Memories of the Alhambra: Episode 10

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Memories of the Alhambra: Episode 10

Every time I think I know how the AR game works, the rules change, or at least they appear to. But that’s probably the scariest part — are the rules changing, or are they just so complex that our brave protagonist can’t see clues that are right in front of him? What I do know is that you can’t take anything for granted, because just when I think I have it all figured out, something happens that makes me think that in this game, there are no rules at all.

 
EPISODE 10 RECAP

Jin-woo and Secretary Seo had taken the night train to Granada, and on the way, Secretary Seo had mentioned that Se-joo is the highest level player in the game, and wondered if he’s hiding out of fear of Marco. He asked why Se-joo would call them to Granada – maybe another problem? — but Jin-woo had just snapped testily that they’d find out when they got there.

In the morning, they arrive in Granada, and have their confrontations with warriors on the platform (Secretary Seo) and terrorists on the train (Jin-woo). Secretary Seo tries to log out to avoid his attackers, and when that doesn’t work, he rips out his smart contact, but he can still see them coming.

The train pulls out with Jin-woo still on it — his last glimpse of Secretary Seo is of him on the ground surrounded by warriors, and he gets an in-game message that he’s lost his ally. A terrorist shots Jin-woo point-blank in the face, but the bullet stops in midair as the game informs Jin-woo that he’s gone out of bounds.

He calls Yang-joo, who checks the game files and sees that Secretary Seo logged out of the game at Granada Station. At the next small station, he has the attendant call Granada Station, but nobody matching Secretary Seo’s description has been found. Jin-woo leaves his contact information, and he’s forced to wait nearly an hour for the next train back to Granada.

He calls Secretary Seo while he waits, but there’s no answer. He calls Yang-joo again to make a request, but we don’t hear what he asks. The train finally arrives, and on the ride back to Granada, Jin-woo writes out the story of the past year on his phone, the story we’ve been listening to, in case he and Secretary Seo end up dead in Granada.

There’s an incoming call from Hee-joo, which reminds Jin-woo of his overly confident prediction one year ago that by this time, Granada would be famous for magic, and that people would flock there. He lets the call go to voicemail and limps to the restroom as the train nears Granada.

He’s automatically logged into the game and is notified that he has four hours until the Hawk’s Parchment quest expires. The storm rolls in and he pushes his way into the restroom, where he attempts to open the quest. The same tells him that he only gets one shot at it, and he opens the quest.

The small parchment projects a 3D hologram of the Alhambra with a pin blinking at one point, and a simple quest text: “Rescue Master!” The quest recommends four players level 90 or higher, with difficulty level “highest.” The quest officially begins, and the first directive is to go to the Alhambra.

He’s notified that an enemy has appeared, and a scan of the train shows him that he’s facing seven attackers, and the guitar also heralds Hyung-seok’s appearance. Jin-woo steps out of the restroom and almost casually takes out NPC Hyung-seok, then he notices that his limp is completely gone. He summons a second pistol and prepares to meet the game head-on.

He narrates that he was right that Granada has become a city of magic, a crazy place where nothing seems strange no matter how messed up. He opens fire on several terrorists in the train car, taking several seemingly painless shots himself, then hides while the train goes through a dark tunnel. He faces off with another terrorist, and just manages to outshoot him and advance to level 91.

Even though the battle is over, Jin-woo stays on alert as the train pulls into Granada Station, since his injured leg is still working perfectly. He’s carrying a rifle with a scope, and he scans the station platform for enemies, which the game tells him are everywhere. He searches the station for Secretary Seo, but he’s nowhere to be found.

Unable to locate his ally, Jin-woo takes a taxi to the Alhambra. On the way, he stops at the Alcazaba Cafe, the in-game quest hub. On Yang-joo’s suggestion, he approaches the pirates (the Pirates of Malaga, according to the game) that wouldn’t even speak to him at level 4, but this time they look at him with respect.

One of them says that it’s been a long time since he saw a user above level 90, and Jin-woo is invited to join them for a drink. He declines, but he asks their help finding a user called City Hunter (Secretary Seo’s handle, lol). The pirates demand 300 gold to take the job, another 300 as a deposit, and a final 1000 gold when they find Secretary Seo.

