L.U.C.A.: The Beginning: Episode 1
For those craving a mixture of mystery and sci-fi, tVN brings us L.U.C.A. (short for “Last Universal Common Ancestor”). We’re thrown right into the weeds of things and are just as confused as our male lead who has no recollection of his past. He’s thrown back into the world he ran away from when he decides to extend a helping hand.
Note: This is a first episode recap.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A man cradling a baby gets chased into an abandoned building with his pursuers trailing closely behind. He arrives at the top level and holds the baby out above the atrium of the ground floor. He croons sadly, “My sweet baby, don’t forget…”
Someone else narrates that he woke up with no memories and doesn’t even know his own identity. He finishes the other man’s sentence in voiceover: “…you are not a monster.” The baby is released and falls through a hole on the first floor. The child’s unnatural blue eyes spring open as bursts of lightning form a force field around him.
The powerful energy causes the building to crumble and dust rises then fades to reveal a grown man lying on the ground. He regains consciousness in what seems to be the aftermath of a brutal fight. This is our narrator, who explains that he wakes up in a strange place every time, never knowing if he’s the one chasing or being chased.
He takes in the sight of a dozen injured men lying on the ground surrounded by fire, spooked when someone with a severely burned arm grabs him by the ankle, unable to speak. He escapes towards the city when cars arrive on scene.
The man with the burned arm, LEE SOHN (Kim Sung-oh), is carried into a place called Human Tech and taken to an operating room. Oof, his arm is actually producing smoke and it looks unbelievably painful.
Scientist RYU JOONG-KWON (Ahn Nae-sang) takes a look, then sticks a syringe into the side of Sohn’s neck. Whatever was administered turns his veins black, and blood-curling screams can be heard from across the facility.
The man who escaped finds a dingy looking washroom and tends to a deep knife wound on his back. Fragments of memories come back to him – he was stabbed, dealt a lot of damage fighting the men from earlier, and lightning was involved.
He pulls out a wallet and finds a phone number written on a singed business card, as well as a tattered piece of ID that informs him that his name is JI-OH (Kim Rae-won). He can’t remember much else, but his past involved a doctor, a blaring red siren, screams, and lots of windmills.
A year later, Captain CHOI JIN-HWAN (Kim Sang-ho) and his team of detectives arrive at a demolition site to investigate a dead body. He gives orders to look into the previous building owner and tenants to determine if they were involved in burying the body.
Captain Choi finds a female investigator from the CIU (Criminal Investigation Unit) poking around his crime scene, which he’s not happy about. She wastes no time and introduces herself as HANEULAE GU-REUM (Lee Da-hee), sharing that the skeleton is of a male who shows signs of having gum graft surgery done.
They get on each other’s nerves and the captain asks who she works with, since he knows people at the CIU. “If you’re curious, ask your peers directly,” she chirps.
That night, Gu-reum visits her former professor at the forensics department to bribe him with snacks in exchange for information about the corpse from earlier. He confirms that the remains match the dental records of a person named Kang Yong-soo from a confidential case that Gu-reum’s working on.
She runs into Captain Choi and Detective Kim on her way out and is forced to share an elevator with them. They aren’t fond of each other and Gu-reum doesn’t care that he’s a captain. In her eyes, they’re both just ahjusshis with beer bellies.
She falters for a moment when Captain Choi reveals that he knows she’s being transferred out of the CIU because she caused trouble. His source even said that she’ll be sent to the worst unit to suffer. Gu-reum insists she’s still a CIU investigator until she reports to her new team and leaves after getting the last word in.
Ji-oh works as a bio-medical waste collector at Dagyeong Resources, which includes collecting the remains of animals used for lab testing. Ji-oh’s colleague KIM MAN-SHIK (cameo by Lee Won-jong) finds it cruel to treat animals like this, but Ji-oh thinks it’s natural, since humans are more powerful.
“A tiger isn’t being cruel when it hunts a hare,” Ji-oh states. Mr. Kim gets riled up – tigers kill to survive, and humans are different. Ji-oh just shrugs that researchers experiment in order to make a living and survive. Mr. Kim scoffs at the cold-hearted response and asks, “Did you grow up unloved?” Without skipping a beat, Ji-oh answers, “Yes.”
After work, Ji-oh makes his way home and prepares a simple meal. He spends the night lying in bed staring at the business card with the written phone number.
Gu-reum labels Kang Yong-soo as ‘deceased’ on her investigation board. The case involves a covenant, a family with a young girl, and the city of Ju-an. Every person of interest is either missing or dead, which has her feeling at a loss.
