It is my opinion that when you start a story or comic as a parody. homage, or some subversion of a genre, you are inevitably faced with having to choose between continuity or gag-a-day.
Both options are fine, and there are many excellent examples of each. But while gag-a-day can continue on skewering the same genre tropes by bucking what has happened in strips before it, if you want continuity in the story you need to find a new way of subverting expectations.
If your characters show up at a castle, and the previous joke was that the moat is filled with donuts instead of alligators, you can’t subvert that again. You’ve already established the donuts and saying “Look, now it’s filled with cotton candy!” doesn’t work anymore, because this world already accepts donuts as something to put in a moat.
But you can make the joke that on the return visit the moat is now filled with alligators; “Oh, yeah, we brought in the alligators to protect the donuts.”
I didn’t say it was a good joke. But it is taking the established expectation in this world and subverting that.
The point is, that if you want to take a trope subverting story on the long journey, you either have to find new things to subvert, or begin subverting the world you already built. And I love the goofy or progressive things that have been introduced in EXIERN through subversion, and I don’t want to undo them.
EXIERN is about to start its journey towards inward subversion and new tropes to mock. I know that the latter part of my previous chapter got a little heavy. But we’ve already seen how life in the castle works and differs from classic sword and sorcery. I had to decide, do I undo some great unique differentiators, do I continue to push this world in ridiculous and world-fabric-stretching directions, or do I set the stage for different fun down the line?
And we’ve already had fun mocking the epic rescue and return quest, where can we go next that will be different and funny? And how do I get us there? Yes, Typh and Peonie battling pirate Rus on the high seas would be a great opportunity, but what would get the story there? A smash cut to an entirely different story and genre without explanation would be a cheat I would not be satisfied with.
Oh, yeah, we’re definitely getting a ship-to-ship battle with buccaneer were-bears. I didn’t just throw that out there unprepared.
Anyway, yes, I know there’s been some serious stuff and a lot of one-pagers lately. I hope you can be patient, we’re returning to multi-panel works soon. But I wanted to set a new status quo and establish the tone of things as we start the story-line.
I’m looking forward to tearing it all down.
And I hope it will be somewhat enjoyable to watch.
Thanks for reading,
I am an Election Official in Ohio for the U.S. Election this year, and am unable to get today’s page to my liking before heading out to my district.
New Exiern will post tomorrow!
In the meantime, I implore any readers in the U.S. to go vote. The system simply cannot be rigged and your vote has never before counted for SO much!
Well, it’s that time of the week again. Now that it’s Episode 20, I can put up the next link of Ninja Reflection summaries as they cover episodes 9 to 20. On top of everything else, it is definitely a helpful recap as we’ve come a long way in the story since the beginning.
Now, for this week, there are a lot of assumptions about positions. A lot of figurative ones but definitely at least one quite literal one that we’re going to hear about in a moment.
(NB: On a side note, once again about a particular phrase, I thought “Assume the Position” had a particular most common meaning – in this case law enforcement – but when I looked it up, turned out it was something else and not related to law enforcement. Well, it shouldn’t be, anyway.)
Well, on with the show. A lot to unpack in this episode as it’s quite pivotal and in more ways than one. It’s multi-pivotal even.
There’s no time wasted in this episode as it starts with the heavily pregnant body Man from the Future Zhang Peng is still piloting, tripping and falling right from the outset and calling Lu Li to get the Royal Physician. So right off the bat, we know things are serious. He turns up and is shaking worse than someone with a serious palsy. I guess repeated beatings will do that to you. He’s able to estimate that it’s 2 days to delivery (once again as a person who comes into contact with modern medicine on a regular basis, the taking of someone’s radial pulse is highly overrated here in the information it provides).
Attempts to then verify this decision by grabbing the relevant uterus instead of what every fibre of his natural instinct for survival was telling him to do which was leave, ends up with him being threatened with violence (as expected after that move, Mister), being snarled at by already in a foul mood Zhang Peng and then running straight into a support pillar as a result.
