Life on Mars: Episode 8
Tae-joo chases down the demons of his past but the closer he gets, the more his mind seems to rebel. He’s finally diving into the main mystery, but it’s hard to search for the truth when you’re not sure you’ll like the answer. To make matters worse, memories continue to bombard Tae-joo with a vengeance and the effects are not going unnoticed.
EPISODE 8 RECAP
The body of Go Yeong-suk—the woman Dad was hiding in the bathroom with—has been found in a hotel. The scene reeks of the Manicure Murderer’s M.O. and everything points to Dad as the killer. Shaken, Tae-joo stumbles out of the room. Happy memories of Dad flash through his mind to the soundtrack of his pounding heart and train whistles. Everything comes to a grinding halt with the image of Dad’s bloodied face. “It can’t be,” Tae-joo whispers.
The team heads to Dad’s house first thing the next morning. Today, their captain Dong-chul’s aggressive approach sets Tae-joo more on edge than usual. Dad isn’t home, and Mom explains that he went to meet someone the night before. Little Tae-joo adds that they’re going on a trip together and Dong-chul notes the stacks of clothes ready to be packed.
Dong-chul notes that it doesn’t look like they’re preparing for a short trip. Mom nervously admits it’s their first family vacation so Dad suggested they stay awhile. Aunt barges in, then, complaining that Dad has been messing with her cosmetics—that she sells—again.
Mom sends Little Tae-joo with Aunt and then the police literally tear the house apart in their search. In addition to personal items—eating utensils, toothbrush, and a cigarette butt—bagged by the officers, Dong-chul also snags a cookie tin. By the time Dong-chul calls it a day, the house looks like a tornado blew through.
Outside, detective Nam-shik reports that the neighbors had nothing but positive things to say about Dad. The only odd thing he’d learned was apparently that Dad used the corner store payphone every evening at 10 p.m. Nam-shik leaves to fetch the call records and Yong-ki sets out to locate victim Go Yeong-suk’s acquaintances.
Tae-joo lingers behind to help Mom straighten up a little. Mom asks if Dad’s done something really bad this time, but Tae-joo can only promise to tell her as soon as he discovers anything.
Rejoining Dong-chul in the car, Tae-joo is appalled to see him rifling through the cookie tin he’d swiped. From the contents, it’s clearly a collection of Tae-joo’s treasures, but among them are lighters that could only have come from Dad. Dong-chul argues that those are evidence.
The duo drops in on Manager Park to get the skinny on Go Yeong-suk’s corpse. Manager Park confirms that she suffocated on the panties crammed down her throat and reveals that he found a tuft of chloroformed cotton in her nostrils. Na-young comes in to report that the test results on the fingerprints and blood found at the motel belong to Dad.
Dong-chul holds the folder out to Tae-joo, but the younger detective is in the middle of another episode. Tae-joo imagines his father in the motel room, smiling sadistically as he paints Go Yeong-suk’s nails. With horror, he watches as Dad murders the woman in his imagination and then bolts from the room.
In the bathroom, Tae-joo empties his stomach into a toilet and stumbles over to the sink to wash his face. When he looks back at the mirror, a bright light flashes and the mirror switches between his reflection and his doctor and nurse. The medical team attempts to stimulate Tae-joo’s brain, but is disappointed with the results.
Tae-joo screams that he can see them but the doctor sighs that his reaction is too weak. “I believe something is getting in the way of Mr. Han Tae-joo’s consciousness,” Doc tells the nurse, “Otherwise, it could be that he’s deliberately avoiding the situation.”
Tae-joo presses for answers but Doc only says that if he wants out, he’ll have to show them something. Tae-joo screams that he’ll find a way to prove that he saw them and smashes his fist into the mirror. Na-young finds him like this and takes him to get his hand bandaged.
After the nurse leaves, Tae-joo quietly wonders how long he has to stay here (in 1988). Na-young figures he still must not like it there, but Tae-joo quickly assures her that’s not what he meant. Tae-joo admits that his childhood is fuzzy, but recently unpleasant memories have been resurfacing.
Na-young points out humans only have access to five percent of their memory, while the rest is stored in the subconscious. She says it’s a defense mechanism and suggests that he not try too hard to remember. “Some memories may be better left forgotten,” she tells Tae-joo. Dong-chul bursts into the room and eyes the pair suspiciously. Na-young hides a smile and excuses herself. Dong-chul notices Tae-joo’s bandaged hand and asks if Tae-joo is trying to copy him. Hee.