The next day, Gu-reum reports to her new team and is horrified to realize that she’ll be working under Captain Choi. She hides behind the manager who argues with Detective Kim about the team’s poor performance. The detective complains that they’re short-handed and are given cold cases often, but Captain Choi chastises him for talking back to management.
Captain Choi turns speechless learning who the new addition to his team is. They all head to lunch where Gu-reum apologizes to Detective Kim while insisting that his pot belly isn’t that bad, and appeals to the captain by shooting him a finger heart with a stoic “I love you, Team Captain.” Pfft.
The squad chuckles at this and Captain Choi pours her a drink. They clinks glasses and everyone watches as Gu-reum downs the beer. The captain asks, “Do you drink while on duty?” and tells her to always be alert – he won’t be lenient with her just because she’s female. He pours her another and insists that she drink up, only to criticize her again. He’s definitely not going to make this transition easy for her.
A man named KIM CHEOL-SOO (Park Hyuk-kwon) is escorted from the NIS (National Intelligence Service) to a place of worship. He walks in during a ceremony and greets HWANG JUNG-AH (Jin Kyung) from across the room.
Jung-ah is dressed in white and offers blessings to the room full of pregnant women wearing red dresses. She hands them each a rose and claims that they were chosen by the Holy Lord as a mother of the 101 Cherubim (an order of angels) that will save the world. Hmm…my cult senses are tingling.
After the ceremony, Jung-ah discusses the remains that the police uncovered recently with Cheol-soo. He assures her that there’s no evidence of murder left behind, but she’s not worried and is more-so annoyed that the past keeps getting dug up.
They are involved in some type of research and the believers willingly dedicate their children to the cause. Cheol-soo is certain that they’ll start seeing results soon, especially since the initial trial was successful. Jung-ah exudes an air of calm authority and breathes, “If something doesn’t emerge at the next human sacrifice, close the lab.”
The same research is being done in Sweden, and their focus will shift there if the Korean branch fails. As for the fate of the existing researchers if the Korean operation closes… Jung-ah smiles, “Didn’t you kill them all in the past, too?” Cheol-soo bows in understanding as she takes her leave.
When Dagyeong Resources collects waste from Human Tech, Ji-oh is uncharacteristically distracted by his surroundings. Gu-reum also visits the facility that day and makes eye contact with him as she walks by.
After the collection, Ji-oh notes that there was a strange smell. Mr. Kim says that Human Tech always gives him the chills. Rather than the typical dogs or mice used in research, they’ve dumped shocking creatures like bears, gorillas, and dolphins in the past.
Gu-reum’s investigating her private case and asks a researcher whether a Kim Ji-sook or Kang Yong-soo were ever employed here. Yong-soo once received money from Ji-sook, and that sum of money was sent by Human Tech. She doesn’t get any solid answers and is told that she can’t speak to a boss since the company went bankrupt and is now owned by creditors.
After Gu-reum leaves, the researcher pushes a button to reveal a hidden elevator behind a bookcase. There are multiple underground levels filled with high-tech equipment and they have all sorts of animals locked up, like Mr. Kim had claimed.
Their research involves attempting to successfully divide cells, but they’re reaching a road block in their experiments because the cells die after separating. The head researcher gets chewed out by Joong-kwon for claiming that the simultaneous differentiation method that worked one time was a fluke. Science has no miracles.
Joong-kwon heads back to his office where human fetuses are preserved in jars on the shelf. One jar labeled Z-0 is empty. Cheol-soo pops in to check on the research team’s progress. He doesn’t understand the scientific explanation, but can tell it’s not going well.
Cheol-soo relays that Sweden is working on the same research, yet are advancing further than they are. This angers Joong-kwon, “I’m the one who started the experiment and succeeded first.” It seems that losing his co-researcher was a big reason why they only succeeded one time.
Cheol-soo warns that the investors are getting fed up and willing to dump them. Sticking Z-0’s label onto Joong-kwon’s desk, he suggests that they try to make it happen one more time. Joong-kwon says that a scientist waiting for the result of his life’s work is much more desperate than a believer waiting for salvation. Cheol-soo doesn’t care and gives him one week to produce results.
Captain Choi’s team takes down an illegal gambling ring and things get pretty physical. Gu-reum is a strong fighter and ends up chasing the leader outside. The criminal limps across the street but Gu-reum gets hit by a truck and flies through the air, landing on the road.
