Jirisan: Episode 1
Our protagonist is thrust into a search mission on his first day as a Jirisan park ranger. Faced with the unpredictable nature of the mountain, our park rangers find themselves in a dilemma. With a typhoon raging around them, can they find their missing person–or are they risking their lives for someone who’s already dead?
EPISODE 1 RECAP
At the Baekdudaegan Ecological Education Museum, a man holds a presentation on Jirisan (cameo by Ryu Seung-ryong). He describes the ambivalent nature of the mountain–it alternates between bringing hope and death to its visitors. The segment concludes with the presenter describing Jirisan as a “land between this world and the next.”
It’s the year 2018, and KANG HYUN-JO (Joo Ji-hoon) arrives at the ranger station for his first day at work. However, everything is chaotic, with park rangers frantically preparing to leave. He’s able to catch JO DAE-JIN’s (Sung Dong-il) attention, but before he can formally introduce himself, Dae-jin instructs him to follow park ranger JUNG GU-YOUNG (Oh Jung-se) on a mission to find a missing boy.
As the commander of the station, Dae-jin tracks the rangers’ progress and plans their next moves from the control room, replete with aerial maps and CCTV feeds. The missing hiker is a 14-year-old boy by the name of Yeom Seung-hoon. He was last seen wearing a middle school uniform with a sky blue backpack, and it’s known he was bullied at school. Dae-jin has the park rangers search based on where the boy’s phone last had signal. As the boy left without proper hiking gear, Dae-jin estimates that the golden time of safety is around 30 hours. With 23 hours having passed, the situation is dire.
Out in the field, Hyun-jo witnesses firsthand how dangerous climbing Jirisan can be. As several rangers rappel down a cliff, a rock slide sends the rangers scrambling for cover. A ranger gets hit square in the head and he hangs in the air, unconscious and defenseless. Before any rocks can inflict greater damage, a female ranger quickly rappels down and gets him down safely. Their ranger colleagues carry him away to an ambulance.
That skilled female ranger is SEO YI-KANG (Jeon Ji-hyun), and Gu-young splits the group off by having her work with Hyun-jo. Before he leaves, Gu-young warns Hyun-jo to be careful around her as she’s infamous–her nickname is Demon Seo. Yi-kang advises Hyun-jo to stay close as it’s procedure to stay in pairs, but if he can’t keep up, she has no qualms leaving him behind.
Meanwhile, Dae-jin gets more news about an incoming typhoon. Now even the weather isn’t on their side.
Yi-kang quickly moves from one location to the next, with Hyun-jo struggling behind her. Eventually, Hyun-jo finds out that they’ve been searching around well-known suicide spots. When he asks if they’re looking for someone who’s already dead, Yi-kang snaps at him. The boy could still be alive, and their job is to make sure he’s saved before he dies. Hyun-jo is momentarily surprised by her response but then gives the tiniest smile. He calls out for Yi-kang to wait up and hurries after her.
The weather continues to worsen, and in no time at all the rangers look like they’re wading through a river rather than hiking up a mountain. At the station, Dae-jin gets report after report of impassable trails and rangers having to retreat to shelter.
The missing boy’s grandma arrives and, not wanting to worry her further, Dae-jin turns down the volume of his walkie-talkie. They take her to the night duty room so she can rest–and to keep her out of earshot.
Outside, thunder rumbles and flashes of lightning flicker. Hyun-jo loses his balance in the rain and rolls down a slope. When he finds his balance, he notices a blue backpack, the one Seung-hoon was known to carry. Yi-kang reports this to Dae-jin and tells him that the boy isn’t here. Within a notebook inside the bag, Hyun-jo finds a photo of the boy and (presumably) his parents at a wildflower habitat in Jirisan.
Yi-kang concludes that Seung-hoon could be there, so they plan on heading that way. Dae-jin warns them about the dangerous weather conditions, but before he can continue, the chief enters the room and takes over the walkie-talkie. He orders Yi-kang and Hyun-jo to come back, claiming that the boy could have already committed suicide, so the search would be futile. If Hyun-jo and Yi-kang put their lives at stake, the other rangers will need to look for them, putting even more lives in danger. He commands them to return.
