Mouse: Episode 1
Brace yourself, folks… Mouse, tvN’s new mystery-thriller is quite a wild ride from the very beginning. I’ll warn you now, this show is very dark and disturbing, but it’s also looking to be very, very good. It asks a chilling question — if society could reliably predict that a person would become a killer before they were even born, what would we do?
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A classroom full of children visits the zoo, and they gape at the size and power of a large black snake in a glass enclosure. One little boy, who seems empty around the eyes, slips a small rat from his schoolbag and into the snake’s enclosure. The snake focuses on the rat and strikes, causing the children to run away screaming.
Only the little boy stays to watch as the snake tries to catch the rat, only to have the rat bite it in self defense. The snake shakes off the rat, which turns and, eyes shining red, launches itself at the snake again.
Five years later, that same boy is a little older when he lets himself into an empty church to ask an important question of the stained-glass Jesus: “Do I seem different to you, too? They say it’s how I was born. They say I was born different.” But no answer comes.
Ten years earlier.
A young woman is dropped off by a taxi at the bottom of a very steep hill in the middle of a snowstorm. She uses a phone booth to call home, explaining that the road was too icy for the taxi so she’ll be walking the rest of the way.
As she hangs up, she hears a plaintive voice call out, “Unni!” There’s a small girl in the road, who cries that there was an accident and her father is still in the car nearby. The young woman approaches the car, but when she opens the door, the driver attacks her. She begs for her life in vain, as nearby, the little girl sobs at the violent scene.
A week later, a diver finds the headless body of the young woman in the ocean, with a series of letters and numbers marked on her hand. She’s identified as the latest victim of a serial killer known as the Head Hunter.
In England, one year later, a scientist named DANIEL LEE (Jo Jae-yoon) gives a lecture in which he mentions that he’s identified a gene that’s present in the DNA of psychopaths (a personality disorder characterized by lack of empathy for others). Daniel predicts that soon, we will be able to predict whether an unborn child might be a murderer based simply on the presence of this gene.
Daniel is called back to Korea by the president, who is determined to stop the Head Hunter’s 18-body killing spree. Daniel gives a speech about his DNA findings, including the fact that one percent of people with the psychopath gene become murderers. Unfortunately, his test only has a 99% success rating, with the other 1% of detected genes denoting that the person will be a genius.
The problem is that the genes for genius and psychopath are too similar for Daniel to differentiate. This means that, in the effort to eliminate psychopaths, potential geniuses would also be killed. The issue on the table is whether the government can force a mother to have an abortion if the psychopath gene is detected, and ultimately the proposal is shot down.
That evening, Daniel goes to visit an old friend, HAN SEO-JOON (Ahn Jae-wook), whose wife JI-EUN (Kim Jung-nan) is hugely pregnant with their first child. The couple appear very much in love, with Seo-joon doting on Ji-eun and Ji-eun clearly returning his affections, though Daniel looks a bit sad when he sees their wedding photos.
As it turns out, this is because Daniel’s sister, Jennifer, was Seo-joon’s first love, who died seven years ago and in a random mugging. Seo-joon looks sad when the subject comes up, but Daniel insists that he’s thrilled to see Seo-joon married and happy. Seo-joon drives Daniel to his hotel, promising to visit him in England soon.
At the same time, a family of four are traveling through the area, and after getting briefly lost and asking another driver for directions, they stop at a campground for the night. Unfortunately, the ceiling in the kitchen caved in from the snow, so the campground is closed. The family decides to stay anyway and just rough it.
The father steps away from the campsite to get water, and he hears his wife crying out. There’s an ominous-looking figure looming over her with a knife as she begs for her life, so her husband jumps at her attacker and yells for her to run. She races back to their van and tries to drive away with their boys, Moo-won and Moo-chi, but the van won’t start.
Mom spots her attacker walking their way, so she pushes the boys down to hide. She tells Moo-won, the elder boy, to hide with Moo-chi in a hidden cupboard and to protect his little brother, no matter what he hears. Then, after uttering a small but fervent prayer, she goes out into the night.
The boys hide, but moments later, the attacker reaches the van and tries to break in. Mom distracts him and leads him away from the van, only to get caught and stabbed several times. Despite her best efforts, the attacker quickly disables her and heads back to the van, where the boys are now out of hiding and screaming for their mother.
Moo-won locks little Moo-chi into a suitcase and shoves it under a bench, then tries to hide himself. It works too well — the attacker finds Moo-chi’s suitcase first and starts to break it open. Remembering his promise to protect his little brother, Moo-won comes out of hiding and tries to lead the attacker out of the van. But he’s caught, and the attacker hits him over, and over, and over…
Later that night, detective PARK DOO-SEOK (Ahn Nae-sang) is called to the hospital to talk to young Moo-chi, who is in deep shock. Both of his parents were murdered (though their bodies have disappeared), and Moo-won is gravely hurt and in surgery.
