Poseidon: Episode 1
Take one part NCIS, one part Baywatch, one part Top Gun, one part k-pop music video, and mix it all up with some tragic-revenge and fall-from-glory themes. Are you wondering how on earth all that coalesces into a coherent, action-packed, thrilling hour of television?
Answer: It doesn’t.
Sadly, Poseidon falls into the category of Tries Too Hard, Underdelivers. The action scenes are empty sizzle, and are delivered on a production budget that makes it more campy than cool. It’s not all badness, but its entertainment derives in large part from humor of the unintended kind.
SONG OF THE DAY
Kim Yeo-hee – “꽃잎” (Flower petal) [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
At the harbor, a mission is under way. Teams move out — an armed special forces unit (SSAT), uniformed policemen, plainclothes officers — via boat and helicopter. They’re after Choi Hoe-gon, a mob boss with dealings in smuggled weapons, drugs, and fake luxury items, and have received intelligence tipping them off to his presence on a boat nearby.
At home base, the senior Coast Guard officers watch the mission unfold while the team moves out. A lieutenant reports a complication to the man in charge, the bureau director, because the target is heading toward international waters.
That makes the higher-ups pause, weighing the odds, because if they infiltrate the vessel and find nothing, they’ll be in hot water (har har) at the violation of international maritime law.
Arguing against that is impassioned Coast Guard officer KWON JUNG-RYUL (Lee Sung-jae) gets on his radio to insist that being in international waters doesn’t matter if they nab their quarry. The Coast Guard director finally gives his terse approval, and the teams swing into action.
The SSAT agents land on the vessel and infiltrate, subduing the crew and searching for Choi Hoe-gon and his smuggled wares. But nope, there’s nothing. The ship is clean.
This is reported by hotshot SSAT agent EUN-CHUL (Yunho) to his boss, KANG JOO-MIN (Jang Dong-jik). This is the elite, cool-as-beans unit so they suppress their emotions, but not so Jung-ryul, who was so certain his information was correct and clears the table in an angry motion.
There’s also palpable tension between Jung-ryul (Coast Guard team leader) and Joo-min (SSAT leader), suggesting they’ve been rivals for a long time. Surely it’s a sticking point that as an SSAT member, Joo-min’s got the upper hand in terms of authority and cool factor, but I’m guessing that there’s more in their history.
But then Jung-ryul spots something on the wall — a bulletin board full of photographs contains one that’s a family snapshot of Jung-ryul’s own family, with his wife and daughter. Flipping the photo over reveals a black insignia bearing the Chinese character for serpent [蛇], which he immediately recognizes.
It spins him off into a flashback:
Some time ago, Jung-ryul had been called to the waterside by a mysterious kidnapper. Upon arrival, a black car had pulled up, dumped out a body, and sped off. The shadowy man inside the car had flashed Jung-ryul a sardonic wave — perhaps this is our nefarious Choi Hoe-gon, explaining why he’s so intent on nabbing him now.
Running to the body, Jung-ryul had recognized the badly bruised and battered corpse of his own wife, whose body was marked with the same black tattoo. Damn, that’s cold. What a way to leave a message.
Back in the present day, Jung-ryul’s frustrated bureau director mutters that Jung-ryul is truly done for this time.
Beach. Strutting up and down the shore are one hotshot and two nerdy sidekicks. They’ve all got names, but for the sake of clarity let’s just focus on the one that counts: KIM SUN-WOO (Choi Siwon), who oozes smarmy charm that’s confident in his good looks and his ability to win over any woman who looks his way. His friends do just as much ogling, but lack the charm.
Sun-woo spots a hot body to hit on and makes his move…and then backs off when the lady turns out more ajumma than anything. In falling to the sand, he gets a tiny cut on his hand, and wanders over to the first aid tent. Instantly smitten by the pretty lifeguard, he uses his cut as an excuse to request some first aid treatment, then pours on the
The lifeguard is LEE SOO-YOON (Lee Shi-young), and she can smell a sleazy playboy a mile away and treats him with perfunctory attention, rejecting his attempts to flirt. Sun-woo keeps going and tries her patience, until a distress call comes in on her radio and she runs off to save a drowning beachgoer.
With his interest already piqued, seeing her dash off in all her slow-motion glory makes Sun-woo look at her with googly eyes like he’s straight out of a fairy-tale meet-cute rather than a Baywatch run.
