“The Garden Party”
I think the big takeaway here is- don’t mess with MaoMao. She certainly can hold her own against the court drama. As fun as dressing up for a party can be, the garden party sounds like absolute hell with all the petty rivalries between the different concubines’ factions. It’s no surprise, though, given how the concubines are pitted against each other for being the emperor’s favorite.
Case in point, the senior concubine, Ah-Duo, the Pure Consort, at odds with the Lishu, the Virtuous Consort. Not only that, but the Virtuous Consort used to be the Pure consort’s mother-in-law, so you get weird family dynamics added to the already perfect storm. I find it really creepy that the girl was married to the emperor’s father at 9 years old, then passed down to the current emperor. I know that kind of thing did happen, but still- it goes without saying that 9 years old is way too young.
Of course, Lishu is still too young. She’s a child and not just in age, oblivious to the courtesies of the palace, things like proper wardrobe coordination- which that pouting and defiant attitude are normal for her age, but will not do her any favors at court. Rather than wear the white color expected of the Virtuous Consort, she uses Lady Gyokuyou’s pink color scheme, which is kind of like the whole “don’t wear white to a wedding” rule of not stealing someone else’s thunder. I can’t help but feel bad for her- being the new girl on top of having been previously married to the father, she’s the odd one out and that’s never a fun position to be in.
MaoMao sure is popular- now with 4 hairpins (Gyokyou, Lihaku, Lihua, and Jinshi’s pins). On the surface, it’s supposedly a “recruitment” thing, but there’s a deeper meaning to it. MaoMao, being MaoMao, has absolutely no interest in that and walks off before getting an explanation. Only to be met by Lihaku offering her a pin, which she naively assumes is given out of politeness to all the ladies. Lihua’s pin was a nice gesture, especially after all that MaoMao did for her.
MaoMao shines brightest on center stage, food tasting for poison to her heart’s delight– to the point where it’s almost a little obscene. Unfortunately for the minister who stupidly decides to taste for himself, some people don’t believe her because she lives to tell the tale. I appreciate MaoMao’s spunk for what she does- it’s certainly unusual in a profession that (quite naturally) involves no small amount of anxiety. Her grin says it all. Aoi Yuuki is absolutely brilliant- every week I’m blown away by how her acting brings MaoMao’s zest and nuances to life.
It was amusing to see Jinshi chafing at the uncomfortable formal clothes like a little boy- that’s a side of him we don’t usually get to see. MaoMao takes it the wrong way and lets her imagination run a little wild. Lucky for Jinshi, MaoMao is starting notice him more closely beyond being an unpleasant pest, and likes what she sees. Though she probably doesn’t understand the significance of that, yet.
The soup wasn’t thing only thing “poisoned”- some poisons are more sneaky, like allergens. As someone who also has food allergies, I can relate all too well to the panic of unexpectedly finding an offending substance in one’s food. Unless someone knows that the concubine has an allergy, they aren’t going to be of any help in the case of allergen containing dishes, as it won’t affect them the same way it does her. That was a rather ruthless move, purposefully swapping Lishu’s dish with Gyokuyou’s to Lishu something she couldn’t eat. She knows she can’t eat it, but can’t refuse it and has to hide her symptoms. However, it worked out for everyone in the end because Lishu was the original target of the poisoning before her food was unknowingly swapped out. Unexpectedly, MaoMao also has allergies- the girl who can eat poisons is defeated by soba and he can’t even desensitize herself to it, her reactions are so severe.
Should MaoMao have let the food taster go like that? What the food taster did was dangerous for sure, and something probably should have been said. While no-one died, there’s a certain amount of trust that’s been lost between the lady in waiting and her mistress. It’s obvious the food taster didn’t realize what she did could kill her mistress and MaoMao scared her enough that she won’t be doing that again.