Alchemy of Souls: Episodes 7-8
With our favorite assassin trapped in a magical mirror with attitude, it’s up to her pupil to find a way back to her. Meanwhile, it’s hard to say what’s more dangerous for our hero: his upcoming duel, or his impending nuptials…
EPISODES 7-8 WEECAP
Lore drop time! Long ago, Daeho experienced a drought so extreme it dried up Lake Gyeongcheondaeho. When mages conducted a ritual to restore its energy, they discovered an ice stone: one that secreted powder used to fuel the alchemy of souls. A bloody war for its possession followed, ending in victory for the founder of Songrim. And, his pupil? None other than our resident centenarian Master Lee.
Back in the present, Won’s doing dignified, princely things, like thinking about Mu-deok, feeling guilty about Mu-deok, cursing Mu-deok’s ingratitude… To his surprise, when he looks up, the object of his obsession has appeared before him. However, her seductive manner — and newfound tolerance for cinnamon wine — persuades him that this cannot be the graceless maid he knows and longs for. Sure enough, when he rejects her, she disappears, leaving behind a crack in a nearby mirror.
Won’s not the only one left reeling next to broken glass in the wake of a longed-for visitor. Mirror Mu-deok’s found space in her calendar for Yul, too. This time, she gets a little further in her attempted seduction, pressing up close — but, recognizing her as inhuman, Yul shoves her back just before they can kiss.
Consequently, when Wook arrives to negotiate with JIN HO-GYEONG (Park Eun-hye) on the matter of his missing maid, he’s not the only one present to plead Mu-deok’s case; with Won and Yul as witnesses, the table’s pretty crowded. Cho-yeon sticks to her guns in labeling Mu-deok a thief. Wook, smelling about fifty dozen rats, asks permission to search for his miscreant employee — in Jinyowon, the family vault. This is reluctantly arranged, but given the danger of entering alone, Yul’s company is necessary. Won’s company, whilst less necessary, is also secured. Thus, the awkward three-person field trip consisting solely of Mu-deok’s admirers is underway.
Wook’s right on the money: Mu-deok did enter Jinyowon after dodging Cho-yeon’s supervision. But, what’s more, Jinyowon welcomed her. Although the doors only open for those of Jin heritage, they parted at her touch. Watching this, Cho-yeon, after weighing the risks (pros of rescue, Mu-deok could die; cons of rescue, her mother might be mad), had elected to keep shtum and seal the gates. No harm, no foul, as long as no one notices!
At first, the boys learn little other than the fact that Yul, like a reverse homing pigeon, loses all sense of direction when panicked. However, they soon discover the mirror. Alone, Wook listens as it smugly declares all human perception a lie, tempting him with an ideal vision of himself. Wook, being more a man of action than philosophy, throws a curtain over the mirror to shut it up.
Huddled sadly on the floor, surrounded by laughing reflections, Mu-deok hears her pupil calling. Solemnly, Wook promises her that if he becomes Gwanju, she’ll be his assistant – anything, as long as she stays. He understands how lost she felt at the news of his marriage. Without her, he feels lost too. He places a hand on the mirror. Slowly, from the inverse side, Mu-deok does the same.
The mirror shakes. Relics rattle, calling, She is here! The blind girl! The ice stone. Under Mu-deok’s hand, the glass buckles and shatters in a burst of light. And none too soon! Just as Ho-gyeong decides she must seal the gate for safety’s sake, it opens by itself, revealing Wook — with Mu-deok on his back.
Afterwards, a series of tough conversations are had. Cho-yeon admits shamefacedly to her wrongdoing. A temporarily blinded Mu-deok thanks her cadre of admirers (and also Dang-gu) for their help. Jin and Do-joo squabble over Ho-gyeong’s decision to close the gate on Wook: sure, it was done out of duty, but, Do-joo fears, by that logic, Jin would sacrifice even her — which he does not deny, though he admits it would shatter his heart. Meanwhile, Jin and Wook remain estranged. Even as Wook begs for Jin to see him, really see him, all Jin can see is his continued recklessness.
