Nirvana in Fire 琅琊榜 - Episode 16 (Recap)

This is one of my favorite episodes so far - so much attention to detail, so beautiful! The Lantern Festival, the scene at the Music Court ... the colors are phenomenal. And those sets! I also like how Mei Changsu wins a round against Xie Yu and moves his grand plan several steps further ... but I don't like that Jingrui is continuously the one that gets hurt. It's a sin to hurt the innocent.
JoAnne: Our worried seal looks pissed off. I hope he will be okay.
Eleanor: He does have some fabulous lip colour there. Or maybe they dialed the filter up a tad too much. It looks really nice with the blue though. 

Episode 16

In the pugilist world, what Zhuo Dingfeng did on New Year is calling for a challenge - and even though Mei Changsu honors the Zhuos for their skills and standing in that world, their alliance with Xie Yu makes them personae non gratae. He is not enjoying this development and feels particularly sorry for Jingrui, who will of course be implicated by his fathers doings.
See, I don't see it as a 'development.' He had to know about this before he came to the city. It's been part of his plan all along, and it's the reason he's friends with Jingrui in the first place, even though he has come to be fond of him.
Yes, I agree with Jo that he must have known, but I do think he feels bad about it. I don't think Su takes any pleasure in hurting Jingrui. 
Of course he knew. But knowing something and experiencing something is not the same. This man feels very deeply. He is not at all ruthless
And thus, a skilled pugilist sword fighter challenges all the sword masters in the Capital - and wins against them all, within a day. Cause he's Mei Changsu's man, of course. To his chagrin, he forgot to think of a cool name for himself :D
We can come up with one. This a challenge with which we are familiar.
I busted up laughing at the part where he hadn't made a cool name yet. Haha. So funny. 
"Mei Changsu!" Xie Yu growls, when he hears about how all his men are now in bed. 
That sentence... it sat differently with me the first time I read it. (Tsts, JoANNE!) 
*chuckles* I LOVE the way that Xie Yu always growls Mei Chang Su's name with such frustration. Hahahahahahaha. Su's gonna get you Xie Yu!
Mei Changsu is reading a book entitled "Records of the Land of Xiang" when the swordmaster with no cool name (actually, he is called Zhen Ping (played by Zhao Yi Long)) is reporting success. Only Zhuo Dinfeng is still standing, but being quiet at the moment - which is good enough.
Ping is cool. Ping will zing you.
He could go for Ping Pong? 
Su has some really awesome people on his team. He is a good leader who gathers good talent. No wonder he's number one on the Langya List. 

Xiadong is heading out ... she is visiting her husband (Genearl Nie's) grave, like every year on the 5th day of the new year. Nihuang sees her off - like every year. In the mountain, Xiadong cries as she speaks to her husband, fearing the day will come that he will no longer recognize her.
I'm guessing he's changed more than she has...
Oh Xiadong. Poor woman. 
But what is this?! Something is watching her from the trees! She jumps up, calling out to whatever is there, but there is no answer. She walks a bit, into an old wayside pavilion ... and sees someone coming up the footpath through the forest. Ha! It's Mei Changsu and Li Gang - the latter a bit worried that this walk (he is doing it for "medical reasons") might tire his boss out. Xiadong greets them, and Mei Changsu greets back ("what a coincidence"? nope, Su, I don't believe you!).
So are we supposed to think that was them, watching her? I did not, if so.
Nope, I'm pretty sure we are supposed to think it's someone else. Su. I bet he doesn't breathe without already having a plan for something. 
She points out the grave to them and Mei Changsu sighs heavily. He asks whether he can pay his respects to him, whom he has always admired, too. Sad :(( He offers a drink to the spirit and remembers... how he saw General Nie for the last time, riding to his doom. All dead. All dead. Xiadong is deeply moved by Su Zhe's reverence for her late husband. Made a friend, Su?
Great, now I have that Queen song in my head. 'All dead, all dead, now my dreams have gone.'
Oh Su, warrior, man who bears the weight of 70,000 souls. 
They walk down the mountain together, and soon, there is an opening for Mei Changsu to mention the murder case. It's top secret that Xuanjing Bureau was tasked to solve it, so Xiadong claims they might be interested in it in the future ... but still takes the opportunity to ask the leader of the Jiangzuo Alliance about his insights. He deflects, but also makes it clear to her that the Jiangzuo Alliance (and Prince Yu) did not have anything to do with the murder. Tianquan Manor, then, she deducts. He's not confirming but he is obviously not going to say she is wrong either. Hahaha. Pfff.
Just, you know, a gentle, oh so gentle push...
"You say it best, when you say nothing at all..." why did that song suddenly come to mind? o.O Su knows how to say just enough without really saying much at all. Skillful. 
They continue walking and Su laments how things have changed since he arrived in town ... now, only Jingrui and Yujin regard him as friends. She praises Jingrui's character in particular and expresses a wish for his innocence to be preserved. Yeah ... about that, Xiadong...
*considers jumping ships*
Oh Jingrui. Good good man. 

