face, he realizes that he had liquor that has some additional ingredients in it. 

He doesn’t stop drinking though. He continues to drink a few more glasses with her as she shares her inner most thoughts. Her loneliness, her sadness. 

One thing leads to another…and he carries her off screen….

Hey! This is a very classy drama. 

Once again, the Emperor is now a man that wears a green hat. What does that mean? We’ll discuss at the end of the episode. 

[Cathy]

Moving on – Zhen Huan meets Ye Lan Yi, Ning Gui Ren. The former horse tamer maid of the 17th prince. We didn’t mention in our recap of ep 56 but they met briefly before on the same topic they’re discussing now – He Huan Hua. it translates to Persian Silk Tree. This flower is the 17th prince’s favorite flower which hints to how both Zhen Huan and Ye Lan Yi fancy the handsome man. 

It’s pouring outside and Zhen Huan basically just invites herself over to Ye Lan Yi’s palace. They step in and the first thing Zhen Huan notices is the cats that Ye Lan Yi owns. She’s extremely nervous, I mean why wouldn’t she be? She’s pregnant and the last time she was out with a cat around, someone miscarried. 

Later that evening the Emperor arrives to tell Zhen Huan that he’s been informed that there’ve been some subtle rumors flying around the Imperial Palace. Zhen Huan assuages the Emperor and requests that he doesn’t repeat them to her. It’s not worth the effort to address any of these.

What do you think they are about? Well, we find out immediately in the next scene. 

The episode ends with the Emperor dining with the Empress. All seems fine but then the Empress decides to personally bring up these rumors. The timing is impeccable, as a positive for Zhen Huan, and a negative for the Empress. The Empress hints that the rumors are about Zhen Huan’s pregnancy…apparently her tummy is a bit too big for whatever month she’s in…could it be that the baby isn’t yours? I love it – the Emperor just sort of has a blank stare but you can totally tell that he’s annoyed. He doesn’t tell her about the twins but he believes that’s the true reason. The Emperor bluntly tells her to ignore these rumors and just leave the affairs of the Imperial Palace to others. He then walks away after eating one bite. Ouch – the Empress doesn’t know what hit her. She definitely believes Zhen Huan cheated but can’t figure out why the Emperor isn’t suspicious. 

Well that’s it for the recap. This was a fun episode! Zhen Huan finally takes agency and successfully wins a round against Qi Pin. The Empress Dowager tried to push things along between her son and 沈眉庄 but um it was another man who spent the night…how exciting!

 

EPISODE 57

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. Today we are discussing episode 57 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. We are your hosts – Karen and Cathy.

 

If you’re new to the podcast, start off with our intro to the drama episode to get an understanding of what we’re discussing.  Follow us on social media and provide us with any comments there or on our website chasingdramas.com

Today’s episode is going to be more plot driven as our main character is positioning herself back as a worthy opponent in the palace. She is gathering intel and retaliating where possible.

 

We left off the last episode with our main character 甄嬛, who has returned to the palace with a vengeance, coming back from a visit to the Empress Dowager with her good friend 沈眉庄。 As they were speaking, a eunuch carrying 甄嬛 on a litter slips. Luckily nothing happens to 甄嬛 but as 甄嬛 is pregnant, if a serious fall happened due to this slip, 甄嬛 and her child could have been seriously injured. This is the second day of her return to the imperial harem and she is already experiencing threats to her life. 

 

What a fun way for things to start her life back in the place. 

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 returned to 甄嬛”s new palace, 永寿宫 where they analyze what happened. Someone mixed in slippery 鹅卵石 or a type of cobblestone into the ground. Through plot exposition, we learn that the stones in the roads have all been carefully selected to prevent slips. Therefore, to have these stones appear means someone did this on purpose. The desired result, of course, is to try to hurt 甄嬛. 甄嬛 asks her eunuch, 小允子 to speak to someone to thoroughly examine the moss on one of the stones they picked up. She’s looking for some identifiable hint of who did this. She is much less forgiving now on those who hurt her. 

 

Later that night, when the emperor comes to visit her. 甄嬛, from my perspective, knows how to manipulate? That’s kind of a strong word. Nudge perhaps is more appropriate. Nudge the emperor into learning what happened to her and defending her. She’s in bed, with her hair down. When the Emperor arrives, she plays up the sad girl, needing her husband’s protection, not saying much about what happened but instead, going straight in for a hug,  浣碧, 甄嬛’s maid explains what happens, and the Emperor immediately figures out that someone is trying to harm 甄嬛。 He tries to punish the eunuchs carrying 甄嬛 who caused her to slip but 甄嬛 interjects to prevent those eunuchs from being punished. Her soft words and focus on her child further highlights her caring and forgiving nature to the emperor. He agrees not to punish anyone at the moment.

 

Let’s take a step back to look at how much 甄嬛 has matured now she’s back at the palace. She knows very well that someone tried to harm her but understands that those poor eunuchs aren’t to blame. That is true to her character. BUT, she told her own eunuch to pick up the cobblestones in order to further examine those stones and find the culprit. When the emperor comes, she doesn’t tell him to punish anyone. Instead, she focuses on the fact that she is a victim. The emperor, surely, will be on her side because of what happened. If she asked the eunuchs to be punished, the emperor may think that the punishment will resolve the issue and be less focused on who harmed 甄嬛. In the past, 甄嬛 might have just let it go in an effort to not cause drama. This new 甄嬛 is not going to allow that. As she said herself, if you attack me, don’t blame me if I can’t allow you to exist here.  She’s learned that she needs absolute proof before acting.

 

Her retaliation strategy takes fruit rather quickly. Her eunuch shares that the moss from the stone comes from a specific type of tree from the 蜀 area of China, which is more or less modern day 四川. The only person who likes to grow this type of tree as a Chinese bonsai, is 欣贵人。 

 

[Karen]

 

Who is this 欣贵人? 欣贵人 is one of the first women we’ve met in the imperial harem. She, along with 敬妃 were in the very first court greeting with the Empress all the way back at the beginning of the drama. She was a victim of the Empress’s schemes and had a miscarriage right when we were first introduced to her. She isn’t particularly favored by the emperor but also does not make too much fuss. She is one of the older women now in the palace. 

 

Currently she lives with 祺嫔, who is firmly a member of the Empress’s group. When 甄嬛 hears that this rock is probably from 欣贵人, she sighs that it’s unfortunate for 欣贵人. She’s been with the emperor for many years but is still only a noble lady whereas other people who have been in the palace for a shorter period of time have surpassed her in title. 甄嬛 doesn’t know if 欣贵人 is now also a part of the Empress’s group or not. She clearly has motives to work with the Empress, but 甄嬛 cannot be sure.

