Kairos: Episodes 1-2 Open Thread
I wasn’t sure what to make of this show’s promotional materials, but just two episodes in, I’m completely sold. In its first week, Kairos has neatly set up an intriguing and suspenseful premise, all its important characters and relationships, a dark and thrilling tone—and most importantly, it had me deeply invested in the lives of its protagonists from Episode 1. Bring on the mystery, the tears, and the suspense!
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
We meet our leads as they go about their daily lives. KIM SEO-JIN (Shin Sung-rok) is a high-powered construction company executive, capable to a degree that provokes envy, despite the trauma of a past building collapse that still gives him nightmares.
His ambition drives him to push his violinist wife KANG HYUN-CHAE (Nam Gyuri) to continue a career she’s starting to lose confidence in, and treat both her and their daughter DA-BIN (Shim Hye-yeon) with an irritable, peremptory affection.
Little Da-bin disappears one night, and after a couple of frantic, hellish days her parents receive her finger in a box. Oh God, I did not sign up for this.
When the police tell them the finger indicates that Da-bin is already dead, Hyun-chae lashes out at Seo-jin for always putting his career first, and later jumps into the Han River in despair.
HAN AE-RI (Lee Se-young) is a student who works part-time, saving for her sick mother’s heart transplant. Ae-ri’s mother disappears from the hospital under suspicious circumstances, and then a “friend,” IM GUN-WOOK (Kang Seung-yoon), scams Ae-ri out of all her money, leaving her desperate and afraid.
Meanwhile, Ae-ri repeatedly calls her misplaced phone, and reaches Seo-jin on his phone. He sends her the missing poster for Da-bin, and Ae-ri recognizes her.
At first each thinks the other is lying, but strange details begin to add up: the date on the poster seems wrong to Ae-ri; they can’t meet despite showing up at the same cafe; Ae-ri has already canceled that number, etc. Though I was a teeny bit skeptical that it took them that long to realize they could only communicate at 10:33 PM.
Seo-jin realizes he’s living one month in Ae-ri’s future, and that in his timeline, she’s in jail for murdering Gun-wook. Seo-jin successfully convinces Ae-ri not to kill Gun-wook, though it’s a near thing. He vows that they’ll save each other—and gives Ae-ri the proof she needs to team up with him.
I’m really loving this show. Thrillers that make me perch anxiously on the edge of my seat and twist my heart up into knots as I barely breathe aren’t my first choice when I reach for a drama, but a really good one can rocket to the top of my all-time favorites (see: Signal). So far, Kairos has all the elements of a keeper—instantly engaging main characters, a high-stakes mystery, an intriguing sci-fi/fantasy premise, and excellent performances from its leads.
There isn’t a single bad apple in this cast, but Shin Sung-rok is doing particularly well as the initially aloof father and husband who so wrenchingly sees the error of his ways. He portrays grief and desperation brilliantly, violently seesawing back and forth in a frenzy of hope, fear, rage, and hopelessness. Although I could have gone my whole life without hearing Shin Sung-rok crying like that. Damn, show.
Lee Se-young is also doing well in her role, as a young woman with a ton of responsibility on her shoulders that suddenly faces two kinds of grave loss—and the craziness of a man calling her from the future. I’m officially over the bad taste left in my mouth from the rage-inducing The Best Hit.
I was expecting a literal time-travel drama, but I enjoy this communication across time more, because it allows characters (and viewers) to immediately know the consequences of their actions. There’s an element of finite chances—as in Signal, once the past actor moves out of the window where they can make changes, nothing can be done. And that’s heartbreaking, but it also heightens the tension and the feeling of time running out. It’s now August 18th in Ae-ri’s timeline, which means that they have less than three weeks to figure out what happened/will happen to Da-bin and avert it.
The transitions between August and September are subtle but clear, and the directing is stylish but not flashy. Unlike other shows with more dramatic contrast between past and present, I like that the color grading, bright and warm in Ae-ri’s summertime, cool and dark as Seo-jin moves toward fall, is noticeable but not immediately obvious. It slowly dawns on the viewer, only a little ahead of the protagonists, that the two aren’t quite in the same world.
I also really like that we don’t have one person in trouble, reaching into the past for help; both Seo-jin and Ae-ri have hit rock bottom. They’re without resources and can only rely on each other for some hope of saving their loved ones. I doubt that their meeting in Episode 3 will go well (both of them are tough and smart enough to ignore a random stranger making outlandish claims), but I’m still excited to see them properly interact for the first time.
This is way too early for us to find the villain, so clearly the kidnapper reveal is some kind of misdirect—my money’s on Seo-jin’s colleague SEO DO-KYUN (Ahn Bo-hyun). Just look at that face.
I’m wary of the suspect being a disabled man, though. We know this man blames Seo-jin for his daughter’s death. Did she die in that building collapse nineteen years ago? Did his disability come from injuries sustained then? If so, the portrayal has narrative cause, but I’m always uncomfortable when the only visibly disabled character in a show is labeled as a villain. (There’s also the fact that he was wearing a similar shirt to the man who came to see Ae-ri’s mom in the hospital.) But I’ll withhold judgment for now.
That’s my one reservation, however. On the whole, Kairos is gripping, moving, beautifully directed, and incredibly suspenseful. I can’t wait for next week.
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