Suddenly, movement! Something hairy (but quite clearly human) is running through the forest, away from them. She follows! The thing is fast, but so is she ... if only she hadn't bumped into a bunch of soldiers all of a sudden, she might have caught it... these are Prince Jing's men, helping out the Magistrate (the lazy bastard) to go  after the "savage" too. They've been at it for days but haven't caught it: it's too fast and this area is providing perfect cover.
Is it the BEAST? Is that what was watching her? I wondered if the only point to this was to bring Xiadong and Mei Changsu closer...and set up that shot below, which rocks.
I think it was the Beast! And this scene makes so much more sense now second time round. *puts gag in mouth* and yes, that is a fabulous shot! 

Qimeng complains that Prince Jing is the one prince that always gets tasked with crappy, thankless stuff - Mei Changsu does not like to hear him talk this way in front of Xiadong. As soon as she has left, he reprimands the soldier and tells him they . More action, less talky-talky! Before he gets into his carriage, he advises the soldier to build a trap for the beast, using its favorite food. (Note: a reason why NiF is such a great drama are little scenes like Mei Changsu riding back in this carriage. Unnecessary for the story, if you want, but giving us great visuals and atmosphere. They did not spare any expense)
To make up for it, they filmed most of The Disguiser on the set of Age of Feeling.
The set designers and production team are AMAZING! Love them!
Back in the Capital, Mei Changsu receives word that Pretty Zhuo is constantly shadowing Minister Shen. But Shen is too important for Mei's plan; nothing can happen to him! But his pugilist sword genius is afraid he won't be able to do much against Zhuo Dingfeng, if he is the one coming at Shen. Su acknowledges that, but still assigns Zhen Ping on bodyguard duty for the Minister.
Go Ping! Do your Ping thing!
Now all I can think of is Disney's Mulan. 

