Episode 65 – The Substitute Wives

[Cathy]

Welcome back to Chasing dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese tv dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today, we are discussing episode 65 of Empresses in the Palace, 后宫甄嬛传. As always, if you have any comments or questions, please email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com or follow us on twitter + instagram. Also, give us a rating if you are enjoying the podcast!

 

Now back to business.

 

[Karen]

In the last episode we had our hearts crushed by the death of 沈眉庄. While 甄嬛 is devastated, as are we, it seems that the Emperor has moved on quite quickly from this sad news. Shortly after the events of 甄嬛’s interrogation, the birth of a new princess and the death of 沈眉庄, the Emperor is setting his sights on the next woman. He’s clearly gained an interest in 甄嬛’s youngest sister, 玉娆.   

 

I’m speechless at this point. The fact that he’s turning to other women now shows us that he isn’t actually that impacted by 沈眉庄’s death. Of course, we don’t know how much time it’s been since her death but episode 65 starts off with the Emperor sitting with 甄嬛 at her palace. He suggests that he should take some of the trusted maids from her palace and turn them into concubines. Right now he’s talking about 浣碧,甄嬛’s maid and half-sister. He says, why don’t I decree her as a first class female attendant? 

 

浣碧 who is waiting on the side at this point, actually freaks out and refuses this honor. That is quite the change from her earliest position in the palace where she was actually vying to become a concubine. This also surprises the emperor because, normally, maids who are offered to be turned into a woman of the emperor would generally be over the moon. 

 

浣碧admits that she already has someone in her heart. Notice the interesting suggestions that the Emperor provides – is it a imperial guard or an imperial doctor? That’s because those are the people he thinks would befit her station as a maid. That’s fair. I would say 浣碧 thought very highly of herself which is why she allowed herself to fall in love with the 17th prince. Fortunately, 甄嬛 dismisses this idea and 浣碧 and the Emperor doesn’t think much of it.

 

[Cathy]

Shortly after, the Emperor visits the Empress Dowager. We haven’t seen her in a while which for me is somewhat odd given how close she was to 沈眉庄 but the topic of conversation with the Emperor is not about 沈眉庄 but rather the Empress. The Emperor describes the events of the blood test and how the Empress purposefully added 白矾 or potassium alum in an effort to convict 甄嬛 of adultery. 

 

What I appreciate about this scene is that the Emperor knows full well that the Empress was behind this. He’s not stupid. Unfortunately, the Empress dowager urges the Emperor to not neglect the Empress as she is his most beloved’s sister. The empress dowager has her own agenda for not wanting to punish the empress, namely keeping the seat of the Empress within her own clan and so she has no option but to accept all the terrible things the Empress does. The Emperor doesn’t have much else to say against his mother either so decides to drop the conversation.

 

The rest of this episode continues on with the Emperor’s uh eager attempts to woo 甄嬛’s younger sister and the resulting consequences.

 

[Karen]

Out in the imperial garden, 甄嬛 and 玉娆 are enjoying the day. 玉娆 is trying to catch butterflies but remarks on how boring life in the forbidden palace is. Their conversation is interrupted by the Emperor who happens to stop by. He is smitten at the sight of 玉娆. Can we all get a collective “ew” for this? 

 

Something I want to highlight is that back in episode 27, 甄嬛 actually jokes to the emperor about how beautiful her sister 玉娆 is and that if the emperor sees her, he’d want her as a concubine. He was intrigued at the time, albeit as a joke, but because she was not even 10 at the time, he thought nothing of it. Now, because 玉娆 is a young woman, but probably not older that 15-16 and looks similar to his first wife, he is all over her.

 

In the garden, the emperor tries all manner of ways to impress 玉娆 but she doesn’t take the bait. He tries to grab her hand but she backs away. She shares how there are many rules in the palace etc. In an effort to gain her favor, the Emperor suggests meeting up with his younger brother, the 19th prince, for a competition at the summer palace. Of course we know that 玉娆 and the 19th prince have met a few times and think fondly of each other, but the Emperor doesn’t know that. 

 

The ladies acquiesce and the next scene we have is of a dinner banquet at the summer palace. In attendance we have the emperor, 甄嬛, 浣碧 serving her, 宁贵人,the former horse tamer maid turned concubine, 玉娆 and a couple of princes. The 17th prince and the 19th prince are drinking at their tables while the whole party is enjoying a dance performance. The entire time, the Emperor is staring lustfully at 玉娆.

