Oh, ok. So. The plot, much as a broth consisting primarily of onions, bell peppers, chopped garlic, and Better Than Bouillion (Chicken Flavor), to which cornstarch has been added and the heat turned up, begins to thicken.
In the previous episode, the Emperor was considering a match between our to-be-properly-introduced hero, Xiao Qi, and Some Guy’s daughter, Wan’er.
Wan’er has just turned up to console A’Wu for being grounded. So, here we go. (Prince #3 is not the guy in white, because they make a point of saying how he hasn’t come to visit her.) And Wan’er concludes the visit by convincing A’Wu to go sneaking out against orders during the Lantern Festival, hinting that there might be a Third party involved if so. Please notice the pune, or play on words.
So meanwhile, Xiao Qi has had an invitation from ?somebody? to go attend the Lantern Festival, which is something that slightly alarms his swordsgirl sidekick; but, given that his position is perilous and frought with political subtext at every turn, the guy has no better options than to…just go.
MEANWHILE back at the secret council of officiousness, they’re still fretting about how a commoner (EW) is going to be allowed to join their noble ranks. Thing is, one of these guys is A’Wu’s father, and he seems to agree with them. ((The Guy In White is A’Wu’s actual brother, it seems?)) The poor guy appears to just be trying to work in his library with all these schemers busy lurking and muttering in the meanwhile, heh.
So that night A’Wu climbs over the wall to go to the Lantern Festival.
She falls! What is it with C-drama heroines? Is it some kind of inner-ear defect?
She lands gently, in the arms of a handsome man! (WHAT IS IT WITH THESE C-DRAMA HEROINES AND WHY DO I KEEP GETTING A SPRAINED ANKLE WHENEVER I TRY IT?)
So it is the long-expected Prince #3, and off they go. Except that A’Wu’s faithful maidservant promptly catches up with them to bring her mistress her cloak. And warn them to be careful. And then…stares longingly and/or suspiciously after them….?
Our young couple are skylarking around, buying masks and watching puppets, etc, and at this point our hero bumps into them. Literally. Heh. He’s meeting up with a not-at-all-suspicious person in a not-at-all-suspicious gigantic hood…oh. It’s A’Wu’s father. Okayyyyyy….
Grand Vizier Dad tells XQ that the Emperor isn’t going to be rewarding him–only seeming to, as his military power now makes him a threat.
XQ parries: “How well do you sleep at night, Prime Minister?”
Grand Vizier Dad says: “I like talented people. I like being allied with them. I like to protect them. If you know what I mean.”
Meanwhile, in a not at all coincidental turn of plot, A’Wu and #3 are watching a puppet opera of the mighty Big Sword General Xiao Qi (here portrayed with three heads and six arms)’s exploits and bickering with random peasants who are speculating that perhaaaaaaaps the Princess Shangyang might be a good match for him. Xiao Qi and his loyal but puzzled sidekick just so happen to wander past as Princess Shangyang-AKA-A’Wu reacts to this as we might expect. XQ’s sidekick takes offence, but #3 just tries to hustle her away. (LOL SHE MAKES A FACE AT THE SIDEKICK AND HE MAKES ONE BACK AT HER AS THEY EXIT. HAAA)
XQ, meanwhile, is thinking that three heads + six arms might actually be kind of sweet.
A’Wu and #3 have done the make a wish and then set your floating paper lantern on fire thing and are just generally being soppy on the bank of a river. Meanwhile, the Empress has rattled up in a coach and is not looking happy. Cut back to A’Wu and #3 and then NINJAS! (lol, I love ninjas, so this development, no matter how short-lived or random, makes me happy.)
Prince #3 isn’t all that much of a fighter, but luckily XQ hears the commotion and arrives to the rescue. The remaining ninjas run away, and XQ strides off after them without bothering to introduce himself. #3 is quite stoic about it when he gets to comfort the sobbing, shaken A’Wu….at least until he feels that he can get more sympathy by playing up his scratched arm, heh.
He gives her a hairpin he’s made himself (it’s quite nice), and they send each other off quite sweetly.
