Ep 42

Episode 42, at long last, it is Chou Zheng. It’s 2 am. The time has finally come for the grand confrontation and today’s episode is a thrilling one.

Xiao Gui and his band of men easily make their way up the flower sepal tower, ridding many of the guards along the way. One of the men stays behind, knowing full well this is a suicide mission. But he stays behind to set a trap of oil to deter any reinforcements.

Up on the tower, Director He is allowed to leave after the Emperor excuses his outbursts this evening. The emperor’s behavior today will be very conflicting. We will see multiple examples of how we think he has a kind heart and is understanding but others where that is not so. In this instance, he is showing his more kind hearted nature. He could have sentenced Director He to death for insubordination, but he did not. The Emperor allowed him to return home, a huge act of grace.

With Chou Zheng or 2am, it is time to light the grand tower.

There are multiple things happening right now. THe mechanism within the grand lantern tower has started and the tower’s different elaborate contraptions are working their magic. The civilians outside are ooohing and awwing at the lanterns floating out of the main tower and the various arms that are extending. It is a magnificent sight and the crowd bursts into cheer at this sign of grandeur.

Inside the FLower Sepal Tower, Xiao Gui and men make their way up the tower while Xu He Zi, winner of the parade competition, is waiting to give the golden arrow to the Emperor. He is to light the lantern with that arrow.

There’s a lot going on here with Xu He Zi. She basically is there to try to seduce the Emperor in order to bring about more fortune for her hometown. She is lavishly dressed and kneels in front of the Emperor with that arrow. When the Emperor asks her what her name is, she doesn’t respond with her name. She instead says, my name is very long, if the Emperor wants to know my name, it’ll take time. She also sneaks a look up to the Emperor, something she was strictly forbidden to do.

Does the Emperor know what she’s doing? Probably. The other person watching tentatively as this unfurls is Yan Yu Huan. Of course she needs to make sure that this Xu He Zi doesn’t take her attention and therefore power in the harem. Yan Yu Huan must stop Xu He Zi from seducing the Emperor.

Before the Emperor can take the arrow to shoot it at the lantern, a scream breaks out from within. Maids scream at an impending threat. In an impressive long shot, a guard is killed at the top of the stairs as Xiao Gui makes his grand entrance. He stares down at the nearby diplomats and screaming maids as he takes a turn around the main hall. He is unafraid of the imperial guards, who quite honestly are also scared to do anything right now. Xiao Gui barks orders at the crowd of people in the main hall, sauntering around the room. He announces himself to the crowd saying that his deceased brothers asked him to have a conversation with the Emperor.

It is an impressive single shot as Xiao Gui heads over to the crowd and ordrs for the Emperor to step forward. Once again, I am impressed at the Emperor’s bravery. Instead of hiding away, he resolutely announces himself as Li Si Lang, the man xiao gui is looking for.

In front of Xiao Gui, the Emperor queries why after so many years, is XIao Gui seeking revenge now. After all, it has been 10 years. Xiao Gui, finally seeing the Emperor, is ready to confront the Emperor but surprisingly, the Emperor is able to name exactly what the 8th squad is, where the fought and was able to list many names of the members of the dead soldiers. The Emperor knew exactly what position Xiao GUi held, what position Wen Wu Ji held and Zhang XIao Jing to boot. With each name the Emperor recalled, Xiao Gui broke down the harsh exterior and immediately burst into tears. He asks how does the Emperor know this while the Emperor responds, his soldiers sacrificed themselves for the Empire, how could he forget.

Xiao Gui cries as he wonders how does the Emperor know of the people who spilled blood for him. The Emperor responds that not only does he know, but the world knows because they are the empire’s heroes. He then shares that the General Gai Jia Yun was stripped of his title and sent to watch over a farm. The Emperor then goes that in private, he has already made sure the 8th squad is remembered for their valor.

This is an extremely touching scene because Xiao Gui realizes that perhaps the Emperor isn’t as awful as he thought. All he wanted was for the Emperor to recognize the wrongs that has happened not only to his brothers on the battlefield, but to many other similar men in the Empire. The fact that the Emperor knew of him, and of many of his fellow soldiers signals that perhaps the Emperor isn’t as ignorant and unknowing of the sacrifices that has happened in the country. This is a touching but significant blow to Xiao Gui who despite his tough and ruthless exterior, really only wanted for his brothers to be recognized for their sacrifice. When the Emperor says that he will excuse their actions tonight as long as Xiao Gui apologizes, Xiao Gui releases his weapon and kneels in front of the Emperor, requesting that the Emperor also care for the hundreds of thousands of Tang civilians.

But then the facade breaks.

An announcement that the time has come for the lighting ceremony.

