Welcome back to another episode of Chasing Dramas, the podcast that explores Chines history through historical Chinese dramas, where we are currently analyzing 后宫甄嬛传。This is Karen, and this is Cathy. In today’s episode, we are discussing episode 10 of the drama.
Episode 10 is where we see Zhen Huan finally fighting back instead of hiding away from the conflict of 后宫。
You’ll recall that 甄嬛 has been “sick” for the last couple of months as a ploy to avoid the attention of the emperor, and in turn, the resentment of the harem. But, since she’s met the emperor and she’s all lovey dovey, she needs to “get better”. So she’s still taking medicine to help her get better. But at the very beginning of the episode she notices that she’s been very lazy lately and always wants to sleep. She has a taste of her medicine and notices that her medicine has also been a little sour lately. *Ding ding ding* – Light bulb. She thinks there’s a connection between her laziness and the new taste of her medicine. She’s smart because she is able to notice the difference in taste.
(Cathy – 1st point – I’m not sure I like the pink on her and 2nd – ok I thought she was pregnant)
Well, the next step is to call her friend, the imperial doctor 温实初, to come check out the medicine he prescribed and see if anything is wrong with it. He, through the magic of acupuncture is able to find out that someone has indeed been messing with his medicine to 甄嬛. (Basically, he is able to prick a pressure point on her arm and be able to discern if someone has sabotaged the medicine. I don’t know entirely if this is possible, perhaps someone with more chinese medicine background can share some thoughts here). The doctor explains that the medicine, or should I say poison, is very subtle. The ingredients added to the medicine will not kill 甄嬛 immediately, but instead will slowly make her lose her sanity until she goes crazy. And see? This is why being friends with an imperial doctor is so valuable. They can help you with all the medicinal issues that pop up.
Upon hearing this, 甄嬛 is understandably surprised. But, her reaction is not of fright, she says ”果然瞧得起我“ which means “wow, they actually view me as a threat”. Basically, she’s ready for a fight which is a far cry from when she first feigned sickness in earlier episodes. She’s ultimately realized that she can’t always avoid confrontation. Now, she has to face it head on, and give this as a warning to the other ladies in the palace that she is not to be trifled with.
She and her maids deduce that her medicine changed when she started getting attention from the emperor, and the emperor appointed a new batch of servants to start serving at 甄嬛’s pavilion.
Ok, it’s Detective 甄嬛 time! The servants brew a new batch of medicine but 甄嬛 says there’s still something wrong with the medicine. They’re a little stumped because no one else is grabbing the medicine or in charge of brewing the medicine apart from 甄嬛’s inner circle. After some more investigation, they realize it’s the pot that’s the problem or more specifically the lid. So it seems whoever is responsible soaked the lid with the poison and it’ll seep into 甄嬛’s medicine when the medicine gets to a boil and the water hits the lid. Pretty clever if you ask me. It must be one of the new maids and the primary suspect is 花穗。
After some investigation, 小允子, 甄嬛’s head eunuch, finds out that 花穗 used to be employed with 余莺儿, the palace maid who stole 甄嬛’s identity, and became a concubine but has since been demoted and condemned to a solitary part of the palace. 甄嬛 brings 花穗 in for questioning. I must say 流珠 (one of 甄嬛’s maids) has a good eye – I guess torture is just a normal thing? She brings in some hot red coal to the room to use for the interrogation. 甄嬛 starts questioning 花穗 about what happens but she only cracks after she’s threatened with having to hold the hot coals in her hands as a sign of her loyalty. We find out from 花穗 that the whole sabotage operation is a pretty elaborate scheme where a mysterious man gives her the poison.
甄嬛 orders a fake out to catch the accomplice. Interestingly, 甄嬛’s friend 沈眉庄 is invited to join as part of the operation but they don’t invite 安陵容, the third of their so called “trio” because they think she’s too fragile. The eunuchs on the roof are freaking hilarious – they’re trying to catch the accomplice. They successfully capture him and who is it? 小印子, one of 甄嬛’s old eunuchs that left a few months back when he and his mentor thought that 甄嬛 wasn’t going to ever gain the favor of the emperor. 小印子 confesses that 余莺儿, the palace maid who is now banished, was the one who ordered him to do it.
