Rescue Me: Episode 2
The events of Rescue Me continue to ensnare both its viewers and the residents of Muji County. Our protagonists find themselves in ever murkier waters as the cult draws even closer to the Im Family, who find themselves faced with seemingly innocuous gifts at first, only for those gifts to escalate in size. How is a family at the end of the line to say no and refuse such “kindness?”
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EPISODE 2 RECAP
We open the episode where we left off, with the Im Family driving home from the church. This time, however, we see the scene from bumpkin biker buddies Sang-hwan and Dong-chul’s perspective, who urge each other into faster and more daring tricks as they ride on their motorcycles.
The whole thing is really just a high-speed game of chicken to Sang-hwan and Dong-chul, and just as it seems like they’re about to crash straight into the Im Family vehicle, they split paths at the last moment in front of the car and laugh at each other as they drive off.
As the motorcycle sounds fade, the Im Family is left stopped on the road and shaken by the experience. “I need to get out for a minute,” daughter Sang-mi says, sounding like she might be sick.
Indeed, she collapses against a tree as soon as she gets out, and her mother comes out to check on her. When her mother touches her thigh—almost in the same place she was touched by Father Baek—Sang-mi responds with shock, and finally speaks her mind about the church and her misgivings about the situation. Her mother tries reassuring Sang-mi, but it has the air of telling a child that monsters under the bed don’t really exist.
We catch up with fellow bumpkin biker Man-hee, who turns out to be the brother of one of the mechanics who helped tow the Im Family’s car.
Man-hee’s older brother sighs that they only have each other for family now, but that doesn’t stop him from complaining about all his hard-earned money being spent on meat for his little brother, or Man-hee from tempting his brother with a handful of meat before stuffing it in his own mouth instead.
We also get a glimpse into fellow biker Jung-hoon’s life: He’s busy livestreaming a challenge to his online viewers and gets ready to mix Mentos and Cola in his mouth, but his mother calls him to dinner.
He’s only gotten as far as the first couple gulps of soda before his mother bursts in to get him to eat—and gets spit on for her trouble. Naturally, Jung-hoon is dragged out for dinner (and for an earful) before he even gets a chance to end the broadcast.
Meanwhile, The Im Family gets their first look at their new home provided by the Guseonwon church/compound, with Sang-mi noticeably trailing behind the rest of her family. Disciple Jo explains that the house had been donated to the church by a believer who requested that it be used for “a good deed.” Sang-mi watches, detached, as her family explores the space happily and moves in with the help of the church’s disciples.
After the move has been completed, Mom and Dad’s attitudes towards the Guseonwon people have shifted dramatically, and they eagerly sign their children up to help with a campaign to help homeless people. Sang-mi protests that they haven’t finished unpacking yet but her father waves that aside. Sang-mi’s brother, Sang-jin, says nothing.
And so it is that Sang-mi and Sang-jin end up passing out flyers for Guseonwon. After a while, Sang-jin excuses himself to the bathroom, and Disciple Jo laughs at the way he’s walking without seeming to realize that Sang-jin has a limp.
In the bathroom’s narrow passageway, Sang-jin accidentally bumps shoulders with the ringleader of a group of rowdy high schoolers, and an apology from Sang-jin isn’t enough to appease the ringleader. They pester him with questions with a menacing air, and declaring that Sang-jin sounds like a girl, they decide to check for themselves.
While the boys start trying to forcibly pull Sang-jin’s pants down, Sang-jin keeps sneaking glances at the entrance, noticing a shadowy figure in the doorway. As the scuffle gets more intense, Sang-jin gets visibly distressed, repeating, “Please don’t do this.” The shadowy figure moves away, and the door shuts.
Sang-mi and Eun-shil wait outside, Eun-shil wearing a noticeably impatient look. Sang-jin finally staggers out to the car, wearing a blank look. Sang-mi asks if he’s all right, but Sang-jin only distractedly answers, “Huh? Yeah…”
In the car, Sang-jin continues to insist that he’s okay in response to Sang-mi’s concern. Disciple Jo blithely interjects, “Sang-jin must be very happy because he has a pretty younger sister.” (Creepy.) Eun-shil clears her throat and offers Sang-jin a cup of tea, which she spiked with one of the vials she carries.
The Guseonwon van drops the twins off in front of their house. Sang-mi catches her brother’s arm once they’re alone: “Something happened earlier, didn’t it?” Instead of confiding in his sister, Sang-jin asks her not to burden their parents by telling them anything about the situation. After a brief look into his eyes, Sang-mi agrees and watches him limp back home.
