Gap-dong: Episode 12
We get a major breakthrough in this episode, and it’s so big that it has me wondering where we could possibly go from here to keep up the mystery. Are you really giving us the truth at this point, or is this another red herring in a sea of red herrings? I suspect we’re in for some twisting of the situation, but even so, we’re taken in a new direction with the truth and hopefully the next phase of the case takes us somewhere interesting.
SONG OF THE DAY
Park Shi-hwan – “다만 그대를” (Just you) [ Download ]
EPISODE 12 RECAP
On his flight to Switzerland, Tae-oh can’t hold back his murderous impulse and strikes again. In the aftermath, he looks angry at himself for the lapse, and his reaction goes duly noted by that passenger who has been keeping an eye on Tae-oh through the course of the flight.
Mu-yeom hears that the bloodied police badge in Profiler Han’s office belonged to Chul-gon, to his shock. Chul-gon overhears this phone conversation and must feel that the truth is about to come out, because he imagines himself being interrogated by Mu-yeom, confessing to being Gap-dong—or at least, one of them. Mu-yeom is flabbergasted, knowing Chul-gon’s doggedness in pursuing the case, but Chul-gon explains that his conviction that Gap-dong was multiple people came from his own experience being one of them.
Profiler Han is alarmed to find that badge missing from his bookcase. Mu-yeom arrives with it in his possession and asks for an explanation.
Jumping over to Chul-gon, we get the explanation in alternating points of view—first Profiler Han says that he believed Chul-gon to have been caught in a trap, while we see the flashback via Chul-gon’s memory. Chul-gon carries with him a tattered document he’s carried with him for the past twenty years, which contains his sworn statement detailing his experience from the day of the seventh murder when he’d been staking out the neighborhood.
We see Chul-gon on that day, in his stakeout position when he spots a figure walking by in the rain. The figure bolts upon seeing Chul-gon, and he chases along that rain-slicked road. That person slips in the mud and tumbles down a hill, but when Chul-gon catches up to him, he finds that it’s not Gap-dong but the female victim—she’d mistaken him for Gap-dong and run in fear.
Chul-gon shows her his police badge to allay her fears, but she’s too injured and dies from her wounds. In that statement, Chul-gon blames himself for contributing to the victim’s death, ready to accept whatever punishment comes his way. But he’d never turned it in.
Tae-oh’s departure suggests that Iltan will see no more copycat murders, but the police are briefed on Murder No. 7 just in case. The victim was found where Chul-gon had last seen her, but her hands were tied and a gag stuffed in her mouth, per Gap-dong’s other victims.
Profiler Han explains to Mu-yeom the one difference in this case, which was the police badge found near the victim’s body. He had covered for Chul-gon, believing that it was put there on purpose to target Chul-gon, since he’d been Gap-dong’s most fervent pursuer.
Mu-yeom argues that he should have just told the truth, but Profiler Han says that the situation was reaching a critical point and even the president had gotten involved—any shred of evidence would have been clung to as a reason to catch a suspect, and Chul-gon could have faced the death penalty. But even now, Profiler Han wonders whether he’d made the right call.
Mu-yeom meets with Chul-gon next, and informs him that Profiler Han had believed him to be set up. Chul-gon says that he never turned his statement in because he had belatedly realized he left his badge behind. It would only be a matter of time before he was caught anyway—or at least, that’s what would have happened if Profiler Han hadn’t intervened.
Mu-yeom can’t understand how Chul-gon’s story of an accidental fall lines up with the fact that the victim was found with Gap-dong’s signature marks. Chul-gon deduces that Gap-dong had been watching the whole thing in amusement, and acted after the fact to leave his trademarks on the body.
Chul-gon had carried around his statement for years, intending to submit it as soon as he’d caught Gap-dong. Chul-gon instructs him to turn him in immediately now that he knows the truth of Murder No. 7, warning Mu-yeom not to turn into him—don’t let his obsession with catching Gap-dong ruin his life.
