Gap-dong: Episode 15
It’s interesting to see how far you can take a story despite knowing all the pieces in advance, because by conventional storytelling standards that makes for a less satisfying payoff. I’d argue that this is a ball that Gap-dong dropped that it needn’t have—it could definitely have played up the suspense in numerous ways without sacrificing story—but even so, I have to say that the show manages to be entertaining enough anyway. If you let go of the what-ifs and take the beats as they come, it manages to engage you with its study of character motivations and reactions, and with this episode I find myself wondering both how the killer is going to get away with it with the circle tightening around him and how they could possibly catch him despite that.
SONG OF THE DAY
Human Race – “Go” [ Download ]
EPISODE 15 RECAP
Mu-yeom asks for Tae-oh’s help in catching the real killer, but Tae-oh isn’t very interested in playing along. He’d get nothing in return, nor would he feel any sort of satisfaction in helping his fellow man for unselfish reasons.
Half-seriously, Tae-oh proposes that he’ll do it if Mu-yeom grants him a favor in return—to kill Tae-oh. I suppose death is the only thing that would ease Tae-oh’s misery right now, and he perks up eagerly when Mu-yeom appears to consider it. Which is when Mu-yeom proposes that game of chicken that sounds like a metaphor but is in fact not a metaphor.
As we’ve already seen, this takes them out to the open road, and both drivers get behind the wheels of their respective (and matching!) cars. Just before they zoom off, though, Mu-yeom is hit with a piercing pain in his head—remnants of that bullet that lodged there, perhaps?
Ji-wool accepts a ride home in Section Chief Cha’s car, and as they’ve been friendly for years, she openly chats with him about her concerns for Mu-yeom, and how he’s started to see hallucinations of women asking for his help. Furthermore, he’s undergone a medical evaluation, and she doesn’t think the result came out good. Chief Cha feigns concern, but files this information away with a glint in his eye.
The race is on. Tae-oh and Mu-yeom race toward the end of a cliff (and let’s just ignore the part of unreality where there’s a paved highway that literally just ends, like we’re watching something out of Speed: The K-Drama Years), both gunning full-speed ahead despite the quickly approaching drop-off. Mu-yeom focuses straight ahead while Tae-oh casts nervous looks over at him, and it’s Tae-oh who brakes first, swerving away from the bluff. Mu-yeom’s car screeches to a stop with mere feet to spare.
Again, we’ll ignore the part where this is totally not how you play chicken and just buy what they’re selling. In any case, the end result is: Tae-oh loses. Mu-yeom notes, “So you did want to live after all.” This is a realization that shakes Tae-oh himself, who hadn’t believed it of himself.
Mu-yeom tells him to remember this feeling of fearing death. Tae-oh says unconvincingly that his reaction is only because he didn’t like the idea of dying without knowing who Gap-dong was, but Mu-yeom isn’t buying it. Still, Maria gives the okay to tell him the truth about Gap-dong’s identity. As he drops the bomb, we jump over to see Chief Cha looking up Mu-yeom’s brain scan findings, where he reads about the hallucinations.
Tae-oh reacts to the information with skepticism, though he can tell from their demeanor that they’re serious. They head to the site of Gap-dong’s eighth murder, where Tae-oh essentially takes on the role psychopath consultant: He imagines himself in the killer’s role, going through the steps as he would react to them.
Tae-oh suggests that Gap-dong realized he’d been mistaken to kill the victim (Officer Crybaby) but had no choice but to proceed anyway. However, the letter doesn’t quite fit in, and he wonders if she may have had insulted his pride before dying. But speculation is all Tae-oh can offer, and he says he doesn’t know the answer.
That wording—not knowing an answer—captures Mu-yeom’s attention, and now he imagines himself as the killer. In this scenario, Gap-dong strangles her thinking she figured out his identity, not giving her a chance to explain that he misunderstood her conversation.
Mu-yeom checks his hypothesis with Tae-oh—that Chief Cha grew enraged at the thought that he’d had it wrong all these years, worrying needlessly about being discovered for no reason. That would explain his violent reaction to reading her love letter for the first time, wouldn’t it?
Tae-oh isn’t exactly forthcoming with his thoughts, but it doesn’t matter because his telling reactions are valuable to Mu-yeom and Maria. He requests some time to rest and think it over, not ready to assume the role of Gap-dong’s hunting dog.
Back in the prison, Tae-oh meets with his team of lawyers and tells them that he wants to live after all. One of the slick suits applauds this change, saying that his will to live will help them win in the courtroom, but the main lawyer looks conspicuously worried. What’s that about?
Mu-yeom returns to the station and treats Chief Cha like nothing is amiss. He reports back on his meeting with Tae-oh, saying that Tae-oh had insisted he knew the real Gap-dong, though he’s not sure whether to believe him. Chief Cha advises him to keep an eye on him and see how it plays out.
Tae-oh is allowed out of prison on house arrest with the ankle monitor, and Mu-yeom keeps up the act for the other officers’ benefit, demanding that Tae-oh tell him who Gap-dong is. Then he meets separately with his inner circle—Hyung-nyun and Ki-ri—to discuss their actual strategy.
Mu-yeom is still trying to find ways to get that statute of limitations suspended, which has been known to happen in cases of an accomplice stepping forward or the criminal fleeing the country. That’s their best bet, and they’ve been looking into Cha’s application for residence in Spain, as well as his application to study in the States. He sets the others to the task of checking travel records in and out of the country.
Meanwhile, Chul-gon is off in Japan to talk to the scientist who worked on the DNA analysis from the old Gap-dong case. If all goes well, he may be able to get a hold of that DNA information believed to be lost.
Mu-yeom’s sidekicks complain to Chief Cha about Tae-oh’s unnecessary release from the prison and urge him to send him back in. After all, Mu-yeom has been glued to his side and is being manipulated by the criminal. They’re maneuvering Chief Cha according to plan, and he decides to meet Tae-oh in person.
This is their first big face-to-face, and Chief Cha sits across from Tae-oh and asks who Gap-dong is. Tae-oh strings him along for a while, answering vaguely, making it deliberately unclear whether he’s hoaxing or whether he knows something valuable. Tae-oh wonders whether the police can even do anything if he divulged what he knew, and Chief Cha assures him not to worry—they have Gap-dong’s DNA and can get him, if Tae-oh just tells them who it is.
We don’t see how he answers, because we cut forward to afterward, when Tae-oh tells Mu-yeom that he isn’t convinced that Cha is the killer.
Chul-gon meets with Mu-yeom to fill him in on his trip to Japan. He knows that in the States, the discovery of DNA can get a statute of limitations extended, and had hopes that this will be one way to do so here. But all the evidence was destroyed there too, leaving them back at square one.
Chul-gon hands over a vial of evidence, telling Mu-yeom that it’s a sample from his father. “My prejudice was frozen in time, over the last twenty years,” he says. Now he’s returning it, acknowledging that Mu-yeom’s father isn’t a suspect any longer. This hits Mu-yeom hard as he thinks back to his father’s death, then sees the scar on Chul-gon’s finger. “I think I’ve paid back the price of that finger,” he says, ready to share his new information.
Maria sits down with her parents that evening and thanks Profiler Han for helping herself and her mother all those years ago. He was the one who put them into witness protection and sent them to Australia, and she credits him for saving her. Her eyes well up with tears as she confesses, however, that she also feels guilty for having suspected him—she’d been simultaneously grateful and doubtful over his reasons for protecting her, and she apologizes for it now.
And because of her certainty now in apologizing, Profiler Han sits up straighter and asks, “Have you recognized Gap-dong?”
Just as Profiler Han is being informed, so is Chul-gon, which I find frankly confusing because I could have sworn these two men already had a clue, although admittedly the drama never made it explicitly clear. But that’s what you get for playing suspicions deliberately opaquely—we forget what you do and don’t know.
Chul-gon is stunned at the revelation, but also galvanized, wanting to get right to work nailing Chief Cha. But Mu-yeom tells him bitterly that he’d hoped Chul-gon would have a better solution and asks for direction—what do they do? How do they get him? Chul-gon vows that they have to get Chief Cha no matter what, even if they have to sell their souls to reveal the truth. Frustrated, Mu-yeom asks why the truth has to be so devastating, and what meaning it could have now.
The next day, Mu-yeom gathers with Chul-gon and Profiler Han to discuss the case, laying out all the bits and pieces that support the theory that Chief Cha is the villain. Profiler Han urges them to be circumspect, reminding them that they’d gone after Mu-yeom’s father with more evidence than they have now. He decides to sit this case out, not confident enough in it, but that’s before he’s told that they don’t actually have any DNA evidence on Gap-dong.
Tae-oh suggests a solution to the conundrum by saying they can achieve the results they desire by overlooking one small technicality… and faking the evidence. They can arrest Chief Cha on suspicion of being Gap-dong, take his DNA sample, then drop some of that into Gap-dong’s sample. That’ll yield a 99% match, and Cha is sure to be convicted. It’s deeply unethical, of course, but that’s why you’ve got the psychopath on hand to guide them past that sticking point, isn’t it?
