Life on Mars: Episode 4
Tae-joo’s time-traveling coma continues on its trippy trajectory but for all his answer-seeking, he only seems to find more questions. It’s no wonder that he feels more lost than ever. Unfortunately, criminals have no intention of waiting for him to figure things out, so he’ll have to push his own troubles aside in order to bring justice to another case.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Following the discovery of his family photo at the camera shop, Tae-joo, our detective from the future, sets out to locate them. Unfortunately, the address is no longer valid and the current owner is no help. Dejected, he leaves but does attempt to place a phone call (presumably to his parents’ old number). An automated message declares the number out of service but when Tae-joo starts to walk away, the phone rings.
Tentatively, he picks up the receiver but instead of his mom’s voice, he hears hospital noise. A nurse worries that Tae-joo has had a sudden seizure despite his CT scan being normal. The doctor replies that it’s likely Tae-joo is having a nightmare… or remembering something unpleasant.
The doctor then addresses Tae-joo directly, saying that he’s suffered some nerve damage to his brain, but he will wake up. Then the line goes dead.
Shaken, Tae-joo starts walking again but the mention of an “unpleasant memory” stops him short just as the family photo mysteriously appears in his hand. He stares at the picture in a daze until his captain Dong-chul pulls up in his car and barks at him to get in—there’s been an incident.
A village chief has been found dead on the banks next to a field in the countryside. Apparently, he’d gone out to gather reeds to make brooms for extra cash only to be discovered by some folks who’d come to fish. Fellow officer Yong-ki points out a head-wound on the victim and suggests that he tripped and accidentally killed himself.
Dong-chul dismisses this theory, noting that the injury isn’t fatal, but wonders about the man’s heart condition. Yong-ki confirms that he’d had a large heart surgery two years prior and Dong-chul supposes it could’ve been a heart attack that did him in. To his surprise, Tae-joo actually agrees and he wonders if the sun rose from the opposite direction that morning.
Ignoring Dong-chul, Tae-joo points out a trace of vomit on the victim’s mouth. Leaning in close to smell it—much to the disgust of the other two detectives—Tae-joo assesses the cause to be potassium cyanide. Their teammate Nam-shik calls their attention to a nearby area littered with empty makgulli bottles.
Upon inspecting a bottle, Tae-joo finds more traces of cyanide, solidifying this as a murder case. Nam-shik snaps shots of the crime scene: the bottles, an overturned kimchi dish, and a few crumpled 10,000-won bills (roughly 10 dollars apiece), dotted with blood. A red knit scarf caught on a nearby reed catches Tae-joo’s eye.
Back at the station, Tae-joo finishes compiling the information from the initial investigation. They have yet to hear anything back on the forensics, so he opts to pay medical examiner Manager Park a visit at the health center. Before he can leave, a call comes in saying Dong-chul found the culprit.
Tae-joo arrives at a house and pushes through the reporters to join the rest of the team. In the kitchen, Yong-ki finds a block of potassium cyanide and excitedly calls out to Dong-chul. From an adjacent room, Dong-chul appears dragging a handcuffed woman behind him. Yong-ki proudly brandishes the cyanide and the reporters snap pictures, while Tae-joo curiously notes the bloody wounds on the woman’s face.
Later, the suspect, Yoo Soon-yi, sits quietly in the interrogation room as Nam-shik fills Tae-joo in on her background. Born and raised in the village, Soon-yi had suffered a head injury as a child that resulted in lasting effects on her mental development. Additionally, she has no family, save for a 7-year-old daughter, father unknown. Nam-shik adds that she makes a living by hunting pheasants with cyanide.
They’re joined by the rest of the crew and Dong-chul immediately begins questioning. Soon-yi confirms that the scarf is hers and that she’s heard of the village chief’s death but is quiet when asked if she often goes to the fields to hunt with her daughter. Pushing ahead, Dong-chul asks if she went hunting the day of the incident and Soon-yi is quick to say that her daughter Young-joo wasn’t there—she went alone.
Dong-chul doesn’t care about such details, but Soon-yi cuts him off, saying, “I did it.” To everyone’s surprise, she clarifies that she killed the village chief. Nudging the tape recorder closer, Dong-chul asks her to repeat herself and she does so without hesitation.
Although taken aback by the ease of her confession, Dong-chul rolls with it. Considering the case closed, he makes an announcement to the press that the village chief had loaned Soon-yi money (200,000 won, or approximately 200 dollars). However, when the chief demanded she return it, Soon-yi had grown angry and killed him. Dong-chul further claims that the cyanide in the makgulli bottles matched the block found in her home.
