「宦官と妓女」 (Kangan to Gijo)
“The Eunuch and the Courtesan”
Damn, the court means business- punishing not only Fengming, but her family and her family’s business connections. It’s rather unfair to fire girls who had nothing to do with her crimes and were only tangentially connected to her personage- it’s not their fault. But that’s politics. Not that her family was entirely innocent- it comes to light that one of the families connected to her were the people who kidnapped and sold Mao Mao. Which would mean that Mao Mao would also be fired from her palace duties through her connection with them.
Jinshi, for once, considers Mao Mao and how he could best respect her wishes, whether keeping her at the palace for his own selfish purposes would be gratifying to her, or to let her go. I think Jinshi is taking a much more emotional approach to this than Mao Mao. Mao Mao acts based upon what is convenient for her in the moment rather than the feelings of the people involved. Not that Jinshi is the king of consideration- cue that horrible honey harassment a few episodes ago. It is a double standard- it’s ok to let the other girls off, but not Mao Mao, which in that sense, she and Jinshi are alike.
Mao Mao, when she hears about this realizes what will happen to her- the equivalent of getting tossed out of the frying pan into the fire. It’s the first time I’ve seen her this panicked, and with good reason- getting sold off into prostitution by grandma is a horrible fate. In the end, Jinshi decides to let her go, rather than to continue using her as a pawn. It seems he has some modicum of consideration, though why he can’t show that consistently, I don’t know- and it still doesn’t make him a character I’d like or trust. Thankfully, he sends Mao Mao off with enough money so she doesn’t get forced into prostitution, though she still ends up accompanying her “sisters” to a night of entertainment at a filthy rich noble’s house.
As fate would have it, she runs into none other than Jinshi, who is busy bemoaning his broken heart. This was probably intended as a swoon-worthy encounter- handsome court gentleman in love with a broke girl, offers to buy her out. But I certainly wasn’t feeling it. I find Jinshi’s preoccupation with Mao Mao’s chastity creepy (it’s none of his fucking business) not to mention the way he constantly disrespects her personal boundaries. I was so done, so done with Jinshi when he started pressuring her to let him touch her. Respect her boundaries for the love of all that is good in this world.
Importantly, Mao Mao gets her job back, which has far more decent prospects for her amazing brain, in researching and poison testing to her heart’s desire. This isn’t a straightforward “Yes!! I accept!” for her, however. The rear palace gives her free rein to test poisons to her heart’s desire, but it proves to be as much of a cage as the pleasure district, only it takes on a different form. Normally Mao Mao is very black or white, decisive about a situation (even if the decision she comes to is questionable), so it was a change to see her stuck between a crossroads. I think one of recurring themes is that there is no such thing as freedom- you’re ultimately always bound by something or someone.
Another central theme that stood out to me in this episode was introspection. Jinshi was lost in thought, Mao Mao was deep in contemplation. Rather fitting for the end of the first cour- we got a chance to see the character building over the past 12 episodes come to a head here, giving us and the characters a chance to reflect on everything that’s happened so far and what it means to them. While the characters haven’t solved their quandaries, it is clear where the next phase of the story will head.
Overall, this was a good first cour. I feel like the adaptation did a fair job of adapting the material and Mao Mao’s character was really brought to life (for me, the highlight of this series). The music was a little wanting, considering the composer is Kevin Penkin, but that’s really only a small gripe. Yuuki Aoi really carried the show with Mao Mao and added shine to the series with her nuanced portrayal. I am looking forward to the next cour and am glad we will not have to wait for that!