A strong chapter buoyed by its excellent character-building and closing sequence.
This recap of the Netflix K-Drama Alchemy of Souls season 1, episode 3, contains spoilers.
Alchemy of Souls season 1, episode 3 recap
After a look back at Park Jin’s initial shock over the potential lack of legitimacy, Jang Uk has as a child, which ends up so extreme he suggests death for the baby in an attempt to prove the fatherly instincts possessed by Jang Gang and then extends to curiosity over who this child really is. We start with the sight of a sickly Jang Uk, who can barely stand after saving Naksu, prior to the young man taking responsibility for the situation that almost caused a double death. Naturally, Park Jin is furious, but thanks to some resistance, any punishment is delayed. With that being said, the strict master wishes to let Naksu’s fate play out, holding out on affording her treatment despite pleas from Seo Yul and Dang-gu.
Fortunately though, Park Jin reluctantly caves in when Jang Uk begs for his maid to receive hospital care, allowing for the pair to recover together. Meanwhile, Heo Yum tries to justify the fact that he opened the gate of energy for Jang Uk, stating that he couldn’t have just sat back and watched while he was suffering. Here though, we find out the older mage has given additional energy to the young master, which annoys Park Jin enough for him to request that it’s taken back once a recovery is made. Heo Yum then stands firm until the retrieval insisted on, as he believes that parting with energy will help Jang Uk, who is already far behind in his learning, gain a better chance at progression.
As Dang-gu drinks the wine he stole from his uncle, Seo Yul raises his suspicions over why Mu-deok would risk her life for Jang Uk after only knowing him for a small space of time. Unconvinced by the idea that this is a woman who could just be appreciative of being saved from a brothel, the “genius of the Seo family” insists that Mu-deok is a deceiver, one who seems to be hiding something. Elsewhere, a recovering Jang Uk tends to Naksu, who is still suffering from the torture she underwent not long ago. Then, the assassin explains just why she decided to poison the young master, showing that she was able to risk her life for his gate of energy to be opened. It’s clear Jang Uk, who has gone to the lengths of privately taking care of his new master, harbors a deep affection for Naksu, something compounded by the emotion he shows after hearing the rationale behind the potentially dangerous actions involving poison.
As the two head outside, they sort their new agreement out together. First, it’s decided that nobody must know about their relationship, meaning that in the day-to-day, Naksu will still assume the role of Mu-deok, the maid. Next, Jang Uk will only be a pupil until he has become “the best” and helped his master regain her energy. This clause appears to be a difficult one, as Jang Uk doesn’t appear best pleased by the idea of a parting of ways, and seems upset by the idea that his master will no longer have a reason to “go easy” on him once she is truly back to being Naksu. But the condition is accepted, so the two can begin their updated relationship.
Now, attentions turn towards Jin Mu, who is currently feeding human souls to soul shifters so they can continue to be of use to him. In his lair, he believes that Naksu has been killed after entering a body which disabled her from accessing energy, and recalls his old relationship with Jang Gang, a man who faltered enough when agreeing to become the king temporarily that the antagonist was taught the alchemy of souls. Then, we see Jin Mu’s right-hand man inform his fellow assassins that the brothel Naksu once worked at should be searched so that the owner of the spirit plaque is found discreetly.
While enjoying the newfound freedom that comes with his gate of energy being open, Jang Uk is put to work. He is first tasked with learning how to gather the energy of water (Jipsu), which then extends to the ability of gaining energy from the flow of water (Ryusu), and following that, Chisu, the ability to control the energy in the atmosphere. Naksu has mastered these steps, moving silently before striking to fit her name as the shadow assassin. But the demonstration of how she operated is stunted by the weak body of Mu-deok, which ultimately puts a pin in the exciting potential first steps at learning for Jang Uk. Instead, there’s some labor involving swordsmanship, and how a person should be able to fight. Blaming it on a lack of motivation, Jang Uk tries to justify his lack of learning, a point emphasised by his sudden desire to master Jipsu in six months, half the time of his impressive father.
