Circle: Episode 9
Just when you think Circle is out of surprises, it finds ways to shock us with new revelations in both timelines as the gap between past and present continues to close inch by inch. While both timelines yield reunions this episode, all is not as it seems—and as the sinister Human B project begins to take more shape in the present, even Woo-jin can’t help but acknowledge the implications that the technology could have. The question is whether it should.
EPISODE 9 RECAP
Little Woo-jin is hard at work creating a chalk drawing of a female face on the ground. He draws and erases, then he draws and erases again, and finally he throws down his chalk, seeming unsatisfied with his work.
When Byul approaches and asks him what’s wrong, a now-crying Little Woo-jin replies that he’s trying to draw his mother, but he can’t seem to remember her anymore. Byul asks if he would like to see his mother again, and he nods before returning to his crude drawing.
Part 1: Beta Project
Woo-jin finds Bum-gyun unconscious on the floor, and thinking that he’s dead, he frantically tries to shake him awake, calling him again and again. Bum-gyun stirs and mumbles “Woo-jin, I’m sorry,” which causes Woo-jin’s eyes to widen in shock and he starts apologizing to his brother in return.
Unbeknownst to the reunited brothers, a blinking star stuck on the ceiling activates some sort of electronic system on Kim Kyu-chul’s computer.
Min-young, Chief Hong, and Professor Park enter the room to find the twins soon afterward. Min-young and Chief Hong rush to the brothers in order to transport Bum-gyun to the hospital immediately.
But Professor Park notices the star on the ceiling and finds it suspicious, and when he sees the computer that’s suddenly turned on by itself with “Access Permit” flashing across its monitor, his curiosity is ignited.
Min-young says that they should go to Min Medical Center, which is her father’s hospital, and so she and Chief Hong begin to carry Bum-gyun outside to the car. The injured Woo-jin is the last to follow, and as he leaves the room, Professor Park notices the monitor flash the word “Disconnect” before shutting off.
On the way to the hospital, Professor Park keeps pondering the meaning of the blinking star and the self-activating computer. Woo-jin tells the group that Detective Choi is on Professor Han’s side, which leads Chief Hong to shout the order to search for both Detective Choi and Professor Han into his police radio.
As soon as they arrive at the hospital, Min-young tells her dad that Bum-gyun needs surgery immediately to take out a blue bug in his brain, and he’s rushed to the operating room. Outside, Min-young reassures Woo-jin that Bum-gyun is in good hands, while he tries to tell her that she should get checked out as well (since she also has a blue bug in her head).
Min-young insists that she knows her own condition best since she’s been monitoring it, adding that the location of the bug isn’t life-threatening since she hasn’t experienced any of the traditional headache-nosebleed symptoms yet.
Woo-jin still looks like he wants her to get treated, but she puts an end to the conversation by telling him that they need to get her father to fully concentrate on operating on Bum-gyun before treating her, because whatever saves him could eventually help her. She then enters the OR, leaving Woo-jin, Professor Park, and Chief Hong outside.
Woo-jin thanks Professor Park for giving him the tip about Bum-gyun’s location, and Professor Park apologizes for not recognizing him sooner as Kim Kyu-chul’s son. He goes on to explain the history between him, Kyu-chul, and Professor Han, adding that they all did research together in their college days.
Taking Woo-jin’s hands, Professor Park tells him just how sorry he is as he claims that had he known, he would have put a stop to Professor Han’s terrible experiments. “I really had no idea,” he lies.
Chief Hong asks some questions about how and what Professor Park knew about Bum-gyun’s holding location, and Park is able to deflect and make the guilty party (Professor Han) look even guiltier. Speaking of whom, Professor Han is on the run, and he orders someone on the phone to clear out all his experimental data.
We find Jung-yeon in a room in the hospital that her father locked her up in, without a way out. But being the resourceful girl she is, as soon as she hears footsteps, she finds a toothbrush and breaks it in half to create a serviceable weapon.
Professor Han enters the room and orders her to come along, but as soon he turns his back to her, she takes a breath, ready to use her makeshift weapon on him. Her plans are interrupted when she’s suddenly faced by a burly and threatening orderly and she’s forced to follow Professor Han.
