Man to Man: Episode 1
If this first episode is any indication of what kind of roller coaster we’ve just boarded, then it’s probably safe to conclude that things are about to get very weird. On the ratings front, Man to Man just barely edged out its predecessor Strong Woman Do Bong-soon’s premiere episode numbers, making it JTBC’s most watched opening episode ever. We’ll have to wait to see if Secret Agent K can keep viewers tuning in, but for now, the show has my attention, and I’m ready for this ride. Wheeeee!
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open our story smack dab in the middle of a terrorist threat, as U.N. peacekeeping forces surround a bus containing schoolchildren and one suicide bomber dressed in explosives.
Our hero, KIM SEOL-WOO (Park Hae-jin), waits on the roof of a nearby building awaiting his commander’s orders to fire, but his superior continually tells his team to standby. Seol-woo, who has a clear view of the action through his rifle scope, observes in frustration as the terrorist takes a young girl into his grasp, detonator in hand.
Unwilling to watch evil prevail, Seol-woo jumps off the building with his rifle. He locks onto his target from the ground, aims, and then shoots the terrorist dead between the eyes. Seol-woo is arrested for insubordination, but he glances back at the young girl whose life he’s just saved and grins at her beaming, grateful face.
He’s brought to Korea for an interrogation: The investigator requests his name, which he gives, but that’s where the truth ends. When asked for his age, Seol-woo replies with ice in his veins, “I was born in 1609. Age, 409 years old,” and the lie detector he’s attached to processes his statement as true. Baller.
Feeling cheeky, the investigator asks Seol-woo if he has a girlfriend, so he says, “I love… you,” and according to the machine, that’s true too.
From behind a two-way mirror, LEE DONG-HYUN (Jung Man-shik) and Department Head JANG TAE-HO (Jang Hyun-sung) monitor the exchange, amused. Department Head Jang warns Dong-hyun that Seol-woo is dangerous, but Dong-hyun replies that that’s what makes him useful.
Dong-hyun meets with Seol-woo after and explains the three types of special agent categories: white, black, and ghost. white agents operate with their real names, black agents work in the dark, foregoing their identities, while ghost agents are planted deep undercover using fake identities. Dong-hyun wants Seol-woo to be a ghost.
Seol-woo agrees immediately, so Dong-hyun says, “Don’t trust anyone.” Seol-woo replies, “I don’t even trust myself,” and according to Dong-hyun, that’s the right answer.
Seol-woo is dispatched around the world and takes on a number of different identities. He ends up in Budapest, posing as a professor. His target, a young woman named Anna, is his student. His lecture is on the marketing strategies of relief organizations, and he challenges Anna to select the photo that would be most beneficial.
She chooses the more wretched image of the two options and argues that people’s sympathies will be stirred, which will garner more donations. Seol-woo presses back, stating that the organization will need to use increasingly sadder shots as their audience becomes desensitized, and he asks if she believes that to be morally right.
He calls her by her real last name, and she seems surprised. After class, Anna stops Seol-woo on his way out to ask if they’ve met before. He denies it, and she wants to know how he knows her real name, since it’s a secret.
Seol-woo narrates, “There is always a woman behind every case. Love is a useful deception and tactic to a secret agent.” In a montage, we watch the pair quickly fall in love and become engaged. Buddy, you’ve gone in deep.
He continues in voiceover, “However, whereas I am with someone who is high on the romance, I feel loneliness and indifference.” Seol-woo’s interest is actually in Anna’s father, who is a mafia boss, and who was once in the secret police during Hungary’s dictatorship.
Eventually, Seol-woo meets her father, and her father pretends to be pleasant while uttering insults in Hungarian, unaware that Seol-woo is proficient in the language. Seol-woo baits the man with his own secret, and he demands to know who Seol-woo is.
The spy reports back to Dong-hyun and predicts that the father will move to get rid of Seol-woo. Dong-hyun wonders if he will act as they hope, and Seol-woo replies, “People don’t change that easily.” Enter: daddy’s thugs, who don’t look friendly. Seol-woo offers (in Korean) to go quietly, but he guesses they won’t oblige. They stun him with taser batons and take him away.
