[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that explores Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. It’s Karen and Cathy here to continue discussing Chinese history and dramas. In this episode, we’re going to be discussing Episode 23 and 24 of 后宫甄嬛传! 

We’re a third of the way through this drama and it’s quite fascinating to see what each of us focuses on actually. I find certain things interesting while Cathy hones in on other things.

 

[Cathy]

Regardless, let’s get started! Episode 23 + 24 is very plot heavy so our discussion will be more revolved around what happens in the drama rather than historical text. 

Starting off in episode 23,  the ladies of the Imperial Harem are at the Empress Dowager, 太后’s, Palace for the customary rituals for the LaBa Festival. 太后 takes a liking to 甄嬛 and requests that she copy Buddhist sutras. Pretty harmless right? 

 

[Karen]

Is it though? I don’t think so. When I saw this scene, I took it to mean that 太后 was testing 甄嬛 and also taking the opportunity to see 甄嬛 for the first time. Copying Buddhist sutras can some times be seen as a passive aggressive way to punish someone because you are literally telling them to copy pages of text. On the other hand, copying Buddhist texts are seen as a way to show your devotion to Buddha and will help you get karma. So it’s two fold. I feel like 太后 was seeing whether or not 甄嬛 would complain for having to do such a tedious task and when 甄嬛 did not, 太后was pleased. You’ll also remember that WAY back in the beginning of the drama, 太后 didn’t care to meet 甄嬛。 She said she’ll meet 甄嬛 when she becomes a 嫔, so a level above what 甄嬛 currently is. 甄嬛 has made quite the impact on 后宫 such that even 太后 wants to meet this woman.

 

[Cathy]

太后 knows full well of 甄嬛’s favor. She’s using this excuse to remove 甄嬛 from the harem and frees the Emperor to “spend time with other ladies”. Doesn’t matter who, but someone else. She even says as much in this coded message – the heavy snow has broken all of the tree branches. 甄嬛 is the snow and she’s covering up all of the other concubines. She needs to find some more peace and calm while here in 后宫. 甄嬛 takes this advice? Warning? To heart which is why she suggests that the Emperor check in on the rest of the Imperial harem. Hey – at least she listens. This puts her in good favor with the Empress Dowager too. Let’s see here – we now know that despite what it seems, the Empress Dowager very much pays attention to what his son is up to in the 后宫.

After this scene…the ladies are at the Empress 皇后’s palace for their daily greetings. We haven’t focused on these for a while. For once, it’s relatively cordial. 淳儿, the cute bubbly girl, is joking around, saying that she needs to stop eating. 安陵容 gets all jealous of 淳儿 because 甄嬛 remembers all the food that 淳儿 is eating and doesn’t do the same for her。

We don’t spend too much time on this because…富察贵人 drops a big bombshell. She’s pregnant! Everybody’s face falls. Her? How? Does anyone even remember who the heck 富察贵人is???  I don’t think I remembered her the first time I watched this drama. She entered the palace with 甄嬛 and company but has had very little presence in the drama thus far. She’s in the background here and there so it’s just as surprising to hear that she is pregnant!

欣常在 – another attendant makes some snarky comments. This is hilarious because 富察贵人 doesn’t get it. 欣常在 says “I know the Emperor is very busy. He only visits you once every few months and you got pregnant!” She then says “Not everyone has the fortune of being blessed with a son”.  富察贵人 is all pleased with her pregnancy and doesn’t get the insult. She just thinks that 欣常在 is jealous. I love the close up on 华妃. She is furious. She’s thinking, 

How can this woman get pregnant before her??”

 

[Karen] 

A KEY piece of information here is that we here from 富察贵人 that she is only a few months pregnant and so her pregnancy is not stable. This is important!

 

[Cathy]

Unsurprisingly, 甄嬛 is also little bit disappointed at the news because, like 华妃,she’s surprised that 富察贵人 is pregnant. Outside of the Empress 皇后’s palace, she’s called back by 曹贵人 who tries to rub some salt to the wound. How is it that the Emperor visits you the most and there’s still no news? Rude!

However 甄嬛 clever deflects it and turns this against 曹贵人 by asking forgiveness from 华妃. She says 华妃’s the one who’s seen the Emperor the most. I’m sorry if 曹贵人 offended you. After hearing this, 华妃 immediately pushes 曹贵人 away and snidely says if I get pregnant, it’ll be a boy. A daughter’s useless. Ouch. But nice job 甄嬛! You’re learning to play the game.

