Signal: Episode 4
The past begins to interweave with the present to the point where it’s hard to tell which came first—and if that sounds crazy, it’s because it is. Crazy good, that is. Aside from the truly stellar acting, Signal benefits most from its deft directing hand, which helps to heighten the tension at just the right moments and let it rest in others. There’s never a stale moment because there’s never a stale shot, or is it that there’s never a stale shot because there’s never a stale moment? Whatever, this show is awesome.
Note: I’m just filling in for this recap, regularly scheduled programming will resume next week.
SONG OF THE DAY
10cm – “스토커 (Stalker)” [ Download ]
EPISODE 4 RECAP
It’s a race against the clock for Jae-han to find Won-kyung before her stated time of death at 9:30 PM. And who should he run into on the way but the suspicious bus driver, who points him toward the direction he supposedly saw Won-kyung go. Something doesn’t seem right with him.
In the present, Heon-ki returns with fingerprints from the broken glass he found under the latest victim’s body, while Detective Kim analyzes the black box footage he obtained from delivery trucks in the area.
The black-hooded man we caught a glimpse of last episode is seen from the front here, and though somewhat obscured, they’re able to make out some features. Whoever he was, he was in the area during Detective Kim’s interrogations, most recently when he paid a visit to LEE CHUN-GOO, the bus driver.
And it was none other than Lee Chun-goo’s prints that Heon-ki found on the broken glass. Detective Kim examines the results plus the black box footage and states, “So bus driver Lee Chun-goo is the killer.” Chun-goo seems to know the jig is up when he spots Soo-hyun approaching his building, and shuts his eyes.
Hae-young follows up on a lead that inevitably traces back to Chun-goo, who quit his bus driving job after an apparently nasty incident. Soo-hyun arrives at the hospital she believes Chun-goo to be a patient of, only for the front desk to inform her that he’s a patient’s guardian, not one himself.
That’s when she receives a call from Detective Kim telling her that Chun-goo is most definitely the killer, just as Hae-young hears from Chun-goo’s old coworker that the reason he quit is because his son was involved in an accident.
Detective Kim calls to tell him about Chun-goo, though Hae-young has trouble believing it. The criminal profile said the killer had to be in his 20s, and Chun-goo was driving the bus when Jae-han caught false suspect Choi Young-shin. He couldn’t be the killer.
So he asks Chun-goo’s old coworker how old Chun-goo’s son was at the time of his accident, only to learn that he was about twenty years old. Uh oh. What’s worse, the coworker reveals that Chun-goo never wanted to leave his son home alone because of an illness he had, so his son would ride his father’s bus every day until the last stop.
Hae-young can’t help but think of Soo-hyun’s claim that the only thing the victims had in common was that they all took the bus home, and if they all took the route Chun-goo drove, that’d mean his son was able to pick them out since he would’ve ridden the bus with them.
Meanwhile, Soo-hyun goes to the hospital room with her gun drawn to find Chun-goo’s son, LEE JIN-HYUNG, lying immobile. There’s no sign of his father.
On his way to the hospital, Hae-young wonders if Chun-goo had no choice but to lie that no one got on the bus when Jae-han was hot on the killer’s heels. He would’ve had to lie if it was his son, who we see board the bus with the remaining two (soon-to-be) victims in flashback/Hae-young’s mind.
Chun-goo had come across Hwang Min-joo’s body on his way home that night, and saw the shape of his son running away from the scene. His coworker’s foreboding words come in then, since he said to Hae-young that one thing Chun-goo always said was that he’d do anything for his son.
Back in the past, we see Chun-goo look regretful and worried after he sends Jae-han in the wrong direction. Jae-han hears a woman’s scream and fears for the worst.
A fretful Hae-young calls Soo-hyun to tell her that Chun-goo isn’t the serial killer—though it’s likely he killed Jung Kyung-soon to stop her from talking. Soo-hyun has time to ask, “So who is it?” before she turns around…
…And find Jin-hyung’s open eyes staring at her. In a flash, Jin-hyung pulls her onto the bed with him with a hospital phone cord around her neck, trying to strangle the life from her. Hae-young can only hear the sounds of struggle from her cell phone, and drives all the faster to get to the hospital.
He and Detective Kim arrive at the same time to find Soo-hyun struggling to catch her breath on the floor, while Jin-hyung suffers from a head wound from her bludgeoning him with a nearby lamp. Jin-hyung claims he’s not the murderer, and that he only attacked Soo-hyun because he saw a gun in her hand.
