Jirisan: Episode 3
A missing person case forces our rookie ranger to confront his traumatic past. Something shady is afoot, and our rangers will need to have their wits about them in order to unravel the mystery of the suspicious incidents on the mountain. The line between friend and foe begins to blur — trusting the wrong person could very well lead to one’s demise.
EPISODE 3 RECAP
In 2020, Yi-kang searches for a file to fulfill a request from another ranger. While searching through Dae-jin’s drawers, she finds a bag of the same yellow ribbons that were found next to Yang Geun-tak’s remains.
Just then, she sees Dae-jin approaching the ranger station through the window, and she hurries to put the files back into the drawer. In her haste, she accidentally upends the files, sending them scattering across the floor.
Struggling to pick up the files in her wheelchair, Yi-kang is reaching towards one last file when Dae-jin walks in. He returns it to her as if nothing’s amiss, and the camera lingers on his glove.
Meanwhile on Jirisan, Da-won senses an ominous presence lurking near her. The leaves around her rustle, indicating she’s not alone, but the phantom silhouette hovers just out of view. Then Gu-young calls out to her, and the spell is broken; when Da-won turns around, the specter is gone.
Back at the ranger station, Da-won shows Yi-kang the photos she took of her twigs-and-rocks marker, as well as the automated sensor camera Yi-kang told her to install alongside it. When Yi-kang asks her if she saw anything suspicious, Da-won says she didn’t.
As a monk rings a temple bell, a hiker tells his pals that the ghost world opens up when that bell rings. It’s when all the ghosts on the mountain emerge. Another hiker chimes in: there’s a male ghost covered in blood that’s been wandering around Jirisan, and everyone who’s seen him has died.
We see the male ghost, and he’s wearing a ragged park ranger coat. It’s the same phantom that was watching Da-won. The specter treks up the mountain, and then a vision flashes past — a yakult bottle tumbling down a waterfall, and a man foaming at the mouth.
Unperturbed, the phantom continues on his way until he reaches the twig-and-rock marker that Yi-kang asked Da-won to set up. Upon seeing the marker, he pauses, and then — “Yi-kang sunbae.” Gasp, it is Hyun-jo! Ghost Hyun-jo adjusts the position of a stick, seemingly to indicate the location of the man he just saw.
Back in 2018, Yi-kang helps a scared hiker down a steep incline. When the hiker explains that she wanted to pray for her son, Yi-kang advises her to go to a church or temple instead; Jirisan is merely a mountain.
They head back down, and Yi-kang’s walkie-talkie beeps. There’s been a report of illegal shamanism at a prayer point on the restricted trail in Baektogol. Upon hearing that, Hyun-jo gets a flashback that dazes him for a while — it seems to be of him in his military days — but he soon shakes it off and follows after Yi-kang.
At the prayer point, a shamanistic possession ritual is in progress. Gu-young and the team join our duo, along with Sol, (the cultural researcher) who’s excited to observe the traditional rituals.
As they head to confront the worshippers, Gu-young informs Hyun-jo that they need to shout “King’s orders” before chasing the shamans away, or else they’ll suffer from bad luck for three years. Hyun-jo stares at him incredulously, only to stop in shock when Yi-kang takes a deep breath and bellows, “King’s orders!” The rest of the team follow suit, leaving Hyun-jo to repeat it awkwardly, ha.
The rangers round up the worshippers, accidentally corralling poor Il-hae too while they’re at it. Yi-kang approaches the young girl that was by the shaman’s side during the ritual, asking if she’s cold and cooing over how pretty her shoes are.
Later, Hyun-jo notices the young shaman girl crouching by the stream. When he asks her if she’s okay, she responds ominously, telling him that he’s destined to roam the mountain even after he’s dead. Perhaps her powers aren’t a sham after all…
The girl leaves, and Hyun-jo notices a paper talisman floating in the water. Sol bags it for research purposes, noting that he hasn’t seen such a glyph before. Musing that Baektogol Valley has strong yin energy, Sol explains that over the course of several historical events, this location has seen countless deaths. To this day, human bones are still being dug up here, and the stone cairns and crosses are monuments for those who died without a grave. Sol tells Hyun-jo that if ghosts exist, then Baektogol Valley is the place that suits them most.
