I’m finally done watching this drama and here we are on a Monday night, collecting and sorting out my thoughts about the show and its characters.
Lan Jue has a Wife and a Child
EXCUSE ME?! I was gonna discuss this last but… yeah, no. Let’s start this review by addressing the elephant in the room, shall we? Even with Peizhi’s penchant for collecting men like pokemon cards in the capital, having a wife and a child would still be plausible. However, for a man who narrated his past and said renting a house in the middle of the lake as “the happiest days of his life” and referred to the man he lived with (Qing Zhang) as his “soulmate”. BRUH. Was something lost in translation? Is it because I’m not Chinese? Did I miss something?
First off, his child was never mentioned at all even when he was on a brink of death a few times – during the water vessel session with Zhang Ping, in jail when he was sentenced to death, during the coronation of Qing Zhang, during the scarlet mist phenomenon. None. He even told Xudong to get money from the Treasury, distribute it to other servants and flee from the capital. Not a mention of his son at all throughout the show. Why does it matter? Because it seemed that he had an affection for his late wife and his son in the end. Hence, this plot twist just does not make sense. And might I add, none of these events fit in the timeline? We’re really trying HARD to get past that censorship, huh? Whatever. Yeah. I get it. -_-
Moluo Village Storyline / Lan Lin clan wipe out
In hindsight, it took 500 billion years for the protagonists to actually figure out that the Empress Dowager was behind the Moluo Village massacre. It was getting frustrating. Sometimes, I have to admit, it got boring because I could only roll my eyes when the obvious conclusion is just right on their face.
As the tension between the Empress Dowager and the Emperor escalated, I was already assuming the Empress Dowager will order the assassination of her son. But to my surprise, she had done that a long time ago to Qing Zhang. Initially, I thought it was just a well-organized revenge. However, Qing Zhang wanting revenge because not only did his real mother switched him up with a healthier baby at birth, she even ordered for his assassination. Well, that was quite the plot twist. Again, Wu Zetian vibes. That being said, I wish he was introduced in the drama a lot earlier.
Here’s what didn’t make sense: it was in poor judgement that the Empress Dowager kept Lan Jue alive. First off, Lan Jue was old enough to understand that his father was not a bad man. Second, considering the Empress Dowager was careful about retaining his power as long as possible, wiping off an entire clan and leaving a sole survivor logically would not do her any favor. This would’ve been obvious that he would seek the truth and eventually take revenge. And for someone who could cruelly order the death of her own son, this was unbelievable. It would’ve made more sense if Lan Jue escaped, assumed a different identity and only revealed his real intention in the later episodes. That might’ve been too cliche but would’ve logically made more sense.
The Emperor’s Real Birth Origin
After the Emperor’s interaction with Zhang Ping, I wanted him to break free from the shackles of the Empress Dowager’s control. When the rumor about his birth origin started spreading, I was stressing a little. And when Qing Zhang revealed he was the real emperor and was switched at birth, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened for the current Emperor because it did seem like he would make a good ruler. On the other hand, I wanted to sympathize with Qing Zhang for being robbed of his birthright. However, seeing as how Qing Zhang turned out, orchestrating assassination of people — innocent and otherwise. Hatred consumed him so much so that he completely broke his moral compass. The situation begs the question, is good always right?
The Emperor seated may not be the right man but he is far better than Qing Zhang. Despite finding out the truth, I liked that the court officials still acknowledged his legitimacy of the current Emperor. They had every right to oust him but I guess, two mass massacres from the same family tree and given the post-war economy, the kingdom has been through enough. The Emperor’s legitimacy was just a Pandora’s box that needed to be opened and shut for good.
Lan Jue / Peizhi
Here comes our morally gray protagonist.
Despite being the victim to the Empress Dowager’s heinous crimes, it was great to finally see him let go of his anger. He exhibited what Qing Zhang failed to do. His difficulty to make peace with the past and his irrational anger towards Zhang Ping upon finding out he’s from Moluo Village made it more realistic. It wasn’t like he just woke up and decided to do what’s right. It was an uphill battle filled with emotional turmoils. His father would’ve been proud.
From my perspective, Peizhi has always been on survival mode. Who can blame him? Though time and time again choosing loyalty was a challenge, he eventually choose to do what was right. That being said, friends still swarmed around him like moth to a flame. People tend to overlook his repressed demeanor because he treats people with courtesy.
Zhang Ping’s character can be perceived from multiple perspectives. Let’s start with Zhang Ping as a person.
Zhang Ping’s personality was very much the opposite of Lan Jue. Tactless, stubborn and more often than not, the type to display all his cards on the table. This works both as his strength and weakness. In the imperial court, everyone had their own agenda whether it was for survival, for personal gains or for whatever reason, people tend to hide their true motives and information. It did work for him when he gained Lan Jue’s, Mowen’s and even the Emperor’s favor. Bro also collects men like pokemon cards.
Socioeconomic hierarchy meant little to him in terms of voicing out his opinion and calling someone’s bluff when needed. It did get him in trouble quite a couple of times. But for the men who favored him for his objective and perceptive insights on cases, this was a refreshing change among those men who’s lived their lives in the imperial court, riddled with everyone’s ulterior motives.