Jingrui is still suspicious of his brother-in-law/brother ... so he follows him out. Minister Shen is not taking his security all too seriously, currently walking around with only four people. Of course, Pretty Zhuo is just waiting for an opportunity to strike! Jingrui observes how he goes into a shed and comes out dressed all ninja-style. It seems our bad guys have fed Shen some faulty intel, leading him to a dodgy part of town, where there are supposed to be "illegal money lenders". It's a trap, you fool!
Zhuo wins for 'Best Looking Ninja, 1397'
Well it's more like 300s in China and Ninjas are another country... but yes, Pretty Zhuo does look good.
I don't know the equivalent world for Ninja in the Chinese setting! Someone help!
Well ninja were highly specialized assassins and aren't necessarily thought of as super good ever. I think because this is part wuxia (武侠) drama, and involves the pugilist world, there is the concept of xia (侠), but I don't know a tonne about it. I know that ninjas were influenced by Chinese monks as well. There are also the famous Shaolin Monks who practice wushu (武術), Chinese martial arts. From what I understand, there were many schools of practice and style and that's why in the drama certain sword techniques would be known as belonging to certain practices. But this is pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Please anyone who knows more, or needs to correct any of my information, please add your thoughts and knowledge! 
Two things: It never even dawned on me that 'ninja' was solely Japanese, although on reflection I should have known it, so thank you for that. But the biggest revelation right here for me is that wuxia and wushu are two different things! I thought it was a variation in transliteration! I've only been hearing the terms for a few months and am admittedly very ignorant (it's a style of fighting! go me!) about it, so another round of thanks for the info. It's absolutely no exaggeration to say that I learn something new every day it!
Their supposed contact is an assassin, the attack is swift - and then, Zhuo Qingyao joins in! Luckily for Minister Shen, Zhen Ping is there too and he seems a match for the younger Zhuo (his fight scenes are the best, cause the actors is a Wushu athlete in real life as well). But oh no!!!! Now the elder Zhuo joins the mêlée, and as good as Zhen Ping is, he cannot win against the No. 4 on the Lang Ya list. Zhuo Dingfeng strikes and ... Jingrui jumps in front of the Minister, blocking the sword with his shoulder (it's a minor wound, luckily).
DAMMIT. Here's one baby seal who's going to club back, I think.
Jingrui is sooooooooo badass!!! Man, he just takes that sword without flinching. Crap! 
Soldiers are rushing their way (Prince Jing's men) and the Zhuos disengage. What a close shave if not for Young Master Xiao! When they report their failure to Xie Yu, the elder Zhuo does not mention that Jingrui was there... he is his "son" after all. They're now both voicing discomfort at killing Minister Shen, but Xie Yu keeps lying about his vicious intentions. They're under time pressure, too, because court sessions will start up again soon and it's quite certain that Minister Shen will bring up the firework factory (and the Crown Prince's involvement) and that will be SO BAD for them. 
Until this moment, I had no idea that the Zhuos were not full partners in this mess. This gives me hope for Pretty. And Jingrui's heart. Well no not really, it's going to suck for Jingrui no matter what.
Zhuo family. Run away from Xie Yu. Take Jingrui with you and Pretty Zhuo's pregnant wife. Xie Yu is going to get you all killed! Ack! 
Xie Yu has a Plan B (or is it D already?), of course: a plan of Shen's Mansion. And now, make sure to be successful, Zhuos! Well, there's a problem, though. It's Jingrui. He confronts his father about the assassination attempt and implores him not to taint the good name of Tianquan Manor with the blood of the innocent! It's wrong! What a mess.... The Elder Zhuo scolds Jingrui for meddling in the affairs of the grown-ups and tells him he cannot save him if his (other) father finds out.
Dude, do you not realize that it's the blood of the innocent that funded Tianquan Manor's last seven remodels? Talk about late to the party...
Seriously. I get that the families are close and all, but how did they manage to become Xie Yu's dirty hands that do all the dirty work?
At the Xuanjing Bureau, Xiachun has received news from their tutor/boss Xiajiang who is away on some business and will be returning later than expected. Xiaqui (that's Xiadong's brother) was called over by him too, so it seems he's doing something urgent. They discuss the unsolved murder case and the new swordsman (with no name) who challenged all the others. They decide to go see Zhuo Dingfeng, their prime suspect ... but not on official business.