 

Ugh, this is quite gross.

 

[Cathy]

 

For this next scene, we just want to shake the 17th prince. You’re generally such an intelligent gentleman, but today was not your day.

 

The 17th prince is rather drunk while the Emperor comes to his and the 19th prince’s table for a toast. You can already see the jealousy from the Emperor when he’s talking to the 17th prince because the 17th prince learned to ride and archery by their father. Buddy, you’re a 40+ year old man, the Emperor of China, why are you still griping over this? 

 

浣碧 comes up to help replenish the 17th prince’s empty glass. Lord only knows why she went up to do this as opposed to anyone else. In any case, the 17th prince stands up rather abruptly and 浣碧 spills some liquor on his clothes. He waves it off and says he’ll go change but as he walks away, a pouch drops to the floor.

 

Both 浣碧 and the 17th prince make a motion to try to pick it up, but the Emperor insists on picking it up himself. He parades the pouch in front of the audience in a joking manner. He opens the pouch and finds…the red cutout of ZhenHuan from all those years ago. For those of us that needs a reminder, this is the cutout that Zhen Huan’s head eunuch 小允子 made for her during her very first winter in the palace. She put the cutout on a tree branch that the 17th prince picked up and kept ever since. 

 

[Karen]

Unfortunately, people noticed that the cutout looks suspiciously like 甄嬛。 This is surprising to the Emperor and 宁贵人 is actually very worried. She knows that the 17th prince and 甄嬛 are lovers so she understands that the cutout must be of 甄嬛 but she does her best to try to divert the attention of the cutout to either 浣碧 or 玉娆 in an effort to clear 甄嬛’s name. She once again does this not for any fondness of 甄嬛 but out of love for the 17th Prince. She cannot and will not let any harm come to him.

 

At first 宁贵人 proclaims that the cutout looks like 玉娆 but the 19th prince got nervous and exclaimed that 玉娆 and the 17th prince only met for the first time that day! Lol. He’s protecting his own future wife. 

 

Things are not looking good. The cutout looks suspiciously like 甄嬛. She just had to deal with the interrogation from the Empress and her faction. She lost too much in that battle, she cannot handle another blow. The Emperor is currently in a good mood but if he delves any deeper into this question, major flags will go up for him.

 

[Cathy]

Looking at the predicament, 浣碧 makes a decision that changes the course of her life. She kneels in front of th Emperor’s table to confess the cutout is actually of her. She gives a story of how she begged for the 17th prince’s help way back when 华妃 was in power. 华妃 punished 甄嬛 to kneel out in the beating sun for hours whilst she was pregnant. Remember 浣碧 did indeed ask for the 17th Prince’s help so this story fits. When she went to thank him, she made a cut out of herself and put it in a pouch as a gift to him. 

 

To add more credibility to this story, she says the 17th prince even asked for her favorite flower, the East Asian Pollia or 杜若 and placed them into the pouch. The Emperor checks and indeed there are a few petals of East Asian Pollia in the pouch. With a little egging from 宁贵人, the Emperor happily um “gifts” 浣碧 to the 17th prince. The Emperor is pretty pleased with his decision. 

 

[Karen]

甄嬛, seeing the decision made, has more important matters to resolve. She immediately steps in to ask the Emperor as to what position 浣碧 will enter into the 17th prince’s household, a concubine 侍妾, a i guess you would call second wife or 侧福晋, or the formal wife 福晋。

 

浣碧 is currently still a maid. If she marries the 17th Prince, the best she can get is the status of a concubine or 侍妾. 甄嬛 seeks to elevate 浣碧’s rank by requesting to make 浣碧 her 义妹 or like an honorary sister. THe reason is, 浣碧 is 甄嬛’s actual sister.

 

There’s some huge implications to this. As 甄嬛’s 义妹, she will be added to the family genealogy as an official member of the family. Remember, her current status is just as a maid. Even though 甄嬛 and 浣碧 are sisters, 浣碧 is still a servant because she was never accepted into the family genealogy. As 宁贵人 rightly points out, if 浣碧 is added to the family, she will have the same status as them at court greetings. 

