Girl Who Sees Smells: Episode 1
Well, this is gonna be just plain FUN. For a show that’s about two people whose lives were irrevocably changed by a serial murderer, Girl Who Sees Smells offers enough smart and (hilariously timed) unexpected humor to give it a nice balance. So far it manages to change tone from serious to funny and back again in a way that surprises the viewer, and enhances the two very different “feels” without making either seem out of place. I’m amused by the lead characters, and at the same time drawn in by their dramatic stories, and I can’t wait to see more.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Four Years Ago.
On a foggy night, a teenage girl texts her mother that she’ll be home soon and to heat up some water for ramyun. This is our heroine, whose school uniform’s name tag tells us is CHOI EUN-SEOL (Shin Se-kyung).
Her mother’s phone lights up in her hand, but it quickly becomes obvious that her mother is no longer alive. A gloved hand takes the phone from her limp hand and opens it to read the text. The man is entirely dressed in black leather and his face is obscured by a hat and hoodie, and he goes to another room to drag a man’s body out next. ~shivers~
Unaware of what she’s walking into, Eun-seol bounces in the front door and announces that she’s home, but freezes in horror when she sees her mother lying dead on the floor. The murderer silently puts a finger to his lips to shush her, then steps very close to gently put a hand around Eun-seol’s throat, as she struggles to process what’s happening.
The clock lets out a sudden loud chime, and Eun-seol takes advantage of the murderer’s momentary distraction to slap his hand away and make a run for it. He gives chase, but Eun-seol manages to stay just out of his grasp as she runs for her life. She manages to make it to the main road, but she’s hit by a car, the impact so hard that it sends her flying into the air and over the car to land in the street.
Injured and stunned, Eun-seol lays in the road and sees her parents’ murderer standing in the shadows, unable to approach now that there are witnesses. He looks at something in his hand, and we see that in the brief struggle, the killer managed to rip Eun-seol’s name tag off her jacket — oh no, he knows her name. Killer and potential victim lock eyes, and it’s not until it begins to rain and Eun-seol passes out that the killer finally turns and walks away.
That same night, our hero CHOI MU-GAK (Park Yoochun), takes a call from his younger sister, whose name is also CHOI EUN-SEOL (Kim So-hyun). Her bus was in an accident but she only has mild injuries, and she asks him to pick her up at the hospital. Mu-gak seems like a very friendly person and a sweet oppa, and he even brings his sister some food to eat while she waits to be discharged.
He has a bit of difficulty finding his sister in the busy emergency room, and there’s a strange beat where he bumps into a man in a doctor’s coat (played by Song Jong-ho, though we don’t have a name for him yet), but he’s also wearing an eerily familiar pair of black sneakers and has blood on his hand. ~double shivers~ He and Mu-gak lock eyes for a moment, but neither says a word.
Mu-gak finds his sister but she appears to be sleeping, and doesn’t respond when he announces that the food is here. He gently touches her shoulder and Eun-seol flops over too easily, and Mu-gak sees that her throat has been slashed. Oh no, there’s blood everywhere. Mu-gak panics, and he screams for help and begs Eun-seol to wake up, but she’s already gone. He can do nothing but wail in grief.
Seven days later.
A police car pulls up to a beach, where a large area has been cordoned off around the bodies of a man and woman that have been propped sitting up against a rock. The policeman, DETECTIVE OH (Jung In-ki) asks for details, and is told that the victims are a married couple that have been missing for a week, since the same night their daughter Choi Eun-seol was in a car accident.
Detective Oh sees a pattern that looks like a barcode has been carved into the man’s left wrist, and from the look on his face, this isn’t the first time he’s seen this. He asks for clarification on the daughter, who’s still in a coma, and he cryptically mutters, “She’s the witness,” before running from the scene.
One hundred ninety-three days later.
In the hospital, Eun-seol finally wakes from her coma. When she opens her eyes, the nurse gasps — Eun-seol’s left eye is now a strange blue color. Eun-seol’s vision clears, but she’s assaulted by strange colors and shapes flying through the air all around her. They float from air vent and off of the flowers in the room, and Eun-seol begins to panic.
