That was all very peaceful and relaxing. Right up until the end of the episode, that is, where things took a decidedly serious turn. And one can use that term in multiple senses, because not only did the tenor of conversation between Maomao and “Jinka” get rather heavy, the implications seem to impact the core of the premise itself. I can think of two possible ways this relates to the main protagonists – one for each of them. And while I’m not sure which is relevant, I’m extremely confident that one or the other of them is a reality.
In the first place, there’s the matter of Jinshi asking Xiaomao to apply makeup. Her puzzlement at this – why does a guy already so pretty need a makeup specialist – is soon dispelled when she discovers he wants him to make him less pretty. This is a puzzle in its own way, but at least it explains the reason why she’s needed. It’s not as easy gig, mind you – for someone like Jinshi, not only a high noble but a stylish ikemen – looking common isn’t just about a few dabs of makeup. Everything needs to change, not least his smell (which Maomao explains is a crucial metric by which the Verdigris assesses its potential clients).
A smelly outfit, moles, blotches for the skin, a tan, towels for padding and cotton for the cheeks, even chemical irritants to change the voice – when Xiaomao takes on a job, she doesn’t remotely half-ass it. Suiren is horrified by all this of course (except the lipstick and eye makeup interlude) but Jinshi is a surprisingly good sport about the whole thing. Gaushun and Suiren more or less insist that Maomao accompany Jinshi into town (where he intended to put her work to the test for a mysterious appointment) but that means a makeover for her as well – taking her in the opposite direction.
With Basen (who suddenly seems to be in every episode) watching from the shadows, Ojou-sama Maomao and Jinka head off to town. He has a bit of a struggle drawing her into conversation, but when he does it gets interesting very quickly. She reveals a couple of details about Luomen that were previously unconfirmed. He’s her adoptive father (I figured), and he’s a eunuch (I hadn’t assumed that). He also studied abroad, which surprises Jinshi given how rarely such permissions were given out. He appears to be putting the pieces together and connecting Luomen to his time at the palace.
When the pair arrive at the address of Jinshi’s meeting, Maomao makes an incorrect assumption about the reason for it. And that’s when the conversation gets really serious indeed. He starts grilling her about the customer list at Verdigris, which she refuses to divulge given how crucial privacy is in that business. And then asks the question Lakan refused to answer by (effectively) instructing him to ask Maomao – “how do you decrease a courtesan’s value?”. This is not a topic she’s pleased to discuss, clearly, but she reluctantly does so. And the methods are, more or less, what one would have assumed.
The main importance of this conversation loops back to the question of what it implies. Why is Jinshi so interested, and who is he meeting? There are two obvious explanations for the matter of relevance. First, the courtesan Lakan was talking about was Jinshi’s own mother (and it’s easy to imagine why such a dalliance would have been covered up). The second – and possibly more likely given that Jinshi’s mother has already been hinted to be Ah-Duo – is that the courtesan in question is Maomao’s mother, which would probably though not necessarily make Lakan her father. It’s pretty obvious Lakan was baiting Jinshi, and even if he is a troll the reasons surely go beyond his own amusement in doing so. One way or another I think the dynamic of things has changed, and Lakan is surely at the heart of it.