Alchemy of Souls: Episodes 9-10
Our hero has finally made it as a mage of Songrim! But, success comes at the price of separation from his beloved master. Amid numerous admirers jostling for priority, our leads must determine where their hearts truly lie.
EPISODES 9-10 WEECAP
We begin with Wook achieving the goal of a lifetime. Elated, he bows and swears to uphold Songrim’s rules. Even Mu-deok wears her pride on her sleeve: it takes markedly less cajoling than usual for her to admit that her pupil looks handsome in his new robes. Afterwards, in time-honored student tradition, Wook plans an all-out celebratory bash-up, where the only agenda is getting stupendously drunk.
Elsewhere, the mood is less jubilant. Mu and Ha-sun meet at Daeho’s most popular date destination: that one bit of the lake where they toss dead soul-shifters. Knowing that Wook was born under the King’s Star, they bemoan his acceptance into Songrim. We learn that Jang Gang apparently sealed the ice stone owing to moral qualms, reinforced by a flashback of him wailing over a petrified corpse. Ten years ago, however, Ha-sun’s faction retrieved the stone, using a young blind mage to locate it: JIN BU-YEON, Cho-yeon’s lost sister.
It’s tempting to think that’s Mu-deok. But this show teases. We move to a boat carrying another blind woman (Seo Hye-won) with a ribbon around her eyes. Looks prove deceiving: turns out, she’s not only a thief, but fully sighted. Her blindfold carries a flower insignia – an accoutrement we later learn she took from her friend, Mu-deok, for whom she’s now searching. Twist upon twist!
Back at Chwiseonreu, where Wook’s people are partying, Mu-deok stumbles upon a tipsy Yul. Much like a thoughtful Yul, a concerned Yul, and a Yul suffering terrible panic, this Yul is outwardly composed. Inwardly, he’s a disaster. He solemnly informs Mu-deok that he’s lost, and gone astray. Mu-deok, initially missing the metaphorical heft of this comment, takes his hand to guide him. He reminds her of all the times she’s confessed her love for him, which surprises her before she remembers that yes, she did indeed do that. Even as she breaks out her usual hapless servant act, he plucks a nearby flower and tucks it into her hair as a token of gratitude — while Mu-deok is left fearing he really means it.
Romantic woes abound. Do-joo is frustrated by Jin’s defense of how he tried to woo Do-hwa. You can hardly blame her: his “courtship” apparently consisted of wordless pining, and the absolute conviction that one can convey love via telepathy. Resenting how unclear his feelings are for her, in a fit of relatable frustration, she kicks her shoe into the pond. As she reaches for it, she overbalances… but, this is dramaland, where there’s no shortage of handsome men to catch you when you fall.
The man in question is Master Lee — self-confessed party pooper, and habitual drinker of chastity tea! He’s been drinking less lately, and tries to persuade himself that’s the only reason he gets flustered upon sweeping Do-joo into his arms.
At the party, panic sets in when Prince Won arrives uninvited. However, he’s only there to offer Wook an expensive drink and teeth-clenched congratulations — albeit after a tense stare-down. (Oh, the eyebrows!)
Won later confesses to Mu-deok that it was only for her sake he refrained from tearing the place down in anger. Jin’s not the only one with a skewed view of courtship: he informs her that the next time she interferes between him and Wook, he’ll kill her. Then, he grins like a smitten teenager when he learns she still carries the perfume satchet he gave her. To be fair, this is exactly Mu-deok’s style of affection; even as she refuses to rescind her loyalty to Wook, she asks after his injury.
Across the city, Cho-yeon’s father returns home, accompanied by a blind woman, adding to this episode’s growing roster of red herrings. Ho-gyeong is agitated: could this be her lost daughter? Nope: Jinyowon’s gate is motionless under her hand, and the poor woman is dismissed with little other than a fare home. Distraught, Ho-gyeong broods over her daughter’s portrait, remembering Bu-yeon’s uncanny ability to sense energy. She examines the blindfold she gave her — one decorated with the same flower as Mu-deok’s old accessory.
