Once Upon a Small Town (K-drama), Season 1, Episode 1: After a long tiring day, when your mind is too drained to watch anything meaningful, Korean drama shows can be a rejuvenator. Netflix’s K-drama ‘Once Upon a Small Town’ is a delightful tale about a young doctor with a promising future as a Veterinary specialist who lands up in a small town after his grandfather unexpectedly leaves. The first episode of this comedy-drama series is pure, unadulterated slice of life that makes you laugh with its peculiar and overwhelming characters that you may find relatable.
Here is a full recap of the first episode and a detailed explanation of the ending. Spoiler alert, please read at your discretion.
Once Upon a Small Town (K-drama), Season 1, Episode 1 Recap:
With an adorable montage of different pet animals, the show takes us directly to the vet clinic. A young doctor is occupied checking on his patient, Walnut (a pug dog), who instantly melts our hearts with his big eyes and panting but drooling face. As the doctor answers, the worrisome queries of his patient’s parent, his ringing phone grabs everyone’s attention. Ignoring it thinking it to be a spam call, the doctor continues to examine the dog. After the consultation, his phone rings again; this time, it is Assistant Lee calling him. He takes the call uninterestingly, but awful news on the other side makes him jump, and he hurriedly leaves his clinic.
While driving his colleague’s car, he repeatedly calls his grandpa but doesn’t get his call through. He drives through Seoul in the heavy rain to a small town called – Huidong. After driving the whole day, imagining the worse, and fretting about what could go wrong, he finally arrives at his grandfather’s home. He runs to the main entrance but finds the door locked from the inside, and no one responds when he calls out to his grandfather.
Unable to get through to anyone nearby, he becomes desperate and calls the nearest station to check if any accidents may have occurred during the day. Meanwhile, a raincoat-wearing person stands behind him with a walkie-talkie, keeping a watchful eye on him. The doctor tries to get into the house by jumping the fence, but the raincoat-clad person, who is from the local police catches him for trespassing. Frightened about getting caught, the doctor explains that it is not what it looks like.
The policewoman requests for backup as the young doctor tries hard to explain his situation. However, the officer accuses him of being a thief who steals from older people in empty houses. While she checks his ID, the doctor interrogates her about empty houses. However, the officer instantly understands that she just rushed into speculations. In the meantime, seeing the man heckling the woman officer to know more about the tense situation, the second commanding policeman runs and throws the doctor to the ground leaving him unconscious.
In the next moment, we learn that the doctor is Han Ji-yul (Chu Young-woo), the grandson of a notable local vet in the town. When Han gains consciousness, he finds himself in a vet’s hospital bed, and everyone curiously staring at him. Shortly after he remembers why he came to the town in the first place and asks about his grandfather, and the policewoman informs him that his grandfather and his wife have left for a cruise earlier that morning. Confused, Han mentions the panic call he received earlier. The lady doctor standing next to him shares that she was forced to do that to bring him to the town. She also hands him the keys to the house and the hospital he is presently at, as he tries to understand the situation a little better.
Soon a panic-stricken older policeman comes running, stressing about the civilian who was knocked down earlier. However, the first policewoman quickly informs everyone that the man is the grandson of Director Han. Everyone quickly apologizes for the chaos; however, the doctor cannot process all the information he has received while sitting on a hospital bed.
In the meantime, Han Ji-yul receives a phone call from his grandfather disclosing that he has left a letter in the house explaining everything in detail. Since there is only one veterinary clinic in the town, he called his grandson to take care of it while he was away. Assuming his grandson can understand everything at once, he soon disconnects the call leaving Ji-yul even more confused.
After the call, everyone exclaims that Director Han is a prankster, Ji-yul is not too keen on being part of it. Later, the lady police officer offers him a lift to the nearby man’s house with an ill hen. After much resistance, he agrees to go with her. Ji-yul later calls his coworker back at the hospital he works at to tell them about his situation. However, his friend discloses that his grandfather had come to the clinic earlier and somehow persuaded them to stick to the plan. The young doctor is left surprised by his grandfather’s tricks of getting him to the small town. His friend advises on sticking around as the elderly couple has decided to take a break from their hectic life for the first time in their life. It is the least he could do for them.