 

Just as they are talking, 祺嫔 and 欣贵人 show up to pay their respects to 甄嬛. 甄嬛 and 祺嫔 have a pointed chat. 甄嬛 calmly puts down 祺嫔‘s father and 祺嫔’s own behavior towards her. Remember, 甄嬛’s father was framed by 祺嫔’s father and thus exiled to 宁古塔. She and her father contributed to 甄嬛’s downfall before she left the palace.

 

During the conversation 欣贵人 and 祺嫔 start to bicker. 祺嫔 becomes annoyed at what 欣贵人 says and hautily leaves the palace. Quite a rude thing to do since 甄嬛is still there but at least this allows 甄嬛 to speak to 欣贵人 alone. 甄嬛’s current rank is a 妃 or Consort, which outranks 祺嫔’s rank of 嫔。欣贵人 shares that her current living situation is rather bleak. She is constantly belittled by 祺嫔 but cannot do much because 祺嫔 has a higher title than her. 欣贵人 wants to be an owner of her own palace. She’ll work with 甄嬛 for whatever she needs in the future.

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 at this point is still skeptical of 欣贵人. She doesn’t know if 欣贵人 was the one who tried to harm her earlier so she tests 欣贵人。 甄嬛 has a lovely bonsai brought out of exactly the tree that 欣贵人likes. She mentions that the cobblestones in the bonsai were carefully picked as well. She brought this out in order to gauge 欣贵人’s reaction. If 欣贵人 was guilty of harming 甄嬛, she’d probably be more cagey. Instead, 欣贵人is ecstatic at how beautiful the tree is and how wonderful the moss on the cobblestones are. She’s not abashed at all at being sent this gift and gladly accepts it. This indicates to 甄嬛 that 欣贵人 is perhaps innocent in this scheme.

 

Um – when in the world did 甄嬛 have time to procure this bonsai? And all these cobblestones? She literally just learned about this right before these ladies showed up. How would she just so happen to have this bonsai? This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. 

 

Before letting 欣贵人go, 甄嬛 asks about a red necklace that 祺嫔 is wearing. 欣贵人 shares that this necklace was gifted by the Empress and wears it frequently to show off her favoritism. The most important piece of information, though, is that this necklace produces a faint smell that is quite pleasant. But when 甄嬛 hears this, her reaction is more knowing of the truth behind this necklace.

 

[Karen]

Later on, when 浣碧 asks about this necklace, 甄嬛 explains that the necklace isn’t just an expensive agate necklace as one would normally assume. It is instead a necklace made of 麝香,or musk. There will be permanent damage to your reproductive capabilities the longer one wears that necklace. This material is very rare so not many people have heard of it and since everyone knows that the Empress was the one who gifted it to 祺嫔, no imperial doctor will tell 祺嫔 the truth so as not to anger the Empress.  It looks like even though 祺嫔 seems to be favored by the Empress, the Empress has prevented her from ever becoming pregnant. 祺嫔 is, unfortunately, too stupid to realize this.

 

Once again, musk or this 麝香 is the most effective birth control. We now have one more woman who is infertile due to close proximity to 麝香。 We’ve said before that 麝香 or this musk is the most important item in this drama! You’ll recall in episode 46 when the Empress first gifted this necklace to 祺嫔, 安陵容 was there. 安陵容 for once in her life was not self conscious of not receiving this gift because she could smell what the necklace was made of. She actually raised her handkerchief to her nose to prevent inhaling too much of the fragrance.

 

But I must say, how does 甄嬛 so happen to know this information? Maybe from a book? 

 

The focus of this episode really is for us the audience to see each step 甄嬛 starts to take, each trap she begins to set, to build her own faction within the palace, win favor from the Emperor AND the Empress Dowager, and most importantly, one by one remove her enemies. 

 

[Cathy]

One main motive for 甄嬛 was to seek revenge on those who wronged her father. In this episode, she begins her attack towards 祺嫔, who’s father dealt the crucial blow against 甄嬛’s father. The first chess piece in her plan is her former maid 佩儿. This maid was sent to 欣贵人’s palace when 甄嬛 left the palace. 甄嬛 learns that it hasn’t been easy for 佩儿 these past 3 years. This poor girl is often beaten, whipped, or yelled at by 祺嫔 due to her association with 甄嬛.  甄嬛 now requests for the girl to be her spy in the palace – to report to her the actions of both 祺嫔 and 欣贵人. This chess piece will be quite fruitful in the future.

 

One evening, the Emperor chooses to spend the night with 欣贵人 after many months. She, of course is very pleased, but 祺嫔 is quite jealous and annoyed at this. What will this woman do? Well, apparently her “trick” is to scream quite loudly in the middle of the name claiming that she’s suffering from nightmares. She calls out for the Emperor. Her ruckus wakes up the sleeping Emperor and 欣贵人. Knowing 祺嫔’s scheme, 欣贵人 doesn’t say much. Anything she says will be pointless anyways. The Emperor does indeed ditch 欣贵人 for 祺嫔 that night and spends the night over there instead. Ugh, men. Can we all get a collective eye roll?

 

[Karen]

News of the night’s events travels to 甄嬛 ears the next morning. She’s eating breakfast with her quote on quote son, the 4th prince. 

 

The first reaction the boy has upon hearing this is to say “蠢货” or idiot. His mother is surprised at his response. He calmly explains – Why mother, this is a perfect opportunity for you to establish your reputation in the Palace! She immediately understands his meaning. She calmly orders her eunuch to send a bowl of 糙米薏仁汤 or Brown Rice Job’s Tears soup to the suffering 祺嫔. Yes, I know what the heck is Job’s Tears. It’s a type of grain that’s a popular ingredient in congees or soups.  The 4th prince says that the soup doesn’t need to be cooked thoroughly, just lightly boiled is fine. And, make sure to bring huge bowls. They instruct the eunuch to go when the Emperor is there so 祺嫔 wouldn’t dare think to NOT drink it. 

 

Hey! What do you know! This works! The eunuch arrives with the soup and cleverly says that the Imperial Doctors recommended this remedy. The Emperor agrees and sort of forces 祺嫔 to drink this soup. 

 

[Cathy]

祺嫔 of course doesn’t want to drink it. This soup is made with brown rice and Job’s tears! Yes, there are medicinal properties to this but the soup is also made with coarse grains. These are usually reserved for servants and livestock, not fit for a dainty concubine. It also definitely isn’t very tasty. Under the watchful eye of the Emperor, 祺嫔 unwillingly gulps down several bowls of this. 