Next scene sees a troubled Zhang Peng (and not just for the obvious reasons) telling Lu Li that he needs to leave the palace and will need to take jewels and a bodyguard with him. I’m guessing the period equivalent of “Need drugs, guns and money.” then? Sounds like quite the spy mission (on the subject of spies, are you reading our unofficial partner comic Spying With Lana? Well, you should be, it’s not like the ad hasn’t been there for months now or anything).
There’s that link again in case you’ve (somehow) had trouble up to now finding it.
(Go on, read it. You know you want to. I truly am not being paid for this, I seriously just think it’s just that good.)
We find ourselves dropping in on Brother Number Nine doing some light reading. Zhang Peng had already begged the Ninth Brother on his knees about the very soon to debut Next Emperor and not harming him in any way as he’s an inevitable obstacle to the Ninth Brother’s ambition. Despite all of his assurances up to now, Zhang Peng still hasn’t been completely convinced up to now that no harm will come to the current next in line for the throne. I suppose it is the biggest prize in the whole kingdom, though so this is what you have to do if you’re anything but completely sure.
The Ninth Brother asks what more can he do but the promise he already made, what more can he do? I do appreciate the stakes but as an answer “I don’t know.” is not at all helpful to this impasse from Zhang Peng. The Ninth Brother then makes an impressive bold move. He unsheathes a sword and gives it to Zhang Peng before saying he can kill him right now and remove all doubt. It’s a very big gamble but this is what leadership is all about – sometimes the biggest risks of all need to be taken, all or nothing they say (the path to the top is never easy).
Nerves of steel this one, he doesn’t even blink and ultimately Zhang Peng drops the sword and finally can say in response to the question of whether he trusts the Ninth Brother now in the affirmative, given that on top of already having saved Zhang Peng’s life during the Northern Jiang assassination attempt, he’s now shown he’s willing to give up not just his lifelong dream of one day ascending the throne just because he was asked, he was willing to even give up his life.
If any more confirmation was needed, we glean that he’s hopelessly infatuated with who he thinks to be the woman he’s known from a very young age, Zhang Peng Peng when he asks if it’s known how he feels about her. On behalf of her since she’s been absent for some time now as well as the fact he’s not totally oblivious, Zhang Peng on her behalf says that he can’t promise anything. He says he doesn’t need any promises, just to remember what he did. Remember [at least] this and I will be content.
You just know already by genre convention that this isn’t going to end well, don’t you? Not spoiling anything, I thought this the first time I saw this scene before I even knew anything about what came next. The audience comments which appear on the screen periodically if you’re watching through Viki were especially on fire this episode (“Please don’t become evil. You’re my fave.”)
We cut again to the next scene and once again, no time is being wasted in this episode, the big moment has arrived (and something else is arriving). So does Qi Sheng. He demands (not unreasonably for once) to know why the doctors are not in the thick of things, in fact, they’re outside kneeling and doing nothing in particular. The doctors were found to be useless, so much so that they’ve been booted out of proceedings, leaving the midwives to run things.
I wish I could say that this was atypical but even going from the last week at work, I can say it’s not that unusual. It’s even less surprising with the lot they have on staff given what we’ve of the Royal Physicians so far, it seems like this was probably a good call.
It’s worth noting that this show for all its deliberate silliness, actually handles childbirth very realistically for a fictional depiction, more so than most and even a lot of so-called serious programs. The audience and Qi Sheng join proceedings at the four-hour mark. Legs both propped up and apart, there’s a lot of screaming (and I mean a lot). Obviously what’s shown on screen has to be compressed for time but the fact it’s made out to be a long tine (and that it’s going to be a long time more) is very realistic indeed. I can’t help but think that Zhang Peng was at some point thinking about what’s the worst thing that could happen from being invited to an office party all those (relative) days ago. Certainly not in his wildest dreams (or nightmares), this.
A decidedly bizarre scientific debate breaks out where Qi Sheng asks Dr Zhang if it’s true that giving birth is more than ten times worse than being cut by a sword. Dr Zhang says it’s more than twenty times worse. Not sure a) what this dubious quantification slash genitalia size comparing contest is supposed to achieve and b) Zhang Peng is definitely screaming very loudly and a lot.
