The Lies Within: Episodes 3-8 (Series review)
Aaah, it’s been a good year for twisty, intelligent thrillers, huh? I am so pleased about how this show has turned out. I wasn’t sure how (or indeed, if) it would all come together after its painstaking start, but I’m excited to say that each episode succeeds in being better than the last. It definitely took its time to get good, and the first 4-5 episodes are a careful building up towards its first major turning point towards the end of episode 5.
How much time you can give to build-up and groundwork is always an intrinsic problem in crafting a complex mystery, especially given a limited span of episodes within which to complete your story, but I would venture to say it has all been worth it so far. I can relate to not always being in the mood to be patient, especially since there’s no reliable guarantee of a payoff, but the attention in bringing it to this point makes me optimistic that the show will deliver. It’s really been remarkable how many sharp turns it’s already taken, each time escalating the story to a whole new and unpredictable level.
It’s also steered clear of getting mired in its backdrop of political corruption and corporate infighting, which I can accept as a necessary evil for reasons of plot, but I think the majority of dramas lately just let themselves be swallowed up into the tiring details. Some of this is achieved just by moving away from metropolitan Seoul to a more provincial setting in Songju, which allows us to remove ourselves from the literal context of traditional boardroom chicanery.
Thus, while the motive that drives the chairmen, directors and CEOs might be corporate in nature—the “new business” that our villains are trying to establish—the details of it remain largely abstract, allowing us to focus on the players and the game, rather than the grain of the board. While the show is definitely bringing it as a crime thriller, I think at its deepest level, it’s an intensive character study. Furthermore, it weaves itself tightly into its remote setting, which heightens the small-town noir feel I mentioned last time.
The plot continues to thicken, centering around the disappearance of Seo-hee’s husband, Jung Sang-hoon. Most of the progress has been on the police investigation front, and it’s dominated the narrative so far. While the opening episodes gave us cause to believe that his father’s aide, the vampirish Chief IN DONG-GU (Seo Hyun-woo), had a hand in it, as events and facts unfold, they leave us with as many new doubts as they do truths.
The appearance of the severed hand changes the direction of the police investigation, and the death of Assemblyman Kim (Seo-hee’s father) is upgraded to murder. It then becomes a near-impossible puzzle of not only mapping out Sang-hoon’s last moves, but also the mind of the man himself. Who is the real Jung Sang-hoon? That’s a question that both Tae-shik and Seo-hee grapple with, and for Seo-hee, the question takes on a painful emotional charge.
As I said before, I really love Lee Yoo-young, but she’s badly underused in this first half. She has little to work with and not nearly enough screentime, and Seo-hee as a character has mostly been a victim, inconsequential unless called into service as a pawn for bigger players. This is especially not helped by constant glimpses of her being spied on, whether it’s via hidden cameras in her home, or through her computer activity. (Why does Chief In have that spy lair??)
That said, however, she’s also a self-aware woman who seems to be actively trying to break out of the strictures of a meek, passive character to take charge of her own life again. It’s easy to forget—but worth remembering—that she’s only doing any of this out of fear for Sang-hoon’s life, not because she has any keen interest or ability in politics.
She manages to win the by-election (remember she was forced to run for assembly), but still doesn’t get Sang-hoon back. Instead, things take a wholly more awful turn as his dismembered foot next turns up, which ups the agony of her situation so much more. Instructed to vote in support of the bill for the new business, she’s being bent to the party’s will on one side by Sang-hoon’s abductor, and on the other, by the party leader ASSEMBLYMAN HONG (Song Young-chang). It leads her (and us) to question whether and how Assemblyman Hong is related to the abductor, or indeed if they are one and the same.
She discovers a letter her father wrote which is categorical about his opposition to the bill. She confronts Assemblyman Hong about it, and he drops his nice guy act and threatens her outright. It gets worse for her when she realizes that Sang-hoon’s best friend and colleague, JIN YOUNG-MIN (Ohn Joo-wan), had opposed him, and she learns of their joint past, which reveals another huge secret about Sang-hoon’s own identity: that he’s not Chairman Jung’s biological son, but a replacement plucked from an orphanage due to his resemblance to the chairman’s real son. The original Sang-hoon had become brain-dead after a car accident, along with his mother, the chairman’s wife. The accident is a story by itself, as we find out that it was caused by Chief In’s father used to be Chairman Jung’s driver.