That night, the team heads for drinks to chase away any lingering ghosts. Yi-kang downs a bowl of sweet potato makgeolli in one shot, and both Gu-young and Il-hae immediately start looking concerned. Ha, does she have a drunken habit?
Hyun-jo catches up to Yi-kang, wanting to walk her home, but she walks straight past her house. Figuring she just wants to get some fresh air, Hyun-jo strikes up a conversation — why did she become a ranger if she hated mountains so much?
Instead of answering, Yi-kang suddenly crouches down, then taps the ground next to her. Bemused, Hyun-jo sits down, and Yi-kang begins to regale him with her life story — starting from the age of six and detailing every year since. Looks like Hyun-jo’s in for a long night.
The next day, an elderly lady visits her late mother’s grave in Baektogol, marked by stone cairns. After setting the food and soju offerings out, she leans against a tree trunk and closes her eyes to rest.
Back at the ranger station, Gu-young laughs upon hearing that Yi-kang only got up to age thirteen, quipping that Hyun-jo still has a long way to go. While organizing reports, the word “Baektogol” sparks yet another of Hyun-jo’s visions — wooden crosses, a stone cairn, and a dropped flashlight. Last of all, there’s that yakult bottle again.
Yi-kang snaps him out of his reverie, and then a call comes in. Granny Geum-rye went up the mountain as usual, but she hasn’t returned and can’t be reached via phone.
At the grave of Geum-rye’s mother, a gloved hand places two yakult bottles next to the offerings. When Geum-rye awakens a while later, she’s perplexed to see the yakult.
Our rangers reach the gravesite at nightfall, and Yi-kang reports that something seems amiss. Geum-rye always cleared away any offerings she brought, but today they’ve all been left behind. Since they’re in a signal zone, Yi-kang dials Geum-rye’s phone, in the hopes that they might be able to hear her ringtone.
Yi-kang’s about to set off to search, but Hyun-jo stops her and asks if they can check the stone pagoda ground at Baektogol. Skeptical, Yi-kang asks him if he had a vision again. Seemingly unable to convince her, Hyun-jo makes to set off alone, only for Yi-kang to call out after him — he’s going the wrong way.
At the stone pagoda’s location, our ranger duo find no sign of Geum-rye, but Hyun-jo is convinced it’s the same place that was in his vision. Just then, a military squad comes trekking up. One of the soldiers recognizes Hyun-jo, calling him Captain Kang.
Stepping off to the side for a private conversation, the lieutenant asks Hyun-jo if he was discharged due to “the incident.” He can’t believe they’ve met again here, since it was in Baektogol that Sergeant Kim was found. Hyun-jo dodges the question, and asks him if he’s seen an old lady pass by.
A private overhears this and pipes up. Introducing himself as Private Ahn, he tells Hyun-jo that earlier while hiking, he’d fallen behind and witnessed a civilian examining a pink backpack. It’s the exact same backpack as Geum-rye’s. Our ranger duo head to the spot, and the soldiers settle in for the night. In the darkness, Private Ahn takes out a yakult bottle from his pocket and drinks it. Oh no…
Hyun-jo and Yi-kang find Geum-rye’s backpack, and they open it to find extremely poisonous mushrooms inside. Consuming them could lead to dizziness, hallucinations, and even death.
We see Geum-rye wandering in the forest, lost and terrified. She trips over a branch, and begins to hallucinate silhouettes standing amidst a blazing inferno. A mother and her daughter begin to walk towards her, their faceless shadows looming close. All of a sudden, gunshots ring out, and the fleeing people fall one by one.
