Pinocchio: Episode 1
SBS’s new Wednesday-Thursday drama Pinocchio—the latest project from the writer-director team behind I Hear Your Voice—premiered today, and in keeping with their style, the show is sweet and light with a touch of idealism and heartbreak. I’ve always liked this writer’s very earnest approach, even if it’s not the most complex, and I especially enjoy when she uses an element of fantasy (hearing voices, for instance, or in this case—hiccupping when you lie) to magnify the themes. Here, it’s truth vs. lies, and how media distorts both sides, leaving you to wonder if the truth even matters anymore.
The first episode focuses mostly on the backstory that brings our characters together, but I already really like the glimpses we get of them in the present day. I think we’re in for a refreshing character for Park Shin-hye (thank ye, drama gods), and Lee Jong-seok gets a solid backstory that sets us up for the central conflict to come.
SONG OF THE DAY
Letter Flow – “사실” (Truth) [ Download ]
EPISODE 1: “Pinocchio”
The date is October 8, 2005, and a small-town high school is aflutter with the news that their smartest student has made it to the second round of a TV quiz show program (cameo by MC Im Sung-hoon, who was a quiz show host at the time).
The whole class gathers to watch their classmate on TV, and the show introduces his next challenger… CHOI DAL-PO (Lee Jong-seok), he of the shaggy hair, finger guns, and 34th-place ranking. His intro montage is a sight to behold, and every single jaw in the classroom drops.
No one is more shocked than his classmate CHOI IN-HA (Park Shin-hye), who scoffs in amazement that Dal-po looks like a total country bumpkin, but seems to be unaware that he should be embarrassed.
Dal-po takes his place onstage and feels the need to point out that his entire school has 34 students, which technically makes him last place. He’s known as All Bbang, as in all zeroes, because those are his grades. At the monitors, the PD turns to his staff like they’re crazy people for bringing this kid here.
The first question is about a condition named after a fairytale character that causes someone to show physical signs when they’re lying—in this case, the hiccups. (The show points out that the specific condition is made up. We just accept it as a truth in this universe.)
Dal-po remains silent, then says he wants to use his ask-a-friend chance. He suddenly turns to his classmate, the champion, and says that if he destroys him here, he wants to hit him ten times; if he loses, he’ll take the hits. Ha, this is what he’s using his chance card for? With the bet in place, Dal-po uses his remaining time to address the camera: “Choi In-ha! If I become the champion here…” Dramatic music builds, and then he runs out of time. What were you going to say?
Dal-po has no problem answering the question, since he’s known all along: “Pinocchio.” He waves at first place with a smile on his face, all C’mere so I can crush you. The MC asks if he’s ever met anyone with Pinocchio syndrome before, and says that many people with the condition become afraid of people and spare their words because they can’t lie.
But Dal-po says the Pinocchio he knows is the total opposite—she talks a lot, and because she says whatever she wants, her nickname is Blunt Witch. Everyone in class looks over at In-ha, and she declares that he isn’t talking about her… and then hiccups. Hee.
The next quiz question is about what year it is in the sexagenary cycle, and Dal-po flashes back to October 7, 2000, when Dad (Jung In-ki) used to quiz him about that very thing. (Dal-po’s name back then is Ki Ha-myung, but I’m just going to keep calling him Dal-po.)
He and his hyung think the calculations are easy, and Dad leaps to his feet to take rice cakes to all their new neighbors, dragging his two genius sons around and making them do calculations in their heads like a traveling party trick.
It’s cute that both brothers hate it but always come through for Dad, and he even rouses them from sleep one night to do a calculation, promising to take them to the fireworks show. They shoot up out of bed immediately and shout the answer.
Dad is a firefighter and the captain of his unit, and brags about his sons proudly to his team. That night, an emergency call sends the unit out, and they arrive at a factory that’s already ablaze. The manager comes running out and tells the firefighters that two of his employees are still trapped inside, and Dad draws out a plan for them to begin the search.
The firefighters split up, and Dad takes the toughest door to get open, which happens to house chemicals. The worst part is, the plant manager turns around to find his two employees safe and sound outside—they’re the ones who accidentally started the fire trying to cook a snack, and ran out unnoticed. But the manager sent ALL of those firefighters inside to look for them…
But inside, Dad doesn’t know any of this, and the chemicals on the other side of the door have caught fire. When he finally gets it pried open, all we see is the horrified look on his face, and the explosion reflected in his eyes. Gaaaack. The blast engulfs the entire factory in flames.