We shift scenes to the top of building, where a cloaked man with a scorpion tattoo across his cheek surveys the city on a dark and stormy night. He jumps from his spot and takes flight, soaring through the rain. Later, he lands in the middle of a standoff between police and a team of masked criminals, shattering the ground as he touches the pavement.
A police officer asks who the hell he is (in English), and he replies (in Korean), “You’re the cop. Who must I be if I’m facing off against you?” He takes a few steps forward and adds, “You guessed right. I’m the villain. The worst there is.”
He shoots energy blasts from his palms, blowing the police out of his path, then smirks as his tattoo illuminates. The scene fades as the title of the movie blinks across the screen, and we move to a TV studio where Hallyu actor YEO WOON-KWANG (Park Sung-woong) promotes his newest Hollywood movie.
The interviewer presses for details on the film, but the actor replies that his contract is very strict about spoilers, so he’s let off the hook.
He pivots to discuss how Woon-kwang rose to stardom, and Woon-kwang attributes some of his success to the “imaginative planning” of his manager CHA DO-HA (Kim Min-jung), before turning to the camera to wink.
Off-camera, Do-ha barely contains her squees at the praise and steps back so that she’s out of Woon-kwang’s line of sight before she unleashes her inner fangirl. Aww, these two are precious.
Across the world, Seol-woo is taken to a heavily guarded prison in Budapest. A few inmates approach Seol-woo, and their leader requests that he fix another guy’s badly bleeding nose, since Seol-woo is a doctor. Seol-woo quips that he thinks the leader is the one that needs the nose job.
The comment earns him a collar-grabbing, and for a second it seems like Seol-woo is going the pacifist route before he busts out his best moves and uses a rag as a devastating weapon. He steps away from the scene after administering his violent lesson and runs into an old acquaintance named PETROV, who knows Seol-woo as “K.”
Petrov greets Seol-woo warmly, and the spy immediately states that he came to get Petrov out. Petrov argues that it won’t be easy to escape, so Seol-woo replies that getting in the prison is the hard part, but getting out is a “piece of cake.”
So begins Operation: Prison Break. Seol-woo uses his spy skills to shut off the power and set his plan into motion. He uses a key that he’s fashioned from a metal scrap to break out of his cell before getting Petrov out as well. The lights switch on earlier than expected, so the prisoners race down the halls with guards fresh on their heels.
They make their way to the underground mine where the inmates do labor during the day, and then roll away to freedom. With the mission complete, Petrov promises to return the favor if Seol-woo is ever in Russia, and the men go their separate ways.
Sometime later in Budapest, Seol-woo sits in a cafe watching news of Major Petrov’s meeting with South Korean military officials. He has to cut the video short once his fiancé arrives. He tells us, “When working undercover, how you end it is more important than how you start it.”
Anna sees him, but he texts her to meet him at the back entrance. She does as instructed and sees him in his car parked outside. In voiceover Seol-woo explains, “The sympathy of a woman in love is safer than a bulletproof vest, but the wrath of a woman betrayed is deadlier than a time bomb. The best way to end a relationship that’s served its use is death.” And the car erupts in flames. Anna falls to her knees devastated, while out of view, Seol-woo walks off unscathed. He pulls off his ring and sheds his fake identity.
In Korea, twenty alarm clocks try to wake a sleeping Woon-kwang. He tries to buy a few more minutes, but his manager, YANG SANG-SHIK, is insistent. Through some miracle, Woon-kwang makes it to the breakfast table. Sang-shik lays out a wide array of offerings, all from well-known eateries.
Woon-kwang sips his famous Jongno coffee, but then notices that the cup’s design is different. Sang-shik explains that a new branch opened in Hannam-dong, which is closer. Woon-kwang drops the cup straightaway and demands Jongno coffee from Jongno, and not Hannam-dong. Sang-shik grouses that they’re isn’t time for that, but Woon-kwang asks pointedly if Sang-shik intends to let Woon-kwang skip breakfast. Oh, the horror.
