The bar is set so low by the predecessor of The Girl Who Sees Smells (Sensory Couple) that this drama has to only be mildly watchable to be considered off to a good start. Thankfully Smelly Girl is everything I wanted and more, rendering my first impression verdict that this drama isn’t stinky in the least and has a very endearing main girl lead to win our hearts. Leads Yoochun and Shin Se Kyung are engaging right off the bat in both performance and chemistry, not to mention I’m crazy for their adorable interactions from the second they meet cute.
The underlying story is equal parts dark and light, with danger that is hair raising from the start and then transitions to staying in the corners of the narrative like a boogeyman waiting to strike. That leaves the present day narrative fast and funny but leaving room for tons of serious issues waiting to be explored when the time comes. The ratings for episode 1 was a low 5.6% AGB nationwide, which is unsurprising for a prime time rom-com, but is at least higher than Hyde, Jekyll, Me ended with so with that let’s get on with the recap.
Episode 1 recap:
A police car with lights flashing drives through a small town. It’s nighttime as high school student Choi Eun Seol gets off the bus and heads home. Eun Seol texts her mom that she’s on her way home and asks mom to cook her some ramyun. Unbeknownst to Eun Seol, her parents have just been killed in their home and the killer is still there to tidy up.
The killer reads Eun Seol’s text on her mom’s cell phone before dragging the dead parent bodies into the living room. Eun Seol notices a car parked outside before entering the dark house and turning on the lights in the entryway. She stops dead in her tracks as she sees the killer standing right in front of her as he drops a one of her parent’s body on the ground with a deadening thud.
Eun Seol is naturally paralyzed with fear and stammers for the killer not to approach her. The killer calmly walks right up to her and caresses her face before moving his hand down to choke her. The clock chiming loudly all of a sudden snaps Eun Seol out of her paralysis and she makes the move to escape, pushing the killer off and tussling with him before opening the front door and booking it.
Eun Seol runs through the neighborhood as the killer chases after her since he isn’t wearing a mask so clearly Eun Seol got a good look at his face so he can’t let her escape. Eun Seol is running for her life and there is no one out on the streets to help her. She thinks to herself that her parents can’t be dead and prays that they are still alive. Eun Seol darts into a major intersection and is hit by an oncoming car. Her body flies into the air on impact and arcs over the car before collapsing on the ground.
Eun Seol can see the killer standing in the shadows, having stopped the chase once she was hit and the car driver and another taxi driver get out to help Eun Seol. The killer stares at Eun Seol’s high school uniform name label that he grabbed off her jacket during the tussle before walking away. Eun Seol stares at him before falling unconscious as the rain starts to come down.
Choi Moo Gak is finishing up a dive at the aquarium where he works and answers a call from his high school student little sister, also named Choi Eun Seol. This Eun Seol was riding a bus which got in a car accident and is slightly injured with a forehead cut. Eun Seol tells her oppa that she’s waiting for the ambulance to take all the injured to the hospital and whines about being hungry. Moo Gak promises to bring her rice cakes at the hospital.
Moo Gak arrives at the hospital and calls his boss asking for tomorrow off preemptively since he knows he’ll faint once he sees the big gash on his Eun Seol’s forehead. He asks the nurse at the front desk for the patients from the bus accident and is sent to the ER. Moo Gak walks through the busy ER looking at the names on the patient beds for Eun Seol.
Moo Gak bumps into a man wearing a doctor’s white lab coat with some blood on his hands and on the coat. It’s not weird since this is the ER at a hospital so Moo Gak bows his head before continuing on. The man turns and stares at Moo Gak and we see his face clearly (he’s played by Song Jong Ho).
Moo Gak finds his sister Eun Seol curled on her side laying in a patient bed. He happily holds up the rice cakes but gets no reaction from her. Moo Gak turns Eun Seol over and sees a huge knife wound on her neck as she’s bled out already. Moo Gak’s despair is overwhelming as he screams for help and cradles his sister, begging her to stay alive but this Eun Seol is sadly dead. Man, this really gets me in the gut.
The major case squad has descended on the beachside town where a sea diving couple have been discovered dead after going missing for 7 days. Lead Detective Oh gets the report that the deceased are a couple named Choi who was reported missing after their high school daughter Choi Eun Seol got in a car accident. The hospital tried to contact Eun Seol’s parents but couldn’t reach them so the police opened a missing persons report. Detective Oh hears that Eun Seol remains unconscious and the prognosis doesn’t look good. He feels bad that Eun Seol is unconscious and doesn’t even know her parents are dead.
Detective Oh leans down and pulls up the sleeve of Eun Seol’s dad to see a series of lines cut into the inside of his arm. It triggers a connection and he asks further confirmation that the dead couple’s daughter is named Choi Eun Seol. He deduces their car accident victim daughter must be a witness in their murder and rushes off.
