Circle: Episode 11
The tables have turned once again, and I’m loving it! Instead of being outmaneuvered by Human B’s nefarious villains, Woo-jin takes charge of his own destiny and begins his plot to trap them instead. Instead of being just book smart, we see that Woo-jin is resourceful and clever on his feet as well, and that he’s always ready to sacrifice himself for those he loves. Then again, I guess if my friends and family were on the line, I’d be willing to make some sacrifices too.
EPISODE 11 RECAP
Opening up the USB file containing his father’s research, Woo-jin thinks he’s found the way to save Bum-gyun’s life at last. And when a video of his father describing his research pops up, Woo-jin’s face breaks out in a relieved grin… until he realizes that this video isn’t an explanation of the research at all. In the video, his father explains that he destroyed all his research, effectively ending the Beta Project: “I decided that this technology isn’t something that humans should have.”
In a series of flashbacks, we see that Kim Kyu-chul had been confronted by a dilemma when he realized that Byul’s memory technology had the potential to ruin lives. Despite the fact that the technology could be used to help people with PTSD, Kim Kyu-chul had argued furiously against it when a younger version of Professor Han tried to persuade him to continue with the research, since Han believed that the removal of unpleasant memories would allow them, as imperfect as they were, to create a brave new world without crime or war.
But to that line of argument, Kim Kyu-chul had said, “But imperfect human beings will be in control of that technology. Someone will definitely try to take control of it! If that happens, people will be able to manipulate the memories of others, and will even be able to control them!”
Byul, who was watching their argument, went up to Kyu-chul after Professor Han was gone and asked for her memory to be erased. “I didn’t consider humanity’s greed,” she’d said. “It would be better to get rid of this technology than to allow it to be used for dark purposes.”
After the deed was done, Professor Han had demanded to know where Byul was, desperate to obtain that technology. Even after Kyu-chul told him that Byul’s memories were gone, Han refused to believe it, and had attempted to persuade Kyu-chul by pointing toward a group of threatening men down the hallway, headed by a younger Detective Choi. “If things go wrong, you and I could both end up dying,” Professor Han added.
However, in the video that Woo-jin watches, his father says the data was destroyed because he made an ethical decision to stop the research. Woo-jin reels back in shock as he finally registers that there’s no research data for him to use, and thus, there’s no way for him to save Bum-gyun.
It puts Woo-jin in a daze as he realizes that the information he needs to save his brother will only be obtained if he agrees to do as Professor Han threatened him to. But he snaps out of it quickly when Min-young calls in a frantic voice to tell him that Bum-gyun’s in trouble, and that they’re on the way to the hospital.
Woo-jin arrives to the hospital in time to see the doctors use a defibrillator on his flatlined brother, who’s gone into cardiac arrest. The doctors try shock after shock, until finally, Bum-gyun’s pulse returns. Woo-jin all but collapses in relief, finally able to breathe again.
When Min-young’s father explains Bum-gyun’s state to the group (consisting of Chief Hong, Min-young, Woo-jin, and Jung-yeon), he lets them know that Bum-gyun will only worsen and has a high chance of dying if the blue bug inside his brain isn’t removed.
And because the bug has burrowed into the brain so deep, Min-young’s father says that the only people with the proper expertise to remove it would be its creators, or the people who inserted it in the first place.
Hearing this, Jung-yeon tries to secretly text her father, saying that she’ll agree to his terms and try her best to recover her memory as Byul if he makes sure that Bum-gyun receives his life-saving surgery. However, Woo-jin catches her, and remembering that his father said that Byul made the choice to erase her memories, he stops her from sending Professor Han the text.
He also reassures her by showing her the crucifix USB, lying that it’s his father’s research data, which he plans on using to bargain with Professor Han. It’s enough to fool Jung-yeon, even as Woo-jin thinks of his father saying that the research no longer exists.
But being the clever kid he is, Woo-jin begins a plan to fool Professor Han in order to get him to perform Bum-gyun’s surgery. At 3:00 p.m. on June 26th, he goes to a karaoke room and puts his mic up to the speaker, enduring the agony of listening to the screeching sound caused by the sound waves’ interference.
Moments later, we see him asking Young Dong-soo for a request (though we don’t hear what it is), and Woo-jin eventually acquiesces to a deal that the rascal makes to get out of four tutoring sessions.
