A good start by Dr. Brain — a well-directed pilot that is rich in the story but tidily delivered.
This recap of Apple TV+ K-Drama series Dr. Brain season 1, episode 1, contains spoilers.
What a brilliant commission by Apple TV+. With the success of the K-Drama original series on Netflix, getting visionary filmmaker Kim Jee-woon to make a rich story for their streaming service is a big win. Let’s hope it delivers. Let’s recap the premiere episode.
Dr. Brain season 1, episode 1 recap
Episode 1 begins in 1990, Seoul, during Fall. A young Se-won is playing with different colors on a torch, hidden away from other children. He narrates how he was different from the other children and always wanted to break things apart. The young Se-won has upset the other children with his actions, and his mother arrives to help. Se-won played with the fire extinguisher to see what was inside. The teacher believes he needs professional help and is incapable of connecting with others.
And so, they see a professional who claims that Se-won may never be capable of socializing. This felt a little extreme, but maybe it was a reflection of the times. The professional makes the mother aware of a new program for people with autism, but it comes at a cost, which feels economically tragic for a parent. The situation takes a toll on the mother, and she walks out into the middle of the road, and she’s hit by a truck. It all happened so quickly, and it’s easy to assume it was suicide. The young Se-won faints at the sight of seeing his mother’s death. Medical staff notes that Se-won shows no emotional reaction to his mother’s death.
When interviewed about the incident, Se-won remembers small, precise details; the professionals state that Se-won has a special and unique brain structure, and he essentially becomes a science experiment. Se-won narrates that after his mother died, he became obsessed with understanding the human brain. And behold, Dr. Brain!
Episode 1 then moves to the present day — Se-won is presenting at a lecture about the brain and using brainwaves synchronization to engage with each other. He believes this technology can help patients with brain diseases to communicate. There are questions regarding ethical dilemmas, so Se-won believes policies and laws should be put in place before the technology is widely used.
Ji-woo Hong from Science Magazine speaks to Se-won after the lecture. She wonders if his work is motivated by personal reasons. Se-won bats off the question, stating that there doesn’t need to be a reason. The reporter raises what happened to his mother and subsequently his wife and son. Se-won walks away. It’s evident that he has changed somewhat since a child and has embraced his autism spectrum.
Giving the audience an understanding of Se-won’s experiments, episode 1 shows him and his assistant attempting to transfer memories between two rats. However, the synchronization fails. Se-won narrates about his wife and son; he knew he couldn’t be a typical husband, but he tried to have a normal life. Flashbacks show Se-won wanting to get rid of the cat, but the wife argues that it is their son’s only friend. They argue about their son, but Se-won raises how his son was exactly like him when younger, and he turned out fine. And then, tragedy strikes. Their son died in a fire. Scenes later show the wife is in denial, and she believes their son is alive. What happened to his wife is unclear.
And then back to the present, and Se-won has made late-night progress on the brain synchronization between two rats. After the death of one rat, the brain waves work. Se-won needs a human subject, a corpse. However, his colleague believes his project will not be approved. He asks another colleague (Namil Hong) who has access to the morgue for help. Se-won understands that his experiment works if one subject is dead.
At the morgue, they roll out a corpse to conduct the experiment. Se-won makes himself one of the subjects and links his brain waves to the corpse. He can see the dead man’s memories. Someone is beating another person up with a rock, and blood is splattering everywhere. Namil Hong starts to panic as warning bleeps come from the computer. Se-won has experienced cardiac arrest. He manages to bring him back. Se-won goes home and tells Namil Hong that he doesn’t remember anything.
And then episode 1 takes a strange turn (if it isn’t weird already). As Se-won gets home, he’s approached by Private Investigator Kang-mu Lee. He asks what happened to his wife as Junki Lim is his client, and they want to know where Jaeyi Jung is. An irked Se-won asks the investigator to leave. As Se-won heads inside, he has visions regarding his childhood.
He wakes up the next day, and Lieutenant Jiun Choi from the ST Investigative Unit wants to speak to him. They ask if they can talk with his wife. And then they ask about Junki Lim, who was close to his wife — the man is dead. They wonder if he has an alibi. Se-won gets defensive, so the Lieutenant leaves. Has the series quickly turned into a murder investigation?
Se-won wants to know why everyone is asking him about Junki Lim, so he investigates. He gets access to the corpse of Junki Lim and sets up the brain synchronization with himself. He sees a young child named Heejin. There’s a murder as he sees a bloody knife. Afterward, Se-won reports in his recorder about the glimpses of memories but that they are not clear.
The next day, he heads out for food with Hong Lim, surprising colleagues that he’s socializing. Hong Lim is curious as to why Se-won is using his left hand rather than right. Se-won notes how he must try to separate himself from the deceased. He’s also drinking coffee when he doesn’t like it. He notes all these changes down.
A few things happen to end a dramatic pilot episode.
At work, Se-won sees a human figure in the distance, but he is hallucinating. As the figure runs towards him, it disappears. His strange experiences continue; he keeps seeing different people, to the point where he’s finding it hard to know what is real. Suddenly, his head hurts. Se-won gets out of his car, and he sees loads of bugs over his clothes that are not there. It gets worse. Ahead of him, he sees a vast alien-like organism forming in front of him. Se-won knows these are side effects — he needs to decipher the memories correctly. He then experiences a shocking truth; a young child appears before him and states, “Doyoon isn’t dead,” referring to his son.
When Se-won returns home, he’s confused — the young girl repeated what his wife said — that his son is alive. Se-won heads into his basement. His wife is in a coma and linked to medical equipment; he’s taking care of her. He apologizes to her for not believing in her. He puts on the brain synchronization equipment. He asks her if she knows where their son is before starting the machine.
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