Detective Park, whose own daughter was taken by the Head Hunter years ago, tries to get Moo-chi to say whether he saw the killer’s face. When Moo-chi can’t speak, he yells at the little boy and scares him even worse. As he’s being pulled away, Moo-chi sees something that makes him scream… he points at a picture on the wall and yells, “It’s him!”
Ji-eun wakes up late, still alone in bed, and goes out to look for Seo-joon. He comes in with an armload of firewood, and Ji-eun smiles at the family of snowmen he’s build in the front yard. Seo-joon had earlier told Daniel he would terminate the pregnancy if their baby had the psychopath gene, but now Ji-eun says she’s not sure what she would do.
Suddenly, several police cars come screaming into their driveway. Detective Park orders the house searched and arrests Seo-joon at gunpoint, growling that he’s the Head Hunter. As it turns out, the photo that Moo-chi pointed out as his family’s attacker was one of Seo-joon, who’s a neurosurgeon at the hospital.
While Detective Park was getting the search warrant, Moo-chi had grabbed a scalpel from an accidentally discarded surgical tray and snuck into the patrol car. Now, in the confusion, he lunges out of the car and slashed Seo-joon in the face. He tries to stab Seo-joon again, but Detective Park stops him, knocking the head off one of the snowmen in the process.
The snowman’s head smashes to the ground, and inside is a black plastic bag. One of the cops looks inside, then drops it in horror. Moo-chi sees blood in the snow, and the barrette his mother was wearing, still clipped around a lock of her hair. Oh, no. From inside, Ji-eun sees this scene, and the truth hits her like a ton of bricks.
Eventually the bodies of Moo-chi’s parents are found in Ji-eun’s greenhouse, furthering the theory that Seo-joon is the Head Hunter. To the dismay of the families of the deceased, including Detective Park, Seo-joon continues to protest his innocence and wish for the real killer to be found.
Even Daniel assures Ji-eun that Seo-joon can’t be guilty because he obviously loves her, and psychopaths can’t love anyone but themselves. But Ji-eun confronts Seo-joon in front of reporters, saying that she knows it’s him. She saw him putting the head on the snowman that contained his victim’s head, and she even has a picture as proof.
Knowing he’s caught, Seo-joon drops the innocent act, and a flashback shows that he is the one who killed Moo-chi’s parents. Ji-eun asks him tearfully why he even married her if he can’t love her, and Seo-joon sneers, “I guess you could call it my will to reproduce. I needed offspring. Han Seo-joon Junior.”
Floored, Daniel grabs Seo-joon and flings him into an interrogation room to ask if Seo-joon killed his sister. Seo-joon says emotionlessly that she still hid from him after being stabbed twenty times, so he threatened to kill her mother and Daniel if she didn’t come out. He actually laughs at the memory of how she’d looked when she crawled to him.
He snarls that he did it because she killed his baby, then brags that he kept his promise not to hurt her family. He finishes his story with, “The pleading look in her eyes couldn’t have been sexier,” leaving Daniel sobbing on his knees.
Later, Daniel offers to run his genetic test on Ji-eun’s unborn baby, and she takes him up on it. When the results come back, Ji-eun can tell from Daniels’ expression that her baby has the psychopath gene. She freaks out and shrieks for an abortion, unwilling to bet on the chances that her baby is that one percent who’s a genius, but Daniel calmly reminds her that she’s too far along.
In the hallway, another pregnant woman approaches Ji-eun and explains that her husband worked with Daniel in England. To help, she’d volunteered to have her baby tested, and her husband had told her that their baby was normal. She’d found out that he’d lied to her, not wanting to scare her.
She could still end the pregnancy, but sadly, her husband died recently in an accident. The woman tells Ji-eun that the baby is all she has left of him, and that he was a good man, so she doesn’t believe her baby is a psychopath. Unfortunately, Ji-eun doesn’t have that assurance of her baby’s father being a good person.
Seo-joon is sentenced to death, and as he waits for his sentence to be carried out, he lives out his time in prison. Five years later, he reads a news article that Daniel is back in Korea, and he mails his former friend two live rats in a box. Elsewhere, a little boy named JAE-HOON (Kim Kang-hoon) also has a fascination with rats, and he catches one to take to the zoo to set free in the snake enclosure.
When Jae-hoon is older, his teacher becomes worried for his mental health when he kills the class rabbit. He says that he wasn’t trying to kill it, he only wanted to see if it had gained weight or was pregnant. He’s scratching his arm to shreds, and when his teacher asks why, Jae-hoon says blandly, “I’m annoyed at the other kids but I can’t take it out on them, so I’m taking it out on me.” She mentions that the other kids aren’t there, and Jae-hoon says that the way she’s looking at him, like he’s weird, is annoying him.
