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Although this episode is titled “Suicide or Murder,” the answer to that question is neither difficult nor important. Neither of the deaths may be all that significant – the murdered official who was poisoned with salt or the murdered lady in waiting (no one buys that it was suicide despite the official ruling, right?) who drowned are both symptoms of a political disease rather than important for themselves. While the motive for the lady is a bit clearer – someone believes that she had something to do with the poisoning at the banquet or at least knows too much – what’s more significant is that there are people in the palace who believe that they can kill with impunity. At that point it almost doesn’t matter whose side they’re on; having murderers so close to the emperor and his consorts isn’t a good thing.

The focus on Jinshi this week seems to support this idea. Gaoshun is Jinshi’s keenest observer, and whatever his feelings about the younger man’s obsession with Maomao are, he is more concerned about Jinshi’s not acting like “the one known as Jinshi.” That’s a very loaded way to phrase things: the implication seems to be that “Jinshi” isn’t a person so much as a costume our Jinshi has donned. “Jinshi” acts a certain way, doesn’t get attached to his toys, and doesn’t pout or get overly emotional. When all of those things are thrown out the window, Gaoshun appears concerned that the mask is slipping. That, in turn, implies that real “Jinshi” isn’t something that can be widely known, and Gaoshun’s issues with Maomao are less based on her and more on how she makes Jinshi react to her. It makes it seem like Gaoshun has never seen Jinshi fall for someone before, and he’s not at all prepared to cope with his master’s adolescent antics.

This is very much an episode about what’s going on in the periphery rather than center stage. Apart from the Jinshi questions, we also get a montage that bears paying attention to towards the end – over a lovely song and against an image of poisonous berries, we see Maomao think back to all of the dead women she’s met, and those who would be their killers. A couple of men show up in the images, but it’s more a story of the forgotten and marginalized, the people valued as worthless in their society, and Maomao’s observation of them. Mixed among them are a few scenes that are not flashbacks, and all possibly of the same long-haired, slightly disheveled woman, along with one very clear image of go stones on a board. Why these are dropped here isn’t stated, although the inclusion of the image of Maomao sitting in (presumably) the annex from last week may indicate some sort of link there.

What’s worth thinking about is how and why this relates to the two deaths in the episode. The man’s death is investigated in depth, and Jinshi even wears mourning for him. The woman’s death is barely investigated (you can’t tell me the quack doctor did a thorough autopsy) and then declared a suicide despite the evidence. Like the other women unfolding over the spray of berries, she is deemed as less than, disposable, and not worth mourning. Maomao’s request to Jinshi at the end isn’t about her contemplating suicide or wanting to die at all, but an acknowledgment that as a woman, she, too, is disposable. What to Jinshi just looks horrifying is to her a sensible bit of planning. He may care about her, but would anybody else? After all, at the end of the day, she’s just a girl, and that doesn’t have much value at all.


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Episode 9 – The Apothecary Diaries