华妃 and 曹贵人 are still fuming about news of the pregnancy when 华妃’s Eunuch 周宁海 hastily rushes in to break the news. There’s a plague in Beijing! This is a huge deal. Everyone in the Imperial Palace is scrambling. Interestingly, the first place with the plague is actually in 翊坤宫. 华妃’s palace. That’s odd don;t you think? My theory is that 华妃 has too many people coming in and out of her palace with all the bribes she’s getting and that’s why people in her palace contracted the disease.

The Empress 皇后 takes this very seriously and even requests 华妃’s help in the matter. 

 

[Karen]

However, I want to point out that we’ve seen in previous episodes the glimpses of how devious and manipulative 皇后is. While giving orders to 华妃, 皇后 specifically tells her to not forget 沈眉庄。I personally think that 皇后 did this on purpose. There was absolutely no need to do so but she knows that 华妃 hates 沈眉庄 and wanted to use 华妃 as a way to kill 沈眉庄 thereby removing another competitor in 后宫。

华妃 is easily manipulated and while she is picking up the slack by making sure every place is sanitized with boiling liquor and burning herbs, she is reminded that 沈眉庄 is still alive. The doctor involved in this whole fiasco, 刘畚, is too. What a perfect opportunity! Let’s, uh give her a used tea set from someone who just died from the plague. She’ll catch the plague, die, and no one will be the wiser. How convenient. 

甄嬛 is visiting 安陵容, again bringing her these medical sachets and checking up on her. They overhear an altercation outside between the pregnant 富察贵人 and some eunuchs. 富察贵人 orders all of the dried mugwort and atractylodes rhizome to be brought into her palace leaving none for 安陵容. 甄嬛 hurries outside to argue with 富察贵人 about these medicinal plants.  富察贵人 gets all haughty – she’s the pregnant one, of course I deserve everything. 安陵容 can just get her own. There’s a few back and forths but 富察贵人 doesn’t back down and demands everything be delivered into her quarters. Once again, 甄嬛 does this for 安陵容 but will she value this? No…

 

[Cathy]

More and more people are dying due to the plague. One day, 甄嬛’s head Eunuch rushes to deliver the news that 沈眉庄 has also contracted the plague. 甄嬛 rushes over to 敬嫔’s to get the details. They confirm the news. Unfortunately none of the Imperial doctors are free to look after this lowly Second Class Female Attendant. It looks like 沈眉庄 is left for dead. But wait! There’s an Imperial Doctor waiting in the wings. It’s a been a little while since we’ve seen 温实出。 He’s 甄嬛’s childhood friend that is in love with 甄嬛 and wanted to marry in episode 1. 甄嬛 requests for his help to attend 沈眉庄. Since he’ll do anything for 甄嬛,he accepts and starts looking for a cure to the disease.

At the Imperial Infirmary, 华妃 is storming about trying to find a cure. It is quite funny seeing her try. But it looks like her fortunes may just now be up. 甄嬛’s people have found 刘畚!He’s the slimy fake doctor that made 沈眉庄 believe that she was pregnant and ran away when his job was done.  甄嬛 immediately brings this doctor to see the Emperor where he confesses his crime. He finally admits that it was 华妃 who bribed him to fake 沈眉庄’s pregnancy! The Emperor orders 刘畚 to be imprisoned. With the culprit in custody, 甄嬛 spends some time going over the case with 皇上. There was no reason for 沈眉庄 to fake the pregnancy. She couldn’t have known.

The Emperor 皇上 agrees and actually admits he wronged 沈眉庄. What! He immediately starts using a term of endearments – 眉儿 instead of her title 沈答应. He restores her title to Noble Lady with the name 惠 again Virtuous. 甄嬛 tells him the truth about 沈眉庄’s condition. He grants her order to have the Imperial doctors immediately look after 沈眉庄。I’m impressed, the Emperor takes it a few steps even further. The Imperial Doctors who aided 华妃 in this plot are granted suicide and 华妃 is to be demoted to 嫔 or Concubine and stripped of her honorary title. This is HUGE! He’s ordering this despite the fact that her brother just came back from the front lines! Even the Emperor’s head eunuch 苏培盛 is shocked at this. 

Yay!!! Finally – some good news for 沈眉庄. However, the Emperor is a suspicious man. He makes his suspicions known to 甄嬛 and asks her if this is her plot to accuse 华妃. 甄嬛 is thoroughly hurt by this accusation and defiantly tells him no. 

This entire time –  the Emperor’s facial expression is still the same. He says these things, demoting 华妃, promote 沈眉庄, kill the doctors. No change in voice or tone. He just does a lot of blinking. Truly an emperor to be afraid of.

