Episode 19 – The Apothecary Diaries

We all knew that there was more to Jinshi’s status than Maomao was aware of. Yes, she came close to figuring it out on more than one occasion – his hairpin at the banquet, for example, and Ah-duo’s story of her lost baby for another. But now it’s going to be much harder to conceal the truth, even if she was unconscious for the most telling piece of this episode: the way that everyone bowed reverentially as Jinshi walked past them with Maomao in his arms. But even without seeing that, Maomao recognized him as the person of the highest rank performing the ceremony, the person she risked her own life to save. Even if we discount the fact that she ended up face-down in his lap (which might answer another question about him), she knew without a doubt that Jinshi was the man she flung out of the way of the falling beam.

This is the culmination of many episodes’ worth of seeming coincidences. As Maomao notes in her discussion with Lihaku, a few overlapping incidents could be just chance, but as many as have come to pass almost have to be deliberate. A few too many people from the ministry that handles rites have been killed or incapacitated, and the odd behavior of Suirei begins to take on a more sinister look when Maomao realizes that “a tall court lady smelling of medicine” has been involved in at least one of the interconnected “coincidences.” Although she doesn’t want to be the one to name Suirei, she’s reasonably certain that she has something to do with everything, although why remains an open question. But far more interesting is the way that this plot has been coming together in the background of everything Maomao’s been observing at court – the metal with the low melting point is just as integral to the plan to kill Jinshi as the removal of key figures who manage the ceremony he’ll be performing. Even the demotion of the official to the archives is part of the overall conspiracy; his comments about how he worried that the beam wasn’t safe enough hit a little too close to the plans to ensure that it wasn’t.

So why weren’t the conspirators worried about Maomao? Probably for the exact reason we saw this week: she’s just a random servant at court. Who’s going to listen to her? The guard would have been within his rights to kill her rather than just smacking her with his club; after all, she was attempting to break into a sacred ceremony being conducted by one of the highest personages in the country. She’s nobody, and who will miss “nobody” if they’re taken out?

Unfortunately for the conspirators, the answer to that statement is “Lakan.” (And Jinshi, but he was inside the venue and missed this part, although I’m sure he’ll be taking the malefactors to task later.) We haven’t seen much good of Lakan up to this point, but his willingness to stand up for his daughter is a sign that he may not be as awful as we’ve been led to believe – after all, we’ve primarily seen him from the perspective of Verdigris House, who have good reason to see him as evil. Lakan doesn’t demand anything of Maomao, or even claim her as his daughter; he just firmly backs her up because he trusts that she knows what she’s talking about. Will he leverage this aid later as a way to interact with her? Maybe, but right now, judging by the look on his face when he sees Jinshi carry her, unconscious and bleeding, out of the ceremonial building, he’s more likely to hunt down everyone who hurt her and exact revenge. And like him or not, he was instrumental in Maomao being able to save Jinshi’s life, so we viewers may need to consider a more nuanced perspective on him.

Once again, The Apothecary Diaries proves itself to be a beautiful adaptation of its source material and a good show in its own right. The slow, almost ceremonial walk of Jinshi through the aisles of bowing courtiers while blood slowly drips from Maomao’s leg is somehow exquisite, and the attention to detail in his ceremonial garb and her swollen face is incredibly well done. And maybe Suirei’s words to Maomao about planting morning glories are more significant than they seemed – after all, in Chinese flower language, two meanings of the morning glory are “love in vain” and “rebirth.”

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