Both Hyun-jo and Yi-kang want to continue the search, but Yi-kang ends up yielding to the chief’s orders. Just as Hyun-jo reluctantly follows Yi-kang’s lead, a vision of a location within the national park appears in his mind. Before he can process what he’s seen, he’s knocked out by a fallen branch.
When Hyun-jo awakens, he finds himself back at the ranger station in a room with all the other park rangers. Gu-young now has a cast on one of his arms, and he and Team Leader PARK IL-HAE (Jo Han-chul ) end up arguing. The former complains about the difficulty of their jobs, while the latter chastises him for it. Hyun-jo sits there quietly, concerned about the missing boy.
Meanwhile, Dae-jin and Yi-kang have a discussion about their next move. It’s 2 hours past the golden time, and the odds of finding Seung-hoon alive are growing slimmer by the hour. Dae-jin says they’ll look for him when the weather clears up, and that the chief had a point about searching in the middle of a typhoon. Yi-kang asks how they’ll break the news to the boy’s grandma, and Dae-jin responds that they’ll let her know the truth. He tells Yi-kang to get some rest and exits the room.
Almost immediately, Hyun-jo walks in and insists to Yi-kang that the boy is alive. She doesn’t budge since Hyun-jo doesn’t have any concrete proof, and leaves the room. Hyun-jo looks around, seeing notes on a whiteboard describing that the boy suffered from depression due to being bullied. He flips through the boy’s notebook for clues. Expenses are written down on a few pages, ranging from groceries to his grandma’s medicine.
We flashback to an injured Seung-hoon writing in that very notebook, sniffling quietly while his grandmother sleeps. The words “help me” are on a page, and in the present, Hyun-jo stares intently at the page.
Meanwhile, Yi-kang enters the night duty room to deliver the news to Seung-hoon’s grandma. His grandmother clutches her phone, apologizing through tears. The last message she received was from grandson apologizing to her. Yi-kang looks at her sadly, placing her hand on hers.
The rangers sleep, or attempt to. Outside, Yi-kang continues the search alone despite her words to Hyun-jo. It’s still raining and the wind whips up the floodwaters around her. When she successfully climbs up a peak, she’s surprised to see Hyun-jo. She reprimands him for being crazy enough to come, but he just playfully responds, “At least I’m not lonely since we both are crazy.” LOL.
He then tells her that if he stayed at the station and Seung-hoon was actually alive, he’d regret it. Yi-kang warns him one last time, but Hyun-jo is firm in his decision. She takes him along, linking the two of them with her hook. As they’re now literally connected, if something happens to one of them, the other will meet the same fate.
Back in the station, Dae-jin finds the other rangers sneaking out with their gear and stops them right before they leave. (Even Gu-young is geared up, despite his bluster about rangers needing to put themselves first.) He reprimands them for disobeying orders, only to learn that Yi-kang and Hyun-jo have already left. Before they can continue talking, Dae-jin’s assistant brings over Seung-hoon’s grandma, who has something to tell them. She shows them her phone.
As Yi-kang and Hyun-jo trek the mountain, they hear Dae-jin from their walkie-talkie and reluctantly answer. Dae-jin tells them that they’ve just received more messages from Seung-hoon.
We return to the mountain, before Seung-hoon had been declared missing. He walks through the wildflower habitat, sending his grandma the messages we saw earlier, with a few we haven’t seen before. He recounts the day his family visited the area and suggests that his grandma come with him again next time too. He also apologizes for saddening his grandma. However, some of these messages don’t go through, and Seung-hoon notices that he’s lost signal. The sky darkens above him and a heavy fog settles down, obscuring his surroundings.
Dae-jin concludes that Seung-hoon had left the flower habitat to look for reception. The boy is still alive as they’ve finally received the remaining messages and can track his phone’s movement. They’ve attempted to contact him, but it seems he’s run out of battery. Dae-jin has sent a team over, but they won’t get there fast enough. He urges Yi-kang and Hyun-jo to save Seung-hoon.
With the newfound information about Seung-hoon, the pair shift from scouring common suicide points to survival points. Since they’re past the golden time, even if Seung-hoon is alive, he’s likely in grave condition.
