Nirvana in Fire 琅琊榜 - Episode 13 (Recap)

A situation gets defused and family ties mended in this episode, as mandarins reveal a secret about smuggled gunpowder. Mei Changsu really feels like a puppet master, doesn't he, one that carefully picks up some threads and puts down others, just as an opportunity presents itself.
JoAnne: After my marathon up through episode 30 this weekend, I'll confess that I've come to a similar conclusion about him. It's not so much that he plans out every thing that will happen every step of the way - it's that he has a plan, yes, but also takes advantage of unexpected opportunities, and adjusts to unexpected results. All of it, quickly. His plan evolves, and he is truly amazing at strategic thinking.
Eleanor: Mei Changsu is impressive. I think he would have made a truly marvelous military strategist if fate had not pulled him into his role as Mei Chang Su. He is utterly and completely impressive. 

Episode 13

Prince Yu hears about issues at the Ministry of Personnel; Minister He, whose son is in jail for murder, has neglected his duties. In fact, he won't even get out of bed these days! It seems he's not putting on a show, but has fallen ill out of worry for his son, who might be executed. Yup, all of Yu's efforts have failed. And now he's afraid his brother, the Crown Prince, might move one of his own men into that Ministry. But Banruo has an idea ... a life for a life.
This wicked girl has her own plans, I think.
But at least she's wicked smart. The pun. I just couldn't resist. 
The sunshine boys are visiting Su! They heard he was ill and are quite concerned... but he assures them he is much better. Yujin has brought him mandarins. Of course, Fei Liu is there to eat some too, but ... what is this? He sniffs the fruit and then refuses to eat them, disgusted. That piques Mei Changsu's interest and he starts asking questions about them, pretending he is enquiring because they're "so fresh". Where are they from and how were they delivered? 
See? Case in point.
It's very true about what you said about MCS Jo. Very true. And Fei Liu. Oh I love this kid! 
Yujin knows all about it (of course he would). They're highly in demand, but thanks to his father's early move, they got many of them! Yujin eats most of the mandarins himself, haha. Su tells them to go see the Empress (Yujin's aunt), who is ill (they didn't know) and finds out that way that Yujin's father is no longer in the house, but at the Taoist Temple. That's where he spends all his time when he's in the city.
Poor Yujin. Such a lonely smile-y boy.
He is seriously one of my favourites. You can just tell that he's one of those lovely people that you hope you have a friend like him. And he is a good person in RL too it seems. I heart him. 
They talk about year end festivities and Mei Changsu's humble upcoming feast among the very few who live at his residence. He invites the sunshine boys to one of the dinners (they'll be there!), but Yujin is already sad again about being neglected by his dad even during New Year's. Awwww, boy is feeling it keenly these days... he has a great idea, though! Why don't they all go to a brothel together! To "break in" Fei Liu, so to speak. Mei Changsu gives him permission to entertain Fei Liu, who, he thinks, is probably bored in the city.
I somehow think Fei Liu is not ready for a brothel. I feel quite certain the brothel is not ready for him.
Haha. Yes. And yes. Jingrui, dang he's got some excellent reflexes. 
Prince Jing is on his way to visit his mother - it's a day he's allowed to do so. He meets Minister Shen in the yard, who is surprised to hear about Jingyan's low rank, despite his many victories for his father. But Prince Jing is more interested in the smuggling thing. Shen tells him about the gunpowder and the illegal fireworks factory, which is still operated by the Crown Prince. They need much more evidence before they can really do something though.
Go, Shen, go! Be a Jing Buddy!
One of my favourite things about Jingyan is that he only seems marginally interested in power for powers sake - he seems keener on getting to the heart of whatever matter seems most pressing. It's stubborn and bullheaded and can easily become a weakness, but it can also be a great strength.
Physician Yan is sighing over Su's state of health. He may have rested all day, like he was told - but all those restless thoughts are the problem! But what can Su do? They're in his heart, he tells the despairing physician.
Oh look, a Ming Tai grin.
Oh Su. Take care of yourself. Don't be sick. 
Prince Jing is announced shortly after - poor Mei Changsu is resting again, so tired... Jing has news from his mother about the Empress' illness though. She has been given some kind of grass, which causes dizziness, loss of strength and loss of appetite for about 6 to 7 days. Mei Changsu calls the whole thing "not a big deal", seeing how the Empress will just not be able to be at the year end ceremony. While he thinks about what the real deal behind this might be, he does the thumb-rub thing again... Jingyan notices. Do you also unconsciously rub things when you think? he asks. Someone very dear to him used to do that too...
And no one else in the world, EVER.
LOL Jo. But Jingyan misses his BFF so much that he wants to believe he could be alive. Of course he's going to wax nostalgic about MCS's thumb-rubbing habit. 
