A strong opener with plenty of world-building and impressive action.
We recap the Netflix K-Drama Alchemy of Souls season 1, episode 1, which contains spoilers.
Alchemy of Souls season 1, episode 1 recap
We start with a woman walking through a village, trying her hardest to avoid eye contact with anyone she passes by. While doing so, she finds a poor family and decides to feed them, an act of kindness that proves to be a mistake when the lady’s soul-shifting son attempts to kill them. Proceedings are soon stunted by a suddenly appearing warrior, Jang Gang, who, with the help of magic, gets ready to retrieve the man’s soul despite some heartfelt pleas. Then, as the monster begins to harness the energy of his own mother, a sword is thrown, putting an abrupt end to the conflict.
After disposing of the soul shifter’s body, which has turned to rock, Geon explains why these monsters end up the way they do before heading to the palace to discuss the new spell he is learning in front of the dying king. The royal man wants an heir and suggests that “the alchemy of souls” can live inside a younger body, thus fulfilling his request that someone can fill his position. And, despite some trepidation over the fact that such sorcery is forbidden and could cause a clash which means that an evil spirit is formed, the two end up agreeing to switch their bodies for a period of seven days. Following the switch, the king then romantically pursues Do-hwa while in the body of Jang Gang, knowing that any child that could potentially come from this encounter would technically be his.
Next, we are told about the history behind Daeho, a country built around Lake Gyeongcheondaeho that embodies the “huge” amount of energy created from the sky. The humans who could control said energy was called mages, while the place itself does not exist in “history books or maps.” We’re 20 years from the beginning of the episode, watching the ‘Shadow Assassin’ who kills mages and successfully fights a small army by harnessing the vast amount of energy that rules the area they reside in. That is until their leader, Park Jin, involves himself, with the worthy adversary doing enough to make the target flee from the situation. Naturally, the assassin is then hunted, but the sword-wielding cohort who chases her fails to do anything more than offer a mild challenge.
As a result of the situation, the ‘Shadow Assassin’ attempts to have her soul leave her current body and enter a new one. And although we know the first half was a success, it remains a mystery whether her soul succeeded in finding a new home. After that, we’re taken to Songrim, where Seo Yul enters to inspect the blue mark on the body of Naksu, who is presumed dead. The young man chooses to fixate on the whistle he finds on her person, triggering feelings that while this person was an assassin, she must have had a story of her own. Outside, Park Jin discusses the situation involving the return of a soul shifter and how such a thing could end up killing many people, just like the previous ones.
However, the charismatic Park Dang-gu is excited to talk about this villain, even if it does annoy his uncle, who believes he should be practicing spells instead of hanging around bars and listening to rumors. There is some interesting information shared by the loudmouth, though, as Uk, the trainee of Jang Gang, has decided to end his training at a Buddhist temple by himself, despite the fact he is meant to be there for three years. The brash trainee believes that he has done all that he needs to and that his tutor never intended to teach him spells anyway, so he exits with his master stewing in rage. “I will find my own master,” he says, just as we discover that the soul of Naksu has ended up in Mu-deok, a girl who was originally blind but can now see.
While getting to know her new body, Naksu struggles to adapt to the point she concedes that she will have to temporarily remain as the rather timid Mu-deok, who has just been sold to a brothel. Though, she quickly tries to go back on her words to no avail, bemoaning the lack of strength she now has when wishing to snap the arm of a colleague. Luckily, this fellow worker does have some information regarding the ‘four seasons’ of Daeho Fortress, people who are perceived to be beautiful. There’s the daughter of the Jin family who has the “vitality of spring,” Cho-yeon. There’s the heir of the Park family who has the “energy of a hot summer,” Park Dang-gu. There’s the “genius of the Seo family who is as noble as the sunset in fall,” Seo Yul. And there’s Jang Uk, the successor of the Jang family who is “as dazzling as the winter snow.” Together, they form part of the most well-known mage families.