The teacher calls in Jae-hoon’s stepfather, and she tells him that a recent IQ test puts Jae-hoon well above genius level, but that she’s worried about his mental state. She recommends therapy, but Stepdad takes offense. He drags Jae-hoon into an alley after school and slaps him, hard, then calls his mother to complain that Jae-hoon humiliated him.
Jae-hoon has two younger siblings, a brother named Jae-min and a sister named Jae-hee who seems to be mentally disabled. Jae-min sees Jae-hoon pouring ammonia into his stepfather’s fish tank and begs him not to kill his dad’s favorite fish, but Jae-hoon pushes him aside and continues. He takes his stepfather’s dog, Choco, and warns Jae-min not to tattle: “Tattletales are the worst people in the whole wide world.”
When Stepdad gets home, he finds his fish dead and Jae-min reluctant to say anything, only for Jae-hee to repeat her brothers’ conversation word-for-word. Stepdad goes looking for Jae-hoon, and when he arrives at the park, he finds his dog Choco floating dead in the pond. He finds Jae-hoon and drags him home to beat him, calling him an “evil bastard.”
Later, a bruised Jae-hoon asks Jae-min if he wants to go see Choco, then leads his brother to a small grave in a wooded area. While Jae-min is praying, Jae-hoon pushes him into a hole that he dug and accuses him of tattling. Jae-min wails that he didn’t say anything, but Jae-min intones that he needs to be punished and begins to shovel dirt into the hole.
Thankfully, their mother finds them in time. She shoves Jae-hoon to the ground, helps Jae-min out of the hole, then starts to choke Jae-hoon and tell him to “Die! Monsters like you need to die. You monster! I never should have given birth to you!” Jae-hoon looks up at his mother… and it’s Ji-eun.
Jae-hoon somehow escapes and goes to the church where we first saw him. He asks Jesus if he’s really different, and if he was really born a monster. In voiceover he tells us that he prayed not to become a monster, but fifteen years later, Jesus had never answered his prayer and he ended up a killer.
One last flashback shows Jae-hoon standing over his stepfather’s body, while Jae-min and Jae-hee hide. He calmly removes the knife from the man’s chest, then he slowly walks up the stairs, where his mother waits.
Well, that was… a lot of violence. Even for a K-drama. But despite all that, and the ridiculous episode length — an hour twenty-five, are they trying to kill me?? — I really have a good feeling about this show. The casting, the dark and broody cinematography, and the richly-written characters all come together to make one damn compelling premiere (and yes, unlike my last two recaps, we will be recapping this whole show!). I have one major complaint, more on that later, but all in all I’m very excited about Mouse.
I love dramas that ask philosophical questions about the human condition, and Mouse asks a great one… If we could isolate a gene that’s shared by psychopaths, would it be ethical to (in some way) prevent those people from having the opportunity to commit crimes? Even if it meant erasing their existence entirely, and even if it meant losing out on potential geniuses that could help humanity. I think the big problem with this is that, just because a person may have the same genetic makeup of famous murderers in the past, doesn’t mean that person will actually commit murder. The majority of psychopaths never kill anyone. I do think it would be helpful to know what a person’s instincts are so that, for example, a child with the genetic makeup of a psychopath can be brought up to understand what behaviors are acceptable and which ones aren’t. But to imprison someone before they’ve done anything wrong, or even to terminate pregnancies with such genetics, is a very steep, very slippery slope.
Luckily, there’s that one percent chance that the gene Ji-eun’s baby carried is the genius gene and not the psychopath gene at all, though from Jae-hoon’s behavior, he sure seems to be a killer in the making. Of course, he tells us that he grew up to be a monster, but that doesn’t have to mean he’s a serial killer, though that dead dog was sure damning and he did try to bury his little brother. And I’m not unclear whether Jae-hoon is Lee Seung-gi’s character as a child, since their names are different, though it feels like that’s where we’re going with the story. I’m just very confused on that point — who is Jae-hoon, and is he a killer or not? The show leads us to think that Jae-hoon is Seo-joon’s child, but I’m just skeptical based on previews that he grows up to be Lee Seung-gi, whose character doesn’t seem to act like a secret killer at all. Regardless, there’s a lot we don’t know about Jae-hoon, so I’m very much looking forward to the next episode, and getting more information.
My only real complaint about the premiere of Mouse is a simple one — where was Lee Seung-gi?? I just watched an hour-and-a-freaking-half long drama premiere and the main reason I’m there didn’t even show up! I get that a lot of backstory needed to be laid down, but some of the scenes could have been shorter (did we really need such a graphic family-murdering scene??) and had one scene with our leading actor at the end. But seriously, it’s not a huge complaint because otherwise I was riveted. The casting is impeccable and I almost couldn’t look away, though I admit I’m confused about where this is all going and who Lee Seung-gi’s character really is.