Meanwhile, Professor Park tells Sunbae Lee that they must both be extremely cautious and secretive from now on. He opens up an email on his computer from Woo-jin that had the beginning clip of Kyu-chul’s introductory message where he said: “This is the last log of the Beta Project…”
But the video cuts off before getting to the part where Kyu-chul talked about destroying the data, leading Professor Park to believe that there’s more.
Professor Park immediately calls Woo-jin to ask where the rest of the video is, and Woo-jin, who still thinks Professor Park is on his side, tells him to relay the message to Professor Han that he wants to exchange his father’s data for Bum-gyun’s surgery.
But it turns out that Woo-jin is back at his old house setting up his father’s office for the confrontation he knows is coming, which includes setting up his memory file from the noraebang to play. He finds the hidden camera that Professor Park installed in front of his father’s computer, but he thinks that it’s Professor Han’s dirty work and leaves it there, since it’ll only help his plan.
Pretending to be the good guy, Professor Park tells Woo-jin over the phone that “Professor Han” will probably want some sort of evidence or collateral for Bum-gyun’s surgery, and Woo-jin says that he’ll be a hostage. Professor Park agrees that this would probably work and tells Woo-jin that this will all be over once he hands over the data.
Sunbae Lee asks Professor Park if it really will be over once they get the data, but Professor Park replies that it’ll only be the beginning, since he plans on both using Woo-jin and Jung-yeon to restart the Beta Project.
After calling in some help to create an effective trap, Professor Park calls Woo-jin on his burner phone. Acting as though he’s being threatened by Professor Han and Human B, he tells Woo-jin that the other side has agreed to his request and that they want him to come to a meeting to discuss terms and hand over the data.
Woo-jin knows that he’ll be walking into a trap, so he begins saying his last goodbyes to everyone. They’re worried that he’s going into a dangerous situation alone; Chief Hong suggests that he help out, but Woo-jin says that he and Min-young should concentrate on getting Bum-gyun to a safe location as soon as his surgery is finished.
To deflect suspicion, Woo-jin puts an optimistic spin on everything, saying that it’ll be a simple handoff of the data. Plus, he adds that Professor Park will be there, and once the data changes hands, he’ll be free to go.
However, Woo-jin does have some doubts, and it shows when he watches Bum-gyun sleep in his hospital room. Bum-gyun wakes up with a smile, and after joking a bit back and forth with him, Woo-jin suddenly leans in to tell Bum-gyun something that we don’t get to hear.
When we see Woo-jin next, he’s handing Jung-yeon a pouch of things for his grandma, including next month’s hospice fee. He asks Jung-yeon to visit and take care of his grandma since he’s been too busy to do so recently.
It’s almost like he knows he may not survive the encounter and is preparing for that eventuality, because when Jung-yeon asks to go with him again, he just asks her to take care of everything while he’s gone. He stands up to leave, and she watches his retreating back until he turns back and returns to her.
Without preamble, Woo-jin pulls her into a gentle hug, which she reciprocates. He tells her that he’ll be back soon, and she replies that she’ll be waiting.
Woo-jin arrives on scene at an abandoned building, where a group of gangsters (including Detective Choi) stand around with Professor Park looking helpless among them. Woo-jin takes out a jar full of clear liquid and produces the cross USB, which Professor Park recognizes from his days spent researching at Kyu-chul’s house.
Woo-jin says that he’ll hand it over once he knows that his brother’s surgery has finished successfully. However, Detective Choi tries to pry it from him beforehand, resulting in a brief struggle. Prepared, Woo-jin drops the cross into the jar of what must be some sort of acid, since the USB immediately begins disintegrating.
Detective Choi grabs Woo-jin by the throat and begins to choke him, and Professor Park, seeing his dreams fizzling in a jar, puts a stop to it. When Woo-jin sees Detective Choi taking orders from Professor Park, he finally realizes who was behind this setup in the first place.
Although he’s shocked that he’s been betrayed, Woo-jin quickly adapts to the situation and tells Professor Park that he’s their only hope of getting his father’s research data now that the USB has been destroyed. He adds that they can find out what they want to know by playing back his memories on his father’s computer — however, if they harm him or if he refuses, it’s all over.
With that, Professor Park has no choice but to agree to Woo-jin’s request to save his brother. He makes the call.
