The Advisors Alliance 大军师司马懿之军师联盟 - Episode 1 (Recap)

kakashi: A new recapping project, yaaaaay! With a gazillion characters who have more than one name. So, we're in the Three Kingdom era (220–280). And this drama is about the life of Sima Yi, a historical figure of great importance, and his journey from timid scholar to venerated general and politician. Be advised, the 1st (and often the 2nd) episode of historical CDramas require a lot of attention. I will also start a post for the characters because ... yes, it's complicated.
panda: Yay!! Advisor's Alliance recaps. This drama had been on my list ever I saw the trailer last year. The fact that it's based on a real historical figure was the cherry on the sundae so to speak. I am just so excited it's getting subbed. Liu Tao is my chinese actress bias and the guy below giving his best Death-Eater glare (Wu XiuBo) is also a fav. 60 eps (both seasons) people... And the first was a doozy.
JoAnne: Woohoo! I'm excited because my friends are excited. I probably never would have watched otherwise (and never did see any of the trailers or anything) - but often, these dramas are ones I end up loving. So I'm usually open to going along for the ride and this time... I think I'm really going to be glad.

Episode 1

We meet our main character Sima Yi during his wife's Zhang Chun Hua's childbirth - she almost dies, but thanks to a very good physician (Doctor Hua Tuo, don't get too attached) who performs a cesarean, she and the baby (a son, later Sima Shi) survive. We also meet Sima Yi's father (Sima Fang), two of his brothers (the elder: Sima Lang and the younger, Sima Fu) and the servant Hou Ji on this occasion.
It was pretty cute how Sima Yi was more concerned for his wife than baby. The doctor surgical skills were unexpected and very impressive. I had no idea they could do that back then but then read some stuff from twitter that proved they had indeed those skills. C-dramas: not just for oogling hot men. Sima Yi seems like a simple guy but his dad seems involved in some political intrigue
Right? But they seem like good people, I think. Baby Bro is cute, too.
Somebody else is bedridden at the same time - it's ambitious and super paranoid Grand Minister Cao Cao. He has horrible headaches ... a tumor? Doctor Hua, who is quasi kidnapped by him away from the Sima household, suggests to operate on him - but Cao Cao has him interrogated (and later killed).
I actually laughed when Cao Cao told them to kill the doctor. I wasn't expecting that. I thought since nothing was discovered on him and they had no shred of evidence he would be let off but I was being naive
I assumed migraines. I think killing the poor doctor is sort of heavy-handed for not being able to cure the jerk, though! Psst... CaoCao makes me think of KaiKai. The name, not the person. I feel like someone named CaoCao should be more cutesy than this...
Before he gets taken away to see Cao Cao, the doctor hands a scroll the subs call "Five-Creature-Gesture" to Sima Yi, who calls it Hua's "life work". Typical men, making a big deal of things.  It's probably some sex technique. With Sima Yi's father (who also holds an official office at court), the doctor discusses an edict and "making a move". I guess Cao Cao isn't entirely paranoid? He's too powerful and too ambitious, people are plotting to have him killed.
Even if he is a good guy which he most certainly isn't, I don't think any Emperor or his advisers would be completely comfortable with him. He simply holds too much power
Yeah, well, apparently he's dying of a brain tumor, so just leave him be and go practice that 'gesture', guys.
At Cao Cao's sickbed, we also meet Cao Cao's wife and his sons Cao Pi (left) and Cao Zhi (right) (Wikipedia tells me they were rivals). Cao Zhi makes shady faces, Cao Pi seems stoic and filial.
Cao Pi is a hottie while Cao Zhi looks shifty. Didn't wiki them but have a gut  feeling Cao Pi might become an ally of our protagonist down the line.
Cow Pee. I know, it's not a hard 'C'. Still. Yes, my seltzer has some liquor in it.
Also present, Cao Cao's right hand man Guo Jia / Feng Xiao. He seems very smart, also loyal, but not afraid to speak his mind. He looks like trouble. He receives drawn intel from some soldiers about Doctor Hua Tuo's connections.
I like him. Well, he isn't squeamish about killing people and the likes, but I appreciate that he seems smart and not easily cowed. Cao cao has the right strategy- to be successful at whatever you do, surround yourself with smart(er) men. I also liked those little brown papers they drew their investigative reports on
Yeah, I kinda perked up when he arrived. Plus, finally a badass head piece.
The Emperor of the Han Dynasty (Han Xian Di) hears from one of his Ministers that Doctor Hua Tuo is being interrogated by Cao Cao. The Emperor freaks out, fearing the Doctor might talk about that "edict" against Cao Cao under torture. I don't think the Doctor cracks, but Cao Cao knows anyway. Feng Xiao orders every single person associated with the Emperor and a warlord called Yuan Shao (who is leading an army to the south) to be investigated. This includes Daddy Sima Fang. They're onto you, daddy.    
The Emperor is quite useless isn't he. He was petrified thinking the Doctor would confess. Seems he also knows who has the real power here. I think Cao Cao has been on to the various plots against him for a while. He's just looking for a reason to actually move against them. He seems like a very smart guy.
If you keep capitalizing doctor I'm going to keep looking for a Tardis.
In the meantime, Grand Minister Cao Cao writes an edict that will allow them to hire talented people for office (quasi) off the streets. Some of the other ministers oppose this, but Cao Cao cleverly links the need to find good people to the custom of Yue Dan Ping - basically a talent show, during which a judge (Yang Xiu, son of Yang Biao, on of the Ministers plotting against Cao Cao) comments on people's poetry and paintings. 
I spy Marquis Yan! So Cao Cao provides the venue for his assassination. I do hope the opposition will not be foolish as to take the bait of this obvious trap
