Rescue Me: Episode 1
Balancing the creep factor of a religious cult against the sweet bond of a group of young friends is a tricky task, but so far, Rescue Me seems to be pulling it off. There’s enough heart in the core group to keep me wanting to learn more, and enough restrained chills from our cult leader and his followers to keep me nervous and on the edge of my seat.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
It’s 2014. A truck travels down a desolate, rainy highway through the countryside of Muji County at night, while inside, a family of four looks out at the landscape, their faces somber.
At the top of a nearby hill, a man we’ll come to know as Father BAEK JUNG-KI (Jo Sung-ha) leads a rousing sermon at his religious compound with the help of one of his devout followers, KANG EUN-SHIL (Park Ji-young).
Father Baek promises that belief in “New Heaven’s God” will free his follows from disease and misery, and the people raise their hands, chanting back, “We believe! We believe!”
We cut back to the family of four on the highway when their tire suddenly blows, leaving them stranded. Dad IM JOO-HO steps outside to assess the damage, while Mom KIM BO-EUN shields them both from the elements with an umbrella.
At the compound, Father Baek introduces his congregation to a man, Mr. Park, who he claims was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Father Baek announces that since Mr. Park was cruelly turned away by leading medical professionals in Seoul, he’s come to them seeking help.
A pair of motorcycles pass the stranded Im family, only to swiftly turn around. The four riders dismount and approach on foot, their faces obscured by dark hooded ponchos. The Im family is apprehensive, and Dad nervously urges his wife back into the car with the kids.
Meanwhile, Father Baek continues with his sermon, promising that while modern medicine may turn this man away, New Heaven’s God would never allow Mr. Park to die, and the crowd cheers while chanting, “Our wishes will be fulfilled!”
At the same time, the bikers get closer to the Im family, peering at the flat tire, and Dad finally sees their faces. These are no tough bikers—just four gawky high school students.
The shortest of the boys, WOO JUNG-HOON (David Lee) notes the flat in a long drawl and asks if everyone is okay. From inside the van, Dad’s daughter IM SANG-MI (Seo Ye-ji) rolls down her window to assess the boys as well. The boys get a glimpse of the new girl, each of them craning their necks for the best view.
Broody-looking SEOK DONG-CHUL (Woo Do-hwan) looks particularly interested, while our hero HAN SANG-HWAN (Taecyeon) observes his friend’s reaction before glancing back at Jung-hoon and their fourth bumpkin bike gang member, CHOI MAN-HEE (Ha Hwe-jung).
Jung-hoon calls a car repair shop for the stranded family and promises the driver will be there in thirty minutes, right after he finishes taking a dump. The boys chuckle to themselves at the toilet humor and this seems to break the tension completely, as Mom and Dad even allow themselves a grateful smile.
Mom and Dad offer to repay the boys somehow, and Jung-hoon starts to name his price before Sang-hwan cuts him off, assuring them that no repayment is necessary. The boys head back to their bikes reluctantly, all of them casting lingering glances towards the mystery girl in the car.
Sang-mi watches them as they leave, and then reassures her shaken older brother, IM SANG-JIN (Jang Yoo-sang), that everything will be all right. Sang-mi ominously promises that nothing will happen here, and though her brother denies that he’s worried, she holds his hand reassuringly anyway.
We return to the religious compound to see that the demonstration has escalated: Mr. Park now lies on a table in front of the congregation with Father Baek standing over him.
Father Baek preaches over Mr. Park that New Heaven’s God will help remove “this dirty and ugly piece of cancer” while slapping the man’s bared abdomen with his hand.
Father Baek strikes several times, until a splatter of blood appears in-between his hand and Mr. Park’s stomach. He raises his bloody hand up to the congregation to show the piece of “cancer” that New Heaven’s God has allowed him to “cleanse” from Mr. Park’s body.
Meanwhile, the bumpkin biker gang has retired to a restaurant for some food and drinks, taking bets over which of them had caught the eyes of the new girl from Seoul.
Dong-chul spots a governor campaign poster on the wall and asks Sang-hwan if his dad will win this time. Sang-hwan stays silent while Jung-hoon answers for him that of course, Sang-hwan’s dad is the only qualified candidate.
Jung-hoon calls for more drinks, and the waitress delivers four mugs of… soda. Jung-hoon tries to complain, but the surly waitress lets him know she won’t be serving them alcohol just to have them end up at the police station like last time.
