It's time for episode five! Are you excited. I am. Because of course I am. Right, on with it.
Here is one of my favourite scenes, mostly because of the music. As with all good scores, there is a refrain that plays only when the lovers are together or thinking of each other. That music plays in this scene, as WWX writes out his lines and LWJ practices his calligraphy. I love this refrain, by the way. One day, when I can afford a lever harp, I will learn how to play it on that.
Naturally, WWX gets über bored and starts to harass LWJ. He calls him first by his courtesy name (Lan Wangji). When that doesn't work, WWX opts for his formal name (the birth name - reserved only for family and close friends - Lan Zhan). This gets LWJ's attention. WWX then tries to apologize for his missteps, while not really taking any responsibility at all. In response, LWJ casts another silencing spell on him. I wish that one were real.
We cut to Wen Qing and her younger brother, Wen Ning. It's a very sweet scene, highlighting the sibling love and showing Wen Qing and her brother to be unlike the rest of the Wen Clan. Wen Qing expresses her regret that, though she is a doctor, she cannot cure her own brother of his affliction (he is of a particularly weak constitution). She promises to take her brother away from the Neverless City - the volcanic city that is the seat of the Wens.
We're back in the library. WWX has his voice back and once again attempts to get LWJ to acknowledge him. This time he does so by delivering a portrait he drew. This is the very first time you see LWJ's features soften just a little. Don't worry. It doesn't last. WWX uses the drawing as a distraction to replace the book LWJ was reading with porn. HOY BOY does this upset LWJ, who first demands a duel (it's against the rules) and then forgets all decorum and tells WWX to piss off.
We cut back to another lovely brother moment between LWJ and LXC. LWJ tells his brother that the wards at in the back hills have been weakened. When LXC asks if LWJ knows who is responsible, LWJ replies Wei Ying. This is important because Wei Ying is WWX's formal name - the birth name supposed to be used by only close friends and family (Wei Wuxian is his courtesy name). It's a small signal of the way LWJ regards the young troublemaker. LXC smirks, and then talks of the person trying to break the barriers, using the pronoun 'she.' Because he knows what's going on, and knows it's Wen Qing. LWJ catches the pronoun, and questions it, but never gets an answer because the pair are interrupted by a Lan Clan disciple coming to tell LXC that the villagers have called for help; water ghosts have been killing many people of late, and an exercise is required.
Eager to prove himself, this disciple, who we learn is Su She (remember this name), tells LXC that he can perform the exorcism himself. Knowing that it's probably not what it seems, LXC tells Su She that it may be more complicated than a simple exorcism, and to tell the villagers that he will go first thing tomorrow. Turning to LWJ, LXC asks him to come with him on this particular mission. Of course, LWJ agrees. I love these two siblings so hard.
We return to WWX and Jiang Cheng who are in search of their sister. Surprise, Wen Qing is with Jiang Yanli. Apparently, the latter was feeling unwell, and as a doctor, Wen Qing helped. Oh, hello. Jiang Cheng has a bit of a crush on Wn Wing, I see. In this scene, we see Wen Qing react to Jiang Yanli and WWX's obvious sibling affection for one another, and how it reminds her of her affection for her brother.
They siblings do just that, with Wen Qing in tow. They beg to come. LWJ notes that it's against the rules. WWX gets annoyed and beseeches LXC. LWJ insists they don't need help. WWX gets annoyed and begs LXC. That SMIRK of LXC's. The Clan Leader agrees to let the boys come. When Wen Qing also asks to come, WWX points out that she is a doctor, and that would be useful in case any of the villagers get hurt during the exorcism. LXC also grants this request. Oh, here comes Wen Ning, excited to see water ghosts. As he grew up in a literal fucking volcano, he's never seen one, and would like to. Wen Qing promises LXC that they'll both stay out of the way, and LXC relents, letting the now four petitioners come along.
Later when LWJ asks why LXC permitted WWX and the others to come along (this is not time for jokes), LXC says that he looked at LWJ, and it seemed that LWJ wanted them to come. Didn't he? LWJ doesn't answer because I don't think he's ready to admit what LXC so very clearly sees.
En route to the lake with the water ghosts, WWX asks LXC if the sudden appearance of problematic water ghosts is related to the spirit snatching that is turning cultivators into puppets. LXC does not admit to it, but there is some hesitation when WWX mentions to LWJ that he thinks the Clan Leader is hiding something. In retaliation, LWJ takes the bottle of liquor (WHY IS THIS THIRTEEN YEAR OLD ALWAYS DRINKING?!) and pours it out. Liquor is not allowed on a night hunt (which is, as far as I can tell, what they call ghost hunting no matter what time of day it is).
