Hellbound: Episodes 4-6 (Series review)
Diving into the second half of this grim drama, we get some new faces with Park Jung-min and Won Jin-ah joining as two parents faced with a terrible dilemma. New Truth is going strong but not uncontested, and they find themselves on the defensive against an organization determined to reveal their true colors. The battle for the minds of the nation is intense and twisty with everything hinging on a single Hellbound.
EPISODES 4-6 REVIEW
This drama never does quite what I expect. I assumed we’d continue the story with Kyung-hoon as a protagonist, but instead, we move into Act II which features a new cast of main characters. In fact, we literally never see Kyung-hoon again. I guess his arc was over. It feels almost like a different show, but not it a bad way. This is a new era, so the shift in perspective and tone feels apt. We pick up four years after Jung-ja’s demonstration, and everyone has adjusted to this new reality of rock monsters and Hell. Creatively, we’re brought up to speed through watching a draft of a New Truth documentary on their rise over the years.
New Truth is now mainstream and runs the show with few willing to contradict them, even privately. They’ve turned places like Jung-ja’s house into “sacred sites” and created museums dedicated to “God’s divine intervention.” There’s a disturbing efficiency to their operation wherein they refer to sinners by number and coordinate their demonstrations for maximum exposure and views. They even have a program to reform the children of those taken to Hell, as if they’re tainted. And of course, Arrowhead continues their reign of terror without consequence, assaulting supposed sinners and their families. People watch what they say out of fear because there are Arrowhead spies everywhere. Although New Truth is careful not to directly link themselves to Arrowhead, they have contacts in the organization and use their services under the table.
For the most part, New Truth goes unchecked with public sentiment on their side out of fear, if nothing else. But not everyone falls in line. One brave soul who has no problem confronting New Truth head-on is BAE YOUNG-JAE(Park Jung-min). While working on the New Truth documentary as one of its producers, to the terror of his colleagues, Young-bae directly confronts DEACON YU-JI(Ryu Kyung-soo). Young-jae boldly calls New Truth out for trying to control every detail of the film and says this new culture of intimidation and condemnation is reminiscent of Hell. Given the way the world has gone, it’s a fair assessment, but it doesn’t endear him to Deacon Yu-ji who is a trusted subordinate of Jung-chil.
Jung-chil is a very different religious leader from Jin-soo. He’s a showman who lives for the power and spectacle. He vastly enjoys his new role as the chairman of New Truth and has taken the organization to new heights. They have the government and media in their pocket and even have their own broadcast station where they film the demonstrations in a controlled performance. The sinner kneels on a stage backed by a creepy mural of Jin-soo and a gaggle of children in a flower field. Jung-chil comes out in his robe and puts on a show to further humiliate the sinner in front of the crowd which includes distraught family. On one occasion, as the bloody spectacle commences, Jung-shil smiles delightedly and asks about their ratings (a disturbingly high 87%).
These public demonstrations may primarily be a way to keep people in line and accept the New Truth doctrine, but they also feel like disgusting sport. People have always enjoyed violent displays: gladiator matches, bull fights, boxing, and a host of other similar activities both past and present. These demonstrations feel like a sanctioned way to engage with such violence while people convince themselves it’s okay because the victims are bad people, not like them.
Of course, you can’t have a regime without an underground resistance. Here, that comes in the form of a shadowy organization known as Sodo. They help the Hellbound vanish before New Truth can force them into a public demonstration. Sodo has agents everywhere, which is how they get their intel and track victims down to offer their services.
And here we get our first big reveal: Hye-jin isn’t dead! She survived the attack and has been underground as the head of Sodo, fighting back against New Truth. In the intervening four years, Hye-jin has turned into a hardcore badass. She got the obligatory short haircut, a scar, and some fighting skills. She’s determined to take New Truth down and has been doing a decent job of thwarting them thus far. Her operation is meticulous enough that it’s hard to even find evidence of their existence, much less track them down.
It’s in this atmosphere that a bomb drops and threatens everything New Truth has achieved. Just when you think you’ve seen the worst of it, this drama goes and one ups itself with the most unsettling situation yet. Young-jae’s wife SONG SO-HYUN(Won Jin-ah) has just given birth and is still in the hospital with her newborn. She records a video to send to Young-jae and catches an “angel” delivering a prophecy to her newborn baby that she’s bound for Hell in mere days. A BABY. What the freaking heck?
New Truth has painstakingly cultivated their doctrine and image over the years, ensuring consistency. Their definition of sin revolves around the idea of choice – sin is something preventable through effort. If the world were to learn that an innocent baby is damned, that would shake their faith in New Truth, God, and their version of reality to the core.
This horrific situation of a Hellbound baby drives the latter half of the drama. Young-jae is desperate for some way to protect his baby and goes to Sodo for help, but he’s appalled when they want to broadcast his baby’s demonstration. Hye-jin knows the public won’t believe that Jin-soo, and therefore New Truth, was a fraud unless they see evidence with their own eyes. She doesn’t push, though, and leaves it up to the parents to decide whether they want to have their baby’s death disguised as an accident or whether they want to use it to expose New Truth’s lies. It’s agonizing for Young-jae and So-hyun who can’t save their baby but can only choose to keep their baby’s death private or publicize it for a greater cause.
