Vagabond: Episode 1
Lee Seung-gi and Suzy are reunited in SBS and Netflix’s new action-thriller, Vagabond. This is more than just a show full of action sequences and intrigue – though there are plenty of those – it also threatens to break your heart from the very beginning. An uncle’s devastating loss leads to the discovery that there may be more to the tragedy than it seems, and one young woman could be the key to the truth… or the orchestrator of death.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In a kingdom called Kiria in North Africa, a Korean sniper who goes by the call-name of “Monkey” sits high on a rocky outcropping. His Russian partner, on a nearby rock pile, calls out that their mission is crazy, complaining that he used to be the best but now he’s relegated to babysitting the newbie.
He decides to change the plan and make the person they’re after his target instead of Monkey’s, but Monkey doesn’t respond to the change or the insults. They’re notified that their target is three minutes away, and soon a black van and a white limousine approach on the road.
Monkey’s partner shoots one of the limo’s wheels, stopping the vehicles. A woman steps from the limousine, and Monkey lines up his shot. But when gust of wind strips the scarf from the woman’s head, Monkey sees her face. His eyes go wide and he gasps, then starts to shake as his leader’s voice orders him to make the shot. A gunshot rings out…
Thirteen years ago.
Our future sniper, much younger (and blonder!), introduces himself on camera as CHA DAL-GEON (Lee Seung-gi). He’s auditioning for a stuntman job at an action center, and he lists his skills which include taekwondo, hapkido, judo, kendo, and kickboxing. But when he tries to kick an apple off someone’s head, he knocks the guy out cold, whoops.
He nearly gives himself a head injury by failing to break bricks with his forehead, and at the sight of the blood, a little boy starts wailing at the top of his tiny lungs… awww, he’s Dal-geon’s nephew, Cha Hoon. Dal-geon explains that he’s raising Hoon after his brother’s sudden passing, and Dal-geon’s attempts to make him stop crying only make him sob harder.
Despite his nerve-wracking audition, Dal-geon’s earnestness lands him the job, and in his free time he teaches little Hoon’s martial arts class. It’s obvious that Dal-geon would do anything for his nephew, and Hoon is a sweet kid who takes care of Dal-geon when he’s badly injured on the job.
A woman gives a presentation regarding the future of fighter planes in Korea’s air force to a roomful of military experts. She’s JESSICA LEE (Moon Jung-hee), director of John & Mark Asia, and she and her company’s vice president look unhappy when a rival company, Dynamic System, presents their much cheaper plane.
Dal-geon quits his dangerous stunt job and takes a job driving a cab. He tells his friend that he’s worried he may be killed on set and leave Hoon with nobody to care for him. He gets a call from Hoon, who doesn’t know he’s not working for the action center anymore. Hoon says the water is cut off and they’re about to lose the gas, too, and Dal-geon has to make up some fancy lies to placate the smart little guy.
At home, Hoon sorts the recyclables, complaining that Uncle has been drinking again. He finds a box filled with Dal-geon’s martial arts movies, clippings, and study notes. Hoon starts to call Dal-geon again (who’s saved in his phone as “Uncle Stupid,” ha), but instead he calls the action center and learns that Dal-geon quit.
When Dal-geon gets home later, Hoon insists on ramyun for dinner instead of more expensive meat. He tells Dal-geon that he’s not going on the trip to Morocco with his taekwondo demo team next week. Dal-geon reminds him that the plane and hotel were paid for by the Moroccan government, who specially invited the team.
But Hoon argues that they have to pay for everything else. Dal-geon tells Hoon that at his age, he shouldn’t worry about the money. Hoon yells at him, “Then act like a grown-up!” and stomps off to his room.
The name is on the invitation for the taekwondo team’s trip is GO HAE-RI (Suzy), an intern at the Korean Embassy in Morocco. She’s cheerfully late to a meeting regarding the team’s upcoming visit, which is part of a fiftieth anniversary diplomatic relations event.
She has the grace to look embarrassed when she’s informed that the meeting is over, but when the others file out of the room, she locks the door to take a call, identifying herself as “Elsa.” She starts to retrieve something behind a framed Korean flag, but someone pounds on the door, so Hae-ri quickly rips her hose and shows off some leg to her coworker Ho-shik. When he leaves, Hae-ri takes down the picture and removes the memory chip from a hidden camera.
