Memorist: Episode 1
The latest mind-reading drama from tvN is here, and at first glance Memorist seems to have it all — stellar cast, intriguing mystery, and a nice balance of suspense and humor. Our hero is an adorable mashup of badass telepathic detective paired with the squishiest set of emotions you’ve ever seen, which makes sense when he’s subjected to the worst of what humanity has to offer. But he’ll have to get his act together when a new serial killer appears to have mysterious connections to the psychic detective’s own traumatic past.
EPISODE 1: “Claw Hammer”
We come into the middle of a police investigation of an old case, mere hours before the statute of limitations runs out. Tensions run high, as the case involves a gang leader who hit a cop with his car during a getaway ten years ago, and the cop has been in a coma ever since.
Detectives question a member of the gang (cameo by Kim Young-gu) for his boss’s hideout location, but the gangster feels pretty smug that time will run out before they find his boss. The detective who was partnered with the injured cop (cameo by Kim Ki-doo) nearly deckes the gangster for taunting him, but his boss (cameo by Park Jin-woo) stops him — he has a plan.
A fancy sports car pulls up to the station and a mysterious figure enters the interrogation room (HAHA, even the gangster comments on his fancy entrance). The man grabs the gangster by the throat and waves of energy emanate from his hand, and he sees the hideout in the gangster’s memories.
The gang boss is already celebrating the end of the statute of limitations, but two hours before the deadline, cops swarm the building. The strange young man is with them, and he fights his way straight to the boss. The boss offers him bribes to let him go, infuriating the young man so much that he leaps over a table and knees him right in the face.
We go back a few years to see that the young man, DONG BAEK (Yoo Seung-ho), publicly revealed his ability to read memories with a mere touch. He was extensively tested, and while it isn’t fully understood how it works, his ability was confirmed to exist.
Dong Baek had spoken about his power, explaining that he can read memories even through thin clothing, that he has to focus in order to do it (in other words, he can control whether he sees someone’s memories). Dong Baek had joined the police force as an assistant inspector, and in his first two months he had solved a staggering twenty-six cold cases.
He does an interview in which the reporter notes that not many people must be willing to shake Dong Baek’s hand, and for the first time we see his confidence slip just a little. He reveals that he received a lot of grant money while his ability was being studied, but that he gave that up because he had all the money he needed and he had a personal reason for wanting to join the police force.
Elsewhere, a profiler named HAN SUN-MI (Lee Se-young) stays up all night studying two recent murders that she believes were committed by a serial killer. Both victims were young women who were abducted on a Tuesday, and were found dead from head wounds a week later positioned with their left hands over their hearts, which Sun-mi believes is meant as a message.
At dawn, Sun-mi turns on the television to see the news about Dong Baek’s successful capture of the gang boss, though the police department officially declines to say whether he was involved. A rookie reporter, KANG JI-EUN (Jeon Hyo-sung) arrives at the station to do an exclusive interview with Dong Baek, and she’s met by Dong Baek’s partner, SE-HOON (Yoon Ji-on).
Se-hoon seems proud of his partner’s popularity, making sure to show Ji-eun that there’s an entire team dedicated to handling Dong Baek’s fan mail (what Ji-eun thinks is a week’s worth of fan mail is actually just a slow day, lol). But Se-hoon wilts a little when it becomes obvious that Ji-eun is not just a reporter, she’s also a Dong Baek fangirl.
Dong Baek is preparing for his interview with Ji-eun while one of the station’s janitorial staff members tells him all about her daughter’s charms. She’s convinced they’d make a perfect couple and Dong Baek indulges her. She’s called away by a coworker, who finds it strange that she feels so comfortable around Dong Baek and warns her not to ruin her daughter’s life by setting them up.
Dong Baek’s interview with Ji-eun is sadly not to be. Someone filmed him beating up the gang boss and forcibly reading his memories, and now it’s all over the news that he’s violating people’s right to privacy. Apparently Dong Baek doesn’t exactly have a squeaky-clean record — he’s been demoted several times for losing his temper and hitting suspects after reading their memories, but he’s always been given “special promotions” to counter the demotions.
This latest scandal is the final straw for Dong Baek’s superiors, who bring him up for his eighth disciplinary hearing. Dong Baek whines that being a detective is his life’s calling, and DEPARTMENT HEAD LEE (Jo Sung-ha) kindly reduces the recommended six months’ suspension to only two months. But he informs Dong Baek that he’ll be indicted, and that if he receives a fine of over three million won, he’ll lose his badge.
