Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho 2: Episodes 1-2
After waiting for two long years, our favorite neighborhood lawyer is back! Life hasn’t been very kind to our hero, and in a lot of ways, he’s worse off now than when we first met him wallowing in the gutter. But when someone he cares about goes missing and he realizes that there’s a lot more to the situation than meets the eye, he’s going to have to pull himself back up and get to work saving the day – again.
In the dark of night, a crew of men on a ship throw barrels of waste material into the ocean. Inside one of the barrels, a man, his hands bound, wakes up at the sound of the crew’s music. But he must be either injured or drugged, and he makes no protest as his barrel is tossed into the water.
At first the barrel floats, but soon water starts to leak in and the man wakes fully. He struggles to untie himself as the barrel fills and begins to sink, but he’s unsuccessful, and he falls unconscious. We recognize him as our favorite neighborhood lawyer, JO DEUL-HO (Park Shin-yang).
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Can he drum up an escape?
Elsewhere, a woman in an impeccable glitter manicure works with raw materials, melting the metal and shaping it into a lovely diamond ring. She puts the ring on her left hand, and when an imperfection pricks her finger and makes her bleed, she sucks the drop of blood from her hand dispassionately.
Three months earlier.
Deul-ho, looking scruffy and down on his luck (damn, he still looks homeless), trudges to a nearby PC cafe, where he finds detective MAN-SOO screaming at the top of his lungs while he plays a game. He asks Man-soo if he has money, and when Man-soo says he doesn’t, Deul-ho grabs his wallet and makes a run for it.
He trips and faceplants, cursing his head off, before he gets very far. Man-soo yells that Deul-ho is behind on their bills and rent, and when they get back to Deul-ho’s office, they both get a shock — there’s a young woman asleep in the doorway. She’s weak and crying as she begs Deul-ho to help her find her missing father, whom hasn’t been able to reach him for ten days, and she’s terrified something is wrong.
She’s YOON SO-MI (Lee Min-ji), the daughter of Deul-ho’s friend YOON JUNG-GEON (Joo Jin-mo), all grown up since the last time Deul-ho saw her. She reminds Deul-ho of his law school graduation ceremony many years ago, when nobody had been there to support him. He’d plastered on a brave smile as he left the auditorium, but Jung-geon had come running up to him yelling his congratulations.
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A lonely celebration
Deul-ho recalls another time when Jung-geon had dragged him away from a cup of instant ramyun at his desk to take him home for a proper birthday meal. Jung-geon had resolutely crooned the birthday song at him while Deul-ho laughed and begged him to stop, waking So-mi, who was just a little girl at the time. She had refused to say hello to Deul-ho, hiding shyly behind her papa, but Deul-ho’s silly antics had eventually drawn her out and made her laugh.
Jung-geon and So-mi still live in the same house, and Deul-ho marvels that back then, over ten years ago, it seemed a lot bigger. They go inside, and when So-mi sees the mess that proves that someone has ransacked the place, she collapses, gasping for air and screaming. Deul-ho tries to calm her while Man-soo calls the police, and when they arrive, Deul-ho tells them that Jung-geon is missing.
So-mi can’t stay at her home since it’s now a crime scene, so the guys take her to Man-soo’s apartment, where Deul-ho is also staying. They frantically clean up their awful mess and argue about where So-mi should sleep (Man-soo loses and has to give up his room), and they continue to fight about how to explain So-mi’s presence to people as they bed down in the living room.
Man-soo eventually falls asleep, but Deul-ho sits awake, worried about So-mi and his old friend.
In the morning, Man-soo takes up his complaining about Deul-ho right where he left off as he makes breakfast. He’s nice to So-mi though, chattering cheerfully at her as he serves the food. Man-soo tells So-mi that Deul-ho tends to come and go, but his absence seems to make So-mi nervous.
Man-soo asks So-mi when she last saw Deul-ho, and she confirms that it was when he was a prosecutor and worked closely with her father, an investigator, when she was only seven. Man-soo knows their whole story — how Jung-geon took in the orphaned Deul-ho and raised him, even paying for his school. Poor So-mi can’t get a bite of food for all of Man-soo’s yapping, ha.
Deul-ho has gone back to Jung-geon’s house, ducking under the police tape to sneak in and get a look around. The place has been torn apart, drawers and cabinets gone through and their contents strewn everywhere. Deul-ho imagines someone — whom we see was a woman with a long ponytail — methodically looking for something. Interestingly, she throws unimportant items all over the place but is careful not to break anything.
