Alice: Episode 1
What if humans could travel back in time, and meet their loved ones or ancestors again? Would this be a good thing, or would it create disastrous ripples in past, present, and future? SBS’s new paranormal drama, Alice, asks these questions, as we follow the life of a man whose very existence is all thanks to the discovery of time travel.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. – Arthur Clarke
Three blood-red drones race through the sky and through a sort of portal in midair, ending up at a futuristic-looking building in the mountains. The building’s interior is quite impressive, with robots and advanced technology everywhere.
A man and a woman drive down a winding mountain road, as the woman tells us in voiceover:
We’re time travelers. In 2050, Alice finally succeeded in traveling through time. At the thought that we can meet our dead loved ones, and the thought that we could live a new life by going back in time, people became overjoyed. And so, time became fluid, and so did the world, and people’s lives became that much richer.
That is, until the book was discovered. The rumors say that the book contains a tragic ending to the time traveling that has just started. People called the book “The Book of Prophecy.” I must find the book in order to keep time travel going. And that is why I’ve arrived in 1992 today… to find the book.
In 1992, a mysterious figure breaks into a large home during a thunderstorm. The homeowner, DR. JANG (cameo by Jang Hyun-sung), hears a noise, but it’s only his tiny daughter, who’s scared of the thunder.
Dr. Jang sees the shadow of the intruder in the window, so he calmly instructs his daughter to hide under his desk. Before she ducks down, he tears the last page out of the old book he was reading and gives it to her, telling her not to lose it no matter what.
He’s sitting at his desk when the intruder enters and announces that he came for the book. Dr. Jang asks if the man is from 2050, but the guy just brandishes a knife. Dr. Jang aims a gun at the intruder and makes him drop the knife, only for the intruder to to pull a sword and deliver several deadly blows.
As he lies bleeding, Dr. Jang turns to his daughter, who’s watching in horror from under the desk. He carefully put his fingers to his lips to remind her to stay quiet, then he dies.
The intruder calls someone and tells them he has the book. As soon as he hangs up, he opens the book and notices the missing final page. He hears the little girl’s sob and ducks down to see her, not realizing that there’s someone else in the room.
The woman we saw earlier, YOON TAE-YI (Kim Hee-sun), points her own weapon at the intruder and demands the book. Her partner (and lover, we’ll find out later) politely introduces himself as YOO MIN-HYUK (Kwak Shi-yang) from Alice, and the intruder asks why everyone is so obsessed with the book. He flings it at Tae-yi and attacks her with his sword.
I love how Min-hyuk just calmly lets Tae-yi handle the fight alone, confident in her abilities. It only takes her a minute to knock the intruder to the floor, and when he goes after her again, Min-hyuk finally steps in and spins the intruder through a window.
Min-hyuk notices the little girl’s battered copy of Alice in Wonderland, and they realize she’s somewhere in the house. He goes upstairs to look, but it’s the intruder who finds the girl still huddled, terrified, under the desk. He strangles her, demanding to know where the rest (of the book) is, but she holds the page behind her back and doesn’t say a word.
Tae-yi pulls her weapon (a very futuristic handgun) and stuns the man, saving the little girl but traumatizing her in the process. She screams uncontrollably while Tae-yi apologizes and asks her name, but she shrieks that she doesn’t know. Meanwhile, Min-hyuk returns and clamps a device onto the intruder’s ankle, which lights up and cleanly slices off the man’s foot, and the wound heals instantly.
The police are coming so Min-hyuk tells Tae-yi they have to leave. They can’t take the girl, but Tae-yi insists on staying just long enough to see her taken into police custody. When the police arrive, the girl is in a catatonic state and still clutching the final page of the book in her hand.
In the car, Min-hyuk grabs the book away when Tae-yi opens it, reminding her that it’s forbidden to read it.
In the morning, they check the papers to see that Dr. Jang’s daughter is recovering in the hospital. They need to return to their own time, but Tae-yi says she’s feeling sick, possibly from the wormhole’s radiation. She complains about Min-hyuk’s lack of concern, so he assures her that he loves her and says he just wants to finish the job.
They only have until midnight before the wormhole closes, so Min-hyuk goes to take a shower. Tae-yi takes the book from the safe and opens it, and she reads, “Where should I begin? The tragedy began when she opened the door of time. If the baby had not entered through the door of time, would any of it have happened? If the baby had never been born, would things have been different?”