As Yi-kang and Hyun-jo search for the boy, Hyun-jo suddenly has another vision, with an image of upward facing twigs being particularly noticeable. He attempts to piece together what he’s seen by questioning Yi-kang. When he asks about a black rock, Yi-kang mentions Sangsuri Rock. He concludes that’s where the boy is, and though the area doesn’t have reception, he’s bent on checking it out. Yi-kang eventually agrees to the suggestion, and they set off.
As they search the area, Hyun-jo finds the boy unconscious. They relay this to Dae-jin, and then carry the boy down as quickly as possible. Luckily, they’re able to meet up with Gu-young and Il-Hae, who take turns carrying him. When they succeed in getting him to an ambulance in time, and the EMT lets the rangers know that Seung-hoon will be okay.
The message is relayed to Hyun-jo and Yi-kang know. The two of them are sprawled on the ground, exhausted but relieved. As Dae-jin calls them to come back, they both ignore him by turning off their walkie-talkies.
When they finally start heading back, we see Yi-kang leading the way and Hyun-jo once again out of breath. Yi-kang finally stops to wait for him, but also comments on how physically weak he is. She nags him to study up on Jirisan, to which Hyun-jo calls her Demon Seo LOL. As Hyun-jo catches his breath, he sees a passing couple helping each other climb. Yi-kang is annoyed that they’d come to Jirisan for a date instead of somewhere safer, and Hyun-jo jokes about holding hands. She takes it, but purposely pulls hard, ending his short break.
On another day, we see the two back at the spot they found Seung-hoon, now with a cultural resources researcher photographing the area. He asks them how they found out about this place, and Hyun-jo jokingly says the mountain told him. The man believes that’s plausible, as Jirisan has held religious importance since ancient times. Hyun-jo exclaims that the mountain wanted to save the boy, and that must be why he miraculously had cell reception in an area that shouldn’t have any. Yi-kang finds this all bogus, and she proceeds to ask the man what the twigs facing upwards inside are. He explains that they were traditionally used as tools for communication.
After the researcher leaves, Hyun-jo looks at the twigs and exclaims that they could adopt this method for the future. The twigs could be used to form a miniature model of Jirisan, which would make it helpful in communicating in areas with no reception. Yi-kang is unamused and questions him on how he knew the boy was here. With a serious expression, Hyun-jo confesses that he saw it himself. It’s also not the first time this has happened. Yi-kang laughs, not buying it, and hikes back. Hyun-jo follows her.
In the year 2020, a car stops by a ranger station; the sun’s glare obscures the passenger’s face. Inside the station, Dae-jin is holding a meeting to discuss a lost hiker case. He informs the rangers that as of today, the case is officially closed since they were unable to locate the man despite a month-long search.
Gu-young asks about the progress on finding a new hire, preferably an experienced one. He openly disses a new ranger, LEE DA-WON (Go Min-shi) with his comment. Dae-jin tells him they have a new ranger joining them and it’s someone Gu-young knows. Gu-young comes to the realization that it’s Yi-kang. He’s surprised and adamantly against the decision to reinstate her. As Da-won asks who she is, we see Yi-kang enter the office–in a wheelchair. Before Gu-young can continue voicing his disagreement, Dae-jin orders him out on patrol.
Once alone, Dae-jin and Yi-kang discuss the missing hiker case. He asks her the same question Gu-young had: “Why are you back?” Yi-kang carries on without answering him, and asks for them to search around Gaem Falls. Dae-jin doubts they’d find the hiker there since it’s the opposite direction from where he was last seen.
As Gu-young and Da-won patrol, Da-won asks him about Yi-kang. Gu-young answers in a shifty manner, but he reveals that Yi-kang and someone else were stranded in snowy weather. It was so dangerous that he, and the other rangers who went after them, almost died. When Da-won asks who the other ranger was, Dae-jin interrupts them from the walkie-talkie with a request.
Gu-young and Da-won arrive at Gaem Falls, and Gu-young grumbles about being asked to search when there’s nothing there. Da-won spots a hiking staff and Gu-young figures they’ve discovered evidence of illegal hiking, but they’re shocked to find a skull next to the gear. Searching through some of the gear, they find a name tag, revealing that the skull belongs to the missing man they had been searching for.