It makes the relationships between the JQ players a thing of thorns. Though Chief In is Chairman Jung’s right-hand man, he’s also very much in a “keep your enemies closer” position, since the chairman only recently learned of his connection to his old driver. Whether it’s to his credit or not, Chairman Jung is clearly torn apart by the slow dismemberment of his son, even though he himself secretly ordered him to be locked up in a mental hospital on the night of Seo-hee’s dad’s death.
Tae-shik discovers this fact for himself, which changes the entire story of what happened that night, and the new information forces them to start the whole line of inquiry from scratch. Chief In secretly committed him on the chairman’s orders, but Sang-hoon escaped from the hospital. The trail next leads to Young-min, whom Sang-hoon had called to meet him in the woods.
By this time, Young-min is brought in for questioning, and he claims that Sang-hoon never turned up. That’s where Sang-hoon’s trail goes cold, and the real point of his disappearance. The focus of one whole episode is jealousy, which we assume to be a spotlight on Young-min and his relationship with Sang-hoon.
As kids, Young-min had taken a timid Sang-hoon (then called Eun-sung) under his wing at the orphanage and enjoyed a friendship with their benefactor, Chairman Jung. But he was devastated when the chairman picked Sang-hoon to be his son instead. Even though Sang-hoon had taken Young-min with him, Young-min had been raised by the housekeeper; it’s the classic story of always playing second fiddle. It’s compounded by the revelation that the new business had originally been Young-min’s from the start, but he’d been displaced by Sang-hoon.
Yet both Young-min and Chief In are let off the hook for Sang-hoon’s abduction by the most gruesome development yet: a fresh eyeball, sent to the entertainment desk of a daily newspaper. What looks like a dead end is blasted open at both ends: Tae-shik and his gang at one side, and Seo-hee at another, and we come full circle as they discover a connection to our jumper at the very start of the show, who we can now identify as entertainment reporter, CHOI SOO-HYUN (Kim Yong-ji).
Through flashbacks, we guess that Soo-hyun was close to both Young-min and Sang-hoon, but chose to work with Sang-hoon in exposing something—something that Young-min, Chief In, and the Chairman, really didn’t want her to. The three of them are quite aware of the significance of the delivery address for the eyeball but Young-min and Chief In try to convince the chairman to let it—i.e. Sang-hoon—lie in order to keep their role in her death, and the reason for it, from being exposed. And understandably, since we see that Chief In drugged her and pushed her from the building. Man, I knew the man was brutal, but the coldness is so chilling.
I’m having a hard time feeling sorry for the chairman, too. He might seem like a cuddly grandpa at first sight, but he’s proved several times that he can be no less cold, and I can’t judge how much of his feeling towards Sang-hoon is sincere, or if it borders on something obsessive with a need for control. There’s so much more to unpack here in the JQ core players’ relationships alone; they are fascinatingly terrible people, but all so very different.
But though the answers we seek remain elusive and obscure, even the questions we should be asking continue to be beguilingly unclear. I’m not so sure all the different clues we’ve been getting are really red herrings: They’re evidence of definite villainy, we just have to join the right dots to the right things. I think we can tentatively hypothesize that, a) none of the JQ trio (Young-min, Chief In, the chairman) are actually responsible for abducting and dismembering Sang-hoon, and b) that there’s an unknown third party looking down at the board over their heads.
I initially mistook the eyeball courier for Sang-hoon (which obviously would have changed everything), but I went back and it’s a pretty clear shot of what looks like a yet unknown face. This has big implications, and the primary question is, is this the person behind it all? The build-up to this point has seen some dangerously tense face-offs between Chief In and Young-min, each convinced that the other was responsible for doing away with Sang-hoon, and determined, first, not to go down themselves, and second, to come out on top in the battle to take his place—a place that may fall vacant soon enough, given the closing shot of episode 8.
