Orange Marmalade: Episode 1
I have a good feeling about this one, guys. Orange Marmalade’s premiere episode strikes a balance that seems note-perfect so far, setting up a world that’s sweet and normal on the surface, but conflicted and troubled underneath. This premiere is all about establishing the dramaverse and the characters, and only gives hints at what’s to come in terms of the actual storyline, which can often be a weakness in a first episode. But in this case, it just makes me eager to see more, and in that sense I’m calling this a strong, solid start.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A tiny girl follows her classmates, begging to be a part of their group, but they only stare at her with hostility.
A teenage girl sleeps on the train — the young girl and her classmates are only in her dream. She mutters, “Don’t do it,” in her sleep, as the man next to her fondles the bare knee of the young woman on his other side. In the dream, the little girl cries, “I’m not! I’m not a monster!” as her classmates crowd her in, and they scream at her to leave.
“STOP IT!” The teen girl, student BAEK MA-RI (Seolhyun) wakes herself up with her own exclamation, startling the fondling pervert. The other passengers stare at the man, assuming he was doing something to Ma-ri. Among them is another student wearing the same school uniform, high school student JUNG JAE-MIN (Yeo Jin-gu), watching the scene intently. The pervert loudly insists he wasn’t doing anything to her and gets up to distance himself, but the woman he actually was fondling yells that it was her he was molesting.
The man stumbles when she pushes him, dropping a small milk carton which goes unnoticed. Cell phones come out and the entire scene is recorded, but Ma-ri ignores the commotion to reach towards the milk carton. Someone accidentally steps on it, and it bursts in an explosion of red droplets — it’s not milk, it’s blood.
The train car goes wild, as people realize the blood belonged to the pervert, and they crowd him. He snarls at them, his eyes glowing purple for a moment. A vampire. With her face covered in blood, Ma-ri sits in shock, until a voice asks if they go to the same school. She barely registers Jae-min’s attempts to speak to her, as all she can process is the sweet smell of blood.
Jae-min crouches down to make eye contact, but Ma-ri focuses on his neck: “This blood. I want to eat it.” She leans in, her mouth slowly widening, and just before she makes contact the train stops at the next station. She snaps out of it and runs, leaving Jae-min to call weakly that it’s the wrong station, and she’ll be late to school.
Ma-ri cleans up in the restroom, but she’s distracted again by a drop of blood on her lip. She laps it up with her tongue as her own eyes glow purple, betraying herself as a vampire, too. She reminds herself that she’s not a monster, and vows when she gets to school that here, she will not be discovered and chased out.
Jae-min does go to the same school, and he’s standing at the front of the class solving a math problem as the new girl, Ma-ri, is escorted into his classroom. His world goes slow-motion for a moment, and he betrays a small smile as he mutters that he knew she’d be late.
Ma-ri’s seatmate introduces herself as Soo-ri, but a cry of “It’s a vampire!” draws Ma-ri’s attention. It’s only another classmate who’s found the videos of the morning’s train events posted online, and she’s talking about the pervert. They recognize Ma-ri from the video, and suddenly she’s the center of attention — exactly what she didn’t want.
The entire class surrounds her, except for Jae-min who stays stone-faced in his seat. The students probe for details about the vampire, morbidly curious, and Ma-ri keeps a placid expression as she thinks to herself Stop it, stop it! To deflect them, she pulls out her crucifix necklace and says the vampire on the train probably didn’t hurt her because of it. She hates lying like this, but her new classmates are mollified and assume she’s just like them.
Jae-min finds a book about vampires in the library, and we learn a bit about the history of vampires and humans. Vampires have been in the world a long time — nobody knows how long, and nobody knows how they began. They live off of human blood, yet are not human themselves. The world at large learned of their existence in the 17th century, and there were vampire hunts for generations until, just before they went extinct, the vampire clans and Joseon royalty made a peace treaty.
Jae-min slams the book shut and his face grows hard. He murmurs that things would have been better if vampires had gone extinct.
Back in class the students are discussing the peace treaty, asking what guarantees that they won’t be harmed. Their teacher HAN YOON-JAE (Song Jong-ho) explains that in the treaty, the vampires’ lives were spared in return for a promise not to drink human blood. His explanation is very simple and concise, but there’s someone who strongly disagrees with him.
In a dark room, an interview is being held, and a man scoffs at that so-called “peaceful coexistence.” This is HAN SHI-HOO (Lee Jong-hyun), also a vampire, and he feels as if the treaty is anything but peaceful. He asks the PD what he would do if he someday had a neighbor who was a vampire. Of course the vampire would have to be reported, and would be run out of the neighborhood. This is not any kind of peaceful coexistence, in Shi-hoo’s eyes.