Mark & John’s Eagle fighter turns out to be lower in performance and a trillion won more expensive than Dynamic System’s F70 fighter plane. Jessica is informed that public opinion is swaying the Korean president despite Mark & John’s aggressive lobbying. She orders her underling to make sure they maintain communication with the Blue House until this is all over.
Switching to English, Jessica tells her vice president, Michael, that she hired him because he worked for the CIA, even though he was a bad salesman. He points out that the CIA fired him, but Jessica counters that he simply hasn’t gotten his big break yet. She tells him to get this deal, “Otherwise, we’re dead. You and me — so fucking dead!” I don’t think she’s speaking metaphorically.
One week later, Dal-geon makes breakfast as Hoon packs for his Morocco trip. Hoon is still angry with his uncle, insisting on taking the team bus to the airport. Dal-geon asks if he’s mad because he didn’t buy him the sneakers he wants, promising to get them when Hoon returns.
Hoon’s attitude pushes Dal-geon into snapping that he can go back to the orphanage if he hates living with him so much. He immediately regrets it, but Hoon refuses to speak to him, even when he apologizes. Hoon slips out the door, and Dal-geon grumbles that they’re definitely related.
Michael, Jessica’s right-hand man, runs through the streets, desperately poking at his phone as he’s pursued by a shadowy figure. Two more menacing shadows begins chasing him, so he ducks through a crowded club then hops on a moving tram.
He loses his pursuers and tries to call the Incheon airport, but their lines are busy, so his warning that tonight’s flight to Morocco will crash goes unheeded. He hangs up, and a message on his phone informs him that the call was monitored, so he tosses the phone away.
Most of Hoon’s taekwondo team are being fussed over at the airport by their parents, but Hoon pouts alone. He starts to call Dal-geon but decides against it, still feeling upset about his old, grungy sneakers.
A passenger surprises her husband with the news that she’s five weeks pregnant. One of the taekwondo instructors gets fussed at by his sister for almost forgetting his passport, but their bickering doesn’t hide an affectionate relationship. Hoon eventually calls Dal-geon to leave a message that he’s about to get on the plane. He tells Dal-geon to check the cloud if he misses him, because he’ll upload videos of his trip.
A dispatcher at Incheon airport gets a call from Michael, who’s found a pay phone and says that they need to stop the flight to Morocco. He says there are terrorists on board who are planning to crash the plane, but before he can explain further, he’s dragged away.
An alarm sounds, and the airport’s surveillance equipment goes haywire. The room is evacuated and the dispatcher who took the call tries to use her cell phone, and someone (a woman) thumps her in the neck before continuing on. The dispatcher makes her call, but she barely gets any information out before she collapses with convulsions.
On the plane, Hoon takes a video of his rowdy team. He drops his phone when he bumps into a man wearing all black, and the man returns Hoon’s phone and ruffles his hair, but Hoon seems to find him strange. In the cockpit, the copilot takes a call which he answers in Spanish, assuring the caller that the pilot can’t understand him.
Michael is taken to a car and forced to drink alcohol. Someone places a gun in his hand and points it at his head, then pulls the trigger. The killer slips out of the car and into the rainy night, wearing a black raincoat, while a short distance away, someone in another car watches.
Tangier Port, Morocco
On her way back from a trip to Portugal, Hae-ri runs into her coworker, Ho-shik, on the dock. He asks if she’s heard about the NIS arresting their consul for receiving bribes from a drug gang and allowing drugs to be smuggled into Korea. Hae-ri’s shocked response is a bit forced, but the ditzy act works on Ho-shik.
He asks why Hae-ri was in Portugal, mentioning the secretive calls she’s made from the office, but luckily he just thinks she’s got a boyfriend. Hae-ri rolls with it, going on a murderous rant about men who cheat.
She makes her way to her apartment, then calls someone to tell them she’s back from Lisbon. She mentions something about “suicide with a pistol,” and that an autopsy won’t show anything different, as she pulls her own gun out to inspect it. She removes a black raincoat from her bag and drapes it over a chair. Uh-oh.
The pregnant passenger looks at a picture of her husband as she excitedly writes down potential baby names during the flight. Most of the passengers, including taekwondo team, are asleep in their seats.