Mu-yeom clearly doesn’t like this idea, though it’s tempting. Tae-oh has no problems with using foul means to get the desired ends, saying that there’s no such thing as complete justice. Seeing that Mu-yeom and Maria are reluctant to agree, he concludes, “Then you two don’t have certainty that Cha Do-hyuk is Gap-dong.”
Afterward, Maria admits that she’s swayed by Tae-oh’s argument and would rather take his approach, which startles Mu-yeom. She argues that it’s better to get the criminal than to lose the chance again. Mu-yeom’s initial spurt of jealousy that she’d side with Tae-oh grows stronger and mixes with his disappointment, and he asks if she’s been drawn in by Tae-oh.
Maria bursts out that she’s Gap-dong’s victim and wants him put away—it would be too much if they let him go now. She leaves in tears, and he watches her go.
Officer Young-ae takes a swim, during which we see that she’s been watched from the shadows by an unseen figure. It’s no surprise, then, that she runs into Chief Cha afterward. While he waits for her to change, he loses himself in the memory of Victim 8, and we see that he had in fact assumed that her chat at the cafe was about him being Gap-dong, and she hadn’t had the chance to deny it. Now he understands the real reason for her reaction, and it troubles him.
Chief Cha asks after Mu-yeom, and she replies that he should be fine with the doctor always at his side. Chief Cha mulls this over.
The boys have taken a liking to Maria and pester her to read to them. Ji-wool arrives and frowns to see the sight, and tries to offer the boys some candy. They’re not interested, though, and turn back to Maria instead, and Ji-wool pouts. “I shoulda taken that 5 billion,” she grumbles. Ha, yes, go and marry the killer rather than play second fiddle. Ji-wool is such a teenager (and it cracks me up).
Mu-yeom starts to knock on Maria’s trailer door that night, but hesitates, their disagreement ringing in his ears. She experiences similar conflict, wanting to go outside but hesitating at the door. He settles for a text instead, asking her to at least hold hands as they fight. He waits expectantly for a reply, but doesn’t get one.
Chief Cha dines with the district attorney, who brings up new and interesting information: that Cha had once suspected him of being Gap-dong, and that if they hadn’t both agreed to cover “it” up, the district attorney could have been mistakenly accused of being the killer too. Lordy, just how many people did something stupid with evidence that threatened to implicate themselves?
The prosecutor on the Gap-dong case joins them, and the district attorney explains that he wants to smooth over their relationship and get them working together on the case. The men exchange pleasantries, but as we know, Mu-yeom has clued the prosecutor in on his suspicions. We see in flashback that the prosecutor has also filled in the district attorney—which means this dinner is a setup. The DA and the prosecutor don’t betray this knowledge to Chief Cha, though I wonder if Cha is clocking the sharp looks the prosecutor is sending his way.
Maria visits Tae-oh’s cell to discuss the case, and amusingly, Tae-oh is clearly dying for a taste of her coffee. He mutters at her for engaging in “torture,” which is so absurd coming from the guy who committed actual torture. Perhaps it’s the dissonance that makes it funnier? In any case, Maria rejects his proposed plan, saying that they can’t risk Chief Cha finding out that the evidence was fabricated, thereby destroying their entire case. She tells him to think up a better plan, and leaves him her coffee for good measure.
The same issue is being addressed in Profiler Han’s office: Chul-gon argues for going forward with the plan, and Mu-yeom refuses to falsify evidence. Mu-yeom points out that if they got the criminal this way, Chul-gon would be the cop who caught Gap-dong who couldn’t tell anyone how he did it.
Maria sends a conciliatory text that night, inviting Mu-yeom over to eat in cute aegyo language. She’s cooked up a storm and asks him to forget what she’d said before, and they sit down to a flirty dinner, replete with kisses… which then get interrupted by little monks demanding bedtime stories, ha.
Mu-yeom pores over his Gap-dong notebook, looking at the first victim in particular. He tells Maria that Chief Cha knew her since childhood, which rather puts a different slant on the matter, doesn’t it? He says that this is why he feels he might be able to understand how Gap-dong could be the hyung he knows. I suppose he means that understanding the relationship to Victim 1 should shed light on why Gap-dong started his killing spree.