 

For 祺嫔, she can’t say no.

 

This little scheme doesn’t fool the Emperor. He immediately goes to 甄嬛’s palace to figure out her reasoning. 甄嬛 gives a very appropriate response – if the Emperor continues to “fall” for these petty tricks, then everyone else in the Imperial Harem will do the same. There will be no peace in the Harem and it will give the Emperor a bad reputation. Women like 欣贵人 who haven’t done anything wrong will feel shunned while women like 祺嫔 will continue with these antics. The Emperor sheepishly agrees!

 

Look at that. Just with this one little punishment, 甄嬛 has staked her ground in the palace. On her walk with her friend 沈眉庄, 沈眉庄 tells her that she is receiving praises from even the Empress Dowager.  

 

[Karen]

Out in the garden, 祺嫔 is huffing and puffing about her bad luck. I personally can’t help but chuckle. She starts bad mouthing 甄嬛. The stuff she says is quite hilarious. Such as who does she think she is? She couldn’t keep still in that stupid temple. I’m going to show her.  That whole diatribe was overhead by none other than 甄嬛.

 

甄嬛 smirks and loudly pronounces – I don’t know how powerful you are but you should learn what the phrase – there are eyes and ears everywhere – means. 祺嫔 frantically looks around trying to a) find where 甄嬛 is and b) hide from her. I died laughing, she’s like stumbling around in those flower pot bottom shoes.

 

甄嬛 basically sashays away. The 4th Prince is confused and asks his mother – why aren’t you mad? 甄嬛 responds with a life lesson that I really need to go by. She says – Don’t waste your time and energy on worthless people or things.  I’m actually quite impressed with this 4th prince. He was the one who immediately understood how to use 祺嫔’s nightmares against her. Let’s keep a close eye on this boy.

 

[Cathy]

A side plot that will continue to ferment is exactly how 甄嬛 handles the situation with 敬妃 and her firstborn daughter, the princess 胧月. Throughout the episode, we continue to see cracks forming between the friendly 敬妃 and 甄嬛. 敬妃 loves 胧月 but knows 甄嬛 is her actual mother. They will have to part but she doesn’t want to. 

 

甄嬛 stops by her old friend 端妃’s palace. She is currently raising the princess 温仪 after her mother died. 端妃 offers some advice – don’t rush this. Unfortunately 甄嬛 doesn’t quite follow this advice. The next time she sees her daughter, she immediately calls for 胧月. Of course the child doesn’t respond. The meeting once again turns sour much to the discomfort of everyone on the scene. 

 

On the walk back to her palace, 甄嬛 is already in a dour mood but is stopped by an unwelcome guest. 安陵容. This is such a brilliant conversation.Let’s unpack this scene. 安陵容 is her usual self – such a snake but I love the framing of this scene and 甄嬛’s reactions. 

 

[Karen]

安陵容 starts off by congratulating 甄嬛 but then says some of the most backhanded things. She says, I thought dear sister you would be lonely at the temple for the rest of time. I always thought of you. Who would have thought times would change and you would be pregnant once more. 

 

甄嬛 strikes back with her own compliments.. Nothing is never perfect. There’s always something that’s not quite right. Just like you my dear sister. You are an Imperial Concubine and run your own palace, but I believe even you aren’t always happy. 

 

安陵容 next tries to attack 甄嬛 by mocking her about her daughter’s 胧月’s situation. How do you feel about your own daughter becoming someone else’s. This is quite low-brow. 甄嬛 knows exactly what 安陵容 is trying to do but doesn’t fall for it. She instead continues to point out 安陵容’s lack of children.

 

[Cathy]

Seeing this attack doesn’t work, 安陵容 next turns the topic to the recent incident of the eunuch slipping on the cobblestone. 甄嬛 responds with 欣贵人 has been in the palace for a while. 安陵容 however tries to direct the suspicion towards 祺嫔.  This part is absolutely fantastic, 甄嬛 places one finger on her temple, in sort of a mocking way and asks – what beef do I have with her? Whatever her father did was to my father. 甄嬛 let’s 安陵容 continue to talk. 甄嬛’s stance here though is probably one of my favorites in the entire drama. She is such a badass with her side eye looking at 安陵容。甄嬛 is no longer pretending to be friends with 安陵容. She knows that her former friend is nothing but a backstabber. 

 

The episode ends on a surprising note. 安陵容 warns 甄嬛 to be careful. She takes out a perfume satchel she claims was gifted by 欣贵人. 甄嬛 takes one whiff turns around and coldly states, I understand your meaning. 

 

The thing is, they’re trying to frame 欣贵人 for wanting to harm 甄嬛. We’ll see if that’s ultimately true.

— Analysis

There isn’t much on the culture front today so let’s analyze a few of the encounters and 甄嬛’s reaction to them.

 

[Cathy] j

First is of course that not so subtle attempt at her life with the cobblestones. The drama never explicitly tells us who actually did this so let’s go through the suspects one by one.

 

  1. The first person is 欣贵人. All obvious clues point to her. 1st. She enjoys the bonsai from 四川, the cobblestone goes with the bonsai. 2nd. She’s lives in 储秀宫 where 甄嬛 was passing which makes it easy to place those cobblestones there. 3rd, which I think is quite shaky, she’s only a noble lady and might want to remove 甄嬛 to further her position in the imperial harem. In my mind though, there’s no actual motive. These signs are too obvious. Everyone will think it’s her. She also seemed quite genuine in her reactions when 甄嬛 was testing her. I’m going to say that she most likely wasn’t the culprit
  2. The next person is obviously 祺嫔. She lives in 储秀宫. She hates 甄嬛 and has enough money and power put the cobblestone on the streets. She would know of 欣贵人’s hobbies. It wouldn’t be hard to place these cobblestones on the ground and have the signs point to 欣贵人. She seems to be the culprit as per general consensus.
  3. The third person that I’m putting forth is actually 安陵容. Why? Well, she’s cunning enough to frame either 欣贵人 or 祺嫔 for doing this. She’s disliked 祺嫔 for a while, as evident through what the maid 佩儿 revealed. 

 

Finally, I want to go more in depth on the last conversation between zhen huan and anlingrong.

That’s it for this episode!

 

Thank you for listening. We’re just seeing 甄嬛 slowly lay out the chess pieces for her board. She had a small victory but will this continue? Let’s find out!

 

EPISODE 56

Episode 56

[Cathy]

Welcome to the Chasing Dramas podcast. The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. We are back with our discussion of episode 56 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. This is Karen and Cathy.