Once they’re in a car driving, she asks where they’re going, but he just gives vague answers, claiming that he only wants to keep her safe. Taking a chance with her life, she jumps out the car and rolls onto the road.
Alarmed, Professor Han slams on his brakes and gets out to see if she’s all right. She stands up, a cut bleeding from her forehead, and points the sharp-edged toothbrush at him. Confronted with a weapon, he puts his hands up and tries to calm her down, but Jung-yeon isn’t having it, even as she pleads with him to stop.
“This is for the sake of humanity!” Professor Han stresses, adding that once they have Byul’s memories, they can create a brave new world together. But Jung-yeon cries that she just wants to live as his daughter, though her father doesn’t seem that sorry when he tells her that that would be impossible now.
Before they can explore this conversation in-depth, Professor Han spies a traffic cam recording them as well as a police car coming down the road. He tries to grab Jung-yeon to force her back into the car, but she slashes him with her weapon, causing spurts of blood to spout from his wrist. She looks horrified by what she’s done, but she keeps the weapon pointed at him.
As the cop car comes closer, Professor Han grows more frantic and abandons Jung-yeon to make his escape. The cops pull up beside Jung-yeon as her father drives off into the distance, and she’s left sitting on the side of the road, bleeding and crying.
Woo-jin’s phone rings—it’s Jung-yeon, calling from a stranger’s phone. Woo-jin asks how everything went, and she lies and says that everything is fine, although he thinks something’s off because she’s calling from a different number.
Repeating that everything is fine, Jung-yeon asks where he is and whether he found his brother, and when he replies, she says she’ll meet him there. However, when she hangs up, she stumbles in a moment of dizziness.
At Min Hospital, Bum-gyun wakes up, and Woo-jin asks whether he remembers his captor to be Professor Han. After a moment of confusion, Woo-jin looks at the photograph, and his eyes alight as he confirms that Professor Han was indeed his kidnapper.
Back at the police station, Chief Hong ransacks Detective Choi’s things, only to realize that all the case files related to the twins’ case and Professor Han are gone. Detective Choi has cleared out all the evidence, and the scene cuts to his present location.
We find Detective Choi in a darkly lit building as he meets a menacing-looking man with wire-rimmed glasses. The detective reports that Professor Han is probably already heading to the location the menacing-looking man mentioned, netting an ambiguous response from the shadowy figure.
Professor Han flexes the wrist that Jung-yeon cut as Lee Sunbae calls to tell him that all the research material has been moved to their meeting place. It’s a small trailer room in the middle of nowhere, but when Professor Han comes inside, there’s one more person than expected: Professor Park, who tells Lee Sunbae to wait for them outside while the adults talk.
After Lee Sunbae leaves, Professor Park asks what Professor Han did to Bum-gyun, and Han unapologetically replies that Bum-gyun’s memories will slowly be erased—if not, he’d have to kill him in order to prevent Bum-gyun from talking. Grabbing Professor Han by the collar, Professor Park demands to know what Professor Han hoped to achieve by using the brain bots he designed to experiment on kids.
The mad scientist within Professor Han comes out again as he goes off on another manic high while explaining how he’s spent the last ten years trying to replicate Kim Kyu-chul and Byul’s ability to quantify and manipulate memory without any success.
He tries to persuade Professor Park to his side by citing the future possibilities that type of technology could achieve, which he claims could open up an entirely new world. Learning now what Professor Han has been after this entire time with his illegal experimentations, Professor Park remembers the blinking light that came on from the ceiling star when he went to Kim Kyu-chul’s old house.
Professor Park’s expression changes, and the next thing we see is him walking hurriedly outside while carrying all of Professor Han’s data in a box. Lee Sunbae asks him what happened, and Professor Park just tells him that they have to work together from now on.
Professor Park explains that because both of them were primary researchers on Professor Han’s team, they’ll probably also become innocent targets of public hate if his illegal experiments on students ever come to light. He adds that if that ever happens, their careers are over.
