Rescue Me: Episode 4
The tragedy that connects the heroes of Rescue Me also serves as a catalyst for change in this episode. Relationships change as friends and family members drift away or are forced apart, while other characters are thrown together, for better or worse. Other changes are more personal, as Sang-mi loses any ally she could have had and becomes the only sane voice in a group of people that are becoming more and more sinister with every passing hour.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
We rewind a bit to the scene we ended with last episode: Sang-hwan forces the bus taking Dong-chul to the youth detention center to pull over so he can run to the window and talk to his friend.
Sang-hwan tells his friend to “stand tall” like he did before, but when Dong-chul refuses to meet his gaze, Sang-hwan cries his apologies and begs for forgiveness as the policemen from the bus pull him away. Dong-chul looks steadfastly forward as Sang-hwan is taken, an unreadable expression on his face.
Meanwhile, the Im Family continues to struggle with Sang-jin’s death. A doctor tells Sang-mi and Dad that Mom will need long-term hospitalization, and that it may take years, or even a lifetime, to recover from her trauma-induced psychosis.
Back at Guseonwon, the young boy with a cognitive disability, Jeong-gu, films the outdoor festivities put on for the congregants by Disciples Kang and Jo. He’s easily lured over by the promise of soda, and at the mere mention of the word, he repeats it happily: “Soda! Soda!”
Driving back from the doctor’s office, Sang-mi and Dad discuss what to do with Mom. Dad is adamant about not sending her to a psychiatric ward, or any hospital for that matter, and insists that he will protect Sang-mi and Mom.
The look in his eyes, however, suggests that he is near the breaking point himself.
While Father Baek delivers a fiery sermon to his congregants, Dad drives the family to see a shaman in the hopes that he’ll be able to help Mom. When the shaman claims to be able to see Sang-jin’s spirit lingering behind his family, Mom is pulled from her stupor as she asks desperately, “Is Sang-jin here?”
Father Baek continues to rail against the nature of sin while demanding that the fervent congregants have absolute belief in New Heaven’s God, and as he does so, the scenes of his sermon are interspersed with the scenes of the shamanistic ritual being performed for the Im Family.
As both rituals reach a fever pitch, with the congregants writhing and raising their hands in prayer while the shaman dances and writhes himself, suddenly all the noise goes quiet as someone at the ritual announces, “Your son is here.”
The shaman kneels before Mom, “channeling” Sang-jin, and tells her in a shaky voice to continue living and take care of herself. But when Mom becomes desperate, believing the man to be Sang-jin as she grasps at his clothes, the shaman looks slightly uncomfortable as he claims that “Sang-jin” has to leave her.
“Sang-jin” gives Mom a formal bow and wishes her well, but Mom just begins to wail in absolute hysteria, refusing to believe her son is really dead. She begs Sang-mi to affirm her belief, but her pleas turn into screams of rage at her husband and daughter as Mom all but foams at the mouth as she exclaims, “Sang-jin isn’t dead! He’s alive, you saw him! Sang-jin isn’t dead!”
As Mom sleeps in the van with Sang-mi by her side, Dad meets with the shaman, who claims that Mom is possessed by a bad-tempered spirit. The shaman says he will call them back to “try again” later and gives Dad a talisman for Mom.
He then tells Dad that he is expecting to be paid well again for his services. Dad has no money left to spend, but since he’s desperate to save Mom, he agrees to pay a lesser amount.
Back at Guseonwon, there is palpable tension between the three cult leaders. Disciple Kang accuses Disciple Jo of speaking disrespectfully to Father Baek, and for acting in a way unbefitting of the new person he has become since his salvation. Disciple Jo then speaks more respectfully to Father Baek, but it seems absolutely disingenuous, and neither Disciple Kang nor Father Baek seems to be fooled.
Father Baek asks Disciple Kang how the Im Family is doing (though he notably refers to them as “Sang-mi’s family members”), and when she tells him about Mom’s fragile mental state, he predicts that the family will come back to them soon. He explains rather cryptically, while staring at Disciple Jo, that sometimes New Heaven’s God uses evil people to save those who are just. The poor Im Family – what is in store for them next?
In another part of town, Han Yong-min heads to a polling station to greet a throng of reporters. He calls himself a servant of the people of Muji County and the one who’s best qualified to be governor again.
His son and female assistant dutifully look on, but when a reporter asks Sang-hwan if he thinks his father will be re-elected, he pauses before saying, “I’m not sure.” Luckily, his dad covers for him by saying that no one can predict the results of an election anyway.