Just for academic interest’s sake, I’ve heard for men, a comparable experience is kidney stones but I guess maybe only a woman who’s given birth and also had kidney stones may be able to give any kind of definitive answer on that one. It’s impossible to measure but I did hear a female Australian comedian say as a handy mental guide to imagine what giving birth was like, imagine stretching your lower lip right over the back of your head. I still wince thinking about that one (which believe me, is not too often at all).
It doesn’t stop there. Qi Sheng demands that something be done about the pain. Dr Zhang says that there’s really nothing that can be done and that women have had to go through this since ancient times (the comments chime in with a congratulations and welcoming our hero to official womanhood – not sure what he’d have to say about that but I can guess), Qi Sheng gets all offended as he is wont to do (How dare you!) and now demands to know how his Empress can be spoken of in the same terms as other pregnant women (so mere mortals then).
I’m reminded of the legend of King Canute, who is supposedly still famous even now for futilely trying to order the tide to stop coming in because he, the king ordered it. The waves of course ignored such instructions and he’s still well known by many for being incredibly foolish at best.
However, supposedly, it was actually about how King Canute was trying to demonstrate how there are limits to the powers of mankind and some things are well beyond reach of all of us. That part of the story often gets left out. So the lesson there is be careful about how you frame the message you want to get out. Especially these days, you really only one attempt to make an impression and if people get the wrong end of the stick, you could be stuck with that first impression. Nothing in life is foolproof but do your best to try and cover yourself.
Anyway, our hopeless rolling idiot ball really is going to keep on being hopeless, isn’t he? He orders the hapless royal physicians to find a solution reduce the pain (yes, let’s fly in the face of nature past the point that is actually achievable at the time). Royal Physician Zhang says he will do so but then cunningly appears to do nothing past that point. Sometimes waiting and hoping for a solution can pay off.
Today seems to be that day when the call goes that that the Empress is bleeding profusely. Now you’d expect the doctors to be at least doing about that if they’re not helping with the delivery but … well … you know. Like I said, they’re hopeless. Basically, bar an over-the-top (and very dangerous – don’t do this) tug of war scene between the midwives and possibly the next Emperor who’s not quite ready to join the workforce queue despite possibly getting to jump to the front of it (if it’s a male heir). Further yelling by Qi Sheng to do something isn’t really helping or achieving the desired effect. When you think about it, does it ever?
Like I said, this depiction has been more realistic about how difficult giving birth can sometimes be than most film and TV shows, including a lot of medical ones. The sun goes down and it’s still going on.
Those last few hours are compressed quite a lot to keep things moving (like I said, they’re not wasting time this episode). Zhang Peng looks like he’s gone 100 rounds or more in a boxing match as he lies in bed utterly exhausted after many hours of what was clearly very protracted labor. He even says to Qi Sheng that he screamed until he was exhausted and yet somehow found the energy to scream some more. Qi Sheng did mention it’s now very quiet now after the birth. It’s observations like that show why he’s Emperor, that’s for sure.
Zhang Peng asks if it was a boy or a girl, Qi Sheng says it was a boy, Zhang Peng had said he didn’t care either way. It comes across as if he’s genuinely happy either way but I wouldn’t blame him if it was also because either way, they’re out. Qi Sheng says the infant has Zhang Peng’s eyes. Which is funny because Zhang Peng doesn’t even have his eyes anymore. Zhang Peng gets one last crack in about how if he did have Qi Sheng’s eyes, he could send him to (South) Korea for plastic surgery. Qi Sheng says to stop talking nonsense and as an added note, not to teach their son anything – I have to agree that it’s probably best to leave it to the experts given who’s involved (and I’m talking both parents here).
Added side note, I did read that there’s also demand in Singapore for South Korean surgeon’s work so they do commute and do clinics at least there if that is a more accessible travel destination for you if you want.
At this point, we skip 100 days into the future. Like I said, really not wasting time this episode. As always, Lu Li wouldn’t be Lu Li if she didn’t say the wrong thing at the wrong time. This time, it’s to remark that the Empress is becoming more feminine compared to her immediate post-lake adventures. Zhang Peng is definitely not pleased to hear this and looks it as well. He retorts that he only just gave birth but in his heart, he’s still a true man. I’ll leave you to parse that one out, I’m getting a headache just thinking about that one.