News of 沈眉庄’s reinstatement travels to her quarters. Everyone is all teary eyed but of course, 沈眉庄 is not conscious to hear the news. Somehow 安陵容 gets wind of the news too and heads over to the 沈眉庄’s palace to congratulate her. Of course, she’s making this calculated move that she won’t actually be allowed in. Just the gesture is enough. The episode ends with 安陵容 finding out 刘畚 was caught from the eunuch outside. 

 

—–

 

[Karen]

Really quickly before I recap episode 24. 刘畚’s caught, 沈眉庄 is restored to a Noble Lady, and 华妃 is about to be demoted to a Concubine. Pretty simple – 华妃 will finally get some comeuppance right? Let’s see what happens.

安陵容 is turned away from 沈眉庄’s palace. She’s heard the news of 刘畚’s capture. She comes up with the brilliant plan to rub it into 华妃’s face. According to her logic, once 华妃 hears the news, she will run to the Emperor and beg for forgiveness, annoying him even more, resulting in further punishment. Yes, that’s what I should do. She has her maid run along to tell the guards of 华妃’s palace. 

Ugh, I am SO mad at her! We have here on display 安陵容’s blatant selfishness and idiocy. She doesn’t think that there’s other alternatives for 华妃! Her idiotic gesture just so happened to give 华妃 an easy out! Let’s see this play out.

华妃 hears about 刘畚’s capture and is indeed frightened. However, she immediately starts thinking of next steps, informing her brother, pretending to be ill, and ordering the two Imperial doctors to stay quiet. 曹贵人 however provides the best strategy. Give the Emperor what he most needs right and all will be forgiven. What does he need right now? A cure for the plague!

华妃 rushes to see the Emperor the next morning with the two Imperial Doctors implicated in the case. 甄嬛 just so happens to be there. The edict for 华妃’s demotion hasn’t been given yet so no one says anything as of yet. 华妃 presents a cure for the plague and has the two doctors confirm that they’ve experimented with some eunuchs in the palace. 

What wonderful news! The Emperor immediately tells the doctors to make more doses for the rest of the place an 惠贵人 (沈眉庄’s restored title). 华妃 reacts to the restored title by congratulating 甄嬛 too. Then, in a stroke of genius, she begs for forgiveness for any of her past discretions, she wants to make sure the Emperor is ok. Well the Emperor can’t say anything now. She just found a cure! He can’t punish her now. He even uses the two words 爱妃 – my loving consort. Definitely not demoted. 

Upon seeing this, 甄嬛 quietly slips away. The head eunuch 苏培盛 asks if the edict still needs to be delivered. 甄嬛, crestfallen, says no. It won’t be demotion, more like a promotion.

 

[Cathy]

Some time later, the Emperor comes to 甄嬛’s place to console her. He must look at the bigger picture. 华妃 and the Imperial doctors have done a great service for the Empire. He cannot ignore this. He leaves, leaving 甄嬛 utterly disappointed. This is not how she envisioned the end of this case. Yes, 沈眉庄 has her title restored but nothing happened to 华妃. The Emperor killed the doctor 刘畚 so there are no more witnesses. All was for naught. 甄嬛 is disenchanted with the results and more so to the fact that the Emperor suspected 甄嬛 of doing this to win favor.  

 

[Karen]

And this drama, no matter how popular it is and how glamorous the clothes and food are, shows us how terrible it was to be a woman in this system. You are constantly fighting over the favor of one man and it only matters if this man believes you. If he doesn’t believe you, you have no future. It’s quite a sad existence.

 

[Cathy]

Let’s return to 安陵容. Everything would have been in the bag, so to say, but she just had to blab her mouth. Her timely news gave 华妃 the time to think of a plan and avoid punishment! Here’s the difference between 安陵容 and 甄嬛. Upon hearing that 华妃 delivered a cure, 甄嬛 does not bring up the case. There’s no point to draw any ire onto herself in this situation. 甄嬛 is constantly leveraging the costs and benefits. 安陵容 makes no such calculation. She was so dumb to think that 华妃 would just let everything happen. She’s only thinking about self gratification, to see someone else suffer. She doesn’t think about the grand scheme of things, timing, just who 华妃 is. 安陵容 thought that 华妃 would suffer even more humiliation but what happened NOTHING. Just UGHH.  

 

[Karen]

I don’t know though. I wonder if 安陵容 knew that this is going to hurt 甄嬛 instead.

It is pretty suspicious that 华妃 was able to find a cure in such a short time. We do get a quick scene with the Imperial Doctor 温实处. There’s something funny with that cure. We’ll get back to it later.