If Jingrui looks like a worried seal, this guy looks like a focused panda.
*Jo proceeds to name all the characters after animals*
I like this focused panda
I do, too.
Gong Yu is instructing a girl on how to exactly serve Mei Changsu once he comes over. Sir Shisan (aka Mr. Thirteen) is giving her the side-eye - and then tells her he's just coming for work, not for a performance and he might not even notice her efforts. Like she cares ... she's totally obsessed.
I am more and more worried about this one. How can they have this loose cannon on their team?
Is she the model for sasaeng fans the world over? 
It's the 15th day of the first lunar month: Lantern Festival time! And WOW, are these lanterns beautiful...
My favorite is the Fei Liu lantern.
Hihihihihihi, he does shine so brightly! Cheerful ray of grumpy sunshine that is Fei Liu. 
Only, they bring back memories for Lin Shu ... sweet and yet painful ones, of course. Does he have any others? Of him and his Nihuang, hanging up a very similar lantern together in the past.
Man, they were cute. So young.
*starts crying* Nihuang and Lin Shu *where are my tissues?*
And here IS his Nihuang, in the present, looking at him all sad and wistfully... I think I'm going to cry again. When he sees her, his face lights up as much as Mei Changsu's face can light up ... and she smiles. He seems shy all of a sudden and my heart breaks.
She just glows. So beautiful. Like a fairy princess.
Seriously, I am crying here. I'm just going to wait a minute and compose myself.
She asks him whether he is going out (yup, he is, to Miao Yin Court) - and she explains that she is here because she suddenly wanted to see him. They had the same memory.
Sorry, can't hang. Tonight's Hooker Night.
To share such beautiful and yet painful memories hurts like crazy for me as a viewer, I can't even imagine what it must be like for them. 
Mei Changsu and Li Gang meet the Sunshine Boys in that "street" that Yujin knows so well (and no, he isn't afraid to admit it one bit!). There's a tense moment when Yujin jokes about Jingrui's stern fathers and the sunshine completely disappears from his face. But soon, they're inside --- and it's obvious somebody took particular care to make Su Zhe's stay a comfortable one. Gong Yu floats in and Yujin introduces her to Mei Changsu. She keeps a straight face, kind of ... but he is displeased with the extra attention.
That's the face of realizing you should not be using the crazy stalker as part of your plan.
Yeah Su, you over think and plan everything else, you would think he would have thought this was through as well. 
Pretty Zhuo's very pregnant wife would like a quiet evening with her husband ... but he has business outside, he says reluctantly ("networking"). She watches him leave and calls after him to be careful... that's never a good sign, isn't it.
He heard about Hooker Night. They have drink specials!
Pretty Zhuo has a pretty wife. He had better live to see his pretty baby! Also, look at how beautifully paired and complementary their costumes are. *hugs the production crew tightly*
At the Music House, Gong Yu starts playing a new tune by Sir Shisan. When she is done playing,  Jingrui is extremely enthusiastic about the performance. Hey, just an idea! says Mei Changsu, why don't you invite Miss Gong to your birthday party? But Mr. Su does not know that Miss Gong hardly ever leaves this house and never ever attends banquets. It comes as a huge surprise that she is willing to make an exception for this ... under one condition! If she can play on a special instrument the Grand Princess Li Yang owns. It's a deal. Hmmm, Mei Changsu looks very pleased with himself. Mission accomplished.
If you say so...
Oh that is most definitely a pleased Su face. *as he sips tea with almost a smile-smirk*
Minister Shen is alone, writing something. And here come the Zhuos! They rush towards the main house and ... it's a trap!! Jing's men were waiting for the assassins and they're outnumbered 10:1. The father orders his son to retreat ... but the idiot charges instead and is promptly hit by an arrow before they can make their escape. Oh no... Pretty Zhuo is gravely hurt.
I feel bad. He's got a baby on the way, and he was doing what his father told him. He's not eeeeeeeeevil. Why does he have to be the one to pay?
But he's also not good. He's living in a grey area and this is the price he has to pay. I do feel bad for him though, and not just because he has a baby on the way. I wish he had had a way to get out of this mess at some point. 
No, I know. It's just sad. He doesn't have bad intentions, and he's not doing it to get rich or anything like that. Bad guys who are bad because they're mistaken about something just make me feel sad.


