Things are getting down and dirty, and I like it. Our bad guys go head-to-head in an emotional confrontation (finally!) and Jae-in picks a side. Things start coming apart at the seams for Gun-wook, as he starts to show signs that he’s no longer driving this bus; it’s carrying him along, and he’s starting to lose control.
I’m a big fan of this PD, because seriously, this show is stylish. Characters get room to breathe, (meaning actors get to act without words), and the carefully composed mise-en-scene is dark, lush, and beautiful. I wish the story was as crisp overall, but damn if this wasn’t an action-packed episode, so at least we’re getting somewhere in the grand scheme of things. I’m really liking this show a lot lately, and maybe the shortened run has something to do with it, or maybe we’re finally getting to the good stuff, but either way, it’s finally firing on all cylinders, and I’m happy as a clam.
EPISODE 12 RECAP
After his emotional confession of guilt over his noona’s suicide, Gun-wook has fallen asleep on his bedazzled bed. Seriously, who let the team from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy decorate this apartment? Jae-in watches over him, smiling at their picture on his desk. She lies down next to him, as she says in voiceover that it’s okay if he doesn’t tell her everything; she’ll trust him. She thinks it’s a good thing that she’s the one who saw him that day.
As she softly pats him on the back, she says aloud, “You must’ve been hurting a lot.”
The next day Gun-wook burns everything of Sun-young’s that he had been saving all this time—her letters, her clothes, her phone, and her diary—as he remembers all the things she had written to him. He flashes back to their childhood together, and he says good-bye with one last visit to her ashes, as he tries to let her go. In voiceover he says his trademark line, “Noona, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to stop. When it’s over…when it’s all over, I’ll take my punishment then.”
Old Cop has an inkling that Gun-wook might show up at the cemetery, but he’s a step behind. He does manage to find the remnants of Gun-wook’s fire, though, so chances are, he left some piece of evidence behind. SO unlike a mastermind.
Tae-sung and Jae-in run into each other at work, but Jae-in avoids contact and ignores him with one icy stare.
Meanwhile, Gun-wook confirms with his contact that the eldest Hong brother’s shady investment partner has taken the bait and run off with all of the money. Nice play, there, since you didn’t even have to do anything but plant the seeds of doubt in this guy’s mind, and leak a story to the press. Gun-wook watches from his car as big brother arrives, fuming and freaking out. He runs up to the office and has a private meltdown, but happens to find Gun-wook’s business card sitting on the guy’s disheveled desk. Hello, Coincidence. Nice to see you again. Isn’t there a way we could send you on permanent hiatus while we finish off the show? No? Oh, okay then.
The detective looks over the one thing he found post-evidence-destroying-fire: a piece of a letter from Sun-young, which reads: “Gun-wook-ah, I’m sorry. It’s too hard for me without Tae-sung-sshi.” He thinks over Gun-wook’s thinly veiled reaction to his interrogation the other night, and his words that if he were Tae-sung Number 1, he’d be dying to protect his noona, not sending her off the edge of a cliff.
Over at Haeshin Group, Mo-nae arrives on a warpath, headed straight for her sister. It’s kind of amusing how she got all dolled up in a fluffy pink dress to go yell at her sister and boyfriend. I guess even jealousy can’t kill the inner princess in her. She catches Gun-wook and Tae-ra together in the hallway (not doing anything suggestive, but just standing pretty close together), and demands to know what’s going on between them. She quotes their words back from the eavesdropped conversation, and Tae-ra’s cool exterior starts to crack. Mo-nae asks Gun-wook directly if there’s something going on, and when she notices them eyeing each other for a way out, that fires her up even more.
Gun-wook pulls Mo-nae aside, telling her that his feelings swayed because Tae-ra reminded him so much of his noona, what with her suppressing all her feelings and never living for herself, and that he overstepped his bounds by telling her as much the other day. This explanation doesn’t satisfy Mo-nae, so Gun-wook goes on the defensive, attacking her for coming here knowing she was never going to believe anything he had to say. Oh, you devious little imp.
It totally works, because all of a sudden, Mo-nae turns it on her sister: “Oppa, you never answer my calls anymore…it’s because of unni!” and she walks away in a huff. Honey, if he’s not answering your calls and giving you excuses about hanging around your sister, he’s probably not so much your ‘boyfriend’ anymore. It doesn’t matter, though, because Mo-nae gets what Mo-nae wants, and she’s not about to let her sister steal Gun-wook out from under her.
President Hong chews out his eldest son for being a business dimwit, and exiles him to the States. Yes, please let us never look upon your exaggerated facial expressions ever again. But the guy’s not going to give up without a fight. He slinks out of Dad’s office and asks President Hong’s secretary to look into Shim Gun-wook, not knowing that he works in the building and dates his
sister sisters. Interestingly, the secretary doesn’t say anything to Eldest Son, despite the fact that he immediately recognizes the name. Instead he calls Gun-wook, but he’s not answering the phone.
Eldest Son comes crying to Madam Shin, who is 100% on her son’s side, even badmouthing her husband for so tightly controlling the reins of Haeshin, and driving her son to such desperate measures. Wow, you are SO transparent, lady. She reiterates the obvious, that she thinks Haeshin belongs to her three legitimate children, and not Tae-sung, to which her son is like, yeah, duh Mom.
But then she plants this seed of doubt: what if it was Tae-sung who sabotaged his business? He thinks that kid is nowhere near capable of such a thing, but Madam Shin warns that people’s insides and outsides are totally different, and you can’t judge people for how they seem on the outside. Funny how she can take obvious truths like that one and twist the meaning of them to sound eeeeevil.
Tae-sung asks Gun-wook if he knew about Jae-in trying to lure him for his money, and asks if he even helped her. Gun-wook plays dumb. Just then, Big Brother bursts into the office (wow, this guy’s really a hothead idiot, isn’t he?), demanding to know if Tae-sung was the one who leaked the story to the papers.
Tae-sung just scoffs, “That H Group heir…that was YOU?” Heh. That raises Big Bro’s ire, but Tae-sung doesn’t care, even when he raises a fist at him. Gun-wook intercepts it though, holding his hand with uncanny strength.
Tae-sung tells him to let go, which he finally does. Big Bro pushes Tae-sung around, saying that he knows his true intentions. Tae-sung doesn’t bat an eyelash, revealing that actually, yeah, he’d LOVE to ruin his hyung…if he only knew how. He gives the perfect combination of: I would plan your ultimate demise, if only I cared enough to do so.
This gives Gun-wook pause, probably making him realize further that he and Tae-sung have much more in common that he thought. What he should realize too is that he wasn’t any better off being the kept illegitimate child, as opposed to the discarded one. Big Brother gets in Tae-sung’s face and they spit insults back and forth, and he ends it with this: “Don’t call me hyung anymore. When you call me hyung it makes me sick.” The look in Tae-sung’s eyes just crackles with pain.
As his brother leaves, Tae-sung calls out, “Hyung…” just to piss him off. It works, and Tae-sung repeatedly calls out “Hyung! Hyung!” with a maniacal laugh and tears welling up in his throat at the same time.
Gun-wook walks over to Tae-sung, still slumped in the corner where his hyung pushed him down. He silently reaches out a hand. Tae-sung takes it and Gun-wook raises him up. And ‘shippers round the world start chattering away…
Tae-sung muses bitterly that he can’t even call his brother ‘hyung.’ He asks why Gun-wook is always around, helping him. He tells him to cut it out, as he can’t get used to it. But on his way out, he stops to say, “Thanks,” eliciting an actual smile from Gun-wook.
Gun-wook sits down at Tae-sung’s desk, playing with the toy that was originally his. He thinks to himself what would have happened if they had switched places? But he decides that in his life, the what-ifs don’t matter. Gun-wook’s definitely got an I’m-already-on-this-train-bound-for-hell-so-it’s-too-late mentality, and it’s a little frustrating because it makes him resistant to ANY kind of change that could occur for his character. I suppose we have yet to see if Jae-in will be someone who breaks through that, but so far he’s been consistent in his blockheadedness about that.
He comes out to see Jae-in across the hall, but Mo-nae intercepts him before they can talk. She apologizes for earlier, and when he escorts her out, she gives him a… AAAAAHHH!
Okay, SOMEONE should have WARNED me! I hate dolls! I hate dolls. I hate dolls….
Oh my god, it’s a Gun-wook doll. That’s two kinds of creepy, because not only is it a DOLL, but it looks just like him. Aaaaargh. I’m going to have nightmares for weeks…
So Mo-nae gives him the doll, saying that he seems like a lonely person who has no one to talk to, and he won’t talk to her, and she’d be jealous if he talked to someone else. So, what? Talk to “himself,” as a doll?? Okay, granted, my prejudice against dolls is coloring my judgment here, but that doesn’t seem like a normal healthy outlet for pent up emotions, does it? That way leads to heads in freezers and stuff. I mean, he’s already got a wall of news clippings. Let’s not help him along.
Gun-wook asks her about studying abroad and she just hems and haws about it. He tells her that he’d like it if she went to his alma mater in the States, and that the doll will keep him company while she’s gone. Listen, can we rewind to when you built that fire, and throw the doll in there, so as to make sure it doesn’t strangle you in your sleep? I know, you think I’m paranoid, but when it’s 3am and all you can see in the moonlight is the twinkly eye of your Doppleganger Doll, you’ll be thanking me!
Tae-sung walks past Gun-wook, saying that he’s going to play hooky the rest of the day, but they’re both stopped short by Old Cop, who hands over the burnt letter from Sun-young. Tae-sung holds it with shaking hands, as Gun-wook eyes it carefully; he sees that the “Gun-wook-ah” part is burnt off.
Tae-sung asks the cop if they found Tae-sung Number 1, and the cop looks at Gun-wook thoughtfully, as he says no. Gun-wook is confused, nervous, and distraught all at once, and trying to figure out the cop’s game. Old Cop lies that they found the letter in Sun-young’s belongings, further puzzling him. He tells both men that her death will be ruled a suicide, and apologizes to Tae-sung for not being able to find out more.
Tae-sung sits outside with a stricken face, mourning Sun-young and facing the truth that she chose to die because of him. After a while, he ends up standing around in front of Jae-in’s place (or at least the place where he always dropped her off), and he sees Jae-in and Won-in coming up the street with their mother in tow. She’s come for a visit and they’re all loaded down with her luggage, so Mom gladly takes Tae-sung up on the offer when he says he’ll give them a ride. Tae-sung at first seems miffed that she doesn’t actually live in the spot where he used to drop her off, but is immediately mollified by Mom’s sweet country bumpkin warmth, even though it embarrasses Jae-in.
Much to Jae-in’s chagrin, Mom even invites Tae-sung inside, and to stay for a home-cooked meal, and he can’t hide his glee.
Gun-wook and Old Cop have lunch together, and the detective tells Gun-wook that he has a daughter just two years younger than Sun-young. He calls him Choi Tae-sung, and says that he could hear Sun-young’s voice telling him to stop Gun-wook. He tells him that it isn’t too late to stop and forgive, because in the end he has to live with himself. His invoking Sun-young’s voice gets to Gun-wook, but he doesn’t reply. The detective goes on to say that his biggest regret on the job is that he can never stop a criminal before the act; he can only catch him afterwards.
Gun-wook just smiles at him woefully, perhaps looking upon the man kindly, but knowing in his heart that he can’t stop now. He looks over at his action school sunbaes who now run the restaurant, and says that he would like to laugh like they do. “Someday…I’ll be able to laugh peacefully like that, right?”
Over at the most awesomely awkward family dinner at Jae-in’s house, her mom handles Tae-sung like a shiny new toy. She notes that he seems like someone from money (not knowing, of course, what immense amounts of money he actually comes from). She goes on and on about how she wants Jae-in to marry someone wealthy so she doesn’t have to struggle like her mom, and asks Jae-in about how much rent and the bills are costing her. Jae-in basically dies of mortification, but Tae-sung kind of loves it, never having been part of a normal family discussion of any kind. He calls Jae-in’s mom “Mother,” and smiles to himself at her very direct but sweet mom-ness.
Won-in cutely grumbles that she had someone else picked out for her sister, and starts interrogating Tae-sung about what he does for a living. Mom chimes in, so Tae-sung looks tentatively over at Jae-in, and then spills the beans about being Haeshin’s heir. Mom pretty much freaks out and Won-in stares dumbfounded. Mom jumps up from the table, asking Tae-sung what he wants to eat and if he wants anything special, but he just laughs and tells her he’ll happily eat what’s on the table. Jae-in tells her mom to calm down and that she has nothing to do with this man, so there’s no need to overreact. At this, Tae-sung stops mid-mouthful, with the cutest puppy dog look ever, as he says, “Are we really nothing to each other?” So. Cute.
Mom proceeds to do the classic feed-with-hands thing that moms are wont to do. Jae-in tries to stop her, but Tae-sung LOVES it, as this is probably his first experience ever, with a real-life Korean Mom. Won-in snaps at Mom in jealousy, wanting the same attention, so Tae-sung takes the kimchi he got from Mom and puts it on Won-in’s plate. I may have just died from cuteness overload.
Gun-wook heads over to Jae-in’s place, perhaps looking for a shoulder to lean on. He’s about to call her, when he sees her walking Tae-sung out. He follows behind them. Jae-in gets a call from Old Cop who tells her that Sun-young’s death was ruled a suicide. She’s relieved, and tells Tae-sung that she knows he’s hurting, but that he has to stop blaming himself to let her go. Tae-sung is stunned at the mention of her, asking if she knew Sun-young. Jae-in says no, but that she knows he’s in pain because of her.
Right at this moment, Gun-wook walks up behind them, and his expression darkens at her words. Gun-wook: “Shut up. Shut your mouth.” Ooooh…confrontation time!
Gun-wook walks right past Jae-in and points his finger out at Tae-sung. With an air of righteous superiority he has never displayed in front of Tae-sung before, he unleashes all of his own pain concerning his noona:
Gun-wook: So you received her suicide note and this is where you came?
Tae-sung (in utter shock): What did you say?
Gun-wook: Did you forget what you’ve done?
Tae-sung: What do you know about it?
Gun-wook: Because of you…a woman died. Have you forgotten already? Is Moon Jae-in next?
Tae-sung throws a punch. Gun-wook smirks in reaction, happy for the excuse to tear Tae-sung limb from limb.
But Jae-in steps in to stop Gun-wook. She takes him down a peg: “Shim Gun-wook, is this all you are? Don’t think that just because you can’t see the wound it isn’t there.” She tells him to look at Tae-sung’s regret and guilt (which I have to agree is written plainly all over him) and asks if that doesn’t make him feel anything. Gun-wook can’t even hear what she’s saying because he’s so shocked that she’s coming to Tae-sung’s rescue…from him.
She actually goes so far as to demand he apologize to Tae-sung, because she thinks that he’s saying all this because he knows nothing of Tae-sung’s pain. She of course, doesn’t know Gun-wook’s familial relationship to the same woman, so she brazenly takes Tae-sung’s side, warning Gun-wook not to ever come at him like that again. Wow, the betrayal in Gun-wook’s eyes is played fantastically, because despite wanting to keep his distance from Jae-in, he’s clearly upset at her drawing the line here and taking Tae-sung’s side without so much as a second thought.
Tae-sung stops her from going any further, and says he wasn’t in the right either. He walks off and Jae-in goes after him. She sees him off, and Tae-sung thanks her quietly, both for taking his side and for the dinner.
Gun-wook watches her with tears in his eyes. He takes off running, screaming his angst out loud. I feel for you, I do. But you totally shut her out on purpose. This is your own doing, and it’s inevitable when you keep everyone at bay.
At home, Tae-ra has another bold conversation with her husband about her father’s investment in his father’s business. She asks him point-blank if this is why he married her. He goes on the defensive, but in the end, this is what their marriage amounts to: a business deal, and Tae-ra might have known it all along, but she’s finally admitting it out loud.
Gun-wook has a creepy nightmare wherein he’s a child and someone comes to strangle him in the middle of the night. It looks to be a woman, and as he struggles to get free, he wakes up in a cold sweat.
Madam Shin meets Secretary Kim in the dark of night (because they’re evil, natch) and asks if he saw Tae-sung Number 1 die with his own eyes. He says he didn’t witness it, but was told that was the case. Madam Shin rightly surmises he could be alive. She worries about what he’ll do to the family, but the secretary thinks she’s overreacting, as the Tae-sung switch was simply a mistake.
Eldest Son leaves for the U.S., and the parents send him off with pleasantries. See ya.
At work, Jae-in sits in the spot she shared with Gun-wook the last time, and sighs thinking of him. She rests her head against the wall, and then Gun-wook appears, as he casually plops down next to her. He acts as if nothing is wrong, drinking her juice and chatting away.
She apologizes for the other day, and he brushes it off. She says the detective called her and told her that Gun-wook had no relationship to Tae-sung’s ex and she was so relieved at the news. That leaves him stuck now, with being the bad guy in yesterday’s scenario, because he can’t tell her that Sun-young is his noona.
He sighs heavily, “Jae-in-ah, what are we?” She asks tentatively if things are going well with Mo-nae. He counters by asking how things are with Tae-sung. You coy kids. You’ll never get the girl this way!
As she watches Gun-wook walk away, Jae-in muses aloud to herself that Gun-wook looks nice walking away, as she points out his various features. It’s not ogling, so much as a reverie, like she’s just noticing certain things about him for the first time. It’s still very much in the noona-vibe, because she has this worried tone in her voice whenever she talks about him. She wonders out loud, “Gun-wook-ah, really…what are we?” This question that she repeats has two meanings, of course: 1) what are we to each other, and 2) what are we, as people, as human beings. I think both are intriguing questions to ask of them.
Gun-wook asks his contact to find out who visits his parents’ grave. He gets an update on Big Brother’s whereabouts, and assures the contact that his new dealings in the States won’t go as planned. The contact asks now that the eldest son is exiled, and Mo-nae is getting ready to study abroad, if it’s time for the Tae-ra/Tae-sung fight. Oh, yeah. Bring it on, baby!
Gun-wook smiles at that, and says Tae-ra’s name out loud with a delicious air of playfulness and foreboding.
He goes to see her, sneaking up on her outside the gym. He asks to take her to lunch, only her husband arrives at the same time, wanting to do the exact same thing. Tae-ra is quick to let go of Gun-wook’s hand, and introduces him as Mo-nae’s boyfriend, who came to consult her about Mo-nae. Her husband invites him to lunch, but Tae-ra is quick to squash that.
Just as Gun-wook is about to leave, she gets a phone call with some bad news. She falters, and Gun-wook holds her steady very naturally, which her husband notices right away.
It turns out her brother died in an accident while drunk driving. The family holds a funeral in the rain, and Gun-wook and his contact watch from afar as he says that things don’t always go according to plan.
