Gap-dong: Episode 20 (Final)
Here we are, at the end of the psychopath’s road. Mysteries (what’s left of them) are explained, our heroes come to an understanding of sorts, and hitherto unsolved investigations are closed. I would say all of our major plotlines are resolved, and characters receive a measure of closure.
As for justice—is that served? Hm, I wonder. I’ll let you all be the judge.
SONG OF THE DAY
Bulldog Mansion – “불편한 사람” (Uncomfortable person) [ Download ]
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
In the courtroom, Chief Cha begs for his life at the last minute, to no avail. Mu-yeom goes home that night and takes out a photo of his father, telling him he’s sorry and that he loves him. When the monk comes by, Mu-yeom surprises him with an emotional hug, saying that without him, he could have come to a bad end.
For a case that took twenty years to bring to trial, justice sure moves swiftly, and we wrap up Tae-oh’s murder case. We don’t even see the trial open, just jump right to his sentencing. He gets ten years in prison hospital; his defense strategy blaming Cha for masterminding his movements was successful.
Furthermore, Tae-oh has given up his Korean citizenship and is angling to be treated as a foreigner by the system. The prosecution sees this tactic as outrageous, but it’s legally viable. I find it absurd that this conversation includes consideration of public opinion via polls asking “What do you think should be Ryu Tae-oh’s punishment?” Really, drama? That’s supposed to be persuasive?
(For the curious: The poll cites 75% of the respondents answering that Tae-oh should be sent to regular prison over a psychiatric one. Of the types of psychiatric facilities they prefer, 66% of people want him deported abroad; only 10% vote for a facility in Korea. Basically, they’re happy to ship the psycho out of the country.)
Ji-wool takes her newest webtoon to Mu-yeom and Maria, because she’s made the connection to Chief Cha’s history. Its contents mirror what we see in flashback, of a 14-year-old Cha burying a victim, and his accomplice-noona saying, “If only that bastard hadn’t touched you…” The girl (Mi-ja) asks what would happen if they turned themselves in, but Cha says fiercely that they’re just clearing out trash.
Cha had told Ji-wool this story directly, but passed it off as someone else’s experience. It was back before she’d known he was Gap-dong, when she’d been struggling to come up with a backstory for her killer detective character and asked if he had any interesting tidbits from the criminals he’d met in his career.
Mu-yeom guesses that this is Cha’s “bloodstained jacket,” aka the trauma he refuses to show anybody else. A little digging turns up an interesting fact: Victim Mi-ja’s father had a past record of child molestation.
Cha is taken to prison, where his arrival makes a stir among the inmate population, though a young cellmate seems to take to him. Like Tae-oh, he’s also haunted by nightmares of being hanged for his crimes, thrashing in his sleep. Chul-gon has specifically requested to work at the prison as Cha’s overseer. He tells Cha to call him anytime, particularly if he wants to talk about more undiscovered crimes.
Tae-oh sits at home and texts Ji-wool, looking conflicted as he writes the message, “About the rock-scissors-paper… I’m sorry about that.” But he shakes his head and deletes it.
Tae-oh is set to leave the country (technically he’s being deported, but given the circumstances it’s not too different from a flight from justice), and receives a request from Cha to see him before his departure. Mu-yeom advises him strongly against it, but Tae-oh disregards it and goes in for the visit.
Thus the two Gap-dongs meet. Tae-oh thanks Cha for directing him to kill Maria, thereby fueling his defense. Cha sets him straight about Tae-oh’s misconception that he’ll be able to stop his murderous impulses, warning that people like them can’t stop short of their own deaths.
Tae-oh replies that he knows, and guesses that Cha’s real reason for letting Jae-hee live was intentional. If people assumed that the witness’s survival would scare Gap-dong into stopping, he could end his Gap-dong streak and continue on with his “hidden crimes.”
With a smile, Cha confirms that this was the very freedom he’d been speaking of. Tae-oh deduces, “The freedom to stop was really making the world believe you’d stopped.”
Cha makes a request of Tae-oh: Stop him. “There must be a way to quietly send me off in a way that befits Gap-dong,” he says. He declares that they have two options: “Either I finish you, or you finish me.”
