Last week marked the first time we’d received confirmation (via a rather offhand “Grandfather” from Meng Tian) that the While Elder, Meng Ao, was part of the same immediate family. So it’s only logical that the middle generation should show up this week in the form of Meng Wu, prominent from the first season, one of Lu Buwei’s inner circle yet resistant to his decision to cut a deal with Li Mu and the hated enemy, Zhao. Meng Wu is a complicated character – a retainer of Buwei, seemingly trusted by Wang Qi, undeniably fierce in battle but often possessed of questionable judgment.
In this case, he enters the picture nominally as a messenger from Changwenjun, to notify the White Elder (or “Dad”) that the enemy may, in fact, be Lian Po. This is something that the youngest Meng on-site has already deduced (and confided to Xin, who he seems to be developing a growing interest in). This is the generation of Mengs that seems to pack the intellectual weight – Meng Tian is clearly whip-smart, and history tells us that younger brother Meng Yi (who, together with Diao, has been unseen for months) was even smarter. I suspect Meng Wu was sent to fortify his father’s forces now that the true enemy has been revealed, though Changwenjun was sparing the old man the dishonor of openly sending his son to back him up.
The White Elder was very much in focus this episode, and he’s proved to be another interesting personality in a cast overflowing with them. I’ve been skeptical of his prowess as a general, as his style seems rather plodding and predictable – but his personality is somewhat less so. He’s quite adept at projecting calm even when he’s not feeling it, that’s for certain – and he’s certainly not feeling it with the news of Lian Po revealed, as they fought many times in their youth with Lian Po always reigning supreme. He also likes to dress in a foot soldier’s ragged uniform and walk the camp at night to collect his thoughts, which is something we’ve heard somewhat legendarily ascribed to a few famous military leaders throughout history.
It’s this peculiarity that leads to yet another of those fated meetings, this one between the White Elder and Xin. Xin, naturally, has no idea who the old geezer whose face he’s just stepped on is, but he proceeds to share the rabbit he’s just caught for his midnight snack. The two share an amusing and interesting conversation, where the old man reveals the nature if not the specifics of his problem – he’s faced with the prospect of once again facing down the foe he’s never beaten. Xin, straightforward and unidirectional as always, opines that it’s something to be happy about, because it’s one last chance to be right past wrongs and be the last man standing. In truth, the only way a rank commoner like Xin, no matter his skill, could ever rise to the highest ranks in the military of Ancient China was exactly like this – though an almost unbelievable series of lucky breaks. And a chance meeting with Meng Ao and a convenient paring of the ranks of 1000-man Generals by Lun Hu certainly qualifies.
When the inevitable time comes for field promotions to replace those fallen commanders it goes as you’d expect – the brilliant grandson and the high-achieving Wang scion get the nods. But the White Elder decides, “on a whim” in his own words, to add a third promotion, and there’s no doubt that late-night snack was the key. As a nod to Xin’s servant past he attaches conditions – he must bring the head of full general or three 1000-man generals or face demotion to captain of a 5-man unit. Meng Ao proves to be an interesting old fellow indeed – in his son’s words, a man who trails behind the great generals in military skill but whose eye for people is unparalleled. This is not so surprising, really – it was a quality I noted in Meng Tian when he took Xin under his wing, and I think the same could be said of Meng Yi’s assessment of Diao’s potential (as well as her gender). As for Xin, there’s no chance of his refusing the assignment despite the risks – it’s at moments like this where his simple honesty and fighting spirit really shines through, and seeing the ragged and unashamed celebration among his men reminds us of why the Feixin Force is so much more likeable than their more conventional comrades.
There’s one other interesting element to the episode, and that’s the recollection by Lian Po of a visit from Wang Qi. It’s great to have Wang Qi back in any form, of course, but this is another example of the brotherhood of great generals that transcend national loyalties, which they cast aside with alarming regularity (Meng Ao himself defected from Qi to Qin when Meng Wu was a youth). The fascinating part of their commiseration over the boring state of the world is Wang’s suggestion to Lian Po that if he ever chooses to fight again, he should do battle with Meng Ao’s army to relieve his boredom – a puzzling invitation indeed, given that Wang and Meng served the same country. I take it as an acknowledgement from Wang Qi than Meng Ao was more formidable than his reputation suggested, and perhaps a favor to the White Elder – from a man who was thinking very much along the same lines as Xin about what such a meeting could mean for Meng Ao.