Punch: Episode 15
In the wake of another crushing defeat at the hands of villains with truly dangerous amounts of power, even our resilient anti-hero finds he’s not immune to the siren song that is doubt, and the short moment he experiences it might just be the closest he’ll ever come to throwing himself a pity party. But with the Grim Reaper all but nipping at his heels there’s no time for wallowing, and no one knows that better than Jung-hwan. Go give ’em hell, Jung-hwan. Give ’em hell.
Ratings-wise, Punch secured an even bigger lead for itself this week with 12.8%, leaving Shine and Healer fighting for second place with 9.4% and 9.1%, respectively.
SONG OF THE DAY
Shinhwa – “Memory” [ Download ]
EPISODE 15 RECAP
We flash back to ten years ago, when Jung-hwan, Ha-kyung, Ho-sung, and a host of others first took their oaths to become prosecutors. Jung-hwan had led the recitation with conviction, and the words take on new meaning when the camera pans to Tae-joon and Minister Yoon, also re-affirming their oaths to serve the people with truth and justice.
It was Ha-kyung’s flashback, as she smiles in the present at a picture of her ex-husband from that day. She and Yeon-jin are packing up his office, but when Ha-kyung rejects Yeon-jin’s offer to take the items to Jung-hwan herself, she reminds her that Jung-hwan already rejected her. (As in, she’s not a threat.)
Hyun-sun calls Ha-kyung to the hospital to tell her about Jung-hwan’s worsening condition now that the tumor is growing. All the symptoms she describes, like headaches, vision problems, speech impediments, and even problems to stand or walk are all things we see Jung-hwan struggling with.
As hard as he tries to mask these symptoms in front of people he needs to convince, he’s unable to stop himself from tripping over a word here or there. Ha-kyung’s eyes fill with tears when Hyun-sun tells her that he has three weeks left at best, two at worst.
Jung-hwan pays a visit to Ha-kyung to discuss strategy, but when he trips over another word, Ha-kyung tries again to convince him to give up the fight. Why waste what little time he has left on the likes of Minister Yoon and Tae-joon when he could spend it with his mother and Ye-rin?
That’s a thought Jung-hwan refuses to entertain, convinced that if they could just find one outlet where Tae-joon spent the laundered money, they’d have a proper case.
Ha-kyung’s eyes fall on Ye-rin’s backpack, giving her a sudden revelation—there was the kimbap store the bus driver’s wife (from the first couple episodes) was bribed with for her silence. They can start there.
The bus driver’s wife is happy to see Ha-kyung at first, since she helped her find large clients for her wares despite the fact that she spoke against Ha-kyung when it really mattered.
But things have changed now, and Ha-kyung keeps her face as straight as she can as she tells the woman that she’ll sue her for perjury. Alternatively, she can turn herself in and avoid a prison sentence, though she’ll still end up losing the shop.
The driver’s wife is horrified as Ha-kyung passes over a picture of Kang-jae and a statement only she can fill out to prove that he’s the one who offered her the money to start her business.
No amount of pleading from the woman will change Ha-kyung’s mind, though she means it when she says she’s truly sorry. She has until five o’clock the next day to turn herself in or face a lawsuit.
After being officially appointed as the independent prosecutor on the ‘Park Jung-hwan Gate’ case, Minister Yoon is told by the Chief of Staff to focus her investigation on clearing Tae-joon’s name first, in order to quell the public’s suspicion surrounding him.
She refuses to do so on the basis that they’ve got to get what they can out of Jung-hwan before he dies, and after that, she can focus on Tae-joon. When she’s met with opposition again by both the Chief of Staff and the man himself, she wins by throwing the book at them. Minister Yoon, Queen of Hypocrites.
Later, Tae-joon is shocked when Minister Yoon demands he give her all documents relating to how he spent the twenty-seven billion won Jung-hwan laundered, since this isn’t the kind of teamwork he expected when he brought her on.
