If there is one romantic trope I am an absolute sucker for, it is what I call the ‘Phir Le Aaya Dil’ moment. Old lovers, meeting again and finding reconciliation, closure, or the will to finally move on in each other’s presence. The pilot episode of the GagaOOLala original ‘Fragrance of the First Flower’ sets the stage for that kind of story. Unlike MLM dramas which are now incredibly popular, there are very few WLW shows online. Fragrance of the First Flower is therefore a much needed breath of fresh air. You know that feeling when it’s raining and your Spotify suddenly starts playing a song that you associate with a certain point of your life and all of sudden, you are transported into a hall of mirrors made of memories? That is what this pilot feels like.
This Taiwanese show is set after the legalisation of queer marriage in the country, and that gives the audience the chance to see the very real effect of legal reform on the lives of citizens. However, at no point does the first episode feel clinical or full of jargon. Instead, pathos is at the absolute forefront of the script as we meet our main characters, Ting-Ting and Yi-Ming, who bump into each other at a heterosexual wedding after a long time. The episode begins with Yi-Ming, played by the phenomenal Zaizai Lin, noticing that there is another wedding happening right next door to this one- and in that one has two brides! The fact that queer bliss is just next door- but she is stuck here- is a beautiful metaphor for the story that is about to unfold. She does not say anything, but her expression is enough to convey the myriad of emotions swirling within her. It is Ting-Ting, played by the vibrant and talented Lyan Chen, who ends up actually mentioning the queer wedding out loud. We also see one of the brides describe their love as a ‘burning lily’ (soft lilies are a symbol of lesbian love and the burning is supposed to indicate passion). This is perhaps the most beautiful metaphor that I have heard on screen, and you best believe that I am going to keep repeating it at every that I get.
But it is not just the writing that stands out, for the actors are breathtaking in their portrayals. Even in moments when they have no dialogues (of which there are many), they are still expressing themselves and continuing to make us connect with their characters. The way that the characters glance at each other immediately tells us that they are looking at someone whose eyes are transporting them to a different time. However, the fact that they are now in different spaces is an omnipresent reminder on screen before we get insight into what that time was. We do not find out much about Ting-Ting’s current personal life in this episode, but Yi-Ming’s domestic life is introduced in detail. I particularly loved the difference in the love with which looks at her son (an actual child) and the tiredness with which she looks at her husband (a man-child who seems to be unable to do anything on his own). But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The storytelling is absolutely captivating, and the way that visual metaphors have been woven into the screenplay makes for a heartwarming experience. When Ting-Ting and Yi-Ming end up sharing a cab on their way out from the wedding, we see them undertake two journeys at the same time. The first is to their current homes, and the second is a trip down memory lane. The aptlyl-cast stars are just as believable in their high-school avatars as we see their paths cross for the first time as teenagers. There is a warmth and magic in this part of their lives, and a light upbeat background score pulses us into that feeling. This score is contrasted with the dead silence that follows Yi-Ming as she enters her home after getting out of the shared cab with Ting Ting in the present day, showing us how different her life feels now.
The chemistry between Chen and Lin is palpable. The way that the two embody the awkward mixture and melancholy of meeting someone that you have thought about often but haven’t met in the longest of time is subliminal. Longing in WLW stories is often a central sentiment, and in this one it seems to be almost a supporting character. It is often said that when you choose a life partner you are also choosing a life path- and in this narrative that is a very obvious thing, for when Yi-Ming enters her home and needs to start cleaning her husband’s mess, one is forced to question whether this would have been her life path had society been different when she was a teenager. Hope is, however, not lost, for our protagonists have just gotten a second chance and I am definitely looking forward to seeing where the story takes them.
The episode packed a lot within fifteen minutes, but sticking around till after the credits was incredibly rewarding for the creators have also made an official music video that plays at this point. The soothing melody and beautiful lyrics are accompanied by snippets of scenes from the show, and are a fitting tribute to the nostalgic and transportive nature of Yi-Ming and Ting-Ting’s love for each other. This is definitely a show that understands how women love women, and how they sometimes never stop.