Instead, Mu-yeom takes Chul-gon to eat boiled chicken, now ready to reveal the story of his father, who would steal chickens to feed him. That was the mystery of the bloodstained jacket, and because Dad had been a simpleton, he hadn’t revealed the source of the blood because he knew that stealing was a crime. Mu-yeom admits to having suspecting his father and burning the jacket to cover up for him, and in an ironic twist, his very actions made it impossible to clear his father’s name.
That’s why they’re the same, Mu-yeom tells Chul-gon—they’re both bound to the case by their own self-recriminations, which prevented them from moving on with their lives.
Both Maria and Ji-wool brood that night. Maria had only heard one side of the phone conversation but knows that her stepfather’s name was mentioned in conjunction with the new discovery. Ji-wool, on the other hand, mulls over the discovery that Maria is the old Gap-dong witness.
Ji-wool texts Maria, checking to make sure that she’s okay, saying that she felt worried about her. They have a sweet exchange, just chatting back and forth, asking each other to come to her with problems if they have any.
Mu-yeom ends up turning Chul-gon’s statement in to the police brass, leaving the officials deliberating over what to do about it. Chul-gon’s actions are legally problematic, but the statute of limitations has passed, making it moot. Profiler Han argues that they all believe Chul-gon was acting with the best intentions, and it sounds like they’d all rather sweep it under the rug.
Chul-gon clarifies that Mu-yeom turned him in at his own request—if he’d argued to be let off the hook on a technicality (the expired statute of limitations), he wouldn’t be able to argue for pursuing the expired Gap-dong case.
Poopy Ho-seok is sent back to the prison hospital, where he openly declares that he is the true Gap-dong, only to have the others laugh in his face, or humor his delusion patronizingly. Aw, I think this case actually broke him; he definitely looks out of touch with reality.
Chul-gon is fired, and Mu-yeom finds him brooding over his dead daughter, beating himself up for not having spent more time with her while she was alive. Mu-yeom sympathizes with his obsession, since they were on a race with the clock to get the criminal before their time expired. That thinking is cold comfort now that Chul-gon has already lost his daughter, but Mu-yeom argues that he has to find Gap-dong anyway and let the world know who he is.
Chul-gon tells him to quit now, and not be the gambler at the table who loses everything. The wisest man isn’t the one who wins, but the one who walks away. That doesn’t persuade Mu-yeom in the least, however, and he declares that he won’t lose anybody or anything.
And then they get the call: The seventh murder has been discovered. The police are treating the airplane killing as a premeditated Murder No. 7 and the team moves out to greet Tae-oh when the plane touches back down in Korea. Most of the passengers on the flight are outraged at their aborted trip, but Tae-oh sits back dully, barely reacting to anything.
Mu-yeom’s team transports Tae-oh into custody, and Mu-yeom wonders why Tae-oh would do it, knowing he would be caught. Tae-oh thinks to himself, “I don’t know.”
Ji-wool is rattled to hear the news and calls Maria, who rushes to meet her at the police station. Ji-wool confides about Tae-oh asking her to be his brakes, blaming herself for turning him down. I can understand her being shaken, but she does seem annoyingly naive about Tae-oh (“But he seemed so normal!”) given that he was already suspected of being a serial murderer… but I suppose annoying naivety is Ji-wool’s trademark.
Maria embraces her and says reassuringly that the seventh murder wasn’t her fault. She makes Ji-wool promise not to blame herself for it.
Reporters mob the police van when it arrives with Tae-oh, and Mu-yeom shoves past them while ushering Tae-oh along. He stops in front of the ladies to ask Maria to look after Ji-wool, then heads inside for the interrogation.
Profiler Han leaves the psychiatric evaluation to Maria, warning her that Tae-oh’s reps may try to claim mental illness as a way to evade responsibility. She’s determined to prevent that.