The surgery finishes successfully, and the writhing electronic bug is taken out of Bum-gyun’s brain. Chief Hong calls Woo-jin immediately afterward, and tells him to come home safely. Now that his end of the deal has been carried out, Professor Park gets his goons to carry Woo-jin back to Kyu-chul’s old house in order to activate the system.
Once they’re in Kyu-chul’s old office, Professor Park and his goons impatiently lean into the computer while Woo-jin bides his time and surreptitiously maxes the volume out on the speaker he set up earlier.
Woo-jin then activates his own memory of the horrendous noise he endured at the karaoke place, which plays loud enough to burst eardrums in the office. Woo-jin’s the only one unaffected, since he brought a pair of earplugs.
So while everyone else is incapacitated by the screeching noise, he quickly snatches the star and makes his escape. We learn that he’d asked Dong-soo to cut the power to the house once he heard the sound, and to get out of dodge afterward.
With Dong-soo at the helm outside, the lights go out as soon as the screeching sound is heard, which gives Woo-jin a valuable chance to escape.
Jung-yeon waits at an empty bus stop while on her way to see Woo-jin’s grandma when she receives a video message from none other than Woo-jin himself. In it, he reveals that he found out that it was Byul’s wish to have her memories erased because of humanity’s greed and the technology’s potential for destruction.
He tells her that because she only has the memories of Han Jung-yeon, she’s only Han Jung-yeon to him, and he tells her to live as Han Jung-yeon instead of trying too hard to reclaim her memories as Byul.
“To me, you’re no longer Byul, but Han Jung-yeon,” he adds. “I will return to Han Jung-yeon. So run away as soon as you see this. Anywhere is fine. But if, by some chance, something happens to me, you still have to run away. Protect yourself until the very end.”
Having given chase after the stunt Woo-jin pulled, Detective Choi pursues Woo-jin into a forest, where he loses him. Woo-jin watches from his nearby hiding spot as Detective Choi taunts that this is all very similar to the way his father died Detective Choi just calls for Woo-jin, saying that this is very similar to the way his father died.
And in flashback, we see that Kim Kyu-chul had been shot and killed by none other than Detective Choi.
Shocked and enraged by this revelation, Woo-jin takes a rock and smashes it over Detective Choi’s head from behind, but the ex-cop makes a quick recovery and ends up pointing a gun to Woo-jin’s head. He’s clearly mentally unstable as he yells “Die! Die! Die!” just as he prepares to shoot Woo-jin.
But Professor Park arrives with reinforcements and manages to grab the gun, since he’d specifically said that Woo-jin had to remain alive. The other Human B gangsters force Woo-jin onto his knees, and Professor Park finally asks him whether the data even exists.
Woo-jin replies that it doesn’t, but Professor Park says that’s not a big loss, because they can probably recover it as long as they can track down Byul. Shouting for them not to touch Jung-yeon, Woo-jin protests vigorously against the restraining hands.
Professor Park kneels down to explain to him that they’re on the verge of a scientific breakthrough, but Woo-jin just tells him that he’s trash. Woo-jin knows that Professor Park’s actual motive isn’t something as lofty as scientific progress, but greed for the technology contained in the star Woo-jin holds. Professor Park doesn’t disagree — in fact, he asks if being greedy is so wrong.
Thinking fast, Woo-jin throws a handful of dirt into one of his captor’s eyes and makes another break for it. He’s almost successful in his mission to lose his pursuers in the forest, but in his blind rush, he ends up on a road.
Everything seems to happen instantly — no sooner do Woo-jin’s feet hit the asphalt do we hear and see the car speeding toward him. A shocked sort of realization hits Woo-jin just moments before the car makes a sickening impact, sending Woo-jin flying into the air before he falls to the ground in a broken heap. (Noooo!!!)
The driver of the car is none other than Sunbae Lee, whose shocked face tells us that this was all a terrible accident.
As blood begins to pool and spread from Woo-jin’s head, his eyes focus on the alien cube that was hidden inside the star, which was shattered in the impact. As Professor Park and his cronies look on helplessly, Woo-jin tries desperately to reach for the cube, but his body won’t do what he wants it to.