Later, an alcohol-stupefied Wook is carried to Songrim’s gate. With his newly-reissued spirit plaque, entry presents no difficulty. However, Mu-deok is denied. Songrim’s rules prohibit personal servants. Meanwhile, Wook cannot leave until he completes basic training. Anguished, Mu-deok can only watch as her pupil is torn away from her.
Wook is tended to by HEO YUN-OK (Hong Seo-hui), heir to Sejukwon, who has carried a serious torch for him ever since he rescued her from a rampaging Kil-joo.
Meanwhile, stubbornly perched by the gate in the pouring rain, Mu-deok is greeted by Yul, who has brought her an umbrella: he knew she’d refuse to leave. But, even semi-conscious, it is Mu-deok for whom Wook calls. And by now, we know Mu-deok’s patterns; when she huddles like a drenched cat in the rain and mutters about murdering Wook, what she really means is she misses him very much.
Next morning, Wook is determined to reach Mu-deok. He appeals to Jin, who won’t hear it. He promptly complains to Do-joo instead, moaning ostentatiously about Songrim’s regulations, with the air of a child expecting his guardian to write a stern letter to the teachers. No dice. Do-joo insists that Mu-deok is happier without him.
Elsewhere, Mu-deok despairs as Do-joo returns, alight with hope that Wook and Yun-ok are in love. Still, according to her, Wook only has eyes for a woman he described as a bird’s egg in a tree. Mu-deok, cradling the egg-shaped charm Wook made for her, knows that this can only be one person.
The trouble with metaphors is that they’re anyone’s game. Do-joo is convinced the “bird’s egg” will hatch into an egret, sophisticated enough to suit Yun-ok. Mu-deok snaps caustically that it could become a vicious eagle — one that will fly away. The crux of the matter is, whilst Wook and Mu-deok may love one another, Mu-deok can’t let that compromise her freedom.
At Songrim, Wook masters basic training in virtually the time it takes to deliver a cheeky grin. Being rejected by twelve masters has its benefits! But, when he confidently demands a visit home, Jin stops him in his tracks: his final task is to read a book written by Songrim’s founder, Seo Gyeong. The catch? Its pages are blank. Reading them requires about a year of magical focus. Privately to Yeom, Jin confirms what we might have suspected: he has no intention of teaching Wook. He’s just stalling for time till Jang Gang comes home. It’s the cruelest blow in a series of cruel blows.
Joke’s on Jin, though; Wook’s resourceful. If they won’t let him out, he’ll just leave. This is awfully hard on Yun-ok, who visits just in time to watch the object of her affections exit via the window. Again. Still, she’s good enough to cover for him, shutting the door and pretending they’re in uninterruptible conversation — for four whole hours.
Back home, Mu-deok is delighted to hear that a man from Songrim is expecting her — only to find Yul. He’s here to, uh… retrieve his umbrella! Oh, it broke? Well, in that case, he’s here to let her buy him a new one! Despite this being the most awkwardly stalled errand known to man, there’s room for a tender moment as Mu-deok worries about the leg Yul broke long ago in Danhyanggok. Still, it’s clear where her loyalties lie when she stops to buy Wook’s favorite sweets for Yul to deliver. Why? He gets cranky without snacks!
Down the street, the not-so-blind thief from the last episode is caught stealing trinkets. She leads her pursuers on a merry chase, gleefully overturning chicken crates as she flees. (I like this newcomer — she’s got panache!) Unexpectedly, she spots Mu-deok, who, to her surprise, shows nary a hint of recognition — or any sign of her former blindness. No time for questions: she’s cornered by a team of thugs who recognize her as SO-YI. It looks like the jig is up — until her attackers are swept aside by a mage valiantly wielding an umbrella: Yul! So-yi accepts Yul’s improvised weapon as a walking stick, and goes on her way.
Alas, her luck is short-lived. She’s swiftly abducted by an unseen figure, dropping the umbrella as she goes. Her abductor? None other than Jin Mu, who has plans to take down Ho-gyeong…
Wook arrives home, only to face disappointment — Mu-deok’s out. But, she’s discovered a way into Songrim: there’s a leaflet advertising for servants. When she learns Wook’s back, she races as fast as she can — to find he’s already left. Still, all is not lost; she catches him returning by boat. Breathless, she calls out to him from the bridge. She throws the leaflet out to him, promising to reach him soon. Watch their faces light up in sight of one another: I defy you to tell me that’s not what love looks like!
