Circle: Episode 3
I can’t believe there’s only one month left of this show. Please don’t leave me, Circle, because you are just THAT amazing. Just when I thought I could see the ends of the mystery unraveling, shocking plot twists suddenly blew all my theories to smithereens. And the rich ethical questions raised by the existence of memory-altering technology are so fascinating that I want to explore every facet of that technology’s implications.
EPISODE 3 RECAP
Bum-gyun limps toward an old abandoned building in the dark when his phone rings—it’s Woo-jin, telling him to come home. Bum-gyun tells his brother that he’ll be right there after he checks something out, and tells him that the culprit is Bluebird. But as he hangs up the phone, a bright white light—reminiscent of the UFO beam from their childhood—blinds him, and he stumbles back.
Part 1: Beta Project
The scene cuts to a tense confrontation between Woo-jin and Jung-yeon, where he asks if she is really who she says she is. She’s confused initially and becomes afraid as he grabs her collar, but she quickly recovers and brushes his hand aside as she says that he’s as deranged as his brother if he believes she’s an alien.
Having evidence from the hidden camera of her having been in his brother’s motel room, Woo-jin demands to know why she would search a crazy man’s room. She claims that it’s because she thought that Bum-gyun was the murderer because he showed up at each of the suicide scenes. Woo-jin reveals that Bum-gyun is missing and grabs her as he accuses her of being the real culprit.
That’s when the senior (who was picking on Woo-jin earlier) comes up to them to defend Jung-yeon. Woo-jin tells him to buzz off in a blatant sign of disrespect that causes the sunbae to throw the first punch in what becomes an all-out brawl. They’re taken to a police station, where Chief Hong is working on the Handam serial suicide case.
When Chief Hong overhears that Woo-jin is Bum-gyun’s brother, he suddenly takes an interest in him and begins asking nosy questions about Bum-gyun’s whereabouts. Woo-jin desperately pleads for Chief Hong to look for his brother because he’s definitely missing—it’s unlike Bum-gyun not to keep in contact with Woo-jin even throughout all his obsessive hunts for the alien.
Jung-yeon watches the entire conversation play out, seeming to understand the direness of the situation for Woo-jin now that she’s been given the full context for his outburst.
When they’re finally released, Jung-yeon looks up at the sunbae with a flirtatious smile, asking him to cover for her if her father asks about her. But she leaves with Woo-jin, who is perplexed by where she’s leading him. Regardless, he ends up following her when she says she has more information on the serial suicide case that his brother was tracking when he went missing.
She brings him to a modest single room that she’s been keeping for her private use to pursue the murderer. She shows him her logbook that contains the records of all the strange deaths that have been occurring at Handam, and when he asks her why she’s so interested in this case, she pulls out a photo of herself and her best friend, So-yoon. She was one of the first victims, and Jung-yeon begins tearing up as she reminisces about their close friendship.
This brings Woo-jin immediately back to an old memory of himself and Bum-gyun watching something extremely sad on TV while the blank-faced alien just stared on. When Woo-jin asked the alien if it didn’t feel sad, it replied in the affirmative, asking Woo-jin why it should feel sad. The stark contrast between the crying Jung-yeon in front of him and the ever-stoic alien diminishes his suspicion of her.
She then tells him a key piece of information: Approximately a month before each of the victims died, they began acting weird and suffered frequent nosebleeds and headaches. Jung-yeon asks if she can see Bum-gyun’s research, and they go back to the motel room where the innkeeper is throwing out his stuff. He tells them that they’ll have to pay the late rent fees if they want it.
With all of Bum-gyun’s stuff in tow, they go back to school, where Jung-yeon sees the camera full of her pictures. She asks why his brother thought she was an alien, and Woo-jin tells her that it’s because she resembles someone from their childhood.
Seeing a list of students in Bum-gyun’s notebook, Woo-jin remembers that one of his classmates listed in the notebook, Kim Nan-hee, also had a severe nosebleed that made her leave class.
They run to her dorm where an old security guard tries to stop them from entering, but they push through anyway. When they get to her room, it’s in complete disarray (with flecks of blood everywhere), and when Jung-yeon looks out the window, she sees Kim Nan-hee’s silhouette standing on the edge of a tall building.
