Tunnel: Episode 13
I’m pretty sure we can all agree that this episode was worth the (agonizing, impossibly long) wait, because so much good stuff goes down. But Tunnel’s greatest strength is, as ever, in drawing out its emotional beats and imbuing them with a honeyed warmth that makes everything feel very immediate and real. And for me, that blend of both heart and thrills is pretty much everything I can ask for.
EPISODE 13 RECAP
Kwang-ho fights off Dr. Mok’s attack, but the murderous doc slams him to the ground, and a pulse passes through the tunnel. Kwang-ho gets back to his feet…and finds himself alone—as does Dr. Mok, because oh yes, Kwang-ho’s back in the past.
The realization hits him as a cyclist passes him playing an old song on the radio strapped to his bike, and he notices that the tunnel is different again. He growls in frustration at losing his quarry again. In 2017, Dr. Mok is equally wild at Kwang-ho’s disappearance, anxious that he’s gone back to his original time. All he finds of Kwang-ho is his phone, which he disposes of by throwing it into a river.
“If this is the past, then… Yeon-sook!” Kwang-ho realizes. He sets off at a sprint, but pauses fearfully at the corner of the dumpling restaurant. When he rounds it and finds his old house back where it should be, he breaks into tears and practically flies up the last few steps.
He finds Yeon-sook in the yard and goes straight to her. Both of them sob while she hits him in reproach. Kwang-ho folds her into his arms, saying sorry over and over for being so late.
Inside, Yeon-sook asks what happened to him all this time, noting his strange clothes. But seeing the whistle around her neck, he asks instead when their daughter is due. She’s shocked that he knows not only that she’s pregnant, but that it’s a girl.
Kwang-ho learns that five months have passed—the same amount of time he spent in the future. “You asked where I was, right? Whatever I say, will you be able to believe me?” Kwang-ho asks her earnestly.
We cut to Jae-yi, who asks Sun-jae if what he said (about Kwang-ho being her father) is remotely believable. He says he couldn’t believe it at first either–that suspicious person he was investigating before was Kwang-ho, he tells her. “The thing he wanted to hide was the fact that he came from the past,” he adds.
Just as Jae-yi is about to walk away, Sun-jae says he knows about the whistle, and that her mother gave it to her. Eyes widening, she turns back to him. He tells her how he heard from Kwang-ho that Yeon-sook had given it to him first, and her skepticism melts away.
In 1987, Kwang-ho talks himself into tangles trying to explain to Yeon-sook how he got hit on the head and ended up in 2017 (where the phones don’t have wires and fit into the palm of your hand!). Despite being confused, Yeon-sook takes him at his word and asks if he met their daughter.
Animated, he tells her that he recognized their daughter thanks to the whistle, and that it had saved her life. “She looks like you!” he enthuses, “And her name is Yeon-ho.” Yeon-sook grins in delight and figures that she must be a total granny in 2017. Kwang-ho’s face falls, and he solemnly tells her that she was as beautiful as ever.
As Jae-yi returns home that night, she looks up at Kwang-ho’s dark apartment, recalling his reaction to the whistle and his angry concern over her near-murder. She tries to call him, but the phone is switched off.
In bed, Kwang-ho tries to figure out the rules for his time travel. Beside him, Yeon-sook murmurs for him not to go. He cradles her in his arms, smiling over how good it is to be reunited with her.
In the present, Sung-shik’s chief lays into him for continuing the murder investigation after the case has been closed. Sung-shik argues weakly that there are two culprits, but admits that he doesn’t know yet who the second is.
The chief leaves the team grousing, but Min-ha remains optimistic, suggesting that they follow up all their previous leads. But when no one responds, he surprises them with another outburst like the one during their team dinner (“And this time I’m sober!”).
That sets them all snorting, and even Sun-jae cracks a smile, agreeing that they should give it another shot. Sung-shik asks if he’s done being a guest and if he’s a member of the team now, and Sun-jae responds with a boyish smile. Aw.
