OCN’s “Black” just premiered its first two episodes this weekend. It’s a perfect watch as Halloween approaches, showcasing a fast-paced plot filled with mystery, intrigue, and some very chilling moments in this fantasy crime show.
1. Main characters
Kang Ha Ram (Go Ara), our main lead, is a very likable character immediately from her first appearance on screen. Since childhood, she’s had a special ability to see “shadows of death,” as she calls them — black, wavering mist that clings to those fated to die in the near future. Being forced to see these signs of impending death on every other passerby in the street has its toll on Ha Ram, and she hides her eyes under black sunglasses so the shadows are unnoticeable. Used to the hardships that come with her curse, she maintains a tough, outer facade and an easy arsenal of threats (typically about attacking people’s eyes) that hide a gentle and sensitive personality on the inside. In truth, Ha Ram’s compassion for others makes it difficult to face the guilt she has at not being able to stop the tragic deaths around her, even driving her to near suicide at one point. When the glasses do come off, we see she never willingly ignores the “shadows of death”; she repeatedly attempts to save people, to no avail, multiple times. And when Detective Han (Song Seung Heon) enters into her life and discovers her abilities, offering up a partnership to save people together, she readily accepts.
Detective Han, our other main character in the “Black” universe, is harder to gauge in personality. He seems like a warm and genuinely kind person in the beginning of the show: he insists on becoming a detective even though his family insists he doesn’t have the skills for it; he can’t seem to stomach violence, as indicated by his habit of throwing up every time he’s near a crime scene; he comforts Ha Ram in her pain; and he also offers his help to Ha Ram in saving lives. Moreover, he was once a childhood friend and an older brother figure to our main female lead, although he doesn’t appear to recognize her in the first few episodes. However, our detective’s entrenchment in some very strange mysteries makes it hard for the audience to consider a final judgement.
Black, meanwhile, is our actual Reaper, and he appears to be a character completely opposite to Detective Han’s. Confident, assured, and a little over-cocky, Black has a terminator-vibe that might manage to come across as cool if he didn’t have a tendency to forget human customs…such as wearing pants.
Ha Ram’s role in the plot is relatively straightforward; after experiencing many years in isolation with only a pair of black sunglasses for comfort, she decides to team up with Detective Han and help people (something she immediately begins pursuing), bringing a refreshing and cheerful change in her demeanor. Detective Han, on the other hand, is embroiled in several tangled secrets: in episode 1, he discovers his girlfriend has been lying about her identity; we don’t see the full gist of the mystery, but we know it involves a strange tape that only Detective Han and his girlfriend, played by Lee El, understand the importance of.
This side story isn’t investigated too much, though, and the main plot quickly comes back into focus, picking up pace when Ha Ram ventures outside without her glasses to enact her plan of stopping death. Her method? Walking up to various people with shadows and placing her hands on them so she can see the exact moment they die. It quickly yields results — Ha Ram foresees a hostage being shot at a shopping mall by a runaway soldier. She demands help from a reluctant Detective Han, who pulls through to help her successfully apprehend the bad guys.
After a job well done, they go their separate ways…only for Ha Ram to find out she wasn’t able to fully stop her vision. Discovering a number of missed phone calls from her partner, Ha Ram goes to find Detective Han at the station and spies him on TV. This time, he’s the hostage. In an odd and unexplained turn of events, Detective Han quietly cues a sniper team (poised and ready on another building) to take out the runaway soldier threatening everyone — whereupon the sniper gets a command to subtly shoot Han. He goes down with a bullet to his head, and dies in the hospital.
Meanwhile, a horrified Ha Ram believes her attempt to intervene in the situation inadvertently placed Han in place of the original victim. She attempts to commit suicide, blaming herself for his death (after also realizing he is her childhood friend) and hangs herself with a shoelace.
The supernatural part of the show kicks in from here, when Detective Han wakes up in the morgue with strange, red eyes and an entirely different personality. He quickly and quietly leaves the hospital on the hunt for a specific man (though we don’t know exactly who he is after or why), and his miraculous recovery is reported on TV.
At this announcement, Ha Ram regrets her death, but can do nothing to stop it as she slowly suffocates to death. However, Oh Man Soo, a struggling chaebol son (with a position in the family as company scapegoat), busts into her house with his dog to save her. He’d heard her story about how she could see death in the police station and believed her, then decided to visit Ha Ram in hopes she might predict whether his old dog would live or not.
Ha Ram survives by luck, though she clearly intends to dwell on it very little as she rushes to the hospital to see Detective Han, who does not recognize anyone around him and is also not very keen on exchanging pleasantries. She follows the irritated man around until he manages to lose her temporarily and continue with his mission (during which he interestingly teleports multiple times through doorways, “Goblin” style). The search inevitably fails, and he’s eventually forced back under the watchful eye of his girlfriend and mother. It is around this time, by the end of the drama, that we learn a very important fact: Detective Han is no longer Detective Han anymore. Instead, a stern and serious grim reaper has possessed the dead detective’s body to carry out his work on earth. Han himself, it is alluded, is currently in limbo.
The conclusion of the first two episodes was certainly a thrilling end, though it raises many questions. Who is the detective’s wife, really? Who is the dead skeleton shown in the car accident at the beginning of the first episode? What is this mysterious tape? And what is the story surrounding Ha Ram’s father’s death, which has so far only been alluded to?
I also want to know what will happen to Detective Han. Will he remain a major part of the story, interacting with the characters and continuing to impact the plot, or will he fade away, to be replaced by Black? I’m thrown by the synopsis we were given in drama previews — a young woman who sees death falls in love with a reaper — and it makes me wonder how they are going to work the romance angle, especially when Ha Ram seems to be nursing a childhood crush on Detective Han. However, I can easily see a foundation for future chemistry between Reaper and Ha Ram; his irritation towards her seems to hold more exasperation than anger, and he’s certainly more intrigued by Ha Ram than the other “humans” around him.
Fans worried that “Black” will just be a copy of “Goblin” can rest assured; this dark drama is a wild ride, with a million curveballs and enigmas to keep you guessing at the next episode. You’ll definitely never get tired of watching.
Ariana K. Welsh is a college student who spends most of her time obsessing over K-dramas with her sister, dancing to loud music, and writing into the wee hours of the night. Her current fave things in life are: snow, Waldeinsamkeit by R.W. Emerson, and Butterbeer.