Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Alchemy of Souls was originally supposed to be 20 episodes. That’s already longer than most k-dramas, but quite typical of most stories written by Hong Mi-ran and Hong Jang-eun.
But when it was about halfway through, the production team announced that the drama had been given a second season - but only of 10 episodes. And the reason we got for this was that the writers and director had more story to tell and couldn’t fit it into the 20 episode run.
Now, Alchemy of Souls is not exactly live-shot. There is a lot of beautifully rendered CGI that would require plenty of post production time, which means that the majority of AoS was already shot and ready for release before the first episode began airing.
The Hong sisters also write pretty complex plots with LOTs of moving parts, which doesn’t allow the filming of a drama to be done on the fly. Just look at the cast list for season 1. And these are just the characters with speaking parts.
What this means is that the decision to extend the story by 10 episodes wasn’t done lightly.
The drama just finished airing on 28th August but the team had started filming for season 2 by end of July even though it doesn’t air until December. They even pushed the airing of the final two episodes of S1 by a week so they could “polish up the production” - which I read to mean that they had made considerable changes in the last few episodes of Season 1 to allow story lines to unfurl organically in Season 2.
Now, here on out I have some speculations for you.
I believe that the way Season 1 ended was always how the writers had planned this story go. Except in the original vision, this point where Jin Mu exposes Naksu in Mudeok’s body and causes her to kill the man she loves and begin to petrify probably happened between episodes 16-18. More likely 18 knowing how Hong sisters like to accelerate the drama in the last few episodes. BUT after that, I suspect the remaining episodes were supposed to tell the story that we will now see in Season 2.
What was this remaining story?
One of the major beats would of course be about Naksu finding a way back to her own body, while ideally Jin Bo-yeon (the original Mu-deok) finally gets to reunite with her mother.
The other important storyline is about Jung Uk fulfilling his destiny as a child born under the King’s Star, now that he has the ice stone inside him - kinda making him un-killable.
And then there is the tricky tricky matter of establishing NEW chemistry between Go Yoon-jung’s version of Naksu and Jung Uk, if the audience is to feel any REAL investment in the couple’s fate. (Be kinda awkward if they finally give us a happy ending and we all are like, ehn not what you advertised, take it back to the kitchen!)
Part of me genuinely suspects that this is the real reason they asked for a second season.
They clearly cast Jung So-min as Mudeok to do the heavy lifting of establishing a funny yet deadly character who can do cunning, heartless and absolutely adorable with ease.
We were supposed to get attached to her version of Naksu. But I think they underestimated exactly HOW ATTACHED WE WOULD GET.
They also may not have quite anticipated HOW EXPLOSIVE the chemistry between Lee Jae-wook and Jung So-min would be on screen.
It’s to the point where Go Yoon-jung has now been given the impossible task of recreating Jung So-min’s Naksu instead of establishing her own version of the assassin heroine.
Previously she would have to do that in two episodes with very limited screen time, since other plots also had to be resolved, BUT NOW she’s getting ten episodes to do it.
And you can see how the creators would maybe see this as an opportunity to showcase the power of the great Naksu in her full glory, back in her body and with her powers reinstated. BUT it’s also way more time for fans of Alchemy of Souls to microanalyse her performance and to potentially feel disappointed.
Which is not to say that Go Yoon-jung isn’t up to the task. I’ve seen her in Sweet Home and she’s a good actress. But the stakes themselves are unfairly stacked against her.
And let’s say she manages to triumph - what would that look like?