They wonder where Kwang-ho is, and Jae-yi calls to tell them that she thinks he’s gone missing. Sung-shik and Sun-jae head over to her immediately, and they search his house. Sun-jae says the last time he saw him was at their team meeting, where he had seemed troubled.
Anxious, Sung-shik tells him to get Kwang-ho’s call log and track his last location, pointing out that Kwang-ho has nowhere else to go. He says he vanished suddenly like this thirty years ago too, and he tells Sun-jae to investigate secretly.
Dr. Mok realizes his “Noel” pen is missing and tears his office apart looking for it. He returns to the tunnel in case he lost it there. Not finding it, he anxiously wonders whether Kwang-ho learned something about it.
Kwang-ho mulls over the pen—now with him in 1987—figuring that it’s got to have the victims’ DNA on it. He seals it up in a makeshift evidence bag and tells Yeon-sook that they can capture the culprit with this in the future, so they have to keep it safe until the technology arrives.
He pops the pen into his 2017 jacket pocket, but goes out wearing another one. (Nooo, I can already see where this is going!) Yeon-sook tells him not to disappear again, and he reassures her that he won’t. He tells her that he’ll call, although he forgets he doesn’t have a cell phone anymore.
He hovers uncertainly outside the police station, noting that it’s now full of unknown faces. Realizing that he needs some evidence that the culprit is Dr. Mok, he turns away… and comes face to face with Reporter Oh (who can’t believe he’s not dead).
Kwang-ho drags him off and tells him that he’s got the culprit but needs evidence, revealing to Oh that there’s a survivor of the murders. Kwang-ho wants to enlist his help and entices the reluctant reporter with the promise of a scoop.
Our 2017 team are busy tracking Kwang-ho’s last movements, and they narrow down his last location to the nearest cell phone tower. Sung-shik sends the Tae-Min duo to track down CCTV footage of Kwang-ho between the police station and that tower while he plans to head for the tower itself with Sun-jae.
Jae-yi wants to join them, and Sun-jae admits that he revealed Kwang-ho’s true identity to her. She’s surprised to learn that Sung-shik worked with Kwang-ho thirty years ago. “There’s so much I’m curious about, but he’s disappeared,” she says, eyes sad.
Kwang-ho and Reporter Oh seek out the surviving fifth victim, Kim Young-ja (from Episode 3) and learn from her mom that she now lives in Seoul. They make the trip, but as soon as Kwang-ho introduces himself as a police officer, Young-ja shuts her gate in their face.
From the other side, he asks earnestly for her testimony, but she says it won’t change anything. He promises that it will—they can catch the murderer right away and stop him from killing more women. But she wants nothing to do with it, and tells them to leave.
Reporter Oh is stumped, but Kwang-ho tells him that they’ll have to wait until she has a change of heart. Tearing out a page he’s been scribbling on from his notebook, he slips it under Young-ja’s gate.
Sung-shik and Sun-jae both realize Kwang-ho’s last location is in the vicinity of the tunnel, and they head there with Jae-yi. Tae-hee calls in an update, saying that the CCTV shows Kwang-ho going to Hwayang University Hospital and then taking a taxi from there. Sung-shik sighs that it would be good if he really had gone back to the past.
It’s the first Jae-yi has heard about the role of the tunnel. Heading back alone, she thinks about what Sun-jae told her about Kwang-ho’s desperation to go back so that Yeon-sook wouldn’t die and so she wouldn’t grow up lonely.
In 1987, meanwhile, Kwang-ho at last takes Yeon-sook on the river cruise he had promised for her birthday. He proudly asks the clerk for three tickets—one’s for Yeon-ho, riding along with her mom. Aww.
Arm around his wife, Kwang-ho sighs that he hasn’t been able to do anything for Yeon-ho, and Yeon-sook tells him that it’s okay if he starts now. He buys a teddy bear and presents it to Yeon-sook’s bump, promising to do well as a dad.