Yi-kang tries calling Geum-rye again, and this time the call goes through. As the ranger duo race towards the direction of the ringtone, a pair of bare and bloodied feet slowly approach Geum-rye. It’s her mother, looking just as she did before she died.
Geum-rye’s mother reaches a hand out to her, and she tearfully takes it — and in that moment, Geum-rye is a child again, seeking the comfort of the mother she lost all too soon.
Hyun-jo and Yi-kang finally find Geum-rye, lying prone and motionless by a stream. She’s lost all vital signs, and Hyun-jo desperately administers CPR, but it’s to no avail.
Covering Geum-rye’s corpse with his jacket, Hyun-jo asks Yi-kang to radio back to base, but she doesn’t answer. He turns around, only to find her frozen up and hyperventilating. Guiding her to sit down, Hyun-jo radios the ranger station to report Geum-rye’s death.
The pair sit in mournful silence for a while, before Hyun-jo speaks up. “It’s the second time,” Hyun-jo confesses, “that I’ve seen a dead body on Jirisan.”
Back when Hyun-jo had been in the military, his sergeant had died at the stone pagoda grounds. He’d been the friend that Hyun-jo treasured the most. Guilt-ridden, Hyun-jo says his greed had led to his friend dying alone and lonely.
We flashback to Sergeant Kim Hyun-soo struggling to keep up as the military squad treks up the mountain. Later in the day, the squad realizes Hyun-soo has gone missing, and they begin a search party for him.
Hyun-jo splits off from the group to search alone, and as night falls, he finally finds Hyun-soo lying motionless in Baektogol Valley. In his rush to get to his friend, Hyun-jo stumbles over a stone cairn, causing it to tumble down.
The unexpected impact sends Hyun-jo sprawling down the slope too, slamming into a tree and disorienting himself. When Hyun-jo regains his senses, his dear friend is staring up at him, bloodied and lifeless.
That’s when he began receiving his visions, Hyun-jo explains. Initially, he believed them to be mere figments of his imagination, until he realized that the subsequent news reports correlated with what he saw.
He tells Yi-kang how Sol once mentioned that there’s some sort of otherworldly presence in Baektogol. “I think it gave me a gift,” Hyun-jo says, “so that I could save people.”
Then Hyun-jo’s phone rings with a call from his lieutenant — Private Ahn has gone missing. Oh no, did the killer mix something into the yakult?
Our ranger duo hurry to Private Ahn’s last known location. Something crunches under Hyun-jo’s shoe, bringing him to a halt, and when he looks down it’s the yakult bottle from his visions.
The military squad rushes up, and they explain that Private Ahn was on night watch, but left to throw up because he hadn’t been feeling well. Since then, he hasn’t returned.
The soldiers lead our duo to the edge of Dalgwi forest, having found traces of vomit there. Yi-kang explains that it’s a climax forest; all the trees look the same, so it’s easy to wind up going in circles. With their GPS devices in hand, they head in to begin their search.
Meanwhile, Private Ahn staggers through the forest, fearfully casting his gaze around him all the while. He ends up at a cliff face, seemingly unaware of the danger looming in front of him — and behind him.
Unbeknownst to Private Ahn, a man slowly approaches from behind, lips curling up in a sinister grin. Ack, that mouth looks familiar…
Thankfully, Hyun-jo arrives just in time to tackle Private Ahn to the ground before he can walk off the cliff’s edge. Neither he nor Yi-kang notice the gloved man, who retreats silently into the shadows. Private Ahn begins to foam at the mouth, and Hyun-jo desperately tries to wipe it away. Hearing Yi-kang’s signal whistle, the rest of the squad rushes to them. Private Ahn is in critical condition, so they call a helicopter medic to retrieve him.
The morning is a somber one, with Yi-kang and her grandmother attending Geum-rye’s wake. Outside, Gu-young reassures Hyun-jo that they did the best they could; Geum-rye has confused edible mushrooms with poisonous ones before.
