Whisper: Episode 1
Greed. Money. Power. With the long-awaited comeback of actress Lee Bo-young, Whisper offers up a classic case of corruption and vengeance where the bad guys control the world, leaving honest heroes with a moral quandary: Is it better to desperately fight the corruption head-on with truth and justice, or seek the only chance of survival by embracing the evil, allowing it to consume you?
EPISODE 1 RECAP
It’s a dark and stormy early morning as SHIN CHANG-HO (Kang Shin-il) drives along a curvy mountain road. He’s on his way to meet someone who calls him in a panic that their meeting spot has been compromised. Just as he tells the other person where else they should meet, a car suddenly speeds past him, causing him to swerve. If it weren’t for the railings on the side of the road, he would have been sent over the cliff.
As he catches his breath, he hears from the other end of the phone a scream and a crash. The man he’s supposed to meet has just been hit by a car that’s sent him flying into the lake. A hooded man steps out and, picking up a broken fishing pole, and jabs it into the other man’s chest, killing him.
Meanwhile, Section Chief Detective SHIN YOUNG-JOO (Lee Bo-young) secretly rifles through boxes of old files, looking for proof that the powerful Taebaek Law Firm was behind the court cases involving weapons defense — as well as a court case against Shin Chang-ho.
Back at the fishing site, Chang-ho arrives to find his friend, Kim Sung-shik, dead in the water. He weeps as he desperately tries to drag his friend out while calling for an ambulance, but his phone drops into the lake. The police are immediately on the scene nonetheless, but they tackle Chang-ho and arrest him as Sung-shik’s murderer.
By late morning, Young-joo has gathered enough possible evidence to show that the defense industry is corrupt. She orders her team to mobilize, and as they leave the station, her mother calls her, letting Young-joo know that he disappeared again. This is not the first time he’s done such a thing, and Mom just asks that when she gets in contact with her father, to tell him to return home after he’s finished chasing after whatever lead he’s been working on.
But Young-joo freezes when she sees Chang-ho, handcuffed and being escorted into the police station. As the waiting press film his arrival and shout questions at him, Young-joo dazedly calls him “Father” as he’s escorted past her. With worry in her eyes, she watches him disappear into the station.
At the courthouse, District Judge LEE DONG-JOON (Lee Sang-yoon) prepares for his next case involving the son-in-law of a Supreme Court Justice. Dong-joon is a man of principle who believes in giving a fair ruling, no matter how powerful the person in the defendant’s seat.
Justice Jang stops by before the trial to remind Dong-joon that it’ll be in his best interest to let his son-in-law, who’s being charged with embezzlement, off with mere probation. This would be especially beneficial since Justice Jang controls the rulings to Dong-joon’s father’s malpractice cases.
When it comes to the actual sentence, Dong-joon gives the son-in-law the full punishment available for his embezzlement crimes. He meets Justice Jang’s gaze head-on, knowing he’s gone against the justice’s wishes.
When Young-joo returns to the station, she finds the other detectives watching the news about her father’s arrest. The news station calls her father a previous convict who is assumed to have killed Sung-shik after a falling out over financial matters.
She charges down the hallway to where her father’s case is being discussed, furious that the police have released a statement full of lies. Her fellow detective — and fiancé — PARK HYUN-SOO (Lee Hyun-jin) hurries after her, urging her to take it through official channels instead of just barging in.
But she knows that she only has a day before the case is turned over to the prosecution, and right now, all the evidence against her father has been forged. This is the only way to save him.
She introduces herself as Chang-ho’s daughter, and provides a slideshow of evidence that her father and Sung-shik were friends and colleagues with no animosity between them, so there was no reason for her father to kill him.
However, there is reason for Taebaek Law Firm to want kill Sung-shik and frame her father, since the men were going to produce proof that Taebaek is involved with the defense industry corruption cases. The chief orders her to hand over the proof she has, but Young-joo refuses, telling him she’ll only give it to the police once it’s been aired on the news. She requests they reinvestigate the case from the beginning.