Next, Dong-chul drags Soon-yi down to the village to reenact for the press how she committed the crime. She readily complies, but has to be prompted every step of the way. They return to the field where Soon-yi is supposed to demonstrate giving the poisoned wine to Nam-shik (standing in for the village chief). She argues that Nam-shik is not the village chief but Dong-chul insists, emphasizing her desire to kill him. As he speaks, Soon-yi’s demeanor changes, her hands shake with anger and she grips the kimchi bowl tightly before launching herself at the “village chief.”
With a yell, Soon-yi smacks the bowl over Nam-shik’s head and tackles him to the ground. She continues to beat at him with her fists until the other officers drag her off. Terrified, Nam-shik scrambles away as Yong-ki holds her back and Tae-joo takes in her anguished screams.
The incident signals the end of the demonstration and as they lead Soon-yi back to the police van, a woman from the village breaks through the crowd and attacks her. She shrieks that Soon-yi is an evil wench and cries that they’d lent her money and food. Officers manage to pull her away but before they can get into the van, the enraged woman drenches Dong-chul, Tae-joo, and Soon-yi with a bucket of water.
In the confusion, the woman attacks Soon-yi. A little girl runs out and screams that her mother isn’t evil, but is held back by a younger woman. Dong-chul and Tae-joo separate Soon-yi and load her into the van. Both mother and daughter cry out for each other as it drives away.
Afterwards, the men clean up at the local bathhouse. Dong-chul tries to impart his “live and let live” wisdom on Tae-joo but he’s not having any of it and excuses himself just in time to avoid Dong-chul letting loose a massive amount of gas in the bath. Gross.
Nam-shik brings them their freshly laundered clothes along with the forensic report. Dong-chul proudly announces that there’s a perfect match for Soon-yi’s fingerprint as well as her blood type at the scene. He tells Nam-shik to add the report to the warrant documents, but snatching the document away, Tae-joo notes that there are six other unidentified fingerprints. Dong-chul is unfazed, arguing that so long as they have evidence for the victim and the culprit, anything else is an unnecessary expenditure of effort.
Outside, Tae-joo finally voices his concern that Soon-yi might not be the guilty party. Dong-chul snaps that just because she’s naïve doesn’t mean she can’t commit murder. He reminds Tae-joo of her violent outburst at the scene, chiding him for only looking at documents instead of people.
An argument between a customer and the bathhouse attendant temporarily draws their attention. The customer asserts that her child is young enough to come in free but the attendant isn’t buying it. Seeing an opportunity to prove his point, Dong-chul smugly tells Tae-joo, “The most important virtue of a detective is intuition. You need to recognize the culprit with an animal-like sense, intuition, and sharp eyes.”
Slapping a huge smile on his face, Dong-chul approaches the child and correctly guesses based on height and build, the child is 8 years old (the cutoff for free entry to the bathhouse being 7 years). He goes on to peg her birthday as sometime in April and while the child is awed, the mother grimaces at being caught in her deception.
Dong-chul throws Tae-joo a self-satisfied smirk as Nam-shik declares his boss as having shaman-like insight that solved ten cases in the past year. Gloating, Dong-chul comments that the child’s strong physique could lead to a promising future as a wrestler, only for Tae-joo to retort that “he” is a girl. Tae-joo walks off, leaving Dong-chul behind with the crying girl and her furious mother. Hee.
When they return to the station, Yong-ki informs them that prosecution will be arriving shortly to pick up Soon-yi. Dong-chul is pleased but they’re still missing the medical report, so he calls Manager Park to complain about the wait. Hearing that more tests need to be run, he releases an irritated sigh and passes the phone over to Tae-joo.
Tae-joo asks a few questions and requests a blood test as well before hanging up the phone. Fuming, Dong-chul asks what he thinks he’s doing. Tae-joo explains that he’d requested Manager Park to find out how much potassium cyanide the village chief had actually consumed and asks that Dong-chul hold off just one day on sending Soon-yi over to prosecution.
Stubborn, as usual, Dong-chul ignores Tae-joo and tells Yong-ki to prepare Soon-yi before picking up the phone to call the prosecutor’s office. Just as he starts to speak, Tae-joo presses the hook-switch on the base, disconnecting the call. He calmly repeats his request to wait one more day but Dong-chul dials again. Punching the button more fiercely this time, Tae-joo snaps that it won’t hurt anything to wait another day.