Tae-yi tells Min-hyuk that she still feels ill, so he takes her to a doctor where they learn that she’s not sick — she’s pregnant. Min-hyuk sees things very plainly… Tae-yi can’t travel through the wormhole again while pregnant because of radiation, but they need to get home, so she should get an abortion. She’s reluctant, but she promises to do as he says.
The police knock on the car window and order them to step out, but Min-hyuk steps on the gas and starts a wild car chase. As soon as he can, he drops Tae-yi off near Seoul Station and leads the cops away, leaving her to make her way back to their hotel.
Min-hyuk manages to elude the police and heads back to the hotel, but their room is dark and the safe is empty. He finds a letter from Tae-yi: “I have another heart inside me now. It’s smaller and weaker than mine, but I can feel it beating, my baby’s heart. How could I get rid of it?”
She goes on to say that, like he chose Alice, she chooses her baby’s future. Min-hyuk looks everywhere, buy Tae-yi is far away by now. At midnight, Min-hyuk reluctantly activates a small metal card, which transports him back to his own time, alone.
Tae-yi stays in 1992 and gives birth to a baby boy she names Jin-gyum. Five years later (1997), she’s horrified when Jin-gyum shows her a dragonfly, then methodically tears it to pieces with his bare hands. Jin-gyum’s teacher is also very concerned when Jin-gyum uses scissors to cut off the ears of one of the class rabbits, so Tae-yi takes him to be evaluated.
The doctor explains that Jin-gyum is unable to understand that living things have emotions and feel pain, because he lacks “prosocial emotions” himself. Luckily he’s also quite intelligent, so the doctor believes he can be taught how to behave appropriately.
Tae-yi asks what caused this, and the doctor says that Jin-gyum’s left frontal lobe is smaller than normal. Tae-yi realizes that this is probably due to her traveling through the wormhole and exposing Jin-gyum to radiation while she was carrying him. She goes home and promises her sleeping son that she’ll do anything she can to help him.
In 2004, Jin-gyum is now twelve years old. Tae-yi needs an appendectomy, but he doesn’t want to stay at the hospital with her and can’t understand why she doesn’t just get outpatient care. Because of that, Tae-yi goes home too soon and ends up ripping her stitches. An EMT tells Jin-gyum to ride along in the ambulance, but Jin-gyum says dispassionately that he has school tomorrow and heads back inside.
By 2010, JIN GYUM (Joo-won) is in high school, and one day during classes, a classmate of his named Sung-eun falls from the school roof to her death. The detective on the case, DETECTIVE GO (Kim Sang-ho, yay I love him so much!), assumes it was suicide.
He’s approached by a classmate of Jin-gyum’s, KIM DO-YEON (Lee Da-in) who says that Sung-eun didn’t commit suicide, and that she wasn’t alone on the rooftop. She claims that Jin-gyum pushed Sung-eun , so he’s brought in for questioning. Jin-gyum says that he and Sung-eun were in the same acting class, which his mother signed him up for because “it would help,” though he doesn’t know with what.
When asked why he was on the roof, Jin-gyum says that the classroom was too loud. He insists he didn’t push Sung-eun, and says that after she fell, he went back to class instead of notifying an adult because he’d already seen the police coming. Captain Go asks if he was actually trying to hide the fact that he was on the roof, but Jin-gyum says reasonably that many students saw him up there, so he couldn’t hide it if he wanted to.
Tae-yi is called to the station, and she tells Jin-gyum that she’ll believe whatever he says. She asks if he killed the girl, and wilts in relief when he says, “No.” Later she visits the school roof and for a moment she imagines seeing Jin-gyum push Sung-eun to her death, but she shakes it off and makes a plan.
Noticing that there’s a tall apartment building across the street, Tae-yi goes there to ask if anyone witnessed what happened. At first the residents reject her attempts, and Sung-eun’s mother even screams at Tae-yi for defending the boy she thinks killed her child.
But eventually, Tae-yi finds one young woman (cameo by Choi Na-moo) who says she saw everything, and from her point of view, it looked like Jin-gyum was trying to stop Sung-eun from jumping. Jin-gyum is released from police custody, and Captain Go even apologizes to him and tells him to be good to his mom.
When they get home, some middle school boys are spray-painting hateful words like “psychopath” on their front gate. Tae-yi sends Jin-gyum inside and says she’ll wash off the paint, but after a minute, Jin-gyum can hear her crying so he goes back out.
