As off-putting as Maomao finds Jinshi, after this episode it’s hard not to think that there’s a different character who ought to be getting her back up. The Apothecary Diaries has been very cagey about introducing Lakan, giving us glimpses of him and his interest in Maomao before his full entry in this week’s episode, and his time in the light is enough to make me wish he’d be shunted right back into the shadows where he belongs. Lakan appears to have an interest in Maomao because she hails from Verdigris House (or so everyone says), and the implication seems to be that he had some sort of relationship with a courtesan there who may have been her mother. That’s what the images seem to suggest, at any rate, and even if her hair color and style are coincidences, Lakan’s recounting of this mysterious woman’s personality is very suggestive.
It makes sense that Maomao’s mother worked at Verdigris House, given her ties to the madam and her father’s association with the establishment, so in many ways that’s the least of the issues to arise from Lakan’s chat with Jinshi. Far more troubling is Lakan’s statement of how he did something to make the woman in question less valuable. In his telling, the courtesan sold her “skills, not herself,” which implies that she’d sing, dance, and play (both music and board games) with her clients, but not have sex with them, so to hear him smugly say that he did something to her can’t help but make me think sexual violence is involved. That he’s now showing interest in Maomao is troubling, especially given the fact that his request to Jinshi is about using Maomao’s deductive skills for Lakan’s benefit. This is not a man who should be trusted.
The bright side is that Maomao is likely more than capable of keeping herself safe, and when her sense of self-preservation fails her, Jinshi is right there. (That Jinshi can’t quite get rid of Lakan speaks of the other man’s high status and the political tightrope Jinshi walks.) Maomao’s role in Jinshi’s household is an odd combination of maid and in-house detective, and that’s something that Gaoshun is perfectly happy to work with. His tactics in getting her to look into the pufferfish poison case are brilliant: first, he tempts her with poison, then he offers to take her to eat non-poisonous pufferfish to ensure that she’s fully focused. He’s also willing to unquestioningly follow Jinshi’s orders to keep Maomao from actually ingesting poison (or at least not throwing it up immediately), meaning that he’s brilliantly playing both sides against the middle. There’s likely something in his choice of Basen as Maomao’s companion during her investigation although at this point all we have is the fact that he looks “familiar” to her.
Although Maomao solves the case, it’s worth noting that there’s an element of it that’s largely unaddressed. She knows who poisoned the second victim, but there’s still the question of what happened with the first. It’s entirely possible that it was just an unhappy coincidence based on a lack of local knowledge about how to safely prepare the seaweed in question, but that feels too easy. The poisoner in the second case had to learn about it somewhere, which could mean that he was told by the poisoner in the first case. It may be too late to find that first poisoner, or even to worry about it, but it does point to a troubling ease with which poisoners gain access to the palace’s food supplies – or at least, the food of those they want to reach, which may be even worse. Jinshi may have wanted Maomao in his household for reasons unrelated to her perspicacity when it comes to poison (as we saw when he got shoujo-vision of her welcoming him home), but keeping her close could have other benefits for him. Now if she’d just stop making Junji Ito faces when he surprises her, maybe he’d feel better about their relationship.
The Apothecary Diaries is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.