As the 125th Songrim interviewee, Mu-deok’s got more competition than she bargained for. Do-joo decides that’s nothing a little bribery won’t fix. Unfortunately, the maidservant (cameo by comedian-actress Kim Hyun-sook) to whom she gifts an expensive scarf rats her out to Jin, whereupon things get nasty. He reprimands Do-joo for abusing their friendship. Amid tears, Do-joo snaps back that they need no longer be close. In the culmination of two episodes’ worth of failing to use his words, Jin attempts an apology… only to plod through it so slowly she’s already left.
Meanwhile, Master Lee, as enigmatically helpful as ever, visits Wook. He lets him on to a secret: the blank book is actually a love letter. Seo Gyeong was writing to a blind woman, intending her to read it with her heart. If Wook discovers the first word, the rest will follow.
As Master Lee leaves, he encounters Do-joo, who thanks him profusely for his help the other night. Yeom watches in disbelief as his ascetic, plainly-dressed master accepts a pink silk scarf as a token, whilst stuttering bashfully in the face of Do-joo’s — well, everything. Honestly, I’m beginning to think Master Lee’s chastity tea is just sugar water.
The Songrim servant contest begins! Mu-deok must compete against hundreds of hopefuls, beginning with a written exam on all things domestic. At Songrim, Yul, Dang-gu, and a visiting Won put their heads together over a copy of the test, pooling their logic (and, perhaps more significantly, Won’s attendant’s laundry expertise) to achieve what they are adorably positive must be a perfect score. Won, revealing that beneath his grumpy exterior lies a heart of — well, of confused longing for Mu-deok — helps smuggle the answers to her.
As Mu-deok aces category after category, Wook works equally hard to facilitate their reunion. The book is a love letter; it must be addressed to its recipient. Although his next encounter with Jin is as fraught with trauma as ever, it provides the last piece of the puzzle: Seo Gyeong knew a blind woman named Jin Seol-ran, the future founder of Jinyowon. As Mu-deok embarks upon her final challenge, Wook watches the text bloom before his eyes.
Mu-deok’s last test is a race — and it’s painful. Staggering under the massive jar on her back, she slows, nearly toppling. She misses the effortless athleticism of the body she lost. But, she also remembers her efforts to stop Wook from giving up — telling him he must do something, no matter how damning the circumstances. And so, she sprints. With tremendous effort, she breaks past the runner ahead of her, beating him to the finish line by a hair — before passing out.
I’m a blubbering mess by the time Wook and Mu-deok reunite. Sitting close, they discuss the letter Wook deciphered. Mu-deok can’t understand the reasoning. An invisible letter that was probably never sent? It’s cowardly. Amused, Wook agrees: Seo Gyeong should have delivered the letter like Mu-deok did. With the air of a man playing his trump card, he produces the leaflet she threw. If a letter delivers your feelings, he reasons, it counts. Mu-deok has the look of a woman utterly caught. Wook continues — what he read was, I will do anything to be able to see you. So, he’s going to reply.
Mu-deok braces herself, afraid. But all Wook does is return the leaflet. I missed you too, he says.
Whew! Folks, this is the slow burn to end all slow burns, and I am wild with anticipation. It’s clear Wook and Mu-deok understand the depth of their own feelings, and are even beginning to understand each other’s — obliviousness isn’t the issue. Still, for all that Mu-deok fears fitting her life around a partner (blood feuds are a solitary business), she and Wook are already halfway there. I can’t stop thinking about the plain delight they both show upon seeing each other — how easily they fit together, and how hard they try for one another. Every episode, they are drawn into a deeper understanding of one another.
Communication was this week’s theme, with most of our supporting cast failing to get their message across. Jin, especially, resembles an invisible love letter, never sent. He’ll demonstrate his feelings for Do-joo a million ways before suffering to voice them, and he’ll do anything for Wook besides offer an explanation. Yul can only truly call out to Mu-deok via vague allusions to a past she can’t be sure he knows is hers. Meanwhile, Master Lee can’t even stutter out a sentence in front of Do-joo! Eventually, all this miscommunication will unravel — for now, I can’t wait to see how complicated it gets.