Suddenly distressed after realizing the larger implications, Lee Sunbae starts nodding furiously when Professor Park asks for his trust, and for him to keep an eye on Professor Han in the meantime. Inside the trailer, we see that Professor Park has tied Professor Han to a chair with duct tape.
After going back to Kyu-chul’s old house, Professor Park tries to activate the blinking star again, but the computer keeps showing the “Access Denied” message. Thinking back, Professor Park wonders if perhaps Woo-jin is the trigger mechanism for the system.
At the hospital, Woo-jin shows Chief Hong to Bum-gyun’s room so that he can provide the detective with his personal witness testimony. However, when shown a picture of Professor Han again, Bum-gyun can’t seem to recall him, even though he was able to point the man out as his kidnapper when he just woke up.
The last thing Bum-gyun says he remembers about his pursuit of the case is that Bluebird is the culprit, and he sounds very much like he’s regressed back to being the old, paranoid Bum-gyun.
Woo-jin looks utterly crestfallen as he sees that his brother is losing his memory retroactively. When he consults with Min-young’s father/the neurosurgeon who operated on Bum-gyun regarding the status of his brother’s brain, he’s informed that the retrograde amnesia is due to the blue bug that wasn’t completely extracted during surgery. The neurosurgeon explains that the bug has burrowed its way to a critical place in the brain that’s difficult to reach with surgery without possibly paralyzing or blinding Bum-gyun for life.
Jung-yeon arrives at the hospital and spots Woo-jin down the hallway. She calls his name loudly and runs toward him, but instead of comforting her or even asking about her end of the situation, Woo-jin immediately jumps asks if she knows where her father is.
He explains that he wants to know because his brother’s condition would be best explained and perhaps reversed by the scientist who initially implanted the bug in Bum-gyun’s brain in the first place.
Knowing that Bum-gyun’s life may be on the line, Jung-yeon cries as she explains that she feels like she’s made a mistake by not grabbing ahold of her father and keeping him until the cops arrived, and she breaks down in tears.
Seeing her cry, Woo-jin finally takes stock of Jung-yeon’s injuries and his empathetic side comes out as he places both hands gently on her shoulders to comfort her. “It’s not your fault,” he says. “I probably would’ve run away if I were you, too.”
Much more gently now, Woo-jin adds that they’ll work together to find Professor Han, since that’s the best chance they have to save Bum-gyun.
Back in his office, Professor Park furrows his brow as he surveys the CCTV reel of Kyu-chul’s old home office, failing to determine the trigger for the star-computer activation system. When Jung-yeon and Woo-jin barge in through the doors, Professor Park hastily puts the laptop with the live footage away.
They ask whether he’s ever seen one of the blue bugs before while working under Professor Han. Of course Professor Park has, what with being the creator of the bugs, but he denies all knowledge in front of his two students. In a subtle prompt, Professor Park adds that although he knows nothing about the blue bugs, Kyu-chul’s old house might contain the clues they’re looking for.
They thank the professor for his help on finding this new lead, and as soon as they leave his office, Professor Park whips out his laptop to watch their progress unfold.
Jung-yeon and Woo-jin arrive at Woo-jin’s old house and enter his father’s office. Inside, they finally notice the blinking star that activates the main computer.
Without any additional input, the computer starts playing a video of Woo-jin’s most recent impactful memory of Jung-yeon crying at the hospital in front of him. Both Woo-jin and Jung-yeon are stunned as they try to comprehend what they’re seeing, and Woo-jin can only mutter, “This is… my memory.”
When Professor Park watches the CCTV footage in real time and realizes that what Professor Han had been babbling about—memory storage and manipulation—wasn’t the ravings of a lunatic after all, his mind reels.
When Woo-jin asks how any of this is possible, the computer processes his request and replays an earlier memory of Byul. In the memory, which is a continuation of the chalk scene at the top of the episode, Byul gives him the star (calling it a “memory box”) and tells him to use it whenever he wants to see his mother again. Jung-yeon is hit by the fact that before she lost her own memories, she had the ability to create something so powerful.
Half in shock, Woo-jin reluctantly admits, “I finally understand why Professor Han tried so hard… to bring back your memory.” He says the last part as though chagrined by the thought, but even he can’t deny that any scientist who saw what they just saw would never give up.
