Jirisan: Episode 7
The despair and desolation of our spectral protagonist begin to spill over into his corporeal self, as the threads of the hushed-up winter incident begin to unravel. Our rangers are offered a brief respite, but before long, danger flares up yet again.
EPISODE 7 RECAP
In 2020, Da-won sets up another automatic sensor camera, while Yi-kang watches via her drone and gives directions over walkie-talkie.
Just as Da-won is about to exit the forest, she turns and lets out a startled shriek, cutting off the radio transmission. Simultaneously, Yi-kang’s drone begins to malfunction, its flight growing erratic as the screen glitches.
Frozen in fear, Da-won is unable to respond to any of Yi-kang’s concerned questions — the leaves and shrubs in front of her are moving all on their own.
An eerie, dark fog settles over the mountain, and slowly, Hyun-jo’s specter begins to fade into view. Reaching out to Da-won’s walkie talkie with a trembling hand, Hyun-jo tries to pick it up, but his hand goes straight through and all he’s left with is a handful of gravel. (Is he only able to interact with corporeal objects from the mountain?)
Stricken by frustration and despair, Specter Hyun-jo slams his hand onto the ground over and over. In the hospital, his physical body is having a nosebleed, and a mottled bruise materialises on his palm.
Then Specter Hyun-jo screams Yi-kang’s name, and just as suddenly as the anomalies occurred, everything returns to normal. Da-won sprints through the mountain in a panic, sinking to a relieved crouch once she reaches Yi-kang.
Her voice small and fearful, Da-won tells Yi-kang that she saw a man wearing a winter ranger uniform, his hands and clothes stained with blood. In a flashback, we see that after Hyun-jo yelled Yi-kang’s name, the carabiners on his belt rattled, as if chaining him down. Yi-kang shows Da-won a photo of Hyun-jo, asking her if this was the man she saw, and Da-won’s terrified gaze says it all.
At the hospital, a nurse informs Yi-kang and Da-won that Hyun-jo is in poor condition; his blood pressure suddenly shot up, and there was internal bleeding. Apparently, this isn’t the first time. No matter how many tests they’ve conducted, they’re still unable to pinpoint the cause.
With Hyun-jo’s body getting weaker after each episode, the nurse advises Yi-kang to prepare for the worst. Da-won’s in disbelief — she clearly saw Hyun-jo on the mountain. Somberly, Yi-kang tells Da-won that Hyun-jo was an enigma from the very start.
In a flashback of the fateful winter incident, we see Hyun-jo running towards a fallen Yi-kang, who’s bleeding out from a head injury. After moving her to a cave and promising that he’d come back for her, he leaves to go find help.
The next thing we see is a barely-conscious Yi-kang being carried down the mountain on a stretcher, and Dae-jin performing CPR on a bloodied and unresponsive Hyun-jo.
After the ranger team leaves the mountain, Hyun-jo regains consciousness and staggers to his feet. Immediately, he rushes back to the cave he left Yi-kang in, only to find her gone.
Frazzled and panicked, Hyun-jo makes his way to the ranger shelter. Il-hae and a colleague walk out, and Hyun-jo rushes up to them — but they walk right through him.
Stunned, Hyun-jo realizes his body is no longer corporeal. He chases after Il-hae, only to be blocked by an invisible barrier that he can’t get past.
All of a sudden, he’s struck by a vision. Hyun-jo heads towards the location he saw, his steps purposeful and determined. However, his hand passes straight through a hiking pole when he tries to grasp it, and it triggers a nosebleed and an unstable pulse in his physical body. Specter Hyun-jo lunges forward to grab the hiking pole, but he passes through it yet again, sending him sprawling forward and plunging into a seemingly endless void.
When Hyun-jo awakens, it’s spring 2020. He makes his way back to the place in his vision, but the hiking pole is gone and all that’s left is bloodstains on the snow below. Tears welling up in his eyes, Hyun-jo realizes that he was too late to save the hiker.
The next time Hyun-jo gets a vision, he creates a twig-and-stone marker, having realized that he’s only able to touch what’s from the mountain of Jirisan. The only person he can count on to save the people in his visions is Yi-kang.
In the present, Yi-kang tells Da-won how Hyun-jo began receiving his visions. Da-won asks if Yi-kang thinks Hyun-jo is still on the mountain, and tells her that when she first saw his specter, she was scared.
In hindsight, however, she now realizes Hyun-jo looked awfully lonely. Upon hearing Yi-kang’s voice over the radio, his desperation to talk to her had been palpable. Pensively, Da-won says that Hyun-jo seemed like he had been waiting a long time for Yi-kang.
