Healer: Episode 1
We’re off to a brisk start with Healer, which I was looking forward to mostly for the writer (Song Ji-nah of Sandglass, Legend, Story of a Man) and secondarily for the cast (though a cast is never enough on its own to entice me). I was most curious to see what the tone would actually be, because there were enough disparate elements in the descriptions to keep me guessing—would it be a multigenerational melodrama? A conspiracy-driven thriller? A fun action romp? And while we often get dramas throwing at us an excess of genre modifiers that feel too scattered to work well (spy-action-medical-political-thriller-romance, for instance, or comedy-paranormal-historical-court-intrigue), I actually think Healer lives up to its promo descriptions, and keeps things moving smoothly, while hinting at a lot more depth beneath the surface.
SONG OF THE DAY
Michael Learns To Rock – “Eternal Love” from the Healer OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A large, deserted building. The site looks abandoned, but deep inside the industrial space lies a spiffy hi-tech lair, lined with expensive computers and state-of-the-art gadgets. Somebody’s turned a dusty concrete box into a veritable bachelor pad.
Inside it, a young, fit man plays a game of virtual tennis (and gets his butt kicked by his computer opponent). We aren’t given a formal introduction yet, but for convenience’s sake let’s call him by name: SEO JUNG-HOO (Ji Chang-wook).
Jung-hoo ignores his cell phone, and moments later his tennis game gets hacked and a cartoon squiggle bursts in. A woman’s voice cuts in, cackling and chiding “oppa” not to ignore her calls, while he reminds her not to hack into his stuff.
Jung-hoo snaps to attention when “Ajumma” mentions a new job, although he’s skeptical at her description of it being “really simple”—nothing Ajumma’s called simple has ever been simple. She retorts that meeting a contact and taking a package is easy-peasy, and gets him going on the gig.
Jung-hoo pauses to look up at the wall-sized screen sporting the image of a beautiful island, his narration telling us that he dreams of buying a deserted island off of Panama. But for now, work.
The hand-off point is in a subway station, and Jung-hoo keeps a low profile as he scopes out the scene. Decked out with an in-ear line to his hacker partner—she’s JO MIN-JA (played by Kim Mi-kyung)—he notes the security cameras in his sightline, and Min-ja deftly hacks into the system to divert the footage.
Jung-hoo easily spots several suit-wearing goons stationed around the platform—they’re likely to become complications. Deciding this job is too much hassle for the meager payday, he turns to leave, only to have Min-ja remind them that they need the cash and that their market is crowding with competition. Jung-hoo turns back with a sigh.
First, they have to figure out who these guys are, and Jung-hoo sidles up to one goon and distracts him with images of bikini-clad women on his phone. While the goon drools, Jung-hoo surreptitiously swipes the guy’s cell phone and calls Min-ja with it, then slips the phone back.
With that information Min-ja is able to figure out who those suits work for, and it’s one of their competitors, Double S, to whom they’ve lost some clients: “They think they’re a Gangnam department store and we’re the neighborhood market.”
When the subway car arrives carrying his new client, Jung-hoo makes sure to get to him before the rivals do, and quietly grabs the contact’s arm and asks, “You came to meet the Healer?” He pulls the man back onto the train, but not soon enough; the rivals spot them and jump onto the car, and soon Jung-hoo finds himself trapped with goons closing in on both sides.
In an apartment building, a young woman gets into the elevator with a deliveryman and comments that the top package is hers. She takes it from the deliveryman—and then darts into a stairwell to don a delivery vest herself, using the package as an excuse to knock on a different apartment. Sneaky.
She makes up a few lies about requiring signatures to deliver mail, and the resident reluctantly opens the door to sign. That’s when our fake-deliverer clutches at her heart and makes a big dramatic gesture of reaching for pills, asking for water.
When the woman complies, our faker hurriedly grabs her phone to snap a few photos of the entryway, then makes a lame excuse to the woman for why the delivery is for the wrong person. The woman doesn’t buy it since she’s a celebrity (“Don’t you know who I am?”) and our faker beats a hasty retreat, her cover blown.