He says he’ll paint over the words later, and that he doesn’t care what people think about him, “But not you. You get hurt. I don’t want you to get hurt, but I keep failing. I’m sorry, Mom.” Tae-yi says proudly that he’s all grown up, and he even worries about his mom.
When Jin-gyum goes back to school, Do-yeon approaches him to admit that she’s the one who reported him to the police. She apologizes for suspecting him, and he easily accepts since he understands why she believed him guilty. Do-yeon asks why Sung-eun jumped, but he shrugs that Sung-eun didn’t say.
Later he heads to the restroom, where several students are gathered, and locks the door. He demands that the leader hand over his phone where he recorded Sung-eun, and accuses them of getting rid of the suicide note she’d left in her backpack. Jin-gyum methodically beats up each of the bullies one by one, then he gives Do-yeon the leader’s phone and tells her to take it to the police, that it will explain Sung-eun’s suicide.
One evening, Tae-yi arrives home to find a cake and a birthday card from Jin-gyum, awww. He even starts to sing the birthday song for her, but he falters on the “I love you” line so she blows out the candles. They grill meat for dinner, and Tae-yi invites Jin-gyum to have his first taste of alcohol and watch the lunar eclipse with her.
Tae-yi asks Jin-gyum to walk with her to buy more soju, but he says he doesn’t want to so she goes alone. On her way home, Tae-yi stops to gaze up at the moon, but to her horror she sees familiar-looking blood-red drones in the sky. She runs, but they follow her.
Jin-gyum starts to worry when his mother doesn’t return quickly and doesn’t answer her phone, so he goes looking for her. He sees the drones (and they see him), and he rushes home to find Tae-yi collapsed on the floor, covered in blood.
For what might be the first time in his life, Jin-gyum starts crying. He starts to call for an ambulance but Tae-yi stops him, whispering weakly, “They left. My son is okay.” Jin-gyum screams that it’s not okay, but Tae-yi gasps that he needs to know the truth. She tells Jin-gyum, “Listen carefully… if you see me again, you can’t act like you know me. You must avoid me at all costs.”
Growing weaker, Tae-yi thanks Jin-gyum for being born as her son, and asks him to be born as her son again. Jin-gyum sobs that she deserves a better son than him, one who worries when she’s sick and comforts her when she’s sad. He promises to protect her in their next lives even if she’s not his mom, and Tae-yi gently slips away. Jin-gyum screams for his mother as he holds her tightly, but she’s already gone.
Outside, two men run through the streets, but one of them stops dead in front of Tae-yi and Jin-gyum’s house. In another time, Min-hyuk looks up as if sensing that something important just happened.
At the morgue, Captain Go inspects Tae-yi’s body, and the coroner tells him that she was killed by a gunshot wound. Oddly, the bullet re-formed after entering her body and did a lot of internal damage, but left entry and exit wounds so tiny they can barely be seen by the naked eye.
Captain Go takes Jin-gyum out for a meal and explains that some cases take years to solve, urging him not to give up (on finding his mother’s killer). He tells Jin-gyum to study hard and go to a good university, but Jin-gyum says that his goal is to go to the police academy. He works hard, and by the year 2020, and Jin-gyum has indeed become a cop.
A man is holding a woman hostage on top of a tall building, and down on the ground, Captain Go (with much less hair now, hee) warns him not to hurt the hostage and come down immediately. The cops can’t get up to the roof because the criminal has blocked the doors, so Jin-gyum casually strolls across an I-beam from the building next door to confront the man.
He says that the man has already killed three people so he’s not going to let him get away just to save one more, ans in a panic, the man shoves the hostage at Jin-gyum. Jin-gyum swats her to the side, grabs the man, and flings them both off the side of the building. They fall all the way to the ground… and land on an emergency airpad, whew.
Do-yeon has become a reporter, and a feisty one, as she yells at her boss for not publishing an article she wrote about a fellow reporter who makes his interns go to hotels with him. She’s still irritated when she sits down to eat with Jin-gyum, but she cheers up when he says, ”You’ll do well,” which she knows means he supports her and cares about her.
She suggests they go to his place for more drinks, but Jin-gyum says primly that her parents would worry about her being at a man’s home. Do-yeon laughs and teases Jin-gyum for knowing what happens when men and women are alone, and she asks if he intends to become a priest, but he says he’s just not interested.
He gets called back to the station for a new case — a seven-year-old girl named Eun-soo went missing two days ago during a class outing. Her father was willing to pay a ransom, but nobody ever contacted him, and her mother has been out of the country.