 

If you haven’t already, follow us on instagram and twitter, @chasingdramas for fun updates throughout the week. There is a poll on our website, Chasingdramas.com for those of you interested in helping us decide our next drama to discuss.

 

And, in case you missed it, Karen posted in the Blog section, a review of the new drama, 锦绣南歌,The Song of Glory that is currently airing and stars 李沁 and 秦昊。Let us know if you prefer such reviews in podcast form. We’re looking to do more of these types of reviews even though the meat of our podcast is still in-depth analysis on the dramas.

 

Now let’s get back to our show!

 

[Karen]

After 10 long episodes of being away from the palace, 甄嬛 has finally made it back! She now has a new identity, a new son, a new palace, but it’s the same old game. She’ll have to fight and scheme for everything to survive in the palace. Instead of being a han woman, the emperor proclaimed her a member of the powerful 钮祜禄 manchu clan. She has a son, the 4th prince and a new palace, 永寿宫。  甄嬛 is currently pregnant with the 17th prince’s child but she has successfully tricked the emperor into thinking the child is his in order to return to the palace.

 

For this episode, I feel like I will just be fawning away at this new 甄嬛.   I don’t know about you, but normally after the death of 华妃, I skip episode 43 onwards and come straight to this episode. 甄嬛 is back, baby. And she is back to mess things up in the palace. Before when she was just 甄嬛, she was on the defensive. But now she is 钮祜禄甄嬛 and is on the offensive. Her clothes, makeup and hairstyle in these few episodes are also my favorites. The actress for 甄嬛, 孙俪,does such an exquisite job portraying the difference in moods this time 甄嬛 is back in the palace. Her heart is dead to the man she is now with. She recognizes how cold and calculating this palace is and takes that all in stride. She does not expect there to be anything other than deception or manipulation. Her bright red lipstick and heavy smokey eye help convey that but god damn does she look amazing.

 

[Cathy]

As 甄嬛 is walking through the entrance to meet with the members of the imperial harem that have come to welcome her, she holds her head up high. A stark contrast to many of the flashback scenes we see of her when she first entered the palace. Back then, she generally had her head down and was submissive. This time, 甄嬛, or rather 钮祜禄甄嬛 as she is now a Manchu woman, has put away those fears and is ready to use her power to protect herself. The emperor’s edict states that 甄嬛 left the palace after giving birth to the 4th prince and has now returned.  A complete lie but he’s the emperor, he can do what he wants.

 

There are plenty of old faces to greet 甄嬛 at the entrance and several new faces, all donning their formal court attire. Probably only 惠嫔, or 沈眉庄 , 甄嬛’s childhood best friend, and 敬妃, the adoptive mother of 甄嬛’s daughter, are genuinely glad to see her. The empress lies through her teeth to declares that she was ecstatic at 甄嬛’s return. The former friend of 甄嬛, 安陵容 also speaks, singing praises of 甄嬛’s return and of her new palace even though she caused 甄嬛’s miscarriage. 

 

Speaking of the new palace, the emperor swiftly takes 甄嬛 to see her new home,永寿宫. It is a big upgrade from her old palace, 碎玉轩。 It is grand and stately. It’s the closest palace to his office. Look, there’s ice and a nice fan to help keep the palace cool. What extravagance!  But we’re 8min into returning back to the palace and 甄嬛 is already sniffing out the hidden threats. She says to the emperor that the palace is too opulent, she cannot live here. She knows that there will be negative gossip throughout court for living in such an extravagant palace. The emperor waives her concerns away saying that he and the Empress added many of the decorations so no one will say anything.

 

[Karen]

甄嬛 next immediately hones in on the fragrance that’s wafting throughout her palace. We all know by now that fragrances are one of the most dangerous substances in the palace. 甄嬛 saw what it did to 华妃 in earlier episodes and asks what type of fragrance this is. As she suspected, the emperor tells her that 安陵容 was the one to create this special 鹅梨帐中香。Remember, 安陵容 created this special cream that is supposed to help prevent scarring, but instead, contained powerful doses of musk that contributed heavily to 甄嬛’s miscarriage. This scheme was masked by various other scents 安陵容 included in the cream so 甄嬛 knows how dangerous 安陵容is/

 

The emperor leaves after settling 甄嬛 in, none the wiser of the threats potentially posed against 甄嬛 but 甄嬛 promptly gets her bearings. She asks her faithful eunuch 小允子, who’s been tasked with serving her again, how the palace has been. He explains that the court ministers heavily disapproved of renovating this palace, 永寿宫, saying all sorts of horrible things. 甄嬛 understands that the Empress purposefully added many expensive decorations to her palace in order to fuel the flames of discontent from the court officials while also playing the part of the good wife to the Emperor. 

 

甄嬛 then asks for the doctor 温实初 to come examine this suspicious fragrance. See? After years in the palace, 甄嬛 knows the tricks of the game and sets up the necessary precautions. Once again, how wonderful is it to have 温实初 on your side? He tells her there’s nothing harmful like 麝香 or musk in the fragrance that could impact her pregnancy but warns her not to have any 依兰花 or cananga plants around. The fragrance and this plant combined will create an aphrodisiac. Odd, but nothing too problematic right now.  Such wonderful information. At this point, I feel like 温实初 is one of the most valuable people you can have on your side. He will tell you all the bad stuff that will affect you so that you can protect yourself because he has an extremely sensitive nose.

 

[Cathy]

With that settled, the next person to see is 甄嬛’s new son, the 4th prince. How great is it that they are now mother and son. In this drama, the 4th prince’s birth mother was a lowly maid that the emperor spent a drunken night with. The emperor was reprimanded by his father and thus, that disdain extended to his son. The emperor is reminded of that drunken night, and the reprimand by his father. 

 

We all recall that the 4th prince first met 甄嬛 several years back way back in Episode 12 at the Summer Palace as a young boy. She was the only one who showed any kindness towards him. Most of the other women ignored him. Over the years, the 4th Prince has not forgotten 甄嬛. 

 

[Karen]

And nowwww onto meeting public enemy number 1. 皇后, the Empress. The next day,  甄嬛 changed out of her more formal attire and into her Consort garb. Her hairstyle instead of using 旗头 is now using 钿子。 This is my all time favorite look of hers. The design is exquisite and pairs very well with her lipstick. We’ll discuss what 钿子 is at the end of the episode. After this show aired, many people were inquiring about what this hair decoration was.