Later, Wook, having decided to nuke his upcoming nuptials for Mu-deok’s sake, declares bravely to Ho-gyeong that he is not the legitimate son of Jang Gang. The death blow to the marriage is dealt when Jin Mu, an illegitimate son himself, approaches Ho-gyeong with an alternative: why not aim high, and marry Cho-yeon to Prince Won? Now there’s a pairing.
Meanwhile, Mu-deok’s identity is compromised on two fronts. Yul, after watching her play the bird flute, puts two and two and two together: the flute, the soul-shifting, and the mirror observing that he longs for the woman from Danhyanggok, all add up to the irrefutable conclusion that she is Naksu.
Kil-joo has come to a similar realization. None too pleased by Mu’s plans to soul-shift him into the body of a eunuch, he’s spotted the perfect opportunity for blackmail — and a body he’d prefer. Mu-deok is press-ganged by him into taking Wook to an abandoned temple, for reasons nefarious.
She almost goes through with it, too. Thankfully, Wook has taken it upon himself to clarify their relationship. By clarify, I mean he’s used the jade that was going to be his wedding ring to make two egg-shaped charms, symbolizing their undying loyalty as husband and — uh, sorry, master and pupil. This sweet gesture inspires Mu-deok to do the kind thing, which, given it’s her, means being cruel: she tells him she is leaving to rejoin her organization. She admits that she pushed him too far. He did his best. But, if they stay together, he will die.
Luckily, Wook’s not one to let the prospect of certain death get between him and his master — for him, that’s a regular Saturday! Also luckily, it happens to be raining. Therefore, when Mu-deok returns to Kil-joo alone, turns out, she and Wook concocted a scheme: while she distracts Kil-joo, he’ll turn the raindrops into deadly weapons via Tansu.
This works perfectly until Kil-joo whips out his Soul Ejector. In a maelstrom of magic, he initiates the alchemy of souls.
The spell can be seen from as far as Sejukwon. However, the light show is more impressive than effective, because someone’s here to intercede, and for once it’s not our favorite assassin. It’s the original Mu-deok, looking far more knowing than you’d expect of a helpless beggar girl. She pulls Wook close, just before his eyes — his own eyes, in his own body — snap open.
… Only to see Mu-deok clutch Kil-joo’s body in grief, convinced it’s him. She rounds on Wook, declaring hopeless vengeance — whereupon Wook realizes just how much she cares. It takes a prolonged bout of anguished eye contact and a reiteration of the fact that he’s the only one allowed to get this close for Mu-deok to believe he’s safe… at which point, she hugs him, hard. And if our ruthless assassin sheds a tear or two, that’s between her and Wook’s shoulder.
Both have forgotten the cardinal rule of soul-shifting: never turn your back on a body. Kil-joo lunges for Wook, and the battle is on. Although weak, he catches Mu-deok off guard by revealing that her father was a soul-shifter like her. Stricken, Mu-deok fails to dodge his attack, collapsing to the floor under the weight of old childhood trauma and a newfound shoulder wound. Kil-joo retreats, and Wook, at Mu-deok’s urging, gives chase.
Others, alerted by the spell, search the temple — including Gwigu. Mu-deok drags herself away through the forest. Things get serious as she’s swept up in one of Yul’s attack spells. Fortunately, upon recognizing the now-unconscious maid, Yul scoops her up and takes her to safety. But, healing her isn’t as easy: Yul must secretly transfer the wound from her body to his hand.
Face obscured by a blue scarf, Kil-joo flees towards Cheonbugwan — but, changes his mind. Wook, observing from afar, follows him instead to the palace, where the real Danju must reside. However, Kil-joo’s stone skin and, well, unpleasant watery secretions raise alarm bells for the guards, who spring to attack. He makes mincemeat of them.
Now, Wook, whose near-death scrape has settled his energy to the point where his arm is under control, pulls off possibly the coolest move in the series so far. He leaps from a roof, deflects Kil-joo’s sword, snags his scarf, and wraps it around his own face, all in one elegant spin. (This will later set a new fashion trend throughout Daeho.) Kil-joo stands no chance against a second round of Tansu; he collapses, stiffening into stone.