In the compound, ominous thumping noises sound from the Guseonwon laundry room, but it’s just Father Baek bathing an elderly man. Two women walk in and gently chide Father Baek for washing the man’s soiled underwear by hand, though Father Baek claims it’s no trouble at all. When one of the women worries about his health, what with him working tirelessly and always praying late into the night, Father Baek asks if she’d give him a massage, then.
The woman seems slightly taken aback that Father Baek knew she was good at giving massages, but the strange moment is interrupted when the second woman takes over his work.
In the morning, Sang-mi is introduced to her new classmates. Sitting in the back of the class, both Sang-hwan and Dong-chul react: Sang-hwan nudges Dong-chul next to him, asking if this is fate, while Dong-chul studies Sang-mi with a keen expression. The teacher assigns Sang-mi to the empty seat on the other side of Sang-hwan.
Meanwhile, in Sang-jin’s classroom, the bathroom bully from before sends a taunt via paper note: “Have you been doing well? Kekeke.”
The torment doesn’t end at lunch, either. Sang-jin’s tablemates stand up and leave when the bullies corner him at his table. The leader spits in his food and commands him to eat it. When Sang-jin doesn’t comply immediately, they shove him onto the floor and dump the food on his head and demand that he eat it.
Sang-jin slowly lowers his head to the food on the ground, crying softly. Suddenly, a milk carton explodes against the leader’s back. He screams in anger and turns around to face the perpetrator: Sang-mi.
“Apologize,” she demands.
When the leader refuses, Sang-mi says in an even voice that if he fails to apologize, she’ll call the police, since he assaulted her brother first. But, the leader wants to know, does she have proof? He addresses the whole lunch room, asking if anyone wants to come and back up Sang-mi, knowing all the while that no one will stand up to him.
Sang-mi looks at all the turned backs around her in disbelief. “Say something! You saw everything!” she cries out as the group of bullies laugh at her. The leader asks her if she wants to be his girlfriend, and Sang-mi responds appropriately: She slaps him, hard, and he goes down. She rushes over to Sang-jin, but the bullies start shoving her around, too.
It’s at this tense moment that Sang-hwan and Dong-chul walk in. “Hey!” Sang-hwan roars. He leaps over the lunch table and delivers a mighty kick to the bully harassing Sang-mi. The leader of the bullies says that they must be crazy too — don’t they know he’s the top dog of the class?
Sang-hwan and Dong-chul muse on this, and their cheery wordplay just angers the leader more. Red in the face, the leader asks if they want to fight and charges forward. But one of his minions has just read Sang-hwan’s nametag and holds him back. The leader protests, but the lackey says that “he’s Han Sang-hwan” and whispers something in the leader’s ear. Whatever it is causes the bullies to disperse when the school bell rings.
Sang-hwan approaches Sang-mi, who’s helping Sang-jin up. He cautions them that the bullies will be back and advises them to tell the teacher. Sang-mi’s reply is dismissive: “Thank you for helping us today, but we’ll take care of ourselves.”
After school, the four friends regroup at the basketball court. They share a companionable moment before Sang-hwan says he has to leave. Dong-chul follows and reveals to us that today is Sang-hwan’s mother’s birthday.
Sang-mi and Sang-jin make their way out of school too, only to be greeted by the Guseonwon van. Disciple Jo claims they were in the area and “coincidentally” saw the twins walking out. He says that Eun-shil has something to give to Sang-mi, and Sang-mi hesitantly agrees to be taken to Guseonwon.
Meanwhile, Sang-hwan visits his comatose mother’s hospital room, package in hand. Kneeling by her side, he notices the flowers and card his father has left behind. He clasps her hand, saying, “Mom, please wake up. Do you know how long Dad and I have waited for you?”
In Guseonwon, Sang-mi receives a package of her own: a box of Guseonwon tea. She attempts to refuse it politely, but Eun-shil convinces her to accept it by chastising her for not knowing how to accept a gift, though the tone is menacing.
“Please, please,” someone prays in the church proper, crying. “It’s too hard. I can’t hold on any longer. I just want to live like the other kids.” A red cross looms large over the person praying, who turns out to be Sang-jin.
He sobs, oblivious to his surroundings until someone puts their hand on his shoulder. It’s Father Baek, who reassures him that “anyone can be saved from their pain,” by praying to New Heaven’s God before handing him a pamphlet titled “The Road to Salvation.”
Sang-mi walks out with the tea, looking for Sang-jin. But he’s not in the van and his phone is turned off, so Sang-mi enters the church again. He’s not there.
She walks into the construction area we saw last episode and discovers the foreboding basement entrance. It’s eerily silent except for her footsteps. Just as she’s about to open the first door at the foot of the stairs, her shoulder is seized from behind by Disciple Jo. With a calm, sinister voice, he asks her what she’s doing here.