Tae-oh isn’t very interested, saying that he has figured out his own way to secure his freedom. He really does seem to have cast off Gap-dong’s influence, and even when Cha warns that he may regret it, Tae-oh laughs that Cha can’t kill him from within prison. He used to be an impressive figure, but now he’s just an inmate with a number.
Tae-oh taunts, “My onetime god and hero—I have surpassed you now.”
Tae-oh alludes to strangling Cha and lurches at the glass separator in a threatening gesture. Involuntarily, Cha flinches. Tae-oh laughs at the “loser” and vows, “Now I’m the real Gap-dong.”
Mu-yeom is intent on wrapping up the loose ends of his investigation, and hands over his case notebook to Cha, showing him Ji-wool’s new webtoon. Now the backstory is complete, and Cha is to fill in the remaining pages with information divulging his post-Gap-dong murders.
Cha sees no reason to comply, but Mu-yeom knows how to appeal to him. He offers the alternative: to call the reporters and lay out the sordid details, so Cha can snivel for pity from the people.
That spurs Cha to agree, and Mu-yeom tells him that after he has found those victims, he’ll leave the psychoanalysis to the profiler. He wants no part of that, because his greatest fear is to feel pity for the monster.
Cha makes one request in exchange for revealing his victims: “Can you take that compassion and use it to send me off?” Cha really just wants to die, and the proposal rattles Mu-yeom. He shares this with his sidekicks, torn between his dual impulses of horror and desire to kill the bastard. “Let’s kill him,” he says, growing more heated as the idea takes hold.
The rest of the staff mull over the dilemma, and Ji-wool draws a comparison with a fictional scenario in which the villagers during wartime huddle together as hostile armed forces approach. At that moment your baby starts to wail, so you slap your hand over it to quiet it. If you keep silencing the baby, it’ll suffocate, but if you let it cry, you all die. What do you choose? (For what its’ worth, the cop she demonstrates on looks bashfully pleased at her attention, which is at least a more promising prospect of romance than that twisted killer guy.)
Tae-oh has a semi-cryptic conversation with Maria, asking about that thing he proposed, which we never heard in its entirety. I have my guesses, but all they say out loud is vaguely circular stuff like “Can you do what I asked?” and “Do you want me to keep that promise?”
That night, Maria tells Mu-yeom that she’s decided to quit her job at the prison hospital, a move he fully approves of. It was a tough decision for her, and fraught with much guilt because she’s haunted by her own behavior toward Tae-oh, using and manipulating him in her bid to catch Gap-dong.
Mu-yeom tells her that from this point onward, her survivor’s guilt is a choice rather than an obligation, and advises her to choose according to what she feels she must do. As for himself, he assures her that all that’s left is for him to live comfortably, and that his health concerns were exaggerated. Gack, I don’t have a good feeling about the carefree front he’s presenting.
Cha hands over the map he has drawn outlining the victims’ locations, and Mu-yeom hands over what looks like a piece of candy. A moment passes between them and they think of when they’d been younger. Cha starts to mention it, and Mu-yeom says, “That time was the happiest for me, too. Maybe that’s why it’s sadder now.”
The candy turns out to be a pill, and Cha gets ready to swallow it. But at the last moment he stops himself.
Mu-yeom assembles a search team to get digging, and it doesn’t take long for remains to be unearthed.
Cha hands over the pill to Chul-gon, explaining that Mu-yeom gave it to him in exchange for completing his investigation. But he’s relinquishing it to Chul-gon, saying sarcastically that he needs it more, after having lost everything. Cha smiles in glee when Chul-gon takes the bait and pops the pill, and says, “Killing like this is so electrifying.”
But Chul-gon says he bets the pill is just vitamins: “I have faith in Ha Mu-yeom. Do you think he’d leave you to die this easily?” Booyah. Cha’s smile fades.
Ji-wool gets out a sketchpad and starts drawing. Not her usual webtoon stuff, but a cute drawing of a little girl (albeit a sad one, who’s dropped her ice cream).
Maria mulls over Mu-yeom’s words about choosing to move on from her sadness, and seems to come to a decision. She calls Tae-oh and tells him, “I may regret it, and I may scorn myself for it…” We don’t see how the conversation ends.
Afterward, the monk mentions Mu-yeom’s intentions to cut his hair, which startles her. It can mean a few things, such as becoming a full-fledged monk, though given his condition it could just as well mean brain surgery.
