Among other things, paleaswater's comment has me anguishing. According to the plot summary Gou Jian was destroyed in body and spirit after he returned, and only wanted to live out the reminder of his life quietly. But Fan Li and Wen Zhong persuaded him to turn his mind to the conquest of Wu... I suspect that the persuasion on Wen Zhong's part took some years. Dammit I want to *see* Mr Smooth and Easy, the guy who was all gung-ho against war, and The Last Honest Man arguing the king around. I especially want to see the compare and contrast function on with respect to Wen Zhong and Wu Xi Zu. Do they think alike? Do they have different values? Why does our Wen Zhong push for war? All I've seen of that particular statesman is (I suspect) the badly translated bit where Wen Zhong says 'Yes, first we borrow seed from them and then when we're prosperous we pay them back', which is no reason for Gou Jian to be all 'But that's too cruel'. This sending boiled seed, was that Wen Zhong?
To say nothing of all the h/c one can do with a bed-bound psychically broken Gou Jian.
I have a theory about Fan Li. He has a little motor in his head that turns on when someone presents him with a practical problem, and then it takes over from the other Fan Li automatically. His voice changes, his manners change, he becomes another person. He's done it at least twice in Wu to date. Goes from an oppressed prisoner or the outraged woeful guy facing the man who took his woman from him by force, to the politician or the engineer or the you name it, nattering away pera-pera-pera. Why did he stop giving great advice when he was a prisoner in Wu? The answer's in an edited bit, doubtless. Or possibly it's because Bo Pi didn't sit him down again and specifically *say* OK look I want to do this how do I do it?
The Yue guys are singing Furusato. Really, I can't imagine what else one would sing while a prisoner in a foreign land.
As for the happy times: I'll agree with feliciter: I thought he was referring to the time in the quarry prison before his submission to Fu Chai, when he knew for sure that his officials in general (who all have their own opinions, now they're back in Yue) and the man sitting in front of him in particular (who just defied him over a woman) were of one mind and heart with him in regarding him as their king and the symbol of Yue's refusal to yield completely to Wu. And add: the challenge of surviving as a prisoner in Wu may seem simple to him now, in comparison to all the problems of ruling a ruined and impoverished kingdom with your conqueror constantly alive to any worrisome signs of unusual energy from you and his chief minister waiting for a chance to wipe you all from the face of the earth. Simple dogged resistance pre-break, fugue state madness post-break, both make things easy. But sitting down stone cold sober to present the same attitude of submission and meekness as when you were mad is work, especially if at heart you're still resisting. No wonder the man goes grey.
Never mind Xi Shi: if Zheng Dan is what passes for second greatest beauty in Yue... er, I can only say de gustibus non disputandum est, and leave it at that.
On the rare occasions when Ya Yu screws up, she screws up majorly. Not referring to Xi Shi here, but to that chilling little moment in 32 when Gou Jian calls to her as she's leaving and hesitantly says (as per the subtitles) 'You wouldn't care to stay...?' and she says 'No, I have to go back to the palace.' Which may not have been a screw-up on her part but something deliberate, which is even more chilling.
Though as for Xi Shi: what I especially like about this series is the iteration of the same theme in different context, best seen obviously in the three versions of the feather recitation. The Fan Li and Xi Shi subplot echoes exactly to my mind WZX's handing over of Ya Yu to the Jin ambassador. Gou Jian let her go, because a show of indifference is necessary to his plan to get them out of Wu. Ya Yu understands that's why it happened and that's why he did it and that it's one of the nasty side-effects of being a helpless conquered people. It hurt enough that she wanted to die, but she's not going to die, then or now, until the king's mission has been accomplished, because there's things more important than her own pain. Like, you know, getting alive out of Wu and making Yue strong again: in pursuit of which goal the king suffered a lot more, physically and psychologically, than she did.
So I can see why Gou Jian is angered that Fan Li isn't able to do what he did, and angered that his wife doesn't get it either the first time (though all of that barking at both of them looked largely like an act for the benefit of Gongsun.) He apologizes to Ya Yu; he apologizes to Fan Li: and that's why he's not, as he says, the Gou Jian he used to be. I like him for it but I'm not quite sure either deserved the apology they got. While of course it was necessary to keep the wa of the royal (extended) family, since the wa of his courtiers seems to be what keeps Gou Jian steady these days. A thirst for revenge will get a man out of prison but you can't run kingdoms on it.
And to date, the action is following exactly what our HK staff said it would: the tyrant who became humane after suffering imprisonment and humiliation.