Nirvana in Fire 琅琊榜 - Episode 53 (Recap)

kakashi: The penultimate episode is slow, slow and absolutely excellent. It contains of basically two extended scenes - the first in which the people of the court, one by one, unite to force the Emperor's hand. The second in which a defeated man is made to look, to truly look at what he has done. Those two are connected through a middle part, in which the Emperor looks at a game of Go and realizes that the world around him has fundamentally changed and that he has lost a game he never knew he played. It's the victory episode. We waited a long time for it!
JoAnne: It is glorious and very, very sad. For everyone.  
Eleanor: This drama in many ways is like a long, mournful, and tragic dance, all leading up to this grand finale. It's so beautiful, it hurts. 

Episode 53

How foolish of me to believe the Emperor would already be moved to reason after his whole court PLUS his brother fall to their knees and beg him to re-open the Chiyan army case! We were warned repeatedly, this goes to the very heart of his status and pride. He is resisting. Resisting hard! He feels betrayed by everyone, forced to do something he most definitely does not want to.
Imagine his fear, though - it's not just pride. Imagine having to face the enormity of what he did - and to whom - agreeing to that must be like agreeing to let wild animals rip you apart. If he were a bigger man, he could separate the two - his pride, and the desire for truth - but a bigger man wouldn't have done what he did.
He is like a child refusing to give up a favourite toy. It is of course human, but to not be able to even want to begin to acknowledge the enormity and tragedy of what he has done, I know it's hard, but he has to. He has to face this, bear the burden that his poor decisions have created. 
The ministers tell him that this is about his reputation, that he MUST do this if he does not want to lose all status. Prince Mu Qinq joins the plea. Marquis Yan. And yet, the Emperor rages on. Last, Prince Jing makes a move, walks over to Lingyan and helps her up. Then, he turns around ... and joins the plea. To the Emperor, all becomes clear now. It was Jingyan! It was Consort Jing! They have betrayed him, planned this all along! Well, you're not wrong there. And yet, you're so wrong.
He's grasping at straws, fighting to maintain his world. Fighting to live, really.
They are trying to help him to do the right thing - to be at least a little on the right side of history - but it seems that he really doesn't care about truth or justice. He cares only for power. 
The Emperor's paranoia kicks in... will they force him to abdicate? Not Jingyan... but what about Sir Su! He is certainly out for revenge, the Emperor insinuates. Mei Changsu gets up, and begins to tell the tale of his father, the Emperor's close friend and supporter. A man who has helped his Majesty step by step, to gain power, to keep power. Always loyal, always just. All they ask of the Emperor today is to be just as well. All they want is the truth.  
If he were a more intelligent man, he would have said okay right away. They were giving him a chance to bring out the truth and yet retain his sense of self - I suppose, anyway. Look how wise and just - he welcomed the truth even when it showed that he'd been fooled! Perhaps for the Chinese court, though, that's not possible? For him to walk away without looking evil?
I don't think for any court he could ever really he held blameless, but yes, they are offering him a chance to save face - to restore justice. But he does not possess integrity this man - and that is one of the core issues. He does not possess loyalty. He does not possess a will to seek truth. I wonder why it is that anyone followed him in the first place. Surely somewhere deep inside he could draw upon an ounce, a drop of integrity to do what is right? 
You... you... you are not Su Zhe! The Emperor cries. You are the resurrected traitor! And he screams for his guards to kill this man. Only ... his guards cannot, do not want to (?) budge.
Those monkey masks give me nightmares.
Emperor, this is not about you really, this is about so much more. 
Screaming "Traitor! Traitor!", the Emperor grabs a sword to go against Mei Changsu himself, but he falls an the steps to his throne, losing his Emperor's hat. He looks like a crazy old man now. When he grabs his sword again to go against Su Zhe again Jingyan blocks his way. There cannot be any doubt, he is ready to die here and now. "You can kill me", he tells his father, "you can kill anyone who wants to reopen the Chiyan case because you're the Emperor. But once you have killed everyone, are you still the all powerful Emperor?"
Now THAT was embarrassing, dude.
Oh my Jingyan, you, you are going to be an amazing emperor. 
The sword at Jingyan's breast is starting to quiver. Prince Qi will always be his role model, Jingyan adds - but he will never be another Prince Qi.
Well no, of course not. But what did he mean by that, really? Was it a veiled threat? Was he saying he wouldn't go down without a fight? I don't think so, he said he would never do what Qi would never do.
I think it was Jingyan expressing his humility, that he will be strong because his kingdom demands it, but he will never quite measure up to Prince Qi - the Prince Qi that was lost due to the Emperor's actions. I think he is revealing to the Emperor that by choosing to execute Prince Qi, the Emperor chose to execute what was good and just in favour of power and greed. Prince Qi's death symbolises the decay of justice and truth in the nation and while Prince Jing is not Prince Qi, and can never be, he will do all he can to make sure that justice and truth prevail. 
Whatever that means for the Emperor, it makes him drop the sword. It makes him leave the hall, a broken man, laughing and crying at the same time, stammering "Traitors. Traitors" over and over and over. 
He is wrecked.
It is his choice to be wrecked like this. I cannot feel sorry for him. They gave him a chance to redeem himself and instead he refused and called them all traitors. 
He goes back to where he played a game of Go with his son not too long ago. Then, table-flipping rage! And the break-down. Ugly sobbing as he realizes he has been thoroughly played and thoroughly defeated. He realizes he has no power left - this is entirely the Crown Prince's game. 
We watched that grown man throw himself down on the ground and have a full fledged toddler temper tantrum. I laughed at the sight of him face down on the ground like that, I'm sorry.