But she’s gotten what she came for, as it turns out she’s actually a reporter, CHAE YOUNG-SHIN (Park Min-young). She puts in a call to her editor; she works for a low-rent tabloid operation, as we can surmise from the way her editor tries to fashion a juicy headline out of her photo of men’s shoes in the celebrity’s entryway. He complains that it’s too weak to use as proof of liaison, and not worthy of a scoop.
Young-shin heads to the parking garage looking for more to the story, which is where she nearly gets plowed down by a convertible as it parks. She heads over indignantly to give the driver a piece of her mind, but he’s foaming at the mouth over a subway snafu, and Young-shin’s ears perk up when he blames this on “the Healer.”
Spidey senses tingling, she eavesdrops as the driver picks up a photograph and asks for a confirmation of the Healer’s appearance. He throws the photo in the backseat, and in an split-second of pure guts (or foolishness), Young-shin snatches the picture before the driver screeches off.
Next we jump to a charged protest site outside the corporation Samhan Group, where ex-workers and their families protest illegal layoffs. Reporters swarm the site, among them a grave-looking Serious Journalist, KIM MOON-HO (Yoo Ji-tae). He’s recognizable and respected, and maybe even a bit of a maverick; the other reporters stand around waiting for the official press conference, but Moon-ho heads right into the thick of things to talk with the protesters.
He interviews a distraught old woman who begs him to save her son, who’s laid up in the hospital after self-immolating in protest. Moon-hoo leaves a colleague to handle the press conference and immediately heads to the hospital, where he finds the son in a ghastly state, burned from head to toe.
The man has written out his story in case a reporter should come, and Moon-ho reads: “Please tell our story. Nobody will listen to what we have to say.” There’s something in Moon-ho’s demeanor that assures us that he will treat this with dignity and fairness, and he apologizes for coming so late.
But back to the subway. For now, Healer Jung-hoo is safe enough, with the goons waiting for their moment. Min-ja hacks into security at the next subway stop and sees the fresh influx of gangster types arriving and stationing themselves right at the doors. Meanwhile the client is quaking in his shoes about to pee himself, and Jung-hoo tells him calmly to trust him.
As the train approaches the station, Jung-hoo instructs his client to jump at the count of three. “One… two…” And screeeeeech! The train jerks to a stop in the middle of the tracks, and Jung-hoo counts, “Three!”
The doors don’t open. “Three!” He repeats. This time the doors do open… behind him, on the wrong side of the tracks. Pwahaha.
“Seriously, Ajumma!” Healer gripes. Min-ja goes whoopsie and corrects her mistake, and then Jung-hoo and his client leap out the correct set of doors, onto the tracks below, while the goons are locked out by closing doors.
As they jog down the tunnel, Jung-hoo asks for “the goods” to confirm that they’re genuine, but the client fearfully begs Jung-hoo to save him first. This goes against his policy and time’s ticking, with the Double S goons now in the tunnel, continuing the chase. The client clutches his briefcase whimpering that they’ll kill him, and the gang is coming at them mighty quickly…
Jung-hoo asks Min-ja for a hand, and she sends the subway train along, losing their light source. The tunnel goes dark and from there, it’s simple enough for Jung-hoo to employ his super-fly hand-to-hand moves to pick them off one at a time. All the while, Min-ja counts down the remaining seconds till the next train passes through…
With less than a minute to spare, Jung-hoo tries to tell his opponent to pause to clear out his buddies before continuing the fight, which sounds as silly as you think if not for the very real train heading their way. By the time the lights appear around the bend, he’s only got seconds to figure a way out of this.
Jung-hoo breaks free of his hold and knocks out his opponent, only to have the burly guy land on top of him, pinning him to the tracks. Oh shit oh shit! Mooooooove.
The train zooms by, and then a long tense pause as we peer down the tunnel. Are those bodies dead, or just out for the count? And then, Jung-hoo stirs from the pile, having shoved himself and the goon off the tracks at the last second. He gasps that this job is so not worth the price tag.
