Mystery Queen: Episode 5
The murder case takes an unexpected turn, and Seol-ok races to prove herself before Wan-seung’s time and patience runs out. Even though she’s slowly winning him over despite himself, she still hasn’t been able to tell her family the truth about her amateur sleuthing, and it’s complicating her ability to focus on solving the puzzle. This case has nuances that even Seol-ok can’t fully see, and it might poke at some sore spots that she’s carried for many years.
EPISODE 5 RECAP
Seol-ok scurries after Wan-seung and Cha Yong-chul (Hee-chul’s father) and asks the latter why he’s avoiding her questions and what he’s hiding, but Yong-chul says only that he’s busy. Wan-seung moves her aside and says that Yong-chul’s wife is dead, and his father is being held for her murder—doesn’t he want to find out who killed Myung-hee? Seol-ok wonders aloud if he already knows, and Yong-chul gives her a chilling glare.
As the man is led away to give his testimony, Seol-ok gives Wan-seung a thumbs up for his charisma. Wan-seung agrees, then asks why she’s still here. Seol-ok says it’s not midnight yet, and Wan-seung asks dryly if she wants to ride a pumpkin carriage home.
Seol-ok says that Yong-chul’s alibi doesn’t check out for the time of death. Wan-seung says they don’t know that since the autopsy results aren’t out, but she says that she figured it out from the family’s phone records. Wan-seung reaches the logical conclusion about how she got those and curses Joon-oh.
Wan-seung reminds Seol-ok that she can’t just go home after the phone call she made, and she cringes. She wonders if she should claim to have been kidnapped for overhearing state secrets. Wan-seung says to tell them her phone had no signal, but Seol-ok tells him she’ll get divorced if she makes up such an unbelievable excuse. He tells her to go home then, but she says if it’s going to get divorced anyway, she might as well solve the case.
She follows him to a diner and sits down across from him despite his urgings to go buy her mother-in-law’s promised dumplings before the store closes. Wan-seung asks why she has to lie—why not just boldly tell Kyung-suk to mind her own business? (Well said, Watson!) Seol-ok says that Kyung-suk wouldn’t like that, then she tells him this is no time to be eating.
Annoyed, he tells her they can’t do anything unless Yong-chul talks, and besides, they won’t have the time of death until they get the autopsy results tomorrow. Seol-ok reiterates that she already knows. He glares and goes back to his food, and Seol-ok moves to sit next to him.
Wan-seung ignores her and asks the waitress for more kimchi, but Seol-ok, unfazed, cuts it for him and explains the events of that night: At 8:00 p.m., Hee-chul came home and overheard his parents fighting, so he went to a friend’s house, texting his mom that he would spend the night there. At 9:00 p.m., Yong-chul texted his friend to meet him for drinks and left the house. At 11:00 p.m., Hee-chul couldn’t reach his mom, so he texted his grandma to tell her that he’d seen his parents fighting and that Myung-hee wasn’t picking up her phone. Grandma had texted back that they were heading home right away.
At 11:25 p.m., Yong-chul used his credit card at a convenience store. At 11:32 p.m., Myung-hee rejected a call, which means she was still alive. The old couple called Myung-hee multiple times, but she didn’t pick up, so Grandma texted her at 12:53 a.m. to say that they were almost home. The old woman called 119 at 1:00 a.m. but hung up immediately, which means that was when they discovered her body; Seol-ok infers that the old man stopped her from reporting it.
Seol-ok says that whoever was at home between 11:32 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. is the murderer. Wan-seung points out that everyone has an alibi except the old woman, but Seol-ok says that Yong-chul is missing one too.
Back at the station, Seol-ok lingers outside the forensics department, trying to eavesdrop on Wan-seung and CSI Park. When Wan-seung comes out, he confirms reluctantly that the windowsill fingerprint belonged to Yong-chul, as did one on the clock from his friend’s auto shop. He asks how she knew about the clock, and Seol-ok says that the friend knew what time it was when Yong-chul came back because he woke up and saw it, and it would have been easy for Yong-chul to change the time.