In retaliation, Tae-joon reminds her that he has a chip, and “it’s not a potato chip.” (Hah.) Minister Yoon knows he has her NIS chip, so this is her way of getting a chip equivalent. She won’t release the documents he gives her, of course, but just hold onto them. Mutually assured destruction and all that.
And if Tae-joon fails to produce those documents, Minister Yoon will turn the independent counsel on him. If he wants her to blame everything on Jung-hwan after he dies, he has to give her the goods.
Poor Mom is trying to stay strong for her son, even though he knows she’s been ostracized by the community because of all the bad press circling around him. Even his extended family won’t come to visit.
Jung-hwan has tears in his eyes as he tells Mom that she should sell her dry cleaning shop after he dies and move somewhere else with Hyun-sun. They’ll be much better off living like he never existed, so he can’t be used against them in the future.
This selflessness breaks Mom’s heart, as she cries that she should be the one comforting him, but he’s the one comforting her. “How can I give up when this is all so unfair?” she sobs. Jung-hwan can only pull her into his arms.
Tae-joon is at least resting easy in the knowledge that Jung-hwan would have no idea where he spent the laundered money. His chief concern now is Minister Yoon, and how they can devise a way to uproot her from her position.
Ho-sung immediately calls Minister Yoon to tell her that Tae-joon plans on avoiding her (so as not to hand over self-incriminating documents) moments before she’s to be mobbed by the press.
In order to give Tae-joon a warning, she addresses the mob by saying that she might investigate Tae-joon before investigating Jung-hwan, but that they’ll decide by tonight.
She looks into the camera as she says this, so that her eyes stare directly into Tae-joon’s as he watches the broadcast. He immediately calls her to invite her over for tea, but she hasn’t changed her stance—he’s has until nightfall to bring her what she wants.
When the bus driver’s wife calls Ha-kyung to say that she’ll turn herself in, Ha-kyung directs her to Jung-hwan’s interim office, taking Yeon-jin with her.
The woman admits that she knew Ha-kyung wouldn’t have had it in her to file the lawsuit, but that her husband wanted her to do the right thing. After all, she turned her back on Ha-kyung after she’d helped them out.
Since she’s made peace with giving the store up and starting over, she points to the picture of Kang-jae and says he’s the one who gave her the money.
But Jung-hwan has enough experience to know that they won’t get anywhere by releasing her statement to the media, since Kang-jae’s word will always win over someone like her. Plus, it can all be turned back around on him to make it seem like he bribed her to give false testimony.
The only surefire way to get Kang-jae is to catch him in the act, which means entrapment. When Ha-kyung expresses her dismay over the illegal idea, Jung-hwan replies, “Cases don’t just happen. We have to create one.”
They arrange a meeting with the driver’s wife and Kang-jae, where she tells him that the building’s new owner has demanded fifty million won from her, which she intends to get from him. If not, she claims she’ll turn herself in.
Jung-hwan threatens the building owner into corroborating her story when Kang-jae calls for verification, sending Kang-jae back to Tae-joon to get permission to give her the sum. Tae-joon says it’s too dangerous, not with the independent counsel hovering around him lately.
Yeon-jin plants the seed of doubt in Kang-jae’s mind by pretending to talk over the phone about her “uncle” who ended up shouldering all the blame for his boss unfairly, in an attempt to make Kang-jae think Tae-joon is capable of doing the same.
It works, and they print out proof when he withdraws the fifty million won. Now all that’s left is for Ha-kyung to catch Kang-jae in the act of giving it to her…
…But Ho-sung heaps more cases on her desk and tells his new subordinate that she’s not going anywhere without his consent. Jung-hwan tells Yeon-jin to go in Ha-kyung’s stead, but she refuses, coyly citing how she’d be outed as being on Jung-hwan’s side if she were to arrest Kang-jae—and she’d be on the losing side if the plan were to fall through.