By morning, the fire has been put out, and the site is swarming with reporters. Dal-po and his family stand behind the police line, screaming for Dad and desperate for answers about the nine deceased firefighters.
We get the report from a few competing news stations, but the two we’re concerned with are YGN, where our current quiz show PD HWANG GYO-DONG (Lee Pil-mo) is the field reporter, and MSC, where the ace reporter is SONG CHA-OK (Jin Kyung).
We learn that Cha-ok is cold and calculating right off the bat—she wears a mask while reporting to “add realism,” and then takes a call from her husband about where he left the divorce papers by replying loudly that a witness was spotted nearby. It’s a tactic, of course, to send her competitors off on a wild goose chase while they get the scoop from victims’ families.
Meanwhile, the factory manager lies through his teeth at the police station, and insists that he told the firefighter captain that there was no one left inside the building, but he stormed in anyway. He then tells his employees to keep their mouths shut, and they’ll be fine as long as the captain is dead. One of them worries that he could still turn up alive since he’s missing, but the manager guesses they can’t find the body because he was blown up in the blast. Lightning strikes and the sky turns dark as they make their pact.
As the rain comes down, one of the family’s neighbors—a young man with Pinocchio syndrome—thinks he sees Dad running down the street. He tells his mother that he just saw the firefighter captain alive, even though we see that it’s not Dad.
The news hits the family at the worst possible moment—when they’re with the other victims’ families, who are crying over their lost sons and husbands. Young Dal-po is naturally relieved to hear the announcement that Dad was seen alive, but the victims turn to the family and demand answers: Why did Dad drag the others inside when there weren’t any survivors to be rescued? How could he be alive when the others have died?
It’s brutal the way Dal-po’s family immediately becomes the guilty party, and Hyung balls his hand into a fist to see Mom (Jang Young-nam) apologizing profusely that her husband survived alone. He leads Mom and Dal-po out, while the victims’ families claw at them for answers.
A few days later, their house is swarming with reporters, and the boys get flanked on their way out to school with questions about why their father hasn’t come forward—is he in hiding, and does that mean he’s guilty? YGN’s Gyo-dong and MSC’s Cha-ok are among them, and Cha-ok is especially relentless, as she asks little Dal-po if he’s happy that his father is alive. Are you actually trying to make a little boy sound like he’s dancing on the grave of the other firefighters? Damn, you’re cold.
But Dal-po just shout back the names of the deceased firefighters, along with their birthdays, their allergies, their family situations, what girl groups they like, and the way they take their coffee. He says he’s memorized them all, because these facts are posted all over their house in every room. Tears stream down his face as he screams, “I can recite them all, just like my father! You say he abandoned his men and hid? He’s not someone who would ever do that!”
It’s a powerful moment, and everyone is moved by the speech—everyone, that is, except Cha-ok, who remains emotionless and dogged in her questions. Hyung argues that they’re just rumors (that Dad is still alive), and someone from the crowd throws an egg at Dal-po. Hyung flares up and yells at them to stop filming, and Dal-po looks up at Cha-ok with anger and hurt in his eyes.
At MSC, Cha-ok’s team wants to cut out the hyung’s rant, but she wants to keep it all in. She argues that they can just pixelate his face, as if that would do anything to hide his identity. Over at YGN, Gyo-dong tries to convince his boss that they should put the footage out too—that’s what MSC is doing.
But the boss says that’s why they get called MSG, because they’re inflammatory and bad for your health. Gyo-dong argues that YGN gets called organic news, and his boss counters that that’s a compliment. Gyo-dong doesn’t think so, since no one cares about health when the food tastes bad and you have no customers: “News that no one watches isn’t news!” Sadly, it’s a valid point.
We intercut between the two teams’ arguments, as both Cha-ok and Gyo-dong try to argue for airing the footage of the boys. Their argument is that Dad is almost certainly alive and therefore guilty, but Gyo-dong’s boss at YGN just counters that if he’s 99% sure that he’s alive, it means he’s acknowledging that he’s 1% shy of it being fact.
Cha-ok tells her team that impact is more important than facts, and the nine victims’ families need a place to put the blame. So you’re just going to deliver two teenage boys on a silver platter for them to throw stones at? That’s exactly what she does, as she reports the story with the assumption that Dad is alive, and in hiding because he’s guilty.