Deul-ho moves through the house, wondering what the intruder was looking for and why. He finds a discarded notebook in Jung-geon’s room, and he recalls one night in 2004 when he’d crashed on Jung-geon’s couch and had seen him making case notes in a similar notebook. Jung-geon had kept these notebooks for years, writing his case notes in them every night.
The notes stop abruptly on December 27th, about ten days ago, with a list that mysteriously includes “Incheon Station Plaza” and “Myungil University Hospital.” We briefly flash back to February of 1982 to see Jung-geon visit those two locations, then make a call. In the present, Deul-ho takes the notebook and leaves the house.
Deul-ho heads to the police station to see the police captain who investigated So-mi’s report of her missing father. Captain Seo doesn’t seem very concerned since Jung-geon took a three-month leave of absence before he disappeared. He says he only investigated because of the break-in and Deul-ho gets upset, yelling that this isn’t the case file of a missing person.
He shows Captain Seo how Jung-geon’s notebook ends on the day he disappeared, but Captain Seo tosses the notebook in the air with disdain. He reminds Deul-ho that he followed his instincts a year ago and someone ended up dead, and Deul-ho takes on a haunted expression.
We go back one year, when Deul-ho is invited on a TV show to talk about his growing popularity as the “Street Lawyer.” He had recently represented some female students who were kicked out of school for protesting against improper advances by male teachers.
He rambles almost incoherently, causing the show’s host to cut him off abruptly. Deul-ho flies into a rage on camera, ranting and raving about the corrupt teachers and thoroughly humiliating himself.
Later Man-soo takes Deul-ho to see a local politician, BAEK DO-HYUN (Sohn Byung-ho), who asks for help getting his teenage son out of a detention center. He says his son got mixed up with a bad girl and got into some trouble, and he blames himself for being an inattentive father.
While he’s telling his sob story, Deul-ho barely pays attention and sends threatening text messages to Man-soo for trapping him into this meeting, lol. Assemblyman Baek gets on his knees to beg, and Deul-ho is forced to accept the case against his will.
After he leaves (cursing Man-soo’s name), the now-calm Assemblyman Baek is joined by a woman who was in a room just across the hall. He complains that what he just had to do was embarrassing, but she tells him sweetly that his son needs a virtuous image right now, and Deul-ho can give him that. We haven’t formally met her yet, but her name is LEE JA-KYUNG (Go Hyun-jung).
Deul-ho storms out of the restaurant and tries to attack Man-soo through his car window for that little stunt. Man-soo fights him off and drives away, but Deul-ho falls and hurts his arm, so Man-soo freaks and and goes to check on him. As soon as he’s within range, Deul-ho grabs at him, and the chase is on again.
Assemblyman Baek and Ja-kyung part, with Assemblyman Baek asking Ja-kyung to convey his respects to Chairman Kook. She’s driven to a fancy home where an elderly man is residing over some sort of family meeting. Another man (his son?) reads from a book in a monotone voice, a quote about what makes a proper ruler.
The patriarch kicks his son for not speaking louder, then instructs the woman — his daughter-in-law — to continue. Chairman Kook doesn’t like her flowery style any better, ha. When Ja-kyung is led into the room, Chairman Kook orders his daughter-in-law out of her chair at his left hand, and Ja-kyung takes her place (with a little shoulder-check just to make a point).
Deul-ho visits Assemblyman Baek’s son, SEUNG-HOON (Hong Kyung) in the detention center. Seung-hoon admits that he assaulted his girlfriend during a fight, but he insists that he apologized and they made up immediately, and that the sex afterward was consensual.
He seems genuinely upset and confused at the girl’s accusations against him, but what gets Deul-ho’s attention is how he promises that Deul-ho will be rich and famous if he gets him free. Deul-ho tries to decline the case, saying that his specialty is smaller cases, and he ignores Seung-hoon’s desperate pleading as he walks out.
Man-soo is angry when Deul-ho gets home, saying that he’ll never make any money if he won’t take bigger cases. Their bickering is interrupted by a call from the hospital — Seung-hoon was stabbed after another inmate called him a rapist.
He lies in his hospital bed, crying that he never raped anyone. He only sobs harder when Deul-ho asks if Seung-hoon thinks if using violence will make people believe him.
We see in another flashback what happened that night. Seung-hoon had slapped Soo-jin, his girlfriend, but had indeed apologized right away and begged for her forgiveness. He’d obviously believed that they’d made up and physically reaffirmed their love, but by the look on Soo-jin’s face as they lay in bed afterward, she doesn’t appear to have felt the same way.
