Search Query: WWW: Episode 1
It’s finally here, tvN’s new business-romance drama, and Search Query: WWW makes an incredibly positive first impression. From clearly-drawn characters to a complex but fascinating business world backdrop, this show got my attention right away with its (somehow fitting) dreamy mood and clever dialogue.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
As we see a series of people searching things on the internet, a woman’s voice narrates that people start their days by searching the internet for the weather, the quickest way to travel, and other necessities of life. It’s a convenient way to find information, and the tool that provides this information is search engines.
She informs us that every Korean searches the internet at least once a day, and all of those search words are counted in real time by a server called Unicon. We see that this is a speech being given at a hearing by our heroine, BAE TA-MI (Im Soo-jung).
Behind her is a projection declaring the current top two searched keywords to be “Unicon” and “Unicon’s corruption” — Ta-mi is acting as a witness. She’s addressed by assemblyman JOO SEUNG-TAE (cameo by Choi Jin-ho), who asks how a public company like Unicon could manipulate keywords.
He smirks that the keywords haven’t changed since the hearing began — they don’t seem to be manipulating anything today. He accuses Unicon of deleting negative keywords referring to a presidential candidate in the recent election, but Ta-mi says that it’s normal for keywords to spontaneously disappear.
Assemblyman Joo demands to see their algorithm, but Ta-mi retorts that Unicon’s algorithm could be used to manipulate real-time keywords. Assemblyman Joo sneers that Unicon is already misusing it, when the internet should be a neutral place that holds no prejudices, and where people should be able to freely share opinions.
He asks Ta-mi one last time if Unicon manipulated the real-time keywords. She replies, “At Unicon, the real-time keyword ranking… is fabricated.”
Six months earlier.
On her way to work, Ta-mi notes how most of the passengers in her subway car are on their smartphones, many of them doing internet searches. In the elevator at Unicon, new hire CHOI BONG-KI (Woo Ji-hyun) greets her by name, though she barely recalls meeting him at his job interview and says frankly that she recommended another candidate, ha.
He’s the new senior manager of the media department, and Ta-mi warns that they’ll be very busy when the presidential election begins. She quips dryly that his lover will be upset that he has no time to date, and when he jokingly calls her old-fashioned for using the term “lover,” she just says she was being considerate since she doesn’t know his sexual preferences. LOL.
With a shiver, Bong-ki continues on to his meeting, where the main concern isn’t the presidential election, but the fact that Ta-mi took the subway to work today. There’s no time to explain to Bong-ki what this means before Ta-mi saunters in to discuss the fact that Unicon lost half a percent of users to their competitor, Barro.
The others cringe as Bong-ki says confidently that it’s not a significant difference, but Ta-mi disagrees. She says it’s easy for users to switch search engines because it costs them nothing, and what’s more, right now the most-searched word on Unicon’s site is “Barro.”
A man bursts in to tell Ta-mi that “Inju Fireworks Festival” is up at twenty-eighth place. This is significant because it hasn’t gone viral anywhere, which means the increase in interest is all from an advertisement on Unicon’s main page.
In her office, Director SONG GA-KYUNG (Jeon Hye-jin) tells Ta-mi that it’s their policy to delete any commercial keywords. Ta-mi disagrees with deleting it, since a fireworks festival isn’t a commercial event, but Ga-kyung points out that it’s the city of Inju conducting business through vendors.
Ta-mi brings up the Pyeongchang Olympics, saying that it’s discrimination to delete keywords based on whether the event is a popular one, but she concedes that that’s kind of a leap. She reminds Ga-kyung that they don’t delete keywords for festivals in other regions, but Ga-kyung counters that those were advertised in other ways, while this one was only advertised by Unicon.
She says that all keywords that make the ranking after being advertised on their site are deleted, so letting this one pass would be discrimination. Ga-kyung’s assistant reads (from his own internet search, ha) that in 2014, the Fair Trade Commission stated that allowing a keyword from a search engine’s advertisement can be considered unfair trade, so Ga-kyung officially orders it deleted.
