[Cathy]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV shows! I’m Cathy and I’m Karen. Today we will discuss episode 35  of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. 

The drama is currently available on YouTube for those of you who want to follow along. If you’re new to the podcast, please start with our intro to the podcast and intro to the drama episode.  If you have any comments/questions, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com.

 

[Karen]

Right off the bat, a lot of stuff is happening. In the last episode 甄嬛 is able to recapture the attention of the Emperor and is now back on top with his favor. All of the other ladies have to be more respectful of her now.

It’s the winter time. After a court greeting, our main character 甄嬛 sees two other concubines. 富察贵人 and 曹贵人。Two noble ladies. 曹贵人 has a young daughter and worked for the now demoted 年妃。 富察贵人 was one of the pair that humiliated 甄嬛 in episode 33 where she was slapped repeatedly and told to kneel outside.  Well, it’s time for 甄嬛 to get some revenge and develop a retaliation strategy against 年妃.

甄嬛 starts out with some small talk about the winter time. She then transitions to a story she remembered that happened in winter. After 甄嬛 tells this story, 富察贵人develops so much anxiety that she goes crazy. So what is this story?

I must apologize because I jumped the gun. We already described this story in Episode 26 since 华妃 now 年妃 mentioned it briefly but I will re-explain it here.

甄嬛 describes in detail that in winter, she’s reminded of the famous story of 人彘 between 吕后 and 戚夫人. Who are these characters and what story is powerful enough to cause 富察贵人 to go crazy? Empress 吕 is the famous wife and Empress of Han Dynasty’s first Emperor, 刘邦. This Empress 吕 was very powerful and well connected. Unfortunately, her husband, did not like her a whole lot after they reached middle age. He instead became infatuated with this other woman, Lady 戚, who was young and beautiful compared to the older Empress 吕。 This young Lady 戚, as 甄嬛 goes on to describe, offended Empress 吕。But, when their husband died, and Empress 吕 became Empress Dowager 吕,official mother of the new emperor and regent. This means she gets much more power. Remember how she was disrespected by Lady 戚,Empress Dowager 吕 orders a very severe punishment. Empress Dowager 吕 orders that Lady 戚 have her hands and legs chopped off. Her eyes are to be gouged out, her ears to be pricked to deafness, and she is to drink medicine to cause her to become mute. Once that’s done, she is to be left in the bathroom. 

At this point, 富察贵人 is still Ok. But then 甄嬛 says, while Empress Dowager 吕 was a little extreme, Lady 戚 shouldn’t have taken her favoritism in that instant to humiliate Empress Dowager 吕。富察贵人 actually falls out of her chair in fright at this point. She questions why 甄嬛 is telling this story.

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 responds that even though 年妃 is arrogant, but there is something she, herself, recognizes in 年妃. She strikes quickly, without second thought. 甄嬛 says that one year, someone insulted 年妃 with a sentence. 年妃 immediately made this person move to another palace. 甄嬛 wonders, if 年妃 were to be humiliated on the main street, what do you think she’d do to the person who humiliated her in revenge?

曹贵人 answers that if 年妃 was treated as such, even if she doesn’t enact the punishment we just described, she’d make the perpetrator wish she were dead. You’ll notice 曹贵人’s body language. She’s not saying this and responding to 甄嬛,she’s saying this directly to 富察贵人 who is shaking with fright at this point. 

I don’t want to insult anyone if this seems obvious, but 甄嬛 telling this story to 富察贵人 is a warning to her about how 富察贵人 humiliated 甄嬛 previously. Now that 甄嬛 is back on top, 富察贵人 should be very worried about what might befall her. Indeed, 甄嬛 says that if I had 年妃’s personality to begin with, I probably would not have been humiliated. I feel like 曹贵人 at this point is looking to impact 富察贵人 as well because 曹贵人 says to 甄嬛 that she currently has all the favor. There isn’t anything she cannot do.