However, it is true that for the rest of the episode, we do see Zhang Peng returning to being more clearly masculine than we’ve seen him act for some time. Maybe it’s in reaction to this statement. I do like how the show trusts us to pick up on these things without spelling it out for us. Yes, I do realise the irony of what I just did.
On the upside of this whole experience, Zhang Peng at least knew he was safe until now from Qi Sheng. Now, having lost his immunity power-up, its back to plotting against Qi Sheng again. Lu Li of course totally fails to realize this and adds to her collection of strike-outs by saying that she’s seeing the Empress is starting to get closer to the Emperor only to learn that the second pouch Zhang Peng has made is not for Qi Sheng but the Ninth Brother instead.
As Zhang Peng makes clear, it’s not enough to think about getting leverage, you have to go out and get it. I’m even more convinced now that Zhang Peng worked in IT back in our time. Sounds like IT and their neverending battles with HR to me (HR = Human Resources = The Devil). I’m still in favour of the Warren Mears just run in and shoot Buffy approach (but remember the double tap next time) as opposed to all this skulking about – especially since they’re up against king skulker himself. Who of course yet again looms into scene at almost the worst possible time.
Word of advice to our hero, stop discussing your plans in public or open spaces because sooner or later, you will get caught. A most clumsy episode of pass the parcel follows in order to hide the pouch but somehow they pull it off even if it was one of the least convincing displays of slight of hand I’ve seen for a while by Lu Li in swapping it out for a comb when Qi Sheng demands to see what she’s hiding. I guess fortune favors the brave, drunks and the terminally stupid. As in, they’re being repeatedly stupid and one day, it is going to be terminal at this rate.
Anyway, a lot of things happen at a fast clip from here on. Qi Sheng says he’s picked the name of their son, which annoys Zhang Peng no end, presumably because he did the heavy lifting and he wasn’t even consulted. OK, the situation’s just a bit weird (you think?)enough even without the plotting to overthrow QI Sheng but until there’s a change in the situation, there’s no harm in making a go of this co-parenting situation, especially since it would help allay and deflect some suspicion at the very least. That and all the trouble he went through to get to this point once he decided to commit.
Things go further downhill on both sides when Zhang Peng misreads the pictogram for their son’s name as Qing, when it’s supposed to be Hao. I’m sure there’s a fascinating set of rules behind how Chinese characters work and how to interpret them but I found that whole area of study mostly too difficult (as part of learning Kanji from Japanese). Zhang Peng counters the attack on his supposed lack of reading ability by asking who would know what that said. He loses that one when Qi Sheng says demonstrated he’s the only one in the palace (we’ve seen past mentions of his relative lack of ability) who can’t and implies he can’t read properly on top of that as well.
That is in fact, a developing problem with the smart phone generation, they’re increasingly having problems with the intricate Chinese character system as increasing dependency on the phones to create them as opposed to writing them by hand anywhere near as often. Not on the same scale but we’re losing cursive aka running writing from English as well. Oh well, at least the upside will be that it’ll be like written code for those of us who learned it. Take that, young people!
However, all that notwithstanding, it’s good to see the old Zhang Peng returning as he castigates Qi Sheng (well, as much as he can get away with being QI Sheng’s the Emperor with the power of life and death and Zhang Peng’s just lost immunity) for giving their son a starting line deficit with the choice of name. That really can be a thing in our day and age but things were a bit different back then (I’m guessing there’s some kind of disadvantage based on the argument that happened). Also, even if it wasn’t, being first in line to rule the nation as Emperor might just compensate a bit.
Cut to one of those awkward family dinners. Brief mention of Wives Two to Five. Qi Sheng’s only looking at Wife Number One and the others really don’t do much in this scene but we do get this utterly off the wall non-sequitur which totally rates a mention about the lack of attention they’re getting (“Let’s just keep being pretty girls who keep on eating watermelon seeds”)
The former Empress (and grandmother of Qi Sheng) is giving Prince Zhao (the Second Brother) serious stink-eye and telling him to “stop being a kite without a string, doing nonsense all day” (no, your reviewer is not looking at all guilty about anything) followed by “when are you going to tie back the string?” Good advice.
