Pray With Me, Sister
As a massive fan of Black Mirror and Inside No 9, MBC’s SF8 project is something I’ve been looking forward to watching for quite some time. The first episode certainly doesn’t disappoint and if this is any indication to go by, it could prove to be a serious science fiction contender in the Korean drama world.
While we’ve have sci-fi projects in the past, this one feels very gritty and dark. The thought provoking questions are certainly something that are very welcome and the ambiguous ending leaves lots of food for though.
We begin episode 1 of SF8 with a prayer. A prayer that soon becomes a cacophonous racket of men and women sitting by a man’s bedside. We’re at the Paradise Nursing Home but despite the futuristic, android nurses working there, this is far from paradise.
As we soon come to learn, these caregivers are given one simple task – to nurse the hospitalized loved ones back to health. For this episode we hone in on two specific characters, Jung-In and Jung-Gil.
Robots seemingly come in different levels, with more sophisticated models capable of doing extra tasks than their entry level brethren. Interestingly, this juxtaposition plays out with Jung-In given the luxury of having an advanced model called Ho-Joong.
By contrast, Jung-Gil only has a basic model. The trouble is, this basic model means she needs to do much of the care-giving herself. This is quite the kick in the teeth given how expensive these robots actually are.
Jung-In arrives in the room and discusses her Mother’s condition with the nurse. She’s in a vegetative state and things are looking bleak. When Jung-In cuts her finger, the robot attempts to disinfect the wound using her mouth.
Meanwhile, Jung-Gil arrives at the hospital and finds sweets littering the floor. The nurse in charge has given Jeong-Gil a sedative but clearly it’s caused him to go a little insane. With a cover over her head, she tries to suffocate Jeong-Gil but the nurse manages to stop her from doing so. As she chokes out on pills, the robot refuses to help her.
Meanwhile, Jung-In returns to the hospital after an interview. She’s deflated, and tells Ho-Joong that she’s going to die. Despite trying to help and book her into a psychiatrist, Jung-In smiles sadly and walks away.
As she does, this robot seemingly has an existential crisis, playing back memories from the past. Screamingly soundlessly to the sky, she suddenly freezes. Sister Sabina arrives but doesn’t think much of this, believing her to be recharging.
When Ho-Joong reawakens, she’s faced with an interesting dilemma. Given Jung-In has gone and her printing business is failing, she phones Sabina and asks for advice.
If she could save one person (JUng-In) by killing another (her comatose mother) then should she? It’s a fascinating conundrum and one that sees this android eventually throw herself into the caregiving role she’s been designed to do.
A week passes and Ho-Joong finally manages to get through to Jung-In. She’s despairing and slipping into a depressive state. As she throws glasses around, she tells the robot to shut up. This is just what she needs to make her mind up – she’s going to go against her core programming and kill the patient in order to save the family member.
Given what happened to Jung-Gil, she’s used this as a basis of measuring pain levels. On the phone to Sister Sabina, this android starts justifying her decision using pre-recorded messages from the past. Sabina however pleads with her not to kill a human being. Ho-Joong refuses to listen though and tells the Sister to pray for Jeong-In with her.
As the episode reaches its climax, Jung-In tries to hang herself…but is saved by a phone call about her mother passing away. At the hospital, she embraces Jung-In but this android clearly misinterprets the emotions and tries to kiss Jung-In.
After speaking to one of the authority figures at the facility, Jung-In learns the truth about what happened. Ho-Joong complies with showing the footage and it immediately sends Jung-In over the edge, hitting the android with all of her strength. She eventually kills the robot, just as two of the caregivers start muttering instructions. Interestingly, this sounds just like a prayer as they speak monotonously in-sync.
A year passes and Sister Sabina awakens and finds Jung-In. She’s seemingly doing a lot better now but still holds a lot of resentment toward this android. However, she does mention that Ho-Joong was returned to Germany for closer inspection.
When Sabina arrives at the Headquarters, she finds Ho-Joong in cold storage. She’s been praying every day and as they talk, she seems more human than most of the humans in this world.
Eventually she asks Sabina to kill her and put this android out of its misery. Sabina is unable to do this though as she believes it’s a sin. In a scene that looks very much like an exorcism, the robot wails in pain, calling her a hypocrite as she’s bathed in red light.
As she kneels beside her, both Sabina and Ho-Joong share a prayer together as the Germans arrive in the warehouse, which is where the episode ends.
The Episode Review
There’s a lot to pick apart in The Prayer and thematically, the episode does a fantastic job bringing the religious aspects of the Cain and Abel story into the fold. Ultimately though the episode plays on that notion of life and death. It also acts as a warning sign of what could happen if androids become sentient.
In a way, you can understand why Ho-Joong has done what she did to Jung-In’s Mother. The scenes involving Jung-Gil and their basic model works really well to juxtapose the moral conflict of this situation.
We know that Jung-Gil could have been saved by the robot but it wasn’t programmed to help her. By contrast, Ho-Joong has been programmed to help both Jung-In and her Mother, which definitely throws up some morally skewed ideas. As we heard her say early on, if killing Jung-In’s mother could save Jung-In, should this be done?
In a way she actually did save Jung-In, especially with the phone call preventing this girl from hanging herself.
The ending scenes really feel like an exorcism of sorts with Sister Sabina caught in the middle of this. She too goes through the same moral dilemma as the robot begs her to end its life.
The best sci-fi tales are ones that keep you thinking long after the credits roll. In that respect, SF8 does a wonderful job getting this deliciously dark anthology off to a great start. Roll on next Friday!
|Click Here To Read Our Full Season Review For SF8!|