Episode 55 – Surprise Pikachu Face
Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. Thank you all so much for listening. My name is Karen and this is Cathy, your hosts for this podcast. We are discussing episode 55 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. The script of this episode will be posted on our website, chasingdramas.com. Follow us on Instagram or Twitter or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
The title of this episode is called “Surprise Pikachu Face”. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it is a popular “meme” or photo on the internet. I’ll post the picture on our website and instagram and twitter but it’s essentially the Pokemon Pikachu very dumbfounded at what’s happening. In this episode, there are several instances where this “surprise pikachu face” is an apt portrayal of a character’s, and, quite frankly, our feelings. And yes, I think I’m very clever at using this meme throughout this episode and for our title.
That brings us to episode 55.
The empress dowager has pretty much had it with the empress’s schemes and behavior. In the last episode, we saw that the Empress tried to poison the 4th prince in order to secure her adoptive son, the 3rd prince’s claim to the throne. This, among many other things, causes the empress dowager to reconsider bringing our main character, 甄嬛, back to the palace. 甄嬛 is currently at a temple where she’s been banished for the past 3 years. She is pregnant and looking for a way back to the palace. In the last episode, we saw that the Empress cleverly used astronomy to halt her progress back but it looks like the Empress Dowager is going to change that.
The empress dowager, 太后, asks for the emperor to come see her while the empress is also there. In front of the empress, the Empress dowager makes clear that she is very happy to have 甄嬛 come back. She’s not worried about any constellation threat. The most important thing is the emperor’s bloodline. They can’t let the emperor’s bloodline be astray out in the wild. This scene is hilarious in my opinion because the empress dowager is very pointedly hinting to the empress that she is not going to allow further harm come to her grandkids. All in a very calm manner, of course. The empress really has no option but to back down. It’s really smart because 皇后 the empress doesn’t get mad. She never shows her true emotions.
The next scene is probably the kicker of this episode. The emperor is now resolute in bringing 甄嬛 back to the palace. He discusses his plans with the empress as they prep for bed. You can tell she’s nudging him to not bring her back but he is adamant. He acknowledges that court ministers oppose the idea of bringing 甄嬛 back to the palace but our clever emperor has a solution for every obstacle that is hurled at him:
- The court ministers don’t want the me to build a new palace for 甄嬛’s return due to cost concerns? Fine. I’ll refurbish an existing palace 永寿宫 for her to live in.
- The ministers don’t want an banished concubine to return because she is from the lower han banner family and because her father was a condemned official? Fine, I’m going to give her another last name. Her last name will no longer be 甄 anymore, It will be 钮祜禄, a powerful Manchu last name. She will now be part of the upper 3 banners of the manchurian clans. That way, she’s not the daughter of a criminal. What does this even mean? We’ll talk about this at the end of the episode.
- The ministers say she doesn’t have a son. She can’t come back. Fine. I’ll give her the 4th prince as her son to raise.
- She’s not old enough to have birthed the 4th prince? Fine. We’ll add 10 years to 甄嬛’s age. Instead of 22, she is now 32.
Please insert “surprised pikachu face” for the empress.
I can only imagine what she’s thinking about at this moment. When the emperor asks what she thinks, she has to just kindly say “I think it’s all great” but she must be seething internally. The empress is doing everything possible to prevent 甄嬛 from returning but the Emperor has solved for every obstacle. She, the empress, cannot do anything at this point except for accept the reality that 甄嬛 is coming back. Her constellation obstacle? No longer an obstacle. That threat lasted a whole of a quarter of an episode.
See? What did we say? The empress totally shot herself in the foot this time. If she had stopped with that constellation, the empress dowager would not have been so annoyed with the empress but the empress just had to poison the 4th prince. Now the empress dowager needs to bring 甄嬛 back as a counter to the Empress’s power and to protect the emperor’s bloodline. The empress has no one to blame but herself for this result. She was drunk with power and now she has to live with the consequences. But 甄嬛 is coming back with a vengeance, the Empress just doesn’t know it yet.
The last point the emperor raises is that he is going to change 甄嬛’s title. Her previous title of 莞 caused a lot of problems so he’s going to change it to 熹 which means brightness or light。He wants to convey that his and 甄嬛’s path is filled with light and brightness. She will also be returning as a 妃 or Consort rather than 嫔 Imperial Concubine。One step above what she was when she left the palace. And that’s that! 甄嬛 is returning to the palace.
After 3 years apart, I think the Emperor finally realizes that he did indeed love 甄嬛, otherwise, why do all of this? He could have just found another woman for his harem. The name of 莞 was given to 甄嬛 as a replacement for the Empress 纯元. The Emperor fully acknowledges now that that name will cause troubles and tosses it out. 甄嬛 is 甄嬛, not the shadow of 纯元. If only he realized this three years ago, before he broke her heart. There’s no hope for a full reconciliation now.