The problem is the credit card transaction, which Wan-seung tells her was recorded on the convenience store’s CCTV at 11:23 p.m. Seol-ok gives her phone to the officer standing guard and tells him not to answer it, then pleads for Wan-seung to show her the surveillance footage.
Ji-won walks into a wedding dress shop and chooses the first dress she sees. Wan-seung ignores Ji-won’s call, so she texts him a photo of an invitation to their engagement ceremony. He calls her and asks if she’s crazy and tells her that there’s no way she’s having an engagement ceremony. Ji-won hangs up on him, and Seol-ok winces.
Oblivious, Wan-seung tells her that she can see the surveillance footage, but it’s her last chance to catch the killer. She agrees, saying she has to at least do that when he’s working so hard that he’s been dumped. She pats his arm and tells him not to worry. Rolling his eyes, he tells her she has an hour.
She watches a short clip of Yong-chul buying beer and asks if this is all they have. He tells her not to be discouraged—she couldn’t have won, betting against a veteran like Wan-seung. Seol-ok ignores this and says she needs to see the rest of the tape. Wan-seung tells her she has thirty minutes before midnight—if she’s late, he won’t show her any mercy.
Meanwhile, the officer that Seol-ok entrusted her phone to forgets her instructions in his half-asleep state and answers her phone, giving his location. When Ho-chul identifies himself as Seol-ok’s husband, he hangs up, flustered.
Wan-seung calls the convenience store owner and tells him to have a copy of the surveillance footage ready, and Seol-ok puts her jacket into her bag and runs, visualizing the shortest route.
Yong-chul sits silently in the interrogation room, but Wan-seung is unbothered and says that they’ll talk to someone who is willing to answer their questions. Yong-chul’s friend comes in then, and Yong-chul tries to lead him out, but the man sits down at the table and says that Myung-hee would want them to find her real killer.
Ji-won is still trying on her dress when Jang Do-jang calls her to congratulate her on her engagement. She tells him to stop calling her, and he says he’d rather talk to her boss, CEO Ha, anyway. He tells her to make it happen.
Wan-seung has discovered that Myung-hee had three life insurance policies, and he asks the friend about them. The friend says that he didn’t know what they were, but he knows that Yong-chul bought them through someone he knew. Wan-seung asks if that person was a woman. Noticing Yong-chul watching them from the door, Wan-seung tells him to sit down or get out. He says that no one can fool his nose, and he smells something fishy about the old man, but also about the two friends.
Meanwhile, Seol-ok wonders if jumping across the rooftops like a criminal might be fastest. She tries to climb a wall and gets mistaken for a thief when a woman starts screaming for the police to catch her. With Earnest Cop on her tail, Seol-ok runs away.
Wan-seung says that the motivation for a man to murder is always women or money—which was it in this case? What if the old man bought life insurance, and the one who sold it was a close female friend? Or was Yong-chul having an affair with her? The friend avoids Wan-seung’s eyes, looking dismayed. Wan-seung says that even if he didn’t know about the life insurance, the friend must have known that Yong-chul killed his wife.
Yong-chul’s friend asks him if he really killed Myung-hee, and Yong-chul asks Wan-seung if he has evidence. “Let’s wait and see if the evidence comes,” says Wan-seung, looking at his watch. It’s 11:50 p.m. Seol-ok, hitching a ride in Earnest Cop’s cruiser, calls and asks for ten more minutes, or even five, but Wan-seung tells her to go home.
Seol-ok bursts into the interrogation room with five minutes to spare, and while she plugs in her flash drive, Ji-won calls Wan-seung to tell him that she tried on her dress for the engagement. Wan-seung tells her she’s crazy and says she’ll never wear that dress because she’s not getting engaged. After he hangs up, Seol-ok gives him a pitying look. She tells him to be thankful the girl even stayed with someone like him this long, and to be a man and let her go with dignity. Hahaha.
Seol-ok asks Yong-chul if he and his friend were drinking all night, and Yong-chul says they were, except when he stepped out to buy more beer. He pulls out the receipt from his wallet as if prepared, which Seol-ok observes. She asks if it was fun and wonders what they talked about, and Wan-seung just rolls his eyes. She asks matter-of-factly, “Was it more fun than beating your wife?”
