Rounding out our coverage of tvN premieres is Memory, a human drama about exactly what its title suggests. It’s off to a solid start to be sure, even if it’s asking us to suffer through a hero that only the hero himself seems able to stand, and shows promise in its ability to take him and its viewers on an emotional journey through one man’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. If you’re the kind of glutton for punishment to watch what will undoubtedly be a Very Sad Drama, or the kind who just likes their dramas with an extra dash of pain and suffering, then this might very well be the show for you. If not, well, that’s okay too.
SONG OF THE DAY
Kim Feel – “다시 산다면 (If I Live Again)” from the OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We meet Lawyer PARK TAE-SUK (Lee Sung-min), as he interrupts a scheduled TV appearance to take a call that has him simultaneously apologizing for his wrongs and threatening the person on the other end of the line.
He leaves the studio to finish the call, only to be drawn toward television screens broadcasting breaking news of a body being found by police. Tae-suk says in voiceover that misfortunes came all at once for him, and they came so suddenly that he had no time to prepare.
Two days prior. A frazzled Tae-suk drives like a maniac through the streets of Seoul while on the phone with his wife, SEO YOUNG-JOO (Kim Ji-soo) who’s been tasked with finding the wallet he accidentally left at home.
She does, and after urging him to come home early for their son’s birthday, she opens the wallet to take a peek. Inside, she finds a family photo with her husband in it that leaves her stunned. That’s not her, or their child.
Tae-suk’s inattention to the road ends up getting him into a minor accident, so when he shows up for work, he does so with tissues stuffed up his bloody nose. He’s in such a self-important hurry that he dismisses JUNG JIN (Lee Joon-ho), the new lawyer assigned to his legal team.
He goes instead to a meeting with his firm’s managing partner, who assigns him to a medical malpractice suit. Of course, he’ll be fighting on behalf of a chaebol set to be the future director of a big name hospital, and he’s been hired by the chairman to make this case disappear as quickly and quietly as possible.
“Do you have a car?” is the first thing Tae-suk asks of Jin, the new recruit, as if he suddenly remembered he could be useful for something. He briefs him on the case as they walk (always in a hurry), but none of the details serve to make the guilty party seem any less guilty.
Tae-suk and Jin meet with the doctor responsible for the suit, who claims that prescribing his patient the wrong medicine two times in a row was an honest accident. Even if the patient died, the doctor says you can’t definitively prove it was because of the wrong medication.
Jin gets exasperated with his excuses and says that if he’d just checked to confirm the medications were correct, they wouldn’t all be here now. That’s when the brightly-dressed man playing video games on the nearby couch turns around, “Are you such a perfect human being, Lawyer Jung?”
This is SHIN YOUNG-JIN (Lee Ki-woo), the vice president of Hanguk Energy Group (they own the hospital), who called and requested Tae-suk’s services. He’s the one who wants all this covered up so that it doesn’t reflect badly on him or his family’s hospital, and reflects just as much when he reminds Tae-suk that they hired a lawyer, not a prosecutor.
He promptly returns to his video games, leaving Tae-suk to finish parsing out the details: the doctor who reported him, Doctor Kim, claims to just want the Malpractice Doc to tell the patient’s family the truth. Otherwise, he’ll leak the story to the media.
Though Malpractice Doc and Young-jin made Doctor Kim out to seem like he was just trying to get them in trouble, in reality, Kim just doesn’t want such a wrong to be buried without retribution for the family. Mistake or not, prescribing the patient cancer medication when he already had another condition is what killed him, the doctor argues.
He doesn’t want money or recognition, even though Tae-suk claims to be able to get him a promotion in the hospital if Doctor Kim drops this whole thing. Even though he’d be fighting against the hospital he’s worked at all these years, not to mention Hanguk Group itself, Doctor Kim doesn’t waver.
He’ll give Malpractice Doc until noon tomorrow to tell the dead patient’s family the truth, or he’ll go the media, he says. Tae-suk goes from diplomatically telling him he’ll have more to lose than gain, to outright threatening that he’ll regret this decision. Neither tactic sways him.
Tae-suk tasks Jin with digging into Doctor Kim’s background for dirt they can use, but Jin can’t keep his concerns in: someone died because of what Malpractice Doc did. Tae-suk sees this as unimportant, and reminds Jin that he didn’t become a prosecutor, but an attorney, which means they’re beholden to their clients.
At home, Young-joo tries to go about her housework without thinking too much about the picture she found in the wallet. We see the child from the photo crying for his mother and running into the street, only to be engulfed by headlights. Oh no.
Meanwhile, the child’s mother, Judge NA EUN-SUN (Park Jin-hee) wakes up from her nightmare with a start. It’s with sorrow that she touches the photo of her and her son, though it’s cut so that Tae-suk isn’t in it.
It’s when Young-joo runs into an old friend at the grocery store that we start to understand how these three characters are tied together—Tae-suk was divorced when he met and married Young-joo. Eun-sun must have been his first wife, then.
