Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 8
The gang gathers more evidence, but Deul-ho learns that he’ll need witnesses to win. Unfortunately, cases like these exist because of others’ compliance, and it won’t be easy to persuade people to speak up when their livelihoods are on the line. This episode highlights the consequences of remaining silent despite knowing the truth, but hopefully justice will be served (with a serving of garbage porridge for our villains).
EPISODE 8 RECAP
Deul-ho arrives at his daughter’s Soo-bin’s birthday party, while in the school cafeteria, Eun-jo picks out food to make a snack for little Seo-yeon. Deul-ho is about to go in when Eun-jo calls to tell him that Seo-yeon is sick. He stares back at Soo-bin, who’s looking for him, but memories of Seo-yeon flash before his eyes. He takes a step back, and turns away.
As Deul-ho drives towards Seo-yeon, he narrates an apology to Soo-bin for hurting her despite trying to be a good father. Meanwhile, Soo-bin notices a penguin doll perched outside and excuses herself from the table. The note on the doll tells Soo-bin “Happy birthday” and “I love you” signed from Superman (with a cartoonish drawing of Deul-ho). Soo-bin hugs the doll, and Hae-kyung watches from inside.
Driving home, Hae-kyung asks if Soo-bin invited her father and scolds her since Grandpa would have been furious. Despite her mom’s reproach, Soo-bin cheers up as she cuddles with her penguin. Hae-kyung asks her if she loves the doll that much, and Soo-bin replies that it’s proof that her dad was thinking of her even if he couldn’t come.
Deul-ho watches over Seo-yeon who’s sleeping in the emergency room, hooked up to an IV. Eun-jo explains that she checked the expiration dates before cooking, but the eggs must have been spoiled. Before they can continue their conversation, Seo-yeon’s mother rushes into the hospital and cries for her daughter to wake up.
Eun-jo apologizes to Seo-yeon’s mother, who accuses Eun-jo of scheming with Teacher Bae Hyo-jin to hurt her daughter since she has a weak stomach. Deul-ho arrives and states that the mom knew, then, about her daughter’s condition. With some probing, Seo-yeon’s mother tells them that the problems started after attending kindergarten, and Deul-ho asks if she never thought the school was to blame. Seo-yeon’s mother looks away in surprise.
Eun-jo explains the teacher’s situation and begs Seo-yeon’s mother to tell the truth, but she refutes that, as a widowed mother, this is the only kindergarten she can afford. She goes on to explain that the principal told her that Seo-yeon may have autism and can’t get along with others. Eun-jo asks why the principal would tell her that suddenly and inquires if the principal then told her to sue Hyo-jin for child abuse. Seo-yeon’s mother quickly denies it and asks Eun-jo to leave.
Deul-ho stands behind the curtain having overheard everything. He gets a text from Soo-bin thanking him for the gift, and though he couldn’t be there physically, she’ll think they ate together today.
With a heavy heart, Deul-ho returns to his office and sits in the dark. He texts Soo-bin asking if he can call, and she immediately video-calls him. She greets Deul-ho with the penguin and thanks him for the beautiful present. He smiles at his daughter and tells her that he tried really hard to keep his promise. She tells him that she understands, but their cute moment is cut short when Hae-kyung comes into the room. The video call ends, and Deul-ho is once again alone in the dark.
It’s a bright day at kindergarten as the students happily eat their meals. The principal comes in sing-songing her love for the children but nearly has an aneurysm when she notices their trays filled with curry and bright red strawberries. Her face contorts into a grin though her expression screams bloody murder.
The principal calls Ae-ra, who’s infiltrated the school as a cafeteria worker, and reprimands her for going over budget. She stabs Ae-ra with her pen and tells her that it’s coming out of her paycheck. The principal hands over a sheet of paper designating all meals and snacks, and Ae-ra gasps. Snacks consist of half a piece of fruit or a drink, and all the meals are the same: chicken porridge with one side dish and exactly two pieces of kimchi. Ae-ra argues that feeding the children like this will make them ill, but the principal throws a file and yells at her to leave.
Outside, the food truck arrives, but Deul-ho intercepts them with Dae-soo’s employees, pretending to work for the school. At the office, the group shudders at the rotten food, and Dae-soo threatens to tear down the whole school for blaming his sister. Deul-ho tells him to calm down, and orders Ae-ra to take photos of the evidence and for Eun-jo to persuade Seo-yeon’s mother quickly to drop her suit.