 

[Cathy]

Well, here, the drunk 17th prince just makes me want to hold him and shake him awake. He dares to declare to the Emperor that he doesn’t want to marry her! He then goes on to say that he lost his one true love and doesn’t want to waste 浣碧’s life. He asks for the Emperor to rescind the request. 

 

Buddy, do you not see the situation? I don’t care if you’re drunk, if 浣碧 accidentally dropped the pouch or whatever. You wore the pouch into the palace, which is already a risk, and the Emperor himself discovered the pouch and its contents. Literally every woman is trying to round the lie for you and you straight up go and say Nah, I don’t love 浣碧, it’s someone else. Are you kidding me? Are you asking to be killed or worse have 甄嬛 killed? This is not the time to die for your love.

 

甄嬛 disregards the 17th princes request and resolutely asks the Emperor to make the decision. The Emperor is still in a jovial mood so he surprisingly agrees to 甄嬛’s request to make 浣碧 her 义妹. 浣碧 will shortly wed the 17th Prince as a 侧福晋.

 

宁贵人 is quietly fuming on the side. Haha, look at her just drinking. She’s very conflicted here. As we said earlier, she knows that there’s history between the 17th prince and 甄嬛. She can’t let anything happen to him but she also doesn’t want 浣碧 to marry him so easily and as a 侧福晋 at that. She loves this man but she can still be jealous of others. 

 

[Karen]

After things are settled, 甄嬛 downs a couple of cups of liquor. She’s hurting inside but can’t show it. At least 浣碧 suggests they go out for air. Outside in the dark and in her drunken state, the magically no longer tipsy 17th prince rushes over for a private conversation. The two express sadness at their current reality. He now has to marry her younger sister whom he doesn’t love. But they have no other choice. Too many things have happened that would destroy their loved ones. He still says he loves her, which I think is commendable but also at this point a little ridiculous. On one hand, the romantic in me loves the fact that he still loves her after everything that’s happened, but on the other, it’s like, you will get people killed with your true feelings. 甄嬛 urges him to take good care of 浣碧 and shares that 浣碧 is her actual younger sister so the 17th prince ought to be good to her.  浣碧 and 甄嬛 head back after that.

 

With this decision confirmed, the Emperor + 17th prince discuss this marriage in his residence what I’m presuming is the next day. The Emperor decides that not only will the 17th prince marry 浣碧, but he will also marry the 孟静娴,the daughter of a duke or 国公. Both will marry the 17th prince as a secondary wife or 侧福晋。Of course the 17th prince is not happy about this but the emperor responds with a bunch of talk about duty so he doesn’t have much choice. He does make the request that, after this, he will not accept any other woman in his life. The Emperor agrees.

 

[Cathy]

The remainder of the episode showcases some interesting customs as 浣碧 prepares for her wedding to the 17th prince. For one, as she is now an honorary sister to 甄嬛, she will be given a new last name and a new name. She decides to go with 玉隐。 From now on, she will be referred to as 玉隐。 We’ll discuss this at the end of the episode but the naming convention is rather customary of chinese tradition. The most interesting word choice though is 隐 which means to conceal or to hide. It is quite fitting because she has hidden her true parentage her entire life. Even now, she is hiding the fact that she is a true sister of 甄嬛.

 

With the pending wedding, 甄嬛 and now 玉隐 are able to receive their parents back in the palace. They have endured harsh exile and are lucky to be alive. 甄嬛 is grateful to see her mother and father both healthy, albeit looking much older than before. Saving her parents was one of the main reasons she returned to the palace and therefore it is comforting to see them reunited.

 

[Karen]

玉隐 now changed into her beautiful red wedding attire. However, as we should note, she is not wearing proper red because she is not marrying the 17th prince as his wife or 福晋. She’s only a 侧福晋. Again, props to this show for remembering this distinction.  She speaks frankly to her older sister and apologies for taking her place. The place that 甄嬛 should have had. 甄嬛 is not jealous and accepts the path that each of them has chosen. She gives 玉隐 a few pieces of advice on how to behave as a concubine of the 17th prince before seeing her off to her wedding party.

 

玉隐 or should I say the actress for 玉隐 her name is 蓝盈莹 looks positively stunning. 