Things get worse for the family in the ensuing days, and Dal-po tells Hyung that Mom couldn’t buy anything at the local market again, because no one would sell to her. Hyung regularly cleans up eggs and rocks thrown at their house, but keeps a brave face for his little brother.
Dal-po asks hesitantly what if it’s all true, the things they’re saying about Dad. Hyung promises that Dad will return and reveal the truth, and they’ll go to the fireworks show together just like he promised. He pinky-swears the same way Dad used to do, and Dal-po asks again to be sure that Hyung isn’t lying to him.
Some days later, Dal-po is convinced that Hyung lied, because he hasn’t been home for days. He thinks Hyung ran away, when in truth he’s been camped out outside MSC to demand a meeting with reporter Cha-ok.
Mom tamps down her tears and offers to take Dal-po to the fireworks show, so they go just the two of them. Dal-po watches the show excitedly, but Mom only stares down at the water with a faraway look in her eye. Oh no.
Hyung sees the fireworks from the station, and looks down at the firefighter’s award in his hand, thinking of Dad. Cha-ok finally comes out to meet him, and he says he’s here because he wants to give an interview. So she takes him inside the studio and he gives a statement on camera, which we don’t get to hear.
Mom buys Dal-po little fireworks of his own, and takes him to the ocean that night. He lights them happily, not aware that anything is wrong. After a little while, Mom turns to him and says shakily, “Let’s go meet your father…” The next thing we know, the only things that remain on the cliff are a suicide note, a sneaker, and the fireworks.
By morning the cliff is lined with cops and reporters, and Hyung runs to the scene in a daze. He picks up his little brother’s shoe and Mom’s suicide note in tears, and his blood boils to see the reporters buzzing like flies, hungry to suck more sensational news out of his family’s tragedy.
He flips his lid and just attacks anyone holding a camera. And even through that, Cha-ok tells her team to keep filming. He lurches at her screaming at the top of his lungs, and for the first time, she looks a little disturbed.
Five months later. March, 2001
Little In-ha gets prodded by her father (Shin Jung-geun) to answer his question truthfully. She doesn’t want to, but she complies and says she regrets living with Dad after the divorce, because if she had lived with Mom, maybe she wouldn’t have to move to this stupid island in the middle of nowhere to live with Grandpa, who has Alzheimer’s.
Dad scowls and walks away from her, and she just sighs that she said she didn’t want to answer. She tells herself it’ll be okay—she won’t develop a country accent, and life on the island won’t be so bad—but hiccups nonstop.
She pouts all the way to Grandpa’s rustic country home, and Grandpa (Byun Hee-bong) greets them eagerly, surprising them by seeming pretty sharp. But the first sign of his dementia shows when he looks up at the clock and says it’s time for Dad’s hyung to come home, and Dad looks over at him quizzically: “You mean, Dal-po hyung?”
Grandpa lights up and says he’s here, and down the road, we see little Ha-myung/Dal-po alive and well. He runs up to Grandpa and gives him a big hug, calling him father. Grandpa introduces Dad and In-ha as his little brother and niece, and insists that Dal-po should call Dad by his name, Dal-pyung. LOL.
Dad and In-ha just stand there agape, as Dal-po does as told without so much as an ounce of hesitation. He uses banmal with Dad like he’s really his hyung, and pats In-ha on the head and calls her cute, even though he has to stand on his tiptoes to do so.
Inside, Grandpa explains that he went out on a boat one night and rescued Dal-po, and Dad reminds him that Hyung died thirty years ago. Grandpa knows, but believes that he’s been returned to them alive. Dad and In-ha set him right against Dal-po’s protests, and suddenly Grandpa remembers the truth and collapses.
Dal-po runs out to take care of him, and tells Dad that Grandpa doesn’t have Alzheimer’s—the doctor said it’s a trauma-related condition and his memory is stuck, and any time he tries to reconcile past and present, it’s too taxing for him and he collapses. Dad argues that they can’t have some stranger pretending to be Grandpa’s son just to keep him from collapsing, and Dal-po asks why not: “I need a father, and he needs a son.”
In fact, Grandpa already adopted him as his firstborn, with the help of the town’s mayor. Dal-po says he has no other family and Grandpa will only keep collapsing like this, “So what’s wrong with a little lie?!” Aw, from the boy who used to believe so firmly in his father’s word, it’s a little heartbreaking. Dal-po asks to play the part of his son just until Grandpa gets better, and asks to be allowed to stay.