Yong-chul bristles, and Seol-ok says that she’s heard from neighbors that the couple’s fights would often end at two or three in the morning, and with Myung-hee in the emergency room. Yet that night it ended early, and Seol-ok wonders why. Yong-chul’s friend asks if all this is true, and Young-chul replies, “She deserved the beating.”
“Ah, so she deserved a beating,” says Seol-ok with a little smile. She asks the friend if they drank the beer Yong-chul bought, saying she’d love a cold beer right now. He replies that they didn’t finish it because it was lukewarm, and Seol-ok remarks that it’s strange for it to warm up in the three minutes it takes to get to Yong-chul’s friend’s auto shop.
Wan-seung, suddenly alert, watches the security footage again, this time catching something he missed before. “You bastard,” he says to Yong-chul. “You entered from the left side and exited to the right.” Seol-ok asks Yong-chul where he went, since the auto shop is to the left, and Yong-chul’s house is to the right. Wan-seung fast-forwards the tape; he didn’t pass by again for an hour and a half.
We see Yong-chul’s memory of that night. By 11:15 p.m., his friend is passed out drunk, and he stops to buy the beer, then creeps back home and into Myung-hee’s room to stare at her as she sleeps. We see the house from outside and hear a scream, and then he’s back at the auto shop, changing the clock from 1:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. before he wakes his friend.
In the present, Yong-chul’s friend begs him to say he didn’t kill her, but Yong-chul only glares at Seol-ok. “Did Myung-hee deserve to die? Is it because she wouldn’t hurry up and die even though you bought three life insurance policies?” she asks. He finally explodes, flinging his chair at Wan-seung and yelling that Myung-hee was a useless drug addict and is better off dead. Wan-seung tackles him to the ground and arrests him for murder, and uniformed officers drag him away.
Wan-seung and Seol-ok stare at each other in silence. The friend asks why things turned out this way, but Seol-ok says that he must have known this would happen. She says that he claims to think of Myung-hee as a sister, but he turned a blind eye to her abuse. He says he didn’t think Yong-chul would actually kill her. “So beating her was okay, as long as he didn’t kill her? What a great brother,” says Seol-ok in disgust. She tells him he’s a perpetrator too, and he should feel guilty for the rest of his life.
As she exits the interrogation room, she sees that it’s past 12:20 a.m. Wan-seung asks Seol-ok if she knew from the start that Yong-chul was the killer, and she says she had a hunch because it was reported as a burglary (the word implying human injury). Wan-seung says the friend reported it, but she points out that Yong-chul supplied him with the term when he made the emergency call.
Wan-seung doesn’t have a reply for that, so she walks off. He follows her, saying he knew all along, of course, that Yong-chul made his friend call so they wouldn’t suspect him.
Ho-chul has been waiting in front of the station, and he calls Seol-ok again. Seeing him from the doorway, she hides. Wan-seung sees Ho-chul too and asks why she’s hiding from him, but she says she’s trying to think of an excuse—Ho-chul hates it when she gets involved with the police. Wan-seung asks if she’s that afraid of her husband—does he prosecute her at home? She says it’s not like that; she just doesn’t want to create any problems for her family.
He asks if it’s okay to lie to your family, but she says it’s not always best to be honest when it could hurt their feelings. It’s more comfortable if you fit yourself to the other person a bit. Wan-seung asks her if she’s comfortable, and she says she is if her family is.
Seol-ok asks if he’s okay since he got injured in the fight earlier, but he waves off his bloody hand with his usual bravado. She tells him to go to the hospital and get it checked out—does he know how many people die of tetanus every year? He replies, “One or two?” They look at each other and laugh at this reversal of their exchange from the night they met. (Okay, that was cute.)
Seol-ok’s phone rings again, and he answers it despite her protests, whispering that she can’t live like this forever. He tells Ho-chul that she witnessed a murder and was giving a statement, and apologizes for keeping her so late and not allowing her to answer her phone. Aw. He tells Seol-ok that he didn’t want to see her lie.
As she’s leaving, he tells her not to thank him; he knows she’s grateful. She turns around and grins. “I won,” she says. “You have to keep your promise.” They bicker for a bit, but he agrees. Once she’s gone, he slaps his own face for apologizing to Ho-chul because of Seol-ok, getting angrier the more he thinks about it.