Both Won Jin-ah and Park Jung-min do a great job as the loving, grieving parents at a loss for how to help their child. So-hyun and Young-jae handle the situation in different ways with Young-jae finding solace in action while So-hyun withdraws. Young-jae has never bought into New Truth’s ideology much, but So-hyun seems to believe in their religious dogma to some degree. She struggles with the idea that her baby is somehow evil and deserving of Hell while hating herself for that thought. So-hyun is tormented and almost gets their family killed in her quest to find answers, but it’s hard to fault her much given the trauma of the situation.
We do get one more return character from Act I who comes into play in the final episode. Hye-jin arranges for Young-bae, So-hyun, and their baby to stay with a someone bound for Hell who secretly lives in a rundown apartment complex. It turns out to be the obnoxious Arrowhead broadcaster who looks much more normal without his loud getup. His name is LEE DONG-WOOK (Kim Do-yoon), and as a devoted New Truth follower, he’s been wondering how he possibly sinned given his strict adherence to doctrine. Seeing the innocent baby’s fate, he understands maybe he didn’t do anything wrong either. But there’s something seemingly unstable about him (his broadcast persona appears more an exaggeration than fiction) that makes him unpredictable. He’s still a believer despite being Hellbound, and he finds a way to interpret “God’s will” regarding both his and the baby’s demonstrations that doesn’t bode well for our struggling family.
I won’t go into the specifics of the final climax with the baby’s demonstration – I don’t want to completely spoil the ending – except to say it’s impactful and suspenseful. Everyone is trying to use the baby for their own ends, so we get an intense finale with New Truth, Sodo, Dong-wook, and the rock monsters all in a war for this innocent infant while Young-jae and So-hyun do everything in their power to protect their baby. The conclusion is emotionally resonant and satisfying, hopeful yet somber. While it’s somewhat of an open-ending, New Truth’s fate seems sealed and this chapter of the story is over. Then we get the final scene that potentially changes everything.
Remember how Jung-ja’s house was turned into a sacred site? Well, her remains were left untouched in a glass case on display. They suddenly start coming back to life, and Jung-ja is fully regenerated. So … that definitely leaves things open for a season two. What the heck is going on? By now, I’m convinced this all has nothing to do with God or anything religious. I like Sodo member Gong Kyung-joon’s perspective of the rock monsters as a supernatural disaster, and I wouldn’t be surprised if even in a season two, we don’t learn specifically why this is happening. As this drama has effectively shown, we humans have a need to prescribe meaning to chaos to make it more manageable. But sometimes, there is no meaning – it just is.
Even if we don’t get an answer for why these things are happening, I hope we get a season two that tells us what exactly is happening. With Jung-ja’s regeneration, that could suggest the Hellbound weren’t killed but transported to another dimension or something along those lines. If so, where did they go? Or maybe, it’s not even Jung-ja that came back but some sort of replica. There are lots of possibilities. With this, we’ve potentially moved from religious supernatural to sci-fi.
That’s one thing I’ve really liked about Hellbound, its unpredictability and comfort reinventing itself as it goes. If we do get a second season, I have absolutely no idea what it’d be like, and that keeps things interesting. This first season gave us succinct storytelling with no filler or wasted space, so I have hope that if we get a second season, it’s because there’s a specific story to tell.
Hellbound was highly thematic and philosophical, which I really enjoyed. Throughout its impactful six episodes, it delved into the intersection of fear and morality when faced with the unknown. New Truth was a great examination of the social construction of righteousness and the dangers of taking it too far. The carefully curated righteousness of New Truth was rooted in cynicism and driven by fear, allowing them to steer the unwitting populace whichever way they wished. This is contrasted with Kyung-hoon and Hye-jin’s justice-motivated version of righteousness which sort of wins in the end, although that’s a simplification.
Rather than taking a humanity is inherently good or bad approach, the drama seems to land on a more pragmatic view that we are both. There is altruism and selfishness, and it’s our choice which side we land on. Almost every character from Jin-soo to Hye-jin to Young-jae had awful circumstances to contend with and had to make a defining choice. Some chose fear and selfishness, others chose bravery and justice. But the choice wasn’t always clear. We had the true believers who went too deep into fanaticism and completely lost themselves like Dong-wook. They truly believed what they were doing was right and got swept up in the mob mentality of the likeminded affirming their beliefs. Of course, that’s not to say all believers were genuine. There were also the violent members of Arrowhead who used the cover of righteousness to unleash their own cruelty in a sanctioned way.
Humans have the capacity to be both awful and wonderful, but it’s easier to let fear win and give into our selfish side. When that happens en masse, it can be a terrifying thing. While Hellbound might not be everyone’s dark and violent cup of tea, it was a thought-provoking drama with strong acting, tight writing, and originality. I hope we get the chance to delve further into this dystopian world in a second season because I need to know what that whole regeneration business is all about.