Now for some rich people. Inside his palatial estate, a media mogul takes a conference call with other media honchos. He’s KIM MOON-SHIK (Park Sang-won), the chairman of Jeil Newspaper, and they’re discussing how to handle the story of the mass layoffs at Samhan Group. Or spinning it, more like, landing upon a business-friendly angle that takes the blame off the corporation. Oh, something tells me we’re in for some family strife over this, as Moon-shik is the older brother to our righteous star reporter Moon-ho.
Then Moon-shik hears from his secretary that “the item” has been transferred, having survived the attempt to intercept it. He guesses correctly who was behind that attempt—Moon-ho. Omo. Things just got more interesting.
Double S is reputed to be top-of-the-line, but even so, they weren’t able to outwit the solo Healer. He’s never been identified, and one of his hallmarks is discretion, in that he never asks for his clients’ identities.
Jung-hoo takes his nervous client away to safety to complete the transaction, but the man is so scared that he begs for one more consideration—that they send him to America, which he can’t do on his own without being caught. He adds that Jeil News should be able to manage it, and an email gets sent over to chairman Moon-shik.
That means, however, that the client knows that Jeil is involved, and Jeil doesn’t like being thus exposed. Moon-shik files away the Healer’s name and decides that this must be directly discussed with the Old Man; they can’t risk anything going awry.
At the broadcast station, Moon-ho gets bad news from his boss, news desk chief KANG MIN-JAE (Woo Hee-jin), with whom he is very friendly and speaks to in banmal. They’ll be cutting the interview with the burned protester, and he entreats her to help him honor his promise to the man.
Min-jae understands how he feels but she’s also got higher-ups to report to, so she settles on a compromise to allow Moon-ho to mention meeting the man, but glossing it over in a pleasant fashion. Something tells me he’s not going to let that be the final word.
Ah, and as the newscast prepares for broadcast, we see that the honchos who’d called in with Jeil’s Moon-shik are executives at this station. Min-jae gives Moon-ho the extra warning that they’re here to see his broadcast. “Don’t cause trouble,” she says.
At home, Young-shin makes kimchi with her father, chatting about her latest lead on the top-secret mercenary called the Healer. She knows that these kinds of services are employed by the rich and powerful to do their dirty work for them, and smells a top story, as well as all the riches she’ll rake in by writing a bestselling exposé.
Young-shin wheedles Dad in her best aegyo voice to lend her the money to contract the Healer’s services (in the vicinity of 10 grand), and he harrumphs that he’ll do it when she brings home a marriageable young man. She picks up a cabbage head and “introduces” him to Dad, which is super cute for the way Dad just plays along like she’s marrying Mr. Cabbage Head.
But then it’s time for the evening news, and Young-shin leaps up to catch the broadcast featuring Moon-ho. From the way she grins up moonily at her television, I’m guessing she’s a big fan.
Moon-ho goes off-script during the live broadcast to tell the man’s story, to Min-jae’s chagrin. Moon-ho gets particularly scathing, turning the criticism inward, saying that the man self-immolated because nobody would listen to his story otherwise. He acknowledges that truth—he didn’t interview the man until he burned himself, nor did the station care for the plight of the workers—and states that the man’s extreme act was driven first and foremost by “we the reporters.”
And Young-shin’s admiration of Moon-ho just balloons up in response—not to date him, but to be him. She explains to us that she wasn’t so great in her studies, went to a mediocre university, and failed all the entrance exams for the major papers, which explains why she’s toiling away at such a dinky tabloid. Still, she’s confident in her drive and passion.
Next, we meet an elegant woman in a wheelchair, looking fondly at old photographs of her daughter and of herself with four university friends (a photo that’s been spotted a few times now). She’s CHOI MYUNG-HEE (Do Ji-won), and she sets out a lavish spread with those photos at the center—a memorial, perhaps.
