I’ve finally come across a show that embodies everything I ever wanted in a K-drama, and honestly, my hopes and dreams for K-drama are rather simple:
- Have strong plot.
- Have round characters.
- Have a plot from Episode 1.
- Did I say “have plot” yet?
- Plot. Plot. Plot. And none of that melo crap that bad K-drama writers try to pass as an actual story.
So you get the idea. Plot is everything; the life and blood of any piece of storytelling in whatever format you please. A good plot is central to a good story, and while you can find ways to make character studies a central focus of a narrative, it’s virtually impossible to do away with plot altogether. Therefore, it is essential that a story’s conflict be crafted with the utmost care.
Knowing this, it’s amazing how much K-drama tends to NOT do exactly that. The amount of meandering that occurs K-drama, be it through an entire hour of heavy, useless, exposition or contrived plot lines, is rather disappointing to say the least. Sure, part of it is attributable to the “K-drama style,” but most of the time, it’s lazy writing. Or at least, it exists as the derivative of what appears to be a half-baked idea.
The End of the World though, is everything but a half-baked idea. Ten seconds into the first episode, you have the central mystery set up, and within the next five minutes, the central conflict to the entire show. The immediate engagement is so good that I’m willing to sit and recap it. (Albeit it’s mostly because no one else seems to have done it.)
And here we are, at the beginning of a twelve episode journey. The nice thing about recapping a completed series is having the luxury to work at your own pace. In fact, this is quite a relaxing way to go about it, unlike the crazy ride that was my last recapping endeavor (that I couldn’t finish due to school ramping back up). Recapping End of the World feels like needed break between all of my more important RL duties. It’s nice.
Definitely let me know what you think of my work and whether I should continue. I’m currently on the fence about whether End of the World is conducive for recapping, just because I don’t know if people want to read recaps for such a visually driven show. Plus, there’s not much to snark about. (Darn it.)
(Btw, sorry for the crappy screencaps. The video quality was atrocious, and I was too lazy to go search for another video just to get pictures.)
The scene opens up with a lone boat drifting along the ocean–or more accurately, what looks to be an empty lifeboat. This red floating object, according to the text, is the savior of the single survivor of a boat that sunk that past December, carrying over a hundred crew members. This ship supposedly fell to the depths of the ocean due to a boiler failure, but with all the ominous music, I’d expect something far more sinister to have occurred.
A mysterious man comes up to a clinic and finds another man withering in pain, his face swollen with red rashes. The first man tries to help the sickly person, only to have blood coughed on his face. Meanwhile, at the Center of Disease Control, Lee Na-hyeon (Jang Kyung-ah) starts her first day as a Researcher for Team 1. She seems to be quasi-familiar with the other two guys on her team, Kim Hee-sang (Choi Soo-chul) and Park Joo-hee (Kim Hee-sang), but is unaware of her boss-to-be’s astute deductive skills. When Kim and Park reveal their team leader to be the CDC’s Sherlock Holmes, Na-hyeon is skeptical, so the two tell her to ask the team leader whether he can figure out how she came to work and what she had for breakfast.
Team leader Kang Ju-hyun (Yoon Je-moon) correctly deduces that Na-hyeon had arrived to the CDC building by subway, and had a cappuccino at the station cafe; he figures out the former by noticing the mud on her shoes, and the latter he figures out by noticing the residue from the coffee on Na-hyeon’s mouth. (Although, how he knew that she ate a bagel continues to be a mystery.)
It turns out that the sickly man from the clinic is infected by a currently unidentifiable virus. The Director of the CDC Park Joo-hee (Yoon Bok-in) along with other officials of the NIH go to check on the then single patient. The symptoms of the viral infection are quite severe, including internal bleeding of the lungs, formation of ulcers, and lactic acid build-up, which is on top of the topical rashes, blood coughing, and blistering. In fact everything about the virus seems highly unusual in its severity physical symptoms, but all the CDC can really do is work on quarantining the virus and collecting whatever data they can from the infected man.