Ga-kyung asks Ta-mi if she truly believes they shouldn’t delete it, but Ta-mi says it’s fine to delete keywords. But she says that Ga-kyung will delete too many without her challenges, which gives Ga-kyung food for thought.
She’s joined on the roof later by CEO NA IN-KYUNG (Yoo Seo-jin), who asks cheekily if Ga-kyung’s mother-in-law told her to delete the keyword. Ga-kyung insists that she acted by the books, and In-kyung reminds her that she’s not the villain. But Ga-kyung says quietly, “Helping the villain makes you one.”
Back in her office, Ga-kyung finds an envelope full of photographs of her husband, OH JIN-WOO (Ji Seung-hyun), cheating on her, but she just shreds them. She visits a club where she finds Jin-woo snuggled up with some hostesses, and she gives him a black envelope to give to his mother, saying that she won’t be home tonight.
Without being asked, Jin-woo’s companion explains that they just came here to discuss the editing in a movie that’s coming out next month. Ga-kyung tells them blandly to enjoy their meeting, and leaves. His friend asks Jin-woo if this is okay, but Jin-woo says that his and Ga-kyung’s relationship isn’t like that.
Ta-mi visits a coffee shop where she asks the barista how her job interview went. The barista says it went badly because Seoul-based companies aren’t interested in degrees issued from non-Seoul universities. She mentions the differences in the presidential election pages of both Unicon and Barro.
Ta-mi’s next stop is a solitary dinner, and when another woman is told that the samgyeopsal is only sold in two-person portions, Ta-mi invites her to join her. She pinpoints that the woman is from abroad since she doesn’t ask a lot of personal questions, and she didn’t know that restaurants don’t serve samgyeopsal in single portions.
Impressed, the woman says that she just moved back after studying piano in Germany for ten years. She admits that she doesn’t know anyone in Korea, and asks if she can call Ta-mi whenever she’s craving samgyeopsal.
They exchange numbers, and after dinner, they see some people dancing to “Pick Me” under a sign endorsing one of the presidential candidates, Seo Myung-ho. Despite being behind in the polls, Ta-mi seems confident that he’ll win.
We move to a debate that’s in progress, and where Candidate Seo is being blasted for being divorced. He says that there’s nothing wrong with being divorced, and retorts that Candidate Lee reportedly had an affair with a coworker.
At Unicon, the media team watch the debate and track the keywords on their site, which are currently all about Candidate Lee’s supposed affair (Bong-ki: “Yay, overtime!” hee). Ta-mi leaves for a hair appointment and continues watching the top searches, which are getting more inventive regarding Candidate Lee’s infidelities.
She refreshes the page, and suddenly, all mentions of Candidate Lee are gone. She hurries back to Unicon, but Bong-ki doesn’t know what happened either. All the phones begin ringing at once, but Ta-mi forbids anyone to answer them.
She goes to Ga-kyung, who says that keywords regarding adultery are slander — something else they always delete. Ta-mi argues that a presidential candidate isn’t an ordinary person, and it’s not Ga-kyung’s place to personally “protect” their human rights. She yells that keyword belong to the people who search for them, and when Ga-kyung starts to recite the rules again, Ta-mi snaps that she knows Ga-kyung is being pressured.
Ga-kyung accuses Ta-mi of slander, but before it goes any further, Assemblyman Joo (who is a member of the same party as Candidate Seo) arrives. Over tea, he quips that Unicon seems to heavily prefer Candidate Lee. He mentions that Ga-kyung’s mother-in-law is the chairwoman of KU Group, but Ga-kyung says that has nothing to do with this. Assemblyman Joo continues that Unicon is known for manipulating keywords, but that Ga-kyung should stop being a slave for her mother-in-law.
Ga-kyung says calmly that search engines may practice voluntary restraints, but Assemblyman Joo barks angrily that this is a presidential election. Ta-mi asks if they should break their rules just because it’s a presidential election, stating that they’ve always deleted keywords regarding an individual’s adultery.