Dejected, Dong Baek slumps out of the hearing and bursts into tears in front of Se-hoon (OMG he’s adorable). As he sobs that he’s suspended and will be indicted, profiler Sun-mi happens by and overhears them talking.
She’s on her way to show Department Head Lee the evidence that she’s gathered on her emerging serial killer and request that the case be transferred to her department. Department Head Lee is skeptical that two murders indicates a pattern, but he trusts Sun-mi’s instincts — she’s the youngest person ever to hold her position — and grants permission. He warns her to keep the case quiet, and above all, not to let Dong Baek find out about it.
That night, a young woman steps off the bus onto a dark, deserted street. After telling her mother on the phone that she’s almost home, she hears a woman scream nearby, then something rustling in the bushes. Suddenly another young woman lunges at her and knocks her down, crying and begging for help, then she seems to see something frightening and runs away.
The first woman hears the second woman scream again. She searches frantically for her dropped phone, but she doesn’t have time to call for help before someone approaches her menacingly. All we see is that the person is holding a claw hammer.
In the morning, the crowd outside the police station is no longer made up of Dong Baek fans — now it’s protesters demanding his dismissal for stealing people’s memories. Worried about Dong Baek, Se-hoon and CHIEF GU (Go Chang-seok) find him sitting alone in the exercise room, crying his little heart out.
Assuming that he’s crying because he’s scared of getting fired, they reassure Dong Baek that not being a cop isn’t the end of the world. But Dong Baek wails that he’s crying because he got a letter from the ten-year-old daughter of the comatose cop, thanking him for catching the bad guys who hurt her daddy.
They’re interrupted by the cleaning lady, who hangs on Dong Baek’s leg and hysterically begs him to save her daughter. Oh no, her daughter is YE-RIM (Kim Ji-in), the young woman who was abducted last night. Dong Baek is clearly moved, but his hands are tied since he’s on probation, so he stammers in embarrassment that he’ll be fired if he helps her.
Later, Se-hoon catches Dong Baek sneaking out to investigate and invites him to ride along while he asks questions, so that Dong Baek doesn’t get in trouble. Dong Baek is skeptical, since Se-hoon has tattled on him to the boss in the past, but he gets in the car and tells Se-hoon exactly where to go — HA, he read the cleaning lady’s memory while she was clinging to him.
They head to the cleaning lady’s neighborhood, and the first thing they see is another detective asking questions of the locals. Dong Baek recognizes him as sergeant IM CHIL-GYU (Kim Seo-kyung) from his old investigation unit in Seoul.
Chil-gyu doesn’t look any happier to see Dong Baek than Dong Baek is to see him, and he flashes his dental implants that he got courtesy of Dong Baek’s fist. Dong Baek asks cheekily if Chil-gyu still abandons stakeouts to bet on the horses, so Chil-gyu (after putting in a mouth guard to protect his implants, hee) attacks Dong Baek. They grapple for a minute, until Chil-gyu’s partner pulls them apart.
Dong Baek hurries back to the car and tells Se-hoon to get to Sangrim University Hospital. Oh, he’s so smart… he got all the information that Chil-gyu gathered by reading his memories when they fought. Chil-gyu is on Sun-mi’s investigation committee, so now Dong Baek knows about their suspicions of a serial killer, and the fact that a third victim was found alive, but is in the hospital in a coma.
Ye-rim wakes up on a bed in what looks like a prison cell. Her kidnapper comes in and she covers her eyes, saying that she hasn’t seen his face and promising not to tell anyone if he just lets her go. Wordlessly, her kidnapper puts a video on in the room titled “Sermon of Truth.”
He grabs Ye-rim’s head and makes her look at a sign that says: If you pass the catechism test, eternal life. If you fail, hell. A second sign says: The test will take place 24 hours from now.
There are a lot of cops at the hospital, and Se-hoon warns Dong Baek that he’s going to get himself fired. But Dong Baek felt the love that Ye-rim’s mother holds for her daughter when she touched him, and he says he can’t just sit back and do nothing.