In one of the interrogation rooms, she meets with her father. She tells him that she’s put everything on hold to investigate Taebaek. He’s worried for her safety, though, especially since they just killed a man who was doing just that.
But a couple of detectives arrive to take her father away — they have proof that his DNA was on Sung-shik, as well as financial records that Sung-shik recently deposited $30,000 into Chang-ho’s account. As they drag him out, her father reassures her that everything will be fine — they can’t convict him for a crime he didn’t commit.
Young-joo returns home to her family’s shop, where she finds her mother glued to the TV as the police chief gives a statement that Chang-ho killed Sung-shik over the debt he owed.
Young-joo wants to see her father’s bankbook, since she knows the deposit has to be fake, but Mom tearfully admits that it’s real. Their rent was increasing and she couldn’t afford to pay. She didn’t want to take from the savings for Young-joo’s wedding, so Sung-shik loaned her the money. But she swears Dad had nothing to do with it.
Dong-joon arrives at his father’s hospital, where he chides his father for trying to interfere with his ruling by using Justice Jang, then freezes in his tracks when he sees that waiting for him is Taebak’s chief lawyer, CHOI IL-HWAN (Kim Gab-soo). The purpose of the meeting is to set up an arranged marriage for Dong-joon and Lawyer Choi’s daughter, CHOI SOO-YEON (Park Se-young).
It’s strictly a business arrangement, but Dong-joon’s step-mother is still thrilled to plan the details of the wedding. Lawyer Choi has Dong-joon’s future all planned out, but Dong-joon firmly refuses to become a part of the family just to become a pawn for Taebaek Law Firm, which he accuses of abusing the law to gain power. He’d rather remain an honorable judge than get sucked into their corruption.
But Lawyer Choi reminds Dong-joon that even though it’s rare, judges can be excluded from reappointment. Just then Dong-joon gets a call, letting him know that he’s received a notice of reappointment. The chairman of the committee that will decide his reappointment is none other than Justice Jang, who definitely has a grudge against him.
Lawyer Choi holds out his hand, telling Dong-joon that it’s in both their best interest to work together. Soo-yeon also doesn’t care that it’s just a business arrangement, and tells him to accept the offer. The principled Dong-joon refuses, telling them they’ll need to find someone else.
He confronts Justice Jang, requesting the reasoning behind him being disqualified from his reappointment. But Justice Jang throws Dong-joon’s words back at him, informing he’ll find out when he attends the hearing.
But he still has work to do as a judge until then, and the next trial on his docket is Chang-ho’s. The prosecution is prepared to pile up evidence against the defendant, but Dong-joon is more interested in why Chang-ho, who used to be a respected journalist, refused to return to the news station when they offered him his job back.
He could have easily become the chief of the news room if he had agreed to be hired on again. Chang-ho says that he would have to ignore all the rampant misuse of company funds, and so he refused the offer. Dong-joon asks if he regrets his decision, and Chang-ho tells him that’s what his ex-employers want him to feel. Dong-joon decides to postpone the trial, ordering the prosecution and defense lawyers to hand over all their documents for him to carefully look over.
As he leaves the courtroom, he gets a call from someone apologizing for accidentally hitting his car in the parking garage. When he goes down to inspect the damage, it turns out Young-joo purposefully hit his car as a way to meet him and show him the evidence she’s accumulated proving her father is innocent. He tells her to submit the documents through the official — and legal — process, but she desperately tells him that her father followed the letter of the law and look where it got him.
Apparently that’s enough to persuade him to at least meet with her, and she shows him that per her father’s phone records, he arrived at the fishing spot a half-hour after Sung-shik’s death. The unmovable Dong-joon points out that estimated time of death can differ by an hour, and if she really wants to prove his innocence, she should find her father’s cell phone. Except it’s somewhere at the bottom of the lake right now.
