The Apothecary Diaries: Chilly Apothecary
April 23, 2024 12:45 AM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Settling into her new role as lady in waiting in the Jade Pavilion, Maomao finds herself placed in a role that might make use of her particular talents - as well as becoming an advisor and drugmaker to Jinshi...

With the main cast established (for the most part - we do get introduced to Gyokuyou's staff in this episode), this episode helps to establish the general structure of the series. We get Maomao dealing with a mystery brought to her by Jinshi, along with her dealing with her duties as a lady in waiting (including one that she winds up being quite suited for) and her interactions with the sly, eccentric master of the Rear Pavilion.

Starting off, we pick up from the scene at the end of the previous episode - encamped soldiers suddenly fall ill after eating a meal prepared by the locals - suspecting poison, the villagers are rounded up - but thankfully cooler heads prevail as the commanding officer is not convinced of the villagers being the cause. Before we move to Jinshi receiving the report, we get a brief scene of one of the courtesans reading a letter (a setup for next episode, as we'll see.) Unsurprisingly, Jinshi is concerned by the report, but given that the matter involves poison, well..he might just now have an expert to consult on. Which leads into Gaoshun's next note - Gyokuyou now has a new lady in waiting. This is a surprise, as unlike the other Consorts who retain small armies of personal staff, the Precious Consort chooses to only keep a small, handpicked retinue of retainers from her homeland. To take on a new lady in waiting is out of character for her - though not surprising, given what skill and wisdom Maomao has shown. (Besides, her chaos gremlin nature serves as amusement for the Consort.) As Jinshi points out to his aide (and soon to become human cat herder), Maomao's talents would be wasted in the laundry - much better to put them to service to his ends. Though he does decide to try to seduce the young apothecary, which...that's probably not going to be as successful as he thinks.

Back in the common servants' quarters, we see Xiaolan congratulating Maomao on her (unwanted) promotion, quite impressed with the achievement, which Maomao downplays as she carries her belongings to report to the Jade Palace. But a squeal of excitement from outside draws out the two to find Jinshi making an appearance, and he immediately presses his allure to try to seduce the apothecary - only to find that unlike most of the women in the Rear Palace, Maomao's reaction is of revulsion. Finally reporting to the Jade Pavilion, she meets the head lady in waiting (and her new boss), Hongniang, who promptly takes her for a tour of the Pavilion proper, starting with meeting the Precious Consort, who welcomes her warmly. After getting to see the parlor and the kitchen (and being suitably impressed at the size of each), Maomao gets to meet her fellow ladies in waiting - Yinghua, Guiyuan, and Ailan - who are happy to meet her, but also seem...worried for her safety, especially seeing her bandaged arm. With that, Maomao is herded into her new private quarters - which she does admit is a benefit she does appreciate.

Laying down, she wonders why the others looked so terrified for her - but soon the answer is made clear. As the most junior of the ladies in waiting, it is her duty to serve as Gyokuyou's personal taster, checking for poisons - and the last tester wound up with nerve damage from the poison used, hence why the other ladies in waiting were so terrified for her. Of course, such a role is one that Maomao is uniquely suited for, given both her knowledge and skill with poisons, as well as an acquired immunity to such thanks to her experiments (including being bitten by snakes to the point that even the snake had questions about her mental well-being.) In fact, her reaction to being told that this is her new duty is not fear but...catlike enthusiasm. She is surprised to be presented the food on ceramic, but carefully assesses it, deeming it safe, before enjoying the remaining samples, which has Jinshi, Gyokuyou, and Hongniang all wondering what's up with her.

Meeting with the head after the session, Maomao notes that they should use silver, as it reacts with some poisons unlike the inert ceramic - to which Hongniang notes that they do normally, but the ceramic was Jinshi's idea, a way to further test her. The head lady notes that had Maomao let the managers know of her skill, she would get higher wages, to which Maomao points out that she'd rather just stick it to her kidnappers, who receive a portion of her earnings. In response, Hongniang hands Maomao a ceramic pitcher, but lets it slip from their hands, causing it to break. As she explains, the vase was quite expensive, and so the money would have to be taken out of her earnings - as well as the earnings being sent to her kidnappers (a result that Maomao is happy to play along with.) But, it also turns out that being a poison taster does come with a benefit - hazard pay, which is paid directly to Maomao in its entirety, and is equal to her salary - the result being that Maomao gets her pay, and the assholes who kidnapped her get screwed. Needless to say, this leaves Maomao impressed with the head lady and her shrewdness.