It’s the day of the first trial. Prosecutor Ji-wook states a count of battery and child abuse against the defendant, while Deul-ho pleads not guilty for his defendant. He claims that Teacher Hyo-jin has a strong sense of justice and tried to correct the corruption at the kindergarten by confronting the principal. However, the principal unfairly fired her in order to stop her from reporting it and accused her of child abuse.
The judge asks for clarification about the corruption, and Deul-ho dubs it “garbage porridge.” He goes on to explain that the principal hired cheap suppliers and bought expired food to cut down expenses. Then she would cook the leftover food as porridge and feed it to the kids. The defendant found out about this and told the principal, but she was ostracized, harassed, and wrongfully fired.
Ji-wook objects, asking why then the defendant only now reported this corruption. Deul-ho says it’s a good question, and answers that she didn’t report the issue in order to protect the children.
Hyo-jin takes the stand and says that most of the students come from low-income families, so if the kindergarten closed because of her, they would have nowhere else to go. Hyo-jin grew up in similar circumstances and recounts a tale from her past, when one evening a gas leak nearly killed her brother and her. She didn’t want the children to suffer the same.
Deul-ho gets up and argues that if the kindergarten closed because of the report, the biggest victim would not be the principal but the children who have nowhere else to go. As a result, the principal took advantage of Hyo-jin’s kind nature and stopped the corruption from being exposed and accused her of child abuse.
As Deul-ho and Eun-jo leave the courtroom, Eun-jo notes that the tide has turned in their favor. Deul-ho states that it’ll be hard to win if they don’t acquire a witness, and Eun-jo nods.
Deul-ho and Hyo-jin meet with another teacher at a café. He asks if she knew about the garbage porridge. Despite having witnessed the children getting sick from the food, the teacher denies everything. Deul-ho tries to convince her, but she’s adamant about protecting her career.
Eun-jo goes to see their other key witness, Seo-yeon’s mother, and informs her that the first trial was today with another in two weeks. She asks if Seo-yeon’s mother could either drop the charges or testify as witness, and though Mom hesitates, she tells Eun-jo that she can’t. Eun-jo presses her about whether the principal happened to visit, and Seo-yeon’s mother knocks over items in surprise. She begs Eun-jo to leave, and Eun-jo retreats for today.
Deul-ho returns to his office and gets a text from Eun-jo apologizing for failing to convince Seo-yeon’s mother. Wearing a momentary look of defeat, Deul-ho notices Soo-bin’s diaries and flips through them. He smiles to himself, but stops on a page about her school meal. The wheels start turning in his head, and it looks like he might acquire some evidence after all.
A group of kindergartners, including Seo-yeon, gather around Deul-ho as he animatedly draws on an easel. The children say his drawing is weird, so Deul-ho challenges them to draw better than him. He tells them to draw their face, which they do, and then he tells them to draw what they ate today.
The children reveal their work ranging from packed lunches to empty trays. He tells them to write their name and date on the bottom of their artwork, and then goes to Seo-yeon who’s sitting away from the group. He compliments her portrait and reveals his drawing of her. He tells Seo-yeon that she looks prettier when she smiles and asks if she only smiles when Teacher Hyo-jin is here. Seo-yeon gives a slow nod and doesn’t even crack a grin at Deul-ho’s efforts.
Dae-soo gets roaring drunk with Ae-ra and vents his frustration. He wonders if he should just settle outside of court in case Deul-ho loses because he can’t bear to see his sister get thrown in jail. Ae-ra carries a drunk Dae-soo back to the office where Deul-ho helps put him on the couch. Once Ae-ra leaves, Dae-soo curls up and sobs. Deul-ho tells him to cry and pats him on the shoulder.
It’s the day of the second hearing, and Ji-wook presents CCTV footage of young Seo-yeon sitting alone in a room for thirty minutes. He tells the judge that the defendant habitually punished children by locking them up in dark rooms, according to the principal and other teachers. He then presents a second piece of footage where Seo-yeon was crying by herself in the room, and Hyo-jin had covered them both under a blanket. Underneath the cover, we can see a lot of vigorous movement, and it looks pretty suspicious.