“Then by waiting one more day, will that change the cause of death?” Dong-chul explodes, reaching out to dial once more. Taking the receiver and slamming it into the cradle, Tae-joo declares, “The culprit could change.”
Tae-joo leads the way back through the field to where they found the body as Dong-chul follows behind, grumbling that he’s not Tae-joo’s chauffeur. Tae-joo throws back that he knows Dong-chul doesn’t have anything else to do, and Dong-chul wonders if Tae-joo’s always been this rude. Tae-joo snarkily replies he wouldn’t know—he doesn’t remember much of his childhood.
Reaching the place where the village chief had been discovered, Tae-joo checks his watch and announces that it takes ten minutes on foot to get from the place the village chief drank the makgulli to where he actually died. He explains that if Soon-yi had really put two spoonfuls of potassium cyanide in the bottle as she claimed, then factoring in the chief’s weight, he could’ve only had about five minutes before the dosage killed him.
Despite the discrepancy, Dong-chul argues that Soon-yi had willingly confessed, jokingly adding that it’s not like he beat it out of her. Tae-joo says he can’t know what Dong-chul did when he wasn’t looking. Offended by the accusation, Dong-chul snaps that even without her confession, there was plenty of that evidence Tae-joo is so fond of. However, Tae-joo concludes, there’s no motive.
It’s hard to believe that Soon-yi murdered a man over a measly 200,000 won, but Dong-chul doesn’t want to hear it, and firmly stands by his case. Tae-joo throws his own words back in his face, “If you only focus on evidence and the law, people will end up dead.”
Convinced Soon-yi is hiding something, Tae-joo questions her himself. It’s telling that Soon-yi can only offer vague answers such as “sometime ago” and “a lot” when asked when she’d borrowed money and how much she’d received. Turning off the recorder, Tae-joo asks Dong-chul how she could kill a man over money when she didn’t even know how much it was.
Tae-joo enlists the help of fellow officer Na-young to fingerprint all the residents of the village, and while Nam-shik assists them, the other two detectives opt to merely watch. Yong-ki accuses Nam-shik of taking Tae-joo’s side and balks when the rookie argues that they’re all a family.
When Tae-joo and Na-young join them, Nam-shik is suddenly struck with the idea to search for the kimchi that was found in the field, since each household’s kimchi would have a slightly different taste. The outburst only earns him a beating from Yong-ki, and Tae-joo and Na-young excuse themselves from the chaos.
Once alone, Tae-joo asks Na-young if she believes Soon-yi is the murderer. She agrees that it appears that way looking at the evidence, but in truth, she’s conflicted. Regardless, she’s impressed at Tae-joo’s commitment to the case.
Passing by Soon-yi’s house, they’re shocked to see angry graffiti on the wall. Tae-joo decides to take a look around and nearly jumps out of his skin when he opens the kitchen door to find Dong-chul testing the kimchi! Hee.
Meanwhile, Na-young is looking around the bedroom and one of the photos of Soon-yi and her daughter Young-joo on the wall catches her eye. She runs out to show Tae-joo and is so startled when Dong-chul leans over her shoulder to have a look, she slaps him. Ohmygosh, I’m dying.
The picture shows Young-joo wearing the red scarf instead of Soon-yi, and just as Na-young begins to wonder if it belongs to the daughter rather than the mother, Young-joo appears and snatches the photo out of her hand.
Young-joo runs off and the trio follows her all the way to the village chief’s home. There, they meet Seon-ja, the chief’s daughter—the same woman who’d held Young-joo back earlier—who’s tending to her sick mother. They also discover that the woman who attacked Soon-yi was the chief’s sister.
Seon-ja brings Young-joo out to speak with the detectives, but when Na-young asks about the scarf, she clamps her mouth shut. Dong-chul tries to bribe her with some spending money but the second he touches her, she freaks out. Oh no.
Manager Park wants to see them so they run down to the health center. When they arrive, he points out a bite mark on the victim. Based on the size, it’s clearly from a child, and after witnessing Young-joo’s reaction earlier, there’s no question that the village chief had sexually abused her. Still, they bring Young-joo in to be examined and Manager Park confirms it.
Tae-joo questions Soon-yi again and she says that the village chief hurt her daughter. Despite finding a viable motive, Tae-joo still believes she’s innocent. Unfortunately, his gut isn’t enough to sway Dong-chul, who remains firm that she’ll be picked up the next day by prosecution.