Let’s talk about that a second, because it answers one really vital question that’s haunted us for weeks, which is whether Sang-hoon was somehow behind all of this himself, and whether the limbs and eyeball were elaborate fakery, perhaps with some collusion from the medical examiner. But the final shot really definitively answers that, and boy is it gruesome. I mean, I know the human body can survive the worst things,
but can the human spirit? but this is really horrific for a drama that is dressed more as corporate corruption than psychopathic serial killer. It’s a scene that comes very close to what is the wall for me in terms of how much violence and darkness I can handle watching, but I’m in way too deep to stop. *cry*
So who might the true culprit be? I’m willing to speculate that it might just be the real Jung Sang-hoon. Admittedly, it’s long odds, but we’ve never been told that he’s actually dead—only that he’s brain-dead (“only”). But dramaland can reverse just about anything short of full-on, six-feet-under/scattered-ashes dead, so even if it’s improbable, it’s not impossible, and it makes sense from every angle I can think of (apart from medical, obviously). It would explain the culprit’s goals aligning with JQ but also the particular malice towards our Sang-hoon, and suggests purpose in the secondhand pain it causes to his father and wife. It’s a highly imperfect theory, as far-fetched as can be, but hey, stranger things have happened in dramaland. What do you guys think?
What’s been notably missing in the better part of this first half is meaningful interaction between our two leads (as evidenced by the difficulty of getting just one good screencap with the two of them in the same frame). I was getting desperate to see them actually join hands in a proper partnership.
Tae-shik’s trajectory has run largely on a parallel-but-not-touching track to Seo-hee’s, and the times they crossed over felt very much like ships passing in the night. I’m excited to finally see this changing, and for Seo-hee to be the one who demands the partnership, even as Tae-shik demands some trust. There’s been such a strong emphasis on team and teamwork on Tae-shik’s side of the story, while Seo-hee’s is characterized by isolation.
I just need her to be proactive (because I love Lee Yoo-young! Did I say that already?), and as much as I’ve enjoyed the Lee Min-ki side of the story (which is really solid), her side has at times felt bordering irrelevant, which is such a disservice to the actress and her capabilities. Not only is there not enough Seo-hee x Tae-shik screentime, there’s just simply not enough Seo-hee at all. With her soft-spoken demeanor, she might not be the stuff of obvious heroism or badassity, but she’s smart and perceptive, and I think desperation is sharpening her edges enough to make her a match for her would-be manipulators.
The most basic question still remains unanswered: What was afoot with Sang-hoon, Assemblyman Kim, and Choi Soo-hyun that put a target on their backs? I also really want to know what the heck is up with Chief In and his creepy secret spy lair. Like, for real! What is that? Why? Also, someone is not only reporting to him on Tae-shik’s team, but actually passing on their files (if I’m not mistaken, at one point, he has the same actual file that Tae-shik had with his investigation into Soo-hyun’s death). I’m a dummy so all I thought in the moment is, “is there a mole?!” but then I went off and started to read theories (I was procrastinating on this review, obviously), and WELL DUH, the informant saved on Chief In’s phone as “Y”, sending him crime scene photos? Surely it can only be Tae-shik’s boss, YOO DAE-YOUNG (the other Lee Joon-hyuk). I can’t believe I missed that!
I’ll be honest, I didn’t come to this show specifically for Lee Min-ki, though of course I’m a fan of his better projects (I came for Lee Yoo-young…did I say that already? Hee). But I admit it’s Tae-shik that’s made it worth staying, and even when he’s doing nothing at all, he’s super interesting to watch. I also love the way the show refuses to glamorize everyday police work, and so we often see our team engaged in the grinding slog of small tasks—the ones that lead to big breakthroughs.
In no one is that more exemplified than diligent, methodical Tae-shik. He might be harsh on his team members’ mistakes, but he’s just as harsh on himself. He has a way of spotting the logic gaps and missing links in a case, and the tenacity to keep at the tedious tasks; not ignoring the detail in doing his job is what makes him so good at it. It’s also why his slip-up with the Choi Soo-hyun case is such a big deal to him personally, and I was surprised and gratified that he immediately owned up to his mistakes. He’s obviously keenly aware that their every mistake comes at a cost, but we’re also reminded in that moment that he’s a guy who still just wants one thing, which is to go back to his hometown and take care of his mom.
There have been lots of highlights in the show so far (Ho-gyu is really the unsung hero of everything he does, haha), but it is definitely set to fundamentally change course after the events and revelations of the last few episodes. I’m a little afraid of how the second half will raise the stakes, since we’re ascending to new heights of villainy, but I’m going to stay cautiously hopeful that after the next-level maiming Sang-hoon’s endured, the show won’t dare to kill him. Please don’t make me eat my words (or bite off my tongue), show. Please.