As Ling Xiao’s birthday approaches, he gets a special kind of birthday surprise: one that he probably doesn’t want, but has to accept nevertheless.
Tang Can meets briefly with Zhuang Bei to tell him that she’s closed her online store, but that she’ll still follow-through on the event that his mother commissioned her for. She won’t charge him for it, either. He can consider it a favor for a friend. She notes that he doesn’t seem to be too down-hearted and tells him that Ming Yue is inexperienced in love so she didn’t know how to handle his confession. But just because she rejected him doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him.
She hurries off. Zhuang Bei says a quiet “thank you” to her retreating back.
Zi Qiu pours Zhao Hua Guang’s new money into his coffee shop and business picks up. He brings Zhuang Bei a sandwich. Zhuang Bei’s mind still seems to be on Tang Can and he asks Zi Qiu why Tang Can decided to close her store. Zi Qiu tells him that she probably dropped her dreams of being an actress after her last audition. He calls Zhuang Bei selfish for insisting on having Tang Can be the one to accompany his mother at her next mahjong game — can’t he find someone else? Zhuang Bei gets defensive, saying he’s just trying to show some concern for a friend.
Chen Ting and Mei Yang arrive in Xiamen without Ling Xiao’s knowledge. Mei Yang starts to pull out her phone to call him when they get to their hotel, but Chen Ting tells her not to. If she calls Ling Xiao, then it won’t be a birthday surprise anymore.
Ling Xiao and Jian Jian joke around on their way back to their respective apartments, but freeze when they exit the elevator onto their floor. Chen Ting and Mei Yang are there. Jian Jian jumps apart from Ling Xiao and Ling Xiao’s smile quickly turns into a frown, but then he wraps his arm around her and pulls her closer to his side. Mei Yang glares, but Chen Ting forces a smile.
Chen Ting makes small talk after Ling Xiao lets them into his apartment. He asks why they came without letting him know. Chen Ting claims it was Mei Yang who wanted to give him the surprise. Mei Yang glares at her, but Chen Ting gives her a silent look, telling her to play along.
Ling Xiao notices that Mei Yang seems to be in a bad mood and asks her about it. She claims she’s not. Chen Ting starts talking about how much Mei Yang missed Ling Xiao. She tries to deny it and they start arguing.
Jian Jian drops by with a plate of fruit for Chen Ting and Mei Yang. Chen Ting invites her inside, insisting when Jian Jian at first politely declines. They make pleasant small talk, but then things get a little more awkward when Mei Yang claims to not remember Jian Jian and Chen Ting reminds them all of that time when Mei Yang fell down the stairs.
Jian Jian and Ling Xiao see his mother and sister off. After they’re gone, Jian Jian tells him to cheer up — they’re only here to celebrate his birthday. He claims that he’s not unhappy, but she points out that he’s looked very serious the whole time. She tells him to smile and pushes gently at his cheeks, teasing a real smile out of him.
Mei Yang pouts on the car ride back to the hotel. She doesn’t like that Ling Xiao looked clearly unhappy to see her, while he was clearly so happy with Jian Jian. Chen Ting doesn’t say anything, but keeps staring out the window, expressionless.
He Ping is suspicious of Chen Ting’s motives for coming back. Hai Chao is inclined to believe that Chen Ting simply wants to see her relatives and shares how Jian Jian said she was extremely courteous. He Ping remains unconvinced. Hai Chao gets exasperated with him and tells him to mend his own clothes, tossing a half-mended shirt at him.
Ling Xiao is unable to sleep at night. He hallucinates his mother’s voice again, plaintively asking if he’s really going to abandon him and his sister. But when his bedroom door opens, it’s Jian Jian who pokes her head in. She claims she couldn’t sleep either and asks if she can sleep with him tonight. He says no, but she crawls into his bed anyway, wraps her arms around him, and gently pats him, telling him to get a good night’s sleep.
At breakfast, Jian Jian suggests to Ling Xiao that he should try to find some time to take his mother and sister around the city. He says he’ll try to move his work schedule around. Tang Can studies for her job as a tour guide at the museum. There’s a ton of material that she needs to memorize in the next week, but her experience memorizing lines as an actress proves handy. Ling Xiao starts quizzing her on some historical figures, and she answers correctly, impressing her friends with some extra trivia about them. She jokes that if the gaokao tested only memorization skills, she would definitely be able to get into Peking University.
Zi Qiu excuses himself to head into the coffee shop. Jian Jian asks if business is doing well. Zi Qiu sighs and responds that it’s okay. Smoothies sell well in the morning, but they’re not very profitable. Ling Xiao tries to give him some encouragement, saying that moving sales is the first step and profitability can come later. Zi Qiu just nods and says bye. Ling Xiao frowns after him.
He Mei goes to visit her brother-in-law in the hospital and runs into her sister. She takes her out to eat and asks after her sister’s children, who have been forced to take care of the family farm and work to make money for the rest of the family. He Lan says that in the end, it seems like He Mei has a better fate than her. He Mei finds that ironic, because her sister used to say she had a bad fate.
He Lan says that only He Mei could laugh at something like this. He Mei responds that she cried all her tears out when she was alone. She has no more tears left to cry. He Lan is surprised that He Mei is even capable of crying — growing up, she had never seen her cry. He Mei tells her that she knew that He Lan was like their mother: they both looked down on her. She only ever cried when she was alone.
He Mei was the one who never listened and caused trouble and made their mother angry, while He Lan was the exact opposite. Perhaps she was even too obedient — He Mei remembers how He Lan had a boyfriend from the city, but their mother didn’t want her marrying someone from so far away and instead found her her current husband from the neighboring village. She cried for two days before agreeing to marry him. He Lan claims she doesn’t regret her choice, but her voice breaks and she looks down.