Chief Cha gets a message alerting him into the inquiries of his flight records. That gets him thinking, and now we see Tae-oh’s response to his question of Gap-dong’s identity. Tae-oh had pointed his finger directly at Cha, making him tense… and then said blandly that Cha’s collar was askew. When Cha had barked that he didn’t really know, Tae-oh had laughed sheepishly. Heh, I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty satisfying watching the copycat screwing with the original.
Chief Cha heads for the prison despite the late hours and requests a private interview with Tae-oh. At least our guys aren’t too far behind the curve, because Ki-ri warns Mu-yeom that their inquiries have come to Cha’s attention. That’s certainly not good that he found out, but at least they’re not in the dark about it.
Tae-oh tells Chief Cha that he hasn’t decided yet which side he’ll work for, and Cha lays it all out there, telling him to choose between his death or his freedom. It sounds tantalizing, the promise of “freedom to stop yourself” that he dangles in his face, as though offering to give him the secret. Tae-oh looks tempted, hopeful, and fearful all at the same time.
Mu-yeom decides he has to face Chief Cha one last time as his hyung and not the killer. Meeting that night, he says that he’s figured out who Gap-dong is—but more important than his identity is the truth of the case. Chief Cha plays dumb, but Mu-yeom states plainly that he’s considering faking evidence linking Gap-dong to his suspect to enable an investigation. Chief Cha tells him the DNA evidence was destroyed, and there was never a guarantee that the evidence came from Gap-dong himself.
So give up this idea, he advises, because Gap-dong will reveal the frame job. Chief Cha adds, “The DNA was destroyed from the outset. Wouldn’t he have made sure of that?” Well, Mu-yeom has his answer—Chief Cha has covered his ass. And as that realization sinks in and hits hard, Mu-yeom hands him his old copy of Crime and Punishment, saying meaningfully, “Didn’t it feel heavy?”
I’m guessing Mu-yeom is referring to Chief Cha’s secret, carrying around the burden of his crimes (and the fear of being caught). The wording is vague enough that I’m sure Chief Cha could find a way to wriggle free by continuing to feign ignorance, but on the other hand, the opening is there for him to finally step forward. But despite that room for ambiguity, the mystery is pretty much out in the open and Gap-dong has essentially revealed himself to Tae-oh, which is a curious choice for a drama to make with two weeks still remaining. On the one hand it’s nice to have a scenario that’s the opposite of God’s Gift—14 Days because we have adequate time to process the villain’s true identity and work out the details, rather than being shown a last-minute twist and getting almost no time to sit with it before the show cuts to an end. But at the same time, now everybody knows the truth, and even the villain is cluing in to the fact that his cover is slowly being chipped at, and where is the suspense going to come from?
I did enjoy Chief Cha’s proposal to Tae-oh, and I want them to do more with that before they dispel that tension. I’m not sure they’ll make the most of that because of the way they defused the brewing tensions in this episode, but it would be much more effective to play on Tae-oh’s malleability in terms of allegiance. Well, I suppose he’s got no allegiance to anybody but himself, so perhaps it’s more accurate to consider it as the two sides vying to claim his selfish interests for their own purposes. And it’s an intriguing question—can a monster stop his own urges, or is Cha just saying that to save his own hide? Will Tae-oh fall for it, or will he decides that the glimmers of feeling he has experienced are enough signs to hang his hopes on, that he can overcome his suffocating ennui. Because maybe if he figures out how to live with himself beyond the boredom and the detached urge to act on his murderous impulses, maybe he won’t need to cling to a reason to stop—feeling emotion will be enough to do that for him naturally.
Speaking of split allegiances, I liked seeing the rifts surface with several of our relationships, and actually wanted them to be played out a little bit more thoroughly. For instance, Maria and Mu-yeom having their ideological clash over how to deal with Tae-oh’s unethical proposal. It’s completely in character for both of them to react as they had, and that’s such a natural source of conflict that it seems a bit pat to work it out so soon—even if it’s cute having the kisses and reconciliation moments. I don’t necessarily want artificial angst arising to keep them apart, but this is a built-in one that’s organic to who they are.
Same goes for the two older men, with Profiler Han always being the cautious one and Chul-gon ready to charge in with his hunch and hot head. Just when you think that the main conflicts have been resolved, you see that no, there are actually other very ordinary but important, human conflicts that arise in the wake of the big case being solved. The crime never ends with just the victim’s death, and the ripples are far-reaching. That’s definitely something this show is adept at exploring, and that, more than the mystery or the whodunnit question, is what keeps it going. (Even if I could stand for things to be going just a little quicker, just sayin’.)