Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 12
Two things have occurred to me while watching Mixed-up Investigative Agency, ideas that solidified in Episode 12. I’ll get to the second item later in the recap, but first is that nobody’s really a bad guy. Certainly, you have people who do more good than bad, and others who do more bad than good, but it’s like a sliding scale of morality and not a definitive, black-white, heaven-hell dichotomy.
The good way of looking at that is that everybody is capable of ceding to their good side. The dumb gangster subordinates, for instance, are aligned with criminals and career violence-doers — but really, they spend most of their time waiting around and filling their hours by bickering or, more hilariously, dancing. I found it pretty touching to see 007 given more depth in recent episodes, and showing remorse for his actions. And it’s not just that he was nervous at the thought that Hee-kyung was seeing Junsu’s ghost — his admission that he’s seen Junsu’s face in his dreams shows that he’s actually been haunted by his complicity in Junsu’s death (even if he didn’t kill him directly) for years. And who’d’ve thunk all-around badass Baek Min-chul’s Achilles heel was love?
Maybe by that corollary, you must also concede that nobody’s entirely good, either. Our “good guys” are the traditional good guys merely by dint of being the protagonists in this story — but are they necessarily good? Does not being bad make someone good? They’re caring friends and loyal allies (good) but so far they’re mostly acting upon their own interests (bad? morally neutral?). In any case, this good-bad duality is something we see in striking contrast in this episode.
SONG OF THE DAY
Casker – “말할 수 없는 이야기” (A story I can’t tell)
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CASE No. 12: “My Recollections Betray Memories”
The children’s description of Yong-su’s interaction with Min-chul’s addlepated mother misleads Min-chul (and us) into thinking that Yong-su was so consumed with anger that he kidnapped the woman to exact his revenge upon Min-chul.
Now, we see what really happened — that Yong-su had been watching the old woman walk out of the restaurant, and saw her heading straight onto a highly trafficked road. He grabbed her out of harm’s way, and the old woman continued walking on. Yong-su followed behind at a distance.
Oh, and btw, in response to a comment in the last episode — I also totally thought the little girl looked just like a miniature Gong Hyo Jin! That was my first thought seeing her:
Anyway, Min-chul’s mother is in a good mood and doesn’t respond to Yong-su’s warnings that she could be heading into dangerous territory. When they arrive at a secluded house in the woods, she tells Yong-su, “That’s our house.”
Baek Min-chul fumes, thinking the worst. He hears from his men that Yong-su had visited his own mother in the hospital the day before — and we learn that she had attempted suicide. (Gahhh! Poor Yong-su. His life just sucks. As if his own guilt weren’t enough, his mother has to contribute to it. I’m not advocating blaming a victim/perpetrator of suicide, because they’re in pain too, but JESUS. What a horrible load to carry for a young boy, losing a brother and then having to contend with a mother figure who just stopped mothering.) Mu-yeol and Hee-kyung both defend Yong-su, insisting that they’ve leapt to the wrong conclusion (“Don’t judge him by YOUR standards!”), but Min-chul doesn’t care.
At the old house, Mama Baek is apparently waiting for her son to come to her, perhaps locked in an old memory. Yong-su builds them a fire, and they sit side-by-side in quiet. Yong-su tells her that in the morning, he’ll call her son to come, and she smiles gratefully, even though Yong-su tells her, “Don’t smile, don’t you know how horrible he’s been to us?”
Yong-su starts talking, as though he’s telling a story about someone else:
“A long time ago, about eighteen years ago, an older brother disappeared. The older brother was named Junsu, the younger was Yong-su. The older brother was smart, and the younger was cute enough. The younger brother’s birthday was September 13, but this year, of all days, it was the day before Chuseok. The mother was so busy preparing for Chuseok, she’d forgotten his birthday. She didn’t cook him seaweed soup, didn’t buy him any presents. It was ridiculous. On his older brother’s birthday, she’d gone all out.
“The younger brother couldn’t believe it. ‘No way. I’m sure she’ll do something at lunchtime. Maybe it’s a surprise party.’ But evening came, and still nobody realized. Even though the younger brother was good-natured, he became angry. Don’t you think he would? … ‘I don’t belong to this family! Hyung’s the only son. I’m going to run away. I’ll show you!”
“At that point, the older brother said, ‘I’m sorry’ and went out to buy a cake… and he didn’t come back. From that point on, the mother would always sigh whenever she looked at the younger brother, saying, ‘How could this be…?’ Like she was saying, ‘How is it you’re here, and your brother’s gone?’ How could that be the younger brother’s fault? Things just happened that way. The younger brother knows too, that it’s not his fault. But… he feels so guilty… so much he can hardly breathe…”
Yong-su breaks down, sobbing as though he feels physical pain in his chest, and the old woman comforts him.
And this is the second thing that struck me — that this series has placed some very different and seemingly incompatible people together, but they provide comfort for each other in unexpected ways. It’s not that Yong-su needed this woman specifically to help him heal — but rather, when they were placed within each other’s spheres, they interacted and provided comfort for one another. It shows that everyone has a purpose, not just in this drama but in life, and you find meaning from the most surprising sources.
It’s similar with Eun-jae, who spends the night alone and worried, unable to do anything to help. She hears her friends’ voices in her house, being loud and fun and goofy, and misses them. It’s not that Eun-jae specifically needed this group of people in her life; it’s more that when people become your friends and your support, you grow into each other.
And so Yong-su finally releases his dangerously pent-up emotions, receiving solace from the mother of the man who was partly the reason for his pain in the first place. Funny how life turns, and cycles around, and all that weird inexplicable irony/coincidence stuff.