Outmatched for now, Assemblyman Joo stands to leave, saying that once Candidate Seo is elected president, he plans to revisit this issue. Once he’s gone, Ga-kyung asks Ta-mi what she really thinks about whether they should have deleted the keywords. Ta-mi still says it’s wrong, and tells Ga-kyung to be prepared to deal with this since Candidate Seo will be president.
Ga-kyung goes to her mother-in-law, JANG HEE-EUN (Ye Soo-jung)’s art studio after work. Chairwoman Jang asks why there’s such a fuss when it’s just a few keywords, laughing at the politicians’ democratic posturing. Ga-kyung says they won’t be able to avoid a hearing, and that she warned Chairwoman Jang this would be dangerous.
Chairwoman Jang just asks if that makes Ga-kyung incompetent since she did it anyway. She tells Ga-kyung to choose someone to attend the hearing, and she’ll make sure that Ga-kyung and In-kyung aren’t summoned. When Ga-kyung says that she’ll go, Chairwoman Jang snarls that it’s not Ga-kyung she’s trying to protect.
On election night, Unicon is ready with a “congratulations” banner for the site the moment Candidate Seo is announced as the winner. Bong-ki wins a bet with the rest of the media team, who all thought Candidate Seo would lose due to poll results, but he says he bet on Candidate Seo because Ta-mi said he’d win because, a month before the elections, Candidate Seo’s name was suddenly being searched far more than Candidate Lee’s: “People become very honest in front of a search engine.”
Ta-mi goes to an arcade to play fighting games, and her opponent is a young man who keeps wanting to play despite consistently losing to her. He finally wins a game and gets up to leave, and Ta-mi sees his face clearly for the first time. She asks for another game, but he says she won’t be able to beat him today.
She asks about tomorrow and what she can do to win. He just says vaguely, “Try harder.”
Ta-mi stays another half hour practicing, and when she leaves, she finds the young man waiting for her. Ta-mi picks his brain for game tactics, and he tells her exactly why she lost. He says he usually plays at a different arcade but can only play at the local one now, and Ta-mi admits that she’s glad, because she was challenged for once.
Staring at Ta-mi intently, he says that she gets a certain expression when she wins. Ta-mi asks what her losing expression looks like, and he answers, “You looked at me. You only look at the people you’ve lost to.”
He scoots over to her side of the table to share his earbuds, and plays a song for her on his tablet’s piano app. She watches his face as he narrates, “A woman you’ve loved for a thousand years is locked in a castle. Only one enemy stands. If you win this final battle, you will save her, but it won’t be easy. There will be flashy skills and magic flying all over the place.”
The music swells, then it’s over. He asks Ta-mi if the music is too romantic for a battle scene, but Ta-mi says that if you’ve loved the woman for a thousand years, it’s not about how you fight, but the mindset you fight with, that matters. Still looking deep into each other’s eyes, Ta-mi says she likes it, and he says he likes it too, their words full of deeper meaning.
In the morning, Ta-mi wakes up in a strange bed… next to the young man from last night. Yikes. She quietly dresses and sneaks out, buying a new scarf and earrings on the way to work in an attempt to hide the fact that she’s wearing the same outfit as yesterday. But when she gets to her office and notices a run in her hose, she can’t help but remember the details of last night.
She’s summoned to Ga-kyung’s office and informed that, as the director in charge of the Search Department, she’ll be attending the hearing regarding keyword manipulation. Ta-mi asks Ga-kyung if she really has to do this, but Ga-kyung just asks back if Ta-mi is trying to appeal to her conscience.
Ta-mi quips that she asked a stupid question, and turns to In-kyung to ask if she can refuse. In-kyung says that the media will want to drag KU Group into this if Ga-kyung is summoned, though they all know that KU Group is involved. Ta-mi snaps that In-kyung should take responsibility but instead is pushing the blame onto her, and she refuses to do it.