Sang-mi rambles, but is shortly cut off by Disciple Jo reaching out to touch her hair and face. “It’s like the hair of a baby,” he breathes, with his hand lingering on Sang-mi’s neck. To add to the skin-crawling tension, muffled screams and whimpers of distress begin behind the closed door.
According to Disciple Jo, those cries and screams are just from believers praying fervently. As he continues in that same placid voice, he gets close enough to her face that their noses almost touch. Sang-mi trembles, eyes wide.
“Ah,” he declares suddenly, moving back. He says that he saw Sang-jin outside, and invites her to come back and pray together with him sometime.
The Im Family gathers for dinner, and the parents continue singing the praises of Guseonwon thanks to the tea package Sang-mi has brought home. Dad suggests going to church on the weekend, and Mom agrees, “Not even family would do this much for each other.”
Mom asks the twins how their day was and whether or not they’ve made friends. Sang-mi and Sang-jin exchange a meaningful glance, and Sang-mi ambiguously replies that it was only their first day.
Sang-jin leaves the table to get some rest, claiming he has no appetite. But in his room, he pulls out the pamphlet that Father Baek gave him and begins reading.
It’s another busy day for Han Yong-min’s campaign, where reporters are being contacted and slogans coined. The newest one is “I will protect you with the heart of a father,” punctuated by Sang-hwan descending the stairs to leave for school.
His father rushes over to fix Sang-hwan’s tie: “I’ll win the election again and I’ll make your mom get better, so until then, please stay out of trouble.” It’s a caring but firm instruction, and Sang-hwan apologizes.
After class lets out, Jung-hoon and Man-hee wait for the other two at the basketball court. Jung-hoon spies Sang-mi in the distance, waiting next to a bench. “Isn’t that the girl from Seoul?” he asks Man-hee before getting hit in the head with the basketball.
“Shouldn’t we tell the teacher?” one girl asks another as they pass Sang-mi. “About what? The kid from Seoul? Let’s mind our own business,” the other replies. Sang-mi overhears their conversation with alarm and flags them down.
As to what exactly is happening to the “kid from Seoul,” we find Sang-jin being beaten by the same group of students as before, this time on the rooftop. “What?” The leader taunts when Sang-jin looks toward the open door. “Do you think someone will come to save you?”
That someone is Sang-mi, who rushes up the stairs and crashes into Sang-hwan and Dong-chul on the way. Sang-hwan asks her if she’s hurt, and Sang-mi hesitates for a moment before imploring them to help her brother.
Dong-chul turns around to go upstairs immediately, but Sang-hwan doesn’t react. He remembers his father’s request and makes a decision, removing Sang-mi’s hands from his own: “You said you’d take care of yourselves.”
Dong-chul asks if Sang-hwan is really just going to turn the other way, and Sang-hwan says that they’re not the police. Sang-mi pushes past both of them to the stairs, and the disagreement turns personal.
They strike each other’s sore spots as Dong-chul asks if Sang-hwan is acting this way because of his father, while Sang-hwan asks if Dong-chul likes Sang-mi: “If you do, then why don’t you go?” So Sang-hwan heads down, and Dong-chul heads up.
Sang-mi bursts onto the roof to find Sang-jin standing on a desk, being coerced into exposing himself for the bullies’ cell phone cameras. Sang-mi draws closer, but Sang-jin himself tells her to leave and looks away.
With a resolute look, Sang-mi tells him, “Stop. Put your clothes back on.” For a moment, he starts to do it, but one of the bullies grabs his arm. “Should we show her the picture or do you want to play with us?”
It’s an awful ultimatum, and they know it. Sang-jin again tells Sang-mi unsteadily to go. “I’m begging you. Please let my brother go,” Sang-mi says to the bullies, eyes downcast. The leader sidles closer and tells her if she’s going to beg, she has to do it “right” and take her clothes off.
Sang-hwan arrives at the basketball court, much to his friends’ joy. But they want to know where Dong-chul is, and Sang-hwan can’t bring himself to answer.
Just as the bully leader is about to unbutton Sang-mi’s uniform, he gets a bucket to the back. Dong-chul’s here, and he says he’s ready to clean up the trash. He goads the bullies, and in return, the leader tells him that without Sang-hwan, Dong-chul is nothing.
Unfazed, Dong-chul jumps into action. It’s a 4-on-1 fight until Sang-mi starts fighting the female member of the group in a hair-grabbing contest.
