The thick plottens. A pretty straightforward mystery episode for The Apothecary Diaries here, without a lot of obvious character-focused material for the main cast. I’m not convinced there wasn’t a bit snuck in there though at the end of the episode, though that’s strictly my speculation. As I understand it fans of the LN/manga are somewhat split on the mystery side of this series, with Xiaomao herself being the main draw for most. I tend to like the mysteries here pretty well, so this sort of material is not a problem for me.
Gaushun draws Maomao into this mystery, the poisoning of a bureaucrat with fugu, which bears similarities with a similar case involving a merchant 10 years earlier. As toxins are involved the clever Gaoshun knows Maomao will be unable to resist – and also trusts that she’s smart enough to know when to keep her mouth shut. Jinshi is jealous even of this interaction – driven both by his possessiveness over Maomao and his need to always be the center of attention. But he has his own distractions, as we’ll see later in the episode.
Gaoshun arranges for Xiaomao to get a look at the bureaucrat’s kitchen, and a young man named Basen (Tachibana Tatsumaru) is assigned to shepherd her investigation. Basen is rather sullen towards her, and she notes that he “looks familiar” – so it seems a safe bet there’s more going on with him than we’ve been told. At the mansion it becomes pretty obvious who was responsible for the poisoning as soon as the bureaucrat’s younger brother has a snarling fit at seeing outsiders investigating in the kitchen. The culprit seems not to be the pufferfish (which the chefs in both cases say wasn’t even served on the night of the incidents) but a certain seaweed Maomao finds in the kitchen stores.
The headline, though, is Lakan finally stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight. He’s overheard some officials gossiping about the servant girl who solved the warehouse fire case for Lihaku, and he’s the sort of chap who loves him some gossip. Jinshi later reveals that Lakan has been tormenting him at work – “has it in for me” – and the man himself shows up at Jinshi’s residence for a superficially friendly visit. The sparks are flying right from the start, though, and it seems pretty clear that the older man is the ones pulling the strings in this confrontation.
Lakan is a tough one to puzzle out. His interest in Maomao certainly has a dangerous air to it, and goes beyond his wanting her help in investigating the death of an acquaintance – the palace purveyor, who died with a “puzzling will” and not having passed his artisanal secrets on to his children. The story he tells about the courtesan he was infatuated with at Verdigris House is even more ominous, especially when he speaks of “lowering her value”. The vibe here is that this is a dangerous and possibly evil man, but I wonder if that isn’t a bit of a misdirection given how broadly it’s being played (then again, the younger brother did turn out to be the poisoner).
Is Lakan and his case connected somehow to the episode’s first mystery? That’s possible, as Kusuriya no Hitorigoto has gone that route before. And it seems pretty clear that whoever put the idea of using the toxic seaweed into the younger brother’s head is a future factor in the plot. But the truth is probably more complicated than that, and I rather think so is Lakan. I’m confident he’s going to play a major role in upcoming events, but a lot less confident about just what that role will be.