Elsewhere, Jin has a misunderstanding to resolve with Do-joo. Things have been awkward since that one time he said he’d let her die if it meant protecting Songrim. What starts as an offer to let Do-joo slap him ends in Jin cradling her against his chest as he tenderly swears he doesn’t want to hurt her.
Meanwhile, Cho-yeon’s matrimonial woes worsen. In a move showing great short-term sensitivity and supreme lack of long-term foresight, Dang-gu arranged for the Jin betrothal gifts to be redirected to him. Now, Cho-yeon’s friends are convinced she’s engaged to Dang-gu. Ever chivalrous, Dang-gu confirms the rumor to save Cho-yeon face.
Reunited, Mu-deok and Wook stand by the cliffside from which Mu-deok once jumped. Still shaken by the revelation about her father, she asks Wook if he’ll take her here when she dies. Not, Wook decides, on his watch. He knows the real Danju is part of the palace. He knows, based on a loose-lipped comment from Kil-joo, that they have the ice stone — and that it can keep Mu-deok alive.
At this, we’re greeted with a glimpse of the real Danju. Who else but QUEEN SEO HA-SUN (Kang Kyung-hun) — master of glittery eyeshadow, and possessor of the world’s best impassive sneer?
Still, our heroes remain in the dark. Their best hope lies in searching the palace — for which Wook must become a mage of great renown. Luckily, the long succession of near-death situations into which Mu-deok has pushed him seem to have paid off dividends! Keep doing that, Wook grins, and stay by my side. After a second, she smirks back. Once again, I put it to you that their love language constitutes nearly killing one another on purpose.
Two weeks on, Wook’s duel approaches! A loss means, at best, losing his claim as Gwanju — at worst, death. Out of what I can only interpret as an incorrigible flair for drama, Wook and Mu-deok arrive just as the match is about to be declared forfeit. And what an arrival! Wook stands proud and confident. Mu-deok follows at his shoulder, dressed to match him, with a snazzy new hairstyle to boot. They’re armed with a plan: jars of water dot the arena, which Mu-deok will spill, allowing Wook to use Tansu. Unbeknown to them, however, Mu has made a counter-move.
The fight begins. Wook, heeding Mu-deok’s advice, stays on the defensive. It’s a rough ride, despite his improved swordsmanship: Won and his magnificently expressive eyebrows spare no mercy. When Mu-deok discovers all the water jars destroyed, she knows that something must be done. In a fit of desperate ingenuity, she slices open her palm, sending a droplet of blood spinning into the arena.
Wook leaps up and slices it with his sword, smacking out a wave of energy to instantly KO his opponent. As the audience exclaim in awe, the match is declared for him.
Mu recovers quickly. He accuses Wook of cheating, demanding to know where he learned Tansu. Wook stays true to his oath, saying nothing of Mu-deok. Things look grave, until a new voice vouches for him: Master Lee. Cleverly, he swears that he witnessed Wook train, with nobody but his maid present.
His word is enough for the families of Daeho. Each one offers Wook the right to join them — including Songrim. But Wook, in a thrilling display of fealty, turns publicly to Mu-deok, asking which he ought to pick.
Songrim, she replies. And so, it is settled.
Alchemy of Souls continues to delight me with its sly humor and tightly-plotted dramatics. These episodes were awash with tantalizing hints of what’s to come. Is the original Mu-deok Cho-yeon’s long-lost sister? Signs point to maybe. Still, I think we can go weirder. Could it be something about Mu-deok herself — something that links her to the ice stone — that makes magical barriers crumble before her? One thing’s for certain: I’m looking forward to our heroes finding newer, bigger, more bombastic ways to trust each other with their lives!
One thing I love about these episodes: the female characters are genuinely multifaceted. There’s Cho-yeon, who in any other story would have been the one-dimensional, bitchy rival: here, she’s a spoiled but frightened child with complex family trauma. There’s Do-joo, whose maternal tenderness is far from one-note: it’s a rare thing, displayed touchingly for Mu-deok as well as Wook, despite their shaky start. There’s Ho-gyeong, whose unswerving duty to her family renders her believably calculating. And then, there’s Ha-sun, who may well be the mastermind behind it all. We’re never encouraged to dislike them — just to revel in their complexity. Here’s to finding out what they do next!