Considering all this, Naksu vows that it will be the end once she comes across these four seasons, hoping that they will meet their deaths as “beautifully” as their names. Concurrently, Dang-gu arrives at the scene to find someone, a simple task that leads him right to Jang Uk. We find out here that the reckless man’s lack of spell learning is due to the fact that his father has blocked any teaching, something that annoys the youngster who wants to be able to at least break the shell of a crab. Naksu is busy scheming during this conversation, believing it is easier to trick people when blind, yet soon slips up when her fellow employee stumbles upon her without bandages. So instructions are made for her to be sought after, leading to the assassin fleeing again.
During her escape, the trickster stumbles across Jang Uk, who confronts her prior to discussing her identity as Mu-deok. There, Naksu threatens to behead the successor of the Jang family but becomes flustered when her eyes are complimented. Following that, and with a gift parted with upon her exit, the embarrassed assassin rushes away. Afterward, the swordsmanship art known as Tansu is explained, leading to Jang Uk pondering who the woman he believes is Mu-deok.
As we discover that Naksu used to be linked with Seo Yul, she appears deflated. Meanwhile, two men discuss her supposed death together, admitting that they must retrieve the assassin’s body and sword. One of these pairings is her trainer, who states that it is a shame that her fate worked out the way it did. Before long, though, we’re back with Naksu as she gets to grips with the fact that she’s been brought into Jang Uk’s house after being caught as a thief because of his ruse. She is now a servant, expected to serve the man dubbed ‘Young Master,’ in addition to displaying a smile at all times.
Putting on an act as a grateful, indebted servant, Naksu gets tested by Jang Uk, who seems keen to see if he can pick up any clues on her real identity. At first, it’s about upgrading the delivery of water from a drink, to a wash bucket, to running the perfect bath, but even when it expands into food and bedding, it’s all to no avail. Naksu holds out on her challenges, carefully ensuring that her mask does not slip amidst the urge to exact revenge. It does help that she has lost her power, though.
At night, Naksu knows that her way into regaining her powers lies in Jang Uk’s spirit plaque, so she privately vocalizes her wish to take it. Elsewhere, Park Jin discusses that Naksu’s dead body is to remain where it is, for now, as if the soul has managed to find a way to a new body (which it has), then it’ll mean she will have to come back for her sword. During this scene, we also see the detailed backstory to Jang Uk’s lack of spell learning, centered around Park Jin exploiting the fact that he can not open his father’s sword as the reason why he should not be able to have his gate of energy opened. “I will find someone myself. Then I will take out that sword and break it in two,” the young man says, wishing to find a new master.
While Jang Uk is contemplating his life, Naksu allows herself a moment to wonder about the man she is serving before heading to find the spirit plaque. It isn’t a fruitful search, however, as before long, the young master heads into the room and finds the woman in his bed. Though, the only excuse she can think of for being there is that she is attempting to keep the bed warm, a statement that brings out a humorous acceptance from Jang Uk, who claims he just wanted the brazier moved closer when some level of shyness occurs. Meanwhile, Seo Yul discusses the whistle he found on the dead body with Dang-gu, allowing us to discover that he remembers everything from that part of his life.
In the bedroom, Naksu steals the spirit plaque from Jang Uk while he is sleeping. As it turns out, the young master was faking it, yet he doesn’t appear interested in pursuing the assassin as she heads towards her sword. As all this takes place, the assassins from earlier strike Songrim, leading to a fierce battle between them and the pairing of Seo Yul and Dang-gu. There’s little time to contemplate the consequences afterward, too, as the duo discovers that the training centre is burning, so they rush there. Park Jin sees through this, though, realizing that an opening was created for Naksu to strike, a realization that is proved truthful swiftly after.
While discovering why the assassins presented themselves (which was to take the body), Naksu soon has to flee again when she makes a noise that alerts Seo Yul. In the nick of time, Jang Uk appears, ready to help her, while making the surprising revelation that as soon as he saw her, he knew that Naksu was his master. As the two stares into each other’s eyes, the episode ends.
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