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[Villains] When baddies dream of being good


Come Here and Hug Me

The best villains are the ones with a good story, good acting, and wicked fashion sense. But it’s hard to hit that trifecta of villain perfection every time. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to put us drama fans on a watching, commenting, and gif-ing frenzy: just dangle the villain redemption carrot.

There’s something exciting about an enemy who shows signs of wanting to go rogue. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s romance, loneliness, or conscience that plants that yearning in them. As soon as I see that seed of doubt, I pounce on the character and start screaming at the screen, the previews, the writer, and the Drama Gods to pleeease make this reversal happen and soon. And I’m not alone in this mania. *points to hundreds of comments and fanwall gifs dedicated to Beanies’ favorite baddies*


An Empress’s Dignity

The screaming is partly from this sense of urgency. We want the villain to stop before they do something we can’t forgive them for. No one wants a guy who murdered an islandful of plane crash survivors to suddenly join our heroes in a rooftop party. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Missing 9.) So the moment I see a villain who wants to be good, I start chanting, “Stop, turn around, turn around now before you do something that can’t be undone.”

But admittedly, part of the screaming is because I’m impatient for the reversal. I hate when the ex-bad guys just apologize or go to jail in the last five minutes. It robs me of the chance to watch the good and previously-evil characters interact in an explosion of awkwardness. I mean, that’s the biggest reason I wanted them together in the first place! (Err… aside from wanting good and justice to prevail.)


Chief Kim

Take Chief Kim, for instance. Yes, we wanted the Food Psycho to drop his chaebol overlords and join our gang, but it wouldn’t have been fun if they became chummy buddies right away. We would’ve missed out on a lot of things. Like his indignant squeaks when Chief Kim blew him a kiss, the shrieking when they fall asleep hugging after a night of planning, or those times when Food Psycho lowered his guard while eating (allowing Chief Kim to hand-feed him kimchi and wipe crumbs off his face)… those were the scenes that made the team-up hilarious to watch and worth the wait. And that was so much better than having Food Psycho just apologize and hand over The Secret Ledger in the final hour.

Another of my favorite villains who took us on an emotional rollercoaster is killer-wannabe, secret marshmallow Hyun-moo in Come Here and Hug Me. He spent 3/4 of the series walking around telling everyone “I hate you, you’re not my family, I’m gonna kill you soon.” At the same time, he was secretly hanging around and making abandoned-puppy eyes whenever his younger brother, stepsister, and stepmom looked like they were having fun.

We all screamed for him to come out already and ask for hugs, but imagine how disappointing it would be if he actually did that. So an end where he never said “I love you” out loud, but risked his life for his stepfamily anyway THEN paid for his sins with prison time on top of actual remorse was more fitting. What made it perfect was the fact that even after reconciliation, he never stopped calling his younger brother “that jerk.” Plus, Hyun-moo was hospitalized after his hero moment, so we got a lot of scenes where he was trapped in bed and had to “endure” his family’s affections while secretly basking in all that love. It’s funny and dark and sweet and exactly what I wished for.


Forest of Secrets

Then there are those characters that are half evil, pure chaos. They don’t just play with the idea of being good. They go from bad to good and back like a redemption story on crack.

For instance, there’s my favorite weasely traitor, Seo Dong-jae, in Forest of Secrets. He played everyone and every side so well that you could never tell if he was an ally or an enemy. He was so unpredictable that even when he was playing for the good guys, you’re chanting for him to “stay there stay there stay there” because you know he could be distracted by the tiniest whiff of power. It made for a very tense but funny watch. Especially whenever you saw his eyes whizzing around, doing the mental math to calculate whether being good or being bad would benefit him more at that moment.


Liar Game

And who can forget Jamie from Liar Game? We knew she could change the whole game, but there was no chance in hell that she would. So it was like winning the drama lottery when she actually helped out the good guys. And she didn’t even do it for justice. She just did it because Evil was being annoying that day. How cool was she? One of the side characters summed it up well when he said something like, “That girl may be a traitor, but she’s at her best when she’s betraying someone.” (Especially when that someone is the bad guy.)

