Punch: Episode 11
A carefully laid trap is sprung this episode, giving our good(-ish) guys a much-needed boost to continue fighting the good(-ish) fight. It’s all gray areas when it comes to these characters, and trying to figure out which shade of grey they represent is about as useless an endeavor as nailing jello to a tree. With the exception of Ha-kyung, they’re all varying degrees of bad—but they’re not without hearts capable of breaking. And as it turns out, neither am I.
As for ratings, Punch took the lead with 12.3%, leaving Healer with 9.7%, and newcomer fantasy sageuk Shine or Go Crazy with a decent 8.2%.
SONG OF THE DAY
G. Soul – “변명 (Excuses)” [ Download ]
EPISODE 11 RECAP
Yeon-jin calls Jung-hwan after the meeting, though she doesn’t need to tell him what he’s already overheard: Tae-joon wants to run for president.
He can’t help but think back to how accomplished he felt at Tae-joon’s side when he’d taken the position of Prosecutor General and how he’d received his brain tumor diagnosis shortly after.
“People lose what’s most precious to them in their brightest moment,” he tells her. “That’s how it was for me, so I’ll make that happen to Lee Tae-joon.” They’ll need to get rid of Kang-jae, and in order to that, he’s going to make sure Ha-kyung speeds up her investigation.
Ha-kyung is probably unaware that the witnesses she’s been getting to make statements proving Kang-jae’s sponsorship have already been influenced to confess by Jung-hwan beforehand.
And while he may have been able to make deals with some of the smaller fries in Myungho Construction, the same doesn’t work on the president of the company, who—thanks to a news article about Jung-hwan having one month left to live—knows he can’t trust his promises.
That news article was released by Kang-jae to ensure that Jung-hwan would lose his ability to influence others, and it worked. Hyun-sun rushes home at her brother’s request to try and stop Mom from reading the article, but she’s too late.
Meanwhile, Ha-kyung finds out from the smug president of Myungho Construction that Jung-hwan made deals with all the other senior associates who made statements to her, meaning that those confessions are now useless in court.
When Jung-hwan enters Mom’s room to make her bed like he always does, she can only sit in numb silence before finally bringing herself to speak. Though it’s been twenty years since his father died, she cries as she tells Jung-hwan that she survived only because she had him to lean on.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Jung-hwan says, choking back his own tears. “For leaving you behind all alone, I’m sorry.” Then Mom breaks down in the most heartbreaking of ways as she pleads with Jung-hwan just to stay with her for one more year—that way he can see Ye-rin start elementary school, eat the watermelon he enjoys in the summer…
“Quit your prosecutor position and forget about what’s going on in the world. Just one year… Just stay by my side for one year before leaving, Jung-hwan,” she cries. Oof. I swear I’m not crying, my eyeballs are just sweating.
Ha-kyung arrives ready to confront Jung-hwan over the confessions he’s now made invalid, only to be caught off-guard when she finds her ex-husband crying in his room.
“I want to live,” he says brokenly. “Just one year. Just three months. I want to go to Ye-rin’s first day of school.” Okay, now I really am crying. Are you happy, Punch? You’ve made a grown woman cry in less than ten minutes. (*sob*)
Tears well up in Ha-kyung’s eyes as she suggests Jung-hwan go to the hospital for treatment—maybe he could live a little longer that way. She promises to never forget what Tae-joon, Kang-jae, and Minister Yoon did to him and swears that she’ll bring them to justice…
“Then what about my life?” Jung-hwan asks. “What becomes of my life?” He fell into the trap Minister Yoon laid to save her son and helped Tae-joon become Prosecutor General, which to him, is no life at all. He can only leave after he makes sure they’re punished, and he along with them.
Ha-kyung worries that by exerting himself, Jung-hwan will only speed up the progression of his illness, but he won’t budge on this one—he can’t bear the thought of dying and leaving “those bastards” behind.
“I’m sorry, Jung-hwan,” she finally admits. She thought that by staying steadfast in her ways, he’d come back to her someday. But now she regrets acting like she did now that she knows how little time he has left.
She wishes she could go back and erase all the harsh things she said to him, knowing it’s too late. She apologizes again, and Jung-hwan, by way of acceptance, takes her hand.
Ha-kyung goes to Prosecutor Jung for permission to investigate Kang-jae on corruption charges, even though the witness statements have recently been thrown out. She’s asking for this favor not as a prosecutor, but as Jung-hwan’s wife.
