'Dr. Brain' season finale serves up ultimate brain sync [Apple TV+ recap]

Dr. Brain season finale serves up the ultimate brain sync [Apple TV+ recap]

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Dr. Brain season finale recap: Brain scientist Sewon braces for the most important brain sync yet.
Scientist Sewon braces for the most important brain sync yet.
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+’s exciting new South Korean sci-fi series Dr. Brain draws its first season to a thrilling close this week. Sewon has one last brain sync to perform — and it’s the most important operation he’s ever conducted.

He needs to get everything right in order to save his son (and redeem himself in his own heart for the job he’s done as a father and a husband). The race is on to find out if he and his cohorts can stop Myung from stealing his son’s body.

Dr. Brain recap: Season 1, episode 6

Sewon (played by Sun-kyun Lee) is inside his wife Jaeyi’s (Yoo-Young Lee) brain as she lies in her coma, with a little help from rogue researcher Namil Hong (Jae-won Lee), who’s monitoring their respective heart rates. Sewon has come for answers — but his wife wants some too. She doesn’t know why she’s in the coma, for instance.

They engage in a short conversation but she gets conscious enough of her situation to realize she doesn’t want to live like this anymore and gives up. Sewon launches himself out of the sync to try and save her, but he realizes what she’s trying to do. Syncing with the living is an unstable process. Syncing with the dead, however …

Kangmu (Park Hee-soon) gives him the idea. Sewon went into cardiac arrest when syncing with Kangmu and, though it almost killed him, he can now see and talk to Kangmu like he’s his imaginary friend. Maybe he can pull off the same alchemy with Jaeyi. (Shades of Flatliners with this particular new plot point.) It’s in this second, more successful sync that Sewon discovers something about his wife.

A surprise from Jaeyi

Turns out she was spying on the clinic where she took Doyoon (Jeong Si-on) and where she met Junki Lim (Kim Ju-hun). She suspected her son wasn’t really dead, so she went to the Myung clinic to investigate. And when she thought she saw him, the doctors all gaslit her and sent her on her way. But not before making a mental note to silence her before her ravings and paranoia gave up the clinic’s whole operation.

Dr. Myung’s secretary arrived later that day to fill Jaeyi with pills and make it look like a suicide. But not before she put a USB drive with information she stole from the clinic in a safe place. And now, Sewon can finally access it.

Lieutenant Choi (Seo Ji-hye) is incredulous at this news, but by now she’s used to hearing insane things from Sewon at a regular clip. She tracks Myung’s finances and finds that his company owns a bunker way outside the city. That’s likely where they’re going to conduct the experiment that transfers Myung’s brain to Doyoon’s body. Of course, they aren’t the only ones trying to stop Myung.

Their next experiment will be unprecedented.

The Dr. Brain finale could have been a hair more action-packed, all things considered. When you look at the ways in which other projects from series director Kim Jee-Woon climax  — the montage that ends The Age of Shadows, the final shootout in Illang: The Wolf Brigade — I don’t think it was unfair to expect a little more in the way of fireworks from Kim, especially with this much time to tell the story.

However, this isn’t something for which I’m faulting the show. As good with action mechanics as Kim can be, he’s made it clear he’s operating on a different wavelength with Dr. Brain. And that, for a show about a man entering people’s minds to find clues to the most tragic mystery of his life, the conclusion must work primarily on an emotional level. Everything else comes second.

I commend him for doing this, even if I miss seeing him orchestrate elaborate action sequences. And we do get a great shootout and ax fight before the end, so it’s not like I was left completely high and dry. No, the real work is done in the final brain sync when Sewon must trick Myung into thinking he’s won, then coax Doyoon out of his hiding spot in his brain (with a little help from Jaeyi, an echo now in Sewon’s mind like Kangmu). It’s not overly sentimental (it only lasts about three minutes) — and it’s quite a stirring close to this show’s cavalcade of secondhand brain waves.

Dr. Brain has been, back to front, a triumph of pop artistry, careful camera movement, earnest performances, solid craftsmanship and, in general, just trusting that the material and the audience will find each other. Kim Jee-Woon always had this fabulously entertaining streak in him (his other American co-productions bear that out). But it was nevertheless a treat to see his sensibility stretch its legs over the series’ six-hour runtime. Time will tell if we’ll get a second season, but Dr. Brain stands as one of the most satisfying things I’ve watched on Apple TV+ to date.

Watch Dr. Brain on Apple TV+

You can now stream the entire first season of Dr. Brain 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.