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This series is routinely gorgeous, but just as important is the way it pays attention to details. The best small detail this week is that Jinshi’s cheek is red from leaning against the door eavesdropping on Maomao’s sex ed class, but the entire opening scene is a beautiful study in the new Pure Consort’s attitude. Loulan makes her entrance into a world almost entirely devoid of color – it’s in shades of grey except for the bright red details and her golden-brown eyes. The red could be interpreted as being symbolic of her “marriage” to the emperor and the joy she ought to be feeling at the great honor it is to become one of the high-ranking consorts, but the monochrome world shows her actual feelings about it, while the color in her eyes is perhaps to show that she’s walking into this with them wide open in a symbolic sense. All of this is borne out by the way she carelessly tosses her diadem aside once she’s inside the Garnet Pavilion, while her body language throughout the episode is borderline insouciant, showing how little she feels this “honor” that has been bestowed (forced?) upon her. Lishu may not love being in the inner palace, but Loulan may actively resent it.
We see this again in her attitude during Maomao’s lessons. The unwilling instructor ends up teaching sex ed (racy version) to the top consorts after both Lihua and Gyokuyou request it, quite possibly separately, since it looks like Gyokuyou was just itching for an excuse to interact with Maomao while Lihua may have genuinely wanted more lessons in emperor-pleasing. Both of them are keen to learn, while poor little Lishu is simultaneously grossed out and terrified by the information imparted, which works very well for her age and attitude toward the emperor. But Loulan? She refuses to even engage, physically turning away from Maomao and her teaching materials or casually tossing the books aside and leaving her lady-in-waiting to catch them – and she may have intended them to end up on the floor. How Loulan ended up in the inner palace is a question that we ought not to lose sight of, because there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than we are aware of. If anything, I’d say that someone who resents being in the inner palace so much could prove to be dangerous.
But then, a lot of things are, in both inner and outer courts. Maomao handily solves the Case of the Exploding Storehouse by letting Lihaku know that “flour dust + flame source = boom,” but as she notes later, the pipe that she assumes ignited the stores is much too fancy to have belonged to a low-level guard. Also blowing up a food supply warehouse sounds like a targeted attack; it’s perhaps not as immediately bad as burning down a building filled with people, but food security is a major issue in general, and decreasing the imperial food supply could only have terrible repercussions for the general population. Is this tied to Loulan’s entry into the inner palace? It’s too early to say, but with the care taken to show us how blasé she is about being there, I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question that the two things are related.
We also have the issue of the man with the monocle, who this week we learn is named Lakan. We see him crouched down at the site of a fire at the start of the episode, and that begs the question of whether it’s the same one Maomao and Lihaku were investigating or if it’s a different one somewhere else in the imperial compound. It’s also hard to tell if he’s also investigating or doing something else, so that’s again something to keep an eye on going forward.
Just…maybe not the kind of eye Jinshi gives Gaoshun when he drapes a cape over Maomao’s shoulders. That kind of eye could ignite fires all on its own.