Woon-kwang and his team arrive late to the annoyance of the set staff, and the actor pins the blame on Sang-shik, lying that the manager got lost driving there. He forces Sang-shik to apologize, then offers to speed up their timetable by not making any NGs.
On set, Woon-kwang rehearses a long action sequence with the stunt crew. He isn’t a star for nothing though, and he goes through the scene like a pro. Do-ha watches Woon-kwang practice and snaps a few shots with her camera.
Surreptitiously, Woon-kwang flashes a smile at her, always ready for the camera. One of the stuntmen accidentally kicks Woon-kwang too hard, causing the action star to stumble backward, and the stunt director roars. Woon-kwang assures everyone that he’s fine and that the young stuntman should shake it off because it’s no big deal. D’aww.
Meanwhile, outside a public elementary school, MO SEUNG-JAE (Yeon Jeong-hoon), hosts a flock of reporters who ask him why he chose to forego a luncheon at the Blue House. Seung-jae answers that his promise to his son comes first.
His reply prompts one reporter to question his decision to send his son to a public school rather than a private school. Seung-jae explains that he hopes his son can get a well-rounded education on life. The reporter suggests that Seung-jae is hoping to transition into politics, but he rejects that notion.
The reporters turn their attention to a new arrival: It’s SONG MI-EUN (Chae Jung-ahn), Seung-jae’s wife and a former Miss Korea. She makes her way over to her husband and whispers a reminder for him to look natural. Their son comes out, and the family poses for their photo-op. That kid is a born showman.
Later, Seung-jae meets with a congressman, who is running in the Seoul mayoral election. He asks the candidate if he intends to make an enemy of him and his company, Songsan, then reminds the congressman that when his grandfather was alive, he took bribes often. The congressman asks if Seung-jae has evidence to back up his threat and claims that he merely accepted a few meals from his grandfather and nothing else.
Seung-jae suggests the congressman accept a few “meals” from him as well, and displays a large suitcase filled with money.
The man’s eyes turn green with greed, and he agrees to withdraw his candidacy. Seung-jae smiles, but it quickly fades. He rises to his feet, then proceeds to slaps his guest hard across the face before saying, “You have no fighting spirit, you filthy pig.” He informs the congressman that he’s been recording their meeting and adds, “There a new king, so there are also new rules.”
At the NIS, Department Head Jang voices his concerns to his superior, Director IM SUK-HOON, about losing communication with one of their ghost agents. The agent was undercover at Songsan and was able to gain the trust of those related to the chairman’s slush fund, but they fear the agent’s cover may have been blown. Director Im worries that they have a rat in their ranks and can’t trust anyone on the inside, so they’ll call back one of their international agents: Seol-woo.
Faraway, Ghost Agent K sits in a bar when a scantily clad woman approaches. She displays her bare back and her tattoo, which bears the numbers “0906.” Seol-woo takes note of it but doesn’t react until he sees it again on the coaster beneath his drink. He returns to his hotel room, and the numbers appear again in the fogged up glass on his window. He sighs deeply to himself, aware that his short reprieve has now ended.
The doorbell rings, and in walks a poorly disguised Dong-hyun. The spy whines as Dong-hyun gives Seol-woo his new mission. He hands Seol-woo a tablet, adding that he already knows the password. Turns out the numbers are Dong-hyun’s birthday, and Seol-woo sasses that half the hotel staff must know it by now, since he put it everywhere. Ha.
Dong-hyun briefs Seol-woo on the missing ghost agent (whose name is “Y”), explaining that the agent sent a text before going dark. The final message speaks of a specific cargo container that left Incheon on October 4th, which contained three certain wood carvings.
The NIS is tracking the container, but for now, Seol-woo is to go somewhere where nobody knows him: South Korea.
