Item: Episodes 1-2
Corporate conspiracies and evil chaebols — and the principled prosecutors that fight against them — are nothing new to dramaland. What is new, however, are items that provide supernatural abilities, and the people who will stop at nothing to obtain those artifacts. MBC’s Item promises to be an exciting blend of intrigue and sci-fi — but does the premiere live up to the hype?
EPISODES 1-2 RECAP
A subway train suddenly stops and then starts to speed backwards down the track, going faster and faster, bouncing against the curved walls of the subway tunnel. Inside, the passengers panic, terrified as they’re thrown about. One of the passengers calls the conductor on the emergency phone, but the conductor is motionless, as though in a trance.
At a crowded rail station, KANG GON Joo Ji-hoon pushes his way past the passengers waiting for their train. He screams at them to get out of the way, but they recognize him as that “murdering prosecutor.” Camera phones are whipped out to film Gon, with blood streaming from the side of head, hysterically screaming at them to evacuate the station.
Everyone’s more interested in watching the crazy prosecutor, so Gon leaps onto the tracks. He pulls out a bizarrely faded photo of a little girl, and as tears fall from his eyes, he carefully puts on a green and silver bracelet.
As he does so, he glances up at a nearby tall building, and sees a woman with cloudy eyes step off the roof of the building. There’s no time to focus on the plummeting woman, though, because the speeding train is nearing the station.
Gon holds out his hand and the bracelet begins to glow, creating a powerful forcefield that causes the train to slow and buckle. It’s still coming straight for Gon, but before we can see if he stops the train, Gon suddenly wakes up — it was all a dream.
But a very vivid dream, as Gon tries to calm his racing heart, confirming that he actually isn’t wearing a forcefield bracelet after all. A few deep breaths of the fresh air seems to calm him as he reminds himself that he’s living in a peaceful seaside town.
Gon lives with his niece, KANG DA-IN Shin Rin-ah, with whom he’s adorably doting as he makes her breakfast and styles her hair. She’s mute, and communicates with her uncle via notes and expressive faces. The two of them have a ridiculously cute and affectionate relationship.
They happily wave “goodbye” when Gon drops her off at school. But Gon’s smile fades when he flips down the car’s visor and stares at the photo of a happy, smiling family — Da-in as a young child, with her mother and father.
It’s Gon’s last day as a prosecutor in the seaside town — tomorrow he’ll be moving back to Seoul. But he’s still focused on a bribery case involving the massive and globally influential Hwawon corporation, despite his superior telling him he should just relax and not take it too seriously, acting in such a way that implies Gon’s boss might be receiving a bribe himself.
Gon’s desire to do everything to the letter seems a little out-of-place with the casual vibe of the prosecutor’s office, but he has a good relationship with everyone and they all seem like they will genuinely miss him.
Speaking of Hwawon, the CEO of the company, JO SE-HWANG (Kim Kang-woo), is released from prison. He’s greeted by a swarm of reporters, asking what’s going to happen with the company and how Se-hwang will earn back the public’s trust and esteem. Se-hwang immediately drops to his knees, and with tears in his eyes, contritely says that he takes full responsibility and will step down as CEO. He apologizes for what he’s done — we don’t get the details of what happened, but whatever it was, it was enough to cause a scandal and send him to jail.
Meanwhile, a team of detectives in Seoul are investigating the mysterious disappearance of a rich and philanthropic businessman. Chairman Nam has been missing for a week, but the detectives haven’t been able to find any clues as to where he’s gone. They’re assuming the reclusive chairman has been kidnapped, or possibly disappeared of his own accord.
But profiler SHIN SO-YOUNG (Jin So-yeon) believes that they should consider homicide as an option. She provides the evidence to support her theory, but the grumpy lead detective doesn’t seem completely willing to listen to her.
As Gon pursues his last case, he comes across a terrified and battered woman. She points to the bar where she works at, explaining that a lunatic is in there. Gon calls the police as he enters the bar, where a gangster does indeed cackle in an unsettling way.
Noticing debris from an altercation, Gon demands to know if the gangster hit the woman. The gangster laughs, then barely touches a beer bottle and it shatters. Gon breaks off the handle of a nearby mop, ready to use it as a weapon as the gangster slams his fist down on the table, which splinters into pieces.
Surprised by the man’s strength, Gon fearlessly warns the gangster to behave. But the gangster stands up, eager to show Gon his “special abilities.” By the time the police arrive, the gangster has disappeared and Gon is on the ground, although he apparently put up a good fight and wounded the gangster in the leg.
Dusting himself off, Gon chases the gangster to an abandoned building. The gangster is annoyed that Gon is able to keep up with him, but Gon boasts that he was always the fastest on his track team. He also says that even though he was never trained in any kind of martial arts, he was also the best fighter in his school.
Gon is ready to serve justice with his fists, but the gangster giggles hysterically as the green-and-silver bracelet on his wrist — the same one from Gon’s dream — begins to glow. The gangster picks up an oil barrel like it’s made of paper and chucks it at Gon, who barely manages to deflect it.
