Sisyphus: Episode 1
JTBC’s 10th anniversary special drama has arrived, and the first episode of Sisyphus plows out the gate at lightning speed. Chases, crashes, and life-threatening events all happen within the hour as our cheeky genius engineer and mysterious woman on a mission face dangers and survive against all odds. Something nefarious is happening underfoot in this world, but the more our hero learns, the less he seems to truly understand.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A blue light pulses in the back as a man wakes his daughter, KANG SEO-HAE (Park Shin-hye). Inside what looks like a futuristic bunker, people line up on either side of the pair, grabbing suitcases and waiting for their turn to be marked. A guard comes around to give Seo-hae her number, but only for her since Dad isn’t going.
Before she leaves, Dad orders Seo-hae to repeat the advice he drilled into her: first, run as soon as she arrives and don’t get caught; second, trust no one; and third, never meet Han Tae-sool. She asks what will happen to Mom if she follows the third rule, but Dad doesn’t budge: “Everyone dies.”
With tears streaming down her face, Seo-hae refuses to go without him, but Dad tells her that the new place will have lots of food and even fresh fruit. Ignoring the guard badgering them to hurry, Dad makes her promise to be happy, and Seo-hae nods.
The blue light flashes a bright white, and Seo-hae wakes up on a pile of garbage next to a train track. After stealing some nearby laundry, she grabs her suitcase and walks along the rocky road until she arrives at an empty train station.
A buzzing noise catches her attention, and Seo-hae looks up in shock as a drone aims a spotlight on her. Suddenly, the lights turn on, and a crowd of suited people aim their weapons at her. She dashes underneath a train, but as she makes her escape, her pursuers spot her and give chase.
Lugging her suitcase, Seo-hae weaves through the trains, but the pursuers use their machines to find her. Locating the area with the highest reading, they approach the underside of a train with their guns raised, but Seo-hae is above them, not below. She slinks on top with her suitcase in tow, and despite her pursuers circling in on her, Seo-hae sits for a moment to feel the breeze.
Inside a plane, a first-class passenger yells at a flight attendant over a bowl of ramyun. He orders her to eat his leftovers, but another passenger films the entire exchange and intervenes. The jerk passenger grunts at the interloper, and the man introduces himself as the hotshot on the cover of “Eorbes” magazine, CEO of Quantum and Time HAN TAE-SOOL (Jo Seung-woo).
Tae-sool casually flirts with the flight attendant before putting the jerk passenger in his place and returns to his seat where his older brother HAN TAE-SAN (Heo Joon-seok) snaps a photo of him. As Tae-san rambles about something he read in the news, he asks why Tae-sool is ignoring him, and Tae-sool replies, “Because you’re dead.”
After taking his pills, Tae-sool looks over at the now-empty seat, lost in thought, when the plane lurches forward. The captain makes an announcement about turbulence, but right then, an object hits the plane, sending the captain hurling towards the glass. A second object flies by—looking eerily like a body—and the plane makes its dangerous descent.
Tae-sool realizes that something is wrong and gets up from his seat to check it out. In the mayhem, a suitcase falls on top of him, and he falls to the ground. Memories of his past flash by in a blur as he loses consciousness, but Tae-sool hears his brother call his name and fights to stay awake.
Wincing through the pain, Tae-sool stumbles into the cockpit and revives the copilot who mumbles about a person. Using duct tape, he fixes the hole in the glass which at least allows them to breath. Unfortunately, the plane is still falling at a dangerous speed, and the control panel lost electricity.
With only three and half minutes before their untimely end, Tae-sool starts tearing apart the cockpit to restore power to the control panel. Amidst the chaos, his phone rings, and Tae-sool answers a call from his friend and business partner KIM SEUNG-BOK (Tae In-ho).
Seung-bok scolds him for missing the board meeting, but Tae-sool has a bigger problem on his hand: a plane is about to crash into Seoul. Seung-bok tells him to stop joking, but a quick online search verifies his claim.
Switching the call to video, Tae-sool orders his friend to record their conversation and recites his will. He is donating half his wealth to charity while the other half will go to the company’s research funds. As for his penthouse, he’ll leave that to Seung-bok, and his bodyguard Yeo Bong-sun gets his cars.
Tae-sool also has a private task for Seung-bok, telling him about the safe in his closet that needs to be destroyed. Since he might die, Tae-sool makes one last confession to his friend: he was the one who went on that trip with his ex-girlfriend. Pfft.
While the board members murmur about their missing CEO, Seung-bok turns on the news and informs everyone of Tae-sool’s predicament. The plane zooms by the office building, and inside the cockpit, Tae-sool prepares for their rough landing.
As he holds the wires in his hands, Tae-san appears in the back and tells him that he will die without proper safety equipment. Tae-sool quips back that they will get to see each other soon and presses the exposed wires to a magnet just as time runs out.
