[Cathy]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! We discuss Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV shows. This is Cathy and this is Karen. The current drama we are discussing is 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. It’s on YouTube for those of you want to follow along.  In today’s podcast episode, we’ll combine discussing episode 30 and the first 10 minutes of episode 31 of the drama. Episode 30 and the first part of episode 31 revolve around the consequences of 华妃’s reign of terror. The rest of episode 31 has a different focus, which is why we are splitting up episode 31. 

To recap what happened in episode 29, the Emperor and Empress left the palace in order to pray at the temple of heaven. With no real oversight, 华妃 decides to punish 甄嬛 even though she’s pregnant. The end result is that 甄嬛。。。faints after being told to kneel outside for about an hour. As she is carried away by the heroic 17th prince, everyone sees that there’s a pool of blood where 甄嬛 was kneeling.

Episode 30 starts with 华妃 at her palace freaking out about what happened. She knows she’s in a whole lot of trouble for causing a miscarriage. She really doesn’t know what to do. She is screaming at her crew to see what are some solutions. The recommendation from her ally 曹贵人 is to be proactive about apologizing. She needs to be submissive. There’s not a whole lot else that can be done. The frustrating part is that 华妃 insists she did nothing wrong. Which, obviously is ridiculous. No matter what, punishing a pregnant woman was not a good idea.

 

[Karen]

We now turn to 甄嬛’s place. The empress and emperor have returned to the palace to check on 甄嬛. All the imperial doctors are around to care for her as well. 甄嬛 slowly wakes up to the news that unfortunately, her child is gone. She, understandably, is heartbroken. It is so gut wrenching to see how sad 甄嬛 is. Many of the concubines have arrived as well, particularly her friends. 

 

[Cathy]

The actress for 甄嬛, 孙俪,  really shows her acting chops right here. The tears just burst forth! I was impressed.

 

[Karen]

The emperor, seeing how upset 甄嬛 is, calls for 华妃 to come. 华妃 appears in a simple white gown, and, per the advice of her posse, has removed all hair accessories to allow her hair to fall down. This attire is the idiom 脱簪待罪, which essentially translates to removing hair accessories to await punishment. This is a custom that women of the imperial harem must follow when they make a big mistake. It’s a really big deal because hair decorations are very important in Chinese culture. You don’t just put your hair down for any reason. By doing so, she is showing everyone that she knows she committed a crime and is here to at least ask for forgiveness. This is a brilliant play to appease at least a bit of anger from the emperor.

 

华妃 comes forward and kneels to the ground in front of the emperor and at 甄嬛’s bedside. She begs for forgiveness but the emperor does not bend. He is really angry. She keeps emphasizing that while she hates 甄嬛, she never wanted to harm her child. She herself knows the pain of losing a child and would not wish that on anyone. This line I think saved her. After she says this line, the emperor softens a bit in his anger. But still, 皇上, the emperor, demotes 华妃. He strips her of her “Noble Consort” position that she literally just received, so she is now just a Consort. She also has her title removed which is a huge slap in the face. She can no longer use the title “华“. Instead, she will just be called by her surname, which is 年。 She will now go on to be called 年妃。 All powers to help in the imperial harem are removed. Lastly, unless told, she is not to see him.

 

[Cathy]

年妃 as we must call her now again says that this was an accident and why the emperor has to be so heartless. That sets him off and he’s actually very angry for once. He confronts her. Where was your heart when you delivered those punishments? He coldly states one more edict to her. She must kneel outside at her palace every day for 4 hours starting at noon. Just like how she punished 甄嬛。Then he dismisses her.

The acting in this episode is phenomenal. 

Once 年妃 leaves, the grief stricken 甄嬛 demands the Emperor for revenge. 年妃 killed your child! You’re just going to let that slide? The Emperor quote on quote promises that he will have his revenge but doesn’t know when. He wants her to wait for him. Matters of state are more important. 甄嬛 is noticeably disappointed. This is going to be the first of many times that the Emperor will disappoint her. 

There are visible scene cuts during this scene. It’s obvious mainly due to the amount of tears on 甄嬛’s face, haha. The whole scene at 甄嬛’s bedside is very hear-trenching but after a few viewings, this is quite funny to me. 

 

[Karen]

We turn to 温实初, the imperial doctor who was childhood friends with 甄嬛。 He is extremely worried about her and is waiting at the palace of 沈眉庄 to hear the update. 沈眉庄 returned to say that the child couldn’t be saved and he is very upset.

But 沈眉庄 notes that there’s not much he can do because he wasn’t in charge of 甄嬛’s pregnancy. What’s important now is to investigate 甄嬛’s medicine to see if anything was amiss. 沈眉庄 feels that something is wrong because no matter how rude and arrogant 年妃 is, she isn’t stupid enough to attack the emperor’s child directly.

The rest of the episode revolves around the aftermath. 

