Circle: Episode 7
Just when I thought that I knew what was happening, Circle does a 180 degree reverse on me and starts making me think the complete opposite. The show is definitely turning out to be a mind-bender, but I love that about it because it lets us explore the other side, rather than sticking to a confined mindset. In this episode in particular, Woo-jin and Joon-hyuk are both forced to speculate the motivations of their missing family in their respective timelines, and it leads to their own growth as they realize that perhaps what they accepted as givens may not have been true.
EPISODE 7 RECAP
Byul focuses intently on something on the computer screen, while scribbling furiously away on the electronic notepad. The little twin brothers Bum-gyun and Woo-jin play a morse code game from separate rooms, decoding each other’s words.
But soon Bum-gyun stands up in victory, having received no response challenge from the communicator. On his way to find his brother, who is always with Byul nowadays, he sees his grandmother hanging up laundry and proceeds walking through a dark basement passageway and a sophisticated security system to his father’s office, which he unlocks with his fingerprint.
He gloats gleefully that he beat Woo-jin, who insists that he stopped playing because it wasn’t fun anymore. But then, Bum-gyun sees Byul at their father’s computer, and sighs because she’s writing nonsense again, and he’s worried that she might mess up their father’s stuff.
Byul and the children quit the room when their dad, Kim Kyu-chul, comes back to do some work. However, when he sees what Byul has been working on, his eyes grow wide with amazement. He takes a cross-shaped USB stick and promptly saves the material.
Part 1: Beta Project
Seeing Professor Han’s old photograph, Woo-jin is stunned to realize that his father is the man standing in the corner. Looking at his crestfallen expression, Jung-yeon cautiously asks him whether he remembers anything about his father. He defensively fires back whether she recalls any of her own past.
Meanwhile, the old Eunsung Hospital psych patient tells Chief Hong that it was Kim Kyu-chul who was the head of the illegal research program performed there. The detective immediately goes to confront Woo-jin and Jung-yeon about it, and demands to know what they’re trying to do, because it can’t be coincidence that they’re both children of the main researchers from Eunsung Hospital. He says that Eunsung ran unethical human experiments ten years ago, and the lead researcher was Woo-jin’s father.
Woo-jin reels in shock and frustration at these new revelations, saying that he’s the one who is most curious to know what all of this means. He insists that his father was an ordinary salaryman, not some disgraced scientist from MIT, as Chief Hong claims.
Meanwhile, in the dark basement where Bum-gyun is being held captive, he shucks off his cast and stumbles around to get his bearings. Suffering from an intense headache and a flowing nosebleed, he limps around blindly until he eventually gets the lights to turn on.
Then one by one, things start to look familiar. He stops at the grandfather clock and we see little Bum-gyun walk past it in his memory. He vaguely begins to recognize his surroundings as his childhood home, and he turns toward the door that once led to his father’s office. He tries his fingerprint, and it still works to unlock the door.
He enters the office to find a room full of furniture all covered with sheets. As he pulls the sheets away, his memories of the space come flooding back. He pauses in front of a wall and then pulls down one last sheet, revealing a family portrait of Dad and the twins. Bum-gyun gets emotional at the sight of Dad and Woo-jin, but then the fear and panic set in, as he wonders why he’s been brought here.
Sunbae Lee sneaks around to the basement where Bum-gyun is trapped, and he doesn’t notice that Professor Park has followed him there. Moreover, Professor Park recognizes the house as Kyu-chul sunbae’s, and wonders what is going on.
Sunbae Lee is confused when Bum-gyun is nowhere to be found, when suddenly Bum-gyun surprises him with a sneak attack from behind. Bum-gyun punches him over and over and pins him up against the wall in a stranglehold, screaming, “Die! Die!” in a blind rage. But then another headache comes on, and Sunbae Lee sees his opening to slam Bum-gyun against the wall so hard that he’s knocked unconscious.
The sunbae scrambles away, badly shaken up by the fight, and locks the basement door behind him. He reports to Professor Han that the CCTV has been installed, and then he asks nervously if this is really okay. Professor Han tells him to endure just a little longer, because they’re almost there. From the bushes, Professor Park listens in on Sunbae Lee’s side of the call and gathers that Professor Han is behind this.
