Body horror, police procedural, mysterious conspiracy, man on the run. Put them all together and you have Connect, the new six-part Korean drama streaming on Disney+. It’s an eclectic mish mash of genres and ideas. It makes for an intriguing watch even while all those elements don’t connect together that seamlessly.
Connect wastes no time in both setting up its premise and giving viewers a taste of the gnarly violence they’ll be in for. In the opening moments of the show we see protagonist Ha Dong-soo taken by organ traffickers where they remove his eyes from his face. Luckily for Dong-soo, he isn’t a normal human. He’s a being known as Connect and he has the ability to heal himself from any wound with the help of some tendrils that emerge from his wound and literally connect him back together. Think Wolverine but eldritch horror.
Dong-soo’s supernatural ability makes him immortal, so he wakes up on the operating table and grabs his eyes before escaping. Unfortunately he only has time to grab one and put it back in before getting away. The other eye ends up in the head of Oh Jin-seop, a serial killer. Thanks to his healing ability, Dong-soo can actually still see through his missing eye and he wants it back from Seoul’s resident Patrick Bateman. It’s weird but it’s a strong hook to start off with. While it won’t be to everyone’s taste, these opening moments are immediately engaging and sell the central concept before easing you into all the other moving parts of the show (of which there are many).
If that wasn’t enough, in addition to his search for his eye, Dong-soo is pursued by the organ traffickers who have seen the potential money involved in having a man who can heal as a prisoner. He’s given help by Lee Yi-rang, a mysterious woman who knows about Dong-soo and his kind. That’s right, there’s also a mysterious conspiracy regarding the origins of Dong-soo and other Connect beings. Neither of these are as immediately engaging as the main plotline but they serve their purpose. The conspiracy plotline ends up getting better as the show moves along even though it never reaches its full potential.
It’s a lot to take in from one show and watching it is as ridiculous as it sounds but its pieces are so well put together that it remains compelling even when its construction becomes a bit creaky. There are moments where it feels like they were simply throwing everything at the wall and kept whatever stuck regardless of whether it fits. Not everything flows naturally. You can see the machinations of the plot move into place. Those moments can be frustrating because when Connect focuses on its most solid foundational aspects, it’s gripping to watch.
The performances are all great but it’s the gore effects that really stood out to me. They are fantastic, and Dong-soo’s tendrils in particular are wonderful. They emerge from his wounds with a suitable squelch and slither his body back together. They look moist, like less bloody entrails. Jin-seop’s crime scenes are not a sight for the faint of heart. There’s a very Se7en quality to them in how the grotesque blood and guts of each victim is laid out with purpose – revolting to us but beautiful to the perpetrator.
Speaking of the murders, Dong-soo’s ability to still see through his missing eye means that he sees Jin-seop meticulously murder all of his victims. While Jin-seop is somewhat of a standard upper-class psychopath, a less narcissistic Patrick Bateman, his murders are haunting. He arranges the mangled bodies of his victims into art pieces for public display around Seoul.
The dichotomy of Dong-soo being able to heal from any slicing and dicing that happens to him, and Jin-seop having a fetish for meticulously mangling the bodies of his victims, is a great tension builder for their inevitable showdown. A show with this many different ideas and moving parts needs a strong throughline to keep you invested, and watching the pieces of Connect slowly converge to that showdown is satisfying enough to make you forget you saw the strings moving into place.
But as engaging as the central plotline is, there’s so many elements in Connect that fail to form a cohesive whole in a satisfying way. The biggest victim of this is the show’s central themes, which end up as mangled as Jin-seop’s victims.
The show has something to say about how society has innate prejudice based on perceived class. Jin-seop is an office worker, no one suspects him of being capable of the crimes he commits or any other infraction. He seems like a stand-up citizen in the eyes of the people around him, whether they know him or not. Conversely, Dong-soo is an outcast. He’s looked down on and his newly missing eye only exacerbates people’s poor perception of him. The contrast between their perception and realities would be a strong thematic center if the show stuck to it – but, unfortunately, it doesn’t.
Connect also wants to be about finding yourself. Figuring out who you are and accepting it. It explores this through the plot involving Yi-rang and the mystery behind Dong-soo’s origins. This too is a strong thematic center. It’s also this plot which features the show’s most tender moments of emotion. There are great character moments for Dong-soo here but again, the show is trying to do too much to really do anything. Watching Dong-soo discover who he is wonderful but it never lasts long enough to be truly satisfying.
While those are both solid themes, Connect never settles on any one long enough for it to say anything about either. They also never really come together to make a satisfying statement. That’s okay. Not every show has to make a statement on life or society or even be about something – some shows can just be rollicking good times. But Connect almost does say something. Twice. So its lack of focus on saying either of those things becomes a tad frustrating.
Connect has a lot going for it — literally, there is a lot here. It’s a sci-fi body horror mystery revenge thriller gritty police procedural. The nature of being so many things at once means a lot of it doesn’t work and it doesn’t all fit together well. But the parts of it that work, really work. When Connect puts its focus on marching Dong-soo and Jin-seop toward their confrontation, it’s an engaging high concept show. When it’s focusing on Yi-rang helping Dong-soo uncover the conspiracy of his origin, it’s an engaging sci-fi mystery. It’s a shame it couldn’t choose the one thing it wanted to be.
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