Using his supernatural power, the gangster continues to throw ridiculously heavy things at Gon, who uses all his normal human power to avoid them. Gon’s no match for the gangster’s superhuman strength, but realizing the power comes from the bracelet, Gon manages to rip the bracelet off the gangster’s wrist.
They fight over the bracelet, and the gangster grabs it back, but as he does so, he slips and falls towards the empty window. Gon runs forward to prevent the man from falling off the building, but a scaffolding pipe — loosened during the fight — falls on Gon’s head, knocking him out. As he falls into the sea, the gangster accidentally loses the bracelet.
Back in Seoul, a group of powerful lawmen connected to Hwawon’s case toast to their success in getting the verdict appealed. But their joy immediately disappears when Se-hwang walks into the room. They seem terrified of him, but he jovially pours them each a drink — by filling their glasses to the brim with whiskey.
Then, with a smirk, he tells them to drink up: “One shot!” The men, cowed by Se-hwang, desperately choke down their huge glasses of alcohol while Se-hwang watches, amused. He’s not exactly the meek and contrite CEO he seems to be in public.
Se-hwang returns to his large, ridiculous home with its indoor lake. He studies the paintings on his wall, which feature various classical artists’ renditions of hell. He pauses before one in particular, Bouguereau’s Dante and Virgil and presses a secret button hidden in the painting.
The wall slides open to reveal a glass door that requires a digital scan of Se-hwang’s hand to be opened. Inside are various artifacts, items that seem rather mundane to be kept so carefully locked away. There’s a perfume bottle, a book, an old polaroid camera, and a ceramic jar — with a lid that’s askew.
Se-hwang opens the jar and, finding it empty, furiously throws it against the wall where it shatters into pieces. As he’s leaving his secret room, he suddenly stops, and his eyes become bloodshot as his pupils grow large and flash blue. Somehow he’s linked to the polaroid camera, which spits out a picture.
It’s a photo of Da-in, who’s practicing her music by the seaside, and finds the gangster’s bracelet washed up on shore.
The detectives get a tip about where Chairman Nam might be located, so they all hurry to follow up the lead. But So-young isn’t convinced, and based on what she’s observed about the chairman’s personality and daily patterns, the chairman wouldn’t be in the place the detectives are currently headed in.
She decides to investigate Chairman Nam’s home herself, deducing that that he was meticulously tidy, and likely had OCD. She carefully studies the bathroom, finding it odd that such a tidy person would have left the bath filled with water (that’s how the police originally found it when the chairman was first reported missing).
Deciding the tub is the answer, Se-young sits in it, trying to imagine why Chairman Nam would be so paranoid to even install a window in the bathtub. Getting into the mind of the victim, she imagines him being drowned — not by accident, but because someone else was holding him down.
It doesn’t make sense, though, since that would mean the intruder would have had to clean the bathroom afterwards, making it as impossibly neat and orderly as Chairman Nam would have left it.
But Se-young spots on odd discrepancy. In a house that only has natural wood accents, the bathroom mirror with its black trim doesn’t fit with the carefully selected decor.
She breaks the mirror, revealing a large hole in the wall behind it. And in that hole is a very dead Chairman Nam, carefully wrapped in plastic. A stack of ledger books are also with him, but what seems to Se-young gasp in horror is a bloodstained page from the Bible attached to the body:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:18-20)
Se-young runs out of the house, violently retching as she hastily reaches for some medication to help her calm down before calling into the station, letting them know she found Chairman Nam’s body.
As Gon watches the sun set for the last time in his coastal town, he gets a call from HAN YOO-NA (Kim Yoo-ri), a fellow prosecutor in Seoul. They seem to have some history together before Gon moved to the seaside three years ago, but Yoo-na says she was just checking on him, making sure he had a place to live. After she hangs up, she studies the photo of their graduation class, all in their prosecutor’s robes.
In his fancy home, Se-hwang uses his rowing machine on his shallow indoor lake (so it’s almost like the real thing!). He’s interrupted by his head of security, who confesses that he doesn’t know how the artifact disappeared. The security guy seems nonplussed as Se-hwang, in cold anger, tells him that the item is really important.
Se-hwang proceeds to strangle the security guy, but the man just stands there, his face turning purple, as he waits for Se-hwang to drop the ropes. Apparently this is normal behavior from the not-so-sweet CEO, whose eyes get twitchy as he orders the security team to double check for any clues the thieves might have left behind.
The detective team returns shamefaced, since their big discovery of Chairman Nam obviously was a bust. It only makes the team leader hate Se-young even more than he already does, if that was possible, and he sneers that Se-young’s detective father must have taught her some detective skills — but her father must not have taught her that the police is an organization that runs on order and hierarchy.
So-young is cooly defiant as she retorts that, indeed, her father never taught her such a thing. Which means she can remain focused on solving cases instead of trying to please the higher ups in single-minded pursuit of a promotion, like the team leader does.
That’s not helping to win him or the other detectives over to her side, but at least the adorable maknae of the team thinks she’s wonderful and speaks up in support for her whenever he can.