 

[Karen]

At this point 富察贵人 starts begging for forgiveness for how she treated 甄嬛 previously. 甄嬛 jokingly says there’s nothing to forgive as she’s just telling stories. She does not know, even though the historian 司马迁 described this gruesome punishment quite well, she wonders what this actually looks like. Her main maid interjects and says that this isn’t even the worst punishment. In the Tang dynasty, there’s an added step that once someone has had this done to them, they are then put into a pot of alcohol. 

Now, 富察贵人 completely crumbles in her chair. She is terrified that this will be her fate since she bullied 甄嬛. She’s a stuttering mess and can’t even stand up anymore. She has to be carried away by her servants.  Another one bites the dust. She is seen later on screaming in her palace that she doesn’t want this same punishment to befall her. She has gone completely crazy. The Emperor tells doctors to try to cure her but in the meantime, she is to be locked up in her palace. That is the last time we see 富察贵人。

With this opponent gone in the imperial harem, the only people that remain from when 甄嬛 first entered the palace all the way back in episode 2 are her, 沈眉庄 and 安陵容。 Everyone else has been killed or gone crazy.

 

[Cathy]

I think she’s like a level 2 opponent, not difficult to defeat, but just rather annoying.

 

[Karen]

If we go back to where 甄嬛 and 曹贵人 are sitting now that 富察贵人 has been carried away, they get to the main discussion. 

曹贵人 understands that the whole point of this conversation, including scaring the bejeezus out of 富察贵人 was to intimidate herself. With all pretense stripped from both ladies, 曹贵人·urges 甄嬛 to be blunt about what she wants.

What’s interesting is we find out that 甄嬛 has been pushing the emperor to see 曹贵人 for a while since 甄嬛 was supposedly sick  I’m not sure if she was actually sick, or if this was part of her master plan to bring 曹贵人 to her team.  In any case, this is probably the first time the two of them have an actual conversation.

甄嬛 is pretty direct and focuses the conversation on 曹贵人’s daughter’s future. She notes that it must have been difficult to be a part of 年妃’s group given how aggressive 年妃 can be and that the reason 曹贵人 was part of 年妃’s group was to protect herself. But, 曹贵人 knows full well that 年妃 hurt her daughter in order to gain the affection of the emperor which must have been difficult to bear.

The interesting piece of dialogue here is that 曹贵人 says that if 年妃 didn’t help her when she was giving birth to her daughter, she may not have been able to survive.  We never hear what happened or what the story behind this is. The dialogue is very simple, just one sentence. However, I wonder if the empress, who we know by now has been killing children of the emperor repeatedly, had a hand in causing the difficult birth. Somehow 年妃 was able to protect 曹贵人 in successfully birthing the princess. That’s why 曹贵人thanks 年妃 and helps 年妃 strategize in the imperial harem.

The conversation shifts then to how 曹贵人 was powerless to not be under 年妃 at the height of her powers. Just like how 曹贵人 wanted to warn 甄嬛 of 淳贵人 but wasn’t able to save 淳贵人。If you remember, 淳贵人 is the cute foodie that loved spending time with 甄嬛 but accidentally overheard 年妃’s corruption scheme and was subsequently eliminated to prevent 淳贵人 from talking.

 

[Cathy]

曹贵人 tells 甄嬛 the details about how courtiers would pay 年妃 money in order to earn favors from her brother which in turn earns them positions at court. This absolutely shocks 甄嬛。I think this knowledge further spurs 甄嬛 into trying to get 曹贵人 onto her team. 甄嬛 says that the emperor told her the fate of his sister that was sent off to be married to the Dzungar Khanate we discussed in the last episode. This poor girl’s husband suddenly died soon after she arrived but she won’t be able to return home. The princess will instead become the new Khan’s concubine. 曹贵人 recognizes that this is humiliating for the princess but there’s nothing to be done. In order to protect her own young daughter from such a fate, 曹贵人 has really no other option at this point than to completely sever ties with 年妃 and work with someone else that can protect her daughter. That person, is 甄嬛。With this conversation, this new alliance is sealed.