Woo-jin manages to say Jung-yeon’s name, and we cut to her watching the rest of his video at the bus stop. As we see Woo-jin try and fail to reach the cube, we cut back to him (in video form) telling Jung-yeon to open her bag. Inside, she cries to find the pendant we’ve never seen her without in 2037 as Woo-jin’s narration continues: “Wait for me. Wherever you are… I’ll find you.”
Back on the road, Woo-jin doesn’t give up his struggle even as bright, happy memories of Bum-gyun play through his mind. He reaches for the cube as his strength fades, and ever so slowly, we see the spark fade from his eyes as his body goes limp. The cube lights up once, then goes dark.
Woo-jin wakes with a start in a hospital bed with an IV line attached. Remembering the accident, he searches his body for injuries, only to find none. But when he tries to leave the room, he realizes that the door is locked, and no amount of yelling gets it to open.
With tears running down his face, Woo-jin remembers his promise to return to Jung-yeon and the moment when he’d confided something to Bum-gyun in the hospital room. He throws everything he can at the door, but the sudden sound of an alarm seems to unlock the door.
Taking the opportunity, Woo-jin escapes at a dead run from the hospital room and bolts into the exit stairwell as he all but flies down the steps… only to suddenly stop dead.
Peering around the bend, Woo-jin sees…
…Joon-hyuk and Jung-yeon? (What?!)
We finally know what Jung-yeon and Joon-hyuk saw that shocked them so much in the past episode, as both of them look up to see Woo-jin looking just like he did when they last saw him. While Joon-hyuk calls out to his brother disbelievingly, a confused Woo-jin backs away from the strange man uneasily.
But Woo-jin does recognize Jung-yeon, though she’s too stunned to answer any of his questions. Joon-hyuk desperately grabs onto Woo-jin’s arm as he asks if he’s really Woo-jin. “I’m… Bum-gyun. Kim Bum-gyun,” Joon-hyuk says through his tears. Woo-jin: “Hyung?”
Seeing Woo-jin’s empty hospital bedroom, Minister Park orders Deputy Chief Lee to find “Circle 8.”
Part 2: Brave New World
We rewind back to two and a half years after Woo-jin’s car accident, and Jung-yeon has disappeared without a trace. Professor Park has been keeping Woo-jin alive on an artificial ventilator with the star cube at his bedside, but he’s told that Woo-jin’s organs are deteriorating past the point of saving.
So, Minister Park convinces a foreign researcher to perform human clinical trials on cloning by enticing the man with a future of unrestricted funding, resources, and fame. In 2022, their clinical trials succeed, and because Professor Park no longer has a need for the original Woo-jin, he tells the doctors to put him out of his misery.
Back in 2037, a tearful Joon-hyuk can’t understand how Woo-jin looks the same, even though twenty years have passed. Woo-jin can’t believe that it’s been so long, because to him, it seems like only yesterday that his entire encounter with Professor Park and Detective Choi happened. “Are you really my hyung?” Woo-jin asks with wide eyes as he takes Joon-hyuk in.
However, since they’re still being chased inside the Human B building, they make their escape first. When they get to a place to rest, Woo-jin reveals what he learned on his last day: that it was Professor Park who was the ultimate mastermind, and not Professor Han.
While Woo-jin wonders how he can still look the same even though twenty years have passed, Joon-hyuk thinks back to what both the insane Professor Han and what Professor Park told him at their standoff—that Woo-jin was alive. In addition, his own memory (not the ones he received from Woo-jin) start to resurface, but they’re still on the run.
With Joon-hyuk in the lead, they take down several Human B goons as they make their escape, stealing weapons from them as they go. Upon seeing Deputy Chief Lee around the corner, Joon-hyuk captures him at gunpoint and makes him explain Woo-jin’s presence at Human B.
Deputy Chief Lee smugly tells him that the Woo-jin in front of them is “Circle 8-III,” and confirms Jung-yeon’s suspicions that Woo-jin is a clone. Lee explains that the real Woo-jin died fifteen years ago, adding that they needed to reinsert the original Woo-jin’s memory into his clones in order for the cube technology to work. That’s why Circle 8-III looks exactly the same.
As both Joon-hyuk and Woo-jin try to come to grips with what they’ve just heard — Joon-hyuk taking in the fact that the brother he knew died, and Woo-jin the fact that despite having memories of the accident, he’s a clone — Deputy Chief Lee secretly presses the panic button on his phone.
