The Game: Towards Zero: Episodes 1-2
The Game: Towards Zero, MBC’s new drama about a man who can see the moment of a person’s death just by looking in their eyes starts out strong, with great characters and a compelling mystery with an interesting fantasy twist. When a killer resurfaces after decades, it’s up to the daughter of the man who put him behind bars to catch him again. She’s going to need all the help she can get, even if it’s from a man with a unique ability who wants nothing to do with her.
We meet our hero, KIM TAE-PYUNG (Taecyeon), in the middle of a nightmare, in which he faces various shadowy figures, one of them his own younger self who yells at him not to stare in his eyes and see his death. A man whose face seems to be burned says that Tae-pyung will+ only understand when he risks losing someone he cares about.
Tae-pyung tells us that he’s been having these same dreams for twenty years, ever since he met “him.” He says that he sees the dreams as a warning never to get close enough to someone to consider them precious.
We go back a few days, to a meeting between Tae-pyung and a woman who wants him to tell her how her eldest (and only living) son will die. Tae-pyung can see the moment of someone’s death by looking in their eyes, and he only needs a picture of the woman’s son. He explains that he only sees how a person will die, not when, but he balks at telling her even that much because he says that once her son learns about this, he’ll abduct Tae-pyung.
Back home, Tae-pyung fusses at YEON-HWA (Ryu Hye-rin), his lawyer and personal secretary, for not learning before the meeting that the woman’s son is Oh Sung-min the Butcher, the leader of one of the top three gangs in the country. He turns to his friend, TEACHER BAEK (Jung Dong-hwan), and says that he could have spoken up, too. Teacher Baek is blind and in a wheelchair and just drives his chair in a circle, ha.
Eventually Tae-pyung kicks them out of his room, childishly refusing to tell the woman anything about her son’s death out of fear for his own abduction. But eventually he caves to the inevitable, and Yeon-hwa promises that they’ll make sure he returns home safely.
And so Tae-pyung is kidnapped and taken to the gang’s secret hideout, where he’s tied to a chair. Having heard everything from his mother, Sung-min (cameo by Yang Hyun-min) demands to know who kills him, but Tae-pyung insists that all he sees is the moment of death. He warns Sung-min that in a minute, twelve men will barge in, and right on cue, one of the gangs yells that a rival gang is there.
Again Sung-min orders Tae-pyung to tell him when he’ll die, and Tae-pyung says with wide, scared eyes, “It starts now.”
The rival gang has guns, and they shoot their way in and start killing Sung-min’s men. Tae-pyung is shot in the shoulder, and as his chair falls backwards and men murder each other all around him, he thinks, “Of all the superpowers, why did the deity give me the ability to see death??”
Sung-min’s weapon of choice is a dagger, which he’s obviously very experienced using. Tae-pyung thinks about when he told Sung-min’s mother how he’ll die — not from murder, but from a heart attack. Mom had asked Tae-pyung to help Sung-min since he would be there, but Tae-pyung had said that you can’t change fate.
He watches as Sung-min manages to dispatch all but one of his attackers, and as he’s grappling with the last man, Tae-pyung calls out that Sung-min will die if he kills the man. But Sung-min screams that he won’t die as he shoves his knife into the man’s heart… then he falls over dead from a heart attack.
The only survivor, Tae-pyung lies on the floor in a river of blood. In voiceover he says that his predictions are never wrong, but he was still furious that Sung-min chose to kill others rather than try to save himself. Eventually the cops arrive, and they find Tae-pyung unconscious but alive — because he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Elsewhere, police detective SEO JOON-YOUNG (Lee Yeon-hee) gets a call regarding the gang war and the fact that gang leader Oh Sung-min is dead. When she learns there’s a witness, she takes her teammates and heads to the hospital where Tae-pyung was taken. Her teammate Kang-jae teases maknae Bong-soo that it’s his job to make sure all the random body parts at the crime scene are taken into evidence, ha.
