The Apothecary Diaries – Season 1 Episode 1 Recap & Review

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Maomao

Episode 1 of The Apothecary Diaries begins with Maomao’s father asking her to deliver medicine to the Verdigris House. Maomao tries to clean up a wound from one of her drug experiments. One of the famous princesses of this house named Pairin greets her. Maomao’s grandmother asks her if she’d like to be a courtesan, encouraging Mammao to leave. She admits this is a daily thing with her grandmother and Maomao doesn’t want anything to do with that occupation. 

Mammao toys around in the garden and gets kidnapped by three men. Meanwhile, Lady Lihua gives birth to the nation’s prince. Three months flow by and Maomao’s concerned about her father. Since being kidnapped, Mammao believes she was ransomed or sold off to someone and misses her old life as an apothecary. She shares intel about the rear palace with the audience. She says it holds a garden of women who give birth to the emperor’s children and don’t allow men. 

Mammao claims only the emperor, his kin, and eunuchs (former males who lost an important part of their body) can enter the rear palace. It’s made up of 2,000 concubines and servants and one thousand eunuchs. She says the serving girls are disposable though. After she points her co-worker (Xiaolan) in the right direction, Mammao continues explaining the rear palace lifestyle. She says most servants are illiterate and were only taught the bare minimum etiquette (not including reading or writing skills). 

Despite her status, Maomao would rather work in the lower class, get paid, and leave in two years than work toward a higher palace rank. We cut to Lady Lihua and her child, looking ill. Two gentlemen, one being Master Jinshi, converse about her condition and notice another woman’s child is in poor condition. Jinshi tells her the physician is busy and may not have time to cater to her daughter, Xiaoling. While some servants gossip about the princess and her kin’s illness, Xiaolan and her discuss a rear palace curse. 

Xaiolan states all three of the emperor’s children have died due to illnesses. She says the doctor visited Lady Gyokuyou and Lihua and confirmed they’re in terrible shape, confirming the curse’s legitimacy. They discuss how Lihua is the emperor’s current consort, meaning she’s a very important figure to the emperor. Despite giving birth to his son, Xiaolan says there’s a rumor brewing that the emperor likes Gyokuyou more. 

Maomao senses a power struggle at play and ponders over Lihua’s illness. Although she doesn’t want to get involved, something urges her to look into Lihua’s situation more. Suddenly, Maomao notices Lihua and Gyokuyou confront each other publicly. Maomao questions why the doctor hasn’t figured out a cure for their illnesses. She examines the situations closely and believes she knows the answer to their problems. However, she doesn’t know how to convey this intel to Lihua and Gyokuyou. 

Unfortunately, Lihua’s son passes away. A month passes and Jinshi visits Gyokuyou to ask her something. Gyokuyou tells Jinshi that when she visited the Crystal Pavilion to have her daughter examined, she found a note attached to a rhododendron plant. It said not to let any babies near the plant since the white face power it holds is poisonous. She asks Jinshi to uncover who sent the note. Jinshi has a hunch Maomao sent the letter after briefly encountering her during Lihua and Gyokuyou’s scuffle. 

Meanwhile, a man tells Maomao she must report to the Matron of the Serving Women immediately with other serving girls. Jinshi introduces himself as the palace’s manager as all the girls, except Mammao, adore his dashing looks. Jinshi tells the other girls to leave except for Maomao. Maomao realizes Jinshi signaled her out since she’s the only servant who can read. Jinshi brings Maomao to Gyokuyou’s room and she thanks her for saving Xiaoling’s life with the note. 

Maomao says she may have mistaken her for someone else. However, Jinshi takes out the note and says the fabric the person used to create it is made from the clothing serving girls wear. Jinshi asks Maomao to explain why she put the flower on the windowsill. Maomao explains how the high-end powder courtesans used (contained poison), which led to Gyokuyou, Lihua, and their children’s illnesses. Maomao says she used to work as an apothecary and knows about things of this nature. 

Gyokuyou presents Jinshi with a specific power the nurse used for her child. She reveals she tried telling Lihua about the message, but Lihua wouldn’t pay her any mind. Gyokuyou tells Maomao she’ll be her new lady-in-waiting (a female assistant/court lady) from this point forward. Maomao leaves and panics because she wants to keep a low profile.

The episode closes with two soldiers falling ill to poison. 


The Episode Review

With anime like Ragna Crimson and Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End delivering elongated premieres, The Apothecary Diaries joins the ranks and delivers three episodes for fans to sit through at once. As always, be sure to check our coverage of the follow-up episodes when they drop online. As far as episode one is concerned, it was an informative-heavy chapter with solid animation and background music.

It delves heavily into Mammao’s world and gives viewers brief insight into her character. Not only that but she gets thrown into a kidnapping scenario from the get-go, resulting in her working a low-class yet decent-paying job as a palace servant. Fortunately, by the episode’s conclusion, she receives a better gig as Gyokuyou’s personal assistant due to her apothecary background and intellect. 

It’ll be interesting to see what future apothecary-themed cases Mammao will tackle in the future. Many people who grew up with thrillers like Monster or episodic detective series like Detective Conan (Case Closed) will find Maomao’s investigative skills appealing. Not only that but the episode exceptionally brings out her amusing qualities too via quick facial gags and reactions. 

The episode could’ve benefitted from better pacing though. Due to all the information, it crammed into episode one, it may take viewers a second re-watch to take in all the information Maomao presents to them about the palace’s structure. On top of using terms like “concubine” and “eunuchs,” further research might be required on the viewer’s end to fully grasp this tale. That aside, this was a magnificent chapter and I’m excited to see what happens in the other episodes. 

 

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