「二つを一つに」 (Futatsu o Hitotsu ni)
“Reducing Two to One”
The tangled thread of fate slowly becomes untangled centimeter by centimeter. Mao Mao pays Fengming a little visit, wherein we learn that Ah-Duo gave birth at the same time as the dowager. In a double whammy, the doctor, Mao Mao’s father is forced to attend upon the dowager rather than Ah-Duo, who loses her uterus and her baby. Importantly, the infant death is supposedly linked to the makeup powder that was responsible for Lihua’s baby’s death. The key word being supposedly- Mao Mao knows her father and Fengming are too knowledgeable to allow stuff like that powder around the palace, which makes this case smell strongly of a cover-up.
It turns out the true story is completely different- the baby was fed honey by the well meaning Fengming, which as we know centuries later, is fatal for infants. I can’t even imagine the heaviness on Fengming’s conscience for trying to help but only to make things worse through her ignorance. I am not sure which is worse, intentional or unintentional poisoning. Sure, the intent to kill is not present in the latter, but that makes the guilt and repercussions afterwards weigh that much heavier on the responsible party.
Contrary to what gossip would have you believe, Lishu and Ah-Duo had a close relationship, like a surrogate mother and child pair for two girls who lost one of those. That was a really low move on Fengming’s part. Knowing her mistress is suffering the loss of a child and the ability to birth another, she then takes away someone Ah-Duo considers to be her child in order to save her own skin- essentially forcing yet another painful loss on the mistress she supposedly “loves”. I get it, no-one wants to lose their head over causing a royal child to lose their life, accidental though it may be. But that’s no excuse to inflict further pain on an already grieving mother. Any sympathy I had for Fengming is totally lost.
I find Fengming to be an interesting character study. She doesn’t get painted as purely a pitiable ignorant sap, but rather a guilt-ridden woman, desperate to save her own skin, twisting her “love” into something more toxic, controlling the lives of others.
I love that Mao Mao leaves nothing to chance, wrapping herself with a knife proof vest. It did almost seem for a moment there that Fengming might get desperate enough to pull out the meat cleaver. I was more than half expecting Mao Mao to leave things at that rather than taking responsibility for making sure Fengming faces the music. I’d agree with her decision this time. Fengming should have faced the music in some respect, but having the whole secret out about the baby would’ve just hurt Ah-Duo even more in the end and goodness knows, she’s already been through so much.
Time and again, we see Mao Mao decide for herself what’s worth bringing to justice and what’s not, to the point where sometimes it seems like a crap shoot or random luck of the draw as to who gets away with their crime today. However, whenever she lets someone go off free, it never gets painted as a “happy ever after” (with the exception of that one ep with the wall-dancer, but that was rightly so), it kind of just is, like a fact. Being a detective isn’t her calling per say. Her interest is in experimentation (though believe me, that also requires 100% loyalty to the truth, which she is when it comes to toxicology). The sleuthing she does around the palace is more foisted upon her rather than something she does out of any personal beliefs in being a champion of justice.
Ah-Duo’s language when referring to her son’s fate is interestingly ambiguous. The word she uses to refer to her son leaving her is “kono te kara inakunatta”, which conveys the sense of grasping for something that is no longer there, a phantom weight on one’s arms. However, this is not a polite euphemism for death. The word “inakunatta” doesn’t refer to death per say, but to someone who disappeared or is no longer present in the room, for example if someone disappeared from the work zoom meeting because of bad internet connection. If she was talking about death, she would have used “nakunatta”, the polite word used to refer to a person’s death (or of course, the general word for death “shinda”, which Mao Mao uses in her musings on the same subject). Mao Mao surmises that a baby swap happened, wherein Ah-Duo exchanged her son with the dowager’s son to secure a better future for him and Mao Mao’s Oyaji didn’t realize what happened in enough time, hence the painful punishment. The mystery is far from over yet, if anything, it seems like it’s only just begun.