On set, Woon-kwang films a scene for his new movie. And, oh god, it’s the famous wine scene taken right out of Descendants of the Sun, but using coffee instead. Woon-kwang leans in close to get his “taste,” but the director calls cut right before the actors kiss.
They reset to shoot the scene again in a tighter frame, meaning that this time, there will be smooching. Woon-kwang suddenly calls for a stunt double, and everyone is confused. He explains that he can do all the physical stuff, but he doesn’t kiss.
Filming concludes for the day, and Woon-kwang and the actress he had refused to kiss say farewell for the night. The actress promises not to tell anyone that he can’t kiss women. Provoked, Woon-kwang kisses her, and she slaps him, demanding to know what he’s doing. He replies, “Teaching you the facts. I don’t do kiss scenes, but I’m good at kissing.”
The actors move to a more private location to make out in Woon-kwang’s car, where the sound of Do-ha’s call interrupts them. He lies that he’s talking with the director, and Do-ha seems to believe him. He hangs up the phone feeling ill at ease with a vague sense of foreboding; he’s somehow certain that something big and ominous is approaching.
Cue the big, ominous thing which comes in the form of a seething Do-ha, driving a forklift. She maneuvers the prongs under Woon-kwang’s fancy sports car, and up it goes. The passengers panic until Woon-kwang sees the culprit and begins hollering at Do-ha to stop.
She pokes her head out to greet the “director” and glowers. Woon-kwang tries to calm Do-ha down and urges her to hash it out with him using words instead of violence.
Do-ha reminds him that she promised that the next time she catches him, she’d kill them both. Eek! However, she’s realized that it would be unfair for her to die, so she’ll just kill him instead. The actress asks disbelievingly if Do-ha would really kill them since she’s his manager, and he replies that she used to be in his fan club and is absolutely capable of it. Oh dear god.
We cut to Do-ha weaving her car down the highway with Woon-kwang held hostage in the passenger’s seat. Woon-kwang swears that they were only talking about the movie, and Do-ha zooms past car after car following each lie. He finally fesses up after she nearly totals the car in a murder-suicide, then blames his darn, traitorous lips for acting on their own. At that, she stomps on the brake.
She casts him a death glare and says that she understands that Woon-kwang is at his most desirable age. And, she asserts that men in their forties are financially stable and at their peak professionally and physically, adding that she knows that love isn’t a sin.
He’s encouraged by her sensibilities and open-mindedness, until she gets this Annie Wilkes-look in her eyes and continues, “But for a star like you, dating is a sin. You shouldn’t have gotten caught.” She then steps on the gas, and they fly at breakneck speed.
Assemblyman BAEK IN-SOO meets with Seung-jae to give him the thumbs-up regarding the favorable press coverage on his perfect father PR stunt. Seung-jae defers all the credit to his wife and adds that Assemblyman Baek’s opponent will no longer pose a threat in the mayoral election.
He then gives Assemblyman Baek a deed to a plot of land in Jeju-do that represents a large donation to his campaign. Seung-jae adds a thinly veiled threat by asking for a receipt for his contribution, but then he plays it off as a joke. He means it though, and he warns that he can’t keep giving money without getting anything in return.
Assemblyman Baek promises to find the missing wood carvings, which apparently contain details of Seung-jae’s grandfather’s slush fund. Assemblyman Baek assures him that his connections at the NIS are on the case.
Meanwhile, Dong-hyun meets with a director to consult him on his movie about secret agents. Dong-hyun divulges some pretty sensitive information about K (erm), and when the director asks for more details on K’s past, Dong-hyun can’t answer because he doesn’t know much. But he invites the director to ask K himself, since he’s on his way now.
Dong-hyun introduces Seol-woo as K, and thankfully, he’s rightfully alarmed at being outed so casually to a civilian. The director shakes Seol-woo’s hand before whispering that he should beware, because Dong-hyun is a fraud. He flees before he can be tricked further.