Elsewhere, 安陵容, former best friends with 甄嬛 is in her own palace secretly fuming about the turn of events. She wonders if everyone is laughing at her that she’s now lost favor once 甄嬛 returned. All I can say is, the more she thinks like this, the more she turns to the dark side. The emperor likes you because your singing sounds like his dead first wife. But he can’t talk to you about all of these other things…

 

[Karen]

The second half of the episode revolves more around politics.

 

甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 are doing some sewing for the new year. I must say the servants in 甄嬛’s palace are getting sharper and sharper. Here’s what I mean.  甄嬛’s head Eunuch has some news from the Imperial Court. He doesn’t declare it to 甄嬛 first but murmurs it to the nearby 瑾溪. It’s only when 甄嬛 asks him to share does he tell her. 

It’s a bit of a doozy. The Emperor’s 10th brother, 敦亲王 or Prince Dun, returned to court three days ago. However, not only does he show up late to court, but he appeared in full military regalia. 敦亲王 didn’t return from war. This act was extremely disrespectful to the Emperor. Before the Emperor could say anything, an Imperial Minister or his actual official of Imperial Censor (御史) 张霖 accused the Prince of contempt for the sovereign. Well I wouldn’t say accused – outright said the truth. 

Apparently, the Prince didn’t retaliate during court but on the way out of the Imperial Palace, he immediately beat the poor Imperial Censor to a pulp. All of the civil servants immediately submitted critiques of the Prince to the Emperor demanding the Prince be punished. But the Prince doesn’t care and just hasn’t attended court the past two days, stating that he’s ill.

This is a tough situation for the Emperor. The 10th Prince clearly did something wrong, but he also has military merit so he needs to find a solution that will appease all parties.

 

[Cathy]

It’s night – 甄嬛 visits the Emperor at his study. We see some court ministers and officials leaving the study. The Emperor is a bit frazzled about the whole situation. 甄嬛 is exactly who he needs right now. She’s brought him some 东阿阿胶 – or Donkey Hide Gelatin – a pretty rare delicacy.

The Emperor asks 甄嬛 for her opinion on the whole situation with the 10th Prince 敦亲王。Let’s remind everyone that women were not supposed to voice their ideas on matters of politics. He’s making an exception for her.

This part’s great! 甄嬛 analyzes the situation and concludes that punishing the Prince is not the best route to take. The court ministers want an apology. Why don’t we give them the apology? The best option is to have the Prince himself apologize to the Imperial Censor. 

The Emperor is skeptical. Easier said than done. How do we make him do that? 甄嬛 has a sparkle in her eye. She uses the idiom 英雄难过美人关 – Even the strongest hero can be seduced by a beautiful woman. The Emperor immediately understands her meaning. The 10th Prince dearly loves his wife. If she is willing to persuade him, then he probably will apologize.The 

Emperor is very pleased with this idea. He praises her ingenuity. He even shares his desire to “ahem” remove the 10th Prince in the future. She acknowledges that that is probably the best for the Emperor but it’s not the right moment. She further discusses the situation. The 10th Prince is already a 亲王 or Prince of the First Rank. They can’t give him a higher rank. Why don’t we focus on their children?

The 10th Prince and his wife have one son and one daughter. The daughter is already a 郡主 or Princess of the 3rd Rank or Princess of a Commandery. The Emperor will bestow her the title of 和硕公主 or Princess of the 2nd Rank. As we mentioned in the previous episode, this is only designated to daughters borne to the Emperor not by the Empress. Her status is that of a daughter to the Emperor.  The son will be given the title of 贝子 or Prince of the 4th Rank or a Banner Lord. For a daughter who’s 12 and a son who’s 6 without any military experience, these titles are very exceptional. 

甄嬛 doesn’t think this is enough. The princess should have an official title of 恭定, to reminder her father to be respectful. She will also be brought up by the Empress Dowager. The Emperor is actually grinning! WHAT! He agrees and then teases her a bit for the idiom she used earlier. Are you saying I’m the hero? Just then, the Emperor’s head eunuch comes in to ask whether 安陵容 should come. 

