Well, due to the circumstances of my new job and location, it actually works out much better for me to move the day of new reviews of this show for anyone still out there reading them to Saturday morning American East Coast time.

On the upside, those of you still reading get to at least hear that this might lead to some more exciting Exiern stuff in the future, so there’s that. Suffice to say, there’s more to this than … well, just this. So rest assured, we’re going somewhere with all this. There’ll be more to be revealed sooner rather than later (suffice to say that if everything goes to plan, we’re all very excited about 2017 and what it means for Exiern …)

Now on to the pre-show show.

Anyone remember the TV show Burn Notice? Maybe not the most mainstream of shows as evidenced by the fact that Saturday Night Live could do a sketch called “What is Burn Notice?” in the form of a game show where no-one got a single question about it right except once by accident, an event so unexpected, the show didn’t know what to do next.



Thanks to the power of ubiquitous search engines, one of them has this to say about the situation.

“A burn notice is an official statement issued by an intelligence agency to other agencies. It states that an asset or intelligence source is unreliable for one or more reasons, often fabrication.”

There’s plenty of this going on in this episode in the form of denials of service, disavowals, general personal abuse and the all time favorite, the classic sick burn.




We start off finding Zhang Peng as always, looking for a shortcut. Important life lesson, sometimes looking for the shortest and quickest way to do something can add so much more time to your journey than if you had not. It might go some way to explaining why he’s in this mess. More specifically, in asking if Lu Li if she can make this pouch for Qi Sheng instead. Not totally unreasonable to be fair as there’s a chance she might actually be able to sew.

Lu Li declines on the grounds that she takes these things every seriously and considers them a keepsake between a man and a woman. Hence, she considers such a request as defeating the purpose of the exercise and also, she wants the first one she makes to be for her future other half (well OK, I’m sure she knows the theory and how to make other stuff at least, as opposed to our hero who I’m sure can’t do either).

Zhang Peng grouses that you can depend on no-one but yourself. Cue the kind-of Rocky sewing montage! Starts off with Zhang Peng looking well pleased with himself but as it goes on, it starts to wind down like a giant clockwork motor, especially as it gets increasingly difficult and more painful. By the end, Zhang Peng has no end of bandaged fingers and is definitely about to pass out from exhaustion. Still not ruthless enough to order Lu Li to make it anyway (and that’s actually a good thing) but also not thinking ahead enough to at least ask her to teach him what to do, which could have saved him a lot of trouble.

On the subject of trouble, here comes more as we see Qi Sheng approaching. At least we’re seeing him from the camera following point of view as opposed to his highly disturbing propensity to just turn up out of nowhere when he’s least wanted (OK, he’s never wanted but sometimes even more so). You can actually see at least some slight concern in his usually stone-faced visage for a moment there when he sees all the bandaged fingers and Zhang Peng about to pitch head first into the land of Nod.

Then you get to see him go all bug-eyed when he actually sees the final product. It’s hilariously … well, not great is what we’d be going for here. “The pouch you made is really peculiar.” is what he eventually manages to say to which in response, Zhang Peng manages to say “Then your taste is really unique.” Not quite sure exactly what he was going for here but it is the first in a series of burns that would end up landing Qi Sheng in the burn unit by the end of this episode.

As a side note, supposedly Sylvester Stallone suggested to Dolph Lundgren during the making of Rocky IV that they engage in really trying to box each other for a while at least for “realistic” footage. Apparently within 20 seconds, Dolph had hit him so hard in the chest that he ended up in ICU for up to 8 days or more with swelling around the heart. So what I’m trying to say is that if you think making a pouch is so easy Mr Emperor Guy, then how about you give it a go then. I’m sure once upon a time Zhang Peng had a similar way of thinking before he ended up where he is today. Also, that if you thought that Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago totally should have curb stomped Rocky in that movie just from looking at the two of them, well … real-world history proves you right. Still, what do you expect from a man so talented, he could on top of everything else, do this:



Anyway, Qi Sheng orders Zhang Peng to get dressed and wants to take Zhang Peng to a place. That place happens to be overlooking Chengdu city. It also looks suspiciously like where the Ninth Brother took Zhang Peng to look at the sea of lit lanterns a long time ago in one of the very first episodes. The Drama Kiwi review up top speculated as to whether it was a budget issue but I like to think it was the Ninth Brother playing the really long game even back then. So, if you want to get an approximate idea of where this is all taking place, I’m guessing it’s around here:



Anyway, if this is the same place the Ninth Brother had already taken Zhang Peng, it might also add to the reasons why he’s so unimpressed. Well, that and the levels of exhaustion he’s suffering because he didn’t think enough out of the box. In one of the most terrifying scenes of the show so far, QI Sheng tries to show concern at Zhang Peng looking cold and hence gives who he think is his wife a hug. It looks about as awkward as you can get and Zhang Peng looks about as terrified as he’s ever been up to now. He’s asked if this feels good and no, no it is not even if you were to subtract that the whole pose looked like a predatory animal about to attack.

