Episode 68 – The Truth is In the Fragrance


[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. Today, we are going to be discussing episode 67 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. As for every episode, we first do an episode recap and then discuss the historical significance of any interesting items raised in the episode. If you have any questions or comments, email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com or follow us on instagram and twitter @chasingdramas.


Today’s episode will be all about 安陵容。


Episode 68


Last episode, we learned that 安陵容 is pregnant. To celebrate this, she was promoted to a consort or 妃 and then given a title of 鹂 which means oriole. But 甄嬛 was able to accurately deduce that 安陵容’s pregnancy would not last and they discovered that 安陵容 is using an aphrodisiac which was how she secured favor by the emperor. Both of this information will be used against 安陵容 in this episode.


[Cathy]

The episode starts with the Emperor visiting 安陵容 and admiring her belly. She’s around 5 months pregnant. But as soon as he leaves, she gasps in pain and promptly requests the imperial doctors to come see her.


News travels fast to 甄嬛’s ears who doesn’t have much to say. She does admire a bouquet of beautiful lilies brought to her by a eunuch. Seeing that these could potentially help 安陵容’s sleeplessness, she instructs the eunuch to also send a bouquet to 安陵容’s palace. 


Well this bouquet of flowers becomes the key to 安陵容’s downfall. These flowers were initially examined by palace doctors and nothing amiss was discovered. However, on the night of 安陵容“s birthday when she is having dinner with the Emperor, 甄嬛 personally puts together a bouquet of lilies to be put in 安陵容’s room. The flowers work their magic and the emperor, who believes 安陵容’s pregnancy is stable, decides to spend the night together. This unfortunately was the wrong move. 


[Karen]

A eunuch rushes to 甄嬛’s palace to inform her and 敬妃 who was visiting that 安陵容 has miscarried.


[Cathy] Side bar – the two look so cute with their hair down just doing normal stuff like reading and embroidery. I feel like we don’t get a lot of scenes like that.


[Karen] haha ok back into the action. 


安陵容 miscarried while she was intimate with the Emperor. The Emperor himself is in a state of shock and is sitting aside in a daze. The ladies hurry over to 安陵容’s palace to assess the situation and confirm that the child is no longer. You’ll notice the glance 甄嬛 gives to her maid, 槿汐 which is a signal to remove the flowers from the room so as to not leave any trace of evidence.


The Emperor blames himself for what happened and the fact that he couldn’t control himself. He says he normally could but for some reason today he couldn’t. 甄嬛, 敬妃 and the Empress console the Emperor as there’s not much that can be done now. The child is gone. 


The next day at the Empress’s palace, she is lamenting the fact that they lost this round. Initially they were going to try to use this child to topple 甄嬛 but the only person they scared was the Emperor. The child is also now gone so they don’t have any more leverage. The Empress doesn’t have any evidence that 甄嬛 was involved somehow but she just has a hunch 甄嬛 is entangled in yesterday’s events. Unfortunately, she can’t do a thorough investigation because this will unearth the truth about 安陵容”s pregnancy which will expose the lies they’ve told in regards to her condition. The Empress can’t have that so this miscarriage will just have to stand the way it is. 


Understandably, the emperor is in a dour mood. We all know that he has done many terrible things that has caused the death of his children or else prevented him from having children. If anyone needs a refresher, he’s most likely talking about 华妃 and the women that was collateral damage because of 华妃 such as 敬贵妃 and 端妃 now 皇贵妃。 He originally thought that since so many children have been born in the palace now that he’s been forgiven but the truth is that he is still being punished by the heavens. He yells at a concubine who comes in trying to capture his attention.


[Cathy]

What I think is funny is that none of the children born in the last few years are actually his children. 甄嬛’s twins and 沈眉庄’s daughter are both not the Emperor’s.


Anyways, 安陵容 is also rather heartbroken at losing her child but her feeling is resigned. She knows she’s done terrible things to 甄嬛 so she views this as her karma coming back to her.