Sang-jin watches the fight and staggers away. Below, Sang-hwan plays ball with Jung-hoon and Man-hee, but is clearly distracted. He looks toward the rooftop—and on the edge stands Sang-jin. Alarmed now, Sang-hwan sprints back toward the building.
All the fighting stills when Sang-mi screams for Sang-jin. “Please don’t do this,” she begs with feeling, trying to convince him not to jump. “I shouldn’t have been born,” Sang-jin says levelly. “Everyone’s the same. I can’t escape it anyway.”
Sang-mi keeps telling him it’s not true and that she’ll help him, but he doesn’t seem to hear her as he thinks of Father Baek telling him: “The arms of New Heaven’s God are always open to anyone.” Instead, he apologizes to Sang-mi with a cryptic, “I don’t think anyone will listen to my prayers.”
“What do you mean by that?” Sang-mi asks. Her only response is a few measured breaths, and then Sang-jin plummets backwards. He falls to the ground below, face bruised and pants still slightly open.
Sang-mi screams, and Dong-chul runs to the edge. Even the bully leader is in shock. Sang-mi can only repeat “No!” to herself as she cries.
Sang-hwan runs through the rooftop doorway, but he’s too late. Dong-chul and Sang-mi turn their faces to him—one bloody, one tear-streaked—and from Sang-mi comes a whispered plea: “Save me.”
Jung-hoon’s police father and his partner pull up at the police station with the bullies and Dong-chul in tow. The other three friends run up and protest that it wasn’t Dong-chul’s fault. Jung-hoon’s father states that the details will be found through police investigation, but he also says that he can tell that Dong-chul is guilty just by looking at him.
Meanwhile, Sang-mi cries as she runs alongside the stretcher bringing Sang-jin from the ambulance to the hospital.
Mom and Dad each receive sobering phone calls at their respective workplaces. Mom makes her way out of the restaurant in a blind panic, attracting stares as she runs out barefoot and cries, “There’s no way it’s true!”
A couple of believers, including a young child, get out of a van parked in front of the church. The light from the red cross on the roof of the church flickers, then goes out. The young child points at the cross: “The red light… is gone.”
Tonight’s service at the church includes a cheery song praising New Heaven’s God. Eun-shil and Disciple Jo lead the song, and later, they call for Father Baek to lead the rest of the service.
“Father!” the crowd chants and cheers, and Father Baek appears from behind the curtain. Most of the congregation members get up to dance, including the boy who saw the red light go out.
We see Dong-chul sitting in a cell, looking pensive and tired, and Sang-jin being taken care of by hospital staff. Sang-mi walks up to her parents outside Sang-jin’s hospital room and puts slippers on her mother’s bare feet.
Sitting on a hospital chair, Mom raises her head when she hears Sang-jin’s voice—only it’s not coming from the room he’s in, but the hallway. She calls out to the shadowy specter and gets up to follow it into the darkened hallway, crying out her son’s name every few steps.
Back at the church, Father Baek preaches to the audience, claiming that New Heaven’s God spoke to him. His mission, as he claims, is to “spread the secret to salvation on this earth and save the poor souls that are struggling in pain.”
At the same time, Sang-mi calls her mother when she can’t find her, but Mom’s phone has been left on her chair. “I can’t find Mom,” she tells her father.
Father Baek uses a lesson on demons to segue into his main point: To combat the hidden demons of the world, they must believe in New Heaven’s God… and Father Baek, of course. “All you have to do is believe in New Heaven’s God and believe in me,” he repeats.
In an intercut scene, the Sang-jin ghost leads Mom up to the roof. He stands on the edge, and Mom begs him to come back.
“The only way we can be saved from this evil world is through our belief in New Heaven’s God. Do you all believe?” Father Baek intones. The audience fervently chants back, “We believe!”
With rising panic, Sang-mi and Dad follow a pair of running hospital staff members up to the roof. There, Mom takes step after trembling step along the edge of the roof, calling and reaching for a Sang-jin that isn’t actually there.
They approach her slowly, and then Dad takes a risk and grabs her off the ledge and back to safety. Mom looks up at the now-empty rooftop edge, then faints. Downstairs, the real Sang-jin flatlines.
Meanwhile, the audience shouts ever more fervent proclamations of their belief in the church, New Heaven’s God, and Father Baek himself. The sound of moaning and yelling swells to a fever pitch.
At Sang-jin’s memorial, Mom wails his name, Dad apologizes, and Sang-mi chokes out a silent sob. In the midst of their grief, Sang-mi spies intruders: Disciple Jo, Eun-shil, Father Baek, and other churchgoers have shown up.
They offer platitudes and sympathy to the family, and Disciple Jo adds, “From now on, we’ll protect you as if you’re our family.” Eun-shil holds a grieving Mom in her arms as Sang-mi watches.