Mei Changsu placed our little go piece, Prince Jing, on the board, and that small, and seemingly insignificant piece has brought victory. It's such a powerful image. 
Consort Jing has come in, to comfort him. Brave woman. But she cares for him, she really does, it seems... and she cares for her son (more than for this man, of course), and that is why she has come to tell the Emperor that nobody is starting a rebellion against him, they only want the truth. They may have done some "stealthy scheming", but what really matters now is that truth. It is his duty as an Emperor to make sure it comes out. They need to put the dead to rest. Is he listening? I think he is, though he is still denying what needs to be done.
He is. He was listening all along, or else he wouldn't have fought the way that he did.
Emperor, do the right thing damn it! I have so much respect for Consort Jing. She is a paragon of all that is good. 
But then, he demands to speak to Su Zhe. Who very clearly is not Su Zhe - the Emperor is certain he is indeed Lin Shu now. And he wants to speak to him alone. He won't try to harm him, will he??!
That's what I was afraid of, so I checked to see if it was the end of the episode. It wasn't, so I was relieved.
Emperor, DO WHAT INTEGRITY DEMANDS! And if you dare hurt Mei Changsu, you'll have hordes of angry people knocking at your door ready to take you out. 
Mei Changsu hardly bows when he gets there. He has nothing at all to lose at this point and isn't even trying to pretend anymore. The Emperor is butthurt that he didn't tell him the whole truth when he first came to the Capital (duh). Well, says Su Zhe, back then, his Majesty had all the power. Now, it's a different case, but "Your Majesty is still your Majesty. Even now, the people await your rule of virtue and justice". And he has a chance to become that just and virtuous leader now.
God, man, can't you just tell the poor guy you're sorry for what you did to his family?
He can't because the Emperor is rotten to the core. A bad tree cannot give good fruit. 
Still, the Emperor is paranoid and thinks this is not just about a re-trial. And I guess it isn't, indeed. This is about YOU, old man, and the terrible guilt you carry around. The truth is that you killed your most beloved son and you KNOW you did something horribly, horribly wrong. You always knew it, but now, it's soul crushing. Prince Qi died quietly, bewildered by the order from his father to die, but he died, without objecting. That is who Prince Qi was.
I don't think he knew. I think he believed what he was told. I think the guilt comes from not digging into it, not trusting more, and of course, because none of it can be undone. It cannot be made up to those people.
I think he chose not to "know" - he conveniently didn't investigate further. Surely if he truly loved his son and didn't fear him, he would have done more. I think that at some level he always knew and just chose to ignore it because he is weak and lacks goodness. I think Kakashi is right that he has long carried guilt - it's why he had Consort Jing make a memorial plaque. 
The Emperor lost his way when he stopped being the ruler for the people and would only be jealous of his Imperial powers, getting more paranoid about them being taken away from him. It blinded him, it biased him. He killed someone he actually loved, for no reason at all. It is sinking in, isn't it... but the Emperor has more excuses. It is the throne that has corrupted him, he was not born heartless. It will happen to Jingyan too, he prophesies. Will not, Mei Changsu retorts. He is a father who does not know his sons.
But he spoke the truth here, all the same. I think that position does change people. Strong, virtuous people can remain so - but they are still changed in some ways. Weak people, like the Emperor, will be destroyed.
Power does corrupt, but at the same time, the Emperor has always sought others to blame. Even now at this moment he cannot and will not shoulder any of the blame. He is ultimately selfish and weak. 
And then, the Emperor - whose eyes swim with tears - says he will do it. He will re-open the Chiyan army case. It will be re-investigated and re-judged. But he has one condition: He cannot let Lin Shu live in the palace. Because he would be a constant reminder of the horrible mistakes of the past. "I promise", says Lin Shu. It is, after all, what he always knew would happen. This will be the last time he and the Emperor will ever see each other.
*Hands Eleanor a new box of tissues*
Finally. Reopen the case. Let justice be done. 
He turns around and walks away, without a further word. "Wait, wait!" the Emperor shouts. Lin Shu stops, but does not turn around. "I was deceived by others", the Emperor starts explaining, begging almost - and he falls to his knees. His father supported him all these years, his mother was his sister. He took him riding, he took him piggyback, he flew kites with him! Does he remember? But Lin Shu remains silent ... and walks away. Old man, what you did cannot be forgiven.
And what came before it was wiped away by your actions; offering them up does nothing. Lin Shu is truly as dead as his family, in all honesty.
Emperor, this is exactly why you are despicable. To believe power hungry officials that your loyal family and friends hate and despise you, that is weak and terrible. If he had ever possessed an ounce of love or concern for these people, he would never have allowed Xia Jiang to proceed as he did. 
Thus, the case is reopened by royal decree - I think Prince Jing was pretty close to crying when he received it. It takes a month to finish - but then, it's there for the world to hear: Prince Qi and Lin Xie were innocent.
Why a month? What was there to investigate other than the confession? Everyone who knew anything is dead, other than Xia Jiang.
I think letters of confirmation etc must have been sent out around the kingdom to double check the letter's contents etc and that takes time. And for it to count historically all sorts of records must be created and historical texts rewritten - lots of paperwork to clear everything up. 
Is Lin Shu relieved? He does not dare to be, Lin Chen suggests - for fear of of having no more purpose and for fear of having his body fail on him, thus causing everyone to worry. He has to hang on ... he should stop worrying though, says Lin Chen. He should just live on, one day at the time, and he will help him. One day at the time as they travel the land, not thinking about dying. Just living. One day at the time.
Forever. *sobs*


