Last episode is here!
To be honest, I kinda dragged my feet on this one, not just because episode recaps take much more time than anything else, but because I didn’t want to face the blankness of having nothing to watch for the immediate future (and don’tcha know, avoidance always solves problems!). Plus, I feel that final episodes deserve a little more time and effort to give (good) series their proper send-offs. (Bad series can just suck it.)
SONG OF THE DAY
Oldfish – “Way to Home.” I LOVE Oldfish. [ zShare download ]
CASE No. 16: “But Life Goes On”
Episode 15 ended with the secret chamber starting to cave in on itself after Grandpa Treasure Hunter worked some trick-keyhole mojo to find a hidden compartment of old books and scrolls, propelling our heroes (and one anti-hero, Baek Min-chul) into The Sequence That Began It All, namely the Indiana Jones-y crumbling-rock-and-sand intro that kicked off the series in Episode 1, only now the sequence carries with it a lot more dire undertones than it did initially, since we can see it in its proper context.
Booyah. Ain’t nobody got a leg up on me in the long-unwieldy-sentences (and extended-hyphenated-modifiers) category!
Quickly, the four friends make a dash for the nearest exit (or rather, three conscious friends take one knocked-out Eun-jae with them).
Min-chul sees that Grandpa’s unconscious — and I suppose we are to assume that he is either already a goner or soon to be one — and grabs the scroll. Interestingly, the guys dash out to grab Min-chul and pull him to safety into another corridor.
After the dust and falling rocks settle, Yong-su fearfully calls out to see if all his friends made it alive. The sequence is the exact same from Episode 1, but now all of the emotions — the fear, Mu-yeol’s angry aggression toward Min-chul, his outburst that it’s all Min-chul’s fault, the two men’s fight, Hee-kyung’s furious interference — make sense in light of their dangerous circumstances.
Hee-kyung yells at everyone for wasting strength and air — she refuses to die like this. She’s going to make it out alive.
Mu-yeol looks after Eun-jae, while Yong-su and Min-chul inspect their surroundings. The search reveals that they’re locked in — the exit to the main chamber has been sealed by caved-in rock, and the other side leads to dead ends.
The friends recall that construction is set to open the next day (the day after Christmas), and once people see the state of the basement, they’re sure to come after them. So all they have to do is hold on for eighteen more hours or so. Yong-su assures them they can survive for days if they can handle being a little hungry.
The sound of an alarm cuts short their optimism — it’s their oxygen meter. With no ventilation, their supply is limited, and they’ve only got ten hours left. They won’t make it long enough to be rescued tomorrow.
Frantically, Hee-kyung starts digging at the caved-in entrance, and the others join her. But they all know it’s futile — plus, if they keep digging, they might get trapped if the unstable ceiling were to cave in again. Hee-kyung stubbornly keeps digging while one by one the guys stop, and Min-chul forcibly pulls her away until she calms down.
When Eun-jae awakens, there are only eight hours of oxygen left. Interspersed with these dire underground scenes are short snippets showing the upbeat, cheery Christmas going on aboveground, in eerie contrast.
At every hour interval, the oxygen meter beeps its loud warning, and when the five-hour mark rolls around, Eun-jae starts panicking in earnest. (Min-chul tells Mu-yeol to put pressure on the back of her neck, which will cause her to go unconscious, but the tip just angers Mu-yeol.)
Yong-su asks with tired calmness if they have any last words to leave in a text message. Although they have no reception now, they could leave a message to be found eventually.
Hee-kyung voices a long-unspoken regret:
“I’ve wanted apologize to Kyung-mi for a long time. Every now and then, I think of her. I shouldn’t have told her about her mother meeting the miller. If I didn’t, her mother wouldn’t have been kicked out of the house… and her brother wouldn’t have had to take out bonds… and Kyung-mi wouldn’t have left home at seventeen and gotten pregnant.”
Yong-su says it wasn’t her fault, but Hee-kyung contradicts him. It was her fault: “I hated Kyung-mi. I hated the girl for having prettier shoes than me. I hated the girl who only left me out when playing jump rope. I wanted to say sorry. I really wanted to say that… but it looks like I won’t be able to.”
Mu-yeol regrets his last words with his father, in an argument over money — he’d complained that other fathers bought their sons apartments and set up businesses for their sons, but his father was insisting he pay back his loan with interest. Yong-su wisely tells Mu-yeol if that’s his last regret, it means he’s lived a pretty good life.
Mu-yeol asks what Yong-su’s regrets are: “Everything about how I’ve lived my life.” Not one particular regret, just a general sense.
Min-chul doesn’t participate in the conversation, but he looks down at his scarred hand in a silent admission of his own life’s regrets. At the same time, his mother waits longingly for her son to return to her.