She’s joined by her husband, Chairman Kim Moon-shik, in a child’s room that’s been preserved. He grows sad-eyed at the friends’ photo, but agrees that it’s appropriate since their bygone friend was the father of the deceased daughter. Oy, these relationships seem pretty complicated. I mean, in a good way ultimately, but right now I’m just trying to keep ’em all straight.
Moon-shik calls his brother to wonder why he isn’t here yet, but Moon-ho’s in a heavy mood and says he won’t be able to make it. Moon-shik guesses that it’s because he got chewed out for making yet another live broadcast incident, and the brothers laugh about how nothing ever happens without hyung knowing.
It’s particularly interesting given what we know about them outmaneuvering each other behind each other’s backs, since they seem so affable to each other directly. Moon-shik ends the call with a warm “You know I’m always on your side,” to which Moon-ho angrily flings off his headset.
Then Moon-ho calls a friend to inquire about test results yet again—and for the third time, the DNA has proved the two people unrelated. The friend wonders who he’s looking for, and Moon-ho just replies, “Someone I have to find.”
As he comes home to his spacious, empty apartment, Moon-ho thinks heavily that another day has passed in his life where every day feels like a homework assignment to be solved. He takes an apologetic call from the Double S Guard company for the failed task, and guesses that the job was interrupted by the Healer, “because I had initially intended to hire him.” Looks like he’ll be going there next… if he can beat out the competition, that is.
Moon-ho dismantles his coffee table to reveal that it’s a functional chest, and inside is a briefcase housing dozens of cassette tapes and a note that reads “HEALER.” The tapes date back to 1980, and he narrates that two points of time in his life are connected by a tough thread: 1980 and 1992. Every time he tries to move forward, he returns instead to those times.
He takes out that old photo of the five friends, growing emotional as it takes him back to being a young boy:
November 1980. Moon-ho rides shotgun in an old truck, his brother driving and listening to an underground radio broadcast. A young Myung-hee broadcasts from a cramped space with her (boy?)friend, talking about news and criticizing the media in that fearless way that idealistic students have.
The broadcast is enough of a problem that the police are busy trying to track its source and move out with sirens blaring. A friend on a motorcycle signals to Moon-shik, and ah! The pirate broadcast is originating from the back of the truck. The friends get the signal to cut out, and they quickly sign off.
The cops spot the antenna mounted on the truck and start to chase, while their motorcycle buddy does his part in running interference and heading off the police cars. The chase gets increasingly perilous, until finally the motorcyclist pulls off the awning covering the truckbed and flings it onto the cop’s windshield, ending the chase.
They make it out today, and drink to the successful escape. That’s when young Moon-ho picks up a camera, and the friends suggest taking a photograph together. Moon-shik is the most concerned of the five—he’s rather dark, whereas his friends are freewheeling and ebullient—and I’m sensing more to the story than a mere love triangle between his old friend and his current wife.
In the present day, Moon-shik and Myung-hee hold the memorial, and Myung-hee grows teary as she asks her dead husband to look after their daughter. Moon-shik lends her his literal shoulder to cry on.
Moon-ho writes an email while narrating for us, “My time is caught on the past, and so, I had no tomorrow. If I find that child, perhaps I might have a tomorrow.” We see him writing another request for help, and it’s addressed to the Healer.
The Healer, meanwhile, sits down for to a dinner for one and keeps his eye on his goal of retiring to a private island. His plan sounds both outlandish and entirely feasible, given the way he’s thinking out the details of all the supplies he’d need. He grimaces at a phone call from Ajumma Min-ja, and when he ignores her call (c’mon, do you not learn?), she hacks into his system to check on the latest request.
Jung-hoo retorts that he’s already tracked down three girls for the client, but Min-ja reminds him that they were all false leads. This time, though, she thinks she’s got a good possibility for a girl adopted twenty years ago who fits the bill. Plus, it’s an appealing option since they’ll get paid for the DNA sample regardless of whether it’s a match.
Jung-hoo isn’t hopping to get on the job, but he realizes that he’s still got to make more money before his dreams of island paradise are realized.