Prince Zhao says his broken heart is not healed and he’s not ready. The former Empress (his grandmother) is all “Why are you like this just for a sly fox?” Then silence when everyone realises who the sly fox (Zhao’s Wife) was being sly with (ol’ rolling stony face gathers no moss – the current Emperor, grandson of the former Empress and brother to Prince Zhao himself – unfortunately that’s all the clues I can give you here.) I know it’s a combination of budget and not being necessary for the story that has no other number brothers present but I like to think it’s because they’re smart enough to make themselves scarce to avoid scenes like this.
I swear, even Qi Sheng himself is grinning just slightly at this. No such subtlety from Zhang Peng who is practically wetting himself in hysterics. A quick change in focus if not topic when the former Empress asks her other grandson the Ninth Brother asking if there’s anyone he likes. The Ninth Brother looks just a bit too long and a bit too pointedly at Zhang Peng. Long enough for his grandmother to pick up on his face turning red despite his denials. She says that to just tell her which family it is and she’ll fix it. She’s obviously very skilled at this but this is going to be beyond even her powers for several obvious conflicting reasons.
A lot happens rather quickly after this. She looks at Yang Yan who is seated next to the Ninth Brother. She gets Zhang Peng to come close to her to ask his advice (it’s obvious that Zhang Peng was the modern day office gossip monger given how quickly he took to all this kind of behaviour after he arrived in the royal court) about why this “terrible” Yang is hanging around her grandson given he’s married and all.
Zhang Peng, who’s been manfully struggling with containing the comedy gold he’s been handed all night is barely hanging on here right now. He asks the former Empress (and technically his mother-in-law) that she can’t think they’re gay now? Of course, that term hasn’t been coined yet so when asked for clarification, the expression Zhang Peng uses is “broken sleeve relationship”, which she does get. This just raises more questions than answers! (Chinese is a fascinating language, one day I have to get someone to explain how at least some of these idioms work.)
It doesn’t help proceedings that Yang Yan wipes food off the Ninth Brother’s face with his actual sleeve. The not yet invented penny then drops. (sidebar yet again, here’s why the US still has pennies long after more and more nations are ditching their equivalents, I did promise we’d teach you stuff while you’re watching this show: http://fortune.com/2012/04/11/dont-mess-with-the-penny-lobby/)
Zhang Peng assures the former Empress that they are extremely good straight friends (but not in a way that suggests there’s anything wrong with that, that’s kind of one of the whole points of Exiern, after all – it’s just in the interests of being accurate) and that Zhang Peng knows this because he ran into them both at the brothel.
This is one of those times that the Empress is relieved that there’s no-one doing more marriage wrecking. This relief only lasts a moment when she then realizes and asks her supposed daughter-in-law the obvious question, what was Zhang Peng doing at the brothel? Zhang Peng fakes a stomach ache and flees. He’s going to have to be careful, that ruse is fast reaching its expiry date.
Wives Two to Five close out proceedings by toasting the Emperor for some reason and the Ninth Brother at this point has clearly had enough and heads out for another ‘chance’ meeting with Zhang Peng at the latrine (OK, for once, he totally fixes this encounter). After commenting that this latrine seems to be their lucky ground, he produces something to give to Zhang Peng as a gift to the just born next in line for the throne.
He then says that even though it’s nominally for the next emperor, it represents his heart (onscreen comments at this point say “Dude, everything represents your heart” – too true – this tendency could prove to be a problem down the line if it hasn’t already.) Zhang Peng gives him the pouch he made as a sign that they’re still allies and the plan to take down Qi Sheng is still on.
Then Zhang Peng says as further reassurance “Let me tell you. I’m not someone who is easily distracted.” Now this is worth the biggest O RLY? we can find. Let’s just stop to remember what led us to this whole situation in the first place now, shall we? A certain pool party and what happened there, not to mention all the events that led up to that. Now we can accept people can change, in fact, quite a lot and in a lot of very visible ways (we’re all here, aren’t we?) but I think this is pushing our luck as to what we’ll buy here just a bit, don’t you think? How did we get here of all places?