And indeed losing her child was just the beginning. In the next scene, we see that the 4 most senior ladies in the palace, the Empress, 皇贵妃, 敬贵妃 and 甄嬛 are at the Empress’s palace. 皇贵妃(who used to be 端妃) brings up the topic of fragrances and steers the conversation towards a special fragrance she discovered at 安陵容’s palace. She informs the Empress that this fragrance ensures that the Emperor will spend time with 安陵容。 At first the Empress doesn’t fully believe the accusation but 皇贵妃”s maid provides clear evidence of this fragrance’s existence. The Empress has no other option but to do an investigation and search 安陵容’s palace. 


What we learn here is that the Empress did not know about this aphrodisiac. 


To me, that’s interesting – it may be that the Empress just ordered 安陵容 to find a way to keep the Emperor in her bed and didn’t question the specifics or it may be that 安陵容 was just really good at hiding it. There were several scenes where she ordered her maid 宝娟 to dispose of any of the aphrodisiac.


[Karen]

苏培盛, the Emperor’s head eunuch is in charge of the search of 安陵容“s palace. She is extremely rude to him but is rather stoic given the potential consequences of this palace search. 


With the hard evidence of this aphrodisiac unearthed, they go up to see the Emperor. 


The Emperor, upon hearing this discovery, is unhappy but leaves a sliver of pity towards 安陵容 for having lost a child. Aphrodisiacs, while I guess are used in the palace, aren’t viewed as proper. This is not acceptable for concubines to use. He initially decides to remove her title and demote her to a 答应, a 2nd class female attendant. And here is where 甄嬛 is now a master manipulator herself. Instead of affirming this punishment, she instead says that since 安陵容 lost her child, she’s already learned her lesson. Additionally, fragrances are not all without their benefit. 甄嬛 brings up this cream that 安陵容 made for 甄嬛 after she was scratched by a cat several years ago. The cream was to prevent scarring and indeed, she doesn’t have any scarring. Based on this benefit, she recommends not punishing 安陵容。 


As she brings up this cream, the Empress’s face turns pale. 皇贵妃 takes this opportunity to remind everyone about the timing of this cat scratch and using this cream. It was when 甄嬛 had her first pregnancy and not long after miscarried. At the time, everyone thought it was because 华妃 had forced 甄嬛 to kneel outside in the sun. But now thinking back, that doesn’t sound right. The Emperor takes the bait and asks to see the imperial doctor 卫临, student of 温实初。 Hilariously, he just so happens to be outside, obviously planted by 甄嬛. 卫临 comes to investigate the cream and tada!!! Loudly says that there is a heavy amount of 麝香 or musk in the cream.


We all know by now that 麝香 or musk is an incredibly harmful product to pregnant women and would cause them to miscarry. 


[Cathy]

甄嬛 puts on a show and cries about how ruthless 安陵容 is for having killed her first child. Yes, she’s sad but she has known for years by now that 安陵容 was the culprit. The other ladies, 皇贵妃 and 敬贵妃 reiterate how terrible this is. 皇贵妃 even brings up that it was 安陵容‘s servant that spoke to 沈眉庄 which ultimately caused her death. 


To make all of this even more impactful, 苏培盛 shares a box he discovered after searching 安陵容’s palace. The doctor confirms that the objects in the box are incredibly potent and expensive balls of musk.


That’s the last straw for the Emperor. 安陵容 is summoned to see the Emperor who asks her why she did what she did. Her ruthlessness is 100x that of other people in the palace. She takes full responsibility of her actions and does not try to request for any leniency. Not that the emperor would have given it. Her final punishment is to create a living hell. She is not going to be killed, she is even going to keep her rank and title. But, every day, someone will come to slap her across the face. And every day she is to kneel in front of buddhas to repent for her misdeeds. Her palace will become her cold palace and will not be allowed to leave. Her servants will either be killed or sold as slaves.  We find out later, that her father was sentenced to death by beheading.



