TL;DR: You’re all way too old to be playing high school students.
But I’m okay with that. You know why? Because the actress playing our heroine is also too old. The showrunners didn’t cast an adult male as the hero and a teenage girl as the heroine—Seo Ye-ji (the actress playing Sang-mi) is 27 to Ok Taecyeon’s 28. Two of the heroic quartet are even younger (can’t find a birth year for the third), and the actor playing Sang-mi’s twin brother is 26. The actors are all pretty close in age, so not only do I get to avoid behind-the-scenes age-squick, but I’m also way less distracted because they look like they could have been peers in an actual high school.
(Just, you know, a decade ago.)
As for the actual content of the show, this first episode was all about character introductions and establishing the foundation for future plot lines. The pieces came together one step at a time, and the scriptwriter generally showed some restraint against the urge to infodump about the rather large cast of characters. I didn’t feel as if many scenes were wasted, and I’m hoping that this means the scriptwriter has taken the best parts of the original webtoon and distilled them properly for the small screen.
While I wish that Sang-mi had gotten more screen time, one of the things I really liked about this episode was that the actress portraying her and the director made an effort to demonstrate to the audience when Sang-mi was deep in thought. Whether she’s trying to figure out what to say about the shipping-container-turned-home or just how far she should voice her opinion about what happened in the church, you could tell that Sang-mi was weighing her options. (More on the church later.) They didn’t resort to dramatic brooding or unnecessary flashbacks or awkward voiceovers—and the one flashback they did give the audience was entirely new and revealed information that perfectly explained why Sang-mi didn’t want to accept help. I’m hoping for continued subtlety in regards to Sang-mi’s character. And on a totally random note, I really like the actress’s voice.
The heroic quartet doesn’t have much by the way of personality so far, though they are slowly gaining some. (I will note being less than thrilled that Man-hee’s first “line” was over-the-top belching and that he has the fewest lines and least personality of them all. Please allow him to be something other than the background decoration fat friend. I will also note that the quartet as a whole is almost always eating, so he is not being singled out that way at least.) They’ve got all the makings for a hot-headed, good-hearted-but-also-truant friendship group, and I can easily see why they’d be the heroic core of a high-school thriller webtoon.
I’m predicting that there will be eventual conflict between Sang-hwan (well-off son of a man running for political office) and Dong-chul (son of an alcoholic, raised by his poor grandmother). For now, I will just enjoy their we’re-not-going-to-talk-about-our-angst motorcycle rides and readiness to leap into battle by each other’s sides.
Meanwhile, the cult people are freaking me out. Even if I hadn’t know the synopsis for this show going into it, I would have figured out that this was a Not Good church before we even got to the whole beating-a-drunk-man-with-a-showerhead scene. In stories like this, one of the things I am most interested in is where the characters fall on the true believer scale. I’m 90% certain that Eun-sil is a True Believer and fully expect her to race across the Moral Event Horizon in her god’s name; I think Wan-tae is an opportunist who is happy to play the part if it gets him what he wants.
But does Jung-ki believe his own hype? That’s a good question, and I suspect that, if he doesn’t, the revelation of his unbelief will eventually be the undoing of most of his congregation. Right now what he is, is a creep.
Like, I hate to say that a terrible thing was done well, but the flashback where Jung-ki felt up Sang-mi under the pretext of praying over her was absolutely chilling. How we saw her startle first, how she looked down, how she had that moment where she was clearly thinking okay, maybe he’s just touching me now since he’s praying for me, like he’s doing with Sang-jin, and how he then slid his hand up her thigh.
Jung-ki is a predator, and this show is making his predatory behavior explicit to the audience, even if it isn’t obvious to the characters. I’m relieved they’re doing that, that they’re showing how Jung-ki and his church target vulnerable people and get them in their grasp by pushing small boundaries and then dangling rewards in front of them.
It’s clear that Sang-mi is uncomfortable about what happened—and also clear that she’s worried about whether she was reading too far into it. Does she risk a no-apparent-strings-attached house for her family by pointing out something that maybe wasn’t meant the way she took it? And while her mother also caught the this is off somehow vibe, her father is desperate to keep their family off the streets, and her brother didn’t notice that anything was wrong.
I feel awful for her because this is exactly what happens to so many vulnerable people, and I’m afraid about what event will eventually be bad enough that she begs the quartet for help.
By the Numbers
- Fight scenes: 1
- Church meetings: 1
- Boxes of herbal medicine left over: 20
- Praying over sick/injured people sessions: 3
- Bechdel Test: 1 episode passed (juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust barely)