I'm in awe. The dialogue in this episode was so moving, so gripping, so to the point. We have long been taught the moral lesson that this drama teaches: a good ruler is a moral person who leads by example of his virtue. A selfless person, the father of his people. The Emperor may have started like this, but he went astray. 
Very far astray.
Very, very far astray indeed. 

I love how step-by-step, he is made to look at what he has done. He does not see (does not want to see it!) it until almost the end. He grasps at straws, at excuses, fueled by his extreme paranoia, which leads him to believe everyone is an usurper (like he is one). It is Lin Shu who is able to pierce that defensive armor and it can only be him. The enormity of his actions hits home when Lin Shu tells him how Prince Qi died: silent, alone, deeply desolate about the father he loved who had forsaken him. It makes his death so much worse.
Ugh stop I cannot..every time I think about that scene, every time they show it again...the most horrifying moment in the entire drama is Qi accepting that his father believes he should be dead.
The writing and dialogue truly have this immense and intense power. These people and their sorrows and heartache seem so real to me. 

Two scenes are particularly revealing, I thought: the first when the Emperor looks at the game he played with Prince Jing previously, a game he thought was in a "stalemate", a game he wanted to continue after the banquet. When he looks at that board again after the shock of Liyang's appearance, he realizes that he has lost, because all around him, Prince Jing has positioned his people, but not by force, but by working hard and by being earnest - a good and moral leader. At this point, he sees no wrong with what he himself has done (or at least does not admit it) but he realizes it's "game over".
But if he thinks of himself as a good leader and his son as a traitor, how to explain all those many, many people by his son's side?
I think the Emperor just doesn't think rationally. He allows his weakness and paranoia to do the thinking for him. 

The second scene that made a huge impact on me is the last bit of the Emperor - Lin Shu confrontation: when the Emperor changes tone, when he appeals to the past. But instead of saying how sorry he is, which is the absolute only right response in such a situation, the Emperor shows what kind of person he is by claiming that he was deceived by others, that he, truly, is a very good person: the doting uncle. He wants to have Lin Shu acknowledge that he has done nothing wrong! Until the very end, this guy does not take responsibility for what he has done. He does not deserve an ounce of pity. He would do it again if he had the power. 
I don't think that bringing up the past means he thinks he didn't do anything wrong. I think he feels like it should balance things out, somehow. Like this: he's a decent person who made a mistake because he was fooled. It's a really big sin he has to accept, and I think he could get there...but for him to acknowledge both the error AND that he is also to blame for the situation, that's a very long journey to take in an hour of a person's life.
I agree with Kakashi. 

What a performance. 
Agreed. From everyone in this episode, but especially from these two, and most especially from the Emperor. We have seen Lin Shu with this steely anger before - but this destruction of a man, we have not seen before. Not even from Prince Yu or Xie Yu.
Wow. *reaches for another tissue*