Back at the lab, Professor Han recollects a conversation with Bum-gyun, when he was still being held captive at the hospital. Professor Han begged him desperately to find out where his father hid their experiment data, but it was clear that Bum-gyun didn’t know, because he just railed back at him, demanding to know where his father was.
As he’s reflecting, Professor Park comes into the lab to confront him about what he found out after following Sunbae Lee to Kim Kyu-chul’s old house. Professor Park can’t believe that Professor Han has been carrying out more research on students to continue the work of their banned experiment. He raises his concerns, saying that his invention—the blue bot—has not been safety-approved for human experimentation.
Yet, Professor Han just accuses Professor Park of having an inkling all along and by the virtue of not stopping him, he’s become a complicit party, an automatic co-conspirator. Professor Han threatens Professor Park into staying silent on the subject by saying that they’re already on the same boat; if one goes down, then so will the other.
Jung-yeon hesitates at the door to her own home, not wanting to go in and face the lies that her supposed “father” has been feeding her all this time. She heads back out instead.
Woo-jin frantically digs through his things again to see if there’s anything he’s missed. Concluding that there isn’t, he makes up his mind to follow the only lead he has, and he takes off from his apartment before dawn. But on his way out, he notices Jung-yeon hunched over at the base of the steps in his hallway.
Despite his frantic need to find out what’s happening, he takes a slow moment to gently wake her. She doesn’t respond at first, so he leans in, which is when she pops her head up, putting their faces inches apart.
It stuns them both, and after a beat, he stands up awkwardly. He chides her for not calling, but she just asks where he’s going so early. He says that his grandmother might be the only one who knows what happened to his father, so he’s heading to the nursing home.
Before they enter the facility, Woo-jin tells Jung-yeon that his grandmother doesn’t recognize him anymore because she has a form of dementia, and she doesn’t remember anything after her son’s disappearance. When they visit his grandmother together, Grandma backs up in alarm when she sees Woo-jin, not believing that he is her grandson, who should be 11 years old.
However, she immediately recognizes Jung-yeon as Byul, the girl who lives with her son’s family, and greets her warmly. Jung-yeon takes that as her cue to ask about Woo-jin’s father and his belongings, but Grandma doesn’t know anything. She just tells them to ask her son when he gets home, and Woo-jin quietly wipes his tears and gets up to go.
As they depart, Jung-yeon admits that the more they uncover, the more afraid she becomes of unlocking her memories. She doesn’t know what to do next, so Woo-jin says that with his father missing, all they have is her father to go on. He plans to get into Professor Han’s computer somehow.
Jung-yeon tells Woo-jin that she has one more secret he doesn’t know, and at first he’s alarmed, but then she announces proudly that she’s a hacker. She says that she even entered a hacker competition and “won… something close to first place.” He pointedly says that means she didn’t win, but she argues that the important part is that she’s already used her “skills” to obtain access to her father’s computer.
From the nursing home facility window, Woo-jin’s grandmother watches them leave with an inscrutable expression on her face. Then we see that the wooden cross containing Dad’s USB stick is hanging from her neck.
Jung-yeon distracts her father by suggesting lunch, and when he seems hesitant to go, she implies that her memory is returning and it works like a charm. Once they’re gone, Woo-jin sneaks into the lab and discovers that the “hacking skill” Jung-yeon boasted about is just a rudimentary hidden camera.
He replays the video of Professor Han typing in his password and proceeds to unlock the laptop. He’s horrified when he finds videos of his brother lying on a table and convulsing violently in pain. Through tears he can’t stop from falling, Woo-jin quickly remembers his purpose and takes out an external hard drive to copy all the data.
Meanwhile, Min-young who had been at the police station earlier to ask about their progress into Bum-gyun’s case, sits down with Chief Hong and tells him that the blood bank workers were all wearing masks, but the driver had something in his mouth, maybe a cigarette or something like it.
Woo-jin calls the police station to let them know that he’s found hard evidence against the culprit, and his call is intercepted by another detective, one of Chief Hong’s subordinates… the guy who’s always sucking on a lollipop.