Tae-joo goes to the bar after work and the barman takes notice of his sour expression. Tae-joo admits that he feels stuck and the barman encourages him to fight. “You don’t seem like the type to lose,” the barman muses, “Maybe you’re fighting against the wrong person.” Tae-joo doesn’t know whom he’s fighting and the barman guesses that he’s fighting himself. He says that internally, Tae-joo is afraid of something.
At home, Chief Inspector is on TV and once more the man on the screen speaks to Tae-joo directly. (Last time I made a mistake thinking that Doctor Jang was the same man… whoops!) The man steps out of the screen and when Tae-joo looks up, the office from the show is now joined to his room.
Mysterious TV man says he knows Tae-joo feels like he’s stranded on an island and that the longer Tae-joo stays, the greater his fear will become. Whereas last time he’d told Tae-joo to stay strong, now he says it’s okay to give up if it’s too hard. He instructs Tae-joo to lie down, forget everything, and go to sleep.
When Tae-joo wakes up, the room has returned to normal. It’s still dark outside, but Tae-joo returns to the station. Na-young hasn’t left, so he brings her a drink and asks what she’s working on. Shyly, Na-young shows him the analysis she’s compiled for the case. Tae-joo compliments her on her profiling and at her confusion, explains that it’s a skill that will be needed in the future. Smiling, Na-young says she hopes so.
They’re interrupted by the arrival of Young-joo looking for her mother. Na-young puts her to bed on the couch while Tae-joo organizes what they’ve discovered from the remaining fingerprints on the bottle. Apart from the victim and Soon-yi, there were prints from the brewery owner, deliveryman, and supermarket owner who all have solid alibis. Any remaining partial prints were too small to compare to anything.
Na-young can’t help but wonder what Soon-yi and Young-joo were doing at the crime scene if they had nothing to do with the murder. Tae-joo fetches the tape from Soon-yi’s interrogation and notes that while Soon-yi is very forthcoming about killing the village chief, she clams up whenever asked about Young-joo. Similarly, Young-joo won’t say much either but believes her mother is innocent. Tae-joo thinks they’re hiding something, while Na-young thinks they’re protecting each other.
Young-joo’s cries alert them that Soon-yi is being taken away. Tae-joo runs out to stop the transfer and of course clashes with Dong-chul. They’re about to get physical when Na-young screams for them to stop… Young-joo has something to say. Tearfully, the child admits that she gave the chief the makgulli under the direction of her “auntie,” who threatened that if she said anything, she’d never see her mom again.
Needless to say, Soon-yi ends up back in the station. She tells Tae-joo that the chief had hurt Young-joo again and offered them money to apologize. She’d gone to give the money back and found him in the field trying to assault her daughter again. Enraged, she’d attacked him, but he’d struck back, resulting in the wounds on her face.
The chief had chased after Young-joo but collapsed on the shore and died. Believing her daughter had killed the chief, Soon-yi had confessed to the crime while Young-joo had kept quiet to protect her mother. What’s more, Na-young reveals that the “auntie” Young-joo spoke of is the chief’s daughter.
At the village chief’s home, his sister informs them Seon-ja, the chief’s daughter, took her mother back to her house. Unfortunately, it appears no one has been there in some time. There’s a large supply of potassium cyanide in the workshop (presumably for the husband’s business) and inside the house, everything is covered in red repo tags. A pungent stench in the bedroom leads to the discovery of Seon-ja’s husband’s naked corpse in the closet.
When the rest of the team arrives, Yong-ki explains that the business closed after the husband became paralyzed. No one’s seen the husband in a while and assumed he was on vacation with his wife.
Manager Park examines the body and he and Tae-joo deduce that the husband seems to have been poisoned over an extended period of time with bleach. Turns out, Seon-ja’s husband was deep in debt and his business had already been seized. She had inquired about the value of an orchard property owned by her father and a week prior to his death, gotten into an argument with him over it.
Since she isn’t a resident of the village, she had avoided investigation. Additionally, she’s been collecting on her husband’s disability insurance for the past year and has taken out four life insurance policies on him. She’d been slowly feeding him bleach—just enough not to kill him—for some time and he finally died from breathing complications as a result of his paralysis. Seon-ja’s mother currently is exhibiting the same symptoms and is the only thing standing in the way of her inheritance.
Additionally, Na-young found a car insurance document in her home. While there are no cars registered to either Seon-ja or her husband, she did buy a vehicle three months ago and registered it under the name of the agent who sold her the insurance policies.