Soo-yoon performs CPR on the prone swimmer, but doesn’t get a response and Sun-woo decides to take over. Shoving her out of the way, he continues administering CPR until the swimmer gurgles up water and revives.
Soo-yoon owes him, but she’s still annoyed with him and can’t hide her conflicted response. Sun-woo notes that she’s not originally a rescue worker, and introduces himself as officer Kim Sun-woo of the coast guard. That gets him the desired reaction, because her scowl disappears and she smiles politely and nods in understanding…before she turns sarcastic and declares that if he’s part of the coast guard, then she’s the police chief. She storms off muttering angrily, assuming he’s pulling her leg.
Sun-woo isn’t used to striking out with the ladies, but he gets over it soon enough, heading out to drink and party with his buddies that night. But while his friends are totally caught up in the frivolity of the moment, dancing on tables and drinking with pretty bar girls, there’s something about Sun-woo that looks detached and bored through it all.
The next day, it’s Sun-woo’s turn to move out on the job with his team, and they board a fishing boat and take a look around, having received information of a suspicious nature.
Sun-woo notes that these fisherman haven’t caught any fish in a long while, and sees a locked trapdoor. He asks the fishermen to open up, and that prompts the suspects to burst out into a fight.
The officers quickly subdue the fishermen, and open the trapdoor. Sun-woo descends first, recoiling at the foul odor that hits him, and then gapes in shock at the sight: Crowded in the bowels of the ship are huddled people who look more dead than alive, filthy and dead-eyed.
This changes things, and Sun-woo is hit with a sudden suspicion. He inspects each fisherman until he confirms his hunch: One of them bears the serpent tattoo on his back.
Time for him to have a flashback: Sun-woo had come up to a car parked on the dock, and opened the trunk. His face had crumpled to recognize the woman’s bloody body inside, bearing the serpent tattoo on her chest.
Back at the Coast Guard station, Soo-yoon chats with her co-worker, now in her officer’s uniform — turns out she was only lifeguarding on her days off. Her friend sighs that she should be using her time off to try getting a man, which makes Soo-yoon mutter about that weird playboy she ran into. He’s nothing to get excited about, she warns her friend, because he was exactly the type of playboy she hates. Her friend wonders if there’s a type of guy who exists who IS Soo-yoon’s type.
Soo-yoon is dismayed to hear that her sunbae, Jung-ryul, is currently in a disciplinary hearing for the failed sting operation. He gets chewed out by his superiors, who remind him that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and they warn him that his personal vendetta against Choi Hoe-gon is impairing his work. He’s ordered off all his cases.
One of the committee members is Coast Guard Lt. Hyun Hae-jung, who looks at him with empathy but doesn’t, for whatever reason, approach. And watching her with his own longing looks is SSAT leader Joo-min. I smell love triangle!
Jung-ryul picks up his daughter Hana from grandma’s, and dotes on her. In flashback, he remembers the happy family memories when it was the three of him, before his wife died, clearly unable to forget her.
In the present, though, it’s grandma (his wife’s mother, I believe) who urges him to find a new wife. She tells him that she won’t be around forever, and Hana needs a good mother. From Jung-ryul’s tense reaction, we can surmise he’s the furthest thing from ready to begin dating again.
Jung-ryul seeks out Sun-woo, another old acquaintance with whom he shares strained history. The details of their association aren’t explained, but we can connect some mental dots, given their shared connection to the serpent crime organization. Sun-woo comments that it’s been nearly four years since they’ve seen each other, and if we line up Hana’s ages in the flashback, I’m guessing that’s right around the time wifey died.
Sun-woo comments that he “handles things” by getting drunk and flirting with women. Ah, so the playboy act is a front for his hurt, bleeding heart! Aw. The comment makes Jung-ryul comment ruefully, “You’ve forgotten already.” It’s something that he’d both like to do himself, and has vowed not to do: Jung-ryul explains that he’d thought he had Choi this time, and that either he or Choi will have to go down for it to truly be over.
The next day, the SSAT team makes their slick, impressive entrance to the Coast Guard station. When Sun-woo arrives for work with his buddy Dae-sung, his face grows grim to see the SSAT presence, while dopey Dae-sung oohs and ahhs over how cool that special unit is.
Once inside, Sun-woo comes face to face with Eun-chul. They shoot each other challenging looks. Dare I hope for an idol boy dance-off? Alas, Eun-chul breaks the tension by extending a hand, saying it’s been a while, but Sun-woo ignores it and passes him by.