 

The two share some pleasantries before the formal morning greeting with the rest of the harem in order to keep up appearances. 甄嬛 gifts 皇后, the empress, buddhist beads, which could mean nothing, or could be a hint to the Empress to do more good. She also helps place flowers in the Empress’s hair, a custom called 簪花。 This seems innocuous enough but I have a feeling the empress did this to establish dominance over 甄嬛. Regardless of her favoritism, 甄嬛 still has to serve her, the empress and place flowers in her hair, not the other way around. 

 

The real attack from the Empress comes when the other ladies arrive for the formal greeting. Immediately, the Empress asks 敬妃 to bring Princess 胧月 to see her birth mother and that after 甄嬛 gives birth, 敬妃 should return the princess to her mother. For those of you that need a refresher, 敬妃 has raised Princess 胧月 since birth at 甄嬛’s request as 甄嬛 left the palace. She has never met her daughter and misses her greatly. Even though 敬妃 and 胧月 are not blood related, there has to be a strong bond between the two. The empress knows that taking 胧月 away will cause some drama between 敬妃 and 甄嬛 which is exactly what she wants.  Very sneaky but effective.

 

I want to take a moment to speak about who is now at the court greetings. 华妃 and her posse is now gone. In this scene, we see 端妃 who seems to have made a full recovery from her previous illness, 敬妃,the 2 ladies who support the empress, 安陵容 and 祺嫔, and 1 new concubine, I think it’s 康常在。 Not sure where 沈眉庄, 欣贵人  and the other new concubine, 贞嫔 are but oh well. There’s been quite the change in membership at this morning court greeting.

 

[Cathy]

Later that day 沈眉庄 , 甄嬛’s best friend, stops by for a visit. The two friends are happy to be able to see each other again. This type of friendship is so rare and refreshing in the palace. Here, they discuss how the Imperial Astronomers halted 甄嬛’s progress back to the palace. 甄嬛 responds by saying that they need to have their own people in that office. 沈眉庄 suggests a suitable alternative and with that, they are expanding their influence within the palace.

 

The next visitors to come see 甄嬛 cause a rather heartbreaking scene. 敬妃 brings 胧月, 甄嬛’s daughter to come see her birth mother, and drop her off. 甄嬛 is incredibly emotional at seeing her beautiful daughter, who is supposed to be 3 years old but looks more like 5 or 6. Understandably though, 胧月 is confused as to whom this new woman is and why everyone is telling her to call this new woman her mother. She has a loving mother, 敬妃.  Tears and confusion ensue as 胧月 refuses to hug 甄嬛. 敬妃 is also struggling with giving away her “daughter” even though she knows her daughter’s birth mother has returned. 

 

Fortunately, 甄嬛 understands that her sudden return causes too much change for her daughter and requests that 敬妃 continue to look after 胧月, at least until she gives birth. This calms everyone down. Deep down though, 甄嬛 knows who is the real culprit of this disastrous reunion. It’s not the Empress, it’s the Emperor. 皇上 refused to let anyone speak about 胧月”s birth mother, thus causing this confusion. 甄嬛 views 皇上 as the root cause of her pain today, adding fuel to her hatred of him.

 

[Karen]

As a distraction from the chaos, 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 go visit the Empress Dowager. This is a fantastic scene as you see that the Empress Dowager is testing 甄嬛. Every word coming out of the Empress Dowager’s mouth has veiled meanings and 甄嬛 just has to roll with the punches. Luckily our girl 甄嬛 is adept enough to take the hits.

 

Right off the bat, 甄嬛 kneels in a formal greeting to 太后。太后 does not allow her to get up, as is customary. Instead, she starts questioning 甄嬛. This is a power play right here. She is reminding 甄嬛 of who wields the most amount of power in the imperial harem. 甄嬛 may be the Emperor’s favorite, but she still has to bow down to 太后.

 

Now let’s analyze this conversation. The first question from 太后 as 甄嬛 is kneeling is: Are you comfortable living in 永寿宫?  甄嬛 responds, 永寿宫 is overly extravagant, I am uncomfortable living there. This is the correct answer. You can see the slight nod of approval by 太后. 太后 would have been displeased if 甄嬛 said she enjoyed living in 永寿宫 because it would mean she is greedy.

 

Next, 太后 just ignores 甄嬛 while she’s kneeling and turns to 沈眉庄 who is feeding her medicine and they have a short conversation about how bitter the medicine is. All the while, the pregnant 甄嬛 is patiently kneeling on the floor. My view here is that 太后 is testing 甄嬛’s patience. Fortunately, 甄嬛 doesn’t complain. 太后 asks 甄嬛 to finally get up and serve her as she is rinsing her mouth. 甄嬛 does so dutifully. All the while, 太后 is evaluating her abilities. 

 

太后 praises her abilities to serve other people. No wonder why the Emperor always missed her. 太后 says that 甄嬛 must have learned to seduce the emperor for her to return. 甄嬛 immediately kneels back down again and says that with the Emperor’s visit, she is actually in panic. 

 

太后 is skeptical. 甄嬛 is pregnant and has the attention of the emperor, how can she be panicked? 太后is assessing 甄嬛’s attitude and motives in coming back. She’s trying to understand if 甄嬛 purposefully orchestrated a meeting with the Emperor in order to regain favor.

 

I love this. 太后 is one smart cookie. She knows all the tricks in the imperial harem to get the attention of the emperor and doesn’t want drama prone people to return to the palace.

 

[Cathy]

To 甄嬛’s credit, she does well with so much pressure on the spot. Of course she orchestrated the meeting with the emperor but only half lies as to how she and the emperor met.  甄嬛 says that her meeting with the emperor wasn’t a chance encounter. She explains that she was in poor condition after giving birth to her daughter and had to move to another mountain peak for health reasons. When the emperor saw that she was not at gan lu si, he went to visit her. 

 

That appeases 太后 because it shows that she wasn’t trying to “accidentally” meet the emperor for any reason. The meeting was more of the emperor’s volition. Plus, I’m sure 太后 heard stories of how they met and wanted to see if 甄嬛 would lie. 

 

The next question is the real question 太后 has for 甄嬛. She says, you were so adamant in leaving when you did, even leaving your newborn child. How is it that you are willing to mend the relationship with the emperor and even have his child again?

 

This is rather a pointed question. 甄嬛 pauses in her response. 沈眉庄 even tries to step in but is ruthlessly cut off by 太后. She wants to know why 甄嬛 is back. 