At the insurance agency, Tae-joo rolls his eyes as Dong-chul drags the agent by the ear into the men’s room. Yong-ki and Nam-shik stand guard while inside, Dong-chul dunks the man’s head into a bucket of water. He suggests the man mooched off Seon-ja but he squeals that he merely accepted the gifts she gave him. He swears he doesn’t know where she is, but tells them she borrowed the car and he’d noticed it was loaded with a lot of water.
Tae-joo and Dong-chul realize she must’ve gone to the abandoned orchard and sure enough, that’s where they find her trying to feed her mother porridge laced with bleach. She’s quickly apprehended, and as the officers load her into the squad car, Yong-ki tsks that she’d been living with the insurance salesman for a while, basically just waiting for her husband to die. He shudders that money is scary and Nam-shik wonders how she could do such a thing to her own parents.
With a sigh, Dong-chul says it’s because she’s human. “Animals don’t kill their flesh and blood like this,” he clarifies, “It’s because she’s human… that her greed can drive her to kill someone.”
At the station the next morning, Tae-joo washes out some cups in the sink and Na-young looks at him like he hung the stars in the sky. He catches her watching and she smiles and says that it looks like he’s getting adjusted. Walking back to his desk, he spots the picture Na-young took of him hanging on the wall under his name.
Behind him, Nam-shik attempts to take the statements of two women arguing over an alleged fraud. One woman snaps that she was sold a faulty product while the other balks that it’s the woman’s face that is faulty. Oddly, Tae-joo recognizes the second woman as his aunt. A brief flashback shows her affectionately wrestling with todder Tae-joo for for a kiss.
In the “present,” his aunt has engaged in hair-pulling with her accuser while Nam-shik fails to intervene and Yong-ki cheers. Only Dong-chul screaming for everyone to shut it calms the chaos. Taking advantage of the lull, Tae-joo addresses his aunt.
We don’t see what is said, but it’s safe to assume he asked for his parent’s address because he shows up outside a hair salon just as his younger self runs past him to go inside. He’s about to open the door when he hears a woman calling his name and steps around the side of the building in time to see his younger self run out. Little Tae-joo stops and stares up at our Tae-joo and there’s a freaky moment where the little boy morphs into an adult Tae-joo, still wearing the baseball uniform, before running off.
Tae-joo chases himself a short distance before the image of the boy running down the street is overlaid with the opening scene where he’s running down the train tracks. We can’t see the face of the man chasing him, but we see the boy run into the tunnel. Then, we watch young Tae-joo crawl up to look through a hole in the wall where a woman is covered in blood, her nails covered in a perfect red manicure. He gasps and turns back as the faceless man leans in. Young Tae-joo screams and then our Tae-joo passes out.
Holy crow! What is even happening with this show? I say that positively, because the mystery is really keeping me on my toes. This week we may have cleared up Doctor Jang’s mystery, but what about the man in the television? Is he Tae-joo’s doctor? And if so, why did he tell Tae-joo to give up? It doesn’t sound like his 2018 body is doing so hot. Will staying here in 1988 too long have a negative effect? And if his body dies in 2018, what happens to Tae-joo in 1988? I don’t think I want to find out…
Tae-joo made some headway in his personal mystery, but what does any of it mean? At the very end we saw he ran into the man who is likely the original Manicure Killer. Was it a brief encounter or did something happen? We know he had a trauma in his youth, enough that his memories have been locked away. How does this tie in with Kim Min-seok in 2018 other than the fact that he was probably mentored by the 1988 killer? When Tae-joo figures out the answer, will he return to 2018 permanently?
The case in this episode was particularly heartbreaking and difficult to watch. It was a good narrative twist for the “victim” to be the true monster, but it’s a sickening reality. Luckily, this episode was sprinkled with some bright spots to combat the dark. Nearly any interaction between Dong-chul and Tae-joo turns into a pissing contest, often with pretty hilarious results. I love that Dong-chul has a way of bringing out a more playful side to the naturally stoic Tae-joo (and it’s even funnier when Dong-chul’s teasing backfires).
The other bright spot, as always, is Na-young. I cannot express how much I adore her character and have since her introduction. She just has such a shining presence and I can’t wait until the rest of the team embraces her as an equal. She deserves the world and I want her to have it. The fact that Tae-joo simply cleaning up a little affected her so much just goes to show how crappy her job was before he showed up. It’s really no wonder she lights up whenever she sees him and I can’t help but wonder about their potential future… or if there even is one. Regardless, be it romantic or not, their relationship is absolutely lovely.