If Netflix has Black Mirror, South Korea presents an equal with God’s Quiz: Reboot. This particular drama definitely deviates from the drama and terror of Black Mirror, but it manages to address the very terrors of our rapidly advancing technological age. There might be doubts as to the success of the fifth season. However, it is the drama’s very focus on forensic science and biological discoveries that makes it ever relevant.
Fans of the show might already be familiar with the main protagonist, neurosurgeon and forensic doctor Han Jin-woo (Ryu Deok-hwan). He has been hailed as a genius over the past few seasons, always managing to identify the numerous rare diseases at the crux of each criminal mystery. However, for viewers new to the series, episode 1 kicks off with an unkempt Jin-woo in the midst of an interview about cooking. The scene is made even more dubious with it being set in front of a countryside house, with Jin-woo acting all eccentric. His real identity is only revealed later when he rejoins the forensic team at Korea University’s Medical Examiner’s Office.
This seemingly bizzare introduction to the drama in fact spotlights an important element of the series – comedy. With the heavy medical terminology flying across viewers’ heads half the time, an important draw factor for the drama lies in Jin-woo’s charming personality. He might be a genius, but he is also immensely entertaining and never lets a murder dampen his spirit. Unlike Sherlock Holmes’ far more narcissistic and reclusive character, Jin-woo is anything but an annoying know-it-all. His mischievous antics that begin the show reassures viewers that if a mystery has to be unravelled, it will also be a ball of fun with Jin-woo leading the way.
The meat of the drama then comes with the way God’s Quiz: Reboot has refurbished its plot focus. Yes, the drama starts off with a familiar spotlight on rare diseases, but the show unveils far more terrifying threats to humanity. This season addresses possibly one of mankind’s greatest fear: the unknown. Season 5 introduces CODAS (Cause of Death Analysis System), an artificial intelligence programme tailored to use big data for the purposes of criminal investigation.
The CODAS team, led by Kwak Hyuk-min (Kim Jun-han), seems to be at eternal odds with Jin-woo and his colleagues. However, as CODAS starts to develop a conscious of its own, it is hard not to start thinking about the age-old concerns of Frankenstein destroying his own master; CODAS might just turn out to be the true evil villain this season.
At the same time, the diseases that are being detected this season place victims and the main characters at far greater danger. Not only do they have to tackle the difficulties of identifying the rare conditions from corpses, God’s Quiz: Reboot brings an equally ingenious criminal into the picture. Hyun Sang-pil (Kim Jae-won) is notorious assasin in Hong Kong, known only as Hyun in the criminal world and having one other sidekick by him for most of the show. He returns to South Korea with only vengeance on his mind. His plan, however, is far more complex than a simple assassination – he poses his own challenge to Jin-woo by creating toxins specific to the DNA of his targets.
It is this particular twist that salvages this season from being just another repetition of its previous iterations. The writers and producers of the show have narrowed in on the advantage of having medicinal science at the core of the show – science’s unending progress and the ethical dilemmas behind the desire to unveil or create. As much as Jin-woo, or the good guys, strive to formulate cures for the suffering, it is also clear that poison could be developed – and in such scrupulous ways that Hyun has demonstrated.
At the same time, it spotlights the increasing fear of biological weapons, a by-product of rapid technological progress. Our present-day fear of technology advancing far too quickly, more so than mankind can handle, creeps its way into the show without sacrificing character or plot. Rather than just being another delve into discovering rare diseases, God’s Quiz: Reboot has found a way to keep with the times; it addresses the pertinent fears of our time and looks forward into the uncertain future. It is a production that truly positions itself in the 21st Century while managing to remain enjoyable.
However, the drama does not stop there. The climax in God’s Quiz always boils down to a certain revelation of Jin-woo’s painful and traumatic past. From being experimented on as a child by his childhood friend’s father to discovering he has developed a split personality due to the side effects of said experiments, Jin-woo’s past continues to be uncovered in this season.