Jung-hoon’s still grousing, but Sang-hwan tells everyone to just pretend they’re stouts and drink up. They go to toast, but Man-hee beats them all to the punch by finishing his glass in a single swig and belching loudly.
On the highway, the tow truck finally shows up. The long day shows on the pensive, exhausted faces of all of the passengers as they’re towed along. Mom turns to reassure Sang-mi, but she doesn’t sound confident as she promises only good things from here on out.
At the car repair shop, Dad eyes the delivery jjajangmyun with hungry eyes. He pays the mechanic for the finished repairs while the deliveryman wonders at him moving from Seoul on such a rainy day before handing him coupons for jjajangmyun.
At the religious compound, Guseonwon, Disciple JO WAN-TAE (Jo Jae-yoon) emcees an outdoor party for the congregation. He chants the group’s “Our wishes will be fulfilled!” mantra with them before starting to sing karaoke.
Away from the boisterous crowd, Father Baek gazes at a tree that has been split in two. His devout follower, Eun-shil, pushes Mr. Park’s wheelchair out to the father. Mr. Park says that he would like to thank Father Baek for his services earlier, and since he heard from Eun-shil that Father Baek wants to build a church, he’d like to give money for the cause.
Father Baek smiles at Mr. Park and then looks back to the tree, calling it the “Belief Tree” because it is a miracle of New Heaven’s God, having lived for 500 years even though it’s hollow.
Father Baek turns back to Mr. Park then and tells him that he needs no payment. He only asks that Mr. Park thank New Heaven’s God for showing him a miracle today before he walks off solemnly.
Back at the karaoke party, Disciple Jo watches as Eun-shil accepts the gift of money from Mr. Park.
The Im Family finally reaches their new home, but the house is dilapidated and abandoned. Dad tries to contact Sung-ho, his friend who coordinated this move, but his wife seems a bit quicker on the uptake and wonders if they’ve been scammed.
Down the road, Police Officer CHOI receives a call on her car radio of a drunken disturbance in town. She’s on it, but has to first take a moment to wake up Officer WOO CHOON-GIL (Kim Kwang-kyu), who is sleeping under his jacket in the passenger seat.
At the scene, the drunkard stumbles out into the road in front of the police car. He threatens to smash everything and aggressively crawls up onto their hood. Ignoring the officers’ warnings, the drunkard stands up and begins to pee all over their windshield.
Officer Woo exits the car to bring the man down, but the drunkard pivots toward him, his stream of urine directed right into the officer’s face. Oof. (And eww.) Woo struggles to drag the drunkard from the hood, getting a kick to the face in the process.
Meanwhile, the bumpkin gang debates what else they should do for the evening, since it’s after 11:00 p.m. on a weekend. But they’re soon stopped by sirens, and it turns out that Officer Woo is Jung-hoon’s father.
Officer Woo warns his son against drunk driving and then yells at the boys to study instead of goofing off. His tone changes noticeably, however, when he asks Sang-hwan how his father is doing, praising him as the only man of that caliber in town. Dong-chul casts his eyes down at this while Sang-hwan haltingly accepts the praise.
The apprehended drunkard saves everyone from the awkward exchange by vomiting in the car, and the officers speed away, not to the police station, but towards Guseonwon, where the party is still going strong. But Disciple Jo’s expression changes when he sees the flashing lights.
Loyal follower Eun-shil serves the officers tea while they wait for Father Baek, and Officer Woo compliments her youthful appearance. Eun-shil credits a spring on the grounds that they call “the living water” that gives Baek’s followers youth. (What’s curious, though, is that Officer Woo already knew the name of the water.)
Father Baek arrives, and Officer Woo apologizes for disturbing him so often. But Father Baek demurs, saying only that he appreciates them guiding lost souls back to New Heaven’s God. Officer Woo is grateful too, since Father Baek’s arrival has helped clear the area of the homeless.
Father Baek offers the officers a gift of herbal medicine, but Officer Woo doesn’t want to take a bribe. Disciple Jo insists that it’s just a neighborly gift, but both officers remain reluctant, even when Eun-shil asks about Officer Choi’s mother’s recent injury. She insists that this isn’t from the compound but from New Heaven’s God, taking care of those in need.
