So the Crown Prince is confirmed as heir while the Emperor is….indisposed. The Grand Vizier is regent, however, and he’s smirking fit to bust.
Wan’ru, naturally, is intensely distraught that her aunt and cousin are accused of high treason and her family is in trouble. The Crown Prince, showing that he’s not quite as complete a moron as we thought, admits that a) he has a hard time beliving Concubine Xie is guilty (poor guy), and that b) it doesn’t really matter, since at this point his mother and Uncle Grand Vizier have got the reins and aren’t likely to let go. He counsels Wan’ru to keep her head down and promises to keep her safe. But he knows perfectly well that only his father the Emperor can stop the Wang Family now they’ve got started.
Cut to: lol, A’Wu’s other uncle surreptitiously trying out the throne for size. The Grand Vizier explains that they’re going to go slow right at this moment, since the presence of Xiao Qi and his soldiers might make a too-hasty move fatal.
Crown Prince is watching over his father, and poor guy is starting to have questions. Like, why did Concubine Xie do this exactly? She and her already had the Emperor’s favor. But his mother assuages his guilt and he promises to do his best in his role. THIS GUY, SERIOUSLY! He means well! He’s just really too sheltered and stupid to be effective. This is genuine character development, though. He’s trying. He’s admitting his guilt and culpability when he realizes it. At this point and if it continues, especially if he has to learn things the painfully hard way, I wouldn’t actually mind if he ended up with A’Wu.
Grand Vizier is pushing the Empress into moving actively for the throne. She agrees but is reluctant, and she has drawn a hard line at getting her poor, idiot son involved again. If her brother does that, she promises to fight back against him. But meanwhile, what the Grand Vizier wants is for an imperial decree for the immediate marriage of A’Wu and Xiao Qi.
Grand Vizier Regent reports to the council that the frame, uh, I mean evidence, is complete and the Xie Family is guilty and to be imprisoned and executed. One of the ministers protests. The Empress slaps him down, while the Crown Prince squirms and XQ–and Prince #2–observe proceedings quietly but with great interest.
The Empress goes down into the dungeons with, uh oh, a bottle of wine and two glasses. Minister Xie is there and takes the opportunity to warn her that if he does happen to get out, he’s going to be after revenge. But her target is Concubine Xie. She’s there to offer her a way out for Prince #3: confess, die, and I’ll let him live. Concubine Xie agrees and makes her promise. Yeah, I don’t trust that look.
And, argh, they leave her a noose. Damn, that’s cold.
The Grand Vizier presents this “evidence” to the council. His brother urges that the entire family be therefore executed. All of it.
Meanwhile, Prince #2 is assessing the situation. His advisor points out that an alliance with Xiao Qi (and Xiao Qi’s 200,000-man strong army) is going to be necessary for the Wang Family at this point: to shore up power internally and externally. The current plan is that someone named Wang Xuan (whoops, that’s A’Wu) marry him, but #2 is prepared to stop that as well.
Back at our heroine, she’s waiting for her father to come back to ask him whyyyyy? And at this point, her brother arrives with the word from the Empress that the way to save #3 is marrying XQ. A’Wu gallops off to check things out for herself.
But the Emperor wakes not for her tears, and the Empress is there instead. She is actually quite kind to A’Wu (you know, as she explains why and how her arranged marriage is going to be arranged and therefore there is no fighting it if you want the actual person you love to survive.)
And A’Wu agrees. Her voiceover reflects that this is her actual coming-of-age ceremony: accepting the fact that, as a noblewoman, her actual life’s course is in the hands of others and expected to serve her family.
A’Wu’s parents are arguing about it, but, of course, Grand Vizier Dad is a Grand Vizier and the head of the Wang Family and it was his idea in the first place. Also, it’s not for power, it’s for power and security. Also he’s seen his sisters have to make loveless marriages for the sake of power and security, so it’s not like his wife (who married for power and security) has a leg to stand on.
Heh, his wife falls back on, BUT A COMMONER, EW! Grand Vizier Dad slaps that one down hard, causing A’Wu’s brother to offer to join the army to consolidate a military alliance instead.
Grand Vizier Dad: OH YEAH? PROVIDE ME A GRANDSON AND THEN YOU’RE OFF TO THE BORDER AND THEN IT’S WITH YOUR SHIELD OR ON IT TIME. (Haaaaahahaha. That’s harsh.)
But A’Wu steps in and quietly says she’s willing to do it.
Meanwhile, XQ is brooding silently, as one does when one is a silently brooding hero whose marital arts might or might not surpass his martial ones. His sidekick points out that he’s been brooding silently for a really long time. Sidekick is trying to figure out all the angles and is kind of stumped. XQ asks what he thinks they should do.
Sidekick says: Well, I do what I’m ordered to, but I’m also going to keep my distance from that Lord Wang.
XQ says: Got it in one, kid.
A’Wu’s mother goes to pay a visit to the Empress and quietly states that A’Wu is not going to marry XQ.
Prince #2 and his advisor are also discussing matters. The marriage-alliance is extremely dangerous to their faction, as it gives too much power to the Wang Family, so, (mutter mutter mutter), that’s brilliant, Lord Huan! I’ll keep my distance and you can go do the dirty work. (Huh??)
Back at the moms. A’Wu’s mother asks her sister in law: how well do you know your brother? Do you really think he’s got your son’s best interests in heart? Or his own? He’s willing to sacrifice his own daughter for his ambition…exactly what do you think he’ll do to a nephew he doesn’t even like? The Empress doesn’t want to hear this, but the message is received nonetheless.
I remain highly impressed by the way the plot has progressed so quickly and yet the lingering, drawn-out misery porn hasn’t.