Dr. Brain slips deeper into a memory meltdown [Apple TV+ recap]

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Dr. Brain recap on Apple TV+: Neuroscientist Sewon's experimental brain-syncs take him deeper into weird territory.
Neuroscientist Sewon's experimental brain-syncs take him deeper into weird territory.
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+’s exciting new South Korean sci-fi series Dr. Brain dives into the past this week to discover mistakes, regrets and murder.

Brain-syncing scientist Sewon Koh starts to understand that, though he’s at the center of a conspiracy, his own guilt is much more relevant to the crimes in question than he initially considered. It is, after all, not illegal to be a bad husband. But when your negligence leads to kidnapping, murder and fraud, it’s too late to say sorry.

Dr. Brain recap: ‘Chapter 4’

When we last left Sewon (played by Parasite’s excellent Sun-kyun Lee), he was looking for Heejin, the daughter of his wife’s dead confidante Junki Lim (Kim Ju-hun) after the memories of a dead gangster led him and the authorities to her hiding place in the forest. Now, Heejin has drawn a butterfly, and hidden clues to what happened to her in its wings. It’s all oblique, but it’s more than enough for Sewon to go on — at least until Heejin recovers enough to start talking.

Lieutenant Choi (Seo Ji-hye) doesn’t want Sewon to get his hopes up that his son, Doyoon (Jeong Si-on), is alive.  A theory he’s become convinced of ever since he started getting glimpses of the deaths of his wife and son during the brain syncs. However, Heejin’s mysterious drawing gives him much to be optimistic about. The lieutenant remains wary of letting a civilian continue to run her investigation, but she can’t deny the pained look in Sewon’s eyes when she suggests letting this go.

After all, Sewon’s fellow researcher Namil Hong (Jae-won Lee) has gone into hiding after helping the doctor perform a brain sync on a dead private eye who was serendipitously laying in their research facility’s morgue. So the odds of a new clue shaking loose seem slim right now. But then ghostly Kangmu (Park Hee-soon) appears while Sewon visits with his comatose wife and suggests starting from scratch. The clues might be waiting for Sewon in his brain-sync-enhanced memory.

They head to the cabin where Doyoon was supposedly killed in a fire, and Sewon starts to have flashes of his wife’s memories. She tells Junki, that she wishes Sewon was a more attentive husband. She feels bad about spending so much time with Heejin and Junki, but she almost wishes Sewon had shown more outward signs of jealousy that she wasn’t spending time with him. That at least would have proved Sewon cared about her. The scientist was so absorbed in his research that they were like strangers before her accident permanently separated them on this plane.

They looked more like a family without me

Sewon realizing what a lousy husband he’s been, with only undead Kangmu for company, is excellent. It’s a serene moment of reflection on the mistakes the scientist made and how, even though he didn’t have anything to do with the crimes that led him here, he’s just as responsible for the situation. If he’d been a more attentive family man, Jaeyi (Yoo-Young Lee)would never have become involved with Junki. And maybe these murders would have been avoided.

The clues continue to come hot and fast. The villains show up at Namil Hong’s house looking for him before the cops can get there, so they’re too late to stop the beating they give his mother. Clearly there was more to his involvement in Sewon’s first brain-syncing experiments than pure chance.

Meanwhile, Sewon once again gets a vision from the deceased cat and the dead burglar about the fate of his son, Doyoon. It seems they replaced his body with a dummy. And because the situation seemed so cut and dry, nobody ran DNA tests on the charred remains to determine if it was really Doyoon’s body recovered in the blast meant to claim his life.

But questions still abound: Why did they want to kidnap Doyoon in the first place? It wasn’t for money, because they made it look like he was dead. Something else far more strange is going on. Maybe it has something to do with Sewon’s own history as the focus of study in his youth, which led to the very conveniently timed death of his mother, the incident that kicked the series off in the first place?

As the episode ends, Sewon digs up Doyoon — or what he thought was Doyoon — with Kangmu for company (in a scene redolent of Stephen King’s Pet Semetary). And Sewon finds out once and for all that Doyoon was not in that grave. That doesn’t, of course, mean he’s still alive. But Sewon remains too poisoned by hope to consider that. He’s too far gone. I love the presence of Kangmu as Sewon’s undead conscience, a morbid, violent Jiminy Cricket in sunglasses. The more this show becomes itself the more delightful it is to watch.

Watch Dr. Brain on Apple TV+

New episodes of Dr. Brain arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On The Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.