It’s 193 days later and the still unconscious Eun Seol is undergoing a battery of tests when she suddenly opens her eyes. One eye is now a different blue color than the other eye and the nurse gasps out loud. Just awakened Eun Seol can see all sorts of colors and shape fragments from all around her, coming off items and flying all around like colorful air particles. Eun Seol naturally freaks out and tries to bat it away.
The doctors and Detective Oh rush inside and Eun Seol freaks out even more as she sees the various shapes and colors emanating from everyone around her.
Eun Seol is in rehab and voiceovers that she got three huge shocks when she woke up. The first was her awakening itself which was miraculous since even the doctors didn’t expect her to ever regain consciousness. The second was Eun Seol’s one eye turning blue which can’t be explained medically so she wears an eye patch over it to avoid scaring other people. The last thing is that Eun Seol doesn’t remember what happened that landed her in the hospital.
Detective Oh arrives to pick Eun Seol up and she’s now called Oh Cho Rim. She believes Detective Oh is her dad and he looks truly happy to be taking care of her. Cho Rim feels bad that she doesn’t recognize her dad when she regained consciousness but is ready to go home now. Detective Oh hands Cho Rim a contact lens from the doctor that will cover up her one blue eye and give her back a normal life.
Cho Rim puts on her new high school uniform and inserts the contact lens, admiring herself in the mirror before running out to gulp down her breakfast and head to school.
Cho Rim is at a café and can see the various smells coming from all the gelato and sorbets in the ice case. A customer asks the server if he’s seen her missing red wallet and Cho Rim can tell the guy is lying when he says he didn’t see it. Cho Rim can see the particular smells coming from this customer and follows the scent visuals to where her wallet is hiding under the server’s cap. Cho Rim calls the server on his lie and forces him to return the wallet to the customer.
Moo Gak is gulping down ramyun in the convenience store while staring out the window. He finishes the bowl and sets it aside with another finished bowl while the store clerk brings him a third bowl and is used to this since Moo Gak has been here every night for the last 5 days. Moo Gak checks his phone to refresh the image of the perp he’s staking out at this convenience store.
Two other detectives are sitting in the car on their own stake out, bickering about how the younger Detective Lee dresses too nicely for the job and wondering why a precinct cop like Moo Gak is doing stakeout like a major crimes detective. The older Detective Kim is certain Moo Gak wants to catch a recent robbery suspect so that he can get promoted to detective.
Moo Gak finishes his fifth bowl of ramyun and the clerk brings him two cups of scalding coffee. He gulps it down without blinking while she stares in shock since she nearly burned her fingers to bring the cups over.
At a comedy showcase, grown up Cho Rim is standing in the sidelines while mimicking the performers on stage. The audience claps as the show ends while the cast comes out for a bow. Cho Rim cheerfully greets all the departing audience before going to clean the bathroom. She gets called to a troupe all-hands meeting where the director shares the bad news that the show is closing down if they can’t get theatergoers. He plans to shake up the skits by making every cast member present new ideas, allowing anyone to perform based on talent rather than seniority. He specifically calls out maknae Cho Rim as being able to go on stage if her skit is good and sends everyone off to prepare new skits.
Cho Rim sweeps the stage and daydreams about making it as a gag woman. She imagines being interviewed and asked how she got her start. Cho Rim explains her humble beginnings at the Frog Comedy Troupe where she won an open audition which led to her first onstage performance. After that Cho Rim got scouted for TV and we see her being a guest on Running Man, LOL.
Cho Rim waves to the imaginary cheering guests in the audience before being smacked on the head by her sunbae to snap out of her reverie. Her sunbae informs Cho Rim that he can’t partner with her for the audition as another senior cast member has asked him to partner with her. Cho Rim is left in a lurch without a partner for her audition skit.
A man enters the convenience store to buy smokes and Moo Gak recognizes him as the robbery suspect Kang Sang Moo. He locks the store door and confronts the suspect who immediately pulls out a knife. The two detectives sitting outside in the car doing their own stakeout are totally oblivious to what is happening inside the store when Detective Ki answers a call from his girlfriend.
Moo Gak is about to apprehend the suspect when he sudden faints and collapses in a heap on the ground. The suspect escapes but the other two detectives spot him and give chase. One detective runs into a delivery scooter and the falling case flies through the air and smacks the younger detective on the head. Moo Gak is fast asleep and snoring on the floor so the clerk calls the cops to report him.
The major crimes squad leader heads to work and is laughed at for losing the robbery suspect by the team leader of the search squad Detective Cha. He tells the search squad to pay more attention to finding Detective Cha’s teenage son who just ran away from home again.