But wait... this is a good idea. And the emperor is ridiculous. I wonder if I end up switching allegiances?
This is all just a trap set by Cao Cao though to lure his enemies out.  But the job fair is a great idea! Yang Xiu (the talent show master :) seems to realize this - first, he sees that his father reacts very strongly to the news that Doctor Hua Tuo has been executed ... it tells him his father is implicated in this plot. Then, as some servants carry some wedding gifts they received from the Sima household back to the Sima household (the two ministers are trying to sever ties between their households), he tells them to stop.
I took an immediate dislike to him. (I don't even know why. His face seems both familiar and untrustworthy to me). I didn't like the way he broke the Doctor Hua news to his dad though its obvious he was testing him. The old ministers (Sima Fu and Yang Xiu's dad) reacted pretty strongly to the doctor news. Anyone spying on them would definitely know they had ties in the plot.
Yeah, I wasn't crazy about this guy either. But the Yang and Sima they are only distancing themselves from each other for the plot against Cao? It was mutual?
Change of scene: Some conspirators meet! They know the Yue Dan Ping is a trap to force their hand, but they decide to set a counter-trap, thinking Cao Cao will get careless if he captures one of them.
I have a bad feeling about this...You know, how tricksy can he be?  I have a hard time remembering my name when I have a bad headache, let along plotting and counterplotting against my enemies.
So Yang Xiu wrote a rather offensive letter to the Simas, ahahaha, telling them his sister fears she wouldn't fit into the household and all the sons are rapscallions. The younger son, the one who should have gotten married, is actually quite glad the wedding is off, he is cuuuuute. Yes he is. The older two on the other hand are very offended - Sima Yi decides to go to the gathering with his little brother. He wants him to present something's he has written, to prove to the offensive Yang Xiu that little bro isn't dumb and useless. Oh dear.
That letter he also wrote to break off the betrothal was while very funny, so offensive. I am very glad the wedding was called off. The unknown sister deserves someone better.
But but but but...they just did that to keep their alliance on the down low right? I mean, yes, the wedding is really off, but the Yangs don't think the Simas are trash, really?
At the festivities, a girl named Guo Zhao's horse spooks and she is saved by Cao Pi. Lots of slomo. It must be love. We know she is also the girl that Sima Fu was eagerly expecting to return. Uh-oh.
Ohhh and here he is! The slo-mo knight in shining armour. That chase and slo-mo were funny.
They were very out of place from what we'd seen so far, the mood.  I don't like that guy's face.  It's lumpy. What the HELL is on her head?
And then, the event starts! Ahahaha, Yang Xiu has groupies :D. He is really good at this - until he sucks up to Cao and his son for being the best poets around. Is he trying to save his family? In the crowd, the conspirators get ready.
He is good but also arrogant and a colossal suck up. He's praising Cao and son (I noticed Cao Pi didn't look too impressed though) because it's obvious to everyone where the real power in the Empire lies. I really don't like him
So far I only really like that one adviser to Cao Cao, and the Sima sons.
Sima Yi and his friend usher Sima Fu forward to take the stage, aw. Of course, Yang Xiu pulverizes him. Sima Fu doesn't care, he'd rather wave to Guo Zhao, who jumps up and down enthusiastically, yelling loudly that he did really well. Awww, is Baby Bro pretty but kind of dim? I like him with that girl, though. Better than that Pee guy. But Sima Yi cares - he was adamant about not joining in, but he can't keep quiet about a point Yang Xiu made. Up he goes on stage.
Sima Fu was totally out of his league. He and his sister are cuties.
Oh wait. She's his sister? Okay, never mind what I said.
No, she's not blood related! But very good friends with Sima Yi's wife.
The two men debate on stage ... and the conspirators get ready. Cao Cao seems very impressed with Sima Yi. When he ends, everybody claps like crazy ... and the attack begins. Of course, Cao Cao is optimally prepared and completely unfazed. His men are ready - in the water. Also, Guo Zhao helps Cao Pi out by throwing her sword to him. Twu Wuv. And what is this? Cao Pi and one of the main assailants seem to know each other? They give each other head signals. They planted a spy in the opposition force?
I don't think they planted a spy as much as they made the spy seem like the opposition? I might be wrong but the impression I got was they got the spy to pretend to attack Cao Cao so the real conspirators would also attack thinking he (the spy that is) was also one of them. Very smart Cao and gang
But Panda, that's the same thing.
Sima Fu wants to get his father (and elder brother) off the stage, but the guards don't let them leave. Sima Fu also loses the scroll he read from.
Cao Cao planned things meticulously. No-one was leaving there without his say-so. That archer scene was gorgeous.
Yeah, I loved that. And I loved that they did it to music, hahahahahaha. And what's with Hottie McSmartiepants and his overly dramatic signals? They have a sense of the dramatic, for sure.
Cao Cao watches attentively as his soldiers squash the opposition force. Sima Yi's friend helps General Dong escape. The man who wanted to get captured is captured. This is too much for Daddy Sima ... he almost faints.
He might have fared better fainting. They are really too old to be plotting assassinations. It's a pity they have such a useless Emperor.
Poor old Daddy Sima, he should be home, sipping tea and winking at the pretty maid.
Cao Cao declares he will question the Emperor and the Empress about this! But Minister Xun Yu cautions: don't disrespect the Emperor. This will give Yuan Shao the excuse he needs. Cao Cao does not want to listen though and his right hand man Feng Xiao agrees with him. He wants them to know who has the power.
Let the showdown commence. I feel I know who is going to win.
Us. We're the winners here.