She’d rather continue playing both sides of the fence, and says Jung-hwan should do it. He can’t (since he’s no longer a prosecutor), which leaves Ha-kyung to devise a plan to distract Ho-sung, by using Yeon-jin to convince Tae-joon that one of his speeches needs Ho-sung’s editing hand.
This gives Ha-kyung the opportunity to sneak out, but she needs Jung-hwan to buy her at least ten minutes to get there. He does by giving the police an anonymous tip that a man fitting Kang-jae’s description is about to receive illegal gambling funds, leading the two patrolmen nearby into the kimbap shop.
They immediately seize and open the briefcase of money Kang-jae brought for the driver’s wife, thinking it’s gambling money, and physically restrain him. Kang-jae can’t understand why the woman isn’t telling them that he was the one giving her the money…
…Which is right when Ha-kyung and her team walk in. “Thank you for your confession,” she says, flashing her badge to the other policemen. Now she has two witnesses that heard Kang-jae say he was giving her the money, which is plenty enough reason to have him arrested.
After sharing a moment of reconciliation with the driver’s wife, Ha-kyung heads outside just as Kang-jae is being pushed into the police van. He yells at her in banmal, only for her to remind him that he was told not to speak to her informally.
In case he forgot who told him that, Ha-kyung directs his attention to where Jung-hwan is standing across the street. He gives Kang-jae a triumphant little wave. Yesssss.
Tae-joon and his terrible tie rush out to stop Ha-kyung before she can take Kang-jae into the interrogation room, demanding that she hand the suspect over to the criminal division since she’s out of her depth, being part of Ho-sung’s investigative support division.
Ha-kyung has the right to prosecute the case having found Kang-jae in the act of committing a crime, but Tae-joon doesn’t care. Luckily for her, Prosecutor Jung happens along and asks for a clear report on what’s going on, finding Tae-joon’s request completely out of line.
According to the law, each prosecutor is an independent legal organization unto themselves and no one—not even the prosecutor general or the minister of justice—can intervene in a prosecutor’s investigation. (So eat it, Tae-joon.)
Except he doesn’t care for the fare, and goes straight to Minister Yoon instead. She’ll be more than happy to grant him any favor he asks, but only if he gives her those documents. He does so reluctantly.
Jung-hwan also has a favor request for Ha-kyung, because he knows that if he shows up for his counsel summons empty-handed tomorrow, they’ll put all the blame for the twenty-seven billion won on him.
In order for that to not happen, Ha-kyung has to get Kang-jae to confess that the money he gave the driver’s wife came from Tae-joon. And this has special significance for Jung-hwan, who wants to make it to Ye-rin’s first day of school as a free man.
Ha-kyung knows she has Kang-jae by the cojones when she reminds him that two officers on duty heard him admit to bringing the money, and he seems to know it too.
After checking to make sure that Tae-joon didn’t fabricate the names and dollar amounts in the documents, Minister Yoon grants Tae-joon his wish, and orders that Kang-jae be handed over as a suspect to her independent counsel.
Ha-kyung jumps to her feet in indignation when men from the counsel come to take Kang-jae away, having to watch Ho-sung saunter in just so he can tell her that the law of the counsel supersedes any laws she’s operating under.
“Ho-sung-ah,” she sputters incredulously. Ho-sung smirks like he’s just been asked to prom by the unpopular girl as he corrects her to call him “Chief.” Ohhhhh, even a lightning strike would be too good for him. I better see TEARS on his smug face before this show ends. Tears of blood.
Ha-kyung finds Jung-hwan looking morose and finally feeling defeated. She tries to reassure him that they won’t just be able to bury Kang-jae’s case over in the independent counsel, only for Jung-hwan to reply that they’ve buried cases ten times as big.
She wants him to snap out of this funk he’s in before his summons tomorrow, or else he’ll get saddled with all the charges. Jung-hwan flatly asks what he can possibly do to stop them at this point, then sighs, “Ha-kyung-ah, I’m tired now.”