Seol-ok glimpses Yong-chul’s father sitting outside as she joins Ho-chul. He asks if Wan-seung was mean to her and says he’ll file a complaint, but Seol-ok tells him to leave Wan-seung alone—he got demoted, and his girlfriend is marrying another man. (Ha.) Wan-seung, hearing this as he watches them leave, snorts and says they seem to get along better than he thought.
Dong-ki joins Wan-seung and asks him what happened with his eighty percent certainty, but Wan-seung just shakes his head and says that’s enough after all. In the car, Seol-ok looks back at where she saw the old man, but he’s gone. She asks Ho-chul to stop the car for a minute and runs back to the station.
As he gets into his own car, Wan-seung wonders why he felt so suspicious of the grandfather—his hunches are never wrong. He starts to drive, and the old man suddenly steps into the car’s path. Wan-seung barely stops in time and angrily gets out. The old man insists again that he killed Myung-hee, begging Wan-seung to believe him.
Wan-seung gets a phone call from CSI Park, and he tells Dong-ki to escort the old man into the station. Seol-ok arrives, and Wan-seung tells her the autopsy results are out. CSI Park tells them that Myung-hee’s husband is not the killer: She died at 3:00 a.m., and the cause of death was drowning. She was still alive when she was thrown in the river.
Seol-ok says the old couple must have thought she was dead when they threw her in, but Wan-seung is doubtful. She watches through the mirror as Wan-seung questions the old man. He admits that he knew she was alive as he breaks down in tears. We flash back to the old couple driving Myung-hee to the river that night, when he saw her move in the rearview mirror. We also see his hand on the steering wheel, dripping blood.
Seol-ok bursts into the interrogation room, listing all the health foods she found in the fridge that Myung-hee bought for his arthritis. “We thought of her as family too,” sobs the old man. Seol-ok asks if he would have done the same thing to his son if Myung-hee had killed him. The old man’s wife comes in then and runs over to him, asking tearfully if they really threw Myung-hee into the freezing river when she still was alive.
The old man sobs that he did it for Hee-chul—what would it do to him if he knew his father was a murderer? Then he looks up in horror at Hee-chul, who is watching from the door. Seol-ok looks at him too, tears gathering in her eyes.
We see a scene from Seol-ok’s past: She’s young and dressed in mourning clothes, begging a detective to look into her parents’ deaths, since she’s sure that they were murdered. He tells her the police are 99.9% sure it was suicide, but she wails that she wants 100% and collapses, crying and alone.
Blinking back tears and memories, Seol-ok walks out, and when Wan-seung mentions their deal as he follows her, she says that he was right. She was just an ajumma playing detective, and even a mistake of 0.01% can change someone’s life. He says that she wasn’t all wrong and they caught the killer anyway, but she says it’s worse to imprison one innocent man than to let ten guilty ones go.
He tells her to leave that part to the police, adding that she did help—without her, the case would have ended as a burglary, and besides, Yong-chul is still scum. She says that he’s not a murderer though, and walks away. He calls after her that Joon-oh will give him a hard time if she leaves like this. She turns and says to give Joon-oh her regards, and smiling, she thanks him for giving her an extra twenty minutes. Wan-seung watches her leave, looking disappointed.
Ho-chul asks if Seol-ok’s okay, wondering if something happened. She smiles and says that from now on, nothing will happen. They drive off, and Wan-seung emerges from behind the doorway, sighing.
Later, at home, the family laughs as they watch TV together, but Seol-ok’s smile looks wide and forced. In his dark apartment, Wan-seung takes the medicine that Seol-ok bought him out of his pocket, remembering her fussing over his wound the night they met. “It’d be bad to get tetanus,” he says to himself, and swallows a pill.
He lies in bed, unable to sleep, and turns to the picture of him and Hyun-soo on his nightstand, apologizing for getting hurt. He falls into a memory of finding her limp and bloody, and a tear runs down his face. He walks the city streets with her laughter ringing in his ears until he’s hanging over a bridge, yelling into the night.