Woo-jin and Jung-yeon run to her, but she jumps before they even get close, and they witness her fall. They look upon her oddly broken corpse, and in horror, Woo-jin sees a bright blue worm crawl out of her nostril.
Chief Hong is alerted as soon as the suicide is reported, and he interviews the same security guard from Kim Nan-hee’s building, who tells him about Jung-yeon and Woo-jin having searched for her right before her death. He also tells Chief Hong that before them, another small female student had come looking for Nan-hee as well.
As he gets some refreshments for a shell-shocked Jung-yeon, Woo-jin ponders his brother’s last statement to him, wondering if Bum-gyun meant “blue bug” and not “bluebird.” Jung-yeon blames herself, thinking that if they had only gotten to Kim Nan-hee a little faster, this wouldn’t have happened. They have a quiet moment of solace, understanding each other’s mutual sadness.
Professor HWANG YONG-WOO stares out the window, tapping his unlit cigarette in frustration. Professor Park, who seems to be a subordinate of his, sidles up by his side and remarks that kids nowadays are so weak and extremely emotional (perhaps referring to the recent suicides). Professor Hwang snaps his cigarette in half and reprimands Professor Park by telling him to watch his words.
In the dead of night, Woo-jin and Jung-yeon take a flashlight to search the spot of Nan-hee’s death for any sign of the blue bug. When a guard comes patrolling near them, Jung-yeon quickly rolls Woo-jin on top of her to keep them out of sight.
But even after the guard passes, Woo-jin doesn’t get off, and she becomes alarmed for a moment. Rather than having bad intentions, he picks something off her neck.
It’s the blue bug from before, which they take to the school lab to analyze. Woo-jin cuts it open, and a green pus oozes out. In the middle of the bug’s abdomen, there’s a small microchip embedded, and they realize that this is the reason the students were dying. They research on the web, but they can’t find any details on microrobots.
Woo-jin and Jung-yeon share a sweet moment as he worries for her because she doesn’t seem to sleep and keeps drinking coffee, and in reply, she places a bandaid on his cut. When they leave the library, it’s already the next day, and Jung-yeon has to make an excuse for not having come home to her father.
When he’s relaxing back at home, Woo-jin can’t seem to get Bum-gyun’s last words about the “bluebird” out of his head, and when he glances at the post-it that Jung-yeon first gave him at their initial meeting, something clicks. He immediately runs to her private dormitory, but she’s not home.
He asks to wait in her room, and once the door shuts behind him, he begins searching through all her things. At the windowsill, he discovers a pot covered by a book, and underneath it, he finds a living blue bug crawling in the dirt. Now we see that her post-it had contained her email address, [email protected].
The shot quickly jumps to Jung-yeon, who faces the same abandoned building that Bum-gyun had been in front of before he disappeared. We also see glimpses of Bum-gyun confined in a dark cellar, banging on doors and yelling for a way out.
Part 2: Brave New World
Joon-hyuk wakes up in pain in Ho-soo’s pristine white apartment, which is when he receives a call from Dong-soo saying that his systems were hacked by the mythical “Bluebird.” Joon-hyuk tells him to forget about Bluebird for a second so that he can concentrate on a different lead.
Ho-soo returns to his apartment to find Joon-hyuk making a mess in his living room, since he’s kneading dough for breakfast croissants. They have a little back-and-forth as they disagree on food tastes, reaffirming their dislike of each other. (Aww, what a cute couple.)
Later, Joon-hyuk reviews case notes, concentrating on the information on Park Jin-gyu, Min-ji’s foster father. Joon-hyuk wants to access Jin-gyu’s memories to check what happened on the day of her kidnapping, but when he brings up that he’ll be doing the check on Ordinary Earth, Ho-soo violently protests, saying that it’s illegal to access Human B systems on Ordinary Earth. Joon-hyuk is suspicious of the organization’s motives and believes that the data will be uncorrupted if extracted on Ordinary Earth.
Displeased, Ho-soo reports directly to the mayor, who asks him if the idea of Human B tampering with people’s memories could be a possibility. Ho-soo vehemently disagrees with Joon-hyuk’s suppositions, but complies with the mayor’s request to just keep an eye on the detective.