Hyun and his subordinate are revealed to be Jin-woo’s childhood friends from a welfare centre his mother sent him to be part of yet another medical research. Hyun’s targets are actually the individuals responsible for the ethically questionable experiments to find a cure for MAO-A deficiency. The research was funded by Hanju Group, whose President suffered from the very condition. The entire programme ended in a tragedy, with many of the children involved dying in a fire. The show gets even more complex as viewers come to realise the covering up of these child deaths by CODAS’s team leader, Kwak Hyuk-min, and Chief Medical Examiner, Jo Young-sil (Park Joon-myun). They both receive threats from Hyun in a series of photos and letters, forcing them to the realisation that their dirty past is slowly being dug out.
More strikingly, the drama also creates a further complication, revealing Hanju Group to be behind the funding for CODAS. Furthermore, the true identity of intelligent Jung Seung-bin (Bora) who works as a member of the CODAS team, is also uncovered to be a surviving child from the welfare centre. Her loyalties lie with Hyun rather than with the CODAS team, and her friendliness to Jin-woo stem from a far more deeply-rooted friendship. The map of character relationships has become a spiderweb of messy threads by the final quarter of the season. Jin-woo, however, remains oblivious to all these, with a large part of his childhood memory blotted out. Hyun’s aim, beyond revenge, is also to force Jin-woo to reawaken these memories.
Beyond the fanciful medical terminologies and engineering technicalities with CODAS in the picture, truth remains an important point of focus for all five seasons of God’s Quiz. It is a topic impossible to avoid, especially when bringing scientific inquiry and criminal investigation into the same frame. And indeed, truth becomes important in distinguishing good from evil, true sinners from those who are repentant. Hyun becomes far less atrocious in his final moments, where he is content to have Jin-woo by his side as he draws his final breath. Furthermore, he is certainly much more favourable than the arrogantly wealthy. Hyun cares for the disempowered, being all smiles as he generously purchases mittens from a beggarly mother and her young daughter.
The show is a fully powered steam train as it charges forward with layer after layer of complex problems falling upon Jin-woo and his colleagues. Character dynamics and relations might have preoccupied viewers towards the last few episodes. However, the show leaves no lose threads behind as the motivations of CODAS are also made clear. The seemingly threatening artificial intelligence becomes Jin-woo’s ally and develops a genuine personality of its own. The writers do not stop at just creating another interesting machine friend who swoops in to assist Jin-woo in solving all the problems thrown at him. Instead, they unravel the history of CODAS’s construction and its technical architecture.
This is where even more fun gets thrown into the mix of revenge plot, crime drama, and scientific inquiries. CODAS is revealed to be built using the brain-mapping of Jin-woo as its blueprint. In simple terms, CODAS is in fact a clone of Jin-woo himself. God’s Quiz: Reboot detracts from the typical Frankenstein disaster of creation destroying creator, machine killing man. For viewers more interested in engineering technicalities, this season does not disappoint. The final episode offers a wonderful and succinct explanation, reinforcing the show’s constant attention to detail and accuracy.
Unlike the cliff-hanging conclusions of previous seasons, this season offers a well-earned happy ending after an immensely arduous journey. The relationship that blossomed between Detective Kang Kyung-hee (Yoon Joo-hee) and Jin-woo in season one finally reaches the moment where Jin-woo gets down on one knee for his proposal. But nothing is ever predictable with God’s Quiz, and we get a comedic moment where Detective Kang runs off to save a woman in need.
The show concludes with Jin-woo’s pensive reflections on justice and benevolence. However, the light-hearted epilogue turns the mood back up. And perhaps that’s what this season really is about – it begins eccentrically and ends with a laugh that makes the sorrow in between bearable. Packaged as a neat little story in itself, those unfamiliar with God’s Quiz can safely watch this season and still be promised a satisfying roller coaster ride of everything from drama and crime to comedy and sci-fi.
(YouTube. Images via OCN)