They get caught by Chief Gu, and Dong Baek tries to blame Se-hoon and grabs his ear, only for Chief Gu to grab Dong Baek’s ear, fully aware of who the true troublemaker is. Chief Gu leaves to talk to the chief of investigation unit while Dong Baek cowers around the corner trying to eavesdrop, only for Chief Gu to lead Chief Byun right to him, LOL. Evidently, Dong Baek used to work in Seoul before quitting (well, Chief Gu says he was fired, but Dong Baek mumbles that he quit thankyouverymuch), and Chief Byun came in later.
They all go to see the comatose victim, and Dong Baek loudly objects when Chief Byun says that Ye-rim’s disappearance has nothing to do with the recent murders. Chief Gu asks Chief Byun to let Dong Baek investigate, and although Chief Byun comes off as cold and unfeeling, he surprises them by granting permission.
Sun-mi’s team identifies the comatose victim as a former child actress named Kim Seo-kyung. Her phone has been off for two weeks, but she lives alone so nobody reported her missing. The last time she was seen is on CCTV footage, boarding a bus to church two weeks ago on a Tuesday.
Dong Baek is allowed into Seo-kyung’s hospital room, but when he tries to read her memories, all he sees is a fog because of her coma. He tries again, and this time he sees some staticky pictures. He whispers cryptically, “They’re broken. They’re shattered. They’re entangled.”
Then he sees a very clear image of a woman being strangled (it looks like the same woman from the night Ye-rim was kidnapped, by her striped sweater). Dong Baek blurts out that there’s another victim, and when he goes back into Seo-kyung’s mind, he sees someone raising a claw hammer as if to strike. He passes out from the strain.
Before waking up in a hospital bed of his own, Dong Baek has a dream of a woman, her face bloody and terrified. A little boy cries for his mother, then a hand raises a claw hammer and brings it down sharply. Once he’s conscious, Dong Baek tells Se-hoon and Chief Gu that he saw another victim in Seo-kyung’s memory.
Chief Byun is leading his team out of the hospital when they’re accosted by reporters. Chief Byun says they’re instituting a news embargo on the case, because if word gets out that another victim was taken, the victim could be killed.
Meanwhile, Sun-mi watches a side-by-side CCTV feed of Seo-kyung on the day she disappeared, one of her at the bus stop and one of her a few minutes later on the bus. Sun-mi’s sharp eyes catch that Seo-kyung is holding a phone in both feeds, but it’s not the same phone. The second phone is tracked and found, and is assumed to be in the killer’s possession.
Chief Byun joins Sun-mi in her situation room, where he’s told he has a call from Dong Baek. Sun-mi perks up at the name, having been warned away from Dong Baek, so Chief Byun puts the call on speaker so she can hear. Dong Baek says that there’s another victim besides Ye-rim, and that he saw two other things in Seo-kyung’s memory… a red pig, and a hammer.
Chief Byun tells Dong Baek that they’ve already located the killer, then hangs up. Dong Baek rushes out of the hospital, telling Chief Gu and Se-hoon that he has a gut feeling (Chief Gu: “Was telepathy not enough? You’re a shaman now, too?” hee). In the lobby, he bumps shoulders with a guy, and he sees the guy terrorizing Seo-kyung in his memory.
The guy takes off running, so Dong Baek, Se-hoon, and Chief Gu chase him, but they lose him on a crowded street. Again Dong Baek uses his ability creatively, casually touching people and following their peripheral memories of the man until he finds him again.
Despite Dong Baek getting hit by a car and the man almost getting away in a taxi, they manage to arrest him. Dong Baek reads his memories, and what he sees almost makes him sock the guy, but unfortunately he’s not the killer — he’s just an ex-boyfriend of Seo-kyung’s who used to abuse her.
But while they’re releasing him, he says that Seo-kyung got taken by “those demons” because of “dogs like that disgusting ‘hammer’.” Dong Baek demands to know what he means and reads his memories again.
While all this is happening, Ye-rim sits in her empty cell listening to the sermon on the television. She hears the other victim’s voice through a crack in the wall, and the woman says, “If you fail, you’ll die. That’s how the girl who was here first…” Ye-rim asks what to do, and the other woman tells her that 90 is a passing score.
A team is sent to the location where Seo-kyung’s second phone was tracked. The signal leads them to a run-down house in the middle of nowhere, but all they find inside are a bunch of terrified teenagers who say they found the phone in the street.