The immediate problem facing the police is, as always, a lack of evidence. I suppose it seems ridiculously obvious to everyone that Tae-oh is the murderer, but since he wasn’t captured on camera and they don’t have definitive proof, they’re facing a tricky situation. A potential breakthrough arises when the police receive the call from someone stating that he has evidence, but he will only give it to Mu-yeom.
Mu-yeom observes Tae-oh’s interrogation and wonders why he committed a murder in such obvious fashion. Maria says that you can’t understand a psychopath through normal logic, but Mu-yeom believes there must be a reason Tae-oh had to come back, something that drove him to this.
The interrogation isn’t getting anywhere despite hours of questioning, but Tae-oh exhibits particular curiosity when he asks why Profiler Han doesn’t take a bathroom break. At this, Profiler Han shoots Mu-yeom a look and steps aside to let Mu-yeom take over. He uses this as a tiny bit of leverage and says that if Tae-oh explains why he killed the flight attendant, he’ll explain why investigators don’t take bathroom breaks.
Mu-yeom guesses that this murder wasn’t planned, and that it wasn’t meant to be the seventh case. Tae-oh replies that a seventh case follows the sixth, but Mu-yeom contradicts him: “I don’t see it that way. This time, what I see in your eyes is despair.”
That gets Tae-oh’s attention, and Mu-yeom says that in the past Tae-oh looked excited after his murders. Not so this time.
Mu-yeom is interrupted by news of the informant, and steps out to meet with the passenger from the plane who had recognized Tae-oh. The man, a professor, explains growing curious when Tae-oh stepped aside and shot a video clip on his phone, which shows Tae-oh in the flight attendant’s cabin.
When asked why he specifically asked for Mu-yeom, the witness replies that he figured he was trustworthy, considering that he went so far as to falsely confess to a murder in order to capture Gap-dong. There’s something about the professor’s attitude that pings my suspicions, but at present we don’t have any explicit reason to doubt him. For now.
The professor-witness adds that after the murder, Tae-oh returned to his seat and swore under his breath, seemingly angry with himself. Mu-yeom files this away as valuable insight.
Maria questions Tae-oh next, asking whether he acted out of anger for being fooled by a fake Gap-dong—was he upset with himself for feeling the fool? Tae-oh just says dully, “Don’t keep trying to understand me. You can’t understand anyway.”
At the prosecutor’s office, Tae-oh’s lawyer is just waiting for the initial 48-hour holding period is up, and grumbles that the police are going to have to let him go eventually because of a lack of grounds. They’re mere hours away from the deadline, but the prosecutor lights up to receive the call: Evidence has turned up.
Maria gets the call while in the interrogation room, and comments to Tae-oh, “Evidence has come to light. That’s not like you.”
Section Chief Cha is delighted at having video proof, but Mu-yeom says that there’s something even more valuable to come of the witness’s comments—that perhaps Tae-oh made a mistake this time, rather than planning the killing.
Maria watches over the monk boys while cleaning up their room, but the impulse turns compulsive as she cleans and re-cleans and re-cleans the same places. The monk pulls her aside to ask what is bothering her, and Maria admits that she’s worried what happens if things end like this: “If the old Gap-dong gets buried because Ryu Tae-oh has been caught…”
The monk says that the truth has no expiration; even if someone tries to bury it, it will come out at some point. He adds that her being strong will help Mu-yeom as well, because it’s likely he’s feeling the same thing right now.
In the police station library, an officer has a stack of books Mu-yeom requested a while back but hasn’t picked up. Ji-wool ends up taking the books for him, mostly criminal psychology references, though included in the bunch is a copy of Crime and Punishment—and when she falls and drops the books, a note flutters out of it. It goes unnoticed and lies there in the hallway.
Tae-oh is taken back to the prison hospital, where his lawyer visits to ask how he wants him to explain that video clip. Tae-oh wonders if he’s stuck this time, and from the lawyer’s perturbed demeanor, I’d say it sure looks like it. The lawyer sighs that he doesn’t know how to solve this situation… but then he leans forward and adds, “Without going to extremes.”