Team 1 (Kang, Kim, Lee, and Park) all go to the patient’s home and comb through the residence for whatever evidence (viral or otherwise) they can, with the goal of discovering the origins of the virus. The sweep was relatively unfruitful, because the virus’s identification could not be found in the CDC’s database, and all the stuff collected at the patient’s home was not useful. The team’s only real lead was in the form of photograph negatives (the patient was a photographer) that helped Kang and the others pinpoint the last people who had met the sick man. While shuffling through the photos at the main office, Kim points out to Lee that Kang was once part of the CSI, only to have Kang retort that no one wants to actually do CSI work because it isn’t as cool as it seems.
After the team meeting that follows, the four go to investigate and gather information from places the sick man visited and the people he supposedly knew. Again, almost all of the evidence is relatively inconclusive–nothing is contaminated, and all the people that they checked via blood test came up clean. Only the quarantined man showed any signs of illness in any form, which leaves the CDC uneasy. During the team 1 regathering, Park mentions that the patient had liver disease and stopped drinking because of it. Lee is a bit shocked by that info because she thought that the man was a heavy drinker due to all the liquor bottles she found.
Kang realizes that there’s probably more going on that meets the eye, and he decides to rummage through all the collected material to see if they missed any notable info. He begins to suspect that there was someone else living in the apartment with the sick man, but he’s unable to pinpoint anything that would provide strong enough evidence that someone else was living with the patient. In the main office, the CDC directors are dismayed by the fact that the source of the infection continues to be a mystery, and concurrently, they receive news of the first patient’s death.
While all of this is going on in the CDC, there’s a scene of another man (the guy who was coughed on in the beginning) showing symptoms of the virus in what looks to be his dark red, menacing apartment. The man examines blisters/sores that are beginning to form on his neck, but appears to do nothing about it.
Back at the CDC facility, Team 1 is still digging through the stuff from patient 1’s room, and they happen upon receipts that they had not noticed before. Unlike the many of the other bills found in the apartment, these pharmaceutical labels were unique because they were torn–in two distinct ways. One set was cut straight in half, while the other was chopped at the corner.
They found their evidence.
While traveling to Sohn’s Clinic (the place where we first saw patient 1), Park and Kim discuss what a man with no symptoms roaming about could mean for the containment of the virus. Suddenly they realize that virus has the potential to be dormant, which would mean that many more people could be infected than they realize.
At the pharmacy, Kang and Lee talk to a pharmacist about patient 1, Choi Jeong-wan. She says she has seen him before, but she had only provided Choi cold and fever medicine. At the same time, Kim and Park call the other two team members with info about finding records of Choi visiting a plastic surgeon. Lee and Kang go to meet the doctor.
The surgeon remembers Choi very well, and notes that he was quite tall, had some severe leg problems, limped, and had tanned skin from working on a ship. Kang shows the picture of Choi, but the doctor tells them that the man in the photo wasn’t the guy who visited him with Choi’s records. Kang notes that this mysterious second person was probably very close with patient 1, since had used Choi’s medical card.
As Kang and Lee realize that the man the Surgeon was describing could be the mysterious source of the virus, we see the limping man entering a dark building. He sends a cryptic text message to the now dead Choi, along with leaving a letter in a mailbox. Choi’s phone however, is in the custody of the police, and an officer/detective calls the limping man back. The guy gets scared by the return call from the police, and just says that “the goods that I have ordered have arrived.” The limping man drops the phone and runs off in a panic.
The limping man runs to a dark room and starts searching the internet for news involving “infections” and comes across several articles about Choi and the mysterious virus that is sending fear rippling amongst the people of Korea. Limping man recognizes the symptoms instantly, and flashes back to an incident on a boat where another mysterious man begins to attack him for being the “only one who hasn’t succumbed to the infection.” In a panic he breaks out of the painful memory.
The CDC folk quickly realize that the limping man is likely the carrier of the unknown virus, and they find CCTV footage of the man leaving the apartment premises. The CDC Director notes that this man could be the key to finding a cure for the deadly virus, as he has probably accumulated some sort of powerful antibody.