The Emperor takes the bow to shoot the arrow. Before doing so, he turns to the audience, Xiao Gui included. He announces that he is compared to Yao Shun, but 尧舜 is a man. He, the Emperor, is a god. This line breaks Xiao Gui out of his facade. You can see his face harden at these words and he goes to pick up his staff again. Why? Because the Emperor, despite having said all those nice things earlier, still believes he is above all others. He is not human. He is a deity and should be revered. You can see how Xiao GUi’s gaze shifts back to hatred because I think he feels that he is justified in his actions. He cannot allow this Emperor to continue since he does not believe in the common man.

The Emperor lights his arrow and fires it at the great lantern. Xiao Gui expects a massive explosion but it doesn’t happen to the extent he was expecting.

Instead, Zhang Xiao Jing was able to sneak over to the specific arm and cut into the bamboo to release some of the excess oil, hoping to reduce its fire power. Yu Chang, who lost an arm in a battle earlier, follows Zhang Xiao Jing on one of the arms and is rescued by him from falling to her death. They have a chat while in one of the extended arms as Zhang XIao Jing says he wants to save her and Xiao Gui. All they need to do is take the Emperor out of Chang An to see the poverty that has succumbed in all parts of the country. That way, the Emperor can finally enact change. I believe this touches Yu Chang because when the Emperor lights his arrow, she actually pushes Zhang Xiao Jing out of the way and tied to a rope so that he is not killed in the explosion. Meanwhile, it is assumed that she sacrificed herself to ensure that the explosion DOES happen. Unfortunately, given the actions of Zhang Xiao Jing, the great lantern does blow up, but in a more contained way. There were unfortunate casualties, but no where near the scope of what Xiao Gui expected. The reality is, Xiao Gui expected all of them to be blown up.

But now that that didn’t happen, another confrontation is underway. Xiao Gui and his men of Pi Fu against the Emperor and his men. Xu He Zi takes this opportunity to protect the Emperor and is actually shot via arrow by one of Xiao Gui’s men. It’s not a life threatening injury, more of a warning. That was definitely her way of getting attention from the Emperor so that he remembers her sacrifice in the future. On the sidelines, Yan Yu Han also wants to step in to sacrifice herself for the Emperor but Tan Qi, whom we haven’t really seen in a while, stops her. She has a better idea for how to rescue the Emperor.

In front of the Emperor, Xiao Gui states that all of his men are here because of him. The reality is, everyone is just an ordinary citizen. The underlying subtext is that they were forced into such retaliation because, as Xiao Gui says, the Emperor favors the villainous Right Chancellor. His men attack and chaos ensues.

While all of this is happening, Zhang XIao Jing, who landed on the roof of the Flower Sepal Tower, makes his way to the main hall to see the fight breaking out. While the Emperor makes a valiant effort and actually joins the fight, he is subdued by Xiao Gui. In front of the oncoming reinforcements, they have no choice but to drop their weapons in the face of an Emperor who is being held hostage by Xiao Gui. Zhang Xiao Jing joins the fray and takes Tan Qi hostage. Except she’s disguised as Yan Tai Zhen. How she managed to change that fast makes no sense but whatever.

Xiao Gui is about to kill the Emperor but Zhang Xiao Jing calls him back. He says that they should use them to get out of Chang An and pay their respects to the graves of their fallen brothers. Before leaving though, Xiao Gui orders Zhang Xiao Jing to kill the Prince of Yong as revenge for Wen Wu Ji and Wen Ran. The Prince of Yong can only scream and cry for his father as Zhang Xiao Jing menacingly heads over to him and attacks. Before making the blow, he makes direct eye contact with the injured Xu He Zi who is much braver than perhaps people expect. She is not scared whatsoever at what’s going on and doesn’t blink at Zhang Xiao Jing’s attack on the Prince of Yong. Perhaps she ultimately believes that he is still that hero.

The Emperor is being escorted out by Xiao Gui while refusing to give the other half of the military command seal. His reasoning is that that seal gives so much military power, his general, Chen Xuan Li, will be able to essentially wield all the military might of the Tang. He cannot give it to him. As he is being dragged out, he does not forget to bark orders to Chen Xuan Li and the rest of the court to kneel.

This to me, is the second example this episode that while the Emperor shows bravery in front of impending threat, he still values his imperial power above all else. He is being dragged away, a major humiliation, and yet he still refuses to trust his general of 40 years to give him the other half of the command seal or 兵符 to rescue him. That is how, throughout this episode, while we see moments of how this Emperor could be a benevolent ruler, the underlying interior is perhaps too corrupted by power.

The episode closes with the real Yan Yu Huan crying out for the Emperor. She is held back by General Guo who says that if one day comes when she must sacrifice herself for the Emperor, she should remember what happened today. From history, we know that is exactly what happens several years later. She sacrifices herself for the Emperor.

And What happened to the right chancellor? He sprinted away from danger and hid himself in a secluded room. Contrast that to other members of court that at least stood in between the Emperor and Xiao GUi.