 

[Cathy]

As 甄嬛 and a few other concubines say goodbye to 玉隐, 宁贵人 gloomily comments how the 17th prince suddenly now has two women but none of them are the one he wants. Unfortunately there really isn’t anything else anyone can do. At his own wedding, the 17th prince becomes intoxicated and would prefer to not go anywhere that night but ultimately spends the evening with 玉隐。The other woman 孟静闲 that marries the 17th Prince is dismayed at hearing this news…will she become a problem for 玉隐? We’ll find out. 

And that is that for episode 65.

 

[Karen]

 

Before we talk about some of the cultural stuff, let’s discuss 浣碧 or now 玉隐。 Many fans generally don’t like her and I, myself, generally didn’t like her at first, but in the years of watching this drama, I have warmed up to her significantly. Yes, in the beginning of the drama, she wanted to become a concubine of the emperor herself and almost betrayed 甄嬛. 

 

[Cathy] – no, she actually betrayed her.

 

[Karen] Well after their frank conversation where 甄嬛 acknowledges 浣碧’s birth, she has been very loyal to her sister. Not many people would have gone to the nunnery under such poor conditions as a maid and served her sister so well for so many years. 

 

Even though she loved the 17th prince, she never openly tried to sabotage her sister and the 17th prince’s relationship which is very commendable considering how much sabotaging is done in the imperial harem. Her main flaw is that she believes her place is much higher than that of a maid. Originally the 17th prince joked that 玉隐 should be paired with his head servant but she was very upset at that suggestion. She thinks that because she is 甄嬛’s actual sister, she is destined for more which is why she allowed herself to love the 17th prince. I would like to think that she would not have created this story that triggered her to be married to him if it weren’t for the Emperor suggesting that she be his concubine. She really panicked at that point and saw this as her only out. She saw an opportunity for her future and took it. 

 

I will also note that it is impressive how 甄嬛 managed to seamlessly improve 玉隐’s standing. It has been a wish her father has desired for many years and she is now able to give an actual position to 玉隐 and her deceased mother. That shows 甄嬛’s kindness and why people are loyal to her. She actually does things for her loved ones.

 

[Cathy] – for me, after rewatching this drama a few times, I’ve also changed my opinion of 浣碧. She’s just a girl with no real prospects. Her only fault, if you can even call it that, was falling in love with the 17th prince. She saw the opportunity and took it. What’s wrong with that? Who knows what would have happened to her if she didn’t?

Let’s talk about names

 

Way back in episode one, we discussed the importance of names in a family and the usage of characters to represent a person’s generation. We see it once again for 浣碧’s new name for her marriage to the 17th prince.

 

In a name, there’s the last name such as Li, and then typically 2 characters for the first name. The first character represents the generation, so that’s set by family elders or even the emperor. Then the second character can be more freely chosen. Let’s give an example. the Emperor’s name is 胤禛。 All of his brothers had the character 胤 in their name. The 17th prince is 胤礼. As a refresher, once the Emperor became the Emperor no one could use the word 胤 anymore, hence why we refer to the 17th prince’s name as 允礼.

 

Now for 甄嬛’s family, for ladies in 甄嬛’s family, the custom is to have 玉 or jade as the first character and then a character that includes the character 女 or woman in it. 甄嬛’s real name is 甄玉嬛, so she follows this pattern. You can’t really see from a podcast but the character of 嬛, has the character of 女 or woman on the left of the word. Let’s take a look at 甄嬛’s younger sister  玉娆. Again, she follows the pattern, 玉 is the first character, and then 娆 has the female character on the left. As a 义妹, 浣碧 is allowed to use the character of 玉 to represent her generation but she is not allowed to use a character with 女 for the 2nd word because she’s apparently there’s a difference between an honorary daughter and an actual daughter. I mean as we’ve seen throughout the show – social status is extremely important in imperial china and slight differences in birth will dictate even the name one can use. 

 

I want to briefly discuss the significance of the name 浣碧 chooses. 玉隐 – 隐 means to conceal. There’s a ton to read into this. What is she trying to conceal? The truth of her own birth or the truth of the story between the 17th prince and 甄嬛? We don’t know but it is intriguing that she chose this character instead of the others. 

 

[Karen]

Ok – that’s it for this episode 65!