The Emperor wants 甄嬛 to stay but surprisingly she doesn’t. The two ladies cross paths in each in their own respective carriages. 安陵容 has a smirk of victory but little does she know 甄嬛 gave her that opportunity. 

 

[Karen]

In the next scene, the wife of the 10th Prince 十福晋, arrives in full court attire to greet the Empress and 甄嬛. They exchange some pleasantries. In this situation, it is the Empress who delivers the news of 十福晋’s children’s promotions. Both the Empress and 甄嬛 congratulate her and her children on the high honor. She is shocked at these declarations but before she can protest, the Empress dismisses her. 十福晋 is left grasping at straws – she tries to keep an audience with 甄嬛 to figure out what’s going on.

This 十福晋 is the same one that visited 甄嬛 on her sickbed when 甄嬛 was out of favor. 甄嬛 remembers this, which is why she’s willing to help her, or so she says. 甄嬛 successfully persuades 十福晋 to coax her own husband the 10th Prince into apologizing for his actions.

The Emperor arrives at 甄嬛’s palace to announce that everything has been resolved. 甄嬛’s plan worked. The 10th Prince did go to the Imperial Censor’s home and apologize. This is a huge relief for the Emperor. 

 

[Cathy]

The episode ends with a spectacular scene. The is Emperor reading, 甄嬛 is writing, and 安陵容 is serving tea. 安陵容 presents a hand made perfume sachet to the Emperor. He barely glances at it and states that 甄嬛 had gifted him one a few days ago which he’s wearing. I can’t wear too many things on my person. 

Then 安陵容 starts her self-pitying act. She says, my sewing skills just aren’t as good as my dear sister 甄嬛. Well, 甄嬛 is not falling for this charade anymore. 甄嬛 responds – oh your skills are so much better! Look at everything else the Emperor’s wearing, they’re all made by you. 

安陵容 tries to double down on her act. She says – oh mine just isn’t as appropriate as my sister’s. I apologize for any offense I may have caused. The Emperor waves it off. She then continues, sister, why don’t you sew a sachet with mandarin ducks? That will show your love for the Emperor! 

甄嬛, not missing a beat, responds – Mandarin ducks are great but the Emperor will wear the sachet to the Imperial Court. That might not be appropriate. A dragon however represents the Emperor and his status. She then speaks to the Emperor, if you want a sachet with mandarin ducks, I can sew one for you and put it underneath your pillow!

The Emperor nods and then turns his attention to what 甄嬛 is writing. She’s writing a verse from the Song Dynasty poet 柳永。The Emperor dismisses this piece stating it does fit the current atmosphere. He picks up the brush and writes the following famous love phrase.

花好月圆人长久 – In the garden, under a full moon, I pray for the fortune and health my beloved and our love

Then tells her to frame in her palace. There’s a bug – you can clearly see the calligraphy style is not the same between shots.

安陵容 gets jealous of this because the emperor only wrote this for 甄嬛 and completely disregarded her. 甄嬛 jokes that 安陵容 is getting jealous but the Emperor doesn’t think this jealousy is an issue. HAHAHA. 

 

[Karen]

That was the recap, the main analysis and discussion that we’ll have today is about 甄嬛’s transformation.

Let’s analyze 甄嬛’s actions this entire episode. What a change! She’s going on the offensive! To everyone – from 富察贵人, to 曹贵人, to 安陵容, to the wife of 敦亲王, and even to the Emperor!

She becomes more ruthless and calculating. Everything she does has a purpose. 

 

-Karen – expand on this for 富察贵人 and 曹贵人.

 

I will expand on the other three

 

敦亲王福晋

  • tea

安陵容

  • Carriage
  • Last scene

雍正

  • Praise for the emperor

 

That’s that for today’s episode of Chasing Dramas! Let’s see how long 甄嬛’s favor can last. Again if you have any questions or comments, please reach out to us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. Thanks!