  1. 年妃 is seen kneeling outside as instructed and faints
  2. The 17th prince also comes to speak to the emperor to apologize for rushing into the imperial harem. We discussed this last week that this act technically is punishable by death. But 皇上waves it away as it was done out of necessity. 
  3. 皇上 has to deal with repeated notices from 年妃’s brother, 年羹尧 who is essentially pressuring 皇上 into treating 年妃 better or else he, 年羹尧 doesn’t know what he will do. Quite the threat that 皇上 does not appreciate.
  4. 甄嬛 is, understandably, grief stricken  
  5. The Emperor speaks to his mother, the empress dowager, about the events that happened. She consoles him that he shouldn’t blame himself for what happened.

 

[Cathy]

During this conversation – the Emperor voices his suspicions. How is it possible that 甄嬛 lost the child only after an hour? We discussed this in the last episode, a lot happened. Such as the summer sun, receiving some whippings, being smoked etc. The Empress Dowager, 太后, remarks 年妃 had the ladies go to her palace for hours on end to idly chat, sometimes 6-8 hours a day! The Emperor does not let his mother utter anything more – it is his fault. The Empress Dowager consoles him, matters of state trumps personal affairs. The Empress Dowager then continues but this shouldn’t have had such an impact on 甄嬛. She was only recently at 年妃’s palace for these greetings. Could there be something else that contributed to this miscarriage? 

Hmm… what does this mean? We’ll learn a little bit more in the next episode.

 

The episode ends with the emperor leaving the his mother’s palace and is stopped by the imperial doctor who tended 甄嬛。 He’s an old dude and asks the emperor to allow him to retire. He made such a mistake and couldn’t take care of the child. He feels that he should give room to other people to take his place. The Emperor agrees and the doctor is allowed to leave. This is very odd. But we will discuss this at the end of the episode.

 

 

[Karen]

Let’s move on to Episode 31 

This episode starts with 甄嬛 finally getting out of bed. She is being tended to by her friend, the imperial doctor, 温实初。 He asks her whether she has used 麝香 or Musk pods。 Do you remember that we’ve talked about this before? The most important item in the drama. 

 

Anyways – she is very surprised to hear him ask this because she said the doctors told her to avoid using this since it’s not good for pregnant women. However, 温实初 tells her that there are indeed signs of having been exposed to 麝香, Musk, in her body. 

甄嬛 recalls that the only place she’s been to that has any type of fragrance or perfume is in 华妃’s palace. They’ll investigate to see if there’s anything wrong.

As the two are talking, 温实初 again reiterates his feelings towards 甄嬛. He wanted to marry her and take care of her. She once again rejects him and says she only views him as an older brother. Unfortunately, at this moment, 沈眉庄 has come to visit 甄嬛 and overheard the bit that 温实初 likes 甄嬛。 沈眉庄rushes out clearly upset. Oh well.

 

[Cathy]

I don’t get why 沈眉庄 rushed out in a huff. Why is she upset about this? 温实处 and 甄嬛 have known each other for years! 

安陵容 has come to check in on 甄嬛. At this moment, 甄嬛’s maid 流珠 comes in with a box. The box contains the special fragrance 宜欢香 that is specifically made for 年妃. There was some leftover so 流珠 was able get to a little for 甄嬛.  甄嬛 asks her friend, 安陵容, to examine the powder since she knows the most about fragrances and creams. 

安陵容 takes a whiff. She notes the different ingredients including patchouli 青藿, sandalwood 白檀, and Nardostachys chinensis 甘松. She pauses, there’s one other ingredient. It’s musk, not your ordinary musk, but musk from a male horse. It’s extremely rare but also potent. It’s effects are 10x your normal musk scent.  

The ladies are stunned. Is this the reason why 年妃 hasn’t gotten pregnant all these years? Is this why 甄嬛 so easily had a miscarriage?

甄嬛 quickly wonders why hasn’t anyone found out about this musk? 安陵容 gives a pretty satisfactory answer. The musk fragrance is well hidden amongst the other ingredients. It’s extremely hard to discern. Your miscarriage must have been caused by this fragrance. Then 安陵容 says this. It doesn’t matter who or why this fragrance is there. Just remember, the only reason for your misfortunes are because of 年妃。

We will end our recap here. This is at 12:50 of episode 31. 

 

[Karen]

Let’s discuss this and tie to the previous episode.

We now know why for so many years 年妃 hasn’t gotten pregnant. This is certainly a long con. After 31 episodes, we know the real secret, but why this show is brilliant is that there have been hints of the importance of this fragrance, this 欢宜香 since the very beginning. I honestly think it was in episode 1 or 2 of the drama where we are first introduced to 华妃 that the emperor says, it smells nice, it must be the 欢宜香。This fragrance is specifically made for 年妃 and we are told that it is extremely cumbersome and difficult to make. Therefore, it is an extravagant gift to give to 华妃. 华妃 highly treasures this gift and shows it off whenever she can.