As the day passes, Park Jin finds himself flustered at the suggestion that there are rumours regarding his potential fatherhood of Jang Uk when discussing the young master’s gate of energy being opened, so attempts to move onto Maidservant Kim’s feelings for the late Jang Gang. As such, the conversation softens, and the two end up discussing both people they love, and Park Jin’s waning protection of Jang Uk. Elsewhere, Mu-deok sweeps the garden in return for the free hospital treatment, doing so with a degree of spite until she can properly get her revenge. There is a nugget left in this scene too, as the former assassin finds herself curiously interested at the idea of Heo Yum having given a torrent of energy to Jang Uk, a torrent that is confirmed to be inside his stomach when the maid checks it.
However, it turns out that Heo Yum gave this torrent to Jang Uk because he believed it wouldn’t be able to be accessed, and that the young master would be unaware of such a thing being inside of him. Naksu has other plans though, wishing for it to be stolen so Jipsu can be used with ease. “You are one lucky punk,” the assassin says, prior to explaining that he needs to be able to breathe in the same way as Heo Yum to be able to control the energy. Realizing that breathing techniques are passed down through families, the two then decide to use Seo Yul as their gateway into learning. It’s no easy task thanks to the subtlety involved, and the potential attraction Naksu has to the man she was once involved with.
Using this to convince an appearing Dang-gu that the reason why this secret observation is happening is because of feelings for Seo Yul, Jang Uk ends up having to met Heo Yum, who wishes to reclaim his torrent. But the young master has a plan, gifting the old mage wine so that the deed of recovery is entirely forgotten about. Elsewhere, Cho-yeon wonders whether Jang Uk would be accepted into the Jin family now his gate of energy has opened, but her mother seems unwilling. Still, the romantic feelings are evident, even amidst the rejection of any notion that the young master will be allowed to marry into the family.
Receiving information about the daily schedule of Seo Yul, Naksu soon learns the ways to see the man she needs to be able to touch. Yet her nimble catching of books continues to arouse suspicion in the mage who believes she is hiding something, making the task harder than first thought. Luckily, following Seo Yul to the bathhouse, which leads to confrontation, presents the perfect opportunity for the risky task to be completed. But when Naksu tries to reach for his core of energy, under the guise of it being out of love, her victim is wise to the games, acknowledging what she must be doing, as well as the fact that her earlier nimbleness was down to martial arts learning. Leaving her with the knowledge that Jang Uk may not be able to succeed in controlling the torrent even with his breathing technique, Naksu switches her attention to the whistle she once owned, and the realisation that Seo Yul does remember who she is.
While Seo Yul returns to the bridge to see Naksu playing the whistle – and triggering his memories – Heo Yum is carried home by Jang Uk, a task that allows for his breathing structure to be recalled. So, while Mu-deok returns the item to Seo Yul in exchange for his core of energy to be made available to touch, her pupil is excited by the idea that he can soon control the torrent of energy living inside of him. But he is also somewhat deflated, having observed the intimate moment the two parted at the bridge.
When the master and pupil reconvene, the torrent of energy is surging inside of Jang Uk, meaning that their plan was executed. Though celebrations are muted by the pettiness of the young master not wanting Naksu to get too close, or catch feelings for, other men.
Next, Go Won flexes his swordsmanship in a fight with assassins, showing himself as both competent and tactical. He is being guided by Min Ju, who seems impressed by the skill of the crown prince. But the royal is annoyed at the idea that Jang Uk is the owner of Naksu’s sword, and vocalizes his intent to one day crush him. It satisfies the assistant Gwanju, before we cut to Park Jin deliberating on whether he should bring Jang Uk in as a mage of Songrim. Remembering what his friend said about the young master’s identity, and the chaos he could bring, the ultimate decision is to banish Jang Uk, along with his father’s sword, which he may now take with him. There’s even one hundred floggings given too, due to the losing of the spirit plaque. It’s a hard watch, but something that strengthens the character of the once weak man who will soon become a mage.
As Park Jin gives the last flogging to Jang Uk, knocking him to the floor in pain while wishing for him to give in, the young master picks himself up in strife, ready to leave Songrim in search of who he is, and can be. Now with his father’s sword, he looks the leader in the eye, turns, and walks away through the crowd as the episode ends.
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