He tells Yeon-sook to pick their dinner venue, and she mischievously decides it will be expensive… aaaand they end up at the dumpling restaurant around the corner from their house. She laughs, promising to have the expensive stuff after.
But he comforts her when she tells him how guilty she felt for wanting strawberries while he was missing, and she didn’t even know if he was dead or alive. Cheering up, he tells her that this restaurant still exists in 2017, and he even took Yeon-ho dumplings from there. He drinks in the sight of Yeon-sook, glad that he didn’t reveal himself to Jae-yi. “If she knew, she would be having a really hard time right now,” he says to himself.
He’s not wrong. Jae-yi slips into his apartment that night and lingers over his old jacket. She finds the photo of Yeon-sook from the dressmaker’s shop facedown on his table. Recognition washes over her at last, as the sight of her face unlocks the memory of her mother. “Mom…” she cries softly, before breaking into choking sobs.
Sun-jae examines the timeline they’ve built of Kwang-ho’s movements, perplexed as he tries to discover why he went to the hospital when the only person he knows there is Dr. Mok. Come on, you’re on the right track! Tae-hee reports that Kwang-ho got off the taxi at the tunnel, and after that, all traces of him vanished. Sung-shik and Sun-jae exchange looks, their suspicions seemingly confirmed.
When they’re alone, Sun-jae says that it doesn’t make sense for Kwang-ho to leave without saying goodbye, but Sung-shik says he disappeared just as suddenly thirty years ago. He’s adamant that it’s just as well and that they should catch their killer, but Sun-jae strides out mid-sentence.
He looks up the CCTV of the office from the night before, which shows Kwang-ho talking to a colleague. The colleague tells him that Kwang-ho asked him to do a background check on Dr. Mok and to find out whether he lived in Hwayang in 1986. Sun-jae asks to be sent the same information.
In her own apartment now, Jae-yi pores quietly over Yeon-sook’s photo before hearing from Sung-shik that Kwang-ho has almost certainly returned to the past. She tells him she doesn’t regret finding out, since she had always wondered about herself and her parents. Now that she knows, she says, she can move on with her life, and she thanks him.
As he’s about to leave his office, Dr. Mok is met at the door by a stony-faced Sun-jae, who asks him for a word. Mok denies meeting Kwang-ho the day before, and as for his various injuries, he laughingly explains that a load of books fell on his face. Ha.
Sun-jae appears more suspicious by the minute, and when Mok asks if something happened to Kwang-ho, he stiffly answers that they’re still investigating.
The next morning, Young-ja finds the note Kwang-ho left. It’s a list of the other victims with their names and ages. “They were each somebody’s daughter, somebody’s mother. They all died,” his note reads. He carries on to say that they need to catch the culprit and wipe away their families’ tears, and he appeals to her to testify.
Yeon-sook finds Kwang-ho doing the laundry, and he tells her he’ll do it all from now on. Beaming, he presents her with a huuuge bowl of strawberries and urges her to eat up. Their breakfast is interrupted by a phone call—it’s Young-ja, and she tells Kwang-ho that she’s ready to testify: “Those women did nothing wrong, either. You know that, don’t you, Detective?”
Galvanized, Kwang-ho makes to leave right away. Yeon-sook pleads with him not to go—not today, at least. She grows upset, and he can only apologize. He takes her hands in his and sweetly reassures her that he’ll be right back. Wiping away her tears, he wraps her up in a hug, but she’s still desolate as she watches him go.
Jae-yi pays a visit to the agency that handled her adoption to retrieve her files. But she finds someone called “Shin Mi-hee” listed as her legal guardian, and is told that since her parents were deceased, she must have been added to that person’s family register so she could be adopted abroad. Ah, that explains why her name is “Shin.”
Jae-yi takes the address from the clerk, which leads her to Yeon-sook’s old boarding house—and her childhood home. Pausing at the door, a vision of her childhood self playing in the house’s courtyard brings a smile to her face.