 

甄嬛 slowly responds. She says she understands now that the Emperor is the ruler of an empire, not just her husband. She doesn’t hate the emperor for what happened to her father, just the people who wrongfully accused him. She left the palace because she thought the emperor had no feelings for her but upon seeing that he went to visit her, she realizes that he does still have feelings for her. Now she’s back in the palace, she just wants to be a good concubine and serve the emperor. 

 

Look at that response. How can you find an ulterior motive with that?  

 

[Karen]

太后 sighs, accepting her answer, and allows 甄嬛 to stand. Not before playfully chiding 沈眉庄 for not reminding her to let 甄嬛 stand. We all know that 太后 wanted 甄嬛 to kneel, but by saying this and playing the old, senile woman, 太后 is able to prevent eavesdroppers and 甄嬛 from being overly upset at the scene.

 

You can tell that the earlier conversation was indeed an interrogation. 太后 herself says she doesn’t want another problem woman in the harem. After asking all of these questions and realizing that 甄嬛 isn’t back to cause trouble, isn’t back for power, revenge or welath, her tone immediately softens. She also provides 甄嬛 with a seat.

 

太后 even kindly says that 甄嬛’s outfit is a little too bland now that she’s a consort. 甄嬛 responds that since she spent time as a nun, she doesn’t like too much decoration. I thought this was hilarious because it’s like she is SO elaborately done up right now. Do you not see that eyeliner and smokey eye? How is this light on decoration? She’s also more done up than some other consorts of the same title so I have no idea what 太后 means. 

 

The conversation concludes with 太后 providing some clear words of advice. First, 甄嬛 is to forget or pretend that her stint at the temple ever happened. Second, she asks 甄嬛 to guide the emperor in harem matters so as not to cause more drama. Theres are all pretty reasonable.  Lastly, she pointedly tells 甄嬛 to respect 皇后。 I thought this was really interesting. I’m not sure how much 太后 knows in how much 皇后, the Empress, has sabotaged 甄嬛 but 太后 probably feels that 甄嬛 is smart enough to see how malicious 皇后 is. 甄嬛 just says she is very grateful for everything the Empress has done for her.

 

[Cathy]

The episode ends with 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 leaving 太后’s palace,being carried in chairs by eunuchs. As they’re discussing 甄嬛’s daughter, one of the eunuchs accidentally slips on the rocks in the road. They realize that it’s only day 2 back in the palace and someone already wants to strike 甄嬛. Who is it? We’ll find out in the next episode.

 

Alright. That was the recap for episode 56. I am just very happy that 甄嬛 is back now ready to kick ass. We do feel sorry for the 17th prince as he sends his love back to be with his brother but we wouldn’t have such an interesting second half of the drama to enjoy! 

 

There’s not a whole lot of culture to discuss in this episode but we do want to highlight the 钿子。

 

钿子 – the literal translation is tin but this is actually the hairstyle that 甄嬛 now dons for the rest of the series. The 钿子 is sort of like a net made with black velvet, satin over a copper, bronze or silver web. It’s not a hat, just something to pin the hair.  甄嬛 isn’t the first person in this series to don this hairstyle. When we first meet 敬妃 while she was still  嫔, she had this hairstyle. Look back at the first couple of episodes of this drama. 曹琴默, an ally of 华妃, also donned this hairstyle when she had more power.

 

It’s a manchu hairstyle that originated even before the founding of the Qing Dynasty. Women often used pearls as ornaments. During the Qing Dynasty, styles changed and these 钿子 became more and more extravagant with all sorts of new additions. Jade, Gold, Silver, and Coral became common ornaments. There isn’t one single style per se because so many women had so many different variations. 

 

After doing some basic research, I found out that 甄嬛’s hairstyle this episode is actually not historically accurate. It’s actually supposed to envelop the back of the head. It’s the back of the head that will have most of the ornamentation, not the front as we see here. The women in the drama 演戏攻略 or the Story of 演习 have more accurate hairstyles. 

 

In this drama, we’ve seen 6 women wear the 钿子 hairstyle. They include the the Empress Dowager, Empress, 甄嬛 here, 敬妃, 端妃, and 襄嫔 before she died. In this drama, you could say that it is used to differentiate between the higher ranked concubines but I think this was just more character preference. For example, 华妃 never used this type of hairstyle.

 

太后

 

I want to end the episode on a quick conversation about the Empress Dowager 太后 and her behaviour this episode. 甄嬛 doesn’t know the extent of the role the Empress Dowager played in helping her return to the Palace, but we the audience do. The Empress Dowager’s first priority is grandchildren. The Empress Dowager just needs 甄嬛 to birth a son. Of course,The Empress Dowager didn’t agree to this simply because 甄嬛 was pregnant. She needed someone to balance the Empress’s power in the Imperial Harem. The Empress has killed too many of the Emperor’s unborn children. She’s not just some old lady – she’s the Empress Dowager. That’s why she put on this little show for 甄嬛. This encounter was a warning to 甄嬛 – play your part, don’t get any crazy ideas. As much as the Empress Dowager currently dislikes the Empress, they are from the same clan. The Empress Dowager, no matter what, will always prioritize the Empress over 甄嬛. Let’s keep this in mind for future episodes. 

  

That’s it for this episode!

EPISODE 55

Episode 55 – Surprise Pikachu Face

 

(Karen)

 

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. Thank you all so much for listening. My name is Karen and this is Cathy, your hosts for this podcast. We are discussing episode 55 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. The script of this episode will be posted on our website, chasingdramas.com. Follow us on Instagram or Twitter or email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com with any questions.

 

The title of this episode is called “Surprise Pikachu Face”. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it is a popular “meme” or photo on the internet. I’ll post the picture on our website and instagram and twitter but it’s essentially the Pokemon Pikachu very dumbfounded at what’s happening. In this episode, there are several instances where this “surprise pikachu face” is an apt portrayal of a character’s, and, quite frankly, our feelings. And yes, I think I’m very clever at using this meme throughout this episode and for our title.

 

That brings us to episode 55.

 

(Cathy)

The empress dowager has pretty much had it with the empress’s schemes and behavior. In the last episode, we saw that the Empress tried to poison the 4th prince in order to secure her adoptive son, the 3rd prince’s claim to the throne.  This, among many other things, causes the empress dowager to reconsider bringing our main character, 甄嬛, back to the palace. 甄嬛 is currently at a temple where she’s been banished for the past 3 years. She is pregnant and looking for a way back to the palace. In the last episode, we saw that the Empress cleverly used astronomy to halt her progress back but it looks like the Empress Dowager is going to change that.

