Where to begin with this episode? There’s never a lack of information in The Apothecary Diaries, but episode eighteen is packed even by its standards. Not only do we have multiple schemes going on, but we also learn about Maomao’s biological parentage, get some insight into how she sees herself, and the truth about the woman in the annex and another way to devalue a courtesan. How all of these things will come together is for another day, but it’s still very impressive how many plot threads are being gathered up into this single span of minutes.
For me, one of the most interesting pieces is one line Maomao thinks to herself as she’s trying to sort through her feelings at Verdigris House. She remarks that love is an emotion she left behind in her mother’s womb, and given the context of the rest of the episode and her reactions to Jinshi, it isn’t hard to grasp that she’s speaking about romantic love. She adores her father and the three princesses, but dealing with romantic attention tends to leave her a little lost. This is a pretty common thought for someone who might be aromantic – that they’re somehow missing some key human emotion, and while it’s still absolutely possible to interpret her line differently, the possibility of Maomao being aro is intriguing. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t feel things for people she might be physically attracted to – like everything else, it’s a spectrum – but it offers interesting context for her relationship with Jinshi, especially since her comment about thinking she said something with no emotion could be read to be about either the ruination of courtesans or the fact that she knows full well what sort of services are offered at the place she just dropped Jinshi off at.
That Maomao’s mother was a courtesan herself certainly adds to the probability that she was referring to Jinshi’s question rather than his activities. We know from a flashback that her mother tried to kill her, meaning that Maomao has a personal stake in the whole “what devalues a woman” question and that Lakan was the one to do the devaluing is now a given. But is Maomao’s mother also the woman in the annex dying of syphilis? It’s possible; as a courtesan who has borne a child, she might have been demoted to fewer clients, and since we know she played go, we can guess that she was quite high-ranking at one point. Since neither Lakan nor Maomao shows any symptoms of it (and it can be passed from a pregnant woman to her child), we have to assume that if she is Maomao’s mother, she contracted it later. Still, Maomao’s comment about how the woman usually yells at her to leave goes along with the memory of her mother trying to kill her, so it feels very likely that the two women are the same.
Meanwhile, Lakan appears to be salty that Jinshi purchased Maomao before he could. This gives me nothing but respect for the Madam of Verdigris House – it means she’s been refusing to give a rapist his daughter for a long, long time; in fact, she once again hides Maomao from him this week, when he ostensibly couldn’t possibly buy her out. Even if his relationship with Maomao’s mother was consensual, there’s something underhanded and unpleasant about the man, and I really don’t want him near Maomao – or knowing Jinshi’s true identity. He seems like someone who would use knowledge as a weapon without caring about the consequences. The single frame of Maomao’s face at about the eighteen-minute mark shows that she agrees.
Speaking of Jinshi’s true identity, Suiren seems very keen for Maomao to figure it out, and I’m sure we all have our theories about what “medicine” she sent the apothecary to pick up for him. Maomao’s more interested in Suirei, the mysterious court lady running a secret herb garden, and I daresay we ought to be leery of anyone looking to make a resurrection drug even if they aren’t as shady as Suirei seems to be. Truths are starting to bubble to the surface, and the only question is which ones will pop and reveal their secrets first.
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