Back in the classroom, the students ask what would happen if a vampire did drink human blood instead of the synthetic blood they survive on. They ask why the vampires can’t just be gotten rid of, since there aren’t many of them anyway, but Teacher Han says that vampires are really just people with different eating habits. Every living thing has a right to live.
Shi-hoo seems more than a little unhinged, as he expounds on the unfairness of living as a vampire. Humans don’t know how to coexist — that’s why other species are going extinct on the planet. He says that to humans, vampires are nothing more than another inconvenient animal to be pushed out of their territory.
He pulls a knife and slashes his own hand, showing the PD how it heals nearly instantly. Proof that vampires are not human, but are actually superior to humans. They lost most of their powers when they stopped drinking human blood — what did humans sacrifice for this “peaceful coexistence?”
Jae-min is conspicuously quiet during the classroom discussion, until his seatmate pretends to be a vampire and bite his neck, and he explodes. Teacher Han says that vampires do have special qualities, but they don’t show them to humans, and they also have human rights. Jae-min asks if “human rights” aren’t something only humans should have. “Vampires… aren’t human.” At the back of the room, Ma-ri takes this in.
The students are still talking about vampires at lunch, particularly noting that vampires don’t like garlic. Ma-ri takes an extra helping of garlic cloves, and sits alone stuffing clove after clove into her mouth. Jae-min walks through the cafeteria and stops to watch her for a moment, sitting alone eating garlic, but his friend pulls him along.
Later Ma-ri rushes to the restroom to throw up, pale and sick from all the garlic. She sits in the stall, breathing and repeating to herself, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
A man sits at home, watching soccer and filling packets labeled “tomato juice” with synthetic blood. He pretends to drink a beer and eat fried chicken, enjoying the semblance of normalcy if not the reality. When he hears his wife coming home, he rushes to hide the evidence of food and they celebrate her landing a new job.
Of course, she smells the chicken right away, and he’s busted. She fusses at him for spending money on food he can’t eat and “playing human,” and warns him sternly (but with obvious love) not to even think about playing soccer.
He remembers a recent time when he did just that, and kicked the ball so hard that it bent the goal frame. HAHAHAwhoops. It had outed him and his family as vampires, and they’d had to move. His wife begs him to just pretend to be human until Ma-ri graduates. Ah, so these are Ma-ri’s parents. She has an adorable little brother too, Joseph, and Dad clearly dotes on him. The three sit down to a nice family lunch of synthetic blood, wondering how Ma-ri’s first day at school is going.
She’s currently on the roof of the school, drinking her real lunch of synthetic blood (from a tomato juice packet, of course) and composing music. She’s obviously talented, as she composes right out of her head without even an instrument. She thinks that she only needs to push through two years and graduate, and gives herself a pep-talk: “Ma-ri, you can do well.”
Down below, Jae-min sees Ma-ri on the roof, and stands staring at the pretty. He stares for quite a long time, in fact, no doubt wondering what it is about this girl that’s so compelling.
Back at her home, her parents talk about how hard it is to be persecuted, and now another vampire (the one on the train) has drawn attention to them and making their lives dangerous. Mom is scared but Dad is pragmatic, saying the VCS (Vampire Control System) will most probably issue the staking penalty. They seem so normal, so human, as they worry about their children’s futures.
Out in the streets, the talk is all about the vampire on the train, who has indeed been sentencing to staking for using his powers in public (I assume he used some power of hypnosis-type-thing to keep her quiet while he fondled her, but it’s unclear at this point.) Shi-hoo also listens to the news, and practically shakes in anger.
Jae-min is approached by a female classmate, JO AH-RA (Gil Eun-hye) who has tickets for a sold-out musical. She says that she heard he used to be in a band, and that this show is one that musicians tend to love. Jae-min gently declines, saying that he wants to see it but he gave up music, and if he goes, he may want to play again.
Ma-ri walks past and the world goes slo-mo again, and poor Ah-ra is left in the dust when Jae-min follows the new girl. He does say sweetly before he goes, that Ah-ra is super-popular and that any other guy would stand in line to go with her, but Ah-ra obviously has eyes only for Jae-min. Who can blame her?
Jae-min runs all the way to the station, getting there in time to catch the same train as Ma-ri. He stands behind her, adorably nervous, and just before he gets up the nerve to say something she steps onto the train. He watches from a small distance as she nods off in her seat again, and when the man beside her gets up, he takes the guy’s place. OMG, Jae-min’s happy-nervous face just to be sitting near her is too cute.