When they are alone, Seol-woo shoots Dong-hyun a Sunbae-what-the-heck-look, and Dong-hyun assures Seol-woo that the director would never believe him anyway. Seol-woo asks about the location of the first wood carving, which they’ve tracked to Russia in the secret safe of an arms dealer named Chairman Victor. Given the man’s paranoia, Dong-hyun warns that it won’t be easy for Seol-woo to infiltrate it.
Seol-woo presses Dong-hyun for the plan, but the answer he gets is perplexing: Hallyu star Woon-kwang’s fan-meeting.
He does his due diligence on Woon-kwang by reading up on his profile and even his preference for Jongno coffee. It’s a good thing he does because that’s exactly where Woon-kwang is at that moment, sipping joe outside the flagship shop.
He isn’t just lounging around though — the CEO of his talent agency, JI SE-HOON (Lee Shi-un), tries to sell Woon-kwang on attending Chairman Victor’s “secret” birthday party. Woon-kwang explodes at his CEO for suggesting something so beneath him, so Se-hoon explains that the chairman is a big deal, and also, he’s a fan of Woon-kwang’s. So if Woon-kwang can go to his party, then Chairman Victor will throw his money behind some movies, which Woon-kwang could star in as the lead. The offer is enticing enough for Woon-kwang, and he accepts.
Nearby, Seol-woo is hard at work snapping photos of his target. Suddenly, Do-ha snatches Seol-woo’s camera to delete the memory card. She thinks he’s paparazzi, but is confused when she finds photos of herself. She confronts him, and so he says that it’s because she looked pretty. She rolls her eyes and returns the favor by getting a photo of him on her phone, then warns that the next time she catches him, she’ll press charges without mercy.
Later, she grumbles to her friend PARK SONG-YI about the sorry state of unemployment levels and how young people are resorting to earning their wages as paparazzi. Despite her threats, she doesn’t actually want to turn Seol-woo in to the police because he’ll just meet bad people and be worse off for it.
Song-yi thinks Do-ha should have asked for his number, but Do-ha isn’t impressed that he tells strangers that they’re pretty. Song-yi points out that there aren’t that many guys as handsome as Seol-woo who would call Do-ha pretty. (Um, thanks?) The statement makes Do-ha pause, and she examines Seol-woo’s photo as if trying to reconsider her opinion about him.
Back at his hideout, Seol-woo looks as his empty camera and thinks back to their exchange. We see that he noticed Do-ha approach from behind, but that he played it cool.
He restores the photos easily before looking at her photo. Dong-hyun drops in and sees the picture. He utters Seol-woo’s famous phrase about there always being a beautiful woman in every plan, then gives Seol-woo DVDs of Woon-kwang’s films.
In the car, Mi-eun watches Woon-kwang’s interview, and he gushes as he explains his favorite types of movies, which mainly include kitschy action scenes. The interviewer points out how amped Woon-kwang is about the topic, and his voice becomes soft as he mutters to himself that “someone said that before.” He explains almost sadly that he wanted to prove that he could become a Hollywood superhero. Mi-eun turns off the interview and stares wistfully out the window.
She heads to a fancy clothing shop, where a new suit catches her eye. Mi-eun’s friend explains that she intends to use it as the main outfit in her upcoming photoshoot with Woon-kwang. Mi-eun advises her to reconsider since it’ll be hard to convince Woon-kwang to wear black without explaining further.
She goes out onto the roof afterwards and meets Department Head Jang, but we don’t hear their conversation.
The next day, Dong-hyun meets up with Department Head Jang, and it seems like Dong-hyun is an operative of the NIS who works off the books. Dong-hyun has been doing a little digging on a list of NIS officers that they suspect might have something to do with Agent Y’s disappearance, but he hasn’t found anything. Department Head Jang thinks that they’ll need to get Seung-jae’s secret ledger to find their target, but in the meantime, the fan meeting plan is a go.
