Happiness: Episode 1
A solid opening for tvN’s newest thriller Happiness which centers on a virus outbreak, a topic that hits much closer to home these days. Except this virus gives the infected a hunger for human flesh, so there’s that. This episode sets up the outbreak but also takes the time to introduce us to our likable main duo. Han Hyo-joo and Park Hyung-shik, two high school friends now in the police force, find themselves caught up in a mysterious murder case with disturbing implications.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open on officer KIM JUNG-KOOK (Lee Jun-hyuk) trying to talk down a teenaged JUNG YI-HYUN (Park Hyung-shik) who is calmly sitting on the edge of his school roof. Everyone assumes he’s suicidal after hurting his leg badly enough that his baseball career is shot.
Fellow classmate YOON SAE-BOM (Han Hyo-joo) makes her way onto the rooftop and tells Jung-kook she’s got this. She hops onto the ledge and plops down next to Yi-hyun, complaining that she’s stuck at school because of him. Yi-hyun sighs that they’re making a big deal out of nothing – he only came up for some air, and then some idiot called the cops.
Sae-bom asks if baseball is that important to him. He says it’s all he knows how to do, and now he’ll never do it again. What’s he supposed to do with his life? Sae-bom looks supremely unbothered and shares she’s never been good at anything, and she’s fine. Ha.
She reminds him the future is full of possibilities for them. “You’ve got nothing to lose,” she says as she holds out her hand. Yi-hyun scoffs but lets her help him up. “Like me,” Sae-bom finishes as she freaking PUSHES HIM OFF THE ROOF onto the inflatable safety mat below.
Yi-hyun stares at her in shock as he falls, but he smiles when he hits the mat. Above, Sae-bom explains to the open-mouthed cop that she made sure to push Yi-hyun so he’d fall onto the safety mat. Cut to her in handcuffs running over to Yi-hyun, asking him to tell the police to let her go. “Do you want to date?” Yi-hyun asks instead.
12 years later
Gunfire and sirens sound while the Special Operation Unit [SOU] of the police force swarms a building. Adult Sae-bom helps carry in a wounded officer and yells at the newbie to begin treatment. He diagnoses a collapsed lung and hesitates before plunging the needle into the man’s chest.
When the officer starts convulsing, the terrified newbie begins chest compressions. The officer stops him and sits up, taking off his medical vest and admonishing the newbie for jabbing the clavicle. Sae-bom deducts points, calling the new recruit slow and indecisive.
Officer Seung-young recalls their own training years ago. Sae-bom had unhesitatingly drove the needle into the fake victim’s chest … except he wasn’t wearing protective gear. Seung-young notes they wear these protective vests now thanks to her decisiveness.
Meanwhile, a motel staff member investigates a strange banging in one of the rooms. When no one answers, he lets himself in. He’s pulled into the room, and the door slams closed. Ominous zombie-esque sounds ensue.
As Yi-hyun drives, a radio announcer talks about how nice it is to not wear masks anymore after COVID. Yi-hyun arrives at the motel – which is now a murder scene – wearing a baseball uniform, although he only plays as a hobby. Yi-hyun is also a cop and works alongside Jung-kook.
He and Jung-kook are assigned to the motel case and begin investigating the scene. Sae-bom would appreciate Yi-hyun’s decisiveness as he takes the lead and thoroughly checks the room. He opens every door and even peeks under the bed.
Jung-kook thinks Yi-hyun is messing with him when he calmly orders, “Come out.” Then Jung-kook leans down and sees the bloodied culprit staring back at him. The man sits docilely on the bed and says his memory is fuzzy. He experienced the murder as if in a dream.
When Yi-hyun asks how he killed the man, the culprit oddly says he was thirsty. Yi-hyun sees his bloody teeth and pries open the culprit’s mouth. “Did you bite him?!” he asks.