Dong-joon realizes that she must have obtained copies of the phone records illegally, and advises her not to submit them as evidence. She doesn’t care, though — she’ll do whatever it takes to prove her father’s innocence. After all, in this world, the bad guys have all the power and influence, so what else can she do but use them? He reminds her that he can’t make a ruling based on evidence he can’t see, but he also promises that he won’t believe all the evidence he does see.
With Young-joo’s words about the bad guys having all the power ringing in his ears, Dong-joon steels himself to enter glossy, granite halls of Taebaek Law Firm. His guide through the building happens to be a corrupt ex-prosecutor who lost his job thanks to Dong-joon’s upright rulings, but even though he lost his license to practice law, he’s still useful to Taebaek. He has Dong-joon check in his phone and watch as a precaution so that he won’t record the conversation, and then shows him into Lawyer Choi’s vast office.
He’s surprised that Laywer Choi knows he’s there about the reappointment case, and Lawyer Choi reminds him that, as Dong-joon said, he’s a “legal thief” who buys information. Even though Justice Jang may be the chairman of the reappointment committee, there are still eight other people that will oversee his case, and Dong-joon is confident they’ll rule justly. But Lawyer Choi reveals that the other judges are all ones that have a personal vendetta against Dong-joon due to his prior rulings. Justice Jang has stacked his deck quite well.
Dong-joon wants to know why it has to be him, specifically. Lawyer Choi shows him a ruling he’s written for Chang-ho’s case — all Dong-joon has to do is tap the gavel. Furious, Dong-joon tells him that his ruling can’t be bought, but Lawyer Choi says it’s this or he’s no longer a judge.
Dong-joon goes to his father, pleading with him to write a confession about Justice Jang visiting him. He knows the justice asked for a light ruling in his son-in-law’s in repayment for helping with Dong-joon’s father’s malpractice cases.
But Dad tells him that Lawyer Choi may decide to replace him as the family doctor, effectively taking away all his other VIP patients as well. He counsels Dong-joon to get married to Soo-yeon, not just so he can be a doctor with an endless list of VIP clients, but also to keep an ear on the ground when it comes to any other potential ways the hospital could benefit.
Young-joo and Hyun-soo are at the scene where Sung-shik’s body was found. Hyun-soo reassuringly tells her that his parents are concerned about her well-being, but she knows better. Hyun-soo’s mother visited her, asking for her to break up with Hyun-soo because being associated with someone on trial for murder would make their lives difficult.
Even so, she tells Hyun-soo to wait for her. She’ll eventually walk down the aisle on her father’s arm. But first, she needs to find his cell phone. It seems impossible to figure out where it might have been washed away in the lake, but she knows there are others just as desperate to find it as she is.
It’s a good hunch, because at least thirty men painstakingly comb through the lake looking for the phone while Young-joo and Hyun-soo watch from a distance. The phone is eventually found, and the head gangster orders his men to head out.
Young-Hoo follows the men, but when they come to a railroad crossing that’s about to force everyone to wait for a passing train, she suddenly slams on the gas pedal and speeds forward, crashing into the head gangster’s car and shoving it across the tracks barely in time to keep from getting crushed by the oncoming train.
Cut off from the rest of his men, Young-joo and Hyun-soo swiftly take down the henchman in the car with the head gangster. She easily throws him on the ground and retrieves her father’s phone, fighting off his advances to attack her with a knife. As soon as the train finishes passing, the dozens of henchman swarm Young-joo and Hyun-soo’s car as they try to escape — which they manage to do, despite a few broken car windows.
Dong-joon stops by the nursing home where his mother is the director. They’re frantically getting ready for an inspection from the National Health Service for suspicion of overcharging medication expenses, but Dong-joon tells him that he’s taken care of it — as a citizen, he swears, and not because of his judgeship. He merely asked the NHS if it was so wrong for a company to only use medication covered by insurance, since it means pensioners can then have a little extra money to spend on their grandchildren when they visit. Who can argue with that?