Detective Oh enters the room and she sees the same colors and shapes coming off of him. As he entreats her to calm down, Eun-seol screams and tries to wave the frightening visions away, and has to be physically restrained.
Later, in voice-over, Eun-seol tells us that three weird things happened when she finally opened her eyes. First, that she woke up at all when nobody thought she ever would. Her left eye had turned blue, though the doctors had no scientific explanation for it.
The second weird thing is that she has no idea how she came to be lying in that coma, or any memory of her life before waking up. We see Eun-seol going through physical therapy and wearing an eye-patch to avoid scaring people, and she’s now calling Detective Oh, “Dad.”
Apparently, he’s taken advantage of her lost memory to invent a new life for her, adopting her and giving her a new name (she’s now being called by the name I’ll use to refer to her from now on, OH CHO-RIM). He appears to genuinely care for Cho-rim and, knowing nothing else, she seems to be a cheerful girl.
Cho-rim admits in voice-over that he was a virtual stranger to her when she woke from her coma — but as far as she knows, this is her real father. He brings her a special contact lens to hide her blue eye, and she’s thrilled to see herself looking normal.
Six months later.
Cho-rim is a happy, well-adjusted girl again, though her “father” is a bit overprotective and constantly reminds her to watch for strangers. She and Detective Oh seem to have a very close and loving relationship, and she even cutely chides him for his hovering before running off to school.
She stops for ice cream, and it’s clear that she’s adjusted very well to her ability to see scents, as she can identify every flavor just based on the colors that float prettily off the containers. She narrates that the third weird thing that happened after her accident is that she can now see scents as visible colors and shapes.
A customer frantically asks the man behind the counter if he’s found her lost wallet, but he denies having seen anything. Cho-rim notices the scent of the lotion the customer has on her hands, and sees a baseball cap behind the counter with the same scent wafting out from under it, and knows that the shop employee actually does have the woman’s wallet. Cho-rim gives the employee the stink-eye and motions for him to give the wallet back now, and he’s forced to comply.
Mu-gak is on a stakeout in a convenience store, eating ramyun after ramyun as an excuse to be there for so long. Oh gurk, he’s had something like four of those huge bowls, and the clerk gives him an annoyed look as she brings him a fifth. Out in the cop car, DETECTIVE KI (Jo Hee-bong) and DETECTIVE YEH (Choi Tae-joon) marvel at how much Mu-gak eats and wonder why such a low-ranking officer volunteers for dangerous undercover work.
Detective Ki has Mu-gak figured out — he’s angling for a promotion. Offended that he’s doing this for self-serving reasons, Detective Yeh wants to give Mu-gak a piece of his mind, but Detective Ki stops him. They’re short-staffed, and they need the extra help.
The convenience store clerk brings Mu-gak two hot cups of coffee this time, and he apologizes for asking her to bring everything to him, since he can’t move from his position. No longer the smiling, happy man he used to be, Mu-gak now speaks in a monotone and barely shows any facial expressions.
He downs one of the cups of piping-hot coffee in a few quick gulps, making the clerk clutch her own throat. Mu-gak just picks up the second cup and drinks it just as quickly. Okay, ouch.
Cho-rim now works as a gopher for a small theater company called Frog Troupe, and she’s so enamored of the stage that she’s got the whole show memorized. But after the show, the director tells the cast and crew that the theater is losing money, and may have to close if they don’t do something to draw bigger audiences.
He gives them three months to prepare an audition, and the funniest three teams will be chosen to go onstage. There will be no special consideration for seniority, and even Cho-rim, the maknae (youngest) could be put onstage if she’s funny enough.
On Cloud Nine at this possibility, Cho-rim daydreams of fame as she mops the stage two months later. She imagines herself going on TV Entertainment Tonight, and describes her rise to fame. After winning the Frog Troupe auditions, she appears on Running Man (hey, it’s the whole Running Man gang!) where her dancing earns the adoration of the entire nation.
Lost in her daydream, Cho-rim doesn’t notice her Frog Troupe sunbae until he smacks her upside the head. He tells her that despite all their practicing, he won’t be auditioning with her after all. Cho-rim panics that she can’t find another partner with only ten days until the audition, but he’s not moved.
