‘Right and Wrong, Buried in the Sand’ brings the first season of Tian Guan Ci Fu to a close, but thankfully, there will be a special episode in February and a second season at some point in the future.
‘Right and Wrong, Buried in the Sand’ ended where most book readers predicted it would, but it doesn’t make that ending any easier to handle for us. I have read this scene in the book literally a dozen times – I know what happens next!! – and yet I gasped when the episode concluded. I’m not surprised, but I am certainly emotional about the whole ordeal and eager for more. Haoliners and their cliffhanger endings will truly be the death of me.
But, as always, I want to start talking about this episode chronologically. A lot happened in ‘Right and Wrong, Buried in the Sand’ – tons of exposition, action, and big identity reveals! It brings almost all of our threads from this arc to a close, but rest assured, our journey is only just beginning. So let’s bring down how ‘Right and Wrong, Buried in the Sand’ tackled such a huge information dump and looking incredibly gorgeous while doing so. And damn, guys, this episode was gorgeous.
We are still in the Sinner’s Pit and it’s raining snakes (hallelujah). Fu Yao blasts a bunch of them with fire and and creates a pause long enough to hurl some suspicion at both Banyue and San Lang. He doesn’t trust either of them and seems to generally have a poor opinion of ghosts overall. While San Lang hasn’t revealed himself directly to Fu Yao, it’s pretty obvious at this point and Fu Yao has no problem voicing his suspicion openly. If anything is going wrong down in the Sinner’s Pit, it has to be either Banyue or San Lang and he’s not very open to hearing other suggestions.
Xie Lian doesn’t let Fu Yao’s suspicion and open disdain of ghosts deter him, though. He likes San Lang and will continue to stand by him despite his increasingly obvious ‘hidden’ identity. And besides, ‘his side doesn’t have snakes’ so it makes logical sense to continue literally standing by him in their current circumstances. This is honestly one of the funniest lines in the book and I’m so glad it didn’t get cut. It captures how his very logical thinking process can be hilariously straight forward at times.
The snake deluge isn’t done, however, and they’re soon being pummeled by venomous serpents from above yet again. This gives San Lang a chance to protect his Gege from the deluge with his umbrella, which he doesn’t even bother disguising at this point. His speed and absolute lack of fear while he protects Xie Lian during this sequence are incredibly well done. I could tell from the preview clip of ‘Right and Wrong, Buried in the Sand’ that it would be a scene I’d be putting on repeat to enjoy over and over again and it absolutely lived up to that expectation.
As they make their way through the raining snakes to find Banyue, who sounds like she might be in distress, it becomes apparent that there’s a sixth person in the pit just as Xie Lian suspected. Ever the chivalrous Ghost King (to Xie Lian, anyway), San Lang passes his Gege the umbrella to continue protecting him from the snakes while San Lang himself dashes off into the serpent monsoon to fight this mystery person. What unfolds next are two parallel bits of action that are incredibly different in energy, but equally important to me in their own ways.
First we have Xie Lian standing where San Lang left him, slowly putting the puzzle pieces of the sixth person’s identity together. Our Flower Crowned Martial God is standing in a chaotic snake deluge with a battle raging on just feet from him, but he calmly stands there and uses his logic to get them out of the mess. I love this aspect of his character so much. He doesn’t always react to situations in ways people expect, but it’s very much him.
Besides being kind and strong, our Xie Lian is pretty damn smart and can generally logic his way through a situation (or, when that fails, bullsh*t his way through it until he has a moment to put it together). But he’s not a Mary Sue. Our Xie Lian has plenty of flaws. His cooking, for example, is downright dangerous.
Second, we have the battle between San Lang – now in his Hua Cheng true form in the shadows – battling our mysterious assailant and giving us our first actual full Hua Cheng face reveal. While this is less important plot-wise as we have generally already sussed this bit of information out already, it’s incredibly important for us to finally see Hua Cheng’s face. And oh my God, fandom has gone full blown CSI on this scene and lightened it up so we could get some quality Hua Cheng face images.
u think u can hide from me hua chengzhu pic.twitter.com/Z90ONAgBPW
— TAMTAM🌺 (@dahliadenoire) January 2, 2021
😔💕 we tried this one with my friend. It’s still pretty dark but with max phone/laptop luminosity there’s a good face with everything ✨ pic.twitter.com/tus2vfZ6xU
— Lychee – midterms – (@_lycheeluv) January 2, 2021
— ilsa (@fengxjn) January 2, 2021
The key artist of that scene has seen our obsessive CSI detective work, and seems to enjoy our efforts. She apparently didn’t know she was going to be doing the actual face-reveal itself, but says a lot of effort went into Hua Cheng in these moments so our obsession with these bits is generally appreciated by the artists. I’m very much loving her engagement with fandom about our reactions, and appreciate this glimpse at how the animation process works.
I always give a shout-out to Haoliners in general for bringing this story to life, but now I find myself able to thank one of the artists herself. Thank you Kamile Arcopagita. You seem to have animated most of my favorite moments and I’m forever grateful. I hope that they bring you back for a season two (if you enjoyed the experience and want to return, that is).
So now let us just take a moment to enjoy our Xue Yu Tan Hua, Hua Cheng. Look at him. LOOK AT HIM!