And lo, in front of his wife, daughter, and all his daughter’s friends, Kang-jae is suddenly arrested by prosecutors from the Inspection Division. This news quickly reaches the Blue House, causing the Chief of Staff to ask Minister Yoon to withdraw her recommendation for Kang-jae to receive a presidential citation.
Tae-joon is not happy, and calls Kang-jae to ask if the sponsorship allegations are true. Kang-jae’s apology says it all, but Tae-joon vows he’ll have him out by morning—he’ll even send him a folding bed to weather the night he’ll spend in the interrogation room.
He tells Yeon-jin that he can save Kang-jae easily since he once saved Jung-hwan while he was literally dangling from a ledge, and dismisses her concern that going out of his way to help Kang-jae could come back to bite him.
Moreover, since he knows Prosecutor Jung was behind this move, he plans to contact the governor of Illinois (yes, I know), since Jung’s son was arrested there for drug possession. He’ll make sure Prosecutor Jung takes Kang-jae’s place in the interrogation room.
Yeon-jin calls Jung-hwan to warn him, though her proposed solution is for him to release Kang-jae. He tells her to proceed as planned once he sees Ho-sung and uses his phone to call Minister Yoon (since she wouldn’t answer his calls otherwise).
Once he gains an audience with her, he’s able to convince her to aid him in getting rid of Kang-jae as a way to at least slow down Tae-joon’s race for the Blue House.
To do so, Minister Yoon gets in touch with the governor of Illinois before Tae-joon can to tell him not to release any documents to the prosecutor general. We just gotta roll with this one, guys.
Strangely and without explanation, Jung-hwan asks Minister Yoon exactly what Prosecutor Jung once did, and quotes the same quote he said word for word. “‘Who are you?’ God answered, ‘I am that I am.’ You are who you are thanks to Lee Tae-joon.”
And now she’s become no different from him, Jung-hwan notes. Like she’s said many times before, she claims she’ll show the world how she’s different… but it’s too bad Jung-hwan won’t live long enough to see it. Oh please. Who does she think she’s fooling?
Ha-kyung hasn’t been able to get anything out of Kang-jae, so Jung-hwan takes a stab at it and succeeds in breaking Kang-jae’s silence when he asks him to think about why Tae-joon told him to keep quiet and rest up for the night?
“When I was asleep after my failed surgery, he put my wife in prison on a murder charge,” Jung-hwan says. “So what would the Prosecutor General be doing while you sleep?” That works to get his attention.
Yeon-jin reports this to Tae-joon, and seems to be planting the idea that Kang-jae could betray him in order to make a deal. Tae-joon is sure that his right-hand man of twenty years wouldn’t turn on him, at least until Yeon-jin reminds him that most kings of old fell at the hands of their trusted allies and not their enemies.
Tae-joon replaces Ha-kyung in the control room, and Yeon-jin sends a text to notify Jung-hwan that they’re now behind the two-way mirror as planned. That’s when Jung-hwan talks very explicitly about the key Kang-jae copied from Tae-joon, the one that could unlock the drawer containing the link between him and Minister Yoon…
Now that Tae-joon knows of Kang-jae’s treachery (even though Kang-jae never went through with it), he leaves. Jung-hwan rejoins Ha-kyung as they watch him go, and he tells her to go ahead and release Kang-jae—it won’t matter what he does now, because Tae-joon’s mind has been made up.
That night, Kang-jae sneaks back into Tae-joon’s office to steal the chip, only to find it missing from the drawer. He knows he’s been caught when Tae-joon enters all cheerily, tossing around two beers for them to share.
His cheery facade soon gives way to seething rage, which leaves Kang-jae trembling in fear. Tae-joon promises to look after Kang-jae’s family when he’s not around, because he has him arrested—and he’ll be adding some bogus charges onto the sponsorship charge to make sure Kang-jae can’t weasel his way out.
Jung-hwan passes Kang-jae in the hallway, and even after all the taunting and teasing and general nastiness Kang-jae doled out, he still latches onto Jung-hwan and asks for mercy. Jung-hwan tells him to save his sob story for the judge.
Kang-jae sinks to his knees in supplication and begs for Jung-hwan to save him just this once. “If you save me first,” Jung-hwan says, both of them knowing that task is impossible.
He leaves Kang-jae there and walks away, sending one last wave over his shoulder. Karma’s a bitch.