Scenes of Tae-sool and Tae-san from their childhood to their young adult years flash on screen as people wheel Tae-sool away. Gasping, he wakes up in a hospital bed… one month after the accident. The news covers the story of the CEO’s miraculous recovery, and the public hails him as a hero.
Resting at home, Tae-sool reads one of the many fan letters sent to him, but Seung-bok is unamused by his lax attitude. He tosses him an envelope containing the board’s decision to axe Tae-sool if he continues to harm the company and begs him to attend future meetings.
Tae-sool asks what troubles he caused, so Seung-bok pulls out a drawer containing all of his pills. He calls him a drug addict who needs therapy and tells him to pull himself together. Seung-bok knows his friend is a good person who would risk his life for others, but Tae-sool says that he never intended to save all those people.
Tae-sool attends a counseling session with Dr. KIM SEO-JIN (Jung Hye-in), expecting nothing more than a quick chat and prescription. However, the board requested reports on his progress, and Seo-jin tells Tae-sool that he will need to stay the full amount.
He decides to humor her, pointing out that she was the one who dumped him, but Seo-jin reminds him that he was the one who went on a vacation with an idol. He admits defeat, and Seo-jin continues their session.
She asks about his older brother, and immediately, the carefree attitude disappears as Tae-sool puts a stop to her questions. Seo-jin pushes forward, asking if he regrets his last moments with Tae-san, and Tae-sool thinks back to that evening.
While Tae-sool attended a celebratory party for his company, Tae-san interrupted the festivities with his frantic cries. Tae-sool stepped out to talk with him, but smelling the alcohol on his breath, he ignored his brother’s warnings about people with suitcases from different worlds.
Fed up with his brother’s antics, Tae-sool pushed him to the ground and threw him an envelope filled with cash. As Tae-sool took his place on stage, Tae-san walked the streets alone, giving up the money to a homeless man.
Bong-sun notices Tae-sool’s foul mood after his counseling session, but since the latter doesn’t want to talk about it, he drives in silence until they reach the house. As Bong-sun pulls up, a man jumps in front of the car, nearly causing an accident.
Tae-sool recognizes the beat-up man as the copilot and wonders what happened to him. The copilot asks if he is part of the Control Bureau and looks around nervously. When Tae-sool looks confused by the question, the copilot hands him a USB and runs away.
At home, Tae-sool plugs the USB into his computer and watches the footage from the plane’s black box. He jumps back in shock when the suitcase hits the plane, and then seconds later, another more pressing object catches his attention: a human body. He zooms in on the person, and despite the blurry image, he is convinced that it is his brother.
Meanwhile, a restaurant owner closes up shop for the night but notices a few missing bills. He accuses his employee SUN (Chae Jong-hyub) for stealing, but Sun vehemently denies it. However, as soon as the owner leaves, Sun takes out the stolen cash and giggles to himself.
While tidying up the restaurant, Sun talks with someone over the phone and promises to send them money. As he laments his fate, he overhears something rustling around the garbage and charges toward the sound expecting stray cats.
He freezes when he spots Seo-hae digging through the trash and asks what she is doing. Brandishing his kitchen knife, he wonders if she is a foreigner, but Seo-hae quickly turns the tables as she disarms him and threatens him with his own weapon.
Demanding food, Seo-hae gains entry into the restaurant where she scarfs down noodles and eats bananas whole—peel and all. Sun calls the police to report the strange woman, but one glare from Seo-hae sends shivers down his spine, forcing him to hang up.
Resigned to his odd predicament, Sun continues his work and watches the lottery drawing on tv. When his first two numbers don’t match, he crumples up his ticket, but his ears perk up when Seo-hae correctly guesses the rest of the numbers.
In his haste, Sun changes the channel as he approaches Seo-hae, but her attention turns to the news report about Tae-sool. As she whispers his name, she starts flickering, and the electricity in the room goes out. When the lights return, Sun finds Seo-hae unconscious on the floor with a nosebleed.
The next morning, she wakes up in Sun’s room and quickly searches for her suitcase. After making sure her stuff is all there—particularly her blue, glowing jars—Seo-hae sighs in relief and takes out an old journal and a locket.
During breakfast, Sun teaches Seo-hae how to eat a banana and cautiously hands her a lottery ticket, hoping for another miracle like last night. Unfortunately for our sticky-fingers friend, Seo-hae has more important business and asks him to call Tae-sool.
Tae-sool obtains a report on the flight accident, and after running some calculations, he deduces the location of his goal to Gimpo. In the morning, he skirts his duties as CEO and drives out to an empty field by himself. Grabbing some flags, he follows the map he made and places the markers to outline the perimeter of the calculated area.
Flashing back to the counseling session, Seo-jin warned him against avoiding his problems, and Tae-sool snapped, confessing that he regretted that moment every day. After the party, he rushed to the hospital only to be met with his brother’s unrecognizable dead body. The only thing left was Tae-san’s bag, and Tae-sool broke down when he found a photo of them inside his notebook.