We could go into a blow by blow description of the conversation here but suffice to say it boils down to Qi Sheng trying to explain why he originally was involved with his brother Prince Zhao’s wife: a combination of his brother’s hostility towards her (word of advice – it doesn’t help your brother’s state of mind if you’re having an affair with his wife) and his wife’s hostility towards his attention being paid towards his sister-in-law (once again – it doesn’t help your wife’s state of mind if you’re cheating on her).

Anyway, his self justification tour continues with saying that he probably was only feeling pity for her situation and in effect, his brother and his wife drove him to it and that he’s saying all this just in case Zhang Peng couldn’t remember all this (well, obviously not). However, now that things are different (amazing what can be possibly passed off by a near drowning and possible concussion) …

Zhang Peng is thoroughly unimpressed by this line of self-serving claptrap, having been there and done that from the other side of the fence. He also makes it clear that because Qi Sheng either sees his previously neglected wife as now something of interest willingly or because he’s forced to now by circumstance isn’t something to be proud of in the slightest. It also comes out from Qi Sheng something everyone involved knew already, that he tried to have his wife killed which was only interrupted because Prince Zhao tried to have everyone killed. Not actually taking any responsibility for pushing his brother to do that either, is he?

Qi Sheng tries to follow that up with what I found to be a bit of a non sequitur is that he wants to make a bet with his wife that he can protect her in this lifetime in which case she’ll stay only by his side but you’d have to think he hasn’t really thought this through at all, given that in the role of his wife, Man from the Future Zhange Peng most feels he wants to be protected from him more than anyone else.

In a successive series of surprises for Mr. Rocky Mountain Range, after asking his wife if she hates him, Zhang Peng who is currently occupying that role and in lieu of alternatives is in no hurry to leave just yet, says he does not. Surprised, Qi Sheng asks why and he reveals he learned that Zhang Peng knew about his assassination attempt and hence is even more surprised to learn he’s no longer hated even because of that.

Anyway, in the sickest burn yet (even more sick because it’s clear Zhang Peng doesn’t care what the consequences are for saying this), he explains to a surprised Qi Sheng that he doesn’t even hate him anymore for the assassination attempt. It’s because if you had hope for someone, you can still hate them but now I don’t hate you anymore. As burns go, that’s pretty sick.

Jump cut to the next scene where Zhang Peng awakes in a blizzard of mounting Dutch angles to find that the pregnancy has disappeared. A run through an ominous spectral forest and a much more worrying for its implications oscillation between his male internal and female external voice forced on him by biology later, Zhang Peng wakes up. Yes, that was a dream. No, he’s still stuck in the body of the now Empress Zhang Peng in the relative past from where he came and I guess this still could be a dream something something Inception (seriously, was that movie six years ago already?). Well he’s one level up from where he was if nothing else.

If nothing else, Zhang Peng realizes the uterus on involuntary loan to him whether he wants it or not is carrying the potential future Emperor and that if so, none of all these machinations are anything he’s responsible for, not being born yet .Well, technically, neither has Zhang Peng (time travel can be so tricky!) but you know what I mean (well, by now I hope so). Lu Li turns up and misses the point entirely as usual bit to be fair in this case, she’s missing a lot of background information in this case. Lu Li also says she thinks the delivery will be an uncomplicated one but I think I’d like to see her OB/GYN qualification first before accepting her opinion on the matter. Not that we generally accept her opinion on anything anyway.

Anyway, Zhang Peng realizes he’s been running away from his situation all this time but it’s now become increasingly apparent (and difficult) to do so. Looks like he and the Ninth Brother need to talk, given the Ninth Brother also wants to be Emperor and up to now, Zhang Peng had been helping him in the interests of self-preservation before things got even more complicated (and to think not that long ago, his main problems would probably have been the regular office meeting and possibly who’s turn it was to bring the snacks if that’s a thing they do in modern day Chinese offices).

