Ep 31+32

 

Episode 31 opens to a sweeping view of wonderfully created lanterns in a crowded street. An old man sitting on a stool outside his residence is being greeted respectfully by passersby before they continue on ooohing and aahing at the sight. The old man is renowned architect 毛顺. He is very irritated and yells at his staff to leave as he sees someone coming in the distance. That someone is 龙波 in a large carriage with a member of his team. They respectfully greet 毛顺 and collect him on their way…somewhere.

Back at the Right chancellor’s residence, 李必 is once again being pressured into signing the confession stating that tonight’s crimes were all instigated by the Crown Prince. He comes up with the idea that only verbal evidence isn’t enough. He can go get physical evidence for them. The Right Chancellor and company are right to be skeptical. They do not want to let 李必 go. The only trade is for him to sign the statement before he can leave with a company of men. 

He grabs the brush and we see a flashback of 李必 discussing with 徐宾 the best way to solve a seemingly dead end. The takeaway here is that staying alive is the most important answer. Only by staying alive, can one do the things one wants to do. If one thinks he has value and can do more, why does that person need to die? 

李必 is emboldened by this recollection and without further hesitation, signs his name. This comes at a surprise to 姚汝能 whom we learned last episode is a spy for the Right Chancellor. 李必 is allowed to leave but 檀棋 is forced to stay. 元载 is ordered to accompany 李必 to make sure he doesn’t escape. The Right Chancellor even tells Yuan Zai that if Li Bi looks like he’s trying to escape, kill him and make up a reason. The Right Chancellor doesn’t care about the fact that Li Bi and his father have titles at court. He’s not worried about them. Not only that, he tells Yao Ru Neng to get rid of 檀棋 at some point. The Right Chancellor really is ruthless.

Fortunately, 李必 does indeed take this opportunity to escape capture. He takes 元载 and 王韫秀 plus their soldiers to the mercenary hideout. I feel bad for these guys because they’ve had a rough day. 李必 goes in and states that there are soldiers outside. They know all about their activities tonight. These mercenaries must fight otherwise they’re homes and network will be destroyed. In short order, 王韫秀 orders the soldiers to attack and in the chaos, 李必 manages to escape through a window but the poor mercenaries are all eliminated. 元载 is also now quite frightened at 王韫秀’s archery abilities. He wasn’t ready for this bloodshed and this event promptly opened his eyes. 

李必 manages to run into several soldiers under General Guo’s purview and they help bring him directly to General Guo and the grandson of Prince Ning. The grandson of Prince Ning says he will immediately write a report to the Emperor detailing the power that the Right Chancellor now holds while 李必 manages to take a breather. The Right chancellor is furious at hearing 元载‘s report that 李必 escaped and promptly tells his staff to send the confession statements from 何孚 and 李必 up to the Emperor. 

Li Bi then informs General Guo that Director He is still captured. What’s interesting about this conversation is that Li Bi dissects the power dynamics between the Right Chancellor and the Crown Prince and what the Emperor wants to see. The Emperor wants balance – have the two men fight it out, power will remain with the Emperor. If the Crown Prince falls, then the Right Chancellor will truly have power that could endanger the Emperor. 

This analysis is important because it really is the state of the chess match that all the players are in with the Emperor playing both sides.

Li Bi makes an additional request to have General Guo rescue Zhang Xiao Jing but he refuses. Disappointed, Li Bi hurries to find the Crown Prince.

In short order, Li Bi manages to locate the Crown prince and asks for forgiveness about the betrayal in the Crown Prince’s carriage. At first the crown prince is more upset but then becomes less bothered because he finally has dirt against the RIght Chancellor, specifically the 3 seals of the 3 bureaus. This gives the Crown Prince more ammunition to bring down the Right Chancellor and give himself some cover.  The crown prince then asks what can he do for Li Bi. It is here that Li Bi earnestly begs for the Crown Prince’s help in rescuing Tan Qi whom he had to leave at the Right Chancellor’s home. The Crown Prince says he’s being put in a difficult position and I am touched at how sincerely Li Bi requests for help. He recognizes the unique value that Tan Qi has and is willing to rescue her for it. 

Back at the Right Chancellor’s residence, he’s over there basically showing off his victory to Director He. I feel like he’s a male bird ready to show off his feathers. All the Right Chancellor needs is for Director He to also write a confession accusing the Crown Prince of treachery. Director He of course refuses. As the two continue to squabble, and I legitimately feel like it’s squabbling, General Guo arrives. Man, that guy really is everywhere running between the Palace and Chang An. This is why I feel like the timing doesn’t fully work in my opinion for this drama. How is General Guo every all at once??

General Guo has a gift from the Emperor to the Right Chancellor. The Right Chancellor is so smug but his smirk quickly turns into a scowl when he sees the present. The acting is superb here because we can see how quickly the Right Chancellor’s face drops. The gift? A plain fabric robe. The Right Chancellor immediately starts sweating buckets because this is a huge insult. For someone of his status, the Right Chancellor for peat sakes, to be given a plain cloth robe? That is what commoners wear! The Right Chancellor himself says he never wears common robes! What does the Emperor mean? 

