Tunnel: Episode 16 (Final)
Kwang-ho’s time in the future proves that he makes a difference in the lives of the people around him, no matter what year it is. Through his example, he’s demonstrated to his team what’s at the heart of being a good detective, and Kwang-ho has learned a thing or two himself along the way. If he was willing, Kwang-ho might be happy where he is, but he’s waited for so long to return to Yeon-sook’s side. The only question is, can he find his way back?
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Jae-yi enters her apartment only to be thrown to the floor by Dr. Mok. He chokes her with his bare hands and promises, “Just like Corporal Park did to me, I’ll have to take away from him what he cherishes the most.”
The story then rewinds, and we see Jae-yi with Jin-woo’s journal. She reads how he marked the first victim with the fountain pen, a gift from his mother, and she realizes why Mok is desperate to have it back.
Just then, Kwang-ho calls, frantic to know if Jae-yi is all right, and she tells him that she’s Mok’s next target. Kwang-ho and Sun-jae meet her in her office, and Jae-yi explains that Mok knows that she’s Kwang-ho’s daughter. Sun-jae realizes that Mok’s target is actually Kwang-ho, and Jae-yi explains that he wants to make her father feel the same agony that he felt over the loss of the pen.
Kwang-ho reminds Jae-yi about the time that her doorbell rang but no one was outside, certain that it was Dr. Mok. Kwang-ho reasons that the killer will attack her at home, and Jae-yi proposes that they should act normally if they want to catch him before assuring a worried Kwang-ho that he will be able to protect her.
When Jae-yi comes home, the team monitors her from different vantage points. Sun-jae and Kwang-ho wait in a side yard, and when Mok attacks her, Kwang-ho breaks the side door’s window to get inside. Mok hurries to finish off Jae-yi, but her father manages to kick him away before it’s too late.
Sun-jae cradles Jae-yi while Kwang-ho tangles viciously with Mok. After Kwang-ho manages to throw him to the ground, his fist hovers until he sees Mok smile, then he lands a blow to his face. He’s about to handcuff Mok, but he offers the opportunity to Sun-jae and passes over his cuffs.
The partners switch places, and Kwang-ho tends to Jae-yi as Sun-jae finally arrests the man who killed his mother so long ago. After Tae-hee and Min-ha lead Mok away, Sun-jae sits on the floor as the reality sets in. His voice shakes with emotion as he offers Kwang-ho his heartfelt thanks (oof, these two).
News that the killer responsible for a series of little-known murders over thirty years ago, as well as two recent murders attributed to Jung Ho-young, hits the airwaves. After a call from his superintendent, the section chief apologizes to the Special Investigations Unit and cautions them, “If you find something strange, investigate it like a detective.” Sung-shik glances at Kwang-ho and comments that he learned that long ago.
Sung-shik explains to the team that even though the statute of limitations was reached with the old cases, he wants to make sure that Mok confesses to those crimes. He sends Sun-jae and Kwang-ho to interrogate Mok while he takes the Tae-Min duo to hunt for evidence at the doctor’s house.
Dean Hong pays a visit to Jae-yi at home and voices her regret that she came to Hwayang University. Jae-yi is thankful to Dean Hong because she met someone that she was destined to meet—but even so, Dean Hong feels responsible that Jae-yi met someone like Dr. Mok.
Dean Hong understands that because Dr. Mok blended in as a well-respected and accomplished doctor, he posed a more serious threat than an obvious criminal like Jung Ho-young. She wonders if Dr. Mok will confess, and Jae-yi predicts that if he doesn’t confess, he won’t say anything at all.
Kwang-ho tosses photos of Mok’s victims in front of him, and Sun-jae shows him the DNA results from the fountain pen. When Mok refrains from answering any questions, Sun-jae brings out his chess piece and tells him, “The game’s over, so just admit it.” But despite the detectives’ best efforts, Mok doesn’t say a word. Kwang-ho calls Jae-yi to ask if she’s found anything in the journal, but she says she’s still reviewing it.
Before they hang up, they have a sweet father-daughter exchange as Kwang-ho reminds Jae-yi to check her doors, and she reminds him to eat. Just then, Kwang-ho looks over at Sun-jae with concern as he sits and stares at a photo of his mother.
While forensic investigators scour Mok’s house for evidence, Min-ha summons Tae-hee and Sung-shik upstairs. They somberly take in the wall of funeral portraits, and Sung-shik tasks the pair with their identification.