Back at the station, Yong-ki is enjoying himself as he “interviews” (cough—flirts—cough) with the dead girl’s coworkers. His fun is cut short by the arrival of Dong-chul and Tae-joo. The women tell Tae-joo they didn’t really know Go Yeong-suk since she’d been working less than a week.
Despite not recognizing his name, the women immediately react do Dad’s photo. They call him “Mr. Pacific” after the cosmetic brand he always gifts them with—after stealing it from Tae-joo’s aunt. One woman worries she might be a target since Dad had also given her a bottle of red nail polish.
The women reveal that Dad had another girlfriend. Alas, all they know is that she’s part of the Lottery Gang. One of the women thinks Dad is probably already dead—apparently the dead woman Dad was seeing had also been involved with dirty CEO Oh Jung-man. It’s a name Dong-chul recognizes and he looks unnerved.
Later, Nam-shik explains to Tae-joo that CEO Oh owns a lot of property the police can’t touch. Yong-ki wonders if they really should go digging for Dad’s body and Tae-joo asks if Dong-chul really thinks Dad is their killer. The other detectives seem convinced, but Tae-joo argues there’s no motive.
Na-young brings Dad’s payphone call records. Most calls are to the motel where the dead girl, Go Yeong-suk, had been staying. However, there were a handful to a coffee shop and a stationary store, and one call abroad. The coffee shop matches one of Dad’s lighters from Little Tae-joo’s treasure tin, so the detectives head over to investigate.
The manager denies knowing Dad, so Tae-joo asks for a list of the girls working there. Dong-chul notes the shop closes at 10 p.m.—the same time Dad called. The detectives overhear an argument between the manager and young woman who works there.
The men get up to block the girl’s exit but she’s feisty and sends the rest of the patrons running by brandishing a knife at the detectives. Hilariously, her crazy is no match for Dong-chul. He breaks through his team and hoses her down with a fire extinguisher, muttering his usual gripe about disrespecting cops. Hee.
They manage to sit her down for questioning, but she remains uncooperative. Her disrespectful attitude grates Dong-chul’s nerves and when she claims not to know Dad, he blows up. Dong-chul can tell she lives at the café and therefore has been the receiver of Dad’s phone calls after the shop closes. Yong-ki’s comment that she’s dating Dad finally elicits an answer and she snaps that not only is dad old, but he already has a girlfriend—Madame Jo.
She doesn’t know anything else about the mystery woman, and has only seen her once, herself. When asked why Dad calls, she reveals that he asks about business since he’s the boss of the Lottery Gang. The detectives are shocked and the young woman continues that Dad even runs a casino with Madame Jo.
They drag her back to the station where they figure out there are nine members in the Lottery Gang—with Dad and Madame Jo at the top. Na-young adds that the gang has made 750 million won (or roughly 750,000 dollars). The men try to calculate the bank interest but the café girl snorts. She points out that criminals would make more using their cash to give out personal loans—aka loan sharking.
When asked how Dad handled his money, she says he carried around what he needed in a bag and hid the rest in a storage room only he and Madam Jo know about. The detectives realize that Dad didn’t have a bag when they’d first arrested him and return to the Hawaii Room Salon to check the bathroom.
Alas, the ceiling hatch they’d remembered being ajar is now empty. Dong-chul figures Go Yeong-suk likely retrieved the money while they’d interrogated Dad. He thinks they fought over the money and that was Dad’s motive for murdering her. Feeling overwhelmed, Tae-joo steps out and Nam-shik worries they’ll be in trouble with Chief Kim for releasing Dad. In the hall, Tae-joo notes the palm tree mural on the wall and recognizes it as the backdrop to the postcard Dad had sent home from “abroad.”
Afterwards, Tae-joo sits down for a meal at the bar and confides to the manager that he’s unsure what he should do. Barkeep makes an analogy that when cooking gukbap—a kind of soup—you can try to mask the smell but it won’t work. Only by realizing the source—the meat—can you take the proper steps to eliminate the odor. “If there’s a problem,” he concludes, “you need to find the source of the problem first.”
Dong-chul arrives and asks Tae-joo what’s wrong, suggesting that he just go home if he doesn’t want to work. Tae-joo recalls that Dong-chul once said Tae-joo came here because he wanted to. Looking up at Dad’s wanted poster, he vows to find the source of the problem.
That night, the men sit in Dong-chul’s car staking out Tae-joo’s family’s house. Tae-joo chides Dong-chul for eating the candy in the treasure tin he’d swiped from the house. Dong-chul gripes that it’s not like they belong to Tae-joo. Hehe.