Asking if Yi-kang was okay, Gu-young tells Hyun-jo that when Yi-kang’s parents had died in the Dowon Valley flood, she’d been the one to find their corpses. As the search party had been understaffed, she’d joined in, only to faint at the sight of her dead parents.
Hyun-jo doesn’t understand — if it’s so difficult for her to look at a corpse, then why is she still doing this job? Gu-young doesn’t give a direct answer, merely telling Hyun-jo that he’ll understand once he gets to Yi-kang’s age.
That night, Hyun-jo heads to Yi-kang’s family restaurant. She tells him they’re closed for the day, adamantly refusing to serve him.
Cut to: Hyun-jo happily enjoying his food in front of an unimpressed Yi-kang. She asks him why he came, and he tells her that he went to visit Private Ahn.
According to Private Ahn, it had been food poisoning. He’d drunk water from the valley’s stream, since his water bottle had run out. Not buying it, Hyun-jo asks who gave him the yakult bottle.
It turns out that when he’d fallen behind, the hiker with the pink rucksack had given him a bottle of yakult. After drinking it at night, Private Ahn had felt dizzy, nauseous, and even began seeing hallucinations.
Yi-kang brushes it off since it’s just a small yakult bottle, but Hyun-jo presses on — in his vision, he’d seen someone being chased at the stone pagoda. Then the person fainted, and there was an empty yakult bottle next to them. Hyun-jo points out that this can’t be Private Ahn, who was found in Dalgwi forest; the person in his vision must have been someone else.
Feeling doubtful, Yi-kang thanks Hyun-jo for his help, but says that she’s still unsure what exactly he sees.
Morning dawns, and Hyun-jo’s back at the stone pagoda ground, determined to get to the bottom of things. He finds the stone cairn in his vision, and then comes to a realization — its height is different.
His vision hadn’t been of the present, but the past. The person that had been chased by someone, that had collapsed in Baektogol Valley after drinking a yakult bottle — it had been his dear friend and comrade.
Kim Hyun-soo had been murdered.
We finally learn the origin of Hyun-jo’s visions, and it’s heartbreaking. He said that it feels like the mountain has given him a gift, but perhaps he also sees it as some form of penance — saving people as atonement for how he was unable to save his friend. We’ve seen his tenacity and desperation to save others, almost to the point of self-sacrifice (such as venturing into the typhoon to save the young boy in Episode 1), and I wonder if this selfless obstinacy is what leads to the incident that put him in a coma.
The identity of the specter lingering on Jirisan and setting up the location markers for Yi-kang has been revealed, and of course it’s our dedicated rookie ranger. Given that Jirisan is believed to be a liminal space between life and death, it’s no wonder that Hyun-jo’s soul found its way back to the mountain to continue rescuing people. I think it’s really poignant how his desire to save others, as well as his bond with Yi-kang, has managed to transcend dimensions.
I’m glad for the unspoken rapport that Hyun-jo and Yi-kang have — even if she doesn’t believe in his visions on a cognitive level, there’s an innate trust that she seems to feel towards him. It’s what compels her to join him on his searches, and what leads her back to the ranger station in 2020. Knowing that they have each other’s backs, especially with all the danger lurking around Jirisan, is what gives me hope that they’ll be able to continue saving people in both the past and present.
Talking about danger, that murderer! Just the brief glimpses of him that we’ve been given are already enough to send chills down my spine. It’s one thing to kill people; it’s another thing entirely to feed them hallucinogens and watch them slowly lose their minds. His victims don’t even realize what’s happening to them, or what’s coming for them. For the sake of our rangers, I really hope the killer isn’t the person he seems to be…
Slowly but surely, the pieces of the Jirisan mystery seem to be falling into place, but I’m sure that not everything is as it seems. The clues are pretty obvious so far, but it remains to be seen whether they’re real or just red herrings. As a fan of writer Kim Eun-hee’s works — Signal is still one of my all-time favorite dramas — I’m very much looking forward to the twists and turns she’ll have in store for us, as well as the thrilling cat-and-mouse chase she’s sure to lead us on.