The landscapes of heaven and hell exist within the human mind, thought John Milton. If we consider apocalypse in its Greek root meaning of “revelation,” Kyu-Seok Choi and Sang-ho Yeon’s Korean original post-apocalyptic horror series ‘Hellbound’ (‘Jiok’) is truly revealing. The damning vision of a world where humans get to know about the time of their death from a divine decree is chilling to the bones, as it is pretty ironic in the post-pandemic age.
There are no binaries in the anarchy of the series, only a mind-bending confluence of contradictions. While the prophetic tone of the series may hit a sensitive spot for some, others leave the screen gasping for meaning. If you are over the shock, let us address the questions pertaining to the ending of the inaugural season. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Hellbound Season 1 Recap
The day is November 10, 2022, and the place is a coffee shop near Hapseon station. A group of friends listens to a video sermon of indoctrinator Jung Jinsu, the founder of the New Truth. The girl in the group fears after Jinsu that angels descend out of the blue and take people to hell, while the boys are too eager to make fun of her. However, to their dismay, ghastly black ape-like figures manifest and chase the nervous-looking guy sitting behind the group in the cafe. They burn him in the streets before returning to their realm (through a revolving door).
After the death, police detectives Kyunghun and Eunpyo follow-up by looking into the New Truth cult. Jung Jinsu and his disciples are thankfully present at the scene of the crime, having a session. There have been more such incidents around the world, which they call “demonstrations” of God. To Kyunghun’s dismay, his daughter Heejung is a follower of Jinsu. Jung Jinsu, called Chairman Jung by his entranced followers, is a charismatic leader. Upon interrogation, he also confirms that some radicals in his group may go by the name of Arrowhead. He comes off as a man of transparency.
At night, Kyunghun discovers one person who has waged war against the New Truth, Min Hyejin of Sodo law firm. On the same night, some punks of Arrowhead beat up a novelist on the live feed. The following morning, Min Hyejin appears with the novelist at the police station. The police have brought the vandals of the previous night into custody. However, their punishment is at the best juvenile facility, and the delinquents are not afraid. As Min Hyejin returns to her office, she meets Park Jungja, a single mother who has been dealt in the hell card (a “decree” in the vocabulary of New Truth).
Min Hyejin sends Park Jungja’s children Eunyul and Hayul to Canada on a covert flight. On another development, Jinsu and Heejung hunt the killer of Heejung’s mother (who was prosecuted but later released from jail) and exact human retribution. Jinsu leads Heejung, who is overtaken by emotions while the perpetrator’s body burns in an incinerator. The following morning, high-profile people gather at Park Jungja’s house to perceive the demonstration. Media channels also broadcast the fulfillment of the prophecy, while the police remain helpless.
Park Jungja’s visceral death ushers in a new post-apocalyptic era for the netizens, while Arrowhead remains on a steady rise. Chaos breaks out on the streets while the Arrowhead goons target Min Hyejin. Kyunghun is spared at the orders of Jinsu and goes to meet him at a covert location looking for Heejung. Jinsu reveals his own mortal fate, as he has received the decree in childhood. After Jinsu’s demonstration, a devastated Kyunghun returns home to his daughter.
Pastor Kim Jeongchil takes up the role of the new leader of the cult. He contacts Arrowhead to beat Min Hyejin to a presumed death. However, she remains alive as a critical player in the second coming. A time leap sees the steady rise of the cult, now followed by more than half of the world populace. In 2027, video producers Bae Youngjae and Junwon draft a propaganda documentary for the New Truth. But the clients are not happy, and they want some parts to be re-edited, especially the confession recordings.
Bae Youngjae is not afraid to speak his mind, while Junwon trembles from the thought of his decree. Although eager to see his newborn child in the hospital, Youngjae does an errand to a fishing dock after getting a call from Junwon’s wife. He finds Junwon, whose demonstration takes place shortly after, while he is in for another shock.
Hellbound Season 1 Ending: Is Toughie Dead or Alive? What Does It Change For Humanity?
Pressed for time, Youngjae cannot make it to his wife at the hospital and see his newborn baby Toughie. However, as his wife Sohyun comes into the toddler’s room to record a video and send it to Youngjae, she witnesses the decree of Toughie. The specter appears and prophecies that Toughie would die following three days. When Youngjae learns about his child’s impending doom the following morning, he goes to meet Hyeongjun, the professor from the video, whom he recognizes among the people from Sodo.