Jin-gyum requests the photos from the class trip from Eun-soo’s teacher, who asks if her mother could have taken her. JY reminds her that the girl’s mother is out of the country, but the teacher shows him that she’s in the background of one of the class photos.
Jin-gyum meets the girl’s mother at the airport, and she’s crushed by their implication that she may have kidnapped her own child. Jin-gyum tells her to stop wasting time by crying and starts asking questions, but suddenly someone bursts in to report that Eun-soo is safe at home.
Her parents are overjoyed, but the whole thing seems strange to Jin-gyum and Captain Go. When asked who she was with for three days, Eun-soo says she was with her mother. Jin-gyum asks her if she knows that her mother wasn’t in the country, and Eun-soo confides that her mother told her a secret: That she came back in a time machine to see her.
As he’s leaving their apartment building, Jin-gyum spots one of the blood red drones he saw on the night of his mother’s death, staring down at him. He takes a picture of it and it zooms away, so Jin-gyum chases it on foot. He stops on a bridge to catch his breath, and down below he sees the drone’s new target — a very young and healthy-looking Tae-yi.
Jin-gyum races over to get a closer look at Tae-yi, and he accidentally steps right into the path of a van. A pulse of energy seems to emanate from him and freeze everything around him. The people, the water fountain, and even the shards of glass from the broken pane the truck was carrying, all stop as if time is standing still.
Only Jin-gyum is left free to move, and he looks around himself in astonishment. He sees Tae-yi again, standing not far away, and he hears his mother’s voice telling him that if he ever sees her again, he must act as if he doesn’t know her.
Suddenly Tae-yi steps towards him, though everything else remains frozen. An expression of anguish on his face, Jin-gyum breathes one word: “Mom.”
Well, I don’t blame him one bit, but it’s gut-wrenching that the first thing Jin-gyum does when he sees the younger version of Tae-yi is to call her “Mom.” Her final wish was for him not to act like he knows her, and now it looks like he’s given himself away. No doubt Tae-yi was trying to keep Jin-gyum from getting caught up in the whole dangerous Alice time-travel business, but we know that’s not going to happen or there would be no show. I just hope that Tae-yi didn’t actually hear him, because it would be nice if Jin-gyum could at least figure out what’s going on without immediately having half of the future trying to kill him.
Not gonna lie, at first I found Jin-gyum pretty frightening with his complete lack of emotional skills and his too-calm manner from such an early age. But the more we saw of him, we witnessed that he does have emotions, and that he and his mother clearly had a very close, if unusual, relationship. Jin-gyum cried when Tae-yi died, and when he saw her again, so he does feel love and sorrow. He also went after the kids who caused his classmate to kill herself, and ended up a cop, proving that he does have a strong sense of justice. He’s just not good at expressing his feelings and doesn’t see the need for relationships based purely on emotions or for physical reasons, like he explained to Do-yeon. But Jin-gyum is capable of having positive relationships, even ones that started out rocky like his friendship with Do-yeon or how Captain Go became his mentor. And I’m glad that he has a couple of people who understand and accept him, now that the Tae-yi he knows as his mother is gone.
I do want to learn more about Alice and time travel, which we were only told the tiniest snippets about in this premiere episode. At first I thought Alice was some sort of device or program that enables time travel, but on watching this episode a second time, I have a theory — I think Alice is a person, or is an organization named after a person, and that she might be the little girl that Tae-yi and Min-hyuk saved. She seemed too important to not be integral to the story, and she’s got the last page of the Book of Prophecy. But she also forgot her name and had that Alice in Wonderland book, so maybe she gave herself the name Alice and grew up to study time travel in honor of her father? She might have even done it to try and save him…
And speaking of the Book of Prophecy, my other, more obvious theory is that it’s about Tae-yi and Jin-gyum. It mentions a baby being brought through the door of time and what might have happened if the baby had never been born — that sounds like Tae-yi and Jin-gyum’s story to me. I think that Tae-yi knew that all along and that’s why she tried to warn Jin-gyum not to say anything if he ever saw her again, because she knows that he may run into a younger version of herself who would be looking for the book and not aware that it’s about him. If the “tragedy” that the book warns about is somehow connected to, or triggered by, Jin-gyum (and I think that time-stopping pulse that he appeared to create is probably has a lot to do with it), and someone out there knows about it, then he’s about to be in a whole lot of danger.