Just then, Heon-ki calls with the same news the national media is all over: Lee Chun-goo has turned himself in as the South Gyeonggi serial murderer. He confesses to the murder of Jung Kyung-soon, and to all the others that happened twenty-six years ago.
While Soo-hyun believes he did commit the murder against Jung Kyung-soon, she tries to convince Section Chief Ahn that he’s only confessing to the others to protect his son. But without conclusive evidence to overturn Chun-goo’s confession, he can’t afford to believe her—especially not with such a public case like this one.
This effectively closes the cold team’s case, though Hae-young is left to worriedly look at the whiteboard with the ninth victim’s unchanged status. He waits till 11:23 PM for the walkie-talkie to come alive so he can check in with Jae-han, who smokes a cigarette in the early morning light. Oh no. He didn’t make it in time, did he?
Hae-young asks what happened with ninth victim Kim Won-kyung and whether she’s still alive, but Jae-han deliberately doesn’t answer. Instead he asks if he’s caught the killer in 2015. “Something is wrong, isn’t it?” Hae-young asks, only for Jae-han to more aggressively ask if he’s caught the killer or not.
“Bus driver Lee Chun-goo, is it him?” Jae-han asks. He takes Hae-young’s momentary silence as confirmation, and all but screams that he’ll go kill whoever it is if Hae-young tells him now.
“You’ve probably only seen pictures,” an increasingly agitated Jae-han tells him. “You’ve probably only seen a few pictures. All you know about the victims are their names, jobs, time of death, and where they were found. But not me.”
Flashback to the night when Jae-han had tried to stop Won-kyung’s murder before it happened. He followed the sound of her scream… and with tears in his eyes and voice, he tells Hae-young what kind of person Won-kyung was to him.
And then we see him find her, dead by the serial killer’s hand. He sinks to his knees and reaches out for her bloody feet, dissolving into sobs the moment he touches her. At her funeral, he could only bring himself to bow before the threshold, unable to bring himself to cross it.
Over the walkie-talkie, he vows to kill the murderer with his own hands, in the same way he killed his victims. Hae-young tries to convince him against it, claiming that he’d become no better than the murderer. They still have time to do something if Jae-han interrogates Jung Kyung-soon, who knew the killer…
…But it’s too late. Jae-han’s left the walkie-talkie on the other end, and the transmission window closes. Hae-young decides to follow up on Jung Kyung-soon’s case in the present anyway, figuring that she must’ve had evidence that proved Jin-hyung was the murderer, which she used against Chun-goo for years.
Whatever it was, Chun-goo failed to find it in her house, which means she hid it elsewhere. And the fact that the laws changed regarding statute of limitations means that they can trace her actions, since she would’ve gone to check on said evidence the moment she found out it could still be useful.
On the way to reinvestigate Jung Kyung-soon’s house, Hae-young asks after Soo-hyun’s health, since her neck is still bruised from her struggle with Jin-hyung. He admonishes her out of concern for going in to face a man alone, prompting Soo-hyun to reply that if she starts being picky with who she chooses to face, she may as well turn in her badge now.
Detective Kim calls that he found no leads by looking into the deceased woman’s credit card and phone records, but Hae-young finds a ticket to Sunyang in one of the woman’s coat pockets.
Since she had a cousin who lives there, they head to her house to start rooting for evidence and end up finding a parcel Jung Kyung-soon left behind. We don’t see what’s inside, but they do.
As Director Kim prepares to give a press conference declaring Chun-goo the South Gyeonggi serial murderer, Hae-young bursts into Jin-hyung’s hospital room to forcibly pull his hospital gown away from his shoulders. He’s looking for something specific, which he finds in the form of a thin scar on the man’s shoulder.
Soo-hyun interrupts the conference in order to put DNA results in front of Director Kim. The media is curious as to what the development is, and the director only shares that while they were investigating Jung Kyung-soon’s murder, they were able to find the South Gyeonggi serial murderer.
But in a surprise move, he hands the pulpit over to Soo-hyun, whom he declares as the case’s lead detective. She tells the media that her cold case squad found evidence leading them to the serial killer while investigating Jung Kyung-soon’s death.