Tae-oh asks, “Extremes? You mean me disappearing?”
Mu-yeom meets with Chul-gon to discuss the case, and can’t shake the feeling that there’s something different about Murder No. 7—both this time and the case from twenty years ago. “Could it be the turning point?” he asks.
He outlines his theory (which the station doesn’t share) about both seventh murders being unintended. To his surprise, Chul-gon looks at him with a ghost of a smile, saying, “Now you finally seem like a detective to me. What are you doing? If you’ve got a theory, you’d better move.” I can’t say that with his track record Chul-gon’s approval means much to me, but on an emotional level I suppose it brings some degree of satisfaction.
Tae-oh is escorted down the hallway of the hospital by guards, and sees a group of inmates in the next room. Poopy is there insisting to the others that he’s Gap-dong, a vacant look in his eyes and a note of despair to his voice. As Tae-oh’s voice rings in his ears, recalling his excited discovery of his “god” and “hero” in this very hospital, his face takes on a devastated expression.
That dropped note gets ignored all day until Detective Ki-ri stumbles across it and takes a look. He sees the pretty reporter standing nearby jotting down notes, and operating on the assumption that it’s hers, he hands it to her wearing a goofy-smug look on his face. Oh, he so thinks she loves him, doesn’t he? She just shoots him a perplexed look.
So moments later when Ki-ri walks back to his desk, he’s wearing a thunderous expression, having been disabused of his assumption. He writes a memo (“To the owner: Take this back!!!”) and tapes it to the board, then guesses/accuses Young-ae of writing the letter to Mu-yeom. Or maybe it was Ji-wool, he supposes.
Ji-wool takes down the letter and reads it—it’s a shy love confession. It begins, “You probably don’t know this, but I like you…”
Mu-yeom drops by Maria’s trailer that evening, and comments on her downcast expression. He can’t charm her out of her anxiety and she won’t meet his eye, so he gently takes her face in his hands until she looks at him. He asks if she’s okay, then dips his head down slowly, reaching for a kiss.
As he does, Ji-wool continues reading the note: “But how could you notice, when you’re so absorbed in the Gap-dong investigation? During these times, love may be a luxury. But even so, love helps me get through this difficult time. Only love.”
Mu-yeom kisses her once, and then again.
The note signs off with the name “Crybaby.” Ji-wool probably has a very good idea of the source of the note, and she starts to text Mu-yeom but winds up deleting the message.
The kissing gets more heated, going from vertical to horizontal as they fall onto her bed, only to have Maria’s phone start to ring. Argh! They sit up briefly but Mu-yeom asks her not to answer, and vertical goes to horizontal again… and we pan over to see that the source of the ignored call is the prison hospital. Aw man, can’t we even enjoy our sexy times in peace?
Mu-yeom answers the phone and tries to fob off the caller, but the prison officer is insistent. Tae-oh has caused a disturbance and is insisting on talking to Maria, saying that he wants to confess.
Sure enough, Tae-oh looks out of control in his cell, screaming wildly and throwing things and rattling the bars on his cage. He punches the metal bars with his bare fist, drawing blood, all the while screaming for Maria.
When she arrives, he’s huddled on the ground and looks up to shoot her a menacing glare. Despite the guard’s protest, she asks to be let into the cell, though in the end she settles for sitting right outside the bars. She tells him to speak whenever he’s ready and waits.
Mu-yeom waits in fits outside the prison, deeply unsettled. Prior to going in, he’d made her promise to visit Tae-oh as his doctor and not as the victim Jae-hee, and she had agreed, but that doesn’t stop him from worrying.
Tae-oh struggles with himself, saying that he’ll probably regret confessing to her today. She assures him that to the contrary, he’ll feel better to unload everything that’s weighing on him. She reminds him that he’d called her here because bottling it up inside was driving him crazy—he wants to tell somebody. She guides the conversation, asking him to start with his hero, Gap-dong. Tae-oh replies that he was happy when he met him.