He Lan asks why He Mei didn’t seek them out earlier and asks if she knows about Zi Qiu. He Mei changes the subject back to her, but then He Lan asks if she’s found someone to settle down with yet. She thinks that He Mei should settle down soon, then brings up how He Mei should have just married Hai Chao all those years ago.
Before He Lan leaves, He Mei pulls a thick envelope of cash out of her purse and pushes it into her sister’s hands. He Lan doesn’t want to take it, but He Mei insists, then leaves so that He Lan can’t return it. He Lan starts crying and tells her to call.
He Mei has just left the restaurant when she gets a call from one of her employees, saying Dong Dong has disappeared.
Chen Ting and Mei Yang go to Ling Xiao’s workplace, arms full of bags that include gifts for all the staff. Xi Xi happens to be at the front desk when they arrive and upon learning that they’re Ling Xiao’s family, immediately volunteers to show them to a waiting area while Ling Xiao finishes up an appointment.
Ling Xiao finds Xi Xi chatting up his mother in a waiting room. She excuses herself to go to an appointment. Ling Xiao seems unhappy to see his mother and asks her to let him know ahead of time the next time she decides to show up. But he also tells them that he rearranged his work schedule so he can show them around, and goes over to Mei Yang and says that they’ll do whatever she wants.
He Mei is relieved to find out that Dong Dong has been found and is at the local police station. But they’ll only release him to his guardian and need proof of guardianship, something that it doesn’t seem like He Mei has. Luo Hong tries to help her brainstorm some solutions. He Mei realizes that He Ping might be able to help, and calls Hai Chao.
He Ping and Hai Chao help He Mei get Dong Dong back. He Mei tells them the truth about Dong Dong. His mother was one of He Mei’s employees at a beauty shop she managed in Shenzhen. His father was an alcoholic and physically abusive; one day he slashed her with a knife, and she retaliated by grabbing the knife and stabbing him to death. She got four years’ jail time and He Mei took custody of Dong Dong. He Mei has already decided to hire her when she’s released later this year.
Dong Dong suddenly speaks for the first time in a long time, saying, “Dog.” Hai Chao laughs, guessing that Dong Dong wants to play with Xue Dan, the stray dog that Zi Qiu took in. He picks up Dong Dong and says that they can go find Xue Dan.
Hai Chao invites He Mei into his home and tells her some good news: the neighborhood market that took in Xue Dan is willing to give him to He Mei as a companion for Dong Dong. Then he hesitates before asking her why she let them believe that she had remarried.
He Mei tells him that she once promised that if he raised Zi Qiu, he would be his son and she would never see him again. Hai Chao responds that he had never said she could never see him again — that was something she decided on her own. He Mei says that everyone has their own principles, and hers is to stay true to he word.
Hai Chao points out that He Mei once promised to come back for Zi Qiu. He Mei starts crying at the memory abandoning Zi Qiu.
He broods about He Mei in his restaurant all afternoon. His employees giggle, mistakenly believing that he’s thinking about Hong Ying.
Ling Xiao broods about his mother on his way home, remembering how upset she had been in Singapore when she found out that Ling Xiao wanted to go back to China for Jian Jian. When he returns home to his room, he finds Jian Jian hiding in a corner, sketching while waiting for him. She sneaked in while Zi Qiu was showering earlier. They chat briefly about her sketches — she’s planning a new sculpture featuring a set of several animals — and Ling Xiao gives her an idea for a name.
Jian Jian wants to stay the night, but Ling Xiao tells her to go home. He has to get up early in the morning to accompany his mother and sister, and she spins circles when she sleeps, which is disruptive.
The next morning — Ling Xiao’s birthday — he gets up bright and early and finds a shoe box on the dining room table. It’s the pair of shoes that Jian Jian had bought for him earlier, along with a birthday card from her. He puts them on with a smile. (Totally a Nike ad.)
Zi Qiu goes over to the girls’ apartment to make breakfast to find Tang Can and Ming Yue making noodles for Ling Xiao’s birthday. They’re dismayed to find out that Ling Xiao already left bright and early, but decide that they can just eat the noodles themselves. Ming Yue heads out early to pick her father up from the airport. They’re confronting her mother about the condo purchase today.
Learning the truth about He Mei only makes her so much more compelling and complicated of a character. There is some amount of irony and hypocrisy in her choices, but it’s difficult to fault her for them. It’s ironic that she took in a child after giving her own son to someone else to raise, but perhaps it’s also her way of trying to pay it forward and atone for having to abandon Zi Qiu. She might not be able to make things up to Zi Qiu, but Dong Dong could be her proxy for Zi Qiu — if she treats him well, then maybe Zi Qiu is doing well, too.
I find it really interesting to see Ling Xiao’s dynamic with his mother and sister. He seems to be much warmer toward Mei Yang than toward his mother, which makes a lot of sense. Mei Yang never did anything wrong — it’s not her fault that she was born as his sister — whereas Chen Ting has done more than enough to hurt him over the years. It’s nice to see that reflected in his treatment of her.
I don’t think anyone except for Jian Jian really believes that Chen Ting has completely changed and is completely accepting of her. Even Jian Jian is probably just trying to be optimistic. Maybe Chen Ting really is trying, or maybe this is just a form of denial for her. She’s going along with it because in the end, she thinks that Ling Xiao will come back to her and she just needs to play nice to make that happen. There are so many small moments where it’s clear that trying to be nice is not Chen Ting’s first instinct, but then she puts on that smile and tries, which I would find respectable if I didn’t also find it scary. It feels like there’s a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode.