Gap-dong: Episode 17
So what happens when your bad guys are identified and caught with four episodes still left to go? Time to crack the code, of course—not the who of the matter, but the why, which is complicated by the appearance of a cipher on the scene. Is that symbology important, or is it a distraction? What does it mean, if it means anything at all? Are serial killers reformable? And is our potentially reformable killer the key to understanding the one that looks to be far gone? The psychology of the case is turning out to have a lot more twists and turns than the murder mystery itself.
SONG OF THE DAY
Lee Seung-hwan – “Fall To Fly” [ Download ]
EPISODE 17 RECAP
Section Chief Cha is released after his 48-hour hold expires, but before he can walk out a free man, the prosecutor and district attorney arrive to proclaim the successful suspension of the Gap-dong statute of limitations. Mu-yeom takes over the investigation, and with a confession on their hands and a flight ban put on Chief Cha, things are looking up for the good guys.
Ji-wool admits to being surprised at the news but accepts it (more readily than she accepted Tae-oh’s involvement, which Mu-yeom points out). Mu-yeom gives her a tracker to keep with her at all times, so he can make sure of her whereabouts. She asks what will happen to Tae-oh now, and whether he’s facing the death penalty.
It’s a question his mother is working on with her crackerjack legal team, who are looking for new angles in their defense case. Right now their priority is avoiding the death penalty, which is comforting in that at least they’re not arguing his innocence, which I wouldn’t be able to accept. They express their relief at Tae-oh finally finding the will to live, which will make their case easier.
Tae-oh, meanwhile, seriously mulls over Maria’s proposal—to spare his life from capital punishment by ripping out the throat of his “hero.” As he is escorted out to meet a visitor, he crosses paths with Poopy in the hallway… and gets stabbed in the side with a shiv fashioned from a toothbrush handle. Poopy mutters crazily, “You phony bastard. I’m the real Gap-dong!”
The police brass offer Chul-gon his old position, and despite his reluctance to come back, he agrees to finish out his career by wrapping up the Gap-dong case.
Mu-yeom waits while Chief Cha packs up his office and approaches him outside to ask a question that’s been nagging him: Why not kill him? Why leave him alone all this time? Chief Cha replies that the didn’t think Mu-yeom would recognize him—one can’t see the Eiffel Tower clearly from right underneath it.
Chief Cha has a question in return, asking why Gap-dong is so important to Mu-yeom when he could drop dead at any moment, given his bullet-in-brain condition. Smirking, he says he’s Mu-yeom’s closest hyung and ought to know that much about him, then leaves him with a casual, “See you when the evidence comes to light.”
Mu-yeom goes in for a brain scan, and I do NOT like the way the camera pans over to the doctor’s name—that’s code for “This guy’s gonna be evil, right?” Whatchoo thinking of doing, Dr. Noh?
After the scan, Dr. Noh reports the findings to Chief Cha—Mu-yeom’s prospects are not good, and he’s suffering a subdural hemorrhage that requires immediate surgery. Chief Cha’s first question: “What happens if he doesn’t get surgery?” Then he goes home and hears from his worried wife that the police came by and confiscated more things from his home.
The Eiffel Tower mention is enough to get our cops wondering about its meaning, considering Chief Cha’s reference to it as well as the figurine on his desk which housed a letter opener. Chul-gon speculates whether it might be a type of trophy for Cha, and the results of an analysis of its pictures prompt him to wonder whether it could be a type of code, akin to the Zodiac killer’s cryptograms.
Tae-oh’s legal team calls the prosecutor in to say that his mother wants him returned to his original condition. Aside from the fact that this is an impossible order, I’m wondering whether I ought to be worried that the prosecutor is within their midst, though for now he’s not acting shady.
The lawyers, on the other hand, are chock-full of shady. They approach the various inmates at the psychiatric hospital to buy their testimonies for outrageous sums.
Mu-yeom visits Tae-oh in his luxurious hospital ward and puts the hunting dog to work, showing him a photo of the Eiffel Tower and asking whether it could be some kind of memento. Tae-oh says quite possibly, and that it’s likely to be something that would go unnoticed by the average person but could carry meaning for the killer, hinting at details of whom he killed and how.
Tae-oh barely gives the photos a second glance, though, acting supremely bored by it all. He just notes that Maria hasn’t been by to see him, and Mu-yeom barks that if he wants more attention, he’d best treat this with more seriousness.
Tae-oh calls Maria to ask if she’s going to come see him in the hospital, and she’s as curt with him as before. But she seems to soften a bit when Tae-oh asks haltingly whether she’d put Poopy up to the task of stabbing him, though he hastily retracts the question.
Ji-wool gets to work on her new webtoon, “Cohabitation,” which is about a detective killer. The editor asks whether psychopaths are reformable, and she doesn’t have the answer. But that is apparently her new challenge, and she shows up in Tae-oh’s hospital room with her materials in hand, calling him Raskolnikov (the protagonist of Crime and Punishment). She isn’t his Sonya, she informs him, but she declares her intention to make a person of him yet, calling it an act of noblesse oblige.
Declaring this the start of a “journey of emotions,” Ji-wool lays out her materials and hands Tae-oh a crayon, telling him to draw whatever he’s feeling. So Tae-oh puts crayon to paper and scribbles a messy face onto the pad, which Ji-wool quickly notes shows no emotion. She strips down the basics of emotion in the most barebones way, showing him cartoon figures of people in happy moments—a mother with baby, children playing, and the like.
While he’s still under suspicion over his “confession,” Profiler Han holds up well in prison—or at least, puts on a happy face for his worried wife, who visits daily. He says the strict diet and exercise is doing wonders for his health, and seems optimistic over the prospects of the investigation.
Mu-yeom continues to look into the Eiffel Tower as a clue, and speculates over its own history with a statute of limitations (of a kind)—when first erected, citizens so hated the ugly structure that they made plans to tear it down within twenty years. Chul-gon wonders if that’s why Chief Cha fixed it as his symbol. The photo they’ve been analyzing comes from Gustave Eiffel’s office, located at the top of the tower itself.
Maria meets with Chief Cha’s wife again, and asks if she’s eve noticed him acting strangely—upset, or angry, perhaps. Wife Cha starts to say, “Actually…” but cuts herself off and blurts that nothing of the kind has even happened. When Maria attempts to probe further and suggest that the wife could persuade him to seek forgiveness, the wife gets angry and blurts that he hates the word “forgiveness” above all others.
But that’s a ploy, because she then reports to Chief Cha that she mentioned that bit about forgiveness at his instruction.
Ji-wool looks over Tae-oh’s drawings, noting the furiously scribbled drawings on every page. She takes out a wood block, nails, and a hammer, pointing out that he’s clearly angry (“But I’m always angry,” he replies matter-of-factly). Now when he feels upset, she instructs him to hammer a nail into the block.
To the defense lawyers’ ire, the prosecution manages to line up the two Gap-dong cases for back-to-back trials, with Profiler Han’s trial up first and Tae-oh’s to follow. Tae-oh hears the news (that he’s being set up to fail, basically) and tries to channel his rage as Ji-wool instructed. At first he taps ineffectually at the nails, but grows angrier and angrier and slams them into the wood block.
Mu-yeom hears of Ji-wool’s interference and chides that her attempt to make a person of Tae-oh is misguided: “Can you really forgive a murderer?” She concedes that he’s right, but asks, “Can’t you give him just one more chance?”
Mu-yeom confronts Chief Cha about testifying at his case. Chief Cha is all set to refuse to testify, but Mu-yeom points out that while he has the right, it looks suspicious and only adds to the appearance that he’s guilty.
Maria happens by a storefront as Chief Cha is being attended to in a hair salon for a haircut. This makes her recall Mu-yeom’s story about the Spanish woman who attacked her daughter’s rapist in a barbershop and set him on fire. Burning with rage, Maria imagines herself storming into the building and dousing him with gasoline, holding a lighter aloft and ready to blow.
It’s a frightening thought, and Maria shakes it aside. This is exactly the line of thinking that the monk worries she’ll travel toward, having sensed a thread of instability in her after Chief Cha was revealed to be Gap-dong. The monk urges Mu-yeom to pay attention, and for good reason as we see Maria confiding in Profiler Han when she visits him in prison. She wonders how he could have lived without betraying any hint of conflict or upset.
Chief Cha seeks Maria out at her trailer to take issue with her seeking out his wife. Maria says that the encounter made her rethink her stance, because it’s rare to see a psychopath who’s able to carry on a marital relationship without slipping up in his facade—perhaps she had him pegged wrong, she suggests. She invites him in for coffee and, intrigued, he joins her.
Maria keeps a close eye on Cha as she explains that she’s had doubts about her memory of Gap-dong lining up with her impressions of Cha. It seems she’s testing out a theory of some sort, based on the careful way she broaches this line of conversation, and Cha insists upon his innocence, looking every bit the kind, thoughtful person he seemed at the outset.
And then, Maria gets down to business, slapping down the photo of herself with her dead best friend, her voice turning hard. Recalling his wife’s comment about the word “forgiveness,” Maria deliberately provokes him with that word, telling him to shake off his mask and beg for forgiveness.
It works, and something stirs in Cha and bubbles forth, and suddenly he’s shoving her to the wall and strangling her, his face contorted in fury.
But then, almost as quickly as the rage set in, it ebbs away and Cha backs away in shock, looking genuinely horrified at his own reactions. Meek once more, he apologizes profusely and asks what he’s done, saying that he must have been overly stressed by recent events. In a daze of regret and alarm, Cha excuses himself.
That leads Maria to pinpoint her hunch on dissociative disorder, wondering if perhaps Cha is suffering from multiple personalities. She runs the theory by a colleague, citing a few high-profile cases of criminals who used it as a defense for committing crimes. Her doctor friend says that there are cases where the diagnosis resulted in an acquittal, suggesting that it might happen here.
Despite his initial indifference, Tae-oh finds himself increasingly absorbed with the puzzle of the Eiffel Tower, starting at that photo for hours, searching for clues. Closing his eyes and immersing himself in the matter, Tae-oh thinks hard for what kind of meaning it could hold for a killer, but it eludes him, to his everlasting frustration.
Tae-oh thinks to Chief Cha’s offer of freedom, and how he’d told him that Maria would drag him to the death penalty, no matter what she promised him in the present. He wonders if that freedom is an illusion of having stopped—to make the world believe you’d stopped when you hadn’t. “Is that it? Did you merely want to boast about that?” he wonders.
The detective team arrives at the multiple personality conclusion on their own, as the specialist theorizes that the shot of the Eiffel Tower combines the perspectives of many different people. What if the criminal is also in possession of multiple perspectives? The idea takes root in Mu-yeom’s mind, who goes with it.
Maria takes her concern to the district attorney’s office, suggesting that Chief Cha needs to undergo an evaluation to see whether he’s fit to testify. She’s not certain of her suspicions and agonizes over it, and once Mu-yeom hears about her line of thinking, he requests to see her.
He asks what prompted her shift, and why she’s trying to understand the criminal now. Is she afraid the prosecutor will lose, and that if he’s going to go free, she’s better off forgiving? Is this her idea of compromise?
Mu-yeom barks that she’s fallen for Chief Cha’s trap, and that he’s maneuvering her according to his wishes. Maria argues that there may be something they’re missing—she wants to understand Gap-dong’s motivations, “Because I have to do that to leave it behind me.”
But Mu-yeom looks at her in disappointment, saying that he thought they were on the same page. But now, he sees that they can’t work out, and requests that she drop out of the case. His voice has a harsh edge to it and he says he’s tired of his two women—one insisting on teaching Tae-oh human emotions, and the other suggesting that Gap-dong has multiple personality disorder.
“Both Gap-dong and Kim Jae-hee—I’m done with them. Do you understand?” To hammer in his point, Maria flashes back to his earlier comment about finding in her a message not to compromise. I suppose he sees her as reneging on that promise now.
Mu-yeom gets up to leave, and Maria stops him. A bit fearfully, she asks him to explain how he means to end this all. But he just tells her bluntly that their goal of catching Gap-dong was the only thing they had in common, and now they’re over.