Congrats to 甄嬛, everything is according to plan. She successfully fooled everyone into thinking that her child is the child of the emperor’s when in reality, it’s the 17th prince’s child. In the last episode, we failed to mention that just after spending the afternoon with the Emperor, the Emperor decided to bring back 甄嬛’s father from exile to Beijing to receive medical attention. That’s 1 problem solved. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. The other issue is enacting revenge for the 17th prince which she will achieve once she returns to the palace. It’s been about 4 months since the 17th prince left and died. 苏培盛 comes to read the imperial edict by the emperor assigning 甄嬛 her title and telling her when she will return to the palace. Great! All she has to do now is prep to go back. Except…
The 17th prince shows up.
Please imagine the biggest Surprise Pikachu face possible.
Um. What?! Wasn’t he supposed to be dead!? How does he pop up randomly! In a cruel twist of fate, it turns out that he managed not to drown in the river when his ship broke apart and escaped capture in order to return back to see 甄嬛 and his mother. 甄嬛 is overwhelmed. On one hand she is thrilled he is alive but on the other hand she is like no, she is now trapped in her plans.
I cannot imagine how she is feeling at this moment. Even though she loves him with all her heart, at this point she has to lie to the 17th prince about who the child’s father really is. She has to lie to him and say she doesn’t love him and does her best to try to make him hate her. This is all done to protect him because the royal edict has already been declared. She has no choice but to return to the palace. If they run away, numerous people will be implicated in what happened. People will deduce that 甄嬛’s child isn’t the emperor’s which could mean the death of her family and his mother. Her maids might be killed. His servants as well. There are just too many people they care about and need to protect that they cannot just leave. Their loved ones could all die due to their selfishness. 甄嬛 implores the 17th prince that they cannot be so selfish.
She also knows what she’s done isn’t pretty. Essentially she cheated on the 17th prince with the Emperor. The 17th prince, being an amazing guy, doesn’t mind that the child is not his, or at least he doesn’t think it’s his. He wants to take her away from all of this. They technically still have time… But she cannot go through with that.
They have a very heartfelt and tearful goodbye where they concede fate, timing, life, whatever you have it, played them. They’ve been apart for only 4 months. There’s no coming back from this. They just have to accept that she has to go back to the palace and that they will never be together again..
If only he hadn’t left on this trip ordered by the emperor, their lives may have been so different. This series of events happens too perfectly from a timing perspective. It’s difficult for me, at least, to accept all of this happened in the way it did for 甄嬛 to succeed and for her to have this second heartbreak but here we are.
Can I also just mention that when the 17th prince returned to see 甄嬛, 甄嬛 is stunned but guess who rushes to give the 17th prince a hug? It’s 浣碧，甄嬛‘s sister/maid. 浣碧 has been in love with the 17th prince probably for as long as she’s known him. Fortunately she understands that her older sister 甄嬛 and the 17th prince love each other and doesn’t try to sabotage this but i still it’s funny she rushes over to hug him.
The drama allows us to see a crucial scene between the 17th prince’s and mother. At this point, people would exclaim, why doesn’t the 17th prince’s mother just tell him the truth when he went to visit her? She explains to her maid that if she told the truth to her son, he would insist on whisking 甄嬛 away. This would create more problems for both of them. She understands 甄嬛’s predicament and what would happen if the 2 ran away. She decides to choose the lesser of 2 evils and lie to the 17th prince. That way, hopefully the 2 of them will move on.
In the biggest slap in the face, the emperor, upon seeing that the 17th prince is alive and healthy, requests he formally bring back 甄嬛 to the palace. He shares his excitement of bringing his beloved 熹妃 back to his arms and doesn’t notice anything amiss in his brother’s reaction to this. The 17th prince agrees to do so but it’s so heartbreaking. He has to personally send off the love of his life to his brother.
At the end of the episode, we see 甄嬛 in all of her Consort attire. While she was praying as a nun, she had minimal hair accessories and make up. But now? Look at that bright red lipstick. Look at that eyeliner. Look at that smokey eye. Look at the gold on her headdress and her earrings. I like to think of her now in her battle armor. She has to go back to play the part of 熹妃。Her attire is vastly different from when she first entered the palace. She is no longer the green and naive girl. She is going back to the palace as a new person. 甄嬛 definitely died when she left the palace. She is now 钮祜禄甄嬛。 The audio team even deepened the voice actor’s voice to make her seem older and authoritative.
The 17th prince comes to bring her to the palace. It is as devastating as you can imagine but 甄嬛 has to keep walking forward.