Today was such a thrilling episode! Not only did we get so much action happening, there was a lot of underlying subtext that is almost blink and you miss it from a harem politics perspective but I was also blown away by Zhou Yi Wei’s acting as Xiao Gui. How his facial features changed during his exchange with the Emperor was such a treat and really blows many other actors out of the water. Who also teared up during his exchange with the Emperor? I know I did.

I also do want to spend a moment on Yu Chang. I’ve mentioned before that in the drama, she is much more fleshed out as someone who received kindness from Xiao Gui and is willing to sacrifice everything to help him achieve his dreams. This is another example of a theme this episode made more apparent. Ordinary people can make an extraordinary impact. The members of Pi Fu who cause so much havoc, were just ordinary people.

Moving on to history!

In the fiery confrontation between the Emperor and 萧规, the Emperor tells him that he’s never forgotten the 8th Squad and that the Emperor dismissed 盖嘉运 as punishment for his crimes in battle. He even states that 盖嘉运 will not be recorded in history. So let’s rewind to the historical facts and finally talk about 盖嘉运 who I’ve avoided for the past 40+ episode.

The Old and New Book of Tang do not have records of him so it is unknown the years of his birth or death. He first appears in history during the middle of the Kai Yuan era of Emperor Tang Xuan Zong’s reign which was between 713-741.

He was already a pretty high ranking member of the military of the Beiting Protectorate and established the 瀚海军 to protect the area of what is now modern day Xin Jiang 护堡子, close to Urmuqi.

We do have recorded that during the first lunar month of 736, which is right after the harrowing events of the 8th squad, 盖嘉运 successfully pushed back the Türgesh Khanate, which were the enemies that the 8th squad was fighting. In the subsequent 3 years, 盖嘉运 led many successful campaigns against the Turgesh khanate in the west, including capturing Kut Chor who briefly served as the Turgesh Khagan. In 740, 盖嘉运 returned to Chang An victorious with many prisoners of war including Kut Chor.

He was then promoted to be the governor of both the 河西 and 陇右 regions with a force of almost 150K strong to keep an eye on the Tibetan empire. Unfortunately 盖嘉运, arrogant from his accomplishments, turned to wine and women and refused to head to his post to the North West. When the Emperor got wind of this, he pushed 盖嘉运 to leave. 盖嘉运 only grudgingly did so and, to curry favor, wrote several musical pieces for the Emperor, which were very well received.

While at his post, 盖嘉运 neglected his official duties and this all came to a head in 741 when the Tibetan Empire with an army 400K strong marched to the An Xi Protectorate. Due to his mishandling, 盖嘉运 lost the strategic outpost of 石堡城 or Stone Castle City. Upon hearing this news, the Emperor was outraged at 盖嘉运 and stripped him of his duties. 盖嘉运 then disappeared from history. As I said at the earlier, the Old and New Book of Tang do not have a chapter on him, which does show that he didn’t have too much influence or was purposefully omitted. There’s a blurb about him in the Old Book of Tang in another person’s chapter. 资治通鉴, written during the Song Dynasty mentions him. 岑参 – our poor scholar in this drama actually wrote a poem about him.

All in all – in history, 盖嘉运 is shrouded in mystery because there is so little known about him. We just know that he was a capable general for a time but then floundered that away. For drama purposes, they paint 盖嘉运 as a calculating / cold hearted general that left these 200 men to die. There’s no history to corroborate this. As for the Emperor dismissing 盖嘉运 for the 8th Squad, again that is just for drama purposes. He was dismissed but because of his own doing.

In the drama, Xiao Gui was basically persuaded by the Emperor until the Emperor proclaimed himself better than 尧舜. They were only humans, but he, he was a god.

Emperor 尧 and Emperor 舜 were legendary emperors in Chinese folklore, two of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. They were first listed as members of the 5 emperors in 史记 or Records of the Grand Historian which was written in the late 2nd century and early 1st century BC.

According to legend and some place his records to around 2300 BCE, Emperor 尧 was a tribal leader who ruled from the age of 20. During his reign, the Great Flood began and was disastrous for his tribe. He spent 9 years trying to reduce the flood but to no avail. With guidance from his advisors, the Four Mountains, he abdicated his throne to his son in law 舜. 尧 set forth many tests for 舜 for the latter to prove his worth. 舜 took over the throne and proceeded to handle the flood.

Honestly, these legends always get me so confused. Back to the drama though, our emperor, Tang Xuang Zong is so very pompous that he believes he is above these legendary emperors. He believes his accomplishments surpass all those before him and that his is no longer a mortal. This is exactly the attitude that dooms the Empire. We’ll see if he does any self-reflection in the last few episodes but all I can say is, I understand why 萧规, who was so very close to abandoning his mission, solidified his resolve when he heard the words of I am a god.

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