The tension breaks only when Father Baek says that it’s fine if they don’t want to accept because they are uncomfortable. He says that he won’t insist, and Officer Woo laughs that too many eyes are watching for him to screw up by eating things he shouldn’t.
The boys have decided to go to the jimjilbang for the rest of their evening, and by coincidence, the Im Family is here as well, though not so much by choice.
Dad has finally reached his “friend” by phone and confirms that he has been scammed, his money gone to his friend’s gambling addiction. Sang-mi calls her father then, and he spins around, seeing that she’s heard the whole conversation.
The boys spot Sang-mi from across the room and rush to spy on her from behind a bookshelf. They wonder why a family that appeared to be moving would stay at the jimjilbang, and when Jung-hoon guesses she’s been kidnapped, the other boys smack him for his nonsense.
They duck down as Sang-mi turns, then they rock-paper-scissors to decide who will stand up and speak to her. Jung-hoon is the only one to throw scissors against everyone else’s rocks (Dong-chul: “Jung-hoon, real men throw rocks.”), and the others throw him out into the open. But Sang-mi is already gone.
The next morning, Dad is out looking for work with the cattle farmers. Sang-hwan’s father, HAN YONG-MIN (Sohn Byung-ho) is also there to campaign. Yong-min’s campaign promises are to support the cattle market and help those without work, and Yong-min shakes Dad’s hand vigorously as he says this.
The campaign crowd marches off, leaving Dad gaping. But just then, a farm hand calls out to him, asking if he was the one looking for work.
Meanwhile, Father Baek visits a home for the elderly, laying on hands and clutching their legs to help “heal” some of the residents as he promises them “clean new bodies.”
At the same time, Disciple Jo delivers some of their herbal medicine to the residents, and Eun-shil serves them coffee, pouring from a (seemingly empty?) vial to add a little something to the beverages.
The bumpkin boys have their own plans for the morning: getting revenge on a rival biker by spray-painting his bike. The guy catches them in the act from a window, but the boys make their escape on their bikes.
Dad gets a job working with cattle, and when the job comes with board, Dad asks if it’ll be all right if he brings more than one person along with him.
It’s okay with his boss, but the family arrives at their new lodgings to find that it’s nothing more than a single room in a small container on the boss’s property. Sang-mi is the first to speak, declaring the place “not bad” as long as the family can be together. Cheered by Sang-mi’s sentiment, the family unloads their belongings.
Unpacked, the family sits around a table outside the unit to eat some kimchi stew. Dad is still feeling down, and seemingly sensing this, Sang-mi doesn’t relent in her optimism and says how grateful she is to enjoy the fresh air and even hear cows while they eat.
Sang-mi’s forced enthusiasm works, and her family begins to eat and laugh with one another. In the distance, we see Father Baek is there, creepily observing the family. Eun-shil joins him, and he asks her, “They look very happy. Don’t you miss it?” Her face hardens at that.
Behind them, Disciple Jo finishes speaking with Dad’s cattle farmer boss and gives him an envelope of money.
The boys are out again, this time at a bullfighting arena where they watch two bulls lock horns and fight. Sang-hwan’s bull loses, and he accuses Dong-chul of rigging the fight since his bets are usually smarter. Dong-chul sagely tells Sang-hwan that fights are won with intuition, not brains, and Sang-hwan points out that that must be what keeps getting Dong-chul into trouble.
Sang-hwan has to treat his friends to karaoke as punishment for losing, but on the way out, they run into the biker whose bike they painted, along with his cronies. The biker goes to hit Jung-hoon, but Sang-hwan demands that he stop.
The two groups square off, and then the fight starts with Dong-chul delivering a kick to the biker’s chest. The room turns into a giant jumble of khakis and uniform jackets until our boys manage to break away and flee.
They make it to their bikes, but the other biker gang still manages to surround them at the exit. Sang-hwan turns to Dong-chul to ask if they should keep running or stay and fight. Of course, Dong-chul’s answer is that real men fight, and the boys dismount.
Before the brawl can begin again, a higher-ranking boy in the rival biker gang arrives, demanding that they stop. He turns to the bumpkin boys, asking if he’s speaking to Sang-hwan.
Sang-hwan stands his ground, asking what he’ll do if he is, and the boy laughs at him for coming on strong and tells him to have fun before leading his guys away.