Elsewhere, Sae-bom and Seung-young eat at the cafeteria. She sees a notice about a new apartment complex where three units are being awarded to lucky police officers of merit. While Sae-bom tries to think of a way she could score one of the units, she gets a call from Yi-hyun.
He gives her a heads up that the culprit in his case mentioned getting drugs from one of the SOU’s new recruits named Jong-tae. It’s the kid who botched the training earlier. Sae-bom has apartments on the brain and sees this as an opportunity to prove her merit and put herself in the running.
Sae-bom takes off to find Jong-tae and stops outside of a door. Through the window, she sees what looks like two men having sexy times on the floor. Seung-young comes up behind her, and they bust into the room to break it up.
Jong-tae doesn’t respond to their commands, and it becomes clear there’s something amiss when he bites a chunk out of the neck of the other man. Sae-bom whips out her gun at the site of the bloody-mouthed, growling Jong-tae and shoots him in the knee.
Nothing seems to impede Jong-tae, so all they can do is go on the defensive. Sae-bom yells at Seung-young to take the wounded man to safety while she holds off Jong-tae. She keeps him at bay and even shoots him again, but like all respectable zombies, he just keeps coming at her.
Sae-bom manages to lock Jong-tae in the room and joins Seung-young in the hall. Jong-tae bangs his head against the door window until he literally knocks himself down. Suddenly, Jong-tae sounds human again and calls out for help. Sae-bom cautiously opens the door, gun raised. Jong-tae is back to his senses and finally feels the pain from his wounds.
While she washes the blood off her hands, Sae-bom calls Yi-hyun to yell at him for failing to warn her. She asks how he managed to subdue the culprit without a gun to which Yi-hyun replies in confusion that he just reasoned with him.
Yi-hyun begins to understand and asks if Jong-tae tried to bite her. Sae-bom says he did and then notices what looks like a bite mark on her hand. Uh-oh. She thinks back to the struggle and recalls Jong-tae’s nails scratching her. Something tells me that’s not much better.
Lieutenant colonel HAN TAE-SEOK (Jo Woo-jin), a stiff military officer, approaches Sae-bom in the woman’s bathroom, flanked by mask-wearing soldiers. He informs Sae-bom that Jong-tae is believed to have an infectious disease.
Tae-seok takes her phone and tells Yi-hyun, who is still on the line, that Sae-bom will have to call him back. After Sae-bom hands over her gun to Tae-seok, the soldiers lead her to a military vehicle. Tae-seok informs Seung-young that the incident is officially an accident and must be kept confidential.
Tae-seok picks up when Yi-hyun calls Sae-bom again. He almost hangs up until Yi-hyun introduces himself as a police officer. Tae-seok tells him about Sae-bom being taken for testing and is surprised when Yi-hyun asks if this is about Jong-tae.
Yi-hyun explains about his current case, and Tae-seok immediately heads over to the precinct. He tells Yi-hyun that only those who were bitten or scratched need to be quarantined.
While Sae-bom is taken to the quarantine site, Tae-seok shares what they know about the virus with Yi-hyun and Jung-kook. They suspect it affects the brain. Those bitten are either infected or die of blood loss.
Yi-hyun tells Tae-seok that the culprit took some pill and wonders if the symptoms could be hallucinogenic side effects. Tae-seok dismisses that idea but still wants to know if they find anything more about the drug.
Before he leaves, Tae-seok asks if Yi-hyun is playing baseball again. He had high hopes for him in high school. He’s disappointed to hear Yi-hyun still can’t run at full speed.
While Jung-kook checks up on the toxicology report, Yi-hyun scours the motel room for the drugs. He finds a pill, but it might not matter. The toxicology report came back clean, indicating Jong-tae really was infected with something.
That night, Yi-hyun stops by the baseball training academy and asks his friend for his expertise. Since he got kicked out for drugs, he thought he might know what the mystery pill is. Pfft.