In the situation room, Eun-chul debriefs the SSAT and Coast Guard higher-ups on a new sting. There’s some tension between the two sides, with the Coast Guards bristling at SSAT interference on a mission that they could handle themselves. Eun-chul replies that they’re needed because this involves black market weapons, and request the use of a local guide.
Sun-woo is called in to be that guide, and clearly whatever his fraught history with Eun-chul is, it’s unknown to the people on his team, because they don’t see that this is an idea that simultaneously fills Sun-woo with embarrassment and dread.
Sun-woo balks, playing the wimp to get out of it, saying it’s a dangerous mission and he hasn’t fired a gun in so long he’s pretty sure he doesn’t remember how. Eun-chul steps in and excuses Sun-woo from the sting, saying he can get by with GPS — which gets Sun-woo out of the job, but also gets him the backhanded complaint from his superior about how he’s useless.
Once alone, Eun-chul challenges Sun-woo, “If you’re gonna live like that, why don’t you just quit altogether? Why are you still here? Pathetic.”
In a seedy part of town, gangsters unpack their latest shipment of fake designer bags, drugs, and guns.
The SSAT pulls up outside in their super-secret marked vans. Smooth, boys. I guess you should be glad that this black market operation is run by inept fools instead of people with proper lookouts. Or eyes.
Cue the Mission Impossible-style entry, as SSAT agents cut the electricity on the warehouse, then swarm the building. From there, it’s an easy matter of subduing the criminals.
The dark allows the crime boss and his right-hand minion to sneak out the back, however, and they aren’t spotted until the authorities take proper stock of who they’ve arrested.
Eun-chul sees that the boss, Ahn Dong-chool, has escaped, which frustrates his boss. But there’s a rogue officer on the ground ready to intercept Ahn’s flight; Sun-woo easily disarms the gangster and beats him into submission. Before he hands him over, though, he makes a deal with him regarding his stock of fake goods and warns Ahn to keep that a secret between them.
With that, Sun-woo delivers Ahn Dong-chool to his teammates, who are surprised to see him successfully nab the guy they lost — especially when it seems that Sun-woo has built up a reputation for being a slacker.
This means Sun-woo has effectively scooped the hotshots for once, and while I think Eun-chul is supposed to look fierce, or jealous, or challenging, he just kind of looks sleepy to me. C’mon dude, Sun-woo can’t manage a glare-off all on his own.
Jung-ryul is called in to meet with the director of the Coast Guard, who says sympathetically that there’s nothing he can do about Jung-ryul’s punishment. However, he gives him the order to put together his own team, called CGI 9 (Coast Guard Investigation 9), to investigate cold cases.
CGI9 is a project initiated by Lt. Hyun Hae-jung, and now Jung-ryul will be in charge of assembling the team. The director tells him that he’ll be mostly dealing with unsolved and unsolvable cases, but then it becomes clear he has an ulterior motive by giving Jung-ryul this team, because he wants him to catch Choi Hoe-gun. The director isn’t merely throwing him a bone, because he wants to get him too, but he knows how much this means to Jung-ryul. A win-win.
Jung-ryul’s two sidekicks agree to join him, although it’s with some reluctance because they recognize it’s not exactly a shiny gig. So does Soo-yoon, who initially thinks she’s being demoted, or punished, for being reassigned to it.
It’s somewhat mollifying to hear that she was specifically requested by the team leader, and that said leader is Jung-ryul, whom she respects. But then she hears the other name he intends to recruit — Kim Sun-woo — and recognizes him as the beach playboy. Grimace.
It’s cute how Jung-ryul’s two sidekicks ask him to bring on a pretty woman officer while he’s at it, and then deflate when he tells them it’s Soo-yoon. Not her! She doesn’t even count! One of them tries to reason that maybe it won’t be so bad since she’s just like one of the guys, and they won’t have to treat her special.
Sun-woo’s backdoor deal with the mobster gets him access to a car trunk full of illegal fakes, which he sells to a group of criminals. They quibble over the price, so he calls them on it and sets fire to the box, engaging them in a staredown of wills…and then he breaks first, stamping out the fire and lowering the price. Ha. You wuss.