The next set of scenes are very important and we’ll definitely dig a little deeper. 甄嬛, her maids, and 沈眉庄 decide to deliver a killer blow to 余莺儿 and rid her for good because it seems that even though she is banished, this woman can still wreak havoc on 甄嬛.
Over at 华妃’s palace, her posse are freaking about about what to do but 曹贵人, one of the noble ladies has a plan. They were the true culprits in this case. 瑾溪，甄嬛’s main maid, reports to the Emperor and we see 余莺儿 is only banished to the 冷宫, a separate part of the imperial harem that we’ll discuss in a bit. She isn’t punished with death. 甄嬛 then goes to speak with the emperor and puts the nail in the coffin. The Emperor sentences 余莺儿 to death by suicide. There’s no mention of any other concubines so it looks like 华妃 is in the clear
In the next scene, 甄嬛，沈眉庄，and 安陵容 are chatting in 甄嬛’s Pavilion. This is the first time 安陵容 hears about the whole poison attempt. They receive news that 余莺儿 is not cooperating. She literally won’t die and is shouting to see the emperor one last time because in her mind, she will be pardoned if she sees him again. This puts the Eunuchs in a bind because the order is suicide, she has to willingly die, and unfortunately, the Emperor has left the palace for a brief excursion, and the Empress is not feeling well so there is no one to follow up with on this matter.
Upon hearing the news, 安陵容 excuses herself and goes to 冷宫. She goes to find the defiant 余莺儿 and the Emperor’s head Eunuch 苏培盛. She drops some heavy hints to the Eunuch, basically saying that she’s not worth the effort, kill her and be done with it since the order is for 余莺儿 to die. Who cares how she dies, whether it’s by suicide or something else. 苏培盛 gets the hint and orders her death, and one of the eunuchs does so by strangulation.
News travels fast to 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄. The eunuchs all think that 甄嬛 gave 安陵容 the order to kill 余莺儿. This of course is a surprise to the ladies. The episode ends with 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 discussing 安陵容’s ruthlessness but of course, she’s listening right outside.
甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 have successfully dispatched a level 1 foe. This is just one of many many enemies they’ll have to face.
For this episode, there are few things we want to discuss more in detail. Even though 甄嬛’s detective work is top notch and it’s fun to see some action with the capture of the culprits, we’re actually going to analyze more subtle things here.
The first thing is 冷宫. The direct translation is Cold Palace and there really is no equivalent in Western culture. Think of it as being locked up in the Tower of London. Concubines who are no longer favored are banished there. It’s basically a place for solitary confinement in the imperial harem. The concubines do not get any of their usual allowance or materials. Most of them also are stripped of the majority of their servants. Many of the women in 冷宫 go mad or die while there. This is a typical threat for most palace dramas， saying ‘i dont’ want to be thrown into 冷宫” or the emperor might say “if you do this again, I will throw you into 冷宫“， but many concubines in history have been “thrown” into the Cold Palace. There isn’t really an appointed “place” for 冷宫 so we can’t definitively say where it is in the imperial palace. Any place could be “冷宫” really if the emperor or emperor dowager warrants it so.
In this episode, we’ve seen 甄嬛 getting concrete evidence that she is being attacked by 余莺儿. However, 甄嬛, 沈眉庄 were discussing the events of the capture and are worried that the Emperor may not want to execute 余莺儿 for her crime especially if he has lingering affection for her. At this point, 瑾汐, 甄嬛’s head maid chimes in, and says that as of now, 余莺儿’s crimes may not be enough to warrant an execution because in the end, 甄嬛 is not hurt. She continues and says that what WILL be a crime punishable with death, is deceiving the emperor. The phrase 瑾溪 uses is 欺君之罪. It’ll pop up all the time in different dramas but it is a capital offense.
As predicted, when 瑾汐, the maid, goes to report the crime to the emperor and empress, the emperor is understandably upset but only punishes 余莺儿 with life in imprisonment in 冷宫。甄嬛comes to see the emperor shortly after. The emperor tries to console her and she says that she is saddened by the drama that has happened because of her. She brings up the fact that on new years eve, she made a wish but unfortunately, her wish didn’t come true.