His friend reluctantly takes a look and immediately notices a serial number on the pill. No illicit drug would have that. Yi-hyun lies down for a nap and tells his friend to let him know when he locates the pill in the pharmaceutical database.
At the quarantine center, Sae-bom is thoroughly examined and tested. Tae-seok comes in but doesn’t give her many answers. She wonders if she’ll become like Jong-tae and terrifies LEE JI-SOO (Park Joo-hee), the military medic examining her, by pretending to go all zombie on her.
Ever stoic and professional, Tae-seok ignores her antics and tells her to relay the details of the incident. Sae-bom describes Jong-tae’s appearance and asks if this infection is akin to rabies. Tae-seok says it’s similar.
He denies the theory that it’s related to drugs, saying the police always prefer that easy answer. Sae-bom explains she’s not a cop per se – her unit is counterterrorism.
When she asks about Jong-tae’s condition, Tae-seok says he’s recovering remarkably well. Tae-seok heads out to prepare a place for her to sleep and promises to bring Sae-bom her phone later.
Sae-bom still doesn’t have her phone and uses a landline to call Yi-hyun that night and blame him for her current predicament. They’re close enough friends that he’s already called her mother and given an excuse for why Sae-bom is unreachable.
Yi-hyun shares that Jong-tae’s drug results came back negative, but he still thinks there’s something to the drug angle. Yi-hyun promises to solve the case and encourages her to rest.
Sae-bom is locked into her room for the night and finds a barely concealed blood spot on the wall. She hears screeching and banging coming from nearby rooms. We pan out and see every room of the building occupied with infected people, all zombie-ing out except for Sae-bom.
Tae-seok goes over Sae-bom’s unusual test results, finding that she’s uninfected. She might be the first case of antibodies to the virus.
The next morning, Yi-hyun learns that the pill he found is a discontinued pneumonia medication that was developed due to COVID. It was pulled off the market because of mood and hallucinogenic side effects.
Yi-hyun’s friend doesn’t see how this drug could be responsible for the rabies-like symptoms. If the drug has been around for a while, why would these cases only pop up now?
After getting Jung-kook to trace the number Sae-bom called from, Yi-hyun heads over to the university being used as a quarantine site. Meanwhile, Ji-soo retrieves Sae-bom for more testing. Sae-bom spots Jong-tae in a room and pushes past Ji-soo to run inside.
Sae-bom barricades the door shut and promises she just needs a minute. They’ve Hannibal Lecter-ed Jong-tae, strapping a muzzle-like shield over his face. She asks if he’s okay and then checks how much he remembers from the incident.
She isn’t convinced this is a case of infection, but he denies any knowledge of the drugs he supposedly sold. Jong-tae suddenly asks for water, saying he’s thirsty. Uh-oh. Ji-soo urgently shouts from the crack in the door not to give him any.
Jong-tae powers down, closing his eyes and going non-responsive. Sae-bom leans in close, which of course is when he goes into full zombie mode and pounces on her. She holds him off until the soldiers break down the door and subdue him with what seems like a dangerous amount of electric current. Sae-bom stares straight into the security camera and asks Tae-seok if he’s watching.
Yi-hyun arrives at the site and is let through when he says he brought the pill for Tae-seok. Inside, Sae-bom bursts into Tae-seok’s little watchtower and accuses him of purposefully leading her to Jong-tae.
Tae-seok explains that infected people turn rabid after experiencing insatiable thirst, and he’s trying to discover precipitating conditions. The slow heart rate, fast healing, and inability to feel pain could be useful if controlled.
Since the public is already on edge regarding viruses, they’re doing this
terrifying military experiment research secretly. He encourages Sae-bom to take some time off. They’ll set her up wherever she wants and say she was hurt in the line of duty. She just needs to undergo blood tests every couple of weeks.
Sae-bom agrees on the condition that he gives her the highest evaluation possible so she can get one of those apartments. He agrees, noting her record is strong. Sae-bom casually says she was born to fight terrorism.