After listing all the possibilities of this technology, ranging from treating mental illnesses to changing the fundamentals of how society operates, Woo-jin seems to realize how that all sounds. But now he understands why Professor Han, or any other scientist, would be driven to pursue the technology.
Part 2: Brave New World
At the midnight standoff between Joon-hyuk and Minister Park, Joon-hyuk tearfully asks where his brother is. “Is he even alive?” he asks, and a smiling Minister Park informs him that he’s alive and living well. But now, Joon-hyuk wants to know why he took Woo-jin, wondering why Minister Park couldn’t have just let Woo-jin go after getting the information he wanted from him.
“Woo-jin wanted it too,” Minister Park replies, seeming to enjoy the reaction this gets out of Joon-hyuk. “You know that this all started with Woo-jin. We came this far because Woo-jin wanted it to happen.” While Joon-hyuk can only breathe in shock, we see that Deputy Chief Lee is surveying the situation from Human B headquarters through the instant memory replay of one of Minister Park’s ineffectual bodyguards.
Deputy Chief Lee commands Secretary Shin to take care of the situation, and when they arrive on scene, Joon-hyuk quickly takes Minister Park hostage with a gun to his head. Joon-hyuk threatens to shoot unless the others back off, but Minister Park doesn’t seem all that fazed—after all, he says, Joon-hyuk needs him alive if he hopes to ever find Woo-jin. And that way, Minister Park can get what he wants, too: Jung-yeon (aka Bluebird).
A guard attacks Joon-hyuk from behind, breaking his hold on the minister. He’s able to subdue the guard and use him as a shield to buy him a few seconds before being chased by Minister Park’s cronies.
When he’s back at Human B, Minister Park orders that Bluebird be caught by any means necessary. Pictures of Jung-yeon are sent to every Smart Earth Human B security personnel member so that they can track her down.
They start implementing a system of in-person facial screenings instead of the usual quicker Care Chip checks in order to let people move between Ordinary Earth and Smart Earth. The citizens grumble about the inconveniences, but in a private conversation with Secretary Shin, Deputy Chief Lee reveals how big the implications for this seemingly minor change are: By instituting these facial checks, Human B has implicitly acknowledged a failure in their supposed “perfect” system and has tainted their own reputation.
Together on Smart Earth, Jung-yeon and Ho-soo try to find Joon-hyuk to warn him about how the rendezvous with Minister Park is a trap. Jung-yeon sees that pictures of her have been spread throughout Smart Earth as a wanted criminal, and Ho-soo receives a call that it’s because “Bluebird” has terrorized Mayor Yoon (Minister Park has framed Bluebird for his own crime).
Hearing this, their level of urgency goes up, and Jung-yeon wants to hack into Human B’s system immediately so that they can find Joon-hyuk and escape together.
However, Ho-soo knows that the moment Jung-yeon starts using her hacking skills, her IP will be tracked down instantly due to the high alerts that Human B’s implemented. So he argues against her as he tells her that Joon-hyuk charged him with her safety, and he can’t abandon that request.
Soon enough, Joon-hyuk shows up completely unharmed, and the trio determine their next course of action. They can’t go to Ordinary Earth to regroup because they wouldn’t be able to get back into Smart Earth with all those stringent security measures now in place, so Ho-soo comes up with a location where no one on Smart Earth will think to look: a church.
Ho-soo explains that because their emotional insecurities have been largely stabilized by the Care Chip, the citizens of Smart Earth have no need for religion, and so no one goes to churches anymore. Sure enough, they arrive at a completely empty church, and the reprieve allows them to talk freely.
Joon-hyuk reveals that Minister Park is actually the CEO of Human B, and that he drew them into a trap. Jung-yeon realizes that if Minister Park is the CEO of Human B, his main target is her, because she’s the hacker who’s been destroying his company’s greatest achievement by reversing the controlled amnesia of all of Smart Earth’s citizens.
Jung-yeon offers to give herself up, but Joon-hyuk is the one to put a stop to her as he says that her doing so won’t guarantee Woo-jin’s release. “If it were Woo-jin, he wouldn’t send you there,” Joon-hyuk adds. “If Human B steals you away and I meet Woo-jin again, how will I face him?”