Jin-woo pays the Pirates of Malaga what they want, and they eagerly take the job. Jin-woo tells them to send Secretary Seo to the Alhambra when they find him, and they head off on their quest. Almost immediately, the quiet strains of a guitar float to Jin-woo across the cafe — Emma.

Like the first time, Jin-woo says, “Hello, Emma,” and Emma looks up at him. Unlike the first time, she responds in kind, then tells Jin-woo, “This place is dangerous.” He says he came to find her brother, and Emma replies that she hopes Jin-woo finds him.

He asks Emma if he can do it alone, and she smiles as she says he can, and that she’ll be waiting for him to return safely. She fades away, and Jin-woo walks out of the cafe and into an ambush, but he seems calmed and centered after his conversation with Emma and quickly picks off the archers.

He makes his way to the Alhambra (which was originally a fortress, then later its ruins were renovated into a royal palace), slipping past the crowds of sightseers. He finds the area that used to be an underground prison, and a tiny spiral staircase that’s marked by the game as the dungeon entrance.

Jin-woo hesitates as the game alerts him that he can only enter once — he won’t be allowed in again if he fails the quest. His four hours have dwindled down to two, so he enters the dungeon.

It’s dark and cavelike, and eventually he comes upon a game-generated metal gate barring his way. The gate flickers but feels very solid, and beyond, the passage lights up with torches as the game tells Jin-woo, “Welcome to the dungeon of the Nasrid Kingdom.”

The bad news is that he’s forbidden to use any weapons or items that aren’t from Granada. One by one, Jin-woo’s guns, potions, and all of the special items that he got from Yang-joo are automatically removed from his inventory, reducing him to his trusty Black Knight Sword. The gate dissolves and reappears behind Jin-woo — there’s no way out but through, now.

Jin-woo hears a crunching sound, and he turns to find the animated corpse of an Aragon prisoner behind him. AAAACK, zombies! Although Jin-woo takes it down, it’s not easy. As soon as he dispatches the reanimated prisoner, another appears behind him — damn, what hell has Se-joo been living in for the past year?

Eight hours ago, in her home in Korea, Hee-joo was woken by a tapping sound, which lead her downstairs to her workshop door. She opened the door to find Se-joo standing outside, staring off into the distance. He startled a little at the sound of his name, then looked at Hee-joo and says softly, “Noona…”

But it was just a dream. Hee-joo runs downstairs but there’s nobody at the door, and she notices the business card that Jin-woo left her still sitting on her workbench. She remembers him saying that she can watch what’s happening with his Se-joo rescue, so she goes to J.One to see Yang-joo.

He’s been prepped by Jin-woo, so he leads Hee-joo to the elevator, then screams in her face (LOL!) when he gets a good look at the real live inspiration for his favorite NPC. He scurries around his messy office cleaning up, then hurriedly deactivates his projection of Emma when she starts playing the guitar in the corner.

He finally lets Hee-joo in, then blurts out, “Are you married?” He giggles when she says she’s not and stammers that she’s beautiful. OMG Yang-joo, shutupshutupshutup! Weirded out but with no other options, Hee-joo asks about Jin-woo’s quest to find Se-joo and his statement that she can monitor him.

Yang-joo tells her (in rapid-fire nerd speak) that Se-joo created a secret quest that only he knows how to unlock. He says the game’s launch has been delayed, so Jin-woo’s gone to Granada to trigger the quest and find Se-joo. He’s all excited because he gets to watch it unfold with his crush. Right then is when Jin-woo calls Yang-joo to tell him that Secretary Seo went missing.

Meanwhile, Director Park tries to talk Professor Cha into waiting until Jin-woo returns from Granada before calling a board meeting to have him dismissed. He argues that if they can find Se-joo, they’ll be able to solve the issues with the game and release it to the public, and even get answers about Hyung-seok’s death.