News spreads fast of the great Kang-jae’s fall from grace, which Yeon-jin hears with a smile before meeting Jung-hwan at a cosmetics store to discuss how this might affect Tae-joon. (And in all fairness, the PPL here is integrated pretty well—I gotta hand it to the show for always inserting the products into the story rather than giving us the drama equivalent of a commercial break.)
Ye-rin is the only one still unaware of her father’s condition, and is thus confused to see her grandma always avoiding her father. Jung-hwan knows it’s because Mom doesn’t want him to see her cry, and tells her that it’s okay if she does—he’d rather see her crying face than not see her at all.
She struggles hard to hold back her tears when Jung-hwan expresses his wish that she live for a hundred years. And after that, when she finally sees him again, he wants her to tell him how Ye-rin grew up, what kind of husband she found… gah. It’s just too sad.
Minister Yoon wants to make sure Tae-joon knows how Kang-jae’s scandal is beginning to leak over to him, but he warns her that she’ll end up in prison with her son if she doesn’t help shield him through this crisis.
She later finds out that Tae-joon’s called an emergency meeting with all the chief prosecutors, and knows that Tae-joon wants to bring the fight to the administrative branch—and if he wins, there’ll be no stopping him.
How is he planning on getting all the chief prosecutors’ support? By giving them a single target in the form of the Blue House Chief of Staff, and by throwing suspicion on the strings he might’ve pulled to make his daughter a university professor at such a young age.
By convincing them that they’ll save the face of the prosecutor’s office by taking down the Chief of Staff, Tae-joon has all the chief prosecutors in the palm of his hand. Yeon-jin notifies Jung-hwan, who makes a plan to counter Tae-joon’s.
The Chief of Staff demands that Tae-joon put a stop to the investigation, even though Tae-joon plays innocent and claims he has no control over the thousands of young prosecutors beneath him. The Chief of Staff knows that’s a lie but can’t prove it.
Minister Yoon knows how good this would all be for Tae-joon if the allegations are proven true, since it’d make him out to be a national hero who fought against corruption at the highest levels. But she’s holding out hope that Jung-hwan can stop him.
And she doesn’t have to wait long—Jung-hwan surprises everyone in the Anti-Corruption Division by calling them to a meeting in his office. Now that Kang-jae’s gone and he’s their superior, he tells them they’ll be diverting all their energy and resources to the Chief of Staff case.
However, they’ll be working to prove the man’s innocence, which would mean they’d be working against Tae-joon. When they balk at that, Jung-hwan reminds them that they’ve got Minister Yoon’s support, and her term will last a year longer than Tae-joon’s.
“When you get confused about which rope you should grab, grab the rope that’s closest to you,” Jung-hwan says by way of illustration/coercion. Now that he’s got them on his side, he instructs them to start by investigating Noh Young-jin, one of the sources Tae-joon’s using in his case.
Ho-sung asks what will happen if they don’t find anything on the guy, to which Jung-hwan replies with a smirk that he’s Tae-joon’s friend—and no friend of his is ever dirt-free.
As it so happens, Detective Oh’s sister-in-law went to the school where Noh Young-jin resides as chair, and has heard some rumors. He’s reluctant to tell all until Ha-kyung gives him a credit card to reimburse his investigative expenses, with the instruction to meet with everyone at the university who knows anything about Noh.
Haha, only Ye-rin would be able to complain that her daddy’s stable of lullabies is getting too stale for her to fall asleep to, enough for her to ask for him to learn a new one by tomorrow night. But no sooner does she fall asleep that Tae-joon calls Jung-hwan out for a meeting at the Han River.
Tae-joon wants Jung-hwan to just forget it all now, being vague about what exactly he means. “What should I forget for you?” Jung-hwan asks. Does he want him to forget that he put his wife in prison while he was in the hospital? Or that he destroyed the last of the illegal painkillers he had carefully acquired?
Jung-hwan equates himself to a wounded soldier who fell behind in battle, and Tae-joon to the soldier who’d leave him saddled with everything and continue on unimpeded. “But that soldier keeps grabbing your ankle,” Jung-hwan continues. “Does it frighten you?”
“When you fell behind, I should have shot you with a gun,” Tae-joon replies, feeding into the metaphor. Just the same, Jung-hwan says he should’ve put handcuffs on him when he got Chairman Kim’s confession.
But Tae-joon wants them to put the bull aside and talk honestly—Jung-hwan will be dying soon, so does he really want to risk the futures of all those prosecutors he has working for him and against Tae-joon? Plus, he’s confident Jung-hwan won’t find anything on Noh Young-jin, since he wouldn’t have put him front and center if there was any risk factor there.