Minister Yoon takes Kang-jae to Tae-joon, who looks like a stern father unhappy to reproach his child. It’s not that he just wants Kang-jae to disappear until Jung-hwan dies, he wants their relationship to end here. Now. Forever.
He knows that the money used to bribe the driver’s wife can be traced back to him, and the chances will be higher if the two of them continue to work together. Once Jung-hwan is gone, Kang-jae must allow himself to be properly investigated by the independent counsel.
“Thank you for serving me for twenty years, Kang-jae,” Tae-joon says, struggling to keep his emotions in check. Kang-jae doesn’t argue with any of his terms, thanks him for everything, and sneaks out the back door.
Tae-joon invites Jung-hwan out for some soju, wondering morbidly (and only half-jokingly) if the alcohol might make Jung-hwan die a little sooner. He reminisces about how they started together seven years ago with the aim to defeat Minister Yoon, but marvels at how she keeps bouncing back after every punch.
That’s how Jung-hwan feels about him—that no matter what he does, he just can’t keep Tae-joon down. But Tae-joon has a moment of honesty when he reveals how alone he’s soon to be, now that Jung-hwan will die and Kang-jae has been permanently sent away.
The irony that he’s now holding hands with Minister Yoon while fighting his last remaining friend isn’t lost on him, but Jung-hwan refuses to go down memory lane with him. Instead, he mentions that Kang-jae won’t be able to escape the bribery charge.
Tae-joon knows this, which is why he’s going to make sure Kang-jae stands before the independent counsel… just after Jung-hwan is already dead. He wants Jung-hwan to stop trying so hard, but Jung-hwan chirps back that he’ll shuffle off this mortal coil happily if Tae-joon just gives him a written statement detailing where he spent that twenty-seven billion won.
Of course, Tae-joon would be crazy to do that. Cue radish-chomping staredown!
On the morning of his summons, Jung-hwan shares his plan to bring the suddenly-vanished Kang-jae to him. In order to do that, he wants Ha-kyung to delete ten minutes of the recording from last night’s interrogation, just enough to make people doubt what Kang-jae could have said.
Yeon-jin knows what he’s thinking: Tae-joon will get nervous about what may or may not have been said and blame everything on Kang-jae, so to save himself, Kang-jae would go to Jung-hwan.
It’s not a perfect plan, but Jung-hwan doesn’t need the counsel to believe him, he just needs them to suspect Kang-jae. “Those missing ten minutes will save us,” he adds.
Yeon-jin runs to Ho-sung with the news that ten minutes of the interrogation footage have gone missing, believed to contain Kang-jae’s confession. That sets everyone up in the right place when Jung-hwan addresses the media before his summons to announce a press conference he’ll be holding that evening.
There, he’ll reveal who used the twenty-seven billion won and how it was used. He says this looking directly into the camera, knowing Tae-joon is watching.
In an attempt to level with Jung-hwan, Minister Yoon admits that she would’ve lived a life without shame had her son’s enlistment fraud case never existed. Jung-hwan retorts that it’s because she never had to do anything shameful before, having been born with the kind of pedigree and privilege people could spend their whole lives trying but never even getting near touching.
But her son’s case was the first real test she had. “You made the decision, and that’s who you are,” he says. Minister Yoon mentions the countless cases he manipulated and hundreds of crimes he committed as leverage, only for Jung-hwan to break out laughing—that’s stuff everyone already knows.
And despite his long list of crimes, he’s still nowhere near her level of bad. But he also has nothing to hide anymore, and nothing to lose. Nor will he undergo her farce of an interrogation when he’ll reveal the whole truth in his press conference.
Ho-sung corroborates this when he calls Minister Yoon in a Ho-sung-like panic: Kang-jae could’ve said anything in the ten minutes they’ve found missing from the footage. Footage only Ha-kyung has now.
So Jung-hwan gets his wish: he gets to go home. Minister Yoon makes up an excuse relating to his illness and sends him out the same convenient back door Kang-jae escaped through.