Back in 2019, the rangers have gathered at the Mount Jirisan National Park Get-Together Festival. With prizes on the line, the teams’ competitive spirit has been awakened.
Dae-jin’s in charge of acting out charades for the Haedong-Bidam team, and he doesn’t hesitate to make a fool out of himself with his enthusiastic miming. Unfortunately, with the exception of Yi-kang and Hyun-jo, his team is terrible at guessing. They only get three questions right, to Dae-jin’s dismay.
The next game is the relay race, and all is going smoothly until it’s Gu-young’s turn. His random mission is to run while carrying the youngest team member, which is Hyun-jo. Gu-young makes a valiant effort to stagger forward, but he doesn’t get far before his legs give out and they both go crashing to the ground.
With that, the Haedong-Bidam team comes last in the relay race. Their last shot at winning is the talent show, which awards the highest amount of points. One look around at the other teams’ tinsel wigs and handmade placards, though, and it’s clear the poem Dae-jin was planning to recite isn’t going to cut it.
Yi-kang and Hyun-jo put their heads together, and what they come up with is ridiculously awesome — illuminated by a single spotlight, Yi-kang stands on stage in sunglasses and a feather boa, belting out the trot song Amor Fati.
Then the disco lights come on, revealing the male rangers dressed in obnoxiously bright costumes. They’re decked out in wigs and gaudy accessories, and they look like they’re having the time of their lives as they dance along to Yi-kang’s singing.
On the bus ride back, we see that the team won the first place trophy, though they’re all worn out. Hyun-jo’s foot is in a cast — he sprained it earlier when he fell, and the dancing aggravated it. Gu-young quips that it was quite the painful victory, and Dae-jin proposes that they all treat Hyun-jo to a meal since he tried so hard to make the team win.
Suddenly, all the other rangers pipe up with their plans for the evening, ha. Grudgingly, Yi-kang says she’ll take Hyun-jo out for dinner, and Hyun-jo cracks a small smile.
Dinner turns out to be at a convenience store; Hyun-jo chose the place, saying that he doesn’t think he deserves a fancy meal. With the wildfire prevention season starting next week, he can’t afford to have gotten injured. The vision Hyun-jo had of the wildfire closures banner is weighing heavily on him — with only that to go by, it’s difficult to figure out where the fire will happen.
Hyun-jo confesses that he’d been hoping the visions would end, since he hadn’t gotten them for months until the wildfire vision came. Gently, Yi-kang reminds him that he was able to rescue Seung-hoon and Private Ahn thanks to his visions. This time, too, he’ll save people.
The pair dig into their instant ramyeon, and just out of sight, a gloved hand takes two packs of yakult bottles from a shelf. That night, someone enters the ranger station and begins rifling through Hyun-jo’s desk, though it’s not clear what the person is looking for.
The next morning, Dae-jin briefs the ranger team on the protocol for the wildfire prevention season. Hyun-jo’s put on ground duty with Yang-sun until his ankle heals, and their first job is to check the wildfire gear and equipment.
On the mountain, a group of ajummas are enjoying a hot meal thanks to a portable gas stove. The exposed flame flickers in the wind, and as the camera pans out, we see a wildfire closures banner lying on the ground next to the group.
Yang-sun and Hyun-jo arrive at headquarters, with the latter heading up to collect some banners and fliers from the office. Just then, smoke is detected through one of the forest watch cameras. Nearby rangers are dispatched, and Yi-kang rushes to the scene. Surprisingly, though, the ajummas from before aren’t the cause of the fire — they’re gawking at the smoke from afar.
Back at headquarters, Hyun-jo stands helplessly by as the able-bodied rangers dash out in wildfire gear. Noticing his fretfulness, Sol beckons for Hyun-jo to follow him; there’s a task he can do even with his injured ankle.
As the on-site team digs out fire lines to contain the rapidly spreading wildfire, Sol and Hyun-jo monitor the situation via a drone. Using his bird’s eye view, Sol reports the location of the fire front. Since the fire trucks are unable to drive near, the rangers have no choice but to resort to manual means.
Just then, the helicopters arrive in the nick of time. The water buckets are released, and the wildfire area is drenched in a downpour that swiftly extinguishes the raging flames.
With that, the fire has been quelled, and all that’s left is to put out the remaining embers. Exhausted and soot-stained, Yi-kang asks Gu-young if there might be any wildfire closures banners nearby, but he points out that the banners haven’t even been put up yet.
What they both fail to notice, though, is a tiny flame still burning away in a piece of fallen wood.
At the shelter where our ranger team is having supper, a group of hikers have been corralled up for illegal herb gathering. It’s the ajummas from earlier, and among them is the wife of the illegal snake poacher. As their bags are inspected and emptied, Yi-kang notices a wildfire closures banner in one of the bags.
