“When I started reading the script, I felt that it was extraordinary,” Seo Kang-joon recently told Marie Claire Korea of Disney+’s latest Korean original Grid. “It was not a simple structure in which various subjects and events are organised so that the story can unfold.” This much is certainly true of the new sci-fi series, which kicks things off rather confusingly in an alternate 2004, where the world is ravaged by the threat of a perilous solar flare that would endanger all life on Earth.
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Communications across the continents have malfunctioned and it’s only a matter of minutes before the radiation obliterates the planet. South Korea’s dubiously named Bureau Administration struggles to get the series’ titular grid system (a shield created using artificially expanded magnetic fields) back online, as we watch two children, Sae-ha and Sae-byeok, grapple with the situation in real time. At the very last second, the grid system – by some stroke of luck – manages to get activated just before the flare gets a chance to wreak havoc.
Grid then launches us 17 years into the future to October 31, 2021, where we reunite with a now-grown Sae-ha (portrayed by Seo), who stops by a convenience store in an unassuming neighbourhood in contemporary Seoul. Right off the bat, something about the store’s atmosphere feels off. An ominous, unfinished bowl of cup noodles sits idle by the bench at the storefront, and no cashier attends to Sae-ha’s calls for assistance until several attempts later, when a brooding, middle-aged man silently emerges from the storeroom.
When Sae-ha returns to his car, he sits and ponders for a while, glancing back to the storefront to find the cashier leaving the store, holding a can of beer. He places his hands on the steering wheel as he’s about to leave, but he notices a splotch of fresh blood on his fingers. He follows his gut and heads back to the now-empty convenience store for answers over the sheer bizarreness of the situation, and finds a dead body in the back.
Grid’s abstrusities begin unfolding from there; Sae-he makes a police report and he meets the team of detectives assigned to the murder, among whom is an adult Sae-byeok (Kim Ah-joong), who is now stoic cop especially invested in nabbing the culprit. Though Sae-ha is quick to dismiss himself from the case, it’s later revealed that he works for a department within the Bureau Administration, tasked with locating an as-yet-unidentified person.
While going through the motions of his daily duties at work, Sae-ha comes across the case report written by Sae-byeok, who describes the murderer – now identified to be Kim Man-ok (Lee Sung-kyun) – as somehow being able to escape, despite having been right under their noses, with the help of a female accomplice who vanished into the thin air. The Bureau Administration assumes full control of the case to track down the unidentified woman, thereafter referring to heras the Ghost (Lee Si-young), who is apparently the person who worked on the grid system all those years ago.
At first glance, Grid is immediately intriguing. Its combination of science fiction grounded in reality paired with what seems to be paranormal phenomena speak to writer Lee Soo-yeon and director Khan Lee’s creativity. The contrasting elements are delightfully phantasmal without subtracting from the gravity of the situation – but rather escalates it.
However, it is the strong acting chops of the main cast that are the driving forces of Grid. Even though the audience knows little about the characters two episodes in, the actors are so intimately immersed in their individual nuances and motivations – be it the resilience of Sae-byeok in bringing the killer and his accomplice to justice, or the sociopathic apathy of Man-ok – their performances are convincing and compelling enough to be engaging.
Yet, the same pitfalls of dystopian sci-fi films and TV also haunt Grid. First episodes, especially for shows heavily dependent on lore as Grid is, are particularly crucial in orientating viewers to what exactly is at stake, yet the Disney+ series glosses them over. Sure, you could chalk it up to it being a mystery thriller that is supposed to get clearer as the series progresses, but it’s hard to stay invested when key contextual background information – such as who our leads characters are, the sudden appearance of time travel and even the concept of the grid system itself – barely scratch the surface.
With eight episodes left to really flesh out Grid’s seemingly lofty ambitions, the showrunners have a difficult task at hand. They have to unravel the show’s mysteries in such a way that is satisfying while keeping audiences guessing. Screenwriter Lee has proven her mettle with similar mystery shows before, so that bodes well for Grid, but at this current stage, the series comes across as chaotic and elicits confusion and frustration more than anything else.
New episodes of ‘Grid’ are available on Disney+ every Wednesday.