When he asks if she has a boyfriend, she says their age gap is a bit much. He clarifies that she’ll need more than a good evaluation to get that unit. Does she have plans to get married soon? Sae-bom says she can start planning now. HA, this girl is not messing around about this apartment.
Tae-seok is surprised by how unfazed she is over all this, but Sae-bom doesn’t see the point in worrying about possible implications. In the corridor, Yi-hyun comes running up to see if she’s okay. When Sae-bom pretends to bite him, Ji-soo whips out her baton and takes a fighting stance. Heh.
Sae-bom suddenly thinks to question how Yi-hyun got in and panics, thinking he was bitten. He chuckles that he’s here to save her. Yi-hyun says he’ll be right back and goes in to hand over the pills to Tae-seok. Yi-hyun assumes there’s no way the pills were the cause, but Tae-seok observes that just because something used to be harmless doesn’t mean it always will be.
When Yi-hyun strides down the hallway, Sae-bom gets this look. Ha, she’s going to use him to get that apartment, isn’t she? She mumbles that he’s been right there this whole time. Sae-bom asks if he’s dating, snores, or grinds his teeth. It’s a no on all fronts, so she asks, “Should we get married?”
Yi-hyun flashes back to that day in high school where he asked her to date him. He sighs that he already told her he was kidding back then. “I’m not,” Sae-bom says.
Although it’s not technically a zombie drama – we’re not dealing with the undead – it’s basically a zombie drama. It’s a pretty standard setup, and the military angle is making me think of Search (although I’m already feeling this one more). But what could set this drama apart and make it more interesting is its characters and the locked-in angle we’ll likely get to next episode. I really like both our leads, especially Sae-bom. She’s intense, but she’s also got this fun, offbeat energy. She’s confident and plays by her own rules, which seems to be what drew Yi-hyun to her when they were young. You know, after she pushed him off a roof. Even though we’ve mostly seen them interact through phone calls, I’m enjoying her and Yi-hyun’s friendship. They have an easy rapport and good chemistry, and I imagine they’ll make a good team once all hell breaks loose.
In this story, COVID is barely in the rearview. It’s a rather bleak outlook, following a global pandemic with a zombie virus outbreak. Despite that, the tone is not as dark or serious as I’d anticipated. So far at least, there’s a good amount of humor to balance out the horror elements. I’m curious to see if that continues once we get past the setup and into the thick of it.
One thing that I’m sure will feature prominently is Sae-bom’s seeming immunity to this virus. The report Tae-seok had on her mentioned some childhood accident, so I’m guessing that will somehow be relevant. Her antibodies make her valuable, which could be a good or bad thing depending on how the military (and, therefore, government) intends to use her. Tae-seok mentioned the usefulness of the enhancements the virus brings, so does he want to use her blood to develop a cure or is there another goal?
I’m not sure what to make of Tae-seok yet. He’s stoic but not unpleasant – he just obviously takes his job very seriously. He and Sae-bom seemed to click due to their mutual directness, but it’s hard to tell if he’s trustworthy. Him knowing about Yi-hyun’s high school baseball career could be a coincidence, but that was a tad suspicious. And as a rule, I don’t tend to trust anyone in charge of secret military research. Military experiments have a way of going horribly awry, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a hand in whatever is about to go down at this housing complex Sae-bom is obsessed with.
To say Sae-bom is goal-oriented would be an understatement. Once she sets her mind on something, she goes all in. From the moment she saw the details for those apartments, she took every opportunity to put herself in the running. She’s even trying to marry Yi-hyun for it! I don’t believe for a second Yi-hyun was kidding about his feelings as a teenager, but that was a long time ago. He could be completely over her … except this is a drama, so he’s probably madly in love with her. Whatever the case, I have a feeling they’re about to become roommates because something tells me Sae-bom is someone who gets her way.