Tae-joon and Minister Yoon hold an emergency meeting, and while he believes Kang-jae wouldn’t have said anything, Minister Yoon causes him to doubt his convictions.
At just the right time, Yeon-jin makes the suggestion that they should pin it all on Kang-jae—they have proof that the money he was going to give the driver’s wife came from his account, so it’d be easy to make it seem like the original sum came from his personal money and not Tae-joon’s.
Tae-joon isn’t left with much of a choice when Ho-sung can’t get ahold of the driver’s wife (which Jung-hwan also planned), leading them to believe that she’ll be used in the press conference.
And if both she and Kang-jae point fingers at Tae-joon, then both he and Minister Yoon will end up in prison. They’ll have to beat Jung-hwan to the punch and release the news first, so Tae-joon calls Kang-jae to find out his whereabouts.
Since Yeon-jin overheard the conversation, Jung-hwan is able to call Kang-jae knowing exactly where he’s hiding. He directs him to look at the TV, where Minister Yoon is holding a press conference pinning all the twenty-seven billion won Jung-hwan laundered on Kang-jae.
Jung-hwan tells him to get out before the police find him, while Minister Yoon goes on the record claiming that Kang-jae is actually on the run. While she promises to arrest and prosecute him, Kang-jae really does run from the building, narrowly escaping the police…
…And finds his saving grace outside in the form of Jung-hwan and a getaway car. Once inside, Kang-jae laments that this is all too unfair, only for Jung-hwan to remind him that his isn’t the worst luck.
“I’m leaving, but you get to stay. Before I go, let’s catch Lee Tae-joon together,” Jung-hwan says, as he puts the pedal to the metal.
For once, Kang-jae is left speechless.
Before this episode, if someone had told me that Jung-hwan and Tae-joon would’ve formed an unlikely alliance, I would’ve just nodded. If someone told me that he would form an unlikely alliance with Minister Yoon, I would’ve been intrigued but not exactly floored. But if someone told me that we’d see a teaming up between Jung-hwan and Kang-jae by the end of this episode, I would’ve giggled like Jung-hwan when Minister Yoon listed his crimes. Never in a million years would I have seen this one coming.
And yet here we are, and how we got here makes a truly awe-inspiring amount of sense. What’s also awe-inspiring if not also a little frightening is how tight a grip the show has on its audience, because no sooner was I feeling defeated and weary of the uphill battle our anti-hero kept losing that Jung-hwan, for the first time ever, felt the same. If business had just gone along as usual, and Jung-hwan had faced his most recent defeat with his usual resilience, the plot would’ve been in danger of feeling cyclical.
But having Jung-hwan feel doubt and despair at exactly the right moment, and in the face of such constant defeat, really solidified the fact that we are in the hands of a damn fine storyteller. No earth-shattering revelation by any means, but I was honestly thrown for a loop (in a good way) when I realized that the frustration I felt at Jung-hwan’s losses was exactly how I was supposed to feel. It is a form of manipulation when you boil it down, but in the way all good stories can be manipulative. We wouldn’t be here if they weren’t, because our ancestors would’ve already died of boredom.
All that aside, how much fun was it to see Minister Yoon & Co. fall into Jung-hwan’s trap? And without even realizing they were being suckered? Jung-hwan had only to make the suggestion and sit back as Minister Yoon and Tae-joon unknowingly fed into each other’s fears. Just when Tae-joon was sure Kang-jae wouldn’t have betrayed him that way, Minister Yoon was there to remind him that Kang-jae would have some very valid motivation to do so.
And Jung-hwan knew exactly how Yeon-jin could plant the idea of framing Kang-jae while making it seem organic, knowing that it would snowball like it did into Minister Yoon’s impromptu press conference. He knew it would happen that way because guilty people are paranoid like that, and those two happen to be some of the guiltiest. But what was probably most surprising is that I actually found myself feeling—and this is hard to even type—sympathy for Kang-jae. He’s a slimy parasite and a certifiable snake to be sure, but he really got screwed over on this one. Karma’s a bitch.