It’s the latter, and Maria asks accusingly why Mu-yeom didn’t tell her about his condition. He takes a lighthearted approach, saying that his master Bruce Lee died of a cerebral edema, but Maria’s mood is too heavy to crack a smile at his gallows humor.
He asks if he has to stick to the fasting rule before his surgery, and she tells him yes. He asks next, “What about celibacy?” Rawr.
They kiss, and then fade to black. C’mon, this is cable!
Tae-oh returns to his barista job because I don’t even know, and Ji-wool meets him at the cafe. He thinks of the first time he asked her what it was like to like somebody, and she’d answered that it was terrible. But today she answers that it’s not all bad, and now she’s become an adult as a result.
She hands him that sketchbook, telling him it may help him. The early pages contain his angry scribbles from their sessions together, but she’s filled in a few more examples in the ensuing pages, such as sadness (girl dropping ice cream) and compassion (a teddy bear consoling a cat). Tae-oh muses, “It’s strange. You’re younger than me, but you feel like a mother.”
He asks why she’s treating him so nicely, and if it’s because she pities him. She admits that Mu-yeom is going in for a surgery that might kill him, and there’s nothing she can do to help. “But if I do something good, maybe I’ll send him some fortune.”
The prognosis isn’t all doom and gloom, because as Mu-yeom checks in to prepare for surgery, the doctor tells him happily that his hematoma has shrunk.
Tae-oh’s in a good mood as he calls Maria that night, saying that he feels he can do anything, including stopping and ending. He’s going with the flow, and from his expression he looks much happier than he has before. And to Maria’s surprise, he arrives outside the hospital, wanting to see Mu-yeom.
And then he looks over at a security guard standing in front of the building and everything turns ominous. He says to Maria, “I must have messed with Gap-dong too much.” She furrows her brow, wondering what he means.
Suddenly his mood is dark and troubled, and he recalls Cha saying that one of them will have to finish the other off. The security guard is definitely acting shifty, and follows as Tae-oh turns around and walks off in the other direction.
But as he’s passing an unassuming student, that young man stabs him in the gut. Tae-oh struggles to free himself, but the guard grabs him from behind, allowing the attacker to stab him repeatedly. He falls to the pavement.
In his cell, Cha mutters, “You dare surpass me?” Now we see that the nice young inmate who had helped Cha has become his willing accomplice, and was the stabber. The instructions were to leave Tae-oh with the message K for killer—as in, that’s all you are. There is only one Gap-dong.
Cha peers out of his cell to address Chul-gon, who’s standing guard outside. He asks if Chul-gon had intended to shoot Mu-yeom during the Russian Roulette stand-off, when he’d shot Mu-yeom’s gun and the bullet had ricocheted off it and into his brain. Was that his intention? Cha says that he’d been disappointed to have lost his chance to shoot Mu-yeom that day.
Surgery commences, and all his loved ones wait anxiously in the hallway.
Tae-oh gasps in pain as he bleeds profusely, realizing, “I couldn’t stop after all, not before I died.” He’s crying and laughing equally, and in a hazy blur sees Maria running toward him. She presses on the wound and calls for help, but Tae-oh slumps over in her arms.
With effort, he says, “I thought it was strange… being able… to leave like this… It’s like a dream… this freedom… Ultimately, you can’t cheat the rules.”
Mu-yeom makes it through the surgery alive, and Ji-wool is at his bedside when he opens his eyes. “I see an angel, so I must not be in hell,” he says.
Maria cries as she tries to keep Tae-oh alive. He knows he’s a goner, though, and thanks her for being with him at the end. “Not behind my back, but at my side…”
Now we hear the end of the request he’d made earlier: “If I have to die, I’d like for you to be the one to see my end.” She’d answered, “If you pay the price for your crimes, I’ll see your end with you. Not behind your back, but at your side.” She’d urged him to start again and change, and he’d said he’d gone too far for that.
Tae-oh dies, and Maria sobs for him to wake up.
His mother receives word in her usual cold manner, and tells her attorneys to take care of the funeral quietly.
Tae-oh’s killer is apprehended readily, and his response to their questioning has the police officers agape: He’d done it “in Gap-dong’s name.”