Have I ever publicly said how much I admire Hu Ge's acting skills!? Okay, he is also one of the most beautiful people I've ever seen, but pretty has never been enough to move me. He was good from the very beginning, but maybe it's the range of emotions he shows in this episode that makes his performance particularly noteworthy to me? He does very little ... his facial muscles never move a lot. His movement are always slow and controlled. He never raises his voice. But despite of this, he shows sadness, longing, displeasure, anger, and joy masterfully. He deserves all the awards for this and more.
Hu Ge truly is an amazing actor and I am so glad that he did win so many awards this year for his projects. It's no wonder that he has such a strong following. 
You really have it bad. Quick: Lee Sang Swoon and Hu Ge are about to fall off a cliff.  You can only grab one and guarantee safety for both yourself and the one you choose. Pick!
Hu Ge of course! Wow, I didn't even hesitate for a nanosecond. Maybe it's the 40mio followers on Weibo that impressed me so. 

And yes of course, the other actors are also phenomenal.
I demand more Meng!
This episode was also low on Prince Jing.
I didn't really notice. I can't blink without seeing that face everywhere.

As for the story... YAY for Mei Changsu that he managed to push back on the Xie Yu threat so thoroughly (for now). As Eleanor has said, he seems to be a highly skillful and respected leader, who manages to have good people follow him. Not through threats or coercion, but (mainly) because they admire him. That, of course, just shows us what a great person he is - and it is an example of what a good ruler should be like: He inspires awe and loyalty through his deeds.
It makes me so sad that the kingdom has missed out on such wonderful potential! 
Imagine that world if Jing were Emperor and Lin Shu is right-hand man.

And yet, we've discussed it on and off, there is collateral damage that he cannot fully control - or worse, has to plan for, because his ultimate goal demands sacrifices (not least of himself). That his plan involves hurting a person that he has come to truly cherish is awful; for both Jingrui AND him. It's part of what is eating away at him and part of why he looks so tired and sad all the time (and it is most likely also influencing his illness).
If I didn't feel bad or get more ill because of it, I would probably have a bigger problem with some of the things he has to do, but I really feel that the burden of 70,000 souls is one that he feels compelled to lift, come hell or high water. 
I don't know if I believe that anything gives you the right to destroy an innocent person's life. Two wrongs don't make a right, and all that.

When he first approached Jingrui, he did not know him - he approached him for who he is or rather, for what he represents. The son of two families ... and more. But then, he started to truly like him, simply because Jingrui is such a great and good person himself. Given the importance of Jingrui in the whole (elaborate) plan, there is no way Mei Changsu could have changed his plan at such short notice, at least not without jeopardizing everything. And that, unfortunately, is just not an option. This is an end game. Mei Changsu knows that at the end of this journey, he will die. Nothing that he is doing right now he does for himself - he will not be able to reap any benefits. That does not mean that he is not suffering, though... and the drama does show us his suffering, if we care to look. This guy is truly his friend. And he has to hurt his friend if he wants to avenge the death of the 70'000, if he wants to restore justice, and if he wants to rid this Empire off evil.
It makes it all so much more heartbreaking. *cries*
Yes, it's sad. But do not mistake his desire to avenge those deaths as not being for himself, too, because it is.

Two more things before we end!
1) The Beast! It is clear at this point that the beast is not just background chatter. Well, actually, nothing that is ever mentioned IS in this drama. All we know at this point is that it is not an animal, but a person - one that is very hard to catch.
Yes, so every time the Beast is mentioned, pay attention peeps :)

2) The Stalker Girl Gong Yu: We know nothing much about her backstory at this moment, only that she has a very unhealthy crush (actually, it's an obsession) with Mei Changsu. He tries to keep her away, but that's not working all too well ... I guess she is truly needed for his plan (together with Mr. Thirteen, she sits in the intelligence hub of Mei Changsu's operation), otherwise he would not tolerate her. I wonder why he is not doing more to control her, seeing that she clearly is a liability. Does he want to have her as a liability? Or is this where his control ends? We're not sure.  
I think that maybe he's a little inept when it comes to the women perhaps...well as far as romance goes. Or it might also be that because he still loves Nihuang, that he is just willing to ignore it. Or he has a bigger plan, so he's willing to tolerate it. Ack! He probably has a plan; it's Mei Chang Su!
Then again, we could be just expecting a Korean-style outcome from her crush. It might not come to pass, here.