He tries to get Jung-hwan to back down with the old adage that we come into the world naked and leave just as empty-handed, to which Jung-hwan says the same should apply to him—he knows about the Park Jung-hwan Gate scandal Tae-joon was going to pull after he died.
This is his chance to tell Tae-joon that they should both carry their own baggage, and that he should stop trying to foist his onto him. He also admits that he didn’t know what it felt like to step on others the way he’d been doing under Tae-joon for the past seven years until he experienced it himself.
Left with no other recourse, Tae-joon reminds him that he’s just a lowly division chief, while he’s the Prosecutor General. Jung-hwan says he’ll just have to work that much harder to get a chokehold on him.
At least for the Noh Young-jin case, Ho-sung is working together with Jung-hwan to try and dig up some dirt to bury him with. Ha-kyung can’t even stand to be in the same room as Ho-sung now, and gives Jung-hwan some intel she likely gathered from Detective Oh’s investigation.
She doesn’t need him to remind her that she’ll likely regret getting evidence this way, because she’ll at least have time to repent. If doing this means he can be done with this mess faster so he can spend time with his mother before he dies, she’s willing to do it.
Tae-joon isn’t exactly having an easy time of things himself, since the chief prosecutors express doubt that they can take down the Chief of Staff with only the word of Noh Young-jin. He has to all but threaten them with unemployment to keep them in check.
But Jung-hwan’s not worried, and tells Yeon-jin that it won’t be long before Tae-joon steps on a land mine he’s placed.
When they see each other in the hallway, neither of them are willing to back down. In fact, Jung-hwan takes a challenging step forward, as does Tae-joon. Victory smirk, activate!
I didn’t find it at all surprising that Tae-joon would drop Kang-jae after a twenty year relationship, since we saw how much more tightly bonded he was to Jung-hwan and how that hardly mattered when it really came down to it. It’s not that Tae-joon doesn’t have feelings, which would make him a very one-dimensional character, it’s that he chooses to ignore those feelings when it suits him. And that’s what makes him so unpredictable and fun to watch.
What I loved about Tae-joon’s story this episode is what I’ve been loving about Punch from the beginning—and I never thought I’d get to reference South Park in dramaland but there’s a great truth in the way its creators would approach storytelling. They didn’t believe in using “and” to tell a story, but rather “therefore/but.” So instead of a sequence which goes “This happens and then this happens!” we’d get “This happens but this happens, therefore this happens!” It’s just a superior way to tell a story using cause and effect at its core, which is something we innately follow better and easier than the “and/and/and” kind of lazy writing that’s much more common, as opposed to the way this show approaches problems week to week.
If Tae-joon had decided to attack the Chief of Staff just for the sake of his own ambition, it would’ve been the epitome of an “and then this happens” sort of scenario that can easily make political and corporate machinations feel plodding and tiresome. Instead, it was another play on causality—Kang-jae was going to betray him but Tae-joon betrayed him first, therefore Tae-joon had to try and win back the public’s support before he got pulled down with him.
I’m hoping that this actually puts Kang-jae out of commission for good, since Jung-hwan is running out of time and still has yet to take down his two biggest opponents. And if we’re comparing villainy, which we get to do in a discussion like this, then I really do wonder if Tae-joon is all that much worse than Minister Yoon. At least he makes no bones about who he is or what he does, but Yoon still seems to be living in a magical fairytale world where she’s doing the right thing for the right reasons. Does she actually believe herself when she says she’ll prove to everyone that her actions were always in the service of utilitarian goals? I hope not, because then I really would lose all faith in her ability to judge right from wrong.
And while we’ve come to expect verbal smackdowns and metaphorical cage fights in every episode, the emotional beat at the beginning of the hour was perhaps all the more powerful because it struck like a lightning bolt. Regardless of where Jung-hwan stands on the moral spectrum, we’ve come to appreciate all the layers which make him uniquely him, and we’ve also seen what a tight rein he keeps on his own emotions. But to see him break down and admit that he just wants to live—not even forever, but just for a few months—was just so unbelievably sad. It’s like getting a wake-up call from the universe only to find out that you have an hour’s worth of snoozing before your sudden and terrible death. Orrrr maybe I should just leave the metaphors to Punch from now on; it’s not like they’ll be running out anytime soon.