General Guo tries to suppress his smugness now and gives a hint – perhaps you have too many Seals? This then clicks for the Right Chancellor – Li Bi must have had something to do with it! But it’s too late for the Right Chancellor, he must wear this robe to the ceremony. Meanwhile, it’s now Director He’s time to preen and prance in front of the Right Chancellor. Hahahahaha.  This was so satisfying to watch. The Right Chancellor gulps and even asks if can NOT wear this outfit. General Guo just says, the Emperor requests that you wear it. The Right Chancellor is so scared, he falls to his knees. That in of itself reflects the Emperor’s displeasure. 

Elsewhere, Zhang Xiao Jing heads on over to the paper mill to meet 徐宾 after receiving his message earlier in the night. This part of the drama is entirely off book and I don’t know exactly how I feel about it. It’s midnight of the Lantern festival and everyone is still working? What kind of boss is 徐宾?

Zhang Xiao Jing is relieved to see that his friend is alive. Oddly, 徐宾 is doing well, not at all traumatized by the events earlier in the day. The two, 徐宾 and 张小敬 then further discuss what happened tonight. 徐宾 provides some more intel that all of the places 龙波 was using seems to have been owned by the Right Chancellor. So the evidence poitns to the fact that the right chancellor might have orchestrated the entire thing tonight as a way to rid his political enemies. 

That’s quite the ring around right? The victim of today’s attacks was actually the instigator? 张小敬 isn’t too focused on this point at the moment. He tells 徐宾 that he needs to look for more clues on the broken piece of bamboo he received from the fire marshall. Only with more clues there, will he be able to understand Long Bo’s true target is. He’l need to head over to 靖安司 because that is where all the physical evidence of today’s various explosions is stored.  The two actually get into a small argument and watch the language that 徐宾 uses. He calls the Right Chancellor 林贼 or directly that’s more like Bandit Lin. He is calling the Right CHancellor a thief and clearly thinks poorly of him. The language he uses for the Crown Prince and Director He on the other hand, is much more respectful. 

However, Xu Bin does help Zhang Xiao Jing in rescuing Tan Qi. Xu Bin receives intel that Tan Qi is now captured in the Right Chancellor’s residence and Zhang Xiao Jing is adamant in mounting a rescue for her. Xu Bin pulls up a map of 平康坊 where the Right Chancellor’s residence is and informs Zhang Xiao Jing of a secret path. With this information, Zhang Xiao Jing hurriedly leaves. Left behind, Xu Bin asks for the elder to leave Chang An with all of the workers. I can’t help wonder why…what does Xu Bin know?  At least at this moment, 徐宾 tells his father and the rest of the working crew to call it an evening and to actually leave.

Another interesting thread to follow is the currently imprisoned Tan Qi. We see just how the men in this episode express their views towards her. The Grandson of the Prince of Ning of all people makes the case that Tan Qi is unique. Li Bi currently has discarded Tan Qi though he feels extremely apologetic about it. He sees value in her but I can’t help but shake what Yao Ru Neng said about Li Bi’s view of Tan Qi. Tan Qi by most people is just a “slave” and will always be a slave. Yao Ru Neng says that Li Bi treats her more with respect because of his own upbringing. In this episode, Tan Qi reiterates her own net worth. In her cage, she calls out Yao Ru Neng’s harsh words against her because she knows she is capable of more, regardless of whether or not she works for Li Bi.

As for Yao Ru Neng, Tan Qi knows that he isn’t as cold hearted as he makes himself out to be. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have sent that message of never retreat earlier that day. Today has been a day of growth for Yao Ru Neng despite his betrayal of Li Bi. As Tan Qi said, he saved a lot of lives earlier with his message. That makes him not purely evil.  Meanwhile, Zhang Xiao Jing hears that Tan Qi has been imprisoned and tries his hardest to mount a rescue for her. Out of everyone in the drama, he is the only one who showed her that he sees her as his equal. He calls her out, as he did to Ding Tong’er that she is more useful and capable than she realizes. 

Yao Ru Neng is given instruction to eliminate Tan Qi if Li Bi doesn’t return. He waffles around a bit in front of one of the Right Chancellor’s men who wants to oversee her death but Yao Ru Neng is quite quick. He rushes into Tan Qi’s enclosure and actually suffocates her to “death”. He walks out of the cell and instructs her to be buried.

As she’s getting buried though, we see Yao Ru Neng getting antsy. Before the two soldiers burying Tan Qi can finish the job, he actually beats them up and knocks them out. Yay! He hurriedly rushes over to Tan Qi and urges her to wake up. Evidently, he faked her death in order to rescue her. Awesome! He’s not all bad!