Suddenly, the man in black gets up and makes his way to the front of the plane with his backpack. He enters the restroom immediately after the copilot exits it, and takes some sort of metal container from under the sink. He leaves the bathroom, then drops his entire backpack through a hatch in the floor.
There’s a second terrorist in the area below the passenger part of the plane. He retrieves the backpack and takes out its contents. He works his way to the oxygen compartment and straps the metal container down, aiming it at one of the oxygen tanks. It’s freeze spray, and in seconds, the oxygen tank explodes and blows a hole in the bottom of the airplane.
The plane lurches wildly, and the passengers panic at the sight of fire billowing from one of the engines. They’re instructed to fasten their seatbelts and put on their oxygen masks, but the pregnant woman is thrown across the cabin and knocked unconscious as she’s trying to help one of the children. The pilot tries to regain control of the plane, but the terrorist uses his phone to scramble the instrument panel.
The plane goes into a steep descent, and in the cabin, Hoon seems to understand what’s going to happen. He types out a text: “Uncle, I love…” but he drops the phone before he sends it. Hoon mercifully passes out just before the plane explodes.
Hae-ri is at the gun range when she gets eleven frantic calls from Ho-shik, all of which she ignores.
Dal-geon is having lunch in a restaurant when the TV displays breaking news about a plane crash over the ocean near Morocco. He watches with dawning horror as the announcer says that the entire crew and all passengers were killed, but the truth that Hoon is dead doesn’t fully hit him until Hoon’s name flashes across the screen.
At the news of the tragedy, President Jung travels back to the Blue House and prepares for a press conference. Prime Minister Hong informs him that the plane that went down was manufactured by Dynamic Systems, and President Jung shows more interest in the fact that the plane may have malfunctioned than the fact that over a hundred Koreans, including twenty-five children, just died.
Dal-geon finds the video that Hoon made of himself with his teammates in the cloud, just where Hoon said it would be. Hoon had continued filming after taking his seat, and he’d apologized for getting mad at his uncle. He’d said that he found the books and movies Dal-geon threw out and brought them back home, and had asked why Dal-geon quit the action center.
Tears stream down Dal-geon’s face as he watches the video, and when it’s over, he bows his head and sobs.
Dynamic System also holds a press conference to apologize for the crash. A crowd of bereaved and furious family members of the crash victims bursts in, demanding answers. While the crowd screams and clamors for justice, Jessica calmly exits the room, a satisfied smirk on her face.
She attends Michael’s funeral, and as she looks down into his casket, she says, “Finally, you proved yourself after all. You saved all of us. Thank you, Michael. Goodbye.”
Dal-geon joins the other family members on a chartered flight to Morocco to hold a mass funeral, since it’s been deemed impossible to retrieve the victims’ remains. Hae-ri and Ho-shik greet them at the airport, and as the others head for the bus to take them to their hotel, both Dal-geon and the husband of the pregnant passenger, PARK KWANG-DEOK (Go Kyu-pil), excuse themselves to the restroom.
Dal-geon notices a man in the restroom who looks oddly familiar, especially when he turns his head and reveals a scar on his left cheek. He’s the man in black from the doomed flight, who Dal-geon saw on Hoon’s video. Dal-geon follows him, yelling for someone to grab him, but Scar gets into a taxi and rides away.
Dal-geon jumps into another taxi, then follows on foot when Scar enters a busy marketplace. Scar leads Dal-geon into a deserted alleyway, then faces him, saying in English, “Wheels turn on their axis.” Now Dal-geon is sure that he’s the same man from Hoon’s video, and he gasps, “It’s you! But how did you…?”
Scar pulls a gun, but Dal-geon’s quick reflexes allow him to grab the gun and point it into the air before it goes off. He knocks the gun from Scar’s grip, and they fight until Scar pins Dal-geon to the wall by the throat. Gripping his shirt, Dal-geon gets a look at a small symbol tattoo’d on Scar’s collarbone.
Scar asks who Dal-geon works for, but Dal-geon asks how Scar survived the plane crash. He screams, “Why did you kill my Hoon, you bastard?!” then starts throwing punches again. Scar picks him up, throws him into a pile of garbage, and kicks him in the face, but Dal-geon is able to grab a nail-studded board and rake Scar across the stomach.