One more reason I love it when ex-villains join hands with the heroes is the chaos that comes after.

You know how there’s always this scene when the hero’s team hears for the first time that they’re gonna be working with their ex-nemesis? We’ve seen it countless of times in different shows. And yet I still rub my hands and cackle in anticipation every time the enemy walks into our gang’s headquarters for a truce and the sidekicks are outraged.


Special Labor Inspector Jo

“What do you mean we’re going to entrust the whole operation to this jerk? He put me in jail two episodes ago!” *cue wisecracks and fisticuffs* Then the leader has to grovel, aegyo, and pacify his old team while the new “ally” stands there, annoying everyone and not helping de-escalate the situation at all. See? Chaos = fun.

My love for baddies who teeter on the edge of good isn’t exclusive to dramaland. There’s Draco Malfoy and Loki and Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent, just to name a few. Seeing that tiny crack in their villainous shell always makes me want to pull them over to our side. Even if it means living a life of uncertainty, always breaking up fights and looking over your shoulder, counting the candlesticks and tapestries, and changing the combination to the safe’s lock every other day. Wildcard villains add chaos to everything. But I adore them, because you know they will never commit the biggest sin in dramaland: the crime of being boring.


My Fellow Citizens

 
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"When Baddies Dream of Being Good": Actually, aren't most "villains" really the good guy in their own mind, and justify their actions? Or do they do anything worse than the "good" guys? But I do love a good redemption arc...
You made me want to try Chief Kim again. As much as I love Junho I've never been able to get into this one.
Is Come Here and Hug Me the same as Come and Hug Me? From your description I think so...Ah, I had to look it up but honestly, I don't remember much about Hyun moo.
And...you're talking to a Loki fangirl here.
Sometimes it's the bad guy who has the most interesting role. Loki's a prime example.
What about "Bad Guy"? Kim Nam Gil and especially Kim Jae wook.
Aargh, now I want to re-watch everything on your list and I'm to pare my list down!
So thanksalot.
I really enjoyed your article too!

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@linda-palapala
This was my first thought as well.

KDrama does not have the same good v bad dichotomy. To me, KDrama society not only explicitly rewards those we often perceive as "bad" but its rituals enforce and protect that behaviour...and those who buck the system are seen as trouble makers.

It is hard to argue that what is knowingly so built-in to the system - not as a fault but as a feature - is on the outside. Hence to those "baddies" they are not only achieving and doing good, they are inline with their society and only trying to achieve its highest accolades...Isn't that the version of good in any society?

In a society so strongly organised by hierarchical ritual, "baddies" wearing the mask of the lowly and "good" is nothing more than the social convention of being humble. I think it is a mistake to see it as contrition or Metamorphosis. Those acts are as fake as all those bowing apologies when a business is caught out that we see in every chaebol drama.

Sadly it is our own transference and just a mis-reading from the outside.

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Awesome @mary!! I love myself a conflicted villain to root for in my Kdramas (eg: Hyuk in TLE, Junho in Chief Kim, Hwang in The Fiery Priest). But I also don't mind hating the rotten-to-the-core villains (eg: scarface in The Fiery Priest, Evil 4 in Return, Jae Kyung in YWCFTS). They indeed make the drama more exciting and will never be the boring one. (Lol half of my villain list is one actor. I need to find a new drama with new villains to add on my villain list 🤣)

Outside of dramaland, my favourite anti-hero/villain might be Loki. At one point he is evil, another he feels bad...he gave me whiplash trying to figure out which side is he on. Tbh, I think the Thor movies won't be exciting at all without his character.

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Loki was great because he actually had a growth arc and more was more than a one-dimensional character. Did you know he's going to have his own show? With Tom Hiddleston of course.

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Yes he did have character growth. And I did like how gradual his character growth was, he didn't turn good in an instant, instead he went back and forth. I did read that there will be a Loki show. I'm interested to see how is he still alive after being brutally killed in the first minutes of Infinity War.