But just as we’re about to celebrate his betrayal, we have to scream our dismay as Yuan Zai turns up with soldiers. Yuan Zai. Ugh. He just wants to make up for his failure earlier today but come on. You’re just awful. Yao Ru Neng fights heroically to try to save Tan Qi but is badly injured by the numerous soldiers Yuan Zai brought to subdue him. Yuan Zai also shuts the coffin that Tan Qi was placed in, trying to bury her alive to finish the job. Once again we see the difference between I would say the now much more enlightened Yao Ru Neng and Yuan Zai who is only in this to climb the ladder. He cannot fathom why Yao Ru Neng would rescue Tan Qi. She’s just a slave. Yuan Zai wonders if Yao Ru Neng did this on behalf of someone’s orders. Yao Ru Neng, bloodied and badly injured, screams that he made this decision for himself! He knows that Tan Qi is someone worth rescuing. Impressively, he screams that even if he dies, he will never retreat! Um is it just me or did everyone also go through a roller coaster of emotions with Yao Ru Neng. Is he good, is he bad? Complicated to say the least and at least helpful in trying to keep Tan QI Alive. Yuan Zai though? He’s just all bad. 

It is an absolutely tense moment as elsewhere, Zhang Xiao Jing arrived at the brothel of Li Xiang Xiang, the courtesan we met earlier in the day. Apparently, Xu Bin’s intel said that her residence had a secret passageway to the Right Chancellor’s residence. Zhang Xiao Jing first ties her up to try to find the secret passageway but releases her when she finally points him to it. Except, it was a trap. She led him down a dead in, hoping to trap him there. There is no secret passageway to the Right Chancellor’s. 

Things don’t look good for Tan Qi. She tries her hardest to find potentially some air or a crack in the coffin where she can escape. But she quickly realizes that the oxygen left in the coffin is running out. She passes out reiterating that she is not just a slave, she is useful and dreams of Zhang Xiao Jing in a rainy field. He tells her that if she only follows orders, she won’t be able to truly think and live to her maximum potential. This is an important lesson for her as fortunately, a hand shakes her awake. Of all the people who went to rescue her, it is Li Bi who wakes her. 

For today’s episode, there’s only 1 tidbit on history and it’s when the Emperor “gifts” the Right Chancellor the plain fabric robe. The Right Chancellor is stunned at this development. Behind him, Director He is positively laughing at the Right Chancellor now and brings up the story of an old Chancellor 张阅. 

张说 lived between 667 – 731 so he was very much active during the reign of Tang Xuan Zong. He first rose to prominence during the reign of Emperor Wu Ze Tian but experienced several promotions and demotions throughout his career as his fortunes waxed and waned with the different Emperors. When Emperor Tang Xuan Zong first ascended the throne in 713, Zhang Yue had risen already risen to 宰相 or Chancellor. He was then granted the title of Duke of Yan. He was politically at odds with 姚崇 and actively sought to prevent 姚崇 from also becoming Chancellor. However, he lost the battle and Zhang Yue self demoted elsewhere. He regained favor after his success in defeating Turkic groups out to the west and by 723, he was named Central Secretariat Director. 

In 724, he proposed the Emperor to head to Mount Tai to perform the Feng Shan sacrifices. This was an official rite where the Son of Heaven, which meant the Emperor, would pay homage to heaven and earth. This was a grand affair and required a lot of planning. 

The Emperor did not embark on this trip until 725. For the ceremony, Zhang Yue ensured that all of those in charge of the ceremony were his close allies. He promoted them to 5th Rank positions, which were higher than their original positions. As a reminder, 5th rank officers could wear red. For the soldiers who also accompanied the group, he only promoted them but didn’t give any awards, which caused much rumbling amongst the men.

There is a whole saying about that blatant favoritism or nepotism. Zhang Yue had a son in law who was only of the 9th rank. After the ceremony, which was typical to promote the junior officers, Zhang Yue promoted his son in law straight to the 5th rank. At court, the Emperor saw the son-in-law wearing red and asked why he rose that quickly, to which the young man had nothing to say. Later, a famous singer wrote this in one of the performances to say – it was all thanks to Mount Tai! Or  “这都是泰山的功劳啊!. That’s why in chinese, there’s the custom to call the father in law 泰山 or Mount Tai because they can be that useful to you where you will rise above your station because you have a father in law who will help.

Contrary to what was stated in the drama, Zhang Yue wasn’t immediately punished by the Emperor. It wasn’t until 726 when other officials accused him of corruption and bribery, which were found to be largely true, did the Emperor turn against Zhang Yue. He was only demoted by the EMperor and was forced to retire in 727 and died in 731 at the age of 64.

Based on what I just shared, Zhang Yue probably wasn’t the best one to one comparison to this scenario here, but Director He’s point is that the Right Chancellor should be worried because this gift of the plain robe is a warning from the Emperor that the Emperor will want to demote him. What’s interesting is that General Guo informs everyone that the Crown Prince will also be wearing the same attire for the Lantern Ceremony later, so it’s not just the Right Chancellor.

We’ll end up seeing what the Emperor truly intends later in the evening.

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