If any of this is weighing on Young-joo’s mind, she doesn’t let it show in front of her two children. Even when son Jung-woo comes home in a terrible mood, she offers things to cheer him up, considering it’s his birthday.
Tae-suk visits his doctor buddy to try and get some painkillers for his head (he hit it in the accident), but his buddy urges him to just get an MRI while he’s at it to make sure he’s alright.
But Tae-suk spots an invitation to Doctor Kim’s daughter’s wedding on his buddy’s desk, and uses the chance to probe a bit into what he knows about Doctor Kim.
While Tae-suk makes his managing partner’s son uncomfortable with his chumminess, Jin prepares to hand in his letter of resignation. Lawyer HAN JUNG-WON (Song Sun-mi), who earlier claimed the client handpicked Tae-suk for the job, ends up caught in her lie by Tae-suk himself when she gives him information he can use against Doctor Kim.
If she had this sort of information, there’s no reason why she couldn’t have taken the case herself, but Tae-suk guesses that she gave it to him so that she wouldn’t get her hands dirty. Next time, he cautions her, she can do her own dirty work.
Family circumstances leave Jin unable to resign, and Tae-suk ends up overhearing his heated conversation from inside a restroom stall. Jin is therefore in no mood to hear one of their colleagues sing Tae-suk’s praises, since he sees Tae-suk as more of a thug than a talented genius.
At home, a frustrated Jung-woo knows his perpetually late father will be late even on his special day, and eats his birthday cake without him. Eun-sun also has a similar cake in front of her, along with other memorial foods, in offering for the child she lost.
Tae-suk shows up at her door dead drunk, forcing her to shove him away when he tries to go inside. It’s only then that he actually gets a good look at her, and seems to realize the mistake he’s made. “How did I end up here?” he slurs.
He apologizes to her informally, which she corrects by reminding him to call her Judge Na Eun-sun, thankyouverymuch. He manages to make a couple jokes to try and cut the awkwardness, but when they fail, he apologizes in earnest. Eun-sun just disappears back into the house.
Then, unable to hold it in, she comes back out: “Do you know what today is? Do you?” He doesn’t seem to, which causes her to slap him hard across the cheek. “How can you even drink on a day like this?” she asks accusatorially. “Even if everyone else forgets, you, of all people, shouldn’t.”
Even with her emotional outburst, he still claims to not know what day it is, and she just gives up trying. It’s only after she goes back inside that he remembers: “Dong-woo-ya.”
Flash back to when he’d ran to the hospital only to find Eun-sun weeping desperately over their son’s lifeless body. “Dong-woo-ya! It’s your dad!” he’d said to the boy, in denial. “Your dad’s here, Dong-woo-ya!”
He’d tried grabbing his son as if to wake him, prompting hysterical screams from his wife. That’s when it really hit them both that they’d lost their child, and all they could do was hold him and cry.
In the present, Tae-suk stands in front of Eun-sun’s door, unable to press the doorbell now. Aw.
Young-joo wakes up when Tae-suk comes home, so sloppily drunk that he scares his own daughter. He tells his wife that he wants to sleep next to their son today, though he mistakenly calls him Dong-woo. Yikes.
Eun-sun sleeps in Dong-woo’s room that night, which has been preserved and turned into a sort of shrine to him, with the wall covered in every conceivable picture he was ever in.
Remembering the picture from his wallet, Young-joo decides to just put the picture back inside rather than bring it up.
Tae-suk’s pretty hungover for work the next day, and seems to know that Jin is upset with him. He pre-empts Jin handing over his resignation letter by reminding him that if he quits before he’s worked there for six months, he’ll have to forfeit the contract fee the firm paid him in advance.
He wisely leaves Jin outside when he goes in to talk to Doctor Kim, this time noting all the written memos pasted around him with a sort of contempt, seeing as how the dirt he found reveals that Doctor Kim was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six months ago.
Since it’s such a hereditary disease, Tae-suk guesses rightly that Doctor Kim doesn’t want his future son-in-law to know, or even his own daughter. “Are you blackmailing me?” the doctor asks incredulously. Yes, he is, and if the diagnosis isn’t enough to stop his daughter’s marriage, Tae-suk also has records of his daughter standing trial in the United States for drug abuse.
If Doctor Kim negotiates with him, Tae-suk promises to keep all this a secret. After all, if the hospital were to find out he was still practicing with such a condition, he’d be sued. Doctor Kim can’t get over his incredulity at the low to which Tae-suk has stooped, and warns that life’s misfortunes come suddenly and without warning, in the same words Tae-suk parroted at the beginning of the episode.
Jin didn’t need to be in the room to know what happened, especially when he sees the state Tae-suk leaves Doctor Kim in. But there’s nothing he can do, so he just keeps quiet for now.
While his son Jung-woo acts out by stealing soju from a convenience store, Tae-suk seems oblivious to his own guilt or his family strife as he dances by himself. Jin just watches him with contempt, though he gets flak from the pretty office secretary for just standing around.
Jin joins Tae-suk for his dinner with Young-jin, his managing partner, and Malpractice Doc. It’s an expensive thank-you for doing whatever he did to make Doctor Kim change his mind about going to the media, and poor Jin looks like he’s about to pop from holding in his thoughts.