[Karen]

The episode ends with 安陵容 requesting to see 甄嬛. She asks 甄嬛 to bring bitter almonds with her which she does and they have one final conversation.  It turns out that the reason why the Emperor couldn’t control himself that night was because 甄嬛 added the fragrance to the flowers herself and only for that one night. The flowers that were sent every other time were perfectly clean. Only that bouquet was embedded with the aphrodisiac and caused 安陵容’s downfall. Quite genius if you think about it. 


甄嬛 arrives at 安陵容’s palace. It’s stark and cold, void of all the luxuries mentioned in the last episode. The makeup team did an excellent job showing some slap marks on 安陵容’s face, as a reminder to us of her punishment.


安陵容 calmly says she’s not the same naive girl when they first entered the palace. If she was, she would’ve died one hundred times over. She begins to narrate her sad, pitiful story. Starting from how her mother did everything for her father, only for him to discard her after her beauty waned. She recounts the helplessness she felt when she first entered the power, cowering under the tyranny of 华妃. 


甄嬛 coldly responds – everyone was in that situation in the beginning. You shouldn’t have schemed against those who treated you as a sister.


安陵容 scoffs at this. She says – I once foolishly thought you treated me as a sister. You have everything, beauty, noble birth, and the Emperor’s favor. Then I figured it out, you needed me to win favor to strengthen your own position in the palace. That’s the only reason why you pushed me to the Emperor’s bed.


[Cathy]

During the conversation, 安陵容 starts and continues to eat the raw almonds. 


安陵容 continues – I didn’t want to just be a pawn but what can I do? I don’t have a family, I don’t have money, I can only obey. The Empress just needed me for her faction. The Emperor didn’t love me. In the end though, I hate you the most. You have everything, and I have nothing. 


甄嬛 has nothing more to say. She sees that 安陵容 feels no remorse for any of the actions she’s done, especially what she did to 沈眉庄. For 甄嬛, they aren’t enemies, they aren’t friends. 安陵容 is nothing to her. 甄嬛 leaves.


Right before 甄嬛 leaves – 安陵容 cries out this words in Chinese “皇后杀了皇后”. It’s hard to translate in english because of the tenses but the literally translation is as such. The Empress kill the Empress. So perhaps 安陵容 is saying, The Empress, kill the Empress as an action for 甄嬛 to take or let’s think about it the Empress killed the Empress. This is shocking news regardless of the meaning. We definitely keep this in mind as we speed towards the end of the show.


The scene of 甄嬛 turning to glance at 安陵容 though is iconic. Right at the 40:30 mark. It’s a frightful glare but oh so good!


After 甄嬛 leaves, 安陵容 finally falls to the ground. She dies finding i guess some peace. She couldn’t choose her birth, she couldn’t choose a lot of things, but at least she could choose how she died. 


With that, 安陵容 dies, with the song that she sung to capture the Emperor’s attention way back in episode 31. The song is called 采莲曲 and is a fitting end to this character. Now, of the ladies that entered the palace with 甄嬛 only she remains.


[Karen]

Phew that was our recap. Today will focus on 安陵容. 


安陵容


After all this time, 安陵容 finally meets her end. Looking back at her speech, you can’t but help feel conflicted. On one hand, she did terrible things. She betrayed her friends, 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 which caused 甄嬛 to lose a child and 沈眉庄 to lose her life. But on the other, she is a product of her time and upbringing. She came from a very poor family and had none of the political currency that 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 had to survive in the palace. This translated to not having much education or money to spend in the palace. The money piece is important. In the earlier episodes in the palace, you could see that 沈眉庄 would tip her servants quite handsomely. That’s something she was conditioned to do as a daughter of a relatively powerful man. This meant servants would treat her well. 安陵容 on the other hand, was constantly belittled by servants because she didn’t have this money. 