As an elected official with the trust of all the city’s citizens, the mayor says that he will allow Joon-hyuk to go about the case in his own way, because he acknowledges that Human B—no matter how great it seems to be—is still a corporation with its own interests at heart.
As he leaves the room, Ho-soo experiences a headache that’s accompanied by auditory hallucinations of a woman calling his voice. But he quickly calms down through the help of his implanted Stable Care chip.
Joon-hyuk and Ho-soo meet at the hospital where Park Jin-gyu is recovering from the injuries that a rogue Min-ji gave him. Joon-hyuk confronts the foster father with a tape recording of his own voice on the day of the kidnapping, where he called 911 to report Min-ji’s case.
Joon-hyuk keeps accusing him of being a murderer, and the man, despite being a Smart Earth citizen with the implanted Care Chip, raises his voice and becomes visibly angry. After he calms down, he agrees to do anything that will restore his precious Min-ji back to him, and so Joon-hyuk and Ho-soo procure the agreement necessary to extract Park Jin-gyu’s memories on Ordinary Earth.
Deputy Chief Lee and his second-in-command, Secretary Shin, meet to discuss the new strides that Joon-hyuk has been making in discovering Human B insider secrets.
Back on Ordinary Earth, Dong-soo prepares to extract the memories from Park Ji-gyu and explains the process to Detective Oh, even though he thinks he’s too stupid to understand. Chief Hong steps in and starts spewing complicated technical jargon about the process, and apparently, it’s all correct because Dong-soo’s jaw drops.
Joon-hyuk meets a lady in front of the building, and it’s revealed that she’s the doctor who will be performing the operation necessary to access the Care Chip embedded in Park Jin-gyu’s head. Once Dong-soo hooks up to the Care Chip system, the servers on Human B are notified of the breach, and Deputy Chief Lee tells Secretary Shin to take care of it by any means necessary.
She brings a squad of goons to the building where Joon-hyuk & Co. are extracting Jin-gyu’s memories. A fight breaks out between Chief Hong’s cops and Human B goons until Joon-hyuk comes out and freezes the crowd by shooting bullets into the air. He aims the handgun at Secretary Shin, who tells him that his actions to extract Park Jin-gyu’s memories are a clear violation of intellectual property laws.
He tells her to report it to the police—but oops, he is the police, so he tells her under no uncertain terms that he’ll welcome Human B’s request for an investigation because that means that he’ll have access to all their information as part of law enforcement. Otherwise, it’d be obstruction of justice. Thus, while staring daggers at Joon-hyuk, she leaves after calling the Human B deputy chief, who tells her to leave without creating a more of a fuss.
After some battling with Human B’s security firewall, Dong-soo almost breaks through. But suddenly, Bluebird’s signature pops up again, showing that the hacker is on Human B’s team.
Frustrated by the lack of progress, Joon-hyuk just rushes out with no plan and only his gun to confront Human B for tampering with people’s memories. Chief Hong follows him out and literally knocks some sense into him, reminding him that he needs to take logical steps in order to save his brother.
Ho-soo experiences headaches and nosebleeds as well as quick flashbacks of a woman who waves at him in front of a familiar cafe. He begins to think that perhaps Joon-hyuk’s suspicions may be right, and if so, these flashes may be memories returning to him.
The doctor bandages up Joon-hyuk’s cut and asks him if he really can’t forget everything and live his life as he is now. Joon-hyuk replies that he’s doing this so that he can do exactly that: forget. He stands up to leave and reminds her to eat more, and the scene is strangely reminiscent of Woo-jin telling Jung-yeon to get more sleep earlier on. (Is this a hint? Or a misdirect?)
Ho-soo goes to the cafe where he remembers seeing the flashes of the mystery woman. When he sits at the same table his forgotten memories point him to, he shakes with the stress of returning emotions, until his eyes land on a board full of photos. To his shock, he spots a shot taken of him with his arm around the woman from his memories.
Finally, it comes flooding back to him—she tied his tie for him here, smiling at him with adoration. The cafe owner greets him, saying that it’s been a while since she’s seen him, and she confirms that the woman in the picture was his girlfriend, who passed away a long time ago. He can only stumble outside, half-laughing, half-crying with grief and bewilderment.