The boys all seem disappointed to miss out on a fight, Sang-hwan in particular, and Jung-hoon says that even with Sang-hwan’s dad’s protection, he doesn’t think he can hang out with them anymore. Sang-hwan’s fine with leaving him behind, but Jung-hoon is reminded that they’re headed for karaoke and hops on the back of the bike after all.
Dad’s boss checks in on him at work and tells him he has kind eyes “like a cow,” and that he’s also very lucky, because the father of the community’s church has chosen Dad to join them this evening.
Dad isn’t sure what to think, but his boss insists that he join him for the church service later, and he agrees to go.
Deep in the compound, Disciple Jo walks down a hallway covered in plastic. Heading past a door marked “under construction,” Disciple Jo descends further until he reaches a locked door, the sound of muffled cries from the other rooms accompanying him. Unlocking the door, he stands over the drunkard who was dropped off the previous night.
Disciple Jo calls the drunkard “Brother” and leads him to the bathroom to help clean him up. The drunkard is having none of it and throws Disciple Jo’s hands off, asking if he’s in the police station.
The drunkard asks if Disciple Jo is into men and trying to cop a feel, and when Disciple Jo continues to try to help, the drunkard throws his hands off, calling him a dirty bastard.
This seems to trigger Disciple Jo, whose patience turns to cold malice. He picks up the shower head and bashes the drunkard in the face repeatedly, asking him, “Who do you think you’re calling dirty?” He turns on the showerhead, steam rising as he sprays the man down.
“I brought you here to make you a new person,” Disciple Jo grinds out as he continues to spray the drunkard, and we see blood begin to trickle down the drain.
Washed, dressed, and bandaged, the drunkard sits nervously across from Disciple Jo as they await the arrival of Father Baek in his office. Now that they’ve cleaned his body, Disciple Jo tells him, they need to clean his soul.
Father Baek arrives, and the drunkard shifts uneasily before dropping to his knees and begging the father to save him from Disciple Jo. Eun-shil barely hesitates as she brings tea in for their guest.
Handing the drunkard a cup of tea, Father Baek tells him that his sins must die so that his soul can live. The drunkard asks what he means, and Father Baek says, “Please don’t be afraid of dying.” This scares the drunkard even further, and he throws the hot tea into Father Baek’s face and braces for the retaliation he expects to receive.
But Father Baek just says that the tea spilled and refills the drunkard’s cup. The drunkard trembles violently as he drinks, and Father Baek tells him that New Heaven’s God knows his sins, while behind him, Eun-shil drops to her knees and responds, “Our wishes will be fulfilled.”
Father Baek demands the man’s confession, promising that after he shares him sins, his new cup will be filled with his new soul and he’ll become a new, clean man. The drunkard breaks down and kneels before him, begging forgiveness for his sins.
The boys have gone their own way for the day, and Dong-chul finds his father drunk in the street. Dong-chul tells his father that his grandmother wants him home, but his father pushes him away, saying that just looking at his son reminds him of Dong-chul’s mother.
Dong-chul’s father drunkenly berates him more, saying that he shouldn’t have been born and that he wishes that he had just died.
Forced to return home without his father, Dong-chul can hear his grandmother lamenting over Dong-chul’s father forgetting Dong-chul’s birthday. Aww.
But Grandma hasn’t forgotten and has ordered Dong-chul’s favorite, jjajangmyun. Dong-chul wishes that she hadn’t spent her money on expensive noodles, but his dismay is short-lived as he lunges to prevent his sweet, elderly grandma from tripping over one of the many piles of junk lying around their home.
Dong-chul tells his grandmother that she’s his favorite person in the world, so she should never feel sorry for him. They eat together companionably, with Grandma lovingly doting over her grandson.
At the hospital, Sang-hwan meets with his own family for dinner. His mother lies in a hospital bed, comatose, while Sang-hwan’s father spoon-feeds her.
When Sang-hwan takes over the feeding, his father asks if this is hard on him, but Sang-hwan shrugs and says that it’s only hard on his mom. He tells his father to go home and get some rest.
Dong-chul has made his way down to the river to sulk on his motorcycle, while Sang-hwan assumes the same position in front of the hospital. Sitting on his bike, Sang-hwan sends Dong-chul a text asking if he wants to go for a bike ride.
Meanwhile, the Im Family heads to Guseonwon by car. Eun-shil and Disciple Jo greet them at the entrance, where Dad’s boss praises the two and the church (“This is paradise indeed!”) before heading inside, the Im Family trailing behind.