Jing has also come to ask for protection for Minister Shen (and is surprised to hear that of course, Mei Changsu already knows about the firework factory). He confirms that all the officials that Su put on the list to be his "friends" are great company, but that he regrets not being able to be fully honest with them (about his aspirations for the crown). Su suggests creating a bit of trouble for them, so that Jing can help and be more in their favor - but of course, Jing would prefer to simply entice them with his sincerity.
Yes, and money should fall out of the sky for poor people, Jing. Come on.
Poor Jingyan isn't so good at being a politician. I also love that Su's like: well I can make some trouble for them so you can help. It's so Su like and funny. 
That's all well and good, Mei Changsu says, but once his two brothers take notice of his aspirations, that won't be enough: he will need both sincerity and ruses. Jing says he's not naive, he knows this, but he also thinks the less scheming the better. Oh, but things depend both on talent and on character, says Su - sometimes the one and sometimes the other is useful when you want to use a person.
We exist in a society so that we can help each other. Sometimes we don't even know that we're doing it. Does it hurt us if we don't know? I don't necessarily think so.
Oh Jingyan. Su does understand you. Please trust him a little more. Not that I really blame Jingyan for being cautious. He's had a bit of a rough life as the cast out son. 
He then makes Jing look at Tong Lu, his middle-man and vegetable sales person, and tells the Prince that he trusts this man explicitly. This is his sincerity. And at the same time, he keeps the man's mother in his control back with the Jiangzuo Alliance. This is his stratagem. Of course, Prince Jing is outraged once again at what he considers Mei Changsu's cruelty. But the dying man knows exactly what he is doing. Are you listening to what he is teaching you, young Prince?
Tong Lu doesn't exactly seem resentful, does he?
Su is trying to teach you about how to be an effective politician. I'm starting to think that Machiavelli must have written Mei Chang Su's writings at some point. 
When Prince Jing has left, Mei Changsu talks to Li Gang about the gunpowder smuggling. Two extra shipments of powder did not end up in the factory. It seems to him that somebody else smuggled those in - under the cover of the other illegal smuggling, but not to make fireworks. To blow something up! It must be the end of year ritual that is being targeted! And then, Mei Changsu makes a link to the mandarins... who, it seems, smelled quite a bit of gunpowder. And from there, to a certain person.
It's very flimsy logic, if you look at it. But hey, stronger than a lot of other plot lines we've all seen.
We shall have to see if his hunch is right then. 
He wants to go see him right away, but physician Yan is very much against it. Su is signaled behind the doctor's back that his carriage is ready, so he signals to Fei Liu to take care of the annoying physician. Fei Liu grabs him and puts him on a roof. Oh my god, hahahahaha. What a horrible patient!
I would be a terrible doctor. I'd be like okay, do whatever, but don't complain to me when you don't follow my advice and then don't feel good. All my patients would hate me and die quickly.
I really do feel sorry for the poor physician. MCS is not an easy patient. I'm still laughing at Fei Liu putting him on the roof though. Haha. How can such a serious drama still also be so funny?
And thus, Su makes his way to the Yan mansion. But no, it's not really Yujin he wants to see... it's his father, Marquis Yan. Who is out (of course, he always is). The boys were playing floorball inside, but Yujin hit the ball too hard, so it hit an envoy's coach - he thinks it's no big deal and goes after it. When he returns, he tells his two friends that the envoy looked really strange, nothing like a normal envoy. What attributes should an envoy have, then? asks Mei Changsu.
Ah yes, ancient Chinese indoor soccer.
Ah, but Yujin knows exactly what he should be like: just like the famous Lin Xiangru from the stories. A brave man who did well under difficult circumstances. Ah, but he need not look back in history, says Su - their kingdom had an envoy just as great, though many have forgotten the story. Only twenty years old, that incredibly brave envoy walked among the enemy weaponless and was able to sow the seeds of discord among a powerful alliance that had come to conquer them. Oh yes, he tells the enthusiastic Yujin, that man is alive ... and he happens to be the Marquis of Yan, Yujin's own father.
Something just occurred to me that I can't talk about for many episodes to come. And actually, back at the Tong Lu bit, too. Dammit.
Can you understand now why sometimes I find it so hard to comment? I want to be like: ooooh!!!!! aaaaaahhhhh!!!! as I go back and comment on these recaps with you ladies. There are so many little pieces that seem inconsequential, but they aren't. 
Shush! No spoilers! 
Yujin had no idea! Talk about not being close with your father, wow... that moment, the Marquis arrives outside. He seems somewhat surprised to find Mr. Su in his house, but he takes him to his chambers, where Su says he has something important to say. The Marquis says he is only interested in Taoism, he does not think they'll have anything to discuss... but Mei Changsu mentions the danger of gunpowder right away. It was Yujin's father who smuggled additional gunpowder into the city! 
A secret plot!
Dun Dun Dun...