He asks her aloud how much longer he has to wait for her to come home, and promises that he won’t die until he finds her. “Do you hear me, Hyun-soo? I miss you,” he says, and he cries again before slumping to the ground.
The next morning, Kyung-suk asks Seol-ok why she’s always getting into trouble, and Seol-ok says it won’t happen again. Ho-chul calls, asking her to look for a document he left behind. Alone in his office, she covers her face with the envelope and cries quietly.
Seol-ok goes to the prosecutor’s office to deliver the document, but when she arrives, she sees Wan-seung and Ho-chul in a stare-down on the front steps. Wan-seung asks Ho-chul how he can charge Jang Do-jang with petty larceny after looking at the man’s file. He accuses him of being paid off by Ha and Jung, Ji-won’s law firm. When Ho-chul doesn’t clearly deny it, Wan-seung pulls his fist back to deck him.
“Oppa!” calls Seol-ok.
I find myself loving these two characters more and more as we get to know them better. Both Seol-ok and Wan-seung are complex and fully realized characters with more to them than meets the eye, and it’s a treat to see their layers emerge as we spend more time with them. Seol-ok’s intense, almost bullheadedly thorough approach to solving mysteries makes a lot of sense now that we know about her parents’ deaths, and it gives extra poignancy to how personally she takes every case, because it’s so obvious that she’s doing some kind of penance for being unable to solve her parents’ murders. The way she sacrifices her own dreams and desires for the sake of her husband and in-laws also makes a sad kind of sense, because they’re the only family she has, and she’s willing to do anything to keep from hurting them.
This episode also gave us a fascinating glimpse at Seol-ok’s relationship with Ho-chul, which I must admit I was expecting to be very different from what we got. He seems to genuinely care about her, and their relationship seems affectionate, if a bit cool; it’s only increased my curiosity about how their dynamic works and how it will develop. I know I said in the beginning that I want Seol-ok to dump Ho-chul and his selfish family, but I wonder how much of the current situation is actually his fault, and how much is due to Seol-ok overcompensating out of the fear of being alone in the world again. I think it would be an interesting conflict if Ho-chul is a corrupt prosecutor (which seems likely from the end of this episode) but a decent husband, or at least not an awful one, because it would require Seol-ok to make the kind of hard decisions that she’s been avoiding until now.
Wan-seung, on the other hand, is growing on me by leaps and bounds. I’m beginning to see that his rough, macho manner covers a softie who is remarkably observant and sensitive to the feelings of others. It’s in the little moments, like the way he stops to talk to the low-ranking officer standing guard at the police station to massage his shoulders and distract him from his boring duty. Or the way he tries to cheer Seol-ok up when she shows the slightest sign of discouragement, telling her not to feel bad and acknowledging her contributions.
It’s such a big difference from his manner toward her when they first met (and I can’t blame him, really—she was pretty annoying). Nothing exemplifies this change more in this hour than their joking exchange about tetanus cases; I loved that moment of camaraderie in the doorway, and I completely melted when he took the fall for her on the phone, even apologizing politely to Ho-chul for her sake despite his hatred for the man. Seol-ok and Wan-seung have incredible chemistry, and I wouldn’t mind a romance between them if she moved on from her marriage first, but after seeing how adorable they were working as a team in this episode, I’d be satisfied to see them as best friends and partners too.
The end of the hour took a melancholy turn that caught me by surprise, but which I loved anyway. I’ve enjoyed the show immensely so far, but I’d been waiting for this kind of emotional weight, and I think it came at just the right time. Seol-ok has finally gained some kind of legitimacy in Wan-seung’s eyes, and they’ve settled into a sparkling, hilarious pattern of banter and one-upmanship that I’m really loving, so for them to part ways now, even temporarily, feels like a loss. Seol-ok blossoms when she’s working on a case, and she’s so charming and intelligent that it’s no wonder that by now Wan-seung just follows her around and watches her like she’s the most interesting phenomenon he’s ever witnessed. I found it adorable how he kept reminding her to buy dumplings on the way home so she wouldn’t get in trouble, and the way he seemed to always be watching her leave with the expression of a little boy who just lost his playmate. Besides, who can resist Seol-ok’s Puss in Boots eyes? Not Wan-seung, that’s for sure.
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