Joon-hyuk determines that they have to think faster and smarter than their enemy, and Ho-soo suggests that he knows exactly the person they can use to infiltrate Human B.
While Deputy Chief Lee seems to realize that Bluebird has no plans on leaving Smart Earth anytime soon, our trio stakes out in front of a building shortly before dawn. Is this Minister Park or Mayor Yoon’s house?
Then the scene cuts back to Human B headquarters, where Minister Park yells at Deputy Chief Lee again for not having the situation resolved by now. He storms out when he gets a message that the chair of the national assembly wants to see him.
Meanwhile, Secretary Shin keeps glancing at the clock, looking like she’s late for something. Noticing this, Deputy Chief Lee tells her that it’s all right, and that she’s free to go (even though it’s pretty clear that everyone is in crisis mode right now).
In his meeting with the assemblywoman, Minister Park shows off his oily personality by feigning ignorance about Mayor Yoon’s unfortunate terror attack by Bluebird, pretending as if it all didn’t happen exactly the way he wanted it to. They talk about the bill for human cloning that’s currently in parliament, and the assemblywoman mentions that she doesn’t think it will pass.
Minister Park remarks that if that’s so, then it’s quite unfortunate, because it could be the beginning of an entirely new branch of scientific discoveries. He continues on to emphasize that despite mankind’s greatest efforts, the march of progress and science always prevails.
As she leaves, the assemblywoman brings up the real reason for her visit: She’s been hearing rumors that Human B can control people’s memories. Minister Park laughs it off as a scientific impossibility, but inside, he’s thinking that she’s revealed her cards.
Secretary Shin shows up at the house that the trio were staking out at and is about to unlock the door when Joon-hyuk holds his gun to her head. After a brief tussle, he has her at a loss and outnumbered.
He asks her where his brother is, and it’s pretty clear that she’s never heard of Woo-jin before. Then, a little girl with a blind walking stick comes out and calls out for Secretary Shin—they’re sisters (so that’s why Shin was in a rush to get home).
Secretary Shin just tells the girl to go back inside, and Joon-hyuk offers Secretary Shin a deal: If she complies with them fully and tells them where Deputy Chief Lee goes in secret, then they’ll let the situation progress without letting her little sister know that there’s any cause for concern.
With a gun to her head and her sister inside the house, Secretary Shin has no choice but to lead them to the location. Jung-yeon and Joon-hyuk enter the house while Ho-soo stands outside guarding Secretary Shin, who’s handcuffed to the car.
As they drive to the address Secretary Shin gave them, Jung-yeon looks directly at Joon-hyuk and thinks, “It’s probably Woo-jin, right? It’s Woo-jin, don’t you think?” As if responding to her thoughts, Joon-hyuk thinks, “Maybe not. It might not be him. Let’s not get our hopes up.”
Once inside the house Secretary Shin led them to, Jung-yeon and Joon-hyuk work their way through, finding no one on the first floor. They go down to the basement, and just as they’re about to open their first door, they hear a noise down the hallway.
Very carefully, Joon-hyuk reaches toward the door and turns the handle. As the door creaks open inch by inch, their expressions change from trepidation to shock as they see what’s inside…
Cut to: Secretary Shin and Ho-soo outside, as she asks him what he’s doing when he’s supposed to be on sick leave. Ho-soo replies that he’s there because what Human B is doing is wrong before asking her why she’s with Human B despite knowing about the company’s transgressions.
Secretary Shin says that it’s because memory manipulation is not the only technology that Human B has—no other company has the same resources to find a cure for her sister’s blindness. This gives Ho-soo pause as he thinks about Human B’s potential to do good for society.
We return to Joon-hyuk and Jung-yeon’s discovery as they enter the room. At first, they take in the walls plastered with notes of every kind, but then their eyes fall on the figure scribbling madly and talking gibberish: Professor Han, sporting a signature cut behind his ear.