Hyo-jin explains that she was merely showing her a glow-in-dark wand, but Ji-wook argues that it’s excessive to cover their entire bodies to look at a toy. Furthermore, the movements under the cover seemed too strong for what she’s claiming. Ji-wook submits a doctor’s report about Seo-yeon’s autism and photos of her bruises taken on that day, and he accuses Hyo-jin of neglecting an autistic child who should have received special attention.
When it’s his turn to examine the witness, Deul-ho stands up but doesn’t say a word for long moments. The judge calls out to him and even bangs his gavel until Deul-ho finally speaks. He tells the audience that he was revealing what happens when you stay silent: nothing. He requested testimony from two witnesses who knew this case was about garbage porridge rather than child abuse, but both of them refused. Hence, he can’t reveal anything during this hearing.
Deul-ho: “Just a few years ago, we suffered through an incident that taught us that remaining silent will only drown us all. Despite that, to those of you who remain silent, I’d like to sincerely appeal to you. Silence cannot change the world.”
Dae-soo gets up and applauds, and soon the whole audience is applauding except for the principal, who leaves.
Attorney Jang eats with Chief Prosecutor Shin and asks about a few concerning rumors floating around, and how Ji-wook is going against Deul-ho again. Chief Prosecutor Shin describes their relationship as Mozart versus Salieri (as in, the genius versus the bitter and less talented rival), and when Attorney Jang asks why he doesn’t help his son, Chief Prosecutor Shin explains that if he helps, then Ji-wook will never be able to beat Deul-ho on his own.
With the hearing done for the day, Ji-wook confronts Deul-ho and asks when he became such an emotional lawyer. He warns Deul-ho to display some discernment in choosing his cases and not to argue the defendant as innocent every time. Deul-ho spins his words back at him and warns him not to argue that they are guilty all the time.
As Deul-ho leaves, the principal calls out to him and asks if that cunning girl put him up to this. She tells him that she has connections and things won’t go his way. Deul-ho laughs that nothing ever goes his way in his life and gives her some advice: She’d better get herself an expensive lawyer soon.
Eun-jo visits her mom, and mom asks if she can handle a divorce case for a friend of hers. Eun-jo hems and haws for a while until she admits that she doesn’t work at Geum San anymore. She quit, and mom is furious at first. However, she tells her daughter to cheer up and gives her support.
Back in his office, Deul-ho gets a text from Soo-bin asking if it’s okay to chat. He video-calls her, and they talk about the mundane things they don’t get to share anymore. She asks what her superman did today, and he tells her that he’s trying to punish some bad people who fed children spoiled food. Soo-bin says that such people need to be punished and wishes they could have a taste of their own medicine, and her words ring in Deul-ho’s ears.
So later, Dae-soo stops an oncoming buffet truck and tells the driver that the location changed from the kindergarten to the nearby community center. Meanwhile, Deul-ho dresses up as a chef and delivers food to the kindergarten with the rest of the gang.
The principal puts on a gagging performance of false humility in front of a group of mothers (probably the ones with the most money) and pretends it’s no big deal that she got a famous chef to cater her birthday party. However, when the doors open, it’s Deul-ho and Ae-ra, and the principal scurries over to ask what they’re doing here. Deul-ho tells the guests that the original chef had to go on an overseas trip, and he’ll be catering a meal matching exactly what the children eat, per the principal’s request.
Eun-jo is in charge of the community center, where a different group of parents and their children enjoy the lavish spread of food made by the celeb chef. In contrast, an unappealing bowl of gruel and soup are served to the party guests. Deul-ho explains the garbage porridge and even gives out helpful tips to puke into the provided bags. One of the mothers complains that people can’t eat this, and Deul-ho corrects her that their kindergartners eat this.
The mothers start complaining, and Deul-ho sits down to eat the food himself. He challenges everyone else to try, and one by one, spoons are lifted. While Deul-ho shovels it in, others barely take a sip and start gagging. They shout at the principal to eat it, too, and she reluctantly thrusts a spoonful into her mouth, glaring at Deul-ho as she eats. Deul-ho then brings in a couple of students who sing happy birthday, and the mothers give their bowls to the principal to eat.
Seo-yeon colors in a classroom by herself, and Eun-jo joins, asking if she’s drawing her. Seo-yeon shakes her head, and Deul-ho says he must be drawing Hyo-jin, and reveals his phone showing her on the line. Seo-yeon lights up and asks when she’s coming back. She promises to return in a couple of days, and Seo-yeon’s mother watches through the window with tears in her eyes.
