A nest of vipers.
What They Say:
Maomao lived a peaceful life with her apothecary father. Until one day, she’s sold as a lowly servant to the emperor’s palace. But she wasn’t meant for a compliant life among royalty. So when imperial heirs fall ill, she decides to step in and find a cure! This catches the eye of Jinshi, a handsome palace official who promotes her. Now, she’s making a name for herself solving medical mysteries!
E5 – Covert Operations
A eunuch stricken by a curse comes begging for aid. Meanwhile, the rear palace buzzes with excitement as everyone prepares for the upcoming garden party, and Gyokuyou’s ladies-in-waiting aren’t about to let Maomao get away without dressing her up.
E6 – The Garden Party
Maomao does her best to navigate the complex social situations at the garden party, including meeting the other Upper First rank concubines. But once she settles down to do her work as a food-taster, she discovers a surprise in a bowl of soup.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A poisoning, and a poisoning. This is why Maomao was hired into the inner court. When an attendant fears he’s been cursed, Maomao reveals it to be a chemical burn. Yet that’s more of a footnote and a concern for Jinshi. Maomao has more pressing matters to attend to, like sewing a ton of pocket warmers for her coworkers to keep them warm during the upcoming garden party. Or sneak-foraging rare mushrooms to enjoy with the quack doctor.
Maomao’s secret is revealed for all to see, or not see, when the other ladies pin her down to get ready for the party. I’m honestly a little disappointed that Maomao’s freckles aren’t real It’s both sad and amusing to think she’s been keeping up with the ugly duckling act for so long that it must just be second nature. When she tells of the reason that she downplayed her looks, it causes some soul searching. Jinshi seems to take Maomao’s kidnapping and servitude as a personal failure of his own, which, along with the opening scene of him sparing, would imply that he is more than just a top eunuch. Especially when he is mysteriously absent for most of the garden activities. Hmmm.
In an imperial court, the number of concubines is a symbol of wealth and politics, not necessarily lust. It is still incredibly fucked up that Maomao discovers the youngest consort is only fourteen years old. Worse, she was sent to the court in a political marriage to the previous emperor at the age of nine! We also see that the dowager empress looks very young, and while we don’t hear her age or the age she was when she gave birth to the current emperor, Maomao looks shocked. Which, for a girl raised in a brothel, must have been disgustingly young.
Which brings me back around to the emperor. The dude looks consistently bored with life. The garden party is less of a party and more of an obligation. The favorite consorts sit far apart and everything feels highly ritualized. Behind the scenes things are a bit more lively, as different mini-courts of ladies in waiting spar verbally. We learn Maomao was laying down some impressive threats to those who bullied her, which her own group is unaware of. They still have this “we must protect our precious Maomao at all costs” mentality, it’s so cute.
We get to see Maomao at work poison testing in front of a crowd. While the other testers are fearing for life and limb, Maomao is happily enjoying the fancy food. Even when she ends up consuming a deadly soup and has to excuse herself to vomit up the mess, she still wants to eat the rest of the soup. Jinshi may not be the only masochist in the cast.
I find it interesting that Maomao is more interested in why consort Lishu had the reaction she did to having to eat the fish she was served. Maomao noticed that the regular preferred dishes that would be served to the consorts had been mixed up, but Lishu’s reaction was one of fear. We learn she is allergic to fish and Maomao severely chastises the lady-in-waiting who serves as Lishu’s food taster. It becomes clear that the woman didn’t understand food allergies could be fatal, and it is also clear that maybe her servants don’t actually care for their consort the way the other mini-courts do.
Who does care about all of this is Jinshi, who is now concerned not only for Maomao, but multiple consorts. The would-be assassin is still on the loose.
Maomao takes a moment to enjoy life’s simpler pleasures in between apothecary duties before the seasonal garden party begins. There are hints at a larger plot at play before the party, and even after an attempt is made on one of the concubine’s lives, the perpetrator is still at large. Is the threat coming from inside the court, or maybe a larger political game is being played? That’s not the only mystery, as we have the introduction of a young man who also seems to find Maomao agreeable, and Jinshi’s bemusement appears to be shifting to concern for our heroine. Add to all of this more of Maomao being a terror to those who would tear her down and this show remains delightful.
Episode Grades: B +, A –
Streamed by: Crunchyroll