In a flashback, we see what happened ten years ago, when Professor Park first strapped Professor Han to the chair. Professor Park had promised with a sinister smile that he would finish the older man’s life work, and that if Han didn’t want to end up like Kyu-chul, he’d need to stay silent. (Whaa? Did Professor Park kill Woo-jin’s dad too?)
Five years later in 2022, we see that Lee Sunbae was excited for the first Care Chip he developed with Professor Park, and though Lee Sunbae suggested animal testing first, Professor Park wanted to jump straight into human clinical trials, adding that they already had their first subject: Professor Han.
Then we cut back to the present in 2037, where Joon-hyuk and Jung-yeon have just discovered her father scribbling madly into his science journal on his quest to discover the secrets of memory.
With tear-rimmed eyes, Jung-yeon calls out for her father, and he greets her as if she’s just come home from school. It seems that Professor Park’s experiments worked, but that means that Professor Han is also suffering from memory loss.
Joon-hyuk pushes the frail old scientist into the wall as he demands to know his brother’s whereabouts. Professor Han faintly recalls that Woo-jin was “the answer,” and when Joon-hyuk presses him further for answers, he struggles to remember.
Then, he says, “Kim Woo-jin… is dead.” Joon-hyuk struggles to comprehend this as he tearfully asks for confirmation, which Professor Han gives by adding, “Park Dong-geun killed Kim Woo-jin.”
Noooo! Woo-jin, please don’t be dead! Well, I actually don’t buy that he’s dead, because I don’t know if the star-blinking technology would work if his cells were no longer actively pulsating and giving off the same biorhythms that were detected by Kyu-chul’s computer. And as a thorough scientist, I don’t think that Professor Park would kill Woo-jin willy-nilly without having definite proof that the star-blinking system would work without him.
That’s also why I think Professor Park is probably pushing the national assemblywoman to sponsor and advocate for the human cloning bill. If he were able to create a clone of Woo-jin with all the same biological DNA that the star system used to activate its memory technology, then he would be able to continue manipulating the technology without the original being alive. If that were a possibility, there would be nothing stopping him from killing Woo-jin, the only real witness to his illegal activities.
Also, what happened to their father? If Professor Park had already killed him in the past, then his moral code should already have been compromised. But going off this episode, it seems like he was genuinely angry at Professor Han for using his bug technology to experiment on students. In addition, he still wavered when confronted with the decision to monitor the star-blinking system or to actually take the next step and use it.
Of course, he did succumb to temptation in the end, but the fact that there was a bit of hesitation indicates that he felt conflicted. So maybe he didn’t kill Kyu-chul? Or perhaps he knows what happened because he knows about the shadowy man who looked powerful and dangerous (the one Detective Choi reported to after going on the run). That figure looks interesting, but that tiny scene was so short that I don’t know what other information I can glean from it without going into the territory of wild speculation.
I loved the interaction between the assemblywoman and Minister Park, just because it had layers of schmoozing, threats, and power imbalances which revealed that despite all technological advances, people will be people. But I wonder if she had a Care Chip implant as well, because Minister Park seems to be able to control and manipulate the memories of anyone with a Care Chip.
So why can’t Minister Park use his Human B technology to cut out parts of her memory that are related to her learning about his company using artificially induced amnesia without direct consent? Why can’t he just manipulate anyone to get to the top of the power structure in one fell swoop? Or is this just a plot hole, and am I just thinking too hard about this?
Speaking of who has and doesn’t have a Care Chip, what about Lee Sunbae/Deputy Chief Lee? When he got frustrated that one time, his neck did glow red, but he’s been on this project since its inception and knows all about how Human B can control memories. So why would he knowingly allow himself to be implanted and give that much power to a corporation controlled by Minister Park? In fact, why would any of Human B’s employees who know about the memory control aspect consent to having a chip implanted into their brains? Wouldn’t they be revolted by the idea and ask for it to be taken out immediately?
In a tangential but interesting topic of conversation, I wonder how Smart Earth handles chipping the children of their citizens. If one needs an implant to live on Smart Earth but isn’t legally of consent age, that’s an interesting moral question. But this is more a question that I ask of the fictional world in the drama, rather than a question the drama itself needs to answer.
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