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LOKI!!!! 😍

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This was fun. This is why I haven't watched The Last Empress because from the wall I so would of wanted the emperor to end up the hero.
I love the story arc that can come from a grey (or darker)character redeeming themselves.
I dropped The Walking Dead but i couldn't believe how i came to love Daryl. The last season I watched there was a little part of my heart that wished he and Beth could just hide away in that house eating gross sandwiches and playing the piano.
Jamie Lannister was horrible in the beginning of the book and show versions of Game of Thrones but I adored his friendship with Brienne. I wish they'd just kept on going on their road trip.
Then their is Boyd Crowder and how I wanted him to become best friends forever with Raylan Givens a pretty dark grey character himself. This show I finished and loved till the end. Their, "We dug coal together." is still one of my favorite lines.

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Boyd Crowder is a true legend, and Walter Goggins is amazing actor.

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Such a good actor playing a great character. I loved the chemistry between he and Timothy Olyphant.
That show was filled with some dark but funny characters.

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Yes, if we talk about villains, Wynn Duffy, Dewey Crowe and Dickie Bennett were gems and fun too watch. The bad guys made this show.

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So fun, but still scary. Jere Burns was great at Wynn Duffy. Actually Justified had strong performances from all the actors. Whoever did casting on that show did well.

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Food Psycho! I miss him.

My favorite non-drama villain redemption is an oldie but a goodie -- Darth Vader.

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...there’s an easy way to put us drama fans on a watching, commenting, and gif-ing frenzy: just dangle the villain redemption carrot

I am in this article and I don't like it. HAHA. Kidding aside, I easily fall in love with female baddies, namely Hoo-ja and Jamie, since aweeesome women like them are rare in Dramaland. But then the Royal Hotness Shin Sung-rok in The Last Empress came into my drama-watching life, and everything suddenly changed. My fan wall became a SSR GIF haven and I became reeeeaaally invested in that show because it does not only contain cunning evil women (which are all amazing and cray cray btw). I only started that show because I saw granny used her weave to beat up the emperor and his mistress and it looks so much fun but I ended up staying for the strong female lead and the emperor that has changed for the better.

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TLE was a chestbox full of villains to hate and root for. Gimme another cracktastic drama dramaland! Gimme villains who go all out. Though it might be hard to top evil mum in TLE. She was the female version of Pablo Escobar but with the additional power of the monarchy pushing her from the back. She burned a bird to control her son. She bury people in cement as punishment. She ran drug trials on civilians and threw their bodies in the river, just to remain young. Gosh! Evil mum was an amazing cray2 kdrama villain. So easy to hate but so fascinating to watch.

On the other hand we have her son, who is evil but also a meme. Hahahaha

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Hush, Hyuk was just a lonely boy who watched his burning pet bird fly away. All he wanted was to be loved, and an unlimited supply of instant coffee.

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Hyuk also wanted some love from Sunny Noona. The bonus epilogue sort-of made up for it so I am glad.

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Evil mum was so fun to make GIFs of. She actually had a really nice family line: a cute and really nice Crown Prince, a man-hungry Meme Princess, and an instant coffee-loving Meme Emperor. She is the evilest of all moms in makjang land.

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Yes~ Hyuk was lonely and wanted to be loved~ 😢. The bonus epilogue gave us an alternate universe Hyuk-Sunny, it made me happy for lonely Hyuk.

I have a gif of evil-mum lounging on her couch watching TV, I can relate to her most at that moment. Hahaha

She had a beautiful family. Don't forget her grandchild Ari. A feisty kid she was and also mom-dad no1 shipper! Okay..now I need to rewatch Ari dubbing Granny scene. That was amazing and creative 😂

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I have GIFs of evil mom yelling... I don't know why HAHAHAHAHAHA 😂

I might GIF grandma beating Hyuk up once I had the time to rewatch TLE 😂

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Crazy women villains fuel my closet makjang addiction.

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This is why TLE became the show that fulfilled my closet makjang addiction. There are LOTS of cray cray women villains HAHAHA

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Wonderful write-up @mary! 👏👏 I see you're still spreading the Kim Kyung Nam love. Well done! :D First he's a wannabee marshmallow villain in COME AND HUG ME, and then he's the outraged hero sidekick in SPECIAL LABOR INSPECTOR JO. I loved that pic of the chaos in Deok-Gu's lair. 😂

*CHIEF KIM spoilers below*
Gluttonous Sociopath's redemption was the most satisfactory watch for in 2017. I hoped, ranted, and despaired in the recap discussion that he had reached "the point of no return", but then the show redeemed him and gave us just enough delicious pay-off to make it worth it.