Meanwhile, back at Ordinary Earth Team HQ, Dong-soo works for hours trying to hack the Human B system. He’s about to give up when he finally breaks through and discovers Bluebird’s whereabouts. Using GPS, he’s able to track Bluebird, and Joon-hyuk rushes out to track the hacker by car while Dong-soo guides him.
But suddenly, the entire system stops, and thinking it’s a power failure, Dectective Oh goes downstairs to the master switch box only to find that Ho-soo was the one who pulled the cord.
When Joon-hyuk comes back, he drags Ho-soo outside to demand answers. Overwhelmed, he pushes the Smart Earth official against the wall and shouts that Human B is fooling them all by messing with their memories.
A conflicted Ho-soo replies that if having no memories makes someone happy, isn’t that all that matters? Joon-hyuk disagrees, saying that when you no longer have memories, you are no longer yourself.
Ho-soo reveals that he’s afraid of his memories coming back, and Joon-hyuk also reveals that he doesn’t know who he is because he’s an amnesiac.
In a flashback, we see that when he first woke up in the hospital, Chief Hong had showed him a video of the two twins, one of which could be him, and told him that from on, his new name would be Kim Joon-hyuk.
Well that wasn’t as huge of a cliffhanger as the end of Part 1, but Ho-soo’s character development was lovely. Lee Ki-kwang definitely wasn’t really on my radar until now—I love his nuanced portrayal of Ho-soo as a conflicted individual who now understands that he’s been betrayed by the system of technology that he so believed in, but one who also doesn’t want it to stop for fear of the emotional pain returning.
This really was his episode to shine with all those reveals coming out about his past memories. He looks like he’s going through the denial phase of the five stages of grief, but I think he’ll rally to the right side soon enough, as Human B’s attempts to cover up their biggest secret will inevitably lead to even greater transgressions. Because at heart, I think Ho-soo’s philosophy most closely aligns with Mayor Yoon’s—safety of the citizens over all other priorities—which is why I think Ho-soo had such conviction regarding the necessity of the Human B system in the first place.
I didn’t feel that there was much development for Joon-hyuk this episode, although we did see glimpses of his burgeoning relationship with Ho-soo and his past friendship(?) with the doctor. Though I’d much rather keep this as a straight sci-fi rather than a love story, it’s only because I’m much more excited in the main stories: The chase in pursuit of the mysterious murderer in Part 1, and the chase in pursuit of the mysterious chairman in Part 2. Could they be the same person?
Also, what happened to Min-ji? Uhhh, I know that Joon-hyuk is really focused on rooting out the corruption behind Human B, but she is technically a murderess on the loose who could be killing someone right at this moment. I know Bluebird is important and everything, but shouldn’t the cops be more concerned about tracking her whereabouts down and keeping her on lockdown until the whole memory PTSD episodes are resolved? And is her case somehow related to the alien as well?
Here are just my personal theories based on the information we have so far, so please read with a healthy pinch of salt. I suspect that Professor Hwang and Professor Park are up to no good; perhaps they’re collaborating on a super-secret project of creating microrobots that are the beginning stages of the mind-controlling Care Chip of 2037. I think Deputy Chief Lee might be Woo-jin’s sunbae, who beat him up this episode because their last names are the same. While I understand that Lee is an extremely common last name in Korea, the sunbae also works in Professor Park’s lab and could have been inducted into the Care Chip project at some point. In addition, twenty years later, he’d be about forty, which is about the age that Deputy Chief Lee looks to be.
My final wild speculation is that Jung-yeon is actually the alien from Woo-jin and Bum-gyun’s childhood. Their father left them for a different reason, but her time with their family helped her understand human emotions and led her to care for them and guard them from afar as they grew into adults. However, along the way, she discovered that some technology from her home planet was being used by the humans (e.g. Professor Hwang and Professor Park) for a nefarious purpose, and tried to stop them. She kidnapped Bum-gyun for his own safety because he was getting too close to the truth, and because she was afraid that the evil humans would destroy him once they realized he knew everything. However, the mysterious chairman is actually Woo-jin, who ends up heading the Human B project once a tragedy hits in 2017 (perhaps the death of Jung-yeon), that makes him believe that living a life free from bad memories is the way to true happiness.
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