Mom asks him to live with her instead of in a soulless studio apartment near the courthouse. This seems like a regular request from her, but Dong-joon cheerfully says that he’ll need to stay by the courthouse since he’s convinced the ruling on his judgeship will go well. Mom isn’t as persuaded, especially since her ex-husband told her about the issues he’s facing — and the upcoming wedding. Even he won’t move back home with her, she’s just thankful that Dong-joon hasn’t grown up to be like his unprincipled father.
During his reappointment trial, Dong-joon firmly tells Justice Jang that he won’t be submitting any documents on his behalf. Justice Jang assumes that he’s accepted that he’ll be disqualified, but Dong-joon tells him it’s because he doesn’t believe he deserves to be in judgement in the first place, and especially by the specific people who are in a position to judge him. If he must resign, he’ll become a witness at each of the judge’s family members’ trials.
But Justice Jang reveals that no one will take his testimony seriously since he’ll be on trial himself. He cites Dong-joon for using his authority as a judge to coerce the NHS to ignore the medication overcharge from his mother’s nursing home. Dong-joon insists he didn’t coerce anyone, but Justice Jang says that the court will probably view it differently, and as soon as Dong-joon’s judgeship is revoked, he’ll be prosecuted for graft and bribery.
As he deals with this sudden corrupt twist, Dong-joon is contacted by Young-joo, who reveals she’s found her father’s phone. They meet up at a coffee shop where she plays the recording of that night. It’s clear that her father was still driving when Sung-shik was attacked.
Dong-joon also gets a call from Lawyer Choi, who tells him that he’s been disqualified from his judgeship. Even though Lawyer Choi couldn’t stop him from getting fired, he can at least prevent him from going to jail — if he uses Lawyer Choi’s verdict in Chang-ho’s case.
Dong-joon glances out the window to see a bus transporting prisoners, and imagines himself on the bus. He thinks about Lawyer Choi’s offer, knowing that he’d go down in history not as the principled judge he’s always tried to be, but a corrupt one. The phantom prisoner Dong-joon nods in approval as the real Dong-joon makes his decision. He’ll go with Lawyer Choi’s verdict.
Across the table from him, Young-joo tells Dong-joon that she trusts him because he told her he’ll only make a judgement based on concrete evidence.
It’s the final day of Chang-ho’s trial, and Dong-joon reads the verdict. Young-joo reassuringly smiles at her father, but Dong-joon takes a deep breath and says that due to lack of evidence to support the claim of Chang-ho’s innocence, he sentences Chang-ho to fifteen years in prison for murder. Young-joo stands in shock, fighting back tears, as Dong-joon pounds the gavel. To his credit, he can barely look her in the eye as he does so.
Dong-joon gives Chang-ho’s phone to Lawyer Choi, who’s thrilled that Dong-joon has decided to partner with Taebaek, and, of course, marry his daughter. Lawyer Choi takes out the SIM card and douses it in lighter fluid, handing the lighter to a reluctant Dong-joon. As Dong-joon burns the SIM card, he also symbolically erases his past life.
Young-joo is facing her own trial for leaking evidence to the public and assaulting a citizen in effort to get supposed evidence. She insists it was to get her father’s phone, turning to Hyun-soo for support since he was there with her. But he tells the police chief that he only went to try and stop her from recklessly conducting an illegal investigation. His pay is docked in punishment, but Young-joo is fired.
She’s shocked by Hyun-soo’s betrayal, and as she turns in her badge, she tells him a simple “I’m sorry” isn’t enough after the five years they were friends, and the five years they were lovers after that. Gathering her personal belongings, she leaves the station, fighting back the urge to cry.
She arrives home to find her mother looking through old photo albums, reminiscing about the past. Mom stops on one photo from Young-joo’s middle school graduation, realizing that it was fifteen years ago — the same amount of time that her husband will be in jail. As Mom cries over the pictures, begging Young-joo to find a way to bring him home, Young-joo sees a news article about Dong-joon’s upcoming wedding to Soo-yeon, effectively making him “Taebak Law Firm’s son-in-law.”