But, this is a silent poison. According to this TV magic, your reproductive organs will essentially be too impacted and therefore, women who are exposed to this fragrance for long periods will no longer be able to bear children. This is why the emperor can spend so many nights with 年妃 without worry of a pregnancy. In Episode 27 – you’ll recall we noted that the emperor, in speaking to 甄嬛,let slip that “年妃 will not have children”. It’s because he knows that the damage is done. Earlier this episode, we discussed how the empress dowager and the emperor were wondering if 甄嬛’s miscarriage was a result of being exposed to musk in 年妃‘s palace. They are purposefully hurting 年妃 and she, after all this time, is still in the dark.

Let’s take a second to understand why this was necessary. In the imperial harem, as we’ve mentioned, having a child is probably the most important role for a woman. To rob her of this ability renders her mostly meaningless. It’s why 端妃,the woman that 年妃 forced to become sterile, hates 年妃 so much. 甄嬛 was able to pick up on this reason very quickly. She said “even though you were being cautious of 年妃,you, the emperor, hurt our child in the process”. What does that mean? The emperor and the empress dowager have for a long time, been wary of how powerful 年羹尧, 年妃’s brother, is. If, 年妃 had a son, it is not out of the realm of possibility, with how arrogant and powerful 年羹尧 is since he has military strength and decorum, that 年羹尧 would actually incite a coup and try to overthrow the emperor and mandate himself as the emperor. If that weren’t the case, having a son of the 年 family would at least make 年羹尧 a very powerful uncle. He might declare himself regent. Early in the Qing Dynasty, there were regents that tried to seize power. Given the situation as it is now, the emperor and empress dowager need to protect the throne from the likes of 年羹尧。 In order to do that, they have to sacrifice 年妃’s ability to have children. The entire time 皇上 is basically faking affection in order to secure 年羹尧’s loyalty.

 

[Cathy]

The last piece we’ll discuss now is the importance of doctors. In episode 26, we discussed how an external doctor was brought into check in on 年妃 and see when she’ll get pregnant. There is absolutely NO WAY the doctor didn’t see through the fact that she cannot have children. The damage to her reproductive system is probably irreparable at this point. That is why he was very confused upon hearing that so many doctors said she’s fine. That is also why the Empress Dowager had her maid tell this doctor to essentially keep his mouth shut. The fragrance that was gifted to 年妃 were all under the command of the emperor and the empress dowager. The highest powers that the imperial doctors listen to are the emperor and the empress dowager. Even the doctors who were technically under the employ of 年妃, if we recall the 江 doctors who are now dead but were helping 年妃 with a number of schemes such as the plague and framing 沈眉庄 with the fake pregnancy scandal, never told her that her body was damaged. There must have been some type of decree from on high that this secret cannot get out. 

For 甄嬛 herself, if it weren’t for the fact that she has a loyal friend in 温实初 who told her about the fact that there’s traces of using musk in her body, I highly doubt she would know. That is why it is always super important to have a doctor as your ally in the imperial harem.

 

[Karen]

Let’s now get into the spoiler section. If you don’t want to be spoiled, thank you very much for listening! 

Let’s continue.

In episode 30, when 华妃 is kneeling in front of the emperor to try to atone for her mistake, she yells at the imperial doctor who tends to 甄嬛. She demands to know why 甄嬛 would suffer a miscarriage from such a small punishment. You’ll see at this exact moment in the drama, the camera cuts to the empress. For those of you who have watched the drama, you’ll know that the reason is because 甄嬛 has been sabotaged. The cut to the empress’s face is to show her tentative reaction of what the doctor will say and may blow her cover. But this doctor keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t mention the fact that 甄嬛’s health was already compromised. This is like the 3 or 4th time we’ve seen that Imperial Doctors cannot be trusted? Well that doesn’t seem healthy or safe for anyone! As of right now, the only person 甄嬛 can truly trust is her friend 温实处.

 

[Cathy]

In episode 31, 安陵容 detects the musk in the fragrance found in 年妃’s palace. She asks how 甄嬛 could have thought of the fragrance. 甄嬛 reveals that the Imperial Doctors detected that she was using musk. 甄嬛 only thought about fragrances as a way of inhaling or ingesting musk. 甄嬛 doesn’t know about other uses so she doesn’t think about other products she’s been using, namely the cream to heal her scar.

There’s a quick camera cut to 安陵容’s face! I think she’s breathing a small sigh of relief. She wasn’t caught. She’s been putting musk in the cream that she’s been gifting 甄嬛! That’s why she was so adamant on putting all the blame on 年妃. This directs all suspicion away from any other substance 甄嬛 has been using. At the end of the scene, 安陵容 looks all worried. My first viewing was, oh she also hates 年妃, but nope, it’s really to hide from her own guilt.

Let’s wrap today’s episode here. The mystery of 年妃’s infertility is revealed. 甄嬛 has lost her child. There’s a vacuum in the Imperial Harem without a favored concubine. Will someone be able to take advantage of this opportunity? We’ll see in the next episode!

 

Thank you very much for listening today. If you have any questions or feedback, please email us at chasingdramaspodcats@gmail.com.