Dong-chul tells Tae-joo to guard the treasure tin and steps out to take a wiz. After he’s gone, Tae-joo spots his younger self and goes out to return the tin. Little Tae-joo says sadly that he knows the detective came to arrest Dad because he’s done something bad. Tae-joo’s heart breaks as the boy asks if his Dad is a bad person.
Tae-joo quickly denies it, saying that they still don’t know anything for certain. Opening the treasure tin, the detective tells the boy he also used to collect pogs (small disks bearing popular cartoons or athletes). Little Tae-joo lights up and asks if the detective collected Haitai pogs.
Tae-joo admits he had every player except one and Little Tae-joo says it’s the same for him. He shares that he thinks the stationary store in the city has the coveted pog, but Mom won’t let him go alone. His words trigger something for Tae-joo and he promises to bring Dad back.
Afterwards, Dong-chul is startled when Tae-joo zips past him in his car. At the station, Tae-joo asks Na-young about Dad’s payphone calls to the stationary store. Na-young confirms that Dad had inquired about his son’s missing pog and Tae-joo enlists her help.
They drive Dong-chul’s car to the station and park in the alley to stake it out. Na-young doubts Dad will show since he’s on the wanted list, but Tae-joo is confident. “If he’s the person I remember,” Tae-joo says, “he’ll definitely come.”
Just as the store owner starts to close up, Dad runs up. Tae-joo corners Dad in the store and asks him to come down to the station. Dad nervously claims he’s busy and promises to come tomorrow instead. Tae-joo ignores him and says he won’t use handcuffs, imploring Dad to come now.
Throwing some merchandise at Tae-joo, Dad escapes outside only to be caught by Na-young. Dad plays dumb when Na-young accuses him of operating gambling parlors and suspected murder. Tae-joo ignores Dad’s whines that he’s innocent as he slaps cuffs on his father’s wrists.
However, when Tae-joo mentions that Go Yeong-suk is dead, Dad seems genuinely shocked. Dad cries that he had no involvement but suspects CEO Oh to be involved. He explains that she’d argued with someone at the motel when he’d stepped out. Dad admits that he’s involved with some shady stuff, but is adamant that he’s never killed anyone.
Dad pleads with Tae-joo, asking if he really thinks Dad’s that kind of person. Tae-joo honestly admits he doesn’t know what kind of person Dad is. They’re interrupted when a group of thugs calls out to Dad. Identifying them as CEO Oh’s men, Dad urges the detectives to run since the thugs won’t care if they’re police.
Tae-joo orders Na-young to get in the car with Dad as he steps between them and the thugs. A fight ensues and while Na-young is distracted by her concern for Tae-joo, Dad manages to escape. He warns them they’ll be in danger if they continue to search for him before disappearing up the street.
Tae-joo is at an unfair disadvantage going up against four gangsters armed with pipes, so Na-young jumps into Dong-chul’s car and drives through the fracas. The thugs scatter and she’s able to run to Tae-joo. Unfortunately, they’re still outnumbered and things are looking grim when suddenly a siren sounds.
Backup arrives and the thugs are cut off by Dong-chul and Yong-ki. The detectives quickly subdue the gangsters and Tae-joo asks them where CEO Oh is. He fills Dong-chul in on what Dad had said, but the thugs reveal CEO Oh is away on business—and has been for days. Dong-chul grumbles that everything that comes out of Dad’s mouth is a lie.
Catching the despondent look on Tae-joo’s bloody face, Dong-chul barks that Tae-joo should’ve told him if he was going somewhere. Tae-joo’s quiet apology only serves to worry Dong-chul further. He grumbles that Tae-joo’s face is messed up before proceeding to clean it off with a classic spit-wash. Aww… he’s worried.
While Tae-joo doesn’t even seem to notice, the rest of the team is completely weirded out by Dong-chul’s affectionate fussing. Noticing their watchful eyes, Dong-chul barks at everyone to pack up. Yong-ki whispers that he also hurt his hand but Dong-chul only snaps that he’ll live. Hee.
Only now does Dong-chul notice his car—which Na-young had crashed into a stack of boxes moments before. Tae-joo finally moves, briskly walking in the opposite direction and breaking into a full run with Na-young when Dong-chul shouts after them, “Which jerk did this?”
Everyone returns to the station and Dong-chul notes that Nam-shik is not watching the café girl like he should be. The young detective runs in behind him, confessing that he needed to use the restroom. The café girl whines that she’s hungry until Dong-chul explodes that she needs to earn her meal.
Pouting, the girl says she did and holds up a sheet saying she identified Madame Jo. The detectives are stunned to recognize her as one of Go Yeong-suk’s coworkers. Dong-chul barks out orders and the team races off to catch her.