By now things seemed to have calmed down with the plague. The Emperor 皇上 receives a report that 年羹尧’s second son 年富 vanquished a revolt. He heads over to 华妃’s place for lunch and she casually brings up the revolt. She starts asking the Emperor about 年富’s reward, even requesting a knighthood for him and she is relentless in her request. The Emperor doesn’t show it but he’s pissed. He finally agrees but when he’s back in his study, he lashes out to 苏培盛. Someone is sending messages between the Imperial Harem and the Imperial Court which is not acceptable. Otherwise, how would this news travel so fast? Remember that the harem should not be involved in court affairs. 

Well obviously we know that this is the case. 华妃’s entire bribery scam is propped up by her messages to her brother.

安陵容 is summoned to the Emperors study. 甄嬛 is too but 甄嬛’s matters are more serious. 赵之垣 has accused 甄嬛’s father of disobeying the Emperor’s orders and bad manners in regards to 年羹尧. 赵之垣 is the guy from the last episode that literally paid his way back into favor. He and 年羹尧 are on the same team. The Emperor needs to thoroughly think this through and dismisses 安陵容 who has been waiting outside in the cold for a while. 甄嬛 tries to excuse herself but to no avail. Unfortunately, once again, 安陵容 thinks 甄嬛 purposefully made her wait outside. 

The Emperor decides to demote 甄嬛’s father due to this indiscretion. 华妃 and 曹贵人 are extremely pleased with the news. We find out that 华妃 told her brother about this meddlesome 甄嬛. She’s pleased with 赵之垣’s rapidity in this matter, though we as the viewers know that this is simply a trap.

 

[Cathy]

安陵容 is preparing to spend the night with the Emperor. She has the gall to say, in a way, I’m happy that 甄嬛’s father got demoted. I feel closer to her now. We aren’t as distant! ARGH I can’t even. The Empress and Emperor have a conversation and after a suggestion from the Empress, the Emperor decides to summon 甄嬛 instead of 安陵容. Once again, 安陵容 thinks 甄嬛 purposefully did this. It doesn’t help that the pregnant 富察贵人 is right there laughing at her. 安陵容 has this internal monologue – why do you have to steal what’s mine? I feel bad, I’ve been doubling down on 安陵容 this entire time. She is in a bad situation but girl, you have to fight for yourself.

 

[Karen]

BUT ALSO! AGAIN! 皇后, the empress is the one who caused this drama. She is SO slick. She’s not outright nasty like 富察贵人 or also 华妃. She likes to manipulate things into her favor. She purposefully brings up 甄嬛 and her father. She then coaxes him to spend more time with 甄嬛 instead of 安陵容. She even says, they’re sisters. I’m sure 安陵容 won’t mind. The Emperor of course doesn’t think any more of this and agrees. I however think this is all a clever ploy by the Empress! She’s intentionally creating these misunderstandings between the two ladies. 甄嬛 of course doesn’t know what’s happening and 安陵容 just thinks that 甄嬛 is trying to steal all of her time with the Emperor. No one suspects 皇后. Genius if I must say so. 

 

[Cathy]

There’s a quick scene in which the Emperor restores 华妃’s power in the Imperial Harem to manage the internal affairs. 敬嫔 is also promoted to 妃, from concubine to consort! Yay! This definitely is a reward for taking care of 沈眉庄. I’m genuinely happy for her! 华妃’s facial expressions are hilarious. She’s super resentful. 

The episode ends with 甄嬛 checking up on 沈眉庄. She’s recovering but it looks like she doesn’t care about her restored title and all of that pomp and circumstance. 

There’s also this thread throughout the episode where 甄嬛 constantly feels tired, is a bit lethargic, and overall doesn’t have a big appetite. What do you think is happening there? We’ll find out soon enough.

 

[Karen] 

Now the interesting item in these two episodes is of course the disease that rocks Beijing.  Throughout Chinese history, there have been records of various epidemics. Of course Chinese traditional medicine was used to treat patients as western medicine did really exist. 艾叶 or Chinese mugwort, which is a type of plant, is frequently discussed as something to burn to help ward off the disease. This plant is also supposed to help with menstruation and issues with infertility. Mugwort. Such a funny name. We’re not Chinese medicine experts so we can’t comment too much on the medicine that was used. At least, 沈眉庄 is still alive and a cure was found.

 

That’s it for this episode – episode 23 and 24. Thank you all so much for joining us and we look forward to having you with us in the next one. If you have comments or questions, please let us know and reach out to us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com!