We cut to a field of reeds. A shadowy figure steps out of a car and walks among the reeds. To confirm to us that this is the real Gap-dong, he begins to whistle that familiar tune.
Still waiting outside the hospital, Mu-yeom reaches for his phone and makes a call. And then… Gap-dong’s phone begins to ring—and the caller is saved in his phone as “Mu-yeom-yi.” Someone close, then, and friendly. And finally our whistler looks up, revealing his face. It’s Section Chief Cha.
On one level, it’s a shocker to see Section Chief Cha in the role of Gap-dong, since he’s generally been the level-headed voice of reason, always arguing on the side of logic and prudence and treating everybody with the gentle hand of authority. On another level, it’s not a shocker at all because (1) this show has trained us to be suspicious of everyone, and (2) we’re frankly running out of people to suspect.
It’s one of the drawbacks of writing a mystery this way, in that you go down the list of red herrings until you’re just plumb out of possibilities. Either you introduce a new culprit, in which case we suspect him immediately, or you go through your cast of existing characters, in which case the pool shrinks until the big revelation is more or less a foregone conclusion. It’s the thing that plagued God’s Gift—14 Days, which burned through so many potential culprits that I stopped caring about any of them. That drama kept spinning us around in circles of misdirection that I just wanted to sit out the emotional whirligig until it could decide, and the side effect of that was to stop giving a damn about the outcome. In fact, when God’s Gift ended I read articles with headlines like “What Gap-dong should do to avoid God’s Gift’s fate,” and I hoped it would pick up a hint or two from that experience.
We have enough episodes left that I hope this drama finds a way to keep tossing surprises in our path, because it’s still pretty early to be revealing the ultimate culprit. I do think that the way this reveal was portrayed makes it difficult to backpedal (without seeming like a total cop-out), but perhaps there are extenuating circumstances, or more misunderstandings down the line.
One thing that annoys me about the execution of this show (the concept is great, but they keep fumbling the follow-through) is that it gives us the answer up front, and so when we watch the protagonists stumbling their way to the truth, our omniscience saps all suspense out of the proceedings. It has the one-two punch of killing the mystery for us AND making the heroes seem dumb for not figuring out what we already know. It’s what we ran into when the show revealed Tae-oh to be our copycat right off the bat, which was so obvious that I think our reactions were hilariously telling—we wove some really ingenious possible explanations out of that, thinking surely there was more to the story. Surely they couldn’t have just told us the culprit in Episode 2. Surely they were yanking our chain. Surely… they weren’t that simple?
And so, in this episode we see right away that Tae-oh is losing control of his steely composure, and that he committed the murder in a fit of anger instead of premeditated calm. First of all, we see him do it in the moment, and then we also see his reaction in the aftermath. So when you have Mu-yeom pondering these clues and wondering at them, you wonder why the cops are still five steps behind the truth. Why is Mu-yeom positing this theory when we already know it to be true? There were a few instances when Mu-yeom wondered at Tae-oh’s motivation that I was confused, because I had thought he already knew the answer, only to be told that he hadn’t quite worked it out yet. So watching the detectives stumble toward what we already know becomes this exercise in anticlimax, and that’s a bummer. You never want your drama to make your heroes seem slow.
The other quibble I have is the playing with semantics just to fuck with us. Chul-gon talks about how he was one of the Gap-dongs, but what he really means is that his action got mistakenly attributed to Gap-dong, which is totally not the same thing. “You could be Gap-dong” is SO not comparable to “you might get accidentally suspected of being Gap-dong.” I get that it serves to throw us for a loop, but this is the kind of twist that is artificial and manipulative, and I do not like it one bit. I want the drama to keep me on my toes because it’s smart, not because you deliberately point me down one path by throwing out bad clues!
That said, Section Chief Cha? Okay, I’m intrigued. You’d better not screw this one up, drama.