The Lies Within: Episodes 1-2 (Series review)
OCN’s newest weekend thriller (and Netflix Original) lands with a crisp entrée into a world of subterfuge that lies cloaked beneath a winding litany of the mundane. This has been one of my most anticipated pairings of the year: Lee Min-ki needs no introduction, and I LOVE Lee Yoo-young. She’s been one of my absolute most favorite actresses since Tunnel back in 2017, and she consistently elevates every role she’s had.
There’s always something quietly hurt about her portrayals that makes my heart ache, and I admit it’s hard not to be reminded of her own personal history while seeing her take on this role. This show sees her unite with Lee Yoon-jung, the director of 2017’s Argon, Kim Joo-hyuk’s last drama before he passed away. I don’t know if is anything more to this union, but I hope it proves healing for all.
The basic premise of the drama is that after the death of her father, Assemblyman KIM SEUNG-CHUL (Kim Jong-soo), and her husband’s disappearance, KIM SEO-HEE (Lee Yoo-young) is forced to run for assembly if she ever wants to see the latter again. She teams up with Lee Min-ki’s detective character to uncover the truth.
The Lies Within opens on the scene of a young woman’s suicide: We don’t know who and we don’t know why. But we do know that it causes huge distress to Seo-hee’s husband and CEO of JQ Group, JUNG SANG-HOON (Lee Jun-hyuk). Confronting his father-in-law, Assemblyman Kim, he says that they both know that woman would never commit suicide, and he swears to bring to light to everything that led to her death.
The encounter and his intense emotion suggest that Sang-hoon is as straight as they come, while the assemblyman clearly has things on his conscience. He leaves without a word, despite Seo-hee begging him for explanations. The relationship between husband and wife is clearly full of things Sang-hoon doesn’t say, and it leaves Seo-hee to believe he’s having an affair. That same night, the assemblyman dies in a car crash while heading to an unknown destination.
We’re introduced to investigating detective JO TAE-SHIK (Lee Min-ki) and his team. Tae-shik is an effective detective, but he wants nothing more than to be done with Seoul so he can relocate to a rural precinct and be close to his mother (which tells you everything worth knowing about him, right?). His team practically refuses to let him go—it’s always “one more case,” and it’s clear that he’s a caring sunbae, though he seems to have something of a permanently distracted air.
I’m glad to see Lee Min-ki still bringing his trademark weirdness to his character. He’s best when he’s offbeat, and he binds it all perfectly together with a twist of satoori. He also has an interestingly clipped way of speaking, as if he’s speaking half out loud, and half in his head. Watching him work makes me think of the expression “a clock that keeps its own time,” which I think is a perfect description of him. He moves at his own pace, regardless of how slow or fast things are around him, and follows where the evidence leads. Unlike other team members, who have theories they attach to, he attaches only to the clues, not his suppositions of what story the clues should tell. It seems like a random distinction, but it’s also what sets him apart from his colleagues, and has the effect of allowing the plot to accelerate at a rapid pace—which it does.
With Assemblyman Kim barely cold in his grave (in a manner of speaking), his party leader approaches Seo-hee’s mom, and strongly suggests Seo-hee run in the upcoming by-election to replace him. On the one hand, it could be for simple political continuity and to maintain the party’s stronghold, but on the other… well, we’ll get to that. Seo-hee is definitely not politician ilk, but there’s a cryptic allusion to covering up the assemblyman’s wrongdoings and preserving his reputation. Is that a threat from the party leader if they don’t co-operate?
Tae-shik is the first one to pick up on the clues that point to Assemblyman Kim’s death not being an accident, and they all realize that Sang-hoon has also disappeared since the night of the crash. According to his secretary, he’s gone abroad on a business trip—except he hasn’t, so where is he?
It all comes to a gruesome head at Assemblyman Kim’s memorial, where they’re sent a box with a severed hand—Sang-hoon’s. Seo-hee recognizes it by their matching wedding bands, but DNA confirms it. She latches on to the hope that he was alive while it happened, which is horrible, but then maybe he’s not dead? She’s the last known person to have seen him alive, and she unwillingly admits that it was to serve him with divorce papers.
