One thing I find striking about Mixed-up Investigative Agency is how it’s able to convey such emotional intensity in its expressions of love — but not heart-fluttery romance, or in-the-moment passion. Rather, the deep-seated, time-worn bond between long-bygone (but no-less-remembered) loved ones and their survivors. The person may be gone but the memory of their love is just as strong and able to provide comfort — and pain — now as much as ever.
The first such instance came early in the drama — Jo Man Gi’s bitter son in Episode 2 (or was it 3?) — but has really come out in full force in recent episodes. Eun-jae, for instance, may seem calm and stoic on the outside but harbors deep, internalized pain from losing her father at such a young age. The depth of her father’s love is all the more painful for its loss, but ironically it’s also what gives her the strength to endure that very pain. We first met Yong-su as the World’s Laziest Slacker, seemingly with no ambitions and no motivation, but now we see that the scars of losing his brother were so deep that they in essence stunted his life’s development.
Even (the other) Kim Junsu encounters issues of loneliness and abandonment. Major baddie Baek Min-chul is still hurt by the memories of a childhood of ostracism. And Hee-kyung shares his experience of being deprived of friendly (and familial) affection. What this series has done, then, is provide an impressive study on the memory of love (and its repercussions).
SONG OF THE DAY
BAY – “Misery” [ zShare download ]
CASE No. 11: “The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back”
Now if that isn’t an ominous title for you, I don’t know what is.
With the death of his older brother finally confirmed after eighteen years of uncertainty, Yong-su puts his brother to rest. He flips through a photo album, saddened but rather emotionally detached, and muses to Mu-yeol:
“I was thinking, after these, there would have been his high school graduation pictures. He would’ve won top honors, like the kind from the Lions Club, since he was a good student.”
He flips the page over to an empty one, and another:
“His university pictures would’ve gone here, maybe some from club training meetings… Since he was going to go to medical school, there’d be one of him dressed in a doctor’s coat… Where would’ve he have done his military service?… He’d fall in love a couple times… experience some heartbreak, get drunk and throw up… He would’ve married around age thirty… maybe had two kids. Since our family’s got a tendency for Y chromosomes, they might’ve both been boys. Around forty, he’d develop a belly, lose some hair… Would he have had an affair? Around fifty, he might develop a geriatric disease or two… At sixty, he’d retire, and around seventy, he might have suffered a little… and then he would’ve died.”
The friends listen uncomfortably, and Mu-yeol speaks up awkwardly, “What are you talking about?” But Yong-su just shuts the album firmly and says, “I just mean he would’ve died anyway.”
Over the next few days, Yong-su does nothing but sleep all day and night. It isn’t exactly depression; he just doesn’t care to do anything. So the other three friends try to resume their research, and Eun-jae goes back to her therapy sessions, but all to no avail. Yong-su is their idea man, and without his input, they don’t get anywhere.
I like the idea that they’re unsuccessful as a trio, while Yong-su’s out of the loop. It highlights Yong-su’s place in the group, but also suggests how each person has their place (just as the group had disbanded when Eun-jae left a couple episodes ago, too).
Mu-yeol asks Yong-su for an idea to point them in the right direction. Yong-su gives him a particular address — his parents’ home. He tells Mu-yeol that his father kept meticulous records after Junsu disappeared, so nobody has better information about the dealings of the Gold Building in 1989 than him. He advises Mu-yeol to pass himself off as a reporter interested in the Gold Building and mention nothing about knowing Yong-su.
Meanwhile, Eun-jae brings her friends along in a hypnosis session to kill two birds with one stone: (1) to attempt to make progress which has stalled ever since the day she collapsed in a session, and (2) to obtain a surreptitious psychological report on Yong-su without offending him. She’s worried about his reaction following the recent revelation of his brother’s death, so the clinic has all three friends undergo basic screening under the guise that it’s standard procedure as Eun-jae’s guardians.
(In a humorous beat, Eun-jae finds she’s now unresponsive to the therapy — something has disrupted her ability to be affected by the treatment — but the three friends have no trouble submitting to the hypnosis.)
It’s Chuseok, the major Thanksgiving-like holiday that everyone traditionally spends with family, but nobody has any plans, so Eun-jae suggests they have their own mini-Chuseok as a group. They set out to make the traditional Chuseok foods, including songpyun, a sticky rice cake with a sweet center that is a main Chuseok staple.
The activity has the added benefit of finally drawing Yong-su out of his withdrawn silence — he’s the only one who knows how to make songpyun, and he allows himself to be drawn into cooking with everyone. Even Eun-jae attempts her hand at it (although she’s the worst cook, probably because she’s never had to do it before).
At one point, she even initiates a joke — a first for her — when Mu-yeol insists he has to make sure his songpyuns are shaped prettily, to go with a wives’ tale that pretty songpyun = pretty children (therefore necessitating a pretty wife). Eun-jae leans over and messes his up, and Mu-yeol wails in dismay.
The fun is interrupted when Yong-su gets a phone call, and has to make a sudden exit. He tells his friends he’ll be back in a while, without explaining that he’s going to visit his mother, who’s laid up in the hospital. (That’s his father sleeping next to her.)