The guy must have the same suspicion as me, because he asks Gun-wook if he wished him dead. I would’ve said “made” instead of “wished,” but I suppose subtlety isn’t a bad thing when asking a possible murderer. Gun-wook replies that he had wanted all of them dead once, in his younger days, but now even that hatred is gone, and all he’s done is stand by and watch all the misfortunes they suffer.
Well that’s a convenient story to tell the jury. I really hope you don’t believe THAT, in your heart of hearts, because if that’s the way you’re going to try and weasel out of any responsibility for your actions, I’m going to take issue with you, especially with all of your “I’ll take my punishment later” speechifying. If this is you speaking euphemistically on purpose in front of someone else, then I’ll buy it. But if this is what you really feel, I call bullshit.
Gun-wook builds another fire, this time destroying all evidence of Big Brother. His contact leaves a message that all his holdings will be given to Tae-ra, and that she’ll be promoted to Vice President. Ooh, I love the chilly air of mastermind Gun-wook.
Post-funeral the family is on its last leg, mostly because Madam Shin has a meltdown. Dad tries to encourage Tae-sung to step up and be responsible now, and take his brother’s place. But Mom interrupts breathing the fire of a thousand dragons, saying that Dad is responsible for her son’s death because he sent him away, and that Tae-sung had planned it all from the beginning so he could have Haeshin all to himself.
She roars and screams like a banshee, and Tae-sung tries to get past it, calling her “Mother,” but she’s dead set against him and faints in exhaustion from all the yelling. My god, that woman is frightening. Her single-mindedness is scariest of all, because she has no sense of the fact that Tae-sung has never cared about the friggin company; all he’s ever really wanted was her love, but that’s something she could never give him.
President Hong has a moment of weakness too, as his legs give out for a moment. Gun-wook, who has been a stoic bystander through all of this, betrays a moment of concern where Dad is concerned.
Tae-sung and Tae-ra have a pow-wow, and it’s actually nice to see these two act together, because for siblings, they hardly get any scenes together. Tae-sung wonders how Tae-ra could be so stoic, not shedding a single tear. She takes up the mantle of the eldest sibling, saying that she wants to show a brave front to the world that Haeshin won’t go down like this.
Tae-ra hides to cry alone, and Gun-wook finds her. He tells her to stay, that she can cry in front of him, and she finally lets the tears go. He holds her and they kiss, which is exactly when this happens:
THEORIES & SPECULATION
I’m curious to know where the head maid and Secretary Kim stand in relation to Tae-sung Number 1. I don’t think their loyalty to the Hongs is as clear-cut as their initial impressions gave, so it’s possible that they were sympathetic to the boy and are therefore not doing a great job of finding the adult version on purpose. It’s also minutely possible that they’re in on things with Gun-wook, but that seems unlikely (and sort of unbelievable) so I’m willing to bank on the first scenario.
The strangler in the dream could be Madam Shin, or it could be someone else, although it really, really looked like Madam Shin. It could also be a repressed memory, or a figurative dream, so there’s no telling if she really did such a crazy thing, or if he’s picked up on her desire for him to die. I do think she’s capable of it, because after witnessing her manic screaming side after knowing her cool and emotionless side, I could totally see her killing cats for sport.
Is it wrong if I really really want Gun-wook to be responsible for the eldest son’s death? I know it’s weird to want your hero to be that bad, but really, if he’s not, and it’s just a coincidence, what’s the point? I want Gun-wook to be dangerous and deadly because otherwise there are no stakes. There is no plot. Because he is the only mover and shaker, and if he’s being moved along by fate just like everyone else, I’m going to tear my hair out.
If, on the other hand, Gun-wook IS responsible for the death, they’re playing it delightfully close with just the smallest hint that he could be capable of it, so I’m excited for that prospect. This would mean higher stakes, completely unpredictable demises for various characters, and a true hell spiral for Gun-wook. Yes, I know. I have a heart of titanium that could withstand a kitten in a tutu. But this is what I want from the story.
Somehow I don’t think that’s what I’ll get, mostly because there is no Santa.