[Cathy]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas in both Mandarin and English. This is Karen and Cathy. We will be discussing episode 44 of 后宫甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace.

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In the last episode, 甄嬛 fell into a cleverly laid trap set by the Empress. 甄嬛 accidentally wore a ceremonial robe from the Emperor’s first Empress 纯元. The Emperor was furious upon seeing 甄嬛 wear this robe and orders 甄嬛 to be placed under confinement in her own palace. 甄嬛 has fallen from favor, this time it could be once and for all. 

Let’s start off from here. 

 

[Karen]

Since the confinement order, life for the residents of 甄嬛’s palace has been bleak. The daily rations are brought in by other servants but they are sour, rancid, and barely edible. A far cry from the swallow’s nests and pastries fit for a concubine. Remember all of the amazing food 甄嬛 received previously? Nope none of that exists anymore.

It’s winter. Without coals and proper food, 甄嬛’s health turns for the worse. She’s bedridden but her servants aren’t able to even leave the palace to request for a doctor. Her servants try everything, begging, sweet talking, even bribery but to no avail. Just as 甄嬛 tries to walk about her room, she faints. It looks dire for 甄嬛.

Her servants including her maids, 流珠 and 浣碧 and the eunuch 小允子 rush out the door to try and plead for help but are stopped by the guards. One of the guards pulls out his sabre to threaten the maid 流珠. The next scene is absolutely devastating. The maid 流珠 stares at the sabre for a few seconds. You can see the smirk on the guard. He thinks this will scare her into backing off. Instead, she does the unthinkable. She charges right at the sabre, neck first so as to inflict a fatal injury to herself. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, you’ll just have to watch the scene. 

Everyone is speechless, stunned by the turn of events. 浣碧 rushes to the bleeding 流珠 but the ever loyal 流珠 continues to mutter the words Summon a Doctor. The guards, seeing the gravity of the situation, finally rush out to find a doctor. There is no hope for 流珠 – she passes away right in front of our eyes. 

Why did 流珠 do this? She recognized that unless someone is gravely injured, the guards won’t fetch a doctor. She decided to sacrifice herself in order for a doctor to be summoned. I personally don’t know if she needed to kill herself to achieve this goal? I think she may have jumped the gun a little bit.  Maybe that only with a death will the guards be scared enough to escalate. Maybe I’m thinking too much into this that the servants aren’t super intelligent which is why 流珠 came up with such a fatal idea.

Let’s pour one out to 流珠, the most loyal of servants. You were amazing and we’ll miss you dearly.

 

[Cathy]

Because of this death, the Imperial Guards report to the Emperor about the events that just occurred so at least 流珠‘s death was not in vain. It achieved its intended effect. The guards though have the gall to say they were just following orders which is why they wouldn’t let a doctor in to see 甄嬛 who is sick。 The Emperor is enraged at the news. He says – I only confined her, I never said she couldn’t see a doctor. 

Ugh – buddy you knew full well that this would happen. 

 

[Karen]

I don’t know that! I feel like people were guessing the emperor’s feelings but didn’t realize he still cared.

 

[Cathy]

The Emperor quickly orders for a doctor to be sent to 甄嬛’s palace and punishes the guard for blocking the doctor. 

甄嬛 finally stirs. She’s surprised to see that she’s surrounded by people, including her friend, the Imperial Doctor 温实处. Of 甄嬛’s maids, we only see 浣碧 and 瑾溪. Poor 流珠, but her sacrifice was worth it. The doctor 温实处 immediately delivers some uplifting news. 甄嬛 is pregnant! What perfect timing! This was actually hinted at in episode 42 – right after the now deceased 华妃 tried to burn down 甄嬛’s palace. 甄嬛 has 沈眉庄 stay over and said that for some reason she’s been very lazy and tired of late, always wanting to sleep. Now we know why. The timing here doesn’t completely make sense because more than 1 month has passed at this point but whatever.

甄嬛 hears the news but isn’t overjoyed. She simply dismisses everyone except for the doctor and her maid 瑾溪. The Imperial Doctor 温实处 tries to encourage her. This is her opportunity to regain favor! 甄嬛 is not so optimistic. The Emperor hasn’t lifted her confinement, he hasn’t even said any words of congratulations. Everything she has right now is because she’s pregnant. She’s nothing more than a child-bearing tool. Ok, this is true but at least her situation is MUCH better than before. 

