In a post-apocalyptic Korean peninsula, Netflix’s Black Knight follows a young refugee dreaming of becoming a delivery man in a world of scarce food and oxygen. After a comet struck Earth and killed 99% of the world’s population, Seoul became a wasteland. The country divided the remaining population into different districts, prioritizing people of wealth and fortune to receive unlimited resources, while the lower citizens have to purchase oxygen to survive. In the midst of this strict social class, a group of people called the “Black Knights,” secretly deliver resources to people in need, and the most heroic of them is a man called 5-8 (Kim Woo-bin) who meets a young refugee, Sa-wol (Kang You-seok) who helps him to uncover the corrupt government secrets.
For the most part, Black Knight attempts to explain the dystopian, polluted world juxtaposed with dark themes of a group of people dismantling a corrupt system. The six-episode series is based on Lee Yong-gyun’s website, ‘Delivery Knight,’ which, like another popular series by the streaming giant, Squid Game, introduces a game for the ultimate price of becoming a delivery man.
In the very first episode, the series is quick to establish the difference between the four classes that divide the population based on their economic status. Individuals that reside in the Korean peninsula live in class districts, and each individual has a tattooed QR code which allows them to access resources. The lower districts live in rectangular-shaped black row houses. There are no trees to be seen and the entire area looks like a desert. Due to the poor air quality and high air pollution in the lower districts, the people have to order oxygen to live and wear masks to go outside.
The upper districts, however, are different. The air is not polluted and people don’t have to wear masks because there is unlimited access to oxygen. Politicians and wealthy people benefit from this, and at the centre of this corrupt system is Ryu Seok (Song Seung-heon), who is in charge of administering the lower districts. However, he has an ulterior motive behind the decisions he makes. He plans to completely eliminate refugees and the individuals living in these districts. In addition to these motives, Ryu Seok also suffers from an ailment that leaves him trying to find someone who can cure it.
The audience will never know what he suffers from or why it happened, but the clearest answer could be his father’s consequences; killing thousands of refugees that resulted in the depletion of the world’s population and the current faction distribution in Korea. The first episode spends a lot of time explaining to the audience why the world ended in this situation. Unfortunately, the world-building of Black Knight leaves a lot of unanswered land questions that don’t attempt to fill the blanks.
With complex characters, such as Ryu Seok, whose goal is never clear even after the series ends make the story incomplete. The show describes him as an evil character with complex motivations, but why is he searching for mutants? He carries out unethical experiments using refugees, but what makes mutants special compared to the rest of the population? Why does he think that mutants will cure him of his ailment? All of these questions are left for the audience to answer. It’s an interesting concept but the show never dives into Ryu Seok’s obsession with gene supremacy and his goal to find a mutant to cure his sickness.
Even then, the series continues to keep the audience guessing with 5-8’s background. What makes him legendary? There’s no explanation for it. It’s clear that he fits into the requirements to be selected as a “Black Knight.” He knows combat and delivers the parcels without any delay, but what else is there to a character that excels in his job and tries to topple the government from its corrupt systems? It’s frustrating to watch compelling characters such as 5-8 work to take down corrupt systems when there isn’t enough backstory to determine why characters make decisions like this. The world-building and character journeys are underdeveloped and it lets the series down.
This series would have potentially explored a lot of questions about the government’s hands in deciding to divide the classes based on their socioeconomic status. Of course, there’s anger and frustration among the individuals, which could’ve been taken into account from real-life situations. It shouldn’t be that hard to delve deeper into the whys and the hows of the series’ dystopian world. But the series steers off that path once the story focuses on 5-8’s mission, Sa-wol’s history, and Ryu Seok’s obsession with finding a cure.
There are so many disconnects between the subplots and the character journey’s that, ultimately, makes it difficult to binge-watch Black Knight. The underestimated potential of developing a series set in a dystopian world and not exploring the deeper themes and elements is a waste. The central premise gets lost in the midst of the story and turns dynamic sequences underwhelming for audiences to watch. This series is a frustrating story of a hero’s journey to save the world but fails to maintain the basic components of world-building elements and lacks the momentum to keep the series exciting.
The first four episodes of the ‘Black Knight’ webcomic series are available to read here. The original “Black Knight” webcomic is now available to WEBTOON readers in the US, and coming to additional regions soon.