Maria staggers into the hospital, her clothes drenched in Tae-oh’s blood. She encounters Ji-wool there:
Maria: “What about Detective Ha?”
Ji-wool: “And Tae-oh?”
Maria: “Is he alive?”
Ji-wool: “…is he dead?”
The two women sit side by side in shock. Ji-wool recalls Tae-oh’s request from the day he’d tied her to a tree, asking if he could request one tear from him upon his death. At the time she’d vowed not to, but now she breaks down in sobs.
Cha makes no (other) friends in prison, and he sneeringly snatches up food in the cafeteria that another inmate is going for. He stomps over to a table and the inmates hurry away, not wanting to get in his path. But the food-deprived inmate flips his lid and screams, “You murdering bastard!” and launches himself at Cha. He’s got a utensil in his hand, and Cha falls to the ground clutching his bleeding eye. Ickkkkk.
As the episode winds down, we get a quick succession of glimpses at people’s lives in the near future. Looks like Mu-yeom’s surgery is a success, and he is awarded for his work in the Gap-dong case.
Chul-gon receives a surprise visitor—the ex-wife.
Ji-wool sends in her next installment of her webtoon.
Maria continues her psychiatry work from a new office.
Mu-yeom flips through his Gap-dong notebook for the last time, and finally gets to write on its cover: CLOSED.
His relationship with Maria seems back on track, flirty as ever. Ji-wool drops by the trailer and starts off with “No matter what I say, you can’t get angry,” and he sighs to prepare himself. She tells them that she’s found out where Tae-oh is; I presume his family kept his memorial site secret.
They find his altar at a temple, and Mu-yeom supposes from the dust that they’re the only ones to come here. They light incense and sit in front of the altar, as Mu-yeom says that if he could meet Tae-oh again, he’d like to ask if he really meant to stop.
Chul-gon and Profiler Han fish together, and Chul-gon muses that a detective’s true satisfaction comes not at the moment of capturing the criminal but uncovering the truth. He remarks, “We’ve spent twenty years chasing after Gap-dong, but in the end we’re just sitting here, talking about men and beasts.”
As they leave the temple, Ji-wool says she’d ask Tae-oh if he had to be as bad as he was. She asks Maria and Mu-yeom what they’re most difficult choices were, and Maria thinks to the moment when she’d told Tae-oh to die when he took that pill. Mu-yeom thinks of Cha’s request to help him die. But they don’t voice those thoughts aloud.
Ji-wool says she wishes someone else could make her difficult decisions for her. Maria says that life is full of choices that need to be made, and ironically, choices turn out to be necessary more than choices. “Nobody has the freedom not to make decisions.”
Mu-yeom adds that living isn’t easy, so it would be stranger if decisions were easy.
Ji-wool asks, “Then what about me and the choices I made?”
Maria answers, “They were human, and therefore beautiful.”
Mu-yeom concludes, “Yes, because you’re human.”
So it ends. Gap-dong gets locked up, presumably awaiting a death penalty at some point, and suffers a humiliating blinding by spoon/fork/spork. Our copycat grapples with that divide between human and beast, hoping he can still come out on the right side, and gets offed for his hubris. Our good guys all come out on top, having come to terms with their respective traumas and starting on the paths toward a brighter life ahead.
By the usual drama standards, I would say Gap-dong came to a satisfactory end, in that it fulfilled its plot and answered questions. I wouldn’t say that satisfactory is the same as satisfying, though, and I can’t with any degree of honesty say that I’m satisfied with it. But I haven’t been satisfied with the story for a number of weeks now, and this feeling is an extension of that—of seeing what the drama could have been and wishing it had done the other thing, rather than meander on in a very, very labored examination of a few criminal minds.
I do think there’s merit to delving into the psychopath’s psyche the way this drama did—I don’t begrudge it that approach. But good golly, did we need so much cryptic talk about “freedom” and “beastdom” and “stopping” and “ending” and “feeling,” spoken with so much gravitas as to make us think there was more at play than there really was? Because freedom to a killer is an intriguing idea, I’ll give you that, but when you boil down what it means in this drama, it becomes a really simple concept that we surely didn’t need to spend ten episodes pursuing. The question of whether one can truly stop killing was batted back and forth ad nauseam, only to conclude, “You think you can, but you can’t. Stab.” It sort of makes me want to spork out MY eyes, when you have the same conversation for the dozenth episode in a row.