Madame Jo isn’t home but they find an armload of Pacific brand cosmetics on her dresser and Tae-joo’s handcuffs—that he’d used on Dad—discarded in a corner. They visit nearby businesses with Dad and Madame Jo’s photos, but don’t discover anything useful.
Morning breaks, but they have yet to find any leads. However, Tae-joo is positive the pair hasn’t left town as they haven’t had time to retrieve the money yet. Dong-chul agrees there’s no way they’d leave without it, but the question is—where is that money?
Na-young chimes in that she did some research on Madame Jo and discovered she was the mastermind behind the Lottery Gang creating a gambling den. She lists numerous properties in Madame Jo’s name, revealing that she also owns 60 percent of the Hawaii Room Salon. One of those properties is an abandoned cement factory near the railroad.
Dong-chul recalls the owner of that factory had committed suicide five years ago and Na-young says that man was Madame Jo’s husband. The officer keeping guard over Tae-joo’s family’s home calls and reports that Little Tae-joo has gone missing.
The detectives rush over and learn officers have already searched the neighborhood to no avail. Little Tae-joo has been missing for two hours and Dong-chul wonders if Dad kidnapped his son. The ringing phone triggers Tae-joo’s memory and he flashes back to his childhood when he’d received a phone call from Dad and snuck out to meet him.
Tae-joo asks where the nearest train station is, announcing that Little Tae-joo went there to meet Dad. Dong-chul asks how he knows but Tae-joo doesn’t have an answer. Luckily, Yong-ki remembers the station is near Madame Jo’s cement factory and the team heads off. Before leaving, Tae-joo promises Mom he’ll bring her son home.
They find Little Tae-joo sitting on a bench outside the station and Dong-chul and Tae-joo question him. Little Tae-joo says Dad called him out to the station to give him his missing pog. He asks if the detectives are there to catch Dad, and Dong-chul fibs that they just want to apologize to Dad for suspecting him.
Little Tae-joo accepts this and says Dad is supposed to meet him at 9 o’clock. Dong-chul hands a walkie-talkie to a plain-clothed Na-young. He tells her to stand near Little Tae-joo and contact them if Dad appears. To Tae-joo’s horror, Yong-ki pulls out a case of guns for the rest of the team. Despite his reservations, Tae-joo reluctantly takes the pistol handed to him.
The hour comes and goes, but no sign of Dad. Dong-chul thinks Dad has tricked them and calls the team back. Tae-joo lingers behind and Na-young gives the boy her jacket. She starts to walk back when Little Tae-joo suddenly takes off running. She and our Tae-joo give chase.
Little Tae-joo had spotted Dad running down the train tracks up ahead. Dad notices them behind him and yells for the trio to turn back. The scene begins to overlap with Tae-joo’s memory of running down the train tracks as a child, except in the memory, he’s crying as he runs away from Dad.
Tae-joo sinks to the ground as his memories converge and he watches Na-young running in her white dress before it shifts to a memory of a dark-haired woman in a white dress running through the woods. Then it shifts again to the hole in the wall—where Tae-joo had seen Dad’s bloody face—and someone strikes the woman in the white dress, causing her to fall back on the table.
Tae-joo snaps out of the memory, realizing the woman he’d seen his father attack is Na-young. He takes off at full speed after the others and somehow finds himself racing through the woods as hospital sounds from 2018 echo in his ears. The nurse is worried that Tae-joo’s heart rate is spiking and Doc assumes Tae-joo is doing something in his subconscious.
Memories continue to overlap with the present as Tae-joo makes his way to Madame Jo’s cement factory. Inside, Tae-joo watches his younger self pass through an entryway and pauses. Doc says something is either blocking Tae-joo’s consciousness, or he’s trying to disregard the current situation.
Steeling himself, Tae-joo passes through and finds the floor on the other side littered with money. Little Tae-joo runs one way but our Tae-joo hears Dad yelling and follows it. He reaches the room just in time to see Dad strike a woman wearing a white dress with a pipe. Dad turns and sees the detective but doesn’t have time to react before they hear a sound on the other side of a wall.
It’s Little Tae-joo and he screams when he sees Dad. Dad drops the pipe and runs back to grab a bag of money, sparing a quick glance at our detective before taking off after his son. Tae-joo makes no move to follow, staring instead at the body on the table. Walking over, Tae-joo is surprised to find that not only is she dead, it’s not Na-young at all—it’s Madame Jo.