Suddenly, the tension overcomes Eun-jae, and she starts sobbing to herself. Seeing her anxious state, Mu-yeol reluctantly asks for Min-chul’s help doing what he’d suggested earlier. But before he can, Hee-kyung appears in front of Eun-jae, her expression distant as she says in an unusual tone of voice, “Eun-jae…”
Eun-jae senses something strange, and Hee-kyung keeps her gaze steady as she tells Eun-jae, again in that deep, grave voice loaded with meaning: “Jo Man Gi died in the wall. Jo Man Gi died… in the wall…”
Hee-kyung’s intense words creep the guys out, but Eun-jae looks and whispers incredulously, “Dad?” Then, not believing it, “That’s a lie.”
Hee-kyung touches a hand to Eun-jae’s face, crying herself, and starts saying that phrase that Eun-jae’s recalled so often in her memories, that nobody else knows: “Daddy… loves Eun-jae… And Eun-jae…”
Eun-jae finishes the sentence in tears: “…loves Daddy so much.”
Believing her now, Eun-jae sobs openly and grabs Hee-kyung in a hug, just as Hee-kyung falls over in a faint.
When Hee-kyung recovers, they ask if she really can’t recall what she said “as” Eun-jae’s father. Hee-kyung does remember, but it was strange: “It wasn’t like I was talking. No, well, I did say the words, but they just came out automatically.” Supposing it really WAS Eun-jae’s father, the friends mull over her words. “Jo Man Gi died in the wall.” What’s the significance of that? What could Eun-jae’s father mean?
They ask Min-chul for his thoughts, and he recalls how seventeen years ago, Jo Man Gi simply disappeared. He’d found a way into the palace, but soon after cut off contact. Min-chul had gone to Jo Man Gi’s room in the Gold Building (which he took because of its proximity to the palace) with Eun-jae’s father and the antiques grandpa — and despite the fact that the door was locked from the inside, there was nobody in the room.
The friends figure that if Jo Man Gi found a way into the palace, he took a different route than they did, since the flower puzzle and the booby traps were still in place. If he died in the walls of the Gold Building, his way into the palace must’ve been via the Gold Building.
Which means there’s another exit to their underground maze.
Re-energized with hope, the friends scour the area, hurrying because they only have one hour and twelve minutes left. They find what must be Jo Man Gi’s partially blocked tunnel, and take turns digging in the tight space. It’s exhausting work, and the clock’s ticking, and there’s no way to know how much further they have to dig to reach the basement — if they will at all.
When they make the last shift change, Mu-yeol readies to go in — and Eun-jae looks at him with worry. During all the times that Mu-yeol had encountered danger previously, he’d joked just before and after that Eun-jae should express her affection to encourage him on. Each time, she’d silently ignored his light-hearted jokes, not sure what to do with them.
But this time, the situation is different. Mu-yeol sees how concerned she is for him — and he swoops in for the kiss.
I like the kiss for being sudden and without extra fanfare. He hugs her and tells her there’s nothing to worry about, and starts digging madly. Eun-jae’s fears nearly overcome her and she chokes backs sobs as Mu-yeol energetically digs, with something like twenty minutes left on their clock.
This part keeps with my point that there’s a reason THIS particular group of oddball friends was able to succeed in finding the treasure when more experienced, better-equipped people have failed for the past hundred years. Again, it’s not their outstanding skills or unparalleled intelligence. It’s their motley set of skills, the pieces of information they each bring to the scenario, the dynamics of their friendship, all combined with luck, which have brought them this far.
For instance, the moment Mu-yeol went into the wall, I thought it made perfect sense, that it HAD to be Mu-yeol doing the last shift. As motivated as everyone else is, HE’S the one working himself to the limit, digging furiously, pushing himself as far as he can go and perhaps just one bit further. He’s spurred on not just from his love of Eun-jae but also his dogged stubbornness. And in a situation where every second counts, you need him doing this job.
Back in the tunnel, the friends feel the effects of their dwindling air supply, and can do nothing but sit back and await their fate.
With only about five minutes to go, Mu-yeol makes it to the end. Only, there’s no opening. Perhaps the ground has resettled over the years, perhaps part of it has been blocked off again, but the hole in the Gold Building basement doesn’t line up with their tunnel. Mu-yeol stares straight into a wall of concrete.
In anger, Mu-yeol drives his fist into the wall, over and over in a futile gesture — but of course, nothing happens. It’s solid, and the friends can hear the loud, repeated thuds giving testimony to their impending doom.
The oxygen meter beeps its final ominous warning as their air runs out, and everyone sits back, defeated. Yong-su starts to type in a final text message, which reads: “Mother, Father… I’m sorry.”
Mu-yeol’s fist repeats its dull cadence even after their air is gone, even though his friends are slowly slipping into unconsciousness, even though his own breathing grows labored. Even when his blood dots the wall and his weakened punches barely make any noise, he continues.
And then, miraculously, the wall gives.
The aging concrete cracks and crumbles, and Mu-yeol’s fist breaks through into the empty air of the Gold Building basement.
