Pandora: Beneath the Paradise: Episodes 1-2 (First Impressions)
Right off the bat, Pandora: Beneath the Paradise is shaping up to be a delicious makjang that follows our heroine who has a perfect life and the perfect family. But just like Pandora’s box, there are some secrets that should never be uncovered. And what happens when the bubble bursts and our heroine discovers that her perfect life is anything but?
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The drama opens with a grand-scale presentation by our heroine’s husband PYO JAE-HYUN (Lee Sang-yoon), who’s the chairman of Hatch — a research lab. Joining him is Hatch’s CEO JANG DO-JIN (Park Ki-woong) and together with director GU SUNG-CHAN (Bong Tae-kyu), their research team has created a VR smart patch that allows the direct input of unlearned data into the brain simply by attaching the patch to the subject. (I wonder where this patch was when I was trying to memorize math formulas in school.)
Anyway, to demonstrate to the audience how awesome this smart patch is, the patch is attached to a… wait for it… super chimpanzee with an IQ score of 120! Super chimp — who has never played a video game until now — beats 99 top-ranking players in the gaming circuit, and with a wild opener like this, we have to buckle up for what we now know will be an outlandish ride!
Supporting the Hatch bros from behind a tablet in the confines of her car, is our heroine HONG TAE-RA (Lee Jia). As she tries to avoid hitting a ferocious dog on the semi-lonely road, she narrowly misses a collision with another car instead. This car’s passenger gives off very shady vibes, and the scene itself is very iffy. I mean, there’s a mental hospital signpost on this road, and when it comes to K-dramas, mental institutions are almost always bad news. But on a lighter note, we are barely five minutes in, and we’ve already had a chimpanzee and a dog. How many animals were harmed in the production of this drama, anyway?
Moving on, the resulting shock of the near-accident jogs up a fuzzy memory in Tae-ra, and as we’ll see in subsequent scenes, whenever she experiences something jarring (accidents, falls, etc.), these hazy memories return. Memories of running through the woods, being chased by dogs, and a lady fighting in a dungeon-like caged environment — it’s giving Squid Game vibes, in a fight-to-the-death way.
Memories appear to play a significant role in this drama, because aside from Tae-ra whose forgotten memories (due to a fifteen-year-old accident) are slowly coming to light through “carefully planned incidents” by the people around her, Do-jin also plans to apply the use of Hatch’s smart patch for memory therapy. And this might — or might not — be related to his wife, anchorwoman KO HAE-SOO (Jang Hee-jin), who suffers from a trauma after witnessing her father’s death.
A chaebol son and a former president’s daughter appear to be a match made in heaven, but Do-jin and Hae-soo’s relationship is anything but that. Like in every good makjang, Do-jin is having an affair with Tae-ra’s elder sister, HONG YU-RA (Han Soo-yeon), and while Yu-ra acts like the world’s best unnie, she’s actually the one behind Tae-ra’s recent accidents — her end goal being to make Tae-ra recover her memories A.S.A.P!
Yu-ra also enjoys playing with fire, so she drops a hint, and Hae-soo catches on to her husband’s affair — although she remains in the dark as to whom he’s having the affair with. (By the way, did anyone else have a mini Return flashback during the dinner party scene with Do-jin’s wife and mistress at the same table? Heh).
Everything starts to unravel when Hae-soo receives a parcel. In it, there’s a picture of the lady from Tae-ra’s memories, and behind the picture is a typed note which reads: “They called her No. 50. Ko Tae-sun’s killer. To find her, come to Hanwool mental hospital.” (Ko Tae-sun is Hae-soo’s late father — who was assassinated by a sniper at his presidential inauguration ceremony, and Hanwool is the name of the mental hospital on the signpost from earlier on. Hmmm).
Hae-soo — who is obsessed with finding her father’s killer — confides in Tae-ra about the parcel and its contents. And Tae-ra — who is also seeking clarity on her fuzzy memories — accompanies her to Hanwool. At the hospital, Hae-soo questions the staff about the lady in the picture, drawing the attention of the general manager, JO GYU-TAE (Gong Jung-hwan), although he denies having any knowledge about No. 50. (By the way, a distinct feature of No. 50 is that a part of her ear is severed, and Tae-ra’s ear is exactly the same, but she hides it with a prosthetic. Again, hmmm).
Meanwhile, Tae-ra — who has wandered off on her own — comes across a cage of the same breed of dogs as the one from her near-accident. She also gains access to a secret passageway, and ends up in the dungeon from her memories — although the place is deserted now. Tae-ra spots her reflection in the mirror — or more accurately, No. 50’s face — and that’s when the truth hits. “I am the one called No. 50!” She gasps. OMG!!!
Muscle memory kicks in when Tae-ra is confronted by Gyu-tae’s hitmen, and she gives them a good ass-whooping before managing to escape, leaving Gyu-tae and the hospital’s director KIM SUN-DEOK (Shim So-young) — who just so happens to be the passenger in the other car at the scene of Tae-ra’s near-accident — flabbergasted as to who on earth this badass woman is.