He goes after Scar again, but Scar grabs a vase from a windowsill and smashes it over Dal-geon’s head, then limps away. Dal-geon staggers to his feet, then he scales a wall to the roof, and he somehow spots Scar in the busy crowds below. He parkours across the rooftops until he sees Scar get into a truck, and he leaps off the roof to land on the truck’s hood.
He screams at Scar to get out of the truck. Scar hits the gas and swerves wildly, trying to dislodge Dal-geon, who just twists around until he’s hanging onto the truck’s roof. When they get to the highway, Dal-geon punches out a window and slips into the cab, kicking and punching Scar for all he’s worth.
Scar finds something sharp in the console and stabs Dal-geon in the leg, but it only makes Dal-geon angrier. Scar deliberately turns into a guard rail, sending Dal-geon flying through the windshield and rolling down an embankment, allowing Scar to drive away.
The other family members gather in a convention room at the hotel to wait for representatives from Dynamic System. Kwang-deok notices that Dal-geon isn’t with them, but when Hae-ri tries to call him, he doesn’t answer his phone. She says he’ll make his way to the hotel on his own, but she doesn’t look so sure.
Dal-geon pulls himself back up to the road and screams in frustration at having lost the one person who might have been able to tell him what really happened on the plane.
Well, that was wild! I’m cautiously optimistic about this show, and I say only “cautiously” because too many dramas recently have started out strong, then turned out to be very different than I expected. That isn’t necessarily bad, but it does make me want to wait another episode or so before declaring Vagabond a winner. I do like the premise a lot, and the fact that there’s not too much political maneuvering as of now, because I can only stand so much of that before it gets too complicated and I lose interest (~side-eyes Arthdal Chronicles~). For me, Vagabond struck a good balance between action and intrigue, and with Dal-geon’s loss of his young nephew at the heart of it all, grounding the story with the simplicity of an uncle’s grief for what seems to be his only family, I’m looking forward to seeing where we go with all this.
Although it broke my heart, I find Dal-geon’s motivation for justice and revenge — the loss of his nephew Hoon, who he’d raised since he was very small — compelling and relatable. As a very involved aunt myself, I know what it’s like to love a child who isn’t yours biologically, but to know that you’d happily destroy anyone who hurts them. I knew what was going to happen to Hoon from the show’s description, but I hadn’t expected Hoon to be so young when his plane went down, and it just makes his loss that much more tragic and heart-wrenching. That said, thank goodness “Uncle Stupid” has the skills and training he’ll need to find out what really happened, and teh blinding good luck to recognize Scar when he did. The only thing that worries me is that this entire episode happened thirteen years ago, so I’m very curious to see what happens in the intervening thirteen years, and why Dal-geon is so shaken to see Hae-ri in the sights of his rifle. (I had to laugh though, at his sniper call sign being “Monkey” — I see what you sis there, Show).
One of my very first sageuks was Gu Family Book, so I’ve been excitedly anticipating Suzy and Lee Seung-gi reunited in another drama. I’ve never thought Suzy was terrible, I just think she’s better with lighthearted rather than serious roles, so I’m a bit concerned about her portrayal of Hae-ri. It’s not that I think she’s incapable of a role like Hae-ri, and I think she’s doing fine so far, but let’s be honest — Dal-geon is going to be a very angst-ridden, intense character, and Lee Seung-gi is going to bring his A-game. My concern is that Suzy won’t be able to match his level of intensity. She could always surprise me, but from what I’ve seen in this first episode, I’m still skeptical, because she didn’t have many lines at all. She’s doing okay for now, but only time will tell if she can do this role justice.
Naturally, this first episode raises a lot of questions about what really happened on that plane, and why. Who arranged for the plane to crash? Was it Jessica, whose company stands to benefit from the blow to Dynamic System’s reputation? What did Michael know, and who killed him, and why did Jessica say he “saved all of us”? Was Hae-ri involved in Michael’s death, since she was in Portugal at the time and had a very similar raincoat to Michael’s killer? If not, what is her deal, anyway? And perhaps the most interesting to me, how did Scar survive the plane crash, and is it possible that there might be other survivors, too?
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