For Tae-shik, each clue slots into the next, and he reveals a broad chain of connections between Sang-hoon and Assemblyman Kim, which tells quite a different story to the one Seo-hee (and Tae-shik’s team, lol) imagined. Rather than amorous assignations, Sang-hoon seems to have been working secretly with Assemblyman Kim on some project relating to his renewable energy company.
In a turn of entertaining irony, the Seoul team relocates to Songju, the district where Assemblyman Kim died… and where Tae-shik was headed out to anyway. The funniest part is that he doesn’t turn a hair at all. I love this character, he’s so in his own world, haha! Also this means the continued hilarity of his Laurel-and-Hardy hoobaes, KANG JIN-KYUNG (Kim Shi-eun) and JEON HO-GYU (Yoon Jong-seok). Jin-kyung is always a little over-the-top and off the mark, while Ho-gyu is acerbically square; both are immediately endearing and (mostly) competent, but what makes the dynamic really fun is that she’s the sunbae and bosses Ho-gyu around accordingly.
Sang-hoon’s abandoned car turns up in a remote neighborhood, and leads Tae-shik to a local teahouse. Sang-hoon was last seen there having a heated argument with someone after Assemblyman Kim’s death. The flashback shows the man fuming over Sang-hoon trying to compensate him for something, and I wonder if this has anything to do with the girl whose death he was so upset about?
The witness recalls the other man’s distinctive smell. The trail leads to a closed-down concrete factory and a man called Kim Pil-yeon, who had a past connection to Assemblyman Kim. They think that he took their plans to locate a renewable energy plant in Songju as a personal betrayal, and abducted Sang-hoon in revenge.
But the story is full of holes, even when a knife turns up that implicates Kim—that, Tae-shik thinks, is even weirder. Why cut off his hand in one place, and bring the knife all the way back here? It makes no sense—and it wouldn’t, because Kim isn’t the mastermind, evidenced by the fact that he’s on the run himself, and nearly killed by an unseen figure.
Sang-hoon is the heir of JQ Group, which was founded by his father, Chairman JUNG YOUNG-MOON. Chairman Jung is a character I can’t get a read on yet. He can’t have ordered what happened to his son, but he’s definitely got his hand in something shady, given his chief aide’s bloody errands. The aide savagely chases down Kim Pil-yeon in an effort to find Sang-hoon, but Kim bests him and escapes.
Meanwhile, Seo-hee gets hacked, and is sent the horrifying video of her husband getting his hand severed. She’s told that the only way she can save his life is to run for assembly (and if she tells anyone, he dies)… which is kind of random? But I suppose it will become clearer as we go on what exactly the mastermind means to achieve through her. In any case, Seo-hee immediately announces her intention to run. It’s the moment she dons a new mask, where you can see the beginnings of the woman of steel she’s going to have to become if she wants to survive this.
But there’s never just one villain, is there? Kim Pil-yeon calls her out, apparently demanding money in exchange for her husband’s location. She arrives at the specified storage container, where’s she’s met by a hanging body… whose identity we’ll find out next week. Gah! But my money is on it being Kim himself. He’s clearly out of his league with whatever is happening, and I think he has no idea how big this is going. I’m also fascinated by the mystery of Sang-hoon. He’s definitely not a cipher but he’s also a totally unknown quantity. What was he up to? Where is he now? I think he must still be alive, but for what purpose? What is the villain’s actual goal?
It must be said that these opening episodes are really dense, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for emerging from them with their expectancy heavily tinged with confusion. That’s because they are somewhat confusing: There are many introductions, and events come at you in rapid succession. Keeping names, faces and connections straight is no easy task this early on, and even for the purpose of this review, I’ve had to watch and rewatch, study character charts, and double- and triple-check all the details. Its main achievement so far is atmosphere, and it delivers a lonely, small-town noir feel which is lightened by the oddball characters populating the detectives’ side of the story.
I’m not sure how maxed out I am on corporate corruption and political machinations right now, with every next drama leaning so heavily on that formula. The parts that keep me invested are always the small-scale team moments and personal interactions, and I hope that that aspect will stay the primary focus of the drama, because the fatigue I get from trying to care about (and tell apart) endless bunches of greedy old men is too real. That said, I always love a show that is rich for character exploration and rewards attention to detail, and this one does have the makings of it. We’ve spent the opening episodes laying the groundwork for the major plot and character arcs, so with the set-up out of the way, I’m expecting the show to really hit its stride next week.