People wonder why or how could 安陵容 betray her friends so badly. A huge part of it was 安陵容’s personality. She is overly sensitive and likes to overanalyze things in a negative way. Certain things that people said would heavily impact her and make her suspicious of 甄嬛 or 沈眉庄”s motives. She is also jealous of when she’s not getting as much attention by 甄嬛 or 沈眉庄 compared to say the little foodie, 淳儿。 But, we should also recognize that 甄嬛, while she treated 安陵容,kindly, never treated her as a sister to the extent that she treated 沈眉庄 or 淳儿。 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 were childhood friends and so that’s understandable. No matter what, 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 both came front he 8 banners with father’s at court. They were members of the nobility. 安陵容 was not. I don’t think 甄嬛 was fully aware of the difference in treatment and affection she showed towards 安陵容 but I do think deep down 甄嬛 did look down on 安陵容. No matter how much she fooled herself, 甄嬛 didn’t treat 安陵容 as an equal. 安陵容 wanted stability and comfort from 甄嬛’s friendship that she couldn’t give. When she couldn’t find this stability, she turned to the Empress and essentially sold her soul. 


[Cathy]

To me, 安陵容’s inferiority complex also sealed her fate. She only noticed the position she was in and envied everyone around her, whether it was 甄嬛, 华妃, or even 祺嫔. She only focused on what they had and tried to claw her way to power and fortune. She however never thought to share her riches with others. Time and again, we saw how ruthless she could be, especially to servants. At first, she felt helpless when her maids were killed but when she suspected a mole in her palace, she was more than happy to throw a maid under the bus or killed. Ok that part isn’t unique to her but we didn’t see her show her maids much kindness. She’d often times yell at her maid 宝娟 and we’ll talk about her shortly. 


During this episode, when the eunuch 苏培盛 is ordered to search her palace, 安陵容 says the phrase – it’s not something a “阉人” should have an opinion. 阉人 is a derogatory term for eunuchs in Mandarin. 安陵容 says this straight to 苏培盛’s face. He coldly reminds her – no matter what, eunuchs are still humans with feelings. 安陵容’s inferiority complex makes her disparage on people who she sees as beneath her. She never learned that 苏培盛 is that one person you need to have on your camp. He might have offered a hand but nope, she decided to treat all of the servants like dirt. Well you reap what you sow. No one came to her aid at the end. 


This character is such a hated character that the actress 陶昕然 struggled for many years to get positive roles. Many of the roles you see her in are those of the antagonist. I feel so bad for her because weibo would be blown up with negative comments. If we want to be an optimist about this, one could say that she did such a great job in the role that the audience can’t tell her apart from that character. But still.  It’s sad to hear this. We’ll give a shout out to 陶昕然 – she did an amazing job. 


[Karen]

One character that we haven’t really talked about but is up for much debate is actually 安陵容’s maid, 宝娟。宝娟 was assigned to 安陵容 from the first day she stepped into the palace. Now, we never know for sure, but I’ve read some theories and actually think this might be the case that 宝娟 was actually working for the Empress. If you watch certain scenes throughout the drama, the Empress receives information about 安陵容 that is very private. How would the Empress have been provided this information if not for a spy? A prime example is the last episode. 安陵容 was upset to hear that the servants selecting her title were punished. She thought those characters were very good. In the next scene we see the Empress and her maid mocking 安陵容 for her anger. How would they know? The only other person 安陵容 was speaking to was 宝娟. 


Bitter Almonds – now in case people are confused about how or why 安陵容 suddenly died, it’s because she was ingesting a large number of bitter almonds. Bitter almonds, different from their sweet almond counterpart, are poisonous in their raw state. They contain cyanide and therefore it is plausible that 安陵容 would have died after eating them. 


[Cathy]

Now there is no way that 甄嬛 didn’t know of the properties of the bitter almonds. I think this was her last act of mercy towards 安陵容. For 安陵容 though, there is another purpose of picking bitter almonds. This ties directly to the phrase she cries out The Empress kill the Empress. We won’t divulge too much here but again, let’s keep this in mind.


That’s that for today’s episode! Thank you very much for listening!We are doing a top 25 countdown of the most intelligent people in the palace for this month. Follow us on instagram and twitter to find out who we think they are. Let us know your thoughts about our rankings! Until next time!