The really bad news is that the press isn’t honoring the embargo, and is reporting about the kidnappings and murders. Reporter Ji-eun argues with her boss about whether to report on it for the safety of the victims, but as she enters the press conference rooms and sees that everyone else is talking about the murders, she realizes that it’s too late.
Dong Baek follows Seo-kyung’s ex’s memories to her agent, CEO Oh, who seems like a nasty piece of work. He recognizes Dong Baek and offers him his business card, taking great care not to let Dong Baek touch him. Dong Baek sighs when he sees that CEO Oh’s company is called Hammer Management, which is why Seo-kyung’s boyfriend mentioned a hammer.
Still, he confronts CEO Oh about the rumors that he stopped acting as an agent, and now signs on hopeful rookies and makes them provide sexual favors to his clients — he’s basically a pimp. He mentions Seo-kyung, and that he saw CEO Oh raping Seo-kyung in her memories, including the tattoo on CEO Oh’s chest of a snake coiled around a hammer.
CEO Oh claims that Seo-kyung came onto him first, though Dong Baek can see that he’s getting nervous. Thinking of his own memories in which he witnessed a woman being murdered by a man with a hammer, Dong Baek asks if CEO Oh killed anyone twenty years ago, but CEO Oh sneers that he can’t even remember the girl he hit yesterday (oh, this ass…).
He needles Dong Baek, snickering that he’s heard he’s a bit crazy. Dong Baek leans into it, snapping back that he goes a little crazy when he meets people like CEO Oh. But CEO Oh has heard that Dong Baek will go to jail if he assaults one more person, so he makes a scene, calling out to passersby that the famous psychic detective is here.
In her cell, Ye-rim tries to concentrate on the sermon video, but she hears a strange noise. Nearby, an old flip-phone buzzes, and a hand picks it up and answers.
A crowd quickly forms around Dong Baek and CEO Oh, with squealing fangirls taking Dong Baek’s picture. Dong Baek notices a reflection in the cafe window that CEO Oh is making a phone call, and seconds later, CEO Oh realizes that he knows. He yells into his bluetooth, “Get rid of it!” just as Dong Baek vaults over the table and kicks him in the head.
I already love our Dong Baek so much, you guys. He’s so principled and badass and cool, and he feels so strongly about what his ability means for his calling in life, yet he’s also such a soft-hearted crybaby. I find it extremely fun (and a novel twist of storytelling) that Dong Baek’s supernatural ability to read memories is widely known and accepted. Usually the character with the psychic ability goes to great lengths to hide it, but everyone knows what Dong Baek can do. Some find it amazing and wonderful and useful, some elevate him to idol-like status because of it, and some feel that the way he uses his ability is a violation (and I can’t exactly disagree with them). I hope the show continues to explore the ethics of the way Dong Baek uses his ability and the different responses people have to his powers.
And then there’s Sun-mi, who is Dong Baek’s polar opposite. Where he’s an emotional open book, she’s extremely closed off and contained. But she seems very invested in this serial killer case, which makes me think that there’s a lot churning around under all that polish and poise. It will be interesting to see them work together and sand down each other’s rough edges, but I think they’ll make a great partnership if they can manage not to drive each other around the bend first.
The overall tone of the drama is very interesting — at times it feels like real life, then it gets very dramatic, then silly (such as when Dong Baek sobs over a letter). I’m chalking it up to the fact that this is based on a web comic, though I’m unfamiliar with the source material, but I’m totally here for it. It doesn’t feel dissonant at all, with the differing scenes managing to dovetail into each other naturally, and I hope that keeps up.
I also like how this premiere felt full of information and moved at a quick, steady pace, yet it dropped a lot of breadcrumbs that I’m now dying to pick up and examine. Why is the kidnapper forcing the women he snatches to watch religious sermons and testing them, basing their survival on their test results? What is Sun-mi’s story, and why is she so invested yet so emotionless in regards to these murders? How are CEO Oh and the murderer connected (at least, it appeared that he was calling the murderer there at the end)? And what was that dream Dong Baek had of a woman (was it his mother, or someone else’s memory entirely?) being murdered in the same way as the current murders? Does this mean that the current events are a copycat, or is it the same person, and if so, what happened during the twenty-year gap in murders? I’m so anxious to learn what on earth is going on, and how it’s all connected between the past and the present.
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