Ji-oh happened to be driving there and manages to slam the brakes just in time to avoid running her over. A crowd gathers and Boss Kim freaks out as Ji-oh checks on Gu-reum. He pumps her chest a few times, but there is no reaction.
Despite knowing that he has an audience, Ji-oh sends an electric shock through his arms, acting as a defibrillator. He focuses and tries it a second time – his arms glow red and the stronger voltage brings her back to life. Just before she regains consciousness, we get a glimpse of the past where a young girl was hit by a similar jolt of lightning.
Ji-oh carries her to the sidewalk and slips away through the crowd. Her vision is blurry as she tries to focus on Ji-oh’s face, and she finds Captain Choi staring at her worriedly instead. A video of the incident is placed online and a man recognizes that it’s Ji-oh despite his face not being captured.
At Human Tech, Sohn lies in the operating room in exhaustion and asks, “How much longer do I have to do this?” Joong-kwon answers that he must get the shots every two weeks for the rest of his life, or he’ll lose his right arm.
Sohn glances at Joong-kwon’s right hand (which he habitually clutches towards his body) and asks if life is still worth living without control of his arm. The scientist answers that he no longer notices it anymore and warns Sohn before sticking the syringe in his neck. He misses a call from “A-01.”
Captain Choi finds Gu-reum watching the video online, trying to get a better look at her savior. He tosses her a flashdrive with footage of the incident and gives her the intel that Ji-oh works at Dagyeong Resources and is working tonight.
She hesitates because she’s also on duty, but the captain hands her some money and tells her to treat her hero with drinks. Gu-reum declines, but Captain Choi genuinely insists that she’s part of the team now. He asks if she’s touched, but she lies that she’s just thinking of what to buy. Aw, they’ll end up being a great duo, won’t they?
Meanwhile, Joong-kwon and Cheol-soo have also seen the video of Ji-oh using his powers. Cheol-soo rejoices, as Ji-oh’s been in hiding for a year. He tells Joong-kwon that the lab is only being funded to produce another product like Ji-oh.
Joong-kwon’s reaction is much more subdued, and he mumbles about Ji-oh being an unfinished product that requires monitoring. Cheol-soo’s only concerned with keeping investors happy and wants to dissect Ji-oh to create a better version. Joong-kwon refuses to do it but the bottom line is, they need to get Ji-oh back or their research days are over.
Cheol-soo dispatches Sohn and two other guys, Hwang-shik and Tae-oh, to capture Ji-oh. Hwang-shik wonders what kind of person requires all three of them to work together when they usually operate alone, but Sohn warns that their target is a monster. Others before them have lost their lives by not taking him seriously.
Sohn recalls the fight from last year – he was the one who stabbed Ji-oh from behind. In return, Ji-oh’s eyes turned blue and he burned Sohn’s right arm by releasing a powerful surge of energy.
Hwang-shik cuts off the security cams when they arrive at the incineration plant and they begin to close in on Ji-oh.
Ji-oh’s in the office chatting with Mr. Kim, who’s proud of him for saving someone since it means that he can show affection. The older man considers Ji-oh like a son he never had and is surprised that Ji-oh has no plans to start a family of his own.
“Humans have families because they’re not strong enough to live alone,” Ji-oh says. “Because they’re weak, they stick together and help each other out.” This mindset baffles Mr. Kim, but they both chuckle as Ji-oh pours him a drink.
Ji-oh feels that something’s off when the hairs on his arm stand upright. When Mr. Kim opens the office door, he comes face-to-face with Hwang-shik who smashes the elderly man’s head against the wall.
Sohn saunters in and comments that it’s been a while. Ji-oh remembers him from the night he woke up with no memories and Tae-oh knocks him down while he’s still processing this information. Sohn and Tae-oh manage to grab Ji-oh since he’s unable to put up much of a fight. However, Ji-oh begins to resist when he watches Hwang-shik drag Mr. Kim towards the incinerator.
Mr. Kim urges him to run away even in the face of death, and Hwang-shik pushes the man into the fire. This ignites something within Ji-oh, who blasts Sohn and Tae-oh off of him before they’re able to give him a shot. Ji-oh escapes through the back door and drives off, but Hwang-shik manages to ram their truck into the side of his vehicle.
By the time they look inside the driver’s seat, Ji-oh has already scaled up a fence and is running through the forest beside the incineration plant. He goes into hiding but accidentally steps on a branch, alerting the pursuers of his location.