While another person’s death becomes a public spectacle, the professor takes Youngjae to see Hyejin. The latter tries to convince Youngjae to make the child’s demonstration public, to prove the unfairness of God’s judgment before the world. As she has rightly deduced, the New Truth does not believe in the Abrahamic concept of original sin. Hyejin also divulges to Youngjae about the demonstration of Jung Jinsu. She blames herself for the change in the world order, and she wants to jolt the collective conscience back into its senses.
After getting to know about the tragedy of Hyeongjun’s daughter (she had only 10 seconds before her doom), Youngjae considers broadcasting Toughie’s death. On the other hand, the Arrowhead goons catch the professor and burn him alive. The remains of his corpse and another’s are hanged in front of his university. However, Min Hyejin flees the scene. The following morning, the professor’s death trends in the media, while Arrowhead openly claims responsibility for the crimes. Sohyun goes to New Truth asking for an explanation, but they want to keep it a secret.
According to Chairman Jeongchil, publicity of the baby’s demonstration would end all order, but as far as we know, the apocalypse has already happened. Here, death becomes an instrument of politics, and while the New Truth wants to showcase some demonstration, it needs to hide others to justify its doctrine. The publicity would bring back normalcy, on the other hand, since it would further reveal the randomness of the decrees. It would prove the meaninglessness of existence, but maybe there is meaning somewhere.
While the broadcaster of Arrowhead receives his decree, Min Hyejin takes Youngjae and the family to her trusted friend Lee Dongwook, but as it turns out, volatile Dongwook is in contact with the New Truth. Seemingly, everyone wants a piece of the baby with the strange decree. The Arrowhead broadcaster kills Dongwook in the act of calculated anarchy, as he wants people to remain confused by dying alongside the baby. His time of death, we come to know, is five minutes after Toughie’s, just like Dongwook’s. God sure has mysterious ways.
While the broadcaster chases Youngjae, Sohyun comes in the middle of a colony holding the baby in her arms, as she wants the world to see the unjust ways of God. However, when the demonic angels appear to settle the score, the father and the mother create a shield around the baby. They are scorched to death. But in a grand twist of fate, the baby is alive. The decrees can be defied after all, which is comforting for humanity.
While the Chairman assures Dongwook that he is the Messiah, it seems that the baby who has defied death is the real Messiah. When the Arrowhead goon comes forward to finish God’s business (yes, by killing the baby), he has his turn coming. Min Hyejin attacks the guy and saves the baby, while the agents of death consume him in a fire. Toughie, true to his name, remains alive against all odds. The stunned locals hail the miracle while Hyejin escorts the baby to safety.
What Is God’s Message? Who Are The Supernatural Creatures?
So we are here, at last, interpreting (and misinterpreting) God’s message. The fact that Toughie is alive sheds a ray of hope on the deprived and the damned masses. It also reinstates law and order to an extent, as the all-pervasive existence of New Truth and Arrowhead are tainted, if not diminished. However, the final scene confuses us further as Park Jungja comes back into existence from dust.
What is the meaning of existence in a world where we freely come in and out of being? In ‘Hellbound,’ death has come out of the private realm into the public, much like the ash-to-ash reality of the post-pandemic world. What is God trying to say to humans? Who are these three messengers of death? Can we safely assume that they are acting upon the orders of a cruel divinity? Well, it does not hurt to ask, can they be aliens?
Although Jung Jinsu is a seeming prophet at the beginning of the series preaching the ways of righteousness, his decree defies his sermon’s logic. In an age where it’s hard to think of a society where humans can live without plundering Earth’s riches and bending truths, maybe the suggestion is that we are all sinners. Perhaps the logic is Nietzschean, that God is dead with an autonomous human subject’s coming into being. Or if God must exist, maybe he is out to discipline the damned.
Perhaps the problem is not God; maybe it is humans and their mighty quest for truth that are at fault. While the addition of the supernatural gives a certain edge to the narrative of the Netflix production, the bleak horror is firmly tethered into the contradictions of humanity. The supernatural creatures only give a palpable form to the agency of death.
Read More: Where Is Hellbound Filmed?