When Gu-young and Da-won return to the station, Gu-young is full of questions for Yi-kang. Most importantly, how did she know the hiker was there? Gu-young can’t figure out how she figured out the hiker’s location when a giant, month-long search found nothing. Yi-kang taps through an Ipad, showing them photos on the Jirisan volunteer fire department website.
In each photo, she zooms in on a marker of upward-facing twigs. Dae-jin asks if this is the same formation as the one from the incident with Seung-hoon, but she tells him that it’s a bit different. It’s a formation that only she and Hyun-jo know. It was through these marks that she was able to deduce the location of the missing hiker.
Da-won wonders if Hyun-jo is the one who set these up, considering only Yi-kang and Hyun-jo know about them. However, Dae-jin replies that that would be impossible. At a hospital, there’s a comatose patient who was admitted on December 20, 2019. It’s Hyun-jo.
Yi-kang is certain that someone has been mysteriously sending her signals. She explains to the team, “I want to know who. That’s why I returned.”
What a first episode! It was over 70 minutes, but the fast pace had me glued to the screen the entire time. The beautiful, tranquil shots of Jirisan contrasted so well with the more dangerous, foreboding ones. By the end of the episode, I was convinced the mountain was as dangerous as it was beautiful.
As someone who doesn’t know much about hiking and especially the work of park rangers, the first episode did a great job of showing viewers the ropes. It’s clear that decision making and strategic thinking is just as important as having physical capability when it comes to search missions. With each rescue mission a race against time, one wrong assumption could be the difference between life and death. The first episode highlights this, with the switch from searching through suicide spots to survial ones being the key success to finding Seung-hoon (with a psychic assist from Hyun-jo). As our rangers undercover the circumstances behind each lost hiker, I’m expecting some incoming pathos like in the writer’s other work, Signal.
In terms of our main characters, I’m liking both of them as individuals and as a set. Though Hyun-jo still has some catching up to do to match Yi-kang’s pace, he shares the same level of dedication as her–which I’m certain won over Yi-kang. Their relationship had a rocky start, but they eventually developed a trusting partnership that I really got behind. I chuckled when Hyun-jo got comfortable enough to crack jokes around Yi-kang (from calling her Demon Seo to her face, to suggesting they hold hands). Their interactions are going to be fun, and I can’t wait for more.
Speaking of our main characters, their pasts are mostly shrouded in mystery, but this episode might’ve provided some glimpses. I found it interesting that the final push for Hyun-jo and Yi-kang to look for Seung-hoon again was a result of two separate events: Hyun-jo was fixated on the boy’s cry for help, while Yi-kang seemed deeply affected by his grandma’s devastation. It’s unclear if their feelings of empathy were derived from their own past experiences, but I’ll be keeping this in the back of my mind for now.
The supporting cast is also quite likeable so far. Dae-jin’s the gruff but reliable leader. Il-hae is committed to the job, though it’s concerning we don’t get to see him at all in the future. There’s a line he says that came off incredibly self-sacrificial, where he told Hyun-jo that rangers should give their all to protect the mountain, and I dearly hope that wasn’t a foreshadowing of his own fate. As for Gu-young, he occasionally complains about the job, but I think it’s mostly a front. For example, he snuck out for the mission while still dealing with a broken arm and despite telling Hyun-jo to put himself first. I also believe his harsh attitude toward Da-won could be from seeing Hyun-jo in her, the latest newbie. Given where Hyun-jo ends up in 2020, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gu-young’s concerned about Da-won’s safety.
The way the drama plays with time is very interesting, and I have to talk about that 2020 time jump. I didn’t expect Yi-kang to be in a wheelchair and for Hyun-jo to be in a coma, all in the first episode. I know we’ll eventually get to how those events came about, so right now I’m most curious about this mysterious person (or is it an entity?) replicating the location signals. Is it possible they’ve seen the formations before through visions like Hyun-jo? If so, where does this ability even come from? There seems to be a supernatural element at play, and I wonder if Jirisan might even have a mind of its own. I’ve got a lot of questions, and I’m excited to see how it all unravels.