A’Wu sneaks back in through the back door and….
…promptly discovers that her aunt the Empress has been waiting and not particularly happy about it. But this family is actually quite sweet, for a C-Drama. Auntie actually seems more concerned about the fact that she was out by herself, without attendants or a bodyguard, than that she was breaking the rules or something.
But! On to business. Aunt wants it to be known that A’Wu is going to marry the Crown Prince, right? Like a good girl, right? Don’t you want to marry the man you’ve always called Big Brother? A’Wu begs to demur.
Aunt then points out that the women of their family are destined to be Empresses. (As if that’s something that can’t be changed by a good dynastic overthrow.) Auntie doesn’t actually lose her temper until A’Wu proclaims her undying love for Prince #3 and determination never to have to face the same pains and struggle for power that the Empress did.
Okay, to her credit, part of Aunt’s argument is that it is A’Wu’s duty as a royal princess to bear the burden of power and empire, as she (Aunty) has done herself. (But she does nearly slap a bitch when A’Wu says she’d just as soon live as a commoner, LOL.)
A’Wu’s mother arrives at this point and provides cover. Aunty leaves in thwarted rage, but bumps into Grand Vizier Dad. He points out that the Emperor was unlikely to let their family gain still more power by marrying the Crown Prince and consolidating it’s grip over the court….he thinks that the Emperor had an ulterior motive for allowing A’Wu to choose her own husband. But on the off-chance that it was just a random slip-up, he is also going to go play chess with the emperor.
Meanwhile, A’Wu and her mother are having a little sit-down to discuss the ninjas. (The easiest and most obvious suspect is: the Empress. She does not like Prince #3 and wants him gone, her family has the most to lose, and she has prior cause to resent him).
Cue #3’s mother popping up to complain to the Emperor.
Cut to: Some Guy (look, they all look freaking alike!) who is in charge of capitol security, getting raked over the coals for a) not protecting the prince from ninjas, b) not producing any live ninjas. Is he involved in the nefarious ninja plot? Dead men tell no tales! (Hm. Is this going to backfire on XQ somehow when he turns up?) The Emperor appoints Someone Other Guy to investigate the case.
The Emperor also grills the Empress a little bit. She defends herself smoothly but is definitely rattled. And, even he thinks she’s the prime suspect, so she definitely does have reason to be scared.
OKAY, SO. Wan’er’s father (this guy) is of the same family (the Xie Family) as Prince #3 and his mother. That’s good to know. He is not in charge of the investigation, some other guy is. But the investigation continues, and it does indeed look like the trap is being aimed at XQ: the idea that the men were killed to keep them from revealing secrets, the fact that they were evidently killed by a master swordsman, and the fact that they’re not locals.
So naturally our valiant detectives go storm a local brothel to look for non-local peoples.
The madam tries her best to keep them out of one particular room….
…where a customer tries desperately to keep his face out of sight….
…because it’s Prince #2. (huh, I was kind of expecting XQ there.)
Meanwhile. Wan’er and her father have a talk….thing is, once she finds out the plan for her to marry XQ she pitches a fit and refuses and storms out, finis this episode.
OKAY, so that was two episodes.
I really quite like Ziyi Zhang, and putting aside the fact that she’s far too old for her character, she’s great. Again: she’s a totally beautiful actress, perfectly made up and expertly filmed. What’s even better is that she sells her character expertly. A’Wu is also a good heroine–lively, but not annoying, willful but not stupid, stubborn but not selfish, and spoiled but not rotten. She’s what a lot of dramas aim at but fall short of.
Our hero has had basically zero screentime, but given that 90% of it consists of spinning kicks, I’m in.
The plot maintains a good pace and a certain amount of drama without getting too bogged down into the tedious “my house versus your house and the stakes are everybody potentially getting tortured to death if we do the wrong thing by a hair but nothing ever, ever, ever happens except people glaring at each other and making cutting remarks but the stakes are SO HIGH GUYS.”
Aaaaand, I guess I’m going to watch episode three.
But not tonight.