We don’t hear the rest, since we cut to Hae-young interrogating Chun-goo at the station. He knows it all must’ve started when the police first questioned him about whether someone got on his bus at the Hyunpoong station, and the reason why Jung Kyung-soon had given an odd look at the time was because she was on that bus, and knew he was lying.
She was there the night he misled Jae-han about Won-kyung’s location, and saw Jin-hyung dragging the poor woman to her death. Won-kyung had used the taser Jae-han provided her with little effect, and it was that taser that Jung Kyung-soon kept as blackmail evidence all these years.
Soo-hyun holds it up in a bag for all to see, declaring that it had the blood and fingerprints from the last South Gyeonggi victim, and the killer’s DNA. The killer is Lee Jin-hyung, who was paralyzed from the waist down twenty-six years ago.
In the interrogation room, Hae-young finds himself disgusted when Chun-goo defends his son as being a pitiful boy who grew up without a mother. Pushing pictures of the first four female victims toward him, Hae-young describes who they were in life and the family they had.
Does Chun-goo think he’s the only one who holds his family dear? “Do you really feel nothing for them?” Hae-young asks, his voice growing louder. “You should feel sorry toward them!” But Chun-goo refuses, claiming that his son already paid for his crimes.
In the past, Jae-han storms into Chun-goo’s house with his gun drawn, ready to shoot the man where he stands. But when he catches a glimpse of his son, he recognizes him as the man he almost caught that fateful night, and gives chase.
He follows Jin-hyung into an abandoned building and up the stairs, finally cornering him on the roof. Once he overcame Jin-hyung, all he could do was punch him repeatedly, asking, “Why did you do it? Why? Why? Why? Why?!” Over and over and over again.
The only thing that stops him is a two-by-four to the head, wielded by Chun-goo. He’s unyielding when Jae-han all but cries that if he’d just told the truth that day, she wouldn’t have died. “This isn’t over,” Jae-han stresses. “He will kill again. He will kill again!”
But his pleas for Chun-goo to see reason go unheard, since the beleaguered father naively believes that since all the women from that fateful bus ride are dead, there won’t be any more. And even if he had a knife held to his throat, he’d defend his son till his last breath.
Jae-han believes him, which is why a terrible certainty comes over him: “I have no evidence. I have no witnesses. I’ll have to end this with my own hands.” He takes up his gun and aims it for Jin-hyung, who ends up slipping off the edge of the roof in his effort to get away from him.
Jae-han catches him before he can fall, leading to a long, silent moment between the two of them. Jin-hyung smiles through bloody teeth at Jae-han, perhaps reveling in the pain he’s caused. And that’s when Jae-han lets go.
In the present, Chun-goo cries that because that man let his son fall, he became paralyzed from the waist down. That’s when Hae-young realizes that Jae-han did it, and stopped him from committing more murders because of it.
Jae-han had gone to see Jin-hyung in the hospital, and heard his father claim that he just tripped. Even now, Chun-goo refuses to let his son turn himself in or turn him in himself, claiming that he’s already lived such a miserable life as is. Which meant that Jae-han couldn’t turn himself in for dropping Jin-hyung if Jin-hyung claimed he was never dropped in the first place.
Chun-goo laments his and his son’s misery, citing that as payment enough for their crimes. “What if Detective Lee Jae-han had killed your son that day?” Hae-young asks. “Would you be able to forget? To act as if nothing happened?”
Reminding him of how horribly those women died seems to be useless, so if Chun-goo wants to live in denial, Hae-young resolves to remember those women—even Jung Kyung-soon, who may not have been innocent, but certainly didn’t deserve to die.
Soo-hyun finds him afterward, and offers advice as to how Hae-young can cope with seeing his first dead body. It’s not until he steps in close that she loses her train of thought, though it’s only so he can examine the bruises on her neck.
Calmly, he advises her to go see a doctor, before telling her that Jung Kyung-soon wasn’t the first dead body he’s seen. A flashback reveals that his first encounter with a corpse was his brother’s, who had cut his own wrists after being falsely(?) convicted. (The computer screen indicates this as a high school gang rape case, but the show is being deliberately sparse with clues in this regard.)
He’s not the only one thinking of his past self, as Soo-hyun also flashes back to when she was a rookie officer. Jae-han had found her crying in the stairwell, and comforted her by confessing that he’s also had moments where he just needed to cry. So has every detective in the station, for that matter.
