The Apothecary Diaries: The Unsettling Matter Of The Spirit
April 25, 2024 2:15 AM - Season 1, Episode 3 - Subscribe

When reports of a ghostly lady dancing on the walls of the Rear Palace reach Jinshi, he asks Maomao to look into the matter. But when it turns out to be a sleepwalking concubine, it winds up that there's more to this case than originally thought...

With this episode, we get a number of minor threads wrapped up as we learn more about how the hierarchy of the Rear Palace works - and how it can be manipulated.

We start of with Jinshi meeting with one of the lower rank courtesans, a woman by the name of Fuyou, as he notifies her that she is to be presented as a reward for the service and quick thinking of the officer involved with the incident from the prior episode. (As you may recall, she's also the one we saw reading a letter as well.) She acknowledges the decree, then runs from the parlor, as we transition to that night - where a serving girl walking the grounds sees a ghostly maiden in white, which then slowly approaches her...

Back to the Jade Pavilion, it seems the seasons are changing as the weather gets colder, and the three ladies in waiting that Gyokoyou brought with her from her homeland talk about the differences in the weather between the Jade Pavilion and their home out West. They also note that trade has been improving with the West - a sign of the Emperor's favor, and part of the reason the Precious Consort accepted the position. They also note that they have to handle all the chores on their own - the attempts on Gyokoyou's life during her pregnancy has made it clear that only her inner circle can be trusted. That said, it does help that they now have Maomao, who is currently preparing a cold remedy in the kitchen - making use of her skills as an apothecary. As she speaks with Yinghua (who came to clean the kitchen), the latter brings up a rumor of a ghostly dancer on the walls haunting the Rear Palace - a rumor that Xiaolan is happy to let her in on as the two chat. As they talk, Maomao winds up pondering what could be going on - given how secure the Rear Palace, she dismisses it as just a ghost story.

Bringing the cold remedy to the doctor's office and storeroom, said quack doctor greets her warmly - a change from his mood in the previous episode. Turns out that once he realized Maomao was capable of compounding medicines, he made friends with her - not only is he happy to share ingredients with her, but they've even become snack buddies - though snack time is interrupted by Jinshi's arrival, to Maomao's annoyance. Maomao ponders how Jinshi is constantly walking the grounds, as if he ran the Rear Palace - but he's too young in her mind to be such, leading her to think he's the Emperor's favorite...a thought that has an annoyed Jinshi comment on. When the doctor returns with tea for all three of them, Jinshi distracts him with a request from the stores, while Maomao asks him why he's really here. And with that, he brings up the rumors about the ghostly maiden - but then asks what she knows about sleepwalking. That gets her attention - a mistake as Jinshi prepares a full court charm press on her to try to get out as much information as possible - resulting in Maomao looking into the matter, if only to get away from Jinshi.

That night, Maomao and Gaoshun - whom she notes doesn't act like the other eunuchs - walk the paths to investigate. As they talk, Gaoshun (after giving her the appelation Xiaomao ("Little Mao")) asks if she could try not looking at Jinshi like an insect, because he's enjoying it a bit too much. Reaching the eastern wall, they see the dancing maiden, and Gaoshun gives her the details on Fuyou, including how she is to be awarded. Returning to the doctor, he has more relevant information - including how she stumbled before the Emperor, losing his favor. Given that, Maomao considers if that was the genesis of her sleepwalking, or that she is to be given away. Needing more information, Maomao plans to meet Fuyou personally, but as she leaves the doctor points out one more key detail - she's from a smaller vassal state.

Reaching her room, Maomao looks in on her from through the window, noting that her appearance during the day is much different from that at night, looking timid - "like a caught mouse", as Maomao puts it. She also notes that her namesake flower has white flowers during the day, but the petals deepen to pink at night - a fitting match to what they've seen of her. Asking Xiaolan for more details has the serving girl note that Fuyou was first seen on the north wall, not the east one they had seen her on. With all that, Maomao seems to have a conjecture - but remembering Luomen's training, she finds herself at an impasse as she doesn't have enough evidence to build a full hypothesis.

At the Jade Pavilion, Maomao reports to Gyokuyou and Jinshi, detailing the matter of sleepwalking, and how it's caused by stress - bringing up a case from her time in the brothels, where one of the courtesans wound up wandering the halls after receiving a purchase offer - and that the travails ended when the offer was rescinded. The Precious Consort notes that it might have been that she didn't want to be bought out - to which Maomao concedes, given that the offer was by an elderly merchant with a family, and her contract was almost complete. Gyokuyou wonders if Fuyou is in a similar position, and Maomao notes that's a likely possibility, with Jinshi pressuring her for certainty. Pondering the case, Maomao notes that Fuyou has now been restricted to her room until her investiture - hoping this ends well. Gyokuyou - a shrewd judge of character and mood - can tell that Maomao is weighed down with concern.

Finally, the day of the investiture has come, and as Maomao watches Fuyou head to the gates of the Rear Palace, the Precious Consort approaches her, asking her to speak her mind openly. Asking for her confidence as this is conjecture, Maomao points out that there was more to the story - there was another courtesan who went through a similar incident - but after, she received a second purchase order, at a lower price given she was seen as ill. But in the end, it was a ruse - the second offer was by a man whom she wanted to buy out her contract, but could not afford to at the initial rate - so the sleepwalking sceme was done to make it so he could buy her contract out. And as it turns out, the officer Fuyou is being given to is a childhood friend of hers - and a childhood crush. But an officer could never marry a princess, unless he was given her hand by the Emperor himself - and so the two created a plan to have that happen. Of course, this is all speculation on Maomao's part - though as we see, it's the truth - the two reunited, playing the proper roles until they are alone in the carriage, the two finally happily embracing in reunion. As they watch Fuyou leave, Gyokuyou asks Maomao if it makes her horrible that she envies Fuyou - as she knows full well that for all the attention and affection the Emperor lavishes on her, his heart does belong to another.

As Maomao looks out over the setting sun, she wonders given love's power what sort of medicine it could make, pondering her pinky finger. And in Gyokuyou's quarters, the Emperor makes his appearance - it seems that Maomao is about to be receiving an imperial order next...
posted by NoxAeternum (2 comments total)
With most of our main dramatis personae set, the series can now do what it does best - bounce characters off each other and see what happens. Of course the main dynamic is "place Maomao and Jinshi together, and see what happens", which is always good for some comedy or drama. This is also the first episode where we really get the Maomao/Gaoshun dynamic, in which he finds that she's just as much a handful as his erstwhile master. We also get to see that for being such an oddball, Maomao winds up developing solid bonds with others - not too surprising given how the show is driven on interpersonal dynamics.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:12 PM on April 25

Mao begins to suspect something doesn't add up about Jinshi. And then immediately puts it out of her mind.

Jinshi already knows exactly how to bait Mao. Even ramping up his (counterproductive) charm is to get a reaction out of Mao.

LOVE the exchange b/t Gaoshin and Mao. "Please don't look at my boss like an insect." "D'oh!" "He enjoys it too much." "... Gotcha."

Jinshi knows Mao is holding something back when she gives her sleepwalking explanation. But Gyokuyou gets her to spill it.

What a nice unambiguously happy ending. I expect many more to come.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:09 PM on April 25

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