By dinnertime, Grandpa is awake and feeling better, and Dal-po uses the numbered quadrant system he’s drawn on Grandpa’s jacket to scratch his back. They’re so sweet together, and we see Dad’s heart softening. He asks In-ha if she can call that kid uncle, and she asks how she’s supposed to do that when he’s so little. Dad counters that he’d have to call him hyung. Ha, I agree—that’s worse.
He wonders if she can manage to say it without hiccupping, and she says she can since legally, he’s her uncle. They agree to play along for now, believing that Grandpa will get better in no time, and then they can send Dal-po to an orphanage.
Dad catches In-ha looking longingly at the TV, and he snaps at her that the TV doesn’t work here, so she can just put the idea out of her head to see Mom that way. She scowls and stalks off without eating, and lies that she isn’t hungry.
As Dal-po sits in front of the fire that night, he thinks back to that night on the cliff, when Mom said that she knew where Dad was and that they’d go to him. He characteristically asked if it was a lie, and she swore it wasn’t. He sheds a tear in the present, calling her a liar, then adds that he’s no different from her now.
In-ha comes by smelling the sweet potatoes that he’s cooking, and tells him that she’ll call him Uncle in front of Grandpa, but elsewhere his name will be Hey You. She calls him a shark sucker, describing a parasite that feeds off of others, but then he has fun catching her in the lie that she isn’t hungry and points out that she’s the one eating other people’s food.
She sighs and admits that he’s right, which surprises him. But she says she has Pinocchio syndrome, and that no matter how much it annoys her that he’s right, she can’t lie. She catches him staring at her and asks blatantly if he thinks she’s pretty, and he answers just as bluntly that she is.
She flips her pigtails and says she takes after her pretty mom, who’s on TV all the time. She misses her like crazy and wants nothing more than to be able to see Mom on TV, but it’s broken and there’s no way Dad will fix it.
The next morning, Dal-po grabs the wire hangers off the clothesline and gets to work building a new antenna, and climbs onto the roof to install it. It’s adorably in the shape of a little girl with pigtails, and he feels satisfied that he got to do something nice for In-ha.
In-ha is currently sending a secret text message to Mom on Dad’s cell phone while he’s out (about how she hates the island but thinks she’s found someone to grow attached to), and Dal-po comes riding up with the news that he fixed the TV for her. She lights up and he offers to give her a ride on the buggy cart attached to the bike, only he can’t move an inch—she is taller than he is, after all.
He tries to play it cool by suggesting a nice walk instead, and she laughs. As they walk home, she asks if he takes after his mother or father, and he says Dad. She wonders what kind of person his father was, and guesses that he wasn’t particularly handsome, but that he liked to help others and brag about it, and that he was a good person.
Dal-po is taken aback when she doesn’t hiccup afterwards, and stands on his tiptoes to give her a sudden kiss on the cheek. He says that for the last six months, he’s lived only telling lies, because that was what was best for him and Grandpa. “But the truth is ten times more comforting than a lie, like the thing you just said.”
They get home and turn the TV on, and In-ha is on pins and needles in anticipation of seeing Mom. She reminds Dal-po not to say anything about this to Dad, since he’d come in here and bust the TV if he knew—he hates talking about her, and doesn’t even let In-ha call her.
She sees Mom come up in the next news segment and clasps her hands together dreamily, and Dal-po turns to look at the TV. His face freezes to see none other than reporter Song Cha-ok, the heartless woman who turned his family into pariahs for ratings. His traumatic past flashes across his eyes, and he walks out as In-ha hugs the TV, just happy to catch a glimpse of her mother.
As the quiz show MC narrates in voiceover that sometimes the world seems truly small, Dal-po heads out and looks up at the TV antenna he fixed. When Dad comes back and asks where In-ha is, Dal-po says that she’s inside watching the news, and that she called her mother too.
Dad storms into the room and starts breaking the TV, and In-ha cries for him to stop. She runs out to Dal-po, calling him Uncle, and pleads with him to stop Dad. But he coldly shoves her away and asks why he should.
The quiz show MC continues, saying that some people call this fate, whether or not the connection is for better or worse…
We fade back into the present, as the MC describes this phenomenon as six degrees of separation, and asks Dal-po his last quiz question to win this round: What is the name of the American actor whose name is associated with this concept? He flashes his opponent a smile and answers: “Kevin Bacon.”