Director Park says that if Jin-woo really is mentally ill, he’ll give up on him and support his removal. But he also admits that he still has hope for his friend, making Professor Cha remind him that he even gave up on his own son and covered up his death for the sake of the company. Director Park asks, “I thought you covered it up for Jin-woo?”

Professor Cha mentions that Yu-ra came to see him, so drunk she could barely stand. She accused Professor Cha of being happy she divorced Jin-woo, and told him a “fun story” just between the two of them. Professor Cha doesn’t tell Director Park what she said, but he does say that he had a paternity test done on Soo-jin’s son, thinking that he probably wasn’t of his blood, but he was wrong.

Director Park asks why Professor Cha would think the baby wasn’t his grandchild, and Professor Cha says he doesn’t trust Soo-jin. He agrees to hold off on the board meeting for a few days, looking forward to what Jin-woo finds in Granada.

As Director Park heads back to the office, he gets a message — Jin-woo’s will, the full story of the past year that he wrote out while on the train. He reads it, but he can’t reach Jin-woo by phone. He’s surprised to hear that Hee-joo is in the building at this very moment, and she asks him why Jin-woo hasn’t been reachable since he got to Spain, but Director Park says he’s looking into that himself.

He starts to call Secretary Seo, but Hee-joo tells him that she can’t reach him either, and Director Park starts to look worried. He calls Yang-joo, but he’s been disconnected from Jin-woo’s game feed since he went underground half an hour ago. Yang-joo tells Director Park that Jin-woo and Secretary Seo got separated, so even though the quest is too difficult for one player to complete, Jin-woo was out of time and had to proceed alone.

In Yang-joo’s opinion, the only way for Jin-woo to complete the quest is for Secretary Seo to be found, and for him to go in to help Jin-woo. Director Park refers back to Jin-woo’s will, which says that if he or Secretary Seo dies, or they can’t reach them, to shut down the servers because the game is compromised. But he’d said to give him time to find Se-joo, and only to make that decision after the quest ends.

Director Park goes back to Hee-joo and tells her nervously not to worry, that Jin-woo is just underground. He says it’s only a quest in a game, but his laugh is a bit too forced, which just worries Hee-joo even more. She says that Jin-woo thinks he’ll find Se-joo if he completes the quest, and Director Park eagerly asks if she believes Jin-woo is sane.

He suddenly blurts out everything — that Jin-woo is addicted to drugs and the game, and that the company has given up on him. He whines that Jin-woo blamed his problems on the game, then he took off to play the game when he’s about to be fired.

His voice wobbles as he tells Hee-joo that the company might fold if Jin-woo is right, because it will mean that the game they’ve heavily invested in is a disaster. He says he wants to believe Jin-woo is wrong so they don’t go bankrupt, and because if Jin-woo is right, then he’s on a suicide quest.

He decides that he wants to believe Jin-woo is crazy , and he advises Hee-joo to find her brother some other way. She’s alarmed by Director Park’s talk of Jin-woo dying, unaware that the game is anything but a game. Director Park says that Jin-woo was a great man whose passion built this company, but now he’s sick, and has even convinced Secretary Seo to lie for him.

Suddenly his phone rings with a call from Secretary Seo’s number. Director Park picks it up yelling, but then he goes very quiet, and asks Hee-joo to speak to whoever is on the other end since they’re speaking Spanish. She asks who’s calling, then stares at Director Park in shock.

Jin-woo spends nearly an hour fighting his way through reanimated corpses in the underground dungeon. He makes it to a clear area and stops to rest, but he’s notified that another enemy has appeared. It’s another zombie, and ha, Jin-woo mostly looks annoyed, but more show up until he’s surrounded.

With a muttered curse, Jin-woo starts dispatching zombies. At one point several of them nearly overtake him, but he pulls out a dagger and fights two-handed. The zombies get him up against a metal grate and hold him there, slashing at him over and over until he’s severely weakened.

He finds enough strength to push them off, but he’s literally fighting a losing battle. The game tells him that his ally has appeared, and he sees someone on the other side of the grate fighting back the zombies. He calls out to Secretary Seo with a weak laugh, asking what took him so long, but when he gets a better look, he gets a shock.