Zhang Peng goes on to say that it’s insult to injury and that he hasn’t forgotten who schemed against him and who helped him escape and that he’ll never forget about this. The Ninth Brother is reassured after a manly hand on his shoulder (open to misinterpretation probably unrealized this time by Zhang Peng) and a bro-punch (a lot less so – no wonder the Ninth Prince looks confused by all these goings on – another prize comment from the audience “Can he stop touching my Ninth Prince. He can’t take it?” There was also another winning comment worth a mention as to how Zhang Peng’s skill at embroidery is on a par with the Qi Sheng’s portraits. After all this, I just know this is all going to end badly.
The final stretch of this episode starts with Lu Li finding Zhang Peng and asking him why he left and that Qi Sheng is looking for him. She then says that it looks like history is repeating itself as a drunken Prince Zhao lurches into view and reminiscences that this is where the two of them both gave him a good beating, in fact, that it was just the spot where they are that they hit him.
Lu Li is all for hitting him some more but. Zhang Peng points out she’s a young girl and yet thinking of hitting people all the time. I don’t have a problem with this as it’s been very entertaining (continuing the beatings will improve morale provided you’re the one not being beaten). Zhang Peng spoils the potential fun by saying that nobody’s going to be beaten right now.
Prince Zhao knows the score when he sees this two and tries to stagger away. He seems a bit incredulous when he’s told that he will in fact not be getting beaten today. “Do you mean it?” I know how he feels, I’m quite surprised too. Zhang Peng continues to be a spoilsport by saying “Let’s talk instead of being violent today.”
To be fair, there’s a lot to talk about. It actually is a good talk, Prince Zhao genuinely hasn’t had any designs on his sister-in-law from the beginning of this show and they really do have a serious man to man talk (even if he doesn’t realize it). Zhang Peng says that it’s obvious that Prince Zhao is still thinking about his wife. Prince Zhao bemoans the fact that he’s given up on love. Zhang Peng counters with the fact that it’s only his wife and the corollary is that she’s hardly worth it. He’s not wrong.
He follows it up by asking if he’s given up, why is he drunk? Not quite following the logic here but OK, I’ll run with it. Prince Zhao says it and the bottles he’s staggering around with are just for show. I have to say that getting into a pretend drunk state by actually getting drunk is a new one to me as he’s quite clearly plastered in my expert medical opinion (no way I’m standing downwind of him if you know what I mean).
Prince Zhao then leans full tilt into this theme but saying what a pity it is that a handsome, chic, tall and mighty guy like himself has already given up on love. Now normally I’d be saying someone is a bit full of himself but Prince Zhao always has had some of this raffish charm that just meant you couldn’t help but like the guy, so I’ll allow it.
Zhang Peng says that Prince Zhao is perhaps being just a bit too narcissistic. We now have to send out for a new irony meter as this episode has just exploded ours. Still, Zhang Peng may not quite look like the man he used to be at present but he still has the benefit of all his years of experience with women and there’s definitely some advice he knows on pitfalls to avoid if nothing else (I mean look where he ended up, I say once again).
While all of this bro talk has been going on, Zhang Peng has been the most manlike for ages. He’s even been giving Prince Zhao the most manly of arms across the shoulders as they both commiserate and we close this episode’s proceedings with equally manly swigging of alcohol from open bottles from public (I knew he was putting on the putting on!). There’s an emphasis on keeping things manly (no girl hugging for starts and I’m calling you big brother OK?). Lu Li’s contribution to proceedings is to have passed out which is quite funny as she’s the only one who hasn’t been drinking.
So this episode was a very big one. Lots to cover which is just one of the reasons that it took me so long. The audience is trusted to remember past events without needing to be reminded of them at the time of the scene and the actors are definitely bringing their best games to sell the significance of what has been going on up to now.
It’s been a great job all round to get where we are now and this episode was exceptional in its execution. Well, you know, if you’ve been liking this sort of thing in general, you know? Which is why we’re both here and reading Exiern, I would like to think (certain T-Shirts with slogans and the years between references make me think Exiern also trusts its audience to do the same? That’s how I read it, anyway.)
We’re approaching the home straight with Go Princess Go and it looks like we’re going to be in for quite a ride.
See you next time (but sooner, I hope).