In-kyung says clearly that this is not optional, making Ta-mi mutter that she’s being thrown under the bus. In-kyung answers placatingly that they wouldn’t entrust the future of Unicon to someone they could do without, and tells Ta-mi that she has one job — to make sure the corruption doesn’t show up on the search rankings. She even hints at a promotion if everything turns out well.
Later, Ta-mi goes for drinks with Bong-ki and asks if he’s a just person. He says he is, but that justice is hard to define. Ta-mi asks if it’s just to choose a lesser evil when confronted with two evils. She says she’ll be on TV soon, and wonders what shade of lipstick will look the most fierce.
That brings us back to the hearing (and Ta-mi’s incredibly fierce red lipstick), when Assemblyman Joo asks if Unicon manipulated the real-time keywords before the presidential election. Ta-mi honestly admits that they did, and tells him that in her ten years at Unicon, the words she’s deleted the most all refer to sex. She says that if deleting words in the interest of the public good is fabricating, then yes, they fabricate keywords.
Assemblyman Joo says she’s deflecting, but she counters that if the keywords relating to the presidential candidate accused him of an underage prostitution scandal, then they were allowed to delete them as slander if they were untrue. However, she has proof that Assemblyman Joo himself used a Unicon email server to solicit a minor a decade ago.
Assemblyman Joo leaps to his feet, screaming that it’s not true. Ta-mi says calmly that the authorities can check the information for themselves, and on the screen behind her, the real-time search results suddenly fill with searches about Assemblyman Joo and underage prostitution.
Ta-mi notes how quickly the results changed, and says smugly, “This, sir, is the internet.” Check mate.
A woman sits in her car watching the hearing on her tablet, and she tells someone on the phone that they have a real psycho on their hands. She’s outside the courthouse, and Ta-mi suddenly gets into her passenger seat and asks her to drive. The woman says she’s got the wrong car, but Ta-mi says she couldn’t exactly get into a taxi after making a cool exit.
She suddenly realizes that the woman seems familiar, and they realize that they’re competitors. The other woman is CHA HYUN (Lee Da-hee), who works for Barro, the next most popular search engine after Unicon. But she takes pity on Ta-mi and drives her away from the throng of reporters.
In-kyung is furious at Ta-mi, but Ga-kyung says she did what she was told — get rid of the real-time keywords regarding Unicon’s corruption. Ta-mi is a bit shocked at what she’s just done, and Hyun asks who gave the orders to delete the keywords at Unicon, KU Group or Candidate Lee?
Ta-mi doesn’t answer, so Hyun asks if replacing her company’s corruption keywords with keywords on underage prostitution makes her feel just. She tells Ta-mi not to think of herself as a hero when she’s not honest about Unicon’s problems, but Ta-mi snaps that she didn’t ask for Hyun’s opinion. She insists on being let out even though they’re still on the highway, so Hyun complies.
Hyun is a former judo athlete, and as she spars with a partner in jiu jitsu, we see that she hasn’t lost her skill. He tells her that she should go back to judo and try for the Olympics, but Hyun says she gave up on judo long ago. She jokes that her new dream is to be rich enough to beat up whoever she wants and just pay them off, ha.
In the break room, they see a news clip about Ta-mi’s testimony. Hyun’s partner says that Ta-mi did a great thing, exposing a predator, and Hyun just nods that Ta-mi made a clever move.
Ta-mi decides that her only alternative to going back to Unicon and facing the consequences of her actions is to off herself. She finds a bridge to throw herself off of, but actually doing it is way too scary, hee. Instead she huddles by the railing and prays for sudden destruction of the Earth.
Having failed to end it all (and since the Earth is still intact), Ta-mi bravely makes her way to work the following morning. Bong-ki comes to her office looking proud and tells her that her lipstick was super fierce, and that she did a great job.
He warns her that Ga-kyung is looking for her, so she decides to monitor a Game Department meeting for him as an excuse. In the meeting, Ta-mi recognizes the music being played in the background for a new game, but she can’t quite place it. Suddenly it comes to her — a rainy night, a handsome young man, and a story he told her through music.
