I'm not doing a story so far for this one. All you need to know is that we are in a flashback, and the action is happening mostly in the Cloud Recesses, home of Lan Clan, where all the young cultivators are in attendance for lectures.
Right, Episode Four. So, nothing major happens this episode. It's all just introducing and establishing characters, really. Much of it is adorable. Some is... well.. dramatic.
DEAR GOD SOMEONE IS RECITING THE 3000 LAN CLAN PRINCIPLES. Imagine having to sit through that. I'd be yawning and fidgeting, too, much like WWX is.
Also, DEAR GOD SOMEONE SNUCK A WHOLE-ASS BIRD IN A CAGE INTO THE CEREMONY BY HIDING IT UP HIS SLEEVE! Naturally, he and WWX are going to be friends. Always make friends with the dude who hides random forest creatures up his sleeve. We find out that the young bird-man is named Nie Huaisang. He's a cute, rather mindless young man, who seems kind, if not intelligent. On second viewing, it makes me chuckle deviously.
Can I also just say that LWJ paying attention in class and getting annoyed at the the whispering, giggling and other shenanigans that WWX and Co. are responsible for was my whole high school mood. There's a reason I relate to him so hard.
Here we're introduced to Meng Yao, a guest of Clan Nie (the bird-boy's clan), who presents the gift to Lan Qiren. We learn from gossiping Lan clansfolk that Meng Yao is, in fact, the love child of the leader of the Jin Clan - an illegitimate son who has not been acknowledged by his father. Meng Yao, incidentally, has THE CUTEST DIMPLES OMG!
Oh look, the Fire Nation... I mean, the Wens... have arrived. They're denied entry without an invitation. At which Wen Chao decides to fire bend one of the guards' throat. Like, really, other guard, WTF are you doing? Cut the fucker down! At the very least, attempt to arrest him. Okay... so he has a lot of guardsmen, but heavens do something!
And we're back at the ceremony and it's Jiang Cheng's turn to present a gift. But NO. The Wens arrive and ruin it all. WWX is the only one in the room who dares to speak up, though LWJ looks like he's about to draw his sword (after checking in with LXC, who shakes his head, he does not). Unafraid of the bullies, WWX insults Wen Chao, and ho boy, everyone draws their swords.
It's a cultivator stand off.
But no! LXC whips out a magical flute and with the magic song he plays, snatches everyones swords up into the air and plants them all tip down at their owner's feet. That's a nifty trick.
Wen Qing steps in and apologizes to the Lans, and her brother, Wen Ning offers the Wen Clan's gift to Lan Qiren. After a ponderous pause, Lan Qiren accepts it and welcomes Wen Qing to the lectures. I guess Wen Chao decides he doesn't much like the Cloud Recesses and takes off with his mass of guards, leaving Wen Qing and her brother to their devious spying.
As it turns out LXC isn't just another pretty face. He's got brains. He's concerned about the motives for the Wen Clan sending a disciple to the lectures, when they've never done so before. And, well, the cracked skin on the puppet sure looked like it was something the Wen Clan would be responsible for. Lan Qiren says that as long as they are guests, they will be treated with dignity and respect... and caution. Prudent. He also admits that Wen Ruohan is probably behind the disappearing cultivators and the puppet.
Incidentally, what happened to that puppet? It is just wandering around Cloud Recesses now?
During the afternoon break after the ceremony, WWX and his new friend Nie Huaisang head to a stream near the back of the Cloud Recesses to try and catch fish. It's a cute bonding scene. But, while there, WWX hears Wen Qing testing the wards that are present at the back of the Cloud Recesses. He goes to investigate, finding her walking, and they have a brief, if terse, exchange. WWX's usual charms do not appear to work on her, just as they do not work on LWJ.
Meanwhile, back at the compound proper, Jiang Cheng practices his swordplay as a way to manage his vexation with his adopted brother, while their sister prepares lotus root soup. Jiang Cheng revealing he is both concerned for and jealous of WWX is such a sibling mood, I don't even know where to begin. It just... rings true for me, you know?
WWX shows up with a couple of cooked, freshly caught fish and, after a bit of bickering, the family sits down to a lovely dinner. Cute.
What follows is more or less a montage of everyone in the lectures. Wen Qing is notably absent in class. But Nice Huaisang is falling asleep at his desk, as is WWX. At one point, WWX goes out of his way to antagonize Jin Zixuan (the peacock). That made me laugh. Jiang Cheng is trying to keep his brother in line. Bored, WWX starts acting up. He even sticks a drawing of a turtle on Lan Qiren's back as the teacher passes, prompting many giggles from the other students. LWJ takes care of that, real quick, so WWX sets about annoying him with a paper doll he animates.
Unable to ignore WWX's irritations any longer, Lan Qiren loses his temper a bit and gets WWX to stand. Then he grills him on things they've been learning, which WWX can recite perfectly. You know that smartarse in class that knows all the answers, goofs off and then annoys the teacher by knowing all the answers. That's WWX right now. Until, that is, Lan Qiren manages to stump him. LWJ knows the answer, though, and recites it perfectly when asked.
I still relate to LWJ here, guys.
Anyway, WWX starts asking uncomfortable questions that explore tampering with forbidden things, and Lan Qiren loses his temper for real and starts throwing things at WWX. Eventually, WWX is banished from the lecture, and told to go to the library where LWJ will oversee his punishment.
Of course WWX doesn't go to the bloody library. Instead, he talks a walk and stumbles across Wen Ning, who is practicing his archery while his sister tries to get past the wards she was testing the other day. Impressed by Wen Ning's skill, WWX approaches and agrees to help him with his form, if Wen Ning promises to help him fill in the archery skills he has that WWX is missing.
But a suspicion is growing in WWX's mind about why she's always back there, so he goes to investigate for himself.
He's interrupted. LWJ has arrived. Startled, WWX fights him until he realizes who it is. Smiling, he sheaths his sword and greets LWJ as if nothing's wrong.
And, weirdly, that's where the episode ends.
What I Liked
Once again, it's all the small things I liked very much. The character moments. WWX acting up, that cheeky wave to LWJ... it all shows character traits that will become very important later on - particularly how WWX was the only one of the young cultivators to stand up to Wen Chao's bullying (except for lWJ, who started to but ended up restraining himself). That's an important foreshadowing, even if it isn't immediately obvious. His cheek, by contrast, is just dressing. What's important is that core of righteousness and courage.
I also like how it shows Wen Ning and Wen Qing. The siblings obviously care for each other, and Wen Qing is very protective of her younger brother. I also like that she's immune to WWX's charms.
Also, as I said, I loved LXC's softness and warmth. It contrasts so beautifully with other characters, and in part presents a fuller version of masculinity that we don't often get to see. Often masculinity is presented as brave, yes, but boorish and hard. Not so here. At least, not for all of them. This breadth of personality gives depth where a number of other stories lack. It's nice to see.
What Could Have Been Better
I'm legitimately struggling to come up with any story elements that could be better. The only thing stuck in my brain is the weird sudden ending of the episode. I think it was because it was cut for a precise time, but narratively, ending the story with WWX realizing there might be more to Wen Qing's wandering than her talking a walk. Then the next episode could have started with the sword fight between LWJ and WWX. That makes more sense to me. But hell, the episode was just grand even with the weird, sudden ending.
Anyway, all the fun and games of this episode are bittersweet on second viewing. But more on that later. First, episode five!