Young-jin seems to be the only person at the table more heartless than Tae-suk, but he’s much more of an ass about not caring. (He seems c-c-c-craaaazy, actually.) Because Tae-suk did such a good job with this case, he has an even bigger one for him to take on behalf of their company.
Tae-suk meets with his doctor buddy afterward, having spent the entire dinner getting pelted by his calls. He knows what Tae-suk did because he’s the one who told Tae-suk about Doctor Kim’s condition, never expecting that he’d use that to blackmail Kim.
His buddy knows he’s had to work hard to be successful, but Tae-suk’s officially taken things too far. Because they’ve been friends forever, his buddy really thought he knew him, and thought he was a good person. Not anymore.
“What did I do so wrong?!” Tae-suk finally bursts, startling the people around them. But it’s when his buddy throws a glass of water in his face and calls him inhuman that the fight really begins, ending with both men tousling on the ground and someone recording it on their phone.
As Jin contemplates the resignation letter he hasn’t turned in yet later that night, Doctor Kim contemplates the unknown while staring out his office window.
Young-joo gets nothing from her husband when she asks what happened, and gets the briefest “I’ll call him later” when she mentions that Jung-woo hasn’t been himself lately, or maybe since his father missed his birthday.
But hearing this has zero effect on Tae-suk, who happily takes payment from Hanguk Group for his services in the form of a brand new car. Seeing this happen, Jin finally has had enough, and leaves his resignation letter on Tae-suk’s desk.
A nurse goes into Doctor Kim’s office the next morning, finding it a bit odd that the window’s open. She approaches it, looks down, and screams to see Doctor Kim lying dead below. Ah, that’s the body we saw in the newscast.
We’re back to where we started in the beginning of the episode, with Tae-suk getting ready for his TV appearance and receiving a call before it starts from his doctor buddy. It’s urgent, as his buddy, still angry with him, says that his MRI results serve him right.
“It’s Alzheimer’s,” his buddy says, his voice cracking just a bit. That’s why Tae-suk was saying he was wrong and that he was sorry—he was hoping his buddy could magically take the diagnosis back.
But he ends the call and proceeds to go on with the broadcast, though the events of the past couple days suddenly come flashing before his eyes. He didn’t remember Jung-woo’s birthday, or the date of Dong-woo’s death, or even his wallet, for that matter.
Worried now, he gets up to call his buddy, leading to the rest of the conversation we saw earlier. He also sees the news broadcast of Doctor Kim’s suicide, and remembers exactly what Kim told him about life’s misfortunes coming all at once.
“Not me,” he says defiantly. “Never.”
It was difficult to try pretending like the awesomely intense Punch never existed while watching this, since the similarities between both shows’ premises and central characters kept popping up, each one a bit more glaring than the last. Both shows revolved around one man diagnosed with a terminal illness who also happened to work for the law. Both featured incorrigible leading men with no redeeming qualities before their illnesses hit. Both featured corrupt superiors complicit in their misconduct, and both featured ex-wives also working to enforce the law.
I know the man-gets-terminal-disease-and-changes story isn’t anything new, and it isn’t a premise that Punch and Punch alone patented and sold. And maybe it’s just in the setup phase where these shows are looking so alike, so while I’m willing to give that the benefit of the doubt, it all still strikes a strange chord with me. For its part at least, Memory seems to be doing its best to be its own drama, so we’ll shift the focus to what it specifically brings to the table.
Taking this episode by itself though, and factoring in that this type of premise promises no fun of any sort, this really wasn’t a whole lot of fun. I don’t just mean the dark tone, dour atmosphere, horrifically unlikable anti-hero, or even the dead child from the past and the suicide of the present. It’s dark but not oppressively dark, and as far as how many awful events can be fit into a one-hour period, it’s actually acceptable as far as melodramas go.
But there’s little else to hold onto here, and not very much to like, even taking into account that we’re not supposed to like Tae-suk yet. I get that he’s supposed to be terrible so we can witness how he changes later, and I’m positive that Lee Sung-min is going to put in a stellar performance in order to bring the audience around to him. We’re human, after all, and there’s little doubt that watching another human suffer the way Tae-suk is likely going to suffer will bring on sympathetic tears by the boatload.
The thing is, there’s nothing urging me to stick around to see that. Which is a real shame, all things considered. There are plenty of interesting story nuggets and ideas when it comes to the characters presented, especially the potential in Jin to be the show’s moral compass and audience stand-in, or even the potential of Young-joo to either find herself or find the husband she married—unless he was this much of a douche to start with, of course.
I still found likable qualities in Young-joo’s long-suffering silence, so I do hope that her evolution as a person will come with Tae-suk’s. Similarly, resolution for Eun-sun’s grief may not be easily forthcoming, or forthcoming at all, but she’s well played by Park Jin-hee and seems like she’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Tae-suk will need all the support he can get for what’s to come, that’s for sure. You guys will just have to fill me in on what happens.