On her way into the hospital, Joon-young passes Tae-pyung being taken out on a stretcher, but she doesn’t realize that he’s her witness until the nurse tells her. She hurries to the parking garage just as Yeon-hwa is driving away with Teacher Baek, with Tae-pyung still unconscious in a van behind them.
Joon-young chases after them on foot while calling Kang-jae, who gets to the car and blocks Yeon-hwa from leaving the hospital parking lot. Joon-young orders Yeon-hwa out of the car at gunpoint, and when she asks why Yeon-hwa was trying to get away from her, Yeon-hwa says that people waving guns are usually dangerous.
Yeon-hwa explains that the patient is just an eyewitness, not a suspect, so Joon-young moves to the van to check him out. Tae-pyung has woken up during the commotion and is stunned as he looks at her… and for the first time, he doesn’t see her death in her eyes. He imagines them alone under a starry sky, but then she throws the door of the van open and he snaps out of it.
Haha, Joon-young is (understandably) flustered for a moment by Tae-pyung’s bare chest. He shows her the emerging bruise where he was shot and explains that all the blood on the gurney earlier wasn’t his. He gives Joon-young his name and tells her curtly to contact Yeon-hwa if she wants to talk to him later.
Joon-young goes back inside for more information on Tae-pyung, who she’s surprised to learn is an American citizen. She checks out the evidence from the gang war, which includes Tae-pyung’s bulletproof vest. Considering the fact that guns are hard to get and even Oh Sung-min didn’t expect his rivals to have them, Joon-young finds it extra strange that Tae-pyung was wearing a bulletproof vest for what he claims was an abduction.
At home, Tae-pyung thinks about how this is the first time he hasn’t been able to see someone’s death. Even when he looks into his own eyes in the mirror, he can see his own death… as an old man, he’ll have a heart attack in a desolate place, while holding a necklace. He thinks to himself that he never knew where he’d die or why he’ll be crying — until he met Joon-young.
Joon-young takes Sung-min’s mother to identify his body. She’s surprised when Mom doesn’t want an autopsy to determine the cause of death, especially since she insisted on one five years ago when her younger son obviously died of multiple stab wounds. Mom tells her that Tae-pyung saw the cause of her son’s death, and that he’s very well-known in political and financial circles.
Tae-pyung tells Yeon-hwa and Teacher Baek that he couldn’t see Joon-young’s death, and he asks Teacher Baek if that ever happened to him before he lost his eyesight. Interesting… so Teacher Baek had the same ability? Teacher Baek says it never happened to him, and he snaps at Tae-pyung that it’s just because he and Joon-young are “tangled in bad karma.”
Sung-min’s mom thinks about the last time she saw her son alive, when she’d warned him about Tae-pyung’s prediction. She’d wondered if his brother would have died if she’d stopped him when he became a gang member. She’d said that she hated him when his brother was killed, but that she also never stopped loving him.
She’d begged Sung-min to get checked by a doctor, but he’d left, saying cheekily that her son is too good a fighter to die easily. As she’d watched him go, she’d known she’d never see him alive again.
She calls Tae-pyung and thanks him for giving her a chance to see the son she’d disowned, and tells him to call her if he ever needs anything. She also says that she told Joon-young the truth so that he wouldn’t be mistaken for a gangster and investigated.
Joon-young and her team go to Tae-pyung’s home, and they marvel that he’s quite wealthy (LOL, the house is so big they have trouble finding the front door). Yeon-hwa lets them in, and as they wait, they wonder at a huge painting of Teacher Baek in the foyer. Kang-jae comments that he’s too ugly to be Tae-pyung’s father, and Teacher Baek rolls up behind them to ask if Kang-jae is handsome, ha.
When Tae-pyung shows up, he pretends that it’s ridiculous to think that he can foresee people’s deaths. He continues to claim that he was simply abducted and was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he says that he always wears a bulletproof vest (he’s even wearing one now, hee) because he’s paranoid after seeing too many movies.
He plays it up so much that by the time he stops blabbering, all three detectives are looking at him like he’s lost his damn mind. After they leave, he tells Yeon-hwa that it’s better they think him crazy than find out the truth, because things would get a lot worse if the media found out what he can do.