Back at the ranger station, Dae-jin instructs Hyun-jo to check the banners before moving them into the storage room. Hyun-jo opens up the box and realizes the words on this year’s wildfire closures banners are printed in red, but the one in his vision had green words.
When Hyun-jo asks about the colors, Dae-jin explains that since the wildfire prevention seasons vary by year, they place new orders each time. Although they’re discarded after each season ends, herb collectors occasionally pick up the waterproof banners to use.
Hyun-jo immediately calls Yi-kang to inform her of this, and Yi-kang confronts the poacher’s wife to ask where she stored the banners from last year.
It turns out they’re in the same warehouse the poacher couple kept their snakes in, and our ranger duo decide to meet up at the site. Hyun-jo arrives first, and the poachers’ children immediately hide under the table upon seeing him. On the table, he notices a wildfire closures banner with its words in green.
Just then, the warehouse door slides shut behind him. Hyun-jo limps over to open it, but it’s locked tight and won’t budge an inch. Belatedly, he realizes his cellphone isn’t with him, since he’d accidentally left it in the car.
On the mountain, the wind picks up, sparking the remaining embers. Before long, the fire has kindled into an uncontrollable blaze. The flames burn high amidst the pine trees, igniting their branches.
Since it’s nighttime, the helicopters can’t be flown in, and the fire is too big to be manually suppressed. Worse yet, the wind blows downhill at night, meaning the fire could potentially spread to the town.
Outside the warehouse, someone drops a lit match on discarded sacks, which quickly catch fire. The warehouse begins to fill with smoke, and Hyun-jo yanks open the windows to find raging flames right outside.
As the wildfire rages on, Yi-kang races through the forest to get to Hyun-jo. In an effort to avoid the falling fireballs, she makes an impressive leap and ends up sliding down a steep slope.
When Yi-kang finally manages to break her fall, she’s stunned by what she finds in front of her — a skeleton on the forest floor.
We’re finally told a little more of what happened during the winter incident, but it only raises even more questions. How did Yi-kang get injured, and why was she separated from Hyun-jo? Why did they trek up the snowy mountain in the first place? What caused Hyun-jo to lose consciousness in his quest to find help for Yi-kang?
It speaks to the strength of their bond that Hyun-jo’s first instinct upon waking up was to search for Yi-kang and ensure her safety. Even though he’s well aware that he can only touch objects from the mountain, Hyun-jo still yearns fervently to reach out to Yi-kang, and this made his anguish at not being able to interact with the radio all the more heartrending. With every attempt to cross the boundary keeping him in the liminal realm, Hyun-jo’s physical body grows weaker, and I fear this may culminate in an irreversible decision.
I’m curious as to how the mechanics of Hyun-jo’s spectral wandering work — if his corporeal vessel ceases to function, will his spirit disappear as well? As evidenced by the nosebleeds and the bruises, it’s clear that there is still a direct link between Hyun-jo’s physical and spectral selves. Just as his visions brought him back to Jirisan in the physical realm, they are also the reason he’s bound to the mountain in the spiritual realm — everything ties back to the murders. Will the capture of the murderers be what allows his soul to return to his body, or will there be unpredictable complications arising later on?
One gripe I have with the drama, though, is that it sometimes suffers from pacing issues. I feel like it would’ve worked better as a shorter, more condensed drama. The plot feels unnecessarily drawn out, and rather than adding to the suspense, it’s making me impatient to uncover the mystery. (It’s never a nice feeling to be tempted to fast-forward!) Important character moments are overextended, causing them to lose their impact, and major plot incidents are resolved too quickly in comparison. It’s like a thriller that has been shot in the style of a nature documentary — these are two very distinct and contrasting genres, and what serves one often undermines the other. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the scenic cinematography, because those shots really are captivating, but I do think the drama would have benefited from tighter storytelling and clearer direction.
It feels almost as if the murder mystery has been put on the backburner, what with the Christmas nostalgia last episode and the wildfire saga this episode. The ranger retreat scene took me by surprise, since it was a tad tonally incongruent with the scenes preceding it, though it did offer a humorous reprieve from the life-or-death stakes of almost everything else. Granted, given the lack of conclusive evidence and the sheer vastness of Jirisan, trying to narrow down the murderer would be even more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack.
Even so, I hope to see more sleuthing from our ranger pair, especially since they’ve already figured out part of the killers’ modus operandi. Was this wildfire merely a natural occurrence, or has arson been added to the murderers’ arsenal? It seems in line with their method of disguising their murders as accidents. With one less murderer since Se-wook’s death, I wonder if there are other small fry, or if this will incentivize the mastermind to take direct action.