An evidence board at the station lists the victims, and with the addition of the younger Park Kwang-ho, the total is twenty-six. Tae-hee and Min-ha agree with Sung-shik’s earlier sentiment that they must get Mok to confess to all of his crimes.
Sun-jae notes that Mok’s first victim was documented after his mother died. Kwang-ho offers Jae-yi’s opinion that Mok both loved and detested him mother, so he is sure to react in some way if they explore that relationship. Sung-shik encourages them to question Mok again.
As the team watches, Kwang-ho and Sun-jae begin the second interrogation with a photo of Mok’s mother. Sun-jae details his resentment towards the customers that she brought home and the gossip that he heard from the neighbors when he lived with his grandmother—the Vietnam soldier’s encouragement to get rid of dirty people and Mok’s growing anger for his mother triggered him to kill when she died.
Sun-jae quotes Mok’s entry from his journal: “Mom’s dead. But I’m not sad at all. She only died because she’s dirty.” Sun-jae concludes that he targeted women who wore skirts because they reminded him of his mother. Rattled by Sun-jae’s words, Mok struggles to maintain his composure. He collects himself and offers a tiny smile to Kwang-ho, who jumps up and grabs him by the collar. When Kwang-ho demands to know how Mok can call himself human, Mok’s laugh shocks everyone.
At home, Jae-yi notices that the dates of the dot murders correspond with those of the journal entries. She finds an entry where Jin-woo reasoned that he hadn’t been caught because he was doing the right thing: “I committed murder with a mission. I’ve gotten rid of people who have sinned.”
Jae-yi shows the journal to the team and explains that at first, Mok was triggered to kill because of his mother, but then felt a duty to rid the world of society’s evils. She believes that Mok will talk if they can break that conviction.
A chilling scene welcomes Sun-jae and Kwang-ho as they find Mok stretched out on the floor of his cell, smoking an imaginary cigarette. Inside the interrogation room, Sun-jae asks, “Do you think you’re special?” He immediately has Mok’s attention, and in spite of Mok’s impressive accomplishments, Kwang-ho declares him no better than someone like Jung Ho-young. “You’re just one of those murderers who kills innocent people. You’re not special,” Kwang-ho says.
Mok laughs and repeats, “Innocent?” He lists the ways that his victims were flirtatious and admits to Kwang-ho that that was why he killed them. When he adds that women like that can’t be good mothers, Sun-jae interrupts to ask, “Why did you kill my mother?” Kwang-ho urges him not to ask, but Sun-jae yells, “Tell me, you bastard!”
Sun-jae can’t believe it when Mok answers that she smiled at another man on the bus, and in flashback, we witness the innocent exchange that caught his attention: A soldier on the bus asked Sun-jae’s mother about her errand, and she had smiled politely as she answered that she bought a necktie.
Sun-jae trembles before reaching across the table to hit Mok. When he falls onto the floor, Sun-jae pounces on him as he struggles with the truth, “You killed her because she smiled?! My dad lived so miserably. I lived so miserably.”
Broken, Sun-jae tries to choke Mok. Sung-shik sends Tae-hee and Min-ha in to intervene, but Kwang-ho manages to pull him away. As Sun-jae heaves in rage, Mok massages his neck and has the nerve to say, “That hurt.” He gets back into his chair and tells Sun-jae, “This is why I didn’t tell you. It was for your own good, Lieutenant Kim.”
Shaking, Sun-jae spits out that nothing that Mok’s victims wore or did justified their murders by trash like him. He walks out, and Mok calmly comments that he should be thanked, but then he comes unglued and shouts, “I only did what I had to do!” Mok admits that he feels regretful that he won’t be able to kill again because the world is filled with people who need punishment, but Kwang-ho makes it clear that Mok is the one who deserves punishment.
Outside, Jae-yi sits with Sun-jae, and he learns that she already knew about Mok’s absurd justification. Sun-jae confides that he thought that if he knew the reason behind his mother’s murder, he would feel better, but Jae-yi acknowledges that there never was a reason.
Jae-yi encourages Sun-jae to recognize that he’s been strong, and that he endured. When Min-ha declares the case over, Kwang-ho reminds the team that the victims’ families deserve to know that their loved ones were never forgotten, and that the killer was caught.