While Dad sells the family truck for money to pay the shaman, half of the bumpkin biker gang, Jung-hoon and Man-hee, watch another bullfight as they wonder how Dong-chul is holding up. But they ultimately decide that he’s tough, just like the bull who ends up winning the fight.
Cut to: Dong-chul, who is slowly being led to his prison cell. As the cell door swings open, he hears Sang-hwan’s voice calling out, “Dong-chul-ah!” But when he looks back, he sees no one. Aw.
While Dad is working at the farm, he looks at a very indifferent cow and says, “Your eyes remind me of my son. Sang-jin-ah, I’m sorry. I was too indifferent toward you. You were going through a hard time, but I didn’t know any of that.” But he’s interrupted by the arrival of Disciple Kang, who has brought him a packed lunch.
Before they eat, Disciple Kang insists on sprinkling some of Guseonwon’s “Living Water” on their food, mentioning its healing powers. She adds that she’s also packed food for Sang-mi and Mom, and when Dad asks why she is being so nice, she replies that New Heaven’s God has instructed her to help those in trouble.
She also thinks that New Heaven’s God is trying to tell Dad something too, even though they don’t yet know what that is. “So try to pay close attention,” she adds cryptically.
Meanwhile, Sang-mi walks near the scene of the fight between Dong-chul and the bully who broke his back. She overhears two high school girls talking about the incident and how “that girl from Seoul” with a bad reputation (they say she’s sleeping around) was to blame. Of course, the gossiping girls are unaware that they’ve just walked past the very girl they are talking about.
When Sang-mi arrives home, she sees Disciple Kang sitting with Dad, her hand on his arm. A look of concern washes over Sang-mi’s face.
At the polling station, everyone except Sang-hwan seems to be celebrating Han Yong-min’s successful re-election bid for governor. Sang-hwan receives warm congratulations at school, except from Sang-mi, who continues not to speak to him. Along with Dong-chul’s empty desk on his other side, Sang-hwan seems very alone.
Back at work, Dad stops himself from taking a drink of water, deciding to pour some of the Living Water that Disciple Kang presumably gave him into the bottle first. He tilts back his head to drink, but stops when he sees a spider web in the rafters above.
He looks at the web, remembering the prayers that Disciple Kang said for him, quoting a Bible verse: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Staring up, Dad suddenly envisions a cross woven into the center of the web. He now realizes, with tears in his eyes, that everything that has happened was part of New Heaven’s God’s plan and hurries off, as we see that there’s no cross within the web.
Sang-mi seeks out Sang-hwan, who is drinking beer with his buddies, and asks for Dong-chul’s phone number. She had no idea he had been sent to a youth detention center until the boys haltingly tell her. When she asks why, Sang-hwan guiltily repeats, “It was because of me.”
In the detention center, a gang of inmates corner Dong-chul, stuff a sock in his mouth to keep him quiet, and beat him where the bruises won’t be seen. The leader of the small gang cheerfully informs Dong-chul that someone paid him to make Dong-chul disabled, and hearing that, Dong-chul throws his attackers off.
With a few quick jabs and a big roundhouse kick to his tormentors, Dong-chul looks the leader in the eye unflinchingly as he asks, “Who told you to do that?”
Back at the Im household, Sang-mi comes home to find Mom busily putting on makeup as she and Dad prepare to go out. When Sang-mi asks where they’re going, Dad just smiles and says that there’s somewhere they have to go, but Mom happily interjects to add, “We’re going to meet Sang-jin. Apparently, we’ll be able to meet him there!”
At first, Sang-mi thinks that they’re going back to the shaman, and she’s against it because of how poorly Mom has been doing since then. With a wide, worrying grin, Dad tells her that they’re going to Guseonwon instead: “Sang-mi-ya, I finally get it now. The reason why we came to this neighborhood. The reason why Sang-jin had to die like that. The reason your mom is suffering like this. It was all a message that New Heaven’s God was trying to send to us.”
Alarmed now, Sang-mi tells her father to stop saying strange things and urges him to take Mom to a hospital. But Dad insists that Guseonwon is the only place that can heal Mom, as Mom frantically runs a brush through her hair to get ready to see her son.
“Stop lying,” Sang-mi finally says. “You’re doing this because of that woman. I saw you with her earlier! I’m scared. Those people gave me the creeps!” Dad may as well not be hearing her, but he kneels before Sang-mi with that same smile and asks for her to trust him. Sang-mi can only look down at him and cry as Mom whispers, “Let’s go see Sang-jin.”