My God, I love his character design so so much. I eat up every crumb we get, and finally we have the full picture, even if it’s hidden in shadow that needs to be lightened on our end. The details are there and we now know how the donghua Hua Cheng looks. We also get more action from his scimitar E-Ming, which I’m also grateful for. While the action is also mostly hidden in shadow, we get brief flashes of the scimitar whenever it clashes with the mysterious assailant’s sword.
The mysterious person that San Lang is fighting turns out General Pei Jr, whom we were first introduced to back in the Ghost Bride arc. If you recall, he’s the one that came and took Xuan Ji away back in episode three. He’s a descendant of the other General Pei of the Heavenly Realm, but separated by a few hundred years. He apparently committed a massacre before he ascended and, well, now you get to learn exactly what that massacre entailed.
He’s been disguising himself as A-Zhao and leading people to Banyue purposefully, which kind of highlights just how apathetic Gods can be towards human life. His motivation was a misguided attempt to help Banyue, who has basically been ‘trapped’ with the soldiers who killed her for two hundred years. Granted, she’s shown herself perfectly capable of beating the soldiers head on and escaping if she really wanted to do so, but she chose to stay there in a perpetual state of torture anyway.
General Pei Jr. is also Banyue’s childhood friend, the young Yong An boy who Xie Lian briefly knew before he ‘died’ in battle protecting Banyue. Their relationship continued after Xie Lian’s fake death, and she ended up opening the gates to the kingdom because he asked her to do so. She truly trusted him when he suggested this, and it led to her death at the hand of the soldiers whom she betrayed for him.
There’s a certain level of guilt on General Pei Jr’s behalf there that’s interesting to consider. He’s quite a messy character, but many of Mo Xiang Tong Xiu’s creations are. This is one of the main reasons why I love her work so much. General Pei Jr. definitely did wrong here. He led humans to their deaths for hundreds of years. But there’s enough of a realistic motivation behind it that it doesn’t make him a comically evil villain. Characters who are too blatantly good or evil can fall flat, but Mo Xiang Tong Xiu adds complicating depth to them that makes them hard to pigeonhole into these predefined roles.
The entire conversation is overheard by our mystery ladies, who we have now learned is Lady Windmaster and her ‘friend,’ the latter of which isn’t named but is hinted at as being one of the other Elemental Gods (Earth, Rain, Thunder, Fire). So we have learned a bit more about these women, but only have one name and not a lot of details. Until the donghua name drops her, I’ll refrain from naming her, too.
But I will say, their ship name is ‘BeefLeaf.’ While I can’t explain to you how that moniker makes sense yet, I can say it’s a fantastic ship and one of the most popular side pairings outside the main pairing (if not the most popular). Welcome to the Good Ship Beefleaf, donghua-only folk. Enjoy your stay.
Lady Wind Master and her friend were sent to the Banyue Kingdom to investigate the situation as well. They hoped to stop Xie Lian from reaching the Kingdom, hoping to keep him out of messy internal affairs, but he was persistent and reached it anyway. Our Xie Lian is just too stubborn to be deterred by something as simple as a tornado, and now he’s in this mess for the long-haul.
Ultimately since a God was leading people to their deaths, they need to step in and put a stop to the situation. While they are taking General Pei Jr. and Ke Mo back to the Heavenly Realm, they judge Banyue to be innocent and leave her in Xie Lian’s custody. Banyue’s actions while she was alive did lead to deaths, but she ultimately didn’t harm anyone as a ghost. In fact, she saved people.
Now that the mystery has been resolved and the major players have been taken into custody, it’s time to wrap things up not just for ‘Right and Wrong, Buried in the Sand,’ but for the entirety of Tian Guan Ci Fu season one, as well. Xie Lian offers to reward Nan Feng for helping him with a nice home-cooked meal, but he can’t because there’s, uh, an emergency at his palace! A totally real emergency that isn’t at all just an excuse to avoid Xie Lian’s awful cooking. Yes, an absolutely real emergency.
This leaves us with just Xie Lian and San Lang together, which leads to another scene from the book that I’ve read dozens of times because I love it so much.
“What do you want to have, Hua Cheng?”
“I prefer that you call me San Lang.”
This scene happens ever so slightly different in the book. This exchange occurs when they’ve already returned to Puji Shrine (Chestnut Temple). Xie Lian collapses onto the straw mat, exhausted from the entire Banyue adventure, and San Lang sits down next to him. This is when Xie Lian offers Nan Feng a meal, which he declines and runs away from. Xie Lian then gets up from the mat and starts to prepare food.
“What do you want to eat, Hua Cheng,” he says with his back turned towards the Ghost King.
Hua Cheng chuckles behind him and responds, “I still prefer San Lang.”
This change doesn’t at all bother me. Somehow them being face to face really ratcheted up the intensity between them. It works incredibly well and, honestly, has driven the fandom absolutely feral. Why they chose to have this exchange in the middle of the desert instead of back at Puji Shrine, I’m not sure. But as the episode ends right there, I can’t really suss out a reason for this particular change. Honestly, the setting is less important than the words, though, and the other changes heightened the impact of those words, so I’m not complaining!
‘Right and Wrong, Buried in the Desert’ concludes the first season of Tian Guan Ci Fu. As a parting gift, Haoliners dropped the following art as a thank you for our viewership. The special episode is just six weeks away, and then much more TGCF goodness lies ahead of us from there! Thank you for joining me with these reviews this season, and I’ll see you all in February.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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