The grandma is delighted that Jae-yi found her. She tells her that she looks like her mother, which pleases Jae-yi very much. Grandma mentions the other young man who visited recently, and how saddened he was to learn of Yeon-sook’s death.
She says she’s glad that he managed to go back. “Dad and Mom must have met each other by now,” she says, face softly alight.
Reporter Oh ditches Kwang-ho for a breaking story, so he heads to Seoul alone. He seeks out the young Dr. Mok—who we’ll call by his first name, Jin-woo, while we’re in the past—at his med school, but finds he’s returned to Hwayang due to the death of his grandmother. (Hm, did he kill her, too?)
As he drives, Sun-jae thinks back to Kwang-ho questioning Dr. Mok’s suspicious actions, like his visit to Jung Ho-young immediately before he killed himself. He’s alarmed to run into Mok at the police station, who’s chatting amiably with Sung-shik on his way out. He anxiously checks whether Sung-shik let slip anything about their investigation, but Sung-shik says that the doc came out of concern for Kwang-ho.
Jae-yi lectures her class on how their origins and pasts shape their identities, using the Gauguin painting, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? She asks them where they think murderers’ actions stem from, and they suggest abuse and broken or dysfunctional families. Another student argues that plenty of murderers have white collar backgrounds, too.
Jae-yi credits all their suggestions and says that murderers tend to grow up in unstable circumstances—however, that doesn’t justify murder, she adds. Privately, she wonders what kind of past a killer who marks his victims with dots has. She’s certain that Kim Young-ja’s death has something to do with it, but worries she made a mistake profiling him.
Sun-jae examines the file on Dr. Mok and how it fits the profile, but he knows that Kwang-ho wouldn’t have found that conclusive. Frustrated, he strides out, leaving Tae-hee and Min-ha wondering what’s going on with them and what Sung-shik is keeping from them.
Jae-yi pays Dr. Mok a visit and shares her theory that Kim Young-ja’s death triggered the murderer to start killing anew. He agrees, supposing that the killer would have believed it was the perfect murder, only to find that it wasn’t.
She asks him what forensic differences he found between Jung’s victims and the second murderer’s. He says that Lee Seo-yeon was strangled repeatedly, whereas Yoon Da-young and Nam Joo-hee were strangled just once. A murderer’s MO tends to reveal their motive, he says: “Because killing for enjoyment and killing for a purpose are different.”
Seeking out young Mok Jin-woo’s address, Kwang-ho finds himself traversing the tunnel. He had been operating on the theory that the murderer started off close to home and went progressively further afield. In actual fact, it was the other way around, like Jae-yi had said. Jin-woo’s house is visible when he emerges from the other side of the tunnel, and he starts running.
Sun-jae comes to meet Jae-yi. He apologizes, “Just for everything.” She thanks him, though. “Just… for everything,” she smiles, adding that she’s glad she found out that Kwang-ho was her father. She tells him she’d always wondered about herself and her parents, and it’s enough for her to know this much.
The couple fails to notice Dr. Mok hiding out of sight, and he listens to this revelation with cold glee before slinking away. Sun-jae grows disturbed when Jae-yi shares what Mok told her about the difference between the victims being strangled once or multiple times.
It’s dark by the time Kwang-ho makes it to Jin-woo’s house. He lets himself in and finds the place empty. He starts looking around, but quickly hides when Jin-woo’s mom comes looking for her son. She goes away again, and Kwang-ho resumes his search more urgently.
Sun-jae rushes to the NFS to find the medical examiner who autopsied Yoon Da-young (the Haein River case, seven dots) and says he heard that the injuries on Da-young’s neck showed that she’d been strangled only once. Surprised, the medical examiner says it’s impossible to tell whether it’s once or many times—the only person who could say for sure is the strangler himself.