Alone in the interrogation room, Mok insists, “I’m different, I had reasons for killing those people.” As he smiles to himself, a breaking story reports that the serial killer confessed while also revealing that he was a forensic pathologist. Reporters at Hwayang Police Station witness the official apology from the police force’s superiors, but when the section chief later enters the station, the Special Investigations Unit isn’t there.
Kwang-ho and Sun-jae visit Lee Jung-sook’s (Victim #1’s) mother, who collapses in thanks when she learns that her daughter’s killer was caught. The brother of Kim Kyung-soon (Haein River, Victim #2) tells Tae-hee and Min-ha, “I wish you came a little sooner,” and they follow him to a grave where he tearfully shares the news with his mother.
Sung-shik is taken to the bedside of Hwang Choon-hee’s (Victim #3’s) mother, and as she lies still, he sees a tear fall from her closed eyes when she hears the news. The brother of Jin Sun-mi (Hwayang Tunnel, Victim #6) sits across from Kwang-ho and Sun-jae and smiles through his tears as he thanks them for not forgetting his sister.
Kwang-ho walks with Sun-jae to his father’s house and waits outside as his partner walks through the gate. Upon hearing the news, Sun-jae’s father recalls, “A long time ago, that detective promised me that he’d make sure to catch the culprit,” but he’s thankful that Sun-jae did so. Sun-jae tells his father, “That man kept his promise.”
When Sun-jae walks out to the street, Kwang-ho greets him with white mourning flowers. In the late afternoon sun, the men pay their respects, and Sun-jae lays Kwang-ho’s flowers on the shore of the lake where his mother’s ashes were scattered as he entreats her spirit, “Please rest in peace now.”
Jae-yi uses her final lecture of the semester to explain the importance of studying murderers to prevent more crimes, and cautions that murderers develop all the time. In a tribute to Kwang-ho’s influence, Jae-yi states, “In the end, the most important thing is saving people’s lives,” and she smiles to herself as she recalls when she heard those words.
Dean Hong and Jae-yi have coffee in her office, and Dean Hong notes that Jae-yi seems happier. Jae-yi mentions that she plans to pick up her things, and Dean Hong is happy to learn that she won’t be returning to England as planned.
At the university hospital, the Special Investigations Unit stands before a drawer that holds an unidentified male. Kwang-ho speaks first to thank the younger Park Kwang-ho, whose investigation led them to Dr. Mok. Sung-shik bids farewell to the maknae who was supposed to join his team, and the others follow suit.
Kwang-ho carries the young detective’s ashes in a box that bears his name to the house that he shared with his grandmother. Kwang-ho suggests that he rest next to his grandmother, and as the team leaves for the columbarium, Min-ha finds the young detective’s phone in the garden.
Min-ha recovers the phone’s files, which contain proof that Dr. Mok was injecting his elderly victims with insulin, which would have been undetectable in an autopsy. Sung-shik thinks that anyone named Kwang-ho must be a natural-born detective, which is what Kwang-ho has believed all along.
Kwang-ho takes Sun-jae aside to tell him about his plan to go back, but admits that he hasn’t told Jae-yi because he feels conflicted about leaving her alone. Kwang-ho lets Sun-jae know that he was happy to meet him again and jokes that he must be happy to see him go.
Sun-jae lies that he’s thrilled, but when Kwang-ho thanks him for growing up so well, Sun-jae has to turn around to hide his emotions. Even though he says he’s not crying, Kwang-ho calls him a crybaby just as Jae-yi walks in. Sun-jae jumps up and turns away, only to look completely fine when he faces Jae-yi. She was hoping to go home with Kwang-ho, but he explains that the team dinner is that night. Sun-jae offers her a ride home, but Kwang-ho insists that she take a taxi.
Realizing he’s without cash, Kwang-ho’s sorry that he didn’t get fifty dollars from Sung-shik, but after Sun-jae declares taxis dangerous, he and Jae-yi leave together. Kwang-ho yells after his daughter, but stops suddenly to grab the back of his head like he’s an overtaxed father in a drama. (Haha!) On the way home, Jae-yi admits that she drove her car, but Sun-jae says he already knew before admitting that he would like it if they became a habit.
The section chief gives the team money for their dinner and announces a paid three-day vacation as a reward, but Sung-shik complains that it should have been a week. As they look forward to the evening, Sung-shik recognizes that it will be their last team dinner together.