As he looks down at his mother, she wakes up and immediately asks, “Junsu, is that you?” She sees that it’s Yong-su, and sighs in disappointment, “How can this be…”
Yong-su’s filled with pain at seeing his mother in this state, and hurt because she’s so consumed with her missing son that she’s long since forgotten about her living one. As he leaves, he flashes back to memories of his youth. His adolescence was marked by his mother constantly looking at him and sighing, “How can this be…” almost as though she blames him for not being Junsu.
It’s horrible and maddening and terribly sad — how heartbreaking to be Yong-su, who not only had to deal with his own grief but also had to face the constant pain of being rejected by a mother who was never happy to see him purely because he wasn’t his brother.
Well, Yong-su’s endured it long enough, and the long-simmering indignity finally breaks the surface. With a fierceness we haven’t seen before, Yong-su spies on and follows Baek Min-chul, armed with a stun gun and a grim determination fueled by bitterness and anger.
Yong-su clenches his stun gun and is just about to step forward to shock Min-chul when he’s stopped short. Min-chul has led him to a hospital, and a nurse brings out an elderly woman in a wheelchair. Min-chul looks down at her in affection and says gently, “Mother.”
The elderly woman doesn’t speak and looks on with an unfocused gaze, so it seems Min-chul’s mother is partly senile, but he smiles at her and takes her out for a Chuseok meal in their hometown. He gives the nurse a generous tip and wheels his mother away, disrupting Yong-su’s intentions long enough to jar him out of his rage.
Back at home, Eun-jae receives the clinic’s assessment of Yong-su’s psychological state, which confirms what we are starting to see — that he’s contained his emotions for so long, he’s a walking time bomb, ready to go off at the first provocation. His depression isn’t severe, but he harbors violent tendencies — if expressed inwardly, it could lead to self-inflicted pain or suicide, and if expressed externally, it could result in outward violence. The doctor warns that he needs to let out his trapped emotions before they’re misdirected in a dangerous way.
Although calmer now, Yong-su continues to follow Min-chul and sits in the car, biding his time, while Min-chul takes his mother to a restaurant and watches over her patiently and devotedly.
When Min-chul steps out for a brief moment to get some water, his mother seems to snap out of her dull stupor — and Min-chul comes back to find her gone.
Immediately alarmed, Min-chul runs outside and looks frantically for her, enlisting the help of the restaurant owners, with no success.
Two little girls speak up — they saw the grandma walking on her own. Then a man came up to her and grabbed her arm — a man who had been staring at them grimly while they were in the restaurant. The man had a scruffy beard and curly hair…
…and is now following Min-chul’s mother as she walks along slowly.
Min-chul immediately knows Yong-su’s the man in question, and calls in his reinforcements, starting with 007, who’s at home for a family Chuseok.
(Another thing that this series does very well is show us a glimpse into the lives of its characters beyond the immediate plot. For instance, rather than showing 007 just receiving the call, we see him playing with his baby daughter and enjoying a slice of domestic bliss before he’s called into his gangster role. The two sidekicks also have rather developed personalities for the little amount of screentime they are afforded (and they dance!). Even nameless manhwa readers in Yong-su’s store get a hint of narrative development. It’s all in the name of keeping the Mixed-up universe populated with interesting, quirky characters.)
Anyway, 007 receives Min-chul’s furious instructions to bring in Yong-su and his friends RIGHT AWAY, no matter what.
So when Mu-yeol and Hee-kyung drive home after acting upon a new hunch (they install a camcorder in a tree above a grave, figuring they can learn something from seeing who might drop by to pay his/her respects), they’re ambushed, then taken to Min-chul separately.
(Hilariously, upon arrival Hee-kyung looks at Mu-yeol’s bloodied face in worry, but Mu-yeol sees Hee-kyung’s untouched appearance and curses the gangsters — because while they saw fit to beat HIM up, they didn’t bother beating HER up! What are they, sexist? How dare they discriminate?)
But Min-chul is beyond reason, and accuses Hee-kyung of telling Yong-su that his mother was his weak spot. He demands that Hee-kyung call Yong-su, but unfortunately, Yong-su is busy following Min-chul’s mother and has left his phone in the car.
By now, Yong-su’s back to his normal self, his anger dissipated. Min-chul’s mother arrives at an old, empty house and sits there, not responding to Yong-su’s suggestions to turn back. Loath to leave the old woman alone, Yong-su sits down nearby.
Eun-jae calls Hee-kyung, who isn’t able to explain anything and can only confirm that something’s wrong. Until they can reach Yong-su, they’re at an impasse.
And so, they wait.
End sequence: “Honor’s Jang Taek Su”
In this short ending skit, Officer Jang awaits for the results of his taekwondo match — he and Mu-yeol have something of a rivalry. (Actually, it’s more of a one-sided rivalry, with Officer Jang determined to prove he’s better than Mu-yeol.)
After mentally convincing himself that he didn’t compete to win, but to best himself, Officer Jang is named the winner — and he exults in the victory shamelessly.
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 10
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 9
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 8
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 7
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 6
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 5
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 4
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 3
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 2
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 1