“You’re not Kim Woo-jin,” Lee says, pointing at the clone. “You’re just the key that we need for the supercomputer. You’re a component.”
With that, Human B cronies are able to find them and corner them into the stairwell. Just when it starts to look hopeless for Joon-hyuk and Co., Chief Hong and cavalry come to the rescue just in time, though not without Hong taking a startled look at Woo-jin.
Once they’re in the stairwell, Dong-soo can’t get over his shock to see Woo-jin, his old tutor, looking the same as he did twenty years ago. They all manage to leave the situation without any casualties, and regroup at their safe haven: the church.
Once all explanations have been made, it splits the group into two camps: Detective Oh and Joon-hyuk insist that Woo-jin is dead and that this clone is a substitute, but Jung-yeon and Dong-soo say that the person in front of them is Woo-jin. Dong-soo believes this especially, since Woo-jin remembers him, even though Detective Oh fires back, “You’ve never met him before!”
Joon-hyuk speaks up to agree with Detective Oh, asking repeatedly, “Why is he Woo-jin? Woo-jin is dead. If he has the same face, is he Woo-jin? My little brother and your tutor is dead.” While looking Woo-jin dead in the eye, Joon-hyuk adds, “This isn’t Woo-jin.” Ouch.
Thinking about Woo-jin’s goodbye video, Jung-yeon finally speaks up: “This is what Woo-jin said: Because I have Han Jung-yeon’s memories, I am Han Jung-yeon. I lived as Han Jung-yeon all this time because of what he told me. So, he’s Woo-jin too. Because he has Woo-jin’s memories, he is Woo-jin.”
“No, Woo-jin is dead,” Joon-hyuk fires back. At first, he seems almost revolted by the thought that the Woo-jin in front of him isn’t the same brother that he once loved, and tears fill his eyes as he asks what would become of his dead brother if they were to accept that the person in front of them is Woo-jin.
Walking straight up to Woo-jin, Joon-hyuk looks him in the eyes as he says, “You’re not Kim Woo-jin.” With that, Joon-hyuk leaves.
At Human B Headquarters, Minister/CEO Park holds a meeting of his top department researchers, who speculate about what will happen now that they no longer have Circle 8-III to activate the Care Chip technology. They predict mass chaos due to the blocked memories of all Smart Earth citizens returning.
Minister Park declares that they can just make another clone, but since that would leave Smart Earth without the Care Chip technology for another year, their only remaining option is to capture Bluebird, Circle 8-III, and Joon-hyuk at any cost.
The city government, acting on Human B’s orders, places a terrorist watch on all three. Ho-soo tries to protest, saying that the real criminals are Minister Park and Human B. However, unbeknownst to him, his superior is one of Human B’s goons, so his protests fall on deaf ears.
Having heard all the arguments going on in the church, Woo-jin understands both sides, and goes outside to process the information. Jung-yeon finds him on a bench, and when he asks if Bum-gyun woke up from his surgery successfully, she explains that he took ten years to wake up.
She tells him that Joon-hyuk’s memories of the past are entirely based on the memories Woo-jin left him just in case he never recovered from his amnesia, and so she adds that Joon-hyuk has been searching for his twin all these years just based on those precious few memories. Aww.
After they realize they’ve been put on a terrorist watchlist, everyone furiously argues about the implications of keeping Woo-jin with them. Detective Oh thinks that if they’re with Woo-jin (who is not really Woo-jin in his mind), they’ll be in more danger.
While this may be true because they know that Human B won’t stop until Woo-jin is back under their control, Jung-yeon tries to get them all to see reason: If they let Woo-jin go back to Human B, he’ll live a life as a prisoner and a tool for their use.
Woo-jin, having overheard their conversation, slowly walks outside, despondent but ready to sacrifice himself again for the good of the group. This time it’s Joon-hyuk who follows him outside and asks where he’s going. More flashes of a memory begin to form in Joon-hyuk’s mind, and he begins to remember bits and pieces of something that wasn’t in Woo-jin’s memory files.
Remembering flashes of the last conversation they had before his surgery, Joon-hyuk asks the clone what Woo-jin said to him on that last day. But Woo-jin calls him “Detective Kim” and insists that the memories Joon-hyuk wants him to recount aren’t his memories, since he’s just a clone.