On the way to the house, the officer nearly hits a person who falls into a paddy field. Soon the officer gets into a verbal exchange with the man as Ji-yul is stunned to notice the closeness between the people.
The officer soon takes Han to a nearby poultry farm, where a grumpy man complains of a stray dog that messes up all his crops and eats the hens. Even though Ji-yul is still confused about why he is even there, he goes inside and checks the dog, only to find the young pup tangled and hurt by a rat trap. Quickly understanding the situation, Ji-yul explains to the man that trapping an innocent animal is strictly against the law, and he can be charged for the violation. The man looks at the officer, but it seems nobody considers this a crime in a small town. The officer tries to talk things out with the doctor, saying that there’s a first for everything. However, Ji-yul has a different take on the situation as he seems to practice his profession with honestly.
The officer tells him that she can take the dog to the shelter after getting him treated, but Ji-yul assures him that the dog would most likely be euthanized as a standard practice. The officer states that even though as a vet, his only job is to think about animals, as a police officer she has to think about the safety of her townspeople. However, the doctor then starts questioning her morality. While the doctor and police argue their views, the grumpy man intervenes, suggesting how the doctor is not paying attention to his problem with the hen and the dog.
Han finally settles on taking the dog to the hospital to check if the mutt has any microchip that can get them to his owner. While taking the poor dog along with him, Han points to the officer that she should do her job precisely, instead of taking unlawful citizens lightly, just because they are her neighbors.
Once Upon a Small Town (K-drama), Season 1, Episode 1 Ending, Explained:
After a silent and awkward ride back to the clinic, the police and Ji-yul exchange cold vibes. Soon the police get a call from a goat man, and the second doctor orders Ji-yul to accompany her to the next patient’s house. He finds it odd and questions why he has to visit people’s houses to treat the animals, to which the officer says that it is easier and quicker this way. After an eventful first day in the town, Ji-yul finally reaches his grandparent’s house. Tired and shaken by the day’s event, his peace is soon disturbed by the over-caring, intruding neighbors who bring him dinner.
When he asks about their intentions, at first, they laugh it off but soon explain that it might be more reasonable for people in Seoul to live a lonely life, but in a small town, everyone lives together, and the sooner he understands, the better it will be for him to settle in. Ji-yul is not used to getting all this affection and finds it odd for people to be so wholesome and welcoming to him. The police officer explains to him that all the women who brought food for him made it with a lot of love to welcome him. Since no one answered when they rang the house bell, they let themselves in to keep the food ready for him.
After dinner, everyone decides to leave him to retire for the day. The head of the women association offers him a tip that he should know that in a small town even if you don’t need something, the people will still give you things. And when you are in dire need, the same people will offer you more than your requirements. That’s how the people are here.
Noticing that Ji-yul is stubborn about being an independent person in a new town, the officer doubts his capability to take care of himself. Before leaving, the officer mentions that since there are no locks in the house like in big cities, he would need to lock the doors properly for safety. Later, he finds the letter his grandfather had left for him. As he reads the letter, he learns that his grandparents have been married for fifty beautiful years and his grandmother’s only wish is to travel the world on a big ship. His grandpa also mentions that all his life, he has only worked for the clinic and never paid any attention to his wife, putting her through numerous hardships. After seeing her only son and daughter-in-law pass away, she has no life in herself, and it is about time he does something for her. Hence, he put Ji-yul in this position where his grandson would need to step in his place to run the hospital so he could enjoy a beautiful time with his wife after all this time.
After reading the letter, Ji-yul visits the clinic and notices everything around to familiarize himself with everything his grandfather has built from scratch with his hard work.
Even though everything remains confusing for Ji-yul, they start making more sense to him. The first episode of ‘Once Upon a Small Town’ ends with the two characters’ heartwarming intro. At the bank of a small water rivulet, Ji-yul meets a girl swimming in the water, who happens to be the police officer he spent the entire day with.