In the morning, Yong-su wakes up and goes to a store to pick up some food. Retrieving his phone, he sees multiple calls from Hee-kyung, and calls her, not knowing the uproar of the night before. Min-chul grabs the phone from Hee-kyung and demands to know where they are. Yong-su can sense impending danger, and Min-chul growls threateningly at him to stay put, then storms out. Someone’s getting his ass kicked!
Back at the house, Yong-su has a moment of panic when he sees the old lady’s wandered off, but he finds her close by.
Hee-kyung and Mu-yeol work together to break free of their bindings, tricking the two gangsters guarding them. After a brief fight, Mu-yeol and Hee-kyung tie them up, but the ensuing fracas reveals one huge clue — the wall-safe that is now exposed when the painting hiding it is knocked aside.
They try to guess the safe combination, and call Yong-su to ask Min-chul’s mother for birthdates and other possible numbers. After a few wrong tries, Yong-su sees four digits engraved on the old woman’s bracelet — and those open the safe. The safe doesn’t contain the map, but it does have other documents, which they grab on their way out (Hee-kyung also finds the broken flower from her shoe in Min-chul’s office). They tell Yong-su to hurry and get the hell outta there before Min-chul arrives, because he is PISSED.
Yong-su decides to heed that advice, but fears for Mama Baek’s safety given her tendency to wander off. So he ties her to the house, telling her to wait till her son arrives. But in so doing, he sees that the old woman is bruised all over her body. He asks who did it to her, and she doesn’t want to tell him, so Yong-su uses reverse psychology (saying, “I bet you tripped, clumsy”) to get her to admit that her nurse handler condemns her for being useless (“She says all I do is eat and poop”) and hits her.
Yong-su tells her firmly to tell her son exactly what she told him, and to show him her bruises. He rushes off to leave before Min-chul arrives.
Naturally, Min-chul sees his mother tied up and bruised and automatically assumes Yong-su is responsible. Her explanation doesn’t make any sense either (“I got hit!”) and he’s so infuriated that when Yong-su comes back to give her a reminder, Min-chul wastes no time beating him up.
Yong-su tries to explain, but Min-chul doesn’t give him a chance to. He’s brutal and angry enough to kill, enough to cause 007 to intervene.
Min-chul pauses to read a crumpled note Yong-su is holding (which is what Yong-su returned to give the mother). The note addresses Min-chul and informs him of his mother’s mistreatment. Yong-su mumbles, “What about you? Why did you kill my brother? He was just a high school student. He’d just gone to buy a cake…”
Sobbing and yelling at the same time, Yong-su curses Min-chul for killing his brother while Min-chul looks at Yong-su with realization and perhaps some guilt. Min-chul whispers, “I didn’t kill him,” just as Yong-su passes out.
Eun-jae’s relieved and happy when Hee-kyung and Mu-yeol come back safely, running outside to greet them (although her reserved nature keeps her reaction subdued when actually talking to them). They assume Yong-su escaped safely, but the happy reunion is interrupted when they get the call that Yong-su is in the hospital. He has extensive injuries, but at least there’s no internal damage.
Min-chul also talks to a doctor to assess his mother’s bruises, and hears that they are old injuries, inflicted over a long period of time.
Eun-jae visits her uncle, who’s in jail for his earlier attempt to kidnap her. Their meeting starts out stiff and vaguely antagonistic, as Eun-jae asks about her father’s business in 1989. She wonders if her father had been blackmailed or threatened into doing something against his will. Also, did anything happen to her when she was young that was traumatic enough to cause her to be afraid of enclosed spaces?
Her uncle softens at her questions, and tells her that actually, when she was younger she loved small confined spaces. She’d always hide under desks and even once was thought to have disappeared. With affection, he recalls that after her father had frantically called police, she’d appeared out of nowhere: “You were around five then. That was the first time I saw my brother, my grand older brother, ever crying. It would’ve been so nice for you, and for me, if he’d lived a long life.”
(This is another instance that struck me for showing how people aren’t as evil as they first seemed. I’m sure the uncle was genuinely greedy at first, but he’s not completely without affection for his brother and niece.)
Yong-su recuperates, and Eun-jae tries to figure out things about her father. In her dreams, he’s kind, loving, and attentive, but it seems like there are things that don’t quite add up about her memories.
Those discrepancies reveal themselves when the four friends come home after Yong-su is discharged from the hospital, and a traffic accident causes them to be stuck in a long tunnel. Once more, Eun-jae starts to feel ill, and after trying to hold it in, she bursts out of the car and runs out of the tunnel toward open space —
— and as she stumbles on, she remembers the rest of what happened on that fateful day when she was seven years old…
…when she came out of hiding on the rooftop to see the dying body of Junsu lying on the concrete. Only this time, she sees the face of the man responsible, the man in the pin-striped suit, the man holding the gold bar — her father.
The scarred hand creeping up to Junsu’s throat did in fact belong to a younger Baek Min-chul, but it wasn’t to strangle him — it was to check his pulse, which had faded.
Interestingly, the seven-year-old Eun-jae expresses little shock at witnessing the event. She’s actually surprisingly unaffected, cheerful even, while her father uneasily carries her away, and tells her how much he loves her.
Back in the present, Mu-yeol comforts the hysterical Eun-jae, who’s realized the truth of Junsu’s death, and can’t look at Yong-su without crying over the guilt of knowing her father was responsible for so much of his pain and suffering.
End sequence: “Oldboy”
Okay, somebody’s gotta help me out on the relevance of this end skit, which appears to be a re-enactment out of Oldboy. Since the actress in the scene is played by a non-cast member of the drama, I don’t know exactly what the correlation is. The only overt connection is that the plate of food which is offered to the imprisoned woman, who wakes up in an unfamiliar room, bears the name “Golden.” Thoughts? Guesses?
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