And then we cut to Young-shin, who explains her second dream being to locate her birth parents. She loves her naggy dad, but is curious to know who her parents were, ask why they abandoned her, and to meet them once. Just to know.
In the morning, Young-shin runs along the sidewalk and thinks to herself that both her dreams seem distant and unattainable, but she’ll be keeping the faith. She’ll work hard, and if it happens, it’ll be her fate.
As she barrels along to the bus stop, we see through the Healer’s fancy info-glasses that Young-shin is the one he’s looking for. His reports find that she’s curiously absent from social media accounts (“She can’t be normal!”), and her face gets positively matched by the computer software as she makes it onto the bus.
“Bingo!” he thinks, as he boards the bus after her. The bus lurches, and she falls, quite literally, into his arms.
I was hoping for good things from Healer but also wary of expecting too much, because that’s been the story of my life this past year. Every time a drama comes along I try to temper my hopes, and yet judging from the way I keep feeling disappointment, I can never quite get rid of it entirely. But I wouldn’t want to, because it’s worth it when a show meets your standards or exceeds them, and that’s all the reason to keep looking for the good in things.
I’m not ready to declare Healer a success story, and I haven’t quite decided whether to continue the recaps (we’ll be deciding after seeing the rest of premiere week), but for now I feel optimistic about the world, the characters, and the intricate interweaving of people’s stories. One thing that drives me nuts in dramas is when very important things happen by coincidence (like the lead couple of a rom-com just happening to have five meet-cutes (or meet-hates) in a row), but we can see that the writer is layering the pieces carefully. Things happen for a reason, and I believe that the relationships are fleshed out in elaborate detail beyond what we can see.
I like to be kept guessing, so long as the drama doesn’t overdo the cryptic hint-dropping, because isn’t it infuriating when a show dangles things in front of you and yanks them away? I like how we see these relationships presented, with glimpses at a more nuanced story underneath the surface; there’s enough for us to speculate, but it’s not so obvious that it won’t present surprises down the line.
One key example of that is the brothers’ relationship, which I already find fascinating via their one phone call together. They don’t look like they’re faking affection or interest in each other, and from the flashback we can presume that hyung basically raised his kid brother, but clearly there is conflict in spades between them now. They work in the same industry, are rock stars in their professions, and have what appear to be good lives—but man, are they a powder keg ready to blow or what?
Yoo Ji-tae is really wonderful at embodying his character’s haunted inner life, and I am so happy to see him back in wonderland with his quiet intensity. His gravitas just gets better with age, now that he has a few wrinkles to add to the effect, and I am mightily relieved to see how his character figures into the plotline. I had worried that they cast such a fantastic actor and might relegate him to support staff in favor of the younger hotshot (and I say this liking Ji Chang-wook); the Healer is a cool role, but Moon-ho provides this emotional heft that I find really compelling. You can feel the oppressive weight of the past in him, and that informs everything in the present.
That said, I’m also happy to see that the Healer isn’t some glossy empty vessel, either—I really, really like his yearning for isolation, and find that it rounds his character in a fascinating way. He isn’t just a legendary mercenary for the kicks; it’s just a means to an end for him, and he’s so driven to pursue that end that he’s gotten to be insanely good at his job. He seems to me both a wild dreamer and a pragmatist, even though I’m not quite sure where those two edges meet in him. What I do know is that I want to know more of this story, and I’ll be hoping that the drama delivers it in a consistently entertaining, thoughtful, and (sure why not?) stylishly slick way.
- High-speed thrills for hire in action drama Healer
- No mission too impossible for the Healer
- Reporters and buried secrets drive action thriller Healer
- Ji Chang-wook leaps across skyscraper rooftops for Healer
- Healer’s cast lineup and first script reading
- Healer secures cast, KBS reshuffles fall/winter lineup
- Ji Chang-wook, Park Min-young in the mix to join Healer
- Yoo Ji-tae signs on to new Song Ji-nah drama Healer