Ma-ri catches the sweet scent of Jae-min’s blood in her sleep and dreams of cherry blossoms, as in reality, she leans towards his exposed neck. Jae-min stiffens as she moves closer and closer, until she touches his neck gently with her lips. Ma-ri actually nuzzles Jae-min’s neck for long minutes, as the poor boy sits stock still with worried eyes, trying to decide whether to melt or explode.
Hilariously, the elders sitting across from them tsk at their very intimate public skinship, and when a grandfather gets up in disgust and jostles Ma-ri, she wakes up — to find herself pretty much sucking Jae-min’s neck right there on the train. Not that he’s objecting. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Ma-ri quickly exits the car at the station, leaving Jae-min to dissolve into a puddle. He snaps out of it enough to notice that she dropped her music notebook as she left, the same one she was composing in earlier. When he gets home, Jae-min takes a moment to read the music and is obviously impressed with what he sees.
He’s so impressed, in fact, that even though he just said to Ah-ra that he wasn’t interested in music anymore, he pulls out his old guitar. There’s a letter wedged under the strings from his mother, wishing him a happy 14th birthday, which he re-reads with a conflicted expression.
Ma-ri is thinking of Jae-min too, wondering how his blood could smell so sweet. She re-composes the song she was working on earlier, and both Ma-ri and Jae-min play the song, separate but together.
The next day, Jae-min seems reluctant to return Ma-ri’s notebook. He forgets himself and stares at her during class, which Ah-ra clocks unhappily. The teacher calls on Jae-min as class president, and he’s so discombobulated that he accidentally calls for the end of class, five minutes into the lesson. PFFT.
After class, a trio of fangirls wait for Jae-min with gifts, but he’s in a hurry to catch up to Ma-ri. He’s obviously quite popular with the girls (again, who can blame them?) and he’s sweet but firm with his rejection. He’s so cute and excited as he runs to find Ma-ri, but when he does, the first thing he does is demand an apology. Oh you adorable thing, that’s not how you get a girl to like you.
Poor sweet boy, his face just crumples when Ma-ri has no idea who he is, HAHA. He wonders to himself how she could be so oblivious to the fact that she changed his entire world in an instant when her lips touched him. In that moment the world slipped away, and all he felt was his own breathing. “That… was you.”
When Jae-min steps closer, Ma-ri suddenly pinches her nose shut against the scent of his sweet blood. But he hilariously thinks she’s accusing him of stinking, and he looks like he’s going to cry when she tells him to shower more.
Jae-min tries to start this conversation over and demand his apology again, offended when she has no idea what he’s talking about. He announces his name to her like she’s supposed to fall at his feet, adorably befuddled when she’s just all, “Yeah, and?” Oh boy, his long hard fall is going to be fun to watch.
Jae-min settles for an IOU on that apology, telling her to remember it herself if she wants to know why. He promises to follow her around until she remembers on her own and apologizes. Is this his way of pulling her pigtails? Because it’s precious, and I want him to do it forever.
He at least makes an effort, and asks if she listens to her mp3 player all the time because she likes music, but she says no — it’s to keep other sound out. He knows she’s lying, and pushes the issue, presenting her with her own music notebook. They tussle a bit before he lets her have it back, and neither of them notices that Ah-ra has followed Jae-min here and has seen them together.
Teacher Han meets with a woman at a bus station and shows her pictures of Jae-min at school. She says sadly that their son is handsome — this is Jae-min’s mother (Lee Il-hwa), and Teacher Han is actually his stepfather. Her bus is called, and she gives Teacher Han a guitar (interestingly, adorned with a big ribbon, just like the old one he had at home) to give to Jae-min. For some reason, her son refuses to see her.
Mom expresses her sadness that Jae-min gave up on music because of her, hating her and by extension, his talent. Teacher Han gives her a hug, looking a little lost as to what to do, though he says he’ll try to convince Jae-min to see her.
Jae-min is obsessed with the idea that he might actually stink, and takes a very long, very adorably broody shower. He talks to himself in the mirror, full-body cringing that Ma-ri didn’t even know who he was, which is just so damn cute. He wonders how she could see his handsome face and forget it so easily. I dunno kiddo, I’m as mystified as you are.
Ma-ri takes a walk with her guitar, and we see the end of her conversation with Jae-min on the train platform. He’d told her he liked her song, and asked if her dream was to be a composer. Ma-ri had told him that she doesn’t have such things as dreams.
Teacher Han calls Jae-min to meet him at a cafe, and Jae-min looks none too pleased to be there. (Also of note, their waitress is Ma-ri’s mother.) Jae-min says that he only came to refuse Teacher Han’s suggestion to start a school band, and he tells Teacher Han to stop texting him like some stalker.