The major crimes squad leader heads to a meeting with Moo Gak and the other two detectives, younger Detective Lee is sporting a head wound while older Detective Ki has his arm in a cast. Both are chewing out Moo Gak for encroaching on their turf to catch their suspect and letting this one escape because Moo Gak was so tired from doing stakeout for the last five nights that he collapsed of exhaustion. Leader walks in and immediately punches out Moo Gak.
Moo Gak is dragged outside and Leader asks why Moo Gak wants to join the major crimes squad this desperately? Moo Gak admits he wants to investigate a murder. Leader warns Moo Gak to stay away from major crimes cases otherwise he will personally break Moo Gak’s legs. Moo Gak flashes back to his sister Eun Seol’s senseless murder and finding her dead in the hospital bed.
As maknae of the comedy troupe, Cho Rim runs errands for everyone, including delivering drinks and snacks as the other members prepare their own audition skits. She’s very respectful even when being bossed around by others.
Cho Rim is sent on an errand to drive a car and buy lunch back for the entire troupe. She seems uncomfortable with the idea of driving but doesn’t want to upset the sunbae so goes on the errand. As she’s heading back with the food, she accidentally revs the engine without releasing the parking brake. When she releases the brake, her car flies forward and Moo Gak hits her on his scooter while chasing the robbery suspect.
The suspect also falls off his motorcycle in the near miss while Cho Rim freaks out, noticing Moo Gak is bleeding from the forehead while he seems oblivious to the injury. Another car zooms by and Moo Gak sweeps Cho Rim away from the danger in a very romantic moment that is undercut when he then drops her on the ground and rushes off to keep pursuing the suspect. Moo Gak smacks his arm on the car door to snap the joint back in place (ouch) before commandeering the vehicle.
Cho Rim climbs into the passenger seat but Moo Gak ignores her protests and just drives off after the suspect. The chase winds through a busy street and Moo Gak smashes tons of planters and stalls while Cho Rim screams from the front seat. Moo Gak shows Cho Rim his police badge and asks for her assistant to help him catch the suspect otherwise he’ll charge her for interference and for the earlier car accident.
Cho Rim switches to helpful mode, directing Moo Gak to where the suspect headed which is to ditch his motorcycle and run into a mall. Cho Rim hears the suspect is wanted for robbery so she stares at the scents coming from the motorcycle to remain on his trail. Cho Rim drags Moo Gak behind her as she follows the suspect’s scent trail through the mall.
Cho Rim asks if the suspect is robbing beauty salons? Moo Gak remembers finding the suspect today robbing a salon but he got away that time after smashing a few chairs over Moo Gak. That’s how Moo Gak was on the scooter chasing behind the suspect when he smashed into Cho Rim’s car. Moo Gak confirms the suspect robbed a beauty salon today so Cho Rim visualizes his scent trail, seeing him ditch his jacket and helmet in a trash can before getting into an elevator.
Cho Rim directs Moo Gak to the correct elevator and pushes the 4th floor, asking Moo Gak to trust her tracking skills. The elevator opens and they arrive at a jjimjalbang swarming with people. Moo Gak sighs that he doesn’t know what the suspect looks like since he was wearing a helmet during the robbery, and now he’s hiding here where everyone is wearing the same clothes. He wants to wait outside for the guy to put his clothes on and leave.
Cho Rim deduces that the suspect would last leave his scent in the lockers in the changing room before the scent disappears after he takes a bath. She orders Moo Gak to change while she disguises herself as a boy and stalks the changing area looking for the suspects scent trail. Cho Rim sees it coming from a particular locker and tells Moo Gak it’s this one. She hurries outside while Moo Gak waits for the suspect to come back. Cho Rim calls her angry sunbae to explain the situation and promises to be back shortly. She then notices the police handcuffs in the Moo Gak’s jacket pocket.
The suspect comes back to his locker and Moo Gak confronts the guy, asking if he’s just robbed a salon? The guy tries to make his escape but Moo Gak takes him down with the towel bun around his head. He notices he doesn’t have handcuffs when is when Cho Rim runs inside to pass it to Moo Gak.
The suspect shoves her aside and her hair come undone, freaking out the undressed men in the locker room as Cho Rim runs out screaming.
Moo Gak and Cho Rim walk the suspect down to the waiting major crimes detectives outside. They take him back for interrogation but refuse to let Moo Gak join in the investigation. Cho Rim surveys the damaged car and notices Moo Gak seems quite down. She waves him over and drives him to a medical clinic for treatment.
The clinic is in the same building as a restaurant run by a famous chef and there are lines of people waiting outside. They walk past the restaurant guests and enter the clinic where Moo Gak gets checked out.
