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SYNOPSIS 

*From MyDramaList*

Following the failure of her father’s business, Sang Mi (played Seo Ye-ji from It’s Okay to Not Be Okay) and her family move to Muji-gun where they have no friends or relatives. There she meets four young men, Han Sang Hwan (played by Taecyeon), Seok Dong Cheol (played by Woo Do-hwan from The Great Seducer), Woo Jung Hoon, and Choi Man Hee. When Sang Mi and her family face some trouble, Spiritual Father Baek Jung Ki (played by Jo Sung-ha, from Arthdal Chronicles) of Goosunwon offers to help them. However, her family is slowly getting sucked into the pseudo-religious cult and the four young men try to save her.

RAMBLING

*beware of spoilers*

Still recovering from this whirlwind, but I don’t think I have a single bad thing to say about it. It’s worth every minute of your time. The experience of watching this show reminded me of watching Uncut Gems (2019) or the movie Spotlight (2015) combined with watching a scientology documentary. The show is stressful and leaves you on edge. I kept holding my breath and tensing up whenever the protagonists were in a bind or about to be caught (which was often).

So many characters were implicated, and there wasn’t a single “good” character that didn’t do something semi-deplorable purely out of survival. I loved that. It was a major complaint of mine from my last review (Fighter of the Destiny), since the two leads were perfect angels throughout and never gained any new insights or had a discernible arc. This show, on the other hand, was constantly pushing our characters to the brink of their mental and emotional capacities… and, I would argue, doing the same to the audience.

As a person who survived two separate and unrelated abusive churches, the depictions of the cult were all too familiar and devilishly accurate. The show makes a fine point of taking real Christian biblical scriptures out of context and twisting them for the benefit of the cult leaders, and much of the church services and mannerisms of the Spiritual Father (SF) were reminiscent of Pentecostal services. They used terms like “baptizing,” “Holy Spirit,” “salvation,” and “we shall be blessed.” But then they train their disciples in manipulation tactics, explicitly saying that they can and should lie to lure in innocent Christians by any means necessary, including exploiting the symbol of the cross. So in reality, they glorified a fiendish man, with no supernatural powers or connection to the “Mighty New Sky”—in fact, he’s a convict and a sexual predator.

Sang-mi’s family was exploited because they were easy targets, and truly, the show does a fantastic job of profiling who gets worked on by the cult. Those weak in mind, body, and spirit; those who’ve fallen on tough financial times; the marginalized and disenfranchised; the lonely and the desperate. If I had one complaint regarding Sang-mi it’s that horrendous things were happening to her while her mom is mentally incapacitated and her dad is drinking and serving the Kool-aid, but many times, all she had to say is “Mom” or “Dad.” I wanted more from her sometimes, like, get your freaking head together and say something more profound or more scathing than that. These people are after you dammit!

I died when Sang-mi insistently asked SF why he chose her. He gives the most cringeworthy reason:

“Her soul was so pure and she was so beautiful. However, back then, I think I was too impatient. The fruit must be ripe for it to taste sweeter and more delicious.”

—Referring to the underaged girl he tried to force himself on before, and most likely Apostle Kang’s own daughter (who committed suicide). So really, SF was a pedophile and preyed on young, virginal girls with silly, vulnerable parents who practically give their daughters up as a willing sacrifice. The extremely chilling moment is intercut with Sang-mi screaming “So you chose me because I remind you of the girl you drove to death?!” and then SF trying to rape her right there on the altar. It was enough to make me sick.

The creepy sanctum inside the Spiritual Father’s office.
The creepy sanctum inside the Spiritual Father’s office.

The only positive note was seeing the Hansel and Gretel crumbs the writers were leaving for the eventual escape from and dissolution of the cult (although, the cult never truly died in the end):

  1. Surprise! There’s an undercover journalist who’s been embedded for over a year
  2. The journalist stops giving Sang-mi’s mother psychoactive drugs, causing her to go through withdrawals and come to her senses
  3. Seok Dong-cheol goes undercover at the cult, effectively playing the players
  4. Sang-mi finds her cell phone in Apostle Kang’s room and starts discreetly recording evidence
  5. A dead body turns up and the dirty cop on the governor’s payroll starts becoming aggressively suspicious of the cult
  6. Sang-mi’s mom is now actively pretending to be compliant and mentally unstable while not taking her pills
Great framing and use of reflections here with the dirty cop in his car. The cross at the top of the steeple is shown upside down, furthering the concept that this “church” is not what it seems, and what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right.
Great framing and use of reflections here with the dirty cop in his car. The cross at the top of the steeple is shown upside down, furthering the concept that this “church” is not what it seems, and what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right.

The cult’s actions were systemic—that’s the word I was searching for all throughout my watch. For example, even Jung-hoon’s foolish cop father was feeding drunks and homeless people to Guseonwon for YEARS and accepting payment for doing so. He even released Sang-mi back to her oppressors when she just barely escaped; he never gave any victim the benefit of the doubt or, you know, did his job.

I loved how they had these intense prayer rituals where they tried to exorcise the demons within a (completely normal) person that consisted of beating the shit out of them. “Bruises are a mark of sin” is one of the most heinous lies I’ve ever heard. When the wannabe gangster boy who worked with Dong-cheol finds his mom badly bruised, he shows up at Guseonwon with a couple containers of gasoline and tries to light up the place. Legit, that’s what I wanted the ENTIRE time. Someone, please, just come in and set it all ablaze.