As the children climb the stairs, we notice for the first time that Sang-mi’s brother, Sang-jin, has a significant limp.
The family sits for tea, and Dad’s boss interjects that this isn’t just normal tea, it’s made with “life water” touched by their spiritual father, Father Baek. Eun-shil responds to the family’s puzzled looks, saying that Father Baek is more of a spiritual father than a mere priest to his congregation.
Disciple Jo lures Dad’s boss away to play cards, leaving Father Baek with the Im Family. The father is eager to learn about the Im siblings, asking their names and ages. Mom shares that they are both seventeen and twins, and Eun-shil remarks that their spirit energy seemed similar.
Father Baek says that New Heaven’s God’s kindness is surprising, and Eun-shil agrees, giving the siblings a strange look.
Eun-shil walks the Ims out to their truck in the evening, promising to stop by the next day to congratulate them: It seems Father Baek has offered to find housing for the family. Just like with the police officers, Eun-shil insists that this generosity is part of the church’s belief to treat everyone like neighbors.
Sang-mi takes a moment to glance back up at the compound before she gets into the truck, and finds Father Baek staring down at her.
At the same time, on the dark roads, Sang-hwan and Dong-chul are still blowing off steam racing each other on their motorcycles.
In the Im Family truck, Sang-mi’s mother says that she’s uncomfortable with the free housing, especially since Guseonwon doesn’t feel like a normal church. But Dad wants to accept the offer, stating that he thought Father Baek and his followers weren’t strange people. Oh really?
Sang-mi voices concerns as well, so Dad asks Sang-jin, who surprises everyone with his favorable opinion of Father Baek. He says that he specifically liked when they prayed together.
In flashback, Sang-mi recalls the prayers Sang-jin mentioned, remembering how Father Baek had laid hands on Sang-jin’s legs and prayed to allow his crippled leg to heal. But then Father Baek had laid his hands on Sang-mi, and her eyes had widened in shock when his hand slid up to her thigh as he called her “beautiful” and “fragrant.”
Up ahead, Dad spots headlights coming directly at their truck. He lays on the horn, but the lights keep coming, and we see that it’s Sang-hwan and Dong-chul, driving in the wrong lane to pass a car. The family’s eyes widen together as they anticipate the impending crash.
We’re off to a pretty solid start. I was worried that this drama might be all serious and no fun, but the warmth of the bumpkin boys takes the edge off each chilling scene without straying too far from the overall dark and heavy tone of the show.
The arrangement with the police and Father Baek’s compound is so troubling. Not only is Father Baek preying on weak populations who feel abandoned by society like the sick and the elderly, but the local police are already complicit, not so much because of corruption, but because Guseonwon offers an easy solution to a tough social problem. I have no clue what the cult’s end goal is, since money donations don’t seem to be Father Baek’s major focus. He seems to be seeking numbers and loyalty, which could be a truly scary combination. Baek’s fixation on Sang-mi, Disciple Jo’s obsession with being “clean,” and Eun-shil’s belief in eternal youth draw the curtain back from the group’s supposedly selfless facade, hinting at the very personal stakes at hand.
I’m guessing that Sang-hwan’s governor-candidate father and Jung-hoon’s police dad will be important connections as we delve deeper into the corruption of Baek’s cult, and the strength of the relationship between these boys and their fathers may help or hinder their efforts to find help.
As for me, I’m a sucker for Dong-chul’s character already. Sad tough boy with father hangups and an endearing love for his grandmother is the perfect drama catnip for me, so I’ve pretty much declared my allegiance to Dong-chul as we head towards the rivalry and friendship fallout that I suspect is coming soon.
That said, Taecyeon’s take on Sang-hwan isn’t unappealing so far. I find that Taecyeon is at his most likeable when he gets to play a slightly goofy character who cares deeply about those around him, and while we’re still scraping the surface when it comes to Sang-hwan, I think the potential is definitely there.
My only quibble so far might be that dramatic cliffhanger felt a little contrived, as though no one could think of a better way for the boys and the family to encounter one another again. This town isn’t that big, so I feel like opportunities to run into each other are abundant without the need for a crash, but we’ll see how the consequences pay off soon enough. Otherwise, the mood of the show is enough to keep me looking forward to more.
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