 

The empress dowager, 太后, asks for the emperor to come see her while the empress is also there. In front of the empress, the Empress dowager makes clear that she is very happy to have 甄嬛 come back. She’s not worried about any constellation threat. The most important thing is the emperor’s bloodline. They can’t let the emperor’s bloodline be astray out in the wild. This scene is hilarious in my opinion because the empress dowager is very pointedly hinting to the empress that she is not going to allow further harm come to her grandkids. All in a very calm manner, of course.  The empress really has no option but to back down. It’s really smart because 皇后 the empress doesn’t get mad. She never shows her true emotions. 

 

The next scene is probably the kicker of this episode. The emperor is now resolute in bringing 甄嬛 back to the palace. He discusses his plans with the empress as they prep for bed. You can tell she’s nudging him to not bring her back but he is adamant. He acknowledges that court ministers oppose the idea of bringing 甄嬛 back to the palace but our clever emperor has a solution for every obstacle that is hurled at him:

  1.  The court ministers don’t want the me to build a new palace for 甄嬛’s return due to cost concerns? Fine. I’ll refurbish an existing palace 永寿宫 for her to live in. 
  2. The ministers don’t want an banished concubine to return because she is from the lower han banner family and because her father was a condemned official? Fine, I’m going to give her another last name. Her last name will no longer be 甄  anymore, It will be 钮祜禄, a powerful Manchu last name. She will now be part of the upper 3 banners of the manchurian clans. That way, she’s not the daughter of a criminal. What does this even mean? We’ll talk about this at the end of the episode.
  3. The ministers say she doesn’t have a son. She can’t come back. Fine. I’ll give her the 4th prince as her son to raise. 
  4. She’s not old enough to have birthed the 4th prince? Fine. We’ll add 10 years to 甄嬛’s age. Instead of 22, she is now 32.

 

(Karen)

Please insert “surprised pikachu face” for the empress. 

 

I can only imagine what she’s thinking about at this moment. When the emperor asks what she thinks, she has to just kindly say “I think it’s all great” but she must be seething internally. The empress is doing everything possible to prevent 甄嬛 from returning but the Emperor has solved for every obstacle. She, the empress, cannot do anything at this point except for accept the reality that 甄嬛 is coming back. Her constellation obstacle? No longer an obstacle. That threat lasted a whole of a quarter of an episode.  

 

See? What did we say? The empress totally shot herself in the foot this time. If she had stopped with that constellation, the empress dowager would not have been so annoyed with the empress but the empress just had to poison the 4th prince. Now the empress dowager needs to bring 甄嬛 back as a counter to the Empress’s power and to protect the emperor’s bloodline. The empress has no one to blame but herself for this result. She was drunk with power and now she has to live with the consequences. But 甄嬛 is coming back with a vengeance, the Empress just doesn’t know it yet.

 

The last point the emperor raises is that he is going to change 甄嬛’s title. Her previous title of 莞 caused a lot of problems so he’s going to change it to 熹 which means brightness or light。He wants to convey that his and 甄嬛’s path is filled with light and brightness. She will also be returning as a 妃 or Consort rather than 嫔 Imperial Concubine。One step above what she was when she left the palace. And that’s that! 甄嬛 is returning to the palace.

 

After 3 years apart, I think the Emperor finally realizes that he did indeed love 甄嬛, otherwise, why do all of this? He could have just found another woman for his harem. The name of 莞 was given to 甄嬛 as a replacement for the Empress 纯元. The Emperor fully acknowledges now that that name will cause troubles and tosses it out. 甄嬛 is 甄嬛, not the shadow of 纯元.  If only he realized this three years ago, before he broke her heart. There’s no hope for a full reconciliation now.

 

(Cathy)

Congrats to 甄嬛, everything is according to plan. She successfully fooled everyone into thinking that her child is the child of the emperor’s when in reality, it’s the 17th prince’s child. In the last episode, we failed to mention that just after spending the afternoon with the Emperor, the Emperor decided to bring back 甄嬛’s father from exile to Beijing to receive medical attention. That’s 1 problem solved. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. The other issue is enacting revenge for the 17th prince which she will achieve once she returns to the palace. It’s been about 4 months since the 17th prince left and died. 苏培盛 comes to read the imperial edict by the emperor assigning 甄嬛 her title and telling her when she will return to the palace. Great! All she has to do now is prep to go back. Except…

 

The 17th prince shows up.

 

Please imagine the biggest Surprise Pikachu face possible.

 

Um. What?! Wasn’t he supposed to be dead!? How does he pop up randomly! In a cruel twist of fate, it turns out that he managed not to drown in the river when his ship broke apart and escaped capture in order to return back to see 甄嬛 and his mother. 甄嬛 is overwhelmed. On one hand she is thrilled he is alive but on the other hand she is like no, she is now trapped in her plans. 

 

I cannot imagine how she is feeling at this moment. Even though she loves him with all her heart, at this point she has to lie to the 17th prince about who the child’s father really is. She has to lie to him and say she doesn’t love him and does her best to try to make him hate her. This is all done to protect him because the royal edict has already been declared. She has no choice but to return to the palace. If they run away, numerous people will be implicated in what happened. People will deduce that 甄嬛’s child isn’t the emperor’s which could mean the death of her family and his mother. Her maids might be killed. His servants as well.  There are just too many people they care about and need to protect that they cannot just leave. Their loved ones could all die due to their selfishness. 甄嬛 implores the 17th prince that they cannot be so selfish.

 

(Karen)

She also knows what she’s done isn’t pretty. Essentially she cheated on the 17th prince with the Emperor. The 17th prince, being an amazing guy, doesn’t mind that the child is not his, or at least he doesn’t think it’s his. He wants to take her away from all of this. They technically still have time… But she cannot go through with that. 

 

They have a very heartfelt and tearful goodbye where they concede fate, timing, life, whatever you have it, played them. They’ve been apart for only 4 months. There’s no coming back from this. They just have to accept that she has to go back to the palace and that they will never be together again.. 

 

If only he hadn’t left on this trip ordered by the emperor, their lives may have been so different. This series of events happens too perfectly from a timing perspective. It’s difficult for me, at least, to accept all of this happened in the way it did for 甄嬛 to succeed and for her to have this second heartbreak but here we are. 

 

Can I also just mention that when the 17th prince returned to see 甄嬛, 甄嬛 is stunned but guess who rushes to give the 17th prince a hug? It’s 浣碧,甄嬛‘s sister/maid. 浣碧 has been in love with the 17th prince probably for as long as she’s known him. Fortunately she understands that her older sister 甄嬛 and the 17th prince love each other and doesn’t try to sabotage this but i still it’s funny she rushes over to hug him.

