Episode 1 of Jirisan begins at the Baekdudaegan Ecological Education Museum where a slideshow of images and videos from Mount Jiri play while an unidentified man narrates the mountain’s long history as the border between life and death.
We jump to the Jirisan National Park Haedong Ranger Station in the year 2018 where rookie ranger, Kang Hyun-jo, arrives to find the place abuzz with the beginning of a search and rescue mission. He’s immediately instructed to shadow senior ranger, Jung Gu-yeong.
They’re looking for 14-year-old hiker, Yeom Seung-hun, who has already been missing for 23 hours. The head of the station, Jo Dae-jin, declares that the golden time to find Seung-hun is 30 hours, which means they only have seven hours left. This isn’t helped by the incoming typhoon that is moving faster than expected.
We get the first glimpse of our heroine, Seo Yi-gang, when there is dangerous rockfall off a cliff face, which renders one of the descending rangers unconscious. She speedily rappels down to the unconscious ranger, clipping him to her before cutting them both loose and out of harm’s way.
Afterwards, Gu-yeong introduces her to Hyun-jo using the nickname “Demon Seo”. And when she’s paired up with Hyun-jo she shows us how she earned it, telling him that if he lags she will abandon him.
As they search, Hyun-jo realises they have been checking suicide points and asks despairingly if they’ve been looking for a dead child. This draws Yi-gang’s anger, and she is resolute in her conviction that they will find Seung-hun before he perishes, which impresses Hyun-jo.
As the weather declines, teams start pulling out of the search to find refuge. At the same time, Seung-hun’s grandmother arrives at Haedong Station full of teary apologies.
Hyun-jo and Yi-gang take a shortcut through a lightning zone. The path is steep, and Hyun-jo falls most of the way, but there is some hope when they find Seung-hun’s backpack containing a family photo taken at a wildflower habitat on Mount Jiri. The only problem is that the habitat is three hours away and the typhoon is closing in. Yi-gang wants to push on, but the Chief arrives at Haedong Station and orders everyone back, stressing the importance of their safety.
As Hyun-jo starts to follow Yi-gang back, he has a vision of a series of images from somewhere on the mountain. One of these is of a small arrangement of rocks and sticks. Before he can act on this, he is hit across the head by a falling branch and loses consciousness.
Hyun-jo wakes up back at Haedong Station and it has now been 32 hours since Seung-hun’s disappearance. Despite this, Hyun-jo is certain Seung-hun is alive, although Yi-gang sees his claims as baseless. Hyun-jo goes through all their collected evidence, and it seems apparent that Seung-hun came to the mountain with suicidal intentions. Meanwhile, Yi-gang must inform Seung-hun’s grandmother that the search has been paused and comforts her while she breaks down.
Sometime later Yi-gang heads out, disobeying instructions, intent on reaching the wildflower habitat. Hyun-jo follows her and convinces her to let him help.
Back at the station, Dae-jin catches Gu-yeong and a few others trying to sneak out. They tell him that Yi-gang and Hyun-jo are missing along with their gear. Seung-hun’s grandmother comes upon the group with news of her own.
Dae-jin radios Yi-gang and tells her that the apology message that was thought to be Seung-hun’s last text to his grandmother was actually only one in a batch of texts that didn’t send when Seung-hun entered a cellular dead-zone. The texts point away from suicide and show that Seung-hun is alive since he must have moved into a reception area. The rangers at the station haven’t been able to call his mobile, and they think his battery is dead.
A support team is sent to help but they’ll take at least three hours, leaving Seung-hun’s life up to Yi-gang and Hyun-jo. They split up and comb through the reception area but do not find Seung-hun. Hyun-jo thinks back to his vision and tries to see if Yi-gang recognises any of the things he saw. She eventually pieces his fragmented descriptions together as Sangsuri Rock, but it is outside of the reception area. Hyun-jo persuades Yi-gang to take them there anyway and follows the clues in his vision to find Seung-hun who is unresponsive. They rush him down the mountain and are met halfway by the support team. The mission is a success.
We flash forward to a light-hearted training session where Yi-gang and Hyun-jo banter as she shows him the ropes. They head back to the place where they found Seung-hun. There, cultural researcher, Kim Sol, photographs the arrangement of rocks and sticks from Hyun-jo’s vision. Hyun-jo and Sol agree that the mountain has an energy that can’t be explained, and Hyun-jo cites the fact that Seung-hun’s texts sent from within a cellular dead zone as further proof.
Sol explains that the rock arrangement was a type of code used by the partisans to communicate their location when they fell behind or were out of contact range. Hyun-jo decides that he and Yi-gang should use the method during their missions.
Yi Gang is more interested how Hyun-jo knew Seung-hun’s location. Hyun-jo tells her he simply saw it, and that it wasn’t the first time he’d had visions of lost hikers from Mount Jiri. Yi-gang brushes him off as irrational.
We then cut to Haedong Station in the year 2020 where Dae-jin is closing the Yiseokjae missing person case. A rookie asks what will happen to the missing hiker and is met with grim silence. Gu-yeong asks when they’ll get a new team member, and Dae-jin informs him that someone will be arriving today.
The new arrival turns out to by Yi-gang who now moves with the aid of a wheelchair. Her presence agitates Gu-yeong, and Dae-jin dismisses him along with the rookie.
Yi-gang questions Dae-jin on the Yiseokjae case. When Dae-jin tries to ask her why she has returned, she deflects by asking if the search team covered Gaeam Falls. At her insistence, Dae-jin sends Gu-yeong and the rookie to the falls.
Out in the field, the rookie questions Gu-yeong about Yi-gang and he reveals that she was stranded with someone else after going up the mountain during heavy snow. When they reach the falls, they discover the skeletal remains of the missing hiker.
The discovery places suspicion on Yi-gang. She brings up the website of the mountain’s volunteer fire department and shows them pictures posted from the search. She zooms in to show them a small arrangement of rocks and sticks similar to the one found with Seung-hun. Only, this arrangement is a signal that only she and Hyun-jo used for lost hikers. She brings up more examples of the same phenomenon in pictures from other searches and can say exactly where the missing hikers were found based on the rock arrangements.
Yi-gang thinks that someone is sending her signals. The rookie follows the logic and decides that it can only be Hyun-jo but Dae-jin tells her that’s not possible. We then flash to a hospital…where Hyun-jo has been lying in a coma since December 2019.
The Episode Review
Jirisan is tvN’s 15th anniversary special drama, promising a blend of mystery, fantasy, and thriller. Episode 1 managed to lay the groundwork for all three and the dual timelines work well to build up tension that’ll get you eager for round two. Although, it didn’t wow in the way you’d expect from the writer that brought us Kingdom.
Beginning the episode through the action of the search and rescue mission was a great move to establish the role of the rangers and how they handle things on the mountain. We also got a slight window into the relationship dynamics and personalities of the team; however, this did take more of a backseat than would have been preferable and hopefully we get more of a chance to become attached to them.
Setting has a huge role in this story, with the focus on Mount Jiri and its rangers, not to mention its apparent supernatural aura. We get a lot of indulgent establishing shots of breathtaking views, but occasionally the mediocre visual effects can be jarring. The sound can also be a little too clean, which is strange to process while watching an obviously chaotic natural environment.
Despite its shortcomings, Episode 1 really picked up in the last 20 or so minutes when it leaned into the mystery-thriller elements of its story, so hopefully we only see that momentum build over the show’s run.
|Expect A Full Season Write-Up When This Season Concludes!|