The cop, after hearing that Woo-jin has procured evidence, immediately rushes to Handam University to pick him up. Woo-jin jumps into the policeman’s car without a second thought, but when they start going away from the city, the cop starts becoming evasive, and Woo-jin gets uneasy vibes. So he grabs the steering wheel in an attempt to force a stop, sending the car swerving back and forth in the road. The cop slams on the brakes and whips out a gun, pointing it directly at Woo-jin’s skull.
The entire way to Eunsung Hospital, the cop keeps the gun aimed at Woo-jin for him to comply, and on the other side of the final door he’s forced to go through, Professor Han is there waiting. The cop hands over Woo-jin’s external hard drive where he stored all of the evidence, and Professor Han goes on a violent rampage to physically destroy the data.
Emotions are on high for both Woo-jin and Professor Han, as the professor explains that his research is the next great step in human advancement. He clearly believes that Woo-jin’s father stole research that was rightfully his when he disappeared with Byul’s extrapolations, which provided the key bridge in their research to control the basis of human memory.
Woo-jin screams that that’s not science, but crime. But Professor Han argues that Woo-jin is a scientist too, and he gets this manic glint in his eyes as he describes how they will be able to rid people of their unpleasant memories, save them from unhappiness, and maybe even rid the world of crime completely.
Grasping Woo-jin’s shoulders, Professor Han implores him to help him find his father so that he can recover his lost research, becoming increasingly unhinged and desperate. He adds that with these advancements, Bum-gyun could live happily without his traumatic memories. Woo-jin stares back at him, shaken.
Part 2: Brave New World
Minister Park is taken aback when he realizes that Jung-yeon is Bluebird, and Joon-hyuk can’t believe it when she tells them that Woo-jin could possibly be the CEO of Human B. The evidence she does have is flimsy though, only based on the fact that the last photo she could find of Woo-jin was taken in the office of Human B’s CEO.
Minister Park opens Joon-hyuk up to the possibility that the CEO could be Woo-jin because he was the only one with access to Professor Han’s research before he disappeared. Joon-hyuk refuses to believe it, claiming that his own memories are the proof: He admits that his memories haven’t returned, and what he “remembers” is what he’s cobbled together from watching the footage of Woo-jin’s memories.
Minister Park asks if he also remembers Woo-jin saying that oblivion was the only sure treatment for PTSD, and says that they must consider all possibilities even if they don’t want to believe it.
Jung-yeon passes through Smart Earth’s security system to Ordinary Earth using a decoy chip, and soon Joon-hyuk tracks her down and pulls her aside into an alleyway to question her about Woo-jin.
He demands to know how of all people Jung-yeon could think that Woo-jin would become this evil mastermind who takes people’s memories without permission. Jung-yeon tells him truthfully that Woo-jin could come to think that way because of his brother.
She says that when they finally found Bum-gyun, he had lost his memories, and Woo-jin had a hard time accepting it. Joon-hyuk says it must’ve been hard for Woo-jin not to be recognized by his own brother, but Jung-yeon clarifies that Bum-gyun looked happy. Bum-gyun had smiled with an innocence unshadowed by memories of their father’s abandonment, and she says that smile prompted Woo-jin to think that perhaps he was better off not having painful memories. She suspects that this experience could have become the beginning of Human B’s creation, and hearing this, Joon-hyuk breaks down in tears.
He looks sad and lost as he asks, “It’s… all because of me?” He sounds so fragile as he dares to wonder if he spent ten years in search of Woo-jin, while Woo-jin didn’t want to be found. Jung-yeon pulls off a pendant that Woo-jin gave her at their last meeting before he rushed off to see Professor Han, and asks Joon-hyuk how he thinks she feels. Woo-jin promised he would come back for her, but she never saw him again, and now all she knows is that he might be the CEO of Human B. “I thought he couldn’t come back! But what if he didn’t want to come back?” she asks, tears streaming down her face.
In a holographic meeting, Minister Park tells Mayor Yoon that he wants to publicly announce Human B’s misdeeds now that they’ve gone too far, trying to forcibly implant a Care Chip into a non-consenting Ordinary Earth citizen. Mayor Yoon doesn’t want him to do so because it might hurt his own political capital with his citizens, so he promises the minister that he’ll take care of the Human B problem.
Mayor Yoon saves Deputy Chief Lee from his interrogation in Ordinary Earth (although he didn’t seem to need much saving, having been pretty unrepentant and silent), on the condition that Mayor Yoon will gain a direct hotline to Human B’s CEO.