Next, let’s delve deeper in his desire to solve cases. His passion stemmed through his love of reading. Though Mu Yesheng’s stories inspired Zhang Ping and were used to demonstrate his thought processes in solving cases, it also showcased his maturity in navigating the imperial politics.
Tao Zhoufeng’s real experiences were fictionalized and immortalized as Mu Yesheng in his books. Upon finding out what happened, Zhang Ping understood that choosing between good and right isn’t always an easy task. Hence, despite his righteous albeit rigid character, he still could’ve possibly ended up the way Tao Zhoufeng did at the hands of the wrong ruler.
As the Emperor promised, Zhang Ping had a spot reserved for him when the Emperor returned triumphant from the war. He was assigned as a magistrate in Yiping county. The Emperor disclosed his intention of eventually appointing Zhang Ping as the Prime Minister. However, Zhang Ping was only interested in being the Minister of the Court Judicial Report.
It was understandable why he didn’t seek more power. More often than not, people who are capable of wielding more power, tend not to pursue it. Zhang Ping was the perfect example. Power in itself was not inherently evil but the people around it and how they use it is another story.
Mowen / Wang Yan
He may not be the most good-looking character but damn it’s good to have him on the show. In fact, he’s my favorite side character because, well, look at him. He’s the #1 green flag in this show. He does his job well. IQ? EQ? Communication skills? Loyalty? Bro got dibs to all of them and more. Plus, he was the only court official to volunteer for the war even when the odds were not in their kingdom’s favor. Talk about patriotism. And then there’s kindness overlooking people from all walks of life. That was such a basic thing but given that he ranked high in socioeconomic hierarchy, he doesn’t abuse it (that much or as often lol). This is not to say he doesn’t have a flaw. In fact, he was prone to bending his moral compass a little to help a friend.
In conclusion, he’s the friend you call when you have to hide a body. Good for Peizhi. Ha!
From the moment I saw him, he was naive and extremely loyal. I immediately felt he’s gonna die in the show. I was so happy he didn’t. He may not be Zhang Ping type of genius but he was street smart. Chen Chou was the paragon of a perfect friend and loyalty. However, unlike Mowen and Peizhi or Shulin and Peizhi, I still fail to grasp the depth of their friendship. I don’t like the fact that his character’s relation to Zhang Ping was treated like an afterthought.
Gu Qing Zhang / Shulin
He was an integral part of the story and as mentioned above, I wish he was introduced to the show earlier. His back story was interesting but the mystery to me were the following:
Paper cranes – How was he able to sense that someone left a paper crane for him whenever, wherever? Was it all mind control? How did he afford to fund his revenge?
Survival – In addition to my question above, having no surviving parents, relatives or Moluo clan members, how did he survive? He wore garments better than Lan Jue or even Mowen (who came from a wealthy family). How did he get those?
Scheming – His fuel to live was revenge. Peizhi could’ve been his light at the end of the tunnel, his salvation. One might say, it’s unfair to expect that from him given that his life was one tragedy after the other. But what about Peizhi? Weren’t they the same?
You see, this character had my moral compass spinning in so many directions. On one hand, I pity this character because he was wronged and helpless. Yet, I couldn’t help but root for his revenge towards his mother. However, judging his character based on what the cruel world had done to him, I couldn’t help but wish he’ll withdraw his plan to poison the city. I was rooting for him up to the very last moment to change his mind. After all, he was raised by Kuruo’s mother. Their morals would’ve been his own. It was only apparent when he picked up an abandoned baby during the scarlet mist. I interpreted it as having the same compassion as Kuruo’s mother but it was too late. He already succumbed to his hatred. Innocent people already perished and look where it got him. His eyes looked empty. Perfectly executed revenge did not satisfy him. And so, he let the scarlet mist take him.
At some point, it made me question if he was worth saving when he was a baby judging from how he turned out. Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and retribution had to be served towards the Empress Dowager. Well, he was the perfect man for it.
He only had a handful of scenes in this series but he had a significant character development. From being his mother’s puppet in ruling the kingdom to blatantly standing up against her, I was rooting for him. His loyalty towards the kingdom didn’t waver despite hearing the rumors of the legitimacy of his claim to the throne. He could’ve taken this personally, not that it was a good move. In fact, his loyalty was just solidified by his sense of responsibility, to protect the kingdom at all cost regardless of status.
The Empress Dowager
I wish I had her back story, you know? She may be evil with all these evil deeds but it would’ve been helpful to know where she’s coming from. Why the lust for power? While I’m not here to figure out how to justify her actions, I’d like to see the other side of the story. Was she relentlessly ostracized? Was that just her nature? Did she get it from her parents? I wonder.
Rating: 3.75 / 5
Overall, the cases were not be as gripping as cases Sherlock Holmes had but I still couldn’t stop watching this. It didn’t feel like 29 episodes at all but it could’ve been extended. There were other story lines that weren’t explored that would’ve been of great contribution to the plot. Hence, the rating.
There were rumors that this was supposed to be aired with BL undertone. There are still faint traces of it if you look closely. In the rise of the BL censorship, sometimes there were leaps in the plot that didn’t make sense because I guess the censorship team wasn’t having a tea party when reviewing this.