It’s not clear if he’s doing this to make a quick, illegal buck or if he’s operating on a larger plan, but we don’t get to find out (yet). News comes in that Ahn Dong-chool blabbed all about their so-called deal, and now the police know that Sun-woo’s engaged in some corrupt activity.
Eun-chul hears the news and can’t believe it. It sends him to the shooting range of broody moments, where he works out some of his…aggression? Frustration? Latent bromantical feelings Sun-woo-ward? Aw, you wuv him, just admit it.
Sun-woo doesn’t hear the news until the next day when he’s heading in to report for duty, whereupon his buddy finds him and warns him that he’s in trouble. Sun-woo grimaces to hear that Ahn sold him out. Well, you’re the one who trusted the criminal, so who’s really the dummy here?
And then, their attention is caught by the arrival of a trio of officers, aka Jung-ryul’s newly assembled CGI9 team. They’re led by the pretty, pretty woman who’d already had him smitten on Day 1. Sun-woo ducks behind a pillar and gapes.
I didn’t hate the first episode, but honestly speaking I was heading into Poseidon with very low expectations. So there was no disappointment, just lack of interest or substance.
One problem is that this drama feels pretty low-budget given its scope and genre. When it was first announced, I think it was definitely going for the higher-production-value slickness of IRIS or Athena (it does, after all, share the same writer as IRIS and has the director of large-scale hits All In, HIT, and Swallow the Sun). It doesn’t achieve that cool factor, and in fact tries so hard to be cool that there’s just no getting there. It’s that contradictory, so-difficult-to-create nature of cool, where you have to give the illusion of effortless, inherent awesomeness — the harder you try, the more you work against that effect.
The drama itself doesn’t feel ridiculous, but it’s over-the-top and therefore funny, in a cheesy way. It’s inadvertent camp. The tone is also kind of a mess, all over the place without a strong emotional hook to get you invested. Yes, I’m interested in the murders marking both heroes’ pasts, and I want to know what made hotshot Sun-woo retreat so hardcore into himself and hide behind his frivolous shell — but that curiosity is mostly in an academic sort of way. The drama doesn’t ring with me in a genuine place.
Too bad that the one place where the episode could have really built up a strong point is in the Sun-woo/Eun-chul bromance/rivalry, because who doesn’t love bromance? Who doesn’t love hotshot rivalry? Add in a pained past and suppressed empathy, and that’s a relationship I would have otherwise been jumping to see more of. (Note: Character descriptions say that Sun-woo and Eun-chul used to be rivals on the same team, always edging each other out to claim first and second places.) Sadly, Yunho falls woefully short of the mark, so it feels like Siwon’s trying to have a rivalry with a cardboard cutout. Sorry guys, I was keeping my hopes up for a Yunho improvement, because it’s been a while since Heading to the Ground aired and he could have had a lot of time to work on his acting. And I thought Yunho would’ve done better in this because it’s an easier role to play — he’s an extended cameo, and gets to be cool and arrogant — but he makes for a wholly ineffectual rival.
It doesn’t help that the drama is vastly overscored, with dramatic music that feels better suited for something with more grandeur, a la Daemul or even City Hunter. When you apply such bombast to a relatively small plot point, it just makes the scenes feel absurdly comic, like with Soo-yoon’s big Baywatch rescue. Cringe. And when the big swoopy pop songs blare, you feel like you’re in a music video, only the scenes are oddly flat and plotless to merit such OST treatment. It makes the soundtrack hilarious; the songs are fine, but the misapplication adds that comic sheen. Like laying over the soundtrack of Top Gun over an episode of 90210.
Lee Sung-jae is good, but I’m not sure that this plot can do much to make him all that interesting for me. On the upside, the chemistry between Sun-woo and Yoon-soo is very cute already, and I think they have fabulous bickery energy. I roll my eyes a bit at his whole love-at-first-sight deal, but hey, if it brings him to his knees faster, I’m willing to go with it.
Verdict: I’ll probably keep watching for a few more episodes, if anything for the Siwon/Lee Shi-young dynamic, but recaps are a no-go.
- Reminder: Watch Poseidon today…
- Poseidon releases posters
- Couple stills (and more) from Poseidon
- More goofy photos from Poseidon’s beach set
- Stills from Poseidon’s beach shoot
- Finally, some plot details on Poseidon v.2.0
- Siwon tweets from Poseidon shoot
- Han Jung-soo joins the cast of Poseidon
- Poseidon casts Choi Siwon, Lee Shi-young