Yeon-hwa finds a photograph that Joon-young left behind of a woman that they were planning to use to test him. When Tae-pyung looks at it, the death he sees in the woman’s eyes shakes him badly.
Joon-young still thinks that Tae-pyung might have a strange ability to see death and is just pretending it’s not true. She admits to Kang-jae that she left the photo of the woman behind, and that she’ll know soon if Tae-pyung really sees her death or not.
Joon-young managed to get an autopsy after all, and when she asks about the results, she’s told that a medical examiner with the nickname “Four Weeks” (because he’s infamous for always taking four weeks to release autopsy reports) is doing it. Upset, Joon-young calls “Four Weeks,” who is actually GU DO-KYUNG (Im Joo-hwan) and attempts to aegyo him into speeding things up a bit.
She’s hiding in the ladies’ room during the call, but PFFT, a toilet flushes and gives her away. Do-kyung hears it and fusses at Joon-young for pooping while she’s begging him. He hangs up on Joon-young, but a tiny little smile crosses his face as he goes back to work.
Tae-pyung is brought to the police station to make a statement, but he stubbornly sticks to his story of being abducted and knowing nothing about the incident beforehand. Team Leader Han lets him go, and on the way out Tae-pyung gives Joon-young the photo she left at his house.
He avoids her eyes, saying that he hopes there’s no reason for them to see each other again. She follows him outside and asks what he saw in the photo, but Tae-pyung says it was just a photo.
Frustrated, Joon-young rants to her team that it’s crazy to think someone can foresee death, but that there are too many strange things about the incident. Tae-pyung says he was abducted mistakenly but he was wearing a bulletproof vest, and his lawyer showed up at the hospital to get him before he regained consciousness, which makes it look as if they planned things in advance.
Tae-pyung sits at a cafe, watching a ragged-eared stray cat sitting on the windowsill. He thinks about walking into that police station and seeing everyone’s deaths in their eyes, proving that his ability still works, and he wonders what makes Joon-young different.
Elsewhere, at the Hana Daily News, a reporter tells his boss that he’s been trying to get information on the gang war from Joon-young, but that she’s stonewalling him. His boss, LEE JOON-HEE (Park Won-sang) calls a meeting to discuss whether they should continue to pursue a story about the gang war, considering that the detective in charge won’t talk.
Joon-hee sighs that Joon-young’s name seems familiar, and another reporter tells him that she’s the daughter of a detective named Seo Dong-chul, who was investigating a murderer named Jo Pil-doo when Joon-young was just a child.
They have an intern on location at the police station, OH YE-JI (Yoon Ji-won), who gets caught snooping through case files by Bong-soo. HAHA, Joon-young and Kang-jae are also there eating dinner, and Joon-young recognizes Ye-ji as the woman who flushed the toilet while she was on the phone with “Four Weeks.”
This kicks off a conversation that includes the word “poop” entirely too many times for Kang-jae’s liking, making him lose his appetite. Joon-hee calls Ye-ji as she’s slinking out in shame, and he tells her to get him a scoop, no matter what it is.
Speaking of the serial killer Jo Pil-doo, a petition to suspend his jail time was recently denied, so Joon-hee decides to cover that story instead of Oh Sung-min’s. He gets a call from his wife, Ji-won, who isn’t surprised that he forgot it’s her birthday. He promises to come home as soon as possible, and Ji-won tells him to call their daughter, Mi-jin, in the meantime.
Mi-jin picks out a birthday cake for her mother on her way home, at the same cafe where Tae-pyung is still brooding. She stops to pet the stray cat, giving Tae-pyung a look at her eyes, and what he sees is terrifying — Joon-young finding Mi-jin’s body inside a box, and trying in vain to revive her. Tae-pyung runs outside, but the girl is already gone.
Back in the meeting, Joon-hee tells his reporters that Jo Pil-doo has dementia and late-stage lung cancer, which will make a compelling story, especially if they can tie in Joon-young’s connection. It’s explained that Pil-doo murdered seven young girls twenty years ago, and that there was an unofficial eighth “victim” — Joon-young’s father, who died during Jo Pil-doo’s arrest.