Blimey, this is HARD to recap. Oh well, just keep the subs coming slowly, subbers :)
I profusely thank the subbers. This is definitely not a drama one can watch without subs. Unless you understand chinese of course. Very well done first episode. 
I'm so excited when I hear one of the Chinese words I know. It doesn't happen often. Well, sometimes it happens a lot, but it's the same word over and over.

If you're confused and have the time, watch it again, especially the festival scene. Lots going on there! All these different forces collide and Sima Yi is already in the thick of it, without noticing. He doesn't know about his father's involvement with the anti Cao-force, I don't think. He has not interest in getting involved either, but we already see how smart he is and how attentive.
I did have to watch some scenes again. The first time I watched, I hardly knew anyone. A twitter friend said they all use the same foundation shade so their faces blur and I think she might be right. LOL. They all seem to have the same tan. I didn't fully get the festival scene until the second watch. I wonder though, did they have to attack him? Couldn't they have let the bait go and wait for another time? Maybe they felt he was closing in on them.
Yep, I watched it the way I generally watch things, half my mind on the show and half my mind doing other things (games, email, twitter, knitting, chatting with the kiddo) I finished the episode and had not one clue what happened, so I watched it again. I never do that, I just figure I'll catch up with tidbits dropped in future episodes but it was interesting and I became absorbed.

What I found the most intriguing (apart from the cinematography) is that we are not given a clear moral compass. Who is good (apart from the Simas) and who is bad? Cao Cao - the villain? - is shown as highly intelligent, and though he is power-hungry and cruel (poor Doctor), he has a point to be against a warlord causing unrest in the country (we haven't met Yuan Shao yet). Also, the Emperor didn't impress me at all.
The cinematography is gorgeous. The archery scene was beautiful and i love the muted color scheme. I also found the episode well directed apart from the luurve slo-mo scene which felt a bit out of place. But that's just minor quibbling. I also like the opening theme. It sound eerie and beautiful at the same time. I think it's quite clear that Cao Cao though highly intelligent is the big bad. The grey areas lie with his sons, Cao Pi in particular and I'm also very intrigued by Marquis Yan. 
I also wiki-ed Yang Xiu and I think I saw him in Divorce Lawyers which coincidentally also starred Sima Yi  (Wu Xiu Bo). I think he was a weasel in that drama that's why i have such an instinctive Urgh feeling to him.
Yes, it does feel like Cao Cao is being painted as the villain here - and while he seems ruthless, I'm not so sure he IS a villain. Time will tell.

I'm really curious to find out more about everyone.   
I read it only gets better. I am so excited.
You love it like jelly loves peanut butter.