I think maybe this was just a four-episode drama, drawn out to fill twenty hours, and oh my god did I find it exhausting. The frustrating thing is, it didn’t need to be tedious. It could have done the exciting thriller thing and actually kept its mysteries mysterious, or playing with our expectations, rather than revealing the answers before we had time to really ask the questions. I mentioned this in a prior recap, of how the drama always told its own punchline ahead of time, so that instead of gasping in surprise, you were wondering why the characters seemed so surprised when you’d known all episode long.
And it’s not like there wasn’t enough to explore, which is another misstep I think the drama took. There’s plenty of rich, complex character stuff in the mix, and I’m actually disappointed that some of those other points got glossed over. We got scene after scene of Tae-oh brooding about stopping, or Cha smirking at his pursuers, but we barely stopped to explore the trauma driving Cha’s shame/rage at being molested. That turns out to be a key component in driving him to his first murder, but the writing just kind of dropped that bomb and then ignored fallout. Instead, it sent Mu-yeom out into the field in this single-minded goal to find more victims. That’s fine, it’s his nature to be a dogged pursuer, but for a show that’s so all about analyzing the criminal thought process in mind-numbing detail, why not mine that gem a bit?
But enough about my personal irritation with the pacing and narrative structure. Cha’s end is rather anticlimactic, isn’t it? He gets locked up and is probably going to drive himself nuts with his nightmares of the gallows, and I have faith that he’ll live out the remainder of his life as a miserable wretch. I guess there’s no better note to leave him on, but it doesn’t really feel like much of an arc for him.
In a bigger-picture sense, though, it does feel like despite having the drama named for him, the original Gap-dong was never the most interesting character. He was perhaps more significant in symbolism and as a driver for other people than he was for the plot on its own. Which is why I have found Tae-oh the more interesting character to observe—no less deserving of a bad end, but at least it was compelling to watch him struggle with internal conflict. I don’t feel like I got any sense of internal conflict with Cha, who was always just out to wriggle free of the law, with no remorse or emotion getting in the way.
I’m conflicted about Tae-oh’s end, because on one hand his death is sufficiently sad to make me feel like he paid the price, so the drama wasn’t letting him off the hook with any absurd move toward redemption. I couldn’t have gotten behind that, no matter how tortured and sad he got about it. But on the other hand, I kind of feel like he got a cop-out ending—it’s not justice to me. Yes, he died, and it was directly related to his delusions of grandeur in becoming the new Gap-dong, so okay, he got his.
But it also feels like the drama was asking hard questions about Tae-oh the whole way through, and how he could adequately be punished, and instead he got the easy way out. He got the pill, the one that was too easy to hand over to Cha. It’s like a sleight of hand where the death allows us to feel sorry for him without feeling bad about having compassion for a sick fuck. I dunno. I didn’t love it, even though I recognize that a death was perhaps the neatest way to deal with the problem of Tae-oh.
As for the drama as a whole, I don’t regret watching it, and by and large it was bolstered by a cast that truly elevated the plot. Here’s a case where execution actually enhances the end product, because if you stripped Gap-dong to its barebones story I’m not sure it would hold up in the same way. (The opposite scenario would be a drama with an excellent story that you just wish had a bigger budget to work with, because the show looks so rinky-dink.) It wasn’t as thrilling or fast-moving as I wanted to be, but it was consistent in its approach and filled with compelling performances and interestingly damaged characters—those characters may have occasionally driven me batty, but they grabbed my attention. A dose of excitement would have been greatly appreciated, but I suppose exciting isn’t everything.
- Gap-dong: Episode 19
- Gap-dong: Episode 18
- Gap-dong: Episode 17
- Gap-dong: Episode 16
- Gap-dong: Episode 15
- Gap-dong: Episode 14
- Gap-dong: Episode 13
- Gap-dong: Episode 12
- Gap-dong: Episode 11
- Gap-dong: Episode 10
- Gap-dong: Episode 9
- Gap-dong: Episode 8
- Gap-dong: Episode 7
- Gap-dong: Episode 6
- Gap-dong: Episode 5
- Gap-dong: Episode 4
- Gap-dong: Episode 3
- Gap-dong: Episode 2
- Gap-dong: Episode 1