But Joon-hyuk wants him to answer regardless, so Woo-jin repeats what he said that day in the hospital: “I’m… scared.”
The memory replays in Joon-hyuk’s mind as he remembers the rest of their final exchange. Before Woo-jin had left him for the last time, he made Bum-gyun promise not to forget him. After promising, both brothers had smiled at one another.
In the present, tears stream down both their faces as Woo-jin and Joon-hyuk take each other in. Using the same words he used twenty years ago, Woo-jin says, “Hyung, I’m scared. I’ll… be back.”
This seems to break a dam inside Joon-hyuk, and he lets out all his frustration and sadness in a barrage of questions, asking him concernedly if he knew what he was doing when he left to see Professor Park. “I’m sorry,” Joon-hyuk finally says. “I shouldn’t have let you go alone. I’m sorry, Woo-jin-ah.”
Embracing Woo-jin not as a clone, but as his true brother, Joon-hyuk cries as he apologizes over and over again. Woo-jin resists at first, clearly conflicted, but once he allows himself to say the word “Hyung,” he gives into the embrace as he hugs his brother back.
Oh the feels! In the first couple episodes, I had been emotionally invested in Woo-jin’s story because my heart felt raw from his backstory—how he grew up with a dementia-ridden grandmother and a brother who was so singlemindedly intent on finding the alien who kidnapped their father. The interactions he had with Bum-gyun later, when he desperately pleaded for his brother to stop his crazy-seeming quest, were heartbreaking. However, the previous couple weeks, I hadn’t been feeling the same amount of deep emotional connection, although I had enjoyed the cerebral ride as Circle took us through the mystery of finding Human B’s CEO and Future Woo-jin.
But in watching this reunion between the brothers, the dam holding back my tears broke. I could understand why Joon-hyuk wouldn’t accept Circle 8-III as his brother, because despite him having the same memories and the same DNA, they were inherently different existences. It brings up many interesting questions about cloning and the concept of souls and the afterlife.
For example, does it even matter that Circle 8-III is not the original Woo-jin because he is essentially the same person to the people who know him? Or is he a different person because he hasn’t had the physical interactions with his environment as the original Woo-jin had, despite having the memory of those experiences? In this world, is cloning a pathway to immortality because you could infinitely clone yourself and transplant memories? If so, why hasn’t Deputy Chief Lee or Minister Park taken advantage of it?
When he quietly decided to leave the group, I thought that Woo-jin also understood Joon-hyuk’s point of view regarding him not being the real Woo-jin. And true to his character, he was still willing to sacrifice himself again for the good of the group. Throughout the entire drama, Woo-jin has displayed a tendency to sacrifice himself for his loved ones, and in this episode, he put himself in danger to save Bum-gyun and Jung-yeon.
But all along, he’s been the one who kept his family together by running ragged to stay at the top of his class and earn money, and he didn’t give up on his brother or his grandma despite how much pain they caused him. I don’t necessarily like the idea of noble sacrifice as a trope, but unlike circumstances in which it is unwarranted, in this scenario, the stakes were real and the danger that he posed was an imminent threat to everyone’s survival. Thus, I found the moment to be poignant and in-line with what the show has been telling us about Woo-jin’s personality.
While I enjoyed Jung Suk-won’s cameo appearance the last episode as the shadowy man behind Human B, now I’m super confused. The way he was presented, I thought that he would have a much greater role in the future episodes and provide a looming sense of doom, but he wasn’t even present in this episode. I don’t know if his introduction at this stage of the game was all that necessary. Sure, it gave Professor Park access to his goons, and gave the writers a way to explain his access to unlimited funding for memory research. However, I don’t know if this minor subplot adds any more depth to the story, even if it did get the job done.
Overall though, Circle has been thoroughly entertaining, thrilling, and heartbreaking. I would have liked for there to have been more episodes to explore this dystopian futuristic world, because I think one of the things that could have been explored through the strict divide between Smart Earth and Ordinary Earth was the clear socioeconomic divide, and what its implications were for prejudice and discrimination.
However, I love sci-fi, and so I also enjoyed the route that Circle went, focusing on how technological progress is imminently tied with human greed and how it will inevitably be used for either good or bad depending on human motivations. But if nothing else, I’ll always remember Circle for being innovative in using the concept of memory transplantation and splicing as an avenue to explore the meaning of self and identity.
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