Here, she’s bringing up the now “famous” poetry line that she recited in the plum blossom garden a few episodes back。Everyone knows this line. She now explains to the Emperor that she was the one to make the wish, and she was actually the one the Emperor heard in the plum blossom garden that night。She even explained that she had to lie and say she was a palace maid because she was out in the garden while sick and met an unknown man. She explains everything in a very tactful way so that the Emperor can figure out for himself that he has been tricked. It’s evident now that 余莺儿 lied to him and that he had given attention to the wrong person, when in fact the person he met in the garden on New Year’s Eve was 甄嬛 all along.
Without skipping a beat, the emperor calls for 苏培盛，his head eunuch, to come into the office and calmly tells him that 余莺儿 lied to the emperor and tried to poison fellow concubines, she is sentenced to death by suicide. The word 赐 is used here which means “gift”. Anything the Emperor gives is a gift, so even death sentence will be a “gift” and the word 赐 is used.
甄嬛 is still in the room and is “surprised” by the sudden change of punishment. 皇上 explains that she lied to the emperor, using the idiom, 欺君罔上, which means just that. She lied to the emperor and hoodwinked him. This type of crime cannot be overlooked which is why she has to die.
甄嬛 says that even though she lies, the root cause is ultimately her admiration for the emperor, to which 皇上 says 君无戏言。 This idiom is very famous for palace dramas. It pops up a lot. The direct translation more or less is that the king/emperor never has joke phrases. What it really means is that the emperor cannot take back his words. He has stated this punishment and he is not taking it back. He does say that, since 甄嬛 is asking for forgiveness, he is willing to send back 余莺儿’s body to her family. (Great consolation right? That is supposed to be sarcastic if you couldn’t tell).
Ok – I will also applaud 陈建斌’s acting here. I don’t know – all I see are his eyes blinking. No facial expression – this is just too funny. Where’s your emotions?!
This is a win huge win for 甄嬛! 余莺儿 is dead and she got the Emperor to sentence her. Nice and clean right? The two servants that were also accomplices in this scheme, the maid 花穗 and 小印子 were also sentenced to death, though in a more gruesome fashion – by being beaten to death.
It seems like the death count now for the drama is at: 5
Let’s talk briefly about 华妃 and her posse. They were the ones who gave 余莺儿 the idea to poison 甄嬛 and indeed the poison. 华妃 needs to have all the loose ends cut. 曹贵人, the noble lady, who seems to be the strategist of the group correctly points out that they need leverage. The only leverage they have over 余莺儿 is her family. If they threaten 余莺儿’s family, she’ll keep the secret and literally take it to her grave. Even in the face of death, there are things that 余莺儿 values more than her own life, her family. In a way, she is a tragic figure. Nothing but a pawn in the chessboard of 后宫. She didn’t know how to play and she lost her life for it.
I want to end the episode by discussing again that this show tells us how important it is to treat servants with dignity and as humans because you never know how that might impact you. In the scene where 余莺儿 is fighting against the eunuchs to not let her die, she is screaming and screaming to see the emperor. After 安陵容 comes to tell the Eunuchs that they should just get it over with, 苏培盛, the head eunuch says this to one of his mentees – “I told you earlier to tolerate her, but now, no need to tolerate her any longer” and the mentee promptly brings out a rope and strangles 余莺儿.
Who was this mentee? This mentee is the eunuch named 小夏子。 You’ll recall a few episodes earlier, 余莺儿 abused 小夏子 by forcing him to crack open walnuts with his bare hands, causing his hands to bleed. 余莺儿 used her power and status as a woman of the emperor to humiliate 小夏子 and she was definitely belittling his existence. Even though she herself was just a maid not too long ago, she looks down on eunuchs. Well, because she did this, 小夏子 and his mentor 苏培盛 are definitely eager for an opportunity to exact revenge and, as we saw, did not hesitate to kill this woman. Gruesome and scary, I know, but you can’t help but wonder if 余莺儿 had been kinder, would she have met such a sad fate that no one wanted to advocate or help her whatsoever. But I guess, if she were a better person, she would not have ended up where she is now to begin with.
And that’s that for this episode! 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 have successfully dispatched a level 1 foe. This is just one of many many enemies they’ll have to face. It seems like 安陵容 is showing some of her true colors. Even though everyone thinks she is meek and fragile, she was not afraid to go to 冷宫 and bluntly ask for the death of余莺儿.
余莺儿 has died, but what about 华妃 and the rest of her posse? We’ll get into all that in the next episode!
Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.