Naksu in Alchemy of Souls

What have they done to Naksu?

When Alchemy of Souls dropped its first trailer back in June, a lot of viewers were very taken with its assassin female lead. We were told that she’s the greatest, most feared assassin in the land. Naksu – the one who beheads!

The concept of such a person temporarily finding herself trapped in the body of a gentle country girl was hilarious and we couldn’t wait for the show to start.

Cut to the end of season 1. While a large section of the drama’s viewership were bummed out that Jung So-min would no longer be portraying Naksu, many more were thrilled to be finally getting the athletic, lethal Naksu they were promised in Go Yoon-jung. After all, it was her introductory scenes that really sold us on the calibre of this character way back in episode 1.

Between stunning visual effects and a perfectly choreographed fight scene, we watched as Go Yoon-jung flew and danced in battle with an army of mages.

A few minutes later, a wounded Naksu entered Jung So-min’s body and all of us settled in to watch the comedy of errors that would surely ensue. We were satisfied to wait, since we were sure that when Naksu returned to full glory, we would get action scenes worthy of the assassin from the opening scene.


We did not.

They’re choosing to keep Naksu weak and vulnerable

Season 2 (or Part 2) is now underway, and the great assassin is once again in a weak, new body – although this one looks like her old self.

At this point, the audience probably expected that she would be slowly getting back to full power after such a long period of hard lessons and heartbreaks in another woman’s body.

But, Naksu is now permanently caged in a new identity, with an untrained body, and no memory of her old self.

She is Jin Bo-young now, because her new body was formed from the real Jin Bo-young’s flesh (Mudeok), using Naksu’s magic. (There is a whole other essay boiling in my stomach about the erasure of another woman’s identity with nary a thought, but we won’t go into that right now.)

Alchemy of Souls is a 30 episode drama spanning two parts.

We had exactly 10 minutes with the original Naksu, portrayed in gallant form by Go Yoon-jung, and then over 19 episodes where Jung So-min won our hearts as the intelligent and witty Mudeok.

Regardless of my affection for the series (and my affection runs ridiculously deep), I can’t fathom why the writers are determined to keep Naksu hobbled until the very end.

One reason that struck me early on is related to story arcs. An over-powered character quickly becomes dull since they can solve all their problems by using their powers.

Just look at Jang Uk with his ice stone magic. There is no problem he can’t solve with brute force, except his own heartbreak.

Giving Naksu her powers and athleticism back would likely make it harder to keep the story going for 10 more episodes in Part 2. But that’s a problem of limited imagination.

There is a lot of conflict the writers could plumb between two powerful main leads. They could be put on opposite sides for one.

How Naksu in Part 2 could have been badass

Imagine a scenario where Naksu is brought back in Bo-young’s body not by Lady Jin but by the evil Jin Mu. And with her mind wiped clean, he gets to re-create her identity as an assassin – but this time an even more powerful one, with Jin Bo-young’s divine magic running through her veins.

And as Jang Uk faces off with this new improved Naksu with no memory of their time together, it falls on him to remind her and bring her back to the side of good.

Meanwhile, Naksu is piecing clues together and regaining her memory by bits, and with each charged interaction with Jang Uk, and every fight where he uses moves she had once taught him against her, she falls back in love with him.

Like, come ON!

What we are now getting is not a continuation of the embattled Naksu’s storyline. We are getting a whole new love story with a whole new love interest.

Think for a moment, how the plot for Part 2 would have gone if instead of Naksu coming back to life, the real Jin Bo-young was the one waking up with the assassin’s face after being possessed. The beats for the first 4 episode would have been the same, however, the stakes of the game would have been completely different!

If the real Bo-young had met Jang Uk while escaping her over protective mother’s clutches and fallen in love, and then found out that the man was still pining over the assassin who had possessed her body for months…

Just. Think of the pathos there for a moment!

But to bring Naksu back in Bo-young’s identity through Frankenstein magic and then have her go through useless pangs of jealousy towards her old self that will be resolved in a couple of episodes is the biggest waste of opportunity in such a situation.

Not to mention what Naksu has been reduced to at this point.

They took a strong woman and made her dependent

The great assassin of Season 1, episode 1 is now a lost child, desperately waiting to be rescued by a man, unable to fight, unable to use her magic, unable to act in her own interest without help.

She’s become inexplicably soft in every way.

Visually, she’s draped in pale pastels and layers of gauzy materials. She calls herself “unparalleled in beauty but not very intelligent”. She seems even less physically adept than when she was in Mudeok’s body (which is unsurprising with the heavy skirt she now wears). And she’s easily hurt by Jang Uk’s coldness, since he’s the only one she looks to for affection and guidance.

This is not the Naksu we have come to know.

Even at her weakest, the woman would never insult her own intelligence. She would also rely on her own strengths first, not on a man.

Someone pointed out on twitter that it was nice to see Naksu without her traumatic past, but we become the people we are because of our past.

By erasing her self-reliant past, the writers have changed the character entirely.

And so we come back to my conclusion that Alchemy of Souls: Light and Shadow is not a continuation of Naksu’s character arc, it is the story of Jang Uk finding a second love. And she happens to have Naksu’s old soul.

Predictions for the rest of the season

I realise that writing this essay 4 episodes into Part 2 may be pre-emptive. Perhaps, they are planning to give us Naksu with all her memories re-instated next week.

But I don’t think that will happen. Because they have laid out the foundations of a new romantic dynamic. They want Jang Uk to be pulled towards Bo-young as she is now, because that indicates how they are fated.

If Naksu is to regain her memories in full, it won’t happen until the last 3 episodes. At which point I expect a separation trope to kick in just because it can.

And even then, she can’t be what the original Naksu was since by the show’s own explanation, she no longer has the original Naksu’s body (which was said to be taller and more athletic).

I just want to know what the writers were thinking when they created her at the very start. What was the point of this character?

Was she supposed to be a cynical, lonely assassin learning the truth of her past and finding family and friends after she lost her powers? Or was she supposed to be a beautiful love interest who existed first to help the male lead mature into a powerful hero, and then came back from death to reward him for being a nice powerful hero, who didn’t turn into a tyrant even though he could have?

Alright. I’ll stop here. Let’s talk more once the show is done.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The show is done, and my disappointment is sealed in concrete. What a waste.

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