Unfortunately, none of the other ladies in waiting will let Maomao work, causing her to go stir crazy from boredom, as beyond her tasting duty, she has nothing else to do. But soon she's summoned to the parlor, as Jinshi is there with an inquiry - and when he tries to put the charm on her, he is surprised that it doesn't work on Maomao, just further peaking his interest in the apothecary. But the matter is serious - he's received some food of questionable provenance, and asks her to test it - and from the smell, she notes there's an aphrodisiac baked into them - and gets annoyed and revulsed that he tried to get her to eat one - a response that has the Precious Consort chuckling. But now he brings up the matter of the soldiers being poisoned, and asks for her advice - the commanding officer had managed to defuse the situation, but without a determination of whether or not they did poison the soldiers, everything is on edge. Considering the matter, Maomao points out that a number of plants contain toxins - and if there were toxins in the wood the soldiers were buring, that would account for the symptoms. With that matter settled, Maomao asks to take her leave, but Jinshi has one more request - how is she at making aphrodisiacs? Needless to say, he's just hit on her favorite pasttime, and her unbridled joy at the thought has Maomao bouncing in a way that has Jinshi shocked. Still, she says that with the proper resources, she can easily provide such a product.

As Jinshi and Gaoshun walk to his office, one of the lower concubines tries to coax him into her room for tea - an unwise move, as the new master of the Rear Palace is here to test the loyalty of the concubines - and she just failed hers. That said, for a man who usually has women (and men) swooning over his beauty, Maomao's revulsion at him has piqued his curiosity, as she's the first person to have a resistance to his charms - a situation that has Jinshi oddly happy, as it's the first time he's had that reaction. And thinking on Maomao's warning about the source of the buns...he decides that barricading the door might be prudent - just in case.

Heading to the medical office in the Rear Palace to acquire ingredients for Jinshi's request, she finds both the doctor and Gaoshun present, the latter introducing himself to her, and the former upset about her being allowed in. Seeing the storeroom causes her eyes to light up, and she promptly does a little happy dance as she takes a survey - only to be caught out by a nonplussed Jinshi. Writing out a list under supervision, Gaoshun retrieves the one ingredient she was looking for - cacao, of which the stockpile in the storeroom is short. Jinshi notes that they can get more, and when she notes where it comes from (the location given making it clear this isn't our world), he states that there should be some in the trading goods storehouse.

Back at the Jade Pavilion, Maomao begins work on her "aphrodisiac", ingredients assembled as the other ladies peek in, before being chased off by Hongniang. Getting to work, we see Maomao prepare chocolate, remembering when Pairin gave her a piece - and her reaction had Granny chase off the gift giver in response. With that, she dips the prepared fruit in a chocolate coating, then places the tray in cool water to harden. But with leftover chocolate, it would be a shame to let it go to waste, so she prepares a little chocolate covered treat for herself. Going to clean up the utensils, Maomao gets distracted by patches of herbs, promptly picking them and getting carried away, only to return to find that the trio had gotten into the snacks Maomao made for herself, and have been...affected. Needless to say, a rather irate Hongniang promptly chews out the apothecary, wanting to know what she did to her girls - and Maomao peeking under their skirts merits her a head chop from the head lady.

Reconvening in the parlor, the group looks on at Maomao's work - she notes that the snacks she made for herself were made without the aphrodisiac - the ladies in waiting being overwhelmed with the chocolate and liquor Maomao used - but the coated fruit has been. Jinshi ponders eating one of the little chocolate buns, to which Hongniang and Gaoshun voice their disapproval as the Precious Consort laughs - it seems she's just found her favorite soap opera here. While Jinshi noted the comment was a joke, Maomao notes that given his attractiveness, one of those buns could be dangerous for all involved in the area. Handing over the chocolates to Jinshi, Gyokuyou considers having Maomao make a batch for the Emperor, but given the potency, she thinks better of it, the thought terrifying her. And with that, the Precious Consort takes her leave, but as Maomao stands alone, Jinshi moves in, whispering his praise to her before leaving - and having stolen a bun.

Meanwhile, one of the residents of the Rear Palace catches the eye of a ghostly dancer on the wall...
posted by NoxAeternum (2 comments total)
With the first episode needing to focus on setting up the relationship between all the major characters, this is where we get to see the dynamics between our core cast develop. Of course, the central relationship is that of Maomao and Jinshi, as they are the main protagonists. We also get to see how Maomao plays with the Jade Pavilion crew, and it's clear that she settles in well - which also reflects on the fact that Gyokuyou selected her staff shrewdly - a point reflected on the commentary about her hiring Maomao.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:32 AM on April 23

Jinshi describes Mao to Gaoshun as a new pawn.

When he first touches her Mao is revolted... and Jinshi doesn't even notice.

Silver does react to certain poisons, but far too slowly to be of use in dishes. It is historically accurate, though (at least in the west.)

Jinshi finally notices that his charm isn't working on Mao, and tests it by glancing at the other ladies-in-waiting (it works.)

Who is the military officer sending aphrodisiacs to Jinshi?

Mao's explanation of what happened to the soldiers (using poison wood) is plausible, but hardly conclusive.

Mao's aphrodisiac is... dried fruit covered in milk chocolate. Possibly with some alcohol, given her explanation about the effects.

Jinshi is quick to adapt to Mao's reaction to him, successfully distracting her while he filches one of Mao's snacks.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:39 AM on April 23

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