At the site of Woon-kwang’s photo shoot, Seol-woo performs magic tricks for the stylist and makeup artist by making a coin disappear and reappear. He goes to pull the coin from out behind the stylist’s ear, but the coin slips from his hand. The girls fawn over the handsome spy, and Do-ha spots them from nearby. She watches Seol-woo pick up the coin he dropped “accidentally” before he gets up to nab the stylist’s ID card, and she gasps.
Elsewhere, Woon-kwang gets fitted for his photo shoot while wearing a red suit jacket. Woon-kwang admires himself in the mirror, but his mood turns sour when Mi-eun shows up.
He’s furious to see her and strips off the jacket before storming off. A little later, Woon-kwang wears the black suit that the friend initially wanted and poses for the camera. She tells Mi-eun that she was skeptical of her plan to dress Woon-kwang in the red outfit if she wanted him in the black one, and Mi-eun muses that Woon-kwang probably won’t ever wear red again.
Seol-woo pickpockets a wallet off of Woon-kwang’s stylist. He nearly gets away with it, but Do-ha catches him in the act. She calls security over, taking pleasure in outing Seol-woo as a thief, until she finds Woon-kwang’s passport in his pockets. Only then does it dawn on her that Seol-woo is probably a Woon-kwang fanboy. Hee. If only.
CEO Ji Se-hoon comes running out and orders Do-ha to let Seol-woo go. Seol-woo turns the tables on Do-ha and twists her arm around behind her as Mi-eun and Woon-kwang join them. Do-ha struggles, so Seol-woo takes the path of least resistance and begins twirling her around and around until he catches her in a dip, then rights her.
Seol-woo announces to CEO Ji that as expected, the security around Woon-kwang sucks. So from today forward, he’ll be the head of security.
Pfffft, she’s a sasaeng. I knew Do-ha was his fan, but I didn’t expect her to be nuts. It’s great, but I just hope the joke doesn’t get old. I mean, seriously speaking, she’s terrifying, but Woon-kwang is also ridiculous, so they pair nicely together. It tickles me that he lives in constant fear of her immeasurable love for him. That aspect of their relationship suits his self-involved personality and makes me like them both more. I do like Woon-kwang despite his insufferable nature, and when he protected the stuntman, I found myself immediately on his side. Park Sung-woong is great though, so maybe it wasn’t that hard to recruit me.
The episode overall was enjoyable enough, but what’s up with the vibes? I’m shocked they are trying to sell us on this main love line right now with that cutesy love song playing in the background. It feels super rushed and forced because I’m still trying to wrap my mind around all the relationships, so I was caught off-guard. I’m going to give the show a break since the scene itself wasn’t overly romantic, and it seemed like the problem was just the song choice.
Speaking of trying to wrap my mind around everything, there really was a lot going on, too much really. I wish the episode was written tighter and wished that they would’ve gotten rid of a few scenes that kept setting up the super important wood carvings, because I’m already starting to not care about those. There were a lot of pieces to put into place before the main trio could come together, and by the end I was just so ready for the hijinks to begin. I think the show pulled off the spy stuff without seeming too slick and unrealistic. It was still unrealistic, but I liked that we were allowed into Seol-woo’s mind instead of going solely for cool and gratuitous action sequences
More importantly, I felt like I was able to connect to Seol-woo, which was pleasantly surprising. I’m glad emphasis was placed on Seol-woo’s inner thoughts while detailing what a badass, cold-blooded spy he is. Because when you’re dealing with a human machine that can trick lie detectors and lie to themselves so perfectly it warrants total distrust of oneself, the importance of that human element cannot be understated. I enjoyed that he admitted his loneliness when he was deep undercover playing a lover. It drew me into his unique worldview, and I’m ready to explore those emotional grounds in his new mission.
Yeon Jung-hoon is delicious as our villain, and I’m eating it up despite the fact that we’re circling pretty familiar territory. Casting-wise, everyone is great, and I couldn’t ask for a better ensemble. I just hope the actors aren’t too good for their characters. Overall, I could see myself getting nitpicky about things I didn’t love if I really wanted to, but I don’t want to just yet. I rather settle in, fasten my seatbelt, and see where this goes.