At dinner, the team learns that Kwang-ho plans to go back. A drunk Sung-shik protests before admitting that he’s happy because it was hard to be a maknae again at his age. After reminding Kwang-ho to have an extra fifty dollars on him at all times, he tries to insist that he’s happy, but he only starts to cry, and Kwang-ho has to look away.
Kwang-ho reminds everyone that he’s not about to die—he’s just going home. Min-ha wonders how it will change the present, but Kwang-ho reasons that he has to go back for them to find out. Kwang-ho tries to lift the heavy mood and asks Tae-hee to mix some soju and beer, since that mixture doesn’t exist in 1986.
Tae-hee wonders if their maknae will be the founder of the famed mixture, but Kwang-ho reminds him not to call him that. Sung-shik declares it a soju night, and the team raises their glasses together as the party continues.
Later, after Tae-hee and Min-ha have passed out, Kwang-ho announces his departure. Sun-jae watches grimly as Kwang-ho pats Sung-shik and credits them for their help in catching the killer before admitting, “I don’t know whether we’ll be able to meet again or not, but I know I won’t forget you.”
Sung-shik begs Kwang-ho not to go, and Sun-jae tells him that they’ll all be sad if he leaves like this, but Kwang-ho understands that the longer he stays, the harder it will be for him to leave. Resolved, Sun-jae offers him a ride, and Kwang-ho stands to look at his team members affectionately before walking out.
In the car, Sun-jae is quiet, and when Kwang-ho wonders if he has anything to say, he comments that farewells should be short. Kwang-ho looks at Sun-jae and remembers their time together, from their first meeting to the present. When Sun-jae asks why he’s staring, Kwang-ho admits, “I just wanted to remember your face.” After that comment, it’s Sun-jae’s turn to stare.
Sun-jae drops Kwang-ho off at home, and when he lingers, he’s warned against going into Jae-yi’s home. Sun-jae promises to return and drives away. Kwang-ho calls Jae-yi and asks her to come outside because he has something to tell her, but she invites him inside instead for the first meal she’s ever cooked.
Kwang-ho tastes the food, and Jae-yi beams when he declares it delicious. When she asks what he wanted to tell her, his face lets her know that they’re sharing their last meal together. She’s surprised that he plans to leave as soon as they’re done, but he explains that her mother’s waited too long. When Jae-yi asks if there’s any way that Kwang-ho can stay, he falls silent.
Kwang-ho reviews what he’s taught Jae-yi and can hardly believe his words when he tells her to call Sun-jae if something happens. Kwang-ho makes sure that she knows he doesn’t approve of them dating, and Jae-yi sweetly voices that she understands.
With that settled, Jae-yi asks for a photo of them together, and Kwang-ho smiles as she snaps it with her phone. Kwang-ho sends the photo to Sun-jae along with the text: “I’m going to protect Yeon-ho.” Sun-jae is in front of Jae-yi’s place when he gets the photo and message, and he chuckles when he reads it.
The mood is somber as the trio drives to the tunnel. Once there, they walk together to the opening, where Kwang-ho tells Jae-yi and Sun-jae that they can go. They don’t move, so Kwang-ho announces, “I’ll be going now,” as Jae-yi offers a smile of encouragement.
Sun-jae wonders if there’s any way for Kwang-ho to go back to before the murders started, but sadly realizes that it’s not possible. Jae-yi urges her father to go back to her mom, but as Kwang-ho starts to walk away, Jae-yi cries out, “Dad!” He turns around to look at his daughter one last time.
Sun-jae places his arm around a tearful Jae-yi, and Kwang-ho finally cries as he gazes at the two of them. When Kwang-ho asks Sun-jae to take care of his daughter, Sun-jae answers with a deep bow. Sun-jae and Jae-yi can’t hold back their tears as they watch Kwang-ho walk into the tunnel.
As he walks deeper into the tunnel, Kwang-ho tells himself that he did everything that he was supposed to and can go home to Yeon-sook. He begs, “Please help me get back,” and a pulse ripples through the tunnel as Kwang-ho runs to the other end.
It’s 1988 as Kwang-ho and Sung-shik chase the elusive cow thief. Kwang-ho vows to catch him, adding that he even travels through time to catch criminals! The thief gets away after he knocks down a woman because Kwang-ho runs to her side to see if she’s all right—but the woman is pregnant, and the fall causes her to go into labor. At a local clinic, the woman lies in bed and stares at her newborn while the doctor tells Kwang-ho that she got there just in time.