Still, Seung-hoon seems to be genuinely heartbroken at Soo-jin’s rape accusation, and when Deul-ho asks point-blank if he’s telling the truth, he sobs that he is. Deul-ho is convinced to take the case, and he argues in court that Soo-jin’s statements after the supposed assault and later in court don’t match up. Since her testimony is the only evidence, Deul-ho declares her unreliable and asks the court to find Seung-hoon not guilty.
As he takes his seat, he spots Soo-jin glaring at him from across the courtroom. Suddenly she stands and walks out, looking dazed. Seung-hoon is freed, and Deul-ho does indeed get a lot of attention from reporters for winning the assemblyman’s son’s case, while Soo-jin leaves the courthouse alone.
Deul-ho just wants to get away as quickly as possible, so he’s driving a little too fast as he speeds away from the courthouse. He rounds a corner, and Soo-jin deliberately jumps in front of his car. Deul-ho plows into her, and time seems to stop as her skull smashes into his windshield before she’s thrown over the car.
Horrified, Deul-ho jumps out of his car and runs to Soo-jin’s side. She gasps out, “What… do you… know? You know nothing… you know… nothing…” and she dies. Deul-ho tries to call for help, but his throat closes up and all he can do is gasp weakly. The reporters see what’s happened and rush over to take photos, ignoring Deul-ho as he continues to struggle for air.
He still has panic attacks in which he can’t breath, and we witness one of these, heartbreakingly woven among scenes of him with his ex-wife Hye-kyung and his daughter Soo-bin in happier times. He’d promised Soo-bin that they could see each other as often as she wants, but leaving her still breaks his heart.
Deul-ho visits another Incheon location from Jung-geon’s final list in his notebook — an old, abandoned hospital. Ja-kyung is also there, sitting at a table set with a tea service like she’s in a palace, while across the giant room, a man sits in a chair.
He’s bound and blindfolded, and when Ja-kyung’s minion removes the bag over his head, we see that it’s Jung-geon. Ja-kyung greets him familiarly, but Jung-geon doesn’t appear to know who she is. She snarls at him as she fondles a ring, and elsewhere, Deul-ho moves closer and closer to where they are.
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Following a villain’s footsteps
Okay, this plot is just crazypants, but I mean that in a good way! Poor Deul-ho has gone through the wringer in the past couple of years, and Ja-kyung is so mysterious that I have no earthly idea who she is and what she’s up to, other than that Deul-ho’s old mentor, Jung-geon, seems to know something she doesn’t want him to know. I like it so far — the drama holds back just enough that I want to know more, without being so confusing that I’d rather just give up on the show before getting invested.
So I’m just gonna confess right up front — I didn’t watch the entire first season of Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho. I watched the first few weeks, then dropped it and only followed the recaps, because I found it relentlessly optimistic in an unrealistic way. I understand that that was its charm as well as its major flaw, and I did love the characterizations of Deul-ho and those around him, so I’m here in the hopes that the show learns from its past and gives these side characters a bit more agency besides sitting around waiting for Deul-ho to make decisions.
So far this first episode felt a bit darker, more grounded and methodical. No surprise, since Deul-ho seems to have developed an understandable case of PTSD since the last time we saw him, but while what happened was horrific, I appreciate that Deul-ho has gained some gravitas after what happened a year ago. I actually like that he’s more serious and thoughtful now, and a little tragic, and it makes me anticipate where this new season will take us more than I expected to.
I’m actually the most heartened that this season will be good, judging by the villains, Assemblyman Baek and Ja-kyung. Assemblyman Baek is played by one of my favorite villainous actors, Sohn Byung-ho, though I’m a bit worried that we seem to be replaying the familiar scenario of a corrupt politician going to illegal lengths to protect his troublemaking son. But I’m extremely excited about Go Hyun-jung, who has the ability to be menacing in a way that very few actors can pull off without seeming over-the-top. Here she has this air of quiet, patient malevolence, which gives me shivers in a good way and makes me look forward to whatever evil she’s planning. I know that Deul-ho is up to the challenge despite his current low mood, and I can’t help but anticipate their inevitable clash and how deliciously horrible it’s going to be.
In general, I found this premiere episode much more compelling than what I saw of the first season of Jo Deul-ho. The casting is top-notch, the acting is solid (I was particularly moved by Hong Kyung’s pathetic portrayal of Seung-hoon — I’d have fallen for his sob story), and the plot, while a mirror of the first season’s, is still interesting enough that I wasn’t disappointed. Even the production value seems better, and I like that the near-slapstick feel of the first season seems to have been put aside to give this season a less… well, silly tone. Mostly.
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