Kwang-ho finds nothing in the house. But as he heads out, he crosses paths with Jin-woo, who’s just returned. “Finally we meet,” Kwang-ho says to him, with some wonder. Kwang-ho closes in on him, reciting the names of his victims, and declares him under arrest for murder.
Jin-woo plays innocent until Kwang-ho goads him to remember their tunnel encounter. Cornered, he makes a break for it, and Kwang-ho sprints after him. They’re headed straight for the tunnel, and Kwang-ho tries to run Jin-woo down, but he manages to slip away.
Kwang-ho is just meters behind him in the tunnel, when that characteristic pulse runs through it once again. Oh my god!
Jin-woo clears the tunnel, but the vines lengthen over the tunnel mouth as Kwang-ho emerges. Met by the bright lights and high-rises of 2017, he screams, “AGAIN?!”
YES, AGAIN! I secretly hoped for this, and right now, all my dreams are coming true and it’s kind of killing me not to watch the next episode immediately. I’m so stoked for 2017, Take 2! I admit that the cool, logical side of my brain is screaming at Kwang-ho for never being equipped with a plan for his final step (that’s why you lost your guy in ’87 and ’17!). And damn, you don’t need to show Jin-woo your hand right away! Play it cool and reel him in while he’s unsuspecting! I get the narrative need to have them rush for the tunnel again, but I do wish it didn’t make me question his competence. It’s lucky that I’m good at ignoring that side of my brain when necessary.
But let’s take a moment longer to linger on the quiet moments this episode, because as I mentioned at the top, Tunnel handles emotion so, so well. For the millionth time, I’m so happy that Choi Jin-hyuk is Kwang-ho, because he brings it all home pretty brilliantly. I’ve loved his love for Yeon-sook from the start—it has a depth and simplicity to it that is so old-world in the best of ways. At his core, Kwang-ho is a man of duty and principle, and I loved seeing his extraordinary love for Yeon-sook pitched against his inability to turn his back on his duty. It’s a no-brainer to Kwang-ho which one will win (always the siren call of duty), and that’s partly why the conflict itself is very emotionally rich. On the one hand, this is exactly why Yeon-sook loves him and married him—because he’s this kind of man—but on the other hand… it’s hard, isn’t it, being married to a man of duty?
It’s also been great watching little robot Jae-yi slowly turn into a “real” girl, and she finally reached the other side this episode. Perspective is everything: Now that she knows Kwang-ho is her father, everything is different about the way she sees him, and her tentative, tender curiosity about him is just lovely. It’s interesting that she could have searched out her history anytime, but hadn’t—because she wasn’t ready then.
It’s clearly taken her a lot to get to the point where she can face her past, and I find it sweetly symbolic that that expresses in a very literal way as she finally sees the face of her mother, not just in a photo, but in her own memory. Overcoming that block is perhaps her most important breakthrough, because if there’s one thing this episode wanted to hammer in, it’s that finding her past—where she came from and who she came from—is tantamount to finding herself. You can see that something has fallen into place inside her, and she’s at last happier and a little less broken, which is all I’ve ever wanted for her.
I’m looking forward to seeing how that pen resurfaces in 2017—and I’m pretty sure it’s going to travel across thirty years the “normal” way. I find myself wondering whether Mok made that slip about the differences between the murders on purpose, just for the thrill of the chase. After all, as evidence, it’s just circumstantial, and in no way sufficient to put him away or even to charge him. And for all his talk that he’s not a showy killer, it’s pretty clear that he wants credit. Jae-yi said several episodes ago that murderers love talking, and they love talking about themselves; he certainly doesn’t go against the grain.
On a lighter note, I found Kwang-ho’s attempts to explain the modern world to Yeon-sook pretty hilarious, and I’m ruefully sympathetic about how easy it is to become used to modern conveniences. I wonder how much he’ll miss 2017 when he’s back “home,” but either way, I know he’ll be infinitely happier to reach the future the normal way, one day at a time.
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