On reviewing the footage from the dungeon, Director Kim notes that the fighting style is similar to someone else’s, but it cannot be. After all, No. 50 died fifteen years ago. But fingerprints don’t lie, so when they run the prints from the scene, No. 50 pops up on the system. *Insert dramatic call-to-action music*
Faced with the truth that her life has been a lie, Tae-ra goes to confront the one person she knows can give her answers: Yu-ra! “Now you remember?” Yura scoffs, dropping her fifteen-year-old pretense. Apparently, the real Hong Tae-ra is dead, and the identity switch took place in France (where the Hong sisters (heh) used to live). Someone bought Tae-ra’s identity before Yu-ra registered her death, paid for No. 50’s plastic surgery, and generously compensated Yu-ra for all her troubles.
But as to who this someone is, Yu-ra cannot divulge the information. “It goes against my agreement with my employer,” she says to Tae-ra. And as much as she’d like nothing better than to end her relationship with Tae-ra now, said employer uses her affair with Do-jin to hold her hostage as a player in his masterplan. But despite the threat, Yu-ra still manages to go AWOL. Perhaps, back to France?
You know, even if they aren’t biologically related, they still lived as sisters for fifteen whole years! You’d think that Yu-ra would feel some level of guilt for being an accomplice in the fabrication of Tae-ra’s identity, but nah. To Yu-ra, why does any of it matter? After all, Tae-ra’s life was okay up until now, and she’s got Korea’s most successful man by her side. Unfortunately, this last part isn’t exactly true, because as Yu-ra soon reveals, the mastermind behind the identity switch also set Tae-ra up to become Jae-hyun’s wife! Omona!
It’s scary to think that someone is in the shadows controlling Tae-ra’s life like a chessboard piece, and the sad part is she no longer knows who to trust. She used to have a great relationship with Hae-soo, unfortunately that has — all but — gone to shit now with Tae-ra’s knowledge that she killed Hae-soo’s father. Why? She has no idea, and neither do we. For now, all we know is that Director Kim and Gyu-tae were breeding contract killers in Hanwool — and even they don’t know who wanted president Ko Tae-sun killed because their client information is strictly confidential.
In the meantime, Director Kim and Gyu-tae have set their sights on Tae-ra with the intention of killing her because they think she intentionally approached them with Hae-soo for revenge purposes. Poor Tae-ra. She woke up one morning as a wife and mother, only to find out she was a cold-blooded killer before the day ran out. Aigoo! Sure, the fifteen-year gap did nothing to dampen her combat skills and she can take care of herself, but things are different now. She has a blissfully unaware family to protect, and the rediscovery of her past has just served to put a target on their backs.
While all of this is going on, someone murders the super chimp, and naturally, our Hatch bros are upset — but for different reasons. Do-jin is worried about the falling stock prices, Sung-chan is just in tears because super chimp was like his baby. Awww. And as for Jae-hyun, he’s all “Let’s catch the bastard ourselves!” Okay, we are hunting a chimp murderer now? What in the murder mystery raised to the power of makjang is going on here? Lol.
As it turns out, the mastermind behind super chimp’s murder is a politician wooing Jae-hyun to run for president on his party’s platform. Jae-hyun already turned the old fogey down, but yunno, some people are never graceful in the face of rejection. Anyway, while Jae-hyun plans his counterstrike, he gets a visitor in the person of Director Kim, but just like Tae-ra, we are yet to know what was discussed in this meeting.
On learning that Director Kim is with her husband, a worried Tae-ra heads to Jae-hyun’s office. But first, she has to fight off Gyu-tae — who was her sparring instructor at contract killer school. Tae-ra makes it out of the woods alive (after delivering an ugly gash to Gyu-tae’s eye), and she arrives at Jae-hyun’s office just in time for his press conference where he announces that he’s stepping down as Hatch’s chairman to run for presidency. Daebak!
While Sung-chan is taken aback but appears supportive, Do-jin is not a big fan of this announcement. And as for Tae-ra, she’s shocked, but nothing prepares her for what she sees next: Director Kim with a grip on her daughter’s shoulder. This triggers another memory of Director Kim with a similar grip on a young boy. With a gasp, Tae-ra realizes she has (had?) a younger brother, and this brings us to the end of a thrilling opening week!
Whoa! Pandora: Beneath the Paradise is giving everything it is supposed to give, and I love it! We’re only in the first week but the show has already pulled out all the stops, and is speeding headlong accompanied by the major weapons in the makjang arsenal: good ol’ school amnesia, identity swaps, affairs, murder mysteries, chaebol households full of secrets, and politics! My goodness! It’s been a while since I’ve watched a makjang, and though I already know that the next seven weeks will test my patience, I am here for it!
Speaking of which, a powerful man going into politics with a wife who’s hiding a secret? I’ve seen that story before and I didn’t like the ending. Admittedly, Jae-hyun and Tae-ra have a loving relationship despite the blank in her memory, but now that the killer blank has been filled, we’re left to wonder if Jae-hyun’s “I would have loved you no matter who you were. And I will continue to do so for the rest of my life,” will stand the test of time, or if they’ll be his famous last words.
- Premiere Watch: Pandora: Beneath the Paradise
- Lee Sang-yoon’s ambitions get derailed by secrets in Pandora
- Lee Jia’s traumatic memories resurface in Pandora
- Lee Jia is faced with Pandora’s box in first teaser
- Script reading stills for tvN’s Pandora
- News bites: February 25, 2023
- News bites: February 21, 2023
- News bites: February 15, 2023