Chief Hong is outraged that Mayor Yoon would suddenly pull out their biggest lead in the investigation. But because Deputy Chief Lee is a Smart Earth citizen, and technically under Mayor Yoon’s jurisdiction, he can only watch helplessly as the Human B manager leaves freely.
Something is clearly up with Joon-hyuk. He’s suddenly in a cheery mood and insists on taking a trip, and drags Min-young to a virtual reality center so that they can take a leisure day. This is so jarringly out of character, and Min-young knows that something is wrong, but Joon-hyuk keeps up a playful facade, seeming to want to leave all his responsibilities behind for the day.
He sneaks alcohol into the center despite it being against the rules, and as they drink illegal beers together, he brings up his real concern—that Woo-jin might not want to be found. Min-young tries to ask more, but stops when she senses that he doesn’t want to explain.
At the police station, Chief Hong is forced to let Park Jin-gyu go as well, despite knowing that he was a co-perpetrator in Min-ji’s kidnapping all those years ago. He tells the man, who seems genuinely sorry for his actions, that as punishment he should live with the guilt of those memories for the rest of his life.
Chief Hong comes to the virtual reality center after receiving a call from Min-young that Joon-hyuk is acting strange. When he sees Joon-hyuk aimlessly playing games, he tries to shake him from his funk, but nothing rouses Joon-hyuk until an emergency call from Smart Earth arrives, showing a clip of Min-ji threatening Park Jin-gyu’s life.
When they arrive at the apartment, they hear Park Jin-gyu’s pained screams through the door. They bust in and see that he is unharmed, but Min-ji is slumped over on a chair, unconscious with a pool of blood draining from her slit wrist. The cops quickly take her to the hospital, while Chief Hong reels in shock that the girl he rescued is in danger of dying again.
Min-ji survives, and when she wakes up at the hospital, Joon-hyuk asks why she did this. She replies that she found it appallingly unjust that none of the men who kidnapped her remembered what they did. She couldn’t reconcile the fact that her kidnappers had been living happy lives afterwards, as if nothing had happened, as if they hadn’t committed that crime.
As she’s explaining her feelings about recovering her memories, Ho-soo is going through the same stages of grief and anger she’s describing. Ho-soo remembers that when he tried to be intimate with his girlfriend, she was fearful of his presence and pushed him away, haunted by a trauma in her past. And then he remembers seeing her dangling feet after she committed suicide.
In the present, Ho-soo puts on the tie his girlfriend gave him, and goes to confront his girlfriend’s father, whom he knows was the sexual predator who had driven her to suicide. He demands to know whether the father remembers what he did to his daughter.
But the father has no memory of her existence at all. Ho-soo grabs him by the collar and cries that his daughter died because of what he did to her, but he thinks Ho-soo is just a crazed loon. Ho-soo sends a flying punch in his direction, but as he’s about to punch him again, the man’s younger daughter comes out to defend him and they run away.
In the hospital, Min-ji asks Joon-hyuk whether what she did was so wrong. As he leaves the hospital room, Joon-hyuk questions his current mission to find Woo-jin at all costs. He thinks that perhaps Woo-jin could be living a happier life without the traumatic memory of searching for Bum-gyun at such a young age.
Chief Hong thinks that he should continue to search for Woo-jin because that’s what family does for each other, but Joon-hyuk is still conflicted, wondering if he isn’t bothering someone who would rather not remember him. He wonders if maybe living in the dark is better after all, because there’s nothing more frightening than memories.
That’s when Ho-soo shows up and tells him he’s had a change of heart. He now thinks that what Joon-hyuk originally believed was correct: Memories, no matter how horrible, are necessary for people to acknowledge the truth and take responsibility for their own actions. People who wronged others shouldn’t get to forget and live happily without those memories, he argues.
Deep in thought, Joon-hyuk solves his Rubik’s Cube mindlessly, and at the end of his deliberation, he heads purposefully to the Human B headquarters. He meets Deputy Chief Lee at the entrance, and proposes a three-way meeting between himself, the Human B CEO, and Bluebird.