Alone in her room, Young-joo quietly weeps as she listens to her mother sob. With renewed determination, she rereads the article on Dong-joon’s wedding, and then crushes the paper in her hands.
Dong-joon’s bachelor party is a depressing affair, as his friends and colleagues point out that he’s just sitting there silently, drinking. He bitterly thanks them for not signing his reinstatement and then prosecuting him for graft — it’s all due to them that he’s getting married. They eventually drag him drunkenly out of the club and haul him into his car where a hired designated driver waits to drive him home. The driver remains hidden but looks suspiciously familiar…
In the morning, Dong-joon blearily wakes up to find himself in a hotel room. His phone ringing is what woke him up, and it’s his mother, wondering where he is. He tells her that he’ll meet her at the hair appointment before the wedding, and then hunts around for the remote to turn off the television that’s currently showing an erotic movie.
Just then, Young-joo, fresh from the shower and wearing a bathrobe, enters the room. She slowly advances as Dong-joon looks at her in shock, telling his mother he’ll see her later before he hangs up. Young-joo congratulates him on his wedding, practically spitting out the words “Judge Lee Dong-joon.”
With growing horror, Dong-joon realizes that the movie on the TV is actually footage of him with Young-joo from last night, and she asks him what would happen to a judge who raped the daughter of a defendant who was asking for a plea bargain. He starts to speak, but she tells him to shut up: “I think I need to bring my father home, Judge Lee Dong-joon.”
Lee Bo-young is so badass. I’m ecstatic to have her back on our screens (and reunited with her I Hear Your Voice mother, Kim Hae-sook!). Without a doubt, she’s the main reason why I was so eager for this show, even though I’m happy with everything else so far.
I love that we’ve immediately established Young-joo as a renegade who is willing to break all the rules in order to get what she wants. Even though she is/was a detective, she’s more determined to see justice done than follow proper protocol. Which is in stark contrast to law-abiding rules-following Dong-joon. Even though both of them want the same thing — justice — their techniques for going about it are so different. Young-joo jumps in with both feet and consequences can be dealt with later, while Dong-joon is cautious and wants to take the legal high road.
Or, at least, he used to, until he found himself in the middle of this mess. It does seem like being honorable doesn’t pay, especially when you make enemies out of the most powerful people — or the ones who have nothing to lose. This production team is known for their morally grey characters, who are often unlikable even as we hope they somehow find success and a way out of the traps of prestige and power that constantly ensnare them. And it is no different for the characters of Whisper.
It makes me wonder what emotional low Young-joo has reached where she’d decide that rape, of all things, is what will get her the leverage she needs to see justice for her father. There’s really no excuse for rape, no matter how convenient it makes blackmailing someone. I have to believe that it’s not just Dong-joon’s betrayal, but also Hyun-soo’s that’s somehow playing into her decision. Dong-joon’s betrayal was one of honor — she trusted him because he was a “just” judge who went by facts and evidence. But Hyun-soo’s betrayal is more personal. He’s been her friend, companion, and lover for years, someone that you think she could rely on. But in the end, all he could say was “sorry” as she was forced to walk away.
If she’s completely giving herself over to the dark side in order to save her father, are her illegal deeds somehow more morally justified because she’s acting for truth? I can’t really say, and while I’m excited to have a character that will challenge and surprise me, I’m not sure that I totally agree with her methodologies. Then again, as Dong-joon knows painfully well, in order to combat corruption, it doesn’t get you very far to be honest and upright.
I am curious to see just how dark Dong-joon will allow himself to go, and how he’ll justify it to himself. I’m also intrigued by how these two enemies will eventually start to working together to take down the evil law firm that’s ruined so many lives. Sometimes the only way to destroy evil is evil itself, but how far will Young-joo and Dong-joon go down that path? And will it be worth it in the end? I can’t wait to find out!
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