Teacher Han tries to be friendly, but Jae-min is having none of it and tells him to knock it off. He looks pained when Teacher Han asks him one more time to be a part of a school band, saying that he heard Jae-min was practically a legend when he used to play.
Han pushes too hard, and Jae-min explodes that his dream is none of Han’s business. He puts him firmly in his place as his mother’s husband, and not his new dad. Teacher Han admirably doesn’t get upset, and just says that he only thinks it’s sad that Jae-min is throwing away his dream so easily.
Jae-min only repeats that Han has no right to say such a thing, telling him not to act like they know each other at school. He even goes so far as to suggest that Han transfers schools. Wow, this kid is really angry about something.
Teacher Han isn’t ready to give up, and gives Jae-min the new guitar from his mother. Jae-min does accept it, but says he’s only doing it so that he can throw it away. He slings the guitar over his shoulder and moves to leave, but the first notes of a song stop him dead in his tracks.
Its Ma-ri, singing the song that she wrote — her mother must have gotten her the gig. Jae-min is transfixed by the beauty of her voice and can only stand and stare, and he thinks to himself again about that moment when time froze. “That…was you.”
It’s been a while since I saw a first episode that gave me actual tingly shivers, in terms of feeling like this one is going to be special. But Orange Marmalade has me all tingly, and I’m loving every minute of it. This first episode was very strong, though it mostly focused on setup and character introductions and very little on plot. I still don’t have much of an idea of what the story will be, other than that vampires and people don’t get along and it’s probably going to come to a head at some point, but I almost don’t even care what direction the show plans to go with that. The setup was so good, that I’m pretty much down for wherever the show wants to take us.
I’m especially impressed with how easily the show flows from one mood and subject to the next, but I never feel jarred or like a scene is out of place. The transitions from cute high school problems to larger social issues, and back again, are smooth and natural and neither takes away from the other, or makes either one feel trivial or fake. It feels very real, in fact, the way the universe we’re being introduced to seems so calm and respectable on the surface, yet below the surface roils a hotbed of unrest and social exclusion that seems to be several centuries in the making. And yet the whole show has a dreamy, almost sleepy quality that reminds me that we’re not in the same universe that we live in now, and that things are very much different here. It’s a constant reminder not to get too complacent in thinking that we can predict what may happen, because this isn’t reality, and anything goes. I can see this going very dark very easily, but the lighter moments are so sweet and cute that I hope it keeps up that balance between the two as we go forward.
The characters are fascinating and endearing, and even after one episode I find myself loving them and worrying about them all at once. The show seems to be setting up our two male leads as representatives of each side of the human-vampire conflict, with Jae-min being the human who just wants the vampires gone, and Shi-hoo as the vampire who only wants to be accepted as an equal and not an animal. Jae-min seems to have a lot of anger below that popular-boy exterior, and whatever it is that he’s so tortured about, he blames squarely on the vampires. And even though Shi-hoo as a character was only barely touched-upon, he made a very strong impression. He’s clearly had about all he can stand of the injustice, and the way that humans pretend to be accepting of vampires while at the same time vilifying and “othering” them. Honestly, he seems on the verge of a major breakdown.
And then there’s Ma-ri, who only wants to live her life and be left alone, even if that means imposing a strict policy of self-isolation to keep people at bay. It clearly doesn’t make her happy, but at least she hopes will make her safe. I ache for her, because she only wants to be accepted — but if she can’t have acceptance, she’ll settle for indifference. That’s a lonely way to live, but I love the contrast between her willingness to be alone, and Jae-min’s self-assurance that all he has to do is give her his attention and she’ll fall at his feet. The boy’s picked the exact wrong girl for that, and I’m looking forward to his education in Introduction to Humble 101.
There’s not a whole lot left to say about the show at this early point, since as I said, this first episode was mostly setup. But I have a very strong feeling that that’s only temporary, and that there will be lots to say as we get into the meaty subjects of social equality and acceptance, so for now I’ll just say this: I’m one-hundred-percent ready to ride this train to the end. Who wants to sit next to me? I promise not to bite your neck!
- Yeo Jin-gu sound bites from the Orange Marmalade press conference
- Bashful high school crushes in Orange Marmalade
- Vampire kisses and Yeo Jin-gu tears in Orange Marmalade’s first teaser
- News bites: March 14, 2015
- Vampires get schooled in Orange Marmalade
- Yeo Jin-gu falls in love with vampire for Orange Marmalade
- News bites: February 15, 2015
- Yeo Jin-gu courted for new KBS fantasy romance drama