At a university, a man gives a lecture about epidemics that stem from a carriers that do not show overt symptoms of the disease, known as Typhoid Marys. The term comes from a woman who had been a carrier of the Typhoid disease and had spread it to hundreds of people by working as a cook. The health officials at the time tried to quarantine her, but she begged to be let go and not be criminalized for something out of her control. The authorities pitied Mary and let her go, on the condition that she not return to the kitchens to work. Mary however, had no way to make money to support her family and returned to work as a cook. Due to this, she continued to spread the disease to many until the health officials had her quarantined once more. As the professor is telling this story, we see images of the limping man interacting with the world and Choi in a manner parallel to Mary.
The professor turns out to be a friend of the CDC director, who meets up with him after the lecture. It turns out that he is working on a major medical breakthrough involving artificial antibodies. Based on the conversation between these two, the professor appears to be relatively in the loop about the ongoing case. Unfortunately, he appears conflicted about joining the CDC on the investigation because he is just about to leave to the U.S. to finish the last bit of his groundbreaking research project. The day after tomorrow, in fact.
At Team 1’s headquarters, Lee, Kim and Park are scanning through all the profiles of 30 year olds and younger who have been working on some sort of ship in the past year or so. Meanwhile, limping man tries to visit a man named Park Cheong-seok at Park’s apartment, but is unable to get a response when he knocks on the door.
After finding 90 or so matches, the CDC team sends the profile photos to the Plastic Surgeon, but he says that he doesn’t recognize anyone on the list. Kang decides to broaden their search, until Lee finds a record about a sunken fishing ship off the coast of Busan (this is the same ship from the beginning of the episode). This interests Kang, who looks up more information about the incident. The ship’s survivor sounds like a promising match, and Kang tells Lee to go find out about the lone man who returned.
At the Park residence, the limping man has gathered the apartment “heads” to unlock the apartment, claiming that there’s something wrong going on in the home. After some convincing they unlock the apartment only to come across a putrid smell. The limping man enters and finds Park’s corpse in the bathroom, claimed by the virus for the dead. The limping man immediately runs off in terror of what he may have caused. He decides to call the police station, but is unable to tell the officer about the dead man.
In the CDC, Lee finds out that the sunken ship’s survivor is named Eo Gi-yeong (Kim Young-min), who turns out to be the man that the Plastic Surgeon described. The office gets a call just then from the police, who have received news from Eo about Park’s death. The police put Eo on the line with Kang, who asks him about whatever he knows about the disease. Eo tells Kang that he has no symptoms of the virus, and hangs up before Kang is able to get the man’s name and location.
Wow, is that one way to start a show. In one episode we have a decent understanding of all the main players and set up the core conflict of the entire series: a rogue virus with a very mysterious origin involving a sunken ship. If that isn’t a way to get hooked onto a show, I don’t know what else could work.
I really have to hand it to Ahn Pan-seok for directing this show spectacularly. He makes most of camera angles and fluid shots to truly build the world that these characters live in. There’s a great balance between the scenes in the think tank at the CDC and city shots with the various other characters of the show. I particularly loved how well the scenes with the limping man were crafted, especially when it came to building the tension and the scare factor. The camera was great at being observant–none of the shots looked overly composed and/or directed, giving you the chance to simply take in all the events. Some of the shots were a little too much on the dark side, but I amount my dissatisfaction to crappy video quality more than anything else. I even appreciated all the shots of the CDC folk collecting field data/evidence! It just looked so cool.
There isn’t too much character development as of yet, but that’s okay, because this show really needs to get its footing solid in the plot department, simply because that’s the driving force of the show. Like the filmography though, the scriptwriting is great at laying things out organically. Scenes and dialogue aren’t excessively pointed, though you can kind of see the rough edges in the script. All and all though, like everything else in this show, the screenplay is totally solid.
You want the short verdict?:
Can someone hand me Episode 2 please?