I loved—or rather, hated—Sang-mi’s final appeals to her father, asking him if marrying the SF meant she had to sleep with him. His response? “It’s not him sleeping with you. It’s him baptizing you.” BYE

The episode with Sang-mi speaking tongues, which was “the language of the Mighty New Sky” as they called it, was too much for me. It was too close to my experiences and overtly mocking of it and altogether disturbing to see the cult steal such a controversial part of Christian culture and belief.

I quite enjoyed the governor—Sang Hwan’s dad—and his fall from grace/the gradual reveal of his true nature. There’s nothing like following the advice of your political aide-cum-mistress and holding your own bedridden wife hostage so your son does what you want. But that turned out to be icing on the cake because the governor actually pushed his wife down the stairs thereby paralyzing her. He’s a psycho that loves the “thrill of the kill” and hated his wife because she eventually looked down on him just like her father did and threatened his political career. Wow, so the scene of him killing the deer they ran over one night and later saying he thinks it’s funny that fish still writhe while already caught on the fishhook was leading up to this. He’s the one that should be locked up, that bastard. Honestly, I should have seen it coming, too, since people who enjoy killing little animals…

I love how Sang Hwan confronts his dad with hard proof, and the governor says it’s a misunderstanding—Taecyeon is like “MiSuNdErStAnDiNg?!” all incredulous. It was great. I need that moment in a gif form.

The final episodes of the show took place over a span of, I think, 2 days. Props to the showrunners for doing such a ballsy plot and taking it as far as they could. Things are falling apart for the cult, and the SP tells Sang-mi’s desperate father that he should prepare for the wedding ceremony or else risk the “Ship of Salvation” sinking. Her father leaves the room, and the SF starts maniacally laughing and cackling, presumably at how much manipulative power he wields and how stupid that dumbass father is at giving away his daughter to a man no doubt 30 years her senior to be a sexual slave. It was a great and appalling moment.

A few stray thoughts to wrap up this rambling:

  • I love that they kept dressing Sang-mi all in black while the SF was always all in white. They’re “diametrically opposed—foes” (Hamilton reference, anyone?)
  • Nice touch that Dong-cheol found his deadbeat dad locked up in the dungeons at Guseonwon
  • “Do not be afraid. You will enjoy this, too” — OMG, what a scumbag fucking rapist
  • OMG he put a bed in that creepy sanctum (see photo above)
  • It’s a stroke of genius to have the SF accidentally set himself on fire, since he held a flaming bible not long prior and tried to make it seem like he was invincible.
  • One of the best ending voiceovers I’ve heard. Basically, Sang-mi says, “people ask me how I survived in there.” And she says (I’m paraphrasing heavily), “Hope.”

All in all, don’t miss this one. It may not be a romance, but it’s a damn good thriller of a show.

Did you see Save Me? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Look at where the Spiritual Father’s hand is.
Look at where the Spiritual Father’s hand is.

1- This is the first drama I’ve watched that has loosely touched on religion and spirituality but I feel like the main underlying theme here is the abuse of power and the spinning around of ideologies/religious scripture to fulfill an agenda. The purpose of religion and spirituality is (or should be) to give hope and comfort to people going through a hard time, help give meaning to things in life that can’t otherwise be explained, and facilitate the building of moral codes and values for people to live by. The directors depicted the constant misuse of religion using cult leader Baek Jungki and Apostle Jo, who take advantage of people in vulnerable positions and manipulate them in the name of god and the church for their own personal gain.

2- the second theme of the drama is that horrible people get away with bad deeds all the time because they have money and connections while innocent people get the short end of the stick simply because they happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. The bullies causing Sangmi’s brother (Sangjin)’s death and essentially getting away with it scot free while Dongchul got locked up was the perfect example of this theme and it is a sad reality as much as we would like to believe the bad guys end up paying for their actions eventually. That being said though, I think the one bully that got beaten up by dongchul and ended up permanently disabled was true poetic justice, given that Sangjin got bullied by him in the first place because he walked with a limp since he was a child.

3- The main characters fathers’ selfishness made me angry. It’s true that Sangjin’s death was the reason that the dad joined the cult in the first place, but that decision alone put Sangmi in direct danger and he kept his wife from getting proper counseling and treatment. Sanghwan’s dad knew about the cult and it’s goings-on, but willingly turned a blind eye to stay in power. Dongchul’s dad was a drunk who was mainly absent from his son’s life despite being physically there, choosing alcohol over his own child and letting grandma do all the work to raise and provide for dongchul. Dongchul’s grandma’s death was especially heart wrenching, because the few scenes they had together showed how close the two were and dongchul felt that he lost the only support system and source of comfort he ever had.

4- When all is said and done and one removes selfish needs and other motives from the equation, the series showcases the true fragility of the human mind. One single event ( Sangjin’s death) led Sangmi’s parents on a downward spiral, the cult leaders managed to keep its members in a chokehold for so many years and managed to completely brainwash Sangmi’s father in what felt like the blink of an eye. The loss of his grandmother led dongchul to a temporary depressive rampage and at that point he probably felt that he had nothing (or no one) to live for anymore. And as much as I disliked Dongchul’s father I’m almost 100% sure Dongchul’s mother’s disappearance and his joining the cult worsened his alcoholism. One single event can make the difference between mental stability and instability

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