In-ha is happy that he won, while her deskmate huffs that he’s just been lucky this round. In-ha catches on that her friend has a crush on the first-place boy in their class and calls her out on it, so the girl just turns it around and asks if In-ha likes Dal-po.
She reminds them that he’s her uncle, but everyone knows they’re not blood-related, and the girl presses her to answer how she feels about him, as a man. In-ha says she doesn’t like him, and everyone waits for the hiccups… but they don’t come. She seems relieved.
Elsewhere, Hyung—full name KI JAE-MYUNG (Yoon Kyun-sang)—has grown up, and delivers water as a part-time job. He walks past a row of TVs in an appliance store and stops in front of the one broadcasting Dal-po’s face. He turns around and approaches slowly…
Dal-po looks into the camera, as if looking back at Hyung. But when we cut back to Hyung, we see that the TV that’s caught his attention isn’t the one playing Dal-po’s quiz show, but MSC news with reporter Cha-ok. His eyes fill with bitterness, as he stands between the two TVs, fixated on Cha-ok and completely missing his little brother who’s inches away, seemingly looking up at him.
The next round of the quiz show begins, and In-ha declares with confidence that Dal-po will win.
We actually covered a lot of ground for a premiere, and I like what I’ve seen so far. Granted, we have yet to see our leads together, which could change how I feel about their dynamic, but as long as the characters remain as they appear to be from the tiny snippets we got today, I think I’m going to like them very much. Dal-po seems a bit kooky, but the jury’s still out on him because based on the first episode, I don’t know how much of that is due to the editing of the quiz show program’s intro. I hope he stays weird though, because that would be really great.
In-ha, I already like, because she chooses to deal with her Pinocchio syndrome by being blunt and embarrassingly honest, when she could’ve easily chosen to be a wallflower who’s afraid to show anyone what’s on her mind. Instead, she’s sunny and sassy, and even blurts things without knowing if she’ll hiccup afterwards, figuring that she’ll just live with the consequences. This is hands-down my favorite thing about this writer—she creates female characters with sharp edges, who aren’t made of sugar and spice. Her Pinocchio syndrome might not be real, but the personality feels real and flawed in a good way.
I’m pretty sure a large part of this is due to Jung In-ki (Firefighter Dad) and the boy that plays Little Dal-po/Ha-myung, but the backstory hit a good spot for me—it tugged at the heartstrings without being tragedy porn, which is an important middle ground to hit for me when it comes to opening backstories. Because I know going in that Dad will die, and if the show just tries to wring tears for tears’ sake, I’d revolt. So it’s nice to get a story that’s about Dal-po’s character and how his fixation with the truth gets turned into the jaded belief that everyone is a liar. Dad’s death is the start of that avalanche, but it’s really the way that the reporters turn public opinion against them that breaks the family’s spirit, and told from their point of view, it seems downright inhumane. The tragic part is Mom’s weakness to choose suicide for her and her son, and it breaks my heart to think of what happened to Hyung in the intervening years. I’m glad to see that he survived, because I really liked the two brothers, and look forward to seeing them reunite.
It did seem sudden when we pushed forward to five months later and Dal-po was suddenly with Grandpa as if years had passed, but then when that little boy said that he needed a father and Grandpa needed a son, it twisted my heart. He’s young but he understands that he’s been abandoned and has to find a way to survive, and that self-awareness made me so sad. I already love this new family though, and the quirky hierarchy is pretty great, especially the look on Dad’s face every time he has to call Dal-po Hyung.
I could do without the childhood romance, which seems totally unnecessary, but it took a good turn when Dal-po immediately found out about In-ha’s mother, squashing the potential twinkly tween love story and replacing it with anger and resentment. It’s misplaced, since In-ha’s not at fault for her mother’s actions (and is clearly unaware of what Mom is really like, based on her unabashed worship of her), but I much prefer this complicated dynamic between them. They would be two families at odds, only now they’re in the same family, and Dal-po has even more reason to keep lying to her. Isn’t it strange how he’s the one who gets to lie, and yet it feels like he’s the one at a disadvantage?
I know we’ll eventually be bringing all our characters together in the newsroom, but I actually hope we spend a good deal of time in high school, building the family relationships and getting to know our leads in the small town. Call me crazy, but this is a case where I’d prefer to stay in high school, terrible mop hair and all.
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