Tae-sool told Seo-jin that he missed Tae-san every day, and no matter how much he knew that the past couldn’t change, it never eased his pain. He pleaded with Seo-jin for his medicine since the pain would kill him otherwise.
Sun calls the Quantum and Time customer service line for Seo-hae, and though she can’t reach Tae-sool directly, she does get transferred to a voice recording where she leaves a message for him. She warns him about the people chasing after him and tells him not to trust anyone.
Elsewhere, the copilot returns to his car, unaware of the leak coming from the bottom. Before he starts the engine, he receives a call from a reporter and sets up an appointment to meet today.
Back at Sun’s place, Seo-hae flips open the journal to an entry dated August 13, 2020. It says not to open the suitcase, and Seo-hae passes along the message to Tae-sool. She tells him to wait until she finds him, but the recording ends since she reached the time limit.
Standing in the field, Tae-sool stumbles across a suitcase and sees the lock. He remembers his first Quantum and Time office his brother bought for him and recalls Tae-san’s words that day: “All of my passwords are your birthday.”
Meanwhile, the copilot stares at his family photo as tears pool in his eyes. He turns the key to his car, and instantly, the vehicle blows up.
Despite how crazy this all seems, Tae-sool wonders if it is really Tae-san and inputs his birthday into the lock. When he hears the click, he lets out a sigh and leans back as he cautiously opens the suitcase.
What an interesting and atmospheric first entry into the world of Sisyphus. The first episode creates enough tension and mystery to draw in its viewers without feeling too bare or confusing. Though there is still much to explore, the first episode concentrates on its leads and familiarizing its audience to them. While the main entities and plot are still hidden, the show reveals just enough to put its viewers into Tae-sool’s shoes as he stands on the precipice of discovering a well-kept secret that’s bound to shake his world. Exactly what this secret might be, your guess is as good as mine, but clearly, not all is as they appear.
The majority of this episode was dedicated to introducing Han Tae-sool, the genius (wannabe) playboy who hides his pain behind his devil-may-care attitude. He is cheeky and reckless but he is also courageous and sharp. Immediately, the show establishes him as the hero, and we watch him come to the aid of a flight attendant who’s being harassed by a passenger. If that wasn’t enough, he then saves an entire airplane while maintaining his impish smile and humor. However, Tae-sool nurses a grieving heart, and from the (rather unethical) counseling scene, he still feels guilt and regret over his brother’s death. Since it’s only the beginning, the show gives a brief glimpse into the brothers’ relationship, and somewhere down the line, a rift formed between them. From Tae-sool’s perspective, it appears as if he turned away from Tae-san and chose the life of success over family, which somehow led to his brother’s death. He blames himself for not being kind that day as if he could have saved Tae-san if he kept him at the party, but I doubt the truth is that simple.
Tae-san’s warnings that day sounded like delusional conspiracy theories, but with everything that has happened so far, it seems that he was the truly sane one. It’s too early to believe the body in the sky was Tae-san since Tae-sool is seeing apparitions of his brother everywhere, and the image was much too blurry to identify. However, the birthday password couldn’t have been a coincidence which means Tae-san is connected to these series of events. Since the body was unrecognizable, there’s a chance for hyung to be alive, which raises even more questions about Tae-san and why everyone is looking for Tae-sool.
Several hints were dropped throughout the episode about time travel, and even for those who weren’t aware of the synopsis, time travel probably popped up in your head as a possible explanation for Seo-hae’s appearance. The future looked grungy with hordes of people waiting to return to the past, which suggests that their world is in worse shape than ours. However, judging from the scene where Seo-hae flickered in the restaurant, her presence in the current timeline isn’t stable, and since people are chasing her, maybe she isn’t supposed to be here at all. Unlike Tae-sool, the show revealed very little about Seo-hae except for the fact that she’s on a mission: meet Tae-sool and intervene. She ignored her dad’s advice, but from their brief conversation, it seems that our hero is linked to her mom’s survival. Though we know very little about Seo-hae, I like the concept of a female guardian angel ready to kick some butt and save the hero. While Tae-sool is capable of protecting himself with the use of his big brain, I doubt he’ll stand much of a chance in physical confrontations. Fortunately, Seo-hae can carry around a suitcase half her size while running barefoot on gravel and easily disarm scared puppies. She might be outnumbered, but something about Tae-sool partnering with Seo-hae makes me think they would make a formidable team.
For the most part, the main draw of this first episode wasn’t about the episode itself (which was still fun) but the hints to future plots. After I finished watching, I immediately wanted the next one, not necessarily because the cliffhanger was amazing but because I was interested in the world of Sisyphus. I want to know who Seo-hae is and why Tae-sool is so important. Though some of the sequences were a bit cheesy and a bit of the characterizations leaned on tropes, the overall mystery behind this world and the conspiracy lurking in the shadows feel intriguing. While I tend to avoid stories about time travel because they get messy and convoluted, here’s hoping that Sisyphus delivers a fun and tightly-written plot that will have us at the edge of our seats waiting for more.