Ji-oh sprints ahead but trips and rolls off the side of the path. Luckily, the guys don’t see him so he heads the opposite way. Once everyone’s drenched in sweat with no luck of finding their target, Sohn says they should visit Ji-oh’s place, since prey have a tendency to hide in their own homes when being chased.
Gu-reum visits Dagyeong intending to thank Ji-oh for saving her, so the boss takes her inside. He finds it odd that Mr. Kim and Ji-oh left without turning off the incinerator and recoils in shock to see a human body inside the fire pit.
The police are called and the boss explains the situation to Captain Choi. The body has been charred beyond recognition, so the boss is unable to identify which employee it is. The team finds it suspicious that the security cams were cut, and the captain feels that whichever person is alive is the suspect. He sends Gu-reum and Detective Kim to scope out Ji-oh’s place.
Ji-oh’s at home packing his few belongings into a backpack before heading back out. The Human Tech guys are already in the area and they lie in wait before chasing Ji-oh up the stairs. Ji-oh makes a run for it and they fly from rooftop to rooftop before ending up in a labyrinth of alleys within the neighborhood.
Ever so resourceful, Ji-oh grabs metal pipes off the street to ward off his pursuers, but Sohn has the same idea and smashes a glass window on his head. Detective Kim stops the car abruptly when someone jumps out in front of them, and Gu-reum recognizes Ji-oh.
Sohn chases him away, so Gu-reum runs after them until she loses sight of the men when she nearly gets hit by a truck for the second time that day. Gu-reum calls for backup and searches the surrounding area.
Ji-oh hides out on another rooftop (why do they keep escaping onto rooftops in this show?) but is cornered by Sohn – there’s nowhere else for him to go. Sohn overpowers him easily even with his injured hand and slashes both of Ji-oh’s legs with a knife, daring him to try to run.
“Why on earth are you doing this to me?” Ji-oh asks as he struggles to get up. “Because you won’t listen. I asked you to come quietly,” Sohn responds. Ji-oh struggles to fight back, placing his hand on Sohn’s arm. This position is eerily similar to when Ji-oh injured Sohn during their last fight.
When Sohn sees electricity flowing from Ji-oh’s hands, he kicks him off the ledge of the high-rise building. Gu-reum hears the screaming and watches in horror as Ji-oh falls to the ground. However, like the baby from the opening, Ji-oh’s eyes turn blue and a force field is formed, breaking his fall and causing total destruction in the area below him.
So from what we know, this is what’s happening behind the closed doors of Human Tech: Children are being sacrificed by mothers who seem to be brainwashed by a cult religion. Through a series of experiments and testing on animals ranging from mice to dolphins, researchers are hoping to master the separation of cells, presumably to enhance the children’s human abilities. It has only been successful on one experiment: Z-0, a.k.a. Ji-oh. However, Joong-kwon’s co-researcher apparently left the facility and they haven’t been able to replicate the success of creating someone like Ji-oh since. I still don’t understand what that means since all talks about the “final product” were kept pretty vague.
For what purpose are they conducting this research – are they trying to build an army? What are Ji-oh’s powers meant to be used for? He told the audience that he always woke up in strange places with no memories, but it seems that since he ran away from Human Tech after that fight a year ago, he’s been able to lead a normal life. It makes me think that the memory loss was due to them tampering with him. I wonder how Ji-oh’s stance on animal testing will change once he realizes that he was also a test subject.
Gu-reum seems to have a personal connection with the case that she has been investigating, and every missing or deceased person on her list likely has something to do with Human Tech. She’s getting closer to the truth now and I’m hoping that her persistence in digging for answers sheds some light on this otherwise very confusing situation. The investors behind Human Tech are definitely up to no good, with how flippant Jung-ah was concerning the lives of others. The scene of the cult-like ceremony gave me flashbacks to Rescue Me and I am curious about what they believe in as a group. It’s not easy to get expecting mothers to be so on board with sacrificing their children!
Joong-kwon doesn’t seem like an antagonist in this story although I truly thought he was evil during the opening. As we got to know him better, it’s clear that he’s here in the name of science and is passionate about his project. For someone who cares so much about his research though, he didn’t seem ecstatic to hear that Ji-oh has been found. There’s also the man who recognized Ji-oh through the video, as well as the one who tossed the baby into the hole years ago. It seems that in addition to Mr. Kim, there may be more people who care about Ji-oh than he’s aware of. Although Ji-oh seems to lack sympathy, his act of saving Gu-reum at the cost of outing himself proves that he has a good heart. I’m looking forward to see how his story unfolds.