Gon and Da-in release a paper lantern with a message to Da-in’s parents in heaven, where Da-in writes she enjoys being with her uncle and she hopes her parents are happy where they are. Gon adds his own note, letting his brother and sister-in-law know that Da-in is doing well and they don’t need to worry. It’s both utterly sweet and heart-breaking.
Gon gives sleepy Da-in a piggy-back ride home as he softly sings a lullaby. He tucks her into bed and looks around the room, noticing the family photo she’s put in the box to take to Seoul. Suddenly it starts to rain, and it reminds Gon of the day he heard that his brother got into a car accident.
In a flashback, we see Gon in his graduation prosecutor robes as the police drive him out to the wreckage. He runs towards his brother, who’s impaled with rebar after being thrown from the car. With his last dying breaths, Gon’s brother apologizes for causing such trouble on Gon’s big day, then asks Gon to take good care of Da-in.
So-young also has her own traumatizing memories, as she opens up a battered old flip-phone. For probably the millionth time, she reads the last text-message exchange she had with her mother, back when So-young was in high school. It’s unclear how her mother died, but So-young and her mother apparently had a close, loving relationship.
The next morning is moving day! The movers are busy collecting Gon and Da-in’s boxes, and Da-in is in her empty room, playing her melodica. As she leaves her room for the last time, there’s a note written on the wall next to her height chart, reassuring her parents now that she’s this tall, she’ll be brave moving to Seoul with her uncle. Once again: sweet and heart-breaking.
Se-hwang visits his father in the hospital, where his polite and deferential public personality is on full display for all the medical staff. He even gently tells the nurse attending to his father’s bedpan to let him take care of it — after all, it’s the least he can do for his comatose, bed-ridden father.
But once the nurse leaves, his doting attitude towards his father gradually fades away as he reveals that it’s really the least he can do, as payment for when his father would “clean” him Se-hwang with water from the garden hose — even if it was cold out — while child Se-hwang begged forgiveness. Se-hwang gleefully promises to take make sure his father continues to live, since it’s fun for him to treat his father as nothing more than a bodily waste machine.
A priest (Park Wong-sang) prays in Latin while kneeling in a dark, candle-lit room. He holds up a lighter, which, instead of a flame, shoots out a red lightsaber-like whip. The priest uses the laser-whip to slash his back, flagellating himself in penance.
Gon and Da-in are at their new place in Seoul, watching the movers carry in boxes to the second-floor apartment when his old assistant investigator calls to let him know they’ve discovered the identity of the gangster. Gon also informs his old assistant that he submitted the official charges in the bribery case — the last thing he did before leaving, since he didn’t trust the new prosecutor to handle it.
After he hangs up, he sees a woman walking towards the apartment building. It’s So-young, but Gon recognizes her as the woman from his dream, the woman who stepped off the building. The sound of one of the moving boxes falling from above catches his attention, and Gon throws himself at her, pulling her to safety at the last second to avoid being crushed by a box.
I’m always excited when dramaland promises something sci-fi, since that feels a relatively unexplored genre that deserves more recognition than it receives. The “items” are definitely interesting and I’m eager to find out not only how they all work, but where they came from and how people manage to find them in the first place.
But as intrigued as I am by the general concept of Item, I’m not sure I’m completely sold on it yet. I want to like it! I want to be immediately captivated and eager to see what happens next! I think the cast is amazing and I feel like the script ought to be, too, since not only is it an adaptation of a popular webtoon, the adaptation is from the same writer who did Save Me. So it ought to be good! Except… sigh… this director…
I’m crossing my fingers, toes, and eyes that Item will exceed my expectations, but if I were in charge at MBC, I’m not sure I would have given this drama — with such an emphasis on sci-fi, mystery, and action — to the same director who did Goodbye Mr. Black. An awesome concept, great cast, and good script can only do so much before the questionable production quality overrules them all.
Usually dramas, especially ones that rely on special effects, have their best foot forward during the first couple of episodes, before their budget (and time) runs out and they’re scrambling to release the last few episodes. The somewhat oddly edited (and sometimes narratively confusing) premiere makes me nervous about what’s to come, production-wise. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the cinematic quality of so many cable thrillers, but the production quality feels more suited to a weekend family drama than a high-adrenaline supernatural mystery that requires a lot of CGI.
There are a few exceptions (such as basically every scene that Kim Kang-woo is in, where I almost feel like I’m in another drama), but overall I’m worried that this director’s style may turn a potentially awesome drama into merely a mediocre one, which I only end up tolerating because of how desperate I am for more supernatural-based shows and how much I like the cast.
That said, I’m genuinely happy to have Kim Kang-woo back and chewing up the scenery as a sociopathic villain (his role in Story of a Man remains one of my favorites!), and I’m already in love with Joo Ji-hoon as the tender, doting uncle and principled prosecutor. Most surprising, though, is Shin Rin-ah as Da-in, who stole my heart the moment she made her first saucy face at her nagging uncle. If Gon’s motivation in this drama revolves around her, well, I can’t blame him. I’d fight everyone — and everything — to protect Da-in, too.