 

[Karen]

Even in her weakened state, 甄嬛 needs to plot her next move now that she is pregnant. She now knows who her enemies are and needs to plan accordingly. She writes a letter to the Emperor requesting that the Empress be in charge of her care during her pregnancy. This is a brilliant move. 甄嬛 knows full well it was the Empress who put her in this position but with the Empress in charge, if anything happens to her, the Empress would also be blamed for negligence. This is the safest option for 甄嬛。

Once done, 甄嬛 casually asks for 流珠. She hasn’t seen this ever loyal servant since she’s woken up. 瑾溪 mumbles an excuse.甄嬛’s very early on in her pregnancy and she’s very fragile. Mood swings could cause a miscarriage. The servants don’t want to upset her, potentially endangering the pregnancy. What a tough situation for everyone. 

After a few days, 甄嬛 sort of catches on that something isn’t right. She hasn’t seen 流珠 in days. This time, she questions 浣碧. 浣碧 tries to give an excuse that 流珠 is taking a nap but 甄嬛 isn’t having any of it. She demands the truth. 浣碧 finally reveals 流珠’s death to 甄嬛. 

This is such a heartbreaking scene. As 浣碧 continues to recount the events, 甄嬛’s own tears are streaming down her face. She knows just how loyal 流珠 was. 流珠 sacrificed her own life for 甄嬛. How else could the Imperial Doctor come into the palace? 甄嬛 knew something was up. At this point, 瑾溪 comes in and quickly figures out what’s happening. She consoles 甄嬛 – 甄嬛 must stay strong, healthy and make sure the baby comes to term or else 流珠’s sacrifice would have been in vain. 甄嬛 needs to stay alive to seek revenge for all who have wronged her. Yes please. 

 

[Cathy]

Let’s take a little detour to talk about two women in the Imperial Harem. 沈眉庄 and the Empress 皇后. 

沈眉庄 has shown time and again that she’s 甄嬛’s one true friend. She first tries to plead with the Empress Dowager about 甄嬛’s case.  She then, in a surprising move, tries to directly appeal to the Emperor himself. Both of them shut her down. The Empress Dowager offers her and us some sage advice. The Emperor needs to get over his anger himself, anyone else who interferes will simply be collateral damage.  The Emperor is even more heartless – he won’t entertain any thought of lifting 甄嬛’s confinement.

Once again, we see 沈眉庄 completely embody chrysanthemum. She’ll stand resolute in her beliefs to help her friend. Unfortunately, she still doesn’t know how the game is played in the Imperial Harem. She needs to bend so to say to the whims of the Emperor if she wants to persuade him but she refuses to do so. It’s unclear if she could have done more for 甄嬛 at this point but at least she tried.

Onto the Empress 皇后. She is absolutely livid that she was placed in charge to care for 甄嬛。She desperately doesn’t want any concubine to birth any child. We’ve seen just what she can do. Remember 富察贵人’s miscarriage? One cat solved that problem. The Empress plays the perfect part of the serene, just Empress in front of the Emperor. She asks all the right questions like asking for permission to do x,y,z. The Emperor isn’t suspicious at all. I can’t say the same for the Empress Dowager. The Empress pays a visit to the Empress Dowager. The Empress Dowager knows exactly what to say to pressure the Empress into not sabotaging 甄嬛’s pregnancy. She pointedly tells the Empress that it is her duty to maintain peace in the Imperial Harem not just because she’s the Empress but because she must retain glory for their clan. The Empress needs to make sure that the Emperor actually has children. Otherwise, this will reflect poorly on the Empress. Pay attention to the excuse she gives. I couldn’t even save my own son, how can I protect another child? This will be important in the future. 

Needless to say, the Empress does not heed the Empress Dowager’s warning at all. She and 安陵容 continue to plot how best to cause a miscarriage. Nothing can happen to 甄嬛 but what if 甄嬛 herself has the miscarriage? The best option is to strike a mental blow. A sudden mood swing could cause a miscarriage. Remember the civil servant 钱名世 from last episode? He’ll be crucial in delivering that blow to 甄嬛. 

 

[Karen]

In the last episode, I described how the Emperor was extremely ruthless and petty in dealing with this man 钱名世. Well, now the Emperor is requiring all other Imperial ministers write criticizing memos against him, disparaging his behavior etc. This really did happen in history. However, one man curiously hasn’t written anything. Who is it? 甄嬛’s father. The Emperor is displeased to hear this information. He gives 甄嬛’s father 3 days to write something or else, he will be punished. 甄嬛’s father is not there to defend himself. We’ll have to wait to see what happens…

Months pass, 甄嬛 is already 5 months pregnant. Apart from not eating or sleeping well, 甄嬛 seems fine. I don’t know how fine that is, haha. The Imperial Doctor 温实处 arrives for her checkup and delivers the news that 沈眉庄’s burn from the fire way back in the winter has finally healed although there is a small scar. 甄嬛 is surprised – did 沈眉庄 not use the ointment 舒痕胶? 