The family ends up being driven to Guseonwon, where they’re greeted by Disciple Kang and Disciple Jo, who is as creepy as ever. Also there to greet them is Jeong-gu, who offers Sang-mi his favorite thing: soda. Disciple Kang says that they call Jeong-gu “Angel” in Guseonwon, noting that he never offers his precious soda to anyone but his grandmother.
After the others go in, Sang-mi hears someone softly singing, “Hide carefully, I can see the strands of your hair.” She turns around to see Jeong-gu singing this while covering his eyes. He stops singing, looks up at her, and ominously says, “Found you.”
Fast forward three years to 2017, in Seoul. A man wearing a cap gets off the subway and is accosted by two proselytizers. He stops briefly to listen, then continues on his way without comment.
The man is Sang-hwan, who we see attending a university law class. He participates (and provides a smart answer to the teacher’s question that awes both the teacher and class), but doesn’t seem keen on socializing with the other students.
One of his other classmates persuades him to go to a party, where he mostly keeps to himself. It’s only when a senior spits in a junior’s glass and tries to force him to drink it does Sang-hwan intercede, haunted by the memories of Sang-jin being brutally bullied as well as his own inaction when Sang-mi asked for his help. He defends the student by citing the laws that would punish the senior for assault, but this only enrages the senior further as he throws the tainted drink in Sang-hwan’s face.
Finally annoyed enough, Sang-hwan downs half a bottle of makgulli and uses the bottle to hit the senior in the head, calling it self-defense. He easily fends off any other attackers with a few well-placed kicks before challenging anyone else who’s willing to come at him.
We see someone with hands tattooed with crosses giving a haircut to Dong-chul, who is about to be released from detention. The barber tells Dong-chul that it’s time for him to live as a new man, while Dong-chul just stares at his reflection in the mirror with a hardened expression.
Back at Guseonwon, Father Baek watches on as Sang-mi’s dad takes charge of a new cross being installed at the church. A car pulls up and a man gets out and bows to Father Baek just as Disciple Kang approaches with an old man in a wheelchair. The younger man is greeted as Assemblyman Park, and it’s revealed that the old man in the wheelchair is his father.
The assemblyman asks Disciple Kang out on a date, but Father Baek intervenes before she can reply. The assemblyman seems to be a believer and a financial supporter of Muji County and the cult as well, and he chats with Father Baek while Disciple Jo stares sinisterly at them from afar.
Sang-hwan returns to Muji by bus and meets up with his old friends (excluding Dong-chul, of course). It seems just like old times, but they do mention that this is the first time Sang-hwan has been back to Muji in three years.
We find Sang-mi working in Guseonwon’s kitchen with many other women, all of them silent. She watches Jeong-gu eat his meal, the boy never taking his eyes off of his precious can of soda. However, when she finishes her work she finds both the boy and soda gone, and goes to look for him.
Jeong-gu walks through the woods as he takes videos with his phone, and he stumbles upon a small, isolated shack where he can hear a woman yelling and struggling inside. As he looks through the window (while filming with his phone), the screaming continues, and Jeong-gu notes, “They’re fighting. You shouldn’t fight, it’s not right.”
Suddenly, the door bursts open as a woman in a dress runs out. Disciple Jo comes out as well, fastening his pants. Jeong-gu, who doesn’t know any better, just asks Disciple Jo for soda, but an enraged Jo grabs the boy by the throat and drags him behind the shack.
Having first heard the woman’s screams and now Jeong-gu’s, Sang-mi goes running into the forest. She finds Disciple Jo standing over Jeong-gu, who’s now sporting a bloody lip and urine-soaked shorts. As the boy calls her “Sang-mi Noona,” Sang-mi’s reminded of how Sang-jin had been mistreated and gathers the boy in her arms, demanding to know what Disciple Jo was doing.
“If you beat him one more time, I’m really going to report you to the police,” Sang-mi growls. Disciple Jo attempts to laugh it off, but she’s not having it, and she helps Jeong-gu up to take him back. But Disciple Jo cuts them off as he reminds her, “Everything that happens in Guseonwon needs to be kept and dealt with in Guseonwon. You know that, right?”
Sang-mi comforts Jeong-gu as he sleeps feverishly in his room, but is surprised that he whimpers when she pats his side. Lifting his shirt, Sang-mi’s hand goes to her mouth in horror upon seeing the extent of Disciple Jo’s abuse in the enormous bruises covering the boy’s body.
Sang-mi goes straight to other Guseonwon members to plead for them to allow Jeong-gu to go to the hospital, since he isn’t well. She calls Disciple Jo out for being the one to beat Jeong-gu when Jo tries to silence her, but her father just chastises her for her rude behavior instead.