It’s Secretary Seo, but he doesn’t look good — he’s battered and bloody, with arrows sticking out of his back. Worse, he’s glitching like the NPCs. Oh no…

Back in Seoul, Hee-joo talks to someone at Granada Station, who tells her that the owner of the phone has passed away. Secretary Seo’s body was found near the train station, lying in some tall grass with his hands still positioned as if holding a sword.

As Jin-woo watches NPC Secretary Seo hack emotionlessly at the zombies, it dawns on him what this means. Tears stream down Jin-woo’s face as he realizes that his secretary — no, his friend — is dead.

Also in shock at the news, Director Park wonders if it’s time to pull the plug on the game, but Yang-joo tells him that Jin-woo still has thirty minutes left in his quest. Meanwhile, Hee-joo runs home and ignores Sang-bum’s questions as she searches frantically for something. She finds a flyer and calls the number on it, speaking in Spanish.

Jin-woo just watches as NPC Secretary Seo calmly kills the rest of the zombies in the room. When they’re all dead at his feet, he fades out. The game tells Jin-woo that his ally may reappear when he’s in danger, but that’s hardly any consolation.

Jin-woo’s health is down to ten percent, and he has less than thirty minutes left to complete the quest. He pulls himself to his feet and continues on, but another wave of zombies approaches, and Jin-woo sighs. He parries one zombie’s swing, but another stabs him in the stomach, and he slides to the floor.

The zombies close in, and Jin-woo braces himself for the end. But a light shines on him, and he isn’t attacked again. He looks up, and what he sees makes his eyes widen in surprise.

 
COMMENTS

Once again, WHAT THE HECK?! This game just gets worse and worse, and now we’re throwing zombies into the mix, which is where I personally nope right out of a game. Poor Jin-woo had to fight through an hour’s worth of reanimated prisoners, and I don’t blame him for looking just plain weary mentally and physically. No wonder the game recommended four players for Se-joo’s rescue quest, and I can personally attest to “group quests” being nearly impossible for one person to complete alone. Thank goodness NPC Secretary Seo showed up to save him, but why?? Why did he have to die? I actually cried when I saw him glitch — I loved him so much, and now he’ll be gone when Jin-woo inevitably shuts the game down. At least he went out like a damn hero.

I’ve been a fan of Park Chanyeol’s for years now — he’s not my main EXO bias, but it’s close! — and I’d hoped that he would have a bigger role in this drama (not to mention that I’m still not over what happened to his character in his last drama that I recapped). But aside from that, Se-joo is a fascinating character that we have a lot to learn from… how he created the game, what niche he intended it to fill, what happened between him and Marco, and why the game allows its players to die and be brought back as vengeful NPCs over and over and over again.

As a gamer myself, there are a lot of problems I can see with a game of this type being actualized in the real world, not the least of which is people running around, waving arms and legs wildly and talking to people who aren’t really there and generally creating public nuisances of themselves. But for the purposes of storytelling, I love how the game weaves the player’s environment and the gameplay together, using the player’s surroundings to create tension and interest. It’s fantastic as a concept, especially since the game, at this point, still appears to be non-self-aware and simply acting on a glitch in programming.

But what’s really frightening is how the game is able, under some circumstances and in some situations, affect the actual physical well-being of its players. It’s glaringly obvious sometimes, such as how Hyung-seok and (supposedly) Marco died while engaging in in-game duels that should have been perfectly safe. But the game also has shown it can injure, like when Jin-woo, Se-joo, and Secretary Seo all keenly felt injuries inflicted by NPC Marco and NPC Hyung-seok, though those injuries were not permanent. It can also, apparently, heal, as it proved in this episode, by giving Jin-woo the ability to walk without a limp while in the game. But I find it truly terrifying that every time we think we know how the game works, it twists things around on us. Secretary Seo is the first player (that we know of) to have been killed by NPCs, and he’s been brought back by the game, but as an ally, not an enemy. The worst part is that now it’s not just players accidentally killing other players, but the game itself can now kill. I don’t know what this means for the future, but I do know that I’m equally excited to see more, and scared to find out what other horrors the game has in store.

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