Cho Rim is called in by the consulting doctor who explains that Moo Gak got 15 stitches in the head and had his dislocated shoulder realigned. He ought to have been in severe pain this whole time which surprises Cho Rim since Moo Gak never said a peep. The doctor believes Moo Gak has analgesia, a condition where he cannot experience any sensation. He suggests Moo Gak see a pain specialist for his condition.
Cho Rim tells Moo Gak to wait for her outside as she pays for the consult. Moo Gak bumps into a doctor in a white coat, and the same doctor turns back around to stare at Cho Rim as she walks past him next. It’s the same doctor Moo Gak bumped into at the hospital right before he found Eun Seol dead. Later on the doctor stares out the window as Cho Rim and Moo Gak walk away from the building. I wonder if Song Jong Ho is corning the market on diabolical villain roles, heh.
Cho Rim takes Moo Gak to the café where her friend works and explains that she injured this cop today so is taking care of him. Cho Rim offers to pay for Moo Gak’s future medical services should he need more medical attention while he hands her his name card for her to contact him when she gets an estimate for the car repair.
Moo Gak grills Cho Rim on how she knew where to find the suspect and which locker he was using. Cho Rim makes excuses about her good deductive skills and tries to gloss over his questions. Cho Rim sends Moo Gak to pick up their coffee and chides herself for why she got so involved today. Moo Gak returns with the coffee and gulps his own while Cho Rim burns her tongue when she takes a sip, yelling at him for not warning her that it was scalding before realizing he doesn’t feel it.
Cho Rim and Moo Gak go their separate ways outside the café but Moo Gak stops in his tracks when a girl walks right up to Cho Rim and asks “Are you Choi Eun Seol?” The girl recognizes Cho Rim as her friend Eun Seol but Cho Rim has no memory of being Eun Seol so tells the girl that she’s mistaken. The girl apologizes for mistaking Cho Rim since she looks so much like her school friend.
The girl walks away and Cho Rim turns around to see Moo Gak staring at her with unshed tears in his eyes.
Thoughts of Mine:
I think I’m already in love with this drama. My heart is, at least, while my wary mind tries to hold me back by reminding me of how often my too ardent drama love gets betrayed. Perhaps this wizened organ yearns to beat that badly after getting burned by Hyde, Jekyll, Me, so much that I would rather enjoy this glorious falling in love with a drama sensation while it lasts rather than holding myself back. The Girl Who Sees Smells isn’t impressive in any one area of drama making but impresses by being a good enough all-around. No one single thing stinks up the joint while everything works in seamless harmony. Pleasing acting, an interesting script with engaging main leads, and a director with a deft touch on when to go heavy and when to pull back, the first episode was a resounding win that should bring viewers back to SBS Wed-Thurs if rom-coms with a dark underbelly is your thing. It most assuredly is my cup of tea so I’m all in for the full ride.
While the Smelly Girl title may sound like the drama will focus more on Shin Se Kyung’s Cho Rim (i.e. not dead Eun Seol), in reality the writing balances both emotional storylines of both lead equally. Yoochun’s Moo Gak is just as integral and important to both the past trauma and the current danger, with the connection between the two leads solidly knotted together without feeling too gimmicky beyond the typical storytelling conceits. That dead Moo Gak little sister Eun Seol happens to share the same name is the type of coincidence I can buy because it’s very plausible to have same first and last names in Korea while the being car accident victims on the same night bit is the dramatic stretch that works. That little sister Eun Seol was dispatched so quickly and without dramatic exploitation is a great touch, letting us experience the same shock as Moo Gak and feel through his sadness how much he loves the little sister who was so cruelly and wrongly taken from him. Knowing his investigation into Eun Seol’s death will inextricably tie him with Cho Rim gets all my excitement flowing because he’ll soon have another reason to apprehend the criminal and keep Cho Rim safe.
Yoochun and Shin Se Kyung have adorable chemistry, the kind that conjures up puppies and kittens and rainbows cute. I can also see them transitioning to the smoldering attraction and melo romance down the road, but one where it makes sense they would be drawn to each other. Both are wounded lost souls, her without a memory and him with no sensation. That her visual sensory ability helps his cop goal is putting this fantastical element within the drama to good use, rather than writing a drama about an idea but doing nothing interesting with it. Her gag woman dreams might fall by the wayside as the story ramps up the killer danger but that isn’t a big deal since Cho Rim is pretty functional already so won’t need a career to give her life purpose. She’s basically a normal girl with a loving (adopted) dad without any knowledge of the humongous tragedy in her past. That her past will gradually catch up to her as she falls in love with Moo Gak and enters his life is the merging of the two character arcs that has me chomping at the bit to watch. Episode 1 of this drama succeeds resurrects my sanity a bit right when I needed the pick me up the most. For that I thank thee, Smelly Girl. Do keep on being so entertaining.
Click here to watch The Girl Who Sees Smells.