Which is all the more reason for them to catch the person responsible, he had claimed, since the pain they feel is nothing compared to the families of the victims. And while crying is healthy, he advised her to find another method to help her cope, much like the way she advised Hae-young.
Thinking of how Jae-han had accused him of knowing so little about the victims personally, Hae-young pays a visit to Won-kyung’s mother. Even though Won-kyung’s taser was used to catch the killer, her mother claims that it was really because of Detective Lee, the man Won-kyung liked.
After their meet-cute is when he’d started following her home, just to make sure she got there safely. She’d known it too, but was happy to let him do it. She treasured the taser he gave her as if it were a piece of jewelry, which is the point in the story when Hae-young asks if the detective she’s talking about is Lee Jae-han.
Knowing his affinity for her daughter, Won-kyung’s mother had paid him a visit after her death. Seeing the resignation letter on his desk, she passes over an envelope Won-kyung had meant to give him.
Inside were two movie tickets, which she’d been too shy to give him in person before. Her mother cries as she tells him that Won-kyung truly liked him because she could tell he was a good man, and because he always did the right thing. Even if he could be a bit braver about it.
That same night at 11:23 PM, Jae-han’s walkie-talkie lights up with Hae-young’s voice from the present. It’s only when Hae-young says that they caught the killer does Jae-han perk up and listen, asking how they did it and what evidence they used.
Looking conflicted, Hae-young tells him that they used a method not possible in his time. Even if Jae-han were to find the evidence, the technology to use it wouldn’t come around for years yet. Despite that, it was because of Jae-han that they found the evidence in the present.
“You are the one who caught him,” Hae-young adds, before thanking him. The transmission ends before they can exchange any more words.
And in the saddest scene ever, Jae-han takes the movie tickets Won-kyung gifted him to the theater, sitting next to the empty seat she would’ve sat in were she alive. It’s a comedy that has everyone laughing except for Jae-han, who sobs silently to himself.
Won-kyung’s mother looks on from the crowd as Jin-hyung is arrested and brought out of the hospital in a wheelchair, while Soo-hyun watches the media broadcast with Jae-han’s father.
As Jae-han cries miserably in the past, Hae-young looks out on the city in the present.
So what happens now? If I didn’t know any better, this episode could’ve just as easily served as the series finale, what with all the closure and vignettes of every character looking on as justice was served. Justice being a bitter pill in this case, especially for Jae-han, who not only endured loss as a detective but also as a person.
What’s most curious to me is how all of this went down in the timeline where Hae-young wasn’t involved in past affairs, since what little he’s done has influenced and changed so much. Would Jae-han have come to the conclusion that Jin-hyung was the murderer without talking to Hae-young? And if Jae-han hadn’t have dropped him, would the killing have stopped some other way, or not at all?
Despite all the closure around the actual murder case, my head is still swimming with questions regarding the signal transmissions themselves, and whether Jae-han is stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day-like scenario where he’s doomed to repeat the past. He knew that Hae-young would receive transmissions from him again, even if he didn’t know it once he “reset” to 1989. So whether Hae-young’s influence has broken that cycle, he is part of one, whether he knows it or not.
In that sense, this episode isn’t anywhere near finale levels of closure, which is obviously the intent considering that we’ve hardly begun. But what’s going to be the aim of the show is something else entirely, since this case has ended in both the past and present as far as everyone is concerned—unless Jin-hyung somehow isn’t the murderer. And unless these events have taken Jae-han off the course where he ends up dead.
But perhaps, if the cycle begins again, there’s a way to not only solve the murders, but to stop them from happening in the first place. Maybe by influencing the past, Hae-young can do something about what happens to his family in the future. As long as we can reach a scenario where Jae-han isn’t sobbing by himself in a movie theater because the girl he loved so innocently is dead, I’m game as game can be.
- Signal: Episode 3
- Signal: Episode 2
- Signal: Episode 1
- tvN provides early look into crime thriller with Signal: The Beginning
- Desperate voice from the past sends clues to the present in Signal
- Signal’s past and present cops converge via radio
- Kim Hye-soo completes main trio for tvN’s Signal
- Jo Jin-woong to reunite with Lee Je-hoon in tvN’s Signal
- Lee Je-hoon teams up with Misaeng PD for tvN’s Signal
- Misaeng PD to helm crime thriller Signal for tvN
- Three Days writer returns with Memories of Murder-inspired thriller