Kwang-ho shares that he has a five-month-old daughter of his own and starts to leave with Sung-shik when the mother asks Kwang-ho for his name. Since her husband’s name is Park, she calls her son Kwang-ho and tells him that he can become an amazing detective. And so, we meet Park Kwang-ho, 1988.
Kwang-ho realizes that he’s a mess as he walks home and smiles at the thought that Yeon-sook will nag him again. Kwang-ho walks up the stairs and overhears Yeon-sook ask, “Sun-jae, our Yeon-ho is pretty, isn’t she,” and he realizes that young Sun-jae is over for a visit.
Happy to come home, Kwang-ho walks through his gate to greet Yeon-sook, who has Yeon-ho in her arms. He gives Sun-jae a pat, and his smile is the only proof needed to know that he’s back where he belongs.
This episode should come with a warning, so be prepared for multiple tearjerking scenes. I can’t say enough about the writing and the acting, plus a soundtrack that underlined the poignancy of the heart-wrenching farewells, but goodness, it was tough to say goodbye to our hero. Choi Jin-hyuk breathed such life into Kwang-ho—what a great role for his comeback. And Yoon Hyun-min, what a revelation! I can’t imagine another actor in the role of Sun-jae, which is the best compliment that I can give him. Their characters were the foundation of the story, and they balanced each other out so well in scene after scene.
But as for the character, Park Kwang-ho proved that he had a place in the future where he once felt so lost. He reconnected with his former maknae, now chief, Sung-shik, and they proved that time had done nothing to weaken their bond. Kwang-ho took the loner Sun-jae and transformed him into a true partner as he helped him to close the most painful chapter of his life.
Kwang-ho also discovered that he was the father of the strange girl on the first floor, and he embraced his role with such dedication and joy that he melted Jae-yi’s heart and helped her blossom into the caring woman that she was meant to be. I’m going to miss those sweet father-daughter exchanges that they enjoyed and the private meals that they shared. It was a testament to Kwang-ho’s abiding love for Yeon-sook that he was able to turn his back on everyone who wanted him to stay, because the pull from the past is what kept him from becoming rooted in the present.
Kwang-ho’s promise to catch the killer was finally fulfilled, but it was strangely anticlimactic because the real impact came from the victims’ families—who, after thirty years, were deeply touched that their loved ones hadn’t been forgotten. Sun-jae, as both a detective and a family member of a victim, had a unique perspective and was able to fully appreciate Kwang-ho’s doggedness and how it led to the capture of Dr. Mok. Similarly, no one was better equipped than Sun-jae to know what it meant to bid those who were once lost to rest in peace, at long last.
If you take out the time travel and the crimes, Tunnel was a story about an ordinary man who found himself in an extraordinary situation. Our hero was a simple man — Kwang-ho was crystal clear about what was important: As a detective, it was about saving people’s lives, and as a man, is was about sharing his life with Yeon-sook and Yeon-ho. In either timeline, Kwang-ho was never about promotions, money, or accolades — he lived his life fifty dollars at a time in the fast-paced present. He had his flaws — he was awfully emotional in the interrogation room and oftentimes spoke with his fists (and let’s not forget his uncomfortable attitudes about women), but his strengths did much to compensate for his weaknesses. Kwang-ho was loyal (talk about a one-woman man), tenacious, caring in his own gruff way, empathetic, and a natural-born detective. He showed time and again how one person can make a difference in the lives of others. Of course, Tunnel is a work of fiction, but I’d like to think that there are people like Kwang-ho, making their corner of the world a better place.
What made his farewell so difficult was that Kwang-ho was going back in time, where those in the present could have no further contact with him. He joked that he wasn’t dying, but he might as well have been, since the disconnect would be so permanent. As he did his best to tie up loose ends, I was worried that he was going to disapprove of Sun-jae to the bitter end, but his entrusting Jae-yi to him at the tunnel (and Sun-jae’s subsequent bow) told us everything we needed to know.
I’ll admit that at first, I was disappointed in the ending. I was relieved that Kwang-ho made it back to the past, but deep down, I wanted a time jump to the present to be reassured that he and Yeon-sook were very much alive and part of Yeon-ho’s life (and that she never became Jae-yi because she wasn’t adopted). But after giving it some thought, I appreciate that Kwang-ho will be remembered as young and vibrant, full of love, purpose, and hope. With his wife and daughter by his side, Kwang-ho’s megawatt smile leaves us with the promise that he will treasure each and every day.
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