Na-young calls him from behind and Tae-joo turns to find her standing behind him. A wave of relief crashes over him but then he remembers Dad and takes off after him. Tae-joo quickly catches up and pulls out his gun.
Turning back, Dad demands to know why Tae-joo is hounding him so much. “I’m here because of you, who I erased from my memory,” Tae-joo cries. Dad is understandably confused by this seemingly nutty guy. Ignoring Tae-joo’s odd response, Dad shouts that he had no choice but to hit Madame Jo because she attacked him first.
Tae-joo shouts at Dad to stop lying. “I trusted you,” he says, “No matter how bad the things you did were I believed that you wouldn’t have killed someone.” Dad reiterates that he’d only defended himself against Madame Jo, but Tae-joo is asking about Go Yeong-suk. Dad argues that he had nothing to do with that.
Calming down, Dad implores Tae-joo to let him go. He says his family is waiting and he’d planned to quit crime after getting the money. Tae-joo asks if his family will be happy with his dirty money and wonders if Dad plans to keep running for the rest of his life. “Your wife and son don’t need that money,” Tae-joo says, “We’re happy if you’re by our side.”
As sirens begin to wail in the distance, Tae-joo tells Dad he’s arresting him for compulsive gambling, operating a gambling den, assault and battery, and suspicion of murder. Dad sighs and finally holds up his hands to be cuffed, telling Tae-joo to do what needs done. Tae-joo clips one cuff before Dad smashes a rock into the side of his head.
Dropping the humility act, Dad asks why Tae-joo had to make things messy, and wonders who he is to worry about Dad’s family. Grabbing the money, Dad runs off and Tae-joo struggles to follow. He makes his way back to the tracks just in time to hear Dad arguing with someone.
Dad scuffles with a man in a baseball cap, accusing him of killing Go Yeong-suk. The guy in the cap pulls out a gun and Dad tries to run back to Tae-joo, screaming for help. Just before they reach each other, the gun fires and Dad collapses. Then, the scene rewinds and Tae-joo tries again to reach his dad. He comes up short and the scene rewinds a third time. This time Dad calls his name right before the gun goes off, and he falls dead for the final time.
Well, if this wasn’t an incredibly traumatic episode, I don’t know what is. As if thinking his father (and personal hero) is a cold-blooded serial killer wasn’t bad enough, Tae-joo then had to watch the man be murdered three times right in front of him. And was completely helpless to stop it. It seems to have been inevitable, as Dad had died around this time in Tae-joo’s original timeline. But if the dissonance between Tae-joo’s memories of the train track chase and the actual event (being that he had been running away from Dad in the memory but both Tae-joos were chasing after Dad in the “present”) it suggests that some things can be altered. That, or Tae-joo’s memories themselves are unreliable.
Halfway through the show, and I still don’t have a solid handle on the mechanics. With all the time-warping and auditory interruptions from Doc, it would seem this is just a crazy lucid coma dream. But everything is far too intricate to just be a figment of Tae-joo’s imagination. It’s both frustrating and refreshing. The mystery has added another layer, as well. The one thing Dad never lied about was his innocence in Go Yeong-suk’s death. He seemed to think the real culprit was CEO Oh, but he was supposedly out of town. And was that CEO Oh who shot Dad? Tae-joo never got a clear look at him. And although black baseball caps are common… I can’t help but think it’s been a while since we’ve seen Kim Min-seok.
Either way, Tae-joo has his work cut out for him.
Switching over to the things that didn’t break my soul: Na-young and Dong-chul. Both took notice when Tae-joo started acting off and then made a point to watch out for him. They’re both so protective of him and honestly, Tae-joo needs that more than he probably realizes. I love that Na-young (who I’m not sure even knows how to drive) was ready to mow down a group of thugs in order to get them off of Tae-joo. And I about died when Dong-chul started mothering him like an errant kid brother. I mean, Tae-joo stole his car, lost the suspect, and got beaten up in the process… but not only did Dong-chul not reprimand him, he was genuinely worried Tae-joo had gotten hurt.
As we glimpsed in his 2018 life, Tae-joo has a bad habit of closing himself off from others. However, when it comes to Na-young and Dong-chul, Tae-joo is surprisingly receptive. I love how candid he is with them, honestly voicing his uncertainty about what to do and feelings of displacement. What makes it so rewarding is that while neither can fully understand the extent of his words (I mean, time-travel?) they’re both happy to listen and offer advice. They’re truly forming a family and Tae-joo needs them now, more than ever. His mental state was already a bit fragile thanks to the time trip, but after everything that’s happened in the last episode alone it’d be no surprise if it broke down completely.