Almost immediately, the fresh influx of oxygen revives the friends, and they scramble excitedly to make their way through the wall.
Once they’re in the basement, they find the door locked and shout for someone to let them out, but nobody hears their muffled yells. But the deaf lady who lives in the building, the mother of the young puzzle-loving boy, readies to go to bed and puts her hand on the wall light switch to flick it off — and feels the reverberations in the building. (Honestly? How clever.)
She grabs the landlord, who grumbles as he trudges along to open the basement door — and out spill the five treasure hunters…
… who rush out into the open air.
And let me complete my thought about why it had to be these friends who found the treasure, and why it had to be Mu-yeol digging in the wall — because that’s the only combination that would have worked. Only Mu-yeol would have dug with such fevered intensity, and only he would have kept punching the wall stubbornly in aggravation when anybody else would have faced their inevitable deaths. In any lesser combination, they would have died, and they know it.
Even Mu-yeol says with trembling relief, realizing just how close a shave they had: “What a relief. I was about to give up. What a relief.”
All around them, Christmas continues on as normal, but this time, instead of being creepy and nerve-racking, it’s celebratory.
In the days following, the basement passageway is inevitably discovered, and makes big news:
Researchers flood the underground tunnels to explore, and naturally make it impossible for anyone to go back because of the high level of scrutiny.
The outside world hasn’t yet uncovered the secret chamber or the gold, but it’s probably safe to assume they will, eventually.
Furthermore, Min-chul sends Emperor Gojong’s scroll to a scholar, which starts off more speculation about the emperor’s supposed hidden funds and the last, unknown royal descendant (erased from the official royal register for some disgrace or other).
As for Eun-jae, she returns to her father’s mausoleum, but this time, she’s able to look at her picture without feeling the disillusionment and disappointment she’d felt previously. She’s found her peace.
The three others deal with their close miss with wealth in different ways. As we might expect, Hee-kyung is caught up in the what-ifs and desperately wants to come forward to claim the gold. It’s theirs! They found it fair and square!
Yong-su points out the various legalities involved, and Mu-yeol says if they can take the gold, they’ll take the legal ramifications that come with it. But there’s no way the government and the royal descendants would let them claim the gold without exerting their own claims first. Yong-su reminds them that a false move on their part might endanger their own stash:
It’s the gold they were able to carry off from the palace!
(Hehe. I’m relieved, because I knew they probably wouldn’t be able to keep the entire treasure. That kind of wealth doesn’t suit our simple-hearted friends anyway. But I did feel it was too bad they didn’t get ANY rewards for their efforts — so that relatively small amount of gold strikes me as being deserved and appropriate, in light of the situation.)
Six months later, their lives are more or less the same: Hee-kyung’s big decision of the day is whether she should’ve ordered jjamppong instead of jajangmyun (ah, the eternal dilemma!). Yong-su observes, “Life is like that. If you gain one, you’ve gotta lose the other.”
But one thing is different — Eun-jae is now completely one of them. She even quibbles with the delivery boy about their free side dish, just as the boys did back in Episode 1.
The delivery boy presents them with a confusing situation that has been bothering him for some time. There’s a woman living nearby who always orders three dishes — but there’s only one person living there. What do they think could be the reason? The guys posit a bunch of reasonable possibilities — maybe she eats a lot, maybe she has a child. Eun-jae casually tosses out the possibility that she’s got someone locked up.
The guys look up in surprise at her unexpected theory, then smile, saying, “Our baby’s grown up!”
And I’ve gotta admit that this last sequence totally made me laugh out loud:
We go to the apartment in question, where a woman in glasses (often frequenting the manhwa store, I believe) retrieves her three bowls of jajangmyun —
— and shares it with her two friends. (Sisters?)
Not only is this the innocent explanation for the delivery boy’s confusion, they’re also busy at work — treasure-hunting! Their apartment is covered in maps and research as they ask each other:
“If we find buried gold, does that gold belong to the finder?”
“Wouldn’t they take half?”
“I told you to look it up!”
“Where would you look up something like that?”
“A comic book?”
And there you have it. Mixed-up Investigative Agency, a clever, funny, offbeat, kitschy, smart, and even suspenseful comedy that managed so sneak up the unsuspsecting viewer (i.e., me), who was won over by the warmth and wit behind such an unexpected find.
As with anything, there are small quibbles I could express about the series, but in light of the overall achievement, I’d rather just sit back and be glad that I gave it a shot despite the low initial buzz. Judging from viewer response in Korea, the fanbase might be small in terms of ratings numbers, but it is definitely a highly appreciative and devoted one. Based on early comments by the screenwriter, it seemed this series wasn’t intended to chase mass appeal, and I think for all of use who enjoyed it, it’s really for the better that the production stuck to its original vision and had enough faith in its players to let the story speak for itself.
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 15
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 14
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 13
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 12
- Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Case 11
- 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