Father Baek gives a speech. “Why did you have to take our precious son? Why?” he cries out. The speech fluently expresses the emotion of grief and loss, and everyone present is moved again to tears, including Sang-mi, who relives anew the torture Sang-jin endured over the past few days.
The family cries as Father Baek asks, “You told me you would save your child suffering in agony, so why? Why did you take him away? New Heaven’s God, I really… resent you for doing this.” Father Baek beats his chest as he demands an answer: “This child cried out to you and asked you to save him so desperately. Did you really turn away from him?!”
Oof. What a traumatic episode this was, for all members of the Im Family. I had felt uneasy since the bathroom incident early in the episode, but I hadn’t anticipated that it would escalate so far, so fast, nor did I foresee Sang-jin’s death in this episode. Until the last minute, I was still on the fence as to whether or not the show would let Sang-jin live, either by him coming down from the roof or being nursed back to life in the hospital. Rescue Me does a good job of keeping its viewers off-balance, so much so that I really believed for a moment that Sang-jin’s mother might follow her son off the roof.
Part of the reason it achieves this off-kilter sensation so well, at least from what I’ve seen, is the excellent use of sound. High strings or rumbling drums alert us to anything from a hand grabbing someone’s shoulder from behind or a seemingly innocuous religious gathering. Even the quiet moments of this show are sometimes woven with a sense of imminent danger, leaving us always on edge. In fact, there are almost no happy music cues in this episode except when the cult is singing in the service, and that’s one place we can almost be certain a layer of evil lurks underneath. Our protagonists just can’t catch a break.
The editing also helps with the show’s tone significantly, especially in combination with the script. Both are executed with a deft hand, and the show flashes between scenes to build tension, especially with the church services. Sometimes the show allows us a conclusion to a scene, like the door shutting on Jung-hoon’s failed livestream, but it’s also fond of jumping away before a conversation is “officially” done. It’s like hanging up at the end of a phone conversation, but without saying goodbye. The experience is jarring but also trims away some of the unnecessary parts of the characters’ conversations.
More on our protagonists—I’ve said I was surprised by the escalation of Sang-jin’s bullying, but I also feel that I’m missing information on several points. Some the show may answer, like Sang-mi was referring to when she reassured Sang-jin that their experience in this town would be better, what Sang-jin meant by his last words, whether or not the pamphlet had a substantial impact on his final moments, or who closed the door in the bathroom. But, for example, the show didn’t satisfactorily explain why Sang-jin was bullied so heavily within several days of this new school, and instead only showed the senseless bullying and intimidation that was inflicted upon him.
I can accept that teenagers can just be that cruel, but the biggest question mark for me is Sang-jin himself. He didn’t get many lines before the fatal rooftop scene, and he displayed remarkably little agency. I do appreciate that his death has catapulted several characters into action and that it sets up a major catalyst for events to come, such as the family potentially being folded further into the world of the cult. But to me, Sang-jin was just a sketch of a character, and I never got to feel the stuff that makes him human.
Though the negativity that Sang-mi has brushed up against so far has been less outwardly severe than Sang-jin’s, her experiences in Muji are no less traumatic. Besides the tragedy that has just been dealt to her family, she’s also the recipient of several creepy and predatory comments/actions. The fact that she’s pretty is brought up multiple times in situations that gave me a bad gut feeling, which was only cemented by the church basement encounter with Disciple Jo.
I’m glad we’ve finally got a full picture of all the relationships in the town, even though several of the key players are still quite mysterious. The plot flows smoothly, and though the relationships are bound to change—clearly Sang-hwan and Dong-chul have split from each other in more ways than one—the current lay of the land is a useful benchmark for understanding what makes Muji tick. (Incidentally—why don’t the bullies and Sang-hwan/Dong-chul seem to know each other? It seems like Sang-hwan holds some type of reputation due to his father, yet the ringleader had to be fed an explanation on who Sang-hwan was.)
I also appreciate the small but consistent symbols like the tea and Disciple Jo’s perfume, and I’m curious to know more about them. Is the tea just a way for the cult to get their foot in the door with the local residents, or something more sinister? Oddly, the constant references to a paternal figure in the cult, Father Baek, are reminiscent of Sang-hwan’s father’s new campaign slogan: “I will protect you with the heart of a father.” I was prepared to write it off as coincidence, but Disciple Jo’s “We’ll protect you as if you’re our family” echoed it closely. Interesting.
It’s only Episode 2, so I have faith that Rescue Me will answer these burning questions with style, considering its fascinating setting. Though, as we can see from the show, faith can be a dangerous thing.
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