 

(Cathy)

The drama allows us to see a crucial scene between the 17th prince’s and mother. At this point, people would exclaim, why doesn’t the 17th prince’s mother just tell him the truth when he went to visit her? She explains to her maid that if she told the truth to her son, he would insist on whisking 甄嬛 away. This would create more problems for both of them. She understands 甄嬛’s predicament and what would happen if the 2 ran away. She decides to choose the lesser of 2 evils and lie to the 17th prince. That way, hopefully the 2 of them will move on. 

 

In the biggest slap in the face, the emperor, upon seeing that the 17th prince is alive and healthy, requests he formally bring back 甄嬛 to the palace. He shares his excitement of bringing his beloved 熹妃 back to his arms and doesn’t notice anything amiss in his brother’s reaction to this. The 17th prince agrees to do so but it’s so heartbreaking. He has to personally send off the love of his life to his brother. 

 

At the end of the episode, we see 甄嬛 in all of her Consort attire. While she was praying as a nun, she had minimal hair accessories and make up. But now? Look at that bright red lipstick. Look at that eyeliner. Look at that smokey eye. Look at the gold on her headdress and her earrings. I like to think of her now in her battle armor. She has to go back to play the part of 熹妃。Her attire is vastly different from when she first entered the palace. She is no longer the green and naive girl. She is going back to the palace as a new person. 甄嬛 definitely died when she left the palace. She is now 钮祜禄甄嬛。 The audio team even deepened the voice actor’s voice to make her seem older and authoritative.

 

The 17th prince comes to bring her to the palace. It is as devastating as you can imagine but 甄嬛 has to keep walking forward. 

 

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the episode is at the end here where 甄嬛 is leaving the nunnery. She speaks to all of the nuns at 甘露 temple. Previously, many of the nuns treated her poorly but now, guess who’s boss? 甄嬛 demotes the nun who accused her of stealing and sentenced her to be beaten 20 times with a wooden stick. Look at that aura. This is the beginning of where we can say “YAS GIRL”.

 

[Cathy] 

 

This episode, to me, felt so much like Romeo and Juliet! I think the roles are reversed and both of the characters don’t die. The 17th Prince is Juliet – he disappears for 4 months and is presumed dead much like Juliet when she drinks the potion to fake her own death. 甄嬛 and Romeo, believing that their beloved is dead, make some quick decisions. 甄嬛, heads back to the palace, Romeo drinks the poison. As these irreversible decisions are made, the other one either shows up or wakes up to see the aftermath of that decision. 

 

I’m thinking specifically of the Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet where Romeo actually sees Juliet wake up. 

 

Both of the men can’t do anything about the decisions they’ve made. In this situation, the 17th Prince really has the short end of the stick. He did absolutely nothing wrong.

 

[Karen]

And with that? We end episode 55. The 17th prince returned to his love but nothing can change the fact that 甄嬛 will never be his. He doesn’t know that her child is his and must take her back to the palace. 甄嬛 is in her battle armor, ready to face whatever is thrown at her at the palace. In episode 56, we are starting the last chapter of this drama. Are you ready for it?

 

ALright – now onto some analysis! This episode is actually quite interesting because now that 甄嬛 has a new identity so to speak, we have to talk about who this person is and how that relates to history.

 

First thing’s first.  Let’s talk about the new clan that the Emperor stuffs 甄嬛 into. 

 

钮祜禄

 

This is a manchu last name. He also mentions that she is now in the upper 3 banners. What does that mean?

 

钮祜禄 is the oldest manchu last name and is one of the 8 major manchu last names. Clearly, this means that giving this 钮祜禄 last name to 甄嬛 is a big deal. Her last name is no longer 甄 of the Han banner families. 

 

This 钮祜禄 family has produced several famous individuals in history. One of the most famous is the super corrupt official who wielded immense power under the reign of 乾隆, our current emperor’s son. This guy is named 和珅。

 

This is quite the revelation to me! 和珅 is a very popular bad guy portrayed in Chinese dramas, particularly in the late 90s and early 2000s. There are quite a few dramas where the famous actor 王刚 portrays 和珅. It’s a classic role. This 和珅 is very powerful and has the ear of the emperor 乾隆.  I’ve watched those dramas growing up. Never knew his last name was 钮祜禄.

 

Most of the other famous people from this family are the empresses and concubines that this clan produced. I’m reading through the materials and there’s actually a lot of women married as concubines or empresses all throughout the Qing dynasty. 

 

Now what is this talk of the upper 3 banners. During the Qing dynasty, you have 8 banners that create the administrative and military divisions of Manchu society. The banners had 2 groupings. The “Upper 3 banners” and the “lower 5 banners”. The “upper 3 banners” included 正白旗, plain white banner,正黄旗 plain yellow banner,and 镶黄旗 bordered yellow banner。 These banners and the families in these banners were under the command of the Emperor himself. Naturally, this means, they were more important. 甄嬛 originally came from the Lower 5 banners but now has been promoted to be in the upper 3 banners with her new last name. She is now part of 镶黄旗 or the Bordered Yellow Banner.  I did not pay enough attention to this previously so I’m learning quite a bit here. 

 

Lastly, let’s talk about 甄嬛 now that she’s headed back to the palace with this new identity. This new identity is what history will remember as the mother of the next emperor.  The spoiler here is that the 4th prince who is now claimed to be her son, is indeed the famous 乾隆 emperor so we’ll see how the 4th prince manages to become heir apparent. 

 

甄嬛’s real life counterpart is 熹妃 or Consort Xi of the 钮祜禄 family. 熹妃 was born in 1692 and became a concubine for our current emperor 雍正 at only age 12. She gave birth to the 4th prince in 1711 at age 19. When her husband died in 1735, she became the Empress Dowager at age 43. She lived for 85 years and was a constant presence during her son Emperor 乾隆’s reign, dying in 1777.  In most of the Chinese dramas that portray 乾隆 emperor, you will see Empress Dowager Zhen Huan in the background. She will be a character that drives a lot of  the drama. In some versions, she is benevolent, while in others, she is the antagonist. 

 

This drama is very clever. By adding 10 years to 甄嬛’s age, they are able to more or less match the real life age of 乾隆’s birth mother. This drama is trying to place 甄嬛 into this manchu woman’s life with this han woman’s background. I think it’s interesting that this is how the story shakes out. To be quite honest, when I first watched the drama, I was wondering how the 4th son of the Emperor was going to end up as the next Emperor. In history, this woman also only had 1 child – the 4th prince. There is no mention of 甄嬛’s daughter she birthed or her current pregnancy.