Maria says that she doesn’t quite understand, “But you do what you have to do. I’ll do what I have to do.” She lets go of his arm, and he storms out.
Chief Cha confirms for us what everyone suspects: He confides to his wife that he harbors multiple personalities, which include Chief Cha and Gap-dong. Others include an elderly ex-fighter and a seven-year-old child.
Chul-gon doesn’t believe in the multiple personalities as a genuine explanation for Cha’s behavior, but rather concludes that this is Cha’s literal get-out-of-jail card. He’d seemed curiously unperturbed about being accused of his crime and being barred from leaving the country, and now Chul-gon speculates that it’s because Cha had known he still had an ace in the pocket. He must have been preparing this defense for a while, in readiness for the day he might be caught.
The problem for the authorities, however, is that whether or not the diagnosis is real, if it’s proclaimed to be legitimate, they lose their ability to nail him with his testimony. Mu-yeom worries most for Maria, and that she will be used by both Gap-dongs in their trials.
Tae-oh calls Maria, who steels herself before answering. He’s thinking of Cha’s words as he asks if she’d let him go free if he helped take down Cha, and judging from her hesitation he guesses that Cha was right—Maria won’t let him go, as she is a victim first, doctor second. But Maria surprises him, about to say something.
Mu-yeom tells Chul-gon that they have to do something in order to get Gap-dong for good, and to protect Maria. But we’re left hanging on both these fronts, as the question hangs in the air and the episode cuts out for the day.
I’m left wondering a number of things at the end of this episode, and ultimately all my questions boil down to the central concept of motivation. Is Cha’s motivation a genuine case of multiple personality disorder, or is it a carefully thought-out defense strategy, which he has had twenty years to perfect for just this occasion? Is his wife completely on his side, or did his confession scare her? We don’t see her being scared at his admission, but any sane human being would be at the revelation that her husband was harboring a split personality that included a serial murderer.
Is Maria acting out of a desire to understand, or is this another defense mechanism for her, as Mu-yeom suggests? Recall that just one episode ago she was brimming with rage and begging Mu-yeom to flout the law and fabricate false evidence to nail Cha to the wall, because it was more important to capture him than to do it the legally pristine way.
As for Mu-yeom, is he truly at the end of his rope and through with Maria, or is he walking the road of the Noble Idiot because of his brain scan/death sentence? The words he speaks make perfect logical sense to me, but the breakup still felt awfully abrupt, and makes me suspect that he’s working a new angle—either a ploy to be nobly sacrificing, or to trap Cha. I don’t have to tell you guys that I’m hoping it’s the latter, since noble idiocy is so 1990s. The strategically cut conversation(s) ending our episode suggest that there are bigger, possibly secret plans in the works, in which case I really hope he’s got something up his sleeve.
If I have a complaint, it’s that this drama always ruins its own dramatic punchline by deflating the tension before it even has a chance to build properly. I appreciated the twist of giving Cha split personalities, and also the ambiguity of not knowing whether it’s a true scenario or merely another ruse, but we weren’t given much of a chance to let that sink in before the show then revealed Cha explaining his personalities to his wife. It’s the equivalent of telling a joke, and dissolving into giggles before you say your punchline—you think you’re clever for coming up with the joke, but everyone else misses the impact of it because you didn’t let it land properly.
I’m not sure how I feel about Tae-oh’s search to find humanity, or rather, Ji-wool’s attempt to find it for him. On one hand, it’s perfectly in line with her character, but on the other, can we stop trying to humanize the killer please? I guess that is just going to be this show’s legacy.
- Gap-dong: Episode 16
- Gap-dong: Episode 15
- Gap-dong: Episode 14
- Gap-dong: Episode 13
- Gap-dong: Episode 12
- Gap-dong: Episode 11
- Gap-dong: Episode 10
- Gap-dong: Episode 9
- Gap-dong: Episode 8
- Gap-dong: Episode 7
- Gap-dong: Episode 6
- Gap-dong: Episode 5
- Gap-dong: Episode 4
- Gap-dong: Episode 3
- Gap-dong: Episode 2
- Gap-dong: Episode 1