Before he was caught, Jo Pil-doo was called the Midnight Killer because his victims all died at midnight. He would abduct them on their way home and bury them in a box with a phone just to give them hope of rescue, but they all stopped communicating just before midnight and were all found dead.
As Joon-hee is telling his reporters about the serial killer, his own daughter Mi-jin is grabbed by a mysterious man. Her mother calls her when she doesn’t arrive home, and Tae-pyung, who’s still trying to find the girl, picks up the phone from the street where Mi-jin dropped it beside the now smashed cake.
Scared now, Ji-won calls Joon-hee to tell him that Mi-jin is missing. Joon-hee thinks that Mi-jin probably just dropped her phone and blows off his wife’s concerns. While he’s on the phone, his reporters talk about how he practically stalked Joon-young for a story when her father died, despite her being a young child, which probably terrified her.
While Ji-won meets Tae-pyung at the spot where he found Mi-jin’s phone, Mi-jin wakes up inside a small wooden box, her hands bound. She starts screaming for help, not even noticing the phone ringing near her hip with a call from someone named Kang Myung-soo.
Ooooh, I really like this. The Game: Towards Zero is already giving me goosebumps in all the right ways. So far I like almost everything about it — the basic set-up, the characters, the mysteries, and even the visual style of the show. This first episode left me with a lot of questions, which is perfect because I feel so drawn-in already. Why and how can Tae-pyung see death? What happened twenty years ago that started his nightmares, and is it somehow connected to the Midnight Killer? Who is Teacher Baek and how did he have the same ability, and how did he lose it when he lost his sight? And most of all, can fate be changed once someone’s death has been seen? These questions are what make the show so fascinating, and they’re what will keep me coming back for more.
I’m going to be straight-up honest, and hang with me because I’m planning to say something nice afterward. At first I had major concerns about Taecyeon and Lee Yoon-hee playing opposite one another. In my personal opinion, they both perform much better when opposite a strong actor, but without that support their acting can be… well, inconsistent. So I was pleasantly surprised that I liked them both very much in this premiere episode, especially Taecyeon, who seems to have brought back a sense of maturity and groundedness from his army service. He’s still adorable and endearing, and it helps that this role seems tailor-made for him, but I’m no longer worried that he might struggle with the more serious aspects of a show that centers on death. Lee Yoon-hee also impressed me very much, and while it’s still early, I’m hopeful that my fears may turn out to be unfounded.
I really love the characters in The Game already (and it doesn’t hurt that the show is almost entirely cast of my favorite character actors). This premiere did a great job of introducing them to us so that we feel we know them, while not overwhelming us with information. I love Tae-pyung’s duality — he’s stoic and standoffish in public, afraid to get too close to anyone, yet at home he’s animated and expressive and can be such a pouty child. Joon-young is intelligent and interesting, with her background of having lost her father yet still choosing to go into his same field, though she seems to be all work and no play and could use a little loosening up. I’m also a huge fan of Im Joo-hwan and can’t wait to see more of him, and even in Do-kyung’s case, I liked what little I saw.
Aside from the characters, I’m also impressed by the presentation. The cinematography is dark and gritty, as expected of a drama about death, but there are these interesting moments when everything goes soft and lovely and just a little bit over-saturated. This gives those moments a very different flavor, which adds to the supernatural feel of the drama. I’ll admit that I could use fewer thirty-second close-up shots of Taecyeon squinting into someone’s eyes, but I’m hoping that’s an affectation that will fade out after a couple of episodes, because otherwise I find the show visually compelling in a really unique way. All in all, I’m fascinated and intrigued by The Game: Towards Zero, and I’m anxious to see what happens next.
- Premiere Watch: The Game: Towards Zero
- Changing premonitions and serial murder cases in The Game: Towards Zero
- Taecyeon sees no death for Lee Yeon-hee in first teaser for The Game: Towards Zero
- First look at Taecyeon in The Game: Towards Zero
- Taecyeon, Lee Yeon-hee sign onto supernatural-thriller crime drama