It’s the day of the third hearing, and today Seo-yeon takes the stand with her mother beside her. Deul-ho first questions Seo-yeon about Hyo-jin, and Seo-yeon answers that Hyo-jin was nice. When Deul-ho asks if Hyo-jin ever hit her, she looks to her mother questioningly, and Mom encourages her to answer truthfully.
Seo-yeon replies no, saying that they were only playing hide and seek. Deul-ho asks why she said Hyo-jin hit her, and Seo-yeon says the principal told her to lie.
When it’s Ji-wook’s turn, he shows Seo-yeon the photos of her bruises and asks how she got them. She says she doesn’t know, and when Ji-wook pressures her persistently, Seo-yeon bursts into sobs.
Deul-ho asks for the defendant to be allowed in to calm the child, and Hyo-jin rushes to Seo-yeon’s side. Deul-ho hands her a wand and asks the judge to turn off all the lights. Hyo-jin turns on the wand and begins to sing a song.
In flashback, we see that Hyo-jin was telling the truth about calming Se-yeon with the wand, having sung the exact same song then while they were under the blanket. Her wand’s movements and their subsequent giggling had caused the blanket to move, looking far more suspicious than they were.
Back in the present, Seo-yeon’s cries ebb as Hyo-jin sings, and she starts to sing along, followed by the courtroom audience. Ji-wook grips the photos in frustrated defeat, and Deul-ho arches his eyebrows at him before joining in the singing.
Each case Deul-ho and his team solve teaches them a new lesson that fits into the overall narrative. The first one was Deul-ho’s turning point and learning how to trust and see the defendant as a person. The second was about trusting others to stand up beside him for their fellow neighbor, and in this third case, Deul-ho learns how to convince people to speak up against wrongdoings without deceitful coercion.
This case was not about gathering evidence and outwitting the opponent. Sure, they went undercover to gather evidence (which brought some great comedic moments), but the main battle was persuading witnesses to tell the truth. In the end, almost ironically, the most convincing argument was the truth itself. For Seo-yeon’s mother, it wasn’t until seeing her daughter laughing with Hyo-jin did she finally decide to talk, but she was forced to face the truth and change thanks to the efforts of Eun-jo and Deul-ho. Without using threats or creating false testimony, Deul-ho was able to do more than change the outcome of the trial. He was also able to change the hearts of his witnesses, which makes his potential win even more meaningful. Being a Neighborhood Lawyer entails helping the average man, but it also means changing people and challenging their stale mentalities.
During the second hearing, Deul-ho makes a powerful statement about silence, and his speech about drowning in silence hints at the Sewol ferry accident: The truth cannot reveal itself, and if everyone chooses to hide the truth, how will the world ever change? His message is haunting because it’s true. Most people won’t succumb to the depths of evil like the kindergarten principal, but how many can avoid the comfort of silence? In light of the political climate in Korea and the issues surrounding the Sewol ferry tragedy, it’s a pertinent question to ask.
Though Dae-soo has always been a side character, his little moments in this episode really made me care more about Hyo-jin’s fate and the case in general. His tear-brimmed glances in the courtroom, his gruff display of anger at the injustice, and his stifled, drunken cries made me realize again that a court case isn’t a contained battle between two parties. Families and friends are affected, and while I’m sure Hyo-jin was scared and frustrated, it was Dae-soo’s emotional breakdown of helplessness that broke my heart. When he confesses his worries that Deul-ho might lose, it could have been a throwaway scene, but it reveals the essence of what a good lawyer is to the defendant’s family: the one who fights the battles in lieu of them for the ones they love.
This episode also did a great job fleshing out Deul-ho’s relationship with his daughter and portrayed how she fuels and inspires him. In more ways than one, Deul-ho realized missing pieces through the lens of his daughter, and it was because of his immense love for her that he was able to go above and beyond for the children and Hyo-jin. Their relationship is precious, and the video calls between them are bittersweet. When Soo-bin was retelling her day to her father, it was sad to see how they valued sharing these seemingly ordinary events to each other because it’s these little things we take for granted that are actually priceless memories and foundations to a relationship. Soo-bin is adorable, and despite her claims to still be a kid, she’s mature and selfless when it comes to their relationship. Soo-bin forgives her father for the broken promises and understands his circumstances, and it’s amazing how she can love both her parents without resentment. It’s no wonder Deul-ho loves her because I’m quickly becoming a Soo-bin fan as well.