Mu-gak is still staking out that same convenience store, and tonight his target walks in. Mu-gak smoothly locks the door and traps the guy inside. He doesn’t even react when the man pulls a knife, and just calmly tells him to put that thing down.
Detectives Ki and Yeh are in the car, too busy talking about girls to notice Mu-gak being threatened by a knife-wielding criminal. Mu-gak still speaks in that monotone as he figures that the guy won’t drop the knife, so he should probably break his arm or leg or something. Deciding it’s time to act, Mu-gak raises his arm threateningly to knock the guy out like a badass… and drops unconscious. What?
Detectives Ki and Yeh finally notice something happening in the store and get out to stop the suspect before he can escape. Detective Ki gets in the way of a deliveryman and is knocked to the ground, while the flying box of food nails Detective Yeh right in the face. The suspect gets away while Mu-gak snores and drools peacefully in the convenience store.
The chief of the homicide division (Lee Won-jong) is stopped on his way into the station by an unidentified man, who seems to be in a position of some authority and has an obvious personal beef with the chief. He clearly gets a lot of pleasure out of the fact that his men let an important suspect get away. The chief gets in a counter-jab about the man’s teenage son having run away three days ago.
Detectives Ki and Yeh are slapping Mu-gak around for working so much that he fell asleep and let the suspect escape, which Mu-gak endures without a word. The chief enters and just punches Mu-gak square in the face, then takes him to the roof for a talk.
He asks Mu-gak why he became a police officer, not believing his stock answer that he wanted to help people — he knows Mu-gak has a more personal motivation. Mu-gak admits that he wants a promotion to the homicide unit, and his desire is intense, but the chief just tells him that if he ever gets in his men’s way again, he’ll break his legs.
Cho-rim delivers refreshments to the troupe who are all rehearsing for the auditions, and the girl who normally plays the lead female roles (and who stole Cho-rim’s audition partner) pulls some pretty snarky rank on her. Cho-rim takes it cheerfully, and the troupe director notices her positive attitude. The lead actress sends Cho-rim out for food, her treat for landing a television role.
Cho-rim picks up the food but has some trouble with the actress’s car, and she accidentally sideswipes a man on a scooter — it’s Mu-gak, chasing another suspect. Cho-rim helps him up and gasps at a bleeding gash on his forehead and his obviously dislocated arm, but the injuries seem to be news to Mu-gak.
Suddenly a van passes a bit too close, and Mu-gak uses his good arm to dramatically swing Cho-rim out of danger, holding her close for a long moment as they lock eyes. It’s quite a romantic moment… until he sees the suspect getting away and unceremoniously throws her to the ground, HAHA. Mu-gak whacks his injured arm against her car door as he gets in to chase his target (seriously, OUCH) and seems not to even feel it.
Cho-rim barely manages to jump into the car before Mu-gak peels out, and they chase the suspect down a sidewalk, knocking aside people and smashing through decorative planters. Cho-rim screams at him to stop immediately, but he shuts her up by flashing his badge and threatening (still in his monotone voice) to charge her with obstruction of justice if she doesn’t help him. Suddenly Cho-rim is encouraging Mu-gak to drive faster or he’ll lose the guy, pfft.
Mu-gak is focused on getting his man no matter what, so focused that when the suspect jumps off his motorcycle and runs into a mall, he tries to get out of the car without releasing his seat belt. OMG, the look he shoots to Cho-rim to check if she saw that, I’m DYING. And yes, she saw that.
As they head into the mall, Cho-rim makes a point to look at the handlebars of the motorcycle the man was driving, seeing his personal scent as a sharp green aura. Mu-gak loses the man in the crowd, but Cho-rim is confident which way he went, and Mu-gak observes her with interest as she follows a trail only she can see.
She asks if he robbed a beauty salon, and Mu-gak remembers that that’s exactly what happened. He’d confronted the man during the robbery, and didn’t flinch when the criminal broke not one, but two chairs over his back. He’d been distracted long enough for the man to escape, and appropriated a scooter to chase him, which was when he collided with Cho-rim.