Moments later, someone sets an old phone down next to Joon-hyuk’s Rubik’s Cube, showing a message with the time and address of the proposed meeting. The phone’s screensaver returns, showing the picture of Woo-jin and Bum-gyun that Bum-gyun used to have on his phone.
As a person who has dabbled in research before, I’ve seen firsthand how cutthroat academia can be, and Professor Han’s desperation to recover his research data from the project he did with Woo-jin’s father was not exaggerated at all. In dramaland, it seems like all the ambition is confined to businessmen, but there’s a lot of pride, greed, and reputation at stake in the world of research. It now seems that Professor Han inserted a blue bug into Bum-gyun in an attempt to recover his memories and find the twins’ father. It obviously hasn’t worked though, and it seems a direct conflict to use the bug when it has mostly proven to erase memories rather than recover them at this point. I mean, if you wanted someone to remember crucial details about something that happened in the past, wouldn’t you not want to put an untested memory chip into their brain?
Anyhoo, I thought it was weird that suddenly Professor Park became the good guy for this episode. He’s been such a shady character from the beginning that I still don’t quite trust him, although his shock that Professor Han continued his illegal experimentation seemed genuine. It’s just that from past episodes, it always seemed like he was a conniving opportunist who was a sycophant to those above him and a bit of a bully to anyone below him in the chain. So, it’s surprising to me that he showed he had morals, and I’m half-suspecting that it may all be a deception to delude the other characters into thinking he’s on their side, when secretly he’s colluding with the CEO of Human B.
Speaking of whom, we still have made no headway into that mystery. Because they explicitly stated that Woo-jin may be the head of the amoral corporation, I think it’s a red herring. This show is too clever to make the obvious choice the right answer. So now I think it’s either the father, Kim Kyu-chul, or maybe even the dementia-ridden grandmother, because clearly the CEO cares about the twins, seeing as he/she kept a photo of them on a personal device. The grandmother is less likely, but the cross she wears around her neck contains the experimental research that Professor Han is looking for. And that data was probably the key to creating the system that Human B uses for the Care Chip implants.
From the discovery and attempted suicide of Min-ji to Ho-soo’s confrontation of his memories, more happened in Part 2 than Part 1 in this episode, despite Joon-hyuk’s own reluctance to carry on his investigation. I still am not as deeply emotionally invested in Part 2 as I am in Part 1, but I can see how the rhythm of the show is shifting to emphasize the future timeline, now that we’ve fleshed out the main details in the past. For example, the main emotional beats in this episode came when Joon-hyuk was trying to come to grips with the possibility that Woo-jin may be happier by himself, having forgotten the existence of his twin. In a way, Joon-hyuk has been repeating his past—searching for an elusive goal without concentrating on the present people around him. When he was growing up, Bum-gyun was always in pursuit of the alien he thought stole their father, but now as an adult, he’s spent all his time trying to pursue his lost twin.
This brings up the interesting question of nature versus nurture because despite having lost all his memories, Joon-hyuk has been trending toward the same types of actions that he exhibited before his memory loss. Therefore Joon-hyuk’s case indicates that perhaps a person’s personality and potential is something ingrained naturally, but he may just be an anomaly because most of the others in Circle’s Brave New World seem to have had complete personality transplants after their memories were wiped. If nurture is based on a person’s formulation of memories of their past environments, the show seems to be saying that when a person forgets everything, he or she has the potential to become an entirely different individual. Kidnappers and pedophilic rapists can become dedicated fathers, and emotionless aliens can become bubbly university students.
But perhaps this question is an unintended exploration, secondary to the main issue brought up in this episode: the idea of responsibility and culpability as it relates to memory. In many parts of the world at least, mental competence is part of the requirement to merit a guilty judgment and full punishment for a crime. If someone is deemed to be temporarily insane due to a pre-existing condition at the time of the crime, they may be released on a lighter sentence or be sent to a psychiatric ward for rehabilitation instead of prison. Ho-soo brought up this issue by stating that memories are necessary so that people may be kept accountable; just because an event is forgotten doesn’t mean that it didn’t take place. So in their current existence now, should the Smart Earth citizens not have to be held responsible for past deeds because they have no recollection of it? And even if they were to be punished in some way (like Ho-soo did by punching his dead girlfirend’s father), would their suffering even hold the same meaning because they wouldn’t know why they were going through it?
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