Updated: Aug 31
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?
HER Naksu would have to have enough similarities to the Naksu we’re used to, so that there is an instant recognition from the audience - or at least no dissonance.
We would also need Go Yoon-jung’s chemistry with Lee Jae-wook to be at par with Jung So-min’s. If it’s less, we’ll feel it. And that will definitely lessen the viewership and ratings of season 2.
Now, what about the rest of the plot. Did we really need 10 more episodes to tell this story?
I think yes.
Season 1 is very smartly divided into 10 episode acts.
Episodes 1-10 could be an entire complete story of how Jung Uk becomes a mage OR it could be the first act of how our everyday assassin Naksu is called to action when she becomes Mudeok (to escape death) and meet her future pupil, then inciting incident happens, she becomes Jung Uk’s teacher, they train together, and she battles with doubts about how much she can trust him. The act ends with Jung Uk inside Songrim and Naksu left somewhat rudderless.
Episodes 11-20 is very clearly Act 2 where our united heroes face more and more obstacles while their relationship deepens and blossoms into romance. Meanwhile, the larger threat of the soul shifting magic (hwanhonsool) is established in scale.
The Act ends with our heroes in crisis. Mudeok has run wild, she stabbed Jung Uk while under Jin Mu’s control, she’s also killed the real Mudeok’s father while in her body, she’s absolutely ruined Park Dang-gu and Jin Cho-yeon’s wedding, So-yi is on the run after putting a magic blood worm inside Seo Yul’s heart, and our mean but self-aware prince no longer has friends he can trust around him. And Jin Mu thinks he has gotten away clean. Things are looking grim for the good guys.
And now for Act 3: Episode 21-30
Since it’s a new season after several months’ break, they will likely have to reestablish characters and dynamics quickly in the first episode - so imagine a very condensed version of acts 1&2 and then we jump into Act 3.
Jung Uk has come back from the dead. Like, he rose from a pyre - this is the kind of stuff that starts new religions. Or a witch hunt.
Even though he’s like a son to Park Jin and Kim Doju, Jang Uk knowingly helped hide the assassin Naksu from the mages, and especially after Mudeok’s rampage, this is probably not going to leave him in a great position with the mages of Songrim or the royal family.
And then there’s the matter of him rising from the dead, possessing the ice stone, and being born under the king’s star.
He’s going to be seen as this huge threat by the royal family and maybe hunted down as he goes looking for Mudeok. Seo Yul is likely to try to help Jung Uk find Naksu before anyone else does. Park Dang-gu will likely be split from his friends on this, because he’ll want to help avenge his wife’s father.
Now, after Mudeok starts to petrify she jumps into the enchanted lake where she knows the corpses of other soul shifters have been thrown, but instead of sinking to the bottom, she’s hauled up to the surface by two women.
I don’t think they work for Jin Mu. He seemed pretty convinced that Naksu will be dying soon. He wouldn’t want to save her.
Now recall that Heo Yeom told the queen that if she starts to petrify his infirmary had managed to figure out how to undo the process without feeding on souls. I highly suspect that Mu-deok will be rescued and under a similar spell where she’s maybe comatose for a while but not petrifying any more. Eventually her soul will be shifted out of this body and into Naksu’s original body, which should have been ashes, and Mudeok will either die or wake up to reunite with her mother as the real Jin Bo-yeon.
Either way Jung So-min won’t have a huge presence in Season 2, but I don’t that dive into the lake is the last we see of her.
It’s true that Jung So-min hasn’t been part of the filming of the next season, but that could just be because the arc of Jin Bo-yeon had already been shot to completion. And there was no extra filming necessary for that plot. I genuinely don’t think the production crew is out to eradicate all hints of Jung So-min from season 2 - it would be pretty impossible with the Jin Bo-yeon storyline still incomplete.
Also, let’s not forget that there are some interesting questions her story that the show hasn’t solved yet.
At the very beginning, why did Mudeok push out the girl Naksu had chosen and take her place? Was it because she sensed the soul ejector and was trying to do a good deed? She also seemed pretty zen about Naksu using her body for months. She seemed to know exactly what was happening, so quite possibly she had never lost her memory, she simply didn’t want to return to her mother and admit that she had unearthed the ice stone. So her long exile was penance.
It’s likely that Jin Bo-yeon’s divine powers are necessary to help Jung Uk and Naksu to finally destroy the ice stone. So yeah. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Jung So-min, we’ll just be seeing a LOT less of her and what we do see will be her portraying a different person - the real Mu-deok or Jin Bo-yeon.
And finally, as I said before, they will have to create a convincing continuation of the original romance with a new Naksu.
So, yes, there is a lot to look forward to, and I have high expectations. I don’t think Alchemy of Souls has suffered from the dreaded second half curse YET, and I desperately hope that they don’t do so in Act 3.
I’m gonna stay positive. 🤞😄