OK, time to bring this episode home now. A few more things happen. Group meeting at the secret meeting place for the secret conspirators club. Remember that whorehouse from Episode Three? (Helpfully labeled “Whorehouse” apparently if you read Mandarin Chinese). According to our brains trust including Flying Man Yang Yan and the his best buddy the Ninth Brother, it’s the only place in Chengdu that Qi Sheng won’t look because he’s “not crazy about sex.”

I’m going to give everyone a minute to process that remark, given what’s happened up to now and been the root cause of all the biggest problems so far. I’m not having a good feeling about the planning of this would be revolt with conclusions like this. It also turns out that they claim that they’re only using the brothel as “cover” (I’m definitely putting that word in air quotes no matter what they say).

The new face at this gathering is Yang Yan’s father, General Yang. I’m not sure a man with a mustache who smiles so much should be trusted. He also thanks Zhang Peng for allowing Yang Yan to marry into the Zhang family despite thinking he frequented brothels for the usual expected reasons. Yes, I’m definitely giving this one some serious side-eye, that’s for sure.

There’s a lot of talk but it could basically be summed up that both the conspirators and Qi Sheng are both aware that the other side knows something (and that there is another side – that always helps) and are busy maneuvering against each other. Upshot is that there is action being taken against somewhere or something called West Cloud. They theorize that to dilute the Zhang family’s power, Qi Sheng will send troops loyal to the Zhang family away from the capital to deal with West Cloud. Furthermore, that he won’t send General Yang with the troops to West Cloud to prevent any collusion.

The ultimate conclusion to all this scheming seems to be a whole wait and see approach. As in, as for now, let’s just wait and see what Qi Sheng does first. I can’t help but feel that a lot of plots generally could be solved using the Warren Meers approach. For a bit of background, Once upon a time, there was a TV show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which much to my horror, I realize as of next year that it debuted twenty years ago). Anyway, the point being that season after season of increasingly elaborate attempts to kill Buffy, in Season Six, Warren just runs into her back garden and shoots her a lot. Nearly pulled it off too (not really giving away that he didn’t as there was a Season Seven. If you haven’t seen it and its spin-off Angel, you should, they still hold up really well).

The meeting over, Zhang Peng doesn’t even go through a very convincing pretense of running into the Ninth Brother by chance near the bathroom in order to beg the Ninth Brother to give up his long-term dream of being the Emperor in order to guarantee the survival of heir of Qi Sheng. For the first time, the previously unflappable Ninth Brother literally looks stunned and even falls to his knees. There really is some good acting in this show, we really can see the gravity of the event and how much it has shaken him given that we’ve never seen him react like this to anything before, even when nearly being killed by assassins in the forest.

Amazingly, the Ninth Brother says yes in return for the loyalty of who he believes to be the Zhang Peng Peng he’s known since childhood, though like everyone else, everyone’s noticed the difference since that tumble into the lake. Also seems to be a lot of people wanting her to pledge her loyalty to them lately too. There’s certainly something to be said about the new you.

Finally, this episode wraps itself up with more of that horror movie vibe and a decidedly creepy final scene. Zhang Peng is lying on his side in bed when suddenly he opens his eyes. You can palpably feel the temperature drop just by looking at the scene. Then a hand (and attached arm) just creeps out of nowhere. Remember when I said we got to see Qi Sheng enter a room without it being from the point of view of a creeper? Well, back to the status quo and the creepiest scene in the whole show so far.

As Zhang Peng points out to us beyond the Fourth Wall in his increasingly less utilized inner voice, only Qi Sheng would dare sneak into bed with the Empress and also wonders how he learned to be a stealth ninja – a creepy stealth ninja at that. He says he’s still worried about his wife despite Zhang Peng having had all his stuff moved out (take a hint dude!). Zhang Peng had asked why is he here, in some most unfortunate subtitling he says he’s still alive and “I can come at any time.” (I’m off to find the brain bleach among other things).

In a last round of shots fired a decidedly uncomfortable Zhang Peng asks Qi Sheng if he’s ill and whether he needs the Court Physician to see him. That’s a double as apart from the obvious burn, we all also know what the court physicians have been like up to now. Finally after Zhang Peng in what seems to be a last attempt to just get rid of Qi Sheng says he’d follow through with making sure the next heir to the Empire is born ,Qi Sheng gives the assurance that he only wants the mother and child to do well and we get a top down view of him hugging even closer. The only real response to that (and especially given Zhang Peng’s face is …)


(There was definitely lots to scream about in this episode. Including how long it took to complete due to various circumstances. See you next Saturday.)