The lights come up, and there he stands at the front of the room, staring directly at Ta-mi. He introduces himself as PARK MO-GUN (Jang Ki-yong), CEO of Millim Sound, and he asks for opinions on the music they just heard. Director Sohn of the Gaming Department suggests that the music is too romantic and sentimental for a fight sequence.
Mo-gun tells the room that at this point in the story, the hero is fighting for the woman he’s loved for a thousand years, adding pointedly that she’s not just a one-night stand as he tries to catch Ta-mi’s eye. He repeats her words from their night together, “It’s not about how you fight, but the mindset you fight with, that matters.”
Ta-mi finally looks up at him, and Director Sohn asks what she thinks. Surprised, she blurts out, “He’s handsome.” PFFT. At Mo-gun’s knowing expression, she clarifies that the lead character is well-designed. (I’ll say.)
She slinks out of the meeting and, distracted, accidentally walks into the men’s room. On her way out, she collides with Mo-gun’s chest, leaving a bright red lipstick mark on his white shirt. Mo-gun jokes that she has a habit of kissing him whenever they meet.
Mo-gun stops Ta-mi’s nervous babbling by wiping the lipstick smudge off her lips. Still on autopilot, she asks how old he is. He answers, “I’m not a minor,” flashing her the cutest grin.
Oh, I love this. Mo-gun is adorable, and very insightful, and I just love how he throws the oh-so-poised Ta-mi right off her game merely by existing in her general vicinity. I’ve been dying to recap a show with Jang Ki-yong again ever since he caught my attention in My Ajusshi… the way he made a horrific character somehow relatable and even sympathetic was nothing short of masterful. So I’m very excited to be covering this show, especially since it’s such a different character. So far, I’m enjoying the show much more than I even expected, and it’s all due to the characters.
I think I fell head-over-heels for Ta-mi when she flayed the new hire, Bong-ki, with the comment about his sexuality — it said so much about her. She’s cold, but she’s brutally honest, and she pulls no punches even when her comments might be hurtful. That’s not the greatest quality and won’t make her many friends, but it’s admirable to be so unafraid of what people think of her, especially in the workplace. I love that she fights for doing the right thing within her company, and that she feels badly for what she did in the hearing, because it shows that she does have a conscience. She also has a softer side which she showed to Mo-gun, and it’s that side that I’m excited to see more of.
Mo-gun is also a pretty amazing character so far — it was great how he sized up Ta-mi so quickly just based on how she wins and loses a video game. As an avid gamer myself (seriously, if I’m not recapping, I’m gaming), it’s really true that you can learn a lot about a person based on how they win or lose, and it’s significant that Mo-gun noticed that Ta-mi only connects with people she’s lost to, as if they’ve gained her respect then. I find Mo-gun’s profession fascinating, and I can’t wait to learn more about what he does. In fact, one of the best aspects of the show is how the characters’ professions aren’t just a gimmick to push them together or background noise for the love story. Ta-mi and Mo-gun seem to be very personally entwined with their careers, which lends their characters a lot of depth and interest. I look forward to learning more about what they do, because it will tell us a lot about who they are.
I feel like I’ve gotten the bait-and-switch a lot lately with shows that were supposed to be light and breezy, but ended up much more serious… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not always a good thing, either. Even though Search Query: WWW seems to be going that same way, with this first episode much darker than the promos indicated, I’m not mad about it. If I had to choose one word to describe this show on first impressions, it would be “lovely.” The cinematography is gorgeous, with soft filters and beautiful lighting, and every detail seems lovingly chosen to set the perfect mood for each scene. When Mo-gun was playing the music for Ta-mi, I was moved by the fact that literally everything in the scene was soft and warm, from the lighting to the rain outside, to their dialogue and even their voices as they spoke to each other. Only thirty minutes into the show, and I could already sense how their romance will feel as it progresses. The only thing I’m still unsure about is how exactly keyword manipulation works and why a search engine would do it, but honestly, I don’t even care — I’ already willing to follow wherever this drama leads.
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