Disciple Jo, Disciple Kang, and even Dad are all against Jeong-gu’s getting help from outside. They all suggest that Living Water and faith will cure the boy of any ailment. Looking at everyone gathered in the room, Sang-mi asks them if they really think that the water can work miracles, which earns her a scolding from Dad.
That seems to be her tipping point as she asks her father to come to his senses, reminding him that it’s been three years already: “Until when are you going to live your life like this? Three years have passed. Every year, I kept wishing that we would get out of here, but it’s been three years already. Look at Mom — how can you call this a place of salvation and miracles?!”
Dad slaps Sang-mi hard across the face, but seems to instantly regret it. Sang-mi just says he is crazy to stay here before imploring everyone in the room to come to their senses as well. Finally, Disciple Kang has had enough and tells Disciple Jo to take Sang-mi to the Prayer Room. Oh, no. This is not good.
Right at the moment Sang-mi is about to be hauled away, Father Baek comes to her rescue. He says that Living Water does not work if one does not believe, and lets her take Jeong-gu to the hospital. He stares into her eyes and says that right now, she believes that everything at Guseonwon is fake and the outside world is reality. He assures her that soon, she will discover that the opposite is true.
We find Sang-mi at the hospital with Jeong-gu, but when she comes back after a break, she sees Disciple Jo whispering something into the boy’s ear. She demands to know what he said to him, but of course doesn’t get a straight answer.
Disciple Jo then states that the boy is ready to return home and, to Sang-mi’s horror, the doctor complies with this request. Jeong-gu, still obviously in pain and cringing from Disciple Jo’s touch, just whimpers that he misses his grandmother.
On the way back, they stop at a gas station, and while Disciple Jo is in the bathroom, Jeong-gu confesses to Sang-mi how terrified he is. He says that Disciple Jo hits other people and that Jo threatened him that if he said anything, he would kill him and his grandmother. Sang-mi picks up his phone and sees the video that Jeong-gu took of Disciple Jo’s attempted rape of the woman in the shack, her eyes going wide with fear.
But when she looks up, she sees Disciple Jo staring at her through the car window. Whether he saw what was on the screen or not is unclear, but he does take note of the phone being broken when he sees her clutching it tightly in the car as he shares an unnerving look with the mute driver of the van.
As they continue home, Sang-mi finds a screwdriver in the backseat, hides it in her hand, and the next thing we see is the van careening off the road and flipping several times down the side of a mountain. We then see Sang-mi and Jeong-gu bloodied and suspended upside-down by their seat belts, eyes closed.
Then Sang-mi’s eyes shoot open, wide and alert.
Throughout the show, Sang-mi has exhibited a will of iron as well as a nearly infallible bullshit detector. She has remained steadfast and unquestioning of herself and her own moral compass despite all that has happened, not least of all being forced to live inside a cult for three years. Until she confronted the others in the cult about Jeong-gu, her strength had been shown mostly through her patience and passive resistance. After seeing the video of Disciple Jo’s attempted rape and the car accident, she will now need to prove her strength through her ability to fight back and actively protect herself and those she cares about, especially since Jeong-gu reminds her so much of the brother she couldn’t protect.
In contrast to Sang-mi, Sang-hwan was far more doubting and unsure of himself. This made it so gratifying to see him stand up to the sunbae bullies at the university. In Seoul, he seems to have little interest in a social life, focusing his attention on studying law instead. Sang-hwan’s transformation is surely the result of his role Sang-jin’s death, Dong-chul’s repeated arrests and incarceration, and his father’s pressure on him to hold back from doing what he knew was right and just.
Back in Muji, he had already started to distance himself emotionally from his father and did not return home for three years after going away to school. Now seemingly a more confident, morally aware individual, it will be interesting to see what Sang-hwan’s relationships will look like when encounters his father, Dong-chul, and Sang-mi after such a long absence.
Dong-chul looked like he was strong enough to fight the inmates that were paid to hurt him, but what happened after that initial confrontation is less clear. What changes did he undergo during his incarceration? Also, how does he feel about Sang-hwan, who basically turned his back on him twice in favor of helping his father’s re-election campaign? Has he forgiven Sang-hwan, or has he been building up resentment over the last three years?
Rescue Me started out as a grim, dark show that was almost too intense and painful for me to watch. It is still dark and grim, but it’s been fascinating to see how the interconnected lives of all the characters unfold. And the inner (and often outer) strength of our heroes provide rays of hope for a better future in the episodes to come.
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