Mei Changsu has figured it all out: The Marquis has hidden the gunpowder under the sacrificial altar for the Year End ceremony. And because he is the Empress' brother, he made sure she would be far from that place once it blows up. How Mei Changsu found out? It was less the Empress' illness and more the mandarins. A man who never spends time at home ordered tons of mandarins for new year celebrations?
Okay, Sherlock.
I bet you there has to be a fan edit somewhere with Sherlock music. I know I saw a photoedit on Twitter with Benedict hugging Su or something like that. 
Wow, this man's hate for the Emperor is truly great. He is ready to commit any sin to see him dead. And of course, Mei Changsu knows why he hates him so much: because Yujin's father once loved Noble Consort Chen (that's Lin Shu's aunt, right?). She committed suicide after the Chiyan army massacre. The Marquis feels betrayed on several accounts by the Emperor, who was his and Lin Xie's best friend, before he ascended the throne. For changing completely as a person once he was in power and for taking his woman away from him. And then, for killing everybody Yan ever cared for.
Is she? Was she Qi's wife? It was a bit confusing, because that part of the reason that Yujin's dad hates the Emperor is that he took her, knowing that his friend loved her. So I thought he took her for himself, but then...the Chiyan massacre wouldn't have been a reason for her to kill herself, unless Qi was her husband, or I suppose she did it because her family members were branded as traitors, if she's Lin Shu's aunt? Both? Or just that she happened to kill herself after being the Noble Consort for however many years and it was near the time of the massacre. I got the impression Yujin and his mom came along after this woman.
Consort Chen was Prince Qi's mother who committed suicide at her son's "betrayal" or perhaps his death. I can't remember, but it was related to the Chiyan massacre. I think there is an idea, but this might come later, that she doesn't really believe her son would have done that, so it's sort of a protest of sorts. She is from the Lin family as well, so yes, she is Lin Shu's aunt. And yes, Marquis Yan was in love with her (and she with him too I believe), but the Emperor took her anyway. And I am assuming that Yujin's mother would have been an arranged marriage after Consort Chen was taken by the Emperor. 
Mei Changsu seems surprised that all that this man wants to do is kill the Emperor. What purpose does this serve? A court in disarray, unguarded borders, lots of suffering... that will not resolve the wrong that was done back then. It is not revenge - he is just venting his anger. And has he thought of his Yujin once? The police will certainly find out who was behind the attack. And Yujin will be implicated.
He certainly didn't think it through, that much was clear.
Yeah, he needed Mei Chang Su to help him strategize. Luckily MCS found out and is going to use this well. Something I love about all this though is that even though Su is using the situation, I do think he does mean to help heal Yujin's relationship with his father. 

The mention of his son's name unearths a lot of guilt: he never looked after his son, he says, and the youth is having a hard time because of it. It's not too late, Mei Changsu says - even if Yujin is not the son of the woman he once loved. And while they are still talking, Meng Zhi (we don't see enough of him!) inspects the altar and removes the fuse. Sorry, Marquis Yan ... no venting at this Year End party! 
I support your claim that there is not enough Meng. More Meng, please.
Wait, what?! Is it already the end of the episode? Even commenting goes by in a flash! Ah I adore this drama so much! And yes, we do need more Meng Zhi. 


The nature of Mei Changsu's great plan is such that the death of key figures is considered a bad thing, we learn. He wants to wash white the name of his family and all the soldiers that died unjustly - it is justice, not revenge that he is after. And that is the big difference between him and this man from the past, one of his father's best friends. Justice does not necessarily demand blood - a different kind of punishment can be served.
Make them pay, then make them suffer through watching his return to good standing. Way better than killing them and then they're done with it.
I actually really appreciate this about MCS. It really is about justice. Justice and honour. 

It is fascinating how easily Mei Changsu manages to teach all the people around him (if they care to listen) patience and wisdom. The main target of his teaching is Prince Jing though, who never walks away from a meeting with Su without sound advice about how to go about becoming a true ruler. He is still reluctant to trust the Strategist, but he seems to listen quite attentively nonetheless.
They're becoming friends in their own right!
Bromance!!! I heart it. And it is beautiful to watch that friendship unfolding. Impulsive/exhuberant Lin Shu has grown into a wise and patient leader and teacher.

I realize how slowly this drama moves in comparison to The Disguiser, which we are recapping in parallel and it is quite fascinating how this pacing is setting the mood in both dramas. Nirvana in Fire builds slow tension, like a game of Go. There are no sudden movements, no rash decisions made on Mei Changsu's part. He rubs his fingers on fabric and develops his plan ever further. The Disguiser on the other hand is like a downhill mountainbike ride in the dark. One heart attack after another. 
You're right, although I do think the pace here picks up quite a bit later in the series. I actually enjoy having the different approaches, and I think we appreciate both the work and the actors more since we are seeing them in two different universes at once.
This really is a phenomenal group of actors and it's also really interesting that the same production team (because it's the same for both dramas) managed to do such different things and show us so many sides of these wonderfully talented actors. I still haven't had a chance to get to the completely heart attack episodes in Disguiser. Do I have time right now?