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Speaking of CARROTS, I remembered another character who is poised to enter the club of wannabee villains: Saya from ARTHDAL CHRONICLES.
Granted, most characters in that drama (except Carrot Boy) have a dark side to them, but Saya is that dangerous kind of psycho that makes you pity him and want to root for him, but at the same time you keep yelling at him: "stop, you are going too far!" We'll find out what happens to him in September (ugh, hateful wait).

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I remember how we were all practically writing Glutton’s redemption plot (which is he was just undercover and still a prosecutor). But no one could’ve guessed that it’s the good guys who fabricated his “undercover prosecutor” story LOL and Glutton didn’t actually plan anything, he just went along with it.

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YES, lol, we held onto the undercover prosecutor theory for many episodes. *plops in a chair laughing like TQ Psycho*

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I'm so glad you gave me a moment to revisit my favorite heroes villains here. Hyuk, Food Psycho, Weasel, Jamie, and my newest bad girl crush Park Hoo-ja are just so charismatically memorable. (and adorable too)

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I’m screaming at the Ever After reference as it’s one of my fav movies. “Counting candlesticks and tapestries” LOL!

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Yasssssssssss mine too! ♥️

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Boring villains are the worst, especially when you can’t figure out why they are doing things and then they drag down the whole drama. So, it’s always interesting to see the ones that want to be someone else or just become something else for the heck of it. Also, Missing 9 could’ve been an okay show if it didn’t have that last episode party! I’m still mad and confused on why they let him join them, like huh?! He could’ve and probably would’ve killed you all, sigh. Chen’s OST for it was good though, hehe!

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Let me tell you why I loved the last episode party: Usually when kdramas run out of story but still have time left they have to use filler or stretch things out story wise. I think what Missing 9 decided to do instead of using filler flashbacks, etc., they just decided to party. I thought it was hilarious and it was fun watching them have fun. (I'm probably the only person who felt that way!)

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That’s true, we hardly see them having fun, so it was nice in that sense that they all got together after that horrific event to be silly together...just maybe leave the murderer out of it and then I’ll probably be okay with it.

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Urgh, I loved every single one of those villains. I'm obviously a total sucker for that redemption arc.

Thanks @mary for a great post!

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Wow, Mary, you make me wish to watch "come and hug me" only because of that description of the brother.

Thank you for your article. Of all the examples I only know glutton in chief Kim and I also loved his redemption arc.

It may be fun to sum up a list of baddies who wanted to harm our heroes but things went wrong for them, just like the uncle in "shopping king louie" 😂😂😂😂
These baddies were also not boring.

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@mary, how did I just KNOW Hyun-moo was going to be in there from the title! 😆
Your write-ups always make my day better!

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Some villains are more effective than the hereos like Yoo Seung Ho in Warrior Dong Baek Soo, he did all the bad work for Ji Chank Wook to be the hero. The same in Ruler Master of the Mask, Yoon So Hee was the daughter of the villain but at the end she did more than the Prince.

For Forest of Secrets, I think the hardest part was the killer, he was a part of the team :(

Hyun-moo in Come Here and Hug Me was a great character. His evolution was nice to see. Kim Kyung Nam was great in this role, he really impressed me.

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This reminds me of Zuko’s character arc in the three seasons of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. He moved from villainous, to conflicted, to awkward ally and finally trusted fried.

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He had a cute uncle to help him :)

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The Wok of Love gang wanted to become good but had
retain their badness in order to make things work out.

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So good. Thanks for reminding me of the times when baddies join the good guys--even for a few scenes. Your words reminded me of Squad 38, when the evil boss Ma Jin-Suk was turned to help the task force. (Oh, how vile was he at first when he made his housekeeper choke down the water.) I never fully trusted him, even when he changed sides. And that made the drama even better.