The good doctor pauses, he hesitates but doesn’t say much, only – if 安陵容 gives 甄嬛 anything else, please send it to him. Well of course 甄嬛 becomes immediately suspicious and demands him to spit it out. He waffles a bit but finally reveals that the ointment 舒痕胶 does indeed contain not insignificant amounts of musk. This is the miscarriage inducing substance that is very harmful to pregnant women. If someone rubs it into her skin, it’s the same as ingesting it. 

Finally! 甄嬛 knows the truth! She is disgusted by this news. Even her so-called friend had been plotting against her. 安陵容 was the one who gifted this to 甄嬛 and she’s an expert in fragrances. 甄嬛 correctly deduces that 安陵容 is the culprit. Throughout the show, I’ve been hinting that 甄嬛 should have investigated EVERYTHING that she’s been using. She only focused on what she ate but not what she put on her skin. The first time I watched this scene, I was blown away! I didn’t suspect the ointment at all! This was such a clever scheme but it also shows just how early on 安陵容 was plotting against 甄嬛. 安陵容 is now fully team Empress and I think quite evil but she gifted this to 甄嬛 way back when! This is terrifying if you think about 

 

[Cathy]

Remember 甄嬛’s miscarriage way back in episode 29? Everyone attributed her misfortune to the fragrance 欢宜香 from 华妃’s palace but even so, the Empress Dowager questioned, she was only exposed to the fragrance for a short while, how could this have happened? Now we know why. 甄嬛 had been using the ointment liberally to heal her injuries from the cat. The musk in the ointment would have also weakened her body, contributing to her miscarriage. If we look back, it was only because of 欢宜香 as a cover that 安陵容 was able to escape suspicion for so long. There are many scenes where the camera cuts to her facial expression as 甄嬛 discusses her miscarriage and the harmful nature of musk.

甄嬛 cannot understand 安陵容’s betrayal. In her mind, she always treated 安陵容 fairly, why would she do this to her? Let’s unpack this a bit. Yes, 甄嬛 has treated 安陵容 fairly but we’ve mentioned throughout the series, she’s never truly seen 安陵容 as an equal. Not the same way as 沈眉庄, which is fair. The two ladies grew up together. However, 甄嬛 also needs to realize 安陵容’s own lowly position within her family and even her father’s lowly position at court. 

Look, I’m not excusing 安陵容’s behavior but 甄嬛 should have been more diligent in vetting her friends. As her maid 瑾溪 rightly points out, it’s not about how you treat someone. You can’t expect them to return the favor. People make their own decisions and you have to be ready to respond in kind. To me it’s basically like – treat others the way you want to be treated? Yes, do that but then you need to be prepared as if everyone will backstab you, haha. 

 

[Karen]

It’s now the summer and the Emperor still hasn’t seen 甄嬛. He hears reports that 甄嬛 isn’t doing too well and he quietly sneaks a visit to see that she is indeed not sleeping will. I think he’s thawing a little bit but, ugh you’re the one that put her in this state.  I’m definitely not team Emperor. 

We finish the episode with 甄嬛 going out for a walk. I honestly don’t know how the women were able to walk while pregnant in those flower-pot bottom shoes. 欣常在 and 祺贵人 walk by. 欣常在 still delivers the customary greeting but 祺贵人 pulls her away. Why bother with her? She’s out of favor.  Here we see the difference between these 2 women and it hints at who will last longer in the imperial harem. 欣常在 still has respect for 甄嬛 while 祺贵人 is just an arrogant fool.

Well nothing good really happens from this episode. 甄嬛’s only saving grace is her pregnancy but at what cost? She lost one of her most loyal servants, 流珠. She was more than a servant, but a sister, a friend. In any match up between 流珠 and 浣碧, who is 甄嬛’s half sister, 流珠 wins every round. 流珠 knows her place in the palace. She knows she is and will always just be a servant for 甄嬛 and acts accordingly. 浣碧 on the other hand, thinks way too highly of herself and expects more than what her current position affords her because she is 甄嬛’s half sister. I’m pretty pissed that we don’t even see a funeral for 流珠. I know it’s all to keep 甄嬛’s baby healthy, but come on! 甄嬛 is down to just 2 trusty maids now. 

 

There’s not much to analyze in this episode so we’ll just take this episode as a breather. Not sure how much of a breather this is but we will see what happens to 甄嬛 and if she can successfully deliver her child.

That’s it for today.