Okay, so I'm jumping ahead to the action on the lake, now. The group is out in several pats, two to a boat, more or less. WWX, being the brainy sort, notices that LWJ's boat is lower in the water than it should be, even though there is only one person on. So he takes his oar and makes a wave at the boat, turning it over. LWJ, for his part, flies off his boat to land on WWX's boat, and both turn to see the water ghost... which actually looks like an animated clump of seaweed.
Being LWJ, instead of being outwardly grateful, he tells WWX to stay away from him. Adorbs. Anyway, they fight a couple of water ghosts that aren't really water ghosts, and LWJ's curiosity gets the better of him. He asks the name of WWX's sword. "Whatever" is the reply. Apparently in this world, swords are spiritual tools that kinda have minds of their own, so LWJ notes that he can't insult the sword by calling it whatever her wants. No, no. WWX named the sword Whatever. That's it's name. Not something cool like Soul Cleaver or some such. Nope. Whatever. Gods, I love WWX's chaotic goodness.
Right, back to the water ghosts. They've been rounding up the boats to the centre of the lake, where they begin to conglomerate into the aqua demon. Su She, who also came along to the exorcism, eager to prove himself, doesn't fly up into the air with the rest, and tries to throw his sword at the creature (swords are a little like boomerangs here, and can be cast from their scabbards and will return when called). Only this sword doesn't return. Seeing Su She in trouble, Wen Ning jumps to his boat to help, only to be so affected by the ghosts that he freezes.
WWX dives down to collect Wen Ning. Seeing his love in danger, LWJ dives down and ends up hauling not just WWX, but Wen Ning (who is held by WWX) and Su She. Everyone kinda just hovers in the air while LXC plays his magic flute and then seals the demon away.
We cut back to the Cloud Recesses, where Wen Ning is unconscious in bed. WWX is there at his side, only to be dismissed harshly by Wen Qing. WWX, being actually lovely, leaves a gift for Wen Ning - a protective talisman. Meanwhile, Jiang Cheng is convinced to buy a comb - a fine gift for his girl. We all know he's thinking of Wen Qing when he buys the comb. Then we have a lovely boat ride through the river that cuts through the town beneath the Cloud Recesses. WWX tries to share his loquats with LWJ and throws him one, but LWJ says he doesn't want one, throws it back to WWX. LXC, being LXC, tells his brother, "You want loquats. I can buy you a basket of them." And once again my heart melts.
HE'S SUCH A GOOD BROTHER.
The last scene promises mischief for the next episode, because WWX sneakily buys two bottles of the Emperor's Smile liquor.
And so ends the episode.
What I Liked
So, there's actually a lot with this episode that bears mentioning. The first is that LWJ says "boring" a lot when it comes to WWX's antics, but, according to the YouTube comments, while the translation of the word is technically correct, colloquially it means something closer to 'nonsense' or 'ridiculous.' So, thanks for that YouTube. I like that LWJ says that repeatedly. Kinda a bit too much in the, "Methinks he doth protest too much" kind of way.
I also really loved how far the director of the series went this episode to make it as explicit as possible that this was a gay story without getting himself and the crew all arrested (remember, no gay stuff allowed in Chinese TV). First, the porn book that WWX pranks LWJ with is very much gay porn. The drawn picture there was definitely two men doing... stuff.
I also really, really, really loved how queerness was simply a part of the world. It was not the central focus of anything, but it was there as part of the lived reality. WWX, for example, is surprised at LWJ's reaction to the porn, wondering why anyone would be ashamed of partaking. Nie Huaisang notes that he has plenty of other gay porns, and so isn't so upset that LWJ tore up the copy he leant to WWX to prank LWJ with. Oh, I forgot when I did the episode, but this is hinted at much earlier when Jian Yanli and Jiang Cheng are waiting outside the gates of the Cloud Recesses after WWX has gone back to find the invitations where Jiang Cheng tells his sister not to worry, WWX is probably entertaining some Mianmian or Yuandao (feminine and masculine). All of which points to the fact that queerness is not unusual here, nor is it reviled.
That, and LXC's obvious copping onto the fact that LWJ clearly has a thing for WWX, and it not bothering him a single bit. In fact, he fully supports it.
I adore how queerness is handled in the world of this series, and I wish more shows with queer folks in it would follow suit. Queerness might be a trait of a character, but it doesn't have to be a defining characteristic.
What Could Have Been Better
I feel like the encounter with the water demon could be a bit more involved. Not that I think it was done particularly poorly, but it all seemed a little too... safe? Is that what I'm trying to say? Yeah. I'd have liked to have seen more done with the aqua demon. I mean, the episode was great. And it didn't end nearly as oddly as the last one, so there's that. The intrigue is slow to build, but the character moments and interactions are so great that I don't mind at all.
Listen, I know I'm gushing, but this series is genuinely wonderful and I love it. So... you all are going to have to suffer through my gushing. Speaking of which, I'll be back next Monday with the next episode.