Perhaps the most satisfying part of the episode is at the end here where 甄嬛 is leaving the nunnery. She speaks to all of the nuns at 甘露 temple. Previously, many of the nuns treated her poorly but now, guess who’s boss? 甄嬛 demotes the nun who accused her of stealing and sentenced her to be beaten 20 times with a wooden stick. Look at that aura. This is the beginning of where we can say “YAS GIRL”.
This episode, to me, felt so much like Romeo and Juliet! I think the roles are reversed and both of the characters don’t die. The 17th Prince is Juliet – he disappears for 4 months and is presumed dead much like Juliet when she drinks the potion to fake her own death. 甄嬛 and Romeo, believing that their beloved is dead, make some quick decisions. 甄嬛, heads back to the palace, Romeo drinks the poison. As these irreversible decisions are made, the other one either shows up or wakes up to see the aftermath of that decision.
I’m thinking specifically of the Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet where Romeo actually sees Juliet wake up.
Both of the men can’t do anything about the decisions they’ve made. In this situation, the 17th Prince really has the short end of the stick. He did absolutely nothing wrong.
And with that? We end episode 55. The 17th prince returned to his love but nothing can change the fact that 甄嬛 will never be his. He doesn’t know that her child is his and must take her back to the palace. 甄嬛 is in her battle armor, ready to face whatever is thrown at her at the palace. In episode 56, we are starting the last chapter of this drama. Are you ready for it?
ALright – now onto some analysis! This episode is actually quite interesting because now that 甄嬛 has a new identity so to speak, we have to talk about who this person is and how that relates to history.
First thing’s first. Let’s talk about the new clan that the Emperor stuffs 甄嬛 into.
This is a manchu last name. He also mentions that she is now in the upper 3 banners. What does that mean?
钮祜禄 is the oldest manchu last name and is one of the 8 major manchu last names. Clearly, this means that giving this 钮祜禄 last name to 甄嬛 is a big deal. Her last name is no longer 甄 of the Han banner families.
This 钮祜禄 family has produced several famous individuals in history. One of the most famous is the super corrupt official who wielded immense power under the reign of 乾隆, our current emperor’s son. This guy is named 和珅。
This is quite the revelation to me! 和珅 is a very popular bad guy portrayed in Chinese dramas, particularly in the late 90s and early 2000s. There are quite a few dramas where the famous actor 王刚 portrays 和珅. It’s a classic role. This 和珅 is very powerful and has the ear of the emperor 乾隆. I’ve watched those dramas growing up. Never knew his last name was 钮祜禄.
Most of the other famous people from this family are the empresses and concubines that this clan produced. I’m reading through the materials and there’s actually a lot of women married as concubines or empresses all throughout the Qing dynasty.
Now what is this talk of the upper 3 banners. During the Qing dynasty, you have 8 banners that create the administrative and military divisions of Manchu society. The banners had 2 groupings. The “Upper 3 banners” and the “lower 5 banners”. The “upper 3 banners” included 正白旗， plain white banner，正黄旗 plain yellow banner，and 镶黄旗 bordered yellow banner。 These banners and the families in these banners were under the command of the Emperor himself. Naturally, this means, they were more important. 甄嬛 originally came from the Lower 5 banners but now has been promoted to be in the upper 3 banners with her new last name. She is now part of 镶黄旗 or the Bordered Yellow Banner. I did not pay enough attention to this previously so I’m learning quite a bit here.
Lastly, let’s talk about 甄嬛 now that she’s headed back to the palace with this new identity. This new identity is what history will remember as the mother of the next emperor. The spoiler here is that the 4th prince who is now claimed to be her son, is indeed the famous 乾隆 emperor so we’ll see how the 4th prince manages to become heir apparent.
甄嬛’s real life counterpart is 熹妃 or Consort Xi of the 钮祜禄 family. 熹妃 was born in 1692 and became a concubine for our current emperor 雍正 at only age 12. She gave birth to the 4th prince in 1711 at age 19. When her husband died in 1735, she became the Empress Dowager at age 43. She lived for 85 years and was a constant presence during her son Emperor 乾隆’s reign, dying in 1777. In most of the Chinese dramas that portray 乾隆 emperor, you will see Empress Dowager Zhen Huan in the background. She will be a character that drives a lot of the drama. In some versions, she is benevolent, while in others, she is the antagonist.
This drama is very clever. By adding 10 years to 甄嬛’s age, they are able to more or less match the real life age of 乾隆’s birth mother. This drama is trying to place 甄嬛 into this manchu woman’s life with this han woman’s background. I think it’s interesting that this is how the story shakes out. To be quite honest, when I first watched the drama, I was wondering how the 4th son of the Emperor was going to end up as the next Emperor. In history, this woman also only had 1 child – the 4th prince. There is no mention of 甄嬛’s daughter she birthed or her current pregnancy.