Mu-gak stares at Cho-rim, astonished that she knew the suspect had robbed a salon. She sees in her mind’s eye that the man had entered a specific elevator, and pushes Mu-gak onto it. She also knows which floor the man is on because she can see the same green aura on the button, and the two find themselves in a fancy sauna.
Mu-gak complains that he never saw the guy’s face because he’d been wearing a helmet, and gives up since everyone here is wearing the same clothes. He says it’s game over once the guy steals someone’s clothing, but Cho-rim hilariously corrects that it’s game over if he washes his hands. She deduces that if he’d touched anything and left a trace it would be in the men’s locker room, and orders Mu-gak to get undressed (rawr?).
HAHA, the two of them enter the locker room with Mu-gak dressed in sauna clothing and Cho-rim wearing Mu-gak’s clothes, with her face and hair hidden under a hoodie and mask. So far Mu-gak has gone along with her out of curiosity, but he loses patience quickly as he watches her stare, not at the people, but the lockers.
But she knows what she’s doing, and quickly finds the suspect’s locker by the lingering green aura on the keypad. She tells Mu-gak she’ll wait outside the locker room while he catches the guy, and calls her director to tell him that she’s helping a policeman catch a criminal. She finds Mu-gak’s handcuffs in the pocket of the jacket he’s still wearing, realizing he’ll need them to apprehend the suspect.
When the suspect goes back to his locker, Mu-gak (wearing a towel on his head, OMG I can’t even) blandly asks if he just robbed a beauty salon. The guy makes a break for it but Mu-gak trips him and neatly snaps him in the face with his towel, giving himself time to throw the suspect to the ground.
Cho-rim runs in to help him cuff the guy, but one last flail from the criminal knocks Cho-rim to the floor, and her hair and sunglasses go flying. All the men react to a woman in the locker room by hiding their bits — all but one guy who drops his towel in shock. Cho-rim gets an eyeful and runs out shrieking, hee.
They turn the suspect over to Detective Yeh, and Mu-gak offers to help them interrogate the guy but Detective Ki tells him he needs a hospital. Cho-rim waves him over and tsks that the car and Mu-gak are in the same beat-up condition, offering him a ride. She overrides his protests and insists he see a doctor, who patches him up and asks to speak to Cho-rim privately.
The doctor tells Cho-rim that Mu-gak just endured fifteen stitches and relocation of his shoulder, but that he didn’t react to what must have been an enormous amount of pain. Cho-rim confirms that she hasn’t seen Mu-gak seeming to be in any pain, and the doctor figures he must have analgesia, or the inability to feel pain.
Cho-rim denies any responsibility for Mu-gak and quickly leaves, offering to pay the bill. On Mu-gak’s way out, he bumps shoulders with a doctor, and holy crap it’s the same guy from the hospital the night his sister was killed, the one with the bloody hands. He seems to possibly recognize Mu-gak, though the recognition doesn’t go both ways. As Mu-gak and Cho-rim leave the building, the doctor watches them out a window. Again with the ~shivers~
Cho-rim takes Mu-gak to a coffee shop where her friend (Park Jin-joo) works, and she tells her friend he was injured because of her. She offers to pay the hospital bill if Mu-gak’s injuries get worse, and hands over her contact information. He also gives her his information, offering to fix the car’s damages.
Mu-gak asks how she knew the perpetrator had robbed a salon, and she covers by fibbing that she’s read about some recent salon robberies online. Mu-gak is skeptical, wondering how she knew he got on that particular elevator and which floor he exited. Cho-rim just says she’s got pretty good intuition, but Mu-gak still isn’t buying it, because intuition wouldn’t tell her exactly which locker the man used.
She’s saved from explaining further by their coffee order, and when she sees Mu-gak take a large gulp of his coffee she does the same, burning her mouth badly. Mu-gak looks a bit embarrassed that he can’t feel the hot coffee, which is so cute. He gulps the rest of his cup while Cho-rim can only gape.
They say their goodbyes outside the shop and each turn to go, but Mu-gak stops when he hears a woman’s voice loudly call out, “Choi Eun-seol!” She recognizes Cho-rim from school, but having no memory from before her accident, Cho-rim says she must have the wrong person.