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It's amazing you thought of him! This piece actually started out about him but ended up being more encompassing so I had to cut him out for brevity. I had to cut a lot of my faves out for the post to make sense. :'( But the first draft was totally inspired by Oh Dae-hwan's recognizable behind when he joined the gang and I couldn't fully trust him. I posted a pic of the first written draft here: https://twitter.com/kdramalaws/status/1156014973312569345

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Ahh....Draco Malfoy....I don't remember seeing any particular crack on his shell except that he sure got scared a lot of Voldy + gang in the final book.

Loki though, is quite interesting. He's so unpredictable, I can never tell what he really wants. It makes the movies fun to watch.

I like the term "Wildcard Villians". It's so apt for your article Mary. And I really like the write up because I too find myself on edge when a villain has second thoughts of being a villain.

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Oh I'm suddenly reminded of the "villain's assistant" who sometimes tries to back out due to fear/actual regret but when they try to hand over evidence, they are caught & disposed off. Sad life....

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Awwn thankeu~

Re: Malfoy, in the 6th book, he was torn about the mission to _______. It's like he's been playing at the "Slytherin heir/Annihilate all Mudblood-coddlers" thing because that's his whole family's mantra, but when he actually had to kill people because his dad's life was at stake, he became really conflicted and vulnerable. We don't see most of it but it was implied in that scene where we saw he developed a friendship with Moaning Myrtle.

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Yep he's not evil enough to go around killing people.🤔

But I'll always dislike him for being the meanest bully in school who gave our trio a very difficult time. 😂

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"like a redemption story on crack" 😂😂😂😂😂

I actually hate charaters who keep changing sides. But Seo Dong-Jae was so perfectly written and played that I couldn't hate him. It was in a way reassuring that you knew you should never trust him, no matter which side he was on.

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@mary you had me at Chief Kim. SOOO satisfying!
Forest of Secrets is on my "rewatch at Christmas" list for its backstabbing double crossing good-but-bad characters.

This reminds me of a song in an animated movie called "All Dogs go to Heaven 2" where an evil cat is proudly singing about how great it is to be bad. If you have a silly moment, watch it!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJwd86x81SI

I am sure all our fav Bad God Guys sing this when they look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. lol

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I LOVE THIS @mary and im so glad you brought up the URGENCY for us to get our villain redemption, but it has to be done right. The perfect example you used for redemption done wrong was missing 9. Like seriously, bam! They just decide to forget his past actions. HOW? What logic?
And yes, you pinpointed, the exact right issue: we want the redemption to come quick because we know how fragile our villain is and we're afraid for him to do the unforgivable (that didnt stop me from loving royal hotness tho, but let's be honest, no lgic was used in that show).

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Seo-Dong Jae. Gosh, I just realized how much I appreciated his character. My favourite thing is that you can't exactly classify him as a villain, or a hero really. Probably that's why he never paid for his mistakes. Ironically, he did had some limits, but just because he knew there would be consequences.
I related to him a lot, because he wasn't in any way genius, he just had this cockroach survival instinct. In the world of Forest of Secrets that was exactly what kept him afloat.

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Yeah, I loved that he had absolutely no pride at all. If he had to snivel and grovel to whoever is on top, he would. Everyone else had a sort of emotional connection to their cause (fighting for justice, revenge, wanting the top title in the organization), Seo Dong-jae just wanted benefits and bribes. So he went with the highest bidder. Or, if no one wants to bid, he goes out there to market himself. LOL

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I think no one really bothered to get rid of him because they knew the next minute he might be on their side XD

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Hehehe true true~ I hope he’s still there in season 2. I wanted to write about him in the monthly theme about epilogue (or was it multiple seasons?)

He’s very savvy about media manipulation (bombarding with gossip, fake news, salacious false articles). He’s also very open about his corruption. He embodies the political climate of some countries today.

Imagine a second season where Shimok goes back to Seoul to fight corruption, only to discover that the people are so confused and tired of the politicking that they don’t care anymore. It’s a situation where folks like Seo Dong-jae thrive. Then Shimok learns that exposing corrupt officials isn’t enough to get justice anymore. It’s dark and true (aaaand also sets Weasel King up to be the big bad of s2).

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