Mu-gak listens to all this in a state of shock, and when the woman leaves, he and Cho-rim turn to stare at each other, neither of them having any idea why a strange woman called Cho-rim by his sister’s name.
I’ll be honest, based on the plot description and hard-to-get-a-bead-on trailers, I went into Girl Who Sees Smells with hope, but fully expecting it to be a hot mess. I have never been so glad to admit I was wrong. In fact I was so wrong, I will now do my Interpretive Dance of Wrongity-Wrongness. This show is zippy, clever, well-balanced and very well-cast, and I’m already hooked good.
As far as the casting goes, I think that so far (because we haven’t met all of our players yet) the casting is just one hundred percent spot-on. Park Yoochun plays Mu-gak with a skill and subtlety that shows how deadened he’s become to his emotions and his physical sensations, yet you can see he’s not completely unaffected by what happens around him. There are tiny moments where we see frustration, embarrassment, confusion, humor, and even grief in his eyes. I’m very much looking forward to watching those small moments of feeling become larger, and seeing him come back to the land of the emotionally living.
And I just have to say it: I can see now why Shin Se-kyung has gotten a bad rap about her acting in the past. I’ve seen her in some of her early work, and I’ve seen her more recently in Iron Man and now this, and it’s totally clear to me now… Shin Se-kyung was born for comedy. She has a fantastic instinct for timing and a way of using her face to hilarious effect, not to mention a complete disregard for whether she looks ridiculous or not and a willingness to just go for the physical joke when needed. I just find her wonderful, endearing, and completely engaging when she’s being funny. No wonder, when she was called on to tamp down her comedic side and be serious in early roles, she wasn’t seen as a good actor — she’s totally unsuited for serious characters. I’m just happy she’s getting a chance to exercise her comedic chops, because we would have missed out on some pretty hilarious stuff if she hadn’t.
As for the show itself, I’m really caught up in the story already. I appreciate how well Mu-gak and Cho-rim’s lives dovetailed to entwine them in the same tragic event, and unlike some drama premises, it doesn’t feel contrived or manipulated to make us believe they have a connection. Something as simple as sharing a name and a random bus accident, caused both of them to lose loved ones on the same night, and I find it entirely believable. It lends a feeling of helplessness to their situations, that if just one tiny thing had gone differently (or even if one of the girls had been given a slightly different name), maybe none of it would have happened. I ache for Mu-gak especially, because his sister had to die for such a useless reason, and because he’s the one carrying the scars and the memories of that night. Cho-rim, mercifully, has no idea of what she went through (yet). It will be interesting to see how Mu-gak slowly recovers his emotions, while Cho-rim will have to remember what happened to her and come to grips with it.
I’m also very impressed with the way the show manages to give us two very different tones, where some scenes are very serious and downright terrifying, yet I also found myself laughing so hard a few times that I had to pause the show to collect my wits. It’s not easy to make two such wildly opposed emotional reactions all in one hour feel completely natural, without any jarring transitions or feeling that something isn’t quite right. In fact, the show often uses an abrupt change of tone to give us big laughs, such as the super-serious car chase that ends in Mu-gak trying to exit the car with his seat belt still fastened. The very unexpectedness of that moment is what made it so freaking hilarious, and that sort of moment happened several times during this first episode. I really, really hope that kind of humor carries throughout the run of the show.
I’m giving Girl Who Sees Smells two thumbs up and an A-plus, for balance, compelling story and characters, and fantastic acting by our leads that leave me chomping at the bit to see more. I think, if the show can keep up this high level of excellence in all areas through to the end, we’ll have something really special on our hands.
- Oh Snap! Toons brought to life in Girl Who Sees Smells
- The boy who can’t feel and the Girl Who Sees Smells
- Yoochun and Shin Se-kyung’s first shoot for Girl Who Sees Smells
- Sensory Couple adds Namgoong Min, Yoon Jin-seo
- Kim So-hyun joins Yoochun (yet again) for Sensory Couple
- Shin Se-kyung offered lead in Sensory Couple
- Hong Jong-hyun courted to be Yoochun’s rival in Sensory Couple
- Kim Ji-won as Yoochun’s potential co-star in Sensory Couple
- Yoochun and Suzy sniff out new drama Girl Who Sees Smells